Men in Black 3 – Go see it!

I’m going to take a little detour here from blogging about my four stringed adventure to give two thumbs up for Men in Black 3. It’s a fun movie to watch. Will Smith delivered an entertaining performance as Agent J and Josh Brolin is a great version of a young Agent K (normally played by Tommy Lee Jones). As you should know unless you live under a rock, Agent J goes back in time to stop an evil alien, Boris the Animal, from killing Agent K. Being the loyal agent that he is, Agent J goes back in time a day earlier to thwart the plan, save his agent, and save the planet. I found it relieving that the movie didn’t dwell on race relations of the past. While they are important to think about this was just not the time and place for it. The movie was all about the personal relationship between the agents and what they need to do to stop Boris. There are a few scenes where it’s easy to get a bit choked up and it gives the movie just enough depth so it’s not just 100% hollow entertainment.

If you have young kids then I would strongly recommend you do not take them to see this movie. The movie is rated PG-13 and for good reason. There were lots of kids in the theater and I could see in the corner of my eyes their reaction to certain scenes. Some of the fighting scenes are a bit violent and there is plenty of death with some blood. One of the kids (probably around 7 to 9 years old) sitting near me turned his head away for a lot of the scenes and gasped. There is also Nicole Scherzinger’s opening scene where she is dressed in a sizzling hot leather dress and matching thigh high boots. While sexy and entertaining to watch, this little bit of soft porn is not something I want to show my own kids and impress with.



Shopping for a violin

I have been shopping for the past couple of weeks for a violin. There are lots and lots of violins for sale on the internet. eBay, craigslist, Amazon, online shops, etc etc etc. There are more brands and names and labels than you can shake a stick at. I suppose I can get any decent violin of whatever brand name that was made out of who knows what in who knows what factory. No matter what violin I get I’m still going to sound like me (i.e. awful!). But, the character of the instrument adds (or subtracts) from the overall experience so I want to make sure I get something that I am proud to own and want to lovingly maintain. The instrument must draw me in as much as I am drawn to it as well.

First… it has to be European. I have always felt that if you wanted to get the “original” sound then you need to get as close to the “original” instrument as possible. If you want the tone of a Fender Stratocaster then get a Fender Stratocaster. If you want the warmth of a Gibson Les Paul then get a Gibson Les Paul. If you want the shred and grind of Steve Vai then get an Ibanez. Each guitar is unique in its design, heritage, and tone. I know that I will want to starting practicing and learning European and European influenced music. To that end, I want a European instrument. Obviously, I’m not going to get an original Stradivarius. I’d be lucky to get a European copy of a European copy of a Stradivarius. Getting a Chinese copy of a European copy of a European copy of a Stradivarius just adds another level of separation that I’d rather not have.

Second… it has to be “old”. Every instrument has a story to tell. Some stories are sad like being cased in a closet for decades. Other stories are happy with scenes of beautiful music and dancing. A few are dramatic with people struggling through something whether it be the music specifically or something in their lives. I feel like those stories come out of the instrument when you play it. Maybe it’s just my imagination going wild with make-believe stories. If it helps me play more then so be it. The downside is that the instrument may require some technical work to it before it can be played. I don’t want a full blown restoration project but a little setup work could be fun. Learning something about the setup can bring you closer to the instrument and the music you play with it.

Third… it has to be whole. That means no cracks, splits, holes, or breaks. If there’s to be any of that then it ought to come from me. It’s not that I don’t admire the scars of past owners. The scars could have very interesting stories behind them. I just want something reliable that isn’t going to fall apart on me. If I did the damage then at least I know what to expect in terms of life, tone, and durability. The last thing I want to do is get something that is so fragile I can’t play it. I don’t want an “art violin” that is nothing more than a museum piece of gawk at. It should be something that can be played.

Fourth… the sound has to be even across the range. Sometimes “warm” violins lack the edge that can cut through a diamond. A “full” violin can sound boomy as if someone were shouting through a barrel. A “bright” violin sometimes misses out on the depth that a “warm” violin has in spades. So, the violin needs to be “even”. It’s the tone that you hear when someone plays the violin with long slow strokes across the entire range of pitch and someone says, “Wow, that was really beautiful… what was that?”

I know it’s a tall order but I know it exists. To get one point I’m sure I’ll have to buckle on two. The hunt is on!

Coming back to old orchards

Music has always been an important part of my life. If I didn’t hear something I liked then I would hum something to myself that I did. When I got bored with humming I tried playing an instrument. The first instrument I ever tried to seriously learn was the violin. I took lessons at my junior high school for a year or two. That’s me on the left in the bottom lefthand picture. The journey was short lived because when I got to high school the music program was officially gone. There was an unofficial band that officially met and performed but it received no funding. Directors would float in an out. Some lasted longer than others. The players all stayed constant and they were pretty advanced. They were also all brass and woodwinds. It was a marching band that sat down to play. There was no room for me as a beginning violinist and, honestly, I didn’t mind. It wasn’t the right environment for me. I was dorky and nerdy kid that couldn’t keep up with the in-crowd. That was over 22 years ago.

After high school I saw my first U2 performance and I was mesmerized by it. There was something different about this show than all the others that I had seen. I remember watching The Edge create deep multilayered textures with a handful of notes and some simple effects. How could someone do something like that and look so cool doing it? I just had to follow suit! The guitar became the center of my humanist universe and it was something I wanted to conquer it and bend it to my will. Of course, I had to look like a bad-ass doing it. Whatever teen angst I didn’t work out during high school came out during college. There were cigarettes to smoke, liquor to swallow, and girls to chase after. Fast times were here.

I stuck with it all for about 7 or 8 years. Musical progress was slow-fast-slow but that was OK. It wasn’t something to enjoy – just something to be satisfied with. I worked through a lot of personal issues during that time and I think having the guitar helped me keep my sanity. Playing it was a challenging outlet as I worked my way down a spiral of self destruction. Soon there would be nothing left of me as I consumed everything that I was.

I hit bottom and that was when I met the girl who would become my wife. She was my counter balance. It was perfect. She was soothing where I was angry and vengeful, calming where I was chaotic, and steady when I was choppy. I rebuilt myself with her help. The cigarettes were snuffed out, the liquor was cut off, and the chase was over. Yes, I was home now.

When I started rebuilding myself I made the mistake of taking all the musical pieces out of my life. I think I was just too tired of the burden of it. That’s an odd way to describe it but that’s how it felt. I grew up in a Soviet household that was transplanted to America. Yes, I am a Russian-Jewish emigrant. My parents were very industrious. Everything we did we did for the purpose of technical advancement. There was nothing frivolous. Art was taken very seriously. It was the foundation of thought. My parents thought that without art humanity would lose its creative streak that was necessary for the required technical advancement. Society needed artists to remind us how to put together something very complex that was beyond words.

My parents were very proud of me when I studied the violin. It was all part of that required advancement. They were much less thrilled about me learning the guitar. The guitar was a toy to make rhythm and nothing else. What majestic piece of classical and established music was ever written for the guitar that could compare to something “serious” like the piano or violin? Obviously that didn’t stop me from diving headfirst into a world of six strings but I did it very industriously. It was almost a competitive endeavor. If The Edge did something then I had to try to outdo him in my head. When Mick Mars bent those strings like cheap rubber bands I had to bend them harder.

Then I had another influential moment. Believe it or not, it came in last few minutes of Spinal Tap. Viv Savage was asked during the rolling of the credits what his philosophy to live by is and he said, “Have a good time, all the time.” Wait! Where’s the industriousness? Where’s the seriousness? You can’t have a good time! There’s work to be done!

Wait… is there? Maybe we could “have a good time all the time”. I pulled the cork out of my ass and just exhaled. What a relief! My music slowed down. The gain knobs were turned back. I plucked instead of played. At that moment in time I finally began to really enjoy playing the guitar instead of fighting it.

A new problem arose in that I discovered I could have a good time in so many other ways. I became distracted by other hobbies, other activities, and just life in general. Music was such an overwhelming factor in my life that I couldn’t sustain it along with all the other things I wanted to do in life. It was a burden of maintenance. Practicing, developing new sound, and learning new music took time and that was time away from other things in life that I wanted to do. The guitar started to feel like “work” and not a “good time”. My musical endeavor ended in the complete opposite fashion that it started in. What began as a captivation of the mind ended in a boring yawn.

That was almost 10 years ago.

Now, for whatever reason, I got an urge to come back to playing the violin. I wish I had some dramatic story of hearing a specific piece of music or seeing a performance that moved me but I don’t. All I have instead is an almost uncontrollable compulsion to scratch an itch that I may have ignored for too long. Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like I have some unfinished business with the violin. It’s like coming back to an old orchard that hasn’t had all of its apples pulled. Maybe now I can do it “right” this time. Maybe now I can have that “good time all the time” without feeling like it is a “duty”, a “responsibility”, or a “burden”. I have no idea how this new adventure will go. Maybe it will spark and then fizzle like so many others I have had after the guitar. I might finish this long winded post and not make another again. We’ll see. 🙂