Posts Tagged ‘Music’

My Son: The College Grad

Charlie Garcia 2

After damn near two decades of day care, pre-school, private middle school, public high school and then busting his butt at the university level, real life beckons my son, Charlie Garcia, as the child I brought home wrapped in a blanket one cold January day 22 years ago, graduates with an Audio Engineering degree from Middle Tennessee State University this Saturday.

I know the economy still kind of sucks, Charlie. You’d be forgiven if you feel a little trepidation about entering the great American work force. But here’s why I know you’ll be alright, son.

I think you were 15 when it hit you; when music became not just a fascination but a passion. When it became a direction in life. And like the good, practical Capricorn you are, you dissected every element of what it would take to live your life dedicated to a creative craft. And you have stuck with it with dogged determination. You can count on one hand, my friend, the number of human beings who get a notion of what they want do with their life at that young an age.

That was about the time we met Alex, a real-life audio engineer working in Manhattan, who agreed to meet with us in Greenwich Village one Spring afternoon and who laid out the not-so-glamorous realities of life in the music business. Wrapping up a recording session at 4am and setting up for the next session at 7am. Making good money mixing rap, even if it was classical quartets that were the true love of his creative life. Ah- compromises.

I remember the portable, digital, recording “studio” I had in my apartment that you used to cut your very first mixing teeth, playing a blue telecaster you would later fix up and own as one of your main performance instruments.

I remember the song you wrote called City Lights, inspired by the twinkling beauty of New York City as seen from the 18th floor of a West Side apartment, a song that appropriately enough, was simply about the joy and angst of writing music.

I remember the young man who in his heart of hearts, wanted to be a record producer but fully understood that to get there, you have to know every aspect of music. You need to write and perform. You need to understand music theory and sound waves and acoustic properties. You need to engineer. You need to edit. You need to mix. You need to manage artists. You need people skills and you need the artistic vision to take your projects from inception to fruition.

And then there is the matter of fear- like that you feel none. Who else meets one of the top music producers in the business at a festival, gets his business card and just a few months later, happens to be in Athens, Georgia, rings him up and ends up sharing lunch with the dude who first recorded R.E.M.. Same with the way you are on stage and performing- no fear. Just tenaciousness…and joy.

This is why, in the long term, you will succeed, Charlie. Because the whole time I’ve known you, if you didn’t have the natural skill, then you worked your butt off to get where you needed to go. Whether it was intense physical training so you could be a goalie on your varsity high school soccer team. Or relentlessly practicing guitar, or piano, or drums or banjo or whatever instrument had most recently made its way into your soul.

And if you needed a little extra cash, you never had any qualms doing honest, physical labor, like tearing down walls and floors for a contractor. Success is not something that has ever been handed you. You have achieved it through sweat and effort. You have never lacked in the area of striving and desire.

I suppose there’s some aspect of genetics that plays a role in creating a young man with such character. But that doesn’t do justice to the effort you put into life every day. I know your incredible mom, Laurie Spencer, who raised you largely by herself while I recovered from one journalistic layoff or another, gets the lion’s share of the credit for the kind of man you’ve become- but even that doesn’t do justice to the fact it’s you who have learned life’s sometimes hard lessons and emerged as a strong, gentle, loving, balanced human being.

I suppose I should get some credit for supporting you emotionally and financially, and, yes, it gives me a measure of pride that you graduate with zero debt to your name. But it has been you who got through the drudgery and the glory of four years of college- growing, challenging yourself, discovering; open to all things professional, spiritual, personal.

So let me let you in on a little secret. Your future is unlimited. Your potential is enormous. But success? You have already earned it. You are already a successful man. And in achieving that, my friend, you have ultimately made me a success as well.

Congratulations, Charlie Garcia.

An Angel Finds Her Voice

It’s a long way from sleeping nightly on a mattress in a station wagon to making an appearance on one of the nation’s top-rated TV shows and knocking everyone’s socks off, but that’s what perseverance gets you. I just can’t believe it’s a family friend I’ve known since she was, like, 13.

NBC’s The Voice is the latest in the genre of talent shows that have sprung up on network television and the debut ratings have been astronomical. In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia some 15 years ago I remember Rebecca Loebe, a determined singer/songwriter-in-the-making, playing for smaller ratings; family and friends. This week, she sang for millions and it was all about heart and grit and determination.

It’s a cool show if you haven’t seen it. At least in these early stages of the competition, the judges of The Voice sit with their backs to the performer because they are judging one thing and one thing only and that’s vocal quality. If you’re good enough, the judges push a little button and their chair turns around to face the artist.

Rebecca was introduced as the “homeless singer.” I understand the allure of painting her that way for purposes of an intruiging story-line, but let’s just say this isn’t your typical case of homelessness. As Rebecca explained on the show, she performs all over the country. She could pay for an apartment she doesn’t live in or she can just hang in her car from gig to gig.

This is an individual who went to the nationally-acclaimed Berkeley School of Music in Boston. This is someone who, through the years, has shown more dedication to her craft and more single-mindedness toward a career than I think any artist I have ever known. Rebecca is homeless by choice. It’s just a practical path to playing as much as possible in as many places as plausible. She’s no bag-lady.

What she is- is an icon for the work ethic. If you love something enough, then your passion is all that matters. Sacrifices are made. Your car becomes your home. Your travel is your life (and probably grist for half your songwriting). This isn’t some spoiled little brat from the LA suburbs slapping a phony video together and posting it on You Tube.

Hell, she’s probably doing pretty much the same thing Woody Guthrie did when he was in his 20’s—except he was sneaking onto freight trains to get to the next town, while Rebecca drives a station-wagon.

I taped her appearance last night and I think tears welled up in my eyes each of the three times I saw that angelic, beautiful face and heard the soulful voice, no doubt carved in part from the life of hard knocks she has chosen to lead in pursuit of her dreams.

She will not be living in her car much longer- I guarantee you that. Get used to nice hotels and maybe even a limo or two over the years ahead—because you’ve earned it, sweetheart. And just wait until they get a load of the songs you write that are ten times better than the tune you covered on NBC this week.

You rock, Rebecca. And your soul and your heart rock too. You’ve always been an inspiration to your family and friends. Now, you’re an inspiration to a whole nation. How friggin’ cool is that?

Sweet Flashbacks

(Tom Ballew, Cal Everett, Jeff Severson, George Pittaway)

Visited the glorious past over the weekend as rock band, 4 Out of 5 Doctors, played an intimate venue in Vienna, Virginia to a collection of about 200 of us who grew up together back in the 80’s forming a piece of the fabric of the Washington DC area a quarter century ago.

An occasionally drunken and, uh, free-flowing fabric. Hey, we were young. I admit this because I have pretty much ruled out any future in public office. But I digress.

4 Out of 5 Doctors, if you don’t know them, had a record deal with Nemperor  back in the early 80’s (with singles on the CBS and Epic labels as well; all confusingly interrelated).   The guys were horribly mismanaged and screwed by the clueless wonders of the record industry at the time and Nemperor failed to pick up their option.

Anyway, these are all friends of mine and for the first time in the history of this blog, I am consciously shilling product. They have a new CD called Post-Op, culled from songs from the 3rd album-that-never-was, demos from the 1st-two-that-were and new material. There’s also a new CD set of their original albums. As the Washington Post noted in a review of one of their reunion concerts a couple of years ago, their music wears very well.

I was laughing as I was thinking how to describe what the Doctors sound like (for the sake of those not indoctrinated). It’s a rather varied list. For me they’re a mix of The Talking Heads, The Cars and Steely Dan with a hint of Beatles and if you do enough mushrooms, probably a little Electric Light Orchestra: the latter two due to their layered ooh-and-ah harmonies and catchy melodies. Add clever, pithy, occasionally twisted lyrics and- what’s not to love? I mean, really: “Had a fight with my car and my girlfriend broke down.” Has a certain perverse ring to it, no? The term “Power Pop” is thrown around to describe the Doctors but they’re deeper than that.

And Opus Ten should have gone down as one of the best rock songs ever. Well, it is; it’s just that a lot of people don’t know about it. There’s a very good article on the Doctors and their sordid history with the music industry here (despite universally rave reviews from critics).

Anyway, as for the tenor of the reunion-ish evening, it was rather amusing to see how old we’re all getting. Another decade and we’ll be showing up in wheelchairs and Depends.

But there remain signs of life. For both the Doctors and their minions. We are clearly not going down without a fight.

Go here to buy their stuff. Go here for the 4 Out of 5 Doctors website.