Sunday, January 20, 2019

Notes Regarding My Album "For the Light to Break Through".

With the release of my latest (as of Jan. 2019) collection of music, "For the Light to Break Through", I thought I'd give some insights into the inspiration and thoughts behind the music.

The pieces that comprise of the album (is that even a thing if its only available digitally???) were composed and recorded between 2016 and 2018. There wasn't an over-arching and unifying theme in that the pieces were recorded as time allowed. Some of the pieces were conceived as potential "cues" for prospective and imagined visuals, perhaps in the vein of Brian Eno's "imaginary soundtracks". But I continued to collect pieces until I realized that there was enough to release as an album.

Like past albums, I can see a common and unintentional thread within the music, in that they are reflective of the time of my life in which they were conceived.

The stunning photo I used for the artwork is compliments of Madhu Shesharam.

As for some of the pieces, here is the inspiration behind them:

  • "The Dance By The Lake": This was a rare creative moment when an experience of strong emotion gave rise to a musical idea that was semi-formed in my head before I even picked up a guitar. The experience that prompted this was the wedding of my cousin Molly in 2016. Molly was raised by a single mother, my cousin Amy. At the point of the reception where the traditional "Father-of-the-bride" dances with the bride, it was the mom who fulfilled this role. Knowing their story that led to that moment, it was one of the most beautiful moments I had ever experienced. It truly felt like we were at the center of the universe. I was brought to tears at that moment and was so grateful to be there. This music is my expression of awe and gratitude.  

  • "Desert Resolution": During a flight from Dubai to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I was struck by the beauty of the barren desert. I imagined a cinematic scene of some sort of journey to resolve some emotional situation, be it a conflict, a love story, whatever.

  •  "Wake Up Old Man": I took the title from a statement Bono, singer for U2, said about some of The Psalms in the Bible that were pleas to God. This piece is in a style similar to my older piece "A Psalm of Psorts" which I view as a wordless Psalm...of sorts. 
For more information about "For the Light to Break Through" or any of my other releases, please visit my website







Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lisa (a.k.a. The Red-Headed Step-Sister)

On May 1st, 2018, Lisa Lusk (my sister) passed away unexpectedly. She was only 53 years old. I always thought we would have more time...time to spend together...time to reconcile some unfinished business...time to continue to love each other...and that is the hard part about her being gone. There was so much I "left on the table". In the days between her death and her memorial, as I was out in California comforting my family, these words kept echoing through my head: "Tomorrow is but a hope, not a promise". So much truth in that statement. My words of advice to all: Leave nothing left unsaid. Make the phone call...take the phone call...make the visit...take nothing for granted.

What follows is a eulogy I composed on May 3rd and read aloud at her memorial.



Eulogy for Lisa Lusk

A few times throughout my life, I’ve had to answer the question “Why do you and your sister look nothing alike”? Well, here’s the answer. 

In 1977, I was 11 years old and an only child. It was two years removed from my mother’s death and months removed from the dissolution of my father’s 2nd marriage. It was an eventful period for a young boy and would get even more eventful before that year was complete as my father entered into yet another relationship, an unwelcome development from my perspective. The woman, Martha, would eventually become my 2nd stepmother. She had 3 children of her own: Michael, David, and Lisa. My future step-brothers were significantly older with Mike already off to college and Dave getting ready to go off to UCSB. Lisa, however, was only a year older than I and, like me, was none too pleased about the circumstances we were being forced into. 

Our 1st meeting was awkward. I remember this “freckly red head” girl glaring at me like I was an unwelcome stranger and the feeling was mutual. We were put into situations where we had to get to know each other better but it felt like we were both doing so “kicking and screaming” on the inside. This period culminated, for me, with a concert my dad and future step-mom forced me to go to. 

At this point in our lives, the only common ground we could find was “Star Wars”. But, at the time, we could not have been more different in our taste in music. While I was a hardcore Kiss fan. Lisa loved The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and (worst of all) ANDY GIBB!!! Mr. Gibb was coming to town for a concert and she HAD to go. My dad and Martha got tickets but there was one problem: I had to go! I protested to no avail. They promised me that they would take me to see KISS (that never happened). So I went to this concert, sulking and glaring at Lisa the whole time. (We have since recounted this moment with much laughter...she even gave me a complete set of Kiss bobblehead dolls in 2014).
I would recover from Andy Gibb and a funny thing happened: We began to bond. It was a silent thing where I believe we both struggled with the changes that we were forced into and that gave us common ground from which a friendship would start. 

Our relationship blossomed into full bloom in 1980 when we were forced into another “traumatic” change. Our parents moved us to Petaluma, disrupting our social lives as I was on the cusp of high school and she completing her freshman year. We were now having to start over in a new school with no friends. It was just us so we latched on to each other for support. 

While I was a social introvert, she was becoming an attractive young woman and it was this development that gave me a social circle. She started dating Andy Neff. As this relationship developed, Lisa needed an accomplice to help her “sneak out” for dates. We would tell our parents that we were going to the movies but, in truth, ended up going to Andy’s house or hanging with his friends. This quickly developed into ¬our circle of friends. She became the epicenter of my social network. Our high school years was a mixture of great times and drama. But it was all experienced together. Our differences diminished as our common ground grew.

One fact that I only just realized the day I learned of her passing: As we hit our teens, our musical tastes became more common. Music has always been my passion as evident by my life time of guitar playing, music listening, etc. From that Andy Gibb concert on until 1986, we went to every concert together. And this was a large amount of events that were some of the most formative experiences of my life. Van Halen, Iron Maiden (3 times), Judas Priest (2 times), Y&T (13 times!!!), Scorpions (3 times), Rush (her favorite), Michael Schenker (the concert that inspired me to learn guitar), Journey, Sabbath, Ozzy….and on and on and on. All those shows, she was there with me. So many good times. 
She was with me for every pivotal and formative moment of my life from 1977 through early adulthood. She was protective of me, especially when it came to my step-mom. While my relationship with my step-mom was challenging and, at times, adversarial, Lisa always “had my back”. She would defend me and encourage me. She truly was my “big sister” and my dearest friend. She was even there at my lowest moment when I had to spend my 1990 Christmas and New Years in jail. She dropped me off so I could start my sentence, being very concerned and encouraging as I walked through a nightmarish situation. 

As we came into adulthood, our paths went in different directions with marriages, break ups, more marriages, children, etc. But through it all, she was always my sister. 

As I write this, I’m sitting in her home with her husband. It’s the 3rd day since her passing and each one is getting harder as the realization that she’s gone sinks in. I’m heart broken. There is so much I left unsaid that I wish was spoken. I took for granted there was more time. The irony is not lost on me that, prior to 1977, I was quite happy to be an only child. But, a lifetime later, I’d give anything to have one more day with my older sister.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Random Thoughts on Music, Politics, Books, and Life

My blog has been getting neglected in favor of what little random social media blurps I produce...so here's some randomness on a variety of topics:

  • Music: I’ve been deliberately trying to expand my appreciation for The Grateful Dead this past year. I’ve been listening to a lot of concert recordings from the 60’s through the 90’s. I’ve found some impressive variation in styles, set variation, and (most surprising), performance quality. There were nights throughout the decades where they were on fire but there were shows where they were pretty boring. I’ll never be a “Deadhead” but, at the least, I’ve overcome a lot of negative bias towards The Dead.
  • Politics: A rhetorical question for both supporters and detractors of Trump: Is anyone surprised? I’ll leave it at that...for now. 
  • Books: I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals lately. In my opinion, he was one of the most enlightened Americans in this country’s history, precisely because he transcended national identity, as all prophets do. 
  • Life: It has been over 2 months since my sister passed away. Reminders of her absence and importance continues to arise with regular frequency. I suspect that will evolve but never diminish. The void she left is meant to be felt, mourned, and celebrated. I believe there is a blog post about her in my future. I miss her. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Current Listening - June 2017

I thought I'd share some of my recent listening. Some old, some new...and at least 1 artist I've been challenged to over-come a life-long prejudice.


  • Tinariwen - Elwan: I started listening to this band in 2010 when I read raves by artists such as Robert Plant and Radiohead. The band consists of Mali Toureg natives that play a blend a traditional Mali-style guitar music (ala Ali Farke Toure) along with elements of Moroccan folk, Rock, and Blues. On their latest album, they have a guest appearance by Mark Lanegan (QOTSA, Screaming Tree). All the songs on this album are really good but the two that really stick with me is Ittus, a sparse piece with just acoustic guitar and vocals, and Talyat, a building and repetitive "call and answer" piece. I haven't a clue what they are singing about but I love the music. 

  • Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want?:  His 1st Rock album in 25 years is a mellower but no less angry album by the lyrical architect of the great Pink Floyd. The production quality is very contemporary but some of the vibe calls back to Animals. The lyrics are typical Waters brilliance. I had the chance to see him in concert this month and, even with the worst seats in the arena, was blown away. 

  • Grateful Dead - Dead Set: I've owned this album for 35 years and played it maybe 5 times before last weekend when I was convinced by a long-time acquaintance to overcome a common prejudice we've had against the Dead, the prejudice being more towards the stereotypical view of the fan base and the overwhelming cult-of-personality surrounding the late Jerry Garcia than the music. There have been bits of The Dead's legacy that I've enjoyed and I certainly appreciate their impact. However, I could never understand the hard-core devotion they inspired. That said, after listening to this album, I still don't "get it" but I did develop an appreciation for this album that has languished in my vinyl collection for much of my life. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fear and Loathing in America


2017 seem metaphorically darker than normal. The news seems to leap from one bad story to a worse one. I do my best to keep news, with the inherent bias of the reporter, in proper perspective. But I don’t discard news as propaganda, though it certainly is used as such. I temper my digesting of the news of the day with skepticism on the reporting, trying to discern the facts from the opinion. But even taking away the commentary and opinion, it feels bleak…and its too easy to get worked up…AND GET ANGRY...AND FALL INTO DESPAIR…AND BRING THAT ANGER AND DESPAIR HOME…AND START SLAMMING DOORS…AND YELLING AT THE CAT….AND YOUR SPOUSE…AND…ARGH!!!!!!

Let me take a step back. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of getting worked up into a place of fear as a result of a steady diet of news. And, in recent weeks, the topic of the reliability of news has been front and center, thanks, in large part, to the current U.S. president. But, as I see it, it’s a recurrence of an age-old theme.

I want to avoid getting all “political” in this space…though I must declare that I am not a supporter or fan of Mr. Trump. That said, I’m not willing to give in to the hysteria that is both a response to as well as a result of his intentions.  I will respond in kind, as I’ve always done, to issues that affect me. But, as a core belief, I refuse to be motivated by fear. I believe that fear is the root of all negativity and must be combatted deliberately, with the primary “battlefield” being one’s own heart (a battle I’m constantly waging with varied results).
    
Back to the news: From my experience, the best way to avoid fear is to be informed, to educate, and to be objective. This requires proactivity and critical thinking.
Much has been made about “fake news” and I’ve seen/heard people state that there mainstream new is nothing more than propaganda, liberal bias, fake news, “…letting the public down by not doing their job”…yada yada yada… I find such comments annoying to be honest.  Let me address them with my own thoughts (as meaningless as they may be):
  • ·         “Bias”: I chaff at the specificity of “liberal media bias” because this is usually stated by someone who identifies themselves as “conservative” (who then define what I means to be “liberal”). But, that said, I’m fully aware that there is bias (even “not conservative” bias). How can there not be bias of any sort? Any human endeavor will be biased by those doing the endeavoring.  I contend that it’s the responsibility of the consumer to weed through the bias, opinion, etc. Facts are there but it’s the responsibility of the reader/watcher to discern the fact from opinion….Someone once said they don’t have the time to “weed” through news. Fair enough…but the same person would repeat talking points of their preferred news outlet’s paid “talking head” which clearly aligned with their political viewpoint. In my opinion, that is gross intellectual laziness. Seek the truth…don’t get spoon-fed the facts mixed with opinion of others.
  • ·         “News in propaganda”:  There are multiple definitions of propaganda. One or more do apply. But my rhetorical response is “what ISN’T propaganda?”…news, advertising…we are awash in propaganda of one sort or another. Again, its up to us to weed through the chaff.  
  • ·         “Fake News”: Instead of restating points, click here for a helpful resource



 On the topic of “fake news”, this isn’t something that was a recent invention, though the present manifestation of the problems such new presents is exacerbated by present technology (e.g. social media, internet). But I believe we have new circumstance for an age-old problem. Bottom line, being informed and seeking truth isn’t a passive activity….and neither is combating fear. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Travel Faux Pas


In my 12 years of heavy travel, I’ve learn a lot of things that can’t be learned in any school. My experiences in travel have been the most lesson-rich in my life. I’ve traveled to Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Canada, China, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia as well as 42 of the 50 states of my homeland.  I’ve mastered patience in the face of the stresses of airport security, taxi services, train stations, and international customs agency. I’m proficient in what I call “universal sign language” when trying to order food or find a bathroom.  I’ve learned to navigate through foreign countries where English is not the primary language, being mindful of customs and protocols. Though all my travels, I’ve learned (or affirmed) knowledge of… commonality of people….the need to accept things I have no control over….that smiles go a long way no matter where you go…that fear is mostly an illusion…that as long as I have a bed and running water, I can tolerate any quality of hotel room….that airline boarding agents, hotel housekeepers, and waiters/waitresses have hard jobs…yup, I’ve learned lots in my travels. I would say I’m a professional traveler…..but, that said, it has been through many a mistake that has given rise to this wisdom…

  • Example 1: During one of my many trips to Brazil, I was tasked with drafting a document in Portuguese….I know enough Portuguese (and universal sign language) to navigate socially on a minimal level but not much more. So, I resort to “Google Translate” to translate the document I had written in English. I asked a Brazilian colleague to review this document….which, after reading a couple of paragraphs, prompted a peculiar look….which turned into what I can only describe as a look of anger/disgust/embarrassment.  This prompted me to urgently call for my buddy, Marcelo (a Brazilian) to defuse what I was taking to be a “situation”. Upon reading the 1st few paragraphs of my document, Marcelo busted out in hysterical laughter….apparently I had somehow written a reference to inspecting “breasts”….not my intention…still, to this day, not sure what phrase in English translated to the Brazilian slang term for “boobs”…..but I was mortified and devastatingly embarrassed. Thank God this lady new me well enough to know I meant no disrespect….but….NEVER TRUST GOOGLE TRANSLATE!



  • Example 2: Prior to my visit to Saudi Arabia, I was coached by my friend who’s from Saudi on the do’s/don’ts of social customs in this most fundamental of Islamic countries. One of the things my buddy stressed emphatically was to not be in close quarters with a Saudi women as it’s a major no-no to be with a lady not your wife or close relative….simple enough. Steer clear of the women…gotcha…Well, my 1st morning in Jeddah, I enter the hotel elevator, my head down as I’m checking e-mails on my smartphone. I press the button for the lobby and continue to read my e-mails. The moment the door closes, I sense that I’m not alone in the elevator. I turn to look behind me and see a Saudi women, completed coved in a veil/hajib/whatever. She is slowing turning away from me to face the back of the elevator and move towards the corner….HOLY S#%T!!!  I AM GOING TO DIE….all sorts of thoughts are racing through my head….her husband will be waiting in lobby as the door opens, sees me with his wife…..AND KILL ME!....Longest elevator ride of my life!  When the door opened, I quickly glanced out and…not ran…but walked real fast out of that lift and in the opposite direction of the women I had inadvertently shamed….Lesson learn: Be aware of your surroundings…put the damned phone away when walking…don’t get into an elevator blindly…especially in Saudi Arabia….if there is a Saudi women, all veiled up and in elevator alone, be in Saudi Arabia or anywhere, let her have the elevator to herself…take the fracking stairs if you must….


I can list other mistakes but, in a nutshell, I've been afforded plenty of experiences around the world that have taught me things you will never find in a text book. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Random Travel Thoughts

The following is the product of a jet-lagged and overly-caffeinated mind that has not slept in 28 hours. Any logic or lucid thought is purely accidental.....

  • This now-concluded trip to Brazil is the 32nd trip I've made to that country. As expressed in a previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with the country. I do really enjoy aspects of the culture and country. I am very fond of the friends I've made down there. That said, I'm greatly concerned at the changes I've seen recently. Clearly, the economy has slowed down dramatically and a air of cynicism and pessimism amongst the people towards their government and future is evident.  According to one of my friends, there is a growing drain of Brazilians who do have money leaving the country for places such as the U.S. and Portugal. Government corruption, the Zika virus, and the rush of preparation for the Rio Olympics are the hot topics in the news with a sense that, as one Brazilian told me, "everything is broken". Unfortunate. 
  • As a seasoned frequent flier, there are really only a couple of things that try my patience or unnerve me:
    • The destination airport being shut down due to weather while the plane I'm on is on its final approach, thus causing the pilot to have to circle the airport in a holding pattern until the airport opens. This happened yesterday coming into Sao Paulo. I counted 9 complete "orbits" of Sao Paulo over the course of an hour with the thought "I wonder how much fuel this thing has?" crossing my mind a few times. 
    • Mindless fellow travelers that are completely unaware of how their behavior and actions affect others on the plane. I believe Robert Fripp termed such people "boobies". I encountered an exceptional "boobie" yesterday who had no awareness of his butt being in my face for the better part of 10 minutes while he organized his carry on luggage. 
    • Excessively long queues at customs. Last night a "leisurely" 2 hour layover turned into 2 stressful hours waiting to get my passport, leaving me 5 minutes to get to my flight.....ugh!
  • When the aforementioned stress-inducers happen, a good remedy is to listen to some good music on the iPod. What worked for me last night:
    • Mike Monroe
    • Jimi Hendrix
    • Djivan Gisparian
  • I don't care how hygienic a person is. 24 hours + of travel will make the cleanest and prettiest amongst us a stinky mess.
  • After a long journey, there is no greater joy than coming home to loved ones, taking a shower, and sleeping in ones own bed....something I plan on doing in approximately 5 hours.....