Len Gutman's Blog

June 25, 2015

TearsForFears

Connor and I posing backstage at the Wild Horse Pass Casino with Curt Smith (left) and Roland Orzabal (right), also known as Tears For Fears.


Last Friday I blogged about the pleasures of a father sharing his love for music with his son, sparked by the Tears For Fears show that night at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. The post apparently touched a few readers and it got shared quite a bit on Facebook and Twitter. Well, we had no idea it would lead to such a memorable moment for my son Connor and I, but that it did. Here’s the story that led to this incredible photo of Connor and I back stage with Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal.


One of my friends, Barb Harris, shared my blog post with her friend Eric Schaefer. I didn’t know Eric, who lives here in the Valley, but apparently he too is a big Tears For Fears fan and somehow over the years he had befriended none other than Curt Smith. Well, Eric enjoyed my blog post so much that he tweeted a link to Curt Smith. A little while later, I had two new followers on Twitter — Eric and Curt! Imagine how I felt when I was notified that I had a new follower and it was one of my musical heroes!


But the story gets better. A few hours later, Eric sent me a note that there would be two backstage passes for Connor and I at the box office and that after the show we were going to get to meet Tears For Fears. Eric and his daughter went to the venue early to meet up with Curt and apparently Curt was touched by my post. Needless to say Connor and I were thrilled. We drove over to the venue, picked up our passes, and went into the theater to watch the show.


The concert was spectacular — I had seen Tears For Fears three times previously, but it was obviously Connor’s first TFF show and it was really great to enjoy it along with him. At the end of the show we lined up at the back of the theater to be escorted back stage to get our photo with Curt and Roland. As we moved our way up to the front of the line and got closer to the band, we noticed Curt looking our way. Then he caught our attention and said, “Are you Connor?”


He proceeded to give Connor a hard time about having a beard, then we chit chatted a bit while we took our photo. Roland was quite shy, but I decided to put my arm around him anyway! Curt seemed genuinely pleased to meet Connor and it was certainly more than we expected. He gave Connor a nice firm handshake as we left and thanked us for coming. As we walked out of the theater we couldn’t believe how the day turned out. It was a father-son bonding experience that we will never forget.


That’s the thing about social media — you just never know who might be paying attention.


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Published on June 25, 2015 20:06 • 1 view

June 19, 2015

One of the great joys of fatherhood for me has been introducing my son to the music of my youth. It’s no secret I’m a music freak, and my musical heart is strongly rooted in the 1980s. As a father you can only hope your kids at least appreciate the things you loved in your youth, but it’s something entirely unexpected and incredibly rewarding when your kid shows true exuberance for one of your loves.


Tonight, as part of my birthday weekend, my son Connor and I will be seeing Tears For Fears in concert. The duo is without question one of my all-time favorite bands, and I have been fortunate to have seen them in concert three times over the past 30 years. But what makes tonight’s show so special is that my son is so excited about seeing Curt and Roland tonight that he is almost giddy. Yesterday I sent him a copy of the set list from the band’s show in Tulsa the other night and he was ecstatic about what we will be hearing tonight in Chandler. Even though Tears For Fears is one of my favorite bands, I’m more excited for him. And isn’t that really what parenthood is all about?


ConnorMidge

Connor got to meet the legendary Midge Ure last summer, one of his musical heroes.


Connor loves 80s modern rock. When he was very young, he would sit in his car seat in the back of my car and sing along to whatever I was listening to, and that was most often 80s music. Depeche Mode. REM. U2. Talking Heads. Peter Gabriel. Joe Jackson. The Clash.  As he got older, his tastes grew to appreciate the vast majority of my favorite artists. But that appreciation grew into a love and that was totally unexpected. At one time or another during the past few years I’d walk to the back of the house to hear the kid blasting XTC or Howard Jones or Talking Heads.


At one time or another during the past few years if you asked him his favorite band, not his favorite 80s band, but his favorite band period, he probably would have said Ultravox. Which is why when we had the chance to see Midge Ure perform last summer here in Phoenix he considered witnessing Midge perform Vienna one of the highlights of his young life. After the show, which also featured Howard Jones, China Crisis and Thompson Twins, he got to meet Midge and the photo embedded in this blog post is one of his favorite images ever. Last year I showed him what for me is the greatest concert video ever filmed, Jonathan Demme’s sublime Stop Making Sense. He loved it, and now Talking Heads is at or near the top of his favorite bands list.


But above all, Tears For Fears reigns supreme. Connor agrees with me that The Hurting is arguably the best modern rock album of the 80s. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Mad World or Pale Shelter blasting from his speakers. He loves every song they have ever released, as do I. He loves the unheralded but wonderful Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, which was released in 2004 and is the band’s last studio album (although they are recording a new one right now!). It’s an album that very few people outside of true fans have probably heard, yet still classic TFF.


One of the problems with loving 80s music is unless you were of age in the 80s your chances of ever seeing one of these great bands live is slim. Yes, there are a few retro shows now and then, but unfortunately Connor is not likely to ever see live performances by Talking Heads or XTC or The Smiths. Which is one reason why tonight’s Tears For Fears gig at Wild Horse Pass is so special to him and why the best part of my birthday weekend will be experiencing the show through his eyes.


Yes, my son and I also enjoy many modern bands together. Arcade Fire. Phoenix. Black Keys to name a few. But there will always be something special, something that connects us, when it comes to the music of the 80s. I hope you have something similar to this with your offspring.


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Published on June 19, 2015 11:12

March 30, 2015

PeteRoseI’m just about finished with my Spring ’15 baseball read, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. Here are my conclusions:



Pete Rose is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time and his on-the-field performance is worthy of being recognized in the Hall of Fame. This is indisputable.
Pete Rose bet on baseball and on the Reds while he managed the team. This much he admitted. Because of this he was placed on baseball’s permanent ineligible list.
In 1991, the Hall of Fame voted formally to exclude individuals on the permanently ineligible list from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Rose is the only living member of the ineligible list.
Pete Rose is an asshole. He cheated on his wives. He wasn’t a good father. He gambled. He was arrogant. He hung out with some rough people.
There are worse guys in the Hall of Fame. Drug addicts. Gamblers. Racists. Cheaters.
There is no proof that Rose ever cheated in a game as a player or manager. There is no proof he made any managerial decisions based on his bets. It’s hard to imagine though that it didn’t play into his decisions in some way, even if only subconsciously.
Tons of cheaters are at least eligible to be voted on for the Hall of Fame. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Rafael Palmeiro. Barry Bonds. Etc. It is unlikely that they will ever get enough votes to get in, but they are eligible.
Anyone who has bet on baseball should not be allowed to be around the game to any significant extent. By this I mean manage, coach, scout, etc. I have no issue with a guy like Pete Rose attending games in the stands or even being honored on the field. He has been, at least twice, since being placed on the ineligible list. Apparently the baseball gods think it’s better for an admitted cheater to coach, but not a gambler (see Mark McGwire). Steroids and gambling both mess with the integrity of the game and should be treated equally, don’t you think? As for Rose, there is no proof he ever bet against his own team and frankly it doesn’t seem to be in his nature to do so. Which is worse? Betting on your team to win, or pumping yourself full of performance enhancing drugs to get an edge?
Pete Rose should have his day in the court of public opinion. By this I mean let the writers vote on his induction to the Hall of Fame. That seems fair. He may not get in, but I bet he’ll get a lot more votes than McGwire and Bonds.

I was fortunate to grow up during a time when Pete Rose played baseball. I hated Pete Rose, but not because he was an asshole — I hated him because he was on the other team and he could beat you single-handedly. He was without question one of the toughest competitors I ever saw play the game. Pete Rose holds something like 17 major league baseball records, including most career hits (4,256) and most games played (3,562). His on-the-field performance was the stuff that legends are made of. He won three World Series titles, one World Series MVP and appeared in 17 all-star games. He was the NL MVP and Rookie of the Year. Nobody ever played the game with more intensity.


Yes, Pete Rose bet on baseball. And like I said, he shouldn’t be allowed to manage, coach or otherwise interact with young players because he is in fact a bad influence. But he deserves to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot and let the voters have the opportunity to vote for him, just like the steroid guys and just like Gaylord Perry (who admitted to cheating his whole career). Rose didn’t cheat, so what he did on the field has integrity.


It’s an easy fix. It can be done without removing him from the ineligible list. All that has to be done is the Hall of Fame must remove the 1991 language about ineligible players not being eligible for the Hall of Fame. After all, they added it to keep Pete Rose out of the Hall and they can delete it to let him have his day in the court of public opinion.


Oh, and for the record, if I had a vote for the Hall of Fame he’d be a yes.


 


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Published on March 30, 2015 10:13 • 21 views

February 19, 2015

arcade-fire-the-suburbsBelieve it or not we’re halfway through the decade that is the twenty-teens. The first half of the decade that began in 2010 has been a delicious musical treasure trove and as I looked back on my top 10 lists for each year it was an eclectic and wonderful collection. It is clear though from my favorites that I am mellowing as I age, though there is still at least one hard rockin’ group on this list. Still, I’m definitely more of an alternative, neo-disco and Americana guy.


As always with these lists, the following represents my favorites — not necessarily what may be deemed by so-called experts as “the best” of the decade so far:



 The Suburbs (2010) — Arcade Fire. I admit I came a little late to the Arcade Fire juggernaut but when I finally “discovered” them I went all in. The album, written about the Butler brothers’ early life growing up in the Houston burbs, received universal acclaim and was the surprise winner of “Album of the Year” at the Grammy’s and also won the top prize at the Brits and the Juno awards. It’s five years old now and I still listen to it all the time and seeing them live last summer was one of the highlights of my concert-going life.
The King is Dead (2011) — The Decemberists. I was already a fan when this album came out but it has since become my favorite by the band. That said, their new release What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015)  is wonderful and I wouldn’t be surprised if it landed at or near the top of both my best of 2015 list and my end of the decade survey. Colin Meloy could sing the alphabet and I’d be enthralled.
Babel (2012) — Mumford & Sons. The Mumfords burst onto the musical landscape in 2009 with Sigh No More, an album that kicked off a re-birth of Appalachian sounds that hasn’t slowed. Babel was their brilliant follow up and my favorite album of 2012.
El Camino (2011) — The Black Keys. In contrast to folk-infused bands like The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons, the Black Keys bring a hard rockin’ R&B sound that never quits. Echoing bands like The Ramones, The Clash and even Led Zeppelin, Dan and Patrick Carney seem to have endless energy. I knew I was going to love this record the first time I heard Lonely Boy and saw that silly video.
Lonely Avenue (2010) — Ben Folds/Nick Hornby. What do you get when you take lyrics written by one of my favorite novelists and add the fabulous Ben Folds? A crazy combination of music and story that is both memorable and great sounding. Supposedly Nick wrote the lyrics, sent them to Ben and he added the music without changing a word. That’s hard to do, especially for a guy known to write great songs himself. “Levi Johnston’s Blues” is one of the funniest songs ever: “I’m a fuckin’ redneck, I live to hang out with the boys, play some hockey, do some fishin’ and kill some moose.”
Bankrupt! (2013) — Phoenix. These Frenchmen remind me so much of the bands I grew up with in the 80s and I was a huge fan of 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Bankrupt! is just as good, if not a touch better. My only disappointment is that they canceled their concert in 2013 so I’ve never seen them live. Someday.
21 (2011) — Adele. I make no apologies for loving Adele. You don’t sell 11 million copies of an album in America alone without having crossover appeal. The list of accolades and world records she set with 21 are too numerous to list here, but here’s something that tells the tale: only two other albums have spent as much time in the Top 10 — Born in the U.S.A. and The Sound of Music. Damn I loved this album from the moment I first heard “Rolling in the Deep.”
Codes & Keys (2011) — Death Cab For Cutie. Not everyone liked Codes & Keys when it came out following the huge success of 2008’s Narrow Stairs, but I actually like Codes & Keys even more. In fact, You Are a Tourist from Codes & Keys is still the band’s only No. 1 hit ever, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart.
Turn Blue (2014) — The Black Keys. It’s hard to keep churning out great album after great album but the Keys have been doing it for almost two decades and Turn Blue is gorgeous. Perhaps Fever and Gotta Get Away are overplayed, but that’s because they are great. That said, my favorite track is the first one, Weight of Love, which is 6:50 worth of musical genius. Oh, and how can you not love an album announced on Mike Tyson’s Twitter account.
Broken Bells (2010) — Broken Bells. Top to bottom a gorgeous musical collaboration by super producer Danger Mouse and James Mercer from The Shins. I couldn’t get enough of this record and waited anxiously for the duo’s second collaboration to arrive last year. After the Disco (2014) gets an honorable mention for this list as well. Got to see them perform live last year and it was a highlight of a great year of concert going.

Almost made the list: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (2013) by Franz Ferdinand; Blak and Blu (2012) by Gary Clark, Jr.; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2010) by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.


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Published on February 19, 2015 17:30 • 24 views

January 5, 2015

espn_sscott_01_600x600When the news broke yesterday morning that ESPN commentator Stuart Scott had lost his battle with cancer I once again found myself in a funk. The news hit me hard, but only partly because I was a huge fan. Yes, he brought us the classic home run call of “boo-yah” and when a guy like M.J. drained a game winning shot he’d remind us all that the player was “cooler than the other side of the pillow.” These calls stuck with us as sports fans and became part of the sports vernacular.


But while I was sad about his death because he was a great television reporter, I was even more upset that he died at such a young age — around my age. Stuart Scott and I are less than a year apart in age and while it’s always sad when someone dies young, since my own brush with death a few years ago these deaths seem to hit me harder. I don’t know Stuart Scott and he didn’t have a heart attack, but I feel a closeness to him and other people who die young. And not just celebrities. I have the same reaction whenever I hear about someone my age dying.


I get really sad when people my age die; in fact, yesterday I was depressed for most of the day. I thought about his two girls and how they’ve been left without a dad. I thought about all the friends he had at ESPN and around the world. Man, 49 years is not enough time on this planet.


I’m sure everyone who knew Stuart Scott or who was a fan of Stuart Scott felt the loss yesterday, and I’m not suggesting I feel it more because of my own experiences. Plenty of people have survived devastating diseases and believe me many of them have had it far worse than me. I think it’s just that each time someone like Stuart Scott doesn’t make it I am reminded that I almost didn’t make it and that starts me off on the “woe is me” stuff. I know I have been extremely positive about my heart attack publicly, and for the most part I have remained positive in my personal life as well, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have freak out moments about almost dying and it seems to be more prevalent at times when someone my age dies. If my wife is reading this right now I know exactly what she’s thinking: shut up and quit whining. You want to change places with someone who is actually suffering? There are millions of people who’d trade places with you.


There’s a great quote from Woody Allen in Annie Hall:


“I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.”


I need to remember that line whenever I’m feeling bad about my circumstances. Intellectually I get it, but sometimes it’s tough. The good news is, the sadness usually only lasts a short while. Which brings me back to Stuart Scott. He was one of those horrible cases. He suffered through seven years with cancer, including multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. I chose to share the old photo of Stuart in this blog post because that’s how I will always remember him, not as the frail man he became over the past few years as a he battled the disease.


But more important than his physical stature, Stuart Scott exemplified what I think we all should strive for when the chips are down. The guy could barely move last year when he arrived at the Espy Awards to receive the Jimmy V Perseverance Award yet he was as cool as the other side of the pillow. For him staying positive mentally was far more important than being physically fit (though he did manage to take up MMA fighting while he was recovering from chemo). The line we’ll all remember from that speech at the Espy’s, and the one that is getting a lot of airtime over the past 24 hours, is this one:


“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”


So while my initial reaction to Scott’s passing was sadness, today I woke up with a renewed spirit to live my life to the fullest. Not all of us get a second chance.


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Published on January 05, 2015 12:34 • 14 views

December 8, 2014

2013 was certainly the “year of the concert” for me. I can’t think of a year, at least not since college, during which I attended more live shows. I didn’t plan it that way, it just seemed like every few weeks there was another concert I couldn’t miss. This year alone I saw Mike Doughty, Billy Joel, Wye Oak, Broken Bells, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Fitz & The Tantrums, Foster the People, and the “Retro Futura” tour with Midge Ure, China Crisis, Howard Jones and Thompson Twins. This week I’m seeing Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams, then Fitz & The Tantrums again before the year closes out. Each concert was great and I’m hard pressed to pick a “best” of the year, but if I have to choose I’ll say Arcade Fire at the Forum in Los Angeles was probably the highlight. Although the Black Keys really rocked the U.S. Airways Center. But man that Broken Bells gig at the Marquee was spectacular. Well, you get the gist.


With so much great live music in my life this year, it’s odd then that I have struggled to come up with 10 favorite albums for 2014. As I flipped through my virtual record collection on Google Play over the past few days only a few records jumped out at me for consideration on my annual favorites list. I scanned a few online “best of” lists and nothing really got my attention either. So, maybe it was just a lousy year for new releases but a great year for touring. That said, I couldn’t come up with 10 so here’s a list of my 9 favorite records of 2014 (and one honorable mention):



Stay Gold — First Aid Kit: While I haven’t listened to it enough for it to qualify as one of my favorites of the year, I recently listened to the major label debut of this Swedish sister act and it really struck a chord. They have been called the female Fleet Foxes, and I definitely get that, but they remind me even more of Indigo Girls, whom I consider one of my favorite bands. It’s really hard to believe these young ladies are from Sweden given their sound, but music has no borders. Another favorite Swedish performer of mine is José González and you’d never guess he’s from Scandinavia either. I think maybe Johanna and Klara Söderberg moved to Sweden from Texas, either that or they are reincarnated southern girls. Regardless, they are talented alt-country/folk/rock performers and I plan to listen to Stay Gold a lot more in the coming weeks. Here they are on the YouTube if you’d like to check them out!
Caustic Love — Paolo Nutini: Here’s another border bender for you. Nutini is not from Italy despite his Italian-sounding name, but rather he’s Scottish. Frankly I don’t care where he’s from as long as he continues to croon like a Memphis soul man. I’ve been a Nutini fan for a few years now and his new record is more of the same. I will say though that Caustic Love has a little more edge to it than 2009s Sunny Side up or his 2006 breakout record These Streets which features the foot-tapping pop goodness of “New Shoes.” My favorite track off Caustic Love is Let Me Down Easy, which sounds straight out of Motown.
Sonic Highways — Foo Fighters: I love me some Foo Fighters when it’s time to rock out but frankly this new album is about much more than that — it’s really musical and has significantly more depth than past Foo efforts. I actually think it might be their best album ever, which is saying a lot because they’ve had a heck of a discography. Dave Grohl is so much more than just a musician, he’s a historian and a music fan as well and that appreciation for his roots shine though in this great record. Something From Nothing is a great example of that depth.
Everyday Robots — Damon Albarn: When you think of the British pop wave that took the world by storm in the 1990s the two bands that always stick out are Oasis and Blur. I have to admit I was always a much bigger Gallagher brothers guy, but Blur certainly had some great tunes back in the day. But while Noel and Liam have gone their separate ways after years of fighting and produced albums that pretty much sound like Oasis, Blur front man Damon Albarn took the road less traveled and created the innovative cartoon band Gorillaz. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Albarn set out on his own and the result is the Mercury Prize nominated Everyday Robots. This album is like a beautiful rainy day that you never want to end. Take a listen to Lonely Press Play to get a taste of this delicious sound. Reminds me a bit of David Sylvian.
Brill Bruisers — New Pornographers: How can you not love a Canadian super band, especially one with the brilliant Neko Case on vocals. I have no idea what a Brill Bruiser is, but I definitely like the sound of this album. Here they are playing the title track on David Letterman. Awesome.
Ryan Adams — Ryan Adams: In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Ryan Adams has been making great alt-country/indie rock music for going on 15 years now and while he hasn’t had the commercial success of the unrelated Bryan Adams this just may be his year. His self-titled 2014 release was just nominated for a Grammy for best rock album and the song Gimme Something Good from said album was nominated for best rock performance. He already has the girl (he’s married to actress Mandy Moore) and maybe now he’ll have some hardware for his trophy shelf as well.
Somewhere Under Wonderland — Counting Crows: Say what you want about Counting Crows, they have been pumping out great albums for twenty years and they’re one of the best live acts around as well. I count these crows among my all-time favorite bands so it should be no surprise to see their new album high on my list. If you haven’t listened to Counting Crows in a while this album may be just what you need to be reminded of how great they are. God of Ocean Tides is a great example of the gorgeous sounds of this album.
The Voyager — Jenny Lewis: Like Ryan Adams, whom she is touring with right now, Jenny Lewis is well-known to alt-country and indie rock aficionados. And as with Ryan Adams, 2014 has been a breakout year of sorts for the former Rilo Kiley lead singer. The Voyager is making all kinds of “best of” lists and her video for Just One of the Guys has been a viral favorite with its cross-dressing performances by Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart and Brie Larson. I have been a Jenny Lewis fan since she was a child TV star on Brooklyn Bridge! The Voyager is easily her most accessible record since her Rilo Kiley days. Give it a listen! And if you love it, go back and listen to Acid Tongue which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade.
After The Disco — Broken Bells: By a razor-thin margin, After the Disco was my second favorite album of 2014. Pretty impressive given this is only the band’s second album and 2010’s self-titled release was one of my favorite albums of that year as well. What do you get when you put together the musical genius that is Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) and Shins lead singer James Mercer? Pure neo-disco perfection. I was blown away by After the Disco and seeing them live earlier this year cemented this record into the penultimate place on my year-end list. Every song on this album is gorgeous, but my favorite is the title track. I know both Burton and Mercer have other lives, but I sure hope they keep making Broken Bells records together!
Turn Blue — The Black Keys: My favorite album of 2014 should come as no surprise to those of you who know me. No album was more anticipated by me this year and no album lived up to the hype any better. I don’t know how Patrick and Dan keep doing it, but they followed up 2011’s brilliant El Camino (my second favorite album of that year) with another gem. Turn Blue is amazing from start to finish and the Grammy voters agree having nominated it for best rock album of 2014. The Keys seem to have unlimited energy and it comes through on this album from the very start. Sure, Fever and Gotta Get Away have been played to death, but the whole record is worth over playing. It’s a tough call, but my favorite track on the record is the first track, Weight of Love. Take a listen to this live version — it just keeps building to a beautiful crescendo. I think the Keys listened to a ton of Led Zeppelin growing up in Akron, Ohio!


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Published on December 08, 2014 19:17 • 13 views

November 7, 2014

OK I admit it, I’m obsessed with ancestry. I got the bug a few years ago when I found a new service called Geni that helps you build your family tree and collaborate with your relatives who are also doing ancestry work. It’s essentially social genealogy and it is addicting. More on Geni in a sec.


The real question to ask is why am I so interested in genealogy these days. Yes, there is a Renaissance of sorts going on thanks in large part to the wealth of online information now available at sites like Ancestry.com and Ellis Island online, not to mention several great ancestry television shows like Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are? I am all in on these shows — it’s like watching a mystery unfold right before your eyes. But for me the impetus is more personal. For one thing, having a kid has made me want to give him a better sense of where he comes from and knowing your roots is a large part of that. Additionally, nearly dying a few years ago has left me thinking a lot about my legacy and that in turn has led me to want to know more about what my predecessors left behind.


I have never felt much of an affiliation with my heritage. Most people know where they’re from in general terms — they are Irish or Italian or Polish. But I was always told my heritage is Jewish, which makes no sense at all to me since Jewish is a religion not a culture or nationality (I know some of my Jewish friends will argue this point but you are wrong!). On top of that, I do not practice Judaism so I can’t be Jewish. Now this might all be a moot point for a science-based person like myself because I understand through science that all human roots can be traced back to northeastern Africa making me (ahem) African-American. Regardless, my more recent ancestors came from somewhere and I want to know where.


Back to Geni. It’s a free service (with pro options that cost a bit) that allows you to build your tree. You simply add your name and details and then add in your family members. As you add people to your tree it identifies other people on Geni who may be connected to you and then you can combine forces to grow your tree together. You can also invite your relatives by email to join your efforts and add their information and whatever they know about the family. Pretty soon you have a huge interactive family tree. It’s not a place to do in-depth research on your ancestry like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com, but it’s free and fun and ultimately its goal is to build a tree that includes everyone on the planet. In fact, it will tell you how you are connected to people, so you can see how you are connected to famous people. But that’s just a side-show. The real power is connecting you to existing relatives and growing your tree.


Using Geni I found Lois Gutman, my second cousin once removed’s wife, whom I did not know. Lois was working on a different branch of our family tree, and what we discovered together was quite remarkable. Her husband Michael’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. Michael has a sister named Sheila Mae Gutman who lives in Staten Island New York — just a few miles from my aunt who is also named Sheila Mae Gutman. They’ve never met. On top of that, Lois and Michael have a daughter named Jodi Beth Gutman — my sister is also named Jodi Beth Gutman. Crazy. Together Lois and I have been adding to our tree and we recently discovered my second great grandparents, Benjamin & Mollie Gutman, I then sent away for Mollie’s death certificate from the state of New York and found out that her parents were named Benjamin and Charna Sherman — another generation added to the tree.


So what have I learned about my ancestry so far? Well, it turns out the paternal side of my family is Eastern European, primarily Russian and Ukrainian with some Polish thrown in. Basically I am from an area known as the Pale of Settlement  created by Catherine the Great in 1791 to remove the Jews from the heart of Russia. Jews were forced to live in this region, which covers areas that today include Ukraine, Western Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. Jews lived in villages called shtetls that were made famous in Fiddler on the Roof. Basically a rural slum. On the maternal side it’s more of the same, though I still need to do more work on that side.


Ancestry is a really interesting hobby, especially if like me you have a little journalist or historian in you. I’m really enjoying putting the pieces together to uncover my roots, but more than that I’m discovering and meeting new relatives. Another of Lois and Michael’s daughters lives here in the Phoenix area and I’m hoping to meet her soon. On my mom’s side I discovered my cousin Paul Fleischman, a Newbery Medal Winning author.


Another great thing about ancestry is that you can do most of the work from home thanks to the wealth of information available on the Internet. There are lots of free resources including FamilySearch.org, and for a small fee you can use more advanced tools like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com. If you don’t want to pay the membership fees you can get free access at the public library or at one of 4,500 LDS local family history centers worldwide. The Mormons are very serious about their ancestry for some reason and say what you will I found a very nice quote on their website that brings it home: “A life not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory.”


I want to bring the memory of my ancestors to life, and I don’t want to be lost to memory.


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Published on November 07, 2014 14:46 • 22 views

October 5, 2014

This is the scene of the crime for my first fishing adventure in decades.


For whatever reason I equate relaxation with sitting by a lake fishing, something that is quite odd given that the last time I went fishing I was probably 16 years old. Nevertheless, I knew as I ventured out to discover new hobbies I would have to give fishing a shot. So with the weather starting to cool off I decided to grab my fishing gear and headed out. Only one problem — I didn’t have fishing gear and frankly I have no idea how to fish! To the interwebs!


There is a ridiculous amount of information about fishing on the web; in fact, it can be overwhelming. I figured the best thing to do was to buy cheap gear and try some local lake fishing to get my feet wet. Step one was to decide what type of rod and reel to buy, but even this was complicated. Most everything I read said the best way to start was to buy a simple combo spinning rod and reel, and after a few research trips to the store I settled on a Shakespeare Complete Fishing Kit for about $18 at Wal-Mart. It included the rod and reel, plus enough tackle to get me started. No point in spending a lot of money on a hobby that I may hate. Plus, everything I read said this kit was a solid starter set.


Next I had to decide where to fish. I live in a planned community called Lakewood which includes a couple of nice community lakes. I have seen people fishing in the lakes before, but I had no idea if they ever caught anything nor if there were any fish in the lakes. I sent an email to the community manager and found out the lakes were actually stocked each spring with bass, catfish, white amur and tilapia, and that the rules allowed for residents to catch and release anything they caught, which was fine with me because I had no interest in eating anything I pulled out of these lakes plus I have no idea how to clean and prepare a fish to cook anyway. A little more research on the web suggested I could catch tilapia with corn or bread as bait using a small hook about 18 inches below a bobber. I had my rod…I had my bait…and I had my rig. Next stop, the lake.


I woke up at 8 this morning, had a cup of coffee and then walked over to the lake. I carefully tied a hook to the line, placed a bobber about a foot up from the hook, and placed a piece of corn on the hook. Now I should mention here that I had never cast a spinning reel, so I had looked that up on the web as well. Thanks to YouTube there are plenty of tutorials available and, well, it looked pretty darn simple. The only fishing I’d ever done was with one of those rods that have a push button on the reel, which is really made just for kids. But the spinner reel is even more basic so I figured after watching the video I’d just wing it.


Casting turned out to be a breeze — you just hold the line with your finger against the rod, flip up the “bail” and send the line flying into the lake. Once the line lands you flip the bail back down and it locks into place. I cast a few times and reeled the line back in to get the hang of it. On the third or fourth cast I felt something tug on my line, and when I reeled it back in the corn was gone. Either this was going to be easy or these fish were way too smart for me and my corn on a hook. I baited the hook with a fresh piece of corn and cast again into the same general vicinity and a few seconds later my bobber went under and I knew I had a bite. I slowly reeled in and pulled out a fish! Holy shit, now what?


I had hooked a small tilapia, about 5-6 inches long. I pulled him up onto the grass and grabbed him, and that’s when I realized I’d forgotten to bring my needle nose pliers to get the hook out. I also quickly found out that tilapia have sharp barbs along their backs and they hurt when you touched them and I didn’t have a towel or cloth or anything to help me get my grip. Add to that this stupid fish pretty much swallowed the hook and even though I tried to stick my fingers in his mouth to get the hook out I couldn’t reach it. Now I had a dilemma. Either I let the fish die on the grass or toss him back into the lake with a hook in his mouth. I chose the latter and felt like a horrible person.


Rather than let this mistake taint my experience, I put a new hook on my line and cast out another piece of corn. Instantly I saw my bobber go under and knew I had hooked another fish. As I started to reel him in I could tell this was a bigger fish, and sure enough a few moments later I was pulling a foot-long bass out of the lake. He must have been about two pounds and I was giggling with excitement at my fishing fortunes — beginners luck for sure. This time the hook was sitting near the front of the fishes mouth and I easily yanked it out and tossed the fish back into the lake.


It was starting to get hot but I was on a roll so I cast another piece of corn into the lake. A few minutes later I hooked another small tilapia, yanked the hook out of his mouth and tossed him back. I was out at the lake for about 45 minutes and I’d caught three fish. I was thrilled and decided to call it a day and head home. I cleaned up my gear and walked home, laughing at myself for my luck and feeling like the king of the lake.


I have to admit I enjoyed fishing (despite my issues with the first fish) and I am excited to try again soon. I purchased some trout bait at Wal-Mart in case I decided to head over to a nearby stocked lake, so perhaps I’ll give that a try soon. I have done some internet research on trout and think I know how to set up the rig so that the bait floats a foot or so off the bottom of the lake so we’ll see if I can bring in some trout next time out. Trout is by far my favorite fish to eat to I’m going to look for a place I can keep the fish I catch — and of course I’ll have to do some research on how to clean them in case I do manage to catch anything. Tempe Town Lake and Kiwanis Lake are both close by and stocked with trout so I’ll probably try one of those. Hopefully it’ll be cooler out over the next few weeks as well.


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Published on October 05, 2014 15:02 • 21 views

July 12, 2014


This week we finally kicked off our exploration of hobbies after a short vacation and one false start. We tried to do some drinking and painting at a local place called Brush Party, but it got cancelled while we were on our way to the studio (we will reschedule). But on Wednesday evening we had our first wine tasting class at a new restaurant in Gilbert called MWC Bistro. It’s a lovely little place in a mostly empty strip mall on the corner of McQueen and Warner in the spot that used to be Down Under Wines & Bistro. It is owned by the same folks who own My Wine Cellar in Ahwatukee, which is a great place we’ve been going to for years across several ownership changes.


We found MWC via Living Social. We paid $35 per person for four, 90 minute wine tasting classes over four consecutive Wednesdays in July. The deal came with four wines per tasting, plus small food pairing samples. The regular price for the class series is $80 per person so the Living Social deal was a steal. Leslie and I are really novices when it comes to wine so we figured this would be both fun and a learning experience.


We arrived at MWC Bistro a few minutes before 6 p.m. and were led to a large table in the back that was set for 14. There was one other guest there when we arrived — a woman named Jean who was in a wheelchair and whom we later learned was a stroke survivor who took a cab and the light rail on her own all the way from midtown Phoenix just for the class. Soon the table filled up with a wide range of people from a couple of older ladies to a pair of hipsters and their “dates” who may or may not have been beards. We ordered some food because it was dinner time including an order of french fries that were delicious. We both ordered salads for dinner — mine was with shrimp and Leslie’s had chicken and they were great. After a while a woman named Samantha introduced herself as our instructor (er, sommelier) and quickly poured each of us a glass of bubbly and offered a toast.


Samantha turned out to be a wonderful teacher with a great sense of humor and tons of knowledge about wine making, wine tasting and even wine purchasing. Over the course of 90 minutes we learned about how wines are made, the differences in taste due to harvest times, the different kids of yeasts used to ferment grapes, and the types of aging containers. Of course, we also learned the proper way to taste wine, beginning with a visual inspection to look for legs, brightness and color as well as sniffing for fruitiness, intensity, earthiness and more. If I’m being honest I had a hard time smelling all the things she said she smelled, whether it was pears or cherries or oak or stone. The hipster across from us dug his nose into his glass deeply with each tasting and remarked about various smells he sensed, but frankly I think he was full of shit. Most of the wines pretty much smelled like wine to me, but hey I’m new at this so perhaps my nose will mature with time!


After the visual and smell tests we were ready to taste, which began by swirling the wine all around our mouth and over our tongue before swallowing. We discussed things like sweetness, body, acid, tannin, complexity and finish. I’m pretty sure I can figure out dryness and sweetness, but mostly I just knew whether I liked the damn wine or not. For this first class we tasted a sparkling wine, a Chardonnay, a Merlot and a Zinfandel. Samantha hid the labels until after we discussed the wines to keep us from making assumptions, which was really great because it allowed me to taste the wine for what it was without preconceived notions.


Leslie and I are pretty basic when it comes to wine. She only likes dessert wines — VERY sweet wines like Muscat and late harvest Riesling. Although lately she has been obsessed with Sangria. I like sweet wine in moderation, but lately have been trying to open up my palate to explore reds like Merlot and Pinot Noir, partly because I know red wines are good for the heart. So the first four we tasted were not typical of what we’d drink, which I guess was the point of this. I thought the sparkling wine was good (a touch dry for me but not bad), but the Chardonnay was not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the Merlot but wouldn’t order it, and then came the Zinfandel. I gave it the sniff test and figured it’d be too dry for my liking, but the moment it went down my gullet I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it, and it kept getting better with each sip. I had never tried a Zin, so I was very excited to add a new varietal to my repertoire. I forgot the name of the Zin, but it was from Amador County in Northern California (I’ll get the name next week at class number two).


We have three more classes over the next three weeks and I’m looking forward to it. I’d say wine tasting is a definite yes in terms of hobbies! I am excited to try more varietals and open my mind. I’m not so sure Leslie is going to get as much out of this class as me, but even just trying new things is a step in the right direction. And hey, she likes what she likes so who am I to argue — that’s why they make so many different kinds of wines!


As for MWC Bistro, I’d highly recommend it for dinner and drinks. The food was great, the french fries were amazing and the wine and beer selection was above average. 


 


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Published on July 12, 2014 15:54 • 24 views

June 5, 2014

00001060Let’s be honest, when it comes to marriage I am a major overachiever. Just take a look at this photo for all the proof you need. How the hell did Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles score the hottest girl in town? I must have had a great personality.


Today is my bride’s 45th birthday. But when I look at her now I still see this gorgeous young object of my desires. Sure, she has remained remarkably youthful in appearance, something she adorably credits to Dove moisturizing bars. But I think it’s more than that. I think she lives her life with a youthful exuberance, something I find very difficult to do but it seems to be embedded in her DNA.  Sometimes we’ll be sitting on the sofa surfing the web on our devices and she’ll just start giggling and I realize she’s still a little girl at heart. I’m jealous of that attribute.


It’s no secret I’ve had a rough couple of years health wise. I’ve been very public about my heart attack but in truth there have been a few other issues I’ve kept more private. The good news is I’m doing great, but health issues will certainly put a strain on a relationship. I’d like to publicly thank Leslie for being there for me and for being so strong, not only dealing with my mood swings but taking such good care of me. The marriage vows may feel a bit cliché, but I really understand the meaning of “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” They also say married men live longer, and I am a true believer in that cliché as well. Throughout this ordeal she has been by my side, taking notes at doctors appointments, cooking healthy food for me, nudging me (sometime shoving me) when I attempt to make a bad food choice, and generally advocating for my health. I am lucky as hell and if you ever have a health issue I hope you have your own Leslie by your side to help you along.


But back to her 21658_4928203685754_1864494528_nyouthful appearance. Check out this photo taken recently. This is Leslie as she hits her mid-40s. Compare it to the one above, taken when she was around 23. Can you say fountain of youth? The girl still gets carded on occasion for crying out loud! Yep, she’s still fucking gorgeous.


But more important than her external beauty is her internal beauty. She’s a loving, caring, generous and warm person. She goes out of her way to help people, even people she barely knows. I think that’s one reason she has been so successful at her job for going on 21 years. She doesn’t just think of customer service as a job, it’s also in her DNA. She would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.


Leslie is also the most amazing mother you’ve ever seen. We have some friends who had kids with very serious health issues and the doctors were useless. The mom took it upon herself to learn everything she could about her kids conditions and even when doctors gave up she kept pushing and pushing until she helped identify a treatment. It’s basically a Lorenzo’s Oil situation. Well, Leslie likes to give lots of credit to those particular parents but when I think about what she’s done for our son I think she’s the superhero. Luckily Connor’s health issues have never been life threatening, but they have been a  constant pain in the rear and Leslie has been relentless in her pursuit of better health for him. At 16 he is now in the best health of his life and you can see how his quality of life has improved. I know she’ll say that’s just her job as a mom, but trust me when I say she is a hero.


We are coming up on our 21st wedding anniversary. For those of you who are married, you understand what a feat that is. It’s remarkable that one of us hasn’t killed the other yet. And while we’ve had our share of downs, the ups have far outweighed them. We’ve made some stupid decisions (like moving to Atlanta, and moving to San Diego) but we’ve made some great decisions (having a kid, moving to Phoenix, moving back to Phoenix, moving back to Phoenix again) and through it all we’ve stayed by each other’s side. No matter what we do, Leslie always creates a path to making things better. She has counseled me through multiple job changes and a career change, she cheered me as I went back to school to get a master’s that I don’t use, she stood by me when my dad got sick, and kept her family strong when her mother died. She plans every vacation, every major purchase, every detail of our lives. She’s even getting better at letting go of planning things when Connor and I want to go with the flow even though it’s hard for her.


I like to say Leslie is high maintenance but worth it. I think she’s finally comfortable with that description. In fact, she’s embraced it. And I should also mention (stop reading right now if you’re under 18) that she still knows how to rev up my engines. Sure things have slowed down in the intimacy department, but for crying out loud we’re middle-aged! We work hard and we’re tired all the time! But we still got it baby! Almost 21 years and she still knows how to surprise me.


45 is a monumental birthday. You’re closer to 50 than 40, and that milestone has got to be epic. But if you know Leslie I bet you find it difficult to believe she’s 45 today. I sure do. Because when I think of her in my mind’s eye I always think of that photo above with her sitting on my lap and how amazing I felt that a girl like that would go out with a guy like me. That’s my favorite picture of Leslie in case it isn’t obvious. And twentysomething years later sometimes I walk into the house after work and look at her and I still see that young woman and that big smile and I think,no, I know, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.


Happy Birthday Leslie Gutman!


 


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Published on June 05, 2014 08:54 • 45 views