25 Interesting Things About Robbie
Have you ever done this? Back in 2009, I accepted a challenge to list 25 interesting things about me. These are things that I often think about, like “What’s this and why?” and “What’s next?”. If something I say here catches your attention, please tell me. I’d like to know more about you, too.
1. Once this fact was impressive. When I was born, my parents lived in southern California, and I’m told I was born in the same room where Bing Crosby’s twin sons were born. What? Who’s Bing Crosby? Oh…
2. Parents. No wonder I love music, I grew up in a musical household. My father was a physician, with his office in our home, so we kids had to be real quiet during office hours. My mother was a housewife, my father’s office receptionist, and a pretty good pianist — playing Chopin’s music was her favorite. My father loved his family, his work, and music & dancing, so for years we all played music, attended concerts and musical shows, and gathered around the TV whenever a Fred Astaire movie was on.
3. Role model. Other than my parents, I can’t recall any outstanding role model when I grew up, but it certainly was no GI Joe macho super hero action figure. Sure I’m sometimes bold and decisive these days, but I’m usually cautious and thoughtful.
4. Siblings. I’m the oldest of four kids. My brother, Arthur, is a pediatrician in a Kaiser Hospital in LA, and in his off hours he’s a country music song-writer and performer — to my ears, like Harry Chapin meets Johnny Cash. My two sisters also live in California — Barbara (a former middle school teacher) is an amateur quilter and Kay (a former lab technician) is an amateur orchid-grower.
5. Garden. Funny thing about a musician — his creation is here for one glorious moment and then it’s gone forever. Like a chef preparing a meal. Like a florist preparing an arrangement. Not like the creation of a photographer, an architect, or a gardener. Maybe that contrast is why I enjoy my garden so much. It grows slowly, but it’s always there. I can see the effect of everything I do, slowly but surely, and nourishing it takes all my patience.
6. Live music. Like comparing a bass guitar with a bass violin, live music and recorded music are close, but different. The notes may be identical for both, but the music isn’t the same. Each is good, though. Live music is precious because it’s fleeting, but both can be beautiful, inspiring, and rousing — whatever it takes to help people enjoy whatever they’re doing. This is what I love about the music I create, and what I do is a wonderful way to make a living.
7. Reading. I’ve always loved reading. I believe a book opens a conversation with the author. Whether writing fact or fiction, he has something to tell me, and I always learn something new. Sometimes I “speed-read” (run my finger down the center of a page in a second, glimpse a few words on either side of my finger, and gather the sense of the story.) Other times I chew on a single page for hours. Do you have both kinds of conversations, too?
8. Marriage. This August, my wife and I will be married 35 years. In 1974, we met in a commune I was starting in Menlo Park, her then boyfriend was out of town for a while, she and I fell in love, and six weeks later we drove to a scenic spot outside the Bay Area and got married. No fancy reception — just two witnesses and us. YAY FOR INTUITION!
9. Public school. Music has always been my passion. They tell me I was born singing, and I began playing instruments with violin in the 3rd grade, switching to trumpet the next year, and French horn five years later. Thank God for that old public school music program, or today I’d probably have an honest job I’d like a lot less than this!
10. College. I attended college preparing for a career in medicine. Fate and I eventually disapproved the plan, and after graduating I continued studying nutrition and physiology five more years. “Enough”, I said, and left academia for teaching science in junior & senior high schools. Took me another three years to burn out!
11. Teaching. I came to Stanford’s Graduate School of Education to learn from the world’s best how education OUGHT to be conducted. It took me another five years to learn I’d rather make a living as a musician, and not as something like a public school superintendent. Five more years — I must have been in the slow group!
12. Cooking. I’ve been working and socializing with caterers for over 30 years, and I’m still learning to admire good food presented well. I enjoy cooking, but have a limited repertoire. My favorite is Jambalaya, that great New Orleans specialty. One of my sisters recently observed that I prefer cooking and eating things that contain lots of chopped-up ingredients. Dunno why, but she’s right!
13. Old friends. My high school class is having a big reunion this fall (all 89 of us, I think), and I’m making preparations to attend (a quick trip back to Long Island). Now I’ve found another practical use for social networking programs like Facebook and websites like Classmates.com. It’s a blast from the past to re-connect with all those people I used to see 5 days/week for up to 12 years.
14. History. One of my enduring hobbies is reading about history and trying to keep an open mind. I’m afraid I don’t sympathize with the “Great Man” theory many historians like. They trace historical progress through a series of significant individuals, each doing great things at the right time, in the right place. Instead, I think the REAL story of history is our day-to-day persistence, fighting to go on. It’s miraculous that humankind has endured so long, despite the long chain of ego-maniacs who briefly float to the top, occasionally to benefit the human community but usually to “make their mark”, which then triggers another crisis. Oh man, sometimes you gotta be an optimist to stay alive!
15. Humor. Oooops, sorry about that. I better lighten up. Well, I enjoy playing with words. I don’t know what you call it, but I frequently ask questions like, “Well, before we resume, shouldn’t we sume first”?
16. Fame. Hi, fans of “A Prairie Home Companion”: I once met Garrison Keillor. In the early 1990s I’d occasionally travel and concertize with Butch Thompson, an absolutely marvelous old-style pianist like Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. We’d perform at community concerts mainly throughout the mid-west, and once (on Halloween 1992, I think), we performed on the well-known PBS radio program. I remember being introduced to Mr Keillor, so he could figure out how to pronounce my name, and that was that. Ah, fame! At least he announced my name coast-to-coast.
17. Technology. I’m CONSTANTLY amazed by technology’s advances, and how quickly we adapt to them. Until about 15 years ago, most people walked around here without a phone in their pocket, yet managed to do whatever they needed to make life worthwhile. Nowadays, who among us would consider giving up our cellphone? You?
18. Work. Several times in my life I’ve actually held a steady job. The most recent lasted from March 1979 to January 1980. To buy my house in July 1979, I needed to show the bank (who gave the mortgage) that I had a good, reliable income. That’s where Western Electric came in. They hired me to push a pencil and to blueprint where Pacific Bell workers should install new equipment in their central offices. Compared to playing music and entertaining people at parties, this was mind-numbing work, but I held on to that steady paycheck as long as I could.
19. Blogging. I love to daydream about our future, and I think blogging has astonishing potential. Each of us (with only a desktop computer, or a cellphone, and a little imagination) has the power to keep a diary online, broadcast it worldwide in an instant, and dialogue online with others about THEIR broadcasts. Look at mine. So far, the early consequences of blogging are enormous — think about nearly universal personal communication and the widespread transmission of our ideas, how human society is bound more tightly now, and how political institutions are changing worldwide. Progress is moving fast, it never stops, and these consequences are only the beginning…
20. Communication. On a similar note, back in the early 1980’s, I remember a year or two that saw the release of the Macintosh (with it’s Graphical User Interface and WYSIWYG), PageMaker 1.0 (I think it was the first real page-layout application), and the LaserWriter printer. From today’s perspective, that was a watershed moment in written communication. Call me Quasimodo, but I have a hunch that growth in today’s smart cellphone (and its future incarnations), wireless transmission, and all the social networking applications on the internet will have a far greater impact! This is just hardware and software, folks, but look where we’re taking it.
21. Mentors. I think mentors and models are great resources for helping us meet worthwhile ambitions. We ALL need plenty of good ones, to set examples and to give advice. Andy Norblin, my regular guitarist, studied the recordings of Howard Roberts, a fabulous studio guitarist of the 1960’s and 70’s. Gary Milliken, my regular clarinetist, can probably play note-for-note everything he ever heard played by Paul Desmond, who won fame with Dave Brubeck’s quartet. And in my youth I memorized melodies and solos recorded by Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong, two early jazz pioneers. We all do it — it’s how we learn “the rules”, before we can proceed to personalize them. We all need people to help us learn what we want to know. Today I’m intent on learning about online marketing and blogging, and two of my very best models are my friends Andy Ebon and Stacie Tamaki. Visit my blog and see their influence. I continually learn from them, as well as from dozens of my blogging colleagues. Thanks, everyone — you know who you are!
22. Minnesota. My brother-in-law, Steve, is the track coach at the University of Minnesota. A two-time Olympian (Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992), he’s an outstanding runner (8th in 10K at the 1987 World Games) and a great coach (the Golden Gophers are doing fine this year). Every summer since 1998 his cross-country team goes on a 7-day intensive training camp in Minnesota’s north woods (Nevis, MN, near Park Rapids, just to pinpoint it for you). My wife, a former project manager and the family cooking expert, goes along to prepare 3-healthy-meals-a-day for about 22 hungry athletes. Whenever I can, I fly up for a few days to relax and peel potatoes for the “carbo-loading” runners.
23. California. I love mild weather, hate the cold. I moved to California in 1973, after living 8 years in and around upstate New York. Imagine shoveling snow out of your driveway five months a year. Imagine seeing no sunshine for weeks at a time every winter. It made people crazy. When I left, I packed everything I owned into my car and drove non-stop to the San Francisco Bay Area. Took me about 60 hours.
24. Silence. I think silence can be golden. The way “white space” on a page calls attention to the words or pictures, silence in music or a conversation provides focus and emphasis. I always hear musicians talk about knowing what sounds to leave out, striving for grace, beauty, and meaning. The same is true for a wonderful conversation. You’ll know it when you hear it. Or don’t.
25. Thinking. You know, selecting 25 interesting things about me has been a lot more challenging than I expected (maybe because I’m pretty dull after all, or maybe there are just too many gems to choose from). Nevertheless, I’m glad I took the time to come up with this list, and I recommend you do the same. Pause and reflect — Socrates, who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”, would be proud of you.