life

Springsteen Nassau 1980 – The Little Brother All Grown Up

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As great at the Nassau show is, I always considered it the little brother to the great 1978 Darkness shows such as Passaic, Winterland, Agora, the Roxy, and  Atlanta (all radio broadcasts, well booted, and known to fans as Winterland Night, Passaic Night, Summertime Bruce, and Roxy Night).  For many of us, we can hear a moment in one of these and know exactly what show is being played. “Bootleggers, roll your tapes” is from Roxy, and “vomiting in your girl’s purse” was from the Agora show.  They are like old friends that never lose our love.

Springsteen Nassau

I never felt the same way about Nassau Night, the great 12/31/1980 show that many consider one of Springsteen’s greatest performances.  It’s an amazing show, 38 songs played in just under 4 hours.  While I always thought the Darkness shows were emotionally focused, intense, and tight, Nassau always seemed bigger and less intimate to me. I didn’t have the same emotional connection as I did the ’78 shows. The band had moved to arenas, the thematic pattern of the show had changed, the crowds were bigger, and the shows were longer and just bigger.  The performances are outstanding, but my connection to it was not the same.  Compared to the concise and focused Darkness shows, the River shows were a marathon collection of highs and lows, emotional mood swings, before finally ending with a frenzied encore set that left the fans and band exhausted.

With the release of 12/31/1980 Nassau show as part of his live concert series, I finally admit that this show is close to being an equal to those great 1978 shows. The band is well seasoned and running on all cylinders from start to finish.  Yes, it is a sprawl compared to the tightness of the Darkness shows.   Running almost 4 hours, Nassau contains most of The River, along with fan favorites from prior tours and a few covers.  The performances are outstanding, and the mix of old and new songs gives the listener time to really listen to what is being performed.  Only Springsteen would have a “mini-set” in the middle of the show that would be considered a “beer-run/bathroom break” today:  playing three slow songs in a row.  But, when Fade Away, The Price You Pay, and Wreck On The Highway are played here, the emotional intensity and intimacy with the audience is second to none at the time.

Compared to today, 1980 is almost the dark ages with the way information flows. Today, you get home from a show and within hours someone has already posted a recording online.  Back then bootlegs were purchased at flea markets and “underground” record stores.  Despite this, the crowd warmly receives Rendezvous (never released) and is already singing the first verse to Hungry Heart (prompted by Bruce).  I know it was his first “hit” single, but the song was only two months old from the time it was released. I remember being at one of the Landover MD shows the month before and people were singing the first verse already.

Bruce himself has said that “the best music is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with”.  His music has always been the soundtrack of my life, and shows like Nassau are moments in time that can never be replaced.  Springsteen and the E Street Band have been captivating me for over 40 years and I have no intention of ending this relationship with them and the music they present to me. This series of live releases give us the chance to go back, and dust off those cobwebs and remember the way our lives used to be, how much we have changed since then, and how much we are still the same.

“At the end of every hard day, people find some reason to believe”.

“Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive”.

Amen Bruce, Amen.

I Have Been Humbled

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I have been humbled.

 Yesterday was my first day of OT (yes, Occupational Therapy).   When I was in the hospital (12/9-11, 2014) to remove my cancerous prostate, my Ulnar Nerve received a trauma.  For those of you who may not know what the Ulnar Nerve is or what it does, I have stolen the following from Wikipedia:

The Ulnar nerve runs near the ulna bone. The nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body (meaning unprotected by muscle or bone), so injury is common. This nerve is directly connected to the little finger, and the adjacent half of the ring finger, supplying the palmar side of these fingers, including both front and back of the tips.  One method of injuring the nerve is to strike the medial epicondyle of the humorous from posteriorly, or inferiorly with the elbow flexed. The ulnar nerve is trapped between the bone and the overlying skin at this point. This is commonly referred to as bumping one’s “funny bone”.  The Ulnar nerve also helps fire the muscles for the grip.

We are not sure exactly the injury occurred.  It may have been banged during or right after the surgery when they moved me. I may have banged it on the rail of the hospital bed, or I may have compressed the nerve while struggling to get myself up from a chair in the hospital room.  The cause does not matter, the result is irritating.

 I have constant pins and needles in my pinky and adjacent half of the ring finger in my right hand.  I cannot touch my pinky to my thumb.  My wrist/grip is weak because this nerve helps fire the muscles of the entire hand.  During my OT assessment, the grip in my dominant right hand was 70% LESS than my weaker left, and the pinching tests (finger to finger) in my right hand compared to my left had similar results. 

 I am having difficulty with many of the tasks I love.  I am having difficulty playing the piano, not just because of my weakness but because my right pinky can’t keep up with the rest of the hand and lags behind the instructions my brain is giving it.  I can’t bowl because while I can grip the ball, when I go to the release it falls off of my hand.  My horrible handwriting is now worse, and simple everyday activities such as handling a fork, typing, shaving and brushing my teeth are now a chore.

 My neurologist (yes, I have a neurologist now!) said that the nerve will heal and the symptoms should go away, IN A FEW MONTHS!!!!  In the meantime I am going to OT to help re-strengthen the muscles that are not getting the signals from the damaged nerve.

 So, I said humbling?  How about it took me 15 minutes this morning to try to button my shirt sleeve button on my left arm (I was stubborn, I wasn’t giving up!).  How about how difficult it was for me yesterday in OT to pick up toothpicks with my third and fourth fingers and thumb and press them into putty, or using a hand-held spring tensioned vice device to pick up 100 cotton balls and put them back into a box.  How about sitting at a table performing these therapies with three other people, all stroke survivors, who have it much worse off than I do.   I am doing OT just for one injury, they are doing OT as part of a regiment of therapies to recover from their injury.

 We all take many things for granted. The air we breathe, the food on our table,  etc.  We don’t even think about the countless things we do each day.  It’s easy to forget about these simple things (they are just there for us), until we lose some of that ability.  Like a fish out of water who can’t process oxygen, this simple injury has had a major impact on almost everything I do each day.  Even now, as I type this I am unable to use my pinky (I am a 10 fingered typist) and it has taken me twice as long to write this as it would have two months ago.  But then again, two months ago I wouldn’t have given a second thought to type this out quickly, or button my shirt, or pick up toothpicks, or touch my thumb to my pinky, all activities that require much more work  or are impossible right now to achieve.

 I have been humbled.

 

Music And Me

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There are few things more important than music in my life.  Breathing, health, family and friends will always be on the top of my list, but after that there is music.  Music is the very essence of who I am and I cannot ever live without it.

Music has been with me for as long as I remember.  I started playing the piano at the age of 5, and remember buying my first records at 11 or 12 years old.  I cannot imagine driving in my car, exercising, or performing any other passive function without listening to music.  As I write this article I am listening to music.  It is all around me, and I am always thinking about it.

Music is the way I express myself, and moves me in ways that I cannot accurately describe.   Without any warning, music can make me laugh or cry, lighten my mood, move me, it can remind me, and inspire me like nothing else.

The the right sound at the right time, in the right situation, affects me like almost nothing else in my life.  The other day How Can I Be Sure by The Rascals shuffled on my phone and the beauty of the song hit my emotional center with such force that I was close to tears, brought on by the beautiful lyrics and amazing instrumentation behind the words.  Similarly, while driving the other day I Don’t Want To Go Home by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes came on and it lifted my spirit as I thought about summer, the beach, youth, and anything but the 18 degree temperature outside.

I am very open minded about music and listen to so many different genres that when someone asks me what type of music I like best I am unable to answer them.  Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist (I have seen him over 60 times and am not ready to end that ride),  and if I had to make a list of other favorites the Beatles would be number two, but after that things get rather confusing.  For example the last 12 songs I have listened to on my iphone are:

 

  1. REM – Driver 8
  2. Grateful Dead – Big Railroad Blues
  3. Genesis – Ripples
  4. Rush – Subdivisions
  5. Springsteen – Streets Of Fire (Live ’78, Passaic)
  6. O.A.R – Shattered (Turn The Car Around)
  7. Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
  8. The Band – Get Up Jake
  9. Pearl Jam – I Am Mine (Live)
  10. Phish – Ghost
  11. The Verve Pipe – Colorful
  12. Linkin Park – Bleed It Out

So, you can imagine my lack of surprise when some of my friends call me a music snob.  You can imagine how hard it is for me to make a mix CD for friends.  I like so much, and have so much material to draw from (close to 1000 cd’s, a few hundred albums sitting in a closet, and over 6000 tracks on my itunes library) that choosing the “right” songs for a mix is an impossible labor of love that totally depends on the mood I am in.

In a future article I will write about the social side of music, what that means to me, and how it has changed for me over the last 40 years.  I will talk about how in the old days your collection took up a wall in a room (and organizing it, if you did,, was a labor of love) and today it may fit into a hard drive the size of your hand.  I will talk about how I have shifted from an album oriented approach to listening to music to a track approach, how streaming makes exposure to  music much easier, and how all of this is good and sometimes limiting to how we share and listen to music.

Thank for listening.  If you love music as much as I do, I hope you found this article interesting.

And remember, it is possible to “learn more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”.

 

Life Happens, Cancer Happens, Life Goes On

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So, what happened?
Life happened.
Work happened.
Having a busy schedule and commitments happened.
Not writing a post since June is not what I wanted.  But somehow life just got in the way.

AND, getting prostate cancer and having a Radical Prostatectomy on Dec 9 happened.

It is absolutely amazing how the layers of life can get so complicated
and busy and then you receive a cancer diagnosis on top of it and all
of the shit that is hovering near the fan hits and gets all over
the place.

The good news is I am cancer free.
The bad news is recovery after surgery can suck the life out of you. My surgeon
was great and did an excellent job. What they don’t tell you before the
surgery is how tough the recovery is, especially after a major four hour
surgery.

The first few weeks were horrible as I had no energy and all I wanted
to do was sleep, not to mention going home with a catheter and an abdominal drain for a week. My continence is getting better but still not the greatest but I am told that this will improve with time. I need to be patient.

The most important thing is I AM CANCER FREE.

This whole experience has taught me alot about myself. I am not as strong
as I thought I was and I truly now know what it means to have to live one day
at a time. In the hospital I had to learn how to live sometimes one hour at
a time when I was waiting for my pain medication. My Al-Anon program
really helped me through the tougher times of this recovery and gave me the
strength and the guardrails to weather the days when my patience with my
body wore done and I started to lose it.

I still have bad days, but as I get stronger my resolve gets stronger and I am
able to weather and push through the tough moments. I am very lucky the cancer
was found in such an early stage and I am grateful for my long term prognosis.
I just need to be more patient with my recovery, take the bad days that come
along with the good, and live my life one day at a time.

More to come. Stay tuned….

The Corner Of Our Eye

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They are in the corner of our eye.
People that come and go, in and out of our lives.
We may not see them every day, or even think about them more than once a month, or sometimes even less.
But they are always there, hanging on the peripheral of our daily activities.
We often forget about them, but then something happens that brings them back into focus.
Perhaps it is a memory, or a picture we see, or something they post on Facebook.
Or we see them at a wedding, or at the store and we are polite and make promises to get together.
Maybe we get a “hey, ‘what’s new, how are you” text.
And then we find out what has been going on in their lives, while they have not been part of ours.
And we find out that they are sick, or lost their job, or their mom has passed, or their kid did something great or perhaps got into some trouble.
And we weren’t part of it, or there to help them, to comfort them, to help get them through it.
And we feel horrible about it.
Not because we weren’t there, but because we were too busy to be there.
And then we feel guilty, and bad, and lament that so much time has passed.
Because it is not that hard to keep in touch with the people that mean something to us.
No matter how peripheral they may be.
A quick email, a quick text, a quick call.
Hey, how are you? Hope all is well. Let’s meet for lunch, dinner, coffee.
No pressure. Just a quick connect, let them know that they still mean something to you.
We should all do it before it’s too late.

Square Pegs, Round Holes & Solving Problems

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Some days just don’t work, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  No matter how hard you try, things just don’t fit together.

You have a busy Saturday with errands to run, appointments to keep, and kids’ activities to watch or drive to, and suddenly you realize it is not humanly possible to do be in two places at once.  You try to figure it all out, but sometimes a problem will seem so insurmountable that it will ruin the carefully planned dance of the day.

The only way to make things work sometimes is to either find a new peg or a new hole, or reshape the edges of one so they fit together.   Easier said than done, but sometimes moving things around in your life makes things fit together better and will help restore our sanity.

Thankfully, most problems have a solution.  You may not like it,  but a solution can always be found.

I was at my dad’s the other day to change one of his high ceiling light bulbs.  Nobody wants their 80 something dad climbing a ladder, trust me.  We started to talk about a trip they were planning.  As senior citizens a drive to Boston is not made without careful planning.  Where to eat, where to pee, did we remember the hearing aids, things like that.   Each transportation mode (driving, and who drives and how far, train, etc) have positive and negative aspects, and potential problems and pain points are all over the place. As we discussed the possibilities I realized that each stumbling block had a solution, which I carefully placed in front of him, until he agreed there was no reason why they couldn’t go to Boston via one of the many ways we discussed.

Sometimes things just don’t fit together.  But with a little sandpaper, reshaping of plans, and a willingness to compromise we can make the square pegs and the round holes fit together nice and neatly.

They Said It’s Your Birthday

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Happy birthday to me. Woo friggin hoo.

Another lap around the sun. Another lap getting lost, wasting time, being productive some days and others not getting a thing done, and wondering what I want to do with my life when I grow up. Another lap of laughter and tears and happiness and grief and hard work and absolute amazement of the good and the bad in this world. Another lap wondering how Plan A is going, and thinking about Plan B, C, D, etc.

Being overly reflective? Yes. Less work years ahead of me than behind. Wondering about the career choices I made in my life. One kid out of the house and thinking about a different future for himself (and we told him, take the chances now before you get old and regret it, just make sure you can pay your bills), and another kid that will leave the house in the fall to start the next phase of his life.

I think it’s ok to reflect now; after all it’s MY birthday. I think its ok to wonder where it all went and what I could have or should have done differently. I know I am not alone. Not only us, but all of our friends have kids that our moving on and parents (those of us that still have them around) that are really aging and we are getting those aches and pains and sprains and tears and torn cartilage and more gray hairs, and we are beginning to see that we are not young anymore.

I DO have a lot of gratitude. I have an amazing wife, and two wonderful boys who make me proud, each in their own way, have a lot of close family, and am blessed with many dear and close friends.

We continue to take the laps around the sun. We don’t give up. We continue to go through the everyday grind of life. We get up in the morning and go to work each day (paraphrasing The Boss), we take care of our chores, and we pay our bills, and fold the laundry, and call the plumber and go to our kid’s games. And in all of that chaos it is so easy to forget to take a minute and smell the flowers blooming in the spring and pull out of the bottom of our pocket the good things in our lives that often get pushed there by all the crap that we have to do.

Enjoy life, it’s too darn short. Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me.

Masks, Lies, & Faking It

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Kurt Cobain said that “the worst crime is faking it”.  When Nirvana was active I was not a big fan, but I have grown to enjoy their music, appreciate their legacy, and influence on countless other bands. It is hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since he took his own life.

This post could be about Nirvana and music, or about women faking it in bed, but it is NOT about either of them.

This post is about masks.  Not Halloween masks, but the masks we wear daily.

We all wear them. Don’t lie and say this does not apply to you. This applies to nobody specific but everybody in general.  I am as guilty as everyone, and use one of those multi-layered rock solid locking masks sold at the high-end mask stores (not the cheap one sold on late-night television).

Our masks are on every day, from the moment we engage with people, until we settle down at night with a book or in front of the television. We could be having a horrible morning, after a fight with our spouse or we are worried about our kid’s schoolwork, but when a co-worker asks “How’s it going?” we always respond “Good!”  To do otherwise would be to go against social norms and admit that something is bothering us and that life is not peachy keen perfect.

Masks are our protection.  They are comfortable and behind them is safety. They allow us to look and feel better than we actually do.  Masks are the force field that keeps people at arm’s length and away from our troubles. Our masks allow people to only see the public persona that we have constructed for ourselves.  We can live and act like everything is fine, and nobody can see the bad and ugly parts of our lives.

But this is a lie.  A safe lie, but a lie nonetheless.   Our masks allow us to deny to ourselves and others how we really feel.  It is much easier (and safer) to make believe everything is great, than to admit that we have a problem, or are troubled by something.

It is easy to be a faker and make believe that everything is OK.  It is a lot harder to be honest with how we feel, and that starts with how we feel about ourselves.  Living life the safe way is easy, and our masks help keep us safe.  Taking a chance and taking our masks off a little bit takes courage, but allows us to be who we want to be.

I am trying to peel some of my layers off. It’s scary, but I will let you know how it goes.

 

Addiction Misconceptions and Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Overheard in the cafeteria this morning “……things would be better if he would just stop. I don’t understand why he just can’t stop using”. I wanted to butt in and give my two cents to another of the misinformed, but walked away and kept my mouth shut. It got me thinking about addiction, and my brain started to think about “famous people” dying from the disease and the public misconceptions that swirl around these deaths.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most recent in a long list of ‘famous people’ (actors) that died from a drug overdose where the toxicology report determined they were addicted to prescription drugs. I am not an addict, but like many people have some addictive behaviors. Many of us have some sort of an addictive ‘thing’ we do all the time (a certain food we eat, a TV show we can’t stop watching, cleaning our home, washing our car, etc.). My goal here is not to talk about addiction to drugs as I have no experience with that. I am frustrated how so many people think addiction is a personal and moral failure. “Just stop using” so many people say, without having a clue about what that really means.

Addiction is real and not easy to ‘beat’ or control. Addicts don’t beat the disease. All they can do is keep it at bay. When an addict is sober they are not recovered, they are in recovery. This is a disease that stays with them the rest of their lives, always lurking in the background, waiting for a weak moment to strike. The FIRST step of any 12 step program talks about the admission of being powerless over the disease.

Russell Brand (who I am starting to respect) recently said:

The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.”

People have said that Hoffman must have been depressed, otherwise why would he use drugs (he was, after all, a ‘famous person’, and famous people don’t have problems). We don’t know what was going on inside his head so it is a waste of time to jump to conclusions. People need to understand that addicts don’t choose to become addicts, that this IS a disease and there needs to be greater empathy towards people struggling with it.

As a society we need to do a MUCH better job helping the addicts in our lives stay sober. There must be more empathy and less stigmatism. It really bothers me when I read or hear someone say that ‘all they need to do is stop drinking/drugging’ and they will be better. Tell that to an addict and they may respond that you should stop eating or sleeping. To an addict, using is just an important to them as eating and sleeping is to us, and we need to find better ways to help them.

Addicts are people to. They have jobs, families, friends, hopes and dreams. They deserve our love and support, and not people who turn their backs on them. As with any disease, they need our help, and don’t need to be locked up in a jail cell or isolated in a dark hotel room somewhere because they think nobody cares about them. When they reach their bottom they need to be able to shout out and someone will be there to reach out a hand to pull them out of the rabbit hole and get them the help they need.

And, one more time, back to Russell Brand:

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is a reminder, though, that addiction is indiscriminate. That it is sad, irrational and hard to understand. What it also clearly demonstrates is that we are a culture that does not know how to treat its addicts. Would Hoffman have died if this disease were not so enmeshed in stigma? If we weren’t invited to believe that people who suffer from addiction deserve to suffer? Would he have OD’d if drugs were regulated, controlled and professionally administered? Most importantly, if we insisted as a society that what is required for people who suffer from this condition is an environment of support, tolerance and understanding.”

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

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I have been struggling with some things lately, and realize we are our own worst enemy in asking for help. There is a reason why we invented maps, and then the GPS, otherwise nobody would know where they were going. We can accomplish great tasks when we ask for help and work together, and we usually struggle mightily when we try to go it alone.

As a kid, we have to learn things on our own (going to the potty, tying our shoes, throwing a ball, etc.), but, if we never seek out help, we grow up never learning how to ask for it. We become adults who think asking for help is a sign of weakness. We tell ourselves we will find a way and figure it out ourselves. Eventually, we struggle with something and then dismiss it. “I can’t do that. I don’t understand it”.  It is easier to ignore what we don’t know or can’t do than to push through to it. It is easy to dismiss something than trying to understand it. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid trying to figure out fractions or how to ask a girl on a date, at your first job, or twenty years into your career, struggling with something is going to happen.

In life, there will always be challenges and forks in the road.

The easy road is comforting. Familiar. A beautiful walk in the park. No problem. No sweat. That was easy. I can do it.

The hard choice? Don’t go there. Mom said to not go into the woods. It’s dark, and scary, and we can’t see around that first turn. It is outside of our comfort zone. Why should we struggle? Who is going to help us when we fall down?

We have to learn that it is OK to make the hard choice, and to ask for help when we struggle. There will be others who will help you along the way, who will not laugh at you when you fail. There will be people who will listen, guide you, share their stories of strength and hope, and remind you that you can accomplish your goal or work through your pain.

Life is an amazing journey. It is full of ups and downs, safe and hard choices. Sometimes the choices are easy, and sometimes life will throw me a curve when I least expect it and I am not ready for it. But, my journey is not over, nor will it ever be. I am finally starting to realize, as hard as it is for me to admit, that it is ok to struggle and not know where I am going. The journey is the most important part, as long as I am still learning.

And on the days where I can’t see where I am going, I may ask you for directions.