Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the top ten albums of 2012

I'm so short of time as of late, I don't have time for much in my life.  I haven't been to a movie in ages, and I'm miles behind on the 3 or 4 television shows I still try to follow.  Let's not even get into how infrequently I blog.  However, I still have time to listen to music thanks to a long car ride to work.  So, without further ado, here's my favorite music of the last year:

  1. The Dumb Easies--Love! Love! Love!  Think hard rock meets 50s girl group pop...with better songwriting than either genre.  This one is so catchy, I have to keep myself from listening too late in the day, lest their songs sticking in my head keep me from sleeping.
  2. Micah Schnabel--I'm Dead, Serious.  Micah's live performances are so much more than a typical singer-songwriter act.  The same goes for this album, but even more so.  Brilliant songwriting which makes you never realized that it's just a man and his guitar...and on the songs with full backing, it's even better.
  3. Branden Barnett--Verse, Chorus, Curse. Deep, layered songs...both in the lyrics and in the music.  When I heard Branden played 95% of the music himself, my jealousy increased exponentially. Get it on Bandcamp.
  4. Lite--Past, Present, Future.  Prog/math rock from this Tokyo quartet.  It doesn't matter what instrument you play...these guys are better than you.  Yet somehow, it never starts to sound like a bunch of solos glued together.  Instead, it's good intellectual music...and I mean that in the best possible sense.
  5. Patterson Hood--Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance.  I'm a big fan of The Drive-By Truckers.  Hood's previous solo albums were really neat.  This one is pure awesome...the most coherent work he's done in ages.
  6. Redd Kross--Researching the Blues.  Power pop extraordinaire.  While they sometimes veer more toward the pop side than I would ideally like, when they hit the rock, they really hit it.  Plus one of the best guitar sounds I've heard in years.
  7. The Biters--It's All Chewed Up, Okay?  This album sounds like Cheap Trick meets New York City punk rock...only better.
  8. Henry Clay People--25 for the Rest of Our Lives.  Loud, bombastic rock that will bash you against the wall.
  9. The Sword,--Apocryphon.  Proof that not everyone forgot the lessons of early Black Sabbath.
  10. Dinosaur Jr.--Reach for the Sky.  Loud, noisy guitar heroics as always, but a bit more experimental than Beyond.  It veers just a little too close to sloppy for my tastes, but still, really, really cool stuff.
Top three songs:
  1. Micah Schnabel, "Sid & Nancy." A haunting love song between two addicts.  I was hooked once I heard the line "Carve your name into my arm, I will wear the scars that tell the world I'm yours."
  2. The Dumb Easies, "Fading Away."  This is the kind of killer upbeat pop rock song which will have you driving thirty miles per hour over the limit and hitting the repeat button for as long as the drive lasts.
  3. Brandon Barnett, "Last Rites."  Lyrically, this will knock your heart out:  "I wanted you to stay...if only licking wounds was foreplay."  The music is equally deep and catchy

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

maintaining perspective

It is increasingly important to maintain a proper perspective.

It's been one hell of a couple of years for me. I had my failure at my chosen career rubbed into my face many times and, as a result, have had to rethink my life, my beliefs, my priorities. I continue to battle depression. I am unbelievably busy, with little to no time to engage in many of the creative pleasures which keep me relatively sane, such as practicing guitar or (as obvious by my volume of posts lately) writing. I have pretty severe bouts of brittleness and loneliness. I suffer many inconveniences and annoyances, all before the taking of a toast and tea (so to speak).

I'm dealing, in other words, with a lot of crap. Overall, I think I'm dealing with everything pretty well in general, may the medication be thanked. There are days, though...there are days where things just bother me...things I know I should really discount or ignore. There are days where I feel the strain. Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die...that kind of thing.

Today is one of those days where the pendulum had certainly swung. But, as I get ready to retire, what do I take with me? That is the question. Not arguments. Not jealousy. Not anxiety. No, I'm going to remember coming home after another shift of night classes, opening the door, hearing my daughter squeal, and seeing her bursting into the living room, wearing a transcendent smile.

Perspective is important.

Monday, October 22, 2012

on the great outdoors and stupidity

I hate the outdoors...mostly because it conspired to make me feel like an idiot. 

As a kid, I really preferred to just sit inside and read.  I would get kicked outside from time to time, but I never really looked forward to the experience.  Still, running around through the woods was always preferable to the most depressing interaction with the outside world possible:  yard work.

I quit doing yard work for my parents pretty much the time I started working.  I certainly never enjoyed cutting grass or anything ("loathed it with a fury unsurpassed" is more accurate), but I didn't quit yard work because I wanted to. Honestly, I had no choice...within a few weeks of beginning at Little Caesars, I was already pulling more hours than allowed by law, and by my senior year, I was working 35 hours a week on top of school. I was lucky to stay awake, let alone have enough attention to handle pushing the mower.

When I came to Ohio, I lived in an no yard work there.  Later, me and my beloved decided to move into a house some friends of ours were getting ready to leave. My wife was sold on having no more downstairs neighbors and having our own washer and dryer. Me? I was sold on the rental coming with lawn care provided by the landlord.

Now we're a full-fledged family living in a suburban (as opposed to student ghetto) environment. We have room.  We have a garage. We have relative peace and much, in fact, that when I can't sleep, I can hear the oven clock.

Unfortunately, we also have yard work.

This sucks for a vast multitude of reasons. Our yard is a mixture of random green vegetation and it pretty much looks like hell on close inspection.  This is mostly because the soil here is more sand than dirt...and while it probably could be amended to promote more actual grass, we're renters, and therefore, there are very low limits to how much time, effort, and money we'll invest in the property. We also have the thrill of having a hill in our back yard, which always makes pushing the mower up a 78 degree incline that much more fun. Adding to the thrill is that in half of our back yard, the mower sinks rather than pushes. Furthermore, the mower itself (which came with the house) does not help, as it neither mulches nor discards clippings. This means you have to bag everything...the lawn clippings and the significant amount of yard dirt sucked into the bagger....although to be fair, most of the dirt passes straight through to your face and into your lungs. Furthermore, as our city doesn't accept yard waste in the trash, I have to find time to dump the bags in the designated city area myself.

The first time I mowed, I remembered a friend telling me "you get a real feeling of pride mowing your own lawn and getting everything to look perfect." As I sweated and inhaled dirt the mower pushed through the bagger into my face, I cursed my friend a more than just a little...but not as much as I cursed the yard itself.

When the temperature started to drop, I looked forward to mowing less, yes. I also looked forward to the leaves turning pretty colors. However, I knew this too would ultimately entail more work. But hey, raking's no big deal, right? You've seen the images everywhere, from Norman Rockwell to Calvin & Hobbes, of the father wearing a cardigan and serenely smoking a pipe while raking. How hard could that be?

I started on the front yard a week or so ago. It took me four hours, and I ended up with a leaf pile three feet high and seven feet in diameter.  When finished, I was dripping with sweat, out of breath, and cursing...not, in other words, very Norman Rockwell-ish. This weekend, I started on the back yard.  On Saturday, I got the entire yard's worth of leaves into one mega amoeba-shaped pile (which was harder than you'd expect, as it had rained a lot this weekend, and everything was damp-ish).  But in this municipality, we have to leave all the leaves on the edge of the road, so the city can send trucks to vacuum-suck 'em I still had to get the leaf pile to the front yard.

I initially thought, as I started raking, to just rake the whole pile en masse around the side of the house. Half-way through the back yard, I realized (as I struggled to move a section a mere two feet deep) this would be impossible for anyone save The Tick...let alone a frail teacher sans muscles such as myself. So I tried to rake it up bit by bit. This just prolonged and spread the misery out over many little attempts. I was stymied and feared I would pass out with exhaustion before I actually could, mini-pile by mini-pile, conquer the back yard's massive yield of leaves.  Luckily, it started raining, so I had a good excuse to go inside and pass out.

Later, as I showered, I had a eureka moment and realized I needed to get some sort of vessel to help me transport the leaves. I felt proud of myself for figuring out how to mobilize the damn leaves...and then I felt like a bit of an idiot for being so damn proud of deciding to get a bucket to move yard waste.

So, Sunday morning, I was back to the yard...this time with my work gloves (to cover the area on my thumb where I rubbed off the skin) and a nice trash can.  About thirty minutes in, I had another brainstorm...why should I try to rake the leaves into the can?  Or, even worse, physically push them in?  I am a northerner...thus, I have (wait for it) a snow shovel!

I shoveled the backyard leaves into my handy bucket, and it worked great. I felt like a genius. In no time, I had the backyard clear.  Then I re-did the front yard.  I finished moving all the leaves to just by the street (they now line our entire yard in a row about 3 feet high by 4 foot wide and is large and dense enough to where it could probably successfully house this state's population of beavers if need be). I felt happy to get everything done and pleased with my ingenuity.

Then I thought about my initial plans to just rake everything into one big pile and move that pile around the house...then I thought about how absurdly proud I was to think of carrying the leaves in a bucket...then I realized I probably wasn't the first person to think of the snow shovel trick.  Then I noticed how obvious it was, now the leaves were gone, that I would have to mow the damn yard next weekend. Then I looked at the house, saw the gutters were full of leaves, and realized I didn't own a ladder and thus had no earthly idea how to clean them.

Damn trees. Damn yard work. Damn nature. Thanks for making me an idiot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

on tattoos and science fiction

It was when I was getting my tattoo when I realized I am actually the protagonist in a science fiction story.

Someone recommended to me that I not go alone for my first tattoo because it was possible I might react either the experience or to the ink. This sounded like wise advice, so I asked a "friend" to accompany me. This "friend," however, spent the entire trip to the shop asking me such soothing questions as "Are you nervous?," "Having second thoughts?," or "Is your fight-or-flight mechanism kicking in?"

Now, coming from most people, these would be reasonable questions. However, my dear "friend" was asking less out of concern than out of personal sadist joy. However, the simple truth was I felt fine. I told him I got my initial sketch done five weeks before, and I'd had way too much time to get used to the idea. The long wait to actually get to my appointment was, I speculated, closely akin to a waiting period for purchasing a handgun...a built-in cooling off period, if you will.I was totally calm, cucumber cool, both mentally and physically. I felt fine as I waited for my artist. I felt fine as he showed me the sketch. I felt fine as he put the transfer on my arm.

Then he started the outline, and I...felt less fine. It wasn't the pain...which, at the time, resembled a cat scratching you...sometimes playfully, sometimes spitefully. I've had cats. I can deal with that kind of pain. No, for reasons I couldn't quite fathom, I was starting to black out. The world was becoming gray, foggy, and echo-y. We had to take a break, and I had to pause to regain my breath more than once, but I was borderline passing out.

Strangely enough, once a half hour was over, it was like someone flipped a switch. I went back to feeling fine. No more blacking out, even when we got to parts of my arm where the needle started to hurt more.

(I should note that while the photo to the right was not faked, the pain really wasn't as bad as it appears. It would hurt like hell when my artist started shading, but then, as he moved the tattoo gun around, the pain would vanish. This was just taken as he started on a particularly sensitive part:  the far inside of my forearm.)

For about the three weeks before (and up through the full experience of) getting the tattoo, I was fully convinced that I felt no fear or regret.  Why would I?  I had been thinking of ideas for a full three-plus years. I picked a concept which had great personal significance and which I knew I wanted on my skin forever. I fell in love with the design from the minute I saw the brief sketch, and the final design looked even better.  Plus there was that waiting/cooling-off period bit courtesy of picking a highly in-demand artist.

But there I was...close to blacking out, in spite of any awareness of why on my part.

I thought about this briefly while actually getting inked up. After the artist finished with my truly awesome tattoo, my friend drove me home, and we discussed my close-to-unconscious behavior...well, I discussed as my friend mocked. Our ultimate judgement?  My mind was just blocking out my fear. I actually did experience the fight-or-flight response...I just wasn't aware of  it at the time.

A week or so later, I was hanging out with my driver-buddy again, and he remarked that when we went to the Toledo German-American festival the year before, I was quite miserable and goading our companion that night into arguments.  This came as a bit of a shock to me, as I remember the night as being nothing but fun. It seemed, though, I had stumbled onto another instance where my mind was blocking any awareness of my emotions.

Then I thought about the beginning of my time on antidepressants, and I remembered a few instances where my wife had to tell me I was really stressed out...and me only being vaguely aware of my own level of anxiety on each occasion.  The more I thought of it, the more instances I could remember of not really being aware of my emotions.  And the longer I take the Zoloft, the more I become aware of not always noticing my moods.

Something is clearly not right. I have some problem with my own emotional awareness. Something is not right between my conscious and my subconscious. Why aren't they talking? Was I born this way, thus making me substantially different from my fellow humans on a molecular level, making me the next stage on the evolutionary (or, more realistically, de-evolutionary) ladder? Is my mental condition symptomatic of some deep physiological malfunction in Gaia? Have I been altered by some higher form of existence, either ethereal or extraterrestrial? Am I maybe a robot, only slowly becoming aware of mental programming errors in my neural net? And what magical powers exist in my tattoo which make me aware of this momentous incongruity from mankind in general?

Personally, I'm hoping for robots. Robots are cool.

Friday, September 07, 2012

the worst pizza dream ever

Last night, I had my worst pizza dream ever.

It's not news to anyone who knows me that I worked at Little Caesars pizza for a long, long, long time...9.5 years or thereabout...which is admittedly a shocking number. I can still recite all the pizza topping requirements. I could still probably walk in to a location and do the job faster than anyone else in the store. I in fact still regularly dream of the place. These dreams now only happen every so often nowadays, but even just a couple years ago, I would have a Little Caesars dream about every month.

Generally, these dreams inevitably involve me coming in and rescuing a down-on-its-luck location...not unlike my real role in the company, where I was a bit of a traveling enforcer, sent from location to location to whip stores into shape. In these dreams, though, I am the pizza equivalent of superman. I do the work of ten people. I fire, hire, train, all in a heartbeat. I inspire everyone to work at 100% efficiency. Stores that were unrepentant hellholes just moments before my arrival become the epitome of pizza perfection within mere minutes.

Last night, I had another Little Caesar dream...but it was horribly wrong. I came into a very busy store. Because of my vast experience, I was hired directly into the management level. When I started my shift, however, I noticed all kinds of products that didn't exist during my previous tenure. There were these weird puffy pizza/sandwich-like things, for a start. But no one told me how to make any of them.

Then they asked me to work ovens. It was okay at first, but more weird products started coming out of the oven. 2" round pizzas. Baked salads. Weird pudding-like baby foods. As I have no idea such products even existed, I similarly have no idea what to do with them. The guy who's working ovens with me didn't really try to help me out...he just keeps saying "stack the things." So whatever I can't figure out how to package--which is quickly becoming everything--just gets thrown on the table.
My "helper" on ovens, though, just isn't that good. Turns out, he can barely keep up with the flow with a competent helper who actually knows the job. With me, we just get further and further in the weeds. Plus the oven, somehow, gets more and more full. Soon, there's no room to even put the pizzas on the table. I start stacking food on the floor. Stuff comes out of the oven faster than I can grab it. Pretty soon, food is falling out, piling on the floor, flinging against the walls, splattering on my legs. I howl in pain from the sauce burns.

Then I wake up and think of the Coen brothers.

It's also no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love The Big Lebowski. This goes back to its release, when the ads were so weird, I had to see the film. I dragged my dad to see it with me, which was hard, because he kept asking what it was about and I couldn't tell him anything. By the time we left the theater, both our sides were hurting from laughing so hard. My first year up in Ohio, me and a friend of mine tried to watch it many different weekends. Somehow, we always ended up at the bowling alley instead. We did, however, keep quoting the movie throughout our personal bowling/drinking binge.

One of the real gems of the film (there are many) is Steve Buschemi's character Donnie. Donnie doesn't do all that much in the film other than bowl and be silly comic relief. And when he bowls, Donnie is, as he says himself, "on fire." Strike after strike after strike. Right up, however, until he throws a split. Immediately thereafter, the main characters get into a fight with a band of roving nihilist musicians...and then Donnie has a heart attack...and then dies.

Everything is going well...right up until the point it isn't.

This is what I thought upon waking from my pizza dream.

Admittedly, it's been a rough week for me. I've come to the uncomfortable realization that my life has reached a kind of sad milestone in that I don't really have any close friends. Oh, sure, there are a lot of people who would gladly hang out with me. The only problem? They seem to live everywhere except where I am...literally scattered everywhere from Romania to California, Florida to Wisconsin, all points in between. There are more people in Kansas City who want to hang out with me on a weekly basis than there are here in Bowling Green.

Sure, I have some friends. There are people with whom I spend time. But if I'm to be honest, I'm the guy you call when you want to go to the Farmers Market...or if you want to watch a wrestling pay per view...or something like that. I'm more used to hearing about what people I know did on a weekend than actually being invited along. And this all hit me hard this week.

Honestly, while the antidepressants are helping me remain somewhat even, the main things promoting any form of stability are my wonderful family and my awesome band. But I'm still more fragile than I'd like to admit. Part of my issue this week is my band practice got cancelled, so I was sans my normal cathartic noise release.

So maybe my funk is just temporary. Maybe I'm exaggerating my lack of close friends in the area. Maybe I'm seeing social isolation where none really exists. Maybe my friends in the area are just themselves overcome by events. Maybe this weekend, everything will turn out just fine.

But then I think of the horrible pizza dream when the rest of them have been triumphant. Then I think of Donnie's one spare after a film full of strikes. I think of the consequences for him.

I can't help but wonder.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

crowdsourcing a tattoo artist

I've finally decided to get a tattoo...and I've even gotten spousal approval! Moreover, my beautiful wife even likes the image I want. It's gonna be of this stuffed owl (the first toy which made my daughter laugh):
playing this guitar (my main instrument):

However, I need help. I've gotten recommendations for two great tattoo artists (who, coincidentally, work at the same shop), and I can't chose between them. Can you help me out by checking their work and voting on your favorite in the comments?

Artist one: Tony Touch

Artist two: Monk

Thanks for any input!  You can bet there will be updates.

Monday, June 04, 2012

little pills and the bleak past

My thoughts always seem to go to my faults.

No, really. Whenever I have a minute to just let my mind wander, I tend to start thinking of elements in my past where I behaved less than admirably. Was I a jerk to you? Did I bungle my relationship with you in some way? Were you witness to some level of my stupidity? Did you catch me being terribly shy? Juvenile? Idiotic? Socially maladroit? Then chances are, I've thought of the event in question sometime recently.

I don't know why this is the case. Ever since I moved to Ohio, I've taken great pains to try to improve myself. I like to think I'm a lot more socially adept, thoughtful, and with purpose. I honestly try to be a better person, and I think I've made some great strides. I try very hard to be a good husband to my wonderful wife, a good father to my daughter, a good band mate to my band, and a good friend to anyone willing. I work a job where I feel I honestly help make the world a better place (albeit to some undetermined degree). I try to treat people with dignity, and I try to leave the world better than I found it.

Why, then, do I always dwell on my failures? And I mean always. This morning, my daughter woke me up with some particularly crabby yelling. I stumbled out of bed, stumbled into the restroom, then stumbled into her room. I wished her good morning and picked her up, but her head immediately collapsed on my, instead of proceeding with our morning routine (morning juice for her, hitting toys, and reading some silly book (such as the classic of Western culture But Not the Hippopotamus) before Total Baby Freedom), we sat down on the chair in her room, where my daughter snuggled up next to me and fell back asleep. It is particularly touching when she wants to be close to you, but then she rolled onto her side, and whenever I looked down, I could see her face twitching and smiling as she dreamed her infant dreams (I wonder what she dreams of...probably all the electrical cords and plastic bags she can chew). Yet in between bouts of marveling at this wondrous bit of life I helped create, I couldn't help thinking of embarrassing relationships from high school...even though it was the least appropriate time to be thinking these thoughts.

About two months ago, I was seeing my doctor for a follow-up appointment--to make sure my brain pills weren't giving me any ill effects, I think--and I happened to mention to the nurse that I had problems sleeping that week. My awesome doctor latched onto this, and, after we talked, he theorized my insomnia was somehow related to my depression and offered me a prescription for some sleeping pills. I asked why, if the two were related, I've had insomnia as long as I can remember, and he said, "you might've had a chemical imbalance your whole life." I was always (as I told him) a mopey kid, so this made a surprising amount of sense.

Afterward, when I think about my life, I've begun to suspect I've always dealt with depression...that my moods were more than me just being introverted or awkward. Certainly, though, clinical depression was just something you didn't discuss when I was in high school, so that it never came up as an option to explain why I always felt and acted like a loser isn't really surprising. And even if I could've admitted depression (and found a doctor to agree), I'm not really sure what the benefit would've been. Medicines for depression were not all that great back then. In fact, my sleeping pills are in fact really an early anti-depressant. They just shut down all the noise in the brain and calm down the volume on your thinking...which, while wonderful for my sleepless nights, would be a pretty rotten thing to be on all the time as it would've removed much of "me" from the equation. If I had to take something all the time which tuned down my mind, I think I frankly would prefer the depression.

The crazy pills I'm currently on, however, are awesome. They leave me myself, but just a version better able to deal with any disappointments (such as the weekends where no one wants to play with me). And generally, I'm in a great place in life. I have an awesome band. I have a wonderful wife who finally has a full-time job worthy of her. I have the coolest, funniest, and most amazing daughter. I'm paying off my debts. We're moving to a new house in a quiet neighborhood. We're gonna have more space and a garage (where I've already been given permission to hold monthly poker games). Hell, we even have done, in anticipation of the move, the most adult and high-class thing I've ever done: bought brand new matching couches rather than salvage furniture from friends or dumpsters!

So why, tell me, do I, when I close my eyes, so often look upon regretted incidents in the past?

Thursday, May 24, 2012


In grad school, I had a frightfully smart/bordering on psychotic theory professor whose major thesis of all his work was that all of western culture was, at its heart, about infanticide. It was maddening, particularly because his classes left you feeling as if something had gone horribly wrong, but you were completely unable to figure out where things started to go wrong. It didn't matter what you were talking about, what you were reading, whatever, because 97% of the time, he would work the conversation back to infanticide. Moreover, this trend toward infanticide was completely at the hand of men, because (paraphrased) "motherhood is one thing which is known beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet fatherhood can never be proven to any degree...which is why men gain revenge for the lack of certainty on their fatherhood by committing (you guessed it) infanticide."

I always suspected (as I did with many of this professor's proclamations) this was wrong, but I never was able to prove it...until I became a father myself. Because there's utterly no doubt this kid is mine.

How do I know? Several ways, actually. There is a definite physical resemblance. Many people have told me she looks very much like me. I would then do the typical self-deprecating thing and exclaim "Poor girl!," "But that can't be...she's cute!," or something similar. In fact, some of my "friends" are saying similar things to this day.

My next clue was her feet. She has DuBose toes. My whole family was blessed with extremely long (bordering on finger-length) toes. Sylvia has them too. I have freakishly long toes, and I sometimes amuse myself by using them to pick objects off the floor...which amuses myself greatly. Lately, Sylvia's been doing the same thing...when I change her, she'll grab the clean diaper with her feet and yank it out of my reach...the little imp.

Then there's the gestures. When she was a few months old, I was trying to make her laugh while she was sitting on my lap. She gave me a look of withering contempt before sighing and hunching her shoulders. My blood ran cold...I'd seen myself doing that exact gesture over and over. I could see Sylvia inflicting upon me every single annoying thing I did to my parents.

Then there's music. Shortly after learning to crawl, she started going up to my living room guitar and bashing the strings. She still does this. It makes my heart soar every time I hear it. Lately, she's discovered that if she howls into one of her hollow plastic toys, it adds reverb. I also love this beyond words...because it proves she, just like me, also loves effects.

Of course, there's plenty of my daughter which does not come from me...her piercing eyes and her cuteness, just to name a few. But it all adds to the fun.

Life, 1--pseudo-psychotic theory professors, 0.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

musical foibles

When my daughter is in a decent nap, one of my tasks becomes clearing out the DVR. Yeah, I know...hard work, but we're moving in a few months, and just in case we can't get satellite tv in our new place, I want to make sure we lose as little programming as possible. By now, I'm deep into the recorded program list, and it's fun seeing where my taste was when I actually recorded some shows. Right now, I have a music documentary on: Women Who Rock from PBS last November. There's a lot I'm learning (first one which springs to mind? Why in the hell I don't own a ton of Ruth Brown or Bonnie Raitt?). Being me, though, I have to focus on the foibles. There are two in particular
  1. Why does the definition of Rock and Roll suddenly become extra broad on occasion? Cindy Lauper is the host, and there's a segment on her. While there are songs of hers which I can appreciate, how in what world is she rock and roll? I've already seen one clip of Madonna in the "current superstars" montage, and there's also a full segment on her as well. She also ain't rock and roll; she might be musically and socially important, but she's an important disco artist. Folks, say it with me: pop and rock and roll are not equivalent. It seems I need to formulate and popularize a definition of Rock and Roll...then become king of the world and punish anyone who deviates from it.
  2. The documentary had a nice segment on Tina Turner. Turner is, for the record, awesome and obviously important. Along with praising her vocal delivery and her stage style, though, one of her best qualities was (according to the narrative) "the ability to recognize a good song." Um, okay. Is that, in and of itself, all that worthy of acclaim? It was almost said as if writing the song or performing the music was secondary...which seems praise better suited toward a music business executive than a rocker. Granted, I know many genres of music have a separation between songwriting and performing (country music particularly), but isn't one of the tenets of rock and roll being a combined unit? Writing and then performing your own stuff?
As you might've noticed, I have somewhat strong opinions when it comes to music

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

pet possibilities

I ran across what might be the most fun news story of the day. Scientists have apparently discovered the fossil of (language fans beware) a miniature mammoth. Previously, I always wanted some kind of very large cat (perhaps a Maine Coon or Mokave, as it would be fun to have a 25 pound feline. Now? I kinda want a mini mammoth. Damn their extinction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

she's a mover and a shaker

I'm realizing just what a role motion plays in our lives.

When we first brought my daughter home, she didn't move all that much. The occasional stretching, yes, but not more. Soon, she began to flail a little bit. Then she got more playful. The more she moved, the more work it was to take care of her...but the more fun she got.

The books (quite rightfully) tell you that children need to play on their as much as I wanted to just hold her, go gaga over her, and talk to her in a voice which, it has been said, resembles that of Fozzy Bear, I started to occasionally set her down...where she would flail a little, but on the ground instead of in my arms. The books also warned we would need to have her play on her stomach, so I would do "TummyTime" with her...but in the beginning, her neck wasn't strong enough to hold her head up for more than a moment, so she hated it and would scream about twenty seconds in.

Eventually, she got more strength, but she still didn't care for TummyTime. One day, I put her down for TummyTime, and she flailed just enough to flip herself over on her back. It was a nice milestone, so I recorded it and sent the YouTube link to my working spouse. It led to much celebration. And interestingly enough, once she was able to flip herself over, she then loved being on her stomach.

Pretty soon, my girl realized she could flip herself over repeatedly as a form of locomotion. At first, it was just short trips from one toy to another. Shortly, however, she started rolling over the house. One afternoon, she rolled from the living room, down the hall, and into her bedroom, where she lay on her back, kicking her cabinets, a cute as hell grin on her face.

She got very adept at the rolling thing. My mother-in-law informed me that as a kid, my spouse used to roll all over the I started to wonder if the desire to roll was genetic. I then found out my spouse never actually crawled. She just rolled right up until she could pull herself up...then she started running. I wondered if my girl would be the same.

A few weeks ago, my daughter began to crawl. Not a proper crawl, mind you, but more of a military crawl. One friend saw the military crawl video and joked that my girl needed a mini AK-47 strapped to her back. It would, to be sure, complete the image. She also goes at the military crawl with real gusto and speed. She throws everything she has into moving for about seven feet, before she has to stop and catch her breath in long pants.

The crawling is the most fun of all the motions to this point. Not only is it amusing for being such a weird crawl, my girl is also very loud when she crawls. She grunts, groans, and generally makes a racket...but has this weird grin on her face while doing so. Stealthy she is not. Hilarious? Absolutely.

It has also changed my duties. Instead of just setting her down and going about my business, I now have to immediately close the bedroom door, put up the baby fence in the kitchen doorway, close the shoe closet, and generally prep the house. Where I used to be able to stay at my desk as she rolled from one end of the living room to the other, I now have to be in total Sylvia awareness mode...because she can sneak into the bathroom or her room in an awful hurry. Rather than just talking to her or playing with her, I now have to be on electrical cord watch...because my girl apparently has a burning desire to electrocute herself by eating cables.

More work? Sure, but it's really fun work. My girl is quite hilarious as she moves. She's quite sure of where she wants to be, what she wants to play with. She's become so much more interactive.

There's been a lot of things which have surprised me about being a father. The biggest surprise, though, was how much fun my kid would be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

listenting to the cosmos

When I entered college, I tried to become a fiction writer. I took a creative writing class at my community college...and everyone in it was tremendously unsupportive. I tried writing on my own, but as a brief overview of the abandoned drafts would attest, I didn't know enough about life or people to pull it off. When I started my four year university, I took another creative writing class and focused on poetry. I wrote a ton of them, sent many of them to journals. My best one was published by an online journal (which seems to currently be offline), but another one was accepted by a print journal. A year after its acceptance, I hadn't heard anything about when it would actually get published, so I contacted the journal. It seems they were sold, and sometime after the new staff took over, their place was flooded, and they had lost all their submissions...including mine.

I took this as a clear sign that the universe did not want me to be a poet.

I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2003. In every year since, I applied for a ton of academic jobs (save the one year I started my current teaching gig). It was my dream to be a scholar; why else would someone dedicate five years of his life and lots of money from major creditors? I had a number of interviews. I was flown down to a community college in Florida, where I was asked to lecture for twenty minutes on some point of grammar. I had a campus interview with a school in Georgia. They were a two year university. The department chair told me that within two years, they would become a four year university. No one else in the college had heard this prediction. I had several phone interviews, including one at a really cool Catholic school in a barbecue capital. During the interview, I heard from the committee two phrases: "That's what we were thinking when we wrote the job description" and "Gee, I'd love to take that class." They never called me back. The last contact I had for any of my applications was 2008.

I took this as a sign that the universe did not want me to be in a tenure-track gig.

I've written a lot of scholarship. I have nine articles on my CV...more, I'm told by a former boss, than many Assistant Professors over the same timespan. I've been published in anthologies, in really good journals, and in the academic newspaper The Chronicle of Higher Education. The last two articles I wrote were the best things I ever finished. One of them you might recall was "the paper that would not die" (blogged about in more posts than I can recall). The other was a great analysis of sports, race, television, and post-Katrina New Orleans. I was and remain fiercely proud of each. I could place neither. A highly prestigious theory journal wanted to publish the Paper That Would Not Die. Five other journals rejected it with form letters.

I took this as a sign that the universe did not want me to be a scholar.

I've seen so many of these cosmic signs in my past that I'm conditioned to look for more. Someone makes a snide comment to something I say that a sign? No one wants to hang out with me for a few that a sign? I start seeing signs in the mundane. Is stubbing my toe a sign? Is the sudden burst of wind on a day where I am sans-hoodie a sign? Is my boss mailing out login info for the MLA joblist a sign? And in spite of knowing all signs do not pan out (see the myriad of early posts about how I was never going to be a professional musician, play in a band, play out), I still assume the worst case scenarios whenever possible.

This probably explains more about me than I care to admit.

Friday, April 06, 2012

my changing relationship to music iv

he "has always been certain of everything.
Even when he's totally wrong"
--Neal Stephenson

I have been listening to music for as long as I can remember. I have been playing music since I was 11, guitar specifically since 14. I now how to manipulate my instrument to make a bevy of sounds, to hit a range of emotions, to make it scream, to make it weep. I write complete songs in the shower. My first and last thoughts of the day are usually about music.

Over the last few years, though, I have come to a harsh realization: almost everything I thought I knew about music is wrong.

Case in point 1: Several years ago, my sister asked me if I wanted to go to see REM and Wilco with her. I was (and still am) a Wilco fan, so I agreed, in spite of having no real desire to see REM ever.

A word of context: I grew up as a hard rock/heavy metal fan...and while I did expand out of that genre even in high school (liking southern rock, blues, big band), REM just always rubbed me the wrong way. When friends of mine would play REM, it was stuff like "Radio Free Europe"...full of jangly guitars not doing that much at all. To my mind, that was what alternative music was. Moreover, it seemed an example of the "I don't really know how to play, but I'm gonna be in a band anyway" school of musicianship. I was actually learning my I was not, to put it mildly, a fan.

Anyway, we got lost on the way to the concert (which happens more often than I care to realize). We actually showed up right as Wilco finished their set. The band I went there to see? I got to see them tear down. Wee. REM, however, was utterly fantastic. It was a pure rock show. I really wasn't expecting this band, which I still associated with jangliness, to rock like that.

Case in point 2: Whenever our satellite TV provider has one of their free preview weekends for the premium movie channels, I scour the listings and set the DVR to record anything which looks interesting. One time, I saw It Might Get Loud, a documentary about a meeting between Jack White (guitarist for The Raconteurs), Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame), and The Edge (U2 guitarist). Of course, I recorded it....and sometime during the "birth of my daughter" event, I sat down to watch it.

Now, remember how I used to feel about REM? I liked U2 even less. To me, they were a gimmick band. Vocalist uses every "I'm dramatic" gesture in the book to hide the vapidness of his lyrics. Guitarist uses digital delay to hide the fact he doesn't know what he's doing.

The longer I watched It Might Get Loud, though, the more I was really starting to like and (more importantly) get The Edge. He seemed cool. His work sounded innovative. I quickly asked a U2 fan friend of mine to put together a compilation for me, and she obliged by sending me fifty songs. I still haven't waded through them all, but I'm really liking what I've heard so far.

Case in point 3: By now, my prior overall disdain for most things which have the "alternative" label has to be obvious, and how wrong I came to realize I've been also has to be obvious. There are many other examples I could bring (like the day I found out all punk wasn't juvenile noise). The final mind-blower to date, however, happened several months ago.

I was jamming with my singer, and a friend of his came over. My singer introduced me as "the J. Mascis of the band." I took this to be a complement, although I didn't know what he really meant. I was dimly aware that he was in Dinosaur Jr. (from an old Guitar World article I'd read decades prior)...but that was the extent of my knowledge. Then my singer lent me a Dinosaur Jr. album. I listened to it a week later. I spent the next month or so picking my jaw off the floor. Why didn't anyone tell me alternative music had room for solos? I'd rarely heard much alternative rock with good guitar solos...most of what I knew was either minimalist in scope (such as Soundgarden's least on their hits) or noise-oriented (cue the chorused-out Nirvana "Come as You Are" lead break). Mascis, however, was all over the place. Distortion upon distortion. Lead upon lead. The songs were good, but the solos...rather than being slight addendums, they were central to the tune. It's exactly the way I'd always wanted to play. Why didn't anyone tell me that the alternative genre was not mutually exclusive to virtuosity?

What else must I un-learn? Please don't tell me that hair metal is secretly great.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

my changing relationship to music iii

I'm a guitar player, so I can tell you honestly the first thing you need to know about guitar players: we're weird.

To get to be good at guitar, you have to practice. If you play a guitar-centric form of music (as do I) and if you have clutzy fingers (as do I), you have to practice a lot. While rock bass guitar is relatively quick to get up to a reasonable skill level (which says as much about the standards for bass as anything), the zero-to-sixty for hard rock guitar players is not fast. You have to play. You have to practice. You have to have a finger-warmup regimen. You need to run through your scales (or at least patterns). You have to be as precise as possible...which was always a particular challenge for one as sloppy on the instrument as I.

This means that you end up sitting in your bedroom, in your garage, or on your couch a lot. You do a lot of study and practice...which isn't particularly fun to do or to listen to, but it is essential nonetheless. This also means you are probably not the most socially adept person in the world. In fact, you probably fit the stereotype of anyone who stays in their bedroom, reading and studying. You are probably, to some extent, a nerd. I am certainly no exception in my own mental music issues.

It is a great contradiction in music that musicians, in order to perform, have to be on display, yet they are not people with the right personality to be presented to the public. They are not generally good in crowds because they are not social animals. Yeah, drummers might be party animals...but bear with me, because I am talking about musicians.

In spite of not really being suited for it, guitar players do tend to want the spotlight. It is one of the reasons behind guitar solos. Also, it tends to lead to a certain (I don't want to say macho, because I've also seen it in female and non-masculine guitarists) attitude towards their craft. Some brag about using the heaviest thickness of guitar strings. Some swear by obsolete instruments which cannot stay even in sight line of being in tune. Many of us play harder than needed, breaking strings, picks, and even instruments in the process.

Aside from my brief period of using a galvanized steel guitar pick, my hard-headed attitude was most manifest in my complete and utter disdain of effects pedals. I saw them as a crutch. "Real guitarists," I told myself, "plug straight into their amp." Effects? They were to hide the fact you couldn't play that well. This also translated into my playing, where my guitar became a blunt instrument I used to bash notes into the listener's head.

I stayed in this mood for a long time. About six years ago, I did decide to get a multi-effects use as a practice amp/toy. While I found it cool at first, it didn't take me long to start hating it. I had to program everything. Need to change a setting? You have to enter a menu, scroll down to the proper area, hit some buttons. It was a royal pain in the neck. Moreover, while some of the effects sounded okay, others (the chorus in particular) were trash. And when I finally tried to plug the thing into my amp, it was "you like excessive buzz and hum? Here you go."

Then I started playing with Analog Revolution. Part of me realized I needed a boost for my solos, so I started looking for a good overdrive. "After all," I told myself, "some of my favorite guitarists used a distortion pedal. Hell, if Micah from Two Cow Garage could use a Tubescreamer, a distortion pedal couldn't be all that bad. I can still be tough with a distortion pedal." And after some moderate equipment struggles, I got a good distortion pedal...and fell in love with the resultant creamy sound.

Then I found myself at a used music store, and I spotted a cheap phaser pedal. I had no real need for it, but I tried it out anyway...and it sounded kinda coolish, so I incorporated it into my music/effects worldview. Then I decided to use my old wah-wah pedal (which is it didn't violate my no effect rule in some way), but it broke on I replaced it with an envelope filter. Then I got another pedal...and another...and another.

Eventually, I admitted to myself that I had become an effects pedal addict. I had a friend help me build a pedal board for all my effects, and it is mighty. It contains:

(warning: geek content ahead)

  • a Boss TU-3 stage tuner (which should be mandatory for all performing the word of someone who sucks at tuning yet hates out of tune guitars)
  • into an Electro-Harmonix micro QTron envelope filter (as I'm too lazy to actually rock a wah wah back and forth)
  • into my Joyo Ultimate Drive distortion pedal (an OCD clone, my newest toy, which I use for my low-end distortion)
  • into my Fulltone Full-Drive 2 (a two channel boost/distortion pedal from hell and my main workhorse)
  • into my Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplex (an analog octave divider)
  • into my Joyo Ultimate Octave (octave multiplier/fuzz)
  • into my Quyatone SV-2 Slow Volume (a touch-sensitive volume swell pedal)
  • into my Rogue Tremolo (my new fave effect...I can duplicate surf music!)
  • into my original Chinese phaser
  • into my Electro-Harmonix Slow Clone (the only chorus pedal which doesn't sound phony or 80s metal to my ears)
  • into (finally) my Delta-Labs DD-1 Digital Delay (which really needs to be replaced, as the stereo out hadn't worked since I bought it).

(end of geek content)

It is massive, I admit. In fact, a friend of mine (who plays keyboard for Kitty Glitter) told me he now uses my pedalboard as the measure by which he judges all others. I'm sort of proud that, much like 7-11 has become synonymous with convenience stores, my pedalboard has become on some level synonymous with the de facto guitar effects collections.

I didn't become an effects head overnight. It was not, however, just a matter of buying more stuff. I moved away from seeing the guitar as a sledgehammer to use during solos. Instead, I started to become interested in sound textures. I started to think about my role being to add emphasis, to add dynamics. Rather than just beating people over the head with my guitar, I started to really think about improving the song, and in the process, my guitar became a much more multifaceted instrument, capable of so much more. I started to let both the guitar and the song take center stage.

Of course, there are downsides to my new approach. I have to carry more car is packed when I transport my gear, and when I can't leave my stuff in my practice space, my tiny house looks even more crowded than normal. I take much longer to set up and tear down my rig...even the drummer beats me off stage. Some people seem intent on using my pedalboard as something else about which to mock me...which is especially puzzling when such abuse comes from, say, U2 fans.

I don't care, though. I love my pedalboard. I love my effects. I love the textures they add to my playing. I love how I can enhance the song.

And my love for effects cannot at all be attributed to a quest to prove my manhood in a "hey, I got more pedals than you." Nope. Not at all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

my changing relationship to music ii

When I bought my first car (it was really the second one I drove, but since the first one was really my dad's, and I wrecked it after a month, it doesn't really count), it came with its original radio. This was a problem, because the car was a 1973 Plymouth Valiant, and the original radio was a tube-powered AM radio. It had to warm up before I could enjoy the glorious selection of the Jacksonville AM radio market. As I was a big music fan, I found this arrangement to be less than satisfactory.

So I saved up some of my Little Caesars money, made the trip to Circuit City, and bought a Mitsubishi cassette player and Coustic (I think) speakers...which, as my automobile was a piece of crap, effectively gave me a more expensive car radio than car. The radio sounded pretty good, but more importantly, it was loud. When I would have to go to work meetings, I'd pick up a co-worker (who later stole my job), throw in ...And Justice For All, and turn up the volume until the windows started to shake...which worked better than coffee.

It was a good stereo. The problem with it, though (apart from being in a crappy car), was that it was a cassette player...not that there were many alternatives. Having a cassette player made it a necessity to learn basic cassette reconstruction techniques. If the tape flipped out of the shell and got caught on the player heads, I had to be able to fish out the ribbon while inflicting minimum damage. I became adept at re-spooling tapes when the case would crack. Every so often, a cassette would start emitting a high-pitched whine when playing. I quickly learned this could be fixed by throwing the cassette as hard as I could on the floor.

The tapes themselves required a certain care to minimize the playing malfunctions. Leave a tape in a car in Florida in the summer, and it would instantly stretch and warp to the point of sounding unlistenable (I would've used the "experimental label, but I didn't know it back then). In the best case, cassettes had a limited lifespan and would simply wear out. I could directly quantify how much I liked an album by how many copies I went through; Appetite for Destruction, Operation: Mindcrime, ...And Justice for All, and For Those About to Rock all warranted at least three re-purchases.

I was far from alone in having to buy these cassettes over and over. For one thing, cassettes sucked for everyone, not just me. But more importantly, many of the people I knew similarly blew through multiple copies of each of these specific albums. Is there anyone in existence who only owned one copy of Appetite? Nah, not only did everyone buy the Guns n' Roses debut, they inevitably had to replace it more than once. Similarly, every metalhead I knew had Operation: Mindcrime multiple times, and ...And Justice for All similarly seemed to be in every single person's car more than once...a working copy in the tape deck and a crushed copy on the floorboards.

While I'm sure each of these albums can thank the crappy nature of cassettes for a certain portion of their high sales figures, there is another factor at work: each of these albums was especially popular. Sure, Mindcrime had a limited base of appeal, but pretty much anyone who might like it did in fact own it. Metallica crossed over to mainstream with ...And Justice (before, it should be noted, they went commercial), and it was impossible to throw a rock in a local mall without hitting at least one burgeoning teenage GnR fan...visible by the patch on the back of their jean jacket. Hell, Appetite for Destruction reached a certain level of omnipresence among people I know. I hesitate to think of it as a touchstone of my generation, but it probably is more accurate of a characterization of that album than I would like to admit.

It's not really a mystery why it worked this way. Of course we all listened to pretty much the same stuff. How would we ever find out about different stuff? MTV was still playing videos, but it wasn't like they had great access for anyone other than the few bands major labels pushed. We could listen to the radio, but the local stations pretty much only played arena rock from the seventies. We could look at the music magazines, but they stuck on the same several bands which actually managed to hit MTV airplay. If we talked to our friends, they might recommend something they heard of...either on MTV, radio, or in a crappy music mag.

I've been thinking about this for some time. Back in November, I was looking up some band on Amazon, and I just kept following the "people who bought this also bought..." link until I found something I I was able to discover, purchase, and download an album (the debut from Yuck) from a band I would've never heard of if not for the internet. And if you like one indy band, it's increasingly easy--via mailing lists, bandcamp, and the like--to discover twenty or thirty similar bands; for me, Son Volt led to Uncle Tupelo, which led to Wilco, which led to Drive-By Truckers, which led to Slobberbone, which led to Two Cow Garage, which led to Glossary, which led to Lucero, and so on. It's truly a wonder.

Every so often, I'll read someone complaining about how our ever-increasing media access has led us, as a culture, to increasingly divergent tastes. The critic will continue on, lamenting the days where people used to share more cultural experiences; nowadays, the writer will continue (with a tear on their choice of font), we're growing increasingly apart from too many entertainment choices. Will we ever be able to be a single people, they end, without a shared monoculture?

Admittedly, I'm not usually one for nostalgia, but the nostalgia for a monoculture makes even less sense than normal. After all, if I would've had choices, if I would've known of my options, would I have really invested so much of my youth into Motley Crue? Probably not...and I would've been a better person for it.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

floating, not sinking

I've been thinking lately of out of body experiences...and what makes me think of them is not psychic Soviet spies (which would, it should be stated, be very cool indeed). Instead, I think of sickness and stress.

When I was a grad student, I had use of the student health center. While everyone I ever saw there was relatively nice, they also were proponents of the "open the patient's mouth and throw a handful of pills at them" school of medicine. I went in there my first year of grad school because I had a bad cold, and the coughing was keeping me up at night. The doctor, without doing anything other than a cursory examination, gave me a codeine prescription.

I am, for the record, never going to become a drug fiend. I have to admit, though, that codeine was rather fun. I could feel my body going numb and my mind getting a little loopy...but I could do so with complete detachment. It was almost like I was floating above this guy whose behavior was slowly deteriorating...albeit in a fairly hilarious way.

As anyone who's been through its ranks may tell you, grad school was, by and large, not all goofy drug-induced laughs, By the end of my time in grad school, I was facing a dissertation which started sprawling out of my reach while the job market, which I was soon to enter, was not so much contracting as imploding. I found myself indulging in very un-Mike-like behavior. I didn't want to do any work...hell, I didn't want to do much of anything other than lay on the couch in silence and eat too much, maybe while gently rocking back and forth for variety. When I did interact with people, I either became silent or snapped at those around me. I could see myself turning into someone I did not like, and while I wasn't exactly a disembodied Mike floating above the scene as per bad sci-fi, I did experience it as someone else--someone very dark--taking over who I thought of as "me."

One night while my (future) mother in law was over, my (future) wife asked me something about my day, and I bit into her, spewing gloom and hopelessness. I saw her face drop, and, all of a sudden, the two of them realized they needed to run to the store...or do something, anything to get out of my sight. Again, it wasn't me...and there was really nothing I could do to stop the outburst. Hell, I was as disturbed by it as anyone, because it was the type of behavior I didn't think I would do.

The next day, I made an appointment to the over-prescribing student health center. I told the doctor about my blackness and my outbursts. She asked me rather matter-of-factly if I was suicidal while writing me a prescription for Zoloft. After a month or so, I started to feel more like myself. My (then) girlfriend was shocked when I started to discuss my depression treatment with friends. What was more shocking was how many of them either were on or had been on anti-depressants themselves. One friend commented, "It's more surprising if someone has been through grad school and hasn't been on anti-depressants." It seemed like we were all floating above our own heads, pushed away from who we really were...but I was the first one to start talking about it.

Years passed. The closest I got to out of body experiences during was the severe boredom of student conferences. After somehow landing a teaching position in a field far from my own and marrying my sweetie, my life stabilized. My performance on the job market never actually spite of re-branding myself as an academic and publishing eight articles (and being told by a boss I was publishing more than many tenure track faculty). Eventually, I felt I had settled into life. I became okay with my out-of-my-field job. I accepted I would never hit the tenure track. I joined a band. All was good.

It's funny, though...while I knew I would never be thought of as perky or happy-go-lucky, I honestly believed I was relatively least in big-picture terms. All those worries and anxieties, however, have a way of coming back at the least expected time.

My wife and I decided to have a child. When she officially got pregnant, we hugged...and I was honestly joyed. However, this is when a lot of old doubts started flying to the surface. Even though I had given up on the job market ages before, I started to actively think of myself as a failure in terms of my career. This made me re-question whether I believed success was even possible...which made me in turn re-question things like justice, honor, hope, what it meant to be a success anyway, was it worth it to even try to work hard? to be honest? to be a good person?...all of which made me start to ask the really big question: what would I tell my child? When my kid was old enough, would I say "you can be anything you want to be" even after I no longer believed it to be true? Would I be a depressingly honest father or a lie-filled hopeful dad?

This was compounded when my beautiful girl, somewhere around the second month, starting to scream for hours on end. I tried to soothe her the best I could, and there were times where I was pretty good at it...mostly when singing to her. But I quickly learned I was, for some reason, absolutely horrible at calming her at night. There was one night where I got up to give my wife a rest...but my girl would not quit crying. I tried singing. I tried rocking her. I tried shushing her. My girl, however, just ramped up the screaming into Exorcist-esque squeals. It drove me to tears, and my wife had to relieve me. Moreover, she had to assure me it was just one of those things, as I had immediately assumed and was sure my daughter simply hated me.

Our girl also had some sort of digestive issue early on...either acid reflux or some food intolerance via mom-juice. This caused the poor girl to get into screamy fits rather often if unpredictably. Usually, she would balance out screamy and cute. There were days, however, where she turned very screamy for most of her awake portions. I remember one particular Wednesday where she was fine in the morning but unpleasant through the afternoon. The next day, she was just relentlessly unhappy the entire day. I did not deal with this well. At one point, black thoughts entered my head as I held my screaming baby, things I still don't want to admit to myself or anyone else...and I had to set her down in her crib, go into my bedroom, lay down in the fetal position, and cry. I'm normally not prone to such displays, but this time, it was unavoidable. When my kid was yelling at me, I would think "why did we even bother to have her?"...and the fact I realized I had thought this would make me feel worse than I thought possible. When my wife got home, I had to pass off our girl, go back to the bedroom, and resume my whimpering.

Not all days were this bad. Enough of them were, though. I found the early days (before she started smiling or laughing) to be particularly hard, and I assumed that, when she developed a bit more, it would get better. However, after she showed flashes of the happy, joyous baby she could be, it actually made the screamy fits--even if less common--to be that much worse in emotional impact. Fit this together with my job depression recurrence and my social isolation, and there were enough times where I could see me tumbling away from myself, becoming the black soul which I feared.

So I went to my doctor and told him about my depressions...both past and present. Instead of just throwing pills at me, though, he actually talked to me. He thought I was probably not fully into depression and might benefit more from talking to a professional. He gave me a name. I called. They told me it would take a month or more before they could fit me in. This depressed me further. I'm on the edge of depression, and you want me to wait a month?

I knew I should probably look for other people, but I didn't want to trust my mental health to someone I picked out of the phone book...yellow pages ads should not determine one's mental status. I asked a friend who works at my doctor's office, and she gave me a list of other therapists in the area. I called about seven of them, but none of them would even return my calls. So now I was still without an appointment and still depressed in general...but now I was also depressed about the state of the medical industry. So I called my original therapist to get an appointment, and this time, I had to wait six weeks. But I could hold it together for that long...right?

I finally got to the doctor. He seemed a nice guy...very interested in me and a good listener. So I spelled out my situation. I described my previous depression. I told him about my scholarship failures. I went through my repeated failures on the job market. I told him about my failed attempt to re-brand myself as a scholar. I then walked him through my difficulties adjusting to being a new father. I mentioned my feelings of isolation. I described in great detail the days where I broke down and cried. I built everything up to my ultimate philosophical crisis: how do you cope when you discover everything you believed, everything which used to drive you, how all of that was a lie?

As I said, he seemed like a really nice guy. Near the end of our hour together, though, I realized that he'd only been listening and not really constructively contributing. There was not even a hint of "this is what you can do about it" or "so this is a way to cope." And when I finished, instead of discussing how we'd work together, what we wanted to do, what course my therapy might take, he simply told me it was nice to meet me. I walked out, shaking my head. I went to the receptionist to pay my co-pay, and I noticed she had a radio playing the song "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"...which seemed a particularly ominous number for a psychiatrist's office.

I tried to hold it together on my own, but then I had a bad week. I had to negotiate some language on my job evaluation letter, because the verbage made me look like an idiot and a bad teacher. Then my band was set to finish recording an album, but instead of getting together, there was a big blowup on Facebook which ended a few days later with us losing our rhythm section. These things hit me harder than they should and make me a worse person than I was. I got a doctor's appointment, and he gave me a prescription for brain pills. And while there will still be bad days (last Thursday, for instance, my daughter forgot it was my birthday and just stayed in a bad mood which, by the time my wife came home, had reduced me to tears several times over), they hopefully will become less. I have a few things going for me: my wife is utterly wonderful, my daughter has the best laugh in the world, and soon, the anti-depressants will kick in and I will start to level out.

However, "leveling out," although a common and unavoidable phrase when describing depression, is the wrong metaphor. It's not that it's inaccurate. In many ways, the person who I become when depressed is me...just a lower version of me. He is meek, hopeless, lethargic, gloomy, stagnant, and a sucking vortex of joylessness. But if I think of my depression as being part of me, it will be easier for me to slide back into being him. If, however, I think of my depressed self as being someone else, it puts a bit of distance between us, and it makes it easier for me to find ways to increase that distance...until hopefully I can him out of existence entirely.

After all, it's more important to be the kind of person I want to be. If I can disown the negative, I can transcend it, conquer it, rise above.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

on inevitability

I had several weird dreams last night. I dreamed I was in a cooking competition and won after I invented Spaghetti Pizza. Then my wife and I were walking around malls and talking about moving, but when we got to our place, we realized we only had two days to pack and get out. Then my old band Analog Revolution was playing a show, and, for the noise montage at the end of one of our more popular songs, I jumped on top of one of the line of tables and duckwalked its length as I created strange and annoying sounds.

I awoke with Micheal Jackson's "Man in the Middle" stuck in my head. After laying with my wife in my arms for a seven and a half minutes, we heard my girl cry out. I got up real quick, closed the door (so my wife could get a bit more rest), pulled on my dirty clothes, yanked a bottle out of the fridge, went to grab my girl...and she was back asleep. So I decided to eat breakfast while I could and check the interwub. I fired up the computer, and when my e-mail appeared, the top message was from my sister, telling me it looked (from the last photo of me and my daughter) like I wasn't getting enough sleep. An adequate amount of it even possible?

As soon as I sat down and tucked into my Greek yogurt and granola (made last night, with dried cranberries, raisins, and dried blueberries--party!), the MJ song went away, replaced by "Banditos" by The Refreshments...a much more appropriate choice for my mood lately, particularly as my frontal cortex was focusing on the line "Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people." Think about that for more than a second, and you will know the kind of week I just had.

I'm busy beyond belief. I'm so dumped with work, chores, and tasks that I feel I may never emerge. I'm simultaneously being judged and being ignored. My mood is back to that as reflected in my November blog posts. I'm bursting with stuff to say and unsure of when I will have the time to say it. I have been making loud noises with my guitar and effects pedal army not nearly enough. I am behind on projects galore. I feel, in short, as if I've been knocked off the path permanently and have utterly lost any sense of direction.

I know I've always been in similar circumstances. I just thought things would eventually change. I keep forgetting, though: optimism is for chumps.

Friday, February 10, 2012

goodbye, artifacts

My parents tell me I always liked to read. As a kid, long before I could actually read, I would be sitting on the couch, thumbing through a book, staring intently at the pages. When my mom would ask me what I was doing, I would tell her I was "reading."

I don't remember this personally, of course. My earliest memory of books is thumbing through--scratch that, actually reading--several Classics Illustrated books. I remember reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (which doesn't actually sound right, as it's a fairly gruesome book near the end, but that's what I remember). Later, there was the Scholastic Book Club one sheet order forms we got in school, which lead to a lot of classics, including an abridged Journey to the Center of the Earth. Someone (a fellow student? or was it in our English text?) introduced me to Encyclopedia Brown, which lead to Alfred Hitchcock's Three Detectives stories. Later, the fateful day in middle school library where I ran across The Hobbit...which led me to beg my parents to buy my own copies, and then, somewhere during my third read-through, have them cover the paperbacks with contact paper to protect them. Later still, when I found a Stephen King book in my high school study hall desk, my fate/addiction was sealed.

Somewhere during my growing reading obsession, I started to fall in love with the books themselves. Given the option, I would look for hardbacks over paper. I started to prowl Chamblin's Book Mine (the world's best used book store) for cool, unexpected titles, all the while wondering why anyone would not just keep their used books yet still being thankful for their oversight whenever I made another discovery.

My love became more obsessive and ornate. I used to drive up to the recently opened Barnes & Noble and spend whatever was left over in my paycheck. Whenever I found a leather-bound (or even pleather-bound) edition--particularly if on the bargain bin tables--I would swipe it up. Much of these visits was spent staring longingly at the leather-bound and lavishly illustrated Lord of the Rings collection, but I could never bring myself to pull the trigger. I would go to see whatever obscure writer my university would bring in, buy a book, and get an autograph. Eventually, I started dreaming of owning a house mainly so I could have my own library (wood-paneled, of course) of leather-bound and hand-signed know, a gentlemanly room in which I could dwell when I retired, maybe while wearing a tweed jacket and enjoying a snifter of cognac.

When I moved from Florida to Ohio, a good half of my U-Haul was paper boxes full of books. I had bookshelves in my living room, bedroom, and study that first year in my new apartment. Then I had to get a roomate, so there was a contraction...some books went to a used bookstore, others went for sale online. After another roommate, my then-girlfriend moved in with more stuff, so another contraction. Pulled by the allure of washer and dryer hookups, we moved to a smaller house...and another contraction. The more stuff we acquired, the more books went bye-bye. When we started to turn the study into a nursery, it brought on (you guessed it) yet another contraction.

Too many books have, through the years, gone away. I realized long ago I'm never going to have the wood-paneled library...hell, I'm probably never going to own my own house and certainly will never be able to afford to retire, so the lack of a library in which to hang isn't really a big deal. I still have a lot of those old and leather-bound editions, but I never read them. Hell, I hardly even think of them. Instead, when I think of books, I think of my fourth copy of Neuromancer, my second copy of Snowcrash, or my still-contact paper-bound Lord of the Rings set. I can and quite often do close my eyes and recall scenes, lines, whole passages from each. I can, however, do the same with the Bill, The Galactic Hero series and about fifty other books, all of which are considerably more low-brow...and all of which, unfortunately, are lost in the book-contraction breeze.

This year for Christmas, my parents bought me a Kindle. I'm relatively broke, so I immediately downloaded a ton of out-of-copyright classics. It now has tons of Twain, Burroughs, Verne, and Wells residing on it, just waiting to be (quite literally) thumbed through. Immediately, though, I thought about buying a copy of Neuromancer, my perennial candidate for best novel ever. It would be nice, I considered, to have a copy whose binding would never break. And then get copies of all my other personal classics. And then get copies of all the goofy sci-fi and horror I've plowed through. I could, on this one little device, hold the library of my dreams and the library of stuff I've actually read.

Then it occurred to me: if I could have every book I've ever wanted on this one device and back up said library on the computer...what did I need books for?

Artifacts are going away. I've already moved into a post-artifactual music collection. While I have some dvds, they usually remain in storage, as my dvr is a much better storage medium. My papers and teaching material have long been digital. I now store lyric and music ideas on a hard drive rather than cassettes and notepads.

What is my world going to look like when I finally make the complete move to virtual storage? My stuff is losing its tangibility...and I'm surprised to find myself perfectly fine with that.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

what they sang decades ago

One of the many changes having a child in the house has caused is the conscious effort I have to make to not have a television playing. Lest you get the idea that I ever had an array of "afternoon programs," let me assure you I did not. But background noise is good. And I usually try to avoid music as background noise...because I just end up listening to the music instead of doing my work. I understand people who listen to tunes as they write not at all.

But while I am not one of those people who think of television as evil (I used to be a media scholar, after all), I don't want my daughter too overwhelmed by television. My wife has caught her staring at it several times...even when it's turned off. On the other hand, the sound of an empty house has always struck me as kind of creepy. My compromise? I have the tv on the 60s Digital Music channel a lot. But as always, my mind refuses to shut off completely when it's I now have a list of things I know beyond a shadow of a doubt about the least in terms of music.

  • A huge portion of the music made by whites (particularly in the beginning of the decade) is horrific. Frankie Avalon? Frankie Valli? Gawdawful. People who think today's pop is bland and generic should listen to the pop of the past. Pop music has always been bland and generic.
  • On the other hand, the more I listen to this channel, the larger my appreciation for The Funk Brothers (the awesome backing group of Motown) grows. Is everything Motown awesome? Of course not, but this band might have the best arrangements of anyone. Whenever I hear Jack Ashford's tambourine play, I get happy.
  • There is a huge difference between The Beach Boys when they were really firing on all cylinders ("Sloop John B." or "Wouldn't It Be Nice?") and when they were playing half-heartedly (their awful cover of "Rock and Roll Music"). They really could've been one of the best bands in the world (if you doubt this, you should go now to listen to "Help Me, Rhonda"), but drugs? egos? something stopped them from being at all consistent.
  • I often wish I would've been a musician back during this time...because the state of the art (particularly in the beginning of the decade) was not all that good and I would look like a genius by comparison. Early rock and roll guitar solos were often (if not regularly) just the song's melody line. Anyone nowadays could do better. Hey, maybe that's why people used to think Clapton was good.
  • The state of the art, though, really did improve as the decade came to an end. While they weren't all brilliant, I will argue that drummers were generally better at the end of the sixties (particularly in heavy blues rock) than they are now. Really: John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Bill Ward, Keith Moon, and so forth. What the hell happened to drummers? Why have they become in general so unadventuresome?
  • I've realized that although I prefer the later Beatles, I still kinda like their early bubblegum stuff. The early work of the Rolling Stones, though...much less convincing. They don't do good hippie stuff. Their 70s material more than makes up for it, though.
  • One final certainty: Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" is the heaviest object in existence.

As usual, I will probably fight to the death defending any of these claims...particularly if you catch me in a bar.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Another Damn Monday

Tired after sending tons of "you haven't done any work in three weeks so you probably won't pass" e-mails? Wondering if anyone will ever call you and ask you to go to a bar? Feeling sorry for yourself? Fearful of how much your daughter will turn into a demon child from the netherworld throughout the night? It's time for a new drink! I call this one the "Another Damn Monday":

  • Place some ice in a pint glass
  • Fill the glass 1/4 up with vodka
  • Fill to the halfway mark with white grape juice
  • Top off the glass with ginger beer
  • Try not to think of it only being the beginning of the week

Thursday, January 26, 2012

on genocide and dry eyes

Today, I spent entirely too much time in front of the computer, and as a result, my eyes got a little bloodshot. I tore the house apart, but I couldn't find the eye drops although I was in utterly no pain, I had no choice but to go around looking like I either had pink eye or had consumed a large amount of various illegal substances.

Later in the night, I found watching television on the couch with my wife when the following conversation occurred more or less verbatim:

"You know, I think I have a solution."

"To your ugly eye?"

"Yeah. It just occurred to me that I have a kitchen...and a knife...and an onion."

"Oh, no, Mike, you don't want to do that."

"Why not? It would make me cry."

"Yes, but it would inflame the membranes."


"You should just try and think of something the Holocaust."

This is why, by the way, my life is completely awesome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

an anniversary tale

Me and my beautiful spousal unit got married in January of 2003. We met at the mayor's office and were officially hitched in the city counsel chambers. Actually, I sat outside the mayor's office waiting for her to show up, and she waited outside in her car for me to show up. There was a tense few minutes there where I worried she might've returned to her senses and taken off for North Dakota or parts unknown.

But she came in and, against all logic, married me anyway. While I don't understand this, I am eternally grateful...particularly every January 24th. While we try to do something nice, we suffer the setback of being dead-ass broke, so rather than the traditional gifts, we just settle on a modest meal somewhere. This year, though, I mad a serious effort to do things properly.

First, I went and opened our firebox to look at the certificate...and with a quick glance at the form, I saw "2002." Hah, I thought, I could've sworn we were at nine years...not ten. I was happy I discovered the mistake in advance, though...nothing like avoiding looking like an idiot, particularly when anniversary dates are concerned.

I really had no idea what the standard gifts were for the tenth year. So I did what people in the 21st century: I googled it. The traditional gift was aluminum. This didn't really help. They offered gift suggestions, but I didn't think an anodized saute pan would really say "thanks for being married to me"...particularly as I'm the one who does the cooking.

They did list a modern gift equivalent, though, and it was...pewter. This didn't really help; I live in a small town where House of Pewter has yet to open up a franchise. I sent an e-mail to a local jeweler asking for suggestions. They wrote back, saying they didn't have any pewter jewelry, but (of course) diamonds were a perfectly acceptable substitute! I did some browsing online, and I did find a diamond ring I could afford...which had a genuine 1/20th of a carat rock. I could afford the ring, but the magnifying glass it would require to see the thing would put me over budget. I wrote and explained this to my wife, but she rejected my alternative offer to do origami out of aluminum foil.

When I recounted the full story to my wife after she returned from work, she told me we had in fact been married in 2003, not 2002. I went back to the form, and the "2002" I was was when we got our marriage application. I then googled the ninth anniversary, and the appropriate gift was leather. That I could've done.

However, I would've felt weird giving her a leather gift in front of our 7 month old.

Monday, January 23, 2012

my changing relationship to music

(first in a series)

I've been trying (in some respects) to be a proactive parent. So, not too long after we learned my wife was preggers, I realized I was going to have to rethink my relationship to music.

Bear with me. While like most parents I had no true idea what I was getting myself into, I did know that we were going to have a little person roaming around the house. This naturally means baby-proofing. I knew I would have to move electrical cords and lock up household chemicals (which we used to just keep in the liquor cabinet). What scared me, though, was learning the DuBose-to-be would be mobile at some point...and while I really couldn't picture my child at the time, I would picture this potential infant learning to crawl, heading over to my wall of cd cabinets, pulling cds out at random, pulling the disks out of the cases, and hurling them all into a giant, jagged pile.

I didn't want to have to decide between my love for my child-to-be and my love for music, so I spent hours online searching for good storage options. New cd shelves with doors, though, were quite costly...and since we can't even afford to move out of our two room wooden shack with dirt floors, I realized quickly that purchasing expensive storage shelves with doors was not the solution. I considered then rejected making my own doors, because I really didn't want to count myself among the ranks of those home repair and woodworking enthusiasts who have lopped off fingers. I briefly thought about rigging up some kind of strap system to lash the cds into place but rejected each plan as being too Goldbergian.

It was clear there were no other options. I had to get rid of my cds.

I spent about two months sorting cds and ripping them to mp3. I would take my time, gazing at the prisms of light reflecting off the disk as I poured over the packaging for the last time, all while trying to remember where I bought the disk in the first place. Music ripped, I would then file the disk away in a big plastic tub for easy transport to a relative for safe-keeping.

It all seemed too big to me, the end-of-an-era-type event. I remembered getting my first cd of those portable units which skipped whenever you tripped or stumbled. I found my way to a pawn shop and bought a dozen used disks, two dollars apiece. I then joined one of those music clubs to jump-start my collection. They outgrew my shelf. Then my collection outgrew the carousel storage unit. Then I bought my first shelf...then another...then another...until I had seven shelves and a few thousand disks. Now, though, I would have an empty wall and a number of used bytes on my computer. It seemed...inadequate.

Moreover, it was unprecedented. I never really liked cassettes all that much...they were too disposable of a medium, and if a tape was of an album I really enjoyed, I would most certainly go through three or four getting rid of them was no big deal. I liked records, particularly because of the artwork, but my stereo receiver died a few years before I finally divested myself of all my vinyl. Besides, all of these were a move from one media to another. The end of cds was a larger event in that it meant the end of artifacts. Yeah, I still had the songs, but there was no "thing" attached to them. For the first time in my music-consuming life, it was impossible for me to sit and hold my favorite album.

I moped for a while. Abandoning my cds was a move I had to make. I knew that. A child, my very own child, was much more important. I knew that. I couldn't, however, stop myself from being a little sad from thinking of the empty spaces where my racks of cds once stood as standing for something more...a hole within me, perhaps.

Then my daughter came...and I found myself not thinking very much of my cds at all.

Christmastime came. Me and my wife knew we wouldn't really need to buy each other piles of gifts. We were broke, yes, but my wife has long insisted on having at least some level of presents, so she could tear open wrapping paper with her hands...because she is, as she feels free to tell you, a little kid. Christmas is (and will increasingly become) all about our daughter. But we agreed to still give each other at least a token gift.

We decided on on the massively sentimental and romantic present of gift cards...and, as the actual holiday hour approached and our lives as a result became more frazzled, we didn't even put them in envelopes.

I got a gift card to Amazon. First thing I did was buy a couple of albums I'd been wanting...but as I had no more cds, as there were no more artifacts of music, I found the downloads to be instead of two cds, I could get five albums! Furthermore, as I wasn't getting anything physical, I didn't have to wait to get my music. In five minutes, all of my new albums were sitting on my hard drive, ready for consumption.

Yes, I no longer had the artifacts. I did, however, have increased access to the music.

Realizing this is a bit of a game-changer for me. How long before my Kindle renders my bookshelves moot? Should I get a streaming service and do away with my dvds? What is next? I dream of a future where I buy a fiber optic tee shirt and download its graphics directly from the bands.

Why not? It's the end of the artifact. Let's hope it makes content more important.

envoi to silence

There were parental and in-law visits. There was the crush of holiday planning. There was an urchin in the midst of a perfect storm of cold, then unexpectedly early teething, then a growth spurt. There was class prep (after way too long away from work). There was a mild case of seasonal affective disorder. There was playoff football. There was a long-delayed and ultimately surprisingly inconsequential visit to a mental health professional. There were new albums to digest. And then, just as everything seemed to clear, there was a computer unexpectedly dying...which of course necessitated pulling all the data from the old computer, shopping for a new computer, purchasing a new computer, trying to figure out how to afford a new computer, removing bloatware from the new computer, installing needed software onto the new computer, and transferring all my files over from the old to the new computer. And then was my quite successful attempt at making mushroom and onion soup.

Suffice to say: I'm back...and I got a lot of stuff to say.