Holy wow, I am 28 years old. Scientists predicted this was a possible outcome of living another 365 days past August 24, 2009. I wrote them off as goram shuckster kooks.
Science. Alas. My cells have cycled and recycled. My furrowed brow is furrow-er. I’ve started to “get” adults, even the boring ones. It’s certifiable. My only hope is that this shucked cob of a body has, Millennium-Falcon-style, still got it where it counts.
Happily, I got an amazing and unexpected gift from the brilliant musician and composer Max Keenlyside. Max re-typeset one of my compositions, “Theresa’s Novelette,” using gorgeous fonts based on those used by Scott Joplin’s publisher, John Stark.
The piece actually looks like it was published during Joplin’s lifetime now, not just some computer-rendered printout like it was when I did it. It was the equivalent of taking a charcoal sketch and rendering it in bold, brilliant color.
For you non-musicians, typesetting music is like stabbing yourself in the eyes repeatedly with a soup ladle. At least that’s how it feels to me every time I do it. Every note has to be entered by hand, tweaked, shaped, etc. The fact that Max re-typeset an entire one of my compositions, thousands of notes entered note-for-note, by hand… What do you say to that? “Thank you”? Pathetic. I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t.
No one has ever done anything like that for me. It was spectacular. I printed out the score and just looked at it for 10 minutes. 20 minutes? An hour? I knew every note, but they all felt new to me, like I had unearthed it, dug it out of the ground. I felt in the score what my grandmother said she felt when she heard the tune: “I feel like I’ve known it my whole life.” In the new fonts the piece feels timeless. Ancient. Complete.
It’s okay. You can hate me. I’m a very lucky guy. And yes, Max is that amazing.
So, I traded a year for the chance of meaningful surprises, and I couldn’t be happier. And I got to turn 28 on vacation in Costa Rica, hiking through rainforests and savoring Panko-crusted seared tuna as the Pacific sun glittered and burned at the horizon. The cooks in the kitchen beat their ladles and pans as the restaurant patrons sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and I got to kiss my beautiful wife and bury my face in a giant platter of desserts.
Then I went to a casino and lost $1. That was lame. But we can edit that out of the movie version.
So all in all, hi 28! Nice to meet you. I must say, you make a fantastic first impression.
“I’m a bit psycho. I think we all are, and my way happens to be this.”
So I laid into an old friend recently for not keeping in touch with me. Let’s call him Wendell. Not for any particular reason. His name doesn’t rhyme with Wendell. You wouldn’t look at him and go, “You’re a Wendell.” I’m not even sure I could be friends with a Wendell, especially if he’s as uptight and prudish and stingy with money as he is in my head. I just figure that I’m not really going to get too many opportunities in this life to name things Wendell, and here we have a golden opportunity.
Where was I. Ah.
Wendell and I met in college. We struck up an intense friendship, the kind that people strike up on a desert island or in a rainforest after a plane crash. But you know how it goes. College ends. Jobs begin. Time and Distance get married and have a baby called Estrangement, and one day you wake up and you realize it’s been a year since you’ve talked to each other. Entire swaths of life have been traversed without the other knowing – you became an artist with a capital “A”, he spent six months in a pink room – and all those moments you would have once upon a time discussed into the night now pass, silent, like sea turtles slipping into the surf.
Oh sure, you think about each other often, but for whatever reason the thought doesn’t travel down your hand and into the phone. And then, not hearing from the other, your pride, now wounded, ensures that you won’t be the first one to pick up the phone. “He can just call me if he wants to talk.”
That was the case here. And it was kind of driving me crazy.
I mean, I’m a bit crazy to begin with. Sentiments and assurances have a short shelf-life in my head relative to most men, who can go for years on a single assertion of friendship. I last about… a month. If we’re friends and I’m not receiving words from you about once a month, I go a little batshit crazy, to use a technical term.
So you can imagine my batshit-craziness when Wendell not only didn’t send words, he didn’t respond to my e-mails for a whole year. At first I was like, okay, maybe he is busy. I did what any 21st-century person would do. I wrote another e-mail. And another. No response. I wrote another. Each was more colorful than the last, adjective-laden and grander in scale. I’m at my sharpest when I’m passionately arguing against offending situations, a skill I learned while long-distance-dating Jess, and these e-mails were no exception.
I finally crafted an e-mail he couldn’t ignore. And when he ignored it, I called him.
The response I got contained the line you saw above, explaining why he hadn’t written back. “I’m a bit psycho. I think we all are, and my way happens to be this.”
Turns out that I had been hogging all the crazy. In that whole year, fuming and fearing and writing long indignant e-mails, I hadn’t stopped to acknowledge that maybe my friend was just as crazy as me, only in reverse. Whereas I needed to be in touch because of the time and distance, those were the very things keeping him from putting the quill to paper.
That settled, we had a lovely chat.
In retrospect it all sounds quite elementary. And it was a reminder that, despite my neuron’s protestations to the contrary, there are people outside the Martinverse with their own… stuff.
So, if you’re peeved off at someone right now for something, stop and ask: Am I hogging all the crazy here? Because chances are you haven’t stopped to consider that crazy is like a computer nowadays; everyone has their own.
I detest reality television.
And yet, I am addicted to watching “Hoarders” on A&E.
I suppose it’s a kind of psychological porn for me (“Oooh yeah… don’t you dare throw away that cockroach infested teddy bear!”), taking to the extreme something we all do a little. And it’s very satisfying to look at the television and go, “Goodness, at least I know in which box my Occupied Japan figurines are preserved!”
In my head I said that as “pre-ser-ved,” where the “-ved” rhymes with bed.
Here’s the funny part. The only-in-America part. Because between every show segment are five minutes of expertly crafted, animal-tested, USDA-grade commercials to convince you that happiness is owning Charmin toilet paper, gold coins, clothes washed with Woolite (“A woman never reveals the age of her clothes!”), floors by Empire Direct, and the latest $40,000 minivan.
It’s like a show on drug addiction brought to you by the good folks over at Cocaine Enterprises.
Maybe if we talked less about what we don’t have and focused more on how our worth comes from the inside, people wouldn’t think having=happiness and would know that their missing wife was actually dead inside their house hidden under the clutter…
Wow, I have some amazing news.
Every year, the Scott Joplin Foundation invites one musician to be their Artist in Residence for the year. This person is in Sedalia, MO for a week doing a Scott Joplin/Sedalia history outreach to local schools. The list of people who have done this reads like a who’s who in ragtime, including my mentor, friend, and all-around musical genius Tony Caramia.
And guess who is the Artist in Residence for 2011? THIS GUY. [points to self]
It basically breaks down to this: 11 schools, 5 days, 2 mini-concert/sessions each morning and afternoon for a total of 20 during the week, and then the week is capped off with a benefit concert of some sort on Friday night. I’m the youngest person they’ve ever asked to do it, which is awesome. The hope is that I’ll be able to connect with the kids, which shouldn’t be hard considering I’m already plotting how to turn Lady Gaga into ragtime.
I first went to Sedalia in 1998. I was 15, and I had to sneak onto a piano when my dad was in the bathroom in order to get a chance to play. Now I’m the Artist in Residence. Artist! With a capital “A”! That’s pretty awesome 😀
My Toyota Camry is nearing the end of its useful life, and I’m kind of freaking out about it.
It’s not my first car. That honor goes to a 1995 Ford Thunderbird that my dad and I bought in Winter Park, FL in 2000. It’s not even my second car, a 1998 Honda Accord I bought from my sister. Still, this Camry and I go way back, and in some ways losing this one hurts more than the other two.
I’ve got this thing, that I contracted from my late grandmother, about objects. A sane person looks at a Toyota Camry with 209k miles on it and goes, “Okay, you’ve put $4500 into it in four months. There’s no end in sight for potential repairs. It’s time to stop putting money into such an old car.” A Martin, however, looks at that sad jalopy and sees his sixteen-year-old self sitting at the Toyota dealership on a sunny summer afternoon laughing with his brother, convincing his father to get a rear spoiler and a sunroof “because that will make it the sports car you should buy yourself,” all while his young brother-in-law sighs at the wastefulness of wood paneling around air conditioning vents not realizing that this memory, and a thousand others made and not yet made, would forever be taken away from him months later by a tractor-trailer’s unsecured tire careening into his car on the interstate. To this vision a sane person goes “Mur?” but that is just one of the moments that come to me when I look at this car, one of a hundred pictures in time that weren’t developed by Kodak but capture a moment in radiant color. And now it’s coming time to let that car go.
This is kind of a disease, frankly. This is what the people on “Hoarders” think like; every object has a story, a significance beyond itself. I think I watch that show with such fervor because I realize at any moment I could be that person who can’t take a shower in their own house because that’s where they keep the dead mice.
When my grandmother moved from the Pocono Mountains to Wooster, OH she was incapable of parting with her objects and items, her collections and collectibles. It was a wrenching, terrible process, and a lot of us didn’t get it at the time, but I did. It was never about the piece of Occupied Japan or the bag of old men’s ties. It was about what those items represented – the feeling she had when she bought it, the face of the man she bought it from, the plans she had to display it, the way her friends would warble when she sold it at the crafts show – that made it so hard to part company with them. Because if she didn’t have the items, how would she have the memory? Wasn’t she giving away the very thing she needed to remember?
My grandma was still alive when my dad bought this car. She wasn’t even sick with Parkinsons yet.
Like many things in my life, Jess is the Yin to this Yang. Aside from a completely vexing connection to two hideous fiesta-inspired serving dishes, the likes of which I endeavor (in vain) to discard, my wife is the queen of Throwitawaysia. The only things she treasures are picture albums, which she possesses and tends to like a dragon tends his gold, and for everything else the rule is: If I don’t look at it for six months, I don’t need it. She doesn’t need the thing to have the memory, she just needs a picture of the thing. This is especially helpful when you live in a shoebox-sized apartment, as we do.
I imagine the same will be true of the Camry, once we part with it. I have a picture of each car I’ve ever owned, one that captures it in a memorable moment, and I can look at those photos and remember the terrific/terrifying/tremulous moments that the car was privy to. Because if you think about it, cars really do mark time in your adult life, and without school how do we mark time once we’ve done the house, had the kids, and got the job? This is especially true for men, I think, but not exclusive to them. Your first car was there with you in your teens as you transitioned through college, your second car saw you into the work world, your third had to fit car seats, etc. Your car is one of the few constants, something that was with you day-to-day — I could describe age 18-24 as my “Thunderbird years” and capture more than just the car I drove — and so the end of a car really is the end of one time in your life and the start of another.
It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. But let me just take this moment, before the new car hunt begins, to remember that me day I, too, will be near the end of my useful life, needing more than an oil change, with only my memories of the open road to comfort me.
I better get a move on.
I have the Internet in my pocket. And yes, it’s excited to see you.
This is not “neat,” “nifty,” or “nice.” This is huge. This is the sectumsempra of tech wizardry. The technological past is bleeding in a watery pile on the ground, as I just booked a ZipCar from my phone. In the middle of the street. At 9:30 PM. For a kid who spent his nerdy teenage years in the 1990s on dial-up, this is freaking sorcery, people.
Sadly, if there is an Apple fanboy Hell, I am on my way to it because I, dear Reader, didn’t buy an iPhone.
I bought a Droid. Worse still, I really like it.
That’s right. Like a modern day Modred, I stabbed Apple Inc., my favorite company on the planet who makes all my computers and who I happily worked for not once but twice, in the heart and bought a phone from their biggest and most dangerous competitor.
Now, the fact that I’m typing this on a six-year old iBook reveals my true allegiance. I am an Apple nut, have been so since 2005, and will continue to be for the duration of my computing life.
So what drove me into the muscly arms of Android? For starters, Apple’s devotion to AT&T. The exclusivity agreement, which made a lot of sense back in 2007, has kept me iPhone-less for years. I have heard this “but the iPhone is coming to Verizon!” stuff for over a year now and guess what: I don’t buy it. The latest word is January 2011, but Apple’s exclusivity agreement with AT&T is good through 2012, and Apple has yet to break it. By then, I’ll be eligible for a new phone.
To leave Verizon now, however, means sucking up their Animal Farm-ish $175 per line early contract termination fee (and we have two lines – ugh). And we have a first-generation iPod Touch, which is like an iPhone without the phone part, so it was always too much of an expense to justify the switch.
However, after 599 times in the past year where Jess and I simultaneously exclaimed, “If only we had the Internet!”, we decided that it was time to enter the 21st century. Me being me, however, I didn’t want just any phone. I’ve been out of the mobile technology loop for pretty much ever, and now that we were finally going to take the plunge, I wanted to get the best I could.
To that end, I got the HTC Incredible, which is apparently like bagging a unicorn these days, and so far I really like it (See: The Internet is IN MY POCKET).
The reason I like it, however, is that it works almost exactly like my iPod Touch, right down to scrolling-to-unlock and pinching to zoom. I repeat: Google did a copy-and-paste of Apple’s iOS, slapped a Star Wars-inspired moniker on it (admittedly a nice touch in my opinion), and voila. Delicious, Verizon-approved patent infringement.
So why I do feel like a big fat traitor? Because my Apple ethos, which I discovered after 10 years of living in the Windows world, is more than just the answer to “which computer do you use?” It’s a belief system. Computers should be beautiful. Fewer buttons are better than more buttons. Simplicity is power. I still wholeheartedly believe that. And the HTC Incredible, in many ways, is an expression of those ideas. I’m less beholden to Apple the Company than I am to Apple the Idea. Which is how I suppose I’m going to live with this new toy and live without an iPhone.
At least until the iPhone comes to Verizon. I’m hoping that the Old Rules still apply, in which the only sure way to know when Apple is going to update something is to buy one of their products. They usually update it immediately afterward.
If the iPhone really does come to Verizon soon, you’ll have me to thank. It’s nice to know that some things, at least, haven’t changed 😀
I was 15 years old when I first heard them play together. They were then the age I am now, and had just discovered the kind of magic musical synergy — Brian, with his classical technique, control, and flourish; Jeff with his power and energy — that has made them legends in their own time.
To wit, with help from the epic Danny Coots:
I’m not ashamed to admit that the 5-minute mark to the end makes me twitch with glee.
Always fun to watch the masters at work 😀
Martin Spitznagel, a 27-year-old with growing technical prowess, moved next into novelty pieces. He played Joseph Lamb’s “Hot Cinders,” a simple piece built on a two-note pattern, followed by Billy Mayerl’s 1927 hit “Marigold,” a leisurely paced excursion of surges and softness that faded away on high light notes. Spitznagel then played one of the oddest and hardest pieces of the entire festival, Arthur Schutt’s “Blue in the Black Keys,” a charging work that changed keys every few bars. (Monett Times, 06/18/10)
Is this a… uh… good review? I can’t really tell. “Growing technical prowess” sounds like I’m either a Chia Pet who needs watered or a special-needs musician. “Martin has clearly been trying really hard to get better.” Someone get me a helmet to wear.
For comparison, read the next paragraph of the article, which reviews Paul Asaro:
Asaro played the most strenuous pieces with impeccable ease. His fingers danced through James P. Johnson’s “After Tonight” and “Blueberry Rhyme,” and brought out exotic atmosphere in Fats Waller’s “Martinique” from a 1943 musical. Asaro closed with his specialty, the romping “Caravan,” written by Juan Tizol for Duke Ellington.
Okay, first, Paul is impeccable, his fingers do dance, and his “Caravan” is considered a fire hazard it’s brought down so many houses. That’s beside the point. Read the two reviews again and tell me this: Which pianist would you rather listen to? One that’s “impeccable,” “exotic,” “romping,” and whose fingers “dance,” or one that’s “growing,” “leisurely,” and “simple”? Exactly. My review, by comparison, reads like a book report. “Next up was Martin Spitznagel, who clearly played more notes than the other pianists.” Sigh. For a musician who tries to be musical above all else, this is a pretty disappointing review.
I suppose “an excursion of surges and softness that faded away on light high notes” is indirectly about my performance, but you can’t exactly put that in a promotional packet. I wanted a takeaway, a one-liner that makes me sound like an actual musician. The review says nothing about my musicality, let alone my dashing good looks or my spiffy hat. And let’s face it, the musicality I can forgive, but leaving the hat unmentioned? Unconscionable.
It’s hard to believe YouTube is just five years old. Like cellphones, the web, and barcodes, it’s hard to remember the world before it, even for those of us, like moi, who were around.
One of the best parts of YouTube, besides of course the abundance of piano playing cats, is finding other human pianists and musicians. Two of the best I’ve found are Anderson and Roe, a dynamic duo that is doing so many things right. Their videos have high production values, spunk, attitude, and best of all they’re damn fine piano players. They also do epic arrangements of Star Wars music, so they had me at hello.
Here’s there latest video, a dizzying version of Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca.” Of course, this being my website, it’s an arrangement they’ve titled “Ragtime alla Turca.” Gotta love it below:
It’s great to see artists of this caliber experimenting with ragtime! And if the audience reaction at the end, which looks more like they just scored a touchdown to win a game than concluded a piano performance, is any indication, it looks like this music I love is in pretty good shape 😀
I could seriously change my last name to “McFly” with all the time-traveling I’ve been doing. So far this week I’ve been in the present, nine years in the past, ten years in the past, forty years in the future, and three days from today.
As Marty would say, “This is heavy.”
Jess and I left DC on Friday night and flew to Orlando for the first time since I graduated from film school there in 2001. Our mission? A five-day excursion with her family to Disney World. Criminal as it sounds, I only made it to Disney World one time (for all of 6 hours) when I lived in Orlando. A classmate of mine dated a girl who worked at the park and got us free tickets, and we went to MGM Studios for one of their Star Wars Weekends. Those of you who’ve been there know that six hours at Disney World is like standing in the lobby of the MOMA and saying you’ve done the museum. It doesn’t really count.
We landed in Orlando at 10 PM, and from there we caught “Disney’s Magical Express” which, frankly, is neither magical nor express. The park is 15 miles from the airport, and we got to the hotel at 1:13 AM. We were on the Disney bus as long as we were on the airplane. Something is wrong with this picture.
We stayed at the Pop Century hotel, a fabulously kitschy complex of pop culture totems – a massive Big Wheel, an illuminated 90’s-style laptop the size of a house, enormous bowling pins surrounding the circular staircases – designed, I believe, with the sole purpose of freaking people out who were born between 1950 and 1999. Seeing a Smurf doll in a museum display case was more than my Martin brain could handle at 1 AM, and I felt doubly awkward for 1) coming childless to Disney World at age 27, and 2) being as old as a goddamned Smurf. All I could picture was myself on display someday next to a “Simon” and an LP of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the kids passing by regarding it like I do the 50’s exhibit going, “What did these people *do* all day?”
We shed our bags and kicked off our clothes. I took a shower, and it hit me: Dear God, the water even smells the same. In all our machinations for travel arrangements and days off from work, what I never took into account was the hurricane of visceral memories that would come roaring back when the wheels touched down on the tarmac. When we landed, I suddenly felt like I was one of those heads on Easter Island surrounded by all the monoliths of my 18th and 19th years of life. The water, the smell, the humidity… I half expected to see my friend Jeffrey pull up in his blue Ford Thunderbird and so we could take off to see a movie with his girl Sahar before hitting the editing lab at 4 AM. It literally felt like I had fallen through a pocket in the corduroy blazer of Time, and at any minute I would wake up and realize the past ten years had all been a dream.
In other words, someone get me a cat. I need it to sing “Memory.”
The feeling lingered over the following five exuberant and exhausting days, during which time I learned that that the road to Hell is paved with animatronic Munchkins.
You thought Linda Carter spinning her head and vomiting in The Exorcist was creepy? You, my friend, have never been on the “Great Movie Ride” at Hollywood Studios in Disney World. Imagine if you will being trapped on a slow-moving tram with 40 other exhausted people while a tour guide doing an inexplicably horrible cowgirl impression parks your tram in the middle of a room filled floor-to-ceiling with screaming animatronic munchkins that subject you to a nightmare-inducing version “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” Good. Lord. You will be praying for the sweet scythe of death by the end. I thought I might never sleep again.
Then again, I was so exhausted after day two that I couldn’t even brush my teeth before collapsing, obliterated, into bed. Our trip, you see, was really being run by my wife, Adolph Spitznagel, who subjected us to a grueling up-at-7-go-until-11 schedule for five days straight. I never thought I could hurt under my kneecaps, but you have got to hustle to cover ground at Disney World and we went nonstop.
Hollywood Studios started in the morning with “Star Tours,” the retro Star Wars-themed motion simulator that is straight out of 1987 and in serious need of an update. Next up was the Tower of Terror, which had some legitimately spooky moments like phantasms appearing in a hallway in front of your in a very convincing manner, although the best part were the screams of terror of Jessie’s mother who likes less than anything the feeling of losing her stomach. After that we hit up the epic Indiana Jones stunt show, which is absolutely awesome and worth seeing, followed by ride after ride, park after park, until our days became a Disney delirium worthy of an Andy Warhol film.
I learned a couple valuable things about Disney from the trip. See, I was one of those “Gag Me with a Spoon” people when it came to Disney World. I loved their movies, as a child and an adult, but I wasn’t interested in a squeaky clean, artificial world governed by cartoon mice. I like my amusement parks like Kennywood in Pittsburgh, with roller coasters roaring in sight of steel mills and the occasional mashed French fry on the ground. I can’t relate to perfection. I want something with a story, with a blemish, an imperfection, an insatiably human “life is dirty but let’s party anyway” quality to it, and Disney is none of those things.
While I had long held this against Disney, what I realized this week was that Walt Disney the man had made a conscious choice about what kind of place he wanted Disneyland and Disney World to be. “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park,” he said. “I want them to feel they’re in another world.” When his wife asked him, “But why do you want to build an amusement park? They’re so dirty,” he told her, “that was just the point; mine wouldn’t be.” Something about learning that the squeakiness was intentional, that the perfection in spite of the horrific imperfection of the human beings occupying the parks was intentional, that it was important somehow, changed a big part of my perception.
This is because I understand. It’s just like my aversion to playing sad music. People could fairly say, “Oh that Martin, his music gets at best wistful, but never sad.” Even my most emotional piece, Theresa Novelette, doesn’t stay in a minor key for more than a few measures, and that piece is about the life and death of my beloved grandmother. It’s not that I can’t do “sad,” is just that I’m just not interested in playing sad music because there is plenty of sad in the world. There is plenty of darkness without me adding more. I like coloring my music with shadows – they add drama, intrigue – but the darkness never wins out because I am fundamentally out to make people feel good, make them tap their toes and forget about their cares and troubles and worries and concerns and just, you know, listen to a guy rock out on the piano doing what he loves to do. Once I realized that Walt Disney felt similarly, that it was in his grasp to create a place where the crap of the world would be unwelcome, I began to understand.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the “small world” thing didn’t eventually grate on me like a sturdy piece of asiago cheese any less than five days of ragtime would – by the time we rode the bus back to the airport and Mickey was on the TV screen hawking Disney cruises and singing about luggage, I realized that I hadn’t been afforded a single moment of meaningful silence since we’d gotten there – but Disney to their credit had managed to make a little magic for us which, when you consider they have to make magic for thousands of people at different locations each day, is really impressive.
And they’ve nearly perfected the formula for stage shows. That formula, which I deduced with my sophisticated Martin Mobile Lab equipment, is thus: loud music + fireballs. Literally, nearly 3/4 of all the shows I saw there consisted almost entirely of these two elements. To wit, the Indiana Jones show combined John Williams and fireballs (always a winning combo), added in a few spectacular stunts, and topped it off with a spitting-image recreation of the Indy-vs.-German-guy-who-gets-chopped-up-by-an-airplane scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” This, my friends, had all the makings of a Martingasm, and it did not disappoint.
But, ah yes, the title of this post. Whiplash. Because now I’m sitting in Pittsburgh, Disney vacation accomplished. Why am I in Pittsburgh and not in DC where I currently live? Because on the morning after we got to Disney, Jess and I were awakened by her parents with the news that her grandfather had passed away that morning.
In the happiest place on Earth, you see, things were not as perfect as they seemed.