Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Polish Soul Music

During my recent "malaise", there were only two things I was able to accomplish (besides being drugged into oblivion and going to a therapist twice a week):

1. Read as much Shakespeare as possible

2. Try to play the piano...badly (One of the lovely side effects of lithium is that it gives you Parkinson's disease-like symptoms -- mainly, "The Shakes")

But that didn't stop me from trying. But in total insanity mode, I would wake up every morning and dig into Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, and I did that for about a year -- played nothing but that, and tried to commit it to memory, where there was no mental capability to memorize anything. All internal brain wiring was ripped out and basically I was playing with ten virtual thumbs.

As far as piano playing goes, even when I'm at my unmedicated bi-polar manic-stage, "normal" precision best, my nickname is "mittens"....so during this period, I guess you could call me "boxing gloves".

If you asked me to sit down and play it today, I couldn't. Of the countless hours spent on it (6 to 8 hours per day, for a YEAR), nothing stuck. This was a total exercise in absolute futility on all fronts.

Maybe someday I'll realize this exercise may be informing me, musically or otherwise, in future creative endeavors, but at this point, I couldn't tell you what that benefit will be exactly. I just love Beethoven; his music is "soul enriching" and I needed nourishment badly. Maybe by hatcheting through his music as meditation for a year, somewhere out there in the Universe, he knows just how much I love him.

I'm known as a "Blues/Rock and Roll/Funky New Orleans" piano stylist....so what does Beethoven have to do with that?

I have no clue. I just go where the wind blows, musically speaking. No input, No Output, but the direct effect on "output"? Anybody's guess. It's just good music.

So recently, I've been re-visiting my old pal Freddy Chopin. I have always wanted to play the twenty-four etudes

from memory, and this has been a guilty pleasure of mine for years (up until I got derailed by the works of Uncle Ludwig).

Rebuilding facility to play these things is always a drag. I learn about four of them, stop playing them for a year, and then re-learn them again -- over and over, always learning a couple more with each visitation.

But this visitation has been different. I'm actually starting to play the piss out of them. Confidence is high...and there are no wiring issues.

I guess this is normal to legitimate piano players who have been doing this their whole lives, but to me, a new experience in middle age.

The thing about Chopin is the "soul" contained within the flyspecks on the page. This is really early nineteenth century Polish "Soul Music". The feeling I get when listening to Ray Charles, Otis Redding, or Aretha (basically a pre-orgasmic tension and "chill", starting at the small of my back and creeping through and expanding through my entire body; the hairs on the back of my neck feel like they're standing on end) is the same feeling when I listen to Chopin when it's played with great artistic interpretation and commanding facility.

But now, I'm just starting to be able to do it myself, for myself...and I feel connected to the music in a visceral way...like I'm totally in his "soul"...a musical, spiritual, and physical "Vulcan Mind Meld"... the same feeling I get when I pull a solo out of my ass on the fly that even amazes...me.

I think that has always been the carrot that keeps me motivated, musically. Another expansion into the Universe, without a net. I don't always achieve that blissful state, but the few times that I do is enough to keep me plugging away.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Societal Shifts

Everybody has their own story to tell, and all of them are fascinating.

One of the self-preservation methodologies I've always employed (really the genesis of the character of "Little Georgie") is to take internal pain, and externalize it -- publicly, if possible.

In retrospect, I've actually been pretty lucky to have been able to do this; being a musician and entertainer allowed me to create a vehicle to use the stage and electronic media (like a CD) as a "Bully Pulpit" to exorcise personal demons.

Wounds heal faster if exposed to air and light. Humiliation ceases to be powerful if personal shame is discussed openly and confusion can morph into enlightenment, faster…if you have the capability to expose it openly with anyone who might be in ear or eyeshot.

"Little Georgie" was invented way before widespread usage of the Internet. Now, 17 years later, we have blogs, social networking sites, and most importantly, YouTube and vlogs, where a worldwide "Bully Pulpit" is available to anyone with a computer and a webcam.

Now, anyone can access this methodology, at anytime, and this is happening, now.....so quickly, that it's hard to notice.

But some people are noticing, and being very mindfully aware of a societal "shift". One of them is Michael Wesch.

I urge any one who reads this to check out this presentation:

The Anthropology of YouTube.

"Physician, heal Thyself". Now anyone can do it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dark Side Rolls In, Buddy

Satan comes a calling in many guises, and I have a three-way call scheduled today with Bubby, one of his minions, and myself. So what does that make me?

I'm about to sell my soul... or maybe just positioned to take advantage of a grand opportunity that happens to be knocking upon my door, but at times like these it always FEELS like selling your soul. Is it an invitation or a summons?

Perhaps it's that old "fear of success" thang....I've encountered it in others, but its hard to see it within yourself.

I do know that the times Satan has come a-calling, it was pretty clear that he didn't have a clue as to what made me tick, so it was fairly easy to tell him to fuck off.

This time, not so clear. Satan "gets it"...in total. Which makes it hard to tell him to fuck off.

Sometimes I have erroneously told Da Debbil to hit the highway. One time I got offered the lead in the touring company of "Moving On"...$5000 a week to impersonate Billy Joel. I stuck to my principles as an "artiste" and pissed on the offer -- and ended up in a cheesy New Orleans piano bar playing "Piano Man" eight times a night for drunken Tulane college students and barely invisible racists who wanted to hear "Dixie" all freaking night....for a lot less money, BTW. I coulda been a high ticket call girl, and ended up being a $20 a blowjob street walkin' Ho. Same soul-sucking work, different pay scale.

So much for principles.

I have come to the point in life where the option of "going it alone, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" is getting increasingly harder to take...

As stated before: KEEP SMILIN' MONKEY BOY.....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dichotomy

I have never been able to resolve the battle of brain hemispheres...there are creative endeavors on one side (mmm....just like crack!) and being Billy Biz (mmm....just like crack!...only with the extra added bonus of grinding tedium thrown in).

I have been waking every morning this September with the intent of exploring my new found love of writing...my creative half always gravitating to a medium that absolutely will not pay any monetary dividends. I spent the last three years playing Beethoven locked in my house on Bourbon Street as a perpetual party raged nightly outside my living room window...and somehow, I failed to notice.

Just like waking up and digging into the "Hammerklavier", recently waking up and answering the siren call of my computer keyboard and finding this outlet of creative expression has been....joyful. Possibilities have been unfolding, projects have been materializing, and my brain has been firing on all cylinders...and of course, whilst in the throes of a creative burn, I have totally ignored any real life concerns, such as:

1. How am I gonna pay the rent?

2. How am I gonna eat?

Every once in a while, my good friend and muse LB buys me a sammich, but man cannot survive on one sammich per week (or less, depending on how far into the hills I've driven her, screaming).

So for the past few days, I've been immersing myself in the "Bizness" of "Little Georgie"...which has always been interesting to me, but the sheer volume of time and creative energy involved to administer that business crowds out any
drive to sit down and write another installment of "Lake Boy", per example....and I'm in "Lake Boy Mode", so having to forcibly extricate yourself out of it to have a three hour co-ordinating meeting with marketing mavens who frankly can't do it as well as yourself.....sucks.

I have always dreamed of being in a position to delegate some of these business duties, but every time I try to do so, it results in a debacle of epic proportions (I'm not naming names, but this last attempt at "resurrecting Little Geo" was a true cluster fuck on the "Bizness" side of things....and a personal success on the creative and spiritual side).

And so I have to once again wrench the reins out of the hands of incompetents, and be the administrative captain of my ship.

So if you don't see a lot of activity in the blog, it's because I've gone to the Dark Side, Luke.

Strategical marketing plans, business plans, projections of profit, bookkeeping, internet whoring, etc....all result in tangible outcomes.

You do the work, the numbers rise and fall according to how much and how well you execute that work.

But none of those avenues of exploitation would be possible if I didn't allow my brain to freely traipse about the Universe, tra-la, tra-la, picking random daisies...and I just cannot do both simultaneously.

So the cycle begins...create/sell, create/sell. But there's a time inequity involved...it takes a whole lot more time and effort to sell than it does to create....and I can't shake the feeling that I would be a whole lot better at creating if I didn't have to fuck with spreadsheets all day.

Perhaps this situation is a by-product of my bi-polar mind...a good friend who administers the Music Business program at Syracuse University told me once, "Of all the musicians I've dealt with in my career (which was considerably long and storied, BTW), you are the only one who had a firm grasp of the business side of the equation".

A grand compliment, but the unspoken reply? "Thanks, but I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT GUY!"

So the battle rages, and both sides suffer great loss, and a considerable amount of collateral damage is unduly created in the fire fight.

"War....what's it good for? Absolutely Nuthin..."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lake Boy #2 - The Set-Up

My brother Alfie wasn’t a typical big brother. Unlike most children who may feel threatened when a newborn sibling enters the picture, he had prepared himself during my nine-month swim in my mother’s uterine pool of amniotic fluid to assume the role of mentor and teacher from the moment I saw daylight. He was going to be a big brother, and even at age four, he realized the gravity of his new responsibilities. My brother was a very serious little kid.

My first formative years were going to be played out in his own imaginary version of “Pygmalion”…. if not a Henry Higgins / Eliza Doolittle dynamic, then a real life version of “Batman”, with me functioning the ever faithful sidekick and ward Dick Grayson to his fantasy role as the master of stately Wayne manor.

I think Alfie came about his official “Big Brother Game Plan” from two different avenues. The obvious one was from my mother, as she made sure during her pregnancy to prepare him in total for the eventual advent of me. He was her sidekick, so he was pretty hip to how important mentoring was. But he also got to see the two-pronged methodology of how big brothers operated with their perspective little brothers in action, in everyday life on Gayle Road, which consisted of:

1. Trying to ditch little brothers and exclude them from every activity:

They were a drag. They couldn’t run, they couldn’t catch, they couldn’t ride bicycles, they were barely verbal, they fell down and cried a lot, and most importantly,

if they were verbal, they tattled… little brothers were viewed as a total liability.

2. If they didn’t get the hint, beat the crap out of them.

If they were going to run home and tell Mommy what kind of shenanigans you were up to, you were going to catch hell anyway. Might as well deliver a clear big brother message that tattling might not be such a good idea the next time that situation arises.

In other words, through daily, direct eyewitness experience, he had a pretty good idea of the kind of big brother he didn’t want to be… much to his credit.

So, just as Spring was sprung on a cold day in March 1960, on my maiden voyage from birth canal to Auburn Memorial Hospital, east on Route 20 and South on Route 41/East Lake Road to 12 Gayle Road, I was arriving into a pretty sweet set-up. Not only was I getting a constant protector and advocate, I was also getting an omnipresent teacher, tutor, and mentor.

Alfie realized early on that along with the basic duties of being a bodyguard, his main tasks were to get me up to speed. …the imperative being that I became an equal as quickly as possible. Both of us had a four-year gap to bridge.

Everything he did, I did… and I was required to keep up, at least intellectually, until my motor skills caught up. When he read, he read aloud to me (A random sampling from one of the 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica was always a daily favorite of his, capped off with a healthy dose of comic books). If he didn’t know a definition to a word, we would look in the dictionary together. If he was going to draw, paint or create anything, a pencil, paint brush or pair of scissors was in my hand, and he wasn’t going to let me drift or lose attention until I had a good idea of how to execute what he already knew how to do. We listened to the same records, together. We watched T.V. together. When he played “evil genius scientist”, I was “Igor”.

And if I wasn’t “getting it”, on any level, he did his damnedest to make sure I “got it”, and got it fast.

This was my own, homegrown accelerated learning program, conceptualized by my mother, but administered and executed by my big brother.

My mother made it pretty clear that she wanted a couple of little Leonardo DaVincis running around the house, and he was going to have to do some of the heavy lifting to deliver the product, not only within himself, but for me as well.

To this day, when family stories are dealt out and swapped at the Rossi family dinner table like trading cards, one of my Mother’s favorite tales of yore is a reminiscence and example of how cute I was during the time when I was barely ambulatory on two legs, possessing a rudimentary command of the King’s English when vowels and consonants were being learned:

“ You used to run around the yard yelling, ‘Essie! Essie! Where is you? It’s me… Dosie!’”

I couldn’t say “Alfie” or “Georgie” at the time, evidently. Sometimes my brother and I still affectionately refer to each other with these mangled versions of our names.

It’s a nice family story of the charm of the period of children garbling words as they try to learn how to become verbal.

But as I reach back into my brain matter to plug myself in real time into that moment, one thing is pretty clearly illustrated for me. From age zero to three, I can’t remember ever not being by his side…. and if I wasn’t, it was the exception rather than the rule.

Being separated from him was not only a randomly odd occurrence. To a toddler barely able to run without falling flat on his face, with limited communication skills… it was pretty fucking scary.



EXPLORING


When I finally reached the point where I could stay upright on my own in true bi-ped fashion, Alfie made sure that I knew the lay of the enchanted land that surrounded 12 Gayle Road, Skaneateles, NY.

First off was how to get to certain destinations accessible through the back yard, so thorough explorations of the serpentine trails cut in the tall grass and weeds of Gregory’s field were regularly scheduled events.

Gregory’ field was a large T-shaped undeveloped tract of village land adjacent to the Northern edge of the Gayle Road development that spanned all down the way from Grandma Gregory’s house on East Lake Road, and like Gayle Road, took a ninety degree turn to the South along the lake, the other side of the top of the “T” leading up to the back of what was to become Goodspeed Place. Along its lake frontage was an Adirondack style family camp, and a newer home with a permanent dock structure that Bill and Bain Gregory had recently built for their expanding family. Eventually Bill’s brother Rob would build a family home between the boathouse and the abutting edge of Lakeview Circle, on the northwest edge of the beachfront.

I’m sure that forty-five years ago, this undeveloped land with its massive lake frontage (The beach area spanned between Lake View Circle and Gayle Road) had would-be developers salivating. At this writing in 2008, I’m sure that this still undeveloped tract has would-be developers drowning in lakes of their own self-generated greed flavored drool, but that’s a story for another time.

For whatever their reasons, except for their own family’s use, the Gregory’s made sure that this land stayed unsullied by development, which suited my childhood purposes (and all children living in the developed areas surrounding it) just fine. It was our playground, our jungle veldt, and the battlefield of imaginary war games.

The first landmark in the field was directly north of our backyard, and immense unruly apple tree, the last of what probably was once an orchard one hundred years ago. Alfie would hold my hand, the surrounding grasses towering over both our heads, and lead me up the twisted trail to it’s gnarled trunk.

The tree was multi-purposed. It was a good hide-out, a perfect shaded area for a summertime snooze, and was great for climbing as it’s lower limbs were in reach with a well timed boost from your big brother. If brave enough to climb to the top, you could see the curve of the northeast shoreline, all the way to downtown.

In the spring and summer, it’s un-ripened fruit served as perfect ammunition for neighborhood apple wars; in fall, it’s harvest was bountiful…. we were never at a loss for something sweet to snack on while traipsing about. Plus it was the only thing visible to someone only three feet tall above the towering grass, so you always could find your way to it, and by doing so, your way back home.

To the west of the tree, in the crook of the left elbow of the field, was “The Grove of Trees”, a ring of towering pines so thick it blocked out the sun. There was no plant growth within it, just dirt and years of accumulated dead pine needles and cones.

It was cool, quiet, breezeless and serene. When it rained, this is where you ran for cover, if you couldn’t make it home.

Upon entering it, you felt it’s aura, and you became less little boy, and more like an ancient Druid. This is where the little boys of Gayle Road held their secret societal meetings and performed arcane little boy rituals. Many a plot against the neighborhood girls was hatched, war plans gone over, and scenes from the “Knights of The Round Table” were acted out, “sword twigs” being readily easy at hand.

This was also the place of much illicit little kid activity, usually involving stolen goods; a group investigation of a PLAYBOY magazine that a neighborhood kid filched from his father…or where ten or more boys for the first time puffed on a singular cigarette purloined from some mother’s un-suspecting purse. In the daytime, it’s where the younger kids went to play doctor, or to make the really youngest kids eat worms on a dare. At night, it’s where the older kids went to steal their first kiss, or their first sip of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine.

But I digress.

When trying to learn the topography of Gregory’s field, the most important place my big brother showed me was a little access point at the west end of the lot. There was a little rivulet that ran down the western edge, and just in the right spot, if you hopped over it and through a cedar hedge, you landed smack dab in Walser’s back yard on Lake View Circle. “Leaps of faith”, as it were.

Emerging from that darkened hedgerow was like walking through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia, or opening up your sepia colored door and discovering a Technicolor Oz; that was the gateway to the “yellow brick road”, the route that led up Lakeview Circle, down Genesee Street, and into downtown Skaneateles… and to a little kid, downtown was where all the real action was.

Almost every sunny summer day of my third year, Alfie led me by the hand on this route, drilling its landmarks into my tiny brainpan.

Although our usually destination was the magazine and comics rack at Hahn’s Pharmacy, (where we would park our butts in the aisle and read everything we could absorb, much to the chagrin of the Hahn family…but they were pretty sporting about our visitations. Ed Riddler would have thrown us out on our keysters), no trek to the business district would be complete without stops at Mr. McCauley’s Western Auto (models and bicycles), Mr. Talbot’s “Five and Dime” (better models, and a never ending supply and selection of kiddie-crack such as Lik-A-Made, Pixie Stiks, candy necklaces, and those little wax bottles with a pure “flavored” sickeningly sweet shot of liquefied sugar… the small fry’s “Red Bull” of its day), Riddler’s (“Hey! This ain’t no library! Buy it or get the hell out!”… It was always fun to inspire him to hurl gravelly blue invective whilst chomping on a soggy cigar), and my personal Valhalla, The Hitching Post, where the magic kingdom of Steiff animals awaited to be petted and loved by my grubby little three year old hands.

Before Alfie dragged me out of there, I always had every one of them named, and earmarked for eventual purchase. There was really nothing in the place that compelled him, but he was pretty patient with his younger charge… as was the proprietress, Donna Schemeck.

And of course, every Saturday was the kiddie matinee at “The Rat Palace”, (A.K.A. The Colonial Theater). The marquee featuring “traveling” light bulbs and the patriotic town crier ringing a bell in all his animated neon glory being worth the price of admission alone… “Rat Palace” was really a misnomer, the myth being that the clanging sound of the ever expanding and contracting steam pipes was actually the sounds of rats wagging their tails against the cast-iron conduits and radiators… but the thought that a real rat might actually run between your legs during the un-spooling of some grade B horror flick whilst hordes of screaming Skaneateles kids hurled what seemed to me to be never ending bursts of popcorn rain and a tri-colored hail of Good N’ Plenty, made the experience all the more thrilling.

And of course, you knew you were really doing your little kid job correctly when things got so out of hand that the projector got stopped, the house lights went up, and the ancient Dove sisters made their crew-cut coiffed brother Sam run down the aisle to the front of the theater to red-facedly yell at all of us to “shut-the-hell-up-and-behave-or-they-were shutting-the-joint-down-for-the-day!”… A well rehearsed soliloquy.

And so through what seemed to be daily repetition with brotherly guidance, I learned to navigate that yellow brick road in that summer of my third year… the only true obstacle being the bent-wood fence and imposing driveway gate of the Stella Maris Retreat House, which looked to me more like the gates of Hell than the gate to a retreat.

If a Wicked Witch of the East existed… I was pretty sure that’s where she lived.


MY FIERCE INDEPENDENCE SUDDENLY REARS ITS LITTLE HEAD


In late August of my third year, my parents (Nick and Linda) were planting bulbs around the posts of a split rail fence that they just recently had installed on the eastern border of the Rossi “manse” (A cedar sided ranch home with four bedrooms and two baths).

It was one of those days where my brother was preoccupied doing “big boy” stuff… and I was bored. I had ten cents burning a hole in the pocket of my shorts; just enough for the latest Donald Duck comic book I’d previously dog-eared the day before in Hahn’s Pharmacy… but my chaperone to all things downtown was pre-disposed.

So I walked up to my parents on the eastern hill, she on her knees in a sun bonnet and cat’s eye shades digging in the dirt, and my father approaching with a wheelbarrow full of cedar chips, sweat pouring down his face, his shirt pasted to his back.

Me: “Mommy, I wanna go downtown an’ get a comic”

Linda: “Ask your brother.”

Me: “He can’t go”

Linda: “Well Honey, I’m kind of busy, as you can see…. maybe tomorrow”

Me: “I wanna go now”

Linda: “You can’t go by yourself”

Me: “Yes I can”

Linda: (sensing an upcoming argument with a three year old) “Out of the question.”

Here was the implied childhood deal with my parents: If you could present an airtight argument, and exhibit advanced critical thinking skills and a rudimentary grasp of the concept of Platonic logic, they pretty much would accede to sound reasoning. I knew this, even at three and a half years of age, and I was ready for them.

Me: “ No… I’m gonna walk down to Gregory’s, short-cut through Walser’s to Lake View Circle, stay on the left side of Lake View Circle an’keep on the grass up to Genesee, take a left on the sidewalk an’ go to Hahn’s…

I knew the route. My brother had taught me well. And here was my kicker… the point that my little brain came up with that I knew would drive a stake through the heart their already anticipated usually automatic parental negative “ruling”.

Me: “So I’ll never have to cross a street… and I’ll come back the same way”

They both looked at me slack-jawed and slightly dumbfounded. Point: three year old.

Linda: “What about the Hitching Post?”

Mom was slick. She smelled subterfuge. Linda knew that it would be nearly impossible for me to resist the siren call of all my imported-from-Germany-fuzzy-stuffed-animal-friends-with-tags-in-their-ears, but that would entail crossing Genesee Street at the intersection of Jordan Street…a task I had never done solo. But I was prepared for her.

Me: “No Hitching Post…. just Hahn’s and back home. I’ll never cross a street. Promise.”

Linda: “ If you do exactly what you said you were going to do... you should go.”

Nick: “Linda! Are you nuts? I am not allowing a three year old to walk downtown by
Himself!”

Linda: “No…. he should go”

And after a brief parental pow-wow, it was so ruled. I got my shot at traveling solo.

So I hit the road, an un-shackled free spirit, my little brown Steiff monkey “Jocko” crushed in my clenched fist for courage… my first attempt at doing something on my own, without being my brother’s shadow.

When I finally got downtown (after much dawdling), I walked into Hahn’s, climbed up the rack, grabbed my Donald Duck Comic, and plunked my shiny dime on the counter overhead (much to the confused amusement of Mr. Hahn), did an “about face” and headed for home. It felt good.

It was hard to resist the allure of the Hitching Post, the home of my beloved Steiff toys and the charming Mrs. Schemeck… but I was a boy of my word, integrity being a big part of the lessons my big brother taught me so well.

It was revealed to me many years later that as I started my solo flight down Gayle Road and towards my independence, the implements of gardening destruction were dropped and Moms and Pops followed me; about twenty feet behind, just far enough back for me not to notice.

I had been “tailed”, not only for safety’s sake, but also for verification of my own veracity.

But I did what I said I would do, and from that day forward, I walked downtown anytime I wanted to, alone.

I had been taught well.

Thanks, Essie.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lake Boy #1 - Party Time

PARTY TIME

(A Lake Boy Tale)

Gayle Road is a steeply graded street located on the east side of Skaneateles Lake; on the outer Eastern border but still within the village limits.

Lined on either side with relatively modest ranch style homes, the street descends sharply in altitude, curves suddenly to the south at a ninety degree angle, turns into a dirt trail, and winds up basically at the shore; a small sixty foot slice of beach side real estate that is shared by all of Gayle Road’s residents.

In the days of my youth, most of the homeowners were of the same age, with children that were all mostly the same age too. It was a little tract of about fifteen homes and fifteen nuclear families; our own little private Utopia within the utopian confines of the village of Skaneateles.

There were cocktail parties hosted in a different home every weekend. It was always an exciting event when it was my mother’s turn to throw a party. The house bustled with major activity during the day; a blur of super-charged anal-retentive cleaning, errand running, hair dresser appointments, liquor deliveries and strange ritualistic preparations of tiny bite sized food.

Around five pm, my brother Alfie, my sister Becky, and myself were scrupulously
scrubbed, dressed for bed, and then fed some gawd-awful “quick” repast, usually Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and tater tots accompanied by the pre-requisite glop of ketchup on the side (parties were usually thrown on Fridays, hence “Catholic food” that passed for fish).

Then that wonderful hour before guests were scheduled to arrive, where Pops did the final tweaking chores of preparing the bar (A six foot sheet metal folding table with kidney-shaped "parameciums" printed on it; covered in an exquisite table cloth.)Dansk ice bucket filled: Check. Exotic fruits cut, lemons peeled: Check. Maraschino cherries and green olives with pimentos jammed inside: Check. Cocktail napkins: Check. Tooth Picks: Check.

It was very quiet, but the anticipatory tension in the house was palpably increasing by the minute, the smell of warming cocktail weenies wrapped in pastry permeating our family quarters. Then my mother’s magic metamorphosis would unfold.

I used to marvel at my mother’s ability to transform herself from a drill sergeant barking out marching orders with militaristic precision in preparation for the upcoming Bacchanalian onslaught to an absolute knockout “Betty”.

I would lay on the linoleum floor of our garishly pink tiled bathroom, watching her carefully in a state of awe: wrapped in a towel, freshly bathed, her coiffed hair wrapped in a protective plastic mushroom cloud of a shower cap, sitting on her green upholstered vanity pouf, applying her war paint with a vast array of strange tools (The curved eyelash curler was always an implement that I found particularly compelling); the application ritual of the smearing of frosted pink lipstick (which seemed to me to resemble a disembodied, rotating doggie penis within a large caliber bullet casing) and then the “kissing” of a Kleenex tissue to set it, smacking her lips; and finally dousing herself in a copious amount of Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew”, a perfume that was so overwhelmingly noxious that I would almost pass out from the intoxicating fumes. My first foray into the world of “huffing”, I suppose.

In the enchanted pre-party “calm before the storm”, as my Pops would zip up her up in some latest designer cocktail dress and they’d give each other the once over to make sure they were sharp, straight and good to go. They would fixedly look each other in the eye in silent pause, and a deep breath of relaxation would be collectively shared.

And then they would tenderly kiss as the first of a stack of L.P.'s would mysteriously slide down the spindle and plop down on the turntable, my mother's right knee bending, her high heel ascending heavenward in the embrace; the music would start and the doorbell would automatically ring as if on cue.

Here we go.

This was the age where the men wore tailored suits and the women dressed to the nines with teased-to-the-stratosphere beehive hair helmets and rhinestone studded cat’s eye goggles. Martinis, Scotch and Sodas, Manhattans, and Whiskey Sours for the ladies were the libations of choice coupled with the sounds of atomic lounge, “Birth of the Cool”, Frank Sinatra, and calypso music functioning as the soundtrack as it burbled through “hi-fi” stereo speakers.

I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that I wanted to be in the middle of those wing dings, not on the periphery. I especially hated the collective sibling “trot out” right before bedtime, where all the Gayle Road women cooed collective “oohhhs” and “ahhhs” and then we would be hustled off to bed. I would try to fall asleep to the muffled sounds of Harry Belafonte singing the Banana Boat Song coupled with the amazing booze fueled detonations of cackling laughter that would periodically explode out of the living room.

I remember sneaking around and hiding under the table cloth that draped the bar in my footie pajamas trying to discern just what was going on in that blue haze. Instinctively at age three I knew that staying up late smoking cigarettes, listening to weird music, and drunkenly trying to play grab ass with your neighbor’s wife whilst doing the rhumba to the sounds of Acker Bilk was way more fun then the existence I was currently living, which mainly consisted of a steady diet of toys, “Romper Room”, “Captain Kangaroo”, and “The Silly Book”; my musical fare consisting of songs like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or worse, and not being old enough to play with most of the other kids on the street.

It was like watching Martians. All I wanted to do was go to Mars in a suit, hair helmet, and a pair of cats-eyed rhinestone studded goggles of my own.

But there I was, up way past my bed-time; crew-cutted and goggle-less, in a set of blue “one-sie” pajamas with pink bunnies printed on them feeling like the plastic treaded soles of my jammies were permanently glued to the slate stone floor of our dining room. Hopelessly Earth-bound.

Not for long.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Epic Failure #2 -- or: Keep Smiling, Monkey Boy

I was chatting with my buddy "Fuzz", a friend who has been involved with the rock and roll “industry” for as long as I have, and the conversation always turns to the phenomena of brushing the brass ring with your fingertips, but it invariably always evades your grasp. It’s happened so many times to the both of us, that now we actually find these stories amusing, but at the time, they are the farthest things from it.

"Fuzz" road manages “Otis Day and The Knights” (the penultimate frat house party band of “Animal House” fame) as his bread and butter gig. He was advancing an upcoming gig for a private party to be held at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and was bitching about the amount of paperwork and hoops you have to jump through with the Secret Service and National Security wogs (basically, every member of the band and entourage has to be completely vetted, just in case a terrorist/axe murderer happens to be the bass player, for example).

And, yup, you guessed it, every one in the band either has a past as checkered as a chessboard, or long standing drug issues, so getting them cleared by various governmental security agencies is...

a stone bitch. It’s a lot of extra work on top of the normal hurdles that need to be negotiated (either leapt over, walked around or crawled under) to make it a smooth experience for the act you happen to represent.

As he was kvetching about the succession of dis-organized assholes from the RNC and Secret Service that he was dealing with on an hourly and daily basis leading up to ushering a posse of substance abusing, non-payment of parking tickets, arrest warrants issued for various misdemeanors musicians to a high paying gig, I had to tell him about my own brush with the Secret Service and the N.S.A, one of many of the files stored in my “Epic Failure Folder” of memory:

It was the spring of ’97.

I had just booked The Shuffling Hungarians (for those uninitiated, a 15 piece greasy soul orchestra-circus, fronted by yours truly) at a club in Martha’s Vineyard called the Hot Tin Roof (owned by Carly Simon) for Saturday August 30th.

The premier club, at the premier Eastern Seaboard vacation spot, on the premier night of the summer season.

The Hungarians had a lot of national buzz behind them, as I had just released a double “LIVE” recording and was furiously trying to get it noticed, and doing pretty well at it, quite frankly, which is why I got the gig. (Insert the sound of me patting myself on the back here)

Immediately after the signed contract was returned to me, I got a phone call from a 202 area code -- we were doing a lot of marketing in DC at the time, so that wasn’t too unusual.

Me: “Good Morning, Queen Bee Brand Records and Furniture O' Rama. How may I help
You?”

202 Area Code: “This is the Office of The President. May I speak to Mr. George Rossi, social security number XXX -XX-XXX?”

Me (in my internal monologue): “What the Fuck?”

Ok, here’s the skinny: somebody in Martha’s Vineyard talked to somebody in DC, and somebody on the Bill Clinton's PR team thought it would be a good idea to have him show up at The Hungarian’s Vineyard Wing Ding (we were pretty media “warm” at that point) and leak it to the press.

Sounds good to me. little did I know what I was getting into.

On a daily basis, I had to deal with some knucklehead from the Secret Service, the NSA or The Office of the President. I had to hire a lawyer to clean up all the arrest records of various band members (constant conference calling between the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago, the Secret Service, and myself on the behalf of our percussionist was a particular “head in the pencil sharpener” exercise of note), which of course put a marginally profitable gig squarely in the red financial “loss” column.

The thing evolved from President Bill showing up, high fiving, and cruising back into the limo to President Bill wanting to sit in with the band. The set list had to be vetted for questionable lyric material. Charts were Fedexed directly to the White House. I had to go back into the studio and mix five songs in a “Music Minus One” format so he could practice along with a recording (Bill took his saxophonage seriously, evidently).

This was a ton of extra work and expense, but it was going to be a big break -- live feeds from every cable and “big three” network, print media, magazines...you name it, they were all gonna be there, all at once.

A global puff piece, but a piece shot ‘round the world. So well worth the monetary and sweat equity investment.

And of course, everyone in the band was well aware of what was going on, due to the total invasion of his or her collective privacy. But they recognized it a big break as well, and it was heartening to finally be able to deliver a big one to my extended “Hungarian Family”; all of us had been working hard, and it was morale-boosting to finally have something concrete in the form of a pay-off.

As we approached the big day, an Eagle Tour Bus was rented (you gotta fake it before ya make it, friends -- and another pre-programmed morale booster). The gear was stowed in the cargo hold, and we all piled in (getting 15 nut balls to collectively pile into a bus with surgical precision is a feat unto itself), and started the long trip from the East Side of Syracuse to the Wood’s Hole Ferry, for our date with destiny, well earned and long deserved. It was a fun trip.

When we arrived at the Hot Tin Roof for sound check, the parking lot was already starting to fill with mobile broadcast units from various global news agencies, their rooftop satellite dishes armed and ready to raise heavenward, for the eventual world wide broadcast of a sound bite of “The Hungarian Manifesto”, beamed into potentially millions of homes.

Everyone was frisked, metal-detected, every bag rooted through, every instrument case opened and every instrument thoroughly inspected, just in case the kick drum was packed with C-4 explosives or the trumpet was rigged for automatic rifle fire.

Amidst many individuals in black suits with earpieces, chatting into their sleeves, I relished this moment. It was time to go out and grab the ring, and I had been preparing for this moment my entire life.

The room was packed, and the excitement was palpable. The Novena candles were lit (about 300 of 'em... our trademark), the intro tape cued, the fog machine belching out its unique sickly-smelling cloud of noxious gas, and we started the show, a confident army of friends, battle tested and blazing. Five minutes before “The Prez” was about to make his grand entrance, a Secret Service Agent walks on stage and hands me a note. It read:

“Princess Diana has just died in a car accident. The President WILL NOT be appearing.”

That’s it. Just two sentences. The cabal of black suits disappeared from the wings of the stage, the camera crews de-materialized, and the limo pulled out of the lot. Just like that.

And I was left with the thought of my life and career crashing and burning around my brain pan just like Diana’s car crashing into the thirteenth pillar of a tunnel in Paris, all while looking at the lone fourth music stand in front of the horn section that would go unused that night and trying to entertain about 700 tweaking revelers and extended family members who had assembled for your big moment, fronting a band that was blissfully unaware of the disappointment that they were about to experience -- and making sure that know one knows anything that’s going on in your head, because that’s what entertainers do.

It ain’t your day kid. Only you can’t hit the showers. You still have to pretend that it is your day. Keep smiling, monkey boy.

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, and it was going to be the last. Unfortunately, I'm actually good at gracefully fiddling while Rome is burning. I've had lots of practice. The Universe likes to bat me down, hard, at the most inopportune moments it can pick.

I have become philosophical about these types of moments.

You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound.

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Epic Failure #1 -- or: "Wasn't That a Rug I Was Just Standing On?"

I spent most of my third decade on the planet pursuing the dream of being a “Rock Star”.

I quit high school to travel on that road, and stayed on it. Throughout my twenties I came very close to realizing that dream… but it always persisted in being just outside my grasp.

I closed that decade out as a member of a band that had a record deal ("The Bogeymen”, Delicious Vinyl). Delicious Vinyl was a hot little indie at the time, Tone-Loc, Young MC, and The Brand New Heavies being their most recognizable roster talent.

The brothers Ross ran Delicious V, and its creative output was overseen by Matt Dike (sort of the “West Coast” Rick Rubin, at the time)…. They embroiled us in legal sleight of hand and sued us for a year due to a contractual technicality to sign the band (another “Epic Failure File” in and of itself; more on that little “music biz” tale later), so we weren’t exactly happy campers by the time management conceded to accept a deal that was way below our market value.

But they basically left us alone to record the first record… and all the outwardly appearing steps toward eventual success were starting to materialize (advance money, drunken junkets to LA for mix down, video on MTV in nominal rotation, preparations for a tour, tons of international press, endorsements, etc.).

But then they became cash poor. So it was decided rather than hit the road and play, the band needed to get back in the studio and get another one in the can.

We spent about a year on that one, and by the time we delivered the master, the label was bankrupt. A year’s worth of work was permanently shelved, never to see the light of day. No more record deal, and the dream was hurled off a cliff in a mangled ball of fiery metallic twisted wreckage... again.

When everything officially crashed and burned, and I found myself penniless, jobless, my marriage also crashing and burning simultaneously (another forthcoming entry in the “Epic Failure Folder”)… I decided to basically hide under my bed for a few months.

All dreams shattered, all at once… I was living the nightmare, not the dream.

Out of the blue, in the depths of depression, I got a late night phone call:

Me: “Yeah?”

Them: “This is Henry Hirsch…may I speak to George Rossi?”

Henry Hirsch was Lenny Kravitz’s partner/producer. After giving me a little background on who he was (I already knew, but his schpiel was obviously honed and prepared…and I love a good schpiel.)

Tracing the linear history of how he got my phone number (The fellas at Delicious Vinyl to George Drakulious (Rick Rubin’s engineer and future producer of The Black Crowes) to him... evidently Matt and Mike felt bad about how things ended at Delicious Vinyl, so Karma points were and still are awarded), he made this offer:

Henry: “Lenny’s looking for a keyboard player to tour with him for the next three years ...would you like to audition?”

My Internal Monologue: “Holy Shit!”

Me: “Uh…. yeah, I guess so….”

The only problem was that auditions were being held the next day at 10am… in Hoboken, NJ. I was in Syracuse NY, about a five hour drive away, I didn’t own a car that could even remotely make that trip…and it was midnight.

So with no preparation whatsoever, sleep deprived and road weary, I pulled into the Hoboken parking lot (in a rented car) of Lenny’s and Henry’s warehouse studio facility at 9:45 am.

I’d like to tell you that my invitation was an exclusive one, but it wasn’t. There were about fifty leather-clad rock and rollers, way cooler looking than me, in full dress waiting in front of the studio’s door. It was a cattle call, and I was the last steer, bringing up the rear.

When it eventually came my turn to sit with Henry at the piano (Lenny skipped the audition process), his first point was they weren’t interested in “New Orleans Style” piano playing…a huge liability for me, since this was my area of expertise…and although familiar with the “Let Love Rule” record and never having heard Lenny’s sophomore effort, the music was piped in the piano room, and I was expected to shine.

I didn’t. I flat out sucked. Shot the pooch, ran over it with a tractor, and then had anal sex with it’s corpse kind of sucked.

So with the classic utterance of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” ringing in my ears, I took the long drive home back to Syracuse, hoping to get there before I got charged another day’s rent on the rent-a-wreck.... the acrid taste of failure in the back of my throat for the entire trip.

Two weeks later, I received another midnight call.

Henry: “George, it’s Henry…. can you make a call back at 10am tomorrow?”

Me: “Jeez ,Henry…. I’m five hours away…couldn’t you give me a little advance notice?”

Henry: “If you want the gig…. be in Hoboken by 10am”

Me: “ See you tomorrow”

And so my dance with Henry and Lenny had officially started, always following the same pattern…the midnight call, the car rental, the incremental counting of chickens before the are hatched along with the Lenny “carrot” getting dangled closer and closer, the sleep deprived and absolute suck-ass playing during the private audition with Henry, the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” unceremonious kick out the door, and the long cross-eyed drive of savoring complete and utter failure back to the wastelands of Central NY.

But Henry kept calling (at midnight…every fucking time!)…finally admitting after four auditions that a field of two hundred and fifty candidates had been winnowed down to only two: Richard Bell (one of the greatest NY session players of all time) and me (the cross-eyed, sleep deprived, clueless one-handed pianna-plunkin’ choke artist). One more 10am, next day call back. But this time, Lenny will be there.

“Do not count your chickens, Jack…” was the basic mantra on the drive down.

So I went and did a private audition for Henry, Lenny and his entourage (never once did I actually get to play with the band), cross-eyed, sleep-deprived and shooting the pooch for the fifth time, and taking the same solo drive of failure: Sitting on my tail, which seemed to be getting quite comfortable on these Hoboken NJ to Syracuse NY treks in its familiar resting position of being situated firmly between my legs.

The midnight call came two evenings later.

Henry Hirsch: “George, it’s Henry”

Here comes the lowering of the boom…I’d love to say that at this point, getting hit in the head with the boom didn’t matter, but at this point…it did matter. It always hurts, and I had experienced enough boom lowering to last a lifetime…I know exactly how much it hurts, and how much recovery time is needed after getting your skull cracked.

Me: “ Hey, Henry…. what’s up?”

Henry: “ Congratulations, you got the gig. The tour starts in Japan in two weeks…. get down to Hoboken
five days from now…. Fax your passport info and lose fifteen pounds before you get
here.”

My Internal Monologue: “ Holy Shit!!!!” I had finally won one…and this was like hitting
the lottery.

Me: “Cool...”

So preparations were made and deals negotiated. I was to hustle down to NY to get “styled”, clothed, tattooed and pierced…. for three grand a week plus per diem for three years. No more living on Kraft Mac and Cheese. No more abject poverty. My moment has finally arrived. My ship has finally docked at port.

On the fifth moonrise, with my bags packed, plane tickets purchased and my incredibly bright future ahead of me, the phone rang one more time.

Henry Hirsch: “George…Lenny has decided to go out in a “power trio” format…. the
deal’s off. I’m so sorry…I know how disappointed you must be.”

Me: “No worries, Henry. You’re a real mensch. Business is business. Tell Lenny I hope
he has a wonderful tour, and thank him for the opportunity.”

My Internal Monologue: “ARRRRRGGHHHHH!!!!” (Insert the sound and visual of my
life’s dream, once again being hurled off the side of a cliff in a
mangled twisted metallic ball of fiery wreckage…here)

That boom can sure be a sneaky motherfucker when it wants to be.

"Are You Gonna Go My Way?"....evidently, not.

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, and it wasn't going to be the last. Unfortunately, I'm actually good at being graceful at fiddling while Rome is burning. I've had lots of practice. The Universe likes to bat me down, hard, at the most inopportune moments it can pick.

I have become philosophical about these types of moments.

You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied…. but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earth bound.

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.


Flash Forward 17 years or so:

Lenny Kravitz hangs out quite a bit in New Orleans (my adopted residence of the past eleven years) nowadays. One of his former roadies ended up getting a post-Katrina no bid sweet-heart deal to start a garbage removal company, which basically is responsible for most of the city’s garbage removal biz. They’re pretty tight.

So a couple of months ago, as I was sitting on my Bourbon Street stoop smoking a cigarette watching the sky darken and the stars materializing, Lenny happened to walk by and I struck up a conversation…and I regaled him with the events just outlined in this tale of woe.

We both laughed our asses off, with the French Quarter sounds of clacking mule hooves, train whistles, and the wheezing melodies of a steamboat calliope functioning as a soundtrack as I spun the yarn… the unique, faint olfactory combination of the hot, fetid breath of the Mississippi River, stale beer, mule shit and night blooming jasmine washing over us, the brightest stars oscillating as they made their first entrance on the stage of the night sky.

It was a good moment.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Birth of a Dog Nation




The deal between my chronically alcoholic girlfriend and myself was this: Stay sober for one year, and we’ll get pregnant and get married.

She held up her end of the bargain, and it was a very good year for us…. so as she was ingesting prenatal vitamins and going to AA meetings twice a day, in the tenth month of her sobriety, the rings were purchased and the birth control pills were shelved. Birth certificates were excavated, and licenses applied for. The hall was booked for the reception, and regular meetings with Father LeDoux were scheduled. Plane tickets were purchased to fly both families down to New Orleans. She even made me go to “Catholic Camp” for a weekend as a premarital couples indoctrination / retreat.

And we got pregnant. The first foray into parenthood for both of us.

During her third month, she miscarried.

I’m not going to go into great detail here, for this is a story unto itself…let’s just say, as miscarriages go, this one was as bad as they get. Health care in New Orleans has always been a crap shoot, and it took three trips to the Charity Hospital emergency room to finally convince somebody that was pretending to be a qualified physician to give her a D & C….and as I held her hand, a glass vial was shoved in our faces with the contents of the procedure, the “Dr.” querying: “Wanna look?”

The period of domestic bliss (and it’s prerequisite sobriety, I feared) was officially over.

Giving herself no recovery time to heal psychologically, a few days after the miscarriage she looked at her three dogs and announced: “If I can’t have a baby, then somebody in this house is gonna get pregnant”, the only candidate being her 3 year old Shih Tzu, Dalai.


Little Dalai was about to be rechristened, “The Dalai Mama”.

I strongly advised against the idea, with a marriage, collected family invasion, a freshly unprocessed miscarriage, and a tenuous sobriety hanging in the balance. Having a litter of puppies in an apartment that already contained three dogs, one cat, and a fish whilst trying to pull all that off was lunacy, and I could see the hand writing on the proverbial wall…something was going to break, and it was going to be sobriety.

In retrospect, she knew that too…. she always needed to give herself a “rational” reason for starting to drink again. Part of the pattern.

So “play” dates were arranged with with an AKC male Shih Tzu (four dates, $500), and she got Dalai knocked up.

On a crisp night in the fall, Dalai’s pregnancy came to term and as she started to go into labor, she didn’t know what was happening. She was scared, and the safest place when experiencing any type of fear ( per example, a New Orleans thunderstorm) was on my chest.

So as I lay on the bed, gently stroking her, she gave birth to the first of three pups on my breast… it was amazing.

They say that in the animal world during times like this, instinctual “knowledge” kicks in, but with Dalai, this was not the case. She didn’t know what to do, so I had to break the pup out of his sac, rub his little shoulder blades until he started to breath, dangle the afterbirth in front of her face like a dog treat to get her to eat it, and affix the pup onto a nipple.

My betrothed had gone back to work by this time (She was a piano entertainer at Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane and Plantation Vibe Emporium). Every other hour on her breaks, she would come home to check on the process, and by 3am, we had three new Shih Tzu babies in our home, clumsily named Uno, Duo, and Treo until we could come up with something better.

It was a wonderful night. The last one we would share for a while.


DRINKING, DEATH, AND DESTRUCTION


The drinking started, and by the time we got to Christmas, the wedding had been called off, the hall had been cancelled, Father LeDoux was notified, and we barely got through the Holidaze with some family members who decided to make the trip to New Orleans regardless if there was going to be a wedding or not.

When she falls off the wagon, it isn’t a gentle climb down to the ground. It’s more like a full-on swan dive straight into the gutter. Zero to 120 mph in about three days.

So to ring in the New Year, with an apartment of 8 pets, including three newborn puppies, the drinking ramped up to “condition critical”… Three liters of vodka per day, flat on her back, non-ambulatory, defiling the bed because she can’t stand, let alone walk to the bathroom.

During these times, I couldn’t be around that scene…I could monitor it, if allowed, but I couldn’t live in it. I kept a small apartment just for these occasions, a necessary survival expense. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to the “try and drink yourself to death rodeo”.

My basic stance was to leave, and dangle support in front of her like bait. I would only reinsert myself into her life if she got her shit together enough to be admitted into our favorite Detox center, St. Vincent Depaul’s.

I don’t know if this was right or wrong…. but at the time it really was the only viable option. She’d go on a bender, screw up our life, and then when she finally decided not to die and get into detox, it was my job to clean up the apartment after three weeks of total pet and human neglect, and try to put the pieces back together again. This was our cycle, our own dance with Doom.

One of her favorite pastimes during the bender phase was to “Drink and Dial”…. continuously torturing me, always with the intent of securing the promise that if she did make it to detox, that my support would still be intact…which of course, it always was.

It was then that I got this call, in barely translatable slurred speech:

"Uno’s dead, and Treo isn’t going to make it”

They weren’t nursing, and of course, being on her way to chat with her maker face to face, she neglected to notice.

So I scrambled down to the apartment, and broke my pact with myself. She could drink herself to death if she wanted to, but I couldn’t sanction having innocent little lives be lost as the result of that decision. I grabbed the puppies and hustled to the vet.

The vet informed me that, yes indeed, these dogs were both dehydrated and malnourished to the point that, at least for Treo, survival was unlikely…. and the most humane (and most cost effective option) thing to do would be to let her die.

I asked the vet, “Just for the sake of argument, what would I need to do to keep Treo alive?”

His response: “ You would need to insert a catheter down her throat, and inject formula and antibiotics into her stomach once every three hours…for the next six weeks. But the little one isn’t going to make it through the night.”

So against his better judgment, he hooked me up with the needed feeding implements.

I was about to become a Dad.


HAPPY ENDING

These are my children. Renamed Huckleberry (Duo) and Doodle (Treo), after another rocky two years, I finally assumed full custody after one of many subsequent swan dives.

Doodle still has the quirk of sucking on my fingers, a reminder of the many times I fed her by slipping the catheter into her stomach.

The future ex-wife is history, but this dog love is forever.

They were born in the French Quarter above the Voodoo Museum on Dumaine Street.

They were born amidst much human suffering, and they’re extremely adept at soaking that suffering up, and returning nothing but unconditional love… I know: cliché but true.

They have been through hell and back with me…from their rocky start, through a hurricane, a long separation (I had to leave town to take care of my father: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and my own personal descent into suicidal madness… and never once did their loyalty or love sway.

They are by my side. Constantly. (Frankly, one’s in my lap and the other at my feet as I type this little story.)


I used to say that the only thing in my life that has never let me down was my love of music and my relationship to the piano….but that isn’t entirely true.


These little moppets are also in that select company. They have never let me down.

Dog Only Nose.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gutbucket (lyrics)

GUTBUCKET (George Rossi/Hunihive Music, BMI)

It’s got to be thumpin’
Rockin’ piano pumpin’
Make my big toe. . . shoot up through my boot

I need them bone-head licks
Pound me down right to my bricks
Don’t have to be clever. . .ya don’t have to be cute

Like a drunk in a liquor store
I’ll soak it up like a sponge
Stick my ladle in. . .your bathtub gin

Gutbucket... Gutbucket blues
Oh, yeah.... you really got a hold on me
Gutbucket... Gutbucket blues
Oh yeah,.... ya really got a hold on me

I get intoxicated. . . my 88’s get radiated
I’m a real gone daddy when I’m puttin’ out that sound
You can throw them sticks’’stones
I’m still gonna feed my gutbucket Jones
I’ts the only thing that has never let me down

Like a drunk in a liquor store
I’ll soak you up like a sponge
Stick my ladle in. . . your fish drippins

Gutbucket. . . Gutbucket blues
Oh, yeah. . . .you really got a a hold on me
Gutbucket. . . gutbucket blues
Oh yeah, ya really got a hold on me
Ya really got a hold on me
Ya really got a hold on me

Lie To Me (lyrics)

LIE TO ME (George Ross/HnniHive Music, BMI)

Oh you could’ve had a little mercy on me
Made up your mind or . . . set me free
Oh baby. . . you said you’d never lie to me

Were you thinkin’ of me baby
When you were lyin’ next to him
Oh baby . . . you said you’d never lie to me

Now lovers fall. . . in and out of love
That cycle never ends
But that never gave you the right. . .
Not to treat me like a friend

While you were worried ‘bout your profit and loss
You stuck me in the middle of your double cross
Oh baby. . . you said you’d never lie to me

Now lovers fall. . . in and out of love
That cycle never ends
But that never gave you the right. . .
Not to treat me like a friend

While you were worried ‘bout your profit and loss
You never stopped mama to really count the cost
Oh baby. . . you said you’d never lie to me

(Working on My) Addictions (lyrics)

(WORKING ON MY) ADDICTIONS (George Rossi, HuniHive Music, BMI)

Yeah . . . just one shot
Of courage to sanctify me
I’m naked and I’m unafraid

I’m all liquored up
Unraveling knots in my head
All illusions get ripped away
When you slide down this razor blade

I’m workin’ – on my addictions
Got my head screwed down tight
Practicing my afflictions
Tryin’ to make it – through the night

Takin’ a bath in a bottle
Gonna wash away all my sins
And find my peace

Yes, and I’m tryin’
To get blind so I might see
Where my dreams have slipped away
I might as well give ‘em more grease

(‘cause I’m)
Workin’ – on my addictions
Ain’t no story to sob
Practicing my afflictions
Don’t you know it’s a 9 to 5 job

‘Cause I’m workin’ – on my addictions
Got my head screwed down tight
Practicing my afflictions
Tryin’ to make it through the night
Tryin’ to make it . . . . . . through the night
I’m tryin’ to make it . . . . through . . . . the night

Wrong Set of Horses (lyrics)

WRONG SET OF HORSES (George Rossi/HuniHive Music, BMI)

Used to feel / Like the main attraction
No longer useful / I’m just a distraction
It’s so inviting
To run with the pack
Why blaze a trail?
When you can ride on a back

Took my cues from ill-informed sources
Failed to recognize where positive force was
Hitched my wagon to the Wrong Set of Horses

Whisper in my ear / Mixed up suggestion
Fed all the right answers / To all the wrong questions
Finally discovered
I’ve been led astray
Blamin’ everybody for loosing my own way

Yeah Buddy I got many excuses
For sittin’ round stewin’ in my own juices
Hitched my wagon to the Wrong Set of Horses

All you children,…lost in space
Take its hand…and walk out of this place

All I ever did / was ride for free
Without ever takin’ Responsibility
You pay a price for giving up control
It’s paid with pieces of your very soul
Hitched my wagon to the Wrong Set of Horses

Wrong Set of Horses, yeah!

Slow Driving Man

SLOW DRIVING MAN (George Ross/ HuniHive Music, BMI)

Some men drive – like they in a race
Love shouldn’t feel – like a high speed chase
White knuckle drivin’ – surely takes a toll
You run out of gas before you reach your goal

I’m the designated driver – let me hold your wheel
Show you how a ride – is supposed to feel
Mosey down your backside…dig down to the core…
And getchya to a place you never – been before

Slow Drivin’ Man – Slow Drivin’ Man
I’m gonna get you to the promised land , , ,
But baby dontchew know that I’m a slow drivin’ man

You don’t have to speed to – the destination
When all the fun is in – Anticipation
When I’m the chauffer there’s one thing you’ll learn
I got more than one way to make your – Rubber Burn

Baby let me be your – Navigator
Buckle up Honey – We’re getting’ to it later
You won’t arrive in a timely fashion
But we’ll arrive at the height of passion . . .
Baby …Baby…Baby, Dontchew you know that I’m a

Slow Drivin’ Man – Slow Drivin’ Man
I’m gonna get you to the promised land , , ,
But baby dontchew know that I’m a slow drivin’ man

Slow Drivin’ Man…Slow Drivin’ Man… Slow Drivin’ Man

The Ballade of Little Georgie (lyrics)

THE BALLADE OF LITTLE GEORGIE ....(George Rossi, HunniHive Music, BMI)

Crazy Angeline was a voodoo queen
She lived in the swamps outside of New Orleans
An’ one night in the cold an’ drizzlin’ rain
Angeline was pickin’ through garbage again
Under eggshells, chicken bones and rancid cheese
She found sumpin’ man, make your blood freeze !
Under all that garbage and rotten crud
She found an itty bitty baby Georgie boy.... inna bucket of blood

“Oh little one – how could they have done this to you?
What kind of peoples throws out a little baby child – like a worn out shoe?
So I took that baby home – I took him cause I was all alone
I said I’ll make you whole – my, my, my . . . little one
An’ bring you back to life – bring you back to life my son
And all the wrongs that been done – to – me and you
Are gonna be paid back in spades – through and through . . . . . .”

Oh.....Little Georgie ....Little Georgie Boy
Oh.... Little Georgie ....Little Zombie Boy

She brewed herself a voodoo stew
Poured in the blood of the loup garou
Eye of newt – chicken claw
Mandrake root anna monkey paw
Threw in the parts of an ole pianna
Dead pianna player’s bones from Loo-sianna
Took the baby by the foot and she dipped ‘em in
Filled his lungs with thunder and his mind with sin
And with all the evil in her head
She broght that boy back from the dead, well. . . .

Oh.....Little Georgie ....Little Georgie Boy
Oh.... Little Georgie ....Little Zombie Boy

“Son, when you reach the age of twenty one –
You gonna burn up the folks like the noon day sun
Play more pianna than any man. . . .
Dey’ll say datcha play like ya got t’ree hands.
You gonna outlove any man alive
Make the wimmens go down in a power dive.
An’ when you reach the age of three times seven. . .
You gonna give ‘em hell an’ make it feel like heaven. . . . . . .”

Well, Georgie reached twenty one at last
Every thing she prophesized came to pass
Poundin’ rhythm with fists of thunder
His voodoo beat set the town a-wonder
Piano rattlin’ like a gattlin’ gun
Piano rattlin’ like a gattlin’ gun
And the word spread out all over the land
‘Bout the that played like he got t’ree hands
Dontchew know he was doin’ evil
He was messin’ up their heads like an ole boll weevil
Took his revenge. . . .exacted his toll . . . .
Rocked ‘em into hell with a whole lotta soul, well. . . .

Oh.....Little Georgie ....Little Georgie Boy
Oh.... Little Georgie ....Little Zombie Boy

“Dontchew know we gotta get that boy . . .
He havin’ way to much fun
T’ree hand kid gotta be destroyed
Wo got de hatchet ? gimme a gun !
(Yeh, yeh) let’s poison his whiskey
(Yeh, yeh) he won’t be so friskey
(Yeh, yeh) but he don’t fall down in the mornin’
Georgie won’t fall down in the mornin’
Little Georgie boy-o”

So We went to the prettiest girl in town
We’ll pay ya ten thousand dollars just to take him down. . .
Make him holla now, make him squeal
Make him holla now, make him squeal
And roll his bone like a wagon wheel
And while you raisin’ a ruckus and kickin’ up sand. . .
Kill that boy and you’ll get ten grand . . .

Look out Little Georgie, Little Georgie boy
Look out Little Georgie, Little Zombie boy

“So I met up with Georgie ‘bout half past three
Say hey t’ree hands c’mon home with me
I don’t mean to brag but when it comes to lovin’
I’ll bake your bread like a pizza oven
I’m fine as wine – don’t mean to boast
I’ll turn your heart to butter and your mind . . . to toast.”

Well they shook that bed, they pounded them walls
Screams and moans and caterwauls
Atomic blasts in between the sheets
You could hear ‘em all the way down Rampart Street
Well, lovin’ that boy set her mind a-blurr
But ten grand was lookin’ mighty good to her
She done her job – she done her part

And she stabbed that boy . . . . right in his heart

Now the people gathered from all over town
They wanted ta be right there whwen they lowered him down . . .
Six feet under – hole in the ground
All the people in that whole damned town

They wanted ta make that scene on a Saturday night when they lowered his funky ass down in the ground........

Now the earth started shakin’ and the sky toined black
And lightnin’ slashed the sky with a mighty crack
An’ the doit started shiftin’ underneath their feet
There was no escape, there was no retreat
And their feet started sinkin’ in that swampy ground
And they knew right then n’ there there’d be no mercy found
People let me tell you there ain’t nothin’ meaner

Than to have your toes sucked on by Big Daddy Satan’s vacuum cleaner. . .

The ground was a-bubblin’ . . . . the oith was a quakin’
Hair stood on end as that zombie boy awakened
N’ out of the grave that boy did fly
I said out of the grave that boy did fly
N’ he spat on the ground as the town folks cried
“Lord have mercy don’t let us die
Oh, God in heaven we don’ wanna die”
And Georgie spun in the air and he toined his head
An’ he laughed at the people with the eyes of red
He say, “Prayer won’t help you won’t survive
An’ now you know what it’s like to be buried alive”
And far and away that boy did fly . . . .
Into the heart of a blood-red sky
Them foolish peoples they been misled
Them foolish peoples they been misled
I said them foolish peoples they been misled

Don’t you know you can’t kill something
That’s already been dead!!!

Oh.....Little Georgie ....Little Georgie Boy
Oh.... Little Georgie ....Little Zombie Boy
Oh.....Little Georgie ....Little Georgie Boy
Oh.... Little Georgie ....You Little Zombie Boy

Tear It Down (lyrics)

TEAR IT DOWN (George Rossi/ HuniHive Music, BM!)

Pop any pill
Drink any potion
I will try anything
To cause a commotion

It’s all just sleight o’hand
And hocus pocus
How can I see the light
When I can’t focus

I got fire – but I can’t get burned
Hands are on the wheel – but I don’t know which way to turn

I got my soul
In hibernation
My mind is outta gas
Can’t find a station

Sustainin’ damage
I have been hobbled
How can you walk when you
Can’t even wobble?

Horses at the water – but they won’t drink
Map is in my hand – but I don’t – know which way to think

Tear it down and build it up again
All my past has left me suckin’ wind
Tear it down and build it up again

I need your filth
Need your corruption
You smashed my atoms but
There’s no deconstruction

Kill all my friends and
Shoot all my neighbors
And start to enjoy
All the fruits of my labors

Feel like cryin’ – I can’t find the tears
Foot is on the floor – but I can’t – get it in to gear

Tear it down and build it up again
All my past has left me suckin’ wind
Tear it down and build it up again
Tear it down and build it up again…..ahhh……

Tear it down....

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Jerry Wexler Story


When I was right in the middle of the maelstrom of "Hungarimania" (more of a manifestation of my own twisted mind than what was actually any type of reality), every once in awhile, I would receive that little tidbit of validation that would keep me motivated to work 23 hours a day to maintain a 12 piece greasy soul orchestra and a blossoming independent record company. This is an example of one of the larger points of validation in my life, one that would be sorely mischaracterized as a "tidbit".

A little preamble:

As anyone who is in the business of selling records (especially little indies) there is a cycle of inception, production, and most labor intensive, the marketing cycle.

I had just released our double disc set, "LIVE" at Styleen's. All the initial radio packages had gone out (over 4,000 packages world wide), and it was imperative to stay by the phone and computer to solidify relationships with programmers and independent D.J.'s, either by following up or receiving calls as they came in (I set up an 800 number so they could talk to me on my own dime….ended up being a lot of dimes)….

But during this time, the Hungarians were also maintaining a pretty solid schedule of performances…on the particular night in question, we were playing a club in Rochester, NY called "The Creek", a pretty well known routing venue for national acts. We always did very well there, and this night was no exception, as the band was building a big head of publicity steam behind the new record.

As we were doing our patented mass levitation thing, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (who had played a concert that night in town) walked in, and dug the band so much, they crashed the stage and jammed with us until closing time…. and the liquor was flowing quite freely…by the time I got in my battered Nissan truck to make the long drive to Syracuse…well lets just say driving wasn't an option. I slept for a couple of hours in the parking lot.

I will say that having real musicians from New Orleans grooving on the band put me on top of the world, albeit with questionable drunken equilibrium….and that was adrenaline producing enough for me to eventually make the drive home.

When I got there at around 7am, deader than the proverbial doorknob (drunker than the proverbial doorknob is more like it) I crawled into bed with my sweetie, Styleen. We were both working very hard long hours, and we had to steal our moments when moments became available….this was one of the rare ones.

So at the moment she straddled me and slipped me inside her, of course the phone rang.

"If you pick that thing up, you're a dead man", she hissed.

Now any man rooted in reality would have just let the damn thing ring…but if any devotee of things Little Georgie knows, one thing I'm not is rooted in reality…. especially in a manic phase of selling records. It was my radio cycle; all the DJ's that play independent music do so on public radio on Saturdays and Sundays…. I had to answer the phone.

Now if this moment couldn't get any more surreal, on the bedside table next to the phone was the recently published autobiography of Jerry Wexler, one of my music heroes…and as I snatched the receiver with one hand and assured Styleen that I would lose the call ASAP (Don't move!) I heard a crusty old guy yelling at the other end of the line yelling in a New Yorkeese accent, "Georgie? Georgie, is that you?"

"Who is this?"

"It's me….Jerry…Jerry Wexler!"

I thought it was one of my buddies pulling my leg.

"Yeah, and I'm fucking Ahmet Ertegun…who is this?"

"No really, it's Jerry Wexler…I wanna talk about your records"

And that my friends, was a start of one of the most amazing conversations I've ever had, with a true master craftsman of all the music that I truly love.

I forgot that I had hijacked the master contact list of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation's Board members, and had sent packages to that entire database, including Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Mister Wexler....can't blame a snake oil salesman for buckshot promotional techniques, can ya?

This amazing man had taken detailed notes of every bar of music on the two recordings I had released to date, and for the next 3 hours he broke down every ancient reference I had intentionally peppered each record with, in the advent that someone musically erudite enough would read the transmission. Jerry Wexler caught them all.

"The thirteenth bar in "Gut Bucket….you stole that from Freddy Slack, didn't ya?"

I was flying around Pluto when I hung up the phone…that folks, is real validation. Jerry Wexler dug me, the architecture, the conceptual elements, the amazing band…. and on top of that, he got the deeply embedded musical messages and jokes.

Sorry darlin', but that beats morning sex any time…. A big contributing factor in why I have such a difficult time maintaining romantic relationships!

I remained in contact with Jerry through the years, and we exchanged the odd phone call, letters and postcards…. but as I got further away from "the biz", I kinda let this one slide…I have always felt guilty about doing so, but what would Jerry Wexler want with a schmuck that ended up playing "Piano Man" for drunken Tulane co-eds eight times a night at Pat O'Brien's Piano Bar and Plantation Vibe Emporium? I didn't feel I had anything to bring to his table. I had turned into a whore.

But I never forgot how he made me feel that first day…. that maybe what I was doing might have some lasting worth…. some lasting value.

Jerry passed on to the other side last weekend…I should have been around, and I shouldn't have hidden from him…. he was all about THE MUSIC: FIRST, and probably would have talked me out of turning myself into a Bourbon Street music prostitute. It would have saved me a whole lot of grief....

And being about music first probably rendered him useless in a business that sells music, but doesn't really concern itself with caring too much how it's created. I know he felt marginalized…. in my mind, a crime against nature, but he was pretty philosophical about it.

If you listen to any of those early Ray Charles records on Atlantic, or the classic Aretha Franklin recordings she did in Muscle Shoals / NY…Jerry was a producer that knew how the process of creating great art worked…I am grateful for his attempt to remind me to stay true to form, and always, be about the music.


Wish him well on his journey.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Retro-Hungaria Musings and Caterwauling

Before myspace and rampant computer use, I used to send out direct mail pieces to keep fans of the band informed, and inflamed...at the height of HUNGARIMANIA, I was sending out over 20,000 pieces of direct mail on a bi-monthly basis...that may not seem like much nowadays, but believe me...back then, a total fuck-load of work...you try running a band and a record label, crafting the pieces, writing the copy, printing them, peeling off 20,000 self stick mailing labels, affixing them to the mailers, paying for the bulk mail postage....every two months. I dare you.

Any way, these mailers really were a prehistoric form of a my space music page....calendar of upcoming shows, pictures, a little humor (The mast head read: " A comPendiuM of UnRuly CateRwaUling"....if you'd like to see the original cut and paste art, go to my ReverbNation page and look at the "Art and Graphic Retrospective Album")

The other feature was a column entitled "Notes from the Zomboy"....again, an ancient form of blogging....I was just as much into sharing the philosophy as I was into selling the music, if not more...and this vehicle was my little "Bully Pulpit".

So because I have decided to be "me" again, after a long sabbatical...I thought it would be helpful to dig back in the archives to see what that former self was all about....so I pulled out some of the archived mailers, and started to read some of my old "columns"...and the general feeling I got was...."whoah"...that's some heavy shit I was laying out. So every once in awhile, I'm going to publish them here in the blog.

This, from March, 1995:

When embarking on Life's Journey there are potholes, pitfalls pratfalls and booby traps all along the way

What seems as the right choice, in retrospect, potentially can be the worst turn you could possibly make…such is life.

It's seductively easy to focus on an electron, conviently at the expense of the realization that that electron is part of a molecules in the leaf of the tree in the forrest of the town in the county of the state of the country in the continent of the hemisphere of the planet in the solar system of the galaxy, of this one particular universe add infinitum.

The trick is to see the electron and the universe at the SAME TIME…to have razor sharp focus with your blinders off!

When I'm playing with the Hungarians and all these great musicians are firing on all cylinders (and with 13 people …a difficult stage to reach)..and the audience is firing and popping right along with us, something strange occurs.

I'm right in the center of the hurricane, but like some near death experience, I feel like I'm floating ten feet up in the air, checking everything out like some ghostly observer, marveling at the sound and the scene that is taking place before me in real time.

Like a making a movie and watching it at the same time,

Like seeing the electron and the Universe at the same time

Friday, August 15, 2008

ERNIE K-DOE'S GREAT JAZZ FEST TRAIN ROBBERY

Ernie K-Doe had a a number one, top forty pop hit in the 1961 with the tune "Mother-in Law"....K-Doe proclaimed that it and the Star Spangled Banner were they greatest songs ever written. K-Doe also proclaimed himself "Emperor of the Universe". Need I say more? A true New Orleans Care-Rackter if there ever was one....

K-Doe was married to a lovely woman named Antoinette. He had met her in the early '60's when she was working the counter at a liquor store , and as she bent over to grab a bottle of ripple, evidently she made quite an impression. He married her approximately 35 years after that sighting.

One time Antoinette and Ernie were having a bit of a domestic squabble in the backyard. K-Doe recused himself from the tussle, stormed in the house and slammed the screen door behind him...not realizing that his lovely bride was following close behind. The door sliced one of her fingers clean off, at the first knuckle.

After much freaking, they hopped in the Cadillac and drove to Charity Hospital. When they got to the emergency room the doctor asked for the missing digit, (for re-attachment purposes) but of course in all the hub-bub, K-Doe neglected to project that as a possibility. The finger was still on the back porch.

The Dr. instructed K-Doe to hustle home, grab a baggie and pack the finger in ice, and hustle back to the emergency room.

K-Doe boogied home, found the finger and put it on ice, but by this time he was so frazzled that he decided he was not fit to drive, and decided to take the bus back to the hospital.

Upon his arrival at the emergency room, the Dr. asked for the finger....but K-Doe spaced out and left the finger on the bus!

Lets hope that no unsuspecting rider mistook the finger as left-over lunch.

But I digress.....

By the time the millennium rolled around, the great classic New Orleans
R & B artists were leaving this planet at an alarming rate, and K-Doe probably knew he was one of the last of a dying breed...if he didn't, his wife surely did.

A perennial performer at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, K-Doe always was forced to perform at, at least in the estimation of his extremely savvy (albeit fingerless) wife, way below market value (Around $2500-$5000 for K-Doe and his entire ten piece band, depending on who you talk to)

So just a couple of years before K-Doe left this earth, just as he was ascending to the stage, his wife walked up to Quint Davis (The head honcho and co-founder of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) and demanded $75,000 or K-Doe would not perform.

That year, K-Doe did not perform.

Well the scuttlebutt around the New Orleans musicians community was that Ernie K-Doe was categorically insane for demanding that kind of money....but I say crazy like a fox, or at least brave enough towards the end of his life to quit shuckin' and jivin' and start to demand his true worth.

The Jazz and Heritage Festival is produced under the auspices of Festival Productions. Festival Productions is helmed by George Wein (The founder of the Newport Jazz Festival). Wein is "a little more worldly" than his protégé Quint Davis, and realized that they could ill afford to allow the dirty little secret out that they were underpaying New Orleans musicians for years, and literally built a yearly festival representing millions of dollars in cash flow on the backs of the musicians they were supposedly were in support of. Pissing matches with legendary New Orleans figures just didn't make good business sense, especially if the court of public opinion caught a whiff and decided to pass judgement. So daddy applied the heat, and junior capitualted.

So the next year, K-Doe was back on the Jazz Fest Stage, and a rate of pay that was commensurate with his stature as one of the last men standing from the golden age of New Orleans R&B.

Like he always said..."Emperor of the Universe"! It was nice to see him win one before he checked out.

This is not all The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or Festival Production's fault however...the "plantation mentality" is in full effect here: All that the producers are guilty of is availing themselves to a system and mindset that's been around for 250 years.

It would be cool if that would change, but don't expect the beneficiaries of the system to all of a sudden grow a moral center...

Monday, August 11, 2008

TREME

There is a neighborhood bordering the French quarter on Rampart Street called the Treme.

On the Rampart side of the Treme is a large green space, and within that green space is an area called Congo Square. Things have ALWAYS been a little looser down here in New Orleans, even during the hey dey of the slave trade.

Traditionally, slaves were not allowed to have drums or any vestige of musical expression from their homeland, specifically for the very pragmatic reason (from a slave owner's point of view, anyway) that music, and particularly drums, were a form of long distance communication that could signal a revolt, escape, or a threat to the status quo. Plus the more miserable slaves were, the easier they were to control.

This was not the case in New Orleans...Slaves had Sunday afternoons off. Maybe it was due to the French and Spanish owners, who were a little more "cosmopolitan" than their American counterparts. ...But slaves were allowed to congregate, and more importantly, play music, play the communicative rhythms of Africa, dance the Bamboula, worship in any way they saw fit, and meld and weld the new "European" sounds (and instruments) they were being exposed to in their daily lives to the music they brought from Mother Africa.

I'm not an expert by any means, but it is generally excepted wisdom that that little patch of grass in the Treme was ground zero for several forms of what is now considered original American Music, from blues, gospel, jazz, funk,rap, hip-hop, soul (George Gershwin, for Chrissakes...no Congo Square, no "Rhapsody in Blue", or Aaron Copeland, or Leonard Bernstein...)...you name it...really except for more Appalachian centric forms (country, bluegrass) pretty much all popular music as we know it sprung from Congo Square., in the Treme.

Now bearing this historical "In Utero" period of American musical history in mind, I'd like to talk about the New Orleans tradition of "The Second Line"

I really don't know the total history of the Second Line, but I do know that from the nascent beginnings in Congo Square, it eventually evolved into three basic forms in Modern Times....two types are "planned".

The most familiar is the funeral procession, where a brass band leads the procession (and the onlookers, and neighborhood denizens form a "second line" behind the main procession),playing sad and mournful dirges until the place of internment is reached....on the way out of the cemetery, the band then plays the up tempo music, it gets funky, and everyone dances their way back to the party....its a way of sending off someone's spirit with good vibes as they cross to the other side.

So even if New Orleans is known for putting the "Fun" in funeral, this first form of jazz, the African American spiritual and the improvisational and poly tonal and poly rhythmic freedom found within the form, was solidified during funeral celebrations....deeply steeped in the spiritual context in which it was solidified.

The other type of planned second line is actually a street party that is planned by various neighborhood organizations, called Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. Several Clubs pool resources, hire the funkiest brass bands in town, and a large parade is thrown, the parade route, and the second line itself, disclosed and promoted by word of mouth....Traditionally, they would take place every Sunday from Labor Day through the Mardis Gras season.

These are HUGE street parties...thousands show up for these events, there are entrepreneurial opportunities galore (People sell beer and Bar B Que out of the back of their pickup trucks) and the bands are literally running as they play, only to stop at a preplanned neighborhood watering hole, so the second liners can catch their breath, and have a cocktail....than, yippee, its off to the next stop.

These street parties are massive, collective, celebrations...but the thing that strikes me when ever I attend one is how powerful it is when 2-3 thousand folks are relieving the stress of their weekly lives simultaneaously...its a powerfully moving experience to be in the middle of that, and again, a spiritual one, even though the music isn't traditionally spiritual, but more poly rhythmic funk.

Last, but most definitely not least, is the spontaneous second line, and that's what I would like to focus attention on...as it is closest to the second line's true origins.

A much beloved neighbor or neighborhood musician passes away...the word spreads from house to house, door to door, or in modern times, cell phone to cellphone....musicians congregate in a central location and start to play spirituals to honor the beloved friend, neighbor, and if a musician, contributor to the culture.

Neighbors hear the music and naturally form a second line behind the band as it meanders on an unplanned route through the neighborhood.

Those who can't dance, sit on their stoops and porches, to celebrate the spirit of the neighbor crossing over...and to sing the old songs as the children in the street need to hear them, and most importantly learn them.

Approximately three weeks ago, one of these spontaneous celebrations popped up in the Treme to honor the sudden passing of a beloved neighbor and tuba player, Kerwin Williams....as the second line grew in size, and the mourners were singing "I'll Fly Away", 20 NOPD Squad cars flew into the neighborhood, sirens screaming, it's passengers outfitted in riot gear, truncheons at the ready.

The crime? Disturbing the peace, and parading without a permit. Two of he leading musicians refused to stop playing.This is what their fathers did, this is what their grandfathers, their great grandfathers...as far as their families can remember, this is who the were, and what they did.

They were summarily hog-tied, thrown in a squad car, and arrested.


Who sends a riot squad in to break up a cultural tradition that has been occurring for well over one hundred years without incident?

This is a very good question...I have some theories on that that I'll share in a later post.

Here's the deal, fellow planetarians: This is not an isolated incident, and its been happening before Katrina ever hit the shores of Lake Ponchartrain.

There has been a systematic strategy employed by the NOPD to crack down hard on second lines and Indian "parading" under the flimsy excuses of parading without a permit or "disturbing" the peace. The collective second line celebrations that are planned by the Pleasure Clubs were shut down by the police charging 500% of their normal fee for procurement of a police detail.

I'm not blaming police here folks. They do their best, but lets not forget that there is a chain of command...most importantly, they do what they're told.

Politically, as I'm sure you've heard, things are a bit Byzantine down here....but I would like to know who's giving that order, that prime directive....I would like to know where the buck actually stops.