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Monday, May 31, 2021

Remembering Ted Hawkins

 


I've been listening to Ted Hawkins this morning. His vocals are searing, gritty and insanely emotive. This man had a hard and somewhat chaotic life.   A great deal of his music was delivered to tourists on the boardwalk at Venice Beach where he busked for spare change. His talent got noticed and he was "discovered" several times by record producers and music promoters in Southern California and England. He actually moved to the U.K for 4 years in the late 1980's and had a bit of success, but he got into some sort of trouble and was deported back home in 1990. Ted had quite a lot of trouble in his life, starting from the age of 12 when he was sent to reform school in Mississippi. As a teenager, Ted drifted, hitchhiking across the country and living on his wits and petty larceny. He was busted for stealing a leather jacket when he was 15 and ended up in an adult prison for 3 years - a ridiculous sentence for a youngster, but he was a black kid in the early 1950's - Jim Crow times - so he was abused.

Ted started singing while he was a kid in reform school, and he heard Sam Cooke while he was in the state penitentiary. He said that it was Sam Cooke that inspired him to focus on music. Ted got an old acoustic guitar and set it up with open tuning so he could strum chords while he sang. He moved to California in the mid-60's and started busking on Venice Beach.

Ted Hawkins wrote some great original songs. He was a genre-busting guy, very soulful, but he could kick out a killer country tune. His cover of the old Webb Pierce country standard, "There Stands The Glass," slays me every time I hear it. It is one of those covers that completely re-forms the original song. Webb's 1953 recording is the same song, but definitely does not have the same impact.

Ted wore a glove on his fretting hand - apparently he had some sort of injury that made it hard for him to play the guitar which led to his basic style. He was pretty ambivalent about recording - he did an album for Rounder Records in the 1980's that flopped. In 1994, Geffen Records convinced him to do a real album with studio musicians. That was the record I got my hands on - it's called "The Next Hundred Years." He did a stunning cover on that record of the John Fogerty song, "Long As I Can See The Light."   It transports me to some strange emotional place that I can't put into words. 

So "The Next Hundred Years" was well-received and had respectable sales. Ted began to tour and seemed to be having a career take-off in his late 50's. 

Of course, he had a stroke and died a few months after his record was released. He was 58 years old when he passed. Damn.

Here is one of Ted's originals, called "Big Things."  This song feels like a summary of his life and his philosophy.  This was an incredible artist that deserved more than he received.




Sunday, May 09, 2021

The Crisis Text Line

 


So many of us were upended by the pandemic.  In my case, Covid-19 accelerated my retirement. My profession required a lot of face-to-face consultative advisory work. I just didn't have the energy to convert my work to the Zoom video world (ironic, since I am on Zoom almost daily now that I'm not working for money). I planned on doing a lot of service work in retirement, but that became tricky for older folks - the virus likes to kill us first, apparently. In April of 2020, I read an article about the Crisis Text Line.  I realized that I could be helpful while staying home & hiding from the novel coronavirus.

I applied to be a volunteer - it wasn't a cakewalk. I had to get a couple of recommendations from credible people, and the I had to pass a background check. Once accepted, I had to get through over 30 hours of on-line training, complete with tests. It wasn't easy. But about one year ago, I got my "stripes" and logged on to the Crisis Text Line platform for the first time.

One of my first texters was seriously suicidal - with thoughts, a plan, the means to complete the plan and a timeframe. This is what as known as an "imminent risk" texter. With the awesome support of my supervisor, we managed to  talk that person "off the ledge."  Since that start one year ago, I have spent over 350 hours as a volunteer crisis counselor and have communicated with 472 people that reached out for support.

The Crisis Text Line is like an on-line emergency room for mental health and emotional health issues. The tech folks in the organization have used data from millions of text conversations to construct an algorithm that identifies the highest risk texters by their word choice. Those folks are pushed to the front of the queue. It is a classic triage system. Telephone hotlines use a chronological model - first come, first served. This can leave folks in imminent risk of suicide on hold for long periods of time. This is obviously not a good thing to do to a suicidal person.

There has been a number of surges in volume at the Crisis Text Line during this pandemic.  Environmental anxiety has been sky-high and that is reflected in the number of texters seeking help. The peak hours happen at night - from 10 PM until 4AM or so. The demographics of the texter population is pretty young ( 70+% under 25 years old) and quite diverse (white, black, Latinx, LBGTQ, Asian, Native American).  Mental illness is very democratic.

Texting works really well for so many people, especially younger folks. I have had texters as young as nine years old. Sometimes folks are too upset to speak, but they can text. Or sometimes people are within earshot of someone that might be abusing them - they can't speak, but they can text. 

It's a free service, available all the time. How great is that?

Since May is Mental Health Month, keep the Crisis Text Line in mind if you or someone you know is in crisis. It can calm emotional storms and sometimes saves lives.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Random Events Change Lives - a Personal Story

 


Do you have a random event in your life that totally altered your trajectory? I do.

It happened in early 1976. I was a senior at the University of California at Berkeley. I was born & raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, my parents lived there as did all of my friends. I played the trombone in local funk bands in my spare time. I loved the ocean. Northern California was my home sweet home.

I faced a dilemma, however. I was graduating from UC Berkeley with my econ major and music minor. I needed to transition into something new, either work or graduate school.  I was a broke-ass college student from a lower middle-class family, so work was my first choice. There was a problem, however - the unemployment rate in 1976 was 7.8%. The current unemployment rate in the U.S., in the middle of this Covid-19 pandemic, is 6.2%.  I couldn't find a decent job, one with reasonable pay that I could imagine doing every day. I didn't have any money to pay for graduate school, although I did apply to several econ PhD programs and was admitted to a couple of places (They told me to bring my checkbook to pay enormous amounts of tuition). I was nervous about borrowing shit-pots of money to pay for school (and loans weren't easy to get back then), so I was in an uncomfortable spot. No decent job prospects, no affordable grad school option, future at risk.

It was a Wednesday, I think.  I had a couple of hours between classes.  I had just gotten another rejection letter from a prospective employer the previous day, so I was wandering around the Student Union Building in a funk. I stopped in front of the bulletin board that had sign-up sheets for job interviews and was trying to get excited about an opportunity to become a life insurance salesman (the only employer with open interview slots). I wasn't feeling very happy at that moment.

Someone behind me said "Excuse me" and I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw a tall woman in a 1970's "dress for success" female executive outfit. She definitely wasn't from Berkeley. "Hi - I'm Mary from Northwestern University's Graduate School of Management. I'm recruiting candidates for our MBA program, and no one has signed up for interviews. Are you graduating soon?" I told her yes, I would be graduating in June. "Great - do you have 30 minutes? I would like to interview you for our program."  I had the time, so I went with Mary into her conference room for an interview.

So she told me about Northwestern University. I thought it was up in Oregon, but was surprised to learn that it was just north of Chicago IL. Very confusing - Chicago is not in the northwestern part of the country. She asked me about my GPA and my Graduate Management Admissions Test scores (I took every grad school admissions test - LCAT, MCAT, GREs. etc. etc.). Once she got that info, she told me that if I applied to Northwestern's MBA program, I would be admitted and the university would figure out a way to finance it for me via grants, work-study and a little debt. Northwestern was trying to get more students from big western universities to enhance its credibility as a high-quality MBA program with a geographically diverse student body. Most students as of 1976 were from the Midwest.

I filled out the application that day. I arrived in Evanston Illinois on September 5, 1976 and received my Kellogg MBA a couple of years later.  I am still in Evanston Illinois after a 42 year career, two failed marriages, 4 children (all adults now), 4 grandchildren, etc. etc. etc. 

If Mary hadn't tapped me on the shoulder back in 1976, my life would have ended up much differently.  This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but demonstrates how a chance encounter can totally alter the direction of a life. 

That is my random event story. What's yours?

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pandemic's Crushing Effect on Live Music

 


The past year has been devastating. As of 8PM on March 15, 2021, there were 533,057 deaths from Covid-19 in the United States.  Healthcare providers are exhausted and traumatized by all the death.  Millions of people (myself included) are still sticking close to their homes and are quite isolated from other human beings. School children and teachers are struggling to figure out how to keep education going during the pandemic. The economy has bifurcated into a group of home-working professionals (they're doing fine, thanks) and everyone else (folks laid off due to the illness, forced to work at low-wage jobs with exposure due to the essential nature of their roles, etc.). Food banks are seeing record numbers of clients.

In the middle of all this is the live music industry. It has been crushed. I know this isn't the biggest problem when we ponder all the effects of the pandemic, but it is still significant.  Concerts and local music venues build connection and community. I am a huge music fan (and amateur musician) and I feel a little lost without live music.  My musician friends are struggling. Their livelihood depended on performing.  Yes, they have shifted to livestreaming and other methods to connect with their audiences, but it is a very poor substitute. The local venues in Chicago are getting killed, as this video points out.

I am so very pleased that the Biden Administration recognized this crisis and included $15 billion of relief funding for independent music venues and other cultural organizations (museums, etc.)  in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act of 2021.  This might be enough oxygen to get these important institutions to the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are starved for the love and shared experiences these places and their passionate backers provide for us.  

I went to my last live concert at SPACE in Evanston IL on February 23, 2020 - I saw Howard Levy, the insanely great harmonica player & pianist. I can't wait to be in front of the stage with my music peeps again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Good Bones

 


Even though my kids are grown, I think a lot about being a parent.  I did some things right; lots of things wrong. I did my best in view of what I knew at the time.

I ran across this poem, which I love.  I am posting it in case it might resonate with others.

Good Bones, by Maggie Smith


Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I've shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I'll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that's a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.  
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, 
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind 
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children.  I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, 
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones. This place could be beautiful, 
right? You could make this place beautiful.



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Core Principles

 


As I have stumbled through my life, I struggled to find a set of principles that would provide some guidance and comfort.  I read a lot of treatises on self-improvement, success, etc. - not much resonated.  I went to various churches even though I was not a believer.  I didn't find anything for me in those spaces.  In the past few years, I became acquainted with the 12 Steps.  They have been quite helpful, but the Steps are pretty generic.  I felt a need for a list that spoke to me personally.  So I wrote my own Core Principles.  Here they are:

  • Always deal fairly with others. Negotiate fiercely, reach agreement expeditiously and follow through as promised.  Remember that turnabout is fair play, so integrity is not only the moral path - it is the safe path.
  • Be a fiscal conservative. Don't borrow money that you can't pay back.
  • Be independent.  Don't expect others to take care of you.  Friendship, love relationships and economic connections are helpful at times, but self-reliance is the source of true contentment.
  • Be clear-eyed.  If you must judge others, do so based on their actions, not their appearance or background.
  • Avoid proselytism.  Never, ever try to push your religious beliefs down the throats of other people.
  • Always pause first.  Resist impulsive words and actions.  Take a breath and think for a minute, or ten.
  • Cherish existence. Recognize that humans live for a very short time. Try not to waste that time.
  • Recognize capacity constraints.  Don't take on burdens you can't carry.  Collapsing won't help anyone.
  • And perhaps the most important thing - listen to lots of great music. Play and/or sing some, too.
These 10 principles work for me when I remember to follow them.  When I am mindful of this list, I am calmer and my level of self-loathing drops.  I have a code to live by.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Perspective


One of my favorite forms of reflection is to review the known timeline of our planet and then compare that to the timeline of Homo Sapiens.  

Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago.  The first single-celled life form (Prokaryotic Archaea) appeared on our planet about 4.1 billion years ago (and these organisms are still around).  Multi-cellular life forms appeared 2.1 billion years ago.  The earliest land animals (semi-aquatic amphibian tetrapods) crawled out of the oceans 350 million years ago.  The mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs happened 66 million years ago.  The first primates showed up 55,000,000 years ago, and the precursor to humans finally appeared 7 million years ago.  The first "real human" evolved in Africa 2.8 million years ago, and it took 1 million years for their descendants to begin migrating from Africa to other places.  The first confirmed controlled use of fire by humans happened 1 million years ago.  The first emergence of our species, Homo Sapiens, occurred 315,000 years ago.  

So for 93% of the Earth's history, there were no recognizable humans walking the planet. Oh, and the first "anatomically modern" version of Homo Sapiens evolved 46,000 years ago, so we could say that humans that resembled the current crop of people have only been around for 1% of the earth's history.  Humans are new,  and our share of the geologic time arc is quite small.

But we think we are The Most Important Thing To Ever Happen on Planet Earth. Hmmm...maybe not.  

For sure, Homo Sapiens has proliferated.  The population has grown exponentially over the past 5,000 years (from 50 million about 4,800 years ago to 7.8 billion today).  For sure, we have used the weirdly large frontal lobes of our brain to invent heaps of shit and organize massive groups of individuals into religions, nations and empires.  For sure, we have obliterated thousands of  species (sabre-tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths, dodo birds, passenger pigeons, and on & on). And we have created conditions to allow other species to flourish (dogs, livestock, etc.).  

But the planet motors on, and will continue for 3 to 7 billion years before the sun turns into a Red Giant and burns it to a sad, lifeless rock.  Homo sapiens probably won't be around to see the end of days.  Good old Mother Earth has quite a lot of life left no matter what we pesky humans might do before we join the list of extinct species.

Yeah, we ain't that important.  We are just another successful animal that has experienced a population explosion.  We will eventually join the dinosaurs and the dodo bird.  

This is what I turn to when my panties are in a bunch over politics, or I can't figure out how to play a Big Walter lick on my harmonica.  In the end, it's all pretty insignificant, so no need to worry too much.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Wintering, 2021 - Galena IL & Davenport IA

 


I am writing this on a Sunday morning from a room on the 4th floor of a Hampton Inn in Davenport, Iowa.  The window overlooks the parking lot of a shopping center.  Because of the Covid-19 crisis, the parking lot is empty.  Davenport has had quite a lot of snow recently, and now the temperature has plunged - currently sitting at 15 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. The parking lot looks deadly in the thin grey morning light.  I saw a couple of burly guys struggle to free a tow truck stuck in that parking lot last night.

About a week ago, I was in Galena and rented a cabin in the woods.  The snow hit, and I took a picture of the deck off the kitchen - the pic is at the top of this post.  I couldn't get out of the joint for several hours - a snowdrift blocked the door and there was no snow shovel. The managers of the property cleared it away around lunchtime.  I was happy to be trapped, surrounded by the winter's hush in the woods.

I am now visiting one of my adult children who is currently staying in Davenport.  It isn't a bad place - the pace is a lot slower than Chicago, and the folks here see things much differently than us urbanites.  The good citizens of Davenport have declared that the pandemic is over - the restaurants and bars were packed last night, and mask discipline is pretty weak.  That's why I split a take-out pizza with my kid in the hotel room last night.

Lots of mid-sized cities have interesting histories, and Davenport is no exception.  Davenport is a river town; the Mississippi is its major geographic feature.  River towns tend to be kind of racy.  Davenport had a lot of bordellos and speakeasies during the Prohibition years, and once was called "the wickedest city in America" by the national press.  It is also Bix Beiderbecke's hometown.  If you have never heard of Bix, that's OK - he is not well-known to the general public.   He was a giant of the jazz cornet in the 1920's.  You may have heard Royal Garden Blues, considered one of the most important jazz recordings in history.  Bix was a tragic character.  He drank himself to death in his Queens, New York apartment in the summer of 1931.  He was only 28 years old when he died. So Davenport has the Bix Beiderbecke Museum downtown near the Mississippi River.  There is a Bix festival and many other Bix-related organizations and events here.  Davenport also was the location of America's first college of chiropractic medicine. You can lay factoid that on your chiropractor when you visit for your next adjustment.

I am here to spend time with my adult offspring.  I won't bore you with the details, but this child of mine has been struggling.  I love this young person to death and I am here to help if possible.  I have no idea how things will turn out.  I know if I force an outcome, things probably won't improve.

I have no power over anyone else's actions or reactions.  I only have control over my own actions and reactions.  Even that is sometimes more than I can handle.

The sun is breaking through the cloud cover now, so I will head out to see what Davenport has in store for me today.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Linda Twyman's Murderer(s) Still Walk Free, and So Do Many Other Murderers

 



I knew Linda Twyman.  She was my neighbor on Maple Street in Evanston in the 1990's.  As you might guess from her picture, she was a cheerful person with a ready smile.  We weren't close friends, but I was always happy to see her in the neighborhood.  She moved off of Maple Street to an even quieter street in Evanston.

I was shocked and crushed when she was murdered in late 2005.  Linda was stabbed to death in her apartment.  This murder remains unsolved and as far as I can tell, the Evanston Police Department have made no public comment on it since 2013.  I think about Linda's case often, and it has been on my mind due to the spike in murders we have had in my community over the past 12 months.  

Evanston usually has 1-2 murders annually.  We have had at least 5 in the past 12 months.  This is due, in part, to the general spike in violence that has swept the country in the wake of the pandemic.  People are short-tempered and psychosis blooms when stress is high. The most recent murder happened right in my neighborhood, at the local International House of Pancakes, fer Christ's sake!  

An individual in a state of psychosis got his hands on a gun and went on a spree starting in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago and ending on the Evanston side of Howard Street on Chicago's northern border.  He killed a woman at the IHOP - she worked in the elementary school that all my kids attended.  The shooter got shot by the police and died outside the Dollar General store.  It was horrifying and heartbreaking, for the victims and the perpetrator.

Since I was thinking about Linda Twyman, I called the Evanston Police to inquire about progress in solving her murder.  The officer I spoke with told me that she would tell the detective on the case to give me a call.  That was a few weeks and I have not received that call.  This is a cold case now, and may not ever be solved.

Poking around on Google, I discovered that there are about 250,000 unsolved murders in the United States and the the total is growing by about 6,000 each year.  Over a third of the murders in the U.S. are unsolved.  A lot of people have gotten away with murder in this country.  And a disproportionate share of the unsolved cases involve people of color.  

I believe that people should bear the full, natural consequences of their actions.  That is not happening when it comes to murder in the U.S.  Maybe more funding for cold case units would improve the situation.  Perhaps police departments really aren't focused on solving cases that are not straightforward, I don't know.  I know that lots of folks that know people like Linda Twyman yearn for justice, and it is nowhere in sight.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

On Resentment

 



I'm going to tell you something that is based on a true story.  Names have been changed and some of the details have been altered to protect anonymity.

There once were two young men that met while playing in the school band at a public university.  They became friends rather quickly, and decided to become roommates to split the cost of an off-campus apartment.  Joe was a year older than Sam and had shifted from a music major to business administration.  Sam was also a reformed music major, having made the shift into the econ department. Joe and Sam lived together for 2 years and became very close friends.

Joe graduated into the middle of a recession.  Work was hard to find, but he landed an entry-level position in the purchasing department of a major department store chain.  It was a soul-crushing, miserable job, trying to squeeze down supplier prices so the stores could make some sort of profit on ladies underwear and other staples.  Joe hated the work, and Sam heard stories about his misery every night.

When Sam graduated a year later, the recession was still raging.  His job opportunities were awful - things like life insurance sales and management trainee at a discount store chain.  Sam got lucky. His GPA and admission test scores were pretty good, so he was awarded a scholarship to go to a decent MBA program out of state.  He left Joe and headed across the country.

The MBA program was an excellent fit for Sam, but he realized that it would be even better for Joe.  He had a strong desire to help his good friend, who was unhappy in his job.  Sam talked Joe into applying, even though Joe's GPA and admissions test scores were mediocre.  Sam managed to become the student rep on the admissions committee at the business school. He made a passionate plea for his old roomie and was able to convince the committee to let Joe in.  As Sam completed his MBA studies, Joe arrived at the university to start the program.

Joe did phenomenally well at the school - aced all his classes and impressed all the professors.  He also met and fell in love with another graduate student.  She happened to be the daughter of a very wealthy man - she was going to eventually inherit a fortune.  Joe married his new-found love, graduated from school and embarked on a magnificent career.  He rose to be a very senior executive at a consumer products firm.  That firm was acquired by a huge multi-national conglomerate and Joe's stock options cashed out in excess of $100 million.  He retired in his early 50's and embarked on the life of the ultra-rich, with multiple homes, luxurious vacations and a social circle that was oriented towards other folks in the same economic class. Joe's wife became a successful writer; one of her books became a best-seller.  Their marriage was strong and they had two children that grew up to be talented and successful adults.

Sam soldiered through a series of jobs over a very long year career.  He had some successes, some setbacks.  He had two marriages; both ended in divorce.  Sam had four children, one found a joyful path in life and the other three struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. He ran out of juice and retired at 65, sheltering alone in a comfortable, but not luxurious, 2-bedroom condo in a major metropolitan area.  At various points during his life, he would reach out to Joe.  Joe was often slow to respond, and once the options cashed, he stopped responding at all.

So Sam started resenting Joe.  The internal narrative ran as follows:  "I got the SOB into business school.  If it wasn't for me, he would not have been admitted, met his wealthy wife and made $100 million.  Now he has snubbed me; he is too rich and famous to bother with his old roommate.  I'm smarter than he is, too.  He just got lucky, and I'm the reason that he got lucky." 

Resentments are hilarious.  First of all, they are pointless.  There is an old saying - resenting someone is like drinking poison and expecting your adversary to die. The resentment just made Sam agitated and angry. He assumed the worst about Joe without knowing what was really going on in his life.  And Sam's rugged, chaotic family life might have caused Joe (and others) to back away, not wanting to get involved in Sam's personal business.  

There is another old saying that applies to Sam's state of mind - "Compare and Despair."  Joe had more success than Sam, and Sam was envious.  Envy is not an admirable emotion, so Sam converted it to resentment and righteous anger over being snubbed by a friend. "After all I have done for him," Sam thought, "how dare he treat me with such disrespect?!" 

Resentments grow and fester because they are kind of exciting. Perhaps it feels good to be the aggrieved victim.  Perhaps the internalized anger gives the brain something stimulating to think about to relieve the boredom of everyday existence.  One thing is certain - resentments are a waste of time and energy, and are usually unjustified.  Sam never thought about Joe's point of view, or thought about alternative reasons for the lack of contact.  Sam never considered what he may have done that caused Joe to pull away.  Sam never realized that he was directing his anger over his own bad choices at his luckier friend instead of addressing the real issues in his own life. It was more gratifying to be the resentful victim of injustice.

This is a trivial story, but it has broad application to the human condition.  Letting go of resentments increases personal peacefulness.  If everyone did it, the level of aggression and conflict in human societies would decline.  One of my primary self-improvement goals is to release all of my resentments.  It is a high bar to chin, but I'm working on it.






Saturday, December 19, 2020

Five Songs for 2020

 


It is six days before Christmas.  I don't know about you, but our Christmas will be modest and a little weird.  We will be having a very small gathering of folks that are "in our bubble" - a handful of family members.  Many family members and friends will be absent as we follow the recommended novel coronavirus protocols.  I am not complaining - we are very lucky because we have been healthy through the Covid-19 crisis (for the most part).  I know a couple of folks that died of Covid and it is a horrible, lonely way to die.

Whenever I feel messed up, I turn to music for solace.  The spirit that allows us to create music is the spirit that I view as my Higher Power.  It is an incredible, mysterious expression of humanity that allows us to connect and love each other.  I have made a short list of five songs that helped me through the year, and I hope that they might help you, too.

  • Hold on by Tom Waits:  This is a brooding, heartfelt song filled with real poetry, delivered in Waits' raspy, whiskey soaked baritone. "Oh you build it up, you wreck it down; then you burn you mansion to the ground." That's killer.  And, man, we all need to hold on right now as this Covid crisis pounds against us.
  • You Haven't Done Nothing by Stevie Wonder:  One of Stevie's angriest songs, as relevant now as it was in 1974 when he released "Fulfillingness First Finale."  And you can still dance to it
  • You Were Cool by the Mountain Goats (John Darnielle):  John Darnielle has a way with stories.  I think everyone knows someone that might have been the subject of this song.  I can think of several people that lived these lyrics. Bittersweet stuff, and since we have time to think during this pandemic, this song helps me to remember people I have forgotten  for a while.
  • America The Beautiful by Ray Charles: Brother Ray turns this old song into a real hymn to our nation.  He performed this at the 2001 World Series, right after 9/11.  Lest we forget, this is still a great country, in spite of the mess we are in right now.
  • I Wish That I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free:  The great jazz pianist and educator, Billy Taylor, wrote this song, but Nina Simone owns it.  This is another song that remains as relevant today as it was in the 1960's. Nina was a ferocious performer, channeling her bipolar illness into the highest art imaginable.  Watch this video to the end to see her drop the mic like a boss!
I hope these songs lift your spirits a little bit during this strange holiday season. Music is a healer, and we can all use some healing right now.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Occupations

I stopped working for compensation earlier this year.  Since the road behind me is longer than the road in front of me, I find myself looking backwards now.  I made a list of all of my occupations - including the shitty kid jobs and unpaid work - that took up my time (and still take up time) during my life.  FWIW, here it is.

  • Vendor at Oakland A's and Oakland Raiders games, Oakland Coliseum
  • Fast Food Worker, Jack-In-The-Box, San Leandro CA
  • Fast Food Worker, Red Barn Restaurant, San Leandro CA
  • Golf course & park maintenance worker, City of San Leandro CA
  • Manager, Sinbad's Hot Dogs, San Leandro CA
  • Trombonist, Youth of America orchestra, San Leandro CA
  • Produce delivery worker, Bill's Juice Stands, Berkeley CA
  • Maintenance worker, Associated Students of University of California
  • Manager, U.C. Berkeley Student Union Building
  • Trombonist, Mystic Knights funk band, San Francisco CA
  • Trombonist, pit orchestra for the musical Applause, San Francisco CA
  • Trombonist in the band for Europarama, a traveling circus
  • Trombone teacher for Berkeley CA public school students
  • Summer Intern for the U.S. General Accounting Office, Chicago IL
  • Admission Assistant, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management
  • Trainee, Bank of America, Chicago IL
  • Corporate Finance Officer, Bank of America, Chicago IL
  • Assistant Vice President, Bank of America, Chicago IL
  • District Manager, GATX Leasing, Chicago IL
  • Assistant General Manager, Lease Underwriting, GATX Leasing - Singapore
  • Vice President & General Manager, GATX Leasing - Singapore
  • Vice President & Regional General Manager - GATX Leasing Asia Pacific
  • Senior Vice President & Manager, Lease Syndication, Heller Financial, Chicago IL
  • Senior Vice President & Manager, Project Investment & Advisory Division, Heller Financial, Chicago IL
  • Senior Vice President - New Initiatives, Heller Financial, Chicago IL
  • Executive Vice President - Corporate Development & Investments, Heller Financial, Chiacgo IL
  • Board Member, East Village Youth Program, Chicago IL
  • Executive Vice President & Group President, Healthcare Finance Group, Heller Financial, Chicago IL
  • President & CEO, Health Charge Corporation, Skokie IL
  • Executive Vice President, Corporate Development & Marketing, Transamerica Finance Corporation, Rosemont IL
  • Managing Director, Colonnade Advisors, Chicago IL
  • Band Leader, Mr. G & the Mystery Band, Evanston IL
  • Chief Executive Officer, Colonnade Securities, Chicago IL 
  • Facilitator, Family Support Group, National Alliance on Mental Illness - Skokie IL
  • Board Member, Recovering Communities of Step Ahead (sober living non-profit), Chicago IL
  • Board Member, National Alliance on Mental Illness - Cook Counth North Suburban affiliate, Skokie IL
  • Group Representative, Greenwood Maple Al-Anon Family Group, Evanston IL
  • Crisis Counselor, Crisis Text Line

Much of my life has been spent pursuing money. I am out of the financial services industry now and I don't miss it at all, not even a little bit.  The Covid-19 quarantine environment has given me lots of time to ponder my past; I have decided that I am grateful to have had that career, and I am grateful that it is over.  I have lots of service work to do.  I owe it to my fellow humans; I owe it to myself. Also, music performance beckons once the pandemic passes.....

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sneaky little bastard


I have been wearing my mask whenever I go to the grocery store and I practice social distancing.  I don't go out much - I walk my dog around the neighborhood and I try to limit my visits to retailers for supplies.  I have not had a restaurant meal indoors since early March.  So I should be safe from da 'Rona, right?

Nope.

On Sunday, October 10, I got stir crazy and invited a couple of my former bandmates to sit with me on my front porch and play some blues for the neighbors.  Everyone was practicing good pandenic hygiene - lots of space/outdoor setting/masks - so it felt safe.  We had fun and it was good to see the top half of  the faces of my friends and neighbors.

I had a minor outpatient surgical procedure scheduled for October 14, so I had to get a Covid-19 test two days before the appointment.  I went to the drive-through testing station on Monday.  On Tuesday, I got the call.  I had tested positive.  Surgery cancelled, to be re-scheduled when da 'Rona leaves me.  I was in quarantine with even my limited mobility eliminated.

I am a lucky guy - I had almost no symptoms of the disease.  I had a slight headache and some minor dizziness.  My groceries came via Instacart for a couple of weeks.  I called everyone that I could remember that was close to me recently and told them of my status.  My two adult kids that live with me in my two-flat tested negative (twice).  I am out of quarantine now. Da 'Rona was gentle with me. 

But it wasn't gentle with my friend, Hecky Powell.  Hecky died from complications of Covid-19 back in late May.  He was a giant of a man, so important to Evanston IL as a community activist, advocate of at-risk youth and an entreprenuer.  He is one of the 230,000+ folks taken by this virus.  We were roughly in the same age cohort - Hecky was 6 years older than me when he died.  So why was I spared but Hecky was not?

The novel coronavirus is a sneaky bastard.  It is a brand new pathogen, it operates in ways that are not yet fully understood.  It is bad news for older folks and people with compromised immune systems, but it also seems to be deadly at random, snatching away people that had many years of productive life ahead of them.

Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan have controlled this bug.  South Korea has less than 1 Covid-19 death per 100,000 people.  The U.S. has over 66 deaths per 100,000 people. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimates that as many as 210,000 of the Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. could have been avoided with a more robust and focused public health response.

The Trump Administration bears most of the responsibility for this horrific failure.  Donald Trump indirectly killed my friend Hecky Powell.  This is what is uppermost in my mind as we approach election day.  Forget about every other bad thing this charlatan, Trump, has said and done - the incompetence and callousness of his administration has led to over 200,000 unnecessary deaths.  What a tragedy and waste of human potential!

I hope Trump is defeated and faces consequences for what he has done to our country.  


Monday, October 19, 2020

William Digby on Abundance

 



A few years ago, a man named William Digby sent me an email.  He is an Australian chap, a senior investment professional, I gather.  I didn't know Mr. Digby; my business email address ended up on his list somehow.  I was cleaning out old emails and re-discovered his message.  I am dropping it into my blog, mostly for myself but maybe others might find it worth reading.

Abundance makes me poor

Reality could be described as a series of limitations on every living thing, the final boundary being death.  In other words, we have only so much energy to expend before we tire; only so much in the way of food and resources available to us; our skills and capacities can go only so far - these things are inherently finite.

An animal lives within those limits: it does not try to fly higher or run faster or expend endless energy amassing food - that would be unsustainable and leave it vulnerable.  Rather, an animal tries to make the most of what it has.  A lion, for instance, instinctively practices an economy of motion and effort, and avoids wasting energy if possible.  People who live without means, similarly, are acutely aware of their limits: forced to make the most of what they have, they are endlessly inventive. Necessity has a powerful effect on their creativity.

The problem faced by those of us who live in societies of abundance is that we lose a sense of limit. We are carefully shielded from death and can pass months, even years, without contemplating it.  We imagine endless time at our disposal; we imagine endless energy to draw on, thinking we can get what we want simply by trying harder.  We start to see everything as limitless – the goodwill of friends, the possibility of wealth and fame. A few more classes and books and we can extend our talents and skills to the point where we become different people.  Technology can make anything achievable.  Abundance makes us rich in dreams, for in dreams there are no limits.  But it makes us poor in reality.  It makes us soft and decadent, bored with what we have and in need of constant shocks and stimulation to remind us that we are alive.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Tim Maia - How the Hell Did I Miss This Guy????

 Brazilian singer Tim Maia, circa 1971.

I am a parochial American who has never traveled south of Mexico and haven't paid much attention the popular music in South America.  This is a shame, because this is the first day I have become fully aware of Tim Maia, the giant of Brazilian funk/soul/psychedelia.

Tim Maia has an epic "rock star" life story.  He was born in Tijuca, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro's Northern Zone.  This neighborhood includes the 3rd largest urban forest in the world. Tim was a WWII baby, born in September 1942. He started writing songs when he was 8 years old and picked up the guitar soon thereafter.  He came to the United States in 1959 to try to break through as a rock star, but got busted for smoking weed in a stolen car (total dumb wannabe rockstar move).  He was deported back to Brazil and started making fantastic music that merged American funk, soul & rock with traditional Brazilian forms.

Tim did some weird stuff.  He joined a religous cult for a couple of years in the 1970's - their core belief was that humans are aliens from another planet and we have to reconnect with our extra-terrestrial bretheren.  I guess Tim got bored with that - he left in 1976 and started releasing records.  He sang in Portugese and English.  Here is one of his more awesome English language tunes, "Nobody Can Live Forever."

Tim Maia wasn't very tall - maybe 5'7".  He was pretty round, too. His live shows were allegedly amazing.  I really like this video - it is a tune called "Descobridores Dos Sete Mares" - Discoverers of the Seven Seas.  Very funky and it also has that Brazilian vibe.  

Tim lived hard - alcohol, drugs, gluttony the usual '70's/80's stew of debachery.  This led him to miss gigs - just not show up - which caused his career to crater.  He ended up with diabetes, hypertension, obesity and a pulmonary embolism.  He died in 1998. His cultural legacy in Brazil is huge.

I am going to dig into this guy's catalog - he had something special.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Escalation/De-Escalation

 Escalation or De-escalation — Stock Photo

I escaped my hometown of Evanston IL for a few days, with two adult children and four small dogs in tow.  My thoughts and emotions have been escalating dangerously in the past few weeks.  On the personal front, my sister-in-law died, leaving my infirm brother broken-hearted and bereft.  One of my adult kids spent a week in the hospital to get major depression under control (it seems to have worked, thank goodness).  I am disconnected from my gang of friends and acquaintences due to the on-going pandemic.  I am facing a minor surgical procedure that it is causing me a bit of anxiety.  But hey - I am a very lucky guy overall.  I have a safe home, plenty of resources and a loving family.  Lots of people would love to swap their problems for my problems.

Outside of my personal circle, things have been much worse.  Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha - weird location for this violence; we used to call it "Kenoplace." Jacob has deep ties to Evanston.  His family includes  prominent local civil rights activists and he went to Evanston Township High School (he graduated one year before my middle kid, Andy).  The unrest in Kenosha is heart-breaking and predictable.  It is an added agony, hard on the heels of another outbreak of anger and looting on Michigan Avenue in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and the George Floyd protests earler in the summer.  So yeah, I have bailed to Galena IL to run away from all of it, to hopefully calm down a little and clear my head.  I might be a coward, but here I am.

Escalation is happening every day on almost every level.  Something awful happens, people take action (i.e. demonstrate, break things, etc.), there is a disproportionate response, which leads to more escalation, and the cycle is launched.  The noise attracts other actors (counter-demonstrators, armed civilians, multiple groups of security forces, allies of the original demonstrators, etc.) and soon we have chaos.  What is remarkable to me is that our illegitimate president is totally unwilling to defuse things.  He throws gas on any fire that he think will help him get re-elected.  

If a guy cuts me off in traffic these days, I might get irritated but I let it go.  Not long ago, I would have laid on my horn, flipped the bird, rolled down the window to cuss the guy out at the next stoplight and generally acted like an asshole.  The guy that cut me off might have responded in kind.  If we had firearms, one of us might have pulled them and someone could be dead.  It took me way too long to realize that my reactions made things worse.  By refusing to escalate, everyone is safe.  I can't control someone from cutting me off in traffic, but I can control how I react.

This is not the same as reacting to yet another criminal shooting by a police officer, but the underlying theory applies.  If the authorities want to preserve calm, they have to be calm.  This seems to be impossible for most police organizations to pull off.  And Trump loves the conflict and yells "Law and Order" while escalating at every opportunity.

I have no idea where current events might be taking us, but I have a feeling that we won't get to a more peaceful place by more escalation.  De-escalation does not mean surrender!! I think that the most effective form of resistance is voting and removing the elected officials that want to divide us - no matter where they reside in the political landscape.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

N.K. Jemisin - I am late to realize her greatness

 

I am a SciFi/Fantasy nerd.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Ursula K. LeGuin, Heinlien, Asimov, Dune, Lord of the Rings - I love all that shit.  My son knows this about me.  About six weeks go, he said, "Hey have you read N.K Jemison?"  I had not.  Shame, shame shame on me.

I bought The Broken Earth trilogy.  It sat on my kitchen table for a couple of weeks. I am a linear reader - I focus on one book at a time.  I was wading through a light-weight beach book that was occassionally funny but insubstantial.  NKJ had to wait until I was done with that trifle.  I picked up the first book of the trilogy, "The Fifth Season," three days ago.  I just finished it.  I inhaled the 468 page quickly; I could have binged it in a day but I had a life to live, unfortuately.

I am late to realize N.K. Jemison's greatness. I won't talk about the book - if you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and get it today!  What I will say is that this author has constructed an alternative reality that is incredibly rich with detail and emotional weight.  Her life shapes how she thinks about science fiction and fantasy.  That world is still dominated by one demographic (yup, white males). She has pumped out the best work in this genre that I have read in years because she is outside of that demographic.  

Many others recognized her towering creativity years ago (three Hugo Awards in a row, for each book in the Broken Earth Trilogy!!!).  I add my puny voice to the chorus of priaise.  I know how I will be spending the next few weeks - reading her entire bibliography.


Friday, August 07, 2020

My Home Town

 

There is a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area that is a paragon of diversity.  According to the 2010 census, the town is 23.3% White, 10.7% Black, 27.3% Hispanic/Latinx, 34.5% Asian and 6.6% multi-racial. I suspect that it will be even more mixed when the 2020 census is tallied up.  The name of the town is San Leandro; it is just south of Oakland in the East Bay.

It was once a paragon of racism.  I know, because I grew up there during that phase of San Leandro’s existence.

Historians estimate that the first humans arrived in the San Leandro area about 5,000 years ago.  It was a hospitable environment, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay.  There were lots of food sources – the bay was full of seafood and marine mammals; the mild climate was friendly to edible plants and edible wildlife.  The Ohlone people lived in the East Bay Area – peaceful hunter-gatherers.  They were oppressed when the Spanish colonists arrived and were slaughtered by state government authorities when California entered the Union in 1850.  This was another chapter in the genocide of Native peoples in North America.  Prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the late 18th  Century, there were about 300,000 Native people in California.  By 1900, the number had dropped to 16,000.

I grew up in San Leandro from the mid-50’s to the early ‘70’s.  During that timeframe, only White people lived there (with a smattering of Asians and Hispanics).  It was about 99% White.  Of course, this wasn’t an accident.  The city to the north, Oakland, was about 50% Black and the city of San Leandro did everything possible to keep the Black folks out.  The city had restrictive covenants for decades, which made it illegal to sell or rent housing to Black people.  When those restrictions were declared unconstitutional, the system became informal – red-lining/steering by realtors, “gentlemen’s agreements,” collusion on the part of the 10 homeowner associations in the town, etc.  There was one Black person at Pacific High School when I was there from 1969 through 1972.  I felt sorry for that girl.

In the Bay Area, San Leandro was well-known for its in-your-face racism.  The Black folks in Oakland called it “Klan Leandro,” and they were afraid to go there.  When a Black family moved to the town in 1980, someone actually burned a cross on their front lawn. San Leandro was the Alabama of the liberal Bay Area.  Brian Copeland wrote an excellent one-man play and a book about being one of the few Black kids in San Leandro in the early 1970’s – he arrived as I was leaving.

Not surprisingly, San Leandro attracted a certain type of resident when I was a kid.  Most folks were lower middle class.  There were many transplants from the American South.  One of these folks was my father, a Tennessee native who worked as a payroll clerk at a food warehouse.  My dad was a stone-cold bigot.  He was quiet about it, but it was part of his heart and soul.  He was raised to see Black people as inferior and he never let go of that twisted worldview.  There were many things I disliked about my father, but his racism was at the top of the list. He has been dead for almost 30 years, and I understand now that he did the best he could given his upbringing and mental health issues.

I was a 1960’s hippie kid, a “peace and love” knucklehead.  I didn’t know any Black people, but I loved their music.  I figured they must be superior people if they could produce jazz and R&B. I moved to Berkeley to attend college and ultimately ended up in Evanston IL. Evanston has also struggled with racism but has a history of diversity. Black people have lived in the town since the early 19th century.

So what’s my point?  I look at San Leandro today and realize that the old system of oppression has broken down, but aspects of it are alive and well.  The police killed a Black man in the town recently – six weeks before the murder of George Floyd, San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor, a Black man in the middle of a mental health crisis at a Walmart.  There is more -  San Leandro also had some of the worst looting in the nation during the unrest over the George Floyd murder.   San Leandro has its problems, but red-lining isn’t one of them anymore. 

There are still tons of work to do all over our country, but remembering some of this local history can be a source of hope.  It is bad now, but it has been worse.  Things can get better. Someday we might even recognize that we are all human beings and make amends for past injustices.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dogs Relieve Quarantine Blues



Covid-19 has completely upended our lives.  The virus has killed over 149,000 people; it looks like we will be well over a quarter of a million deaths from the disease in the not too distant future.  To get a sense of the scale here, there were 16,204 homicides and 48,344 suicides in the US in 2018. We have lost the equivalent of 3 years of suicides in the 5 months of the novel coronavirus pandemic! The virus can be avoided by staying away from people so I am staying away from people.  Since I am over 65 years old, I am in one of the higher risk groups.  I also live with two adult kids with health issues; I don't want to bring the bug into their lives.

As I sit in quarantine day after day after day, I find myself doing surprisingly well most of the time.  This is probably due to the critter pictured above - Tai, my 12-pound, one-eyed shelter dog.  I brought the little pooch into the household back in early 2013. My family was in total crisis at that time; I was at the front-end of a long and contentious divorce process, one of my kids had just attempted suicide and another kid was suffering from debilitating panic attacks.  It was a 4-star shit show, but Tai was pretty chill about it all.  Life is much less chaotic now.

Just like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, there has been a run on shelter dogs during the pandemic.  This makes sense, I guess - people are stuck at home, starving for companionship/distraction and a dog (or even a cat!) can provide both of those things.  For me, Tai has eased my anxiousness during this very unusual disaster.   He has a quirky personality and is damned smart (compared to most dogs I know).  So here are 10 things about Tai that have relieved my quarantine blues:

  1. Tai is always up for a walk:  Tai is getting older so he is no longer fond of 4-mile hikes in the summer heat, but he is happy to wander for 20 minutes or so, 5 times a day. This gets me out in a safe way; no one is in my 6-foot bubble.
  2. Tai knows how to pay attention:  This little one-eyed mutt is always alert.  Even when he is asleep, he notices and reacts to any noise or significant environmental change.  He may be small, but he is a terrific alarm system!  I think he has scared away prowlers on more than one occassion.
  3. Tai thinks he is a very large dog:   If a pit bull or doberman crosses his path, Tai is not afraid.  He is happy to live and let live, but if a big dog gives him shit, he will go into attack mode in a heartbeat.  I keep him on leash all the time so he won't get eaten by one of his humungous cousins.
  4. Tai is a nervous eater:  Most of the dogs in my life have been highly food-motivated; Tai is not.  He will let the fancy dry dog food sit in his bowl all day until he gets super hungry, or when some exciting event triggers his appetite.  Is there a noise outdside that makes Tai bark and freak out?  He hits the food bowl.  Are we heading out for a walk?  He hits the food bowl.  And so on.  It's weird, but I kinda like it.
  5. Tai must have been a circus dog in a previous life:  He is a 12-pound king of agility, able to walk for long distances on his hind legs, can hold the sit-up position indefinitely, can leap about 3 times his body length.  
  6. Tai is all about his ball:  He would rather fetch his ball than eat.  Whenever I do certain things (like get on the floor to do my crunches or sit on the couch in the living room), Tai shows up with his ball and requests that I throw it.  I have never known a dog that has this type of fixation.
  7. Tai howls when I play the harmonica:  While this can be annoying, it is also interesting. Tai is incredibly vocal when I start blowing my harmonicas.  He has quite a vocabulary of howls, and he is extremely loud for such a small animal.  He only howls when I play the harp; if I record myself and play back the recording, he does not howl.  It is a mystery.
  8. Tai has the spooky one-eyed stare:  When I first saw Tai at the Anti-Cruelty Society on LaSalle Street in Chicago, he was in a tiny cage and his recent eye surgery was in the process of healing.  I don't know what happened to his left eye.  You can see in the photo above that the vet sewed his eylid over the socket.  I guessed that he picked a fight with a bigger dog, but it could have been some other injury or infection.  It gives Tai just a touch of spookiness.  He will sit and fix me with a one-eyed stare.  I will often feel like I am being watched in my apartment; I turn and there is Tai, shooting the Evil Eye at me.  Its kinda cool.
  9. Tai sleeps tight against me:  At the end of the day, I say to my dog "let's go to bed."  He absolutely understands this phrase and runs into the bedroom and jumps up on my bed, tail wagging and tongue out.   I lay down on my stomach (my preferred sleeping position) and Tai snuggles between my legs.  He doesn't budge all night.  It is odd, but I find this to be very comforting and endearing.
  10. Tai is still a hunter:  We have an epidemic of bunnies and squirrels in my neighborhood.  While Tai hates both of these species, he knows he can't catch a squirrel (although he will joyfully chase them up trees).  Bunnies are a different story - if I let him off leash, he will take off like a bullet from a gun, chasing rabbits.  He could catch one, but they are as big as he is.  Tai always slows down so they can get away.
My little buddy is getting grey in the muzzle, just like me.  He is somewhere between 9 and 14 years old; I think he is probably around 11 or 12.  Little dogs can live for 16- 20 years so I am told.  I hope Tai sets a new dog longevity record...he is absolutely my most treasured companion.  He fills an emptiness that I didn't know that I had until he came into my life



Thursday, July 23, 2020

"Welcome to my world."





Here is a true story that opened my eyes to a rather basic fact.

From 2003 until 2010, I fronted a blues band.  When you are a harmonica player, the only way to play in a band is to be the front guy - singing, playing harp, getting the gigs, hiring the musicians, etc.  It is hard to have any success as a harmonica sideman.  Most bands, even blues bands, see harp guys as unnecessary.  Since I wanted to play, I started my own band.  It was Mr. G and the Mystery Band.  I played 2-4 times each month in relatively small and obscure venues.  It was a good blues band, but there were a ton of good blues bands in Chicago.  It was a competitive scene.  I expect the post Covid-19 scene will be even more cut-throat, since some venues won't survive the shut down.  Desparate musicans might kill each other for the few remaining gigs.

When I was fronting the band, I always guaranteed the musicians a fair wage, paid in cash, at the end of the night.  I often came out of pocket to keep that promise since the club owners generally gave us a percentage of the door or the bar sales during our sets and the pay was skimpy on a slow night at the club.   Since I was a reliable paymaster, I was able to attract some amazing blues musicians to the Mystery Band.  One of the great musicians was an African American guitarist in his mid-fifties who I will call Bill (not his real name).  Bill grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Otis Rush was a West Side guy; so was Magic Sam, Mighty Joe Young and a host of other terrific artists.  Bill was cut from that cloth, and he had his own sound - a sizzling rock-ish tone with a broad vocabulary of licks and creative musical ideas.

One of the obscure places we played on a semi-regular basis was C.J.Arthurs, a restaurant and bar in the leafy suburb of Wilmette IL.  If you have never been to Chicago, you might not know about Wilmette.  It is the second suburb north of the big city and it is quite a bit different from the West Side of Chicago.  Wilmette is a wealthy town, but still much less wealthy than its neighbors to the north, Kennilworth and Winnetka.  There are almost no Black people in Wilmette.  Most Black people didn't have the dough to buy houses there, and those that did have the dough didn't want to be the conspicuous Black person in a sea of White faces.  The White folks of Wilmette would claim to be "not racist."  Anyone could move in if they had the money.

The Mystery Band consisted of an aging White harp player (me) and seriously great Black blues musicians (including Bill).  The C. J. Arthur's owners and staff were very nice to us, as were the patrons.  We got good food and a decent number of adult beverages when we played at C. J's.  The pay varied from generous to almost nothing depending on how much product was being sold by the club.

One Friday night, the Mystery Band finished its gig at CJ's at midnight.  We got paid, packed up our gear and headed south to hit the sack.  Bill was my neighbor, so I would give him a lift to and from the gigs.  We were driving south in the left lane of Green Bay Road around 1 AM Saturday morning and a Wilmette cop car pulled along side of me in the right lane.  I noticed, but didn't think much about it - I was being careful to obey the traffic laws because the Wilmette cops were happy to issue speeding tickets.  The cop dropped back, shifted behind me in the left lane and turned on his lights and siren.

I was startled, but pulled over immediately.  The officer walked up to my car with his big-ass flashlight in hand.  I rolled down the window and said "Good evening, officer - did I do something wrong?"  He shined the light in my eyes and made a soft grunting sound.  He pointed the flashlight at Bill.  Then he said "we had a robbery called in and your car matched the description of the car driven by the perp."  He looked at me again.  Took my license and ran it through his system.  He came back and said "OK, you can go.  But your license plate light is out - fix it or you will get a ticket the next time I see you." He pointed his flashlight at Bill again.

The cop took off and I started to drive again.  "What the hell was that?" I asked Bill.

He smiled and said "Welcome to my world."

So, yeah, cops target Black people. Duh.  Bill said, "Since you were driving, he backed off.  If you had been Black we would be in the shit right now."

I have thought a lot about that night in recent months.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Last Day



This is a bad selfie I took of myself some time back, riding the North Line Metra train from Main Street in Evanston down to Chicago's Loop.  Back in the olden days, B.C. (Before Covid-19), masses of eerily quiet people dressed in suits and sensible dresses would cram into these aging coaches daily, to be  pulled by ancient locomotives spewing diesel fumes to their offices or cubicles in high rise buildings.  I convinced myself that I liked it.  I used to call it "a civilized commute" since I wasn't stuck in my own passenger car, in traffic on the Kennedy Expressway.  I did this for many years.  The routine was broken by frequent trips to other cities, when I would schlep to O'Hare and go through the multiple indignities of air travel - mobs of people, security screening, crowded planes, the wait for ground transportation at the other end.  I spent 42 years living this life of white collar striving.

Today is my last day.

It is a weird transition, to be sure.  The Coronavirus pandemic derailed my routine,  I have been in my apartment, working from my home office, since March 14.  I decided to accelerate my retirement because I have conducted business through direct connection, face-to-face interactions,  I find it difficult to make that type of connection via Zoom.  The past 108 days have been a slow wind down.  I decided in May that I would retire a little early.  I don't think the fancy-pants executive life I lived will be possible for quite a while.

Looking back on my career is only helpful if it allows me to draw some lessons on how to behave today and how I should prepare for the future.  I made so many mistakes through the years - bonehead business errors and screw-ups in my personal life.  But I am glad for all of the experiences, both good and awful.  It was the excruciatingly painful events that finally made me a better human.  And now I can feel reasonably calm as I face uncertainty as a non-entity, an old retired guy.

I don't know what will happen.  I am totally comfortable with this ambiguity.  I know I won't miss trying so hard to satisfy and impress people that don't really know me as a person. I spent way too much time deriving my self-worth from the opinions of others.  Maybe I will finally get to know who I am.

One thing for sure - there will be more music in my life now.



Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time to talk music -Vulfpeck




I guess I learned about Vulfpeck about three or four years ago.  This group has attracted quite a bit of attention, and there are some great articles about the fellas.  The origin story is appealing - a group of killer musicians met in Ann Arbor while studying at the University of Michigan, started playing together and dialed into the tightest funk groove I have ever heard. 

Vulfpeck was launched in 2011 sort of by accident, I guess.  It is a DIY effort - no manager, no record deal,  all millenial viral internet genius at work that led to a sold out gig at Madison Square Garden on September 29, 2019.  They are really the gold standard of the funk genre now, and many awesome artists have sat in with the group - vocalist Antwan Stanley, guitarist Cory Wong, trombonist Melissa Gardiner and saxophonist Joey Dosik collaberate regularly.  So does MacArthur Genius Grant mandolinist and NPR star, Chris Thiele.

My old bandmate, the late, great guitarist Osee Anderson, used to tell me, "Look for the pocket masters."   The guys in Vulfpecks are  the Jedi Knights of the pocket.  Joe Dart's bass lines are absolutely ridiculous - funk bass is really tough to play well, I think. The band can also lay down some heartbreaking R&B - check this out.

So if you love funk and high-skill  R&B, get deep into Vulfpeck.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Re-Booting



What is Reboot?















Sometimes I just stop doing something for no particular reason.  I used to have a blog.  It was a vanity project, something I did in an effort to seem wise and important.  I was, and am, neither of those things, of course.  But I did put some time into it.  For a while, I posted regularly and with some passion.  Then three years ago, I stopped.

No one noticed.  That isn't a surprise.

So today, for no particular reason, I have decided to re-boot the blog.  I am less wise, and certainly less important, than I thought I was when I was an active blogger.  But I can make time for this.  I do have a lot on my mind.

Covid-19 and extra-judicial murders of Black people by policemen has created an apocalyptic vibe in the U.S.  In Chicago, we also have the everyday carnage that results in many more deaths of Black folks - on May 31, less than 2 weeks ago, 18 people were murdered as the Chicago police disappeared from the south and west sides of town to attend to the demonstrations and looting in other neighborhoods - the lack of police presence gave shooters a free pass to kill, according to folks in the neighborhoods (they were quoted in the Chicago Sun Times).   

Like almost everyone, my life has been upended by the pandemic.  In the past few weeks, the outpouring of grief and anger triggered by the killing of George Floyd has added more heavy stuff to ponder.  I am an older white man, but I do have a deeper connection to Black folks than others in my demographic.  I have two bi-racial grandchildren; they are in the next room, watching National Geographic on the Disney Channel right now.  Will they be targeted by the police someday?  Or by gangbangers?  My ability to keep them safe is limited once they hit their teenage years.


It makes sense to ration one's consumption of news reports in order to hold on to some vestige of calmness.   I'm hiding at home, dodging the virus, tamping down the nausea caused by all of the violence - it makes me feel like a coward.  But I am in one of the Covid-19 risk groups, so I wash my hands a lot, wear my face mask and avoid crowds.  No demonstrations for me - I can't afford to get sick, let alone die.  I have work to do.

I return to the core truth - I can only control myself.  I can't control anything else, or anyone else.  I can take action to protect the people I love.  I can take action to persuade others to change their behavior or viewpoint.  I have little control of the outcome of my efforts when I am trying to protect or change others.  I only have control over my own actions and reactions.  

This is a wild and crazy time, but the core truth doesn't change.