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Rants from Louis Magnifico

Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

Hamburger James Caughley, 1942-2016

On October 15, 2016, this world said goodbye to one James K. Caughley, Jr. of Memphis, TN but his departure didn’t make headlines.  From his brief obituary, we learned that Caughley was a retired employee of the Coors Brewing Company.  He adored animals, especially Main Coon cats. He loved NASCAR and visiting the Smokey Mountains.  His memorial services were held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, TN.  His life appeared, by all measures, mundane.  But looks can be deceiving and first impressions wrong.  As William Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  So let it be with James.  The clues lie in what was not in the obituary.  You see, James K. Caughley, Jr. is better known as Hamburger James – and his story is far more interesting than one might suspect.

Elvis Presley’s inner circle, known as The Memphis Mafia, was more than merely the group of friends with which The King of Rock and Roll hung out.   It was the most exclusive of clubs and the most coveted of fraternities.  To be a part of Elvis’ family of friends was to have entitlements that the rest of the world would never enjoy.  It was to have a reputation, a title, hell, a role in history.  This was Elvis, after all, and membership had its privileges.  Stores, restaurants, theaters, and even amusements parks that were closed would open back up for you after hours if you were in the court of the King.  Elvis was known to give personal gifts such as money, cars, and even houses to members of The Memphis Mafia.  He even brought some of his closest confidants to the White House when he asked President Nixon to make him a federal officer so that he could arrest people and fight socialism and communism (true story).  The President indeed issued Elvis a DEA badge that day.  And while the badge was honorary, Elvis was known to investigate and “arrest” people that he suspected of being unpatriotic.

Elvis and Nixon
Elvis and Nixon at the White House – taken on the day that Elvis received his honorary DEA badge.

Everyone in the Memphis Mafia had a specific role.  Even their logo – TCB (Taking Care of Business) in a flash – alluded to supreme dedication to their responsibilities.  Charlie Hodge inspected the stages on which Elvis would perform and handed him scarves and drinks during the shows.  Joe Esposito served as both the Secretary and Treasurer.  Red and Sonny West were his bodyguards. Lamar Fike, Jerry Schilling, Marty Lacker, Billy Smith – each had a job.  James Caughley wanted desperately to be a member of the Memphis Mafia and he would do any job he had to in order to serve the King.

When Elvis made up his mind about something, he went in all the way.  When he decided to get involved with the growing sport of racquetball in the 1970s, he didn’t just rent out the local YMCA to play a few matches.  He built a regulation racquetball court at Graceland and it became a staple activity for him and his friends.  When he explored his equestrian passion, he didn’t just go out horseback riding for relaxation.  He purchased many horses, bought land in Walls, MS, and started the Circle G Ranch.  Impulsive?  Perhaps.  But he always went in all the way.  It was the same with food.  When Elvis got the bug that he was in the mood for a cheeseburger, he wanted it immediately… even if it was 3:00 in the morning and all the restaurants were closed (this was long before the days of 24/7 fast food chains being the norm, remember).  It was with a cheeseburger that Elvis’ stepbrother, Ricky Stanley, was initiated into the Memphis Mafia on a cold night in December, 1970, in downtown Washington, D.C.

Ricky was 17 years old and Elvis called him in the middle of the night with the impulsive instruction to go find him a cheeseburger.  Ricky didn’t know where he’d come by one at that time of night and Elvis offered no advice.  So Ricky wandered out into the streets of D.C. at around 3:00 in the morning in search of an illusive cheeseburger.  He proved his worth by returning to the hotel, a bag of burgers in hand.  “I don’t want them. I was just checking you out, to see if you could do it,” Elvis replied.  From this night forward, Ricky was a full fledged member of the Memphis Mafia and was assigned specific roles.  Ricky recalls, “Eventually I took care of him when we were traveling. I did everything. I made sure all the meals were taken care of. I took care of his wardrobe and jewelry, taped up the windows so the sun couldn’t get in, set up the room and carried the kit that contained all his medication. When he would come offstage, it was my responsibility to get a towel around his neck, a glass of water in his hand, a coat on his back. Then to get him in a car and make sure those vents weren’t blowing on him. Usually in the car it was mostly just him and me in the backseat, with someone driving us.”

As you can imagine, when dealing with an impulsive character like Elvis who enjoyed routine and order, Ricky’s job became busy.  He could have used an assistant.  Enter James Caughley.  James was a guy who hung around in the early 1970s trying to “get in” with the Elvis entourage.  Sometimes, the group would let him into the Memphian Theater during the Memphis Mafia’s all night movie watching marathons.  If the boys got hungry while watching the flicks, Elvis would shout out, “Hamburgers,  James!”  And so the nickname was born.  Hamburger James was happy to find and deliver burgers whenever Elvis wanted.  Eventually, Elvis felt sorry for James who always seemed like a misfit and the King offered him an official role in the Memphis Mafia.  Basically, he was a gopher running odd errands.  Mainly, he found burgers for Elvis and the crew.

Hamburger James Caughley ID
Actual ID card for James Caughley.

In 1973, during a stay in Las Vegas, NV, Elvis noticed that there were some items missing from his “kit.”  Elvis’ kit went everywhere with him and its safe keeping was the responsibility of Ricky Stanley.  The kit was known to contain lots of prescription drugs, about $10,000 stored in a wallet, some jewelry, Elvis’ license, and several Polaroid pictures of Pricilla (assumed by most to be naked photographs).  Elvis noticed that some of the Polaroid pictures and an undisclosed amount of money had been taken from the kit and he immediately went into a rage.  Ricky was in Elvis’ suite at the time and the two of them went around the hotel looking for all of the rest of the Memphis Mafia members to put them on alert that a thief was lurking around them.  But they found something – or rather, someone – else that was missing along with the artifacts from the kit.  Hamburger James was nowhere to be found.

While searching for Hamburger James, someone in the Memphis Mafia suggested that they check the airport.  So Elvis ordered some of them to get the car and take him to the airport immediately.  Red and Sonny West and Ricky Stanley were among those who made the legendary trip.  Someone discovered that a plane was leaving for Memphis in just a few minutes so they raced at high speeds to get to the terminal before the plane would take off.  When they arrived at the airport, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia got out of their car and raced through the airport with guns, jumping up and down and looking everywhere for Hamburger James.  Someone spotted the terminal where a plane was about to taxi to the runway for its flight to Memphis.  Elvis runs to the counter and demands, “Stop that plane!  Stop that plane!”  The attendant explains that she can not stop the plane so Elvis flashed his badge. “I’m a federal officer!  I tell you I want that plane stopped right now!”  That’s when she realized that this was Elvis Presley and, lo and behold, the plane was stopped.

The accounts of the narrative of this event differ only slightly but it appears that Elvis and the boys ran outside and boarded the wrong plane first before they finally found Hamburger James cowering in fear, in possession of not only money and the photos but also two rings.  Imagine being in the airport or on the plane and Elvis rushes in, flashing a badge, saying he is a federal agent, and his men have their guns in clear view!  After they found James he was physically dragged back to the car, Red and Sonny West taking turns punching him along the way.  Elvis read James his Miranda Rights.  But in proving that he was more an entertainer than a federal agent, he couldn’t remember all the words.  Elvis looked at Hamburger James who was cowering and sobbing in tears, afraid for his life, and said, “James, you have the right to remain silent.  You have the right to an attorney…” And then Elvis couldn’t recall the rest of it so he said, “and you have the right to all the rest of that shit.  Get the fuck in the car!”

They took Hamburger James back to the hotel and brought him to Elvis’ suite where he was tossed on a couch.  Elvis picked up a table as if to crash it down upon James, delivering a death blow.  He reconsidered to the relief of Ricky (though Red and Sonny probably would have enjoyed the drama).  Elvis stared at him for a moment then slapped him twice, very hard, across the face.  James broke down crying and sobbing hysterically.  He said he was sorry for stealing.  After a moment of watching James cry, Elvis began crying.  One thing that no one ever questioned was Elvis’ compassion.  Perhaps in that moment Elvis only saw the misfit that he once wanted to help but ultimately used as nothing more than a gopher.  Elvis took pity and he got down on his knees in front of James and said he was sorry, too.  Then Elvis asked, “Why didn’t you let me know if you needed money? Why didn’t you let me know if you wanted to go back to Memphis? I would have given you money. You didn’t have to steal from me.”  They both cried for a long time.  James later flew back to Memphis and relinquished his position in the Memphis Mafia.

When I first learned of this event, I decided to get in touch with Hamburger James myself to hear his side of the story. Armed with nothing but a name and the internet, I began my search for Hamburger James.  I located his residence and phone number easily and decided to place a phone call to his residence to set up an interview.  Interestingly, when I discovered his address, I was literally only about 2 miles from his home.  I did a drive by and thought about knocking on the front door.  But I didn’t want to appear like Jake or Elwood of The Blues Brothers knocking on the front door of the boarding house in their classic movie.  Nor did I want to experience anything like the infamous story of the music journalist who knocked on the front door of Syd Barrett’s residence a few years after his departure from Pink Floyd.  I decided a phone call would be more appropriate.  His wife answered the phone.

“Hi, this is Louis Magnifico with The Traveling Twosome.  We run a website where we review things that are somewhat off the beaten path.  Over the years, people have heard from the likes of Red and Sonny West, among others.  But some of the other members of the Memphis Mafia haven’t had their stories publicized as much.  Would James be willing to share some stories and experiences from his time on the road with Elvis in an interview?”

To my dismay, I learned from her that James didn’t want to comment on his time with the King.  It was, she said, a chapter of his life that has been put behind him.

James K. Caughley, Jr. will be remembered as an employee of Coors Brewing Company, an animal lover, a NASCAR fan, and a frequent visitor to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  But to Elvis fans, he will always be known as Hamburger James.

 

 

On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

On Being Crackheads: Social Media and the Eye

Much in the same way that some people talk before they think, some technological advancements are assimilated into our culture before we weigh the consequence of acceptance.  The problem with “going too far” is that it is a destination from which one can never return.  A rather obvious example of this which no one would argue is that of sexual intercourse.  There’s no question that sex is not just a boundary but the boundary which changes everything about a relationship.  To put it in baseball terms, once you’ve rounded the bases and slid into home plate, you’ll never feel the same about holding at first.  In baseball – and hopefully in your love life, as well – this is a good thing… a great thing, even! But you’d better be ready for the change of mindset associated with going too far because you can never return to the innocence from whence you came.  You can never un-see, neither with you eyes, your mind, nor your heart.

While I sit at my MacBook, connected to millions of others on the internet, writing and preparing to publish – from my very home, mind you – an essay that will instamatically be available for readers to enjoy around the world, I think that as a culture we’ve gone too far.  I’ve been thinking this for quite some time now but I feel it more today than ever.  And I want to go back.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate and enjoy many convenient aspects of our modern life.  I do, truly!  For example, I devour music constantly.  I don’t just casually listen to songs that I like, but instead I soak music into the core of my being from morning to night.  I never tire of listening to music or feeling the rush of emotions that good music brings to me.  I subscribe to the Apple Music service and on my phone, my iPod, my television, my computers, while at home, at work, in the car, or even walking down the street, I have virtually every song imaginable ready to stream into my ears at the simple push of a button – all for less money per month than the price of a single fast food meal.  I like that! It sure beats carrying around a bag of 20 cassette tapes everywhere I go and being limited to that selection, worrying that they may melt when I leave them in my hot car.  Likewise, there are many other aspects of our modern life that I appreciate and enjoy.  But the truth is, I’d give it all up to go back to the innocence of yesteryear.

What was the boundary for me?  Where did society cross the line into the realm of “going too far?”  What could possibly be so bad that I’d be willing to give up modern luxuries that I enjoy in order to rid the world of this evil?  I knew it wasn’t simply technology as a whole.  While I often long for the caveman days of my youth, technological advancements in toto haven’t been all bad in my estimation.   No, there’s something specific that bothers me.  Something that, for a time, I couldn’t put my finger on.  When I saw the culprit, however, I recognized him immediately.  It was the Eye that gave him away.

Sitting out by the pool a few days ago, I heard John Cougar’s classic “Jack and Diane” streaming from our patio speakers.  I’ve heard the song countless time in my life but not like I heard it that day.  Listening to John Cougar (that was his name when that album was released, if you recall) sing about hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze while his girlfriend sat in his lap literally gave me chills.  I turned and looked at my wife, Char, sitting next to me.  She was wearing a sexy bikini and her long blonde hair was blowing in the wind.  It was a Polaroid moment if there ever was one.  I wanted to grab her and jump through an imaginary portal, taking us back to 1983.  “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can…” continued John Cougar.  I looked around and the Eye was nowhere to be seen.  One thing that made the moment so special was that the culprit responsible for taking the world too far was missing in action.  The Eye couldn’t see me.  It was 2017 but it could have just as well been 1983.  Oh, 1983.  I wanted to go back.  Back to a time before the culprit, before the Eye.

The culprit of which I speak is, generally speaking, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best.  But this culprit is just the visible mask hiding a more nefarious enemy.  The Eye.  Because of the culprit and the Eye, we’ve taken the wonder out of life.  We’ve become an ADD society with no attention span whatsoever – and we pride ourselves with that fact!  We demand instant gratification.  We multitask all day long, often without even knowing it.  We have too much and dream too little.  Imagination has been replaced by someone else’s implanted virtual reality.  We no longer have meaningful communication or relationships.  And to make matters worse, we’ve made ourselves dependent upon web connected devices (that are vices) so that turning away from them even for a short time, which is almost certainly the first and most necessary step in trying to stop the downward spiral into the dark and murky realm of having gone too far, is almost an impossibility for most.  We have made ourselves addicted.  We are the crackheads.

Zoned Out Kids Playing Video GamesI’m 43 years old at the time of this writing.  In the summer of 1983, I turned 9 years old.  In those days, my favorite possessions were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  Armed with those three things, I was the richest kid in town.  Compare this to the “necessary possessions” of 9 year olds today.  Today, kids younger than that have their own smart phones with 24/7 internet access in the palm of their hand.  They have social media accounts that they access with their phones and other devices.  They have home game consoles (also connected to the internet) with scores of games, iPads with scores of apps, and internet-connected handheld game systems with even more cases of games.  They spend countless hours browsing an endless flow of mindless videos and streaming live footage of themselves to their friends at all hours of the day.  And yet with all of this, kids today constantly say that they are bored!  I’ve seen kids snicker and heard them sigh when the suggestion is made to spend time with traditional activities not affiliated with web connectivity.  I’ve seen them have complete nervous breakdowns at the possibility of having these devices and access terminated or restricted.  It’s the typical reaction of a crackhead.

You don’t believe we are crackheads?  That’s ok.  Denial is common among addicts.  Ask anyone who’s gone through a 12 Step Program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  You can’t get help until you freely admit your addiction.  What I want you to understand is that this is not an addiction you sought of your own choosing.  The Pusherman chose you.  He wanted his Eye upon you.

The EyeYou may already be keen to my literary reference.  You see, whether anyone realizes it or not, we are already living in George Orwell’s vision of 1984.  Big Brother is here and watching us right now.  His symbolic Eye is all around us.  Consider this.  Had someone told us in 1983 that they were going to place a camera and microphone in our room, we would never have entertained such nonsense.   Had they told us that the cameras would constantly be sending recordings of everything we said and did to a massive computer network that would learn all about us, we would consider them criminals and be willing to defend our homes from them.   If they further said that they intended to sell their knowledge database about the most intimate aspects of our lives to businesses and governments both foreign and domestic who would use this data for their own selfish purposes at our expense, we would have picked up guns and gone to war.  In those days, our privacy was worth paying for.  Worth dying for.  Big Brother learned quickly that he could not force us to accept this intrusion into our lives and this invasion of our privacy.  Our freedom was too important to us.  So Big Brother immediately went to work figuring out a way to trick us into asking him to please take away our privacy and freedoms.  He couldn’t force his watchful Eye into our homes and on our streets while revealing his true face to us so he disguised himself as social media networks, as a game system, as a phone, as a television, and even as a  personal assistant… and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.  Big Brother got his Eye into our lives because he tricked us into buying it.  And perhaps even to Big Brother’s surprise,  we’ve become dependent upon it.  Addicted to it.  We are the crackheads and Big Brother is the Pusherman.

The Pusherman doesn’t care about getting you on crack, for the drug is just incidental.  The Pusherman cares only about control, power, and money.  Nothing else matters to the Pusherman.  He uses crack as the device that becomes your vice and makes you addicted so that he has complete control, power, and money.  No whole, able-bodied, sane man would walk up to a stranger and say, “Please, my lord, I want to be enslaved by you.”  But if the stranger is dangling the temptation of device, someone might think he can get the device (the crack) without losing his control and he may even conclude it is worth the cost.  Make no mistake, the device will always enslave us.  When we give up our sovereignty, our freedoms, and our beliefs for anything else, then that thing we exchanged them for has become our master.  We are the crackheads.  We are the slaves.  But this crack – our web connected world, our devices such as our smartphones and our games – was never the issue.  Remember, the drug is just incidental.  Big Brother didn’t want us connected on the web anymore than the Pusherman wanted us on crack.  What he really wants is to have his Eye upon us.  He wants to control us.  It’s not about the crack, it’s about control, power, and money.  Our devices are just the crack – the device he used which became our vice.  And now his Eye is watching and we can’t turn away.

His Eye is on our phone, on our computer, on our television, logging every keystroke we type, listening to every word we speak, studying where we go, when we go there, who we are with, what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we buy, what we believe.  He learns our patterns, knows us by our touch, our eyes, our facial construction, and even our expressions.  This database containing the encyclopedia of our lives is made available to government agencies both foreign and domestic as well as to marketers worldwide so that they can shape us, mold us, use us, determine how we vote, control how we spend our money, tell us what should outrage us, what movements we should support, and even influence our core beliefs.  Big Brother goes by many names but they all point to the same entity.  We call them Facebook, Google, Cortana, social media, Windows… and when he needs more information, his tools come out with new “features.”  And we can’t resist, for we are the crackheads.  Unless, of course, we freely admit our addiction.  For that’s the first step in recovery.

I will, perhaps, write another essay for those who deny this is happening to prove what data is being collected, how it is collected, and how it is used.  For brevity’s sake, I will assume, however, that the vast majority of you already realize that it is indeed being done.  You just don’t see it as nefarious.  You don’t call it by the name Big Brother.  You only see the crack.  Or, worse, you think the crack is worth it.  You believe that the control and freedom we gave up in exchange for the luxuries of our modern life was worth it.  I would argue that if this is the case, then what you need is a super ball.

Do you reach for your phone soon after waking up – not to call someone but to check Facebook?  Do you check your social media feeds while you’re at other functions (a gathering of friends, out to eat, at a party, during dinner at home, while watching television, while talking on the phone, at the movies, while talking in person to someone, etc.)?  Do you check your social media pages while you’re at work?  Do you “check-in” on social media whenever you go places?  Do most things you do make it to a status update?  Have you not read a book that you’ve been wanting to read but you’ve spent hours reading Facebook News Feeds?  Did you not want to read this article because it was longer than the average Facebook status or, God forbid, a Tweet?  Do you always post about things you’re going to do one day or would like to do but never seem to actually do them?  When your phone receives a text or other notification, do you feel compelled to check it right then?  Do you text more than you talk?  When just a little time has passed with no connected interaction, do you find yourself checking your phone for social media updates just to see “what’s going on?”  Do you ever feel if you don’t check your social media platforms then you might be missing out on something?

Dinner with a PhoneThink for a moment about the rudeness and complete lack of ettiquette we demonstrate in the way we multitask our communication via social media.  These days, we think nothing of texting others or checking Facebook while attending get-togethers at friend’s homes. This would be like (in yesteryear’s terms) going to a friend’s house and while he is speaking with you, you keep yourself busy using his telephone to call ten or fifteen friends and carry on conversations with them – mostly about insignificant subjects or things that can wait!  And imagine doing that while having dinner with them at their table – that’s what you’re doing when you get on social media!  Feeling guilty?  That’s because you’re a crackhead!

We weren’t made to live like this.  I mean biologically and physiologically we were not designed/created/evolved (you can fill in the blank with your own choice verb) to live like this.  I’ve recently read study after study from neurologists, psychiatrists, and scientists who argue that our brains are not meant to handle the technological complexities of our modern multitasking world.  As MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, a worldwide expert in the study of divided attention, says, our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”  In his book, The Organized Mind, Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Levitin wrote:  “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance. Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour. By contrast, staying on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum, and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.”

In 1983, we had a house phone. We didn’t have an answering machine.  We didn’t even have call waiting yet.  No caller ID.  The phones were connected to the walls or were stationed on desks.  There were five of us in that house and we shared a single phone line.  It rang busy if people tried to call while someone else was using the phone.  If we weren’t home then people simply couldn’t reach us.  There was no expectation that we would answer whenever someone called.  Today, this model has been turned upside down.  People indeed expect to be able to reach us at their convenience rather than ours.  We can be talking to someone and our phone notifies us of an incoming text.  We look at the message and text back while still communicating with person we were talking to in the first place.  We have conversations with people while scrolling through Facebook at the same time.  This is exactly the kind of multitasking that is costing us physically, mentally, and relationally.  One of the things I enjoy about performing live in my rock band is the singularity of task.  I cannot do anything other than provide music to my audience.  I’m narrowly focused on that one specific deliverable.  While I’m on stage, there can be no interruption.  I exist for that period of time for the sole purpose of perform music.  I always knew playing in a band was good for my spirit.  Now I understand it’s good for my brain, as well.

This point of this essay isn’t to delve into the world of neuroscience.  There are countless scientific journals, published studies, and books from authors who are far more qualified than I to discuss that concern.  Therefore, I don’t feel compelled to explain the biological evidence that our modern multitasking world is destroying us.  Rather, the point of this essay is to invoke an intense rage within you.  Rage first directed toward me for pointing our society’s failure (perhaps, to make it personal, your failure) at being able to really live life to the fullest measure, then directed toward yourself for electing to embrace Big Brother’s Eye in the first place, and finally – hopefully – directed toward Big Brother as you and I join forces and collectively put an end to this mindless existence and start truly living once again.  Stop simply existing.  Start living.  So I’ll cease the scientific jargon and appeal to you on mere reason and, dare I say, emotion.  What you need is a super ball.

I remember a few years ago being flabbergasted when I noticed a common behavior from friends who lived in some of the most beautiful regions of our nation.  They were regularly posting meme after meme of beautiful nature photos found on the internet along with status updates that claimed they were yearning to be in a place like that.  These people never ventured away from their screens to take a walk outside for themselves!  Had they done so, they would have seen that these pictures were in their own back yard!  On the rare occasions when people do venture into the great outdoors, I still see them spending an abundance of time on social media rather than leaving it alone and just enjoying the experience of nature!  There’s something disturbing about standing in the midst of a beautiful setting and gazing at a screen rather than the world around you.  It’s like standing in front of the Taj Mahal and not looking up at the structure itself but instead, staring at an artist’s rendering of it in a travel magazine.  If that image doesn’t stop you in your tracks, then maybe this one will.  I’ll speak to men here.  You’re married to a woman you find to be the sexiest woman on the planet. She’s slowly disrobing in front of you, provocatively moving around you, waiting on you to touch her and she’s waiting to touch you.  But you won’t look up from a wallet size picture of her while she’s right there in front of you, undressing!

I’ve written before how, as a musician, I notice people these days watch us on stage through the tiny LCD screens on their phones rather than enjoying the lights and sights for themselves.  They are so busy capturing an image or video clip to share on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or whatever people use that they miss the show as it should be seen!  And in case you haven’t noticed, these phone captures never look or sound like it did live.  I’m not against taking a few pics when you’re at a concert.  Nor am I opposed to even capturing a short video clip.  But I see people filming all night long at shows rather than enjoying the experience!  Why go to a concert just to watch the event on a 4 inch screen?

Why do we do these things?  The answer is simple – we’re focused more on our devices and on social media than we are on time, place, and fellowship.  You may not believe we are, but our actions speak otherwise.  We do it because we’re addicted.  We do it because we are the crackheads.  As I’ve already stated, we’re binging on social media while hanging out with friends or dates rather than enjoying each other’s company.  I see it everywhere I look – everyone is checking and using their phone constantly.  While at dinner, while hanging out with friends, at school, at work, while walking.  We even endanger ourselves and others by using our phones (for texting, social media, or internet) while on the road driving!  Rather than living “in the moment,” we are living virtually and vicariously.  And we are habitually concerned with impressing others (status update – look at me… check in – see where I am) rather than simply being.  And we’re doing this because we’ve become too addicted to the device and the connectivity.  We are the crackheads.  What we need is a super ball.

How many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  Would you pick up the phone and call those same 500 supposed friends a few times a day and ask them “what’s on your mind right now?”  No?  Then why do you seek that information from Facebook?  Is it perhaps because Facebook psychologically tricks you by using their social network strategy into thinking that  you have many wonderful “friends” and you need to “keep up with them?”  Don’t even begin to get me started on the misuse of the words “like” and “friend” in the Facebook generation!  Or perhaps you scroll the News Feed so that you can re-post a meme that has already been posted for the millionth time.  Maybe, it’s just that you feel compelled to offer your political, religious, or social views to everyone who says anything at all about news and current events.  Could you imagine the stress of having to defend your beliefs to everyone you talked to every time you engaged them in conversation?  We’d never want to talk to most of these “friends” again!  So why do we do that on Facebook?  Or what if it’s even stranger than that… what if we’re scrolling the News Feed each day because we’re nothing more than busybodies and gossips? Again, I ask, how many hours do you spend scrolling through Facebook’s News Feed so that you can read everything that crosses the minds of people who you barely know?  When you get to the end of your life will you look back and say, “Gee, I sure wish I had a little more time to look at people’s status updates.”  I think not!  I rather believe you’ll be saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had gone to see the geysers at Yellowstone.”

Remember my favorite possessions as a nine year old in 1983?  I mentioned that they were my AM/FM/Cassette Boom Box, my Huffy dirt bike, and a rubber super ball dispensed from a gum ball machine.  I contrasted these to the possessions of a typical 9 year old today.  Well, it’s time to admit it.  Most adults are no different from 9 year olds today.  We even share the same “toys.”  We share the same crack, if you will.  If we could get through life not that many years ago and believe we were the richest kids in town with nothing more than music, a bike, and a ball – and a few friends to confide in –  do we really need much else today?  Even as adults?  Our society starts kids on crack at the youngest age possible.  Children today will grow up never knowing a time when Big Brother’s Eye wasn’t watching them around the clock.  They are growing up not even understanding what’s so bad about the Eye anyway.  It’s all they know!  To them, the Eye is simply a necessary component of the device that provides them their high.  We give iPads and Android tablets to our preschool age children. Big Brother begins building his database on them right away.  Rather than buying them a Hot Wheels car (which, by the way, cost about 60 cents in 1983), a comic book (do the Marvel covers with “Still on 35 Cents” printed at the top bring back any memories?), or a Star Wars action figure ($2.49 when The Empire Strikes Back came out), we buy them X Box One games that run $60 – and they have to keep going back to get the next “latest and greatest” game that all their friends are playing.  These games only last until they are “beaten” then the kids move on to the next game.  By contrast, we played with the same Hot Wheels and Star Wars action figures for years!  And the toys we had encouraged imagination.  These days, it seems we are just spoon feeding virtual reality to an impressionable mind.  We send our children to elementary school with smartphones.  Quite literally, the world is available to them at their fingertips.  They are allowed to text their friends during school time, download and play multiplayer online games during class, and get on social media when they should be listening to lectures.  And to reinforce the addiction, teachers are requesting to communicate directly to our kids on their own smartphones day and night via services like Remind.  Do you remember what our “reminder” was to do our homework?  It was the zero we received if we failed to know what it was and turn it in!  We’ve gone too far and become too dependent upon these distractions from life.  For that’s what they are:  distractions that keep us in a state of simply existing and keep us from a state of truly living.

Yes, Big Brother won the war without firing a single shot.  He didn’t have to fight his way into our lives.  There were no guns and no one had to be blown to smithereens.  He tricked us into asking for the his takeover.  And to add insult to injury, he even convinced us to pay our hard earned money for him to cast his Eye upon us.  And now, even as I type these words, his Eye is watching.  His Eye is watching me.  He knows what I’m saying.  He is gathering data about the Resistance.  He knows where to strike whenever the Resistance begins to grow into a movement.  The Resistance is demonized, made to look foolish in the media, criticized in schools and universities, even criminalized in some cases!  Whatever it takes.  By any means necessary.

Yes, an overly-connected society rooted in social media where multitasking has become the norm and relationships are shallow at best is the problem.  This intentional evolution of society, orchestrated by Big Brother so his Eye could watch us and one day control us, has led to a complete breakdown in our ability to communicate, to work, to play, to relate, to socialize, and to grow deeper in relationship with one another.  And that is key.  Big Brother doesn’t want us growing deeper in relationship with one another – he wants us always coming to him to solve our problems.   So that he has the ultimate control.

Mr RobotoThe players in this game are few.  The enemy and Pusherman is Big Brother.  The crack is the overly connected social media side of the internet and our culture’s misuse of the so called “internet of things.”  And we are the crackheads.

I may not sound like it right now but I’m a hopeless romantic and an eternal optimist.  All is not lost.  What we need is a super ball.  Maybe a bike.  Definitely some music (“I’ve come to help you with your problems so we can be free.’).  Hopefully a few friends in which to confide (“The problem’s plain to see – Too much technology – Machines to save our lives – Machines dehumanize”).  Rediscover the simple pleasures in life that we enjoyed before social media.

We don’t all need to abandon technology altogether.  I certainly have no plans to do so.  I’ve already mentioned that I enjoy many of the technological advances of my lifetime.  I even use social media, mainly to advertise my band.  But it’s like alcohol.  Technology can be good – very good when used correctly.  But no one wants to be around a drunk alcoholic.  Remember that we are crackheads.  The worse your addiction, the more that drastic stance of abstinence might be the right plan for you – take a sabbatical from all things connected for a period of time.  If that scares you, then you’re addicted.  For many of you, the addiction hasn’t turned into the full blown intervention stage yet.  May I suggest, then, before things get worse, stop multitasking and stop prioritizing social media and connectivity over everything else in your life. When you are in the company of friends, may they command your attention.  Leave phones like umbrellas at the door.  When you go out with friends or on a date, talk.  Other people will have to wait.  Learn to simply be.  Don’t feel that you must constantly check up on the world via social media.  We’re not that important.  Instead, learn to enjoy just simply being.  A man who finds contentment in simplicity will never want for anything.  Treat Facebook like a place to which you must navigate.  Go there once or twice a day at most and conduct whatever business needs to be conducted there.  Don’t give in to Big Brother’s intentions to ensnare you on social media, keeping you trapped in a prison without walls.  The meme you’re about to share has already been seen and shared by millions before you.  Be original.  Inspire your own creativity by allowing your brain to function freely without multitasking and then share the best of yourself so the world can be encouraged and enlightened.  Start your day with a cup of coffee and light reading – a morning devotional, a book of book of bizarre facts (I like the Bathroom Reader series).  By all means, do not start with Facebook (nothing sets the tempo of the day like a group of political zealots passing around offensive memes attacking the those on the other side of the ideological fence…  or an argument over the latest social justice issue of the week that has people rioting in the streets).  Every couple days, pick some you really like (not in the Facebook definition of the word but rather someone you really like) and surprise that lucky individual-of-the-day by calling them on the phone just to say hi and ask how they are doing – the way we used to talk to people on the phone.  Limit your tweets and status updates.  Use the internet whenever you need to use it – but don’t sit around just “surfing the web” that often.  Stop existing.  Start living.

In 2015, musician and songwriter Steven Wilson released his masterpiece, Hand Cannot Erase., an album many consider to be one of the greatest of all time.  The album is inspired by and partly based upon the story of Joyce Carol Vincent. Joyce lived in a big city in an apartment complex.  She was young, popular, had many friends and close family.  She died… and no one noticed for three years.  No one.  It sounds impossible, but it really happened.  The sad truth is that the more connected we’ve become in cyberspace, the less connected we’ve become in our day to day lives.

I say no one noticed Joyce as she remained dead in her apartment for three years.  That’s not entirely true.  There was one who noticed.  His Eye was watching her the entire time.

Joyce Carol Vincent

 

 

A Conversation

A Conversation

My line of work is entertainment.  I am blessed with the job of making people happy.  Whether I’m on stage playing bass guitar in my band, writing songs, publishing books, or producing films, I make money by making people smile.  I’m a natural extrovert and I love what I do.  And even more, I love being able to do it all with my bride and best friend, Char.

But the fact that my life’s output falls in the spectrum of entertainment does not mean that I do not have very sincere and passionate beliefs about things outside the bounds of my chosen field of work.  Those who know me personally know that I follow the news and current events, I study history, I have firm views on faith, and I am a constant reader of non-fiction.  But this is not why you come to me.  You come to me for entertainment.  I fancy myself as The Wizard in the famous song from Black Sabbath:  “everyone’s happy when The Wizard walks by.”  And so it is that I wear a mask.  The mask fits me, I feel comfortable in the mask, and the mask is very much a reflection of a very real part of me.  But only a part.  There are other parts of me that I do not allow you to see.

I sometimes get annoyed when I see celebrity entertainers share their political views  – as if their political views matter more than those of other people with jobs that aren’t in the public eye!  Rubbish!  For example, I absolutely love the 1970s/1980s rock band, The Police.  Sting, the amazing bassist and lead vocalist for The Police, is very outspoken about his politics.  But just because I admire him as a musician and songwriter does not mean that I have to necessarily agree with him on matters of religion or politics.  I go to him for music, not for political thought.  But for whatever reason the world seems to think that if a celebrity you enjoy speaks out on a social or political issue then his conclusions must be true.  After all, he sure makes good music – he must know something about foreign military affairs, right? How insane!  Let me ask you this:  do you choose your presidential candidate based on what your plumber tells you while he’s unclogging your drain?  Then why do entertainers think we should listen to them when they speak?  Entertainment is an occupation – an occupation no more important than that of plumbers.

Elvis Presley was extraordinarily political.  He was a staunch Republican and ultra conservative in his ideology.  He believed strongly in personal freedom for all and viewed the liberal movement as a revolution that would ultimately remove those freedoms that he came to enjoy in his life. But he intentionally chose NOT to disclose this fact about himself to his fans… because he knew his limitations.  He was an entertainer, not a politician.  And he didn’t want to turn off his fans with his views on politics.  That’s not why they came to him.  They came to him for music.  I admire this about Elvis and I’ve tried to mirror this in my life and career.

Occasionally, however, we all make mistakes – just like the one I’m about to make.  You see, the big issue right now in the world of current events is the escalating tension around race relations.  Not a day goes by that I don’t hear our news media speak of the next civil war being fought over this issue.  It seems that over the past few years, things have gone down the toilet here in the U.S.A. in terms of race relations.  We need a plumber.

A few close friends of ours – black friends – came to us recently to speak about the issue.  I honestly found their views to be shocking.  I’ve spent the past year reading several news stories on the subject.  The Black Lives Matter movement.  White Privilege.  Protests over Confederate statues.  Arguments regarding White Nationalists.  Reparations for slavery.  Then, I read an article online that was really just a copy of a woman’s Facebook post.  I found the article to be completely offensive on every level.  That was when this thought became clear to me:  the media, being used by powerful world figures bent on the destruction of our country, is creating the movement.  It is akin to brainwashing.  If we continue to follow this path, I fear there is only one logical conclusion:  hate.  They will get the civil war they are trying to create… if we let them.  I wrote the following piece to reflect my feelings on this issue and pose the only conclusion I see us reaching as we fall deeper and deeper down the drain.  I ask you now to step outside the narrative being thrust upon you by world powers and the media and instead, to see each other as one.  Because, after all, isn’t that the very definition of unity?

Here is the article I read that offended me:  http://www.dailyo.in/variety/black-lives-matter-alton-sterling-dallas-police-shooting-donald-trump/story/1/11936.html

And here is the piece I wrote reflecting on the current race narrative in our nation:

 

 

A Conversation

Hello, my friend. I still call you that even though you systematically hate me.

I hate you? No I don’t.

You do, you just don’t realize that you do. You and everyone else like you.

No, I’m pretty well in touch with my feelings. Trust me, I do not hate you. You said it yourself. We are friends.

Sure, we are friends. But you hate me. Maybe you don’t hate me personally but you hate me systematically. And the fact that you don’t realize it shows that you need help.

I need help?

Yes, you need help. You need help to understand that you don’t mean to hate me but you do.  You and everyone like you. It’s not something you can help, really. You see, this hatred you have toward me is systematic and symptomatic. You need help to understand that.

Where is my friend that I’ve known for so long? What has happened to you?

See? You hate me. You oppress me. You just trivialized my feelings and invalidated what I had to say.

Yes, and I will continue to invalidate invalid remarks. That’s what you do when something is not true.

But truth is an individual calculation. You may not see the truth I live with daily. That does not mean it is not true for me.

OK, while I disagree with that statement, let me play your game. You are wrong. I do not hate you.

You do.

And now you just invalidated what I had to say! See? It works both ways, then. Does that mean you hate me, too?

I cannot hate you the way you hate me.

Only according to you.

No, it’s the truth.

But you said it yourself. Truth is an individual calculation. I don’t believe that, but I will play your game. You hate me, too.

Let me phrase it another way. Let’s not use the word hate. Can we start over?

Please!

Hello, my friend! I still call you that even though I envy you.

You envy me?

I envy you for the many privileges that you have that I can never enjoy. You don’t know what you have systematically put me through. Things that you will never have to go through. Things that have made your life easier. And for that, I envy you.

Do you have any idea who you’re talking to and what I’ve been through in my life? Haven’t I shared with you enough?  How can you trivialize what I have gone through and invalidate the pain it has caused me?

Please don’t compare singular experiences that have come and gone into and out of your life to the very fabric of what it means to be me. You will never understand.

Experiences? You say that like they were learning opportunities! How dare you! You have no idea how many years I have suffered, unable to progress through life, because of those “experiences.” You should thank God you never had those “experiences” in your life!

Even with your experiences, I envy you.  And now, if you love me, you must recognize the reasons why I say that I envy the privileged life you live.

And if I don’t?

Then you don’t sympathize nor do you empathize with what I have gone through.

No, I don’t.

Why?

Because I hate you.

See? I told you so.

The Bucket List

The Bucket List

When it comes to movies I’m always behind the rest of the civilized world.  I’m “still catching up” with movies that came out in the 1990s. TV shows are no different for me.  By the way, did you hear?  Bobby’s not dead! It was all a dream!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one.  If you’re around my age or older, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  A little younger than me and you likely haven’t a clue.

It’s the exact opposite with music.  I know about music for years – sometimes decades – before my peers.  I got into Steven Wilson, my favorite songwriter, in the early 1990s.  It wasn’t until 2015 – 2016 with the release of his masterpiece, Hand. Cannot. Erase., that I began hearing others in America talk about him.  A few circles of people would mention this “new” artist who wrote mind blowing albums.  “Oh, you mean Steven Wilson?” I’d reply.  “I’ve been listening to him and his bands for almost 25 years now.”

But movies?  I really do love movies but still think of Terminator 2 as a new movie. I suppose I’ll never be current with movies and television.  I mention this because today I feel compelled to write about The Bucket List, a new movie for me but one which came out back in 2007: a very important year in my life.

My wife, Char, watched it a few nights ago and told me I should see it.  She was, as usual, right.  She was asleep next to me while I watched it so she didn’t see me crying for about an hour after the movie ended.  But I think she knew that’s exactly how I would process this film.

You see, as I’ve written before, I’m all about avoiding regret.  My life’s motto is from a Beatles song.  “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.”

Those who know me personally know the hell the I lived in for so many years before I finally started to truly live my life with intent and purpose and with the aim of leaving no regrets on the table when I reach the end of my days.  Toward the end of those years I spent in my own personal hell, I wrote a song entitled “Are We There Yet?” referring to the end of my life.  To me, it seemed that was the only way out of my pain.  But in proving His existence to me yet again, God showed me that He had another plan.  That plan included meeting – and marrying – Char, who had been living in her own hell up until that point.

In 2007, the same year that The Bucket List was released, I took that other path laid before me and never looked back.  Life changed completely.  I no longer ask, “Are We There Yet?” but rather, “What next?”  In many ways, my life since 2007 (and Char’s life, for that matter) has been one big bucket list.  But I think it took seeing this movie to make me understand that fact the way I do now.

Char and I actively determine to live each day to the fullest, to not just dream of things but do them.  And that’s not just cliche for us.  In the relatively few years we’ve been married (almost nine years at the time of this writing), we’ve constantly been doing things we might have only talked about before.  We’ve done things that seem improbable or even impossible until you simply determine to find a way, to make it happen, to just do whatever it takes to fulfill every dream, desire, and fantasy.  Otherwise, we’d be leaving regrets on the table – and we can’t have that.  In the years since we’ve been together, Char and I have been checking off our Bucket List without even knowing it.  From sharing dinner with Elvis Presley’s original bandmates (too bad Elvis wasn’t still around to be there) to jumping in the ring and having a mixed wrestling match against each other at the Clear Channel Metroplex in Little Rock, we’ve been turning dreams into reality.

I realized from our earliest days as a couple that opportunity is all around us, every day.  The question is what we do with that opportunity.  As a new couple, Char mentioned to me that she always wanted to ride a hot air balloon.  At a festival we were attending that same month, there were tethered hot air balloon rides being offered.  Tethered, yes, but it was a start.  And furthermore, the opportunity was there.  I could ask the balloonist for his card and set up a future ride into the high skies.  Opportunity.  It’s all around us, all the time.  The problem is, most people don’t see it.  Most are too consumed by distractions that get in the way of truly living and realizing our dreams – and that will only help to leave those regrets on the table.  Many are too scared to step out of their comfort zone and “make it happen,” whatever “it” might be.  Like asking the balloonist for his card.  The opportunity was indeed there.  And sadly, a great number of people worry too much about what others think of their dreams to make them come true in light of opportunity.  In revealing our deepest secrets to each other and getting to know each other intimately and completely, I told Char at the start of our marriage that I grew up with this huge crush on the character of Wonder Woman.  Keep in mind, this was years before the Wonder Woman craze hit the nation with the new Wonder Woman and Justice League movies.  Char suddenly buys a Wonder Woman costume – but she doesn’t stop there… she practically becomes known to all around her as Wonder Woman.  She plays the character in her public life and – what’s the most G rated way of saying this? – in her private life.  Did she care how others might judge this behavior?  No.  That would be distraction. She was too busy helping me live out my fantasy, my bucket list.  She saw opportunity.  And our marriage is sizzling hot!

The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, showcases the lives of two men (a multi-millionaire and a middle class guy) who both come down with terminal cancer and are given just months to live.  They make a Bucket List of things they always wanted to do in life and spend their final days doing those very things.  They die with no regrets, a stark contrast to how they had lived up until their diagnoses.  Cancer certainly helps you think of your own mortality.  But if you don’t have cancer, your opportunity is even greater – because odds are, you’ll have more than a few months to check off your list.

The sober truth is, we all have “months to live.”  Whether it’s 6 months or 600 months, our days are numbered.  The good news is that opportunity exists every day.  What will you do with your opportunity?

Understand, I’m not advocating skipping out on social and personal responsibilities such as going to work or paying your bills.  My social, political, and even religious bent prevents me from thinking that way.  I do not advocate living “above your means” or on credit, either.  But I think most people miss out on real living because of the many distractions around us.  I hear people who go out to eat every meal say they can’t afford a vacation.  I tell people all the time, we’re all millionaires.  Make $75,000 a year and work for 14 years and you’re a millionaire.  It’s not how much money you made, it’s what you did with the money you made.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a millionaire.  How did you spend it?  Where did the money go?  To the many convenient distractions around us everyday… or to checking off your bucket list and living life with no regret?

I could go on… but I don’t want to take up any more of your time.  You have a bucket list to write.  And to live.  As do I.

The Lost Art of Living

The Lost Art of Living

This post is the second installment in a three part series that began with my previous article entitled, “The Lost Art of Listening” and concludes with an upcoming article entitled “The Lost Art of Loving.”

Al Parker Illustration for The Veldt by Ray BradburyThere’s a famous story by Ray Bradbury about a children’s playroom in the future.  Published in 1950, “The Veldt” is about a virtual reality room in modern homes in which children choose to live out their lives rather than joining the real world.  Relationships fall apart – in particular the relationships between parent and child – as the children replace their mother and father with the room, which they feel provides all of their needs and desires.  Perhaps more than any other work of classic science fiction, including Orwell’s 1984, this short story is the most prophetic picture of our reality today; not the entire plot, mind you, but the idea of a home that is run entirely by technology and a life that is replaced by a virtual existence of our own choosing.  Just as in the story their choice to live their lives in a virtual African veldt rather than in reality leads to dire consequences, so it is in the real world today.  Interestingly, “The Veldt” was originally published under the name, “The World The Children Named.”

Before I begin my rant, understand that I’m sort of a technologically minded kind of guy.  I’ve worked with IT for most of my life, I use professional software on my Mac to edit music and films, I incorporate technology into our band’s live shows both locally and on tour, I love gadgets and home automation, and I co-founded a social network that never got off the ground before MySpace or Facebook ever existed.  I am far from being “anti-technology” but rather I view technology in much the same way I view alcohol: use it responsibly or do not partake.

I was born in 1974.  As a child I emulated Evel Knievel, pretending my dirt bike was a red, white, and blue Harley Davidson.  I jumped my bike off of curbs and made homemade ramps out of plywood with my neighborhood friends who lived in the cove behind my house.  We set off bottle rockets with Star Wars action figures attached to them, rode skateboards, played freeze tag and paper football, listened to rock music, and mainly just hung out.  The things that existed for the youth culture in our world were things we did together and in person, and this led to meaningful friendships among us within our group.  Take one of the most stereotypical toys of our day, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, for instance.  Two kids would come together and each would manipulate a boxer in an attempt to knock the head off of the opponent’s boxer.  That was it and yet the game was a generational phenomenon!  But truth be told, I don’t remember one single Rock’em Sock’em boxing match with my friends.  What I do remember is the banter, the talk, and the hanging out that went on while we had our matches.

I can’t watch Stand By Me (or read the novella from which it is based, The Body by Stephen King) without crying because I intensely relate to that group of boys.  As in the movie, there were four of us in my group when I was 12 and each of us corresponded almost exactly to the four 12-year-olds in the film.  One of the things that strikes me whenever I watch the movie today is how simple life was then.  The activities they did together and the conversations they had were all so real.  I did those same things.  I had the same conversations.  Though the movie takes place a generation before my own, not much changed in the way we hung out when we were pre-teens.

My friends and I came of age and began driving and dating in the late 1980s, a fun time to be alive.  We listened to music, cruised around, watched movies, and made plans for our future.  It would only be a matter of months before some of those plans came to fruition.  After high school, working a full time and part time job while enrolled in college, I gathered a group of friends and made an independent film.  We were inspired to do so after spending time watching Jonathan Ross’ independent film series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show.  We sold out the premier theatrical showing of that movie on June 4, 1994, and distributed it on video.  The movie was horrible – Ed Wood himself would have cringed – but the experience was like nothing else I had ever accomplished.  At the same time I started writing songs and playing out in a local rock band.  As of this writing, that was roughly 25 years ago and I’ve spent most weekends of my life since then performing on a stage somewhere with a band.  I still make independent films with my wife, Char Magnifico, and I still write songs.

To me, one of the worst things imaginable would be to get to the end of my life and discover that I had never truly lived.  Yes, there’s an intentional Thoreau reference there.  You see, I’m all about avoiding regret.  There are no do-overs when it comes to the days of our lives so if you want something, the time to strive for it is now!  It sounds cliche, but it’s true… we aren’t getting any younger!  Those who know me personally and are acquainted with the “story of my life” – those tragically terrible things that happened in the years between being that happy-go-lucky teenager and the day that I was finally blessed to meet and fall in love with Char – know that I can speak about this subject from a position of experience and authority.  Not to bog you down with the details of those dark days, but let’s just say that I should sell my story to a screenwriter – it was that bad. From the time I met Char and things started changing for the better I have kept to a life motto stolen from the lyrics of The Beatles song, “Fixing a Hole,” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album:  I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.

Char vs Louis Mixed Wrestling MatchSo indeed, I’m all about avoiding regret and living life to the fullest.   Stop existing and start living!  Let nothing stand in your way.  You can achieve more than you’d imagine if you stop simply dreaming and start doing!  Throw away excuses (I’m too old, too poor, too scared, too whatever) and go after your dreams with definitive action!  When I first realized how strong my wife was, I had this very funny and fantastically sexy idea to hold a wrestling match against her.  So I did.  But being people who live life to the fullest, we weren’t about to do this on a small scale.  We had our match… and it was in a professional wrestling ring at the Clear Channel Metroplex during TCW’s Summer Slam event in 2010.  It was filmed for a television audience who would watch Char pin me down and win the match.  Now we weren’t wrestlers, we weren’t part of the TCW Wrestling organization, and we didn’t even live in the city where the event was held.  But we made it happen.  We stopped existing and started living.  Stopped simply dreaming and started doing.  This message seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Almost too easy?  So why aren’t more people living the dream?  Sadly, I have discovered that for many – probably most – of us, we aren’t achieving it because we’re living in The Veldt.

Remember, “The Veldt?” That story I mentioned by Ray Bradbury?  Our society has chosen a virtual world just as deadly as The Veldt and while we tell ourselves we are more connected with our modern technology, the end result of this supposed connectivity is more isolation.  Relationships have broken down.  Communication has ceased.  We are driving ourselves mad.  We confuse social media friends and followers with meaningful relationships and we’ve replaced loving attention with “likes,” “retweets,” and “shares.”  We’ve lost the ability to listen to others because we are preoccupied with self promotion.  What if you went into the world’s most extensive library, thirsty for knowledge, but spent your entire time there just telling the people in the library what you already knew about yourself (mixed in with some hyperbole to make yourself appear more interesting than you are).  Would you leave any more enlightened than you entered?  Would the experience have been worth the trip?  Think of the internet as the world’s largest library, full of information.  A great multitude of people today are misusing the library in this way and I’m sure they will one day come to regret this decision… should they ever wake from this zombie-like dependence upon social media.

Being a lifelong performing musician, I have noticed something change in the way audiences relate to musicians on stage.  When I started performing professionally in the 1990s, audiences were captivated by us.  To those who enjoyed listening to music but couldn’t play an instrument, we were like disheveled superheroes as we wielded our guitars and played the tunes that transformed a generation.  The fans were transfixed by the music, the shows, and the message.  With the advent of the smartphone in the early 2000s, however, we all noticed a drastic change.  People slowly began to stop paying attention to the music and the musicians and they began to spend more time looking down at their devices.  Today, I’d suggest that at least half of any audience is checking messages, replying to texts, posting social media updates or comments, uploading photos and videos to Facebook or Instagram, or otherwise not paying attention.  Throughout the show, people are hooked on social media, checking for updates and texts.  When we play one of their favorite songs and have a light show on stage to correspond to the music, they stop being distracted by social media and they start to look at us through the digital display of their phone as they record the moment.  But in doing so, they miss it entirely.  They are so busy capturing the song on video that they lose the experience of seeing us live.  Instead, they are basically watching us on TV while they are in the same room with us!  And you know when you replay a phone video of any live concert, it never carries the same sound, emotion, visuals, and passion that is experienced live.  I still remember details of many concerts I attended growing up in the days before we had smart phones.  In my mind’s eye, I can recall Sting on tour after he left The Police, KISS reunited with their original members and back in the makeup, Black Sabbath getting back together with Ozzy Osbourne, Page and Plant sharing a stage after Led Zeppelin, and Cheap Trick bringing down the house with their rocking live show.  These memories are embedded in my mind and I still remember vivid details of these performances because when I was there, I was really there… in the moment!  I wasn’t busy trying to share videos on Facebook Live, I was capturing the experience with the greatest multifunctioning camera that has ever been devised:  my five senses.

Char and FrameI spoke briefly about what I have observed from performing on stage but we have all observed things like this in our day to day lives as smart devices and social media have encroached upon us.  Char and I go out to eat and we notice people on dates sitting across from each other, both glued to their cell phones.  Whether they are checking the latest headlines, getting final scores and updates from the game, messaging friends, checking stocks and weather, or scrolling through social media feeds, they are simply not in the moment.  These couples hardly look at each other and hold almost no conversation whatsoever.  We see phone screens light up in movie theaters as people carry on with their addiction.  And in the home, husbands and wives spend hours and hours living in, well, their own individual Veldts.  Not to mention the children.  Go to the park and you’ll find most people staring down at their screens.  People can’t drive to the corner grocery store without texting their friends or scanning their feeds.  I’ve seen parents glued to their phones while supposedly watching their children’s performances at school plays and recitals while the younger siblings can’t watch them perform, either – instead, they are glued to portable game systems of their own.  We start them on this drug so very young, don’t we?  Even on vacations, people can’t seem to pull away from their devices and social media.  Any interruption from screen time is seen as an inconvenience in our culture.  I’ve been to some truly breathtaking natural wonders and found people not looking at the nature but rather their devices:  children playing their games rather than playing in a waterfall, adults scrolling through their feeds rather than gazing at a majestic canyon.

I remember what it was like being a junior high and high schooler.  We were a generation who knew how to hang out together.  When we wanted to make plans we talked to each other – in person or on the phone (it was a landline telephone in those days, and a cordless one if we were lucky).  We made those plans and then we hooked up.  And speaking of phones, we often talked on them until the witching hour with all the girls and boys we had crushes on.  Actual conversation, mind you.  Not text messages, not posting a supposedly funny meme to their Facebook wall – no, we didn’t have those things.  We just talked.  And in doing so, we had one-on-one, uninterrupted conversations and gave each other undivided attention.  Thus, we got to know each other.

Today, it seems that people – young people especially but I see older people doing this too – just text each other and use social media to converse.  They use shorthand, acronyms, and abbreviations and each participant in one of these “dialogs” seems to be having a competition to see who can say something with as few words as possible.  Today, teenagers confuse “hanging out” with playing multiplayer online games in the privacy of their own shared Veldt.  The end result of this is an impatient generation that grows to enter the job market and future relationships with little or no communication or listening skills and a need for instant gratification.  Not to mention a selfish world view.

Let’s use the correct terminology.  As a generation, we are addicted to our devices and to social media.  Who remembers busy signals?  When I was growing up, if I was on the phone and someone else tried to call our home, they would receive a busy signal.  Sorry, call back later.  Remember our brothers and sisters storming into our rooms and shouting things like, “Hurry up and get off the phone, I’m supposed to be getting a call right now.”  Truly, those days taught us how to share and be less selfish.  Today, every child – even as young as elementary school – seems to have their own cell phone which is hardly ever even used as a phone but rather a multimedia and gaming system complete with connectivity to all of their favorite social networks.  Parents don’t take their children anywhere without their personal game systems or phones because – God forbid – the children might get bored.  We have video players in our cars and game systems in our pockets.  But all the time, I’m reminded of the lyrics to a Roger Waters song… “Amused to Death.”

We did as we were told
We bought and sold
It was the greatest show on earth
But then it was over
We oohed and aahed
We drove our racing cars
We ate our last few jars of caviar
And somewhere out there in the stars
A keen-eyed look-out
Spied a flickering light
Our last hurrah
And when they found our shadows
Glued ’round the TV sets
They ran down every lead
They repeated every test
They checked out all the data on their lists
And then the alien anthropologists
Admitted they were still perplexed
But on eliminating every other reason
For our sad demise
They logged the only explanation left
This species has amused itself to death.

Here are some statistics I’ve come across that paint a bleak picture of our culture.  These numbers represent 2015 research and the facts have only become worse – far worse – in the years since then. It’s hard to believe but research shows that the average American adult spends a full 23 hours a week texting and 11 hours a day on digital media (see http://experience.usatoday.com/weekend/story/lifestyle/2014/07/10/michael-wolff-how-media-usage-is-taking-over-our-lives/12487581/).  95% of American teenagers have constant access to multiple online devices; only 1% have no devices and 4% have only one device. 73% of American teens own a smartphone (by race, 85% of black teenagers have one, 71% of white teenagers have one, and 71% of Hispanic teenagers have one).  Only 15% of American teens have a basic cell phone (non smartphone) and only 12% have none at all.  24% of US teens admit to being online constantly or almost constantly whenever awake while 56% are on for much or most of the day.  All this gives a total of 80% of our teenagers being connected for most or all of their waking time.  Nearly 50% of teens regularly use video chat and almost all use social media. (see http://heidicohen.com/2015-us-teen-social-media-use/).  When you factor in time spent in daily hygiene, eating, sleeping, and school, it becomes clear that almost the entirety of the average teen’s day outside of these necessary engagements is spent online.  And before you think this is about teenagers, I can show you adult statistics that reflect a picture that is just as bad.  Is there any wonder we have a youth culture with a sedentary lifestyle?  Is it any wonder that adults are in no better shape in terms of movement and exercise, either?

This lack of real world exploration and experience translates to a generation that is incapable of becoming functioning adults.  With this, we fall prey to being controlled by the powers that be rather than really living freely and doing passionately.  Seizing this opportunity to control and then monetize that control, marketers sell to teenagers as if they were still youths, young adults as if they were preteens, and adults as if they were teenagers.  Is it any wonder that people are being considered “children” for far longer expanses of time than once was the norm?  Our generation has the oldest “children” the world has ever known!  Dr. Joe Allen and Dr. Claudia Worrell Allen have written in their book, Escaping the Endless Adolescence, that by keeping teens from adult-like work, adult social relationships, and adult consequences, we have stunted their development, making it harder or perhaps impossible for them to grow up “on time.” (http://www.newsweek.com/why-teenagers-are-growing-so-slowly-today-223390)

Char MagnificoWhen I see so many people around me constantly playing the same games on their phones, addicted to their social media feeds, and living lives on a screen or device rather than experiencing the real world, I feel like I’m on a different planet from that which I was born.  Or, more frightening if you remember the reference, like I’m in the living in the Matrix.  It occurs to me that this is why we seem so willing to elect politicians who continually place more control and regulation over our daily lives, removing our basic freedoms.  Note that I didn’t say that they are doing this to us against our will… I said that we are voting for this infringement and disenfranchisement ourselves!

Living our lives in The Veldt has had serious consequences on our ability to have relationships – or even desire them!  If you’ve been following the latest news headlines concerning sexuality, you’re probably aware of a growing trend toward human-robotic sexual orientation.  Just as we have exchanged actually going outside for looking at a picture of nature on Facebook and exchanged in-person interaction with impersonal communications via text, status updates, and social media comments, we have now begun to replace sex with virtual relationships.  In large numbers, people are beginning to desire life-like sex robots over real-life romantic partners and engineers are starting to deliver on this demand.  These are not just blow up dolls, mind you.  These robots not only look and feel like humans but can learn your behavior and respond to your verbal and nonverbal communication, play into your fantasies, never get soft, never say no, build you up with encouraging words, etc.  At the Second International Congress on Love And Sex With Robots, it was touted that robots will be our sex partners of choice in just a few years – and will be granted marriage licenses in much of the Western world by 2050 at the latest.  At the Congress, robotic sex expert Dr. Trudy Barber promoted robotic love, saying, “It could be that we become so busy with our lives, robots would fill in the gaps that our partners can’t meet or our lifestyle prevents.”  While all this sounds like science fiction to someone who hasn’t been following the news headlines recently, it is happening right now.  In addition to sex robots that people are beginning to keep as marriage partners, there is a growing excitement in our culture around new virtual reality glasses and headsets.  Guys, imagine a world where you stick little electrodes or sensory devices on various erogenous zones of your body.  Slip on your headset and you’re suddenly transported – literally in your mind – to a secluded island.  Another female “player” links up to the game and her image is whatever your fantasy wants to visualize – not the actual player herself.  You can “touch” each other and through those sensory devices it will be felt.  All of this reminds me of an old Sting song…

Well in a hundred years from now
They will attempt to tell us how
A scientific means to bliss
Will supercede the human kiss

A sub atomic chain
Will maybe galvanize your brain
A biochemic trance
Will eliminate romance

The point of this writing is not to examine the emotional, social, and psychological dangers of exchanging real relationship and sexual intercourse with human-robotic love, but rather to merely point out that indeed we are now starting to choose technology over even sex!  Given the choice of whatever virtual fantasy my mind could conjure or my real-life bride role playing those same fantasies, I’ll always choose my bride over technology.  I’ll always choose flirting over firmware.  I’ll always choose her electrifying touch over electrodes.  I’ll always choose romance over RAM.  There’s something special about the gift of sex.  Char will – on her own volition – surprise me with the greatest of teases and treats.  I may walk in the house to find her dressed up as Wonder Woman, tossing a lasso around me, and dragging me to the bedroom.  And when it’s her choice – her giving herself to me – it’s always infinitely better than whatever I could come up with.

To put it simply, our modern culture with its advanced technology is more connected to more people in more places than ever before.  Via Facebook, I interact with more people in a week than I ever did before the social network existed.  But in spite of this, we feel less connected and feel like we have fewer real friends.  Anxiety and depression have risen drastically and scientific data points to a correlation between those conditions and time spent on social media.  In addition to being less connected to genuine relationships, we have lost basic life skills.  Research, for one.  I remember pouring over microfiche machines to find old newspaper articles while researching for term papers. I recall spending hours with my head in books and encyclopedias at the library to complete a school project.  Today, people “Google” a subject, copy and paste what some blogger (like me) or wikipedia contributor writes about it, and calls that research.  We believe something is true or false based on whether Snopes has validated it (don’t even get me started on the countless cases where Snopes has been proved wrong and/or biased).  And research isn’t the only life skill that is lost.  Communication, both written and oral, is pathetic.  Our generation had 17 or more years between kindergarten and college graduation practicing how to speak up and sell ourselves.  Today’s young adults go to their first career job interviews with scarcely any experience at all in this area.

It’s hard for me to believe that human beings no longer desire experiential arousal and excitement, physical and emotional human relationship, sexual intercourse, etc.  It’s hard for me to believe that people would rather sit alone in their rooms, staring at their phone screens, communicating on social media.  It’s hard for me to believe that people will get to the end of their lives and say, “Gee Whiz, I sure wish I had spent more time scrolling through those Facebook News Feeds.”  Rather, I believe people will get to the end and say, “I wish I had gone to see Yellowstone National Park.  I wish I had seen New Zealand.  I wish I had gone on a cruise.  I wish I had told my wife about those sexual fantasies she could have fulfilled…”  But the chains that are keeping us from this life that could be are the chains of addiction.  It’s an addiction we must break if we want to choose to live without regret.  An alcoholic or drug abuser who recovers from his addiction has the benefit of abandoning drugs and alcohol altogether.  But someone suffering from addiction to the vice of devices can not walk away so easily.  Most of us have to use these devices in our jobs, for communication, with our children’s schooling, etc.  So how do we break these addictions when we can’t walk away from them?

I recommend starting with these steps and with this advice:

  1.  You don’t have to be in constant communication.  Our smartphones have a multitude of features and apps but they still have voicemail, too.  And just because someone texts you does not mean you have to stop everything you are doing and respond right away.  If you’re cooking dinner, for example, and someone texts you with a non-emergency text, don’t reply until after dinner.  If you’re driving, it can wait.  I’m going to sound like a grumpy old man when I say this, but it’s true… when I was young we didn’t have cell phones or texting.  And people didn’t have the convenience of texting or calling you all day long while you were supposed to be at work.  They’d call your home phone, leave a message, and you’d call them back when you got home from work.  People didn’t bombard you with everything that came across their mind or every cute thing they happened to see.  Instead, when they did talk to you in person or over the phone, the conversation would be more meaningful as the parties shared relevant things with each other.  Today, when people text you something funny, chances are it’s the same meme that you already saw from 1000 other friends on Facebook.  And your response will likely be a form of LOL.  But you didn’t laugh – either silently or out loud. The truth is, we’re bombarded with images, memes, links, and things that don’t matter all day long.  When’s the last time you had a real personal conversation with that person?  Communication:  maybe it’s quality, not quantity that counts.  One idea is to put your phone up when you get home.  Lay it on your nightstand.  You can check it a couple times throughout the night.  At bedtime, silence everything except for your wake up alarm and ringers from emergency contacts (spouse, children).
  2. Talk and enjoy food during dinner.  There’s no reason to be checking your Facebook messages and News Feed throughout dinner time.  If it’s so important to have your Facebook friends intrude your dinner table then go ahead and make extra food and invite them over.
  3. Stop the debate.  You aren’t winning.  I have a rule… I scarcely talk politics on social media.  In spite of this rule, I have extraordinarily firm and grounded political positions.  But my positions are not necessarily those of my Facebook friends.  While I can back up my views and enjoy a healthy debate with anyone, social media is a horrible venue for such discussion.  I’ve only broken my no-politics rule on Facebook a small handful of times.  If I’m not mistaken, I’ve said something political maybe three or four times in nine years.  The truth is that no one is interested in changing or listening to your opinion unless they agree with you already.  Before social media existed, we didn’t feel the need to go knocking down doors and setting everyone straight when you found out they didn’t agree with your politics.  Why do we do that on Facebook?  I have very close friends who supported Barak Obama for the presidency.  I would frankly rather have voted for a used piece of gum stuck on the bottom of my shoe than vote for him.  In my own personal estimation, he was one of the three worst presidents in American history.  I believe I can show where his administration directly and negatively affected my pocketbook, cash flow, freedoms, security, and even health care for my family.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  But I never bashed Obama on their Facebook walls whenever they’d sing his praises throughout his time in office.  It wasn’t the right vehicle for debate.  Furthermore, I respect their freedom to be wrong, politically speaking (and in my opinion).  And honestly, it almost always turns into a heated argument where once friendly relationships fall apart.  When Donald Trump was elected president, some of these people went into online conniption fits, panic attacks, and depression all over social media.  I likewise did not gloat on their walls in response to these fits.  Doing so certainly wouldn’t win votes for my side of the ideological fence and ultimately would just make me look like an ass… which is ironically Obama’s party logo, not mine.  Bottom line… I have many very close friends who voted for candidates that I wouldn’t spit on should they catch on fire.  We agree to disagree agreeably.  Sometimes, we share our thoughts on the matter in positive, healthy conversation.  Offline.  And we remain friends.  When I see them write things in support of what I believe to be horrible politics, I cringe inwardly but outwardly I just tell them that I love them.  Because I really do.
  4. Stop “friending” everyone.  And stop “friending” your friend’s friends.  It’s kind of creepy.  Isn’t your Facebook News Feed and Notification Center busy enough with the people that you really do know?  Why must you “friend” people just because they were drunk with you at the same concert and offered you a joint?  Come on, people!  These aren’t your friends! They are hardly acquaintances!  I don’t need to know their daily status updates just because we sat next to each other at the last Metallica concert.  And on this subject, stop “friending” people just because they share your last name or for any other meaningless reason.  And here’s a big one.  Just because someone commented back to your comment on my post doesn’t mean you need to “friend” them now, either!  That’s creepy and makes you look like you have stalker tendencies.  That’s kind of like inviting yourself over to dinner with one of my friends that you don’t know just because you saw them pull out of my driveway and they waved at you. Seriously, you’d have a lot less Facebook distractions in life if you cleaned your Friends list a little.
  5. Enjoy life experiences without your devices.  The next time you’re at a movie/concert/nature trail/sporting event/etc., put your phone away and enjoy the experience.  Giving in to device distractions only takes you away from the experience at hand.  In the days before smartphones, whenever you went to such places, you just simply enjoyed your time there!  Now, you spend the whole time checking your phone!  You had your phone with you in the time before arriving at this destination or experience.  Now it’s time for a new activity…
  6. Have a game night with your friends.  Regularly invite your friends over and play board games, card games, eat junk food, and laugh uncontrollably.  Play music on the stereo.  One rule:  no devices.  Re-learn what it means to play a game with friends – and without the distractions of social media.
  7. Get back to actual activities.  Rather than spending so many hours a day texting, scrolling through your social media accounts, etc., actually live before it’s too late.  Go somewhere, read a book, get a hobby, do something you’ve never done, learn something new, anything!  Really live life – don’t just become a virtual avatar commenting to social media posts.  I’m sure you’ve heard insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  With that in mind, consider that so many these days are living with anxiety, depression, boredom, frustration, etc.  Rather than doing the same thing that’s keeping your life right where it is, go live a little.  To not do so, well, that’s insane.

I believe this is a good starter list.  It’s not comprehensive and no, I’m not a psychologist.  I’m just a bass player, a music fanatic, a songwriter, a film enthusiast, a nature lover, a filmmaker, and a guy who grew up fantasizing about Wonder Woman.  Let’s see… where is my life today?  Well, I play bass professionally, make films, travel deep in to nature frequently, and married a woman who dresses up (and acts like) Wonder Woman.  Hmmmm…. I’m right on target for my life list.  How are you doing with yours?  Could it be social media and your devices – too much screen time – that’s keeping you from checking off your own list?  I’ll leave you with some words from a song by Steven Wilson.

If I could find you
And tell you about my life
Or maybe just write
And remind you of when we would dream…

Of where we would be when the future comes
And how you would paint while I wrote my songs

Strange how you never become
The person you see when you’re young

 

Thanks for this awesome reminder, Steven Wilson.  May it never be so.  The power to change is within us.

Why Don’t Women Like the Band Rush?

Why Don’t Women Like the Band Rush?

Recently, while setting up for a show that our band was about to play, the venue’s house music was cranking out Rush’s “The Temples of Syrinx” from 2112.  Our drummer and I started conversing about Rush’s early progressive rock albums and inevitably, the dialogue turned humorous with the question, “Why don’t women like Rush?”  To be fair, I’ll state up front that this is a stereotype.  Some women (my wife, Char, for example) enjoy Rush.  But for the most part, they are a man’s band.  And if anyone questions this assertion, I’d ask him to watch one of their concert videos or, better yet, attend a live show and see for himself.  There are no women to be found.  None in the front row lifting their shirts up as they try to get invited backstage, none alongside their boyfriends who are rocking out to their idols, and no, not even one female cop getting overtime hours by working security during the show.  No estrogen anywhere.  Not at a Rush show.  Do you know what I learned is the most rarely spoken sentence is at a marriage counseling session?  “I met my wife at a Rush concert.”  It just doesn’t happen.  But the question remains:  why?

I remember popping Rush’s Moving Pictures cassette in my tape deck when I was first learning to play the bass and going over the bass line to “Tom Sawyer.”  Around the same time, I was popping in Reggatta de Blanc by The Police and learning “Message in a Bottle.”  As I played “Message in a Bottle” I had 12-year-old-boy fantasies of 1,000 screaming girls throwing themselves at me as if I were Sting himself.  Or even Paul McCartney in 1963.  As I played “Tom Sawyer,” however, I just fancied myself becoming the coolest bass player around.  I knew plenty of “rocker chicks” (that’s what we called them in the days before political correctness made it a crime to use that term) back in my school days who were into hard rock, glam rock, and metal bands.  They wore T-shirts from groups such as Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Guns n’ Roses, and even Iron Maiden.  But I don’t recall a single girl boasting a “Fly By Night” or “Hemispheres” T-shirt.

I have a great friend who is a fellow music fanatic and whom I’ve known for more than two and a half decades.  She was my first boss when I was a teenager working at her video store and she has wonderful taste in music.  Just the other day, she casually mentioned that she doesn’t understand what the big deal is about Rush and said that she has never gotten into them.

I’ve looked up the topic online and found dozens of webpages devoted to this very question:  why don’t women like Rush?  One blogger even posted a picture of the men’s and women’s bathrooms at a Rush concert he attended.  The men’s room had a line longer than John Belushi could have handled (sorry, tacky reference – I actually LOVE John Belushi).  The women’s room appeared to be empty.  At least, there was no wait to get in.  Isn’t that opposite from what you find at most shows?  Several of these websites offered possible explanations as to why women don’t like Rush.  Here are a few of the hypotheses with my commentary.

  1.  Rush doesn’t have the sex appeal of, say, Led Zeppelin.  True.  I’ll give you that.  Even as a heterosexual male, I know Robert Plant has more sex appeal than Geddy Lee.  And let’s not even talk about The Lizard King.  But come on… women also show up at Marilyn Manson shows, right?  The defense rests.
  2. Rush’s lyrics are too intelligent.  Before you start typing out your hate mail, let me clarify.  I personally never said their lyrics are too intelligent for women.  I merely said that I found this rationale listed as a hypothesis from other journalists and bloggers.  But not me.  I’m the guy who somewhat famously was beaten at a game of chess by my wife on her very first game she ever played while I was teaching her how to play the game!  I would never state that women aren’t intelligent enough to appreciate Rush’s lyrics.  I’m also not stupid enough to say such a thing, even as a joke.  My wife also happens to be the woman who – quite famously – kicked my ass in a televised wrestling match.  Now… that disclaimer out of the way… my position is that Rush’s subjects and lyrics (while many of them are, indeed, very intelligent) are no more intelligent than, say, that of Tool, Radiohead, or Pink Floyd.  All of which have no shortage of female fans.
  3. Rush’s music is too complex in its progressive style. Women just want a catchy chorus to dance and sing to, not complex arrangements, interesting chords, and clever progressions.  See #2 above.  And by the way, there’s a big difference between “just dancing along to a beat” and really appreciating good music.  Anyone, male or female, who just wants to dance along to a beat can do so.  We’re talking about appreciating music here… and music appreciation is not gender restrictive.

I don’t believe any of these hypotheses explain why women don’t like Rush.  But there must be a reason.  If I ever find it, I’ll be sure to let you know.  And if you think you know the reason, share it with me in the comments section below.  In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to “Red Barchetta” with a happy smile on my face.  I’m allowed.  I’m a guy, after all.

 

 

The Lost Art of Listening

The Lost Art of Listening

This post is the first installment in a three part series that continues with an article entitled, “The Lost Art of Living” and concludes with an article entitled “The Lost Art of Loving.”

1978 Fisher Price Record Player
If you’re my age, you probably had one of these plastic portable record players and a collection of 45’s

As a young child, my favorite possession was a Fisher Price plastic portable record player.  I had a stack of 45’s from artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Alice Cooper and I would play them endlessly.  When I wasn’t in my room listening to my 45’s, I’d likely be in the den where a large wooden console AM-FM radio / record player was the focal point of the room.  There, I’d listen to full albums from my favorite bands and experience the sound loud and in stereo.  Once in elementary school, I graduated from the plastic portable record player to a real grown-up’s system with two speakers that were bigger than I was, a turntable, an AM-FM stereo, and an 8-track player especially for those occasions when I wanted to hear a guitarist stopped right in the midst of a solo so that the song could continue on the next track. By the time I was a teenager, I was picking up my brother’s bass guitar and Korg Poly 800 keyboard and learning to play songs from bands such as The Police, The Cars, Tears for Fears, and Journey.

I didn’t take lessons, I learned by listening.  It was all I had done since my earliest memories of life.  I listened.  The sounds I heard on the radio, records, cassettes, and even 8 tracks were transferred to my fingers and when I heard the sounds return back to me from the amplifier it was like magic.  It came easy for me because I had so much experience listening.  In those days, whenever new music came out, it was an event.  One of my friends bought a copy of the new KISS album and we’d all go over to sit down and listen to it.  That was our activity.  We’d sit around the stereo and just listen to it.  Often times in silence, but always visualizing ourselves being the ones on stage or in the studio.  We’d pretend to be Gene Simmons with every slide of a bass string, pretend to be Ace Frehley with every shimmering Les Paul solo.  It’s what we did.  It’s who we were.  There were no distractions – the music was the whole point of our coming together.  Listening to music was intentional.  It was not something that happened in the background while we were doing something else.  While listening to music, we might have poured over the liner notes or photos in the album booklet but our ears were always focused.

Heavy Metal JeansDuring long and sometimes dull school days, I remember perfectly replaying songs or even entire albums in my head.  While “listening” in my mind I’d doodle in my notebooks or textbooks, drawing band logos or album designs:  the prism from Dark Side of the Moon, the symbols from Led Zeppelin IV, or simply those two mystical words that made us all feel like poets – The Doors.  My friends and I wore shirts from their favorite punk or metal bands.  Iron Maiden, The Ramones, Metallica, Ozzy.  In many ways, these T-shirts identified us.  We’d meet others who also wore shirts bearing the names of the same bands and we were instantly friends.  There was an understanding.

I went to work in a record store after school, began playing in a local rock band, and started writing and recording music.  I also helped promote concerts that came through town and was therefore afforded the opportunity to work backstage and meet several rock stars – including personal favorites such as Cheap Trick. That’s when the alternative rock movement took America by storm.  Nirvana and Pearl Jam belonged to the kids of the 1990s in the way Van Halen and Guns n’ Roses belonged to the kids of the 1980s.  Graduating high school in the 1991-1992 year, I had one foot planted in both decades and I enjoyed it all.  I thought about the lyrics to the old Neil Young song:  “Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.”

But then, something happened.  Blame politics, blame the internet, blame video game manufactures, it doesn’t matter – the point is, it happened.  Other media took center stage and music suffered – even among the youth.  As directed by record industry executives, the media, and even political activists, popular music became less of a raw talent relying on skills with a guitar, bass, drum kit, or synthesizer and it became more about programming synthetic loops.  MTV was no longer playing music videos – they became a social platform more interested in political agendas and social lifestyles.  Many music magazines, likewise, became nothing more than political platforms.  Only the short, rare article actually discussed music.  Interviews with famous musicians always seemed to gravitate to “what can you do about the rain forest or global warming?” All I wanted to read about was where the guitarist got his inspiration for a certain riff – not his political leaning!  Music then slipped into the background of our culture.  And sadly, popular music wasn’t even counter-culture any longer but rather it was the voice of The Machine.  Big Brother.  Instead of being the intentional point of youthful gatherings, it became something akin to a movie score playing behind whatever else people were doing.  Sadly, it became Muzak.  It became everything rock and roll wasn’t supposed to be.

Make no mistake – rock isn’t dead.  It just doesn’t hold the position in youth culture that it once held.  Nor is there an over abundance of great musicians being driven to success via the record industry.  For that matter, gone is the insatiable appetite from masses of music fans, young and old, to hear great music.  But search for good music in today’s generation and it’s there to be found.  And thankfully, there are still some people in the world who want to listen.

This was all foretold by a man I believe to be arguably the greatest songwriter who has ever lived: British multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer Steven Wilson.  He’s one of the crop that is still putting out amazing rock music – make that mind blowing, life altering rock music – in today’s generation.  In his song, “The Sound of Muzak,” he sings the following lines:

Hear the sound of music
Drifting in the aisles
Elevator Prozac
Stretching on for miles

The music of the future
Will not entertain
It’s only meant to repress
And neutralise your brain

Soul gets squeezed out
Edges get blunt
Demographic
Gives what you want

Now the sound of music
Comes in silver pills
Engineered to suit you
Building cheaper thrills

The music of rebellion
Makes you wanna rage
But it’s made by millionaires
Who are nearly twice your age

The bridge of the song leaves behind the analogies and drives the point home more succinctly:

One of the wonders of the world is going down
It’s going down I know
It’s one of the blunders of the world that no-one cares
No-one cares enough

But there are, at least, some of us who still do care.  And we refuse to let music, this wonder of the world, go down.

As I said before, you can blame it on politics, the internet, or perhaps even video game manufactures.  More likely, a combination of all three.  But there is no question, the youth today have tuned out of music – at least, the way we knew it.  Remember the picture I painted of my childhood?  Sitting around with my friends listening to the new KISS record?  Remember making mix tapes of songs you’d request on the radio and then sit around for an hour until the DJ played it so you could hit “play and record” on your tape deck and capture the tune, always annoyed that the beginning and ending of the song would be tainted by the DJ talking over the music?  Remember identifying with meaningful lyrics from Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Bruce Dickinson, Sting, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, and countless others?  More than any of this, do you remember a time when we all sat around and, well, just listened?  Not the way kids listen to music today – as background, as Muzak.  But to really listen!

The problem is a modern world full of distractions.  I see both kids and adults on their smartphones literally all day long.  Kids and adults browsing social media pages on the internet – again, literally all day long.  Kids and adults playing video games – you guessed it, all day long. Sometimes music is a part of this experience – but it’s typically in the background as something going on while they are on social media, playing video games, etc.  They aren’t hanging out just listening to the new hit record today the way we hung out and just listened to the new KISS record in our time.  Music today is not intentional.  It’s an afterthought.

Even the machinery we used to use in order to listen to our music further facilitated the intentionality of the experience back then.  While I love my iPod and my Apple Music subscription, in many ways these devices and services cheapen the art and product that we call music and enable today’s generation to keep music as an afterthought.  Perhaps music is too convenient today.  It took effort to place a needle upon our vinyl records.  When one side of the record was over, we had to get up, flip the record over, and place the needle back down.  This effort placed the experience of listening to music in the forefront.  In addition, albums were cherished possessions in those years.  Today, with my Apple Music subscription, I have access to millions of recordings that I can take with me on my iPod wherever I may roam!  Again, don’t misunderstand – I love my Apple Music subscription and my iPod is easily my favorite gadget of any device I own!  But I’m a grown adult who has already developed a mature appreciation for music after years spent doing it “the hard way.”  Would I respect music the way I do today had it been so convenient for me growing up?

The problem with all of these new distractions – smartphones, social media, video games – is that they area vying for all of our attention all of the time and keeping us from simple personal and relational tasks and activities such as listening.  I would propose that as a culture, we have become addicted to these distractions.  People check their phones constantly during dinner dates (I’m sorry, but my wife is more interesting to look at and talk to than anything Facebook has to offer in its News Feed while I’m out on a date with her).  People live lives in online social networks rather than the real world.  They text cute memes to each other rather than picking up the phone and calling each other.  They post beautiful pictures of nature rather than walking outside and taking a hike.  I could go on…  But in short, I propose that these distractions hinder us from really listening and really living.

I remember taking a walk once down a stretch of road on which I drove daily.  By walking, I saw hundreds of things that I never noticed when passing by in a car at 50 miles an hour.  Wild blackberry bushes, etchings in manhole covers, even an underground tunnel.  Think of that – I had driven by these things daily for years but never noticed them until I walked by them.  Music can be the same.  In light of this, may I ask you try something for me?  Try putting the phone down, logging out of social media, and just listen to one of the following albums.  Straight through.  Start to finish.  With no distractions.  And not on your phone or computer.  Use a good pair of headphones or stereo system.  And if you don’t have a music service subscription such as Apple Music or Spotify, then actually purchase the album.  I’ve added several of my favorite albums of several different genres from which to choose.  I believe that the lost art of listening can be found again – and I believe you will find it rather rewarding when you do.  So here’s your list.  Now… listen.  And live.

 

  1. Modern Progressive Rock – Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
  2. Jazz – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
  3. Rock / Alternative Rock – Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 
  4. Heavy Metal – Tool – Aenima
  5. Acoustic Guitar – Donovan – Sutras
  6. Rock / Power Pop – The Grays – Ro Sham Bo
  7. Alternative / Female – Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes
  8. Funk / R&B / Soul – Various Artists – Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes
  9. Rock / Classic Rock – Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight

 

How I Got Char to Go Out With Me

How I Got Char to Go Out With Me

How I Got Char to Go Out With MeIn 2014 I published an eBook entitled How I Got Char to Go Out With Me.  It’s a self-described “collection of tall tales with some resemblance to the truth” concerning how Char Magnifico and I became a couple.  In all, there are 25 different versions of the story and then, the final chapter reveals The Truth…  sort of.  You see, all 25 tall tales actually have kernels of the truth in them and they are all based on real events.  I published it as a Valentine’s Day gift to Char that year.

Today (October 26) is our anniversary and I’ve been thinking about some of these tall tales throughout the day and reflecting on what a remarkable love story we have to share.  I decided to copy the preface and one other chapter (chapter 17) from the book for you in this post.  If you want to read the rest, I’ll provide download links where you can obtain the book from Amazon or Apple’s iBooks Bookstore.

 

From How I Got Char to Go Out With Me by Louis Magnifico

Preface

“If I had my life to do over again… I’d find you sooner so I could love you longer.”  So reads a tin sign that Char came home with one day in December, 2013.  It’s a thought that haunts us each and every day: why did Char and I have to live so long and through so much before finding  each other and discovering true love?  People who’ve only met us since we became a couple are typically quite surprised when they learn of our pasts and all we endured on our journeys which led to one another.

Perhaps the reason we live with such passion today, taking not one moment for granted, is our similar pasts.  Perhaps we appreciate what we have now because we lived so long without it.  Perhaps it is the very trials which nearly destroyed us that ultimately shaped us into who we are now, allowing Char and I to love each other with a love that we never thought possible.  If our past is a prerequisite for the present we now enjoy, then I’d do it all again to know this love.  Even so, that saying on the tin sign lingers in my head.  If I had my life to do over again… I’d find you sooner so I could love you longer.

Char and I are often asked by other couples how they can experience the type of marriage they see us enjoy.  We touched on this a little in our first book, The Traveling Twosome: Live, Love, Laugh.  We’re also asked to tell the story of how we met.  The short, true answer to that question is, “This tall, sexy blonde joined my band as lead singer and we hit it off.”  It’s an answer that fulfills my rock star fantasies but it’s also an easy answer and a cop out.  There is so much more to the story that when it is told, the rock star one-liner is more a distraction from reality than an acceptable answer.

I actually love telling our story.  But it can’t be told quickly.  To understand the story, you have to understand our pasts.  Most people aren’t prepared for that.  Therefore, you’ll often hear me telling people how I married the sexy lead singer of my band.  True.  But not the whole truth.

Several months ago, I began writing short, humorous narratives entitled, “How I Got Char to Go Out With Me” and gave each one a non-sequential version number.  I slapped a picture on them that matched the narrative and posted it on my personal Facebook blog.  The tall tales are (obviously) not entirely true – but there really are kernels of truth hidden within every one of them.  I have compiled several of these tales to publish in this eBook.

Even though these tales are meant to be entertaining, the truth is that I am baring my soul to you.  Enjoy it.  Laugh.  All I ask in return is this simple favor:  Follow our entertainment website, www.TheTravelingTwosome.com (sign up on our email list to keep up with what we’re doing) and check out our band’s website (you can find the website for Vintage at www.TheVintagePeople.com).  We’ve got music there which you can download as well.  And if we’re playing a gig in your area, come see us in person.  You’ll be glad you did.  We sound really great… and we’ve got a dynamic, tall, sexy, blonde lead singer.  But she’s taken already.  She married her bass player.

Louis Magnifico

January 2014

 

Char on a BikeChapter 17

Version 614:  Instant Char, Just Add Water

Some people meet their spouses in bars, some meet them at church.  Some meet them in school, others at work.  But I wonder… how many people meet their spouses in an envelope?  I was looking through an old Iron Man comic book of mine from the 1970s when I came across an ad for the Johnson Smith Catalog of Things You Never Knew Existed. You know the catalog I’m talking about.  The one that peddles things like X-Ray Spectacles, Free Money, Sea Monkeys, U-Control Life Size Ghost, Squirting Nickels, Joy Buzzers, Fake Dog Poo, Guides on How to Throw Your Voice, Magic Miracle Money Makers, Silent Dog Whistles, Foaming Sugar – this company had everything a teenager growing up in the the 70s and 80s could dream of.  Every month as a child, I’d flip through my comic books and look at the Johnson Smith ads with awe and wonder.  But I never ordered anything, not even once.  I wondered if the company was still around and if they were, could I still send off for one of their amazing offers.

It was a joke – just something to do.  I didn’t expect I’d actually get a response.  I cut out the ad, circled that I wanted the “Instant Woman – Just Add Water,” and I included my 95 cents plus $1 for postage and handling.  I dropped it in the mail and forgot all about it.

That is, until ten days later when a package arrived in the mail from the Johnson Smith Company.  Inside was a small envelope containing one large tablet.  Written on the envelope was the description of my order:  Instant Woman – Just Add Water.  The picture on the package showed The Perfect Woman kissing all over a guy that seemed ugly, weak, and nerdy.  On the back, there were instructions:  1) Dissolve Tablet in Bowl of Warm Water, 2) Your Woman Will Grow Overnight, 3) Enjoy Your New Woman!

I filled a kitchen bowl with warm water from my tap, dropped in the tablet, and absolutely nothing happened.  The tablet didn’t dissolve, it didn’t fizzle, it didn’t make a sound.  No snap, crackle, pop.  I thought about dumping it down the drain but a phone call came in and I left the kitchen, forgetting all about my waste of a buck.

The next morning, my alarm clock woke me up to the tune of “Light My Fire” by The Doors.  The smell of French Toast awakened my sense of smell.  I wrapped the warm sheets around me and continued to lay there for a moment.

FRENCH TOAST?

I tossed off my sheets, ran into the kitchen and there she was!  Char, my Instant Woman!

“You must be my master,” she said.  “I’m Char.  Your breakfast is almost ready.  I hope you like it.  You didn’t have all the ingredients I wanted to use but I think you’ll like it.  Do you like your coffee with cream or sugar?  I have so much to learn about you!”

I stood there speechless, glancing back and forth between Char and a large suitcase on the kitchen table that read “Complete Char Kit.  Comes with everything you need to get started with your Instant Woman!  Be sure to read your Master’s Manual (included) for more information.”

I felt like I was suddenly living in one of those bizarre fantasy films directed by Tim Burton.  As we ate breakfast, Char was eager to learn all about me – get this – so that she could SERVE ME adequately!

After eating, she began reorganizing and decorating my house and it made all the difference!  She swept the floors, washed my laundry, cleaned the house – all while  preparing the most delicious smelling dinner for later.

I told her that if this was real then she needed to take time to enjoy her new life – not just work.  She grabbed my hand and led me into my bedroom and gave me THE LOOK.

“Are you serious?” I asked, happily surprised by her idea of “enjoying her new life.”

“Why, yes.  I belong to you.  Unless, of course, you don’t want to…”  Needless to say, we stayed in the bedroom for a while.

That evening, she explored the house, the yard, the neighborhood.  She played in the backyard like a young child discovering toys and games for the first time.  She rode my bicycle (she quickly learned to balance herself), she tried out my skateboard (not quite as successful with that), and then noticed my hot tub.

“Oh, that looks relaxing.  Want to jump in?  I can massage your back if you’re feeling tired.”  It was like I had died and gone to Stepford.

So this is how it all began between me and Char.  And this is why, when you see us together, we look so perfect as a couple.  She was made for me, literally.

I didn’t tell anyone for years about this until one day when I confided in a lonely friend of mine.  I told him the whole story and handed him an old Incredible Hulk comic book of mine from 1979.  I turned to the Johnson Smith ad.  “It’s yours, dude.  Enjoy.”

About a week later there was a knock on my door.  My friend.  He threw my comic book, Johnson Smith ad ripped out, right at me in my foyer when I opened my door.  Then he threw a mailing envelope at me.  He turned and walked away and he’s never spoken to me since.  I bent down to pick up the envelope.  It was marked “Return to Sender – Address Unknown.”

 

If you’d like to read the rest of the book and learn more about the strange circumstances that brought us together, here are the links to download it from Amazon or Apple’s iBooks Bookstore.

Oh, and Happy Anniversary, Char.  I love you!

 

Available in the iBookstore         Download from Amazon

 

Vintage to Perform Two Halloween Costume Party Shows This Year

Vintage to Perform Two Halloween Costume Party Shows This Year

Vintage - October 28 2016Vintage will be performing our annual Halloween costume party show twice this year… the lucky cities to get this year’s shows are both in the Ozarks region:  Hardy, AR and West Plains, MO!

We’ll be performing on Friday, October 28, at Cruiser’s in downtown Hardy, AR.  Showtime at Cruiser’s is 8:00pm  Then, the following night, we’ll be at Roper’s Saloon on the square in beautiful West Plains, MO on Saturday, October 29. Showtime at Roper’s is 8:00pm.

Both shows include great prizes, a costume contest, amazing food and drink specials, and – of course – the spectacular music and entertainment of Char Magnifico and Vintage!

You don’t want to miss these two incredible shows!  It’s worth a drive to come to Hardy or West Plains for these events!

For more details, visit Vintage on the web at www.TheVintagePeople.com