Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Can't Breathe!

"I can't breathe!"

If you've never experienced this, then you don't know what scary is. I've experienced it a few times. Twice, due to using too many drugs, a few times due to reactive asthma, and once when I was literally choking to death. (I was clinically dead for 7 minutes, followed by a week in a coma) I've had guns in my face. I've been stabbed. I crashed a car at 120mph. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as terrifying as not being able to breathe.

Now imagine that the reason you can't breathe is because another person, another human being, is causing this. Worse still, imagine the person causing you to NOT BREATHE is someone you should be able to trust. Someone you should be able to trust to NOT kill you.

How fucking scary would that be? Think about it.

I won't go into the details. Sadly, it's all over the news...and it should be. Sadder still, it never should have happened. Justice is not being served.

Just imagine, if only for a few seconds, that you cannot breathe. You know you're about to die. Now imagine this is due to a public servant using excessive force.

This can never be allowed to ever happen again. Never.

Back To Back In Black

I'm an AC/DC fan. If you're 'of a certain age', and enjoy rock & roll music, chances are you are too. But here's the thing...as great as the Back In Black album is, I was sick of it within weeks of it's release.

Yeppers, even back in 1980, radio stations were killing music by putting certain songs into heavy rotation. Sure, these were, and still are, GREAT songs...but damn, enough was enough. It wasn't the only album available but you'd think it was. It was everywhere. I don't know many of my contemporaries who didn't have a copy...whether it be on vinyl, cassette, or (gasp!) 8-track. Many updated to a CD copy 10 years later. Why? The record is just that good.

Yes, I dig the album...but pretty much ignored it for years...because I just couldn't get away from it. Eventually, I'd hear one of the tracks on the radio and crank it up...giving it it's due. BIB is really one of those records every band wishes they could record. Song after song was just awesome. Not a runt in the bunch. But it's popularity overshadowed how excellent it was. EVERYONE was listening to it...and listened to it, seemingly nonstop, for years. It was easy to get sick of it. Too much of a good thing.

Here I am, 34 years later, listening to Back In Black, start to finish...again...and it sounds as good as the 1st time I heard it. I was 14 when it came out. I was a young, budding guitar player...prone to rehashing Hendrix and The Beatles, as well as bashing out punk riffs and the latest "new wave" hooks by The Cars or whatever band I was into that week. Sure, I learned the AC/DC riffs...it was de rigueur for us back then...but I did not want to listen to the record. If "You Shook Me" came on the radio, I either switched the station, left the room, or openly ignored it. Like I said, too much of a good thing.

That said, for a record to still sound fresh decades after it's release really says something about the quality. This is just basic, balls out, raw rock and roll. These cats aren't masterful musicians...but they know how to rock! They always have. I saw them in the late 70s as the opener for another act. They blew me away. Loud and raw...the way rock and roll is best played. They were tight! Bon Scott was a wild man. Angus Young looked demented in his school boy outfit with his Satanic-looking Gibson SG. By the time Back In Black was released, the world was ready for them. I just wasn't ready to be drowned in their music.

Their subsequent releases were good...but let's face it, nothing matched Back In Black. If they never recorded another note...they would be remembered for this one record. It wasn't their first, but it was definitely their best. I've heard lots of bands try to cover these songs...and no one does them justice. Let's face it, no one can sing/scream like Brian Johnson.

23 years after it's release, I was playing my first show in Australia. Being cursed/blessed with being a smart ass...I introduced the world to my rockabilly version of "You Shook Me" by way of introducing it as "a song by Australia's #1 rockabilly band...you might have heard of them, they're called AC/DC." This led to 8000 Aussies going nuts. I was treading on hallowed ground...and could have easily been viewed as the asshole many see me as. But it worked. The Aussies seem to share my sense of humor...and there I stood, leading 8000 ockers and ockerettes in a sing-a-long, rockabilly version of one of their nation's greatest musical exports. On my next Australian tour, I was often asked to play "the Acca Dacca song." I was even informed that a member of the Young family was in attendance at the first show, and it was shown on television. The Young brothers even enjoyed my take on it. Talk about a humbling experience! Damned live television...if there's a copy of it anywhere, I've yet to find it.

So here I am...48 years old...and reliving this monumental album. I've heard each of these songs at least 100 times over the years...but they still sound as great as that first time around. I have it playing full blast...and damn, this is what rock and roll is about. No one can do it like these cats.

AC/DC have a new album. It's being touted as "defiant" and "rebellious", etc. Hogmuffins. It's AC/DC doing what they do...playing AC/DC-style rock and roll! This comes as naturally to these cats as taking a shit. I look forward to hearing the album. I'm sure it's going to ROCK! Thankfully, I rarely listen to the radio these days, and the internet is too busy with it's flavor of the minute...so I doubt I'll be overwhelmed to the point of running from it. And that, kids, is a good thing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

You Won't Like This

You're not going to like what I have to say.

I've been trying to keep quiet about the mess in Ferguson, as well as all of the other bullshit plaguing not only our country, but our world...but there's only so much I can handle.

I'm seeing your outrage and your confusion. I'm watching the news and seeing people destroy other people's property. For what purpose? It doesn't help. I see the so-called protests and marches. Again, all that these people are doing is drawing attention to themselves and not the greater issues at hand. In short, they're in the way. They're a distraction. An angry mob is just that - an angry mob. They're allegedly full of emotion, but they've also got their arms full of stolen goods. Sorry, but that's not a cry for justice. That's just theft.

It's not necessarily race that started this mess in Ferguson. You can blame the cops all you want. If you really want to know where to lay the blame for this, and all of the other messes in the world...

Look in the mirror.

There's the culprit. Each and every one of us. We have allowed this to happen. It's the 21st century, and we're all worse off than we were 20-30 years ago. You might not think that you are...but you are. Look at the world around you. Is it really better? Sure, you might have a good job, nice home, and money in your pocket...but is that really better? Or have you just been paid off?

How does this happen? It's simple really. We allow it to happen. As a species, we've allowed ourselves to be divided. We have learned to react, when in reality we should reflect and then respond. If your response is of a violent nature, you haven't reflected long enough. If you're pointing a finger at anyone but yourself, you just don't understand the problem.

Hey, I'm just as guilty. I think I've done a lot...but it's obvious that I should be doing more. I don't mean rallying and marching in protests and that sort of thing. I mean reaching out to more people. I correspond with enough politicians that I'm amazed the CIA hasn't carted me off yet. I, just like you, allow this mess to continue...day after day.

It's time for change.

We can no longer make requests. It's time for demands. If those that we place in a position of authority cannot act professionally, positively, with empathy, intelligently, and most of all, responsibly, we need to get rid of them. They are not in charge. We are. If you don't know how to reach out and make these demands, then you're just not trying. Take responsibility. If you're reading this, you have access to the internet and a universe of information. Learn the difference between facts and bullshit. If Chicken Little tells you the sky is falling, and you believe him, you're just stupid. If you are stupid, take the responsibility to become educated and informed.

Change will take time. It will be difficult. Each and every one of us will have to make sacrifices. Maybe...just maybe, that's why we allow these things to happen. We don't want to sacrifice; especially not for the greater good. Perhaps instead of the greater good, we're happy to settle for 'good enough'.

If you're willing to settle, then you have to accept what you're given.

However, if you're not willing to settle, then do something about it. If you see a person in a position of authority acting against the greater good, demand they step down. Demand action. When the voices of these demands are loud enough to drown out the sound of the money filling the bank accounts of those in charge, we just might see some change. If they don't, then we need to do more. If need be, we force them (those in authority) out.

It's sad to think that we have allowed it to come to this. We all have. Everyone single one of us.

We need to stop listening to the lies, misinformation, and half-truths we're told to keep us divided. This is how true evil pits man against man, brother against brother, mother against child. And yet, we fall for it more than we ever have. It's brought to us by corporate sponsors and our favorite celebrities. We embrace the lies that we want to hear. We enjoy these lies because they fall in line with our own personal fears...fears learned over generations.

It is time to unlearn our stereotypes. It is time to ignore race, gender, nationality, etc. It is time to stop pointing fingers and accept our own responsibilities. Otherwise, we get what we deserve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Thanksgivus Time Again!

BACK BY OVERWHELMING POPULAR DEMAND!!!!!!  I honestly have no idea how long I've been posting this. Check at the bottom for an update.

Thanksgivus

Thanksgivus: that's what she called it. The 'she' in question would be a very short, loud, middle aged black woman with retardation who I supervised for years. Her name is Omega...fitting because she truly is THE END! 

Omega didn't exactly have a speech problem but I think her hearing wasn't 100% on the mark, as certain words would get slurred together such as "Thanksgivus". Another fave was her version of Social Security, which often sounded more like "sociable secretary" (of which I've known a few).

Thanksgivus (which is what I now prefer to call the US holiday Thanksgiving) is the last Thursday of November (this is for my overseas friends who may not be fully knowledgeable of the subject). It is the holiday where we Americans give Thanks to God for giving us BIG tasty birds, punkin pie & cranberry sauce...all courtesy of a tribe that we soon took great pains to wipe out. In short, when those Pilgrims (essentially English religious nuts) 1st landed at Plymouth Rock, they didn't have a CLUE what they were doing or what they were in for!

After that 1st winter (what do you mean "No Central Heating"???), most of the Pilgrims had died off. A few hearty ones remained (probably by eating the others...but that story seems to have vanished in the annals of history) and it was looking bleak for them, as they didn't know SQUAT about farming North American soil. Luckily, the Indians (bite me, I will NOT be PC) took pity on them, showed them what to do and the Pilgrims survived. They did sooo well, in fact, they had a big feast and invited the Indians. When the Indians showed up, they realized that white folks are either really bad at planning feasts or are just stingy, so they sent some braves to go kill a half dozen or so deer....gotta make sure ya don't leave the table unless yer ready to burst....STILL an American Thanksgivus tradition. NOWHERE on the menu was green bean casserole....PLEASE make note of that! (the Americans reading this will get the humor)

Finally, sometime in the 19th century, after decades of confusion as to what this "New England" holiday was and when it was supposed to be observed, some mad woman wrote everyone in the colonies suggesting the last Thursday in November...just in time to mark the start of Xmas shopping season!

Now, contrary to what some of my English colleagues have been lead to believe, Thanksgivus is NOT the American Xmas. Trust me, NO ONE on this planet overdoes Xmas like the Americans! Here it is, the Sunday BEFORE Thanksgivus and I'm looking out my front door at my neighbor's Xmas lights! 1 month 5 days before we celebrate the Man's b-day (even though we have the date wrong)...1 month 5 days of looking at those damned lights! Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays as much if not more than most people...but I like things to be done for the right reasons...not just to be the 1st, best or brashest.

For the holidays, I wish you all peace, happiness and a full belly. May your homes be filled with laughter (and not just the canned variety coming from your TV). May your pockets never be empty, may your fridge always be full (with at least 1 6pack of decent beer...in case I should stop by lol) and may your troubles be few & far between.

In fact, I don't just wish you these things for the holidays...I wish them for you all EVERYDAY.

I'm having a few friends over (as usual) this year for Thanksgivus. It might not be the fanciest dinner but I hope to guarantee all a good meal, a full belly and someplace to sit and digest and enjoy some good company after (and before...as long as they stay OUTTA MY WAY in the kitchen).

We will revel in the death of a turkey. We shall take delight in the taters, which will be mashed. The rolls will hopefully not be slightly burned on the bottoms...but if they are, that's what butter, gravy & butter knives are for! The veggies will be plentiful and not overcooked. The pie will be chocolate cream...NOT PUNKIN! (my tradition...not yours, OK? ) And yes Virginia...there will most likely be cranberries of some sort...JUST NO DAMNED GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE...PLEASE!

UPDATE: I hope you've enjoyed reading my little Thanksgivus blog. Reposting it every year reminds me of the many things I'm thankful for...in large part, YOU! I have even more to be thankful for this year, what with my new job/career, my weight loss, and more blessings than I can really count. I continue to be surrounded by fantastic folks like YOU. People still seem to show interest in my music and my writing. I'll be spending the holiday by myself this year...my own choice. I'm a bit overwhelmed by a few things lately, and am seriously looking forward to a day of peaceful, quiet solitude. Just me, the cat, and a turkey. Can you say leftovers? I knew you could! The young'un will be visiting with her family, and getting to see her sister (who is in from out of state). She would rather I come along with her, but she understands my desire to spend the day alone. See! I told you I'm blessed! Anyhoo, here's wishing you all a wonderful holiday here in the US, and for those of you outside the US, I hope that you too have many things in your life to be thankful for! 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Losing Weight The Metzger Way!

I'll target this to those of us 'of a certain age', but it's for anyone who seriously wants to lose weight. I've battled weight most of my life. When I was a kid, I hated food. I wouldn't eat. Mikey did not like it, nor would he eat anything. When I was about 10, I discovered junk food. THAT I liked. Every day, I would walk to the Dairy Mart and buy a quart of Mt. Dew, Doritos, a candy bar, and more often than not, a pack of Suzie Q's.

Over the next few years, I realized that I didn't hate food. I just didn't particularly care for my parents' cooking. Bless her, mom tried. She made some dishes that were awesome...but others would make me want to run. Dad, when he cooks...well, the man can make a good looking meal...he just never learned about flavor. I used to think I hated Chinese food, based on what he used to make. It just tasted like peanut oil.

My lifelong go-to food? A quadruple decker toasted peanut butter sammich. I dig carbs!

By junior high, I was the 2nd heaviest kid in our class...and didn't care. I wasn't the most social kid anyway. I never got into sports (I still think they're boring and a waste of time). I preferred reading, music, and movies. Pretty much how I still am. If I got any exercise, it was walking to the store to get snacks, riding my bike, or hiking in the woods. The rest of the time, my ever-widening ass was parked in front of the TV, or in my room listening to music or reading.

I high school, I started walking everywhere. 4 miles to school. 4 miles back. Walked to friends' houses, the mall, you name it. I also discovered amphetamines. And more Mt. Dew. And cigarettes. The weight fell off me. When I was about 15-16, I started working out and doing roofing work. In retrospect, I looked good...but my own weird brain just saw a fat kid in the mirror. I fought that image for years.

In my early 20s I moved to a small town in NE Ohio. It was pretty flat there. And boring. I stopped walking and started drinking. And drinking. And drinking. Wasn't much else to do there. Drove me nuts. But, being a young man, I still had a pretty high metabolism...but I still put on 20 pounds.

In 1990, I moved to Pittsburgh. I drank more, ate more (better food here!), did more drugs, discovered cocaine, and kept at a reasonable weight for a number of years. I was always depressed and always saw a fat guy in the mirror. I was dealing with my own body dysmorphia. No, I wasn't a victim. I just thought I was fat.

Once in my 30s, I'd given up the drugs, but was still drinking, being less active, and getting fatter. The upside to this...my self-image improved. I was pretty happy with myself. Life was good.

My health has never been good. As a kid, I was plagued with pleurisy, kidney infections, tonsillitis (I've had it 37 times to date), and any flu bug that came around, and rheumatoid arthritis. I was always sick. This stopped in my 20s and 30s. But it was replaced by my 1st bout of cancer. I kicked it's ass quickly and moved on. I ended up in a coma (a story for another time) and had some other issues to deal with. I started doing coke again and the downward slide began. More drinking, and more food, and a slower metabolism, and I got pretty damned big. I stopped using coke at 40...and a year later had a heart attack. I was 286 pounds at the time.

This scared me...as it should. I became terrified of food. I dropped 40 pounds in a month. This worried the docs. Too much, too fast. Once I realized that my every step wasn't going to cause another heart attack, I slid back into some old habits. I started drinking again, started smoking again, and really slacked on my diet. The weight was up and down. Then in 2010, another bout of cancer. Kicking it's ass again was my #1 priority...and I did it. After that, I developed a pretty much Devil-may-care attitude about life. I was drinking, smoking, NOT moving, and eating like a pig. I had a lot of stress in my life, and this was my escape.

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. This scared me. Having always been good at piecing together the pieces of equations, I saw things were all tying in together. In June, I thought I had heat stroke while painting a house. A serious dizzy spell! It made sense. Fat, out of shape guy, with a heart condition, hot day, hard work, a perfect storm for heat stroke. Funny thing was, I had a few more dizzy spells over the next month. One put in me in the ER. The doc guessed it was dehydration...but noted my blood sugar was a little high.

The following month, I saw my doc for my annual medication evaluation. She ordered blood work, as usual. Well, it came back with a higher-than-desired A1C number. Her diagnosis was diabetes. She then told me that, at best, I was borderline. But...it was enough to scare me into action.

Not many things scare me. Death sure doesn't. But, as I've often pointed out to folks, there are a lot of things worse than death. I reached out to my friends Mike and Fred; both diabetics. I got as much firsthand info from them as possible, and coupled that with the info my doc gave me, and what I found (and still find) researching the subject. A major motivator for me was a video my friend Mike posted. Due to his condition, he lost a leg, and his video shows his daily routine of putting on his prosthetic. If you're overweight and need a wake up call...WATCH THIS!!!!! (for those of you not hip to hyperlinks, click on the colored words)
If this doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will. FYI: Mike is living a happy, relatively healthy life now. I don't think he'd mind being a motivator for you.

So how have I lost all of this weight?

Simple. I cut out the crap and got my ass moving. This is challenging for me due to my heart condition. I can't just start jogging or join a gym and start lifting. Not much sense in giving myself another heart attack. All I could do was the sensible thing: eat right and get some exercise.

I started walking every day. You can do the same. Get in a brisk walk for AT LEAST 20 minutes. Better still, 30. After a week or two, bump it up to twice a day. Walk in the morning, walk in the evening. Make it part of your daily routine. You'll feel better within a few days of starting.

This does not mean 'work up an appetite'. Don't reward yourself with food. I know that sounds simple, but seriously, you know you probably do it.

Walk, ride a bike, do SOMETHING. Dance. Jump around. EVERY SINGLE DAY! You don't get a day off. If you're serious about losing weight, you can't afford a day off.

Food. There's your problem. You eat too much and you eat the wrong stuff. Grabbing "a quick snack" is a quick way to a fatter ass. Period. Need a snack? Eat a piece of fruit. Better yet, drink some water. Chances are, you're thirsty - not hungry. Years of poor dieting (the American way!) has altered your brain chemistry to the point where the body is confused by what it wants. Most processed foods are high in sodium...so we're not sure if we're hungry or thirsty. We just want SOMETHING!

What to eat? Think healthy. Fresh fruits and veggies are a good start. Learn what an actual portion size is. Seriously. Do you really need to eat the entire pizza? Do you really need to go back for seconds?

Read the labels in the store. Really read them...don't just skim. Learn what you're putting into your body. If I see any high numbers, back on the shelf it goes. I eat well, and I enjoy my food even more now. Unless you're on a restricted diet, due to diabetes, allergies, etc., you can still eat whatever you want...just learn portion sizes. You probably don't need 3 pork chops on your plate. One will probably do the trick. Load up on your veggies instead. Don't like veggies? (I don't) Find ways to prepare them that you will like! My answer to everything is garlic and hot sauce. There are millions of recipes out there...you'll find something you like! Don't fry stuff. If you add anything, like butter, that just means you can't eat as much. Know what all is going into your body.

Here's where people make mistakes...I know I have. There is no such thing as a short-term diet. These are usually worse for you than anything. The cabbage soup diet, Atkins, all that stuff...don't do it. Eat three HEALTHY meals a day. Eat appropriate portions. Don't be a pig. Eat correctly EVERY DAY. In no time, this becomes a habit. You'll feel a bit off when/if you break that habit. It's already happened to me. I've had a few days where, for whatever reason, I'm in a rush or just feel like a quick snack or whatever, and I eat wrong. I feel off. Once I'm back eating right again, I feel better.

Like to drink alcohol? I do! First off, ask your doctor IF you should. In my case, I can still have a beer or two once in a while. I could probably have one every day...but I haven't drank like that in ages anyway. I became more of a binge drinker. I work part time at a bar. I used to get paid to drink! Now, I'll have a beer when I finish my job. That's it. It even seems to taste better now! When in doubt...go for the expensive stuff. You'll be less likely to pound it then.

If you're overweight, you're setting yourself up for all sorts of potential problems. Heart disease and diabetes are at the top of the list. You don't want either. They suck. Trust me, I know. Here's a little something you probably haven't thought about: they're both EXPENSIVE. You might have insurance now, but there's no guarantee you always will. A packet of 50 testing strips for my diabetes costs about $42. Luckily, I only have to test a few times a week. Most have to test a few times a day. Do the math. Then there's the price of medications, doctor visits, transportation to and from all the fun places you get to do. It adds up quickly. It's a lot cheaper in the long run to get healthy.

To summarize: eat healthy and move your ass. You don't have to go crazy...you don't have to become a raw vegan or spend your every free moment at the gym. Just eat 3 healthy meals a day and walk a few miles a day. It pays off...and it tends to pay off quickly, if you do it right. In two months, I'm already down about two pants sizes. None of my clothes fit. I feel good. I have more energy. This isn't something you can do for a month and then go back to eating donuts and sitting on your ass watching TV for 5 hours a day. This is a lifetime regimen. Trust me, you'll thank yourself.

HEALTH UPDATE: It's come to my attention that my elevated blood sugar has been brought on by two things: poor diet/lifestyle...and one of my heart medications. This particular medication was changed late this past spring...just a few weeks before all of this started. By the time I had my A1C level tested, I was in the diabetic range. The problem...my daily blood sugar readings are only in the 80s/90s. Not very diabetic. So, the doc and I have been discussing this during my monthly visits. I might NOT be diabetic after all! It might be what they call Metabolic Syndrome...which is almost as bad, but not quite. Either way, I plan to keep up with the healthy eating and exercise. I mean really...I look good, I'm losing weight, and I feel good. Why stop now?

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Happened To The Music Scenes?

The rash of "What's Wrong With The Music Industry" articles is welling up again. I read these and just shake my head. Pretty much everyone has a theory or a story, but few can make any really sense of it.

I've been a working musician for 35 years. For the first few of those years, I played music that few wanted to hear at the time (punk, mostly). Really, that shit didn't flush in the redneck dives where I lived. There weren't enough of us around to even try to get an indie event going (you know, rent a hall and a PA system, bring in some bands, charge a cover, etc). If I was really lucky, a band I was with would get to play a house party or some skeevy underground club an hour or three away. And we wouldn't make squat. But it was fun.

I started playing in a rockabilly band when I was 16. This is when I started to see MONEY. We'd play old rockabilly stuff, throw in a lot of 50s covers, some country, some Beatles songs, and at least one slow song per set. We usually did 4 sets per night. We often played from 9pm to 2am. We earned our money. We brought our own PA system, and on occasions, our own lights.

When I was 18, my rent was $150 a month, all utilities included. I made my rent with one weekend of gigs. The rest was gravy. We played dive bars, redneck bars, animal clubs (Moose, Elks, etc.), VFW's, and places like that. We always went over well...even if they thought we looked like freaks (me especially, with lines shaved in the side of my head or a mohawk). But as long as we didn't suck too bad, played stuff the people recognized, and could dance to, we were fine. Our job was to entertain the venue's crowd.

Sure, we had a following, but they didn't come to every show. Hell, I didn't always feel safe in some of the joints we played...so I could see how some of my more freakish friends would be reticent to show up. But like I said, the venue had a regular crowd who wanted to hear live music and be entertained. Our job was to do just that. If a fight broke out (and this happened at least a few times a month), we usually just played louder and faster, or were told by the bartender to stop playing until they got the situation under control. More than once I smacked someone in the head with my bass. (NOTE: a P-bass makes the ideal weapon AND it will stay in tune)

We always got paid and we always got free drinks. That was a given back in the day. Not anymore.

Nowadays, things have changed. Venue's might have regulars, but they couldn't care less about live music. They've heard so many crappy wannabe bands, that they just can't take it anymore. The venue now expects the band to bring in the crowd. Sure, sounds good on paper...but it doesn't always work that way.

Yes, a lot of venues now have house PA and lighting systems. This helps the bands, as well as the venue. The band has less gear to haul, and it takes less time to set up and tear down...so less hassle for the regulars and the venue. The venue also can make sure the sound will be, at least, decent.

So what are the problems? Why can't anyone make any money? Simple. The venues, bands, and crowds have changed.

The Bands: Nowadays, everyone thinks they have what it takes to be a rock star. Their mom told them so! They got a trophy just for showing up, so they must be great! Right? Wrong. Most of you suck. Take the time to learn what you're doing. Just because mom & dad bought you the most expensive shit they could find doesn't make you sound any better. You don't write interesting songs. Your 3 best friends might think your latest opus is downright awesome...but if Bubba at the bar thinks it sounds like ass, you just lost your gig.

You better be able to play some requests. You don't have to know it verbatim, but it helps to be able to at least wing it. People will appreciate that you at least tried. You better be able to play all night too. Oh wow...you and your band learned 10 of your awesome songs, and you think you're ready to headline. Think some more. I remember a friend's band being caught in this situation. They had booked themselves and two other awesome bands at a decent venue. I played the venue often, always got paid well, and played from 10:30p - 1:00a. We changed our sets every time we played, to keep it fresh. But my friends...oh these poor slobs...they got caught in a bind. They had maybe 12 songs in their repertoire. The other two bands never showed. Rather than cancel, they tried doing three sets of the same 12 songs. 10 minutes into their 2nd set, the place was a ghost town. If you can't do the whole job, don't book it. Period.

There's a lot of competition...and most of them suck just as bad as you do. So, putting three mediocre bands on one bill...that should bring in a huge crowd, right? All of them have friends. If each musician gets 5 friends to show up, and an average of 4 people per band, this adds up, right? That should be at least 60 people. Guess again. Your friends might show up...or they might not. No guarantees there. If the venue doesn't have regulars, you're playing to the bartender...who really probably doesn't care. He or she is looking at empty seats and an equally empty tip jar. Regardless of how awesome you are, you probably won't be coming back.

So what if your band really IS awesome? Guess what kiddo...you've been screwed by the aforementioned "bands". They left a bad taste in people's ears. They don't want to risk it. You're going to have to raise your level of awesome to "freaking amazing". You still might not get a gig. Be sure to thank the wannabes.

If you're going to book a show, make sure of you have the following: decent gear, transportation, and more than enough songs to play at least 3 hours. Keep the music fun. No one cares how deep or introspective your music is. Not in a bar. They don't want to hear the depressing ass dirge you wrote about your friend that died. (Don't mention death onstage...it's a downer) Know how to talk to the audience. ENTERTAIN THEM! Be personable. Be amusing. Be charming. Contrary to what your girlfriend/boyfriend/online sycophants say, you are not The Screaming God Of Love. You're just another schlub on a stage in a bar, pretending to be a star. If you really were a star, you probably wouldn't be playing in a bar. Dig?

I'm a songwriter, and I play a lot of original songs. I learned long ago to mix it up. As much as people enjoy my music, they like to hear something familiar. It's the nature of the beast. Know some cover songs. Like I said, you don't have to learn it verbatim. Make it your own. If that was good enough for Elvis, The Beatles, and The Stones, it's good enough for you. Hell's bells, even the Sex Pistols did a few cover songs. Get off your wannabe high horse. Remember, your job is to entertain people. Nothing else. If you entertain them, you will make money. You just might move some of that merch!

Remember, you have a lot of competition. Some are better, some are worse. Your opinion doesn't matter. What does matter is how much money the venue makes. Years ago, I was in the house band at a local joint. Popular place too! We played every Saturday night. We got a guarantee, free booze, and were treated well. How did we get this gig? Because the owner knew that we brought in a drinking crowd. 50 of our "fans" (I loathe that word) would drink more than 150 of someone else's. We were a money maker for the venue. If you're not generating money for the venue, you won't be back.

NOTE: Be courteous to the venue staff, as well as the patrons. Work WITH the soundman. His/her job is to make you sound good, but he/she also knows the room and their gear better than you do. They are not miracle workers. Tip the bar staff. They will appreciate it and most likely remember it. This can work in your favor. If a patron says they would love to hear you play ______, make a note of it.

The Venues: First off, to all of the venues that have learned the value of a house PA and/or lighting system, THANK YOU! You have done yourself, and the musicians a great service. Now let's work on your other problem; empty seats.

You need regulars. Those are the people who are going to keep your lights on. How do you get them? A number of ways: location - be someplace they can easily get to. (Duh) Keep your prices reasonable. (Duh) Have a good atmosphere. (Duh) MAKE SURE THE DAMNED BATHROOMS ARE CLEAN & FUNCTIONING! I really can't stress this one enough. If, after 35 years in the biz, I am reticent to use your bathroom (and I survived CBGB's), you have a serious problem. It's probably a miracle that the health department hasn't shut you down yet. All of the fixtures should not only be clean, but functioning. Broken sink or toilet? Get it fixed immediately! No one wants to wait in line, so make sure that you have an ample number of facilities. The longer people have to wait to use the toilet, the less time they have to spend money on drinks. See the correlation?

Should you have live entertainment? In this day and age, the venue has a number of options. You can have a jukebox, DJ, karaoke, or live entertainment. Which is right for your venue? What do your REGULARS want? Remember, they want to be entertained. When in doubt, ASK THEM. If the answer is "I don't know" or "I don't care"...probably best to not waste time with live entertainment. These folks will show up, night after night, and drink...and you'll make money. Will you get rich? Probably not...but adding a band to the mix won't necessarily fix that either. If your regulars want live entertainment, they have to be willing to foot the bill, not the other way round. Raise your drink prices or charge a cover. Those are pretty much your options. If there is a cover charge, even your regulars have to pay it. If they don't like it...don't have bands. You want to stay in business, so you have to give the people what they want. You have to decide who is spending the most money in your place. Is it the regulars who want cheap drinks so they can get drunk or is it the crowd that wants live music? If it's the latter...what is going to keep them coming back?

To answer that, I will reference a venue that existed here for 20+ years; The Decade. The Decade wasn't the biggest place, nor was it the smallest. It wasn't the classiest either. What it did have was asses in seats, listening to music, and paying a cover charge and drinking overpriced drinks. Night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year. Why? Simple. The Decade made damned sure they had QUALITY music. You didn't get a gig there just by asking. You had to prove yourself. If Dom didn't want you, you weren't going to play there. He understood that quality brings in quality. That was his secret weapon. When "Roxanne" hit #1 on the UK charts, The Police were playing at The Decade to a small crowd during a snow storm. They were touring in a station wagon at the time. They did pretty well from there on. The next time they played Pittsburgh, it was to a packed house at the Civic Arena. The list of national and international acts that played there is mind boggling. The list of people that frequented The Decade is just as amazing. I can honestly say that I never saw a bad act there. I saw some under-attended shows...but the next time those acts were in town, they played to packed houses. Remember, this was in the pre-internet days. This was all done word of mouth. People knew The Decade would have a good band...so if they wanted to hear good music, that's where they went. If you want to run a music venue, THAT is the model you need to follow. It might cost you in the beginning, but it'll pay off in the long run. 20 years is a LONG time in the bar biz. I also have to make note of two other local establishments: Moondogs and The Electric Banana. Moondogs has long been a mainstay for the blues crowd. If you dig the blues, you've been to Moondogs. It's not in the best location, but Ronnie has been bringing in top notch acts since Day 1. He still is. The Electric Banana was best-known for it's days as the areas' "punk bar". You didn't make money there...but you got to prove yourself onstage. Johnny & Judy gave you a shot. I played there bunches of times. Johnny Banana has often said that he and Judy practically raised a lot of us. And it's true! They were supportive as can be! A lot of great folks played that stage. It was a great starting point for so many...locals, nationals, and international bands alike. Again, why? Quality. If you sucked, you weren't coming back. But...if you had that something special...even if you had a bad night, they could tell, and they had you back.

So, if you're booking music acts into your venue, what reputation have you developed? What have you done to fill YOUR seats? It takes more than a PA system and a steady string of bands. All bands have these in common: they all want a gig and they all think they're great. It's up to you to decide who is and isn't. Sometimes, you have to say NO. If a band that you've booked happens to have a large following, that should be seen as bonus, not your business plan.

OK...but what about the "major" music scene? Isn't that supposed to be ruined too? Yes and no. The old ways are done...and probably for good reason. But, Steve Albini can explain the upside better than I can, so I suggest reading THIS.

Next time: Touring: Maybe you shouldn't bother.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This one's for the Veterans! THANK YOU!

Thank you to ALL of the vets who have served our country.

We all know a vet. It might be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, the guy at the bar...you might be one yourself. To all of you, thank you.

Please don't forget the vets that you don't see every day. The ones that gave more than they had to give...for you and me. I worked in a facility that housed a large number of vets, from all branches of the military. Some were enlisted men, some were officers. The facility was a licensed personal care home. These guys, all older gents, had all lost any hope of a 'normal' life. They had seen things they couldn't forget. Some took to the bottle, some to drugs. Some of them, their minds just snapped. They were, for the most part, very humble about their service. Their bodies were spent. Their days were spent drinking coffee and bumming cigarettes. They wore cast off clothes. If you saw them on the street, you'd probably just see a bum or a psycho. The reality? These are men who served our country and gave it everything they had.

PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, addiction...those are the medals they received. Yet, if mentioned, their eyes would brighten when discussing their service. On Veterans Day, I made damned sure to thank each of them, personally. They each seemed to be genuinely happy that some remembered them.

Military service has been common in my family. I was permanently disqualified, otherwise I probably would have gone career. My father was a captain. My uncle a paratrooper. My step-grandfather stormed Normandy. My cousin is a general in the USMC. Many of my close friends served. In my younger days, I used to run around with a lot of bikers. Most of them served.

Be sure to thank them ALL today. If you see a homeless person, or a drunk, or a junkie...remember, they just might have served...and gave more than they had.