Birthday Crossroads

Dentist

“‘Cause I’m a DENNNNTIST!” Photo courtesy of Mesquite Community Theatre

Years ago, I had a blog that was attached to my personal website. I wrote a bunch of stuff I was really proud of, I wrote some fluff I wasn’t so attached to… and then I wrote some stuff that I probably shouldn’t have written; stuff that was technically all about me, but included other people who would rather have those events not discussed so openly and certainly not so confessionally. After catching hell from folks irritated that their dirty laundry was being aired out, I dropped the blog, deleted it, and lost all the old posts. This made a bunch of folks happy, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth… because while they could complain about their dirty laundry, I wasn’t discussing them; I was discussing ME. I was talking about how those decisions they made influenced and changed my life, and if I was going to be honest with my story, I was going to need to include those people in the narrative. But… as it sometimes happens… honesty and artistic integrity get in the way of relationships. To keep those relationships in solid ground, I would need to promise not to discuss certain details of my life in public. So that blog died.

FVWdoor

Still trying to master the whole “Selfie” thing…

When I started this blog, the mission statement was very narrow: this narrative would be about me and my attempts to not be such a nerd and transform myself into a Rock Star; it would be about losing weight, learning instruments, and performing gigs. With parameters that specific and that tight, worrying about other people and their feelings should never have been a worry… so I didn’t worry. I just started writing.

It was a few months in that I found myself editing myself, not discussing certain matters. I have four other men in my cover band; most of them have significant others, some of them have exes, some of them have kids, and the band itself has a reputation to build and maintain. I do work with two different community theaters, full of troupes of actors and directors, one of which has a board of directors. My wife has aunts and uncles and cousins; I have aunts and uncles and cousins; we both have friends and those friends have family and friends. And even though I had chosen a very specific niche, because I was writing about my life, I still found myself needing to worry about other people’s feelings. As much as I want to be honest, I didn’t want a repeat of last time with its deletions and promises not to ever talk about certain folks and events for as long as I’m writing.

ETGBatVFW

I love doing musical theater… but this? This is where I feel most at home, on a stage with these friends…

It’s been three months since I last blogged. I am finished with my first musical of the year, which, by all accounts, went great. The band had its first gig in eight months a couple of weeks a go, it went well – not perfect, but solid enough to make new fans. I’ve written four more songs, for a total of ten so far, technically enough for an album, but definitely enough for an EP. I am definitely in the summer musical, so much so I just started giving voice lessons to two of the actresses and hopefully growing the class with as many of the other cast members as possible.

And I haven’t written about any of that.

Busking

Nothing better than friends, family, and live music on a sunny day…

My experience with the Winter musical was great. Everyone said I did a good job, I enjoyed the director, I loved the cast, I made some new friends, and I may have opened up a new creative venue for myself. The experience of working in my home town vs working at my parents’ home town was different, though. Not bad… just different. I thought I would be writing about those differences, but I’ve found myself not wanting to… I don’t want my words to be misconstrued and somebody taking an observation as a criticism. I haven’t wanted to talk about the band’s process of getting back into working mode, afraid someone would misconstrue my words and think I’m complaining or criticizing. I don’t want to discuss my voice lessons, afraid one of my cast mates will get my meaning wrong, feel they’re being criticized. I haven’t discussed my songwriting process for fear I will annoy my band mates and musician buddies, or put them all out of sorts.

I haven’t been writing because I’m afraid if I express my opinion, I will hurt or upset somebody. Because I have hurt and upset people before.

I told someone a few nights ago that creating art is the act of ripping open your chest and exposing your heart; that making good art meant always riding that ragged edge of your emotions and risking losing control of them. And since this blog is about a portion of my life that touches other people, for the last three months I have not been taking that risk – I have been keeping my heart securely in my chest, and I have been keeping a very tight reign on my emotions.

Yet again, I now find myself at a crossroads when it comes to this blog. Yet again, I find myself at a loss as to how I’m supposed to create good art with artistic integrity and intellectual honesty while not creating unintentional hurt and needless drama. I am not happy about this particular turn of events. I will have to do some soul searching yet again, decide if I’m going to continue the blog, and, if I do, how I will proceed.

On a happier note, I did just spend a long weekend in the lovely and historic Louisville, Kentucky visiting ETGB’s Biggest Fan. Officially, this was my Birthday Gift to myself, but unofficially, it was the perfect opportunity to grab my mom and a couple of long-time close friends, and carpool up to see our Sister From Another Mister in her gorgeous hometown. Mom had a blast; all the old friends who hadn’t spent any real time together in years got a chance to bond over old memories, great food, and decadent food; and my Kentucky Bestie and I got a chance to be Besties, as opposed to having to settle for texts and a phone call once a week if schedules allow. The trip was worth the exhaustion, though I am very sorry the High School Sweetheart was on her driving shift when the monsoon started coming down. She did great, but I did finish out the trip home behind the wheel just in case the rain got that bad again. I’ve had two nights in a row of eight hours of sleep, so I am back to feeling like my old self once again.

A Living Entity or Brushing Up Against the Invisible Line

Keith, Kelly, and Tim

Me showing off my brother, Kelly, for Tim’s obligatory selfie. Photo courtesy of Tim Lovick.

There’s the band as a marriage metaphor, which works when all or most of the original band members are still in place; and then there’s the band as a living entity metaphor. I tend to go with the living entity metaphor personally. In my marriage, I have an equal say in things, and while I tend to take a back seat in decisions concerning things like how to decorate the house, my lovely Lady Fair knows my tastes and tries to keep that in mind when picking out colors and designs. As Paul likes to say, “I don’t run my house, but I have veto power.” That’s not the case with the band. I can make suggestions, I can ask questions, I can push for certain decisions, but I don’t actually make those decisions, and I certainly do not have veto power. That’s Paul. The band is Paul’s band. Now, Paul is smart enough and wise enough to take everybody else’s strengths and preferences into account when making decisions, but at the same time, the final Yay or Nay is always his. So no, the band is not a marriage – it is a benevolent dictatorship, and we are all free to leave if we don’t like Paul’s stewardship of the band.

This band is a living entity, though. Paul is the brains, Super Dave is the heart beat, JC is the back bone, Tim is the imagination, and I am the voice. And like a living being, the band has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. There are times when the band is on all cylinders and just unstoppable… and then there are days when the band cannot get it’s act together to save it’s damn life. Sometimes, the peak and the valley are on the same damn week.

10th Anniversary Cancerian poster

One of our favorite gigs of the year…

The band has never had a period where it could just cruise, rest on its laurels and enjoy the view – the band has always been in some kind of transition. Before Paul brought me onboard, the band experimented with having two female back up singers. This did not work, mainly because the females in question used a little too much liquid courage to psych themselves out enough to perform in front of a crowd. Not long after they ladies were cut loose, I arrived… so technically, I was brought on to be the ladies’ replacement, singing the pretty back up.

It was unthinkable that we would need to replace Patrick, the drummer… and then suddenly, we did. Seven kids with a vicious recession on was too much stress on Patrick and the entire family, so the band had to go. JC was brought in, and even though he was half the age of the rest of the crew, he got along great… until we had to replace JC, who had decided to move to Los Angeles. Patrick came back, life got too vicious again and he left, and then JC moved back to Texas and he rejoined the crew.

Jon co-founded the band with Paul. Jon is brilliant. Jon is an amazing bassist, with a jazzy kind of interpretation of classic songs. Jon also had very definite ideas about the direction he wanted to go with the music the band was doing; when that didn’t happen, he decided he just wanted to show up and play… but soon, he didn’t want to do that, either. After not returning phone calls or emails for weeks, Paul brought in Super Dave so the band could start booking dates again. Jon found out he’d been replaced by social media, and we haven’t heard from him since. Not our finest hour, and whether he admits it or not, it still haunts Paul.

When Gary’s carpal tunnel took him out of the band and Tim came on board, the only original member of the band Paul created 12 years ago… was Paul. The brain was intact, but everything else in the body had be replaced with a transplant.

The band at Chaser's

The crew and Little Brother, taking care of business. Photo courtesy of the wonderful Michele Moore.

It sucks when you lose a band member, even if it happens with a minimum of fuss, as in Patrick and Gary’s cases. The upside is, though, with the infusion of new blood comes new song ideas. When JC settled in and became THE drummer, the band got a lot better. When Super Dave came in and brought a new wealth of songs, the band got a lot better. When I discovered the meaning behind the songs and found my voice, the band got a lot better. Now that Tim is on board with his tenor harmonies and lead guitar licks, the band has gotten better once again.

With all the transplants in the band, with all the improvements the band has made over the years, The East Texas Garage Band is poised to make a big leap.

There’s a line no one can see, but everyone who deals with any kind of creative, artistic pursuit knows it is there and it is real: it is the line that separates amateurs from professionals. A lot of times, the division is really easy to see: go to a comic convention and take a walk around the art show, you will see a definite difference in quality between the amateur work and the working professional’s art. Some times, the division is almost impossible to see: go online and read some of the fan fiction out there, some of it is as good – if not better – than some of the published novels on book shelves. When you are really lucky, you catch an amateur actor or dancer just before they hit the big time, and you get to say “I saw them when no one knew who they were.” Well, a band faces that same line. It takes a certain amount of time and energy to get to the top of the amateur level, to be the best an amateur can be… and then you stall there. Because the difference between the “extremely gifted amateur” and the “working professional” is incredibly small, yet almost impossible to bridge. A lot of the time, it’s the X factor that separates the two categories, that indefinable ingredient that you know when you see it or hear it. The real bitch is it’s a band – nearly all the members have to have that X factor or be so close to having that X factor before the band as a whole is ready to make that leap to The Show.

With my singing, with Tim’s leads, with Super Dave’s playing, with Paul’s leadership and showmanship, and with JC’s outside the box syncopation, as of just a few weeks ago, The East Texas Garage Band was knocking on that line, poised to make the jump. Which, in our case, being a cover band in DFW, meant potentially leaving the B-level of acts and joining the A-level tribute bands. Also meant doubling our fee, and being able to get that. We’d need to have a serious conversation about where the band wanted to go at that point: being an A-level act in DFW means either being a tribute band (which we don’t want to be), adding dance and party music to the repertoire (a possibility, just not a strong one), or create some original tunes and try to go pro (my preferred choice).

JC wrecked his truck.

me at Chasers

Trying to see where the hell the guitarists are going with this song… Photo again courtesy of the lovely Michele Moore.

Just days after our last gig, just over a week until our next gig, and JC lost control of his vehicle while heading home from a concert down in Deep Ellum, woke up in ICU with two broken arms, two broken wrists, some broken ribs, and a cracked bone in his playing foot. One wrist required surgery, his playing foot required surgery. He is laid up for weeks, possibly months, and until he heals up enough for physical therapy, JC has no idea what effect this will have on his ability to drum: could have no effect at all, which is the hope; could be done drumming for the rest of his life, which is a panicky worst case scenario, but is still a possibility.

I took JC flowers from the band a couple of days after they moved him from ICU into a private room. His foot was still swollen like a grapefruit then, the doctors hadn’t gone in after that bone they were worried about. It was the first time I had been to a hospital since Sherry had died almost two years ago, and I was not digging the sensation at all. As his singer, I’m pissed as hell that JC has done this to himself… but as his friend… damn it all… I am just so grateful he’s still alive. Had he been going just a little faster, had the wall he hit been just a little taller, and that might not have been the case. When I couldn’t force out any more words of encouragement, I got the hell out of there… I was wiping away tears by the time I got back out to my car.

I’ve just buried too many people lately. This cut it a little to close for comfort for me.

My brother, Kelly, drums for a local cover band and knows most of our songs; more importantly, he’s all about the playing and doesn’t have time for any drama, his real life is dramatic enough as it is. Paul quickly gave him a call, we scheduled an emergency Friday night rehearsal, and we went out to the middle of nowhere to play the private gig that had been on the calendar for months. We weren’t as tight as we’d been the couple of weeks before, but Kelly is a pro, Paul and Time are pros, and with Super Dave keeping everybody in the mix, we were still pretty dang good. Two weeks later, we showed up at Chasers and did it all over again with the same result.

We just don’t know what’s going to happen with JC, so Paul made the executive decision to go on hiatus for the foreseeable future, which means Chaser’s gig was probably our last of 2016. He and Tim have been getting together to mesh their guitar grooves; hopefully, I’ll get a call soon saying they guitarists are ready for a vocal rehearsal, work on some harmonies. As for what I’m going to do to get my performance fix, I haven’ decided yet. Upside to all the drama the last month? Lost ten pounds. Say what you want about the stress diet – it works.

It also means that invisible line we were just brushing up against has retreating out of reach again.

Na na na na… Na na na na… Hey hey hey… Good-Bye… 2012!

Bringing in the New Year Blowout poster

Good looking poster… wonder who designed that?

The plan was 2012 would end with an explosion of kick-booty rock and roll done right in front of a large crowd of raucous party hounds.

Unlike our last gig, I’d pulled out all the stops graphically, had two dozen flyers and a custom poster printed on photo-grade paper no less at the venue November 1st – the day after Halloween and the first official day of the quote-unquote Holiday Season: free food, prizes, cheap drinks and live, hella-loud classic rock on New Year’s Eve courtesy of the best band out of Terrell, Texas, the mighty East Texas Garage Band. Had the gig up on Facebook with invites sent out; had the event listed on the local news website; and had the show updated on Reverbnation.com.

Our fill-in drummer for the show was an old friend and former band mate of Dave’s, a nice guy named Randy, and Randy was/is simply amazing. He was great on Patrick’s kit, and then when he brought out his own rig, he kicked it up yet another notch. Basically, if he heard the song, he could play the song – just what the doctor ordered on such short notice. Drumming wasn’t going to be a problem.

The month off was a problem. As a vocalist, when I don’t rehearse I tend to forget or change the words – once I’ve got the melody down, though, it stays remembered. Not so with guitarists – not only do their heads have to remember the tune, their hands have to remember the tune, as well. If someone’s been burning the candle at both ends for a solid month, if someone’s been dealing with family/work drama for days and weeks with no reprieve on the horizon, they are going to end up with a disconnect between their memory and their motor reflexes. Both of our guitarists had been working their narrow tails off, both of our guitarists had been dealing with family issues – both our guitarists had some difficulty getting back into the swing of things once rehearsals started back up. By our last rehearsal before the show, songs were being dropped from the set list, lead vocals were being swapped out, and the band was struggling with certain tunes. No one was immune – as often as Paul or Gary were forgetting their solos, Dave and I were forgetting lyrics. The time off had not been our friend.

ETGB at Chasers Lounge NYE

Doing what we do best…

The last rehearsal, the band decided to try tuning down a half-step. Not every vocalist has Bruce Dickinson’s or Steve Perry’s range – tuning down just a half-step makes all the high notes easier to sing while the band doesn’t have to relearn those songs in a different key; and because it’s just a half-step, the melody sounds pretty much the same to the singer’s ear, so they don’t have to relearn the song. It does feel different when the vocalist sings the song, though – the singer is using different muscles and placing the note in a different place than what they were accustomed to. My brother’s band tunes down and I had sung with them before, so the half-step didn’t throw me – I actually embraced it. I could hit the high note on Tush without needing to go into my head voice, I could sing Fortunate Son without screaming out my voice, and I was still singing strong at the end of the night. Dave loved the change as well – his high harmonies on Take It Easy were stronger, he wasn’t screaming his voice out on Tush, and he still had something in the tank after The Cowboy Song.

Paul playing guitar

Paul, untethered and unleashed…

The guitarists, Paul and Gary, weren’t so lucky. While technically the song is the same, acoustically everything sounds just a wee bit different. One rehearsal over a week before the gig was not enough to instill the new melodies into memory: Paul and Gary would hit a chord, not hear what they were expecting, and their first instinct was that they were playing the chord wrong – when they went to correct, they’d slide out of tune. A couple of our best songs had issues.

The night of the show, the band starting getting emails, texts, and Facebook messages from friends and family members: “So sorry, can’t make it. Got to work/just got sick.” RSVP after RSVP started falling by the wayside. My six guarantees and two maybes never arrived. Most of Paul’s hardcore folks never arrived. My brother sent out a Facebook message to his band’s fans, directed them to my gig – none of them arrived. It was a Monday night, it was cold, it was wet, a lot of folks had the creeping crud, so a lot of folks decided staying home with the rugrats was the way to bring in the New Year. Even my lovely Lady Fair was down for the count – I made her stay home after she’d been home sick with the flu since Christmas night.

God bless Joe and Laurie – you two have no idea how much the band appreciates your continuous support.

The venue did have some regulars, and as I’d hoped more folks showed up after the 10 o’clock hour (why? No idea); the place never filled to capacity, though, and that disappointed me – I’d been looking forward to this gig for months. The best New Year’s Eve I ever spent was working as a DJ for a dance – just like my birthday, if given my druthers I’d pick performing with the band over attending a party or staying at home any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I was hoping for a huge crowd of shiny, happy people for our last show of the year – just didn’t happen that way.

As far as the last show of 2012 was concerned, I could’ve used another rehearsal – I stumbled over some lyrics we hadn’t performed in a while, and we were still just winging the new tune. Vocally, I’ve never sounded better – I had strangers hunt me down to specifically compliment my voice, both at my show and Kelly’s show a couple of nights before. I wasn’t singing this well in college. A couple of the songs were off to races rhythmically – to be expected when you’ve got a new drummer sitting in – and a couple of the songs went into wonky keys – also to be expected if you’re still unaccustomed to tuning down. Overall, a pretty decent show, nothing to be ashamed of.

While the first twelve months of this blog was officially over in November, I’m still counting this as the end of first year; and if you grade these last fifty-two weeks by the blog’s mission statement, I failed miserably. I ended the year with no weight lost and no instruments learned. If you grade the year by how I feel about how the process went, however, the year was a big success: I performed a capella, I fronted my brother’s band at the last minute, I sang two shows in one week, I drove hundreds of miles to do three shows in one month, and I auditioned for a national televised program. I’m singing my best ever, with still room for improvement, and I’m more confident than ever I can actually do this. I can become a Rock Star.

Good-Bye 2012. Hello 2013! Grand things on the horizon!

The Voice Dallas 2012 Auditions

Prologue:

So I was watching the last season of The Voice, made mention of that on my Facebook page, when my lovely sister-in-law, Dionne, made a surprising comment: she and my brother, Kelly, were also watching and in their discussions about the merits of the show they decided I should audition, they both felt I’d be a good fit for the program’s format. I knew Dionne enjoyed my singing, but I didn’t know she felt I was national-level talent – I was a little stunned and more than a little touched; I also promised her that if The Voice ever held a casting call in or around Dallas, I would go audition.

At the time I made the promise, I knew the auditions were being held solely in New York and Los Angeles, with video submissions filling in the blanks, so I wasn’t too worried I’d have to make good – imagine my surprise when The Voice website announced regional try-outs, with Dallas front and center as an audition location.

The Voice Dallas 2012 Auditions July 28-29

Oh. Em. Gee. Put Up or Shut Up Time.

I almost didn’t sign up. I didn’t feel ready: I haven’t lost the weight, I still can’t play my ukulele, and I still don’t have my prescription sunglasses (and YES, my future success depends on a pair of sunglasses – shut up). But a promise is a promise – I reminded myself that if you want to be a writer, you must write; actors must act; dancers must dance; and if I want to be a singer, then I must sing. The Voice is a singing competition, I am a singer – I should give the audition a try. I registered for an Artist Account, and in a few weeks the date and location of the Dallas tryout was announced: July 28th and 29th at the Irving Convention Center. I got my Artist Pass with my registration number and call time the weekend prior, then prepared for my date with destiny.

Since I’m discussing the process of the audition instead of prepping for my trip to Los Angeles, my date with destiny didn’t go as I’d envisioned it in my mind. In retrospect, I have to admit I did almost every little thing wrong for this audition. How bad did I eff this up? Let me count the ways.

Mistake #1: Made Friday Night Plans.

I’m still looking for a day job – they’re out there, I see them advertised almost daily, I just haven’t found the right one and the right one hasn’t found me. While I’m waiting for lightning to strike, I need income, so I’m contracting as a wine instructor with Premier Wines. I had my first class in a long while this past Friday night, and it was great – wonderful hosts, lovely guests, everyone had a pleasant time, and I enjoyed myself. The problem was the next morning – I’d spent three hours projecting to be heard over the din of a dozen wine-drinkers, plus serenaded a female guest for tips for my wine pourer: the result was my voice was fatigued and I sounded a little gravelly; worse, I was unable to make the transition between my chest and head registers without tripping over the break between the two – I had a yodel. This shouldn’t have been an issue, the song I had chosen to perform was well within my chest register up to and including the show-stopping high note – it still shook my confidence. A portion of my vocal range, a piece of my singing arsenal, was not at my disposal – suddenly, I was second-guessing everything: my song choice, my audition time, even my decision to audition at all, and for the first time in a long time, I had a bad case of the jitters. My day was off to a bad start.

Moral: Take the night before off – rest the voice and get as good a night’s sleep as possible.

Mistake #2: An Afternoon Call Time.

I’m not a morning person, I’m almost always late getting to where I need to be before lunch, so I thought it prudent to pick an afternoon call time – no chance of oversleeping, plenty of time to get to where I needed to be, and I’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I arrived at my audition. I knew The Voice was popular, but since the auditioning process had only been announced on the website, I assumed only the hard-corpse types would know about the date and that would help keep the attendance at a manageable level. I’d be able to show up an hour ahead of my 2pm call time, and all would be awesome.

Dear Barbara, was THAT a stupid assumption.

the line for auditioning

Evidently, I wasn’t the only delusional fool that Saturday…

When I hit the exit to the Irving Convention Center, the cars were backed up to the frontage road; when I swung around to the opposite entrance, the parking areas were packed, and cars were parked in the empty lot across from the site, with parents and significant others dropping off contestants as near to the center as possible, double- and sometimes triple-parking to do so. Not wanting to spend all my advance time looking for legal parking spaces and not trusting the illegal parking spaces, I drove up Las Colinas Drive to the first general purpose parking garage I could find – on the corner of Las Colinas and O’Connor, a good 15 minute hike back to the convention center.

I don’t know what it says about me and I don’t care – if I want to feel my most confident, I need two things: I need to be wearing black, and I need to be wearing a suit or sports coat. While this may present an air of authority in an interview or audition, this is not the best attire for a quarter-mile walk, especially if it’s 1:15 in the afternoon in late July – I was sweating like a hooker in  church by the time I joined the HUNDREDS of people lined up outside. Another hour would go by before I managed to get inside to the air conditioning – I was literally drenched in sweat. Thankfully, so was everyone else, so we were all equally offensive – I was damn glad I’d showered, deodorized and slapped on cologne before I left.

As I listened to the conversations around me, I learned that people drove in from Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Missouri to make this audition – I’d only needed to drive in 30 minutes from Mesquite, yet still couldn’t be bothered to show up before lunch.

Moral: Pick the earliest audition call time – you won’t look like you’re lacking in ambition, and if you end up waiting an hour outside you won’t be lined up in 100 degree weather.

Mistake #3: Underestimated the Wait.

I knew it was going to be a long afternoon, knew the audition was going to take at least a couple of hours, so I had a good breakfast around 9:30AM, then hydrated with iced tea laced with B vitamins on the drive to Irving. I had not planned on a 15 minute hike, an hour standing in the blazing heat of a late July afternoon, or an over 3 hour wait once I got inside and verified by the audition staff. By the time I finally got herded from the holding pen to the staging area up on the 3rd floor, I was dehydrated and shaky from low-blood sugar – add that to the now damp clothes, clammy skin, and nasty case of nerves I never expected, I felt like hammered doggie-doo.

Moral: Whatever your expectation of the wait, double it – then take water and trail mix just in case.

Mistake #4: Song Choice.

I’d done my research and knew the initial audition was a cappella only, no accompaniment at all, so the focus was solely on your voice. I spent a good month fretting over what song I should sing – wanted to give a good showing of my range, wanted to stay out of my head voice so I wouldn’t get pigeon-holed in that register, wanted to show my articulation and ability to modulate my projection, and so on. I finally settled on the classic Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, originally a Broadway show tune, later made famous by The Platters, an absolutely gorgeous song that covered all the bases I was worried about.

Dumb f-ing choice.

In all my fretting, I was ignoring everything I’d learned performing with my band over the last year: it’s not about the song, it’s not about the quality of the technique, and it’s not even about getting it all correct – it’s all about making the emotional connection. If you sing from your heart and feel the music, if you try to express to your audience all the emotion of the song your experiencing, THAT is when the mysterious X Factor that separates the good from the great manifests, THAT is when the magic happens.

I’ve been singing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes for over half my life, but it had been over a year since I’d performed it in front of an audience – I was worried about getting the song right instead of making the song meaningful; and while I did eventually audition with surprisingly good technique considering my physical state, that X Factor I knew I was capable of delivering didn’t get delivered. I was just another better-than-average karaoke singer, not a Rock Star.

Moral: Even if it is not the best showcase of your range or technique, sing a song that comes straight from your heart – if you don’t feel it, you won’t bring it.

Epilogue:

So, long story short: should have taken the night before off, resting my voice; should have expected 4500 people to show; should have auditioned first thing in the morning when the judges were fresh and the outside temperature bearable; should have prepared for a very, VERY long day, packing snacks and water; and should have performed my absolute favorite song with all the heart-felt longing I could muster instead of a technically impressive song with no soul.

Long story short: I was totally unprepared. I didn’t deserve to make the cut.

Saturday was my first audition in 25 years and my first ever for a national show – I’m glad I did it, I’ve got it under my belt, I now know what to expect. I also know what I need to improve upon and prepare for if I decide to do this again next year.

Been A Long Time Since I Rock n Rolled

I know it’s a cliché, but dammit, can’t help myself – rock n roll saved my soul.

The East Texas Garage Band with special guest David Fox

Runnin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosin’ my load…

I quit my day job. Wasn’t my intention to do so, didn’t have a better job waiting in the wings or a diabolical plan for global domination waiting to be sprung at the proper moment – just had all I could stand. I don’t mind overly much being underpaid, just as I don’t mind overly much being under-appreciated and under-utilized – I just can’t handle being disrespected week after week while being underpaid, under-appreciated and under-utilized. After a particularly stressful encounter, I came to the conclusion that since I couldn’t change the conditions of the situation, I’d have to remove myself from the situation before I said or did something I’d regret professionally – I turned in my notice, did my job for another three weeks, and bid the place “Adios.” As far as my mental health goes, it was the right move – the work environment had gotten completely toxic; as far as my finances are concerned, however, it was not my brightest idea – while there are positions out there in my career field, there are still ten qualified applicants for every job listing. Putting off vacating the work premises for another year would have been a far smarter play – just couldn’t do it.

The party people at Chasers Lounge

Boogie-oogie-oogie ’til ya just can’t boogie no more!

First week of not having to force myself out of bed to plaster on a fake, plastic smile and pretend I have no pride was sheer bliss, and after the second week the bad ju-ju really started to fade away as I stopped having arguments with people from my old job while in the shower or alone in my car; it was the third week that I started second-guessing myself. “Should’ve just lodged a complaint – didn’t have to go nuclear so soon. You’re never going to find work again, it’s too soon to start pushing the music path – you’re too fat and you don’t have enough talent.” And that was the one that hurts most – I haven’t been eating and exercising the way I know I should, the way I’d planned when I started this blog; and I don’t care what anyone says about not judging books by their cover, appearances matter. Doesn’t matter that the Dollar Menu is packed full of delicious possibilities, or that the gas station has steaming-hot coffee and iced donuts that rival the major chains – overweight people are seen as lazy and lacking discipline, period. In the age of MTV and YouTube, to be in the music industry – even as just a street performer – you need to be thin, if not fit.

And if the “you’re too fat” comment is true, then the “you don’t have enough talent” comment must be true, too – right?

Thank the sweet baby Jesus I’m in my band.

Gary with David Fox

David Fox making it look so damn easy…

Played two weekends in a row – May 25th and June 2nd. The first gig was at our new favorite hangout, Chasers Lounge – still pays a little over diddly-squat, but we love the vibe of the place, we love the clientele, and we love Teresa, the hot owner. Pauly decided he needed inspiring this particular gig so he invited our buddy, keyboardist David Fox to come join us. David is soooooooo good at what he does, he basically just shows up, plugs in, and here we go, ya’ll – he knows every song under the sun, and the ones he doesn’t know he can get through just by watching Super Dave’s chording hand. If that wasn’t awesome enough, David sings as well – a bright, clear tenor with a baritone’s lows that can carry leads while still completing the bottom harmonies beautifully. And if it sound like I got a bit of a man-crush on Fox – yeah, I kinda do. Talent out of every pour, yet still one of the nicest, most humble musicians I’ve met.

With David’s keyboards filling in the holes in our wall of sound, the only downer of the evening is we didn’t have our full-time drummer adding that fifth voice in the harmonies. Patrick started a new day job earlier in the month, an entry-level position with good benefits and actual advancement opportunities – been pulling 60-hour weeks to get up to speed ever since, which left no time for rehearsing. Our buddy, JC Mendoza, stepped up to help us practice the Saturday and Sunday before, and Pauly being the man he is couldn’t see having a guy put in that much work for free and not get a gig out of it – JC sat in the next two weekends. JC’s got an amazing can-do attitude and is one fabulously talented drummer who is only going to get better with time – it was great having him there; at the same time, he’s got a different playing style than Patrick and doesn’t sing, so the feeling was a little off for me both nights – I kept missing Patrick’s fills and Patrick’s voice during the songs. I really began to understand why Pauly waited so long to invite Super Dave to join the group: it’s comforting to know what’s coming next because everything sounds familiar. Object lesson learned – to keep from getting thrown when events aren’t optimum, I have to practice being out of my comfort zone more.

We’re all still waiting to hear what Patrick’s life is going to look like – don’t want to lose him from the band, he’s a key component to “our” sound as well as being one hell of a nice guy and friend. We should get word in the next couple of weeks.

The East Texas Garage Band

Reachin’ for the high note…

I was very happy with my performances both weekends. Still need to work on finding something to do with my free hand, still need to find more to say when Pauly’s switching out guitars, but that’s just Stagecraft 101 and will come with more research and practice. As far as my singing goes, I’ve never been better: phrasing has improved by leaps and bounds, tone quality is great, notes sound easy instead of forced – I’m where I should be to be a B-list cover band vocalist playing biker dives and VFWs. I’m no longer the weak link of the group; better yet, I’ve still get room for improvement and the potential to get even better – learning to trust my voice and ease into certain notes instead of forcing them, giving me more control and more phrasing options; placing the microphone rather than just standing in front of it; choosing new notes instead of blindly following the established melody so that I can avoid screaming myself hoarse to hit all the notes outside my chest range; and more.

In the midst of all this awesome, my peeps made it to my shows: my adopted brother, Bobby and our old friend, Loretta, made it out to both shows along with my parents; and at the Chasers Lounge show, I finally got to sing for one of my oldest friends, Michelle, and my high school sweetheart, Kim, neither of which I’d seen on well over 20 years. Michelle and Kim had driven in to spend the weekend with Bobby, and they’d all made plans to come party with me at my gig. Even if the night had been a complete disaster, I’d still been on Cloud 9. They all assured me they had an awesome time, that my band was every bit as good as I’d been bragging, and we hugged as if we’d never see each other again. As soon as my work situation rights itself, I’m making plans to travel out and see Kim and Michelle, who both promised they’d be back.

I can fix being out of shape, and that starts immediately; I can fix being out of work, and that starts immediately; but I don’t have to fix not having enough talent – I’ve got all the talent I need. Just need to start cutting, trimming, buffing and polishing that diamond in the rough to sparking perfection.

Michelle, Bobby, Me, Kim

The first-ever reunion of the West Mesquite Junior High 7th Grade Class of 1977-78: Michelle, Bobby, Keith, and Kim.

Thunderstorms and Ukuleles

green ukulele

My Love, My Ukulele

So it’s been exactly one month since my doctor’s appointment and my not getting bad news.

Getting up and exercising has been hit or miss. The weather has been all sorts of wonky – here in the North Central Texas region, we’ve had the wettest January on record, with 60 mph winds and torrential downpours. And with these thunderstorms come my dog, Spike, losing his ever-loving mind during the overnight hours – barking, running around in circles, shivering, and creating a bad example for his brother, Sparky, who either joins in or hides behind the couch. More than once, I have found myself watching the radar at 3 am, vainly trying to convince the dogs that there was not a damn thing I could do about all the noise going on outside and that noise outside wasn’t going to hurt them. I’m pretty psyched about getting into some healthy habits, but I’m not doing a 45 minute bike ride on 4 hours of sleep – that gung ho, I am not.

Lifting heavy objects has also been hit or miss – pumping resistance bars after work resulted in a sleepless night, and it has been far too cold most mornings to do so before work. So lifting has been limited to the odd weekend when I had plenty of time to kill.

My one true success has been my diet – I am eating a lot better. Breakfast is mandatory, either a light sandwich or cheese and fruit, usually eaten on the way to work; lunch has been a protein bar and two-three fruits I took with me to the office; and most dinners have been either salads, or lean meats and vegetables, concentrating on the non-starchy varieties like green beans and asparagus. I’ve been limiting carbs after3 pm– no pasta, no rice, and no breads, splurging on a fiber bar those nights when I’m still massively unsatisfied after dinner and willing to eat my own arm to feel full. I’ve also cut out sugary drinks – no more Mountain Dews, no more Coca-Colas – and instead have been downing water like I plan to be marching across theSahara. The biggest change has been I’m no longer adding sugar to my tea or using flavored creamers in my coffee – half and half only. Hating that – I just don’t dig on bitter tea and coffee – but I’ve cut my calorie count by over half in my hot drinks and 150-200 calories in my cold drinks. The few times we’ve gone out to eat I’ve stuck with fish and salads, staying away from the appetizer and dessert menus.

With the healthier diet and the limited exercise I’ve gotten, I have dropped 7 pounds in the last 30 days. Doesn’t sound like much – and to perfectly honest, it doesn’t look like much – but I can feel it: how my clothes fit, how much better I’m sleeping, how much better I feel when I’m awake. I haven’t lost my craving for junk food yet, but the longer I stay away from it, the easier it is to turn down. The one time in the last month I truly let myself splurge – the Lady Fair’s cheese enchiladas – my taste buds were rejoicing, but my stomach and head were planning a revolt all night long. So the craving is purely mental – I’m now to a point where my body loves the good things I’m putting into it.

My guitar has fallen by the wayside, and I’m seriously considering leaving it there for a while. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new tutorial on killer keyboards made easy I’m starting tonight. It looks very promising – the guy is a pro and he’s speaking the language I want to hear: namely, how to play the ivories in a way that makes guitarists want to kiss you. Immersing me in this program would be the smart move, and since the guitar HURTS LIKE HELL, I’m thinking being smart is the way to go. I also love my ukulele, and despite what John thinks, ukuleles are cool. I can strum the four-chord 50’s progression easily, and my Somewhere Over The Rainbow is getting closer and closer. The best part of a ukulele is you can practice in your living room watching “Glee” on the tube – talk about feeling like a romantic-bohemian type. Joygasm! The ukulele has been so easy and delightful so far, I’m seriously considering swiping the mandolin I know is hidden at Paul’s house and learning three chords on it (Copperhead Road cries out for a mandolin – I’m just sayin’).

One month down. Progress has been made.

 

New Year, New Start

Choke written by Chuck Palahniuk

Just a little light reading

I’m glad to report that I survived the holidays – didn’t get too hog wild, didn’t stuff myself silly, didn’t eat every piece of cake or pie under the sun… didn’t exercise, didn’t learn my songs, didn’t practice the guitar or the keyboard, either. As far as Rock Star is concerned, with the exception of catching up on some much needed sleep and still practicing my oh so lovely ukulele, the holidays were a bust.

But Hey! It’s a New Year, and that means a New Start!

And I started the year off right, with a full check-up from my doctor I hadn’t seen in years (if I’m serious about exercise, the last thing I want to do is stoke out on my stationary bike – awkward). Did the works – checked my heart, lungs, blood pressure, prostate (oh THAT was fun); drew blood to check my blood sugar levels and cholesterol and anything else nasty that might be lurking around. The nurse had an excellent time – I’m a fluffy dude of German descent, the veins in my arms like to hide; poor woman had to stick my three times in two arms before she finally found a bleeder. An afternoon of humiliation and forty-eight hours later, I get my results: blood pressure is great, cholesterol is just over optimum, blood sugar is fine, nothing at all unusual with my booty. With the exception of low testosterone  (which isn’t surprising considering my age), I’m in good health for a guy lugging around a Body Mass Index of over forty percent.

(And NO, my doctor was NOT at all happy about that BMI.)

With a stern warning to start eating better, another stern warning to get some exercise, and a prescription for a topical testosterone cream, I am ready to tackle the tasks at hand. Let Rock Star commence!

P.S. Oh, and a word of warning: if you’re going to discover Mr. Palahniuk’s body of work, don’t attempt it while riding a stationary bike – whipping your head around in shock is doubly painful when aiming for the twelve-mile mark. Definitely need to be in a chair listening to something soothing with nothing breakable within arms reach. Just saying.