One of the things I love about college radio is you hear all kinds of songs you’ll never hear anywhere else. You’ll hear things before you’ll hear them on mainstream radio. And things you’ll never hear on mainstream radio but are cool enough to be there and even better than much of the stuff on there. Such is the case with “Where The Hell Are My Friends” by LANY, a track they released as a single in 2016 on the internet not connected to any particular album they did.
That said, I do like how artists have more control over making and releasing music these days. LANY used the same do-it-yourself ethic punk rock groups employed decades earlier because back then radio and recording companies wouldn’t give them the time of day. And college radio is as do-it-yourself as you can get along with Low Power FM (LPFM/Community Radio) stations. It’s just students and residents with their music collections and NO CAR COMMERCIALS. What a concept. Wow, there is a God. You can sing about a Little Red Corvette or a Little Deuce Coupe but I don’t want to hear any crap about 0.9% financing, capisce?
College radio is where I first heard the Disco Biscuits before Camp Bisco became a major stop on the tour map. So wherever I am, if I’m there for a few weeks or months, I try to find the local college station(s) and look up their program schedule. I can stream my favorites online as wherever I am as well. It’s a fountainhead of new music straight from the horses mouth. Compare that to the beached whale of Clear Channel that swallowed up numerous independent stations across the airwaves. They only play songs by heavily promoted major label backed artists. You won’t hear the next “Where The Hell Are My Friends” on their dials because their band width is pretty anorexic as far as variety goes.
LANY is made up of Paul Jason Klein (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar), Les Priest (keyboards, guitars, vocals), and Jake Goss (drums, percussion, programming/sampling). If you can tell by looking, the band name isn’t another first or last name like Adele, Beyonce, Prince, Madonna, Britney, Usher, The Jacksons, The Ramones and the like–It’s a combination of two cities: Los Angeles and New York said like “Laney.” Stylistically, my ear tells me there’s a few New Order and Depeche Mode albums in their music collections.
The vocal triplet staccato line “And I don’t, and I don’t, and I don’t know why” is a neat hook which gallops like a horse in the beginning of the verses. The chorus is sung honestly and questioningly where Paul Klein is actually inside and merged with those lyrics. “Where The Hell Are My Friends” is a neon soliloquy in the moonlight of one man’s mind who speaks the thoughts of thousands of men and women who’ve encountered similar moments of isolation. And not just LA but especially places like LA and being a recent transplant to the “City Of Angels.” Places like that can quickly magnify one’s sense of loneliness, difficulties making connections and fitting in, and feeling out of place:
The song contains some daring lyrics for an unassuming sounding pop song. LANY seems to have taken a page from Professor Sting on that one as he was always slipping in topics, references and concepts beyond what’s typically required for pop music lyrics. “Every Breath You Take” is a classic example of this. It’s actually a song about a stalker. Yet it’s more often “re-purposed” for Valentine’s Day radio station dedications and wedding playlists. I’ve bit my tongue at more than one wedding behind a camera because of Mr. Sting.
“Where The Hell Are My Friends” also crosses a cultural red line. It’s almost sacrilegious to utter a discouraging word about the film and entertainment capital of the world. But for those who’ve been to LA (even the tongue in cheek tune for “losers” out there who value exercise, “Walking In L.A.” by Missing Persons), moved there recently, have lived there for any amount of time, the lyrics will resonate with you to varying degrees. “Where The Hell Are My Friends” is kind of an electronic music version of the Guns N’ Roses L.A. County tourism classic “Welcome To The Jungle.” The theme is similar even decades and genres apart. It captures that state of mind, the inner unspoken dialogue, the doubts and disorientation of being in LA wondering if it was mistake:
Am I starting to hate California Why am I in LA 40 million in California No one cares if I stay
There’s not much middle ground with a place like LA. People either love it or hate it I’ve found. I have friends who moved there, moved back, went to music school there (MI–Musicians Institute), went there to “make it”, and friends who still live there. Paul Klein is voicing some common experiences which don’t often get said out loud. It breaks the taboo in pop culture to express any doubts about the hallowed home of the film industry, the zip codes of Brenda and Brandon Walsh, the beaches of Baywatch. Friends of mine who grew up or live there are often surprised at how overly impressed people are when they tell them they live in Southern California. It’s not surprising: California in pop culture has had decades of impressions on the world often at odds with the everyday social and economic realities of being there as natives and residents will tell you.
Alienation. Like Phil Collins and Genesis said “Its no fun being an illegal alien.” Its no fun being a legal one either. LA is a place that can easily happen in. Stranger In A Strange Land in your own country. Like Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live but with shades that suddenly make you privy to all the plastic people with plastic boob surgery.
The song also walks the tightrope of how you can love the place and still have outsider status with the people–wandering the meandering hedgerows of social cliques. Duff McKagan remarked in his book It’s So Easy: And Other Liesof how playing the L.A. club scene in the early days of Guns N’ Roses was being in front of some of the most judgmental people in the world. I had friends tell me it was difficult to meet friends when they moved there and network. My thoughts echo back to those conversations with them hearing the lyrics “Where The Hell Are My Friends” and “No one cares if I stay.”
People I know who grew up in California have said to me, “It’s really easy to leave but hard to move back.” What they mean is that if your family doesn’t own property to pass down multigenerationaly, the pricing of housing and cost of living is prohibitive to most transplant hopefuls. Unless of course you have wads of cash you’re laundering for Mexican cartels through your amp stacks, not that I would know anything about that.
I spent time in LA and the surrounding areas and had many of these same thoughts. LA certainly wasn’t like it was on TV and movies. The first glaring dose of reality beyond Beach Boys anthems was it looks so much greener on screen than with your own eyes. I quickly realized that I didn’t need to live here. I found my California in the Bay Area. It resonated with me more on multiple levels, which it’s understandable how you can have a love–hate relationship with such a big state like California like “Where The Hell Are My Friends” describes. California is like several states in one hence the chorus lines “Am I starting to hate California” and “But, god, I’m so in love with this place.” Geographically, there’s only 3 states on the west coast whereas 14 states touch the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast.
Am I starting to hate California Why am I in LA 40 million in California But, god, I’m so in love with this place
“Where The Hell Are My Friends” is an ambivalent narrative that strikes a chord with genuine experience. It speaks to the suspended animation of being a permanent tourist and outsider in “Hotel California”: The conflicting thoughts and feelings with no neatly wrapped up resolution unlike how the film industry likes to package it’s products for mass worldwide consumption. Like 90210’sDylan McKay (Luke Perry) the undisputed James Dean of primetime teen soap opera TV would say, “I’ve been there.”
This is one of those moments where as a photographer you say to yourself “Like this is EVER going to happen again…”
The story: I flew into Seattle for a Yoga retreat in the northwest corner of Washington in the Puget Sound area right across the water from the Canadian border. The next morning after doing some photography in downtown Seattle, we met up with another friend to make the drive together to the retreat. When we got there, I scoped out the area and walked to the shoreline to take some pictures. On my way back to the retreat center, I saw several deer walking in a residential neighborhood and couldn’t believe Mother Nature was about to pull an Abbey Road right in front of me. I quickly snapped off this photo laughing inside in disbelief at the moment knowing that nobody would believe what just happened.
Get some Extra Points this Super Bowl or make your Holiday Parties Gastronomical with Crusty The Snowman!!
Recipe to keep them running back for more:
***All Pro Organic Ingredients***
Crusty The Snowman…Organic goat cheese
You can use cow’s milk cheese if you don’t have digestive issues with it. If not goat, sheep or buffalo cheese are easier to digest. For vegans, there are better and healthier plant based substitutes than soy now like cashew, vegetable or coconut based cheese. I’ve taken a liking to Heidi Ho brand vegan cheese which you can find at Whole Foods and other natural food stores.
Top hat…Kalamata olives (sliced, you can also use one to make him throwing a football)
Eyes…Cacao nibs (raw chocolate)
Snow on ground…Coconut chips (Medium shred dried coconut can be used as well)
All on an Organic sourdough Spelt crust with tomato sauce. You can use the traditional pizza ingredient of tomato paste, your favorite pasta sauce or salsa for a spicier kick off!
Spelt is a cousin of wheat that’s easier to digest. There are gluten free pizza crusts as well made out of millet, quinoa, tapioca, chickpea, etc. There are also vegetable based crusts like cauliflower.
No corn cob pipe here! Crusty quit smoking for his New Year’s Resolution. His cousin Frosty on the other hand, fell on a nicotine patch and won’t be running here and there all around the square saying, “Catch me if you can” anytime soon.
It’s the pavement The Beatles made famous. But where the bloody devil is it? We’ll give you some Help! for how to get there for your Fab Four foray into Rock ‘n’ Roll history with this pictorial guide. So here’s your Ticket To Ride–make sure to look both ways or hold someone’s hand ’cause there may be some Day Trippers out there. And don’t worry about running into any werewolves either. Abbey Road is located in the borough of Camden in the city of Westminster. Warren Zevon only saw and overheard werewolves in Soho, Kent and Mayfair.
First get a decent London city map and Paris one if you’re coming by train under the English Channel. I highly recommend Borch maps because they’re laminated for far better long term use and durability. They’re also waterproof so when you spill your Earl Grey tea and malt vinegar or smear Marmite on it, you won’t Twist and Shout profanities.
Visiting Abbey Road is a Rock ‘n’ Roll pilgrimage. It reminded me of hearing a guy say after a Who concert, “I’ve been to Mecca.” Whether you’re a musician or fan, venturing to this iconic location puts you in an exclusive pop culture club. You can make the Magical Mystery Tour on foot, but it may take you several hours to a day to get used to the reverse traffic patterns in England from most other countries if this is your first time there. Taking a few hours to walk the streets getting used to British traffic patterns and “unlearning” your own pedestrian habits is sound advice. The good news is crosswalks are indicated with “Look Left” and “Look Right” written in the sidewalks with corresponding arrows at crossing points. Mind you this is ONLY in busier, more heavily traveled roads.
As a head’s up, the smell of gasoline is pretty horrid in London. Britain processes petroleum differently than other countries so the automobile exhaust will be nauseating to varying degrees your first time there. Cars don’t smell that way in North and South America or other European countries.
This is the actual crosswalk. To replicate the exact angle seen on the Abbey Road album cover, you’ll need some help from some friends. The best time for this is early AM. Due to my schedule that day, I got there around 5pm.
What’s funny is people who live in the area and have to drive here do get annoyed. You hear a lot of honking horns because people imitate the stylized crossing several times a day. I saw 2 groups of people with videocameras and several people with still cameras while I was there. And it was any ‘ol Tuesday after 5pm.
This is the angle behind The Beatles looking in the direction of the photographer Iain Macmillan who stood on a stepladder as a Police officer held up traffic for around 10 minutes. This is a fairly heavily traveled street and it slopes down in front of where The Beatles crossed. The reason I did not get the same exact same POV shot as the album cover besides there not being a Home Depot nearby is you have to stand in the middle of the road with your back to traffic.
This is the direction The Beatles were walking in the album cover photo taken on August 8, 1969 sometime after 11:35 AM. This was “John’s eye view” as he was first in line to walk, followed by Ringo, Paul then George. The British government designated the crosswalk and Abbey Road Studios itself as Grade II Listed Status in 2010 for their Cultural & Historical significance.
This sign is on the side of the street in the direction they crossed. There was some construction on this building that day.
This is the view towards the opposite side of the road. Abbey Road Studios is up the street towards the right of this image.
Graffiti on the side of the road they walked from. This is the small property wall near the studio.
Must have been some good acid Sarah…
You knew this was coming.
So where EXACTLY is it? Okay, whether you fly into Heathrow or Waterloo International or take the Eurostar to St. Pancras, find Regent’s Park in the northern part of your London map. Below it is Marylebone Road. If you’re coming from St. Pancras International train station, you’ll get on Euston Road. Head west and Euston Road turns into Marylebone below Regent’s Park.
From the Tube (subway), you can get off at the Marylebone stop. To the left of the subway, or around 8 o’clock from Regent’s Park on your map, take a right onto Lisson Grove from Marylebone Road. You will be heading northwest.
Keep following Lisson Grove and it will turn into Grove End Road.
You’ll see this along the way and feel yourself coming ALIVE…
…and wonder if you feel like he does.
Grove End Road comes to a fork at this spot. Abbey Road starts on the left of the statue/monument at the fork in the road. The crosswalk you see here is not Abbey Road. The Abbey Road crosswalk will be on your left.
This is what it looks like if you’re drunk.
This is what it looks like if you’ve dropped acid.
You’re here!! You got by with a little help from your friends here. See all you need is love and decent directions
People are always making New Year’s Resolutions. Most of which never stick, involve giving up something, punishing yourself to varying degrees, restricting something. How about making a New Year’s Resolution that’s fun? One that’ll make you happier, smarter, improve coordination, memory and the performance of your ENTIRE brain more than pretty much ANY other activity. What’s the catch you ask? The blood of a free range unicorn? The fender from a pink 1979 Cadillac Eldorado? A transgender outhouse from Smurf village?
Actually, just the price of an average instrument, new or used. Any standard portable 5 octave keyboard with full size keys, an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drums, sax, flute, horn, trumpet etc. will do. Guitars and keyboards tend to be the most popular instruments, but whatever instrument piques your interest, go for it. Maybe you’ll become the next Flugelhorn Icon. You can even learn play a couple instruments as this interestingly brings out different sides of yourself.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive top of the line instruments. I used to work for a music instruction company and got to play around with all kinds of high end uber expensive instruments. Fact is, You’ll get the same benefits of playing music without having to drop 5 grand on an Eric Clapton signature model Martin, just like you don’t really need a Rolls Royce to drive to the grocery store. Unless your address is Buckingham Palace.
Cockroaches, Casios and Keith Richards
Even an inexpensive Casio keyboard you can buy at any department store or online will do. I still have one of the very first keyboards I learned to play on, a Casio. Over the holidays, I met up with one of my former bandmates and we were joking about about how they’re made of some kind of indestructible plastic. Seriously I’ve had the same cheap Casio longer than I’ve owned any car. I’ve loaned it out long term to at least 4 different people over the years and it still comes back working. So folks, it’s not just gonna be cockroaches and Keith Richards—It’s actually cockroaches, Casios and Keith Richards. That black Casio has been in the trunk of my car in the winter, in the tropics, in the desert. It would work on the moon I’m sure. I’ll make a mental note to play The Police tune “Walking On The Moon” for the occasion.
Benefits Of Making Music
Pretty much everyone loves listening to music which by itself gives plenty of benefits. But when you actually PLAY an instrument, so much more of the brain is engaged, leading to improvements across the board in numerous areas. Here’s some of the science behind making music:
Making music leads to improved coordination, enhanced learning abilities and better overall emotional health and well being. All things that are allies in anti–aging. One of the buzzwords in brain science is Neuroplasticity. The belief not all that long ago was that the brain does not grow any new neurons after adulthood. Not only is this seen now as the pile dogma sh*t that it is, the brain can and does actually grow new neurons and neural connections later in life. Playing an instrument grows new neural connections and keeps your brain young and active. And making music is actually neuro–protective. Look at our friend Keith Richards. With the amount of drugs Keith, Mick and The Stones did back in the day (I’ve also heard unpublicized stories from a musician who toured with them), one would expect them to be dead or only capable of having “zombie conversation” at a nursing home with other other casualties of the counterculture and retired boxers. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger did enough drugs to kill a herd of elephants. But lo and behold, not only can they still wipe their butts by themselves, they’re still touring, still writing and recording and being creative. Some even making new butts to wipe in their 70’s. Imagine what can happen if you play music minus the neuron guillotining effects of drug abuse.
Keith Richards’ practicing and playing guitar has no doubt protected him from years of addiction, bad habits and harmful life choices. So don’t wait till you retire to learn an instrument! Start getting the benefits now and you’ll be in much better mental and emotional shape when you do retire. You may not even want to retire from what you do because you won’t know what over the hill means. As for music, I’ll never retire from that. I don’t see music as my second language. English is my second language. I loved music before I spoke my first words.
Making Music Improves Cognition, Memory And Emotional Well Being
People take all kinds of pills and supplements to give them an edge professionally and personally. Things for energy, alertness, stress relief. Western culture promotes the magic pill. What about the magic hobby? Why don’t Dr. Oz, the Surgeon General or drug companies recommend playing an instrument? The drugs and supplements they recommend and make cost more in the long run than the price of an instrument. And the benefits of making music last longer than pills. Music is an all purpose medication without the harmful side effects.
Sound is energy. Sound is the first sense that becomes active in utero. Sound literally grew your brain. Mom’s heartbeat is our first drum kit. Why not keep growing your brain by playing an instrument? Your brain just works so much better with regular practicing of an instrument. It’s like your memories get a team of office support staff all filing them in their own departments throughout the brain. And they communicate with each other more frequently and recall things quicker and more vividly. Music is also meditative. It’s calming and relaxing and gets you out of the left brain beta consciousness birdcage which is a factor in the increased stress in modern society. That lateralization of consciousness isn’t normal or healthy—it’s fight or flight mode as the new norm. Music is nonverbal and provides stress relief in a way that other common methods cannot. Stress is energetic which then turns to physical symptoms. Music can match that negative and stuck stress energy and diffuse it. It works like a tuning fork in reverse. If you’re angry, listen or play some angry music for a while and you’ll find it draws it out of you like a Homeopathic tincture. As in Homeopathy, like cures like, and matching music to your mood will cancel it out and you’ll balance out and find your equilibrium again. Making music makes a more resilient brain.
Overcoming Biases And Misconceptions
You’ll have to overcome some biases and misconceptions about making music and playing an instrument. Rewind back to when you were a kid. Every child loves singing and making music. It’s fun, a form of play and vital for learning. At some point, most kids don’t continue their learning and exploration anymore through singing and music because “I’m not a prodigy” or some other socially approved or socially reinforced cop out and sacrificial offering to the lame God of Practicality. Are there expert or prodigy walkers? Did that stop you from learning how to do that? You don’t remember how long it took you to stand up and walk, yet most people are intimidated to play an instrument because it would “take too long.” We could have used the same excuse against speaking, writing and spelling. Look at Doctors—they’re no prodigies of handwriting are they? Granted making music is not essential to daily life but it is essential for long term quality of life as you’ve seen in the above video clip.
Look at it another way: You’re ALREADY better than any caveman. If you had a time machine and went back to the Stone Age, you’d be a rock star. As bad as you think you are or will be, you’re still better than Fred Flintstone so don’t make excuses or write yourself off before you even start.
You Don’t Need Formal Lessons To Get The Benefits Of Playing Music
You learned to speak and walk pretty well without any formal lessons. You got better with practice and later went to school and improved further. Just enjoy making music, get back to that explorative phase you had when you were a kid. Cross the “taking lessons” bridge if and when it comes to that later on. Just focus on playing music for fun and it’s benefits first. You can find free lessons online and buy lesson books before you commit to a teacher. Get comfortable and familiar with the instrument before you put yourself in the situation of paying for music lessons and the level of seriousness that goes with regular lessons. Many parents, who even well–intentioned, signed their kids up for music lessons too early turned a lot of people off from the fun of playing an instrument by making it too serious with the commitment required by having a teacher. Just like you don’t need a $5,000 Martin acoustic guitar in the beginning, you don’t need Madame Juilliard Graduate as your piano teacher the week after you buy a cheap portable keyboard. Overcommitment leads to personal letdown and unrealistic expectations at the beginner’s stage leads to personal sabotage. Don’t set yourself up for failure like this in the beginning. Remember your first time driving a car? Squirrels still have nightmares…
You Don’t Need To Understand Notes, Chords And Theory To Get These Benefits
Just play. Make pleasing sounds, practice, have fun. Worry about the formal knowledge later. Make sounds that you like. That’s how songs by your favorite artists are written. Music is created by playing first then written down, not the other way around. There are plenty of free videos on Youtube and sites online that explain music theory. You can also buy books for reference later. For guitarists, there are sites like www.songsterr.com (that is how it’s spelled) which shows how to play hundreds of songs for free. The site uses tablature to show which string and fret to play by numbers instead of having to learn notes by name. Tablature (AKA guitar tab) has helped generations of guitarists learn how to play. The site also has a player so you can hear how the song should be played so you don’t have to learn the types of notes and their time values. It is however a good idea to get a chord diagram book for keyboard or guitar because you’ll learn to think in chords instead of individual notes which is more complicated and frustrating when first learning about music theory. And all songs are based on chords, and you can quickly learn the most frequently used chords in thousands of pop songs in an afternoon.
Remember, music theory was invented thousands of years after musicians made and played the first instruments. G minor 7 flat 5 doesn’t mean squat to the Aborigines, but music and playing instruments does. Paradoxically, the more “primitive” the culture, the more every member of the culture engages in music, song, and dance. Take a hint. Heal thyself, Oh sophisticated industrial society cellphone texting box dweller!
You Don’t Have To Be “Good” To Get These Benefits
Look at Punk Rock (no offense). You don’t need to be a virtuoso like Franz Liszt, Niccolò Paganini, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Even so, all these “Gods” once drooled all over mom’s shoulder just like you and me. And being “good” never stopped Punk Rock musicians from having fun writing and playing songs. They weren’t victims of self sabotage in believing they suck or the “Don’t quit your day job” beatdown. And numerous Punk Rock bands have become culturally significant playing just a handful of the most basic chords. Music is just as fun and beneficial for a 3 year old doing pick slides on guitar as it is for someone like Eddie Van Halen.
You Don’t Have To Do It To Become A “Musician”, Play Out Or Get In A Band
Hallelujah!! Your garage can still be used for that pink 1979 Cadillac Eldorado. Frederic Chopin didn’t play live concerts much at all in his lifetime. He really just loved sitting at home with his piano composing. He make his living teaching and though sheet music sales as CD’s weren’t around in the 1800’s. French composer Camille Saint–Saëns was also an amazing pianist but never cared to play out live, preferring like Chopin to “stay home and compose.” Saint–Saëns was a prodigy and supposedly could play Beethoven Sonatas from memory (again, music really upgrades memory function). I’ve known musicians with plenty of road battle scars of drug use yet can get onstage and play songs note for note they haven’t played in years. Again, music is neuro protective. It’s an unethical double blind study which will never be done in a lab, but I’ve seen it proven true through observation time and again. On a more positive note, one of my former bandmates is a high school dropout. He’s started and successfully run several different businesses, and is also an inventor with a few U.S. Patents under his belt. His musically developed brain has more than made up for his shorter formal schooling and standardized education and gave him intelligence potentials and abilities most other people with high school and college degrees have never achieved.
I’ve played in original and cover bands, have recorded in a studio band (where you write song but don’t perform out live), and have done my own solo projects writing and composing in various genres. At the end of the day though, I still love playing music at home just all by itself. When you love playing the same 3 or 4 noted over and over again in practice, you know you’re a musician. Just focus on enjoying making new sounds and interacting with whatever instrument you chose to make music that sounds cool to you. You don’t have to label the stage of your relationship with your instrument to anyone or on social media. You’ll be a musician regardless, and your journey over the years will determine the label you give yourself. But you are still a musician even if no one ever hears you practice or play, and you aren’t obligated to begin playing an instrument for the purpose of anything else down the road except enjoying your time practicing all by yourself.
Making Music Is The Perfect Marriage Between The Right And Left Brain
Music is math and music is creative. You get the best of both worlds of brain enhancement in an activity a lot more fun that grammar school math tests. I never “called in sick” on my practice time. I always wanted to be there and even played when I was sick. Music is such a part of all aspects of my daily life. I listen to and practice music while I write. If more writers rocked they wouldn’t have writer’s block. I often pick up an instrument first thing in the morning, and it’s often the last thing I do before bed. I use music to meditate, I use it when I cook and eat, when I relax, read, and lie down right before I nod off for the night. I was a musician long before I became a writer but it is helpful and beneficial to become a musician at any point in your life and career. For instance, Humorist Dave Barry and Novelist Stephen King are amateur musicians who played in a band together called the Rock Bottom Remainders along with other authors like Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), Cartoonist and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and The Byrds lead vocalist and guitarist Roger McGuinn.
For people who don’t see the value in the time necessary for playing an instrument, here’s an example: Albert Einstein was an amateur musician. How much of his genius is attributable to playing music? You don’t ever hear about him being a musician because he was never famous for that. He was an amateur violinist though. He realized the value of playing an instrument. And the word “amateur” in our society just tends to mean you aren’t being paid for it and making your main income from it. The term is so arbitrary. Put another way, you could suck and be a “Professional” musician and you can be an amazing player in your living room and still be considered an amateur. Either way music still benefits you regardless. And lets face it, “Amateur Night” doesn’t stop men from attending Strip Clubs.
I’ve been to Einstein’s house in Princeton New Jersey, but there aren’t stories floating around of the legendary Al Einstein String Quartet killing it at the First Congo. But I’d wager playing music was a huge factor in his ability of accessing radical creativity in quantum physics. The autopsy showed Einstein had increased connections between the right and left hemispheres of his brain. The guilty party I suspect is music. Playing music caused that, which in turn allowed his greater ability for whole brain thinking and a more integrated brain. Playing music is ALWAYS additive—it wires the brain for expanded creativity and intelligence. Music grows the foundations and neural architecture for genius.
Life With And Without Making Music
I know from my own life the “before and after photos” and the feasts and famines of making music and practicing regularly. Case in point, the most stressful time in my life was during college. Why? Like many college students, I was trying to do too many things at once, juggling too many balls at once and I can’t even juggle. The mistake I made was cutting down my music practice time so I could focus more on my studies in college. It make total logical sense. But be wary of Captain Practical getting Gestapo on your enjoyments in life because restricting some, especially music, is actually detrimental to your overall performance and well being as I found out.
I did however always do my homework and studied listening to music which maintaining my buffers during stressful times but not as well as when I was actively practicing music. The difference is always blatantly noticeable. I literally feel my brain light up after a good practice session of 1 or more hours. Being a musician would get me high. I remember my music lessons every Thursday night growing up and the next day in school I would be high all day. And wow did playing music get me through the drudgery and stellar maturity of high school. Making music was so cool I checked out of the whole clique, popularity, and party scene long before I graduated. All that stuff seemed so small and petty compared to the marvels of music. I’ve long outgrown all those high school issues and concerns. I’ll never outgrow music, the swaddling cloth of sound.
Sometimes I’d practice for 5 or more hours straight and that would get me ridiculously high, not to mention expand my internal effulgence of happiness—the happy for no reason happy. But in high school and at various jobs right after college, I had to hide this to a degree because most people around me I could tell were not all that happy. Maybe if they made music, they’d tap into that inherent well of joy that cannot be found in hamster wheel lives chasing notoriety and titles.
Listen to birds. They can only make a few notes with their vocal chords. And they sing those same notes all day for their entire lives. You have the advantage of being born with fingers and hands which can play way more notes than any bird ever dreamed of. Making music and making sound is your birthright. Don’t deprive yourself of one of the most fun and beneficial things in life. So pick up an instrument this year and show the gray matter it matters and join the Culture Club—no transgender or androgynous bathroom pass necessary.
Just when we thought 2016 was done swallowing up celebrities, with just a week left in the year, we lose another. Then another. George Michael and Carrie Fisher. I can’t remember another year where more major musical figures exited the stage of life taking their final bows.
I mean David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, and George Michael—Four of the most well known musicians on the planet. George Michael sold over 100 million albums which is even “more” considering he recorded far fewer studio albums in his career than the others listed. Whether you’re a fan or not, that’s a lot of albums and fans. That’s in league with acts like The Eagles, Queen, Chicago, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones and Mariah Carey and nearing fabled Beatles and Elvis territory. George Michael’s numbers will no doubt increase in the coming weeks as it did with Prince posthumously even causing an unreleased track on the 1986 album Parade, “Sometimes It Snows In April” to chart in several countries in Europe peaking at #14 in France.
The death of George Michael came as a surprise to me as it did many others. I was visiting my brother later in the afternoon and saw it on my Twitter feed. I said to him George Michael just died. He didn’t believe it either. With all the recent talk about fake news stories on Facebook and Twitter like “Donald Trump Summits Everest” as well as discussion of verifying the accuracy of Tweets, at first I thought this was just another social media sucker punch celebrity death click bait. Then I googled and found a BBC article. George Michael gone too early at just 53 years old. Which means there’s songs not released yet and songs and projects unfinished.
George Michael won two Grammys: one for his debut album Faith (Album Of The Year) and one for his amazing duet with Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin. He achieved eight #1 singles on Billboard charts during his solo career. He began his foray into pop culture with high school friend Andrew Ridgeley in the 80’s British pop group Wham!. The historical fun fact about Wham! was they were the first western musical act to perform in China. Make that allowed to perform in China as many types of music was still banned there at the time. That was 1985 and Chinese police were worried there’d be riots. Being trampled by teenage girls can be an occupational hazard. I know the feeling. A few years back, I went an Ingrid Michaelson concert and it was me surrounded by 400–500 teenage girls. I hung out back near the soundman until the end of the show then talked to friends of mine in her band when it was safe. I lived to tell about it.
I’m going to disregard the American Idol admonition “You shouldn’t have picked a George Michael song” and pick several of my favorites. Some were released as singles, some not. All showcase his incredible voice and adeptness at singing. It’s blatantly evident George Michael was far from a base model vocalist—with him our ears get the deluxe package with all the bells and whistles. There’s none of smoke and mirrors of autotune numerous pop stars depend on and which newer generations of music fans have become tone deaf to people who wield greater mastery of the art of singing like George Michael.
Last Christmas (Single 1984, included on Music from the Edge of Heaven 1986) Last Christmas for George Michael. The bittersweet irony of George Michael dying on Christmas Day was not lost on Captain Obvious. It was another bizarre coincidence like Prince dying in an elevator after mentioning one in “Let’s Go Crazy.” Both occurrences with greater odds against them than if Elton John, a member of Chicago or the Bay City Rollers died on a Saturday.
George Michael and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley released “Last Christmas” on the heels of the massive success of their second album Make It Big. “Last Christmas”is one of those fun pop holiday songs that invites you, some would say addictively beckons you to sing along. Special. See? You know you love doing the backing vocal to it. And of all the Yuletide assaults on our ear canals in retail stores from November 24th til December 31st, I was always glad when the satellite radio roulette landed on “Last Christmas” when I was in a store. Just like when Michael Jackson died, MJ merchandise was everywhere only a day or so later and shop owners were moonwalking all the way to the bank. So don’t be surprised if you see Last Christmas or CHOOSE GEORGE apparel in stores soon.
Careless Whisper (Make It Big 1984)
Although Wham! was marketed as an early boy band (or more aptly a boy duo), when I got older, I could see how George Michael displayed a compositional maturity beyond his years. Case in point: “Careless Whisper.” I was even more impressed when I learned he wrote that famous haunting sax line when he was still a teenager. This was the first official solo from George Michael even though it was included on Make It Big. He and Andrew Ridgeley started writing this track several years prior and it’s the only one on the album where Ridgeley has a writing credit. The rest of Make It Big was all George Michael compositions.
Father Figure (Faith 1987)
George Michael had devastating nuances like Sade. “Father Figure” demonstrates how he could maneuver inside whispers. It’s one of the most believable love songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not surface pretty pop lyrics, it’s not idealized, it’s not some teenage or 20 something year old lamenting about love with miniscule life perspective—it’s a naked vulnerable exposure beyond what teeneyboppers and young pop stars could pull off. I listen to this track and see how George Michael is actually living inside these lyrics and delivers fine point precision singing with a degree of authenticity they cannot replicate. Put another way, I highly doubt even if they could write lyrics as piercingly honest and revealing, they couldn’t sell the performance vocally as genuinely as George Michael does on “Father Figure.”
I hear songs first on the level of emotional depth. So even if this song was in a different language it still would have connected with me. Though now, as an adult I can see how the lyrics could be interpreted as references to gay culture. Back then I wasn’t privy to this since this over a decade before George Michael officially came out. And during his Wham! days and early solo work, he was still bisexual (which was kept from the press) and still writing songs about women.
Nevertheless, I just heard “Father Figure” as a great love song with rare solemnness and sincerity. It really didn’t occur to me at the time that a guy who had women like Tyra Banks in his videos was gay. Back then, for George Michael, life was like a Robert Palmer video. He didn’t publicly come out until that incident in a Beverly Hills bathroom in 1998—his Pee Wee Herman moment—both men caught masturbating in public. Michael made fun of himself and the incident in the music video for the single “Outside” by wearing an LAPD uniform, holding a nightstick and dancing in a bathroom pimped out like a disco. He didn’t take himself seriously, which is a blessing when you meet famous persons who are like this, but George Michael always took his singing seriously which is preserved in the sublime softness of this moment carved in sound. Rest assured in the future, some work(s) by George Michael will be selected by the Library of Congress to be included in the United States National Recording Registry joining the Steely Dan album Aja. I have Faith on that.
I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) 1987, Duet, Grammy
What’s better than a song by Aretha Franklin? A song with Aretha ANDGeorge Michael. It was the only time it happened and fortunately it was awesome. George got to sing with one of his heroes, one of his favorite artists. He definitely picked a great example to emulate and develop his own style. The pairing was also the biggest hit for Aretha Franklin reaching #1 on Billboard charts. Earlier on in her career Aretha got Respect. Sharing a mic with George Michael got them a Grammy. Coincidentally the song has the word Faith in it as well.
This song proves it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what gender you are. It’s what’s inside you. George Michael had Motown and R&B coursing through his veins supplying his vocal chords with velvety richness and a buttery expressiveness. On the outside we saw a white British guy of Greek heritage. We heard something beyond all those temporary impermanent classifications when he sang. And this is such a beautiful contemporary spiritual/gospel flavored song disguised as pop tune with an infectious triumph and elation in the chorus hook.
Something To Save (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990)
This song soars. It’s either a secular gospel song or a hymn in the First Church of George Michael. This track will bring tears to your eyes with it’s openheartedness. It was never released as a single but it’s definitely a George Michael track that deserves more attention that it got. His affectation, freedom, and expressiveness on this track show how George Michael could make singing into a religious experience. It’s like taking a glider ride on sighs.
Waiting (Reprise)Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990
This is another track which was never released as a single. Although it’s short it contains some brutally confessional lyrics. And George Michael doesn’t devolve into sappy which all too often undermines the realness of a song. He expertly matches the singing to these really personal lyrics. He’s wasn’t just a singer, he was a songwriter and you can hear the difference—he’s singing his own words and experiences. The intimacy of this song is a reflection of self discovery. It’s daring and not the juvenile shock value kind, it’s delicate shades of gray which don’t get obscured by clouds of anger. When he sings “Here I am” towards the end of the song, he paints so many more words than just those three.
Freedom! ’90Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990
Man could George Michael sing. Listen to “Freedom! ’90” and he’ll blow your hair back on the chorus. It’s one of my favorite George Michael tracks. The outro is just pure astral emancipation. It’s danceable latin flavored groove is deceptively inviting onto a dancefloor of deliverance. “Freedom! ’90” is where we delightfully hear George Michael roar in celebratory victory. The resonant power of his chorus yells gives reverberating lift fanning the ignition of independence.
After Wham! George Michael explored songwriting further, stretching out from the common verse chorus restrictions. And that’s when he really showcased his vocal techniques and vocal range. It allowed him to employ a greater tonal palate with his singing and become more confessional with his material and singing. George Michael ranged from theatric to solemn, from sassiness to spiritual. His slower tempo songs really allowed him to stretch out and showcase his vocal flair.
For a vocalist to reach and apply higher level artistry, he or she has to sing more than just notes. and George Michael brought vocal ornamentation to the forefront. His sense of dynamics, use of nuance and inflection have made me go wow in my head numerous times. It’s in the tonality of his voice, the multi–textural vocal stylings, it’s not just his vocal range, it’s he could do so many cool things with his voice.
When your ear becomes educated you can Listen Without Prejudice and appreciate singers and styles you wouldn’t otherwise have listened to. Like Freddie Mercury (whom he was a fan of as was Freddie of him) George Michael was a one of a kind unique voice. He wrapped silver and gold tinsel around his melodies, fitting for someone with such a gifted voice.
So boom boom boom boom.
Remember, if you’re going do it, do it right, and wear your CHOOSE GEORGE shirt.
But I just hope you’ll understand, sometimes the clothes do not make the man.
Being a videographer and photographer, I’ve been fortunate to see amazing things all over the world. You learn to seek out these locations and experiences like a visual drug, and while it increases your tolerance for beauty, it doesn’t diminish your appreciation of it. However, becoming a “Beauty Junkie” elevates your scale for impressiveness and it becomes more challenging to see something that’ll knock you into next week. But occasionally it does happen: Those moments when your eye cannot believe what it’s seeing and triggers the drawbridge of your jaw to drop involuntarily.
These are moments when I heard myself gasp. Photographs of them would not do the moment justice. They have to be experienced in real time, in first person.
The Hall of Mirrors Palace of Versailles, Versailles France
The grandeur and opulence of Imperial France under King Louis XIV was on a scale you have to see to believe. Beverly Hills and Hollywood wealth is a joke compared to the Palace of Versailles. Experiencing it, you’ll get why the French Revolution happened a few Kings later under Louis XVI. Keep in mind that that The Louvre was once where the King of France lived but that wasn’t good enough so the Palace of Versailles was built.
I’ve been in upscale country clubs, resorts, hotels and some posh mansions but there’s only one Hall of Mirrors. You’ll be guillotined with gold, bronze, crystal, marble and mirrors. I’m sure the floor has seen it’s share of drool outclassing even Frat House parties and via “sober drool” on top of that. There’s also a lot of history in that room. The Sun–King Louis XIV would walk daily from his apartment to the Palace Chapel through the Hall of Mirrors. The Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I, was signed right in that very room. Numerous Heads of State and Embassies met there, marriages consecrated, and real Royal Balls of Cinderella fantasies were held there.
One time during a visit to France, I arranged to meet a friend at the train station Gare Montparnasseas he was visiting his parents outside Bordeaux. I gave him my tour of Paris and had to take him to the Palace of Versailles. We hopped on a train at Gare Saint–Lazare en route to Versailles. I remember his first words once we entered the Hall of Mirrors: “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” So if you’re ever in Paris, take the 20–30 minute train ride to Versailles and get your gasp (or drool) on. Get there early (there’s always a line of sometimes an hour wait or longer) and plan on being there the entire day to take in the main Palace and the even larger manicured grounds. Your eyes will do a double take that rooms like this actually exist for real on this planet and not just via computer graphics in movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.
As a tip, for optimal photography inside the Palace of Versailles, kneel down and take your photos. It’s always crowded and there’s mirrors everywhere so crouching down and taking your photos from a lower angle cuts out the reflection of tourists—a photographic guillotine without the mess.
Pharaonic Statue Room Musee Egizio Turin, Italy
I was walking around doing photography in Turin, which is a beautiful old European city with cobblestone streets, idyllic rolling hills and a plethora of storefronts with way overpriced women’s Italian designer leather boots. This northern Italian city is where the famous Shroud of Turin is located but that’s not something you can just buy a ticket and popcorn for. The Royal family has it in their possession and only takes it out for display every so often and there’s a waiting list years in advance for that once in a blue moon occasion.
Since I was going to take a train back to where I was staying with a friend later that evening, I decided to take in the Egyptian Museum since I’ve always been fascinated by that ancient civilization. I’ve been to plenty of museums with Egyptian artifacts before including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But I’d heard the Museo Egizio had one of the most extensive collections outside of Cairo.
I went through the entire museum taking several hundred pictures communing with the past. Artifacts, artwork and mummies, the stuff of Indiana Jones’ wet dreams, more so than I’ve ever seen (over 30,000 in the collection). The museum also has the oldest known copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead on the planet. But then you go into the final part of the museum, the final room. And that’s when your eyes REALLY get transported back to Egypt. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—it was my Howard Carter moment (the archaeologist and Egyptologist who discovered King Tut’s tomb). I walked through the doorway into a room the size of a supermarket and gazed upon those “wonderful things”: rows and rows of massive Egyptian statues; statues bigger than I’ve ever seen before—some over 20 feet tall; statues in better condition than I thought possible after several thousand years with the intricately ornate paint scheme still visible. It was like seeing an afterimage where I could extrapolate just how incredibly awe inspiring these statues once were, and the extravagance and grandeur it must have burned into the eyes of the Egyptians who worshipped them. Art can encapsulate and preserve the Sacred even if those Gods and Goddesses are less popular now than Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. And wow, seeing that was seeing the aura of ancient Egypt still thriving and preserved in time for anyone who hasn’t become culturally comfortably numb to their innate sense of wonder by the superficialities and “cosmetic” concerns of modern industrial technological societies.
The European Alps From The Air
This was flat out the loudest most involuntary reflex gasp I ever made. It was like nature hit a knee somewhere in the heart of my being and I heard myself making a sound and remember feeling it escape from my mouth. I felt my jaw drop. In some way it was as if the consciousness of the Alps interacted with me somewhere over 30,000 feet. It was like seeing a gargantuan ice castle piercing the clouds in a subtle reserved display of it’s awesome power.
It was on a flight into Geneva, Switzerland and the Captain got on the intercom and gave us an early heads up on the right side of the aircraft. We flew over a high ridge temporarily obscuring our view, then once the flyover was complete, the Swiss side of the Alps was revealed beaming reflected sunlight off snow and ice like a majestic mountain lighthouse. I was sitting on that side of the aircraft but stood up and moved to an empty row to get a better view. A few seconds later, I took a picture still dazed in the moment, still stunned by retinal overload. The sight actually interfered with my ninja photographer reflexes and my body’s normally quick neural connections.
When you approach the European Alps, the telltale sign you’re getting nearer is the crystal clear translucent blue water runoff from the ice–capped mountains stains the rivers with it’s unchallenged purity. And you know the Ice Queens are nearby. There are places on the planet right out of Lord of the Rings and the European Alps are one of them. Even Superman would probably want a vacation home there as it’s a Fortress of Solitude par excellence. In the era of the attention span challenged, people get desensitized to the marvels and quiet regality of nature. You’re not going to experience these heightened moments of transcendence and keyhole peeks into Divinity being a slave to the LCD screen of your cellphone. You’ll miss the times nature send YOU a text.
When we landed, I strolled around downtown Geneva with my friend and window shopped watches that cost more than the photo and video gear I had on me. Nope, I thought, I just saw something more incredible than the finest Swiss watch ever made. I cannot wear those jagged giants emerging from the cauldrons of molten mantle on my wrist but I wear it around my pineal gland in it’s collected orbits of awesomeness.
There’s dimensions missing from that moment in the pictures I took. I look at them and only see what’s not there. The Alps didn’t interact with my camera, it interacted with another living consciousness and that connection cannot be photographed. But I knew in that moment I would remember that mighty wink at my Soul the rest of my life. And I do. Sometimes even lying down in bed before I fall asleep, the Alps visits me in an afterimage and the power of that moment’s residue is still there. The pulse of that Infinity in the Alps still echoing inside me.