New Year, New You

snow

For Dallas, this is the winter apocalypse…

It’s the start of a new year, and this particular weekend, it is cold. Not “Yay, it’s Winter – better grab my festive scarf!” cold, but “OMG! Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” cold. North Texas doesn’t get too many hard freezes, and we rarely fall below 20ºF, but Saturday morning I checked the news and it was 15º where I live. And before you Yankees start yapping about how that’s nothing, where you live it is routinely in the minus digits, remember I live in a state that routinely hits triple digits during July and August; and not the dry heat you get in Arizona, but the humid heat you get in the Congo, that sweltering heat that means you’re drenched in sweat by the time you walk from your front door to your car. 107º in the summer and 15º in the winter is a bit much for a temperature swing.

(I knew a girl from Minnesota, we waited tables together at the local Tex-Mex restaurant – her first winter here and she was all “It doesn’t get cold like this where I’m from! This is that cold that seeps inside your clothes and into your BONES!” So yeah, our humidity creates hellish winters when those Blue Northers come barreling into town. So shut up.)

It is a new year, though. Grand things are on the horizon. Which means the possibility for drama has also increased.

double-neck guitar

Proof that my bandleader did not kill our drummer…

The band is doing its best to rehearse. The holidays and family obligation got in the way, but that always happens November and December. Our bassist has to spend some time away for work a couple of weeks in January, then I’ve got a personal project the last two weekends of February and the first weekend of March – we’re doing the best we can to get together when we can, but sometimes even the weather seems to be fighting us. When we have gotten together, we sound pretty darn good – not quite to where we were before everything blew up, but we are getting there. Hoping to be able to books shows in March, we should definitely be able to book in April.

I have some personal projects this year, the first of which is I’m reprising the role of the voice of the killer plant from outer space, Audrey II, in the Mesquite Community Theatre production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Rehearsals started the first week of January. I am thrilled – I was hoping to get to do some work with the lovely folks at MCT, and being asked to play the part was a dream come true. The cast is wonderful, the director is fantastic, and the music director is amazing. It’s weird to be with a new group of theatre folks, but it is also exciting and invigorating.

ensemble

My new crew with the Mesquite Community Theatre – this is the ensemble.

As it stands right now, I am supposed to be in my friends’, The Vagabond Players, summer musical in August, as well. It’s a wonderful role and an opportunity to be out on stage, showing the local theatre scene what I am capable of. The dates are the same as an out of state venue for ETGB, however, so I am waiting and hoping the dates can be resolved – if the dates can’t be moved, I am stuck disappointing some good people and close friends. Which sucks – as much as I want to do more music work, pursuing more possibilities always came with the threat of conflicting dates. I used to tell myself I was just over-exaggerating the possibility, and yet here it is: my first “Can’t Be In Two Places At One Time” obstacle, and I haven’t even started auditioning for more stage work.

I am so hoping my friends can work this out. Both opportunities are too good to pass up.

I did a benefit for a teacher friend a couple of months ago – she’s taking her theatre kids to New York, needed some help raising money for the air fare, so I sang a couple of show tunes for her. I had a blast – I also made a new contact in the local music scene. Once I’m done with “Little Shop of Horrors,” I’m hoping I can catch up with him, hit an open mic night he frequents with a bunch of the local musical theatre scene, and make even more contacts.

benefit performers

A bunch of pros and semi-pros raising funds for theatre kids to travel to Broadway… Yeah…

I have been writing some lyrics the last few years; a few months ago, I managed to corner my guitar phenom nephew and had him write me some backing music to what I considered to be my best chance at a hit. He added in some rhythm tracks, and I am pleased to say my nephew did a good job – we now have a solid demo of a song we have written. It’s rough, it could use some tweaking by folks who know what they are doing, but it shows real potential: the makings of a hit song are all there.

Now that I have actual proof I can do my part, I’ve been showing lyrics off to friends, and so far, even the cheesy songs read pretty good to them. I’ve got the beginnings of one song started with my good buddy and band leader; I’ve got another sent off to my phenom nephew; I’ve got another sitting with a keyboardist friend; and I waiting to hear back from my other guitarist about maybe taking on a pop rock ditty I’ve got rumbling around in my head. With a fair bit off luck and some hard work, I might be able to get all my lyrics set to music in the next few weeks.

What to do after that is another obstacle.

I wrote last summer about how the band was pushing up against that invisible line that separates one professional tier from the next, and what that might entail. One option is to become a tribute band, which are big in these parts these days; another is to add more variety of songs to our sets, become a full-on party band, which are also big in these parts; and the last option (and my personal favorite) is to start writing and producing our own songs, start marketing ourselves as both a cover band and an originals band. But that’s IF the band wants to try and make the jump up to the next tier. That next tier comes with a new set of responsibilities: an increased workload both out front and behind the scenes, the possibility of needing to bring on a manager and side players, a harder push with the band’s marketing, and on and on and on. Playing the bike rallies, playing the dive bars isn’t all that lucrative, but it is FUN, and more than a good enough time to make all the hassles to book the gig worth the time and effort – that isn’t a guarantee when you’re looking to book festivals, outdoor stages, and bigger bar venues. It definitely means it’s now your full-time job, regardless of how well or not well you are getting paid.

the rhythm section

The Rhythm Section teaching us how it is done…

Every indication, every conversation I’ve had with my band leader says he’s happy where the band is, and he’s still cool with the amount of hassle he has to put up with to keep us there. He may change his mind about writing original songs at a later date, but if he does, it will be for the fun of writing original songs, NOT with a mind to move the band up to the next tier. Playing the rallies, playing a dive bar here and there is where he wants to be. Honestly, I don’t blame him – the band has proven time and again that is what we excel at.

I’m ready to grow as an artist, though. I’m ready to add “Songwriter” to my resumé. If I find myself with a dozen songs ready to be recorded and my band isn’t in a place to cut them… I’ll cut them myself. My band has first dibs – the demo I made with my nephew was produced with my band in mind; my band is full of amazing musicians – if I do record the songs myself, they’ll be the first people I ask to help me out in the studio; but one way or another, my plan for 2017 is to have at least an EP (preferably a full album) of original songs co-written by me and my music buddies ready by Christmas. What comes after that is a worry for next year.

The band is getting closer to hitting the rallies and bars again. I hopefully have two musicals scheduled. I have one new contact made, with the possibility of more down the road in eight weeks or so. I have people saying they are on board with helping me complete my songs. It’s the first week of January, and so far 2017 is already looking pretty darn good.

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose, Sometimes It Rains. Think About That For A While.

Bull Durham movie poster

Bull Durham © MGM

I really like the movie “Bull Durham.” In my opinion, it is a perfect movie: romance, humor, tragedy, character development, sports, sex, excellent dialog, wonderful acting, brilliant direction… why it didn’t win the award for Best Picture of the Year is beyond me. One of the aspects I appreciate most about “Bull Durham” is when Annie is explaining that “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” So while Nuke is learning to breathe through his eyelids (old Mayan trick… or Aztec, I get them confused), Bobby is getting released from his contract for being in a hitting slump by The Organization.

It’s a lesson that can be easily applied to any professional artistic endeavor: acting, dancing, singing, fine art, illustration. There’s the magic… and then there’s the nuts and bolts. You can be a fantastic actor or dancer or singer, doing some of the best work of your career, but if the box office isn’t selling any tickets, your show will close and you will be hunting for another job. You can be a wonderfully gifted oil painter or water colorist, but if no one buys your work, you will be manning a cash register during the day. If you are a “professional,” you are expected to deal with both aspects equally well. That’s also part of the job.

It’s hard being a working creative mainly because so many people just don’t understand what it is you do. It’s assumed that you can just turn on your imagination like a faucet and brilliant ideas just flow out. And sometimes, that’s exactly what happens: you sit down at your desk and think “I need something like this,” and out comes this brilliant, fully-fleshed out idea that needs no tweaking. That scenario, however, is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, you sit there with the equivalent of a blank page in your head, not a clue how to get where you are to where you want to go. So you try a variation of an old idea, then scrap all but a part of that attempt to go in a new direction, then keep the few parts of that idea for a reversal of the original theme, and on and on and on. Finally, you have something that doesn’t suck, and you present it to your boss or your client, and you hope for the best… and when you are really lucky, you’ve been working with this person a while and know what kinds of things pique their interest, you get back your work with just a couple of simple edits. This is also the exception, not the rule – what usually happens is your work comes back looking like someone took an ax to it, it is bleeding so much red ink. At least you now know what the boss-client doesn’t want, and you can redo all the work you spent all that time killing yourself to do.

lightbulb drawing

My day job… or what the public thinks is my day job, anyway. Graphic © bigstockphoto.com

The only thing worse than a boss or client who has no idea what it is you do is a boss or client who does; someone who may not be a creative themselves, but who has seen behind the curtain enough times that they know it’s not black magic you’re conjuring up in your office. They are the ones who say things like “Once you know what I like, once you’ve got the template in place, it shouldn’t take any time at all to do what I want done.” And they are partly right – once the nuts and bolts are in place, it doesn’t take a lot of time to get something done – so you can’t argue with them.

They, however, have completely overlooked how much time and effort it takes to get the nuts and bolts of your template in place.

I was supposed to have an interview Monday. Answered an ad on Friday and was asked to call in and talk to the COO, we set up the interview. Before that could happen, Mr. COO sent me a project. I don’t do spec work, but we did have an interview, so I figured this was an audition; since I didn’t have any plans I would need to cancel, I went to work. After an afternoon of bleeding on the page, I came up with two distinctly different concepts and sent them in.

Sunday, I got a reply – no good. Text was too large, graphics were too small, and the design wasn’t edgy enough. I was thanked for my time.

ETGB at Chasers poster

Honestly… does that look like something I spent an hour creating?

It was the “Thanks for your time” that bothered me. That sounded a lot like a brush off. I was looking forward to the interview, and now I was being dismissed along with my afternoon of effort. I mulled it over and decided to take the high road: I would ignore the brush off, I would take the criticism as constructive, and redo the projects. Since my potential client hadn’t attacked the concepts, I would leave the backgrounds and color schemes in place – I would shrink the texts, add big graphics in their place, and use edgy, grungy fonts. I spent another afternoon on my unsolicited project, then sent the new proofs in.

The new proofs worked, much closer to what my soon-to-be interviewer had in mind. I made the last edits he asked for, and my now-employer asks me to let him know how I’d like to be paid, and to expect a bunch of projects coming after lunch.

To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. I went from feeling I’d blown the opportunity to winning over the COO by sheer determination, talent, and experience. Got my foot in the door with a ton of work as my reward for not giving up. I was on the top of the world, thinking the Universe is about to give me a much-needed and hopefully deserved break.

The first of the tiny corrections came in. Names were misspelled, one of the participants had dropped out of the program. No problem, I made the edits and sent the project back in. A disclaimer needed to be added to the bottom. Not a problem, I made the edits. The new projects began streaming into my email, along with an inquiry on how I want to be reimbursed for my work – I did the math, realized it would be cheaper to be paid by the hour than by the project, and let him know I can charge less if I’m on a W2. Then I gave him my hours.

“That’s about 3x as much as I would have expected. Now that you know what I want, it shouldn’t take you more than an hour to do a project. So let’s keep the hours to a reasonable level.”

According to his math, what he wanted was a project an hour… or, if I was charging by the project, what he was expecting to pay was the equivalent of one hour’s worth of work per project. He knew how long it took to put together the nuts and bolts, so that’s what he was expecting to pay for. He was completely discounting the talent and creativity.

Mobile DJ set up

I know… don’t judge me. As part-time jobs for a college student go, this one didn’t suck. Photo courtesy of weddingdancemusic.wordpress.com

I was already finished with the first of the new projects – I was still staring at it, trying to see if it was up to the level of edgy I had created over the weekend before sending it in – when that email came across my inbox. I read and reread that line about “3x as expected” and “reasonable level” over and over again for the better part of an hour… and then I did the only thing I could do: I turned the job down. I don’t do projects for a quarter of what I’d normally charge, regardless of how much work was about to land on my desk.

Back when I DJ’ed wedding receptions and corporate events, it was a standing rule that if the client wanted you to stay and work past your initial time, it was a standard $50 an hour for each hour of overtime. When the band does private gigs, unless we are up against a venue’s closing time, we are constantly being asked to stay and play passed our contracted time, at which point my band leader says “Love to, but you have to pay us extra.” And invariably, there is always someone who tried to talk me into DJing for free, or tries to talk my band leader to get us to play for free. “The equipment is already set up, you know you’re having a good time, you know we’re a great crowd – stay and play. It’s not about the cash – you know you do this for the love of the music.” It’s that last one that always makes me mad. Because it’s the truth: I DJ’ed and I perform in the band because I love the music, and truth be told, I would have have performed for free, just to indulge that love.

But this is a consumer-based world we live in, and people do not appreciate what they get for free or what they get on the cheap. I don’t charge for my services because I’m a mercenary; I charge for my services because of the level of respect it brings out in other people. And if you discount my talent and my creativity and then expect a discount for my skills and experience, I’m not going to work for you. You, Mr. COO of the company I would give my left arm to work for, do not respect talent and creativity.

UPDATE:

After everything went down, I turned off my email and purposely ignored it the rest of the evening, then went to bed early. I didn’t want to be that fourteen year old girl who keeps checking her messages to see if he had texted back. It had been a stressful four days and I was done being stressed out – I took my sick stomach and pounding head and hit the sack.

After I had finished writing this post, I finally opened up my email – Mr. COO of the company I would give my left arm to work for had written me back no less than four times: three begging me to work with him on rates, and another asking if I would teach a social media class next month. Evidently, when he low-balled me, he thought that was the return salvo of a bidding war for my services. I was stunned… and then I was appalled. My sick stomach and pounding head returned in record time.

A smart entrepreneur would have gone all mercenary. A smart entrepreneur would have upped his rates to the point of raking high-ranking executive over the coals. I’m not a smart entrepreneur, however, and I don’t know how to be mercenary even at my most pissed off. I do know that when someone tries to screw you over once, they will probably try to screw you over again. So after a lengthy email, I told him I would still have to pass on the job – since he’d already shown he didn’t respect me, my talent, or my experience, I just didn’t want to work with him. I got no reply back today, so I’m guessing it’s safe to open my email again.

Nothing to Prove

Cosplayer

Cosplayer at the 2013 San Diego Con. Photo courtesy of http://www.mtv.com/geek

I’m a Geek. Even though I stopped collecting, I still call myself a comic book geek – I have Steranko‘s autograph, I have Stan Lee‘s autograph, I have Julie Schwartz‘s autograph, I have Martin Nodell‘s autograph; I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek: TOS and Star Trek: TNG; I was standing in line at the butt-crack of dawn for Return of the Jedi and at midnight for Phantom Menace both opening days; I have every Harry Potter book in hardback; I watched Firefly on Friday nights, then gave copies of the DVD to my friends; I’ve seen every Highlander movie, including the bootleg Director’s Cut of the first sequel; I have a copy of the translated Crying Freeman manga in trade paperback; I can tell the difference between a Ditko Spider-Man and a Romita Spider-Man; and I have original artwork from Stangers in Paradise framed and hanging in my dining room. No one doubts my Geek Cred.

Spending whatever meager allowance I could muster up for comic books when I was 8 or 9 was cool; making weekly treks to the comic book shop when I was 16 or 17 was not. I caught a lot of grief for my passion, up to and including losing a letter-grade off of a paper when my English teacher didn’t consider X-Men #137 a viable source material, and being tossed over a table by a football player who didn’t appreciate my wrecking the Bell Curve in Art VI with anatomy studies of Colossus. Now that The Avengers is the biggest movie in the world, Harry Potter is the biggest movie franchise in the world, Game of Thrones has been nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama three years in a row, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won the Oscar for Best Picture, being a Geek is suddenly cool. Very cool. So cool even the hipsters are wearing their Justice League t-shirts ironically with their hoodies and black rimmed glasses. I was never un-cool – I was just thirty years ahead of my time.

Now that is finally mainstream to love comics and manga, animation and anime, Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon however, there’s a bit of a backlash from the Geeks who withstood the stares, the name-calling and the bullying for so many years – they’re not ready to be amongst the normals, they still maintain their self-image through exclusivity. Suddenly, it’s all about the True Geek versus the Johnny-Come-Lately’s: you’re not a true Whovian unless you were watching the Tom Baker years on Saturdays at midnight on PBS; you’re not a true Avengers fan unless you knew who the purple alien was at the end of the film without Googling Ain’t It Cool News; you’re not a Potterhead if you don’t know which of the Marauders was Harry’s father; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl into Cosplay; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl at the Con just for the Twilight panel; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl, period.

Again and again, boys, young men and adults; amateurs and professionals alike, are complaining that the press shows up and spends too much time filming the Cosplay hotties, the Booth Babes, and the Geek Girls in their Team Jacob t-shirts and over-sized glasses. And because there are a small number of attractive model-types showing up at events in revealing costumes and bikini-ready bodies, the True Geeks have labeled all females Un-True, only there to garner attention to themselves, attention they couldn’t get somewhere else. Girls aren’t real Geeks.

Bullshit.

25 years ago, I started dating a beautiful, amazing young woman. Since I wanted to spend every waking hour with her, I introduced her to comic books – I started her off with my original run of Elf*Quest. When that didn’t run her off, I took her to my comic book shop and asked the clerk for a suggestion: needed a comic book for a girl who wasn’t into long-underwear characters. The clerk said a new series had just started a couple of months earlier, was dark, gothic, more fantasy-based and was getting amazing reviews, might just be what she was after – soon, my Lady Fair was dragging me to the comic shop every month to pick up the next issue of The Sandman.

My wife is a Geek – a bright, talented, friendly, lovely Geek. My wife took to being a Geek like a fish takes to water. The Sandman statues in the house belong to her. She introduced me to Harry Potter. She introduced me to The Guild. It’s her Strangers in Paradise original artwork framed in the office. She stood in line seven hours to buy tickets for the opening night of the new Star Wars movie. She’s read every Sookie Stackhouse book. She’s read every Anita Blake book. She’s read Mists of Avalon. She owns every season of Buffy on DVD. She wrote Mobile Suit Gundam Wing slash fiction. We stood in line at midnight together to get our copies of Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows. We stood in line together to see the final Harry Potter movie in 3-D at midnight.

Does she know who Lamont Cranston is? No. Has she ever played Skyrim? No. Does she know the difference between Jor-L and Jor-El? No. Does my wife know who Spider Jerusalem is? Yes. Has my Lady Fair beaten every level of Portal and Portal 2? Yes. Does the love of my life read Joe Hill and John Scalzi? YES.

My Lady Fair has nothing to prove. The PFC from my reserve unit who introduced me to Ender’s Game has nothing to prove. My ex-girlfriend who introduced me to Robert Aspirin and Myth Adventures has nothing to prove. The high school marching band member who introduced me to Elf*Quest has nothing to prove. All the intelligent, warm, amazing girls and women I know who are unapologetically enthusiastic about the comics, novels, movies, games, music, and television shows they love have NOTHING. TO. PROVE.

And as for that meager handful of hotties that show up and steal all the thunder, two things:

1. Remember the old adage “All publicity is good publicity.” If that amazon with the belly so tight you could bounce a quarter off of it in the almost-perfect Witchblade costume means the Con gets that much more time on the evening news, then that’s a Win-Win for her AND the Con. Quit yer bitchin’.

2. Remember what it felt like when the Cool Kids wouldn’t let you in their club. Then grow the fuck up.

Because here’s the thing: if you spend your time excluding people from your “club” because of their gender, no one will think of you as a  GEEK – they’ll be thinking of you as a DICK.

The Doubleclicks, who said it better than I. And the stuff I didn’t link to? Go look it up.

Dancing for the Desperate and the Broken-Hearted

I heard something over the weekend that broke my heart.

For a guy who took voice lessons and sings a little Italian to sound impressive, I’m not that big on opera. I like certain songs, mainly the biggies everybody’s heard – O Solo Mio, Nessum Dorma, etc. – but overall, not my cup of tea. Given the choice between going to a dive bar to listen to a little three-piece blues combo or heading to the Dallas Opera to sit through La Boheme, I’ll take the dive bar.

(Downtown to watch a rap crew or the Dallas Opera? Opera, every time. I am so very, very caucasian.)

For a dude not all that down on opera, I do love me some big, over-blown operatic rock tunes, though. Paradise by Dashboard Light, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, Making Love Out of Nothing At All, and my all-time favorite, Total Eclipse of the Heart – total rock opera, baby, and I LOVE THEM. The melodic, almost music-box beginnings; the build up in thematic intensity; the choral back-up singers; the big crescendo – I mean, DAMN, what is not to love?

Jim Steinman

Looks like the guy who’d write “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red rose?”

Those with a serious musical background will notice more than just a theme running through those songs I picked: they were all written by the great Jim Steinman. Steinman was the composer, lyricist and/or producer on the epic Bat Out of Hell and Bat Out of Hell II/Back into Hell albums with Meat Loaf, which would be enough to guarantee his inclusion into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but he’s also worked with artists as diverse as Billy Squire, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manillow, The Sisters of Mercy, and The Everly Brothers in his storied four-decade long career. If the song has that epic rock opera feel to it, chances are it was written and/or produced by Steinman.

Two of my favorite songs by Steinman appeared in a movie nobody but I and about three other people saw when it came out in theaters, Streets of Fire. Streets of Fire, directed by Walter Hill, is touted as a “Rock and Roll Fable,” and it tries really hard to deliver on that regard: the sets and wardrobe are all straight out of the 1950’s, but the music is all 1980’s pop and bar rock. The story is ridiculous: the leader of the outlaw bikers from across the way, Raven (played deliciously by a young Willem Dafoe) decides to kidnap the home town girl does good, rocker Ellen Aim (a barely legal Diane Lane, looking ever so rock n roll) for his own nefarious delights; Ellen’s ex-boyfriend, bad boy Tom Cody (Michael Paré, hot off of Eddie and The Cruisers), gets called in to rescue her; and along the way meets up with a tomboy ex-soldier McCoy (Amy Madigan playing against type), manager with little-man syndrome Billy Fish (the perfectly cast Rick Moranis), and doo-wop quartet The Sorels (featuring the then-unknown Robert Townsend); Elizabeth Daily and Ed Begley, Jr. also show up in the film because it’s the 80’s and they were in everything else back then. The film ends with a showdown between Cody and Raven featuring pickaxes, and Cody leaving Ellen to pursue her music career Bogie-style, driving off into the night with new best friend, McCoy.

Streets of Fire movie poster

I miss the days when movie posters looked like this…

You don’t watch Streets of Fire for the movie – you watch Streets of Fire for the music. The soundtrack is awesome – incidental music composed and performed by Ry Cooder, and features songs written or performed by Cooder, Dan Hartman, Stevie Nicks, The Fixx, and Jim Steinman. The two Steinman songs are the two tunes Ellen’s band, The Attackers, perform at the start and the end of the film: Nowhere Fast and Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young. Both songs are performed by session musicians under the name of Fire Inc., with lead vocals handled by a blending of the voices of vocalists Laurie Sargent and Holly Sherwood. Nowhere Fast is a hard-driving rock anthem with a great beat, but Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young, with The Sorels joining The Attackers on stage to fill in all the choral parts, is pure unadulterated Wagnerian rock opera.

I found the song on YouTube and played it for my Lady Fair, who immediately added it to her list of tunes to add to her mp3 player. We were driving out to my parents’ house for a day of poker and smack talk, when the tune came on – my lovely wife was piping her mp3’s through the SUV’s stereo – and the Lady Fair commented that while she adored the chorus, she kinda hated the verses.

“Hate the verses?” I responded. “How can you hate the verses? The verses are great! The verses are cheesy and sugary and over-emotional and completely overblown – I LOVE the verses!”

“I’ve got a dream ’bout a boy in a castle
And he’s dancing like a cat on the stairs.
He’s got the fire of a prince in his eyes
And the thunder of a drum in his ears.”

“But it’s only a dream and tonight is for real
You’ll never know what it means
But you’ll know how it feels
It’s gonna be over (over)
Before you know it’s begun
(Before you know it’s begun).”

“It’s all we really got tonight
Stop your cryin’ hold on (tonight)
Before you know it it’s gone (tonight)
Tonight is what it means to be young.”

My wife kept looking at me like I was speaking Klingon. “Sweetie, the song is about being 19, 20, 21 yrs old; old enough to start making a mark in the world, but still young enough not to have given in to cynicism, to still believe you can conquer all as long as you keep your faith. It’s about feeling your blood flow and your heart race, too inexperienced to know why, but just mature enough to realize you have to act on that emotion now before you lose the momentum. And it’s about sharing that momentum with someone else, some other young maverick, if only for one night, in that one perfect moment. ‘You never know what it means, but you know how it feels – it’s gonna be over before you know it’s begun, Tonight is what it means to be young.’ DAMN. That’s EXACTLY how I felt at 21.”

I got serious, and pointed at the radio. “When I’m on stage with the band, and everything is gelling – the guitars are in synch, everybody is feeling the beat, the crowd has joined in and the entire band feeding off that energy, and I hit that one note strong and true, and it soars, and the crowd responds – THAT is what it feels like. THAT is why I’m trying so hard to make this band work: so I can keep feeling THAT.”

For a long moment, she didn’t say anything. Then my Lady Fair, the love of my life, my soul and inspiration, looked at me with tears in her eyes and admitted, “I’ve never felt that way in my life.”

And my heart broke.

I never met my father-in-law, he died of cancer my wife’s senior year. The sickness had been slow and ugly, and as much as it pained everyone involved, his passing had also been a relief since it meant the suffering was over – it also meant my wife’s childhood was over. I’ve spoken before about my Lady Fair’s ongoing struggle with Depression, but I haven’t mentioned her struggle with dyslexia and its lesser-known cousin, dyscalculia (just like her letters, my lovely bride gets her numbers out of order, making it almost impossible to do long-division or algebra). Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, back before everybody and their dog admitted they have learning disabilities, my wife’s pretty freakin’ obvious problems were just dismissed by her teachers and administrators. My mother-in-law, bless her heart, didn’t know how to respond, so she just went along with the school’s assessment – as a result, one of the smartest women I’ve ever met grew up thinking she was dumb; and not just dumb, but unteachable. My wife – who can take apart and reassemble the VCR, wired the living room for surround sound, and installed the battery and battery cables in my Mustang – was flat-out told she’d never be able to attend college. “You don’t have the capacity, dear, but don’t worry – not every little girl is meant to get a higher education. You’ll just need to find yourself a husband, be a good housewife.” Because she wasn’t part of the norm, my Kristi was ignored; worse, because she was a girl, my Kristi was written off.

And I knew all of this, knew about the blow she took from losing her dad, knew about the learning issues, knew most of her teachers never gave her the attention she needed or deserved, knew it all contributed to decimating her self-esteem – it just never occurred to me it all contributed to my beautiful Kristi growing up without inspiration, without passion.

I still think it’s counter-productive to give out awards to kids for just showing up on game day, but I also think it’s vitally important that kids feel supported in whatever they feel passionately about, that they be given all the help and tools they need to be successful. No one deserves to be ignored or written off, everyone deserves to feel the passion and inspiration I get to enjoy as a band member, writer and artist. I am very, very lucky, but right now I’d give anything to give any and all of that luck to Kristi.

Go hug your kids.