Category Archives: Music

2017: What a Year

Hello there! As I look back at my feed, it appears I haven’t been very bloggy this year. I could point the blame of not writing to a certain leader of the free world, but that would be hitting it on the nose too hard. To counter that, let’s get one post in before 2018 comes bursting through the door.

Getcher Books Right Here!

Last Christmas brought me a couple of new tomes: biographies on two extraordinary gentlemen: Phil Collins and Jim Henson. Phil’s book, cleverly titled Not Dead Yet, was written in his voice with the help of a journalist. It showed me a more rounded portrait of one of my favorite drummers. He doesn’t pull any punches, talking about the good times and the bad times in his life. The musician in me wished he had talked more about his drumming, but it’s a very minor gripe. Henson’s biography, written by Brian Jay Jones, brought a whole new light to the creator of the Muppets. Be forewarned: get some tissues ready toward the end. Henson’s death crushed me, as if I had lost a family member. His imaginative works were so ingrained in my life, he earned an honorary status.

On the fiction side, I enjoyed Binti, the first of three novellas from Nnedi Okorafor. The main character was a delight, and the world she inhabits is fascinating. The second book in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt, was another winner. I can’t wait to get my hands on Empire’s End to see how this all pans out.

It took me a few years, but I finally completed Douglas Adams’ five-part trilogy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Mostly Harmless. It sorta became a tradition around Towel Day, May 25, to start reading the next H2G2 novel in honor of Adams.

Thanks to Christmas 2017, a few more books landed in my lap, including Thrawn, Timothy Zahn’s return to that diabolical character from Ye Olde Star Wars Expanded Universe; The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart and Todd Klein; and a couple of trades featuring a mixture of articles from Star Wars Insider.

As always, I want to read sooooo much, as my wish list can attest, but I have to find the time. Plus I need to find time to write my own tales…

So Long, Tom

We lost quite a few legends this year (Adam West comes to mind, as does Fats Domino), but Tom Petty’s death hit me differently. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tom, per se, but I did enjoy his music throughout my life. The fact he grew up in Gainesville (my mom’s hometown and where I went to college) was probably a source of pride. I’m sure the music video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” gave me nightmares, but as I got older, I came to appreciate more of his music. It helped that I recently discovered more of his music through his dedicated station on SiriusXM.

via Pitchfork

Then came the news that he was taken to the hospital. My heart sunk. No. This can’t be. I kept hoping against hope that sources were crossed and it was all one big misunderstanding.

Eventually, the official channels confirmed the news. Another artist gone before we figured it would be their time. Although listening to his songs immediately after his death didn’t phase me, hearing other people’s recollections of what Tom meant to them sent the tears free fallin’. When the University of Florida added “I Won’t Back Down” at the end of the third quarter for its football home games, I choked up.

I never saw Tom in concert, and while we’ll always have video footage, it’s not quite the same as being there. In the past few years, I’ve caught quite a few of my musical heroes in concert (Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Rush, Al Jarreau, off the top of my head), and I hope to continue that into the new year (Mike and the Mechanics in March).

Hold On! I’m Comin’!

Did you ever walk into a building and feel like you were in the presence of greatness? That happened to me back in July, when I went to Memphis for a family reunion on my wife’s side. Our family visited to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which is built on the original site of the famed record studio that produced classics from Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staple Singers, and so many more.

stax museum 072117 50
Outside the Stax Museum. Photo by Michael Fortuna

I gotta tell you, stepping into the re-created studio, I could hear angels sing. This was where the magic happened. I wanted to take the plexiglas off the drum set and pretend I was Al Jackson Jr. keeping the groove going. I could’ve stood in front of the sound board all day and watch Steve Cropper talk about recording there.

Needless to say, the soulful sounds of Stax have wormed their way into my brain. I took home from the gift shop Booker T. and the MGs’ “McLemore Avenue,” the album paying tribute to the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” I also have received a DVD showing a concert from Stax’s 1967 European tour, as well as 3-CD best-of collection. If you haven’t been exposed to this music, I suggest you correct that oversight immediately.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to schedule another trip to the museum.

A Force To Be Reckoned With

I saw The Last Jedi on Dec. 15. For about a week after that, my brain wouldn’t let go of this movie.


In most cases, when I see a movie and I enjoy it, a few scenes may pop in my head. I’ll chat about it with friends and family, then wait for it to appear on Blu-ray. Not with The Last Jedi. I have had thoughts about countless scenes.

As I was watching, the writer portion of my noggin kept trying to solve the story puzzles the movie presented. I tried to heed what Luke said, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” Which is what I want, anyway. Thankfully, this movie zagged when I thought it would zig. It zigged when I least expected. I cheered, I cried, I gasped.

On the creative writing side of my life, it’s felt like pulling the wings off a gundark with only a set of tweezers. I’ve been working on one short story that I had started about this time last year, which came to life as a roundabout way of paying tribute to Carrie Fisher. I added a few ideas to my notes app. I opened and closed files. As you do.

Seeing The Last Jedi sparked those creative synapses in my brain once more, but at times it felt overloaded, as if I was trying too hard to think about story structure or character arcs.

The creative brain also got a jolt earlier this year when my sister and I went to Star Wars Celebration in Orlando for a day. It ended up being a writer-focused track, going to a panel featuring a bunch of writers including the aforementioned Wendig and Zahn. I ended up getting autographs from Wendig and Delilah Dawson, and I stumbled over my words to tell them I enjoyed their writing and their writing advice.

Being in the presence of these authors filled me with hope that maybe one day I can hold a novel that I wrote in my hands.

In some respects, apart from my awesome family, Star Wars did its best to keep my sanity in check throughout this year, whether it was The Last Jedi or Rebels (although it sorta broke my heart when they announced season four would be its last). Music also played a role in keeping the madness at bay, whether it was listening to it or playing it (albeit limited) on the drums.

Looking back, a lot of good things happened this year, despite you-know-who. Here’s hoping 2018 is a little less of a dumpster fire than 2017.

It has to be. There’s a Han Solo movie coming out next year.


It’s melody time

I’ve babbled a lot about my love of books, comics, and writing, but I haven’t delved too much into my other big love: music. It’s about as important as writing. If I was forced onto a deserted island and was given access to a few things, I would have to have something from both disciplines.

The seeds were planted from the time I came into the world, thanks to my musical parents. My mom teaches elementary music, my dad was a high school band director. They had all kinds of music playing in the house from pop to rock to jazz to classical. Heck, I heard “St. Thomas” as a marching band arrangement before I heard the Sonny Rollins version and thought, “Where have I heard this before?”

In middle school, students had a choice: PE or band. Being the not-so-athletic type, I decided to go with band, but which instrument to choose? What happens next may astound you.

My dad suggested I play the drums.

No, that’s not an error. I know the cliché, kid wants to play the drums, parents try every way to dissuade them. But that didn’t happen. They WANTED me to play the drums. How could I refuse?

I started out on the snare drum, and eventually made my way to the drum set. I felt like the king of the world when I could play a simple rock beat.

This lead me to listening to music in a different light. Instead of soaking in the entire song, I found myself drawn to what the drummer was doing. One of the first groups I latched onto was Genesis, featuring the amazing drumming of Phil Collins (and Chester Thompson on the live albums). Thanks to Modern Drummer magazine, I soaked in as much information through all those profiles and columns.

In the 10th grade, I transferred to an arts school in Jacksonville, where I was amongst my people. I had one class period devoted to percussion. I was learning music theory. Soon I got the crazy idea of becoming a professional musician. I thought I could be one of those session drummers I read about in Modern Drummer. I joined all the school bands from marching to concert. I participated in solo and ensemble contests.

And then, one day in my junior or senior year back in my old high school, something clicked.

I didn’t want to be a professional musician anymore.

A while back, someone on the Internet showed a graph tracking the path one takes when learning a craft. I’m paraphrasing here, but you climb and fall and climb and fall, and then you hit a wall. If you scale over the wall and keep going, things will get a little better. Most people hit the wall and turn around.

At the time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I was supposed to be a drummer! I had found my calling! My destiny!

Part of me now thinks I hit a wall with my drumming, and I didn’t want to keep going. So I scaled back the serious-o-meter, making drumming more of a hobby.

Thankfully, I discovered another career path — writing. But I haven’t abandoned music completely. When I went to the University of Florida, I got to play in some of the bands, including one of the jazz bands. I played the drums in local churches. And when I get a spare moment, I put on the headphones and play along with Phil and Chester.

And on occasion, I’ve found a way to marry both of these loves through my day job. But there are times when I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with music.

But I don’t dwell on it too much.

Saluting Satchmo

Through a strange set of circumstances and serendipity, I discovered that July 31-Aug. 3 is the Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans’ French Quarter. This festival celebrates the genius of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong through numerous live performances, seminars, and food.

Louis Armstrong banner at the 2002 Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans.
Louis Armstrong banner at the 2002 Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans. (photo by Michael Fortuna)

I had gone to the 2002 edition to write some stories for the Daily Sun (there is a big club in The Villages devoted to jazz, so I figured they’d get a kick out of it). Not only was this my first attempt at covering an event like this on deadline (writing and taking photos), but it was my first opportunity to fly in an airplane. I said quite a few prayers from Jacksonville to Atlanta to New Orleans (yeah, that flight plan didn’t make sense to me either). Thankfully, all flights went off without a hitch.

I’ve been a fan of jazz for years, and the opportunity to go to the birthplace of the genre was too good to pass up. Throughout the three-day event, I heard some amazing local performers, tried some jambalaya, and walked around the French Quarter to soak in the atmosphere.

I came back with a few souvenirs: I bought Armstrong’s autobiography, as well as the massive anthology “Reading Jazz.” From the CD department, I picked up one of drummer Jason Marsalis’ albums. Drummers gotta represent.

Anywho, I had a great time. One of these days I need to go back.

Below the jump, you can read the three articles I wrote, as well as see some photos I took (please excuse the graininess; I took pictures of the pictures). I think the articles still hold up OK. Enjoy!

Continue reading Saluting Satchmo

Revisiting Genesis with Steve Hackett

Something magical occurs when a particular song or album brings chills to one’s self. As a musician myself (a drummer, more specifically), the next logical question that pops up is, “Man, that was brilliant! But how the heck are they gonna pull that off live?” To me, being on stage and playing live is where the most magic lives. You’re in the moment with the music. Chances are you’ll flub a note here and there, but if you did everything right, the whole experience will be worth it.

Exhibit A: Genesis.

I’ve gobbled up all of their albums from From Genesis to Revelation to Calling All Stations. I’m in the Peter Gabriel camp AND the Phil Collins camp AND the Ray Wilson camp. I’ve enjoyed the extended set pieces, I’ve enjoyed the hit singles, I’ve enjoyed the drumming.

But I’ve especially enjoyed Genesis’ live albums. Check out the raw energy recorded on 1972’s Live, from the opening Mellotron section of “Watcher of the Skies” to the propulsive nature of “The Knife.” Seconds Out from 1977 holds a dear place in my heart. It was the first album where we heard Collins singing lead on Gabriel’s material, but it also featured Chester Thompson at the drums. I played that cassette in high school endlessly, if only to get the drum parts down.

Sadly, I never got the chance to see Genesis live, apart from VHS tapes and DVDs. I did catch Collins during his First Final Farewell Tour in 2004, but that was his solo career. Would I ever see Genesis in person?

On April 4 at the Plaza Live in Orlando, I did, after a fashion.

The Plaza Live
The front of the Plaza Live in Orlando (photo by Michael Fortuna)

Steve Hackett, the band’s guitarist from 1971’s Nursery Cryme to 1976’s Wind and Wuthering, has been taking his band out on the road for his Genesis Revisited world tour. Thank the Giant Hogweed he was coming to Florida. My wife and I snagged up tickets a while back, and soon we were off on the 408.

The Plaza Live was a lot smaller than I imagined, which made the evening a bit more intimate. We secured our seats in the sixth row in the left section and patiently waited for the show to begin.

The lights soon went dark, the crowd roared, and the band walked onto the stage. Hackett played a familiar four-note progression, leading into the epic “Dance on a Volcano.” (I apologize if this wasn’t the first song; I remember what songs they played, but I didn’t write them down in order. I was just soaking it all in)

Steve Hackett on guitar and Gary O'Toole on drums at the Plaza Live in Orlando
Steve Hackett on guitar and Gary O’Toole on drums at the Plaza Live in Orlando (photo by Michael Fortuna)

For the next two and a half hours, Hackett and company (Nad Sylvan on vocals; Rob Townsend on sax, flute, and percussion; Roger King on keyboards; Nick Beggs on bass; and Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals) kept my goosebumps busy, playing some of my favorite Genesis tunes — “Squonk.” “The Lamia.” “The Knife.” “Firth of Fifth.” “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.” “Supper’s Ready.”

The musicianship of the band was beyond category. The guys stayed true to the original songs but added a few flourishes of their own (they put a slightly different spin on the classic “I Know What I Like”). Seeing Hackett’s guitar prowess in person was something to behold. At times, watching him play I kept thinking, “Oh, that’s how they did that!” Playing Collins’ drum parts can be a challenge, but O’Toole was more than up for it. Townsend’s soprano sax filled in for Tony Banks’ keyboard melodies at times, and he took on Gabriel’s flute parts. King and his arsenal of keyboards conjured up the majesty and the madness of Banks’ parts. Sylvan deftly brought a theatrical touch to Gabriel’s vocals, while equally bringing Collins’ own singing style to life.

The crowd ate it all up, giving the band standing ovations throughout the night. Some were air-drumming along with O’Toole. When Hackett brought out his acoustic guitar to play “Horizons,” the audience fell silent. Try doing that at a Justin Bieber concert.

I never thought I would be able to see Genesis live in my lifetime. Thanks to Hackett, even if Genesis doesn’t come back to play live, his show will work just fine.

Rob Townsend on sax, Roger King on keyboards, Nad Sylvan on vocals, Steve Hackett on guitar, Gary O'Toole on drums, and Nick Beggs on bass and guitar
Rob Townsend on sax, Roger King on keyboards, Nad Sylvan on vocals, Steve Hackett on guitar, Gary O’Toole on drums, and Nick Beggs on bass and guitar (photo by Michael Fortuna)