Monday, November 14, 2016

Right On Time

As an aging flower-child (I was never a true 'hippie', having worked pretty much every day of my life since pre-teen years), I used to use the jargon of those days of old. Sometimes I find I still do. In this case, not only do I think this post will be right on time but actually "right on". And I believe some other musicians will think so, too.

To this very day, people still ask me if I'm playing around town, writing, performing or jamming. When I respond that I'm winding down nowadays, and don't really play much, they are incredulous and almost demand an answer as to why. I think I've finally thought about this long enough to put it out there right now. (which, with the Universe as my witness, would necessarily be "right on time")

I recently had to start researching my next dental visit, due to a pressing issue, and see that the amount is going to be in the hundreds of dollars this time. That will be pretty tough to absorb, but I really don't have much choice. I started thinking of how many years dentists have to attend schools to get their licenses, and how much they need to pay for their overhead. At that point, the fees more or less made sense. Then it occurred to me that the general populace just puts up with the pricing and has never done anything, as a group, to make it more equitable for the people who live at the bottom of the financial spectrum.

Spinning off of that thought, as my mind usually does, I entertained how the same populace seems to have gotten together and agreed to do the opposite with performers and just refuse to pay anything but the same damned $100 (for an entire night's work) that has been the standard for decades. And that's if they happen to pay even that. Many times, I have worked for $15 dollars, even many years after having made that exact amount back in my high-school days.

If one listens to club owners, promoters or anyone who happens to be footing the bill, you'll get promises of "exposure" and a chance to do what you love. That's been the excuse I've heard and abided by, for most of my life. I've finally grown sick of it.

A fellow musician recently posted a humorous scenario, where he hands back people's mentality on the "doing what you love" ploy, and turns it around by putting the shoe on the other foot. Like folks saying, "Could you bring your guitar to the party? People love to hear you play, and you enjoy it so much that it shouldn't be a big deal for you." My friend told his roofing contractor friend, "When you come to my party, could you bring your tools? I have this huge leak in my roof. You are SO good at it, and seem to enjoy your work so much it shouldn't be a big deal." Some folks will now get my drift.

I don't have a big office or practice space to keep my equipment. My bedroom has to suffice, and always has. I have never been paid enough to afford the amenities that most other long-time professionals do. I drive a 15 year old car, not a Mercedes. I can't pay others to act as my 'assistants' or to answer my phone and handle scheduling and appointments. I have been working at my craft for over sixty years, but get paid the same as someone wet behind the ears and with barely a year's experience. Perhaps that part of this post got through to more folks than the previous one. I'm just putting it out there. Basically, I'm just not playing that game anymore.

One other thing that has stuck in my craw for low these sixty-plus years is the issue of disrespect. Most of us have issue with that, and I'm no different. I offer a little story to explain more fully:

The first time I ever got together with others for a "jam", I was a young teenager. I knew less than half a dozen chords at the time. Two other friends had electric guitars and amplifiers, and I had rented mine for the weekend (for $15 dollars, interestingly). We got together one evening in the basement of the tenement of one friend's father. It had a great natural echo to it, with it's cement walls and floor. With minimum experience, we were restricted to doing the simple guitar song "Honky Tonk" as our first foray into 'live' Rock and Roll. I was in Heaven.

Before the song was over, a man came down the stairs and stood at a distance from us just watching and listening. He conveyed no emotion that I can recall. When we either finished the song, or stopped out of respect for an adult standing there looking as if he needed to say something, he said the words that would be echoed for another sixty-some years of my life:  "You guys are really good, but could you turn the volume down?"

For years, I'd be playing at clubs known by reputation for having loud 'live' music, but still have people come up with some version of those words. I am one of those who so hates confrontation that I've spent my whole life just putting up with it, and either turning down or pretending to turn down. One time at a Summer Festival--in a huge tent--a guy actually stood in front of the stage, mockingly sticking his fingers in his ears for the whole audience to see. At the end of the song my keyboard playing brother, God bless his soul, got on the mike and said directly to this arsehole, "If you feel it's too loud for you, why are you standing directly in front of those huge PA speakers?" We then resumed playing, to an audience that didn't have a problem with us. I like remembering that one.

So there you have it; my answer to those "inquiring minds that want to know". I've grown weary of all that crap, and I've had enough. I'm now content to play in basements and studios owned by people who don't have problems entertaining Reality, or right in the very comfort of my own living room or bedroom.

I can hear a few last voices, in my day-dreaming head, saying "But you have such a gift! You won't be sharing it with anybody anymore." Yeah? Nice try. Take a hike.

I guess I'm not quite the 'flower child' I once was, am I?






Friday, July 15, 2016

Some Call It "Dining"

Years ago, I wrote a column for our company newsletter called "Dining In Downers". It was a tongue in cheek report, marking my first foray into writing for a periodical. Currently, the only writing I do is letters and emails to friends. I stay in practice that way, and every so often I am moved to go to one of my blogs and add something.

Today, I was thinking about an email I wrote to a friend, regarding White Castle. I had just made a comment on a Facebook page that reminisces my old home town. I was remembering "Prince Castle", known for it's 'One In A Million' chocolate malts. Later it became Cock Robin, which in my opinion did not ever do justice to it's forebear. White Castle was not related, but had a similar theme to Prince Castle. One commentor confused the two, causing me to remember my email. Having located it, I cut and will now paste it here. I think it might include some "in" jargon, used by my friend and I for quite a few decades, but the message should come through:

---------

So, I finally get around to visiting the new White Castle here near us. In short, a disappointment.

The smell is NOT the oniony aroma of old, as you walk in. Gone is the stark white tile, though, which was reasonable. A bright decor, but set up more like a fast food joint than the "deli" look of Yvonne's place of old. 

They now sport a whole "seafood" menu, ironically. I didn't notice mealglaze, per se, but they have a few meals including a shrimp fiesta of sorts. Myself, I just wanted a "one in a million" (silly me....that's PRINCE Castle) and a coupla burgers. I guess everyone is expanding their menus these days. Not for the better, in my opinion.

The onion yield was scant, but also oddly flavorless, as were the pickles. I suspect they soak them is the purest distilled water for weeks to insure the flavor and smell of those two items is totally non-existent. They accomplished that, in any case.

The "shake" (never shaken, but stirred mechanically---a little) was basically soft-serve ice cream. I pretty much made a dozen attempts to suck it thru a straw as I drove home, but to no avail. I got home and ate it with a spoon, except for the last few ounces which had melted from the heat of my hand.

So, there you have it. My first and last visit to the newer and not better slider depot. That's another thing, some ad-man probably made a bundle convincing the board of directors to just go with the term "sliders", which was likely the offhanded description by a couple stoners sometime in the past. They call them Sliders on the menu, now. It kinda gave me a creepy feeling, as if the menus behind the counter were festooned with dirty jokes. I mean, didn't "sliders" originally refer to the speed and way they shoot thru the alimentary canal and out the anus? 

I wanted to just slap somebody, but didn't have a clue who.

--------------

Translations are available on request. Just message me here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

John Belushi's Drums

Years ago, prior to my stint with PG&E, a Wheaton College student I had met at Burke's Guitar & Music Studio---a fellow guitarist, vocalist and music teacher, Robert Rose---had a band which needed a drummer for a six-week gig at the Golden Pheasant, in Elmhurst. Needing the money, I decided to parlay my drum talents (I had been practicing for a few years, and had taken lessons) for the $60 a week I could make, which---for a four-night a week gig---was considerable pay back in early 1968. Having played with John Belushi's band, The Ravens, a few times during high school (I imagine Mike Blasucci, John's lead guitarist, was unavailable or something), I knew John had a drum kit. Since Belushi was busy in his acting pursuits at that time, he lent me his drums for the gig. I auditioned by playing a dance at Wheaton North High School, with Rose's group "Omega", and made the cut.

About three weeks into the Pheasant gig, as we lovingly knew it, it became obvious that my talents on guitar and vocals were considerably better than my drumming. I ran it by Rose and his crew that I had a great drummer in mind, if everyone would split the pay a little bit. Enter Gary Maier, an accomplished and locally well-known drummer from my home town of Wheaton. Gary took over on John's drums and, with the money he got during the last three weeks of the gig, ultimately bought them from Belushi.

Some time later, Gary saw a great set of drums that he wanted, and ended up selling the former 'Belushi set' to Burke's to help buy the set he wanted. There was little clue as to how much value, both sentimental and monetary, those drums would have today. Their whereabouts are unknown, at least partially due to the passing of almost all of the Burkes we knew and loved, who helped a great number of local musicians get rolling in music, even when the money for equipment wasn't there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

1956 -- A Very Good Year


It started May 17th, 55 years ago in 1956. The year I fell in love with Rock and Roll.

The week after my brother Allan died, I stayed with my Aunt Evy and her friend Jane. Aunt Evy used to take me to the haunts, bars really, that she and her girlfriends frequented. She would be telling the barkeep about Allan's death while keeping me busy playing the jukebox with nickels she gave me.

I found such joy and freedom that week; it never left me. I could get a 'play' for 5 cents, 3 for a dime and 5 for a quarter. It may have been something like 12 for a 50-cent piece. Rock Island Line (by Bobby Darin, I think), Tutti Frutti (Little Richard), Boney Marone, Hound Dog, Rock Around the Clock and many others quickly became my favorites. For only 9 years old, I was quite the Rock 'n' Roll fan.

Very soon, I began playing Dion songs on the piano and two years later, when my brother Stevie gave me a plastic ukulele for Christmas, I was off and running; playing songs by Eddie Cochran, like Summertime Blues and C'mon Everybody.

The following year's summer, when I went to camp, I heard a big, country style guitar around the campfire. I can still remember the brilliance of the strings and the richness of the tones. It must have been a quality guitar with new strings, as I look back. But that was the beginning of my non-stop love affair with guitars. I had spent my childhood playing the piano, which I felt was the most beautiful instrument, until that night around the campfire.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A New Ploy To Extract More Money From The Comsumer?

Is "Out Of Stock" the latest in the lame bag of tricks that companies will be using, since outright heavy price increases don't go over too well in this economy? I'd say being on the lookout for more of this, might be in order. Not so clever re-wording (or re-framing) of the situation, does not help it fly, at least in my book. Here's a recent email exchange, for an example:
-----Original Message-----
From: Greg Gillette <greg@wholehealth.com>
To: klutterback@aol.com
Sent: Thu, Oct 21, 2010 4:25 pm
Subject: kava kava

Thank you for your continued loyalty to Whole Health Products.  We are writing because an item you have on your Convenience Plan, Kava Kava Extract 200mg, 150 capsules is out of stock and we do not have a tentative date for its return.
However, we do have the 60 capsule bottle in stock.  This product is identical to the product you have been receiving, except for the different capsule count per bottle.  The current price for the 60-capsule bottle for our Convenience Plan customers is $14.98.  Because you are a loyal long-term customer, we will give you a discount of 15% off that price, reducing the price to you to $12.73 per bottle.
Your Convenience Plan order was set up with 1 bottles shipping to you every 75 days.  If we do not hear back from you before this date, we will automatically change your shipment to the new size bottle and leave the quantity of bottles the same.
Please let me know if you need to change the quantity of the order to correspond with the new capsule count.  I apologize for any inconvenience.
Thank you,
Whole Health
866-381-7693

To: greg@wholehealth.com
Sent: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 7:35 am
Subject: Re: kava kava

Gillette:

So, out of the goodness of your heart you are going to give me 60 (60% less) capsules for the exact amount (to the penny) that I have been paying for 150 capsules? Does 'out of stock' mean you can't find a slightly larger bottle in which to put 90 more capsules, in order to honor our original agreement? Or perhaps this is actually just your way of increasing the per capsule price to me by 250%, and then attempting to explain away the increase with this unsatisfactory excuse. In any case, this is absolutely unacceptable to me.

Do NOT attempt to charge my card for anything other than what I agreed to originally, which is 150 capsules at the price of 12.73 per bottle plus shipping. That is my reply to your email.

K.L.Utterback

I guess I should be thankful that they weren't waiting outside my home, with a loaded gun, to rip me off, eh? Maybe this is a kinder, gentler robbery technique that we are expected to accept without complaint.

What a world.

Now, here is the final email from Whole Health representative Greg "Little Shaver" Gillette:

-----Original Message-----
From: Greg Gillette <greg@wholehealth.com>
Sent: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 9:36 am

Subject: RE: kava kava
The Kava Kava raw material price has gone up tremendously in price. Our price went up and thus, our customers’ price did as well. I will cancel your convenience plan for the kava kava.  

It appears li'l Greggy-poo doesn't like being called out on bullshit, does it not? I know he's merely a sales-kid, who was just slammed against the wall, slapped and then forced to say the truth out loud. And, of course, I'm at least as remorseful as he is "sorry for the inconvenience." Maybe more. But it seems to me that not being certain when an 'out of stock' item will become available, and knowing you are jacking up a price by 250% are so different that the term "deception" is MORE than kind. And isn't deception just a milder term for "lying"? I'm just asking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Grimes Sisters' Murders

I wrote this as a ''Guest Essay'' for the Doings-Weekly of Burr Ridge, an online paper which is part of the  Sun Times Media group. Some of my old friends in Chicago will remember this time gone by.

By the time I was 8 years old, growing up in the far western suburbs of Chicago in 1955, I was already an avid reader. At that tender age, I already had a small book library of my own, and my aunts and uncles used to subscribe me to youth periodicals. Newspapers were a daily treat, with Sunday being the biggest of them all. I would lie on the living room rug, reading each section from front to back.

That year, in October, a story appeared reporting the apparent murder of three young boys. The Schuessler-Peterson murders, as they would soon be known, were the precursor to what would soon become the loss of innocence for our family, and actually for an entire city.

According to reports at the time, two days after their disappearance, the boys' naked and bound bodies were discovered in a shallow ditch about 100 feet east of the Des Plaines River. A salesman, who had stopped to eat his lunch at the Robinson Woods Indian Burial Grounds, spotted them and called the police. The coroner stated that the cause of death was "asphyxiation by suffocation.

The three boys had been dead about 36 hours when they were discovered.

The mental picture of the bodies of three young boys, naked and thrown in a ditch in the neighboring county, wormed its way into my young mind. It was probably then that the stories of what can happen when a child "accepts candy from a stranger" started to make sense to me. I know I had been counseled even prior to that time -- particularly by my mother -- but I think parents began to intensify their warnings after that event.

A little more than 15 months later, another tragic discovery would shock the city.

On Jan. 22, 1957, the frozen, nude bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes would be found 25 days after their disappearance. Three days after the Christmas of 1956, the girls went missing after going to the movies to see Elvis in "Love Me Tender" for the 11th time. During the next weeks, even Elvis himself made a plea for the missing girls to return home, based on the assumption that they had run away. The hope was that the sisters, both avid fans of Elvis, would be moved by his personal message.

Runaways or not, they would never return home again. There were a number of conflicting stories and unverifiable sightings in the weeks following the disappearance. But no matter what, the actions of the girls after leaving the theater somehow put them in harm's way and brought about a tragic end less than four weeks later. 

At 9 years old, I followed the story with a deeper awareness than I had followed the Schuessler-Peterson murders. My younger brother, not quite 7 years old at the time, had been killed in an auto accident just eight months before the Grimes sisters' bodies were discovered. Death now had a new meaning for me, and I was probably still in shock over my own loss by the time I read about the girls' bodies being found.

The phrase "nude, frozen bodies" became like a dark, evil mantra that stuck in my mind. It still affects me today.

Up until that time, I can recall coming home from school to an unlocked house -- my lunch on the kitchen table -- and returning to school alone, not bothering to lock up behind me.

Those days ended abruptly. 

I'm sure that the Grimes sisters' murders erased any vestiges of trust in humanity that my parents might have had. I'm equally sure that most of the other Chicagoans of that day reacted in much the same way.

If there was any innocence left in the mindset of the City of Chicago regarding the possibility of horrible crimes against children, I think it died with two teen-aged sisters early in 1957.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Time For A Rant

Okay, enough reverie. Anyone out there up for a little ranting? I see a hand up...you do? No problem; one vote is sufficient--even an imaginary one.

Today's topic, boys and girls, will be what NOT to get someone for a gift when your best idea is a gift certificate of some type. I'm not saying gift certs--or gift cards--are bad. They are just fine, unless you get hoodwinked into thinking that a Visa (or probably any credit card company name) gift card is a great idea. It's not; trust me.

On the surface of things, a $50 Visa gift card looks like a no-brainer, gift-wise. Pretty much a fifty-dollar bill, only plastic, right? No, in fact that's not at all what it is. It's a plastic pain in the ass, with hidden stipulations which are little extra pains in the ass. My sweetie works in a bank, and she told me that when somebody walks in with one, they all just cringe. Last week I got my education, first-hand.

The $50 Visa gift card sat around for a couple months after Christmas, until we finally decided to use it at a restaurant. Our bill came to a little over $30, and I left a cash tip. The math involved, to come up with the balance, was simple enough and we put the card away for another time.

A couple months later, which was last week, we decided to take advantage of one of the nearby restaurant deals, where you get two meals for $14.95. With a couple iced-teas and tax, I figured I was going to be fine with nearly $20 left on the card and some cash for a tip. I was wrong.

As we finished eating, I took the check and did quick math in my head. The balance on the card and six bucks cash would pay the bill, and still leave an appropriate 20% tip for the good service. Wrong again. The server had tried to put a little more than the balance on the card, and it declined. When he came back to the table and told us the problem, I explained that I had failed to tell him the balance on the card, and he went back and tried again.

This next time, the manager came back to try to help clear things up. After a quick explanation, he was off to make the transaction all come out right. Well, he tried anyway. If you are starting to suspect that our embarrassment index was up, at this point, you are right. All the time I'm thinking, "It shouldn't be this difficult."

When the manager came back again, he offered a little experience of his own, regarding Visa gift cards. He told us he had learned that some card companies actually hold 20% more than the amount swiped, possibly to cover a belated tip or something. At this point, we just told the manager to charge whatever would work and we'd cover the rest in cash, meanwhile letting the server keep the cash I'd given him originally. (Adding to the embarrassment, the server actually came back holding the cash saying, "Do you need this back?") I just wanted this transaction to be over.

Finally, the manager came back again. He told us that he had phoned the company, found out the balance (which was the one I had known all along) but that it wouldn't ring for that amount. The manager then subtracted 20% from the balance that the card company gave him, ran that amount, and finally got it to go through. So, one-half hour after finishing our dinner, and a little red-faced, we finally got out of the restaurant having paid an almost 30% tip and getting a real education about Visa gift cards.

When I got home, I just had to know what the fine print was on the back of the card. I promise you, I had to put on my reading glasses and take out a magnifying glass to be able to read the print. It confirmed what my sweetie had told me about no cash value (isn't that interesting), but said nothing about holding back any percentage of the charged amount. When I went to the website, listed on the card, it showed one figure for that day: 20% more than the amount on the slip I had been given by the manager. His take on this sneaky little procedure was accurate. Also, per the extremely fine print, there is a $2.50 per month fee for not using the card, starting in the seventh month after activation. It almost seems like they want to take as much as they can from you, even after charging a fee for the gift card in the first place, doesn't it? The word scumbag comes to mind.

So, does this sound like fun to you? I didn't think so. Had we been given a card for that very restaurant, everything would probably have worked out perfectly, but we were still on a learning curve at that time. The person who gave us the card, of course, had no idea what a fiasco it could be, either. I've had gift cards from everywhere I can think of, and never had anything remotely like this happen...ever. Forewarned is forearmed. Just trying to help.

My suggestion, should you ever get this type of gift card, would be to not use it at a restaurant or anywhere a tip might be assumed to be a possibility. I can't say for sure, but I don't think they'll hold 20% back for a fuel purchase, for instance. That may be the ticket right there. Let's say you get a $50 Visa gift card. You go to the gas station, tell them put $25 on pump number whatever (at least a 1/4 tank, right?) and wait a week or so and do the same thing one more time. The card gets run for 1/2 of the value (remember: no cash value), and then, even if they hold back 20%, a week later you should be good to go for one more gas station visit. This way, you can get every cent out of the card, and avoid the possibility of having to wash dishes at your favorite restaurant.

You can probably be a little creative, but I wouldn't veer too far from my little scenario. Oh yeah, and be sure to make it all happen in the first seven months after you activate the card. Clear as mud? Yeah, that's what they're counting on, I imagine.