This week has had me thinking about my influences, so much so that it is framing a show I'm playing on Saturday night. If you're in the area of New Sharon, Maine on Saturday night, the 22nd of April 2017, come to the Brick Church on the Cape Cod Hill Road and catch my show. If you mention reading this blog, I'll gift you my first cd (yes, shameless plug!).

     As a human, I am given to fits of nostalgia. As I've been framing my set list and thinking about my influences, I discovered that it isn't as easy as just rattling off a few names and a few songs. I've been attempting to narrow down both names and songs and it isn't easy. I like to include a variety of people and topics, so much so that narrowing down my choices to a few influences is hard. I struggle with this when I promote myself. A common question is what kind of music do you play. I play such a variety that pairing it down to a one or two word phrase doesn't sum it up for me. The weight that was taken off my shoulders when someone came up with the term "Americana" was tremendous, as well as "roots music". 

     In the pairing down of my influences, I've discovered that there are a few songs I've needed to learn over this week. How is that possible? These people influenced you, shouldn't you know the stuff that influenced you really well? I would've thought so but I've discovered something else. As I think more about these people and groups, I've discovered that there are songs they've done that I haven't but I feel the need to.

     The moral of the story? These influences keep influencing me. It's a dynamic relationship, with something new to discover, and different ways to look at old ideas. 

     Some of what I've discovered include that Bob Dylan's poetry is incredibly relevant to many aspects of my life, and it continues to be. I've always enjoyed Dylan's music, and I like learning his stuff. It looks and sounds deceptively simple but when I dig into trying to perform some of his material, I discover that his phrasing is unique and challenging. It's easy to play the Judy Collins or the Byrds versions of Mr. Tambourine Man, but to emulate Dylan's phrasing is different and challenging. Dylan also uses an interesting vocal range. He's got a rich baritone if he uses it, and he occasionally writes interesting bass vocal tones in his melody lines. I would love to hear Dylan sing a lot of his repertoire in the voice he used to record Nashville Skyline. 

     Jimmy Buffett is another artist that continues to influence me. Years ago I discovered an album of older material he'd released called American Storyteller. It was music he'd written and recorded prior to going to Key West and becoming the Parrothead King. Buffett was a good ol' American folk artist, and the songs are great. Even though he rarely gets critical accolades for his music, he writes some good stuff. His chord progressions and key changes harken back to older folk music and from a time when musicians were musicians. He's another artist with a rich baritone. His stuff is written in a lower register that I find refreshing to sing in. 

     John Denver has been mentioned on this blog before. Talk about a vocal range. He was incredible singer, but I don't think many people think of how good a guitarist he was. There's a video on the Youtube of him performing The Bells of Rhymney on a 12-string and he is going to town on that guitar. I think John Denver was probably my first real inspiration for becoming a performer. I remember sitting in front of my Aunt and Uncle's stereo, wearing a tremendous pair of headphones they had, and listening to The Garden Song over and over again. I met David Mallett a few years ago and even played with him once. He's now become one of my influences through John Denver. 

     The Kingston Trio is one of the groups I always wanted to be in. I was introduced to them by my father and my grandparents. I don't know how we didn't wear out my grandparents' Kingston Trio records. I wonder the same thing about their Alvin and The Chipmunks record that was a really cool translucent red, and I don't know how my sisters didn't wear out their Sound of Music original cast recording record. They had some cool eight tracks, too, but I digress. The harmonies that the Kingston Trio sang captured my imagination and I just wanted to be on stage with them, strumming or picking, not caring about the uniform nature of the shirts they were wearing. They were often accused of bastardizing folk music but I think that outlook would change if one were to listen to some of their early live recordings. I got my Dad a live recording cassette of them when I was 11 or 12 and I apologized profusely when i discovered that there were some bad words on it, like hell or damn. My Dad, who never uses such language, laughed and reassured me that it was okay and he still liked listening to it.

     You all know how big a fan of Tom Petty I am. I still remember the first time I consciously heard him. It was at a Comfort Inn in South Carolina and we were on our way to Florida to visit my grandparents. The motel room had MTV, and we watched as much of it as we could in the short time we were there. The video for Free Fallin' came on and I was hooked. I purchased Full Moon Fever as soon as we got back to PA. 

    I have many other influences but it would take days to expound upon them all. I'm feeling grateful for the chance to think about them, and perform some of them. I hope to share them with you on Saturday night.

Jack Dalton.... 

     I have been a fan of the real MacGyver since I was small. I remember watching the show with my father, much to the chagrin of my older siblings because they thought MacGyver was cheesy and uncool. I saw MacGyver and thought," Wow, that's what I want to be when I grow up!" Well, I haven't grown up yet but I still love the idea of being a MacGyver. Some people who know me well might say that I get close on occasion. 
     There's another character on MacGyver that I might also emulate. That character would be Jack Dalton, MacGyver's up-to-no-good, scheming, get-rich-quick friend. Whenever Jack appears, MacGyver knows they'll be some ridiculous trouble that he could avoid by simply saying no to Jack and walking away. MacGyver never does, though. He stands by Jack and they help each other out of whatever hot water Jack has gotten them into. 

     Jack has some redeeming qualities. He has a great sense of humor, he's loyal to MacGyver, he's an excellent pilot, and his left eye blinks uncontrollably when he's lying. 

     So how do I emulate Jack? Well, I have a great sense of humor, I'm loyal to MacGyver, and I have dreams of being a pilot one day, or at least a boat captain. I have dragged a certain cousin into some interesting adventures, usually in a canoe or a boat, or attempting to use a plow truck as a makeshift crane (he actually looks a little like MacGyver, come to think of it..). I've spent a night adrift in a small boat with some friends, stuck in the fog. I've played practical jokes that haven't gone over so well. 

     Maybe the Jack connection isn't as strong as I thought it was when I started this. The real question is, do you have a Jack Dalton? Are you someone's Jack Dalton? I certainly hope the answer is yes to both those questions. 

     Jack is a good friend and MacGyver comes running when Jack calls. I know I've had some Jacks in my life and I'm grateful for them. I know I've been a Jack many times and I'm grateful for my MacGyvers. 

     Take a few minutes and think about who are your Jacks and who are your MacGyvers. I think it might surprise you to find that you have both and you are both.

     Also, the original theme to MacGyver is so much better than the one they started using around season three with all the synthesizers. I'd like to think Angus MacGyver would prefer real music to synthesizers.

Deep Joy 

     My son and I enjoy a show from the BBC called the Reassembler. It features James May, of Top Gear fame, putting stuff back together. We enjoy May's manner and banter as he reassembles things, including debating the difference between a bolt and a screw and playing Twinkle, Twinkle on his wrenches with a rubber mallet. I've been reflecting on one of his sayings. He'll look at something or feel something after it's been re-assembled and calmly explain, "deep joy...". 

     Why have I been thinking about this? Well, this is the first time since I graduated from college when one of my primary income sources has not been in one of the fields I studied. I had a task before me today that might seem tedious but it was relaxing and the process brought me deep joy. I don't know if it would if I did the task everyday, but for today it did. Got me thinking about other things that bring me deep joy.

     I like to fix stuff. When something I've tinkered with works (after I've tinkered with it), that brings me deep joy. When an engine runs after I've fixed it, that brings me deep joy. When I use foul language in the process of fixing something, it reduces my stress level and brings me deep joy. Well, it helps me on my path to deep joy. 

     I like it when the dog is behaving. If he comes when I call him, deep joy. If he  jumps on me in the morning and then falls off the bed because he's being a bozo, deep joy. When he curls up beside me on the couch, deep joy.

     Music brings me deep joy. Singing does, always has, and always will, more than just about anything I can think of. If you know me, you know I'm quick to sing and slow to stop. The process of learning music, writing music, and sharing music brings me deep joy, so deep that I'm not always conscious of it. Making music, especially with my son, brings me deep joy. 

     Being a father brings me deep joy, even in the frustrating bits. When he succeeds, when he fails then figures it out, when he smiles, when he shares a story or thought, all these things bring me deep joy. Deep joy comes from knowing this cool person, as it seems you always have. Deep joy comes from the excitement of seeing what's next. 

     Sailing and being on (and under) the water brings me deep joy. I can't explain the feeling I get when I'm sailing but it feels right, like an old shoe. Sometimes the shoe gives you a blister but that's probably because you had a wrinkle in your sock. 

     What do all these things have in common? That's really what I was thinking about today. All of these things are processes, journeys, experiences. They aren't static and it isn't about the destination, it's about enjoying what got you there. A fixed engine will get you places, but fixing an engine will take you places. A dog is the best kind of friend, one that only wants to hang out and have you throw him the ball. He'll come back, eventually, because you're the one he wants to curl up with on the couch. Music is always a journey, and always exciting. The waters never stay the same, there's always nuance. Kids grow older, and you get to enjoy all kinds of different things with them.

     I have a challenge for you. What brings you deep joy? Think about it and the answer might surprise you. An hour in your hammock might be one of your many things, as I know it is mine. 

It's Our Fault 

     To my chagrin, we have an unqualified administration in office that chose to nominate an unqualified cabinet and a majority in the house and senate not willing to make any good decisions. Even more to my chagrin, we have a minority party that hasn't done much to help the situation. 

     As an educator, I am not happy with the choice of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. She is unqualified and she basically bought her way in. We have a strain of anti-intellectualism in our society and it's gaining momentum (listen to any nuevo-country station and you can hear it). Betsy DeVos is evidence that the people in Washington don't really care about the people they're representing. Even one of the republican dissenters, Susan Collins of Maine, doesn't care. Collins had a chance to stop DeVos from coming out of committee and she didn't. Then Collins voted no, making herself look good, like a voice of reason. Susan Collins is not a voice of reason. She's a party troll, and I don't mean the fun kind that show up at your party and sits in the corner making everyone a little uncomfortable. 

     I hear many of my educator friends and friends who are education advocates voice their disbelief that someone as unqualified as DeVos could become the overseer of public education in the US. I'm not surprised. You shouldn't be either. This DeVos thing isn't new. Public education has been on a downward spiral for a long time. It isn't because of the teachers, though the media and certain legislators would like you to believe that. It's the fault of many, and the fault of many who didn't stand up for what they know to be right.

     In order to run for Sheriff, one needs to have a backround in law enforcement. In order to run for DA, one needs to pass the bar exam, usually requiring a law degree. In order to be elected to the school board, one doesn't even need to have graduated from high school. I think I've discovered one of the causes of public education's downward spiral. We have school board members throughout this country that make decisions that effect education and they don't know much about the topic. Their decisions usually show that.

     In local school administration, I've discovered that it isn't the cream that's rising to the top. Few of the administrators I've worked with are competent. These administrators don't seem to understand students, don't seem to understand teaching, don't seem to understand how to use statistics. They use their ignorance to influence the local school boards who don't know what's going on and have been duped by the self-serving administrators. Many school boards seem to think that they work for the superintendents rather than the other way around. 

     Teachers themselves are part of the problem, and I don't mean on a competency level. Teachers associations refuse to act like real unions and advocate for themselves. If they were to advocate for themselves, they would inherently be advocating for their students. 

     Let's look at this in a real world situation. A mandate comes from above, either from the federal or state government. The mandate is uninformed, onerous, and takes too much time away from teacher/student interactions. The lawmakers tie the mandate to funding, even if the mandate is unfunded (NCLB is an example). The local administrators automatically say their school has to do it, and convinces the local school board that it is a necessity (the administrator wants to look good so they can get a high level government appointment later on). The teachers look at the mandate, and voice concerns about it. The administration ignores the teachers' concerns and pushes forward, until a few months later when a new mandate comes down the pike and the process repeats. Mandate 2 is 180 degrees from mandate 1 and all the work (time, money, human capital) that went into mandate 1 goes out the window for the next best thing, mandate 2. Shortly afterwards, mandate 2 is given the boot and mandate 3 takes over, which looks a lot like mandate 1 but is all new because mandate 1 was thrown out. 

     In this process, the professionals (teacher) who know what's going on are ignored and they don't do anything to stop it. The school boards are clueless because they just blindly follow what the administrators are telling them to do. The administrators know the mandates are not okay but they do it anyway because they don't want to go against the grain, it could hurt their appointment chances later on. Meanwhile, the students (who are the most important part of a school) are falling behind, getting dumber because the people who supposed to be teaching them are stressing out over a new mandate rather than spending time with them, nurturing relationships that lead to learning and growth.

     How do we stop this slide? It's simple. One of the aforementioned groups needs to say no. The administrators should say no and they shouldn't participate in mandates that take away teacher/student interactions. School boards should be made up of people qualified to be on a school board which means they possess the knowledge and understanding that the mandates are not in the best interest of the students. The teachers should form strong associations that are willing to band together and say no. 

     Let's look at what should have happened in a real world situation. A mandate came from above stating that each school could choose from one of three teacher effectiveness rating programs. Many schools chose one developed by a man named Robert Marzano. The local taxpayers paid Bobby Marzano lots of money to use his program. Bobby Marzano doesn't have the most firm grasp on the English language. Bobby Marzano misuses the term rigor, as well as many others. If anyone dug into Bobby Marzano's research methods, one would discover that Bobby Marzano doesn't have a firm grasp on the proper use of statistics. Bobby Marzano is laughing his way to the bank (I picture him wringing his hands and cackling while swimming through his vault full of gold coin, kind of like a cross between Mr. Burns and Scrooge MacDuck). 

     How could we have stopped this? First of all, the administrator should have dismissed any program that misuses terms and doesn't use statistics properly. Second, the district administrator (superintendent) hired building administrators to do the job and evaluate the teachers in their buildings. It is not necessary to send money to Bobby. If the building administrator is not qualified to give thorough support and evaluations to the teachers they supervise, then they shouldn't be building administrators. 
     Thirdly, the school board should educate themselves on the topic and inform the administrator that sending money to Bobby is not an effective use of scarce local funds and that money would be better spent on teachers, not on Bobby's vault. 
     The fourth part to this puzzle is the teachers. They should band together and say no. Bobby's program is a joke, Bobby doesn't seem to understand basic vocabulary, and Bobby's method takes too much time away from students. If teachers showed solidarity to do what's right, none of it would happen.

     I'll be interested to read any feedback I get from this. If any of you are questioning my assumptions (which is something everyone should do), please comment and let us all question your assumptions. I'm going to leave you with this.

     Everything in education now is supposed to be data driven. Over the years, many studies have been done that show, without question, that there is nothing better than music for a developing brain. What is usually the first thing cut when the educational belts need tightening? Music. 

     That's just one example. If education is supposed to be data driven, then administrators should be using data in their decision making process. This example shows that administrators don't care about the students. It shows that school boards are under-informed. If teachers really care about their students, they would band together (not meant to be a pun but it works) and insist that students have access to music in schools. 

     I've used some broad stereotypes here. I've seen these patterns first hand, but I've also met administrators who genuinely care about their students. I've met school board members who educate themselves and advocate for what's right, and I've worked with teachers who band together and go out of their way to keep music in schools and do what's right. Every one of these groups, across the board and across the country need to band together and resist this slide that's been dragging public education down.

     Also, I blame Pink Floyd. We do need education, just not the thought control bit.


Male Role Models 

     Throughout the course of my day, I kept coming back to a thought I'd had in the morning. I don't know why this was the predominant thought in my noggin today but I figured I should write something about it and see if I can't figure out why. 
     I listen to NPR a lot, mostly when i'm driving, and I really put the miles away. As of late, I've found that I can't stomach more than ten or fifteen minutes of the NPR news. There's someone in the news, over and over again, that I just don't care for. I can't understand how anyone does. I think that's where today's thoughts come from. 
    Our society is lacking positive male role models. 

     It's not just a plight of the urban youth, it's effecting everyone. We have a society where the men in public leadership roles are a disgrace (I wouldn't leave any kid alone in a room with the president-elect or Maine's governor), men are a rarity in our schools, and there's a dominant paradigm where all fathers are some version of Homer Simpson (a character I find hilarious but not someone I would want to be compared to). 

     Let's tackle these one at a time. We'll start with the "leaders". We've had eight years of outstanding leadership in the White House from a very decent man, father, and husband. Does he get much credit for it? No, many of the other male "leaders" cut him down and attempt to belittle his accomplishments. They play petty political games in an attempt to discredit him. They refuse to work together for compromise and work as a team. Our kids see this and many of them think it's okay (and I don't think it's just the kids but many of our citizens who refuse to educate themselves or to care about their fellow human beings or the planet they live on). In Maine we have a governor who thinks it's okay to call people who question his decisions and he verbally abuses them over the telephone. This isn't leadership, and it certainly isn't manly. It's petty, stupid stuff that does nothing to improve our society. It drives wedges in between people. Most importantly, it's a bad example of what it means to be a decent human being. Our kids see this, and many of them think that's what it means to be a man. We have a person who might become our president who displays no characteristics of what I would consider to be a decent human being. He doesn't care to hear security briefings, he degrades women, he's a racist, and he's surrounding himself with people who share similar values. I don't want my son to meet that guy. I'm embarrassed for the US. I think one of the biggest points of embarrassment is that we, the people, did not elect this jerk. I will never cease to remind everyone I can that someone else won the vote, by more than 2.8 million votes (the last figure I saw). One of the biggest issues I have with this loser is that he is about the worst male role model I could imagine. We don't want our kids emulating his behavior. (Funny aside, I once met one of his sons, when I was in high school and he was attending a local private school. That kid was the biggest jerk I've ever met, hands down, and I only spent about five minutes around him.)

     I've spent a long time in education, both elementary and middle/high school level. There are few positive male role models in schools. I think it's because men don't have the same level of tolerance for bullshit that women do (I commend many women for that tolerance, I don't know how they do it). My son's school has one male teacher. I know he is making a difference in my son's life and I really appreciate that. I know he is making a difference in the lives of the other kids in that school and I appreciate that as well. I'm not taking away from the contributions of the positive female role models in my son's school, I just feel that we need to think about getting more men involved with kids in positive ways. Another problem we have with schools, as with the politicians, is that it isn't the cream that rising to the top. Many of the educational leaders I've met, men and women, have no business running a Burger King, let alone a school. Ask me about some notable exceptions. Okay, actually, of the seven men I've worked with in educational leadership positions, 5.5 out of 8 were and are decent human humans who care about the kids and communities they serve. 2.5 are dipshits, with one especially coming to mind. This one is a principal of a high school who doesn't understand basic statistics, hasn't spent enough time teaching in a classroom to understand anything, and is hell bent on personal promotion at any cost, not genuinely caring about the students, the teachers, or his community. He does keep the local hair product industry in business, though. He's not the kind of role model any of us need, male or otherwise, yet he's a dime a dozen in our society.

     I'm not Homer Simpson. Neither are many of the men I know, yet it's accepted in our society for women to make comments like,"Well, I have three kids, but four if you count my husband." Not only is that disrespectful, it's degrading. Husbands and wives are supposed to be partners in raising kids and managing the home. It is not okay to belittle the contributions of 1/2 of that co-op, yet our society thinks that's okay. If I said that the little wifey should mind her business and get back in the kitchen, I would be crucified in the court of public opinion, even if I was kidding. The problem with all of this is that the kids are listening. If a little boy hears his father degrade women, he's going to think it's okay. Guess what, that goes for the mother, too. If the little boy, or girl, hears the mother making comments about the father being another child, they're going to think it's okay. It is not okay. 
     And for you fathers and husbands out there who consistently act like a child, and I mean by not contributing and being a jackass, I'm not taking about the fathers who make fart jokes while washing the dishes or giggling whilst cutting the cheese during meal preparation, you are a part of the problem. Show your kids, and other kids, that you can cook, you can clean, and you can be a decent human being. Don't allow women to make comic asides about you ineptitude as an adult. It is not okay.

     So instead of just going on and on about the crappy male role models or lack of good male role models, I am now going to talk about the positive male role models I've had and ones I've seen. First of all, no one is perfect, including myself even though you, dear readers, think I am. The men I think about might not have been perfect but they try and tried to be decent human beings, and I know I owe a debt of gratitude to them. Some of the men that showed me what it means to be a man include: my Father; both my Grandfathers; my Uncles; my Scoutmaster, as well as a many of the scout leaders and parents; my middle school band directors; my middle school wrestling coaches; Mr. Stipa, my 7th grade history teacher, who believed in the use of force; the men of our church choir; my middle school theater director; my high school chorus director; one of the assistant principles at my high school; the first aquatics director at the first Y I worked at, many college professors; both in music and geography; the head boys counselor at NEMC when I was a counselor there; the captain of the first ship I worked on; 5.5 of the male school administrators I worked with; my friend Kevin who I miss dearly. The aforementioned people tended to be people older than me, who acted as mentors. I also admire and am eternally grateful to my brother and my brothers in law, my cousins, many of my friends, included but not limited to Phil and Nick and many others, to the men that are my son's scout leaders, and my friends. I think of the executive director of a local non-profit that runs a day care. He know the names of every kid in that center. He doesn't need to but he does and I respect him for that. The kids love him, too.

     So men, grow a pair and get out there and set a good example. Be positive, be involved. Our kids need you, now more than ever.


     I only occasionally do the silly "What Character are You" surveys on the Facebook. Another one popped up on my feed the other day and I couldn't resist. It was "What Character from The Office are You?" I really enjoyed the show when it was on and I occasionally watch reruns. As I clicked on the page, I thought to myself about what character it would say I'd be.

     Would I be Jim, the star-crossed lover full of unrequited love who finally has his love requited (is requited a word?)?

     Would I be Michael Scott, the manager who everyone is embarrassed for and by on a daily basis, a man out of touch with his own awkwardness, the bumbling reason for many of the office's problems yet the one responsible for repairing most of its faults....

     Would I be Kevin, the numbers guy, the man-child with youthful insights full of the insecurity that middle school breeds and most of us grow out of....

     No, I didn't imagine being any of those characters, or Oscar, or Ryan (I'm not that dishonest or evil), nor Roy (I'm not a meathead). I'm not uber creepy like Creed, I have more self esteem than Toby....

     Ahh, I know who I'd be. Darryl. He plays the keys, sings with a silky smooth voice, plays basketball really well....wait, that last bit rules out Darryl. 

     Who does that leave. Crap, Andy Bernard. He sings, does a lovably nerdy to a point...bicycles to, wait. He drives a Prius. Couldn't be me (phew!).

     So who does that leave. Ah yes, Dwight Schrute. He knows everything, grows beets, sees hitting a goose on the way to work as a miracle, due to all the fresh goose grease...yup, this survey would find me as being Dwight Schrute. I guess I could live with that comparison, although I would have been a little better about plotting and carrying out revenge on Jim, or at least I'd like to think so.

     I didn't get any of the aforementioned characters. Who did I get? Stanley Hudson, the quiet, stoic hard worker who tells it like it is. He doesn't buy into Michael's ridiculous team building activities, he doesn't bother anyone at work, and most of the time he just wants to go have some quiet time at home. He likes soft pretzels and it is alluded to that he was a founding member of the Black Panther Party. 

     As always, I've been reflecting about this characterization. I do see many parallels between myself and Stanley. I think telling it like it is is important. Might get me in trouble occasionally, as it does Stanley, but it's honest, it's authentic, it's real. 

     I've been subjected, as we all have, lately to many political ads, debates, candidate forums. We could all use some Stanley. I would really like to hear one candidate call the other candidate a nincompoop when they say something stupid or lacking truth, or common sense. I think we could change our debates to a points based system, with candidates earning points for calling their opponents on bull, except that they'd have to use like nincompoop, nothing that wanders into foul language. If a candidate used a bad word, they'd lose all their points, yet they'd earn points for creative, folksy insults that would be acceptable language at a church picnic.

     "Well Donald, that's the biggest bit of mularkey I've heard since Uncle Bob told me I could grow a cactus in the swamp during a blizzard...."

     "Hillary, if I believed that, I go get my hockey stick so we could play volleyball with that wad of cud you just spit up..."

    No, it doesn't have to make sense, it just can't be offensive. Maybe it would make the debates more substantive, as perhaps it would makes the candidates shut up and think about the next folkism they could hurl. It couldn't make the debates less substantive.

     I'd like to implore you to think about what character you might be. Why? Then go find a silly survey on the Facebook and find out if you were right. It's got to be better and more informative than listening to all this election mularkey.

Stuff you do... 

Music isn't the only thing I do. I have a plethora of interests, so many in fact that some might say I'm distractible. I'm going to list just a few of my favorite pastimes, then rate myself on how good I am at them. I encourage you to do the same in the comments, and be honest with yourself..

     Reading: I read a lot. If you have a conversation with me, you'll realize that I retain large amounts of useless information from all the reading I do. Does that mean I'm good at reading? I'd like to think so but maybe I'm just good at regurgitating useless information.

     Sailing/Boating/SCUBA diving/aqua type stuff: Any of you who know me know that I'm a bit on the obsessive side about boating and all things water related. I have accumulated...err...collected a number of small vessels and I spend as much time on the water, in the water, and under the water as possible. I blame my upbringing. Giving a kid a marine environment to spend 6 weeks on every summer and then land-locking him for the rest of the year creates such monsters, especially when that kid is given to daydreaming and singing sea chanties. Am I good at it? I'd like to think so. I've always made it back to land, so far anyway, and no one has been seriously injured on my adventures. I still enjoy almost every minute of it, even diving in dark murky water and crawling into tight spots to fix stuff. 

     Bicycling: I love biking, especially mountain biking. The freedom of cruising along a back road with almost zero emissions, at least none from the vehicle, or flying along a single track trail in the woods just can't be beat. It gets even better when your son and your dog join you. To watch the joy of a dog running with his boy on a bike is one of the greatest things any parent can enjoy. Am I good at biking? I guess I'm okay. I don't crash often and I haven't caused property damage to anyone else's property so I'm gonna go with a yes on that one. 

     Fishing/Hunting: Yes, I fish and hunt. I occasionally catch a fish and my shotgun gets a good airing out every once in awhile. I find as I slowly get older that I tend to fish more and hunt less. My success in both categories is about the same as it's always been, except for when I was a kid. One of my cousins and I religiously fished during early morning times when we were kids. We came back with stringers full of pike and bass, fueled up with the hope that next time it would be a muskie on that stringer. I'm pretty sure I used up all my fishing karma by the time I was 11 or 12. That's okay, though. As I tell my son, there's a reason that they call is fishing and not catching. I recently took up recreational lobster fishing. I love it, and I love lobster. While I haven't caught tons of lobsters, I've caught enough and I really enjoy it. I've done recreational scallop diving in the past and I plan to do that again, soon. Scallops are good. 

     Hiking/Camping: I love hiking and camping. As with the aqua stuff and the hunting and fishing stuff, it really comes down to being outside and communing with nature. The views from the top of a mountain peak you just hiked are incredible, the feeling of waking up in a tent is unique, especially after listening to the wild animals wandering around outside you tent, and the open feeling of my soul I get from cooking outside, sleeping outside, and being outside just inspire me and center me. I think a lot about living intentionally. Can you live more intentionally than when you're living out of your backpack, carrying all your supplies, figuring out exactly what you need so that you're not carrying any more weight that what's necessary? Maybe you can and maybe I'll find out how one day but I haven't yet. 

     Fixing Stuff: I love fixing stuff. Engines, motors, bicycles, cars, boats, locked name it, I'm usually willing to tear it apart to see how it works. I'm not always great at getting stuff back together, as the 6 horsepower Evinrude in a box in my shop will attest, but it was fun getting apart. Yeah, I know I said this category was fixing stuff, not just tearing it apart. It's on my list. Get off my back....the sound of an engine firing back to life after you've fixed it is incredible. I used to have a '71 VW Bus and I learned so much about mechanics while I had that. I had to. No one else knew how to work on them. Say what you will about German engineering, as I've heard many a mechanic grumble about German cars and I also owned an '83 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel, if you take a deep breath and think of it from a different perspective, the German cars make sense. So did and old Volvo I had and every Subaru I've had (the famous Subaru horizontally opposed boxer engine is basically an old VW air cooled engine that's been water cooled and fuel injected. The water cooling allowed for heat and that, as well as some great AWD capabilities, is why Subaru took over the old hippy market from VW in colder climates, like Maine). It's not just engines and stuff I like fixing, I've also taken doors off hinges, fixed locks and windows, replaced wiring and sockets, and I actually enjoy plumbing. I've done construction and I enjoy it but not as much as just handyman fixing stuff. Am I good at any of this stuff? Depends on the project but I'd like to think that I'm pretty decent at most of, at least decent enough for a part-time, recreational fixit guy. And tools are fun, especially my angle grinder (my favorite power tool).

     Petting my dog: My dog insists that I pet him, almost all the time, so not only has it become a past time, I must be pretty good at it.

     Beer: I do like a frosty beer now and again. 

So what do you enjoy doing? Does it matter if you're good at it or not? Can you think of anything I've left off? 



     In my last post, I mentioned some of the women in my life that influence me. Places also influence artists, and the people in those places. I've lived in plenty of places, and I hope to live in plenty more. Here's an overview of some of the places that have meant a great deal to me.

     I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. When I was a kid, there were still a great deal of farms. Not anymore. Most of the farms have been plowed under to make way for shopping malls, housing developments, and large corporate offices. I spent many hours wandering through the woods, fishing in the local creek, and riding my bike wherever I could. There are more people there now, and I always feel a little claustrophobic when I visit. The food is great, though. I'm a pizza snob, as many of you know, and I don't think there are many places that can beat the pizza and cheesesteaks of the area. My college years just north of there were also great for experiencing culinary delights, like a $5 dollar pizza, Mark's Cheesesteaks, and Yuengling Lager. The PA Dutch are excellent bakers and they have set the bar against which I judge all baked goods. 

     I went to sea for a time, working on the East Coast and then in the Pacific Northwest. I've formed strong opinions about places like Hampton Roads, Virginia, Long Island, Connecticut, metro Seattle, and all the people in those places. The food was never memorable for me in those places, but the people were. I met a band called Tongue and Groove in a dive bar in Port Angeles, WA. It was a great band and I followed them the whole time I was in the area, catching their shows in Seattle. They disbanded years ago but I think their lead singer and guitarist are still touring the Northwest. 

     I worked for a company that had me spend time in the UP of Michigan, Detroit, Burns Harbor, Indiana, and a dozen other places. I've always loved the idea of the Great Lakes, and working around them solidified their legend in my mind. 

     I've spend a great deal of time on the St. Lawrence River, a place that is close to my heart and always will be. The river is a part of me and it influences me in many ways.

     Many of you know how I feel about Maine. I've lived all over the state and it is my home. While it has its quirks, all it takes is a short trip south to realize why Maine is special. I don't know whether I'll be here forever, but I'll always love sailing its waters, hiking its woods, and fishing its lakes and streams. The people here are special and they compliment the beautiful landscape. I'll never be a millionaire here but that's okay with me. Money couldn't buy the views you get here, or the people you meet.

     How has place influenced you?

Important Influences 

     A lot of artists talk about their influences, usually referencing other important artists in their genre, or other famous people who have made names for themselves on a large scale. As a Tom Petty fan, I'm well aware of the influence that Elvis Presley and the Beatles had on him, just as I'm well aware of the influence that Buddy Holly had on the Beatles and so on. Some of my influences include Tom Petty, the Beatles, and Buddy Holly as well as some less popular groups like the Kingston Trio, or people like Dave Van Ronk and Django Reinhardt. 

     Occasionally you hear an artist talk about influences that are closer to home, like family and friends. They can be good or bad influences, they can be events, they can be a collective, like a neighborhood. As a musical geographer, I like the place based influences, it interests me. 

     Today I'd like to expand on my influences. The people and place of my everyday life have shaped my world view and my music. It's nice to consider where you came from now and then. Maybe it could focus you on where you're going.

     I am lucky. I've known two great-grandmothers. I had two grandmothers who genuinely cared about me and showed it in many ways. I had a great aunt who was one of the most amazing women you could ever meet, and I have an aunt who is still a role model. What do they all have in common (other than me)? They are strong female role models. I'm lucky to have known a group of strong women. Has it influenced my life and music? Absolutely.

     We're living in some odd times. One of the things that bothers me the most is that there are a group of people trying to turn back the clock on women's rights. I think the thing that bothers me the most is that there are people letting them do it. Some of the ways that those rights are being turned back is subtle. The most annoying thing for me is the image of a woman in a nuevo country music videos. You know what I'm talking about, a scantily clad girl sitting in the the middle of a bench seat in a pick-up truck on a dirt road, fawning all over her man. Ladies, that's a degrading image. Why don't you take a turn driving? Why don't you tell that fat b^st#$d to get his own beer? Do you understand that little girls all over the world are watching that video and looking up to you? 

     I can't place all the emphasis on country music here. Any time a rapper mentions his hoes and people spend money on the song, it's reinforcing negative images of what a woman should be. 

     Why can't I write all this stuff off? Because the strong women in my life would never stand for it. I would feel their disappointment across time and space if I ever treated a woman like that or endorsed someone who does. More importantly, if my son saw me treat a woman like that, he would think it would be okay, and that would be awful. 

     When I think of strong women, I'll think of my grandmother teaching me to swim or ride my bike. I'll remember my grandmother taking us to the beach, or mini-golf, all while we all sing-a-long to Weird Al's latest album. Whenever I untangle a fishing line, occasionally mine but usually my son's, I'll remember the extreme patience and enjoyment my grandmother seemed to get from defeating a particularly large bird's nest. I'll remember the love of music that most of my family has, but especially my grandmothers. There are certain songs I play that know they both enjoyed immensely, and frequently requested. 

     Have these women influenced my music? Yes, because they've influenced my life.


Good Wednesday to you. Musicals? Yup, that's what I said. Well, wrote. People who know me might be puzzled as I'm not generally a fan of musicals. I am suddenly feeling the need to defend myself and insult a bunch of people all at once, so here goes.

I know many songs from musicals. When I was in college, I was a part of a group called Broadway Magic, the campus's Broadway revue company. Each semester we'd learn a few ensemble numbers and we'd each learn a solo number. We had themes, my favorite being the 50's musical show. I recall performing "Dentist" from Little Shop of Horrors. Some of the female ensemble members did the backing vocals and dancing. It was great. Some other solo numbers I did included "Get Me to the Church on Time" from My Fair Lady and "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" from Kiss Me Kate. Everything about Broadway Magic was rewarding for me. I remember working as hard, maybe harder, for that group than any other group. I was in a vocal jazz ensemble for awhile and while I worked hard for it, it never seemed as rewarding or as satisfying. 

So if the Broadway revue company was so much fun, why would my close acquaintances thing I dislike Broadway? It's not Broadway I dislike, it's the crappy music and writing over the past thirty or forty years that doesn't interest me. I once was hired to sing a song from Rent during Evening Gown competition of the Miss Berks County Pageant. I think there were about ten of us in the little ensemble who smiled and sang that awful song for what seemed like 4 hours. We were compensated for it so I don't really feel badly about it. It was a learning experience. Now when I hear that song, I can't help thinking of the scene in Bad Grandpa where the kid is pole dancing to Warrant's Cherry Pie in the beauty contest. Cherry Pie and Warrant make me think of my friend Steve from college who almost got hit by a car after coming out of the record store where he had excitedly purchased a used cassette tape of the Warrant album that Cherry Pie is on. He told me actually hummed that song for a long time whenever he'd cross the road, almost as a prayer of thanks for not becoming roadkill. 

So back to the topic at hand (as an aside, if any of you music teachers out there are sick and tired of hearing "Hot Cross Buns" on a recorder, "Eye of the Tiger" is the same three notes and way more fun, and you can progress to playing Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" by adding only a few more notes, great for teaching the right hand). I think most Broadway music is crap. That's all I really need to say about it. Please notice I said most. Let's dig into that.

I was a big fan of South Park. When the South Park Movie came out (Bigger, Longer, Uncut), I was at the front of the line to see it. I didn't realize at the time that it was a musical. I still think it was one of the best musicals ever composed. The story satirizes modern culture in many ways, and it is done perfectly. Cursing kids, inept guidance counselors, overreacting parents and community members, farting Canadians, and, to top it off, Satan singing about his deep down desires to live amongst the rest of us (...without evil there could be no good so it must be good to be evil sometime....). Now we all know that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were good at satire, but did you also know they are incredible composers? Trey Stone was a music major at the University of Colorado in Boulder and composed Cannibal! The Musical while studying there. 

So why am I mentioning this? Because Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two of the three people behind The Book of Mormon, another musically and satirically fantastic show. They even won Tonys for it. There isn't a bad song in it but I think my favorite is "Hasa Diga Ebowai". I find myself mumbling that phrase on a regular basis. 

Other musicals I've enjoyed lately include Wicked (yes, I know, who doesn't like Wicked...), Avenue Q, and Spamalot. Wicked is the outlier. I read the book the musical was based on and I couldn't actually recommend it to anyone. The music, though, is good. Avenue Q is just hilarious, while also satirizing many aspects of our culture and adding foul-mouthed puppets who sing. Okay, I'll admit it before anyone can say it, I like the idea of puppets with foul-mouths singing anything, but the fact that Avenue Q's music is fantastic is icing on the cake. I hope it helps us all accept what the internet is really for.

Spamalot is a musical theater interpretation of Monty Python's Holy Grail. Need I say more? 

With father's day just having happened, I feel it necessary to mention that my son loves Wicked and Spamalot. Does he enjoy the others? I think he will but he hasn't heard them yet, as many of their lyrics and themes (lyrically) are inappropriate for younger audiences. One day I hope to sing-a-long with him to the South Park music, the Book of Mormon, and Avenue Q. I can wait for that, but it will be rewarding.

So I do like musicals, but musicals that are good musically, lyrically, that have puppets that sing about what they use the internet for. There are many other musicals I like, but mostly old ones. I don't often think about parts I'd like to sing, but when I do, I'd like to be Roger from Grease, singing "Mooning", Freddy from My Fair Lady because I'd love to sing "The Street Where You Live" (unfortunately as part for tenors, and I'm a solid baritone), or Alfred Doolittle from the same. Of course, Orin Scrivello, DDS, from Little Shop of Horrors. There are others but the one that I'd almost drop anything to sing would be the Pirate King from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Yes, I know it's an operetta but close enough. In my mind, Kevin Kline defined the character, but I think it would be a massive amount of fun to play him. 

Maybe one day, but for now my fingers are itching to play my guitar and my voice is ready to sing a long.