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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thrustmaster 5000

As much as I love running with my dog, my legs thought otherwise.

Even though I stretched before and afterwards, there would be times when I felt weakness in my legs. Usually I'd feel this while sitting at my job. I thought long and hard about other alternatives to getting a good exercise.

The bike has been a wonderful thing (and still is), but I considered options with working my upper body when I wasn't on my bike. Joining a gym is still not an option for me. (Nothing like making an evening out of an hour workout with the time spent going there, changing, working out, showering, changing again, going home, and heading to bed.)

Luckily something literally came into my life as I helped Diana move into her parents' house: a HealthRider Elliptical.

Diana's mother no longer had a use for hers (and it was taking up space in their house), so she offered it to me. I gladly accepted and found a place for it in my TV room. Just a few days in, the thing was a pure joy to work with and I've kept up with it.

But something I intentionally do not want this to turn into: something you hang laundry on but never use to actual exercise. I've been in enough houses where a treadmill collects dust in a corner and doubles as a laundry aid. Not in my house!

Not even a silly nickname Matt has given it will deter me. Jokingly calling it the Thrustmaster 5000, there's some funny innuendo thrown around, but I can't argue with how good of a workout it is combined with a three-mile bike ride.

The way I see it: I can work out and watch a movie, a live DVD, or a TV show while doing something far away from a sedentary lifestyle. And while the dog gets plenty of chances to run around outside and do her business, I have time to take care of my exercise regime. This is a win-win-win situation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My first show

This week's edition is with Chuck Ragan from Hot Water Music, someone I interviewed extensively for Post. I kinda forgot that we already talked about Hot Water's first show in the book, hence why my question in the column sounds like I know a little too much about it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Text

It comes with a sense of surrender admitting I have decided to raise my texting limit on my cell phone.

Gone are the days where 200 texts a month were enough for me. Now with only a few dollars more, I can text anyone else in my network before and after the cows come home. I have ample amount of texts a month for those out of my network, but it's not unlimited. (That's OK with me.)

I don't think there's anything wrong with texting. I simply don't want my primary ways of communicating to sound like I'm a one-sentence instant messenger with the aptitude of two sentences total. Meaning, if you send me a message and it's not condensed into one or two sentences, I'll malfunction. Plus, just because I have no limit on messages means I should giving up calling people.

I'm not a robot and nobody should be one either.

For the past few years, I've found texting to be much easier to get a hold of people. If you want to have an in-depth conversation with somebody beyond your closest inner circle, you either have to schedule a time for a phone conversation or do it over e-mail. Seems impersonal, but it's hard to find time to merely chit-chat with those you're not in regular communication with.

It's not like my cell phone bills were going through the roof. I needed to have some room to breathe in case they did go through the roof. And I'm thankful I'm not paying an arm and a leg for it.

Now the next hurdle involves the phone itself. I still have a few months before I can upgrade to a newer phone. I still have to cycle through the various letters on the keypad as I do not have a keyboard. And no, the iPhone is not topping my list of Phone I Will Buy When My Contract Is Up.

Writing all this out makes me think I'm living in the stone ages, but alas, my parents are even farther behind me. I don't think I've ever received a text from either of my parents. Like my parents, we stick with works, not necessarily what's new and (possibly) full of bugs.

If you need further proof I'm my parents' son, well, there you go.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Post-diagnosis

Prior to Diana having lymphoma, I confused it with emphysema. That was the kind of cancer for folks who didn't take care of themselves, right? Karmic payback, in a way, for those who knew smoking was bad for them, but they kept smoking throughout their life?

Moreover, I thought of lung cancer in the context of Walter White on Breaking Bad. The guy never smoked a day in his life and now he has a rare (and very aggressive) form of cancer. You couldn't blame a guy for being drawn to full measures because he has nothing left to proverbially lose. But that's a TV show, based on provocative, one-in-a-million stories from real life and turning them into a gripping drama. This was Sunday night entertainment, not everyday life.

The first time I heard of Hodgkins lymphoma was when Mario Lemieux said he had it. I knew he was leaving hockey and would lose his hair (and nobody knew if he would come back to the NHL). I remember watching Sportscenter and feeling bad for the guy. Here was a guy, in the prime of his career, and he had to put everything on hold. Maybe indefinitely. So that's why I was quite happy when he returned to the ice after recovery, receiving a standing ovation in Philadelphia when the Penguins played the Flyers.

Again, all of this exposure was from a distance, through the window of pop culture. I didn't know anyone who had it and I was not expecting to know anyone who had it. Then the news came down last month about why Diana couldn't stop coughing.

With two sessions of chemotherapy done, she still has a ways to go. Her days are not filled with dark, depressive thoughts between bouts of sickness. Sure, there is nausea, weak feelings, difficulty sleeping, and other matters. And sure, chemo drugs can cause depressive thoughts and mood swings. Still, at the end of the day, Diana remains determined to beat this and make a full recovery.

As expected, there have been many emotional effects for those closest to her, including me. I've had moments of very sad and worrisome thoughts. And while the thoughts have been fleeting, they tend to swirl around, usually during times of duress about other matters. Not helping is when I hear tragic news, like what happened to TV on the Radio's Gerard Smith, who died only a few weeks after his diagnosis with lung cancer.

Cancer treatment isn't a walk in the park. But the park doesn't have to be surrounded by brown grass, red skies, and carcasses lying around. Yet it would be foolish to think every day will be a walk on sunshine.

It's always reassuring (and quite comforting) when I talk to her and hear how well she's holding up. We might not get to see each other every day, but we're in contact at various points of the day, whether we're talking about how we're feeling (physically and mentally), how crazy Mimo and Victory are, or food cravings.

Yes, life's continuing. We're not forgetting the good things (and there is plenty to be thankful for) while still on unstable ground.

And what's helping us along this journey is hearing from those who have been through a similar journey. A few weeks ago, pure happenstance led me to meet a woman who survived brain cancer (and kept a blog throughout the whole process). Earlier this week, pure laziness led me to click on one of Keith's blogs (which had not been updated since late last year) and I was reminded of a blog he linked. Written by a college friend of his going through chemotherapy, this blog seemed right up the alley for Diana to read.

These are the things that keep us sane, even though we're far from going insane. You have to keep things in perspective every day and we're doing our best to do so.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

(500)

I took in a screening of (500) Days of Summer the other night and a lot of things rang familiar. As in, I was reminded how I almost made a film like this in college.

By no means am I claiming theft of idea. Hell, the movie was much better than (and pretty different from) what my script was. But as I watched the credits roll, I thought about a project I almost did.

Towards the end of my time in college, I entered a screenwriting/directing contest through the radio-TV-film department. The winning script would be made into a short film with the guidance of a Hollywood producer. Nothing huge, but a great experience nevertheless.

At the time, I was still in a fog about my first relationship falling apart. I spent a lot of time watching Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Swingers, and High Fidelity, so my script came from that kind of influence. It was hurt disguised by jokes, complete with quick cuts, visual gags, and quips.

The only parallels with (500) are a couple of plot points, but mainly the ending. In my script (envisioned as a low-budget, bare bones sort of thing that would run maybe 10-15 minutes), the main character spoke to the camera, telling embarrassing (but trying-to-be funny) stories about past relationships gone awry. There was no venom underneath -- just a lot of confusion, frustration, and a bleak attitude about the chances of future success. (Maybe there was venom and I didn't realize it at the time.)

I had to pitch my script to this Hollywood producer in front of a classroom filled with other RTVF students. I had never heard of the producer and he came across as somebody who wanted to be like Jerry Bruckheimer on a budget. I didn't think I really had a chance with this guy and he didn't think there was much of a story in my script. He passed on taking on the script, but I wasn't crushed.

I never really knew what happened to the winning script. I merely read a story in TCU Magazine about the whole process. The pitch session was documented, noting my "guarded smile" as I walked into the room (something I do in many rooms I walk into). I had heard the final product was not to anyone's satisfaction, and I'm thankful I was spared.

I rarely think about the experience these days and I certainly have no regrets. I much prefer to write about what the hell I want to write about, without anyone with moneybags telling me my idea is good or not.

I knew a few people that went out to L.A. to make it in Hollywood after graduation, but many of them came back. I don't fault them for trying their hands at the Hollywood life, but I was quite sure the life wasn't for me. I merely wanted to move from Fort Worth to Dallas, which I eventually did.

These days, I'm not against helping friends out who want to make films. If somebody wanted to do a documentary or shoot a trailer and asked me for help, I'd do it without asking many questions. I'm not against working on scripts. Since I must keep writing, it's always in an orbit.

In seeing (500) Days of Summer as a complete film, I'm glad it exists as a tale of romantic woe for people my age. And I'm glad people with way better chops put this together onto film.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My first show

This week's edition is with a guy I can really relate to: Joel Buchanan often air-drums as he DJs with FEVER. He shares plenty of good stories, especially when Dennis Rodman showed up onstage with Pearl Jam.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Medium Rare

Record Store Day came and went. I attempted to get some stuff, but was shut out before I could even get my feet in a door.

With no disrespect to the establishment I went to early on Saturday morning (I've been to this place many times before and I will definitely go back), the line was way too long for me to consider standing in. I only had a couple of special releases on my mind to ponder buying (not necessarily buy on first sight) and there would be no guarantee this store would even have them.

After surveying the line going through the parking lot and around the corner, I had other things to do and went ahead with doing them.

Coming back to my car, I thought very positive thoughts at this sight. At a time when you hear enough about how terrible the music industry's sales are and this chain store is reducing its music stock and whatnot, local record stores and used bookstores continue to remain healthy. I'm quite sure those will be the only game in town some day, but I'm not forecasting when.

My desire for vinyl remains mainly one of a search for exclusive stuff. Like how I purchased as many face to face 7-inches as I could back in '97-'98, I wanted to hear the B-sides that had yet to make an appearance on CD. Sure, I'm happy to have the new True Widow and Get Up Kids LPs, but vinyl requires a special sort of technique and care to enjoy.

These days, life is moving a little too fast for slow afternoons lying back and listening to the deep sounds of vinyl. Maybe I should do something about that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ben

I must credit the man I learned from on how to be a traffic reporter, in regards to his passing on April 15th.

I know I thanked him in person at some point during the nine years I worked with him -- and while I can't remember when I told him, I remember how he smiled. In some ways, I've been thanking him everyday. Even to this day, how I report traffic conditions -- in terms of accidents, road work, disabled vehicles, and general congestion -- is all because of Ben Laurie.

I came into contact with Ben when I produced the afternoon show on KLUV. For a few months, I never met him but I heard his reports through a channel on the mixing board in the main studio. Not until helicopter maintenance forced him to come into the studio and do reports did I finally get to meet him.

I remember asking my boss Chuck about what Ben looked like. Chuck, ever the deadpan jokester, told me Ben was tall, large, and balding. When Ben showed up, he was none of those three. And he was incredibly kind, generous, and easy to be around.

Merely sitting and talking with him, I learned plenty of stories about his time in radio. From covering the JFK assassination to the few hard landings he had in the chopper, the man could talk to you all afternoon and you'd still have things to ask him.

During those times I worked around him, I saw how he gathered traffic data. From a distance, it looked simple: write down the three or four biggest incidents reported on a half-sheet of paper, use an easy-to-understand shorthand (Like, "N 35E Royal 2RLs BP NW Hwy" for "Northbound 35E at Royal, two right lanes are blocked with a back-up to Northwest Highway."), and "get in and get out" with your traffic report (as in, report the traffic and don't flower it up with stuff like tirades or rants).

Simple in nature, but you really had to know what you were talking about in order for it all to make sense. And that took work. But I would use that approach when I applied for a traffic reporting job about a year later. Two weeks later, I was hired.

I would cross with Ben many times over the years, whether it was talking on our two-way, on the phone, or in the office. The guy never complained, never gave off a shred of pretension or arrogance, and he was always thankful of people who were kind to him.

I can't stress enough how humorous the guy was. It was a part of why you'd like to spend a long time talking with him. Sure, he had plenty of groaning knee-slappers, but he had plenty of zingers too.

Probably the best zinger I ever heard him say was when Julie DeHarty called in a wreck outside of L.D. Bell High School, mere yards away from where the marching band practiced on a grassy field. Ben's comment on the two-way after Julie called in the details? "The band plays better when they're on grass."

The man lived a full life and never gave up his love of radio. He was even scheduled to work this past weekend. Even though he suffered from illness for quite a while, I know he still would have come, because he wanted to be there.

I'm not sure I could go that distance in terms of working in radio, but Ben exemplified something that goes beyond radio and the kind of radio folk you meet. As rudimentary as showing up on time, helping out, and being easy to work with are, they never get old. And that's something I'll always take away from working with Ben.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My first show

Wanz Dover was very nice enough to participate in this week's edition. He had told me a few years ago about the Fugazi show he saw in the early '90s. It was nice to tie his story in with Our Band Could Be Your Life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Unsolicited writing advice

Blame it on a little bout of writer's block, but things have been a little lagging on the book writing front. Many bigger issues have come up and I've put the book on the side for the last few weeks. But last week, on a whim, I did something that has inspired me to get back in motion.

Thus, I'd like to share another bit of unsolicited book writing advice.

I can't stress how important it is to have a trusted source read your manuscript before you throw something out to the public. Whether it's your spouse, good friend, or family member, whoever can give you usable and helpful advice can inspire you in many ways. Ways that you probably never saw coming.

In my most recent case, I let my friend Amy read over the first chapter of When We Were the Kids. In turn, she let me read the first two chapters of a novel she's working on. Her feedback made sense. She dug the material. The only drawbacks she found were drawbacks I've wanted to work on/fix. And she didn't come across as a frustrated/bitter aspiring novelist in the process.

Feedback is important in getting out of your head. You will always know the material better because you wrote the damn thing. But in translating it for others to read, you have to take suggestions into consideration. If you're turning to a trusted source, this is about making your material better, right?

I don't respond well to critiques that rip apart everything I've done. Forget all those weeks, months, years you've spent on something. If it sucks on the page, then you suck as a person. Well, what kind of feedback is that? Not the helpful kind. Even if it pisses you off to fight back and come up with something stronger, you still have to run through murky swamps to get there.

You want to get your points across and tell your story. Thankfully, there are people who are willing to help you. And they don't have to cost thousands of dollars to help you in the birthing process.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Back and Forth

Chalk it up to good marketing and timing, but I have to give major respect to the Foo Fighters for Back and Forth, James Moll's documentary on the band. So much so that I'm circling back around to items in their back catalog that I never really gave a chance. And yes, I'd really like to hear their newest record, Wasting Light. (High five, publicists!)

I became a fan of the band back when I heard them on Pearl Jam's all night satellite radio show. Mere weeks before this, I read Greg Dulli praise Dave Grohl's newest project in Rolling Stone. Even though it was Grohl playing all the instruments, hearing demos of "Gas Chamber" and "Exhausted" sounded like a band to me. A pretty incredible band, mind you.

I spent a lot of time listening to the Foo Fighters self-titled debut, whether I was in my room or on the band bus on the way back from a football game. It was one of regulars in rotation for me, along with a number of records out at the time.

I also spent a lot of time watching that hour-long MTV special from their show at the Brixton Academy. Over and over again. Hell, I even knew when William Goldsmith slightly deviated from Grohl's drum parts. Obsessed? You bet.

When Goldsmith and Pat Smear bolted in '97, I didn't bolt on the band. The Colour and the Shape was one of the finest records I heard that year. I even saw the band on the tail-end of that tour, shortly before they began working on There's Nothing Left to Lose.

I remained a close follower until Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. I'm not sure what was going through my head at the time, but something about the record just didn't seem to grab me. Maybe I was listening to critics who were not fans of the band rip apart their weaknesses. Maybe it was seeing the band play the American Airlines Center accompanied by a girl I wasn't sure I was actually dating at the time (didn't help she hit on a couple of guys standing behind us).

Regardless, I spent some time apart from my beloved Foos. Of course, I did find their live Wembley DVD incredibly good as well as "Cheer Up Boys (Your Makeup is Running)" from Echoes.

Fast forward to now and I absolutely ate up Back and Forth. Using live clips from back in the day that I distinctly remember (Grohl with Nirvana and Tom Petty, as well as that Brixton show), the context of the day was in full force. All of the present and past band members were interviewed, including William Goldsmith. Goldsmith was kind enough to share some of his stories with the Foos a few years ago for POST. (Nate Mendel was incredibly kind to do as well.) Seeing some of the stories he told me on camera was fantastic.

A number of stories from the band's history are not the most flattering. Grohl doesn't demystify certain accusations about him in a couple of spots. Still, it's a great document of a band that is thankfully still going strong.

And if this was a 90-minute commercial for Wasting Light, then how come the album isn't mentioned until the final ten minutes?

Anyway, if you're a fan or once were a fan, definitely check this sucker out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

My first show

This week, it's with Steve Visneau. He shared with me some of experiences with seeing bluegrass shows and Kiss.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Show me your attitude

When people ask about my attitude about Diana's prognosis, I say I am cautiously optimistic. There's no real point in thinking the worst is going to happen. Yet it seems like thinking about the worst somehow prepares you if it does come to that.

Well, if I've learned anything big out of this life so far, it's how you can imagine all you want about what happens next. What actually happens is sometimes completely different from how you thought it would be. Whether it's for the best or for the worst, imagination remains as imagination.

My head is not in sand here, but there's no reason not to think about positive outcomes. This is a completely treatable form of lymphoma that was caught early. Why should I get into bed with despair?

I will not lie though: every day since the diagnosis has had its emotional ups and downs. As much as she stays strong (and those closest to her do the same), there are times when things feel overpowering. Chemotherapy is not some easy-breezy walk in the park. Self-injections are not fun. Feeling helpless and broken are not easy thoughts to shake off.

Friends and family have reached out to us with prayers and emotional support, and they are most welcome. Seems like everyone closest to her is trying to help one another out while also dealing with the situation individually. I can't help but smile when I see her smile or sense positive vibes in her tone of voice over the phone, text, or IM.

The hardest part of all is seeing someone so committed to meeting goals have to put everything on hold for an unforeseen amount of time. She hopes to get back to work and school soon, but nothing is set in stone. She gives a lot of love and receives plenty in return. Still, the unfairness of the situation is hard to take.

Attitude is such an important part of the cancer battle. I've already heard that from plenty of cancer survivors. I strongly hope I'll be hearing that from her in the future.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Big Waves

We're only four months into 2011, but I'm quite sure Rival Schools' Pedals will be talked about as one of my favorites of the year.

When I started rating albums as top favorites of the year, I knew I had to have a deep personal bond with it. Not in the sense that it's what I think best represents rock or what my friends will agree with. No, it's got to be the soundtrack of my year. If I were to sum up my year in an album, it had to be this one or that one.

Rival Schools' 2001 debut, United By Fate, came out at a critical time in my life. I was preparing for my final semester in college and thinking about my post-college life. In order for me to have a smooth transition between those two, I was convinced I had to do another internship in radio. The marbles were in place, but something almost derailed the train.

I came back to school all ready to turn in paperwork for this internship. Then I got an earful from the head of the RTVF office about what and what should have been done that I didn't do in terms of registering for this internship. Not giving in so easily, I had to take a few meetings and drive back to and from the radio station and school to see what could be done. Rules were not necessarily broken or bent, but I did get to do my internship.

What was in my car's CD player when I wasn't blasting the then-new Ash CD? Why, Rival Schools' United By Fate.

Maybe it was the lyrics, how the lyrics were sung, or the diversity in the material, but Walter and company's opening bow made an indelible impression on me. I had the drive to keep going and not give in because one person was having a conniption fit. We're talking my future, right? Better fight for it, right?

Now ten years later, there's a new Rival Schools record out called Pedals. And it's serving as my soundtrack to anticipating good things coming my way . . . because everything has a point. All the elements that I like about the band are back, plus it seems like the lyrics reflect where my life is these days. I keep listening to it, knowing full well that it's not United By Fate Part II. It's an album that stands on its own. And it's something I have a hard time putting away.

I don't mean to sound like I'm in denial or have my head in sand, but no matter how troubling certain matters are right now, there's a mountaintop to reach. And I can see myself on it, but I don't know when. That's part of the enjoyment and frustration of life. I'm glad I have some good music to listen to as I'm finding it.