Today is my 32nd birthday, and throughout my entire life — even before I was born — music has been at the center.
The universe was kind enough to bless me with the gift of music almost as immediately as I was conceived. My father was a DJ and Creative Director in commercial radio for 25 years. My mother would accompany him when he would do backstage interviews with artists at huge arena concerts. It was during this time that they [DISGUSTING] and the sounds of the concerts would travel through my mother’s belly, into her womb and finally into my ears.
The moments before my first experiences in the outside world were spent backstage at concerts on national tours for rock artists like Bob Segar, Edgar Winter, Ted Nugent and others; plus, my dad would put his headphones on my mother’s stomach and feed me the essentials: Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Vivaldi…The Beatles…Keith Moon…
The music being delivered to my ears must have stimulated positive connections in my brain, because shortly after my birth, I displayed signs of being a gifted child.
At 1 year old — in between attending concerts backstage in my parents’ arms and getting my picture taken with big-name country artists such as Alabama (my favorite), Willie Nelson, Eddie Rabbit, The Oak Ridge Boys — I was able to speak coherently and do basic reading and math. I also showed a keen sense of memory and spatial relationships, among other things. Above all that though, I demonstrated an undeniable and obsessive desire to do one thing more than anything else in the world: play music.
I would watch the bands at these concerts, and found myself inextricably drawn toward the drummers (duh; they’re the coolest). At 1 1/2 years old, I began picking up anything in our apartment that remotely resembled a drum stick, assemble items that looked like decent substitutes for drums and bash away happily. For my 2nd birthday, my parents got me a Muppet Babies-themed toy drum set, because they had a drummer ; I played just like Animal did on the TV show.
Being that the drum heads were made out of cheap material, I’d soon break the kit, and begin to play on anything I could (pots, pans, pillows, couches, ashtrays, etc.). I’d drum on everything! I’d also pick up and play any musical instrument I could see and can get my hands on, including pianos and guitars. On top of all of that, I’d still be backstage getting my picture taken with country superstars, who now also gave me their autographs in my little autograph book. (I want to find that thing because it has all of the pictures and autographs and memories I’m talking about, and I want to upload them here! I really hope it’s somewhere in my parents’ house; it may be on the list of possessions I’ve lost in the Sea of Ex-Lovers.)
My parents likely realized that if they didn’t replace my toy drums once broken, they’d end up having to replace some of their own toys I chose to beat the crap out of. Thus began the cycle of my drumming career as a youth: I played my new toy drums every day until I break them, and go back to playing on everything else until the next birthday or Christmas. (This cycle would continue for 9 years.) If we were driving in the car after dad got home from work and we passed a drum shop, we had to stop and go inside so I could play around on the professional kits. There was also the mandatory trip specifically to the drum shop each weekend. I just couldn’t be around drums enough.
In Part 1 of this blog entry, I highlighted a critical moment in my musical career; I introduced a band on stage at the Downtown Hoedown in Hart Plaza (Detroit, MI) on my 5th birthday, and immediately after, the crowd sang me happy birthday. Another huge moment was when, at 7 years old, my mother thought I was good enough to enter a local youth talent competition as a drummer, and she signed me right up.
My mom found out that there would be a professional house band in the show too, and didn’t want me to be embarrassed, so she talked with a local drum shop owner and negotiated the rental of a professional Ludwig kit for me to use, something he didn’t normally offer. (She created a sign to put on the front of the bass drum to advertise his store. HA!) She then made a mix tape of Michael Jackson songs for me to play along with as my performance. “Practice to it,” she says. “Yes, mom,” I say…
Of course, I don’t practice (never really have), and I space out during my performance and play nonsense. My ultimate reward for this stellar display was a 3rd place certificate, and a feeling of anxiousness and nervousness every single time I walk on stage in the future.
But what was crazy is that the audience loved me! There were girls in the top row bleachers of the recreation complex hooting and hollering at me (Hello, ladies!), people were dancing to the music (Shake your booty when the snare cracks!) and I got a great big applause from the crowd when I stopped playing (John Kay has left the building!). I’m sure that they were probably just being nice and making a little kid feel good, because I distinctly remember sucking. The point is, they recognized who I was at that very moment in my life: a 5-year old kid who loves playing the drums and just being himself.
I’m still that same person. I love playing music and just being myself.
Because of my dogged adherence to my musical life’s task throughout my entire existence — and the persons with whom I’ve had the both the opportunities and pleasure to associate and work — I’ve been fortunate to be educated and experienced enough to not only play the drums well, but also several other instruments and aspects of making music, including audio engineering, live recording, arranging, mixing and producing. The love I have for music and its great composers throughout history has been embedded in me since before birth, and my aim is to share as much amazing music with everyone as possible during my lifetime. This is my life’s task.
My path has ultimately led me to today. Today is my 32nd birthday.
And today, I have a gift for you…
Today at 6:00 PM I will be outside of Comerica Park in downtown Detroit, playing and singing songs from my upcoming debut album as a solo singer-songwriter. I’ll be doing so for about 45 minutes, and then I’m leaving to go watch the Tigers game (you don’t miss a Verlander start). I’m just as anxious and nervous — if not more — than I was when I was in the talent show as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to butcher a tune here and there (I still don’t practice!).
But it’s something I want to do, something I believe I need to do. Because I believe the content of these songs needs to be heard in our current culture, and that belief has been affirmed through numerous private listening sessions with persons whose musical ears I consider experienced.These are people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, family structures, careers and lifestyles; men and women; stoners and drunks; rich and poor; many were professional musicians, but most were just fans of good music. They all have remarked the same thing: anyone can relate to these songs.
We ALL have music that we love, that we cherish, that moves us, that makes us dance, laugh, cry and sing our hearts out until our voices crumble and we can’t speak the following day. But we know why we can’t speak, and we know that it was worth it.
…and we smile.
So, feel free to meet me outside of the Park on a gorgeous, 59-degree, 30% chance of rain, overcast Michigan evening and share a smile. I’ll be playing music and just being myself.
Just a guy with a guitar, singing his heart out on the streets of Detroit.
For almost two decades, I was a fat kid. Hell, I was THE Fat Kid.
The weight gain started in elementary school when I was around 8 or 9 years old, but the psychological seeds were sown years prior.
At 3 years old, my mom had my brain tested. It turned out I had an I.Q. of 136, so I was now the smart kid that got placed a grade ahead of the other students my age…
…and everyone knew it.
From my earliest days in school, I was picked on and ridiculed relentlessly. I was never gifted athletically, and was always the last one picked for any team events, but the first one picked when working on an assignment in a group, or when we’d play the school version of Jeopardy. I liked country and pop music; the other students liked rap and hard rock. Boys picked fights with me; girls did not talk to me. Most teachers were encouraging and supportive; some teachers resented me, and made a priority of balancing out the praise they perhaps felt was unearned by a 5-year old. So, I buried myself into my schoolwork, and at home, my first love, playing the drums.
I got straight As; no minuses. In both 5th and 6th grade I was pulled out of class for half a day once or twice a week, and taken to another school to study computer programming and other advanced subjects along with a handful of smart kids from other schools in the area.
I didn’t really hang out with many people from school. When attending school, those with whom I would hang out from time to time would either join in on the insults or pretend I didn’t exist. They were embarrassed to be friends with me.
When I was 5, I began taking Karate lessons at my local dojo because I was afraid of getting beat up at school. After 3 years of lessons and earning some colorful belts — the Karate belt system is used in martial arts training to mark the progress a student has made in their study — my instructor closed his business; I didn’t join another dojo afterward.
At that point in my life, I had been playing drums for 6 years. A friend of mine played guitar, met another kid at his school who also played guitar and introduced us. BAM! First band formed! (NOTE: I would go on to play with these two musicians on-again, off-again, for the next 16 years. More on that journey in future blogs!)
So at 8 years old, instead of playing outside, climbing trees, riding bikes all day and taking Karate lessons throughout the week, I was being driven to and from my new buddy’s house to go play songs as a band with another 8-year old and a 7-year old.
I’d load my Noble & Cooley drum set (settle down, pro drummers; it was a toy store version of a legitimate N&C kit) into my dad’s truck, get dropped off, set up and play. At his house was a professional Premier drum set, and we’d secretly play on it when his folks weren’t home…mostly because I had all but destroyed my toy set, and my cymbal stand kept falling over.
When we’d get hungry, we’d bike to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.
Around this time, an older kid moved into the neighborhood. He was a skateboarder, and me and my bandmates thought he was just the coolest dude ever. So, we started skateboarding, too. We learned about the secret skate spots in our area, and we’d carry our boards while riding our bikes to go skate at these places.
When we’d get hungry, we’d bike or skate to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.
My brother and I joined a Saturday morning youth bowling league, and remained in the league for years to come (until I could drive my own car and my teammates started playing “real” sports). My dad would take my brother and me to Hardees for breakfast in the morning on the way to bowling. During bowling matches, Dad would buy us snacks and sodas out of the vending machines.
After we finished our games we’d usually go to my grandma’s house for dinner, and on the way, stop at the local book store. We’d each get a new book to read…and candy, even though Grandma always had candy. I’d drink anywhere from 4-8 cans of Coca-Cola Classic while we hung out at her house, and would spend most of my time trying to eat as many M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses from her candy dishes as possible without anyone noticing; it was my little secret.
In order to bring extra money into the household, my mom began doing day care out of our house for family and friends. Each summer, there would usually be anywhere from 5-10 kids in the house Monday through Friday, and she was responsible for feeding everyone lunch. I mostly remember eating soft tacos and “cinnamon crispas” from Taco Bell and mini fried chicken sandwiches with mayo from Kentucky Fried Chicken. And drinking lots of Dr. Pepper.
My family moved to a new city when I was 10 years old. At the new house, what would normally be the rear fence of the backyard was actually a high concrete wall to separate our yard from a mall parking lot. Our house was 3 houses from the corner, and at that corner was a dead end through which you could walk to get to the mall. Almost every day after school for two years, my mother would give me and my brother five dollars each to go the mall, eat at the food court, play arcade games and hang out until our dad got home. We’d usually get Taco Bell, since it was cheapest and that meant we could play more games.
A kid in school began making fun of me for my “rolls” at around that time. I thought he was talking about the bottoms of my blue jeans.
When I changed schools after completing 6th grade, I had a choice that summer: I could go into regular 7th grade at the local middle school and end up graduating high school a year early; or go to a gifted school a little further away, repeat 6th grade with more advanced teaching and be with kids my own age. I got a legal pad, went into my bedroom, drew a line down the center and labeled one side “Regular 7th”, the other side “Gifted 6th”. I wrote down all the pros and cons I could think of for each situation, and ultimately decided to go to the gifted school.
I thought that no one at this new school would make fun of me for being smart; they were all smart.
And I was right. Not once did anyone ever make fun of me for being smart.
Instead, they made fun of me for being fat and poor.
I was now a poor fat kid, ridiculed in a whole new way, and I became incredibly depressed. I was furious at myself for choosing to attend this school, effectively adding a year to my seemingly never-ending sentence of ridicule.
Even at 11 years old, I knew I owned my decision. I’m the one who weighed the pros against the cons and did what I thought was best given the circumstances. I thought I was going to a school filled with people just like me, and that things would be so much better. I knew that making new friends could be difficult and awkward, but I was excited to be with kids my own age and whom shared some of my skill set and abilities.
And now here I was, in a new school with people I’ve never met, most of whom grew up together in their upper-middle class neighborhoods, enlightening me to my family’s financial woes and my own obesity.
I could not endure the pain any longer. I had to make some sort of stand.
So, I told my bandmates to start calling me “The Fat Kid”, and created a kind of alter ego where I was totally comfortable with being overweight. I made jokes about myself before others could have the chance. Whenever something would go well for me, I’d pick up an object, hold it in my hand like Groucho Marx with a cigar and say “The Fat Kid always wins!” It got so many laughs that I went to the custom t-shirt shop in the backyard mall and had it ironed on a extra-large cream-colored t-shirt in big blue letters…
The Fat Kid ALWAYS Wins.
That shirt became my “security blanket”. I wore it to school. I wore it when my bandmates and I rode bikes and skateboarded. I wore it when I played drums at shows. I embraced the whole character of the overweight kid in the group that tries really hard to get everyone to laugh, and continued to portray that character for over a decade.
And I effectively eliminated all ridicule about my weight.
Today, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve lost 70 pounds from my highest weight ever, bike almost every day and go to the gym 3-4 times a week. I eat a well-balanced diet of food throughout the day, and only binge or cheat on festive occasions. As a result, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I also have more stamina where it really counts…behind the drum set, ladies!
The late Stephen Covey wrote in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.” I knew back then I couldn’t change my weight problem overnight. (In fact, it has taken the past six years of consistent — and inconsistent — effort and decision-making to finally get to a point where I can stand naked and sober in front of a mirror and smile). What I did know was this: just as the decision to attend the gifted school was mine to make, so was my decision to choose my response to my bullies. I decided to use the exact same smarts the kids used to make fun of me about, and turn the tables on my adversaries.
And the only person stopping you from doing the same thing in your life is you.
Turn the tables on your haters. Use their own tactics against them. Sharpen your mind and create a better life for yourself. Feel free to start with Covey’s book above. I’ve bought it 3 times and given it away to people to help them, leaving me with no copy. One of my best friends recently gave me his extra hardcopy. (Call it karma, right?)
My birthday is coming up this Saturday, and I always get myself a gift.
This year’s gift: six-pack abs.
The fat kid always wins.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Speaking of Saturday, I’ll be posting a big announcement on here! Those who follow this blog will get it emailed directly to them so they don’t miss it. I have a no-limit policy on how many people can follow, and it’s FREE!!
P.P.S. Here’s a moment from the fat years that stuck with me…
Once, on the way home from bowling, I remember going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and this exchange happening as we were waiting to pull up to order:
Dad: “Okay boys, what do you want to eat?”
Me: “A double quarter pounder with cheese extra value meal, super-sized with a —”
Dad: “Doggone it, John! Do you always have to get the biggest thing on the menu??”
I fell silent and shrunk into the passenger seat.
“Why does he care what I order, anyway??”, I wondered at first. “Is it because it’s the most expensive thing on the menu and my family is struggling with money??” (Maybe.)
Then, I began to get really pissed off. “So what,” I reasoned, “I’m hungry, and you’re just jealous that I can eat more than you.” (What??)
My brain brewed with thoughts and my body shook inside for at least an hour. Bottom line, I was really upset with my food lifestyle being challenged. I had settled into the role of “The Fat Kid” and what he would order when he went to fast food restaurants: whatever the biggest value meal was, super/biggie/fatfuck-sized. But I knew in my heart that he was right to ask the question, albeit angrily.
So, why did I always have to order the biggest thing??
It was the habit I unconsciously created over the course of almost 10 years due to my daily decisions.
Make better decisions on a daily basis — even the decisions you think are small — and you’ll eventually create new habits and get the results you want. I know from experience, dude.
I’ve had a really great day, and I hope you have, too.
To start, I woke up to the sound of birds chirping through my bedroom window — you don’t necessarily need an alarm clock; nature will always let you know when it’s time to awaken, naturally.
I turned on the radio (read: the Dan Patrick Show on NBC Sports), brushed my teeth, guzzled a couple liters of water, had a puff and began the day.
The day really begins with breakfast. For a long time, I wasn’t able to eat before noon without my stomach feeling like it was tied in a knot an hour later. Now, I make bacon and eggs every morning, usually accompanied by some sort of Greek yogurt parfait with fresh fruit and nuts, or a piece of multigrain toast with natural peanut butter, and always fresh-ground French press coffee to wash it all down. While watching the DP Show, I usually read whatever book I’m currently into. (Right now, it’s Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies; I love biographies of the unique greats in history.) When the show is over, I start working.
What I work on changes from day to day. It’s usually music- or audio-related and could be something related to my solo album, something for a client, something personal, etc. Basically, I make sure I’m productive in some way between the hours of noon and 6:00 PM. Today, I rode to a bike shop in order to get tires and tubes for my bike, and that was enough for me. It was just too nice outside to work in the studio.
After putting the tubes and tires on my bike, I plopped on the couch and watched one of my favorite bro-tion pictures, Point Break.
When I first sat down to watch it, I was trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t go to the gym, even though today is one of my gym days. I went so far as to try to sell myself on the idea that it would be counter-productive to losing weight because “you’re lifting heavier weights than you have before, and you don’t want to get bigger, so be cool with just riding your bike.” But then I watch badass surfers with six-pack abs for an hour and a half, and it makes me hate myself enough to change, so…I bike to the gym.
While riding, I sometimes come across areas where there are no sidewalks. In these areas, the grass has been worn down over time by other cyclists (I’m not a cyclist, by any means; the word just works) and pedestrians. As I pedal across these dirt trails, I am reminded of the Ley Lines of the earth. I found myself saying out loud as I rode, “This is natural. This is a trail of the Earth, and its energy made people ride exactly this way.”
Think about it: in order for there to be a worn-down path for me to ride upon, there had to be someone who rode it first, then a second person to ride it the exactsame way, then another person rode it the same way again, and again, and again. And most of these people probably don’t know each other. It’s pretty amazing that so many people decided to ride the same route over the grass.
No one got a shovel and made the dirt trail. The trail was made naturally, over time. It took the effort of hundreds — or even thousands — of individuals to ride over the same area. Eventually, a trail was made that everyone follows naturally, and without pause for thought. The sum of each individual’s small decision added up to a natural bike path for everyone to enjoy.
Once I got to the gym, I was concerned that I would be too fatigued from riding to accomplish my normal workout routine. What I found was quite the opposite: I pushed through my full routine, and did so using heavier weights than I normally use. I even did my end-of-workout cardio instead of just opting to have the bike ride home be my cardio for the day.
As I exercised, my mind wandered…like always…
I thought of how far I have come from the first time I learned how to exercise properly (Thanks, Justin Harrison!), and how much I have learned about the process and how to live in a healthy way both inside and outside of the gym.
I thought of my solo album and where I’m at in terms of production and deadlines, what the title will be, the first single, and how it’s almost finished and I didn’t even realize it.
I thought of my girlfriend, the amazing story of us that we’ve been writing since 2009, and how our paths have finally led us to each other.
I thought of my musical career, how I left my $75k/year management job to move to Arizona and get a degree in audio engineering, and how much I love my professional freedom now.
I think… a LOT.
In the humbling book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” As a constant reminder of this reality, I have the words “CHOICE” and “RESOLVE” tattooed on the backs of my arms. The word “CHOICE” represents the last of our freedoms; the word “RESOLVE” represents being strong enough to stand behind your decisions when you know in your heart that those decisions are right.
I’ve made many decisions, and so have you. We are all products of our decisions, big or small.
I had a really great day today as a result of all of the decisions I made yesterday, the day before yesterday, and years before today…
– I am able to wake up to birds chirping every day because I decided to not work a “regular” job. (Oh, how much better I’ve slept since I made that decision.)
– I am able to watch/listen to a radio show for 3 hours every day , uninterrupted and without guilt, because I decided to start working in the afternoons, after I’ve fully awakened and had a healthy breakfast. (Oh, how much more productive I’ve been since I made that decision.)
– I am able to cook and eat a healthy breakfast every day because I decided that my health is important to me, and eating a balanced breakfast is paramount. (Oh, how much energy I’ve had throughout the day since I made that decision.)
– I am able to read a book about a subject I care about every day because I decided that reading and learning is important. (Oh, how much knowledge and wisdom I’ve gained since I made that decision.)
– I am able to go outside whenever I want and ride a bicycle every day because I decided that feeling the wind in my face and getting additional exercise is worth it. (Oh, how much weight I’ve lost since I made that decision.)
– I am able to push through my full workout at the gym every day because I decided to begin exercising and taking care of myself in 2007, and the results have compounded over the years. (Oh, how much strength I’ve built up since I made that decision.)
– I am able to completely produce a quality recording of my music every day because I decided to leave the comfort of a steady income, and pursue a degree in audio engineering. (Oh, how much I’ve been able to make my and others’ music better since I made that decision.)
I am now reminded of a quote by which I live:
“You are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday. Likewise, tomorrow is a result of today.”
The bike trails I rode today are a wonderful metaphor for life: if you keep moving in a consistent direction and make the naturally-correct decisions over time (follow what’s in your nature!), your path will ultimately create itself.
Make better decisions today, big or small, and the results will come. If you’re anything like me, the results will come sooner than expected…more likely, unexpected.
I cannot wait to share my new music with all of you. Thank you so much for reading this.