Italy vs. Korea: Living Life Abroad

I’ve been to 10 countries this year but spent the bulk in either Italy or Korea. I think somehow I’m fully American diluted with Italian and Korean blood now. My roots spread far. Both countries have their pros and cons, but which is the better place to live? Continue reading


Pearl Jam is Back

There was a time, between hair metal and boy bands, when MTV still played videos, and radio wasn’t streaming online, that scruffy dudes in flannel and Doc Martens ruled the airwaves. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and, arguably, to a lesser degree, Soundgarden were the kings of rock radio. They wrote songs about teenage angst, depression, suicide, drugs, metaphors for the new comfortable life our generation was provided and the emptiness that was found within such coziness. Continue reading

Samuel and Jimi Hendrix

One of the best things about teaching ESL is that you meet awesome students. You can meet impressive, precocious youngsters who correct your grammar or wild, excitable hooligans that are incapable of sitting still. You can meet demure, sweet kids who draw you cute pictures or give you their last piece of candy. You can meet the kindergarten munchkins who’ll tell you they love you every day. You can also meet a kid like Samuel. Continue reading

God Bless The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead, the quintessential hippie rock band, forged in the belly of the San Francisco underground Acid Tests, has kept us all rolling, twirling and tripping along with them on their long, strange trip since 1967 with the release of their first album. They have gained and lost band members, written timeless songs, and allowed us all an excuse to feel that freeing feeling of communal liberation that is, a Grateful Dead show. Continue reading

Van Halen vs. Van Hagar vs. Celine Dion

Contact is all that it takes
to change your life, to lose your place in time
Contact. Asleep or awake
Coming around you may wake up to find

Questions deep within your eyes
Now more than ever, you realize

And then you sense a change
Nothing feels the same
All your dreams are strange
Love comes walking in/Beauty and the Beast

Ooh, and there she stands in a silken gown
Silver lights shining down

Love comes walking in/Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

Just a little change
Small, to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared

Love comes walking in/Beauty and the Beast

Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

These are the lyrics to a Van Halen song: “Love Comes Walking In” and the classic Celine Dion song: “Beauty and the Beast.” Can you tell the difference? Everyone always likes to bust Sammy Hagar for ruining Van Halen. The popular response is, “I like Van Halen, not Van Hagar.” But, they aren’t so different. Diamond Dave focused on silliness, sexiness and splits. Sammy Hagar seems to focus on drinking and love. A casual fan probably wouldn’t be able to identify the two singers from a cursory listen. I like both bands. I like both AC/DC’s. It’s never easy to replace a dead lead singer like in the case of Bon Scott and AC/DC, but Brian Johnson did it and rocked lots of their most famous songs. I think if David Lee Roth had died a classic rock n’ roll death of masturbatory self-asphyxiation or a drunken car crash, Sammy Hagar would have been received with a higher acclaim. But Dave was strutting around singing about California Girls and fans couldn’t understand why he wasn’t still “running with the devil.”




The Sounds of Music

The Sound of Music, a whimsical musical which belies the serious undertones of the Nazi takeover of Austria, features songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, came out in 1965 at the moment of America escalating the Vietnam War. It is a war movie, despite the happiness of its songs. It is magical, it is fantastic, and it is a classic. And I never saw it until I was 30 years old.

During the summer of 2011, I was in transition between USA and Korea. The part-time work kept me busy during the day, catching up with old friends kept the nights occupied and the Jersey shore kept weekends lively and sun-filled. It was a great three months spent with family and friends.

One hazy summer night my mother asked me to attend a community theater presentation of The Sound of Music. Several people from my childhood church were performing, I had never seen it and the Phillies had the night off, so I went, not sure what to expect. I was entranced within the first minutes. “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” It was wonderful fun. The actors were amateur, the stage was tiny, and the audience was a tiny group of 50 friends, yet I was holding myself back from singing along to words I had never heard before, but knew somehow. I watched the great Julie Andrews version 3 times the next week and now I am an unadulterated and unabashed fan.

I remember years ago, in my salty teenage brininess, when my family was sitting around the TV, fire crackling, with huge grins watching it, and I walked by and mentioned how I’d never seen it, my father asked incredulously, “How could you never have seen THIS?” He then broke into his loud, gesture-filled version of Edelweiss, which finalized my opinion to return to my basement. But now I know what he was talking about. It won Best Picture and Best Sound for a reason. It won because of the transcendent singability of the songs, the mystical beauty of the Alps combined with Julie Andrews heavenly voice and smile and because Dr. Zhivago had too much snow, sadness and no singing.

One day last week, while my kindergarten kids were coloring their self-portraits, I started humming or whistling Do-Re-Mi and three kids finished the verse with the lyrics: “…a drop of golden sun…” I was so excited I put it on the and we all sang together. It was so great, and another little moment of unexpected joy teaching the younglings. I grew up with timeless, ageless Wizard of Oz. I’m glad I saved this one for a time when I was mature enough to enjoy it.

The daunting task of climbing every mountain still lies ahead of me, but I am following the rainbow, searching for my dream.

Oh Thunder Road

About six or seven years ago, I was working construction with my father.  It was probably summer time.  We were renovating a 19th century mansion on the big hill overlooking my childhood town.  It was not an easy job.  There were nasty days full of the worst grease, grime and grit you can imagine.  There were days where we felt like nothing was getting done and the job would never end.  There were days when I wished I were anywhere else but there.  And, of course, there were days that I’ll never forget—quality time with my pop learning his craft.  During that summer the University of Pennsylvania radio station was playing the 885 greatest songs of all time (as voted on by listeners) to go along with their call sign of 88.5 FM.  We love this station and it never left the radio.  We listened during our breaks, our work hours and turned it up to extremes whenever our favorites came on the air.  During the few weeks it lasted, my Dad and I and the three other co-workers, whom I’ve known all my life and feel like family, would argue and speculate on what could possibly be called the greatest song from an indisputably great radio station.  We all knew that the Beatles, Zeppelin, Who, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Clapton would be represented.  It was always a pleasant surprise to hear each song with its subjectively ranked number, but when it got down to the top ten we had invested lots of time into those songs and were angry if it didn’t match our taste.  Finally, number one came and it was announced as Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”.  We were all shocked when “Like a Rolling Stone” came at number two, which is a classic to anyone’s flavor of music, but this was even more shocking.  ‘The Boss’ Springsteen is an adopted son of Philly, a blue-collar, hard working, Jersey Shore, cheese steak on lunch break kinda guy.  He sold out around 40 consecutive visits over 30 years to the Philadelphia area.  I knew that may have influenced the listening public, but I just didn’t understand that choice for number 1.  Until now.  I have listened to more Bruce since being in Korea than in my whole life.  After you’ve been working for a living for enough time, with enough bosses harassing you, failed relationships, tough life lessons, paying bills, unrequited loves and bad days to fill in the otherwise daily beauty of existence, you hear new things in tough, old songs.  I believe his words and understand the feeling of wanting to get on the road without even knowing where it is you want to drive.  Thunder Road plays on my shuffling Ipod and brings a smile every time.  It doesn’t have the nostalgic poignancy of “Glory Days” or the idyllic dreams of “Born to Run” or even the jingoistic pride of “Born in the U.S.A.” but it has rambling romance, self-confidence, and my favorite line “you ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re alright…” It deserves its place at number one.  Put aside your VH1 and Top 40 accepted wisdom of what a number one song is, and you might agree that this one is poetry in motion.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves 
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays,
 Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
 don’t turn me home again 
I just can’t face myself alone again
 don’t run back inside 
Darling you know just what I’m here for,

So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore 
Show a little faith there’s magic in the night,
 you ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright—oh and that’s alright with me 

You can hide ‘neath your covers
 and study your pain 
Make crosses from your lovers
 throw roses in the rain 
Waste your summer praying in vain
 for a savior to rise from these streets 
Well now I’m no hero
 that’s understood all the redemption I can offer girl 
Is beneath this dirty hood
 with a chance to make it good somehow 
Hey what else can we do now?
 except roll down the window 
And let the wind blow
 back your hair well the night’s busting open 
These two lanes will take us anywhere
 we got one last chance to make it real 
To trade in these wings on some wheels
 climb in back 
Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
 come take my hand 
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Thunder Road oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun I know it’s late we can make it if we run
Oh Thunder Road sit tight take hold

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk 
And my car’s out back
 if you’re ready to take that long walk 
From your front porch to my front seat
 the door’s open but the ride it ain’t free 
And I know you’re lonely
 for words that I ain’t spoken 
But tonight we’ll be free
 all the promises’ll be broken 
There were ghosts in the eyes
 of all the boys you sent away 
They haunt this dusty beach road
 in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets; they scream your name at night in the street 
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
 and in the lonely cool before dawn you hear their engines roaring on but when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind so Mary climb in 
It’s town full of losers
 and I’m pulling out of here to win