Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Road trip by the numbers

1,943: Road miles.

167: Incidental miles- gigs, fuel stops, local errands, detours.

5: Number of days away from home.

1: Packages of Mother's brand iced oatmeal cookies consumed on the road.

2: Accidents witnessed along the road (One was really horrible- a pedestrian/hitchhiker on the Navajo Reservation got clipped)

2: Imposing geological features that made for a lot of extra miles (The Rocky Mountains and The Grand Canyon)

*,***:  How much money I made.  (not sharing that, but it WAS a profitable trip)

8, maybe 9: Times I listened to Kraftwerk's "Expo 2000" I contend that is about the best sonically recorded song ever and it's full of rich textures juxtaposed against each other and the vocals/robot voices just float right in the center above it all.  I was born deaf in one ear so I don't hear stereo.  I can detect where sound is coming from with good surround sound but the psychological phenomenon that happens in the center of your brain when things are balanced, because of monaural disparity, I don't get that.  I can hear/feel the vocals right in the center of my head with this one.  Not the greatest song ever, just very well recorded and perfectly mixed.

5: Hotel beds I slept in.

1: Good hotel beds that I slept in.  Thanks Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs- very comfortable.

1: Number of times I listened to The Police "Message in a Box" boxed set.  Everything The Police ever released commercially.  B-sides, alternate takes, live versions.  To hear them go from punk to rock/reggae to producing a half dozen of the best songs of the rock catalogue including the singular best guitar riff in the rock catalogue- "Message in a Bottle."  They did it in 5 albums in just over 5 years. Stewart Copeland, of course, is a member of the holy trinity of drummers with Neal Peart and Todd Sucherman.

471: Fuel cost in dollars.

24: The date that I felt a little tickle in my throat and thought that I might be catching a cold.

27: The date that I had an important DJ job and I really needed my voice.

8: Number of Zinc tablets in an effort to not get sick.

20: Number of Vitamin C tablets in an effort to not get sick.  I heard it's difficult to overdose on Vitamin C and that your body will just flush out any excess that it can't absorb.  I took about 1 1/2 times the recommended dose.

3: Cups of honey/lemon tea to try to loosen up my sore throat so I could speak at the Colorado Springs gig.

1000: Number of razor blades it felt like I was speaking out at the Colorado Springs gig.  I could taste the blood in the back of my throat by the time the event was over.  

30: Date that I'm feeling better and my voice is back. 

11,158: Highest elevation travelled.  Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 west of Denver CO.

3: Number of instances of traveling above 10,000 ft.

2200: Runners at Pikes Peak International Raceway for the 5k footrace I was playing for.

72: Percentage of those runners who were women.

1200: Number of race spectators and vendors.

I-17, I-40, AZ89, US160, I-25, CO6, I-70, US6, I-15, UT20, AZ98: Highway numbers.

2: DJ jobs.

2: New tires.

6: Times I wondered why I have this or that horrible song on the iPod when listening in shuffle mode.

20: Times I remembered/rediscovered a song on shuffle and said, "I should play that one more often." or, "I should learn that one on the piano."

*: How do you put a number on my gratitude to God for the beauty of this land or the times I felt such things?

2: New jobs booked while on the road.

1: Number of minutes it took to think that I might like to live in Vail Colorado.

1: Number of additional minutes it took to change my mind when I considered the 87 feet of snow and the bizillion drinking and partying skiers that descend in the winter.

2: Number of new wiper blades.

80: Favorite speed limit in central and southern Utah.

83: Sweet spot MPH.  When the van is loaded with DJ equipment, it has a sweet spot for speed.  The engine falls almost silent, any ambient vibrations in the body stop and the van cuts through the air nicely and quietly.  It's not a performance vehicle- it's a work van, but it's really cool when it works just right.

4: The number of states that converge at Four Corners. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah.  I hear there are no other states, provinces, nations, territories or commonwealths anywhere else in the world that converge like that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Class of 1983

It has fallen to me to work up a play list for background music for cocktails, dinner and then after dinner chat for my Winslow, Arizona, Class of 1983 Thirty-year Reunion.  I'm a professional DJ, how hard can it be?  Well, my first pass was 9 hours of music and we have only 3 hours- that's about 45 songs and I had chosen 130.  After I looked at what I had put in, some got taken back out because of what I learned on Sesame Street as a child- the thing where you try to figure out which of these things doesn't belong in a group of similar things.  Several songs just didn't fit the bigger, overall 'flavor' after the list was completed.  There was still 8 hours of music. 

It was interesting to hear a block of music from a time period. We were in high school from 1980 to 1983 and I chose from our junior high years, 1977ish through early college years, 1985 or so.   There were country artists, R&B artists, what is now "Classic" rock and what was "New Wave" at the time and some straight pop music that crossed genres.  The Cars were one of those bands that your rock friends could listen to and say- "See, I'm listening to some New Wave too"  Your New Wave friends could listen to them and say, "See, I'm listening to Rock too"  Strangely, the country artists were the ones that didn't stand the test of time very well.  They sounded more dated than some of the others.  Eddie Rabbit, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams and others sounded like lightweights.  Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" from 1976 sounds as fresh as ever, I'd say it's still ahead of its time.  I chose Styx's "Best of Times from 1981.  Styx blessed our lives for the most part with the exception of a major misstep with 1983's "Mr.Roboto".   Best of Times sounds fresh while Mr. Roboto sounds very dated.  Gary Numan's "Cars" was included and it's a shame that that song was his one hit in America as it is not very representative of his wider body of music.  It came off as a bit of a novelty.  James Taylor and Neil Diamond had a couple of big hit songs in our high school years but with some hindsight, they seem like artists before our time so they got the ax.

I began my DJ career back when live bands still played most school and church dances.  If somebody stuck their head in the door and saw a DJ they would turn up their nose and go find something else to do.  It was starting to switch to DJs and I have always tried to take all of the good things that a band brings to the table- showmanship, stage presence etc and add all of the good things that a live DJ brings- repertoire, volume control etc.   I tell you that so I can say that my Class of '83 play list included Doobie Brother's "China Grove" even though that was before our time but every band who ever played, played that song because of it's classic guitar riff. 

I included The Eagles' "Take it Easy" because... one should!  Christopher Cross's "Sailing" was included even though it kinda proved to be a one hit wonder.  He won best new artist Grammy that year and then mostly disappeard other than a couple of other singles that charted only on the strength of 'Sailing' as opposed to their own merit.  Sailing still took me right back to Winslow where I first heard it. 

There are several songs that are not danceable. I had to think back to those high school dances and what was played.  I DJd many of those dances... hmmm... what did I play?  I'm a Styx fan and I contend that "Come Sail Away" is one of the great songs of the rock catalogue, but it's not danceable but that's not why it wasn't included- I threw it over the edge in favor of "Best of Times" for this setting since it's background music. I included other songs that I don't have occasion to play as a DJ very often.  Journey was huge while we were in high school- I chose "Separate Ways" instead of the obvious "Don't Stop Believing"  That song is the biggest downloaded song in digital music history.  It's almost always in ITunes top 100.  It's been played and played and it will probably be on the classic rock radio as my classmates road trip to Winslow for the reunion from points unknown.  It has taken on a new meaning and significance than perhaps we REALLY remember it had at the time- even for the two generations that have been born since it was 'ours' in 1981.  I think that "Separate Ways" will take our minds back to that time and place better than "Don't Stop Believing" would in this setting.  I included AC/DC's "Back in Black" instead of "You Shook me" for similar reasons.

For good measure, I threw in a few TV theme songs to spice it up.  Dukes of Hazzard, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Three's Company etc. 

There's still 7 hours of music here.  What did I miss?  What are the songs you want me to throw the hell off of this list?  What are the songs that remind you of your first kiss?  Your first beer?  Remind you of your friends from Winslow? 

Here it is:

ELO- Don't bring me down, AC/DC- Back in Black, Adam Ant- Goody Two Shoes, Bryan Adams- Run to you, Alabama- Mountain Music, Andrea True Connection- More, More, More, April Wine- Just between you and me, Asia- Heat of the Moment, BT Express- Do it, Bad Company- Rock and Roll Fantasy, Toni Basil- Mickey, Bee Gees- Tragedy, Pat Benatar- Hit me with your Best Shot, Big Country- In a Big Country, Blondie- Heart of Glass, Boston- More than a Feeling, David Bowie- Let's Dance, Brick- Dazz, Buggles- Video Killed the Radio Star, Cars- Let's Go, Cheap Trick- I Want you to Want me, Chicago- Hard to Say I'm Sorry, Clash- Rock the Casbah, Christopher Cross- Sailing, Culture Club- Do you Really Want to Hurt me?, Charlie Daniels- Devil Went Down to Georgia, Def Leppard- Photograph, Depeche Mode- Just Can't Get Enough, Devo- Whip it, Dexy's Midnight Runners- Come on Eileen, Thomas Dolby- She Blinded me with Science, Doobie Brothers- China Grove, Duran Duran- Hungry like the Wolf, Eagles- Take it Easy, Earth, Wind & Fire- September, Sheena Easton- Morning Train, Yvonne Elliman- If I Can't Have You, Emotions- Best of my Love, Eurythmics- Sweet Dreams, Falco- Der Kommisar, Fleetwood Mac, Go Your Own Way, Flock of Seagulls- I Ran, Foreigner- Hot Blooded, Gloria Gaynor- I Will Survive, J. Giels Band- Centerfold, Go-gos- We Got the Beat, Hall and Oates- You Make my Dreams, Patrick Hernandez- Born to be Alive, Billy Idol- Dancing with Myself, Rick James- Give it to me, Jefferson Starship- Find your way Back, Joan Jett- I love Rock and Roll, Billy Joel- You may be Right, Journey- Separate Ways, Kajagoogoo- Too Shy, Katrina and the Waves- Walking on Sunshine, KC and the Sunshine Band- Keep it Coming Love, Kiss- I Was Made for Loving you, Kool and the Gang- Get Down on it, Kraftwerk- Pocket Calculator, Cyndi Lauper- Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Huey Lewis and the News- Do you Believe in Love?, Loverboy- Turn me Loose, M- Pop Music, Madonna- Borderline, John Cougar Mellencamp- Jack and Diane, Men at Work- Who Can it be Now?, Men Without Hats- Safety Dance, Steve Miller- Rock'n Me, Motels- Only the Lonely, Nena- 99 Luftballoons, Olivia Newton-John- Physical, Gary Numan- Cars, Ozzy Osbourne- Crazy Train, Pink Floyd- Another Brick in the Wall, Pointer Sisters- Fire, Police- De do do do, De da da da, Pretenders- Brass in Pocket, Queen- Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Eddie Rabbitt- I Love a Rainy Night, REO Speedwagon- Keep on Loving you, Lionel Richie- All Night Long, Kenny Rogers- Coward of the County, Rollin Stones- Start me up, Rush- Tom Sawyer, Saga- On the Loose, Leo Sayer- More than I Can Say, Frankie Smith- Double Dutch Bus, Sparks- Angst in my Pants, Split Enz- I got you, Billy Squier- The Stroke, Stephen Bishop- On and on, Rod Stewart- Do you Think I'm Sexy?, Stray Cats- Rock This Town, Styx- Best of Times, Sugarhill Gang- Rapper's Delight, Donna Summer- I Feel Love, Survivor- Eye of the Tiger, Thin Lizzy- Boys are Back in Town, Toto- Hold the Line, U2- New Year's Day, Van Halen- Dance the Night Away, Zapp- More Bounce to the Ounce, 38 Special- Caught up in you. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Beauty and Value of Fear

Last week, I had a great pleasure of providing sound reinforcing and music for a giant vow renewal ceremony on Valentines Day in Fountain Hills AZ with Larry James pronouncing the service. This event had the potential to attract 3 or 4 thousand people as they were attempting to break a record for a vow renewal ceremony at 1088.  (1087 couples in Miami FL in 2009)

Most of the events that I do are for around 400 people or less. When you have more than that, you need to have a larger sound system and really be moving some air to be heard. I can expand my sound system to accommodate about 1200-1400 people for music and dancing or maybe even 2000 if it is a speaking event where you can count on the crowd being fairly quiet as opposed to dancing and shouting like they would if music were playing.  I was a bit concerned after I committed to doing the vow renewal ceremony whether I had enough sound hardware to make it the lovely event that I hoped it would be if they really did attract 4000 people.  They ultimately had about 2000 people, 762 couples renewing plus family and friends attending. I think it was certainly a record for Arizona, if not the entire Western U.S. 
When I arrived, I was directed to set up my workstation on one side of the stage so as not to block the view of the fountain from the amphitheater off the opposite side of the stage.  Even though I was going to set up on one side or the other anyway, I still intended to put a couple of speakers on stands on each side to be above people's heads and I would have the advantage of being able to rotate them towards the check-in area for announcements in advance of the service.  Against my better judgement, I put only 2 speakers on stands, one on each of the far edges of the amphitheater to avoid blocking the view of the lake and the fountain in the background. Another 6 speakers plus a big sub woofer were placed on the ground.  As the ceremony was about to begin, the crush of people that gathered around that stage rendered most of the power of those speakers on the ground useless- all of the sound was absorbed in a thousand knees!  It was still functional.  I walked around the whole crowd and could hear well enough, but it wasn't the 100% that I would have liked as a sound guy. 
Here's me worrying over the sound
I tell you all that so that I can tell you this.  Larry James, who performed the ceremony that day, is a local wedding officiant and he also writes books, blogs and does public speaking.  We have done a couple of weddings together in the time that I've lived in Phoenix and it's always a pleasure to see him at industry functions and say hello.  We had a moment to chat after the festivities and he said he had greeted so many guests, many that had been married by him some time in the past, and that he overspent his voice and he further confided in me that he had been nervous with so many people! I had been a bit nervous too, for other reasons described above.  I spoke to the same people, during gathering time. but I was making house-keeping announcements and thanking vendors who had donated goods and services to the event- nobody was really listening to me, but they WERE listening to Larry!   Here's a guy who is well-read, well-travelled, established in his career, adding to expertise from previous careers, handsome brute, fit and trim, well-spoken, respected by the community and his industry, master of his craft. and he was nervous! Isn't that wonderful??!? 
Officiant Larry James and event creator and host Stehpenie Bjorkman and myself.

I'm flattered that he felt comfortable telling me that, but I'm even more happy to know that he felt that.  Most people would rather die than speak in public.  I enjoy that part.  There are other things that make me nervous about a performance.  I've been a DJ/musician/entertainer for 33 1/2 years now and I know it sounds cocky, but I have invested thousands of hours becoming a master of my craft and I still get nervous going in to an event.  I've found that if I feel a bit of nervousness, or if I feel some level of worry over some of the event details or important cues, it translates into adrenaline and I do a better job.  It adds to my focus and because of the second nature of my abilities, my tools become an extension of my mind and hands and I rise to the occasion.  If I'm too comfortable- if it's an easy event, the customer is flexible and easy-going, the event doesn't have a lot of details to fuss with... I may not have that extra drive or mental focus or physical adrenaline push to do a good job. 
I always put myself through a rather strict quality control regimen for each event. It starts on Monday morning reviewing the events coming up in the next 10 days.  Will dry-cleaning for any stage clothes be done and picked up in time?  Do I have the specific songs needed and does any music need editing for profanity or anything?  Have I checked pronunciations of difficult family names or any other ethnic or religious words that I don't understand?  Were there any needed equipment repairs noted on previous gigs that need to be fixed?  (I use a tag out/lockout sticker when I note a piece of equipment not working properly so that I remember to fix it or replace it before the next event)  Have I double checked load-in time?  Event start time?  What sound and lighting equipment do I need to bring? Any freeway closures this weekend?  Have I spent some time on any new or unfamiliar music so that I know beats per minute, energy level, how it starts and stops, any dramatic elements?  Have I received or arranged final payment for the event? 
This couple wore what they wore 35 years ago!
I used to work in the steel business in LA and the owner of the company had a small plane and we would run company errands in that sometimes.  He was in his 70s and had flown for years but every time he sat down in that cockpit, he opened up a written quality control manual and put himself through the paces to make sure everything was working properly and it was safe to fly that thing and that nobody inside or standing near the plane would get hurt. 
A service dog who wore a tux for the occasion.
Now, nobody is gonna get hurt if a DJ messes up a cue, but it's the difference between good and great.  A great DJ isn't going to miss a cue- at all- ever!  The music and the elements of the event are going to be right.   I often tell customers to imagine a dry cleaning service- you take your clothes there, they do a great job, they are in your neighborhood, the price is right, they are friendly and conscientious.  You go back in 3 weeks, and next month and next year because they are a good dry-cleaner.  Then, after many years, they tear something, they stain something or they lose something... you are unlikely to throw them out because you have lots of otherwise stellar history and you could just say, "well, it happens."  (if they are conscientious, they will do their best to make it right anyway.)   With a DJ for a big event like a wedding, today can't be the day that you figuratively lose a nice jacket at the dry cleaners. 

How often does one hire a DJ? Once or twice in lifetime? You don't have a period of years to develop a relationship that would allow a major mistake.  It has to be right on event day!  The bride has dreamed about this day since she was 9.  Mom shed tears of joy as the wedding dress was selected and fitted.  Thousands of dollars have been spent on other decor and food and other event professionals.  Every effort should be made to put on quality entertainment. 

Now, I HAVE played for families or corporations over a period of years in my history with Sweet 16, engagement, wedding, graduation, another sisters wedding, a family Christmas party, yet another siblings wedding etc.  Or on the corporate side, a Grand Opening or retail promotion, a corporate awards banquet, a mixer dance after a team-building seminar, then a company picnic, then a holiday party, then another grand opening as they have more success. I have some fiercely loyal customers but just because they have that loyalty doesn't mean that they always have an occasion to hire me every month like you would use a dry cleaner. I contend that the reason for such loyalty to me is a combination of my personal passion, my love of music and my love of people (and I suppose that allowing myself to feel some nervousness is part of that passion) combined with a dedication to a regimen of providing quality.  The events go right!
I thought Larry did a great job that day.  It was well-written and expertly delivered, it was humorous, it was emotional and it was exactly the right length.  I know Larry had prepared his remarks, edited them and reworked them and had rehearsed them.  He said it was 22 minutes in front of a mirror and he came in at just under at 21 minutes.  He was on time, dressed, and he delivered a knock out!  I've been at it for a lot of years and I still get emotional at such things.  Standing fairly close to me was a couple in their 70s holding hands.  He wasn't the specimen of male physicality that he had been when they married- I suspect he had perhaps had a mild stroke in recent years.  They held hands and looked lovingly into each others eyes and promised to continue loving like that had for so many years already.  There were couples that had been married 6 weeks and some for 6 decades.  The emotion was palpable! 
I hope there is something going on in your life that makes you a bit nervous.  If not, are you doing anything important in the world?  Embrace the fear and use it to rise to the occasion.  I'm glad that Larry was nervous, it added to the magic!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Does what I do matter?

The topic of the value of background music has been addressed by me in this forum before and I witnessed a prime example of its power at a recent wedding.  There was an outdoor wedding ceremony on the second Saturday in January and that should not sound abnormal for people from Arizona but we experienced record-breaking cold temperatures that week.  Nights were in the 20s and days were barely reaching into the 50s.  Trees froze, pipes burst, one car skidded through a patch of ice on the street near a prominent auto dealership in downtown Phoenix and totalled a Camaro and a Corvette on the lot. They don't really sell "Winter" coats in Arizona.  The cold wasn't much by Toronto or Minneapolis standards, but it's something we are not acclimated to or prepared for around here.  One young bridesmaid stood at attention and was shivering so severely in her tiny spring dress that I though she might collapse- at least the goose pimples on her arms and legs might have poked somebody's eye out.  I hope it didn't ruin any pictures, but I gave her my jacket for the 15 minutes of the ceremony because I was standing nearby on sound duty. I walked up behind her and took it back just as the minister was introducing the new Mr. and Mrs.  I was cold too, but at least I had long sleeves and long pants... I was glad to get the jacket back too. 
I'm telling this story because of an interesting observation.  Normally, this golf club would have the ceremony on the lawn, as this one was, and then retire to the patio for cocktails while the family portraits were taken and then the guests are invited inside for dinner and dancing later.  Because of the biting cold, the guests were invited inside right away to have cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.  I have a small sound system for ceremonies that can be moved to a patio or foyer in the time it takes for guests to make the short walk but since I was switching to my big sound system already inside, I just wanted to put away a couple of microphone stands to have them out of the way of the professional photography.  In the 3 or 4 minutes it took me to get inside to start some music on my big system, the entire crowd had made it inside.  I came in shortly behind them with a microphone stand in one hand and a couple of cables in my other hand and noticed that they were all whispering like they were in a church.  I chided them about it and then loudly and laughingly said, "Let me get some music on quickly so you guys will feel comfortable talking."  They laughed tepidly with me but remained silent until I got behind my workstation and cued a song.  It didn't take but 15 seconds for them to begin talking with their normal voices.  It wasn't even one minute before there was laughter and people gesturing largely with their hands and touching peoples arms or shoulders as they talked.  Nobody ever wants their voice to rise above the din.  The music masks each voice and people feel comfortable talking.
Please forgive a bit of an off-colored story here- not profane but PG-13 perhaps.  When I was married many, many years ago.  We were at a family celebration dinner at a favorite Riverside California Chinese restaurant after a graduation or birthday or something.  There was lots of shouting and laughter and good times. We weren't the only ones, it was the attitude of the restaurant and its other patrons as well.  The restaurant served a drink called a Double Scorpion that is served in a giant half shell and made to be shared with two long straws.  My sister-in-law was sharing that with a man she was dating at the time and the bartender hadn't really worked it over with the blender as he or she should have and there were chunks of ice that jammed up the straw.  My sister-in-law drew attention to that fact very loudly at a moment when the noise level in the restaurant happened to drop off.  She shouted, "I keep sucking on it, but it won't come!"   That further silenced the crowd and then it turned to uncomfortable laughter and then genuine laughter- at least at our table. An outburst like that in many other social settings would have been terribly embarrassing for all involved but proper background music would have saved the day.

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions but it's kind of a natural time to consider your lives when the people of the world mark the passing of years together.  Does what I do really matter?  Am I contributing something to society?  Am I just paying the bills?  Am I doing this because it's the only thing I know? 
I'm so grateful that I'm in a position to say no to customers once in a while- to turn away a difficult customer or someone that is otherwise willing to open their wallet to me but who I don't wish to work for.  I have confidence that I will be working on any given weekend somewhere- but maybe not for THIS customer.  Even if I do miss a weekend, it's not a financial crisis.  I can usually weed out the "bridezillas" in the consultation process.  I don't get them often because I think I've surrounded myself with conscientious event planners and venue operators that refer me and for whom such people don't become their customers either.  Every once in a while, a bridezilla gets past me but not often.  (I say bridezillas, but there are other types of difficult customers in corporate events and any other social occasion and these same thoughts apply.) When one slips through, and this sounds cocky I suppose, but I command enough respect that they don't act up or press any buttons when I'm working.

Generally, I live life on the importance theory.  If the wedding or other event is not important enough to them- such that they will not act poorly during it- it can't be MORE important to me.  That philosophy is tempered however by the fact that my next couple of customers are in that room and I have to act well from a marketing standpoint, contractual standpoint, from an ethical and moral standpoint and, well, that's what decent people do, they act well in spite of other people not acting well.

I had a bride a couple of years ago that I thought was a real sweetheart.  She had been widowed some years before and this was her 2nd marriage and I was really looking forward to her wedding.  In the 2 or 3 times that we met to work on details, I started having some doubts.  She wasn't belligerent or anything, but I started to think she may have had a drinking problem or was even using drugs or something.  She was really uneven and loopy and even did a couple of embarrassing things that made me uncomfortable.  It was way too late to send her packing at this point so I pressed on.  In the days leading up to the event, while working on final details, and I mean the little behind-the-scenes details, I learned about several tragedies that had happened in her family and in the extended family in addition to the tragedy that had taken her 1st husband.  This was a family that had suffered a lot in the last 3 years.  There were accidents, a suicide, disease, loss of employment and there was the blame and guilt and other feelings that go with such things.  This family NEEDED a happy occasion and this wedding was it.  (She was taking some prescribed drugs under the care of a doctor and they were having a hard time finding the right dosage at the time.)

So how do I help them celebrate this wedding without disrespecting all of the hurt?  I remember when Saturday Night Live went back on the air a few weeks after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  They began the show by honoring those who lost their lives and the brave fire fighters and policemen and then producer Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "Can we be funny?"  Mayor Giuliani said with a straight face, "Why start now?" and the audience cheered wildly.  There's a technique that I learned from an actress that I knew in LA many years ago.  She said you don't 'act' drinking a glass of water, you just drink the glass of water.  You don't 'act' walking across a room, you just walk across the room.  You don't 'act' speaking to your friend, you just speak.  You speak the moment.  That concept of speaking the moment has really served me well.  The concept came up similarly in a Master of Ceremonies seminar I participated in once.
I simply spoke the moment.  I allowed a few tears, acknowledged it, but kept it from becoming a memorial service as opposed to a wedding celebration.   I helped them know that it was OK.  That celebrating and dancing and laughing and feasting and hugging each other and singing along to every word and really getting into it didn't somehow disrespect the hurt or the losses.  Funny thing is that I didn't really 'speak' it.  I showed them.  I led the way.  Each of my announcements and each gesture and every song choice was very calculated and deliberate.  I knew my craft and I knew it well.  It WAS in every way, the happy occasion that they needed.  I hope that it gave them a year or two of fuel towards the healing going forward from that day.

Could a hobbyist or other beginner DJ have done it?  Maybe.  I look back at where I was 25 or 30 years ago, playing at drunken backyard parties and weddings at the crummy decrepit no-name fraternity hall or wherever and I say no!  I didn't have the expertise to do it.  There would have been ended up being lots of tears and there might have been some little accusations and arguments in the lobby and everybody would have left shortly after dinner- frustrated and sad- from a wedding that should have been a happy occasion!  

When I play piano at a restaurant or bistro or something, the opening notes of any given song may be met with absolute jubilation.  People can be instantly moved to tears by a few notes of a loved song.  They are tears of joy, of course.  It's a song that has deep meaning to them.  The lyrics of that song got them through a tough time in their life and they celebrate where they are now relative to where they were then.  A restaurant experience isn't the same structured occasion that a wedding or corporate event is, but they came there to feel better about something. It may be on an entirely subconscious level but when they leave they feel better and I contend that it was the music.  There are spiritual, mathematical, ethereal components of music that help us rearrange the hurt somehow.  It files the hurt further back in our minds somewhere and we either pull some more pleasant memories to the forefront or move the hurt to the back and replace it with the memories of this night instead. Theres a song by Lawrence Gowan about letting go of the past and making way for the good: "Every time I lent a hand, the angels sang some Dixieland.  With every hug and every kiss, another hurt dropped off the list."    
Why would a retailer spend $50,000 on a big grand opening celebration with music being the headline feature?  Well, because it will add to sales not just at the time but it creates good-will among potential full-time customers going forward.  They'll get every penny of that back in increased sales over a period of time.  Why have a DJ at a weeknight retail promotion for several hundred dollars?  It creates a bit of excitement, it draws a crowd and then nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.  People see others having fun and they can't allow those people to have MORE FUN THAN I AM HAVING... I GOTTA GET OVER THERE AND BE PART OF THAT CROWD!  I played at a retail promotion last year where the sales goal was $127,000 dollars in cosmetics in a day.  Store management was monitoring the cash registers at hourly intervals throughout the day and they came to me to tell me that there was an absolute and measureable difference in sales within 15 minutes of DJ music and energetic announcements.  Customers didn't walk by the counters, they danced by the counters and opened their wallets at the cash registers.  In a 12 hour sales day, half of the sales were generated while I was playing music in the last 3 hours.  Was it worth my professional fee of $800 for 3 hours on a weeknight?  Absolutely!

I'm no fan of politicians but after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, several members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and spontaneously sang "God Bless America"  Why music and not some other expression?  Was music was perhaps even more universally acceptable than prayer in that situation? 

There's a world-class museum in Scottsdale AZ called the Musical Instrument Museum and I've spent about 5 afternoons there in the year that they've been open and I still don't feel like I've seen it all. There are historic musical instruments from all over the world and from every ethnicity and nationality. One thread that I've been able to discern in my visits is that even in the face of complete oppression or poverty, the people find some way to make music.  They'll use tin cans, sticks, dried vegetables, animal bones, animal skins or whatever they can find.  The most interesting instruments and musical styles that I've seen there have come from or been born in poverty or because of some tyrant dictator telling a people that they can't have music.  It finds a way!
There's a story about a farmer who was getting up in years and knew he would soon be "gathered up to his people" as it says in the Old Testament.  He wished to bequeath is property to one of his three sons.  He proposed that whichever of his sons could fill the barn with any commodity of their choosing could have their father's life work as an inheritance.  The oldest son set about buying up all of the firewood in the region and filling the barn.  After a week or so, he exhausted his resources and there was frankly no more wood to be found in the region and the barn was only about 2/3 full.  He had to pull the wood out and give the middle son a chance.  The middle son set about buying up all of the bales of hay in the county and the region.  After about a week, he had exhausted his resources and there was no more hay to be found and the barn was only 3/4 full.  He had to pull out all of the hay and make way for the youngest son to have a crack at it.  The youngest son felt that after the noble attempts of his two older brothers that ended in failure, that there was no way he would be able to do anything that would succeed where his brothers hadn't.  He went in to the barn and closed the door and sat down in the middle of that big space and lit a candle and he cried.  The light filled the barn!  And the farmer gave the youngest son all of the inheritance. 

There are a couple of brilliant bakers in this town that make beautiful and delicious wedding cakes, but they dont' "fill" the room.  I've seen genius event designers bring incredibly colorful and interesting event decor that doesn't "fill" a room.  I've seen guests eat a celebration feast prepared and served by the best chefs in the West- and those plates didnt' "fill" the room.  Music always fills the room.  All of the elements come together to make a lovely event and it's the music that ties it all together.  Those cold wedding guests, whispering like they were in an elevator, didn't start celebrating that wedding until music allowed or instructed them to do so.   
If you don't push back the sofa in your living room and dance once in a while, you are missing out on one of the great joys of life.  So... does what I do matter?  Abso-floggin'-lutely!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The difference between a good and a great DJ

People often don’t know that they’ve just seen a great DJ, but they sure know when they are experiencing a bad one and it can be excruciating.  What often makes it great is not the inclusion of good things but rather the absence of bad.  A guest may not have been a fan of a given song, but no song had offensive lyrics.  The DJ and music volume were not overbearing, they were just right. The event moved along nicely and the DJ made proper announcements as to what was coming, but it never seemed like an interruption to the conversations at hand. 

As you begin planning wedding entertainment, you’ll find prices varying wildly from hobbyists or beginners for less than $500 to respected and seasoned professional DJs for more than $2000. Fast food will get you fed cheaply but do you want fast food at your wedding?  The best steak house in town (experienced DJ) is certainly more expensive but it provides quality and expert service more representative of an important occasion such as a wedding.
The minimum expectation for DJs is alarmingly low. “Do you have two speakers? Great! You’re hired!”   Sadly, the public has resigned itself to low quality with a shrug and a remark that “It’s just the way DJs are.”   Not so. 

Take the time to interview 2 or 3 DJs. Lean on the recommendations of other professionals that you trust.  Your venue, photographer and caterer have worked with DJs who are brilliant.  Find a DJ who is passionate about the craft and loves music and people.  You don’t have to pick every song in that initial consultation, but you do need to decide if you like him or her and if you trust them to do the event.  If you find a vendor that you like, book them. To be booked a year at a time is not uncommon.
A few base line expectations:   Arrive and be ready to work on time. Provide adequate equipment for the occasion and the space and know how to use it. DJ and staff behave well and are respectful. Play the correct songs for the elements of the event.  

Sadly, some hobbyist DJs don’t even arrive at this lowest line. 
Great entertainment adds the following:  The DJ understands and represents religious, ethnic and family traditions with confidence and respect. Avoids cheesy, clich├ęd, overused, outdated or off-colored songs, jokes, gags or games. No microphone noise or dead air. Important songs are cued and on time. Family names are known and pronounced correctly. Wires and road cases and any other unsightly equipment is put away or covered. Doesn’t say or do anything that draws attention to difficult event situations. Background music is just under the volume of the talking. Works in concert with other event professionals on site. In advance of the event, he or she returns calls and other correspondence promptly and during the event responds to instructions courteously. Music represents the tastes of the bride and groom and yet other generations, ethnicities and tastes are included. Customer knows exactly what equipment and services to expect and the cost. Lighting is colorful and adds body and motion but it’s not shining in the faces of the guests or making the room spin. He or she is well-spoken and classy.

May your wedding be filled with tears of joy, feasting, hugging, singing and dancing at the hands of a great DJ! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Winslow, Arizona. That was then, this is now.

"Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona.  Such a fine sight to see!  It's a girl my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me."  ~Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey

In my travels, and professional and personal interactions with people throughout my life, when the topic of my early years in Winslow comes up, there's almost always a reference to the Eagles song.  It's just our humanity trying to connect and find commonality.  I don't particularly tire of it.  I do resist the temptation myself when meeting somebody from a place immortalized in song or named after a classic rock song- "Hi, my name is Rhiannon"  "Oh, like the Fleetwood Mac song..." or "Hi, my name is Lorelei."  "Oh like the Styx song..." I try to ask something that they haven't probably heard before to engage them and ignore the obvious.  I always entertain the Winslow/Eagles conversations that follow, with their insights and connections, but I haven't heard anybody say anything new on the subject for almost 3 decades now.  It's not clear if songwriter Jackson Browne or Glenn Frey of the Eagles ever really stood there at any time, (probably not) but after this long, they owe me personally all other Winslow citizens past and present a proper Eagles concert. 

I paid a visit to Winslow, my hometown, this weekend. Somebody from High School connected with me on Facebook a couple of years ago and then about 8 months ago, I got a call that she always loves to see my professional DJ adventures on Facebook and that she sees that my customers seem to love me and I seem to have some technical expertise as an entertainer and that it's clear that I also love what I do and that her daughter was getting married and (deep breath) would I come to Winslow and play for the wedding?

Let me declare at the outset that this will be the longest post in the history of the world. It's heavy on the pictures too. I often think that some people must live their whole lives through the viewfinder on their camera. I try to keep that in check in the age of camera phones and social media and I even lean towards less pictures. My memory of people and places is so much more three-dimensional and emotional and "other-sensory" than pictures can capture in any case. Pictures of my dad don't smell like "Old Spice" cologne... This topic required a lot of pictures for me.  I travelled up a day early and you should know that in taking all of these pictures, I actually stopped down and had two moments at each place- one through the viewfinder, and then the other with my eyes, ears, nose, skin, taste buds, mind and heart. 

Further, for my Christian friends and family and other conservative types, this posting will be rather candid. Not profane at all, but just raw and uncensored. You'll learn some things about me you didn't know before and it may be shocking.  I've left out names but even if you think you see yourself, just know that I love you for the lessons I learned from you. 

In English, we would say,"I'm from Winslow." In Spanish, that would be expressed more like, "The place where I spent my primary years is Winslow" I think that's actually rather profound since my primary years in Winslow made really did make me who I am- for better or for worse.  As I am maturing as a man, I'm mellowing and finding myself hugging people hello more often and allowing people their humanity in a more loving way, I look back and see that so much of the good and bad that is in me started being good or bad IN Winslow Arizona.  Of late, I'm just trying to enhance the good and throw as much of the bad over the edge that I can.

Arizona is such a beautiful state!  My experience in the Boy Scouts of America and being the son of fellow outdoor lover, Vance Whipple, gave me a great love for this place and I have spent still more time and miles hiking, mountain biking and driving around exploring it.  Most people who drive through Arizona may do so on Interstate 10, The Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway, through the low desert, or on Interstate 40, largely through the high desert country and they miss the center of the state which is high-elevation, mountainous forest country.  It's a nice and green drive to Winslow from the Phoenix area through national forest lands.
Winslow was originally settled by Mormon colonists sent specifically by Brigham Young to farm in the Little Colorado River Valley.  They had fled the  United States because of religious persecution and settled in Salt Lake- in Mexico.  They were sent to the Little Colorado Valley from Salt Lake by a rather solemn (among Mormons) assignment but they returned to Utah after one season and called it a God-forsaken wilderness and the journals recorded that Brigham Young 'thundered' at them to get back down there and settle and farm in that valley.  The community was called "Brigham City" but when the Santa Fe railroad came through 3 or 4 miles south a few years later, Brigham City died as Winslow was born and named after a railroad executive at the time.  Currently, a Winslow resident/citizen is driving to refurbish and preserve the remains of that original Mormon settlement.

I snapped this pic out the window of the van of the high desert terrain up there. 
I imagine a cowboy on horseback or some settlers with wagon loads of supplies would be completely flummoxed by a canyon such as Jack's Canyon (below) outside of Winslow that runs for several miles in either direction and that is undetectable on the horizon until you get right on top of it.  There are stories of Mormon Pioneers who had to spend several days disassembling wagons and moving them across such things and reassembling them on the other side or using complicated winch systems to lower larger pieces down and then hoisting them back up the other side.  The other option was to send a scout several miles in either direction to find a more suitable crossing.  Ether way, a simple geological feature of the landscape such as this would take several days to conquer.  I drove over a bridge and it took probably 1 1/2 seconds at 65 MPH and my cold air conditioning and cold drink were sure nice.  
The rest of these pictures are in no particular order but they will be the thread to guide you through my thoughts. 

Here we go!

This is the La Posada Hotel and train depot.  It was the La Posada when it was built.  It closed and the Santa Fe Railroad used it for offices in the 70s and 80s and then they abandoned it.  It was to be torn down but some preservationists and other historians arranged to have it restored and it operates as the La Posada Hotel again and caters to Route 66 enthusiasts and other travellers to Winslow. There are over 100 freight trains daily travelling through Winslow and two Amtrak stops daily- an eastbound and a westbound. 
My grandfather loved Navajo and Hopi culture and sold sewing machines on the Navajo Reservation in the 1940s and by the 1950s, his endeavors had become a dress shop in Winslow, which is a border town, of sorts, to the Navajo Nation. In the 1960s the shop was becoming a department store.  He was also the Mayor of Winslow from 1950 to 1953.  He resigned 2 months shy of his term of office, surprising the city council with his announcement that cited health concerns and pressures of running the growing Whipple's store.  I'm unaware of what, if any, health issues he had.  He lived another 25 years. 

I was born in Burlingame California- in the bay area.  My dad brought us to Winslow to join his father's business "Whipple's of Winslow", when I was about 3.  My mother was already very sick and she died of cancer in Winslow that year and her grave is there.  We kinda regrouped as a family in Winslow and that's the story of how I came to call Winslow "home". 
My maternal grandmother took care of me most immediately after the funeral but everybody had to get back to their lives and so I had a nanny during the day- an African-American woman named Ruby Williams (Jackson) from Roxie Mississippi that taught me how to count, got me potty trained, taught me the alphabet and she took me fishing for catfish in Clear Creek south of town about 5 miles with her boyfriend RJ when he got off work at the sawmill in the afternoons- and she loved me. I saw Ruby last year, but she wasn't around this time.  I would have liked to give her another hug. This was the house we lived in at first.
My dad remarried when I was about 7.  We had a "Brady Bunch" family with 9 kids and we moved to this house on Gilmore St.  Boys downstairs and girls upstairs.  
This is where I went to Sunday School as a little boy.  They had a basement with a cozy fireplace for the kids program.  Somebody has since purchased it and is using it as a home.  Probably the biggest home in town.  In my life's travels, a rather random personal contact, upon hearing that I was from Winslow, handed me a program from the dedication service of this building in the early 50s, which I still have in my possession. They also handed me a yearbook from Winslow High School dated 1928, which I think was the first graduating class from the new building which you'll see here later.  They were not from Winslow or even Arizona and didn't remember how those two things came into their possession but they were happy to pass it on to me.   
This is where I went to church from about age 9 and up.  I broke my left arm on that grass out front, goofing off after a Boy Scout activity at age 13.  I got tackled and my arm got tucked under the weight of my body and the weight of a couple of other boys and it cracked both the radius and the ulna about halfway through and then split them upwards toward my elbow as if they were green tree branches.  It ended my violin career (thankfully) (violin players in Winslow High School were not cool and I lacked in any other coolness factors anyway- the violin wasn't helping)  Even after 35 years the injury impedes any proficiency on the guitar.  
This is Highway 87 that runs north from Winslow to the Navajo Nation and south from Winslow to Payson, Mesa and Tucson.  I don't know why, but when we were kids, Dad would always honk the horn going through this tunnel under the Santa Fe railroad.  All of the kids would scream at the top of our lungs.  Who am I to mess with tradition?  I honked and shouted in 2012 at age 46.    
When I was in high school, this was Leemon's Appliances which happened to also have a small selection of vinyl records and 8-track tapes. I'm happy to report that I was the first kid in Winslow Arizona to own Styx's Cornerstone album.  My step mother worked at Leemon's for a couple of years while I was in high school.  I would go down once a week or so after school and study the Billboard magazine and make recommendations based on what I saw on the music charts as to what she should purchase for the store that could be sold.  I remember exclaiming once- "Ahhh!  Van Halen has a new album coming out next week."  She replied "Oh, is he good?"  ummmmmm  "Yeah mom, he's really good. I'd say 4 or 5 copies of that one."  I'm not even going to explain why that's so funny.  Van Morrison is pretty good too.  I still play some of his good stuff as a DJ.  It appears to be a Tuxedo rental place now. Winslow is just not a tuxedo kind of a town. I wish them success in this tough economy, but I fear it will be an uphill battle.
This used to be "Whipple Park" named after my Grampa Whipple, probably in honor of his service as Mayor. It used to have some playgound equipment and picnic tables and barbecue pits.  It appears to be something that the firefighters use to practice their skills now.  There's big pile of wooden pallets behind the building that further make my case for my suspicion as to its purpose.  
There was an artist in the 70s that supposedly went to each state and carved something like this to honor each states' place in the republic on the occasion of the bicentennial.  I don't know why Winslow was chosen for the Arizona installation but I have always liked what the guy did.  He spent about a week on this with a chainsaw.  I rode my bike out to watch him a few times. It was located out by I-40 originally on a big mound of dirt but it always looked out of place and not as grand as its intent.  The city has moved it to the south end of town near some of the Route 66 tourist stuff and it looks more at home now.    
I had a great Sunday School teacher when I was 12 and 13 who lived right here.  She gave me a great love for the Bible and gave me a working knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which built the foundation for my relationship with Him now.  She was a lover of people and of learning and of teaching and a true model of what Christianity should be.  It wasn't just dry talking- trying to get through the lesson, she was trying to get the lesson through us.  In addition to bringing the scriptures to life, she introduced me to books by Zig Zigler and others who seemed to know how to apply Christian principles to life and find success and happiness.  I've thanked her personally on multiple occasions.  
This was and is the post office in Winslow AZ- 86047.  I don't have anything to say about this other than the fact that the ZIP code has stuck in my memory for all of these years.  I also remember my phone number back then.  It was 289-4884 but you only had to dial the 9 and the 4 digits.  I've lived at four addresses in the LA area, two addresses in north central Washington state, two addresses in Minneapolis and one in St Paul and I can't remember any of those ZIP codes.  I've had several phone numbers over the years and I can't remember any of those either. 
This store front used to be the office and printing shop for "The Reminder" a throwaway advertising rag that came out on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights.  When I was 9 years old, I started delivering to 125 homes on Apache Avenue.  We'd pick them up around 7 or 8PM (some nights as late as 10PM if they were extra busy or had extra pages from lots of ads or had a printer break down)  We would get paid a fractional percentage per page- it came to $5 or $6/wk and also on Tuesday nights it would be "Nickel Night".  We would knock on doors for tips instead of just leaving the papers on the doorstep.  When the homeowner opened the door, we would say "Nickel Night" and get a nickel.  If everybody on your route was home, and answered the door and gave a gratuity, it would add up to another $6. Most of us delivery boys got smart and realized that the term "Nickel Night" limited the tip to a nickel.  The term "Reminder Night" was much more open ended and a conscientious delivery boy who always got the papers right on the porch or tucked under the mat could get a quarter or even two quarters.     
When I was 11, I added The Winslow Mail- a more traditional local weekly newspaper on Thursday afternoons.  I think my route had about 150 homes on it.  I got paid strictly by the paper from subscriptions but it was not uncommon to get $5, $10 or even a $20 in a card for Christmas if you got the paper on the porch consistently.  Notice that both buildings are vacant.  They still kinda exist loosely in an online format, but the Winslow Mail folded in 2008.  Although it is closed, it is still the longest running and oldest newspaper in Arizona.  The mighty Arizona Republic still has 4 years to go to catch up and beat them. 
When I was 13, I added the Arizona Republic to my deliveries.  7 days a week, 365 days a year, 165 homes, rain or shine or sleet or snow, at 430AM.  The papers would be flown in to Winslow airport at about 330 each morning and then dropped at several neighborhood drop spots for local carriers.  This was my Uncle Tom's house and my cousins Tommy, Rory and Burke.  About 6 boys knelt in this driveway every morning, folding and slipping a rubber band on to each paper.  We had canvas bags that fit on the handlebars of our bikes and with some practice, you could really learn how to make those papers fly and land just where you want them.  I have a defective sports gene and I'm rather clumsy when it comes to basketballs and baseballs, but I had a knack for flinging a newspaper.  More often than not, I could get it not only on the doorstep but leaning up against the door so that when the homeowner opened, the paper would fall inside their house! 
I was invited to the wedding rehearsal dinner for the family that I went to Winslow to work for this week and I had the pleasure of sitting with the grandmother of the groom.  She's 84 and sharp as a tack.  When she oriented herself as to who I was (by identifying my father and grandfather) she was most complimentary about our family's contribution to Winslow and further, she said that I had been her paper boy and that, after me, she has never again had decent delivery service.  That's a lot of years to suffer with crappy service and still bother with the paper that could be had in an online format.
Here's a pic of the Little League fields.  I never played baseball owing to my defective sports gene but I always hung around with the other townsfolk for a game in the evening.  They had a concession stand that had snow cones and a newfangled snack at the time called "nachos" and it was deeeeee-LISH!  There was a masonry block restroom that may be the most disgusting bathroom I've ever encountered in my 46 years.  That one still holds a place in disgustingdom.  I'm a man and half the time, I don't have to sit down to do my business but it was really that bad.  The option was to ride my bicycle 5 blocks home and go and then 5 blocks back but I might have missed some of the action.

I was riding on a swing set adjacent to the ball park (near the offending restroom) at about age 8 or 9 and I took a high-speed and high arching foul ball right in the lower gut on an upswing- my body was positioned just right to get hit squarely and solidly.  It knocked me off the swing which landed me flat on my back on the ground and stunned my diaphragm (knocked the wind out of me) so that I couldn't breathe for a minute or so.

That park also represented the first time I saw pornography of any kind as a little boy.  There were some discarded playing cards with nude women in various poses. I was innocent and not ready for that and certainly didn't seek it out, but it was as if I had been exposed to a virus.  There was a time later in my life when pornography would dominate life and my thinking.  I've often thought of the story in the New Testament where some men were trying to get under Jesus' skin by asking, "Who did sin?  this man or his parents?  that he was born blind even from his birth?"  Jesus replied, "Nobody sinned, he was just born blind.  That's all.  It just IS.  He was born blind so that a miracle of God could be manifest in his life."  (I'm paraphrasing there- Jesus was always very frank but not that casual.) The chance exposure to porn was not a sin that I committed, but it was just a circumstance in my life.  A circumstance such, that a miracle of God could be manifest as I broke free.  Frankly, I give gratitude to God for it because without it, I may have never come to know the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in such a profound and personal way.

Here's what used to be the Rialto Theater.  One family owned both this movie theater and the local drive-in theater.  They would show one movie per week, drive in open during the summer months, indoor theater open during the winter months.  I don't know if you are picking up a pattern here, The Reminder- gone, Winslow Mail- gone, the Rialto- gone...  I can't remember any specific films that I saw here, I vaguely remember "War of the Worlds" but I do know that I saw Jaws at the drive-in theater when I was 8.  I think I was asleep and my head was on my step mom's lap.  I woke up just at the scene where the shark is on the back of the boat tipping it upwards and the crusty old fisherman/sailor slides down into its mouth to be chewed to death.  Not a good time to wake up as an 8 yr old.  That movie so frightened me that I STILL- 38 years later- I STILL am frightened of water.  I'm not non functional, but I do freak out once in awhile in the ocean and in even in lakes and rivers.  Well-played Spielberg, well-played indeed! 
Here's a couple of pictures of Clear Creek out south of town- previously described catfishing expeditions happened here.  Great swimming hole for high school kids.  I was a bit of a nerd in high school but I had just enough moxie to be able to hang here at times.  It was always great for jumping off rocks and barbecuing and for others- drinking and carousing with the opposite sex, speeding and other dangerous driving on the road to and from and perhaps a few other unnamed nefarious activities for teenagers. 
I saw my first, real, live breast here.  A girl had jumped in the water and it popped the top of her swim suit off and she was jumping around and still playing in the water unawares that she had been exposed.  A girlfriend alerted her a bit too soon for the boys' taste.  My only regret, at age 14, was that it was THAT (unnamed) girl that was a bit homely and not a model of female beauty and physicality.  Why couldn't it have been that other (also unnamed) girl that I liked who occupied my teenage dreams or that other (unnamed) one on the cheerleading squad?  But alas, for a 14 yr old boy, it was a bit of a landmark moment.
This is Jefferson Elementary school.  Mrs. Walton for Kindergarten- loved her.  Mrs. Allen for 1st grade.  Mrs. Murray for 2nd grade- hated her.  I remember getting my knuckles whacked with a ruler on more than one occasion for seemingly minor infractions.  I also remember this insight at age 7:  it was a warm spring morning and we were doing a rather menial exercise that I had already advanced beyond.  Mrs. Murray had handed out a worksheet and I remember lifting the top edge of the sheet up and acting like I was reading it but all the while I was scanning my classmates in disbelief, "Is this it?  THIS is school for THE NEXT 10 YEARS?!?!"  Mrs. Murray had a heart attack that summer and passed away.  I was secretly glad.  I hadn't wished it on her but she had clearly passed her effectiveness as a teacher.  She was cranky and she didn't inspire us to learn.  Looking back as a man, I was right.  Only a handful of teachers ever challenged me intellectually.  That sounds arrogant or cocky for me to speak it, but it comes from a place of confidence in saying such a thing, plus, it's my blog.
Mrs. Ceballos for 3rd grade. Miss Orr for 4th grade. Mr McNeil for 5th grade- loved/hated him.  He was a bit of a leftover hippie and, looking back as an adult, he was probably a marijuana user- just a hunch.  We'd sing folk songs with his guitar for a few minutes each morning...  Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Hollies, Joan Baez, etc.  He had a small farm just on the outskirts of the city and there were a couple of lambs born one night and we all took a walk the next morning, after the song time, about a mile out to his house to see the new life.  No permission slips, just going and learning about the world.  Try doing that today!  Lawyers would have a conniption fit! 

I was competing in a 5th grade spelling bee and I know spelling pretty well.  Even in 5th grade, I had a very good grasp on the English language.  My word was "balcony."  Mr McNeil pronounced it as "belcony."  I had him repeat it twice, per the rules, and each time, he repeated "belcony."  I fought my instinct that he was wrong and resigned myself to the thought that that maybe there was a word that I didn't know.  I spelled it B E L C O N Y and was eliminated.  I've always remembered that and have always regretted not trusting my instincts and I curse him for possibly altering the course of my life!  If I had just won that spelling bee, my whole life would have been different. 
I had Mr. Cardon for 6th grade and didn't love or hate him.  When it came time for the 6th grade boys to field a basketball team to represent our school he indicated that all the boys would be playing.  In spite of my defective sports gene, I dutifully ran up and down the court trying to not ever come into contact with the ball.  In spite of my negative contribution, our team went on to compete against other local teams and when we got to the pinnacle of our success, leading up to an important game, Mr. Cardon had the nerve to instruct the team not to throw the ball to me because I was a butterfingers.  I took great offense!  I would have been happy to sit on the bench and read a book. You force me to be on the team and then complain about my abilities that you knew about going in?!??

This is Washington Elementary.  I didn't attend there but this place was built when I was in high school to replace an older version of itself, if I remember correctly.  I'm not sure why, but this picture made me remember a bully I had in my life.  I had been teased regularly and assaulted more than a dozen times over the course of the years that I had to cross paths with him.  I've had a hard time searching my memory, I'm not sure if he moved away by high school or not, but when I put up this picture of the dome, I remembered hearing that he (the bully), was playing around on a construction site during the night- perhaps this one- or perhaps on a construction site in the place he had moved to (I really don't remember) and he fell to his death. (Post script- a reader indicated that there was, in fact, a death on this construction site and named him to me.  He was not the bully. Chalk that up to a couple of stories combined in my memory.)
This was and is Winslow Junior High.  My short-lived violin career reached its peak here.  Our orchestra travelled to a couple of neighboring cities for festival competitions and we scored "A"s at every stop.  I've forgotten the music directors name but she was passionate about music and it was a pleasure to perform with her at the helm.  Also had a great Science teacher in Mr. Essary and a great Industrial Arts (shop class) with Mr. Gonzalez. 
This was Winslow High School.  This was built in 1925.  It's boarded up now while the rest of the campus seems intact.  I'm not sure what other purpose it could serve but as a school.
Here's the new main building about a block away.  Very POSH!
This used to be the tennis courts.  That's the gymnasium and the weight training center across the way there.  When we played tennis as part of the P.E. curriculum, I could never and still can't get the hang of how to score a tennis match.  I think my first paying DJ job took place in that gymnasium.  I had no idea that it would become a career, so record keeping in those first few years is practically nonexistent.  One of the school clubs was having a fundraiser dance and sent a couple of cheerleaders to ask me nicely to do the dance for cheap- maybe a plate of cookies.  I didn't need a plate of cookies but who could resist the attention of a couple of cheerleaders when you are 16 years old?  If any customers are reading this and think that such tactics will still work... OK, go ahead and send some cheerleaders... I''ve always been fond of the Laker Girls-just so you know. 
This was and is the Winslow High School football stadium.  It's been renamed Emil Nasser Stadium after a beloved coach and P.E. teacher who made 98 lb weaklings like me into men.  He was a good and decent Egyptian man who expected excellence and taught people the skills to get there.  (Post script- a reader indicated to me that Coach Nasser may have been a Syrian man.  He could have been from Antarctica but that doesn't change that he was a good man.)
This was and is still the racquetball courts. I don't have anything to say about this.
The indoor swimming pool.  Nothing to say about this either.
This was the Business Education building as part of the high school campus.  I learned to type in there.  Remember what I was saying about my realization in 2nd grade about not being challenged?  I wouldn't call my typing teacher a challenging instructor, but what a blessing it has been to know how to type quickly and accurately when the world has since gone the way of computers.  Looking back, it was my English teacher, Mr. Howell, who gave me a love for the English language and the gift of communication in both speaking and writing and how beautiful it can be. I had him as a freshman and hated him (but still learned) I had him again as a senior and loved LOVED him.  He challenged me and I rose to the occasion.  Wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, mechanical drawing/drafting and typing, along with music and English were the things that have blessed my life.  Sadly, I came out of high school ill-prepared for life in so many other ways.  I didn't know what insurance was, I didn't know how to balance a checkbook, etc.  I wasn't until 25 years later that I had a brilliant instructor at University of Phoenix here at the Mesa campus that I 'got' Algebra.
Here's the Root Beer Stand.  I had my paper routes until I was almost 15 and then I started working here through the rest of my high school years.  This was my first wage-earning job.  I would get out of class at 11:55 and run down there and work through lunch,  then at 12:50, the boss would cook up something for me, I'd alternate between a nice cheeseburger or a taco tangle or a deep fried burrito and eat it on the walk back to school two blocks away.  I'd be back at 1:00.  School would let out at 3P and I'd work again until they closed at 8P.  We'd mop the floors and get the place cleaned up and ready for the next day and be out of there at about 830. It was called the A&W Root Beer Stand back then.  It's called Darrell's Root Beer Stand now, even though Darrell isn't there anymore.  His son Roland runs the place and Roland's young son is running around helping out just like Roland did when he was a boy and I was working there.  I had a Taco Tangle this week and a helping of chili fries with cheese and a couple of large root beers.  They haven't changed the chili recipe in all these years.  I went right back to my youth when I tasted it.  I've posted on my Facebook page a few things about Winslow on occasion and the commentary almost always mentions the Root Beer stand.  If they ever changed the recipe, I'm confident that it would blow a gigantic hole in the space/time continuum.
My Junior Prom was here.  This is Bonnie Brennan Elementary School and this gymnasium was brand spanking new at the time.  Owing to my nerdiness in high school, I hadn't intended to go to the prom but I thought that if I didn't, it would further prove my nerdiness so I asked a girl that I knew that would say yes even though I didnt' want to go.  I had a miserable time because I didn't want to be there.  I think I've got a photo buried somewhere that proves that I was miserable.
Here's a pic of the Elks Lodge in Winslow.  My Senior Prom was held here.  I'm a fast learner and I thought that I would have a better time at my Senior Prom if I had the hottest girl in the place, even though I didn't want to go.  I asked a girl from the next town that I had met at a church activity.  She would be an unknown and mysterious date, she was very good looking, and since she lived in the next town- she was unaware of my nerdiness.  I arrived here at the Elks lodge and my arrival had the desired effect, she dropped some jaws, but she also undermined my self-confidence in every other way and I had a miserable time.  I was even on a DOUBLE date to take the pressure off, but dating was not my gift and it would not become something that I was any good at for a number of years. 
Here's what I did at the Elks Lodge for this wedding I was hired to play for.  It was sure good to come back to my home town with the professional guns blazing.  There were lots of people who even seemed intimidated by me.  They wanted to say hello but felt the need to ask somebody else to ask me... that's so high school! 
My first rock band was kinda born inside this house.  It was me with an electric piano and a friend with an electric guitar and we played for several weeks just getting some bugs worked out. 

We added another guitarist and a bass player and there was a kid in our school who had some drums and lived in this house which is now a bed and breakfast.  We kinda auditioned him because he had a cool drum set and his parents seemed supportive and they had money.  It wasn't a good fit. Plus, the house creeped me out.  I think it was and still is haunted.  My cousin Tommy eventually filled the slot on drums for a summer that got us up and running.  Of the 6 people that eventually played in that rock band, 4 are still employed professionally in music.  2 performing and 2 in behind-the-scenes technical areas.  The one guy that I would have thought would still be in music, the one with the most guitar talent and natural good looks and great hair is a dry waller.  He has 10 kids!
Vargas field where the high school varsity baseball team plays and I think the men's city league plays here as well. 
There's a geological formation about 4 miles northwest of town called Monkey Rock.  I don't know why it's called Monkey Rock other than the fact that people go out there to monkey around. I don't and never have used alcohol, but I know that, of my Winslow contemporaries who do, they probably had their first beer out here. 
I stopped for fuel at this Shell station.  I-40 came through Winslow in the mid 70s and just like in the Pixar film "Cars" it decimated the local economy.  Nobody had to stop on Route 66 anymore.  This was one of the first business to move out to service the freeway traffic.  One of the largest drug busts in Arizona history took place right here.  An alert Winslow police officer saw a wanted man getting fuel and affected an arrest.  Sadly, that officer was later shamed for taking prisoners home to do his yard work or even soliciting sexual favors from young female traffic offenders.  I heard he served 15 years in prison. 
I think that the last time I bought fuel there, the price was less than $1!
Safeway was one of the tenants of a strip mall that opened up to service the freeway traffic on the north end of town.  It's still there.
If you turn the camera left, you'd see this.  The Whipple's store also moved from Route 66 to this new mall.  It occupied the Family Dollar and the vacant space next to it. The space in the corner further to the left was the corporate office.  The last time I was in Winslow a couple of years ago, the railroad had offices in the vacant space that is now for lease.  My career in entertainment was kinda born in this parking lot at a big retail promotion. 
This Circle K store was at the end of my Reminder paper route and I pissed away huge amounts of my earned money on candy and comic books from here.  That candy wreaked havoc on my teeth and I just spent $2900 on dental work earlier this year to finally deal with the last of the fall-out from that stupidity.
This Subway sandwich shop used to be home to a video arcade.  Any monies not claimed by the Circle K were wasted here.  I mentioned addictive tendencies earlier- looking back with some maturity, I was addicted to those early video games too.  Video games have come a long way since Pong, but at their core, they can still be addictive waste of money to a teenager. If I had saved $2000/yr from my paper routes, mowing neighborhood lawns in the summer, and my money from the Root Beer Stand, I would have never had to save again!
This place is still a barber shop.  It has been since the 60s I think.  It was the Smith Brothers when I was a kid.  Two old-school barbers that would shave men's faces with a hot towel and a straight edge razor and they'd stretch your skin out and do it so well that you wouldn't have to shave again for three days.  (I wasn't yet shaving)  I think hair cuts were about $2 or $3.  They did one style of haircut and everybody in town got the same one. 
This was part of the National Guard Armory out by the airport when I was a kid.  It's a broken down hangar now and it looks like the Forest Service is using it to store junk parts for fire fighting aircraft.  Several windows are broken out so I don't think it's anything important going on in there.  The airport is now named "Winslow-Lindbergh" after Charles Lindbergh who designed it.  When it was built, and for several decades, it was the only all-weather airport between Albuquerque and Los Angeles. 
My first kiss was in this house.  It was a dance party for about 15-20 teenagers when I was 15 or so.  We had 7 of those 45rpm 7" single records that we played over and over in a rotation and it seemed to work.  One of them was Commodores "Sail on" which I still play sometimes in my piano set.  I was dancing with a girl that I had the warmies for and we turned our heads in for a kiss and I'm not sure I even got her lips but when you are 15, it still counts.  I have 35,000 songs on my DJ hard-drive now. The question is, do I have the right 90 songs for THIS event?
Here are a couple of shots of the older Whipple's of Winslow store on Route 66.  The sign is still there but I don't think there have been any panels in it for years and years.  The panel in the middle with the male and female icons doing some shopping have a very 60s/Mad Men-esque quality to them. 
This place used to be a Coca Cola bottling plant.  In the early 80s, the Federal Bureau of Printing and Engraving was considering a new printing plant to print paper money and Winslow was among a half dozen contenders in the West. The Whipple's stores had just gone out of business and my dad had been hired as the City Administrator.  He got a committee together to wine and dine the advance team that was coming to check Winslow out.  Part of the festivities included tour of the city, including this closed plant that could house the printing operations, and a reception/barbecue in our back yard (house pictured earlier.) He hired a local bar band with the instruction that they needed to know The Eagles' "Take it Easy"    The band dutifully played it as the lunch was winding down and they did a great job as I remember. Then my dad got up to speak and espouse the beauties of Winslow, Arizona and to invite them to bring their operation here. As part of his remarks, he talked about a song as if it was ancient history- the song was about 7 years old at the time- "The kids used to sing a song about 'standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona' and the song was about taking it easy"  I never told him that the song is not actually complimentary.  Ultimately, the government not only chose not to come to Winslow, but not to add a printing plant at all.  This building still sits vacant more than 30 years later.  
There were some monument signs placed out at the freeway ramps at the time also that said "Take it Easy in Winslow Arizona!"   Those are gone too. 

Well, for better or for worse, I stood on a corner in Winslow Arizona.  Nobody in a flat bed ford slowed down to take a look at me- girl or otherwise.  Whether anybody from the Eagles ever actually stood on any corner anywhere in Winslow is kinda irrelevant, they were making the point that they were down and out.  It could be any number of places that could make that point in a song, but you gotta admit, Winslow, Arizona does kinda fit the bill.  I was never one to wait around for someone to save me.  I left Winslow at 4AM on the morning after high school graduation when I was 17 years old.  I left Winslow and all things Winslow behind.  I regret not nurturing and protecting friendships and family relationships that I should have nurtured and protected.  It sounds shocking now as a grown man saying so, but I didn't know that I was supposed to.  Thank heavens for Facebook getting me reconnected with people who blessed my life in the past.  I'd like to hope that my contribution will bless their lives going forward.  A friend of mine from California actually took this next shot of me on a previous Winslow visit. Note what a great job the artist did depicting a flat bed ford reflected in the window. There's an eagle perched on the window above and two lovers embracing in the window on the right- it's just a painting on a wall!
Here's one of hundreds of tourists who stand on this corner in Winslow and take pictures like the one you see above. Note that a tourist or other enthusiast has parked a Ford on the curb there... in the left of the shot?  
I mentioned my Sunday School teacher from all those years ago.  I didn't see her on this trip, but I saw her a couple of years ago when I was up there for a funeral.  I asked what it was that kept people living in such a tough place.  Everything that those Mormon settlers said about it all those years ago is still true.  It can seem so God-forsaken sometimes.  She said that Winslow is a seed bed.  There is fertile soil there (good people) and it grows good strong people who then go and do the things that the world needs done.  Some of them stay, some come back, some of them go and do those great things in other places. 

The great philosopher Popeye once said, "I am what I am and it's all that I am."  (He also said, "I'm strong to the finish, because I eats my spinach!")  Instead of fighting against it, I just AM.  I'm from Winslow- and that fact damaged me terribly in some ways, but in other ways, I don't think I could have made it through my hard-times without some of the lessons learned there. It's not always people committing evil acts against us.  It's just life happening to us. 

You may not believe this, but the thought actually crossed my mind as I took a day to reflect on my time in Winslow and look at the place of my primary years with more mellow and seasoned eyes- I thought that I could actually live here and make a go of it.