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The Aperature

Aperatureap·er·ture  (noun):
1. an opening, hole, or gap.
2. a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera.

***

It was underneath the smell of cut grass and gasoline that I first noticed the hole. A medium-sized perforation about the size of a tennis ball that was sticking out like a pockmark on the face of my freshly manicured lawn.

On first glance I estimated its size to be approximately three-inches wide by four-inches deep. A perfectly shaped cylinder unlike any of the typical oblong-shaped chasms that are dug by man. On the contrary, I was certain this particular hole was delivered by one of the masters of dirt and dig – a varmint. The enemy of perfectionist yard enthusiasts everywhere.

Now, I’ve always prided myself in keeping a tidy yard and have been mowing my one-third of an acre plot religiously every Saturday morning during the mowing season. Always making a point to follow-up the proper mow with a good trimming around the base perimeter of the fence line as well as going the extra mile to get every rogue dandelion that curiously survives the spraying by the professional weed service I pay top dollar to in order to make my lawn the envy of the neighborhood.

And now — there’s a freaking hole in it.

For the last twenty years mowing the grass has been the only thing that has really given me any sort of happiness. During that same span of time the long, blondish lawn on my own head has disappeared and the chiseled abs I once had have succumbed to the inevitable phenomenon I like to call age mass. I’ve been in and out of jobs over the years, habitually single and even survived a bout with colon cancer at the tender age of thirty-six. For the most part you could say that my life has been pretty much status quo.

But I wasn’t always the lawn-loving, bald, thick in the middle-man you see here before you. At one point in my life I actually had dreams. Dreams of becoming the next Edward Van Halen as guitarist for the hair metal band, Silent Rage.

You’ve heard of us, right?

Don’t worry. I won’t shed a tear if you haven’t. But I will say that Silent Rage was one of the 80s most well-known hard rock groups. I mean, we played gigs everywhere from Maine to South Florida; opening for bands like Winger, KIX and Heaven’s Edge. We even had a showcase for the Adverse City Records honchos in New York City, who promised us a two-album recording deal in early 1991.

Yep, the world was going to be our oyster. That is until Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and the rest of those Seattle grunge lunatics shot that dream to hell. Forcing the band to dissolve and me to have to sell off most of my gear and take on the first of countless jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually leading to the middle-aged conundrum I now find myself in.

In a world where age, health and hair have forsaken me, mowing the lawn is the only thing I have any sort of control over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little upset when a rabbit or groundhog comes into my inner sanctum and decides to dig a hole.

How did I not notice this obtrusive hole while I was mowing, you ask? Good question. I pondered the same thing myself. Surely I would have seen a tennis ball sized hole as I was making passes over it with the lawn mower, yet I must have somehow overlooked it.

But what made the whole thing even stranger was the fact that there was no dug-up loose dirt in the area surrounding the hole. In fact, the earth near the hole was hard packed and completely dry. Giving every indication that the hole had actually been there for a long, long time.

Now, I may be forty-five years old and been diagnosed with presbyopia at my last eye doctor visit, but even I would have noticed a blatant hole sticking out like a sore thumb several weeks into the mowing season. I decided to kneel down to get a closer look at the intruder’s work, hoping to find a clue as to what brand of rodent had been infiltrating my land.

As I started moving loose grass clippings out of the way a drop of sweat slipped off of my brow and fell into the hole. There, beneath the warm June sky something began shining out of its depth. At first I thought it might be a quarter or some small piece of glass or stone reflecting off the hot summer sun. Instead, it turned out to be nothing material at all.

It was a beam of light. A light shining out from somewhere within the hole. It was almost as if someone was on the other side of the hole shining a flashlight outward and into my eyes.

A lump began to develop in my throat and I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’ll be honest with you here. I seriously gave consideration to making a run for it. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem right. But instead of running, I decided to do what only a fool would do. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered my eye right inside that cantankerous hole.

Screw you, Alice in Wonderland.

What I felt when I first looked into the hole was reminiscent of a pirate who had been lost at sea for months. A pirate who would spend most of the day peeping through his spyglass in a vain search to find land but only finding endless sea. Until one day, just as he’s about to run out of food and water, he discovers the thing he had been searching for. The only thing that mattered.

As I looked down into the hole I could see a white-colored, cloudy canvas. Like I was flying through a sea of cumulus clouds, with edges clean and soft. A canvas whose brightness covered the entire spectrum of my senses and then; as if on cue, having already known of my intentions to see what lied beyond, the canvas of clouds quickly parted into some dream-state dimension

From a third-person perspective I saw myself in this surreal state just as clear as day. Only it wasn’t the forty-five year old me I saw. Instead, it was a much younger version of me, no more than twenty-one.

Nearly forty pounds from my midsection had all but disappeared and every last one of my long blond hairs had miraculously returned. The real me had a sense of confidence he hadn’t felt in a long time.

For all intents and purposes, it felt like the year 1990. Like watching some old home movie, but in the highest of definition. One where every nuance of every movement was noticeable – the sights, the sounds, the feeling. From that moment, I realized I no longer wanted to just look into the light inside of the hole. Instead, I wanted to become a part of it.

I watched from above as this younger version of me stood somberly next to his idling, green, 1976 Chevrolet Vega wagon. A dark brown suitcase sat next to the car as it sputtered in and out of stalling. I was certain that it wouldn’t be long into my trip before the car would leave me sitting on the side of the road.

Vega1

It was 1990.

The familiar sounds of Westminster Chimes began to play from the St. Agnes Church a few blocks away. I had enough time to count each chime as it signaled the hour of day.

One…two…three….four….

By the time it reached the ninth chime I had already determined that it was early morning based on the positioning of the sun in the eastern sky and by the faint sounds of another lawn mower leveling the landscape some distance away. It was also at that moment that I realized I was at West Chester University again and even more importantly, I was fully aware of what was about to happen next.

A young, attractive woman slowly approaches the vehicle. She had fair skin, a creamy complexion and the familiar long brown hair that ran down beneath her shoulders. With deep blue eyes that breathed a life in me that I’ve never felt before nor ever will again. She wore the blue denim jacket her parents had bought for her in high school, with matching jeans and scuffed up Chuck Taylor’s that have seen a lot of miles from the long walks we had taken together over the last two years. The smile she had that could light up a room was now replaced with sadness. I knew going in this was not going to be easy.

Christine is was my everything.

“Have everything you need?” Christine asked in her casual, nonchalant fashion. The faux me was already quick to answer.

“Yes. Enough to get me through to Scranton.” I said. Of course, I was lying. As Christine already knew from our many journeys in the beat-up old wagon, the Vega constantly burned oil and overheated. I figured I might only make it as far as Allentown before I’d have to stop.

“Did you get all of your paperwork complete?” she said, hoping that somehow I might have overlooked something. Something that would have delayed the inevitable.

“Uh-huh. Got the final papers from the bursar’s office yesterday. It’s all done. Turned in my keys to the resident advisor this morning, gassed up the car and here we are.”

“You know, you don’t have to do this.” Christine said solemnly. “Can’t you at least stay until the end of the semester and see what happens?”

Tears began to fill her eyes.

“ I can’t.” I said. “You know I’ve waited a long time for my music to take off. This gig up north promises shows for the next three months. Good pay too. Mike our drummer even says that it may lead us to a showcase in New York City if we’re good enough.”

There was an odd silence and then she said those same five words I still ask myself in my darkest nights.

“Are you good enough, Jim?”

Am I?

Even though I already knew the answer, at that moment someone greater than me had pressed “pause” on this supernatural VCR.

“Choose.” a voice said.

“Choose?” I asked looking at the now frozen in time Christine. I could not take my eyes off of her.

“You can change the outcome. I’ve given you the choice.” the voice responded.

“But I already know what happens” I thought to myself, now knowing that whatever voice was speaking to me could also read my mind.

“Twenty-five years ago you decided to leave college for music.” the voice responded. “You now have the chance to change it.”

“Change it?” my conscience said. Could I really sacrifice these last twenty-five years? Is it possible to get a second chance in this life?

It’s true. I did turn my back on college and Christine [who was already halfway through her second year of pre-med] in exchange for a chance to become the guitarist for Silent Rage – the next great hair metal band. But instead of staying in school to get my teaching degree, marrying Christine and living happily every after, I took my beat-up Fender Strat on the road for two years performing to semi-packed crowds before the advent of grunge destroyed me and nearly every other 80’s hard rock band that existed and ended my musical dream.

During those ensuing years Christine and I fell out of touch. I don’t know if she ever did become that doctor but I am sure that her end result was better than mine. I did try looking her up on Facebook and LinkedIn after my battle with cancer [being face to face with death has a tendency to make you want to tie up loose ends] but came up empty-handed.

“Are you good enough, Jim?” the voice asked me again.

“This isn’t that movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.” my conscience told me. “No one can really go back. You only get one life and the trick is to make the most of it.”

Sure, grunge was a setback. And I know that if I had been made that decision back in 1987 instead of 1990 things might have been completely different. But age, health, relationships, job-hopping and even that little drinking episode I had that led to a night in the drunk tank were all setbacks. But none of those things really destroyed me. They only made me who I am

“Are you good enough, Jim?”

I looked at the frozen Christine. I looked at the frozen twenty-one year old me. I looked at the idling Vega that would wind up stalling out halfway to Pottstown, leaving me stranded on the side of Route 100 for two hours. Until a friendly trucker came by and offered me a lift into town where we talked about music and The Gulf War over a six-pack of Coors Light.

What happened next I can’t explain. It was as if the dream sequence I had become immersed in had suddenly become a puddle and a huge omnipotent hand had disturbed the still water. I saw Christine and the Vega and the young me ripple away into darkness while the real me drifted off into another stream of consciousness. I woke up lying face down next to the hole on a warm bed of freshly cut grass.

As I was pulling myself up off the ground I noticed that the sun had already begun its soft descent into the deep western sky. I smiled. The light and hole that once seemed so painfully intrusive to me was now gone and in its place was a breach that no longer seemed like it was the end of the world.

 

Actress/Producer Brooke Lewis talks new films, career and life coaching

LewisWhen it comes to Hollywood actresses, you’d be hard pressed to find one who is as confident, inspiring or more hardworking than Brooke Lewis. Because whether she’s acting or producing, this beautiful Philadelphia, PA native has made a name for herself in the film and television world.

As an actress, Brooke has appeared in many different genres of film but is perhaps best known for her work in thrillers and mob themed stories like “iMurders” and “Sinatra Club” as well as for the comedic portrayal of her vampire “alter-ego”, Ms. Vampy.

If all that weren’t enough, Brooke is also a board certified life coach; using her talent and experience to encourage her clients to become more courageously confident and to discover their own inner voice.

Brooke has another busy year ahead of her with passion projects like “The Mourning” as well as the sequel to the hugely successful film, “Starship: Rising”. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her upcoming roles as well as her work as an actress and life coach!

Tell me a little about your background.

I’m one of those people who knew what they wanted to do in life early on. As a child, I was very sensitive and a bit insecure. It wasn’t until I started taking drama classes that I discovered that acting was a great outlet for me to express myself and feel emotion. I started my career back East in Philadelphia where I did a lot of theater work. Then I went to New York where I did a few off Broadway shows like Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding before finally making the move to LA.

What can you tell me about your new film, “The Mourning”?

It’s a labor of love project. I first met Marc Clebanoff [writer/director] a few years ago when we did an action film called “Break” with Michael Madsen and David Carradine. I did a supporting role in the film and had a lot of fun. The two of us went on to do a few other films together and we eventually became good friends. In 2011, Mark and Michael Walton came to me and said that they wrote a great supporting role for me in a new film they were working on. It’s a drama with a sci-fi twist where I got to play a tremendous supporting role along with Louis Mandylor, who’s a tremendous actor. It has everything that makes for a great gritty indie film and it was a blast working with true artists who were really committed to the project!

What attracted you to the script?

By nature, I’ve always been a big fan of thrillers, but the thing I loved the most about it is that it’s a love story. Every good film starts with a good script and this is one of the most beautiful stories about love, life and how things change.

How would you describe the story of “The Mourning”?

It’s the story about a young guy who lives in a small town. He and his best friend go off to the Gulf War and without giving too much away, one of them comes back and the other one doesn’t. Now it’s twenty years later (present day) and this person who’s been missing suddenly reappears.

You have another film that’s about to be released, “Starship: Apocalypse”. What can you tell me about that?

Neil Johnson is another director who has been a blessing to work with. The first film, “Starship: Rising” came out last year and was a huge hit overseas. The sequel is a fun, spaceship driven, full blown sci-fi piece that I had the best time working on. I play Staris, who is a bad-ass fighter pilot. She’s strong and sassy and fights for what she believes in. She has integrity and will keep to her beliefs in order to protect her federation. She is one of my favorite roles.

How did you become involved in life coaching?

I’ve always been the kind of person my friends and associates would come to looking for advice and shortly after the economy crashed a few years ago I decided to explore that different side of me. I was so inspired by helping teens and young actresses that I took a year and a half off, went back to school, took the boards and became a certified life coach. I’ve since launched my business, Be You Be Fearless Life Coach. I really love what I do!

BrookeLewis

What other projects are you working on right now?

Director Greg Lamberson came to me about a new film he was working on called “Killer Rack” and told me that he needed me for a specific role. I was a bit skeptical at first but after reading the script was just blown away! It’s comedy at its best with a twinge of horror. Yes, it is literally about a killer rack of boobs, but here’s the catch. I’m all about coaching female empowerment and body image and this film has a great subtext and message to it. It’s a supernatural comedy about what happens when you get plastic surgery because you think it’s going to make you happy but then things go terribly wrong!

What’s the best advice you can give to young actors and actresses who may want to follow in your footsteps?

I tell young actors every day that if there’s anything in this world that fulfills them other than acting then they should go do it, because acting is such a challenging process. But if you’re like me and it’s the only thing you’re passionate about and the only thing that fills that place in your soul, then you definitely have to do it!

Photos by: Roger A. Scheck

Adventures in Hollywood: The Final Chapter

10923259_10153057495824339_7483274293066628765_n“Good morning. This is US Airways calling to let you know that there is a delay in your flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte. As a result, you will need to contact an airline representative to change your connecting flight itinerary. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”

This was the message that greeted me first thing this morning. As if the return to sub-zero temperatures in Easton weren’t bad enough, realizing that there would be no connecting flights from Charlotte to Allentown isn’t exactly something I needed to hear on the last day of an amazing journey. But as I now sit here on a plane en route to Philadelphia with a ninety-minute car ride to follow, I know that nothing is going to dampen my mood. So while we cruise at altitudes above 30,000 feet, let me take the time to tell you about my final day in Hollywood.

I spent most of yesterday cruising around Los Angeles with one of my favorite people. Someone who; although she is a fan of the dreaded San Francisco 49ers, is one of the coolest, most talented people I’ve never ever met.

Carrie Carnevale is a filmmaker who has written and directed amazing short films that have won her quite a lot of acclaim over the years (including many times by yours truly). And like most of the other people I’ve met on this west coast excursion, Carrie and I had up til now only known each other through emails and various telephone conversations. Today was going to be the day we would meet each other after nearly three years of this back and forth banter. There was a heightened sense of excitement in the air.

When Carrie arrived at the hotel, it was a surreal moment. Yes, I had already experienced this giddy feeling of meeting people for the first time a lot during this trip but this meeting was extra special. After making our long overdue introductions we soon ventured off to spend the afternoon doing touristy stuff.

LA From The Getty Museum

LA From The Getty Museum

During our trip I was unfortunately introduced to real Los Angeles traffic. So bad was it that we ended up having to change our plans on a few occasions. But I didn’t care one bit. Carrie and I talked for hours about our lives, our work and families as well as all of the other things that friends do. Carrie even managed to hook us up with a few actresses from her films: Anna Hanson and Ashley Watkins. Two people I’ve interviewed who I had also never met and two of the most creatively inspiring and independent women doing their thing in a place where the deck is often stacked against them – and they are succeeding! I could literally go on for hours about them and their awesome projects but in the interest of time, I’ll save those stories for future articles you’ll read!

After spending most of the day with Carrie, the final destination on my adventure was a planned night of debauchery with actor David Banks (a fellow metal head) cruising the Sunset Strip and visiting all of the metal head clubs where our favorite music began. But what happened next was completely unexpected and no doubt the last thing you would ever think I would do.

As I’m walking Hollywood Blvd to the rendezvous point where David is going to pick me up, he suddenly sends me this interesting text:

“Hey man. I just got invited to a red carpet fashion show event down on Melrose Avenue. Wanna go?”

This red carpet event would be another chance for David to have his picture taken and to talk about his killer new movie, “CUT!” which had it’s premiere last night. Then came the big decision for Metal Head James Wood —- Do I go visit the infamous Sunset Strip and bars like The Whisky and Viper Room (places I have never been to) or, do I go to a fashion show red carpet?

We went rogue.

10523832_10153057627824339_4654375714197440878_nFor the next several hours, David, his super cool companion Karen and I walked the red carpet, drank free booze and hob nobbed with Hollywood’s fashion elite. I could not tell you what the event was for or 99% of the people who were there. All I know is that there were so many beautiful women dressed to the nines as well as a few I’d rather not ever think about again. Although I did recognize actress Bai Ling on the carpet, most of the rest of the people at this event were complete unknowns (at least to me).

Following our adventures on the carpet, David took us back to the Arena Cinema for the last showing of “CUT!” for the evening. Together, the two of us sat and watched his movie again on the big screen. I recall looking over at him several times during the course of the film and seeing the biggest smile on his face. He was witnessing the end result of years of hard work, and I could not be happier for my friend. Forget about the Sunset Strip. This was David’s dream and he had made it come true.

This morning, David and Karen picked me up and drove me to LAX. As the radio in his car blasted some of our favorite tunes we talked about the music as well as his movie. Both of us promising we’d get together again soon. My guess is that this time our reunion will include the trip down Sunset Strip that never happened.

But then again, maybe there will be another red carpet event to go to!

This trip has been the adventure of a lifetime. Me, James Wood was at a Hollywood premiere, walked a red carpet and connected with amazing people who are strangers to me no more. It’s been fun, exciting, exhausting and everything in between.

In addition to missing my family and the small town I grew up in, this trip has made me realize that dreams really do come true. All it takes is a spark, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I’m ready.

I hope that by reading this journal of my adventures in Hollywood it gives you the inspiration to follow your own dreams. It certainly did for me.

Now, let’s go home.

 

 

Adventures In Hollywood Part Three

10805658_10153055131419339_6334037093380049681_nTo say that yesterday was surreal is a bit of an understatement. It was actually the culmination of three years of phone calls, emails, interviews and follow-up conversations about this amazing new horror/thriller, “CUT!” which finally saw it’s premiere in Hollywood last night.

It was an evening where I finally got the chance to meet all of the wonderful people I’ve been writing about and to come face to face with a fellow brother in hair metal. Someone who would have taken on the world with me playing in bands on the Sunset Strip back in the glory days.

The story of how I met actor/musician David Banks is an interesting one. One that has its own musical connection as well at involves an incredible actress from a cult-classic horror film.

Back when I first started doing interviews, one of my angles was to seek them out through milestone events. Such was the case in 2012 when Wes Craven’s film, “The Hills Have Eyes” reached its 35th anniversary. Through hard work, due diligence and a little bit of luck, I had the opportunity to speak with Suze Lanier-Bramlett, who was the star of the original film as well as an accomplished musician and songwriter herself (Suze was also married to the legendary Delaney Bramlett).

Suze and I spent the better part of forty-five minutes discussing everything about the original “Hills Have Eyes” as well as her latest CD – Swamp Cabaret (which by the way is wonderful). After we were through I asked Suze if there were any other projects she was currently working on. Without hesitation, she told me she was involved in this little indie horror film project called “CUT!” where she got to play the role of herself. It was something that was new, interesting and exciting.

Suze Lanier-Bramlett

Suze Lanier-Bramlett

That’s what got the ball rolling for me. I decided to seek out these filmmakers and see what it was all about.

The first person I was able to contact was David Banks, who was one of the producers, writers and actors. What I thought was only going to be a fifteen minute interview wound up turning into a nearly two hour conversation. You see, David and I have almost the exact same taste in music.

Long story short, the two of us became instant friends. Not only talking about “CUT!”, but all of the bands and music we grew up loving in the 80s. David’s enthusiasm and passion was infectious and it was through him that I was able to reach out to many of the other actors involved in the film for interviews, including David Rountree, Dahlia Salem and Gabrielle Stone.

Fast forward to January of this year. David and I were emailing back and forth and he told me that the film was finally complete and that they would be having a Hollywood premiere.

That’s when I came up with the idea of paying tinsel town a visit.

Dahlia Salem and Me!

Dahlia Salem and Me!

The premiere was as exciting as any high energy metal show I’ve been to – and more. It was connecting with friends who up until that point had been nothing more than words typed in an email or a voice on the end of a telephone 3,000 miles away– and I just sat back and took it all in. I’m sure there were some people who noticed me standing aloof in the corner, wondering why I was there all by myself. The smile on my face would tell them the story. It was incredible.

Some quick highlights:

Suze Lanier-Bramlett gave me the biggest hug when we finally met and made it a point of getting the introverted James Wood on to the red carpet for pictures with her.

Dahlia Salem and I talked for quite a while about her upcoming appearance on Patricia Arquette’s new show, “CSI: Cyber”. She was telling me how great it was for her to be able to work with Patricia and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she wins the Oscar next week?” [Arquette is up for Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood”]….What a question to ask an actress!

David Rountree and David Banks

David Rountree and David Banks

David Rountree, who is terrific in CUT!, told me about a new project he is working on in New Orleans next month and promised to talk more about it as things got rolling. It was a truly magical evening.

As David Banks and his beautiful companion drove me back to my hotel at 2am, I couldn’t stop telling him how great it was to be here and to finally meet him in person. Tonight we’ll be getting our metal on by visiting places like The Rainbow, The Whisky and Viper Room. Venues David and I would have surely frequented (and no doubt played in) back in the day if we had grown up in Hollywood.

As their car drove off into the wee hours I couldn’t help but go back to the conversation David and I had a month ago when he first told me about the premiere. He said, “You know, it’s too bad you can’t come out for this. It would be so cool to have you here.”

And somewhere in that statement there’s a lesson to be learned.

Carpe Diem.

Adventures In Hollywood Part Two

The view from where my day began.

The view from where my day began.

Yesterday, I decided to spend most of my time wandering through the streets of Hollywood. As someone with an east coast perspective, I saw walking down Hollywood Blvd as equivalent to taking a stroll through Times Square in New York City.

In some ways the two largest cities in America are very similar to each other. There are plenty of pizza joints, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and city tours available. Crowds of tourists from all walks of life roam the city streets (the size of which much less in LA than in NYC), and costumed people and unknown rap artists peddle their wares to those who inevitably cross their paths.

Side note: — I can’t tell you how many times I refused a picture with Catwoman and Spiderman or turned down the next Jay Z’s CD that was offered to me free of charge.

My day began as they normally do whenever I visit a new town – by seeking out the nearest Starbucks. While sitting there drinking my morning java this attractive blonde walks in, orders some sort of high-tech drink and sits down at the table next to me where a gentleman is already seated.

Unaware of my nosiness, the woman proceeds to pull out a portfolio and begins chatting with this fellow about all of the things she’s involved with. In this impromptu meeting session she tells him about her artwork, the photographs she’s taken for local magazines, how she’s in the process of making a video for some musical group I’ve never heard of, but one which made the dude sitting across from her sit up straight with curiosity.

Before long the two of them are exchanging email addresses and Facebook account information with the promise of connecting again soon. It felt like a twenty-first century version of “have your people call my people”.

That’s when it hit me. There is so much creativity in this town.

Me at The World Famous Chinese Theatre

Me at The World Famous Chinese Theatre

I know. I know. This sort of thing happens in every town all across America. But there’s something about it happening in Hollywood that feels different.

There’s no doubt that Hollywood is one of the hardest places in the world to make your dreams come true. And yet, that’s where thousands of amazing artists, musicians and actors continue to pound the pavement every day trying to make it happen.

I liken it to winning the lottery. There’s a million to one chance that you’ll succeed. So much riding against you that it makes it easy to just give up. But the people here seem to take the “if you don’t play, you can’t win” attitude very seriously, and it’s inspiring to be around.

The rest of my day was spent wandering the streets in search of a little fame and fortune of my own. I made it a point to look down at the stars on The Walk of Fame as much as possible. What I discovered was: A) There are a lot of people who made significant contributions to radio, television and film whose names I didn’t recognize and B) About 80% of the names I did recognize were people who were long dead.

The Chinese Theatre was another interesting place to visit – if only briefly. I loved seeing all of the hands and footprints that were left in the cement. Seeing dates as far back as 1928 was surreal and I pictured what life must have been like in this town nearly a century before Hollywood became “Hollywood”.

Then there was the a-ha moment on the walk back to my hotel.

FullSizeRenderIn my touristy slowness, this dude with shoulder length blond hair passes by with a Gibson hardshell guitar case in his hands. He’s wearing a denim jean jacket and ball cap along with a pair of bright red Chuck Taylor converse sneakers. No doubt he is either en route to band practice or just coming from a rehearsal.

I imagined the backpack he was also carrying over his shoulder contained cables, picks and guitar strings as well as the chord changes and secret lyrics to the next big radio hit.

I quickly fumbled for my camera to capture the moment. Not because taking a picture of just another kid with rock star dreams would be so typical of Hollywood. No, my intention was much more selfish.

Thirty years ago, that dude would have been me.

Adventures in Hollywood Part One

LosAngelesIt’s 4:00 am and I am sitting in a hotel room somewhere in the heart of Hollywood, California. It’s a small room with an even smaller bathroom next to it. One with no more than a stand-up sink and shower with the barest of essentials.

There is no food in this hotel room to speak of and the only drinking water is what comes from the bathroom spigot. An option even the most renegade of Hollywood notables would want to reconsider. It’s a private and cramped space to spend the next few days but one that will do very nicely.

After all, it is only me.

For the better part of the last hour I’ve been seated at a round table next to the door listening to the sounds of an empty, portable refrigerator hum its docile tones while outside, the beeping from a garbage truck with its transmission in reverse welcomes in a new LA morning.

I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours either in the air, on a bus in highly congested LA traffic (what they say about it is true) or walking many miles as a junkie East Coast tourist just taking it all in. In between checking emails, sending texts, running to baggage carousels and Flyaway buses as well as finding time to eat, the day was a complete whirlwind.

During this trip I will finally meet a few of the people I’ve been conversing with online for the past several years. Amazing people I’ve interviewed and written about several times during that span, but ones who’s own existence is known to me only through emails and telephone conversation. It’s going to be exciting and surreal at the same time.

Of course, somewhere along the way I’m also going to find time to write, which is another one of the main reasons I’m here. This trip is a nice retreat to catch up on some articles I’ve been meaning to get to while at the same time getting into the real meat of a few new stories! I am looking forward to sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop and letting others hear the sound of my laptop keys clicking away while I busily write down my thoughts and emotions.

And right now there are certainly a lot of them!

 

Reflections of 2014

gojimmygoWell, here we are. The end of another very productive year of writing and creativity.

One thing I’ll always remember about 2014 is that it was definitely a year of transition and change.

From a blog standpoint, 2014 was also surreal. Go Jimmy Go had more than 29,000 visitors from 139 different countries this year. Many of them from countries I never knew existed before. It boggles my mind thinking that people from such far off, distant lands managed to stumble across my articles – even if it might have been by accident.

You may have noticed that the frequency of my regular rants have gone down this year. The reason for that is because I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on GuitarWorld.com and aXs.com articles. If you like, you can click on the links I’ve highlighted to see what I’ve been up to!

One of the surreal interviews I did this year was with “GRL” – an all-girl group put together by Pussycat Dolls founder, Robin Antin. The five member outfit released two insanely hooky songs and videos this year; one of which featured rapper and celebrity music awards host,  Pitbull.

I was asked to do a last-minute phone interview with all five of the girls at one time. No small task considering that they only gave me fifteen minutes to talk, but we somehow managed to make it work. We talked about their music and tour plans as well as what they like most about the creative process. Although the conversations were brief and kind of all over the place, I really got the sense that these girls were on the brink of something really special. Jetting to exotic locations; hanging with celebrities; recording songs and filming music videos. Man, they were living the life!

Then a month or so later – shortly after my article was posted, it was revealed that one of the members of GRL; singer Simone Battle, had committed suicide. Initial reports suggested that she had been severely depressed over money-related issues and decided to take her own life.

Tragic.

On a similar, yet no less tragic personal note, I also lost one of my best friends in 2014. Nathan Brown and I had been compadres ever since we roamed the halls of Easton High School in the mid 1980’s. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that we thought would take over the world.

Sadly, none of them did.

JimmyBut that never stopped Nathan and I from having late night conversations about our musical goals at a local diner. Actively discussing everything we intended to do once we “made it” – usually over coffee and cheese french-fries. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

As life would have it, the two of us started to lose touch with each other towards the end of the 90’s. Although we eventually reconnected at a Thin Lizzy concert three years ago, we never really hung out again or talked like we used to. It was always a case of “maybe someday”. Yeah, there would always be a someday — right?

Unbeknownst to me, Nathan died suddenly on August 9th, 2014. And even though we hadn’t really seen each other in nearly 15 years, the loss is still real and raw and has really put things into perspective. No longer am I just the shy, teenaged kid in high school with endless possibilities. Back in the 80’s, the year 2000 seemed like an eternity away. Now, the 80’s feel that way.

Which reminds me of a picture I saw the other day. One that really hits home about 2015. See if it does the same for you.

YearEnd

The fact is, there’s a time limit to this thing called life and our job is to make the most of it!

I hope that you’ve found my articles and interviews this year to be beneficial and had as much fun reading them as I had writing them. And I do hope that you’ll be along for the ride with me in 2015 because, as the saying goes – the best is yet to come!

Here’s wishing you all the best the New Year has to offer!

Birthday Reflections At 45

BirthdayCakeToday is October 5th, 2014: My 45th birthday.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was reminiscing about my life on my 44th birthday?

I swear, time is going by WAY too fast. I am now officially half-way to 90. A staggering accomplishment if I do say so myself.

I’m grateful every day for all of the blessings in my life: a loving family, friends, good health and being able to do something I really love to do – write.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it to be a nonagenarian but what I do know is that for each year that goes by time seems to be going at breakneck speed – and I don’t think I like it.

Case in point: my daughter turned thirteen this year. And although there have certainly been a few teen drama moments that have tried my patience, I still find myself always thinking that in five short years she will begin building a life on her own.

Slow down.

2014 has been a year of firsts for me. This year saw me achieve some monumental interviews. Pipe dreams for the kid who played guitar endlessly throughout high school in his upstairs bedroom. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Ted Nugent, Steve Vai and Don Felder (The Eagles) among many others.

I’ve also had the once in a lifetime opportunity of attending Jim Peterik’s book release event in New York City where I got to see him perform an intimate acoustic set for an audience of about thirty people. I sit here now with a smile on my face recalling how the music he made with the band Survivor got me through my own teenage drama in the 1980’s. When times were tough, I knew I could always find solace in songs like “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You,” “The Search is Over,” “Is This Love,” “Man Against The World” and “In Good Faith”.

Photo: Kat Gallaso

Photo: Kath Galasso

Jim’s music was so influential to me that at my high school graduation party my friend Nathan Brown and I set up an impromptu jam session. Out on my parent’s patio, Nathan and I set up his drum set and I plugged in my guitar. Then for the next two hours — to the delight chagrin of those in attendance, the two of us jammed along to the entire “Vital Signs” album while it spun on my mother’s worn out turntable.

For me to now sit in a small club and watch Jim Peterik do a few of those same songs in 2014 was nothing short of incredible.

Slow down.

As I think of that post graduation party I am suddenly reminded that 2014 was also a year of loss. Nathan Brown and I had been the best of friends when we roamed the halls of Easton High School. Dreaming about (and often forming) short-lived bands that at the time we thought would take over the world. I still remember all of those conversations we had late in the night talking about everything we were going to do once we “made it”. Nathan was the best man at my wedding in 1995 and someone who always knew how to make you laugh. In short, he was one of a kind.

I always thought that our bond of brotherhood would be inseparable, but life sometimes has a funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best of circumstances. Sadly, towards the end of the 1990’s and the start of the 21st century, the two of us lost touch. Although we would eventually reconnect at a concert three years ago, we never really hung out again like we used to. It was the usual case of “maybe someday”. Yep, there would always be a someday — right?

Ironically, on September 11th of this year, Nathan’s name popped into my head for some reason. Suddenly, “someday” was today! I decided to do a quick Google search on him to see if maybe he had a Facebook or something so that I might reach out to him. But when the first hit came back from the search engine, my heart just sank.

It was his obituary.

Nathan had passed away suddenly in his home on August 9th. He had already been gone for more than a month. His final service was already over and I am still devastated for not being there to at least say goodbye and pay my respects.

Please….Slow down.

As I begin to celebrate my 45th year on this bouncing ball my heart is heavy but I’m feeling optimistic. There’s a big world out there just waiting to be explored. Family and friends to love, books to read, articles (and books) to write, music to create and new dreams to find.

But my real wish on this October 5th is to have the strength to seize each day and then slow down. I still want to enjoy those big moments, but now I want to savor the small ones just as much. I’ve realized there’s only so much time we are given here in this life.

And I plan on making the most of it.

A Quick Thought On The Passing of Robin Williams

MorkJust a quick little blurb with my thoughts on the passing of Robin Williams.

First of all, let me just say that I too am a huge fan of his work. I will never forget seeing him for the very first time as Mork on “Happy Days” and following him along on the “Mork and Mindy” spinoff.

As an eleven-year old boy, I also fondly recall begging my parents to take me to see him in “Popeye”, one of his first film roles.

Shortly after graduating high school, I spent the summer working as an usher at a movie theater. Coincidentally, it was also the same year that “Dead Poet’s Society” was released. So in between sweeping up popcorn and picking up stuck wads of bubblegum, I must have watched that movie no less than fifty times – and never got tired of it. There was just something about Robin Williams’ performances that were so engaging.

I can’t say that I’ve felt the same way about every one of his films. Although I did enjoy him in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Will Hunting” (the film that won him the Academy Award), I didn’t really care for “What Dreams May Come” or “Hook”.

I was one of the many who was shocked when I heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide. How could someone so larger than life and with the ability to bring joy to so many people be so sad inside that the only escape he could find was through the final solution? I am not a doctor and have never met Williams but do count my blessings that I don’t have to deal with the issues that plagued him for years.

I also find it “funny” – truthfully, a bit sad that there are people in this world who (also without having known him) are either assuming to know why Mr. Williams decided to take his own life or are using this tragedy as yet another means to forward their own agendas.

There are some in the news media who are actually calling Robin Williams a coward for “feeling sad” and for taking his own life. Which makes me wonder if these same pundits would say the same about a veteran returning from Iraq who finds it unbearable to assimilate back into civilian life? And then we have the ones who see Williams’ death as a metaphor for a political party. As if suffering from severe depression is similar to that of being a liberal. How sad it is that these people are given a nation wide platform to spew ignorance and hate while a family is grieving.

I’ll admit, I too was selfish when I first heard the news of Robin’s passing. I immediately wanted to rent all of those movies I loved just to see Robin Williams one more time. I wanted to watch that episode of “Happy Days” again. The one where he challenges Richie Cunningham and the Fonz. Yes, even though that part of my own life had moved on, I still wanted Robin Williams to be here.

DPS

We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the people we love and the ones who’ve touched our lives will not be with us forever. Instead, we tend to see them as kind of like our favorite pair of jeans or our go-to security blanket. Something that can just lie around for years in a dresser (or on a DVD shelf) and only be pulled out when we need them for comfort.

Ironically, today (August 13) also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the death of my grandfather. The first time I ever had to experience the loss of someone dear to me. So I will use Robin Williams’ death as a reminder that everything in life is only temporary, and will find comfort in the words he spoke in one of my favorite films from 25 years ago…

Carpe Diem.

‘When Times Get Ruff': New ‘Doodle’ Book Benefits Ronald McDonald House Charities

WhenTimesGetRuffIt’s hard to believe that we’re already on the third installment of our Doodle Dog Book series. What started out as a dream by two high school friends has turned into something bigger than either of us could have ever imagined.

But Michele and I both believe that the real fulfillment in accomplishing a dream comes from giving it a purpose – and that’s exactly what we’ve done, by donating 100% of our profits from sales of our first two books to worthy causes.

In keeping with this trend, all personal proceeds from sales of our brand-new book, “Doodle: When Times Get Ruff” will go to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, a non-profit organization which provides a home away from home for families with seriously ill children staying and receiving treatment at nearby hospitals.

“Doodle: When Times Get Ruff” tells the story of Chloe, a young girl who faces uncertainty when her younger brother Christopher becomes ill. With help and love from both family and friends, Chloe is able to overcome her fear.

If you’re already a fan of the first two books you’ll notice the return of a few familiar characters, but with an added twist. You may also discover a few “easter eggs” that have been hidden somewhere within the text as well.

As an added bonus, from now until December 31st, Michele and I will be donating all future profits from sales of our first two books, “Doodle” and “Doodle Meets The Pound Pup” to RMHC of Central Ohio as well.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mackenzie Schuler, the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, to find out more about her job and what goes on at RMH. We hope that after reading this interview with Mackenzie and seeing all of the good work that she and the rest of the staff and volunteers at RMHC of Central Ohio do for their community, you will consider purchasing a copy of our book or helping us spread the word!

Ruff

How did you become involved in non-profit work?

I grew up in Iowa with a family full of outdoors men. During my senior year in high school, my Grandpa was sitting up in a tree stand when it suddenly gave out. He fell fifteen feet and broke all of the vertebrae in his neck and back; completely shattering his spine. While he was in the hospital being treated my mom, grandma and aunt would all take turns staying either in his room or in the hospital waiting room. I remember they would be there for days on end and I got to see firsthand how draining it was for them to be in that environment and not have any break or an oasis to get away from it. I had originally intended to be a journalism major but that experience shifted my focus to non-profit work. I had two great internships while I was in college and fell in love with it.

RonaldMCdonaldWhat’s the mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio?

Our mission is to serve the families of seriously ill children in central Ohio and we create, find and support programs that do just that. When a family checks in, we don’t ask them to pay anything. That means we have a large gap that we have to makeup through fundraising. 

People may already know what the Ronald McDonald House is, but we also have a number of other things – including the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile which is basically a traveling, pediatric doctor’s office that goes around and visits kids who may not be able to get access to healthcare otherwise. It travels north to Mansfield all the way down to southern Ohio.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Well, there is no “typical” day in a non-profit setting [laughs]. We get to wear many different hats. I remember one Saturday I was here and we were all unloading head boards. We don’t hire anyone to do it for us. We do all of the work ourselves. So one day I might be meeting with a family to talk about their experience at RMH and the next day, I might be moving furniture or reupholstering chairs.

My main focus here though is being the Marketing and Communications Coordinator. I do all of our social media as well as all of internal and external communications. I also work directly with families to tell a story each month for our electronic newsletter. I’ll work with our Family Services department to find a family who would be willing to talk about their experience and then tie it back to everyone who helps give their time, money and effort to the Ronald McDonald House.

What can you tell me about the recent expansion at RMH?

Currently, we have 80 guest rooms and have just added a 42-room expansion. With 122 rooms, it makes us the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world. It’s really exciting. In addition to the rooms, we’ve also added things like a roof-top garden and a salon area. We have lots of common spaces for families to spend their time together and keep their lives as normal as possible in not so normal circumstances. We’ll be having a Community Open House on Sunday, Sept 14th from 1-4pm. We want to use this opportunity to thank people for all of their support and want them to feel like they’re a part of the project as well.

What are some of the ways people can help?

There are a number of ways you can get involved. When you visit our website you’ll find a tab there that says “How You Can Help”. It can be anything from volunteering regularly to making a meal or even collecting pop tabs.

StoriesOfHope

Is there something that people might not know about RMH that you think they should be aware of?

One of the things people might not be aware of is that we rely 100% on donations from the community. We also have a very small staff, so in order to keep our facility running we have volunteers that are here from 9am – 9pm every day of the week. Our volunteers also help us save money. As an example, since we don’t have a hired cleaning staff, our volunteers are the ones who keep our house spotless. It’s because of their hard work that we’re able to save over a million dollars a year.

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many great stories that are told every day here at the Ronald McDonald House. I love the mission and how no one is ever asked to pay. It’s an amazing service provided to the community. One where the only thing the family has to be concerned about is helping their child heal. They don’t need to focus on anything else. Only on what’s important.

 For more information on
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio – Click Here!

Click here to Order a Copy of Doodle: When Times Get Ruff

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