Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections in Black and White #2: So Long, 2012! Part 2

So Long, 2012! Thanks for the Memories! Part 2 of 2

Part 1 described how my New Year’s philosophy changed from focusing on “relief from pain” to “appreciation for blessings and optimism toward the future.” After years of bitterly ruing the WTF moments of the past year, I ended 2011 on a thankful note for major progress goals achieved and eagerly anticipated what was to come in 2012.

AND BOY DID 2012 DELIVER! Now, you’re going to see why. I’ll warn you now that this will be a bit lopsided.

Personal Highlights of 2012

1.) Kathy Parsons reviewed my debut album Reflections in Black and White on MainlyPiano.Com!

Ms. Parsons sure knew how to kick off my New Year! is an online hub all about piano releases. If you like solo piano music, this is the FIRST place that you need to check out. It’s chock full of reviews, artist interviews, artist profiles, and even a concert series she hosts. I highly encourage you to check it out!

Here’s a little taste of her review:
 Reflections in Black & White is the debut CD by Ohio pianist/composer/arranger Kareem Powell. The thirteen tracks are an eclectic selection of original jazz-infused compositions and his arrangements of three traditional folk songs and spirituals. Powell has a very impressive background that dates back to his starting piano lessons at the age of five, and continuing through to a BS in Music Education from Florida A&M University (1998) and a Masters of Music in Music Theory from Indiana University (2001). Since then, his musical activities have shown tremendous versatility - Music Minister, director of musical theater, chorus rehearsal accompanist, adjunct faculty, to name only a few of the items listed on his website. While Powell’s playing is masterful and elegant, he has a strong sense of when to keep it simple...
And that's just what she said about me! Go read the rest of it. Needless to say, I was speechless.

2.) Reginald Hudlin listed Reflections in Black and White on his list of 10 Musical Moments for 2011!

Reginald Hudlin is a writer/director/producer whose work spans across several media. You've seen his work in House Party, Boomerang, Bebe’s Kids, The Boondocks television series, The Black Panther animated series (and comic book), and recently a certain Quentin Tarantino movie called Django. He’s got good taste and I’m not just saying it because I’m on that list!(Though, I AM in good company!)

Check it out. It won’t be too long before the 2012 list comes up.

3.) A special choral arrangement

While cleaning my bedroom, I came across an arrangement I did of the Negro spiritual “Soon I Will Be Done.” It was scored in 8-part a cappella chorus with alto ad lib solo and descant. I didn’t have Finale at the time, so I had done it in pencil and then gone over it in ink, which was pretty pain-staking. At the bottom of the score, I saw that it was completed in February of 2002 and suddenly realized why it was special. Most of my other work from that time had been lost in the housefire that had claimed my brother’s life. I had worked on that arrangement in the classroom of the school where I was teaching at the time, which is the only reason I still had it.

My original hand-written/inked version of "Soon I Will Be Done."

Now that I had my office and the equipment and the Finale program, I decided I needed to notate it properly. I finished the updated arrangement and posted it on this blog February 27, which was the tenth anniversary of my brother’s death. It is dedicated to him and his twin, who died in a separate housefire in 1980. The two of them were autistic. This choral arrangement has yet to be performed, though I plan to change that in 2013.

Months later, I flexed my arranging chops again, this one being the Christmas song “I Wonder as I Wander”, SSAATTBB with tenor solo also a cappella. I’d spent a lot of time working with choirs so I guess it really is a part of me. More arrangements are definitely on tap for 2013.

4.) A family affair at Wasson Music Center.

I can’t remember when, but I had approached Carol Wasson about possibly hosting a recital at her store in Centerville, Ohio. I saw her smirk at store manager Steve Makofka and knew something was up. For some time, she’s been hosting art galleries throughout the store. She thought some live entertainment would add something festive to the atmosphere. I just happened to know a certain artist who specializes in digital techniques: my youngest brother, who uses the name Prince of Pompeii! Breath-taking talent. By sheer coincidence, Carol’s daughter also happened to commission a piece from a good friend and classmate of mine, comic artist Justin Wasson! (Yes, I know they have the same last name, but they aren’t that closely related.)

A rendition of yours truly, courtesy of Justin Wasson!

After we started pulling things together, I found out that my eldest sister JoAnna C. Powell aka Sister #A planned to drive down from Detroit. While I don’t believe in tearing others down, I also don’t believe in exaggerating their talent and skills. This is the truth: JoAnna is a world class vocalist, arranger, and entertainer. She is the real deal and is way too good, even for the concert I was doing. She came down to support and being the obnoxious little brother I am, I put her to work! She stepped up to the plate, did half the show, and really made it a night to remember. Even more, this was the first time in my 35 years of life I have EVER worked with or performed with her! It was just an awesome convergence of family and friends that made it one of my favorite nights of the year. 

5.) My first country gig with Bovine Hobo!

What kind of name is Bovine Hobo? A ****ing awesome one that is! I’ve grown up with most of these guys. They’re from the same town and we were in the school choir all together. I occasionally crash their rehearsals or performances and tell them every obnoxious thing on my mind and they still let me come. They kept joking they were going to get me up there with them but I said no. The last thing I wanted was Dad to find out I didn’t hate country music as much as I had told him or that I even knew how to play songs. (Hey… It’s never cool to find out you’re turning into your father.) On my birthday, Bassist Bill Hans tried to goad me to do a show and I said “Fine. You get 50 Likes and I’ll do it.”

****ing Rednecks. Picture taken by Andy Deel.


With the exception of the sound blowing out my ears, the show was awesome! I have fun every time I hang out with the guys. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And rumors of my sharing my piano bench with tambourine playing birthday diva are exaggerated. (PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!!!)

6-10.) The BIG thing…

Even when I was just sketching out the blog entry, I knew this part was going to overwhelm everything else. Any day now, I expect someone to say “Are you ever going to stop talking about this?!” The answer is: No. I won’t. It’s that ****ing awesome. Even if God smites me tomorrow, I’ll be sitting up there telling St. Peter all about it.

I was a reluctant Twitter user. 140 characters? I had to go back and tighten THIS up. Well, I started messing around with on my phone whenever I had time to kill. While I was still managing to hide that I actually liked country music, I couldn’t deny I’d fallen madly in love with Nashville. (Quit cackling, Donna.) I even started following country musicians. Twitter suggested this guy named Jimmy Wayne so I followed him. This was sometime in 2011.

Most of the tweets I got from the others I followed were ads for shows or the latest press releases. Then, I see this tweet from Jimmy where he mentions having been homeless. I’m like “Say wha?!” Then more tweets started rolling in about the needs of foster children, their aging out and being left on their own, and his own experiences. He also mentioned that as a teenager, he had been taken in by a couple and lived with them while he finished school and attended college. Oh… Yeah… And there was also something about his dropping everything in 2010 and walking from Nashville to Phoenix to draw awareness to the plight of foster children. There’s more. Much more. The fact is that his tweets actually had substance to them.

Turns out he’s a damn good singer, too!

Don’t know how good your ears are, but that’s a cover of Hall and Oates “Sara Smile.” They’re singing backup for him. Who the HELL covers a song with the writers singing backup for him? Jimmy Wayne does.

I don’t remember exactly how, but we started talking back and forth. And as I’ve done with Bovine Hobo, I sent him unsolicited critiques whenever I would catch his Opry performances on live stream. This guy has toured with Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley, knows what the Billboard looks like, had Hall and Oates backing him up, and was performing on the BIGGEST stage in Country music and I was this nobody pianist from Ohio making suggestions about HIS music.

Despite it being a perfectly reasonable response, he never once told me to go **** myself! Instead, we talked music.

I also started getting to know some of his fans, like…

Windi -  The skydiving, John Deere-riding, bass-fishing, pistol-packing, barefoot-walking, bridal shop-owning, balloon-sculpting, rattlesnake-killing, unapologetically country gal from South Georgia. (I’m pretty sure she’s the first one I “met.”)

Sharon - Who has this unhealthy obsession with sock monkeys and trying to convince me to use a “man purse.” Don’t ask. All sorts of crazy conversations happen on Twitter and Facebook.

Heather Froglear - My favorite piano-playing West Coast DJ!

Lauren – Diva Tupperware dealer who I ran afoul of by going to Cracker Barrel without her.

Carolyn – A teacher who works her heart out for her students and stands up for the teaching profession.

Eva – Proud resident of NY with great taste in music!

Julie – Sweetheart from Wyoming always ready with loads of inspiring pictures of scenery.

Jessica – La persona unica que me manda practicar mi espaƱol!


Devvi – Puts together incredible tribute videos with Jimmy’s music as a soundtrack. Tough negotiator. She might be the one fan who scares me… (Just kidding, Devvi! You know I love you.)

Ann – The Eavesdropping Tattle Tale.

Debbie – The Mountain Girl Moonshine Queen.

Steph – Steph, Steph, Steph. People file charges for what she wanted me to do!

Honestly, these are just a few of Jimmy’s Posse. (Yes, I coined the term, inspired in no small part by Windi’s brutal slaying of that poor rattlesnake.) There are many many many more who come from all walks of life, promote a cause near and dear to Jimmy’s heart, and many even have stepped up to become Court Appointed Special Advocates for foster children. So, I think the term “Posse” is very appropriate.

Anyway, Jimmy and I are talking back and forth on Twitter. He announces this “Spotlight Artist of the Week” feature on his recently-relaunched website. I’d been making “garage videos” on YouTube for a couple of years. I had recently made another one with “Take It Away” from my album and sent it in. It was selected for the week of August 6, 2012 and my phone went nuts with tweets from The Posse! Jimmy was apparently also getting good feedback from his corner. He said “You know… We should do The Opry.”

I said “Sure.” I’ll admit I was thinking “Yeah right. Like this guy is REALLY going to bring someone he met through Twitter onto The Opry.”

Lesson #1:  Don’t put ANYTHING past Jimmy Wayne! He only accepts it as a challenge.

On September 13, he sent me a direct message on Twitter. “Send me your phone number.” I did. We talked. He asked what would need to happen to get me to The Tuesday Night Opry on September 18. I said “I’d get in the car, drive 5 hours, and stay at my sister’s.” He checked a couple of things with people and then told me it was good to go! So, I’m sitting at home in my office thinking to myself “What the **** did I just agree to?”

So… Then I started scrambling. Why? Because I knew right then and there I had to move quickly to inform all of my family before it started hitting social media. Mom and Dad were on their way to pick up my brother, so I told them in the driveway. I also told them not to tell my brother. I told him when he got home.

After they left, I sent the following text to Sister #1 who I knew was in Cape Cod on business: “So…. Lesseehere… I’m accompanying Jimmy Wayne on the Tuesday Night Opry. Hope everything is well.” Five seconds later, my phone rang. I didn’t know it at the time, but she left a business meeting to make that call! By that point, she’d only been with them (or even in Nashville) for six weeks. Now her little brother was going to be on The Opry. Her office gave her so much flack… for the short notice! (It’s okay. I gave her a bunch of CDs to help make peace.) After she got her tickets, I called up Sister #A aka JoAnna in Detroit – the one you see singing up above. Then, I finally posted it on Facebook. “Looks like I picked up an accompanying gig next Tuesday.”

That’s about the time Jimmy posted on Twitter “Who’d like to see/hear @tkareempowell perform with me @opry Sept. 18, 2012 7:30 PM?”

Yeah. I thought my phone blew up after I became the Spotlight Artist of the Week. Nope. My phone vibrated so much from all the tweets coming in that I had stop myself several times just now from making a raunchy comparison. While that was going on, I went to Facebook to confirm it and create the Facebook Event. People were asking “Really?” and I think they knew for certain it wasn’t a joke when The Posse started responding.

You’d think I’d have been nervous out of my mind, but in actuality I was actually feeling extremely calm. I don’t think I really believed it was happening. I was more worried I’d commit some obscure faux pax (and piss someone off, get banned from The Opry and all Gaylord estates, be blacklisted in Nashville, and live the rest of my life in ignominy…) than I ever was about completely botching up my first (and possibly only) performance in the world-famous Grand Ole Opry House with national recording artist Jimmy Wayne performing a not-yet-released “How Jesus Felt” co-written by Pat Alger (The Thunder Rolls, Unanswered Prayers, etc.) in front of 4400+ people on the Tuesday Night Opry show broadcast to who-knows-how-many-other people including my friends, family, and the Posse members who would be listening online. (Oh… and Lorrie Morgan, Kellie Pickler and Dierks Bentley, but I didn’t think they’d care or remember who I was anyway.) Again, I don’t think I believed it was happening.

Knowing Facebook’s ****ing filtering system, after I made the initial Facebook Event, I would periodically post a countdown of the exact hours and minutes with a link to the Facebook Event. I think that actually did a great job of getting the word out and getting people hyped up to help spread it and tune in. Fortunately, WSM 650 AM Radio streams the broadcast on the internet, so everyone who wanted to was going to be able to catch it.

After buying my clothes off the clearance rack – yes, I did – I drove to Nashville and crashed at my sister and brother-in-law’s. Boy, was I fortunate to have got there, because unknownst to me, I had apparently run over a nail! I found the flat the next day on Monday! (Yep… the day BEFORE the Opry!) Fortunately, it was a quick fix and I was soon mobile again. I called up the Steinway Piano Gallery of Nashville and found a relatively close place to practice. Jimmy and I met for the first time in person at his favorite steakhouse, talked through everything, had an awesome conversation about anything and everything and pretty much got along just fine. (Yes, his song “Do You Believe Me Now” came on. ) It was a blast. The idea was to meet there, I’d follow him over, and everything would be good to go.

That said… I COULD NOT SLEEP THAT NIGHT. Again, not nervous, but so ****ing wired I probably could have run a marathon. I’ve wrestled with stage fright my whole life but I didn’t have a LICK of it that night. Never questioned for a moment that performance-wise everything would be just fine. It blew my mind.

Tuesday, we met up and I followed him over. Since I had NO clue where I was going, I probably drove a little bit on the maniacal side. (Hey… I was taking NO chances!) Pulled in. Hit the wrong parking space. Drove to the correct one. Walked up to meet Jimmy and the JW staff. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking “BEHAVE. Don’t do or say anything to piss anybody off.” (Yes, I’m REAL good at doing that!)

There is something to be said about walking into the back entrance of The Grand Ole Opryhouse. I always thought my first time there would be as a patron and here I was a performer. We were led to the dressing room, soon to be joined by more of Jimmy’s guests. After we got settled, we managed to get in a run-through of the song. (Yes, that was indeed our first rehearsal.) We started to go through it again when the Stage Manager was there telling us it was time to get out there!

Jimmy did “Stay Gone” and “Do You Believe Me Now” with the Opry band and then started to introduce the song we were going to do together, “How Jesus Felt.” About that time, the Opry pianist waved me over to show me how to adjust the monitor. I thought nothing about it until it occurred to me that “Oh… wait… Jimmy was introducing me and I was already out on stage.” I figured it would be worse to leave the stage and then come back on so I sat down at the piano. Man… Yes… Here I was, hired on Twitter, and I completely ruined the dramatic impact of this awesome introduction! Jimmy turned, saw me, was surprised, and went on.

And yes, even while out there on the stage, I STILL did not believe it was real.

It started off fine. The introduction was spacy enough that I could quickly snatch my hand down to turn down the monitor. (For a band, it was perfect… but for just piano, it needed to be turned down a lot.) Once I got used to it, everything started to fall into place. I’ve spent a lot of time as an accompanist and working with choirs, so I knew how to listen to a singer’s breath, respond, and anticipate where he’s going to be. I had the song memorized so we went for it. My take on it is that this was lightning in a bottle. It breathed. Everything was placed. I ended it with a pentatonic run up the piano.

Sept. 18, 2012 at the Opry House! Compiled courtesy of Jimmy Wayne's staff.

When I realized I had done – as if the thunderous applause hadn’t been a clue – I think I just kind of looked at my hand and thought “Did that just happen?” I stood up and yes, I was STILL in denial. Jimmy said they were on their feet and the Opryhouse raised the house lights to show me and I think THAT was when it first started to hit me. After we left the stage, I said “PLEASE tell me we’re going to do that again.”

(Yes… I know… Ghermin’ out. You can listen to it HERE. Search for Sept. 18 and we're on about 1/3 of the way through.)

I managed to sneak in an “AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!” Facebook post from my dying phone. The feedback behind the stage was pretty enthusiastic. Jimmy’s staff didn’t loot my wallet. (There was virtually nothing in it anyway and they would have been REALLY disappointed with the debit cards.) There was so much talking and so many people including a drummer for George Jones with a really sharp poking finger who told me to keep doing what I was doing. WSM Radio told us that they planned to put the performance into their rotation. After some talking, we went back to the dressing room where I was still in complete denial.

(On an unrelated note… We passed Kellie Pickler who not long before had shaved her head in support of a friend battling breast cancer. Even balder than Sinead O'Connor, that woman is beautiful.)

We went backstage to watch Dierks Bentley perform his set. I know it sounds bad, but THAT was when I first realized just how big the house was! There was a whole other section in the stratosphere which is where my poor sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were seated! (My sister DID manage to get some pictures with her cell phone and have them posted on Facebook.)  After that set, my sister had planned to take the tour so she could get back to see us, but after exchanging some texts, we all decided we needed some food instead.

So, when you leave the Opry House, people are waiting outside to greet the musicians. Jimmy of course received his applause. I waited back and next thing I knew I was shoved out to my own applause. Not used to it at all. Completely different world to me!

After some wrangling, we figured out a place. I managed to reach the restaurant as it was closing. While the JW “entourage” was inside, I held the door open with my foot and waited for my sister to get there. (Thank GOD for GPS on cell phones.) I had the unfortunate duty of telling people as they arrived that the restaurant had just closed. I got a reaction I wasn’t expecting…

“Hey… Aren’t you the piano player?”

“Actually, yes!”

“Would you mind taking a picture with us?”

“Sure! I’d be glad to!”

We took a few pictures at the door and I wished them well as they went on their way! Yep… Totally different world. I’m NOT used to the attention! My brother-in-law asked me what was going on as they arrived and I happily told them.

Dinner was great. Jimmy’s staff. Friends. I think there were people from CASA. Again… and awesomely great time. Once we left, we agreed to stay in touch. So after getting back to my sister’s – and my poor nephew had school the next day – I turned on my laptop to find 64 Facebook notifications looking at me and well-over 100 tweets on Twitter. I didn’t touch the notifications. (It got up to 92.) Here I was… and I STILL couldn’t believe it happened! It didn’t feel real to me. Even with all those witnesses, including family/friends/Posse. My mind was elsewhere… AND I STILL COULDN’T SLEEP.

Honestly, I don’t know how people had a conversation with me for the next couple of days, because I don’t think I was capable of uttering a single intelligible thought. On Wednesday, the fans gathered together online and mercilessly hounded WSM Radio until they played the song on the air. My brother-in-law and I listened through my computer and it was just the most overwhelming experience to hear it and say “Wow… That’s ME playing.” I have an album out myself and never experienced that and here I was on terrestrial radio accompanying Jimmy Wayne.

On Thursday, I was in the shower and that’s when that switch finally went on in my head. I completely just lost it. I can’t describe the torrent of thoughts in my head. Yes, it happened. Yes, it went well. Will I ever do it again? Is this as it goes? Is this the start of something bigger? Can I go back to scrounging for work at home and playing for nothing? Even just thinking about it now causes my head to swim.

The experience was incredible and there is no question in my mind that it was the right time. That nagging demonic voice that said “Am I good enough? Am I worthy?” went dead and good riddance. Still, it brought to mind all the experience I don’t have. I know slightly more than nothing about recording. The Opry was the first national stage I’ve ever touched. I know nothing about this area, this level, or this business. Hell… I couldn’t even book myself in my hometown!

Yes, Jimmy took a chance. He went with it. It worked out well. It completely changed my life. By the same token, I recognized neither he nor anyone else in Nashville (or even at home) owed me a damn thing. I’m the one that owes a debt that frankly can never be repaid! I had and still have NO IDEA where this is going.

So… yes, it completely took over my personal highlights, but I’m fine with that because it was just SO ****ING HUGE. Even over three months later, I’ve never felt like this in my entire life. To experience that moment was amazing enough, but to be able to SHARE it with my family and friends. That’s incredible. That’s humbling. I can’t help but appreciate it.

11.) Do you have a nice shirt?

Fortunately for me, I got the answer to at least one of my questions on December 11. I scraped some money together and drove to Nashville to visit my sister’s family and deliver my nephew’s Christmas presents. I also figured it would be a great time to touch base with friends and get out into the community. I saw on my Twitter feed that Brentwood Hills Church of Christ was holding a homeless dinner the next day on December 12. (Yes… 12-12-12!) I figure that would get me something great to do while I was there.

Twenty minutes after I arrived, my phone rang. It was Jimmy.

“Hi Kareem! I was wondering… Do you have a nice shirt?”

“Well, I suppose I could get one… Why?”


Remember Lesson #1 from above?

LESSON #2: Can you guess where this one is going?

Accompanying Jimmy Wayne. December 11, 2012 at The Ryman Auditorium.

12.) Brentwood Hills Church of Christ – The Bridge

Well, the next day – after some quality time with my old friend at the Steinway Piano Gallery of Nashville and making NEW friends at Nashville Pickers next door, I reported to Brentwood Hills Church of Christ. No, I didn’t know a soul, but they quickly found me something to do. I helped carry some boxes of fruit into the church and went to set candles out for the buses that were carrying the homeless guests to the dinner. They had originally expected 450 but ended up with over 600.

Fortunately, they had a healthy volunteer turn out as well. I shared hosting duties for a table and there were already two servers. Our particular guests were a mother and her three children and yes, they got more attention than they probably ever imagined! It was a great time. Now… Of course, I played it all low-key and told them nothing except that I was from Ohio visiting my sister. Another volunteer ratted me out.

LESSON #3: No point hiding.

Well, believe it or not, the church was completely piano-less. (Their services are a cappella.) So, I couldn’t help Jimmy out this time when he did an impromptu performance before their service. I tried to get cell phone video but my battery died before it was done. (It ended up blurry anyway, so I erased it.) I stayed for the children’s pageant and excused myself partially through the service. I’d been out for a few hours and I figured I’d go ahead and make my way back to my sister’s.

God didn’t like that.

Once I turned from the church’s parking lot onto the street, the car started vibrating and getting really antsy. Battery light came on. I pulled into the nearest street which is directly across from the church. My thought process was that I’d go to the end of the cul-de-sac and turn around. Well, the engine cut out on me altogether and would not restart at all. And to actually make me nervous, this street was OOZING with money. All I could think of was that “Oh shit… I’m an out-of-state skuzzy-looking Black man wearing dark clothes and stuck in front of some rich man’s home. And my phone has no power. Please don’t let me get arrested…” I walked down to the church which was still holding the service and looked around for someone to see if I could get a jump. My new friend David was the first person I ran into. We waited until the service had finished before we headed out.

Well… Since it was my alternator, a jump wasn’t happening. He called AAA so I could tow it to my sister’s. While we were waiting, I had the best time chatting with David, his son, daughter-in-law, and his lovely wife Vickie. I handed them CDs and definitely promised to stay in touch and visit the church when I return to Nashville.

Even the ride back to my sister’s was cool. The AAA driver was – like so many in Nashville – a musician in Christian metal, which I know absolutely nothing about. You know you are a geek when you’re talking to him about something, stop in the middle of the sentence to comment on a nice keyboard string transition leading into the thrash guitar solo.

Have I mentioned how much I love Nashville?

Even when a WTF moment happens, there’s still so much inspiring and uplifting to be found. (And yes… I’m glad I wasn’t on the highway or on my way to The Ryman when the alternator blew. That would have been BAAAAAD.)

Some final thoughts:

Just because I’ve chosen to focus on the positive doesn’t mean that everything was perfect. If you read through everything, I mentioned my alternator and the flat tire. I’ve got things to deal with just like everyone else and I’m honest to myself about them. I could easily list them in detail, but no one wants to hear it and those that do are only looking for dirt to use against me. Things happen, both bad and good. I refuse to let myself be eaten up by the WTF moments.

I’ve had some really AWESOME things come together happen and I thank God for it. I also thank God for a supportive family, old friends, new friends, crazy friends, relatively good health, my basic needs being met, the gift of music, and delivering peace, inspiration, and strength of mind to stay true to myself. Thank God for 2012!

2013, you got big shoes to fill!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reflections in Black and White #1: So Long, 2012! Part 1

So Long, 2012! Thanks for the Memories! Part 1

I’ve always loved New Year’s Eve. No, it isn’t that I’m always going out and getting blasted. I’m a boring person in that respect. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol and I don’t smoke tobacco or anything else. I may stuff myself silly and ingest copious amounts of sugar, but that’s as far as I’ll go. New Year’s Eve – other than your birthday – has always been the final day to shake things off and enter the next year with a brand new slate. That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are about, aren’t they?

It used to be that whenever I’d reach this time of year, I’d look back over the things that happened and say “Thank God that’s over. Last year SUCKED!” Then, my mind would briefly rehash every crazy, bad, dramatic, ugly, WTF moment that I was so eagerly looking forward to distancing myself from and burning away with the Bayberry candle. My mantra on every December 31 used to be “The New Year can’t possibly be as bad as this last one!” At the end, I’d look back with relief masking what was really anger, bitterness, and frustration at all the changes I failed to make in my life.

The problem was simple: I felt I had not accomplished anything in my life.

Now… To be fair, that was not true. I knew it wasn’t factually correct. Look at my curriculum vitae. Intellectually knowing something and emotionally knowing something are two different things. It’s that emotional thing that gets you.

Music has always been a part of my life. I knew since my first piano lesson that it was what I wanted and intended to do with my life. I had challenges, primarily economic and logistic, but that wasn’t enough to dissuade me. Yes, I figured even then I was going to perform. The rest of the world either 1.) patted me on the head, said that was nice, snickered, and walked away saying you better have a plan B or 2.) berated my perceived lack of skill, background, and talent and strongly recommended I go into something else like this mysterious plan B. So, yes, for those of you interested in music: the entire world says you suck and need to go into another line of work. Harsh truth, I know, but it is up to you whether or not to listen to them.

Well, I had a Plan B and it blew up in my face. So did temporary Plan C. Then, my house caught fire for the 2nd time in my life, my brother died, the family had an extremely difficult period of readjustment, and everything that already wasn’t wonky went wonky after that. Plan B by that point wasn’t even a viable option.

And you can BET that every year on 12/31 during this time, I would say “Thank GOD that’s over. This past year SUCKED.” I won’t lie; it did suck! I had put what I wanted to do with my life on hold, first for the sake of my education in preparation for the ever-elusive “Plan B” aka academia and then in order to help out my family. Yes, it was eating me up alive.

It isn’t easy. Money is a constant issue. There are other logistical issues I deal with on a regular basis. There’s the social isolation, particularly when you have been repeatedly told to your face about your failure, irresponsibility, and wasted potential. (Yes. I have heard all those words. After a certain point, I just plain refused to talk to people about what I did.) Straight out, the various job prospects pretty much are only fine, provided they are actually supplementing full-time work with its own benefits. Otherwise, meh.

I’ve worked with a number of people in a number of situations and capacities, learning so much on the way. I got to do things and meet people (many of whom I consider friends) that I wouldn’t have otherwise. In the process, I’ve discovered things that I was really great at and honed things I didn’t get much practice in. There were times – many times – where my qualifications or my competence were called into question. There were times I got burned, insulted, lied to, disrespected, and subjected to different standards than others.

At one point, I got completely fed up. I stopped everything but my primary job and backed away from everything else I was doing. It wasn’t the most “practical”, “responsible”, or even the most “professional”, but I did it anyway. After years of saying “someday”, I looked at how I was spending and valuing my time and recognizing the reality that when it came to what I wanted to do with my life, no one gave a fuck but me.

A little simplified, I know, but that’s how I felt at the time. Year after year of being overqualified, undercompensated, and held in low regard brought me to that point… and I was the chief culprit! I had no one to blame but myself that my life was slipping away. There was music sitting in my bedroom unheard and unplayed for going on a decade. (Most of it still hasn’t seen the light of day.) I was tired. I was burned out… and yet, I knew that if I didn’t set everything aside and start, it wouldn’t happen.

And that’s how my debut album Reflections in Black and White was born.

Okay… Sure, it took massive family support, carving money out of a tight budget, and putting my car up as collateral to see it through to completion, but that was how the idea was born. I wanted to record and release an album and didn’t want to waste time waiting for other people to make it happen. So, I did it and let nothing get in the way.

2011 actually ended up being a double whammy. It started off with the conversion of my garage into an office/studio. Something I dreamed about for years! In June, UPS delivered my first album – which had been plotted, plodded, and scraped together over 2.5 years – to my garage studio. My family helped make both these things happen, which made that much more special for me. At the end of that year, I couldn’t HELP but feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude for those things coming together! If you could have a year like that and emerge at the end with no appreciation in your heart whatsoever, then something is utterly WRONG with you!

In fact, while pulling this blog entry together, I got curious and looked at Facebook to see what I had written. On December 31, 2011, I wrote on my personal Facebook page: “Accomplished some great stuff in 2011. Looking forward to 2012!”

And then on my woefully-neglected Artist Page, I wrote…

“Kareem on New Year’s Resolutions:

I’ve noticed that I seem to have the same resolutions pop up every year. I’m tired of that. Don’t get me wrong; I accomplished two major goals this year. My album is recorded and out. My home office is finished and running. I’ve wanted those two for YEARS and finally have them. They WEREN’T on my New Year’s list, however.

I have decided that my one and only resolution for 2012 is to approach every day with a spirit of gratitude for the blessings in my life.”

I wish I could say I succeeded every day, but that would be a bold-faced lie. We all have our ups and downs. More often than not, though, I believe that spirit describes my overall orientation toward life. It’s the way I’ve chosen to feel and my intention is to carry it with me as long as I walk this world.

That isn’t to say that I don’t acknowledge certain less-than-ideal conditions in my life, but I choose to look at them in terms of challenges and blessings. I look at any form of progress as groundwork laid for my next step and appreciate from where I came and all the work and “luck” that came about to make it happen. To that I say:

(Suggestion: Atheists please feel free to replace “God” with a nonsensical word-phrase of your choosing, such as “Banana Pudding” or “Bilbo.” The crazier the better. No, it won’t change what I mean or what I’m doing, but at least you might get a good laugh out of my thanking something you find ridiculous.)

Thank you, God, for 2012! Thank you for another year with family and friends. Thank you for the lives of loved ones you have called home. Thank you for another year of doing what I’ve been called to do. Thank you for bringing more people into my life and gathering an ever-expanding community to encourage me, push me, and help to make me a better man. Thank you for opening my eyes to new opportunities and challenges. Thank you for not letting me call it in when I thought it was over. Thank you for moving that pesky little mountain out of my way. Thank you for lighting the way for me to take my next big step. Thank you. Thank you! THANK YOU!

            As I happily look toward 2013, I have absolutely no idea of what’s coming or whether the moves I’m making will bear fruit. Will this be the year I get my **** together? God only knows. Again, I approach the coming year with appreciation for everyone and everything in my life and yet to come. I pray that regardless of what happens I emerge at the end of 2013 a stronger, wiser, and better man.

           Oh… and less broke wouldn’t hurt, either.

To everyone, I thank you and I thank God for you being in my life. I would not be the man I am now if not for you. (For the record, I’m going to assume that means I am a better man for having known or been acquainted with you. If not, then what does it say about YOU that you are acquainted with me?)

I wish nothing but the best for each of you and that 2013 is as full of “magic” and positivity as it is going to be for me.

All the best,

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

From Poor Man to Entrepreneur?

No, I haven't given up music. And no, this isn't a How-To manual. I don't have the faintest idea how to do this myself.

For some time, I've been reading up both online and offline about entrepreneurship. It isn't that I'm particularly business-minded. (I'm not.) I would just rather my future well-being not be wholly reliant on the whims of a rich man whose job it is to appease stockholders that could give two shits whether I am employed, much less have a retirement or basic health coverage for my wife and kids. (No personal offense meant to anyone I am approaching with this question.)

Conventional wisdom says dream up a kickass idea/business plan, research and test it for viability, secure seed money (via loans, investors, etc.), launch, execute, and tweak while growing. Oh... and develop an appetite for dirt because you are going to be eating plenty of it while you limp along.

Let's take a step away from that.

What advice can you give to a poor man? Like the one with the minimum wage job or perhaps the one whose unemployment ran out. Or the man who lost everything after a debilitating illness. Or the one who doesn't know where he is going to sleep tonight. I am talking about the poor with no access to capital or credit with the most limited of resources.

How can this person take that $50 and invest it in a way that it yields $10 or $20 or even more in profit?

Is there a way for the poorest of the poor to learn to become entrepreneurs? How would YOU go about it?

All the best,