Sunday, January 30, 2011

Henry Rollins & Thanks

Taking a quick detour from the travel journal that my blog seems to have turned into lately, I just wanted to give a couple quick thank yous to certain people. I've been doing domestic chores all morning (yardwork, laundry, etc.), and I've had Henry Rollins 2CD set Spoken Word Guy playing on my oversized headphones all the while. I purchased this CD set at a show he did here in Las Vegas some months ago, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet him afterwards. It was nice to chat with him for a few minutes, seeing as how he has entertained me in one form or another for about 20 years now, either as the singer for Black Flag, the singer of his own Rollins Band, or as the Spoken Word Guy as suggested by the CD title. I don't think I've ever mentioned on this blog what a tremendous source of entertainment Rollins is, as well as one of inspiration. He is due to turn 50 years old in exactly 2 weeks, so an early Happy Birthday wish to him, and thanks again for entertaining and broadening my mind.

The other bit of thanks is due apparently to the many people around the world who seem to have read one entry or another on this blog. According to the stats provided by Blogger, I've had many people from many countries reading much of my work, which I find fascinating and humbling. I never would have thought that anything I would have to say would be of interest to anyone other than myself. I basically am writing this as some sort of document of my own existence, just to kind of remind myself of some interesting things that have happened to me. I write because I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy reliving many of my experiences. I've shown certain pieces to friends and family because they would be of particular interest to them, but I never would have imagined that there would be any sort of interest shown beyond that on any scale. So the fact that I've got people in (in alphabetical order) Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, The Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, The Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, The Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, The United Kingdom (hi Maggie!), Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, as well as here in the United States, and probably other countries as well, actually bothering to check my stuff out is rather mind blowing. But I appreciate all of you who have stopped by, and I hope I can continue to put things up that will be of interest to you all.

Coming soon, Florida Part IV (dinner with Mike Zeck will be discussed), New York City Part IV (The Museum Of Natural History and Central Park), and I will eventually post some more of my writing for Unseen Films over here as well the next time I find myself with not enough time to write a fresh entry. Thanks again everyone, and Happy 50th Henry!

Blog Post Soundtrack; Pearl Jam (live), Cage The Elephant, The Beatles, Refused, Deftones (live), No Doubt, Primus

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Florida Trip, Part III...Or, Reasons To Go See A Hockey Game In Tampa

Picking up right where I left off from the last blog entry about the Florida trip,
since I had pre-paid for parking, we were in the garage right next to the St. Pete Times Forum for Tuesday evening's game between the host Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. I have no vested interest in either team (I'm a New York Ranger fan), I just enjoy going to see live NHL games. I'll watch games on TV, especially the Rangers, but there is an extra element of electricity added when you're right there in the arena.

Both of these teams have their share of talented players, especially Rick Nash for the Jackets, and Steven Stamkos for the Lightning. While there are many other excellent, skilled men on both teams, these would be the 2 standouts. In particular, Stamkos is in very rarefied air. Still shy of his 21st birthday (he
doesn't turn legal drinking age until Feburary 7), this is his 3rd full season in the NHL, the premier professional hockey league in the world. He has thus far been blessed with remaining injury-free in this extremely violent game, so he has already surpassed the 200 games played mark for his career. His shot, and his goal-scoring ability, are both amazing. As of this writing, which is during the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend, he has played 212 games, and has 114 goals. What's even more remarkable about those totals is that he has 89 of those goals in just his last 133 games, and 68 in his last 91. That means he scores, on average, more than 1 goal for every 2 games in his entire career, 2 goals every 3 games for the 133 game span, and an amazing 3 goals every 4 games for the most recent 91 game stretch. In today's defensive minded NHL, those are incredible numbers. He is an immensely talented player, and has the potential to rack up some incredible career numbers if he can remain healthy, continue to be surrounded by quality teammates, and keep something close to this pace going for a number of years. He will also be on a Stanley Cup winning team sooner or's just bound to happen.

After milling around outside for a few minutes, enjoying the nice warm Florida evening air (it had been in the low 70's during the day, and the sun was just setting as we actually made our way into the arena), we headed in to wander around the inside of The Forum. It's always nice to see what the different venues have set-up for fans to spend their money on. Gotta cover those overpaid athletes salaries somehow. After getting a bucket of popcorn and a couple drinks, we headed to the
team store so I could buy myself a Lightning puck. The souvenier I get myself from each sports venue I visit is either a team puck or baseball, obviously depending on the sport...duh...So I got myself an official game puck in a case for my mantle, and a non-official puck with a more colorful logo on it for my uncle. He said the last time he'd been to a live NHL game was back in the late 1970's to see the New York Islanders, who at that time had a powerhouse team, and were on the verge of the dynasty they had when they won 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. By the way, the black & white illustration in the left of the photo of the man holding the gun is a drawing of The Punisher by Mike Zeck, who will be the main topic of Part IV of the blog of the Florida trip...

Now that we had our drinks, popcorn, and pucks, it was time to head down to the ice to watch the teams warm-up. Since I don't get to live games too often, I like to
arrive early so I can watch this. About a half-hour before game time, both teams come out at their respective ends of the ice and go thru set routines designed to loosen everybody up, and start to get even more mentally and physically ready for that evening's contest. The nice thing about that is, because it's still early, 80% of the crowd has yet to arrive, so you can pretty much just walk down to the glass and watch the players extremely close-up. It's a great way to see them demonstrate skills from close proximity, and it's a terrific opportunity to take pictures.

I'm very careful about not getting too caught up in being behind the lens. Not just at sporting events, but anytime I'm taking photos. It's very possible to get so wrapped up in taking pictures that you forget to just actually enjoy the experience
of being wherever you are, whether it be at an arena watching hockey players warm-up, walking the streets of New York City, or hiking thru the forests of the Canadian Rockies (another of my previous trips that I need to someday write about here on this blog). So while I do enjoy taking pictures, I also put the camera down between shots and just stand there and actually watch the proceedings, and just enjoy the moment. I hardly ever see my uncle, so it was nice to just share this with him, and we stood right up against the glass in a corner at the Blue Jackets end of the ice (as evidenced by this picture I got of goaltender Steve Mason). We situated ourselves at the Jackets end for warm-ups, due to where our seats for the game were going to be.

When warm-ups ended, we made our way back up to the main concourse level to walk around to our section. We were at the polar opposite from where we'd stood for warm-ups, so we toured the entire concourse before coming across our entryway. As we made our way in, lo and behold, there were 4 of the Lightning Girls standing right at the top of the stairs. Whoo-hoo! Many teams around the NHL now have cheerleaders, or in some cases Ice Girls to clean the playing surface during commercial breaks. In the case of Tampa, they serve strictly as cheerleaders...which meant they would be in the stands throughout the game. As we were passing them, another fan asked if they would be in our section all game, to which they unfortunately replied no. To which I said, "You need to be!" After making it down to our seats, and getting
settled in, maybe a minute later I turned to Ray (my uncle), and said "...I'll be right back...", and headed back up the stairs to the Lightning Girls we'd just passed. I asked the nearest one (who also happened to be the prettiest of all the pretty girls) if I could get a picture, which they were more than happy to do. It's part of what they get paid for, but you'd never know it was a job for them. They really seemed very happy to do it. Another fan asked if I wanted to be in the shot, but I said no...why ruin the picture?

Returning to my uncle, I now was able to soak in just how good the seats I'd gotten were. We were 4th row from the ice, right next to the walkway the Lightning use to get to their bench. We're actually visible all night in the TV coverage of the game, as I have on a bright orange shirt, just at the left edge of the Lightning bench. We were able to watch the organized chaos of shift changes and
in-game coaching from a spot practically situated on the bench itself...I was 1 person away from being able to tap Dan Ellis, the Lightning back-up goaltender, on the shoulder. We were afforded an excellent ice-level view of the game, and Ray commented several times on the steely-eyed glare of head coach Guy Boucher, because we were that close that we were really able to see it well. Boucher is a first-year head coach at the NHL level, and is also the youngest coach in the NHL. He's actually a couple months younger than me, and Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning goaltender that night, is actually 2 years older than him.

The proximity made an already fun experience even that much more entertaining, and it was really interesting to be able to see and hear assistant coach Dan Lacroix offer suggestions and advice, and encouragement, in particular to 2nd year defensemen Victor Hedman, a large young man from Sweden (he's 6'6", and just turned 20 years old a month earlier). Hedman is still learning the game at the NHL level, but he is another talented individual, and defense is a tough position with a lot of
responsibility. It was nice to watch the learning process in action, and Hedman had an excellent game that evening, being named 3rd star of the game due to solid defensive play, and assisting on one of Stamkos' 2 goals that evening. But just to be that close to the action, and to have an unobstruted view of some of the ice (due to the opening in the glass at the back of the bench for the players and staff to get to and from the bench and the dressing room), was a great treat.

The game turned out to be an exciting affair, which went completely down to the wire, as it was deadlocked at 2 after both regulation and overtime, requiring a shootout that went 3 scoreless rounds before Ryan Malone put home the winner for the Lightning. But the game was almost secondary to the event that they hype the game up to be, as Ray pointed out a couple times during the evening. The loud music blasted during every stoppage in play, the cheerleaders, and just the overall spectacle of being there is all amped up to the nth degree in an effort to get the crowd more hyped (and hopefully to spend more money, of course...). It makes for a very entertaining evening. And those Lightning Girls were right in our section at the beginning of the contest, and thankfully, the most stunningly beautiful one of them all was only a few feet away when the festivities started in earnest, affording me another opportunity for a photograph. So while most eyes where on the ice surface, mine were on this beauty...

Blog Post Soundtrack; AC/DC (most of their 1976 Australian release Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, most of their 1975 Australian release High Voltage, most of their 1977 Australian release Let There Be Rock, and most of their 1975 Australian release T.N.T.), Motörhead (most of their 1979 album Overkill, most of their 1987 album Rock 'n' Roll)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Travel Journal Continues With Our Florida Story (Part II)

I had a very old friend tell me recently that he lives vicariously thru the travel journal that my blog has become. There will eventually be a full blog detailing this friend, and the true level of importance that he played in my life, but for now, I'll leave it at the fact that this is someone I've know since grammar school (3rd grade, matter of fact...), and even though we're the same age (he's got me beat by about 4 months), he's the older brother I never had. He was the one who opened my ears to all sorts of new and interesting music, amongst many other things. So having said that, I believe I'll delve into Florida Trip Part II...

When last I was detailing my sojurn to The Sunshine State, I hadn't even made it to my uncle's house yet. He and his wife were kind enough to allow me to stay with them for most of my week there, which, for various reasons, was greatly appreciated. So before I go any further, big thanks to Ray & Monica, along with Lenny & Grace (their 2 cats, who never really were quite sure what to make of me the whole time I was there...even so, they were more social than my parent's cat, who never came out from under the couch the entire time I was around back in October).

And, in case you're wondering about my photographic memory for all these details and things in this and other blog entries, it's actually all the photographs I take that stir the memories. I upload all of the literally hundreds of pictures I take each vacation to my computer, and by having them arranged in the order I took them, I can piece together everything I saw and did. Seeing the pictures helps to stimulate the memory, and I can fill in all the gaps after having had the brain kickstarted by a few images. So not only do I enjoy taking photographs as a hobby/art form, but it also serves as a tremendous memory aid, without which I'd be losing many valuable details of my trips. And now that I have a terrific pocket-sized digital camera to go along with my full-sized SLR, plus the camera on the iPhone, I can literally visually document my entire vacations, and enjoy many more details than I would have been able to remember unaided for the rest of my life...or however long my hard drive holds out.

My uncle lives in a very nice house in the middle of The Villages. His back yard spills out onto the fairway of a hole on a golf course. Picture perfect location for relaxing. I was provided with the cat's room for sleeping...which is actually better than it sounds. It's a guest bedroom that the cats have just appropriated for themselves, and they were less than thrilled about, and a little confused as to why, they were being chased out of it. I promise you I tried to make friends with them over the course of the week, but they weren't interested in doing much more than staring at me from a very safe distance. Oh well...

Waking up on Monday morning was VERY nice (how often does an average working person get to say that?!?). I hadn't slept straight thru, but every time I woke up, I'd sooner or later pass out again...and when I woke up for good, I still stayed in bed for another hour or 2. It must have been pushing noon by the time I stumbled out of the room and into the world, so I had breakfast while my uncle had lunch. We then took a brief tour of some of The Villages, which does seem like a very nice community, and caters nicely to your average working man/woman who has earned a retirement. We then wound up back home, where I believe I indulged in a nap (yes, there was to be lots of sleeping this trip...aaaahhhhh...). Then Monica, who is of Italian descent, made a wonderful Italian dinner, which is something always greatly appreciated by me. Even though my mother has no Italian ancestry, Italian cooking was something of a specialty of hers, and I grew up on her fantastic meals. I still have vivid memories of playing outside my house as a young child on Sunday afternoons, having fun while playing, but also slightly salivating as the aroma of slow-cooked marinara sauce wafted from the kitchen towards where I was. So it was a nice treat to have an authentic home-cooked Italian meal. Needless to say, after filling up on meat and pasta, there was more sleep headed my way...

Tuesday was actually going to be a fairly big day. I initially just picked this particular week becasue the way my schedule fell, I only had to use 3 days of vacation time to get 8 days off. Then, I figured, why not actually go somewhere and see a little more of the world. After settling on Florida, I took a look at the NHL schedules, and lo and behold, both Florida based teams had home games that week. Too good an opportunity to pass up. So after hanging around the house for a while in the morning and early afternoon, and taking many pictures of the beautiful property on the beautiful day, my uncle and I hopped in my rented Mustang and made the hour-and-change drive southwest down to Tampa Bay. We were there to catch a game at the St. Pete Times Forum between the host Lightning and the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.

I enjoy watching hockey live, and in Las Vegas we have a minor league team (Wranglers) that a few of us from work will occasionally go see. To get to an NHL game requires a drive of a few hours in any one direction, or a flight. In the last calendar year I've seen games in Phoenix, Vancouver, New York (Long Island to be specific), and Los Angeles, and now would be adding Tampa and Sunrise (home of the Florida Panthers). I use it as an excuse to go to places, or, if I'm already heading to a place, I see if I can squeeze one in. So this was serendipity.

Obviously more to come...

Blog Post Soundtrack; John Frusciante, Booker T. & The MG's, The White Stripes (live), Madhouse, Pearl Jam (live, covering The Who), Vivaldi, Björk, The Doors (live), Metallica, John Connelly Theory, Judas Priest (live), The Misfits, Santana, KoRn, Audioslave (live, covering The White Stripes), Mondo Generator, Queens Of The Stone Age (live, covering Subhumans), Monster Magnet, P J Harvey, King Missile, Led Zeppelin, Bill Hicks, Fear Factory, Richard Jeni

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Florida...An Actual Vacation...

So after my recent hectic trip to New York City last fall (which I still haven't finished telling the story of...), then followed by the Christmas season (busiest time of the year for a mailman), plus a couple quick there-and-back trips to Los Angeles (each for different reasons, but both pretty cool), I was pretty much in need of an actual vacation. One in which the emphasis on the word "vacate" would be very heavy. I was aware even before any of the aforementioned events that I would be wanting to have a week filled with pretty much nothing, and had begun planning this trip back in September. I managed to make it fit in nicely with my work schedule, found very reasonable flights, set-up the rental car, places to stay, and was good to go.

By the time the trip actually rolled around, I was pretty much ready for a nice break. As much as I enjoy my job, and running around doing things all over the place, the time had come to not do a hell of a lot for a bit. I was leaving on a very early Sunday morning flight, and amazingly, a friend offered to take me to the airport. I was perfectly happy just driving and parking the car at the McCarran lot; I told friends even before they asked that there was no way they were taking me. Not many people would want to pick someone up at 4AM on a Sunday to bring them to an airport...thanks, Rob!

Even though I was forced to switch planes in Atlanta (a direct flight was just not possible), I still had a very nice ride there. Got out, trammed my way to my next
flight's terminal, got on, and we were airborne within 10 minutes. All things in life should go so smoothly. Once I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, I went to my rental car counter. Having already paid for the rental car months ago, it wasn't much to get me to upgrade a little. For a very small additional fee, I wound up renting a black 2011 Ford Mustang for the week. The son of a co-worker friend has a 2008 model, and I do kind of like the new Mustangs, so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see just how much I might actually enjoy driving it. Over 1,000 very comfortable and smooth miles later, and I can see me buying one of those in the future.

Roughly the first quarter of those 1,000 miles on the Mustang were put on while driving away from the airport towards my main stay of the week. I have an uncle that lives in The Villages, a 50-years-of-age-plus community in Central Florida, about halfway between Orlando and Gainseville. It has over 70,000 residents, making it the largest 50+ community in the United States. It's about 260 miles from the airport in Fort Lauderdale, but I planned it that way. I got a better deal flying into there, and I really enjoy driving...and I was on vacation with little to no timetable to stick to. Just the way I wanted it.

Somewhere along the way up north I found me a Cracker Barrel restaurant (using the AroundMe app on my iPhone...if you travel at all, a rather invaluable tool to have), which I'd been looking forward to going to for some time. I was first introduced to Cracker Barrel by artist Charles Vess back in late November of 1997, when I stayed at his studio for a few days conducting an interview that was intended to be published in The Comics Journal. Vess has been in the field of comic books and illustration for probably close to 40 years now. One of his best known projects is probably Stardust, which he did in collaboration with author Neil Gaiman. He was, in fact, working on Stardust at the time I stayed at his studio. The book was eventually adapted into a movie starring Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Ben Barnes, and a host of others. For a variety of reasons, the interview remains unpublished to this day, but I think it was a great in-depth piece, and someday I'll get around to fully transcribing it, and maybe it will eventually get published somewhere. And the trip itself will make for a nice blog entry someday, too.

Cracker Barrel's are not to be found in the Northeast, and definitely not in New York, where I grew up. But once Vess introduced me to them, I've been hooked. It's a Southern chain, with good Southern cooking and hospitality. Vess' studio was in Abingdon, Virginia, within spittin' distance of the Tennessee border. The closest ones to me here in Las Vegas are in St. George, Utah, and Kingman, Arizona. I always hit the Kingman one on the way to and from Phoenix, and whenever I travel to other areas of the country that have them, I include them in the on-the-go itinerary. Using the AroundMe app, I located one in Stuart, FL, and loaded up on a good meal there. They were also kind enough to seat me near a wall outlet so I could charge my dying iPhone...the Mustang I rented did NOT have an iPod dock, which I found rather odd, so it was in desperate need of recharging, as was I.

I see that this entry is starting to take on a life of its own, and due to being a little jet-lagged, and having gotten in very late (didn't get to bed until after 2AM, and was awake a little after 6AM), it's obviously not going to be finished today, so I'll just post what I've got, and come back for more later...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Soulfly, Queen (live), Hater, KoRn, Rage Against The Machine, Yawning Man

Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Hell (A) And Back Again

So having made my first sojurn into Los Angeles barely over a month ago, I was given reason to return again just the other night. I'm a big fan of musical comedian Tim Minchin, so much so that I've written a couple pieces (so far) on him for Unseen Films. Seeing as how he lives in London, England, he doesn't make it over to perform in the United States on anything approaching a regular basis. While he is huge over in the UK, and in his native Australia, he is trying to broaden his fanbase. There is a small group in the US who are fans of his, but in an effort to expand that to a much larger number, he is doing a small number of gigs here this year.

Since I follow Minchin on Twitter, I was lucky enough to stumble across an announcement by him that he was going to be playing at a small theater in LA in mid-January. I thought about it for a few minutes, as it was going to be on a Tuesday night. This was apparently a second show, as the first one (which I had missed the announcement of) for the Wednesday had already sold out. My day off for the week in question was going to be on Thursday, so I hemmed and hawed as to whether I should switch my day off, possibly not go at all (quickly eliminated...), or just take Tuesday and Wednesday off and roll that into my Thursday off...which is why I'm writing this now on Thursday, the 3rd of 3 consecutive days off.

I paid for the tickets online at an insanely cheap price (with service charges, still under $50 for the pair), talked to a buddy from work about going, and was set. When Noon(ish) on Tuesday January 11 rolled around, I left for my friend's house. Picking him up, we settled in for the long drive. If you go at off-hours, it isn't really bad at all. Making our way thru the hills and valleys between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, there are some areas that are rather beautiful, especially in winter, when some of the mountains have quite a bit of snow on them. Both my buddy and I enjoy taking long driving trips; many times he's piled his wife and 2 kids into the car and driven back to his native Cleveland, Ohio, and he normally does it in a couple days. That's a one way trip of roughly 2,000 miles...even I think that's nuts. I'll stick with just a few hundred a day, thanks.

Arriving in downtown LA just in time for rush hour, because we were heading INTO LA, it really wasn't that bad. I remember one time driving home from Brooklyn back to my house in Queens (where I grew up in New York), I got to a point on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) where Brooklyn-bound traffic coming off of the Williamsburg Bridge was merging with the BQE. I had been travelling kinda slowly, but now it just became a parking lot. The Kosciuszko Bridge, a small span connecting the NYC boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, lay just over a mile and a half ahead...and I made it there a FULL HOUR LATER. And I still had quite a bit to travel to make it home from there, but that was the worst part of that journey. So I am familiar with traffic.

We were actually moving quite steadily this time, never really dipping below 25 MPH. Finally passing one junction, we were able to open back up again, made it to what I thought was our exit (was actually one early, but a couple small side street diversions later...), and we parked at some mall/parking garage combo thing. We got dinner, then walked the few blocks north to The Largo At The Coronet. Getting our seat assignments from will-call, we still had time to kill before the show, so we thought we'd at least take a look as to where our seats were. Walking thru a door to the theater itself, I practically burst out we had walked in at the very back of the theater, and a mere dozen rows in front of us was the stage! I knew the place was going to be small (having read up on it beforehand, I saw it seated less than 300 people), but it wasn't until actually being in it did I realize just HOW intimate this little gathering was going to be. I was already looking forward to the show; now I was starting to actually get excited about it.

As it neared showtime, we took our seats...only 5 rows from the stage. Very nice. And facing the stage as we were, we were all the way off to the seat was actually up against the wall. The grand piano on the stage occupied nearly 2/3 of the performing area, with the seat off to the left...meaning I would be directly in Minchin's line of sight all evening. Another huge plus. Seeing as how he spends the majority of his performance evening sitting at the piano, I wasn't relishing looking at the back or side of his head all evening, so these seats were perfect.

Then, very quitely, Minchin just walked out onstage. After the applause died down (while it was a small room, nearly everyone there was already a big fan of the man, and with his infrequency of US appearances, it's not often we get to show our appreciation for his work), he mentioned that he normally does big entrances, but since this wasn't an actual tour, he wasn't doing that this time. And then for 2 solid hours, the small group of strangers gathered before Tim Minchin and a piano were thoroughly entertained. There were some new songs performed, along with others scattered from his previous shows. It was a fantastic performance, and it was wonderful to see it in such an intimate venue. Which led to my next decision being made much simpler...

Since I was aware of how small this place might be before we went, I was hoping I might have a chance to meet Minchin after the show. Seeing just how tiny the place actually was, I'd now decided I was definitely going to wait around after the show. Since I had the next 2 days off, and my friend had the next day, it wasn't a problem for either of us. A bunch of other people must have had the same idea, as somewhere between 70-100 people were milling around in the indoor/outdoor lobby of The Largo. After maybe a half hour, out walks Minchin, pretty much right towards where I was...and suddenly everyone else descended like vultures on fresh roadkill. Since I actually wanted to talk with him, more than just be a gushing fanboy, I figured I'd just wait out the fans who wanted pictures and hugs (at one point he said something about he's used to British crowds where not nearly so much affection is displayed), so that I could get a proper chance to actually chat for a few minutes.

When there was maybe half a dozen people left (about 30 minutes after his emergence), he started to put on his jacket that he'd placed off to the side when the meet and greet had started. Realizing this was probably the best time, I swooped in, handing him my business card from Unseen Films, introducing myself, and after getting my compliments and appreciations out of the way, asked him about the documentary film about him, Rock N Roll Nerd. Seeing as how it's only available in Australia, he asked how I'd managed to get a copy. That led to about a 10 minute discussion of how I was writing it up for Unseen Films after getting it as a Christmas present, watching it almost immediately, and thinking it was a wonderful film. By the end of the conversation, I'd almost felt like I'd made a friend.

Minchin is a very calm individual, and will look you directly in the eye when making his point on whatever subject matter. The fact that this is a very personal film, made by a very close friend, and containing some very intimate moments, may have altered his demeanor somewhat while talking to me, but I still got the sense that he is a very well-meaning man, and truly does care what his audience members think and feel. So being able to chat with him about something near and dear to him was a great thrill for me.

After thanking Minchin, my friend and I wandered over to a drugstore, got some cookies and drinks, and headed back to the car...which was nearly the only one remaining on that level of the garage...and possibly one of a half-dozen or so in the entire garage at all. It was just about 11:30 as we pulled out of there, and a few twists and turns later, we were back on the now reasonably deserted LA freeways.

Lots of discussion about all sorts of subjects carried us thru the near traffic-free night, and after a fuel stop in Yermo, CA, I found myself dropping my buddy off at his house at 3:45AM, with only a last 25 minute trip back home. Stumbling into my house at 4:10AM, I realized I'd just driven 600 miles round trip, with a stop for dinner, a great show, and a good conversation with the star of said show...all in the last 16 hours. A couple of e-mails later, and I was in bed by 5AM...and awake at 8AM...and then wound up going out with a friend that late afternoon/evening...where we wound up watching some of So Live by Tim Minchin.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Nuclear Assault, ZZ Top, Clutch, Anthrax (live), Simon & Garfunkel, S.O.D., Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Slipknot, Longwave, The Doors, Pearl Jam, Monty Python, Infectious Grooves, Megadeth, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dropkick Murphys, Monster Magnet, Talking Heads, Bobby Short (live), Brant Bjork, MC5, Metallica (live), Social Distortion, Santana, Corrosion Of Conformity, Fugazi, Desert Sessions, Tricky,

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Unsane Misfits AKA 1,200 People Groaning In Unison

I was watching a DVD of Whose Line Is It Anyway yesterday. It's from the American version of the show, hosted by Drew Carey. I'm a big fan of that show in both its British and American incarnations. Eventually I'll do a blog entry expressing my appreciation for Whose Line in general, although I did one a while ago about Paul Merton. One of the games they played on this DVD I watched involved footage of skateboarders failing miserably, and it reminded me of this event that took place in my past.

Ever since Metallica covered Last Caress and Green Hell back in 1987, and a good friend of mine introduced me to the original versions, I've been a big fan of The
Misfits. The band broke up in 1983, and singer Glenn Danzig continued on with Samhain, then followed up with the eponymously named group Danzig, which afforded him his most commercial success. But in late 1995, 2 of the other members of the old Misfits, brothers Jerry Only and Doyle, formed a new version of The Misfits (pictured here). They started touring, and were initially playing shows only performing the old material with a new drummer and a new singer. Since none of us had been old enough to see the Misfits when they'd first existed, we were thrilled at the chance to see this material performed live, as we'd all become huge fans of the material over the years.

Sometime in 1997 the new Misfits released an album of new material, and toured to promote it. They came to Irving Plaza in New York City on Friday, June 20, 1997, and myself and I believe at least 2, maybe 3 other friends went to the show. The venue holds roughly 1,200 people, and it was pretty packed this evening. After the opening act was done (and I have no idea who that might have been that night), a video screen came down, and music clips were shown while the stage was being set for The Misfits. Song after song came on, with some horror film clips shown as well, generating mild interest from the crowd. Then, something changed...

A video clip came on with a pretty agressive song by a band called Unsane. I'd never heard of them before, but the music sounded pretty good. But what I, and all of the other 1,200 people in the room found intensely compelling was the video clip that accompanied the song. This was the official video released by the band, and it consisted of very brief clips of them playing, and 95% clips of anonymous skateboarders that had been filmed failing at performing tricks in spectacular fashion.

While that alone is interesting enough to watch, what made it even more entertaining was the fact that you had 1,200 people packed in a tight space...all watching the same thing. When you see someone attempting a skateboard trick and fail, and witness the inevitable crushing contact of groin and handrail, you instinctively let out a graon, even though you are just a witness to the action. It's funny stuff to watch, because it's not happening to you. But when you have 1,200 people all groaning and moaning in unison, it starts to take on a life of its own. The pauses were spaced perfectly, and whoever compiled and edited the clips for the band Unsane should be commended for his brilliant comedic timing. There was always a couple seconds in between harsh, awkward impacts with pavement; just enough time to capture your breath from the last moan to visually absorb what was happening in the next clip, and verbally sympathize with the next poor soul who met his painful fate. The volume of the crowd ooohing with each epic failure increased as the song progressed, and became almost as funny as the clips themselves. It was the perfect set-up for that evening's main entertainment.

I eventually was able to get a copy of that video, and of course now, with YouTube, it's instantly accessible, and still hilarious and very entertaining to watch...but nothing will ever top that first viewing with 1,200 of my closest friends on a hot and sweaty New York summer night.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Iron Maiden (live), Jimi Hendrix, Primus, The Police (live), Rush, The Bakerton Group, The Misfits (surprise...), Judas Priest, Pearl Jam (live), Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Pink Floyd, MC5, Rollins Band, Soundgarden, Black Sabbath...and, oh yeah, Unsane...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

OK, Where Was I... (NYC Trip Part III)

When last we were discussing the not-so-recent-anymore trip I took back to New York City (I was born and grew up there; lived in Queens, just east of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and just south of Da Bronx, until I was 25), I had covered my day spent at Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island, just 15 minutes or so southeast of my parents home. As much as I enjoyed the peaceful day of tranquility, it was time to get back into the running around portion of the vacation (which was about 90% of it...nuts, but I loved every minute...). And I certainly hit the ground running on this day, and didn't stop for quite some time.

This was Thursday, October 7, 2010, for those interested in keeping track of times
and dates and things like that (which would be me...). Mom and I were heading into Manhattan this day, with the ultimate destination (a phrase that would drive George Carlin nuts) being the American Museum Of Natural History. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it's front door overlooks Central Park at about 79th Street. This is the institution that was featured in the film Night At The Museum with Ben Stiller and Robin Williams, which actually was pretty decent (and I don't often say that about recent major Hollywood productions). However, that was not my reason for going there this time around.

I have very fond memories of going to that museum many times as a youngster, either on day trips to Manhattan with my Mom, or on class trips for school. Certain things are vividly imbedded in the mental rolodex, such as the giant blue whale on the lower level, the dinosaurs throughout the museum, and of course the immense and amazingly beautiful building itself. But as I say, this was the ultimate destination...the getting there was going to be half the fun...

My Mom, now in her mid 60's (not sure how this is possible, for, as we all know, no woman on the planet is over the age of 29), is not one for doing trips to Manhattan on her own. She'll go in occasionally as part of a bus trip with a local ladies' association, or with a friend from her volunteer work, but that happens maybe 3 or 4 times a year, and they have specific destinations to get to, and a bit of a rigid time schedule, which doesn't allow for much in the way of meandering and sightseeing. Since I hadn't been back to New York in about 2 and a half years at this point (and I'm really not sure when I'll be making it there again), I wanted to wander and absorb the fun of just being in Manhattan. And since I'm familiar with many more areas of it then Mom, she was looking forward to being toured thru sections of it unfamiliar to her.

Since she lives in Yentaville (my "loving" way of referring to Long Island), we had to take the Long Island RailRoad (LIRR) in. It's a pleasant roughly 45 minute train ride from my folks' house, taking you thru some of the more interesting areas of Long Island and Queens (do you know anyone who lives RIGHT NEXT TO the train tracks and has a REALLY NICE house?). The LIRR, if you're not on your way to the daily grind of work, is almost like getting a little tour of the suburbs of NYC. It's a very vital part of the commuting line of NYC, as many work-a-day people spend a couple hours each day getting to and from their chosen profession via it. When you're doing the same trip every day, it just becomes a place to read, have breakfast, sleep, catch up on e-mail or whatever, but when you're just visiting, it's a nice train ride.

The LIRR lets you out at Penn Station, located underneath Madison Square Garden, and just a couple blocks west of the Empire State Building. And, as a special treat for me, seeing as how I've been a mailman for over 15 years now, directly across 8th
Avenue from the Garden (the side we chose to emerge from) is THE main branch of the United States Postal Service. On vacation, and I STILL can't get away from it...Kidding aside, it is a magnificent building to behold, even amongst the many that Manhattan has to offer. The building occupies an entire city block...the real estate alone is worth untold millions of dollars, and the building that sits upon it, regardless of what it's for, is a priceless gem as well. The mammoth pillars that line the front are almost awe inspiring. 20 of them, each about 60 feet high and roughly 7 or 8 feet wide. And up above, running the entire length of the building, is the motto of the USPS; "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

As a roundabout way of getting to the museum (remember, the front door is about 79th Street, and we emerged from the LIRR at 34th...20 NYC blocks is 1 mile, and we were gonna walk the whole thing...and not in a straight line, either), we were going to head over to the West Side, uncharted territory for the female parental unit. We turned north upon hitting the southern edge of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which would play a major role in the upcoming weekend portion of my
vacation. Continuing north up 11th Avenue, we turned left on 41st Street, and stumbled upon one of the cooler playgrounds I've ever seen in my life. The slide you see pictured here is a functional piece of artwork called Playground by an artist named Tom Otterness. It made me want to be a kid again, as it was vastly superior to the slides I had in growing up in my neighborhood in Queens. I don't know if those kids will someday realize just how lucky they are, or how good they have it...I hope so.

Wandering thru the playground, we then made it over to the West Side Highway (which officially now has the designation of the Joe DiMaggio Highway, but it'll always be the West Side Highway to me and millions of other New Yorkers), hitting it just south of the Intrepid Sea, Air And Space Museum. Another museum that I've been to several times (again, school trips, and most recently in 2005 when I played tour guide for a now retired co-worker and his wife...and seeing as how he is an actual Vietnam Veteran, the Intrepid visit was an emotional experience for him), it's very unique as the museum is the actual aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, used during World War II. While we weren't going there this day, just seeing it from the street is still something special.

We now turned back right at 51st Street, and made our way over to 9th Avenue, directly in the heart of Hell's Kitchen. In the 1970's and early 1980's, you wouldn't be caught dead in Hell's Kitchen...well, actually, if you WERE caught there, odds are you WOULD be dead. But it underwent a major revival, and is now a very trendy, upscale place to live. It also has lots of funky looking buildings in it, and is almost the embodiment of what Manhattan dwelling looks like. We just slowly but steadily made our way uptown, enjoying Manhattan on an absolutely beautiful sunlit day. Nothing else like it.

Eventually we decided to take a break, grabbed a snack and a drink, and sat in Dante Park, right across from Lincoln Center. While Mom sat and watched the world go by, I went across the street and took a few pictures of the fountain in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, always a good photo subject. It was now 10AM, and we'd emerged from the depths of Penn Station at about 8:30. We'd already walked (in a bit of a zig-zag fashion) probably 2 miles in NYC, plus a mile early in the AM to get to the LIRR station from the folks' house. We knew we had much museum walking to do, and still another slightly more than half-a-mile to go to get there, so we figured we'd best get a move on.

Traversing up Central Park West was the quickest, and most interesting, way to complete the rest of the journey to the museum. Surrounded by the beautiful park on the right and stunning architecture on the left, plus the hustle and bustle of the sidewalks and Central Park West (8th Avenue), you can't get any more New York than this. I was grinning ear to ear doing nothing but walking, talking with my Mom, and taking pictures.

One of the beautiful buildings we passed on the way was The Dakota, the apartment complex that John Lennon lived in when he was murdered. Seeing as it was October 7, 2010, what would have been his 70th birthday was only 2 days away, so there were even more people than there normally would be congreating around the building, as well as at Strawberry Fields in the park right across the street. I've never been the biggest Lennon fan in the world, but I can appreciate his talent, and certainly the impact that he had on countless millions of people around the world.

Look how long this entry is, and we're only just getting to the museum now. To be continued...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Pearl Jam (live), Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Prong, The Raconteurs, The Crystal Method, The Who, James Brown, Anthrax, Pantera, Mike Patton, Orange Goblin, Suicidal Tendencies, Portishead, Muddy Waters, Johann Strauss, Björk, Black Sabbath, John Lee Hooker, Faith No More (covering The Dead Kennedys), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rollins Band, Black Flag, Fu Manchu, New York Dolls (kind of appropriate, huh?), Kyuss, Foo Fighters, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Helmet, John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica (live with Cliff), Audioslave, White Zombie, Vangelis, George Carlin

So It's 2011... what? I've never been one for making a big deal out of the New Year thing...all you're doing is changing the page on the calendar. You do that every month, what's the big damn deal? But, everyone else seems to think it's reasonably important, so Happy New Year everybody.

I'm also not one for making resolutions. I feel if you think something is wrong enough about yourself that you feel you should change it, why wait for the beginning of a new year? Why not start to improve yourself the moment you detect a problem? If something is wrong with your car in October, do you wait until January 1 to fix it? Of course not, so the same would go for personal improvement. That's what it's all about; the constant effort to improve oneself, to better oneself, so that hopefully you can be a benefit in some way to those around you.

New Year's Day, to me, is a paid day off of work, and I'm taking advantage of it by getting some writing done, catching up with some things and friends on Twitter, and since it's on a weekend, actually getting to hang out with some friends as well. And this was something I noticed a while ago, but I'm mentioning it now just because; I worked 243 days in 2010. I have already taken steps to insure (and I looked it up in the best book I own, my dictionary, to see whether ensure or insure was more appropriate) that I DO NOT spend nearly that much time working in 2011. I really enjoy my job, I have a great set of co-workers in my immediate area in the office, I have a great group of people that I see every day on my route, and the money is terrific (especially for a guy like me, who completed just over a year of college...what the hell am I doing making this much money?!?)...but I need to spend more time doing things other than being at work ALL THE TIME! I've already got a few things lined up in January that will make for nice diversions.

First up, I'll be going to a friend's house tomorrow to be with her, her husband, and their 2 kids (from his previous marriage) for a few hours. She used to work at the big apartment complex on my route, and we became good friends. Since she left the company a few years ago, we don't see each other very often, and in texting back & forth a couple weeks ago, I realized this was one of the things I needed to change.

And in just a week and a half I'll be making a day trip to Los Angeles to go see Tim Minchin perform live at the New Largo At The Coronet. Apparently the venue seats fewer than 300, which is fine with me, should make for a very interesting and intimate evening. As big of a star as Minchin is in England (where he lives) and Australia (where he's from), he really hasn't had much of an impact here in the US...yet. He's an extremely funny and talented individual who I've written about before for Unseen Films, and I follow him on Twitter as well. Very much looking forward to the show, and I'm hoping to be able to meet him afterwards, seeing as it's such a small venue. I'm taking a friend from work who will be getting his first introduction to the comedic stylings of Minchin...curious as to his reaction.

I'll also be seeing 2 excellent bands in one night at the end of the month here in Las Vegas. One of my very favorite bands ever, Clutch, will be the main opening act for a legendary band in the hard rock world, Motörhead, who I am also a big fan of. I've been a fan of Clutch almost since their inception. I stumbled across them back in 1993 when I used to listen to a college radio station out of Seton Hall University in New Jersey (right across the Hudson River from New York City), 89.5 WSOU. They had a metal format, and I was introduced to many great bands by listening to them at that time. And remember kids, this was in the dinosaur pre-internet days, when radio was only what you could pick up locally via the airwaves, so I was real lucky to have a local station playing what I really wanted to hear. Off the top of my head I know that WSOU was responsible for my becoming a fan of Clutch, the Deftones, and Fear Factory, and that led to many more acts that have filled my ears and soul with amazing sounds ever since.

There are other things planned for January as well (got to see about taking in some NHL games live somewhere), so it's looking to be a pretty busy start to 2011. Should be fun.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Kyuss (while I'm not much on tradition at all, I do try to make them the first thing I hear every calendar year), Screamin' Jay Hawkins, TV On The Radio, Richard Jeni, Fear, Monty Python, The White Stripes, Elvis Presley, Pearl Jam (live), Deftones (live), Metallica (live), The Muppets, Lily Allen, The Dandy Warhols, Björk (live), Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries as part of The Blues Brothers movie), Soulfly, The Vandals, Brant Bjork