Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jesus Is For Everyone!

I hope you're all enjoying your Easter celebration...or if you don't celebrate, I hope you're having a nice day anyway.

Most of us know the story. Jesus was crucified, died, and rose from the dead 3 days later. Yep...I know...that's a big story to accept...that's why we call it "faith". But what has Jesus become in the 21st century? I was always taught that Jesus is with us always and that we're all God's children...so, I have to ask, does Jesus appear differently to different people? Hey, if the guy could change water into wine, I think he could blend in with any crowd.

This is the picture of Jesus that I'm most accustomed to. When I was a kid, our Aunt Grace had this picture in her living room. I also saw it in lots of other places. To me, this is my personally recognized image of Jesus.


If you look around...especially on the internet, you'll find LOTS of different images of Jesus Christ. In honor of the Easter celebration, I've decided to add some here. 

This one always confused me a bit. The blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus. For lack of a better phrase, I'll call this the Aryan Jesus..or if that term is offensive...the Norse Jesus. Still doesn't make sense. Jesus was from the Middle East. I doubt he had blonde hair and blue eyes. I could be wrong...

I knew a fair number of Greeks growing up...still do. When I was a kid, I never understood why they celebrated Xmas and Easter at different times than the rest of us. More confusion! Anyhoo..this is the Greek Jesus...and he doesn't look too happy! 


I saw this one a bit growing up. The Black Jesus. Probably closer to reality...but He was probably less black than Middle Eastern looking. I watched a documentary a while back where forensic scientists, using the skull of a 12 year old boy from Jesus' old neighborhood, tried to recreate what they feel a typical 12 yr old Jesus would have looked like. He looked surprisingly Jewish. I mean stereotypically Jewish! His name could've been Melvin!


I'll call this one 21st century American Jesus. He's toting a gun, hates anyone that isn't "typically American" and is staging his comeback tour....with all proceeds going to the Walton family. Nope...sorry...this doesn't jibe with the Jesus I was taught about. 

A friend collects Jesus pictures and this one is a personal fave. It's Sports Enthusiast Jesus! Dying for the world's sins is a tough job...so He's gotta stay in shape. A well-balanced diet of fishes, loaves, and wine and some healthy exercise keeps the Son of God in tip top shape!

I saw this one and just didn't know what to think. I guess this is El Jesus...the Mexican wrestler Jesus...or the comic book lover's Jesus. Hey...Jesus is for EVERYONE!

Which leads me to this. I guess it's the Manga/anime Jesus. It kinda creeps me out....but all of those anime characters do...with their big ol' bug eyes, fighting monsters, etc. I guess Jesus really IS for everyone!

I could have posted a lot more...but it's Easter Sunday and I have a ham to cook! If you're reading this, you have access to the internet, so you can look up your own Jesus. 

Lastly, I'd like to suggest a new, hip nick name for Jesus. This way, all of the Americans who feel they're being persecuted for their Christian beliefs can use this phrase without fear of reprisal. In honor of Easter, I suggest we call refer to Him as, simply, The Riz! The Riz is for everyone!




What's in a name?

I just watched a video of George Michael singing with Queen. I remember that show...it was a celebration of the life and memory of Freddie Mercury. Say what you will...George Michael did one helluva job.

There was much speculation at the time as to whether or not he would replace Freddie in the band. Well, no...he didn't. Queen have reunited a few times with different singers...but to me, it ain't Queen. If their bassist, John Deacon, was playing with them...I might say it is...but he retired. He knew that without Freddie Mercury, it just ain't Queen.

OK, sure...Brian May and Roger Taylor want to keep on playing. They're musicians. Its what they do. But really guys...don't call it "Queen". At this point, it's just 2 guys who used to be in Queen, a fill-in bassist, and some other guy singing.

Some bands do this. I've never understood why. Now before I hear about this from anyone...yes, The Blasters, my favorite band on the planet, have done many tours and a few recordings that aren't what most consider "the original line up". Well, The Blasters existed before Dave joined the band, and have continued on without him. Once in a while, they play with Dave. Most often, they don't. I saw them at one point with only two of "the original line up"...and they kicked ass. Basically, as long as Phil and John are in the band, it's The Blasters.

I did a show tonight with one of the bands I'm in, The Bessemers. The singer, James, and I have been playing together off/on for nearly a quarter century. We used to be in a pretty popular band called The Rowdy Bovines...way back in the day. When I left the band, James could have easily kept the band going. He was using that name before I joined. The difference...he and I became The Rowdy Bovines. It wasn't so much our talent as our chemistry that made that band. We used a ton of different rhythm sections. It was like a revolving door. I've often joked that any decent bassist or drummer in this city played with us at least once!

(Photo by www.miaphotos,net)
Someone was asking tonight about how long James and I have worked together. So, of course, the story went on. We played from 1990-94 together. When I left, I just needed to do something else. Four years of 3-5 gigs a week is a long time. And trust me...that sort of close company can often become irritating. James & I were well-known for our fights. We're like brothers. We love each other and can also hate each other. But really...few people work together like we do. The chemistry is still there. We push each other. We harmonize well together...almost like brothers. We're often on the same wavelength musically.

Over the years, I've sat in with James' bands at different times, and he's sat in with mine. Every time, the old magic is there. Why? Who the fucks knows. It just is. Like I said...it's chemistry. But seriously...neither of us ever considered using the name "The Rowdy Bovines" if he and I weren't in the band. We know it would be a lie to the public.

Sure, we've done a few reunions here and there...and might again one of these days. But if James isn't singing, and I'm not playing guitar...it ain't The Rowdy Bovines. It could be a much better band, but The Bovines it ain't.

So what's in a name? Recognition, for starters. We each have a name we're known by. It's one of the ways we're recognized. It could be our given name, our family name, or a nick name. It could be a stage name, even! I got stuck with the nickname "Memphis" 20 years ago...and I've just gotten used to it. It's now how many people recognize me. It's easier to pronounce, for many, than my family name.

What's the old saying? "A rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet." See...it's about recognition.

OK...it's late. I'm rambling and need to get to sleep. Just thought I'd share this....no real reason why.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Memphis Mike Challenge!

In my never-ending quest to prove the worth/value of art (painting, sculpture, music, writing, photography, etc.), I've decided to pose a challenge. It's open to anyone. However, there are a few rules.

  • You cannot spend one cent to create your art.
  • (Please describe HOW you created your art)
  • You cannot use tools/equipment you already possess.
  • You cannot borrow tools/equipment to create your art.
  • You cannot use 'found items'.
  • You can use items found in nature.
  • You will retain all rights to your creation.
Sound tricky? Think you're up to the challenge?

Here's how I'd like this to work: Create your masterpiece. Get someone to take a video of it and upload it (that's the only expense allowed), and share the link in the comments section.   I will check back from time to time and repost this on social media (my Facebook page).

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS!!!!!!!

I'm sure you're probably wondering what purpose any of this will serve. Easy! Too many artists are expected to just give their art away. If an artist chooses to do so, dandy. Just don't expect one to do it. It usually takes some monetary investment to create art...art that can be enjoyed by anyone.

Paints, brushes, and canvasses cost money. Paper, pens, and pencils cost money. Cameras cost money. Musical instruments cost money. Everyone knows this. However, many people out there expect us to give away our art. How many times have we heard the following?

"You'll get a lot of exposure..."

"Can you give me a painting/sculpture/photo/CD/poem,etc.?"

"Well, we can't pay you but....."

Allow me to leave you with these words of wisdom, passed on to me years ago by an unknown, old jazz musician: "If you don't place a value on your work, no one else will either."

I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!








Sunday, March 30, 2014

"This is why we can't have nice things!"

Oh Pittsburgh....you've done it again.

Week after week, people ask me when 'this act' or 'that act' is coming to town. Simple answer: they're not. Want to know why? Sure...I'll tell you why...

I heard from a friend today. This friend is an amazing singer/songwriter/performer...who tours for a living. Nice work if you can get it, right? Right! Well, this friend had booked a show in Pittsburgh at a nice venue (I'm not mentioning names or pointing fingers...we're all to blame). My friend heard today, from the venue, that the show was being cancelled. The reason given (I won't go into detail) was pretty stupid and showed more about how little this venue trusts it's own employees to handle things, than it says about my friend (who most likely would have packed the joint). In short, what it shows is a total lack of professionalism on the part of Pittsburgh's venues, "promoters", musicians, and event staff.

My friend and I discussed the reality that most of the acts that play around here are folks playing music as a hobby...which is fine. But, a lot of people make their living from music. Playing it, selling it, using it as a tool to generate revenue, etc. Pittsburgh, once again, shows that we 'just don't get the concept'.

I've beat this horse to death...but here we go again. If you're a musician, demand to be paid. If you don't, you're fucking over other people...people that you know or might not know...but also people that you would probably enjoy getting to hear...whether it be in person, on the radio, on the internet, on a CD, mp3, whatever. By being an idiot in regards to the business end of show biz, YOU ARE FUCKING THINGS UP FOR EVERYONE ELSE! Stop it!

If you're a so-called "promoter"...do your fucking job! PROMOTE THE SHOW! This does NOT mean conning some band into selling your tickets. That is part of YOUR job. Move those tickets you lazy piece of shit! Get off your ass and PROMOTE! Make sure there are posters in as many places as you can think of. Put ads where you think they'll work. Promote the hell out of the show via social networking and the internet. If YOU do YOUR job right, people will be lined up to see the show! That translates to MONEY IN YOUR POCKET! Quit being idiots. Once upon a time, a certain local promoter accused a band, that I was in, of "taking food out of his children's mouths" by helping him move a LOT of tickets* (we were given a percentage of the sales).  These are the types of morons that we in the music business have to contend with.

I went to a show last week. 2 music legends on the same stage. There were 50-60 people there (I did a head count). There was NO ONE taking tickets/admission. I was on the guest list but just walked right on in anyway. No one stopped me. No one asked for a ticket. Nothing. I'm not THAT well known. There should've been 3 times the number of people there. I looked online and no one even had the correct door/show times listed. Again, the only reason I knew what time to be there was because one of the artists told me! What? Did they think people were going to just wait around for an extra 3 hours spending money? Nice job promoter!

If you own/run/manage a venue...GUARANTEE your acts as good a night as possible. Make it worth everyone's time. If you can't...DON'T HAVE SHOWS. Leave it to those who WILL do the work. I know...your hands are tied. You don't have a budget. Then maybe your venue shouldn't have live music (or...here's a thought...create a MUSIC BUDGET!). Hire a fucking DJ and have karaoke...just like every other bullshit dive does. If the event staff working your shows ain't doing a professional job...show them the door! There are lots of people looking for work. LOTS! Anyone can be replaced pretty easily. Oh...that's a hassle? So is doing the work to book a show and getting screwed over.

NO MORE EXCUSES!

This is a BUSINESS. Treat it as such. Someone screws you over? Have a contract. Problem solved. A venue dicks over an artist? Sue them. An artist dicks over a venue? Sue them. Yes. It's a pain. But if EVERYONE treats this like a business, not a hobby, these problems will dwindle and go away.

The music scene in Pittsburgh is dying. I hate the thought of that. There are great people here, talented people, wonderful people. There are lots of venues that could be filled on a regular basis. Want to know why they're not? Because no one takes it seriously until its too late. "Gee, no one came to the show!" Well DUH! There are LOTS of reasons why. I've told you time and again what these reasons are. You're on your own now.

Whenever my show biz friends and colleagues ask me about playing Pittsburgh, from now on, I'll suggest they try Cleveland or Columbus instead. Until such time as Pittsburgh truly WANTS live music, I'll send it elsewhere. And if my home town doesn't want live music...that's fine too. There are lots of DJs and karaoke people to let you hear the same shit you've heard for 35+ years. Why change, right?

Get used to empty seats. You're bound to start seeing more of them.


* The excessive ticket sales, done by our band, led to a sold out show, which has translated into 20 years of sold out shows, by this particular artist, here in Pittsburgh. We got $130 and a case of Iron City. The promoter, venue(s), and artist have each reaped 10s of thousands of dollars from this. You're welcome!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You are what you....

"You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” - C.G. Jung

Pretty powerful words, if you think about them. Consider them a pragmatic approach to life.

Say you want to be a dancer. The best damned dancer of all time! But...you work on a pig farm. You work on that pig farm for 30 years. Guess what? You're a pig farmer.

In this day and age, people are often misled by bullshit promises by talk show goons, authors of pathetic self-help books, and the like. "You can do it!" "You can be whatever you want to be!" "You too can be happy!" Hogmuffins.

What all of these types often fail to mention is that it takes work. LOTS of work. Hell...not just work...DEDICATION! Is your dream, your goal something that you're willing to dedicate your life to...even if it means failure?

If you're content to just dream...be a dreamer. It's not a bad thing to be. But if you want something bad enough, don't expect someone else to make it happen. It just doesn't work that way.

Having just celebrated yet another birthday, I've spent the past week looking back at my life thus far, assessing and re-assessing, and planning for the future. I have to say, I've done pretty well...at most things.

I'm broke. I mean BROKE! But...I live in a nice home, with a beautiful woman who thinks the world of me. I have many people in my life who are genuinely glad that I'm still around. I'd say that when it comes to people and relationships...I'm successful.  I've created a lot of art. I write music almost daily. Some of it, the world gets to hear. Some, the world doesn't get to hear. I still created it. I've taken thousands of photographs. Many are beautiful. Some are not. Some I share with the world. Some I don't. They still, however, exist. I created them. I write and write often. Some of my writing, like this, I share with the world. Lots of what I write, I don't share. These works still exist. I created them. My music took me around the world. I've played to hundreds of thousands of people. They all seemed to enjoy it. I guess I can check that off as a success as well.

I spent 25 years working with folks with retardation (or whatever this week's buzz word is), autism, and assorted mental health issues. That was truly my passion. Especially when I worked in the vocational end of the field. I couldn't wait to get to work most mornings! I genuinely loved helping others find their talents, abilities, and strengths. They taught me every bit as much if not more. I don't get to do that anymore...but I did it for a long time...and I'd say I was pretty damned successful at it. I often run into former clients...and they remind me of my successes.

You can do whatever you want in life...but you have to actually DO it. Talking about it doesn't count. That's just talk. Dreaming about it doesn't count. Those are just dreams. If you want to BE it, you have to DO it. Not just when you have a chance to get around to it. If you want to DO it, you'll make the time!

So what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE MIKESMAS!

It's that time of year again kids!

Will the jolly aging fat man with the white beard and incredibly cool hat visit YOUR house this year? Better put out those donuts and beer...JUST IN CASE!!!!!!!!!!

And while you're waiting for the magic of Mikesmas...here's everyone's fave Mikemas classic...TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE MIKESMAS!

"Twas the night before Mikesmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even the cats;
The beercans were flung on the floor without care,
In hopes that a french maid soon would be there;
The cats were nestled all snug in the couch,
While each had visions of fricassied mouse;
some bimbo in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
were each taking turns giving the other the clap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen rain
Gave the lustre of Yuengling to objects near the drain,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a 94 Olds, and eight tiny cold beers,
With a little old driver, cute as a tyke,
I knew in a moment it must be Memphis Mike.
More rapid than eagles his curses they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called out crude names;
"Now listen here Fucker! now listen Y'ALL! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
To some crappy dive bar
The site of the ball!
And then I heard tinkling, up on the roof
Someone was pissing, some little goof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Memphis Mike came with a bound.
He was dressed all in black, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of beers he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a ciggie he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And drank all the beers; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his Olds, to my bimbo gave a whistle,
And away they flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
"Happy Mikesmas to all, and to all a good-night."

A Few More Thoughts On Musicians & Contracts

As you may or may not know, I'm currently in the midst of having to sue a club owner for breach of contract. Long story short, we lived up to our end of the deal. I have no idea just what he expected...but he had people in his NEW, mostly unknown venue, with more walking in the door, when he decided it was in everyone's best interests to not let us perform...or to pay us.

This is one of the many reasons why contracts are a must. If a venue refuses to sign a contract, that tells you everything you need to know about them. It screams "DON'T TRUST ME! I WILL HAPPILY SCREW YOU OVER!" I'm not saying that every venue will do this. But there are lots that will. If the venue's representative is honest, they'll work out the details with you (even if it's a door gig) and happily sign a contract. It makes things easier for everyone. If the band shows up, deluding themselves that they're going to be treated to a gourmet buffet...but only find cold pizza...the contract will state which is the expected reality. Yes...some musicians can be delusional lunatics...just as some club owners can be.

Here's an unexpected perk of using a contract: Club owners tend to be more motivated to make sure there are asses in THEIR seats at show time - if there's a guarantee of 'something' involved. Somewhere along the line, club owners got this idea that every musician has an entourage that follows them everywhere. I blame the Deadheads for this. The reality is this: while Group X may have a loyal following every time they play a certain venue, it is not a guarantee that following will drive across town to see them. There's no guarantee that any of them will even cross the street to see them. The only guarantee is that Group X is going to show up and try to put on the best damned show they can. As entertainers, our job is to entertain. It doesn't matter if there are 2 people in the joint or 2000. Our job is to try to keep them entertained...which often results in them spending more money on drinks, food, tips, etc. It's really that simple.

Musicians like to make people happy...including club owners. So guess what? We'll throw in extras...usually at our own expense. We'll provide some extra promotion, on top of whatever the venue is (allegedly) doing. Anything from word of mouth to text blasts/emails/online promotion to posters/flyers. Most musicians LOSE money doing this...but we do it anyway. Those posters that you saw for Group X playing at Venue Q? Chances are the band designed them, printed them, and distributed them. Call up a graphic designer and ask them what they would charge to design a poster. Then add in the cost of printing 100+  11x17 posters. It gets pricey. Yet...bands do this for every show...and still have to eat that cost. A smart band will factor that cost into their fee and a contract will ensure that everything is done properly. It will also ensure that the venue receives the promotional materials and displays them correctly.

Contracts take the guess work out of the equation. If you've ever hired someone to work on your house...heck, even mowing your lawn, there's, at least, a verbal contract in place.

"I, (name) agree to pay $____ to (name) for the following services:

_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________"

That's really all a contract is. The next time a club owner expects you (or anyone else) to perform for free, tell them you'll do so provided they give each band member a keg of beer or bottle of booze for free. It's the same principal. NO ONE WORKS FOR FREE! Yes, some venues will provide free or discount food or beverages. That's a professional courtesy. When I used to do roofing work, we often worked on KFC buildings. Every day, the manager would bring us up FREE buckets of chicken. He didn't have to. It wasn't in our contract. It was done out of PROFESSIONAL COURTESY.

Oh I see...you think that being a musician isn't work. Really? We do it just for fun? Well yes...in part, we do. No one would do this if they didn't love it! Sure, we get to play music. But we also have to deal with drunks, assholes, greedy club owners, we have to do physical labor (anyone who wants to lug my gear around for me is more than welcome to), we have to be business men, graphic designers, marketing execs, drivers, sound techs, lighting techs,etc. I could probably write out a 3 page job description of just what exactly a musician does, aside from simply playing music. Simply put...let me see YOU do YOUR job for what we get paid...and without a guarantee most times.

Don't be stupid. Use a contract. This benefits ALL parties involved. It takes out the guess work. It (should) motivate both parties to do their best. And guess what...some nights will be winners, some nights won't. That's just called reality. If a venue isn't attracting the customers it wants...how is that a musician's fault? We went into the music business...not the bar business. Know your job.