Monday, August 31

That's My Jam: That Sounds Like Noise, Mr. Vai

See, this is what's wrong with me.
This is what makes me different from the rest of ya'll. Because the first time I saw this clip I didn't immediately find myself saying things like, "Wait, did he play those notes with his butt?" or "Dude, Xanadu sucked -- why are you trying to bring that back?" -- instead I was trying to figure out if he actually had one of those midi breath controllers wired into his guitar allowing him to make the flute noises in the beginning, and rewinding certain parts of the video to confirm my suspicion that he might have a theremin hiding somewhere near his pedalboard (which would actually allow him to create quasi-musical passages while swinging his guitar around like that).
Seriously, I love you Steve -- but what the heck am I supposed to do with this mess?
As a longtime fan of Vai's, I will say this -- throughout his career he's had periods where he's delved in and out of performance art/experimental music territory -- and even back in the days when he was playing alongside Frank Zappa on-stage theatrics were part of the deal, so for me some of the more ..fruity parts of this particular piece don't come as a total surprise (this is the same guy who featured a photo of himself in a zebra print speedo on the inside of one of his solo albums, an image I'm still trying to erase from my consciousness) -- but it's almost impressive in a way how Steve not only manages to push the boundaries of guitar playing with each new album he releases, but how he continually comes up with ways to out-cheese himself every few years or so.

It's kind of part of what makes him such an interesting artist -- because he's as much a technician as he is sort of a wackjob, leaving the rest of us with this sort of brilliant mad scientist bent on recreating the soundtrack from his latest astral projection dream for the rest of us to hear who just happens to be one of the most technically proficient players in the world.

I was explaining it to someone the other day -- we were talking about Hendrix and I was telling the guy that I have this theory about there being two Jimi's; the blues player who spent years playing on the Chitlin Circuit backing up artists like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, and the psychedelic artist who spent hours in studios coming up with tunes like "Are You Experienced," "EXP," and "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" -- which were filled with processed sounds, backwards guitar playing, and deep echo effects.
Most players and fans tend to gravitate towards the pop hits and blues-influenced songs. But this other side, the more experimental side of Hendrix is the one that rarely gets explored or recreated.
And yet if you listen for it, you'll hear shades of it in certain artists -- especially guys like Prince, Vernon Reid, and Steve Vai.
So yeah, the butt guitar and Tron-inspired video effects in that Vai clip above are sorta ..lame, but I tend to appreciate where it comes from, even if it's not something I like to listen to very often compared to his other work.

All that being said, I think creative people need their crazysauce sides. They need to be able to run into the darkness if they want to be able to better find the light they need to compose their best work. It's my experience that musicians and artists who only do one thing, only revisit their own victories again and again tend to burn out and fade after a while.

In other words, if you're a fan you sorta need Garth Brooks to have Chris Gaines. You kinda need Radiohead and Bjork to put out a few electronica albums, Kanye to go 808 or Heartbreak, or David Bowie to be the Thin White Duke for a few years.
Exploration and risk taking is part of what helps an artist grow.
I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing this. Do you have any favorite artists who have decided to take that turn into the exotic and unexpected, and if so -- did you like it?
Because personally, I'm all about it.

- Curse YouTube for not having a decent vid of my favorite BodyCount song, but this one will do.

[Listening to:  Ryuichi Sakamoto - "World Citizen" ]


Friday, August 28

Matchy Matchy

Dear lord, are you seeing this?
Look, there's a lot that can be said about how the standards of beauty that permeate advertising, movies, television, music, and modeling are unrealistic and in many cases discriminatory, but then you see something like this and you're like -- "Damn girl, you don't have one skinny friend?"
And that's not to knock on big girls. Ask anyone, I love me some thickness -- but there's a line, you know?
All that aside, jeans that wink at people? Pants that reveal hidden messages in the folds of your butt as you walk?
Assvertising, for crying out loud!?
..Yeah, I think not.

[Listening to:  Rhianna - "Rehab" ]


Tuesday, August 25

Made

Him: Why are we stopping?
Me: Because there's a cop in the street directing traffic.
Him: (after taking a second to look) ..Dad?
Me: Yeah?
Him: Cops eat a lot of doughnuts, don't they?
Me: Yes they do, son. Yes they do.

[Listening to:  Karnivool - "Mauseum" ]


Monday, August 24

Thats My Jam: Drunk Chords

I've probably told this story before -- but I was once in a band
called "Southern Comfort" with Adam Bigbee for about 3 hours.
Essentially one night at Arteagas we got really loaded on SoCo (I can't really remember why we were there, it might have been a band practice for the Bigbee's band, Someone Else that I was a unofficially a member of about a half a dozen times -- depending on how mad they were with Matt Lyle at the time. I never officially played a gig with the band, but Spence and Bigbee continually tried to bring me on board during the years they were together. Either that or we were making one of those videos where we poured mud on Dumpy's head just to see how long he'd put up with it).
And I know that probably sounds a little weird -- But like most of my Bigbee stories
from those days, You sorta had to be there if you wanted it to make any sense at all.
Anyways -- like I said, it's me, Bigbee, his drumset, a borrowed guitar, and a bottle of Whiskey -- and the next thing you know we're off on what I'm sure we felt was a vitally important musical adventure that simply couldn't wait another minute more.

Problem is, we were utterly hammered -- so we were only able to play so many things. Best I can remember, we did a jam that was basically a reworking of Janet Jackson's "Black Cat" (again, this is a Bigbee story -- just roll with it) followed by about two hours where I basically just played the first two chords from some long-forgotten TSOL song we liked while he pounded on the cymbals, because they were the coolest two chords in the entire world, so there was no need to play anything else.

At some point I think Arteaga came downstairs to kick us out of his house, at which point he complained that we were just playing drunk chords over and over (as if there was something musically flawed in that idea).
Clearly he didn't get it.
Anyways, like so many other bands in rock history, Southern Comfort eventually passed out on the couch, stumbled home the next morning, and kinda cringed whenever the idea of drinking an entire bottle of hooch and then making music was suggested ever again..
But my love for drunk chords lives on.
Which is not to say that COC were drunk when they wrote this, or that they're raging alcoholics at all. Quite the contrary -- many years back when I was still working for Fred Andrews we did sound and lights for a local gig of theirs, and they were among the coolest bands I've ever worked with. It's just that this tune with it's signature opening riff is exactly the kind of thing that could easily turn into an all night infinite loop jam -- especially if you were to get the right two idiots in a room and ply them with liquor.

I think we all have one or two of those songs in our personal musical libraries, those tunes that only sort of appear in our consciousness once we it gets a little altered -- like that one Weezer song we like to sing a capella when we get a little loose on rum and coke and then decide to go walking on the beach, or that one track we DEMAND the DJ play once we reach the right saturation level so that we can jump up on top of a table and sing along (seriously, why else would anyone enjoy Kid Rock, or continue to allow DJ's around the world to play Semisonic's "Closing Time" at last call every time we're in the club without burning the place to the ground?).
..Or is that just me?

[Listening to:  Black Flag - "Nervous Breakdown" ]


Thursday, August 20

We'll Always Have Pangaea

Reminds me of an incident that happened many years back featuring an attractive young lady who had the unfortunate habit of calling me on the phone every 5 minutes or so to talk about absolutely nothing, leading to this somewhat infamous exchange:
She: Sooo, whatcha doing?
Me: EATING!
..Yeah, she didn't call back.

[Listening to:  Rage Against the Machine - "Down Rodeo" ]


Monday, August 17

That's My Jam: Very Necessary

50 years ago. Think about that for a second -- 50. Years. Ago. An album was put out that just essentially changed everything. There have been great albums since, there have been landmark musical moments.
But there has never been another Kind of Blue.
I'm not usually very big on telling people how to live their lives or what they should or shouldn't do, but you really do need to own this.

It's OK if you don't listen to it all the time, especially if you're not a regular listener of jazz. But keep it around. Let it seep into your playlists, hide it in there somewhere. Because there's gonna be a day, or maybe a late night where one of these songs is gonna come on and it's just gonna click.

When you're ready, these grooves will find you. Not to study note-for-note searching for some Rosetta stone (although you certainly can do that with it), but to simply enjoy. To bob your head to. To not worry about the little details and brushstrokes -- but to just take an easy step back and appreciate the picture for what it is.
You really need to have this.

[Listening to:  Paul Gilbert - "Radiator" ]


Thursday, August 13

Actually Spoken During the Course of My Day

"Perhaps you’re an evil twin. Have you noticed yourself wearing an eyepatch, or sporting a goatee latelty?"

[Listening to:  Damageplan - "Save Me" ]


How High the Moon

To simply suggest that Les Paul was an important figure in modern music would be like saying that Hugh Hefner had a little something to do with the importance of boobs. The man revolutionized the direction of guitar playing around the world, and single-handedly developed recording techniques and tools that paved the way for the sound of modern music.
Most of which he did in his own garage, without any formal engineering knowledge.
Already an accomplished jazz, blues, and country guitar player in the 1930's, having recorded with Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, and his own trio -- he began to experiment with ideas aimed at improving his own sound. Unhappy with the sound of acoustic guitars at the time, he took a 4" x 4" piece of wood, attached a guitar neck, pickup, and bridge onto it.
This would become the world's first solid body guitar.
Most electric guitars used in modern music, whether it be rock, jazz, R&B, or country are direct descendants of that instrument.

He then went on to work on a similar design in the early 50's with the Gibson guitar company, who named their guitar "The Les Paul" -- which has gone on to become one of the most popular and iconic guitars ever sold. Les Paul's are still sold and played today, instantly recognizable by their shape and sound.

But beyond this was Paul's designs for studio recording, which include the development electronic delay/echo effects, phase shifting, track overdubbing, and multi-track recording.

Before Les Paul began experimenting, most albums were recorded live with only one or two microphones placed strategically in the middle of a group -- a technique that provided a unique sound, but often left quieter instruments lost in the shuffle.

Paul advocated multi-tracking, which enabled players and singers to record parts individually and then mix them back together to create a single recording that offered each individual instrument it's own room in the mix.

But Paul took it a step further. By varying the speeds of each recording, he could create multiple-part harmonies with his instruments that would not have otherwise been possible -- enabling him to mimic the sounds of big bands and even orchestras when he wanted to by himself. He then applied the same theory to recording a singers voice (usually that of his former wife, Mary Ford) -- leading to a string of hits for the two in the late 1950's.

- Notice the wall of tape decks that he's harmonizing with in real time. Not an easy trick at all.
This technique of auto-harmonizing is the direct progenitor of Auto-tune, which
(for better or worse) is all the rage right now in modern pop and hip hop music.
All of these ideas were fine for creating quality recordings, but Paul wanted the ability to be portable -- so he created this little black box called "The Les Paulverizer" which enabled him to record and layer these harmonies automatically, giving him the flexibility to perform multi-part harmonies (ranging sometimes in excess of 20 individual parts) live. He even began showing up on stage with a little black box attached to his guitar that he would appear to perform this technique with:

The box on the guitar was later revealed to be nothing more than a stage prop, with the actual device off stage -- but the technique was real, and it was one that Paul used frequently.
All decades before the advent of digital sound processing.
All of these things are elementary to any sound engineer these days, but at the time were nothing short of black magic.
Which is to say nothing of the fact that the guy could absolutely shred.

- RIP Les (June 1915 – August 2009). Thanks for the music.

[Listening to:  Cindy Blackman - "Green Dolphin Street" ]


Wednesday, August 12

That's My Jam: The Beautiful Distress of Mathematics

True Story: I trampled a stripper to find out Jill Scott's name.
Naked girl on the stage, swaying near a pole. DJ babble; second song coming up. Show her love, she works hard for you, let her know you appreciate it yada, yada, yada. A speech I've made myself numerous times in a past professional life. It's almost unfortunate that the vision of the dancer's body had at that point in my life become such a non-surprise, such an accepted inevitability that I was more entranced by the song than by anything she was doing.
But it wasn't just the tune.
Jill Scott's first album was poetry. The grooves, the space between the notes and the lyrics. There was a unity, a feeling of an artist and her collaborators being on the same page. It was sexy, soulful, funny in places; yet touching and vulnerable. Crafted with the polish of classic jazz yet sprinkled with the hot sauce of street poetry, there was something new in almost every song to hold on to.
It was glued to my CD player for months.
There are hardly any guitars on the tracks. Mostly Rhodes piano, pocket groove drums, and a bass player who's deep tone and careful selection of notes made the whole thing just ..swing in a unique way.

And above it all -- Jill's voice. Youthful and vulnerable, yet at times ranging from sultry to downright dirty. The character that followed through the lyrics loved making love, loved being in love, loved boasting over her love, and what it gave to her. So much of it in a sing-song spoken word style that took the feel of hip hop and molded it into something else, like a potters hand on clay.

On Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 she sang, she laughed, she gushed to the point that you were reminded of the times your friends were too much in love and it became a chore to listen to them drone on and on about just how much happier they were than you.

In later albums, at least for me -- Jill lost focus. Somewhere along the line she got too caught up in being the best singer, in keeping up with the Jones' (or the Alicia Keys, or the Mary J. Bliges), and to my way of thinking has put out work that shows occasional signs of brilliance, but all too frequently seems well.. derivative.
Especially in the light of all that she'd done before.
I used to put that first disc on and just play guitar over it. Copy vocal melodies, try to match the feel of the keyboards, or solo inappropriately all over the music. It was almost as if I was peacocking for the girl singing the words. A voice that in so many ways did not initially match the face, or perhaps better said a voice that I surely projected upon as it spoke of connections both past and present, of hungers and desires that I was myself so wanting for at the time.
Here's one of my favorite tracks from the disc, Love Rain.
I'm not usually a fan of these montage videos, but there's something about this one that goes really nicely with the mood of this track. And then when you add the unique quality of Mos Def into the mix you get a result that is hard not to listen to again and again.

It's weird to say it -- but that dancer on that pole so many years ago is in a lot of ways a metaphor for what I think about roughly every five seconds, and where that comes from. But the girl in this song, the mood that floats over it like steam drifting slowly over the rim of a coffee cup?
..That's the girl I think about all the time.

[Listening to:  Greg Howe - "In Step" ]


Tuesday, August 11

Game Misconduct for Getting Knocked the Fuck Out

You know why always I get so charged up for Football season?
..Because it means that hockey is right around the corner.

[Listening to:  Cindy Blackman - "Abracadabra" ]


Monday, August 10

Crying Threeman

-- Meme stolen from WIGSF, who apparently stole it from someone else. Steal it from me, don't stop the train!
Three names I go by (besides given name):
1. Jack (see also: Jackie Boy, Jackals, Jack Daniels)
2. Bubs
3. Dad

Three jobs I have had in my life:
1. Roadie
2. Strip Club DJ
3. Public School Teacher

Three places I have lived:
1. Longmont, Colorado
2. Tallahassee, Florida
3. Jacksonville, Florida

Three favorite drinks:
1. Jack Daniels
2. Coffee
3. Orange Juice (with and without Vodka)

Three TV shows I watch:
1. Squidbillies
2. True Blood
3. Sportscenter

Three places I have been: (out of many)
1. New York City
2. Bangor, Maine
3. Tortolla, BVI

Three people that call me regularly:
1. j
2. My Dad
3. Satorical

Three of my favorite foods:
1. Pancakes
2. Spaghetti alla Carbonara (aka "Bacon Pasta")
3. General Tso's Chicken

Three things I am looking forward to:
1. Football Season (and the new Madden game coming out)
2. Living Colour playing the HOB in Orlando
3. For the next 10 months to pass quickly.

Three things that are always by your side:
1. A guitar pick
2. Dark sunglasses
3. My cel phone (for better or for worse)

[Listening to:  Yes - "Awaken" ]


Sunday, August 9

Sunday Shred: Sir Duke

Like millions of others around the world, I watched a big portion of the Michael Jackson memorial service. It was a bizarre experience, because I was utterly aware of the conflicting feelings within myself -- first of wanting not to miss an event that was sure to be a pop culture focal point, and yet at the same time feeling the sort of icky aftertaste that comes from the glorification of celebrity death, especially in the face of a life so controversial.
But we all watched anyways, drawn in by the spectacle -- curious like passersby to a car crash.
What I was expecting to see, I don't know. I figured there would be music, I assumed there would be unintentional hilarity (and there was plenty), but above all -- it was one of those odd moments we seem to have so much of these days in our hyper-connected reality where I was sitting alone at a desk streaming a video feed whilst commenting on it and sharing opinions via website, twitter, and texts with friends around the world, many of whom I've never met (and possibly never will).
Connecting without connection.
It's odd, because it's impossible to not recognize the hypocrisy in it. To see it for the gravy train that it is. And yet, when things happen in our world -- we want to react. Small talk by a water cooler, emails to friends, casual conversation over a cel phone, offhand comments about a newspaper headline while waiting in line for a coffee -- these are all things that happen every day, things that are in a larger sense meaningless when weighed against our actual responsibilities, obligations, desires, and passions -- and yet are unmistakably a part of who we are.
And yet -- when it's twittered, when it's facebooked, when it's blogged
without prompting -- it's narcissistic. It's self-aggrandizing. It's plastic.
It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately -- this divide between simply existing in the networked age versus engaging in daily acts of shameless self-promotion, 140 characters at a time.

I'll admit it -- I like attention. I enjoy it when I tell a joke and people laugh. I like when my writing gets read and commented on. I like when people poke their head around the corner at a guitar store to see what I'm playing. I have a side that craves this sort of emotional sustinance -- and in many ways the only way to feed it is to self-promote. To open your life up like a book and then try to force that open page in front of the eyes of every stranger you can find.
In a perfect world, talent would speak for itself.
Much like it did at the Michael Jackson memorial, when after what seemed like a stream of singers and artists simply filled space with music fell away and Stevie Wonder took the stage and reminded us all why he may just be one of the most special artists to grace our lifetime.

The emotion, the passion, the control -- even in mourning he blows me away. Everything with him is so effortless, so pure. Do I love all his songs? Of course not (I Just Called to Say I Love You is one of the 10 worst things I've ever heard in my life, included on a list with the sound of a car crash and fingernails on a chalkboard) -- but when you see the guy play, when you hear his voice -- it's hard not to be impressed by it.

His career has spanned decades, and continues to move strongly across genres. His influence on countless artists is immeasurable. Marching bands play his songs. Blues guitarists. Jazz saxophonists. Gospel choirs. My mother used to sing "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" to me as a lullaby (not strictly his song, but it was his version she took her cues from).
But to the best of my knowledge -- Stevie doesn't twitter. He doesn't have a Facebook page that he maintains himself.
Oh sure he's been on everything from Soul Train to Sesame Street -- he's put out dozens of albums and won tons of awards, he's maintained a certain look that has become almost as much of a trademark as his body of work -- but Stevie's not out there selling it on every corner; he just does his thing and everyone around him is touched by it.
it's one of the reasons why I find him so inspiring as an artist.
People make fun of the head-bobbing, the way he moves his head when he plays -- but honestly, when you're having that good a time who can really say anything at all about the way you express it?

I honestly believe that Stevie Wonder does it because he loves it. That regardless of the fame or the accolades there's still something satisfying to him about simply making music, about playing your instrument, collaborating with other talented people and crafting your art into a finished product -- regardless of who else has the chance to see/hear it or not.

Take this tune (one of my favorites) -- "Sir Duke." Just a short little tribute to Duke Ellington, a fun mix of chord changes and riffs.

In a lot of ways when you break it all the way down -- it's not even a finished song. The chorus repeats itself far too many times near the end, sort of suggesting that there was going to be a third verse but it never really came together,
Or if you look at it a different way, that the song was just a jam session that grew
into something more special, and it's imperfections are part of what makes it unique.
It's weird, because like a lot of Stevie Wonder songs, the heart of it lives in the keyboard playing and horn section parts, providing that signature bounce and brightness that you find in so many of his tunes -- and yet it's a riff that in my mind can't really exist without the entire band. Every little piece works together like a puzzle. You can't just love the bassline to this (even though it rocks), you have to love the way it fits together with everything else.
It's an important lesson that sometimes gets lost in the over-importance that's placed on technique and flash in guitar playing.
Which is perhaps what makes having a little (or a lot) of Stevie Wonder songs in your repertoire as a player such an important thing. Because there's more to playing these tracks than just doing your part. It's about fitting into something -- about being special in the mix of elements that create the entire picture.

Even when Stevie Ray Vaughn tried to turn Wonder's "Superstition" into a showcase for his guitar playing -- it's the groove of the song that rises above the individual parts, helping (imho) turn it into a much better showcase for SRV's skill as a soul player more than his prowess as a guitar hero.

I mean, think about the two guitarists in the video clip -- longtime Stevie Wonder sideman Ben Bridges (the hippie looking guy with the headband) and Michael Sembello, (who was Michael Jackson's guitar player for many years but is probably best known for this song) -- have plenty to do, and are working their butts off (as are all the other players) riding through the changes and the lines, and yet just like Stevie -- seem to be having a blast of a time doing it.
And why not -- it's a hell of a lot of fun to play:

[Listening to:  Jeff Buckley - "Everybody Here Wants You" ]


Saturday, August 8

The Gritastrophe

This morning while browsing the newspaper I came across some saddening news: Worman's Bakery and Deli, which has been a part of downtown Jacksonville life since the late 1930's is closing it's doors for good on Saturday.

For those of you who didn't have the chance to experience it, Worman's was one of the few old school deli's you could find around this area. My mom used to talk about going there as a child and having their sweet rolls. It was just one of those places, much like Beach Road Chicken Dinners that in it's own quiet way made this city what it was -- a sleepy southern community with hidden patches of flavor and class.

It's a weird thing, because in terms of sheer land area, Jacksonville is actually the largest city in the nation, but because our population is so spread out over the area, it still (and probably always will) feels like a small town.

And yet, if you had to ask me what the town is like, where it's character comes from -- I'd probably tell you that the one thing people notice most when they visit is that there's a fast food place on almost every corner here -- something that I think says almost as much about the majority of the people who live in this town as it does their taste when it comes to fine cuisine.

There are lots of fantastic mom and pop restaurants, but more and more if you don't go hunting for them, you aren't going to know they even exist.
A problem that probably has a lot to do with why Worman's is having to close it's doors.
To be honest, even though I grew up in this city, never realized the place existed until I was in high school, when a girlfriend of mine named Dorian began taking me there for breakfast before classes (which frequently lead to eventually skipping classes and all sorts of other intimate adventures). It was one of her favorite places, which at the time was odd to me, because it was really nowhere near her school.

It was one of the important things I learned from her during that relationship, something I'll always be grateful for from her (we're still friends to this day, even though like so many dear friends it's hard to stay in touch as often as we like) -- that there's more to a city than just what's in your immediate area.

Growing up, my family ventured to a select few spots for food and entertainment. Again, with the city being so large it was rarely convenient to go across the St. Johns river for breakfast or a kosher lunch, so we usually ended up in areas close to our house.

Not that the little restaurants and nooks we found in Atlantic Beach weren't good in their own way, but that almost inadvertently I ended up with a mindset that the beaches and Regency were the only places to go, and that anything beyond that was sort of a no-man's land filled with crime and who knows what.

Downtown back in those days was sort of a wasteland. There were few office buildings, lots more homeless -- the only two things really worth doing were the science museum and the main library branch, and my mom was so loyal to the Regency library that the only time I got to go down there was on school trips -- so the fact that there was this amazing little place close to the bus station that made these amazing sandwiches for lunch and the best breakfast you ever had was largely lost on me.

But Dorian and her friends were different, once they were old enough to drive they would explore every nook and cranny of the city. Driving to all the weird and lost backroads, especially around the Northside to the point where they'd collectively built up a track of odd sights and interesting places to go they called "the course."

From the little house on top of the giant grain silos, to the wildly painted dupont paint building, to the house with the year-round Christmas decorations where Dorcas Drake used to organize her Christmas benefits for underprivledged to the car wash near the Toyota receiving docks that you could sneak in and use (and make out under) late at night, the course was a rare peek into a side of Jacksonville that my parents probably would have rather I not driven around in. These weren't the best parts of town, but being the oldest -- they had a lot of the most interesting stories behind them.
Worman's was one of these.
Everyone was always so nice there. The coffee always fresh, and the cheese grits were so good that even people (like me) who normally wouldn't eat such a thing found them hard to resist. Then there were those sweet rolls that you would buy and take with you when you left, so that the aroma would fill up the car.

When I returned to the city after college, I found my way back to Worman's now and again, but in a larger sense found myself holding on more to the spirit of exploration that had first led me to it, and worked to find a new place to eat that was more on my side of the world.

For a long time it was the University Diner, who have awesome home fries. Then when I moved to Five Points it was obviously the Derby House -- which has been there for ages, or occasionally Beethoven's Bistro way out by the Navy Base -- and now that I'm deep in the Southside my new haunt is called The Avenues Diner, which used to be a waffle house but now is like a secret surf spot that I hit on Sundays.

The Avenues Diner's claim to fame are the pancakes they serve. The first time I went in there I got an omelet and asked for a short stack on the side, and the gal said, "Gotcha -- Omelet, coffee, and a pancake." and I actually got mad -- I was like, "No I said a stack. You know, at least 2."

When she came back, she had one of those big square shaped platter dishes, on top of which were two friggin' enormous flapjacks that were literally hanging over the edges of the plate. I shot the woman a look of surprise, and she's like,
"Now you know why I said one."
It was one of the few times in my adult life when I couldn't finish an order of pancakes, and I'm still reeling in shame from the experience.

Mom and pop places are usually the best bets for good and unique food, but all too often it's breakfast that brings you to them first. And I know Denny's makes an OK pancake and gets it to you quick -- but there's just something about having eggs and bacon in a sleepy little place that makes it better. It's almost like being in someone else's kitchen, reading the paper and enjoying a cup of Joe -- almost like you could go back and cook up something yourself if you wanted to.

I've always thought of Breakfast as sort of an intimate thing, especially when you sit down for it. It shouldn't really be rushed, but when you're in a spot like IHOP or in line at the McDonald's drive-thru that feeling goes right out the window.

Of course the best option of all is cooking it yourself, but sometimes when you wake up alone you crave that feeling, the warmth of human contact and lazy eating that makes even the crabbiest of diner waitresses seem like long lost old friends.

Even better though when the food is to die for, and has been for as long as you can possibly remember.
Which is something you always used to be able to get at Worman's.

[Listening to:  Social Distortion - "Mommy's Little Monster" ]


Friday, August 7

That's My Jam: The Three Song Challenge

This one's a little tricky, but if you're interested this is a nice little peek into just how much of a music nerd I am, and how I got to be that way. Think about the songs in your music collection -- whether it be the contents of your iPod, the CD's on the shelf, or (perhaps more importantly) the songs you remember from your lifetime.
Once you've got yourself in that frame of mind, ask yourself this question:
Can you think of 3 songs that share the same
title or theme, but sound completely different?
In other words, connect the dots through the music you love -- six degrees of Kevin Bacon-style into a unexpected mix. It's the sort of thing I used to do back when I was a DJ, both when I was doing parties and when I was working at the strip club. Very few of the girls picked up on it, but I do remember cracking a certain smile when Raven of all people walked up to me after her set and said, "All 3 songs related to Bela Lugosi movies -- nicely done, Mr. Man."

You might remember a couple of days back I wrote a post lamenting the fact that people close to me in age and seem to have no idea about any of the pop culture things I tend to reference in casual conversation.

To my way of thinking, a lot of the things I was talking about were pretty obvious -- but I'm well aware of the fact that I also tend to get into things that very few people know (or perhaps better said actually care that much) about.

For example, there was a time back in college when my CD collection was organized not alphabetically by band name, but by the name of the guitarist who played on the tracks. So you'd find Frank Zappa's Them or Us sitting next to PIL's Compact Disc, sitting next to Whitesnake's Slip of the Tongue because Steve Vai played on all of them.
Practices like these are what led me to come up with the 3-song game.
I used to make a lot of mixtapes for friends (don't do it so much anymore, which is a shame because they're fun to make) -- and I would always attempt to inject some sort of theme into them (especially if I was making one for a girl I was into -- because they always pick up on the cues in the lyrics on a mixtape, right? ..right?).
So here we go -- 3 songs that share the same theme or title, but sound nothing alike:

- Roger Miller, Engine Engine Number 9


- Deftones, Engine N º9


- Black Sheep, The Choice is Yours (connects the dot at 2:30)
So the question now becomes -- which ones can you think of?
I admit, it's not an easy task. I have trouble with it sometimes myself. Obviously it's a little easier to find matching titles with sappy love songs, but a lot of those tend to sound similar -- so be careful not to fall into that trap.

Once you've got your songs chosen out, make sure to post the titles (and YouTube links, if you can find them) in the comments.
Let's see who can come up with the best one!

[Listening to:  Fishbone - "Let Dem Hoes Fight Pt. 2" ]


Thursday, August 6

Does This Make Me a Bad Person?

I love handicapped bathrooms.
Now before you start looking at me that way, let me first put a few things on the table. I have nothing but respect for the physically handicapped. The challenges they face and the fortitude it takes to overcome all that is something I could probably use a little more of in my day to day existence.
But this isn't a post about handicapped people.
This is a post about handicapped bathrooms.
I don't park in handicapped parking spaces. Like a lot of people out there, There are times when I would certainly like to -- but I understand that they're there for a reason, and just because they're frequently empty doesn't mean that those accommodations shouldn't be ready at a moments notice for those who need them the most.

Plus, when you get right down to it, outside of it's favorable placement in relation to the entrance to a given store or restaurant, there's nothing truly different or special about a handicapped parking spot itself. They're no bigger or longer than any regular parking spot, they don't offer any real advantages once you get between those blue lines.
But a handicapped bathroom stall, that's a whole other story.
Roomy, spacious, filled with the little things that make you feel like you're sitting in a bathroom and not just doing your best to contort yourself into a semi-sitting position between two hastily-constructed wooden dividers that are always just a little too close for comfort. Handicapped bathrooms are the ones most likely to have air fresheners. Handicapped stalls never run out of TP.
It's toilet heaven.
You should keep in mind that this entire conversation is based on the topography and design of most public/corporate men's rooms -- where toilet stall space is something of a luxury. See, you ladies don't understand. You each get a stall of your own. And while it's entirely possible that like me -- your personal feeling is that those stalls tend to be small, cramped, and impersonal, the fact remains that you all get one.
If some places had their way, guys would be forced to
crowd around a hole in the floor and hope for the best.
Fortunately most places provide urinals, which provide a functional answer to a guys most pressing concern at the moment. But once you get past those sorts of biological imperatives, other factors come into play.

Sure some guys go into the stall because they truly need to use the facilities -- but if that was the only reason, then you'd never find folded up newspapers sitting on the paper seat protector dispensers.
See, when a guy's got to go, he goes.
There's no conversation, there's no looking at the mirror, or anyone else in the room. There's a mission to be accomplished, a touchdown to be scored -- and that's the only thing on our minds until we are done, our hands are washed and dried, and we're the hell up outta there.

But when a guy goes into a stall -- it could mean just about anything. For example, if you work in an environment where time is strictly monitored, where personal phone calls aren't allowed or Internet access is prohibited, a place where breaking those rules can lead to punishment and termination, the bathroom becomes the back alley.

A boss can't tell someone that they can't go to the bathroom if they say that they've really got to go, and a boss can't really dictate what you do once you're in there. So it's not uncommon at all to hear dudes talking up their cell phones in there (which is annoying as hell, but has become something of an unavoidable fact in modern society).
The other day I stepped into the bathroom to take a whiz, and while I was washing my hands I
heard the unmistakable sounds of a Star Wars video game coming out of one of the crappers.
Which, when you think about it is pretty damn hardcore. I mean, the place I work at is generally pretty open-minded about web-surfing and balancing personal time with professional responsibilities for it's office workers (there's people here who have their iTunes installed on their work computers). The people who work on the manufacturing floor are watched like hawks, but that only makes sense. After all, we build surgical equipment in this place -- so the last thing you want is for your implant to be put together by a guy who's free hand was trying to blow up the Death Star.
So in other words, someone took an unscheduled break -- went into the
one place where no one could question his actions, and fired up a PSP.
And who's to say how long a BM needs to take, especially when you're only one Boss battle away from unlocking a secret character?

Now I've never personally taken it to that level -- but if I know I've got to be in a bathroom a while, I'll bring the novel I'm currently reading with me. And if I take a few extra moments to finish an extra chapter in private, I don't see the real harm as long as I make sure to dedicate equal time to getting my actual work done.
Which is why I prefer the handicapped stalls.
They're bigger. You can stretch your legs out. There's a sink there if you need a place to put any paperwork you might be carrying (If you have paperwork with you in one of the smaller stalls, it's going to either be sitting in your lap or balancing precariously on the coat hook, or worse yet -- sitting out on the sink counter, just waiting to get soaked). Handicapped stalls have sinks where you can wash your hands in without having to share soap or lame conversation with whoever else happens to be in there at the time.

Plus, there's just something about having that extra room that makes you feel more like a human being.
Lets be blunt here: When you're in the little stalls -- it's just you, the walls, and the poop.
If it smells, you're sitting in that stink. Worse yet, if the guy who was in there before you didn't flush, then it's just you, the walls, and someone else's poop. Ever try recoiling in disgust in a little stall? You end up hitting walls, flailing all over the place like a moron. At least if Mr. can't-remember-to-fucking-flush-like-a-civilized-person does his business in the big room you've got a little space to get away from it.

So yeah, if I go in a bathroom and the big stall is open -- I'm going in there. And I'm taking my damn time and enjoying it.
But it begs the question -- does this make me a bad person?
Before I start this discussion, I think it's important that you know that to the best of my knowledge there are no physically handicapped people actually working at my office. I've been here almost three years, and despite my preference I feel pretty confident that I've never used the handicapped stall at the expense of someone who actually needed it.

I realize that kinda sounds like a weak excuse, but I know for a fact that if I was in a bathroom with an actual handicapped person, I would never try to take that stall before him -- I'm not that guy.

But at the same time, if I were to go in the men's room one day when there was no one else there -- step into the handicapped stall and start taking care of business, and THEN a handicapped person came in and I was, how shall we say ..committed to my task --
It's not like I could you know, stop.
Of course then I'd have to have that moment where I stepped out of the stall and had to look the guy in the eye like everything was cool, when clearly it wasn't.

Which when you think about it is always a possibility. Like I said, we don't have any handicapped employees here as far as I know -- but people visit this place for training and sales meetings all the time.

Just because it's never happened doesn't mean that the risk isn't there every day.
Which makes me wonder -- why do I do it?
Is it because I know no one's going to write me a ticket? Is it because there's no real penalty?

Think about it. If you knew you were gonna go to a store and just be in and out, and you knew that there wasn't a policeman anywhere in the area -- you could probably get away with taking that blue parking space. Sure if you get busted it's $250, and the kind of shame I would imagine would be impossible to shake, but as long as you knew you weren't going to be in there for an hour or whatever, why wouldn't you take the shot -- especially on a busy day when there aren't any other spots available?
But we don't.
I'll roll through certain stop signs. I speed up on yellow lights when I think I can make it. I push speed limits. I eat grapes from the produce section, and occasionally grab candy our of the dispensers at the grocery store. I think most of us do these little things. They're not exactly totally harmless offenses, but in the grand scheme of things it's not the end of the world.

But I'd feel like a total douchebag if I ever parked in a handicapped spot. And I get kinda pissed off whenever I see a car in one without a sticker.
So what the hell am I doing in the big bathroom?
Do you do this? And if you do, does it ever bother you?
Do you even think about it at all?

[Listening to:  Sevendust - "Silence" ]


Wednesday, August 5

Actually Spoken During the Course of My Day

"I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your soap is a slut."

[Listening to:  Kelis - "Get Along With You" ]


Tuesday, August 4

Toys R Us Kid

Of all the weird things that happen to me, the one that baffles me the most is the generation gap that I continually run into here at the office. At 36 years old, you'd think things like this would have faded away long ago and I would have joined the ranks of the elder statesmen looking down on all the whippersnappers out there with their hair and their loud music --
But I guess when you get right down to it I'm not really that
much like a lot of the other 30-something's out there at all.
A lot of it obviously has to do with environment I suppose, but it still catches me off guard sometimes when people ask me things like I'm from mars.
"How was your weekend?"
"Awesome, saw a great concert down at the beach."
"Yeah, who did you see?"
"This great reggae-metal band called Skindred. Totally hardcore show, man."
"Oh, I've um, never heard of them. Did you get into one of those ..mosh pits?"
It's like you can actually hear the record needle scratching across the vinyl sound effect happening. Especially when the guy I'm talking to is actually younger than I am.

Look, I understand that not everybody is into certain kinds of music. I get that there are people who don't dig tattoos and body piercing. That's all well and fine.
But don't act like you've never friggin heard of it.
It's the sort of thing that happens a lot around this place. It's weird because most of the guys I work with are either like 8-10 years older than me, or one of the 20-somethings in the R&D department that only recently got out of college. Sure they'll talk surfing at Sebastian Inlet, but make one mention of crowd surfing at the Hardback Cafe and they look at you like your head's on fire.

Just today I was making the rounds getting signatures on this report I needed to turn in, leading me to the desk of an electrical engineer that I've worked with for a while named Larry. Good guy, been at the company a while -- always quick with a joke or an email to let you know where the free food is. He's maybe 10 years older than me.

So I get to his desk and find him buried in a pile of paperwork. Wanting to get his attention, I gave a quick knock on the opening to his cubicle and sort of jokingly said,
"Larry, Larry -- Why you Buggin?"
I thought it was sorta funny -- but he just turned to me and stared back with his face all scrunched up, like I'd accused him of being a communist or something. Then after a moment he was like,
"Bugging? What do you mean? Do I have something on my back?"
If my math is correct (and it rarely is), dude had to be in his mid-20's when Run DMC's Tougher Than Leather dropped (I was all of 15 years old, utterly obsessed with Metallica and I still knew about it) but even if he wanted to play the "I don't like rap" card, he'd still have a good chance of knowing the original Monkees version seeing as re-runs of that old show were plastered all over my TV around that time.
btw -- even after all these years, every time I reference the Monkees in casual conversation
[which strangely enough, I actually do quite a bit for some reason] I immediately think of this:
I suppose in the end it's not really that big of a deal, but it makes me feel a little out of place. Like I ended up in a spot that works for me professionally, but where personally I don't really fit. I had the same problem with a lot of my coworkers when I was teaching -- except that in that place it was balanced by all the 13-15 year old students who loved it.

I mean, I know pop culture is a subjective thing, but I'm not a leper over here. Star Wars and Punk Rock happened. You were alive at the time, so quit acting like you were stuck in that bubble with John Travolta. If anything, I'm the real poser over here for being into this stuff in the first place considering that I was just a little kid when most of it was at the peak of it's popularity.

But then when I think about it a different way -- all of these things; the music snobbery, the fact that I'm an movie nerd, a lover of classic cartoons and books by post-modern Japanese authors, these are all things that in their own way help make me unique.

The passions I have are part of my personality. Sure some of them are esoteric, but when you get right down to it I'm still a child of the MTV generation -- which means that tons of the crap I adore (Star Wars, tattoos, pointy guitars) are pretty much cliché at this point.

I mean, I love that I'm an individual, and I strive to maintain that singularity -- but like everyone else I crave a certain level of connection with other people, which is why I tend to reference these commonground ideas when I try to reach out to them. Sometimes it works wonders (the first time I saw Bartender Matty's POS car I told him, "You came here in that thing? You're braver than I thought" and we've been friends ever since) but more often than not the other people involved act like they have no idea what I'm talking about, so much so that it leaves me hanging out in the cold, like an offered high-five left unanswered -- and it makes me wonder why.
Or to put it another way, I would hate to think I'm living in a world where I'm the only one who recognizes the utter awesomeness that is a bear surfing on the back of a shark that is surfing on the back of a unicorn.
It's almost like I need to give people who meet me an orientation class. Like I need a tour guide or a liaison who can meet potential acquaintances and bring them up to speed.
"Ok, welcome to orientation. Thank you all for coming in today. Lets just go ahead and get started here -- show of hands, how many of you have seen Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon? Anyone? Anyone? OK, I was afraid of this. Ok, here are copies of the DVD for you to all watch. Dan will be expecting you to know the names of certain characters and recognize the comedic and ironic qualities of several specific character monologues. You should also familiarize yourself with a Val Kilmer film called Real Genius, as well as all of Val Kilmer's lines as Doc Holliday from Tombstone. However, please try to disavow any knowledge of Kilmer's work as Batman, or his contributions to the beyond awful remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Yes, in the front -- you have a question? Yes that's true, Val Kilmer was also in Top Gun, and while you may encounter quotes from that movie in casual conversation as well, it's best to avoid direct exposure to the topic as it might prompt a spontaneous discussion of either the latent themes of homosexuality present throughout the film, or the collected films of Tony Scott, and how he's become one of Hollywood's biggest disappointments.

Are you prepared to discuss Tony Scott's body of work in depth? No?
..Then I suggest you keep your weak ass Iceman quotes to yourself."
Look -- I'm not saying everyone has to be as big a loser as I am when it comes to this kind of stuff, but lets at least put down some ground rules here:
  1. If you're roughly between the ages of 20-40, you are forbidden to claim that "You've never seen Star Wars." You can tell me you didn't like it, and think the whole things kinda childish (because it is), but lets not insult each others intelligence by trying to act like you have no idea who Darth Vader is.
  2. Movie quotes are in many cases a more effective means of communication than actual conversation.
  3. Kid Rock sucks (..doesn't really have anything to do with this conversation, but it's important that we all agree on this).
  4. If you're in a fantasy football league, then shut the fuck up about my twitter account.
  5. No, I didn't watch The Office last week.
  6. There is not an age limit on the enjoyment of Music.
  7. Creed and Nickelback are not music.
  8. All of your favorite horror movies were better when they came out the first time.
  9. If I wear a shirt of a band that has tour dates on the back of it, it means I actually saw them in concert.
I think if we all agree on these simple things, it will go a long way towards breaking down the walls that divide us. I don't know who gave all the adults I know the idea that still liking the stuff they liked when they were younger is a bad thing, but I'm here to tell you that's bullshit. Sure there are some things that we look back on and wonder what we were thinking about when we were into them (painters caps, leg warmers, rap metal), but just because you have a mortgage doesn't mean you can't turn your stereo's volume up past 3 anymore, or forget all the things you used to love.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm headed upstairs to show my coworker this YouTube video.
Because that "Larry, Larry" line was gold, and I fully intend to use it again.

[Listening to:  King Crimson - "Fallen Angel" ]


Monday, August 3

Shipwreck

I'm at the point where I kinda don't want the GI Joe movie to ever come out -- which would enable the networks to continue playing the commercials for it all day, every day.

That way we can all just come together as a global community and forget all of our differences and resentments and anger and jealousy so we can all say in one unified voice and say,
"Who let Marlon Wayans into the Marines!?"
To be honest, I've had serious questions about the leadership directions of America's most publicized non-existent elite commando force ever since they started letting pro wrestlers have leadership positions sometime in the late 80's.

And while I'm sure Sergeant Slaughter made many executive decisions during his tenure that added value to the effort in the fight against Cobra, the fact that 9/11 still happened leads me to question the overall effectiveness of this supposedly elite anti-terrorist detachment.
First off, lets dispense with this whole "Officially our unit doesn't exist" bullcrap, shall we?
Every time these "secret commandos" go walking down the street in their full uniforms (such as they were -- there used to be a guy in the group who wore a bright red football jersey with camouflage pants, an ensemble that would only enable the wearer to conceal his strategic position from the enemy if he were stalking him at, oh I don't know ..the men's casual wear section of Wal Mart, maybe?) it's like every 10 year-old kid in the world knew exactly who they were.
I consider myself a fairly patriotic American and I have nothing but pride for the men and women who choose to put their lives in danger to protect our rights and freedoms -- but I have serious questions about the viability of our government's ability to adequately protect our troops if they are unable to conceal the code names of our top ranking terrorist-fighting commandos from a bunch of middle schoolers.
Then again, I suppose it's entirely possible that as soon as the camera cuts away and the GI Joe emblem flashes across the screen Alpine leaps into action and quickly snaps the children's necks for blowing his cover, at which point he stands over their still twitching bodies and quietly mutters under his breath, "I told you to never say my name. Why didn't you listen, Mike? WHYYY!?" -- but aside from that possibility, the alarming amount of information leakage surrounding this unit is nothing short of an embarrassment.

And I know a bunch of you are all out there saying, "Hey lighten up, it's just a kid's show" -- but there's an entire issue here at work. This idea that sort of lives side by side with the toy industry and their iron kung-fu grip on children's programming over the last few decades that basically says
Heroes should be visible.
The motivation for the toy companies here is obvious, but when you break it right down, it's a theme that's permeated fiction since it's inception -- that your protagonist is special. That everyone's story is unique and special, and that every one else around them is somehow aware of that special-ness -- which is why the world's best secret agent is also an international playboy, every vampire is good-looking, and there is an entire genre of movies dedicated to the idea that going to High School is the equivalent of living in some kind of high-energy Broadway Musical.

Life, as we all well know is rarely like that -- which is why I think we tend to gravitate towards fiction that idealizes things. That elevates everything to amazing and unbelievable levels.

But as we find with Hollywood blockbuster after Hollywood blockbuster lately, it's a tough thing to keep going, especially if you want to make it convincing. The best epic adventures and stories (and there have been quite a few over the years) are not only grand in scale, but tend to have a little bit of heart to them at the same time. But lately it seems like that part has gone out the window. I know effects and explosions sell tickets, but in the end it's the connection you make with the characters that earns our loyalties -- and it seems like over the past few years that idea has just gone flat, like a soda that's been left out on the counter too long.

It's easy to blame the studios, to point the fingers at ego-driven directors or the marketing machine that helps create hype out of crap -- but at the end of the day it's still making a movie. It's still writing a book, or playing a song. In the end there's still a choice to be made by talented, creative people to either do the best job they can or to just go in and collect a paycheck.

It's the reason why certain movies catch on with viewers while others don't. It's the same reason they don't advertise Jason Statham movies that much. His audience trusts his choices (even when those choices include the word "Transporter" in them) -- because the guy appears put out a dedicated, seemingly heartfelt effort every time they put a camera in front of him. It's the same reason it's OK that Conan O'Brien isn't always funny, or that The Daily Show can retread a topic to death and get away with it.

Worldwide terrorist organizations named after snakes threatening the security of the world with nano-technology that eats metal (or movie studios who expect us not to remember that Keanu Reeves was battling against the exact same threat in the form of a giant computer-generated alien that looks suspiciously similar to the Snake Eyes character in the new GI Joe flick)
-- that never happens.
But people touching your lives, making you stop and think about just how little effort it takes to be compassionate and caring, regardless of how large an effect it has on others -- whether it be holding open a door, making someone smile with a joke or a selfless gesture, inspiring others by example, or just being there when it seems like no one else will.. that sort of thing happens all the time.
We don't always recognize it for what it is, but trust me -- it's there.
Because for every person out there who wants to sell you a bill of goods or take advantage of your trusting nature, there's really 10 more who will get out of bed in the middle of the night to drive you home when you have had too many at the bar. There's a little kid who will hug you for no good reason at all. There's all sorts of people who value you for who you are and what you do that it makes it hard to believe that we can still find ways to feel vulnerable, scared, and alone as often as we do.
Which is why I think the time for GI Joe has come and gone.
Besides, those guys were always kinda creepy anyways.

[Listening to:  Paul Gilbert - "Silence Followed By Deafening Roar" ]


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