Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I was looking at some pictures over the weekend and I realized that I have taught out four complete BA groups of students. This latest group presented me with some of my greatest accomplishments and some of my greatest challenges. Trying to be all things to all students as an instructor can be, to say the least, a daunting task. With only a couple of notable exceptions, I have got along with every student. I endeavored, everyday, to learn something from my students as well as motivate them to learn something, too. I did my best to be real with all of you and if there is any advice I could give you, it would be: be real with yourself. I’ve learned so much about all of you; your cultures, belief systems, religions, hobbies, likes/dislikes, spouses and children, all the things I need as an instructor to know how to best educate you. For each one of those criteria (think Access query), there are certain things that I’ll do or try to add to my approach. It’s really not that difficult. You just have to know what things go with what criteria. Some of it is text book psychology; some of it is experience. What do people with children need and like? What do married people with no children like? What do single people need and like? All of these things go into the mix. If you were going to be an instructor here at SJVC, how would you approach your classes and what classes would you want to teach?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Let your soul...be your guide

The joke goes, “What do you call a girl that hangs around musicians? A groupie. What do you call a guy that hangs around musicians? A drummer.” That one always cracks me up because it hints at what others perceive the mentality of drummers to be and other musicians’ attitudes towards them. When I tell people that I’m a drummer, I feel the need to also tell them that I play guitar, bass, keyboards, classical percussion, I sing and write and have a degree in music. Whew. I try to say it all in one breath too! I guess that I want people to respect me and to be impressed as well. I know, I know, not very humble, but it’s true. I think people perceive drummers to be like Animal the drummer from the Muppet Show. BEAT DRUMS! BEAT DRUMS! Ha Ha. Very funny. Think about something in your life that you are proud of and maybe people don’t show, what you feel to be, the proper respect for it. I’ve been playing drums longer than some of you have been alive. If I wasn’t any good, I should have stopped a long time ago. But, I’ve persisted and had some unique experiences because of it.
Now, I will say that sometimes it has cost me as well. There were times, when I was playing with an original band in the 90’s, that we would practice 4 nights a week. My home life suffered because of it, but I was “riding the wave of the dream” and the promise of being rich and famous. I couldn’t help myself. It’s like an addiction sometimes.
Some of you talked about playing musical instruments and have stopped for one reason or another. Music is very therapeutic. When I am mad and “road raging”, I want to hear Marilyn Manson, Korn, Disturbed, Slipknot, Mudvayne; anything to commiserate with. When I’m sad, I want to hear Sam Cooke, Motown, Journey ballads, the Purple Rain soundtrack; anything to let me know that I’m not the only one to hurt or be lonely. It helps us through our moods. Sometimes I base my whole day on what songs are played on the radio on the way to work. Silly, huh? How many of you can relate? Music is very powerful; the right song at the right time can help people fall in love. I remember dating a girl named Gina in high school. We both loved Prince, so whenever I wanted to think about her, I would play The Beautiful Ones from the Purple Rain soundtrack. Still gets me every time. You can remember yourself through music. Some of my strongest memories (good and bad) are tied to music. When Ms H and I finished our first date, I kissed her goodbye and got in my car and Lenny Kravitz’ All of My Life (Wonder if I’ll Ever See You Again) was just coming on the radio. I called her on her cell phone, in the middle of the song, told her I had a great time and asked for a second date. She had just called her dad and sister and said that she didn’t think I was interested in her. If that song hadn’t come on at just the right time, Ms H and I might not be together today. How spooky is that? So, let the music move you and guide you. You never know what’s around the corner.

So you wanna be a rock superstar...

A lot of you asked what it was like growing up with music and what inspired me to play. There a lot of things I can point to that began my interest in music. My Uncle Don and Uncle Bill were musicians. They both were in the Marines and played in the Marine Corps Marching Band. This band basically traveled to where the President was making an appearance and play “Hail to the Chief”, the president’s theme song, if you will. Uncle Don also played in the Marine Corps Jazz Band. He was a fantastic drummer and taught me a lot when I first began to play. My mom was in the Junior High and High School marching bands. She played the clarinet and piano. My dad loves music, but doesn’t play an instrument.
I got my first radio when I was seven years old. It was a “Bugs Bunny” shaped AM transistor radio. When it was bedtime, my mom would let us fall asleep with the radio playing. I remember that was when I first began to try and sing. I could carry a tune and after a little practice, both my parents remarked that I could sing pretty well. There used to be a TV show on in the 70’s called “The Donnie and Marie Show”. That was the first time I actually noticed the drummer and the drums. He had a Ludwig VistaLite drumkit. The shells were made from blue acrylic and were transparent. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. From that moment on, I wanted to play the drums. It took me and my Uncle two years to convince my parents to buy a drum set for me. When they finally did, I was nine. I played along with whatever was on the radio for the first couple of years. The radio station “Y94” was big then, and that’s pretty much all I listened to. I remember playing along with Styx, KISS, Van Halen, Rickie Lee Jones, The Eagles, Steely Dan and a hundred other bands that I can’t remember. About three years after I started playing, I was getting bored. I actually wanted to switch to the trumpet, but both my parents said NO WAY.
A few weeks later some friends of my dad, who had a band, called and asked him if I could sit in with them. Their usual drummer hadn’t shown up and they really wanted to jam. My dad said it was OK and we were off. I was 12 at the time. I jammed with them for a couple of hours and had a good time. They asked me who I liked to listen to and I told them that I was thinking about quitting the drums because nothing excited me anymore. The guitar player smiled and pulled out an album he had in his record case (yes, I know, actual vinyl records!). He put the needle to the record and my life changed forever. I had never heard such brilliant drumming and was completely blown away. I kept asking if that was just one guy playing the drums. The other guys laughed and assured me repeatedly that it was just one guy. I asked if I could borrow the album. He said that I could. That was my first exposure to the band Rush. Since that time forward, the thought of no longer playing drums has never entered my mind. I’ve been around the world, played in over 30 states and have recorded music. I do have one last goal. My musical “journey” will be complete when I am featured in the “Bible” of drumming, the magazine Modern Drummer. I don’t really hold my breath for that because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a professional drummer, but not a famous one. That’s OK. I don’t think that I’d make a very good rock star. I’m too old for one, and I don’t like other people running my life. As a famous musician, you spend more time doing stuff for the labels than actually playing. I couldn’t do that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Space...the final frontier

Sometimes, in the evening, I like to go outside and look at the stars. The first “star” to appear in the evening is not actually a star at all, it is the planet Jupiter. On some nights you can see Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and the Moon. On a very clear night you can see the Internation Space Station floating across the sky. I’ll stand staring into the night sky and think about the universe at large. When I was young I wanted to be a pilot or possibly an astronaut. However, my math skills are at best, second rate. So, that permanently put me out of the running for either of those vocations. However, my interest in all things extra-terrestrial remains. I’ve followed, with interest, the Mars Rovers and the Saturn/Titan missions. We’ve had two probes on the surface of Mars and a satellite orbiting Mars for over two years now. The original plan was that the rovers would last approximately 6-9 months. These machines are powered by solar panels that provide the “charge” for the internal batteries and assorted tools. As of last week, one of the two probes had traveled a total of approximately 6 miles over the last two years. Considering that it takes around 15 minutes for commands to reach Mars from Earth, that’s pretty good. Very careful planning goes into giving the probes direction, because, one false move and the probe could crash or fall of a cliff, and there’s the abrupt end of the mission.
I’ve been reading about the Huygens Probe that is orbiting around Saturn and its extensive system of moons. The largest moon Titan is almost as big as the earth. It has an atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and carbon dioxide. The ambient temperature is usually around -200 Fahrenheit. That is extremely cold. Your body would freeze completely through on the spot. It’s also interesting to note that the moon has volcanic activity, so one could extrapolate that Titan has some “hot spots”. The atmosphere isn’t breathable, but one could, with the right technology, convert some of the gases in the atmosphere to something breathable for very short periods, or so scientists believe. The Huygens probe is going to drop a smaller probe that will plummet through the atmosphere and record data along the way, finally crashing into the planet. That should give us something to think about and analyze for many, many years.
Two weeks ago, Pluto was demoted from planet status. Even though we can’t see Pluto with the naked eye, it’s definitely there. Voyager 7 passed by Pluto around 10 years ago and is still heading away from our solar system at approximately 53,000 mph. There is a belt of asteroids called the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto. Voyager 7 will reach the belt in about 10 or 15 more years. Who knows what we’ll find there? Do you think that there is life on other planets? Not just algae, micro-organisms, bacteria or molds, but higher life forms. Life forms that think and reason. Why or why not?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This one time, at band camp...

I was thinking back to when I was a teenager and in my first band. I remember I got the spot as the drummer in my first band because my drum kit was bigger and cooler (and they say looks aren’t everything!). Back in the day (which was a Wednesday, by the way) we played cover songs by bands like AC/DC, Judas Priest, KISS, Eric Clapton, etc. We got our first gig at the Chowchilla fairgrounds for a 4th of July celebration. We learned ten songs and practiced our butts off. My parents bought us all matching T-shirts (because that’s what you did back then in the late 70’s) and we were all set. The day before our “gig” my bass drum pedal broke. I freaked! It was late on a Friday night, and there was no music store in town, so I had to wait until the next morning to get it fixed or get a new one. My dad had to work that day (even though it was the 4th of July) and I had to wait until the early afternoon for him to get done. We rushed to Merced around 4:00 p.m. and got there just before the music store closed. I don’t even remember the name of that store anymore, I was just glad to get there before it closed. We were able to buy the necessary part and then we jetted back to Chowchilla, packed my drums and were off to the fairgrounds. We wanted to be very theatrical like our rock heroes KISS so, we taped smoke bombs on the back of the guitars and lit them while the lead guitarist was playing a solo. We didn’t realize that it might get very hot (and smoky) while they were lit and the lead guitar player subsequently burned his new shirt! God that was funny. It sure looked cool from the front of the stage, though.
I’ve been playing for 30 years now and I still have mishaps from time to time. I broke my bass drum pedal during a performance two weeks ago and, you guessed it, I freaked! Right in the middle of “I Love Rock and Roll”, too! I told the guys I needed a few minutes and immediately commenced to melting down. I hate it when equipment fails. I pay a lot of money for my drums and accessories so, I usually freak out completely, and that night was no different. Luckily, drum technology has progressed and due to many a mishap, I carry a pretty extensive tool kit and spare parts. However, I didn’t have the part I needed that night, so I improvised. The pedal that I use has two chains, two sprockets, a master pedal and a slave pedal. This allows me to play “double-bass” licks with just a single bass drum. The chain for the main pedal had snapped in half. I had to take the pedal completely apart and then assemble it as a single pedal. It took me about 20 minutes to get it sorted out, and the whole time I’m cussin’ like a sailor. Once I got it “repaired” we got back to business. We ended the night and I still got paid.
So now, I close my eyes again and remember smoke bombs, burnt T-shirts and KISS cover songs. Ah….that was the life!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Every dog has his day

I watch a lot of A&E television. Actually, Ms. H got me into it. I didn’t really like it at the beginning, but, because I was in love I gave it a shot. I found that I actually enjoyed it very much. I watched a program the other day that made me furious! Dwayne “Dog” Chapman had been arrested in Mexico and extradited to the US for hunting a fugitive. The man he hunted, apprehended and then returned to the US for justice was a convicted mass rapist. A total piece of junk. A waste of good space and oxygen. Bounty hunting in Mexico is illegal. The family of the man that was “hunted” is very, very wealthy. Apparently, some money changed hands and The Dog found himself on the other side of the law, in Mexico. The US then charged him for a federal crime. So, let me understand this. A man, who is a fugitive and a total loser, goes to Mexico because he knows that bounty hunting is illegal there. The Dog goes there to bring this criminal back to the US for justice, and we then put him in prison?? What the heck? There is something seriously wrong with our justice system when a greasy loser criminal can, because his family has money, pull this off. Dwayne “Dog” Chapman is a hero to the Hawaiian people and to the nation at large. He is a good man who does a good thing by hunting bail jumpers. He’ll be the first to tell you that he wasn’t always a “stand-up” guy. He did drugs, was a criminal and did some jail time. Nobody’s past is perfect. When someone can turn their life around and do “good” on the scale that he does, it’s just a slap in the face to those of us who are law-abiding citizens. We all generally obey the law and try to keep our noses clean. If you are criminal, you go to jail. END OF STORY! Or, is it? Apparently, he who has the money, makes the rules. This is a total travesty and telling sign of the condition of the American justice system. People who break laws are supposed to go to jail, regardless of their buying power. Those who don’t shouldn’t. What do you think? Should he have risked what he did to capture this criminal? I like to think that there are people out there who take risks to make our lives a little safer. Maybe, it’s a “pie in the sky” way of looking at things, but if I were in his shoes and had the ability to apprehend criminals, I think I would. Think about the victims and their families. Do you believe that they think The Dog broke the law? Do you think they see justice in this course of action? I thought not. I think we should send the equivalent of a 55 gallon drum of “whoop-ass” in the form of e-mails and formal protests to those who can make changes. This is wrong, no matter how you slice it. It’s just wrong.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King, Jr.