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Homeless? Broke? Busted? Disgusted? (Agent can't be trusted?) Read on . . .
A quick, free lesson on earning tips – lots of 'em – as a street musician playing blues harmonica, even if you still think the harmonica is a children's toy or a novelty act from the Vaudeville days. (It was exactly that for more than a century after its invention, but it's hard to believe anyone would still consider it as such more than 50 years after the most famous entertainers in the world, across every musical genre, have so continually proven its positive contribution, impact and merit.)
RULE #1: Don’t try to play single-note melodies. They’re difficult to play on the harp, especially for beginners, and no one is going to tip you for playing old campfire songs or ice-cream truck tunes, anyway … although they might pay you to stop. You’ve heard the lyric, “Money for nothing and your chicks for free”? Learn to play simple psuedo-blues on a 10-hole diatonic harp, friend. And this is for ladies, too; that popular song lyric isn't a sexist reference; it’s an analogy for the wonderful possibilities that can open up to performers at any level. (Advice to high school-age youngsters: get involved in theatre or any performing arts at your school, even if it's just running the lights, moving props, sweeping up at night. You'll be surrounded by and involved with people who may spark interests in you that you hadn't even thought of, opening you up to myriad possibilities for the future.)
Here’s enough to get you started with the harp in just a few minutes; then, as soon as possible, and a little bit each chance you get, go to YouTube.com and search “harmonica instruction” video clips. Beck Wenger is my favorite. Unlike some other instructional videos that can talk you into a coma, this talented young lady doesn't say a word on her video . . . just lets the harp do her talkin'. And does it ever! I can't stop watching it and apparently I'm not alone. It's had over 4.7 million views! There’s a ton of free harp videos, both performance and instruction, out there from seasoned pros to amateurs who can really wail. All available for viewing on free computers at recreation rooms, senior centers, libraries, etc. But for now …
You’re going to be playing any two, three, four or even more holes at once; you’re going to alternate blowing (exhaling) and drawing (inhaling) to give it melody and interest. And you’re also going to articulate while you’re doing it. (Note: if you're giggling and making faces every time the word "blow" or "hole" is used . . . grow up or go away; this probably isn't for you.)
Articulating, talking or scatting (whispering), while playing the harp produces many interesting effects, and is used by pro harp players everywhere. Rock musicians, notably Peter Frampton, often use an electronic talk box, sometimes called a talking synth, for a similar effect. Done as a harp technique, oftentimes the words aren't even clear, nor are they supposed to be. Try something like "Wad-de-ya-do, wad-de-ya-do, wad-de-ya-do?" The result sounds like a very skillful, rapid-fire note sequence. Similar ideas and experiments are endless, easy and convenient on a harp, just about anywhere, anytime you've got a few private moments.
Below is a little example I call The Panhandler Blues: Try it right now with any cheap harmonica you can get your hands on (but don't buy one in the toy aisle in a department store; they won't work). True beginner instruments that you can make tips with like the Suzuki Easy Rider (G) - my favorite for this application; I've actually been buying them on E-bay for less than four bucks apiece - including shipping - to give to local homeless folks - or the Swan (C) are sold on E-bay for about $5 to $7; either way, less than a six-pack of beer and a pack of smokes, so don't tell me, "Can't do it; ain't got no money." That’s crap and you know it. But if you're looking for an excuse to stay in your comfort(?) zone, it'll do.
If you really want to sound like a blues pro in a hurry and can come up with about $40, get a Lee Oscar harmonic minor or natural minor harp (Bb, Cm, whatever) online or at a local music store like Sam Ash or Guitar Center. Blues players do some breathing contortions called bending that creates that raspy, bluesy sound, as well as filling in the missing notes on a diatonic harp. It's not easy to learn (it has eluded me for more than a decade); the minor key harp gives that illusion and some of the same half-steps interest, but it gets old - for both player and listener - so sooner or later you'll want to work with standard major key harps.
The secret is to not be wimpy or bashful about it. Wail on that baby like you've been doing it for years! Confidence. And discretion. Let's not kid ourselves, most municipalities frown on or outright prohibit street performances of any type. Don't make a big show of staking out a location and making it "yours." Keep it mobile: that's where the harp's small size makes it shine. Yes, it may be awkward and embarrassing at first, but it can’t be any more humiliating than panhandling! Come on. As Dr. Phil would say on his TV program, “How’s that workin’ out for ya’?”
The Panhandler Blues . . .
Blow or draw chords at 3-4-5, then 4-5-6, back to 3-4-5, etc. Wah-wahs usually sound good using holes 2-3 together. Words or syllables that are underlined are drawn, those that aren't are blown; those sequences aren't written in stone, the point is in, out, in out, etc., to give it tonal variety and interest. If you feel a phrase sounds better starting on a draw instead of a blow, by all means experiment with it that way and go with what you feel works better. This is just a "workshop"; the real training comes on the job.
Won’t you help me beat the blues?
If you like my muzic, too, you will know just what to do!
(Small ice bucket, cup, etc., with $ sign on the side to make your intentions obvious.)
Hand cupping and opening and closing, and shaking from side to side accents the wah-wahs.
For an easy trill effect, roll an R, "rrrrr," while blowing and moving from one end of the harp to the other, low to high, high to low. Once, twice, three times . . . there’s really no wrong way to do this. You're not going to have a lot of material just starting out. Don't let it get too repetitive in front of the same folks. After your best few musical phrases, a good technique involves slowing down (retardando in music-speak), resolution (end of tune) with a sustained note or chord, a pause of a couple beats and just a very light, quick "toot" at the very high end of your harp, at which point you're holding up your tip container. "Help a struggling musician, folks?" Practice the whole sequence until it feels natural and produces the result (container full of folding money) you're looking for.
When you’ve got a nice blues rhythm going, invent your own scatting lyrics, accents, dynamics, trills, shakes. You’re already getting your show “down,” and it’s only been 15 minutes!
Street musician isn't a bad gig. You're not likely to be the next Bob Dylan, but you'll make enough to get by, you’ll still have your independence – and your dignity. The harp has much of the same coolness as a guitar without the problems associated with that instrument's size and weight. Sure, it's a romantic and nostalgic notion, the old photos of beginning artists making their way to their next coffee house gig or just bummin' it around the country, guitar case strapped to their back. But nowadays, with so many incidents involving bombings, so often executed with backbacks and similar gear left behind, even if you could play the guitar, its large case would not be a welcome sight in many circumstances. The "Mississippi saxophone," as the harp has been called, on the other hand, fits stealthly in a pocket or purse - nobody's beeswax until you want it to be. Wah-wah-waaah!
Mickey Parker, email@example.com
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Dental implant procedures need legislative review, reform and enforcement . . .
DENTAL IMPLANTS, being offered by virtually every licensed dentist in the country (and, conceivably, even some who are unlicensed), should be much more carefully regulated. At the very least dental implant procedures should be limited to installation by oral surgeons only - and even then, only those with additional, special training in the procedures and the myriad of serious potential complications involved. Even oral surgeons should be held to strict standards regarding minimum staffing and specialized equipment for implant procedures. These complex procedures cannot be safely and effectively done in small, squalid "general practitioner" surroundings by dentists who "went to a seminar" or "read a trade magazine article about it."
Allowing inadequately trained general dentists in minimally equipped, understaffed dental clinics (I believe there are even mobile dental clinics - run from large vans - doing the work) to perform these risky, invasive implant procedures is as absurd as allowing general practitioners to perform open-heart surgery on an out-patient basis. What's next? Dental implants at the mall? Dental implant "salons" at the Big Box stores? Hey, Mom can get her nails done while Dad starts his dental implants procedure "nightmare" at the booth next door! Don't laugh - under current law it could happen!
I have permanent nerve damage because a Las Vegas dentist (who claimed to have "more than 20 years of experience with dental implants") "experimented" with these dental implant procedures on me in 2010 and BOTCHED the job . . . big time. There is no effective treatment: not implant removal, not bone reduction, not fancy-sounding laser beam treatment (ridiculous in this application, as if burning the surrounding flesh would magically make the severed nerve endings mend themselves). Bottom line: there is no cure for nerve damage received during faulty dental implant procedures. Good job, Doc!
The first of three implants was drilled so deep it pierced my mandibular nerve; I wish I could return the favor ... with a rusty railroad spike! The other two were so high, there was no clearance for the necessary abutments, and they had to be removed as well (X-rays taken the next day confirm all this). So much for those "over 20 years of implant experience" the dentist claimed to have! My implant placements looked as though they were done by an auto mechanic!
Web graphics and videos in dental waiting rooms, using the most beautiful artists' renderings of colorful, even layers of tissue, bone and nerves, depicting the bad teeth flying out and dental implants "floating gracefully up and over and into the gums," are carefully crafted to make the public believe that dental implants can be done quickly, effectively and safely by any dentist. Clearly, false and misleading advertising. Why it's not subject to Fair Claims Practices Act continues to blow my mind.
Truth be told, the symptoms only get worse: the drooling, the spitting, the lisping, the tongue and cheek and lip biting and lack of muscle control while eating (I basically have to eat with my face stuck in a bowl - like an animal - I think there's food stuck to that side of my face, and nothing's there, or I do have food stuck to my face and can't feel it), above and beyond the constant feelings alternating between numbness and electrical charges - all horrible and permanent symptoms.
My experience is not unique or even rare. The 98% success rate* cited by the implant industry sounds impressive, but that 2% failure comprises over 60,000 patients, all unfairly influenced by questionable marketing tactics, ambiguous competency standards, and subjective qualifications. Patients who experience pain, numbness, feelings of electric shock just under the skin, etc. (the collective term for which is "paraesthesia"), following implant procedures are immediately and continually told, as I was, that "it will go away - you'll be fine." And isn't is amazing that how, when pressed, they each had "one" patient with the same problem - "but it went away." Right. On one hand we're told, "this almost never happens," but then after the fact there are these supposed "professionals" who have performed myriad corrective procedures for anomalies involving dental implants. If complications are so rare, where did they get all this corrective experience? If mishaps and injuries are so unlikely, why are patients required to sign a multi-page waiver prior to the procedures?
Dental implant clinics, promoted in the most deceptive manner: "Teeth in one day," with smiling models supposedly biting into an apple immediately after the implant procedure (truth be known, you'll probably be limited to a very soft diet for a year or more), etc., ostensibly a legal and ethical violation of informed-consent obligations, are the new physician-run "pill mills" and should be approached with the same regulatory zeal as the "pushers" running those types of grey-area drug clinics. And, similar to the "feel-good clinics" that exploit the law and human weakness for the sake of obscene profits, the time can't be far off - if it's not happening already - that we're going to see implant "pushers" migrating from state to state when things get too "hot" in a particular jurisdiction.
Anyone who thinks this doesn't affect them, because they're not senior citizens (the principle target market for dental implants) is missing the collective, downhill implications here. Traditional dental treatment as we've known it for the last several decades is being eroded by the big-buck promise of dental implants. The mantra of "Save the teeth, if at all possible" has changed to "Let 'em rot - the implant replacements will pay for my new Porsche!" (Yes, folks, a full set of uppers and lowers is $50,000+!) A local periodontist actually has "Periodontist/Implantologist" on his signage and business cards. No surprise that he wasn't "able" to do anything for my gums but "check 'em again next month" ... and suggest some implants(!) for the affected area. Is anyone so dense that they don't see the conflict of interest involved there? We're looking at a system that encourages these people to do nothing - fraudulently and deceptively - so they'll have a shot at a bigger payday on down the road.
The current, overly permissive and irresponsible policies and actions of the dental implant industry remind me of what Harry Markopolos (chief fraud investigator and whistleblower in the Bernie Madoff case) said in his book No One Would Listen: "The health-care industry makes Wall Street look honest."
Legislators, seriously, please do what you can to introduce legislation that will re-define and restrict these dangerous procedures, especially in the hands of under-trained, under-equipped, under-staffed general dentists (or simply deem implant procedures by general dentists as "illegal practice drift" under existing regulations), and limit the negative impact on public health that will continue to rise as the current regulatory shortcomings, as well as the considerable financial incentives, make the procedures more and more widespread. Your families and friends are out there and subject to this treatment, too.
THE UNDER-REGULATED DENTAL IMPLANT INDUSTRY that continues to allow dentists to misrepresent and perform these delicate and risky procedures has caused me years of pain and suffering. The collective dental implant industry (with projected U.S. revenues - notice I didn't say "earnings" - of roughly $6.4 billion for 2018*) needs to clean up a very deceptive business model and settle my malpractice-injury claim for $3 million.
Ray Parker, Coalition for Dental Implant Reform
See also: Why teeth implants may be the most painful (and costly) mistake of your life, Jane Feinmann, The Daily Mail, February 17, 2014
The hidden danger of the gray [zirconia] market, Dental Products Report, Digital Esthetics
*Dental Facts and Figures, American Academy of Implant Dentistry
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