Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012 You Miserable Bitch

Goodbye 2012 you wicked evil ugly wench.
Goodbye to your financial woes and economic crises.
Goodbye to never having enough money.
Goodbye to your ugly wars and ruthless invasions.
Good bye to your mass shootings assassinations and virgin suicides.
Goodbye to your vile hate-speech bigotry racism and Islamaphobia.
Goodbye to your war on terror war on drugs and war on anything not heterosexual or in the missionary position.
Goodbye to your partisan bickering and political gridlock.
Goodbye to your over the top hyped up and dumbed down gorno journalism.
Goodbye tsunamis and earthquakes tornadoes and hurricanes.
Goodbye to your heartless wrath of wicked lies rumors and tabloid gossip.
Goodbye betrayal and backstabbing.
Goodbye to your duplicity and deceit, to your mendacity selfishness and greed.
Goodbye banal contrived predictable and repetitive trash TV.
Goodbye to your shitty music.
Goodbye to your false gods and celebrity whores.
Goodbye to your strawmen and false flags.
Goodbye to your nuclear reactors oil spills and fracking mishaps and goodbye to your payoffs.
Goodbye to your sickness disease and plagues.
Goodbye to your famines and droughts.
Goodbye to your murderous heart and treachery.
Goodbye to your silly vampires wearwolves serial killers and zombies.
Goodbye to your Mexican gun running torture and bloodletting.
Goodbye to your Jersey shore and shahs of sunset boulevard.
Goodbye to your unreal and desperate housewives.
Goodbye to your exploitation of mafia boss madmen.
Goodbye to your wretched and wanton singing and dancing competitions.
Goodbye to your coiffed out idiot fools dressed as anchors.
Goodbye to your worthless opinion disguised as news.
Goodbye to your violence.
Goodbye to your smells.
Goodbye to your malfeasance.
Goodbye to your military juntas and puppet regimes.
Goodbye to your forced abortions.
Goodbye to your glad handling.
Goodbye to smiling the enemy in the face for more loans.
Goodbye to your petty land grabs civilian casualties and unnecessary brutality.
Goodbye to your security checkpoints and occupation walls.
Goodbye to your Britneys Lindsays Gagas and Kardashians.
Goodbye to your bachelors and bachelorettes.
Goodbye to your vulgarity.
Goodbye to your Hannitys and O'Reillys to your Coulters and Crowleys to your Limbaughs and Becks. Goodbye to your unfair and unbalanced Mormons and morons.
Goodbye to your filthy riches and health care scams.
Goodbye to your entitlement reforms.
Goodbye to your endless pointless pompous Primaries, and to your insufferable presidential election. Goodbye to your pretending to be Christian Muslim Hindu or Jew.
Goodbye to your GMOs and poison foods.
Goodbye to your soldiers of fortune and terrorist thugs.
Goodbye to your crooked banks and skyrocketing health insurance costs.
Goodbye to corporate corruption and deadly pharmaceutical side effects.
Goodbye to your trading guns for money and lives for oil.
Goodbye to your pirates and genocides.
Goodbye to your executive orders petty squabbles and filibusters.
Goodbye to your phony dramas your hype over nothing and your ignorance of the facts.
Goodbye to your baby killing and child murdering.
Goodbye to your friends who are only there when they need you.
Goodbye to your calls for austerity when your pockets are full.
Goodbye to your high unemployment budget deficits and national debt.
Goodbye to your bloody battles and civil wars.
Goodbye to fake boobs phony YouTube views and Honey Boo Boos.
Goodbye to cynicism being cool and cruelty being acceptable.
Goodbye to violence deceit and revenge as entertainment.
Goodbye to the ends that justify your means and goodbye to your meanness.
Goodbye to your secret invasions and collateral damage.
Goodbye to your threats of war and unilateral actions.
Goodbye to your midnight raids heartless sanctions and drone strikes.
Goodbye to your citizens united and tea parties.
Goodbye to your voter ID laws campaign finance coffers and earmarks galore.
Goodbye to calling bribes and blackmail lobbying.
Goodbye to holding Congress hostage.
Goodbye Grover and goodbye Elmo.
Goodbye to governance by the lowest common denominator.
Goodbye to your Mayan prophecies doom prepping and profiteering.from the end of the world.
Goodbye to your unexpected deaths unsuspecting victims and unwarranted suffering.
Goodbye to your unwelcomed pain mourning grieving loss and sorrow.
Goodbye to your cancer stroke and heart disease.
Goodbye to your smoking guns and rocket launches.
Goodbye to your inane press conferences and goodbye to your conspiracies.
Goodbye to your lack of loyalty and trustworthiness.
Goodbye to your deregulation blues and corporate bullying and bulldozing.
Goodbye to your union bashing freedom bashing teacher bashing and worker bashing.
Goodbye to your aches and pains and goodbye to your buzz killing.
Goodbye to your gray skies without silver linings and your miserable rain on our parade.
Goodbye to the bitterness hate resentment discontent and sadness you inspired.
Goodbye to your confusion lack of direction and confidence and fuck you for taking it out on us.
Goodbye and good riddance 2012. You will not be missed. May you return to the hell from whence you came and never return, leaving not a trace of your memory in our hearts and minds.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Selling Out or Buying In? Or How I Lost My Soul And Made a Fortune in the Process

I just listened to the last but unreleased Broken Spectacles album, the one called Aftermath. The one that took us two years to make, a year and half of which was building the recording studio. Recording the album probably only took us a few months at the most. I hadn’t heard it in 15 years. The Grey Wolf just sent it to me. All I could do was cry cry cry… I had totally forgotten how quirky weird and special we were. Broken Spectacles is the real name of the band that I have been referring to as Shattered for the last fifteen years in these Transcendence Diaries and other places.

What a sad beautiful trip that just was. Grey Wolf aka Donnie J Groovemaster Jam, has just recently unearthed a treasure trove of master tapes from those six years and had them digitally remastered. He sent me one CD of the “old stuff” and one CD of the never released last album we recorded called Aftermath. We may need to change that title since it’s a Stones album already. I don’t believe we knew that at the time. Grey Wolf burned the CDs all wrong so it’s just ONE big hour long song per CD, which is classic Groover. He’s going to do it over again he tells me. That I assume will take another fifteen years. I have a lot of the old songs already mastered and ready to go, but only the ones that I wrote, for the Spectacularly Broken compilation album… But now I am rethinking the idea and wanting to do a WHOLE Spectacles compilation instead of just Ed Hale songs… Would take all four guys agreeing to that… That’s the problem. Bands are tricky.

Today I only listened to Aftermath… The first song that came on was called “LOVE”. Fans won’t even know the song because Aftermath was never released and unlike most of the songs on the album, we never played the song “Love” live, not even once. That one was a Toad song. We all contributed to each others songs, adding various instruments as we saw fit and vocal harmonies along with background vox. By the time we got to Aftermath we had been together for five years. So Toad and I were still working together very closely, but not writing together as much as did in the beginning. More like coming in with completed songs and then just assisting each other with suggestions and musical additions. There are some horn and string parts I added to this one along with my usual backgrounds and harmonies, but for the most part it was all Toad. And it was utterly transcendent. I couldn’t believe it. What i was hearing. Now. Fifteen years later. It felt like a different life. A lifetime ago. Truly.

In that moment it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Reminded me of George Harrison. I didn’t remember it at first. Couldn’t place it. I didn’t understand why it was there. It wasn’t part of the album was it? Wouldn’t I remember that? Turns out that it was. I had just suppressed the memory I assume. And for good reason. There was always a tense and bitter but beneficial competitiveness between Toad and I by the time we got to the recording of this album. Who was the better writer? Who was the better singer? Who got more girls? Who got more press? Who got more positive reviews? Who knew more? Who played their instrument the best? Who played the most instruments? Who wrote more songs? Who was deeper? Who sang more like John Lennon? Who was as multi-talented as Paul? On and on. (Funny right? I know… But bands are like that when they first start out… It’s cute when you think about it…)

I cannot help but think that one of the reasons why Broken Spectacles was so good was due to this very intense but loving competitiveness between the two of us. Always pushing ourselves more, to be the best we could be in order to outdo the other. But we were also best friends, beyond brothers. With an infinite love between us, one that I have still not to this day experienced with any other man, perhaps not even any other human being. A lot of water has passed under that bridge.

Listening to it this time, anew, I was flabbergasted by its beauty. Astounded. Couldn’t stop crying. And then in comes Coon’s “KALEIDOSCOPE” with the most amazing triple lead guitar harmonies “Freebird” style ending. And on and on it went… “AINT IT HARD”!!! Another masterpiece. “Nature Boy”, “Wrong Again”, “I Want Blood”, “Going Nowhere”, “Aftermath”, “Your Face Ain’t That Pretty”… Every guy was doing such a good job at what they were trying to do. I was so impressed with the musicality of it all. Couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I had somehow sold my soul over the last fifteen years since those days… Just to get more success and make more money. We now don’t make anything like this kind of music I was hearing from this strange glorious mess of an album.

Princess Little Tree couldn’t believe that it was us she was hearing. She had never heard the band before. Only knew the Transcendence and the Ed Hale solo stuff. Had only heard me talk about Broken Spectacles. All the stories… She was impressed by the variety of vocals. Had never heard Toad or Coon sing. Never heard all three of us sing together before, one of the things that really stood out about that band, three lead singers, oftentimes singing at the same time in all the songs. It was special. But here’s the coup de grace… the last song Grey Wolf put on the album for some reason was “AND I GO”. A mega monstrous masterpiece, an epic anthemic musical gift from God the likes of which I’d never heard before or since. Like a thunder bolt straight out of heaven into your ears and your soul. I could not believe what I was hearing. What a freaking masterpiece. Of course it’s a Toad song too. I always hated being in a band with him. As much as I loved it. (to be fair he claims the same thing and for the same reasons… just goes to show…) I was such a shite singer back then compared to now (which isn’t saying much I know). But holy crap what a monstrously gorgeous song that is. Toad could die tomorrow and his legacy will forever remain top tier due to the four songs he contributed to this album. Same with Coon. His are equally epic and brilliant.

I could not stop crying. First just sobs like with the other songs… Little baby tears. And then by the time we get to the “I want you to go deep…” breakdown of this song, I was full on sobbing like a baby, like a mental patient, face all scrunched up. Tears shooting out of my eyes. I seriously don’t think I can ever listen to that song again. It’s just too good. It’s frightening how good it is. I have no idea what happened to me, but it was one of the most cathartic events of my life. Cathartic in how emotional I felt, how completely moved in so many ways… Up, down, sad, happy, amazed, traumatized, relieved, proud, regretful… over the top emotion anguish and expression. I couldn’t help but feel this deep sadness and fear that over the last few years I had just completely sold out as an artist. Compared to what I was hearing on this album, recorded when we were just kids, but so unique and special.

I so wish I could post this song for everyone to hear… the whole album. But it’s all up to Grey Wolf at this point. And getting an agreement from all the members of the band. I don’t actually have a real copy of this album. Haven’t had one in over 15 years. If ANY of YOU have a copy of THAT album in any form let me know. Perhaps we can speed this process up. Also — if ANY of YOU have high quality PHOTOS to use as artwork for the release, let someone know. Once we schedule this, we can commission someone to do the artwork. We will need REAL PHOTOS to scan. I have no idea if I have any pro-grade or high quality ones really. Just scanned in low quality ones. But that’s what we need here to take it to the next phase.

I believe that more than anything what affected me most about hearing this album from start to finish like this for the first time in so many years was that number one, what I was listening to was old. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, so like seeing someone you love, like a family member, for the first time in over a decade, that’s just going to get to you regardless. Number two though, as a work of art it’s absolutely BRILLIANT. It’s big brash experimental avant garde. Epic and all over the place stylistically… And yet it has a very distinct sound all its own due to the fact that the same four guys recorded it in the same six month period using all the same gear and in the same two rooms. It has a mythic quality to it. We were peaking artistically as individuals and as a group when we recorded it (but then again when are we NOT peaking. I have yet to experience “writer’s block” or any “down time” as an artist… I guess that’s lucky. Or maybe that’s just how it is for all artists…) What it’s not is commercial. It’s entirely NOT commercial.

Moving as all hell. But just not commercial in any way. And see that’s the thing… We used to not give a shit about being commercial. That was never our aim. Never the goal. I mean, I honestly don’t think we even thought about it. And the music shows that. It’s extraordinarily amateurish in many ways. But you can’t help but be blown away by how mammoth and ambitious it sounds as well. Walls of noise really in some parts… On the one hand Broken Spectacles had some of the most exciting and advanced musicianship you could hear anywhere. On the other hand it had a very weak sort of chock full of mistakes sound to it as well… go figure. But that was us.

A few years after The Specs broke up I reverted to my real name, Ed Hale, laid Eddie Darling down for good and formed the band Transcendence with Infinito; first time I played with anyone besides the other three guys in the Specs in seven or eight years. We’ve recorded and released nine albums since then. Right out of the gate we experienced a ton more press, airplay, sales and critical acclaim than we ever did back in The Specs. For many reasons. Older, wiser, more experience, more money. But more than anything else I think it was because I understood that making music for me at least couldn’t just be about doing whatever the hell I wanted anymore. It had to include a measure of financial return to it or I was going to be forced to stop doing it full time. Besides, I wanted to make money with it. I wanted to experience what we call success, in the traditional sense. And we did. Thank God. I haven’t sat down and counted, but off the top of my head we’ve charted about ten songs on one chart or another over the last ten years. Sold a hell of lot of albums. That number would be triple that if I weren’t always trying to reach so much artistically… I know that. But still, we do make music that is commercially viable for the most part, at least compared to what we were doing in Broken Spectacles.

What I notice from a lot of my peers from that original music scene down in Miami when we all started out as teenagers and others I connect with all over the world still is that they’re all still making the same kind of music that they made way back when. They do what they do and they don’t change. And that’s a big problem. They expect that the industry is going to come to them. That the listeners are going to come to them. But it doesn’t work that way. Not even a little. Sure you can innovate here and there. But it has to be within the confines of what is happening within the music business and what is happening in pop culture now. There is a flow to it all. A flow of what’s hip cool popular modern happening. That’s popular culture.

Every now and then we get lucky and we may happen to be at the front end of that curve when the music is about to take a hard right or left… The way Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins were when hair metal was at it’s peak and everyone was desperate for it to die. Or the way that Radiohead and Muse and Travis and Ours and Mercury Rev were when we were all looking for grunge to die off. But hell, who can really say that Nirvana innovated that sound when we all know they really didn’t? They became the poster child for it for a while. (which sucked for some of the better bands, no need to name names…) But it wasn’t just ONE band or artist that did it. It was a wave of them.

And what I find today amongst many of my peers in rock is that they aren’t on the cusp of any wave at all. They aren’t even riding a wave. They’re just making the same old music that they’ve always made. Expecting people to like it. That’s music making as a hobby. Not music making to be a professional. You try to explain to them that they need to focus on using sounds that are modern or current or contemporary, their drum sounds, their guitar sounds, the way their voice is recorded… even the arrangement of the song itself… and they either argue the merits of what they’re doing or they just go blank and don’t understand. And yet we can’t argue with reality. With results. If you’re not experiencing the kind of success and popularity that you desire, then SOMETHING is wrong, or at least “not right” about what you’re currently doing.

I can’t sit here and say that I completely changed spots and switched to totally making commercial music all of a sudden once we formed Transcendence. I didn’t. Especially considering that the original idea for the group was to create a world music meets modern rock sound that no one had ever heard before and have me sing in four or five different languages sometimes within the same song. That first album, Rise and Shine, was phenomenally eccentric. I know that. And hell, most of the guys in Transcendence are still pissed at me for how much I’ve switched genres over the years with the release of every new album, and how much I’ve focused on “creating art” or making artistic statements over the years. In fact, The ex Norwegian sent me a Fb post TODAY admonishing me to “PLEASE not worry about creating art” and just this once try to make all these songs commercially viable so we can make some money. He’s referring to real money. Big money. Not $1 or 200,000 a year money. But $1 to 10,000,000 a year money. I want the same thing. We all do.

We came damn close on the last solo album. But then I flipped it all around with the next two releases that we did with the group, All Your Heroes Become Villains and The Great Mistake. Both evidently were on the extreme and eccentric side compared to the solo album. At least that’s what we were told. But to everyone’s defense, I have to admit if backed into a corner that I did have major concepts and agendas when making the All Your Heroes album. Super focused. Hyper-focused. I mean, it was meant to be a giant concept… high art… an amalgam of statements all tied together to create one bigger statement. Something final and permanent. A mark. A sculpture. Solid and lasting like a castle or a mansion. ONE big piece. NOT merely a collection of songs. There’s a difference.

Contrast that with what constitutes hit songs in today’s market, or in any age’s market… What happens in those cases? The hit songs end up eventually losing their original home, whatever album they happened to be released on, people forget, and that album goes out of print. The song may last forever, eventually gaining the moniker of “classic”. But the album that it came from is lost forever to most people. THAT is exactly the opposite of what we’ve set out to do in Transcendence. Every album (except perhaps for The Great Mistake, which really is just a collection of songs…) was created as one cohesive work of art, to stay together and last forever. Pink Floyd is a great example of this. Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall… albums. Permanent cohesive entities in their own right over and above the hit singles they may or may not have had. Zeppelin, same thing. People say the album is dead ALL the time. They’re wrong. (To a certain degree anyway. Save for another post…)

I can’t complain that All Your Heroes wasn’t accepted as a huge commercial success compared to our previous one. It is dark and moody and insanely complex, wildy emotive and overly noisy in some areas, and more than anything it’s entirely dependent on being an ALBUM. It’s not really singles based at all. Hell, all the songs ram into each other and then flow into another song. I don’t think there’s ANY empty space on the whole album. I know. I think we all know. It wasn’t created to be a commercial thing… But the important thing is that I can die happy with it as an artist. Over the last two years since the release of that album I have felt very very good about it. I will die with a smile on my face when remembering it, when contemplating what we intended versus the final result.

And therein lies the eternal struggle. There’s a balance there that we constantly have to be considering when creating. Do we sell out with a song or two? And still try to preserve a great album in the process? Do we sell out entirely, just create the whole album as one sixty minute collection of unrelated mainstream pleasing current sounding tasty pieces of ear candy? How far can we swim out into the popular music sea once we jump overboard before we get lost and are unable to ever return to the comfort and safety of the artists’ artist boat?

And vice versa, how far off into left field can we ride that beast of innovation and experimentation and doing whatever the hell we want to before we are lost forever to the popular music loving masses? Some say it’s ALL selling out as soon as you begin to contemplate such matters. I say bullshit. If you don’t ever think about your art, about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, the possibilities, the various different styles and arrangements and directions you’ve got before you, then you’re just winging it. I’ve been there before, when you’re young you think you’re just going to wing it. I know that terrain well. Did it for years in the Specs. Refused to think about what we were doing. It ALL had to come spontaneously, like magic. No thought about the expression. It had to flow out naturally. It’s an artistic mindset. But it’s only ONE mindset. In a world where there are infinite mindsets one can occupy. One day I just decided to deliberately occupy a different mindset and see what would come of it.

Ballad On Third Avenue was not the most successful album we ever released contrary to what most people believe. Sleep With You was a much bigger seller (so too in fact was Nothing Is Cohesive – which also still to date is by far the most critically acclaimed album any of us have ever been associated with) and had several big hits at Alternative Rock radio. But Ballad did have one thing that none of the other albums had up to that point: a verifiable Billboard Top30 hit song. Two of them. All the other hits were on different charts or specialty charts or college radio charts or made it to the Top 100 but just never got into Billboard’s Top40, let alone the Top25 like “Scene in San Francisco” and “New Orleans Dreams” did. That was something different. And it made a HUGE difference. Worlds of difference. In many different areas of our lives. For one thing we made a lot of money. And that was a very good thing. The songs still bring in a lot of money.

But it also had its challenges. The cons. Creating those songs was not just “hey let’s just create whatever we want to and see how people like it” as in times past. The songs were run by a seemingly endless string of consultants and then remixed and remixed again until every last one of them at every level of the industry was satisfied with how each song sounded. See, this is something that I NEVER would have done fifteen years ago when we were in Broken Spectacles. We were offered it sooooo many times. And every time we fought it and instead just created total chaos and confusion. I’ll never forget Toad telling the head of A&R at Island Records to “fuck off! We don’t need your advice about OUR music!” That’s how we did things…. We thought we held the whole world in our hands. And to a certain degree we did. Creatively we were an amazing unit. But we were young and green and stupid. We’d make sure we were always tripping on something whenever we had a meeting or a showcase with any major record label executives. Just to show them how little we cared. We weren’t going to change anything for anyone regardless how “big” or wealthy they were.

We had the opportunity to work with two of the biggest producers in the business. No need to name them here because it’s common knowledge. But in both cases, looking back, these were men who absolutely dwarfed us in terms of their experience and achievements in the music business. And in their abilities as musicians. And in both cases we played the fool every day we showed up. We KNEW what we wanted to do, knew what we wanted to sound like; we knew what was best. Or so we thought. So… why bother to have producers then? Well that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? We’d get excited to be working with a big name… And then when push came to shove and we got in the studio we always thought we knew best and fought with them. We were real shits.

Those were big mistakes. Looking back I can see WHY we did what we did. Why we acted the way we did. Our biggest fear –though at the time it was probably unconscious to any of us — was to ever consider that we were sell outs or selling out in any way. Pandering to the mainstream masses for money or fame or popularity. It just wasn’t who we were> in fact it was the exact opposite of who we were. We knew that. Being in that band, at that time in music history, at that point in our lives, at that age, the mentality and the sentiment and the statement was as important as the music.

The reason you made music and the kind of music you created or DIDN”T create was as important as the music… It was an elitist purist idealist state of mindfulness. Beyond arrogant. With pride in that arrogance. Very similar to what Vancouver is expressing now. Poor bastard. His “I’ll only play with acoustic drums and never drum loops or samples or synth beats” when everyone in the industry does it for very specific reasons — they sound badass — is precisely what makes his music sound so dated and local. And he SO wants to be liked and wonders why he isn’t. It’s curious, intriguing, perplexing really.

But I can relate. Because I suffered the same mental illness back in the days of The Specs. Granted, in our defense, we were 18 years old at the time. Vancouver is like thirty-something so he really has no excuse. But still, I can relate. The key for me, what changed, was that eventually I realized that I really did want to make popular music. And money. And if it was “I” who was making it, in the end, I would still probably like it in the end. Or so I hoped. On top of that, when you make popular music, you can generate enough money that you can then afford to make more avant garde or eccentric music in addition to the more popular music that you’re also making.

If I was to be honest with myself I think that underneath it all, at least for me personally, was just a fear that perhaps I really couldn’t create popular music… I was so focused on innovating all the time… But innovating is easy. you’re not going up against anyone when you’re always innovating. You’re only competing with yourself. Against whatever YOU consider your last great work of art. And that’s a really groovy place to be. Honestly that’s the world I’d like to live in as an artist ALL the time… But I also recognize the benefits of competing for commercial viability too. They both have their merits. It’s fun to popular and famous and successful and have money. And the competitive nature of it compels us to higher levels of greatness.

In any case, after all I’ve been through as an artist over the last ten years, all the hard work to create great works of art that were also somehow commercial and popular, listening back to this simple yet profoundly complex and beautiful Broken Spectacles album Aftermath really got me. I haven’t cried like that in years. Decades. That was a different world back then. We hadn’t a care. We were happy to be one of the “most popular local bands in our town”. That seemed like a big deal at the time. Our eyes and our dreams were bigger than our potential perhaps, or bigger than our willingness to stretch and grow…. I was happy to hear what we had created back then. To hear how incredibly good and ambitious it was. Nope, it would never yield the kind of commercial success we’ve experienced over the last ten years as Ed Hale and the Transcendence. It would never be played on commercial radio stations. But we were very very proud. We walked around like roosters on ‘roids, heads cocked high. And for good reason. We were fucking great and we knew it. Just not commercially successful great. But there’s something to be said about that kind of attitude.

Unlike a lot of artists in popular music, I personally have no big dream to dominate in the realm of most chart toppers or most #1 records or hit albums, nor that nagging fear that I am losing my grip as a key player in the pop world who is always on the Hot 100 with a Top 40 song. I see that kind of success and the money from it as a tool that can be used to allow me to do both: create popular hit music AND more eccentric and innovative works of art. THAT is where my dreams and fantasies of domination lay. How deep, how relevant, how innovative, how prolific, how intelligent, how thought provoking, how moving, how much new ground can I break… That’s what keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. Not the stats or the numbers. But the hearts and souls and minds that are deeply moved, called to act. Like that. So it’s a balancing act. These next six to twelve months, recording these new albums… It’s going to be fun. Tricky, but in a fun way.

Alright, I’m out. 4800 words with no break. My fingers are killing me. More on this topic later for sure.

Implementing Plan B - Take Two

      It's time to implement Plan B. But first a little background...
      Yesterday I spent a little over an hour studying Farsi using Rosetta Stone. Though I am constantly learning the language from being married to Princess Little Tree now, this was the first time I had opened my Rosetta Stone Farsi pack in almost two years. One would think that once a purchase that expensive is made there would be no stopping you from making full use of it. But such is human nature. In business it is common knowledge that nearly 90% of all purchases are impulse buys (all except the very basic necessities) -- which makes it easy to sell almost anything to anyone (this is the key to success in sales); and furthermore that most people do not purchase things to use them half as much as they purchase them for the initial rush they get out of the purchasing process (another key to success in sales). Another well known fact in the world of business, sales and consumerism studies is that less than 10% of people who purchase any kind of non-essential luxury items, these might could include educational or improvement courses, books, magazine subscriptions, timeshare resorts, clothes and shoes, etc, actually use the items purchased; less than 1% make use of them more than once. No matter how much they spend. The cost of the item is never a factor.
     I heard these statistics early on in life and made a promise to myself that I would never fall into that 99% group who buy things and never use them. I've purchased every course Anthony Robbins has ever released (and countless others) and completed every course several times from start to finish. Some of those babies are 30 day courses. Not necessarily easy. At the age of 25 I set out to learn how to speak and understand as many languages as I could until I felt satisfied. When pressed, I consider the practical application of how many would be truly necessary or useful and a rough estimate for me personally usually comes to about ten when I consider every language that I currently am aware of and how many I have a desire to learn. As many already know (this is contextual), presently I am moderately proficient in five, including my native English. The reason? Because once I decide to take on learning a new language I continue with all of the steps in the system I designed many years ago to learn any foreign language proficiently. It's a simple system, but contains many steps, and usually take about one solid year, or two. It isn't easy. But I enjoy it. And that's what really counts.
     People who say they "can speak a foreign language" and then only know a few words is one of the few things I find un-pleasurable in my fellow human brethren. There is also that pesky habit some people have of jumping in at any opportunity they get when a foreign language is mentioned in casual conversation among a group of people just to announce that they "used to be able to speak that language" or "lived in that country and spoke that language" but they've "since forgotten it all now". Hey, we all have our pet peeves. That just happens to be one of mine. The reason I bring it up is because having learned these statistics about impulse consumerism early in life, I have always made it a habit to master as much of everything I set out to do, or at the very least attempt to. Unless upon further examination I decide to abort the mission because it no longer interests me or I decide it to be no longer useful. With learning foreign languages, once I established that goal, I created an efficient system with numerous steps based on research and studying the various methods that people have used throughout history. That system I have already written about and mapped out here in the Diaries. No need to go into it again here. But suffice it to say, it takes a lot of commitment, dedication, effort and hours; as anyone who has pursued the same goal can corroborate. At times in the past I have found it excruciatingly tedious to keep on once I commit. But I do it anyway.
      That is until the last two years. I have failed miserably in my quest to learn Farsi. I decided and committed to learning Farsi seven years ago. It is the first foreign language I ventured to learn that did not use what we commonly call the English alphabet. I put a few years into learning Hebrew as well, but never approached it wholeheartedly using my system. With Farsi, the process was going to be much more difficult than any other language I have attempted to learn thus far. Learning to speak and understand it is one thing. Learning to read and write in it is another entirely. The former being my goal, not the latter.
      Purchasing the Farsi set of language packs through Rosetta Stone I felt would offer considerable help in my goal -- normally I use Pimsleur's system in terms of the audio portion of it. I also make sure to take at least one-hundred and twenty hours in sit down classes with a teacher. That's how I usually begin. (Again, I've already written about all of this in prior posts years ago.) Being married to Princess Little Tree enables me to get the classes portion in on a 24/7/365 basis. And for the last seven years I have been attempting to slowly learn the language through audio and books and studying as I always do. But over the last three years I have fallen behind in many different pursuits I have committed to. Not just in my goal to learn Farsi. I almost completely stopped writing any and all the books I have been working on over the last twenty years. I stopped blogging daily in the Transcendence Diaries. I stopped going to the gym and working out. I don't even check email anymore. Which people still find impossible to believe. But on and on it goes.
      I have been pondering this odd shift in my behavior a lot over the last few months. Wondering why all of a sudden I became such a muggle, or slug, or buffer... terms that perhaps only a few might be familiar with. In other words, where the hell did my relentless ability to commit and follow-through beyond normal-human go? Well for one thing I got married. And in the process I not only adopted a wife and all the accompanying responsibilities that go with that, but two step daughters as well; in addition to the fact that I have way too many jobs and twice as many hobbies. We've also been living bi-coastally for three years (something I don't recommend unless you have the money to afford a decent sized full time staff to help with the sheer giant sized quantity of extra work involved in that sort of lifestyle), and along with all of that we've been actively trying to have children of our own.
      Making babies may be easy for some, especially when you're young, which is part of the problem with the rampant pandemic of unwanted pregnancies among the world's young people. But as women get older it becomes more and more difficult to accomplish such a seemingly natural task. Without getting too personal (one of the reasons I have not been regularly posting in the Transcendence Diaries on a daily basis as I used to do since I started it in 2002), let me just say that baby making turned into a full time job for us very soon after we made the decision to start our own family; it has included numerous doctors all over the country, more "procedures" than I can count, and more heartbreak than anyone should permit themselves to endure in one lifetime. Needless to say we have still not achieved success in our quest to have beaucoup offspring, but we've also not given up. I am still very confident that one day we will be proud parents and grandparents of a large brood of little Ambassadors and Little Trees.
      To get back to the point, I can now clearly see and understand why I have fallen behind in so many of the things that in times past used to be daily routine for me, such as blogging, writing, exercising and learning foreign languages. But that's just the "reason". Discovering the potential reason for something does not necessarily mean that one has to succumb to it. For me personally this just might be one of the single most important keys to success that I have learned. There may be a very good and valid reason why we are not able to do something; but that doesn't mean that we have to succumb to the limitations of that reason. We may just need to re-engineer our systems and shift a few things around.
     Welcome to Plan B. Once I felt comfortable that I had discovered the real foundational reasons behind my sudden lack of being able to accomplish as much as I was used to in the past, i.e. I inadvertently took on a variety of numerous other new duties and responsibilities, I spent the last two months analyzing what possible solutions there might be available to me to still be able to maintain my current lifestyle and all of its itinerant jobs and duties AND add the usual number of extracurricular activities I am normally accustomed to being able to accomplish. I've been thinking about the year I spent in military school. Greenwich Military Academy (not the real name for obvious reasons) taught me plenty. The majority of the stories and lessons from those days are in The Adventures of Fishy book. That one, though it was the very first book I started, is presently in position number 5 or 6 on the conveyor belt in terms of completing and releasing the books. For multiple reasons. Just an fyi for me as well as you whoever you are.
      The aspect of military school that I have found most useful over the last few months in attempting to find a solution to my current quandary was how regimented and disciplined every moment of every day was. We may have had a few hours off on Sundays; I don't remember now. But other than that, from 5 am all the way through till lights out at 10 pm during the other six days of the week, every single minute of every single hour was accounted for with a very set and specific task or duty. No, it did not suit the lifestyle of an artistic personality type such as mine, hence my only spending a year there; but it did show me the potential for how much we could accomplish in a day if we set our minds to it or were forced to. In my current case, I both desire to and thus have set my mind to it, AND am being forced to, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is because if I don't, I am never going to continue to grow into the person I have always hoped I would be and always known I could be. This is a change that needs to be implemented.
      From my current vantage point, how I see it is that I need to made a conscious decision what my top priorities are both short and long term and set aside time to partake in activities that will lead me towards achieving those goals on a regular basis, either daily, weekly, bi-weekly, three times a week perhaps, etc. We spend much of our time during each day doing things that are not necessary to our general advancement, nor that lead us towards any specific goal. Casual conversations. Group dynamic activities for the sake of the group. Herd activities so to speak. Some of it is sheer laziness. Some of it is resistance to change; or resistance to the seeming enormity of a project, i.e a project seems so damn big that we don't see how we'll ever complete it, so we never start it; or perhaps resistance to learning or attempting something new that we've never done before. There are a variety of reasons why we do things that don't serve our bigger picture goals, or don't do things that would. The key is to just START. Start to make the change.
       For me that change is two-fold: limiting the amount of time I spend doing things that do not serve, and this is most easily accomplished by filling our time up with doing things that do serve. If as soon as I wake up each day I jump right into 30 to 60 minutes of studying Farsi, I will eliminate the usual hour or so I spend drinking coffee and chatting or checking social networks etc. From there a work out. Then a shower. Then work. People have no idea how much work-work is now involved in being a rockstar/recording artist. It isn't like the old days, all sex drugs and rock'n'roll. Lord knows I wish it were. But it just isn't. Our job has changed tremendously. There is a huge amount of what one might call office work involved in the job now. There is still every bit the need for song writing, practicing your instrument, recording, rehearsing with the band, fashion and styling, making music videos, album production, schmoozing  marketing and promotion, etc. etc. There are just a boatload of other jobs and duties that have been added to our plate.
      Let us say we spend the better part of the work day -- post morning activities -- doing actual work-work. We can then take a break. For me a break, preferably in the form of a 30 minute nap, is imperative to my mental and emotional sanity. No sense in fighting it. If I push my way through, by jacking myself up on something to minimize the tired feeling, I still end up feeling like a nervous wreck by 6 or 7 pm. So I have come to honor my own body's need for dark quiet time to do nothing but relax and recharge.
      Just after break time, we jump to either a few hours of writing and working on one of the books, or blogging. Then a limited amount of family quality time. Limited being the operating word there. The need for quality family time is essential when you're an active member of a healthy functioning family. There's no getting around it. Dinner time and an hour or two after that should suffice. But if the fam wants to watch Glee or X-Factor, there should be absolutely no reason you (or I in this case) should feel obligated to do so too. It's an activity that does not serve. Perhaps the key is to make the family time we do spend with our loved ones as fulfilling and high quality as possible, limiting the hours, but not the quality. That still leaves plenty of hours left in the evening for studying and learning, reading or watching things that are both enjoyable and educational. If you dig learning, then anything educational is going to be enjoyable anyway. So that part is easy. And then once everyone goes to bed I find to be the best time to blog and/or write. That midnight to six am time period when all is quiet and the whole world is covered in darkness.
      Today is my second day on this new schedule. I am still working it out, working the kinks out. I spent a bit too much time learning Farsi and a bit too much time on this blog post. But that's okay. The key is that Plan B has officially started. Time for a work out and shower. I'll keep you posted.

Initiating Plan B

It's 3:34 am saturday morning. At least where I am in the world right now. I add this last piece of relatively insignificant information because every time I spend extended periods of time on the west coast (of the United States) I just cannot fathom how people manage living here in regards to being three hours behind everything. I still cannot shake the feeling of being caught in a time warp. I've still not fallen asleep after an hour or so of laying here in between worlds and so decided to pick up the phone to do some writing. Went on FB for a minute to post a question -- Facebook is an amazing resource when you need a quick answer to almost anything -- and most of the status updates I saw are people who are a starting to wake up. To them it's Saturday. To me it's Friday night and I haven't even gone to sleep yet, let alone woken up inside of Saturday morning.

I don't think my mind or body will ever get used to the west coast time zone. I just don't feel comfortable in my skin here, being so far behind everyone and everything going on. If you want to watch the evening news on the west coast I've learned, say something like the McNeil Lehrer Report or Situation Room (I know, why bother with anything CNN at this point -- see an upcoming entry regarding the decline and fall of CNN in the near future) you have to stop what you're doing smack dab in the middle of the day and watch it at 3pm in the afternoon. Seriously. Right in the middle of your work day. It's so frustratingly off putting. If by chance you're working, and why wouldn't you be, and you must wait till the more traditional post work 6 or 7 pm end of day timeframe to watch the news, you're going to end up in the world of cable news gossip shows -- things like Anderson Pooper or Piers "I have no business being on a news network" Morgan. Because the networks are running live. Which I will readily admit is probably a good thing. They can't after all delay the news for west coasters. But certainly something could be done to accommodate the other half of the country... Like run the NEWS at night too; instead of these crap personality talk shows.

What the hell has happened to just good old fashioned traditional news reporting in this country? Why the fuck is it so hard to get some? Even if you are lucky enough to catch a more traditional or standard news show like the aforementioned Situation Room or OutFront or Shepard Smith et al., what you end up with is hearing about approximately three to five stories tops each accompanied by a cadre of so called panelists and non-experts, talking heads who spew opinion about other taking head's opinions. It's a televised gossip column is what it is; using news topics (occasionally important or worthy) as celebrity. And when one show is over the following show begins, albeit with another dolled up host (not anchor) who then proceeds to repeat the exact same three to five news items the show before it spent an hour reporting on. The actual news, the thousands and thousands of interesting and important news events that transpired all over the world that day go unreported. And with a station like CNN, which a decade ago used to be a real news network, or Headline news -- which used to be an even better more traditional news network, this mind numbing process repeats over and over again all day and night with only the talking head behind the desk changing. The news items don't. The same damn three to five pieces just get cycled and recycled over and over again until you think you've either lost your mind or are thoroughly convinced everyone else except you has.

I think the question that millions of people are asking right now, at least those who haven't allowed their brain or intelligence to fall into a deep hypnotic hibernation or permanent hypothermia, is what the hell happened to good old fashioned news reporting and journalism, i.e. a news anchor man (or woman) sitting behind a desk reporting the most important and or interesting global news events of the day, one after the other, without opinion or commentary or panelists or round tables or guest celebrity experts? As in one hour of watching the news would catch you up on at least fifteen to twenty different news worthy events of the day. At least.

Instead we are bombarded ad nauseum by overly dramatized and hyped up shock-talk radio like commentary and gossip on a handful of worn out stories that border on the inane and remind one more of a primetime sitcom about a bunch of uninformed high school kids who don't have anything better to do nor know any better than to ramble on for hours with their opinion about what they believe to be hot and trendy; as if switching to a different subject could mean the death of their reputation as one of the cool kids.

Ted Turner we all know you've drank more than your fair share of the sauce in your time and you've got the crazy eyes and complete disregard for propriety to show for it, but for the sake of all that is holy in the world of news journalism and arming an informed populace with the data they need to stay informed and actively engaged with the world they live in -- we need you to take back control of your brilliant little pet project that once served our needs so well in days gone by. My guess is that Ted can't watch more than three minutes of CNN now without throwing a shoe at the TV in between retching and cursing the day he sold out to Time Warner.

This post was supposed to be about implementing Plan B. but as we can all see I've instead gone ahead and written the piece about the myopic idiocy that is now called reporting the news. That's not a bad thing. I've already begun to implement plan B. I promise to return soon and fill you in on it. It's now past 5 am here on the west coast and I need to get some sleep.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Seeking a Silver Lining

It took a while but it finally happened. IT happened. Maybe it's a good thing... When it happens to us it often hurts... So we resist it. We often label it "bad" and thus put it off, or even when it does happen we continue to label it bad, which then prevents us from seeing the good in it. A little backstory...

Last night we saw the film Silver Linings Playbook. I had no idea what the film was about, but was sucked in from the very first minute. See it. It's better than good. Due to this new trend of infinite potential greatness in art all happening simultaneously, I found it easy to exclaim that Silver Linings was the best movie of the year, beating out even Speilberg's Lincoln, before settling back down into recognizing that we are now in an age when it's possible for there to be MANY "best movies of the year" all at the same time.

[This is a fairly new and exciting trend, due to many factors; globalization being one, another being the continued decline of the cost of the tools and technologies of all the various fields of art. Whether filmmaking or music making or just about anything else, the cost of entering, the entry fee, has come down to a price point making it possible for anyone to make a movie or an album or whatever else the heart and mind can imagine. It's one of the Signatures of the Personal Expression Age and has both good and bad ramifications. It's not the purpose of this particular post, but in the book I've been working on for the last six years, we elaborate on it in much more detail. Suffice it to say that this Signature has created a world where there is more "Best Of the Year" projects being released simultaneously than any one consumer could possibly take in -- unless you make being a consumer of art your career.]

So towards the end of the film, during the end credits roll actually, we hear this song, an amazing song, an incredible song, sounded like the Stone, or the Faces, maybe Chris Robinson's new band. As always I waited till the very end of the movie to see who the artist was. It turned out to be a group called Alabama Shakes. The song was called "Always Alright." I took a note of it in my phone in the usual file where I note music that I plan on purchasing later. The film ended. We exited the theatre, talking idly about how great the film was, how believable, how real, how moving; our dialogue occasionally interspersed with my excited exclamations of "how fucking great that song was, wow!"

In the men's room a few minutes later I was still thinking about that song, fantasizing about that moment when I would be able to go home and buy it and listen to it over and over. And then it hit me, just standing there in front of the urinal. I didn't need to wait till I got home. I could pull out my phone right there while still taking a piss and download the song using iTunes and listen to it immediately. So i reached into my pocket to grab my phone. But then another realization. I didn't need to go to iTunes. I could probably just go to YouTube and do a Search for it. So i did. Sure enough, ten to twenty different versions of this particular songs came up and I began to listen to each one until I found the one I was looking for. (I never did. Instead I listened to a few live versions of the song, never finding the actual recording of the song itself.) But that was enough. I got my fill of it. At least for the moment.

When we got in the car to drive home, I took it further and plugged my phone into a little quarter inch jack we've rigged into our car stereo so we can listen to our iPods and iPhones through the car's stereo system. I didn't think much about this experience truth be told. For whatever reason, IT didn't happen then. But it did this morning.

This morning I woke up with the song "This Guys's in Love with You", the Herb Albert version, in my head while I was dreaming. With eyes still closed I fumbled my hands around the bed seeking my phone so I could check my iTunes library to see if i had already downloaded the song. I wanted to hear it. Right then and there, before I woke up fully and the day started. And THAT'S when IT hit me. I didn't need to check my iTunes library to listen to the song. Who cares if i had already downloaded the song. All i had to do was go to YouTube. Sure enough, there it was. In hundreds of different forms, uploaded by hundreds of different people. Within less than a minute I was listening to this haunting and beautiful Burt Bacharach song over and over again and not paying a dime for it. And THIS is when it really hit me.

For the last six months I have been struggling like a mother fucker to make ends meet for my family. My last big hit was in May of this year. The checks from sales and royalty checks roll in eventually and that's always a great thing. But they aren't what they used to be. Not even close. Something has changed. Many things have changed. You can have a song that goes to #1 in cities all over America and even jump up into the Top 30 on Billboard and still not be able to support yourself as a working musician. It's not something we talk about. Call it denial. No one wants to talk about it. But it's happening. Access to music has become so easy for all of us as consumers that it's become impossible for those of us who make music for a living to make an actual living at it. It's no one's fault per se. It's just the way the industry has shifted.

Sure we make money every time someone downloads one of our songs or albums. We do. And it's good money. If it's done in the traditional legal and above board fashion, ala going through or iTunes, we get paid for that. So the first thing is just to continue to encourage friends and fans to buy our songs and albums. Because that is still our primary means of making a living. But this morning I watched it happen with my own eyes. Not as a working musician, but as a consumer and lover of music. I just wanted my fix in that moment of this song. And I went to the fastest way i knew how to get it. YouTube. And the sad truth of the matter is that we as artists don't get paid when people listen to our music on YouTube. It doesn't matter that "Gangam Style" has become the most viewed video on YouTube in terms of the artist making any money from it. He doesn't. It might feel good. And yes, surely it leads to other potential money making opportunities. Maybe. But the act itself does not make any money. Nor did it help Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach when I listened to "This Guy's in Love With You" ten times in a row this morning on YouTube. Hell, I even Shared the song on Facebook and Twitter to spread the joy with my friends and fans. And that led to more people listening to the song on YouTube. For free.

And that's the operating word now in our industry. Free. People that like having easy access to music and listening to music for free will jump at this point in the discussion to point out that artists DO get paid if people listen to our music on Pandora or Spotify. But let's yank that cat out of the bag once and for all so the whole world can feel the shock and pain of it as much as we who make the music do. You ever wonder how much we get paid each time someone listens to one of our songs on Pandora or Spotify? It looks like this: $00.0001. That's what it looks like. On the statements we receive each month or quarter from the various different companies who collect and distribute the data and money to us. Hundreds of pages comprise these statements. And we do get to see each and every time someone listens to (streams) or downloads one of our songs or albums.

Sometimes it's in the millions. Or even tens of millions. "Scene in San Francisco" has been streamed more times than I can count at this point. But at that rate of pay, it amounts to less than enough to make your mortgage payment. Which is why most working musicians rent. And worse, that's ONLY if people are listening through very firmly established music services, like MOG or or Spotify or Pandora. Most of the places people go online to listen to music, like YouTube for example, don't offer a way for the artist to make even one-one-hundredth of a cent from that experience. Not a penny. Not half a penny. Not a tenth or even a hundredth of a penny. Zero. Combine that with the fact that most people have stopped buying music -- why WOULD you BUY music when you can listen to it for free anytime you want to from a device that is literally in your hands 23 out of every 24 hours in a day? -- and what you end up with is an industry where 99% of the people working in it aren't able to make a living from it.

This was a huge realization for me this morning. For months I have been struggling to decide what to do about this. I have never seen anything as heart breaking as my poor new wife crying her eyes out in fear that we are already broke and penniless because my well ran dry so fast after having two Top 30 hits this year. I've never seen anyone so frightened. "I'm not used to this like you are," she scream-mumbled in between big sobs and moans... "What are we going to do???" she asked me. I had no answer. Only, "I'll think of something honey. I promise. Our new album just came out. We'll get money from the sales of that."

But i knew I was kidding myself, being delusional. Those days of big sales numbers from a new album release for most of us started drying up in '05. Sooner than that for some people. Adele's last album, 21, just topped the 10 million mark I believe, making it one of the few albums in decades to sell that many. Albums that now sell a million, what we call Platinum, are few and far between. It's a small earthquake in our industry when it happens. Selling half a million, what we call Gold, happen a bit more, but we are talking about maybe five to ten artists a year now. For the most part, the large majority of working music makers sell in the thousands. The last stat I read was disarmingly sad and sobering. It showed that out of the 5,000 albums a month that are released each year, less than one-thousand of them sell a thousand copies or more. Most of those are in the classical music genre. That's 60,000 albums a year that get released, with less than 1000 of them selling even one-thousand copies. Don't bother doing the math. It's so far below the poverty line that it isn't even worth considering how much those artists make. It certainly isn't enough to support a family.

For me the big realization happened towards the end of this year. We were convinced that with all the hype and sales and radio airplay and Billboard hit making that we were doing earlier in the year that it would lead to bigger and better things, i.e. more money. At least enough to live comfortably. Or live, period. But it happened fast. The money comes and the money goes. Whatever you make usually goes right back into either making more music or marketing and promoting the music you've already made in an attempt to reach more people and make a bigger splash. It's throwing money after money is what it is. It used to work. And for a very few it still does. But they're few and far between.

We are supposed to make money every time our songs get played on the radio. This is true. So with a song like "Scene in San Francisco" where it received tens of thousands of spins on radio stations all over America and eventually the world, you would think we would have received tens of thousands of dollars from it. But it doesn't work that way. There are three companies in the entire world that collect all that money for every musician on planet earth. ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. And they collect hundreds of billions of dollars each year from our music being played on the radio. But their systems are crooked. They don't pay per spin. They claim to have a proprietary system that they can't reveal to anyone. Not even Congress, who has been breathing down their backs for nearly a century to try to get them to conduct a more honest and transparent business.

So big hit or not, two big hits or not, what ASCAP wanted to pay me personally came to less than $3,000. I went into a bloody apoplectic seizure when I found out. See, it isn't that they didn't collect the money. They collected the money alright. From every single radio station in America and beyond they collect plenty of money. And it's not that they cannot see how many times each song has been played. They can. The system is all computerized now. It's easy to discover how many millions of times your song has been played on radio each year. That's not the issue. The issue is that they "cannot reveal their proprietary system" to the artists that shows how they calculate how much money they are going to pay out for all your radio spins. It's a fucking nightmare. They're the mafia of the music industry. Pirates. Raking in huge sums of money on behalf of every working musician in the world with no intention of paying it out.

That's radio airplay. Sales is a different matter. Coldplay's record label spent five million dollars just on promotion of their last album (the one before this latest one) in their attempt to get the sales they needed to pay for the recording of the album. I never bothered to check to see if they made the money back. I just couldn't believe that they spent five million dollars on marketing and promotion alone. It was an astounding figure. A huge risk. But for a very established act.

Most artists don't have that kind of established reputation in the industry, nor access to a record label with enough liquidity to be able to afford to do something like that. For their last album, just a few short years had gone by, but by this point their record label had gone bankrupt, gotten divided up and all the little pieces sold off to a variety of different other players, and so the money for marketing and promotion wasn't there. Instead of throwing five million dollars around for marketing and promotion, they chose a different path. They teamed up with Google Music and put the new album up for sale for .99 cents to try to market it. They sold an 250,000 units through that stunt. Which was considerably more than they had sold up until that point. And that's a huge artist.

But again do the math. If the artist only receives ten percent of the net proceeds.... Yikes. Split that 25 grand four ways if you're in a band and you better be married to Gwyneth Paltrow, because you aren't eating if you aren't. Personally speaking, I'm not. So I need to come up with a different plan of action to make a living and support my family. And fast. It doesn't mean I don't love making music. I do. I've already written a few thousand songs. So for me the whole mission is to just try to record and release as many of the songs I've written over the last thirty years as I can before I die. The fans I do have deserve it. I know that. And I deserve it. I want to. There is nothing more painful than having thousands of songs sitting in notebooks unrecorded. Nothing I can think of. At least not for an artist. But I also need to make a living.

After this morning's experience, after watching how easy it was for me, me, a working musician myself, someone who has always resisted the trends of accessing music or free for fear it might jeopardize the livelihood of the musicians I love the most, even I found myself taking advantage of this new system and simply heading to YouTube to spin a few songs I love five to ten times, knowing full well that the men and women who created that music that I love so much wouldn't make a cent from it. It's just not the same industry anymore. For all of us. Yes, something CAN be done about it. YouTube could enforce a law that ALL music that gets uploaded to their servers MUST go through a database that tracks the airplay, the spins, the views, that somehow cycles back to the musicians themselves. But who knows when that will happen.

In the meantime, the Ambassador is going to have to find another way to make a living that permits me to still be able to make music at the same time. It won't be easy. The trick with being a musician is that every cent you make from whatever it is you do you want to take all that money and put it back into recording and production and marketing more music. So one needs a job that pays you twice as much as you need to live. Either that or you starve as you spend every cent you make from your job on making music. I did that all through my teens and twenties. As everyone already knows. You get used to living without a car or a phone or electricity or even food. Your teeth fall out one by one because you can't afford to go to doctors or dentists. But you're making music. You're fulfilling your life's purpose. You're happy. You have fans who love what you do and it makes you happy thinking about how your music makes them happy.

But things are different now. And I know it. I finally took the big leap I had both dreaded and wished for my entire life. I got married. I have a wife that I love. I have step daughters that I love. We've been trying to have children of our own for years. Eventually we'll achieve that goal, either naturally or through adoption (which I have started to see only recently is a very cool thing). And children are expensive. I have to stop trying to change the music industry to go back to the way it used to be. I also have to stop living in denial. I either need a HUGE break, as in times past, one that propels me to a place where a backflip into poverty once more could never happen again; or I have to invent or devise or discover some new way to make a fortune from continuing to make music for a living.

Or i need to choose another way entirely to support myself and the family. I've been meditating and praying about it incessantly. And miraculously money has been flying in from all over the place. Loads of it. So as we gratefully and graciously have been able to pay the bills as of late all of a sudden, I've been scrambling to try to figure out what the hell I'm going to do. Perhaps that big break will come. Perhaps it won't. Maybe the industry will change and musicians will begin to get compensated commensurate with how much their music is enjoyed. But until then... I cannot help but feel that somewhere around the bend is this silver lining. There always is. Perhaps this waking up and recognizing how the music business really is now was a good thing, even though it felt like a bad thing. Perhaps it's one step closer. I hope so.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Most Important Article of 2012

What is now being called the Newtown Massacre was surely the most disturbing event in America for 2012. But was it the most important in light of all the other events that transpired around the country and the world that involved the United States. At face value certainly not. But upon closer inspection, after reading numerous articles about the tragedy like the one pasted below, it becomes painfully apparent that the tragedy of Newtown is not just a sad moment in American history because 28 people were killed, many of them children. The shooting at Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, CT appears to be yet another confusing tragedy with multiple story lines and narratives and numerous trails of misleading information and misinformation; one in an ever increasing long line of mysterious lone-gunmen covert operations that unfortunately and terrifyingly all seem to lead back to local, state and federal government at their source. Either that, or the American media should not be allowed to exist in its current form any longer and instead be completely dismantled and restructured to better serve the needs of responsible news reporting. Like Aurora before it and harkening all the way back to the events of September 11th, Newtown is a fact-checking disaster with no valid or verifiable official story. The implications more than obvious and not necessary to spell out yet again.

Sandy Hook massacre: Official story spins out of control
Published on December 20th, 2012 in Veterans Today
Written by: Niall Bradley

The massacre of 20 children and 7 adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday was one more in a long line of atrocious mass murders committed in the USA. By now, five days later, an official version of events has more or less solidified to explain the chain of events. The familiar ‘lone gunman’ narrative has once more stoked the hot-button issue of gun control and left the general population as clueless as ever as to why people suddenly ‘go postal’ and target the most vulnerable members of society.
On closer inspection, however, there is clearly more to many of these mass shootings than meets the eye. Very often the earliest reports present information that directly contradicts key foundations of the final ‘official’ analysis of events. Granted, confusion is natural when a story breaks, but some of the initial reports conflict so completely with the lone gunman narrative that I’m going to compile them here and then try to put this tragedy in a more objective context. In his speech at the Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Newtown, Connecticut on Sunday night, President Obama quoted the following biblical passage:
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:18
The traumatised Newtown community deserves the facts without the spin. Everyone touched by this brutal event deserves to know what really happened, so let’s fix our eyes on what remains unseen…
A 20-year-old ‘tech geek’ named Adam Lanza is supposed to have snapped early last Friday, December 14th, shot dead his mother Nancy Lanza, loaded her car up with her guns and ammo, then driven it across town to his former school, the Sandy Hook Elementary School, shot dead 27 people in two classrooms and an adjoining hallway, then turned one of his guns on himself.
That’s how most will now remember the shooting, but is that actually what happened?
All the child victims were first-graders between the ages of 6 and 7. If there’s any saving grace to be found in this event, it’s that it was all over within minutes. Police were reportedly on the scene “instantaneously”, according to Connecticut State Police Commander, Lt. Vance and by then the shooting had ended. Listed among the slain school teachers and administrative staff was the school principal, 47-year-old Dawn Hochsprung. Right here we encounter our first problem:
The Newtown Bee
December 14, 2012
Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung told The Bee that a masked man entered the school with a rifle and started shooting multiple shots – more than she could count – that went “on and on.”
© The Newtown Bee
How could the principal have survived to give this statement to local press describing what happened … if she was one of the first to be killed? Incidentally, The Newtown Bee‘s article was taken down on Monday December 17th. Of course, a plausible explanation is that a reporter mistook another teacher for the principal.
We were initially told that two handguns – a Glock and a Sig Sauer – were found next to the body of the dead shooter, while a third weapon, a .223-caliber rifle was also recovered “in the trunk of a car” later, in the school’s parking lot. All of the weapons were allegedly legally bought and registered in Nancy Lanza’s name. The car was later identified as a black Honda, also registered in her name. More weapons have since been introduced to the story but we’ll get back to those later on.
Besides anonymous ‘law enforcement officials’ telling the media that Adam Lanza was a former pupil at the school, they also said his mother was currently a teacher there, that she was found among the dead and that her son had specifically sought out her classroom first. But when it emerged that teaching staff at the school had never heard of a Nancy Lanza, it was suggested that she was a substitute teacher whose name therefore mightn’t appear on staff lists.
But this claim too has disappeared down the memory hole because it’s now known that Nancy had no connection with the school. Adam Lanza was in fact home-schooled. Nancy Lanza has since been painted as a “survivalist” who loved firearms, taught her sons how to shoot and was “stockpiling” because she was “worried about economic collapse.”
Daily Mail, UK
December 16, 2012
Last night it also emerged Nancy was a member of the Doomsday Preppers movement, which believes people should prepare for end of the world.
Her former sister-in-law Marsha said she had turned her home ‘into a fortress’. She added: ‘Nancy had a survivalist philosophy which is why she was stockpiling guns. She had them for defense.
‘She was stockpiling food. She grew up on a farm in New Hampshire. She was skilled with guns. We talked about preppers and preparing for the economy collapsing.’
It’s not difficult to see that their efforts to insinuate that Nancy Lanza was somehow responsible for this massacre by being an irresponsible mother also serve to rile the large contingent of gun owners in the country, particularly the far-right who see a conspiracy on the government’s part to “take back our guns.” More on that later, but for now I just want to note that all of the Lanza family members seemed to live more or less normal middle-class lives. Yes, the parents were divorced, but it was apparently amicable and both put their own needs second to those of their children (and anyway, divorce in the US these days is decidedly ‘normal middle class’).
Despite “family insiders” claiming that he was a “deeply disturbed kid”, Adam Lanza, like so many other alleged ‘lone(r) gunmen’ before him, does not fit the profile of a mass-murdering maniac. His 24-year-old brother, Ryan Lanza, said he hadn’t seen his brother since 2010. This fact brings into question Ryan’s claim that his younger brother may have had his identity card on his person at the school shooting. Although perhaps the question that needs to be asked here is, why would a person bother to carry identification with them after going to the trouble of dressing up in a bullet-proof vest, mask and black camouflage gear and going on a killing spree …
The live emergency services audio feed from the scene reveals some interesting observations from first responders that have been completely overlooked by the mainstream media. Note that the unedited version lasts over two hours, so the abridged version I’m going to quote from has a compressed sequence of events that are not in real time. In this abridged version, we hear at 1.38′ a report that gunfire is still being heard, even though the shooting was supposed to have ended by the time police arrived. The next report at 2.35′ says that the shooting has stopped and the school is “in lockdown”. At 3.23′, the police relay a teacher’s report that she saw “two shadows running past the gym”. This is followed by another officer on the scene who says, “Yeh, we got ‘em, they’re coming at me! … [inaudible] … coming up the driveway real slowly!” That same officer at 5.40′ says he has them “proned out”, which presumably means he has apprehended them and they are laid out on the ground, before another officer comes on to say, “be aware that we do have a second [inaudible] …”
Later on, at 19.10′, an officer who sounds out of breath, like he’s just given chase, reports what I think sounds like “these guys” followed certainly by “multiple weapons, including long rifles and shotgun”. If these were found so early on, why were they not included in the initial press reports which stated that three firearms had been found – the above mentioned Glock, Sig Sauer and Bushmaster AR-15 rifle? Further conflicting, and possibly planted evidence was thrown into the mix by ‘law enforcement officials’ when they published video footage of a long weapon being retrieved from the trunk of a car. Look closely and you’ll see that it’s a shotgun, not a rifle. In addition, this ‘discovery’ was made late in the day (it’s dark outside), while the Bushmaster rifle was first reported found “in the trunk of a car” much earlier in the day. This would logically suggest that the rifle and shotgun were found in the trunks of two different cars.
Besides the above two suspects “proned out” in front of the school, another suspected gunman was apprehended after he gave chase, this time in the woods next to the school:
YouTube - Veterans Today -
The police are clearly chasing someone whom they appear to apprehend in the middle of the woods next to the school, a fact confirmed by several eyewitnesses:
YouTube - Veterans Today -
This fleeing suspect, wearing camouflage gear, a bulletproof vest and armed with four guns, has since disappeared from media coverage. Who was this person and how did he know what “it” was when he protested that “I didn’t do it”?
Perhaps most astonishingly, this suspect arrested in the woods was named in an Associated Press report as 24-year-old Ryan Lanza. The original report has long since vanished of course, but you can see it referenced here. This was despite the fact that Ryan had already been named as the deceased suspect inside the school, lying next to two handguns.
Ryan Lanza was actually at work in Hoboken, New Jersey, that morning when his name and photo began circulating in the media. And so, for most of Friday, the ‘lone shooter’ was erroneously reported as “Ryan Lanza, confirmed dead.” At the same time, we were being told that Ryan’s girlfriend and a room-mate were reported missing, also from Hoboken, New Jersey.
So this isn’t just a case of mistaken identity, as later claimed when it was suggested that Adam had a piece of identification belonging to his brother on his person. Not one, but BOTH Lanza brothers were being placed by ‘law enforcement officials’ at the scene of the shooting. It could be that Ryan’s quick reflexes to leave his workplace to get on a bus to go back to his apartment while protesting innocence via his Facebook page may have saved his life.
Now remember, all of this confusion somehow resulted from a single guy going into a school and shooting children and teachers and then shooting himself, all within three to five minutes. Surely it should have been fairly easy to rapidly and concretely identify the details of such a crime and a rough layout of the scene?
What it’s starting to look like is that the Lanzas were framed for this mass shooting in advance. Long before any suspects were named, and even as we were being told that Nancy Lanza was among the dead at the school, we were told that police were investigating a murder in … Hoboken, New Jersey, where a body had been found at the home of … Ryan Lanza! An older “confirmed” version of events had RYAN, not Adam, travelling to Hoboken that morning to murder his father before going to the school in Newtown, Connecticut. Other variants had Ryan OR Adam going to both their divorced parents’ homes and killing them before going to the school.
The narrative has now settled on the younger brother killing his mother in Newtown then going to the school. So what about the rest of it? Do we just put it down to ‘keen’ journalism that was having a field day last Friday as media outlets sought to bring us the latest ‘breaking news’? Confusion and ‘Chinese whispers’ undoubtedly play a part in the early stages of national media events, but I think back to those news anchors reading scripts about Osama Bin Laden within minutes of the first plane being hit on 9/11 and I think, ‘Wait a minute!’ All these misleading reports had to have been issued by someone or some people “confirming” to Associated Press and other media outlets that the Ryans’s father had been murdered [he wasn't even aware that the shooting at the school had taken place until journalists turned up on his doorstep], or that Ryan’s girlfriend had gone missing from Hoboken, or that either Ryan or Adam were pulled out of the adjacent woods in handcuffs yelling “I DIDN’T DO IT” to assembled parents. These aren’t just ‘little details’ that can be confused for other details, these are detailed narratives. So how, or why, would any member of the press come up with such details? They strike me as a set of alternative scenarios that might have found their way into the official narrative had facts on the ground turned out differently.
Watch this snippet of State Police Lt. Paul Vance at the press conference he gave the day after the shootings. His answer is as bizarre as it is revealing. When asked whether Nancy Lanza had any connection with the school, he replied defensively about something that is both unrelated and arguably the most significant fact that completely undermines the official narrative: the arrest of a second gunman in the woods:
YouTube - Veterans Today -
Most of the initial mainstream media reports have since been rewritten to fit ‘new’ facts proclaimed by ‘law enforcement officials’. Here’s an example from Business Insider. The following excerpts are the opening paragraphs from the ‘same’ article, one earlier original version, followed by the later revised version:
The massacre [...] was reportedly perpetrated with a .233 caliber rifle, a Glock pistol and a Sig Sauer pistol.
The Bushmaster rifle was found in the trunk of the shooter’s car. The Sig Sauer and Glock pistols were the only weapons used in the shooting, according to CBS. Now the question is what kind of magazine would allow a shooter to fire “100″ rounds in such a short period.
Indeed, I was wondering the same thing. How could two pistols do so much damage? The report was updated as follows:
The massacre in Connecticut that’s taken the lives of at least 26 people was reportedly perpetrated with a .223 caliber rifle, a Glock pistol and a Sig Sauer pistol, according to NBC:
The shooter was using one Sig Sauer and one Glock pistol, according to CNN. Later details emerged that the primary weapon was the Bushmaster “assault-style” rifle.
Altogether, though, it doesn’t matter what type of weapon the shooter used. The bottom line is that it was likely a magazine fed, semi-automatic, with enough rounds to shoot “100 shots” in a matter of minutes, as quoted in USA Today.
What actually happened may not matter to some, but surely a journalist’s role is to at least try to find out?
The three guns Adam Lanza is supposed to have brought to the school with him. © New York Daily News. The rifle was left in the trunk, leaving ‘Adam Lanza’ just the two handguns to let off “hundreds of rounds”… firing .233 caliber bullets that belonged to the rifle… which was left in the car
This Associated Press/Newsday article on Saturday, December 15th, reported that “Only the rifle was used on the victims“, a statement that is supported by Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut state’s chief medical examiner. Of the seven autopsies he personally performed on Sandy Hook victims, all of them had “three to 11 wounds apiece”. He also said that the ‘gunman’ used a military-style rifle rigged to quickly reload, and that the ‘shooter’ was able to reload so quickly because he had “taped two magazines together.” Even before the State Chief Medical Examiner had given these statements, it had been stated that spent shell casings from .233-caliber (rifle) bullets were found inside the school.
So all the victims’ wounds were the result of rifle-fire, specifically from “the rifle”, the one we were told in early reports was found in the trunk of a car in the parking lot! This is simply not credible.
Remember that only “the rifle” was used on all the victims. If only this rifle was used, and if we try to make this claim fit into the (admittedly fluid) official version of events, then the alleged lone gunman would have had to leave the school, place the rifle back in his trunk, then return inside the school and shoot himself. No one reported any such maneuver on the part of any gunman or gunmen. What we do have, however, is live emergency services radio feed in which we hear that two men have been apprehended and are “proned out” AND live video footage supported by eyewitness testimony showing what appears to be a THIRD man being arrested by police in the woods.
We can see how the authorities’ hands are tied because they need to fit all the facts into the usual ‘lone gunman’ narrative. For that, there can only be ONE rifle and a couple of handguns. The problem is that they have already claimed to find that solitary Bushmaster rifle in the trunk of a car in the school parking lot, so the earliest police reports of a cache of long arms being found inside the school will no longer fit with the lone gunman narrative, especially as they’re now saying that he had already opened fire as he burst into the school.
Could “scrawny” 20-year-old Adam Lanza have stormed the school, solo Rambo-style, while carrying “multiple long arms, including rifles and shotguns”? Only one person was wounded. Everyone else who was shot was killed. How could Adam Lanza achieve such deadly accuracy, in such a short length of recorded time?
Initial reports put the beginning of the shooting in the school administrators’ office, where someone, reportedly the school principal, had a confrontation with the gunman(men). We know this because someone supposedly turned on the school intercom system, alerting the teaching staff to the loud swearing and commotion in the principal’s office and probably saving many more children from being gunned down as teachers took measures to hide the children in closets.
Similarly heavily armed men wearing black combat gear from head to toe… their job is to kill ‘terrorists’ to keep us safe, which they do by terrorising us all
One brave teacher, Kaitlin Roig, bundled a bunch of children into a bathroom and locked the door. What’s interesting about her testimony to ABC News is that when police arrived and asked her to open the door, she refused, saying that “if they were really cops, they’d know where to find keys to open the door.” In addition, she requested that they slide their badges under the door.
Now, this is generally a smart thing to do in any and all interactions with the police, especially in the U.S. But to have the wherewithal to do so under such traumatic circumstances strongly suggests that Ms. Roig had logically deduced by that point that multiple perpetrators were involved, and that they were either impersonating police officers or were indistinguishable from SWAT team police commandos, either in the way they dressed or the way they behaved upon entering the building. It also reminds us just how narrow the time window of the actual shooting was. The shooting appears to have barely ended when men knocked on that bathroom door and told Ms. Roig they were police.
There are also conflicting reports about how the gunmen entered the building. We were told initially that they came in through the main front entrance and proceeded straight to the administrators’/principal’s offices. But Sandy Hook elementary school has a security system with a video monitor, which allows staff to screen visitors before buzzing them in. A “masked gunman dressed in black tactical combat gear” from head to toe would kinda raise red flags, don’t you think?
Another possible anomaly is that Victoria Soto, one of the teachers killed at the school, appears to have had an ‘in memoriam’ Facebook page created in her name four days before the shooting.
Regarding this alleged ‘LIBOR scandal’ connection between this shooting and the Aurora theater shooting, there is as yet zero evidence to support the claim that either father of Lanza or Holmes were going to testify to anyone about anything, so for now this must remain just another rumor. I rather think that this is being spread to create the impression of a direct link that can be easily refuted, as in a straw man argument. The obvious and direct link staring everyone in the face is that the official accounts of these events are hocus-pocus. The glaring connection between these two shootings, the Sikh Temple shooting and the Fort Hood shooting is that multiple gunmen were reported at the time by eyewitnesses, but they are now all officially claimed to have been carried out by ‘lone gunmen’. This logically tells us that the real perpetrators are being protected with cover stories of what really happened because if the truth were known, some section of the U.S. government would be implicated.
Wade Michael Page, the ‘lone gunman’ in the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin in August this year, was a highly decorated U.S. army psychological operations specialist, according to the Pentagon. But what happened to the three other gunmen seen by witnesses? It can’t surely be coincidence that Wade was (former?) military psy-ops. The thought has crossed my mind more than once during the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting. Others too have suggested this was a ‘false-flag’ event, or that Lanza was some sort of Manchurian Candidate.
But maybe there’s a simpler explanation (albeit more outrageous) than that? Was that really Adam Lanza they found inside the school? Do we even know for a fact that one of the gunmen was found dead inside the school? What we have instead are reports of two or three masked gunmen, apparently all dressed similarly in black tactical gear from head to toe, being wilfully forgotten about at best, or protected by the Federal Government at worst. Based on the authorities’ persistent but futile efforts to connect the Lanzas to this school, the multiple eyewitness reports of two shooters, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s report that all the victims were riddled with bullets from a rifle that we’re simultaneously being asked to believe was in the trunk of a car the whole time, similar reports of multiple shooters in previous mass shootings in recent years and the media focusing the emotional outcry onto the hot-button topic of gun control … I’m left wondering if this was actually the work of some highly trained professional hit team?
Was the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, a psy-op, using what amounts to a ‘death squad’ and a carefully planned mission to terrorise people on behalf of the government, in combination with perception management to shape the narrative and vector the emotional fallout?
Gun control isn’t really the issue here. Control – period – is the issue. The U.S. government would long since have taken measures, quietly, to limit the supply of weapons, the 2nd Amendment of the constitution be damned (it’s “just a goddamned piece of paper“, remember?), if it was really concerned with limiting civilian access to weapons. That we’ve seen gun sales increase in the last few days to the point where Wal-Mart is all out of assault rifles is wholly unsurprising.
The psychopaths in power have absolutely no compunction about using state terrorism, in this case organising the deliberate massacre of innocent children, to control people. In effect, this is little different from what the U.S. government calls counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism in foreign countries, where it attacks innocent civilians to create the impression that they were killed by ‘communists’, ‘terrorists’, ‘insurgents’ or ‘militants’, with the aim of generating public support for the illusion that the common people need a strong, ruthless government to protect them from the ‘evil-doers’. When the common people buy into this manipulation, the end result, as history shows repeatedly, is an overt and brutal police state.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Creating Gods

Seated in a little red brick church in a non-descript little town in the Great Northwest for a Christmas Eve service. We watch as a pastor calls all the children up from the pews to come sit down in a circle around her in the front of the church for what she calls 'story time'. It was already well past 7PM on Christmas Eve. One could only imagine how impatient the children were feeling, being so close to the midnight hour when Santa Claus is supposed to come barreling down their chimneys to drop off all the presents they'd asked for this year. As adults we could still feel the excitement of the children as they were asked to sit very still and participate in a 'raise your hands when I ask' question and answer session. Nonetheless, excitement and all, the kids did a decent job of trying to remain quiet and listen, speaking only when they were called on. They sat on a carpeted floor in a circle around the female pastor, surrounded by decorative wreaths, christmas trees, burning candles, colorful stockings and other holiday knickknacks.

The stated purpose of this children's moment was for the kids, ranging in age from 3 to about 11, to open various wrapped presents that would act as hints while the pastor asked them leading questions in order to prod the traditional birth of Jesus story out of them. Of course the children were much more interested in what was inside each successive gift that would get ripped open than they were in any story telling, but the pastor stayed firm and persisted in trying to prod the story and all of its details out of them. One assumes the moment was for the pleasure and benefit of the adults in the congregation who had children with them. Little by little the pastor, a non-descript female appearing to be in her late thirties with short dark hair and glasses and wearing a solid black robe, was able to guide the children to work their way through the entire story; from Mary's first angel visitation to the great hejira from Nazareth to Bethlehem to the eventual birth of the baby Jesus to the climactic visit of the three wise men (or Kings) who had traveled from the far off Middle East to come pay their respects for the newborn. The process took close to forty minutes, or so it seemed.

Observing the moment objectively, from the stands so to speak, I could not help but feel for these kids. Christmas is confusing and stimulating enough what with all the strange myths and legends that surround the big day, not to mention all the contradictory information and media hype that compete for our attention during this strange holiday.

On the one hand Christmas is all about a fat white man with curly long hair and a beard who wears a red felt suit and who goes by numerous different names, Santa Clause, Kris Kringle, jolly Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas, who mysteriously jumps down off your roof and into your family's chimney in the middle of the night to give you presents; save for those children whose homes don't happen to have fireplaces or chimneys. Christmas Day is all about the enormity and excitement of that incredible early morning when you awake to find boundless and bountiful presents under a tree your parents have placed smack dab in the middle of your living room. The tree is usually never explained. Neither are the flying reindeer or the miraculous ability of this one man to know exactly what you want or how he manages to sweep through hundreds of millions of chimneys in a matter of less than a few hours. No. As long as you're a good person, as deemed by the ostensibly jolly and all seeing fat man, you'll get the goods. And for many years that's all that matters when we are children. When we don't receive everything we asked Santa for, the story begins to break down in our young minds immediately, but we do our best to build up defenses to rational thinking about this fact and try our best to keep believing.

On the other hand the adults around us seem very keen to get us to believe that Christmas is all about the birth of this little baby half way around the world who we are supposed to worship as a god. Despite his humble and meager beginnings, or perhaps because of them, we are led to believe that this odd little baby who we know next to nothing about is not only the son of a god, but is a god himself, but in human form. God of the entire universe and everything in it. He is all powerful, knows everything, and is capable of reading the minds and thoughts of everyone in the world. He is also in control of everything that happens to us throughout our entire lifetime. THAT they claim is the true meaning of Christmas. Not Santa, not presents, not Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, not Frosty the snowman and not that strange tree in the living room. Why else would our parents make us go to church every year on the evening before Christmas day and recite this odd story of the little baby's birth... He's the reason for the season. And just in case we forget that fact, we are repeatedly asked to recite the story of this child's birth and all its strange and contradictory facts and details, both in private and in public, until it appears we believe it wholeheartedly and without a shadow of doubt.

Somehow this seems to tie in to our being entitled to receive a lot of presents each year. It isn't difficult to understand how and why we as children are so eager to memorize the details of this story, nor why we so readily profess to believe it. It isn't just about presents and toys and clothes and stockings stuffed with more goodies, it's also a matter of approval. We are never asked how we feel about the story, or what we think about it. Rather we are blanketly advised that regardless of how we might feel about it that it's what we believe. Why? Because it's what our parents believe. It's what our siblings and neighbors believe. It's what the whole world believes. Or so they should.

The only problem is that as we get older, and not that much older, we begin to learn that the whole world doesn't believe this story. Nor do they believe that the little baby born in the barn is a god. In fact most people in the world don't even celebrate Christmas. They have their own holidays. With their own stories and their own gods. They too are tempted with gifts and approval if they memorize these ancient stories and profess to believe them. Perhaps they too go to churches as children and sit in circles around men and women in black robes and are made to recite god stories by candlelight in order to receive love and attention and approval and the material things they want most. Just like us.

As I watched the children finally let loose from the front of the church begin to slowly walk down the center aisle to rejoin their parents in the church pews, I recognized with sadness and dismay how small, cute and innocent these children were, how young and vulnerable, how eager they are for attention and approval. They'd profess to believing in anything as long as it meant home, security, safety, acceptance, camaraderie with others and love. What choice do they have? They're dependent on these adults in this room for their very survival, for everything from the clothes on their bodies to the food that sustains their life, from their education to the bed they sleep in each night. What else are they to believe about life and the universe except what their parents teach them? So it goes for these beautiful children in this small wooden church in the middle of nowhere USA. And so it goes for nearly every other child on planet earth, albeit with different gods and different stories. Who is to fault them?

Yet who are they? They are us when we are children. All of us, no matter where we are born or grow up. All wanting the same things out of life. Love, compassion, empathy, acceptance, safety and security, smiles of approval and gentle pats on the backs, little hugs and big hugs and someone to tuck us into bed at night and give us a few kisses. It's no wonder we claim to believe what we are told to. We continue to perpetuate the creation of these gods not because we believe them to be true, or believe it to be necessarily a good thing to do, or a right thing, or a just cause. But simply because our very survival seems to depend on it.