3 Weird Things That Happened In My Lifetime

We're all a little weird...
Robert Fulghum

By some people’s standards, Manic Impressives are weird. We challenge cultural norms and don’t behave the way other people think we should. But to me, weird is often good. Sometimes even great. Like these 3 weird things that happened in my life.

‘Weird’ may not be the right word to describe these things. ‘Amazing’ may be a better word, or even ‘cool’.  But weird ranked higher on the headline analyzer app I use, so we’re going with that. 

George Benson Thought He Knew Me 

I was new to town when a friend took me to The Baked Potato, a famous jazz club in L.A. We got seats, and I went to look around.

Suddenly, a big dude with the largest hands I have ever seen jumped out at me. He grabbed my hand, pumped it up and down and said, “Hey EeVon, it’s me, George!”

A bit stunned, I looked up at this big fellah and said to myself, “holy crap, George Benson thinks he knows me!”

“Sorry, George,” I finally say. “My name is Aram, not EeVon. ”

Then he tells me about this dude EeVon. What a bad cat he was, how he wrote a song for his album and was the Stevie Wonder of Brazil.

For you young folks, George Benson is a 10 time Grammy winning jazz guitarist, with a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a triple-platinum album to his credit. He dropped into the club to support his backup band who happened to be playing that night.

George sat in for a set, and tore it up with his just-released version of “On Broadway.” After he finished, a table full of Japanese tourists mobbed him for autographs. One guy asked if I would take a picture of him with George, so I said “sure buddy, get in there”.  As soon as I handed the camera back to him, the whole group cued up, camera in hand, patiently waiting their turn.

I took George’s picture a dozen times. It was a magical night.

Part II

Fast forward 15 years. I’m back in the Bay Area, reading the Sunday paper, and notice an article about a Brazilian songwriter coming to town. It didn’t click at first because when I saw the name Ivan, I pronounced it like Americans do – Eye-Van. But soon I was shouting to my wife. “It’s EeVon! EeVon’s coming to town!”

We bought tickets, and after the show, I talked my way backstage. I told Ivan Lins the story of how George Benson mistook me for him. I was worried at first, being that Ivan was a tall drink of water and I was a short, balding mug of goo.  But Ivan was thrilled to hear that George Benson called him the Stevie Wonder of Brazil. The weirdness came full circle and delivered another magical night.

I Met My Best Friend In A Blizzard

First, you must accept the fact that I have several best friends. So don’t get all jealous if this story’s not about you. But back in the winter of ’78, I joined the Tennessee Volunteers and fought for General George Washington at Valley Forge.

Okay, it was 1978, Valley Forge was Hope Valley near Lake Tahoe, and General Washington was actually Peter Graves in the Universal Studios film called “The Rebels.”

I got hired along with 30 other unemployed ski bums to be an extra in a real Hollywood movie. We’d all lied to the producers and said we knew how to ride a horse and fire a musket. They’d lied to us, saying we would be treated well and not forced to stand outside in a blizzard all day dressed in rags.

Everyone was disappointed.

The director, clad in ski goggles and goose down jumpsuit, kept yelling at us to “look cold!” While the crew got their lunch, he let us huddle in what looked to be cozy log cabins with smoke coming out of chimneys. They were actually plywood facades with incense burners.

While huddled in the huts, we all shared whatever contraband we had brought. One guy, Gene, was really appreciative of what I was sharing. We got to talking and hit it off. Soon, we were defying authority together, sneaking back to the bus to stay warm while the others marched in the snow.

After three days of blizzard, the sun came out, and we extras got a wardrobe change. Instead of our rags, they gave us giant fur coats and hats. We were no longer soldiers. We were sheepherders bringing cannons to Fort Ticonderoga. Instead of freezing, we were sweating all over, except for our feet, which were freezing from the same leaky boots we had as starving soldiers the day before.

That’s when my new friend Gene and I went AWOL. We deserted the Army, skipped the rest of the filming and went skiing. Since then,  we’ve skied over 100 days together and had many adventures. He was a groomsman in my wedding, and I was best man in his.  We met in a blizzard, but we’ve enjoyed the warmth of friendship ever since.

My Wife Married Me Because I’m Weird

My wife and I planned to get married by an Armenian priest, in a traditional Armenian ceremony in an Armenian church. But first, we had to pass the test of “marriage counseling” by said priest, to determine if we would constitute a successful union.

In our first session together, the priest gave us each a questionnaire to fill out. It had dozens of questions about our attitudes on practical issues regarding money, sex, and child-rearing.

When we returned for the follow-up counseling, the priest chastised us for cheating. He accused us of copying our answers from each other instead of doing it individually.

We swore our innocence, but he insisted that we must have cheated since we answered two of the questions the exact same way.

For the questions “What do you like least about your partner?” and “What do you like most about your partner?” my wife had written the same two-word answer – “He’s weird.”

Weirdly, I had written exactly the same thing. We laughed hysterically, and soon the priest joined in, realizing how right we were about each other.

It’s been 26 years, and really, really weird. But amazing and cool too. Here’s wishing you some weirdness in your life…






What You Should Know About St. Patrick’s Day

The Blarney That Is St. Patrick's DayLike a lot of our holidays, St. Patrick’s Day is a real sham(rock). This Hallmark holiday has no connection to St. Patrick, his body of work, or what he stood for. It’s all a bunch of blarney.

How do I know this? Anyone with a dial-up modem can find this on Wikipedia in under 3 minutes. This all started as a religious feast day to honor the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick (no last name), was a British missionary who became a bishop after being kidnapped and held by Irish raiders for six years.

But what’s about to go down Saturday is total blarney with a big side of malarky. It’s got little to do with the life and work of a saint. Here are three bits of blarney about St. Patrick’s Day we’ve been believing since Kindergarten.

St. Patrick Drove the Snakes Out of Ireland

No, he didn’t. What are you, six? There were no snakes in Ireland! Dude was a missionary. He was one of those annoyingly earnest folks who go around evangelizing and “saving” pagans. He converted thousands to Christianity, so at best he drove the pagans out of Northern Ireland and into churches.

Snakes?! I think you’re confusing St. Patrick with The Pied Piper. He led the rats out of town. Then he led all the children out of town when he didn’t get paid for the rat job. More of a pissed-off musician turned kidnapper-for-ransom than a saint.

European fairy tales are totally ‘effed up, aren’t they? Continue reading What You Should Know About St. Patrick’s Day

Why This Is A Sad Day For Me

Today is International Women’s day, and I salute all the trailblazing, pioneering women who have brought about the tremendous progress women have made in our society. This is a joyous day for women. But it’s a sad day for me.

Because of what March 8th meant for my mother.

A Powerful Woman

My mother was an amazing singer with a powerful, rich voice. She entered a singing competition, the American Idol of her day, with the grand prize being a spot in New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera Company.

Mother placed very high in the competition, but she didn’t win. That prize went to another young Armenian singer with a rich voice, Lucine Amara. Amara was one of those pioneering women, who during her 41-year career at the Met, had to sue her employer for age discrimination. She won her suit, and performing women all across the country benefited.

Meanwhile, my mother’s career got a boost from the contest. Big enough to leave home, move to Los Angeles, and pursue a singing career and a recording contract.

She went into a studio and cut a demo record. While she was trying to shop it to RCA, she auditioned for singing roles around LA. And one night during this time, she went to sing at the USO Club in Hollywood.

The Night Everything Changed

My mother had no way of knowing that the love of her life would be waiting for her at the club. He was a sailor on a 3-week shore leave from the Navy, where he was stationed on a tiny island off the coast of Alaska. He happened to be a fantastic piano player and dropped in at the club to play some music and have a good time.

It didn’t take long for that sailor to catch my mother’s eye. Or, should I say, her ear. She was really impressed with this piano player’s talent, and before long was sitting with him at the piano singing along to every song he knew.

When she found out he was full-blooded Armenian like she was, the deal was done. They fell madly in love, and after a whirlwind romance, the two eloped. When his 3-week shore leave was up, the piano player returned to his station in Alaska a married man.

A Wartime Bride

My mother married that sailor but had to live apart from him until his duty was done in Alaska. Then they did the awkward work of meeting each other’s families. Can you imagine what it was like for this traditional, church-choir-singing girl to explain to her family that she just married a sailor who blew into town on shore leave without a proper church wedding?

But it was wartime in a different era, and it was not uncommon for women to get married and wait for their new husbands to come home. After Alaska, the two of them moved to Washington DC, where my father finished his tour of duty at the Pentagon.

Their first child, my sister,  was born at the naval hospital in Bethesda.  When my dad was finally discharged from the Navy, they headed back to California where it was warm.

My dad was sick of the cold. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers and their frozen tundra, Lambeau Field. Then the Navy shipped him off to a floating glacier called Adak, Alaska. After suffering through all that,  he was determined to live in the warm climate where he’d met my mother. Fortunately for me, they chose San Francisco.

My Mother’s Sacrifice

While my father went to college on the GI bill to become a studio musician, my mother put her musical career on hold. A year later my brother was born, then I showed up a couple of years after that.

Our mother sacrificed her career to care for us. She played the dutiful mother and housewife role, while my father pursued his musical career. Though she loved her husband and her family, it must have been tough to set her dream aside while he pursued his.

She had wanted to be an opera singer for most of her young life. But women back then didn’t have their own careers. They stayed home, raised the children so the men could have careers.

And though my father was a great musician, my mother may have been even better.

She probably thought she would have another chance at a singing career. Once we were all in school, she could go back to auditions and demo records.

But she never got that chance. Shortly after I was born, she began to get sick. She was in and out of the hospital for most of my early life. Had they found the cause early on, she might have had a chance. But two months shy of my 4th birthday, when she was just 36 years old, she died of breast cancer.

Her death certificate is on my bulletin board just above my monitor. It’s dated March 8th, 1962.

Celebrate International Women’s Day Today

Please give some thought to all the strong women who sacrificed so future generations could have more. The women who fought for the right to vote, to drive, to own a business, and to do the same kind of work that men have taken for granted for generations.

And while you’re at it,  please give a thought to my mother and the many women like her. I’m sad today because I grew up without her, and she never had a chance to pursue her dream.

But we should all celebrate this day. Because it’s our mother’s sacrifices that allows us all to pursue our dreams.



Why Weird Al Is My Hero

Weird Al

Every week I wonder if this is the week I stop. The week I stop this writing nonsense and get back to more practical things. But it’s not going to be this week, because of my hero, Weird Al.

I don’t pay much attention to Twitter, but Al got my attention this week with this tweet:

That’s right, Al’s still at it. It’s happening tonight at midnight, so tomorrow’s going to be a great day.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

Al should be a hero to all Manic Impressives. He started out in life a smart little nerd. Took his first accordion lesson at age 6, skipped second grade, finished high school at age 16 and made valedictorian of his class. 

He got good at the accordion and loved musical comedy, so he combined the two into an unlikely art form.  Inspired by his idol, legendary comedy radio host Dr. Demento, Al started writing and singing parodies of pop songs, accompanying himself on accordion.

In his senior year of high school, Al’s moment arrived. Dr. Demento came and spoke at his school, and Al gave him a tape of songs he had recorded at home. Dr. Demento aired one of the songs on his show immediately.

Yankovic continued to write and record parody songs and cultivated his relationship with Demento.

Rejection Of Practical Things

After high school, Al went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to pursue a career in Architecture. But as Manics are wont to do, he got distracted along the way. Though he did graduate with a BA in Architecture, he never worked in his field of study.

By his senior year in college, Al was a star on the Dr. Demento show. When he turned the song “My Sharona” into “My Bologna”, Dr. Demento put it on the air and Al had a bona fide hit on his hands.

It took hard work and persistence, but Al earned a recording contract, built a band around himself and headed out on the road.

Surprisingly, his parents were okay with Al’s career choice. His father believed that the key to success was doing for a living whatever made you happy. So they encouraged him to pursue his passion and forget about architecture. What cool parents.

The Weird Al Legacy

Al’s career success and longevity are amazing. 15 Grammy nominations, 4 Grammys, 4 Gold and 6 Platinum albums. All with clean language and parody that was never mean-spirited.

You’ve probably heard his Michael Jackson and Madonna songs, but even more brilliant are his parodies of artists like Lady Gaga, Coolio, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and this one of Frank Zappa. His comedy is clean and timely and matched only by his uncanny ability to capture the sound and essence of another artist.

And though Al is known for parodies, his original songs like  Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me and First World Problems are genius in their own right.

Weird Al Gets It,  Gives It Away, And Gets Even More

After a successful 32-year run with RCA, Al’s career hit a snag. RCA didn’t want to continue paying for his elaborate video productions.

So Al reinvented the music business. He got companies like Nerdist, Yahoo, Funny Or Die, and College Humor to cover his production costs in exchange for exclusive launches on their websites.

Then he launched one video a day for eight straight days, all completely free to the public. He created a huge buzz but didn’t take any revenue from any of it. He worked for free in exchange for the production costs of his videos.

Why? Because Al gets it. He knew his generosity would come back to him.  His album, Mandatory Fun, sold twice the number of his previous release. It also earned him the first number-one album of his career, made him just the third artist besides Michael Jackson and Madonna to have a Top-40 hit in four different decades and gave him more online exposure than Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake combined.

That’s musical and marketing genius.

Why Weird Al Is My Hero

Yes, I love his musical comedy. And Al is a very skilled musician and marketer. But it’s his humanity that makes him my hero.

In 2014, his cool supportive parents, who purchased accordion lessons for him from a door-to-door salesman and encouraged his decision to go into show business, died in a tragic accident. They suffered carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in their fireplace.

Can you imagine the shock and horror Al must have suffered?  He was on tour at the time, and hours after getting the news from his wife, he had to go out on stage and perform despite his grief.

“Since my music had helped many of my fans through tough times, maybe it would work for me as well,” he said, then added that it would “at least … give me a break from sobbing all the time.”

Al’s music has helped me through many tough times. He kept me from quitting today and turned my day of frustration and worry into an evening of fun and anticipation. He is my role model and my hero.

And he’s dropping a new parody video tonight, and I can’t wait.

It’s Happening Less Than Two Hours From Now

So get ready folks. Weird Al is about to bust out another parody polka tonight at midnight.  And rumor has it, it’s going to rip the frock coats right off of Hamilton…