The Experience – Part 4: Music


I had always been interested in music, mostly on the listening side.  My step father is a musician and a music teacher and played stringed instruments and is a great singer.  He and my mother sang together in my childhood before their divorce while he played guitar and I would sit and listen to the harmonies and the wonderful sound of the guitar and my mind would be lifted in true and deep joy.

I dabbled with a stand up piano that came into our house for a while.  I played whatever sounded good, not songs, just melodies, an endless chain of melodies.  Songs were outside of my interest at the time.  I just played the music I was hearing all around me.  It was always pulsing and moving around me in an endless swirl of atmospheric harmonies.  I could hear them much better then.  As I got older they faded until I only hear them at the time of this writing when I am in nature or if I am in a quiet place.  I now have 6 children of my own, so quiet time is pretty much at a premium these days!

After I left the zen monastery, I integrated back into my co-op housing, paid my rent and went about trying to “get back to normal” as best I could.  The Buddha was certainly on my shoulder tapping a lot, but I also had many other influential ideas running around inside my head.  As I mentioned earlier, I was undecided in my major.  After I came back to school the fall after my summer experience with zazen, I declared my major as philosophy with a minor in comparative religions.

I got back to “the stacks” and everything was really humming along at a good pace.  Normal had certainly not gone far off to play and was solidly back in control of my experience.

Shortly after beginning my first class of the semester, I got knock on my room door and I opened it to one of the coop members letting me know my dad was downstairs and wanted to come up for a visit.  I was delighted!  I could not help my enthusiasm.  I really liked my step dad.  He taught me all about music and how much it can be a real joy in your life.

As I came closer to the door I could see that he held a guitar case in one hand and a larger case in the other.  My step dad was always wanting to play music so I thought he had come all this way to play music and cheer me up!  I opened the door and gave him a hug and he said, “Merry Christmas, son.”  Nevermind the fact that it was not even Thanksgiving yet, but I assumed it was an early present and said so.  He concurred with me and we went upstairs to my room.  Once we were inside he sat down at the chair at my desk and I laid out the two cases on my pallet on the floor.  I opened the first one, a square, mustard colored, cloth Fender electric guitar travel case, a real nice one.

Inside was something so beautiful I had no words for it.  I caught my breath and dad said it was a 1972 Vintera Series Telecaster Deluxe.  He said it played the richest tones he had ever heard and said if I was going to start playing the guitar then this was the one that I should start on.  I was in tears.  I so badly needed something to ground me to the Earth after the summer that I just had and this was absolutely perfect.  This was just the right thing to give me.  I still had one case to go though.  So I opened the long black case and inside this one was a creme colored 1971 Fender Telecaster Precision Bass.  Dad said they would sound amazing together. 

I was beside myself.  He said he would be back later in the week with some amplifiers and stuff to get me started.  I just sat there dumbfounded.  As I spent the rest of the afternoon with him he showed me some basic chords and then later in the day he had to go.  After he left I spent the next week playing them both until my fingers literally bled.  I did not have an amplifier but I could hear the strings and did not tire of the way it made me feel when I played it.

Finally he showed up with the amplifiers.  One was a Fender Super Champ and the other was a Peavey Combo Amp.  I was literally in heaven on Earth.  All the accessories including strings, cords, tuner, straps and headphones.  He spent the next few hours listening to me play the chords I had been taught.  I had been practicing a lot and he said I was a natural.  My heart beamed with pride and I knew right then and there that these stringed instruments were going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.

Music took a very large part of me that year and gobbled it up.  Most days I would spend from the time I got up to the time I collapsed playing between guitar and bass.  I wrote song after song after song of instrumentals and started playing around with singing.  After a while I found my voice and from there I almost completely forgot about school, my job at the library and my friends.

That, however, did not last forever and balance soon returned to my life.  I continued to study and play instruments and pick up equipment when I could afford it.  It was then that I founded my first media company, Dandelion Paper Media in Milwaukee, WI. Dandelion Paper Media was dedicated to the underground music scene in Milwaukee from 1984 to 1986 (the year I sold it to a buddy and founded I Am Marketing and Media Services).  We worked closely with the amazing folks at Galivant Media Group in putting on shows and promoting some talented bands at venues we called Watermelon Sugar…3 bands for 3 bucks!  It was a total blast and I cut my chops at promotion and print media working my fingers to the bone.  It was also the time when I was forming my band and working hard on my mastery of the guitar and the electric bass.  I met Brian Ritchie when he and I were kids.  Great guy, had dinner with him at my apartment.  But that was the way things were, fast loose and we did everything immediate, visceral, which was like the Femmes’ sound and a lot of the bands of that time.  It also was the time when I developed my first visions of zero footprint organizations and ad hoc success.

Overhead had to be low and you had to be fast on your feet to get the scoop.  You also were the editor, the jounalist, the artist, the producer and every other part of the organization too, all of us were, wherever we were, whatever we were covering or promoting.  As the years went by we just perfected it and kept pushing the boundaries of what tech and flying by the seat of our pants could do for media.

But it was the music that defined me.  I wanted to be the star too.  I certainly practiced hard enough and had the bandmates and songs, but it was just not in the cards really because my love of media and information was just too seductive and I would always want to be on the other side of the spotlight archiving experience and curating responses.  I was a PR guy, not a rock star.  I had a few moments in the sunlight and they were great, even had some groupies, lol.  But my first love was always information and PR, great PR.

My writing was something that was certainly of interest to the fans of the shows that we would cover/promote and I became a pretty well known poet during that time in Milwaukee (1984 – 1987).  Working with Cactus, one of the great voices of that time in Milwaukee, I learned to really narrow my voice to find the deep kernels of truth that ripped through my young mind.

When we founded I Am Marketing and Media Services, we got some of our first real clients, businesses in the area, downtown Milwaukee and the surrounding metropolis and a few in Madison.  This is where I tasted my first drink of the blood of the global media beast and wanted more.  Let it be said though, it was the music, always the music that was my muse.  It still is, and poetry too.