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Monday, December 31, 2012

Start Today

If something is staring me in the face that needs to change, I'm not patient enough to wait until January 1st to take care of it.

Last week, Jenny and I enjoyed spending time in Florida with her family and a few days at the beach. The hope of any vacation - no matter how short it is - is that you are relaxed while you're on it and come back to regular life with some clarity. Being at the beach last year was great for me, looking at Lake Michigan felt great earlier this year, and I certainly felt clarity while on the beach last week. I thought about things I could change in my life, and how to change them.

Loosely, I've made some resolutions in the new year, but they're not the kind I want to be extremely vocal about. There's some housecleaning to do in my house as well as in my mind. I already started on some of those today, and I'm not finished with them until I say they're finished.

I look forward to 2013. Lots of good stuff is on the horizon, and that horizon doesn't feel very far away.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is a monster. I reached out to a dozen people I interviewed this year for the column, and almost all of them got back to me via Facebook. Since it's the holiday/best-of version, it's OK that it's long.

And I contributed to a year-end list for best local releases. It should come as no surprise that I praised Things of Earth once again.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tenacity of the Cockroach

(I briefly mentioned this in yesterday's post, but I wanted to write a separate post on Keith Phipps' departure from The A.V. Club.)

When Keith broke the news on his site yesterday morning, I was surprised and saddened. I'm not one to think that one person will remain in the same job position until retirement, but the departure seemed abrupt. Especially since this was just a few days after The A.V. Club reached a pop culture milestone when it was spoofed on The Simpsons.

I will remain a daily reader of the site as long as the content is worth reading. I hope Keith will land on his feet in a job that brings out the best of his talents as a writer and editor. But I can't help reflect on how much the site has meant to me under his command. He had been with The Onion for fifteen years, helping make a small section of it into a full-on epicenter of pop culture discussions.

How I came to know Keith was from a very brief encounter while I was writing my first book. 

Back in 2004, I interviewed Bryan Jones, who was a longtime pen pal of mine because he played in a band that I loved called Horace Pinker. I wanted to talk to him about his involvement with At the Drive-In in their early days and we had a great discussion. As we finished up the interview, I expressed interest in talking with fellow writers for the book and he said he knew somebody at Punk Planet. That was Kyle Ryan, a fellow Houstonian and a writer/editor who had a number of his Punk Planet articles uploaded onto his personal site. I contacted Kyle via an e-mail address Bryan gave me, we hit it off right away, and about a year later, Kyle asked me if I wanted to write music reviews for Punk Planet. This was the first chance for my writing to be published in a printed capacity, so I jumped at the chance.

As it would turn out, I ended up working on only one issue with Kyle as my editor. He left Punk Planet to take a full-time job at The A.V. Club. Working with his successor Dave Hofer, I stayed with the magazine until it folded a couple of years later. I bore no hard feelings towards Kyle because by then, I was a regular (and avid) reader of The A.V. Club. I was proud of him to go onto a great place.

What led me to the site was The Tenacity of the Cockroach, a collection of A.V. Club interviews with all kinds of people in the entertainment industry. I was in the research phase with my book and I was looking for anything and everything I could use as reference material. I bought Tenacity because it had an interview with Ian MacKaye, one of the major players in the book I was trying to write. I was very interested in many of the other people interviewed, like Tom Waits, Aimee Mann, Gene Simmons, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Jello Biafra. What was talked about and how it was talked about was quite different from anything I had ever read before. Talking more about the craft, the inner-workings of the entertainment business, and horror stories about the business, there was more substance to these interviews compared to other publications. These interviews were more conversational, like the ones I enjoyed reading in The Big Takeover. (If you want to know where I got my interview "style" from, it's Punk Planet, The Big Takeover, and The A.V. Club.)

Eventually I came back to Chicago and made a lunch date with Kyle. I went to his office, which he shared with Keith and a few other full-time writers. I introduced myself to Keith, told him about this book I was writing and the blog I was keeping to track the book's progress. Keith, pulling his keyboard in front of him, acted very interested in my project and asked for the name of my blog. Not too long after, Kyle and I went to lunch, and to this day, that has been the only time I've been in the same room with Keith.

Luckily, the power of the Internet allowed us to keep in contact over the years. Whether it was trading e-mails, commenting on respective blog posts, or befriending each other on various social networks (including MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and GoodReads) the lines of communication remained open. Given how The A.V. Club welcomes feedback and dialogue from their regular readers, I was happy to be a friend of the site, getting to know many of the other writers as well. (I had considered pitching/asking for some freelance work with them over the years, but decided not to, mainly because my fields of expertise are handled extremely well in the hands of Kyle, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, and Steven Hyden.)

The site has been a wonderful source for people like me who take a deeper look and appreciation of pop culture. Whether it's an Inventory, a Random Roles, or an A.V. Club Q&A, I usually find out something new or brand new information I can't find elsewhere. Where else could I find a genuinely well-written review by actual fans on a film about the Replacements or about Bob Mould's autobiography? Better yet, where else can I depend on writers who aren't trying to be hipper or cooler than the average consumer? As vast as the Internet is, these kinds of traits are a little hard to find in a reputable place.

I've found the site to be a place where I can find out about a new release by Texas is the Reason, a review of a micro-budget documentary about fathers and sons, and a well-written review of The Avengers. Usually, stuff on the fringes of pop culture stay on niche websites, but The A.V. Club tends to give things a better chance than other sites. Thanks to the site, I've seen many great films I was iffy about seeing initially (The Descent, The Mist, and Zodiac come to mind right away) and books I was iffy about reading (especially Jason Zinoman's Shock Value.) Doesn't matter how big or small the thing is, if there's a sizable interest with the readers, chances are, they'll cover it. (Personal note: I was honored when Jason Heller was kind enough to plug my then-unreleased book back in April of 2008.)

Wherever the site goes post-Keith, I want to give it a shot. If it goes in a direction that I don't like, I will simply stop reading it. I have a feeling they will continue to be good, given the number of writers I like that are still writing for them. (I certainly hope it doesn't take the direction that Idolator took after Maura Johnston left.)

But on a personal note, I'd like to talk about the virtual friendship that I've had with Keith since that brief conversation all those years ago. Because of blogs, Facebook status updates, updates on GoodReads, and tweets on Twitter, he's given light to things going on in his life. Be it details on the last few years of his father's life, the birth of his daughter, or a neighbor who was scared of him while he walked his dog, I've enjoyed the slices of life that he's shared. These are ways of keeping in touch when it's hard to find the time to see each other, e-mail each other, or talk on the phone.

When he announced his departure yesterday, many passed the word along via Twitter and Facebook, including myself. Many shared praises of his work and his personality, and it certainly was a delight when he tweeted last night: "Thanks to everyone who made me feel like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It's a Wonderful Life today." I think the praise was overdue, especially with the reputation he has built over the years.

In my time as a reader and a pen pal, there have been instances where what he said and what he did were kind. Extremely kind, actually, towards someone he'd only briefly talked to a number of years ago. When I had a question about some freelance database work and thought his wife Stevie could help answer my question, he sent me her way. When my previous girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer, he referred me to a friend of his named Jean who was in the process of finishing her cancer treatment. In addition, he told me two words that sounded so simple, but meant plenty when he wrote them in an e-mail: "Stay positive." And when he and Stevie sent Jean cupcakes with "Fuck Cancer" written on them, I was inspired to make vegan red velvet cupcakes featuring that phrase for my then-girlfriend's birthday.

Certainly meaning more than just another guy who writes and edits pop culture stuff, he's someone that exudes a positive personality. That's why when I read testimonials on Facebook by Todd VanDerWerff and Donna Bowman on Keith's impact on them, my heart was warm. I truly wish the best with what comes next for him. He deserves it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One day at a time

On my way back from Houston yesterday, I saw a sign outside of a church: "You can argue with God, you just can't win." I had a good chuckle because I agree with that sentiment.

While I don't brand myself a Christian, I do have an attachment to the ideas of being hopeful, a good person, helpful towards others, and a positive-thinking person. And it's taken me a long time to understand the difference between things that are in my control (which is a small number) and the things that are not in my control (which is a very large number).

I spent most of this year upset about things that happened in 2011. I couldn't shut the door on a drastic change in my personal and professional life that happened over the course of four short months. I had started 2011 in a happy relationship while I was in a band I enjoyed playing with and made the best of a hostile work environment. By the end of October last year, all three of those situations were not in my life anymore. They didn't leave my mind though. They were too close to my heart to brush them off like dust on a shelf.

As easy as it would sound to stop all thinking about those situations, I have tried, but I have not fully put them behind me. I'm happy to say that I'm in a much better spot in my personal life thanks to Jenny. She's brought me so much joy, love, laughs, and stability since we met in July. I still play the drums even though I can't seem to find the right fit with a band situation. The way I figure, whatever band I'm in next will appreciate a drummer who practices regularly with a metronome. And my freelance writing for the Observer and dentist websites have kept me busy, happy, and active.

I would love to have a full-time job with health benefits again, but that's not exactly something I have control over when it will happen. I've made a lot of strides to get to that point this year, but for now, it's freelance work.

In the past few days, people I've thought highly of have lost their jobs. Whether they worked in radio or worked in writing/editing pop culture articles, my heart goes out to them. Losing one's job a few weeks before Christmas can feel like a big middle finger in the face. But more often than not, I hear from others how losing a job was one of the best things to happen to them. Hopefully these people will say this in the near future.

I spent so much of this year living with a kind of anger that seemed impossible to let go of. I often thought about why my relationship fell apart (and later became extremely bitter), why my band fell apart, and why I put up with a toxic work situation for so long. I came to the realization that I can stay in bad situations for too long. Hopefully, the lesson learned is to have some kind of courage to leave those situations, consequences be damned.

I think back to that great quote by Bobby Patterson: "I thank God for all my enemies. I thank God for every job I've ever been fired from. I thank Him for every girl that left me. Because that thing makes you stronger. They make you who you are. And if you're gonna be in this entertainment business, you better learn to be strong." He is totally right.

Looking forward to 2013, there is a clearer road up ahead. There's a second book to be published, a third book to finish writing, more great times to be had with Jenny, more birthdays with my family, and a desire to be an even better person. I'm not in control of everything that happens next, but I hope to be ready for it. 

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Jonas from Turbo Fruits. Usually, I have my interviews scheduled, taped, and transcribed well before my Tuesday afternoon deadline. I was going to interview a different member of the band on Tuesday, but when I called him, he said he was in the hospital. He suggested that I talk to a different member of the group and I rescheduled with the publicist. My interview with Jonas finally happened last night at five, but he was afraid his call was going to drop because he saw mountains ahead on his drive. Luckily, the signal did not drop and we had a great conversation.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A year in music

If there is one word I could use to describe my life in 2012, it's rebuilding. Rebuilding in the sense of figuring out what I truly want in my personal and professional life. I thought long and hard while trying to move forward. Music, as always, kept me sane through all of this. I listened to a lot of music that was released this year -- a lot more than I had in previous years. This list reflects that, as well as a number of the shows I saw and stories/interviews that I did.

The Best Records Released This Year

Title Fight, Floral Green
Despite the vastness of options on the Internet, I still go off of friend recommendations the most when it comes to finding out about new music. My friend Seth was highly enthusiastic about Title Fight's second record, calling them "Seaweed Jr." Upon listening to it, especially "Secret Society," I agreed, but I also added No Knife, Hum, and Lifetime to the list of obvious influences. Most of these guys are not old enough to legally drink, but they deliver such a punch of great songs, passion, and conviction.

Things of Earth, Old Millennium Pictures
From time to time, friends of mine will recommend that I check out their new side project or completely new band. More often than not, what I hear is very rough and not very memorable. When Brandon Butters told me about Things of Earth, his other band when he's not playing in the West Windows, I gave this freebie EP a listen. What I heard sounded incredibly well recorded and it had a tremendous sense of urgency to it. I've heard many instrumental bands that take influence from Pelican, Hum, and Far, but this four-piece does something refreshing with those influences. I look forward to what they deliver next.

Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
I heard good things about Cloud Nothings last year when I read some year-end lists. Trevor Kelley tweeted high praise for this album, so I was inclined to check it out. While I hope their drummer adds a crash cymbal to his kit someday (yes, once a drum nerd, always a drum nerd), Attack on Memory reminds me of what I like about Cap'n Jazz in terms of dynamics and release. And "Stay Useless" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year.

The Jealous Sound, A Gentle Reminder
Once again, a Trevor Kelley recommendation. He tweeted at the end of January: "Mid-life heartbreak, bleary-eyed optimism, and the power of palm muting. A hands down classic." Extremely well put. "Change You" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Ben Folds Five, The Sound of the Life of the Mind
I've written plenty over the years about how much Ben Folds' work with the Five and as a solo artist has meant to me. His reunion with the Five has produced another fine album, even though its title is a mouthful (more than The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner). Lots of great songs here, but "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later" is one of the best.

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind
I don't listen to a lot of heavy music, but there are a few bands I can listen to over and over again for years. Converge is one of those bands, and they've been pretty consistent with creating records I want to hear. Since Jane Doe, the band's been pretty unstoppable in terms of quality. And while I truly enjoy this record, there are times when I think, "Haven't I heard this riff before?" I don't think that when I hear "Aimless Arrow."

Torche, Harmonifcraft
This record took me a few listens to really dive in. Torche is one of the few bands that can play extremely loud and heavy music with very tasty melodies. "Letting Go" certainly resonated with me this year, as did the rest of the record.

Best Coast, The Only Place
I'm extremely cautious about getting into bands that have one basic sound. Best Coast is vocals, guitars, and basic drumming. I liked their debut album, but I love The Only Place. Sunny melodies with lyrics about isolation, frustration, and heartbreak, "How They Want Me to Be" is one of the many standouts.

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Word was, the Gaslight Anthem almost scrapped this record and started over. Thankfully, they didn't. I found Handwritten to be a rebound from their last record. Like Tom Petty and Hot Water Music hanging out on E Street, especially on "45."

Best Discoveries/Re-discoveries This Year

Marshall Crenshaw
Marshall's name has been mentioned before on the A.V. Club and Popdose, sites I often read. After I read Noel's excellent Gateways to Geekery piece on power-pop, I checked out Marshall's debut self-titled record and the This is Easy compilation. This is power pop for those who love sunny melodies with a Buddy Holly/Phil Spector influence rather than a Beatles influence. Great stuff that still holds up strong.

Blur
Thanks to a massive box set containing everything the band has released, I was able to go back into Blur's album cuts and singles. Blur always made diverse music that never adhered to one genre, and their legacy is even stronger now (especially when you don't have tabloids writing about how many more records Oasis sold in 1996). 

Genesis
I've been listening to the pop-friendly material of Genesis since the mid-80s. I still love songs like "Invisible Touch," "In Too Deep," and "Misunderstanding," but I never dug into their deep album cuts or their material with Peter Gabriel. Since I always see their albums in used record bins, I was inclined to check them out, especially since the guys in Mastodon are huge fans. After spending a lot of hours this year listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Seconds Out, and A Trick of the Tail, I have to say they're perfect for evenings in, sitting on the couch. 

Tom Waits
Somebody who's almost impossible to find in a used record bin, Tom Waits continues to amaze me. Whether it's a deep cut from Small Change or The Heart of Saturday Night, I'm in.

Amy Winehouse
Away from the tabloids and her untimely death,  I can enjoy a song like "Love is a Losing Game." Sad and beautiful stuff.

(By the way, I created a playlist on Spotify featuring a number of the songs from my favorite albums of the year, as well as the new discoveries/re-discoveries.)

Biggest Disappointments From This Year

Cursive, I Am Gemini
I remember driving home from Darryl Smyers' house the day he gave me his promo copy of I Am Gemini. I thought it was a tremendous disappointment, especially since records like The Ugly Organ and Happy Hollow are total gems. The songs sound unfocused and sloppy, all tied into this narrative about twins. Not my cup of tea. Worse, drummer Cully Symington -- who's a powerful drummer when the band plays live -- is reduced to sounding like he's playing in a closet down the hall. The songs sounded better live when I saw them at Trees, but that didn't excuse this record for being a disappointment to me.

The Twilight Sad, No One Can Ever Know
Another situation where the songs from this sounded better live, but this is not the Twilight Sad at their best. Jettisoning the bleak and angry rock of their past, they took a Joy Division-esque approach with No One Can Ever Know. I like a lot of Joy Division material, but I certainly do not listen to it all the time.

Best in Shows

Converge/Torche, Dada, November 1st
(Read my original review here
Crazy mosh pits and aggressive music, along with friendly vibes between band and audience. Absolutely the best show I saw this year.

Chris Botti, Verizon Theatre, February 16th
(Read my original review here
I expected to enjoy this show, but I was quite blown away by the surprise guests, song choices, and spontaneity.  

Ben Folds with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Bass Hall, April 27th
Ben Folds Five, Palladium Ballroom, September 23rd
(Read my original Ben Folds Five review here)
Prior to this year, I had never seen Ben play live. I got a nice double dose this year.

The Jealous Sound, Lola's, February 7th, and LaGrange, October 7th
My third and fourth times to see the Jealous Sound. Previous times, they were on bills with bands I wanted to see more. These times, I wanted to see them. Quite excellent. They sounded fantastic at LaGrange, and sadly, it was the last show at LaGrange before they closed up shop.

The Afghan Whigs, Granada Theater, October 14th
I don't claim to be an expert on the Whigs, but every song they played, I was quite familiar with. And they had the best ending to a set I saw all year: a little bit of "Purple Rain" during "Faded."

The Beach Boys, Verizon Theatre, April 26th
(Read my original review here)
Nobody else at the Observer wanted to cover this show, so I did, and I'm glad. Reunited with Brian Wilson (for what eventually became a short time, sadly), they played every big hit and plenty of album cuts. I think the ten backing musicians helped.

Iron Maiden, Gexa Energy Pavilion, August 17th
(Read my original review here
My first Maiden show. Filled with classic after classic, Bruce Dickinson is still one of the best vocalists in the metal genre.

At the Drive-In, Trees, April 10th
(Read my original review here)
Prior to this year, I never thought an At the Drive-In reunion would happen in any capacity. Well, this show was a surprise. The band isn't as crazy as they were in the '90s, but they certainly made up for a shambling performance at Trees in 2000.

face to face, Cambridge Room at House of Blues, November 8th
I was lucky to see face to face play a lot of tunes from Ignorance is Bliss before the record came out. While the direction they went with that record bummed out a lot of punker-for-lifers, people like me really enjoyed the record. So it was fantastic to see the entire album performed acoustic in a very intimate setting.

Worst in Shows

Tenacious D, Palladium Ballroom, July 20th
(Read my original review here)
I'm not really a Tenacious D fan, but I was asked to sub for another writer who had committed to covering this show. After seeing this show, I can't really tell if the D have their hearts in their music. And the sound mix was awful and uneven: it might as well been called drummer Brooks Wackerman with Tenacious D.

Mark Kozelek, Granada Theater, December 6th
I like a lot of the songs Mark has done as a solo act and with the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. When I saw him seven years ago at the Gypsy Tea Room, he was fantastic. And it was great when he called out a guy who was talking on his cell phone during the set. I met him afterwards and he was very friendly. When I saw him this year, he was frequently a prick to certain people in the audience, including two women in the front who were whispering to each other during songs. Then he kept flirting with a girl he kept forgetting her name. And he bragged he was getting paid a lot of money to play this show. Then he has the audacity to say that the crowd seemed intimidated by him. It was a weird counterpoint to the fact that he played very, very well for over two hours. Whether it was a Descendents cover, an old Red House Painters song or the sublime "Moorestown," they sounded fantastic. I don't know if he was pretending to be a prick or not, but I left that show feeling uncomfortable.  

Jane's Addiction, McFarlin Auditorium, May 10th
(Read my original review here)
Since I was born in 1979 (and not between 1973 and 1976), I can't seem to appreciate Jane's Addiction. Seeing them play in a venue with rows of seats that are perfect for five-year-olds, it was not very enjoyable from where I sat.

Favorite Interviews/Stories

Bobby Patterson
(Read the original story here)
In my final year of working as a traffic reporter, I always had a blast doing reports for Bobby Patterson. When he was let go from KKDA-AM, I talked to him and wrote an op-ed piece about it. Then I caught up with a few months later and wrote another article on him. I strongly related to him and what he had to say. I wrote from the heart of someone who was getting over a layoff. I think that came across.

Jake Bannon
(Read the whole thing here)
Prior to interviewing Jake, I had heard that he was an intense personality. The guy has a heart with wings tattooed on his neck, along with all kinds of other body art. But the guy I talked to for 30 minutes was one of the nicest, friendliest guys I've ever met. We talked at length about his early influences, from Queen to European metal bands. 

Dead Flowers
(Read the whole thing here
Interviewing five people at once can be difficult. Luckily, when I interviewed the five members of Dead Flowers at their practice space, they were hilarious and easy to chat with.

Brandon Butters
(Read the whole thing here)
Before our interview, I didn't realize that Butters was much younger than me. He's a good dude with a healthy attitude about getting into music. Since we had talked before this interview (and I had imbibed half a glass of Guinness), I was rather punchy, especially when talking about Rush. I was being funny, but it didn't really translate onto the page.

Chuck Ragan
(Read the whole thing here)
I got very emo with Chuck during this interview, especially towards the end. Essentially, this was a follow-up interview to the one he did with me for Post, even though it originally was an interview about the Revival Tour. 

Edie Brickell
(Read the whole thing here)
I didn't know what to expect in interviewing Edie. Would she be cool, a space cadet, or rude? I had no idea why I thought that, but I handled things with kid gloves at first. She was very gracious and open and we had a great conversation. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition has a peculiar origin. I met Andrew at the Converge show early last month.Our mutual friend Nikki introduced us and I thought he looked like he was in a band. Turns out I was right and I asked him about any upcoming shows. He mentioned the show on the 6th, so I figured I should interview him for the week of the show.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Unanswered Prayers

Dear Garth Brooks,
There was a time when you were one of the biggest entertainers in the world. Not just in country music, but you were an icon. Your name was up there on the pop charts with Yanni, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, and Celine Dion. It was all because you had that incredible run of chart-topping albums and singles starting back in 1989.

As a weekly reader of the Billboard charts when I was a teenager, I was very aware of this throughout the 1990s. And I was also aware of your music even though my ears were more attuned to Nirvana, Metallica, and Green Day. Whether it was a Boy Scout trip or a family trip, I heard "Friends in Low Places," "The Dance," "The Thunder Rolls," and "Rodeo" many, many times. I even played along on one Boy Scout trip and sang along with "Friends in Low Places." Most other times I scowled, moaned, and ultimately, put up with hearing your music on endless roads.

I never hated you, but your music was overplayed. That's not your fault. I blame the record label, the radio stations, and CMT. My sister couldn't get enough of your music. Nor could the rest of the country.

Alas, this is all a memory because your career seems to be a footnote in modern day.

Signing that exclusive deal with Walmart made you a lot of money, but that deal has ultimately turned into an extremely limited and divisive issue for consumers. Walmarts I've been to in the past couple of years have a row (yes, one row) devoted to CDs, and I rarely see your CDs or box sets. (And, as of this writing, your CDs are out of stock on Walmart.com.) Your music is not available in any digital music store. Even worse, your music isn't even officially on YouTube (though that great cover of "Hard Luck Woman" with KISS is still around). And it's not available on Spotify either.

What gives, Garth? Do you want to really go the route of Chris Gaines and disappear? You've had a great run of shows in Las Vegas, but your audience was so much bigger than one town. You've seen your daughters grow up. You've had a great married life with Trisha.

But come on, I want you to be relevant to the generation that's growing up quickly these days. You know, the ones you have mastered computers by age five, send texts and never make phone calls, and like Red Dirt Country. I'm more than happy to introduce my nieces (hell, even my own children to give them a bit of a musical history lesson) to your music someday. You just need to make your material more widely available.

If we've learned anything from the Internet age, people like a lot of choices instead of one choice. So, come back into that spotlight, Garth. There's still some space for you.

Best,

-Eric

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clockwork Angels

Not only did I get to review last night's Rush show at the American Airlines Center, I also had the pleasure to snap a few pictures up in the front. Turning around and looking at the crowd in the arena, I thought I was in The Song Remains the Same. Absolutely special night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Evan Chronister, someone I've known for years. He's told me plenty of great stories about seeing pivotal and influential bands, but he had never told me about seeing Rush. I hope to see him tonight when I cover the Rush show at AAC.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My grown-up Christmas list

For two decades, when it came to compiling a Christmas list, compact discs were at the top of the list. Every year, from middle school to last year. Be it a box set, single CD, or double-CD, there was a continuation of my want-itis for years. But this year, my Christmas list doesn't feature any CDs.

As much as this might sound like a joining with modern society, I'm still a CD buyer and only listen to CDs in my car. But when it came to things I most wanted for Christmas this year, DVDs, books, golf-related stuff, and bike-related stuff came to mind. I still listen to plenty of music, but given the MP3s I get every month from eMusic, along with used LPs I get from Half Price Books, CDs aren't the go-to format for me now. I certainly will not fathom abandoning the format completely. But for now, my wants (and the things I want to buy for others) lies in other things.

I credit (credit, not blame) this to a decision that music isn't the only important matter in my life. If I were to tell the 16-year-old version of myself this, he'd probably cry foul, run into his room, and lock the door. But it's taken me this long to realize that my interests should be a better balance with listening to/playing music along with biking, golfing, reading, watching movies, and dog-walking.

I feel comfortably fine to take on new responsibilities with where my life is going. I don't feel the pressure to constantly have music to listen to, books to read, or movies to watch to fill up my leisure time. Those things seemed to fill a bigger void in my life for such a long time. But this was a void that has become much smaller in recent memory. Time passes much more quickly because there's so much that I want to do and accomplish. So it looks like I will not have a house filled wall-to-wall with media. And I'm thankful of that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Meet the . . .

I'm rather perplexed by the supposed pressure we put on ourselves before meeting possible future in-laws. I've put pressure on myself before and it ended up not being a big deal. I've had friendly relations with my previous girlfriends' parents and I'm happy to say that has continued with Jenny's family (I met her mother and one of her sisters a few weeks ago, and I will meet the rest of the family at Christmas.)

When we're teenagers, there's a bigger sense of pressure. The whole, "Why are you dating my daughter?" awkward conversation and all. Since every girl I asked out in high school turned me down (sad trombone), I never had to deal with that. No questions like, "What are you going to do with your life?" or "Where do you plan to go to college?" When I got to college, I had a relatively pressure-free experience with my college girlfriend.

These days, on paper (and in the eyes of suspicious skeptics), I sound like a questionable 33-year-old who doesn't seem to have every duck in the row. Guy who lost his full-time job and is a freelance writer? Guy who plays drums but doesn't play in a band? Guy who has a library of books, DVDs, LPs, and CDs? Sounds like a non-winner to the superficial. I'm lucky that I date someone who sees through the superficial, sees my charms, and recognizes my potential. (I see the same with her.)

Stereotypical stuff, as in the stuff that the Meet the Parents franchise is based on, might be funny with nervous tension. I try to not fall into that crap. I've always stuck by this attitude: if I don't want to introduce a girlfriend to my parents, then I shouldn't date her. Might sound limiting, but there are some perks to being picky. I don't want to choose between my parents and her. I'd rather have her be welcomed with open arms every time we see my parents (and vice-versa with her parents).

Building longtime relationships is important to me. If you want to take dating seriously with somebody, you need to consider what all you're getting yourself into. I most certainly do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with John Solis, drummer of seven Dallas bands. I've known this guy for years and found out a lot more in this conversation.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition ran a day later for a technical difficulty. Our interview was scheduled for noon on Tuesday, but all attempts to make contact didn't happen. Hans called me yesterday, very apologetically, and we did the interview. We spoke for less than ten minutes and I asked a lot of questions. Then I transcribed it and uploaded it.

Also, in print edition, I wrote a couple of blurbs about two winners of the DOMAs. I wrote one on Burning Hotels and one on the Foundry. I couldn't make the awards showcase on Saturday due to a wedding, and I couldn't make the ceremony since I was at the Title Fight show at Dada. The promoter and one of the bands on the bill won DOMAs and were very gracious of their respective awards, but they seemed like they had more fun being at a show (and a rowdy one, no less).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Happened?

For the past three years, I have looked for a single book that went out of print years ago. Almost every single time I went to Half Price Books, I dropped in on the TV books section all for the hopes of finding Mr. Show: What Happened? by Naomi Odenkirk.

I wasn't sure how the book would be filed: "Mi" for mister or "Mr" for Mr? Repeat trips to the section found me looking a plethora of Monty Python-related books as well as books on Mr. Ed and Mr. Bean.

I can't remember exactly where in the filing I found this, but I was tremendously happy to find it last Sunday:
I wouldn't consider myself a super-fan of Mr. Show. I didn't really find it funny when I originally saw on HBO or when my friends would watch it. When it was on HBO, I thought the humor was over my head. When I originally watched it with my friends, I thought I had to be high to get the humor. Luckily, I gave the show another shot a few years ago and I finally appreciated the dark/twisted/meta humor Bob and David did.

Since What Happened? is billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the show, I figured there would be some interesting stories about the difficulty in doing a show like it. Reading about the struggles of making something fascinates me. Stories like these are healthy reminders about how creativity can be incredibly difficult, even for the people you look up to. It's a story I often read about, and I don't seem to get tired of.

Thinking I'd find out some more wisdom and background on the show, I looked and looked during my frequent trips to this great used bookstore chain in the world. I stopped looking at online retailers quite a while ago, figuring that people were asking too much for it. I wanted to hold a copy in my hands and see if it was truly worth buying.

Quickly thumbing through this copy on Sunday, I knew I had struck gold. Like when I finally found that five-LP set of Bruce Springsteen live material earlier in the year, there was a sense of relief finding something in good shape and for a decent price.

Three years is a long-ass time to look for something particular, but when I'm determined to find something, I'm quite sure I will find it. Of course, I do wonder, "What next?"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Merry Christmas, Baby?

There is a little war being waged in my household over Rod Stewart's career in the past ten years. Yes, Rod Stewart. (War might not be the right word, as the extent of it has been posting links on Facebook timelines and hurling light insults at each other. Nothing has come to fisticuffs or hurt feelings, yet.)

If my memory is correct, my housemate Matt casually mentioned his love of Rod Stewart's recorded output. Rod the Mod's been on his mind quite a bit lately, mainly with all the used vinyl LPs he's found in the past few months at Half Price Books. I have plenty of appreciation for the material found on these LPs, going back to his days with the Faces to his early solo work, and all the way to songs found on his mid-1990s albums. For those keeping score at home, that's "Stay With Me" and "Maggie May" all the way to "My Heart Can't Tell You Know" and "Rhythm of My Heart."

Where the line goes off in different directions involves Rod's choices of material starting with It Had to Be You, his first Great American Songbook collection, in what has accumulated into four unnecessary sequels. I'm not picking on Rod by choosing cover songs; he's done cover songs for all of his solo career. Whether it was Tom Waits or the Isley Brothers, he did things in his own way.

But the way he covers a song like "The Way You Look Tonight" is pathetic. Doing it in a style that sounds like it's being performed in an airport bar feels like pandering. A kind of pandering to men and (especially) women aged 38 to 66 who still aren't sure about the validity of MP3s or the iTunes music store. Somehow, this demographic doesn't mind when older artists take the route of regurgitating material that has already been regurgitated to death. And even worse, they regurgitate it to make it sound as appealing as a Yanni album. See also: Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, and Kenny G.

I understand that Rod is playing to the people who are actually buying tickets to his shows and his albums. Albums like Human and A Spanner in the Works didn't catch fire in the '90s, so he's taken the safe route of playing the familiar songs of other people to stay relevant to a broad audience. (Though I must say his version of "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" from the Still the Same collection is pretty spot-on.) The man women wanted to lose their virginity to and the men who wanted to be him has come to this career floatation device.

Since he's going the way of Barry Manilow, it's only fitting that Rod has a Christmas album out this year called Merry Christmas, Baby. Now he's playing to those people who want continuous Christmas music to start on November 1st every year. By giving this crowd a dozen of the Christmas songs you always hear every year (along with a few original tunes), he's going the same airport bar performance route. Feel free and hit the snooze button through "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Silent Night"!

I can only roll my eyes at Matt's enjoyment of this record. He made me a copy of it and I could barely get through the first track. He's told me about Rod's appearances on the Home Shopping Network schlepping this as well as the recently-released autobiography, The Autobiography. And I'm sure he will terrorize me with his copy of Merry Christmas, Baby when we're out getting our Christmas tree or doing various bits of holiday shopping. (I hope Jenny doesn't snag a copy in the meantime.)

For now, we agree to disagree. I'll take Rod's version of "Downtown Train" any day over "White Christmas" any day. Unfortunately, I'm alone in this.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Un-Friend Zone

Before Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Facebook, who you kept in touch with was not for public knowledge. A lot of people had a Rolodex or an address book filled with phone numbers and addresses. (Throughout high school, I had a small piece of paper with my friends' phone numbers on it.) With cell phones, keeping any number stored in your phone was groundbreaking.

But ever since those aforementioned social networks came into prominence (especially MySpace and Facebook), deleting anyone from a virtual (and public) Rolodex has become a touchy subject. Un-friending someone doesn't mean, "I don't want to hear your political rants, what you're eating, or what was the last movie you saw." Instead, it often comes across as, "I need distance from you, so I'm breaking communication ties for now." And sometimes (usually with the blocking function) it means, "I don't want to have anything to do with you for the foreseeable future."

Whenever someone un-friends me, I often think about the last time I saw her or her. Most times, the conversation (no matter how brief) was pleasant and friendly. So to find myself un-friended, I'm more curious than anything. I don't hold it against that person if he or she does it, but I most certainly will politely ask about it if I see that person again. (And as much as people like to say it's not personal, it certainly comes across that way when there's no real explanation given.)

I'm not bashing social media here; I love the concept, frankly. Keeping in touch with people you haven't seen in a while, you get a ballpark sense of what that person's everyday life is like. For people you often see, you get to see things that may or may not be brought up in a future conversation.

Too often, what we're thinking in our heads is not always suitable to be said in person. It doesn't help that Facebook always asks, "What's on your mind?" in the blank space delegated for a status update. Humans have a great filter called vocal cords. We can use them when we want to say something, and we don't use them when we hold back. Yet we don't have to use them at all when posting a status update. Which makes me wonder about the validity of, "If you can't say something nice, don't say it" matters in our modern society.

I'm no saint here; I've said some really hurtful things to people over e-mail, and I've been very cryptic about heavy things going on in my life on Facebook and even this blog. I have tried to curb all of that even though I understand why people use the route of sending a message instead of having a conversation in person. There are some people that we know that just don't "get" what we're talking about. They cut us off mid-sentence, urge to change the subject, or make light of what we're talking about. That certainly derails us from truly speaking our minds.

I can't help but think of this topic with the presidential campaign being over. Friends of mine, who love to vocally voice their political opinion on Facebook, have plenty of things to say today. In some cases, people have come across as hurtful and misinformed with the posts they share and the things they say. Interestingly, they don't bring these things up in an everyday in-person conversation.

All I come away from is knowing what to not talk about with someone in our next in-person conversation. If their political rants annoy me, I can simply unsubscribe from their posts, and they won't know about it. Thankfully that doesn't have to be public knowledge . . . yet. 

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Shane from Title Fight, a band I've come to love in the last few months. My friend Seth highly recommended their latest, Floral Green, to me, and I returned the favor in the first question I asked.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Finally

I believe it's safe to share this information now: while it's not a full-time job, I have a new, regular freelance writing gig. Writing copy for dentist offices throughout the country, it's something I am learning more about by the day. My skills as a blogger and copywriter have come in handy, allowing me to finally break from the box I've felt trapped in for so long.

I will continue to write about music and books because I feel extremely passionate about doing that. I might make little or no money off of writing about music, but I'm not going to stop. Writing in general still keeps my chops in shape and my thoughts flowing. I'd be foolish to quit.

Something that was hard to explain to non-radio people was my actual job with my last company. Essentially, I was the guy who took a lot of information about traffic and made it readable and understandable for quick reports on the radio and TV. That involved a lot of multi-tasking with plates spinning in the air, but I did it for eight years.

Now I'm moving into the world of SEO copywriting and blogging. It's not too far a leap from what I've done before, but I'm thankful for the chance to do this. The road ahead looks more promising the road I've passed.

Friday, November 02, 2012

This is for the hearts still beating

I've been very lucky to see many great shows this year. From Chris Botti to the Jealous Sound to Ben Folds (with and without the Five) to the Afghan Whigs, all of these shows will be in my (usually lengthy) end of the year recap.

Yet it was the show I witnessed last night that trumped everything else I've seen in 2012: Converge with Torche, Kvelertak, and Enabler at Dada. This was a show that reminded me about what life is truly like in the now, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. Just living in the present and having a ball. Performances alone made the night, but the kicker was the camaraderie with the people I knew at the show and some of the new people I met.

Before the show began, I had the chance to meet and chat with Jake Bannon at the merch table on the patio. Following up on the conversation we had for this week's My First Show, we talked and talked about other things, like the hold-up on the vinyl edition of All We Love We Leave Behind (that new Beatles vinyl box set is taking up a lot of time at the pressing plant). Looks are very deceiving with Jake: he might have tattoos all over his body, but he's one of the friendliest and approachable guys I've ever met. Thus set a tone for the evening.

Also catching up with Andrew from Torche, whom I had interviewed last year for My First Show, we heard Enabler on in the background. The band sounded good, but their style sounded a little too generic for my tastes. Their blast beats and tortured vocals just didn't do it for me. But when Kvelertak came on, things really picked up. With thick and hearty riffs, the six-piece (complete with three guitarists) just slayed. Many of their songs would just go on and on, in a great way. It was like, Can these guys take things up even more? The answer was always yes.

The soundsystem at Dada handled the overload for the first two bands, and they thankfully did for Torche and Converge as well.

This was my third time to see Torche, and they have never disappointed me. Playing a lot of material from this year's Harmonicraft, the band sound like a big punch in your face. But it was the kind of punch that made you realize how glorious life can be. They're one of the few metal-tinged bands that smiles when they play, and for good reason. Friendly melodies with deep tones done like no other. (They even played some new material that sounded like doom metal, and I thought the overhead speakers were going to fall down.)

Then Converge took stage. This was my first time to see them after listening to them for seven years straight. Kicking off with "Concubine" and then going into "Dark Horse," the floor became alive. (Here's an Instagram of the set list.) Plenty of people moshed while I, along with many others, stood back. The band was everything I hoped for: punishing, unrelenting, but truly inspiring. And when they had microphone problems, they handled things in a pretty funny manner. Riffing on "Linus and Lucy" from the Peanuts specials while getting things straightened up, the band lost a bit of its momentum when the engine got back running. Jake commented that technical issues come with having fun, and he was absolutely right. And he repeatedly thanked the audience for coming out and sharing a positive experience with them.

Ending the set with "You Fail Me" and encoring with a few more (including "First Light" and "Last Light"), I came away happy. I got to talk some more with Jake and Andrew before they had to pack up and head for Austin. Such a great way to end the night.

Now it's the next day and I'm still feeling the buzz. I have three pieces of Converge vinyl to add to my collection, All We Love We Leave Behind on CD, and this special poster made for the show (which Jake signed for me).

Thinking about the show now, it was especially important for me to feel a true sense of belonging in a show setting. I didn't know everybody in the venue, but I enjoyed being around them. Jake shaking my hand and saying "Thank you for everything" means more than just a handshake and greeting; it's that mutual respect that fans of hardcore know very well.

And as a rock music fan, this was a great reminder about how incredible music is still made today. We can lament about sleepwalking zombies with Bon Iver as their soundtrack or garage bands who have no desire to evolve, but we can also celebrate bands like Converge and Torche. They make going to shows a worthwhile experience, and they make paying attention to modern music a purposeful pursuit.

This is why I still love going to shows.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

TCB or TYA

In this week's print edition, I wrote the main feature on Bobby Patterson's life after radio. Even though I've talked with him plenty of times before, I immensely enjoyed interviewing him for the first proper time. As in, the recorder was on.

Doing traffic for him was the highlight of my final year as a traffic reporter, but like him, I'm moving on. My hope was to write something honest and personal, but in a way that people who haven't heard his music can relate.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My first . . .

Nice little background on this week's edition with Jake Bannon from Converge. I had never interviewed him before, but one of my friends had. The word on Jake was, "He's intense." I didn't know what to expect, but when I called him a few weeks ago, he was one of the nicest guys I've ever interviewed. Obviously we talked about a lot of different stuff, but I'm happy it's stuff you don't normally see in an interview with him. Looks like all that time listening to the band's material and following MMA helped me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

22

I made a big hub-ub about getting a new bike, but I haven't really written anything about it since then. Well, the bike has served me incredibly well. So well that I clear an average between 20-45 miles a week. The key is to stay consistent and there is immense enjoyment in staying consistent.

I've had to make some adjustments to the bike in order to handle everything I like to do: got new tires (the ones that the bike came with had large nubs, so it felt like I was peddling a tractor), new tubes (it's not fun to get ready for a ride and finding a flat tire), and new pedals (the plastic ones that came with the bike broke after a few long rides). Thus, I recognize all the employees at the bike shop I go to.

Finding a safe route from my house to the White Rock Lake trail, I can clear 22 miles in two hours. That's two nine-mile laps around the lake as well as four total miles to get from my house and back. I get a strong feeling of happiness when I'm able to accomplish this feat and still walk the next day.

Stating all of this, I wonder what kind of bicyclist this makes me. I care about how well I can do, but I'm not aiming to do a marathon. I wear gloves and a helmet, but that's no-brainer safety. I announce "On your left" when I pass people by but I don't run over them. I don't wear skin-tight clothing; I wear my sweats and training shoes. I don't think of myself as a bike Nazi, but I'm definitely not the type that casually rides down the street with no respect to my safety, pedestrians or cars on the road.

I'm certainly not one to drop $10,000 on a new bike or equipment. I just want to stay in shape by combining this with a regular walking schedule. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone other than I care about my physical and mental well-being. So far, so good.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Turn On the Fun

I know I've written about going back to the Best Buy I worked at in college, but there were new thoughts that came into my head when I was in Houston last week.

I don't miss working there, and the store layout that I remember is completely different now. Instead of drawing customers in with CDs and VHS tapes, the emphasis is (and has been for a few years) on cell phones and computers (especially their Geek Squad service). My area of expertise has been relegated to a pit stop before checking out. What was once a dozen aisles and shelves is now a couple of shelves and kiosks. And the CDs are shelved in alphabetical order with no room to break things up by music genre. It's Kanye West next to Wilco across from Jason Aldeen and As I Lay Dying. I'm not bitter or hurt; I simply reflect how I've moved on from there as a former employee and a regular customer.

Working at the store between 1997 and 2000, I experienced the last hurrah of the music industry with CDs. I stocked boxes upon boxes of Celine Dion, the Titanic soundtrack, N*SYNC, the Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys. I was not the greatest employee, but I liked the people I worked with and was seen as a reliable person. I never grasped being a salesman; I was happy to help people find what they were looking for. I was not a fan of trying to make people buy something they didn't want. (This was only really enforced in my last few months working there before my college graduation.)

I don't think of my time working there as a waste of time. Far, far from it. I learned valuable lessons about the working world and how to work with other people. Those things certainly helped me when I worked in radio and TV. I do, still remember a valuable lesson: retail is not a career for me. Some people love the experience, but I prefer to spend my holidays with my family and friends in a good mood.

I used to buy CDs every few weeks. This year, I've purchased two CDs from Best Buy. One was for an interview I did and I didn't want to wait a few days to get it from Amazon. If I buy CDs, normally, they're used copies found at Half Price Books or Good Records. I still consume a ton of music, but like millions of other people in the world, it's from online sources. Not everything is available digitally, so if I find something dirt cheap on CD, I do what must be done.

Looking at what my old Best Buy is now, I remind myself that moving on is a good thing. There's no more Best Buy Radio to (jokingly) aim announcing for. I like the thought of giving money to a touring band directly for their merch instead of playing hot potato between their record label and retail outlets. These days, I don't think I fit working at a place like them, and that's certainly fine by me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Hormones, a local band. Turns out, we have a few close mutual friends, so there was no shortage of things to talk about. And it certainly helped that these three guys had been friends for a long time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Screams

I don't think it's ever too late to try something, but there are matters that seem more apt when you're younger in order to fully experience. It's like a rite of passage; getting the sense of what it means to be an adult and (mostly) unafraid. Latest examples: riding a Ferris wheel and visiting a haunted house. Kind of like those John Hughes movies I wrote about a few weeks ago, you can experience those at any time, but there's more of a lasting impact when you're becoming an adult.

In one 24-hour period on Saturday, Jenny and I went on the Texas Star for the first time and went to Screams, a haunted amusement park, for the first time. We had a ball with both, and neither of us came away frightened or scared to go do those things again.

Riding the famed Texas Star, we (including my sister and one of her daughters) enjoyed an amazing view of the city and the rest of the State Fair. Motion-wise, it felt like we were in an elevator with a windy 360-degree view. My niece was a good sport through most of the ride, though she did have to bury her head in her mother's lap a few times. When we got out, she said she enjoyed the ride. I can only hope she wants to go on it again, because I certainly do.

With our visit to Screams, I had myself on the defense at all times, ready for anything to pop out at any time.  Jenny and I were jolted a few times, but didn't come away sickened or sentenced to ugly nightmares. Given my enjoyment of a good scare, while also knowing this was as harmless as seeing a play, I often said hello to actors dressed up as monsters. It was my way of saying that I was having a good time and I wasn't frightened. I knew these actors weren't trying to physically harm me; they meant to spook and nothing more. We heard a number of screams coming from teens and pre-teens, and it didn't feel like a One Direction concert.

While waiting to go through the Arcane Asylum for the second time, we saw someone who clearly did not have a good time. Running out of the emergency exit with her father, a pre-teen was red in the face and about to erupt into an avalanche of tears. We both felt for the girl and thought about how disturbing a lot of the images and shocks could be for someone of that age. I hope she grows up unafraid of the dark . . . someday.

I like a good scare, and still get scared. The most recent one was when I saw Insidious at home. The first gotcha moment came out of nowhere and I was lifted a few inches off of my couch. And after seeing The Brood and the first Paranormal Activity at home, I had a hard time sleeping those nights.

I hope I can go through these attractions next year, still unafraid. I'm pretty sure I will. I experienced plenty of scares when I was a kid (I still can't live down my "reaction" to E.T.) but those helped me say, "You're not going to prevent me from living a happy life."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My First . . .

This week's edition is with Matt from Joyce Manor. If it seems rather short, well, it had to be done over e-mail since the band was on tour in Europe. Matt gave some good answers, and the brevity of the interview seems apt for how short their songs are.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Your Eyes Were Shining

For the past two nights, I was able to let go at two different shows. Absolutely let go without breaking the law or making a fool of myself. Just being able to do that has been difficult in recent memory, but it looks like the Afghan Whigs and Jealous Sound helped me get out of this box I've been in.

Prior to Sunday night, I had never seen Greg Dulli perform live. Not with the Gutter Twins, the Twilight Singers, or the Afghan Whigs. Thankfully, I was able to see the reformed Whigs (assisted by players from the Twilight Singers) play a magnificent set at the Granada Theater. Playing all of the songs I love by them (especially from Gentlemen, Black Love, and 1966), I was quite a happy camper.

I sang along without a care about who was around me. Dulli's lyrics and singing certainly convey an incredible vulnerability -- hence why people still love him. Even though he sings about a lot of broken relationships (and I've sung along to them while going through one in recent memory), I didn't feel tremendous anger come out of me. Rather, it was relief. Especially during "Faded," with a musical cameo from "Purple Rain" in the outro.

The same kind of relief happened as I watched the Jealous Sound play last night. I saw the band earlier in the year, still trying to come to grips with a broken relationship that had turned incredibly bitter. Watching the band play while a couple who couldn't keep their hands off each other, it was a very vivid experience, especially given how many Jealous Sound songs about people breaking up, whether as friends or lovers.

Last night, there were no goo-goo couples in front of me. Instead, I watched up in front as the four-piece powered through a spot-on set. Not skimping on any beloved song, they sounded like they were playing a 2,000-seat theater instead of a bar. With songs like "Got Friends," "Change You," and "Perfect Timing" seemingly sounding like the soundtrack to the past twelve months of my life, there was a release seeing these songs live.

Yes, release.

Thinking about the shows now, I'm extremely relieved to be in a safe, secure, and loving relationship, yet I can still understand the language of these great songs. Makes me thankful for where I'm now instead of wondering about what went wrong in the past.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Jayson from California Wives. Special note: this is the first time I've ever asked a band, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" It won't be my last.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sixteen Candles John Hughes?

For many years, I had seen only a couple of movies with ties to John Hughes (whether he was the writer or writer/director): Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. That meant no Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, or The Breakfast Club for me in the 80s. Of course I knew about those movies, but I wasn't drawn to R-rated movies in general because my parents didn't want me to see them. The R-rated movies I was attracted to were action flicks, not salty-language pics about romantic triangles.

When I really got into movies that were beyond what the multiplexes had (aka, college), I was more into horror flicks and indie movies. I'm talking the Scream franchise (and its ensuing knock-offs), some of the Halloween movies, Good Will Hunting, Swingers and all of Kevin Smith's movies. While I did see Weird Science, I had been told that I must see The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles by many friends. The whole, "You haven't seen it? Awww man, you gotta see it!" came up frequently. And not even a reference to Shermer, Illinois in Dogma made me drop everything and watch those movies.

Well, it only took ten years to get there, but I finally saw Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club this year. And guess what? I didn't hate them, but I thought, If I saw these when I was in high school, I'd completely relate and worship them. I think they're essential to watch when you're in high school/college because the topics are incredibly fresh and timely. But as we age and embrace adulthood, topics like taking somebody to the prom and choosing the right boyfriend don't resonate as much as the central theme of Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and take a look around once in a while, you could miss it.").

I'm not weeping over misspent youth here. I wouldn't change a thing about watching Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Buckaroo Banzai repeatedly as a suburban kid. I find life to be a series of playing catch-up while doing what I want to do. Ah yes, the joys of being stubborn.

Monday, October 08, 2012

VIP

What happens when I receive an e-mail about a VIP pass sitting at the Observer's front desk for me and a couple of other freelancers? I go by and talk with Audra for a little bit. Knowing that the pass is good for a show that's very close to my home, I then open my big mouth and ask, "Is anybody covering this?" That's how this review came to be.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

My First . . .

This week's edition is with Jeff Klein from My Jerusalem. Jeff is the first person I have interviewed three different times. That's a record for me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

3

Well, since I talked about it on Twitter last week, it looks like I can make this official here: I strongly believe I have another book in me to write.

That's book number three for me, officially. Even though I had an idea to write something about vampire zombies in suburbia during Christmastime (really), I've shelved that idea for now and will focus on something different. It will be a (gasp!) novel and I've already begun working on it. What it will be is an extremely loose concept: pop culture critics. That's all I can say for now since that's about all that I have in the can.

I don't foresee this book taking years to write, but if that's what happens, then that's what happens. As exciting as it would be to write an entire book in the month of November, I'd rather create qualitative results over quantitative. Meaning, fifteen pages of useable stuff after a few weeks instead of fifty pages of crap that must either be chopped into pieces or thrown completely away.

I don't commit myself lightly to book projects. If I'm going to devote time to writing them every week, I should try to create something I can stand by. Hopefully, this third book will be something I can stand by.


Monday, October 01, 2012

I Want Your Skulls

When it comes to decorating, there is usually only one time of the year that I do it.

And it's not Halloween.

What gives? I've always enjoyed Halloween as an adult and a kid. I'm always happy to see what my nieces will be each year, and I'm very eager to check out horror flicks I have not seen before. Giving out candy can be fun, but in the neighborhood I live in, it can take a lot out of me.

But for all my time out of my parents' house, the most I've done in terms of decorating was placing a plastic jack-o-lantern on the kitchen counter and filling it with candy. No skeletons, skulls, vampires, goblins, or ghouls.

In the last five years, I've had the pleasure to carve jack-o-lanterns with my friend Amy. Making a party of the event by adding caramel apples, this has been a wonderful get-together every time. This year, though, Amy is moving out of town, taking a great job in Houston, so there probably won't be a party. But I'm adamant that Matt, Jenny, and I carve some pumpkins before October 31st.

An idea I floated to Jenny was about Halloween decorations, and she was game. I don't want to go overboard and buy up a lot of expensive stuff, but if there was something we'd like to get while grocery shopping or clothes shopping, we should get it. Hence the picture above, with two different skulls saying "Hi" while I spend most of my day at the computer.

Couple that with two pumpkins (with a cord in the back each to to light them up) and a small skeleton that adorns Jenny's apartment, we have something brewing. Again, not to be overblown with decorations, the thought is to do something fun and macabre.

This will begin a new tradition, and we'll surely take advantage of those after Halloween sales on November 1st. This isn't the same as decorating for Christmas, but it's surely fun.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hootie!

Changing things up a little bit with the ongoing "Playing music for our kids" series, I had my cousin Andrew listen to a dozen songs I associate with my high school years. What he thought was pretty cool.

I still remember him being only a few weeks old, sleeping soundly through my mother's PhD commencement in '96. A few years ago, he inherited my old Casio keyboard. Not too long after, I bought him "Who Let the Dogs Out" on iTunes. Last year, he told me how much he liked Andrew Bird and Fleet Foxes. It's great to have another music enthusiast in the family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with Brandon Butters, a local drummer who plays with two of the best new Dallas bands, the West Windows and Things of Earth. We discussed things over drinks and food at the Anvil Pub last week, so the conversational side really came out on this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kickstarter My Heart

A suggestion that's been passed my way about publishing and promoting When We Were the Kids: How about a Kickstarter campaign for it? While I have no problem with fans helping fund an album, a tour, or a promotional campaign, I'm not sure a Kickstarter pledge drive is the right thing for this book.

Based on what it took to get Post out there, the total cost of publishing, promoting, and having the book listed as "returnable" (an important factor if you ever want your book in a store) is somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500. That's not an unreasonable number, but it's not the kind of money I have lying around and burning a hole in my house.

The problem I have with fans and friends funding a project like this: I can't really offer much in return other than a thanks and a signed book. There's no signed vinyl, guest list appearances for life, a camping trip, a lunch date, or having a song written about you. This is merely a 200+ page Word document that I'd like see bound in a paperback and converted into an e-book. I don't mean to say it's a flimsy piece of crap; it's something that I've worked very hard on for over five years and I'd like to share it with the world.

I've pledged money to only one Kickstarter campaign in order to help my friend get his second movie going. In return, I have borrowed his old bass and amplifier for over two years. (By the way, this bass and amp will be on the cover of When We Were the Kids.) I don't regret helping my friend out. He reached his goal, but he's still trying to get his movie to happen. His Kickstarter was just breaking ground on a proverbial skyscraper.

When I see campaigns, the only real, tangible items are rewarded to big pledgers. I'd be glad to have a signed vinyl copy of Ben Folds Five's latest record and a special T-shirt. Sure would mean much more than my name in the liner notes along with thousands of other people.

Kickstarter is perfect for established acts who have a built-in fanbase. I, not to sound like Eeyore, don't have a truly measurable audience. People in England, Australia, and the Philippines, along with people in the United States, have purchased my first book since fall of 2008. Locally, a lot of people who are regular readers of the Observer know my name, and I'm happy to share Post with people who might enjoy it, like Tom Mullen from the Washed Up Emo podcast, Steven Smith from Going Off Track, Superchunk's Jon Wurster, and Kyle Clark from the Nerdist podcast.

At most, I expect to sell a couple dozen copies out of the gate with When We Were the Kids, but if I want to sell more than that, I'll need to promote it, which I have no problem doing. If I could do a reading at a Half Price Books, I'd be game. If somebody wanted to interview me for a blog or a podcast, I'd do it. Sharing something I believe in is really easy to do.

But funding is not an easy thing, and I certainly don't want people to fund something that they might feel cheated by. I'd feel bad for a reader who pledged $50 and was incredibly disappointed with the book. And if somebody pledged $300, imagine how many other books, groceries, and baby gifts he or she could afford instead of a single book.

All I will ask for those who want to read my books is the price of purchase. That's all.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Do It Anyway

This past weekend was a long one -- longer than most weekends for me -- but I had fun. On Saturday, I reviewed the first Texas edition of Riot Fest for not only DC9, but also the Houston Press's blog, Rocks Off. My DC9 review is a little different than my review for Rocks Off because I wanted to give the perspective from a local and an out-of-towner, respectively.

Of course, it was hot, and I found Rise Against's set to be a long and painful way to end the evening, but I enjoyed the day. I certainly enjoyed the Gatorade when I got home.

Last night, I had the privilege of seeing Ben Folds Five and taking photos during the first three songs. My review is a basic rundown of the show, but I'd like to share some more that obviously didn't fit in the review.

When I walked up to the stage as the band came on, a rush of feelings came over me. I still remembered what it was like to drive around Kingwood in 1997 listening to my dubbed cassette copy of Whatever and Ever Amen in my '77 Pontiac Catalina. Now here I was in front and center, and the band kicked off with "Missing the War." I figured this was going to be only time I'd be this close to the band, so make the most of it. I snapped away, smiled from ear to ear, and sang along. Ben even noticed me and smiled.



After "Jackson Cannery" finished, I went to the back of the floor level and stood in front of the mixing console. I could see the band pretty well, and I enjoyed the rest of the set.

As the show let out around 11, I faced the frustrating reality that is getting out of the Gilley's complex parking lot. It's always a beating, so I tried to make a phone call to my friend Trevor Kelley, hoping to thank him again for that Ben Folds Five reunion concert a few years ago. (He helped bring together that special show for MySpace where the band performed The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner in its entirety) When I got the "Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice messaging service" message, I sighed and thought I'd wait out the traffic jam.

Striking up a conversation with a few guys and a girl in the parking lot, the talk led to interests in writing and music. Turns out, the girl has been a writer for a few years and her friend is into photography. Thinking I could talk to these fine folks for a few hours, Bryce Avary (aka, the Rocket Summer) walks by and hangs out with us. Sure was a pleasure to finally meet him after seeing him at shows over the years (and he remembered our interview back in June).

Seeing a small crowd near the tour bus, I suggested we see if the band was signing autographs or taking pictures. Well, this happened.


Never during all my years listening to Ben Folds' music would I ever think this could happen. This was truly one of the best concert experiences that I've had. Not only did I get to see Ben earlier in the year with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, I got to see this.

I might not exactly know where my life is going in terms of job situation, but I was thrilled to let go and truly live in the moment. Glad I took pictures.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The "Perfect" Candidate

September is coming to a close and I can't help thinking about how long it's been since I was laid off. October 26th, 2012 is only a few weeks away, but October 26th, 2011 still feels like a few months back. I can't stress enough how much of a relief it was to be laid off. That said, I've been ready to get back into a full-time job situation for months.

I haven't been lazy, as I have stressed many times before. Every promising job lead, I've looked into. Frustratingly, when trying to go outside of my realm with jobs, I run into a brick wall created by recruiters.

Loosely, I understand why companies have recruiters, but I can't wrap my head around something that I frequently experience. Great people who fit the personality and most of the job description don't get considered while mediocre people who don't fit the personality and have all of the skills in the description get considered.

Which leads me to this question: is there such thing as a "perfect" candidate? As in, someone who has the unbeatable resume, says the right things in an interview, and excels at everything asked of him or her.

Sure, there is such a thing as a perfect candidate who becomes the perfect employee, but I'm not so sure it's always clear in the weeding out process. On paper and in an interview, these people are technically qualified, but whether or not they last is another story. When recruiters are looking for a specific kind of person with skills in highly-specific things, I don't really see how successful their hiring process can be without taking other matters into consideration. A leap of faith sounds out of the question.

I consider myself a competent employee who is open to trying new things, working independently, and working with a team. All the jobs I've held, I was not technically 100 percent qualified for going into them. I was fortunate to be hired by people who saw potential in me, beyond what I wrote down in an application or a resume. There were things to be learned on the job; things that were easily taught after a day or so on the job. Whether it was stocking CDs in a certain order, assembling a table and cash cube for a promotions event, or typing traffic problems into a database, I had never done those things prior to being hired.

A story I like to share in interviews involves the time I was asked to fill in for Rebecca Flores at CBS 11 and learn a whole new traffic graphics program in one morning. Previous times filling for Rebecca, I did everything from the office with an ISDN line. But when they changed vendors with their graphics, there was no other way I could learn the program.

I had to go in the CBS studio in Fort Worth. Not only did I have to learn graphics, I had to learn how to coordinate TxDot cameras, talk into an IFB, and create entire traffic reports sans any help from the producers at the station. John and Matt McCarty, who helped design the program, were gracious enough to come into the studio and show me how the graphics worked. Within ten minutes, I had a handle of things and that morning's show went off without a hitch. Not too bad for something, on paper, I wasn't qualified for.

As interesting as that story is and how I think it illustrates my knack for learning things on the job, that has yet to translate into landing my next job. I know there is (or will be) a company out there that will appreciate what I can do and sees potential in me. Still, it's a constant point of frustration when you know you can do a lot but life seems to tell you no.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My first . . .

This week's edition is with two members of Houston's Venomous Maximus. Funny stuff, especially the part about playing their music for their parents.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hold That Thought

I recently drove Jenny around Fort Worth to show her the TCU campus and the places I lived between 1998 and 2002. I still have fond memories of my time living there, even though I'm much happier living in Dallas. I couldn't help remembering all the times I drove alone around Berry St, Bryant Irvin, Stadium Drive, and Hulen. Music kept me company, as it always has, but thinking about my time in college, I spent so much time alone in my '92 Toyota Camry. 

I listened to a ton of different bands in that Camry, three different dorm rooms, and two different apartment complexes. I hung out with many good people in those days, many of whom I'm still friends with. Yet the band that takes me immediately back to my senior year of high school and all my years in college is Ben Folds Five.

Today, the Five have a new record out called The Sound of the Life of the Mind. I wasn't expecting a new record and wasn't pining for the band to reform. I was perfectly happy listening to the three proper albums and rarities compilation every once in a while. That said, I wasn't against the band reforming and working on new material.

Taking a listen to The Sound today, I'm happy to say this is an enjoyable and engaging record; certainly a rebound from Ben's last couple of solo records (which I found to be quite mediocre). I often associate Ben's music with autumn, and this year is no different.

I can't help reflect on my life with Ben Folds on my radio, to use a Counting Crows lyric. Things are much better now compared to my college years, in terms of knowing what I want and don't want in my life. Exactly what my next job will be remains a mystery, but I'm not afraid of landing on my feet. And I'm certainly glad I haven't left the Five's music in the dust.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Old Man in the Room

While at shows, there have been times where I've felt like the old man in the room. It's not often, but it does happen every once in a while.

This feeling is like being an odd duck, coming across as someone trying to hold onto youth while being around those who are in the prime of their youth. It's like a denial of adulthood.

A few years back, I watched Tilly and the Wall play at Hailey's to a very large audience made up mostly of college students. Seeing all these post-teenagers in thrift store clothes, break-dancing to hip-hop, and going nuts for these twee darlings, I wondered what the hell I was seeing. Clearly I was not one for this band or audience, but I was there because my band was fortunate to open the show.

I didn't feel like the old man when I saw Mission of Burma on Friday night. Seeing three guys with plenty of gray in the hair along with friends who are close to my age (including Andy Odom, who covered the show for the Observer), I felt welcome. There were even grandparents seated towards stage right.

And it certainly felt good to see people who were underage pogo around (and go generally nuts) while MoB played.Yes, people that were born closer to the time that Catherine Wheel covered "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" in the 90s were into this band.

Reminds me of how rock music plays to the youth that's in our hearts. Whether you're 15, 33, or 57, if you enjoy the feeling of rock music, then why should you stop listening to it or going to shows? Of course, it might look weird to be the oldest person in the room. But rock music can bring in society's outliers together quite well.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My first . . .

Talk about quick turnaround. I interviewed Phil Anselmo on Tuesday afternoon at 3. Then I transcribed it and uploaded everything by 4:30. And it went live yesterday morning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gone with the Schwinn


Last year, I had to let go of a body board that I had enjoyed since middle school. This morning, I had to retire my mountain bike.

I've had this Schwinn Frontier since 1991. It got me from my house to seventh and eighth grade every single day without any issue. When I was struck by a slow-moving small truck while going through a crosswalk, there was no significant damage to the bike or me (aside from a sprained ankle and the chance to tell a story that starts with, "Did I ever tell you about when I was hit by a truck?") When some kids up the street thought it would be funny to chase after me a few times (including the day I was hit by the truck), it got me out of harm's way.

After middle school, the bike sat in my parents' garage until last year. My parents were kind enough to get new grips, seat, and tires. I enjoyed the hell out of riding that sucker, but I knew it couldn't last for too much longer. The brakes were failing, rust was here and there, and the front tire kept losing air.

During the past 19 months, I took this out on average of three days a week and cycled 10-15 miles a week. It survived two 15-mile trips between my house and White Rock Lake, as well as a handful of trips just around the lake.

This is the epitome of something serving me well. But when I found a 45-degree-angle tear in the base of the handlebars this morning, I knew the cost of repairs (coupled with new brakes and a new tire) would be as much as buying a brand new bike.

So I bought this Huffy . . .

. . . for $90 at Academy.

While I'm fully prepared for an onslaught of criticism from my hardcore biking friends, I have to point out how I am not a hardcore bike fiend. Doing either 15 miles in one week or 15 miles in one morning is enough for me. And I sure as hell don't have $500-$1,000 to drop on a bicycle. I'll leave that for the 80-miles-a-week folks.

I gave the Huffy a spin once I got home, and I have to admit, it was like taking a walk in a new pair of shoes. There's some kinks to work out with the feel of the pedals and the various speeds, but at least the brakes work, there's no rust, and the tires are incredibly durable. I'm happy.

I shall give this new bike a full spin tomorrow morning, hoping I won't have to replace another bike for another 21 years. It was a good ride with the Schwinn, inspiring me to keep going and enjoying the art of biking.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Oxycontin ain't cheap, you know?

Two weeks ago, I got to experience something that's as common as a jury duty summons or a speeding ticket: credit card fraud.

I had been alerted to a payment freeze by Netflix, so I called my card company to see what was up. Turns out, some yahoo charged a total of $1,400 to a CVS in Houston over the course of two transactions. Since the most money I've ever spent at a CVS was $50 for prescription medicine, this looked fishy. My card company's fraud department was concerned and immediately cancelled the payment, but they couldn't contact me because my contact information on file was eleven years old (back when I had a home phone number in Fort Worth and had a CompuServe e-mail account).

The card company was totally pro about the whole thing and I received a new card last week. I wondered how one could spend that much money at a CVS, so I quipped, "Oxycontin ain't cheap."

As crappy as it is to deal with credit card fraud, luckily, companies know how to handle this since it's extremely common. I don't see this going away anytime, especially when we live in a culture where private information is so easy to grab, especially when it's voluntary. I'm happy that the card companies understand how frustrating this is, and they don't penalize their customers when it happens.