Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Record | Broken Record

Two different people can sing the same words.

One person can sound true (genuine and authentic).
The other can sound false (fake and contrived).

If anything, that’s proof mere words don’t define truth.

If Bush and Obama read the same words, who do you believe?

Words sounding rehearsed – no longer ring true.

Words sounding repeated – no longer feel original.

SAMO = Same ol shit (Basquiat's tag in New York)

One can sound faded – no longer borrowing an ear.

* * *

If you sing it as if you've learned it too well
been there, done that
(too much)—
not much disbelief is left to suspend.

In that regard, there's no difference
if the voice is a mainstream “brand”
or an alternative unknown.

Similar or opposite views—even uniqueness—
matter less than feeling refreshed.
Only resonation causes a resounding response.
Only inspiration begets inspiration.

* * *
As a writer, I experienced my first crisis,
while taking a piss.

Next to me another writer was taking a piss.
This was no pissing match.

I idolized his experience.
I considered him the top journalist in town.

He had investigated Canada’s most deadly crime
and knew it better than any outsider.
Inside out.

I don’t recall exactly what I had asked,
but I never forgot the answer.

It might have been:
How do you do it day in, day out?

His tone answered:
I don’t.

His words: “Every story is the same.
You just change the names
and fill in the blanks.”

* * *

My excitement for journalism ended that day. My way of life never use to be a template. I started to notice how my amateur work was edgier—more refreshing to read over.

I had more time to reflect, more freedom to explore. Words were more powerful.

* * *
This doesn’t just happen to writing. You can see it in almost any passionate craft. Serializing work commercially runs the risk of sounding like a broken record.

French concept: people gather to hear a speech that elevates the mind.

If a formula, brand, method or style – no matter how large/small the audience or unique the identity – becomes a form of brainwashing, its truth diminishes.

Words ring less true when automatic or instant.

It might be news but it’s not new anymore.

It be might be news but it makes no history.

* * *
At the same time, what might not be news can be new.

* * *
I never thought Beast of Burden
could be sung well ever again.

Not even in jazz.

Mick Jagger over sang it. So did Bette Middler.
The radio over played it. Others, who later sung it,
met deaf ears.

Then one day, recently, Jersey fans were shocked when this man randomly dropped by the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

Even jaded Rolling Stone magazine was refreshed.
The way this man played it,
the way he sung it, made you
press “replay.”

This man had never played it before live (putting it all on the line).
And, of all people, it was Bruce Springsteen.
The Boss had returned to the club that spawned him.

* * *
My writing stagnated for the longest time. My voice was lost. I ended up just writing finance or business stories as a substitute.

(not in public view)

Portrait of That Artist. That Artist, Remember?
That one who made a difference.

In essence, I’d stopped writing for 10 years. I dabbled as a public scribe only once in that decade: Publishing a story on the world’s largest sports agency IMG.

I got older.

* * *
Then one day, with my kid an ocean away,
I started musing over how she had just turned

A woman before me was 20. I asked her what it was like from 8 to 20.

In unadulterated honesty, she told me everything.
She didn’t even censor herself.
It was the best interview I’d ever done.

Like a muse, her pure honesty awakened something inside of me.
Suddenly, I found my voice again
– that edge.

Her story showed me one discovers everything
for the first time before turning 20.
Everything is new.

I started writing new. I started seeing new.

words reflected a person in front of me

Pages came out for a book.
Even the format was new.
To be a reader:
you had to be a character in the book.

She agreed I could share her story:
A time capsule for my child to open at age 20.

* * *

I had to write one on one to everyone in the book.
I was even writing to my daughter.
She'd one day see this in the future
(when all my mistakes, misunderstandings and hypocritical acts would be revealed).

When I had a million readers, no one cared as much.

They moved on the next day.
I didn’t know them.
They didn’t know me.

Words didn't matter as much.

Like it was written in snow, and melted the next day.

When you write for a person you know, that person remembers the next day, and days to come. Maybe even for a lifetime.

When you see the reader the next day –
the truth about what you write is challenged
(without a word being said).

* * *
In writing, I’ve never been so uneasy. Whereas before, everything was too easy. The reader was invisible.

In 2006, Facebook had yet to cultivate instantaneous publishing to virtual friends. Today, you just press a button and don’t have to see anyone.

A blogger seldom speaks to one person in the crowd.

* * *

With so many online friends, one might lose count.

One’s voice might stop being one on one
(and instead be one-to-many).
One might even sound like the monotony of a parent or priest
(I catch myself sometimes).

* * *
What got sparked by that 20-year-old still rings true. If you write for ONE person, it might be misunderstood by millions, but it may inspire many.

If the object is CHANGE - the best way to do it is ONE person at a time. A voice rings more true one on one.

Like a hand-written letter a person is surprised to get.

With this in mind, you can start to write what you can never write for 1 million people.

* * *
Ironically, this is also how
I’ve seen inspirational personalities

gain 20 million followers
(a “movement” starts).

But I’m not sure what one does after that happens.

I think one becomes trapped in a game.
There’s gamesmanship between true self and industry self.
Disclaimer: I was once married to a celebrity.

* * *
P.S. In journalism, they say, avoid self-indulgence. Refrain from using “I” to appear objective. Yet public attention is the greatest form of self-indulgence “I” know.

When one is not self-indulgent, the music just takes you away. You can’t tell the dancer from the dance. You only see one person in the crowd.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Sound That Has No Name

He was once slated to play with Andy McKee who generated 31.4 million views on YouTube with his guitar.

They had a similar sound. But not quite the same.

New York's Caffe Vivaldi - Max Serpentini, Winter, 2007

At first, we called it Wall of Sound. That was the only music jargon that came close. What else can an old hack say to describe a new sound whose word is not invented?

There was no loop. No formula. Not even structure or a fixed composition. Only a guitar played in an unorthodox way, layering multiple sounds, often in open tunings.

The guitar's hit in different places with lightning speed to create new sounds. It's like a hammer-on – but blending both strings and percussion simultaneously.

Sometimes I think I hear a sitar, gamelan or raga from this guitar.

* * *
Anyone who hears it, never forgets it. The sound's inspiring music enthusiasts across the nation. Live.

Last February, I was at the Local watching friends sing in Toronto's Roncesvalles. Next to me sat a singer’s childhood friend. In conversation, I could tell he was an avid guitarist.

A guitarist, not a Guitar Hero.

The young man even knew the guitar legend whose name I can never spell off-hand – Yngwie Malsteen.

Using air guitar, I tried to explain what this new sound was. What did I know? I’ve only reviewed music (and not even recently).

It went like this...

He then pointed out Andy McKee:

31.4 million views.

Andy didn’t sing a word. Or a vowel.

I was surprised an audience would be that large. Music labels have nearly eradicated guitar solos – leaving us to believe there was no demand. But as I write, Bon Jovi (not Lady Gaga) is the highest grossing act for 2010 (from touring).

Pulling a Lohan or Gaga? Lately Lady Gaga's been pushing the envelope in other ways.

On YouTube, millions of people wanted to see Andy McKee, a real guitarist (who was not a Guitar Hero).

* * *

Last March, I was at Toronto’s Il Gatto Nero, “the Black Cat,”with the CEO of, visiting from Vancouver. We sat where Bono once sat. When I told her New York City and music inspire everything I do, she asked what kind of music I followed.

Using air guitar, I tried to explain what this sound was. She then pointed out Kaki King:

You mean there are three of us?

* * *

My air guitar is not that bad. I actually make sense.

* * *
I first heard this new sound in August, 2006. I was visiting Vancouver, BC, to see my daughter from Tokyo and stayed with Artist Max Serpentini.

While playing with my kid, all of a sudden, we heard this sound in the next room. It stopped us in our tracks, and we asked aloud, “What was that?”

A sound that has no name.

* * *
Two months later, Max was sponsored to go to New York City for the first time. Within days, he was offered a venue residency and paid by a stranger for guitar lessons. He had barely set foot in New York.

This sound even prompted one person who managed notable Artists to return to music to help Max. He had left the industry, one almost thought, for good.

The new sound re-invigorated my desire to hear new music in New York.

Is that My Left Foot?

I would join Max in New York where we would see an unknown jazz virtuoso named Eric Lewis in a basement called Zinc Bar on West Houston. He put us all in a trance.

Max Serpentini photographed Eric Lewis at Zinc Bar (December, 2007).

When an innovator sees an innovator, that's either a tough crowd or a tough act to beat.

At Caffe Vivaldi, a woman named Kate Sland sang Jeff Buckley and Lucinda Williams hymns. But her original songs are the ones I don’t forget. She wrote them at 19. She had fans who knew the lyrics without seeing an album.

Get up, get up, your lazy bones, there's enough time to sleep in the grave

~ Kate Sland

During this time, I was in a project to find the meaning of music (grassroots) and display it in a captioned photo mosaic. In a moment of unbridled euphoria, without thinking, I emailed a Grammy Awards executive just after 6am. Following an inspired set (it still makes me shake), I called Eric Lewis, the “second coming of Oscar Peterson.”

Wha? What did I just say? Was I delirious? Who says that to the Grammy Awards?

I did:

In March, 2008, i shared these stories in Los Angeles inside the Grammy Awards board room. There was a piano behind me. A ghost was playin to make me sing.

The Zinc has since moved out of that New York basement. So did Eric Lewis who shot up like a rocket playing for TED.

Michelle Obama invited Eric to play in the White House (for the Obamas, Spike Lee and James Earl Jones). BET invited Indie Arie with Eric Lewis to play for Sean Combs, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, and Queen Latifah. Hollywood types like Leonardo DiCaprio and Forest Whitaker have seen Eric play multiple times. Mary J. Blige would ask Eric to play with her for a cause.

Eric, is Mick happy?

Ya, I think Mick is happy

* * *

Both Max Serpentini and Eric Lewis have something in common – besides not having had a album/video to display their sound for the longest time. When you see them play live, you will be floored.

Sound and instrument sponsors have been inspired.

* * *
Max Serpentini differs from Andy McKee in that he’ll sing. He’ll also pound his guitar like Keith Moon.

Max was influenced by Robert Johnson and the Crossroads whose sound you might also hear layered in. There are many sounds in his sonic architecture.

Outside East Is East, Vancouver

He used to play bongos with DJs – George Michael once heard him randomly and sang to his beats impromptu.

Eric and Max also have another thing in common: in two different cities they inspired Transporter star Jason Statham (who is not a bad bongo player himself). He jammed with Max randomly impromptu. That's the real magic of music.

While playing air guitar to explain this, I thought folks would think I was hallucinating. But, years later, Max finally posted a video online yesterday – a medley of segments from one show. It’s not well-lit, or cut by a video guru, but it does share the sight and sound:

Both Eric and Max are best seen live. Online recordings don't do them justice.

For me, this is about a sound that makes me travel far, to see/hear something I’ve never seen/heard. Something that moves me.

* * *

If you've ever heard Rush, this new sound is like all three band members pounding and playing the same guitar.

That’s the sound that has no name.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Boss Is Dead

I know Frankie’s Chairman of the Board.

But who was the Boss?

I didn’t want to look this up until today.

Who was first, Bruce or George? Hugo was in Europe, that’s for sure.

America’s “B”osses started an incredible run from the 1970s, lasting till today, to earn their title. They gave it their all. And there was nothing less.

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” George Steinbrenner once said.“Breathing first, winning next.”

The email that arrived today:

Yankees Principal Owner/ Chairperson George M. Steinbrenner Passes Away

Today, one Boss died.

I've only known one Boss for the New York Yankees. He took over dark Yankee days to win 11 pennants and 7 World Series.

* * *

Sure, they say, the Boss spent more money than anyone else for his team. But this man bought the Yankees for a mere $8.7 million from CBS in 1973, and only after an offer for his hometown Cleveland Indians failed.

This man from Ohio would soon define New York. Often we didn’t know if his team was the Yankees or New York City.

He owned the Bronx Bombers for a record 37 years. He bought/sold many players. But he’d * never * sell the team.

"George Steinbrenner’s Yankees represent the will to overcome all odds which is precisely the will New Yorkers display when meeting every challenge they face."
~ former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani

Today that team he bought for a player’s salary is worth $1.6 billion.

Any owner could have done so—even for fans who complain the Yankees buy championships. But what they don’t say: it takes courage to do this. You’re not guaranteed to win. It still takes perfect alchemy and flow.

* * *

The Boss built the Yankees from nothing.

Soon, he faced, and later became part of, internal fights. The Bronx was a passionate shindig then. If you ever get to see Billy Martin vs Reggie Jackson vs the Boss, you’ll know why the Bronx was burning. He fired/hired Billy Martin five times.


Reggie vs Billy

Billy vs Reggie
(punches were thrown - literally)

Sometimes I wondered what if there was a fight between God, the Holy Spirit & Jesus. On earth, I saw George, Billy & Reggie.

If you were to pick a fight not to stand in between, this would be it.

* * *

Originally intended as a joke, then Yankees coach Buck Showalter is fired in this Seinfeld sketch.

Weeks later, Buck Showalter was fired in real life and replaced by Joe Torre.

The Boss was far from sweet at times. Success requires business. Business requires success. It goes both ways. Yankee lore, Yankee capability. Yankee capability, Yankee lore. The Boss still gave many people with whom he fought second and third chances. He even gave faith back to New York castaways like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Respect.

* * *

George wore his passion on his sleeves. They were rolled up.

He didn’t care what ego said. If you didn’t win, nothing else mattered. Well, except maybe how you played the game. The Boss was loyal to people on payroll who really played the game.

Bob Sheppard who passed away Sunday announced Yankees for 50+ years. Gene Monahan only missed his first spring training in 48 years to battle cancer. President Randy Levine worked 20 years for him. And let’s not forget, Donnie Baseball. We know the Mattingly Curse. Captain Mattingly was among most beloved Yankees ever – but also one never to win the World Series. The Yankees played the World Series in 1981. They never made it again while Mattingly played (1982-1995). They became World Series champs in 1996.

* * *

We endured…without winning…to find character.

So did the Boss. At some point, New York was no longer a turnstile for egos.

“I am tough. Sometimes I’m unreasonable...I have to catch myself every once in a while.”
~George Steinbrenner

He enjoyed being lampooned on Seinfeld and in TV commercials. All par for the course.

* * *
There were times for years, I disliked the Boss. That’s how real bosses make you feel. He kept it very real. Even causing unjustified displeasure: Just ask Dave Winfield. Yogi Berra (who said "it ain't over until it's over") vowed he'd never return to Yankee Stadium in 1985. He kept that vow longer than most people stay married - returning only in 1999 for Yogi Berra Day (George apologized to him). Some days, I thought I’d never forgive him. He was actually banned from baseball twice! But miracles erased all of this.

Miracles caused by people he brought in. A love for New York prevailed. Even Dave Winfield forgave the Boss. This was bigger than big.

Buck O'Neil - Charlie Biot - Armando Vasquez
(1998 - Negro League greats pay a visit)

Few people knew he gave back - more than most bosses. Quietly so to people in need. He was notoriously vocal about business, but never vocalized his charity.

* * *

“Steinbrenner himself was 50% owner, 50% fan & 100% businessman...that totals 200%... both shaky mathematics & perhaps another indication that George is larger than life.”

~Robert Kahn

The Boss was inextricably part of New York's revival and optimism.

And sure, there were also players who fooled us. Big time. They only played money-ball. That’s why we’re grateful when it comes true. When a player is true.

George was true.

* * *
George might not have a monument in Monument Park but he paid for a few of them there. He was born on July 4. The Yankees won on his 80th birthday. He died today, just before baseball’s all-star game. The world works in mysterious ways.

George at high school named after him in August, 2009.

Just two days ago, George gave condolences to Bob Sheppard, the “Voice of God,” who announced great Yankees for nearly 60 years at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee heaven is full now. There’s no more room.

The Boss and the Voice of God are in the field of dreams. Capacity is full. And if you play for George, you can’t wear a beard, sorry Jesus.

Patches to be be worn in memoriam.
One on the heart, one on the sleeve.

PS Springsteen got called Boss in the late 1960s, collecting / dispersing money in New Jersey clubs for his band Earth. Bruce doesn’t like the moniker due to his dislike of bosses.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Speechless (his voice bracketed greatness)

I am speechless.

“The Voice of God” is gone.

* * *

For the Fall, he was the Yankees roll call.

He introduced miracles. One by one.

His cadence would echo at Yankee Stadium. Echo.

He was a speech teacher.

He became the sound of Yankee Stadium.

* * *

Reggie Jackson called Bob Sheppard the “Voice of God” and sent the baseball to God (three times one October day).

God surprised Reggie one day, leaving Yankee Stadium, for a cameo at Fenway Park: "Now batting, num-buh 44, Reg-gie Jack-son. #44."

His echo bracketed greatness.

Ghosts invited themselves to Yankee Stadium with this echo.

* * *
In 1951, the first Yankee he introduced was Dominic Di-Mag-gio. Joe's brother.

He also introduced Joe DiMaggio in 1951.

And later, Derek Jeter, in 2001.

If he pronounced you in a new way, that would be your new name: Jeetah (Jeter).

Jeetah still uses a recording of Bob's voice to introduce his at bat.

#2 Derek Jeet-ah. #2

* * *

Bob’s first line up (Yankees vs Red Sox) – of course - had 8 future Hall of Famers.

Bob outlived great players, announcing greatness until 2009.

Living months shy of 100 years, Bob retired from Yankee Stadium at 99 in 2009, while he was still ahead. But many say he never quit, his voice still heard on old Yankee Stadium’s final day.

Bob called out most of the numbers hanging in Monument Park.

“announced the names of hundreds of players -- both unfamiliar and legendary -- with equal divine reverence.”

* * *

I first heard his voice in 1975. I first heard it live in the Bronx in 1985.

#23 Don Mat-ting-ly #23

Passing the Mantle: Mickey Mantle was Bob’s favourite player to announce.

"Mickey Mantle says 'Everytime Bob Sheppard introduced me at Yankee Stadium, I got shivers up my spine.' And I said to him, 'So did I.'" ~ Bob Sheppard

The New York Times reported Bob, “a man with a passion for poetry and Shakespeare, shunned hyperbole.”

He was also voice of the Giants – a job lasting 50 years that started on a handshake of trust. He spoke for the New York Giants from 1956 to 2006. He is only one of only two men ever to wear both a World Series ring and a Superbowl ring.

* * *

The two worst days in Yankee Stadium – no one thought would beat Lou Gehrig’s day – heard Bob Sheppard’s voice poetic for 9/11 and Captain Thurman Munson.

He wrote a poem for the Captain who crashed his plane and died trapped in fire and smoke. A full moon rose as he read this poem in Yankee Stadium.

I heard Sheppard’s voice more than anyone's on the planet. May he Rest In Peace with the greatness he introduced.

“Thank you for coming and arrive home safely."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Forbidden City: A place to hide from a government

The City shall remain nameless.

A woman missing since 1993 was just found in Italy exactly where was she suppose to be. She was mummified there.

She was last seen here. She was inside here all the time, as people prayed to God. Her body was found by the rafters after 17 years.

Her case echoes many others: How far, how long, friends and family will search away from a default crime scene (her last known whereabouts).

Effort-wise, odds decrease significantly to find a clue further away.

A cursory search at point of origin can be exhaustive. But it’s still not a relentless, extensive search – exploring every nook and cranny. Looking for cracks or unnatural patterns on surfaces. Banging on walls, floors and ceilings.

One must think the forbidden to find the hidden.

The forbidden has happened: Someone disappeared.

* * *
True story:: A friend once lost a big beige cat. We tried everything: cat calls, posters, grid searches and other options our angst-ridden minds could imagine. I then had to leave town for business, abandoning a thrice-daily search. That week, randomly, a feint meow was heard by my friend. The cat was bricked in, deep inside a neighbour’s porch. The neighbour didn’t notice.

* * *
A reporter who had just written for Bloomberg about a country where Nicole Vienneau had disappeared questioned why I omitted one glaring fact in a blog about her case.

This purposeful omission haunts me all the time.

There’s a reason for it. But it’s also relevant to report it.

The reporter knew locals were forbidden to speak of it.

Nicole’s brother once wrote of it, but was immediately warned, few people would cooperate if he cited what was forbidden.

A Catch-22: If you cite it, people won’t cooperate; if you don’t, you bury a key lead.

Three years have passed. The stakes have changed. Nicole still has not been found. The effectiveness of political sensitivity is less clear.

Nicole vanished without a trace, her belongings left behind in her hotel. She'd never leave diaries or photos behind, but there they were, giving us the only reliable clues of where she'd been. A detailed map she drew showed her planned routes, but strangely was left behind.

Indirect evidence narrowed the perimeter: She was not seen anywhere outside the hotel. She was seen daily beforehand in a City where local women dress dramatically differently. Nicole, wearing a bright red shirt (or sky blue windbreaker), could be seen a football field away.

What’s forbidden to cite about this City is not the Weapons of Mass destruction a reporter once alleged were buried in bunkers nearby.

The locations were mapped, but evidence has yet to surface.

What’s forbidden to say is actually cited blatantly (in a highlight box) on the first page of Lonely Planet’s description for this City.

* * *
The country’s current President has done a lot to modernize this police state, but his father, the previous President, had a dark past.

In 1982, there was a massacre in this City. Up to 25,000 people were killed out of 350,000 living there. This country is secular but there was once a political religious movement in this City buttressed by a dedicated group of followers.

Brazenly, the group endeavored a failed assassination. The President's father responded by making membership in their group punishable by death.

The group then responded by occupying this City, removing government officials, resulting in dozens of deaths. The President's father responded with a massacre.

During the siege, no one was allowed to leave the City. Anyone leaving would be declared a rebel. People were essentially trapped inside. Many died.

Although the President's father achieved his goal of breaking up the group, he earned a lot of new enemies.

Since then, City residents have gotten smarter for their safety.

* * *

A City within the City, there are secret safe rooms and tunnels to harbour people from hostile activity. One might call these tunnels and rooms – a Forbidden City.

Google Earth even shows pictures of exits

Conversely, they can be used for human trafficking.

Nicole Vienneau was last seen in her hotel – a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet. Today’s she’s a Lonely Planet cautionary tale on pages 171 and 239.

One suspect, the last known person to see her, keeps on asking Nicole's family and officials how he could have possibly gotten her out of the hotel. Like the case in Italy, for the longest time, there’s been no corpse. No smoking gun. Only very narrowed down possibilities.

No one’s reporting secret passages linked to the hotel. But secret corridors are also designed to be hidden.

This makes what is forbidden relevant.

The original case:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rising Spirit

The magic can be seen in pictures as they traverse Canada, coast to coast, to play music in more than 100 places.

Singer Andrea Ramolo and her one-man band Jason Skiendziel have done this before.

Tis the journey they know.


Everybody was
kungfu fighting.

The kids
were alright.

Rainbow circles

Singing is
for the birds.


The Ice Age
met her.

Group of 7
saw it.

Two souls

Finding soul
in the world.

Living off
the land.

Life imitated art.
Their art imitated life.

In God's Country,
destiny awaits.

So does camping sea to sea
for what awaits.

True North

Weathering the storm

After the flood,
uncertainty breathes.

Until the night before
summer solstice.

Food for Thought

Sometimes a bigger instrument
is needed to catch a bigger fish.


(a first)



Sometimes there will be
unexpected dinner guests.

Sometimes there will be
strange animals.

Some days are tipsy.
But not topsy-turvy.

Sometimes there's
no fish.

Sometimes when hungry,
you will be tempted.

Other times musicians will hear,
"Mo Cowbell."

Music Pilgrim's Progress

She knows how to work it.
John Deere endorses.

They were

A sign of
good things to come.

Rare music

The Journey

Some roads are not paved
with gold or yellow bricks.

The journey can be

A Vision Quest
is a test.

Sometimes a summer breeze
is all that matters .

Sometimes a new road
is found.

Or a crooked


No'Man's Land
Tis the journey
that counts.
(These photos spanned Canada)

Thank You For The Ride
(New York - Toronto)

Photos before this journey started.