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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.