(on the donkey)
The autobiography of Rand Barnett
© 2018 Charles Rand Barnett
All Rights Reserved
My parents were both 30 years old when they met. Mom was from the Seattle area. She was an excellent cellist in college. She used really wide vibrato on a small cello. She was very short. The competition in music drove her out and she became an early education teacher after college. Her father and brother Rand were killed in a sailboat accident when she was in her teens. Her mother received a lot of money from insurance and managed not to work much her whole life. She painted watercolors. Mom has one sister named Pat.
Dad was born in Minnesota, but was raised in Portland. His father Charlie Barnett was a chef and his mother Ruth was a waitress. He had one brother named Brian. His parents owned a house in North Portland. Charlie was an alcoholic and was frequently violent according to my dad’s stories. Dad joined the Navy after high school to get a fresh start on life. He became a microwave communications tech. His ship landed some of the first troops into Vietnam. He got out after 4 years. After the Navy, he became an alcoholic and couldn’t hold a job. About a year before he met my mom, he stopped drinking by going to AA. At that time he was working as a car lot attendant.
My mom’s mom was dating my dad’s boss and introduced them. Soon afterward, my dad started working as a janitor. My parent’s married and I was born soon afterward.
My first memories were of watching an Apollo mission on the TV (I think I was watching a moon mission, but it could have just been an Apollo craft to Skylab) and being stung by a whole hive of bees!! Ouch!!
My parents started out in an apartment which I don’t remember, but they quickly bought a house in SW Portland. I have great memories of this house. It had a small second story. I remember sleeping under the stairs. It had a central forced air heater that mom said worked great. Dad wasn’t a janitor for long. He was cleaning the upper floors of a building downtown and there were some people doing tv transmission type work. Dad told them that he knew how to do all that microwave stuff they were doing so he was hired.
The bees really got me good. I had rolled around in a bee hive. I remember my parents putting baking soda patches all over my body. Years later I had a string of nightmares about it. I would wake up screaming and dad would shake me violently saying “What is it!!” I finally said “bees” and then it all made sense.
I built my first LEGO set at this house. It was a lunar lander. It was the older style LEGOs, before the minifigures came out. It had two larger figures with articulated arms. All the blocks were blue and were 2xs.
My brother Geoff was born 2 years after me.
There was a neighbor girl that I remember. She was a little older and took a liking to me. We would play in the back yard.
And then there was the story of how I drove grandma’s car into the neighbor’s house. Our house was on a hill and I was left alone in the car. I managed to get it out of park and it started rolling down the hill. It was quite steep and crashed into the neighbor’s house. It must have done quite a lot of damage. They found me rolling around on the lawn. Who knows how I managed to get out of the car. I don’t really remember this too well.
When I was about 4 years old, my parents bought a brand new house a few blocks away. The old house was rather small. The new house wasn’t huge, but it did have a bigger property. Dad converted the large single car garage into a family room with 5 large windows in the front. Construction was fun. I remember our black cat jumping through the holes of the windows until one day there was a window there and the cat tried to jump through it!! The family room was really nice when completed and as was typical in those days, we had a living room that was just for show.
Here I am with my Schwinn before the family room was converted.
In the first few years in the new house, we were all getting the flu quite frequently. The house had a gas forced air furnace and it wasn’t doing a very good job. We eventually got a wood stove right by the front door, central to the house in the dining room. That wood stove really heated the house well and everyone enjoyed playing with the wood.
I was going to preschool at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). I remember the fancy display of pinballs rolling on wire tracks with all kinds of gizmos. I got to know all of the educational displays there quite well. It was at the old OMSI location up by the zoo. I also remember going to the forestry center there and the Ladybug Theater; definitely good memories there. Mom wanted us to have a good education.
Mom bought us a console type piano, a Wurlitzer, and taught me to play. I remember doing a lot of improvising on it in addition to reading music. Mom also tried to get me into violin, but I didn’t take to that.
The grade school, Capitol Hill, was just up the street and I went to morning Kindergarten there. I met Darren Battles on the first day of school. Our mothers took us to McDonald’s together. I also met Kris Blodgett and Kelly Blodgett. Darren Battles, Kris Blodgett, Kelly Blodgett and I all went to the same schools and graduated high school together. Kris Blodgett played trumpet and Kelly Blodgett played saxophone and bass. Both were excellent on the piano as well. I remember playing Star Wars on the piano in 4th grade or so at a school event. Then one of the Blodgett’s (I think it was Kelly) played it with full harmony. I was super embarrassed about that!! Kelly Blodgett is now my dentist and still plays music.
I remember going to Darren's place quite a lot. Walkmans had just come out and he always had the newest Sony headphones; the small ones that fit in your ear. I remember listening to Ghost in the Machine with those nice Sony headphones.
A block away from home was our neighbors Steve and Grove. They were roughly the same age as me and my brother respectively. Steve and Grove went to the Catholic school, so we only saw them afterschool. Their dad was really into sports so we were always playing football, basketball and a little bit of baseball. I can’t say this enough: Steve and Grove made my childhood great. It was perfect playing with them in our forest setting of a neighborhood. We played in the creek and the park.
We built tree houses. We would walk up to the corner store to eat candy and play pinball and arcade games. We even played a little bit of music together. I had this cheap bass guitar and somewhat large tube amp that I would completely overdrive. Grove had the crappiest drum set I’ve ever seen. The cymbals were like tin foil. Steve played guitar. I’m sure the neighbors hated us!!
In school, mom and dad had a plan: mom took the English duties and dad took the Math duties. I remember my dad forcing me to learn multiplication in the 3rd grade. I was so pissed at him for being so forceful. But after that I started using variables in the 4th grade and it got to be more fun. On the English side in the 3rd grade I was writing the Marshmallow People series with Dustin Shankey.
In 1979 and 1980 (two different winters), Portland got massive ice storms. Both times I was in school watching the cold rain outside. Then in the early afternoon we saw the shrubs outside the window start to droop and they let us all go home. Power was knocked out for about a week both times. It was a clear coat of ice outside that was about an inch thick. Amazing weather.
May 18th 1980 was when Mt St Helen’s erupted. I was in a friend’s tree fort at the time. I could see the cloud of ash coming up from it. Then I went back to playing and an hour or so later wondered why it was snowing!! There was pretty thick ash over everything. I don’t remember it sticking around for more than a few days though.
Star Wars came out when I was 6 years old. I was a perfect age to market all that stuff to. I got the first action figures, the empty box deal as I remember. I saw Star Wars in Seattle with my mom. We got the last seat in the theater. I sat on the floor in the very front. We got in late when the Jawas were selling R2. I saw it three times in the theater that year. Years later Steve and Grove got it on VHS and we watched it over and over for a whole summer. I still watch it quite often.
In the 4th grade, the Rubik’s Cube came out. My dad got a book on how to solve it and we studied it together. I sprained my thumb playing football with Steve and Grove and learned to solve it in that condition. Everyone at school would bring me their cube and I would solve it in about 30 seconds. One girl gave me one of those mini-cubes and its stickers had been moved. There was a same colored sticker on two sides of one of the corner pieces. I tried to explain this to her, but she kept insisting that I couldn’t solve it. It was a powerful lesson. Sometimes you just can’t reach someone.
So in the fall of 1989, I few off to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music. I remember taking probably a half ounce of weed with me on the plane. I just had it in my pockets. Security was a bit easier back then. One of the first things I did when I got to Boston was buy a red and blue paisley bath towel. Those were nice towels that I managed to keep until the early 2000’s.
I stayed in the dorms with my high school friend Sam Burton and his roommate Dave Baraza from the previous year. Dave was a tenor saxophonist from San Francisco. On the other side of the hall was Ryan Claunch, a fine pianist from Ann Arbor, and Adam, a percussionist from Montana. We were on the lowest level of the dorms I believe. I think it was the 4th floor of the building. Berklee was mainly in one building, but there were a few classes that were held in an annex a few blocks away.
The food in the galley there was awful, absolutely awful. Sam used to joke that he saw a box of food going into the galley that said “Fit for human consumption” on it! I had the $1,500 that I won from the MusicFest USA competition, so I was going out to eat most of the time. We didn’t have a refrigerator in the dorm room. Dave and I slept on a bunk bed and Sam slept in a small room that was like a closet. Dave worked as a film projectionist and I think Sam had some kind of restaurant job. Supremes Pizza was across the street and I was going there daily for sicilian slices, calzone and ziti and meatballs. I simply didn’t know what else to do.
I remember Dave typing rhythmically on his typewriter. At Halloween, I bought a plastic ghost that stood about three feet tall that was filled with water in the base. We would use it as a punching bag. Dave didn’t smoke much weed, but Sam and I were smoking all the time. I went through my weed pretty quickly and the weed that we would buy there was awful and full of seeds.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t too interested in school. I remember taking theory and ear training. I remember my trombone lessons with Tom Plesk. I also auditioned with Phil Wilson. Tom Plesk had me get “The Science of Breath”. It was an Indian themed book and I studied it thoroughly. I remember reading a Carlos Castaneda book. That was life changing. He talked about meditation. Sitting and imagining a river in front of you. And then every time a thought comes to your mind, you put it in the river and it drifts away. I used this technique years later when I was doing a lot of meditation.
Because I was a scholarship student, I played in the “Pars Band”. We would play charts that students had written. I don’t remember much from those sessions. I don’t really remember many rehearsal type situations. My first experience with LSD was at Berklee. I took it with Sam. It wasn’t on normal blotter paper, it looked more like a hot tub water test strip. It was paper of course with a slightly yellow tint to it. We would cut off sections of it. I took a hit or two. We went to Supremes Pizza and got a couple slices. It was in the evening and I had my trombone with me in a hard case. There was so much grease on my hands that I couldn’t carry it by the handle! Man that was weird. Then we got a rehearsal room and jammed. Man, I don’t know what I was playing. We were playing Pinocchio from Miles Davis’ Nefertiti album. I was all over the place. No control at all. It was awful.
I got turned onto Dark Side of the Moon while I was there. I’m listening to it as I’m writing this. There were practice rooms on every floor and our room was right next to them. I used to do a glissando up a whole step, kind of like the steel guitar on Dark Side. I would just sit in the practice room doing that over and over. Unfortunately, it would take another year for my ear to really understand what a whole step is. Some of the guys there were really into the V.S.O.P recordings (Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). I love all those musicians, but I wasn’t too impressed with those recordings back then. Maybe I should listen to them again.
There was a guitarist there, I believe his name was Alex. He was really into 2112 and turned me onto it; the guitar playing with the water. I have to admit that the acid, Dark Side and 2112 was my primary musical experience at Berklee. Us jazz guys listened to Wynton’s Black Codes a lot too. That first acid trip… Well, back to that. After our little jam session, the other guys wanted to go out on the streets to some other college. So off we went. I don’t think we could get into their building, so they followed us back to our building where they couldn’t get in. I remember Sam and I were slightly ahead of this large group of people (probably all on acid). I was kind of freaked out about it. And then I started to see weird things happing in alleys. I’m kind of a suburban kid, this urban stuff wasn’t really my bag. But after all that, we wound up coming down in Ryan’s room; just me, Ryan and Sam listening to Black Codes. We all knew it really well and it sounded so good. The second solo in my transcription book is of Wynton on Black Codes. Wynton’s group was something special back then and that album is on the top of the heap.
Of course there was Sting’s Bring on the Night album too. I remember Marge was really into that. I was too. We all were. Kenny Kirkland was amazing! We were all huge Kenny Kirkland fans (Kenny plays on Black Codes too). Oh, and I do remember walking around the neighborhood with Bring on the Night on a Walkman. I would walk through the park. I’d walk to Fenway Park and play some pinball in their game room.
A couple of times a few of us took the subway out of town to hear some jazz. I heard Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone this way. I loved Bergonzi’s bass player Bruce Gertz. I know that Garzone was famous for completely improvised gigs. They would simply get out their instruments and start playing. In one gig, they were doing some spoken word with “WONS” which is SNOW backwards. Sam’s main teacher was George Garzone.
Then the winter came and the snow was brutal; lots of snow drifting up on the buildings. We would go on the roof and make snowman sized balls and roll them off the building. Very bad, I do not recommend this. You could seriously hurt someone like that and was it even fun? They kept the dorms blistering hot and it was totally frigid outside. I got very sick from the temperature changes around Thanksgiving.
I remember my second acid trip. Sam and I went to see the Thelonious Monk movie Straight No Chaser. That was incredible. Sam and I smoked a couple packs of cigarettes after that movie. Awesome movie, we had a great time. I still watch it often.
I wasn’t getting anywhere in school though. I was failing out. And at the end of the semester, I was really sick physically. I didn’t like this urban living. I wanted to be back home in the forest with Marge. The last experience I remember there was going to my last PARS session on acid. I remember the alto saxophonist Saul was there doing a spider skit with his horn; very weird.
So then I came back home around Christmas and was living with mom and dad again. Dad was not very happy that I dropped out of school and was doing drugs again. I was wanting to do acid again, but didn’t know where to get any. I got some morning glory seeds and took them. That was pretty awful. It is kind of a sick feeling. Some people say they spray them with something that makes them that way, but I think the reality is that is just the way they are. I remember looking up at vapor trails in the sky during twilight; beautiful. Then I had a talk with my dad by the wood stove looking into the embers.
Dad suggested I get a job as a janitor and that is just what I did. Elliot Clearman hired me to work on a two man team. We drove to three or five places a night: offices, banks, some salesrooms, a rock quarry even. I was working with Larry. Larry looked like the trainman in The Matrix. He was a little slow thinking, but was a great guy and liked rock and roll. I enjoyed working with him. This was my first real job and I really enjoyed doing it. Elliot was a great teacher.
I moved into a duplex with my brother and Ian Rogers. Ian was a year younger than me and he worked as a bike mechanic. Ian was a great guy and my god son is named after him. We would drink lots of espresso at home with various machines we picked up. We had my parent’s old Sony TV and would toggle the power button on it for a half hour trying to get it to turn on so we could watch David Letterman. We had two cats. Marge would come over once in a while. I think I was driving the rabbit, but my brother had really trashed it while I was at Berklee. I had another cheap car for a little bit that had the wrong sized tire on it. It was an awful ride like that. We lived in that place for six months and then the landlord kicked us out because he was going to remodel the place. We all loved that place and didn’t want to leave.
I think I wound up living with mom and dad again. They gave me their almost new VW Golf. I was a little uncomfortable using that car. I remember driving Marge home one day and got a ticket in it. It was kind of a speed trap. But I needed it for work, so I used it. Then one day I was just really upset coming home from work. I just felt like things in my life were not working out. I went home, but couldn’t rest, so I went out for a night drive. My brother was home and was worried about me. I went up to Skyline, the highest elevation road in town. It was probably 2am. The road is one lane in each direction and winds through the hills. My brother was notorious for cruising it all the time. I’m not speeding through it; I’m just on an evening stroll trying to relax. But I hit the only icy corner in town and then with a knee jerk reaction, I put on the brakes and flip the car. I was wearing my seatbelt thankfully. I’m upside down. I manage to get out of my seatbelt, but the doors don’t work. So I am able to get out the hatchback. I go running down the street to the nearest phone which is several miles away. I call dad and he comes out. The police are there trying to figure out what happened. Dad gets the car towed back to the house.
So, then how do I get to work? The accident freaked me out and I was scared of driving. And my job required me to drive the company vehicle. I couldn’t deal with it, so I quit the job. Then Ian gives me my first adult bike; a Specialized Stumpjumper with a chromoly frame. I start riding around. This will work!! I like it.
I was able to get another janitor job where they would allow me to ride my bike to the various accounts. I was working alone for the first time. I would go to my accounts and there would be a stocked room of cleaning supplies. I’d clean one place and then bike a few miles to the next place. What a great job. I worked about 25-30 hours a week.
In early spring of 1991, I got my own one bedroom apartment. I couldn’t afford it though, so Ian moved in with me soon after. Then he wanted to get Collin from Seattle and have the three of us get a house. Sounded like a great idea to me. So I rent a U-Haul van and pick up Collin. It was a large van and all he had was a couple musical instruments, a bike and a bed. We were smoking pot on the way down the highway out of a pipe from a tuba. The van broke down. I don’t remember how we got it going again.
Ian liked taking psychedelic mushrooms, so I did those a couple times with him. And there was a connection for acid. I did a little bit of that too. I didn’t have money to be smoking weed much, but we did that when we could. I wasn’t playing much music during this period. Right after we moved into the house in Sellwood, I had the main turning point of my life. Kevin, Collin and I did an acid trip. Ian was with us, but he didn't take any because he had to work. We were in the kitchen and Ian was encouraging us to do a good job with the dishes. Then Collin starts spouting off some music theory jargon and said “Do you understand?” Kevin and I looked at each other and said that what he said made no sense. And then I thought “Am I any better than that? Do I make sense?”
Well, I came up with a plan right then and there. I was going to get back into music. I quit doing all drugs and started transcribing music off of records for 6 hours a day. So I would get up around 9am, transcribe until about 4pm, play a game of cribbage with Collin and then go off to Beaverton from Sellwood, on my bicycle to do my janitor job for 6 hours. It was a great schedule.
I had transcribed before, but when I started this time, I was really bad at it. I started off with the coolest Marcus Miller (bass guitar) recording I could find. Well, there was no way I was going to transcribe that, so I picked something else. And I was having no luck at all. I eventually wound up transcribing the easiest bass lines I could find off of Aebersold records. Aebersold records are jazz education records that don’t have any melody on them so you can play along with them. The piano is on the left speaker and the bass is on the right speaker. Drums are in both speakers. So you can turn the piano off and just get bass and drums. Even that was hard though. I would record the record onto a tape and then rewind it and get one note at a time. It was a slow and painful process, but I stuck with it. I started hearing groups of four notes, or rather intervals, at a time.
I also picked up on what a whole step sounds like from listening to the Beauty and the Beast movie. The very end of the soundtrack has a typical progression that goes from the flat six major, to the flat seven major to the major one chord. Rush uses that a lot. So that is how I learned what a whole step sounds like; by internalizing that. Running it over and over in my mind. Then I picked up a couple other songs like that for other intervals. All that helped a lot, but the raw transcribing was probably more important.
After a couple months, I was able to transcribe easy Miles Davis solos with ease. Then I took on harder and harder stuff. I enjoyed transcribing Kenny Garrett on Miles Davis’ Amandla record. Dark Side of the Moon and Amandla were the first two CD’s I bought for my Sony Discman. I transcribed most of Amandla and had a lot of fun playing it every day. I transcribed a lot of JJ Johnson and Nat Adderley.
Somehow I managed to wind up at Lewis and Clark college. I don’t believe I was signed up to take a class there, but I did play in there band and take some lessons from Jeff Putterman. Jeff is a guitarist who used to teach music theory at Berklee of all places. He taught me minor harmony (the chords that you make from harmonic and melodic minor scales). That really helped out my education. It really gave insight into the things I had been transcribing. I would bike with my trombone in a gig bag on my back up to Lewis and Clark. I enjoyed playing with the band there and seeing my old trombonist friend from PYP Chuck.
I moved out of the house in Sellwood in the spring of 1992. I got another one bedroom apartment on my own. My janitor’s salary can’t really support that. Not sure why I did this actually. I lived alone for a few months. My neighbor was a carpet cleaner. It was a two story one bedroom apartment. The bedroom was in the basement and had no windows. It was kind of fun. I started getting into drugs again. I bought a sheet of acid at a music festival I went to with someone I barely knew. He had a VW Van he was restoring. We almost lost each other in the crowds. In the parking lot, I was seeing the coolest visuals in the trees. I was playing an avant-garde music recording that sounded like animals in the jungle. We were playing it loudly so all the people coming out of the event would trip out.
I was taking sociology at PCC. I was doing acid a lot. After the first week or two of class, I found myself on acid on a Saturday night in my apartment with the sociology book. I would open it up and study a picture. Then I would read the caption and I’d be intrigued and read the whole chapter. Then I would go upstairs and make some tea and do it again. I covered that whole book over the weekend. The next time I showed up for class it was a shock. They are still at the very beginning of the book. Then I learned that the book covers two terms. My retention probably wasn’t great, but I had a good overall knowledge of the subject.
I would walk around the campus on acid with my discman on listening to Amandla and looking at the architecture and art; beautiful. But I quickly got burned out. I was struggling with my janitor job. One night I was mopping the floor of a bank on acid. The mop was leaving a colored trail of hallucinations. I simply could not tell if the floor was getting clean. This couldn’t go on much longer.
I don’t know if I got fired or if I left, but the move was mutual I’m sure. What to do next. I remembered my old boss saying something to me right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk “Don’t be a putz. Me you’ve seen. Go out and see the world. When you’re rich and famous, you’ll send me a postcard.” My music skills had gotten pretty good and I wanted to use them. Dad suggested the Navy band. Sounded like a good idea. I moved back home, quit doing drugs again and auditioned for the Navy band. Marc Wolters helped me prepare for the audition with an Arthur Prior piece. I guess I would call Arthur Prior a vaudevillian era trombonist. Not sure if that is correct, but that’s what I remember. I went to Seattle and easily passed the audition. I kicked back at my parent’s house waiting to go to boot camp.
I left for boot camp on November 17th 1992, just after Bill Clinton was elected. I did not take getting in the Navy lightly. I hate the idea that we need a military, but the fact is that we do. Everyone in the military does a job. Luckily my job was being a musician, but I worked hard for that role. It is just what I do.
I was happy to leave my drug colored life behind me; to use it as a tool, not a crutch. Boot camp was in San Diego. They put us up in a hotel room before getting on the plane. I think I roomed with a National Guard Reserve Tuba player of all people. MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) as they call it. People from all services dispatch together and then wind up at their service’s base.
From what I could tell, Navy boot camp is about sleep deprivation. For all intents and purposes, I was an acid jazz trombonist in the Navy. I took it seriously and tried to be perfect at everything, every move I made. I believe they put you in a room where you sign your life away for good (for 4 years), and then they cut your hair. I had long hippie hair of course. No big deal, it’ll grow back some day. Then they issue you clothes, or rather, you purchase your clothes with your entire first paycheck that you’ll get after you have earned it. Then there is a physical examination and shots; lots of shots. In fact it seemed like all we did during boot camp was march to chow and get shots.
We were in an open bay barracks of course. We had a locker by our bed with all our stuff and locker inspections all the time to make sure you were folding everything properly. I really liked all that. I love being neat and tidy and my acid mindset made me want to perfect everything. Our drill instructors were both E-5’s (Petty Officer 2nd class). Most of the other troops had Chief Petty Officers for their instructors. Our instructors would not let us use irons or brooms. We would get on the floor in our shorts and white tee-shirts and swim to pick up all the dust bunnies. Then our clothes would go into the wash. For ironing our clothes, we would use our “recruit iron” which is just your hand. Just press out all the wrinkles. I loved the recruit iron and swimming! Good idea, although it might have been hard on the washing machine.
Boot camp was a culture shock. There is a disproportional amount of people coming from the south and mid-west. From farming communities as far as I could tell. They seemed to be very religious and they would all sing religious/patriotic songs that I had never heard before. I mean they were all singing them together. Where did they hear this stuff? It certainly wasn’t Freddie Hubbard.
I was 21, almost 22 when I joined. Most of these people were straight out of high school. After a month or so I realized that some of them were not keeping up and that I was unintentionally over achieving. So during the second half I spent time helping others and I enjoyed doing that.
Half way through the troop gets assigned to mess hall duty. If you played a musical instrument, you could do the band instead. And since I was signed up as a musician, I automatically did that. I don’t think many people want to do the mess hall duty, but I somewhat regret not having had that experience. So I marched off every day on my own for a week to the band hall. The band is led by a Navy musician of course and he let me spend some time working on my chops (strength/flexibility). I played a marching baritone and played some piano. I had a wisdom tooth removed too and it was hard to play for a day or two. We played for a graduation and then went back to our troops.
More shots and long days. We got up around 4am and went to bed around 10pm I believe. Most days I stood a watch at night for two hours. That means I was typically getting 4 hours of sleep a night and that was starting to wear on me. But I got through it just fine. We fired a gun and went in a tear gas room. We swam in the pool one day.
At the end of it, I was awarded the Honor Recruit of the company; basically the number 2 guy in the company. You get a promotion out of that; one pay grade. Because I was a musician, they automatically make you an E-2 out of boot camp. And then my promotion brought me up to E-3, right out of boot camp. Not a bad way to start. My parents came down for graduation. The number 1 and 2 recruits of the company gathered with ones from the other companies and had appetizers with our family and a bunch of officers (commanders and lieutenants). Dad absolutely loved this! Probably the proudest I ever made him feel. Graduation was in January and in San Diego, there was torrential rain. We marched to graduation through several feet of water. Because of all the rain, we mainly stayed in the barracks the last couple weeks.
So then I went home for two weeks as all recruits do. Family gets to see you in your uniform. Grandparents were happy. Then I get shipped off to Norfolk Virgina to the Navy School of Music which is a combined service military music school led by the Navy. The Air Force didn’t participate in this, but the Army and Marines did.
Everyone there was just glad to be out of boot camp and back to music. It was a college atmosphere and people wanted to party and the service tried to control the hormones. A female Army flutist Mary took a liking to me and we fooled around a little bit. I drew quite a lot of attention to myself by playing my transcriptions in the practice rooms. There were music theory classes and rehearsals, but I was more interested in relaxing and eating pizza from Checkers. Checkers delivered us excellent pizza and wings; just a little one off Italian restaurant. What a great place.
If I had just cracked the music book for a day, I would have been able to pass out of there early. Music school is 6 months, but if you test well enough, you can get out early. I didn’t know this. I tested well, but not good enough to get out in just 6 weeks. I did test out early after 4 months, but it would have been nice to get out of there early. It was rather constricting living in the barracks and all. Right before leaving I believe, the trombonist leader of Berklee Phil Wilson performed for us. It was an excellent concert. Phil used multiphonics (singing into the trombone while playing) to simulate guitar distortion. Everyone loved that. Phil is great and this was the only time I really got to see him other than my audition with him at Berklee.
Another two weeks of vacation back in Portland and then I was off to my first duty station, Memphis, in time for the 4th of July. Now everyone says “Navy, in Memphis?” Yes, the Navy had an air base and school in Memphis and is now home of BUPERS (Bureau of Personnel). But the big attraction to Memphis for music is Beale Street. Beale Street is about 3 blocks of music venues in the heart of downtown Memphis. The Navy base is in Millington, which is about a 30 minute car ride from downtown Memphis. Every Monday night the Memphis Jazz Orchestra, led by trombonist Howard Lamb, plays on Beale Street. I was invited to go the first day I was there. The band was awesome! Maybe Memphis was going to be great!
I stayed in the barracks with Keith Atteberry. He was a guitarist who was slightly older than me and interested in jazz. The barracks sucked. I always hated places like that and couldn’t wait to get out. The band room was the old galley. The walls were literally filled with dead cockroaches. There were holes in the wall with dead cockroaches coming out of them, everywhere! One of the first nights I was there, I was rolling my bicycle down the half lit hall and hearing crunching of live cockroaches. It was really bad, but somehow we put up with it.
Navy band, or rather the Navy Music Program… You see, The Navy Band is a separate entity that employs about 160 musicians in DC. They play for the president and all that. Then there are a dozen or so “fleet bands”. I always say that I was in the Navy band, but it was actually a fleet band. There is also a special band in Annapolis. These DC guys audition for that gig and get bumped up to E-6 right away. A lot of people audition for that after college when they are also auditioning for symphony gigs. Not all musicians in the fleet band are excellent musicians. Maybe one third to one half are. There are a lot of fine musicians in the fleet band just doing it as a music career. Many of them have bachelors and masters degrees. The Navy music program hires its officers from within. You have to be an enlisted musician for 8 years before you qualify. They move up the ranks. In other services, you audition for the officer positions. This creates this weird environment of having to put up with a lot of military crap to become a music conductor. A good career path for me would have been to practice a lot and audition for the top Navy jazz band, The Commodores. That was the main plan if I could stick it out.
Howard Lamb had the first trombone chair in the Commodores band for 12 years. He was at a fleet band for 8 years, and then he won the audition. After 20 years or so, he retired and came to Memphis with a few of his buddies from The Commodores to start The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. These guys are excellent big band players and composers.
Pretty quickly I was playing third trombone with The Memphis Jazz Orchestra on Monday nights sitting next to Howard. There was another trombonist, Mike Medrick, who split duties with me on that chair. Mike was older and an excellent improviser as well. The whole band was excellent. A few people from the Navy band were playing with them, but mostly it was local musicians.
Things settled into a groove of playing the Navy retirement ceremonies and changes of command; and rehearsals of course. We had a jazz band that rehearsed often and had a few sporadic gigs. We flew to Florida quite often when their band was double booked. We had an air field that made getting on a plane simple.
There were two women in the band that I was interested in, both played trombone. A lot of women seem to play trombone. Ann Argodale was a bass trombonist from Tulsa and Sarita Faille played euphonium and trombone and was from North Carolina. Ann was a bit older and had a master’s degree in trombone performance from North Western in Chicago. Sarita had a bachelor’s degree in performance as well. Sarita and I went on a date to the greyhound track in West Memphis once. I started hanging out more with Ann though. Ann was working a lot on jazz composition and arranging and played bass trombone in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra.
Ann, Sarita, Keith and I got together several times for dinner and a card game. Ann rented a house a few miles north of the base and it wasn’t very long before I moved in with her. Ann had a well-trained ear and we enjoyed listening to music together, tearing it apart and talking about it.
Ann and I got married pretty quickly. We first had sex on a band trip to San Francisco where we stayed on Treasure Island I believe. Sparks were flying. I bought a car, a GEO Metro. I wanted a VW Golf, but they were expensive and Ann was pushing for the GEO. The GEO was a zippy car and got 52MPG. I was biking 7 miles each way to work several days a week. I would iron my uniforms on Sunday, take them to work in the car on Monday, and then bike in most of the rest of the week. I would bike past cotton fields and I often saw glow worms if it was dark. Fireflies are everywhere in the summer.
I played my hour and a half trombone warm-up almost every day while I was in the Navy. I continued to do a lot of transcribing. Piano players, trumpet players, trombonists, whatever I wanted to play, that’s what I transcribed. Ann was doing a lot of arranging music using the Finale software. She had a 33Mghz 386 computer with MIDI keyboard, Roland Sound Canvas and a black and white laser printer. Music was constantly being printed and brought to work. I bought a 486 dx2 50Mghz computer. The computer cost about $2,000 and I paid $200 for 4 extra 1MB sticks of RAM! I wanted to record with it and bought a 4 track recording program and sound card, but the hard drive was so slow that it skipped. I didn’t know enough about hardware to figure out how to hook up a SCSI drive.
I then got into the internet and gaming. I bought the original SimCity on 3.5” disc. It was two dimensional and very grid like; all those pixels moving up and down the streets. I had a dream one night where all of that action was imprinted on my brain like my brain was a circuit board. Awesome dream!! I wish I could have it again. I also got the Star Wars X-Wing game. I played the whole game with a very basic joystick. I had a lot of fun with that one. Thank you LucasArts!!
Scott Thompson was a trumpeter just a couple years old than me in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. He was on fire back then. He played really hot, using a lot of minor harmony. I remember him taking wonderful solos on the tune Secret Love. Half of his neck would bulge out like Dizzy Gillespie. There is a lot more air pressure in your head on trumpet than on trombone. If you get too good too fast, this kind of thing can happen to you. It’s unfortunate. Scott had the vibe of someone who was doing cocaine, but I didn’t hang out with him at all.
Tom Link played baritone sax in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. He was a great musician and improviser. About Scott’s age. I’m sure they hung out quite a bit. Ann really took a liking to Tom. He was a Memphis native as well. Ann and I went to Tom’s for Thanksgiving one year. He and his girlfriend were vegetarian or vegan and they put on the most wonderful meal I’ve ever had.
Just before the 4th of July in 2003 I was running out of gas. I hadn’t had a place to live since I got out of the Navy in the summer of 2000. I failed to become a music teacher. I had 3 jobs over the years. I had worked as a courier, in cable installation and at a pizza place. All jobs failed because of unreasonable circumstances. I had made several albums of music and corresponding websites with varying success. I had been couch surfing and living in my van. I had sold off most of my musical equipment for food and gas.
I had driven from Portland to Seattle, but my Dodge Caravan had a problem. It was some kind of transmission problem. I had to keep the engine running at 2,500RPM or it would die. It’s an automatic vehicle so the only way to stop, was to put it in neutral. I was fine when I was on the freeway and I made it to North Seattle. Then I got off the freeway.
It was really challenging. I was coasting to a stop in neutral, revving the engine at the stoplight and then pealing out when I put it back in gear. And to top it all, there was some kind of abnormal holiday traffic going on and it was bumper to bumper. Very stressful.
It was so frustrating, it was the last straw. I turned out of the pack of cars right in front of a Dodge dealership right on the highway and turned her off. The engine was red hot and overheating. It caught on fire. I was like “perfect, you’re home!” I got out and opened the sliding door. There was the large comforter my aunt Pat gave me and there was my well used HTML4 book with all the pages coming out. Well, I decided I didn’t need that book anymore, I had most of it memorized. I grabbed my backpack and some clothes to go live on the streets. I was really homeless now.
I had lived on the streets for a couple short stretches before, but this was different. No going back now. But wow, I was so scared of this moment, but when it happened, I just felt relief. No more trying to find gas money. No more sleeping in the van in neighborhoods trying not to be noticed. On my two feet with a backpack and the weather was nice. It did feel good.
I had been getting into computer programming since I was out of the Navy. I was pretty good at programming in Flash and Flash was becoming a big thing. Flash 5. I had made the Laser Grid program. I had made a music loop mixer with 12 buttons that was in effect a moveable toolbar. But now I don’t have a computer.
I spent the summer relaxing and getting used to being on the streets. The weather was nice and I had clear sky above me. I think I ditched the backpack pretty quickly. I just had my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and nail clippers with me. The first few days I was picking up half smoked cigarettes out of ash trays. I realized pretty quickly that they tasted nasty. I told myself “You’re homeless, you have no business trying to smoke. Don’t be one of those homeless people begging for money to buy a smoke.” A lot of my addictions simply died that day. That was a good conscious decision to make.
I spent most of my time around Westlake Center Mall, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. I had a food stamp card that allowed me to buy $150/month of uncooked food. $5/day. It was tough, but I learned from a thief years ago that you can live on candy bars. You need calories when you are walking around all day and it is hard to get enough calories on $5/day. I liked eating dry Top Ramen noodles too and they are packed with oil and calories.
I had my pennywhistle with me with a hemp cord around my neck. It was pretty slick just hanging from my neck like that. It was a blue Acorn pennywhistle. I called it my lightsaber. I played 12 tone pennywhistle by half-holing to get the notes in between the 7 notes that it can play. It’s tough to play that way. I’d play all the jazz standards I knew and whatever I wanted basically. Just couldn’t play very fast. I noticed that the grates in the streets in Belltown by the Space Needle make a C# sound (just like the programming language) and I would use that as a drone to play over.
The Seattle Hempfest happened down in the park and I went there for that. I played nice pennywhistle with some hand drummers. I took my shoes off because I had been wearing them constantly. Then I turned around and my shoes were gone. Great, homeless without shoes.
I walked around for a week without shoes. My feet were a mess. One day I was walking up in the park by the museum on Capitol Hill. I got a sliver in my foot and I was walking funny on a path. There was this guy that looked exactly like the Dali Llama and he offered me some tweezers. Nice, that did help and it was a cool experience to have. Tweezers are nice if you have them, but I’ve never felt like they are an essential and still don’t. Toe nail clippers with a pointy file are an essential though. Yes, you can just bite your nails, but I fixed that habit in my 20’s sometime. Ann taught me how to manicure my cuticles. I did keep my fingernails nice on the streets and brushed and flossed every day.
I eventually got some shoes somehow. I think in the summer of 2003, I managed to make the IN||ON website. I knew when I was on the streets that I would become a solid programmer and I was already a solid musician. IN was about running for President or the House of Representatives. ON was on Mars. I believe Bush was talking about NASA funding then and Mars was in the news. The IN||ON site was just a portfolio type website. Not really any new music. It was around the time that I made the Laser Grid program. I was still on good terms with Adriana and she would let me stay at her apartment and use the computer for a day or two. She lived in Snohomish which is about 40 miles from downtown Seattle. It took 2 days to walk there. If I didn’t have money, I’d walk it and sleep in a ditch by a bike store half way there.
I was terrible at panhandling. I never made more than a couple bucks in a year doing that. It started getting cold in October. I was playing my pennywhistle on the streets with a hat out. I did manage to make $60 in two weeks doing that. I told people I was saving up to buy a trombone. Just mainly playing the melodies to jazz standards. Twelve tone pennywhistle. It eventually got too cold to play like that. The cold wind was really whipping through downtown. I was freezing and not prepared for that cold.
I wound up at Adriana’s for November and December. I slept on the living room floor and worked full days on my programming. I became obsessed with the idea of making a game like Atari’s Centipede where you could move all over the screen instead of being stuck in the bottom part of the screen. And shoot in all directions. Flash had the hitTest() function and people were making games with that. But hitTest() is very limited. It just tells you if one object is on top of the other. It gives you no information about where the collision happened. And if you are going fast enough, you may just skip over the object entirely. No, hitTest was not good enough to make a proper game. What I wanted was real collision detection.
Around Christmas time of 2003, I was obsessed with making collision detection. If I was going to get a job programming, I would have to do some big project like this. I had been answering ads on Craigslist. I almost got a job that month coding a lens flare, but I didn’t get the gig. I was using math, ratios specifically. I had made a demo of this that kind of worked. About this time, I think it was New Year’s Eve, Adriana kicked me out. So I grabbed my sleeping bag and a briefcase for my paper work and went to Dan’s on the other side of the fence. I used Dan’s phone to call my lifelong friend Sam. Sam said that I could stay with him, but I’d have to wait a few days to get a bus ticket; they were all full because of the holiday. Dan said that I could stay with him until I could get a ticket. OK, I had a plan.
So I sat down at his kitchen table with my paperwork. I was really close to proving whether this collision detection with ratios could be done. And then Dan just keeps talking to me. I told him repetitively to leave me alone, I had work to do, but he wouldn’t shut up. I just couldn’t take it, so I left. I went up to the store, it was dark by this time and I worked out my math on paper on the picnic table until I had proven it. And I did, my math said that I can make this collision detection using only ratios. Pretty groovy. So then I started out the long walk to Seattle in the slushy snow with my backpack and briefcase.
A cop stopped me on the way out of Snohomish and asked me what I was doing. I was excited because of the math and I said “I’m going down to Seattle to live on the streets and make a video game.” He said “Sounds great, just make sure you keep going because you can’t stay here!” Nice.
It was cold and snowy, but I had lots of clothes on, a thick jacket, a scarf and a sleeping bag. I had my briefcase with my essentials including two lightsabers (green and blue) and a slinky. The briefcase was one of the thicker ones so I could hold a lot of stuff. I used the briefcase as a pillow and kept my hand on the handle when I slept because I didn’t want anyone to take it from me. I usually slept petty good on the streets unless it was really cold out. On those days you just shiver until 3am and then walk to keep warm. I went to the library when it was open. It was quite a hike from the library to the store and I couldn’t carry much food with me, so it was pretty much a daily trip. The store was by the Space Needle and the library was downtown. It was the old library, there were almost done building the new one.
I spent a few weeks working out the collision detection on paper. I was getting frustrated because it was a lot of math. I was feeling like there had to be an easier way. I had taken trigonometry in college, so I decided that it was time to brush up on my trig. So I go to the math section. This is kind of the best kept secret of Seattle, but here it is. In the math section there was a small green trigonometry book with a green canvas cover called Plane Trigonometry and right next to it there was a slightly larger blue book with a canvas cover on Calculus. I read the first page of the Calculus book. It said that the main point of Calculus was to determine the area of an odd shape by methods of exhaustion. Well, I have no need for that in my video game of course. I knew I was after the trig book, but that did look like a good calculus book.
So there I was up in the middle of the night on the sidewalk studying trigonometry. Trig is a little tricky in the beginning. I think I got a C in it in college. I certainly didn’t retain it. The green book was good. I didn’t have a calculator, so I used the tables in the back of the book. I realized that the numbers .5, .522 and .707 were important. I was trying so hard to “get my bearings straight” about those numbers. I was dreaming about them. I was playing the mad scientist roll on the streets. Then I finally got it! I woke up in the middle of the night and said “.522 is the circumference measure around the circle to 30 degrees and .5 is the sine of 30 degrees!” I get it! .707 is th length of the line if you go straight up to 45 degrees, the sine OR cosine of 45 degrees. .866 is the sine of 60 degrees. So there it is. That’s called getting your bearings straight.
PI is the circumference measure half way around the circle. All these terms, .522, .707, and PI are circumference measure of wrapping the radius around the circle. And .5 is a line straight up to 30 degrees. .5 of a radius. And .877 is .877 of a radius is a straight line up to 60 degrees. The decimal numbers aren’t exactly the correct numbers if you plug them into a calculator, but they are close enough to get your bearings straight.
Standard position is an important term and part of getting your bearings straight too. Zero degrees is out to the right, at 3 o’clock. 90 degrees is straight up or 12 o’clock. 180 degrees is to the left and 270 degrees is straight down. Negative 90 degrees is straight down as well and so on and so forth. And then there are quadrants. If you draw a circle in a square, the upper right is quadrant one, the upper left is quadrant 2, the lower left is quadrant 3 and the lower right is quadrant 4. Quadrants really don’t matter, but it can be a helpful concept.
It took about 2 weeks, but then I knew trig. Instead of going back to the collision detection, I got interested in mapping 3d space. I wanted to make a webpage slinky with Flash.
I had a slinky with me. I spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about how to turn it into a mathematical equation with trig. It’s a circle. Trig is about circles. But trig is also about triangles. 3 points always make a perfect plane. Plane Trigonometry. I thought, OK, you need to map the slinky coordinates and then you need to view it from a camera or point of view. The camera has coordinates and viewing angles. OK, so mapping out the coordinates of the slinky.
If you are looking at it from above, it looks completely round. I always call height or elevation the z variable and x/y as the “map coordinates”. On a planet, with a sky and ground, you have North and South, East and West. X is East and West, Y is North and South. Zero on Y is the equator or wherever we want center to be. And you know, zero on X is just where we want center to be, a longitude line. OK, that might not be textbook correct, but it makes sense to me.
Looking at the slinky from above, going around the circle we have points along the circle. Dots. Perfect, I’d been using dots in my musical weirdness for years. I’ll make it with dots! So you use trig to plot the x/y position around the slinky. It is more than one rotation, it keeps on going round and round, but the x/y for each dot is the same for different heights going around the slinky. For every dot around the slinky, the y becomes a little greater.
OK, well, you get the idea. I went to Adriana’s and coded the slinky easily. I put it on my Tubespace website and went back to the streets. I was feeling pretty good. It was starting to get warmer out and I was making good progress with math. I made some other dot objects and then got back to the business of collision detection.
The long story short is that I did win my battles over drugs. I've smoked about one ounce of marijuana since 2002 and I haven't been drunk since the 90's. I became homeless after I got out of the Navy in 2000 because I failed to get a place to live and reliable job. I eventually wound up on the streets studying math and computer programming. It took me 5-7 years to break into programming. A year before I became employed as a programmer I made an online Scrabble game like Words with Friends 4 years before Words with Friends came out.
I've been running for US Representative for the last few years. I started putting my political platform together in 2014. I've put a lot of effort into researching and thinking through our climate change predicament. I'm continuing to work on music composing and playing multiple instruments. I'm working as a programmer and work is going good. It's been hard to squeeze in enough time to write on this book.