Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Livin' the Barbie Dream

Photo courtesy of:

Last night I presented a program to my local Barbie doll collectors club called "SuperStar Barbie - Keeping the Dream Alive". It was all about the fabulously gorgeous SuperStar Barbie that arrived on the scene in 1976 and changed my life! Apparently for good...because during the presentation I realized I really am living the Barbie dream. How weird is that?

I started my talk about how I wasn't like other little girls who played "house" and pretended to cook dinner for their husbands and feed and change their baby dolls. No, I was a total Barbie girl, and and when I played pretend, I played "apartment" and lived a glamorous life as a singer in a night club. When I first took a look at SuperStar Barbie that day on the shelf in the neighborhood toy store, she embodied everything I wanted to be - beautiful, shiny, famous, glamorous. She definitely lived in a penthouse apartment, wasn't married because she didn't have the time between her concerts, TV appearances, modeling assignments, and starring movie roles. This was clearly a young woman who knew what she wanted, knew how to get it, and got it, and was deliriously happy! Who wouldn't want that?

OK, so maybe I'm not famous, and maybe I'm not beautiful by society's standards, and maybe I don't get everything I want. I'm not even blonde. And, OK, I did get married. But I'm still living the Barbie dream!

I live in an apartment - a fabulous one, at that. With all the conveniences - upgraded, walking distance to fun hangouts. And it comes with maintenance, which means I don't have to play handyman on the weekends, and I never have to unstop a toilet. You'd never catch Barbie washing windows or mowing the lawn, and I don't have to do either of those things, either! I have a huge closet, and a huge bathtub that I can fill with bubbles whenever I want. I have had the opportunity to step into the spotlight on a number of occasions to wow a crowd with my vocals. I've even worn sparkly clothes while doing so. I've even been known to wear a tiara from time to time.

Now, if only a Corvette could be added to the mix, my Barbie dream would be complete.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Aging (Not So) Gracefully

First of all, yes, I know I'm not "old". But I'm not "young." Does that make me middle-aged? I don't know. Frankly, I don't really care. Or do I?

Just so you know, I am 43. I'll be 44 in just a few weeks. I kinda like the sound of being age 44...maybe because it's a multiple of 11. LOL! Or maybe because it's double-22, which is my favorite number. Who knows. But still, approaching my mid-forties (heck, I'm in them, why deny it), is a good time for some level-setting. I decided to find out if I am, indeed, "middle aged".

From Wikipedia:

"Middle age is the period of age beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age. Various attempts have been made to define this age, which is around the third quarter of the average life span of human beings.
According to
Collins Dictionary, this is "... usually considered to occur approximately between the ages of 40 and 60".
Oxford English Dictionary gives a similar definition but with a later start point "... the period between youth and old age, about 45 to 60".
The US Census lists middle age as including both the age categories 35 to 44 and 45 to 54, while prominent social scientist,
Erik Erikson, sees it ending a little later and defines middle adulthood as between 40 and 65."

So, according to the "experts", or people from whom traditional wisdom flows, yes, I probably am middle-aged. Although, I am young-middle aged. ;)

But then, I noticed something here: it's the period *between* young adulthood and old age. If you go along with this article, and believe that young adulthood goes all the way to 40 (I always thought of "young adults" as being about 18 - 25), then wow - I'm just now beyond youth! That's pretty exciting, considering mentally I'd say I'm 27. I've even told people jokingly at times I'm 27, and they believe me. So that's good. Or is it?

Lately, I've been thinking, what if the things that I do aren't "age-appropriate"? For example, I love to collect Barbie dolls, I squeal over cute handbags, I find floral prints to be "old-lady-looking", I still listen to heavy metal, my hair is long and artificially colored, I pay attention to celebrity gossip. Is it time, at this step over into "middle-age" to abandon these things?

And I ask myself, "for what?" Do I want to become a housecoat-wearing, gray-headed, news-watching, Kenny G-listening, quaint lady with no hobbies? Of course not. OK, maybe I should watch the news more, and work some Kenny G into my repertoire; it's always good to expand your horizons, but why launch into something that's boring just for the sake of getting older?

Some additional arguments:
Me: I'm getting close to only having 21 years left in the workforce. It's time to mature.
Me2: So? If you only feel "27," when you retire you'll only be "48", or maybe closer to "36" since you've been "27" for a while look at all the fun left to have? There'll be time for maturity later.

Me: I don't want to be the lady at the bar in the rock club that gets laughed at by the 20-something crowd.
Me2: Why not? If they're laughing, you're doing it right! What's wrong with providing amusement to others? Besides, they'll be having this same conversation with themselves in a few years, and you already know the deal.

Me: Halloween costumes these days are parodies of what I wore when I was in my 20's. And they're doing it wrong! How disrespectful!
Me2: Disrespectful? What a better compliment to something important from the past than to try to recreate it? What would be disrespectful is if they never even tried. *You* lived it - and they're in awe of your awesomeness. Totally.

Me: I actually can remember when phones had dials. And when songs would cut off in the middle of the program on the 8-track in order to switch to the next program, and then resume.
Me2: And your parents can actually remember when there wasn't any air condition, and they had to buy ice every week, and groceries every day so the food wouldn't spoil, and... And besides, you've adopted the new technology (you're writing in BLOG for crying out loud), so just hold on to the nostalgia so you'll have your own "when I was your age..." stories to amuse the kids with.

Me: It's too late to be a rock star.
Me2: Do you really want to be a rock star?
Me: Of course, who doesn't?
Me2: *Really*?
Me: Well, probably not an international sensation or anything like that...
Me2: Would you have ever wanted that?
Me: Probably not.
Me2: So what level of rock star do you want to achieve?
Me: I'd like to play some gigs around town, maybe; mostly just find some friends to work on some songs and maybe have a band sometimes that play together frequently. Not looking at music to make money, just to have fun and be with like-minded people.
Me2: And, why is it too late for that?
Me: Well...I guess it's not too late.
Me2: So, get on it!!

And so ends the argument.

Monday, October 18, 2010

So since this mobile blogging thing seems to work, I thought I'd check in. Really not a whole lot going on. Just working. Lots of working! But there are some exciting things comic up. Starting with the Switchyard Festival in Carrollton this weekend. Can't wait for the battle of the bands! Further down the line I'm looking forward to new albums from old favorites Mr. Big and Def Leppard. Meanwhile I've been baking bunches o'cupcakes!!
Testing mobile blogging.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fearless? Me? Really?

A new rumor was started at the Barbie Convention in Cleveland this past July. That is, that Colleen is "fearless." Hmmm...oh, that's me they're talking about! Me, the girl that used to do just about anything to get out of standing up in front of people in public. Me, who actually dropped a class in college when I found out there would be an oral speech at the end of the semester required. Me, who has been so painfully shy all my life and avoided embarrassment at all costs. Are they really saying *I'm* fearless?

Well, I guess I can understand why they'd think that, actually.

Here's the story:

The theme of this year's Convention was "Barbie and the Rockers." PERFECT theme for me - you all know by now how much I love rock music, and the 80's, and since the line of dolls Barbie and the Rockers were hugely popular back in that time frame, was shaping up to be my most favorite convention EVER.

Anyway, I got the convention "packet" (actually a little USB drive in the shape of a purse - CUTE!) and looking through it, noticed there was a karaoke contest on the big stage at one of the events, and that the selection committee would only pick 10 competitors. You had to write in your top 3 songs you'd like to perform and they'd check availability. Well, I love to sing karaoke. Normally it's in a small setting in a bar or something, or the occasional round of Sing Star or Rock Band 2 on my PS3. I thought, hey, let's give the big stage a whirl.

Well, the very next day I had my entry in the mail. I wanted to perform "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard. Thinking that's an iconic song of the 80's and that someone else might want to do it, too, I put down my second choice as "Round and Round" by RATT and "Kiss Me Deadly" by Lita Ford.

Then I set out to put together the greatest air band of all time. I got Catherine on drums, Jenny on lead guitar, Peg on bass, and Krissa on rhythm, and we became SMOLDERING PINK: CoCo (me), Raven (Cat), Starr (Jenny), Logan (Peg), and Kandy (Krissa). AND we got to do "Sugar." AND we volunteered to close the show.

I went to town with marketing this air band. I designed a logo, Cat and I built a "drum kit" out of cardboard supplied by our ninja groupie Lizzie. I got custom guitar picks made, I put logos on drumsticks for Cat. I created a merchandise page on Zazzle. We made buttons and flyers. Just like a real band, only fake. LOL!! We all live in different cities, but managed to communicate over the internet pretty well and talked about how we thought the show could go. I actually bought the CDG version of "Sugar" that I wanted to perform so that I could be sure the KJ had the right version. I sang the song every day in my car on the way to work, and sometimes on the way home, trying it different ways: raspy vs. normal, different improvisations at the end, etc.

Since it is, after all, 80's "glam" rock, the costume was also important. We discussed at length what we would wear. I bought hair extensions just like a real 80's rock star. Glitter eye liner. A denim jacket trimmed with chains. I brought my own mike stand trimmed in plenty of scarves in my signature color - turquoise.

We were ready.

The week of convention, we rehearsed briefly in my hotel room. With the music playing on my iPhone, it was quite an interesting rehearsal. They had karaoke in the lounge set aside for conventioneers the night before our performance. I took the stage. I can't even remember what all I sang that night, but it got me going. I've determined that I love the energy of an audience.

Thursday. We had a sound check. We went in the order of performance, so we were last to rehearse. Most people just tried out a portion of their songs. When we went on, the waiters were setting up tables in the ballroom, and hosts and hostesses were arriving. We went through our whole song, and it was awesome. Even the waiters were stopping to watch and listen. I'm loving the audience more and more.

Show time. We were to be back stage when the performer ahead of us was on. I noticed something odd. I wasn't nervous. I really wasn't. I thought that was very strange. Shouldn't I be nervous? Other band mates were. I'm the freakin' SINGER, and I'm freakin' SHY, why the heck am I not nervous?

The announcer introduces us and we take the stage. I grab a mike and put it on my fancy-schmancy stand. The others are in their places. The crowd is ready. I can't see them, though, because the spotlights are in my eyes. The thing I was most concerned about (hearing my cue chord since the beginning of the song is acapella) turned out to not be of any concern. Catherine hits her perfect 4-count and I start: "Step inside!" The others join in "Walk this way..." Back to me: "You and me, babe" Everyone: "HEY HEY".

I'm still not nervous. In fact, I'm having a ball. I've got the audience clapping along. I'm singing to the people I can actually see (about the first row of tables is all), I'm not reading the words on the monitor because I don't need to. I'm hamming it up with my band mates. It's literally like a dream come true. Except for the part where I almost tripped over a spatula - but that's another story, and it was really more funny than anything else.

Big finish! Group bow. Tossed the rest of the guitar picks into the audience, as well as the spare set of drumsticks. Just like a real rock concert. What a rush!! I didn't want it to end. I KNEW we had won that contest.

But, as it turns out, they pulled one of those "cutesy" contest things where everyone actually won. Everyone was amazing, that's for sure. But seriously - why advertise it as a contest if it isn't really? Ultimately it doesn't matter, because we knew we had won. If only in our hearts.

Afterwards, as folks were exiting the ballroom after the event, people kept coming by our table and telling us how amazing we were. Waiters came by and said they were glad they got to see us perform twice. One person came up to me and said, "wow - I thought you were shy. I had no idea!"

Later that night in karaoke, of course I had to sing again. And the following night. And the following night! LOL! I chatted with the KJ quite a bit, and he was so complimentary of me. He even put me in the rotation of singers without me asking. He said I had a stage presence that was infectious. He told my friends at the table in the lounge that I was truly fearless.

A few days ago I read a post on one of the Barbie bulletin boards commenting on our performance. She said that I was truly fearless.

Well, I have news. I'm not truly fearless. I actually am shy. But extraverted. Which seems like an odd combination, I know, but it happens. It's weird. And I'll talk about that in some future post. But that odd combination, I think, leads me to believe that performing on stage is something I do best. Because there's a separation between me and the audience. I can be a character, rather than myself. But what I'm finding out is that "on stage" character really is who I am. I feel comfortable there. So if that makes me "fearless", I'll wear that label with pride.

A lot of people who get nervous before going on stage for whatever reason, are afraid that the audience has a preconceived notion that the performance will be poor. I've found the opposite to be true. The audience wants to hear you, and they think you'll be good, and they're interested in what you have to say, whether you're making a speech, singing a song, playing an instrument, etc. They're interested, or they wouldn't be there. Now it's just up to you to push through that feeling of dread, channel that energy, and go for it.

Yeah, yeah, easier said than done. But look at me. I actually *dropped a class in college* because I didn't want to speak in front of the class. Now I'm comfortable singing in front of 800 people. Trust me, if I can do it, YOU can do it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to Rockin'

It was a while before I felt like picking up the guitar again after the loss of my brother. Just thinking of playing hurt and brought the tears. After a wonderful evening with a guitar buddy and some unexpected live music, I felt like I could and finally picked it up a day or so ago, and I've been playing up a storm ever since. I ran across one of the songs I've been working on: "Drift Away" by Dobie Gillis. There's a lyric there that kind of brought me some sense of ... closure? understanding? comfort? determination? realization? Anyway, here it is:
Thanks for the joy you've given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along
Makin' me strong
And with that, it's time to move forward. Because making music would be what Chris would want me to do in his memory.

So today I sat down with the ol' guitar and played some songs. Learned some new chords. Figured some chords out on my own. Sang along. Basically just enjoyed it again. Looking forward to more soon! (But first, my fingers need to heal a bit... :o)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Highest Highs and Lowest Lows

It has been a while since I've posted. I've been very busy, and many things have happened. This will be a very brief post, but rest assured, more are coming soon.

Last week I experienced some of the very highest highs - the topmost being that I got on a big stage in front of 800+ people with a fabulous group of gals and sang one of my favorite songs - "Pour Some Sugar on Me." There will be a much more detailed story on this later, but suffice it to say, I'm hooked on the audience. :)

Last weekend I started on a downturn when I came down with a major sinus infection. I've got meds, and I'm trying to get better, but somehow I'm feeling worse.

But, the lowest of the lows came early Wednesday morning when I learned of my brother's passing. He had been very sick with kidney cancer, and various other maladies prior, and my only consolence is that now he's no longer in pain or misery.

Chris was a major influence in my life; whether he ever knew that, I don't know. If it hadn't been for him, I don't think I ever would have taken the initiative to pick up a guitar, take lessons, start singing karaoke, start working on my own live music act, and ultimately would never have experienced the high of singing on that stage in Cleveland last week. I remember fondly our last conversation, where he gave me advice on the make and model of upgraded guitar he recommended that I look into. My first priority to honor him will be to head to the Guitar Center and try out some Takamine acoustic/electrics.

I miss him terribly, and am looking forward to the day when we can jam together with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Rock on, Chris!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nostalgia Rocks!! Part 2...

When we last spoke, I had told about my most wonderful Saturday at the Wildflower Festival a few weeks ago. Most of the acts that perform there are, indeed, nostalgic - and I think that's what makes it so amazing!

In the past few years, it seems that the phenomenon of tribute bands has really taken off - I'm always hearing about them. And for me, if they're really good, sometimes I get to see a band whose nostalgia reaches beyond my years and back to a time that heavily influenced my heavy influences. Case in point: Swan Song at Wildflower on the Sunday of the festival. Although I've had the pleasure of seeing Robert Plant in concert, not so with Led Zeppelin. So, locally anyway, Swan Song will have to fill that void as a Zep tribute band.

Funny story about Swan Song. And I really hope they're not reading this because it's not the most polite. But, about 4 years ago we saw Swan Song at the Wildflower Festival on the main stage during the day, and they were really impressive! So much so that two years later, we were pleased to see them scheduled on the secondary stage. We got our chairs all set up and prepared to ROCK! Well, I don't know what happened, but the Swan Song that took the stage that day wasn't good. It seemed like the lead singer had on a blond curly wig and it seemed like his British accent was put-on. He was also wearing the famous little bolero-jacket that Robert Plant was often seen in, shirtless, but unfortunately...well, he probably shouldn't have been shirtless that day. Let's just say he's not a beanpole like Plant was back in the day. And if they were going to be one of those look-alike tribute bands, the guitarist certainly didn't even attempt to look like Jimmy Page. And then there were technical difficulties, and it just got kind of surreal. So much so that I actually swore off tribute bands in general, because if you think about it, it is kind of weird to be in a band that dresses up like and tries to sound like some other band.

So this year, when I saw Swan Song was added to the schedule for Sunday, we decided to check them out, just for a chuckle if nothing else. It was a little hotter and pretty humid that day, so I settled down in the VIP tent with my complimentary wine and Vitamin Water, and was ready for a bit of amusement.

It came time for the show to begin, and the first riffs of "Rock and Roll" started. Sounded great! I watched the band take the stage, and I was amazed at the change! Not trying so hard to look like Zeppelin anymore, but still conveying the general aesthetic, I was instantly entralled with how, well, GOOD they all looked! The singer, clearly with his own natural flowing wavy hair, belted out verse after verse. The guitarist had long, curly brown hair and did evoke Page, although not totally in look-alike fashion. But what really stood out what how amazing they sounded! Close your eyes, and maybe it was Led Zeppelin! Needless to say, soon I wasn't able to remain seated in my tent. I was up, out, and down front! Sister followed close behind. We jammed, we rocked, we fist-pumped. We partied with the people. We were transported to a place where rock rules, and Zeppelin, in the form of Swan Song, held court. I didn't want it to end! And now, thanks to Wildflower, I'm looking for Swan Song's local schedule so I can go see them again.

Let me share them with you now. Here's some of their performance that day (not my video): Enjoy!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Party Like it's 1989, or: A Little Nostalgia Goes a Long Way (Part 1)

Last weekend I attended the Wildflower Festival in Richardson, TX. Three days of art, music, and just a generally good time. This is one weekend every year when my sister and I get together and forget the rest of the world. But, neither one of us are in our teens or twenties anymore!

This is the kind of festival where you bring your own chairs. On Friday night, we literally set our chairs up in a shrubbery. Well, actually on top of some ground cover, but don't you just love the word, "shrubbery?" We had an excellent, unobstructed view of the main stage, up on a wall.

It had been raining all day, so there were some changes to the schedule. Before we settled into our chairs, we headed down to one of the other stages and checked out Horizon, the US Navy rock band. Yes, they have one! And they're VERY good. The lead singer is actually from this area, so it was kind of a homecoming for him. After that, it was time to head back to the main stage.

First up was Frontiers, a Journey tribute band. They were pretty good, but didn't live up to their hype. Next was a brief-brief-brief set by a solo Casey James. Yes, the American Idol contestant. He was wonderful; just him and his guitar. They filmed his set for the show. My personal opinion is he doesn't need American Idol - he'll do just fine on his own. But he's not much of a pop star; he's more bluesy, more Johnny-Lang-esque.

The evening wrapped up with the B-52's. They were absolutely AMAZING! They sounded great and looked great and had all kinds of energy. And thus began the Party.

The next day started out with the Battle of the Bands. This is a feature every year where youthful bands go through rounds of competition culminating with the top 4 bands performing on the secondary stage at Wildflower. Complete with judges who walk around with clipboards and taking notes. This was nostalgic for me, because I fondly remember music competitions in my younger years, although not rock music. It also brought up this little pang of regret that comes up from time to time, that I didn't take advantage of several opportunities to go in the rock band direction when I was young. Anyway, these bands were fabulous. The winning group was a band called Jaci and Those Guys. You should definitely check them out.

Back at the main stage, we once again set up at our shrubbery. This time, though, we looked longingly at the "front row" near the stage, and thought, let's take this all the way back to 1989 and go down front. So we did!! I was a little concerned that there would be a crush, but generally speaking, one of the nicest things about this festival is the good attitude of the attendees.

The first act we saw from the front row was a band from Ft. Worth called Black and Bluez. In spite of their moniker, they actually played quite a variety of music, but with a bluesy bent for sure. I recall their version of "Roxanne." Wow!!

Next up was a reformation of glitter-rock band The Sweet, centering around original bassist Steve Priest. This band was a heavy influence on my favorite music of all time, and I was not disappointed. They played all their hits, plus some, and had a great interaction with the crowd. They even looked the part - the lead singer wearing leopard spandex pants, even. Anyway, I was on my feet dancing around and singing at the top of my lungs to "Love is Like Oxygen", "Fox on the Run", "Action", "Little Willie," I could go on.

Now the worry about the oncoming crush begins. Because next up is Vince Neil of Motley Crue. And yes, it got very crowded down front, but people were really nice. And this reminded me of the very first time I saw Motley Crue in concert. I had tickets in the 3rd row at my now-gone-but-never-forgotten Reunion Arena. They were recording for their Decade of Decadence greatest hits compilation, and so they were actually encouraging people to come fill in the spaces near the front. I was frustrated because I thought, 3rd row, unobstructed view, yet here are all these people, standing on the chairs in the front rows and all these others streaming in. I thought I would cry, but about then, some people partying on the chairs in the 2nd row reached down and pulled me up on the chairs with them, and there we rocked with Motley Crue at one of the best shows I've seen in my entire life.

Fast forward to Wildflower 2010. Vince Neil takes the stage. If I thought it wasn't possible to have more energy and look better 20 years later, Vince proves it is. Yes, I know he's had work done. But, I'd have work done, too, if I had the bankroll and especially if I was in show business. He was so full of energy, I could barely snap a photo. He had a huge smile on his face the entire time, and his sidemen were fantastic! Dana Strum from Slaughter played bass. I didn't catch the name of the guitarist, but he actually took over the vocals for some Zeppelin covers. The drummer - also missed his name - was like a tasmanian devil on the drums! How the kit didn't fall over, I'll never know. I've never seen more physical drumming. In any case, I danced, sang, fist-pumped along to most of the hits from the "Dr. Feelgood" album as well as many other mostly-Crue gems.

Sweaty, and happily exhausted at the end of the set, Sis and I decided to open up our front row seats to those waiting patiently behind us, and have a more relaxing time for the next act, .38 Special.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Love my iPhone; or: To Not Kill a Mockingbird

It seems like just about everyone has an iPhone these days. And I, for one, can't imagine my life without mine. I can't even remember how I got by before I had it.

There's some really cool music gear applications available. I've got one called "Pocket Guitar" - which is basically a way to play actual guitar chords on the phone. I use that one when I'm trying to figure out a new chord. I've got a guitar tuning application. A metronome. And...something called "Gig Baby" - it's actually a 4-track recorder! On my iPhone! It's way too cool and even has some built-in drum beats.

My iPhone lets me keep up with Facebook, have a flashlight always on hand, be way-too connected to work, and always have a book at the ready. All my music is on there, I can play Diner Dash, check my stock prices, get the latest headlines, edit photos, make my own backgrounds, figure out how to get where I'm going. Truly, I've found an application to do just about anything I want; I just wish it could go pour me a glass of wine instead of just recommending a cabernet.

So, what's this about not killing a mockingbird?

Well, last night, or should I say early this morning, some mockingbird started singing outside my window. It sang and sang and sang and sang and sang and sang and I was wide awake. I tried to sleep. I fired up my Kindle for iPhone to try to get my mind off the singing. Sort of would drift off, then the singing would pick up again. This went on for over an hour. So I got up for a bit. Went back to bed. Still the constant singing. I was pretty sure the only way to shut the dadgum bird up was to put it out of my miser.

Then it dawned on me. Headphones and white noise or ocean sounds would do the trick. I had headphones, really nice soft ones. But no ocean sounds. Bummer. Wait!! The App Store has everything. 2 minutes later, I had an ocean sounds application downloaded, headphones in, and - JOY! - no more mockingbird song.

Oh, and did I mention the iPhone also has a functional phone?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Playing What I Want

Last night, I recalled one of the main contributing factors that led to me quitting music the first time around. I actually majored in flute performance in college. All went well until one day I walked into my flute professor's studio and she handed me the Prokofiev flute sonata and announced that would be the centerpiece of my work that semester. Well, I had come in with my own idea: I wanted to play the Chaminade flute concertino. I had fallen in love with that piece during the previous semester and wanted passionately to perform it. But it was to no avail. My professor had already decided that another student in her studio would be performing the Chaminade and I would be performing the Prokofiev. Nevermind that I didn't even care for the Prokofiev. And trust me, I grew to hate it. And I did not perform it well because I hated it so much. As a musician, I knew good and well that there would be times I'd have to perform pieces that I didn't like so much. But the fact that, as a soloist, I had no say in what I would perform that semester, really burned me. Music was supposed to be about expressing the soul, not fitting into some cookie-cutter world. This incident started a chair reaction that ended with me giving up the flute.

Today things are much different. I threw myself into a career that I initially loved, and over time became disillusioned with, but sucked up when the economy turned poor. A 17-year career with a company ended with a devastating layoff. But that certainly put things into perspective. And in many ways that event turned out to be the best thing ever - because now I have music back! Because one thing I learned through that whole trying time is that I'm in charge of my decisions. And I decided that I would play the guitar, and that I would play what I want.

So I walked into my guitar instructor's studio for the first time last December. And what was the first thing he said to me? He said, "what do you want to learn?" A far cry from "thou shalt learn this!!" from 20+ years ago. Instead of wanting to produce a carbon copy of himself in terms of style and artistry, he wants to help me produce me. When I bring in a song I want to work on, he doesn't laugh or dismiss it summarily (although he may gently suggest it's not quite within my skill range yet). Finally! I'm playing what I want.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Festival Season is Upon Us! Finally!

We finally got that long, cold, weird wet winter behind us and are full-steaming it ahead into spring. And that means one thing: Outdoor festivals! And live music on patios at bars and restaurants all over. What is it about hearing music outside that's so, well, festive?

I kicked off my outdoor music season at Berryhill Baja Grill last night, featuring guitarist extraordinaire, Vic Duncan, who also happens to be my instructor. Berryhill is a cool place, because they have the kind of doors that slide all the way open, literally bringing the outdoors in. Kind of a weird setup for a "stage" for Vic (we actually ended up sitting behind him) but hey, the Dos Equis was cold, and the music was live! Trade Frankford Road for a beach or a lake view, and nothing could be more perfect. Well, unless drinks were on the house...

Thus began my month-long warmup for the ever popular Wildflower Festival in Richardson. This is its 18th year, and my 6th consecutive year. It's an annual weekend event for me and my sister, and it's by far the best outdoor festival I've ever been to. It's situated in, of all things, a corporate campus. There are banks, hotels, "urban-style" aparments, and various corporate headquarters on site. But they nestle 3 outdoor stages, one indoor stage as well as a laser show inside a theater into it. Then they mix in a food court, beverage stations, artisan tents and other vendors and it makes it one big, three-day party. A festival, even! And it's so cost-effective. A three-day pass is only $25. That's for *all* the shows!

A couple of years ago, thanks to some artwork my brother had donated, my sister and I managed to score VIP passes. Well, that spoiled us, and so now we plan to spring for the "Friends of the Festival" package which gets us reserved seating, free catering and beverages, as well as rooftop viewing. And that's even relatively cost-effective: $250 for 2 people. So $125 apiece. I paid $150 for one Van Halen ticket. It's a bargain!

This year's lineup features noteable local as well as national acts, like: Journey tribute band Frontiers, Le Freak, the B-52's, Candlebox, Los Lonely Boys, Vince Neil, and many, many others. Including .38 Special, who I've always wanted to see in concert, but never have. In addition, there's a singer/songwriter competition, and a street dance. The fun is non-stop! I've even considered checking into the on-site hotel so I don't have to miss a minute (and can always get to a private restroom...)

I'm already planning what to wear...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Suffering for my Art

So they told me all about how I'd get callouses on my fretting fingers when I started to play the guitar. What they didn't tell me was how much it would hurt - and continue to hurt. I just got finished playing a few minutes ago, and decided to start typing, which wasn't such a good idea. Each stroke of a key my left hand is responsible for sends a zinger up my finger.

I figured, well once the callouses are there, it won't hurt anymore, right? Wrong. I've been playing every day now since December. Every day after practice, my fingers hurt. And not just some surface pain, it goes pretty deep within my fingertips. It hurts for several hours after I'm finished, and then they continue to be numb.

Always numb. I can't even pick up paper or small things with my left hand anymore. So I'm thinking - are all guitarists out there, all the ones in bands and ones that jam at home, and all the classical players - are they all walking around without feeling in their fretting-hand fingertips? How long has it been since Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck had non-numb fingertips? And how does it affect their daily lives?

For me, it makes it difficult to work my office job sometimes. But at least I'm beginning to understand why "they" picked the non-dominant hand to play the frets. I always wondered about that - I mean, why wouldn't you use your "stronger" hand to do the hard part? Well, it's because your fretting hand is rendered semi-useless in the process, so best go with the non-dominant hand. For that, I am thankful.

And I have a whole new appreciation for Bryan Adams' lyric, "...played it 'til my fingers bled..."

Now I'm off to soak my fingertips in Palmolive...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My Inner Guitar Hero

So, I used to be one of those "musician-types" who scoffed at those that took Guitar Hero and Rock Band seriously. I mean, I thought, cute - if you want to pretend to play instruments and be in a band, fine; it's just not for me. The music is good, and it's fun at a party. But I had people actually tell me, "oh, my boy Timmy is so awesome at Guitar Hero, that we're going to get him guitar lessons!" Um...well, that's not always going to be a direct translation from one to the other. Guitars have frets and strings, need to be tuned, are bigger than guitar controllers, the list goes on.

Nine times out of ten "Timmy" gave up quickly, especially when they realized how much time away from Guitar Hero guitar practice was taking...

Still, I like to sing, so I got Rock Band to be the singer. The singing part on that game, while not displayed exactly as typical music notation, is actually quite a good visual of pitch, and gives you a pretty good idea of whether you're on pitch or not. So I'd say Rock Band can help you train as a singer, at least where pitch is concerned.

I decided if I was going to make the most of my Rock Band game, I'd better try the drums and guitars. I'm happy to report that the drums, while definitely not set up like a "regulation" kit, do a great job with rhythm and timing. I'd definitely recommend parents start their kid out with Rock Band drumming and see if they take to it before investing a full-blown drum kit, and the headaches that accompany a beginning budding drummer.

Finally, I picked up the guitar controller and tried my hand. Having played the actual guitar, I thought it would be a breeze. What's pushing little buttons down compared with the agony of developing callouses on my left-hand fingers? Well, certainly there's very little callous-building happening in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. It doesn't help you read tablature or understand chords. It doesn't help you find out what notes are on what strings, where. No barre chords. No hammer-ons or pull-offs. But, not unlike the drums, I find that those games help me a lot with rhythms.

The little "fret lines" that slide down the screen toward you as you play are actually set at eighth-note intervals. I've seen some pretty complex rhythms coming down, even on the easy levels. Some fast transitions. Some combinations that work better with up-and-down strokes rather than just down. And even though you're never really playing along with the lead guitar on the music track, if you listen well, you can really tell how the rhythms fit in with the guitar lines in the track.

Oh, and there's a whammy bar!!

So now, I'm a convert. I say, "Let them play Guitar Hero!" kids of today can be exposed to some amazingly legendary classic rock while we "older folks" can learn to appreciate the music of today. It's always good for the generations to understand one another. And, if you learn a little about music in the meanwhile, all the better for society as a whole.

Just remember - it's a game - have fun! And if you do find that you're musically inclined, don't be afraid to try out the "real thing."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sing Along with Me!

I think one of the very best things about rock concerts and festivals is the feeling of a temporary community. The energy of the crowd feeding off one another, singing together, enjoying one of their (hopefully) favorite bands together. There's something about a sea of people fist-pumping in one accord that really moves me. Community. Then it's over, and you move on. Temporary.

Temporary communities can exist in large-scale, like a stadium-sized concert, or small venues, like a birthday party at your home, or anything in-between. Basically anytime 3 or more people get together to all do one collective thing; celebrating something is always a plus!

One of my objectives in learning to play the guitar is to be able to create temporary communities, in the form of sing-alongs. Seriously - I'd love to be able to get out the ol' acoustic guitar in a group setting, start to play, and have everyone join in. Like around a campfire, except that I don't camp, so more like around a fireplace. :)

To reach this objective, I've started selecting songs that I want to learn to play by considering if they are sing-along-able. Perusing my iPod, I notice that it does include many that meet the criteria, but many that don't. The main reasons being that they either don't translate well to the acoustic guitar (although sing-alongs could certainly spring up around an electric guitar, but I'm not sure I want to haul around all that equipment all the time), or the fact that it's a song that not everyone knows well enough to sing along with. I guess I have some obscure taste...

So, what better way to find out what songs everyone knows than to ask everyone? To everyone who's reading this, please comment with what your favorite sing-along songs might be. I'm not asking for your favorite song, per se - just those that you think would be fun (and easy) to sing in a group, that others would enjoy singing just as much as you do.

Just as an example, I've recently been working on "Every Rose Has its Thorn." I think it qualifies - do you?

Let me hear from you!

Friday, March 19, 2010


OK, this is weird. I'm posting on my blog. That's weird enough, in and of itself. But what's even weirder is it has been just one day longer than exactly 2 years since I've written...

And what's even weirder than that is that not much has changed!

Yet, everything has changed. Laid off, new job, new company bought out and things uncertain, new home, fewer cats. Various other forms of turmoil and joy.

But one thing remains constant. I'm still rockin'!

In fact, harder than ever. I finally caved in and got some real guitar lessons. And you know what? It made all the difference. Seems like an old music major like me would have known that sooner. Oh, well. Live and learn. Even a 43-year-old can learn something. I'm proving that every day as my guitar playing progresses.

I counted today, and I know almost 12 songs now. That's in 3 months. Now, they don't sound all that great, but you know, passable.

And, if that's not enough, I'm also learning that my guitar teacher is correct when he says if I master certain chord progressions that I automatically know zillions of songs because so many of them are the same. I found that out today when I was able to learn 2 more songs...just changed up the pace and the strum pattern. Whaddaya know? Instant set list.

What's even better is, my main objective is to be a good rhythm guitarist and to accompany myself when I sing. And I'm almost there! Well...with the caveat that I'll still need polish. Then I'll be just like Guitar George. He knows all the chords. But he's strictly rhythm, he doesn't want to make it cry or sing (thank you, Dire Straits!)

So, that's my little update to catch you up on the past 2 years. Hopefully it won't be quite that long before I post again.