Late March 2017 Updates

It’s spring and the world seems to be waking up all around me.  We’ve had a couple of false starts, complete with a couple of days where the ground turned white, but it appears to be now definitely started.  Fortunately it doesn’t seem like the false starts impeded the return of the spring flowers as the neighborhood’s crocuses are in full bloom, the daffodils have started, snow drops have presented themselves and the forsythia are now doing their things as well.  It shouldn’t be too long until the redbuds bloom.  I’m hoping that the one my wife and daughter bought for me several father’s days ago will finally bloom for its first time.  We shall see as it’s a little early for it to hit its stride yet.  Musically the stride is being struck, however as things are finally moving forward with the bookings.

I have three gigs lined up in the next month or so with the blues rock band I play bass for, have two folkish guitar gigs on the books with Cedes Buck, a local singer/songwriter, an opening gig with the classic rock band, have a web site near launch ready for the trio, and have been added to an original band, The Hurtin’ Kind, as their lead guitarist.  It looks like my first gig with them will be in June.  I’ve also invested in some fingerstyle guitar music to add to my solo bag of tricks so it’s easy to say things have really started moving along.  Next week I’ve got seven rehearsals slated then a gig.  Still looking for that balance between gigs and rehearsals, which I will be attaining one way or another.

My writing has been on hiatus mostly because of the political nightmare I’ve found my country mired in.  It was occupying entirely too much of my working memory to the point where every time I sat down to write essentially the same tirade would start emerging from my keyboard and wriggling itself across the page.  So, I decided to step back from the writing and focus on music and teaching for the time being.  Sometimes when I find myself faced with this type of rutted thought process I find the best thing to do is simply stop, take several steps back, and attempt to get my perspectives under control.  I’m still really upset with what is going on, but stepping back has allowed me to start refocusing myself on the things that I need to do for my music and the other aspects of my life that need attention.

That being said, I do find that I’ve committed myself to quite a few projects, all of which require varying levels of attention.  I’m going to have to make some decisions regarding them eventually in terms of ultimately where I want to be, which definitely leans toward the original line of things.  I do like being busy as it keeps me moving and doesn’t give me time for inertia to set in, but the shotgun approach can only go on so long.  We’ll see what shakes out of the next few months and where it takes me.  I’ve been in contact with a friend in San Francisco whom I’d lost contact with some 20 odd years ago.  He’s experienced some success with the direction he’s taken, kind of a gypsy jazz/Americana mix that keeps him working steadily in San Francisco, and gigging in various other locations as well, such as New York.  Ultimately, I’d like the situation he’s built, but not necessarily in the same genre.  It’s starting to become clearer though, which is good.

So this is my version of an update on things in the world of Christopher Hopper.  The balls are all in the air, and it would appear that more are being added as the days pass.  I’m hoping that I can keep them all up there, and if any are dropped the results aren’t too damaging.  Here’s to spring!

 

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They’re Marching Everywhere!

The sun is shining today, of all days, and has been since I hauled myself out of bed. It is well past dawn and on into the mid-afternoon now, and I’ve seen hope today take form in massive protests taking place all over the country. Here in Chicago almost 250,000 people joined the Women’s March today, while numbers came in around 500,000 in Washington, DC. And those were the two largest of many across our nation, and elsewhere as well. Today’s march in DC dwarfed yesterday’s inauguration attendance, and sends a clear message that the people of this nation are not content. They are sending the orange man a clear message that they are uniting to stand up for their rights, and their way of life. They will not cower under his glares and misogynistic behavior.

I’ve been watching the images scroll in from across the country on my computer, and as they have my feelings of pride in my country have been being restored. More precisely, my feelings of pride in my fellow Americans have been as I have watched this movement gain momentum, and the numbers continued to grow. Here in Chicago the organizers had to adapt and then readapt as the people continued to arrive. They were expecting around 22,000 initially, from what I’ve seen, which quickly morphed to 50,000 and some changes in rallying points. By 10:30 this morning the numbers hit 150,000 strong, then, two hours later close to 250,000 people were marching, chanting and showing their solidarity against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on destroying years of social progress, denying people of their civil rights and turning our planet into an ecological disaster zone.

This in and of itself is such a ray of sunshine at this point. Seeing that there are so many folks out there that aren’t blind to what is at stake in our country gives me a sense of hope that somehow we just might make it through this somehow. I’m not naïve; I know that it is going to be a long haul, but these are truly significant numbers of people openly aligning themselves in pushing back against the darkness that is threatening us. It gives me hope that our country isn’t up for sale to the highest bidder, and that we’re not going to go quietly into a lockstep goose-stepping future.

I’ve seen so many photos shared by my friends of the marches in their areas across the country. Smiling faces as they held their signs with their friends at the staging areas and along the march routes, hand made signs that some had obviously spent some time creating. These were people DOING something about the situation we are faces, people who care about the direction of our nation, and its policies both at home and abroad. Women from all walks of life, many there with their families, came together and made a massive statement for everyone in the world to see. Smiling faces filled with determination to do the right thing and stand for justice and all that is good here.

I’m thankful to all of them. And I’m thankful for the folks who, while they might not march, contribute to the cause in their own ways, whether it is writing letters to their representatives, volunteering in their communities or whatever they can do to help move this forward and keep hope alive in this country, particularly hope that we can continue to move forward as a diverse country, filled with a rich cultural heritage that welcomes difference while guaranteeing equality for all. I don’t want to see that wealth squandered by despots, nor do I want the principles that this country was founded upon to be lost. There is too much at stake for us to let that happen.

I’m hoping that this is a sign of things to come and that the American people will continue to stand up against corruption. We should be that shining light of freedom, equality and justice that we have dreamed to be and so many have come here to find. We are capable of so much good, so much more than the incoming administration represents. We have the ability, the strength, and the knowledge. Now, with the advent of these marches, I’m also seeing that we have the motivation to take the steps to make ourselves heard and to keep driving forward, not set the clocks back fifty or sixty years to the halcyon days of the straight white male. We are ALL Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious creed, gender or orientation, and every single one of us will be heard. After all, in this country the government is SUPPOSED TO WORK FOR US.

Sharing A Stage: Opening for The Tubes

Last night Speed of Sound, a classic rock cover band I play bass in, opened for The Tubes at Tailgater’s in Bolingbrook, Illinois. I spoke to three of the band members, guitarist Roger Steen, bassist Rick Anderson and keyboardist David Medd. All three were approachable and had no problems conversing with a local semi-pro who just happened to be in the opening act. Anderson quietly offered me the use of the bass rig that was rented for the band with two stipulations: that I didn’t play too loud or blow it up before he got to play. I had to smile at that. It was a huge Ampeg head on top of an Ampeg 8X10, which Anderson stated was basically, overkill for the venue; a 4X10 would have been fine. I thanked him, but opted to run with my much smaller rig set up on the other side of the stage where I could hear the band better.

The gear that The Tubes contracted filled a good portion of the large stage, and as openers we set up our gear in front of their backline after they were done with their sound check. It was quite evident that they had no interest in a loud presence through the monitors and desired a very comfortable stage volume. They’ve been doing this for about forty years or so, thus they are quite familiar with what they want and need versus the “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” perspective that many aging rockers tend to adhere to. That being said, the front of house sound was huge, clean and clear.

It was clear that Tailgater’s had set up for the event as a concert style production with high dollar tables filling the area that normally would be a dance floor in front of the stage. One of the band members noted that ticket sales were down, but he still maintained a cheerful and professional demeanor despite this. The sound check took a while, and it took the sound team a bit of time to get the keyboards into the stage mix at a level that the band was happy with. At the start the keys were washing everyone out except the drummer, and it took about ten minutes to nail that issue down, including switching out a monitor. Once they cleared we set up and ran our sound check. I have such a small footprint that I can set up in about two minutes, so I sat in place and looked out at the venue wondering how many tables were going to be filled.

People were starting to file in while we did our sound check. The doors opened at seven. We finished our prep by about 7:40 and then settled in to wait for our 8:30 hit time. People started filling the place up close to eight while I was trying to find a quiet place to sit down and breathe without anyone talking to me. My A-fib had kicked in shortly after arriving at the venue, putting me in a bit of a cold sweat, sucking my oxygen levels down, and sapping energy away, so I requested a stool just in case I needed it on stage. During sound check I was having difficulty getting enough air to push into my higher register for the vocal backups, while seated so all I could do was hope that the A-fib would pass by the time we hit. I talked to our front man after the check and gave him a heads up to which he replied, “oh no, I was hoping you’d cover some for me since I’m still kind of sick.” All I could give him was I’d do what I could. So there I was twenty minutes before the show, sitting on the stage steps doing deep breathing exercises to try to bring everything into sync.

We hit right at 8:30 to a fairly full house. The more expensive seats in front of the stage weren’t full, but the rest of the place was packed in. We were only supposed to go from 8:30 to 9:30 and that’s what we did, running through our set and roping in the crowd. It’s really nice to play to a good crowd. When you’re playing well, and they like what you’re doing it creates a mutual energy feed. Despite there not being a dance floor, we had people up and grooving to the tunes, dancing in the areas the wait-staff had roped off and solid applause after every song. A guy could really get used to this!

The breathing exercises helped get my ticker back in line, so I managed to hit the high notes when and where I was supposed to and I provided fill in support for our front man when he needed it. It felt good, while I was up there, or better stated, I felt good. I was surprised at the volume we were producing, though. We’re essentially a power trio plus a front man. So our instrumentation is guitar, bass and drums at this point. We’re looking into adding a keyboard player in the future, but our core is pretty basic. Despite this we have no difficulty providing a wall of sound, especially when we’re fully mic’ed up and pumping through an excellent club system. We definitely warmed up the crowd for The Tubes’ performance! All in all it turned into a pretty solid good night. I’m looking forward to many more in the future.

Welcome to our Dystopian Future

Today the Electoral College casts its votes and seals the fate of my nation. Given that Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes and somehow is not the next President of the United States, I can’t help but believe that the entire concept of democracy in this country is a farce. I am not optimistic that the Electoral College will instate Clinton, in fact I sincerely doubt it, and that leaves me feeling a sense of loss not only for the future of my nation and the many people who need help here, but also for the fate of the planet as Trump has no intention of doing anything to halt global warming or the other ominous and now dooming ecological disasters. I have been watching as Trump has appointed people who know nothing about the positions they’re being appointed to, their only qualifications being that they were somewhat loyal to him, are already extremely wealthy, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the people of the United States, The Constitution of the United States, and the United States’ relationship with any other country aside from Russia which helped seal this man’s election to the highest office in the country.

The ethos of the country I served in the military during the 80s is doomed and our Constitution is no longer being defended by our leadership who has sworn to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The election was a farce, and the results have been overtly influenced by a foreign power leaving us with a friend of Russia in power who has no concept of diplomacy and is already bringing us toward possible war with China despite not even being in office yet. I, along with millions of other Americans actively served to stand in defense of the United States and Europe itself against the threat of Russian aggression, and now we have an individual entering office who has benefitted from those very same people we stood against. Yes, the CCCP is gone, however Putin was a ranking officer in the KGB and along with many of his former officers is now running Russia and attempting to expand its borders. His people interfered with our election and what has been done about it?

I have been trying to find hope in this dark tunnel that we are passing through, but every day something happens that simply makes the situation worse. Once again I am left wondering how the people who voted for the man heard something different in his speeches that led them to believe that he had their interests at heart. I listened to hate filled vitriol spill from his mouth, and lie after lie after lie, each one more blatant than the next. I read of his statement that he could shoot a man in Times Square and still win people’s votes and have concluded that this was the one truth he spoke during the entire election. I tried to watch some of his speeches but they all seemed like some bizarre amalgamation of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the people just fell in line. It seemed like he’d read Hitler’s playbook, applied it here, and the people screamed for their messiah. The one hope that I held, tenuous as it was, was that the Electoral College would somehow stop this nightmare that no one else was stopping.

Our cabinet is being filled with crooks, liars, and people who have no understanding of the positions they are filling. Our intelligence community is being openly disparaged by the man taking office, as he does to anyone who dares to disagree with him or can bring solid facts to the table that he doesn’t want to accept. He has created a hostile environment through his twitter account alone, and refuses to separate from his business interests despite abundant conflicts of interest. He wants his daughter to have the first lady’s office in the White House. Why? She’s not part of the government; she’s a businesswoman. Why does she have access? What about his business debts to other countries? Do you really think he’s not going to try to reap in financial benefits from his position? If you think he should, you’re kissing this country goodbye. His only loyalty is to his wallet.

I am living in a waking nightmare, struggling to find hope for the future and am being confounded at every turn. I thought that we were better than this, but perhaps that was just hubris on my part. I thought that the United States stood for freedom and equality for all, and that democracy was good. I wanted to believe that my country had a collective conscience that valued people for who they are, that helped those who were in need and wanted to make the world a better place for everyone and everything that relies on it for sustenance. Now, instead, I find myself fearing the utter dissolution of the fabric that binds us together and the impending destruction of our eco system. I am wondering what our children will inherit from this period, and I am mourning already for those who will suffer. Welcome to the new dystopian world that we have made.

And Now, Today’s Musings on Self, Music, Writing and Employment

My dog, George, wants my attention. When he discovers that I’m occupied, he makes an old man groan and goes over to the window to look out over the back yard, his personal domain. There has been a trio of opossums out back this morning, resulting in George having to stay in as opposed to roaming around out there. I know it frustrates him, but I’d rather not have to try to either pry a dead opossum away from him, which would result in me bleeding, or have to take him to the vet because he’s been chewed on by the opossum.   Either way doesn’t seem positive so George is staying inside today. He’ll get his afternoon walk, but he’s not going out back until I’ve seen evidence of their departure.

Classes have ended for the semester at the community college where I’ve been teaching. I decided that this was my last semester teaching there. There’s no opportunity for advancement and I’m tired of teaching essentially the same three classes over and over again, which has been the case for the past six years that I’ve taught there. I have occasionally had the opportunity to teach a creative writing or literature course when the full time faculty can’t, but it doesn’t happen often and between that and the abysmal pay check I find it time to move on.

I’m a creative type through and through, which when combined with my personality, tendency toward ADD and various other things, leads to needing to have a certain element of change in my life from day to day. I don’t thrive in situations that are repetitious, such as the one noted above, and when they are I feel like I’m stagnating which quickly leads to losing interest in the project, work, or whatever it is I’m engaged in. This is one of the reasons why I work best as a musician when I’m dealing with multiple projects simultaneously; it builds variety into the workplace and I’m able to shift focus in a way where I don’t lose interest.

I’m also a bit odd when it comes to my creative expression. This is closely tied to my tendencies toward being both an introvert and, to an extent, an extrovert. I seem to function at my best musically when I’m working on projects with other musicians, particularly from a performance perspective, and I creatively feed off the interplay between the musicians in producing the resulting performance. However, when it comes to writing, my other means of creative expression, it’s something that I need to do alone, preferably in a quiet environment with few opportunities for distraction. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be involved in sharing with a community of writers or workshopping what I’ve written in order to get feedback, because I love that aspect of being a writer. What it does mean, however, is that when I am actually writing, I need that alone time otherwise I can’t get it done.

My blogs are a direct outgrowth of both of my interests, writing and music, and a way to work together the two aspects of my creative life in a way that makes sense. I’ve tried various ways to combine both of my major interests together. Originally I thought about songwriting as a means to do so, but found that while I am, upon occasion, good at writing poetry, that is not the case when it comes to writing song lyrics, so the blog seems to be one area where I can combine both interests well. When it comes down to it, in both areas what has really always excited me most is working with ideas, hammering them into shape and presenting them to the outside world. This has manifested itself in various types of writing, performing in different genres of music, and finding myself teaching both music and writing in one way or another.

So here I am once again down at the crossroads, not to make the proverbial deal, but rather to try to decide which fork in the road to take. I have come to the conclusion that while it might not be the most environmentally friendly route, I’m taking neither fork. What I need to do is not take the road most or less traveled, to borrow from Robert Frost, but instead make my own road and move on from there; so that’s what I’m doing and where this rambling monologue is going, a commitment to the creative life and acceptance of what goes along with it. There will be more on this and my usual topics in future blogs. Right now it’s time to start building, but first, a few minutes for George.

Changing of the Guard: Abandoning Business As Usual and Embracing Change

Change is pretty much a constant requirement for progress. If we don’t embrace change we will never grow and sometimes part of the process is recognizing when a particular avenue isn’t taking us where we want to go. After that moment of recognition we can either persist on taking that road, or we realize that changes must be made in order to end up where we want to be. Sometimes the changes require sacrifices to be made in order to move forward because without making them we will remain in the same place, stagnating until we either quit altogether because we’ve lapsed into a hopeless sense of malaise, or make the sacrifice we knew we should have years ago and kick ourselves repeatedly for not acting earlier.

I’ve been doubling between guitar and bass for close to 20 years now, and most of the years I’ve been doing so I’ve actually given the bulk of my performances as a bass player with bands in various musical genres and locales. As a bass player I’m basically an excellent sideman and have always found homes in other peoples’ projects. I’ve tried to maintain a private practice of solo guitar work, but what was paying always took precedence. Whenever the projects ended where I was working as a bassist, I was always back to ground zero with essentially no carry over, or linear progress linking with my actual primary instrument, guitar, and I would jump right back into the cover band pool with another job as a bass player.

I enjoy working with other folks musically, but have very little desire to lead a combo, particularly as a bassist. My interests with the guitar lean heavily toward solo work, primarily finger style or classically oriented material. I also find that the majority of the time, I spend my practice time at home working with the guitar and have little interest in pulling out the bass to work through passages. If there is a new tune with a band I’m working with, I’ll use my guitar to figure out the bass part and since I usually play without a pick anyway the only jump between the two is the longer scaled neck. I’m not interested in learning new techniques on the bass, nor am I interested in working out solo pieces on it, which can be a beautiful thing; I’d rather do that on the guitar and further build my abilities there.

When taking all of this into consideration, and adding in the fact that I’m not getting any younger, I have come to the conclusion that realistically I’ve taken the bass as far as I want to and I don’t foresee that perspective changing in the future. I’m also not content with continuing with the business as usual model because it is not satisfying my needs to progress as a creative musician. This, along with a substantial desire to do my own thing, has led me to make the decision to cease doubling and to place my entire musical focus on the instrument that led me to music to begin with, the guitar.

I love the bass, and have always found it frustrating that people, mostly other than bass players, place limitations upon the instrument that are essentially either arbitrary or based upon a prevailing train of thought. My problem is not the instrument, but my facility with it as opposed to my abilities on the guitar. I am a much better guitarist than bassist and always have been.

So now, a little over a week from turning 53, I am entering the next stage of my musical development with a specific focus, working with my strengths and aiming at maximizing my potential as a musician. This will require building finger style repertoire, writing material, recording my own CDs, and booking shows, as well as networking with other musicians and circulating through some open mics to fine tune things. It will also require that I actively take charge of my business and not rely on other folks’ projects to provide bookings, marketing and all of the other things that go into the business side of music. Some of this I haven’t dealt with much since I’ve spent so much time essentially working for other people, but this is who I am professionally, a musician, a guitarist and a writer. I’m taking full ownership and responsibility for my career and how I choose to pursue it.

So yes, I’m saying goodbye to my bass and will be offloading my bass equipment to offset other startup costs, whatever they may be, as well as to reduce the potential for distractions from my goals. There is much work to be done, time to be managed, and many goals to be set then met, but hopefully I’ve still got another 25 to 30 active years left in me to accomplish what I want to do. Here’s to the next step on my journey!

I’m Back!

Here we are and it is mid-September with my first blog post in over a month. Many things have occurred since I last posted running a gamut of experiences, both positive and some not so positive. One of the not so positive things is how far behind the power curve I am on my blog posting, which I must rectify!

Currently I’m in the middle of a period of major changes. The band I’ve been performing with for the past several years just lost its front man due to conflicting goals and various other issues. This has resulted in several gig cancellations and a current search for a replacement, as well as a switch in direction and renaming of the group. All of this takes time, and other factors, such as life changes for some of the members coinciding with this regrouping are also impacting the rapidity of the band’s recovery, but this is one of the challenges of life.

The upside of the band situation is that we still have all the necessary parts to make a band and we can get by vocally for the time being, but none of us have really spent significant time fronting a band vocally. This, of course, provides the opportunity for personal growth for everyone, which is always welcome but does increase the learning curve. We’re also exploring new music for the repertoire, which is a welcome change since some of the material we’ve been performing has been in the stable for quite awhile. My personal view of the situation is that we’ve been handed a huge opportunity to make the band even better than it was, but there is a sense of loss being experienced simultaneously because we were very good at what we were doing.

School has started once again and with that has come my return to teaching college English courses, both writing and literature this semester. My workload is up this time because I’m teaching a lit course I haven’t taught before, which requires quite a bit of reading. Thankfully, I enjoy both reading and the material, Contemporary African American Literature, so I don’t mind the additional prep time. It keeps my brain engaged and provides for a good deal of fun in the classroom discussing ideas and storylines. Good stuff! My kid is also slaving away in her classroom, so she needs to be shuttled back and forth to sixth grade. She’s spending a good hour and a half on homework every night along with her dance classes and other after school projects.

My health saga continues, but at least I finally now know that my heart situation probably won’t be terminating me any time in the near future. They’re still trying to figure out why I have polyrhythms going rather than simply 4/4, but I’m not worrying about whether or not I’ll be around tomorrow anymore which is a relief. I have started a new diet, which eliminates wheat, almost all sugars, and various other things from my meal plan. It is designed to stabilize insulin uptake and drop weight while establishing a very healthy eating practice. I’m also supposed to eliminate milk products, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, etc. I’m still having my coffee, yogurt and honey but trying to adhere to everything else as much as I can, as well as taking the recommended supplements and omega-3s. I’ve just started the 2nd week of the process and already have noticed that my clarity of thought and general feelings of well-being increasing, so it has been worth it so far. We’ll see after another couple weeks without the pizza food group.

The classical guitar quartet rehearsals continue and it’s another season of participation with the Chicago Community Classical Guitar Ensemble as well, so things are starting to pick up again musically. Hopefully this will lead to an increase in the number of blog posts I’m churning out, as well as a surge in bookings as well as more to prime the blog writing pump. I guess my month on essay writing in July created a need for a break! Here’s to the Fall of 2015 and more news to come!