Monday, August 30, 2010

To sink or swim

I've played in many bands in my life. In only one of them I knew going into the final show that it was the final show. That band was the Pull Tabs as of last Friday night.

The great thing was, the show wasn't an awkward, painful, or estranged sort of matter. The band got together as a fun outlet for playing music and I'm happy to say it ended that way too. And I'm really happy to say that the door is still open for Mike and I to play with Kyle again. When that will be, I don't know, but I'm glad the door is still open.

Many years ago, I distinctly remember the first time I felt a certain sinking feeling about a band situation not working out. I was at a large pro audio place with my father as he looked at buying some gear for his business. There was a lot of time to wander around, and there was plenty of space to wander about. I kept thinking about this "band" I had going where three guys I knew came over to my house with guitars and we jammed.

At no point in this band did we ever write songs. We'd play on riffs one of three guys had and never really finish any of them. Eventually, one of the guys stopped showing up. A little while later, the other two stopped showing up as well.

I wasn't sure where this band situation was going since I wanted to write songs and they wanted to merely jam. Not knowing where this was going made me feel uneasy.

Luckily, a year later, I ended up joining a band that actually wrote songs and wanted to play shows. Thanks to a referral by one of the guys I had jammed with in the prior year, I got to do what I always wanted to do. I proverbially hung in there and never stopped playing even when other guys stopped.

There were other times in college when the band I was in seemed to be off the rails. Shows were big trainwrecks, and communication was very strained. I wondered where this was going. Either I was fired from the band or the band stopped practicing/playing shows and that was the end of that.

Once again, that feeling came back, and then I moved on.

The exciting thing about this temporary break is how Mike and I have some ideas about what to do next. Knowing that, the sinking feeling isn't around.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Staff Trax and Green Day

What happens when I hang out with a Coheed and Cambria superfan last week and do a preview of the Green Day show at the old Starplex? You get this and this.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A dog/cat's life

There was an ongoing joke in my house growing up: if I ever wanted to tell my mother that she wasn't welcome in my house, I should get a cat. Because of allergies to cat hair, my mom would have a hell of a time withstanding a visit. I kept that in mind but I always wanted to her to visit me.

I never wanted a cat growing up. We always had a dog when I was growing up. The dog was a wire-haired fox terrier and he stayed outside. From J.W. to Rocky to Bailey, there was a dog in the backyard.

Now that I've lived in a house for six years always with a dog in the house, I have a different sense of closeness to a pet. I've never as close to Victory as I have been with any other dog.

And as of the last few weeks, I have never been so close to a cat.

Diana recently took in a stray cat that had been hanging around our area for the past few months. The cat, an 11-month-old male who has been dubbed Mimo, really clung to Diana right away. I liked him too, but I've always been cautious around cats with claws. (A certain dinner party a few years ago where a friend's cat laid its right hand claw into my leg is hard to forget.) That said, in the following weeks, I've felt easier around a cat.

Mimo is a really mellow cat. He lounges and takes things really easy, even though he seems very non-committal on where he'd like to sleep for the night. My hope is that he will be a great foil for the antsy Victory.

The stumbling block is that Victory goes bonkers around other dogs and cats in the neighborhood. Probably for the reasons of territoriality, Victory squirms and fidgets around when she sees another dog or cat outside. I seriously believe she means no harm to these other animals. She's never tried to bite anyone or jump on top of anyone. It's more of a, "Hey, this is my territory" kind of vibe.

Victory has seen Mimo before and has gone ballistic around him. But a few weeks ago, when a relatively-inebriated party guest brought Mimo into our house, Victory and Mimo didn't go at it like Braveheart. They were more curious than anything else, and Victory didn't bark or jump around. They looked at each other and kept walking.

I hope someday Mimo and Victory will be able to live together under one roof. I have a good feeling they will. Diana and I are waiting for the right time to properly introduce the two of them, but the time isn't right yet. I'm just in the dark about why Victory must act one way outside of the house and another inside the house.

Oh, and Mom, you're more than welcome to visit, cat and all.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First draft

Still keeping in mind my September 15th date to have a first draft of When We Were the Kids, I have to take a step back and wonder what exactly is a first draft. What constitutes it? Should it really reflect the final draft?

Given the scope I have of this book, this proposed first draft is more of a look at what I have so far. What more should I add to the story? What should I subtract from the story? I still think you should have a lot to work with in the editing process instead of wishing you had more to work with. In other words, editing down 400 pages is better than editing down 100 pages.

So far, I have the main outline of the book fleshed out. There are key events that happen, hopefully giving a sense of closure by the end. I also have plenty about what happens in between those events. A house isn't just a slab and a roof, you know?

Writing any story, fiction or nonfiction, is easier to finish when you have an end in mind. I keep wondering whenever I read something, "Where is this going?" so I think about that when I write. If I choose to go a little off the main course, will I reward the reader with hanging in there?

I recently met up with friends of mine who have an informal, monthly writing group. This was the first time I ever heard the material read aloud, and hearing the material made me believe the material is going in the right direction. Getting that instant feedback was quite good. And it helped that I got honest, but not super-negative or super-harsh, feedback.

Something that I can't help notice is the amount of time I spend working on this book as compared to my first. I had to spend five months working solely on Post to get a first draft, and then almost a full year editing the whole before all was said and done. Since I'm not wading through hours of interviews and other books for research, the amount of time spent is significantly less. That's not to say I'm less committed. There's simply less desire to do a ton of research. Hopefully that won't backfire.

That's the current status as of today.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition spotlights a song by Love Spit Love, a band I heard about back in the 1990s, but didn't get around to listening to until a year ago. As I went through Jason's CD library before he moved out, I found "Fall On Tears" on a CMJ compilation and it really struck me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vs. the World

This past Friday night, I did something I had not done in ages: see a movie on its opening night. I've seen a few matinees of films on their opening day, but the whole, see-it-with-a-packed-primetime-audience thing had been a while for me. (I think the last time I did that was when The Two Towers and The Return of the King came out.)

The film in question? Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

While it was on people's minds yesterday that the film did lackluster business at the box office, that was definitely not on the mind of the packed audience I saw it with on Friday.

When Diana and I, along with a couple of friends, pulled up to the theater, I was surprised to see long waiting lines for Eat, Pray, Love and not for Scott Pilgrim. This is a teenager flick with all sorts of modern and vintage (read, circa 8-bit Nintendo), right? And what do a lot of teenagers like to do on a Friday night? See a movie, and preferably not a soon-to-be-forgotten Julia Roberts star vehicle.

Only one screen played Scott Pilgrim while The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love showed on multiple screens. I started to get this sinking feeling that I'd hear all about how Edgar Wright's best chance at mainstream audience acceptance was a bomb, disappointment, or a disaster come Monday morning.

As seen time and time again, what do people remember more, the movie or its box office figures (aside from the highest-grossing films of all time)? The movie, of course!

From the moment the 8-bit Universal logo appeared, I started laughing. Watching the film from the second row, this was like a bargain version of IMAX. And I, along with the company I was with (and the audience that sat behind us), loved the hell out of this movie.

Yes, the movie is fast-paced and over-the-top with all sorts of action. Its hero is not somebody you should look to for relationship advice. A wonderful film that will outlast its box office receipts, this is a film worth seeing again and again.

What's been frustrating in taking a strong interest in liking films this way is that people prefer to dismiss their merits based on box office. I'm well aware that the movie industry is a business, but what exactly constitutes a bomb doesn't necessarily mean it lost money or is forgettable. The list of films that actually meant something to a lot of people way exceeds the memory of its opening weekend. From Seconds to It's a Wonderful Life to Mallrats, I keep coming back to the notion that weekend box office reports make for something that can create some news content on a Monday morning, but they don't really mean anything.

What's stuck with me (and will stick with me) is how much I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim. Your parents might not get its greatness, but people who grew up on Nintendo, MTV, and The Matrix will.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On ice

Last week I got a phone call that has traditionally meant that I'm fired from a band. I've received that call a few times, where a bandmate that I don't normally talk to tells me I'm a great drummer but still has to fire me from his band.

Turns out, Kyle (who I talk to regular outside of band stuff, by the way) called to tell me that he had landed a job in Oklahoma City and would move there in a few weeks. In short, that means the Pull Tabs are on extended hiatus.

I can't say this is a permanent hiatus because I'm still friends with Kyle and completely understand his predicament. He landed a pretty good job in a place that he has friends (and it's not too far away from Dallas), so it's not like he's moving to New York for the rest of his life.

As sad as it is to put the band on ice for the moment (or, maybe permanently), I'm not going to make negative, revisionist statements about my experience. There was no waste of time or hurt feelings. If anything, I felt like I got my groove literally back.

I've made no secret that my style of drumming has been to blame for a certain band firing from three years ago. Because of the career path that I wanted back in college, that got me fired from two other bands. Since I helped start the Pull Tabs last year, it would have been hard to fire me from a band that I helped start and had a hand in arranging (and even writing a couple of) songs.

I don't think of this as like a finely-made sandcastle suddenly hit by a crashing wave. I have no reason to stop being friends with Mike and Kyle, and I have no reason to not play with them again. Mike and I have talked about inviting friends of ours to jam in our practice space. I wouldn't say this is an audition process per se. Rather, it's about coming over and having fun. Just like how the Pull Tabs started.

If I were to say the best thing that has come out of this band, it's that I can still play like how I want and not compromise. And that I can have even more fun playing drums (and playing in a band) now more than when I did in high school. That's a very good lesson to have learned in all of this.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Staff Trax

This week's edition is about the Gaslight Anthem. I've yet to be sold on American Slang, but I've found The '59 Sound quite good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Library surge

Roughly two weeks ago, I looked at the handful of shelves nailed into a wall in our reading/sitting room. Filled with many books by Stephen King, along with a few books on mixed martial arts, as well as The Passage, I Am Legend, Let the Right One In, and The Ruins, I decided I had enough books to read for a number of years. Aside from a one-off purchase here and there, I thought that's all I needed.

That was, until last weekend.

Whenever I go into a Borders or a Barnes & Noble these days, I hit up the bargain bin and stock up. I don't think I'll ever have a lack of curiosity about books, and when decent-to-mint copies are available for less than five dollars, I can't say no.

Even though my library has grown significantly in the past year, I really like to have a variety of options when it comes to the next book that I read. I can't read Stephen King all the time. Rather, it's nice to have an alternative to this stuff, like a Joe Strummer biography or an oral history of The Simpsons.

Of course, when I'll finish reading all of these books remains to be seen. I joke that I'll be done by the time my kids are in high school. Then I think I'll probably have way more to go through by then.

Monday, August 09, 2010

This ain't no nostalgia

As I dive into finishing up the first proper draft of When We Were the Kids, there's something I want to make abundantly clear: this is not some nostalgia trip. Nostalgia trip in the sense that everything was so much more innocent back then and everything is horrible today. I might think a lot about the past, but I strongly disagree about its supposed "better time."

I want to put forward how certain things were different from today, like how teenagers got into bands that weren't on the radio. Whether through seeing a T-shirt, hearing a song on a Sunday night radio show, or having a record that someone's older brother had, I think there is value in talking about those pre-Internet days. But I don't want to wallow in those days either.

What I'm aiming at is the idea of playing in a band that "never makes it" in terms of mainstream or even underground success. If playing to hundreds of people in a big bar and selling a few thousand copies of cassette are the biggest claims to fame for a band from the suburbs, then that's good enough. The emphasis is on the experience on playing in a band that is nowhere near considered the cool or hip part of town. I experienced that, so have many thousands of other people.

When it comes to material that I want to document in a book, I choose to focus on stuff that is barely documented or just not documented at all. Sure you hear stories about suburban rock bands, but they are usually only mentioned in the beginning of a band's profile article. It's the kind of stuff that's made light of. Well, if a baby's first steps are seen as brief touchstones, I think there's something to be said about all of those first steps.

Whether or not When We Were the Kids does more business (or less business) than POST, I want to completely put everything I have into this, and make something worth reading. But I gotta stress, the best days of these characters didn't end at graduation.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Staff Trax

In this week's edition, I spotlight the still-great Futureheads' second album, News & Tributes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"I don't listen to the radio. I listen to NPR."

For as long as I've worked in the non-college radio world, whenever I tell people that I work in radio, I hear some variation of, "I don't listen to the radio. I listen to NPR."

Before I turn this into another rant about semantics, I'll just say that makes about as much sense as saying, "I don't listen to rock music. I listen to indie rock."

I can understand the implication that "radio" only equates high-powered FM and AM signals, but for as long as National Public Radio can be found on radio, it's radio to me. Sure, NPR might not have the quick and fast bumpers and jingles found on a Hot AC station, but it's still an option on the radio dial.

What's interesting is that I myself don't actively listen to the radio at all outside of work, except when I'm riding in Matt's truck. And that includes NPR. I still prefer to listen to CDs when I'm driving in my car. I never have the urge to turn the radio on. I prefer to listen to exactly what I want to listen to, be it the Dillinger Escape Plan or Meat Loaf.

Adding to the rather peculiar nature of my listening habits, I love working during rush hour with adult contemporary pop on. Yup, that Lady Antebellum song, those John Mayer songs, and that Rupert Holmes song. I credit my time working at Best Buy for that being the case. I work better when it's stuff I can tolerate instead of me focusing on which CD to put on next.

For as long as I've listened to NPR, I've heard Garrison Keillor take over a million breaths, the Car Talk guys play wonderfully off of each other, and plenty of hosts calmly mention the music you just heard. I understand that's kind of stuff that fits better to the ears of those who don't like certain formats, but to me, it's still radio.

Monday, August 02, 2010

"Come on drummer, tighten up on the drums."

Something I've been a little too aware of for the past few years is how hard I hit my drums. I was once unceremoniously sacked from a band for playing too aggressively and I've been mindful of that ever since.

Even though it might drive sound men crazy, bartenders up the wall, and certain band members up the wall, I always play my heart out.

I don't try to play rambunctiously. When it's time to chill out, I chill out. When it's time to rock out, then I rock out. I like to play rock music, and I've always been inspired when a band (or band member) throws all caution to the wind and plays like it's the last show of all time, pre-zombie apocalypse.

Think about the perspective of the average audience member. He or she has probably never sat behind a mixing board, doesn't know what EQ is, and has never known what "wet" vocals sound like. All that technical jargon aside, this person has probably seen amazing bands and terrible bands. I'd prefer to not play in the terrible band side of things.

Since I'd like to think that I'm one with the audience, I prefer to play like how I'd want to see somebody play. If I barely hit the drums and cymbals while I stared into the rafters, then I would not think I was doing a decent job. Rock music has the potential to change your life. It changed mine, so I simply try to continue that transition.