Music School, Performing and Touring
Yugoslavian music education system was different than what I saw in the US, for example. I don’t know about other countries. We had elementary music school six years, music high school four years, and then conservatory four years. You cannot go to the conservatory before you finish the previous two, which is ten years of studying music. You cannot go to a music school if you have no talent. They only take a limited number of students, and it’s all free. The year I finished my music high school, they were taking one or two students for flute performance at Belgrade conservatory. That’s out of 350 flutists coming out of music high schools. I didn’t even try to get in. They told me that the only way in was to pay pretty money to the conservatory teacher for two years for preparatory lessons. Still, there was no guarantee because they would take only one or two students. When I came to Boston and applied for film scoring major at Berklee school of music, I submitted my diplomas and I was admitted, but then I looked at all their books and materials and I said to the admission guy, but we already learned all this back in Belgrade. Yes, I know, he said. He was also from Yugoslavia. Tuition was $17,000 and I didn’t get full scholarship, so I didn’t even start. That was in ’98, shortly after I landed in Boston. I had one friend who studied music production at Berklee. We both took additional lessons from a music composer in Belgrade, and that guy actually prepared the compositions he submitted to Berklee which got him 100% scholarship. If I had done the same… oh well. Some people are clever. For some time I played with a band from Berklee, all Brazilians.
By the way, now I understand why books are so long, haha. I am really trying to keep things short but it’s impossible.
So, when I finished my ten years of music education for piano and flute I started playing with bands. First with my friends from school, then I met other musicians and played in a few more bands. There was no money in it, but we played our own original stuff. Later I decided to start playing paying gigs, so I joined those bands and played mountain and beach resorts. Our bass guitarist is now a billionaire. He went on to open a music studio, then TV station, taxi service, and what not, and now he owns like a media empire “Pink TV”. The rest of us stayed poor. My last gig was at a cruise ship playing with musicians from famous bands after they fell apart. We cruised from Dubrovnik to Venice, Split, Kotor, Corfu etc. It was really nice and we just had to do our two hour gigs at night and maybe half an hour during lunch. The rest of the time we were free to be tourists. I got bored after two months and went to live in the temple. One of the waiters on the ship was a hypnotist, vegetarian, and he was translating Bhagavad-Gita to Croatian. He had stopped hypnotizing people because he said that it left kind of a hole in their minds, and it was a foreign element in their being which was not good. Any transformation or change has to come from you. I spent a lot of my free time philosophizing with him, and I guess that’s also why chose to move to the temple soon after. I was much more interested in spiritual stuff than even music. However, six months into the temple life, and I was on the road touring again, now with the Hare Krishnas. I had picked up chanting tunes, and I could sing, play the drum, and harmonium. We traveled all over Yugoslavia, and various people organized concerts for us. There was no money in it, just fun. I was a monk anyway, and you are not allowed to keep any money. At one point, a guitarist from Holland who played with David Bowie among others, and later joined the temple, came to Belgrade with one of the gurus from Germany. We played music together for a week, and he wanted me to come to Germany and join their band. I took the offer and went. I joined the biggest Hare Krishna band in Europe at that time. We toured countries all the way up from Norway down to Italy. I composed some songs for the band, sang, and played keyboards, Indian drum, and flute. Most members were not very good musicians, but they were top gurus, thus very influential, and people organized huge events for us. I didn’t really like the music, but traveling and performing was fun. I brought a drummer from my old band from Serbia, then we got a bassist from a famous Croatian band, then a famous Italian musician, so we got some quality to the show over time, and it was getting bigger and bigger. One of the last shows that I did with them was Moscow for 35,000. We had Boy George with us, but he only came with his guitarist and played a few songs before us as a warm up. Then at the end he would sing his Bow Down Mister, the Hare Krishna hit song at the time that made it to the charts. He was very respectful and humble when he was with us, monks and gurus. After the concert I was chosen for some reason to go to the press conference, so about four of us were taking questions from dozens of journalists. The important leaders of the movement liked what I said at the conference, so I felt good about it. It was a big event, and it was broadcasted on TV I think, or there was a show about it later. Before that Hare Krishnas had a really hard time in the Soviet Union. They were arrested, and tortured, and the whole international community got engaged to help them. I don’t know why it had to be so extreme. They really didn’t want Hare Krishna movement in the USSR. When they let them free, it became huge, and it is still strong.
At some point I had to take a break because I was sick with ulcerative colitis. I had to go to the bathroom sometimes ten times a day, and the bleeding from the colon wouldn’t stop. I was very weak. They sent me to Copenhagen to make music for their radio station, so I stayed there for eight months. I liked Denmark. I made some songs and they played them on the radio often. After that they invited me to Berlin, and one of the gurus bought a very nice music studio for me. He instructed a few of his disciples to go and collect money for it, and they brought back over 100,000 German marks, which would probably be over $200,000 now, but also back then recording equipment was very expensive. So, I got to make music in a really nice studio, it was all mine, and I loved it. I made some songs, but before I could mix them down, some guy who took over the temple, didn’t think music was important and he decided to sell everything and stop supporting my project. I had to mix down my half finished songs in one day and leave. Such a pity. Songs were very promising, but never produced well. I went back to Belgrade, and got together with Natalia, a famous singer there, got married, made a few songs, went touring for a little while, just Indian songs, but the war had escalated, and we decided to escape to Greece. We got to the temple there, and they were happy to have us because we made beautiful music and we also cooked for everybody. However, the temple president from Belgrade, who was jealous that I got the girl who he probably wanted for himself, came to Athens and whatever he said to the local temple president there, we had to leave the temple after that. No explanation.
We were in Athens, no place to stay, no money, me still sick from ulcerative colitis, so after trying to get help from some people we met there, everything fell through, and the only choice left was busking. I went to a music store, traded my horrible Chinese flute, paid a few hundred dollars extra and got an Armstrong 104. That was an upgrade for me! You can imagine what I was playing before that. I remember one time I went to a conservatory teacher in Belgrade, because my mom knew his wife, and I got a free lesson. Some time into the lesson, he said, let me see that flute. After trying to get some sound out, he looked at me and said, how do you play this? This flute doesn’t play. At least I now knew, it wasn’t me, it was the flute. But I didn’t have anything better. So back to Athens, I went to a tourist area, put a basket on the ground and started playing. After an hour or two, I had 5000 Drahmas. I think that was enough for the hotel and food for the day. We literally lived day by day like that. I made some cash on the street, we went to a hotel, they gave us the cheapest room on the top floor, very hot and very tiny, but we were not on the street, and we were not in a war zone or in Belgrade where there were no jobs, and the inflation was 100% per day. Yes, per day! If a loaf of bread was $1 today, tomorrow would be $2, day after tomorrow $4, the next day $8, then $16… you get the picture. Over there if you had a job, you would get paid at the end of the month. By the time you got your paycheck, it would be something like $2. Absolutely worthless. I don’t know how people lived. But for us, life was getting better. I got myself flute and violin accompany music from a local music store, and I was playing Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Quantz, and Telemann with orchestra in a CD player. I bought a tape recorder a little mixer, Barkus Berry pickup, and I made my own tapes to sell. Soon I was making over $100 per day, and we moved into an apartment. Life was pretty good. Actually, before getting an apartment, I had met a guy who was one of the directors of a major pharmaceutical company, don’t want to mention their name here. I learned a lot about how America works. He was a millionaire, and had a great life in the US, but he didn’t want to be a part of it any longer. I can’t disclose all the info he told me, as it could be dangerous for me, but I can tell you that the medical industry, being a business, doesn’t have any other considerations but profit. The extent to which they would go I cannot disclose, but try to use your imagination. More sick people, more profit. More “incurable” diseases, more lifelong treatment and disease management for them to make money on. Anyway, that guy gave us a free place to stay for some time. It was outside Athens, so after I started making good money, we moved to Glifada, a nice beach neighborhood. Since I played for three hours on the streets (in front of an unwilling audience) I got more practice and learned more than in the music school. Still, there was only so much I could do on my cheap Armstrong. At one point, a nice lady approached me on the street, loved my music, and let us stay at her apartment in Athens. She bought me a Sankyo Etude flute for $3000, open hole, silver headjoint, so I had to switch after ten years of playing closed hole. A whole new drama happened then. We stayed there for some time, and since we had already saved some money, and I got a nice flute, we decided to move back to Belgrade. The war had stopped. Before leaving, another “nice guy” approached me on the street and said he wanted to help us. Unfortunately, he was some kind of a criminal from Lebanon, and the police was already looking for him, or maybe Interpol. He was nice and friendly, took us to lunch and promised financial help. We invited him to come by the apartment, but he never showed up. We moved back to Belgrade, but left the stuff at the apartment to move it later. In the meantime the lady came back to her apartment and one day that Lebanon guy showed up at her place, told her he was our friend, so she let him in. She was on her way to the shower, so she asked him to wait for her in the living room. When she got out of the shower, the guy was gone. Soon after that she realized that her cash and jewelry was also gone! She called the police, and they concluded that the guy must have planned this with us, so we ended up being suspects accomplices. They confiscated our valuable stuff, including my Sankyo flute, all the gadgets, and whatever valuables they found. The lady moved the rest into the hallway, and people started taking our stuff thinking it was free for grabs. The most valuable thing was an Egyptian vase that my wife inherited. Her grandfather had found it in a river when they were building a bridge. Who knows how much it was worth. We believed it was original, and we sent pictures to Sotheby’s and Christy’s, but they wanted to see it first. We never got to that point. Now, the Greek police stole it and never gave it back. My dad took a trip to Athens and recovered the rest of the stuff. My wife’s brother got pretty upset because the vase was his inheritance too, and I had to sell my PA and the gadgets to compensate him. All I had left after Greece was a Yugo car that I bought when we came back, a used one, and a piece of junk. Our marriage fell apart and I moved to the US. She had slept with one of her fans while I was in Holland looking for work for a month. I kicked her out of my condo, got a divorce and arranged for a religious visa in the US.
Altogether, I sustained myself busking for some years, including in the US. I played Boston and Cambridge subway stations for a while until I was rescued by Stephen Finley in 2000, and got my first “real” job. I also played in an Irish band in Boston. That was fun! Green sleeves and stuff J After I quit Powell, I played some more Indian music touring with a Canadian guy, and some friends in LA. Not much. It was mostly flutemaking and repair after that, raising kids, and then bitter divorce, family court and struggle. I started a hip-hop/pop project with my friend in Boston, but then decided to move to Thailand, so the project is on hold. I got engaged with one girl, then found out she was a liar, then found another, and found out she was even a bigger liar, plus a cheater… live and learn. By the time you learn everything, you die, haha. Next life you have to learn the same things again. I am still trying to figure out what’s the point. Like you work your whole life, save money, and then die and live it to someone else. So maybe that’s why I spend all the money I get my hands on!