Thursday, July 12, 2012

Demons in My Head #6: Real Life

Real Life

Though I consider my family/home life a major focus in my life, I'm wary about discussing it at length. The closest I've come is the post-in-limbo that DIMH #3 is loosely based on. Even that one - long as it was - only skimmed the surface when it came to laying out my family dynamics. The fact is that 1.) My family is rather large, 2.) Everyone has their own lives/hopes/dreams/and life outside of the family, 3.) Everyone has their own challenges to overcome, and 4.) Everyone in the family interacts. So, yes, my life is less the Andy Griffith Show and more Grey's Anatomy. Yours is the same way. Sure, the "crazy shit" quotient may be set higher or lower, but you can bet everyone - including your ten-year-old daughter - has stuff going on in their lives that may or may not have absolutely nothing to do with you.

In the midst of this, I live. As I want to? Not yet. It's a work in progress. I've had my own share of "WTF?!" moments as well as earlier decisions coming back to bite me in the ass. Everything has a cost, be it in time, money, or resources. I could lie and say that all of my risks have paid off and are bearing fruit, but in reality I've failed far more than not. Have I learned anything? Hell yeah. I've learned many things that I wouldn't have if I hadn't tried. That's what makes it worth doing.

I also learned that the world never misses an opportunity to kick between your legs when it sees an opening, often without any regard to the 98% of what it doesn't know while it is judging you. Occasionally, I get reminded of this fact after making the mistake of opening up. I don't particularly understand this mindset as the experience itself is the best teacher, but there are people that always have something to say. Everyone is coming from a different place in life with a different set of circumstances and different crosses to bear. Just because you "would" approach what to YOU is a purely hypothetical situation one particular way does not mean the other person had that option or did not have some other factor in mind when he or she did not choose that option.

There are conditions I face in my everyday life that other people do not. I made the choice and I'm perfectly comfortable with my decision and why. I also recognize the cost and that if I am to get where I see myself going, I'm going to have to create some alternate way that accommodates my choices. Will it work? I have no clue. I'm still trying it.

Everyone has that choice and that responsibility to live life on their own terms, costs and all. Have people screwed me over? HEAVENS, YES. Time and time again. I could go into detail. At the same time, I made the choice to be or occasionally stay in that situation, particularly when I looked at what it would cost to extract myself. Sometimes I "won" and sometimes it was a painful "loss." That is life and I would not be who I am today if I just went with the flow.

I call people on their behavior, particularly when its consequences affect me and mine. And yes, there are certain people I will happily limit any further interaction with. I own my decisions, mistakes and all and all the factors I took into account to make them, regardless of whether anyone else agrees.

And I'm proud of that. Time for me to go make some more.

All the best,


Friday, July 6, 2012

Demons in My Head #5: Enough is Enough

Enough is Enough

Go take a look at my Curriculum Vitae. In my time, I have approached music from a number of directions. Pianist, arranger, music director, union president, several types of jazz, musical theatre, accompanist, teacher among a few that is listed on the CV. (Not all of it is.) Some of it was a deliberate choice on my end. Most of it came from being a person with a set of skills who was known by the right person at the right time.

This is not to say that I took nothing away from these experiences. There is always something to learn and something to improve. As much as I love Herbie Hancock and Stephen Schwartz, I'm not trying to become either one of them. I'd much rather be the best damn Kareem Powell there is.

(Don't get me wrong. I'd go MD a Broadway musical in a heartbeat.)

The point is that finding your direction takes time, even if you think you have it already. There is no telling how the skills you learn will be vital in the future. There is no way I could have done anything on that list if there wasn't something I could pull from it.

That said, the time will come where you have to say enough is enough, especially if it takes energy and resources from what you are going after in your own life.

Don't ever buy into the idea that you have to spend any amount of time "paying your dues" or working from the bottom. The problem with doing so is that you are giving others the "power" to determine your readiness and worthiness to advance. Take it from me; under those circumstances, your dues will never be paid. You'll never be "good enough" to start or step out on your own. Even and especially when you work with others, you have to figure out and do your own thing, even if you aren't sure you are ready. You can't find your voice if you just watch others speak.

Once you head in your own direction, be prepared for the rejection that comes with it. If the people with whom you have cast your lot really respect you as a person, a musician, and an equal, they will celebrate with you for taking that step, even if they think you are nuts!

Sanity is overrated. Creativity doesn't come from a point of sanity; it comes from a point of imagination. Go bring some delusion into your art and see what happens.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Freedom and Parallel Realities

Freedom and Parallel Realities

I tend to avoid political talk for the most part because - well - most of my friends are dead wrong! Just kidding... I have a number of friends that tend to lean conservatively with a few even being self-described libertarians. I, on the other hand, am unapologetically liberal. It's less about being factually correct/incorrect and more about having major philosophical differences about how this country should be run and how our resources should be spent. Don't bother trying to change me, because it isn't going to happen. I have no intention of trying to win someone over to my side, either.

Being a Black man in this country, there are certain things that I just cannot take for granted. My mother was twelve years old before she attended public school after the landmark ruling of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. My father was likewise raised in segregation, had classmates who were lynched, and was still denied the right to vote after he came of age. My uncle enrolled in a Masters program at the University of Cincinnati, worked through it, and was denied the masters degree because of his race.

There are all sorts of stories of injustice that I could pull from both sides of my family history, but the main point is: I did not have to go through any of that. (Thank God; Praise Jesus; and NO, I'm not complaining!)

This isn't to say that I don't have my own share of stories. One of my elementary school principals accused me of threatening another student with a letter opener. (Thank God at the time that I had no clue what the hell a letter opener even was.) This same man eventually became assistant superintendent of the school district and shredded my application to work there. My ninth grade principal pulled me into the office the first week of school, read me the riot act, and warned me that I'd better not lie. Of course, he then accused me of lying when in fact students did racially harass me. (I'm not entirely convinced he didn't give them permission to have a go at me.) I remember sitting in his office with the goober STILL dripping on my shirt and he ripped into me. I told him I was done... and not long after that, I got Saturday school, removing me from consideration for the honor society. I had friends who witnessed it first-hand (and in some cases tried to speak out) and yet, I'm sure most of them had little idea this shit was even happening. Why would they if they didn't see it first-hand?

I would like to hope and dream that maybe that would also be something the next generation won't be dealing with, but I am not holding my breath.

Whether it is acknowledged or not, I am well aware that there is a double standard where I am concerned. The racism of today isn't embodied by dumbasses in dirty-ass bedsheets who go around burning crosses in people's front yards. It really isn't even embodied by the n-word or any of the other various racial slurs that get hurled in the open or uttered from the safety of closed doors or anonymously behind computer screens.

The racism of today is more akin to a parallel reality that is out of view and out of mind of those who don't experience it. It's the difference that happens when I use my first name (which is English in origin) versus my middle name (Arabic). It's when I go for a walk in my own neighborhood and the police arrive to talk to me because someone referred to me as "suspicious." It's in the fact that a white male high school dropout with a felony record has a greater chance of being employed than a black male college graduate with no criminal record at all. It's when businesses systematically hide their minorities (who may even own the business) in an effort to be competitive! It's in the routine dismissal and diminishing of the qualifications of minority professionals as being nothing but "affirmative action."

Out of sight; out of mind.

The next time you say "Race really isn't an issue between me and my (ethnically diverse) group of friends", are you really sure that is the case? Are you sure that you are not in fact living in a parallel world? Are you really aware of the challenges they have to face by virtue of their minority status?

Are they really enjoying the same freedoms/privileges that you take for granted?


Monday, July 2, 2012

Demons in My Head #4: Music Rant

Music Rant

As I mentioned in the previous entry, I am extremely driven by my relationship with my family and the sacrifices they have made on my behalf. Music has been the other major focus in my life. As of this year, it has been a thirty year investment of time, money, and resources.

It hasn't been a cakewalk, either. Frankly, most of my "formative" years of study were done under conditions that your stereotypical "conservatory brat" never experienced. While I had my share of cheerleaders, more than a few people were far from supportive. I'm not talking simply about cool indifference. I am talking about people actively going out of their way to "talk sense into me."  Geeze... It all comes down to this:

1.) Music is not a viable career path. You'll starve. It's really hard to make a living. Very few people actually make it. You need a "B" plan, because your "A" plan is going to fail!

2.) You aren't good/talented/musical enough. You need to learn/practice more. Your technique sucks. You don't know anything.

3.) You should quit trying to be a pianist and focus on voice/technology/Black studies/Black music/something "Black."

4.) It's too late/If you were any good, you would have already succeeded. You should have done that years ago. You failed. Your musical life is over at 18/22/25/30/etc.

Dear God... Are there that many people so fucking devoid of life that they have to go suck it out of someone else? (BTW... God answered and he said YES.)

If I hear one more fucking thing from someone who is not a musician, has never formally studied music, doesn't play a musical instrument, but knows a musician and is therefore a legitimate authority on all things musical... it will be Thursday.

Honestly, people, it is as simple as this: As of now, I have spent 84% of my life studying, practicing, and pulling stuff together. Shut the fuck up. If I were going to quit, I'd have done so when I turned 7... about the same age that you did. And if you happen to be a professional musician who has said something along those lines, I'm sure you can easily find somewhere on your person to store what I think of your opinion.There's a way to make just about anything happen; the trick is finding it. Instead of trying to force an unsolicited and unwanted "reality check" down my throat, focus your energy on your own goals.

Thank God, I've got my own ideas.