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Music Is The Can Opener For My Soul

Music is important in my life.  Day in Day out, music is the art form my soul has chosen for comfort.  As many of you have read, my morning routine is the most important part of my day.  If I am able to experience a favorite “oldie” or have the joy of a new musical discovery in the morning, I am bound to have a blast off kind of day.  It has been like this for as long as I can remember.  One of the original “shock jock’s” was Larry Lujak on WLS 890 AM.  I would listen to Larry in the bathroom in the mornings back then, much the same way I still enjoy the WXRT morning show with Lin Brehmer… sorry Richard Milne.  If I were to give credit for this love of music, it would be to my father.  My dad loved music.  Some of his favorites were Tina Turner, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Winwood, The Doobie Brothers, and a ton of other really groovy bands from the 70’s.  My dad even loved Barbara Streisand, as her artistic talent surpassed his distaste for her politics.  Like most dads, there were a couple songs he played over and over and over and over.  One of those songs was Higher Love by Steve Winwood.  During my morning shave a few days ago, this blast from the past came on the radio.  I instantly thought of dad and the millions of memories which accompany this song into my heart.  Music is the can opener for my soul.  It gets to those places where feelings and memories rush at a rate no less than what feels like drinking water from a fire hydrant.  These moments can be overwhelming for this bipolar bear, but luckily, I have learned to handle them in a healthy manner.  This does not preclude me however from spending a good part of my morning wiping away the happy tears of joy that flow when I experience these intense moments.  Music may be the most universally experienced art form this world knows.  It touches more people than any other creative endeavor I am aware of and has the power to heal in ways we will never fully comprehend.  All that being said, I would like to share with you some of the music that has been touching my soul as we live through this pandemic together.  Being a Gen X’er, I of course will be making you all a “mix tape.”  I will call this Corona-cation 2020 NBFF’s (New Best Friends Forever).  While I do indeed still have a cassette recorder, I realize more likely than not ZERO of you have one of these relics of the 70’s and 80’s. I have included a link to the playlist I made on YouTube. 

I hope you enjoy the music and the story behind each song.

Leon Bridges If It Feels Good     

One of the best parts about being married to my wife is when we met, we already liked a lot of the same music.  This is key for me and not many 30 something professional women enjoy bluegrass and Justin Bieber. So when I found out wifey did indeed have a broad spectrum of musical taste, it attracted me even more to this once in a lifetime love.  Over the years there have been more than a few instances where we have heard a new song together for the first time.  From Mr. Bieber (we saw his premier on Letterman) to The Record Company (WXRT Morning Show). When we hear gems such as this, we look at each other and know that we have both filed the song away as a snapshot in time which neither of us wants to forget.  Wifey and I took a trip to Missoula, Montana, for the 2018/2019 New Year holiday.  My father-in-law lives in New Mexico with his girlfriend during the Winter months, so we were able to enjoy the holiday just the two of us.   As I mentioned, WXRT is our favorite radio station in Chicago, and I have listened for over 25 years. It’s very comforting when we go to Missoula and discovered “The Trail,” which plays 80% of the same music as WXRT, and the remaining 20% is music I wish they played here in Chicago. When in Missoula, wifey and I take a walk every morning about one quarter of a mile up the road to Bernice‘s Bakery. It is there where we spend about 30 minutes to an hour reading newspapers, drinking coffee, and enjoying fresh baked goods. One beautiful snowy morning, we walked home from Bernice’s and began getting our ski gear ready. I am one of those men who shaves his face every morning. And I like music when I do so. This morning we of course had The Trail on, and a funky little beat came on. This caused me to poke my head around the corner of the bathroom door.  As if on cue, my wife poked her head around the doorway of the kitchen at the same time, and we immediately smiled at each other. I said “this is a pretty cool funky little song.” She agreed and we started a session of kitchen dancing immediately.  Spur of the moment kitchen dancing is something I highly recommend. It feels silly at first, but then you let go and just have fun.

Bill Withers Lean On Me  

While Dad was a big influence on my love for music, his dad also provided me with favorite lyrical momentos as well.  Some of my favorite memories as a kid were with Dede (my grandfather) on Saturday mornings.  We did not have a standing weekly time or anything like that, he was way too busy.  What I remember is that we were able to see each other from time to time on a Saturday morning.  Most of the time we would be at my grandparents’ home for brunch.  When I was very small, I remember running into their home on Saturday morning and going straight to the bathroom to watch Dede shave!!  It was soooo exciting! From time to time we would get in the car and run errands together.  These memories are some of the funniest.  Dede was known to pull into traffic without looking.  When I was 10, there was noone I trusted more than both of my grandfathers, so I thought the honking I heard as we backed onto Ogden Avenue was hysterical.  I asked him, when I realized what the honking was really about, if he thought maybe it would be a good idea for him to look before he went into traffic.  Dede assured me if there was anyone who was going to hit him, “they would move out of the way.”  I don’t even know what to say about this kind of statement…other than Dede is one of the few people I have known who could say something like that and get away with it.  He was amazing.  Dede built businesses and had a lot of friends who did the same when they returned from winning World War II.  One of these friends had a company that was one of the earliest in the car phone market.  It was the early 80’s and this car phone friend made sure all of his friends had car phones.  It was the shit.  The handset was white, the numbers were red against the dark background, and there were two antennae protruding from the trunk.  One of our Saturday morning errands was to have his phone serviced. On one of these phone repair outings, he backing into traffic as usual, but this time he caused quite a ruckus.  When he saw the curious look on my face, he turned up the radio to distract me.  Coming through the speakers was Bill Withers belting out Lean On Me.  Dede started singing and I joined in even though I did not know the words.  Lean On Me is one of those songs everyone knows the first time they hear it…. as if it has been living inside us the whole time.  These are universal truths spoken to us through the prophets we call singer songwriters.  Dede was not the kind of man to belt out in song and this is the only memory I have of him doing so.  After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother gave me one of his books, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff.”  It is clear now backing into traffic without looking is small stuff.  I wish he were here today for me to lean on as we live through these days together apart, day in day out.  

Kygo/Whitney Houston Higher Love

This is a bit of a twister…but I guess a remix is just that, by definition.  Higher Love was no doubt the song my dad played more than any other by 10x.  I can tell you that he would have 100% loathed this version.  I found this version by accident just this morning and I love it so much that I am sure I have tested the envelope on the number of times a song can be played in a day.  Dad would be proud of the excess.  This song in its original form has been nothing short of vital in the shaping of who I am today.  It is not possible to hear a song so pregnant with meaning and not have it open the soul. From time to time I will listen to a song with new ears.  This happens as a result of life experiences shaping my perspective along the way and music accesses the part of me that is willing to see the world more empathetically and openly.  I bet I have heard this song with dozens of sets of “new ears.”  SO when I heard this remix version for the first time, I was hit with a huge flood of emotions.  First and as I said, I knew dad would hate the remix which made me laugh.  He was a silly guy and would have said Ace of Base was “a better song.”  It also made me think of all the people who are struggling right now to stay on their feet and how this song may inspire them.  It then occurred to me that there are people who are doing well individually right now, and this song may just introduce them to the humility needed to handle success when the world is heaving.  I was also hit with a huge amount of sadness for Whitney Houston and her daughter Bobbi.  She was an American Treasure.  It is a heartbreaking shame how those she allowed to be close to her and her daughter were nothing but leeches.  Whitney was never able to herself through our eyes.  As an addict, I never thought I was going to live past the age of thirty.  My fear was suffering the same fate as Whitney.  For as long as I can remember, I have played the tape of what my life would look like if I continued down my destructive path.  Death was the most likely outcome.  We can go deeper into that later, but let’s just say I am empathetic to Whitney in a way that only an addict can be.  The combination of all these factors, as well as the fact that there are always hot girls in Kygo videos, landed this classic on the inaugural Corona-cation 2020 playlist. Just a really good morning shower song. 

Greensky Bluegrass In Control

The lyrics really speak to me in this one.  I discovered Greensky Bluegrass about 10 years ago.  I have been a Deadhead for a long time and have always enjoyed going to shows and festivals.  I went to my first “Jamgrass” festival in 2012 in Nelson County, VA.  The Infamous Stringdusters host “Festy” every year and it is right in their own backyard.  After just a couple minutes on the festival grounds, I knew I had found my new favorite way to spend time and relax.  And I now have a rule that if I don’t have an assigned seat or can’t bring a lawn chair, I ain’t going.  This has suited me well and saved my hips and back a ton of pain and suffering.  The one exception is the annual guys trip to see Dead and Co. in Boulder.  I’ll suck it up for Bobby.  One thing has changed over the years as I continue to attend these events.  I don’t drink alcohol.  My regular readers know I quit drinking on September 3, 2004 and have been working on staying sober ever since that day.  Slowly, I am coming out of the “green closet.”  That is to say I am a daily cannabis user and live a life based on the 12 steps and other principals of sober living.  That side of the story is too deep to go into at this point, and rest assured, I will fill you in over time.  Greensky’s In Control is a song that exhibits the pride and new found freedom recovery has to offer.  It honors the struggles of the past while never dwelling and always feeling gratitude.  Even in the face of extreme uncertainty… “it could all be worth it though, how the hell are we to know…?”  This is a song I can hold onto for solid comfort and truth.  The lyrics express gratitude for chaos, which a recovering addict can access… it is what keeps him alive and In Control #dayindayout.

Maroon 5 Memories

Ok I know this is cheesy as fuck, like a high-grade Velveeta melted down with some government issue cheddar.  But hey, I am a sentimental guy and I really like this song and the memories my little modern family has built over the years.  Hell, these memories are the only thing we truly own.  No one can take them away.  I love printing pictures from my phone at Walgreens and putting them in photo brag books.  I will even stop what I am doing from time to time to just sit and page through a couple of books, smile, and yes, cry…a lot. When my daughters were little, this was exactly the kind of song we all would have belted out at the top of our lungs on the way to All About Dance practice.  Being a dad is simply the greatest joy and struggle of my life, day in day out, these little angels bless me in ways I can’t even fully understand…and I am grateful for all those Memories.

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What Is Your “One Thing”

You are good at something.  If you are lucky, you know what this something is.  If you are even luckier, you have figured out a way to make money and support yourself doing what you are good at and maybe even love.  This is easier said than done… but then again, not really.  Let’s say you are really good at putting your fist in your mouth or maybe you would be a great magician for kids birthday parties.  My mom is really good at needlepoint stitching, she could start craft seminars at senior living homes and not only find it financially rewarding, but also experience personal fulfillment.  I just pulled these two examples out of my ass and there are probably better analogies to make.  For example, if you are a good writer, then you should be a blogger – seems over-used nowadays.  For myself, I have known for a very long time what I wanted to do but there was a delta that took me several years to learn how to bridge.  I will make a long story short.  I have wanted to be a commodities trader ever since I was in the 6th grade.  I know that this sounds silly, but it is indeed true.  My best friend’s dad was a local in the U.S. Treasury Bond futures pit during the 80’s.  He brought me and my friend to the trading floor for a field trip, and from the moment I stepped on that floor I was hooked.  The energy immediately sucked me in and a day has hardly ever passed when I did not make an effort to look up the prices of futures contracts in the newspaper or online.  What has prevented me from being able to be successful at this for long stretches of time was my mental health and lack of emotional discipline.

For the last several years, having realized what was lacking from my traders tool kit, my “one thing” has been improving my mental health and emotional discipline.  First and most importantly, I need to say thank you to my wife.  I would never have been able to focus on my mental health without my wife’s 100% love and support in every way.  Now as things become more high def and I can see what I need to do to accomplish my goal, it is time to execute trades with the emotional skill and improved mental health I have acquired for myself.  Now I have every tool in the tool box I believe I need.  I stay open to learning new things all the time.  But there is one story I tell myself day in and day out that gets me to a place where I can regain my focus on my one thing, if I am taken off course.  

I heard a story a long time ago which I have held onto as a guide for my life to discover my one thing.  Many years ago a single mother and her son had been in a terrible car accident.  As a result of the accident, the boy had his left arm amputated at the age of 3.  There is no other group of people I admire more than single mothers.  They simply are the greatest heros out there… day in and day out.  Over the years the accident had created a very strong bond between mother and son.  Shared adversity creates solidarity.  This mom was always a great example of how to roll with the punches life throws at us.  As a result, the boy never saw himself as a victim… he understood that this was his life and accepted the fact he only had one arm, plain and simple.  

As a result of the example this mom set for her son, when he got older, like most active healthy little boys, he wanted to play a sport.  Needless to say, this made mom nervous.  She did not want to expose her son to the cruelty the world shows those of us with disabilities.  She just knew there would be other parents and kids who would not be kind to her son.  Being a smart as fuck mom, she saw this as an opportunity to teach her son how to handle the douche bags of the world.

It took some time but after a couple weeks of discussion and thought between mother and son, the boy decided that he was going to start karate.  Of the five sports they were considering, this was the mom’s least favorite option.  However, being the confident woman she was, she supported her son 100% and kept her fears to herself.  

When they went to the dojo for the first time, the instructor was very excited to have this young boy joining the group.  He actually looked a little like Mr Myagi from Karate Kid.  After that first day of karate practice, the boy was a bit discouraged.  He shared with his mom that the instructor was only going to teach him one move.  Not two…. nothing.  Only one move, day in day out, over the next six months.  Three days per week and more during the summer, this young boy practiced and perfected the one move his teacher had given him.  After six months, the boy had become the best in the class at this one move and had one every sparring match he fought.  This had an amazing impact on both the boy’s confidence as well as the mom.  It was at the six month mark that the teacher wanted to enter the boy into a regional karate tournament.  While the boy had indeed beaten all of his classmates sparring, mom was still very apprehensive about letting her son enter such a high profile event.  She of course knew she could not say no.

The tournament came, on the edge of the mat before his first match, the teacher reminded the boy that he indeed was the best at his one move that he had ever seen.  All the boy needed to do was execute his move like he had learned, and to TRUST this was all he needed.  The mental gymnastics this requires is way above the paygrade of most young boys this age though this young man was able to master his mind and move forward.  

The boy won the first match… and then the second.  This phenomenal young boy made it all the way to the championship round.  Never before had a kid with no left arm made it this far in the tournament.  The tournament venue was packed with spectators.  Everyone stuck around to see this boy with one arm in the championship round.  Needless to say the mother and son had never been more nervous.  The teacher reminded the boy that he was the best at his move and to stay focused and block anything else out of his mind.  The boy of course went into the ring and executed his move flawlessly… AND WON THE WHOLE FUCKING TOURNAMENT!!!  After the noise had died down and the boy accepted his trophy, he asked his instructor how he could have been so confident and trusting that he would win the tournament.  The answer was a total surprise to both the mother and son. He explained in detail how the only way to counter the move that the boy had learned, was to GRAB HIS LEFT ARM!!!  The boy understood the concept immediately, and the mom started to cry and hug the instructor.  Finding your one thing and becoming the best, is the only way to enjoy success on every level.  It will open up not only financial opportunities in business, but have hugely positive effects on relationships as well as physical health.  Staying focused on that one thing will clear away the noise of everything else distracting me.  My path has become clearer as I continue to focus on my one thing.  Day in and day out I practice my process and trust that those around me will do the same.  Finding that one thing may feel like an impossible task, and that you would never be able to make a career out of it seems just plain outlandish.  Nonsense, don’t listen to the maddening crowd, know your heart and get to that one move where if you execute perfectly, will make you unbeatable in every way.  DIDO