Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the last blog of 2013

It was inevitable – the year drawing to a close, that is. And amid the tallying of gains and losses, victories and defeats, it is also incumbent upon us to think about the year ahead – what we want most for ourselves and for those we hold dear.

So I’m making my prayer for the New Year known here…

May 2014 be a year of good health and vitality, rejuvenation and exhilaration.
May it be a year of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
May I be the embodiment of goodness I want to see in the world.
May I practice mindful living, compassion, and leadership in both those things.
May 2014 bring glorious and unexpected surprises that exceed my greatest imaginings.
May I love passionately, give with abandon, and receive with humility.
May I be wiser, kinder, and smarter than ever before.
May my work not only prosper me, but be of service to the world.
May I never forget to say thank you at the start and end of each day.
And may these things be true not only for me, but for everyone.

Thank you so much for stopping by. Happy New Year!

Peace & blessings for the coming year.

With love and gratitude,


Sunday, December 29, 2013

who are you saying goodbye to...

As each year winds down, we are inundated on TV and at the newsstand with lists of everything from most shocking events of the past year to who got married, divorced, had children, and of course, who died.

Most of this stuff really doesn’t impact us in any sort of personal way, and I find it fascinating that we pay such close attention to it. But I suppose it is a barometer by which we measure how quickly our own lives are going, and it takes attention away from what is real about that.

As I thought about writing today’s blog, I contemplated mentioning the usual celebrity and political passings, which were notable, but instead I started listing the people I actually knew who died, people who, in one way or another, impacted my life and career, most knowingly, but a couple maybe not as much so.

You probably won’t know any of these people, though there are two who were in the entertainment industry whom you might. I offer this mention of each of them, not to be macabre, but rather as a toast, if you will, to lives to be celebrated and presences that are missed…

Billy Geller – a brilliantly talented and funny high school friend, taken way too soon. This tribute is one of the most viewed blog entries I’ve had in the five years I’ve been doing this. The First One to Go

Bernie Levy – the last of my remaining uncles, and beloved for making every get together a true party. Here is the tribute blog for a man whose presence was larger than life. And then there was one...

Gary David Goldberg – if you were ever a fan of the TV shows Family Ties, Spin City, or Brooklyn Bridge, then you are familiar with the work of Gary David Goldberg. But for me, even as much as his TV shows entertained me, it was his memoir, Sit Ubu Sit, which had the biggest impact on my life.

It is, to this day, my favorite book – not because of its profound literary nature, but because it was so unabashedly Gary David Goldberg. We teach people nothing if not by example, and after reading Sit Ubu Sit, I was able to complete my own memoir, In Search of George Stephanopoulos. When my book was finally published, I contacted Mr. Goldberg and thanked him. He responded immediately and I sent him a copy of my book.

Sid Bernstein – will perhaps always be most well known for bringing the Beatles to this country. For me, however, I will always think of the soft-spoken Sid as a champion of the artist, particularly this one. Here’s my Huffington Post piece on him. Sid Bernstein Remembered

Herbert Chatzky – if you’re a musician, chances are you’ve had many teachers in your lifetime, but there are always a couple who stand out. In the vast pantheon of teachers I took piano lessons from over the years, Herb Chatzky holds a fond place in my heart. Not because of some specific technique he taught me, or insight into the great classical masters whose work I studied under his tutelage, but mostly because he thought I could play the piano and imparted as much to me. He had a “sky’s the limit” approach to teaching. Get into one of the best schools in the country as a pianist? Sure! Be a concert pianist? Why not!!! While that was not the path I chose to stay with ultimately, I did get my degree in classical piano performance from Northwestern University, and I know that his “of course, you can!” mentality had something to do with that.

Ruth Rowles – was not someone I knew all that well. I met her maybe a handful of times. She was the wife of one of my collaborators, a man named Fred Rowles, with whom I’ve written a grand total of two songs. One of those songs, “No End to Love,” has had kind of an interesting ride. It’s been on hold for the likes of everyone from Faith Hill to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It’s been cut on a bunch of independent artists’ projects, but I myself have never recorded it. Until now. It will be on my forthcoming CD and I know that Fred and “Ruthie,” as he always called her, were ecstatic about that. And while I wish she had lived to hear the completed project, I know she will, nonetheless, from wherever she is.

Joe Bell – was one of my favorite writers. Period. Married to my cousin Sherry, and stepdad to my cousin Erik, Joe was a quiet force to be reckoned with when it came to the power of his pen. In his later years, he had a regular column in the Daily Pilot. Here is a link to what my cousin Erik had to say about Joe, followed by an excerpt from one of Joe’s columns. Erik's tribute to Joe

EXCERPT FROM "Wanted: Heroes for Today's Children" by Joseph N. Bell, published in the Daily Pilot on December 21, 1990:

I didn't know Milli Vanilli from the Righteous Brothers, so I don't know why I consumed all the stories about the scam these two men ran on a lot of doting fans and the pop music industry. But I did--rather, I guess, for the same reasons I look at freeway accidents or cop stops. Curiosity.

The same curiosity led me to interrogate the young persons I drive to, and from, school occasionally about Milli Vanilli--and the later peccadilloes of the New Kids on the Block. I don't get the driving duty very often--only when my wife is unable to fulfill her car-pooling job. The kids talk among themselves on these rides, steadfastly ignoring me. Sometimes they talk about music--or sing it.

If I try to interject conversation, I'm usually regarded with a kind of startled surprise that I'm sharing the car with them. And the surprise turns quickly to resignation if I tell them--as I usually do--that I used to walk to school, frequently in deep snow, a greater distance than they are driven. And that riding the school bus is a form of character building from which they all might profit.

They sigh and wait until I'm done, apparently accepting this as an occasional price for being driven to school. Sometimes they ask if someone else is going to pick them up. Then they go back to their own talk--or significant silence--ignoring me again.

For these reasons, my driving companions were tough to interrogate about Milli Vanilli. It took me a while to get their attention and persuade them I wanted to talk about a topic that might be of at least marginal interest to them. These were all seventh-graders--two boys and a girl. Admittedly a small sample, but I can project as well as the next pollster.

First of all, they dismissed the New Kids on the Block out of hand. "Nobody," my stepson told me, "listens to them except kids in New York and Texas." This seemed a curious juxtaposition, and when I asked him where he had acquired this insight, he was vague about the source but certain of its validity. And the other two supported him absolutely, dripping contempt for the New Kids.

The contempt, however, didn't grow out of recent allegations that the New Kids plagiarize music, have management ties with the Mafia or punch out people on airplanes. My interviewees had no interest in these extracurricular activities. They just don't like the New Kids' music and assured me, without reservation, that no one else in their school did either.

Milli Vanilli, however, was another matter. All admitted to listening to their music, and my girl subject, name of Katie, likes it a lot. So, I asked them, did they feel angry, outraged, betrayed when they found out that Milli Vanilli was a fraud, taking credit for the skills of two anonymous singers?

None of these reactions applied. Katie called what Milli Vanilli did "stupid." My stepson, Erik, said it was "wrong" but he felt neither betrayed nor angry. Katie doesn't listen to Milli Vanilli recordings any more but said she would listen to the people who actually did the singing if they were to record. The joint reaction could best be described as a shrug. They were a very long way from the paper boy with the hole in his stocking and the tearful face who said, "Say it ain't so, Joe," to Shoeless Joe Jackson after baseball's Black Sox scandal. A very long way.

Luke said the Milli Vanilli scam didn't make him mad because "I could do the same thing they did. I can't sing either." Would he? "No." Why not? "Because I'd have to give my Grammy back."

Barbara Scheinbach – is kind of an odd choice for my list. She was a lovely old lady who lived a few blocks away and volunteered, along with my father, to do taxes for people through the AARP. She frequented our local diner and was always upbeat, with both a smile and a slight twinkle in her eyes. She was one of those people you always felt good being around. So her passing saddened me.

Oddly enough, Barbara made my list because of a story her daughter told about her at her funeral. I could not understand why her children were not wearing black to the funeral. But when her daughter got up to speak, she told a story of her mother coming to visit her for a month. Barbara, it seemed, summoned her daughter to their respective closets and said, “Look at your closet and look at mine.” Her daughter had no idea what exactly she was supposed to be looking for – tidiness? Organization? What? But then Barbara pointed out to her that her closet was filled with only black and white clothes, while Barbara’s closet contained every bright color of the rainbow. And she made her daughter promise that when she died, she would not wear the usual black color of mourning, but rather something bright and cheery.

I’ll be honest with you – I went home after that funeral and thought a lot about that – the metaphor this presented about how I wanted to live my life. And I knew that, though my own wardrobe is primarily black, I wanted to live my life in color. So I’m letting the cat out of the bag here and letting you know that “In Color” is not only a new song on my project, but it is the title as well.

So as we usher in the New Year, it is my hope that we honor the memories of those who graced our lives and left, by remembering to embody that which we most loved about them.

Peace and blessings to you all as we count down to 2014…

Friday, December 27, 2013

as 2013 winds down...

It feels appropriate that, as the year winds down and we prepare for another one to start, that we take stock, assess, and reflect about the year gone by.

It’s tempting to lean solidly one way or the other – either positively or negatively, but I think, looking back, that this year has been one where even loss and sadness were tempered by beauty and appreciation for moments shared and life lessons learned.

When 2013 began, my friend Garry called me and asked if I wanted to be his “action partner.” I said yes, without thinking, and then immediately had second thoughts. I had done enough of these self-helpy-work-shoppy kinds of things to know that there would be goals involved and the expectation of accountability. And I had lofty goals, my friends, with absolutely no way, given my immediate set of circumstances, of accomplishing them.

I wanted to record a new CD of my songs and write a book. In a year. Just to give you an idea, my first book took ten years. And it isn’t even that long. But it was my first, so if you take away all the time I spent torturing myself with self doubt, then it took me…crap, it still took a long time.

And the CD – where exactly would the money come from to do it? And was there a reason compelling enough to actually make it? And how and with whom would I record it?

So we got together, Garry and me, at a diner - with legal pads and lists of short, medium, and long range goals. All my goals seemed overwhelming and not remotely doable to me.

But if our lives are comprised of the decisions we make, then the decision I made was to write down and say out loud what I wanted to have happen. And then take action every day in some way toward that end result.

One could argue that this is not rocket science. However, until you’ve written a song, you don’t know that it is equal parts work and pixie dust. By the way, I just googled “pixie dust,” and I’m not referring to the street drug here…unless you want to write “MacArthur Park.” Then have at it with that. But I’m referring to the glittery, magical Disney-esque substance.

Anyway, this year has been an amazing journey in getting out of my own way, in learning to trust spirit, intuition, that inner sense of knowing – whatever you want to call it – and follow it. It’s been a year of examining old habits and making new choices. And oddly enough, when you make a different choice, you get a different result. I know, not rocket science, either. But hey, some people get there faster than others.

So instead of the usual melancholy that overtakes me heading into a New Year, I am giddy with excitement, because I am in the midst of recording my album – the one I couldn’t see a way to make happen when I sat down with the legal pads at the diner with Garry almost a year ago.

And a good chunk of my book is written, enough, in fact, for me to know that it, too, will see completion in the coming year.

So as I think about what might go on my list for 2014, I am taking a moment to be present in pure gratitude – for every single person who has shared my journey this past year, for the gifts of love and friendship and family, for staying open to possibilities unimagined, and of course…for pixie dust.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends and keeping checking in as I blog down to the New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

the spirit of the season

It’s the holiday season. There are presents to be purchased, parties to attend, food to be prepared, cards to be sent. It’s no wonder that, amid the relentless songs about jingle bells, reindeer, and chestnuts, there is an undercurrent of stress.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I have the fondest of appreciation for all things Christmas, however, this year, it seems like I know an awful lot of people who are hurting, either from losses of loved ones or complete upheaval in their lives. So maybe I’m extra sensitive these days, but it got me thinking about the point of it all.

I love the pretty lights, the singing, the festive atmosphere, the red and green motif, all of it. But at the end of the day, it seems to me that this was supposed to be about the birth of Jesus.

For me personally, I like the image of reverence for a baby – that clean slate of perfection we are all born with, that potential we all come into the world with, to do and be and accomplish anything. I believe each of us was sent to save the world. Radical thinking, I know, but that is what I know in my heart to be true. And yes, it is far easier to place responsibility for the world’s messes in hands outside of our own, but then, why would we have been put here, if not to make things better? Call me crazy, but I don’t think watching football on our flat screens from the couch is what the creator of the universe had in mind for our maximum potential. (I could be wrong about that. Maybe He’s a sports fan.)

So this year, aside from my commitment to take in my favorite sappy Christmas movies and listen to every holiday CD I own, (I’m up to the letter “G” in my listening, for anyone who’s curious), I am also taking the time to reach out to people…and I urge you to do the same.

Maybe pick one person you’ve been out of touch with and call them to catch up. Maybe it’s a moment spent in prayer for someone who’s ill. Maybe instead of spending money you don’t have, write people a letter and tell them how much they mean to you and how they enrich your life. I did this a few years back, and it was not only a gift to the people who received it, but it was a gift to me to really spend time in gratitude for each person in my life.

We get so caught up in the “busy,” that we forget to look people in the eye and tell them we love them. Or to truly listen and understand with a loving heart. We harbor resentments and gloss over feelings, because they make us uncomfortable. And then, when it’s too late, we lament about what we wished we’d had the chance to say. So let’s not do that this year. Let’s, instead, take this opportunity to appreciate the moment and the people we are surrounded by, because there is no guarantee that a year from now the same people will be here.

So here’s to kindness for its own sake, peace in our hearts so that there can be peace in the world, and love expressed boldly, in the true spirit of the season. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, December 9, 2013

what to buy the people on your Christmas list...

I like to be helpful. And I know that Christmas is coming, and you’re wondering what gifts to buy your loved ones. I also know that you love to support writers and artists, because, let’s face it, that’s the kind of people my beloved blog readers are. You have a keen appreciation for the years of work, the heart, and soul, and love that we creative types pour into everything we do.

So in the spirit of giving, of supporting independent musicians and writers (or small business owners, as politicians like to call us), of thoughtful gifts that people will treasure for a lifetime, might I suggest a few of my favorite things for your holiday purchases? (Rhetorical. I’m gonna suggest.)

If you want to play something that will put a smile on your face and delight you while at the same time being achingly beautiful, then get the CD Somewhere Beautiful. It is absolutely happy-making music. And who couldn't use that?! It will warm your heart, especially when you read the genesis of the project. Here is the link to purchase and read the incredibly moving story behind its creation by Tanya Leah. Somewhere Beautiful CD

Do you love New York, L.A., celebrities, pop culture, or all of the above? Oh, and do you like finding the hidden gems of locations that only people in the know are aware of? Then you totally want to buy the books My City, My Los Angeles and My City, My New York for the people on your gift list. Written by the incomparable Jeryl Brunner, these books even give the natives of these cities insights into places heretofore unknown. Here is the link to purchase: Books by Jeryl Brunner

This next CD sort of defies description for me, really. The night I met Garry Novikoff, he was playing a song he was working on, called “A Normal Life.” It was a tour de force. He was a tour de force. So when it became the title song for his album, I couldn’t wait to hear more of what he wrote. It was hysterically funny. It was tragically sad. It was the human experience portrayed in a way that only Garry can. So take a listen, and click on “buy.” A Normal Life CD

Do you love sass? Do you love bluesy country music? Do you love gorgeous harmonies sung by great singers? Have I got a group for you! They are called Queen of Hearts and are comprised of BethAnne Clayton, Helen Lewis Moore, Ellen Britton and April Amick Caughman. Here is the link to their website, where you can order their CD's. But if you ever get the chance, boys and girls, you must see and hear them live! They are not only spectacular sounding, but they make banter an art form. Seriously. And I love that. Queen of Hearts

I would be remiss in peddling everyone else’s wares and not my own, so if you need an entertaining romp through, well, a chunk of my life, (and really, who doesn’t?), then might I suggest my memoir, In Search of George Stephanopoulos – a True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy! It makes a lovely gift for that special someone. Plus, it’s funny. Here’s the link: In Search of George Stephanopoulos

So now that I've just solved all your holiday shopping conundrums, what will you do with all your free time? I, for one, think you should bake me some cookies. 

But all kidding aside, it would be great if everyone supported local artists, crafts people, and businesses. We really do pour our hearts, souls, and love into what we do. So thank you for stopping by and reading this...and for appreciating us.

Peace and Blessing to you!!