Entertainment

The Evolution of Stephen Bochco

We’ve been revisiting some of our favorite TV shows lately… much like Vacationing In Sorkin World – only now noticing a few new things from the perspective of the passage of time. Perhaps not-so-surprisingly, HILL STREET BLUES hasn’t aged as well as Bochco’s later shows; we couldn’t even manage slogging thru the entire first season. But rewatching the first couple years of L.A. LAW were like eating candy! We were initially enthralled with COP ROCK when it aired in 1990 and still find it compelling. Likewise, seeing the first couple seasons of NYPD BLUE again is proving to be immensely satisfying!

My dad was an enthusiastic if discriminating TV watcher, and I remember him laughing with joy, recounting the antics of Detective Andy Sipowitz. It only occurred to me upon this current viewing how many similarities there were between my dad’s father and Andy; both of them recovering alcoholics, smartasses, pottymouths and immensely proud of their sons’ joining the military. While Bochco didn’t ace every aspect of his writing (notably his depiction of women), IMHO, he got a lot of things right on NYPD BLUE.

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learning, music biz, excellence

All In The Game

I had a realization tonight – an insight that had eluded me for as long as I can remember, which is that my career has been stymied by my own resistance to playing the game.

I’ve gone to extremes to learn the rules of the game, to get to know the players and their strategies. And then I’ve turned my back on this knowledge, insisting that “it shouldn’t be that way – it’s not fair! – that’s not how the game should be played!”

Flavortown!! Ever been there?? Funny how I got hip to Guy’s Grocery Games after watching a few episodes (well, okay – MORE than a few!) I saw that no matter how delicious any given dish was, (created from the insanely limited food list allowed), no matter how many nummy-sounds the judges made, if the chef hadn’t incorporated the prescribed ingredients according to the rules of the game, that chef would go home empty-handed. The Winner, while perhaps not as accomplished or skillful at creating wonderful FOOD as other contestants, would have ACED the game requirements, thereby prevailing and sweeping up the prize.

There are always excuses that can be made to explain failure, and sometimes I’ve hidden in the comfort they provide. But I think the truth in many instances is that I wasn’t willing to play the game, to kiss the Pope’s ring, to do whatever it took to succeed. I’m still not sure exactly why I made those choices, but tonight while listening to a recording of THEY’RE GONNA LOVE ME, I heard the bitterness and anger in my voice, my refusal to worship the dead gods of jazz at the expense of the living mortals. And I understood.

The good news is that there’s actually more to life than Winning The Game. And there are always other games to play.

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growing up, self-acceptance

Lynnsie, Go Home!

When I was in 4th grade, a classmate and I used to walk home from school together. Lynnsie was a very lonely girl – she may have been an only child whose mom, unlike mine, wasn’t waiting for her after school. In any event, she almost invariably wanted to hang out together much longer than I wanted to, and I had to tell her that I had other stuff to do – hence the title of this post. My family thought I was being cruel – and I definitely was being rude – but Lynnsie never took a hint and had to be repeatedly told that she’d overstayed her welcome. As much as my parents tried to make me feel guilty about telling Lynnsie to go home, I never did. I wasn’t exactly proud of my behavior, but my parents had also taught me to be self-reliant and I knew even at 8 years old that I was responsible for how I spent my time and in whose company I spent it.

Due to pandemic stay-at-home orders, we’ve all had plenty of time of late to consider who’s in our lives and why they remain. I peek in on friends via social media more often than I make phone calls nowadays. I actually began writing this blog with ruminations about former friends, and I continue to puzzle over the disappearance of certain people from my life. It isn’t exactly “ghosting”, but I think we DO amend our interests, priorities and affections over time, and definitely change what kind of treatment we will tolerate.

I’m not alone in this – https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/930e6df4-582b-4ec0-bc21-cb26613cd6f1

How much of an explanation do we owe other people when we recoil from them? I used to assume that everything needed to be totally understood before it could be accepted, but then I learned the hard way that some things are never explained adequately, and yet we have to keep living. Bottom-line, a lot of people are like Lynnsie (and I include myself!); we’re a bit in denial about unpleasant realities. Whose job is it to “make it alright”?

While the Golden Rule is a great ideal, there are limits. Ultimately it’s our own job to make peace with how things actually are. As my dad used to say, “nobody can take your bath for you.”

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learning, self-acceptance

ThredUp/ParedDown

Well, it’s Spring… so that means Spring Cleaning, eh? This recent New Yorker article made me smile with self-recognition AND weep (at the end) with the same: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/03/08/how-to-practice

So much of what I personally need to let go of is “aspirational” – a word I feel applies to physical possessions as well as beliefs, strategies, ambitions and ideals. If things actually DO hold energy, sending silent messages, as author/minimalist-extraordinaire Fumio Sasaki claims, then decluttering is more than just making room for different stuff; it’s creating space for new ways of thinking and feeling, being and identity.

Sometimes the silent messages are amplified by human intervention!

For women in our society, appearances are deemed extremely important, and though one would never guess by the baggy knits I’ve worn over this past pandemic year, my wardrobe includes quite a few aspirational pieces I’ve retained for a while – decades, even. It isn’t too far of a stretch to imagine that these clothes are whispering from the back of my closet: do you still love me? will you EVER wear me again?

I came across an online consignment shop a couple months ago and scored some bargains – the opposite of downsizing, I know! The Rescue Box of scarves (over 2 dozen for $16) REALLY blew my skirt up!! – https://www.thredup.com

A few days ago, after rigorous self-query, I was able to release a couple of boxes of otherwise-lovely items that no longer fit my psyche, coloring, age or figure. In Marie-Kondo-speak, they don’t “spark joy”. I hope they will soon for someone else.

Part of growth is realizing how we’re always changing. This isn’t my first go-’round with decluttering; https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/baby-with-the-bathwater/ – and I’m sure it won’t be my last. 💚💜💛❤️

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music biz

Croon-ah In Altoona

 

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It was supposed to be a 2-week engagement playing and singing piano-bar at the big downtown hotel in Altoona. I’d signed a contract stipulating I was to be paid $250/week + room w/breakfast and dinner. I boarded the Greyhound at Port Authority at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM in order to arrive before my 6PM start, noshing on liverwurst sandwiches as the bus stopped at seemingly EVERY little town in Pennsylvania.

Things were not auspicious when I arrived; my room was NOT ready, so I had to wait in the lobby for 45 minutes until it had been cleaned. Then I found that the air-conditioning in the room didn’t work – something you’d rather not have to face after spending ten and half hot hours riding on the bus, desperately needing to freshen-up before the gig! After I hunted down the manager, he told me the AC would be fixed by the time I turned in, but by then there wasn’t time to get dinner before the downbeat. Oh, well!

The boisterous crowd was celebrating some bigwig’s retirement and mostly ignored me, even when I asked for requests.  I kept getting the stink-eye from the manager, who became more and more inebriated as the evening wore on. He began making snarky comments while blowing smoke in my face during my first set and continued to verbally harass me nonstop during my breaks. This gig was not looking good for an entire fortnight’s duration!

Now, I was raised to be a person of my word, my rent was due soon and I couldn’t afford to bail on this gig, but I knew this abuse would continue for the entire 2 weeks if I didn’t find Plan B.  So, after the 3rd set I made “an executive decision” and called my friend Jamie (collect!), to see if he’d loan me the $500 I’d expected to earn, and was incredibly relieved when he said, “Sure! Don’t put up with that! Come on back home to New York right now!”  At the end of the night, I took the $32 in tips I’d earned, packed up my suitcase and walked over to the Amtrak station for the 1:30 AM train bound for Penn Station. 6 hours later I was back in Manhattan, safe and sound.

There’s an old joke my dad used to enjoy telling with the punchline, “what? and give up show biz?”  The agent who had set up this engagement seemed totally unsurprised when I called later that morning to tell her what had happened, and I suspect I was not the first nor the last singer-pianist to have taken a powder on fame-&-fortune in Altoona!

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religion, music biz, self-acceptance, music, excellence

Silk & Scientology

I’d never played a gig like this before; my friend Mara Purl had invited me to join Teji Ito’s band to provide music for a fashion show. I was to add keyboards to the group which featured Mara on koto, Dan Erkkila on flutes, Genji Ito, Cherel Winett Ito and Guillermo on percussion and shakuhachi. Say WHA???

There was no sheet music; we were all just supposed to listen to each other and extemporize, adding whatever might fit with what everyone else was playing. I was sure the resulting cacophony would be terrible – but somehow it began to gel during the rehearsal (otherwise known as my audition!?) – and then… the gig!

The venue was an art gallery and the models were all dancers from the NYC Ballet. Their gorgeous silk attire was breathtakingly beautiful, and they seemed to float on air as they danced to our spontaneous music – it was a “happening” in the best sense of the word!

We played for about an hour and then it was over. Mara and I returned the Fender Rhodes I’d borrowed back to the friend who’d lent it to us, then brought her koto back to her Park Avenue apartment. As it was a lovely spring afternoon, I decided to walk home to my place in Chelsea.

As I passed a storefront on West 34th Street, an attractive young man popped out and invited me to “take a free personality test ”  I was so surprised and in such a good mood, I (uncharacteristically for me!) agreed.  It took a lot longer than I’d thought but I was sure that I was “ace-ing” it!  Turns out – like everyone else who gets suckered into taking this test – not-so-much! The results were graded and it turned out that I was an amazingly defective excuse for a human being – desperately in need of the help that only Scientology could afford me.

All I could do was laugh! I’d just come from the headiest musical experience I’d ever had to that point, making music with Teiji and his group just a couple hours earlier! I’d been paid handsomely and felt on top of the world! Buoyed by that experience, I continued home in the twilight, still high from the gig.  While I might have been susceptible on some other day when my self-esteem may have been shaky… “not today, L. Ron Hubbard! Not today!”

WhatIfNothingWrongWYou

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learning, self-acceptance

The Guts to Tell My Story

The willingness to share our “mistakes” can be the liberation the whole world needs – I know I certainly need it!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

debonisBy Karen DeBonis

I met my future freelance book editor in 2001 at a memoir-writing class. Robyn’s writing was beautiful, her smile magnetic, and I trusted her to hear my story. One of the biggest fears memoirists have is that readers will dislike or even hate us for our faulty decisions and bad behaviors. With Robyn, I felt safe.

After a few years of shared critique groups, lunches, and coffee, we lost touch. I stopped working on my memoir because it got too painful. In fact, I stopped writing completely. Then a medical leave from work in 2016 presented me the opportunity to pick up where I’d left off. I looked Robyn up and saw that she had earned an MFA, taught creative writing, and started an editorial business. We met at a coffee shop and I told her I needed an editor. A month or two later, I handed…

View original post 736 more words

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#jazzcongress, music, music biz, self-acceptance

Getting Off The Hamster Wheel

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Like many of my fervent enthusiasms, it began innocently enough; a new collaborator suggested I record a jazz CD. Of course, this had occurred to me before and we even made a CD a decade prior – but after production and replication, we’d run out of money and had no budget for promotion, so the CD gathered dust in our closet.

But this time would be different! We’d hire press agents and radio promoters to spread the word and garner airplay! We’d book live performances at jazz clubs and visit radio stations around the country! This time we’d get noticed and on the charts and succeed! At least that was the plan. The reality was slightly different; finding a club willing to take a chance on booking an unknown artist was virtually impossible. Getting radio programmers – even the ones we knew personally!? – to spin a cut on their station even once was iffy! Add to the mix my own profound ambivalence about performing… well, it was a longer-than-long shot.

Even so, there were some victories; I was very proud of both of my jazz albums and after the 2004 release of Future Street and the 2006 release of Round Trip, I finally charted on JazzWeek and became friends with some jazz radio programmers. I got to visit friends and family across the country on my tours. And I introduced some original songs to other artists who wound up performing and recording them.

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Alas, it ultimately wasn’t as rewarding as I’d hoped, either financially or emotionally. First I began to turn down gigs that involved schlepping keyboards, PAs and other gear, and after a few more years I found myself dialing back my involvement in the jazz-o-sphere at large. While I’d enjoyed the annual IAJE conferences and JazzConnect/JazzCongress, it became apparent to me that, like Henry Gibson recited on Laugh-In, one was expected to “keep-a-goin’!” despite any setback or frustration – and I’d had some: Believe Them The First Time

Now, this doesn’t seem to stop my initial reaction when I notice that other jazzers are releasing new CDs or getting covers of their original songs; this type of news pops up on FaceBook, YouTube, and my email box all the time, and I find my Fear Of Missing Out kicking into overdrive! …until I remember how much work and financial outlay are involved in producing, promoting, performing, etc. to create even the smallest ripple of attention, let alone acclaim – and how fundamentally uninterested I am in those aspects. I continue to watch with appreciation and rejoice in the business and artistic triumphs of my colleagues, especially because I know what it takes to accomplish – but I honestly don’t miss running on the hamster wheel!

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ummm…. not-so-much, any more!

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growing up, self-acceptance

Hippie Dippy Days

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The moment I first heard Jimi Hendrix (who was a warm-up act for The Monkees at Forest Hills Stadium), I knew without a doubt that I was NOT “experienced” – that, at the ripe old age of 15, I had never been “experienced” – but what a concept!!  The teenyboppers and their parents who had gone to the concert to see their dreamboats Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike were aghast, but I was enchanted by both the amazing music AND the multi-colored feathered tie-dyed attire, not to mention the attitude… WOW!!  I ran right out and bought the album the next day!

And I tried. I really tried. “Hippie” was something I desperately wanted to be, but somehow it wasn’t the best fit for me. For one thing, I had curly hair that refused to hang loose and free like the other girls – especially on humid days. For another, I was always too tightly wound to “turn on, tune in & drop out”. Hippie-dom didn’t feel natural to me.

I saw that Janis Joplin had unruly hair and thought, “well, maybe…”  And I sure loved her album cover! Everything R. Crumb, for that matter.

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I tried pot – even though it was totally illegal. And I found that I hated how it made me feel; instead of relaxing, I’d hallucinate scary scenarios, with the Devil trying to take my soul, or to have me committed to a psych ward. There was a dealer on campus whose visage haunts me to this day: he was tall, slim, sexy and intense, with an orange-ochre cowboy hat that matched his full beard. I only saw him once but knew immediately and without a doubt that he was sent from Satan, and that if I engaged with him at all, I would be irrevocably doomed to a life of sin and depravity, instead of a life of music and love. (Hippies can have a dark side, after all!)

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Picture a hat this color… and a matching beard… 

Still, I embroidered colored thread on my jeans. I bought love beads and wore peasant blouses. I sported a badge I’d purchased in Greenwich Village that read, “Save Water – Shower With a Friend”.  I hitchhiked up and down the east coast, as well as back and forth to classes. It was nerve-wracking as all get-out.  I did the best I could, but unlike many of my peers, I was never cut out to be a hippie.

 

I had a flashback recently; I’d been having trouble with insomnia and had heard that CBD oil could help me get a better night’s sleep – or even just a decently restful nap. So I bought a roll-on bottle that smelled nice (it had lavender oil added!), but did nothing for me. So I got a bottle of edible hemp oil – with an equal lack of success. The odor was kinda nasty and elicited nerve-wracking anxiety attacks and visions of that drug dealer from so many decades ago. (Even tho I’ve since learned that CBD and hemp oil are the modern-day equivalents to snake oil, in that any effect they produce is the result of the placebo effect. Hmmm.)

I guess once a non-hippie, always a non-hippie.

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Picture me half-empty.

 

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Jingles, music, music biz

A Dime A Dozen

We’d been pounding the pavement and hitting the phones hard for the first 7 months of 1981.  As a new jingle company, we rode elevators up to meet with potential advertising clients, along side competing music producers who were established and in many cases, offering cocaine as well as music. Totally sold on the idea of meritocracy, we were sure the creative directors would hear the difference between how OUR music fit the bill so much better than the other guys.  I look back now and wonder how we kept going, with “nobody winkin’ back” for so long, as my dad used to say.

And then my partner Mark took a meeting with Tony O.  Upon hearing our demo, Tony recognized some music that he himself had worked on and soon learned that the disco-esque charts for a soft drink had been written by Mark while in another company’s employ!  Suddenly we had an actual real-live client who liked us!!

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Tony wasted no time in asking for a new jingle for La Yogurt  (click on underlined link to hear it!), a regional brand that had been using a lackluster version of Frére Jacques in radio and TV ads. Given an afternoon, a list of the available flavors and the direction to imagine all the various times and places La Yogurt could be consumed, we created and demoed 4 different jingles for presentation. When one was chosen, we hired “jingle queen” Linda November and hit-singer/songwriter Paul Evans, as well as “the usual suspects” of studio musicians (like the wonderful George Marge on ocarina!) and an East coast market jingle “hit” was born!  The inspiration for the back-&-forwards trading of lines was somewhat inspired by the chemistry of the Polaroid ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley that were running at the time. Our jingle proved versatile, running for a number of years, and we used the musical materials to compose YOGURT VARIATIONS  (click on link to hear excerpts) for the New Britain Symphony the following spring.  Tony invited us to the International Radio Festival of NY and La Yogurt took home the Gold Award for best radio spot in 1982!

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Almost immediately thereafter Tony tapped us to create the new jingle for Lee’s Carpets  (click link to hear!), which the agency and client both loved.There was a disruption in this love-fest when our production invoice hadn’t been paid within 90 days, so we re-sent it, waiting another month to follow up with the billing department at the agency. When we finally were connected, the accountant practically laughed in our faces over the phone, sneering, “You wanna get paid?  Ha!  You guys are a dime a dozen!”  We called Tony and eventually we got a check, but it was creepy – and we did NOT “relax” right away!

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A couple months later, the BIG prize account came up: Kinney Shoes  (click link to hear).  With no direction besides the tag line “Kinney Can”, we worked feverishly to create a winning concept. We wanted to build on the established reputation of the brand for being the family-friendly “Great American Shoe Store” while showing that Kinney had kept up with changing times. Encouraged by Tony, we were so excited about the anthem we created that we sank thousands of dollars of our own money into the production, including various versions  (click to hear NBAs version)  for different shoe lines.  We got the best-of-the-best musicians and singers to bring it to life, including Florence Warner  (click to hear) and her angel-voice! We were SURE this was the “big one” that would put us on the map as a jingle company!

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Alas – we eventually learned that on the day of the big Kinney presentation, Tony had been ill and failed to play our tracks for the client. He hadn’t even shown up to the meeting.  Or at least that’s what we were told. Another version of the story was that our tracks had been presented, but all the folks at Kinney were offended that they hadn’t been invited to the recording sessions, so our music was rejected out of hand.  We felt strongly about our work, so much so that we entered it into the International Radio Festival competition (where it earned an Honorable Mention, even though it had never been bought or aired).  18 months later we sent a 5-page single-spaced letter to Tony, begging him to re-present it to Kinney, as we’d heard through the grapevine they were unhappy with the music they had chosen and were looking for something new.  We got no response.

Tony was a vibrant man with fierce affection for his family and friends, as well as strong appetites for tobacco, liquor and food. His enthusiasms were infectious, so that when he told us he was going to audition for a local production of The Music Man (as Prof. Harold Hill, of course!) and he asked us for help preparing the song “Trouble”, we learned it along with him, and found it the perfect accompaniment for marching crosstown from our west side offices to Madison Avenue appointments.  When his boss was having a “big” birthday, Tony asked us to produce a special birthday song; Jerry, You’re the Bess We Got!  (click to hear excerpt) for the party, which we did happily – gratis. And when Tony’s daughter showed interest in learning to play the flute, I cheerfully lent mine so she could try it out for a semester. Tony wasn’t “just a client” – we considered him a friend. And we were pretty sure he felt the same way about us; we weren’t “just a supplier”. He invited us to dinner at his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met his whole family; believe me, that wasn’t the case with most clients, no matter how well you got along and enjoyed working together!

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Woolworth/Woolco was set to roll out a new line of Christie Brinkley sportswear, and this time our jingle was chosen!  Juxta-positioning Christie in her casual attire and then crossfading to YOU (aka “normal young American woman!) wearing the identical outfit?  Well, it was a winning idea; there you’d be, Lookin’ Christie!  (click link to hear).  Unfortunately, right before the ads could air, Woolworth pulled the plug on Woolco, all their stores shuttered and that was that – another big break bites the dust!

Our finances faltered, a few of our key clients retired and we decided to try our luck in a different market. But even after we’d moved to Chicago, Tony kept calling us from NYC with work.  And he wasn’t shy about letting his colleagues know about how much he enjoyed working with us!

Tony O Ad-1983

The Woolworth company had other retail chains, and we produced jingles for *J.Brannam  (click to listen)  (JUst BRANd NAMes clothes and accessories), Frugal Frank’s (shoe outlet) (click to listen) as well as demos for the flagship Woolworth’s  stores (click link to listen).  One of my favorites was Susie’s Casuals (women’s clothing) (click link to listen), the spirit of which was inspired by the Mary Tyler Moore TV show theme song; “hey, girl, you’re makin’ it!  your chance is here and you’re takin’ it! The world will soon be awakenin’, and when they do, all they’re gonna see is YOU!”

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There were some semi-risqué demos for Palmolive soap (international) – one of which  sold and was played worldwide (click link to listen).  And we took a shot at a jingle demo for special Snorks  kids sneakers for Kinney Shoes (click link to listen), after we moved to L.A.  We even hired Tony at one point, to perform a voiceover for an industrial film we were scoring for a different client – recorded in the friendly confines of his San Francisco hotel room while he was on the west coast for business. Those 3-packs/day gave him an authoritative vocal growl and he knew how to work a mic.  Eventually the lack of proximity became somewhat of an issue and his music work went to other suppliers, but our relationship remained warm.

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The last time we got together, Tony was working from his home in Bernardsville, NJ and we met at the diner where the final shot of THE SOPRANOS was filmed a decade later. Tony looked happy and talked about his newest campaigns with zest.  We always made it a point to look him up to meet when we were back east.  And though he and his family never reciprocated, we sent Christmas cards every year.

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Until a few years ago.  His wife finally sent a note to let us know that Tony had passed on in 1999. We were stunned; we’d been sending holiday greetings to a ghost for 15 years!  Once we looked back, a sense of betrayal overwhelmed us, as we realized how compromised our relationship had actually been. Being treated with contempt by a snarly accountant was the tip of the iceberg; the Lee’s Carpet jingle was actually supposed to be a lucrative account, with over 250 dealer “lifts” being edited with our music – each of which was to have been paid separately.  This should have put us on Easy Street financially, as we were in the vocal group as well as among the musicians on the date. We found out later that the money that had been earmarked for all those residuals had been sidelined to the ad agency’s retirement plan. So even though these spots ran for several years, with many more customized versions, we never saw any of those payments, and neither did the singers and musicians we hired.

We realized that this was the case with almost ALL of the work we’d done for Tony, we hadn’t received residuals for virtually any of the music we’d produced! Though this practice is widespread in the arts, (see previous blog  Things We Do For Love). we’d been in denial of how entrenched the corruption had been at the agency and never dreamed Tony would have let this happen. But he had.

It’s a mixed bag and difficult to reconcile such a relationship; while we were cheated out of the money we’d honestly earned that would have enabled us to stay in NYC, through our work with Tony, we had the opportunity to create some music that we’re still proud of to this day. We got to work in the recording studio (our favorite place!), with the best musicians, singers and engineers (our favorite people!). And, for better or worse, we got to hang out with Tony O.  Click thru on the links peppered thru this blog post to hear the  Tony O. Hit Parade.

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Tony’s Dartmouth fraternity brothers miss him. And so do we. Sometimes.

 

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