Saturday, September 28, 2013

inspiration...with a few veggies

We only ever really teach anyone anything by example. You can tell people that there is merit in taking risks, following their passion, yadah, yadah, yadah. But seeing someone who’s actually doing it and watching their life transform before your very eyes, well, that’s a whole other thing.

Last night, I went to a dinner at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, where a friend of mine is studying to be a chef. Not just any kind of chef. A vegan chef.

I believe it was my third vegan meal to date, if you don’t count the times in my life when I just ate lettuce, or when, in my twenties, a meal for me consisted of an apple.

Yeah, me and the vegetarian/vegan thing have had quite the contentious relationship over the years as I’ve tried things optimistically called “veggie dogs” and “hamburgers” that resembled the meat versions of these foods in no other way but possibly shape.

So the first time I went to a dinner party at my friend, JJ’s house, I told my father to save me some chicken for when I got home, because there was a good chance I’d be hungry.

I drove to her house and the rest of the guests, a.k.a. my friends, had already scoped out the nearest pizza place. Some also ate before arriving there, I believe.

Oh, it’s not to be derogatory about my friend…or her culinary skills. But come on, what can you really do to vegetables? And how many can one realistically eat and enjoy in one sitting?

Well, before I get back to the whole topic of passion and how following it is the good and right thing to do, let me just say that JJ’s dinner that night was one of the best meals I think I’ve had in my life. I don’t honestly know what the heck she did to the vegetables. I only know that every bite brought with it the kind of sensory delight I’d only experienced in meals containing, let’s just say non-vegan entities.

So last night, as I drove into the city to attend a vegan meal prepared by my friend and the rest of the chefs in her graduating class, I was actually looking forward to it. Now, don’t get all excited. I did notice countless restaurants in the vicinity as I drove around looking for parking, you know, just in case.

But back to my friend, for a minute. Joanne, or JJ as I’ve always known her, spent her entire adult life working at a completely different career, you know, the kind that had job security and probably a good pension. She always had a sunny disposition, so I never thought about her as being unhappy, particularly. But the truth is we all have dreams and aspirations. And hers, completely unbeknownst to me, was to be a chef.

When we were seated next to each other at a friend’s birthday dinner last year, she seemed different to me – like she was lit up, exuberant. It seems she had “retired” from her other job of many years and was now studying to be a chef.

I listened intently as she told me about the different classes with such excitement that she just could not contain her utter glee. It was like someone had let her out of prison and unleashed this vision of unbridled joy. And all I could think was I wanted to get me some of that!

So being invited to partake in this milestone three-course meal before her graduation was an honor. And when the chefs came out at the end of it to be acknowledged, she radiated even more joy than I’d witnessed that first night she told me about it.

I can’t help but think that it would be a completely different world if everyone followed their passion. I can’t help but think that people would be kinder and more compassionate and that a world where people honored their true callings would look more peaceful and love-filled. If we don’t honor ourselves, how exactly is it that we can truly honor another? When we disrespect that part of us that lights up, whether it’s about slicing and dicing vegetables, or discovering something in science, or teaching a child to read, how can we expect others to respect us when we dismiss ourselves so easily?

There’s dignity in even the most menial job done well. But we don’t often think that these days, so we look to cut corners, and there’s no pride that can be taken in that. No wonder people are angry.

I think we all owe it to ourselves and humanity as a whole to do something that we are passionate about. Maybe we all can’t quit our bill-paying jobs right now, but doing something to reignite the spark within us is absolutely doable. Feeding our souls is as important, if not more so, than feeding our bodies. Our time here is finite. So not to wring every ounce of joy out of it that we can is tragic. The world needs our happiness. It’s already seen our rage and our unhappiness.

And to my friend, the ridiculously talented and amazing chef, Joanne Sonderling, I say, first – congratulations, second – you inspire me tremendously, and third – only YOU could get me to eat vegan and like it!!!

Have a great day, everyone. Thanks for stopping by. And please tell your friends.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

a holiday blog

Today is one of several designated holy days for me. I think there are five – Emmy, Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony, and Christmas.

Sure, some little girls grow up envisioning the tiara, the flaming baton, and the swimsuit competition, but not me. Nope. I envisioned Best Original Song in…well, anything, really. No tiara. And definitely no swimsuit stroll down the runway whilst being scored. SCORED. Sheesh, as if trying on swimsuits wasn’t bad enough!

So tonight I’ll take the rare night off and watch the Emmy’s. I have no idea who’s nominated, and to tell you the truth, I have not watched much television this past year, so I imagine there will be a lot of “who the heck is he/she?” emanating from my seat in front of the television.

If I had anything to say about the awards, I’d make sure the show, the entire cast, creator, and writer of The Newsroom won everything. But I know, I’m partial. I like smart, funny, and like Beyonce sings, “To the left, to the left.” So, on that note, ditto for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I think he’s only won about 250 Emmy’s so far, so I’m really rooting for a win this year.

Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, and I think he should just be knighted official host of every award show there is, though absolutely nothing will ever top his Tony hosting song and dance numbers. Seriously, people. If you have not seen them at this year’s Tony’s, go to YouTube right now!

I’ve been writing all day today, and I think I’ve reached the point where my sensor slipped out for coffee. Actually, I am in the midst of a writing blitz, so at any given hour, you can find me typing away at my new book on my laptop, at the piano working on a song, or in the shower…because that’s where all brilliant missing lyrics and melodies go to surface. I bet you didn’t know that. (And all my songwriter friends are probably pissed at me now cause I told you.)

Anyway, I decided to take a break from writing to blog. Wait for it…yeah, need to rethink that. But that just shows my dedication to you, my valued readers. Sure. That’s the story I’m going with.

Back to the Emmy’s. Do you know anyone who’s ever won one? Several members of my family have been nominated for them, and my cousin, Dan Angel, has actually won at least two that I know of. (Damn underachievers, my family.)

My friend and frequent co-writer, Debi Cochran, also won one, and that was for a song. It was a Daytime Emmy, and even years after the win, I cannot pass up the opportunity to refer to her as “Emmy award-winning songwriter, Debi Cochran.” It’s the least I can do, since she took me with her to the actual awards the night she won.

So I’m looking forward to putting my very own Emmy on my mantle one day. I’m also looking forward to having  a mantle, by the way. But these are minor details that can be ironed out later…

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. And the winner is…

Thursday, September 19, 2013

the moral high ground

It’s been a long time since I’ve ventured into talk about anything remotely political. To tell you the truth, I have intentionally extricated myself from the incessant chatter of cable news, a thing in which I used to partake on a daily basis, frequently adding my own voice to the cacophony of dissenting ones out there.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t care anymore. Quite the opposite. I care too much. I am incapable of not taking to heart the part of our nature that can perpetually turn our backs on human suffering or, in fact, create more of it, whether by virtue of our actions or our inaction.

You see, I made the mistake of tuning into This Week with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday to see the interview with President Obama. It’s Thursday now, and I don’t have the foggiest recollection of what was said, but I haven’t been able to shake the visual of the children lined up in body bags in Syria.

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t have the answers for how to effectively put a stop to people killing each other anywhere in the world. But I know very well what the answer isn’t and that is adding to the carnage.

Our righteous indignation at other countries’ barbarity would be a whole lot more convincing if we would put a stop to the mass murders committed every day in our own country at the hands of gun toters. No matter how many mass shootings we seem to have, no matter who the victims, their ages, the location or how preventable they are, we do not seem to collectively give a damn enough to get rid of the guns. And that is an infirmity.

Yes, I believe we must “be the change we wish to see in the world.” So to that end, I haven’t vacated my participation from current events in order to ignore their existence, but rather I’ve been making a concerted effort to offer up a version of myself that embodies the love and peace I’d like to see in the world. How to reconcile that with the crazy we’ve got going on right now, I haven’t quite figured out yet. But here’s what I think: we’ve been operating under the misguided notion that being successful looks like one side overpowering the other’s beliefs, ideals, way of life, or form of government. I think true success would look very much like a pot luck supper, with every differing body coexisting side by side at the same table, offering up their unique delicacies while maybe tasting someone else’s for a change.

I realize the unlikelihood of this type of banquet coming to pass in my lifetime. But I am, at heart, a dreamer, filled with grand ideas of worlds not yet thought into existence, daring to cling to both the innocence and optimism that would ask, “Why not?” as I valiantly charge toward the unknown.

In reality, I am a writer taking a few moments off from writing songs and a book in order to say it should not be okay with us to watch the body bags amass anywhere. Nor should the term “collateral damage” be acceptable. There is not a single person on earth who does not bear some responsibility for that which occurs anywhere on this earth. Every soul’s suffering is our own suffering…or rest assured, it will be in time.

I think it is incumbent upon us to show the same degree of mercy to each other that we ask God to show us. Then, maybe we can legitimately claim the moral high ground. Until then…thanks for stopping by. 

Peace and blessings to you...

Monday, September 9, 2013

a Kenny Loggins blog - part two

On my mother’s birthday each year since her passing, I get a little melancholy. I usually don’t plan much on that day, having made the mistake once shortly after her death, of booking a first time co-writing session in which, if memory serves me correctly, I think I spent most of the time trying not to cry - unsuccessfully. Yeah, no song got written that day.

But life has a funny way of mellowing us over time, and things that used to make me cry now make me laugh. Take, for instance, the story about a relative who, upon hearing the eulogy I wrote for my mother's funeral, asked me, “Did you ever think about becoming a writer?” Hilarious.

This year, instead of reflecting for the entire day on assorted memories of her love of ballroom dancing, anything dark blue, and movies where the underdog triumphantly prevails, I did something decidedly different from previous years – I went to a concert, a Kenny Loggins concert, to be precise.

I think I can safely say that my mother had no idea who Kenny Loggins is. (I came out of the womb singing the entire score to Funny Girl, which I’m certain, was very entertaining to people around me during my toddler years.) But I know she would be happy that I was doing something fun, and something musical, and something with my friend, Jeryl, whom she adored.

Now, there’s a little bit of a history with me and a couple of concerts Mr. Loggins played last year. It involved a new band he started, an article I wrote for the Huffington Post, a chance meeting, an elephant, a stick of gum, and a mostly one-sided conversation. Okay, I threw the elephant and stick of gum in there just to see if you were paying attention.

If you’re new to this blog, well, first, thanks for stopping by. And second, to catch up on that whole backstory, here’s the link to one of my all-time favorite blog posts  …which led to this joint HuffPost piece and…which led to…jeeze, this is exhausting, so I’m stopping now. You’ll just have to Google.

So back to last night. My friend Jeryl and I headed to the concert at Yonkers Raceway or Empire City Casino, as it’s now called. We parked in a lovely section of the vast expanse that I believe was called “China,” and we started hiking. Sure, the security guy told us there were shuttles, but a) shuttles are for sissies, and b) I remembered that I forgot to lose those the 30 pounds I’d been meaning to by the end of the summer, so win/win with the hiking.

We got to our amazing seats just before seven to hear the opening act, Blue Sky Riders, comprised of Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, and yes, Kenny Loggins. (You can read this HuffPost review of their album to see just how much I love this band. )

The only thing was we were about two of twelve people there for the opening act. I kid you not. The tickets said 8 o’clock, so people didn’t know about the opener, or that there was an opener, or that Kenny was in it, even.

So picture walking out on stage, pumped to play your set, excited to share your new music, looking out at a vast array of…empty seats. Oy. I felt awful for them. I tried to singlehandedly make up for the throngs of adoring fans that weren’t there, but that was a fool’s errand. To their credit, they kicked ass and lived up to every glowing thing I said about them in my review. And I’m sure they’ll take home fond memories of playing Yonkers. I know I do.

By the time the headliner came out, the entire place was packed. Out walked Kenny to perform his concert of wall-to-wall iconic hits, woven together seamlessly with the perfect amount of humorous banter in between, and sung to the kind of perfection that only a true veteran can achieve. (I know, you should see what I write when I really like someone’s performance.)

The crowd sang along, hooted, hollered, and everything else one is supposed to do at these types of events. Me, I wondered about things like can the performer hear the audience doing any of that stuff out in the open night air? Or does it just look like a bunch of people moving their lips? And which of his hits does he still love the most, and which does he wish he never had to do again. Me, I’ve got my own personal favorite song of his.

The ninety-or-so minutes seemed to me to be like five. But I knew by the time everyone was on their feet dancing to “Footloose” that the concert was winding down.

Jeryl and I went to the gated area to go backstage. And by “backstage,” I mean behind the trailers parked on the racetrack. Oh, the glamour of it all. This year I wasn’t crashing. We actually had passes. So after the radio contest winners, and the fan club members, and some other grouping we couldn’t quite identify, we were ushered in.

I would like a huge drum roll now, please, for all of you waiting with baited breath to find out whether or not I was able to carry on an actual conversation this time with Kenny Loggins…………yes, I could…I mean, I did!

But first, I have to just say a word about my friend, Jeryl. We met at a performing arts camp when we were 13. So this is a friendship that has spanned quite a while. In fact, it was at this performing arts camp that Jeryl, having listened to me play and sing my songs in a little practice room, went to the camp director and told them I needed to perform my songs in a concert…which I did…which changed the course of my life forever.

Fast forward a lot of years to me sending her a 35 page draft of a “book” and asking her if she thought this could be an actual book. (She had become a journalist – after studying acting at NYU and getting a law degree, slacker that she is.) If she had said no, I would have trusted her and let it go, but the thing is, she emphatically said yes! And once again, the course of my life was forever altered by her boundless enthusiasm for what I do.

So here we are backstage at a Kenny Loggins concert, and I have no idea how this whole interaction is gonna play out. But given what I just told you about Jeryl in the prior two paragraphs, I should have foreseen that it might involve her telling Kenny Loggins that I’m the greatest songwriter ever and generally extolling my genius, in addition to his, of course. (This is why you bring a friend.) Bless her heart, if she could have, she would have pulled up two chairs and made us write a song together right there. (That did not happen, by the way.)

So the three of us chatted amicably for a few minutes, took a picture together for posterity, and parted ways so Jeryl and I could hike back to my car. It was a far cry from a year earlier, when I think I managed to only eke out a few guttural noises in lieu of actual words.

I know that Kenny maintains a grueling touring schedule, and that launching a new band is an uphill battle in today’s music industry. But if you want to see how it’s supposed to be done at its finest, go get yourself a ticket and see him on the road. And for the love of God, come early and see Blue Sky Riders. You will be so glad you did. I know I am.

So thank you to Jeryl and to Kenny for making September 8th this year so filled with joy.

To my beloved readers, thanks for stopping by. And please tell your friends.