It’s true that writers should write every day. But what if you are also a musician, like I am? Is it better to practice music one day and write the next day? Should I try to cram both things into a day also filled with a day job, exercise, the Yale Brothers Podcast, music gigs, reading and other pursuits?
I have tried both approaches, and I am beginning to realize that my writing and my music would be better served if I practiced only one of these things per day.
Of course, if I were to eliminate my day job I would have ample time to pursue both disciplines on a daily basis – but I also like to pay my bills.
Most people enjoy ticking off items on their to-do lists, but how far should a person go with this? I mean, it would be ridiculous to include bodily functions on that list, no matter how gratifying it would be to put a bold line through those activities with a Sharpie.
Can there be any deep work if you only write for 30 minutes a day? Is there a level of mastery to be attained by sitting at the piano for the same?
I suppose we take what we can get, but I am sure that devoting the proper time and attention to one of these disciplines per day will set the table for a more profound experience.
Am I wrong? I know there are plenty of you who have multiple passions.
Thanks to the march of technology, on-demand media, incessant notifications and myriad distractions, we have become fragmented. Our attention is divided at all turns and we have trouble being still, living “in the moment” – and achieving the coveted sense of flow.
Without the opportunity to drill down, the time to allow thoughts and processes to become fully formed, we find ourselves trapped in a self-imposed prison of superficiality and mediocrity.
My piano playing is a conglomeration of ADHD, trial-and-error and muddling through. Somebody taught me a few tricks years ago. I tried to be a music major at Los Angeles City College – but the chair of the piano department at the time, the late Dr. George Hollis, told me to my face that I had learned so many bad fingering habits that it would have been harder to try to teach me the right way.
That sucked. But at least I knew.
I run out of fingers…
Somehow, though, I believe there is still time to unlearn some of the ridiculous things I do at the keyboard. After all, I’m still alive.
But the better question is this: Will I ever do that?
That remains to be seen.
That somebody who taught me a few tricks was a guy named Gordon Mogden. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t play any better than I did as a teenager.
I am trying to find out if he’s still alive.
Gordon was an interesting man. My brother and I met him because we were pals with his girlfriend’s son. Eileen, aka L.E., stayed at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood with her son, Jeffrey in the late 1970s. L.E. worked at Wally Heider Recording, at that time one of the most renowned recording studios in Hollywood.
After hanging out with Jeffrey and getting to know L.E., we eventually met Gordon – a big, friendly guy whom we found out worked for Leon Russell at Russell’s recording complex, Paradise Studios.
Apparently, Gordon led a life immersed in music. I know he was an audio engineer. Perhaps he was also a roadie. His mantra was “more of everything,” – and when he said that to my brother and me, we knew what he meant. Hell, we were like 14, and were longing for entrée into the world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Gordon and L.E. were kind to us – and we became fast friends with Jeffrey, who was a couple of years younger than we were. I remember a Wally Heider company trip to Disneyland on a bus with young music workers and their families – or their squeezes. That was fun, although I remember feeling a bit of social anxiety. Thank God I had Jeffrey and Chris to run around with.
The seventies, man. Think for a minute about a bus trip with music types to “The Happiest Place on Earth” at that time, and let that sink in.
But what does any of this have to do with my piano playing…?
One evening, Gordon invited us to tag along with L.E. for a visit to Paradise Studios. I must admit I had no idea at the time who the hell Leon Russell was, but a visit with the grownups to a recording studio was something we always down for. Plus, it felt cool to be included. I don’t know if Jeffrey came with us, but L.E. was a single mom, so he likely did.
Paradise Studios was a compound on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank. More than simply a recording studio, the facility also featured a sound stage and accommodations for visiting musicians – like a small motel building. There was also a remote recording rig on the grounds.
The place was rarefied air, and we knew it.
Gordon showed us around for a bit, and then invited us to play on the stage. There was a drum kit set up as well as a Yamaha CP-80, the kind that Elton John played much of the time back then.
What? It’s OK for us to play up there? Sure!
My brother and I played a couple of songs up there, with sound booming up through the metal grating that served as the stage platform. Our nascent music never sounded better. To this day, I feel like Gordon did us a huge solid by allowing us up there. It’s something that I feel bolstered our self-confidence and gave us hope. Everybody needs that.
Did I mention that we met Leon Russell and his wife that night? We did, as he was heading into another part of his compound. I knew he was important, but I didn’t realize how important he was at the time. The fact that Elton John found him intimidating was something I only recently found out – and there’s another blog post to be written about Leon’s influence on Elton and how Elton later saved Leon’s career.
The man himself was soft-spoken. When I shook his hand, it was the classic “limp fish” handshake. I’ll never forget that.
Somehow, Chris and I found ourselves sitting in the control room with Gordon, L.E., Leon, his wife and a couple of others as they listened to a playback of a song called “Back to the Island.” Why we were listening to that track I have no idea. It’s from a 1975 album called Will O’ the Wisp. Was he remastering it for some reason?
To this day, I don’t know why we were able to be there for that. Gordon must have thought a lot of us.
He must have also thought that I needed a leg-up when it came to my piano playing, which at that point was stilted and not-so-hot. It was more utilitarian than anything else – something I could sing to with my brother as we wrote songs and learned covers.
Gordon told me that he would show me a couple of things, and I arranged to meet him at Paradise for a few one-on-ones…
I remember boogie-woogie lessons at the Roger Williams Piano School in Miami when I was like 8 – you know, a walking bass in the left hand and one-four-five pattern on top – but Gordon showed me the most important thing I had learned to date: The Blues Scale, aka the Pentatonic Scale.
So – he told me that if I could learn that scale in as many keys as possible with walking bass lines he also showed me, I’d be miles above where I was at the time…
And he was right.
Over several visits, Gordon also taught me a couple of blues turnarounds.
Forty years on, I am grateful to that man, my de facto musical mentor, for taking the time to help me out.
After years of hemming and hawing; after false starts and heaping helpings of procrastination, my brother and I finally launched our podcast…
Episode 34 – "Fade to Black: Brendan Wright on Theater Closures and the Future of the Big Screen" –
Yale Brothers Podcast
ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres are closing 300 screens in California, including the iconic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. The twins discuss this sad news with writer Brendan Wright, a longtime friend who worked for a time at the Dome. They also discuss the trend toward movie streaming, Brendan's time in Hollywood and his comprehensive annual Biggie Awards. Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times SHOW NOTES: 0:00 "Tired" by Chris Yale 2:04 – Greetings and about the song 2:55 – 300 movie screens are going dark in California 3:11 – Hollywood Reporter – "ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres to Close" 4:35 – Cinerama Dome / "2001: A Space Odyssey" / "Back to the Future" / "Yentl" / Roger E. Mosley / Geodesic Dome 6:07 – Petition to Save the Cinerama Dome 6:20 – Introducing Brendan Wright / Biggie's Place 7:45 – Initial thoughts on theater closings 8:09 – Brendan's time in Hollywood 8:25 – Natick, MA / North Hollywood / In-N-Out Burger 10:05 – Working at the ArcLight / The daily trip to work 11:27 – More about the ArcLight / Cinerama Dome 14:00 Celebrities and industry types 15:11 – Coordinating events / logistics 15:15 – Cinerama Dome versus the Chinese Theatre / "Star Wars" at the Chinese Theatre, 1977 17:46 – "Dreamgirls" / Jennifer Hudson / Eddie Murphy 18:22 – Applause and actually reading the credits – a Hollywood thing 19:43 – Learning from mistakes – what to do next time in Hollywood 20:50 – About Biggie's Place / Biggie Awards versus Academy Awards 22:10 – Origins of the Biggie Awards / "Saving Private Ryan" / "Shakespeare In Love" 23:23 – COVID-19 and movies / Ben Affleck / "The Way Back" / "Tenet" 24:50 – Protecting the Dome 25:55 – The state of the movie industry / Oscar qualification / "Mank" / "The Irishman" 27:26 – ArcLight kettle corn / Reserving seats / high-end food and beer 28:38 – Alamo Drafthouse Austin / "A Star is Born" 30:57 – http://www.biggiesplace.net / Instagram: @bwimages 31:37 – "Judas and the Black Messiah" / "Nomadland" / "Sound of Metal" 32:07 – The problem with streaming / Attention spans / Distraction 34:00 – The dreaded word: Content 35:02 – Padron cigars
The first time we tried this, embarrassingly enough, was in 2008, when podcasts were still gaining steam and long before they became ubiquitous. Over a period of a years, we made several more stabs at this – and then we just stopped.
Some earlier attempts went up on SoundCloud, sort-of complete but not quite actual episodes. But we had stories to tell…
And we still do. Stories about growing up in Hollywood in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a period when the town was what my brother called “beautifully grungy” – well before a Build-A-Bear Workshop appeared across from the Chinese Theater.
We lived at the foot of the Hollywood Hills at Franklin Avenue and Orange Drive, in an apartment building wedged directly in between the fabled Magic Castle and a 40-unit hotel our father managed called The Magic Hotel. The hotel is now called The Magic Castle Hotel.
At that time, not only the names of the buildings were magic. Our young lives were as magical as could be.
This podcast will be cathartic for us, and I hope the stories of twin boomers coming of age in lotus land will strike a chord with those curious enough to have a listen.
But we’re not just about looking back. Expect to hear original music in each episode and updates on what’s going on with us now in Myrtle Beach.
Even though we haven’t figured out the proper feeds and under-the-hood stuff to officially call this a podcast – the fact that we have another half-hour conversation in the can, as they say, is a testament to our resolve.
As a fitting follow-up to my last blog post, we talked about my trip to Charleston last week and our memories of “A Chorus Line” back in the day. Boy oh boy our dad gave us so many wonderful memories.
The other original cast member that we forgot for the moment was Priscilla Lopez, who was the original Diana Morales. Wayne Cilento, the original Mike Costa in the show, was nominated for seven Tony Awards – finally snagging one for choreography for the Who’s “Tommy” in 1993.
How could we forget that it was Ann Miller who starred in “Sugar Babies” alongside Mickey Rooney when we saw it at the Pantages in Hollywood back in the day. I was thinking of Ann Jillian, who became famous from that show.
This week’s “Stump the Guru” was an attempt by yours truly to trip up Chris about the band, Translator. He did not falter.
Chris got a check from ASCAP yesterday, what he calls mailbox money.
Other items: The Continental Hyatt (Riot) House on Sunset – and our encounter with Little Richard. Chris’ earlier encounter with him at rock ‘n’ roll Denny’s on Sunset and Vista before that. The Central, which became the Viper Room. Filthy McNasty, the FM Station and Eddie Money “opening” for our band there.
I am glad I went to my brother’s house today, because we messed around and got 30 minutes of audio – I guess you would call it priming for our podcast.
My brother, Chris Yale, insists that these are not podcasts, but simply recordings. Not podcasts until we get the proper feeds and platforms in place.
So be it – but I am still happy to share this recording – where I start with trying to stump Chris about Echo & The Bunnymen – and segueing into the sad news about the demise of the local Myrtle Beach alt-weekly, The Surge, for which I was a regular contributor – then on to our adult children and how they are faring currently – and then a couple of other items about growing up in LA, which will be regular features.
Music. Covers versus originals. Lovable drunks at gigs. Douches at gigs.
The way Chris pronounces the word “ruin.”
And of course, Chris’ rotisserie chickens, er – his chihuahuas.
In all, a worthwhile effort, I think. Looking forward to this adventure with my twin.
Here we go – trying to see if this Yale Brothers minicast track works without flipping to the next track in the queue.
This is the only way to learn – all of this “under-the-hood” stuff is something my brother and I can live without.
A couple minutes centering on, primarily, the long gone Garden Court Apartments in Hollywood – a “decrepit old place” by the time we saw it. At that time, circa 1977, we were living with our father a bit west of this on Hollywood Boulevard and Fuller – at a great old apartment complex, also long gone – called Peyton Hall.