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Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Capitulations

After almost five decades of making New Year's resolutions, I have decided to take a different approach this year.  I am going to make some "New Year's Capitulations."  A "capitulation" is the opposite of a "resolution."  These are the goals that I am going to officially give up, surrender, and  cease worrying about/hating myself for not achieving.  This might sound like a depressing exercise, but it isn't.  My theory here is if there are fewer things to worry about, I might actually worry less.  Hey, it's worth a try...

So here we go:
  1.  Stop trying to lose that last 10 pounds of excess weight:  My body likes that little blanket of fat. No matter what I do, it sticks to me.  The only time I lost it was when I prepped for my colonoscopy. I am just going to learn to love my chub.
  2. Forget about becoming fluent in a foreign language:  I lost my chance to gain this skill in a natural way when I failed to pursue the goal in my school days days or during my time living overseas.  It takes work, focus and determination. Hell, I am 58 years old!  Those are limited resources at this stage in my life.  Punt.
  3. No hit records for you, buddy:  I used to think that my silly song-writing and blues band shenanigans could actually lead to a song that broke into the public consciousness and made money!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!  What a delusion!  So I will just goof around with music for my own amusement.  Let other, more talented people strive for musical fame; I am giving up.
  4. No sub-4 hour marathon; in fact, no more marathons, period:  I managed to stumble through the Chicago marathon in 4 hours 20 minutes back in 1992.  I thought I was the next Alberto Salazar.  I set the goal for breaking 4 hours, then gradually improving my performance until I was at the front of the pack in my age group.  Well, I never ran another marathon and my knees scream at me if I run more than 2 miles.  Time to officially stop thinking about this unimportant, unattainable goal.
  5. No CEO job:  I was the CEO of a small company for a short time and it was the worst experience of my working life.  In spite of that, I kept thinking that being the top banana is a worthy goal.  It ain't gonna happen, and that's a good thing, because I am a lousy CEO.
  6. Give up on the idea of having a successful marriage:  I have spent most of my adult life married, to two different women.  It seemed like these marriages started out pretty well, but after a while my spouses started to detest me. I am currently unraveling my second marriage.   I am still in favor of marriage, but I don't seem to be cut out for it.  I will stick to friendships from now on.
  7. Inner peace? Fuhgedabowdit!!:  I have no idea what "inner peace" means, exactly, but my interior life is a bubbling pot of weirdness.  Meditation or cups of tea or large quantities of adult beverages have no impact on this. Time to face it - turmoil will be in my heart forever.
Dropping these seven items still leaves me plenty of stuff to pursue.  I hope that I will move a little more nimbly by dropping some baggage.  

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mood Disorders

Like everyone else in America, I have been horrified and saddened by the mass murder of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  I am a parent.  It is an unbelievable nightmare.  And it is tied to mood disorder.

According to studies cited by the National Institute of Mental Health, about 26% of Americans aged 18 and over suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.  When you are sitting on the bus with twenty other folks, five of them are probably mentally ill.  Heck, you might be one of the five!

According to the NIMH website, there are 14.8 million Americans with major depressive disorder, 5.7 million with bipolar disorder, 40 million with anxiety disorders, 7.7 million with post-traumatic stress disorder and 2.4 million with schizophrenia. Almost half of the people with mental illness suffer from more than one disorder. Some portion of mentally ill individuals, particularly those with severe mood disorders, slip into full-blown psychosis.

A reminder - psychosis is a general psychiatric term associated with a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality."  This can lead to everything from mildly aberrant behavior/beliefs ("the police are out to get me") to complex and/or catatonic expressions of very severe mental disorders (hallucinations, delusions, violent/murderous acts).

The vast majority of people with mood disorders pose no threat to others; in fact, mentally ill people are far times more likely than "normal" people to be a VICTIM of violence.  On occasion, however, psychotic people commit murders and other violent acts.  People in the grips of a psychotic episode are often terrified - their emotional recognition system is impaired and people, even people they know quite well, can seem alien and threatening to them.  People with mood disorders, especially people who are psychotic, often lack the insight to realize that they are ill so they don't seek treatment - often, they avoid it.  If you are terrified, in the grip of psychosis, you have to save yourself from that experience somehow.  All sorts of heinous behavior can occur, and seem perfectly justifiable to the psychotic person.

A very small subset of psychotic people fall into the category commonly labeled as "psychopaths."  These are the folks that appear to be sane; they aren't raving or noticeably crazy and they can actually be quite charming.  Psychopaths lack empathy and don't connect to emotions the way most of us do.  Professor Robert Hare has said, "A psychopath can use words like 'I love you' but it means no more to him than if he said 'I'll have a cup of coffee.'"  About 90% of serial killers are psychopaths.

Now here is the thing - in the United States, mentally ill people have the same rights as the rest of us, which is the way it should be, right?  This makes it very difficult to have a severely mentally ill adult committed to in-patient treatment against his or her will.  In addition, in-patient psychiatric care is in short supply.  Since insurance companies don't want to pay for any unnecessary hospitalization, the hospital in-take staff are biased against admitting anyone who shows up with a mental illness.  If an individual is sufficiently disrupted to be taken into the ER by the cops, they can sign that individual in for an involuntary 72 hour assessment.  If the individual refuses to stay after that hold period, there is little that the hospital or anyone else can do short of a court order forcing the person into the psych ward via involuntary commitment.  It is very difficult and time-consuming to obtain these court orders.

So we have this massive epidemic of mental illness, and the severely ill folks can avoid treatment if they wish.  The state of knowledge of psychiatric illnesses is quite inadequate; psychiatrists and therapists are usually making educated guesses about their patients (if that).  The old saying is "Psychiatry is to medicine as astrology is to astronomy."    I have spent a lot of time over the past few years interacting with mental health professionals as I tried to help loved ones with mental illness and I totally agree with that saying.

Now let's overlay the mental illness epidemic on top of the American gun culture.  Regardless of where one might stand regarding Second Amendment rights, it is easy to see that we have a problem.  The surprise isn't that psychotic people will commit murder on occasion.  The surprise is that we don't have a lot more murders committed by psychotics. It is as easy as pie for an undiagnosed psychotic individual to get a gun.  This demonstrates again that the overwhelming majority of folks with mental illnesses are not violent.

And while we do have a problem, it is also important to put the risk in perspective.  There were 14,748 murders in the U.S. in 2010 and a fraction of those killings were committed by mentally ill people; there were 32,788 people killed in automobile accidents. All parents need to remember that, statistically speaking, our children are much, much safer in school than they are in the backseat of a car. We fear automobile accidents, but we dread random murders committed by crazy people.   Dread is not subject to the rules of logic - we obsess over things that are very unlikely to happen, whether it is random murder or a jet crash. Dread is a lot worse than fear.

Having said all of this, I can't for the life of me figure out why any regular citizen of the United States needs to own an assault weapon; it seems to me that the threat to public safety outweighs the "right to bear arms." When the Founders wrote the Second Amendment, I don't think they anticipated that they would be protecting the right to own a weapon that can spray 400 rounds per minute.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tony Caviglia

The older  trumpet player with the beard in the midst of a teenage trumpet section is Tony Caviglia. Mr. Caviglia is a graduate of Julliard and a long-time stalwart of the East Bay Area music scene in Northern California.  Tony is no spring chicken, but he is still playing concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area last time I checked.  He is also a long-time music educator that has changed the trajectory of many lives, including mine.

I met Tony Caviglia in September 1967 when I entered John Muir Junior High School in San Leandro CA. Tony was the instrumental music instructor for the school. Back in those glory days, California schools were top-notch, and the John Muir Junior High music department had fine facilities and equipment. We were just a 2-year institution (8th and 9th grade), but the music department included a concert band, a symphony orchestra and many smaller ensembles.  The most meaningful group for me was the "stage band."  This "swing era" term was still used used in the 50's and 60's for big jazz ensembles.

The John Muir Stage Band was an extracurricular activity.  Rehearsals convened an hour before the first class - that would be 7:15 AM.  This is not a natural hour for 13-15 year old people to be awake.  Tony Caviglia had the type of intensity and charisma that could motivate a bunch of teenage punks to do unnatural things.  He also was able to coax real music out of a bunch of beginners.  We started out playing some fairly easy, schlocky tunes that were popular when our parents were young ("Sentimental Journey" by Glen Miller, "Woodchopper's Ball" by Woody Herman, etc.).  As time went on and the band grew in skill, Mr. Caviglia began feeding us more challenging stuff - Count Basie tunes (those classic Neal Hefti arrangements) and Charles Mingus (a killer big band version of "Better Get It In Your Soul").  We began to sound pretty damn good.

But we were still rotten punk teenagers.  On some mornings, we were not easy to teach.  In mid-winter, on a wet, dark morning, the whole band was surly and uncooperative.   Mr. Caviglia was laboring mightily to settle us down.  After 30 minutes of chaos, he was done. "Alright fine!" he yelled.  "I am not getting paid extra for this.  If you kids don't want to be serious and play this great music, I'm done.  This band is dis-banded!" and he stomped out of the music room.

Well, the music room fell silent for a about half a minute.  We were all surprised and dismayed.  We decided to head to our classes.  Mr. Caviglia will cool down, and we will be OK in the morning.  We will get back on track.

But when we showed up at the music building the next morning at 7:15, Mr. Caviglia wasn't there.  The custodian let us in and we set up and waited.  No Caviglia.  Somebody said "Well let's rehearse since we are all here."  Somebody called the tune, another kid counted it off and we started to play.  We even stopped and worked on the rough spots.  There was no chatter; we were very focused, and worried that Mr. Caviglia would never lead us again.

As the rehearsal hour wound down, Mr. Caviglia showed up.  He stood in a corner near the entrance as we played and we didn't notice him. We kept playing and finished one of the tunes - it sounded pretty good.  We were startled by the sound of one man clapping.  We looked over and saw Mr. Caviglia applauding.  His eyes were wet.

"I will see you kids tomorrow at 7:15.  Bring your 'A' game."

So we went off to our classes and returned to rehearsal the next day.  We never got rowdy after that.  And that year, we won the Festival Grand Prize at the Reno All-Star High School Jazz Festival.  We were one of three junior high bands at the fest.

Seriousness of purpose, joy in teamwork, and self-discipline were the lessons Caviglia taught me.  I am not much of a trombonist these days, but I still use Caviglia's lessons every day.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Looking back/Looking forward

It isn't the end of the year yet, but I had a birthday recently.  This puts me in looking back/looking forward mode, sometimes.  The road behind me is much longer than the road in front of me; I have been beached on the rocky shores of late middle age.  My birthday is not a momentous occasion since I am a regular guy of little consequence. To exist is momentous, however, and this gift of just being alive is often overlooked by many people, including me.

My daughters and I have been thinking about homeless dogs lately.  We have visited the Anti-Cruelty Society shelter and the Animal Control facility, both in Chicago.  The Anti-Cruelty Society joint is clean, bright and well-lit. The cages are large, and each dog is wearing a bright bandanna with the Anti-Cruelty Society logo on it. It is on the fancy and wealthy Near North Side, at LaSalle and Grand.  Flocks of volunteers wander the place, eager to help anyone seeking a canine or feline companion. There are "adoption consultants" and  multi-page forms that prospective animal adopters must fill out.  The Animal Control headquarters in Chicago is at 27th and South Western.  This is a gritty section of town, full of auto  repair shops and truck terminals.  The inside of the Animal Control joint is a bit like Cook County Jail for four-legged felons.  There are relatively few volunteers, and they seem stressed out.  The city workers are indifferent and busy processing strays/lost dogs. The large headshot of a smiling Rahm Emanual is one of the few wall decorations that doesn't look tattered.  The volunteers are expected to handle adoptions.  The place reeks of dog feces and urine.  About 75% of the dogs are pit bulls; the fancy rescue shelters sweep up the more "marketable" dogs to clean up and sell at a profit (the high-end shelter in Chicago, PAWS, charges $200 for a dog adoption vs. $65 at Animal Control).  The Animal Control unit is Bedlam for dogs - they are all pretty upset, barking and agitated in their smelly quarters.  It is not a place for the soft-hearted.

All these animals have a story, but many come in as strays or "owner surrenders."  What was in their past?  What is in their future?  Mystery surrounds them, but they are all insistently alive; sometimes furious about their circumstances, but alive.  We might foster a dog, try to help it transition back to life as a companion animal. It is a small thing, but at least its something.

Sometimes the past is confusing, and of course the future is opaque.  It seems like the same issues and events repeat themselves, but we often fail to anticipate things correctly.  We have that nagging feeling - we have seen this movie before, but we have forgotten the ending, or we just don't know when it will end.  Debt piles up and work is hard to find; missiles fly and tanks roll;  a flock of  irrational conflicts compete for our attention.  All these things have happened before, are happening now, will happen again.  But to exist is still momentous.

When faced with irrational conflicts, we can quote Mercutio - " A plague 'a both your houses!" Or the late Rodney King - "Can we all get along?" And we can take a little comfort in the fact that life always strives to continue.  That is one thing we know for sure about the future.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A Trombone Memory - J.J. Johnson

The Jazz Showcase is a venerable jazz club in Chicago.  Joe Segal opened the place in 1947, and it is allegedly the second oldest continuously operating jazz venue in the world, after the Village Vanguard in New York.  Joe is still active at the Showcase, making his sardonic introductions before the sets begin.  He is about 86 years young.  His son does much of the heavy lifting these days, but Joe remains one of those non-musician heroes of jazz, laboring mightily to keep the music alive in the City of the Big Shoulders.

The Jazz Showcase has moved from location to location through the decades.  It currently is in the South Loop, in Dearborn Station.  Between 1982 and 1996, it was housed in the Blackstone Hotel just off Michigan Avenue.  That is the venue I visited most often.

I think it was in 1991.  J.J. Johnson, the legendary trombonist, was coming to Chicago and was booked at the Jazz Showcase.  There is no semi-serious trombonist on the planet that hasn't been amazed and deeply impacted by J.J.  He was the guy that changed everything, turned the old slush-pump from a jazz novelty , a source of "gut-bucket" musical comedy, to the same level as the tenor sax and the trumpet as a vehicle for beautiful, complex music.  The jazz critic Whitney Balliett once said that listening to a trombonist attempting to play fast jazz phrases was "like watching a fat man run uphill."  J.J. changed that forever.  His technique was miles ahead of every other trombonist; no one thought it was possible to make a slide trombone do the things that J.J. did.  His discipline was beyond belief; he practiced like a madman.  J.J was also a gifted bandleader and composer - he barely recorded from 1967 though the 1970's because he was so busy scoring movies and television shows.

I used to be a teenage trombonist.  I worshiped J.J. Johnson.

So in the winter of 1991, I got tickets and headed to the Blackstone Hotel to see J.J. for my first and only time.  He had moved from LA back to his home town of Indianapolis; his wife, Vivian, became quite ill after a stroke in 1988 and he stopped performing for a couple of years.  The Jazz Showcase gig marked a comeback of sorts for J.J.  Before his first tune, he leaned into the microphone and said, softly, "Once again, Joe Segal has rescued old J.J. from oblivion."

I can remember quite a bit of the set.  He played "Misty" and that brought tears to my eyes. He played a version of Lou Donaldson's "Blues Walk" that was swinging and fun.  He did Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me," which was articulate and full of gentle phrases.  His musical lines were ravishing, he played very softly, his tone was lush and warm.  He did not play a single unnecessary note. J.J. was almost 67 years old on that night; he had not lost any of his skills, and in fact, had improved as he aged. It was a religious experience for me.

At the break, J.J. put his horn on his trombone stand and strolled over to the bar.  He was relaxed and approachable; many fans spoke to him.  My wife of 16 months turned to me and said, "Aren't you going to introduce yourself to J.J.?"  I said "Of course not - I can't speak to him!  He is J.J. Johnson!!"  Well, my wife said "Bullshit."  She walked over to J.J. and said "Mr. Johnson, my husband plays trombone and he really loves you."  My God, I was horrified!  But she dragged me over, and soon I was shaking his hand, and looking into his smiling face.  His eyes were quite melancholy, as I recall.  It was one of those "I'm not worthy" moments. When I think about it, I still feel anxious and small.

J.J.'s wife passed away later in 1991, a very difficult time for J.J., I am sure.  He issued a recording in her honor, simply entitled "Vivian," in 1992.  J.J. re-married, and performed again starting in 1992.  By 1997, he felt his skills as a trombonist deteriorating, so he quit.  While J.J. kept composing, his horn fell silent.

Things got tough for J.J. at the end.  He battled prostate cancer.  In 2000, his biograpy, "The Musical World of J.J. Johnson," was published.

On February 4, 2001, J.J. Johnson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  He was 77 years old.  Apparently, he found his escalating health problems to be intolerable.  I still feel his loss, I listen to his music frequently.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of jazz horn players, J.J would be carved into it along with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Evanstonians Lost - Dajae Coleman and Linda Twyman

Nibra White is a friend of mine.  He works at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston as a coach and personal trainer.  Among his other activities, he is a coach for the youth basketball league sponsored by the Fellowship of African-American Men (FAAM) in Evanston.  One of his "great kids" was a young guy named Dajae Coleman (aka "Dae Dae"), a 14-year old honors student starting his basketball career as a point guard at Evanston Township High School.  Nibra's assessment of Dae Dae - quiet, well-mannered, bright, "coachable."  I didn't know Dajae, but I have probably seen him around town. We are all "one degree of separation" apart in Evanston - we are connected, although we don't always act like it.

Dae Dae was  killed at about 10:30 PM on Saturday night as he walked home from a party in his neighborhood in Evanston.  He was doing what kids do - hanging around with his friends and having some fun.  Some bloodthirsty idiot shot him, randomly it seems.  So we won't get to see what this fine young man might have achieved, what life he was going to construct for himself.

Killings are up about 40% in Chicago this year and it is no surprise that the carnage is spilling over to Evanston since we are smack up against the big city.  Street rumor is that the shooter of Dae Dae came from just south of Howard Street.  The Evanston Police Department is pushing to find the perp, of course.  It is really hard to solve these murders because folks won't talk to the police.

And the incident last Saturday occurred within walking distance of another murder, the 2005 slaying of Linda Twyman.  This nice, 40-something lady was slaughtered  in her own home; no arrests, no resolution in sight.  The case made a local splash when it happened, but it faded from sight.  The murder of a regular, hard-working divorced mom doesn't hold the public's attention for long, sad to say.  The case is cold as ice.  I wonder if the Evanston Police is still working on it?  I knew Linda, slightly, and I am sad that this case hasn't been cracked.

The chance of getting killed by a random attack is really very small.  Perhaps it is the rarity and capriciousness of these infrequent events that rattle us.  The tragedy of lives cut short is always intense, but even more when the victim is blameless and doesn't even know their assailant.    I have kept Linda Twyman in my thoughts for seven years; I am adding Dajae Coleman to my list of lost Evanstonians in need of justice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hiding Out in Driftless with the Ghost of Harriet Hosmer

In this political season, it is good to unplug and go on a road trip into one of the less celebrated areas of our nation. One of the things that is especially great about the United States is the abundance of elbow room and beautiful places that are relatively unoccupied.  One of the places I head to when I need to hide out is the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge, a massive swath of the northern section of the Big Muddy, covering  over 200,000 acres and 260 miles of the river's path.

This is not a densely populated area, and it is pretty dang far from major cities.  It is over 250 miles to Chicago, 193 miles to Milwaukee, 198 miles to Minneapolis.  There is lots of farming, hunting, fishing and Harley riding happening in this region.  They call it the Driftless Area, a lovely name that sounds philosophical  but refers to the fact that the great glaciers didn't drift this far south back in ancient times.  There are plenty of forested hillsides and sculpted valleys cut into limestone bedrock.  When you pass a car on the road, the occupants invariably raise their hand in a peaceful, friendly greeting.  Life is slower here, and much quieter.  You can see all the stars when you step outside your cabin door at night and gaze skyward.

The media is blasting news of Romney and Obama into our brains all day and all night.  The Artic ice is melting at an alarmingly rapid pace.  The United States is lurching insanely toward the Fiscal Cliff. The Cubs are on track to lose 100 games this season, which, remarkably, wouldn't be their worst season (they lost 103 games in 1962 and 1966).  In spite of all this distressing crap, the Driftless Area cruises on, basking in local joys and coping with local sorrows.

On the east side of the Mississippi, in Lansing, Iowa, there is a city park, Mt. Hosmer Park.  As you would surmise, it contains Mt. Hosmer.  The view form Mt. Hosmer is pictured above.  At the summit is a lovely World War I memorial and on the cliff overlooking the spectacular Upper Mississippi region is a 60-foot flagpole erected by a local committee that included the American Legion and VFW chapters.  Mt. Hosmer was named for Harriet Hosmer, a noted 19th century American sculptress who spent time traveling the "wild Mississippi" in the early 1850's when she was a young woman.  The little mountain was named for Miss Hosmer because she won a footrace to the summit that occurred during a steamboat layover in 1851.  Miss Hosmer was known as an "independent woman" - she didn't marry and preferred the company of other women, specifically spending 25 years with a certain Lady Ashburton (mostly in Europe).  Harriet was quite the cut-up - Henry James called her "the life of every party."

Now, I didn't expect to learn that a mountain in Lansing IA was named after a wild and crazy 19th century lesbian sculptor.  This is one of those pieces of information that makes me feel quite pleased with the bone-deep quirkiness of the USofA.  Good, old Iowa!

I can go back home now, a bit refreshed and a little more confident that we will all muddle through somehow.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eva Cassidy

The  voice was the humankind's first musical instrument.  Voices and hands beating a rhythm were the components of our first musical compositions.  I believe singing is the most popular type of music due to this prehistoric connection.  We are hard-wired to respond. That is why a skilled vocalist can connect with millions of people.  But sometimes the most amazing singers remain obscure.

The story of Eva Cassidy is known to some people, and it is available for your reading pleasure via a simple Google search.  The keywords for Ms. Cassidy - shy, insanely talented, eclectic, tragic.  She died of cancer at the age of 33 and her modest fame was achieved after she passed.

I have been listening to this woman for years and she still stuns me and rips my heart out.  That voice! The phrasing and range!  I recommend that you watch and listen to Eva's performance of "Stormy Monday".  This unbelievable soul/blues music is pouring out of her, and she is such a sweet little blonde suburban woman.  Some musical experiences are just too intense and beautiful, the pleasure of listening borders on pain.  A musical experience like that changes the listener forever.  Eva Cassidy was a master of providing people with those experiences.

I am not religious, but I hope that there is an afterlife so I can tell Eva to her face how her music has grabbed and changed me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

David Schantz, aka Dave "Slim" Chance, RIP

Back in the late sixties and early seventies, I was a punk teenager with a bad attitude and really bad hair.  One of my running buddies was a guy named David Schantz.  Dave and I grew up together in the Bonaire neighborhood in San Leandro, California.  He was a year older than me and I looked up to him.  He was a multi-instrumentalist - bass trombone, tuba, cello, acoustic and electric bass, guitar - and he was smart as hell.  If I remember right, he was admitted to Stanford.  He also liked to sing (his vocal style was...umm...unique) and he acted in several plays in high school.  Dave was creative and hilarious, and was a tall, lean character who swaggered when he walked.  So Dave had a lot going for him as a young man.  We had a lot of crazy teenage experiences together and played a lot of music.  He opened my ears to some new sounds.

Dave also was interested in experimentation and he had a rebellious streak.  This manifested itself in the activities one might expect of a teenager in the late 1960's - drug use and refusal to conform to societal expectations.  He never made it to Stanford, I don't think.  Dave wanted to be a rock star and he pursued that dream, I think.

When I left California after college, I lost touch with Dave.  I would get tidbits of info - he released a self-produced CD, he assumed the alias of Dave "Slim" Chance, he hooked up a stationary bike to a generator to make electricity while exercising.  I didn't see Dave or talk to him - he moved out past Sacramento, so he wasn't around when I went back to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit.

I got a call from another old childhood buddy last night - Dave Schantz died  on Tuesday.  He contracted hepatitis C some time ago, which morphed to liver cancer, which took him out.  Dave was around 59 years old, I think.  It is a damn shame he had to check out early.

So I dug around the web and found Dave's YouTube channel. He put up a remarkable video - one of his original songs, telling his story, tied to a photo montage of his life.  He knew that he was going to die.  Here is the link to that video. There is another video that provides a glimpse of Dave's brilliance: Check it out here.

Dave Schantz, aka Dave "Slim" Chance - sorry I lost touch with you, man.  I will be sure to raise a glass full of adult beverage tonight in your memory.  I have a feeling that is what you would want me to do.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The UBAA will not rise again.

When I first arrived in Evanston IL to attend graduate school at Northwestern, I was amazed by a strange reality.  It was 1976, and Evanston was a college town that did not have a bar.  This was very wrong and unnatural.  The situation has been corrected - Evanston is now rotten with drinking establishments (disguised as restaurants).  But in the late 1970's, drinking an adult beverage while sitting in a cool dark space required a field trip out of town.  The closest watering whole to my first residence in Evanston was the UBAA, right over the northwest border of town in Skokie.

The UBAA (AKA the Old Crawford Inn) was launched in 1939 by Richard Diesterheft.  It was originally named "The U-Bar" in honor of its'uniquely-shaped bar.  Sometime in the 1950's, the local politicos passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of the word "Bar" in the name of a drinking establishment ( now THAT was over-regulation!!).  Richard shrugged and re-named his joint "The UBAA Tap."  In my view, this was a brilliant piece of passive resistance against tyranny.

The UBAA attracted thirsty Evanstonians like dog poop attracts files.  Every night was Saturday night.  You could also catch the Cubs in the afternoon and suck down a couple of Old Styles.  Until the 1990's, the joint had little competition.  The beer was cold, the food was decent, the hamburgers were especially good.  The Diesterheft family owned and operated the joint for 4 generations.  It was a constant in a sea of change.  One of my favorite Saturday afternoon treats was to ride my bike on a 6+ mile route to the UBAA, have a Fat Tire and a burger, then ride home.  The UBAA was an old-fashioned neighborhood tavern, a gathering place with regulars; a small business that sponsored Little League teams and bowling leagues.  It wasn't a fancy place; it was in a non-nondescript building that had several funky local retail businesses (vacuum cleaner repair shop, window and siding store, etc), but it played a role valuable role in the community.

Late last year, the UBAA abruptly closed.  It might have been due to a deterioration of the business; it might of been due to electrical code violations uncovered by the Village of Skokie during an inspection, maybe the Diesterheft family just ran out of energy for the enterprise.  There is a huge "For Sale or Lease" sign in the parking lot.  There is a hole in the fabric of the neighborhood.

Being a curious person, I called the realtor's number on the big sign in the UBAA's parking lot.  I learned that the property is under contract, has been for several months, and the sale should close in a week.  At first, I thought that the UBAA would rise again, under new ownership, but the news isn't good for fans of neighborhood taverns. The realtor said it will be torn down and a new development will take its place.  The realtor wouldn't tell me what new building would be put in its place; it will be a commercial development, not residential.  Please, no fast food!!

So after 73 years, The UBAA is about to be buried.  It was a long run, and the joint is missed.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Hang in There, Curtis!!!

I was pretty excited when I saw a poster at the used record store in Evanston - Curtis Salgado was coming to my suburb, playing at SPACE ("Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston"), on August 11, a big Saturday night.  If you are a harmonica player who sings (like me), Curtis is who you want to be when you grow up.  I have been following Mr. Salgado for quite a while; he even has been a victim of this blog back in 2006.

A few weeks ago, I got on the SPACE web site to buy tickets and saw that the show was CANCELLED!!  "Uh oh," I thought.

Curtis is one of the under-appreciated super-talents of my generation.  He is my age (58), he is a fantastic white-boy soul singer and he is an amazing harmonica player.  Curtis has one main claim to fame - he was John Belushi's inspiration for the Blues Brothers schtick.  Curtis was playing the clubs around Eugene Oregon when Belushi and the National Lampoon gang were filming Animal House on the University of Oregon campus.  Curtis' style and talent fascinated big John, and he swiped much of Curtis' persona when he constructed the Blue Brothers - in fact, he split Curtis into two performers - the singer (Jake) and the harmonica player (Elwood).  Salgado was on the fringes of breaking through - he teamed up with Robert Cray for a while, he was the front man for Roomful of Blues,  he opened for Steve Miller in the early 1990's, he played on the Conan O'Brien show in 1997, he sang lead for Santana for a year.  Curtis toured heavily most of his career.  He also partied hard - alcohol, cocaine and a mix of other substances.  He had a "moment of clarity" during a coke binge, checked himself into the hospital in October 1988 and quit.  He stayed clean.

But the life he led left its mark  Or maybe it is genetics - Curtis' mom died of cancer when he was 23 years old.

In 2006, Curtis was diagnosed with liver cancer and was given eight months to live.  He had no health insurance.  He waited six months - the sands were running out of the hour glass.  Finally, he got a call to hot-foot it out to Omaha to receive a liver transplant.  The bills were massive - a series of benefits, donations from fans and fellow musicians and on-line contributions covered the bulk of the costs.  Curtis came back and hit the road, but he was taken down again in 2008 - a tumor metastatisized on his right lung.  That mass was removed, and he recovered again.  I saw him at the Chicago Blues Fest in 2010 and he killed it, man. Curtis Salgado live is an amazing experience.  No recording can capture his passion.  Here is a YouTube video that comes close.

So when Curtis cancelled his show in Evanston, I  knew he had cancelled his entire summer tour.  That can only mean that the cancer is back.  On July 18,  he went under the knife to have another mass removed, this time from his left lung. He lost a big chunk of his lung. Recovery is supposed to take about 4 weeks, and the doctors expect him to be back again.  I sure hope they are right.  I hope Curtis will retain his voice and his harp-playing skills with less lung in his body.  If you feel moved to contribute to his medical expenses, you can do so via his web site (click here).

Hang in there, Curtis. Please.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sharon Jones Will Save Us All

Sharon Jones is not a kid.  She is a full-grown woman, a Baby Boomer born in Augusta GA but raised in the Apple, New Yawk New Yawk. As a young person, she was obsessed with her fellow Augusta native, James Brown. She is all of five foot tall, and she is not slender, oh no.  She is a powerful small package - she blasts out the deepest soul and funk.  Her live performances are astonishing displays of energy and charisma, not to mention fabulous musicianship and professionalism.  Sharon achieves this with an instrument that isn't as polished as some soul singers - she doesn't have startling range and prettiness; just power and authenticity, which are vastly more important.  She is a legend now, but she has taken a very long road to get there.  She used to be a prison guard - Riker's Island, no less.  She also was an armored car guard for Wells Fargo Security Services.  She spent many long years trying to gain musical recognition and did sing back-up on a number of records.  It wasn't until the late 1990's that her talent and ability to front a band became apparent to the soul/funk music revival community.  Sharon's first record with the Dap-Kings was released  ten years ago. While Sharon Jones is a legend, she isn't famous.  She is known and loved by a decent fan base, but she hasn't hit the mass market.  She hasn't achieved Adele's disgusting ubiquity on the soundtrack of our popular culture, and she never will.

Now here is the thing.  For me, and I suspect for others, hearing Sharon singing over the tight, multi-racial Dap-Kings ensemble is a transforming experience.  She makes me feel that my problems can be overcome, that the unattainable is obtainable, that there will be a brighter day. This sounds ridiculous, but I feel that this type of music can save us all from the depressing aspects of human existence.   Even when Sharon is singing songs of pain and loss, I feel uplifted. Talking and writing about her music is a futile exercise; you have to hear it to understand. Just click here and listen to Sharon lay it down at this year's Bonnaroo festival..

This late 1960's/early 1970's soul/funk revival makes me happy.  I was seriously imprinted with this sound and the emotions that went into it when I was just coming into adulthood.  Tower of Power, Kool & the Gang, Sly and the Family Stone, Rufus, Cold Blood, Parliament/Funkadelic and of course the fabulous James Brown were all on my soundtrack.  They still are.  The success of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings makes me feel hopeful that this music will live on and remain fresh.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Farewell to My Cannondale H400

On Friday morning, I got up before 5AM, put on my bike riding clothes and headed out to the garage to jump on my Cannondale for an hour-long spin.  My heart sank, because the garage door was open and the Cannondale was GONE!  Gawd!

Well, it is possible that I left the garage door open, I suppose.  I am pretty careful about such things, and when I went out to walk the dog late Thursday night, I went past the garage and didn't notice that it was open.  It is also possible that a clever thief with one of those adjustable garage door openers cruised by and popped the garage door by cracking the code with his nefarious device (I have heard that this is a tool used by professional thieves).  And it is also possible that one of my garage door openers that has gone missing ended up in the hands of someone that knew which garage it could open. I will re-secure the garage, of course.

I registered the bike four years ago, so I turned the registration info and the serial number over to the police officer that came by to take the report.  It is unlikely that I will get the bike back if it was a crime of opportunity inspired by an open garage door. So I went to Bucephalus Bikes in Evanston and bought a replacement single-speed custom refurbished machine for a price equal to about 50% of what an equivalent new bike would cost. I am going to ride this for a while to see if my good old Cannondale shows up. By the way, Bucephalus Bikes and its owner, Alejandro Anon', are truly wonderful.  Alex is a trained architect who has decided leave his profession to pursue his passion for repairing and rebuilding bicycles.  He really knows bikes, that's for sure.

Material possessions really don't matter, I know.  But I was fond of the H400.  It carried me many, many miles.  When I was having a hard time, it helped me forget my problems for a while.  It was a great source of transportation, perspiration and inspiration. I owned it for almost 10 years.  It was my first "real" bike.

I would love to get the bike back, and I would love to see the thief charged, tried and convicted of his or her crime.  I would also like to be eight inches taller and 20 years younger.  The likelihood of these events occurring are about the same.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Long Hot Summer

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the US of A.  As I walked the rat dog this evening, I could hear fireworks exploding in the middle distance - a mildly disturbing imitation of a wartime mortar attack. It was 90 degrees  with 70% humidity at 9:30 in the evening.  The drought has turned all unsprinkled plants dry and dead. Electricity consumption is spiking as everyone cranks up the aircon.  I haven't felt or seem anything like this since the summer of 1988.  Coincidence - in the summer of 1988, I was finishing up a divorce from my first wife.  I also met my current wife during that heat wave.  Now, in the heat of 2012's equally long hot summer, I am in the middle of another divorce proceeding.

I hate long, hot summers.

I learned a new word today - anosognosia.  Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who is suffering from a mental illness seems unaware of his or her disability.  Unlike denial, which is a psychological defense mechanism conjured up by an individual who knows that something is wrong, anosognosia is part of the disease - a bipolar disorder sufferer or a schizophrenic can be incapable of the insight necessary to recognize that he or she is suffering from a mental illness.  Anosognosia can cause heaps of trouble for the mentally ill person and their family members.

For some reason, this heat wave and anosognosia seem to go together.   Some of us lack the insight to see that climate change is a problem, even when we are living through record-breaking heat.  This may be viewed as the "New Normal."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that can be successfully treated if the sufferer "takes ownership" of his/her condition and resolves to get well.  It can be controlled with the right psychiatric medication and good ol' "talk therapy."  But if the sufferer refuses to recognize his/her own illness, their lives, and the lives of their family members, can become a living hell.  Read this article from the New York Times for one example of the mess that occurs when a person with bipolar disorder refuses to accept their diagnosis.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pat Hughes - The God of Cubs Radio

I have had a great baseball week.  On Monday, my wonderful son-in-law took me to the Crosstown Classic, Cubs vs White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.  The Cubs won 12-3, 5 home runs.  I owe Patrick a big "thank you" for a terrific night at the "new" ball park.   The Cell isn't as quaint as Wrigley, but the men's rooms are much more civilized. I stayed home last night and listened to the game on 720 AM.  Cubs eked out a win, 2-1.  I am listening to the radio again tonight, seeing if the Cubs can sweep their local rival, the Pale Hose.  It ain't looking good - 2 zip, White Sox, at the end of the 3rd.

I believe that baseball should be watched live, in the ballpark, whenever possible.  If you can't make it to the park, the best way to take in the game is to turn on the radio.  Yeah, I will watch the Cubs on television if I am at a bar, but the magical rhythm of the play-by-play man and the color man has been part of my consciousness since I was a preschooler, listening to the San Francisco Giants with my Dad in the backyard of our cheesy suburban ranch house in San Leandro CA.  Chicagoans are very lucky because we have the awesome Pat Hughes.

Pat was the play-by-play guy to Ron Santo's color guy from 1996 thorough 2010 when Ronnie died of cancer.  They were absolutely terrific partners - they had that awesome chemistry and they kept their sense of humor through all those years of Cubs misery and disappointment.  Now, Pat is teamed with Keith Moreland,  Keith is in his late 50's and was a good professional baseball player - he was on the 1984 Cubs team that won their division.  Keith knows his stuff and is doing a great job, but of course, he can't be Ronnie.  It is good that Pat Hughes is providing the continuity.

I am amazed by Pat's voice.  It is warm, deep, lush and comforting.  He is always well prepared for each game, he tells good jokes, and he never seems to make a mistake. He never stutters or muffs his lines. I read an interview with Pat.  He said his biggest thrill is when a blind person greets him and says "thank you for helping me see the Cubs play."  Baseball is a game with lots of spaces; a good broadcaster can convey information, wisdom, humor and excitement in those spaces.  The magic of the broadcaster is much enhanced if you have a voice like Pat Hughes.

It is summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Twilight is upon us at 8:45PM.  The Cubs are now down by 3 runs in the 6th inning.  It is still hot - 89 degrees.  I have the sprinklers on, and I am beginning to fade from my long day.  But Pat is still talking on the radio, emoting, soothing us all with his word pictures.  Thanks, man.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Musical Magic

I still can't believe the impact of technology on music. I am a non-techie; it all seems like musical magic to me.   I am reaching the downhill slope of my run through life, so there is a lot of technological change in my rear-view mirror.  I remember sitting in my room at the age of 15, wearing out my "Kind of Blue" LP on my cheap Sears portable stereo, trying to figure out how Miles injected simple phrases with such beauty and intensity.  I remember spending hours producing a mix-tape for my brand new Sony Walkman so I could be immersed in Tower of Power and Ray Charles during my morning commute.  I had a Sony Discman, enjoying my favorite J.J. Johnson CD as I moved about.  Then, on October 23, 2001, Apple introduced the first iPod - 1,000 songs in your pocket!! Holy crap!! I was beside myself in excitement. By the time I got around to buying an iPod, the capacity was up to 10,000 songs.  I uploaded my entire CD collection to that sucker in 2004.  It took a solid week.

Just for fun, take a look at the Steve Jobs YouTube video of the iPod introduction.  Doesn't the iPod look lame and clunky?   That wheel thingy on the front is totally retro now.  In this age of touch screens and cloud-based data storage, the iPod Classic is heading down the road to obsolescence, following the path of the 8-track tape, the cassette and the compact disk.  I still have and use my old-skool mega-iPod with the wheel interface, but I am now listening to something else.  It is crowding the iPod from my ears.  It is Pandora.

Yeah, it has been around for a while and my eldest daughter has been onto it for years.  I started fiddling around with Pandora at least two years ago and found it amusing to run it in the background as I worked on my laptop. A few months ago, I discovered that I could have Pandora stream to my smartphone thus turning it into a portable music player.  I set up a bunch of stations - Trombone Shorty Radio, Dexter Gordon Radio, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings Radio, Muddy Waters Radio - then I hit Quick Mix.  It is like having a personal DJ with telepathy.  Pandora knows what I like before I have heard it.  I heard that Pandora can access over 1 million songs.

This morning, I heard Howard Tate sing "Eight Days on the Road" thanks to Pandora.  Now, that is about as soulful and funky as a man can be!  I like Aretha Franklin's version of this song, but it is nowhere near as REAL as Howard's version.  The song is from the pen of Jerry Ragavoy, a prolific soul songwriter (a Jewish fella, of course) who also wrote "Get it While You Can" (covered by Janis Joplin) and "Time is on My Side" (covered by the Rolling Stones).

Right after Howard Tate, Pandora served up Dexter Gordon playing an amazing version of "Ruby My Dear," his tenor sax caressing the phrases and purring the theme.  Then came Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, Chet Baker and Otis Redding.   And I thought, "Magic."

Monday, January 09, 2012

Starting the Year with a Loss - RIP Neil Lifton

Back when I was fronting the Mystery Band, I walked into Duke's Bar in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, hoping to get a gig. I met Neil Lifton, who had taken over Duke's around 2004 or so. Neil turned a true skanky dive bar into a marvelous neighborhood music tavern. He was a passionate roots music fan and a passable guitarist. Neil and his wife, Mary, became pillars of the east Rogers park neighborhood and had a lot to do with the revival of the Morse Avenue/Glenwood Avenue music/arts district. The Mystery Band played Duke's many times until I shut the band down in 2010.

Neil died on January 3, 2012. He was 60 years old. He was an exuberant, fun-loving, hard-working guy. He did his best to help musicians. His tiny music room was the venue of choice for many up-and-comers, blues/roots/jazz players and the occasional star. Neil decided that his bar would be dog friendly; I remember a pooch howling along with my vocals during a gig one night. And always, Neil was a genial presence, setting the tone and keeping the patrons under control, mostly.

It is jarring when a friend dies suddenly. There will be a memorial for Neil at 5PM on January 2211 at the Lifeline Theater, 6912 W. Glenwood Avenue in Chicago. Duke's Bar is right next door....