Introduction: A Life in Rock and Roll
I’d like to tell you I knew exactly where I was one fateful day back in 1968, at the ripe old age of 6, when I first heard a song that captured my young imagination and set me on a journey I’m still travelling today, more than 43 years later.
But the truth is I have no idea where I was and it was likely a whole bunch of songs and people and events that were responsible. I’m sure it’s all just a picture I’ve painted into memory to help propel the story but still this one song always comes to the forefront whenever I think back to that magical time.
Blame It On The Radio
In this memory, I’m riding in the car with my mom, who is running errands and it’s summertime. I can feel the wind on my face as I lean my head out the window. The radio is playing; AM radio that is, which was mainstream radio at the time. So it was probably WABC, the big kahuna in the New York metropolitan area.
The deejay announces the next song when a faint, eery howl rises up through the dashboard speaker, guitar feedback undulating like a cobra being seduced by the snake charmer, swelling in volume until it’s joined by the machine gun-like attack of a choked electric guitar, conjuring perhaps a freight train screaming by through your imagination on its way to nowhere when suddenly a voice explodes from out of the haze…
“I like to dream, yes, yes, right between my sound machine
On a cloud of sound I drift in the night
Anywhere it go
es is right
Goes far, flies near, to the stars away from her
Well, you don’t know what we can find
Why don’t you come with me little girl
On a magic carpet ride
You don’t know what we can see
What don’t you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free
Close your eyes girl, Look inside girl
Let the sound take you away…”
The song is, of course, Magic Carpet Ride. The band is John Kay and Steppenwolf and the journey I speak of is a life lived with a never ending soundtrack that was built on rock and roll. I didn’t choose this path. It chose me.
You Say You Want A Revolution
Rock and roll was the music of youth culture in the Sixties, the voice of a restless generation questioning the rules of authority and the status quo they had been forcefed by the generations that preceeded them. Vietnam, the Cold War, civil rights and the race to put the first man on the moon. The safe, sanitary Leave It To Beaver America of the Fifties was officially dead. The real one was undergoing major social upheaval.
Our babysitters, many of them poster children for Sixties counter culture style (the long hair, bell bottoms, love beads and deerskin fringe jackets), would bring over the records of the day and blast them when my parents left to go out to dinner.
Rock And Roll Entered My Soul
That’s where I first heard Led Zeppelin, Cream, Grand Funk Railroad, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and of course, The Beatles. You could say my fate was sealed before I ever had a say in the matter. Rock and roll entered my soul early and never left.
So I started to buy records and would drag my mom to the record store every chance I got as my love of this music grew into a kind of obsession. But they played everything back then on WABC. So along with my love of rock and roll came an equal affinity for R&B, Motown and soul music: Gladys Knight, The Temptations, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five.
As the Sixties gave way to the Seventies and I came into my teen years, my influences grew to include the next generation of rock and roll, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Kiss, Aerosmith, Queen, Bowie and Pink Floyd (I hadn’t yet discovered their earlier work). We used to spend countless stoned nights downstairs at my house “Floyding out” with all the lights turned off.
He Heard One Guitar
This is about the time I picked up the electric guitar. I’d like to tell you that was because of a burning desire to play. But the truth is I had a mad crush on my junior high drama teacher, who was handing out parts for the school play that year, Bye Bye Birdie. I would do anything to be close to her. So there was a small part for a guitar player in Birdie’s band and I lied and told her I could play. Then I ran home that day and begged my best friend’s father, who was a jazz guitar player, if he would teach me. That’s where it all began for me.
My best friend, Eric, a bass player, and I would drag his dad’s old tweed Fender amp down the street through the snow to my house (I’m still saddened by this, looking back) and would plug in his bass and my guitar, crank it all the way up and play horrendous, out of tune versions of Foghat and Ted Nugent songs. But then after serenading the neighborhood with some pretty harsh concerts, we started to get pretty good. So of course we started a band and that led to other bands. And very slowly, we got better.
Couldn’t Get A Ticket, It Was a Sold Out Show
This is also when we began going to concerts to see our heroes; Aerosmith, Foghat, Ted Nugent, The Allman Brothers, Yes, Pink Floyd. By the time Queen had risen to the zenith of their career with their News Of The World album and tour in 1977, we got tickets to see them at Madison Square Garden.
To this day, after watching Freddie Mercury, Brian May and this incredible band at the top of their game play the greatest venue in the world, I can say it’s one of the greatest rock and roll moments of my life. They were the real genie and I’ll never forget that show.
By the time we were high school seniors, our band, Luminous Fibers (a name borrowed from those classic Carlos Castenada books) had become a local favorite. Being underage, they used to sneak us into this pub, The Tin Whistle, to play gigs. It was also at this time that my longstanding reputation as a jock who played some music, quickly started to unravel when we played a big concert for our high school.
My ‘Dylan At Newport’ Moment
I came out in the Hendrix at Woodstock-inspired dashiki and saw the shocked looks on my school friends’ faces. There was clearly a line drawn in the sand separating “Us” from “Them” in uppity Westport, Connecticut and I had just crossed it forever. This was my Dylan at Newport moment. I had become one of them.
Shortly thereafter, we were invited to play at a keg party with more of those people, most of them Eric’s friends; the greasers, the potheads, the outcasts. Oddly enough, I was welcomed for my rock and roll leanings and treated like royalty there. In this tribe, I had found my place in the world, entertaining and laughing with the sinners. I was never a good fit for the machine anyway.
From this point in the story, it would take far more space and time than you probably have patience for to describe the next thirty odd years in detail, on the wild ride that led me to the present day. More bits and pieces will come to light over time in subsequent posts. But for now the Reader’s Digest goes something like this:
Standing At The Crossroads
After intense social pressure and quite a bit of fear, I attended college on the notion that I was going to get a solid education to fall back on if the music didn’t work out. Sounded good at the time for an eighteen year old’s life plan. Did well but felt too far from music so I bailed after a year.
I came home trying to figure out my next move, eventually heard an ad on the radio for an audio recording school in New York, the Institute of Audio Research. Went there, eventually got a job at a big New York studio, Right Track Recording, learning this glamorous business from the bottom up, polishing brass signs, sweeping floors, making coffee and delivering tapes to all the other New York studios. Met famous rock stars, one of which (Foreigner) asked me out on a world tour. Got laid, got paid, met other rock stars (Joe Walsh), who asked if I wanted to work with them out in Cali. It was 1985.
Go West Young Man
Moved there the following year, split my time between the road and coming back to play in bands too. Eventually got an engineering gig in a big L.A. studio. Met my share of weirdos, bimbos and one imported psycho bitch from the road, more rock stars, R&B royalty and one heavy metal Messiah, who sadly made headline news for a tragic event in Waco, Texas. Even met my future wife.
Lived through earthquakes, mud slides, brush fires, riots and the spectacular murder trial of a once famous athlete who became a lousy actor. Produced a bunch of music demos and eventually found an act that turned into a Grammy nominated artist (Five For Fighting).
Got sick of L.A. after 10 years and decided I wanted to play my own music again. Moved back to New York, started a band again with my friend Eric. Future wife followed me back and eventually became my present wife.
Early Surfing On The New Digital Wave
The band caught a big new wave called the internet, made it to Number One on the big new digital music site and got interviewed by a big TV station and big magazines. Band flamed out after a close call with Atlantic records. Started another one that eventually sold their music to TV and film, won a contest and played for 16,000 people at a New Jersey basketball arena that Bruce Springsteen and a few others played too.
On that tour with aforementioned rock legends, a singer named Margaret Taylor had come out with us to rehearse a local choir in every city to sing said group’s big Number One song, I Want To Know What Love Is. She went on to tour with many amazing legends as a background singer and eventually had her own solo career. She later changed to her given Japanese name, Machun.
A decade later, in 1996, I was producing aforementioned Grammy nominated artist and mixing at a downtown New York studio, who happened to be having a big party to launch their new room. I wandered down the hallway and who should I run into but Machun from the Foreigner tour. She asked what I was doing there at the studio and couldn’t believe that the young, crazy road dog she once knew was now producing a major label artist. “You’ve come a long way, haven’t you?” she said. She eventually married the keyboard player in a famous jam band and moved up to Woodstock.
Back To The Garden
Fast forward another decade plus and I’m traveling to Woodstock on a Fall leaf peeping weekend, which had become a ritual with my wife and I. But now I was travelling with the mother of my two children. On that trip, I was invited over to the house of a woman who was representing my music. When I accepted, she said she wanted to introduce me to her neighbor, the keyboard player (Danny Louis) in a famous jam band (Govt. Mule), and his wife, a singer with a very unique Japanese name.
I said there’s only one person I know with that name and that I met her long ago when we toured together in another life. When we showed up at the house, Machun came out and gave me a big hug and met my family. We sat and talked about life, music and why it is we choose to continue on in this very crazy business. Twenty five years of life had happened since we first met.
Somewhere in that conversation, we were commiserating over the state of the music industry right now. I was lamenting my next move with music, as my last band had fizzled out. I wondered if it had all been worth it and what I had really accomplished.
You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
Machun looked at me and said, “Mark, when I met you all those years back, you were this crazed roadie cruising around the world like a pirate on a wild ride. Look at you now. You’ve produced major talent, played your own music in arenas, sold your own songs to TV and film. You became an artist and a songwriter, Mark. That’s incredible! I’d say you’ve come a very long way indeed.”
That last comment stopped me in my tracks. I had never really thought about it like that. We get so caught up with the crazy thoughts that spin around endlessly in our minds over the years about who we are or what we’ve done or not done or where we’re supposed to be at a certain point in life. And the truth is it’s all bullshit!
We never stop to think that there’s another perspective out there to who we are; someone else’s. We never give ourselves credit for just exactly who we are and celebrate our true uniqueness; our failings, our strengths, our particular oddities…our stories. The sum total of all our experiences, our victories and our failures and the unique perspective we give them is the one thing we truly own in this world that separates us from each other and at the same time bonds us together as human beings by sharing our stories with one another.
The Zen of Rock and Roll Zen
The rock and roll I speak of here is not about a particular musical idiom that can be broken down into its various genres and styles and analyzed, based on a certain set of song forms and chord structures, as might be performed by a musicologist. It’s not about any one particular artist, or style or golden era that may have been better than another one (though I certainly will be offering personal opinions here about what rocks in life and what sucks!)
Rock and roll is a state of mind. A way of life. A path one chooses. Hence, the name I chose for this blog. Like Zen, the desire to rock is to live by a certain set of principles; some you can practice and potentially attain mastery through and others that have more to do with who you are deep down and what you stand for.
Rock and roll is a stance one takes (in whatever creative endeavor you choose, not just music). It’s a commitment to stand on the big stage of life and let it all hang out. It’s having the courage to hold up your middle finger to the world and say Fuck You! to conformity and all who would tell you what you can and can’t do.
There are three great passions in my life; music, guitars and telling stories. Rock and Roll Zen combines all three of them.
It is my sincere desire that through this blog and the stories I will share with you, along with the products and services I will offer you, that I will inspire you to unearth your own unique story and deliver the soundtrack to your brand. I want to give you the tools and the courage you need to go out there, stand on that big stage and rock the world!
So are you ready to rock?!! Then let’s do this.
Rock Your Story!