The Shapiro Files

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Tribute to Tim Rivers

If we’re lucky, in our lives there are people we meet who make a huge positive impact on who we are and what we become. My friend, Tim Rivers, was one of those people. We met in late 1990 when I was singing with the SDSU Concert Choir. Tim was a guy with talent to burn. He had a beautiful baritone voice, was a skilled graphic artist, was an excellent writer/poet, and he even played piano quite well. And if that weren’t enough, prior to moving to San Diego to pursue a degree in music, he had a very successful (and highly influential) career as a DJ in the San Francisco club scene in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, he won an award from Billboard Magazine for his artistry behind the turntables. For more about Tim’s DJ-related career, check out this interesting site I found in preparation for this posting.

Tim and I quickly became very good friends and it wasn’t long before we started making some music (more about this in a little while). He also became my biggest supporter, encouraging me to do more with my own singing (I had zero confidence in my singing ability when we met) and this led to my making it into SDSU’s advanced vocal group, The Camber Singers and later, to San Diego’s premiere choral group, San Diego Master Chorale. It was with the latter that I had the opportunity to sing on a real CD project (a recording of selections from Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette and Les Troyens a Carthage ) for the Naxos classical music label (check it out on iTunes to hear samples).

But more than encouraging just me to expand my musical horizons, Tim was an inspiration to anyone he came in contact with. He was very spiritual in his outlook on life and always believed in the goodness in people. His enthusiasm for living (not to mention his very distinct laugh) was contagious to everyone around him. Such joy was even obvious to people who didn’t know him but who just happened to catch him walking around the SDSU campus, as he frequently hummed or sang without self-consciousness as he made his way from class to class.

Yet with such a positive spirit, Tim would sometimes speak of carrying a dark cloud along with him wherever he went. And indeed, that proverbial dark cloud was as dark as it could possibly be. By the time we met, he had already known for several years that he was HIV-positive. Keep in mind that this was the early 90’s, when living for any length of years with the virus was extremely rare — a fact that was never far from his mind. While I could probably describe in length some of the physical and medical impact the virus had on Tim while I knew him, it somehow doesn’t seem appropriate to go into that level of detail when talking about someone so full of life. I will say, though, that with each adjustment he had to make to his life, he was always very upbeat and frequently made jokes about whatever new device or treatment he had to take on. It was a pretty remarkable quality.

If I have my dates right, I believe Tim received his B.A. in Music from SDSU in the summer of 1993 and followed through on his long-since established plan to return to San Francisco after completing his studies. It was weird saying goodbye, since something just didn’t feel right about it. In retrospect, I suppose that strange feeling was likely the sense that we might not see each other again. And indeed, that was sadly the case.

After he returned up north, we talked on the phone a couple of times, but as is often the case when people move away, you tend to lose touch. Then in the summer of 1994, I was accepted into a 7-week business internship program in Yokohama, Japan. My trip to Japan was immediately followed by a tour to Canada with a choir for which I was serving as instrumental music director and accompanist. Somewhere in all that activity, I changed phone numbers and addresses a couple of times. So I can only imagine that if Tim tried to contact me, he probably had no idea where I was. Thus, it was through my own carelessness and self-involvement that I allowed my friendship with Tim to fade away.

It wasn’t a until several years later that I received the terrible news from a mutual friend that Tim passed away in 1995. And it wasn’t until very recently that I learned that a memorial service was held on a boat in the middle of San Francisco Bay. A fellow friend of Tim’s from San Diego, Greg, very kindly described the service in an email exchange we had just last month: “Timmy’s ashes were released on a beautiful sunny day. I will never forget the way they reflected all the colors of the rainbow. Someone had a tape of him singing as we said goodbye. It is one of the most memorable days of my life.”

So after all these years, I really felt the need for making at least some amends by honoring Tim in the only way I know how. This brings me to the music archive project I mentioned a couple of posts ago. A couple of years before we met, Tim recorded an entire Christmas tape for his friends and family of himself singing a-cappella choral arrangements of traditional and modern holiday selections in four-part harmony by way of multi-track recording. Called Yule Tide Greetings, the tape was recorded and engineered by his friend Adam Gieger (who tragically passed away in 1991) and was a very impressive production that continues to be treasured by his friends today. In 1992 when I got my little entry-level Tascam four-track tape recorder, I asked Tim if he wanted to record some “sequels” to his Christmas tape recordings just for fun. He loved the idea and we ended up recording two new selections. We also had a couple of “jam sessions” that year and recorded a handful of tongue-in-cheek recordings of pop standards with me playing my Korg M1 keyboard behind Tim’s always-excellent vocals — all recorded live via a cheap Radio Shack mixer directly to my home stereo cassette player. I love all the recordings, but I have to admit that it’s his amazing spot-on lounge-lizard interpretation of “New York, New York” that always cracks me up every time I hear it.

So over the past couple of weeks, I took every recording I had of Tim (both my copy of Yule Tide Greetings and all the various recordings we did together) and transfered them all to the digital realm in order to create a comprehensive CD compilation. Audio tapes don’t always stand up well to the test of time, so the project took quite a number of late nights (I can only work on such projects after Melody goes to bed) to digitally equalize the recordings so they’d sound sufficiently bright and clear. I even designed a CD cover using the artwork Tim created for his Yule Tide Greetings tape by scanning it into Photoshop and making just a few tweaks with the text elements.

To any of Tim’s friends who find their way to this entry by way of a Web search, feel free to let me know if you’d like a CD (Greg should have already received his copy) and I’d be happy to send one along. It’s the least I can do.

Additionally, I’ve posted the entire CD on my website so everyone in cyberspace can enjoy the artistry of my friend, Tim Rivers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Melody: From Nine Months to Twelve Months

Better late, than never! At long last (three months, to be exact), Melody's twelve month album is now posted! Included are photos from my very first Father's Day, cousin Sarah's most recent visit, and a funny sequence of shots of Melody's first time eating a cupcake (as part of her birthday celebration). Check it out.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Chanooookah!

Today is the third day of Chanukah and I've already eaten more latkes than I thought humanly possible.

Delicious fried potato pancakes notwithstanding, here are a couple of fun Chanukah-themed cartoons I thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dreck the Halls (Free Shapiro Music Download!)

I recently started working on a special project that’s very near and dear to me and I’ll be writing about it here in the near future when I have more to show for my efforts. What I can say at this point is that it involves digging through my collection of master audio tapes of recordings I made nearly 15 years ago. Not surprisingly, lots of the recordings are either badly recorded or just plan bad. However, I just came across one that actually hasn’t suffered too terribly in the decade-plus that’s passed by. Even better, it’s perfect for the holiday season!

Back in 1992, I had finally saved up enough (after paying for tuition, books, rent, and food) to buy a Tascam four-track cassette recorder. Even back then, it was pretty basic stuff and of course, compared to what’s available to the home studio musician today, it’s downright primitive. Nonetheless, I had this strange idea of recording an entire tongue-in-cheek holiday album that would mix both Christmas and Chanukah music. The first song I recorded was a hard rock/disco/funk version of “Deck the Halls.” Keep in mind this is before the days of looping and sampling (at least for the mere mortal with a limited budget), so every drum beat, bass line, etc. was fully worked out and performed pretty much all the way through (well I might have done a tiny amount of copy and pasting on the MIDI-based tracks), layering one track on top of another. I also overdubbed two electric guitars for good measure. And for you musicians out there, I even went so far as to truncate phrase endings to create 3/4 measures in an otherwise 4/4 song (just something I did to amuse myself).

So after almost 15 years in the archives, that little tape recording (drop-outs and all) has finally entered the digital realm and I have made it available as a download for anyone that might enjoy a little holiday cheer. Yes, it’s loud and silly and the technology I used is pretty archaic, but here it is!

Deck the Halls (4.3 MB)

For most web browsers, you can simply click on the above link and the song will play directly in your browser. Otherwise, to download the file to your computer, right-click (Windows) or control-click (Mac) on the link and select the option to save/download the file. Enjoy!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Perfect Cup

CoffeeSometimes remarkable things happen at the most ordinary moments.

Over the past number of years, I’ve become quite the coffee drinker. I guess it goes back to college when I started drinking the stuff to help me get through my aggressive course/study/work load. But as I’ve entered post-college life, I’ve grown to enjoy the beverage as a beverage — although the caffeinating effects are still important in giving me a jump start on my work day.

More recently, I’ve grown to appreciate the nuances of different types of beans (dark versus medium versus flavored etc.) and even treated myself to a burr grinder last year to allow for the best quality grinding (the second most important part of making a good cup next to the beans themselves) we could manage without investing in professional-level equipment (absurdly expensive). From that point on, I’ve experimented with various grinding settings, grounds-to-water ratios, and brewing methods.

And then, on a ordinary Saturday morning while hanging with Melody in the kitchen, it happened: I made the perfect cup of joe.

While such events are inherently ephemeral, I thought I’d at least try to detail as best as I can the steps I took in making the cup for both my own reference and for anyone else who enjoys a good hot beverage!

  • Krupps coffee bean burr grinder
  • Crate & Barrel three-cup French Press brewer
  • Millstone French Roast beans
The process:
  • On grinder, set quantity to 3 cups and set coarseness just a couple of notches below full coarseness (fully coarse grounds are recommended for French Press brewers, but I like just the faintest hint of bitterness)
  • Boil water in tea kettle and activate the grinder only moments before water comes to a boil
  • Dump coffee grounds into the French press, forming a little mound, and pour out just a little of the boiled water on the grounds to start a strong expresso base
  • After about a minute, pour a little more water to about an inch above the coffee grounds
  • After another minute, add enough water to fill slightly more than half of the French press and mix with a plastic mixing spoon (a metal spoon might add unwanted metal flavor)
  • Wait a couple of more minutes for the coffee to be sufficiently brewed and press the French Press “plunger” filter down
  • Serve and enjoy
  • Voilà!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Melody’s Shutterfly Photo Collection Updated

Still running about three months behind with Melody’s online photo albums, I’m just getting around to compiling Melody’s 1-year album (she turned 1 on September 12). For a sneak preview of the unedited/un-Photoshopped photos (plus tons more that didn’t make the final cut), check out Melody’s Shutterfly photo collection. Then stay tuned for an announcement of the official online album in the very near future.

By the way, don’t forget that you can always access all of Melody’s previous albums (plus other fun photo collections) on my website’s photo album index page.