on The First Blog of 2019
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Why Is It Good (Part II)
The violin is my favorite instrument, and no, not because I once briefly played it (to say I “played” the violin would be generous). In elementary school in our school system, kids were assigned an instrument to learn that they would then continue into middle school for band or orchestra. Choosing an instrument wasn’t quite like the “sorting hat” in Harry Potter. Instead, you went in with a vague idea of what you wanted and no one listened to you because you were eight, and no one listens to you when you’re eight.
As for me, I already had a full blown music obsession. For rock and roll, baby! Mostly from my Mom, who always played music around the house all the time. In fact, in those days when boy bands and Brittany Spears were all the rage, I was stuck in my adoration for new wave 80’s music. Most of my friends didn’t know the music I listened to (though their parents did). We were quiet music snobs. Even then I had a hipster attitude about music, shunning the current pop charts. To this day my brother says he’s “the last good thing to come out of the 80’s” even though he was born in ’91, so that makes no sense whatsoever.
In my large family, there are a lot of musicians. Both by trade and hobby. On my Dad’s side, the Italian’s, our Christmas Eve tradition was to all sing Christmas carols together—my aunt on piano, Uncle on trumpet, another Uncle on guitar, cousins on their various instruments, and every one else sang. Music spoke to me and captured inner workings of my depth that I had yet been able to articulate myself. Even back then, I used to dedicate songs to my Mom or friends, if I felt it communicated an emotion better than I could possibly.
I wanted to play drums. To this day, I’d trade being a comedian to for a modern day Chrissie Hynde, even if it meant OD’ing three years ago on heroin during my 27th year. Most comedians would rather be rock stars. The music teacher in the elementary school who was in charge of assigning us our instrumental future, told me girls didn’t play drums. There were a limited amount of drumming positions for the school, so drums usually went to a kid who already had a head start with lessons. However, years later, I’d learn that he told many girls that drumming was for boys only. Asshole.
My second option was guitar. For some reason, guitar wasn’t one of the options. My third choice was piano. They also denied this. And then they basically chose violin for me, which I reluctantly agreed to because my then best friend, Lisa Corey, also chose violin.
Lisa, who, has the same name as my sister, also a blond kid, was incredibly musically talented. Now, she is a music teacher herself, which feels perfect if not fatalistic. Lisa was and still is a beautiful singer. The hair on the back of your neck would stand up when she sang (she often made our middle school choir teacher, Mrs. K, cry from merely singing a song). She played multiple instruments. Her family had money, so she took numerous lessons in all sorts of things. She worked hard and excelled at them all. She’s some sort of brilliant.
I had no real natural talent in the musical arts. The violin is an extremely difficult instrument to learn. Our orchestra instructor was a batty but sweet woman, Mrs. H, who played the fiddle so wonderfully, during practices I would ask her to demonstrate songs over and over, not because I was convinced I’d learn it, just because I loved to hear her play. Today, I sometimes go to the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, usually by myself, to hear the symphonies, and you could catch me shedding tears during violin solos, they move me so much. During our winter orchestral concert in middle school, pure hell for our families, as it takes so long to get good at string instruments, I would just make sure my bow was going in the same direction as everyone else’s so I didn’t LOOK like an idiot. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing.
My Dad, a notorious prankster, would tell me how “hot cross buns” was his favorite song, and request I play it over and over. I’d take out my trusty violin and squeak out the tune, nails on a chalkboard to my brother and sister. They’d beg for me to stop, as my Dad would insist he’d love to hear it one more time, just relishing in my siblings torture. In his defense, I probably would do the same thing to my own kids. We all kind of have a sick sense of humor that way. Sometimes, during long drives to gigs or writing sessions, my writing partner will purposely do or say things to try to irk me. I tell him all the time that I’m impervious to annoyances because everyone in my family thought being annoying was so funny that I grew immune to these attacks and laugh it off.
The choir teacher in our high school was a man nicknamed “Doc” because he had a PhD, though not in music, in psychology. He’s dead now. When he died, I believe my exact quote was, “one less asshole, one more parking spot.” Which sounds harsh, I know, and despite the fact that he was mourned, trust in me when I tell you he was not a good man. He was manipulative, especially to young, developing woman, and he got off on the power. He was hated by most in the school, students and faculty, not just me. But then worshiped by those drenched in the music department who were tricked by his false snake like charm.
He also hated me, because I saw right through his bullshit. My sister was part of “Vocal Motion,” a singing and dancing group that he spearheaded. Anyone from my town will tell you that group was a cult, lead by Doc who brainwashed those in it. Most of the time, I was beloved by faculty, if not a teacher’s pet, but Doc tried to humiliate me on purpose. He hated that I saw right through him. That in many ways, my emotional intelligence was greater than his, even though I was only 15 or 16. He had no power over me. Though I’ll be the first to say the “me too” movement has both benefits and drawbacks, I think in today’s world, he would not have gotten away with his behavior. No, I’m not accusing him of having sexual relations with under-aged girls. He was too smart for that. But his relationship with these young women persisted after high school and was not a healthy mentor-ship. I know of at least one girl who tried and failed to get him fired because of his inappropriate behavior (no, not me). Who knows how many more there were. But my hatred for him had to do with my sister, really. And his abuse with my sister, among many others, was purely psychological. He had her convinced that we were not her family, that we didn’t have her best interest at heart or recognized her worth, he did, Vocal Motion was family, and Lisa, an insecure teenager, fell prey to his greed for control and power over these kids. Real toxic bullshit. In those years, Lisa turned her back on us. This is all past now, and Lisa and I are close again, but it would take years for us to restore a sisterly bond.
My family is everything to me, but we were never without our problems. I despised my sister in those years because she was simply awful to my Mom. Having to console my Mother’s tears was a weight on me I pretended to handle at ease. At the same time, my brother Mitch and my Dad, two alpha males, also would trigger each other’s temper and fight. Sometimes physically. On more than one occasion, I had to break up their fights so they wouldn’t hurt each other. I’m sure they’re both ashamed of this now. It’s not their fault, but because being a family mediator was a role that came naturally to me, I’d begin to white knuckle my own problems.
Lisa was the first to stop coming to dinners. My Dad worked earlier hours than most, being a blue collar LIRR worker, so he was home shortly after we were. We had dinner at 5pm. It wasn’t mandatory. My folks were never super strict. But having dinner together was important to us. And unlike some of my friends, I never dreaded going home for dinner. Mom was a good cook. Though I usually looked forward to dessert more, given my sweet tooth. Dad was a goofball, as were my siblings. I looked forward to dinner. And our house welcomed our friends, always. You were always welcome to dine at our house with us. We were a popular spot for guests. Our friends and cousins also enjoyed dining at our house. We weren’t “proper.” We were loud, and talked over each other. My parents often threatened to send me to etiquette school because I was a messy eater and didn’t like using utensils, I much preferred eating with my hands. We were and are a bickering family. My parents never fought much but they would bicker. Back and forth, back and forth, until one of them would crack a joke and then they’d both crack up and that would be the end of that. Because it was never that serious. And laughter, which was louder than anything in our house, triumphed.
I used to do a bit on stage about my parents’ relationship. It’s odd in the sense that they are not romantic. Dad never bought flowers or jewelry. Though my Mom didn’t desire those things either. Material items didn’t mean anything at all. They would, however, make each other laugh so hard they’d pee their pants. Find someone who makes you laugh so hard you’ll pee your pants. Sure as hell beats flowers or diamonds, if you ask me.
When Lisa started to not show up to our family dinner’s, in broke everyone’s heart. She’s long forgiven for this, by the way. She was a teenaged girl. Her parents weren’t cool and neither were her nerdy, tomboy sister and pain in the ass brother. I can’t imagine it was always easy for her either, given that I was younger, but more mature, so the family turned to me for responsibility instead of her. Again, this is not a role I really wanted. It was just the way. Lisa was, in fact, the more normal one.
Back at school, for the most part, I was adored by faculty. As was Mitch. Even though I was a good student, and Mitch was… not… Mitch had all my Dad’s charisma. My brother said to me recently that I got our Mom and Dad’s good traits. And he inherited Dad’s bad qualities, just as Lisa inherited Mom’s bad qualities. That’s why him and Dad fought. And that’s why Lisa and Mom fought. And why I didn’t fight at all. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s kind of an interesting perspective on how Mitch sees our family. But Mitch, despite being a rabble-rouser, has that charming pirate smile, courting trouble in the hunt for a gag and a laugh. It’s very lovable.
In college, I’d end up in a journalism class (before I switched my major) with a bitter professor who “didn’t give student’s ‘A’s.” I had two professors claim this in my college years, both journalism professors (I got A’s in both classes), but this just proves what scummy piece of shit, self righteous journalists are. Don’t trust print news. Don’t trust TV news more. The media sucks.
I hated that professor from day one. He was a miserable prick. He made students cry and humiliated them in front of class. There was this one young woman, a single mom, who was going back to school now that her daughter was a toddler. She wasn’t book smart. She knew it. But she tried so hard and had so much heart. He yelled at me for helping her edit an essay. I wish I bit back, but I’m not so confrontational. I should have said, “hey asshole, it’s your fucking job to be the teacher, not me, she doesn’t understand this and she’s afraid of you because you tell students they’re stupid. You shouldn’t be around kids or people, you miserable fuck.” Instead, I said nothing. He made her cry in front of me and I felt awful, having no control over the situation whatsoever.
Despite being the worst, he did actually pay be a big compliment. Not only did I consistently get A’s in that writing class, he actually said that I “could have a future as a writer.” I think he was somewhat jealous of me in that regard. He seemed to both want and relish in people failing. You should not be a teacher if you want your students to fail.
Most of my professors were grand, however. Including, if not especially, Professor D, a sort of hippie woman who had both a childlike excitement when it came to art but was also as sarcastic as anyone I knew. She adored me and I adored her. I believe all the students in that class hated me, as she often made copies of my essays and used them as examples. I could feel the class roll their eyes at me. But she wasn’t an easy professor either. My papers would be covered in red ink. But I liked it. Because she made me better. She helped me self analyze why something was good. It’s not so easy to figure out.
Our bond extended beyond college. On more than one occasion, I reached out to her to look at a script or stories I was working on. She’s been a tremendous cheerleader in my life as writer. “Never, never give up, I love reading your work,” she says.
If I asked you why you thought my blog is good (if you think that at all), I’m not sure if you would know the answer. Because I write well. Because there’s a sort of raw honesty, even when there’s pain to it. Because you love me. Because you relate to it. There’s no real wrong answer here. And I could break down prose tricks, writing styles that have because my voice, editing tricks I’ve honed through the years. I could break down anyone’s comedy bit and tell you why it’s good. But that’s why comedy is so special. Because even though there are intricacies involved, and comedy especially, is a far more delicate art form than comedians are given credit for, whether or not we illicit that involuntary action – laughter, is what makes it good to you. And if you’re still reading this blog till the end, I have to assume that you think it’s good, and whatever your reasons, whether or not we agree on why I think it is (or isn’t) good. That art, music or writing or comedy, has emotion and heart at the core. That beyond design, your first reaction is going to be same that lasts… how it made you feel.
When I listen to the violin, I know in theory all the reasons why a fiddle player is a remarkable talent. Though I don’t fully understand. I surrender this understanding to feel the sound of strings. Feel the beauty and the calm. Even though it makes me cry, it still makes me feel something beyond. That’s why it’s so good.