Nov 15, 2012

Help Me Help You Help Me

"Anything I can do to help...."
"How can I help you?"
"If there's anything you need..."

These are all amazing sentiments, and I've been hearing them so often lately from people in my life, big and small, near and far.  But the fact is this.

You don't owe me anything.

Can you help me replace all my Lionel Richie albums?  I don't think so...
I don't know how to ask for help.  I never did.  When I was a kid, I was painfully shy.  I couldn't walk into a grocery store and ask where the taco sauce was, I had to find it myself.  Not because I was a stubborn independent kid on a taco sauce quest, because I just couldn't ask for help.  I couldn't.  Something in my brain wouldn't allow me to break out of that shell.  So I wouldn't.  It was just one of those "things" that all kids have - that you had as a kid and that your kids have and that their kids will have.  We are all imperfect in our own way.  

I broke out of my shell as an adult - being in bands and working in the radio industry played their part.  Being with women did, as well.  Confidence doesn't just show up at your doorstep - you build it, block by block and person by person.  Without an audience, it's super easy to be shy and withdrawn.

But in the post-Sandy world, I still don't know how to ask for help.

Because there is so much I need right now.  So much.  I'm gonna take a big ol' bath on this severely damaged Divorce House when this is all over, never mind all that I have lost inside of it.  In a lot of ways, I have to help myself.  I have to get better, to stay strong.  And when it comes to the things most important to me no matter where I call home - the love of a woman, good health, money in the bank - there is probably some help from above needed, not to mention a little luck.  Excuse me for not feeling incredibly lucky right now.  Some things, to an extent, are out of your hands.  Like my house in Staten Island, I am not completely ruined but I require some serious renovation.


Recently, my friends in the fantastic Burlap To Cashmere reunited and built a nice little subterranean studio for themselves in Brooklyn.  For a guy plodding thru the music biz himself, it was inspiring to see them still trying, to see them still being awesome when it's so easy not to be anymore.  I had a $3000 barely-used PA system sitting in a closet in my guest room, collecting dust.  I gave it to them to use in the studio.  I interviewed them for a cool podcast I do for Elvis Duran and the Morning Show that features independent artists.  I came to their live shows and cheered them on.  In my little world of who I am and in my own little way, that was how I could help.  I figured it out without them having to ask.  And they don't owe me a thing.  I wanted to help.
That's what helping people is all about, Charlie Brown.
So do you want to help me get thru this post-Sandy disaster?  If you know me in real life or you've been reading these fairly long-winded and revealing diatribes, then you'll figure out how to.  You have to, because I don't know how to ask.  We all have something inside of ourselves - our wallets, our minds, our hearts, our souls - to offer up.  But you don't owe me anything.  No one does.

I have angels.  My parents are angels.  The friends housing me, sleeping on the level below me as I type this, are angels.  My radio boss is an angel.  There are more, there are the people who have gotten me out of the mud and helped me bury all my stuff.  There are some who probably haven't even revealed their wings yet.  I used to tell my ex-wife that I was her guardian angel, it became a running joke between us - that her life was fucked up and being with me would be what kept her saved.  It was an unfair thing for me to even joke about, I suppose.  But she often - unfairly - looked at me as more devil than angel.  So I had to start over without her.  I wasn't her angel, maybe I'm not anyone's - but I'll never be ungrateful.  Now I am starting over again, and surviving thanks to the love that surrounds me.

At my birthday gathering this past Friday, I lost it a few times.  When my radio boss and his boyfriend walked in, I was just plain blown away.  But I couldn't cry yet - it was too early - so I swallowed the lump in my throat.  I introduced him to my family for the first time.  I told my mother this was my George Bailey moment and joked that she should have brought along a collection plate.

My boss and I aren't super tight.  I've never questioned why as much as I've accepted that people have their own lives and when you're popular and powerful, you really have to be selective about your time and your company while still making it a priority to make sure you're happy yourself.  Elvis was the first person I confided in about my divorce because even tho we are not built the same, I knew he understood.  He has always understood despite the little time we spend together on a daily basis, and he has always been super generous.  So when he and Alex were the first of many to arrive to spend a little time with me, I was genuinely moved.  I've never been around someone who has helped more people in all walks of life, and in so many different ways, than my boss, Elvis Duran.
Z100 Christmas Party at the piano bar at the top of the World Trade Center, a lifetime ago. 
I cried on my friend Jason's shoulder about an hour later.  More people were arriving, more hugs, more love, and there was that overwhelming mix of joy and despair, and I could no longer hold the tears back.  Jason and his wife Denise have taken me in since Halloween.  I know these two for twenty five years, they have been there for all my misery and I for theirs.  We have shared many laughs and many tears together.  There is a bond there that defines true friendship.  I always refer to Jason as the "Alpha Male" of our group - he's the wolf, the planner, the bully, the host.  He wears a suit to work.  It's a role he relishes amongst our little group, and I'm forever grateful to be welcomed into his clubhouse at this or any time.

Denise's parents have been displaced from their home in Manhattan Beach, and have been staying here, as well.  It's a regular ol' Brooklyn Smollar refugee camp, complete with two female rugrats of their own to deal with.  Denise lost a friend recently, another young mother.  They have been through quite a lot even if their power stayed on and their house is still in one piece.  Sandy has affected a lot of people - a lot of our friends and relatives - even if the waves didn't hit every shore.  For two weeks, Jason spent his days in Manhattan Beach and I in Staten Island, heading up our own salvaging efforts, and because of that I never really had the chance to thank him for the help he and his wife have offered.  I did on Friday.  I hope I didn't ruin his shirt.
Two idiots.
My last tears were spent on my father as my family left the pub later that night.  My Dad is a folk hero amongst my friends.  He is the Athlete Dad, the Cool Motorcycle Riding Cop Dad.  He has been much quoted and he is much loved.  I wanted my parents to be there on Friday as much for them as for me - they have been through so much and I knew seeing some familiar faces - and meeting some new ones - would help ease their pain, as well.

My father isn't a sentimental guy, although I've seen more of that in him as he's gotten older.  Losing important people in his own life has probably softened him, but I'd like to think a lot of it has to do with the growing relationship he's had with my mother, my sister and I.  We are blessedly close even if there has been a physical distance between us for the past decade.

My parents have been married for 38 years - they've recently endured the back-to-back divorces of their children, some health scares, my Mom losing her job, and now this.  After my uncle died in a car wreck four years ago, I saw even more of a change in my father.  It was my Mom's brother who passed, but also my Dad's good friend and confidante, a key player in his youth, a big reminder of his mortality.  After that happened, my father and I never stopped telling each other that we love each other, in person, in e-mails.  All the time.  I'm 38 and my parents don't owe me anything.  They did their work and they did it well.  But they still go to bat for me every time.  I owe my parents a lot, but the only way I can truly repay them is to conquer all this bullshit I've dealt with and bounce back as a happy, stronger middle-aged man while they're both still around.
That '70s Show
These people have helped me in ways no one else probably can.  But everyone else has offered, everyone else wants to.  Some people already have. A friend and former co-worker handed me a card on Friday night with a touching sentiment on it that gave me pause:

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

Inside the card were a bunch of gift cards.  Another woman I used to work with sent me money over the Internet.  My parents' Pennsylvania neighbors, who I met briefly once, also gifted me.  Another co-worker sent me a care package for my displaced dog.  He called and asked those words - "How can I help you?" - and all I could think of was my poor traumatized dog getting fuzzier, without his medications or any of his toys, without his home.

Because I don't know how to ask for help.  I'm not gonna tell you "I need a new Blu Ray player" or "Take me to a Knicks game"- not when I see what my neighbors on Staten Island have lost, when I see pictures of the destruction in other areas.  Help them.  My house is fucked, but it's still standing.  Help people with children, help elderly and disabled people affected by this tragic storm.  Help the families of those who lost a loved one to the floods.  How can I ask for anything when I read stories like thisI'm alive, man.  I'm okay.  I survived the floods and I will survive the aftermath.  I already have my angels.

This is one way to sell out all your inventory.
You still really wanna help me in your own little way?  I have a little record label that was already on life support and was completely decimated by this storm.  I bought this very wet house for the purpose of being able to effectively and comfortably run my little business inside of it.  In some ways, this business is responsible for my location and, in turn, its own demise.  My home office, my recording studio, my entire physical catalog of CDs, vinyl and t-shirts are gone.  All of it is gone and will not be rebuilt.  Let's face it, none of it was exactly flying off the shelves before my basement turned into a goldfish bowl.  But thanks to the digital age, the Bald Freak Music legacy perseveres, just as my words do, right here on the world wide web.

MUSIC has always been what's defined me.  I have released five albums in two very different bands, and I signed another band a few years ago that I really loved.  None of these bands ever really made it big, for whatever reasons.  I don't even think about why anymore, not after all this.

But I am so fucking proud of all this music I've made and the acts that I've signed.  I take satisfaction knowing that I haven't given up, even after the floods.  My piano will be okay and nearby soon.  I am going to make another album, my Hurricane Album.  If you like what you're reading here, you're bound to like these new songs - they are raw and passionate and emotional.  They are from the heart.  They were born from the hardest years of my adult life.  Support that.  Believe in my passion.  Help me.  Without an audience, it's super easy to be shy and withdrawn, and I can no longer afford to be either of those things.

I don't need to sell myself as a musician - as a product - anymore.  There's nothing left to sell, no mail to bring to the post office, no mailers, no packing tape.  No postage scale to weigh it all, no computer to log sales or inventory.  No funds to pay a staff.  And that's all somehow very liberating.  The music lives on digitally and I invite you to give it another listen just as you've invited yourself to enjoy my writing here (thank you, by the way).  I'd feel ten times better knowing you treated yourself to my art than treated me to dinner, and it'll put a little money in my pocket too.  Spread it around - now more than ever, recommendations mean as much as purchases in this fucked up industry otherwise known as "the music business."

If you like dancy electro-rock with a quirky romantic spirit and an 80s vibe, try Q*Ball

If you like progressive hard rock and hearing me scream, try Return To Earth

If you like vintage modern rock with awe-inspiring vocals, try The Head Set

So many people know me and know nothing about my music, about my label, about my trials and tribulations in the music industry.  I expected bigger things from all these projects, but I always felt like I never had to sell them, even before the hurricane - before this blog turned into my Sandy Soapbox instead of a forum to promote my music, which was its original intent.  If I didn't truly believe this music was awesome, I would never have released any of it in the first place.  

If you don't believe that this is what I'm all about, that music is tantamount in my life - the melodies, the process, the brotherhood - and you have another ten minutes to kill, then read this.

Help me help you help me.  This is my legacy.  If you love music, you will find something here to like, even if you only like one album or one song.  If you're a musician yourself, I, as always, invite you to make music with me, maybe even get on a stage with me.  Supporting this fractured, waterlogged part of my life is one way you can help me, to make me feel like I'm not a charity case.  You don't have to ask how anymore.  Or you can just buy me some ice cream (this is my favorite).  The rest is up to me.  I'm ready to ask where the taco sauce is.  I'm ready for whatever comes next. 

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