diving in the sky

beautiful, funny, Oregon, true 1 Comment »

Last summer, I jumped out of a plane.

It was fun, and scary, and it’s definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life, up to this point.  I did it partly because I wanted the experience, and partly for solidarity with GhostBand.  SingerDanielle made a vow as part of our KickStarter campaign that if we reached our goal, she would conquer one of her phobias and go skydiving.  We did reach our goal, and when the time came, there was a group of us who thought it would be much more fun to do together.  So we did.  In addition to the aspect of moral support, it gave us a discount on the price.  One has to be frugal, times being the way they are.

The business of skydiving is a strange one.  The first time you go, you have to take a short class, and you have to sign a huge waiver that says (in no uncertain terms) that if you are injured or killed, you or your family will not hold the company liable and sue them.  The waiver is insanely detailed.  There’s a little box after the end of each sentence that you have to check, in order to show that you’ve read and understood every last bit of the document, and that you have no recourse.  It can take half an hour to fill out the thing; it’s crazy.

Once we finished the paperwork, we stood around and waited for our class.   We filed into the little room, and they told us what position to be in for our jump—lie on our stomachs with our arms and feet raised behind us—and we each had to demonstrate the position so they knew we understood.  They also stressed the importance of doing exactly what the instructors, to whom we would be bound by an elaborate harness, tell us to do.  If we struggle, or go against what they say, we could have problems, and that could make the instructor’s job of controlling the landing much more difficult.

When the class was over, we stood around outside and watched a number of other skydivers land, gently and effortlessly, and our nervousness abated.  I actually wasn’t nervous about the skydive, surprisingly.  I just thought it sounded amazing, and was looking forward to it.  Certainly, once I’d seen a bunch of other neophytes land without incident, I knew we were in good hands.  Finally, our turn came, and we each joined our respective instructors.  We put on jumpsuits and were assigned helmets and goggles.  We followed the guys to the airplane, climbed aboard, and got into position.  There were six of us in the group, each with his or her own instructor, and one experienced skydiver who was jumping solo.

As the plane ascended to the requisite thirteen thousand feet, our instructors set to work harnessing us to them, so that we were essentially attached, and we could move as a single aerodynamic body.  They even gave us last-minute chances to chicken out.  They tapped us on the shoulder and yelled (since the plane is extremely loud), “Are you ready to jump?” to which the acceptable answers are either, “Yes,” or “No.”  They have to be absolutely clear that we’re giving them permission to take us on the jump.

Suddenly, the plane came to altitude, the door slid open, and there was the sky.  Right there.  The experienced solo guy jumped first, followed by SingerDanielle, followed by the rest of us.  Since I had been the first to board the plane, that meant I was the last to jump.  My instructor tapped me on the shoulder, as all the others had to their assignees, and asked if I was ready to jump.  I said yes, and we scooted awkwardly down the length of the otherwise empty bench seat until I was sitting on the edge of the open doorway.  Before I could even formulate a thought, my instructor said, “GO,” and he launched us out of the plane and into free fall.

When you first jump out, you flip onto your back (like scuba divers do) and look up toward the plane, which disappears from view surprisingly quickly.  You stay on your back for a short time, and then flip over and assume the arms-and-feet-raised position you’ve been taught in the class.  Meanwhile, the wind is pummeling you, and the ground is rushing up at great speed.  If the instructor’s parachute doesn’t open, he or she will go ahead and deploy the one on your back, which is the backup, and they won’t tell you they’re doing that, since you would almost certainly freak out up there and make the situation much worse.  You know how you are.

Falling through the sky at a hundred and twenty miles an hour is not something the human body was ever designed to do, and the feeling is like no other.  Every muscle in your body tenses, and you can feel a bit nauseous, but you also feel more alive than you ever have before.  It takes about one minute to plummet from thirteen thousand feet down to two thousand, when the rip cord is pulled and the parachute presumably opens.  One minute is a really long time to fall, and your body doesn’t really get used to it, at least if it’s your first jump.  I imagine it gets easier once you’ve done it two or three times, but the first time is. . .well, it seems so ridiculously cliché to say a ‘rush’, but that’s really what it is.  You’re completely outside of human experience, and you’d better believe that your body knows it.

Near the end of my free fall, I had a bit of difficulty with my goggles, since I wore them over my glasses, and nobody told me I shouldn’t do that.  [NOTE:  If you wear glasses, take them off and just wear the goggles by themselves.  Trust me.]  My instructor could see that I was having difficulty, so he pulled the ripcord on his parachute and reined us in, while I could see the rest of the group far below me as their parachutes deployed a few seconds later.  I felt a huge but not entirely uncomfortable jolt as we quickly slowed to the normal drop speed, and our bodies swayed forwards and back, a bit sickeningly (if I’m honest), as we moved into an upright sitting position, and after we settled down I was able to adjust my goggles.  Since there had been a small air gap along the bottom edge, my right eye got scratched pretty badly, and I had to struggle to keep it open.  I didn’t want to miss any of the experience.  My instructor showed me how to turn, by having me reach up and grab the ropes on either side of us.  I pulled one, and we lunged to one side.  I pulled the other, and we lunged to the other side.  Then it was all gentle curves and beautiful views, as we flew over the lovely Oregon countryside and headed back to the tiny airport.  The instructor and I had done a quick practice landing in the air, and I had watched enough other people land that it totally made sense.  I kept my legs stretched straight out in front of us, and the instructor  landed us on his legs and ran us out.  Easy breezy.  It all went off without incident, and we were safely back on terra firma.

Our group, uh, regrouped and compared our experiences.  We were all exhilerated.  SingerDanielle was pretty nauseous.  I was the worst for wear with the scratched eye, and I felt a bit nauseous an hour or so later, back at home.  Skydiving is pretty hard on your body, but it’s an incredible experience, and I might actually do it again, especially now that I know what to expect.

FrenchSinger has also been skydiving once, and we were discussing it and wondering how often people get sick in the air.  It seems like the kind of thing that would happen pretty often.  We cracked up as we imagined some unsuspecting guy working in his garden or whatever, when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky—BOOSH. . .he’s drenched from above by projectile vomit.

I would recommend that you try skydiving, at least once in your life.  It’s not for the faint of heart, as I like to say (usually when describing movies), but it’s an absolutely unforgettable experience.  The free fall is scary, but when you’re floating gently in the air after that, it’s just sublime.  The instructors are totally professional, too, and despite what the litigious waivers may say, it seems safe enough.  I never felt unsafe, let’s put it that way.  I felt like I was in good hands, and that we were totally in control.

Since then, I’ve heard a couple of crazy stories of mishaps, but those are definitely the exception rather than the rule.  One person told us about a long-time instructor who decided to randomly go on a solo jump.  He was completely in the moment, and feeling great.  The only problem was that in his excitement, he’d forgotten to strap on his parachute, and no one noticed until he’d jumped out.  He’d jumped so many times before that it never occurred to anyone that he wouldn’t be prepared.  Whoops.

My friend’s dad jumped once, back in the days before instructors were required to go down with you on your first time.  He hit his head on the foot bar on the side of the plane and knocked himself out.  He came to, luckily, during free fall, and once he realized where he was and what was happening, he was able to pull the ripcord and parachute normally.  But holy crap; what a story.

These days, there are lots of checks and double-checks that instructors do, and they don’t leave anything to chance.  Well, except for pure excitement, I suppose, like the guy who forgot his own chute.  But, I mean, come on.  If I can do it, you can certainly do it.  It’s awesome, and crazy, and unlike any other experience.  I don’t think I’ll ever bungee-jump off a bridge, though.  That’s where I draw the line.

If you’ve jumped too, what was your experience like?




best of BFS&T, 2010 edition

beautiful, blogging, cello, dreams, funny, love, music, Oregon, pictures, Portland, recording, sad, true, Washington, Yakima No Comments »

2010 has been very strange.  At the beginning of the year, I was still on blogging hiatus, so it took a while to get back up to speed.  Springtime was crazy, with lots of great musical endeavors and memorable trips.  By the summer, both my life and this blog went into overdrive, when I really started writing again, and found my full stride while sharing a bit too much about my childhood.  Suddenly it was October, which is the month of my birth, but this year was also the month of my stepdad’s death, which has sent everything into a tailspin since then.  A surreal trip to Yakima for the funeral was followed by multiple trips to Seattle, both for gigs and for family functions.

There were some standout moments from this last year that didn’t manage to make it into the blog, for various reasons.  For example, here’s a video of a particularly interesting recording session that I was lucky enough to be involved with, albeit in a small way.  A local singer-songwriter, who is also a friend, put the word out on SocialNetwork that she wanted to create a cacaphony of 50 pianos, all playing an F chord at the same time.  I jumped at the chance.  She rented a piano showroom downtown, and my friend and I (and forty eight or so other people) joined in to participate.  I brought my camera to capture a bit of the action.

Another memorable moment from this last year was Trek in the Park.  This theater group gets together every year to re-create a famous episode from the original Star Trek television series.  This year’s was Space Seed, in which we meet the infamous character Khan (who returned in the movie The Wrath of Khan).  It was a very well-done production, with live music and everything. . .and it was all free of charge.  Here’s the climactic fight sequence between Kirk and Khan.

IrishBand released our self-titled EP this year, as well as an amazing animated video that a friend created for us.  I would post that here, but our band name is very unusual, hence the pseudonym.  To celebrate, we went to Port Townsend, Washington (the hometown of three of the band members, and an adopted home away from home for the rest of us) to play a CD release party and catch the Rhododendron Festival and parade and everything.  It’s always a huge party weekend for PT, and this year was the tenth reunion for PT High School, which included Violinist and a bunch of other friends, so I actually went to the reunion barbecue in Chetzemoka Park during the afternoon, since I knew so many of the people there.  (God forbid that I actually go to any of my own class reunions; I haven’t yet.)  I also performed in the parade, in disguise, as an honorary member of Nanda.  I’m the guy with the Mexican wrestling mask, playing the bass, miming along to the dance music that was blaring from the speakers in the back of the truck.

I had the opportunity to see the Oregon Symphony perform many times this last year, with some pretty big-name performers.  Violinists Midori and Hilary Hahn, violinist Pinchas Zukerman and his cellist wife Amanda Forsyth (who, incidentally, gave a cello master class at the Old Church that afternoon, which I also attended, even though I’m far from being a cello master) who performed Brahms’s Double Concerto together, and a number of others.  This month, I have a ticket for pianist Emanuel Ax’s concert, which I’m very much looking forward to.  Yo-Yo Ma performed here a month or so ago, but his concert was sold out in the spring, only a few weeks after tickets went on sale.  Curses.

So it’s been a good year, overall, but I’m really hoping that 2011 is better, or less confusing at the very least.  I have lofty goals for the upcoming year, which include finding a job, finding love and a real relationship, taking care of some things that have been dogging me for a while now, and producing more CD’s.  I have a bit of news on the music front, actually.  A friend of mine hurt her arms a year ago, and has since been unable to play the piano, but that hasn’t stopped her from singing, or from writing lyrics and melodies, or from having tons of ideas.  She e-mailed me at some point to ask what people in her position do in the music business.  I told her I don’t know about ‘the music business’, but I’d love to give the songs a listen, and that maybe I could put music to them.  She sent me some mp3’s, and I instantly felt like I knew where the songs should go.  They felt familiar without being predictable, which is always a good sign.  That was about two months ago, and we already have five or six collaborations in the works.  Pretty awesome and exciting.

In other news, December is the fourth anniversary of this blog, so it seems appropriate to have a little birthday party, no?  Come on, let’s have some sis-boom-bah.

So anyway, on to the Best Of.  Here are the lists of what I consider to the best entries BFS&T has to offer from this past year, which naturally includes a list of the most interesting dreams, as well.  Enjoy!


SteamCon – the steampunk convention in Seattle in which PolishCellist and I played, and had a total blast doing so

tragedy – the death of Stepdad

struggle – the early aftermath of the death of Stepdad

sitting here thinking about the Holocaust – one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard on the radio

folk festival fun – Portland Folk Festival, starring IrishBand, Dan Bern, Roll Out Cowboy, etc.

I’m kind of an a-hole – see for yourself

birthday present – prostitute schmostitute

the unicorn code – love it, learn it, LIVE IT

no one’s laughing – a peek into our family dynamics

d̩ja vu Рwhat it feels like, and a friend who claims to never have experienced one

the truth is out there – interesting UFO story, I promise

it’s not for shaving – Occam’s Razor, and how it applies to recording music

what if it is? – a very memorable and touching moment from the show Six Feet Under



love and curiosity

he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

the final innocent tryst



lights, camera, dream

festival dream

shape shifters

inimitable and imitable

subconscious and libido

this needs a name


Just in case this wasn’t enough for your insatiable appetite for blog entries, here’s the Best of BFS&T 2009 entry, for your gluttonous pleasure.

Thanks for being here and reading all this, and for supporting this blog for such a long time now.  I really appreciate it.  I hope we all have an excellent New Year’s Eve, and Day, and that 2011 allows us to learn, and to grow, and to change for the better, a little bit each day.

Happy New Year!

Super what? Super whatev.

blogging, music, Oregon, pictures, Portland, recording No Comments »


This is the infamous Super Bowl Sunday, and I for one could not care less about that.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t have known that today is the day.   That’s how little I follow sports.

I know what I said a couple of weeks ago about how ‘the hiatus is over’ and all that, but life seems to have gone into overdrive since then, and I haven’t had two minutes to rub together to write anything new.

Two weekends ago, I went to Waldport, Oregon to spend the weekend with a childhood friend whose job is about to end, which will force him to move away from that pretty little town.  (Photos to come, as soon as I get the chance to go through them.)

IrishBand has a friend who’s creating an animated video for one of our songs, and it’s tremendous!  It should be done within a couple of weeks, and then I’ll be able to share it here.  It’s been quite a process, and very exciting to watch it all come together.  We needed to create an ‘intro’ section for it (you’ll see what I mean) that featured the sound of the band setting up their instruments and tuning up and whatnot.  Since two of the band members are busy in school, we weren’t able to schedule a rehearsal, so I set up the instruments (drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and cello played up high to simulate a violin) in my living room and recorded them using one microphone to simulate a camera person walking in and recording us that way.  (Photos to come, once I have a chance to go through them.)

I spent last weekend in Seattle to see a pipe organ concert at my brother’s church and to celebrate BabyNiece’s first birthday.  It was really fun, and super cute, and a bit stressful all at the same time.  (Photos to come, as soon as I get the chance to go through them.)  I drove back late Saturday night so that I could attend the Oregon Symphony the next afternoon.  They were featuring Jean-Philippe Collard performing Ravel’s beautiful Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, which I love and didn’t want to miss.  (Extra-special thanks to Kelly V. for making it possible for me and my companion to go!)  Hmm. . .’companion’ makes it sound like I’m gay, which I’m not.  For the record, my companion was a girl.


I couldn’t find a video of Collard playing the Left Hand, but here’s one of  him playing a similar piece by Ravel, for solo piano.

It was an incredible and beautiful show.  The orchestra started with a piece by Thomas Adés called “Powder Her Face”, which was very colorful and enchanting.  Next up was the Ravel concerto, followed by Gustav Holst’s “Egdon Heath” and one of the lesser-known Mozart symphonies, number thirty four.   The Ravel was the only piece either of us (and I daresay the majority of the audience, as well) was familiar with.  I love the way the conductor, Carlos, Kalmar, chooses music for his programs.  This is the second one I’ve seen so far this season, and he likes to blend the familiar with the unfamiliar in an intriguing way.

Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, next season promises to be world-class.  Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Hillary Hahn, Emmanuel Ax, Lang Lang. . .and that’s not even close to a complete list.  We are in for a treat multiple treats!

I had the opportunity to play with two nationally-known songwriters this week, in the same venue, on different days.  The first was Tony Furtado (a friend with whom I play fairly regularly) and the second was Dan Bern, who I had just met earlier in the day, when I helped my friend John by engineering and sort of co-hosting a podcast for KZME Radio called Hello Cruel World.  This was the second time I’ve had the opportunity to do that, the first being a couple weeks prior, when we interviewed an excellent new songwriter from Seattle named Tamara Power-Drutis.  Anyway, we were talking with Dan about the times we’ve seen him in concert.  John mentioned to Dan that I play accordion and multiple other things, and Dan asked if I know his music.  “Yes, I do,” I answered.  He asked, “Do you want to come play at the show tonight?”  “Absolutely!”

This picture was taken during the song God Said No.

So yeah, between the multiple out-of-town trips, the stellar gigs, the birthday parties and the nights out, it’s been quite a fun couple of weeks.  Now I’m off to meet a friend for dinner, and tomorrow I’ll be mixing some more songs for IrishBand.

I’m off of blogging hiatus, but we’ll see how long it takes before I have time to write again.  I don’t imagine it’ll be this long.


blogging, music, Oregon, pictures 1 Comment »

I’m kind of obsessed with this song lately.  I first heard it when my friend played it on his radio show one night.  The singer’s voice sounded familiar, and the pianist clearly had classical chops.  I was mesmerized, and I called my friend at the station to find out who that was.  It turned out to be a new song by Regina Spektor called “Machine.”

The song’s subject matter and the detached quality of Regina’s perfomance always remind me of a beautiful, enigmatic and very dark anime series called Serial Experiments:  Lain, which I recommend whole-heartedly, although I would add the caveat that its darkness and strangeness is not for everyone; certainly not for the faint of heart.

[UPDATE:  Click on the picture, and that will take you to the first episode of the show.]

In other news, I spent this last weekend at the coast for a much-needed getaway.  It allowed me, among other things, the luxury of enough time away from all of the usual nonsense, so that I could cut out the noise and think about the people and things that are important to me, and one of them was this blog.  I needed some time away from it to appreciate how much I enjoy having this particular outlet, and you’ll be glad to know that I plan to write much more often, like I used to.

The hiatus is officially over.

trip to Whitefish

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Just got home from a gig in Whitefish, Montana.  First time I’ve ever been there, and I have to start by saying that it’s a supremely beautiful little town.  It was my first gig with ModeratelyFamousBanjoPlayer, and despite the fact that it was very loose and unrehearsed (I’d never even met the drummer before, let alone played with him before), AND despite the fact that Southwest Airlines’ baggage handlers banged up my accordion enough that it needs to be repaired now, AND despite the fact that the stage was a truck trailer which bounced around so much that my acoustic guitar fell off it and got a nice big war wound on it, AND despite the fact that we got up at 5:30 a.m. (Mountain Time, which felt like 4:30 Pacific Time!) this morning to drive back to the airport at Spokane, AND despite the fact that I got stung by a bee (how random is that?) at the rental car place in Spokane. . .it was a triumphant show.

No pictures to speak of, unfortunately, because we were on such a tight schedule the entire time, and we were always either in the car, at the gig, or in the hotel room.  Okay, well, here’s what I mean.  This is Mount St. Helens from the airplane. . .


. . .and here’s ModeratelyFamousBanjoPlayer in his solo set.


After he was done, we all ate dinner (of delicious fish tacos!) and then set up the rest of the equipment for the full-band evening show.  I have to give extra-special thanks to SoundGuyToby, who came through with an accordion for me after I found that mine had been damaged by Southwest Airlines’ rough handling during the flight over.  He absolutely saved the gig for me.  The show would have been accordion-free without Toby.

Oh yeah, and the guitar.  The stage was a truck trailer, which bounced around like crazy while we were playing.  My acoustic guitar was sitting next to the edge of the stage, and and one point it tipped right off and landed directly on the metal bar that connects to the hitch.  So it has a huge wound on it, right on the front corner, in one of the most visible places it could possibly have a wound.  I hope to gawd that it can be fixed.  I’ll never be able to sell it for anything close to what I paid for it now.  SUCKS.  It still plays fine, though, and that’s what counts, but that just sucks.  Combine that with the accordion repair and this one gig is really gonna set me back.

I also need to mention the people we met.  They were sweet, accommodating, friendly, drunken, and a metric ton of fun.  After the show, we got a lot of handshakes and “Oh MAN you guys were great.  Thanks so much for coming all the way out here!  We had a blast. . .”, etc.  We also got invited to quite a few parties afterwards (“There are bikes enough for everyone!”) which we had to respectfully decline, unfortunately.  It seems like a great town, especially if you’re an outdoorsy person.

We got to our hotel rooms around 10:30 p.m., then I took a shower and spent the next four hours watching a TV show I’d never seen before called Ice Road Truckers.  You’d think it would be the most boring show in the world, and maybe it was just my mental and physical state at the time, but I was riveted to that crazy show.  It was surprisingly suspenseful.

Oh yeah.  In the four hours during which I actually slept, I had a horrible dream in which three different friends (each of whom I know in real life) told me either to fuck off or “Y’know what?  Go fuck yourself,” and gave me some very specific reasons why they thought I should do that.  One even went so far as to add, “God, it feels so good to say that!”   It wasn’t the best dream I’ve ever had.

So I napped in the car, and then we flew home.  A very nice couple from Spokane sat next to me on the plane, and the guy was actually from Whitefish, so that was a nice coincidence.  They even gave me a copy of Rolling Stone magazine (“Would you like this?  It’s a good one. . .”) just before we landed.  It’s one of the issues with Barack Obama on the cover.


So that was pretty cool.

I’m just glad to be home.  Usually when I’m traveling, I’m much more ‘in the moment’ than I was this weekend, but it was busy enough, and with all the instrument issues it was stressful enough, that I was emotionally done last night.  I wasn’t bummed out or anything, I just wanted to be home so that I could take care of these things that need to be taken care of, and now I can do just that.

I’m going to start with myself.  First a nap, then a shower, then I’m going to a dinner party with a couple of friends.  I’ll worry about the accordion tomorrow.