Zen and the Art of not leaning on clichés

During an interview with The Pace Podcast conducted by the hosts James and Chris, I had an emotional moment when trying to communicate how I wanted to share my love of riding with my girlfriend Jenny. My voice shook as I tried to find the words to express the joy I experience when on a bike and I leaned on the old surfer’s cliché, “If I have to explain it, you’ll never understand.” Chris responded that he hated when motorcyclists use that saying, but softened his criticism by admitting the adage pretty much holds true.

I overthink everything. As days went by after the interview, I thought about the position Chris first stated about the old saying. I now agree – I hate it too. It’s a cop out. When I use it, I am basically insulting the person that is asking a valid question.

I’ll never forget the time my band played a well attended show at The State Theater in Saint Petersburg Florida. A young fan approached me and said, “That was the most awesome show I’ve ever seen!” In an attempt to appear humble I responded, “Nah, that was crap, we sucked.” The kid hung his head and uncomfortably shuffled off back into the crowd. My bass player Martin came up to me right after the exchange and scolded me. “Why did you say that? You just insulted that kid’s musical taste! He’s a fan! Next time can you just say ‘Thank you!?!'”

Martin was right. I had a beautiful chance to share this fan’s excitement and I deflated the moment by telling him he was wrong – that he didn’t understand.

Thinking about Chris saying how he hated the cliché, I came up with a new tactic when asked about why I ride. No longer will I go for the default “If I have to explain it…” bit. Now my response will be more in this vein:

Q: “Why do you ride that silly motorcycle? You are going to kill yourself?”

A: “I realize it is an activity with a high risk of injury, but let me try and explain the joy I get from riding. Motorcycling is the closest thing I imagine to flying in an open-cockpit biplane. I suffer from high anxiety and the feeling of the wind rushing past me provides a sense of calm I can find in no other activity. The g-force I feel when I take off from a stop is similar to being pinned back in the seat of a dragster. I really enjoy that sense of acceleration. Dipping into the curves is a direct parallel to riding the Cyclone at Coney Island where I have spent many a summer introducing friends to the adrenaline the wooden beast serves up by the plateful. Does this help shed a little light on why I ride?”

With this new mindset I smash another old cliché – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Sure you can, if the dog is willing to listen. So a big thanks to Chris for his honestly and making me rethink a stock answer that I’ve used infinitely too many times. I’ve got a new answer now, and hopefully the effect will attract more people to motorcycling instead of pushing them away.

When emotions get the best of me…

I had the privilege of doing a very long interview with James and Chris over at The Pace Podcast. The talk started upfront enough as we discussed details of Popp Over America, bikes, and my history in motorcycling, but when  one of them asked if I ever rode with Jenny my girlfriend, I had a bit of an on-air breakdown. I was never asked this question and I thought about my idea for the last P.O.A. episode which involves me picking up Jenny in Brooklyn and taking her to the last gig on the tour.

Thinking about the final ride of the tour made me immediately well up with tears and my voice started to shake. I’ve done a lot of interviews in my days as a musician, but this is the first time I was moved in such a way. I guess it’s because when I am on a bike, everything makes sense to me, and as I discussed with the guys on the show, even when I am diving into a turn, motorcycling gives me a sense of calm that nothing else can. I so much want Jenny to feel that sense of calm. Her life is hard because of her battle with MS yet she soldiers on everyday, commuting to work while fighting the masses that are New York City.

The coolest thing about the interview? James and Chris understood why I broke down. They get the beauty of these machines we ride and desire to share that feeling. Motorcycles make sense to us when other things in the world often do not. I felt liked I blabbed too much and I danced around topics like a kid with ADD, primarily because I was so excited to talk to these two motorcycle aficionados about the show. I think they understood that too.

Please embrace you inner motorcycle nerd and check out their podcast. You’ll be glad you did. Their conversational style is refreshing in this prepackaged 22-minute bullet-pointed newscast world.

Thanks James and Chris. You guys made my week.

Click the picture below to race over to The Pace Podcast!

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Asphalt & Dirt & Multiple Sclerosis

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I posted a few times on Twitter and I was surprised to be contacted by Aaron Heinrich, the publisher of the motorcycle website Asphalt & Dirt. He somehow found Popp Over America in the vast sea (some might say cesspool) of social media. Aaron called me yesterday for a preliminary interview about my ride and TV show. After a few verbal exchanges, I felt like I was conversing with an old friend rather than an interviewer. We talked about the concept of the show at first, but then we quickly spun into other topics – music, relationships, food and life.

Aaron asked me if I ever considered riding for some type of cause. My girlfriend Jenny also made this suggestion which I dismissed. I told Aaron (as I told Jenny) I didn’t want to appear that I was using a cause to raise money for my trip. I stated the fact about how many charities give little of the money raised to the causes they are supposedly supporting. But Aaron quickly convinced me that the goal should to be raise awareness and not necessarily collect money for donations. This concept is great for all parties involved. Not only would I be doing good for my own soul, but I would be helping others while blasting over the roads of America.

But what cause?

Jenny was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. When she suggested that I ride for a cause, she never mentioned her own disease as being that cause. She is such a generous and giving person that the letters “MS” never crossed her lips when I argued with her about the subject. But a light bulb went off in my over-sized melon when Aaron hammered on about having a cause. “MS, my girlfriend has MS. I could ride to raise awareness for that!”

Aaron brainstormed with me for a few more minutes before hanging up the phone. What started as a brief interview turned into a 36 minute inspirational therapy session about a whole new way to view Popp Over America. Motorcyclists are an interesting breed. We are brothers in arms, welded together by the simple commonality of riding in the wind on two wheels. We help each other. Aaron helped me.

I am no longer riding for myself. I’m now riding for Jenny and her brothers and sisters in arms – those who have been affected by MS.

So where’s the music?

Joe Popp at SHRINE. Photo credit Stacey Salter Moore
Joe Popp at SHRINE. Photo credit Stacey Salter Moore

I am doing Popp Over America as a 48 state non-stop tour as a singer-songwriter, and even though I have played hundreds of solo shows, I have never released a solo acoustic album! To remedy this glowing problem, I will be recording and mixing an album of songs that I will play on the tour and release them as they are finished.

The first song is a tune I wrote earlier this year called “I Don’t Hate It Here.” The song is about how living in NYC wears on my soul, but just when I think my brain is going to explode, I am reminded by some small event how lucky I am to reside in such an amazing place.

The song is available on the Popp Over America Bandcamp page. You can “name your price” to download it (yes, even zero cents!) with all contributions going towards production costs of the show.

Click here to get “I Don’t Hate It Here”

 

Sherman’s March

sherman's marchFollowing  the advice of my friend Mark Fason, a talented film editor, I watched the movie Sherman’s March. This 1986 documentary has little to do with the military career of William Tecumseh Sherman and more about the filmmaker Ross McElwee‘s relationships with women. He is poised to shoot the documentary about Sherman’s famous march when his girlfriend breaks up with him sending him into a search for a new mate. He follows Sherman’s path and films the people he meets along the way.

The film inspired me in several ways. Most importantly, it appears to be shot entirely by McElwee himself. As a lover of the D.I.Y. ethic, I found this an amazing feat. Sure, I would love to have 2 chase vehicles and a helicopter capturing me on carbon fiber EPIC-M Red Dragon cameras for the show, but if I can’t raise any funding, I now know I have the ability tell a compelling story while shooting the show myself on a GoPro.

Another element from the film that struck me was that even non-famous people are interesting. McEwee points the camera and let’s normal people talk about their lives and experiences. Gathering different perspectives from these unknowns is compelling reality television before that became a buzz word .

Lastly, I was moved by the director sharing his vulnerability so openly in the movie. He has had a lot of trouble maintaining relationships and watching him work through the process of seeking a new mate provided for a good story.

With Sherman’s March, McElwee proves what can be done with one guy, an idea, and a camera. Great inspiration.

Editing a teaser

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My makeshift edit room located in a secret bunker deep below Central Park West

I have written a short script for a teaser video about the show. I am going to use this video to build interest in the project. I recorded the voiceover in my best “radio guy” voice and I am editing new an old footage to the track. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but gets the message across. I digitized a bunch of old VHS tapes today to use in the video which brought back a lot of fond memories. I vow to have fun doing this show every step of the way!

I am ordering stickers, guitar picks, and T shirts to use for rewards when I launch a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign. My best friend and the “Jimi Hendrix of Graphics” Tylor Durand did all of the artwork for me. I am realizing how lucky I am to have so many friends who believe in this project.

I also applied for sponsorship from GoPro. I will be using their mini cameras for action shots and on-bike footage. They seem pretty cool about funding smaller projects so I have my fingers crossed hoping they will help me out on Popp Over America.

 

I need you now.

Me with Eric Bell at the last open night of Smith's
Me with Eric Bell at the last open night of Smith’s

I remember when my band in Tampa was starting to get a bit of local attention, I had a co-worker ask me, “Will you hire me as a roadie when you are famous?” I replied, “I don’t need you when I’m famous – I need you now.”

Finding people who will actively support a creative idea before the money and the fame comes along is a rare thing. More often then not the idea never amounts to any monetary compensation. The beauty is to discover those individuals who see into the distance and understand the heart of what is trying to be accomplished aside from any financial gain. Unbelievably, they are out there.

When I first posted the idea for my show on Facebook, I was surprised at the amount of support. One person who came forward almost immediately was a former student of mine Eric Bell. After graduating, Eric became an Emmy winning video editor (twice!) for SNY, the Met’s Network. He has since gone on to work for many other major networks including NBCSN, ABC, A&E, MSNBC, PBS, and AMC.

Besides his knack for editing, Eric is also a talented drummer and has toured the world. When he came forward to offer his assistance with the project I was flattered.

We met a a classic New York bar called Smith’s that Eric had played at with his band, If But When. He picked this location because the bar was closing and he wanted one last visit before the place was shuttered. While sitting with Eric drinking a couple of Buds, the old cliche popped into my head, “One door closes…”

We talked extensively about the project and he is onboard to edit the pilot episode which I am planning now. To say I am excited is a gross understatement. The pieces of this journey are falling into place.

Connections and finding the soul.

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Me with Stacey Salter Moore.

I am loosely planning my pilot episode and I am considering Philadelphia as a primary destination. A photographer friend of mine from The City of Brotherly Love, Stacey Salter Moore, was in town for the PhotoPlus Expo with her company JPG photography. We met up at Javitz and walked to one of my favorite Hell’s Kitchen watering holes the Holland Bar to blab about ideas for my new show.

Much to my surprise Stacey invited Food Network Star Russell Jackson to join us in the discussion. Both Stacey and Russell gave me great ideas. Russell hammered home the point that the content is everything and admitted to shooting much of his web footage on an iPhone. He showed me some time lapse video that he shot of his underground restaurant and I had to agree.

Russell also discussed the idea that my show doesn’t even need to end up on a network station. He told me about many shows that are strictly web based and are very successful. He posed the question, “Do you want to be famous or make money? Because you will make more money on the web.” I thought about this and realized I wasn’t overly concerned with either. My goal is to share a story that will be inspiring to others. It’s about conquering fear. It’s about going for it.

I am learning there is no single way to create an episodic show. As corny as it sounds, I need to follow my heart and let the content ring true.  Good storytelling doesn’t need to be complex or technically advanced. An old Harlan Howard quote comes to mind. When asked how to write a great country song, Harlan simply replied, “Three chords and the truth.”

A new learning curve – Photoplus 2014

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The solution to finding a cameraman?

My ultimate goal for the show would be to have a camera operator travel with me on my journey. Hopefully this person would own a bitching camera to shoot the show. I understand this is a big ask being I have no budget as of yet and no means to make a financial offer to a shooter. Realizing this, my D.I.Y. ethic always kicks into high gear. I may have to shoot the show, or at least a pilot, myself with tripods and specialized mounts.

With this idea in mind, I ventured to the PDN PhotoPlus Expo that was in town at the Jacob Javits Center here in New York to check out cameras and assorted gear. I don’t know much about photography or videography and attending this show made me realize I have a mountain to learn.

But, I have no fear. I started as a guitarist and later learned recording, which turned into a career for me. After that, I taught myself amplifier and effects pedal construction. I enjoy immersing myself deeply into what I love. I welcome this challenge of assimilating new skills related to this project.

I know I am going to use a GoPro Hero4 to capture a good amount of on-bike video, but my meeting with James Repici confirmed I am going to need a higher quality camera for capturing other footage.

A new learning curve begins…

 

 

 

 

First pitch, strike one.

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BMW: One please. The 2015 sport-touring R 1200RS.

I currently do not own a motorcycle. My last bike was a 1988 BMW K75C that I bought in 2012. I used that bike for two extensive tours and a lot of weekend blasts through the mountains in Upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. I loved the motorcycle and referred to it as “The Brick” (short for the nickname of the motor “the flying brick”). Unfortunately, I had to move to a cheaper apartment to cut down on expenses as I have been stuck at the same salary for 5 years due to the CUNY contract negotiations being stalled. This cost cutting included getting rid of the bike and the garage rental. She was also getting a little long in the tooth with over 60,000 miles on the odometer.

I didn’t let the lack of ownership stop me from being a motorcyclist. I joined a group called Jupiter’s MotoShare, and for a yearly flat fee, I get to rent from a collection of bikes for $49 a day. Averaging out the time I ride versus maintenance and parking, the MotoShare deal comes out quite a bit cheaper.

For the time being the MotoShare program will suffice, but for a 48 state tour involving 4 months of travel, I will need my own bike. I’ve owned quite a few bikes and rented even more. After all of this saddle time on many different brands, the choice for this ride is a no brainer – BMW. The 25-year-old Brick gave me absolutely zero trouble on my 7000 cross country trip and only a little fan clatter at the very end of my second one, a problem I remedied myself with a $75 part.

The bike I want to ride for this trip differs from The 3 cylinder Brick in that I have chosen to purchase a bike with BMW’s legendary Boxer twin engine. This motor design has been around for over 90 years and has proven itself time after time. This historical longevity of the engine design intrigues me.  Another interesting fact regarding the company is that one of the three founding fathers of BMW (and their first managing director) is named Franz Josef Popp. I am taking this as sign pointing me towards the brand. I am no huge believer in predestination, but when fate shouts, I tend to listen.

The Boxer motor is known for it’s durability with many examples clocking well over 100,000 miles. The Boxer powered R 1150 GS was the motorcycle used in the series Long Way Down, an episodic tale of Ewan McGregor, along with lessor known actor Charley Boorman, driving on the bikes from London to New York. The pair of movie stars initially wanted to ride KTM motorcycles for the trip, but when the high-brow Austrian Company balked at giving them free bikes, they accepted the BMWs. Boorman is seen on the first episode ripping down the KTM poster in the project office in a diva-esque moment because he didn’t get the free bikes he wanted.

I realize I am not a movie star and I will have a hard time getting anybody to sponsor this project. But witnessing BMW willing to hand out bikes to the actors, I contacted them on a whim and told them about Popp Over America. I got a prompt and kind response from a customer service rep of BMW Motoraad USA referring me to the philanthropy/charity page. According to the guidelines, to get sponsorship I need to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit. I am certain Ewan McGregor does not fall into this category.

My expectations where pretty low with this first contact. I was letting them know that I am out here doing this project. I have zero content and only a page of ideas. I will continue to develop and build on materials as I near the departure of my journey. I am not done pitching to BMW yet. I have a name and a phone number now, and once I get a test episode, I will toss another pitch at them. Hopefully the series get’s picked up by a channel and they will give me the bike of my dreams, the new for 2015 R 1200RS. Yup, it’s a Boxer…

 

MAN★ BIKE★GUITAR