Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Present of Presence

 We just stopped for a quick bite to eat at a roadside gas station/truck stop on the way to the venue. Touring over the years I have gotten used to the truck stop meals/midnight snacks while the bus fuels up. But we were in a touring van cause it was Europe and this was not your typical truck stop. It was in Bratislava, Slovakia and it was the kind of truck stop that is a car thief's dream. We were staying in Vienna, Austria but because Bratislava is so close the plan was to just drive to the venue and return back to our hotel in Vienna after the show. Before I left my hotel room that day I had a gut instinct to plug my phone in to back up all the pictures to my lap top that I had taken so far on the tour. It was the Richie Kotzen Europe tour in 2009 and it was my first trip to Europe. For so long I had dreamed of going to Europe. I spent lots of time visualizing and putting it on goal lists and I was finally there! And I was so honored to be there playing/touring with Richie Kotzen and my band mate and great drummer friend Demian Arriaga.  I was going to take it all in and take tons of pictures along the way. And I had taken some great pictures with my iPhone so far. Ones that I will never be able to replace. Pictures of castles in Estonia that date back to the 13th century. Pictures of us standing by roadside signs in Lithuania and Latvia and pictures of us boarding a plane in Warsaw, Poland that I thought was way to small and too packed to be able to fly. Pictures of the Italian Alps from my airplane window on the way to Poland. Good stuff and great times. That day in Slovakia everyone was gonna go eat a sandwich and get on the way to the venue. I thought about staying in the van and listening to music but I decided instead to go in and get some lunch too. The odd thing is that I went outside the store and was standing there and noticed a few guys kinda staring at me a little. Like they were keeping an eye on me. Makes more sense in hindsight. When we returned to the van we noticed the door was open. There was a problem. We got robbed! Fortunately they did not take the touring essentials like guitars and stuff like that. They just went through our bags to find stuff like wallets and phones. And my phone was gone. I checked a thousand times but it was gone. Now that may not sound like a big deal and it really isn't but nowadays losing a phone when it can't be replaced immediately can be a big deal. And it was a big deal cause of all those irreplaceable photos. It was a big deal cause that was my only line of communication. On those long rides through Europe I would put on my headphones and listen to music as I stared out the window thinking about how I was the luckiest man on earth to be doing what I was doing. I would play games on my phone too while scenes I had never seen before passed me by. Professionally it was not good cause I used it to play the songs every night for the set warming up in the dressing room. All that was gone. My little device that I relied way too much on. Sounds ridiculous and it is but I feel like I was missing a limb or something. Violent thoughts went through my mind like I wish I could have beaten the thieves to a bloody pulp and I was hoping they were dead in a ditch somewhere for stealing my property. Sounds ridiculous that anyone should die for stealing a phone but those were my thoughts. Guess it must have been the Sicilian blood in me. I wanted bad things to happen to them. For anyone that has had anything stolen from you in a break in scenario it feels like such a violation. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I didn't want to accept it. I walked to a mall in Vienna the very next day to see how much it was to get a new iPhone. But in Europe iphones are twice as expensive and it did not make sense. So I sucked it up and accepted it. It was a major inconvenience but I accepted it. I had to disconnect. Disconnect from technology and the crutch we all are guilty of this day in age. Some are worse than others and I am probably one of the worst violators. Nowadays you can see a table of people and they are not talking, they are all staring at their phones. So there I was driving through the alps of austria staring out the window with no music, games or devices to distract me. Just me and my thoughts and the beauty that surrounded me. Have you ever seen something or had an experience and you are so busy trying to capture a picture of it that you miss the whole event? Not fully absorbing what is in front of you cause you are trying to snap pictures? That happened again to me recently when the space shuttle flew over my house strapped on the back to a 747. Missed being fully present for the whole thing kinda cause I was trying to get good pictures. I feel so bogged down sometimes by the pace of information nowadays and the crutch and reliance of technology that I think I am missing out on a lot of things cause I am not present in the moment. I still had three weeks in the tour and I had that distraction of technology removed from me. What a relief! It was actually the best part of the tour. No way to communicate, no music to listen to, no thought of being distracted by games and taking pictures. I actually did miss not having music to listen to of all things because music helps define moments so clearly. It is like when you hear a song and you can remember exactly where you were and what you were feeling at a certain time. Music can provide like a little emotional time capsule in your brain that when reactivated can bring you right back to a certain point or window of time with all the feelings and pictures associated with it. But at the same time I am glad I did not have it cause I would not have been fully present. Allowing my thoughts to surface at will. Silence is a form of meditation and can be one of the most purifying things for the soul. That day we were traveling through the Austrian alps I let go of my precious phone and was present. A moment came over where I suddenly felt more alive than I had in a very long time. There were many times after that where I would be walking along century old cobblestone streets and I was able to really take in the gravity of the moment instead of being attached to my digital leash. Times where I was sitting in cafe's in Italy with my band mates enjoying good times and conversation not worried about texts, or calls, or games, or pictures. It was the best present I could have received and I thank the universe for it happening. I actually at some point I looked up in the sky and thanked the people who stole my precious phone. It was meant to be. I was present for laughs and conversations with my band mates and crew in the van on the road between locations. I could stare at beautiful things and take a deep breath and take it all in. Phones are like leashes. Especially the way phones are now. Sometimes when I leave my phone at home accidentally I feel a great sense of relief. I love my iPhone, don't get me wrong. And I'm grateful for it but I acknowledge that my reliance on that little device robs me of being present in life a lot of the time. The tendency to constantly communicate with people that are not in front of me and pay so much attention to facebook status's, twitter, and email. I love all those things but I know that is not being present in any way and I am probably missing a lot. Sometimes I feel like life is passing by at the speed of light and I am moving through it like a drone plugged into a power grid. But it is those few moments where I become reconnected that jolts my spirit awake. And those are the best moments in life to me. I get the irony of talking about being present while sitting in front of a computer typing this blog but oddly I feel more present recalling that time in my life and the lesson I thought I learned from this. I just have to remind myself and try and make a conscious effort to make those moments happen more often.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Biggest Lesson I Learned From My Dad

 My dad was a classical pianist. Not professionally. He was actually a dentist professionally but he
was a great pianist. When I was really little I remember sneaking out of bed and sitting around the corner out of sight so I could listen to him play. I guess as a guy who worked all day long and had a family this was his only time to sit down and lose himself in his music. I have to admit at times it would bring tears to my eyes the stuff he would play and how great it sounded. But he was forced into a career as a dentist by his parents because of their expectations. He always approached his dentistry like an artist and with such great care cause that was the kind of soul he was. But he did not like it. Growing up I would always hear him say "If I could do it all over I would do anything to be a concert pianist". In my naivety I would ask why he could not do that.  And he would say that he has a career and a family and it just isn't possible anymore. Now as an adult I get that and honor him for sticking in a career he was not happy with cause he wanted to provide for his family. But hearing that message of "if only" and "what if" was very powerful. And even as a young kid when I could not even fully absorb the weight of that sentiment, I still heard it loud and clear. He would often times come home upset from work and while he never took it out on his family I knew he wasn't happy and was most of the time stressed out. Then the bomb dropped on our family a few months before I was to start my freshman year in high school. My dad was diagnosed with liver cancer. I'll never forget where I was when I heard the news. Odd how that stuff sticks with you. After months and years of coming home stressed and unhappy this is how things turn out? And for some reason how I translated that was "you go to work everyday in a job you dislike only to have it cause you this?". I decided from there I was not going to take that path. The path of what other's expect you to do and the path of wondering "what if". I never wanted to waste my life regretting and wishing I had. When I look back now at the incredibly fortunate career I have had I realize that even if I left music behind today I could never say "what if". I have achieved more than I ever thought I could. I have played and toured with people I grew up seeing on MTV and I have played everything from small dive bars to packed arena's. What a dream come true it has been so far. Sometimes I get so fed up with the music business that I contemplate doing something else. Sometimes the business of music can be frustrating and it can overshadow the reason why I started doing this in the first place. But fortunately I can never say "I wish I had". I used see tour buses on the road and say "One day I am gonna be on one of those". And I have. Many times over. I used to go to big rock shows as a kid at local arena's and wonder what it was like to be on that stage looking out. And now I know what that feels like. All my career I have toured with signed and established artists playing their music, and even though I didn't write the songs myself it is still an amazing feeling to look out and see people singing along to every word. And the excitement they feel and express watching their favorite artist perform those songs is an incredible experience to say the least. While there are still a few things left to cross off my list, I have done and experienced more than I ever thought I would. Whoever thought practicing bass in my room would lead to having the opportunity to tour all over the world. After spending up to eight hours a day practicing I went for it and relocated to Los Angeles to see where this could take me. Cause I never wanted to say "I wish I had tried".

  After thirty years of being in a career my dad was never happy with he retired and tried his hand at the things he felt he always missed out on. He let his artist and creative side emerge. He tried his hand at acting, stand up comedy, and even wrote a book. He would have gone for the music thing too but 30 years of dentistry left his hands with permanent carpal tunnel syndrome.  But during his time of him being able to explore his artist side he actually seemed at times happier and more content with life. Unfortunately after 5 relapses of cancer it finally took his life in 2008, ten years after his retirement. And he was never a truly happy human being even though to everyone around him he was the kindest and most generous person around. Sometimes I wonder if I followed and set out to fulfill his dream of being a musician or my own. But nonetheless I always have had music running through my blood and to this day whoever's dream it is I could not be more satisfied I went for it instead of wondering what if.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome to my new blog! This will just be a place for my reflections and thoughts on the adventures I have had so far in my life as a musician. It also might contain some off music subjects and lessons I have learned along the way in my general life path so far. I feel like I have lived enough experiences for two lifetimes and I look forward to sharing some of those things on here. If you enjoy it and are entertained then great! (I think you will by some of it). If not click on the next blog button and move on. Hopefully I can take you on a journey and paint a good picture here. I will do my best! At the very least you will probably be pretty entertained and maybe even inspired some times. Over my 14 year career in music I have had the honor of playing with some of the best artists in the world. From legends like Bono and the Edge to some new stars like David Archuleta to some eighties rock stars like Bret Michaels. My career has been interesting to say the least. I've gone from experiencing incredible moments I could not even believe were happening like playing on the American Idol Season Finale backing up the guys from U2 to tragic moments like being onstage during the worst rock n'roll disaster in history (Station Nightclub Fire in Rhode Island that claimed the lives of 100 people). I have experienced more than I ever dreamed I could, more than I ever thought I would, and more than I ever set out to do. And lived things that if I were to go back in time and tell my 17 year old self I would experience my seventeen year old self would never believe it for a second. It is a strange feeling looking over at someone you are playing with and grew up seeing on MTV and realizing they are facing the same way as you on the stage. And oddly I am kind of a shy person who never felt truly comfortable on a stage in the first place so the fact that I chose it as a platform where I make most of my living is strange to me. But nonetheless, it has been fun... So far... And if and when I go out on tour again I will blog from the the road. On life, day to day stuff, whatever. But I will do my best to create a great experience for you and something that will be fun/interesting to read. Feel free to let me know how I am doing in the comments section below. So I hope you will tune in and see where I go with this. I am interested to find out what comes out myself!