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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Turns We Took



There's a reason why the ending of The Muppet Movie always tugs at my heart. Doesn't matter if I'm depressed or happy when I watch one of my favorite movies. The lump in my throat or the tears that come out of my eyes are from this reminder about life: When things fall apart after you think you're finally on track with your life, you find beauty and answers you've longed for over the years.

I've often come back to this final movie sequence in my adult life. This year, it resonates more than ever.

In 2014, I said goodbye to Juliet, the dog that cemented my love of dogs for the rest of my life. I also said goodbye to Sunny, a dog who lived a very long life that let me be in her life despite being frail, hard of hearing and seeing. As a result, every single day I get to spend with the dogs I have is a gift. They are there for me on the best days and the worst days, which I've had many of both this year.

I was heartbroken when word passed along that my friend Laura died after a very long fight with cancer. She never stopped being positive about her life, even when things seemed the most grim. A few weeks later, my friend and mentor Dwight had a heart attack during a routine procedure. I saw him on life support with his wife by his side, and I went to his standing-room-only funeral the following week. The man impacted that many people in his 82 years on this planet.

And then there was my friend Evan, who died unexpectedly during the final week of October. Writing about him was helpful in the days immediately following his death, but the acceptance of his death is only beginning to settle in.

I had to come to terms with a two-year relationship coming to an end. As painful as it was to see her go from my everyday life, I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am that we remain friends. She let me adopt her dog Truvy, paying me one of the nicest compliments I've ever heard: "There's no one else I would even consider having her."

Add in the wild ride of my job situation. As tough as it was to see a promising new direction in my career end so quickly, I thank a higher power for me landing a new full-time job only a few hours later. Couple that with another year with the Observer and more opportunities to write in the content marketing field, I'm over-joyed to say for the first time in my life that I'm happy with my job situation.

I finally put out When We Were the Kids. Much of that came from seeing Video Games: The Movie at the Texas Theatre. The guy who made it is from Dallas and made something for the world to enjoy. Since I need a constant reminder of that idea, that's why I have a signed poster from the director hanging in my bedroom. It's a reminder of following through on what I want to do, even if I have to wait and deal with hang-ups along the way. 

Dealing with the abrupt changes and turns came in the form of traveling and taking many walks with my dogs. I drove to Round Rock and saw a friend from college get ready to become a first-time father. Helping him and his wife set up the baby's room allowed me to get out of my head and do something positive. I flew to Los Angeles just to do a podcast. I drove to St. Louis hoping to see a show that wound up getting cancelled. I made the most of my time there, seeing touristy things, and was lucky to have lunch my friend Donna in Conway, Arkansas on the way back.

Donna is a very spiritual woman. As she gave me a big hug during our parting, she said, "Hopefully the heavens will open up and bring joy into your life." I'm happy to say they did.

Having my friend Joel move into the spare bedroom in my house has been wonderful. The guy's a voice of reason and great person to have around. On weekends, we watch Manchester City play football and dig through various record store shelves for white whales in our respective vinyl collections. And the dogs love him, too.

Also, some people I haven't seen in years are a welcome sight. I might not see them everyday, but when I do, I love catching up with them. 

Despite some down days during the holiday season, I'm ending the year feeling optimistic. Not just about the immediate future, but the future down the line. I really don't have any reason to think overly-pessimistic thoughts, but sometimes I do. I've learned a lot from the turns in life this year, and the effects of them don't necessarily dissipate at midnight tonight. Here's to a happy new year and a desire to keep moving forward even with the knocks and turns that come out of the blue.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Year in Music, 2014 Edition

As a long 2014 draws to a close, I'm sharing my musical favorites of the year. From albums that came out this year to albums that came out twelve years ago, there's a lot to talk about, so without further ado . . .






Favorite Albums Released in 2014

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
A brutally-honest punk rock record with instantly-likeable melodies. Laura Jane Grace doesn't hold anything back about being transgender in her lyrics, and this is AM! at its most immediate. And thanks to Adam "Atom" Willard, this has the best drumming AM! has ever committed to record. I think it's safe to call it a classic AM! record.(Stream the whole thing)

J. Robbins, Abandoned Mansions
I've admired J's work with all of his bands, which have been loud, twisted rock. This EP was a complete revelation to me. Reduced to an acoustic guitar with piano and strings, these reworked versions of Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and Office of Future Plans songs work incredibly well in a completely different light. And the new song (the title track) is one of the catchiest songs he's ever recorded. (Stream the whole thing)

Spoon, They Want My Soul
Spoon put out another killer record this year. This record is much more driven by pianos and synthesizers, and at times really trips out. Yet Britt Daniel's songwriting is still at the top of his game (Watch "Do You")

Tiny Moving Parts, Pleasant Living
In only a year and a half, I have seen this Minnesota trio four times. These days, I don't see local bands that many times. Taking cues from the Fall of Troy, in terms of songwriting, Pleasant Living is much more accessible than the band's previous work. Features one of my favorite lines I've heard in a song this year: "I love you/at least I used to." (Stream the whole thing)

Somos, Temple of Plenty
This Boston-based band came from a recommendation from Tom Mullen, the proprietor of the Washed Up Emo podcast. He doesn't often heap a lot of praise on young bands, which is fine, so that means when he does, I'm inclined to check it out. This is one of the few emo revival bands I know of that doesn't sound like they're aping a pioneering band, like Cap'n Jazz or American Football. They loosely sound like Braid, but not by much, which is fine by me. These nine songs are killer. (Stream the whole thing)

Braid, No Coast
A surprisingly poppy record, by Braid's standards. The band's previous record, Frame & Canvas, came out in 1997 with all kinds of moods and melodies. That's a classic for me, but No Coast is definitely a worthy follow-up. (Watch "Bang")

Moose Blood, I'll Keep You in Mind, From Time to Time
Like Crash of Rhinos last year, this English band has a silly name, but an incredible sound. Remember what Vagrant Records sounded like between 2000 to 2004? This record made me think of that time, but in the best possible way. I'm talking Saves the Day and Hey Mercedes, especially. (Stream "Anyway")

Things of Earth, Dangers
One of my favorite Dallas-based bands put out a heavier, nastier EP this year. More Deftones and Pelican this time out, mixed with Failure and Hum. (Stream the whole thing

United Nations, The Next Four Years
Featuring members of Thursday and Pianos Become the Teeth, this is more like Converge and Deafheaven than their other bands. Probably the most vicious and unrelenting thing I've heard this year. (Stream "Serious Business")

Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways
Once you get past the first track, which sounds like a toss-off from In Your Honor, this is another very good Foo Fighters record. From the Naked Raygun-esque "The Feast and the Famine" to the power ballad "I Am A River," I have no major complaints. (Stream the whole thing)

Slipknot, .5: The Gray Chapter
To be honest, I had lost track of Slipknot's material in the past few years. Iowa is still a crazy and sick record, but I hadn't spent any time digging into the two records they did after that. With the departure of founding drummer Joey Jordison and the death of bassist Paul Gray, The Gray Chapter is mostly about coming to grips with loss. especially the anger and sadness stages. With Jay Weinberg on drums, the band sounds as strong as ever. And the intro riff to "The Devil In I" is the best metal riff I heard this year. (Watch "The Devil In I")

Favorite Songs Released in 2014

The Hold Steady, "Spinners" (Stream) 
Teeth Dreams was a comeback of sorts from the polished, gentler, Heaven is Whenever. "Spinners" is one of the best Hold Steady songs to date. 

Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off" (Watch)
Though it always makes me think of OutKast's "Hey Ya!", this is one catchy tune. It's the exact opposite of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my life.

Gates, "Not My Blood" (Watch)
I have to admit, while this band is incredible live, their debut Bloom and Breathe is a little too samey to my ears. This tune, though, is ace. Take the rising power of Thursday's best material, mix it with Explosions in the Sky, and you have this.

Henrietta, "2,000 Miles" (Stream)
What if you played Pedro the Lion at a faster speed on vinyl and it was really good? It would probably sounds like this song.

Mastodon, "The High Road" (Watch)
Mastodon remains a major favorite of mine, but Once More 'Round the Sun sounds like a band going in circles. Not much a different record than their previous record, they sound fine staying this route, but selfishly, I wish they would take risks again. "The High Road" is one of the highlights. 

Sloan, "You've Got A lot on Your Mind" (Stream)
Sloan doesn't put out bad albums. This year's Commonwealth sounds more like Fleetwood Mac and Badfinger, along with their usual Kiss and Cheap Trick vibe. "You've Got A lot on Your Mind" is one of the best tunes on here.  

Sturgill Simpson, "The Promise" (Watch)
Frankly, this guy came out of nowhere, sold out Dada so much that he ended up playing two shows in one night. He's much more traditional country than Florida Georgia Line will ever be, but he's not afraid to be more than a throwback. His reworking of When in Rome's classic sounds great with strings.

Rediscovered

Buffalo Tom
This Boston trio had been on my radar for many years. Very much the "If you like these power pop bands, you should listen to Buffalo Tom, too." Even though I've had a compilation of their singles for years, I didn't really jump into them until I found four of their CDs for dirt cheap around town. "Summer" helped me get through the summer months this year, especially. (Watch "Summer"

Chavez
I have loved Chavez's Ride the Fader since its release, but their debut, Gone Glimmering, seemed to elude me. Giving that record another chance, I realize now that the debut excels -- in some ways -- over the second record. Dissonant pop with a kick to it. Still sounds modern to me. (Watch "Break Up Your Band"

The Dismemberment Plan, Uncanny Valley 
If it weren't for an episode of Sound Opinions with the D Plan, I probably would have skipped their reunion record. I think a friend on Facebook openly expressed his tremendous disappointment with this when it came out and I never got around to hearing it. I finally gave it a listen and was really impressed by it. (Watch "Daddy Was A Real Good a Dancer")

Discovered

Kenny Howes
Kenny makes a kind of power pop that is pissed-off and lovely at the same time. After many years in the underground circuit, he's still underground, but his music cooks. Certainly check out a record he did in 2002 with The Yeah! called Until Dawn. To hear some of his recent work, it's up on his Bandcamp page.

Modern Baseball
What if you took the smarts of the Weakerthans, the nerdiness of Weezer and the pop-punk of blink-182 and put them into a promising band? You'd have Modern Baseball. Their second record, 2013's You're Gonna Miss It All, is a gem. (Stream You're Gonna Miss It All)

McCoy Tyner
A legendary jazz pianist who played with John Coltrane, I heard his hurricane called Fly Like the Wind in a record store. It's traditional 70s jazz fusion but with flamenco rhythms, strings, and a flute. Absolutely enjoyable craziness. (Stream "Salvadore De Samba")

Best Shows I Saw This Year

The Winery Dogs, Granada Theater, May 24th
A trio with only one record out, headlining the Granada? You bet. Playing for almost two hours, this supergroup amazed me with their chops and ability to have enjoyable songs. I've seen many shows at the Granada, and I've never seen a crowd be so into a band before.

The Jayhawks, Granada Theater, October 14th
A little looser than the previous time I saw them, the Jayhawks covered much more familiar ground for me this time. Without Mark Olson, they did a whole lot of Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music, which are as worthy as Tomorrow the Green Grass, in my book.

Deafheaven, Club Dada, March 16th
The highlight of the Spillover Festival for me. They just played a truncated version of Sunbather live, but it was spectacular. Bathed in red, the five-piece played furiously and frontman George Clarke had the crowd feed off his energy over and over again.

Jeff Tweedy, Majestic Theatre, June 22nd (My original review)
I came into this show with some hesitation, given what I've seen of Jeff's solo shows on DVD. Too many random non-sequiturs with songs stripped of their bombast, right? Well, not this show. Jeff played almost 30 songs either with his backing band or solo, and it was a very positive experience. 

Failure, House of Blues, June 10th (My original review)
Never did I think Failure would reunite, let alone come to Texas to play shows. Seeing them play, I was incredibly impressed by what they had in them, even as a trio.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Pieces of Me

As 2014 wraps up, I'm cleaning up and gathering together the loose ends. Here are the pieces I've done for the Observer in the last few months. 

An interview with Travis Stever of Coheed and Cambria. Just like my interviews with his bandmates Josh and Claudio, Trav was super-nice and friendly.

An interview  with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks. Coupled with my first piece for the Observer, which was a review of a Louris/Mark Olson show, and my interview with Mark Olson, this was a full-circle kind of experience.

A feature on Dead Flowers. My third time to spotlight these guys, and they are such a worthy band.

Lastly, a memorial to Evan Chronister, written for people that didn't know him.

One other thing: I went to Los Angeles in November to be a guest on a podcast called This Is Rad! Co-hosted by Kyle Clark (who has been on many Nerdist podcasts). We talked about post-hardcore/emo and had a great time. You can download it on iTunes, but you can also stream it here on Stitcher.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Groovy Times

The Dallas music scene lost one of its most vocal, opinionated, and well-spoken music ethusiasts last night. Evan Chronister was in his early fifties and passed away from injuries sustained in an accident with his scooter. I, along with many other people in the scene who see music as a never-ending rabbit hole, lost a good friend.

Evan was from Houston, but spent most of his life in Dallas. He lived for music as he bought records constantly and often went to shows. The stories he would share about seeing the original version of the Misfits and Echo and the Bunnymen were some of the ones that stuck out to me. He painted vivid pictures of these shows with his words, as well as when and where he bought a certain record.

Yet the guy wasn't one who lived off the memories of the distant past. He actively searched for new music every single day. He loved searching online for records and give you what you wanted and even more. He would even admit to spending more time downloading music than actually listening to it. That was the thrill of the hunt, especially as evidenced by postings on his blog.

In my time with him, he hooked me up with records from artists as diverse as Genesis, Richard Hawley, Tindersticks, and Killswitch Engage. He never gave me grief for liking bands that were off the "cool" radar. He saw music as music, and he thought people should like what they like regardless of what's cool or hip in the moment.

Under the alias of Captain Groovy, he could share with you about Japanese noise rock, but he could also share about sixties pop and arena rock from the seventies. There weren't any limits to his palate and he was always searching for more.

Only a few years ago, I discovered he loved Rush. I had no idea he was a fan since he never talked about them around me. Turns out he was a diehard fan. I sat down with him and interviewed him about seeing Rush in advance of their show at the AAC. What he shared blew my mind and very little was edited out of the interview for the article.

Going beyond music appreciation, the guy had a lot to say about life. Whether it was relationship issues, friend issues or work issues, he wouldn't hold back on what he thought. He'd tell it to you straight and directly, sometimes to point of submission, but he wasn't trying to wear you out. That was his way of sharing.

Sure, people could say he was arrogant, but he wasn't insufferable to me. He struck me as someone who was content with his life. He never married or had children -- things a lot of people find as keys to happiness -- but he was happy, effectively balancing work and play. 

When Joel got the news about Evan's accident and eventual passing, I asked if he wanted to grab a drink. We met up with friends at a couple of bars and shared stories. (I don't think I've hugged as many people in one place since my cousin's wedding last year.) Despite the solemn tone, we did have some laughs between the expressions of anger and shock. Evan brought a lot of people together and it was fitting to do such in his memory.

In moving forward in life as well as dealing with grief, I look back at some of the last conversations I had with him. Whether it was about record labels ripping off customers with vinyl remasters or places to go in the Los Angeles area, what was said is even more clear to me now. He loved life and wanted people to love it, too.

Looking at a full couple of weeks ahead of the holiday season, I want to do even more with the time I have. Sadly, it sometimes takes a death to realize that, but it's a reminder about the fragility of life and what we should do with the time we have.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago, after thinking about it for a few months, I finally pulled the trigger and started a blog. Taking a line from Swingers that I loved, I dubbed the blog, Theme Park Experience.

Originally, I wanted to document the experience of writing my first book. Then it morphed into an outlet for rants about music, movies, TV shows, and books. Along the way, it became very philosophical by way of writers like Chuck Klosterman, Michael Azerrad, and Greg Kot. (I didn't realize how philosophical it became until my mother, a former philosophy professor, pointed it out to me.)

During the first few years, I saw the rise of blogs having an influence on breaking new artists. I tried to play along, but I really felt more comfortable writing about other things. Instead of posting (and raving about) an MP3 from some duo from New York that released an EP only months after forming, I was more interested in talking about the futility of remaking a TV show or movie for a modern American audience.

MySpace was in full force with social media, yet I kept spending hours writing blog posts. By the time of Facebook and Twitter, the desire to write lengthy posts diminished. There is a lot of convenience in writing about daily life when it's only a few sentences long or under 140 characters. Hence why I went from writing a blog post everyday to every couple of months.

I don't blame social media for this -- it's more of a relief for me.

When there's a topic that I can't fully explain in a concise status update or tweet, I resort to the blog. I like having the blog around even though there are plenty of older posts that are somewhat embarrassing to read now. I've tried to not let the writing become too personal, like a diary. (A diary is supposed to be private, not something for the world to see. Right?)

Over the course of these years, I've corresponded with many fellow bloggers, a healthy number of them I still interact with. They're good people, and if it weren't for blogs, I probably would have never met them.

For the past few years, this blog has been a hub for my writing for other outlets and as an "official website." Putting themeparkexperience.com on a resume or business card might sound like I'm a theme park reviewer, but when you start a blog around the time of Gorilla Vs. Bear and Can You See the Sunset from the Southside?, you know you're not alone in naming your site something more creative than your own name. 

With the immediate future, I see no reason to stop blogging. There's no shortage of things to say or share, but I prefer to write posts when they're appropriate. New posts could be a couple of days apart or months apart. There's no timetable, which is why having a blog is a wonderful outlet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Go Where You Wanna Go

It's been a year since I moved away from Lakewood, and even though I could relocate to a new place as a newly-single guy, I've chosen to stay where I am.

I enjoy living in North Dallas/Richardson given its central location, being not too far away from places I have enjoyed going to in my fourteen-plus years living in Dallas County. Living in Lakewood for nine years was critical for me, but I am glad I don't have homeless people going through my garbage, my street getting shut down like it's Mardi Gras on Halloween night, and I don't have to answer to the not-so-friendly landlords who bought my old place.

I have a new housemate moving in at the end of the month and I have many reasons to be excited as he's been a friend for many years. Couple that with a humongous new record store opening in nearby Farmers Branch, shows to see, and a quick trip to Los Angeles for something very cool (for which I reveal at a later date) and I'm happy to say fall is shaping up to be a great time.

I am in zero rush to get back into dating anyone, but if there's an open door, I'd be a fool to not to at least walk up and check it out. Yet a townie mindset keeps popping up in trying to meet new people: those who wish to stay in a bubble of an area, with some flexibility of venturing out ten minutes away, tops, from that bubble. I'm talking those who want to stay primarily in Oak Cliff, Lakewood, Deep Ellum, and East Dallas, with some flexibility in going outside of those places, but not too far. If it's more than a twenty-minute drive, you might as well be going to Oklahoma.

At an engagement party I went to years ago, I overheard a friendly woman declare, "I would never date anyone who lived north of 635." (Coupled with her declaration of, "I don't understand why anyone would watch a horror movie," I never spoke to her again that night.) I understand there is a distance factor if you make a-longer-than-twenty-minute trip on a regular basis, given traffic concerns, but I've often found that distance isn't truly a dealbreaker if it involves the right person for you.

Distance didn't keep my parents apart for too long between them meeting and marrying, and the same happened with my sister and brother-in-law. And they all were based out of different parts of the state when they met. I've known of other couples who didn't let distance keep them away for too long. The desire to be together led them to eventually be physically close, no matter what. So why should I ever believe that people living above a dividing line to be a major dealbreaker?

I don't buy into the mindset where everything fun needs to be a short drive or bike ride away. But I can't just get up and go to places all over the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area.

I don't often go to Fort Worth, Denton, or the suburbs in Collin or Tarrant counties. When I do, it's a special trip that I'm happy to do. When a friend that I haven't seen in years is playing a free show on a Friday night in Fort Worth, I'm there. When it's a beautiful Saturday and I have no plans and haven't been to Mad World Records in a few months, I'll go to Denton.

With the places I frequent, I prefer to stay somewhat close. Where I'm located, I'm close to my full-time job, thankfully a fifteen-minute-drive via sidestreets. But if I'm invited to something that I know is rare, like a Halloween party hosted by friends I rarely see, distance -- within reason -- doesn't hold me back. Strangely, I have met people who wouldn't dare to do that for friends they hardly see anymore. It's about the bubble, you know?

I never experienced this kind of bubble mentality when I lived in New Orleans or Houston. Shudder to Think is playing Fitzgerald's in the Heights? I'm going. We have relatives in Galveston that we never see during the year? We'd be happy to visit them on Christmas day.

I go where I want to go. If the amount of time I spent getting there (and the enjoyment of being there) trumps the distance it took to get there, then I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your Nobody Called Today

Last night, though tired and sleepy from a long day of working, I decided to stay up a little later when I saw my PBS affiliate airing an encore presentation of When Dallas Rocked, a recently-made documentary. Focusing on the 70s and early 80s of blues and rock musicians, as well as the radio personalities and journalists, everything seemed like a nice overview. That is, until I got to a section towards the end. When I heard what was being said, I rolled my eyes and proclaimed, "Bullshit!" (I did a similar thing as I watched the end of Downloaded, a documentary on the rise, fall, and impact of Napster.)


I take a lot of umbrage with people who make generalized statements like, "Nobody buys records anymore" and "There aren't any record stores anymore." Couple that with a comment about how barely anyone goes to local shows now and there are barely any venues to play.

Why I take umbrage is because this is not entirely true. People buy less records today, but people still buy downloads, vinyl and CDs. Chain stores like Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore did close, but locally-owned stores like Good Records and Mad World Records are doing better business than ever these days. And there is no shortage of places to play in the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth area, from a garage to a theater. (I know since I've covered shows in all kinds of places and I've played in all kinds of places.)

I've slowly accepted that people think something completely disappears when it doesn't generate revenue in the millions anymore. It's why people claim things like disco is making a comeback, or metal or punk or emo. But I cannot tell someone that sort of partial truth/partial lie, given my uptight, purist, semantic-stickler view of things. As a historian that tries to be as impeccable with his word with documentation, blanket statements like these don't usually come out of me. (If they do, I surely regret making them.)

A few months ago, a journalist I admire (and he usually has his facts straight), said something very off-base in a podcast interview. Claiming off the cuff that "nobody" bought Jimmy Eat World's Clarity when it originally came out, I felt like sending him an angry note. As someone who bought Clarity the day it came out and someone who knows plenty of people who did the same (and saw the band on that tour, with hundreds of other people in the venues), I begged to differ. But what was said was said.

Just because something isn't sold en masse doesn't mean it stopped existing and being relevant. It may be irrelevant to you, but chances are good is relevant to someone younger than you. The younger person will have his or her own way of getting into something. And just because it's different than the way you did doesn't make the experience less valid.

I've been very careful with wording with the conclusions of both of my books. When I was writing Post, I held out hope that younger people would see through the rock star posing of popular emo bands that didn't want to be called emo bands. A younger generation did, and they're currently making great and influential music. With When We Were the Kids, I wrote a passing mention of where the scene went after all of its pioneers moved away for college. One of the characters remarks, "Ask somebody else" in terms of what happened in the following years. Because these kinds of matters thrive.

As I continue to work on documenting things that matter to me and many other people, I choose to stick by these ideas. I can't let lazy generalizations comparing the present to the past fall into black and white simplification. Because they do exist, I choose to keep working on what I do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

8 Mile Road

I set out on the healing road to think about the past and focus on the future. This summer, I've been to Round Rock twice and Houston once. This past weekend, I went to St. Louis, planning on seeing a show and making up my plans before and after the show.

The day before I left Dallas, I received a text from my friend who plays in the band I wanted to see. He said the show might be cancelled and he didn't want me to waste a nine-hour drive. I told him that I needed a road trip and that I would understand if the show ended up getting cancelled. The venue they were originally scheduled to play in was shut down and they had tentative plans to play the venue next door.

Starting early Sunday morning, I drove through Oklahoma to get to Springfield and then St. Louis. The drive was long, but it wasn't too short or too long for me. I enjoyed the sights of mountains with the cooler (for summer) temperatures. I listened to a variety of tunes on the multiple CD mixes I made. (One was filled with Beatles songs, inspired by a road trip my friend David Hopkins did once.)  Once I checked in my hotel, I had a large calzone at an Italian place I found online. The sun was setting as a Pandora played soft rock hits from my childhood, like James Taylor and Boz Scaggs.

The following morning, I hit up the City Park Museum, a place that came highly recommended by friends of mine. This was the only museum I've been to where I slid down slides, saw cases of doorknobs, crawled through old planes, and walked through a bank vault. More of a David Lynch set than a museum, I had a great time.

I walked down to the famed archway that looks out the Mississippi and took pictures. As I walked back to my car, I received a text from my friend that the show was cancelled and that I should be safe. I was completely unaware of what was happening nearby in the town of Ferguson at that moment. When I found out later in the day, I completely understood why the band decided to cancel.

To make the most of my final 24 hours in town, I went record shopping, ate a local pub/grill and got frozen yogurt. I was up early and hit the road, this time driving through Arkansas. I stopped for lunch in Conway and met up with my friend Donna. I had a wonderful talk with her and ate some fantastic barbeque pork tacos. When I came back to Dallas, the sun was setting and rush hour had passed.

Coming away from the experience, I felt happiness of making plans when original plans fell through. I didn't have the desire to be mad about people who acted or talked about things differently than me. I could exist and take care of myself.

With more days to take off this year, I'm plotting more brief and inexpensive trips. I hope to meet up with my friends in Round Rock again after their child is born. And I plan on doing a quick trip to Los Angeles to be a guest on a podcast.

These kinds of adventures are the kind that I've been wanting to do for the past few years. But factors partially in my control and mostly out of my control prevented me from doing such. It's nice to have that freedom again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When We Were the Kids

After seven years, my second book, When We Were the Kids, has been made available. Amazon and Barnes & Noble will have it soon, but it can be purchased through the publisher now

Thanks to everyone who waited.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Healing Road


I've never looked into the science of it, but somehow, motion has a soothing effect on our bodies and minds. It's the action that (usually) soothes babies who are crying about some want or desire they have, but they can't explain with words. Motion, whether it's walking, riding, or driving, puts someone's mind at ease, no matter what the age.

On the nights I couldn't go to sleep as a baby, my father would drive me around the streets of Metarie in our blue Pontiac Catalina. (Years later, that car would serve as my first car.) Something worked better by being on paved roads instead of a rocking chair. My mind was filled with only a few thoughts, mainly about hunger and answering nature's call. Eventually I would fall asleep and my dad would bring us home.

These days, motion provides something that doesn't make me fall asleep. Motion lets me spread out my thoughts and inspires me to keep going in life. 

Neil Peart wrote a bare-all book called Ghost Rider, about travels he took on his motorcycle after his teenage daughter died in a car accident and his wife died of cancer, only one year apart. The amount of grief he went through is there on every page, as rode 55,000 miles over four years.

Since I identify with Peart's perspectives on life (as found in interviews and his lyrics for Rush songs), his book gave me a lot of ideas on how to deal with grief a lot better than any other self-help book I've read. I've never experienced his kind of loss, but I have experienced loss, and that's the crux of Ghost Rider.

Peart could afford to spend years away from his band, making me think a journey like that is for people in a much higher tax bracket than mine.

Years before I read Ghost Rider, I read Our Band Could Be Your Life. For some reason, I laughed when I read the part in the Fugazi chapter when Guy Picciotto hit the road trying to find himself, drifting from place to place. Apparently a lot of people did that during the mid- to late 1980s, and I couldn't relate.

From time to time, since graduating college in 2001, I've thought of driving somewhere far away, knowing fully I would come back. That seemed like an aimless retreat to avoid dealing with things. But in the past few months, I've decided I must take road trips this summer and try to walk a few miles at least five days a week, along with a couple of bike rides a week.

Why I'm doing this is because motion is helping me get through a backlog of grief.

In the past two months, I lost a friend to a longtime battle with cancer and a very close friend to a heart attack. My two-year relationship ended. I lost my full-time job, but landed another full-time job only hours later. And my car was broken into, which left more mental damage than physical damage.

Once again in my adult life, a lot has happened in a very quick succession. The last time a lot of changes happened over a handful of months, I tried to understand the logic. For years. Why me? Why so fast? What have I done? Questions like that were ones that a final answer probably won't come.

I eventually realized I don't need to understand the logic and should try to make some headway towards acceptance.

In dealing with this latest round of grief, I've already taken two trips. One was to Houston to visit my family for a few days. The other was to visit a friend from college who is about to become a father. By spending time in a car and seeing people I don't normally see everyday, it's significantly better than pacing around my house, milling about and replaying uncomfortable and unfortunate experiences again and again.

By taking to the road -- the "healing road" as Peart called it in Ghost Rider -- I have a task at hand of moving forward. Yet I choose to be responsible and not ditch my new job and the responsibilities I have at my house, like paying the rent and taking care of the dogs. I'm happy to work with great people and still have a roof over my head. I don't want to throw those stabilities away because the pot of grief is overflowing.

I'm encouraged to take time off from my job, especially since my time-off days don't roll over to the next year. When an opportunity comes my way and I give my job proper notice, I make every effort to take that opportunity.

Summer's near the halfway point and I have my eyes set on a few more road trips. I will see my college friend again, helping with whatever needs to be fixed or prepared at his house before his wife gives birth in September. For another trip, I hope to drive all day to see a show in a town I've never been to. This isn't any regular show. It's a band that won't be coming to Texas this year, and a longtime writer friend plays in this band. It will be worth it to go as it will be much more than seeing a band play songs for an hour.

I don't think of myself as a drifter or a lost soul. I have stability with a support system made up of family, friends, and co-workers. Reaching out to these people, whether by phone or in person, is keeping me going with a (mostly) positive attitude. Everyday can be a rollercoaster of emotions, thinking things will go one way or the other.

What I am doing now that's different from the past is, don't think about a when or a where down the road. Think about what to do in the meantime. Instead of trying to force a when and a where, I look for opportunities that can keep my brain in the present instead of a possible future. I've made it this far in life, so why the hell should I stop now?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Whenever, If Ever

Here's a recap of what I've been up to with the Observer.

I wasn't planning on going to the Jeff Tweedy show at the Majestic, but when my editor asked if anyone was interested in going, I signed up. I had trepidation about seeing a show filled with random yelling from the crowd and random musings from Jeff. Luckily, the show was great with very little of that. You can read the full review here.

I don't consider myself a huge fan of The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, but I was impressed when I saw them live back in February. So when their publicist asked me if I was interested in interviewing them, I was open for it. I talked with main member Derrick on Tuesday and the interview went live on Friday.

And while I was excited to see Deafheaven again, I came away from the show disappointed. How the hell this happened, I explain in the first few paragraphs in my review.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Stuck On You

Living in Dallas, I'm well aware of some great musical acts that only come to the biggest cities in America. If I could deal with the crowded living found in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, then I could see even more bands that come around only once in a lifetime. But I love living in Dallas, and I've never thought about getting on a plane to see a band. (I have done a roadtrip and it was worth it.)

When a band like Failure reunites, I'd expect them to only play a handful of shows, mainly tied in with festivals like Coachella or Lollapalooza. I don't begrudge the bands who do this; the money's way too good.

Failure did do a special one-off show earlier this year in Los Angeles, but they decided to mount a national tour. Seeing Dallas on the itinerary, I jumped at the chance to do anything I could with press coverage. That resulted in a show preview, an interview with Greg Edwards, and a live show review. That's a lot of Failure, but being a Failure fan and knowing quite a few fans, this was huge.

I keep thinking of a wonderful quote by Keith Phipps:

Like so much of life, music is best appreciated while it’s happening, and without the bittersweet tug of missed chances and things that might have been.

As someone who missed his fair share of shows, I completely concur with what Keith wrote. I've seen many shows that I never thought I'd see and cherish their memories forever. While I decided to skip Pavement on their Brighten the Corners tour, I saw At the Drive-In twice, Hum and Swervedriver, and whole bunch of other shows that I'm glad I didn't skip.

My attitude is, if I really think I should go, I should go, because there's no guarantee a band will come back. No matter how healthy a band might be, a band can break up at any time. If there's little or nothing to be lost in seeing this show (even if it's sleep), I should go.

Still thinking about Failure's excellent set last night, I'm quite happy I went. As much as they hope to keep working together, I will always have the memory of finally seeing them. (I would definitely be up for seeing them again.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

You Saved Me

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I went to three shows, two of which I reviewed for the Observer. You can read my thoughts on Eagulls' first time playing Dallas here and read my review of the Journey show here.

But the show that really impressed me was the show I didn't review: the Winery Dogs at the Granada Theater. I had the pleasure of interviewing their drummer, Mike Portnoy, for DC9 as a show preview. He was friendly and open with me, making the interview flow very well. I didn't want to ask any direct questions about Dream Theater, but did share about his past while focusing on the present with the Winery Dogs.

Coming into the show on Saturday night, I had a feeling I would enjoy the show. The tunes on the band's self-titled debut are enjoyable, bluesy pop rock songs. But I did not expect to see a crowd so charged by the band's set. People were going crazy at the sight of the band, with everyone raising arms and fists, yelling loudly, before they even played a note. 

Immediately with the first tune, "Elevate," I saw how joyous Mike, Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen were together. Smiles, constant eye contact, jamming -- all of those sights. The band ended up playing almost two hours of material, which is impressive as the band has only one album. There was a bass solo and a solo acoustic tune by Richie, but no drum solo by Portnoy. Which, even though I'm a huge fan of Portnoy's, I was fine with. The guy played his ass off the entire time that I didn't need to see a solo.

The most important thing I came away with was seeing firsthand how Portnoy has successfully moved on from Dream Theater, the band he will probably always be remembered for. His departure from the band a few years ago was shocking, on the level of, "What if Lars Ulrich left Metallica?" And as happy as I am to see Dream Theater carry on with a world-class drummer named Mike Mangini, I get agitated by people who leave comments on Portnoy's social media platforms about how he should rejoin Dream Theater. No, Dream Theater isn't the same without Portnoy, but he and the band parted ways, and they do not wish to reunite.

I accept the fact that there are many who will never truly accept Mike's departure from Dream Theater. The Internet is a great place to vent those thoughts, but I try to not spend too much time reading them. I'm much happier to see Portnoy play with guys he is genuinely excited to play with, playing music that is in his wheelhouse, and still being an active, fan-friendly personality. (Yes, I got a picture with him after the show.)

Fans often think their words will truly make business decisions reverse and longstanding feelings subside, and the band they want to see will return in its purist form. The thing is, bands are made of humans, and not all humans get along. Add in business dealings and it gets really divisive, especially if someone cannot legally rejoin a band, even if he co-founded it.  

I like to use the adage of, if people want all of the original members of their favorite band to reunite, they probably want divorced parents to remarry as well. Nevermind how the divorcees have found new partners they can tolerate and be happy with, when it comes to bands that are crystallized in fans' minds with studio albums and documented live performances, fans want to relive that magic again and again. There is no such thing as a final encore in their eyes. 

I am fine with the Winery Dogs as well as the two Dream Theater records they've done without Portnoy. If DT never reunites with Portnoy, I'm happy to have all of their albums and DVDs to enjoy what's come before. What I want to see in the present and the future, though, is what makes the artist happy to carry on, whether it's with a new band or a band that's been around for almost 30 years.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Drinkin' That Ice Cold Beer


What happens when a trend in music reeks of terrible offenses to the audio and visual senses, yet is somehow still infectiously catchy? A trend in particular that's been on my mind lately is the one dubbed, "bro country."

This trend has been perfectly mocked on YouTube and the best talk radio station in the DFW area. Essentially, these days, if you're a male artist and want to have a massive hit on the country charts, the song lyrics must include references to the following:

1. A truck
2. A girl
3. Alcohol
4. Driving on dirt roads
5. Farm equipment
6. Tight jeans on said girl 
7. A small body of water
8. Sunset and/or moonlight
9. Summer
10. Guns
11. Fishing
12. Boots
13. God

The more references the artist has in the first 60 seconds of the song, the better chances of it becoming a hit. Don't believe me? Just watch the clock as a song gets going. 

Musically, bro country is more like hard rock with flashes of hip-hop beats and flows, rounded out by acoustic guitars and banjos. Think more "We Will Rock You" and "Make 'Em Say Uhh" than "The Grand Tour." 

Loaded into these cliches are melodies that can easily get stuck in your head. I freely admit they get stuck in my head like parasites. Songs like "This is How We Roll" by Florida Georgia Line and "Crash My Party" by Luke Bryan. When I first heard them, I wondered how they got by my usual tastes. Like I was a goalie with a pretty good save record wondering why there were pucks finding holes in my defense. 

As someone who detested country music in my youth, I don't think I've fully embraced all the colors of country music. During periodic exposures to country music in my teens and twenties, I found the music to be irritating melodically. There was very little room for endearing melodies to my ears, which were more geared towards an extreme between the Carpenters to Metallica. With the country music I heard, I thought you could only dance around a small amount of vocal melodies while repeatedly strumming an open-G chord on a guitar. Not helping matters was the constant, slightly off-key, twang that made country music cun-tray.  

What artists like Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw sang about didn't register with me in my teens or my early twenties. I didn't have friends in low places, didn't get the meaning of unanswered prayers, or going to some stupid dance. 

I'd like to say my horizons broadened a little in my late twenties by not immediately scoffing at music I didn't regularly listen to. With country music, that enlightenment came from reporting traffic for a small market, "classic country" format and having a housemate who loved country from the 70s and 80s. Every now and then, I'd find a tune that was actually quite enjoyable. My drawbridge was occasionally coming down, thanks to these good people that I'm still close to. 

During the past twelve months, I spent a lot of time around bro country songs. I worked in a few Walmarts as a merchandising rep for a marketing company, and I did traffic reports to various formats, including modern country. Talk about being near epicenters of bro country. You could not escape the exposure to bro country. For example, when Luke Bryan's Crash My Party came out, there was a short commercial for it, featuring the title track, running on a loop in every Walmart. Spending a few hours at a time per store, always working near the wall of TVs, I'd repeatedly hear, "If you wanna call me/call me/call me/You don't have to worry about it baby." By the end of the marketing campaign, I believe I heard that hook 500 times, easy. 

All those times hearing said chorus hook, I didn't find the tune melodically odorous. The same would happen when I pre-recorded a traffic report for a country radio station. While the lyrics of "This is How We Roll" reflect nothing from my life, I couldn't but help sing along in a joking way. Eventually, I thought, "Hey, this isn't bad if you look past the lyrics."

Consider this eventual submission by the marketing/researching powers-that-be. 

Bro country is like what hair metal was to hard rock music in the 80s. There's a look and sound designed for a mass, paying audience. There is no denying who the target demographic is for Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan: good ol' boys who were raised a certain way and act a certain way as adults. There's always church on Sunday, alcohol for the good times (and bad), a truck for work and play, and a girl to light up his life. The more specific the song plays into the stereotype, the better. 

Is this scope narrow? Absolutely. It's pandering to an extreme. But it sells, and the music industry thrives on what sells. What our inner Statler and Waldorf criticism says about this scope doesn't really matter to the industry as long as it keeps selling. Nashville songwriters aren't going to stop writing songs like this because of satirical YouTube montages, think pieces, or radio bits. If there's money to be made in the music industry, you milk that cow until the cow's dead. 

While I will defend certain tunes on Crash My Party like the title track, "Roller Coaster," "Have A Beer" and "Goodbye Girl" on their melodic merits -- which are more pop rock tunes more than anything else -- I am not a 100 percent supporter of Bryan and his bro country bros. There are a lot of awful songs with repugnant melodies and moronic lyrics. "That's My Kind of Night" is far more like Master P than George Jones. "Amarillo Sky" by Jason Aldean makes me wonder where the Nyquil is. Granger Smith's "Country Boy Love" makes me wonder where I can find some duct tape for my ears. 

This is music for people who relate to the stereotypes. I am clearly not in the songwriters' minds as a member of the target audience. I didn't grow up around rural areas, riding around in a pickup truck blasting classic rock and traditional country. And I didn't eventually start bopping my head to hip-hop with a country hat on. That's the kind of guy I wouldn't believe I could have a deep conversation with. I don't go to church, I've never driven a truck, I've never wooed a girl to come to a creek in the moonlight, I don't drink a lot of beer, I haven't gone fishing in a few years, and I've never shot a gun other than a BB gun. Our family does have a farm, though. 

You can't stop bro country and it doesn't look like it's going away soon. The music doesn't offend the men and women who buy the music, the concert tickets, and the T-shirts. All I can do as a listener is be OK if a melody is enjoyable no matter what the format. If I find the the music catchy but the lyrics to be the work of cynical, cash-hungry songwriters, well, that's the way it rolls.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Real Good Time Together

I'm a little behind in posting these links, but I've been pretty busy with articles for the Observer. In the last few weeks, I wrote about an Indiegogo countdown party, the Hold Steady returning to the Granada in fine fashion, had a fun little interview with Dylan from Tiny Moving Parts, and a did a brief interview with Eric Nadel, the great Texas Rangers broadcaster.

After not doing much for the paper in the last few months of 2013, things keep popping up now, and it's still a lot of fun. I'm going on five years with this place, and I have some really cool interviews coming up in the next few weeks. Interviews with people I never thought I'd interview that I've long admired.

Monday, May 05, 2014

It's Never Too Late to Work Nine to Five

For years, I was not sure I was cut out for working a regular, nine-to-five job. Was I going to be happier working from a home office, away from the kind of nuances that Office Space and The Office perfectly lampooned? Would I ever have weekends and holidays completely free of the fear a last-minute emergency would happen and I would have to work? Was I giving into The Man by wanting things like health insurance, a livable wage, and an opportunity to grow my professional skills?

After years of working part-time jobs and full-time jobs in one industry, I have to say transitioning into a different industry has been an extremely positive change. Yes, I work in an environment that might, from an outsider's perspective, give way to Initech and Dunder Mifflin references, but there is nothing I find wrong with this environment. The office environment I had previously worked in (cubicles, offices, water coolers, copy machines) was not different from what I'm now. 

A week into working my new job, I have zero complaints. The people I work with are serious about their jobs, but are super-friendly and helpful. The atmosphere is extremely easy to work in. I get my work done, get good feedback, and get along with the people I work with. And while my salary and benefits are nice, those are more proverbial icing on the cake. 

The fear I had for the longest time was being stuck in a soul-sucking job. It took me many years to realize that a soul-sucking job isn't necessarily in an office building with cubicles. Soul-sucking jobs come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of different schedules. I feel very lucky that my new job is not a vampire of my present and future.

Recently, Mike Rowe gave some great career advice, and I completely concur with the following statement: 

Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

If you're happy with your life and you work as a garbage collector, fine. If you're unhappy with your life and you're the CEO of a company that's worth millions of dollars, no amount of money will make you happy. I am happy with my life and try to exert positive energy every single day. And that energy stays with me when I leave for the office every morning. And it stays with me when I leave the office in the afternoon. 

Paul Stanley might urge you to stay away from the apparent shackles of 9-to-5 in hopes of promoting the apparent freedom of rock and roll, but I see it like this: I get to listen to music while I work, I'm still motivated to practice the drums when I get home, I'm still motivated to keep myself in shape, and I'm still motivated to write. 

The peace of mind I get from working this job, I get to pursue my passions while still working a full-time schedule. And there aren't any vampires hanging around me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dangers

This month marks five years of writing for the Dallas Observer. I am always happy to talk about local bands that are doing great things, and promising and established national bands that come to the area. Things of Earth is, without a doubt, one of my favorite active bands around. I had interviewed their drummer before, but I had never interviewed them before. With their new EP, Dangers, out, I got the chance to interview all four of them. You can read the interview here.

Little backstory about the interview. We all met at a sports bar called Plucker's. None of us knew it would be on a trivia night, and there was no way we could do an interview with the MC constantly talking into a microphone. After we ate, we went into the parking lot and talked.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Walk On

Sometimes in life, we get wonderful news and terrible news in only a short amount of time. Between hours or days, it feels like everything is right in the world, only to have that joy undercut by tragedy. Seems like you can't have one end of the spectrum without the other.

This week, I landed a full-time job with a company I had previously worked for as a freelancer. It is a fantastic company that I am happy to join and they're happy to have me. (Good sign with any company: the people you worked with a few years ago are still there.) Signing on with them ended a two-year rocky journey trying to find something that would move my career in a new direction.

I'm grateful for all the part-time work I've done since October 2011, but I never stopped trying to find the right fit in a full-time position. Something inside me wasn't ready to settle or give up. Whatever it took, no matter how long it took, and no matter how crazy of a schedule I would have. I credit persistence, networking, and personal recovery on what led me here, and I look forward to the road ahead.

On the personal side of my life, I am thankful every single day for a loving and supportive girlfriend, our wonderful dogs, my family, and friends. They helped me see a bigger picture beyond what my job status was or what my annual income was. With that stability, I have been able to put all the crap I went through to get here into perspective.

That stability is also helping me with the beginning stage of grieving process for a friend who passed away on Friday from cancer. She was a fighter, never complained about getting cancer, and always in good spirits. I only saw her a couple of times a year, but we made those get-togethers count. The last time I saw her, she was basking in the happiness of being newly-married. I thought this get-together was last fall, but it was actually almost a year ago.

After years of being cancer-free, the cancer came back last year. Despite the best care and efforts by her doctors, she passed away on Friday afternoon. Looking through my Facebook news feed yesterday morning, it was hard to find anything other than tributes to her. She had that much of an impact on people, including people that only knew her through her online presence. For me, getting this news was shocking, filled with sadness. It sure was tough to keep composure looking at eight hours ahead of being a radio reporter. Yet something came over me to not sulk and work harder instead. It was like her spirit told me to go further and stay calm. (I got through my shift with a little extra pep in my voice, for some reason.)

I'm sad she's gone, and I will certainly miss her. I can't help reflect on the times we did get together. She got to meet Jenny and we saw the Smashing Pumpkins (her favorite band) before they became just a brand name for Billy Corgan to use.

Between the joys and sadness of the last few days, if this is how life swings, then so be it. If you can't be happy without experiencing sadness (and vice versa), then I'm not sure there really is another way.

Monday, March 31, 2014

March Record a Day (Fourth Week)

March 23rd: Album Bought at a Show
Into It. Over It, Intersections (pic)
Bought this directly from Evan Weiss at Trees when his band opened for Saves the Day.

March 24th: Hand-Numbered Record
Braid, Frame & Canvas (pic)
Not necessarily hand-numbered, but for Record Store Day 2013, this came with a "420/1000" UPC. I don't know if every copy had the same UPC or not.

March 25th: A Picture Disc
Robert Goulet, Hollywood Mon Amour (pic)
I don't own any picture discs, so I thought it would be funny to post a pic of an early Robert Goulet album. Goulet is Goulet, part serious, part over-the-top.

March 26th: A Re-press
Phil Spector's Christmas Album (pic)
Definitely not an original, given the very '80s design for a sleeve. The music is still ace.

March 27th: Album Given As a Gift 
Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner (pic)
My old housemate Matt gave me this as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. Features some wonderful tunes, like "Better Off Without a Wife" and "Big Joe and Phantom 309."

March 28th: A Favorite Record
Supertramp, Breakfast in America (pic)
A record I didn't start listening to until last year, but it's already become one of my all-time favorites.

March 29th: A Split Release
Jejune/Jimmy Eat World (pic)
Bought this directly from Big Wheel Rec. Features one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World tunes, "What I Would Say to You Now."

March 30th: A Swirl-Vinyl
Don't own any, so no picture.

March 31st: Repeat Any Challenge from the Month
Rika, How to Draw and River, Step By Step (pic)
One of my favorite records from 2013, this Austrian-band put out their record in the States on Count Your Lucky Stars. CYLS put it out on green vinyl, a challenge I was happy to do again.

Lessons

I've played the drums for twenty years, and I can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I have only had three proper drum lessons. My first sit-down-and-listen lesson was four years ago, when I participated in Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp. The teacher? Sandy Gennaro, the same drummer who was featured on the first instructional tape I ever received. (Sandy signed my tape afterwards.)
The other two lessons were from Robert Anderson, a local drummer I have long respected during his time in the Deathray Davies and currently with Nervous Curtains. 

As I'm preparing for my next lesson, with none other than Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer, I take into account why I want to improve as a drummer now, twenty years after I started playing on a kit. 

Like a lot of things in life, if you want to make yourself happy (and stay happy), you try to improve your strengths and assess your weaknesses. With drumming, it never, ever hurts to go back to the basics. If Neil Peart can go back to the basics and reapproach his technique, many years after becoming one of the greatest rock drummers alive, well, there's no excuse why you shouldn't, either. 

Prior to 1994, I learned the basics of rhythm via piano lessons and tapping along to songs on the radio. Then in 1994, I played along with my Metallica and Led Zeppelin CDs. Since I didn't think time on the practice pad was necessary after I got a kit, I used my pad as a place to rest my phone. By then, I had begun jamming with friends and eventually I joined my first band. I knew of one drum instructor, but I never took a lesson. 

The thought of practicing on a drum pad never occurred to me during my time with the bands I played in during my college and immediate post-college years. I could keep a steady beat, right? Why do I need to play basic beats when I can play fills all over the kit?

I didn't realize how much I needed to work on with my timing until the last band I played with. When it would come time to do a fancy fill, I'd speed up, much to the ire of the bassist. So sitting down in a class with drummers of all kinds of abilities with Sandy, I realized I should work on basics. A metronome is your friend, no matter what speed. That's one of the most memorable kernels of truth that I came away with. I still remember a lot of that 50-minute lesson.

My lessons with Robert were more about stick control and timing. No matter what the musical genre, your timing is critical. Robert was kind enough to invite me to the drum shop he works at to hang out. When I find the time, I'll hit the place up. 

Now a lesson with a world-renowned drummer is coming up and I am about to join a new band, I've decided to work even harder and be prepared. I've watched some of the tutorials Billy has online, and he offers some great advice I hadn't thought of before, like having a straight posture. I look forward to what he has to share and show, and I have a few specific questions I'd like to ask.  

I (thankfully) have yet to have a bad lesson, and I'm sure I will come away with plenty of things to work on, regardless of what style of music I'll play next.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Fat Wreck

I don't remember how I heard about A Fat Wreck, but I remember when I met with Shaun Colón last year. We had talked over e-mail a few days before the Dallas premiere of Filmage, the excellent documentary on the Descendents/All. We talked after the screening about what he hoped to do with his film, which was originally planned to be a short film.

Now with plans to make A Fat Wreck into a much-longer film, he created an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to, essentially, finish the film. The goal was $7,500 in 36 days. Turns out, all of that money was raised in 24 hours.

I talked with Shaun yesterday afternoon, transcribed the conversation later in the evening, and the interview was posted this morning. I'm proud of Shaun and what he's done so far. This kind of story is what keeps me writing for the Observer. Writing about people who live in the DFW area, doing things that people often mistakenly think you can only do in larger, hipper cities. Make your town be proud, I say.

Monday, March 24, 2014

March Record a Day (Third Week)

March 16th: A Splatter-Colored Vinyl
The Appleseed Cast, Middle States (pic
Upon closer inspection, I actually have a few splatter-colored vinyls. This is one I have never spun. I bought it directly from the band at a show in Denton last year. Got out the MP3 code and rocked out to it that way. Sure is a pretty color vinyl, though.

March 17th: A Green-Colored Vinyl
Title Fight, Floral Green (pic)
In honor of St. Patrick's Day, it's green vinyl! I don't hesitate to call this a classic. While their influences are pretty obvious (No Knife, Seaweed, Lifetime), these guys are going in the right direction. 

March 18th: A Local Band
Innards, I've Lost Everything (pic)
This is a Denton-based four-piece. They play really short songs with a lot of screaming. For some reason, they're considered "Dad-core." I have no clue as to what the hell that means.

March 19th: An Album That Makes You Dance
The Sylvers, Something Special (pic)
The Sylvers might be a forgotten almost-Jacksons, but "Hotline" is pure pop disco gold. Happy to have full version, though I prefer the shorter, single version.

March 20th: An Artist's Most Memorable Album
Pete Yorn, musicforthemorningafter (pic)
Pete is a great songwriter, and all the elements came together on his solo album. This signed copy is something I received from KTCU. I have never played it on the turntable.

March 21st: An Album From the Year of Your Birth
Cheap Trick, Dream Police (pic)
I was born in 1979, and Cheap Trick released this beauty. You can't really go wrong with anything from Cheap Trick's first four albums, but this one is especially great because of the title track.

March 22nd: Most Recent Purchase 
Deafheaven, Sunbather and The Rubinoos, self-titled (pic)
I bought the Rubinoos' debut at Half Price Books last week and I purchased Sunbather at the Deafheaven show last Sunday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March Record a Day (Second Week)

March 9th: An Album on Classic Black Vinyl
Laura Nyro and LaBelle, Gonna Take a Miracle (pic)
An album of R&B and soul covers, but delivered in such an incredible way. I found this for a few dollars at Half Price Books. I finally got to hear more of the album (I had only heard the title track, which is worth the price of the record on its own) and am continued to be amazed by it. "Jimmy Mack" is especially great.

March 10th: A 10-inch
Environmental Youth Crunch/Pink Razors split (pic
A record I barely remember listening to from my days as a reviewer for Punk Planet. Every month I'd get a stack of records to review for each issue. Some records were memorable, but so many were not. If I recall correctly, this is trashy pop-punk. 

March 11th: Any Record
John Barry, Great Movie Sounds of . . . (pic)
John Barry's music really grabbed me when I heard the main theme from Midnight Cowboy on a radio station I did traffic for. After I watched Walkabout, I decided to find as much of his music as possible. Often his music was melancholic, but with such beauty as well. He might be best-known for the James Bond themes, but I'll take the other stuff any time. 

March 12th: Album With a Female on the Cover
Bette Midler, The Divine Miss M (pic)
Back when I watched every Behind the Music, I remembered vintage footage of Bette Midler singing tunes in bathhouses. Backed by Barry Manilow on piano, I was struck by how boisterous and vivacious these songs were. I spent months looking for this, but I eventually found it at, you guessed it, Half Price Books. 

March 13th: Album from High School
Automatic 7, "Syringe"/"Broken Record" 7-inch (pic)
Another stretching of the rule, as I got this in my freshman year of college. Automatic 7 might be easily dismissed as a Social Distortion knock-off, but, my my, were tunes like these great. 

March 14th: Favorite Album Cover
Texas is the Reason, Do You Know Who You Are? (pic)
One of my favorite album covers, without question. It's mostly white with a vibrant-colored image wrapped around the spine. The songs on the album are as memorable as the cover.

March 15th: An Acoustic Album
John Denver, Back Home Again (pic)
Though this has the one John Denver song I strongly dislike ("Thank God I'm a Country Boy") but it features some of my favorites, including the title track and "Annie's Song."

Monday, March 10, 2014

March Record a Day (First Week)

I had so much fun with February Record a Day, and I was happy to see there is a March Record a Day. This series might continue for the rest of the year, and I'll keep doing this until I run out of records to show.
March 1st: An Artist That Begins With the Letter M
The Moody Blues, Days of Future Past (pic
One of the earliest additions to my library when I started collecting vinyl a couple of years ago. Just a great collection of string-tinged tunes, including "Nights in White Satin."

March 2nd: An Album from a Foreign Artist
Paul Young, The Secret of Association (pic
Aside from an album of German polka songs (done by various artists), I don't have many options with what constitutes a "foreign" artist. Since Paul Young is not from America, I figured this counts. I bought this for "Every Time You Go Away" and I was surprised to hear the LP version. Certain key elements from the single version are not there, especially its outro. Definitely a record I've only played once. 

March 3rd: An Album in Poor Condition
The Osmonds, Crazy Horses (pic
Received this as a gift from the Half Price Books clearance bin. It looks like this one spent years not properly shelved and it is bent with a slight curve. When it plays on a turntable, the LP rubs against it and makes a clicking sound. Shucks. I really enjoy the Osmonds' attempt to be like Led Zeppelin.

March 4th: Album With an Etching On It
Converge, You Fail Me (pic
I'm stretching this one a little. While it's not a cool graphic made onto the playable side of the LP, there is a little scrawl saying "Converge." 

March 5th: A Double Album
Husker Du, Zen Arcade (pic
Yet another purchase from Mad World Records that didn't cost me an arm and a leg. This is a brand new pressing that shows what I had missed on the original CD version. Everything sounds fuller, and I have a better appreciation for this band.

March 6th: Album Found in a Used Bin
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (pic)
Many of my records are found used. Sometimes I will dig through the dust and butt sweat found in the clearance bin, but for the most part, I stick to standing and flipping. This multi-LP set was found for a dollar at a Half Price Books. I bought it just because of the Jacques Brel association. Scott Walker covered many Brel tunes in the 60s, to a tremendous effect. This play's adaptation smooths out the rough edges of the songs, making them less potent than Walker's versions. Still, I'd like to check out the play if it's available in some form or fashion.

March 7th: A Desert Island Album
Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (pic
Peter Gabriel's final record with Genesis is something I'd take to a deserted island. So much wonder, so much mystery, and most important, so much beauty on this double-LP. I just hope the island has electricity and an air conditioned room for storage.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Girls Rock!

While I was at the Comedy House on Wednesday, I received an e-mail from the Observer's temporary editor. Asking if anyone would be interested in writing about Girls Rock Dallas, a non-profit, volunteer-run group that puts instruments in the hands of girls and lets them form a band, I jumped at the chance.

Yesterday afternoon, I talked with its founder, Rachel Michaud, and quickly transcribed our interview. Since GRD is looking for a new venue (and they're running out of time), I put this together as fast as I could. You can find my interview here.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

February Record a Day (Fourth Week)

February 24th: Least Favorite Record
Warren Franklin, Your Heart Belongs to the Midwest (pic
I bought this at a house show last year directly from Warren. Warren played an excellent electric set with the current line-up of Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). Yet when I listened to this record, which is all acoustic, I wasn't very pleased. His voice is a little too rough and shaky for my tastes. (I'm more of a Davey von Bohlen guy than a Tim Kinsella guy.) I'm more than happy to help and support musicians, but this record is not one I go to for repeat plays. 

February 25th: Record on Classic Black Vinyl
Rival Schools, United By Fate (pic)
Received this a gift from my friend Nick. I'm a monumental fan of Rival Schools. I've seen them every time they've come to town (which, so far, is only twice). This is, without question, my favorite band that Walter Schreifels has been a part of. Since this is an original pressing, it's on classic black vinyl.

February 26th: Splatter Colored Vinyl
At the Drive-In, Relationship of Command (pic)
Kinda stretched things with this. I don't have a lot of colored vinyl. I don't go out of my way for it, frankly. If a record is in a special color, it's a nice bonus, but not mandatory. This is the Record Store Day 2013 reissue of the ATDI classic. I would venture calling its color splattery tan. 

February 27th: An Album to Drink To
Frank Sinatra, September of My Years (pic)
I don't drink very often, and I believe the intent behind this one was to showcase an album you've cried yourself to sleep with. This is my favorite Sinatra record, and I can attest it goes well with a late-night drink before heading to bed, sans any crying or in a state of drunkeness. 

February 28th: Any Record
Jawbox, For Your Own Special Sweetheart (pic
I randomly picked this one out of my collection. This is Dischord's reissue with bonus digital tracks. Though I already have all of the songs (and the remastering doesn't sound far from the original mastering), it's nice to have this record on vinyl. Got it at Mad World Records last year when I turned 34.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February Record a Day (Third Week)

February 17th: An Acoustic Album
Andres Segovia, A Bach Recital (pic)
Segovia is a name I've heard in passing over the years. But I didn't really understand the beauty of his playing until I watched a clip in Sound City. John Fogerty talks about the sound quality and the passion of Segovia's playing, and I couldn't help notice. I found this a little over a month ago. The sound quality is not great, but the playing is top notch.
February 18th: A Split-EP
Minus the Bear/The City on Film (pic)
Bob Nanna gave me this at a show he played at Beat Kitchen in Chicago. I didn't have a record player at the time, so I initially politely declined. Thankfully I wised up, took it, and agreed to find some record to play it on.
February 19th: White Vinyl
Everyone Everywhere, self-titled (pic)
There are times when you're lucky to be online at the right time. This fantastic Philly band was selling a very limited number of their second record at a name-your-price deal. I sent them fifteen dollars and got this about a month later. Totally beautiful record.

February 20th: A Favorite Record
Tom Waits, Small Change (pic)
Hands down, my favorite Tom Waits album. So much beauty, so much sadness. Just a classic. However, somehow, after the first play of my 180-gram reissue, a skip developed on "I Wish I Was In New Orleans." Last year, I found an original Asylum pressing of this, along with Foreign Affairs. While the album was dusty, there are no skips on it.
February 21st: A Compilation
The Four Tops, Anthology (pic)
Found this brand new at the wonderful Mad World Records in Denton. Though I have many of these songs on CD, I don't have the full version of "MacArthur Park." At $8 for a 2-LP set, I couldn't say no.
February 22nd: Clear-colored Vinyl
Certain People I Know, self-titled (pic)
This band features Bob and Damon from Braid and Hey Mercedes. I have never seen them play, but I have enjoyed this record despite listening to it only a couple of times. I bought this at a house show in Denton last year where the owner of the label was selling all kinds of his label's products.

Monday, February 17, 2014

35

On Thursday of last week, I turned 35. Like almost every birthday since my 18th, I don't feel like a full-blown adult. Then again, I wasn't exactly sure what being an adult would feel like.

Not often, but occasionally in my teenage years, I wondered what being an adult was really like. I looked at adults around me and pondered things. Will I be taller than I am now? Will I be listening to Kenny G and Celine Dion? Will I be living by myself in a big empty place? 

I can't say there is one event or moment when I stopped being a youth and started being an adult. Becoming an uncle seven years ago was an indicator, but so was moving into my own apartment back in 1998. There are so many transitions in life; more than I would realize until later.

If you want a good indication on how much you've grown, talk with someone you haven't spoken to in a number of months or years. You generalize the main events, including obstacles that seemed huge and unable to get over. Some of those have been surpassed while you're still working on others. 

When I turned 34, there were a lot of question marks about what the year ahead looked like. There were some things that were not changing any time soon (love does do that to people, thankfully), but the job situation was very up in the air. I was freelance writing and still holding out for something full-time. Turning 35, I have two part-time jobs and two freelance writing gigs, all while still looking for the right fit with a full-time position. On the personal side, I live in a house with my girlfriend and our three dogs in a quiet and friendly neighborhood. We are quite happy living where we live. Each day is highly fulfilling, especially with the presence of our dogs.

While I continue to network and search for my next full-time job and ponder graduate school, I must not lose track of doing what I love to do. Writing is still a necessity, as is drumming, even if it's not done every single day. Doing improv and seeing rock shows are still a part of my life, serving as a healthy distraction and a chance to approach struggles in different ways. Being committed to a recovery program is also a major factor. 

At 35, I still get carded, but not as much as in previous years. I have a better idea of what I'd like to do in the immediate future, as well as what not to do. Focusing on making progress instead of buying into a myth called perfection, the journey is still going and I'm happy to be along for the ride.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February Record a Day (Second Week)

February 10th: Any 10-inch Record
face to face, Econo-Live (pic)
Back when I collected singles, I came upon this through a mailorder catalog. It's a very rare and rough documentation of face to face before they recorded their self-titled third album. There are slightly different arrangements of songs that wound up on the album. Think of it as a glimpse of the album to come.

February 11th: Collection of an Artist
Jimi Hendrix, Are You ExperiencedAxis: Bold as LoveElectric Ladyland (pic)
I don't have many complete collections of an artist on vinyl. Showcasing the three proper albums that Hendrix released while he was alive, this is one of the exceptions. My former housemate Matt gave me these when he moved out last summer. They're still in good shape, and the music is still out of this world.

February 12th: Artist That Begins with the Letter 'L'
Lifetime, Hello BastardsJersey's Best Dancers (pic)
I don't often double-dip when it comes to albums I already have on CD and on my computer, but there are certain classic records that deserve to be owned on vinyl. Not only are the songs great on Lifetime's two proper albums on Jade Tree; the artwork is incredible, too. 

February 13th: Album from High School
face to face/Horace Pinker split 7-inch (pic)
I stretched this one a bit. I didn't collect any 12-inch vinyl in high school. In the summer/fall between high school and college, I started collecting a lot of singles by punk bands. Since I had to have any and all face to face vinyl, I came upon this. Horace Pinker ended being the big surprise for me. "Letter Never Sent" is still one of my favorite songs they've done.

February 14th: Red or Pink Record
Into It. Over It, Proper (pic
Truth is, until a few weeks ago, my copy of this record was sealed. I bought Proper and Intersections directly from Evan when he opened for Saves the Day at Trees. Seeing the pinkish/red color, I thought it was apropos for Valentine's Day.

February 15th: An Artist's Best Album
Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell (pic)
I took an easy route with this one. The first Meat Loaf record is still amazing to me. It's the template and yardstick for every record Meat has done since. 

February 16th: Favorite Dollar Bin Find
Eric Carmen, self-titled (pic
I have found many great records in decent shape underneath the racks at Half Price Books and Mad World Records. This Eric Carmen record is very special to me because it marked the beginning of me collecting 12-inches. I had that Pet Shop Boys 12-inch from elementary school and I had a few that I reviewed for Punk Planet, but this one started the trend that I am on now. I found it on one of my many shopping trips with Matt. I asked if he was interested in it and he passed. For a dollar, I couldn't pass it up. Thus Eric Carmen's debut became my gateway drug.