Thursday, April 14, 2022
Friday, March 11, 2022
It's pretty easy to list aspects of music. It is ephemeral - you can't touch it. It only exists when it is heard by listeners. While it has no mass, it can profoundly alter the way we view the universe and our place in it. It can change the way we view ourselves and everything outside of ourselves. It can trigger powerful emotions - love, grief, joy, anger and more. Music unites large groups of people - a single anthem can be sung by millions of a nation's citizens and create a sense of connection and shared purpose.
Music is powerful stuff. I have never been clear as to why humans make it, though. It doesn't seem necessary to our survival. I have speculated that it was a subset of our communication skills, or that it began as an imitation of natural sounds. Birds sing, frogs croak, wolves howl, humans copy the noises.
The oldest musical instruments (flutes made of bone and mammoth ivory) discovered by archeologists are 40,000 years old. By studying fossils and human physiology, scientists have determined that when humans developed the horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone in the throat in a similar position to modern humans, they would have developed the ability to sing as we do today. The fossil record indicates that this occurred around 530,000 years ago.
There must be some evolutionary advantage for humans to be attuned to pitch and tempo. Dopamine is released when we hear pitches that harmonize well together in a mathematical sense - a major triad, for example.
For many generations, music was not a profession. It was an activity that happened in the natural flow of life. In the past few centuries, the concept of music as a "job" developed. Some of the original motivation for creating music has been obscured by careerist striving - make money, compete with other musicians, get famous, become a treasured person in society. These things aren't necessarily bad, but it can lead to a disconnect - music becomes a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
Bob Dylan said " Songs, to me, were more important than just light entertainment. They were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciouness of reality."
Some people are obsessed by music, others barely notice it. I remember what Edward Elgar said - "My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require."
As I pick up my trombone again or honk on my collection of harmonicas, I try to remember that I am making music only for myself. I feel a deep need to do it and I don't know why this is so. Other people may like it or they may hate it. I'm trying not to care about the opinion of others.
Tuesday, February 08, 2022
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
Thursday, December 16, 2021
The other day, Tai and I were on our morning walk. When we got back to the house, my keys weren't in my pocket. Damn! I must have dropped them while pulling the plastic bag from my coat pocket to pick up Tai's poop. This was not a major calamity since I have spare keys, but it was annoying. I might have to change the locks. I opened the house with my spare key, put Tai inside and started re-tracing my steps. I had little hope of finding the keys. It was late autumn, and it was likely that the keys would be obscured by fallen leaves.
I was muttering under my breath. I had screwed up and now I was screwed. There is an alley that Tai and I often walk in the neighborhood - it's Tai's favorite place to drop a deuce. I crept along behind the houses, eyes on the fence line. I was on the verge of giving up when I saw something shiny in a pile of oak leaves - my keys!!
There is no greater joy than finding something important that you were sure was lost. The day seemed brighter and my elation lasted quite a while.
But of course, I did the same thing again a few days later. This time, I dropped the key to my backyard shed - a bigger problem because I had no spare key in my possession. I re-traced my steps to no avail. And then, yesterday morning, I was on a walk with Tai and a very good friend. I told her of my lost shed key. She went into search mode, looked at the steps of a neighbor's house and there it was! So once again, I had that jolt of elation. This time, I was saved by my friend.
I have been married twice, divorced twice. All my other relationships prior to and after my marriages also failed for various reasons that are too boring and banal to describe in writing. A few years ago, I gave up. I'm over 65 years old & retired now. I have a dog. I have hobbies. I have children & grandchildren. I have a few good friends. That's enough. I accepted that I had lost the chance to have a life partner. I have given it the college try. I stopped looking for something I couldn't find.
Last April, I was taking Tai on his long walk through the neighborhood. I heard someone behind me call my name. I turned and saw a woman I knew from the local wine shop. Back in the years before Covid, we both went to the Friday evening wine tastings and we would chat a bit. She joined my dog & me on our walk that day and we had a pleasant conversation.
And after a few months, I realized I had discovered another thing I had stopped looking for. This is unfolding day by day. I'm trying hard not to screw up or future trip. It's an unexpected chapter. It needs to progress without my efforts to guide or control it.
The past two years have been terrible for the United States, and the world. Covid-19 has killed millions. Trust in experts has faded. It appears that climate change is accelerating. Democracy is under attack. Violent crime is spiking. But I feel hopeful. For me, something important that was lost has been found.
Monday, September 13, 2021
My big brother, John, died early in the morning on August 31. I have been processing this loss for the past two weeks and felt the need to write something about him. The picture above was taken in the summer of 2016 at the Aspen Viewing Area of the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. This was our last big trip together.
John was born in February 1947, an early Baby Boomer. Our parents were both veterans of World War II - our father served in Europe with Patton's army, our mother served under MacArthur in the Women's Army Corps, mostly in New Guinea. John got to be an only child for almost 8 years as our parents tried to scrape out a living in the San Francisco Bay Area after the war. New "starter homes" were springing up all over the country for returning service personnel and their young families. In 1953, my parents bought a newly-built 3-bedroom ranch house in the Bonaire neighborhood of San Leandro CA, a town next to Oakland. I arrived in November 1954. John & I grew up in that house.
John was a high-achieving kid, a stand-out student, an Eagle Scout, president of his class in high school, a varsity swimmer, recipient of a full-ride scholarship to a fine liberal arts school in southern California. I was his annoying kid brother, and I hated following in his footsteps. The guy was so damned accomplished - all the teachers used to throw his excellence and stellar reputation in my face. There was no way I could match my saintly brother's track record. I wasn't quite 10 years old when he graduated from high school and left town in 1964. I wasn't really close to my brother when I was a kid - 8 years is a lifetime for a 10 year old boy, and our worlds were very different when we were under the same roof.
John did many wonderful things. One wonderful thing impacted me when I was still living at home. Our father struggled with alcoholism and bipolar illness when I was in middle school and high school. I didn't have a strong male influence and I was starting to slip into misbehavior. John noticed. He stepped up. He invited me to visit him in his first home after he graduated from college. He would come home and hang out with me. He talked to me about sex, something my parents never did. John filled the gap - he became my mentor when my dad was too sick to play that role. John always showed up when I was in trouble - during my two divorces, during the failure of my business and during the illness and deaths of our parents. He was a rock.
John was a great husband and father. He was a master teacher, who taught at international schools in three different countries and the public schools in Portland OR and New Orleans LA. He was an enthusiastic outdoorsman, full of skill and resilience. But the amazing thing about John is how he was able to accept everything that life served up, good or bad. His son Joe summarized it well: "My dad always made the best out of every situation."
When he was in his forties, John was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. This was an early onset of the disease - the majority of folks that get Parkinson's Disease are diagnosed after they are 60 years old. It was a stroke of bad luck, to be sure, but John soldiered on. He kept fighting to retain the things he loved in life for as long as possible. While he was always kind and compassionate, those qualities expanded as the disease progressed. To make things more challenging, John was also afflicted with severe scoliosis and osteoporosis. He kept moving forward, but the burdens eventually overcame him. These are evil diseases that slowly steal a person's ability to function. John was suffering, especially after his wife, Susan, died in August 2020. I miss him terribly, but I'm glad that he is no longer in pain.
My brother, my mentor, my friend. I am the last surviving member of my family of origin. It is going to be weird to live without John.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
I have no significant knowledge when it comes to foreign policy or military strategy. I am an aging white man in the midwestern section of the United States who avoided military service and is repulsed by the idea of a political career. But I have Opinions, of course. And I do believe my Opinions are wise and glorious, even though I have no experience or expertise to support them. So I am probably somewhat delusional.
In view of this disclaimer, here are my thoughts about Afghanistan.
Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher, lived in Greece between 50 and 135A.D. One of his core contributions is presented above - we are powerless over most things in this world. We only have power over our own actions, reactions and thoughts. When it comes to other individuals, or groups of people, or actions taken by other humans and non-human creatures, or viruses, or nations, or Nature - we have no real power. We cannot force change and impose our will over these things over the long haul. We can only control ourselves (if we have the self-discipline to do so).
The war that the United States has waged in Afghanistan ignored this core truth.
The goals of the initial action in Afghanistan were clear - destroy Al Qaeda, catch and/or kill Osama bin Laden, the man that masterminded the 9/11 attacks. These actions were mostly within the control of the U.S. But then, our government decided that Afghanistan's people and government could be changed to fit the U.S. vision of what an acceptable society should be - the assumption being that this would eliminate future threats from terrorists. In order to do that, we poured money, resources and lives into a 20-year conflict. So our government was trying to force, through military violence and a gusher of money, a massive change on an entire nation. This was a severe case of "mission creep."
This effort was doomed to failure from the beginning. I can't force someone to make a change that I think is "in their own interest." A nation can't force another nation to behave differently. Yes, it is possible to conquer and dominate territory if you are willing to oppress people that disagree with your authority. But even those efforts usually fail unless the conquerors resort to genocide.
The greatest tragedies in the world occur when people, or governments, struggle to control things that are beyond their control. The only outcomes are failure or extermination of the people that won't or can't comply. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is a classic case of ignorance and folly on the part of the leaders of a very powerful nation. We have nothing to show for the 20 year struggle except for pain, financial losses and embarrassment.
Let's hope that the United States doesn't do this again, but I'm not optimistic.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
In April, I thought that the pandemic was over. It was a month after I received the J&J "one and done" jab. Vaccination demand was skyrocketing and the primary problem was getting adequate doses to satisfy the folks clamoring for their shots. The United States went from a high point of over 300,000 new cases a day in early January of this year to under 3,500 new cases on July 4th. I started travelling again and went out to my local restaurants that managed to survive this terrible time.
It looks like I celebrated too early. We had 108,775 new cases on July 26. The Delta variant is overwhelming the unvaccinated. When cases go up, so do hospitalizations and, eventually, deaths. We are closing in on 300 Covid-19 deaths a day, up from 37 on July 4th. These illnesses and deaths are all voluntary since they are occurring primarily among unvaccinated people. Supply of vaccine doses is no longer a problem. There are no more supply chain kinks; there are only kinks in the brains of many Americans. They are choosing to believe things about vaccines that can be proven to be untrue.
I'm back to masking when indoors. I am also looking into adding Pfizer or Moderna to my system - the J&J jab doesn't seem to be as effective against Delta as the other vaccines. I am in the risk group of folks - over 65 years old - so I am interested in bolstering my immune system. But I'm lucky - I live in Evanston IL, where most people are fully vaccinated. If I stay in the city limits, the risk is quite low. Covid isn't a crisis anymore for those of us who are vaccinated. It's the unvaccinated people that should be worried. But the kinks in their brains don't allow them to perceive the threat.
I went into isolation on March 12, 2020. I got my jab on March 12, 2021. I learned a lot during this year + of loss and solitude. I decided to make a little list.
- Death is right behind us, all the time. It can be a microscopic virus or a drunk driver or a heart attack or a bullet. Remembering that death is coming for all of us helps me stay focused on the miracle of human existence.
- In addition to being inevitable, death is also random. I tested positive for Covid-19 last fall and had almost no symptoms. A friend of mine (about my age) caught the bug and was dead in 10 days.
- We can't ignore our losses. I've lost friends to the novel coronavirus. My sister-in-law died during the pandemic (but not due to the virus). Many of my musical heroes caught Covid and died. I have felt numb at times. I need to sit with the losses, not stuff them down and seal them off.
- Great progress can be made in solitude. Sorting out the tangle of past events, finding ways to increase serenity and reducing the crazed "busyness" of modern life have helped me relax a little, finally.
- Grandparents are important. For parents of young children, this pandemic has been really challenging. When grandparents can step up and help with childcare and other parenting work, the pressure on mom and dad becomes more manageable.
- Humans are incredibly adaptable. I have spent a lot of time on Zoom video calls. The platform works well for certain types of interactions. Technology and government fiscal policy saved the economy from a long, terrible recession. It has been amazing to see resources mobilize to fight this thing.
- Technology can't help us with one problem - lack of human touch and closeness. A life without handshakes, hugs and kisses is not a complete human life.
- We should not let things go back to normal. I learned that I am more self-sufficient than I realized. I also learned that I need other people and I need to extend kindness to friends, family and strangers. Self-sufficiency can co-exist with deep connection to others. The pandemic also exposed a truth that we like to ignore - that rich people/white people sail through crises that destroy poor people/people of color. We should not forget what has been fully revealed.
- When all else fails, play the harmonica.
Monday, May 31, 2021
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
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
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
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
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
Sunday, February 14, 2021
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.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
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
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
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Saturday, December 19, 2020
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!
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
- 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
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?
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.