Second Chances, and No Second Chances

June 4, 2020 1 comment

I am working now on a retrospective album that will contain the tunes I have recorded that I like best:  tunes I would do if I put on a concert, as I would like to do again someday, maybe.  I have a draft song list already and have created a couple of new arrangements with fewer instruments for certain tunes.  Several songs on the list are ‘victories,’ that is, recordings for which I probably cannot produce an improved version, like “Crazy as Me” and “You Locator.”  “No I Don’t Miss You” really belongs with them, but I have never produced a recording of that tune without something in it that I did that makes me cringe.  I might have another go.  We’ll see.

There were a few tunes that were ‘close, but no cigar.’  “Work in Progress,” for example.  Needs something, I’m not sure what.  “Shang’s Song” – too long, plus you really have to love (and remember) that original “Mulan” movie to get it.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Sensory Experience

Presenting the latest album from The Rubenoff Project.

There used to be several people (not always the same ones) in the Project, but now it’s just me.  Using Finale musical notation software and Garage Band production software I manage to ‘play’ several instruments on which I have no skills.  It really is an acting job as I try to take on attributes that make a pianist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, or sax player.  To make it sound like a collaboration I write each individual note and articulation played by each instrument.

There are some moments where perhaps the facade wears a little thin and too much me is exposed, but I am generally satisfied with the result, my singing notwithstanding.  I would be so happy if a real singer would sing my stuff, but – especially now, during social distancing – collaboration makes any project exponentially more difficult.

In the album most of the tunes swing to varying degrees.  A couple of tunes are more rock-blues oriented.  My musical experience is rooted in jazz and blues, and the album is a reflection of that.  One tune, “Sounds Good to Me,” has more of a gospel sound, tempered with a surprise in the middle.   Actually it was kind of a surprise to me, the way it spontaneously unfolded.

The lyric subject matter is centered around human senses, sensory organs, feelings and emotions as is reflected in the titles:

  • You Got to Feel to Make it Real
  • Emotions
  • Tongue
  • An Elegant Taste
  • Smell
  • In Your Eyes
  • Keep an Eye on That Nose
  • Sounds Good to Me
  • How Do You Feel?
  • Let’s Stay in Touch

As usual, as a singer I play various characters to fit the lyrics, such as advice-giver in “You Got to Feel to Make it Real,” or Fedora-wearing blues singer in “Emotions,”  or bruised lover in “In Your Eyes.”   More acting.  Maybe I should just go ahead and write a musical.  I would have fun playing all the characters…

“Sensory Experience” is a free download at, Copyright © 2020, all rights reserved.


Categories: lyrics, music, music production

Scrooge You

In Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” the character, Ebenezer Scrooge said of people who might potentially die, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Facebook as presented me with another dubious opportunity to debunk certain theories, notwithstanding that my doing so is very much akin to reasoning with an oak plank.

There is a Facebook rumor that a Narragansett doctor of chiropractic medicine said:

“The facts are that this virus only adversely effects .1-.2% of our population and we have identified the vulnerable group of people. Continuing to hold captive our local businesses and quarantine healthy people instead of those at risk and those exhibiting symptoms has now become completely a political game, and is not founded on reason or statistical data from the CDC that is currently available.” 

As a member of the so-called ‘vulnerable group,’ I find this just a bit offensive.  Let’s take this apart, shall we?

  1. “The facts are that this virus only adversely effects .1-.2% of our population…”i. I will shortly show that the chiropractor’s numbers don’t add up.  No fault of his:  no one’s numbers add up.  But if we go with his math, one tenth of one percent of the population = almost 4 million people.  (Almost 8 million if .2%.)  Notice the double-speak here, using the percentage-of-one percent-language to make the number seem small.

    ii.  “…adversely affects..” in many cases means permanent lung damage.  In about 6 percent of cases, that is, this means death for about 2.4 million people.  I am not sure what the chiropractor is basing his stats on, but (sorry) statistically speaking, the potential threat is much greater.

  1. “… we have identified the vulnerable group of people.”

    i.  Have we, in fact, identified the vulnerable group?  In hot spots we see new demographics emerging, such as in New York, where the death rate of age group 45-64 is equal to the death rate of the 65-74 age group.  Toddlers have died in New York, Wisconsin and California.  Some folks in South Korea who have recovered from Covid-19 have become reinfected.  Everything is a moving target.ii.  The CDC says the ‘vulnerable population’ is:
    – 65 years old or older (about 50 million Americans)
    – live in a nursing home (about 1.5 million Americans)
    – any age with serious lung issues (about 37 million)
    – any age with serious heart issues (about 120 million)
    – any age with compromised immune system (about 11 million)
    – any age with a BMI of 40 or higher (about 69 million)
    – any age with diabetes (about 27 million)
    – any age with kidney disease (about 30 million)
    – any age with liver disease (about 4 million)

    Of course there is overlap, however, the National Institute of Health said that as of March, 2018, 133 million Americans suffered from one or more chronic diseases.  Statistically speaking, (forgive me), for 6 percent of folks in this group infected with Covid-19 the experience tends to be fatal; that is, about 8 million potential deaths – a number exceeding the death toll of the Holocaust.  And that estimate does not include healthy folks over 65 years old who are also, like me, part of the ‘vulnerable group.’

  2. “…hold captive our local businesses and quarantine healthy people instead of those at risk and those exhibiting symptoms…”

    i.  On the face of it, this seems like the chiropractor is recommending holding the vulnerable and sick hostage instead of healthy folks and local businesses.  Well, that might work.  Maybe they could segregate us in internment camps somewhere out it the desert.  Oh, and since a lot of people will die there, let’s call them ‘death camps.’  That has a nice ring to it.ii.  Like so many seemingly intelligent people, the chiropractor seems not to understand that ‘those exhibiting symptoms’ are not the greatest threat;  it is those who are infected with the virus but who are NOT exhibiting symptoms who are the most likely to spread the disease.


  1. If the Facebook rumor is true, the chiropractor’s statement cherry-picks statistics and then uses minimizing language to obscure the potential threat of the pandemic.
  2. Again, if the chiropractor was quoted correctly (a long shot at best), it seems his motive is to urge his local government to roll back safety measures.

My impression is that he is showing us that he values his business above public safety.  But if he is urging his local government to abandon safety measures that could potentially save the lives of vulnerable people, it is like he is saying, “If you’re going to die, get it over with so I can get back to work.”

As a member of the ‘vulnerable group,’ I take offense.  So Scrooge you, doc.

Endings and Beginnings

Every beginning is also an end just as every end is a beginning.   The end of pregnancy is birth.  The end of youth is adulthood.  New species emerge as others become extinct.  The end of life is… well, death.  The beginning of death.

We don’t know much about death.  There is some illusive thing we call our self, a firing of synapses in a certain order in our brain that creates a self image, governed by genes and influenced by environment, that forms habitual reactions and circular patterns of largely meaningless thought.  Various belief systems say the self either goes somewhere else when it no longer has a body to reside in, or dissolves into the greater universal consciousness that is the basis of everything.

The self is very absorbing, say, self-absorbed, nursing its little stream of fears and angers, a constant chatter in reaction to mostly nothing.  Real concerns make up a very small fraction.  Most of it is story-making about others and the future, both looming large in the play of fearsome characters within the stories.

All our lives the self cites “him,” “her,” or “them:”  what they think and do, thought or did, or will think and/or do.  This is by far by far the biggest waste of time and energy, because you can never know what someone else thinks, even if they tell you.  The very fact that you stand there and I stand here makes our varying points of view incomprehensible to each other.  Think of a person standing a few feet away, looking at you.  Now picture what they see.  You cannot.  What you see is the image created by the self, with the self’s baseless conclusions about the other superimposed upon it.

What is thought?  Synapses in the brain firing in a certain order in certain locations, a mixture of sensory input, memory, time, behavioral conditioning and belief, and a lot of guesswork.  Every brain is unique, so every thought is unique.  This is part of what makes conversation entertaining.  But thought alone cannot always be trusted to tell you the truth.  In fact, everyone’s “truth” is distorted by their unique lens and their unique thinking machine reaching its conclusions in its own mysterious way.

How do people express thought?  Words.  Many words have two or more meanings in the dictionary, but in reality have as many meanings as there are contexts and points of view.  When someone uses words to tell you what they think, using their brain that is busy creating unique thoughts, from a point of view that is as foreign to you as here is from there, and on your end you are ascribing meaning to their words in your own unique brain, communication between you is nothing short of a miracle.

A greater understanding is achieved through emotion – wordless feeling that informs our flawed communication with empathy and compassion, when it is not scaring or angering us because the brain invented a danger, or, in rare cases, there is actual danger.

Conversations begin with a will to reach out to the other and communicate, a basic need.  They are governed by time, space and other outside influences.  To be open to communication is to create a possibility, however remote, of understanding.  Conversations end when their time is due, when they are interrupted, or when participants tire of it.

The end of conversation is often the beginning of a period of thinking, digesting the communication that has been received and assessing the thoughts one has tried to convey.   ‘I should have said this instead of that,’ or ‘that person is a fool.’  The former is just a useless thought, and the latter is a useless judgement.  “Next time I’ll say [something else]” is a bit more productive.  Knowing that all of us are sometimes foolish, it makes less sense to judge another.

If we can refrain from judging and can be aware when there is room to believe we may not be understanding the other correctly, there is hope. Like fear and anger, hope is mostly a cognitive distortion; but like most things it is not an end in itself. It can be the beginning of positive change.

Categories: awareness, existence

Charade and Masquerade

I love the song, “Charade,” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, particularly Bobby Darin’s performance of it.  Mercer’s lyrics rhyme the word, charade, several times:  played, serenade, made, masquerade…

In America, we have a societal charade and masquerade going on now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.  I’m speaking of wearing homemade cloth masks to help stop the spread.  Now, as sometimes happens in the game called charades, the face value of the word, so to speak, in this case, “mask,” becomes the focus and misconceptions are not addressed, because that is part of the game of charades.  The misconceptions are the funnest part.   I hear terms like freedom, rights, control, liberty, deep state, etc., thrown around and before you know it we have another conspiracy theory.

Many smart people I know sneer at the idea of wearing a mask, saying a mask will not stop you from getting the virus.  Well, that’s true.  But those who sneer have it backwards.  The purpose of covering your face and mouth is not to protect you; it is to protect others from you.

In a recent article, the Cedars-Sinai health organization of Los Angeles said this:  “Wearing a mask will keep respiratory secretions within that barrier and help protect others if you’re sick with COVID-19, even if you have minimal or no symptoms. It’s also a helpful reminder not to touch your face.”

So it’s multifaceted.  First, you wear the mask to protect others, because even if you’ve tested negative, you have no way of knowing for sure if you are carrying the virus.  The virus is primarily transmitted in droplets emanating from an infected person as they cough, sneeze or breathe.  The cloth mask will mostly stop those droplets.  I would substitute “infected” for “sick” in the above statement, because if you are asymptomatic you do not feel ‘sick.’

Second, you wear a mask to remind you not to touch your face.  The primary delivery system for infection, they say, is touching your face.  I don’t know about you, pal, but I find it damn hard not to touch my face.

Categories: existence, Social Criticism Tags: ,

What Would You Do to Save A Life?

Would you go and get a haircut if doing so could maybe put someone else’s life in danger?

Say you’re less than 60 years old, in great shape, with no health issues, but your wife is 65 and has MS and high blood pressure.  The number of new Covid-19 cases in your area has decreased for 21 days in a row, Lockdown was lifted and your barber’s shop has been open for a week.  So you go for a haircut.  During the week, your barber has given a couple of dozen haircuts.  Did any of those clients bring the virus to the barber?   Did he give it to you?  Are you now going to give it to your wife?  Was the haircut worth the risk?

The rapidly changing landscape of what we know and don’t know about Covid-19 makes returning to business as usual a gamble.  It is a gamble that most of us will have to take at some point, because we need our economy to feed, clothe and shelter us.  We’d all like things to get back to normal so we can go where we want to go and do what we want to do as Americans should.  But lack of testing makes reopening the economy a bit like buying a pig in a poke, or, to use a more modern comparison, like buying a used car in ‘as is’ condition over the Internet; you can’t be sure what you’re getting.

What we know about Covid-19 is that a little over a million people in the United States have tested positive, and out of that million, just under six percent have died.  However, aside from the rich, famous, or politically connected, the majority of Americans tested are people who have symptoms, and we know that folks without symptoms can have, and spread, the disease; and we know that the majority of people who are infected show few or no symptoms.  The critical information we lack is:  how many people are actually infected?

Reliable testing would tell us who is infected, and with that information we could isolate only those who need to be isolated.  Unfortunately, even the tests we have in place are not 100% reliable.  A friend’s mother who recently passed away in an assisted living facility tested negative at the facility, however, when the physician who pronounced her dead tested her body, she tested positive.  Why did the first test produce a negative result?  Defective test?  Lack of skill on the part of the person administering the test?  Was the first test a false negative, or the second a false positive?

Scientists have tried to learn from the swiftly unfolding examples of China, Europe, South Korea and others, but the playing field keeps changing.  For example, advice from the CDC tells us to call our doctor if we have trouble breathing, but now it is reported that some patients who have just begun to have difficulty breathing not only test positive for Covid-19, but have actually had pneumonia for days, and their chances of survival are reduced.  For another example, at the outset of the pandemic there was talk of ‘herd immunity,‘ but as of April 17th, some patients in South Korea who have recovered from Covid-19 are testing positive again.  For a third example, the overwhelming majority of deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. and elsewhere are among patients who are over 65 years old and have other serious health issues, however, a 5 month old baby with a heart condition died in New York; one thousand people between the ages of 25 and 45 have died; and 1% of Covid-19 fatalities in China had no other medical issues prior to contracting the virus.

I’d like to stress that no one really seems to know for sure, but current thinking says that the disease is primarily spread through prolonged contact, not by touching an object that an infected person has touched, but through prolonged contact with an infected person.  That means working within six feet of another person all day, attending a crowded event for a few hours, or riding public transportation.  But it could also mean shopping at a crowded store, getting your teeth cleaned, or even getting a haircut.

Personally, I ordered a hair clipper from a large online retailer with questionable scruples.  I know I will enjoy my haircut less, and it will not come out as well.  I don’t think I will be using public transportation in the foreseeable future, although I believe it is the best choice for the well being of the world.  I’m not sure when I will be playing music before a live crowd again.

But it is a time to think differently about the world, because the world has changed.

Peace and safety to you and yours.

Sharing Space

April 26, 2020 Leave a comment


Not too long ago my wife and I regarded the whole world as our world, but to avoid being part of ‘the surge,’ we pulled back our perimeter to encompass just that portion of our neighborhood that we could walk without encountering an overabundance of other folks.  When we encountered other walkers, we crossed the street to avoid them.  We enjoyed those neighborhood walks, but they were a compromise.  Before the pandemic, we used to walk over to Boston University, continue down Bay State road to Charlesgate East and then head back to Brookline.  We’d get a nice four- or five-mile walk out of it.

However, now that we are in the current surge of Covid-19 cases in Massachusetts we are heeding state and local government advice, and have reigned in our perimeter to the walls of our condo.  We are doing our best to stay inside, and only dash out to take out the trash, get the mail or to make a curbside pick-up at a grocery store.

Lucky for me, my wife is for me the person from whom all blessings flow.  She has improved my life in so many ways, and I greatly enjoy her company.  And we have been seeing a lot of each other, so it is good we both like what we see.  All in all, being stuck in our condo together has been very enjoyable overall.

This week things will be a little different, as my wife attends a virtual silent retreat and I go on with my life as usual.  It is already strange, but will doubtless get stranger as we refrain from talking and/or making eye contact through Saturday.  I am making her dinner after a long day of meditating, and we will eat in silence together to honor her participation.

I am usually fine with not talking, happy to smile, eat, nod dumb agreement and look pretty as I always do.   But usually this in not satisfactory from her perspective.  I should have something to say.

But not today.  I will have nothing to say and it will be perfectly okay.  🙂