Friday, September 25, 2009

I Like Some Noise While I'm Sleeping

Over the course of my working day I get to see many cool people, and in talking briefly here and there, I get reminded of stories. Don't ask me how this one came up, but here's a good one...

Back in the summer of 1994, I was working at Barnes & Noble in the stockroom. I unloaded trucks, entered inventory into the system, did some light maintenance work too. Two of my favorite bands were touring concurrently, and of course both were going to be in the vicinity on consecutive nights.

Soundgarden was playing in Manhattan on a Thursday evening. I worked that day, then went home, changed, picked up my friends, and we drove into the city for the show. I was living in Queens at the time, so although it was geographically close to Manhattan, NYC traffic is, well, NYC traffic.

So we get to the show, which of course we were looking forward to. They were playing at The NY State Armory, which none of us had ever seen a show at before. No one could remember a show ever being there at all. Turns out, there was a reason for that.

When you go see shows in clubs, it typically is hot. Lots of bodies jumping around in a small, dark, confined, not-very-well ventilated space, usually produces an excess of warmth that tends to be uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Of course, that same description applies to any summer day in NYC as well, so just imagine it that much more uncomfortable, but still tolerable. It's easier to put up with when there's a good band onstage.

As to the reason no one could remember a show ever having been done there by anyone; there wasn't. Why? Because part-way thru this Soundgarden show, it was becoming increasingly apparent that this venue was not designed to hold this many bodies in it at one time. After the initial burst of energy from the band hitting the stage, the crowd became rather subdued, due to the oppressiveness of the heat. There really wasn't much movement from anyone on the floor, because it was kind of exhausting just standing there. I'm pretty sure there was even a cloud forming above us in the venue due to all the heat and humidity. At one point, even Chris Cornell, Soundgarden's singer, thanked the crowd for being at the show, remarking something to the effect of they knew it was ridiculously hot, even for a concert.

Having seen Soundgarden a couple years earlier with some of the same friends, we knew that when Kim Thayil, their guitarist, propped his guitar onto the backdrop, feedback reverberating loudly and repeatedly throughout the venue, it was our cue to go. Last time they did that, the lights stayed out, so everyone expected the band to come back onstage for more. A good 5 to 10 feedback-filled minutes later, the house lights came up, and we let out a collective groan as we now knew the show was over. Having learned our lesson, as soon as he propped up the guitar and left the stage this time, we left the sauna we were in and bolted for the (relatively) cool air of a NYC summer night, leaving behind most of the crowd who, like us the previous concert, were hoping for more. Never had we been so happy to get into 85 degree air with 85 percent humidity, because it was an Arctic breeze compared to the interior of the NY State Armory. Drained and dehydrated, we made our way back to the car for the journey home. I must have made it to bed sometime after midnight, maybe closer to 1AM. The only problem was, this was Thursday night, and I still had to go to work on Friday.

Now, having been at work since 8AM (maybe earlier, I can't remember) Friday, I left around 3PM to go get a different friend. Him and I, along with 2 of his buddies, were going to see Metallica in Middletown, NY, that night. Suicidal Tendencies and Danzig were opening, so we kinda wanted to see the whole bill, as we liked all of them. Getting to Middletown involved a drive of between 90 minutes and 2 hours, and if I'm sitting still for that long, especially having worked and been up half the previous night at a physically exhausting concert, I'm gonna fall asleep. Even if I'm the one driving.

Somewhere along the gently winding, soothing, calmingly flat road that is the Taconic State Parkway, I know I woke up at about 60 MPH, and was quickly startled to full alertness when I realized I was not driving in the same lane as I had been prior to falling asleep at the wheel. Since all 3 of my passengers were completely passed out, no one but me noticed this, so I was the only one who had a heartbeat racing at breakneck speed. While I was still very tired, the rush of adrenalin from this incident was enough to keep me awake for the rest of the journey.

We weren't in time to catch Suicidal Tendencies from the beginning. In fact, I think we walked into the Orange County Fairgrounds near the end of their set. It was time to decide where we wanted to be for the show. As this is a horse racing track, the stage was set up on the infield of the track, the home stretch was the floor for the crowd, and the seats lining the home stretch were also available for those who wanted to sit. Say, me, for instance.

Even though this was an outdoor, open-air concert, and we were sitting about 20 rows up, plus had the width of the track between us and the stage, the noise level was still plenty high. Danzig came onstage, and gave a great show, performing all songs that I really liked, including a couple of fairly obscure ones from his catalog. I was eventually able to get a recording of this show later on, so I can still enjoy it today on my iPod.

After Danzig left the stage, I was still feeling pretty good all in all, and was fairly psyched to be seeing Metallica. We were having a good time, enjoying the show, the weather was nice, our seats were pretty good, things were fine. Metallica were 3 years on from their self-titled radio-friendly megahit album, which I personally found extremely disappointing. At the time it came out, I nearly chucked the tape I made off the CD out the window of my car upon first listen. I gave it more of a chance, but to this day, there's really only 3 or 4 songs from that album I can listen to, and those rank at the very bottom of a "songs I like the most from Metallica" list, were such a list to be made. However, in their live shows, they've always been very good about mixing in a healthy dose of things from every album, both in an effort to keep the old fans happy, and to show the new fans they've got some other cool stuff too, and those newbies should run right out and buy those CD's right now, so the incredibly greedy members of Metallica can make even more money (a subject I will leave for another post someday, for it will require even more space than this one...).

I can't exactly remember when during the show it was (probably when they were playing some of the drippy new stuff that I didn't like), but I finally had to just sit down. As the song went on, I felt myself starting to drift off, and as loud as they were, I started to feel myself going to sleep. My eyes were closed, and I didn't even try to fight it at this point. I could still hear everything, I knew where I was, and I knew what was happening, but I was definitely getting some much needed sleep. Since I was now asleep, I can't remember for sure, but I think I woke up sometime in the middle of the following song, feeling a little groggy and out of it, but relieved at the same time. I slowly got back into the swing of things, and by the end of whatever song it was that I woke up during, I was pretty much back in the real world. The rest of the Metallica show passed by without further incident, and when they were finishing Enter Sandman, their big single from that self-titled album, we made our way out back to the car, figuring this was the last song...only to hear them, from the parking lot, kick into So What, a cover song by The Anti-Nowhere League that was probably the best thing to come out of Metallica's Black Album sessions, and a song I had yet to see them perform live. I looked at my buddy, who understood the significance of what was going on, shrugged, got in my car, and started on the long drive home.

Amazingly, by this time (again, post 11PM as we left the Fairgrounds), I was actually feeling quite good. My 5-10 minute power nap thru 100+ decibels must have been enough to recharge the batteries, for I actually enjoyed the drive home thru the misty late-nite wilderness of upstate New York. And upon reaching New York City, there isn't any time to be sleeping while driving. Driving in NYC is too much of an extreme sporting event to be doing anything other than paying 100% full-on attention. I must've gotten into the house around 1AM or so, and thankfully it was now early Saturday morning, and I didn't have to be at work until Monday morning. And I took full advantage of that, going promptly to bed, waking up sometime after 2PM Saturday afternoon. I'm fairly certain I didn't wake up once during that 12+ hour block of time. Ah, to be young and stupid...

I've since acquired both video and audio copies of the Metallica portion of that show, so I have both seen and heard anything I may have missed while dozing during their performance.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Led Zeppelin, P.J. Harvey, Eagles Of Death Metal, Iron Maiden, Shootyz Groove, The White Stripes, The Misfits, Clutch, Portishead, A Perfect Circle, The 5, 6, 7, 8's, Metallica, Nirvana, The Doors, The International Noise Conspiracy, Ike & Tina Turner, Tricky, Apocalypse Now Soundtrack, John Lee Hooker, Pearl Jam, and probably other stuff that I'm not sure if I was writing or not when it played...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Photo Explanation

So the photo currently at the top of the blog here is one taken by me in late January 2009. I did a driving vacation of iconic southwestern locations, encompassing Zion National Park in Southern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park, also in Southern Utah, and Monument Valley, home of all those John Wayne/John Ford westerns, in Northern Arizona. I stayed at a hotel in Page, Arizona, right near the Glen Canyon Dam & Bridge, and Horseshoe Bend, beautiful sights themselves. It was centrally located to each of the aforementioned locations, albeit a good 2 to 3 hours of driving one way to get to any of them. I had a fantastic time driving thru much of the American Southwest (I think I put something like 1400 miles on my car in about 4 days), taking hundreds of photos, and losing a cell phone on a hike thru the snow in the process. You can see more photos from this vacation, and tons of other pictures I've taken, at

The drives themselves were much of the fun for me, as I enjoy driving thru territory I've never seen before. The above photo was taken about 15 or 20 miles east of Zion, on a terrificly foggy morning. This picture seems to represent my feelings about life; you can't quite see what's up ahead, but the view is really cool, and the interest in knowing what's up there keeps you going.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The album Slow Hole To China by the band Clutch

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Philosophy Of Life

This is something I posted in J.M. DeMatteis's blog, where he was talking about not limiting the limitless, and that "The impossible isn't a limitation, it's an invitation" (copyright 2009, J.M. DeMatteis). Philosophy has always held some sort of interest for me, so I put my 2 cents in, and even as I was posting it, I thought, gee, this is actually pretty good. So here's what I said...

I try to actively enjoy things that often get taken for granted. I try to make sure that several times a day, even if just for a few seconds at a time, I enjoy the beautiful blue sky above me, or the brilliant colors of some nearby flowers, or other things like that. In this world where people with agendas spend all their time trying to tell you about what's important to them (supervisors at jobs, for instance), it's good to remind oneself what truly matters is closer to just enjoying "mere" existence. I love watching a nice sunrise, and contemplating the miracle that is the universe, regardless of what religious dogma you do (or don't) subscribe to.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Mike Patton, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Open Letter Of Admiration About Paul Merton

I started watching Whose Line Is It Anyway some time in the mid-90's when Comedy Central was running it here in the US. This was the original UK version, hosted by Clive Anderson. I really enjoy the US version hosted by Drew Carey, but it's an entirely different show, catering to a different level of humor. The UK version aspired to a higher level of cleverness, and the audience didn't applaud each and every little thing like it was the funniest moment in the history of the universe. They just laughed at things that were funny.

So I've been recently moving all of my VHS tapes (remember VCRs, kids?) of those old UK shows over to DVD, and seeing things I haven't watched for quite a while. I forgot just how much I prefer the UK version of the show, excepting of course for most of the first 2 seasons. It's actually a miracle the show lasted, because the first 2 seasons really don't have much to offer in the way of humor. Thankfully, they have more patience in Britain, and the show was given time to develop, and it turned into something wonderful starting with series 3. Had it started in the instant gratification capital of the world that is the US, it would have been cancelled halfway thru filming the pilot.

Perhaps the brightest bit of the show for me was Paul Merton, which is an ironic statement considering his somewhat dour demeanor. I don't mean that as a bad thing, that is just his way. Regardless, he always had the quickest wit, and the most unique way of perceiving situations. His ability to understand and play with language is on a par with George Carlin, except that Paul was usually doing it on the spot. Not to downplay George's ability with words, but his wordplay was carefully crafted in scripts that he prepared before he would go and perform, and he would hone the bits over repeated performances. I would have loved to have seen a mind as brilliant as Geroge Carlin's in a Whose Line improv situation, I think it would have produced some interesting results.

My enjoyment of Whose Line led me to a British radio program called Just A Minute, which started back in 1967, and is still going strong today. Paul first came on the show in 1989, and is pretty much the reason the show is still on the air today. In JAM, one of 4 contestants is given a random subject, and 60 seconds in which to speak on that subject without hesitating, repeating any words (other than those in the subject), or deviating from the subject. Of course, this is nearly impossible, so if anyone spots a JAM sin, they buzz in, and can take over the subject. And this is where the comedy begins. Listening to the arguments over whether or not what was just said was deviation is quite enjoyable, and often hilarious. Following the thought process, particularly Paul's, is a thing of beauty. Some of the challenges border on sheer genius. And the bizarre stories he will come up with off the top of his head when he has the subject are astonishing in their surrealness, as well as tremendously high in humor value.

Many an hour has been spent listening to JAM, especially when I'm working. While delivering mail at the large apartment complex on my route (my final stop of the day), I'm often in the mailroom for an hour and a half at a time. While putting mail in hundreds of mailboxes for 90 minutes or so may sound exciting, it can actually become quite tedious. I know, sounds far-fetched, but it's true. Having Paul Merton, especially when teamed with the recently deceased Clement Freud, is like having some very witty friends around having conversations and trying to top each other in the "Cleverest Boy In The Room" competition. Other favorites include Graham Norton, Ross Noble, Stephen Fry (possibly the most educated and well-read human I've ever encountered), Linda Smith, Tony Hawks, Peter Jones, Tony Slattery, and Steve Frost. There have been dozens of performers over the 40 something years the show has been on the air, but Paul Merton is my absolute favorite of all of them. The amount of enjoyment I've derived from listening to his "flights of fantasy", as chairman Nicholas Parsons would put it, is immeasurable. I think I've even learned a thing or 2 from listening to Paul and the others over the last decade or so.

Basically, I just wanted to thank Paul Merton for making me laugh and think at the same time. While simple, broad humor has its place, I feel I get so much more out of humor that challenges you to keep up with it, and isn't going to stop and pick you up if you fall behind. Seeing as my chances of actually meeting Paul in this stage of existence are slim, I'll just take this opportunity here to say "Thank you, Paul".

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Doors live in Pittsburgh, May, 1970, Queens Of The Stone Age self-titled first album.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Man Bites Dog

Okay, so I'm a mailman. I enjoy it, I've got a lot of cool people on my route, including fellow blogger Mollie. But it is a government agency, meaning no one in power has any clue as to what they're doing. Case in point, today's adventures.

Roughly once a year, this private company, whose name I won't mention to avoid completely embarrassing them, is hired by the Post Office to give the carriers a training talk/demonstration on how to avoid dog bites. A team of about a half-dozen people and 3 dogs come in their Winnebago. The dogs are trained to attack for demonstration purposes (the fact that they're wearing electric shock collars doesn't help either). The main trainers/speakers spend plenty of time throughout the demo telling us that dogs in general, while somewhat predictable, can never really be trusted, because this could be the time that the dog goes from barking only to maybe this time finally biting. Except, of course, for their dogs, who are completely under their control, and only bite when they're told to (they were very insistent about this point, being sure to repeat it several times over the course of the demo).

So they asked for 3 volunteers amongst the 100 or so carriers in my office (I work out of the largest office in Henderson). The 3 volunteers were brought into the Winnebago to, one at a time, put on the protective dog bite suit. It's the kinda big, puffy, multi-layered thing that makes the person wearing it look like Ralphie's little brother Randy in his snowsuit in A Christmas Story, except they're also wearing a full cage helmet like college hockey players wear. The sort of thing you'd love to be wearing in the middle of the desert in late summer.

The first victim...sorry, vlounteer, has a German Shepherd released from about 10 yards away. It comes bearing down on him, makes a flying leap, and bites the suit as it's supposed to. Pretty scary if you're in the suit, I imagine. I say "I imagine" because I'm not one of the volunteers. I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid...

Now we move on to the next person. We have a similar attack, except he was told to stand with his arm extended. A different dog again covers the same 10 yard distance in the blink of an eye, and built up enough speed and momentum to actually knock this carrier over. There was a trainer-guy standing behind the suited-up carrier, and he did his best to keep him from completely falling over upon being mauled. So as he helps the carrier back to his feet, the main trainer comes over, puts a doggie toy in front of the dog to attract its attention, and starts to walk him back towards the Winnebago, showing and telling us that this is really a friendly dog, and again, will only attack and bite when told to...

...or when the dog can get a look at, or smell, exposed fingers. You see, the suit has long sleeves on it, long enough that you can retract your hands within the sleeves. But as the dog was being walked around the carrier on its way back, it turned its head away from the doggie toy and started to look at the sleeve. And then he stuck his snout into the sleeve. And then he bit down on what he was able to get a hold of in the sleeve, which turned out to be the carrier's hand. He was quickly yanked away, so no one was quite sure if anything had happened. And then this dog was given 2 more runs at this same carrier in the suit. Now the carrier is brought over to the Winnebago to remove the suit while the trainers continue talking to us. It's only when the sleeves were removed, and the carrier's right hand was exposed, completely covered in blood, that anyone realized just how serious this was.

After a couple minutes, with frantic Postal managers running around getting paper towels and things, the third volunteer to be brought before the firing squad emerges from the Winnebago, all suited up for his impending demise ("I regret that I have but one life to give for my Post Office..."). But I noticed something interesting, in that this time, the carrier was wearing what looked like boxing glove mittens that completely covered his hands, which I thought was odd, seeing as how neither of the first 2 volunteers had these on when they were presented as raw meat for the dogs. I asked the bite victim about this later, and he told me that the trainer guy who dressed him for the slaughter was fairly new, and had forgotten to put the gloves on him. Can you say, "lawsuit"?

So what have we learned at todays' dog bite class, children? Well, we learned how to get bit by dogs and have blood drawn, that the Post Office only works with the best, and that you should never trust anyone, no matter how many legs they stand on.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Brant Bjork, P.J. Harvey, The Police, Anthrax, Megadeth, S.O.D., Infectious Grooves (covering David Bowie), Jimi Hendrix, Rollins Band, Clutch, Blondie, The New York Dolls, The White Stripes, The Misfits, Louis Jordan, The Bakerton Group

Monday, September 14, 2009

Consecutive days off...

...are a wonderful thing, not to be taken for granted. As much as I enjoy my split days off schedule, the downside is that by the end of the single day off, when I'm just starting to really get into the being-off mood, and starting to accomplish things, it's almost time to get ready to go back to work the next day. Having 2 (or more) days off in a row allows me to be so much more productive. I can get so many stupid little things done around the house, while at the same time not neglect the meaningless activites that make life so much fun (NHL '09 for the XBox 360, for example). I think the fact that I know it's meaningless gives me a leg up. I may get all into it at the time, but even as I'm cursing the referee for making such a stupid call (I did NOT trip that guy...), I'm aware of the fact that this isn't actually important. The fact that I'm enjoying life and having fun, that has some intrinsic value.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So I'm finally here...

I've had a number of people asking me recently to join either Facebook, Blogger, or things like that. When I saw that J.M. DeMatteis, a favorite writer of mine, had moved his Amazon ramblings over to here, that kinda pushed me over the edge, so, for what it's worth, I'm here. Hopefully this will see me writing on some sort of regular basis, even if it's just about nothing other than utter stuff & nonsense (alternate blog title, BTW).

As much time as I spend sitting in front of the computer, plus now with daytime access due to the iPhone (a wonderous invention), I suppose I should have had more of an online presence sooner. The social interaction aspect of the internet has always appealed to me as much as repulsed me. I see lots of people all day long, I'm often quite content to have no further human contact upon arriving home. But you can control the amount of interaction much easier, and it's possible to make contact with people you'd never have a chance to otherwise. As usual, I'm doing a wonderful job of seeing both sides of an argument, and failing to choose one over the other. But I've started this blog, so I guess I finally did make a decision, right?

Bands I've listened to while writing this (which I imagine will be something I'll do every post); Down, TV On The Radio, Mondo Generator, and Tool.

Looking forward to doing more of this, and now I can follow more closely the adventures of J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Nowlan, and Mollie Sekikawa, amongst others!