Straddling the Fence

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When I was 12 or 13, my parents split.  And my mother moved into a complex behind the tennis club where I’d go with my dad.

The entrance to the club was a few blocks and corners away from the entrance to her complex, but there was a gate on the opposite end that you could exit directly into her neighborhood.  Or- even more convenient- if you were in a separate back area, which was good walk from the gate, you could hop a fence and be at her door as it was, from there, a mere stones throw away…

My dad and I were by there one day and I was hopping it to show how easy it was to get to mom’s new place.  As I was about to swing my trailing leg over, our neighbor appeared and dutifully told me to stop what I was doing and go around to the gate.  We’d only been there a week or so, and this was the first time I’d met her.  I figured I’d been caught, so I started to turn back towards my dad.

‘Fuck off, bitch! I’m his father. Ryan, get the hell over that god damn fence.’

Let me take a second to introduce this wonderful man. He’d lived most of his life in cities like Bombay and New York where my parents met, my brother and I were born, and people speak very differently to each other than they do in suburban central Californian towns like Sacramento, where this incident took place. In addition to being short fused, he was an IIT graduate, a champion squash player, and revered everywhere he went for his winning sense of humor and social graces.

He’d taught me to drive a manual with The Stones on full volume when I was 11 and coaxed me into repeat attempts at diving off a high dive when I was 3- always ending in a bellyflop and tears. His excuse later was that I’d do it whereas my more sensible brother wouldn’t. He’d thumped his favorite rhythm pattern, ‘Take 5’ a la Joe Morello, on my preschool seasoned back while I hummed in unison as a party trick for friends and a few months prior to this event, he’d been responsible for a cheap secondhand guitar I came home from school to find in my room after I’d quickly taken to one my cousins had gotten.

While this particular situation escalated as I ironically straddled a fence between him and my mothers new living situation, which would later lead to her eviction, I’d eventually succumbed to my father’s wish and hopped the rest of the way over, eager to get inside and play my guitar as I’d done for hours every day since it first appeared.

Like my mother, who’d always been supportive of my artistic tendencies, I’m prone to day dream and focus heavily on a single interest while oblivious to all else. It’s a trait that possibly should’ve been discouraged. Where she’d outgrown it, in me it developed to the point of disfunction. Playing became an obsession that would eclipse all other aspects of my life.

While I’d previously been an honor student, class clown, and athlete, I would soon near flunk out of High School, fail to hold the most remedial of jobs for longer than a few months, and get arrested a few times. While it’s easy to extrapolate the reasons for my “downfall,” the reality is simple: all I ever thought about or wanted to do, apart from girls I’d mistakenly decided weren’t interested, was listen to music and play.

During those years my obsessions traced the influences of Nirvana and Beck to The Beatles and Zeppelin, then to Chess Blues, James Brown, Cash, The Meters, Bacharach, Janis, Grant Green and Miles Davis.. without losing sight of then current artists like NIN, Cypress Hill, Soundgarden, Bjork, NWA, Radiohead, Weezer, Biggie, Tribe, Rage, The Chili Peppers…

I played by ear, and developed a distinguishable sound very early on from having such a wide variety of influences that I’d learned by listening rather than being shown or off paper. 

I became particularly good at imitating Hendrix, who to me was (and remains) bigger than life. By the time I was 19, I was recording garage sessions with guys I’d meet in blues clubs (fake ID), some having played with The Isley Brothers and Sly Stone, two of my favorites. I’d show them off to people who would often think they were bootleg Jimi recordings and not believe me when I’d say they were me. That and similar experiences gave me helpful affirmation.

I suddenly didn’t feel bad about having ditched classes to go home and play, or worry about the unimpressed looks from employers’ wondering why I’d missed a shift, only to be told “..I was on my way but started playing guitar.. and then looked up and 3 hours had gone by…” (‘you’re fired’), or that I just generally didn’t seem to click anywhere. I now knew I’d been doing something that actually mattered, even if outlets weren’t apparent.

I applied, auditioned, and got in to a music program right around when I managed to complete a JC associates degree in physical science, and opted for music. I then studied under and played with world class musicians, and continued to develop in my adult life in LA and eventually New York. I’d learned proper classical technique and upper level repertoire, as well as jazz. I played in a lot of bands and always stuck out, which I attributed to the intimate understanding of the ‘pop’ and ‘rock’ music I began with. The refinement I developed by studying conventional playing on a professional level only brought it out more.

I’d always felt something was missing from the modern scene, though. I’d begun writing my own songs intended to be sung by someone else, and over the years accumulated so many that were so specific to me and my playing that I learned to sing them and put together my own band of top notch players and ran it the way I thought a band should.

The audience reactions to our live set over the last few years and the recent media reaction our debut album, Act 3, have once again been affirming that I’ve been on the right path all along.

While I’m keeping details surrounding my life out of this, I like to think my songs themselves paint a picture of a kid who sat straddling a fence between his outspoken father, an authority figure in his mothers new neighborhood, and the strange world he found himself navigating thenceforth which perhaps played a larger role in my development than I admit. Even more.. I hope that maybe you can relate, as I see myself as having been out of place but far from uncommon. Maybe for you our music can provide the alternative outlet and sense of belonging that it does for me.

Click here for full access to our debut album:

Act 3 by The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina

And btw, here’s another free song. What you have so far are the first 4 from Act 3, and this is the 5th one, Cowboys and Indians. We like the order, and the critic’s choices are still yet to come as it’s a 13 track album 😉

Thanks for reading and talk soon!

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