Police Killings

There’s been a lot of talk about police killings lately, to be more precise, the killing of civilians by police. Some interesting facts: in 2011 there were 404 acts of “justifiable homicide” by law enforcement, and that’s a voluntarily reported number, so the real amount is higher, while in Australia there were six, in Germany six and in England and Wales only two.  Put together, those three lands have about 155 million inhabitants, or just about half of the USA, but (14/404) 3.5% of the killings! Mind you, the reported killings and you can be sure that unlike in the Land Of The Free, all police homicides are reported. It’s a staggering difference for which the reasons can only be speculated on. Is it because American officers have a much higher chance of encountering someone who’s armed?

Taxes 2014

In the nick of time! Finished my 2014 Taxes too and of course I owe, but it’s about where I expected it. Total receipts came in at $43,000, I did 141 live gigs, made about $1000 from royalties. I have to write a check to the Feds for $4500 and to California for $106. My Adjusted Gross Income was just shy of $20,000.

As far as expenses go: all car rentals including gas totaled $3200, much cheaper than if I were to buy a new car, I spent about $3000 on gear and $1000 on supplies. In my own cars I didn’t drive very much, only about 450 miles believe it or not. A really nice deduction this year was Meals Entertainment & Incidentals, because I was on the road quite a bit. I also add in all the money I spent at the Baked Potato and Cafe Cordiale, at least what I put on my Credit Card, because that’s a professional hang. In total, these expenses are 50% deductible, and added up to about $7000. Various other costs: $200 for web hosting, $700 for my cell phone and $425 for studio rentals.

All in all the best year I’ve ever had, and the current is looking good too! I did owe back $300 for the Obamacare subsidy I got and there is an underpayment penalty because I did not make quarterly estimated tax payments, but that’s only $54. Surprisingly low actually and definitely such that it’s worth holding on to my money throughout the year. One very odd thing is that I cannot use the H&R Block software I bought to deduct my self paid Health Insurance premiums, because due to the way the IRS implemented calculations. You see, the paid premiums lower your AGI, but the subsidy is based on your AGI! It’s a feedback loop if you will, and the only way to properly calculate it is by using an iterative process! When I get to the section in the software, it tells me I have to go to H&R Block to do my taxes! It’s too late now, so I just didn’t take the deduction, which will cost me $120. Unlike so many, I don’t mind paying taxes and that extra deduction could come in handy one day if I ever get audited!

The Watch

It was a pretty bold move, just calling it “Watch”, as if there aren’t any others, but now the first reviews are in. Mind you, these are from carefully selected early reviewers, generally expected to be kind to the big fruit. The Verge gives it a 7, not such a great mark anyway, even though at 6:24PM on a day of not using it all that much the battery is already at 25%. Most verdicts are not exactly positive, although of course everyone finds something he or she loves about the thing. The biggest problems other than battery life? The slowness amazingly enough, especially with third party apps, but even just the delay that happens sometimes when you just want to see what time it is. Also, Siri doesn’t seem to work particularly well on this thing, so replying to emails or texts with anything other than canned responses is not convenient, leading to having to use your iPhone.

Personally, I think the thing is pretty ugly, too fat especially, and the last thing I need is yet something else that needs charging everyday. More importantly, this thing only works with an iPhone, further tying you down to a particular ecosystem, which is something that will come back to bite you later. Already I have started reading reviews from people that say the Galaxy S6 is far superior to the 6+, but they can’t switch because they’re invested. Hell, in the comments for one of the Watch reviews is this comment: “Who cares about the Apple Watch being crap/having issues.. I’m buying one

Baron of Botox

I kid you not, that’s what they called him: “The Baron of Botox”! Fredric Brandt died last Sunday in his house in Miami, apparently by his own hand. Even stranger, the Volkskrant’s article calls him “unjustly ridiculed” even though just about any picture should tell you otherwise. The weirdest thing is that I have just finished watching the first season of “Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix, in which none other than Martin Short plays a plastic surgeon who was clearly modeled after this guy. Speculation goes that Mr. Brandt was so upset about this parody that it put him over the edge…. a quick googling should show enough photos to tell you the guy was a freak! Unfortunately, the damage this guy has done will not be erased by his voluntary self-removal from the gene pool…….

Baron of Botox

T-Mobile

After being able to text and use data from any country in the world, it was time to switch over to T-Mobile. They don’t have quite the network here in the US that AT&T does (and thus NET10 which I was using with an AT&T compatible SIM), but so far so good. We went to Denver yesterday and my phone behaved quite well. Data is noticeably faster in most locations even with my 3G phone, and reception has been just fine, including in my house where AT&T was not that great.

I was paying $47 a month including fees and taxes before, with 3GB of high speed data, throttled down but with no overage charges. I never went over 2GB even with using my phone as a mobile hotspot pretty regularly, especially in hotels that charge for Wifi. With T-Mobile the basic “Simple Choice” plan is $50 plus fees and comes with 1GB of fast data and also no charge if you go over, just lower speed. Right now, if you pay $10 more (=around $70 including everything) you get 3GB, plus unused data goes in your “Data Stash” for upcoming months; icing on the cake is a 10GB bonus that’s valid till the end of the year! The connection is way faster than my DSL at home, so I see myself using this to download some files once in a while actually! It’s amazing I can now text my friends Holland for free where before I couldn’t at all.

One thing to watch when you’re switching carriers is the so-called ‘porting’ process of your phone number. You see, the old one has to release your digits and that doesn’t always go through. When I went into the T-Mo place to request it, they asked me which number, put in in their computer and told me it was gonna take up to 24 hours. I called a few hours later, just to check, and then the rep told me the request was denied due to insufficient account info! I wonder when they would have let me know……anyway, I tried looking up my Net10 account number, which turned out to be the IMEI of the SIM card. Then called T-MO back and they put it in, even called NET10 while I was on the line and made sure this time the request had all the necessary information. Four hours later the process was complete! Moral of the story: stay on it, because if you let your number lapse somehow, you might not be able to get it back!

Technical info: my HTC8X does get LTE even though it’s originally an AT&T branded model and my Moto G (XT1034 to be precise, the AWS version with all bands for T-Mobile) is getting me H+ everywhere so far, which is honestly not that much slower. So far, so good! Will keep you posted….

BBB

Last night at Cafe Cordiale played perhaps the most awesome band we have in L.A. right now: BBB! I guess it stands for Bernie’s Big Band, as in Bernie Dresel, most famous for playing on all those Brian Setzer albums in his heyday. This guy is quite amazing of course, has played on many different things with many different artists. His previous efforts at this venue were with Bern, arguably the best wedding band this side of the Mississippi, but this is different. Here’s a properly curated collection of some of the most awesome Big Band charts in history, brought to you by some of the finest horn players in town! John Hatton (also from the Setzer band) is on bass and he and Bernie swing their asses off! Young kid on guitar is awesome, great solos from the horn guys and of course a masterclass in drumming at every show.

I’m not sure what is gonna happen to this group but they really should be touring. In a day and age when Snarky Puppy gets millions of views, there has to be a market for this. It’s hugely expensive to tour with a 16 piece band, but there’s just no substitute for this. I get goosebumps just thinking back to some of what I heard last night: when 16 grownups hit a note together, you have to be dead inside not to be moved. They have one more show at Cordiale before it closes……… April 30th at 9PM…..I’ll be there!

By Reason Of Insanity

Louis Theroux has done it again: his new 2-part documentary about the “Criminally Insane” in Ohio’s state mental institutions is quite something. The most revealing parts shows us how thin the line between actual insanity and playing-the-game is. One guy in particular who turns out to have committed multiple serious crimes, has found a simple strategy to avoid court: insist that all lawyers are “baby rapers”. It’s such a put on you can smell it from a mile away, but he’s willing to go bananas and thus………. there’s not much I can say about it, but I would highly suggest watching it somewhere if you can. Below a link to the BBC page:

Louis Theroux – By Reason Of Insanity

Disney

When I was a kid, my mom adored Disney movies and thus so did I. In all fairness, gems like Jungle Book are true masterpieces in the realm of children’s entertainment, with enough depth to be appreciated by adults just the same. However, something has changed, hasn’t it? Partially because of living in L.A., but not only because of that, do I now view the empire as quite fascist; it’s quite strange because the Mouse has never wronged me personally. Still, back in the day when I still had cable I would once in a while stumble upon its channel and be plain horrified by what I saw. No wonder kids these days act the way they do: all I saw was bratty, self-obsessed beauty princesses with more make-up on than Tammy Faye Baker. Add in some of the most uninspired attempts at humor, so predictable and unoriginal the memories of it hurt almost as bad as those first realizations that some children are actually consuming this stuff…..

So after logging into its WiFi today, Starbucks presents me with this article:

Every Female Character in Every Disney/Pixar Animated Movie From the Past Decade Basically Has the Same Face

In it, Isis Madrid explains realizing that all women’s faces in current movies have the same basic shape: round face, button nose…. It turns out the animators make sure at all cost that the girls remain pretty at all times! Because of that, they find it “so hard” to animate women!  Is this really what you want your daughters to see? It’s one thing to deal with her inspiration to become a princess, now she has to look perfect too, just like all the others.

Ukraine: Part Trois

You know, I did a lot of bitching here about others on this trip, and it must be said that after all is said and done, we had a great crew. He who put it all together simply hired the right people to get the job done. The bus drivers were beyond amazing, steady as a rock getting us safely from place to place as comfortable as humanly possible, Olga was the perfect counter to the not always gentle ‘ways of the foreigners’, handling situations with grace and competence. The musicians delivered too, at every show! It seems to be the biggest demon to deal with for us creative types, negativity creeps in so easily and it takes a concerted effort to dismiss it whenever possible. It so easily snowballs into a most destructive force and I have been guilty of bringing it in various degrees over the years; I take full responsibility and vow to do whatever I can to minimize it. These pages are in some ways therapeutic for me…. a mirror of sorts. Please let the record show that I greatly appreciate all those that were a part of this adventure! It was a true honor and pleasure to show up at each and every place we went……

Now, where were we……oh yeah, after we finish our show in Odessa, we go back to the hotel for a quick shower and then one more meal at the hotel before we go to Moldova. At the Mozart Restaurant we are greeted once a gain by the lovely Alina, who was our waitress a couple of times before. My god, she was just amazing, full of life, proud to be working at this place, eager to learn English. If I weren’t old enough to be her father I’d ask her to marry me right there…. There are lots of men mail-ordering brides from Ukraine, and it always seemed so bizarre and almost sick to me, but for a little while it makes so much sense! Unfortunately, we must press on…. the bus leaves at midnight………

Time for a quick shower and a couple of downloads. By the way, unbelievably, the WiFi in all these hotels is so much better than just about any I’ve stayed in in the US. It’s really striking. Anyway, I’m gonna try to get some sleep on the bus, because we have to play the same day we arrive in Chisinau and although it’s only 250KM away, we do have to cross the border and nobody knows exactly how long this will take. We do know we don’t have work permits! So, at about 3AM, I look up from my resting place on the floor to see an AK47! Just inspection thankfully, putting all the faces with the passports if you know what I mean. It turns out, this is just to get out of Ukraine! It takes about 45 minutes, a lot of back and forth and probably payola to get cleared. At some point there are even some CDs moving into the little office! Mind you, we’re the only people trying to cross the border, showing up in a bus filled with people from many different countries. A couple of hundred yards up, we repeat the procedure, this time with customs from Moldova! Again, armed military in the vehicle etc. etc. But you what? They were quite pleasant actually, with far less intimidating faces than the agents at US customs. Again our tour manager proved to have picked our staff well. Everything checks out and we’re on our way.

We end up getting to the hotel at 10AM or so, actually with plenty of time to get some sleep before the show. The place is great, with double pane windows, a modern shower and excellent bed.

National Palace, in Chisinau, Moldova
National Palace, in Chisinau, Moldova

In Chisinau we’re playing the biggest place so far: The National Palace!

From the front it looks like a fairly well cared-for joint, but from the back it’s like the projects! I don’t have pictures to show it, but rest assured, it hasn’t been painted in many years, toilet seats are missing..

Goran BregovicThe actual theater is great though and if you look closely, you’ll see that there’s another artist playing there whose poster we saw before: Goran Bregovic & Wedding and Funeral Orchestra. His slogan…… “If you don’t go crazy, you are not normal!”

The place is not totally sold out, but this is Keiko’s first time here and there’s gotta be 1300-1400 people in there! It’s really quite amazing to see and there are surprisingly many young people here too. They probably don’t get a whole lot of entertainment here, but folks do genuinely seem to enjoy the show, although they are very ‘mild’ in their reactions. It becomes clear at the end of every show how much they do appreciate Keiko’s music as they shower her with flowers and other gifts.

Same routine as last night, dinner at the hotel after the show, quick shower and back in the bus, this time for a far longer 600KM trip to Lviv on the far west side of Ukraine. We must cross the border again as well and the roads are supposedly quite bad still. Sleep deprivation is starting to wear on most of us and this is when tension starts playing a role. I’m starting to get beyond irritated with looking at the others on their iPhones at the dinner table. To the point where I’m separating myself from the herd sometimes, which is not a smart thing to do. I can’t ask them to put it away though, and subtle (and not so subtle) hints don’t work. In order to keep the peace in my own head, I have to get away from it….. don’t know why it bothers me so much….. the weirdest thing is that this makes me the anti-social one! It makes me think of the days when traveling with a group of people meant finally having time for truly extended conversation, where even the most ADD crippled individual was forced to stay on topic for longer than he could have ever imagined. Maybe I’m crazy…….or old…..

Amazingly, two blankets show up in the bus for this trip. They are not the softest, but still. Nobody takes them……as everybody tries to get comfortable in the seats, I put on my pajama pants and get in my sleeping bag. At this point I realize that perhaps the main reason nobody is following my lead is something that only Jackiem expressed: “I’m not sleeping on the floor!” I still don’t get it…..that night I actually sleep quite well and when it starts getting light outside, use one of the unused blankets to make a little tent to keep the light out. When we get to Lviv with maybe only 2 hours left before we have to go to the show, I’m rested. I still don’t get it, there was plenty of room for all of us to lie down, but not one person did it…… it can’t just be about not wanting to spend money, can it?

Well, unlike in Moldova, we will have the same gear and P.A. as for the other Ukraine shows, so sound check should be quick and easy and thankfully it is. Everyone is quite exhausted, but the show goes fine and the work is done! We end up at “The Grill” a local restaurant with American and Mexican cuisine; what a trippy place, with a map of Los Angeles on the wall! Again they have Leffe and the food is not too bad. Tomorrow we drive back to Kiev where we can then spend a few hours in a hotel before making a 3AM lobby call to go back to the US the next day.

To be continued

 

Ukraine: Part Deux

After a reasonably long, HARD sleep at Hotel Reikartz, we do our show in Dnipropetrovsk; the name is a contraction of Dnieper as in the river it’s situated on and Petrovsky, as in Grigory Petrovsky the Communist leader of Ukraine.  The Opera Theater with 1000 seats is the smallest we’re playing in on this tour, but everything works out splendidly, with all the same gear we had on the earlier gig and an almost sold out house. WP_20150310_046Afterwards we are taken to “Ykra”, spelled with a reverse N and a P for an R! This language is a trip….

It turns out Karaoke is really big in this country. As we walk in the singing is in full swing and luckily they have a private room set up for us! The menu is extensive, the beer selection excellent The Opera Theater in Dnipropetrovsk(Leffe, Hoegaarden!) and the food quite good. The whole place has a decidedly mafioso feel to it but it’s quite comfortable. We’re gonna spend an extra day here and will return for dinner tomorrow.

The next day, after a real night’s rest, it’s time for some sightseeing with the guys. The weather has turned quite nice and we walk to the river, through an indoor mall peddling everything from scarves to military style rifles. What blows my mind is how expensive mobile phones are here; your typical Samsung is actually more than in the US or Western Europe. In relation to the cheap food, I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would blow this much dough on such a status symbol, but it does prove how gullible folks are all over the world I guess. Remember, our 4 star hotel here costs $25 a night, so a Galaxy S5 is as much as 30 nights. WTF……. I’m looking for a sleeping bag, but there’s not a single place that sells anything like it.

On the way out of Dnipropetrovsk
On the way out of Dnipropetrovsk

Two more days without a gig, but on the first it’s driving time! To Odessa we go, the pearl on the Black Sea. It’s a 500KM trip, but ends up taking about 9 hours or so, again on some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. The wild thing is, every couple of miles or so there’s a perfectly modern gas station! We still haven’t gotten any blankets or other sleeping materials but at least this is a daytime drive.

The luxury of mom's handmade socks on the one sleeping mat in the bus!
The luxury of mom’s handmade socks on the one sleeping mat in the bus!

As we pull into Odessa, the vibe is definitely different. The architecture is decidedly more Western European and the people more fashionable. You can tell this is quite the vacation spot in the summer and that there is more money here. All the big names in fashion are represented! I had already looked the Hotel Mozart we’re staying in ($23 a night BTW!) and it’s a stone’s throw away from one of the top 5 opera houses in the world, right in the heart of it all.

Dinner at the Mozart Restaurant
Dinner at the Mozart Restaurant

We’re spending a bit more time here, the next day we have off completely, then we leave after the show on the third day. We are told we can eat at the hotel restaurant three times a day for free…..boy we are spoiled! This is another high class joint, let me tell you. Stacked french fries and everything….. the service is excellent too.

The next day I decide it’s time to find a sleeping bag. Our tour manager has not done anything to alleviate the situation and we have some brutal, middle-of-the-night drives coming up with shows the same night, so I want to get some rest on these trips. I’m told about Sport Market, and it seems to be about a 30 minute walk away. Success! They don’t take my credit card, but a quick ATM visit later, I am the proud owner of a +15 degree Celsius modern, hollow fiber sleeping bag! Amazingly, no one else has followed my lead, they all prefer to bitch about not being able to sleep I guess. Tomorrow after the show we’re off to Moldova….crossing the border at 3AM should be fun!

To be continued…..