Monday, April 09, 2018

Tantalized

You are floating in near-darkness. You have been here a long, long time. A cruel punishment for what was ultimately an act of love.

The fruit dangles in front of you, as it always has. The cool water buoys your body. You are hungry and thirsty, but you know the deal: It's not for you. It will all be taken away the moment you twitch your muscles.

You sigh, and crumple your dry, aching throat to swallow your own ropy saliva. It hurts a little.

After a time, you hear an echoing voice, simultaneously stern and oddly caring. "Tantalus, there is a way out. You must eat and drink it all. It is the only way."

You bend your neck to the water.

Miraculously, this time, it doesn't vanish. You gulp it down, feeling its cold finger stretch through your body, into your cramped stomach.

You crane your sore neck to the fruit, which remains in place. But when you take a mouthful, you taste only phantoms. It burns your cheeks, your gums, the roof of your mouth, the back of your throat. It feels like razor blades against your tongue. You can barely swallow it, and when you do, your stripped mouth continues to sting. The water seems to curdle in your gut.

"Tantalus, you must eat and drink it all."

The tree suddenly looms impossibly large, swollen with every fruit you have ever wanted, and some you don't. How will you possibly eat it all? You look down at the wine-dark sea in which you float, and wonder how many mouthfuls it will take.

Seven weeks? 2 years? 5 years? The rest of your life, such as it is?

You gulp. Tears roll down your face. It's this or...what? Nothing? Is this tortured gorging better or worse than the endless deprivation? If nothing else, at least it is different.

In the distance, you see the tiniest pinpoint of light. As you swallow, you think it grows larger. You're not sure, but maybe. Yes. It has to be, right? You cannot be sure. You will never be totally sure again.

You steel yourself, and take another bite.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Running

I pull my Nitzer Ebb cap down over my headphones and zip up my TuneTo.com fleece vest. I step outside. It's in the high 40s and raining. Time for a run. As my MP3 player kicks on, I will my feet to move, walking briskly for a few minutes on the path towards the ocean cliff before breaking into a slow jog. The cold air and the rain lash into me. This run is going to be tough.

***

I have been running since I was a child. I recall my mother encouraging me to do it, probably as much to get me out of the house and her hair and to burn off some youthful energy as anything else. I found that while I did not necessarily have an aptitude for it, I liked it. I liked the sense of achievement and the lack of competition with others. Running is just you, your will, and shoes.

***

After a few minutes, I'm warm enough that I can up the speed a bit. My lungs fill with the ocean air. I watch the birds wheeling into the sky. I pass by people, fluorescent nylon billowing in the wind, hands on hats, leaning sideways. I nod, give them the Prisoner's "Be seeing you" salute and run past. The ocean is teal and gray. My headphones play "Karabali" by Herbie Hancock, and I am instantly transported to 1984. The nostalgia and memories hit me almost as suddenly and tangibly as the wind and rain.

***

I think of being in the back of the family car, listening to this album, and wondering what chords and notes were able to summon these kinds of feelings and images. I think of my runs through McLean in the summertime, with and without music. Sweating in the heat. It feels like a dream, or like it happened to someone else and they told me about it. I think of the routes I ran. Did I really run that far? I remember sunsets and evenings at home, listening to music. Thinking about the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite vacations are on some level attempts at recreating some of my most favorite or intense times from my youth. The "Zero Summer" of 1990 was one of those times, a time of peace, creativity, happiness, and a sense that anything is possible.

And so I find myself returning to similar circumstances: A modern house, set against stunning nature. Water nearby. Sleeping in. Runs in the daytime. Delicious food in the evening. Bouts of creativity. Thinking about the future.

***

My run takes me along the cliff face. The ocean rises and falls below, occasionally exploding into surf and spray as it hammers the rocks. I enter into a cathedral of trees, all bent and blown into arches. I run through them a long, dry tunnel and respite from the squall. I check my watch. 25 minutes. This is a good halfway point.

***

For me, running is like meditation, with mental benefits that match or exceed the physical ones. Once I'm warmed up, I am able to attain a kind of mental clarity unmatched by nearly anything else I have experienced. I write songs. I think about problems.

***

I pause, turning slowly, before starting my run again. I emerge from the tree cathedral and the sun is blazing. No more rain for now. I gaze out at the sea, emerald and glittering in the sun, as my feet skip along the trail. Today, I am occupied by thoughts of the future, and attempts to avoid thinking about the same. I breathe hard. Don't stop. Keep going. Move.

It is good to be alive.

Monday, February 12, 2018

David Gabriel (1960 - 2013)

David Gabriel
I was writing to someone about singing today, and decided to look up my former voice teacher, David Gabriel. I was hoping to share some of my recent recorded work with him.

I was shocked and saddened to learn that he died 5 years ago at the age of 53.

I found David through the Music Connection in Los Angeles in the mid-90s, and I studied with him until I left Los Angeles in 2000, visiting his office at Hollywood and Vine once a week. We fell out of touch then, in that early pre-internet-for-everything time.

David was a fantastic teacher, with the perfect mix of kindness, patience, and mastery. He helped me understand what my voice was capable of (4 octaves!), and how to use it in an expressive, flexible, and sustainable way.

Before I started studying with David, I couldn't sing very long or very hard, and I wasn't even sure if I had a good voice or if I should be singing at all. David took me seriously starting from my first lesson. He was understanding of how sensitive people can be around their singing voices. He always made me feel like I could do it, and that the keys were practicing and understanding what your voice could do.

By the time I left, I knew that I had the technical skills and tools to sing at my own full capacity, and that the remaining barriers were stylistic and expressive. I may not have known exactly who I was as a singer, or how to make people feel something when I sang, but I knew I could do it, and was confident enough in my abilities to be able to tell people "I am a singer."

Over the years I studied with him, we got to know each other better and learned more about our respective lives, including the various tough times we both went through. David was a fairly private person, but he loved talking about his kids. It was years before he told me some of the other people he coached, perhaps most notably Axl Rose, but including a surprising number of other professional musicians across a wide range of genres. David was both modest about his work and protective of his other students' privacy. He also let me know that they weren't any better or worse than any of his other students. They all had challenges, problems, insecurities, and vocal things to work on.

If my singing is any good at all, it is because of the tools and training he gave me, and how those allowed me to perform and study on my own.

Thank you for the voice, David. I use it every day. I only wish you were still around to hear what I have been doing with it.