Category Archives: Playing the fool

My journey on the path of martial arts

My journey on the path of martial arts started when I was six years old. I took judo classes from Sensei Maley once a week. After achieving mastery and advancing to yellow belt, I pretty much knew I was ready to take on the world. I remember at the end of one class when Sensei said, “Next time, I’m gonna make you sweat so much, it’s gonna look like you just got out of the shower!” I never went back. I think at that point I realized that I was above and beyond what he had to teach me.karate lp 3

My next formal training, some ten years later, was in Shorin Ryu, where I studied intently in Giddings, Texas for a few weeks. The lessons I took away sharpened my instincts and set the stage for my next level of practice…

Aikido. About 20 years later, I underwent brutal and intense training in Austin, Texas. The four months of suffering and sacrifice was worth it, though. I got a girlfriend and realized that I pretty much had learned all that my senseis had to teach me. It’s crazy how much I know!

Now, almost 40 years after my journey began, I’ve come full circle, and I’m studying karate and kung-fu. Before you say to yourself, “That sounds cool! I think I’ll do it, too!”, be warned: this training is NOT for the faint of heart. When I decided that I was REALLY dedicated, I went out and got myself a copy of “Dynamic Kung Fu and Karate” (Copyright 1974, Demaru, Inc.). karate lp 4This LP is worth its weight in gold! Even though my Sensei on the album gives clear instructions, I find that the black and white photos in the accompanying instructional booklet give me the edge I need to win.karate lp 2karate LP 1

Sometimes I’ll put this record on and listen to it while I’m washing dishes, or dusting, and I know that my training is taking me even further along the path! Occasionally, my Sensei will speak with a directness that borders on harshness; I’m learning that this helps me to develop exactly the kind of toughness I need to survive in the dojo, and on the streets. Plus, I know that I’m getting the depth and breadth of training that I truly need; my Sensei requires me to feel like I’ve fully mastered each technique before advancing to the next one. After just a few days, I feel like I really, truly understand every technique on Side One! I can’t wait to receive my black belt in the mail!

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Grinding it out

Finished the first song for the new album this morning. Coffee. Record button. More coffee.

Yashima, Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku, Japan. She wanted me to let the seal kiss me. So I did.

This evening I started tracking the second song.

This blog entry is a testament to how important it is to get it right. And how I haven’t, yet.

Spent a couple hours working on tracking the ukulele part. Finally, nailed it. Even better than I could have hoped for. Followed up with vocals. Finally got those the way I wanted them, too.

Time to track some bass.

Oops. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong. Something called “creep”. “Ukulele creep”, to be precise.

Turns out I failed to make sure my ukulele was in absolute tune (A=440) before I hit the record button. It’s in relative tune, that is, in tune with itself, but A does not = 440 Hz. Probably closer to A=450. As one string would go out of tune throughout the day, I’d accidentally overcompensate, tuning it just a little too sharp. And then I’d absent-mindedly end up tuning the rest of the strings to match that one.

Instead of simply getting out my tuner and making sure it was right every time. (Ouch.)

Instead of scrapping all I’d done and actually TUNING and starting over, I decided to play the Wise Guy. “I’ll just tune my bass UP a little bit to make up the difference. And everything Will Be Just Fine.

So after wasting at LEAST an hour with that silliness, I finally tuned my bass back to A=440. Laid down the track. It sounds good by itself. BUT it’s just enough out of tune against the ukulele to be crazy making.

Note to self: Don't just buy it. USE it.

After so many years, you’d think I’d have learned this lesson enough times not to have to repeat it. But no. Apparently, I needed a reminder. There’s absolutely no substitute for clean, in-tune performance. Period.

Looks like I’ll be re-tracking the ukulele tomorrow.

And releasing an album I can be proud of.

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The Crud, codeine and a new album

I sit there, trying not very successfully to focus on my new guitar magazine as I wait. 

After a few minutes of gazing distractedly at random pages… the door starts to open. I set my magazine down and get ready. Then it closes again, and I hear voices in the hallway.
Opens, and in walks the Doc. Little younger than me probably… tall, lanky… giant hands and a big grin.
“I had this Crud last week. It lingered, too.”
I smile. Yes. Lingers.
“I’m gonna prescribe some antibiotics. Do you want some codeine, too, to help you sleep?”
I nod, smile growing… eyes widening.

“Make sure you measure it!” he says, half-jokingly, looking at me sideways, with a smile. “The last person told me, ‘Doc, I slept for FOURTEEN hours!”

Fender 1953 Reissue Sting Signature bass. The bass I will own by the end of this year.

“‘Did you measure it?’, I asked.”

“Ummmm…. no…”
Thanks, Doc.
Then on to Rite Aid. “We’ll page you when it’s ready.”
Walk around the store, trying to be interested in anything other than the way my body feels.
“Finding what you’re looking for?” Just waiting for my prescription.
“Can I help you find anything?” Just waiting for my prescription.
“Sir, do you need some help?” Just waiting for my prescription.
Maybe if I get on the intercom and make one sweeping announcement, they’ll stop following the guy in the leather jacket with the unpleasant expression on his face.

“Attention Rite-Aid staff and fellow shoppers… I realize it’s noon, and I should probably be at work right now, instead of roaming these aisles… back and forth, up and down… occasionally stopping to pick something up, removing my glasses and studying the label. I’d like to assure you that while I may fit the profile of a no-good, piece-of-sh&! shoplifter, I am not trying to steal any discount candy, hotplates, or lawn ornamentation. I am, in fact, waiting for my prescription to be filled. Thank you for shopping at Rite-Aid.”

But then the seventy-something year-old woman behind the counter would probably get in my face… “Sir, SIR! You are not authorized to use this Public Address system! We’re going to have to ask you to leave, or we’ll contact the authorities!
Forty-five minutes later, I give up and go to the counter. “What the @%$!, people! Where’s my sonuvab@tching PRESCRIPTION already?!!!” (Translation: “Ummm… is my prescription ready yet?”)
“Name?”
“Birchard.”
“Oh, HERE it is, right here!”
Argh! How long have I been needlessly walking around, waiting?!
Home. Pajamas. Antibiotics. Codeine purple cough syrup. Close my eyes… open them and it’s 4 hours later.
But the night will last forever.
Forever.
The long, dark night. Where visions of playing your bass are suddenly replaced with dreams of chasing a bad guy with your posse… and being handed a gun. Having the main bad guy look right at you… “You’ll never do it, you spineless wimp!” The gun is SO heavy, and so OLD. In my dream, I can barely pull back the hammer with both hands to cock it. But once I do, I waste no time in pointing it at his heart and pulling the trigger with my left hand.
My left hand?
Awaken… what time is it now? One a.m.? Three a.m.? Midnight? No… it’s almost 6 a.m. now. Night is over.
But the codeine lingers.
(Incidentally, just between you and me, writing and recording of the new album has begun. Apparently this alternate reality is just twisted and fertile enough for new seed to take root.) 

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Get out of my head

I remember reading an interview with Eddie Van Halen years ago about how, while he was sleeping, a beetle crawled into his ear. He had to have a doctor remove it, and he’d kept it in a little glass jar.

I’d always wondered how terrifying and painful that must have felt.

Now I know.

About 30 minutes ago I was out in the back yard with someone special, and we were admiring the tomatoes, jalapenos, and cucumber plants. We were standing beneath the beautiful tree that shades almost the entire back yard, and as we discussed which branches we might trim to increase available sunlight for the vegetables, I suddenly felt something drop into my right ear.

I don’t mean that it landed ON my ear. I mean that something dropped straight into my ear canal. And it was alive.

I froze.

Standing there shocked, I literally did not know what to do to make the situation better. Shake my head around? Strike the side of my own head with my hand?

Might get the –whatever it was– out of my head… but then again, might send it further into the depths of my skull. MY skull. This thing was inside my freaking skull.

Suddenly, there was a lightning bolt of pain, and I found myself screaming and slobbering. This was NOT how I’d planned to spend my Saturday morning. Clear skies, sun shining, 71 degrees… but all of that took a pale back seat to the fluttering and sudden, agonizing stabs taking place in my ear.

I ran inside, stopping only once on the steps to scream again as it fluttered and stabbed.

In the upstairs bathroom, I caught a glance of myself in the mirror–eyes wide with terror, entire body shaking from the gallon of adrenaline that had been dumped into my bloodstream… but how do I fight or run away from something inside my own skull?

Fortunately, a loved one was standing right next to me, helping me through all of this. The little green squirty-bulb tube thing (“ear irrigation bulb”) that comes with the Debrox. Find that. Yes. Okay. It’s in my hand. Flutter. Flutter. Stab. Slobber. Scream.

I got the hot water running and into a glass, then started shakily squirting water into my ear. Flutter. Stab. Flutter. Slosh.

After three or four tries, in a complete state of panic, I saw a little black ‘something’ emerge, and I yelled, “There it is! Grab it!”

My beloved swiped it out with a Q-tip.

We both looked down…. and I heard her say, with what sounded like a mixture of shock, amazement, and disgust, “Earwig!”

I’m still shaking a little, as I type this. But I’ve calmed down a bit.

After taking a somewhat shaky photo and ascertaining that it still had all of its legs, stingers, wings… whatevers… I squashed it. A lot. Angrily.

I can’t even IMAGINE what it would have been like to try to sit calmly in the waiting room of Urgent Care… a grown man sitting in a chair with a terrified expression on his face, eyes blasted wide open, occasionally smacking the side of his head and screaming out loud… I can see all the other patients sloooowly moving away from that guy on the Group “W” bench…

All I can say is ‘thank you’ to my beloved for helping me through this. And wherever you are, make sure you’ve got one of those little green squirty-bulb tube (“ear irrigation bulb”) thingies handy at all times.

Not fun for any human, I’m sure… but for those of us whose primary means of moving through the world is hearing/sound, wow. I have a new appreciation for the feeling of NOT having a little angry creature struggling inside my ear canal.

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Guilt-free pleasures

What were you listening to in 1978?

(That you still listen to today?)

PROUDLY!

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bad ideas

Last Sunday was my birthday, and we celebrated with a magnificent sushi dinner, fit for a king. Got home and prepared to relax… “once I run the trash down to the dumpster.” At the time, there was a lot of snow on top of the dumpster. I lifted the heavy steel lid and did my best to “shake” the snow off by quickly raising and lowering the lid.

Bad idea.

Wouldn’t you know my hands would slip. The lid would crash down. On my hands.

It hurt so bad that … wow, it hurt bad. I was afraid to take off my glove and look at my left hand, which caught the brunt of the force. But I had to do it. To my amazement, no compound fractures, no broken skin, no blood. But definitely a contusion.

I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to play guitar for months.

But I’m happy to report that only five days later, I’m a LOT better. I’ve been constantly working that hand to help increase blood circulation to carry away the dead cells. The tip of my pinky is still pretty numb, but I do have some feeling back. Clapton does just fine without using his left pinky when he solos, but I’ve grown really fond of using that finger when I play. (Not that I’m so bold as to compare myself with such greatness.)

Steve Vai says, "...protect your hands."

Steve Vai recommends that men who love to play guitar should protect their hands more vigilantly than they’d protect their genitals. Time for me to start heeding that wisdom.

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