Rearviewmirror

Last month, I saw Pearl Jam play at Wrigley Field. Play isn’t quite the right word. Steamroll. Freight train. Destroy. Those are all better ways of describing the energy that Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band bring to their shows. It was my first time seeing them live — nearly 27 years since they dropped Ten — an album I played so much in college that my soul knows every chord and haunting howl by heart.

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Good things come to those who wait

Patience isn’t high on my list of character strengths. Ask my family, friends, and colleagues. They’ll tell you when I get an idea in my head or a goal in my sights, my next question is often why isn’t it done yet? I often see patience as procrastination. I have little tolerance for the latter — in others or in myself.

Patience is a virtue.

All good things come to those who wait. 

It will come, in due time. 

All phrases I was convinced were contrived by someone trying to get a head start in the race.

I find this impatience lurking even in my greatest joys. When I see potential in something or someone, I want that potential to be realized now, sometimes even yesterday.

K will look at me when I’m focused on the end of some timeline and ask why are you trying to rush it? She’s right. Nearly all of life is evolution, not revolution. Most things in life don’t need to be — or refuse to be — rushed. I’m learning to embrace this new approach, sometimes reluctantly, to allow things to unfold organically and without meticulous intent.

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Last summer while hiking in New Mexico, I captured this photo at the top of a ridge adjacent to our campsite. We’d just finished a strenuous ascent up a rocky path. Over the last mile, the wind strengthened and the sky threatened to open.

The trees on the ridge fell victim to wildfire years ago, now just lifeless scars. The scene felt heavy, and my Catholic heritage evoked an almost Gol’gothic visual in my mind. It was beautiful in its somber tones, but I was impatient for more. I knew the sun was setting behind the ominous clouds. I paced the ridge hoping they would part to reveal its glory.

They never did. The grey pall dissolved into night.

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The next morning I crawled out of my tent. The rising sun cracked over the ridge, bringing new life to the charred trunks, a vibrant green to the reborn understory. The clouds gave a hint of the blue sky above.

It wasn’t the beauty my impatience craved the night before.

It was more. It was greater than.

It was the good thing that comes to those who wait.

The juxtaposition of these two photos has resonated in me since I took them. My heart kept telling me there was meaning in the imagery, but my mind struggled to find the words to describe it. Every time I saw them in my collection, I knew I had to write about them — that they had potential. It frustrated me that their story would not spring forth, no matter how hard I squeezed.

I had to wait for the meaning. It had to come in due time.

As it struck me that these images were my lesson in patience, The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun crossed my consciousness. Morrison’s drawn out vocals, dripping with potential, demanding patience from his listener. Twenty seconds for just three lines. Masterpiece worth the wait.

Can you feel it
Now that Spring has come
That it’s time to live in the scattered sun

Patience will never be one of my greatest virtues, but I’ve learned to welcome its long-neglected place in my life — with the universe, those who intersect and inhabit my life, and myself.

 

 


From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. These photos were taken at Elkhorn trail camp on Saturday-Sunday, July 22-23, trail days 7-8.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT

September 19, 1985.

I was on the cusp of 14 the day that Tipper Gore testified in front of a congressional subcommittee on behalf of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) — a group formed to combat what they considered to be explicit lyrics.

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Photo courtesy of Newsweek

In their sights were artists that I listened to in constant rotation — Prince, Twisted Sister, Madonna, AC/DC, Def Leppard, even the quirky Cindy Lauper made the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen. Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider — the front man whose image adorned my bedroom wall — paraded his shaggy blonde mane into that hearing to defend music, and became a rock n’ roll hero.

 

As a result of this national attention, and under the threat of government regulation, the record industry proactively issued PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT labels to be put on any record with lyrics that ventured explicity into sexuality, drugs, or violence.

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I can vividly remember buying my first albums with that sticker on it — the badge of rock rebellion. I’m not sure if the properly-dressed members of the PMRC realized that they were creating a marketing device in their protest. Seeing that bold, black and white label across a record store was like a lighthouse beacon in the fog to a 14 year-old kid pushing his boundaries. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll wasn’t new. Now it was just easier to find.

Fast forward 33 years. 

I’m now the parent of a teenager whose central passion is his music. He immerses himself in it, dissects it, and creates it. He lives music. 

His two loves are electronic and hip-hop. The first is primarily lyric-less, the latter could make Tipper Gore and the PMRC predict the end of times. The lyrics of hip-hop circa 2018 are raw, violent, and explicit in ways that turn the artists of 1985 into teetotalers by comparison.

I don’t censor what he listens to when he’s with me. As a father, it can feel like a no man’s land filled with double-edged swords. I preach to him my strong belief that music is artistic expression, a reflection of the complexities of real life, and social commentary blended together to move us — physically and emotionally. I don’t believe it has boundaries. It is the expression through which we push boundaries. But … I worry that he will hear lyrics as suggestion rather than expression and reflection. I worry that he will be judged by the music he creates. I worry that my participation in his passion gives some sort of implicit approval of the explicit nature of the lyrics.

Most days, I quash that worry because music for teenagers is a time-tested way of distancing themselves from the saccharine nature of childhood. Provocation. Rebellion. Inspiration. Growth. I did it. He’ll do it. We’ll all be fine.

I brought my son with a few of his friends to see Logic in concert last summer. The other two dads in the group sat up in the comfy seats, but I wanted to be down in the crowd with the boys. I wanted to experience them experience this. His first concert. I stood a few feet behind them, trying vainly to be inconspicuous in a crowd where I was the oldest person by a couple of decades.

You know what? Logic is a phenomenal artist and performer. I knew him through my son, but his music became part of my regular rotation. As the sun went down behind the stage, I lost myself in the show. Yes, it was explicit. Yes, his words purposely provoke. When he launched into Killing Spree, the crowd, including my son and his friends, including me, echoed the lyrics into the throbbing air.

Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is everything that I like, like, like, like
Real shit goin’ on in Lebanon
But I don’t give a fuck, my favorite show is coming on
Hashtag pray for this, pray for that
But you ain’t doing shit, get away from that
Blame it on black, blame it on a white
Blame it on a gun, blame it on a Muslim
Everybody wanna blame him, blame her
Just blame it on a mothafucka killing everyone!
Everybody wanna get high, everybody wanna live life like they can’t die
Everybody gotta be right
Everybody scrollin’, scrollin’, thru they life
I wish they would love me like I like they pictures
I wish I had bitches
I wish I had motivation to get money
Ain’t it funny, my rainy day would be sunny
If I had the vision of currency fallin’ above from the sky
Fallin’ above from the sky, listen up
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody looking for the meaning of life thru a cell phone screen
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Everybody think that the meaning of life is
Ass, titties, pussy, money, weed
Everywhere I look a killing spree
All the things they wanted me to be
Is all the things that I turned out to be
(full song)

This song is offensive in its language. The socialized adult in me kept chiding you can’t sing this song along with your son. Tipper Gore would have included this song in her Filthy Fifteen, but she would have completely missed its central point. Listen to these lyrics. He’s telling all these kids to stop living their lives through their smart phones. Through the provocation, there’s inspiration. There’s redemption. There’s growth.

For Christmas this year, I created a canvas print of one of my photos from that concert during Logic’s performance of Take It Back — a song that takes direct aim at social injustice. Again, redemption. I overlaid the lyrics of the entire song, and emphasized the redemption.

Take it back / Take it way way back.

Understand the past.

Peace on earth is what I try to be / I just wanna spread the message of equality.

Improve the future.

Yes, there are a million songs out there where you’d have to split infinite hairs to find a shred of redemption. Sometimes music is simply provocation without the redemption. The best music does both.

The concert print hangs in his music studio. I hope it reminds him of the experience of that night. I hope it inspires him to create music that provokes in its words and redeems in its message.

 

 

Over the threshold of a new year

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Back in October, K and I celebrated my 46th birthday watching Matt Nathanson and Matchbox Twenty perform at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline. Matt opened with the perfect blend of concert, revival, and comedy jam that energized the crowd for Rob Thomas and crew’s last stop on their 20th anniversary tour. The arena went completely black at the same moment a single white spotlight illuminated an empty microphone stand.

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Wanting to know who I am

I walked out of the office tonight to perhaps my least favorite kind of weather. The temperature hovered just above freezing. Sheets of large, heavy raindrops marched through the illumination of street lights, buffeted on an increasingly strong wind. My lack of umbrella was practically inconsequential. This was the kind of weather that comes at you from all angles, mocking protection from above.

 

My path from the front door of my office building to the parking garage can’t be more than a few hundred yards, but by the time I arrived at my truck, my shoulders were hunched, my hair glistening with nearly frozen moisture. I hopped in the driver’s seat, plugged my iPhone into the truck’s stereo system and hit shuffle.

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Helping our kids decipher the message

Earlier today, I made a quick trip to Walmart to pick up a few things we needed around the house. The store was reasonably busy for pre-Christmas Saturday, and most people seemed to be in a festive, pleasant mood — from the Salvation Army bell ringer to the handful of guys ogling the flat-screen entertainment nirvana at the back of the store.

After finding each of the items on my short list, I chose the shortest line and queued up behind what appeared to be a grandmother, mother and her elementary age son. The family could have been any of the rural, small town families of the area. The mother had the haggard look of someone who had spent all day with an energetic child. And the boy was clearly not going to wind down any time soon. He jumped around, hands attached to the end and sides of the cart that awaited his family’s checked items. He was making an enormous amount of noise, but his chaos seemed unnoticed by his mother or grandmother. Seems they had become immune.

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Broken heart boots

Before the holidays I made a quick trip down to Austin to visit a friend and went to the Saxon Pub on a recommendation of a friend of a friend. We had a great time listening to and talking with the band. One of the friends of the band was wearing these cowboy boots that were black and white with red hearts tumbling down the side. For some reason, I really liked them and could only imagine the nights they had seen. So I thought I’d write a little back story to them in the form of a song. (Now I really know nothing about the woman wearing the boots, so this is complete fiction.)

Broken Heart Boots

Past the neon gilded door
Another happy hour unfolds
Wipes a thankless week away
The faces look familiar
Been here many times before

The Regulars holding court
Sing a six-string story
Everyone knows by heart
Girl gets guy, an easy catch
The fishnets snare them every time

See you sitting there
Lighting up the room
That up-to-no-good smile
Blond curls in your eyes
And boots that let us know
Your night’s just begun

But I’ll just take a pass
Not order from the menu
Tempting as you are
I’m wanting something more

Because tonight…

I don’t want to be another of
Your Friday nights gone bad
Behind that black mascara
Your eyes betray a tale
Drowning in that gin and tonic
Hiding from your roots
Just tell me all the stories in
Those broken hearted boots

I know you’re more than
A short skirt and stockings
I want to know what’s
Behind your disguise

So tonight….

I don’t want to be another of
Your Friday nights gone bad
Behind that black mascara
Your eyes betray a tale
Drowning in that gin and tonic
Hiding from your roots
Just tell me all the stories in
Those broken hearted boots

A recurring theme

I wonder if anyone has tried to codify popular music into subject matter categories. It would be a huge undertaking, but certainly an interesting exercise. (I’m not volunteering, by the way.) Near the top of the list would have to be lost love or relationships that didn’t work out. I’d venture to say there are more songs about love gone wrong than lasting relationships. Here are some lyrics I’ve been throwing around in my head for a while about trying to get over one of those relationships that didn’t work out.

Everything Reminds Me of You

Driving down the street today
The trees are raining gold
The brisk of fall surrounds
But fails to make me cold

Reminded by the whirling leaves
That way you made me feel
Lifted up without fear
Simple pleasures so unreal
Can’t help but wander off
Drifting back into our past

Knowing just what we were,
Swore we’d always last

Can’t make it through a day
Without you somewhere in it
Reminders in plain view
Not ready to admit

Your face, eyes, and voice
Everywhere I turn around

So I’m sitting here tonight
To write these five words down

Everything reminds me of you
Yeah, everything reminds me of you

I’ve tried a million things
Nothing I can find
Helps forget you now
Erase you from my mind
Can’t keep our memories
Tied up, locked down
Begging them to leave
They always stay around
Can’t shake that love we had,
So unforgettable

Been gone so long now
Never thought I’d let you go
Missed the chance to make it right,
Trapped in life’s binding chains
If I could just release you from my dreams
Our past would be a pleasant memory

Can’t make it through a day
Without you somewhere in it
Reminders in plain view
Not ready to admit

Your face, eyes, and voice
Everywhere I turn around

So I’m sitting here tonight
To write these five words down

Everything reminds me of you
Yeah, everything reminds me of you
Why does everything remind me of you?

Particle man

As I’m sitting here tonight in the kid’s room, he’s listening to his favorite They Might Be Giants songs as he settles down for sleep. Lately, he’s been a little TMBG-obsessed, but I can think of worse things to be. Earlier this afternoon, I told him to listen to the songs closely because TMBG tends to be “educational” in their songs.

So from the dark side of the room (I’m illuminated by the glow of my laptop LCD) comes “Daddy, what’s Particle Man about?” After a moment’s hesitation over whether I should open up that can of worms, I told him that I’ve always thought it’s about science, religion and the universe and how humans are really just small specks that get tossed around by the greater forces. He was OK with that. 🙂

Evidently others have had a different take on the song, but that’s the great thing about music — its openness to interpretation.

Austin in review

Finally an hour or so to recount the weekend happenings.

3am Friday morning
I wake up before my alarm, a normal pattern for me on “big” days. I never get good sleep when something exciting is on the horizon. Hop out of bed energized despite the short (3-4 hours) sleep. I’m out the door to the airport by 4:30am.

5:00-9:30am
After slogging through the ice and snow to the airport, I’m pleased to find my flight still on schedule. Despite the general unease that comes when a plane needs to be deiced before takeoff, the flight is uneventful. Having a whole row to myself, I was able to write a few stanzas of a new song tentatively titled “Controls”….

I thought I knew the perfect plan
A life satisfied and true
A simple path to happiness
Full spectrum minus blue
Plug and play each small part
My storyline on cue

For all those years
Captain Me was in command
Steering life, turn by turn
Wheel firmly in my hands
Watching life unfold for me
Like slowly falling sand

Then you drew away the curtain
Unannounced, to my surprise
With a subtle slight of heart
Broke down that childish guise
Stripped me of the masquerade
Found the hiding man inside

9:30-10:45am

Layover in DFW. After standing in an inordinately long line at the Starbucks kiosk (skim mocha no whip, of course), I decided I could use a little more time on my feet. Standing near the gate, I replaced the humdrum of my surroundings with the sounds of my most recent acquisitions. Backed by lyrical and musical stylings of Ryan Adams, Spoon, Josh Ritter, Avenged Sevenfold, the Eagles, and Ozzy Osbourne, the buzzing mass of travelers acted for me in a series of passing short (and often intriguing) stories.

Jump to 1:00pm (after an uneventful hop from DFW to Austin)

Went for a sample of TexMex at Chuy’s, an establishment best described as eccentricity bordering on insanity. The decor revolved around fish, intertwined with Marvel comics superheroes and holiday decorations. Sensory overload, to say the least. My friend and I both had the chicken enchilada, good but didn’t live up to the “best TexMex in Austin” recommendation.

4:45pm – 6:00pm (after a futile attempt at an afternoon nap)

Went for a hike around Town Lake. Too bad it wasn’t a few weeks earlier, with leaves on the trees, but still picturesque, especially after sunset when the Austin skyline reflects in the water.

6:30-8:30pm

Caught most of the set of The Regulars at the Saxon Pub. Billed as “country rockers to soulful ballads,” I wasn’t sure what to expect as we sat down at a table about 15 feet back from the stage. The band mixed originals and covers with ease, with “You Turn My Light On” the best original and “Chain of Fools” a rousing cover. The musicianship was solid throughout, with the exception of Ron Rameli, who constantly switched instruments (and played most –especially the harmonica — non-descriptly) and appeared aloof in contrast to the down-home folkiness of the rest of the Regulars. Two “irregulars” sat in with the band this night….a female vocalist/bass player with wonderful command of her voice and a sax player that we later learned was one of the best in Texas.

The Regulars play Saxon Pub every Friday night, and the crowd was obviously full of family and friends of the band. An intriguing subplot was the table to our left — populated by three attractive women, one of whom wore fishnet stockings and tumbling heart cowboy boots that screamed “look at me.” They obviously knew the band, but didn’t seem to be “attached” in any formal way. At the end of the set, several band members stopped over to say hello to “boots” and her compatriots. We interjected our accolades for a great performance, and to our surprise, got an invite to go to Matt’s El Rancho for dinner along with George Macias — acoustic guitar, vocalist and songwriter for the Regulars. This was shaping up to be a beautiful night!

9:00-11:00pm

Conversation at Matt’s El Rancho couldn’t have been better. Stories of the band (including a lot of infighting), the Austin music scene, past arrests, religion, and politics were liberally interspersed with a great deal of humor. George was obviously revered in this group, and he held court like a pro. Wasn’t sure how much of his yarn was dyed, but like most songwriters, he could tell a story. Perhaps this was just simple Texas hospitality, but George and his groupies made us feel like old friends — giving us a glimpse into the innner circle of their somewhat turbulent lives.

11:00 pm Friday – 3:00am Saturday

The final four hours of my Austin marathon were spent on and along Sixth Street — the heart of the UT campus nightlife. Several blocks of this main thoroughfare are closed off on weekend nights — transforming into a undulating pit of hedonism. Alcohol and skin flowed liberally among the Gen Z’ers on the last weekend before finals. The scene was one part energizing, one part frightening. One got a sense that the party was one fine line away from transforming into a riot.

We ducked out of the pandemonium for a midnight showing of Master Pancake Theater featuring Home Alone. Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 performed in front of 300 drunk college students. Entertaining, but by the end, all this old man wanted was an appointment with a pillow.

And so concludes my 23 hour Austin immersion. I was ready to go, but will definitely be back.