Tuesday, September 17, 2019

They Stole My Crayon "River Shallows" Lyric Video


Here's something you should know about me. While I admire people who specialize in a particular area and are amazingly good at what they do, I've never really been that kind of human being. Instead, I tend to do a whole lot of different things reasonably well, and throughout my life, if I discover something that interests me, I'll give it a shot. If you want to think of that worldview in a negative sense, the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" is probably applicable to me in many ways.

At the same time, there's an advantage to doing things for one's self. One of them is that when I find myself with a block of time, there are myriad ways to fill it in some productive sense. Coming into this past weekend, for example, I felt like I was on the edge of terminal burnout. It had truly been a rough couple of weeks for me on many fronts, some large and some small. While I knew that some total downtime was required, I don't do well with typical relaxing; I get bored too easily and I feel like time is wasted when I literally do nothing. I knew I'd feel better if I'd accomplished something that was essentially just for myself.

After chilling for awhile on Saturday, it came to me: I'd long been wanting to do something promotional for the music of my band They Stole My Crayon. Creating new music at the moment has too many obstacles, but doing something with our existing batch of tunes had been on my list for some time. So that's what I did; I made a new lyric video for our song "River Shallows" that you can watch below.

"River Shallows" by They Stole My Crayon. Watch it on YouTube if you want.

How Do You Make a Music Video?
Ugh, don't ask me. Seriously, just go watch some music videos. The best of them are like little art films, and are obviously well planned out, and use filmmaking tools like soundstages and visual effects and choreography and all that (and presumably have a budget and so on). My videos rarely come close to that. I've done a couple of videos that border on being good: "Falling Down" from my first solo album, and "Blew the Dust Away" by the Crayon (with this latest video drawing on that same style). But even in those cases, it was very nebulous as to what the point of the video was before we started shooting, and the results speak for themselves.

But in this case, I had no plans at all to make a video this weekend until maybe noon on Saturday. With my only plan being to make a lyric video for one of the songs off the 2016 self-titled TSMC album, I opened up Final Cut Pro X and just started plopping down clips. What clips? Well, whenever we go places together as a band -- most often being Joshua Tree -- we just take various footage no matter what. The idea is that sometime, for some reason, we might find these things useful, and guess what? It's true.


Anyway, for those who aren't aware, there is very powerful video editing software available these days at reasonable prices. What this kind of software allows you to do is to import video footage of almost any variety, edit and combine the clips, add visual effects and text overlays, synchronize the video to audio to music, and then output the whole thing for whatever you intend on doing with the video. This is nothing new; nonlinear video editing has been computer-based for decades now. But for a random person with a typical computer to be able to do this is a room at his house is still pretty neat to me.

I developed a particular style for They Stole My Crayon videos early on, and it was reinforced in subsequent videos I've done for the band. I tend to overlay various clips of footage with slightly psychedelic results. Most of the footage I had at my disposal for the video were clips of our many trips into Joshua Tree, and several of those were with our friend and unofficial tour manager Jess Smith, so she makes the occasional appearance in this one.

Just by happenstance, I did have a few clips from when we were planning on shooting a "real" video for "River Shallows" and I was able to find those (hallelujah!) and implement them here. So, that's it. Plopped some images together, made them look weird, and then plopped some text over them for the lyrics. Done, and done. Enjoy!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Serenity Gardens (09.09.19)

My view from the stage on Monday night at Serenity Gardens. I was doing a set that was mostly dedicated to and inspired by my friend Thea Dee. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Regular readers of this blog know that 95% of the time, my show reports go up the day after any of my live music performances. It's something I enjoy doing, and getting it done fulfills some slightly OCD-ish behavioral patterns I seem to have. But here we are, four days after my most recent show, and I'm just now getting to this entry. What gives?

Well, it's the most mundane of reasons: I got busy. One of my business clients was intent on doing a large web overhaul before their big trade show started, so I've been doing 12 to 14-hour work days this entire week. And then, on Wednesday night, I had a whole other type of obligation, one of the fun variety. We're going to actually talk about that event before going back in time to talk about my show. Doing things backwards is kind of my trademark, so with no further adieu...

Wednesday Night: Rehearsing with Liquid
Liquid is my old cover band that had its heyday in the 2000s. The band is comprised of Randy Harmon on vocals, Phil Gilbreth on bass, Dante Silva on drums, and me on guitar and backing vocals. We're all good friends, but then band had gone on infinite hiatus at one point, and it had been seven years since the last time we played live. Well, a year or so ago, Randy's younger daughter Megan requested that we get back together to perform at her wedding in October 2019, and the time went by and suddenly here we were, a month or so out from the date. We all felt it would be a good idea to get at least one rehearsal in before playing at event with 100 or so people there. So that's what we did; I met the guys at a rehearsal facility in Gardena called Grooveworks (nice place and reasonably priced... I recommend it), and we spent several hours on Wednesday night jamming through the whole set that had been chosen for the wedding.

A still from the short clip I did on Facebook live during the first Liquid practice since our last gig seven years ago. I have no idea how long it will remain visible, but you can watch us feeling our way through a couple of tunes on Facebook here.

I was expecting to have a good time with those guys; I wasn't expecting the band to sound nearly as good as we did after all those years since we last played together. I was frankly astonished at how relatively tight we still were, and if you enjoy classic hard rock from bands like Bad Company, Queen, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Cream and the like, we're still a force to be reckoned with. The jam went great and I'm totally looking forward to the wedding next month (which will also involve a short three-day getaway for Kat and myself, being held up in Kern County at a facility near Lake Isabella).

Some Songs for Thea at Serenity Gardens
Let's get back to the actual topic here. As per my most recent post, I've been dealing with grief lately due to the loss of my close friend Rachael Emborg, known by many of you Second Life people as as Thea Dee. My show on Monday night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, a place where she'd visited so many times to watch my perform, was my first live show of any kind since her passing, and I couldn't have possibly done the show without acknowledging her impact on me as a close friend.

So, when putting together my song list, I very purposefully included a number of tunes that had some connection to her. It genuinely felt good, in a cathartic way, to do that. Obviously, a number of the people who come to my shows were also friends of Thea, and it was a good opportunity, I think, for all of us to come together and acknowledge the importance of her presence in our respective lives and how much we'd miss that.

A lovely sunset and a peaceful time for songs for a friend. Photo by Trouble Streeter.

Serenity Gardens from above. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Of course, me being me, I also felt compelled to make at least a slight fool of myself by attempting to perform the music of one of Thea's favorite bands, which seemed the right thing to do at the time. That band is Rush, whose repertoire I am very, very familiar with, even to the extent of having had a little Rush tribute side-project band when I was about 15 (we were called Permanent Waves). But at no point did I claim to be able to sing like Geddy Lee. Few can. Even Geddy himself isn't fully capable of singing like himself at this juncture. But for Thea's sake, because I imagined her laughing at my attempt to sing a good half-octave above my range, I did a couple of Rush tunes in the set, and I was happy to do so. I also did some songs I knew she enjoyed, and some that were significant to how I was feeling about her passing. All in all, I left the stage after my show feeling better than I had before getting on. That's a good sign.

One more thing I wanted to note: I've recently been contacted by some of Thea's closest friends, who are going to be putting on a special show in remembrance of her on Saturday September 28. I will be performing there, and I'll fill everyone in on details ASAP.

Me being me. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
*Time Stand Still (Rush)
Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Something Else (Zak Claxton)
Closer To the Heart (Rush)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Thanks to all who came to the show, and special thanks tot he following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Harley Wytchwood, Tyche Szondi, Triana Caldera, Kat Chauveau, Trouble Streeter, Nina Brandenburg, cia Beach, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Rachael Emborg (Thea Dee) - 1969-2019

Rachael in 2011. This is how I choose to remember her... happy and with a gleam in her eye.

Writing is something that usually comes easily to me. It's what I've done every day for my career in marketing communications and media for the past 25+ years. It's something I'm good at, and that I enjoy. But for this particular writing assignment, I've sat for a long time, staring at the cursor blinking on a blank page. I've also started this several times, only to backspace my way through multiple sentences. Some things are harder to write than others, and this is one of the most difficult grouping of words I've ever had to put together: my friend Rachael Emborg, known to many as Thea, has died. She was 49 years old.

I have the great fortune of having known Rachael over a longer period of our respective lives than many of our other mutual friends and acquaintances. We became friends in our early 20s while students in college, and then reconnected later on. Over the subsequent nine years, she has been one of my closest friends and confidants. And now, suddenly and unexpectedly, she is gone. I've not yet reached the point of fully accepting this fact. I can write it, I can say it, and yet there's still a part of me who thinks that it's all some kind of big mistake, a terrible but untrue rumor, and that somehow she's going to pop up at my next live music show in Second Life, or that any moment I'll see a new message from her in my email or Facebook messages. But I am, at heart, a pragmatist and a realist. Those things will not happen. It hurts to acknowledge it, but it's true.

As opposed to wallowing in self pity, which would be pretty easy to do, I am writing this piece about Rachael with a purpose. The aspect of her passing that angers me is that it was not unavoidable. While there were aspects to her long string of health problems that might have been different based on genetic and lifestyle factors, Rachael would not be dead today if we lived in a place where health care was accessible for all, and where massive income and wealth disparity was not an ingrained part of our lives.

But first, let me tell you my own story of Rachael.

October 2010
I could start this story at the start, but where's the fun in that? Might as well start in the middle, because that's the most crucial part of this story, for me anyway. I was perusing Facebook on October 7, 2010, when I noticed that a buddy of mine from college, Chris Norris, had posted a birthday greeting on the wall of someone named Rachael Emborg. I wasn't familiar with the name, but I knew the face. When I'd last been in touch with her, she was named Rachael Greenberg. We'd been classmates at Cal State Dominguez Hills in the early '90s, and we'd been great friends. Right away, I reached out to her to send my own birthday wishes, and she responded immediately. We started chatting and she asked if I was still being active as a musician. I told her yes, and that I was doing live shows in this online virtual world thing called Second Life, which she said she'd like to check out. But before I get to the rest of that part of our friendship, let's back up to the beginning.

Adorable little Rachael circa 1973. Note: I appropriated all photos for this piece from public posts on Rachael's Facebook. Hopefully no one will mind.

September 1991
I met Rachael at the start of the school year in 1991. While she and I were the same age, I was a little bit ahead of her in school; I'd been there for a couple of years when she started. We were both involved in the highly-regarded music program there... it was my major and her minor (with her major being theatre design and technology). Nevertheless, as music students, she and I were both required to have a performance class, and we both ended up in University Chorus. She was an alto while I led the chorus's bass section. If you're wondering whether Rachael could sing well, the answer is a wholehearted yes. She had a very pretty voice, clear and always on key.

This is Rachael (left) as I knew her in college at CSUDH. It's on her graduation day in May 1994. Yes, that's our classmate, actress Niecy Nash, next to her.

I liked her right away. She was this cute redheaded girl with a sharp wit and a healthy helping of sarcasm. We'd hang out before and after class, occasionally grabbing lunch or a beer together at the student union there on campus. The following year, I was required to have some independent study credits to complete my bachelor's degree, and I opted to teach the school's audio recording lab class. Rachael was one of my students, and I can tell you from that experience that she was outstandingly smart. Despite having less direct experience in recording studios compared to some of my other students, she locked into new concepts very quickly, and when she had a question, it was the "right" question.

I graduated from there in fall 1992, and started working in my career right away. Like most people at that stage in their lives, I was focused on moving on from my school years. Another four or five years would go by until one day, in a moment of bizarre randomness, I was driving back to my office from lunch when I looked at the car next to me on a busy street in West Los Angeles, and there was Rachael staring back at me. We laughed and pulled over, and I spent some time standing with her by the side of the road, hearing what she'd been doing with her life. It was great to see her. That brief moment in 1996 or so would be the last time I'd ever be in physical proximity to her. I'm glad, thinking back, that we ended that chance meeting with a big hug before we went our respective ways.

Diving Into Second Life
Let's get back to 2010. I'd connected with Rachael on Facebook and told her I was doing live music in Second Life. However, to be clear, I did not do anything other than that. I didn't say, "Hey, you should join SL and come see my shows!", or anything like that. I've been thanked many times by a number of people for having brought Rachael into SL, but the truth is that I really did nothing at all beyond letting her know that SL existed. 100% of everything that happened after that was Rachael's own doing.

I remember being somewhat astounded that just a few months after discovering SL, she had already voraciously devoured knowledge about the platform, how to build, how to do scripting and so on. Perhaps even more impressive was that she'd developed a diverse community of friends who shared her interests and outlooks. Again, I had nothing to do with that. She did start out in Second Life by attending my shows and getting to know some folks in the SL live music scene through that pathway, but all the other things in which she was involved happened completely via her own efforts to explore different scenes and and establish friendships with myriad people, most of whom I'd likely never have met except via her connection to them. She did tons of stuff in SL, from being a live DJ to running a live music venue to putting on artistic virtual dance performances and much more. For a really well-written and thorough piece on Rachael's involvement in (and impact upon) on Second Life, please read this memorial blog by her friend Cherryblonde Scribe.

Here I am on stage, performing at Rachael's Second Life-based live music venue Ground Zero that she ran with the help of some great friends including GMetal Svartur.

One particular moment, I think, helps illustrate the impact that Rachael had on her fellow residents of the virtual world. When she was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment, like many people, she was suddenly faced with the burden of extremely high medical expenses. In 2015, her friends put together a benefit concert event to help raise funds for her, calling it "The Road Forward". A number of SL's best live performers, including me, were thrilled for the opportunity to do something to help her. Hundreds and hundreds of people attended and donated to her cause. She, of course, was completely mortified and embarrassed by the whole thing -- she hated to be thought of as a victim of any kind -- while still being tremendously appreciative. The event raised over $4,000 USD (over L$1,000,000 in Second Life currency) in a single day.

Rachael's benefit show in 2015. Photo by Mat Powers Matlack.

Being Friends
As most people get older, the pure role of friends in their lives is often diminished, taking a backseat to family, coworkers, and the other people whose frequent proximity is based as much on adult responsibility as it is by choice. But in the case of Rachael, pretty much immediately after reconnecting in 2010, we resumed our friendship that had begun almost 20 years earlier. We communicated frequently via all manner of text messages and occasionally voice chats and in Second Life. It was pretty much part of our daily activity to at least say hello and hear a little bit about what was going on in each other's lives.

Much has already been written about Rachael's life and interests, so I'll just focus on one area that was meaningful to both of us: music. Her tastes were unusually broad. She was a huge fan of classic funk and R&B, and couldn't get enough of bands like Earth, Wind & Fire. At the same time, she absolutely loved technically-driven rock, and she was a big Rush fan. I remember how excited she was when she and her husband got to see Rush on their R40 tour. Rachael and I also shared a huge love for artists and bands like David Bowie, Prince, and the Police.

Rachael and her husband Taber at Rush's "R40" concert in summer 2015.

I always enjoyed sharing new music with her. While working on my own music, she was often a sounding board to give me her opinions as I was in the creation stage of new songs. Rachael attended hundreds of my music shows in Second Life over the years, and also was a frequent participant at Triana's Music Trivia in SL. I'll tell you, she was extraordinarily knowledgeable about music, and had a far superior awareness of certain areas of pop, dance, and R&B music compared to me.

The only other thing I want to note about Rachael as a person was that she was fiercely defensive of the things she found to be important to her. Despite going through serious illnesses, she was always there to step up and support her friends in time of need. She abhorred injustice and was never afraid to speak out about the issues that were important to her. We had many conversations about the state of the world and our country, and she had deep concerns about the current direction of the USA, with specific focus on issues like domestic terrorism, white nationalism, abuse of power, women's rights and much more. Had she been healthy, I can imagine that she would have wanted to be an even stronger voice for those in need.

While Rachael felt self-conscious about showing herself in photos after dealing with the results of chemotherapy and other cancer treatment, she'd still post occasional pics to let people know she was hanging in there. Fall 2015.

Why Rachael Should Still Be Alive
One of the final conversations I had with Rachael happened last weekend, and I wish it wasn't so goddamn depressing to think about. It was just a week ago, on Saturday August 24.

RACHAEL: Found out today my insurance will only pay for 5 days of in home oxygen per calendar year.

ME: What the fucking fuck? What does that mean? They pay for 5 days? What do they expect you would do for the other 360 days?

RACHAEL: I don't know.

ME: That can't possibly be right. If a doctor says that you need oxygen to survive, the insurance company can't just fucking kill you. There has to be some recourse.

RACHAEL: Not really.


She and I spoke again on Sunday, briefly. I asked her how she was feeling that day. She said she was doing okay. Four days later, she was gone. I'd tried messaging her each day in between and received no response, which was highly worrisome under the circumstances. I now know that she'd declined rapidly and that on Thursday August 29, after fighting so hard for so many years -- against cancer, against diabetes, against abject poverty, against a variety of other health issues, against political factors that went against every element in her soul she knew to be good and right -- she let go and was removed from the ventilator that had been keeping her alive. She was 49 years old. She would have been 50 in October. It should be needless to say that people in developed countries shouldn't die before their 50th birthday. No person anywhere should die that young.

Rachael's final photo, taken and posted on August 9, 2019. I love that she is smiling here.

The biggest factor that absolutely contributed to her early demise was that she and her husband were simply not capable of sustaining jobs that allowed them to live in reasonably safe and comfortable circumstances. During the entire time I knew her, she was on the verge of being homeless, or not being able to pay for the simplest necessities like food and utilities. I am purposefully not going into details on this matter because I respect their dignity and privacy. I will say that the world in which we live, where more and more people live in poverty and the quality of life of the former middle class has nosedived, while a tiny percentage of the population has more wealth and income than the huge majority of people, was one of the reasons that Rachael needlessly died at a young age.

The other factor is that while Rachael did receive health care, it was certainly not at the level that would have been the case had she been able to pay for better diagnostics and medical treatment. It was a constant nightmare just trying to pay for the insulin that she required to stay alive. And, as you can see from our conversation above, even had she made it through this most recent health emergency, there would have been a huge fight with her insurance provider to get oxygen so she was allowed the luxury of continuing to breathe. This angers me to a degree that few things in life ever have.

I could be bitter and self-pitying about Rachael being gone, and it's very difficult to not go in that direction. Instead, I want to redirect that negativity into something I know Rachael would support. Keep in mind that while she is gone, there are hundreds of thousands of people in similar circumstances who are still alive and still have the possibility of avoiding her fate. For Rachael and for those who are still among the living, I ask that when you look at political candidates, you find out their stances on matters like universal healthcare and wealth/income disparity. In a different world where all people are treated with dignity and compassion, she'd still be alive right now and I wouldn't have to be writing this memorial to her. It's a terrible thing to have to do.

There will be those who feel that it's not right to politicize Rachael's passing in any way, and trust me... I'd rather that not to have to be the direction I've taken. But I can tell you, were the roles reversed and it was me who'd died unnecessarily, I will clearly say to all: please, for the love of God, politicize the fuck out of my death. Make sure that people know that with their vote, they can have a hand in preventing similar tragedies.


That's All
I thought about Rachael often in the time frame between our college years and reconnecting in 2010. When you have a person in your life with a light that shines as brightly as hers did, it leaves an imprint on your soul. I was lucky enough to have spent a good chunk of the past nine years with her being part of my life, and for that, I am grateful.

Knowing that I won't have the pleasure of interacting with her again is a hard pill to swallow. I can say this: no matter how long I live, I will never, ever forget her. Any time that I have an opportunity to help someone in need, I will think of her and hope she would approve of my efforts. She was brave and strong. Proud and beautiful. Being her friend was a privilege and an honor, and I will never stop missing her, or loving her.