Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dream Gig

When I was 16 and started playing music in public, I dreamt of my future class reunion. Not in the "oh snap, I'm gonna miss these guys and hope to keep in touch" but in the "maybe at my 5 but definitely at my 10 year class reunion I'll come back from my dream gig where everyone will know me for my rockin' goodness, ask me to share a song and ask details about what makes my gig so dreamy".

Well, 26 years into music, I can say I'm in the middle of my dream gig right now.

I can picture the class reunion now. An old friend comes up and asks, "Hey, you ever get that dream gig?"

I respond: "you bet! Let me describe it to you:

  • I gig 2-3 weekends a month, multiple gigs per weekend, well over 60 gigs per year
  • I mainly play with one band but play as a sub in some other bands. All of them have their own styles and each are a blast to play in
  • I practice with the bands on the Thursday before each gig to get the songs polished...and flirt with the vocalist. On a good night we hit it off and I end up taking her home for the night
  • On weekends, we show up at the venue a few hours before the gig, where the stage is already set up for us
  • The sound guy is ready, helps us get our sound dialed in, and is quite kind in our requests for stage monitor levels
  • The venue sets out coffee, fruit, and doughnut holes. Once a month the venue provides us full meals...from pizza to burgers, to tacos, to stakes! We are at the point where we don't even ask for the bowl full of blue M&Ms!
  • We play our set to an enthusiastic crowd who sing along to every word!
  • The stage lights feel hot and I wouldn't have it any other way...I seem to thrive and play better when it's warm
  • Unique to this kind of gig, the crowd is not focused on us, but that's the way we like it. 
  • The songs rock! Sometimes we play slower songs but even then there's always an energy...a purpose to the lyrics...a message that we want to get across. Mostly, though, we rock out. Some gigs I'll pull out all my tricks and light up the song with my electric, whereas other gigs I'm on acoustic where others get to shine while I lay a rhythmic foundation.
  • During the weekdays, in my downtime, I have a great day job challenging my brain to improve the user experience of commercial software. The bonus is that I get extra income so I can invest in music gear. I love the guitars I play, and the day job is the only reason I've been fortunate enough to play the guitars I do....and build a recording studio in my home so I can keep my composing and recording juices flowing."

"Wow!", they would say.

They would then ask how long I've been in this dream gig?

I'd respond, "15 years". And then add a sobering, "but I only recognized it as my dream gig for the last 2".

...and then they'd ask where I gig?

My response?

"My Church.  Crosswinds church. "

At that point the conversation could go in many directions, but that's not the point.

The point is that God knew what would be best for me and how to best use (and develop) my musical skills. He knew that while I learned guitar on Van Halen and Prince, He knew those skills would be needed one day at a church in Rochester, MN. I'm convinced that he opened the door to IBM solely because a church would one day exist that he knew would need me to serve there to help define the musical culture it would be known for...not so that we could brag about how cool we sound...but because a good rock song can speak to a broken heart much more deeply than the spoken word.

He also knew that I wasn't strong enough against all the temptations on the road so he hooked me up first with a christian high school band (Virtue), then later organized events for me to join Up With People, where I could tour the world and expand my skills in a somewhat sane environment.  Finally, he knew that being in the music business full time is very difficult and time consuming...and that I'm probably playing and composing more music now than I would be if I had to run a small business to promote, book, market, finance, repair, and run logistics for a band (although I'm still game if the opportunity presents itself :-) )

I love this church and the musical community that surrounds it. The funny thing is that the longer I play there, the more rockin the music gets. I hope that when I'm old and gray, some troubled heart who is certain God can't help him walks in, sits down, and mentally scoffs at the silver-haired guitarist walking on stage. He might raise an eyebrow when that guitarist straps on a (then) vintage PRS (or if said guitarist has his way...the latest PRS available). I hope he is first blown away by the dropped 'D' intro riff (becaue that will let his guard down), and then I hope his heart melts at the unplanned meeting with his Savior while the guitarist's fingers dance across the fretboard as the only backdrop that troubled heart would have accepted to engage in such an encounter.

Yep, I have my dream gig. No glory, no fame, no financial gain, and I take the same girl home after every gig.

I wouldn't change a thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Van Halen and Me...A Life-long Journey

My first encounter with Van Halen was in 1980 when my big brother came home with a cassette he borrowed from a friend. He flipped it into his boom box, and...from the opening lick, I was never the same.

That cassette was also the source of my first real conflict with my dad :-)   Back then, I knew nothing about audio so I copied the cassette by putting two boom boxes nose to nose, hitting play on one and record on the other.

...and turned it up!

Of course, as is the story of my life, my dad walked in during the worst part...the middle of "Everybody Wants Some"...with Diamond Dave talking about how he likes it how the lines run up the back of their stockings. It didn't occur to me to just stop the recording and re-record it's not like wasting 20 minutes of my youth was worth the lecture on what how I need to feed my brain with pure and wholesome things. 

Once released from solitary confinement, I proceeded to explore their other albums and quickly created a mix tape (mixed with AC/DC) that would pound my ears while mowing. One time my dad even came running out thinking I was hurt...when I was just trying to mimic a Roth-worthy scream (he then lectured me on how mower acoustics don't drown out screaming/singing).

I also bought a VH necklace...just like the one Eddie wore in the guitar magazines. Thinking back on it, that seemed so primitive...cutting out an order form from the back of a magazine, having my mom write a check, mailing it in...and waiting 4 to 6 WEEKS for it to arrive...never knowing if the company even got the check, and if they did, if they'd ever send me anything. But soon enough, after checking the mail daily, I got my gold necklace and proceeded to wear it as I dressed up as Eddie during 9th grade costume day:

When I first picked up a guitar at 16, the first lick I learned was "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". Fairly basic, but I could finally say I could play a Van Halen song. I got the tablature for "Eruption", but could never figure it out. I say publicly that I'm more of a blues player, but the truth is I just don't practice enough.

The album "1984" was the first album that I anticipated and bought the day it was released. I couldn't wait!!!

I was so excited! I unwrapped it, placed it on my dad's turntable, and promptly stated:

"What's with all that synthesizer %$*#!   I hate #&$*# keyboard stuff!"

(Couple notes here, 1: Yes, I had a mouth back then. 2: Remember big statements you make as a kid. I said I hated keyboard stuff, and just a few years later at 16 I started taking piano lessons and have been playing and composing ever since...which ranks right up there with me getting a C in music in 9th grade and failing the "Oklahoma" test...then in 12th grade I sang the role of Curly in the fall musical production)

Of course, now I love that song (Jump) and I kinda forgave them as soon as I heard the pure rock of "Panama". Wow, what a song.

Then they broke up.

I honestly don't even remember that news, so I might have already been introduced to the music of Prince...yes, again, by my big brother...while driving home from my grandpa's lake home in Deerwood. We were passing by Lake Millacs and he puts in a cassette...Purple Rain...Let's Go guitars but with a funky beat...and WOW did that corrupt my brain. If my dad lectured me on the PG+ nature of Van Halen songs, his response to the R (or worse) nature of Prince songs would have included putting me on a slow canoe down the river Styx to meet my maker.

A few years later, I heard Van Hagar...and thought that was pretty cool, but missed David Lee Roth. After that I moved to Christian music, other 'light rock' and pop...and basically left Van Halen behind. Sure I listened to 5150 songs, but it didn't impact me the same way.

Years later, at 38, I was feeling my life lacked the fire it used to. I felt stuck, and uninspired. I read an article on how certain music becomes the soundtrack for a person's life, and something triggered. I bought an iPod...and my passion for rockin' music reignited. Songs like "Ice Cream Man" re-entered my ears. I reunited with the music of Van Halen, AC/DC, and others that fired me up. That, of course lead me to newer music by U2, Creed, Alter Bridge...

...and even more recently inspired me to release my own hard-rock album:

My journey with Van Halen culminated just last week by seeing them live in concert. I'll leave that story to a future post, but let's just say seeing Eddie vibrant and sounding excellent at 57 was inspiring! Knowing he had struggled with addiction and cancer made the evening even more special...he looks so happy. Here's his 9 minute guitar solo at the show I saw: 

There you go. If anything, this story tells me that everyone needs something to rock to throughout their keep the fire and passion and the anticipation of what's up ahead alive and kicking.

Rock on...and Fins up! (yes, I love Jimmy Buffett, too)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Left-Handed Birthday

It's my birthday today! I turn 43.

On the way up to my daily regimen at the Gym***, my daughter informed me, "Dad, did you know that left-handed people live 9 years less than right-handed people?"


"Oh, and they are likely to die from using a right-handed tool"


Thank you, dear daughter, for that gift of knowledge ;-)

The rest of the drive I spent calculating that, now at 43, I am most likely well past my 1/2 way point in this crazy least according to my daughter...who says I will most likely kick off this earth from a fatal usage of something like my right-handed iPhone.

I started to wonder: What specific tool will cause my demise?

...and then I started to think of all that I do the 'right-handed-way', and how much better it actually works for left-handers (or 'liberal-handers' as my uncle says).

I now give you three examples of why being left-handed is better. I'll admit that these may hasten my death, but maybe it's worth it to have a happier life than all these poor right-handers?

Shaking Hands
Did you know that it is not natural for me to shake with my right hand? But now that I've mastered it, I noticed that while your dominant hand is locked in a squeeze-to-show-I'm-important contest with me, my dominant hand is free to do many things:
  • Poke your eyes
  • Karate chop your neck
  • Twirl your mustache like a villain would
  • Answer my iPhone (who am I kidding...check Facebook)
  • Cover my yawn
  • Shake another's hand (because let's face it...right-handers are not used to performing with their sub-dominant hand while using their dominant hand)

Possible Death: Someday I will come across my match and when my stooges-inspired eye-poke begins, his free dominant hand deftly performs the in-between-the-eye wall block maneuver, then hurtles his princess-bride-sword-dueling-quotes at me...and before I know it, I'll be looking down at my carcass as "He's only 'mostly' dead" echos through my freshly quiesced, but hopeful brain.

Playing Guitar
I was an awesome left-handed air guitarist. Throughout my aughts, I could rock the mirror better than anyone! When it came time to actually pick up a guitar at 16, I held it in a way that felt natural...until I saw three life-altering things: The strings were upside-down, it looked weird to others, and the price was double the 'normal' guitars.

I quickly became a right-handed-guitar guitar player.

And you know what? It's awesome! After the initial awkward stage, I spent my time teaching my dominant hand to do all the intricate fingering, scaling, and chording skills...while my sad right-hander friends taught their dominant hand to...strum and pick...OOO, that must have been challenging for your dominant hand...up, down, up down.

Possible Death: While many guitarists die from drowning in their own vomit (I know...ick), I will die from a rock-to-the-death match. While my dominant hand is performing 32nd note hammer-on and pull-offs up and down the neck, my nemesis, "Dr. Screecher" will play a series of harmonics that are so dissonant my sub-dominant hand will not have the deftness to plug both ears...and my brain will literally melt out of my ears. And, if I happen to survive that, his dominant hand will have just flicked his razor-edged pick squarely into my temple. My sub-dominant hand didn't have a chance to block it. Although it's not all bad: because of all the training, my dominant hand used muscle-memory to keep the 32nd note hammer-on/pull-off fest going a good 5 minutes after my brain stopped...thereby winning the match!

Reading Books
You see, while you spend your day forcefully pushing pages from right to left like Sisyphus endlessly pushing up hill, I gently coax the pages from a two-pronged technique combining a gentle tug on the ear of the page with my forefinger and thumb, along with a three-finger flitter that creates enough airflow beneath the page to make it WANT to turn submit willingly and lay flat exposing the goodness of the next page for my eyes to see.

Possible Death: Unfortunately, that gentle tugging will one day turn into a full-on pull after getting a vintage copy of Herman Wouk's "Don't Stop The Carnival" and just when I think he has to sell the hotel, the excitement of the book is paused by a small spatter of dried margarita sticking the next pages together. My attempt to pull the pages apart will make my dominant hand slip and an enormous paper cut emerges. Now, people don't die from paper cuts, but the fact that I was reading it on my retirement boat in the middle of the carribean resulted in me falling overboard and puncturing said dominant hand with sharp coral, pinning me in the ocean. My subdominant hand could not release the coral's hold, and let's just say the sharks got their fill. Although it's not all bad, because the next day while still mourning her loss (on the boat...with margarita in hand), my wife sees a yacht approach. It's a go-jillion-aire and after 2 weeks they marry...and release my songs posthumously on a 10 disc retrospective...and I get a grammy for best new, yet dead, artist. Awesome!

So it really comes down to this: Do you want to live a better life for 9 years less as a left-hander, or wander aimlessly for 9 extra years with your sad right-hander quasi-adventures?

I choose to live a better life.

Long-Live, er, Long-live-but-not-as-long-as-right-handers-yet-get-more-out-of-life-anyway-during-our-9-less-years Left-Handers!!!

Oh, and happy birthday to all left-handers out there!

*** Editors note: With this being an SEC sanctioned blog, I must fully disclosure that while impressive sounding, "daily regimen at the Gym" actually consists of overlooking my girls train gymnastics for 2 hours whilst sitting on a hard stool and working on my computer...sipping tea. I know. Impressive.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Airline Adventures

I have to confess: When I travel, I tend to post the highlights.

Just so you all don't think my travels are all fun and corporate rock-and-roll, Here are some travel adventures that bring it back to reality:

2012: Rochester to White Plains (AA)
Arrived in RST at 9am Sunday

Delayed until 10:30. Fine. that's why I book not the 'next' connecting flight in O'Hare...but the "next, next" flight. After all, I'm on work time from the time I leave home so I'd rather make my connection.

...taxied out
"Umm, controllers re-routed us, and the new route requires more fuel..."
...taxied back to get more fuel

...taxied out
...taxied back due to ground halt in Chicago Waited 1.5 hours but I got to have a relaxed lunch, so not all bad!

...boarded plane
"Umm, controllers gave us original route back but we now have too much fuel. We can't suck it out, so we need to de-plane 9 people and your luggage"
...9 deplaned

...heard O'Hare had another Ground Halt
"HEY, GET BACK IN!" - Pilot decided to burn the fuel while we wait
...9 re-board...and we taxied out

...waited for Ground Halt to be lifted while burning 1500 pounds of fuel

Landed in Chicago...
...Ran to connecting gate...
...watched gate door shut "...I'm sorry, once the gate door is shut, it can't be opened..." I hear as he smiles in his little circle of absolute power.

...all other flights canceled
...slept at O'Hare Hilton. THANK YOU IBM ($119/night IBM rate, $400/night normal rate)
...arrived next morning for 9:10 flight
...delayed until 10:30 because while the plane and crew were ready, they had to wait in Milwaukee until their 8 hours of rest was complete (I picture them all in uniform at the gate all watching the clock to tic past the 8 hour mark)
ARRIVED at 3:00 Monday. 1.5 hours to spare...and ready to ROCK!

2009: Rochester to White Plains (Delta)
Boarded in Rochester, taxied out
...sat on tarmac for 2 hours due to storms in Minneapolis

Flew to MSP
Missed our connection
Our meeting with a VP was still on at noon the next day...
...earliest flight arrived at 1pm
...couldn't get a hold of assistant to see if we could re-book so stayed over night in MSP
In Morning: "Nope, VP cannot reschedule until next week"
We drove home to RST wasting $920

Note: This was with my colleague that I traveled with often. She and I laugh because if I tell people this story with certain phrasing, people would wonder: "Ya, I flew to Minneapolis for a work meeting with a female colleague, spent the night in a hotel, drove home the next day". Of course, we learned from our mistakes and the next month when the executive had an opening, we flew early the day before to LaGuardia...and spent the afternoon in NYC. Rode a helicopter over the Hudson, and drove up to White Plains that night. (but this post is about the realities of travel...ok back to the ugly)

2008: Poughkeepsie to Rochester (AA)
Arrived and boarded
...taxied out
...felt plane turn around ... like Indiana Jones in III
...mechanical problem
...plane leaves for machine shed to get fixed

While we're waiting at the gate, the adjacent gate arrives with fresh plane! We all can fly to O'Hare in that!
...We start boarding
...we stop boarding
...mechanical failure light turns red
...that plane leaves for machine shed

Original plane arrives back at gate!
...gate agent announces boarding in 2 minutes
...gate agent starts talking fast...then loudly shouts, "NO, WAIT FOR US!"
...plane...completely empty...leaves gate and flies to O'Hare.

It turns out the pilot had 5 minutes until he was "not eligible" had to leave gate so airplane could get to O'Hare for morning run

...2nd plane returns to gate
...we all board and fly to O'Hare

...and I miss my connection back home to Rochester.

Since it's only 6:30, I decide to drive home
Go to car rental...only thing they have is a very fancy SUV!

Drive home in SWEET style listening to my podcasts

2006: Las Vegas to MSP (Delta)
Taxied out
Crew announcement, "Umm, we're really sorry, but we found a box-cutter on board. Don't worry...we know it was left by the cleaning crew filling the cup bin...but TSA rules require us to taxi back to a quarantined gate, de-plane, have you gather your luggage, and provide detailed body and luggage inspections. It will take some time"
...3 hours later we taxi back out and fly to MSP
...I miss my connecting flight, but I just drive home.

2011: Singapore to Bangkok
AmEx travel is awesome...usually. They booked me and a colleague on a cheap flight since we had to teach that day, then fly that night...and teach then next morning.

We were 1/2 way through the 2nd day (4 hours to departure) and our Singapore guide (who was also traveling with us to Bangkok) asked our flight # to confirm same flight.

"OH, you should not have used that airline. It is a very cheap airline...never flies on time...sometimes not the same day", and "It is like a river boat...they leave when full".

Sweet.  I call AmEx and they book 2 tickets on Singapore Air. We arrive to airport a tad worried: You see, according to the "Kingdom of Thailand", we are foreigners with 2 booked tickets on two different airlines...the only country that requires a visa to get in...and we each have 2 passports due to that same visa. We had the profile matching of a secret agent.

(we got through fine, and arrived safe and sound...never knew if/when the other flight arrived)

2011: LA to Sydney
Besides all the "Hey, did you see John Locke on board?" questions, it started iffy. We boarded, taxied out.
...Stopped...for 1.5 hours.
...the little car that pushes the plane out bent some metal on the landing wheel as it disconnected from us
...mechanics are out trying to fix without de-plane
...they fix!
...15 hour flight begins (did I say we had already sat for nearly 2 hours?)

2011: Evil Water
I know we can't take water through security. I dutifully empty or thow my water bottle and if I need a new one, purchase on the other side. But in international flights, there is a secret second security to enter the gate area that ALSO does not allow water! My first experience was Tokyo. I was flying to Singapore and I bought a water bottle in Tokyo after security...only to have to dump it before entering the gate security. So much for "Mountainside fresh water" and welcome "Tokyo tap water from in-gate fountain"

There ya go...just a few of my favorites that I pull out when a bunch of us are comparing travel horror stories...

Monday, May 7, 2012

HINTERsupport - Fundraising Tips

I know support letters are a necessity because mission trips cost lots of money...and it helps the student grow in how the world works.

But, when my boy had to send a support letter out to request for prayers and money for his mission trip in Washington DC, I thought that it would be best if I create a form letter that reflects true HINTER sentiments.

You see, as a HINTER, a support letter should be filled with a personal connection, honesty, and clarity what the mission-bound HINTER is really up to.

~~~~~  The "HINTER Seeking Support" Form Letter ~~~~~

Dear Person-I-Barely-Know,

Remember me? The last time I saw you I screamed at the top of my lungs and messed in my pants. Sorry about that. Granted, I was only 2, but you were tall, scary, and you smelled like dog (or maybe that was your mamoth-sized-to-my-toddlerness Yorkie). I've learned from that 'life-lesson' moment and have since then improved how I interact with those much older than me...way older than me.

Other than the 'incident' in your pool last summer while you were on vacation, I have been a model of today's youth. What? You didn't know about that? Well, this is now also a confessional letter.

I am writing you to ask for your prayers...and money. Well, I'm really writing to ask you for money. I know prayers are powerful, but I tried to 'pray myself a new iPod Touch' last Christmas and it didn't I think some cold hard cash will be more effective in paying for the plane ticket.

I am traveling to Washington, DC this summer with two girls I like...and my church youth group...and some leaders. I'm really looking forward to the trip! We will start out spending time serving the desperate, clueless, and the criminal in DC. Then, once we leave the Capital building, we will serve the honorable and homeless around the city (don't worry about my safety, I've learned lethal hand-to-hand combat from BlackOps, and so far it works great against my 8-year-old brother).

While we are there, I plan on promoting my band (and Jesus I guess)...because nothing brings joy like a youth-driven-awesomely-rocking metal song...about Jesus. If you donate, I'll send you a link to our Facebook fan page so you can follow the band, er, mission trip.

I'll admit this trip could be life-changing. Your donation could help me learn to care for the needy, learn how to trust God in tough situations, and appreciate how great I have it at home. But even if I don't, I'll get to see the Crime Museum and the International Spy Museum...both in my 'gift mix' and could accelerate my main career interests.

Best of all, I won't have spent a dime of my own money...unless the Spy museum still sells their "21 ways to infiltrate your boss's/teachers/parents computer for your own gain" booklet.

Thank you for your prayers...and your money...especially your money.

Sincerely, Your just-a-little-bit-more-than-a-stranger-but-my-parents-think-you're-ok friend,

I-just-wasted-20-minutes-of-Skyrim-I'll-never-get-back HINTER.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Playing With The Cool Kids

I thought Junior High was far behind me.

One summer day in 2011 it came back in full force.

From what seemed like out of the blue, I was graciously invited to spend the day on the Mississippi River with some co-workers. These were not just any co-workers, they were the 'cool' co-workers; leaders in their field, super-smart, amazing coders, athletic, and they were all friends.

Me? I'm just a "user experience" guy. A smiley loner of sorts at work. A 'hack' developer at best (I was OK years ago, but my focus on design these many years made my detailed coding skills rust).

But I like these guys and I'm always told I should step out more. One even personally encouraged me since he knew our destination and knew it would be a great day.

The morning arrived. I took a big breath, left work, and drove to meet them. It was a beautiful morning!! Perfect weather, and a day on a boat and jet-ski was very exciting to anticipate.

The fact that I felt like I was 'skipping school' was not lost on me. The last time I felt like that was as a senior in high school when it was just...too...nice out to go back after lunch. We drove to Wayzata beach and just hung out (and happily stayed in detention the next rainy day).

We got to the river (one of the guys lives on the river), and loaded up. We packed lunches and boated out.

What a treat!  The current kept the water fairly clear, and it was warm and deep. The sand dunes (from dredging?) on the shore reminded me of a rolling desert.

We stopped on one, climbed it, skipped down it, and played frisbee and football. I chose frisbee because I'm pretty good at it...and most of these guys were quarterback types so I knew I was out of my league throwing football. Turns out I was out of my league at frisbee, too. I just didn't throw like I normally do...and they threw awesomely. Junior High inferiority struck again and affected my throws, conversations, and I even felt like I stood awkwardly.

...and then we got out the water skis.

MAN these guys were good! It was quite fun watching them, but while I can water ski, it's been years since I slalomed, so I ended up frolicking on the jet-ski. I love those things and had a blast. They had a blast too skiing. I would follow the boat like a dolphin following a ship. We switched around and I rode while looking at bald eagles flying over whoever was skiing.

It was a nearly perfect day, capped off by an evening campfire.

At the end we said our goodbyes, and I drove home.

I was grateful for the day: the invite, the amazing weather, the hospitality, the water toys, the conversation, the frisbee, the break from a very difficult spell at work, and most of all: the possibility that the 'cool' kids (even if temporarily) thought enough of me to want me around...

...or maybe they just needed someone to drive the jet-ski around while they were skiing so it was nearby when they wanted to ride it :-)

Regardless, thank you.

It's a day I'll not soon forget.

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