Saturday, April 30, 2011

To Clark Music, With Love

Very rarely is video released out of the vaults of HUNGARIA INC., but this is a special occasion. In fact, this is the ONLY one ever officially released out of the vault, and here's why:

With a heavy heart, I recently became aware that Clark Music on Erie Blvd. in Syracuse, NY, is closing it retail store.

Clark Music is very special to me, so a little back story to this video is in order.

I finally got serious about how to wrangle a piano relatively late in life, and due to the budget constraints of making the life decision to exist as a professional musician, I never was in one place long enough, or had the finances to own a "real" piano. Most of the practicing I've done in my life has been on crappy digital pianos through headphones, driving whatever room-mate, future Ex-Mother-In-Law, or significant other nuts with the toneless clomping of cheap plastic keys for hours on end.

So the the final litmus test of whatever concept I was trying to master was to test drive it on a real piano, a wholly different animal than an electronic keyboard. Real steel, wood, and bone is where the truth of mastery resides. Anything else is phony baloney.

So when I got something worked up to the point where that physical beta test could be run, and run in front of discerning ears, I would hop in the car to Clark Music for a test drive, usually after a work out at Sundown Gym... fully sweat soaked and stankified.

Mr. Murphy's staff were always very accommodating in spite of my fresh state of stankification. The knew I couldn't actually buy a piano, and yet they put up with me trying to wrassle a $75,000 Steinway into "Little Georgie" submission on a regular basis. Plus it was a great hang, with George, Mike, Frank, Rod, and the rest of the staff at Clark.... they were, and still are, such good friends. Their graciousness was boundless. When I got wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and relocated back in the 'Cuse ("Because I got no other place to GO!!!!", he wailed in his best Richard Gere to Louis Gossett Junior voice), it was the Murphy family that loaned me a piano to play on free of charge, until I could get back on my feet again, and ffind my way back to The Crescent City.

We shared a lot of laughs through the years; some tears too.

When it came time to record The Hungarians first disc, we needed a real piano. Mr. Murphy and company came through, delivering a 9 foot Steinway Concert Grand to Acqrok Studios in Utica, NY... through a blinding blizzard in February, up two flights of stairs, when we holed up at Bob Acquaviva's jernt for the recording of basic tracks. The piano was a beast, and frankly, way too much piano for me to totally control, but I did the best I could.

So what we have here on this video is yours truly, fresh out of the shower, warming up for an in-store appearance of The Shuffling Hungarians at Clark Music, in support of the release of our first recording. Its a Sunday, so I probably haven't slept off a liquid infusion of a quart of Crown Royal, screaming my lungs out for three and a half hours straight in front of our faithful drunken monkey crowd, all whilst inhaling a couple of packs of flaming Marlboros at Styleen's Rhythm Palace the night before.

I'm probably just trying to regain some semblance of semi-consciousness: desperately trying to acquaint myself with the instrument enough not to be fumble thumbing my way through the upcoming performance and awaiting the arrival the rest of the guys and gals in the band to show up as the Clark staff sets up the folding chairs.

We were all dragging ourselves out of bed to hawk the record, and in some small way, giving thanks to the years of service to the CNY community of the arts that Clark Music represents. The "dream" and ultimate realization of the concept of the Hungarians would not have been possible if not for the support of many, including the Murphy family and the Clark Music Staff.

This is me, stripped of the regular hoopla, candidly caught and clueless of the fact that there's a camera rolling... naked and unafraid. There isn't a circus, or a "character" to hide behind. And to the best of my knowledge, probably how the staff at Clark remember me; All George, and no "Little Georgie".

This is what annoys neighbors in the present day as I go through my daily practice regimen: random passers-by, and the occasional yowling pack of cats that get to hear the music wafting through my open window on any given day as they stroll and troll around the corner of Helen and Farmer. Two and a half years of daily unscheduled, unpaid and unpublicized "performances". My current steady gig.

One of my fantasies was always that one day, I would be able to walk into Clark, plunk down $100,000 in cash, pay full retail, and walk out of there with a mack daddy Steinway under my arm. A very real way of truly giving thanks and paying them back for all of their generousity, love, and support.

But they are now closing sadly, and I'm about as far away from that financial pipe dream as humanly possible without being actually dead.

But pipe dreams are what fuel us all, at least to some degree. With that in mind, here's a rare little glimpse into the past, brought to you by the wonderful human beings that made Clark Music such an integral part of my dreams, and of the community at large for 152 years of dedicated service... along with the coffee, donuts, and fresh flowers that the Murphy family provided to the walking Hungarian wounded early on a Sunday sometime way back when.

So here's the faint echo of a little travellin' music, that hopefully still resonates with all my love to the Clark Music Family.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pondering Upon A T-Shirt

About a week ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to an EBAY auction. Someone was selling a Shuffling Hungarians T-shirt, with an opening bid of $4.99.

My first reaction to this wasn't a good one: The shirt had become "memorabilia", and now it seemingly signified that I had officially attained "has-been" status, as I sit cloistered in my freezing apartment, living on cat food, writing songs that no one will hear, and stories that will never be read.

But ultimately, you have to take these things with a grain of salt. I'm a "hide in plain sight" kind of guy, and figured it was better to joke about it in public, and through social networking sites, rather than ignore it was actually happening. No one ever dies of shame, especially if you own it outwardly.

So following the auction with friends and old fans on Facebook throughout the week has been fun. We shared some laughs, we told some jokes, and we connected in ways that are real and authentic. I don't have to "stand behind the curtain" anymore, as far as The Hungarians project is concerned, anyway. Hell, I don't even OWN one of the shirts (which was the basis for much of the joking).

In my current "Exile on Helen Street", a big part of the day is spent interfacing on social networks. An archival site has been recently created that serves as a vehicle for CNY musicians, past and present, to trade history, photos, and the stories behind those histories.

Participation in that group has allowed me the opportunity to give thanks to all of the people and local musicians who inspired me; I learned much from them, and clearly I always knew, no matter what I did or continue to do in the future, that I stood on the shoulders of those that blazed trails for me, and also stood shoulder to shoulder as I tried to machete ourselves through the weeds to blaze some new ones of our own.

But this experience in gratitude also has had me contemplating this question:"Is someone standing on my shoulders, now that I'm officially a "has-been" and out of the game?"

I hope so. So here's a pointer for all you young whippersnappers out there from your Old Uncle Georgie:

This shirt sold for $20 back in 1995. Its a ratty assed, used shirt that just sold on Ebay for $51 plus shipping and handling. How many articles of clothing in your closet actually APPRECIATE in value over time? I'm pretty proud of what this represents.

Is it the shirt, or the memories attached to it? A little of both. But lets look at the simple mechanics of the merch itself.

This was a ten screen shirt, with sleeve and back printing, and a "fade" effect in the logo and flames, manually executed, to ensure that each shirt was unique. The cost to produce it was astronomical. By the time you added in ancillary costs like paying the Merch Girl (Thank You Vetala, Hibo, Monketta, and Jenn Sinclair) at every gig,a visa mastercard lease and the ability to swipe cards on site, taxes and comps.... let's just say we were lucky to break even on shirt merch.

The shirt was designed by Eliot Mattice, and signed. A massively integral part of our team, just as important as anyone on the bandstand. The shirt is a physical manifestation of just what it takes to build a team, and take on the responsibility of guiding it.

The shirt, the records, the show...all of them were just an extension of the overall philosophy that was woven into anything that Shuffling Hungarians Inc. did: "Go Big, or Go Home". That zeitgeist was the gravitational force that drew other like minded individuals into "The Hungarian Orbit". I may have been its original progenitor, the core of the sun if you will, but that was only a singular aspect of the Hungarian Solar System, and its THE SYSTEM that had the impact.

Over the top? Yes. But for me it was always about giving the fans the best value and biggest bang they could possibly get for their hard earned entertainment buck. It was never about money. It was about music, and it was about the art, first, and then designing the systems of delivering it with the attached philosophy of "at any cost". The message was the medium, and the medium was the message. A perfect storm.

So when people wore that shirt, when they still do; they are recognized as members of a secret club, and members of a team. I may have been performing a human high wire act with my own existence, but if you don't do that, you'll never attract team members be it in the areas of business, band members, support, or fans that think the same way... and that's what made that band, and that team, and that life experience, special. Everybody was in it to raise the bar, and to boldly go where no local band had gone before. That was our point and frame of reference, and everybody went all-in to do it.

Was it sustainable? History proves, at least at present, wasn't. Its better to burn out than to fade away, and although tentatively at first, I finally decided to pull the plug on it to make sure people remembered it at full strength.

But it was a hell of a ride, for those brave enough to take it, for band, working co-horts, and fans alike.

Art, if done right, should appreciate in value over time. This little shirt auction validates all the efforts of everybody involved in that project. That's what we wanted to make, and we did it the best we could, with no reservations and no regrets.

So keeds, those of you that are just starting out in the game, remember. If you aren't ready to pay that kind of freight, and take on those types of risks,then maybe you might want to reaccess just why you're doing what your doing.

Musicians like to bitch about current situations and the overall business climate in their hometowns. That NEVER changes.

But in my humble experience, there is one thing about The Salt City, that differentiates itself from the rest of the pack: The people who live here, and support live music.

Sure, they go out to see shows, and they are accepting of all levels of expression.

But if you dare to fail: If you dare to fall flat on your face, fully committed, the peeps of Syracuse will automatically recognize and rise up to support you. They know the difference between aiming for the middle of mediocrity, and aiming for far distant, and seemingly unattainable targets. They will suss out the half-assed approach eventually, and rise up to support the impossible dream, everytime.

Hopefully, as a link in the CNY chain of music history, that's the gift that The Shuffling Hungarians Experience gave you. Everybody that was resposible for developing that set of shoulders, the "System" of which I speak, did so at great risk, and at a great personal cost. They know. I certainly do, because I'm still feeling the consequences for those types of decisions.

It was an emotional investment for the band, its support network, but most importantly, to the fans that plunked down their money at the door on a regular basis.

And that's why a ratty assed used shirt can sell on EBAY for $30 above its original purchase price of $20 back in 1996.

Memories, Dreams, and Art all increase in value when they are produced from an "All In" mindset.

Those are your "Shoulders". Stand on them, and then deliver.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Unseen Connective Tissue / An Introduction

In past postings in blogs or on facebook, I have often referred to the discipline of focusing on "The Unseen Connective Tissue". I have often been asked what exactly do I mean when I drop that phrase in conversation, or in writing.

Everybody is well acquainted with the concept of "6 degrees of separation"; how we are connected by or relationships, our networks of friends and family, and our work. With the advent of social networking platforms, these days its seems more like ".5 degrees". Our pasts can really come back to cheer us, or haunt us.

Carl Sagan once said "The Cosmos is also within us... We are all star stuff...we are a way for the cosmos to know itself": That even through randomly chaotic events, the basic elements of creation are constants, and we are everything, and everything is us.

As we blunder our way through this physical world, life can be randomly chaotic. It's easy to forget just how connected all of us really are. Forget about being connected at the biological, chemical or atomic level... the social patterns in the life experience are just a weak mimicry of the epic chaos of the Universe, and we all seem to be Hell bent for leather to intentionally act like bulls in the Universe's china shop. The subconscious makes it so.

So its inherently difficult to be sensitive to those patterns from our meager self-centered human perspective and vision as we bash into and away from each other in a way that seems to have no known rhythm. The human condition hardly allows ourselves to see with any type of clarity just what is happening within us, let alone what is happening within others, and just how we may be effecting what is emotionally occurring in others.

Life's narrative has a linear direction. We are born, we live, and then we die. Beginning, Middle and End. But what happens in the middle? We force it to be perceived as linear, but really, it's anything but linear. As we are busy putting our logically sequential five year and ten year goal oriented plans together and then attempt to execute them, we delusionally ignore the hovering umbrella of undetected chaos above us; the crazy celestial sphere of the unpredictable that when truly considered, has a tendency to knock us out of our comfort zones of logic, and what we think we know.

Well, we do so at our own peril. That's the stuff that we can allow ourselves to be easily distracted from recognizing, and then sympathetically react to in kind. In my middle age, I have realized that this oft ignored component has critically impaired my vision, and my ability to foresee. It’s the metaphoric log in my mind’s eye.

I have been actively training my brain to intentionally ignore the linear aspects of my own life's narrative, and force myself to view it as a massive spherical jigsaw puzzle, with my point of view being in the center of the sphere. Viewing each individual piece has it's merits, but only when all the pieces are accurately assembled and viewed as a whole allows narrative to transform into a three dimensional shape, with a much deeper understanding of how all the pieces relate to one another to create that imperfect shape as perfectly as possible.

With much practice, you then can see patterns in the chaos. This is the nascent beginnings of the true skill of foresight. There are other skills involved: Calculating mathematical probabilities, the acute study of human behavioral patterns, and the accommodation of "Acts of God".... random events that are beyond detection of a humble Homo-Sapien mortal.

Simplified, this skill is, in conventional wisdom, based on a "seeing the forest from the trees" philosophy, expanded. It's more like "Seeing the molecule of the leaf on the sub-atomic level and then seeing how it relates to the Universe, and all points in between, simultaneously". The forest is really only a slightly larger jigsaw puzzle piece.

Once on a trip to NYC, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a friend, appropriately primed with mind altering substances. At the end of a very large room was the iconic pointillist painting by Georges Seurat, "La Grande Jatte".

You could get real close to it, close enough to see a single "dot" of paint. I was truly amazed and moved not only by the sheer herculean human effort of executing singular dots, but transforming those dots into a finished realized vision that moved my soul on a much higher plane.

I turned to my friend and asked, "Can you imagine his 'process'? Getting up close, executing the exact right dot in color, size, and distance from surrounding dots.... and then running away from the canvass to get perspective and control of the whole? He was fucking CRAZY!!!"

I then began physically demonstrating, running at full speed away and toward the painting, imaginary paint brush and pallette within each hand and accompanying my demonstration with appropriate cartoon sound effects as I hit the "brakes" on my full speed approach of the canvas. Employing nonsensical Warner Brother's-esque "running" and Three Stooge's burbling "crazy" sounds at full volume in a crowded gallery of hoity-toity art lovers, and zipping back and forth in a room with millions of dollars worth of French impressionist paintings hanging on the walls, will attract attention. Especially when the source is a leather jacket clad, holes in his jeans, hair down to his ass stoned freak, laughing like a crazed hyena.

Needless to say, Museum security threw me out. But it was a good laugh, and ultimately, worth getting escorted out in rather rough fashion with my freak ass eventually hitting the pavement. For a brief "New York Minute", I WAS Seurat. Plugging directly into him was a high voltage, and life changing event.

Viewing one dot of a Seurat painting and then seeing the entire canvas, with a true understanding of how all of those dots relate to each other to create a complete picture, is a process that I have been honing and attempting to perfect within the confines of my own cranium since getting unceremoniously kicked to the Metropolitan's curb. It wasn't just the dots that were important, but the space between them was equally if not more so.

Life, and the creative force behind it, deconstructed as a series of pixels that at first glance, has no order. That cold realization will fling you from your comfort zone, and into the unknown. You are Wile E. Coyote at the moment he realizes he's off the edge of the cliff, suspended in mid-air, forelornly blinking and holding a sign that says "Uh-Oh!" knowing that the fall is about to come.

Reminding yourself that those pixels actually do relate, but perhaps the concept of an undetected but still self imposed blindness prevents you from really seeing and feeling at a much more elemental level, is not a mental exercise for the weak willed. Forcing yourself into examining the pixels, and your relationship to them while embracing fully the depth and breadth of your own obtuseness may be character building, but it isn't exactly pleasant. Its more like the prolonged ache experienced when eating ice cream too fast. A wince inducing, brain freeze look at yourself.

One of the adverse side effects is that it constantly reminds me to intentionally tear down my own ego. I can count the self imposed swipes at it on a times per second basis. It's uncomfortable to the extreme, and yet I view it as an irritant in an oyster. A grain of sand exercise that eventually ends up as a pearl of wisdom. A pearl which has no calcuable value in the realm of my mere human understanding.

So here's a story that will hopefully illustrate the concept of unseen connective tissue.... and my own inability to see it. The narrative may seem linear, but it isn't linear. It hops around, and it takes place randomly over a forty-five year chunk of my life; It's random chaos sending the seemingly sequential nature of fate careening into trees and guardrails, and sometimes, over the edges of cliffs, Wile E. Coyote sign in hand.

It isn't for the squeamish, faint of heart, and most definitely isn't for those with short attention spans. If you can't hang, do yourself a favor and move on to something else that will captivate you, because this story is like picking away at a mountain with a dental tool and trying to end up with the mountain totally transformed into a large pile of gravel.

I will, over a 365 day period, write 365 consecutive daily blogs, called "The Daily Dose". I will be exploring this very concept: That the seemingly unrelated is ALL RELATED.

If you sign on as a regular reader, in the back of your mind, try to keep this concept bubbling on your near sub-conscious back burner. These blogs may take the form of memoir, and the forensic deconstruction of a single life: but that is not the sole intent of starting this project.

I want to give to you what I have learned in a lifetime on planet Earth. How you use or even value this information is up to you, but if you decide that it is useful, then I will have achieved the goal that I set for myself.

Give Love. Receive Love. Do it with a true and authentic heart, and always remember to be grateful.