October 29, 2012 – Music created organically vs. music created by corporations
Usually, I find the following two concepts to be true:
1) Music manufactured by corporations is bad.
The Spice Girls were created as a result of a corporation’s desire to form a girl band. I find their music to be terrible. Many boy bands are also manufactured by a producer or corporation.
2) By contrast, music created organically is good.
Most bands were formed by a group of folks who happened to start working together: a happy accident. Examples include The Beatles, R.E.M., The Go-Gos, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Wu-Tang Clan, etc.
But, as I have learned, there are exceptions to these two concepts.
Exception to the first concept:
The Monkees are the very definition of music manufactured by a corporation; after all, they are a band that was formed to support a TV show. And, like The Spice Girls, members of The Monkees had to audition for their parts.
And yet…and yet, they actually learned to play their instruments, and went on to record original music long after their eponymously named TV show went off the air. This was – and continues to be – as revolutionary an act as it is unlikely. As band member Micky Dolenz said, "The Monkees really becoming a band was like the equivalent of Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan.”1
And, how can one not like this?
Exception to the second concept:
In 2011, Metallica teamed up with Lou Reed and released ‘Lulu,’ an avante guard album featuring Reed singing and doing spoken word whilst Metallica plays in the background. Lou Reed gathered much of the material for the album from his unreleased collection of songs composed for a play called Lulu—a theatrical production of two plays originally written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind.2
I’ll give it this: the album is both organic and original. But, it is also terrible. See how long you can last through this track, Gentle Reader:
In conclusion, I hate to say it, but there are rare circumstances where the music execs actually know better than the musicians.
April 29th, 2012 - On Skill and Art
Recently, I was at to the Worcester Art Museum for a friend’s wedding.
Good conversation, good music, and then I turn around and see this:
Untitled, (part of the 'Wall at WAM' series) by Charline von Heyl
This orange, black and white piece is art without skill. Anyone could do that. And it makes me mad, since it is housed in the same museum with art that required skill.
I believe that anything can be called art, and it is equally valid to judge art. If a piece of art makes the layman say, ‘Hell, I could do that!’ then the art is a ruse. It is vainly hiding its lack of skill behind a façade of being complicated and abstract. It is still art of course, but it is bad art.
Skill requires great presence, and great presence commands respect, regardless of taste. For example, one may not enjoy listening to an elite musician playing the violin, but one must still respect the music because of the great skill involved in creating it. ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ as performed by Itzhak Perlman is a fine example.
No layman listens to Perlman's performance and proclaims ‘Hell, I could do that!’ You may find yourself both unmoved and uninspired by this piece, but you have to respect it.
Also demanding respect is the artist Dale Chihuly. One must respect his enormous presence – and therefore skill - required to make such art from glass.
The Sun by Dale Chihuly
Skill requires presence, which requires being in the moment. If one's art is completely devoid of skill, chances are that it's pretty bad art. And while an artist does not have to be a technical master to be good (see The Ramones), there needs to be at least a modicum of skill for me to believe in the art.
Let us return to the mural mentioned at the beginning of this essay. I am guessing that the museum installed the piece to challenge the viewer. If the museum really wanted to suprise and challenge a visitor, why not remove that mural and instead have a piece of skillfully made graffiti art in its place (on the side of a subway car, no less)? A piece that is both abstract and requiring skill to make, like this:
The piece above clearly passes the skill test, and challenges the viewer.
I conclude with two videos. The first video is a prime example of art that demands respect through skillful execution. The second video is a news story by ’60 Minutes’ that made me laugh and was partially responsible for my writing of this essay.
A subsequent self-help book was released with the same title, and 'The Secret' continues its life through CDs, DVDs, and its own webpage and YouTube channel.
Here's my review of the original movie:
In my opinion, the main point of 'The Secret,' is as follows:
What you think about is what manifests itself in your life. Positive thoughts always result in a positive life and vice versa.
The movie claims that the aforementioned idea has been a secret since the dawn of time, jealously guarded by its secret keepers (hence the title of the movie). And, for the first time, this movie is revealing the secret to the masses.
For the record, Norman Vincent Peale first published a book entitled "The Power of Positive Thinking" back in 1952. It sold millions of copies worldwide. So, clearly, this idea is not new.
The fact that visualizations can affect your life is true, but only to a point. If you think terrible thoughts all day, it is more likely that you will make yourself miserable. I agree with this. I also agree with the fact that you can make yourself happier by consistently thinking positive thoughts. Self talk is important to self esteem.
But, this movie vastly overstates a thought's power over your life. It suggests that those in debt or those with other problems have said problems simply because they were thinking negative thoughts....
I cry false.
Many, many outside factors - that have nothing to do with a person's mindset - affect their living conditions. Much of our position in life is (at least at the onset) determined by sheer, dumb luck. The poor kid grows up poor because he was born into a poor family (not because he was thinking negative thoughts in the womb!).
If we follow the argument of `The Secret,' it would also mean that every person who was raped in the world got raped because they had thoughts that attracted the rapist into their life.
Sometimes an innocent child is accidentally shot to death in the crossfire of a shooting because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Genocides do not simply occur because those killed were thinking negative thoughts.
Terrible things can sometimes happen to good people, and it often has nothing to do with the good person's thoughts.
.....Although these are unpleasant truths, I would rather have unpleasant truths than pleasant falsehoods.
When I was very little, I thought lightning was caused by angels who were bowling. I was trying to assign cause and effect to a world I did not understand. It was comforting to do so. 'The Secret' is an example of this very phenomenon.
January 31 , 2011 - An Artist's Influence
When you create art, you never know who it will influence. Creating art is like putting out a radio signal. You never really know who (if anyone) is listening.
Sometimes, the art doesn't get noticed at all. Other times, it has an influence that turns up in the unlikeliest of places.
Case in point:
Did you think Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of the rap group Run DMC was influenced by Sarah McLachlan?
Being educated means realizing that there is a chance you don't know the whole story.
Take asbestos. It used to be thought of as a great product (it insulates! great for pipe gaskets! it's fire proof! you can use it as drywall joint compound! ). Back in the day, the best engineers and carpenters who graduated from the finest schools would have given it their highest recommendation.
....now of course we know asbestos causes cancer and a host of other ailments.
Take the medical field. Many procedures done a few decades ago are now known to be useless or even dangerous (and therefore illegal). Doctors prescribed Thalidomide to pregnant women all over the globe in the 1950s and 1960s to reduce morning sickness.
...now of course we know that this drug taken in this fashion leads to birth defects in babies.
How does this relate to poi?
Happily, the stakes for poi are of course much lower. But, like the fields of engineering and medicine, what was thought of as common practice years ago is now obsolete and just plain wrong.
I realize that I was taught poi in a very inefficient manner. Back when I first picked up a set in 2003, one of the very first moves usually taught was the three beat weave.
This is a mistake for a number of reasons
1) It is not a beginner's move. Far too complicated.
2) It encourages poor posture, especially with not keeping one's back straight.
3) It makes a spinner think in terms of just learning tricks, instead of learning basic pieces (like pendulums) and making their own style through unique combination of said basic pieces.
...in fact, at many spin jams, there is a big announcement when a poi spinner learns a three beat weave, and everyone claps... I used to join in this applause. Now, it makes me cringe because I know better.
Now when folks ask me to teach them poi, I urge them to stay away from the three beat weave for as long as they can.
Teaching the three beat weave to a new poi spinner is like having a first time English speaker memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. Instead, we should teach basic noun and verbs so they can come up with their own words, as opposed to simply repeating verbatim technical things others have done.
So I am trying to keep this idea in my head for my poi practice and other parts of my life: there is a chance I don't know the whole story.... It means that I do the best with the information I have, but I must always realize that my information is imperfect (and therefore, should be constantly scrutinized and re-scrutinized)...
On a tangential note, this essay also illustrates why religious zealots aren't to be trusted.
Remember knowledge is imperfect.
September 28, 2010 - The 'It Gets Better' Project Billy Lucas, a 15 year old boy in Indiana, endured torment and bullying from his classmates because he was gay. As a result of this, he recently took his own life by hanging himself in a barn.
In response, sex advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage has started the 'It Gets Better' video project on YouTube. In it, he urges queer folk to hang on through the tough school years, because life gets better when you are able to get out of high school. Anyone can contribute their own stories as well, which creates a dialogue between those who have passed through the gauntlet of school years with those still enduring its challenges.
Please give it a look:
....and think about contributing your own stories. Thank you.
April 24, 2010 - On Doubt
I remember the scene well. It is a warm spring day. I am a boy. The Armenian Church is filled with pungent incense. I don't like the long services on beautiful Sunday mornings; they’re boring and require too much standing. But the music is intoxicating. Exotic, lonely, lovely, tragic. It's the only thing that gets me through this weekly ordeal.
Our priest starts to say the Nicene Creed in English. Originally written in 325 AD, the Nicene Creed outlines the beliefs of most Christian churches. Many versions exist; the particular version used by our Church has the following clause. For once, I am rapt with attention at the priest’s words as he says:
...And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion--all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.1
Anathematizes. I had never heard of this word. It sounded...scary. On that sleepy Sunday morning, sweating in my uncomfortable formal clothes, I found my curiosity piqued. Nerd that I am, I looked it up in the dictionary upon my parents driving me home.
I am shocked when I read the entry.
1 a: one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority b: someone or something intensely disliked or loathed —usually used as a predicate nominative
My mind reeled....so as a member of this church, I was to loathe those who did not share my beliefs on religion? Really? Based on what? How could I be so sure that my religion was the only correct one? How could I be so sure that Jesus was in fact the son of God?
Most organized religions have a similar kind of clause which basically states that theirs is, in fact, the only true religion. This is worrisome. So much of our beliefs are a simple product of our environment.
The situation is analogous to being a sports fan. If one grows up in Boston, and happens to be a baseball fan, chances are that person will love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees. There is no actual thought in this decision; it simply arises from the accident of one’s birth place.
Turning back to religion, if a boy is born to a family in Israel, chances are he will be Jewish. If he's born in Saudi Arabia, chances are he'll be Muslim. In India, he’ll most likely be Hindu, and so forth and so on.
The point is this: one's beliefs are often more a product of chance (e.g., the place & family one is born to) than any actual, rational thought process. Passions stemming from both religion and sports are usually based on nothing more than flimsy happenstance.
Faith which allows for doubt is infinitely more vulnerable - and beautiful - than an iron clad belief in something. Faith interlaced with doubt is a form of hope. Hope has served humans well during times of slavery and oppression.
By contrast, faith from iron clad belief is a denial of the rational mind.
My views on religion today are more fluid. I suspect there’s a God. The suspicion is based upon – well, upon my gut. Since I cannot prove there is a God, the way I can prove that the earth orbits the sun, I allow doubt to coexist with my faith.
Celebrate doubt. It allows us to admit the possibility that we are, in fact, wrong. In so doing, we are able to coexist with other belief systems.
1 Excerpt of the Nicene Creed from The Seven Ecumenical Councils, ed. H. Percival, in the Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (New York: Charles Scribners, 1990), Vol XIV, 3. Italics mine.
Note: Most versions of the Nicene Creed do not include the aforementioned ‘anathematizes’ clause.
October 12, 2009 - On Nature and Time
Note – this essay’s points are not original. They can be found in Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and the writings of John Muir. This is simply my personal view of what I regard to be preёstablished truth.
On a recent trip to the White Mountains, I told a tree that Barack Obama was president.
I received no response.
I then informed a nearby rock that is was, in fact, dwelling in the White Mountains in the fine state of New Hampshire.
My hiking buddy shook his head a bit, and kept walking up the trail that we were on.
I was illustrating a point; Nature exists independent of the affairs of humans.
Whether a political candidate wins or loses, whether the stock market goes up or down, Nature simply is. Why should humans care? Because this fact can lead us to peace. To know that, win or lose, we will still be regarded the same by Nature is peace. All are equal in the eyes of rocks, trees, streams and sky. Nature is Present. Nature is.
Imagine finding a man hallucinating in a subway station. He is calling out that he is king, and that all that he can see is his kingdom (which he calls a made up name). Most would shake their heads and move on, leaving this person to his ranting. This is how Nature must view us.
If it could speak, I imagine the aforementioned rock would chuckled and said, ‘Sure pal. You call this land whatever you want. The ‘White Mountains of New Hampshire’ is fine. I remember there were native people who lived here long before, and they called it something different entirely. But whatever. Whatever floats your boat [you lunatic]….’ Nature reveals how artificial our labels are for places, governments and ultimately ourselves. The Matrix movie also beautifully illustrates this point.
Nature exists independent of the affairs of humans. When I am truly Present in Nature, I am not Michael Kevin Farrell, fire spinner. I’m just another animal roaming about.
In plain English, imagine a celebrity (let’s say Tiger Woods). He is a celebrity because of his past, which most would label a glorious golfing career combined with outrageous personal scandals. Almost every time anyone interacts with him, they are attaching his past to him. That is why they seek his autograph: because of his past. That is why he is mocked and jeered: because of his past. That is why they snap pictures of him: because of his past. His past. His past. His past. His past. He can’t escape his past. In Nature, it is only Now. Woods’ accomplishments and follies are irrelevant. They’re the past.
For Tiger Woods and other a-list celebrities, a remote setting in Nature must be one of the last refuges they can simply be, and not have to bear the heavy burden of their past. On a deserted beach, no crab or fish beg for Woods’ autograph, and no rock or wave is trying to snap pictures of him. This must be as close to heaven as a celebrity can get.
Readers, take time to spend in Nature. Observe her awesomeness in the forms of waterfalls, mountains and great plains. Her Power is incredible; we can not destroy Her. Even if humans bombed every part of the planet, something – an amoeba, or an archaea – would survive and start it all back up again. Free (unplug) yourself from the artificial world we create in our minds.
Find yourself in Nature, and lose your past.
October 2, 2009 - The Moth
The Moth is a radio show featuring stories. Heartfelt stories from real people.
It's also free.
This episode with Lt. Dan Choi is especially powerful. I urge you to give a listen by clicking here and selecting the Moth Podcast episode entitled, 'Dan Choi: Don't Tell Martha!'
Should the link not work, try this one. Once you download the podcast, look for the Dan Choi episode. It is a powerful way to spend 13 minutes and 25 seconds.
September 24, 2009 - My First Podcast
Podcasts are one of the greatest things to come out of the computerized content movement.
I'm a devoted National Public Radio listener who often misses his favorite shows. Podcasts enable me to listen to them on my own time. I love this*.
Happily, I am have now been featured on a podcast for the first time. My friends in the band Cahill featured me on their podcast, which you can listen to here. In case the link does not work, open iTunes, search for the Cahill Podcast, and listen to episode 5. I speak on many topics including my time performing in Portugal and my appearance with Dominique Immora on America's Got Talent.
Those who read my journal know that it is sporadic. The purpose of this journal is not to record my daily activities but rather to write (and write well) about ideas, people and events that I find meaningful. For these reasons, I highly recommend the writings of Paul Graham.
I have never met Mr. Graham. Among other things, he is an entrepreneur, writer and an expert on start up companies in the field of technology.
He can take philosophical arguments and apply them to daily life; that's what I admire most about his writing. Mr. Graham is able to state the profound in clear, precise language.
Our writing has gone to extremes. It is either of the tweet variety, filled with typos, misspellings and annoying abbreviations or it is overwritten academic nonsense filled with big words (like most collegiate literary response papers).
His work is a beacon of clear, concise writing for us to follow.
June 1, 2009 - Confusing the Unnecessary and the Vital
We've all seen the commercial. Important business meeting. Big deal on the line. And some hapless fellow commits the sin of not having his cell phone on him. He doesn't get the cell phone call from corporate HQ with a critical piece of information about the deal at hand, and royally screws up the business meeting. Result? The big business deal is ruined and cannot be salvaged. Chaos ensues. And why did all of this happen?
Because the schmuck committed the cardinal sin of not having his cell phone on him.
Picture your life without a cell phone. Or a car. Or a computer. Or email. Picture your company/school/organization trying to operate without these things. Chances are, you can't. This is in part because the companies that have made these products have convinced you that they are essential to everyday living.
They have made the unnecessary vital to your life.
We need food, water, and periodic companionship. If the weather is not to our liking, we may require shelter. That's it. That is what is necessary. The world functioned just fine without any of these products, thank you very much.
With each new technological invention, the act of going backpacking in the woods with just a tent and basic supplies becomes ever more radical. It is a way to reprogram our minds to see the truth; that these products are not, in fact, vital. They are unnecessary.
Viewed in this light, meditating is radical. Sitting and being grateful is radical. As my friend Tonya Kay says, 'Gratitude is a euphoric state.'
(A tangent: one of the ways to make the unnecessary vital is to make consumers hate their appearance. Women get the brunt of this through beauty and diet ads. Consumers who love themselves don't tend to need many products to improve themselves)
Understand, dear reader, that this is not an anti-capitalist rant. I have travelled to countries that have suffered the scourge of command economies and widespread corrupt communism. I have seen first hand the devastation this system has wrought. Though I believe in regulating capitalism closely, I have no desire for communism. Not because it is anti-American, but rather because it is profoundly ineffective on a widespread scale.
Capitalism is bad; communism is worse.
Capitalism is a deeply flawed system devoid of any moral code. The same invisible hand that invents new medical treatments to satisfy demand also builds brothels for child prostitution. Capitalism is like a lawn that must be mowed and whose weeds must be pulled on a daily basis.
Our economy is geared towards making us perceive unnecessary goods and services as vital.......(and yes, fire performances are unnecessary as well).
Reader, I ask that you take time to deprogram yourself each day. Chances are, you already have all that you truly need.
April 12, 2009 - On Chris Botti
Yowza. I have been spending many a happy hour listening to the 'Chris Botti in Boston CD/DVD.' I feel the need to write praises of this album as a public service announcement.
Chris Botti (the last name is pronounced 'BOH-dee') is an incredible trumpet player, and he has duets with the likes of Steven Tyler, Yo-Yo Ma and Sting on this album. It was recorded live over two nights at Boston's Symphony Hall.
The intensity and love of music in this album is breathtaking. Download a track or two (especially 'Seven Days' with Sting and 'Cinema Paradiso' with Yo-Yo Ma).
Do yourself a favor and check it out.
January 12, 2009 - Torch Poi
Dr. Grisha Goldmakher is the one who introduced me to torch poi. Thank you Doctor!
I have enjoyed using these. I have posted two videos on how to do basic torch poi moves. Enjoy:
I often make lists of tasks to accomplish. I often fall into the trap of thinking, 'Once these things are complete, then I will be at peace.'
This is a terrible way to live one's life. Stillness and inner peace should not be dangled like a carrot in front of you. They should always be there.
A better way is to use the tasks as a pathway to inner peace: not an obstacle to them.
For example, when you balance that checkbook (or any mundane errand), focus on your breathing and the task at hand. See what happens.
I am happy to report that, at least for the morning of October 20, 2008, I have used my 'to-do' list as a gateway to inner peace.
August 9 , 2008 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states that basic needs like food, shelter and clothing must be met before a person can try to attempt for higher needs like sexual intimacy, meaning and self-actualization. Full explanation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
Self actualization is difficult. To find meaning in this world can be difficult.
On Tuesday, I ran 6.8 miles with my running club at a 7:30 / minute pace. For some this is slow. For me it is fast.
I submit to you Gentle Reader, to visualize me during that last mile. All I would like to do is to reach the goal and stop running. I'm tired. My legs are pound, pound, POUNDing the ground. At last, I pass the finish line (ok, the fire hydrant that we use as a finish line for training runs). And I am ecstatic. I'm through running. I have stopped hitting myself on the head with the hammer.
And you know what? It's fun to play with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We live in so much comfort that we rarely challenge ourselves on the basic level of clothing, food, shelter, and freedom from physical pain.
Self actualization is hard. Finding a career that is rewarding is hard.
Ending one's run? That's easy. And, bizarrely, that fulfillment of the basic needs can help you reach the fulfillment of the higher needs.
(or even if it doesn't, it's just so nice to stop and be).
Before the gig, I spotted a helicopter offering rides around the mountain for $20. Pat's Peak had hired the helicopter company to do this.
And, since you only live once, I thought, "Why not?"
Gentle reader, you must ride on a helicopter. Yes, you may lose your stomach momentarily. But it is the most intimate mode of flying machine that I have had the pleasure to experience. The landscape is below you, above you, and at your side. At take-off, one is tilted forward at a 45 degree angle, giving you the ability to feel - momentarily at least - that you (and not the machine) are, in fact, flying.
A vast improvement on the traditional airplane passenger seat, with its one antiseptic plastic window opening to the outside world.
I love serendipity. Helicopter rides at fire performances. Why not?
January 4, 2008 - Back in the USA
I have indeed returned to the USA. Although I adore travel, I have missed my family and friends.
But here are here are some other random things I have missed:
*Being able to watch Boston sports teams play on a TV at a reasonable hour (as opposed to watching games streaming on the internet at 4am as I did in Portugal).
*O'Connor True Value Hardware - great selection of all the gear I need. Hardware stores in other countries are OK, but O'Connor is the best.
*Frappes (actually, Americans from outside of Massachusetts might not even know what these are)...basically, it's an artery-clogging milkshake. They're priceless.
And, here's a new discovery: Chipotle (located on Elm Street in Davis Square, Somerville, MA). No longer owned by McDonald's, Chipotle makes great burritos and strives to use organic ingredients. I am a fan. Check out their webpage; I love companies willing to poke fun at themselves.
There was a tropical theme to the evening, and I got to throw beachballs into a ravenous crowd after my set. This was one of the greatest cheap thrills of my life. Have you ever been able to get hundreds of people to cheer for you for the chance to receive a cheap plastic inflatable ball? Everyone should get a chance to do this.
December 5, 2007 - Berlin, Germany
I am performing nightly at a tradtional Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.
My communication is through my fire performance.
I cannot use spoken language as a crutch.
I love it.
October 2, 2007 - Jonathan Givens photo sets
Jonathan Givens is an excellent photographer (and roommate) that I am lucky to have worked with.
Click the thumbnails below to enlarge them. I especially like the two on the right where my head is superimposed on myself. Thank you Jonathan!
I am also (slowly) learning to use the whip, and hope to be able to use a fire whip by January (my teacher - you guessed it - Jonathan). Stay tuned.
August 14, 2007 - Engagement ceremony Last night, I had the privilege of spinning fire at a surprise engagement ceremony.
It was on a beach in Sao Joao do Estoril, Portugal (pictured below)...
It was nerve-racking. I hid behind large rocks while one man got down on one knee and proposed to another. My heart was beating, as I was thinking:
"What if he says no?"
I mean, there is no guarantee that when you propose to someone, that the other person will say yes. I have made up my mind that - when and if I do propose to someone - no one else will be around.
But, back to the story: the man accepted the proposal from his boyfriend, and I came out from my hiding place and started spinning fire. Two other friends came and brought Champagne, drinking glasses and speakers playing the couple's song (namely "Pretty Green Eyes" by Ultrabeat). Beautiful. And I used steel wool for the occasion.
I am lucky to be able to share the gift of fire in these ceremonies.
(*blush* - God, deep down, I am such a hippie).
I am leading a charmed life, and am well aware of it.
The Beastie Boys do it all: punk rock, rap, hip hop, and now they have a new instrumental album called "The Mix Up."
From what they played from the new album, I would say it is a jam band set with a hip hop flavor...It's amazing. Good heavens, The Beastie Boys can now add 'jam band' to their growing list of genres they have conquered.
After the Beastie Boys concert, my friends and I went to a wonderful bar called Caldo Verde in Lisbon's Bairro Alto section and heard some great live Fado. Fado is heart breakingly beautiful traditional music of Portugal.
So run to your nearest peddler of fine compact discs and pick up some Fado and 'The Mix Up.'
March 12, 2007 - A thought....
The measure of a day is not how many tasks one accomplishes, but by their degree of presence.
In other words, not by how many things you get done, but how much you're in the moment of whatever it is you're doing.
March 8, 2007 - Surreal life This morning, I was reading in a spot of sunlight (appropriately enough) in the sunroom, overlooking a green yard and emerald swimming pool. Each night, I spin fire for hundreds of people in a Casino as part of a large cast of talented performers. The show, entitled 'Four' is excellent, in my humble (and biased) opinion. My sister and her boyfriend are visiting me.
This life is surreal.
I have worked some unfulfilling jobs in my life, and am no stranger to long car commutes, snarled traffic and office meetings. That is why I can say to you in all sincerity that I am fully aware of the blessings I am currently experiencing. And, I know there will probably be a letdown once this ride is complete.
'I Will Not Take These Things for Granted,' is a song by Toad the Wet Sprocket off the album Fear. It sums up exactly how I feel. Check it out.
See track 12 off of this album
A note... I am aware that, ultimately, happiness is caused by internal, and not external factors. I realize that the ego cannot be gratified for long, and that searching for happiness in the external is like chasing the wind.
I was happy before I came here. But, those external factors can certainly play a role in the internal state. It is easier for me to find peace in a forest or sipping tea while I read in the sunroom than snarled in rush hour traffic.
January 22, 2007 - Greetings from Portugal
Greetings from Estoril, Portugal, where I have been blessed. The people friendly, the chocolate milk abundant (seriously, they sell it everywhere), and the anti-dandruff shampoo is relatively inexpensive and easy to find (FYI - anti dandruff is 'anti-caspa' in Portuguese).
It is "winter" here, which means 65F degrees during the day, and 45F at night.
I had the privilege of travelling to Lisbon (Lisboa to the locals). Great city with numerous hills on the ocean. Old world charm, cultural delights, and public transit everywhere (trains, historic trolleys, buses, subways, and yes, even funiculars that ride Lisbon's steep hills).
Portugal: where it's at
My performing partner is Susanna James of the Fireflies, and she is great to work with! The show opens on January 27, and we've been going through 10-12 hour rehearsals rather well in my humble opinion.
Though my Portuguese is virtually non-existent, I am happy to report that I know where to procure most types of fuels for fire performance in this nation. Fairly impractical information, but very pertinent to my job.
I am appreciative of all of this. As Tonya Kay says, Gratitude is a Euphoric State.
December 29, 2006 - On Platelets and Portugal
Gentle reader, this journal entry has two sections:
the self congratulatory part and the self absorbed part.
First off, there's a need for platelet donations at the Red Cross. Platelets are the parts of the blood that help with clotting and healing. Cancer patients and burn victims need them.
You can donate platelets as frequently as every two weeks. Gentle reader, here be the scoop:
You sit in an easy chair watching movies, and eat as much free junk food as you want while you donate (there is a tube from you to a machine). There is no easier way to do a good deed for others, and make yourself feel like you kick ass at life. In addition, you can even give both platelets and regular blood at the same time!
Sitting on one's ass, eating junk food and watching movies whilst saving the world is multi-tasking at its finest.
Bostonians - there are many donation centers in the city, including one in the Theater District (tel 617 556 2200 - that's where I go). For others, call
800-GIVE-LIFE to find the platelet donation center nearest you.
Ok, enough with being self congratulatory....
Onto part II :
I am off to Portugal for ten months. I will be one of two fire spinners in a show called "Four: Spirit of the Elements" at the Casino Estoril. The Casino is in Estoril, just outside of Lisbon.
Do I know anyone in the cast? No.
Do I speak Portuguese? No.
Am I scared out of my wits? You bet.
I think fire spinning will relax me, while mundane things like trying to order lunch and do laundry will cause me stress....
Here's hoping I'll find some other Boston sports fans so that we can watch games at 4am in darkened bars. The Patriots could very well win the Super Bowl this year, and I can't miss it.
That woul'd be like reading about the birth of your child, instead of watching it on live TV (ok, that analogy broke down but you get my point).
Mr. Brady, I know you need me, but I will be there in spirit for you.
How do you say "Tom Brady kicks ass" in Portuguese?
Sports aside, I'm very excited to be working with the company!
My family and friends have all been great in getting me ready for this... Here goes nothing.
Many of my cohorts are married with kids. It blows my mind. Sure, for the most part we studied hard and were good people. But there were times that we used to cover cars with toliet paper. Or cruise Hampton Beach making lewd gestures. And now, these high school punks are role models to little ones.
What I'm getting at is this; it's great fun to know a person BEFORE they become a parent. It's like knowing a movie star back when they were a pimply faced loser in high school.
You know their past.
It makes their parental attempts at self-righteousness and good manners all the more hilarious.
In a warm, endearing way.
Fittingly, after a night of schmoozing at the local Elks hall, many of us ended up at a Billerica dive bar called the Center Cafe drinking cheap beer and singing karoake. And yes, the police had to break it up.
I loved my high school years, as I did my college ones. And, I am glad to report that most of the folks I interacted with seemed genuinely happy. Not 'I'm trying to impress you with my BMW,' but rather, 'here's where I am, and it's a good place to be.'
My classmates are amazed I am a fire performer. Yet, I am many times more amazed they are parents.
I think having a child is so much more bad-ass.
November 10, 2006 - Borat
Oh, Lordy... You must see the film Borat. Gentle reader, you simply must.
It exposes the bizarre creature we call American society, in such a funny way.
The man himself
Borat and his friends claim to be from Kazakhstan (they're not: they're just acting, whist the unwitting people they talk to have no idea they're in a major American motion picture)....In the movie, Borat's assitant speaks to him in Armenian (not Kazakh)! If I weren't half Armenian I would never have picked up on this fact, but I kept recognizing things they were saying to each other....
Long story short: go. Just go. And check your senses of decency and political correctness at the cinema door.
October 8th - 2006 - Hooping
I love hooping.
I am grateful to my friend Maria for teaching me this art.
It's funny - the
hula hoop did nothing for me when I first tried it in elementary school. It went around and around your waist. I didn't get the big deal.
Then, about 20 years later, I learned lots of new moves. Transitions. Neck and shoulder movements, with the hoop rotating on different parts of your body.
And fire. That brought it to the next level too.
My close friend Bob in the band Cahill hated guitar when he first tried it. Now, years later, look at the kid. Jamming on that thing at concerts all the time.
Come to think of it, Bob is one of my best friends in the whole world. We hated each other when we first met in elementary school. It was only in 8th grade that we started hanging out.
One thing is clear; whether it be hula hoops, the guitar, or people, first impressions usually don't mean a whole lot.
September 5th -2006 - Worst music video ever
Some folks say you can't truly call a piece of art bad or good. It's all subjective.
I disagree. There are pieces of art so good that - even if they don't appeal to the directly to the viewer's personal taste - one still has to respect them.
The Mona Lisa. To Kill a Mockingbird. You get the idea.
But, to be equally as celebrated are the truly terrible pieces of art. I mean awful. Movies like 'Evil Dead,' 'Evil Dead 2,' and 'Gymkata.'
Go for the extremes. Either be the best, or be the worst (I think the awful 1962 Mets are as memorable - and celebrated - as the sublime 1927 Yankees).
And so, I submit to you, gentle reader, my entry for the worst music video of all time. It is a song called 'Break It Up,' sung by track and field superstar Carl Lewis.
Carl Lewis doing what he does best
I read about this song in Sportsguy's column, and well - you have to see it to believe it. The link is here (if it doesn't work - go to youtube.com and do a search for Carl Lewis Break It Up).
Celebrate it people!
August 13th - 2006 - New Video on the way
I'm hard at work on a new preview video. Many thanks to those supporting me on the effort.
I just returned from a gig August 4-6 in Decatur, IL. Two new movies are in the media section from the performance!
July 29th - 2006 - Great Thinkers
Saw System of a Down last night. My God. If you haven't taken the opportunity, listen to their
music (especially the song 'Sad Statue'). They make you think while they rock out. Many
thanks to Scott O'Brien of the band Cahill for getting the tickets (20 rows back, dead center!).
A more random pairing, you'll probably never find. Tonya Kay is a professional dancer (she was in STOMP for crying out loud!), fire performer, stilt walker, vegan artist who is simply alive.
I met her at Burning Man. Describing this event to people who haven't gone is like describing the color red to a blind person. Here goes: it's a week long event in the middle of the Nevada desert, with 30,000 people from around the world fire spinning, art & love making, bike riding, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. At the end, there's a giant man made of wood that is set on fire. Picture a gi-normous version of this:
Anyways, read Tonya Kay's journal. Seriously. It blows my mind. Half the time, I have no idea what she's talking about, and the other half of the time it's like she's describing the mysteries of the universe in the simplest terms that I can understand.
Regardless, it's a hell of a read. Her first journal entry ever (listed on the web page - 2003) contains one of my favorite quotes:
I love this movie. After seeing it, I renewed my membership to Amnesty International. Hell, this film is a freaking advertisement for Amensty International, in my humble opinion.
Rare is the movie that can satisfy my appetite for action and my appetite for intellect. This film, in addition to Fight Club, do just that.
Ok, fine. Natalie Portman is hot. And she can act (Star Wars fiascos notwithstanding). Talented eye candy is always welcome.
People have been asking about the Kilimanjaro movie. The clip at the beginning & end of the movie is from Ikiru (directed by Akira Kurosawa). Ikiru means 'to live' in Japanese. It's about an elderly government bureaucrat who finds out he has only a few months to live.
This is not a date movie. This is the kind of movie that makes you get off your duff and change your life.
2nd - 2006 - Waterfire
night, I had the privilege of performing at Waterfire.
Waterfire is art. Love. Inspiration.
Invented by artist Barnaby Evans,
Waterfire takes place in Providence, RI from the Spring to the Fall (check the
webpage for full schedule).
The rivers of Providence are lit with bowls
filled with burning wood. Music fills the city. It sounds so simple. Water and
fire. I love this event.
Much love to Spogga (pictured below),
a talented musician and fire spinner that is Waterfire's regular performer. Great spinning with you, friend!
night, we performed inside of a set of tennis courts at Connecticut College.
inside of walls of chain link fence,I felt like a WWF wrestler in a steel cage
Truth be told that's an amazing feeling.
Having a chain link fence
between you and your audience definitely makes you
feel hard core.
were really taken care of by the Connecticut College crew.
Huge thank you
to them, and congratulations on their
photo from last night's performance from inside the steel cage (I'm on the left):
7, 2006 - Cahill & Movies !
life, I love it when you plan something and it all works out. On Saturday, May
I had the privilege of spinning fire while Cahill played at Brandeis University.
My good friends Joanna and Brad also got
in on the fire fun! It was incredible.
music and fire go so well together.
It was also great to see my good friend
Martha Heaney there - she's the one who convinced me to go to the Moby concert
where I first saw poi.
The set list, for those of you keeping score at
The Way It Goes
Happier (cover - by Guster)
All Along the Watchtower (cover - by Bob
the journal entry off of Cahill's web
May 7th, 2006 - Friendly Fire
(entry by Bob Antonelli of Cahill)
sharing my time writing this entry while watching the Red Sox, so I apologize
for any mistakes...it's tough doing both. Last night, Scott and I had the pleasure
of witnessing a sizzling performance of Fire Spinning. The best part was that
we supplied the music. Our good friend Mike Farrell is a professional "poi"
spinner. If you remember, they used our album version of Easily for a video that
was featured in "Circles of Light 2005" - a collaboration of fire videos
from around the world. Well last night, the crowd got to witness them live as
they jammed to our music and did all kinds of fun tricks (fire swords, burning
hula-hoops, fire eating...good times). Scott and I both agreed that it was a difficult
show to play. We constantly found ourselves not paying attention to the song we
were playing, but watching them spin instead. Here's a handful of pictures for
you to check out and there's a video on its way as well.
11, 2006 - Platelets
truly believe that much of life is a waste of time.
Being stuck in traffic. You get the gist.
is why I love giving platelets through the American Red Cross. I truly feel it
is time well spent.
are a component of blood which, among other roles, help control bleeding. Patients
who have experienced severe burns, or have
leukemia often are unable to produce
platelets. Hence the great need for donors.
a nutshell, you get to watch TV and snack for an hour while a portion of your
blood is placed into a centrifuge. The platelets are
spun off, and the rest
of your blood is returned back into you. By the end of the hour, a small bag is
filled with a yellow substance: your platelets.
The rest of your blood is returned
to you (and you can give platelets as often as once every two weeks).
don't know many ways in which one can make a difference by sitting on their duff
watching TV and eating chocolate chip cookies.
and Reese's Peanut Butter
Cups. 'Swounds, I am a glutton.
grief. I wish MySpace had entries for things like 'Favorite book.' I mean, if
you take most MySpace profiles at face value, the people are incredibly
narcissistic, self-absorbed, and vapid. I'm not saying that I'm above having a
MySpace profile (I have one!); it's just that I wish the profile had a
place for (dare I say it?) intellectual information. Like favorite philosopher or book, or obscure third world country.. Contrary to popular belief,
some guys actually look for brains in a woman.
6 - Cranmore Show
night was a great fire show. High energy. And we went snow tubing before hand.
I love snow tubing. The upper snow tubing course at Cranmore Ski Mtn is where
now, I'm listening to 'This American Life' - one of my favorite radio shows of
all time. It's on NPR.
all about real people. And real stories. Brilliant stuff.
18 - Winter beach swim
we had winds of 60 mph (97kph for the Metric fans).
I went to the beach.
love New England's beaches in the Winter. They are rocky, rugged and wild. New
Hampshire's and Maine's particuarly.
I ran on the beach. The wind and sand stung. I saw some surfers there. At times,
I felt I was running in place.
then stripped to my bathing suit and jumped in.
thousand knives on my body at once.
lo! Gentle Reader - after the fact. After your body emerges frozen and you are
running against the wind back to your heated car.
can touch you. The second the heat comes on, and the dry, fluffy new clothes and
socks hit.... it's nirvana.
the rest of the evening, I walked the quaint streets of Portsmouth, NH. The cafes
were excellent. A good meal and a cafe mocha after a polar bear swim, and I'm
the happiest guy in the world.
all about moving yourself down Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It gets me in a state
where I don't really care about my sports teams, or Democrats winning, or life
fulfillment, or any of that crap.
about getting warm. And staying warm.
should all move ourselves way down the hierarcy of needs from time to time.
14 - Winter hike
I love the outdoors.
I took a snowshoe/crampon walk up Mt. Monroe in the Whites.
wind was 80 mph, and you could just lean right into it.
gorgeous stuff. At the summit, it was sunny. Then dark. Sunny. Dark. Sunny. Dark.
were moving SO fast.
the outdoors were a basketball player, it'd be Bill Russell.
that's 11 championships for Boston in a 13 year career.
Michael Kevin Farrell’s Poi Spinning performance brought Cranmore Mountain’s Cranapalooza, a Saturday Night skiing festival, to a whole new level last winter. Many eyebrows were raised when guests heard that there would be “fire spinning” later that evening...