Tag: life

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 1

“Hello. My name is James Wood. It’s nice to meet you,” I said, extending my hand to the three other guys in the room. It was the first time I’d met Bobby, Tom and Rik. The three guys who would form a band with me to perform at The Lucky Strike and world-renowned Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood this weekend.

If my middle-aged brain remembers correctly, it was thirty years ago next month when I formed my very first band. This after many years of guitar lessons, months of starts and stops, and high school dreams fueled by teenage angst and worldwide musical domination.

Back then, bands like Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Whitesnake and Dio were on constant repeat on my boom box. And now, in just a few short days, not only would I be jamming with the guys in REO and Foreigner, but I’d also be taking the stage with Night Ranger to perform at one of music’s most famous venues in front of a massive crowd. The same stage that regularly housed legendary bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen and countless others.

No pressure.

By the time I arrived at the camp’s studios at 1:30 p.m., our as of yet unnamed band was already behind the eight ball. We’d learned last week that we wouldn’t have a keyboard player (a pretty big deal if you had “Roll With The Changes,” “Keep on Loving You” or “Sister Christian” on your “let’s try” list), and our original counselor, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner) had to drop out of camp at the last minute due to illness.

But it wasn’t until I made my way through the registration line and into Studio D (which would be our home for the next four days), that reality really struck.

Inside the room, already jamming, were counselors Michael Staertow (guitarist for Lou Gramm), Chris Wyse (bassist for Ace Frehley, The Cult) and Steve Ferlazzo (keyboards for Avril Lavigne and now Richie Sambora and Orianthi).

Oh, man.

Before long, our new counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria) made his way into the studio to join them. I was fortunate that I had to wait a bit for my tech (yes, you get one of those here at camp) to set up my guitar. I used that time to subconsciously absorb these guys wailing.

After the open jam formalities had ended, everyone made their way off to begin rehearsal in their own studios. That’s when Rik, Bobby, Tom, Craig and I started talking about which songs we wanted to do.

Since the guys from REO Speedwagon would be coming to jam with us on Friday, we looked at our list of songs to do —and unanimously decided on this one:

After about four passes at the song — where I must say I held my own– it was time to break for camp introductions.

David Fishof (executive producer) welcomed campers to the event and then introduced the all-star array of counselors, which also included Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Tony Frankin (The Firm, Blue Murder), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), Tanya O’Callaghan (Dee Snider, Ronnie Wood), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) and Monte Pittman (Madonna).

We then returned to our studio for some more rehearsal time, where Craig gave us some cool little solo ideas to use that would help bring the song to life. I’m thinking by now we’re around 85-90% of having a song nearly ready to go — and it was only Day One!

There were several master classes to choose from this night, and I decided to attend the one called “Stories From The Road”, where a group of counselors talked about their careers with some of the all-time greats.

l to r: Michael Staertow, Chris Wyse, Steve Ferlazzo, Rudy Sarzo, Tanya O’Callaghan

The final event of the evening was a welcome dinner followed by an open jam with the counselors. Song performances included everything from The Cars, Eddie Money and AC/DC to Aldo Nova, Ozzy, The Beatles and Loverboy.

As the van took us back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but think about that 15-year-old me sitting up in his bedroom practicing all of these songs. And I think that’s when the true impact of what was about to occur over these next few days finally began to sink in.

Not gonna lie. I thought about getting up on that stage on Sunday night and f#cking up. But you know what? I don’t care. I came all this way to learn from and jam with the best, and here I am.

The streets of Hollywood are where it all began. The music I grew up with. The music that made me want to pick up a guitar and play. The music I love.

And in just a short time, I’m going to claim a small piece of those streets for myself.

 

Remembering High School- 30 Years Later

“How can it be thirty years?” I said as I was cleaning out the basement.

Looking into the gray, Stocker Brothers dairy milk crate, its frame still sturdy even after decades of sitting in dark silence, is actually what made me pose the question.

I had just spent the better part of the morning organizing the crawl space of my two-story colonial, a home I’ve been making mortgage payments on for as long as I can remember. During my tenure at this location, the basement had become a breeding ground for large, cardboard boxes of clothes, holiday items and various knick knacks, as well as six large boxes of comic books I’d collected as a kid along with my feeble attempts at Bob Ross paintings. The latter two categories being things I can’t seem to let go of — even after all of this time.

Time.

The thing inside the milk crate behind the wall of canvases is where I found it. There, along with the curious smell of old books and dust was a folded, paper program; kind of like something you’d get handed to you from an usher at a Sunday church service or a Broadway show as you entered the theater. It had obtained a dull, off-white color over the years but its red lettered appearance was still clearly visible:

Easton Area High School’s 131st Commencement: June 11, 1987 6:00 o’clock.

It can’t be, can it? Thirty years already? I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was roaming the halls of high school? Dreaming about being the next Bon Jovi? Longing for Friday night visits to the mall so that I could get the new Def Leppard album, read the latest Gross Jokes book in Waldenbooks, drink gallons of Orange Julius and then try to impress the girls by beating the high score on Pac Man and Galaga?

I slowly ran my fingers through the pages of the slightly weathered program and saw all of the people who stood by me that day. “Did they know where they would wind up?” I thought. “Would they remember and realize it’s been thirty years?”

Me, June 11, 1987

I remember that commencement. I remember wearing my class ring on my right ring finger and sitting in my cap and gown on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for my name to be called, peeved once again at the alphabetical order of things and the fact that my last name started with a “W”. I still remember congratulating and hugging every classmate I met, whether I knew them on a “friend” basis or not. I can still feel the leafy stem of the flower against my bare hand after I accepted my diploma, and the sense of urgency I had for the final notes of the Alma Mater to ring so that I could toss my tasseled, red cap high into the air. It was the end game. The “so long”. The final, “see-ya-later” salute to thirteen years of education.

Who am I kidding? When I look back now it didn’t really seem like goodbye. Instead, walking out of Kirby Field House that night was just like any other night. It would soon be the start of summer, camping at the lake, amusement park visits and graduation/backyard parties. Heck, I even had one at my house where me and my buddy (and fellow graduate), Nathan Brown, played our guitars and drums as entertainment. Before long, September would roll around again and we’d all be right back together again in class, right? Just like it had always been for thirteen years in a row.

No.

Several friends went off to college to follow their dream. Others enlisted in the military, started families or immediately entered the work force. As for me, my own dream of becoming a rock star officially began June 11, 1987.

But that’s a story for another time.

As I continued to page through the program, I tried to see how many classmates I could remember and was thankful to discover I could still put faces to the names of most. Then I thought of Nathan, who’s own name I didn’t see listed in the graduating class and yet had attended graduation and received his diploma along with the rest of us. Had it have been another time, I probably would have called him up to ask him why he wasn’t mentioned in the list of graduates, but he died in 2014.

A lot can happen in thirty years.

‘Love Set Run’: Andre and Sierra Mercier Discuss Inspiring New Project

Sierra was a competitive figure skater. Andre, an animation expert and filmmaker. Both had their own dreams of making a mark in the world. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter in the heart of Los Angeles led them to begin a journey together. One of love, inspiration, hope and a desire to do something for the greater good.

Although known for volunteering their time to various causes, their passion project, Love Set Run is more like a way of living. It stands for taking action to spread a message of love, unity, and the interconnectedness of everything.

This summer, Andre and Sierra Mercier will continue that mission. Traveling around the globe volunteering and giving back everywhere that they go. Along the way, they’ll be documenting their travels for a web series they hope will inspire others.

The couple’s five-month journey will take them to eight countries on five different continents. From volunteering at an organic farm in Costa Rica, visiting a monkey sanctuary and partaking in a spiritual ritual in Peru and even working with locals in Bandipur, Nepal. Each destination chosen to make a positive impact in some way.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of Sierra and Andre’s story isn’t so much the beautiful places in the world they’ll be visiting, but the selfless love and compassion they have for each other and the world. Their drive to do something for the greater good proves that offering something as simple as your time can be the greatest reward in giving back.

I recently spoke with Sierra and Andre about Love Set Run and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did the two of you meet?

Sierra:  We both moved to L.A. for the entertainment industry. I was a competitive figure skater and trained in California and Salt Lake City but had an injury that ended my skating career. I began doing other things that interested me and found a new passion with acting. So I moved back home to save money to move to L.A. I had met a family while I was visiting L.A. and planned to live in their guest home temporarily until I found a place to live but there was a miscommunication and on the day I drove in, I found out that I could only stay a few weeks. So I frantically started looking for a place and saw an ad for a room that piqued my interest. I called the number and left a message— it was Andre. I went to see the place and we both hit it off. We became friends and few weeks later I moved in as a roommate. We spent some time getting to know each other but it was pretty clear that there was something other than “friends” flying through the air.

What else can you tell me about your love story?

Andre: About a week after Sierra moved in I asked her to be my girlfriend and a month after that we decided that we were going to get married. Shortly after I proposed, Sierra’s mom suggested that we apply to a few online contests where they were giving away honeymoon packages. Sierra found out that TheKnot.com was having a contest for a dream wedding in New York. The idea was to create a video on why your love story was unique and romantic. I was skeptical at first but Sierra encouraged me to use my video making skills to make a video. A few weeks later we found out that we had been selected as one of the finalists. Fan voting determined the winner and we wound up getting the most votes. The wedding was at Bryant Park in the winter and we flew in a bunch of friends and family. Everything about the wedding was voted on by the public—from the dress to the cake to the decor and rings.

Our vows were aimed towards creating a positive impact to the world and giving back more than we receive. We knew that we weren’t able to give a lot monetarily, but we could give a lot with our time and spread our message. So on our honeymoon we did tsunami cleanup relief in Japan, visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and worked with an orphanage in Bali. That was the first of our charity travel ideas. That’s when we said let’s see more of the world and do more volunteer work, because it feels good to give back.

Was there a defining moment on that trip? 

Sierra: Sometimes, volunteer opportunities are unexpected. I remember we were traveling in Japan after a major typhoon. We were walking along a path where waters had flooded and local people were there trying to block the flood and transporting sandbags. We just stepped in and helped them. Then a little while later it started to rain and we noticed a local business shoveling mud and rocks out of their business and moving sandbags to keep it from flooding. We just went in, picked up some shovels and started hauling out debris. We were hot and sweaty and wet but it felt so good to help people. The most amazing part of that whole experience was that while were doing it, other tourists that were walking by saw what we were doing and offered to help as well. As two people, we can only make so much of an impact, but it’s the ripple effect it can cause that makes it so special. If what we do can inspire four people to make a positive difference, then maybe those four people will inspire four more people. It made me realize that’s what Love Set Run is all about. 

How do you plan to document your journey for Love Set Run?

Andre: Throughout our travels we’ll be posting vignettes and snippets to Instagram and Facebook. We’ve also got a blog going on our website that we’ll be posting to regularly. Once we get back, we’ll start editing the full web series, most likely one episode per country. We’re also considering doing a full feature out of it.

What satisfies you the most about giving back?

Sierra: It’s engrained in my soul that my duty here in this lifetime is to help others. To light a lantern and be a light to the world. It’s just feels so natural for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Andre: It’s gratifying to give back and help others. It’s a selfless act that rewards you. It also feels good to inspire other people. We’ve heard from people who tell us that our love story has inspired them to not settle for anything less. So if we can inspire friends and family through our work, then maybe the next time they go on a trip they’ll be inspired to volunteer. What’s satisfying is that you can create a ripple effect of positive energy and impact. The world needs more of that. 

Is there a message you’d like people to take away from the journey you’re about to undertake?

Sierra: A message I really want people to feel is realizing that the more love you give, the more you’ll receive.

There’s One Born Every Minute

BugsBunnyWhen I was young, I used to watch a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons. I enjoyed sitting by the television on Saturday mornings gorging on Cap’n Crunch and indulging in the antics of that waskaly wabbit and his friends.

One of the shorts that always stood out to me was the one where Bugs cons an unsuspecting old man into buying The Brooklyn Bridge. He does this by telling the man a fictional story of how a New York City bridge-jumper named Steve Brody allegedly leaped off of it. The short ends with the old man believing Bugs’ story and giving him money.

Of course in real-life, even a kid in a Cap’n Crunch coma knows you can’t actually buy The Brooklyn Bridge.

Oddly, I was reminded of this cartoon this Saturday morning as I was perusing my Facebook timeline and saw no less than seven copies of this same picture from people on their own pages:

ScamThe picture (and attached link) goes on to say how two of this week’s Powerball winners were giving away some of their newfound fortune to random people. All you have to do to get in on your chance at a free ten grand was to click on the link provided and share the post with your friends.

Of course, what the link fails to mention is that it is part of a phishing scam. Designed to trick unsuspecting people into giving up personal information (like Facebook and bank passwords and social security numbers) in exchange for…. well, absolutely nothing at all.

You might remember a similar occurrence of this FREE money scam shortly after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly stated on major news outlets that he was giving away much of his fortune to charity. And it wasn’t long before scam artists took to social media and posted a link of Zuckerburg along with a note saying that poor, random souls (like us) could also get in on the action simply by clicking on a link. At that time, I saw no less than a dozen of these posts/links on my timeline from people who apparently had fallen for the scam.

It’s one thing when horrible people prey on the elderly by dressing up like a representative from the gas company and trick them into letting them into their homes only to steal their money and jewelry. Or when representatives from “Microsoft” call non-tech savvy people at home and tell them their computer is corrupt and can only be fixed by providing valid credit card information.

But the fact that so many people quickly fall for these “Get Rich Quick” schemes on social media really scares me.

Think about it: Why would complete and total strangers who’ve just won part of a $1.5 billion dollar jackpot want to give away $1,000,000 to people they’ve never met – even before they’ve collected it? And worse, why would these same people set-up a questionable website and then have it promoted on Facebook? Don’t you think that if this were really true, MAJOR news outlets all over the world would be running the story?

What’s that old saying? — “If it sounds too good to be true….”

But if all that doesn’t raise a red flag then consider this: Saying you don’t need all of the money and then only offering to give away $1,000,000 is pretty cheap. Especially when you consider you’ve just pocketed $300 million in winnings.

So the next time you see any of these posts offering free money from the rich and famous, delete them. Because there’s only one real way to get legitimate money my friends, and that’s by doing it the old-fashioned way.

Earning it.

Birthday Reflections at 48

BirthdayCakeOctober 5th, 2017. My 48th birthday.

Hey! Wait a minute…. You mean to say that I’m 48-years old young today? Impossible. I’m a Count Chocula connoisseur. An Ultraman geek. A comic book nerd. A PS4 dork. I couldn’t possibly be someone with the big Five-Oh on the horizon.

And yet, I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning and the inevitable gray or missing hairs I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.

Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teenager driving my beat-up, old Toyota to the mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the Listening Booth record store?

Wasn’t I the one who could go to rock concerts and then stay up to the wee hours of the morning talking to his friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made our dreams came true?

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it.

As we’ve seen with the hurricanes and Las Vegas tragedy along with the untimely death of one of my idols, Tom Petty, we’re only given a certain amount of time on this bouncing ball. My goal now is to try to make every moment count.

But I’m not here to bum you out on my birthday. Because in addition to being the one who drove to the mall and went to rock concerts, I was also the one who consistently laughed at his parents for being in their 40’s while I reveled in teenage glory.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still and that you’ll never be as old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.

What was it they said about karma?

What’s in a name?

Wes Craven (1939-2015)
Wes Craven (1939-2015)

What’s in a name you say? Well, when I was growing up, there were certain words that – whenever spoken, always conjured up a feeling or an urge inside of you. Something that was more than just a rational, cognizant realization.

Let me give you a few examples from my own childhood to prove my point:

Barney

No, not Fred’s “Yabba Dabba Doo” buddy from The Flintstones. In my neck of the woods (on the south side of Easton, PA), Barney meant only one thing: The guy who made the  best cheesesteaks this side of Philly. Although Barney’s been dead for nearly two decades I can still recall the days of eating his wares in his Steak Shop while trying my luck on the latest video games like Vanguard and Defender and listening to the Foreigner “4” album on the jukebox.

Utopia

No, not the imaginary place or state of things in which everything is perfect (although some of the questionable paraphernalia they sold there may have you think otherwise). Utopia was/is a store in the downtown section of town where all of the teens would congregate in the 1980’s in order to purchase the latest AC/DC or Pretenders album and get concert tickets for Stabler Arena or the Allentown Fairgrounds.

Lucy

I’m not talking about the chick that swiped the football out from under Charlie Brown. Lucy’s was the neighborhood candy store that served up the finest in Swedish Fish, Tootsie Rolls and Hostess Twinkies.

See how one word can easily trigger something deep inside you? And while we’re on the subject, let me give you a pair of words that does the same thing for me:

Wes Craven

Whenever these two words are mentioned together it instantly reminds me of one of the scariest films I ever saw as pubescent teenager – “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.

Sure, by the time that movie came out in 1984, I had already been covering my ears to the creepy intro music of “Halloween” and hidden my eyes from the inevitable pop up scare scenes in the closing minutes of the first two “Friday The 13th” movies. But there was something far more diabolical with Elm Street. For unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – who at least early on were actual human beings,  Freddy Kreuger represented something that was far more sinister – an unknown, malevolent creature who came to us in our darkest dreams.

Watching the scene where poor Amanda Wyss’ character, Tina, is standing in the alley way while Freddy’s arms grow and he pounces on her still gives me an uneasy feeling some thirty years later.

Back then, I wasn’t even aware of some of Craven’s earlier films like “The Last House on The Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes”. All I knew was from that point forward, anytime I saw the words “Wes Craven” before a film’s title, I knew immediately it would be scary and I would have to see it. And although some of his work was questionable in the years following NOES -“The Hills Have Eyes Part II” and “Shocker” immediately come to mind, Craven was back in top form for “Scream” in 1996. Single-handedly creating a film that (at least to me) rivaled Elm Street in terms of its originality and scare.

So hearing the news late last night that Wes Craven had passed away at the age of 76 was somewhat shocking. Knowing that there will never be another film that will give me that same feeling when I see the title. But whenever I hear those two words together – “Wes Craven”, I’ll always remember a man whose vision and memorable characters will continue to live on, both on screen and in dreams.

Stuck In The Eighties

Howard Jones
Howard Jones

Those who know me will tell you that I’m one of those people who’s stuck in the Eighties.

Admittedly, I do love my hair metal and wish that I could somehow get inside of a time machine and go back to those carefree days of youth. To be able to use the confidence and knowledge I’ve gained through years of being an adult to make up for the lost opportunities I missed because of my shyness and lack of social interaction.

Some days I’ll take a trip to the Palmer Park Mall and remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights thirty years ago. A time when the only thing that really mattered was the usual excursions to Orange Julius, the arcade, Waldenbooks and topping it off with a visit to Listening Booth to check out the new albums by by Night Ranger, The Hooters and Bon Jovi.

But I don’t think I’m “stuck” in the Eighties. It’s just that every once in a while you need to go back to those times if for no other reason than to remember who you were.

Last night I had the chance to do just that.

Singer/songwriter Howard Jones – who many of us MTV nuts will remember for his big hair, monster songs as well as a multitude of synthesizers, performed an acoustic show at a local theater in town. What I thought at first would just be a typical trip down memory lane instead turned out to be something much deeper.

When Howard came out, gone was the arsenal of keyboards, the colorful fashion and the big eighties hair. In it’s place was a simple keyboard, a microphone and small MAC laptop. For the next hour, Jones performed many of the songs that a teenaged me listened to. Songs that were the soundtrack of summer pool parties, trips up and down the “Strip” on Northampton Street and background music in the Palmer Park Mall.

But it also felt different. These stripped down, acoustic versions of “Life In One Day,” “What Is Love,” “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame” took on a new meaning. Every nuance of every word resonated. It wasn’t just music. It was therapy.

For a moment, I was no longer the middle-aged man who worries about bills, health and his family’s future. Instead, I was the wide-eyed, shy boy hanging out at a record store in small town America.

And it was good.