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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ghost Hunting

The past couple of months have been very productive. Probably more than ever before, which has been good for some peace of mind. Between the regular work hours at my full-time job and the freelance writing for the Observer, there hasn't been much time to sit around and think. It's just been go, go, go and go to sleep at some point late at night.

Some of the most recent articles that I most proud of had been in the works for a while. The story I did on the Cool Devices studio had been kicking around as an idea for almost two years. Writing about the owners of Red Pegasus Games and Comics was a spur-of-the-moment idea after the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, but I knew one of its owners through job networking over a year ago. And writing about Rahim Quazi was a fun exercise in piecing together a story that gave me nightmares.

After my piece on Rahim ran, I interviewed him for my podcast. Something he brought up in our hour-long conversation has frequently come back in my mind. On the topic of promoting his new record, Ghost Hunting, with shows and possible interviews, he talked about an anticipation of rejection often leads to not trying at all. If he wanted to put together a dream line-up, sell out a local theater, and do press interviews, he wouldn't have been able to accomplish such without looking beyond possible rejections. Instead of "Why bother?", it was "Why not?"

A big reason why this idea keeps coming to my attention is that I'm currently faced with something that could lead to a rejection letter. I've decided to propose a short book idea to a publisher that focuses on many of the greatest albums ever made. The deadline is in two weeks and I'm working on my proposal almost every day, including weekends.

The call for submissions is for anyone who thinks he or she is qualified to write a couple hundred pages on a single album. I know a handful of writers who would like to submit a proposal, but for various reasons, they won't. Whether it's scheduling or just not having enough free time to commit to such, I find myself in a predicament that's a little too easy to chicken out on. I have the time and drive to do such a thing, and I know I might not always have the time or drive down the road.

I could imagine hundreds of better proposals from writers who are more qualified than me. I could imagine how a rejection letter will read and what it could look like. I could imagine people laughing at me for even trying. With a lot of other things in my life, it would be easier to take a safer route of letting things come to me rather than me coming to them. Let the good things fall into my lap and not think of trying something that's a little out of my comfort zone.

I've never been friends with rejection. Rejection says I suck, my ideas stink, and I should find the darkest corner in my home and not bother anyone. As much as I should try to come to accept rejection as part of the journey in getting what you want in life, it's easier to run in the opposite direction. The anger and sadness I usually feel with rejection doesn't encourage. It discourages.

But there are times when the fear of future rejection is overshadowed by the fear of regret in not trying. It can be easier to get over a rejection (especially if something better happens not too long after it), but the regret of not at least putting yourself out there can be almost impossible to forgive yourself in the long run. That's what I try to tell myself everyday working on this proposal. The odds are not in my favor, but they're not in anyone's favor.

What helps me stay focused is thinking about what else I could do if I get a rejection letter. If my idea gets turned down, I'm not going to stop writing. Hell no. There's the long-gestating third book I would like to write about pop culture critics. But if my proposal is accepted, then I will get to that book (still titled Forever Got Shorter) after I finish.

Sometimes the biggest hurdles in life are staring right at us everyday. Like a ghost that follows you around, it's easier to acknowledge than fathom a life free of it. But a great question to ask yourself, would I be happier and better if I didn't have to constantly talk myself out of good ideas? That's something I struggle with, and sometimes the struggle puts me into motion, potential rejection letters or not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Clockwork Angels

Leading up to last week's Rush show at the American Airlines Center, there was a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I had a sense I'd enjoy the show as a longtime fan of the band, and I hoped to review and photograph it for the Observer. (I was lucky enough to do that and had a great time.) Why it was bittersweet was how prior to the show, I couldn't stop thinking about my friend Evan, a longtime Rush fan who passed away unexpectedly last October.

I think about the guy a lot (not many days pass without thinking of him), and I wasn't sure how I could handle seeing one of his favorites without physically being with him. Obviously this was not appropriate to talk about in my review, as the average reader wants my review of the performance, setlist, crowd, and sound rather than a personal reflection. I was fine with supplying that for the Observer reader, but I wanted to share about the cathartic effect the show had on me.

As I waited for the show to begin, I was in front of the barrier along with photographers way more experienced than me with much more expensive equipment. I had the jitters and frequently paced around in a small circle. Still not quite in the acceptance stage of Evan's death, I wished that the guy was with me in the enormous arena. Strangely, after I thought that, I felt a calming feeling as I looked out into the crowd. Akin to the final scene in 24 Hour Party People, where Tony Wilson sees the spirit of his departed friend Ian Curtis, I could see Evan's enthusiasm for Rush reflected in the many intensely-focused members of the crowd. I told myself, "He would want you to be here and to have fun."

Maybe it was a voice from the afterlife or just a desire to hear a reassuring thought, but I was able to give the three-hour show a fair shake without having a tremendous shadow of grief hang over me. I was able to wrap my head around the vast catalog Rush has and take in what might be their final Dallas show. (Various factors are pointing towards this as the last large-scale tour for the Canadian trio.)
I came home and wrote my review and uploaded the best pics I took. Receiving positive feedback from friends and fans as well as my guest (Joel's father, who has been going to Rush shows since the mid-'70s), I was proud to represent what it's like to be a Rush fan in 2015. Knowing longtime fans helped shape me into being the fan I am now, and I'd be pretty clueless without them.

Fast-forward to today and I decided to set aside my evening to a Q&A/signing with the founding member and primary lyricist of Anthrax, Scott Ian. I wasn't so sure I wanted to go, thinking there would be a massive crowd and an interminable wait to get something signed. But a friend of mine that works for the bookstore hosting the event assured me that the wait would not be long, given how they do things with event passes.

During the lively Q&A, Scott answered questions about his role as a zombie in The Walking Dead to how he wrote his autobiography. I decided to raise my hand and ask a somewhat inside-baseball question about "Black Lodge," a song about a place in the Twin Peaks world. I asked what it was like to work with the show's musical composer, Angelo Badalamenti, on the song. And also, if he had any interest in the upcoming third season of the show. His answer was very enthusiastic as he had a great time working on "Black Lodge" with Badalamenti and he looks forward to the third season.

Thing was, after he answered my question, I thought about my high school friend Jeff, whom I dedicated When We Were the Kids to. Jeff was a gifted guitarist who could figure out almost any song by ear. The memory that came into my mind was when he showed me the opening riff to "Black Lodge" in my bedroom. I thought it was so cool that he figured out the riff, as well as the pedal/amp effect used in the song. 

That memory is one of the handful of memories I have of him before a drug overdose took him away from us. I don't think about him much these days, but I will never forget him and what he meant to me, even though we weren't super-close friends. The guy loved music and he inspired me, as well as many others.

Once again, the bittersweetness came into me as I got to take a picture with Scott, got my book signed, and even won tickets to Anthrax's show. But like clockwork, the thought of "Go, have fun and live your life, damnit" appeared and I made the most of the experience.
 
You don't meet people and think you'll only know them for a brief time. You want to have many great experiences with them, because you connect with them the most, compared to everyone else you know. As life can sometimes be cruel and unfair, there should not be a reason to deny yourself happiness again. We cherish the memories we have with one another, and we should not be afraid to create new ones with the new people that come into our lives.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Not Over

For most bands, no matter how much I love them, one night of seeing them live every few months (or years) is enough. I don't want too much of a good thing, but when it comes to face to face, seeing them three nights in a row is an exception.

I was fortunate to attend all three nights of their Triple Crown shows, where they played Don't Turn Away on the first night, Big Choice on the second, and the self-titled record on the third. Even though I heard "Disconnected," "Not for Free," "I Used to Think," "Don't Turn Away," and "Dissension" three times, I did not mind. The amount of songs that were not repeated was greater than the ones that were.

I previewed the series of shows for the Observer and I let my fandom/appreciation be fully on display. I acknowledged the elephant in the room, given the recent writings on the impact of nostalgia on a lot of shows coming through Dallas these days. And while I did recall certain memories of my past with face to face's music (ie, getting Big Choice on the same day as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and learning various face to face songs on guitar), I came away from these shows with many positive, new memories.

When you meet a face to face fan, you're meeting someone who *gets* them. Meaning, he or she might be into a lot of other pop-punk bands, but doesn't adopt the attitude of acting like a pompous asshole or smarty-pants to make a statement. He or she is in touch with deep, inner-feelings, from happiness to sadness. No matter what age or what's currently happening in life, face to face's music and lyrics resonates. 

Time and time again, I've been able to listen to Trever Keith's lyrics about life's struggles, relationships falling apart, and fighting through rampant negativity with fresh ears. I cannot say the same about most of the NOFX, Screeching Weasel, and blink-182 records I listened to in college. Songs like "Resignation," "Overcome," and "1,000 X" spoke to me as a teenager, a college student and as someone now in his mid-thirties. This is a band I can keep coming back to and appreciate them for who they are, not necessarily as a band I liked when I was younger.

Talking with Trever and Scott here and there over the years, they've remained friendly and approachable people. They were no different on these nights.



 
As luck would have it, former drummer Pete Parada made a guest appearance on the second night. He was in town with his current band, the Offspring, and he played two songs during the encore. Whipping out "Overcome" and "Bill of Goods," I was pretty over the moon about this. Ignorance is Bliss was a favorite of mine when it came out, and I knew the change of style would turn off fans, but I have been vocal about its many merits for years. (I was recently at a show in Denton and it was playing on the PA between bands. I thanked the soundman for playing it.)

A story I like to tell about Pete is that when people were whining about the band's temporary change in direction, people singled Pete's drumming out on the band's message board. I argued his playing was exactly what the material needed and he could play the older songs just as well, if not better, than original drummer Rob Kurth. He seemed to appreciate my comments, because when I met him outside of Liberty Lunch in Austin, he was happy to meet me. Seeing him again on Friday night, he remembered me and gladly to snapped a pic with me.

Over the course of these three nights, I met a lot of great people and saw some people I hadn't seen in a while. The whole experience was like a reunion and a convention. Thing was, nobody dressed up like it was church and nobody didn't want to be there. The new people I met, I hope to see again, maybe at a future face to face show, or anywhere else in life. (Facebook brings us all together.)

As a way of reminding myself of how special this was, I have the following poster, signed by the whole band, framed above my home office's computer.
I might be falling into a nostalgia trap by placing this in a spot I look at every single day, but I want to keep a positive experience fresh and alive in my head every time I sit down to write. These shows signify the seventh, eighth, and ninth time for me to see face to face (now the national touring band I have seen the most times), but they will not be my last times I see this great band.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Nostalgia Trap

As a follow-up on my thoughts on the Bomb Factory reopening, I wrote a lot of words about the dangers of investing too much time to nostalgia. Basically, the past was great, but it wasn't all great. So let's look forward to what's next. And I quoted Billy Joel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Bomb Factory

I was asked to pen a few words about the return of Deep Ellum's Bomb Factory for the Observer. I never went to it when it was originally open. I was living in Houston at the time and it had been closed for a few years when I moved to the DFW area. I went to Deep Ellum Live, which was next door, plenty of times and saw many great shows, from Spiritualized to MxPx.

Now it looks like the Bomb Factory will bring in a lot of great bands, filling a void that's been in the area for many years. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Art is Hard

A few new stories to share that I have recently written. I followed up with Dallas-based filmmaker Jeremy Snead, who made an excellent documentary called Video Games: The Movie. From talking about the kinds of reactions to his film to his upcoming series on video games, we had a great talk.

Over the weekend, I had to be in Houston for my father's 70th birthday party. People I had not seen since 2002 would be there, and I really wanted to go. Luckily I escaped Dallas before the snow and ice shut down the city.

While I was down there, I decided to review the Cursive/Beach Slang/Megafauna show at Fitzgerald's for the Houston Press. I had a great time watching Cursive for the sixth time and the openers for the first time. Beach Slang is all kinds of incredible, and I was happy to see them as they are on the rise.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Already Gone

There are times when reading about music bums me out. Bummed to the point where I think the writers only want to hear free jazz while being stoned and/or drunk, huddled alone, spacing out in a dilapidated home.

I enjoy reading perspectives from people who take the time and effort to investigate why a certain record or an entire catalog connects with people. (When I mean "people," I mean people who actually identify with the music and they carry that connection for the rest of their lives.)

But if someone is going to continually bad-mouth a popular act, I have to wonder why this person is going on and on about it. "Okay, it's not for you," I think to myself. (I say this knowing full well of how much I despised a popular form of emo ten years ago and wrote a lot about it on this here blog.)

If I were to only abide by music critics, especially those from the 70s and 80s, and fear verbal stoning for disagreeing with them, I should not speak up. Especially when it comes to writing about the Eagles. I'm supposed to hate that band for life. Liking them is conforming to the Establishment and I'm just a cog in a machine that spits out mediocrity.

There's a Salon article that echoes (and quotes) Robert Christgau's hatred of the Eagles, while linking pieces by Chuck Klosterman and Jason Heller that defend the band. It should come as no surprise that I identify more with Klosterman and Heller (and have for years, actually) than I ever have with Christgau. I don't think of music writers being in the wrong when I disagree with them. Rather, I try to acknowledge their opinion while not being ashamed of having a different opinion.

Let me break down why I should hate the Eagles, according to those who hate them:
 
-They're frauds who took country rock and turned it into Top 40 mush.
-All of their singles have been overplayed on the radio. 
-Glenn Frey is an asshole.
-Don Henley isn't a very good drummer.
-They say they are on a farewell tour, but they keep touring with no end in sight.
-Don Felder got the shaft and was fired unjustly.

None of these reasons reflect anything to me about their actual songs, mainly their melodies. These reasons are more about the personalities behind the band and the band's business, and how they affected people who don't spend hours poring through music, hoping to find something connects with them.

Somehow, after years of listening to them (including a five-year run where I heard an Eagles song every day between Monday and Friday), I have found I like them now more than ever. Like them in the way that I want to dig deep into their back catalog and read books on them.

This renewed interest came from watching a lengthy documentary on the band called History of the Eagles. Frey comes across as a pompous jerk, but the guy wrote some wonderful songs. I wouldn't want to work with him or someone like him, but a good song is a good song. Their story is an interesting one, filled with drama and ups and downs, making for an enjoyable watch.

One of the first things I never really noticed until I saw the documentary was how well the band (in its various incarnations) harmonize together. Randy Meisner's high register was especially the secret jewel of the band's sound, from "Take It Easy" to their version of Tom Waits' "Ol' 55."

A song like "Lyin' Eyes" and their version of "Ol' 55" warrant repeat listens from me. I can't really get enough of them. Songs like these are perfect for driving around, whether it's short distances or long ones. And somehow, I'm less prone to drive angry when I have their songs on.

Have I bent over backward to the Establishment out by admitting I love the Eagles? It doesn't matter to me, because I've never really identified myself as being a complete outcast. I'm too weird for the mainstream and I'm too mainstream for the weird. If liking the Eagles means that I have no credibility in discerning what's good and bad, then that's someone else's projections. I like what I like, and I'm not pretending to be anything more than what I am.