How “Old School” Still Brings Value To The Table

Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Old School.

It makes people groan a little bit and roll their eyes. And mutter to themselves, “Oh God. Really??”.

Want to insult someone? Whisper behind their back, “He’s so Old School”.

I’m curious as to how this bad rap came about. Really, is it that bad to embrace the past, keep tradition alive, and keep the fires of old school lessons burning?

You wouldn’t want to be trapped in the 70’s, I understand that. Modern advancement and technology is a wonderful thing, a blessing.

I’ll give an example. When I was a kid, I had pen pals. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, don’t worry, it’s just because you’re young. But, pen pals were guys and (hopefully) girls that you wrote letters to, with similar interests, usually in other parts of the country or world.

Write. With a pen. On paper. Then you had to stuff the letter into an envelope. And put a stamp on it.

And here’s the best part. The last phase of this project was to take the letter and walk it out to a mailbox for delivery. At times the mailbox was close, other times not so much. Then, the recipient would probably receive that letter in several days.

The Beauty of Modern Life

Here’s where the modern (mostly) trumps the Old School. Now when I write a letter, I can compose it on my laptop, and skip all the other steps. To send that letter, the Post Office need not get involved. I can do it by pushing a button, and it’ll be received in two seconds. Two seconds!!

Email…is amazing.

And I also know that the letter has been opened and read! With a pen pal, how could you possibly know? Hypothetically, that letter could have gone straight from the mailbox to the fire pit.

Modern technology, if its not abused, makes you more productive and efficient. I’m all for it.

Old School Value

An example of the value of old school thinking can also be drawn from my youth. On weekend nights, I would typically stay over and my grandparents‘ house, and you could find me up late watching one of my favorite TV shows, a musical variety program called The Midnight Special.

Midnight Special featured all of the big music acts from the 70s, and I would lay on the living room floor, in my feetie pajamas, mesmerized by the large console TV with live concert footage from my favorite bands.

Only one issue. It was on late. Remember, it was the Midnight Special.

Many times, my Grandmother would try to get me off to bed before the show was over. I’d ask her why.

“It’s late and you need your sleep”.

There was no arguing that position. My Grandmother was old-school smart.

There was no need for her to quote from a study, but the eggheads at the National Sleep Foundation find that if you are sleep deprived for any length of time, you won’t stay healthy and/or bad things can happen.

Here’s my point. Common sense and old school thinking eventually merge on the super highway of living a quality life. And when you combine them with smart modern efficiencies, well, now you can really blow it up.

Whether it’s work ethic, exercise, eating vegetables, holding traditions, raising kids, money issues, or just learning how to take a breath and age gracefully: the raw simplicity of the old school just works.

The Super Combo of Old and New

Like I implied, working old school common sense and ethics with modern advances is a win-win. Don’t just make anything overly comfy or convenient. Students of the old school, no matter their age, tend to shun practices that will turn them into cream puffs.

Examples:

Old School – Still listening to the beautiful and funky sounds from the 70s and 80s. There’s nothing better.

New Age – My, that’s a large and impressive (read: space destroying) album collection you have. You do know you can listen to Kool & The Gang on an iPod, right?

The new school is more efficient here. This example is solid and remarkable. What has happened with music seems to be a necessary part of life. But I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. Read on:

Old School – This smart phone does everything. Damn, how did I live without it? Oh, I do need to put it down occasionally so I can actually enjoy my real life.

New Age – Hopeless. Never, ever puts the phone down. Especially when around friends and family. In the future, won’t see that water fountain straight ahead, or that school bus bearing down on him. Tragic.

Old School – Will use the occasional app to track calories, finances, et al. Wants to ensure things are staying on the right track. Uses tasks to free up time to enjoy with actual humans.

New Age – Apps equal advertising. Look at what I did! I upgraded my iPhone for the 6th time! I saved on my car payment, it’s only $550 a month!!

Old School – Uses social media sparingly. May still think of blue jays when they hear the word “tweet”. Removes people from Facebook that always complain or are excessive braggarts. Uses blogs and websites to advance their agenda. 🙂

New Age – Again, hopeless. Addicted to hashtags. Wants to know via update when you go to the bathroom. Becomes morose and sullen if there are less than 100 “likes” for their latest update. Checks their phone to see what their friends are doing…when they are at a party with the very same friends.

You get this gist. When you temper our coolest and latest with a little old school mentality, the result can be spectacular. Better life, less stress, more health, and you seem a little more informed where you may not have been before. That’s the perception, anyway.

If you prowl the hallways of the Old School, you know better.

That’s my take. What do you think? Is that combination of old and new thinking a necessity these days? Or should I take my head out of 1973? Comments in that little box sure would be nice (ain’t technology great?) !

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I Know It’s Late, We Can Make It If We Run

“I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen” – Jon Landau, 1974

Forget about the future of rock and roll. I have seen a man who performs as intensely now as he did in 1974, a true fountain of youth…and its name is Bruce Springsteen.

I’ve written about the undeniable power of music previously (see the article here).  But that post tends to look understated when I think of my long relationship with the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Copyright @ Times Union

Having just experienced my eighth live Springsteen concert, it’s no longer just a musical event or a wait and see if he’s still got it (which, by the way, he does. He’s 62, and has got “it” in spades). To say the man, who’s in his sixties, acts like he’s in his thirties, would be a gross understatement as well.

No, these concert events have turned into trips to see a dear friend. Go over, hang out in the living room, and there he is,  telling you his favorite stories all over again.

Stories I’ve heard for nearly four decades. He’s no longer just a musician, or rock star. He’s a trusted ally, a sounding board, a friend to support in good times and bad.

He was there for me through break ups with teenage girls, and compassionate when I thought myself an outcast in school.  The music was less of a getaway than it was a mechanism to know you were not solely on your own. Someone agreed with you, somebody else got it.

When I lost a good friend to an auto accident at far too young an age, his monumental double album “The River” helped stoke my rage and quell my sadness. It got me through the hardest of times. For that reason alone, I will always be a fan.

Being a fan, like anything, isn’t always easy.

The images within the music may make you want to cringe, to turn away. Bruce’s lyrics are replete with storms, rising flood waters, corporate greed, battered hometowns, and the haunting reference of a September 11th firefighter ascending a smoky stairwell to a certain death he can’t even see.

In live performance, those images are even more focused. But turning away from a force of nature is difficult. What you see is dropped into a tornado of light and sound, monster backbeats pushing you forward through the chaos, as you stand in all your fist pumping glory.

Springsteen’s America can be a brutal, unforgiving place. But after 3 hours of no holds barred non-stop singing, dancing, and sheer fun, you go back to that other place where faith, hope, and glory days and little victories are real again.

The little victories are what sustain you. Bruce played his music for me on my wedding day and when my kids came into the world, careening from speakers at decibel levels to make your pets run and hide. My daughter grew as a toddler, chanting the refrain from “Badlands” from the comfort of her car seat. Glory days, indeed.

I keep going back to that well because I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to see my friend. He’s getting old, I’m getting old(er), and the live tours can be years apart. But at 62, he can still outperform entertainers half his age.

Here’s to the hope the rest of us can hold out as well.  Concerts with Bruce and friends are great nights in my life, shared with my wife, where we get sent home with our ears ringing, sweaty, tired, and inspired again by the “future of rock and roll” present.

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Best Job Title Ever – Father

IMG_3678Fathers’ Day will come and go, celebrated in a whirlwind of sunshine, breakfast on the deck, poolside cocktails, and a game of pitch and catch. As the years go by, and they go by rather quickly, I become more entrenched in the title of “father” or “Dad.” It has become my favorite line of work.

I’m grateful for many things in this life. When my wife had a little scare with her health, I was grateful that it wound up, in the end,  being nothing to worry about.

I feel gratitude for having so much time with my grandparents in their time on this Earth, especially my grandmother. We shared many cups of coffee over the years.

My life is what it is because of what they taught me as well. You know, enjoy the simple things in life, don’t stress too much, and forget about keeping up with the Joneses of the world. Good advice.

I’m grateful for the music too. Sounds that are constantly in my head, ringing in my ears, providing the soundtrack to life. Whether it was an old Sinatra standard blasting from an transistor radio in the house on 14th Street, or a song by Muse playing on my daughter’s iPod, it has been forty plus years of enjoying some really amazing sounds.

More than anything, I’m happy to be Dad. As I said, it’s my favorite job.  And my most important.

I took on this line of work on a ferociously hot day in late June 1995, when my daughter was born. Since that morning in the hospital, I’ve never looked back. I knew when I held her close to me, she would be the most important thing I would ever be a part of.

IMG_2681When my son was born five years later, he became part two of “my most important work to date.”

Now, they’re getting older, growing up way too quickly, and the work is becoming complicated. When you think you have a handle on what you’re doing as a parent, monkey wrenches appear from everywhere, and you realize you don’t know much. But you keep doing the work, and gain knowledge as you go forward. There are always new things to learn.

I was a guy who, at one time, felt there was no problem to be consumed by his job. The work. Whatever “nine to five” I was doing. But I smartened up, looking at the work as a means to an end, that glorious paycheck, and try to get really good at the important jobs. Job titles that include husband and…father.

When Gabrielle was born, at the time I wasn’t doing just a job. I was working in the family business, a restaurant where I managed the bar and spent the majority of my days tending it, serving the customers who would become, over the years, my friends. It was what I loved to do, and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

But the days and nights at work were long, and they took me away from my little girl. To have more time at home, I gave up what I loved to do, and got a “real job” (Real? The concept of corporate jobs as being “real” is strictly a myth).

I gave up the restaurant business, a way of life that was important to me. But I gave it up for much more important work, a partnership with my wife with the job title of parent. Father. The fringe benefits are more than excellent.

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500 Words On The Power Of Music

I used to have coffee with my Nonna and my father on a regular basis, but now that my grandmother is gone, I still go to my Dad’s house to have coffee with him. Driving over there the other night, I was surprised to see a Cars CD in the player that my wife was listening to.

I’ve gotta tell you, listening to certain bands just gets me all fired up.

The Cars were one of my favorite bands when I was a teenager, and now that I’m in my forties, I’m still impressed with their sound. I’m even more impressed with the way the music makes me feel. That night, when I heard songs like Magic or Heartbeat City, I felt a surge of adrenaline and energy that made me feel like a teenager all over again.

Music has never been just music to me. I consider certain songs and artists to be the soundtrack of my life. Bruce Springsteen has been my background music for nearly thirty five years.  To me, there has not been another rock musician that plays with the passion and intensity that Bruce does. And I’ve loved every minute of listening to it.

Whenever I hear a song by Rush, I think of hanging with my childhood friend Mike. Any song by the Clash reminds me of my buddy Chris from military school, who turned me on to the punk and new wave scenes when they were starting to gain musical ground.

Say the name “Tom Petty” to me, and I think of outdoor concerts in scenic Saratoga Springs, with torrential rain always greeting the concert goers.

I could never listen to Bob Marley without thinking of my wife Suzanne, who opened my eyes to the sweet sounds of reggae.

At the other end of the spectrum, whenever I hear Jerry Vale or Al Martino or Frank Sinatra, I will always think of my grandmother, who loved music and used to turn the volume up on the little transistor radio in her kitchen as far as it would go whenever she heard a favorite song. More times than not those sounds were accompanied by the fragrant smells of freshly fried meatballs or soup cooking on the stove.

And she would sing too. Giving in to the power of her favorite sounds.

I’m just like her. Few things inspire or motivate me more than music. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing during the course of the day, it has to be accompanied by m-u-s-i-c. My teenage daughter is the same way. And thankfully she likes a lot of the stuff that Mom and Dad are fond of, like Coldplay and the Beatles. So we can listen too…

Only she listens on her IPod now, not stereos or tape decks like her parents used to. Music in an instant. Just like the instant it takes for all my great music to take me back in time, to when life was a little different but no less sweet.

Bill Davis made a statement with a nice post on his WordPress site that echoes my sentiments exactly:

Music takes you back. There are some songs I avoid, since they depress me or make me feel the unwanted tug of lifestyle choices I gratefully abandoned nearly 40 years ago. They want to take me back to places I never want to see again. But most of the playlist of my youth recreates all the positive feelings and joy I felt the first time I hear it.

A culture, an era, a whole world. It’s all reflected in the music.

OK, the post is a little longer than 500 words. So, what’s your story? Do you love a certain artist or style of music? Does it get you pumped? Or do you take it or leave it? When it comes to music, who do you love?