I Sang Something

I’ve decided that most guitar playing is “playing chords”-performing chordal accompaniment while either singing or backing up someone else who’s singing. The problem with this is that “practicing chords” is BORING…I mean, if your idea of ‘fun’ is sitting in a room going Am-D7-G over and over again, God bless you, but I have other priorities.

So, I lecture my students (hopefully truthfully) that the quickest way to get their chord transitions together is to find a song that “has meaning” for them (or even better, several songs) and learn to sing and play it. This is something I avoided for most of my musical life, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of music that I’ve played has had a voice plunked into the middle of it.

So, turnabout is fair play-if I’m going to make my kids sing, I’d better step up to the plate myself. So, despite the fact that my nose is running like a faucet due to the unusual cold here (and everywhere, apparently), I warmed up the Coolpix, re-tuned four of the six strings on my steel-string, and belted out the first half of Joe Walsh’s sprawling 1985 masterpiece The Confessor:

Like most instrumental musicians, I’ve been programmed to have a certain level of disdain for vocalists, but if you want to gain new respect for singers, record yourself singing something and listen back. In my defense here, 1) I don’t have a studio at my disposal 2) I’m still having to think WAY too hard about what my hands are doing, and 3) I’m pretending to be Joe Walsh-like someone once said about Keith Richards, it’s not that he can’t sing, it’s the WAY he can’t sing.

Here’s the original, full of 1980s over-produced goodness including a minute-and-a-half-long synth drone at the beginning, overdubbed guitars and percussion galore followed by the rock section where Joe beats his Les Paul like a rented mule and builds to an operatic climax that gives Stairway To Heaven a run for its money:




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More Stuff About The Constitution

Article I, Section 6

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation
for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid
out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all
Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be
privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session
of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning
from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either
House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for
which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office
under the Authority of the United States, which shall have
been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been
encreased during such time; and no Person holding any
Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either
House during his Continuance in Office.”

So, this seems pretty straightforward…being a Senator or Representative is a paid gig (yes, we know). And, they can’t be arrested while doing their jobs except in the case of “felony or treason”…so I guess spitting on the sidewalk or jaywalking gets a pass.

This second part is interesting…I guess (at least at the time of its writing) that a Congressman isn’t supposed to work another government job while they’re in office, and vice versa-a government employee isn’t supposed to be a congressman. So, in essence, no moonlighting…I guess.


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Stop Me Before I Get Into Another Stupid Argument On The Internet


Good morning.

This is my first meeting of Internet-Argument-Aholics-Anonymous (IIAA). I’m here to give my testimony of how arguing on the Internet has adversely affected my personal and professional life and my relationships, and how I’m striving to break free.

I’m addicted to arguing with people on the Internet.

If I got paid to argue with people on the Internet, I’d be a millionaire by now. Facebook was Argument Heaven for me. I would spend hours, or even DAYS, trading insults with people I didn’t know personally and was never likely to meet. In fact, the whole “argument factor” was what made me swear off of Facebook in the first place.

So, I had two relatively productive, blissful weeks of non-fighting until I discovered rising neoconservative media star Matt Walsh. I’d seen people link Matt’s blog posts on Facebook, usually with comments like “Wow…a young person who really “gets it” or “Wow…I wish he was MY son.”

In short, Matt is a complete fucking tool. He’s the perfect third-generation right-wing hype-man: he’s got Sean Hannity’s smugness, Mark Levin’s screeching hysteria, Rush Limbaugh’s aversion to science and facts (the jury’s still out on whether he shares Rush’s predilection for underage Dominicans) Glenn Beck’s kooky fundamentalism, and in a strange twist of fate, Ann Coulter’s buttocks. And, despite Matt’s protestations that he’s “not a Republican,” if there’s any difference between his philosophies and those of the average Congressional Republican, I sure can’t see it.

Matt’s prose reads like it comes from a particularly gifted fifth-grader. Most are written in what is probably intended as a ‘satirical’ style: the problem is that they’re so convoluted and poorly written that half of his readers think he’s being serious.

And, speaking of Matt’s 5.5 million readers (put the razor-blades away), the real reason I fell off the wagon is the people commenting on Matt’s blog. Sure, there’s the occasional voice of reason, but for every commenter with facts and a valid point of view, there’s five who certainly have to be using the Internet access at the local psych ward. Some actual examples: one gentleman railing against our democratically elected 44th President as “Barry Hussein OGayma” and signing his post-WITHOUT IRONY-“Your Brother In Christ.” Then, there was the delightful chap who stated (with little, if any resistance from the community or the blog’s moderators) that people on public assistance are “lazy niggers who just need to get off their asses and get a job” (actually, according to current research the average welfare recipient in America is white, doesn’t live in the inner-city, and is employed. ) My personal favorite is “Jerryman,” who stated that a woman who leaves her home unarmed and is raped is “asking for it.”

I’ve got to tell you that stupidity like this is a form of crack for me. I HAVE to say something. And, if I answer just one stupid point, I’m back down the rabbit-hole again.

There’s a parable about a man standing on a streetcorner in Gomorrah holding a sign saying “SINNERS REPENT,” and being asked, “Why are you doing this? You’re not going to change anyone?”

His serene answer is, “I’m not doing this to change them: I’m doing it so they won’t change me.”

Well, the problem with this line of reasoning is that, if somebody angers you to the point where you’ll take time you COULD be using productively to stand on a streetcorner with a sign, they’ve ALREADY changed you.

So, I realize that every time I do this, I’m allowing somebody else to control my actions. And, every time I click on Walsh’s blog, I’m helping this asshole make money.

If I really, REALLY love “debating the issues” with people, what I should do is run for public office. It seems like a crazy idea, but then I remember that a certified lunatic somehow managed to be elected mayor of the fourth largest city in North America:

So, I’m done ranting. Future mayor of Toronto here, signing off.


And, so, like Rob Ford, I’ve done some backsliding: I’m ashamed to admit that since I wrote this, I’ve gone to Matt’s blog a couple more times.

I was punished for my hubris with a lecture about how Barack Obama is the reincarnation of Caligula (I guess the “liberal media” has been ignoring how Obama had Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell killed and then violated their wives). 

The killing blow was when I was informed by a homeschooling father of five children that being “forced at gunpoint” to pay taxes for local public schools is a “violation of his rights under the 8th commandment.” I will never, ever, be able to un-see this.

I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God.



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God Help Me, I Understand Charles Bukowski

The People Look Like Flowers at LastThe People Look Like Flowers at Last by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

the difference between me
and Bukowski is
if he saw flashing red lights in his rearview mirror
at 3am, he
wouldn’t care

Bukowski would have spent one night
in the drunk tank and now they make you
six months of classes
being Bukowski is
these days
like the 7 horse at 40-to-1

I never picked a fight with a giant
or got punched in the face by a midget
but, God is cruel to each of us in His own way

the difference between me
and Bukowski is
He had the courage of his convictions
even though he




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Goodreads Review: A Moveable Feast

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know it seems like I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, but I’m really just finishing a bunch of books that I read halfway and stopped. So, to be perfectly honest, I’m reviewing this book from when he takes his roadtrip with F. Scott Fitzgerald (a nervous wreck who couldn’t handle his liquor).
What I took away from this book is that life in Paris during the 1920s was one big party, but it was a SLOW party, my favorite kind of party where you just sit for hours with just the right combination of people and just the right amount of alcohol. I think the allure of Paris in the 1920s for writers (or, for anyone) was that it was scenically beautiful, with an exotic cast of characters, but you could live fairly well for cheap. I’m not a wine guy, but the book made me want to drink wine-of course, I live close to Sonoma, but I think the difference between Paris and Sonoma is that Parisians probably take themselves less seriously than people from Sonoma do.
Hemingway is famous for his blunt, staccato style of writing-I don’t know if this made me a HUGE fan of his, but there’s enough sensuousness in his prose-like honey through bricks-to make it compelling.

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The Constitution: Article 1, Sections 4 and 5


And, now, today’s reading from the Bible Of Democracy:

Section 4:

“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for
Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each
State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at
any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as
to the Places of chusing Senators.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and
such Meeting shall be [on the first Monday in December,]*
unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.”

I guess each state is free to set up elections whenever and wherever they want, except in the cases of choosing Senators. Congress is supposed to meet at least once a year and they’re supposed to meet on the first Monday in December, although there’s an asterisk. I’m too lazy to read ahead right now to find out what THAT’S all about.

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns
and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority
of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a
smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be
authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members,
in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House
may provide.
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings,
punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the
Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and
from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts
as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas
and Nays of the Members of either House on any question
shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered
on the Journal.
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without
the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three
days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two
Houses shall be sitting.”

I guess that, essentially each member of the Legislative Branch (this is the legislative branch, right?) is supposed to be self-policing….I guess that’s what this is all about.


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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Crazy Overrated

Hah! Made you look! Just kidding…


Frankenstein (Penguin Classics)Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in awhile, I try to read ‘A Classic’ (actually, my wife is thrilled I’m reading at all) and I pulled Mary Shelley’s original masterpiece “Frankenstein” out of the woodpile at home.

“Frankenstein” was published in 1818. Despite being almost 200 years old (probably the most antique book I’ve read of my own free will) it’s a quick read and easy to follow. While I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think of an article I saw years ago (couldn’t find a link) about a reporter who went to a literary conference in New England and tried to pass of the work of Jane Austen as their own to several literary agents. Not only did NOT ONE of the agents (in England!) recognize the words as Austen’s, but they all turned it down. Let’s face it, Shelley’s seminal work would probably fare no better than Austen’s under the same circumstances.

The full title of the book is “Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus.” I’ll admit to watching and enjoying Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” a summer ago (amid the protestations of friends of mine who would love to see Sir Ridley boiled in oil). What I found the most compelling about “Frankenstein” was the monster’s search for his Creator to demand accountability for a wretched existence-a theme echoed in “Prometheus,” “Blade Runner,” and others. Mary Shelley lost her mother shortly after her birth and detested her stepmother-her own questions about her lost mother may have led to the “creation angst” which birthed Frankenstein’s monster.

It’s been years since I saw the Boris Karloff movie, but the monster in the book speaks perfect, fluid English as opposed to the “Fire bad!” utterations of Karloff’s monster (although the movie deserved its classic status as well). Frankenstein’s monster truly wants to reach out and be part of society, but turns to hatred and vengeance when rejected. Recommended.

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Reading the US Constitution, Day 2

So, there was a little confusion with Article I, Section 2 yesterday…I guess that despite the antique wording, it was trying to say that in order to run for Congress, you have to be a resident of the state you’re presuming to represent, which is how Dick Cheney’s daughter got into trouble while running for the Senate. No word on whether she actually fishes or not.

So, on to Article I, Section 3…let’s see if I’m getting this straight:

This article (or, should I say, “Article” because they were still doing that thing where they capitalize nouns) talks about how the Senate runs. Pretty straightforward, actually: there are two Senators from each state, and each Senator has one vote. The Vice President is the President of the Senate (speaking of Dick Cheney, does anybody out there remember him actually conducting any Senate business?) but has no vote unless he needs to break a tie. A Senator has to be at least thirty years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and has to be a resident of the state they’re representing (I think I have a handle on the language thing now). The Senate chooses (these people insist on misspelling the word “choose”) their officers along with a president pro tempore (hmm…is this the “president pro tem” you hear about sometimes?) The Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments.


“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office…” I guess the death penalty for blowjobs is off the table.





So, Article I, Section 3…again, pretty straightforward. Thank God this wasn’t written in ancient Greek or Aramaic. Here’s some Oingo Boingo:


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Reading The US Constitution: Day 1


One of the reasons (actually probably the main reason) I swore off Facebook were the interminable political arguments I would get in with people (much more about this later). These arguments usually took place either around the United States Constitution or the Bible-two documents that some people tend to confuse with one another, yet embrace with equal fervor.

I read the entire Bible during one of my sophomore years in college; I think I had a brief unit in civics during eighth grade, but other than that, I’ll admit (blaming no one but myself) that I’ve learned more about our Founding Document from Jon Stewart’s America: The Book than from my own schooling.

So, for a couple of years, I’ve had a PDF of The Greatest Document Ever Written By Anyone Except Maybe For The Bible on my hard drive and, with a dearth of political arguments in my life, decide I’m going to find out what all the God-damned screaming on Fox News is about.


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a

more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic

Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote

the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to

ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this

Constitution for the United States of America.

Hmm…I guess this is the “We The People” one, not the “When in the course of human events” one. I guess the former would be the Declaration of Independence, and this is the Preamble to the Constitution. That would make sense. I just saved myself a scolding by Alex Trebek.




All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a

Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate

and House of Representatives.

So, I guess (unlike the Bible) I more or less speak the same language the Founders did. That’s going to make this a lot easier.

This seems pretty straightforward: the Senate and House have the (presumably sole) ability to make laws. And, this is the very first thing, so I guess it’s important.


Section II: is long, so I’m going to paraphrase from here on.

Members of the House of Representatives will be chosen “every second year”


the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifi –

cations requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch

of the State Legislature.”

I guess…they’ll be elected by people who are qualified to vote?

A Representative must be twenty-five years old, a seven-year resident of the United States, and “shall not, when elected, be a representative of the state in which he shall be chosen.” I’ll get back to you on this one.

Each state has at least one Representative…I think it’s supposed to be one for every 30,000 people, or something like that.

“When vacancies happen in the Representation from any

State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of

Election to fill such Vacancies.”

I guess…if a seat becomes vacant, the President calls an election?

Article I, Section 2 closes by stating that the House chooses its speaker and other officers and “has the sole power of impeachment.”

It’s gonna be a fun year.


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My New Guitar, Part 3



“To see a thing uncolored by one’s own personal preferences and desires is to see it in its own pristine simplicity.”

~Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

I don’t know how or when, but at some point, the act of playing the electric bass guitar-something that I’ve done for most of my life and professionally since I was a teenager-lost all meaning for me. I still play at church on Sundays, but other than that, my trusty Music Man sits in the corner.

I either lost sight of or never understood the fact that I was playing for other people. For over twenty years, people ate, danced, drank, got married, left the club together at 2 a.m., while I was playing in the background, and I don’t know if I ever gave it a second thought. Every time I went onstage as a bassist, I was thinking about me: am I in tune, is my gear working, are my fingers going the way they’re supposed to go? I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I was an entertainer, that I was supposed to connect with people, or that I was supposed to make them connect with each other. Of course, there were magic nights when I felt like people in the audience had been transformed-and I was part of that transformation-but for most intents and purposes, I might as well have been playing behind Plexiglas.

I was never supposed to play the guitar. I made a decision when I entered college that I was going to focus on bass exclusively, and between the fall of 1989 and the fall of 2004, I might have picked up a guitar three or four times with the intent of playing it. But, the opportunity to start teaching came about in 2004, and I (for most intents and purposes) lied about my guitar-playing ability to get the job. I hustled down to Gelb in Redwood City, got a cheap Mexican-made Fender Stratocaster and an equally cheap amplifier, and went to work. My hands remembered the basic chords and picking, and most of my students were beginners, so I didn’t have much to learn. A few months after, I decided I was tired of hauling an amplifier around and picked up an Art & Lutherie budget steel-string acoustic from the same parent company as my new nylon-string.

Almost all of my basses were showpieces that I shepherded carefully-an early 1990’s Yamaha 5-string, the Music Man Stingray (still my main bass), a Gibson-made Tobias 6-string, and the Furlanetto (sold under the moniker F-Bass). These were supposed to be for me what a Stradivarius would have been for a concert violinist, or a Bosendorfer for a concert pianist. By contrast, my guitars, by design were utilitarian: cheap instruments to serve a quick purpose. And, I was never preoccupied with keeping the Strat or the steel-string in pristine condition: the Strat in particular has been dropped several times and has a pretty heroic chunk taken out of the side of the neck. Yet, that’s never kept me up at night.

photo 2 copyA few weeks ago, I had the honor of doing a demonstration for my son’s class at school. I’ve joked since that performing for a roomful of kids with developmental issues is pretty much the same as performing for drunk adults: you can’t turn your back on them and anything can happen. But, it was one of the most magical, transformative twenty minutes of my life. I did a demonstration where they all came up and strummed: I can’t imagine sitting in a corner and hiding, or not letting them see the instrument up close. Anytime you’re truly connecting with people, you run the risk of bearing the scars of it afterward….and that’s okay.

The reason I got the new nylon-string is because of a guy named Gary Schoofs from San Mateo. Gary walked into my studio at Bronstein in South San Francisco and paid for a block of guitar lessons, and his guitar-playing ability was close enough to mine that it was a little embarrassing. He couldn’t read music and had very little theoretical knowledge of the fretboard, but in terms of just physically being able to play the guitar, there were certain things he could do much better than I could. So, last spring, vowing to avoid further embarrassment, I decided to go through a fingerstyle method (written by Charlie Byrd).

It went okay, but pretty quickly I realized that the material transferred much better to nylon-string than steel-string, so around mid-summer I started thinking about getting a nylon-string, and here we are now.

Maybe this is what people do in serious psychoanalysis: I don’t know. But, I had a revelation a few days ago that my career as a bassist was about me (and me only), and my career as a guitarist has been about other people.  My basses were (and still are) vehicles for my own self-gratification. My guitars, since their acquiring, have been tools for reaching out to other people. I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve lived a selfish life, but my guitars, behind my back, have been serving the needs of others.

Since I discovered that ridiculous little blip on the guitar’s surface (and like most imperfections, is only visible if you look for it in a certain light), I’ve been a lot less shy about taking it out in public. I’ve used it for lessons-something I may not have done otherwise. I’ll be taking it to the Bayhill Starbucks today for a meeting with a potential student. I may take it out of its case and play it (outdoors in November!) But, you know, that’s okay…if you spend time around others damage will result. But, you can’t fix something until you break it…and the repairs can be more beautiful than the actual craft itself. I guess you can say cracks are what make us human…






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