Rejoining the Breakpoints after 17 years

So I played in a band at the legendary Ritz in San Jose, California last night.

(below are some of the many great photos of the event by Adam Tow)

The Band
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The whole event reminded me that it’s not really important how good a musician you are; you should just get together with your friends and play some music.
(And maybe people will come! And they did, in this case; the event was a fundraiser for App Camp for Girls )

Wait, whaaat? What band are you in NOW? I thought the whole football band thing was over. Well, yeah it still is. This time I sat in with James Jdbp square logo 512Dempsey and the Breakpoints at their 8th annual Live Near WWDC concert.

This is an annual concert put on by people attending Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, and it’s spearheaded by my friend James who has written an entire chart-topping album of funny songs celebrating various technical aspects of programming and you can of course listen to the whole album here.

The band featured a whole group of people who are stars in the Mac world – including Daniel Jalkut, author of MarsEdit, the blogging software I am typing in right now – and many other luminaries that I bet most of my friends outside the Mac world have never heard of. But I don’t care! It was great fun to be invited!

for instance

Here’s one of my favourite numbers – The Liki Song (Minawana Meika La’a Likiko)

It’s a little Hawaiian number with James on ukulele – and it’s about memory management. I have to admit, the first time I listened to it – while walking through an airport – I had no idea what the heck James was singing about. “Liki” ? “Mina wana meika la’a likiko”? What the heck? What is he talking about?

And finally it dawned on me – “Me no want to make a lot of leaky code.” That stopped me in my tracks in the airport; I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard. And this was the big closing number at the show, with 24 musicians on stage and the entire crowd singing along. What a treat. So many songs, so many different styles.

how’d this start?

James and I both worked at Apple ages ago – I still do – and both presented at WWDC many times. I distinctly remember one year when I was getting ready for my talk and Matt Firlik announced to me that James had written an original song about Fetch Specifications for his talk, and right then, I knew the best any of the rest of us could hope for was to give the 2nd best presentation.

For years afterwards, the word would get out that James’s WWDC session was almost over and, regardless of topic, people would suddenly arrive for the last 5 minutes to hear his latest song about localization or the perils of designated initializers or whatever else struck his fancy.

A year or two later in 2002, he wrote another song at the developer conference about memory management called Hold Me, Use Me, Release Me – and I knew I had to up my game, and brought my trombone on stage for my own session on WebObjects and I told the crowd that I’d written an original trombone solo about Key-Value Coding, which I hoped I’d have time to perform.

To the great relief of everyone, including me, I did not have time to perform this (nonexistent) solo. But there was some sort of community event that night and James was asked to reprise the Hold Me song, and, well I happened to be around and happened to have a trombone on hand and my arm was twisted ever so slightly so I played along on stage with James.

And that was the last time I did, until 17 years later.

(Ten years later, I was visiting Cathy’s mom at her home in a tiny community in northern New Brunswick and tweeted something about it, and about five minutes later, the phone rang – it was James. “Are you really in Jacquet River, New Brunswick?” he asked in amazement – because it turns out his wonderful father Wilbur lived there too! Small world.)

the breakpoints

James eventually struck out on his own and formed a band of various other members of the geek-Apple community – all very talented musicians – and called the group the Breakpoints. (A breakpoint is a term in software debugging for a location where you want the program to stop so you can see what’s going on.)

He actually wound up with enough material to release an entire album of funny programming songs songs which actually was the #1 comedy album on iTunes for a while (and, if I remember correctly, #1 overall album in Bulgaria).

I was lucky enough to be dubbed a “conditional breakpoint”, i.e. someone who played with the band only rarely.

For years James and his band did these wildly popular fundraisers called “Live Near WWDC”, and I always went, and always enjoyed it, and always secretly wanted to be up there on stage too.

the show

Last night was my chance.
17 years after first playing with James, I was invited back to play trombone on a couple of numbers, including a rockin’ round of trading licks with awesome guitarist Jim Dalrymple, in a song which could only have been improved if I had not forgotten what key it was in part way through. (note: it was in “A”.)

I am saving this tweet –

Wow, was it fun. Over 20 different muisicians in the band – singers, guitarists, drummers, a violin! a cello! And a guy with a blue trombone having the time of his life.

Thank you James. And thanks for the selfie below which you actually took during the middle of my solo, which perhaps caused me to forget the key signature (note, again: “A”)

I hope I can do it again in 2036. Maybe sooner!

Mid Solo