My first and only real sales job was for a “corporate floral contractor” in NYC…

…I did really well and was asked to bring in some friends to join the sales team. Bad idea.

There were some critical factors involved in the whole story that bear mentioning up front.

One was music, since the two friends I was able to get hired on were both musicians I played with quite a bit.

Another factor was The Howard Stern show – the influence of which features very prominently in the story.

And another was the availability of “800” numbers…not that they were totally brand new, but the ready availability of an 800 number was really just starting to catch on in American small businesses at the time. Keep in mind this was in the pre-internet/pre-cell phone era of the late 20th century: the Stone Age of modern telecommunications and commerce!

I’d been in the flower business for a while, retail, wholesale, you name it. But this gig was totally different. When I showed up for the interview, the owner, Mr. Duntley, looked more like a Fortune 500 guy than a flower business guy. As it happens, he had recently bought the company after a successful stint as a sales whiz for Xerox. He tore up the NYC area, nailing down numerous million-dollar Xerox copier contracts, but he burnt out.

Well, Duntley explained the business model, which was innovative and starting to pick up steam. He hired me on the spot and I was to start the following Monday. On that first day, I met the rest of the employees, got to know the sales software and Duntley gave me two 3-piece suits he had grown out of in the waist. We were about the same height, and the suits fit me perfectly – a grey one and a blue pinstripe.

The next day, I was a suit! That was certainly something I never hoped or expected to be. The first half of the day I accompanied him while he demonstrated how the pavement-pounding cold-call sales cycle began. We went to the first high-rise office building on the south end of Madison Avenue, took the elevator to the top floor and hit every single office on the way back down. 50 floors, from one to a dozen or more offices on each floor.

The first time we came to an office with a “NO SOLICITING” sign on the door, I was prepared to skip it but he said, “Y’know what you do when you see one of these?” Then he proceeded to walk right in and do his pitch just like any other office. The irreverence! The effrontery! The anarchy! I kind of was digging it now! When we got through all the offices in that building and were back out on the sidewalk, he told me that the next day, I was to head uptown and hit the next building, then the one across the street and proceed in that fashion until Madison Avenue was done, Then do 5th Avenue, Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue, all the damn avenues, east side and west side, then repeat. Clearly, the pool of potential clients was virtually infinite. This was NYC, after all.

The second half of that second day was spent in Duntley’s office where he introduced me to the sales technology that made him such a success at Xerox. It was based on one book, which he gave me to read. The technique was 100% NLP, or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming”. He astutely anticipated my objection that this kind of approach was manipulative and unethical. He quickly and successfully countered my objection using the very same technique he was teaching me. Damn…it works! Every sales offer meets with objection, of course. To be successful, a salesperson has to anticipate and overcome the objections.

Three months later, I had personally tripled Duntley’s monthly revenues. All of the sales team that was in place on my first day was gone and in their place, he hired a tech guy to tweak the sales software and a girl to answer phones and do customer service. That girl actually wound up stealing my accounts. Every time she would answer a call from one of my customers, they would suddenly become her account, commissions and all. But she was absolutely key to the Valentines Day Massacre. so let’s get to that now.

Almost all flower shops, wholesale, retail or otherwise, make half of their annual income on three or four days. Even considering weddings and funerals, without Valentines Day, Mothers Day, Christmas, and Easter, they’d be pretty much out of business. Duntley’s business, being strictly corporate (meaning business-to-business with no walk-in retail traffic at all) was missing out on all that gravy. He was done with that noise!

I have to give him some credit: he thought BIG. And when he made plans to cash in on Valentines Day he did it in a big way. So he got an 800 number and invested in some advertising. There was a bunch of different ad stuff happening, but the one that really caused the Massacre was the Howard Stern show.

Back then, Howard’s show was still radio-only, but his show was phenomenally popular in NYC. In fact, it was just about universal in our fair city. Of course they ran commercials, but for the right price, a business could get Howard himself to read their ad copy live on the air. This was well-known for having astronomical results. But Duntley’s plan went even beyond that! Our perky little account-thieving girl he had hired was just the type of attractive, brash-but-vacuous female guest that Howard loved having on his show for laughs. Somehow, Duntley arranged for Howard to read his ad copy live on the air AND do a live interview with our “customer service” girl besides. Score!

Knowing this would lurch our little company, FlowerPower, suddenly into the high-volume city-wide retail floral stratosphere, I was asked to bring in another friend to help answer phones. We anticipated a 2-to-3-day run of non-stop order taking and I’d already brought in Dead Bob to join me on the sales team about a month prior to all this. So, I brought in Steve Two-Thumbs-On-Drums to help take orders. We were planning on a 36-hour all-hands-on-deck shift immediately prior to Valentines Day. We had Steve in a week prior in order to get him up to speed and fully trained for the Big Day.

Steve was nuts. I knew that. Dead Bob knew that. Everyone who ever met Steve knew that. But it was only a temporary job, a week or so at best, so I thought it would work out. But during his week of training, Dead Bob and I were blown away by one of Steve’s frequent “breaks from reality”.

See, he would bring in his lunch from home and, thanks to him, we all discovered that if you put a Tupperware container of refrigerated left-overs on top of one of the big steam-heat radiators we had in every office, the food would be warm enough to eat by lunch time, and without melting the Tupperware. Brilliant!

One day, along with his refrigerated left-overs Steve brought in a half bag of frozen Lenders mini-bagels. Just about the same size as a mini donut. Lunch time came around and Steve tried a thawed-out mini bagel, but it was nasty.

That’s when we all found out the windows to our 14th-floor offices actually opened (nobody had ever tried to open them…). All the buildings in that part of town were of an age, you see. Big old industrial loft buildings, most about as tall as ours. Not modern office buildings by any means. So, Steve is obviously going to chuck his mini-bagel out the window. No big surprise, we know he’s nuts.

But then Steve exclaimed, “Oooooo! Look!”

One glance out the window at the street below and Dead Bob and I both knew exactly what Steve had in mind. Our building was in the heart of New York City’s fur district and it was comprised of fur businesses owned and operated exclusively by Hasidic Jews. Any New Yorker would know that they are the most orthodox, conservative and observant members of Judaism, with their strict interpretations of biblical law resulting in their unique daily mode of dress among other things, but the main thing is, the men all wear a big black hat and a long black coat. Every day, year-round, no matter the weather. And there was one walking east on 28th street, 14 floors below us and across the street. Biiiiig black hat.

Dead Bob and I, before Steve even picked up the mini-bagel, both started with the , “No, Steve, no way, Steve, Nooooo….”, but Steve was crazy. And its not at all like Steve was anti-Semitic, or anti-anything. He was just nuts and here was an irresistible target of opportunity.

Now, everyone has heard of guardian angels. And some of us have heard that drunks have more than the rest of us and the ones they have are the most patient and hard-working ones. But crazy people have a different breed of guardian angel. I am convinced that the craziest guardian angels get assigned to guys like Steve. My conviction is based mainly on the fact that no amount of high-flown physics or Kentucky windage or even sheer luck could have aided Steve’s mini-bagel in knocking that big black hat right off the guy’s head. It HAD to have been divine intervention. Not a million-to-one-shot. An impossible shot. Yet the big black hat was on the sidewalk with the mini-bagel and our innocent Hasidic victim was stopped dead in his tracks and scanning all the upper floors of all the buildings on our side of the street for his cowardly attacker. The three of us ducked behind the radiator.

Dead Bob said, “Hey, maybe we should get the hell outta here…the window’s open and he could count the floors up to it then come up here and cause ….ummm….problems.’

When we finally took a look out the window, the mini-bagel was on the sidewalk, but the hat and its wearer were once again striding eastward, so we finished our lunch.

But that wasn’t even the massacre part.

The three of us were massacred on the phone taking orders at one point for an uninterrupted 36 hours!!! We had taken orders for 16 hours the day before that! The sheer volume of orders was unbelievable. So unbelievable that I had to ask Duntley how he was going to make all those deliveries.

“No problem, I put Murph in charge of all of that. We have some big rental vans confirmed for that day and everything’s going to be fine.”

Murph was a rugby buddy of Duntley’s who had been with us since before I started working there. It seemed to all the rest of us that Murph might have  taken a few too many unprotected hits to the head in his rugby endeavors. We guessed that Duntley was doing him a favor by giving him a delivery driver job. Murph had thus far managed to get the company’s regular weekly deliveries under control, but that was under normal, expected volumes and circumstances. And that was with three vans. I found out that Murph had rented a total of five vans for Valentines Day. Duntley hired five drivers and Murph was supposed to route all the deliveries. FlowerPower’s normal, expected volumes were exceeded by orders of magnitude and Murph figured two more vans ought to be enough!

Point number one: Valentines Day orders are ALL supposed to be delivered ON  Valentines Day, or your sweet Valentine, the object of your affections and longing, the apple of your eye, ear, nose and throat may suspect that your ardour is less than all-encompassing. Fail to deliver on Valentines Day and you have a refund on your hands.

Point number two: There were at the time 7 or 8 million residents of New York City Greater Metropolitan Area. It seemed to us that every single one of them placed a Valentines Day order through Duntley’s new 1-800-FLOWERS tol-free number and those were all because of the Howard Stern Show ad campaign.

Point number three: Cut flowers are perishable. More perishable than vegetables (and even those seem to rot in a refrigerator as soon as you turn your back on them). Many perishable items come packaged and boxed in a way that would allow for them to be stacked floor-to-ceiling in a delivery van. Flowers are no different….until they are artfully and lovingly placed just so into a tasteful and evocative bouquet or floral arrangement. At that point they are just inviting disaster. They are fragile. Delicate. More so at the top than at the bottom. So stacking them floor-to-ceiling was in no way an option. God forbid a damaged arrangement or bouquet be delivered unto your sweet Valentine, the object of your affections and longing, the apple of your eye, ear, nose and throat. Unlike a delivery that wasn’t actually ON Valentines Day, a delivery of damaged flowers might suggest to your paramour that you actually intended to send a subtle message. That you in fact consider either them or your entire romantic affair damaged or unworthy of tender care. That you could care less if your love were handled roughly and carelessly, as if by a drunk baggage handler at LaGuardia Airport. Deliver a Valentines Day order damaged and you have a refund on your hands.

I can remember the exact moment when I realized Duntley was planning all along on issuing refunds by the thousands. Knowing full well he wasn’t going to make all those time-sensitive deliveries, he was planning all the while on cashing in on the brand recognition that the whole media extravaganza would create. I guess he figured it would easily out-last the ill-will of failed deliveries, refunds and the unintended interruption, for some, of this mid-February modern wrinkle in the eons-long mating ritual of the modern western hemisphere homo sapiens.

I guessed that he was planning on all that sudden brand recognition resulting in an eventual and inevitable boost to his weekly bouquet subscription business as well as to his monthly corporate accounts.

That moment of clarity and realization came at about 6:15 PM on Valentines Day itself, as Dead Bob and Steve and I were finally leaving the building, a job well-done. Knowing that Murph was staging all the bouquets and arrangements for delivery in the building’s service entrance hallway – about 100 feet long, we decided to go out that way instead of through the normal front entrance, just to get an idea of how deliveries were going. After all, the realistic delivery window was now down to about 3 hours.

We saw both walls of the service entry hallway, all one hundred feet of it, stacked floor-to-ceiling with floral arrangements and bouquets. The ones that weren’t at the top of the stack were getting mushed into undeliverable floral pancakes. Outside, along the building wall and up the street for another hundred feet was a similar stack of bouquets and arrangements. Murph was nowhere to be found.

Well, the reason Dead Bob, Steve and I agreed to do this grueling phone order marathon was because we were getting a healthy commission on each order we took, and all we had to do was talk on the phone and enter the orders correctly. We were not fully aware at that point that we would only get commissions on orders that were successfully delivered and against which no refund was requested. In all his advertising, Duntley had 100% guaranteed delivery on Valentines Day.

Steve was already done at FlowerPower, since he was only hired temporarily to take phone orders. Dead Bob, on the other hand, was under my expert tutelage as a sales trainee. I, personally, was planning on a long and lucrative career in the corporate floral sales arena – and looking forward to a nice Valentines commission check besides.

But as the three of us took in the carnage lined up against the walls and along West 28th street, we knew our commissions and who knows what else were on thin ice.

As it turned out, I only lost about 15% of my orders to refunds, but Dead Bob and Steve both lost about 90% of theirs. Clearly Murph was getting some help from Duntley in the delivery routing department, to my distinct advantage.

Dead Bob and I carried on at FlowerPower, but he only lasted another three or four weeks. All for the best. We’d meet in the subway station in the morning to take the train to work and Bob would have a couple of Budweiser tall boys ready for each of us. Sometimes a few lines of coke besides. Hence, the Dead part of his character’s name. Anyway, he said it helped him do the sales pitch I taught him. The post-Valentines Dead Bob era was mostly a blur, especially the afternoons, what with liquid lunch and all.

I wasn’t long for FlowerPower myself, although I didn’t know it at the time.

My next newsletter will detail the circumstances that not only prompted my departure from the world of suit-wearing corporate floral sales but soon after resulted in my willing and permanent departure from New York City itself. And while Dead Bob was minimally involved at some levels, that story is really all about the Grateful Dead, exploding Brooklyn apartment buildings, subway train wrecks, and Steve Two-Thumbs-On-Drums. I know, you can hardly wait……

Love,

-Tom

“98% of our graduates find employment in the recording industry!”

I’d been seeing the TV commercials for weeks if not months, but THAT line was the closer. I was sold.

I was a struggling musician in my late 20s, unemployed, bored, and was looking to make a move that would enhance my music “career” such as it was. This idea was perfect! The Center for the Media Arts (now a long-since defunct for-profit trade school for recording and photography and such) had operators standing by!!!

I made the call, set up an appointment and paid them a visit. This was around September of 1989. It was my ninth September since graduating high school. Every September I felt the pull of higher education and even found myself feeling a deep inexplicable need for new notebooks and pens and binders and such.

Like all for-profit schools, they had a team of Financial Aid experts. Not only did they get the loan paperwork done but, as it turned out, there would also be a small monthly amount coming to me to help with my living and transportation expenses. It was all settled in a matter of days…soon I’d be starting my (non-accredited) 6-month Recording and Audio Arts program.

When I started classes I was still unemployed, but, thanks to the financial aid deal, I had cash! Until I didn’t (it went quick). Then I had to get a job just to be able to afford to continue making it to class. Well, class was from 2 PM to 6 PM Monday to Friday. The job I found was located very close to the school and my work hours were 4 AM to 1 PM. PERFECT! I had an hour to get a little lunch before classes started.

After starting that job, the next week of classes was really rough. It wasn’t because of fatigue, but rather, after 16 cups of coffee throughout the morning and hustling in the wholesale flower market like a maniac, I found it impossible to sit still in a school desk for four hours. Fortunately, I was a natural-born problem-solver. In the hour between school and work I was able to squeeze in a six-pack of beer and a joint. When asked about this practice I explained that it was necessary to change gears so I could sit in class for 4 hours.

Anyway, the Center for the Media Arts was the last place on Earth anyone would question my substance-related habits. Among the teachers I think it is safe to say that 90% of them were bitter, jaded disabled veterans of the 1980s cocaine wars. Keep in mind that the digital age was beginning to dawn and digital music technologies like MIDI and digital audio workstations for recording were just starting to get some traction. All these recording engineers teaching classes at CMA were there for the extra income because the inevitable decline of the once-booming NYC recording studio industry had already begun. By the way, their curriculum was strictly analog…until I showed up.

So, half of these bitter, jaded teachers looked like they just stepped out of a night at Studio 54 and the other half looked like they just stepped out of a 36-hour marathon recording session. While there was no doubt they knew their stuff, whether we absorbed and could apply what they were teaching was clearly not a very high priority. And I don’t really blame them!

Half the folks in my class were straight out of high school and acted like they were in middle school. It turns out they were enrolled against their will by their Moms who then would continue getting bigger public assistance checks. The other half of my classmates were there because they wanted to be there, but many of them could not get accepted to any college due to functional illiteracy and little or no math skills (“They told me there’d be no math!”). Of course that was never a barrier to acceptance at a for-profit, non-accredited school like CMA.

At the time, my weekdays went like this: wake up at 3 AM, get on the subway around 3:30 to make it to work by 4. I’d spend the next 9 hours selling literally tons of cut flowers to New York City’s florists, carrying their filled boxes out to their vans and doing all the math in my head (prices were by the stem and different flowers were sold in bundles that varied in the number of stems per bundle). This was made possible by the availability of free coffee and I’d gulp down between 12 and 16 cups a day while at work. Then I’d spend an hour “shifting gears”, then school for 4 hours. After that I would usually spend the night at a gig or in a studio until at least midnight. 3 hours of sleep and do it all again!

Despite this rigorous and demanding lifestyle, I was getting the best grades in my class and my copious note-taking probably could have been the basis for an income stream – if I had thought of it at the time. I actually forced CMA to up their game after finding out that none of the course modules even came close to talking about MIDI or the digital revolution at all! I crafted a petition to the Dean to include at least a class on the basics of the subject and – lo and behold – it worked!

The lucky teacher who got that unfortunate duty was one of my favorites. His name was Cary, but we called him “Fish Tie”. For some reason  all the teachers had to wear a tie (yup…no female teachers) and he wore the same goofy, colorful tie every day that depicted some kind of fish (a bass? a trout? who knows?). Like me, he was at a gig or a studio almost every night, but he was a professional pedal steel player doing really well in NYC’s western swing scene. He started that class by openly admitting that he was told to do this by the Dean and was given a MIDI keyboard to use for demonstration purposes. He had never played keyboard and had never used MIDI before in his life. I can recall having napped through that particular class.

(Fast-forward twenty years….I am now in a band in Knoxville, Tennessee. the other guitar player told us he was bringing a pedal steel player he met to the next practice. Who does he show up with? Old long-forgotten Fish-Tie!!! I recognized him right away – even without the tie – and when I jogged his memory a bit he recalled me too. As soon as we were oriented to our time at CMA he was incredibly apologetic about the shape he was in while teaching there and the appalling lack of education going on at the school in general. He never came back to another of our practices and I think embarrassment was the reason.)

Well, I “graduated” on the Dean’s List and then it was time to go to one of the placement counselors. These were the folks who were responsible for “98% of our graduates” getting placed in jobs in NYC’s recording industry. Of course, at the time, that industry was in decline and everyone I asked knew that a) CMA was the joke of the industry, and b) all these “jobs” were non-paying internships.

My hopes of paying off my student loan from a “job” in a recording studio went out the window, but I went to an interview for a non-paying internship at a “jingle house” just the same. A jingle house is a recording studio where they record the songs used in radio and TV commercials. My new employers owned and operated a million-dollar, extremely well-appointed facility and had clients the likes of Exxon and GM and such.

Unfortunately for all concerned, this particular studio was in a high-rise apartment building basement that flooded during a major rainstorm, so that internship lasted all of three weeks. My last day there was spent running a shop vac to try to get the last of the 2 1/2 feet of water out of the carpet. Fun fact: Bjork’s debut album was apparently recorded there after hours at some point prior to my arrival.

I didn’t go for any more “industry jobs after that, but I did get one more tangible benefit from my time at CMA: a recording session!

CMA needed bands to come to their studio so the students could get real-world, hands-on experience at the controls of a pro 24-track mixing console. I got my band in there and we got three songs recorded for free (minus the cost of a reel of 2-inch tape which I had to buy myself).

The studio itself was very awesome, gotta admit. It was an old fur vault. The building was in the heart of NYC’s fur district and at some point the CMA building was a hub for a lot of fur district businesses. It was three flights of stairs down below street level and far enough away from any subway lines to be utterly silent.

The next time I set foot in a studio was to have my 2-inch master mixed down to stereo so the band could actually listen to it. Yeah, none of us had a 2-inch, 24-track tape machine. So that mixdown was another $100 plus the cost of a reel of 1/4-inch tape. But at least the tracks were decent!

I soon defaulted on my meager $1,200 student loan and by the time it was finally paid off (20 years later) there were fees and penalties and all sorts of stuff that combined to make it an $8,000 student loan. So it goes.

I did learn a lot and can get a decent result recording my own music these days. I had to teach myself all about recording in the digital era, but a lot of what I learned still applies.

You can not only hear the results of my high-flown technical training, but through the miracle of digital video you can even see me in the act! I have  a bunch of such stuff posted on our Patreon page here:

https://www.patreon.com/themerryjaynz

Want to buy our most recent CD? GOOD!!! That is right here:

https://themerryjaynz.com/?product=love-one-another-2017-cd

Cheers till next time!

 

Love,

Tom and Susan

Some songs are the result of a story.

The new song in production right now, Pretzel Blues, is one of them. But in this case the song and the story have almost nothing to do with each other.

The song was written in the immediate aftermath of a highly surreal event in which a pretzel figured prominently. If I didn’t live this experience, I would be unconvinced that it was not all just a dream sequence.

Also, the story features my old, great friend from Brooklyn who died way too young, Bob. There are so many stories about Bob, that when I start a Bob story, the kids say, “Wait, which Bob? You mean Dead Bob?”. So now when I tell a Bob story, he is always Dead Bob. It may seem morbid, but it is so totally Bob. You had to know the guy…but I digress.

Dead Bob had narrowly escaped death some time around 1989 or 1990. That was a car wreck and not his fault at all. Nobody who saw the wreckage could believe that both he and the passenger (Rob, and not dead, by the way) walked away uninjured. The car was a Mercury Cougar and was bought for him by his parents.

Since his teens he’d been driving a series of giant American luxury cars that he either got from his parents or which they had bought for him. One was a Lincoln Continental and I recall being in it with at least four other kids as Bob drove it the wrong way up an exit ramp from the FDR Drive in NYC. That’s just one Dead Bob car story…but again, I digress.

Of course Bob’s parents were going to get him another car. That was a given. But this time it took longer and they told him it had to be a used car and he had to find it and do the transaction himself. So, Bob started looking for a nice used Cadillac. In our own neighborhood, but even more so, the adjacent neighborhood of Bensonhurst, it seemed almost half of all vehicles were Cadillacs so it wouldn’t be too hard to find one.

Bob quickly found the perfect Cadillac listed for sale in the paper and, predictably, it was in Bensonhurst. That made Dead Bob’s mission a whole lot riskier, but you’d need to know a little about Bensonhurst to understand why.

I studied the Italian language intensively in high school, and lived in an area of Brooklyn that had a very high concentration of Italian-Americans. I grew to really appreciate and then love the culture and the people. And, OMG, the FOOD! So, hey, I love Italians. But it is not untrue that, during a period of time in NYC, there were certain Italian families with great organizational skills, ethnic cohesiveness and, unheard-of loyalty and criminal intent. They were known by many names, but spoken of in hushed tones – especially in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. See, our neighborhood was where all the way-up-there crime family bosses lived. Bensonhurst was where the mid-level and more common street-level wiseguys lived.

As regards ethnic cohesiveness, you didn’t have to be black or Puerto Rican to get chased out of Bensonhurst by a bat-wielding mob. You just had to look non-Italian. It didn’t help that ever since the movie Saturday Night Fever (John Travolta) came out, all the Bensonhurst guys wore what amounted to the same “uniform” (Pumas, designer jeans, velour v-neck short sleeve shirt and whatever this thing is):

Well, neither Bob nor I wore “the uniform” and although Bob was much closer to a Bensonhurst guy at first glance, even he wouldn’t escape immediate suspicion of being non-Italian on closer inspection. As for me, I was an out-and-out hippie. So, why Bob called me to support him on this highly dangerous mission behind enemy lines I will never know.

Ordinarily a trip to Bensonhurst came with a reasonable expectation of survival. But that was when you went in a car: get in, get out, get the hell back to Bay Ridge, where hippies could roam free.

Of course Dead Bob knew all the angles, so his plan was to take the bus to right near where the car was, then call car service for a fast ride back after checking out the Cadillac. That way we wouldn’t have to spend all that time exposed while waiting for a bus back out. Car service could take five or ten minutes,, but the bus…that was anybody’s guess.

There were good indicators at first. The bus left us off at the corner of the street we needed and the way the street numbers ran, we both knew there was only a walk of half a block or less to get to The Cadillac. And there was a pay phone right on the corner, too…the better for calling car service fast when the time was at hand.

Oh…right…here’s what a pay phone used to look like:

But then Bob, perhaps wisely, realized that I should probably not join him in these Cadillac negotiations since I looked like such a hippie. So we agreed, perhaps unwisely, that I would stay near the payphone and wait for him. We bravely convinced ourselves that nobody would mess with me right there on the corner out in the open. Probably. So, I knew I was going to die that day.

Off Bob goes to check out the Cadillac and I just stand there by the phone trying to be invisible. Knowing situational awareness is key in this kind of circumstance, I surveyed the streetscape for potential threats. It wasn’t a busy street, but there was indeed one very obvious potential trouble source about a hundred feet down the avenue. It was one of hundreds of Bensonhurst “social cIubs” or “soccer clubs”.

These are small storefront private clubs whose members are all Italian and affiliated in some way with the same crime “Family” or branch of a Family. These “clubs” don’t attract a lot of attention…it is in their best interests to stay low-key. But there are tell-tale signs that serve as irrefutable evidence that you are seeing what you think you are seeing. I was in the know due to having spent a few years working for an Italian home improvements contractor. His “real” job was running a roulette wheel in a Family gambling operation…probably in one of these “social clubs”. There was always a lawn chair or two outside on the sidewalk. And there was always a wiseguy or two in the chairs keeping an eye out.

At the moment, my temporarily nearby social club had two spaghetti-stained, wife-beater-t-shirt-wearing wiseguys keeping an eye out. And they were keeping their eye out for me. As in staring. At me. I decided I would pretend to be making a phone call in order to look more inconspicuous. So there I was talking to myself with a payphone up to my face in an attempt to preserve my very life. Of course I realized right away that I was running the risk of having them think I was calling the cops or a rival Family. But I stuck with my strategy. Now was no time to panic.

Then I saw The Kid.

The Kid was a little boy about 7 years old. As kids that age will do, he came out of the social club and just kind of ambled aimlessly around the sidewalk in his own little world. He had one of those big, soft, really salty New York pretzels, but he wasn’t eating it. I was praying internally “Please kid, don’t come over here, stay away, don’t even look at me…”

 

The Kid and his pretzel (as approximated in the above photo) aimlessly ambled closer and closer to me. Admittedly, I could see that I was an anomaly in his daily life. A hippie! Something different, unusual. Something deserving closer inspection, something irresistible to his youthful curiosity. I believe it was the fake phone call that kept him from talking to me.

Finally, Dead Bob made it back. I quickly said goodbye to myself and ended the fake phone call so Bob could call car service. Bob asked who I had been talking to and I told him, “Nobody, I was faking a phone call so maybe those two wiseguys and their kid wouldn’t talk to me”. Naturally, this caused Bob to look right at The Kid. Right at him! I knew this would serve as a gilded invitation for this kid, who kept his curiosity pretty much in check for the whole duration of my fake phone call.

The Kid walks right up to Dead Bob, holds up his pretzel and says, “Pet my pretzel!”.

What the hell does one say to that? Bob and I look at each other and we’d have been laughing if we hadn’t both noticed the wiseguys. Formerly just staring, now there was Action! They were really leaning into the stare too…in the way one does just before getting up out of their sidewalk lawn chair.

The Kid repeats himself…and there is no mistaking that he wasn’t delivering a friendly invitation to pet the pretzel, but rather a command. The Kid sounded like he was used to getting what he demanded. Of course he was louder the second time. “We’re gonna die,” thought Bob and I in tight harmony.

The Kid had been primarily addressing himself to Bob, and so after a few very tense moments, Bob finally stammers something like, “Get outta here, kid…I’m not touching your pretzel…please just go away…” But this just got the kid agitated

He began getting louder and repeating “Pet My Pretzel” until it was a sort of Lord of the Flies War Chant. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he started actually kicking Bob in the shin in time with his yelling. Of course now, the taller, skinnier, younger of the two wiseguys up the street stands up and starts to approach. “Dead. We. Are. Dead. Here it comes…..”

“Vinnie! Geddohhva-heeeeah!” (<translation: Vinnie, get over here!>). “Leave dem guys alone, you don’t know doze guys!”

Just another kick in the shins or two and The Kid and his un-petted pretzel dutifully but slowly ambled back into the social club. Car service showed up and Dead Bob and I got out with our lives after all.

We probably laughed for an hour about “Pet My Pretzel!!” and it was – and remains to this day – truly the most bizarre and surreal thing ever. Oh, and Bob’s parents did wind up buying that very Cadillac for him, so all told, it was MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED.

Of course I thought I should write a song about it, but at the time all I could muster was a song with a vague pretzel reference. It wound up leaning more toward scathing socio-economic and political commentary, as is what appears to be the default result whenever I sit down to invent a song.

Well, now I’m having ideas about ways to work the actual story in. Its gonna take some deep-mad-scientist-level experimentation, but production has begun. One idea is the kind of brief, deep-voiced story-telling interval you’d hear in an Elvis song or an old country tear-jerker. Another idea might even approach something like a rap…rhymes and all. Imagine that: rap in a Merry Jaynz original song! We’ll see where it goes.

NOW is the time to consider whether you want to attend the long, grisly, painful birth process because it will become the next series of installments in “The Making Of…” series on our Patreon page. We already posted a Making of Long Been Sleeping as well as one for First Funk before that. We hope you’ll at least check out Patreon and see what its about. We made a helpful video for just that purpose!

Helpful Video!

We hope you enjoyed that little tale, and as always, we love it when you guys get in touch. Feel free to reply, ask us anything, speak your minds!

Peace and Love,

-Tom and Susan

Where were we?

Oh yeah…gear up to 1999.

2000 and Beyond

Guitars

Well, the 1973 Strat was sold in 2004 in Los Angeles, but it was replaced in 2008-ish with another Strat. This one I took a big chance on. I ignored all my own advice and bought it on EBay on sight and specs alone. Luckily it turned out to be a real tone monster and extremely playable.

The finish on the body and the back of the neck was exquisite…but it turns out it was the result of a wood-grain design imprinted on a plastic film that was then stuck to the guitar. It was a thing Japanese Fenders were doing for a while in the 90s called “Foto-Flame”. There is an urban myth about the Japanese designer who made the wood grain design. They say he was a prankster type and that he designed the likeness of the McDonalds Hamburglar into the woodgrain design intended for the back of the neck. My guitar has it…you be the judge:

It recurs in a repeating pattern 3 times down the neck. I say it IS the Hamburglar and that is also now this Strat’s “official” name.

More recently I finally upgraded my acoustic guitar – keeping the trusty Ibanez as a backup. I got a new Martin! Everything they say about Martin guitars is true….

Oh, and my continuing amazement at the slide guitar stylings of Derek Trucks prompted me to get a used Gibson SG. I have since set it up for slide guitar (raised the action, put fatter strings on it). It was my first Gibson instrument since I sold my first bass in North Carolina in 1983!

Aaaaaand finally….the Tele! I was actually looking for a 3-pickup Tele when I found my Strat on Ebay. Susan picked the color on this one and I couldn’t be more in love with the tones it brings!

 

Basses

We still have the Fender P-Bass Lyte, but we thought we’d try a little something in the acoustic arena. I’ve tried a lot of acoustic bass guitars and I haven’t liked the tone on any of them, amplified or not. BUT!!! One time a musician friend stayed with us while on tour and passing through Knoxville and their bass player had this really cool bass ukulele and we got to try it out. It was unbelievable!

So, we got one and when plugged into an amp it sounds exactly like an upright bass. I have to say, though, it takes some getting used to. The frets are close together and the strings are rubbery. It is all worth it for the tone, though.

There it is placed up against the Martin for size reference. It appears on one recording so far and it is impressive as all get-out in my own humble opinion! Here it is:

Set Me Free by RunningWolf1989

Random other gear…

Since 2000 I’ve picked up a free mandolin and 7 harmonicas, and all that was necessary to enter the digital recording domain. But, to me, the best equipment addition in this era is the Fender Blues Junior guitar amp.

For the un-initiated, it is a “tube” amp…old-school electronics rather than solid-state components like transistors. Surprisingly loud and surprisingly clear, but with a natural overdrive that is to die for. Then for $25 I got a modification kit for it and did the work myself. Add one high-quality hemp cone speaker and I’ve got theee finest small amp in the world!

I also upgraded my homemade wooden pedal board, going pro and even getting a super-quiet power distributor and filter.

I thought a picture of the old, wooden pedal board was a better choice. Just look at that poor thing! literally half of my pedals didn’t fit on it at all. I still play all the same pedals, except the blue one ( a compressor) has since been replaced with a different blue one (a graphic EQ).

When we got the ukulele bass, we got it it’s very own amp…a tiny micro-cube amp that can run on batteries if need be. We thought in an acoustic setting, that would be the most compatible amp and it really sounds great. But now I’ve started testing it out as a studio amp for guitars and it is impressive. I get a way better sound from using a mic on the Blues Junior amp, but we have the kind of studio in which an open microphone for recording is asking for trouble. I sometimes wind up going “direct” just to eliminate noise and this micro cube amp has the best effects ever…ones I don’t have on my pedal board.

I think that’s just about it.

I’ll think up something way less boring and super-groovy for next time. In the meanwhile, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

-Tom

Let’s face it, the gear is an omni-present part of a musician’s life.

You have to be part-technician to survive.

There is no way I can give an accurate chronological list of all the gear I’ve ever owned, used or tried. But the more I think about it, it’s a matter of separating various eras, broken down by guitar or bass. Amps and effects are important too.

Now if you say “If you remember the late 70s and early 80s, you weren’t there,” I’ll say, I was in the 60s in the late 70s and the early 80s aaannnnd… ummm, were you saying something?

So, here’s how we’ll do this: by decade, then by guitar and bass. Then, eventually by live sound gear and recording gear. You gear heads need to reply with any questions or comments…

The 1970s

Guitars

I didn’t own a guitar until 1979. I had been loaned a guitar in about 1976, but I removed the skinniest two strings so I could practice bass on it. Then I had to give it back.

What I did wind up with was a Korean Epiphone acoustic. It had a tobacco sunburst and a bolt-on neck with a rosewood fingerboard. A tiny “parlour” guitar body, but a sweet, sweet neck. I don’t know, but I guess it was a mid- 70s model. Low on the price-range spectrum. The one in the picture is a 77 model.

I always was told it had peculiar intonation. I was thrilled to get it, because the dude I always played bass for also played an Epiphone acoustic. Eventually, we’d go out and play acoustic guitars almost every night. While still in the 70s I unbolted the neck and folded two jokers from a card deck in half. I put them in the neck-hole as shims and bolted the neck back on. This actually improved the play-ability and intonation.

Well, my Epiphone was purchased for $100, sold for $100 twice, bought back for $80 the first time, and for $60 the second time. It was sent, sans-case, down a flight of stairs by an irate and unstable partner.

It was used a a serving platter for lines of coke – with the guitar neck as the handle – in a stolen white convertible from Queens while living the “rock star life” with some similarly low-brow and oblivious fellows in Brooklyn.

This guitar later got a cheap Dean Markley wedge-it-in-your-sound-hole pickup, so I could play through P. A. systems when I started playing at open mics in Las Vegas. It was my only solo acoustic gig axe until the mid-90s.

I still have it – it is barely playable because the frets are so worn out, but every now and then I experiment with weird slide guitar tunings with it.

As far as electric guitars go, I only touched one in the 70s – to speak of. My guitar buddy (the one I always played bass for) introduced me to a lot of music people. I could actually play bass, so I was useful. One of these mutual friends had an Ovation solid-body electric guitar. I was already over the moon for Ovation acoustic guitars, but when he brought this axe out – and an early battery-powered amp, I was transfixed.

I probably played it for 45 minutes. All the really hard-to-play cheap tricks I’d managed to learn on acoustic guitar to that point were so easy and sounded SO much better on that electric! Also, we were in an alcove in a big schoolyard, so the slap-back echo effect was amazing too. I was years from owning one (so I thought), but I knew I had to get an electric guitar.

Basses

I got my first bass in 1976. I went and had a custom-made leather guitar strap made for it right away. I had the design in mind already and my hippie-infested neighborhood had a good number of custom leather shops on the main avenue.

It was a Gibson! A hollow-body EB-2 model – also a tobacco sunburst with a rosewood neck. It was similar to pictures I’d seen of the bass played by the great Jack Casady (of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) in some album covers. Actually it was a dog and never stayed in tune.

While still in the 70s I bravely replaced the tuners and the bridge myself. I felt qualified because I played the damn thing twelve hours a day in my angsty, neurotic teen years. The operations were successful and it carried me into some professional situations and into the 80s.

I played this bass first through an old Kustom combo bass amp with one 15-inch speaker. It was so old, it still had upholstered fake leather padding all around it! Before the decade was out I upgraded to an Acoustic amp (also a 15-inch speaker) which was also a combo amp, but this one had a reflex bin.

The 1980s

Guitars

In the 80s, my guitar situation really began to take off. I was still most likely to get gigs as a bass player, but this was the decade where I started getting guitar gigs.

Acoustically, the whole 80s was all about my little old, beat-up Epiphone. Except for March of 1982. The Epi was in Brooklyn in my ex-girlfriend’s closet and I was in Denver in Air Force tech school. I broke down a spent $100 on a cheap Ovation copy at the base exchange. I played it for about 6 months until I changed bases and got the Epi back from Brooklyn. It sucked!!! But I wrote a few tunes on it.

Otherwise, it was a great decade for Fender electric guitars. Once I left the Denver area and got to my real permanent base in North Carolina, I immediately bought a used Fender Bullet. At the time, they were an industry joke, a beginner-level abomination.

All anybody wanted back then was a Charvel or a Jackson or a B. C. Rich. Heavy metal shredder axes.  But today, that early 80s Bullet would be worth 5 times the $200 I paid, or more. When I picked it up I also shelled out for an old, small, used Fender amp. I paid maybe another $75 for the amp. The amp turned out to be a pre-CBS Princeton Reverb. Silver-face.

It was just barely loud enough to be heard over drums when set to full volume. But then it was cranked and sounded outrageously awesome!

It was only a matter of weeks until I traded in the Bullet and some cash on a used Fender Telecaster. Again, a rosewood neck, but with a sea-foam green body I didn’t like. I bought it for the double-stack hot rail pickup in the bridge position. Close to this but this one doesn’t have the hot pickup.

Soon, I traded this sweet Tele and the amp (either of which would quadruple in value by 2000) for what turned out to be a used 1973 Fender Strat. They said it was a 1968 Strat, I didn’t know… I guess I got the Strat for a total of $400. In 2004 I sold it for $1400 even after messing up two of its three original pickups.

All throughout the 80s I played that Strat through my Acoustic 15-inch bass amp, although I picked up a great Vesta Fire spring reverb unit for it. So my guitar rig, such as it was, was both loud and proud.

Basses

I had my Gibson bass into 1983, even when I was in the Air Force in North Carolina. I guitarist buddy and his friend and I went all the way to Brooklyn in a little Datsun 4-seater hatchback and picked it up as well as my bass amp (large). I made the 8-hour drive back in the hatch area curled up around the amp and was contorted beyond recognition, but we made it.

I soon traded the Gibson and some cash for a used Fender Precision bass – a vast upgrade! That bass was with me throughout the 80s and it was the source of most of my professional musical engagement during that decade. It even went on tour with me in about 1986!

I did my touring and travelling with a small folk band with kids (none were mine at that point), so to conserve space, I built a more compact cabinet for the speaker and another just or the amp head. Not knowing any better, I broke every speaker cabinet rule ever conceived, but the result was said to make my Fender sound almost exactly like a big stand-up acoustic bass.

Pedals and Such

For me the 80s were a technically simple decade, but I did begin recording in about 1987.

I used only a tuner with my bass, but the Strat was almost always going through an overdrive pedal. I didn’t really dig full-on distortion – I was trying to distance myself from the “shredding” guitarists of the day. I had found a used Pearl overdrive pedal and I’ve never seen another one before or since (except sleuthing around on ebay to see what it might be worth now).

I know I had a delay pedal for a while, as well as a flanger and a compressor. These I usually used sparsely and never really at the same time. They were all donated to me by, of all people, an in-demand NYC bagpiper, who had experimented with them while doing the Broadway production of Brigadoon.

The real major breakthrough of the 80s was the advent of cassette multi-track recording. A musician could now produce music at home. Unfortunately, the results sounded like home recordings. As always, I went for used gear: I got a deal from a friend on a Fostex X-15!!!

A cassette always had an A side and a B side, but in cassette multi-track recording, you used the A side only and got 4 mono tracks instead of 2 tracks on A (left and right) and two tracks on B. This meant you could flip the tape and see what your tune sounded like backwards! I recorded answering machine message in 4 part harmony and used it backwards. It was generally not well-received…

I produced dozens of tracks on this thing, but eventually, the transport functions quit on it. I opened it right up and saw that a little drive belt had broken. I replaced it with a similarly sized common rubber band and got another few dozen tunes recorded!.

1990s

Guitars

Well, I stuck with my Strat all through the 90s, despite a sale and buy-back and another near-sale. But I finally upgraded my acoustic guitar situation because I needed a better way to play through P. A. systems…and I needed a better guitar in general. I was going for used, of course.

This time I had a $500 budget, so I went to the guitar store and asked to play every used acoustic in my price range. I knew what the “right” brands were supposed to be and I knew a bit about some models of some other brands, but I was going for (price, of course) sound and feel. The winner turned out to be a new (my first new guitar purchase) Ibanez with a built-in Fishman pickup system. It sounded great right away and no longer did sound-people give me the stink eye!

I still have that bad boy!

Basses

The 90s started out as a bad decade for the bass guitar. I spent over 3 years utterly bass-less!! Inconceivable, but true. I had my 69 Strat (that I had been offered upwards of $2000 for already) and my Fender Precision bass in their cases in a closet. I lived in a rather fluid roommate situation at the time, and whoever it was, chose the bass instead of the Strat. The guitar was really beat-up looking and the bass was in mint condition – that was probably the rationale. If they sold the bass, they probably only got between $250 and $400 for it.

Well, I eventually replaced my bass three years later – initially with the first one I could afford – which was not anywhere near the quality I was used to with my Fender. But in very short order I upgraded to a Fender P-Bass Lyte.

I had done the same with my bass purchase as I had with my acoustic guitar purchase, except it HAD to be a Fender Precision in my price range. They let me play 6 or 7 basses and I wasn’t thrilled with any of them. Then they remembered “the one in the back” and brought it out. When I saw it I almost had a heart attack!

I spent a lot of time in the 70s and 80s on 46th street in NYC. Between 6th and 7th avenues there was just a crazy number of music stores, and even some guitars-only stores. I was drawn like a moth to a flame again and again to these stores and remember salivating at one particular bass I saw in the window of Alex Music. It was my personal Holy Grail. A Fender Precision Bass with a small body, no pickguard, rosewood neck, tobacco sunburst and gold hardware. I never even approached the store about trying it out…it was that out of reach.

Well, here it was ten or fifteen years later on a silver platter!

I still have that as well, although I gave it to Susan when I “retired” from bass to focus on guitar and our little combo we have going on.

Other Gear

In 1991 I left Brooklyn for Las Vegas on a presumably permanent basis, and was flying (one-way) so I could only take what I could carry. Naturally, my big ol’ amp was going to have to go to a new home. So, I gave it to a bass player friend of mine and only took the acoustic, the Strat (these two duct-taped together) and the Precision bass. Yes, three axes and all the clothes I owned plus a ditty bag full of cables and pedals. I could barely walk!

There was no security in airports back then. Not like now, but I was a spectacle and the ditty bag was inspected by the gate agent as I was boarding. I also had a sack and a pipe in my denim jacket pocket, but finding that hardly raised an eyebrow. Nevertheless, the rats nest of cables and small metal boxes in my ditty bag had the gate agent going to the cockpit to get the captain. Apparently, it might be a bomb and only an airline pilot could make the all-important correct determination. He looked over the ditty bag himself. I was finally cleared and allowed to board.

Well, I had no amp now, but in the course of the 90s I had brief dalliances with tube amplification and other solid-state under-powered wanna-be amps. I can’t even remember what I was playing electric guitar through after we moved to Memphis. But I was playing a LOT!

By he time we left Memphis for the Cincinnati area, I was in possession of enough odds and ends so that I was able to jury-rig together goofy combinations of equipment that would serve as a P.A. system I could sing through.This not anything I could go out and play gigs with, though…

I did upgrade my cassette multi-track recording situation, though. I got hold of a used Tascam PortaStudio 414 MkII.

I made a ton of recordings with this thing – and for a while I had the use of a keyboard that had some decent drum patches on it as well as some good organ sounds. The results were still nowhere near pro-level, but it was better!

Damn, folks…it turns out that I am indeed covering almost every stupid bit of equipment ever to grace my musical arsenal. This newsletter is getting a bit long-winded. So I guess I’l cover The New Millennium next week. A bit of a cliff-hanger for you tech heads, but its how it must be.

Hey does anyone want to hear some samples of stuff that I recorded from the mid-eighties through 1999? I have some stuff!

Just reply and It shall be made to happen!

The best way to keep current with what is getting produced right now is to cruise our Patreon channel.

In fact, starting at one dollar a month you will receive notifications about new posts, and exclusive access to patron-only posts. Because you will be one. A patron!

Click here to check it out and see what’s already posted for the public:

https://www.patreon.com/themerryjaynz

Peace and Love to ya!

 

-Tom and Susan

It was an off night in Cincinnati..a weeknight. But I was going out anyway.

I had made plans to visit a local bar to see a really successful solo acoustic guy play – because he was booked everywhere all the time and I wanted to see what was up.

So, out I went. I got there early, got a table, had a beer. And I saw why this particular act was so popular right away.

At each table and all along the bar, this guy had put a sheet of paper and a pencil. The sheet of paper was filled with a list of about 200 songs, by artist.Surely they corresponded to the 3-inch binder on the music stand near the mic on stage. Brilliant! I would do it if I had the vocal chops to handle that diversity of styles. Alas…

So, mystery solved, I perused the list. I was delighted to find two Grateful Dead songs, so I picked one and got it in his set. Then he starts playing his set and he comes around to the OTHER Grateful Dead song from the list.

Hmmmmm…another mystery: who’s the other Deadhead in the room?

Well, he was pretty easy to spot. Long hair, chair-boogeying to the Dead tune. Soon we were drinking together and commiserating the loss of Jerry Garcia (a still-raw wound after 5 years) and getting along great.

Amid his tales of being a tour kid and having no direction anymore he reveals that he lives with his girlfriend, he has no job and he’s out of beer money now. So, he invites me over to his girlfriend’s apartment for a beer or two and maybe a smoke.

It wasn’t far from the bar – which wan’t far from my place. We were practically neighbors. Along the way it comes out that his girlfriend is a flight attendant and she’s out of town more often than not. He is relied on to take care of apartment stuff in her absence and she would leave him money to do so when needed. So he drank up all that money, again, and  she’s coming home tonight. I am told she will probably be there when we get there, so I’ll get to meet her.

Now, I’m no genius but at this point I figured out that my new pal was hoping to use me as a buffer against the gale-force shit-storm he was sure to walk into at home. I was totally down to see what would happen with that, so up we went.

She was so, so, so nice. To me. It was daggers for my buddy, though. She must have just gotten home…it seemed she was still in work mode. I was served a drink and made to feel at home.

Then, she politely told me that she would be taking my host for a private talk in the other room, and to please forgive leaving me alone like that, but it was something that just had to be talked out. I said it was no problem. My host on the other hand just had his buffer strategy destroyed.

Before he went in the other room with his lady, he reminded me that I mentioned playing harmonica while we were drinking at the bar. He quickly produced a harmonica and invited me to play it – really loud. I was catching on…I was going to drown out the negative vibes of their argument or fight or whatever with harmonica music.

Unfortunately, I had to tell him that I don’t play other people’s harmonicas. I was well-aware of all the stuff that gets up inside of them, sooooo.. ummm.. no.

Then, he had the idea that he could rapidly and effectively disinfect said harmonica with isopropyl alcohol. I was as eager as he was to be spared the sounds of fury he was about to withstand just a room away. And it was sweet that this couple had to have it out and NOW, but were so worried about my experience as a guest in their space. So I agreed to this plan.

He soaked the harmonica in alcohol and shook it out and handed it over saying, “Here, brother. I want you to wail, load and proud.” Then, in the other room he went.

Right around the same time the screaming started, I drew in my first loud, proud, wailing note on this harp. A real lung-buster…but an inhale rather than an exhale. That’s how you play blues harp, mostly…draw-in notes.

And suddenly my lungs felt like they had shrunk to the size of raisins. Flashing lights and alarm sirens started, dizziness and a feeling of upside-down, inside out followed. The alcohol was still busy evaporating when I sucked in that breath through those Hohner reeds. I was alone in the room and fighting to stay on my feet. I was wondering if I was going to die, and fairly amused at the police report that would result.

On the periphery of my awareness was the sound of the loud argument. It was mostly her yelling at him. But I was now aware that he was doing the yelling.

“Play!! PLAYYY!!! PLAY LOUDER!!!!”.

He was yelling at ME. I wasn’t doing my part to keep their fight from making me uncomfortable as their honored guest.

Well, I couldn’t breathe enough to even put a sentence together, but I hurled a few wheezy breathless “OK”s toward the door. Then I started trying to blow out through the harmonica – without breathing in through that lung-searing, death-dealing instrument from hell. It is totally counter-intuitive to not breathe in through a harmonica when one plays blues harp, by the way.

I managed to finally raise up enough of a ruckus on the harp just blowing out, and he stopped yelling at me and started back getting yelled at again. It was only a few minutes more and they came out.

“I thought you said you could play harmonica”, says he.

So I told him about the alcohol vapors and thinking I was going to die, and only playing just by blowing out and how that was all wrong for blues harp. He asked to see the harp, so I gave it to him. He smelled it, played it a little. “Seems fine” says he.

Sure enough, all the alcohol had evaporated by now and i couldn’t even smell a trace. I offered to play again, for real this time, but the need was no longer present and I was soon on my way. Oh, and I lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of tales, there’s one being told on Patreon right now. More behind-the-scenes recording video is up and a second tune is well on its way to being finished. I would invite you to jump on over to Patreon right now to check it out, but you can’t!

It’s true…these last two or three posts have been for patrons only. Of course there is a lot of public stuff up there to view, and there will be more in the future.

So, instead I must invite you over to our Patreon channel to become a patron of The Merry Jaynz for as little as a dollar a month. Then you can view all the patron-only stuff you want!

Thanks for hanging with us and we hope everybody got their 2018 calendars!

Peace and Love,

Tom and Susan

We’ve raised kids. We’ve seen children’s books…

…we’ve spent our fair share of time in the kid’s section of Barnes and Nobles or Borders or Books-a-Million with a toddler or two.

So, when I first saw this slideshow video that was going around Facebook I was rolling on the floor laughing. It was just photos of pages from kid’s books, but really bizarre ones. Also, out of context, they seemed even more scandalous. I knew I had to write a song about it.And so I did.

I totally stole the stolen images of the kids books’ pages.and made my own slide show to go along with the resulting recording. It was all done, music and video, in two days.

I was sent the original slide show on Facebook from a friend of ours, and immediately replied to her that I was going to make a music video. Before the weekend was out, I sent her this:

Touch the Cow – THE VIDEO!!

I haven’t released the song because it’s lyrics are all copyrighted material from a bunch of different children’s book authors. But the music, of course is original.

Not every project is life-or-death, super-serious. I love creating, period! The rewards are phenomenal – and when other folks tell us they like it that just blows our minds. So here’s this from us to you. Cheers!

Peace and Love,

Tom and Susan

In the late 1980s, a friend and I started an original rock band and tried plying our trade in the Big Apple, our home town.

New York being a music industry town, competition among original bands was fierce and paying gigs were few.

 

Our group, The Pluto Gang (a Kurt Vonnegut reference), had managed to get into a particular seedy Brooklyn club a few times. It was well-known for having at least 5 original bands on stage every night. They were really about the only accessible place for original indie rock that we knew of at the time. The beer was cheap, but nobody ever got paid.

We talked our way into a few other places here and there, but we were watching local cover bands get all kinds of bookings right in our own neighborhood – for good money, too. But we didn’t want to do covers.

So, when we heard about a chance to play in a huge new club right near Times Square on a Saturday night, we had to look into it, right?

It turned out that this club was going to put 6 bands on stage for 40 minutes each, no sound check. And the compensation was explained like this: the band buys 25 tickets to the show for $5 each and sells them to their friends and fans for $8 each. Simple! We stood to make $75! Today, this is what’s known as “pay-to-play”, but it was new to us at the time.

Well, if memory serves we sold exactly zero tickets. We brought three or four people. Girlfriends, and such. Nobody we could actually charge for a ticket. But we were hoping to gain some new fans at this giant place. It was going to be a huge packed room full of rock fans, after all! Gotta love that, right? We had convinced ourselves it was worth the $125 investment.

I played bass in this band and the two guitarists and I shared songwriting and singing duties pretty equally. The lead guitarist was my long-time neighborhood partner in crime – I pretty much learned guitar from him and we had played what seemed like thousands of hours together in Brooklyn bars, parks, schoolyards, basements and studios. He paid his bills working for the US Postal Service.

Out rhythm player was definitely the best singer – and the songs he brought to the table were also the most commercially viable. He was either a pre-med student or some post-graduate species. His job was literally working in a lab that studied brains. Just brains…outside of heads.

We had a rotating cast of drummers. I forget which one we had at this Times Square gig, but it was probably one of two guys. The young drummer who was really shy and always played wearing giant headphones for ear protection, or the guy who’s dad was the lawyer who represented John Lennon in his U. S. deportation case.

The young guy wound up becoming a much-sought-after NYC jazz drummer and I think he did sessions for Joe Jackson at some point.

The other guy only knew just one drum roll, but he was cooler to hang out with. He had met Lennon, of course, because of his dad. So one day in the late 70s while he was in Central Park smoking weed with some similarly disaffected class-skipping high school chums, up walks John Lennon who says with a wink, “Eh, mate…does your dad know you’re smoking that stuff?”. This, of course, made our drummer an instant high-school celebrity.

Whichever drummer it was, we played pretty well at The Big Show on Time Square, despite there being no sound check. Our hopes of gaining new fans, however, were dashed by the band that played before us.

They emptied that formerly full room. Even our girlfriends were mad at us for having to be there during that torturous set. That was when we realized the promoters were discerning about only one thing: that the bands all paid the $125. I have to assume they never listened to any bands’ demo tapes (yes, this was back in the days of cassettes). There were thousands of aspiring NYC bands that would pass through that club at $125 each. At 6 bands a night, the promoters were guaranteed to make $750. The bar probably did OK too. This is pay-for-play.

Well that band broke up soon after that. The rhythm guitarist’s job and education were demanding more of his time, and I kept firing drummers. Finally I fired myself!

Speaking of drummers, our own The Merry Jaynz drummer Myron just became the proud pappy of a new-to-him vintage (like mid/late 60s) set of Rogers drums. He’s beside himself with drum set love!

These sparly blue vintage drums just had their maiden voyage with Myron on the throne…and at an outdoor show in one of our newest and most favorite places to play. We got a bunch of it on video, too and we posted one tune so far that’s available to all the public. We’ll probably post another one or two soon. Here’s the link:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/live-stuff-in-15561015

It so happens that every new patron on Patreon inches us closer to our promised Filthy Pirate Song! Yes, if you hadn’t heard yet, I will learn and perform a live video broadcast of a Filthy Pirate Song when we reach 12 patrons or $50 in total monthly pledges. Check it out, become a patron!

Peace,

-Tom

For a year or so after we started the band,
we had older teens at home eager to earn a
buck for watching the “little kids”….

…then the elders aged out and left home.

 

Thereafter, when we had gigs we either had to pay more expensive
outside babysitters (when the gig was in a 21 and over bar or club),
or pack the kids up along with the equipment and bring them with
us.

As time marched on, the bars and clubs were out of the picture for a
number of reasons (pitiful compensation, smoke-filled interiors and
expensive babysitters…).

There were a few gigs in places that served beer – but since they
were also restaurants, kids were allowed. The kids were into it for the
sodas and snacks, not so much for the show. But when we were
actually on stage, they’d just keep ordering more stuff – correctly
assuming we weren’t going to stop the show to deal with it. We lost
money at that one.

Then there was the time the kids asked us if they could sell our CDs
for us. It turns out that small, cute entrepreneurial CD-selling
children do a phenomenal business…then spend all the proceeds on
sodas and snacks while we are onstage! We lost money at that one,
too.

We actually got an audition gig at a coffee shop/frozen yogurt
business right nearby home. There was no pay involved but the band
members could have a coffee of any type. At that show it was just
Susan and I playing – and our loop pedal “Sparky” handling all drum
duties.

The kids were very eager to attend – because frozen yogurt. The
treats for the kids weren’t complimentary like our coffee, by the way.
And the big draw for the frozen yogurt was really the endless
assortment of toppings. We told the kids we’d buy them each one
frozen yogurt, but they wisely made up for that by adding mountains
of toppings. It turns out these frozen yogurts are sold by weight – like
at the supermarket salad bar. We definitely lost money on that one.

As the kids got older and as the novelty of going to their parents’
gigs gradually wore off, we faced the ultimate in diminishing returns:
the bored and angry kid at the gig. This actually leads to impromptu
unrehearsed musical adventure! We sometimes found ourselves in
the middle of a song, suddenly “jamming” with a kid who just
decided to walk up on stage and a) ask Momma for money for snacks
and sodas – again, b) complain to Momma of a headache, ear ache,
belly ache, sadness or their sister’s behavior, c) ask when we are
going to be done – again or d) demand to go home right now. I do
have plans for adding kids to the ensemble…but those plans include
the actual playing of music.

So, anyway, we’re done with bars and clubs and the kids are over
coming with us unless there is some other irresistible draw for them,
so we just factor in babysitting expenses as a cost of doing business.
We’ve had some amazing shows in this post-bar, non-kid-ular era.
Mostly outdoors and private. But they’ve all been relatively
predictable, they’ve all lacked that randomity factor that gigging with
kids provides so well.

These days, in order to keep our performance chops sharp and also
provide you with that live rock and roll vibe, we want to do more live
broadcasts. We have the drums set up in our bedroom (still) and
could put on a 20 or 30-minute show at almost a moment’s notice.
We plan to run these broadcasts through Patreon using YouTube
Live. At first, we’ll open them to the general public. Eventually, we’ll
be making more of these live events Patreon members-only perks.
We would encourage you to check out our Patreon page – and also
tell us what you want to hear in a live broadcast…we reply to emails
you know!

CLICK HERE fort our Patreon link:

https://www.patreon.com/themerryjaynz

Peace!
-Tom

I never heard a real, good, filthy pirate song until July of 2013.

Filthy limericks? Yes. Written a filthy tune or two? Yes. But a real, good, filthy pirate song? Nope, not really. Not at all.

But, there I was, reunited with my on-again off-again folk music compadre of 20 years, on a 2-week camp-out at a hippie/pagan/new age/tree-hugger festival, sitting around a campfire at night while everyone BEGGED Kevin to break out his filthy pirate songs.

We were there with a full band who had never all met in person until we all arrived there near the shores of Lake Erie. We were contracted to play two shows over two weeks and we were getting handsomely compensated. Further, we had agreed to practice in public next door to the best food concession daily in exchange for dinner every evening. Also did I mention we were getting PAID??!!

It really was one of the sweetest gigs ever. First of all it was always a treat to play with Kevin, but he had outdone himself putting the band together. The drummer and singer were among the best I have ever played with on bass. The drummer was studying percussion (emphasis on jazz) in Kansas and the singer was a Berklee College of Music candidate for their Masters of Vocal Performance program – and she played a mean rhythm guitar as well. I kid you not when I say we were smokin’….

If you have read many of my past stories about my folk music exploits, you might remember that nudity was usually involved. Kevin was in every one of those scenarios – though this is the first time I’ve named him (and I have changed the name to protect the….innocent…or sump’n).

Well, surprise, surprise! The entire festival site was clothing-optional!

Usually when I say that, I can tell the listener is envisioning nothing but completely naked lingerie models and NFL quarterbacks scampering about suggestively and lasciviously from one orgy to the next. This is not the case. Not at all. My experience with public nudity really isn’t vast, but it goes way back. All I can say is that the nudity one DOES find at such events is not the kind ordinarily sought after by the lecherous and is unlikely to cause arousal in anyone. Anyway, there is an ethic among those who live that lifestyle, and newcomers are made aware of it with no exceptions. Those who think they have entered the land of easy meat are soon disavowed of that notion and quickly removed if need be.

So there we were, late at night in the woods around a campfire – about a dozen of us. Most of us had known Kevin from his days as a popular Renaissance Fair musician. I missed that whole phase of his career, but that’s where his fame as a purveyor of filthy pirate songs came from. This crowd wanted their filthy pirate songs and weren’t taking no for an answer!

There is something about the combination of folk music and absolutely blisteringly deviant sexual content that is irresistible and oddly satisfying. And Kevin had honed his delivery over the years to a fine point. If you’ve never heard one performed live before, it is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Even the seasoned may blush at first – or throughout – but you always find yourself hoping there’s another verse even filthier than the last! Or maybe that’s just me. Whatever…

So, you may be wondering what brought all this up. Glad you asked!

It was a very recent father and son moment about The World’s Filthiest Limerick. You know the one: the infamous Nantucket. Anyway, he’d heard it hinted at before, but had never heard any more than the first innocuous line – and that was from a Spongebob episode ages ago. So, we had that moment and the laughter and the blushing was epic. And then I recalled the filthy pirate songs. And that gave me a great idea!

I would like to engage those among you who are willing to enter into a contest-like arrangement with me.

I will learn, practice and perform LIVE (for any who care to attend) a real, good, filthy pirate song. Of course this may be brimming with foul language of the worst sort. Of course this may mention all the most unmentionable of body parts and sexual acts in the coarsest of terms. But it wouldn’t be a filthy pirate song if it didn’t.

There is a subtext here as well, that I might as well mention. This performance, once it becomes a part of the public record (having been broadcast over the internet) will end for all time any chance that I might someday take leave of my senses and decide to run for public office. It is a step that needs taking!

So, here’s the contest part:

If I gain twenty new Patreon patrons (currently there are 2) or a total of 50 additional dollars (there are currently 10) by the end of November IT IS ON!!!

This means that even those who don’t have the resources to do so personally can still help bring this abomination into the world by wheedling, cajoling, influencing, persuading, demanding, begging or threatening all the filthy-minded in their lives to become a patron of The Merry Jaynz.

I know, I know…if successful, this plan will raise the overall level of moral turpitude of the statistically average Merry Jaynz fan. We know it may invite scorn from the self-described “righteous” (hopefully the Westboro Baptist Church). We know we may never realize our secret dream of performing to a clothing-optional crowd at St . Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

But, hey, people forget. Just look at the last U.S. election!

You can check out our Patreon channel here:

https://www.patreon.com/themerryjaynz

When this contest helps us reach our goal, the live broadcast will be scheduled through and view-able on Patreon. Plus there is already some cool stuff up there – and some Patron-only stuff that can only be experienced by patrons. Both of them….for now!

Peace!

-Tom

Bespoke is an adjective for anything commissioned to a particular specification.

It may be altered or tailored to the customs, tastes, or usage of an individual purchaser. So says Wikipedia…

Within the first week of finishing Air Force basic training and arriving at my tech school in Denver, I got two new roommates in the barracks.

They had gone through boot camp together and more or less knew each other. So, since they were new, and since alcohol was expressly forbidden in the barracks, I got them drunk. And we all became great friends.

Then they wanted to go to the mess hall. I told them I was just going to practice on my guitar (purchase number one on day number one after boot camp). Well, one of them had been reading a Penthouse magazine article and said, “Mannnnnn….I bet you can’t turn this article into a song before we get back from dinner.”

Ha ha ha. It was done with twenty minutes to spare! It was perfect and remained a staple and an oft-requested crowdpleaser for years after.

It was a filthy song full of deviancies best not repeated in this politically correct era. But it was exactly on target.

That was my first Bespoke Song.

Sometimes folks want to give a custom-written song to someone else as a gift. Other times, a custom-written song is ordered for a specific event, like weddings, memorials, corporate or church functions. There is no end to reasons why a custom-written song might be called for.

These are called Bespoke Songs.

You may have heard one of our songs and thought to yourself, “Mannnn!!!! If I were going to get a custom tune recorded to go along with my plans for an over-the-top marriage proposal for the object of my ardour, the apple of my eye, ear, nose and throat, I would want it to sound exactly like this!”

Or you may have a song idea, but no musical ability, and you thought to yourself, “Mannnn!!!! If I were going to ever record this song idea that haunts me 24 hours a day 7 days a week like a horrifically persistent cloud of gnats, I’d want it to go something like this Merry Jaynz song Tom sent me.”

Or you are producing a major feature film, or even a homemade 3-minute YouTube video, and you know you’ll get JUST the right vibe by adding some music or even a custom-written song. And you thought, “Y’know….mannnnnnn….that Tom Smith has just the approach and touch to nail this song to the wall and make my production tower above the rest.”

AND THEN you thought, “I wonder if Tom actually has the time, resources, equipment, ability and willingness to even consider doing this custom-written song for me…maaaaaannnnnnn – he probably won’t do it…”

How could you think that!!!???

OF COURSE I WOULD!!!

I do custom-written songs. Bespoke songs.

You know what the music I put out sounds like, but you might not know that what I choose to produce and release for The Merry Jaynz is just a small slice of the overall music pie I ate way too much of (and which caused me to have an afternoon coffee which will definitely make me really “typey” at the keyboard and keep me awake all night).

Any idea you have can be developed with as much or as little up-front detail as you want or as much or as little input and influence that you want.

So, if you’ve been thinking along these lines, just reply and let me know what’s up!

Peace,

-Tom

Having once again entered the ranks of the blissfully unemployed, my thoughts turn to the notion of work and day jobs and such.

I recall a long car trip with my two oldest kids (when they were really small) where we killed two hours by me listing and summarizing every job I ever had up to that point – and I was about 40 then.

We all have to start somewhere, right? I started at age 14 with not one, but two jobs during that summer. See, I had already gotten into music and there were basses and amps and concert tickets and albums to buy.

So by night I was a dishwasher at a restaurant where I had some friends working already. By day I was a produce department go-fer at the nearby  supermarket. My best friend was hired into the produce department the day after I was. This wouldn’t be the last time that working with friends didn’t end well….

At the restaurant, they wanted me to wear whites, so I stashed my street clothes in a room near the dish washing station. I got really really behind mainly because the other dishwasher was a crashed-out 20-something speed freak. He spent the night flipping silverware at me when he could raise his head up off the table long enough. When it was time for the owners to close for the night, we found that my street clothes were now locked in the room where I’d stashed them. My apartment keys were in my regular pants, so they said I could wait for the janitor who would come at 6 AM – he’d have the keys to free my clothes. And I was told I could help myself to whatever was behind the bar while I waited. Didn’t end well.

The supermarket job lasted longer for me but ended badly for my friend. He had started tossing cases of beer into the dumpster by day, then retrieving them by night. Finally, he contrived to get himself locked into the store by hiding in the men’s room at closing time. Naturally it was a while before he got through to the manager on the phone and even longer until the manager and the cops came to let him out. He, too, was told to help himself. But his days in the produce department were done.

My next few jobs were all summer jobs as well and all with my Mom’s bank. My Mom was high up in Personnel (now, of course, Human Resources), but a lot of bank Moms had their teenage kids working at summer jobs at that bank. Mainly in the mail room. But my last bank job was at a local branch within walking distance from home.

It was strange at first, that I should be hired to do nothing else but type teller’s checks or cashier’s checks and nothing else. Then I found out why. On a certain day of the month, all depositors had the interest applied to their savings accounts. This bank branch was in the middle of one of the most populous centers of Hasidic and Conservative Judaism anywhere in the world outside of Israel. On interest day, the line for tellers check’s went out the door, down the street and around the corner! All the good supporters of Israel would have the amount of their accrued interest drafted into a check. I thought that was awesome! What a communal sense of purpose! What organization! The part that got to me was all those last names had an average of 15 letters and hardly vowels! Lots of “C”s and “Z”s, hard to type. I’d get one wrong and the customer would yell at the poor teller and I’d have to re-do it, sometimes checking the spelling three times. Torture!

Immediately after high school I worked briefly for a huge multi-national chemical company with its own office building on Park Avenue. I was second-in-command of the 9th floor mail room. My boss was a chain-smoker with emphysema who coughed more than he spoke. Indoor smoking in the workplace (or anyplace) was not even a thing back then.

My next job after high school was while I was actually residing in a neighborhood park. A nice, late 2 PM start time, cleaning a small family bakery. I still managed to be late a little too often. I had another job after that – one for which I had an actual residence. It was at a sandwich shop near the central New York Public Library. Lots of craaaaaazy stuff was happening in that place. All morning and afternoon, it was a cat-and-mouse game pitting the prostitutes and the drug dealers and the cops against each other. But at lunch time they all sat and had their sandwiches together in the shop and had a good old time. I lasted in that job right up until I went into the Air Force.

We’ll mostly skip over the Air Force part for now. Suffice it to say I spent almost as much time in tech school as I eventually spent fixing radars on F-4 fighters. In the end I would up being the guy near the end of the runway who emptied jet fuel out of wing tanks into a little 4-inch port in the tarmac that went down to an enormous underground tank. There I sat, alone  in a little shack atop all that jet fuel, with my guitar, hair way longer than regulations would allow, and my electric heater and my IAFPP (improvised aluminum foil pot pipe). 

I got out of the Air Force at age 21 and still didn’t have a driver’s license. So I got a few local retail jobs and some messenger jobs. First as a foot messenger, then as a bicycle messenger. As a bike messenger, my bosses bought me the bike (way too small) and took out the cost of it from my pay. When they’d recouped the cost, they stole the bike back and fired me! Thus began my time as a chimney builder and all-around home improvements contractor.

At that point I believe I got a drivers license and got involved in HVAC work followed by the flower business. There is some very crazy stuff going on in the NYC flower business, too! 

I think we’re up to at least 20 jobs now.

After the flower business (5 years of it!) I got back into home improvements contracting again for a few years, then a final Corporate Floral Sales job. Suit and tie and everything. Here I did really well. So well my boss asked me if I had any Brooklyn friends who needed a job. I did! That was about the end of that job.

Soon after that I left New York for Vegas and delivered flowers again, then it was more HVAC and a temp job in an automated warehouse that was under construction. That gig saw me become a Dad for the first time and also led directly to my unintended software career. 

1995 I started working with the software guys for the Engineering firm that designed the warehouse automation. Before too long they hired me! I took care of all the parts and tools from 6 am to 3 pm, then learned software during system testing from 3 pm to 8 pm.

5 years later, after doing software for Nike and Levi Strauss, I was brimming with confidence and had what I thought was a great resume and more savings than I ever had before. So I quit to play more music and look for a better IT or software job. 9/11 happened a few short weeks later and I didn’t see another tech job for 4 more years! Recruiters at job fairs were laughing in my face! So, more home improvements contracting and my foray into coffee-slinging and being a waiter.

Then I went out to Los Angeles and did political petitions. I was supposed to be there to set up a tour with a folk band, but…..nope. Political petitioning was lucrative, but seasonal. 

I returned east and was on a framing crew out of Asheville, North Carolina building custom homes in the mountains, then was involved in the used furniture business in Johnson City, Tennessee. Then finally back into the software business again.

And here we are, five software jobs later! Don’t ask me why I never became a bartender…it is still a mystery.

So, one possible future is a full-time music future. Doesn’t that sound great?

I have a friend who did it – and also did it after 20 years in software. But it isn’t going to involve a recording contract, that’s for sure. It will involve direct involvement with fans! That’s YOU.

So what do you want to see more of from us? What channels do you want to see and hear us on? Like more live videos? Singles instead of CD releases? Vinyl? Get in touch let us know!

Here’s the new CD for those of you who might not have it yet:

The Merry Jaynz – LOVE ONE ANOTHER

Mucho Peace-o,

-Tom

All young musicians have their music heroes…

…and there is a strong incentive to dive into the influences behind those music heroes.

Those of us with music heroes that were popular in the rock scene of the 60s and 70s became well aware that these influences were not always other musicians. Not that substances were unheard of as influences upon artists of the past – far from it. But when it came down to exploring our favorite musicians’ influences, their favorite substances were on the list.

It bears mentioning that my mind was completely blown when I left my Brooklyn neighborhood as a young adult and discovered that there were actually people who had never indulged…who didn’t even know anyone who had ever indulged. Including alcohol. WHAT??!!

The culture I came from was so incredibly immersed in drugs (us kids) and alcohol (our parents) that it never occurred to me that a substance-related lifestyle was more the exception than the rule in society at large at the time.

Also, in the fullness of time, we see that opinions differ in some cases as to what substances are “drugs” and what substances are not. One’s opinion will vary depending on a range of factors; like whether a substance is legal or illegal, addictive or non-addictive, natural or manufactured.

This is why my little newsletter this week isn’t about “drugs”. Alcohol, tobacco, weed, nitrous oxide, coffee, whatever the stuff in “vapes” is…these are up for debate as to whether thay qualify as “drugs”, but there is no question that they are substances. They alter the mood, and this alteration – at least at first – is the reason for ingestion in the first place.

We all know humans have been ingesting mood-altering substances throughout our time on Earth, but let’s look at recent human history and at musicians specifically.

Would musicians have any different reasons for doing substances that non-musicians? Nope. Escape, boredom, stress management, inspiration, peer pressure and self-destruction are all present and accounted for. But artists in particular seem to experience creativity in cycles – with the low end of the cycle hovering at or around soul-crushing depression resulting from self-doubt, fear of rejection or failure. Substances play right into this cycle.

All substances have one thing in common: diminishing return on investment. The aspect of the substance that was once attractive loses its kick over time and with enough repetition. This usually results in increasing volume, or moving on to a new more potent substance.

Another thing common among most substances is the way they affect a person relative to the dosage. In the short term, usually a wee bit is enlivening, euphoric, or at least erases whatever targeted pain was present. More than a wee bit results in mental and physical impairment. In most cases, there is a point at which a dosage will be fatal.

So, in terms of music and musicians, here’s what I’ve learned about substances:

  • Alcohol may help in stoking creativity in the writing and composing stages, but the results will usually need editing. In a live performance scenario, things usually feel and sound better than they really are.
  • Marijuana may help in stoking creativity in the writing and composing stages, but the results will usually need editing. In a live performance scenario, things usually feel and sound better than they really are.
  • The White Powders are too often highly addictive and deadly. Sometimes live performance scenarios are truly superhuman, but the trade-off is a very short career.
  • Pills (opiates) are similar to The White Powders and it is only a matter of time until one transitions to them. Music will eventually take a back seat to opiates over time, and once the musical instruments are pawned, music is soon forgotten.
  • Pills (uppers, downers). Really? Why?
  • Speed can allow one to stay awake a really long time, get really productive and play really fast. Until you die or are incarcerated. Speed is the substance one is most likely to get addicted to and least likely to recover from.
  • Psychedelics may help in stoking creativity in the writing and composing stages, but the results will usually need editing. In a live performance scenario, things usually feel and sound better than they really are.
  • Tobacco stinks. Wanna get rid of me? Light up a cigarette. Or worse yet, a cigar. More difficult to quit than heroin I am told. Ever seen a life-long tobacco addict die in the hospital from respiratory illness? I have and I hope you never do. Does it enhance the creative process or live performances. Some say it calms the nerves and improves focus. I wouldn’t know.

I may be leaving some substances out, but there you go.

I have not done all of these myself, but most of them. Without going into detail, some I would even recommend, but only to those blessed with willpower and capable of moderation.

There are societal and cultural factors that bring about the need for sress-management, for an escape from the pressures and frustrations of everyday life. Substances are what most people turn to because few are taught any alternative means of dealing with life when it gets rough.

As far as music is concerned, however, one can find stress relief and escape there. And pursuing a music habit on a regular basis tends to bring about improvement. Substances….not so much.

So, NOW its time to enable my music habit! Go ahead and order our new CD LOVE ONE ANOTHER and and be my enabler!

http://themerryjaynz.com/index.php/product/15-love-one-another-cd/

Peace, Love and Gratitude,

-Tom

There are as many reasons for wanting to learn slide guitar as there are pickers out there…

…and there are innumerable ways to go about learning.

Although it worked for me, I do NOT recommend my method. AT ALL!

“No pain, no gain” is what they say. I found it to be true while first learning guitar and bass at a tender age. Until one builds up callouses on their fingertips, the strings and the death grip of an inexperienced guitarist can cause excruciating pain.

Once one gets through that phase – if they ever do – things usually get a lot better very quickly. But the pain certainly tests one’s commitment.

With slide guitar, the string is never pressed down onto the guitar neck at all…that would defeat the whole purpose of slide playing – and sound really horrible too. Consequently, it would seem logical that the same painful entry point to learning would be absent, wouldn’t it? Well, read on….

I was already playing for a while when I first heard Duane Allman play slide guitar. I instantly knew I HAD to learn how to do this. But back in those days I HAD to learn almost everything I heard come through my streo speakers, so slide only occupied a small fraction of my overall attentions as an aspiring Rock God.

Yes, there are a lot of jaw-dropping slide players, and I’m sure I heard them all, but Duane had a fluidity and a bite to his style that simply stood out way above any other player for me (until I heard Derek Trucks play – but that was decades later). Of course he aced the blues, but he also had the same level of groundbreaking mastery over other musical motifs – like that bright country sound and even dobro and country blues styles.

It was on acoustic guitar that I first set out to get slide playing under my belt – and the acoustic guitar is a very forgiving instrument (once you have the pre-requisite callouses). But in order to really get where I wanted to be it had to be done on the electric guitar, period. And I didn’t have one…yet!

It wasn’t until I was in the Air Force that I finally got an electric guitar. I’d been dabbling on guitar for 5 or 6 years by then – my main focus was on bass guitar. But getting that electric axe and an amp was where I first started to shift from bass to full-time guitar picking.

The first thing I learned as an acoustic picker is that the electric guitar is not a forgiving instrument at all! Welcome to the land of amplified mistakes, where the name of the game is control. There’s a lot of power at your fingertips and what separates the meningitis from the boysenberries is subtlety. I had a lot to learn, but I had all the time in the world to learn it.

Now, I would never imply that consciousness-altering substances should be a part of anyone’s learning curve in any pursuit. But in my case, certain nefarious habits indirectly led me to a slide guitar “breakthrough” of sorts. It all happened during a late night run to a local store for that most innocuous of consciousness-altering substances: beer.

My Air Force buddy “Zipperhead” (let’s call him Zip, OK?) and I were out of beer and between us only Zip had a vehicle. To our great dismay we discovered his battery was dead. In a stirring testament to that epic U. S. military can-do, never-give-up spirit, we decided to “borrow” the battery from a mutual friend’s car. We debated (briefly) taking the time to go ask him, then decided he’d probably want some of our beer and chose the least time-consuming route: we simply stole (temporarily) his battery. We reasoned that he wouldn’t mind and, besides, he’d never know anyway.

So, we scoop up the battery and all is well. We get our beer and get back on base and park. Then Zip held the beer while I “un-stole” this car battery back into it’s rightful vehicle.

That’s when I dropped the battery about 4 inches down onto the fingernail of my left ring finger.

Karma? You be the judge. Anyway, the fingernail cracked horizontally about halfway down and hurt like the blazes! The beer didn’t even put a dent in the throbbing agony and even looking at it made both of us nauseous. So, a band aid was employed and we finished the beer.

I knew right away that this gnarly injury would NOT stop me from playing guitar. After all, I had played with a broken right ring finger back when I was a bass player, cast and all.

So the next day I picked up my electric guitar (this was a Fender Telecaster for those of you who care) and decided I would just not use my left ring finger while fretting. OUCH!!! I should have known that would be impossible, what with most of what one learns becoming muscle memory through endless hours of practice.

Clearly, there was no way to practice while trying not to use one finger. Fortunately, the mangled member was the one on which the bottleneck slide was customarily worn when playing slide guitar. I gave it a try and it was almost pain-free! Yes!!! Hello, Uncle Duane, I’m-a-comin’….

Well, in the year of 1983, there was no internet with instantly accessible slide guitar lessons, so I just set about figuring it out for myself, playing along with my favorite tunes whether there were slide parts in them or not.

I played only slide guitar for at least 3 months – until the top of my cracked fingernail finally fell off and the nub finally grew back enough to fret again.

So, you want to be a slide player? Don’t do like Tom! Go take a lesson!

If you care to hear some of the results of my ill-begotten slide guitar skill, such as it is, all you have to do is check out our new CD Love One Another. The title track and a number of others have plenty of slide parts. Go ahead, judge away! You can do it right here:

Listen

-OR-

Buy

Peace,

-Tom

Where the heck do they come from?
What stages do they go through between initial idea to finished recording?

 

Well, I’m glad you asked!

I have been paying attention to “songcraft” for many years. Songcraft is a set of widely-accepted guidelines – dare I even say RULES – that are accepted and employed by many top-teir professional songwriters.

These writers of hit songs tend to mention songcraft in the same breath as the widely professed practice of writing songs every day – to develop the habit of songwriting.

I have no doubt that these tips, tools and practices are awesome and will result in noticeable improvement in anyone’s song writing efforts.

I utterly ignore them.

I have written about one hundred songs and the vast majority of them have lyrics. Some of them are closer in format to something a “real” songwriter would approve of: verse, chorus and bridge. Frankly, when a song comes to me, I take what is offered and try not to cloud this ethereal gift from, well, wherever, with over-thinking and too much effort.

I guess the place to start is the faraway fanatasy land known as Inspiration.

I am of the opinion that inspiration is always there. It just doesn’t always whisper great song ideas into my ear. It may whisper any number of things – and half the time it has something to do with NOT speaking what I’m thinking. I was “inspired” to not put my foot in my mouth by voicing what I thought was a hilarious idea out loud. This kind of inspiration took decades to hone and is probably the kind I value the most. It is close to, if not the same as, intuition. Trusting it is what takes decades.

There seems to be a widespread notion that inspiration is the one that chooses when – or if – it will appear. I don’t think that’s true. While sometimes it will hit you over the head with an idea, then not leave you alone until you act on it, other times it just sits there, as if it is looking at you and waiting. Saying, “Well…???”

Every now and then I have to sit down and write a song for some reason not related to the dawning of inspiration. A request for an original song is a good reason. With inspired ideas nowhere to be found, one does what one must: grind it out! Here’s where things get kinda weird sometimes, for me at least.

I’ll write down a list of subjects, I’ll try on first person voices, second, third. I’ll write lists of rhyming nouns or verbs or other parts of speech that fit the subject. Busy work, nitty-gritty stuff.

This is usually all done with an acoustic guitar on my lap, a guitar pick and a pen in my right hand (at the same time), and paper in front of me. Still other times (more rarely), the lyrical content will come and I’ll put it to music later. Setting words to music is a million times easier for me than coming up with lyrics to an existing musical idea.

There will be iterations – except on those rare occasions when inspiration just wakes up suddenly and a sonic gem pours forth. That is rarely the case, however.

The iterations can bounce between musical genres (now its a ballad in waltz time, now its a reggae tune, now its fingerstyle blues…), or between what will be the chorus, what will be the verse? Will the chorus and verse be stuck together? Will there be a bridge? Will there even be a chorus? Will there even be rhymes?

Along the way, inspiration can jump in at any time. Or it might not. When it doesn’t, then you’re left with pure invention. And shameless copying…er, ummm…borrowing.

At some point an idea solidifies around the subject and there is some sense to what is coming out. A form and a theme take shape. Things tend to go quicker then.

Even still, there may only be two verses…no further lyrics are forthcoming. At this point, I just accept it. That’s all there is…guess this song is supposed to have a lot of guitar solos!

There are always those inspired moments in the past that were captured on recordings, too. I have turned a few of these into songs over the years. It is a case of inspiration first, invention later – often prompting still more inspiration.

Occasionally, in the midst of a jam with friends, with some form of recorder running, an entire song beginning to end, music and lyrics, just flat out appears and needs next to nothing to call it complete. They may not be the very best songs, but their miraculous nature sets them apart – for me, at least.

Other times, sitting in front of blank paper, I feel like William Friggin’ Shakespeare and the words won’t stop coming through. Clearly, in such a case, inspiration has decided to hop on the train and ride it to the end of the line. I only recently discovered that invention in the absence of inspiration will sometimes evoke inspired creation after all. You hardly notice the shift until suddenly you realize it all has become automatic.

I will say this, though: invention without any inspiration rarely results in “keepers”. Those wind up in the trash can most of the time. They feel contrived, or they would be too “untrue” for me to attempt to sing.

I’m not the type who can just sing anything – and it isn’t about my vocal range at all. It has to be somehow true for me (AND fall within my very limited vocal range). This is the case even with cover tunes.

So now there I am with a song that has been written on acoustic guitar and is more or less complete. A whole range of questions now need to be answered. Is this song going to stay acoustic? Will this song get recorded? Will this song get an arrangement for three or four peices (also known as a band)?

It is here that most of the changes occur. Particularly in cases where the song is getting a rock band arrangement. More than once I have gotten inspired during this part of the process – coming up with a gorgeous melody line for the lyrics I wrote – only to find after hours of programming drums and recording rhythm parts that I literally cannot sing the damn melody!!!

Other times, this part of the process stays in the solo acoustic guitar domain until after weeks or months, a viable lyric/melody combination falls into place. Then arranging for a rock band format goes a lot smoother. During the time that passed, drum, rhythm and bass parts will have settled into my head, just needing to be made official and permanent in the recording process.

Lastly, some of the most inspired ideas I get come during recording – and even mixing. Small changes may happen that affect the whole musical direction, or a backing vocal part comes to me that really makes the melody stand out.

Sometimes, it is a subtractive process. In the mixing of a song, more than half of all the recorded parts may just get deleted, because a more refined sense of the final product got clearer – and the discarded parts muddied things up and had to go.

No matter what, the best song I ever wrote is the last song I ever wrote and I hope it stays that way – until I write the next one!

Speaking of the next one…IT’S HERE!!!!

Our new CD is out and the only place to get it is our very own web site.

Whether you want a CD or digital downloads of the album (or single tracks from the album), we got it!

If you’re going to buy it, please buy it from us…

The Merry Jaynz ONLINE STORE

Peace and Music,

-Tom

“Why don’t you and your daughters just move to Las Vegas and join staff?”

That was the question I posed to “Elmer” – an elderly gent from Central California – during a phone conversation.

 

This phone conversation was at Elmer’s request – or actually his two daughters’ request. I’d been engaged in written communication with Elmer for a while. I had mentioned that I was from Brooklyn, and his daughters both were enamored with the “Brooklyn accent” due to movies and TV shows, but they’d never heard one in real life. Hence the call.

As a staff member at my wee church I was expected (ordered) to write ten letters a week. The point was to get people in the door under any pretext whatsoever in the hope that they’d pay for some services eventually.

We were provided addresses by the Mama Church. These addresses belonged to folks who had at some point provided them to The Cult for some reason. It was no surprise that the letter-writing aspect of our public outreach was a dismal failure. In fact, Elmer was the only one to have ever responded to my hundreds of letters.

Elmer, as it turned out, had been one of the very first people to latch onto The Cult’s Mighty Founder. They became close personal friends with Elmer even having been chosen by The Mighty Founder to deliver services unto The Mighty Founder’s Mighty Wife. Elmer eventually left The Cult – right around the time they decided to call themselves a religion. That’s when stuff started getting Cult-y. Good call on Elmer’s part.

Well, I had spoken on the phone to the daughters who were duly impressed with my authentic Brooklyn accent. Then, duty-bound to at least try to consummate the purpose of my communication, I posed the question.

Wouldn’t you know that less than 6 months later they all moved to Las Vegas and joined staff!

This was a nearly miraculous event, unheard of in my wee church. My standing improved immensely among my co-staff members and good things started to happen. Keep in mind all the other staff members had day jobs and only came in at night when there were courses happening. I slept in the church’s film room on the floor and kept the place open from 8 AM to 10 PM 7 days a week.

Among the good things that happened was that another staff member gifted me a car – my very first one! It was a $300-dollar 1965 Mercury Comet. Another good thing that happened was that some of my students convinced me to house-sit for some friends of theirs for a month. The house in question was a beautiful 4-bedroom deal with a pool.

My time house-sitting co-incided with some crucial visits to Las Vegas on the part of three very important parties: Our Mama Church’s two senior C-Members in charge of our wee church, Elmer and his daughters, and a female friend from my time at The Cult’s training place in Florida (we’ll call her “Spike”).

Spike was on her way from Florida back up to her home church in the Northwest. She had a long flight layover in Vegas and I had a 4-bedroom house, a pool and a car. She missed her connecting flight (pity) and had to spend the night…too bad! We had steak and beer and Very Good Times!

So, where did I get the money for steak and beer?

Good question! My first visitors were the C-Members from our Mama Church. While I was awaiting their arrival in the airport, it was announced that their flight was diverted due to major storms along the route. The delay was to be about three hours.

I had no money and lots of time to kill, so I did what any broke, bored Vegas resident would do in an airport filled with slot machines. I went looking for stray quarters in the payout trays. I figured drunk travelers gaming at the airport whose flight was called for boarding might in their haste leave behind a quarter or two. I found an entire intact roll of quarters!

In ten minutes, thanks to Ted’s video poker tutelage, I had parlayed that roll of quarters into $35!! When one is on a roll, one goes with it, so I drove to the nearest casino that had the much-sought after Flush Attack machines I loved so well. BAM!!! I walked out with $350 and still had a half-hour to kill before my visiting C-Members arrived. Good times!

Lastly, Elmer and his daughters arrived and I hosted them at “my house” most suitably. His daughters were “Teri” – 20 years old, and “Ana” – 17 years old. Teri was the most drop-dead gorgeous human I had ever laid eyes on – inside and out. I instantly saw our future together in my mind’s eye and my attentions somehow did not immediately scare her off – which was usually the case in such a scenario.

Eventually my house-sitting stint ended and I was back on the film room floor again, but not for long. Elmer and the girls rented a nearby apartment and I was invited to live with them. That worked out great, in more ways then one.

As time marched on, Our Mama Church decided that I needed to focus on tending to the growing student population in the course room at our wee church without the distractions that being the acting Executive Director posed. So they sent a couple of C-Members for a long-term stay to manage things. They slept on the film room floor.

When I finally managed to get Teri pregnant, she finally agreed to marry me and we would have a Cult wedding right there in the wee church with Ted (still in good standing with The Cult) as my best man.

Shortly thereafter we revealed the pending addition to our new family to the C-Members and announced that we’d be leaving The Cult for real jobs that actually paid money. Whenever something like this happens, The Cult’s C-Members are duty-bound to sit you down, “holding the cans”, and extract from you the overt acts you must have committed and witheld that were causing you to leave The Cult. They HATE it when someone leaves The Cult!

I got through my little session with no problem, but Teri came out from hers in tears. I was ready to kill me some C-Members! Having been so highly trained in Florida, the numerous technical errors they’d made in her session were obvious to me, but I was in a murderous rage only because they made my beautiful pregnant wife cry.

Three hours later after many threats of physical violence and lots of screaming and chasing each other around in the nearby streets at night in a rare Vegas downpour, the C-Members and I had tired each other out and called a truce.

It was done.

I haven’t seen the inside of The Cult ever since. Of course, despite changing addresses across many states many, many times, they always manage to find me and I still get mail and phone calls all the time, twenty-something years later.

One other good thing that happened was that our departure freed up Ted to finally unleash his long-planned program of protest against The Cult. He’d been holding off just because Teri and I were still in, but now he was free to let loose. It made him SO happy!

And now, my story about The Cult Years comes to an end. I am leaving out a million details, but you have things to do. Maybe someday I’ll write a screenplay and it will be a movie.

Thanks for reading!

This will be the part of the story about Ted…

…all about Ted and nothing but the Ted.

 

When I finally got back to Vegas after Florida and Brooklyn and Southern California (again), I wound up running the whole dingy store front Cult establishment as its temporary executive director. Most importantly, I also ran the wee church’s course room and all its training operations. That’s where I met Ted.

Like me, Ted was from Brooklyn. Like me, Ted was a veteran (he had been a US Marine in Vietnam). Like me, Ted was highly suspicious of the Cult’s whole “we’re a religion” angle – as well as all C-Members. Like me, Ted was in awe of the parts of The Cult’s technology that actually worked. It didn’t take long for the two of us to get downright conspiratorial.

He was already disaffected and was really just sticking around to gather actionable intelligence on the whole thing. He was good…played it cool, went along with stuff, but he was just biding his time. From the moment I admitted to him that I was basically just scamming room and board, we were instant best buds. You could say we went to different high schools together.

Ted paid his rent as a professional gambler in Las Vegas. He was born with a head for numbers. At his peak he was able to pay post-graduate math students to calculate odds on certain video poker and slot machine progressive payouts. At his peak he had enough money to pay for these calculations as well as more of the Cult’s courses so he could keep on “watching” their operation.

Ted could tell you how many video poker hands had to be played before a royal flush (the highest payout) was likely. Ted would know every progressive slot game in town, and at which point in the progressive growth of the payout each machine would be worth playing (in terms of dollars per hour given a certain number of hands played per hour). He was no amateur.

Ted’s real bread and butter was a particular type of video poker game that was always set up in a linked group of identical poker machines. This group of machines had the standard payouts for poker hands – except when the “Flush Attack” light turned on. Then a simple flush (5 cards all of the same suit) would be worth 40 points instead of 25 (with the maximum bet of $1.25). Ted had calculated the dollar-per-hour rate of return for Flush Attack machines.It was so much higher when the light was on that it was an irresistible source of income – as long as you stuck to his strategy.

Ted’s strategy on the Flush Attack machine was simple. Let the ignorant tourists dump money into the machine while the light was off. Sit at the machine drinking coffee and only playing a quarter a hand and only as many hands as it took to not get “asked to leave” by the casino. Then, when the tourists finally hit enough flushes with enough money in their machines, they’d turn on the Flush Attack light.

When that Flush Attack light came on, Ted sprang into action! He’d switch from betting a quarter a hand to the maximum bet and switch to playing a strategy that targeted flushes. He’d then play at lightning speed. He was going to be the first one to get a flush with the light on, and get his 40-point max bet payout. Then the light would go out, and he’d downshift, letting the tourists turn the Flush Attack light back on again.

This was worth an average of about $8 an hour. And it worked at whatever Vegas casinos where ignorant tourists were sitting at Flush Attack machines.Normal, non-linked video poker machines that did not have a progressive payout were not worth Ted’s time at all far as their dollar-per-hour rate was concerned.

After we’d been bros for a few months, I hopped on back of his motorcycle on a  rare day off and we hit The Maxim – an older “golden-era” casino that had the lucrative Flush Attack machines. I was an apprentice pro gambler!

He schooled me rigorously on his Flush Attack strategy. Once I passed muster, he would give me $300 of his own cash to work with. I would get to keep all the complimentary benefits and perks the casino offered just for playing (usually worth at least a few beers and a meal at the casino buffet every day I played).

I would get a certain percentage of any royal flush or four aces thad I’d hit (those were worth $1200 and $200 respectively – with maximum bet). And he’d pay me $5 an hour. Ted usually would get his $300 back and sometimes much more. I got to get out and about and drink the casino’s complimentary beer.

This lasted until the Heinekens finally won out over Ted’s strategy. After four or five of’ em, I’d start playing with my gut and chase the elusive Royal Flush – instead of using The Strategy. Naturally, this lost Ted money and eventually it’s what got me fired from the world of professional gambling. We remained close friends, though. In fact, Ted was the best man at my Cult wedding. Now THERE’s a story…one I’ll cover later.

At one point after I’d left The Cult, my Dad actually retired and moved to Vegas. He wound up getting a job as the head tech guy for the biggest gaming company in town – the one that manufactured and programmed most of the video machines. Crazy, right? I just had to get Dad (another Brooklyn boy – and veteran) and Ted together.

Sure enough, when they met it was instant fireworks! It was like the old Mad Magazine Spy versus Spy cartoon. Ted kept trying to wheedle something he could use from my Dad, and my Dad kept dismissing even the possibility that anyone could ever beat the machines with a mathematical strategy. It was epic!

Ted kept going to The Cult’s little church long after I had departed (as a married man with a kid on the way). Finally, he too parted company with The Cult as well. Thus began his long-awaited career as a full-time Protester of The Cult! He would attend every large Cult event, travelling hundreds of miles just to walk around with an anti-cult picket sign. He’d do that in Vegas too – in his spare time

He formally petitioned The Cult on a regular basis to officially declare him a Suppressive Person – as per their own very well-defined rules. Of course the Cult wasn’t going to do anything an Anti-Cult protester said to do, so he never got “declared”. This was very disappointing to him since said official declaration was considered a badge of honor among the Anti-Cult crowd he ran around with.

We kept in touch for years after I’d left Vegas. But, unlike Ted, I couldn’t be bothered being anti-anything.

While still in Vegas, but after The Cult, I sprouted a wife, a child and a promising software career. Then I started chasing money all over the continental United States, willingly re-locating to Memphis and then the Cincinnati area to stay employed.

Literally everywhere I ever lived since then, The Cult always found my address. To this day they still send me many pieces of mail a week.

I guess I have one more Cult story left in me. I’ll give the details surrounding the meeting of the wife, the wedding and the final rain-soaked, nearly violent confrontation with three C-members which led to my exit. That exit was what most would call a dramatic conclusion.

Speaking of dramatic conclusions, the crowdfunding campaign we ran for our new CD Love One Another wound up at 97% of goal – two days after the official end! We learned a lot from the whole thing and it was an unparalleled success. The physical CDs will be here within a week or so and are, of course, for sale. The tracks will be on Spotify, iTunes and all the rest of the world’s finest streaming sites at the end of August.

Go ahead and get your CD if you haven’t already!

http://themerryjaynz.com

Peace!

-Tom

Mission: Accomplished!

I had successfully escaped The Cult and was back in Brooklyn.

“Wow, man…you say the cult stuff you did helped you out, but it sure didn’t do anything for your dart game!”

This got lots of laughs from my Brooklyn friends as we re-entered the bar and re-convened around the dart board, all potted up on the weed.

Of course, in a sad attempt to explain the past two years of my life and justify my existence I had tried to explain to my friends the parts of The Cult that were actually worthwhile. I was careful to tone it down, lest I sounded like I was trying to recruit them. But it is in the nature of Brooklyn friendships to show affection and solidarity through the time-honored tradition of The Hurling of Insults.

“Yeah, Scmiddy…let’s see what The Cult did for you. Why don’t you use your new superhuman cult abilities to win at darts for a change?”

Now, I’m not going to try to claim any abilities gained, superhuman or otherwise. But every now and then everyone has something happen that is beyond extraordinary. Something that neither chance, coincidence nor anything else rational can explain.

Everyone gathered knew my dart-chucking skills were average at best. That day’s showing was probably below average since I hadn’t even seen a dartboard since leaving Brooklyn. But, as they say, in that moment I was “feeling it”.

I got a dart, walked up to the line, turned my back to the board and covered my eyes with my left arm.

With my right, I flung the dart blindly over my shoulder, not even expecting to hit the board.

Dead. Center. Bullseye.

Ordinarily, I’d be laughing and jumping up and down and eliciting high-fives. Ordinarily, even under the best of conditions, I was highly unlikely to hit a bullseye. I managed to play it off extra cool, though; as if I were totally expecting the bullseye. As if, “Was there anything else about my new superhuman abilities you’d like me to demonstrate?”

One of my friends managed to mutter, “Holy shit…” before his jaw dropped to the floor like the others’. I imagine they all must have been second-guessing their assumptions about The Cult and certain abilities around that time. Perhaps they were wondering if I could now read minds or whether I could suddenly turn invisible or teleport or something…

Nope. It was just a lucky shot and unimaginably good timing. But I wasn’t going to tell THEM that!

The subject of The Cult was never brought up again.

But my time with The Cult was not over quite yet. My girlfriend was getting impatient with my inability to get a job. Employment opportunities in New York City absolutely had not improved as I had hoped they would.

Meanwhile, I was a hot commodity as far as my wee church in Las Vegas was concerned, what with almost two years of the finest training The Cult could deliver under my belt. Before long, they sent me a plane ticket and I went back to Las Vegas.

All was forgiven and I was welcomed back despite my harrowing escape from Florida and the trouble I was presumed to be in back at the training center. It says a lot about the differences between local folks at one of The Cult’s wee churches and the big-deal C-Members and the Mama Church or other bigger operations The Cult was running.

In Las Vegas, I was getting heavily promoted as the highly-trained whiz-kid who would reverse the fortunes of this backwards little enterprise; and in fact, on arrival, people started forking over the cash to have me deliver services. Two thousand dollars bought someone a twelve-and-a-half-hour block of my time. Back in Florida the same block of time went for about four thousand.

I did not personally benefit financially from any of that cash infusion. They had made me the temporary Executive Director almost immediately upon my re-arrival, so I had to take that cash to the landlord and pay the church’s two or three months of back rent. My assignment as Executive Director was to be expected since I had the most technical and administrative Cult training and plenty of free time. Everyone else had day jobs and actual lives going on!

I moved into the church at that point. Every church in The Cult has a film room. A projector, a screen and some chairs in a room dedicated to the showing of The Cult’s training films and nothing else. This is where I slept on a sleeping bag on the floor. We also moved a few dozen boxes of Mama Church literature to free up a shower for me to use.

I would open the place for “business” in the morning, and close it down at night. Back to the 14-hour-a-day schedule. I lived on coffee and scambled egg sandwiches.

There were a few more students enrolled while I was away, but of all the training I received in Florida I was still not trained to run the course room. That would soon change.

Back to Southern California! Not the Mama Church this time, but a different one much bigger than ours. Like ours, it was supposed to focus solely on Celebrities (defined by The Cult as “opinion leaders” to help broaden the scope a bit and justify letting in absolutely anyone).

I was only there for two weeks and in that time completed the course that allowed me to run a course room and about ten other courses. Even there in Southern California, people were in awe of anyone trained in Florida.

When someone did a course in The Cult, there was plenty of reading, accompanied by copious amounts of time digging into dictionaries (they’re REALLY big on the definitions of words) and demonstrating what was just read physically, using anything – like checkers or dominoes or even modelling clay. Then there were drills. A student and their partner would take turns actually practicing the service that was just studied and demonstrated. Sometimes this was done on each other. Sometimes when the action being drilled had the potential to have an unintended effect on one’s partner, stuffed animals were used instead. Very often, the final drill was done using “bull-baiting” wherein your partner or a third student (or both) would relentlessly interrupt, insult, scream, suddenly try to run away or do anything they could think of to throw off your concentration. If they succeeded, you were told “FAIL!!!” and would have to start again – often after finding the definition of the word you didn’t fully understand (because, of course, right?).

So, I amazed one and all with my fancy Florida training and my ability to not only remember tons of services and their particular processes verbatim, but to flawlessly drill them while having dominoes and checkers bounced off my face and being screamed at. In the end I was certified to deliver a ton more services for my wee church in Vegas – and run the course room, too.

My certificates and I arrived back in Vegas to resume my temporary Executinve Directorship and show the current crop of course room students what REAL Cult training was all about.

My two sweet old ladies were still students there; and, while I was in Florida, we’d gained some actual Vegas Celebrities – performers at some of the bigger casinos’ most popular shows. But the most noteworthy student of all was Ted.

Ted wasn’t a celebrity, unless his station as one of the more successful full-time gamblers in town afforded him the status of “opinion leader”. But I told you that I was going to devote an entire newsletter to Ted and our various exploits – and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Until then, any of you that have considered owning our new CD Love One Another – and getting your copy when it helps us the most (namely: NOW!) – there is only one week left in the crowdfunding campaign. It will end on Wednesday August 9th. We are currently at 83% of our goal and we’re hopeful that we will make it – but we still need more help to do it.

To do that, click the link below, pick a reward level you like and donate! BAM! Easy.

http://themerryjaynz.com

Look for the next newsletter some time this coming weekend!

Until then, Endless Peace,

-Tom

I Was About to Leave the Desert…

…for a brief few weeks of training from The Cult in sunny Florida.

 

It’s easy to leave Vegas. I did it a lot. You never know you miss the color green until you get out of Vegas and see grass and trees again. What I did know I missed was the ocean. I grew up spending summers at the beach.

When I arrived at the gulf coast of Florida I knew I was in the right place.

Sadly, this was only to last for a few weeks. Just a quick training cycle and back to Vegas to my wee church to run their course room. Well…that’s what was supposed to happen!

As it turns out, there were a zillion wee-church people all over The Cult’s Florida training headquarters because there was a Totally Different Extra Special Training Program going on. It was much like the one that rejected me in southern California: it was mandatory that wee churches send people, they were told to send a team of a certain number, and it was going to take about two YEARS!

I need to help you understand just how much better this place was than the Mama church in California. In Florida, the training center bought numerous entire apartment complexes to serve as housing for their staff of C-Members and still had plenty of room for hundreds of us wee-church students.

I still lived with 13 dudes, but it wasn’t in a janitor closet. It was a 3-bedroom, 3-bath apartment. Sure, there were bunk beds in the living room, but this was relatively do-able. It was 20-minute walk from the apartments to the training. But, in the mornings and evenings The Cult even ran buses every ten or fifteen minutes.

Then there was the beach. That was a 30-minute walk from the training center. Dolphins, rays, manatee, huge crazy birds, flying fish. I was in love!

I’d made a lot of friends. Most of the students were my age or younger. A lot more of them were female. There was a fair number of minors who were sent by their Cult parents. Someone somewhere signed legal guardianship papers and these kids were on their own. I’m talking 12-year-olds.

I shared a room in our apartment with only one guy (from Australia), played guitar and bass whenever possible, went to the beach Sunday mornings, and hung out with some pretty cool people from all over the world. And the food was good. I decided I was going to get myself into that Totally Different Extra

Special Training Program. And so I did.

That really pissed off my Vegas wee church people. But they still sent me five or ten bucks every couple of weeks for soap and shampoo and such. I would go through several pairs of thrift shop shoes, pants and shirts to meet the dress code. We all cut each others’ hair to save money.

The Cult found that I needed to re-do all the clean-up services I had done in Vegas, so back to the sauna and the running (I ran to the beach every day!), and the vitamins. As soon as all that was done, I was assigned a training partner. My “buddy” for the next year or so was Molly, a 13-year-old girl whose Cult parents sent her for training.

It was an inauspicious pairing as far as getting training done, but we got along great most of the time.

You may wonder about the safety of setting a 13-year-old free in such an environment. The Cult handled all legal matters as Ethics Issues and never, never ever brought anything to the local law enforcement authorities. So, the multiple instances of underage sexual contact I had become aware of were dealt with internally. There were quite a few under-age brides who were C-Members (yes, they could sign up) married to other C-Members. Yes, again, I’m talking 12 or 13-year-old girls. There was a 14-year old girl all my friends had known from before I arrived. She left before I got there but now had returned to training after giving birth to a baby girl. She wasn’t even a C-Member, just of of of wee church students. There she was every day with the baby in a stroller.

I was strongly suspicious of this arrangement and a lot of others like it, despite never seeing any evidence of overt institutional attempts to take advantage of these girls. I was more leaning toward thinking that The Cult was just waiting for someone to take the “bait” (so to speak), at which point, they’d get out their meters, and get you to “hold the cans” and confess. THEN they had you right where they wanted you.

Of course, we non-C-Member wee-church people were under explicit directions to avoid any and all forms of sexual contact with anyone. The sexual tension was brutal. There were at least a half dozen times I was in delicate, nearly intimate, situations where I was certain I was being set up for a sting. I never fell for it, though.

Well, it was straight 94-hour weeks for almost two years. I got pretty far in training. Since students needed people to deliver services to, until they were certified, they delivered to other students under tight supervision. So, I got a lot of the services too. Most of it actually works and some of it really blew my mind. I had some experiences of being exterior to my body…and caused the same for others as a student. Great potential..too bad its all tied up with the strange cult situation.

At one point I was ordained as a minister of The Cult. I could do weddings! Somewhere, there’s a picture of me with a priest’s collar. Being an ex-Catholic, I though that was hilarious.

Well, right around the two-year mark I was about done. I had to plot an escape, so I got in touch with an old friend and had them send me $100. My plan was to go back to Brooklyn and get a job. Surely by now there must be a job in New York City!

I did all my planning in secret. I found out the bus schedule and got the number of a taxi company. I had to play it really cool the whole time, though, because one thing The Cult really hates is people leaving The Cult. They’ll get up a posse of C-Members and send ’em after you if they know where you went. They always assume there must have been an error made in your “services” that messed your mind up…and that you would run right to the cops or the press and say Bad Things. I don’t blame them for worrying!

The night before my escape attempt I walked home from training to the apartments and saw the convenience store I had always passed right by. All those neon beer signs! I was almost free and I hadn’t had a beer for two years…so….big 40!

I stealthily packed all my stuff (a somewhat easier task since my bass had been stolen at around the one-year-mark) and stashed it all in my closet for a 5 AM sneaky tip-toe departure. A cab would be waiting to take me to the Greyhound. I was done packing well before my new roommate came in to go to bed. I was sure everything looked totally normal.

About midnight, they came to get me.

My roommate totally busted me and they took my $100.

It’s OK, though, because a month later I managed to pull it off successfully. Same plan, minus the 40-ounce Budweiser.

I arrived back in Brooklyn and had a wicked awesome reunion with my old girlfriend and all my old buddies. It was shortly after my arrival that a bunch of us were drinking and throwing darts in a bar. We had gone out to have a puff of the domestic blend and when we came back in the topic of conversation turned to The Cult. I was getting ragged on pretty hard – in the way only friends from Brooklyn can do. That’s when it happened: The Cult-Related Dartboard Miracle.

That’s where I’ll pick it up in the next newsletter, because it leads right back into Vegas again…and more unbelievable tales from The Cult.

Speaking of miracles…we are progressing toward our crowdfunding goal. This is good because we are almost at the end of our crowdfunding project.

We’ve seen some enormous generosity so far and it tells me our music does make a difference for people. The gratitude we’re feeling is amazing…unparalleled.

If you haven’t yet checked out the crowdfunding project for our new CD Love One Another now is the time. If you’ve checked it out and plan to make a pledge…well..now is the time! Here’s where to click>>>

Peace

-Tom

So, back in Vegas…

…and The Cult was going to “clean me up” for the Mama Church

What this entailed was the delivery of some services meant to un-do all the years of gloriously misspent youth I had enjoyed up to that point.

One action purported to physically eradicated toxins and drugs from the body through excercise, sauna and ridiculous quantities of vitamins among other things. Another purported to re-orient a person to the present time and location – based on the notion that most of us aren’t really “here” mentally. Other services purported to rehabilitate a person’s communication cycle, ability to recall past events and strip the retention of false data preventing spiritual growth. Lastly, I was to be trained on how to study.

It bears mentioning that no alcohol was to be consumed withing 24 hours prior to receiving or delivering services. With a 7-day 94-hour weekly work schedule, that eliminated literally all opportunities to enjoy an adult beverage. Exceptions were made on Christmas Eve.

So, I was sober. That alone was a minor miracle only accomplished thus far by US Air Force basic training (and only for about 3 weeks). I was running again for the first time since I was 16. I was introduced to “The Cans” too.

Holding the cans, as it were, was part of almost all services considered Processing (as opposed to the other kind of services referred to as Training). The cans were metal and hooked up to an electronic device that measured small electrical changes in the palms of the person holding the cans. These changes were displayed on a meter to the person delivering the service. By astutely interpreting certain patterns on the meter, areas of spiritual or mental concern were said to be discovered and eradicated.

The Cult was desperate to get anyone in the door that they possibly could, but before beginning any services, they were extremely careful to weed out anyone who ever had any dealings with actual mental heath practioners: psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. Out the door they went! Except, they missed the elderly gent with whom I was partnered on the excercise, sauna and vitamins deal.

All training and some processing services meant being assigned a partner. You and your partner would go through the service together, kind of like a buddy system. Well, I was assigned a pleasent elderly gent. That kept me from over-doing the running bit – which I absolutely would have done otherwise. He was pretty cool. We were hanging out hours a day, so we of course got to chatting a lot. He had lost his Korean wife of many years not long before. He called her “Pinky”.

A couple of weeks went by and, who knows, maybe toxins started releasing in earnest from fat cells or whatever. After the sauna, we each went to our own showers. His began taking longer and longer. Then we started hearing him saying things in the shower. He was saying “pinky    Pinky!   PINKYYYYY!!!!!” Needless to say, this was unexpected and somewhat disconcerting to The Cult. Personally, I would’ve let it go, but word got around to someone in charge of stuff.

Well, they grilled him for an hour and he admitted he had indeed been on psychiatric drugs for a while. Out the door he went!

I went on to finish the list of services Mama Church said I needed. In all honesty, when delivered correctly, most of the early-level services actually do what they say they do. I say “when delivered correctly” because I would be made to do them ALL over again when I later weaseled my way into A Totally Different Very Special Training Program. There, they reviewed my records and determined that the local wee church folks got it all wrong.

The local wee church folks can’t be blamed for whatever confusion they were suffering. Mama Church was strident about keeping the technology absolutely pure and following everything The Founder had written to the letter of the law. The problem was, The Founder had died years before, and yet the folks running the Mama Church kept on publishing new technical and administrative directives bearing The Founders signature. I’m guessing at some point the local folks smelled a rat and began ignoring directives. That also helps to explain the hundreds of boxes of unopened Mama Church literature we were storing.

Soon I’d be on my way for more advanced training at the premier Technical Church in the world located on the gulf coast of Florida. Sounded good to me! There I was to spend a few short weeks becoming the guy my wee church needed to run the training courses. I’d come back and, BAM, the training money would start rushing in and our financial woes would be over!

I was assured that nothing like the Mama Church Approval Fiasco would happen to me in Florida. I was adamant that my guitar and bass were joining me, and so it was. Good thing, too, because I would up being there for about two years! I kinda fell in love with the gulf coast, what can I say?

I’ll start covering the Florida episode – and it may take a while – in the next newsletter. For now, suffice it to say I am really glad so many of you are enjoying the stories. It was due to positive responses and feeback that I even considered getting into the current subject.

The same is true for music, really. I didn’t know where I stood and lacked any kind of objective reality on the songs I was writing and recording until I finally started connecting with you fine folks. The fact that so many of you like the music gave me the confidence to get over the self-doubt that plagues most (or all) artists and really start getting serious about taking ownership for my music career.

The culmination of that effort – thus far – is our crowdfunding campaign. We’re just past the halfway point with 14 days to go and we are at 58% of our goal. That’s pretty cool – and we owe all that success to friends and fans like you who pitched in.

Here where you can check it out:

http://themerryjaynz.com

Click on the link, watch the video, listen to all the new tracks for Love One Another (our soon-to-be-released 2nd CD), find a reward level you like and help out with a donation. We’re self-hosted on this campaign…no make-or-break point so everybody gets what they order as their reward for donating.

Peace,

-Tom