Friday, May 23, 2008

Musical Turning Points

Where to begin. I thought maybe I should write a little something about a couple of significant life events – events that people ask me about every once in a while.

Music. Wow, where to start. It's a huge portion of my life – this will be a rather large blog, unfortunately. Hopefully it'll be worth it.

The first musical turning point in my life was when I was 13 (thirteen). I was walking home from a friend's house. It was about 8PM and I was only about 2 blocks from home, when this guy comes out of the shadows. At this time, I was listening to a walkman full blast, "Megadeth Peace Sells…But, Who's Buying". In my coat pocket I had another walkman packed, and a few other 'metal' tapes. Anyway, I couldn't hear the guy at first – my walkman was blaring – so I just kept walking. I finally heard something behind me, turned around and came face to face with a black man. (Later learned he was 14, so not really a man.)

He kept asking me for my coat, and I kept asking him if he was cold – probably shouldn't have said that. But anyway, we started fighting, I got him down then he got up really fast. He had knocked my glasses off, and of course I was bleeding from my mouth due to those damn crappy braces. I couldn't see what he was doing at first, but when I turned to face him again he had pulled out a gun. I still couldn't see much without my glasses, but I did hear a van pull up and someone yell "Just giv'em yer coat!!" I thought this was the end for sure – how many more guns did they have inside the van, was my only thought.

I told him once more that I wasn't giving him my coat, or the music cassettes that were inside it. I also told him one more time that he should get his own coat if it were that important for him and his "friends" to have. Had I not been in Tae Kwon Do at the time, I never would have been able to get my knee up in time. He was aiming at my mid-section, I saw his finger twitch, and I happened to block the shot with my knee instead. So, I staggered back, and he ran off to the van because a car was coming down the street. I tried to run after the van to get a plate number, but found that I couldn't walk and stumbled forward onto the snowy pavement. Later learned, it was all for a gang initiation. (Only reason I remember the name of the album was because the tape was ruined, and I remember asking the ambulance driver if he could save my cassette.)

The second turning point in my life was when I was 20. I had lived several years since getting shot as being fairly racist, and delving into the "black arts" and listening to as much death and skinhead metal I could get my hands on. (I had hair down to my ass, during that time ;-) I had such hatred toward everyone, really, not just blacks, any non-white person at that time.

One evening, a show came on PBS and my dad ushered me in. He told me to sit and watch these guys. He said that it was music from Ireland, and that these guys had been around forever. I listened for about 5 minutes, stormed out the room, and mumbled something about hating my dad for making me sit there. As I was leaving the room, he said that he had bought tickets for their upcoming show. Now, I was even more upset.

We get downtown to the Paramount the night of the show, and we sat only a few rows back from the stage. (Great seats, by the way.) The show starts, and I am trying to keep my mind as closed as possible. But, something happens when listening to these old, Irish guys playing their music – it was lively, and I remember thinking that some of the stuff was just as fast as some of the death metal music – most importantly, it was fun. The Irish step-dancers were dizzyingly fast. There was one instrument that caught my eye however – an Irish drum called the bodhran – pronounced 'bow-rawn'. I ended up having a great time.

The very next day, I went to the barber and cut all my hair off; threw away most of my death and goth clothes; bought a whole new wardrobe to look as much like an Irish country gent that I could; had my dad take me to the Swallow Hill folk shop and bought my first bodhran.

The name of the band was The Chieftains. In fact, the highlight of my musical career thus far has been the one time that I got the chance to play my bodhran on stage with them at one of their shows.

There are a few points I wish to make:

I forgave the guy who shot me a long time ago. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today to enjoy everyone I've met along the way. One of my best friends now, is black. My good friend that passed away a few years ago, was black. More importantly, I would never have had the chance to listen to the Chieftains.

The Chieftains opened the part of my mind that was closed. Over the last 10 years, I've bought music from all over the world: Asia, India, Morocco, the Middle East, the whole of the African country, Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, France, Mexico, South America – I have a rather large world music collection. And not just from the rest of the world, America has its share of music genres that I never would have otherwise listened to, if not for The Chieftains concert. (Subsequently, I have tasted cuisine from all over the world, as well.)

I do not now, nor have I ever, believed in a god, Christian or otherwise. It wasn't "god" that saved me – it was the music. Music literally saved my life twice. God didn't speak through the music. If you believe in god, that's fine, but save the god complex for yourself, if it makes you feel better. I guess one could say that music is my god, since that's what I choose to believe.

I will never EVER again have a myopic view, nor a dogmatic approach to music, or the world around me. My advice is to TRY EVERYTHING. You may or may not find yourself liking something that you wouldn't have, otherwise.

I tend to choke up a little, because I'm fairly sensitive when these subjects come up - but I will never stop answering people's questions about them. They are turning points in my life that, literally, saved my life. It's also why I want to slap people sometimes to get it through their head that there is more to life, via the world, than just one genre of music. Incorporate as much as you can, and you'll find so many new musical endeavors behind the closed doors.

Trust me – who would have ever thought when I was into death metal that I would be playing in an Irish folk / pipes and drums band, playing a couple rock cover songs?? Exactly.

I am writing this because it has been 10 years to the date that I saw my first Chieftains concert. I will never ever forget what they did for me and my life.

It is also 16 years since being shot. I will never ever forget that night, either.

Both events have been for the better.

Respect is taken, when respect is given ...

Namaste and Slainte

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