Sunday, August 31, 2008

James Gandolfini gets married to Al Hoffman's "The Hawaiian Wedding Song"

Elvis recorded it; so did Andy Williams. Click this line for coverage of wedding

Actually, Al and his 1950's partner Dick Manning did not entirely write it; "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" was written in 1926 by Charles King for his operetta, "Prince of Hawaii."

Al and Dick gave it new lyrics, something they had also done to their hit "There's No Tomorrow", translated from "O Solo Mio", the results of which ended up a hit for Tony Martin.

Click here to see why the above should mean sumpin' to ya

Friday, August 29, 2008

In the vegan world, sometimes the vegetables bite back

I bought one of these, figuring I'd jazz up dinner.

Hot Yellow Scotch Bonnet peppers

Cut up some veggies for quick meal---broc, squash, mush, onion, a veggie burger. Included the above pepper. Didn't think nuttin' of it.

While waiting for the water to boil, to steam it all along with rice, I went onto other things.

I touched my right eye, casually.

It happened instantly.

Oh. Oh. Oh! OH! Like I'd been sprayed with mace. Splashed water from the bathroom sink into it. It got worse. I staggered around the apartment in agonizing, burning pain. The pain spread to my left eye. Now I was blind.

Filled the bathroom sink with cold water. Waited, waited, waited, then---


Steam billowed. I held the snoot underwater, eyes open, looking left to right.

It worked.

"I can see! I can see!"

I threw the pepper in the garbage, violent little @#$@#$ that it was.

Go sear the earthworms!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Phelps effect

I'm as passionate about pro sports as I am about waterbugs, furballs and chicken bones. If every sports team in America disbanded, it would take me a few weeks to notice.

But say "Phelps!" and I step a little faster, go the extra mile, do what it takes.

Phelps helps, and I'll tell you how.

I swim several times a week at Lasker Pool in Central Park.

It's an enormous blue heaven and is often near-empty for the "adult lap swim" I do early in the morning or at 8 PM. All worries are jettisoned to some unseen hell when you dive into the cool blue drink, cooler still after a rainstorm.

The pool is in Harlem and I like Harlem, its architecture, its cleanliness, its turnaround from its 80s nadir of violence and hopelessness.

It's not always easy to go to the pool. The park pool people, a staff of about 8 at any given time, are frequently as nasty, uncaring, dull, humorless and obsessed with their little slices of power over the public as anyone you may meet at a government agency in New York City.

It's a Phelps-like challenge not to answer back when one particularly unpleasant mustachioed attendant adopts a cop-like attitude when questioning you or someone else about some petty subject, like coming through the open gate when it's available instead of walking up two flights of stairs to another entrance far out of the way.

"$250 fine for coming through that gate," he says.

"Ok, Groucho," I respond.

Another swimmer has a folding bike with him, and asks if he can lock it up within the gate.

"No," says Javert. "If you did that, I'd throw it in the pool."

We do not want to be asked to leave and barred from coming back, so we swallow the urge to push this man in the pool.

There are also those who are mellow, sweet, easygoing, nice to see and chat with. If I forget my card, they let me in anyway. I think they can see I won't steal any water. And everyone says hello and goodbye, which I like.

The pool is also currently surrounded by raccoons, who emerge at dusk and pick through the garbage. Last night one was drinking from the pool itself; a lifeguard shooed (shoe'd) him/her with a flip-flop, which the animal took no real notice of.

The coons get a pass by the staff and swimmers; rats would be a different story.

The pool closes this Friday for the winter. Between Phelps' win and the imminent close of summer, everyone swims a little faster. I'm serious. There are no more lollers.

Last night I left the pool after a delicious 10-lap dunk. It was a gorgeous evening and it was my last night test-driving this tiny, zippy BMW M Coupe.

Where to go? What to do? Where's the wife? At the gym, I remembered. I opened my cell phone and discovered it was out of order, so I found a pay phone and left her a message saying I would come to the gym and look for her.

It was the same thing I did during the blackout of 2004. You've got to Find Julie.

I parked near her gym in midtown Manhattan and saw the place was closed. I didn't want to go home; it was so beautiful out. So I sat on some steps and watched a group of tourists stop and do chin-ups on some scaffolding. None made it past one chinup. An older tourist was admonished by his wife, who feared for his immediate health, but he had to go for it.

Phelps' effect? Maybe.

I got up and saw my beloved coming toward me, and we fell into each others' arms. She'd seen my car and was looking for me.

I drove her home, dropped her and went out looking for a Salvation Army-type clothes drop for this bag of apparel I don't wear anymore. I ended up driving through the Bronx on Broadway, and noticed the streets there are as beat-up as when I moved to my neighborhood 5 years ago. In my little car, the potholes and bumps are like cannons, and it's easy to get pissed off.

Phelps, though, would overcome a bad street, a busted cell phone, a surly pool guy. He'd do what it takes.

I ended up driving to Yonkers before I found a box to put my Goodwill clothes in. I wasn't about to bring that big bag back into my apartment when they came and took the BMW back.

Phelps would have found a box, too.

A few minutes ago, my toilet overflowed with twice the amount of water it usually floods the bathroom with. A serious mess, first thing in the morning. I got angrier than I've been in forever, the speech reduced to grunts and epithets as I moved my now-dripping "Idiots Guide To World War 1" off the floor, realized the futility of avoiding sewage on my feet and hands, and just did what it took to address the mess.

Phelps, Josh Max. Phelps.

Or, barring that, Johnny Cash.

"I don't like it but I guess things happen that way."

Friday, August 22, 2008

The short end of the stick (shift)

I had just pulled into a Hawthorne parking lot adjacent to the Saw Mill Parkway and was getting out of my car when I heard the sound of an angry voice coming over a police loudspeaker. I looked and saw a female cop ordering someone in a BMW 3-series to pull into a space near me, and shut off the car. The driver jerk-jerk-jerked to a stop.

I parked a book on top of my roof and pretended to read while I saw a very angry cop get out of her cruiser and approach the driver of the BMW.

I couldn’t hear what was said, but whatever the driver of the BMW had done was serious enough for an extended chew-out. On and on the cop went.

I kind of like when female cops yell at me. It doesn’t happen too often, but it happens. I like to see if I can talk my way out of it. Female cops are sexy, anyway. Guns. Batons. Pony tails.

I got bored listening to this copper spew, so I went and got a cup of iced coffee before going into the gym---that’s why I was in Hawthorne. When I came out of the shop, two girls were circling the BMW, obviously rattled, and obviously the ones who’d been yelled at.

“Hey!” I called. They looked.

“What did you do make that cop yell at you like that?”

“Neither of us can drive a stick shift,” said one. “So I was practicing on a side street.”

“Nothing wrong with that. “

“Somehow we ended up on the highway, and I panicked.”


“I kept stalling out. So finally we just parked with the flashers on, and called 911---on ourselves.”

“So the cop showed up and was pissed off?”

“Yes, and we didn’t even DO anything.”

There ought to be different-colored belts for drivers, parents, musicians and writers, just like in Karate.

And another belt for "I'm on a highway and I can't drive a stick."

My vegan heart went out to this young lady, however, both for her pluck and her willingness to talk to a stranger. I told her what I did for a living, that I'd driven her car and that BMW's aren't always easy---their clutch-shift-accelerator combinations are tight tight, making them one of the easiest cars to stall, and it happens even to an expert like me.

(The easiest cars I've ever shifted? Saturns and Volkswagens.)

I told her, also, that many times when I get a new motorcycle, the first journey is the most harrowing. I always make a point of going somewhere, getting off the bike, leaving it for a bit while I wander or shop or such. When I get on the second time, it's always easier. The body says, "Ah, this again. Ok, I've been here."

"You'll be fine. Just relax."

She thanked me with a big smile and I went upstairs to the gym. When I looked out the window ten minutes later, her car was gone.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Heeeeeere's Al!

I signed a two-year contract with Music Sales Group yesterday, to plug, push and shove the new CD I executive produced over the last 7 months titled "The Maxes Sing Al Hoffman".

Al Hoffman was my great Uncle. He died before I was born, and I knew nothing about him growing up other than he co-wrote "Mairzy Doats" and "I Apologize".

Five days after 9-11, Mrs. M and I were driving over the Brooklyn-Queens expressway. You could see the smoke over the burning pit in Manhattan. Two men on our block had been killed in the Twin Tower attacks.

We tuned the car radio to WFUV-FM and heard deejay Rich Conaty announce an evening of Hoffman music on his Big Broadcast show. That was a surprise and a shock. I'd never heard Al's name spoken by anyone except members of my family.

I tuned in the following Sunday and heard happy, happy tunes, a stark contrast to the death and destruction that was in the air during that time. I learned that Al had written hundreds of songs, among them standards recorded by Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Django Reinhardt, Chet Baker and literally dozens of others beginning with his first hit, "That's What I Call Sweet Music" recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1929, right up to "La plume de ma tante"
by Homer and Jethro in 1959.

I contacted Conaty, explained who I was, and he graciously sent me three cassettes containing his Hoffman broadcast. After repeated listening, I decided hat I'd agressively pursue information about Hoffman. I discovered a Seattle cousin had two boxes of Al's personal papers, magazine articles, correspondence and such as well as 300 78 and 45 RPM records.

The boxes were sent and I found some eyeball-shattering family dirt as well as much about Al. I sat on the floor and gaped at his photo for the first time, one of dozens documenting Al's life in New York City from 1928 to the year of his death, 1960---and beyond.

Al Hoffman and his mother Rose, 1932

With the help of Nick Max, I had the records transferred to MP3, boiled it down to 12, and decided to record.

Through phone calls to ASCAP, I discovered Music Sales Group,
a world-wide publishing company with offices in Manhattan, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Berlin and elsewhere had bought most of Al's copyrights in recent years. (I also discovered Paul McCartney's MPL owns 3---none hits.)

I called Music Sales and asked to speak to whoever handled Hoffman. Got the right guy, introduced myself, and asked if the company would be interested in a new full-length CD if and when.

To my surprise, he didn't yea yea me---they took me quite seriously, and said sure.

It did not hurt that the man I spoke to likes cars.

Took me a while but I raised the dough to hire the best musicians, arranger, producer and studio I could afford.

I finished the disc, brought it to Music Sales and left it there. Within a day, they called offering to sign us to an exclusive publishing deal, aggressively seeking to place the songs in film, television, radio, videogaming and "new media", whatever that means.

The disc is called "The Maxes Sing Al Hoffman".

You can't buy it---yet---but you will, soon, as soon as we plot the next move. We're also in the process of planning a series of videos in conjunction with last year's "The Maxes" and this year's "The Maxes Sing Al Hoffman".

Now, about the signing. Obviously, it was a sweet day, 7 years in the making.

I put on my signin' clothes---tight black jeans, bright blue Armani shirt, black polished loafers, and up I went to the Office.

I thought the final version of the contract would be on parchment, printed in italics, and a gold seal affixed. It was not--it was printed on Staples paper.

Three copies were offered, three were signed, three of us stood and said, "Here's to a long and prosperous relationship." Ok, I said it. But they smiled and said, "Yes!"

Welcome to the music biz, kid, I sez to the mirror later on.

You might want to check out some of the musicians who played on the sessions:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Smash Shack

CNN's report on Smash Shack--you'll have to watch a commercial first

Have you ever wanted to break something? I have. The Smash Shack lets you bust plates, dishes, photos of your ex, for a price.

At first I thought, dumb people flushing money. Just deal with your problems, for Fred's sake.

Then I remembered the Frustration Pile, created by N. Max when we were children. It was a hole the boy had dug and lined with large stones. When pissed, an empty wine bottle would be taken to this hole and smashed against the sides of the rocks.

I didn't really use it, and he didn't really use it after a couple of times.

Like soft drugs leading to harder stuff, the Frustration Pile led to, or contributed to, the overall atmosphere of Destroying Objects, some tiny, some quite large.

He doesn't like it when I talk about this stuff, so I won't. I'll save it for the book.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So sayeth Newton Minow

"I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper or profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland."

Newton Minow, U.S. Federal Communications Commission , 1961

Josh Max's 6-word memoir

Harpo Beatles hurry publish sing bye.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

B'loney? You? Me?

A waiter of about 20, a dancer on a scholarship (and that ain't exactly a stable surface!) , was taking my order at a restaurant the other night. We got to talking, him about dancing, me about writing and playing music.

He asked, "Which do you prefer?"

It was startling. No one has ever asked me that. No one asks me about music or writing, and up until that moment, I had not grasped that fact.

Rich Z. has everything I've ever recorded since 1993 on his iPod, I know that. A & T have all my post-1999 recordings on their shuffle. There are 12,000 bought copies of the album I released in 2000, "Make It Snappy" out there. Anyone listening? No idea, hon.

At the moment, I am about to sign a deal, my first, with a big music publishing company, for a disc I recorded over the last 7 months with 12 musicians at a Grammy-winning studio. The signing proves someone important cares. "Those with ears to hear, let them listen."

To answer the young man's question and get to the title of this post---

I like both music and writing for different reasons. But music wins, my friends.

I was born a musician. Zeus did not give me these perfect-pitch ears for the hell of it. Writing I came to naturally, later, but music is my heart and my love and my passion. If you want to know me, listen to my music, especially the last album.

The prose always has a lie in it and that is because I am a coward and don't want to hear people's negativity. I am toned down to the 10th degree in 90% of what I write, here and in public. I'm not talking about car stories. Even my first-person is raked to avoid hooking small minds, the minds that call your wife a cow and tell you you are in need of psychiatric help.

I have a book I'm writing called "Confessions of an ex-seeker". The aim? No lies.

A guy I used to follow, Paul Lowe, used to talk about people coming to his seminars wanting help in their life transitions, their relationships, their dealings with the world and existence.

He would say, "Just get through a single day without telling a single lie. That'll keep you busy."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday quote

"...There are very few things in this world which it is worthwhile to get angry about; and they are just the things anger will not improve."

Hnery Jarvis Raymond, founder of the New York Times, September 18, 1851

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Last night at Kenny's

A few notes from last night.

*When people ask me how any gig went, I usually say, "I played some good s--t and I played some crap." I don't know otherwise how it went because I am one of three, and I was not in the audience. It's not like a baseball game, either, where you win or lose. It went like it went and the audience liked a couple of songs in particular---"I'll Cry Instead" and "I Wanna Be Your Man". I liked it---got there early, talked to John M.'s Dad about his moustache, and it felt good to play electric guitar in public after all these months.

*The band made $XX in tips, which we split three ways.

*Bars carry a dark energy in them. If bars sold weed instead of alcohol, there would be an entirely different energy about bars and I'd probably like setting foot in them better.

I recently read that the reason loud music is played in bars is to A) Keep people from talking, which means all there is to do is drink and B) to upset people so they buy drinks to make themselves feel better.

So you play your set and no matter what sort of music you perform, a bar will usually follow your show with ear-splitting, heartless, soulless music piped over the system that completely and instantly destroys whatever vibe you've created. If people want to tell you how much they enjoyed your show, they have to yell.

*When a battery has been sitting, dormant, in an echo pedal for a few months and you test it out and it still works, it doesn't mean it'll work for an entire 45 minute set. You'll probably get 10-20 minutes out of it as I did out of mine last night. Note to self: buy a new battery every show, or better yet, plug it in the wall.

*The last time I played Kenny's Castaway's was in 1996. I hadn't been in the club since then.

*You meet the same people you met when you first started playing in bars--the pasty, reasonably friendly sound man with a single syllable name, the sullen doorman to whom there isn't any point flashing a smile to---instead, the Westchester quick upturn of the head and blinking of eyes serves as a greeting---the bar staff to whom a request for three waters for the band might as well be a request for a double half-caf vanilla latte, extra hot for all the (lack of) speed it takes for you to get it, and such.

*There is a particularly delicious and pleasing feeling you get when members of your family show up, especially when you know they have busy, responsible jobs and could otherwise be at home. A person's presence at times means more than anything they might say about your music.

*When three are equal onstage, it's different than when it's you and a few hired guns. I like being the boss of The Maxes but I also enjoy being part of an equal trio where everyone sings.

*It's nice to be able to play the music of the Beatles with two others who are steeped in the catalogue, and to twist and turn the music as you see fit and still have it accepted.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn and my parents

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel prize-winning Soviet writer whose tales of totalitarian Russia under the Iron Curtain brought him worldwide recognition and who was expelled from his country for his writings, is dead at 89.

That I even know who this man is is because of my parents, Stan and Jean.

I remember the name from when I was very, very young. I even learned to say it---"Sol-schzen-EET-sin".

The house I grew up in contained hundreds of books lined up neatly and not-so-neatly on shelves in what was known as the Library. Not pop culture books either; these were classic works of literature, books about political systems and philosophy, religion, humor and subjects which constantly expanded my young, open mind in between the Flintstones and Felix the Cat.

At no time were any of these books forced upon me; my natural curiosity led me to read "The Death Of A President", "The Communist Manifesto", "Why England Slept", "The Sea Wolf", "Greek Mythology", The Bible, "Lord Jim" and dozens of other books which are still in print dozens or in some cases hundreds of years after they were published. And, of course, works by Solzhenitsyn.

A friend from the second grade I recently reconnected with said, during our hourlong conversation, "I remember you could read the New York Times." I read it because it was made available. We three boys may have smashed, burned, hit and run over through most of our childhoods, but never once did we harm a book.

It never occured to me that other kids' houses didn't value reading, the mind, intellect.

Neither of my parents really gave a damn about making money to the extent that some adults let that pursuit drive them. Dad spent what he had, Mom saved what she earned. The development of the mind was most important, but even that concept wasn't hammered into me. The message was, "This knowledge is here, right in front of you, when and if you are ready."

I chose to be a musician first, a writer second. It is writing that has brought me the most success thus far. Thus far.

I have my parents to credit for my love of words, the ability to use them and make a good living from them.

When I brought home a Bentley several years ago, my father thought it was fun and such, but he was more impressed when I got my first full-page story about Minnie Marx in the Daily News. He cut it out and put it up on his wall.

One of the last things my father said to me before he died two years ago was, "I think you're ready for a book."

If I'm ready, it's because he and my mother prepared me for it from my earliest years by surrounding me with knowledge.

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's all green, mon.

No eggs, butter, meat, fish, fowl, cheese, yogurt. Nothing animal.

7 months today.

"Well, Jesus, don't I get a gold record or knighted or nothing?" John Lennon, watching a loaf of bread he'd baked being eaten

Nonetheless, the rewards exist.

For the past few years, I've had acid reflux so intense that I finally grabbed Dr. L by his lapel and demanded something, anything. He prescribed a drug that gave me a Franklin Delano Roosevelt "I've got a terrific headache", and I stopped taking it.

But if you looked in my desk(s), shoulder bags and pockets a year ago, you would find Tums and other, more powerful anti-holy-effing-shabadoo-my-goddamn-stomach-is-on-fire drugs.

I take none of those stomach acid remedies today. My belly loves beans (even wit' hot sauce and Beano)

...all the veggies in the spectrum, big blocks of tofu with wasabi, cashews, peanuts, almonds, fruits of any kind, brown and white rice, sorbet, etc.

I feel, physically, pretty damn good. Yesterday I downed a cup of coffee, an enormous dollop of peanut butter, a bowl of brown rice, drove 40 miles out of Manhattan, and biked up a ten-mile hill, after which I drove to a gym and pumped the ol' chest.

Clearly, the vegan way isn't costing me any energy.

My eyelids, a constant source of redness, itching and such, have calmed down considerably.

Asthma's about the same. I thought quitting dairy would cure it, but nope. That's ok.

Nothing but positive things to say about veganism. I should also add that by adopting this way of eating, approximately 28 chickens haven't died because of me, nor have any fish suffocated in agony, nor have any cow's udders turned red and raw from overmilking. Nor have I ingested any feces-dotted, decaying meat.

Sure, my broccoli may have fallen on the floor and my lettuce ridden in an open truck, exposed to the grit and shit in the air of New York.

Somethin's gonna kill ya eventually, and I ain't dead yet.