Rock of (under) Ages

It’s not an uncommon sound in the suburbs — the wail of a guitar, the undulating notes of a bass and the rhythmic pound of drums, all emanating from the ersatz studio of someone’s garage. What is uncommon is when the collective age of the musicians only adds up to the high watermark of Generation X.

Meet DDK, three young Sonoma lads determined to rock the music world. Oh, and finish middle school too.

Named for their first initials (though the band once considered No Public Access and Access Denied), DDK is comprised of guitarist Keith Thompson, 14, bassist Dylan Pritel 12 and 11 year-old Devin Thompson, an ambidextrous drum prodigy.

Given their youth, one might think that DDK is too young to rock. For perspective, consider the fact their heroes, East Bay punk trio Green Day, formed at about the same ages. Green Day later bootstrapped itself from the local punk scene into a major label deal in the mid-90s and garnered a Grammy Award last year after having crossed into their 30s. DDK hopes to do something similar — but sooner.

“They grew up in Oakland and around the Bay Area,” says Devin of idols. “They started small and got so big. That’s kind of an inspiration to us.”

Older brother Keith concurs.

“That’s our favorite band,” Keith says, who adds the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the list of their influences. He also says more contemporary acts such as Simple Plan and Sum 41 appeal to them as well (Good Charlotte is mentioned, but vetoed by Keith).

What differentiates DDK from other garage-borne bands is not just their young age, but the fact that this May they ventured to Los Angeles to record with an established record producer. This is the result of a chance meeting with 30-year music industry veteran Howard Sapper at a local Chinese restaurant.

“I had gotten my Ipod a few days before and I had our demo on it,” recalls Keith, who played it for Sapper at the restaurant. Sapper, who has worked with young acts like Myra (who is signed to Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records) was impressed, particularly when his 11 year-old daughter heard the tunes and was so smitten she refused to give the IPod back.

“They’re fresh, they’re cool, they’re young. What caught my attention is that the teen thing is over and that rock ‘n’ roll is coming back. Kids are getting more talented, younger and are more confident. These guys are writing really sophisticated songs. I’m blown away by the song structure,” says Sapper.

With Extraordinaire Media partner Ryan Perlman, Sapper brought DDK’s demo to the attention of Los Angeles-based producer Peter “Peas” McEvilley, who has worked with pop group the Gemz and created part of the soundtrack for George Clooney’s film “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” among other projects.

DDK is excited about what their Los Angeles experience may betoken. They are also quite reflective about what success would mean at this time in their lives. Most kids entering their teens have enough to deal with, what with the hormonal maelstrom of puberty and all, let alone a shot at rock stardom.

“I think we’ll probably still be the same,” says Keith.

Devin, perhaps a bit less sanguine than his brother suggests “We’ll kind of change.” To which, Dylan adds “I hope we can stay the same and just still be kids.”

Due to their ages, of course, the members of DDK are going to remain kids for some time. Moreover, their parents are there to guarantee it.

“I’m hoping that if this really takes off that we recognize that as parents we’re in control,” says Dylan’s mother Milena Pritel “The pitfall is that they could get so big that they lose their childhood. Otherwise, it’s creative, it’s exciting. These guys are clean-cut, good kids,” she says, adding that all three of the musicians are A and B students.

“They have a song that goes ‘I used to get A’s and B’s now I get C’s and D’s.’ It isn’t true. It’s just part of their image,” George Thompson, father of the Thompson brothers, laughs. “As parents you like to see them do well. They have their bad days too and miss a chord, but you hope for the best that they survive that moment.”

Meanwhile, the band continues to generate original material — chiefly up tempo, radio-friendly tunes about the frustrations of young love and other matters germane to their experience. That said, the lyrical content suggests DDK is wise beyond the relatively few years of its members.

“We first started songwriting about two years ago,” recalls Dylan. “Keith and Devin had their own little thing going, then George and my mom met and started dating and stuff. The songwriting started when we were riding in the back of the car. We decided we wanted to write a song and it started from there.”

Says Keith, “It just comes to us. Sometimes it’s experience, sometimes just ideas that we have that we write down and it just comes out. We come into the studio and we sit here for an hour and walk out with a song.”

Sapper attributes the younger generation’s precocious maturation as artists, in part, to our media-laden culture.

“There’s a downside to kids growing up too early, but the good side is watching the art come to shape much younger and much more maturely,” Sapper observes. “I don’t know if it’s the advent of so much technology or things that used to be much less accessible to kids or that they’re exposed to film, TV and music at a much younger age due to MTV or cable. But kids are beginning to take shape with their personal identities at much younger age than we did. We were 14 going on eight — some of these kids are 12 going on 25.”

In the meantime, DDK continues to rehearse and dreaming big.

“We want to do what Green Day did. We want to be big,” says Keith. When he is reminded that the band labored in obscurity for a dozen years before signing their major label deal he smiles wryly and says “We want to go faster than that.”

Devin steps in and says with a sage attitude, “But it takes patience, so we’re willing to wait a long time. It will probably be worth it if we do. First we just have to record and see what happens from there.”

Devin’s outlook echoes Sapper’s who is vigilant about keeping DDK’s perspective realistic as they trundle down the long and winding road of the music industry.

“What I tell these kids is ‘Make sure you stay young and don’t take anything too seriously,” says Sapper. “I would look at it like an opportunity to go to school. You get a chance to go to Los Angeles and record with a guy who has recorded some really big people and the worse thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to have a lot of fun. You’re going to make a great recording and see the Hollywood sign.'”

And perhaps rock a bit too.

http://www.ddktheband.com

Originally published in the Sonoma Index Tribune.

Blind Justice

They say that “justice is blind.” But what if your defense attorney is blind as well? Such was the case for the thousands of clients of Sonoma resident Dominic Sposeto, a nationally-recognized lawyer and now author. Many of the cases Sposeto worked on are detailed in his recently published memoir, “La Famiglia and their Blind Advocate,” in which Sposeto also recounts a family history spotted with mafia affiliations.

Sposeto’s conversation is sprawling and brims with anecdotes and asides. Whereas some spin yarns, Sposeto weaves whole verbal tapestries from such seemingly disparate threads as dock workers, Sicilian fisherman, jazz singers, family lore, a nightclub he owned and the specter of the mafia always looming.

An avid swimmer as a young man (the enterprising Sposeto directed aquatics programs throughout the East Bay in his late teens), a diving injury agitated a congenital retinal condition that would leave him blind by the age of 20.

Sposeto credits his mother Mary (referred to throughout the book as “Mama”) with supporting him through the trying transition into permanent darkness.

“She was great in that regard, she encouraged me to get off my butt and go to the blind center. I had a hell of an adjustment,” says the affable Sposeto. “Back in those the days, the blind center and the blind homes were all in one. So they put me next these guys in their 80s and 90s. It was difficult thing to take. All these kids that I knew who were sighted were coming around the school — they didn’t like that at all because I was really wasn’t integrating that well with the blind. They wanted strict orientation, jump in, get in the groove, get your cane and start going out,” recalls Sposeto. “I didn’t last — they booted me out.”

Fortunately, Sposeto crossed paths with lauded author, jurist, scholar and eventual founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Jacobus tenBroek, who was then at the University of California at Berkeley.

“This guy was just about as good as it gets,” says Sposeto of the man, who was also blind, that would become one of many mentors he recounts throughout La Famiglia. With tenBroek’s inspiration Sposeto decided to pursue the law — a daunting proposition for the sighted let alone a young man just beginning to cope with blindness himself.

“I never really learned Braille. I got into it enough to play cards and label files, that kind of thing,” says Sposeto, who absorbed the letter of the law through readers assigned to him by Santa Clara University where he would later graduate in 1961.

Sposeto learned and created mnemonic devices that imprinted the volumes of legalese on his memory, a boon when he took the bar examination and passed without a hitch.

“Law in my opinion, is the least learned of the professions,” Sposeto quips. “If you’ve got a memory and the aptitude for it, it’s a slam dunk — really. There’s no dispensations for the bar exams. The told me that going into law school. They said ‘Look buddy, you’re going to prepare briefs just like everybody else and do library research,'” recalls Sposeto. “They said ‘When it comes to the bar exam, you get a reader and that’s it.'”

Soon after, Sposeto became Chief Counsel and Administrator of Santa Clara County Legal Aide and Defender Association and later set up private practice as a criminal trial lawyer and worked on thousands of cases including death penalty cases.

“Trial work was my forte,” Sposeto recounts, though he worked up to it gradually.

“I had the good fortune of being appointed the first head of legal in the public defender’s office in Santa Clara County. It helped me to adjust as a blind person — I was scared to death — who the hell wants a blind lawyer?”

Sposeto is open and frank when discussing his blindness. He doesn’t regard it as a disability as such and seldom did it interfere with his professional life, except on the rare occasion that he would accidentally wear two different colored shoes in the courtroom.

“The disadvantages are obvious — you’re going to bump into walls, you’re going to miss the good looking gals,” he laughs. “The thing I most miss are the little expressions of children. That I miss more than anything.”

Inasmuch as there are disadvantages to being blind, Sposeto has developed several skills that have aided his practice over the years – skills he says he would not have honed so effectively were he still sighted. Sposeto, naturally, is immune to the poker faces that those with something to hide often employ. He can tell when someone is lying simply through the shifts in their voice.

“For forty years I practiced law and I learned to develop my own insight and ability. I don’t want secretaries telling me what people look like. I want to sit down and get to know them when I’m representing them. It’s just a phenomenal gift of being able to get an insight into a human being. I could pick up when someone was lying just from verbal intonations. I could develop unbelievable profiles. Obese people, for example, have a certain profile. Yuppies have a certain profile,” Sposeto guffaws.

“When selecting a jury I never wanted to know what they looked like. I developed an ability to set profiles by voice. Of course, you can’t be one hundred percent because of some impediments people have, but you learn to listen. The greatest advantage to come from blindness, if there was one, is developing a great sense of listening and being spontaneous, which was helpful in trial work,” says Sposeto.

Somewhat incredulous, this reporter asked Sposeto to assess my voice and tell me my age. Without hesitation he correctly answered 32.

“I’ve been called for many cases just to interview and cross examine people just because they respected the insight I had,” says Sposeto. “If people were lying I had my own method and technique to cross examine. It was very unorthodox.”

It was Sposeto’s unorthodox methods that first garnered the attention of publishers interested in the fabled blind advocate. The author staved off the notion of publishing his memoir for years until finally deciding to publish the work himself this year.

With the aid of friend and former wife Sherry Sposeto-Jakey (he has been married to wife Wanda Botto for 23 years), the first half of the book recounts Sposeto’s family history, which includes mob connections Sposeto only became aware of when considering a run for congress. The latter half of the work spans his distinguished career in law, which included writing briefs to the Supreme Court and arguing cases before the California Supreme Court. It was includes a fair number of comical situations.

An example is when Sposeto was a greenhorn lawyer representing his sister Isabel in an uncontested divorce hearing at which their sister Frances served as a witness. All three siblings were blind from the same retinal condition, which prompted the judge to ask if he could refer to the case as “A Hearing of the Three Blind Mice?”

Later, when working with a judge who constantly mumbled, Sposeto had to constantly ask him to repeat himself. Finally the judge snapped “Look, Sposeto, I put up with you being blind for 20 years. If you go deaf, that’s the end of ya!'”There is, however, no end in sight for Sposeto. He still practices law, generally doing pro bono work, but is essentially retired. And though he enjoyed crafting La Famiglia he has no present plans to pen a sequel.

“I’m anecdotal, I’m not a creative writer. When I first started putting this stuff out there, all my buddies who looked at it said you ought to stay with the law and forget creative writing,” he laughs. “I did this for the family — there’s a lot of history, study and background. I had no intent otherwise, but everybody said, ‘Put this out.'”

La Famiglia and Their Blind Advocate is available at Amazon.com

Originally published in the Sonoma Index Tribune.