Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chordie Amore

As a basement singer/guitar player, besides my guitar and voice, one other resource has become vital to my basement jam sesssions: Chordie, as in -- guitar tabs, guitar chords and lyrics.

One of my favorite things about Chordie versus any other tab/lyrics site is randomness. They allow users to make their own collection of songbooks. Those songbooks, should the user choose, are available to be used and perused by the general public. That's what I do during my basement sessions: click on the 'Public songbooks' and experiment away with songs from a multitude of generations.

For example, writing this, I just emerged from the basement where I toyed around with the following songs:

"Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers

"Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls

"Drift Away" by Dobie Gray

"That's Amore" by Dean Martin

Maybe "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Drift Away" overlap in style a little bit, but "Name" and "That's Amore" ... not so much.

The fun I have poking around Chordie also highlights one of my biggest playing/practicing bad habits: not sticking to and learning one song thoroughly from end to end. I bore quickly and Chordie makes it possible for me to find a new song.

If you're a player, check out Chordie and have some fun.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

These Are Some Stellar Raisins

Has it really been nearly two years since Death of a Salesman at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater? After attending that production I wrote a blog titled Death of a Theater Phobia. My blog described how I had soured on live theater after attending a number of performances that had me checking my watch and counting the minutes until the show was over (I'm blaming musicals), but Salessman was so expertly acted and riveting that I had no idea how long I sat in the theater. It could have been 20 minutes or 200 -- time stood still as I watched the ticking human time bomb, Willy Loman.

Last night my wife and I went to see the iconic Raisin in the Sun at the Quadracci Powerhouse. It was equally powerful.

Going in, I had no idea what the play was about. As the day of the show grew nearer, I resisted temptation to read a synopsis of the story, and when I navigated to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's website to check the exact showtime, I guided my eyes only to the schedule to avoid seeing too much of the story.

It's rather embarrassing that I was so naive of a story that has been played out in countless American theaters and silver screens -- the latter starring Oscar winner Sidney Portier as irascible dreamer Walter Lee Younger.

But my persistence to remain ignorant paid off. Walking into the Powerhouse, neither my wife nor I had a clue of what about we were about to see. We were about to be blown away.

The play was two hours and 55 minutes long with an intermission about halfway through. Much like Salesman, time flew by. The moments before intermission reached a crescendo and when the houselights were turned on, my eyes were watery from emotion and all I could do was look over at my wife and say, "Wow."

After a short break we settled back into our seats for the second half. The next hour and 15 minutes went by in a blink. I was riveted. My heart pounded as the story came to its emotional climax when Walter finally becomes the man that his mother always believed was within him.

And speaking of mother, Lena Younger played by Greta Oglesby was a showstopper. She was amazing. When the show ended and the players came out to take their bows, I could hardly wait until Ms. Oglesby appeared. I was already standing and clapping enthusiastically when she did, but how does one show the love when everyone else is clapping and standing too?

When I was 6 or 7, my Grandpa Collins taught me to take my two pinky fingers and curl over my tongue and blow. When done correctly, it makes a piercing noise like the whistle atop the ill-fated locomotive Old 97. To experienced theatergoers, us whistle blowers are probably as uncouth and annoying as the guys who always yell "IN THE HOLE!" during televised golf tournaments.

No matter.

When Greta appeared, I inhaled deeply, properly placed my pinkies between my curled-lip covered teeth and exhaled with great force. I may have been in the second row from the back, but I'm quite certain Ms. Oglesby could feel the love, as my siren whistle took the curls right out of the lady's hair in front of me.

Ms. Oglesby's performance was worth every decibel. The whole casts' was.

Raisin in the Sun runs through April 14th. I highly suggest you go. It's a wonderful performance. Just hopefully you're not sitting in front of some obnoxious whistle-blower at show's end. ;)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crazy St. Patrick's Day Fact

Back in the early 80s, a song hit the northern Wisconsin album rock airwaves (WAPL - The Rockin' Apple!) that I really enjoyed. It was simple hard rock with a captivating lead guitar riff.

Twenty-plus years later, that riff has remained stuck in my head even though I had not heard it in at least two decades. Thank goodness for the Internet, as I was easily able to navigate my browser to rediscover this rockin' metal track.

Here it is, "Say What You Will" by Fastway starring "Fast" Eddie Clark Clarke on guitar and Dave King on vocals:

Unfortunately the original music video for the song is not available for embedding, but if you wish to see it, it's viewable on myspace (that's right, myspace!).

You might be wondering, "Okay, Mike. That's a swell Hair Metal riff, but where are you goin' with this?"

Fair question.

Many years later in my life I took a liking to Celtic rock music -- the Pogues being the Godfather of the style, but a nod to the late, great Thin Lizzy must be given too. Others that received popular acclaim include Flogging Molly, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, Black 47, The Killdares, The Drovers and Jackdaw, and Seven Nations (Scottish). Of those, I've been a particularly fond of the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.

In fact, I have been listening to Flogging Molly since their second album "Drunken Lullabys" was released in 2002, but nearly the whole time I was completely unaware  that there was something that should have sounded familiar to me. That thing was Flogging Molly's lead singer's voice. That voice belongs to Dave King -- the former lead singer of Fastway 20 years earlier!

Now, in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, enjoy this great Irish drinking song starring Dave King on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. And, as evidenced by his middle finger at the 21st second of the video, the Rock and Roll spirit is still alive in Mr. King!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jury Tales - Part Three - Unlucky #13

A well-dressed jury
If you've read my earlier post, Jury Tales - Part Two - Give a Little, you know that I went into jury duty with the expectation that my contribution would be little more than showing up. After all, my last jury service only required me to sit and read magazines all day--never once was my name called over the PA to report.

This time was different. This time I was selected from the general pool to a subset of 30 potential jurors. As we stood on our selection  numbers (I was 23, Jordan!), we entered the courtroom in the order that we were selected. The judge gave us instructions to, in numerical order, give our name, marital status, children (if any), occupation, spouse's occupation, and some other stuff.

We were given a brief on the trial that was to be presented to us if were one of the 13 selected from the pool of 30.

First the prosecuting attorney's turn.

Second, the defense's.

I could tell by some of the questions and jurors' answers that the pool was rapidly dwindling down to roughly 20 potential candidates. In some cases people were just too kooky to serve or, in others, too close to law enforcement (i.e. married to an officer, etc.).

I thought for sure I was going to add my name to the list of discarded candidates when I raised my hand to the defense attorney's question, "Does anybody here think that my client is guilty of something?"

I was one of about 4 or 5 that raised my hand. When asked why I raised my hand, I replied, "You've listed a significant number of serious charges against the individual. Surely he committed some sort of grave offense or he would not be here."

Actually, that's not totally true. A fellow juror said that, but that was my thought exactly and I really replied, "What he said."

After the Q & A, we were asked to return to the jury room. It was a little like being in the "stew room" on Top Chef, with all of us wondering who would be selected to serve.

The Bailiff retrieved us back into the courtroom. The judge instructed us "Please stand when I say your name."

This had me wondering: was he going to say 13 or 17 names? If 13, those called would serve. If 17, those not called would serve.

From the lowest juror number to the highest, he began saying names, "Dennis, Sue, Marvin, Marrietta, David, Matt, ..."

The whole time I am counting on my fingers. He says juror 12's name and the next word out of his mouth is "and..."

And. That means the names called are the jury. Those not called are going home.





The moment seems to stop and my heart is pounding. The last juror called was still in the upper 10s, meaning there were at least 10 of us to select from. What are the odds? One in ten? I'd take those odds.





"...the 13th juror is Mike Collins."

It's me. I'm number 13. A whole range of questions comes in to my mind. What about work? Will we be sequestered? How long will this take? Days or weeks? What is about to happen? For a moment I feel like Peeta Mellark must have felt when he was selected as Tribute to participate in the 74th annual Hunger Games.

All I'll say at this point is what followed was a few of the most emotionally draining days of my life. I may post more about my service, but never fully about the case--that would take way too long.

Selected. Me. Unlucky #13.

Jury Tales - Part Two - Give a Little

Roughly 15 years ago I was summoned for jury service. At that time, I reported on the required morning, read magazines all day and then was told to call the next morning to see if I my services would be required again.

They weren't.

Summoned again in 2013, I fully expected this jury duty service to be similar to my service from the 90s.

It wasn't. Not even a little.

Collecting ALL the Stickers!
But some of what made it different was entirely my doing.

Monday morning, at the initial jury pool assemblage, John Barrett, Milwaukee County's elected Clerk of Circuit Court, explained the rules and procedures for jury candidates. Near the end of his instruction, he added that we should approach him with any ideas that we have to make our time in the jury pool more productive or enjoyable. He said a person approached him 8 years ago and suggested, "We are here all day with little to do. Why don't you arrange the opportunity for jury pool members to donate blood while they are waiting?"

Thus a great public service tradition was born. Every Monday for the last 8 years, the Blood Center of Wisconsin has been bringing their mobile unit to the Milwaukee County Courthouse and collecting this life-sustaining human motor oil.

Following Mr. Barrett was a representative from the Blood Center. I cannot remember her name, but she gave an impassioned plea for donation.  By the time she was done, I would've donated a gallon right on the spot.

Embarrassingly, I have never donated before, but I recall my many times in the NICU at Children's Hospital seeing my nephews and niece require transfusions. I knew then that donating was the right thing to do and my opportunity to give would never be more convenient than while whiling away the hours waiting for jury selection.

So I finally decided to give a half-pint. The opportunity was too convenient not to. I'm one of those who darn near faints at the thought of a needle going into my arm. I always will be. So I approached my apprehension with more of a game-like mentality: conquer my fear; beat my foe.

I recently read a few stories that one never really lives a fulfilled life unless they face their fears and challenge them. Like, if you  have a fear of public speaking, the best thing to do is get out there and speak publicly. My blood-giving challenge was similar: overcome my irrational fear of having a needle stuck in my arm. I call my fear "irrational," because I saw 2-pound babies have multiple tubes, needles and sensors penetrate their epidermis, dermis and hypodermis frequently -- if they can do it, any fear a 46-year old healthy person would have is clearly irrational.

I let myself become subservient to the process: questionnaires, waiting, the finger prick and the blood pressure test. The latter which reveals that I had better see a doctor soon. My blood pressure, it's not low; it never is. In fact, at first my pressure was too high. They would not allow me to give blood unless my pressure readings descended. The nurse gave me 5 minutes to relax and take some deep breaths. After 5, she took it again and fortunately it had come down enough for me to proceed with my donation.

Finally they led me to a portable cot. Again, a few questions about my allergies to iodine, if I had any. With no allergies to report, the nurse turned over my left arm and said, "Woowee! We like them veins!"

I'm not sure if this is the worst thing she could have said or the best. To the former point, this made me think of my veins and a needle penetrating them, which gave me the willies and nervous sweats all the more. To the latter point, it cracked me up. I mean really cracked me up. With my nerves jittery already, a little humor made me laugh like a Henny Youngman one-liner.

While I was still laughing, she quickly inserted her appliances and before I had a chance to Instagram a picture of the process, she had collected her pint. (Note: a small benefit of high blood pressure is I donate faster than the average guy.)

Simple. Painless. Much different than the other times I've lost a half-pint of blood - which typically occurred with blunt severity and in far less sanitary conditions. (Oh, State Colleges of Wisconsin.)

Thank you to the person who suggested this idea to Mr. Barrett 8 years ago. I think it was a great one and I appreciate the opportunity to finally not have had a reason not to give. Having finally donated, I will do my best to make a commitment to do this at least a few times per year.

I also appreciated the Otis Spunkmeyer muffin and tomato juice chaser. (Free lunch!)

Save lives. Donate blood. If I can do it, anybody can.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Jury Tales - Part One - Ice Breaker

A quick story from my recent jury service...

After we--13 complete and anonymous strangers--were selected from a subsample set of 30 candidates, we sat around a rectangular office table in the jury deliberation room is complete silence. Each of us wondering, "What's next?"

The only thing that could be heard was the light tapping of thumbs on mobile touchscreens and, occasionally, the heavy, deep sigh of exasperation.

The quietness stifling, I broke the ice:

A grasshopper walks into a bar. 

The bartender says, "Hey, we've a drink named after you here." 

The grasshopper replies, "You've got a drink named Steve?!"

And three days later, my peers elected me Presiding Juror.