Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone Has a Story

I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the Bronx. I then moved west to California and have lived here ever since. Considering I'm now over 75 years of age, the period of time spent in New York was comparatively brief; however, it molded and taught me powerful lessons in honor, morality, ethics, character, and hard work that remain a positive influence on me today. 

You can take the boy out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the boy. 

For the most part, those lessons learned a lifetime ago still apply, although many sociological concepts have changed vis-à-vis:
  • conflict resolution
  • lack of acceptance of other's beliefs
  • scarcity of kindness and respect
  • and many more!
Seeking common ground in hopes of defusing disputes can be frustrating and often futile in today's landscape. Attempting to interject facts into a conversation, such as the First Amendment, specifically addresses unpopular and controversial speech as protected speech. There are no references to the term "hate speech," or any suggestion that unseemly speech is not protected speech! I believe most individuals understand that prejudice and unseemly bigoted speech is hateful; however, it seems what is perceived as hate speech has evolved into anything one hates hearing.

It was a simpler time in the 1950s on Sherman Ave between 165th and 166th Street. Disagreements were settled with impassioned debate, by flipping a coin, with odd or even finger match, and, only when absolutely necessary, by fisticuffs. Physical altercations were monitored by friends and interested parties making certain no one was seriously injured. These disputes inevitably ended with a mutual respect that wasn't present before the conflict. What I disliked more than fighting with my friends was watching my friends fight. We didn't shoot one another, but, as a last resort, we would work things out with our fists. 

Nevertheless, I still have a bit of that "Bronx balance the scales thing" in me. My teenage years were filled with many splendid moments while participating in sports on the streets, at the schoolyards, and in the gyms of that special borough!

While in high school, I competed at the world famous Madison Square Garden three consecutive years as a part of the New York City PSAL High School Basketball Finals. At age 16, I was honored to perform at the World Famous Apollo Theater in Harlem with The Rondells vocal group--showcasing our newest original song, "Bells Of My Heart," written by second tenor Phil Namanworth. 

I never in my most adventurous dream imagined I would one day play basketball on the storied hardwood floors of Madison Square Garden, let alone sell out this historic venue just eight years later as a lead singer of a great Rock Band! Being a small part of the Apollo Theater's legendary history was a dream I was never brave enough to dream, or knew I could dream, but it came true.

On the block and in the neighborhood, I was a respected and admired young man which aided me in balancing out the shame of being perceived as stupid while in public school.  My dyslexia and ADD were misunderstood and misdiagnosed, landing me in the Special Education class which consisted of physically-, emotionally-, and mentally-challenged youth. I felt so different and so alone. I had virtually no self-esteem contributing to my feelings of anxiety and fear making my time in school unbearable.

Small achievements and success in sports and singing changed how I viewed myself and the world around me. I blossomed and began living with less fear and apprehension concerning my learning disabilities and unkind treatment received from some teachers and classmates. This confidence helped me conquer my academic shortcomings and eventually attend college where I succeeded.

Personal accomplishments can change our outlook on life giving us the courage to take on bigger challenges and worthwhile battles.

Throughout the years, I have seen success and failure alter lives significantly. I have seen the best and worst in people, been moved by the beauty in so many, and overcome by the weakness in others. Being a success in your own minds' eye is a personal validation and a segue to healthy self-worth, greatly contributing to the person you have become in lieu of the person you might have been. Personal failure is too often evaluated by how we feel others perceive us.


I was so blessed to be part of such a prolific, creative machine. As a trio within a quartet, I found comfort in the middle. I was content just being there. Being the least musically astute, and the only member who did not play an instrument, I was at a distinct disadvantage. Unbeknownst to my partners I had never sung harmony before, having spent my early musical career on several different record companies only singing lead. 

I had to learn on the job, and at times, my partners got frustrated with me, not understanding why I found some of our harmonies difficult. I also had pitch problems for I had no musical reference. To be honest, I thought I was better than I actually was. That naiveté got me to the next level of success and gave me the musical expertise in which I was lacking. When I hear Three Dog Night recordings today, I'm aware of all my shortcomings, but I still love what we did.

It was 1968 when Jimmy Greenspoon and I shared our secret dreams about our new band that at the time didn't have a name. We called it "Tricycle," "Six Foot Three," and then finally settled on "Three Dog Night." Jimmy and I had similar fantasies that in fact would fall short of what was actually to come. We both wanted a new Mercedes if we became wealthy and Jimmy was the first to buy one. A beautiful ivory/beige convertible with rich brown leather seats and top. He looked like a true Rock Star, and he was!


Like a miracle dressed up in work clothes tirelessly trudging to be better, it all came together as I embraced the knowledge and talent around me. 

You can learn on the job if you bring enough to get the job.

I really do not believe my transformation would have occurred without experiencing success earlier in my life. That success stimulated bigger dreams and positive self-esteem derived from small achievements leaving me with the knowledge that if I had done it before, maybe I could do it again.


We all have dreams that may seem out of reach; however, many find when they pursue them, possibly with an unrealistic and naïve enthusiasm and passion, they can, and will, materialize as long as they never give up on their quest. Like a dog with a bone, success is mesmerizing and exciting when first attained. Everything you wanted to achieve is now available to you. Dreams you never dreamed have come true! Success breeds opportunities that might bring to light even greater achievements with wonderful opportunities such as working with peers you admired and emulated on your rise to your current position. Becoming one of many, comfortable with your vulnerability, yet confident in your ability, and excited to show what you can do in your new role as a successful, admired, and respected individual.

The magical experience of stepping on stage or a podium to a roaring ovation, taking the winning shot in the big game, seeing your book on the best seller list, or having a number one record for 6 weeks are intoxicating experiences - - often creating a profound psychological dependency on the adoration accompanying public and personal success. We all want to be respected and loved, but these basic desires become skewed when success, power, money, and celebrity enter the equation. 

How can you know, how can anyone know, if their feelings are founded on caring and admiring who you truly are, or is their attachment to the success and celebrity you have achieved? Tricky stuff! How do friendships and intimate relationships evolve when the glamour, admiration, and appearance of invincibility are tarnished?

Falling out of favor can be a life-changing spectacle of feeling betrayed and an abundance of waning character by the important people in your life. If you have surrounded yourself with individuals, who honestly felt there was a special bond between you, only to realize their attraction was to the glamour and excitement, it can become an awkward and emotionally messy situation for all concerned. This is not to say these are bad people. 

It is my belief that people who pursue individuals due to their talent and success are generally not looking to learn much else about them. Furthermore, there are others close to you who find it too painful to witness the social, personal, financial, and professional decline of someone they hold in such high esteem so they unceremoniously leave their beloved friend to endure the waning success without them. 

Of much more importance is your perception of the fragile human species not being diminished, but reinforced by the actions of the people who truly love you, warts and all, for they will lift you up and help you find your way!

We are now presented with an opportunity to learn a great deal about our choices, the fragile nature of our existence, and the willingness to explore our mistakes and shortcomings while navigating through the ups and downs of our successful years for it may define our future. Knowledge is power and we now have an abundance of that. Being tougher and wiser, hopefully with newly acquired humility and spirituality, will keep us on solid ground while exposing us to a more fulfilling life driven by family, a higher power, and the love and respect of our God-given gifts. In the end, it is up to us to either grow or to repeat our mistakes ad infinitum. This window of introspective evaluation will serve us well if we desire a better life and career moving forward.

It is uncomfortable and awkward confronting the fear that you may not be able to live without the fame, respect, and riches synonymous with success, considering you have paid so dearly maintaining your career. Pursuing and maintaining a career often harms the family, for the artist spends much of their time creating, working, and traveling so they cannot be a parent, wife, or husband. How can any artist balance the scale of family and career when the time comes for their star to shine? How does an artist walk away when they are on top, in the middle, or at the bottom, even when it is important to the family for them to do so? We do not walk away and that is why we are successful. Sadly, our families have walked away from this selfish, self-centered business to which we dedicated so much of our lives.


Honoring the blessing of good fortune with gratitude and respect are essential if we are to avoid the self-centered haze so many succumb to during their time as a desired commodity. Success is the Holy Grail for many, and their most important dream, but once attained, it may fall short of one's expectations leading to neglect. One can be jeopardizing all they have worked for when the celebration of a job well done never ends. It is my feeling that many, without a supportive family and some spiritual foundation, will find it easier to lose sight of how much was given up by them and others so they might pursue their dreams. Without humility, we are at risk of missing the more gratifying gifts and opportunities brought to us by success.
It is my experience that failure can be either a great motivator or an inhumane bully, either enlightening or crippling your psyche. I have seen success alter one's concept of failure leading to feelings of low self-esteem as they encounter minor bumps in their personal and professional lives. When one is overly sensitive and too focused on other's perceptions of them, it can lead to skepticism and self-doubt concerning their abilities. A response to this form of paranoia can be getting out of harm's way by choosing not to compete or contribute in something that was once the most stimulating part of their life. 

Winning and losing are experiences that all of us will encounter. These should be accepted with balance and understanding for that situation is but a moment in time connected to a bigger picture unfolding in our lives. When one's comfort zone is diminished due to their perceived weaknesses, it can cause them to withdraw from the invigorating splendor of creating, learning, and spiritually growing. They may now find comfort in the efforts and talents of others. Now experiencing their career as more of an observer in creative matters, it is obvious that previous artistic disappointments had a profound effect on them. Their pursuit of truly creative endeavors is limited. They become incapable of facing the possibility of failure. They are afraid of bringing into question their relevance in spite of their ability to earn a comfortable living in their chosen field. Their unwillingness to throw an artistic hat in the ring, in fear that their peers will discover they could not have possibly contributed much artistically to the very thing they make their living from, cripples them. 

I reiterate, those who forego the thrill of a new milestone and the pride one feels when attaining a goal, or simply competing, are missing an important part of life, pride of achievement, and the psychic enlightenment on said journey. 

Challenging yourself and others is not for everyone, considering many have had their confidence cruelly stripped away. Sadly, it is not a big leap for those questioning their own abilities to subconsciously paint everyone with the same brush! In effect, their shortcomings have made it possible for them to dissect and minimize others who are taking risks and competing against themselves and others.

I completely understand and accept the premise that it might be futile to do the work if the chances of it being successful are minimaI. I also concede that prospect has eliminated most of the remaining, and still touring, bands of my era from recording new material. But don't we make music because we love it? Arguably, we are at our best as human beings when we are creating it. Artists put so much of themselves into their music; therefore, it is more than disheartening to accept the possibility that no one will listen to it. To be very candid, I make music for myself for I so love the process as well as the result. I will not stop until I can no longer do it! Furthermore, I don't understand what replaces the joy, the pain, the ups and downs, the laughter and tears we share when making music together.


You might have grasped that I am going through a time of reflection and self-evaluation which has humbled me. Some of these revelations have been a cruel reminder of what a flawed individual I am. I have failed throughout my life far more than I have prevailed as I have been weak, selfish, unkind, vain, a liar, an unacceptable parent, sibling, son, husband, business associate, and friend. Many of my victories and bravery came after unthinkable acts causing fear and pain to those who love me most. 
  • How do I come to terms with the capacity that I had to disrupt the lives of those I love so dearly? 
  • How do I deal with the self-centered shame I am confronting that has left me disillusioned, feeling only disdain for myself?
Many events associated with my years as an addict have recently reared their ugly head in the form of arduous and reoccurring dreams in which I am the subject of ridicule administered by family members reminding me of the damage I caused. Constant voices repeating what a pathetic person I am are now a part of my night. In this paradoxical sleep, I'm frozen, unable to move, forced to endure relentless reviews and critiques minimizing me and my music by stating I have taken more than I have given. In these dreams, my music is obsolete for my creative ideas might have been relevant in the 1950s, but not today! Next, I find myself attempting to defend lyrics. I am being challenged, but cannot articulate my feelings in this nightmare from Hell. The last remark I hear before awakening, one that echoes in my head and remains while awake, 

"If you think your music is contemporary, WHEN WAS YOUR LAST HIT?"

Despite the fact these are dreams, or should I say nightmares, I feel compelled to respond. More to the point, I feel obliged to examine the content in hopes of discovering where these thoughts and feelings came from. I found my reaction to the dreams predictable in that the attempt to demean me stimulated disdain for the message and the messenger. 

Since either my conscious, subconscious, or unconscious mind authored this fantasy, then my brain created the scenario I found unkind. Why would my mind present this onslaught of information in a form I would ultimately reject? Equally fascinating is that I am aware and comfortable with not being a contemporary artist. After all, I am a 76-year-old man who accepts and is grateful for his standing in the musical community, not an aspiring young artist. 


The most damaging secrets are the ones we keep deep below the surface. Freud stated, "Whilst human beings are great deceivers of others, they are even more adept at self-deception." A secret that might be irrelevant at this point can nevertheless cut the legs out from under you if revealed, exposing you as someone different than you profess to be. Not to say one's secret self isn't a fine human being simply because they want to be perceived as someone else. Does that make them a fraud? Maybe only to themselves!

We all are damaged goods in some fashion. Along with the beauty in life, we will surely experience cruel lessons reminding us how precarious our existence can be without faith in something more powerful than us. Hopefully, we will find a way to deal with low self-esteem or our grandiose feelings of self before we are living a life with debilitating secrets.


A secret can separate you from much of what you hold dear. Old friends, loved ones, and peers who know more about you than you are comfortable with will be rejected. We all have a story and a past. Fortunately, most face it and move on putting the difficult times behind them and growing from the experience instead of pretending these uncomfortable events ever happened. To correct a mistake of poor judgment, moral or ethical lapses, you must admit they happened before you can draw from them in hopes of avoiding these pitfalls and vulnerabilities again.

If we are unable to separate ourselves from the feelings of low self-esteem and shame, being content not addressing how our behavior might have escalated the demise of our personal relationships and professional success, these issues will slip into our unconscious mind and no longer be readily available to our conscious mind for evaluation, acceptance, and change. Nevertheless, these hidden secrets will have a powerful effect on our self-esteem and personality. Most individuals are aware of human nature so divulging deeply personal secrets is a risk.

Remaining a proud man in your mid-seventies with physical challenges can be complex and full of compromise when you are dependent on assistance from others. Acceptance is not always easy to come by; however, it is the easier, softer way when facing new obstacles in your life requiring support from loved ones.


An unbending and impersonal rule of the universe..."Everyone gets what they deserve."

For many of God's children, change happens when we can no longer abide by our current existence. Our suppressed feelings can affect our lives negatively when they are suddenly brought to the surface. Sigmund Freud believed a traumatic experience would awaken unconscious thought bringing to light events that we will need spiritual and psychological help dealing with, for these feelings have held us captive having been hidden in our unconscious mind influencing who we are.

On the surface the stunning and powerful iceberg revealed little of the many complex and hazardous secrets below! The path to forgiveness and acceptance is challenging and might have to be traveled over and over again, feeling as if you're lost in a maze of resentment and debilitating anger. We must find a way to leave ego and false pride behind along with all that inhibits our ability to love and forgive! Although lofty objectives, they are necessary goals for a healthy life. 

For me, in the end, all difficult, hateful, ugly, and even horrific things done to me or those I love must be forgiven, or my resentment will destroy me and all that is important in my life. I must walk away when provoked, whether I'm the victim of a personal or business assault, or I will risk exposing people I care for to the survival instincts of a scared 8-year-old boy who feels he's fighting for his life. Normally, I'm a happy humorous man, but when provoked, a Mr. Hyde-like, verbally abusive intruder can manifest creating fear and unhappiness. At this point, the realization of my inability to absorb slights and unkindness is gone and I long for solitude, admitting my behavior when provoked is completely unacceptable--even to me.  It might be prudent to reevaluate my ability to tolerate others and seek comfort in seclusion to explore some answers.

Fortunately my faith in God is with me more often than not as is my relentless and idiosyncratic sense of humor that has served me well during my difficult times. Having obtained my PhD online at “The Institute for Voodoo, Potions, and Doll Making Studies," it is my informed opinion that those who have lost all they have worked for must honestly evaluate their part in bringing on this debilitating crisis and get back on the horse!

My studies in metaphysical transference enlightened me to the world of black magic, but more specifically, a ritual medicine men perform utilizing men's testicles as earrings in hopes of reminding men not to be so cavalier about giving away the family jewels opened my eyes. These medicine men are from the Jivaro--a tribe of headhunters in Ecuador. The Jivaroans are known for the art of shrinking heads. This particular head shrinker was an entrepreneur of sorts and was selling shrunken balls on the side. The retailer of said ear wear explained that any man who has lost his balls should avail themselves of the medicine men if they are ready to reclaim them!  

At times, I find myself reflecting on my youth in The Bronx and the hard fought lessons acquired on the streets. I had no need for a medicine man in those adventurous years; however, I will avail myself of their expertise if I feel my balls are in jeopardy.