The Perils of Extreme Anxiety, and Overcoming Them

Author: Danny Abriano, Real Life Stories

“Kill me.” Those are the words my grandfather whispered to me while he laid in his hospice bed late at night in August of 2008 with just the two of us in the room.

He was 95 years old and had been not only healthy but vibrant until just a few months earlier. But this moment was just days away from the end and he was ready for things to be over.

I felt the magnitude of his words at the time, but wasn’t hit by everything with full force until I watched him pass away a few days later, taking his final breath, surrounded by the rest of our family.

People are impacted differently by hearing something like my grandfather said and then witnessing his death. For me, it led to something that nearly crippled me. And while I’ve overcome it, it’ll still rear its head every now and then.

Anxiety. Not just run of the mill anxiety everyone deals with. I’m talking about debilitating panic attacks — ones that made me leave Mets games, not want to see my friends, be nervous about leaving the house for six hours, and eventually led me to take a leave of absence from my job.

It started right around the time my grandfather got sick, with a feeling of being unable to breathe — more specifically, being unable to get a deep breath. That spiraled into hyperventilating, dizziness, feeling like I was having a heart attack, like I was going to pass out. The attacks were acute and often, and I had no idea why they were happening.

I told those closest to me but tried to push through it. Bad idea.

There was a day at the mall where I couldn’t take being there any longer. My friend jokingly asked if I was going to die and I replied yes. I wasn’t joking.

There was a Mets game — a doubleheader specifically. I was having mild panic issues during the entire first game and made it to the start of the second (a Johan Santana start) before forcing my friend to leave early with me.

But the worst part of it was trying to work a few months after the symptoms first started. My commute at the time was about two hours each way, to a nonprofit in the Bronx.

Part of that ride to work — the train — became my personal hell, where anxiety attacks occurred basically every day. I would then emerge and try to do my job, which included managing a staff of four while recommending either incarceration or social services for people who had recently been arrested.

Again: bad idea.

By this point, I’d been on medication for the anxiety (one pill to take daily and others to take when I felt the most anxious), but kept on working before it took full effect. It was impossible to work while feeling this way, eventually leading me to take a six-week leave of absence.

During that time, I didn’t want to leave the house, since I didn’t feel like I could handle being in public. I didn’t want to see my friends and would barely answer their calls or texts.

Most people around me didn’t attempt to understand what I was going through, with some telling me to just “stop it.” That’s not how anxiety works. If you could stop the feeling of thinking you were about to die, you’d do it.

Fortunately, those who were closest to me at the time were there to support me. Had they not been, I seriously don’t think I ever would’ve emerged from the worst of it.

I foolishly tried to come off the medication in 2012 because I wanted to feel ‘normal’ again. Another bad idea that eventually led to a career change. If this situation ever happens to you, don’t try that.

But now, I work for SNY and the Fest For Beatles Fans. Translation: I haven’t missed a day of work due to an anxiety attack in four years.

While eight years have passed since it began and the panic attacks are few and far between these days, anxiety is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.

If I stop taking the prescribed medication, the feeling of dread and debilitating anxiety will eventually come back. If I travel somewhere without Xanax and feel something coming on, I’m basically screwed.

If you feel like you’re having anything close to what I was having, tell someone. If friends family members tell you they’re having a panic attack, take it seriously instead of shrugging it off.

But severe anxiety is something that can be beaten. You need to address it, be honest with yourself and those closest to you, and realize that it’s a day-by-day thing. There’s brightness ahead no matter how dark it might seem at the time.


Seek help for anxiety at www.anxietydisordersfoundation.org.

All About The Fest For Beatles Fans

Author: Danny Abriano, Entertainment

The Fest For Beatles Fans, originally known as Beatlefest, began in New York City 42 years ago and has been going strong there ever since.

Shortly after its New York debut, which came with John Lennon’s blessing, the Fest also started having yearly conventions in Chicago, where it celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in 2016.

I’ve been attending the Fest since I was four years old and have been working for them for the last three years on social media, communications, planning and more, so the awesomeness of it is ingrained in me. For those who have never attended a Fest, though, it’s truly something that needs to be experienced to be understood.

And if you’re a Beatles fan who lives anywhere near New York or Chicago and haven’t gotten yourself to a Fest yet, remedying that should be at the top of your list.

Before going into details, here’s the gist…

The Fest — which was founded by Mark Lapidos, who still produces each one — takes place each March or April in the New York Metro area and each August in Chicago, running from Friday to Sunday, with every single event and activity included in the price of admission.

If you only spend one day at the Fest (many fans spend the entire weekend there, staying over at the aforementioned hotel), you might not be able to see everything, but the highlights include…

Special guests, which in Chicago have included Klaus Voormann (recorded with all four Beatles, designed the Revolver cover), Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon, legendary producer), Joey Molland of Badfinger, guitar virtuoso Albert Lee and Ringo Starr’s former producer Mark Hudson.

All of the above guests except Voormann have performed in their own concerts, telling stories of their experiences with the Beatles and mingling with fans. But their presence just scratches the surface of what the Fest is all about.

Other events and activities at the Fest include the Battle of the Beatles Bands, the Giant International Beatles Marketplace, Beatles Yoga and Transcendental Meditation, the Beatles Art Contest, movie screenings and an all-day video room, the FABoratory Beatles experimental zone, Beatles art exhibits, an interactive 3D Paul McCartney exhibit, panels and discussions with Beatles authors and historians, the Beatles sound-alike contest, puppet shows, the Beatles parade and the Apple Jam stage — a second stage where local acts will be playing Beatles-centric shows Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday.

While all of that Beatleness is going on throughout the hotel, the Main Stage goes strong each day with concerts from the musical guests listed above, The Weeklings, School of Rock Chicago and many others. There are also charity raffles and Beatles auctions on this stage, appearances by George Harrison’s sister, Louise, the world premiere of the Mad Day Out book, whose photographer took snaps of the Beatles in 1968 and lots more.

The highlight of each night is the concert by Liverpool — truly the greatest Beatles tribute band in the world — whose performances are strictly music-based. Translation? These guys don’t dress up or talk like the Beatles, since true Beatles fans shouldn’t be infantilized.

Liverpool’s focus is on note-for-note covers of Beatles hits and lesser-known (if you’re a die-hard fan there’s no such thing as lesser known) cuts, which they attack with the same ferocity and drive of the Fab Four.

In 2016, Liverpool played Revolver in full as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of that groundbreaking album, and also played dozens of other Beatles cuts and jamming with the Fest’s special musical guests — and their Saturday and Sunday concerts featuree a light show. And raucous Grand Jam finales where some of the fans are regularly pulled up on stage.

But even with all of the incredible things going on at the Fest, one of the most integral parts of it – and a big reason why fans keep coming back year after year — is the communal feeling.

When I tell people about the Fest, their most common reaction is to ask if it’s akin to a convention at the Javits Center or similar to Comic Con. No. This is more like a three-day party that invites you in, eventually engulfs you and makes you wish it would never end.

From when the Fest kicks off on a Friday until it technically ends late Sunday night, fans gather throughout the hotel for small and large jam sessions. And decorate their hotel room doors with all things Beatles. And dance. And party.

So, from the time you walk into the Fest until the time you leave, no matter where you are in the hotel or what time it is, there will be Beatles music in the air while like-minded Beatles fanatics celebrate the continuing power of the greatest band in history. What more could you possibly ask for?

5 Musical Acts to See Before it’s Too Late

Author: Danny Abriano, Entertainment

Even in the age of digital music, with pretty much every song a click away via Spotify, there’s nothing quite like live music, when the sound goes right through you as you scream every word. But if you’re a fan of classic rock, time might be running out for you to see some of your favorites before they stop touring and ride off into the sunset.

There are still dozens of stars from the ’60s and ’70s putting on concerts, but here are five acts you should be sure to see before it’s too late…

Paul McCartney
The former Beatle, who was the only member of the Fab Four who loved playing live all the way through the group’s time together, has been touring regularly since the mid-’70s.

At 74 years old, Paul McCartney’s stage presence and energy remains second-to-none. And if you’ve never seen him before, the little stories he tells between songs are, collectively, one of the highlights of the show.

If you see Sir Paul in concert, you’re guaranteed to get close to three hours of awesomeness, with him playing mostly his Beatles hits and solo hits while mixing in just a bit of his more obscure and/or newer stuff. And you might get a surprise, too, as fellow rock stars often show up to his shows to jam. Ringo Starr recently said he’d love to tour with McCartney, so don’t be surprised if he shows up to a show sometime soon.

Want to sing Let It Be with 50,000 people as McCartney sits behind the piano? This show is for you.

Currently on Tour? Yes, touring the U.S. through August, with four additional shows in California in October.

Bob Dylan
Full disclosure: I’m an enormous Bob Dylan fan but have yet to see him live. Why? Because friends who have seen him in concert have told me his shows are either vintage Dylan or total disasters.

My love for all things Dylan is so high that I haven’t yet been willing to risk attending a ‘bad’ show, thus skewing my image of him. But I’m probably being foolish and will most likely see him soon.

Dylan, 75, plays smaller venues these days, and his recent set lists have included only a few of his more popular songs. His show on July 17 included only three songs casual Dylan fans would know – She Belongs To Me, Tangled Up In Blue and Blowin’ In The Wind.

But is it worth the price of admission to hear vintage Dylan sing just one of those songs? I’d say yes.

Currently on Tour? No, but he has two dates at the ‘Desert Trip’ in California this October.

Billy Joel
I’ve seen Billy Joel twice – once at Madison Square Garden in the early-2000s and again at Shea Stadium during the Last Play at Shea in 2008. And both shows were life-changing.

If you’re from the New York area and dig classic rock, odds are that you love Billy Joel. And if you haven’t seen him yet, what are you waiting for?

Joel is 67 years old but his shows are still raucous, energy-filled affairs where he plays 25 or so songs (including legendary encores). And unlike the aforementioned Dylan, Joel gives the fans what they want, playing mostly his biggest hits.

Currently on Tour? Yes, this summer and fall in the U.S. and Europe, with shows each month at his residency at Madison Square Garden in NYC.

The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger just turned 73 years old this week and the Stones – with guitarist Keith Richards understandably not having the playing chops he had in the early days – don’t rock quite as hard as they used to. But they’re still the Stones, one of the best bands ever. And as long as Jagger and Richards (who reportedly despise each other) are willing to play together, they’re worth seeing.

Like Dylan, I haven’t yet seen the Stones live, but they’re right at the top of my list.

As far as what to expect at a Stones show, it’ll be shorter than the ones McCartney and Joel put on (about 18 songs including the encore), but will be filled with hits. At a show this past March, they tore through classics such as Paint It Black, Honky Tonk Women, Gimme Shelter and Satisfaction.

Currently on Tour? Yes, the Stones have two shows in California and one in Las Vegas in October.

Bruce Springsteen
I saw The Boss at the old Meadowlands about ten years ago, before the place was torn down, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Springsteen is famous for his incredibly energetic, ridiculously long concerts, and he’s kept that legacy going even at the age of 66.

What makes Springsteen’s shows extra special is the continued presence of the E-Street Band, including drummer Max Weinberg and guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren. The band absolutely wails while Springsteen does his thing, and it’s one of the most perfect combinations you’ll ever see.

Springsteen and the band will ordinarily play for three hours or more – they rocked out to 35 songs during their most recent concert, with hits mixed in with obscure tracks and some covers.

Currently on Tour? Yes, Springsteen is touring Europe right now, but will be heading back to the U.S. in August, with the first show in Jersey.

20 Movies You Need to See From Before You Were Born

Author: Danny Abriano, Entertainment

While many movies on the list below are classics, recognized by many as some of the best ever, others are far less revered.

But in the 40 or so years of Cinema jammed into a list of 20, I feel this is a solid representation of flicks that are highly enjoyable.

And please know that none of the videos within contain spoilers that reveal twists or the ending of any of the movies.

Now behold, 20 awesome movies that were made before you were born…

Casablanca (1942)
 It’s impossible to go wrong when Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are involved, and Casablanca—equal parts love story, war film and thriller—is simply one of the greatest films of all-time. And it also includes one of the most famous lines in cinematic history, spoken by Bogart about regret: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
Long lost lovers unite:

Psycho (1960)
Who knew a stay in a hotel could be so petrifying? If you want to be scared to the point that you’re afraid to get off your couch to walk to your bed, Psycho is the film for you. One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, it’s ahead of its time but still aptly takes you back to the period it was set in. You might have a nightmare or two after watching (fair warning).
Janet Leigh (the guest) and Anthony Perkins (the proprietor) get to know one another:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Two fictional days in the life of the Beatles during the height of Beatlemania. The film not only introduced most of the world to the Beatles’ wit, but it is credited with being the precursor for modern music videos (remember those?). And it of course includes tons of awesome Beatles songs.
The Fab Four meet the press:

The Graduate (1967)
Featuring a young Dustin Hoffman as restless recent college graduate Benjamin, Anne Bancroft as an older seductress and Katharine Ross as the seductress’ daughter (wonder what’s about to happen there), The Graduate takes you inside the mind of someone whose life is just starting out. For you “Boy Meets World” fans, it also features Mr. Feeny as Benjamin’s dad. Oh, and an awesome soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.
Benjamin attempts to reject seduction:

Woodstock (1970)
The documentary of the earth-shattering Woodstock Music Festival that took place in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, Woodstock features performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Joe Cocker and many more. It is a living time capsule that captures the freedom and free love of the late 60s.
Country Joe sings his anti-Vietnam song:

The Godfather (1972)
This classic revolves around the mafia in 1940s New York, but it’s really about family—and the attempt to keep it together with madness raging all around you. Starring Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, John Cazale and James Caan, it doesn’t get much better than this, though some would argue that The Godfather Part II is its equal.
Michael (Pacino) goes to Vegas:

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Yes, another Pacino film. While his most well-known role is as Michael in The Godfather films, Pacino may be at his best (and is certainly at his most frenetic) in Dog Day Afternoon, which was based on an actual botched bank heist in Brooklyn. While serious, the film also has comedic charm and heart. One of the most underrated movies ever.
Sonny (Pacino) works the phones:

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
If Dog Day Afternoon features Pacino at his best, the same can be said for Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy. When McMurphy gets transferred from prison to a mental institution, all hell breaks loose in a way only Jack could cause.
McMurphy is back in action:

Saturday Night Fever (1977)
I’m a bit biased since it takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn), but this film is amazing in its rawness and grabs hold. John Travolta is incredible as weekend warrior and dance floor dominator Tony Manero, while the Bee Gees provide the soundtrack.
The opening scene:

Animal House (1978)
John Belushi is in a frat, smashes a guitar against a wall, pours mustard on himself, makes his face into a giant zit, blames Pearl Harbor on the Germans and leads a toga party. Oh, and this film just happens to be the birth of the gross-out comedies that still exist today.
Bluto (Belushi) smashes a guitar:

The Deer Hunter (1978)
John Cazale’s career ended when he died of cancer in 1978 at the age of 42, but all five films he appeared in (including The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon) were nominated for Best Picture. In The Deer Hunter, Cazale stars as one of a tight knit bunch of friends living near Pittsburgh whose lives are altered due to the Vietnam War. There’s also Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. Not too shabby.
The guys go hunting:

The Last Waltz (1978)
A documentary that chronicles The Band’s farewell concert, with performances from Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and many others. What got it on the list? It was directed by Martin Scorsese and features a behind the scenes look at The Band, whose members describe their life on the road.
Bob Dylan, The Band and more play ‘I Shall Be Released’:

The Jerk (1979)
Steve Martin stars as a dimwitted man who ventures out on his own after learning his black parents aren’t his biological parents. “You mean I’m gonna stay this color?” Navin Johnson (Martin) exclaims when he finds out he’s adopted. That should really be all you need to know that this one is worth it.
Navin (Martin) celebrates his birthday:

The Blues Brothers (1980)
This film features the comedic brilliance of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi—along with their awesome singing—as they front a rhythm and blues band that’s “on a mission from God.” But the incredible music throughout, from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to John Lee Hooker and many more, is just as important as the laughs provided by the stars.
The Blues Brothers and Ray Charles shake a tail feather:

Raging Bull (1980)
A Martin Scorsese-directed masterpiece, Raging Bull stars Robert De Niro as real-life boxer Jake La Motta, losing himself in the role to the point where you forget it’s actually him on the screen. De Niro’s La Motta is truly scary, and along with his performance, the cinematography and soundtrack tie a bow around this one.
Jake (De Niro) wants to know if his wife is being faithful:

The Shining (1980)
If Psycho has the ability to give you nightmares, The Shining might have the ability to permanently damage you emotionally. Jack Nicholson stars in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece as a writer who travels with his wife and young son to be a winter caretaker for a hotel that turns out to be haunted.
Jack (Nicholson) doesn’t like it when his writing is interrupted:

Rocky III (1982)
This is a strange one to have on the list when you consider that Rocky (Best Picture winner) and Rocky II (another very good film) are also eligible. But aside from Sylvester Stallone, Rocky III stars Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips the “Ultimate Male” and Mr. T as ferocious boxer Clubber Lang in a pair of roles that make this one a must-see.
Thunderlips is here:

Risky Business (1983)
 Tom Cruise in one of his first roles, before Scientology got the best of him. As well-behaved high school senior Joel Goodsen, Cruise goes wild when his parents leave for vacation. He has a house party, hires a prostitute, takes on a pimp and eventually turns his house into a brothel.
Joel gets a special visitor during his college interview:

The Big Chill (1983)
College friends, played by Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger and more, reunite for the funeral of one of their own who committed suicide (Kevin Costner, whose face we never see). They wind up spending a debauched weekend together as they reminisce, talk about the friend they lost and explore what might have been. Bonus points for the amazing soundtrack that’s filled with Motown hits.
The opening sequence:

Trading Places (1983)
I’d put Eddie Murphy at the height of his comedic powers up against any comedian ever. Add in Dan Aykroyd as the second star and you get not only one of the best comedies of the 1980s, but one of the best comedies of all-time.
Billy Ray gets hassled by the police:

10 Awesome Beatles Tracks You Might Not Know

Author: Danny Abriano, Entertainment

The Beatles transformed the music world and had an enormous impact on Western Civilization as a whole.

While you might instinctively sing the “woos” in I Saw Her Standing There, the Beatles’ catalogue is so vast that there are likely dozens of gems you don’t know. And that’s where we come in!

Here are ten awesome Beatles tracks you might not be familiar with, until now, along with some more tidbits about the Fab Four…

You Can’t Do That (1964)
John Lennon was the de facto leader of the group, but he was self conscious about his guitar playing to the point where he would instruct cameramen to not film him when playing solos. Here, though, Lennon rips through a rollicking guitar solo to go along with his lung-busting vocal.

Words Of Love (1964)
If not for Buddy Holly, the Beatles might never have existed. Their name was a play on the name of Holly’s band (The Crickets), and they do him justice with this cover. It’s worth a listen for George Harrison’s guitar intro alone.

The Night Before (1965)
Lots of Paul McCartney’s songs revolve around pining about lost or failing love, but unlike his sappier ones (Yesterday chief among them), he channels his pain into a rocker here.

Girl (1965)
The Beatles transformed after meeting Bob Dylan in the summer of 1964 and getting turned on to marijuana, and that transformation is evident on the Rubber Soul album, which Girl appears on. And yes, they’re singing “tit tit tit” in the background vocals on purpose.

Love You To (1966)
George Harrison was the most spiritual Beatle and one whose experimentation with different instrumentation helped vault them forward in the mid-60s. Harrison’s lyrics here are simple but mesmerizing, and his sitar playing is divine.

Baby, You’re A Rich Man (1967)
If you’ve seen The Social Network, you might recognize this song from the end credits. Lennon and McCartney combined two unfinished songs they had and turned it into this psychedelic masterpiece.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun (1968)
This is Lennon at his most biting, ostensibly singing a song about a gun when it’s actually about sex. The censors caught on, though, and it was banned by the BBC.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (1969)
Nearly eight minutes long and featuring incredibly simple lyrics, I Want You stands out because of the scintillating guitar playing, synthesizer, organ, and brilliant drumming from Ringo Starr. This song is badass.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) (1970)
McCartney has called this his favorite Beatles track, and it’s easy to see why. It starts off normally but soon morphs into Lennon and McCartney using different voices, screaming, and ultimately growling. In other words, these are not the Beatlemaniac-era Beatles.

Two Of Us (1970)
McCartney said this song was about him and his first wife, Linda. But listening to it, as he and Lennon share the vocals and sing about “chasing paper” and “getting nowhere,” it sounds more like a tribute to his partnership with Lennon, which was nearing an end.

What are some Beatles tracks you think are underappreciated?