Thursday, May 31, 2007

Whole Lotta Nothin'

Where I live the "coming of the cicadas" reminds me of the Y2K debacle. I haven't heard a single salacious croak of this alleged-to-be ubiquitous bug. Remember how the world was going to end December 31, 1999? Yeah, like that.

I am much happier to think about insects than car trouble so I'm thankful to the little buggers for that much.

Very jacked about my latest delivery of a batch of lanceleaf plants for my native backyard garden. One of these days I'll actually take a picture and post it. The plants I buried back there last year are booming! I planted another ten or so a few week ago and they look rather forlorn and spindly next to the Charles Atlases right next door. But I imagine next year they'll be great (hopefully not in the mode of the Chicago Cubs). This next dozen will go in the flower bed that runs alongside the back of my garage. They are advertised as being quite tall (almost corn-like) and are supposed to flower from May to August. Gotta get out there and get 'em in the ground.

[Thanks to my insect-loving pal S for the cicada pic]

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Copper Head (or Car Hell)

Last week I spent $1100 on repairs to my '96 Voyager with 140K on it. Yeah, its a guzzler but I need a minivan for lugging basses, amps and kids around. In my next incarnation I want to drive a Miata.

Last night after my gig downtown I loaded up the rig and started the car... for about three seconds. Then it went kaput. The radio was on so I wasn't quite sure what happened. I was also a bit distracted by the street scene of a very wobbly partygoer who was flailing around attempting to hail a cab (at least, that's what I thought she was doing; perhaps she was keeping the elephants away). So I fired her up again (the car, not the flailer). Nice strong vrrrr but no ooom. Again...same thing. Now I'm starting to get alarmed. It had been raining, maybe something was wet under there. I opened the hood and stared moronically inside. It all looked fine, bone dry, as far as I could tell. When you don't know what you're looking at it ALWAYS looks fine. I got back into the driver's seat, hoping to sneak up on the ignition and make it start up when it wasn't paying attention. But, alas, no dice, fuzzy or otherwise.

The last time a car of mine displayed these symptoms I had broken a timing belt. I sat there trying to remember when I'd last had the belt changed. Uh, 70,000 miles? 90,000? I had no idea. Then the harsh reality of the "glamour of showbiz" started to dawn on me. I've got two gigs tomorrow (today, actually), including one at 9AM. How on earth am I going to get there?

From there the details get way too tedious to write, let alone read. Suffice it to say that I got a ride home with my superhero friend SJA, who also happened to be on my early Sunday gig and chauffeured me to and from that. My minivan did not magically repair itself overnight, against all odds. So I wound up renting a monstrosity of a hatchback called a Chevy HHR. This thing is apparently a re-design of the equally horrendously ugly PT Cruiser. It is copper colored, way too shiny, has terrible sight lines and was the only non SUV on Avis' lot that accommodates my upright bass (just barely).

The second job of the day will more or less cover the cost of the rental car for the next three days. Of course it is a holiday weekend so I have to wait an extra day before my mechanic (who is becoming my best pal) can have a crack at my beater. Meanwhile I'll tool around in the Copper Head and try not to poison anyone with it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Freakin' Killer

Encouragement is a mysterious and wonderful thing. It can take odd forms and cause insanely great things to happen. A word or two here, a knowing nod from a respected mentor there, a slap on the fanny from a coach in the seventh inning... tokens of appreciation that can have long lasting effects.

I have a small, closely guarded collection of accolades, most of which I forget regularly. But whenever I can bring a compliment into present memory it really helps me to move forward with whatever task I'm trying to accomplish. Now that I'm writing about this of course I can't bring to mind any particulars, except for a few humilty inducing bits of wisdom from years past, to wit:

In the mid to late 80's I tried being a commercial bandleader for a minute. Discovered that I hated dealing with party planners, mothers of the bride-to-be and other such vermin, but that's another story. At that time many of the female singers on the local circuit concentrated on standard tunes from the Tin Pan Alley era with a few pop ballads thrown in. The gigs we were doing at that time were moving more towards classic rock, Motown and contemporary stuff and I couldn't seem to find a singer or two who were available and who had some of this music in their repertoire. So I did the only logical thing - started singing in self-defense.

Now, I had no illusions about how I sounded vocally. I could more or less sing in tune and "sell" songs like Twist and Shout, Roll Over Beethoven, Louie Louie - you get the idea. But I certainly was no "singer". Two humorous events from this era come to mind.

The first took place at some private party, probably a wedding at some crappy banquet hall in the suburbs. We just had finished a pretty grueling set of lord knows what godawful dance music when up to the bandstand came this fairly attractive young woman. I figured she wanted us to do The Chicken Dance or the love theme from Towering Inferno or some such chestnut. But no, she has ventured up to the bandstand to tell me, get this: that I have a "great" voice. I started to laugh, thinking that she was in on the joke and just wanted me to know that I was successfully pulling it off. But no, I could see by the look on her face that she was sincere. I was floored. Flummoxed. Speechless even.

Sometime later my longstanding drummer friend SJA recounted this story to me: She was talking to a mutual colleague and happened to mention being on a gig with me where I sang some tune that had come up in their conversation. The third party said, "Oh, I didn't know Bill sings." Whereupon my dear friend, without batting an eyelid, comes back with "Well, you wouldn't know it to hear him." An unpremeditated and unsolicited testimonial to my vocal prowess. Love that girl!

There's a terrific stage play which I saw many years ago at the old Victory Gardens Theatre here in Chicago. It is called "Orphans" and is nominally about a gangster with a heart of gold who stumbles into the life of a couple of orphaned brothers. The man was played by John Mahoney, long before his Frasier days. It was the role of a lifetime for him; I bet he would agree with that. His character in the play offers the boys a chance to move beyond the small, sheltered lives they've been forced to lead by the absence of their parents and their fears about what the world "out there" must be like. All he can really offer to them is "encouragement", which takes the form of putting his arm around the younger brother, who had never before experienced the human kindness of a father. Something as simple as that - draping one's arm around a kid's shoulder - can have life changing results.

My friend H told me she thought the writing I've started to do here is "freakin' killer" and that's what's got me back here today.

Quick New Definitions

Can't get to the adult content right now but I do have a couple of additions to the Mensa list that I'm sure everyone who has even heard of a computer has seen by now:

Arrogaunt: Being excessively proud of one's slender physique.

Bloggadocio: Cocky attitude towards one's own writing abilities.

Not much, but something... Hey, get OFF me!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

And You Know Who You Are (Dating at 50)

When I became liberated a few years ago I entered the much-ballyhooed middle aged dating marketplace. Women in their 40's know what they want, I was told by well meaning and somewhat envious peers. They are mature, settled, know themselves, are financially independent. They're sexually liberated! They don't have to worry about getting pregnant so they're worry-free in the bedroom! They'll really appreciate a man like you. Yes, well. And that's worked out so well.

Let me tell you about a few of my close encounters with the female half of the middle aged gene pool. While I have met some very interesting, intelligent, attractive women who are "of a certain age", they are no less hung up, whacked out, needy, unstable and downright identical to the women (and men, for that matter) I knew in my 20's, albeit a bit more wrinkly and curmudgeonly. I mean all of this only in the nicest possible way, of course.

OK. How about Ms. Pathological Liar? She sounded pretty normal on the phone. We talked a couple of times, during which she told me she'd never been married, had a good job, owned a condo in...hmmm, perhaps I'd better keep that detail to myself. So we met for lunch. So far so good. During one of our phone calls she had told me that she'd been in a long relationship with a man who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Of course I empathized with her on that, tried to imagine how horrible that must have been, etc etc. Then we met for dinner at a pretty nice restaurant in .... no, you're not going to get me to divulge that either! During this more lengthy and intimate meeting she told me a "funny" story about how she had duped a friend of hers at work into believing some personal story that she had invented. She relished the private joy of knowing that she had told a whopper and gotten away with it with a fairly close friend. I got a bit quiet and then asked her if everything she had told me thus far in our nascent relationship was true. She admitted that she had already told me "one or two" things that weren't exactly uh, true. Then she smiled sweetly, as if sharing a good joke with me. I instantly flashed back to the motorcycle story. I didn't hang around long enough to ask if that was one of her little witticisms.

Then there was the so-called Funny Lady, whose ads I still see on CL and in the Reader. She made a big point of explaining that she was a stand up comedienne and that she was hilarious and smart as a whip. She also had some pretty exacting standards for the kind of man she was looking for. She mentioned several times what good shape she was in and how she worked out five days a week at the gym and that if a man hadn't seen his feet in ten years he was certainly not the man for her!

Again, she seemed OK on the phone (I'm starting to distrust that infernal device); moderately entertaining, "nice" (loaded word, that), in short, safe to meet. We met for dinner - never a good idea for a first date for all you newbie daters out there. In short, she was short, dumpy, frumpy, lumpy and about as funny as a lamppost. She also never thanked me for paying for her dinner. Oh yeah, I forgot the part about how she told me half way through dinner that she didn't have any money with her. She also had the gall (I'm not sure if it was mitigated or not) to tell me how she thought we could be "friends" but that she didn't think I was quite her type, physically.

Gotta get going, but in a future post I promise to tell about the attractive nurse who kept saying things that, try as I might, I just could NOT understand. Also there'll be the story of the woman who got very excited when I kissed her but freaked out big time when we (at her request) slept together on our third date and refused to ever talk to me or see me again. That one'll have to be at least R rated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


One way we artists procrastinate is by doing other people's work. In my case, instead of composing my own music I transcribe and do copy work for other folks - other writers, singers, band leaders. This work consists of listening to a recording (anything from Bonnie Raitt to some schlock cabaret singer/songwriter) and notating what I hear. Then I create a nice legible version of the song using software called Finale - it winds up looking like printed sheet music.

I also take other people's full blown compositions and copy their hand written score into Finale and print out a professional looking score and parts. Right now I'm working on a bunch of scores from my friend AL who is dying of cancer. His String Quartet #1 is sitting open in front of me as I write this.

This copy work takes skill. Finale has a steep learning curve, as they say. But the actual doing of it is pretty damn dull. And it takes a lot of time. We all do things for money and the work I'm doing for my friend is also a labor of love, but...

What does it say about me that I make time to do other people's work but seldom "find" time to do my own? Pretty straightforward stuff, eh? Right out of Julia Cameron.

One thing that seems to help is to surround myself with creative people, which is why I like to hang out with musicians, writers, actors, artists of all stripes. I've recently asked a few colleagues who I respect how they get creative stuff done (with the demands of making a living, taking care of kids, all of the distractions of real life). My favorite answer came from JG, a brilliant saxophonist/composer. He said, "schedule a recording session." In other words, create a deadline for yourself.

The last time I witnessed a flurry of creative activity in myself was a few months back when some of my closest musical pals and I were preparing to record a CD of original music. We scheduled some rehearsals and I had to show up with something for us to play. I also wanted to make sure to have some "space" on the CD. One of the other guys is a prolific writer with a deep backlog of tunes to draw upon. Since this was supposed to be "our" project I didn't want it to wind up being only his tunes that made it onto the record. If that sounds competitive or petty, so be it.

I have a few things from years past that I still like and that haven't been recorded but I needed to spruce those up. Plus I really wanted to write some new tunes that reflect where I'm at musically NOW. worked. I found myself with plenty of time and impetus to write some challenging new music. It was fun.

Meanwhile the project has been put on 'hold' because commercial projects have taken precedence in the ensuing months. And I haven't written anything since. How can I? Too busy doing other peoples work!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Showbiz is SO glamourous

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of the day on the mid-deck of a small yacht docked in Burnham Harbor, a private portlet just a stone's throw east of Soldier's Field. Fun, you say?

I was attempting to play my bass guitar with a quartet, smashed into a tiny corner of the deck next to the bar... in about 50 degrees. We worked (and I do mean work) for four hours - it was too cold and windy to sail so we just sat at the dock, which was fine by me. My drummer pal N was in his third or so day of recovering from pneumonia. He had coughed so hard a couple of days previous that he had broken a rib. The doc told him not to "sit around", so there he was, gamely making the most of a snare and hi-hat, wincing with pain every time he coughed (I don't think it was my playing.)

Sure, he's got Vicodin for when he's on the couch, but out here in the wild he couldn't be all doped up. Despite our reputation as druggies and lushes most of the musicians I know are as clean and sober as it gets. We have to be to navigate to the gig, find a place to park, figure out how to get into the venue, get set up in time, remember what the couture du jour is etc etc. Playing music is the easy part, most of the time.

Then today I spent the day in the recording studio. Oooh, very cool! Yeah, well recording is a lot of grunt work. You have to stay focused because every tiny glitch is preserved for all to hear. It's like being under a sonic microscope.

I happened to be the producer on this session so the atmosphere was convivial - but we still had to get a certain amount of work done in a very limited amount of time. We were working with a vocalist from LA who was only in town for the day so, again, not a lot of time for shooting up or passing the bong around with Jimi Hendrix on the stereo.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


My former student and current friend Helena Bouchez is the first blogger I've known personally. She is a multi-talented individual - a musician, a PR diva, a "connector" in the Malcolm Gladwell sense and an excellent writer with deep insight into her own inner workings. You can view her blog here. Helena does some work for Lakland, a company that designs and creates great bass guitars here in Chicago. I play their instruments exclusively - they are very comfy to play and can give a player a wide palette of tones to choose from.

Helena's work ethic and self-effacing writing style have had me mulling a blog of my very own for awhile. Despite my personal inertia I'm choosing to honor her example and do some of my own clackety-clacking.

Inspiration of another kind led me to choose the spirit name Fierce Wolf for myself a few years ago. I don't want to wax New Ageist, but I had an intense meditative experience at a mens' weekend retreat sponsored by The Mankind Project.

I'm not at liberty to disclose the content of the work that gets done on their New Warrior Training Adventure but suffice it to say that it includes choosing a name. A couple of years after that experience I learned that my Yiddish given name "Velvel" translates as "wolf". A bit of extra glue never hinders the sticking process...


Ah, the blank white page. I wonder if J.S. Bach sat petrified, quill in hand, before the empty parchment? He intended to write a piece in every key for that new fangled instrument called the clavier - a seemingly daunting challenge. What came out, eventually, was The Well-Tempered Clavier, some of the most amazing music ever written.

So I suppose it would be good to start. Writing has always been my dirty little secret, done surreptitiously when no one was watching. But I now have the urge to go public, mostly for the kick in the pants to do it regularly that I imagine blogging might provide. So, here goes.

Don't have a lot of time at the moment - I wonder how often I'll write that phrase! When I get back here (soon, really...) I will explain my nom de blog and talk about the friend who inspired me to sit here in the first place.