Monday, March 29, 2010

show number two

My band had its second show on Friday. There's lots to tell, but some of it I don't really remember all that clearly (I was sober, but I tend to be in a little bit of a stupor after I play). For me, however, there are a few elements of note:

First, I found out that unless I stood in a particular place on stage with my guitar at a 30 degree angle to the crowd, I got a nice buzz of static and miscellaneous noise. This meant that I could not channel the spirit of Angus Young, but the stage was too small for that anyway. Moreover, it marks my absolute first Spinal Tap moment.

Also, I found that I absolutely have to put aside some time to mentally come down after the performance. As is, I went home, toweled off, then lay stone awake in bed for an hour and a half because my own band's songs wouldn't leave my head. I guess this is why so many performing musicians keep the same hours as vampires.

lessons from the world of work

For the two or three people in the world who haven't heard this story from my past:

I had just left Little Caesars in a confused state, because I was recovering from a car accident when I was fired. However, nobody could agree on who fired me, or why. Eventually, though, I learned that my manager at the time wanted to promote her cousin but had to get rid of someone first...and that someone was me. She never admitted this, however.

It was a period where there was a really horrible economy, and jobs (especially ones that would work around my college schedule) were scarce. Anyway, I swore that I would never go back to food service after this. I was tired of working stupidly long hours, smelling of food, and being the only person I knew who did not have weekends free. There were very few options, so I innocently applied at a temporary service agency.

For the next few months, I would get random phone calls sending me to a different place about twice a week. The first job they sent me to was at the Revlon plant. I was working on an assembly line. My job was to take a pre-cut sheet of cardboard, fold it into a box, and hand it to the next person...for eight solid hours. Gee, it was exciting.

Most of the time, it was warehouse work...moving boxes, cleaning up, that sort of stuff. I did work at a plastics shop recycling waste material by throwing their scraps into an industrial mulcher. I worked at a meat packing plant with a few other temps, most of whom were fresh out of Navy stints; our job was taking old inventory out of the freezer, painting over the 3+ year old expiration date, and moving the boxes onto a truck bound for a homeless shelter.

One day, I got a call sending me to a dairy packaging plant. I showed up in jeans and tee-shirt. My boss (for the day) looked at me.

"Didn't they tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"You're working in the cooler today."

Naturally, I had no was June in Florida, after all. They found a windbreaker for me, and I worked until I lost feeling in my limbs, wandered around outside until I regained feeling, then went back into the cooler.

Obviously, this level of work impressed them in some way, because they invited me back the next day. I pulled up to the plant with jacket in tow, but this day, my boss informed me, I wouldn't be working in the cooler. Instead, I:

  • swept the place
  • moved some boxes
  • swept the place
  • mowed some grass out front
  • swept the place
  • moved some more boxes
  • swept the place yet again

After the final sweeping, I asked my boss what he wanted me to do next. He showed me the rat traps which they placed around the perimeter of the yard. I was given a bag for any decaying bodies I might find. I was given a box of poison in case the little buggers just grabbed the bait and split. I then made my biggest mistake of the day when I asked, smirking slightly, what I did if there were any live rats in the traps.

The boss, however, thought I was asking a serious question and, without changing expression, reached into a closet and pulled out a broom handle with a nail on the end. Apparently, my job also entailed braining wild rodents. But lest you think this was the worst part of the experience, it was not.

Naturally, I performed my task with the zeal exhibited by any temp...I wandered around outside pointlessly, smoked five cigarettes, and came back in claiming to have found no evidence of rats at all. The boss then told me I had to go in the break room, take a fifteen minute break, and then go home. When I asked if I could just go home and skip the break, the boss yelled at me.

So I went to the break room, where the true horror of the day lay in wait. I sat down next to another temp (we had mowed grass earlier), and we talked a bit. This guy was really, really excited, because they had already asked him back for the next day...which would make four days in a row...which, in his logic, meant he was very close to being offered a full-time job.

This was the worst part of the day. This guy, seemingly intelligent, was thrilled beyond measure that he might get a full-time job where one of the duties was to brain rats with a nail on the end of a broomstick.

Soon after, I said "the hell with it" and went back to work in the food service industry, where I would stay for several more years...through Master's school, in fact. I am eternally grateful for the temp work, however, especially the dairy job. As well as providing me with plenty of exciting repartee for cocktail parties, future book jackets, and such, it taught me an infinitely valuable lesson.

What was that lesson, you might ask? I truly learned exactly how bad things can get.

Friday, March 26, 2010

on the still-practicing musicians of my youth

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

My band (see the links on the right) is playing a show tonight, so I thought that it would be a good idea to break off my work a little early and mentally decompress. So I retreated to the couch, grabbed the remote, and perused the offerings. That's when I saw it: a broadcast of an Iron Maiden show. This will be fun...right?

Iron Maiden actually holds a pretty notable place in my heart. When many of my high school heavy metal comrades were listening to hair-oriented music, I tended to focus on AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and a decent slew of British metal...Maiden chief amongst them. Iron Maiden was my second concert, and they were awesome. Watching this recording would, I believed, be a fun little way to relax and get into a "rock and roll" mood (whatever that means).

When I turned it on, I noted that Steve Harris (the bassist) still looked about 22...and that really depressed me at first, because I know I haven't fared quite as well in the looks department. He's a rock star AND still looks good? Ick.

But the music was okay...they were playing "The Trooper," after all. And while I normally don't go for oldies acts, it was fine as background noise

Then they started playing some new song called (wait for it) "Dance of Death." It started with some voice-over narration before going into a 12-year-old's stereotype of "classical" music. When singer Bruce Dickinson started singing, I noted that he was wearing some really ridiculous mask and cape...he looked like a 70s Peter Gabriel imitator who really wasn't trying all that hard.

And the song sucked. It was dull, by-the-numbers "I'm trying to be dramatic" music. Lyrically, it sounded like bad dinner theater. And it got me thinking...while I really disdain oldies/nostalgia acts, there is a pretty obvious reason some of them quit writing new music. At this stage, the video wasn't causing me to was only causing me to wish for a mandatory rock and roll retirement age.

Good Lord, now the singer's wearing a World War 2 helmet and trench coat. Disconnect!

Monday, March 15, 2010

ways to occupy a sick mind

If I were a superstitious man, I would look upon it all as an extremely bad sign. Spring Break started out mildly enough before moving into a period of the standard workload panic. Then, however, the illness set in.

It started out with only a little sinus drainage leading to a moderately-tingling-to-slightly-sore throat, but that didn't stop me from enjoying my day trips. Then the sore throat ramped itself up to a step above annoying. Then my head turned into pudding, which made Friday's band practice real fun. By the time I got home Friday night, I was spent, except for maybe trying to figure out revenge plans for the person who infected me.

Instead of hanging with friends, making grand strides on my research agenda, perfecting my guitar playing, or even getting ahead on lesson planning, I instead got to finish Spring Break in a state of pure sickness. Productivity, socializing, creativity, all that went out the window. I became a cliche of sorts, swigging dayquil as a wino would attack a fresh bottle of Ripple, curling on the couch under my blankie, vacantly gaping at the television, and generally taking moaning to an Olympic level. Luckily, my darling spousal unit was as kind as usual--if I would've had to put up with a sick me, I would've slapped myself after five minutes--but then again, as anyone whose met her will tell, my spousal unit is infinitely tougher than I.

About the best thing that can be said about the weekend is that I got to really explore some of the crannies of my burned dvd collection. Several Woody Allen films? Check. Indoctrinate spousal unit into the cult of Raging Bull? Check. Watch a seemingly never-ending parade of 50s-60s monster movies while serially tweeting? Oh, you better believe it.

The good thing is that I did learn a heck of a lot from monster movies. For instance, I realized that radioactive slugs from the Salton Sea can kill everyone in the world, as can ants from New Mexico and dinosaurs from the arctic circle. I learned that animals infected and mutated by radiation never seem to be the cute ones. I learned that the general public will inevitably wait until the monster hits their immediate vicinity before beginning to scream and run in panic. I learned that the proper response to anyone suffering a state of crisis is to offer them a cigarette. I learned that wherever there are two scientists, one of them will be an old man, while the other one will be a tremendously hot female. Finally, I learned that Them! is infinitely better than most of its competition.

Of course, none of this is knowledge which I will never really have an opportunity to apply...which, now that I think about it, is probably a metaphor for my life in some way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

to do blues

This week is my spring break. No, there's no hotel room full of drunken frat boys, Girls Gone Wild-esque behavior, or kegs of cheap, crappy beer...thank goodness. I'm an academic, and this means that I really don't get vacations. Instead, I just have moments where I deal with students a little less than normal. This does occasionally fill me with delirious joy for inexplicable reasons, though.

This does not mean, however, that there is no "me" time. I celebrated the midpoint of the semester by taking two whole days to not do work. I did pretty much nothing on Monday & took a day trip to Ann Arbor with my lovely spousal unit and two friends yesterday. Wild hedonism, I know, but in my defense, I did get some raw milk blue cheese. That has to make me a party animal of some variety.

Sadly, however, I've spent the last hour populating my "to-do" list (now kept online on the awesome TeuxDeux), and the list of upcoming duties and tasks is overflowing and, in the process, humbling. A small part of me wants to weep and rend something or anther asunder, particularly when I bet my students are sleeping in late or watching CourtTV or something.

Yet another instance, I suspect, of an "if you really think about this or wonder where is the justice, it will only drive you crazy."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Analog Revolution

Yesterday, while my mind and body was still feeling more than a little like cotton, I stumbled into my office, an awaiting student on my heels. I apologized for being a bit late, I said, but I had a late night.

"Concert?" said student suggested.

"No, my band played a show."

"That's what I meant."

I didn't really think to apply the term "concert" until then, but I guess it fits. It's a strange turn of events, though, for someone who publicly thought 12 years ago that I would never be a real musician.

For those of you who (somehow) do not know, I am playing in a band called Analog Revolution (follow us on MySpace, become a fan on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed, buy our merchandise, website coming soon, end of plugs). We mysteriously formed while watching another band, have been practicing for several months, and have 8 or 9 original songs down pat.

Wednesday was our first gig as a band. For me, it was my first gig ever.

My singer and bass player both were visibly nervous as hell. Our singer went as far as worrying that she might throw up before we went on. I, on the other hand, tried to calm them down. After all, I said, we're professionals. We really know our material. We're good. We have the songs. We're rock stars, damnit, I'd exclaim, pounding my fist down on something hard for emphasis...yet said singer somehow didn't seem impressed.

Personally, though, I did spend the entire day trying to clamp down on my nerves...which (I can admit after the fact) were considerable. My stomach felt weird all day, and I was worried stiff I would forget my part on one our songs...a newer one which I start, no less. And what (something in the back of my mind insinuated) happens if our friends, who we've been cajoling for weeks to attend, don't like us? Will they keep in contact, will we be ostracized, or will we hear the infinitely more unbearable "well, looks like you had fun?"

As it turned out, there were about a hundred people in the room when we went on. I would love to say our set went flawlessly, but I did screw up our cover, and our drummer did break a cymbal stand. Didn't really seem to matter, though, because for the most part, we were on. We sounded good, hitting that mysterious zone between loose attitude and tight playing. I didn't even stumble in any of my solos! And the rest of the band was awesome...better than I realized from practice, and very engaging on stage.

Better yet, people seemed to like our songs! Not only was the crowd large, they were very appreciative, with applause, catcalls, and even (somehow) dancing. While I had lots of wonderful friends in the audience, and they all did complement me, I also received a handful of "nice show"s and "you sounded great"s from total strangers...which makes me feel that we must've been pretty good after all. There were a few guys standing by the side of the stage when we were playing, and I heard one of them say "it's just really good hard rock and roll." This made me maniacally giggle.

It was a great night of rock and roll...both of the other bands were great...but the highlight was hanging out with my bandmates and friends, talking, drinking our "victory!" Bushmills, and closing down the bar. There's lots from that night I will never forget, but sitting around a table with my drummer, singer, bassist, and several friends, realizing we did's now burned into my memory forever.

I'm obviously relieved as hell, but I'm wondering when I'm going to come down from the slight adrenaline high I'm currently experiencing. It's a feeling that was entirely too long in coming. I probably won't recover for a while, though, as we currently have four more shows of which we booked even before breaking down our equipment!

One thing's for sure: I know it will be a while before I quit making jokes that end with "trust me...I'm a rock star."