The Right Time

Music…My friends and family know how much it truly means to me. Those of you reading these posts have almost certainly surmised how important it is to me by this point as well. I think what it all comes down to is that music can be entirely frivolous, powerful, political, sad, thought provoking, challenging, fun, heartbreaking, and angry by equal turns. To me, every one of those ideas is a valid reason to listen. Not just to one artist or genre, but to anything and everything that  you like and feel a connection and respond to. Music takes me on a journey every time, and the destination is always new.

Other people might not entirely see it that way. They have little time or inclination to seek out new music and new performers. The subtle nuances of that Pink Floyd album may go unnoticed. The heartache and heartbreak of a George Jones ballad might be easily dismissed as maudlin. The mesmerizing singing of Billie Holiday or Nina Simone might pale in comparison to Taylor Swift. However YOU feel about any of the above to use them as examples is irrelevant. Not everyone wants to be a music historian. Not everyone wants to be able to tell you why they like the cover version better than the well established original. To use the standard phrase, they like what they like and that is all that matters. Fair enough.

Except when it isn’t. One observation I have made about music is how inevitably there are places and situations where music outside of your normal comfort zone just seems so fucking right for that particular time. Even if that song or genre of music is something you proclaim to loathe. So cue Journey coming on the stereo at a crowded bar and everyone singing Don’t Stop Believing. Or maybe it is anxiously waiting for the da da dah part to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. Perhaps one might completely dislike anything called country music, but finds themselves singing along to Tammy Wynette on Stand By Your Man, or gleefully singing ‘I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’ along with Johnny Cash. Yes, there are even times when you are sitting in a bar that Piano Man by Billy Joel really resonates, even after hearing it for the 4763rd time.

What I am thinking about goes beyond the ‘guilty pleasure’ however. What I mean are those moments when music hits you, grabs you, moves you at precisely the right time, even when you don’t know much about the music. But you feel it…because its the right time. A celebratory classical music piece you hear at a wedding. A bagpipe tune played at a funeral. A sing along song that seems just right for a road trip down some back country roads. Maybe a lone accordion playing a romantic song as you walk hand in hand with someone special. Or a jazz standard as you sit and sip a cocktail imagining you were in a black and white film noir movie.

The opposite of that is when you actually know the song but it takes on a new meaning for you. It might be a song you have known for years until one day it  knocks you over senseless at a moment of vulnerability, or sadness in your life. Perhaps it comes on when you are driving and that one lyric makes you pause at how beautifully written it is and how fitting it seems for you.  So no matter whether you know the song or not, when something comes on at the right time you feel inspired and strengthened by the experience. This idea of ‘the right time’ is something I have thought about for years, but it really came to fruition yesterday when I was out for a run.

2 years ago at this time I was gradually building up  endurance and on the weekends was comfortably going for 5 or 6 miles, something I hadn’t done in years. Since then, I don’t know what has happened. Maybe something in my head, maybe the wrong kind of shoes, maybe excuses, excuses. I just have not felt as comfortable. But an item on the 50 Things @50 bucket list is to run a 5K, also something I have also not done in years. So I started back up again once things settled in my personal life. As the days and weeks have gone by, I am slowly feeling more comfortable again and headed towards that goal. Running, like any exercise is about pushing  as you tell yourself-come on..don’t stop now! One more mile…don’t stop until you pass that gas station…now you passed that gas station so keep going…keep pushing. That is how I challenge myself to go further. No big surprise I’m sure, but the music really helps do that for me too. And none more than this song by The Scissor Sisters.

Those piano chords start off with that  mid-tempo groove you know will lead to something more upbeat. You just have to wait for it to get there. And when it does, and that big bass beat comes in and the music becomes more insistent, I feel like The Flash instantly. My pace speeds up, I feel stronger, my form is perfect. I feel like I could run around the world and back again. All because a song came on at the right time and all was right with me, if only for those few moments of the song.

I liken it to moments in my photography at times. Sometimes I see something I know would make an interesting subject matter as a photo. Usually something I see or pass by regularly. But I know as a photographer it isn’t ‘the right time’ usually because of the lighting or other distractions in place. When the elements fall into place it all comes together. Case in point the photo I am using in this post. One thing or another defeated it for me until one day I was walking past and the elements all came together and I knew it was the ‘right time’.

What are some songs that come along at the right time for you?

Fire With Fire-Written By Scott Hoffman, Stuart Price, & Jason Sellards

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50 Things #50, Number 25

Number 25-Go Bird Watching

On I go with the list, trying to cross off as many of the ones I can do in the nice fall weather. Number 25-Go Bird Watching was one I was really excited to do. I never paid much attention to birds growing up, but when I worked at a garden center for a number of years in my 20’s and early 30’s I became especially interested in backyard birdfeeders. I had several different kinds designed to attract many varieties of birds and enjoyed watching them up close.

But going bird watching is something different entirely. It involves a fair amount of preparation beforehand-finding the best spots for viewing, the best time to see the most birds, what camera equipment to bring, what field guides to carry. Indeed even what apps to get for your phone to help with bird identifying. I did a little research and discovered that just like with Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is something of a bird watchers mecca. I saw online a place called The Ravine and was immediately intrigued to find it because I don’t know Prospect Park well.

My good and dear friend Carol volunteered to join me last Sunday morning to cross this item off the bucket list. After a mandatory stop for coffee, we set out to find The Ravine. To be honest it was a gray and damp day. One of those days I could have easily said screw it…I want to stay in bed and sleep. But I was really excited to get out there and see what we would find. Unfortunately maybe the birds had the same notion I did, because initially Carol and I were not seeing or hearing too much out there. It took us awhile to find the Ravine as well, because it is well and truly tucked away in the middle of the park. Surprisingly at one point there were people on horses riding right past us.  Eventually we both sensed we were near, and then came the unmistakable sound of running water. Niagara Falls it is not….but it is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of a busy park and an even busier city. We both stopped to take lots of photographs of the falls.

Getting back to the birds, other than a few flying high above us, we were not really seeing or hearing anything much, even though our binoculars and zoom lenses were primed and ready. At one point we saw several medium size birds hopping around and searching for food near a little stream. The combination of the cloudy day and the limits of the zoom on my lens meant I really did not get great, clear photos of them. I also did not recognize them initially. I had a suspicion but wanted to consult the bird guides after we were done. We moved on and Carol observed one spot where the birds were flying back and forth high above us in the trees. From high above the occasional acorn fell to the ground below. Various calls were going on all around us. Though there was not much actual bird watching going on, but there was a lot of bird listening.

And that’s when it kind of hit me. Being a photographer, and having Carol (also an awesome photographer) there with me, I might have made a rookie mistake in thinking that we were going to see dozens of varieties all there in front of us, ready to have their photo taken. I wanted to go bird watching because I wanted to experience those moments of stillness-of watching, waiting, listening that sadly seems to be missing so much these days. As we sat there, necks craned high above us, desperate for something, anything to come within view to get a photograph, I lost sight of that fact. That bird watching is in fact nature watching, and observing. And when I realized that, I was not disappointed that I had not taken good photos. I was not disappointed that I had not seeing rare and exciting species. I was out with a good friend enjoying the treasures of nature that surround us even in the big city. That was what made the experience enjoyable. And it was also only a first of course. Of all the activities I added to this bucket list, I already knew that once I went bird watching once, I would want to do it again. Later on, sitting in a bar having a well deserved beer and a burger I realized why.

Those birds hopping around by the stream that I thought I recognized but was unsure of? Well my instinct from the color of the breast was that they were robins…but something about the coloring of the head and their size did not seem right at first. Eagerly Carol and I looked at the bird guide I had, and also at an app on my phone where it was confirmed that they were in fact robins. But what I realized is that even though it was not a rare bird sighting I had accomplished what I had wanted. First, I actually got out and did it on a lazy Sunday morning. Second, I had observed the terrain, watched the movement of birds high above. I had listened to birdsong chirping all around me. But mostly when I consulted the book, I realized that I was actually bird watching. It did not matter that it was a robin-a bird I have seen plenty of. I don’t ever recall having seen them in such a deep wooded setting.  But checking the book out revealed to me the habits of the bird, as well, and explained why I was seeing what I was seeing. Just like the observing, the research is part of  it too. So mission accomplished! Thanks again to my buddy Carol for joining me!

 

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50 Things@ 50- # 37 & 46

 

Okay it is time to get back to my list again after some time away. I moved last month so the last few weeks have taken prevented me from pursuing items on the list. In addition August is oppressively hot in NYC so I hibernated for much of the last month. But its time to start crossing more things off my list, so this past Sunday I managed to cross two off in one day. So without further delay, here we go!

#37-Drive 100 mph on a back road.

Now this is one I have wanted to do for a very long time. If only for the sensation of seeing that needle on the speedometer hit the 100 mph mark, if only briefly. Of course there is probably nowhere in the entire U.S. where that speed is legal outside of a race course. I know that in the deserts of the southwest people routinely punch the speed limit between points because there is just vast amounts of emptiness, and scarcely any other drivers on the road. But in the northeast especially, it is tough to find roads so sparsely populated. You will read more below about the roads I was on, but suffice it to say at one point early on Sunday morning I came across a stretch of road that seemed like I could make it happen. At the time I was going the allowable 65-70 mph speed limit but I decided to just do it. It’s Now Or Never as someone once sang.

Ahead in the distance were a car or two. Behind me I saw nothing, and saw no police cars in the vicinity. I took a deep breath bracing myself for the likelihood of getting a speeding ticket, but it was definitely one of those ‘fuck it’ moments in my life where I said-just do it. Now I was not driving a sports car, but rather an old Honda, so I had to ease into it a bit. 75….80….85 within 20 seconds I would guess. I had that flicker of panic at that point. Should I keep going? Was I going to chicken out? I decided to trust that desire I had to do this in the first place. I pressed down on the accelerator further with my eyes glued ahead of me. The car started shimmying  a little bit, but felt good under my hands nonetheless. Eyes glued to the road ahead of me and with a worrying ear out for a police siren I kept going for what felt like an eternity but in reality was just another 20-25 seconds or so. I have been in fast moving trains before, watching the world whiz by but this felt vastly different because I was controlling the action. It did feel faster. It felt exhilarating. I looked down at the speedometer and saw the needle was just past the 100 mph line. I had done it! I switched over to the brake now and eased the car back towards normal speed. It took even less than the entire acceleration process. Best of all, there were no flashing lights or sirens chasing after me! It may have been only for a few fleeting seconds, but it fulfilled a long held desire.

 

#46-Go on a random road trip.

When I wrote this one down on my list I envisioned a multiple day road trip, but the likelihood of that happening anytime soon for me is not so great. But then I realized, you can make a good single day road trip too. If a road trip is driving aimlessly with songs on the stereo and not caring about where you wind up in the end, then it makes no difference how long it is. Because this past month has been so oppressive, and because it was a long holiday weekend, I decided Sunday would be a great day to make it happen. Though I had set my alarm for 8:30 am to get ready, in truth I was really excited to just start driving and when I woke up ahead of my alarm at 7, I got my stuff together, fueled up with some coffee and hit the road.

I knew I was heading north of the city towards the Hudson Valley of New York. It is one of my most favorite places in truth. Once out of the suburbs, the towns get a little smaller. Though marred by the occasional strip mall, and chain restaurants, the towns up this way still have a lot of old school charm. I love exploring them all and finding  remnants of the past scattered about. The terrain opens up too, and with the Hudson River on one side of you, the hills and valleys rise in all directions among the curving roads. Miles go by with nothing much to see, but in that good way when emptiness is satisfying. The occasional farm darts the landscape set among the green hills. So too do wineries and roadside antique stores. But it has always been the little towns I find so fascinating. My first stop was the town of Wappingers Falls after doing an hours worth of meandering on back roads and getting deliberately lost. Stopping to turn around, going left when signs for the highway say to go right, that sort of thing.

Again taking the side roads I next headed for the larger city of Poughkeepsie. I’ve never really explored the city before and I found some interesting little neighborhoods of old houses and churches. I realized though that instead of meandering around those neighborhoods, I instead wanted to do the Walkway Over The Hudson. This is a re-purposed former railroad bridge that is now only for pedestrians and bikes. It was a wonderful experience to be able to walk over the mighty Hudson River in such a pleasant way without cars whizzing past. It was a leisurely walk on a nice day, and I took pause to take some photos of the Hudson River and the nearby Mid-Hudson Bridge (for vehicle traffic).

From there I  gradually turned south and inland, before making my way to another great old Hudson River town-Cold Spring for some lunch. I know that town well from previous visits and it is always nice to go back there. Eventually I started winding my way home, purposely staying off the highway and feeling content in the decision. Highways move you faster but without much scenery. Back roads move you slower but with lots of things to soak in. That is the definition of a road trip for me. As I parked the car and reflected on the day again I felt refreshed. Hours worth of driving usually has the opposite effect. But purposely setting out to do nothing in particular, to see nothing in particular reminded me that is often when I see things the most. And road trips are one of the best ways to achieve that. See below for some photos of the day, as well as my favorite driving song of all time, absolutely required when I set out on a road trip!

 

Falling In And Out Of Love/Amie-Written By Craig Fuller

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Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Every once in awhile you find yourself propelled into a musical universe that didn’t exist for you just moments before. But just a few notes in you get it. You get the vibe. You sense where the music is going, feel familiar with the songs even though it is actually new to your ears. Right away you get a feeling as a listener you are witnessing something you want to nurture and support, however small the contribution might be. These are exactly the feelings I had last month when I came across a new band to my ears-Jules & The Jinks.

I was at a favorite local spot in my neighborhood, a big open space barbecue smokehouse joint that has music on the weekends. It was the last night of my week long 50th birthday celebrations and I wanted to close it out with some good barbecue food and some more live music. Now I have seen bands at this place before, and I have heard some decent stuff, but (no slight intended) most of the music there has been pretty standard Saturday night bar music. Fun at the time, but not necessarily memorable afterwords.  And as I saw the band setting the gear up, I had a similar feeling. But then the music started off tight and funky. And then…the voice, oh that voice of lead singer Julissa Lopez came booming out. And it was then that I knew that this was a new happy addition to my musical universe.

Within just a few notes I was held spellbound by both the music and Julissa’s vocals and stage presence, not to mention a lot of hair! They wound up playing three sets, and I stayed for all of them. I could tell that they were also playing all original material, though a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On was totally bad ass. More impressive was the fact that the songs ran the range from soulful ballads, to hard driving rockers, propelled by a band well versed in the music. A friend who joined me part of the way through made a comment that you could hear the band down the block, probably no surprise.

A few days later I bought the band’s self-titled EP on Itunes and started checking out some videos on YouTube. One song they had played that night stood out in particular to me-Where Do We Go From Here.  Not only because Julissa really belted it out with great accompaniment by the band, but it also resonated with me for more personal reasons. In the few weeks I have been listening to it, these words-‘Where Do We Go From Here’ really gave me pause. Yes it is a common phrase, but I really thought about it in different contexts. When you really think it is a very powerful question.

First I really love what the group did here with this video. Visually it looks terrific, but it also drives home a serious point. That is one way of thinking about where do we go from here as a society. How we discard, destroy, and demolish with little thought to the future. Is ‘progress’ really worth it if we bulldoze every thing both literally and metaphorically that lies in its path? As I watched the video a few times I drew a parallel of sorts to what I have always wanted to do on this blog. To ask the questions without truly having the answers, letting the visual of the photo speak for the song, or maybe letting the song become clearer with the visual.  I don’t know where we go from here in that regard but I do know we need to keep asking ourselves the questions.

Second the song made me question my own life the way the special songs do. Some of you know what has been happening to me personally the last few months. I don’t want to recount that here, suffice it to say it has me spending a lot of time thinking. And it is not simplistic on my part to say that the driving question throughout this process has been-what next? When I heard Jules & The Jinks the question quickly changed to where do I go from here? What do I want to do? What makes me happy? Where do I want to live that makes me happy? And on and on like that. Right now I do not have the answers…but I have the question. And questions are good things…

Please spend some time listening to the music of Jules & The Jinks wherever you get your music. Big news for them is that just a few days ago, they were crowned winners of the coveted Battle Of The Bands slot for the AfroPunk Festival. They are a band on the rise, and just like with Jackie Venson another artist I wrote about not long ago, I want you to remember where you heard it first!

Where Do We Go From Here-Written By Julissa Lopez and Erik Rosenberg

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50 Things @50-#30 Write A Poem

#30-Write a poem

After a week recovering from celebrating 50, I thought it was time to dive in and begin crossing some items off the list. Its probably obvious but I should just mention that there was no plan to do these in order. I think its fun just to randomly cross things off as the year goes on. So we’ll start with this one, which I am rather terrified of. Writing a blog the past (almost) 5 years is one thing. Those are sometimes hastily thrown ideas together, adding a photo and a song and I can call myself a ‘writer’. But the few little bits of fiction and this poem you are about to read represent ‘real’ writing. And that is rather terrifying to me. Even more so because it is a poem. I enjoy reading them and I actually have found myself returning to that recently. But writing them…oh lord!

I took as inspiration a few photos I took of a tree on the property of my family in Ireland. Long time readers here know I have a thing for trees, and indeed might recall these photos from older posts. I have always been drawn to the idea of how strong trees are. Even when the tree is gone, the roots stay deep in the ground long after. They are powerful things and speak to me of the strength we find in our family and friends but more importantly the resilience deep inside of us. So don’t judge me too harshly for these randomly constructed words!

To view the full 50 Things @50 list, click Here

 

Veins

Veins churning below the earth

strike out into the darkened void

seeking, searching not for light

but deeper fortitude



Veins climbing the sky ladder

grasping for the shimmering sky

Further, higher by the day

capturing the universe itself with a clutch 



Veins of multiple colored hue

balance the natural architecture in view

A swishing, shifting sound on the breeze

of nature's choir



These veins sit for generations

A sentinel to history. A guardian, a protector

Bending, not breaking to time's will

These veins do not fade



Veins in the earth

Veins in our hands

Rooted and pulsing

Crisscrossing between our worlds
Tree On Family Farm, Kilcar Co. Donegal

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50 Things @ 50

Well today is a special day for me. Yes today-July 11, 2018 is my 50th Birthday! It scarcely seems possible. Moments that seemed like yesterday are getting more distant its true, but when you realize that the distance is 20, 30 or maybe even 40 years ago you know you’re getting old! Those of you close to me know that there have been some changes in my life recently and it has been a little chaotic. But as this day drew nearer I started thinking about how I wanted to celebrate it. The celebratory with friends and family part starts tonight and will continue for the next three nights, but I wanted to do something more to mark the occasion. I remembered a friend had done a 50 things to do bucket list to mark the occasion and I decided to do the same thing.

The goal is to do as many of these with my friends as possible in the next year. The deadline will be before my 51st birthday in 2019. Some are things I have always wanted to do. Some are more recent. Some are places I have long wanted to go to which includes places in my own home town. A few are things I have done on some level before but want to do them bigger and better than I originally did them. Altogether the list was actually harder to put together than I thought it would be. I could just list travel destinations but it seems unlikely to get too many of those done in one year. So for any of you out there reading this who want to be a part of it, let me know in the comments below after the list! Activities are more fun with friends. Some of them I will really need to rely on you, my friends to help me do it.

To really do this list up right though, I thought it would be extra fun to write about my experiences doing everything off this list. So…welcome to a new corner of my blog not related to music or photography! The plan is to write a short piece about each one, let you all know what the next one will be, and continue going until I’m finished. I’m really excited for this. So without delay, here is the full list!

  1. Take a train or plane somewhere completely on a whim with no plans
  2. Ride a jet ski
  3. Paint or draw art
  4. Run a 5K race
  5. Learn a whole song on the guitar
  6. Be a guest bartender
  7. Have a photo featured on a major site
  8. Get a shout out from a singer on stage
  9. Swim naked in the ocean
  10. Get a tattoo
  11. Get ear pierced
  12. Camp at the beach
  13. Keep score at a baseball game
  14. Begin learning a language
  15. Finish writing my book
  16. Be a guest speaker
  17. Go whitewater rafting
  18. Do a big zipline
  19. Eat new and exotic foods
  20. Exhibit photos at a group show
  21. Go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
  22. Go to the Neue Gallery in Manhattan
  23. Go to the Tenement Museum in Manhattan
  24. Go to the Statue Of Liberty
  25. Go Bird Watching
  26. Go Sky watching/Astronomy with someone knowledgeable
  27. Take a cooking class
  28. Bake Bread
  29. Bake a Cake
  30. Write a Poem
  31. Through-Hike somewhere
  32. Climb a mountain
  33. Take sailing lessons
  34. See the wild horses on Assateague Island
  35. Win money on a horse race
  36. Take a photography class
  37. Drive 100mph on a back road
  38. Visit New Orleans
  39. Read at least 50 books
  40. Ride a moped or scooter
  41. Learn to make a really complex cocktail
  42. Ride a steam train
  43. Go parasailing
  44. Learn Tai Chi
  45. Have an article published in a magazine or website
  46. Go on a random road trip
  47. Build something
  48. Learn a magic trick
  49. Be a guest DJ
  50. Make a new list when this list is completely finished!

 

So, sit back and enjoy what I know will be some fun and challenging exploits. And you are welcome to join me or at the very least, encourage me as I go forward.

 

The Music In My Head

Well I have been back from Paris together with a few days in the London area for almost two weeks now. It was a good trip, marred only by a train strike which prevented a planned trip to Versailles, and a few Paris thunderstorms. Otherwise it was great to be there. It was also great to have a few days just outside London with my cousins. Its a long story, but I never knew them growing up, but with the aid of social media, and more trips across the Atlantic we are making up for a lot of lost time. I love them all dearly, so any time spent with them is a real treat.

In a way this post is a summary of several previous posts, because the entire trip seemed to intertwine in a unique musical sense, culminating with meeting some really special people. I’ll leave that for the end of the post though. I thought it might be fun to share with all of you how such different styles of music makes its way into my head (and on to these posts). I would not quite call it a ‘best of’ Soundtrack Of A Photograph, but maybe a cross section of the way my brain is wired to music instead, and how I bounce around so much. That is actually a question I get often! What often starts off innocently enough with playing one song, leads to a 5 day marathon of soul music, classical, vintage country or folk. Maybe some blues, maybe some jazz, maybe some world music. What follows is an example of how that sometimes comes to be. I encourage you to click on the links in red and at the very least, play the music to hear for yourselves. Continue reading “The Music In My Head”