Articles and musings

Choose Life


   You know, music is a funny thing. It shapes and permeates your childhood, your teen years, your dating years, when you get dumped on, your college years (which I do not know about), your wedding day, your wedded life and adulthood and even watching your wife get sick and passing away in front of your very eyes. I had music playing for almost a month in the ICU room, at a low volume, playing the soft hits of the 70’s mostly, and I pray to God that I will never hear another song by Bread or “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks (it’s a tragedy in itself that I know these artists), fore I may hold my head in my hands and weep uncontrollably. I had the music on because my wife loved listening to music. Mostly to the radio station KROQ, which plays the current “alternative” hits of today. Unfortunately, the hospital only had “new country” and those 70’s soft weepies. I figured the 70’s songs would piss her off enough to wake her from her coma. I was wrong. We only had two days, when she was awake out of that stretch of time, of communicating through blinking. You can review your entire life with that person by just looking into a loved one’s eyes. We both apologized for previous bad times. We pledged forever and eternal love to each other and the promise to be with each other again and I told her about the happiest day of my life, my wedding day, with me speaking and her blinking in understanding. I must have told her a thousand times that I loved her in those two days. I would have gladly exchanged places with her. I told her this but I think she was ready to go on to the next level and escape the physical pain of this world.

Back to my opening sentence… I always wanted to be a musician even when I was a little kid. I must have seen The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (I do not remember) because we have home movies and I am banging away on bongo drums and playing a toy guitar and bowing after my performance. Even in high school, I took aptitude tests and it came out that I wanted to be a performer or musician or entertainer. Everyone else had engineering or health technician or police officer. I was a freaking dreamer with no real skill…just a pipe dream. To be a “successful” musician is a pipe dream. By success, I mean making a living at it and being happy while doing it. It is hard. It is a rough road. You are basically a star gazing kid being exploited by savvy people out there that provide for you an outlet to play and to be heard. I played forever as a local Orange County and Los Angeles based musician and finally went “pro” when I hit the road with The Lazy Cowgirls in 1995. I got to see Europe and the United States. Places that this lower middle class guy would never have had the opportunity to see. I owe it all to music. Music was the lifesaver. Music was the gospel. Music was the end all and be all….for a time. Then something happened to me. I got very homesick while I was out on tour. We’d be driving by these neighborhoods in upstate Washington during Thanksgiving and I could see the people in their houses, all together, being with loved ones, warm, bellies full, in a place they called home and I was sitting in a beat up van with a bunch of guys from Indiana that had the same passion as I did. But I didn’t feel like a troubadour bringing joy and good feeling to each city that we played in. Rock and roll somehow became work. It became mechanical almost scripted. When I was younger, I would dream of being in a touring band out on the road playing Madison Square Garden or The Forum. But life isn’t like that. We can’t all be famous. We can’t all make it. The music business will use you and spit you out. The half-assed level of success was bad enough. There were underhanded dealings, skimping of payments, lack of respect etc. I am not complaining just telling you how I felt about it. I owe music because it gave me many opportunities to meet great people and it continues to do so but it wasn’t as fun as I thought it was going to be. So I gave notice after the tour and retired from playing music for a couple of years. I hunkered down and learned a skill at the local junior college. Fast forward quite a few years...I find my soulmate, we bought a house together, got married and had a family of three cats and two English Bulldogs. One day I got a call to see if I wanted “to jam” with a few guys that I had known for quite awhile. I said yes tentatively. Well, it got to be quite fun. We became Rockford. We got gigs, we liked to just “jam”, we recorded, got radio play, we enjoyed each others’ company and there was no pressure! Music was fun again! So here I am, the day before I turn 54, and I am scared shitless of music. I traded in ¾ of my wife’s CD’s because I can’t listen to them anymore for fear of triggering uncontrollable weeping and pain. I cannot see myself ever listening to some of those songs again. Dig, I always liked my wife to go see us play because I would still try to show off for her. She was NEVER impressed that I played in a band and I think that was one of the things that made me so interested in her. She didn’t care! And it really freaks me out to think that in the near future I will play a show and not have her out there or not have her waiting for me when I get home to ask “how did it go?” Just alone, loading up my drums back into the garage at 2 in the morning and turning on the TV for company until I tire enough to shut it off and go to sleep without thoughts of my wife’s body in that hospital bed during those last days replaying in my brain. I did go to my first practice since she passed away. It was very hard. The guys were all fantastic and made me feel at ease but how do they know what a person is going through unless they have experienced it. How one’s mind wanders when you play a song that you wrote about her that you disguised as being written about something else? A few times I just wanted to run into the bathroom and just weep. Then the drive home…ugh! Before, two wonderful, happy dogs and Misty would greet me at the door and ask how things went. This time, the loneliness was deafening. I cancelled last week’s practice. I wasn’t ready to deal with it again and deal with this Christmas and birthday week that looms over me. And then there is the New Years’ Eve thing that one can’t ignore that lurks in the shadows like a dark, hideous, blood thirsty monster that comes out when you shut off the lights like in a Stephen King novel. I painted for the first time today since October and I listened to records in the garage for the first time today since Misty took ill. I still haven’t spent time in my sports lounge though. That has too many memories of the dogs and watching baseball and Kings playoffs and eating peanuts together as Misty would check in on us periodically to see what the score was. I hope to venture in there soon, maybe after the new year. It was sort of nice and time sure slipped away and I didn’t dwell on my situation as I painted while listening to The Animals Greatest Hits and The Band Music from Big Pink on vinyl. I escaped to some other plane…to some other place where the muse talks to me and guides my hand and I think Misty could have been there too, in her chair, watching and enjoying the sunshine and digging music she never listened to before. You know, music is a funny thing…

Signal Hill Tribune Interview


Born in L.A. and still live in LB?  Yes, California native…grew up in Westminster but I have lived in Long Beach since the mid 80’s, so I consider myself a proud Long Beach-ian.

How old are you? Turned 53 in December but mentally who knows. I still see a semi-young man in the mirror unfortunately.

Where did you go to school? I went to high school at Westminster High followed by Goldenwest College, Orange Coast College and Coastline College. I never had any art classes…pretty much a working stiff since 15 years old. The household didn’t have many funds to support the college life so I missed out on all that fraternity fun and hazing and putting emblems of my school on my car.

Do you have a day job? Certainly, I have a few..the one that helps pay bills is in Aliso Viejo in beautiful Orange County. I am a full-time Quality Assurance Inspector. I am also a contributing writer for jackaboutguitars website and I also play in a band called Rockford. Somewhere in there, the muse hits me and I get to have me time and dabble in art.

Family info? I come from a pretty talented family. My brother Gerard is a world famous illustrator and has designed many iconic logos…from AC/DC to People and Time magazines to Nabisco to Swiss Army Watches. My brother Jack is a photographer. My brother Al is a retired policeman. It seems my family is either into law enforcement or into art. I have had several aunts and uncles and cousins that are/were artists also…so creativity runs deep in the blood I reckon. I am married, have a house in Long Beach, no children but have two English Bulldogs and two cats that give us lots of pleasure.

When did you start painting and why?  I think it was about in 2007. My parents had just recently passed away, I had gotten married and I was battling a case of the shingles from all of the stress. My wife suggested that I start painting.  I started with little hardboard drawings/paintings of California Angels baseball players and baseball fields then started doing people and situations on canvas.

Your work reminds me of early American primitive folk artists. What would you say influences your visual point of view?  Yes, I would say I am very primitive. I am still learning perspective and how best to transfer an idea from my head onto the canvas. I was once told my paintings are like Jonathan Richman songs, child-like, innocent, but it gets to the basic core of things. So that’s cool. I really don’t know what my influences are…I truly dig Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Williams, Von Dutch and the whole West Coast car culture thing but I don’t want to mine that field because it is being done quite a bit by people that are very, very talented. I will dabble in that occasionally for my enjoyment…almost as a drawing exercise. I also like the tiki stuff out there…again that genre does not need another guy to  join the fracas. I really appreciate the greats..Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Magritte, Chirico. Those guys are like major league and I am still trying to win a spot on the bench of a AA ballclub. I have a couple friends, Dr. Doug Johnston and Don Butler that have some pretty great talent but never really attempted to throw it out there. I have a DIY attitude probably from growing up during the punk rock DIY years. I am being called the “Punk Rock Painter” because of this. That’s cool. I just put myself out there because I live a life of screaming desperation.

Many of your paintings depict music-makers, ranging from rock-n-roll icons like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, to Southern blues artists like Professor Longhair and Guitar Shorty, to jazz greats Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk, to SoCal punk musicians like Saccharine Trust and Mike Watt. What do you hope to achieve with these portraits? Basically, I am just paying homage to some of my musical heroes onto canvas . I also want to give the blue collar musician a bit of credit too. I want people to recognize Whiteboy James, John Bazz, Joe Baiza, Jack Brewer, Henry Carvajal, Cory Davis, Kid Ramos, Monte Vista. These guys all bring alot to the table and have given me a lot of pleasure in my life, so I guess I just want to give back a little to the musical community, maybe even document a certain time in history. I did a painting of Luis Lemus, the owner of The Prospector Restaurant in LB. His story is a true American success story. I am just recognizing people that make a difference. Hopefully, turn other people onto them. This is basically what I want to achieve with these portraits.

How many times have you seen the Beach Boys and/or Brian Wilson perform, and when/where was the first time?  I think I have seen The Beach Boys about 6 or 7 times but not since Dennis or Carl have passed. The first time I saw them was at Long Beach Arena in about 1974 or so. Brian I have seen about 8 times and got to meet him twice, once at Guitar Center in Hollywood and the other time at Long Beach’s coolest record store, Fingerprints. He has signed a couple of my paintings.

You've played in bands yourself. What do you play, and what bands have you been a part of? I play drums. I have played in many, many bands…Here are a few, Copper 7, The Eleventh Hour (w/producer Martin Beal on guitar), Moist and Meaty, The Final Tourguides, Mind Over Four, The Jack Brewer Band, The Lazy Cowgirls, and currently with Rockford.

Aside from musicians, some seemingly random folks like Charles Manson, JFK and comedian Paul Lynde pop up in your work. How did they get there?  I imagine they all loomed large in my psyche when I was a kid. I remember the terror that was felt when Manson and his Family were running around out there. My parents were into the Kennedy’s and I remember we even had a framed color photo of him in our living room. I still have that by the way and all of the newspapers from when he was and shot and when Bobby was shot. I get a bit too involved with the assassination and all of its’ theories. I try to watch everything I can about that event. It just mesmerizes me that there was actually a president out there that was trying to do good for the country and was just stopped immediately. As far as Paul Lynde, I just think he was a comedy God. I love comedians and comics, Groucho, The Marx brothers, Jerry Lewis, Rip Taylor, Charles Nelson Reilly, Bernie from Room 222 (David Jolliffe), Larry Tate character, because behind all the Mr. Funny there is a very big sadness that drives them all. I can relate to that a little too much.

Would you say you're pretty involved in the local art scene or more of a loner artist?  I want to be more involved. I have had showings at Nino’s, at dipiazza’s Restaurant and submitted work to the Aquarium of the Pacific and have an upcoming showing at Harold’s Place in San Pedro next month. I have a lot of stuff showing at Azteca Restaurant in Garden Grove and at Old Town Pawn too. I am sort of shy and private and I get freaked out meeting the public…like, I am a car salesman and trying to sell them something. I just need to get over that feeling. I am in the process of putting my portfolio on CD and getting it out there to a few galleries and cool places…already have talked to Jim at 4th Street Vine about a showing sometime hopefully soon and will contact Rand Foster from Fingerprints records, whom I finally got to meet in person when Rockford played at a tribute to Lou Reed show. So I want to get out there and if I have the loner artist tag well so be it. I am just a bit shy…so if anyone wants to represent me hahaha

Gun to the head, you have to choose: make music or create visual art? Wow, good question. I have made music for quite awhile and I love doing it but you do depend on others and they depend on you, so it really is a group thing. As far as art, I am solely responsible for what I put out there, so I have more control and at this point in my life, I like being in control more. God knows I spent enough time out of control. So let me go with the art thing and please don’t shoot me!

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