Updates (always updating) [Not a metal post]

I just got off the phone with a dear friend and realized I have long neglected this blog. It’s not been out of anger, frustration or any other emotion. It’s been life. That’s a good thing. As my friend pointed out to me, Interaction is the opposite to addiction. Staying plugged in to life has kept me moving, active and healthy. For a guy who spent the previous 26 years fairly sedentary, I see this as a good thing.

It’s been interesting to plug into life and walk the paths set before me by others, instead of trying to get to new places by using my own failed paths. Whether it’s trying a calorie tracking app, walking at a new park, listening to a new album, watching a new TV show or realizing I do actually like pro basketball, there has been no shortage of exciting new opportunities.

I’ve also discovered (finally) that I don’t have to keep trying the same paths to failure, hoping they will turn to success. This has been the hardest thing for me to wrap my brain around. I didn’t realize I was such a creature of habit, but I am. Changing these habits has been up to me. There is no shortage of people who are happy to keep you on a treadmill, always walking but never going anywhere.

12 step programs talk about changing your playgrounds and playmates. Sound advice, as long as it is followed. It only takes one trip to the old playground to undue weeks, months even years of progress.

Surrounding myself with positive people has been tough. I hadn’t realized how cynical and depressed I had been. I didn’t think that the smaller pants were due to a bigger waist. I didn’t think that the reason my personal relationships felt empty was because I was spending all of my energy on unhealthy relationships with people just as unhappy as I was.

Our Facebook/internet driven world has promoted an idea that you don’t let go of friends, you simply remove them from your news feed. To me, that’s like trying to build a house by using a piece of rotten wood as your center floor joist. It may bear the weight for now, but eventually it will cause everything else to crumble.

When we would play war simulation boardgames in the late 1980s, one of the best tactics was to use scorched Earth when withdrawing from an area. This removed any resources your enemy could use against you. The same tactic is used to great efficacy in daily life. Leaving any opening for unhealthy people to intrude in my life is a recipe for disaster. I can’t be afford it. I have to nail those doors shut.

Staying engaged is only half the battle. Getting off the sofa has been the other. I have become a fan of walking. It’s easy (essentially anyone can do it), it’s cheap (do invest in a good pair of shoes) and it allows me to multi-task without getting stressed. I walk/exercise, listen to music and think about life. Three things done at once. When I’m done, I feel better and the increased dopamine release is an added bonus. Plus, my pants aren’t as tight as they were before.

I have found like minded folks to share time with. I’m still a nerdy metalhead who drools over sci fi and superheroes, but I have found there are versions of that mindset that have successful jobs, happy families and healthy lives. I have aligned myself with them and no longer find myself working hard to explain why I am friends with the people I hang out with. Instead, My wife will happily listen to what I did on my day off, instead skeptically wondering which part is the lie.

This is a bit more confessional than I typically make this blog. I haven’t given my review of the BOC show last week or discussed concerns regarding the upcoming The Sword show. There’s nothing about the awesomeness of the new Dr. Strange comic or who I want to play James Bond next. This is more about that last blurb, “life in general.” I’m finding that an enjoyable life supports the hobbies, but still has to continue forward.

I’ll write more later this weekend about music and movies and shows and games. Today is about gratitude. It’s humid and overcast, but the rain has stopped and I think it’s time to lace up my walking shoes and see if SO FAR SO GOOD SO WHAT is as good of a walking soundtrack as KILL ‘EM ALL or HELLBILLY DELUXE.

Coring it out

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and he was telling me about his musical choices for his recent roadtrip. He is a huge fan of iTunes radio and enjoys the bands it’s genius tab will open to him. He told me the first band was August Burns Red. The song (which remains unknown) was fine until the vocals entered the mix and he immediately instructed iTunes to never play ABR or any band similar to them again. I had to chuckle to myself, as I had the same reaction the first time I listened to them (on my son’s recommendation). I told him ABR was an acquired taste and we moved onto other topics. However, it left me thinking about how metalcore bands are often viewed as either you love them or hate them.

Metalcore certainly has no shortage of haters on social media. ABR, The Devil Wears Prada, The Dillinger Escape Plan and others of the genre will attract trolls few other bands (Bieber haters and Miley haters continue to reign supreme).I have to wonder, though: is it the music or the fan base that online metal trolls are incensed by?

The music, in many cases, is actually pretty good. Oh sure, it has to appeal you your ear, but that’s the case with anything. I personally can’t get into Black Metal for that very reason. It’s not the music: it’s the vocals and the chronically horrid production that seems to permeate the genre. I understand quite a few folks feel that way about metalcore. I played some for another friend I was offering a free ticket to and he described it as,”someone killing democracy with a garage door opener.” Obviously it was not his bag of Oreos.

The typical scene that seems to follow most metalcore bands, however, is a bit annoying. Emo kids who used to hang out at the mall are now windmilling and play fighting to Bring Me The Horizon. Not everyone in the crowd is like that, but the last few shows I have attended for metalcore bands have had a majority that represented what I wrote. Little snots who reek of entitlement and act like total jerks.

I look back on the shows I was able to attend in my youth (there weren’t many, but there were a few). This attitude, if it existed at all, was not commonplace. We were all generally polite, there for the music and the energy, and a good time was had by all. I can’t say that about the last metalcore show I attended. It was obvious who the folks were that had come to see Motionless In White and Bullet For My Valentine. They all seemed to dress the same: long bangs parted to the left and partially covering one eye, overly skinny and in major need of a sandwich, studded belt, Hot Topic approved spiked wrist band and usually a tattoo on their neck (nothing will make you less employable). These folks would walk the middle of a group and begin windmilling and play fighting. I watched some Lamb of God devotees point and laugh, but mostly folks just walked away from the freakshow.

Ok, I’m being mean about this, but THIS is exactly what the typical metalhead hates about metalcore. In general, the music is pretty good. ABR took a while for me to get into, but I typically enjoy them now. The average kid at their shows, however, continues to grate my nerves into fine powder. I would normally attribute this to my middle aged attitude, but my much younger friends are annoyed by these kids for the exact same reason.

I suppose these types of people are everywhere in life. The folks who feel it’s ok to jump in front of people in line. The folks who feel nothing is their fault. The people who will stand in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing everyone to walk around them, instead of getting out of everyone’s way. It’s not the music: it’s the crappy attitude displayed.

As I prepare for my own concert season, I have no idea what I may encounter in the way of opening bands. The headliners for each show are proved metal and hard rock acts, but the venues will bring in local bands to fill out the roster. I typically look forward to these bands, even the metalcore acts. New music can be quite refreshing.

I suppose I do enjoy the sound of democracy being killed by a garage door opener, in my own way. While I can’t stand the typical fan of the genre, I do enjoy the energy the music delivers. Except for Motionless in White. They fill with me with desire to ram a pencil in my so I never have to hear them again.

Hitting the wall

Some mornings I awake with an idea so exciting (at least to me) that I can’t wait to sit down and type it out. Other mornings, I feel compelled to write, but have no idea about what. This morning is the latter. I had my breakfast and now sit here with piping hot coffee and tire of reading the grossly inflated articles in mainstream journalism. This is generally a good indicator it’s time for me create my own grossly inflated blog entry. So, here it is. I have no idea where this may take us. Think of it as a literary road trip with no map.

It’s funny: usually I can type out the opening paragraph and then will be able to launch into a topic. Not this morning. (pause for a sip of coffee…satisfaction obtained) What topics are there to be reviewed? Lemmy’s health? No. Some things you just leave alone. I’m a huge Motorhead fan, but I don’t believe the man’s personal life is fodder for public discussion. The upcoming Disturbed tour? No. While it appeals to me, I’m not that excited by the last album to write an entry devoted to it (that is beyond the review I have already done). Dave Mustaine’s refusal to hang up Megadeth for good and stay home to focus on his coffee business? Nah. I’m an old school Megadeth fan and as a result am ready for Dave to cease beating a dead horse. But, it’s not a topic that fills with me with enough excitement to write an entire entry about it.

I’m finding myself looking around the room for help on topics. Comics? I could go that route, if I had read the new purchases I made yesterday. My Darth Vader coffee mug? A Star Wars entry? No, though that will be good fodder for future inane babbling sessions. My Iron Maiden Magnets on my fridge? No. Bruce and the boys hit their pinnacle with SOMEWHERE IN TIME in my opinion (though, I will occasionally listen to SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON). I’m glad Bruce’s health is doing much better, but Maiden is more of a band from my past than one in my present. (No offense intended to Maiden fans. You like what you like. I like the first five albums)

On that topic, another entry about aging rock stars and my love/hate relationship with them? Nah. I had a fun discussion on that last night with my wife and that was enough for me for a while. Besides, these geezers don’t need me tearing down what’s left of their life’s work.

Sorry, folks. It’s a brainfart kind of morning. Maybe I need another cup of coffee and some time to wake up? Maybe there’s not the right glucose and oxygen mixture hitting my brain to generate 1.21 jigawatts to stimulate my internal flux capacitor? Maybe it’s an indicator I need to spend more time investigating what’s new in the metal world? All of these things are definite possibility.

As I have typed this out, I have come up with a handful of ideas for later, things I want to expand on in another entry. Until that time, I hope everyone has a wonderful day.(that’s it, show’s over. Elvis has left the building)

Greasy hands and dirty jeans

I went on a bender recently. Not booze or drugs or even food. I went on an 80’s hair metal bender. It happens, especially to those of us who spent our teen summers cranking up Ratt, Motley Crue, Skid Row, Def Leppard, Europe, Autograph, Great White and other bands that invested as much in hair spray and spandex as they did in musical gear. I consumed each album with a new found excitement (this crap is great for exercise) and at the end of my little tour through through that genre, I found myself reflecting on the lack of replacements for these mascara wearing dinosaurs. Oh sure, there are tribute bands and even bands like Steel Panther that provide a fix for the nostalgia minded, but there are no bands who can replicate the hunger and energy of these bands.In short, there are no new dirty biker hard rock bands.

I lump these bands under this moniker, because I think it’s more accurate. Every biker party I have attended will have hard rock anthems blaring. “Girls, girls, girls”, “Pour some sugar on me”, “Way Cool Jr”, “Slave to the Grind”, “Sweet Child o’ mine” and so on. These bands have replaced bands like NRBQ, ZZ Top, Lynrd Skynrd and The Eagles in popularity among the biker clubs I associate with. Several bikers I know across the Southern US text and email me with excitement regarding their opportunity to see Don Dokken in a sleazy dive or to see Axl Rose attempt to reproduce the glory days of GnR (I know some readers will argue that GnR isn’t Hair metal; I agree, however, they are definitely dirty biker hard rock). I have a friend in New York who rides for hours in the cold to see bands that I consider the worst of the lot and reports he was surrounded by 300 biker brothers cheering on these cheesy radio staples from the 80s.

What is it that attracts the wannabe miscreants of the roads? I think its the combination of lyrics that tell a simple story of rebellion in a three minute song and the fact that a lot of mainstream metalheads shower derision on these bands. Bikers have long been known to eschew the rules of society and ignore the norm.

Also, look at the built in soundtrack for the biker culture to adopt: “Kickstart my heart”, “Living after midnight” (before anyone gets riled up, I would NEVER call Judas Priest hair metal; they do, however fit nicely in the dirty biker hard rock category, especially the music from 1978 to 1984), “Bad Motor Scooter”, “I can’t drive 55” and the list goes on. Love songs like “Breaking the chains” are easily turned into anthems for rebellion against society.

I have looked at the current crop of hard rock bands. There’s not a lot out there anymore. Bands are eager to accept the pigeon hole fans place them in. I suppose it’s easier to focus on appealing to one group than to try and appeal to many.

Perhaps this is why the nostalgia tours are continuing to earn good money for bands considered long dead. When AC/DC finally calls it quits, who will step in with three chords, some Chuck Berry licks and lot of bar-room swagger? I look at the bands currently on my schedule to see and none of them fit into this genre. In fact, when I look at all the bands I get leads on, no one is ready to step in and be the soundtrack for the modern rampaging hordes. Movies recognize this and continue to raid classic biker soundtracks, insisting the “Born to be wild” and “Highway to hell” are the only songs fit for the bike culture.

I personally am enjoying this turn of events for the bands mentioned in this blog, but I still look for a young, hungry band to step up and give the sub-genre labeling masses the finger. I look for a band that is more interested in being the soundtrack to ten thousand beer busts, field parties, tailgating sessions and biker throwdowns. And who knows? For all I know right now there could be power trio in Croatia touring from one party to the next, slowly gaining momentum. Or in the Philippines. Or in Bolivia. Or any other place American metal and hard rock fans never think of producing quality music. I’m hopeful that there is a band reading this and willing to take up the challenge. After all, even old bikers like me want something new to rock the boat.

T-tops and sunsets

I was talking with my buddy Shawn the other day about our long held dream of a coast to coast motorcycle trip. This is fantasy talk, as neither of us have the time, money or spousal permission to undertake such an endeavor. We are lucky to have time for a day ride in the mountains at this point in life. It’s a shame, because so many sights are being left unseen. It’s also the downside of living in the US. Sure, we have fantastic roads that stretch from sea to shining sea and an abundance of gas stations, motels and restaurants, but we also have some of the world’s worst vacation systems. The joys of a money driven capitalist society, eh? But, dreaming is free and it keeps working slobs like me chasing the carrot.

This dream began when I was 17. It wasn’t the dream of a motorcycle trip back then. It was backpacking through Europe, which at one time was the coolest thing a high school senior could plan on doing with their life. I had dreams of sleeping beneath the stars at Stonehenge (yes, I know now that would land one in the local jail, but back then it was a cool dream). I had dreams of riding trains from Sweden to Italy, sampling every cuisine and beer in-between. My father, being the eternal realist, shot this down quickly. He allowed me to keep living in his house after graduation, under the condition I had a job and was enrolled in school. Dreams of Europe became the realities of political science and bagging groceries.

During my early 20s, the fantasies of wanderlust returned. I bought a $100 station wagon with no radio, no AC and a broken gas gauge and proceeded to drive that gunboat all over the Southeast US. It sadly met it’s demise at the hands of a rainy morning and a brick mailbox, but until that moment, it was freedom on four wheels. It was quickly replaced with a hand me down 1964 Chevy pick up that got about 10 miles to the gallon on the highway, was more rust than metal, but ran solidly (if not loudly) and I was off again. Bald tires and oil leaks were no match for my desire to see the world. Gas was cheap then and a pack of crackers and a Coke would sustain me for a weekend.

The Chevy was sold allow me a more affordable, if not reliable car. A short lived love affair with a 1972 VW Beetle with a real Porsche engine darn near killed me, so I traded it for a practical and unstoppable 1994 Toyota pick up. 252,000 miles of fun adventures, long rides for work and helping more people move furniture than I care to think about. That gave way to an amazingly impractical Jeep Wrangler, which was sold to buy a horribly practical Mazda, which was traded for an even more boring Honda. Sadly, the more practical the vehicle is for traveling, the less I seem to travel.

I still have those dreams, however. Dreams loading up my bike and taking off for parts unknown. No map, no schedule, just ride until I’m tired or hungry. Taking time to look around and see things I have read about all my life. East bound and down, Bandit and Snowman and the joys of tearing up the roads.

Perhaps one day I will take the vacation time I am allowed and live my dreams. Until then, I encourage the rest of you to all go out live the life I can not.

Clearing rust

I don’t own a lot of things from my past. It’s not a lack of sentimental feelings; it has more to do with losing and trading things over the years. My lack of willingness to hang on to mementos of my youth has been confused with viewing people and possessions as disposable. That’s not the case at all. I just like the portability of not having thirty years of crap to haul around (people are certainly not disposable. I have had most of the same friends for over 25 years). This portability comes with a price: I miss a lot of these items I sold, traded and gave away.

Guitars are the biggest items I miss. I will admit I have been a lucky guy in my guitar playing career. I’ve owned an American made Strat, a 1952 Gibson hollow body, two US made vintage Epiphones, an early 80’s Guild solid body and a slew of Fender amps. I remember every guitar and amp I had and the decisions to trade, sell and otherwise rid myself of them. And before I get accused of being wealthy, I bought all of these while making under $25k annually. Call it good luck. Most I bought before the collectors boom hit full swing. The Strat I made weekly payments on to a local pawn shop and the Gibson I traded a new treadmill to the original owner for it. And I miss them all.

In the weirdest way, I still have a piece of each. Due to horrible horse trading, I ended with a Dobro. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s the guitar that looks like someone stuck a hub cap in the center. It houses an aluminum resonator cone, used to amplify the guitar without electricity. Resonator guitars predated electric guitars by only a few years, but have maintained a niche in music every since their appearance. But, back to mine. I traded my Strat and a Music Man HD 212 head and cabinet for it after a horrible gig with the horrible I played with. It was in a horrible bar, in a horrible part of town and I decided I was done. Knowing I would be talked back into more gigs (i needed money and was friends with the lead guitarist), I took the coward’s way out. I traded my rig for a Dobro and entered the world of horrible acoustic blues gigs at horrible coffee houses attended by horrible people (but in great parts of town).

I still have the Dobro, oddly enough. I have had numerous offers from people to buy it. I’ve turned them all down. Not because I don’t need money, but because it’s been with me for 21 years and has seen the trials and tribulations. Cars, houses, guns, girlfriends have all come and gone, but the old Dobro still shines and sounds great.

Why discuss an old guitar better slated for Delta blues in a blog I typically dedicate to metal? Blame Duane Allman. I have been listening to some classic Allman Brothers concerts from 1970 today and it caused me to get the Dobro out and tune it up. I spent an hour playing Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and Bukka White songs. I carefully wiped her down and returned her to her plush hardshell case. Then I went on with my day.

As I sit here typing his on a laptop that was bought with the realization that it’s short term, in a house I want to sell, I suppose it makes me feel more normal to know I have at least one thing I’m willing to hang on to for the long haul.

HIGH COUNTRY-an album review (of sorts)

Regular readers know I am a pretty big fan of The Sword. I enjoy doom and stoner metal in general, but there’s something about the quartet from Texas that hits home for me. Maybe it’s their overt nerdiness. Songs about magic, ancient peoples and mythological gods typically go well with me. But, there’s more than that. The classic sound of Les Pauls played through heavily overdriven amps grabs something inside my soul and holds it hostage.

I’ve followed the band since they played the iTunes fest in the late 2000’s. “Freya” was a great example of things to come. AGE OF WINTERS and GODS OF THIS EARTH were basically aural D&D campaigns. WARP RIDERS cleaned up the drum sound, added some down home Texas strut to the mix and overall was a goodness. It set the stage for APOCRYPHON, which remains one of my favorite albums in general. I go as far as keeping APOCRYPHON in a line up with PARANOID, HOLY DIVER, KILL ‘EM ALL, RUST IN PEACE and ACE OF SPADES.It’s that good of an album.

Having this level of fanboy devotion to The Sword, I was eagerly anticipating HIGH COUNTRY and the subsequent tour. I would check The Sword’s website for updates (though didn’t go as far pre-ordering the album; things like that remind me too much of the fabled Star Wars “empty box campaign”). Finally, the day arrived and I trucked down to the local record store to get my copy.

First things first, the album art is a huge departure. There are no witches, demons, astral projections or ancient gods. Even the band’s logo has been changed. My mind immediately flashed back to Canadian rockers Triumph and their disastrous SPORT OF KINGS release. Still, I pushed forward and greedily opened the cellophane wrapper. I slid the CD into my car’s player and awaited my reward.

The album starts with a surprise. “Unicorn Farm” is an instrumental that feels straight out of 1974. Moog synthesizers, clap tracks, fuzz toned guitars. It’s a far cry from “Cloak of Feathers” or “Tres Brujas”. I scratched my head and ejected the CD to make sure I didn’t get some hipster guff accidentally packaged in The Sword casing. Nope, it’s the real deal.

I’ll stop here and say that if you are looking for a true continuation of APOCRYPHON, jump directly to track 8 and realize there are only four songs on the album that carry that sound into the new album. Regardless of what you may have hoped for, this album is not it. Not to say it’s bad; it’s just very different.

For me, I soldiered on and awaited the payoff. “Buzzards” is fantastic and would have fit nicely on WARP RIDERS. “Ghost Eye” has that classic The Sword sound. “Suffer No Fools” is fantastic and my vote for the new show opener for the band. But the rest of the album left me lukewarm.

I decided to give the album a full week of play before reviewing it. Over the past seven days, I have listened to the album ten times. I can say, it’s definitely The Sword. The riffs are straight out of JD Cronise’s trick bag. The voice is unmistakable. The lyrics remain rooted in mythology (there’s even a thanks to fantasy author Michael Moorcock in the album credits). It’s The Sword, it’s just not what I was hoping for.

I talked with a friend about my feelings regarding this release, comparing my feelings now to when Metallica released “The Black Album.” I complained that while Metallica definitely made a huge change in their sound, they didn’t completely leave their fan base behind. I realize, I wasn’t completely fair to The Sword with this statement. Again, this is definitely an album of The Sword. It’s simply not the album I wanted.

I had envisioned an album that wold have kept that wonderful crunch the guitars had on APOCRYPHON. I was looking for an album that would motivate my workouts and amp me up during roadtrips. That is NOT this album. With it’s multiple instrumentals, synthesizer play, acoustic guitar piece and generally toned down sound, it’s a different kind of album. More mature, in ways. It definitely challenges the listener to find the nuggets of gold in the mix. Oh, they are there, but it’s doubtful you’ll hear them on the first play.

I am still excited about seeing them live in November. I’m still listening to the album daily. But, I’m also still wishing for something different. I wonder if Led Zeppelin fans felt the same way about IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR. No matter. I do encourage fans of The Sword to give it a go. However, if you are new to the band, start with APOCRYPHON or WARP RIDERS. Trust me on this.