Tuesday, January 30, 2024

True Collaboration

The definition of collaboration is simple enough. ‘Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something.’ Sounds simple enough and therein lies the gaping black hole of potential failure. What isn’t mentioned is the willingness of both parties to forgo personal ego and goals for a shared vision and outcome. Give and take must be part of that equation if any partnership or collaboration is going to work.

My experience up until now in the creation of music hasn’t been that successful. Over the years, I’ve enlisted the support of different musicians in creating a music for various writing ventures of mine. One of the first was a music video for one of my first novels and another for incorporating music into several of my plays.

Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t very satisfying. I had envisioned working with the musician to write the music, melody and lyrics and then cooperate in the creation of different musical layers to fill in the bones of the song.

The artists I was dealing with saw our relationship first, as a solicitor of music (that would be me) and secondly, as a purveyor of music (that would be them.) And never the twain shall meet or at least it never did in my case.

Almost immediately, it became apparent that these musicians weren’t open to suggestions about the pace, mood, form or function of the emotion I was trying to capture for my work at the time. They saw themselves as creating the product and I paid them for it and they kept all rights to their work. No thanks to that.

Click here to buy AJ's album 'Town Boy'
Click here to stream 'Town Boy' on Apple Music

Fortunately, this pattern of one-sided venture-taking came to a halt with my introduction to a very talented singer/songwriter who ‘got it’ in terms of cooperation. The back story is simple enough.

My first job after college and a brief hiatus in Europe was with the Minnesota Department of Public Health as a staff writer. My first ‘real’ job came in the form of freelancing (for free) at the local public television station, KTCA-TV. I was working on the crew at least five nights a week.

In retrospect, I understand now that it signaled the ending of my ‘Lost Years’ and the beginning of a new life with a newfound partner in life and love. Working at the station, first on crew and then as a producer/director was fun, exciting and opened up a lifetime career in television and video production work. It also introduced me to a host of colorful characters who inhabited the studio chambers and work cubicles. Little did I know that it would become a veritable cornucopia of storylines just waiting to be told.

Eventually it became the basis for one of my plays entitled: ‘PTV.’ After completing my manuscript, I knew something was missing. The music. Music was a part of my life back then and still is. It also played a huge part on the lives of my associates at the station. I wanted to capture the mood of that period but with new songs instead of capturing the old ones we remembered. Thus began the quest to find a musician or two that I could work with to create these new/old songs of that period.

AJ Scheiber

True collaboration is really about finding someone who shares your vision for a project. Then working together to create that project to your mutual satisfaction.  In my case, it turned out to be with a very talented singer/songwriter by the name of AJ Scheiber. AJ does both solo work and plays in a band by the name of Wilkinson James. I would describe his work as akin to John Prine and Tom Paxton.

After a couple of meetings and AJ reading the script for PTV, it became apparent that he shared my vision for the play and the prominence of the songs therein. He introduced me to many different styles of music such as Texas Swing, Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, folk, Americana, Bluegrass, gospel, Appalachian, and a host of other similar styles of songwriting.

We followed a very simple route of writing the songs. I wrote the lyrics. AJ adapted, rewrote and tweaked the lyrics to fit into the rhythmic pattern (melody) that he had created for that particular song. I then reviewed his adaptation of my lyrics and if I felt they don’t fit the message I was trying to convey, we discussed those particular words and came to some kind of compromise. AJ got the words to fit his musical pattern and I was satisfied with the words chosen.

AJ wrote out lead sheets for each particular song. Lead sheets are tools used by songwriters to convey the basic structure of a song to musical directors and arrangers. The fun part (in my mind) begins in the studio when each song is layered with additional tracks of musical instruments. In my mind, the arrangement is everything.

Since I have a vested interest in the mood each song must convey to my audience, I see layering as critical to each song’s success in conveying that mood. In PTV, each song was written as another emotional cue to help the audience better understand my characters and their actions. It was imperative that each song emit that emotional reaction from the audience.

The marketing of PTV has begun. Once we’ve received inquiries, AJ can begin to upgrade our demonstrations of each song and share it with interested theatrical venues through a file-sharing system. My job is to keep fishing and hope to land a theatrical venue that can host the show.

I have no doubt that it will be a long and arduous process to find the right venue for this play and then to produce it in the right manner. If we can pull it off and the show resonates with the audience then the sweat, labor and tears it took to get there will have been all worthwhile.

Not for the faint of heart but then anything of value seldom comes easy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Canyon Country Club

When Sharon and I went looking to buy a home in the desert, our intentions were simple enough. She wanted a place where we could entertain our families. I wanted a quiet place to write. We found both in a stretch of scrub brush south of downtown that happened to come with a storied history of ambition, prejudice, and glorious mountain views. It was to become part of the storied history of this reflective house of mirrors called Palm Springs.

Once upon a time, there was about 550 acres of worthless sand, boulders, creosote plants, orphan road runners, desert flora and fauna on Indian land located just south of the small village of Palm Springs. It had been there for centuries, first traversed by the ancients, then the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians who settled there and lived off the land and prospered. It remained Indian land long after the white settlers and government had divided up their land into checker-board squares of one mile each.


That was the age of subtle, yet very discernable antisemitism throughout the Coachella Valley. Jews weren’t allowed in any of the tony golf course communities down valley or in Palm Springs. But all of that was about to change with the creation of Canyon Country Club.

After more than thirty years as an East Coast custom home builder, Russian-born Boris Gertzen moved to Palm Springs with the intention of retiring and playing a lot of golf. The desolate wasteland south of downtown soon caught his attention. This resulted in his creation of Canyon Country Club finally completed in December of 1961.

The centerpiece of this development was the club house. It was more than 40,000 square feet and cost over one million dollars. After the club house was completed, Boris began building homes on the golf course fairways.

Even by desert and second-home standards, these were large, luxury, custom homes, all of which afforded striking views of the surrounding mountains and conjured up the swanky mid century space-age lifestyle.

Canyon Country Club was designed and marketed to be a magnet for those desiring to live a fairway lifestyle in the beauty of South Palm Canyon. It was open to all demographics, but heavily marketed to the Jewish enclaves in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

To make the opening of Canyon Country Club spectacular, Walt Disney, who had invested in several luxury homes built along the second fairway, donated a fountain that shot water into the sky from a floating lily pad, added to the spectacular view from the clubhouse. It’s still operating there today.

The Canyon Club Inn, later renamed The Canyon Hotel, attracted movie stars and socialites. The golf course became the site of the Frank Sinatra and Chuck Connors Golf Tournaments. Canyon Country Club has evolved and changed over the years. It’s now a public course and changed its name to Indian Canyon Golf Resort several years ago.

Homes have also evolved over the years to the point where the present homes are almost totally indistinguishable from the first ones built here. Bland safe colors have evolved into more muted desert tones. Lawns of green grass have given way to desert-scape. Mid-Century modern design has edged out other designs as the preferred status symbol of the twenty-first century.

The development has aged relatively well over the years. Newer country club developments down Valley have created just as spectacular views from tee-boxes and patios alike. What they don’t have is a long and colorful history from an era long since past into the travel books and fables of old Hollywood. Some of those old Canyon Country Club tales have become legends if only in the minds of the true believers. 

As for me; I just like the early morning views with my coffee and tablet in hand. History aside, it’s still a nice quiet place to ponder and write. What more do I need.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Engine Upside

I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process, the hunger for more, a need to succeed, distrain for the status quo and a willingness to rise above one’s raisin. What fueled that drive? What causes two siblings, raised in the same household, to take such different steps in life? Why did two people raised under the same set of parents, education, upbringing, social, cultural ethnic environment take such different steps in life? What innate, indiscernible, invisible source powered that desire and drive in each individual?

A fascinating article appeared in the Tidbits tabloid awhile back. In an article written by Kathy Wolfe, she examined this phenomenon. I’ve borrowed from some of her thoughts and ideas here.

One answer to this question lies above our eyebrows. It’s amazing that a small three-pound organ located between our ear’s controls just about everything throughout our entire body. This amazingly complex control center powers how we act, move, and think. If there is a key to ambition and the creative process it lies, well hidden, within the 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, which gather and transmit signals throughout our body, twenty-four hours a day and all of it occurring in micro-seconds and on a level well beyond our consciousness.

It's those nerve cells that compose what is often referred to as ‘gray matter.’ About 100 trillion connections exist among those cells, and no one neuron touches another. These connections are known as synapses, and they allow the information impulse to flow from one neuron to another. Each individual nerve cell can have up to 40,000 synapses.

My upbringing was different than most of the other kids on the block. Without a father around and a mother struggling to make ends meet, I was pretty much left on my own most of the time. This absence of parental oversight along with concern and caring caused me to escape into my own little world of Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and pre-teen pop music.

I loved the Errol Flynn medieval knight movies and Tarzan novels. It seemed natural for me to create my own version of the same with colorful knights and a Tarzan comic book. Cowboys and Indians seemed a real attraction too.

In retrospect, I wonder if my own early sense of isolation stimulated my brain to compensate for that absence of love by my drawings and rudimentary story-telling. So, what was it about my brain matter makeup that caused me, at a very young age, to begin drawing pictures, creating comic books and reading vociferously anything I could get my hands on? Where did that hunger come from?

Research has shown that those who grow up in a stimulating environment where education and learning are stressed can develop up to a 25-percent greater ability to learn. So, did this account for my mediocre performance in grade school, high school and college with a C average as about par for the course?

Why did it take me forever to gain some level of maturity until my mid-twenties? What accounted for my difficulty in girl-boy relationships, an aversion to smoking like all the cool kids did and a real fear of taking drugs? I was out of the loop long before I even knew there was a loop.

What I find fascinating (and my wife finds perplexing) is my inability to remember much of my youth growing up with my sister and mother on Randolph Avenue. Studies have shown that the horseshoe-shaped hippocampus is critical in the process of transferring short-term memory into long-term memory. Is my hippocampus misaligned or something?

What was absent in my brain, not developed, hindered, stunted, or lacking that caused this hollowed out memory of mine and yet kept a detailed recollection of minute details of obscure facts on a wide variety of topics. I can remember the color of the dress that Audrey Hepburn wore in ‘Charade’ and yet can’t remember going to the Highland Park swimming pool with my sister.

So here I sit at almost 81, struggling to find the right lyrics for nine new songs my collaborator and I are writing for my play ‘PTV.’ After a lifetime of listening to great songs, why do I think I can write one myself? I have no idea.

You might ask my brain.  I’ve tried to but I can find no answer among the 100 billion neurons bouncing around up there. I guess it’s just part of my ‘gray matter’ makeup. An engine that keeps churning along, introducing new thoughts, ideas, song lyrics, story lines, honest dialogue and dozens of ‘what ifs at the rate of (it seems like) a million-a-minute.

Makes for some great novels and plays and (I hope) new songs. But it renders hell to a good-night’s sleep.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Coyote Time and the Rising Sun

Few of us are lucky enough to watch the world (as we know it) open up each morning and welcome in a brand-new day. A lot of folks seem to be just happy seeing daylight and then pondering what the next twenty-four hours might bring into their lives. I am very lucky. For me, life begins anew here among the cactus, coyote, and early morning walkers.

Dawn in the desert is a very special time of day for a select few; human and animal alike. Not only for the beautiful sunrise that paints finger-thin rays of mustard yellow against the still sleeping mountains or the fleeting glimpses of coyotes on the golf course returning from their nocturnal hunt. The hours just before dawn seem to draw out an interesting assortment of characters intent on enjoying the cool of morning before the heat of the day. Sunrise opens the curtain on another day in the desert. The audience is sparse but appreciative.

Places that cater to the early risers are busy. A tapestry of color dances over the mountain slopes, crevice’s, boulders, scrub brush and gray-layered coat of dust and dirt.


The coffee shops are full. Hotel guests edge aside one another for a place in the rising sun on the patio. Estate sale aficionados clammer for a place at the head of the line to see what goodies lie inside the condo for sale. Walkers, bikers, runners, joggers, and dog-walkers move softly down the footpaths and sidewalks of the city.

For many others, it’s a quiet patio for solitary pondering of the day’s upcoming activities and life itself. So goes each early morning in this resort town. Palm Springs is a different kind of animal; always has been. Unlike a lot of other communities, there aren’t as many commuters clogging the highways and by-ways. A lot of folks like to sleep in or have their coffee on the veranda overlooking the rising sun. It’s a resort/retirement community and the residents take that moniker very seriously.

Most resort communities sport the ubiquitous gated enclaves of look-alike signature homes surrounding a golf course where every home has a swimming pool in the backyard. Those enclaves of understated wealth are sprinkled with a flavoring of casinos, fine dining, expensive shops and one-of-a-kind amenities meant to separate the cake from the chaff. Palm Springs is all that but much more. Sometimes the ‘more’ isn’t quite what the Chamber of Commerce would like to promote. Yet that is what separates this desert community from so many others.

Palm Springs is unique not only because of its storied history; real and imagined. It’s been around long enough to have grown old and stale then reborn many times over. Through the decades it has attracted both the rich and the poor, the smart and not so smart, the hip and those decidedly uncool and all manners of life form in-between.

In the past few years, Palm Springs got so dated that it became hip all over again. What was once old like mid-century modern architecture is now all the rage. Tired old motels have been revamped, remodeled, spruced up and now charge ten dollars for a bottle of beer. (But wait, I’m dating myself.) Fifties throw-away furniture fetches a fortune in design stories and replicas fare just as well. Old is new again and thus hip for those born twenty-thirty years ago. A traveler back in time like me can only smile and think about the untold wealth we took to Goodwill way back when.

While most resort communities follow the unwritten rule of retirement; sleep in, coffee on the patio and face the day on the right side of dirt, natives on the north end of the Coachella Valley are different. Early morning in Palm Springs comes to mind as a perfect example of this.

In Palm Springs it takes a lot to turn heads if you’ve been here for more than three deep breaths. For example, there’s something decidedly unremarkable about a hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar Bentley parked in front of McDonalds or the elderly owner inside sipping his cheap cup of coffee-with refills. Or the classic 1964 tan mustang convertible parked in front of True Value hardware. A hipster arriving at our newest hotel in town ‘The Rowen’ wouldn’t turn an eye with his vintage corvette.

The older set is in the Saguaro swimming pool for exercise class before their grandchildren’s generation has returned to bunk down. These women are an accomplished lot who want to spend their time as they please. And frankly, they don’t care what others might think about grandma and grandpa sipping their first cup of Joe at the Casino or country club instead of squirreling their children’s inheritance away.

For me, the routine is always the same. Coffee on the patio, a quick breakfast and then at my desk trying to create words, thoughts and ideas and assemble them on the computer screen. I suppose I could retire and slow down like most seniors my age but habit and hunger keep me working. I personally wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s all part and parcel of life here in the desert for me and a lot of other restless souls like myself.