Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Music · John Paul Bows Out - In a land of...
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John Paul Bows Out - In a land of few opportunities, a master guitarist plans to head south

Robert Downes - February 26th, 2004
A pity, because when John Paul‘s fingers caress his gut-string Ovation guitar, they move with a fluid grace that‘s like silk billowing in the wind, punctuated by a whiplash of notes delivered with the fury of Zorro‘s whip. Catch John Paul at an open mic and you‘ll see a room on fire with the instant recognition of a great artist at work in the smokey haze.
But, while Mendez can play rings around most any musician you can name in Northern Michigan, he admits he has had a tough time marketing himself -- in fact, he‘s virtually clueless as to some of the local restaurant venues and nightclub scenes where he‘d be a perfect fit. He‘s planning to move to Nashville at the end of the month to search for better opportunities.
“After two winters here I realized I could not make a living here,“ he says wistfully in his Spanish-accented English. “The only way you can live here is to have a place to have a show all week. And then, how much can they pay you? The rent is not cheap here, and the food is not cheap.“

“If I could have a dream, it would be to come back here someday when I have money and buy a place like a camp where people could get together and play from 9 in the morning to 10 at night with a policy of gentleness -- don‘t push, don‘t pull, don‘t shout -- just enjoy a friendly time together,“ he says.
“But Traverse City is the groundkeeper of the rich,“ he adds. “If you came here as a tourist, you could not visit if you had the kind of jobs that people have who live here.“
Mendez exudes no sense of bitterness -- he‘s just matter-of-fact. And he knows what it is to struggle as a musician at a subsistence level. He‘s worked day labor to make ends meet and has played five-hour gigs at tourist resorts. One of the best jobs he ever had in America was rounding up shopping carts at a Wal-Mart in Florida, a $5.50-per-hour stint he enjoyed because it was outdoor work and good exercise.
And although he performs astonishing flamenco-flavored music, he‘s also worried about what the music scene means for a performer over the age of 50. “If I had my own place, I could push my half-century with a little more hope,“ he notes. “It‘s terrible getting old.“
Yet at one time, Mendez was a musical recording star in southern South America, with his name and face familiar to millions. His odyssey has been one of both folly and determination, going from early pop success to a mature resolve to master every aspect of the guitar through five hours of daily practice.

Mendez was born in 1954 into a musical family of seven brothers and one sister in the small town of San Fernando in Chile. “I didn‘t have my own guitar when I was growing up,“ he recalls. “There were three guitars at our home and it was a matter of seniority as to who got to play.“
But he was a keen observer and quickly caught on, teaching himself to play by ear. “I copied my brothers. I realized that if I played the guitar, I‘d get the girls like my brothers. Then I learned that if I could hum a song, I could transfer it to the guitar. The guitar would teach me the rest, because it‘s all here in the 12 notes. It was all observation -- the mother of science is observation.“
His family moved to Santiago when it was still a city of one million people -- today the capital city has swollen to seven million. Mendez attended the university there, but fate played a hand in bringing him to the United States. “We could have been the Jackson Brothers of Chile, but I left when I was 19 years old,“ he recalls.
That was in 1974, when he took a trip to visit his brother who was performing in a Latin hybrid band in Cincinnati, Ohio. His brother had purchased a new truck for his father and young John Paul was going to help drive it back more than 10,000 miles to Chile. Unfortunately, he was in a motorcycle accident on his brother‘s 750cc Kawasaki motorcycle within a few hours of arriving in Ohio, and ended up losing a knee. The accident prolonged his visit, however, and he was awestruck by his brother‘s band and the showbiz lifestyle of a young musician.

By 1981, Mendez was back in Chile with a record contract from the Warner Brothers Electric Atlantic label. He released a single that was a hit in six South American countries, making him a celebrity on television. Unfortunately, some misguided career moves -- such as shaving his head and contradicting a music exec -- irked some of the middlemen in Chile‘s music business and his career began to suffer. By 1991, he decided to return to the United States, hoping that his Latin-flavored act would be a hit north of the border.
“This is a great country of freedom,“ he notes. “It‘s a great place to expose a musician -- you have all the nationalities here, all of the religions -- everything. It‘s the great country that everyone wants to come to.“
Four years ago, he came to the Traverse City area to spend the summer at a local campground. There, he met Robin, his future wife, and his stepdaughter Jenna. Local pianists Tom Kauffman and David Chown were also helpful with advice on the region‘s music scene.
In 2000, he traveled to Captiva Island in Florida where he played five-hour gigs in a tiki bar six days a week for tourists. “I had an established job, which is rare for a musician, and three meals a day,“ he recalls.
While at Captiva, he resolved to practice five hours a day to master the guitar in a way that surpasses most musicians‘ understanding. Mendez has an almost mystical understanding of the instrument -- he‘ll tell you how much more important the rhythm is than the melody, because it goes to the heart and soul -- and how learning to make the guitar “whisper“ was one of his greatest lessons. He‘ll tell you how 12 basic notes on the fretboard can say things in a universal language that go beyond other forms of communication, like the simple sounds that set the mood in a film depicting love, horror or comedy. “You have the 12 notes and the semi-tones and then they repeat -- you clone the sound,“ he says. “It‘s all incredibly simple, but at the same time there‘s an incredible magic in music.“

If Mendez sounds a bit like a character, rest assured, he has the quirks one might expect of a great artist. He‘s prone to saying things like, “I learned I had to be the mouse‘s head in the parade, rather than a hair on the lion‘s tail.“ His conversation is filled with symbolism and an exuberant sense of expression, but you get his drift.
For Mendez, performing is life itself -- as necessary as air to breath. He‘s the consummate, polished professional, performing in a black suit and gaucho-style hat -- he even brings his own P.A. system to open mic gigs so that his sound is perfect for the lacksadaisical audiences such venues attract. He‘s literally a world-class musician twisting in the thin air of Northern Michigan‘s lost opportunities.
As an extremely talented musician without an outlet, he‘s had troubles with depression, even though he exudes a zestful spirit. He‘s also respectful and enthusiastic in regard to the efforts of other musicians. “I do appreciate any good player and anyone who takes themselves out of the boredom of life by performing,“ he says.
Two years ago, he came back to Traverse City, looking for a stage to land on. He‘s had some small luck with local restaurants and recently played to a full house at a library concert in town, but mostly, it‘s been tough, even with the help of patrons such as former Mayor Margaret Dodd.
“I thought this was a good place to do my training, but I realized I had nowhere to play -- I was invisible.“

John Paul Mendez can be reached at johnpaul613@cs.com and would welcome opportunities to perform.
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