Why can’t I be as happy as Levon Helm?

30 01 2012

A little back story on the seemingly random title. A few months ago, I went back to Tarrytown Music Hall with my friend Dominick to see Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. For some random reason, this afternoon I wondered who was upcoming at the venue and noticed two nights with Levon Helm Band. Please note: there’s no way around the fact that The Band is one of the most important American bands ever. That inevitably lead to me looking at old and new videos on YouTube until finally stumbling on the one below.

Levon posses this unique quality of positivity with an understanding how the real world works. “Nothing’s a guarantee. It’s the old one day at a time.”

Yesterday in a cab to the lower east with my girlfriend, I was addressing my first world problems. For a second, I had to step back and have a laugh. I find the humor the ups and the downs that I face each day. Only now can I laugh even harder realizing my ridiculousness (as in the “absurd” definition of the word).

Having more clarity, I can acknowledge that my life ain’t that bad. I’ve never had cancer and I’m damn sure that I was never close to being stripped of doing what makes me happy or what makes me a living (which were one in the same for Levon). Only if could be as happy and appreciative of life as Levon.

Looking for the details

5 12 2011

Sometimes I find myself taking things on first view without inspection instead of asking questions or looking for details that don’t present themselves initially.  It’s lazy and worsens one’s ability to be critical.

When I was cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment in Philly with my mom and sister, my sister found this old picture with musicians performing.  It was very “me” to say the least, so I brought it back to Brooklyn with me.

Flash forward a couple weeks.  I went on an overnight trip to Philly with my roommate Paul to see Ryan Adams.  We stayed at my parent’s house and when my mom asked what he thought of the picture, it dawned on me that he hadn’t seen it yet since we have conflicting schedules.  When we got back to the apartment I showed him the picture and he asked if I knew anything about it.

It reignited my desire to find out more details, so I googled “Sam Ashkynase Conductor” because they were the only words that we easily legible on the band sign in the picture.  The first thing that came up was Sam Ash’s wiki page.  For those who don’t know, Sam Ash Music is one of the most successful music instrument retail chains in the country.  This led me to 3 theories on why my grandparents had this picture:

  1. I had a family member in the band.
  2. I’m related to Sam Ash somehow.
  3. Sam Ash’s family were friends with my grandfather’s family (both of Austria-Hungarian descent)

Paul, interested in helping me out, tracked down one of the current top execs at Sam Ash Music (via Linked In).  He then figured out the email address formats for Sam Ash employees (ie first.last@company.com), so I contacted what I thought to be the email address for that exec (it thankfully didn’t bounce back). Concurrently, I emailed my parents, sister, uncle, and cousins to let them know about this, to which my mom replied that either of them could be theoretically possible since my great grandfather moved from Austria to New York City.

As of now, I’m still waiting on a response from Sam Ash, but it boggles me what one picture, pushing myself to look for the details, and investigating further can do.  It’s about the picture, but it’s not at the same time because there’s a pleasure in finding things out…Richard Feyman would agree.

UPDATE:  I got a response from Sam Ash Music and should be meeting with them soon

My month of “re”

28 11 2011

It’s been a “re” kind of week for me.  What do I mean by “re”?  Let me share a few examples.  Re-read.  Re-watch.  Re-listen.  Re-eat.  In a society where newer is better, I’ve tried to take a step back and find new insight into things I’ve experienced already.

It started off when I came home for my grandmother’s funeral in late October.  I told old stories, I looked at old pictures, and connected in a way with my extended family that I’d never had done before.  It also reminded me of the diminishing gap between where I am and the end (however you want to define that is up to you).  Not in a bad way though.  I felt that I was a puddle and this deep thought was a stone being dropped on top of me, so I was moving forwards and backwards at the same rate.

So thus began the month of “Re”.  I grabbed old books from my room, grabbed old CD’s and records, and event snagged a few DVDs (I would have grabbed a couple VHS’, but I lack the proper player and TV at my apartment).

A week later, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Durham and Asheville (that I documented here).  On the plane to Durham, I re-read Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country.  The first time I read this, I was on a bus in Israel right after I graduated college.  When I got back home after vacation, I popped on a copy of Sly and the Family Stone’s Dance To the Music while I cleaned my room and remembered being at overnight camp cleaning my bunk before visiting day in 1996.

The book and the album meant totally different things for me when I first read and listened to when I re-read and re-listened.  I was searching for direction and constantly doubting myself when I graduated college.  I was shy and underestimated my potential when I was going into 6th grade.  I’m not saying I have all the answers or have become the most outgoing person in the world, but the “re” experience helped me see my growth as a person and instantaneously bring hope for where I’m headed.

Strangers (or not really at all)

26 11 2011

I’ve been on a huge Kinks kick lately.  However, I’m the first to admit that I never really listened to them beyond Lola, You Really Got Me, and rewatching Wes Anderson flicks.  I’m the guy who chooses Tom Waits over Billy Joel and Elton John as well as Leonard Cohen over Scott Walker, but never the guy to choose the Kinks over Beatles or Stones.  I’m not saying that’s the case necessarily now, but I’m at least giving them a fighting chance this time around.

What sparked this was seeing Wye Oak featured on the Spotify’s What’s New homescreen for their Strangers (Kinks)/Mother (Danzig) covers EP.  Listening to their raw and soulful re-imagination of Strangers, a lyric jumped out of the speakers

Strangers on this road we are on
We are not two we are one

For me, this is easily one of the best lines Dave Davies ever wrote.  Similar to any song, book, movie, or other piece of art I enjoy, I won’t bother to think about what the artist meant.  That’ll lead to too much unnecessary debate that, in most cases, will never have an answer.  Rather, I choose to reflect on what it means to me.

All too often we distance ourselves from others and don’t lend a hand.  For example, Wednesday after work, I took the subway home like most days.  More often than not, if anyone asks me to swipe them in after I’ve gotten off, I usually say yes.  I have an unlimited pass, so it’s no loss to me if I help them out and greater help to them.  In that moment, I was irritated with the amount of work I had to do over Thanksgiving, so instead of helping him out, I walked by in frustration.  Immediately, I saw my life splitting into two:  the one I was on and the one where I helped out that guy.

Ironically, an hour later when I went to my car, I discovered that I had a flat tire and had to buy a new one.  I’m not saying that that guy knew where I lived and popped my tire; that would be completely ludicrous.  However, it reminded me that the world has a way of balancing out, so I laughed instead of getting mad or crying.  Those 10 seconds of helping someone else out cost me 2 hours of my time and $95 for a new tire.

We are all on the same road, so help people out in any way you can within your day to day life.  Not everyone can pick up and go to New Orleans or Japan to aid in the aftermath of natural disasters or donate thousands of dollars to UNICEF.  However, listen to Mr. Davies.  We are one, so do something to help another even if it’s something as small as swiping someone else into the subway (but hopefully more than that).  However, the real test, as Davies indicates is, “if I feel tomorrow like I feel today.”


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