Long time no blog. I‘ve been meaning to find the time to write more, but I’ve been pretty busy. My startup is now up to 14 people, so that takes up a good chunk of the week. I’m near the end of a week-long vacation today, so it’s pretty much now or never.
I realized a few months back that I was slowly sinking into a state of misery, the root cause of which was not work (which is going pretty well) but the lack of anything outside of it. I’d pretty much go to work, go home, and often do work-related stuff there. I’d waste time by playing video games or watching TV, neither of which is very fulfilling in the long run.
I was definitely watching far more TV than I am accustomed to, though still probably 1/4th of what the average American does, and it was only partially because we’re living in the golden era of television. I’m the rare person who doesn’t have a cable subscription but isn’t some sort of anti-television snob. I just don’t like that much of it, and what I do want to see, I can download.
Many people view TV as vastly inferior to reading, but personally I’m skeptical. I’m still not sold that the crap that most people read is really much better for the brain than the crap they watch on TV. I’ve read Dan Brown and I’ve seen about half an episode of American Idol, and if you asked me which one decreased my IQ by more, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.
So I’ve pretty much ditched both television (easy to do in the summer when all of the good shows are on hiatus anyway) and video games in favor of more active and social activities. I’ve been golfing a decent amount, and recently joined a bowling league. I’ve deleted a number of RSS feeds from my Google Reader (pretty much everything that isn’t work-related) and started writing a novel. I’ve read a few books old-school paper style, and have used my commute to listen to a few more rather than constantly flipping from one bad rock station to another, so it’s been my most literate year in a long while.
All in all it’s been a solid improvement. I still need to fix a few things. For one, I need to exercise more. Golf isn’t too bad, especially if you’re walking, but it isn’t really what I’d call strenuous. Exhausting perhaps. Agitating, most definitely. But not really a workout.
For another, I need to travel more. That and not waking on an alarm are the only two things I miss from the professional poker days. I definitely can’t do the constant week-long getaways I used to back then (and the alarm clock situation is hopeless) but I could start taking advantage of long weekends and such.
I took a road trip to Chicago for a few days this week. I should have stayed longer. Chicago is the one big city I actually like. I wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s a great place to visit. The Shedd Aquarium is truly impressive, though since they ruined the show I may actually like Atlanta’s better. The pizza is to die for, and I say this as possibly the only American who doesn’t really like pizza very much. If a New Yorker ever tells you how good their pizza is, kick them in the genitals swiftly to prevent them from procreating. What they call a pizza on the East Coast would be considered merely a topping in Chicago.
And then there’s the blues. Somehow, despite being a white boy from Akron, I’ve been a blues fan for a long time, and on this vacation I had the closest thing to a religious experience I’ll likely ever get. I got to meet Buddy Guy. It turns out the club he’s owned for 20 years had just moved to a new space about a block from my hotel a couple weeks before I arrived. My wife was feeling ill Monday night so I walked over to see what was going on.
I walked in and found an open space at the bar. I looked to my right and sure enough there was Buddy in a cowboy hat. I eventually introduced myself to him, and told him that I was a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughn, which was how I had initially found his music. Buddy talked a bit about Stevie, and playing that final concert with him in Alpine Valley (Vaughn died in a helicopter crash on the way back to Chicago right after an encore with Buddy, his brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, and Robert Cray). Then he politely excused himself, went up on stage, and played with the band for a bit.
Afterward he came back and reminisced a bit. I asked him if he’d lived in Chicago all his life, and he said he moved there in his early 20’s.
“To play the blues?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I just wanted to find a good job. Back then there wasn’t no money in the blues. You’d play and the audiences would be 99% black.”
He talked a bit more about how much times had changed since then. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have lived through what he’s lived through. He started out long before our nation began to make any real and lasting progress toward racial equity, toiling for decades in relative obscurity in an industry that was extremely exploitive of artists, especially black ones. Musicians like Hendrix, Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, whom he practically mentored, and blues-based rockers like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, who followed directly in his footsteps, became multiplatinum selling artists while he remained virtually unknown for three decades.
And now he’s a 74 year old black man in a nation with a black President who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won numerous Grammys, and owns a blues bar where 20-something white tourists like me come snap pictures of him with camera phones. While he was talking to me about how much more cars cost today than they did back then, I have to think that’s the least of the changes he’s seen.
Either way, he can still play a guitar like he could twenty years ago. And he’s a personable guy. He takes great pride in being so approachable, showing up at his club on a regular basis, signing autographs and taking pictures. I’m not really the autograph sort, but talking to the man I was as close to starstruck as I’ve ever been.
When I’d first walked in, a guy had made a space for me at the bar. I introduced myself and he said his name was Cortez. He told me a bit of his story over the next hour or so. Apparently he’d been a jazz drummer, but had stopped playing about 15 years prior. He’d had a job as an IT worker for a Chicago newspaper, and when he got laid of he’d decided to start playing again. Since he lived in Chicago he decided he might as well learn to play the blues.
Monday nights are jam nights at the club. After the opening act anyone who wants to can put their name and what instrument they play on a list and an emcee assembles bands from it. Blues is very much based on instrumental solos and vocal showmanship, deriving an infinite permutation of songs and experiences from just a few simple melodies, so it lends itself to jamming like no other genre. If you can just play three or four different songs and hold your own when it’s your turn to solo, you’re good to go.
I stuck around just long enough to see Cortez play. He was nervous but did a great job. I’m certainly no expert at evaluating drummers, but I’ve listened to a lot of blues music and he held his own.
Now I’m back and hoping to spend the rest of the week doing as little resembling work as possible, and maybe even bang out a couple chapters. Wish me luck.