Category Archives: Life… Plain and Not So Simple

A Recipe For Life – Part 4 (For Anthony Bourdain And Anyone Hungry)

Travel shows are a mixed blessing. On one hand, they show us parts of the world we may never get to see in person, experiences we may never get to have, which is a bit sad. But there is also a positive spin, in that there are places we simply cannot get to, and these shows literally open up the world to us. Clearly it would be better to see and experience something in person, but to be able to have the experience at all, on a TV or computer screen, is something that can still bring us a bit closer together. These experiences are definitely worth having.

On the other hand, they also show us places that we may not have known about, but now have a very real desire and chance to get to. Travel shows can open up a literal world of possibilities.

Cooking shows have the same power to get our chef brains going, challenging us to replicate recipes and try new things. There is often a thrill and excitement. Many techniques and tips I use today come from watching those shows. Learning is power.

And yet, according to Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown was neither a cooking show nor a travel show. There are elements of those shows, of course, but I would agree. It was, more importantly,  an exploration of cultures… a study of people, places and times… history lessons… life lessons. It was a show about the world, for the world.

It gave many of us a wish list, a bucket list, and for a lucky few, a check list and potential travel guide. It gave all of us, hopefully, a desire to talk to other people… to go outside of our comfort zone and explore this huge and yet small, beautiful, miraculous and amazing world.

There was a new episode of Parts Unknown on Sunday. How is that possible? I mean, I know how that’s possible… but how is that possible???

This is for all of us who need soothing… who need a guide, a reminder. It is not enough to stop and smell the roses. We must really see them, smell them, gently caress them, taste them, and by all means, hear them even when it seems they may be silent. They are never silent.

Let the roses see the life in our faces, the light in our eyes. Let them smell us just as we are smelling them.

Plant a garden
Watch it grow
Learn the things
You do not know

Love the music that you make
No matter how out of tune
Love the limbs that you shake
As you howl at the moon

Sing as if no one is listening
Dance as if you don’t care
But what is in your heart
That music you must share

Take a chance
Make a bet
Say that I love you
Every chance you get

With that said… here is my recipe for life.

A RECIPE FOR LIFE
Ingredients:
Seeds or a Seedling
Soil
Water
Patience

Books, Cookbooks
Curiosity
Memories
A Pen and Some Paper

A Pan or Pot
A Quest For Knowledge
A Knife and Fork or Your Bare Hands
Passion

An Open Mind
An Open Bowl

Directions:
Plant a GARDEN from the seeds… or a seedling. Read a book if you don’t know how. Learn. Always yearn to learn.

Dig your hands into the soil. Move it through your fingers. Really feel it… hold it… Understand its potential. Get dirt under your fingernails. When you’re done, wash your hands with a garden hose.

Cover up the herbs, veggies or fruit seeds… and wait. Patience and nurturing will serve you well.

Grow anything that will give you pleasure.Nurture the garden with water and food. Talk to the plants. Realize the miracle that plants and trees are. From seeds come wood… food… sustenance…
From trees come literal life… the oxygen we breathe.
If you don’t have a yard, get a planter box or pot…
Even just one plant will make you smile.Go to a FARMERS MARKET.
Walk from booth to booth… aisle to aisle.
Look and smell and taste, and talk… talk.
It is beyond just a market… a place to shop. It is a chance to make new friends, to connect with other human beings.

To know where you food comes from is to understand it.
To know who grows it and makes it is to understand and appreciate another.

Find the very best ingredients you can. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy. Sometimes simplicity is deeper and far more complex and soulful. If you find the perfect lemon, everything that comes from it will be just as elegant, just as perfect.

And if you find the perfect lemon, what else do you need?

Cook with what you plant and what you grow.
Food can be holy. Food is passed down from generation to generation. Remember your Grandmother in the kitchen, toiling over her Honey Cake. Remembers the sights and smells, remember how every one of your senses was alive and present.

Write down FAMILY RECIPES, keep them bound and saved, and share them… Keep those memories alive. 

Sit down for a FAMILY DINNER… talk and talk… and talk. Food brings us together. Food is holy. The dinner table is your Church or Synagogue. Be thankful for what is on your table and who is around it.

Recognize this before you eat. Take a moment… close your eyes… say a prayer or just be grateful…

Food is sustenance and keeps us alive, but many go without. Food is beyond just fuel and energy. Food is a miracle. See the daily miracles in your life… eat and drink and travel, but most importantly, connect with others… be a human being… start a conversation… be curious about other people and what makes them tick… who they are.

Walk a mile in their shoes, spend an hour at their table… eat what they eat, see what they see, hear what they hear… and share. Life and love must be shared.

Here’s to Anthony Bourdain… and to all of us… to breaking bread and mending fences…

This is my recipe for life. So mangiare, cheers and L’Chaim!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant a garden

Watch it grow

Learn the things

You do not know

 

Love the music you make, no matter how out of tune

Love the limbs that you shake, as you howl at the moon

Sing and dance as if you don’t care

But what’s in your heart, you always must share

 

Say that I love you, every chance that you get

 

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A Recipe For Life – Part 3 (For Anthony Bourdain)

As a follow-up thought on my post yesterday… We say, and I said “life is ours for the taking.” But clearly this has a dangerous, double entendre, which I tried to address with some poetry and by turning the idea around. Here are some more thoughts on that…

Let us say that “Life is ours for the making!”
Grab it, seize it, embrace it, hold it, hold on to it, milk it, live it, love it, be it.
Don’t take life. Don’t take a life, don’t take your life, don’t take your life for granted.
Make your life. Use it to live and love and experience and learn.
Learn from every place and every person and every experience.

This is what Anthony Bourdain did. Let us follow in that path.

Ben Zoma would say: “Who is wise? One who learns from every man.”
(Pirkei Avos 4:1)

Things used to roll of my shoulders. I was the guy who probably bugged people because I was always so positive. Nothing seemed to bother me… I was easily able to roll with the punches. Now those same shoulders are weighted down, hunched over with aches and pains, stress and tensions. The longer we live, the more that we see… the more good, the more bad.

I never knew what depression was. Now I get it. I understand what it means to pull the sheets over your head and not want to get up out of bed.  The simple joys of warm water blanketing your body in the shower become a liquid wall to hide behind… to keep you from starting your day. Shower doors become prison gates of our own making. The longer we linger in the soothing morning sea, the less time we have to spend in reality… in the world.

This is not every day for me… It’s still rare, thankfully. But the fact that I have more than one day like this is a very different thing for me. I don’t recall lever having any. Granted, that was mostly in youth, but still…

I understand the switch that can be turned on and off. Though it takes so much effort sometimes. The incredible energy it takes to be social, and the sheer exhaustion we feel when we get home, alone, having faked our way through humor and entertainment… all performed as the mind wonders who sees through my charade, who understands my pain. We fall into bed, breathless and mentally empty, yet contemplating so many questions… and yet we get up the next morning, either with a brighter outlook or in a panic. Breathe… breathe…

We grab onto platitudes and expressions… meditations and chants… analogies, anything to put our brains back on the path of happiness. Self help, self empowerment. We turn to meditation and religion, rabbis and pastors, friends and family… if we’re lucky. Others turn to drugs and booze, sex and escape. We try to hide, but at some point we’ll slip… let it out… and if it has been suppressed for too long, it can come out in a violent flush and rush of emotion and anger.

The Oxygen Mask
It’s been said a lot… so maybe it’s a cliché. Though with all clichés, there is a deep truth behind their meaning and creation. It is why they exist in repeated perpetuity.

So here is this one… In order to help and save others, you MUST put your oxygen mask on first. This may be seem counterintuitive for a parent, whose desire would be to protect their children first and foremost… But if you pass out, what good can you do? In practicality, it makes perfect sense… protect yourself so you can help others. But the lesson goes deeper.

In order to truly love another, you MUST love yourself first. If you have no love for yourself, what love do you truly have to give? Giving yourself to another means giving YOURSELF to another. There has to be a self. Selfless means SELF LESS… We do not want to be selfish… but we have to have a SELF…

In order to give to another, there must be something to give… there must be a YOU, as fully formed and complete as possible. Do not look to others to fix you and fill you, for that is not what love is.

Why?
Human beings have a desperate need to answer “why?” It is what keeps us going, though I suppose not getting the answer might very well be what plunges us into the depths of despair.

For a fighter, what happens when the fight takes flight? When courage evades us?

While the outside sees suicide as a selfish release, sometimes those in the dark see it as a selfless act… releasing others from the troubles and burdens they believe they would cause them.

Being a caregiver is not easy, but giving care is what makes us human. Let us each decide what we can and cannot do. We should not be ashamed to ask for help when we need it. And for those in need of care, there are those who want to give it. Let them try to help you. The key is to try… to try to find the answers and solutions together… To talk and plan and connect.

Do not bury your burdens, but cast them outwards. You will find support. It’s out there.

Life Is…
Life is a restaurant, a collaboration, a rotating Lazy Susan that stops in front of all of us at least once, allowing us to take from the communal plate, to lead and to share, and to then keep the circle moving to the next person. On and on and on.Sometimes we cook, sometimes we prep and sometimes we wash the dishes. What Anthony Bourdain taught us is that food is the great equalizer… and while more Michelin stars may shine on the elegant and complex and sophisticated, far more stars of the night sky shine on a food stall in a far off land… a night market…

Ingredients and technique may be different, but the passion to please is the same.

Life is a picnic. A blanket spread across soft grass, filled with homemade goodies and friends and lovers. A colorful square set on uneven sand. These are the meals we’ll remember. A PB&J becomes the meal of a lifetime in the right place, with the right people.

An avocado sliced and sprinkled with salt and lime juice can be as soul satisfying as a foie gras foam sauce from a master chef, practiced in the art of molecular gastronomy. The same with biting into a crisp, Fuji apple. There is a time and place for everything.

We are deeply connected to the foods and flavors we grew up with. They define us, as they define our palates. They stay with us forever, calling to us when we need comfort, always bringing us home. A sub or slice from Turvino’s. A dog “All The Way” and a fries with sauce from Johnny & Hanges.  The Kosher Nosh Deli, The Suburban DinerMy Mom’s Onion Soup, my Grandma Mildred’s beyond heavenly Honey Cake, my Nana Rosalie’s Apricot Jello Mold.

And yet for the insatiable, we travel and explore to expand that palate… to open up our own horizons and experiences. To live life and understand the world, one plate at a time.

The things we hated as a child become our obsessions as an adult. Heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, truffles. An organic, heirloom tomato, imperfect in appearance, thickly sliced and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper… a pinch of truffle salt… and a gentle passing over of extra virgin olive oil. It becomes perfect. What is better than that?

There is a place and time for a fancy meal. A special occasion, a celebration, or just because. Those experiences can be glorious, memory creating, indelible. I still dream of the Lamb in Mint Cilantro Sauce from Ian’s in Cambria (Apparently adapted from Wolfgang Puck and found in his cookbook!) Meals in France finished with a bowl of homemade caramels in their lounge, the Seafood Tower at Le Dome in Paris, and going back to try to steal some of their dishes (literally) as the watchful staff knew exactly what was what the first time… Or asking the chef to come out of the kitchen at The Wine Cask in Santa Barbara.

But food on the run, and something seemingly so simple, can also hit us in a mystical and magical way. Seeking out the best of something does not mean spending a fortune on it. Nature provides perfection all the time. We just need to know what to look for. It can be found in a plant, an herb, a fruit, a vegetable.

It takes openness… an opening of the mind and the tastebuds… fully and without hesitation, breathing in the aroma, the flavors… inhaling life.

The other night I allowed pieces of Maytag Blue Cheese to gently melt on my tongue. The sweet and savory moved into my nostrils and set off every one of my senses. And then literally, warmed my chest and my heart.

A lemon can be holy, as can be a bowl of noodles. Jonathan Gold once called the broth of one particular restaurant’s bowl of ramen soulful… SOULFUL!

Sometimes the more simple, the more pure something can be. Its solo voice can be heard above the chorus… its singular flavor can be savored. Something basic can be more expressive than anything else… An analogy for people, humans as well.

The notion of loving everyone is so simplistic… yet so complicated, and almost impossible to accomplish. But the dream and the goal must remain. It must propel us forward.

Simply put… Food is love… Food is holy. Those who make food… truly make food, understand this. Yes, you may be tired after a long day of work, and the meal you make may consist of warming up leftovers, or just throwing something together, but you do it to sustain your family… you do it for love.

So what is the Recipe For Life?

Come back tomorrow, for the final, Part 4… and My Recipe For Life…

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A Recipe For Life – Part 2 (For Anthony Bourdain And Anyone Hungry For Happiness)

How does one create a life, cook up happiness, bake bliss… serve joy?

With a pinch of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle and a flourish, I long to be an adventurer, a storyteller, a healer with food, a doctor with drink, a truth seeker, and a Shaman of Ramen. To always be curious, and never too full. To always listen with open ears and heart. And to always make sure my own soul and the souls of those around me are served with sustenance, love and laughter.

As I was writing parts of this, Parts Unknownwas playing on a TV in the other room. Anthony’s voice is so specific, so unique, so full of life. It is hard… no impossible to imagine he is gone. And yet clearly he had parts unknown to us, the TV audience… but perhaps even unknown to friends and family.

TV gives us false hope. Any creative art does this, I suppose. How can Anthony Bourdain be dead, if he is on my TV??? Same with Tom Pettyor PrinceRobin Williams. Their memories are forever captured on film, tape or vinyl. They are not gone, how can they be gone?

As I ponder the impact of a man I had never met and how he has affected me, and so many others, my brain is flooded with a million thoughts and ingredients. He was a familiar stranger, and each week made me ask… How do we put together the meal of life? How do we use all we have, strive to discover new elements and techniques and stay true to ourselves, and who we are?

I look at what I have in my own pantry, my own life, and try to figure out how to make the most interesting meal possible. I try to determine how to feed the most people, including myself. I realize that I am both limited and limitless.

Food is practical and necessary, yet visionary and elevated. If we stop and ponder all the steps it takes. Pause before inhaling and express gratitude… then food becomes truly holy… majestic… magical.  Any food, from the simple to the sublime, becomes something rich.

A seed goes into the ground, and becomes wood and fruit… paper and pleasure.

How many hands go into a glass of wine, a sauce of tomatoes, or yes, even a filet? Think about the farmer, the workers, the drivers, the loaders and shippers. Take a moment. Say grace, say a prayer or just pause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Bourdain was part Escoffier, part Hemingway. He had the rebel and musical soul of punk rocker Sid Vicious, the musical heart of a traveling bluesman… the mind of a chef, the curiosity of a historian and anthropologist. He was a truth seeker. He wrote with words, painted with sauces and spoke with his heart. He broke bread with people all over the world, and yet he was broken.

In what must have been one dark moment, an entire life was stopped with a soft, plush belt. Hanging, it seems, must be one of the most brutal ways to go. Do you simply give in and relax into dying? Or do you have second thoughts, moments of regret, where the very struggle to survive and reverse your bad decision leads more quickly to your demise?

We all want to be a rock star. In the simplest, most glamorous way. We want the flash, but not the fury. The fire, but not the flood.

Jersey… a Jewish mother… that is where the similarities stop.

It was hard not to envy the journey and adventure. On the outside, it seemed like the greatest job ever… getting paid to travel and eat, to indulge curiosity and explore a deep quest for knowledge… to satiate your belly with the most unique foods, and quench your thirst with spirit and spirits… and of course, to share all of these experiences with others… to meet fellow travelers and connect with other souls.

If food cannot sustain you, how hungry must you be?
If spirits cannot fill your glass, how empty must you be?
If people cannot keep you connected, how painful must it be?
If a light cannot break through the darkness, how dark must it be?

As we all struggle to try to understand how a man seemingly so in love with life… so passionate about humanity and the meals that bring people together… so hungry for connection… and the ability and sensitivity to be a master storyteller… and a cultural anthropologist. How that man who shined a light on so many nooks and crannies of the world, could also be lost in the darkness… in the blackened maze of his own thoughts… and so easily vanish into the corners of his mind…

If all that was not enough… If the love of a woman, and the adoration of a child was not enough to anchor a soul in place, one cannot help but be scared for their own safety… their own ability to keep fighting. Anthony Bourdain was a literal fighter, from battling the demons of heroin to the discipline of Jiu-Jitsu… If a fighter can knock himself out, give up on the fight… then what of our own mortality and the power of self-worth and happiness?

“Fortune and fame’s such a curious game.
Perfect strangers can call you by name.
Pay good money to hear “Fire And Rain”
Again and again and again.”
     – James Taylor

But as James continues… “That’s why I’m here.”

Clearly success means nothing if we do not believe ourselves to be truly successful. Love from another means little, if we do not truly love ourselves. Words of praise are like daggers and sharpened kitchen knives that cut our skin when we do not feel we are worthy.

We cover the wounds with gloves or tattoos, and bleed underneath, showing the world only the colorful, glossy surface.

Life is beautiful, but it is not easy.
Life is messy and always changing.
Life is simple and yet so complex.
Life is about balance and rearranging.

Life is quiet and loud.
Life is joyous and heartbreaking.
Life is how we define it, yet imposed on us.
Life is ours for the taking.

But do not take it… do not take it.
Do not take it for granted and do not take it.

Live life to the fullest…
Do not break it… do not break it.

 

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A Recipe For Life (Part 1) – For Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was a rock star. He made music with food, songs with words and created and conducted concerts over a table. His albums will continue to play on bookshelves and TV screens, but like so many stars before him, he fell from the sky, pulled himself to the ground, and left us mere mortals alone, shattered and broken, left to pick up the star dust.

Part 1
I did not know Anthony Bourdain other than the way millions of people knew Anthony Bourdain.

Sadly, I had never gotten a chance to meet him. And the one memento I have, which is a personalized and signed copy of No Reservations, my friend Ty got for me.

Why then am I so deeply affected by his passing?

While I love to cook and actually work as an assistant chef sometimes, I never pursued it professionally. I did not work my way up through kitchens as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter or line cook.  While I am a writer, I have yet to finish a novel and seem to be in a creative rut, with several scripts and books started yet sitting in limbo. While I am an actor, I never really went the TV host or broadcast journalism route. And yet to have a career covering all of those things would seemingly be a dream come true. To get paid to travel the world, eat and drink and meet fellow human beings seems like perfection… and yet, it wasn’t.

When John Belushi, my idol at the time, passed, essentially at his own hand, I remember being so angry, hurt and upset and completely unable to understand how someone who had everything I could have wanted in life could throw it away on drugs and fast living. He essentially killed himself with all of that. And yet, that was not enough to push me to fully pursue Belushi’s career path of Second City and SNL. I dipped my toes into those waters but never fully swam in that comic ocean. One of the biggest regrets in my life, but that is a whole other story.

When Robin Williamskilled himself I was devastated on a different level. It took a voice out of this world that was and is so needed, given all the craziness and anger and harsh feelings that surround us. Strangely I did not blame him, especially learning later that he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease (LBD) and dementia. He must have been afraid of the pain and afraid of being a burden. But nonetheless, it gives little credit to those left behind who “would move heaven and earth” and do whatever was necessary to care for a loved one. Being a caregiver is never easy, but it is something deeply human, and something many of us would gladly take on.

The very circle of life has us taken care of by our parents… fed, nursed, clothed, protected… only to have to turn around later in life and possibly do those very same things for our parents.

With artists there is a fear of becoming irrelevant… fading away into oblivion… and so many feel it is better to burn out in a fiery explosion…a dramatic gesture…a final act. For others, it is perhaps not believing their own press… not believing the adulation heaped on them by a hungry public… feeling, therefore, like a fraud. This seems to be the case for Anthony Bourdain in that all the love and respect he had was not enough. The love of a girlfriend and a daughter and friends was not enough. The success and battles won were not enough.

Life will give each and every one of us darkness at some point. It is the very nature of existence… the circle of a day… Sunrise, dusk, sunset. How we deal with misfortune and pain is what makes us human… what defines us. Yet for some, that external darkness enters us, literally, and once there it is so much harder to overcome.

We mask it with a smile, a laugh… we try to cover the wound with alcohol and drugs… sex and escape.

There is no escape. We are with ourselves and our thoughts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as many years as we live on this earth. We can be in a crowded room, and even actively involved in conversations with others, and the thoughts of our brain are chattering away… silently on the outside, shouting in the inside… thinking of the other things we have to be doing or the places we’d rather be, or making judgments on others… and on ourselves. We are not worthy. This person is so much better than me, and on and on.

With Bourdain, I will never forget the shock of hearing the news. I woke up, as I have done a lot lately, way before my alarm goes off. And I, by almost second nature now, begin the day by turning on the news and placing a pillow over my eyes as a way of creating a dark space. Sometimes I fall back asleep. Sometimes I just linger in that place in between. I suppose it is a way of avoiding starting the day. While I want to be informed and know what is going on, it has become a terrible way to start the day… So the TV becomes white noise that I only partially pay attention to.

It is a companion, another voice in an otherwise empty room… empty bed. That voice might otherwise be another person. But when it is not, we turn to the TV or radio or music to fill the space that would normally be filled by someone else. It is important to remember that being alone is not the same as being lonely. Keeping track of when that shifts is important.

When they announced that he was dead, I jolted up and threw the pillow off my forehead. And for the next several days I would be confused and emotional and sad and angry. The thing about Anthony Bourdain I suppose, that hurt me the most, was that he was the very combination of things that are very near and dear to me. Things that I SORT OF am… but so many things I wish I fully was… a chef, a traveller, an on-screen personality, a writer, and not just about food, but about culture and human beings. He was a truth seeker, a thrill seeker, he was eternally curious… All things that normally would keep a person locked onto this earth, this planet… and yet somehow the pain and darkness and depression took over all of that. Clearly there were parts unknown to us… strangers in front of TV screens, yes… but also, apparently to friends and family.

So where do we find hope? Come back tomorrow… we’ll talk through this together… but if you need help now…REACH OUT!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-8255

 

 

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Guitar Jack Wargo’s Keepin’ It Real Keeps It Kool

There is just something soothing about the Blues. Whenever it comes on or I put it on, I go to a different place. My love started back in Chicago when I was a young student at Northwestern. My limited, classic rock sensibilities opened up dramatically thanks to some friends and Frat brothers at Sigma Nu. We’d hit places like Kingston Mines, Rosa’s Lounge, Blue Chicago, B.L.U.E.S., and The Checkerboard Lounge and my personal favorite Biddy Mulligan’s (both may they RIP.) Then I started playing Blues harp (harmonica) and forget it… I was so hooked on the Blues and would follow the legends around town and go see them whenever I could.

Back in 2014, an article in Time Out Chicago said this: “Biddy Mulligan’s was a seedy rock club on the northern reaches of Sheridan Road, just south of the cemetery that keeps leafy Evanston at bay. The club opened and closed a comical number of times, at one point re-opening for a whopping four months before shuttering again. Much like the oft-promised renaissance of Howard Street, a new, revitalized Biddy’s was always just around the corner. But Biddy’s did have an admirable history in the’70s/’80s—Koko Taylor played there many times, and Smashing Pumpkins rocked it in 1989.”

When I first moved to LA, I feel in deep with 88.1 KLON (now KJazz) and their “Nothin’ But The Blues” radio show. 

In recent years I have had the pleasure of seeing Guitar Jack Wargo play live all over LA. In fact, I have even gotten the chance to jam with him… always laughing when I accidentally step on his lead and have him look over at me and say “I got this.”

To put Jack in full perspective, let’s just say he has played with a few minor artists you MAY have heard of… Solomon Burke, Thelma Houston, Billy Preston, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson to name a few!

And then there’s this:

“There is huge talent in this man that is yet to be fully expressed. With his credentials and his chops, this is a guitar player on the verge of international acclaim.” – Gary ‘The Wagman’ Wagner, award-winning DJ at KKJZ 88.1 FM Nothin’ But The Blues

“Guitar Jack is silky smooth and Clapton-esque.” – Music Connection

His latest album, Keepin’ It Real is 12 tracks of pure funky, rockin’ blues joy.

It opens with “You Don’t Feel The Same,” which has such a true classic blues feel… and that guitar… Man! This may be my favorite song on the record! I could so easily see kids playing some of these licks over and over to try to learn to play!

“Keep On Keepin’ On” makes me want to jump in the car, roll down the windows… don’t have a top to put down… and just drive. Lots of Stevie Wonder funk going on, on this one!

“Inventory Blues” is a track we should all take stock of. We all have good and bad in our lives… but to make sure we appreciate what we do have is so important and way too easy to forget. Let the music remind us!

“Nobody But You” sounds pretty autobiographical… the pros and cons of being a musician in the public spotlight… and it’s always fun when you know EXACTLY who someone is singing about!

 “She’s Got Soul” is the perfect late night tune for a night of bluesy romance.

For me, the test of a great blues record is how quickly I want to run and grab my harps and play along. I’m ready, Jack!

Jack Wargo is a master craftsman and knows exactly how to build a true house of blues! And if you ever get the chance to see him live, that’s a must. Plus, he’s a really decent human being and a good guy. That goes a long way in this crazy world. Music soothes our weary souls, but sometimes those same souls need to be rocked a bit, too. This record does it all.

 

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Polonsky The Polymath Poet – A New Record (Fresh Flesh), A New Post And Our First Contest

Update: This did not post yesterday. Welcome to the pros and cons of modern technology.

On January 19, 2018 Jonny Polonsky releases Fresh Flesh. It is his eighth solo project, which includes 1996’s Hi My Name Is Jonny (LOVE that record), 2004’s The Power Of Sound and Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love from 2012.

When he is not making his own brilliant music, he has recorded or toured with a few minor artists you may have heard of, like Puscifer, Tom Morello, Pete Torn, Dixie Chicks, Donovan and the relatively unknown Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. What makes this list even more remarkable is the sheer range and variety of musical genres Jonny moves so easily in and out of. This speaks to his amazing talents as a multi-instrumentalist, as well as a songwriter.

I know that times were different back then, but the sheer balls and story behind Jonny’s career is a lesson for any aspiring musician.

He was born in Chicago and grew up in Wilmette, and began “recording and self-releasing homemade cassettes as a teenager, under the name The Amazing Jonny Polonsky.”

According to Wikipedia, Jonny used 411 and “was able to reach and befriend musical heroes of his such as guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), Zander Schloss (Joe Strummer, Circle Jerks), Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, Tin Machine), and Pixies singer Frank Black/Black Francis.”

This led to John Zorn, who invited Jonny to play CBGB’s New Jewish Music Festival in 1992. The incredible and sadly missed Jeff Buckley was at that show and said this of Polonsky: “He came to CBGB’s Gallery and ripped it up… He killed ’em… The charm of it is that he’s brought it into his own thing. It’s a nice miniature. He does it with soul; you can tell the difference between someone who just slips into The Beatles or something and someone like him.”

High praise indeed!

“Jonny Polonsky is a true original—his music should be celebrated everywhere.” Mark Lanegan
Mark is a true Grunge pioneer with the band Screaming Trees and has played and recorded with Queens Of The Stone Age for 14 years after his first band surprisingly broke up in 2000.

Maynard James Keenan of Progressive Metal powerhouse Tool says: “Jonny has pure artist compassion running through his blood.” (MG Note: MJK also makes some phenomenal wine under his label Caduceus Cellars. Seriously!)

Okay, okay… who cares about those guys?! I know you really want to hear what I have to say. Ha.

So here it is… I really cannot tell you how much I love this record. Oh wait, actually I can.

From the opening “The Orbit Of Love” (a blistering rock love song) to the closing notes of “I Want You So Badly,” (both highlight tracks for me) this one just grabbed me. And I have listened to it probably 15 times in the last few weeks.

“Don’t turn away from what you know
Burn away and we’ll set fire to our names
Don’t pull away from the orbit of love
Come away and live inside of my eyes.”

“Is It So Wrong For Me To Be So In Love With Myself And Everything I See?” launches into a retro guitar riff that Lenny Kravitz would love, and makes me want to grab a lighter, bounce my head from side to side, and sway arm in arm with a huge crowd. I love this song! It just kicks some great ass.

Influences like Joy Division, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees mixed with Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams and Frank Black, and some good old ’90s punk are heard throughout. It’s funny, but my first and initial reaction to this record was this is what would happen if Jules Shear went punk. Amazing songwriting with a varied and sharpened edge.

The players consist of Polonsky on B-3 organ, guitar and lead vocals (though he plays something like 20 instruments. Bastard!)
Jennie Batter on drums… and yes, how perfect a name for a drummer.
Katie Burden on bass and vocals.
Special Guests include:
Mark Lanegan, spoken word and lead vocals on “Solar Child.”
Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus pounds percussion on “I Can’t Get Your Face Out of My Mind.” This is the one that most reminds me of a punk Jules Shear and just pulses into your ears.

Haskins says this about the new record: “From towering arcs of rock riff blasting guitars and jubilant roof raising anthems, to vulnerable and introspective, melancholic compositions, Jonny Polonsky’s Fresh Flesh will take you on an emotional journey of carefully crafted songs from this accomplished, multi instrumentalist songsmith.”

Polonsky self-produced and the album was recorded at Shangri La Studios in Malibu, the home base for little heard of mega-producer, Rick Rubin.

Rock, pop… love, loss… sex, power and searing guitars… this atmospheric rock record has it all. And now for something not completely different, but new for Marc’s Muse… our first CONTEST!!!

Contest (Some answers are in this post. Some are not):
1) Where did Jonny grow up and who brought him to NYC?

2) Name three bands or artists who have influenced Jonny over the years.

3) How did Jonny first connect with some of his musical idols?

4) What was the name of Jonny’s 2006 band and who else was involved in the project?

Post your answers in the COMMENTS SECTION.

One winner will be chosen randomly from the correct answers received and will have a test pressing of the new record (yes, VINYL) mailed out to them.

Don’t miss the full band show on Feb. 9th at Hotel Cafe, LA’s fantastic and intimate venue. And in the meantime, also enjoy this great K-Tel commercial send up.

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Filed under Album Review, Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me

Tom Petty… A Heart And A Heartbreaker Has Broken Mine

Monday, October 2nd was a shitty day. No, it was a horrible, dark and bleak day. In the midst of trying to write and apply for jobs, I could not turn the news off. The death toll and numbers of those injured was climbing. Las Vegas had become a war zone… yet another example of the world gone mad… another example of why the greatest country on the globe, arguably, and not so clear-cut these days, needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of health insurance and logical gun laws and gun control.

Yes, we need to understand why someone would do this. This is vital as well… To see what signs were missed… or whether or not someone knew something and said nothing. We may not really know why it happened… but we know how… and we clearly know how easy it is to get a gun that no one actually needs… or 42 of them. Enough is enough is enough.

I have been to the Mandalay Bay many times… stayed there many times. I have friends who did an annual charity event there that I volunteered for on several occasions. Ironically, they also did a country music festival… Not this one, but still… “There but for the grace of G-d go I…”

And then… and then… and then…

In the midst of all this, my college buddy and oft concert partner Russ calls about Tom Petty… He was clearly shaken… It was before most news stories were out, so I immediately jumped online. No… Not today… Not now. People mock TMZ, but sadly they are usually right… and they were, once again, the first ones to report what was going on.

Just last week, Tom Petty was in town, playing three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. I was pissed at first when the first show announced was on Rosh Hashanah, I skipped Bruce’s book signing a year ago for the same reason. But then they added two more dates and all seemed right with the world. Well… no concert budget forced me to hope I would win tickets through a local station… and I checked in with my usual contacts at another station, hoping maybe an extra pair would pop up.

Russ and I had a conversation before last Monday’s show about possibly going, but he and I had seen Petty on June 11, 2013 when he did his amazing residency at the Fonda Theatre. You can read my post on that show here. That was a 1200 person venue!  I mean we were right there! We had seen him in the old Forum… when Bob Dylan came out… and in Chicago. Plus… the Bowl can be a pain in the ass… and while it is historic and amazing, it can also be a clusterfuck of 18,000 people, and a curfew that cuts set lists short.

I will regret that decision for a long time to come.  Yes, who knew. Who knew the last Eagles tour would be the last with Glenn Frey? All of my regrets and missed opportunities start to play in my head… David Bowie, Prince, Roy Orbison, Gregg Allman… shows I could have gone to…

I had met Petty, along with Howie Epstein in 1993, at The Troubadours Of Folk Festival on the campus of UCLA.  Thanks to David Wild for that amazing opportunity. I have a signed ticket stub from that show… Tom Petty, along with Roger McGuinn and Arlo Guthrie, and though they all signed over each other, Petty is pretty clear, in the black Sharpie.

Just so you know… I have stopped typing. Tears come too easily today. It is overwhelming. There is so much going on in my brain right now. So much…

Damn The Torpedoes was my first Petty record… and to this day, it is one of the few albums I would call perfection, song to song. It reminds me of a specific time and place… Glen Rock, New Jersey… 1979… But it is also timeless… It moves with me… grows with me…

That’s why music is so essential. It is why artists become such a vital part of our lives. It is why we cry when they pass. Why we feel so lost. It is why we feel at all, and feel so deeply. I know some people don’t understand the pain… the sorrow we feel, as if we lost a friend or member of out family.

I’ll never forget yelping in pain and anguish when my brother called to tell me Clarence Clemons passed away. I was out to dinner with my parents and had to literally walk away from the table and out onto the street. At first they were horrified, thinking it was a real family member… then they were a bit surprised and dismayed that I would react so strongly to someone I had never met and really did not know. But I did know Clarence… just as I knew Bowie and Frey and Prince… and Petty. The only one of these I actually met was Petty… but that is NOT how I knew him.

I knew him for the music. I knew him from the common humanity and understanding we seemed to share… from the poetry, the lyrics and the notes. The chords and the chorus… the bridge and the riff. I knew him because he sung things I thought, and answered questions I wrestled with. That is art… that is music.

Petty’s music has been with me for almost 40 years.  He has been an almost constant companion since I was a teen… In high school, in college, in the car, on road trips… blasting from the house… bringing me up when I needed to learn, or relearn to fly… reminding me to listen to my heart… be patient because the waiting was the hardest part… and wondering how I was going to run down a dream.

And yet today, I could barely listen to the radio. Knowing why Petty was being played was too much to bare.  A sigh… a deep breath… none of it was enough to make it stop… to halt the revealing reality. In my brain I thought maybe I could wish it away… If I stop listening and watch the news it won’t be real.

I mean the news was all over the place… He was… he wasn’t… he will be. But as naive as we would like be as adults, we cannot stop it… Time, music, the show… it all goes on.

There is that moment when you hear a chunk of songs by an artist and feel a sense of dread. It’s not Two For Tuesday… It’s not Triple Play Thursday… It’s not Roll The Dice… Oh no… What happened??? Why are they playing so many of his/her/their songs???

The idea of being found unconscious means you were alone… means no one had a chance to save you. That haunts me a bit… haunts me a lot. For his last minutes, and for any of ours.

 

As I was driving my daughter home, and tears started once again, I told her that I felt bad for her, because as good as some of the artists of her generation may be, the odds of them still being here and vital 40 years from now was a long shot. I told her how much Tom’s music meant to me… How much it got me through. How he was a part of me. And my daughter is a music person. I know she gets it.

But now, as so often happens, music that gave me nothing but joy will be tinged with sadness, heartbreak and loss. Maybe for a few moments I’ll be lost… back in that innocence… purity… peace and calm… but then I’ll want to go back in time, like I do now. Go to more shows… go to the Bowl… stop time to get him help… to make it not happen… because right now all I can think is Nooooooooo! This cannot be.

We all have soundtracks… we all have songs that accompanied a first kiss… a first love… a first heartbreak… a first dance… a birth… a wedding… a death. Music has that power… and those who make the music, seemingly make it just for us. At least that is how we feel about the great ones.

I should have gone to the show at the Bowl… obviously now… but for me the bottom line was a need to conserve funds. I was being responsible… and luckily, I had seen TP & The Heartbreakers several times. It doesn’t take away the immediate sting and pain and loss, but… we cannot dwell and live with regret… Life is too short, too unpredictable… Clearly.

But I realized when you don’t have a lot of money and you’re young, you want things. When you don’t have a lot of money and you’re a bit older, you want experiences… those shared moments in time… those special events that will stay with you for a lifetime. And you miss them deeply when they pass you by. Concerts are a big one, and it hurts when I have to miss a show. Obviously I assumed he’d be back… that this was not the end of the tour… the road… the album…

At the time, as much as I wanted to be there, I was okay with missing it. There’d be others…

In this world… in these days… in any days… that is not a sure thing. Nothing is.

So let us sit with the pain… sit with the loss… sit with the music…
In the dark… headsets on… taking the whole library and output in. It’s astounding… the solo stuff… the duets… The Heartbreakers… The Traveling Wilburys… So much. So much amazing and incredible music.

And then… slowly, let us stand… and sway… and dance… and sing… and celebrate once again. Let us be thankful for what we DID HAVE… what we DO HAVE…

But yes, let us fully realize that it will never again be “just the normal noises in here”…

 

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Filed under Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Live Music Reviews, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me, The News Blues