About Me

My photo
My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Setting a High Bar

One of the highlights of 2022 was a full-scale return to seeing live music. I didn't fully appreciate how much I'd missed that element in my life until I recently reflected on a few moments of musical magic from the past year. Those moments included seeing John Scofield at the Blue Note, Glen Hansard in Washington DC, and the amazing Django-influenced guitarist Stephane Wrembel at a free concert in Red Bank. What memorable shows did you see in 2022? 

And now Branford Marsalis so thoroughly transported me earlier this month I'm having trouble imagining I'll see a better show over the remaining eleven months of 2023. For almost two hours, Marsalis and the piano trio supporting him played at a nearly super-human intensity. Mixing originals with material by Duke, Monk, & Irving Berlin - interspersed with a few nods to traditional New Orleans jazz - these four exemplary musicians personified what it means to be at the top of your game. Their interplay, creativity, and fire never let up. In addition, because I was seated near the front, it was easy to see how much fun all four of them were having as each prodded the other to take another leap into the musical unknown. It was exhilarating to be close to excellence of this caliber. 

What shows are you looking forward to in 2023? In my case, I'm a little worried Branford and his band set the bar so high that disappointment could be difficult to avoid. I desperately hope I'm wrong; seeing live music is too important to me.     

Saturday, January 28, 2023



If you've not yet heard about Storyworth, I highly recommend you check out the link above with some frequently asked questions about it. Although I just began my experience with this new company's concept several weeks back when my daughter gave her mother and me a holiday gift, I know already it's going to work better for me than many of the earlier attempts I've made using a similar concept.  

Even though I write continuously and always have good intentions as I begin capturing memories in those books that you see everywhere designed for that purpose, what sets Storyworth apart from those books is the ease and convenience of their model. Because Storyworth was conceived in the digital era, the prompts designed to take you down memory lane arrive in your e-mail in-box. You respond like you would to any e-mail and after you do, Storyworth does the rest. At the end of the year - ours will end near Christmas day 2023 - a bound book, filled with the memories you captured using those prompts is delivered to you. No saving hard copies of anything; no need to worry that someone in the future will have trouble reading your funky handwriting; no feeling overwhelmed looking at a book containing hundreds of prompts - just one prompt at a time and you get to decide how often that prompt will appear in your in-box.

If you have already used or are currently using Storyworth, tell me and others about your experience. If you are unfamiliar with it, check out that link. I think you'll be intrigued.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Bookworm's Catnip

Foremost of the benefits I derive by frequently hanging out with people who share my passion for reading is being directed to treasures like Great Short Books: A Year of Reading - Briefly (2022)Each essay by author and literary scholar Kenneth C. Davis uses a simple, effective framework: first lines, brief plot summary, about the author, why you should read it, what to try next by the same author. His approach is sure to appeal to passionate readers as well as entice those with less leisure time who might be searching for worthwhile novellas. Both groups, and anyone else looking for an easy re-entry into the world of great literature, will enjoy Davis's intelligent explorations of the fifty-eight books he tackles in depth. In addition, he lists about eighty more novellas at the tail end of his useful volume. 

What worked best for me was how Davis transcended the canon with his selections. Alongside Voltaire, Stephen Crane, and Hemingway are more than a dozen short books published after 2000. Authors featured include several from countries under-represented on many lists of this type, e.g., Nigeria's Chinua Achebe. Sandra Cisneros, Yu Miri, and Toni Morrison are among the notable women included. 

End-to-end, Great Short Books was a peak reading experience. This bookworm is grateful for the other bookworms in his life who reliably direct him to catnip like this.          

Sunday, January 22, 2023

A Not Exactly One Hit Wonder

For today's exercise - which might appeal primarily to film buffs - begin by thinking of a movie that has remained in your mind or is familiar to you, for whatever reason. This post was inspired by my recent re-watch of Four Weddings and a Funeral. 

Step #2: Recall a powerful scene - length doesn't matter - featuring an actor/actress who is not a household name, i.e., someone who would likely not be widely recognized in public. Step #3: Describe briefly how or why or what in particular is seared into your memory about that performance in that specific scene. Think of the scene as the rough equivalent of a one hit wonder with no disrespect aimed at the actor you select. That actor may be continuing to reliably ply their trade today and perhaps he/she has delivered many equally credible screen performances before and/or after the scene you'll briefly describe.

About 2/3 through Four Weddings and a Funeral, the eponymous funeral scene features John Hannah ("Kenneth") using a reading of a W.H. Auden poem to eulogize his partner Gareth, played by Simon Callow. Hannah is a well-known British actor but hardly a household name. I suspect some people - especially we film buffs - might recognize him if we saw him in public but I also suspect he is rarely mobbed by adoring throngs. But that few minutes of Hannah's performance in Four Weddings is perfectly modulated; it is eternal film magic. Did the directing contribute? Of course. Is the scene well written? Without a doubt. Was the selection of the stunning Auden poem a stroke? Yes, in triplicate. But in the end, without Hannah, it could have easily turned into just another scene in another movie. There is no doubt in my mind about this, awards bestowed - or not - aside. Hannah can be proud the rest of his life for what he did in those few moments, just as the writer of Play That Funky Music can be for his role in that one hit wonder.  

Your turn. What's your nomination for an acting equivalent of a not exactly one hit wonder?

Reflections From The Bell Curve: #54: The Mt. Rushmore Series     

Friday, January 20, 2023

Becoming Someone

An unwritten but nearly inviolable rule most parents follow is to acknowledge - in some fashion - every birthday of their children. Twentieth century norms included cards or phone calls. Today, an e-mail or text might replace those minimal forms of acknowledgment. Making plans to be together on a birthday or giving a thoughtful gift takes the acknowledgment up a level. 

Failing to acknowledge the significance of January 19 in my life is unimaginable. Is this because I have just one child? Possibly. It's become a cliche to remark how much life changes when a person becomes a parent. And my life did change that day. But something more significant happened. I changed. On or near the day my daughter was born I began closely examining parts of the old me that needed to be discarded in my new role guiding a life as it evolved.  The stakes were too high for me to ignore those pieces of me that weren't ready for the challenge ahead.  

As the two of us talked on a long hike today, I tried recalling the me of thirty-four years ago. I had difficulty doing so. I suspect that is because the me that began forming soon after January 19, 1989 is someone I like better than the old version.       

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Book Club Report: Year Six

Gotta be honest; I'm disappointed no reader noticed there was no annual book club report published this time last year, looking back at the fifth full year of the No Wine or Whiners Book Club. 

And though I'm tempted to combine both year five and year six in this post, I know that would be pushing my luck. Consequently, what follows are some highlights for year six only. Best news: Except February, 2022 - when there was a slight uptick in Covid-19 - all of our meetings this past year were face-to-face. Sweet. 

Top prize for fiction: Bewilderment (2021) - Richard Powers. Powers has recently ascended into my top tier of authors, making the club's warm embrace of his most recent novel gratifying for me, given I select most of the books we read. 

Top prize for non-fiction: American Baby (2021) - Gabriele Glaser. One thing I like most about my club is how many of our members are discerning readers. This unqualified winner was recommended to me by one of those members. I knew immediately while ramming through it that it would generate a rich discussion. That discussion far exceeded my expectations. 

Including our first meeting in 2023 - discussing I Am, I Am, I Am (2017) by Maggie O'Farrell - the club has now met sixty-four times. Five of the six charter members are still fully engaged, our attendance has remained stable, and I intend to maintain the guideline of never repeating an author. I welcome hearing about any book club you're in, especially how you benefit from your involvement.  


Monday, January 16, 2023

Exploring a Tension

Tradition plays an important part in my life; I suspect this is true for many people. I enjoy most traditional American holidays and look forward to traditions my family of origin has, some of which are related to those holidays. And I also like many of the traditions, including the silly ones, that have helped sustain my marriage. 

Since preserving tradition is one important element of conservatism, I'm beginning an exploration of my long-held resistance to that word. To those out there who share my resistance, I'd like to hear how you deal with the tension between these concepts. To those out there who identify with the word conservative, which tradition(s) have you willfully abandoned? How difficult was that for you? 

In the nearly 2200 blog posts I've published, I'd estimate less than 5% have contained anything even remotely political. I've got no plans to change that. Politics have never had much appeal for me and these days I especially find the public discourse on politics too shrill as people become more and more tribal. But as I reflected recently on the tension between my enjoyment of tradition and resistance to conservatism, seeking help from all of you seemed a good place to start. Please share your thoughts. It's safer here than on talk radio. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

My True North

After almost sixty years writing songs, one thing is clear. The most worthwhile ones are those that come to me nearly whole. 

Returning from meditation one day in late 2019, three words - my true north - wouldn't leave me alone. Almost immediately I recognized how that common phrase captures what my life partner has been for me since our first date on April 17, 1978. From there, the opening melodic phrase and most of the lyric and melody for the refrain came to me. Scheduled to visit an ailing friend that day, I was initially concerned about leaving directly from the spot where I'd been parked while meditating. I worried the rest of the song might get lost, something that frequently happens.  

My concern was misplaced. As I drove the nearly sixty miles to my friend's home, the remaining words arrived, accompanied by a melody that pleased me. By the time I got to my destination, the composition had nearly written itself. I got it down in my journal, confident the harmonies would reveal themselves as soon as I had a guitar in my hands. When I got back home, those harmonies - as well as an opening guitar riff - were right there. 


The journey from that day in late 2019 to the finished product above - with my daughter singing - ended in late 2022. On Christmas morning my daughter and I - along with her new husband - cued up the recording and played it for my life partner. I'm thrilled with my daughter's performance, grateful for all the help a good friend gave me to bring the song fully into the world, and proud of the song itself. There were more songs written between late 2019 and late 2022 but none arrived nearly as whole as this one. I hope you enjoy listening to it. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

#68: The Mt. Rushmore Series

The relationship between music and dancing is eternal. As long as artists continue to create music, there will be compositions that either mention or are specifically about dancing and there will be listeners who'll enjoy dancing to or listening to those compositions. 

In that spirit, I'm asking you to memorialize four songs containing the word dance that capture for you the magical synergy connecting music and dance. My Mt. Rushmore is listed alphabetically; order yours however you choose. 

1.) Dance: David Baerwald - Without question, the most obscure of my Mt. Rushmore selections, picked because of the exuberant scream "Dance!" beginning each refrain. Baerwald's composition from his 1990 recording entitled Bedtime Stories captures perfectly for me how music and dance are inextricably linked. 

2.) Dance Me to the End of Love: Leonard Cohen - I was first exposed Cohen's sly song via Madeline Peyroux, whose delivery of it seduced me immediately. Cohen's central metaphor reminds us of another elemental link in life. Many memorable moments with my partner of forty-five years have been on a dance floor. 

3.) Dance With Me: Orleans - It doesn't matter how much airplay this massive hit got. A song this great reveals something new on each listening. Most recently, when lead singer/composer John Hall wailed "I can take you where you want to go" at the end of the repeat of the middle eight, I realized I'll never tire hearing this gem. Unimprovable internal rhyme scheme. 

4.) Last Dance:  Donna Summer - The disco era - like many similar periods preceding it - made clear how strongly music and dance are connected. And though I wasn't a big fan of much of the music that was popular from this niche, for me, Donna Summer always stood apart. And this huge hit - written by Paul Jabara - belongs on my Mt. Rushmore. Disco haters: You get to build your own mountain. Just make sure the word dance appears in the title.              

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Released Into the Public Domain

You'd think that having a daughter in the film industry - one who has partnered BTW in writing and directing some funny stuff - would mean brilliant comic ideas like mine might find a home. For over ten years I've been telling my beloved only child that the confusion 21st century public restrooms present for those of us born in the preceding century has potential for a puerile comedy routine. Alas, my brilliance has gone unheeded. I've decided releasing my foolproof idea into the public domain is my best hope for posterity - however pathetic - though doing so could significantly reduce my daughter's inheritance. You've been warned, sweetheart.

Let's start at the entrance to a public restroom. Automatic door? If no, does touching the doorknob compel the germophobes among us to wash their hands before taking care of business? If yes - germophobe or not - is the soap dispenser hands-free? Do you flail for the water you need to be released from a hands-free sink or is it necessary to manually manipulate a quaint faucet? Is there a towel dispenser in addition to or in lieu of that deafening automatic dryer? Does the dispenser require the same hand flailing as the soap dispenser or the sink or is that manual as well?  

Onto the stall. How far into the 21st century will we journey before those doors are automatic? Will they lock by themselves? Toilet paper - manual or automated? How long does one politely wait while listening to an endless cell phone conversation before asking when the stall might be available? To whom do I submit a complaint about having to endure advertisements - scrolling or otherwise - while on the throne? Less delicately, both genders: How many times has the automatic flush mechanism done its business before you've finished yours due to a slight lift of your derriere? Men only: How easy is it to forget to flush the urinal, given how many are automatic? 

Out of the stall. Refer back to paragraph #2, starting at the third question, assuming you practice reasonable restroom hygiene. Are you in favor - as I am - of a statutory requirement that everything should be either automated or manual? I've lost count how many times I've flailed at sinks or hand towel dispensers before realizing one or the other required the use of my opposable thumbs. And then back to leaving the restroom. Automatic door or doorknob? Is another soap dispenser and sink and hand drying routine needed in the hall? Which one of the three are automated vs. lo-tech? How much can any reasonable person stand, especially those born before the new millennium began?   

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Grateful for the Mundane

 It recently occurred to me how grateful I am my dreams are innocuous.

Having been spared major trauma in my life, my dreams are the usual stuff - flying, being in a public place without clothes, getting back at someone who has hurt me, etc. And I have at least one recurring dream where I miss my final exams and consequently never receive my undergraduate degree. All mundane stuff, thank goodness.

Though I've never known anyone who recalls being abandoned as a child, like most people, I have known others who were abused as children. I've also known people who have never shaken off the stress of combat and women who have escaped violent marriages. Obviously, there are traumas worse than childhood abuse, combat PTSD, and domestic violence. But just limiting my imagination to the kind of dreams that could be engendered by those things stops me cold. I'm incapable of imagining the actual experiences, deepening my gratitude for my fortunate life.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Stop - Start - Continue: 2023

As has been the case since the inception of this series in 2012, this yearly exercise is more enjoyable when some of you share with me and others one thing you plan to stop, start, or continue as the new year kicks off. It needn't be all three; in at least one of the past ten years, I've skipped (or fudged) one of the three pledges. This year both my start and continue involve my physical state. This could be connected to an unrealistic wish to live forever. But what's the harm in indulging some harmless fantasizing to accompany my pledges? 

In 2023, I will stop dwelling on how long it takes each day to get started on any of my daily disciplines. Instead of being preoccupied about what time I begin reading, practicing my guitar, exercising, or writing, when I find myself over-thinking it, I'll take the time to re-center myself via meditation. 

In 2023, I will start paying more attention to my intake of carbohydrates, especially empty ones. 

In 2023, I will continue the exercise regimen I implemented at the start of 2022. Getting in four days a week consistently this past year contributed to my sense of well-being and also helped improve my score in the annual health assessment for my insurance that I complete in December each year. 

Let's get this party started!