THE THING YOU WANT THE MOST …

He wanted to be a gospel front man. That was his greatest desire. He definitely had the voice, looks and charisma to do it. But it was not to be. Instead of Elvis Presley becoming just another in a long line of gospel lead singers, he ended up having to change the world in order to fit inside it.

I often think about how Elvis must’ve felt in those early days, banging around Memphis and Nashville, trying to get a gig and being told he was too this or not enough of that. I have heard those same things before. And I know how disheartening it can be to not feel like you fit in anywhere. It’s easy to simply give up and decide that this world wasn’t made for someone like you; that you’re thinking about things in a way that no one else will understand or relate to. I’m sure Elvis felt that way a lot in the early days. He wasn’t really country. He wasn’t really blues. He wasn’t really gospel. What WAS he?

I’ll bet a lot of people think those thoughts …you know …the ones we have as we’re drifting off to sleep. We wonder if we should even voice what we’re thinking. Will anyone else get it? Will everyone laugh at us? Will this idea be just another stupid notion that should’ve never been allowed to get into the actual air? Yeah …let’s just act like that idea didn’t happen. And then we press on into our daily routine.

But I think Elvis is an object lesson in allowing sparks to become flames; in allowing yourself to evolve quickly and dramatically. There were crucial times when Elvis could’ve allowed self analysis to paralyze his forward motion. But millions of fans are glad he didn’t.

I have a theory that the world you live in dictates what it needs from you. And the world Elvis lived in didn’t need another gospel music front man. It needed someone to kick down the door of experimentation and musical divergence. And so, by simply following the muse, Elvis became …well …Elvis.

Clement Clarke Moore was a professor of Greek literature and a highly touted intellectual. He wrote books that boggled the minds of the intelligencia of the day. But his desire to be remembered as a leading thinker would ultimately not be realized. Because of a little poem he wrote for his children, one Christmas eve, he would forever be known as the man who wrote, “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” See, at the time, the world didn’t need more books on Greek literature as much as it needed a poem to cozy up to on Christmas Eve.

Vincent Guaraldi was known as Dr Funk and was a renowned jazz pianist. His contribution to music, however, wasn’t innovative voicings or ground breaking riffs. His unique stylings, played underneath a cartoon world of children trying to make sense of holidays, would be where his genius needed to land. And it has become a part of American iconography. The Peanuts music is as much a part of our collective psyche as The Battle Hymn of the Republic or the National Anthem. And every holiday season, that music takes me home in ways nothing else can. THAT’S what the world needed from Vincent Guaraldi …and that’s okay.

Ronald Reagan wanted to be an A-list actor. But instead of going down in history as one of America’s greatest leading men, he went down in history as the man who stood in front of the Berlin wall and demanded it come down. The world needed to change …and he was the man history chose to change it.

As I approach my upcoming birthday, I think about this subject almost daily. As long as you are still alive, able to move and breathe and contribute, you have no idea where your road will take you. And if you can surrender everything you think you are and everything you wanted to be, it might take you places you’ve never dreamed of. If you can consciously let go, the winds of destiny will carry you into worlds you’ve never seen.

It will probably not feel the way you want it to feel. It will definitely not look like you thought it would look. But it might be more amazing than you thought anything could be.

Maybe all your training isn’t going to be used for the thing you thought it would. Maybe all your experiences are taking you somewhere completely foreign, where those experiences will be used in a way no one could’ve ever predicted. Maybe your personality is uniquely designed for a destination you would’ve never chosen for yourself.

Sometimes all it takes it simply releasing the thing you want the most …to get to the thing the world needs from you.

 

R

TARGET AUDIENCE …

Ever since I was a kid, traveling the country with my family, playing in churches and tents and store fronts, I knew about demographics.

I didn’t know what it was called. But it’s not hard for an 11-year-old to get the memo that older females (over, say, 75), usually keep candy in their purse. And if you say nice things to them, not only will they give you that candy, sometimes they will even slip you a dollar or two. After all, you remind them of their grandson when he was your age. You’re such a sweet, well-behaved young man.

That same technique, however, does not apply to females under the age of 5. They have no clue what’s going on in the world and if you take their candy, suddenly terms like “thief” and “bully” get thrown around.

So you learn to disregard the 5-year-olds and concentrate your efforts on those around 70 years older. It’s called target marketing. And literally EVERYBODY does it.

If you sell tractor supplies, you don’t do it in the inner city. If you sell high-end jewelry, you don’t set up shop near blue collar neighborhoods. You don’t advertise catheters or tax lawyer firms on MTV or the Disney Channel. All of this is basic common sense. Or is it?

Since the advent of the internet, people in my industry have been trying to get more and more information on who buys our product. If you’ve ever put your email on a list at a concert, or been a Nielsen ratings family, then you’ve been targeted for products. Even when you haven’t expressly given your permission to have your information used, just tuning in to a football game or a certain program on a certain night, has been information that advertisers, programers and political campaigns have all bought and sold for decades.

Trust me, they know who you are. They know where you live. And they know you want more cheese on your pizza, a closer shave and if you favor higher or lower taxes. You’re not special. You are a target audience.

Enter Facebook …

Never in the history of the world, have humans volunteered more information about themselves than now. We want to be known. We want to make noise in the world. We want to shout our truth. But it seems that when that information changes hands for a price, we want it all to stop. The fact that we post pictures of our steaks and then are freaked out to see advertisements for steaks in our newsfeed (the next day), is the mark of a society that doesn’t want to be honest with itself …about itself. Yes, they are watching you. I am watching you. You are watching me. We are all watching each other.

Yesterday, I watched some of the Mark Zuckerberg hearings on Capital Hill. But it was all too boring and frustrating. It reminded me of pro baseball/steroid hearings. It felt like a waste of my tax dollars. This little Millennial punk started a website called FACEBOOK, because it was designed to rank …wait for it …FACES. It was all a college ploy to look at and objectify girls on campus. And now the kid is under investigation for trading in the information volunteered on that site.

I can’t help thinking that at the heart of this is the ever-present elephant in the room; that the only reason any of this is being taken seriously is because of one guy …Trump. The wrong guy won the election and there are people in the world who simply cannot have that. So we hear phrases like “tampering with” and “trying to influence an election.” Well, guess what folks? If you post anything political on your wall, YOU are trying to influence the outcome of an election. Every time Bruce Springsteen sings Born To Run at an event for a candidate, he’s trying to influence an election. The fact is, we are always trying to influence elections all the time. It’s called campaigning.

Now, I know we’re talking about the Russians tampering with things and trying to affect an election and putting out false news stories, etc. I get it. Nobody wants that. I didn’t like it when Dan Rather did it and I don’t like it now. But then again, is it illegal for Russian citizens to post things on Facebook in order to “influence” an election? If I blogged about how we need to press for a leadership change in Russia, would I be guilty of a crime? Would I be “trying to influence” a Russian election? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I’m no Mark Zuckerberg fan. I don’t have time for kids half my age who have more money and power than I’ll ever even see from a distance, but I’m still not sure what he was doing on Capital Hill and I’m not sure why he looked so scared. If I were him I would’ve said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I run a social media platform. You can join for free. Nobody is forcing you to get on it. Nobody is forcing you to talk about your likes or dislikes on it. But if you think we’re going to have all that information at our fingertips and just do nothing with it, then you don’t know how business works. Oh wait …you’re in the government …you know exactly how it works …except you take the information by force and use it anyway you see fit. Never mind …have a nice day” and I would’ve gotten up and walked out.

On balance, social media is an amazing technology that brings people together from all over the world. It helps us curate our lives. It helps us find people we would’ve never found. As the father of someone with a rare genetic disorder, I can tell you it has been absolutely miraculous in its ability to help disseminate vital information to our global community. And as a creator and performer I have unprecedented access to people all over the world who might still be interested in something I have to offer …long after the standard delivery machines have lost interest in me.

I hope we don’t mess up all the good that has come from these platforms with stupid government regulations that just tie hands and make everything less sleek and less innovative.

Because getting candy from an old lady is a lot cooler than taking candy from a baby. And I think it’s okay for everyone to know that.

I didn’t watch Zuckerberg’s testimony today. But it’s okay …I’m sure I’ll read about it on Facebook.

R

EVERYBODY’S FAMOUS …

“I was born to do this,” is the most familiar phrase uttered.

If you spend any amount of time watching The Voice or American Idol, that’s the phrase you’ll hear over and over again. Coming in a close second is, “this could change my life.” Given these two phrases in such close proximity, we apparently live in a culture where nobody is born anywhere near what they were actually born to do. Fascinating.

Chasing dreams is a great thing. Everybody should spend some time in their lives doing just that. But sheer math dictates that everyone wasn’t born to be on stage and perform. We need a lot more people in the audience for the whole thing to work properly. Our current culture, however, tells everyone, everywhere that they are born to shine and succeed and stand out and be fierce and break ground and be heard. Nobody ever seems to be born to work in silence or anonymity. Those are the conditions from which we are to rise. That’s the life to get out of. Those are the bonds you have to break to get to the spectacular life you were intended to live.

In short, we’ve raised an entire generation of people who think they are supposed to be famous. But being famous isn’t what people think it is. And the desire for fame, without the desire to actually accomplish something, is rotting our cultural motivation.

The truth is there is a lot of really good talent out there in the world. My wife watches those vocal performance shows and it’s the reason I wrote a song for American Idol a decade ago (she asked me to do it). But in the sea of fully realized talent, there is precious little that is truly “special.” And what is special? Special is the thing you don’t see coming. It’s the thing that makes you stop and think …then, re-think. Special doesn’t necessarily make you say “WOW!” Special makes you say “oh …that’s what I’ve been missing.”

Was Tom Petty a good enough vocalist to win American Idol? Not even close. He would’ve never gotten a golden ticket to Hollywood. But I’d rather hear him sing Free Falling than the best vocal technician in the world. Tom Petty was born to do that. And he didn’t need a contest to tell him he was. He proved what he was born to do (and be) year after year, song after song, club after club, hook after hook, stage after stage. And what made him worth listening to is that he would’ve never allowed a TV show to tell him if he was good enough or not.

Being born to do something means having a love/hate (or, dare I say, real) relationship with it. It means having an intimate understanding of its dark side. And even after you know about the dark side …you saddle up and do it again. Because that’s what you do …for better or worse.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately. There’s one about Jerry Seinfeld that was shot in the early 2000s, right after his sit com went off the air. It follows him on his quest for new material and a return to standup comedy. We watch the iconic funny man forget his place in the new set and fumble punch lines and try wording the same joke several different ways. We also follow a young Orny Adams in his quest to become famous; to essentially replace Seinfeld in the rarified air of superstardom. While Seinfeld works methodically and meticulously in dingy club after club, Orny is glad-handing managers who can help him go places. He’s working on his “Letterman set” and climbing the ladder as hard and fast as he can.

Ultimately, Seinfeld polishes a solid hour and half into comic gold, while young Adams – clearly driven, clearly talented, clearly a workaholic – crashes and burns. The reason for the two disparate endings: Adams was trying to be famous …Seinfeld was trying to be funny. And THAT’S how you know if you were truly born to do or be something. You just be it. It’s just you. You cannot fake it.

I think a lot of us might actually be incredible salespeople, real estate agents, therapists, counselors, teachers, builders, managers, waiters, event planners, journalists or florists …trapped in the bodies of people trying to be famous for something else. But when you are truly born to do something, it will resonate with you and everyone around you. You won’t need validation. You will feel a vibration of truth in it you can’t simply get on a stage, drinking in applause. You feel it in a deeper place, somewhere beyond the noise of the moment. You’re not nervous anymore, because you know you’re in the right place. And when you’re in the right place …you can do no wrong.

We’re not all supposed to be famous. What if you become famous but you were supposed to change the world with a new teaching curriculum? What if while you were chasing a dream, you missed opening that day program for people with special needs (that was your secret desire) and all the people who were going to be changed by it forever …never were? What if while you were practicing for your American Idol audition you forgot to run for city council and fundamentally transform your home town? I wonder.

As a postscript, I watched an Orny Adams special a few weeks ago. He’s older and heavier and his hair isn’t as cool as it was 15 years ago (I feel him on all counts). He missed his “young-hot-comedian-with-his-own-show” shot. But in this special, he was more hilarious than he was as a youngster. And his act was as natural as breathing. Clearly, he dropped the facade and the pretense and took his life-beating like a man.

Only THEN …was he finally ready. And only by failing spectacularly …then turing it into something funny …did he prove what he was actually born to do.

 

R

MARCHING ORDERS …

I don’t march.

It has always felt creepy to me. That many people – that certain about something – feels like a big mistake just waiting to happen. For a march to really work there has to be a lot of group think happening. And group think tends to weed out dynamic dialogue, which is a necessary part of real problem solving. Anyway …I don’t march.

Obviously, marching in America is a sacred birthright. And I’m all for freedom and the exercising of it. Of course, there have been great moments at marches. Martin Luther King uttered words that have reverberated throughout history, “I have a dream” at one of them. Marches make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger and more important than yourself. I do like that part of it. And I’m sure marching makes you feel like you’re making a difference. Maybe you are. But then again …

A couple of decades ago, I was invited to a Promise Keepers march in DC. Several of my friends were going and some of them were getting a little miffed at me for not wanting to tag along. But it really made no sense to me. I kept asking, “can’t I keep all my promises and stay right here at home?” For people fired up about Promise Keepers, that didn’t go over too well. My own father (the minister) was taking some men from his church to the event and he offered me a spot in the van. Turning down your own dad doesn’t make you feel great. But I opted out anyway. Did I mention, I don’t march?

20 years later, several of those guys who were so fired up about being promise keepers …are now divorced. And in some of the cases it wasn’t them who broke the promises. It was their wives. I guess everybody in the family should’ve gone to the march. Maybe things would’ve turned out differently. But my guess is …probably not.

You can’t march your way to a healthy relationship. Holding a pithy sign and chanting something that rhymes doesn’t inoculate you from infidelity or sheer boredom. And, at the risk of offending some of my well-meaning brothers, standing in a circle, praying and crying and pumping your fist in the air won’t be the resource you need when you find out your wife has a borderline personality, is verbally abusing your children and having an affair with the lawn guy. When that day comes, you will need a licensed therapist and a local support group. And the march you went to will be a distant memory.

Marches are big visuals for elected officials and they often signal which way the tide is turning. But numbers alone don’t always put a march on the right side of the ledger. One of the biggest marches in American history took place in New York City, in the 1860s. It was an anti-conscription-into-the-war protest during the Civil War. And it was aimed squarely at none other than our sainted Abraham Lincoln. When it was all said and done, millions of slaves were very glad that protest didn’t take root.

When Reagan pointed nukes at eastern Europe, millions around the world took to the streets in protest. But when the tactic led to the tearing down of the Berlin wall, the tears of joy in the eyes of the liberated told a different story. I guess it all depends on which side of the Gulag you’re on.

Since Donald Trump became president, I think I’ve seen more marches than I’ve ever seen in my life. Women alone have marched like a dozen times. Maybe that number is high. But I’m losing count. All I know is a lot of women are pissed about something. And I, for one, am staying out of their way until they get it all sorted out. Anyway …

This weekend was no different. Thousands of kids from across the country took to the streets to march against gun violence. I don’t personally know, nor have I ever known, anyone in favor of gun violence, but that’s okay. Some of these kiddos were shot at or lost friends in a shooting and of course they need to exercise their rights and be heard. I totally get it.

The kids leading these marches are motivated and articulate and hell bent on changing something. And I think they probably will. For their sakes, I hope the changes they demand do what they think they will do. Because when you approach a complex problem with simple certainty, and you very publicly cut a swath of blame a mile wide; from the president to law abiding NRA members to your own “old-ass parents,” you’d better be right. Your fixes had better stop school shootings and save actual lives. You’d better not create a system that allows an unarmed woman to be raped while she was waiting on her third background check to clear all the new red tape you created. Black market sales of “banned weapons” had better not spike and flood the market with guns that cannot be traced. Because that wouldn’t be a fix …it would just be a change.

We live in a world with more information and less knowledge, more intelligence and less wisdom, more evidence and less judgement, than ever before. And I fear our marches and chants and hashtags aren’t helping us. One march and movement inevitably leads to change …that will inevitably lead to a different march and movement …that will inevitably lead to another and another and another. And maybe lost in all the yelling for change is the quiet voice of the father of one of the fallen kids, who simply suggested we secure schools at least as much as we secure banks and airports. Something that simple and achievable isn’t sexy and it doesn’t create fist-in-the-air heroes. But maybe we have enough of those already.

I have children in school. And I too fear for their safety every time they go anywhere. The death of one of my children would probably be the only thing that would get me on a street, carrying a sign. So, again …I get it. Life and death are the stakes.

But maybe we would do better to just keep promises instead of locking arms with thousands to say we will. Maybe we would do better to call out sexual predators right then – in the moment – rather than looking the other way, then protesting it later. Maybe we should make the schools safe FIRST …rather than waiting for kids to die then marching in grieved indignation afterward and cussing out our elders from a stage.

Marches make us feel good. And they do instigate change. But maybe the biggest and most important changes come quietly and without fanfare. Because sometimes, by the time we march …it’s already too late.

R

I SEE YOU …

Every generation gives its soul to something.

The 20’s flappers and zoot suiters gave theirs to jazz and industry. The greatest generation gave theirs to country and saving the world from tyranny (and thank God). The baby boomers gave theirs to rock’n’roll and experimentation. Our generation has given our collective soul to information and technology.

Anything a society pours itself into has a dark consequence. You can look at any generation’s sparkling achievements and find the down side. Every great drunken party has a headache laden hangover. It’s just Newtonian physics; the third law; actions and reactions, etc.

The amazing achievements in technology and communication platforms, over the past twenty years, have been a party. But we’re about to wake up foggy, with the room spinning.

I personally believe that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc, are marvels of the modern world and I don’t really understand people who refuse to get involved with one or more of these things. I find it a great way to connect with old friends and make new ones. As someone who makes a living in the business of media, being able to talk directly to my audience has been a game changer (although I hate that phrase) for me. Being able to press a button and broadcast to the world is something communicators like me have been waiting for, for hundreds and hundreds of years. I love the new technology. I use it. I embrace it.

But there is a cost and down side to it.

As we watch drama after drama play out with the media collection groups that use the information gathered on social media to direct market political campaigns, new questions about privacy and protection have arisen. To be fair, I haven’t been able to quite get my arms around the latest Facebook squabble involving Cambridge Analytica (whatever that is). But apparently it involves getting information from you and using it to someone’s advantage. And maybe that information was bought or sold. Maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe the information purchased wasn’t used at all. I’m still sorting it out.

What I do know is this: if social media has taught us anything it’s that we WANT to be seen, heard and known. We want the world to take note of our take. We’ve thought it through. It’s important that our thoughts be seriously considered. We also feel extremely comfortable showing the world almost everything we can legally show about the human condition. Facebook live has been host to everything from weddings to concerts to beatings …to murders. And we’ve all watched. But then, somehow we get paranoid if we think our “information” is being hijacked by someone.

Well, here’s the question: do you own Facebook? Do you have to be on Facebook to survive? Obviously, the answer to those questions is no. And yet we all seem to feel comfortable showing our lives and creating a digital footprint on a platform we don’t really know anything about.

I’m constantly amazed at how much passion, anger, vitriol and indignation is regularly spouted on these platforms. As if no one is looking. As if no one is taking notes. As if no one is putting you in column A or column B. As if you’re not giving away your prejudices. There’s a fine line between standing up for what you believe and branding yourself as a one-track thinker. Those are easy to spot, easy to bundle and easy to sell to. And social media has made it simpler than ever to market candidates and ideas to those people. Just find the right echo chamber and ….echo …echo …echoooooo.

We post. They see. They slip something we might agree with in the feed. We agree with it. We like it. We post. The cycle continues.

We all want to be known in life and leave a legacy for those who come after us. Platforms like Facebook have given us the rarest opportunity in human history to do just that. I see these platforms as a record of sorts. And I’ve asked this question before, but I believe it bears repeating: if you died today and your Facebook wall was the only way you would be remembered, would you be at peace with that?

Would you be seen as someone obsessed with politics? Or worse, obsessed with one person in politics? Would you be seen as boring or someone without a sense of humor? Would you be seen as a clown or a hack or someone who didn’t get all the facts correct? Would you be seen as honest or just trying to keep up your best facade? Were you snarky or disengaged or too quick to judge or too slow to condemn? Would you want your children to read your posts? What would they learn about you? How about if someone in the future comes across your posts frozen as they are today? Would they find you worthy of further study?

All of these questions get asked and answered a million different ways, every day. And as we see more of each other’s thoughts, the more we recognize how imperfect we all are. And how far we all have to go as humans. I know I certainly do.

A lot of people are going to delete Facebook because they’re paranoid about their personal information being stolen or sold or collected or aggregated or used to get someone elected. But I believe the Genie is out of the bottle and we finally all see each other …really see each other. We can put up our best, most photoshopped picture as our profile. And we can keep up appearances. But our souls are coming through in ones and zeros. The words and posts and comments and likes and hearts and smiley faces …well, that’s who we are.

We can shut down our Facebook accounts. But we cannot run from ourselves.

R

SAVE FERRIS …

I thought it would’ve been over by now.

During most of my middle and high school years, I can’t remember the things I learned in the books (I carried to and from the institution), as much as the things I learned through interaction with the other human beings in the institution. Being laughed at or embarrassed or ridiculed or ostracized or even beaten up were the daily stressors of life in public school, in America. I thought that by the time we were well into the twenty-first century (the new age of reason and knowledge), those things would’ve been a relic from another, more barbaric time.

But, as they say, the more things change …

Today millions of kids across the country walked out of school to protest people showing up at those schools to kill them. And I, for one, can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to be a high-schooler these days. I worried about my shirt not being cool enough. These kids worry about getting their heads blown off. So I empathize with them trying something …anything …that would (at least, in their minds) keep them safe.

But I always go back to how and why “shooters” become shooters. I’ve never read or even heard about any psychological disorders that spark someone to kill people ONLY because they have access to a certain weapon. I’ve just never heard of any scenario where someone says, “man, I wasn’t planning on killing anyone. I don’t really want to kill anyone. But look at how cool this weapon is! I mean, come on! It’s just begging me to go kill a bunch of people! You can’t hold a rifle like this and NOT kill someone. I’m doing it!”

I would venture to say that has never happened …ever …in the history of anything. So, what is it that causes someone to want to kill his peers in a classroom?

That debate is all over the map. Obviously, mental illness is the number one thing we always cite. And I think it’s a good one. The psycotropic drugs prescribed to combat those illnesses are starting to be in the crosshairs as well. And I personally believe they will end up, when it’s all said and done, carrying more liability that we now know. When the voice over on your own TV commercial says, “may cause disturbing or SUICIDAL thoughts,” it seems like a plausible thing to look into. But you know us Americans …we just hear those words, while getting more cheese dip, and refocus on the important thing …getting back to the game. But I digress …

The other thing that always seems to come up, in these discussions, is the bullying that all the shooters supposedly endured. And I always wonder to myself, “which one of these kids did that? And why don’t we have a talk with them?”

No one ever finds the actual bullies. Ever. There hasn’t been one 20/20 or 48 Hours report on who bullied any shooter anywhere. We know all the shooters were Marty McFlys. But we never find the Bifs. Who and where are the Bifs? And how do we stop them?

As I watch my own son get bullied in school, then I watch his response to it, I contend we are now living in a world of Bifs. My son definitely gets bullied. But I’ll bet there are kids in his school who think HE is the bully. Because nobody stakes any crap anymore. We live in a world of “standing up for yourself at all costs” and “not backing down.” Couple that with everyone being famous and special and a star child and a light and you have an ecosystem of victims who are simultaneous perpetrators. Everyone is getting bullied AND bullying …all at the same time.

I watched this kid David Hogg on Real Time with Bill Maher. He was getting applause and gloating about hanging up on the White House, after he was contacted …personally ….BY the White House. In his next sentence he said something to the effect of “we’re going to force our leaders to listen!” …or something like that. My thought was, “young man, you had a representative of the leader of the free world  on your personal phone …and you hung up on them. Do you really want your leaders to listen or do you just want a cool segment on a TV show?” And there in lies the problem …

We have bought into the idea that bullying is ok as long as our cause is just. We must bully before other other guy does. It’s just survival. This happens all the time on social media. We have to win the argument …or, you know …the other guy might win. And he’s wrong! And that means he’s an idiot. And that means everybody like him (or her) is an idiot. So, in the desire to set the record straight, do we actually become bullies? I contend that maybe we do.

Maybe we should all aspire to be a little more like Ferris Bueller. The iconic 80’s, teen movie has been in rotation on one of the networks lately, and my 15-year-old daughter has become enamored with it. As I sit with her and fondly remember the days when I had almost zero percent body fat, I watch that kid manipulate the power structure and snicker all over again.

Of course these days he would be considered the poster child for white privilege. And if his character were written for the screen now, he would be some anti-hero who recognizes the racist, mysoginistic power structure that props up his pasty, protected neighborhood. And he wouldn’t take so much of a day off as he would take a day to go the projects and “get woke.” Today’s Ferris would wreck the classic car on purpose, to make a statement  …as opposed to it being a simple accident born out of the desire to just have a little fun.

Today’s Ferris would probably be snarky on Twitter and mean spirited in his own reality show. Today’s Ferris wouldn’t sing Shake It Up Baby at the parade, to get everybody dancing. He’d sing Imagine …and force us all to contemplate our belief systems.

I like 80s Ferris; adored by sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies and dick heads. In order to pull that off you have to sit with some unpopular kids at lunch and actually ask them abut themselves. Maybe one of those kids is contemplating a school shooting. Maybe being a little more Ferris Bueller-like, and simply treating him like a human being, could stop it.

I don’t know if that Ferris still exists. But if he does …he’s worth saving.

 

R

THE LOVE AND THE NEED …

Apparently I freaked a bunch of people out last week, when I announced that I didn’t enjoy songwriting as much as I used to. I’ve been getting private messages and phone calls from friends all over the country, who are hearing from friends of friends that I’ve made some weird announcement of retirement. And they seem to be concerned.

Even my own publisher was taken aback by this news. I get it. Who wants to be in business with someone who doesn’t enjoy their work?

It’s funny how people think making art is supposed to be some kind of love affair. They think you fall in love with the process and simply cannot get enough of it. They think you just want to remain a child and not have to get a real job. And that’s why you become a professional. It makes sense. But it’s not completely true. People who continue to make art when everything in the world is telling them to stop, are doing it because they have to …not because they want to. If making art is simply your ambition, it’s not enough. The world has enough ambitious artists already. And they all pretty much suck. We can program computers to do what someone with ambition can do. We can emulate the eager, who think they are the next …insert top music star here.

I never did this because I had ambition. I used the guise of ambition as a shield to help me absorb all the punishment of the business (of which there has been plenty). And I used all the craft I had learned as a tool to earn income while I played in my own sandbox. But the ambition was never my driving force. Not when you look closely. After years of self-analysis and therapy and learning, I now know the truth.

I made art and wrote and sang and played because I’ve needed to heal a wound somewhere. I don’t even know where it is or how it was formed. But I can’t soothe it any other way than with music. If I could find healing without it I would run to wherever that place is and never look back. I do not always love making music. I certainly do not love the music business. I find that part silly and based on nothing. No. The truth is I need to make music. And I wish almost every day of my life that I didn’t.

I wish that I didn’t because the profession of it requires expertise and drive and knowledge and practice and the honing of a craft and …yes …a competitive streak. And the “measuring up” part of my chosen profession is the part I hate the most. It’s why I don’t like award shows. Who’s to say what the best anything is when it comes to art? Would Beethoven’s 5th symphony have won a Grammy the year it came out? It has won dozens since we decided as a culture that we love it. But would it have had the same value in a category with four other symphonies at the time? I always rack my brain thinking about things like this.

We’ve put our western pop art into bite sized pieces, easy to digest right off the radio. We are children of that type of consumption. I am no different.

But deep down, I don’t really care about charts and sales. Not really. I used to pretend like I did because it’s part of the job and because it feeds my family. And they suffer because I’m not as good at that part of it as I need to be. But that part of the work I do doesn’t really feel anything like the work I do. I don’t always know or care about what’s cool or hip or “now.” I only pay attention to that stuff because it’s part of the charade I have to keep up in order to get my medicine another day. The medicine is always guarded by people who don’t seem to need it as badly as I do. And that is the biggest problem of all.

I won’t ever stop writing songs. Not because I want someone to sing them and then get paid for that transaction. If that happens, that’s a wonderful way to make a living. But it’s not why I write songs. I will always write songs because I’m not yet healed. I will always write songs because I haven’t found it yet. I will always write songs because I need them. And if you understand that then you understand art.

That need drove me to become good enough at something to make a profession out of it. And I guess what I have grown weary of is the profession driving the creation instead of the other way around. You get so caught up in deals and royalty streams (that are drying up by the minute) and strategic creating that you forget to tend to the wound. And that’s what lead me to the question …

Do I love what I do? Absolutely not …at the moment. I didn’t love writing Time Of My Life. It was gut wrenching and tear filled. Writing I Surrender All was an arduous jigsaw puzzle we thought we’d never figure out. I still can’t sing those verses. I get exhausted thinking about the process of writing them. But I’m not sure if me having a wonderful, magical time is even the point.

They say Michelangelo hated painting the Sistine Chapel. Mozart rolled his eyes at having to write the Magic Flute. Legend has it that Patsy Cline had to be nearly forced to record I Fall To Pieces. Elton John (I have this on good authority) absolutely loathes having to sing Your Song night after night …after night.

I’m not comparing myself to any of these luminaries. But I understand the longing that transcends a puppy love for your vocation.

Loving what you do is essential to the beginning of your relationship with it. But it’s complicated. And you reach a place where loving it isn’t the point anymore. Needing it is the point. And even though there’s so much about what I do that I cannot stand anymore. In my heart …I still need it.

 

 

R

BY THE PEOPLE …

“I can’t breathe …I can’t breathe!”

Those were the last words of Eric Garner. The reason Eric Garner couldn’t breathe is because he had several NYPD officers on top of him, making an arrest. Why? Because he was standing on a corner, selling loose cigarettes.

The race vs cop component of that case was all anyone wanted to talk about. And I’m not here to try and/or convict anyone on any side of that incident. But when you vote for a person or take a political position on something, you always have to think about what’s at the very end of that argument. Who is going to enforce the law you want passed? How are they going to enforce it? What lengths will they have to go to to see it enforced? And is it worth enforcing in the first place? In Mr Garner’s case, he lost his life over a law that might have been better …not being.

Personally, I would like to see law making become a part-time summer job as opposed to the lucrative, multi-term career it has become. As a life-long Libertarian, the phrase that will make me run from you (the candidate) quicker than anything else is “we need to get something done!” Well maybe you don’t, actually. Maybe the best thing you can do is …nothing. Let me explain …

Somehow, our nation has decided to turn law makers into quasi royalty and law enforcers into underpaid storm troopers, having to walk into everything from the abandonment of children to the possession of meth. We ask our law enforcers to handle more and more things every year, without a thought for the stress it might place on them or the toll it might take. We just keep loading the wagon …never minding the horsepower it will require. We need those loose cigarettes regulated, damnit! Get the cops over here right now!

And so we pay our duly elected officials six figures a year to make more and more laws. They make all kinds of laws. They make laws that cancel other laws out. They make laws they don’t understand. They make laws no one else understands. All year round, they sit in chambers and come up with new laws to pass and enact. And this is their full time job. While our nation’s congress does that at a federal level, all fifty states have law makers doing the same thing at the state level. Then local governments are making and passing local ordinances as well.

It has been suggested that if you investigate the average American long enough, you will be able to imprison them for multiple infractions. Because none of us knows everything there is to know about every law on the books. And we’re all probably breaking several a day without even knowing it. We’ve created a beast out of elected representation that must continually be fed. And what it must feast on is legislation. All the while we’re only providing job security to ONE set of professionals …lawyers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love representative government. And I believe most of our law makers are doing the best they can to represent their districts. And I love the fact that anyone from anywhere can apply for this job. This is truly government OF the people. No one is born into a law making class. And I like that. And I like the fact that they have to report back to their constituency and explain themselves on their votes and positions. This is government FOR the people. But we often forget the BY the people part. And that is where enforcement comes in.

In the recent Florida shooting, there appears to be a lot of evidence that shows some breakdown in how law enforcement at a local and federal level missed this shooter. The same thing happened in the Texas church shooting. That guy was supposedly flagged by the United States Air Force, and wasn’t supposed to be allowed to purchase a firearm. In the Orlando shooting, that shooter was also on an FBI watch list. Something obviously fell through the cracks in all of these cases.

The laws we pass are only as good as our ability and willingness to enforce them. So maybe the next time you feel inclined to support a law that declares the use of the word “french fries” be changed to “freedom fries” take a minute and think about it. Maybe the next time your representative wants to make something frivolous illegal, pause and write them to stop the nonsense. Criminalizing something requires enforcement. And enforcement puts people into the justice system.

Haven’t we grown weary of watching a nation of alcoholics send young men to jail for possessing a plant? Aren’t we tired of arresting people who sell loose cigarettes? Can’t we finally admit that there’s only a drug war because we keep participating in it? And at the risk of losing some of you, do we really want to start filling prisons with women who get abortions?

Just because you think something is bad, should it be illegal? Should we place whatever that practice is on the shoulders of police officers to process?

There are about to be more gun control laws on the books. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not. All I know is none of those laws will matter one bit if you can’t enforce them properly. When 38 states don’t report their background check findings, what good are the background checks? When cops have no place to put mentally unstable people, why go to the house to take the complaint? If the US Air Force or the FBI are just going to lose reports in a data base somewhere, why create it in the first place?

Maybe it’s time to simplify laws and get rid of the small stuff so we can get the big stuff right.

Maybe it’s time to stop storming Washington DC for more laws and start talking to the actual enforcers of those laws about how we can help them do their job better.

And maybe we the people can try to find solutions that don’t require government, before we ask someone to go put their life on the line …just so we don’t have to deal with it.

R

BABY PICTURES …

Humans are the only living things on earth who know they’re going to die.

We’re aware of our ultimate demise. And that makes all the difference in how we live.

Most mammals spend their entire existence looking for food and water, getting out of the weather, mating and avoiding getting eaten. They really don’t know why they’re avoiding it, it’s just their instinct to keep living. I think that’s what makes life sacred. Every living thing has a hard-wired instinct to keep doing it. Anyway …

We’re the only earthlings who search for more than food and water and shelter and safety. We search for all those things too …but then we search for meaning and fulfillment and happiness. We question where we are, how we got here and (most importantly) why we got here. We seek knowledge and wisdom and truth. And these quests drive us through our lives.

The search for existential answers leads us to love and hate and politics and religion and marriage and divorce and alcohol and drugs and fame and fortune and Jesus and Buddha and Mohammad and Allah and everything in between. And I often wonder if even the most spiritual or smartest or most talented or most at peace among us find all the answers before they take their last breath.

Billy Graham died today. Maybe he did. But for the rest of us …

I’ve been working through my own existence and age for a few years, now. Every year (for about the last 5 years) I’ve tried to do something that scares me or challenges my assumptions or stretches my boundaries. This has all been by design. I have to admit …I’ve been trying figure myself out. What am I? Why am I? How and why did I decide this was what I was supposed to be? I’m not sure I’ve really known for some time, now.

On Face Book I decided to use a baby picture as my profile picture this year. There are so many things about my life that are coming to a crescendo or coming to a close or opening to a new beginning. And I thought a baby picture was in order to remind me of a few things …

Since I was 19, I’ve started every new year (on January 1st) by opening a notebook or going to my grease board or logging in to a computer file, and doing and assessment of unfinished songs, ideas, titles, etc. It’s just a muscle memory thing most professionals do, and I find it a nice way to start the year. This year, I went to my grease board and realized that I had no back log of songs or even ideas. I had no melodies burning me up. No hooks I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into. No “thing” I wanted to sing. The grease board was finally …solid white.

I said to myself, “this either means It’s time to start all over …or it’s time to quit.”

Songwriting has been a difficult road for me the past few years. They always tell you to be your truest self in your work and that will lead to your greatest success. I have always found it to be just the opposite. The more I have veered into my own way of writing and communicating, the less interest I have seen commercially. All my hit songs (including the big one) were written with something commercial in mind. The “being my truest self” has always been a hard sell. I’m reaching the point of having to maybe admit that I need to be more of a hobbiest than a professional.

My friend Chance Scoggins had a great quote about chasing his dream. He said, “at some point I realized that I was chained to a dream a teenager had. Not a grown man.”

So I’ve been asking little baby boy me, who made all the decisions I am currently living with today, if it’s okay for me to move on and grow up, finally. He just gives me that cold stare. But I think I’m making some progress. I think I’ve seen him crack a smile once or twice.

I have some time left on my current publishing contract. And I owe my publisher ONE more song. So, tonight I’m going to write that song on Face Book live. This feels like the ultimate throwing back of the curtain. This thing I’ve kept so close and held so tightly as my “craft” I’m going to just share with everyone …stupid, first throwaway lines and all.

I don’t really know what people are going to do for a living not too long from now. Technology has overtaken so many of the things we used to have need of. It’s playing out in the arts in a major way. If you had wanted to ask Al Pacino to teach an acting class for beginners, right after he’d filmed the Godfather, you wouldn’t have gotten past his agent. But now he’s teaching one online …for $99 bucks. Why? Because people don’t go see him (or anyone) in the movies anymore. The only movies we go see in the theater anymore are comic book/special-effect slathered car/plane/spaceship-chase movies. For a great (aging) actor, you are either playing the aging villain in one of those movies or you’re deconstructing your own world in some Netflix documentary-style gonzo re-creation of something.

Everything is currently being demystified. We’ve seen Al act …now we want him to show US how to act, Al. Because we can do it too. We just know we can.

And so, those of us who once upon-a-time made a living by concealing some form of magic and holding it hostage for money, are now showing the audience where the trap doors are. Because that has become more interesting than the show. That’s fine by me. It just means that the trap doors are no longer valuable.

Those trap doors led to me living a book-worthy story, that led me to writing this blog every week. For those of you who are faithful readers, I want to let you know that some changes are coming. I spend so much time working on this expression. And I truly love doing it. I feel like it’s almost a calling of sorts.

I’ve avoided earning a penny from this for the past 12 years. I’ve always wanted to remain free to punch in any direction without worrying about where it lands, be it subscribers or advertisers. But I am at a point of decision as to how to proceed.

I have a few options: I can scale back my time and maybe blog once a month. I can open the site up for “tippers” and rely on direct support from the audience. Or I can go after advertising dollars. I’m leaning toward the latter, but it would require a few thousand more direct subscribers. I’m pretty sure we can reach that goal. But it might mean I have to go all Gary Vanderchuck on you and inundate you with stuff you don’t really want or care about. Either direction I choose will require me getting out of my comfort zone a little and changing a little bit of who I am naturally. For someone whop believes in authenticity above all …it’s a concerning proposition.

In the coming weeks and months if you see changes associated with this blog (or my life in general), bear with me. I’m trying to let that baby grow up and make some decisions as a grown man.

I’m hoping he can do it. He’s been so young for so long.

 

R

PS – Follow me on Face book tonight to watch “the last song” get written.

WHY I CAN’T BE WRONG …

Sometimes, the most dangerous person on earth is …an expert.

Experts sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic and assured us there would never be another world war …RIGHT before World War II. Experts insisted the helicopter would never fly and that Donald Trump could never, under any circumstances, become president of the United States.

If you look a little further back, you can read where experts knew, beyond all doubt, that the world was flat. They also knew that bleeding someone was a pretty good way of curing a disease. You know …get the bad blood out. Experts did that.

I’m always more inclined to believe an expert who says, “this is what we believe with the current information we have …but we could be wrong,” than I am to believe someone who says, “This is settled. Period. No arguments!” History is simply too replete with examples of something “settled” getting turned on its head, for me to not leave at least a little room for questioning it.

The surest sign of a small mind is absolute certainty. As a story teller, I know that absolute certainty is a device used to create a twist. Everybody knows this. Just when all the teenagers are sure they’re safe in the shed …the monster is standing right behind them. Right after the lawyer makes his rock solid case and knows he has won the argument, the one piece of evidence he was sure would get his client off …is the one that puts him away. He missed a vital detail. And his absolute certainty created hubris …which created neglect …which was his undoing.

This concept is ubiquitous in our culture, yet we fall for it time and time again.

In current society, everyone has become an expert on everything. Those little devices we hold in our hands, that have given us access to all the known information on the planet, have taken all us regular folk to the intellectual high ground. Add to that political and religious echo chambers online, that allow us to bask and bake in our already held beliefs, and you have a culture of intractable know-it-alls. See, there’s a link to an article that totally reinforces what I believe. And here’s another one …and even another one. I MUST be correct in my assumption. A guy on youtube says so.

Since I’ve been shotgunning my opinions online (almost 12 years now) some people even look to me as some source of foundational truth and/or fact. I’ve always been very up front about being neither of those things. Heck, most of the time I’m not even sure if my grammar is correct …much less my opinion. But people need to be validated. Deep down we don’t really know if we know what we know. So, if someone says something we’ve always thought, then there must be some truth in it. And that is very comforting. I get it.

There are some places where being right is a must. Being wrong as a surgeon can mean life or death. Getting a public policy wrong can mean millions of people get poisoned water or tainted meat. In religion, your eternal soul is in the balance. So getting that wrong could be the difference in lounging on clouds while angels feed you grapes and being burned alive while worms crawl in and out of your nose …for all eternity. There’s little margin for error with those two options on the table.

Personally, I believe we get a little more leeway than that. But who knows …I could be completely wrong.

When we take a side on an issue these days, we are putting ourselves on a team. And one of the reasons our culture is so polarized is because there’s no grace from our team or the other team for being wrong. If you break ranks and admit that maybe a couple of more gun purchasing protections might not be a bad thing, your side disowns you. But worse than that, the other side won’t praise your newly evolved opinion. They will simply berate you for not getting to their truth quickly enough. You stupid jackass! I’ve been saying this for years! You JUST NOW realized this?!?!?! YOU’RE the reason those kids in Florida are dead!

It works the other way as well. If you swim against the stream and admit that cutting taxes might actually be a good thing, you won’t be welcomed with open arms by those who’ve preached it for years. You’ll be seen as lifelong opposition that has cost people millions of unnecessary dollars. YOU are why families lost farms. YOU are why my brother-in-law couldn’t get his business off the ground.

And so we remain in circular indignation. And we must be right …or we are the cause of some damage, somewhere. And there’s no forgiveness for that. Humans can’t process with that kind of guilt.

Three of the most liberating words in the lexicon are: I. Don’t. Know. It’s okay to say that …at least I think it is. I would love to see those words used a little more. It might help us talk to each other instead of yelling at each other.

It has been said that the opposite of faith is certainty. I like that and I think it’s true. At least for me it is. When I surrendered to the idea that all my political beliefs might not be the best beliefs, I understood them more clearly. When I came face to face with the harsh reality that I didn’t really know how to be a parent, I became a better one. And once I allowed for the possibility that there might not be a God, I found more faith in him. Because once you surrender your certainty, you have to rely on faith. And that faith becomes more personal than corporate. Instead of, “this is absolutely right. And if you don’t believe it YOU’RE wrong,” you have to say, “I might be wrong about all of this …but I believe.”

That liberation allows you to not have to win every argument or settle every issue. And it produces in you more grace and mercy for others who aren’t exactly where you are. And we all need that. I know I sure do.

Believing, while allowing for someone else’s doubt, is disarming. I tell my son all the time, “Buddy …I think it’s this …but you might prove me wrong.” I can’t tell you how many times he has come back to me and said, “Dad, you were actually right about that. I looked it up.” It gives him a sense of accomplishment without having been berated for his ignorance. The little secret is …I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind anyway. He had to get there on his own. And I’d rather allow him to do that than be the guy who always has to be right about everything. Nobody likes that guy.

The Russians meddled in our election because they knew they could. They knew that people on one side wanted to believe a certain thing. And people on the other side wanted to believe the opposite thing. And in that scenario all you have to do is photoshop some out-of-context pictures with some factual inaccuracies …and people will fight tooth and nail to make the propaganda true.

Maybe it’s time to ease off each other a bit. Maybe the people who disagree with you aren’t “idiots” or “insane” or (dare I say) “deplorable.” Maybe they’re just people who live in a world where they know they have to be right …or else.

Then again …I could be wrong.

But if you think that …you’re crazy.

R