Creature Comforts

It’s amazing how things really come into perspective when your pretty simple existence is thrown into a frenzied uproar. The simplest and quietest moments are magnified in the millions when you don’t even have a place to rest your tired body in your own home after a day of work. We all fall prey to not feeling satisfied with what we have. We end up throwing little pity parties for ourselves because something didn’t work out like we’d hoped it would, or maybe we didn’t have enough money for that one cool “thing” we wanted. I’ve been in that spot. Hell, I’ll probably be in that spot in a week or two. It’s being human. We all occasionally feel like we’re owed a little more than we got. It’s not a bad thing. Goals push us to succeed. But just as long as we don’t forget what’s really important. You know, the good stuff. The stuff that makes this crazy world worth a damn. The love given to us and the love taken from us. A warm place to rest our head. A sturdy roof to keep us safe from the storm.

The simplest of things.

Having our home torn up has been painful. We’ve never lived extravagantly. My wife and I have lived in our 1,170 square foot ranch home for almost 21 years. We built it as two barely 20-somethings stepping out into the world of grown-ups. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but we knew that building a home was a good place to start. We didn’t shoot for the moon, we just built what two newly married kids with a decent credit score could build. That decision has been a good one for us, and to us. We’ve raised three amazing kiddos and three pooches in that home. It’s seen its fair share of happiness and sadness; good times and not-so good times. All in all, it’s been our shelter from both outside forces and internal drama. Three bedrooms upstairs for quiet moments of reflection. A living room where we, well, live. Watching movies, listening to records, conversations filled with laughter(and sometimes not so much laughter), coffee mornings with my dad, and family time with Apples To Apples on Christmas Eve. It’s a place where decisions have been made and kids have laughed loud and hard. A dining room where meals were shared and birthday cakes cut. Year after year our kids get older, yet they’re never too old to blow out candles on a cake. A kitchen where meals have been cooked, desserts created, and many pots of coffee brewed. The kitchen is where the heart of the home beats, in my opinion. Every great decision should be made over a plate and a cup. Minds think more clearly when the body is replenished and caffeine is consumed.

Our house will heal. It’ll soon be back to its top form, with new amenities and prettier furniture(that will hopefully last us a good long while.) New carpet to replace the old that saw more action than Chuck Norris in the 80s. Us Hubners are hearty. We are already healing, slowly. It helps we’re currently in a secret hilltop location planning our next move. Even the dog came along for this adventure. He’s one of us, you know. He’s a Hubner, whether he likes it or not.

I do miss those simple creature comforts, though. First and foremost my record player. The Audio Technica AT-PL120. It’s been a workhorse turntable. Bought it in 2008 and it’s been a good friend since. I miss sitting in my chair and spinning records. Watching the red glow from it as it weaves musical magic with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge digging into the grooves of the vinyl. “Hey Owen, could you grab me another beer?”, I can hear myself saying. I also miss sleeping in my bed. It was torn apart after the bug disaster was discovered. Sleeping on old furniture in the basement has taken its toll(on both my spirit and my back.) I’m thankful we have a basement that’s partially finished to escape to, but still. Nothing like your own bed to slip into the abyss of sleep with. Being in a rental cabin I also miss things like sharp knives, quality pans, and spatulas that don’t bend with the slightest of pressure. Still, I’m glad this vacation was planned when it was. Worked out as perfect as it could have.

Plus, there’s good beer in fridge. That’s a small miracle right there. And a pool table in the game room. That’s been a blast.

We’re dealing with minor setbacks here, not the end of the world. It felt like the end of the world a few times, but when you’re in the thick of it things seem worse than they are. The house may be bare, but the home still stands.

The love keeps growing, rain or shine.

Nature Wants To Kill Me

Yeah, I’ve been out of commission the last week. I’m still alive and kicking, but it’s been one hell of a week.

For starters, last Saturday I discovered my son’s box spring and mattress were infested with bed bugs. Yeah, they’re real. They’re not just the subject of some fun bedtime tag line you tell your kids before bed. They’re real and they suck beyond belief. For the last six weeks we’ve been dealing with these strange red welts on arms and legs. For the first couple weeks we thought they were something the dog was bringing in from the outside and sharing with us. Poison Sumac or Oak, perhaps. So we started wiping his paws with baby wipes every time he came in. Then I bought a outside leash and hooked him up so he could only do his business in a designated area without roaming into the wasteland of blister-causing weeds. Still, even after all the precautions my wife and I were still dealing with itchy welts. Me, my upper left arm was so bad it began blistering. I thought maybe I was allergic to the crap outdoors. I was beginning to wonder if maybe nature wanted to kill me. My son began breaking out in little red spots, too. It was relegated to his arms and legs. It looked like eczema. We’d put ointment on it and it would go away. Pretty soon though it began to spread to the tops of his hands and his neck. My wife took him to the pediatrician, which diagnosed eczema and prescribed the same ointment we already had.

This had been going on since the first weekend in May. It would seem to improve, then it’d get worse. Last weekend was the big reveal. The mystery was solved. Id’ gone into my son’s room to hang some shelves when I noticed this bug on the floor. I thought it was a tick, as my wife had seen a couple over the last few weeks as well in our bedroom. My son said “That looks like the bug I saw behind my bed.” A feeling of dread came over me as I told him to step back as I carefully moved his mattress from the box spring. A simple inspection revealed his box spring was infested with egg sacs and bed bug feces. The need to get it out of my house was stronger than my need to throw up(and my need to take a flame thrower to the room.) We quickly removed the bed and took it outside. This then led to a mass exodus of years worth of toys, stuffed animals, comics, and clothes from his room. It was the Saturday from Hell last week. The day was spent emptying the room, spreading bed bug dust, and inspecting other rooms of the house. My daughter, whose room was next to my son’s tainted homebase, had one bug crawling on her bed frame(she herself had a few welts as well.) Her room seemed to be in the clear otherwise. Our room looked okay as well, but I spread the bed bug dust in there as well. Sunday was then spent pulling up all the carpet in my son’s bedroom. We didn’t know if the bugs had made their way under the carpet. Not knowing was not an option for me(or my wife.) My dad came over and we removed the carpet in less than an hour. No bugs in the carpet, thankfully. The carpet was 21 years old, so it’s not like it didn’t need to be replaced.

All seemed like it may be getting better.

Then I woke up Monday morning with new marks on me. I called my wife from work and told her we should have pest control come out to do a run-thru of the house. She said that would be a good idea. About an hour later she called me to tell me she took our bed out of the house and took the headboard apart to find bed bugs in it. On my side. I was being feasted upon by these horrible creatures that up until this point I thought were relegated to mattresses on the side of the road and $5 a night flophouses. I ended up leaving work early that morning to come home and figure out what the hell we were going to do. We came to the conclusion that pest control was needed immediately, as well as getting everything out of the house that we could get out. If it seemed tainted, it was gone. We rented a trash dumpster and filled it with furniture, bags of clothes, and years of memories that couldn’t be redeemed unfortunately. The pest control guy came and told us the amount of money it would cost for them to get our house bug-free(they heat the house up to 140 degrees, as well as using chemicals.)We agreed, and it’s going down on Tuesday. As the week went on we began removing all the carpet upstairs. Saturday morning my dad and I finished. The wife and I got our couch outside and it too is now in the dumpster.

We are in a shell of what used to be our home.

So how did this happen? Well a trip to Chicago back at the end of April is the culprit. We stayed at a $320 a night swanky Hyatt in downtown Chicago, a place you’d never guess would have bed bugs. I’ve stayed at some real dumps over the years, but never left with anything more than a sleepless night and sore back. This Hyatt was a beautiful spot to stay so my wife and daughters could enjoy Hamilton at an afternoon show The room seemed clean, and the beds were reasonably comfortable. Turns out that wasn’t the case. At all.

Lesson here is this: check your mattresses kids.

So here I am at nearly 1:30 am typing about this last pathetic week. I’m in the basement with the kids, while my wife is upstairs sleeping in the recliner with the dog. All the room are bare and carpetless(new carpet will be installed next Friday.) Our clothes are bagged in airtight containers after being washed and dried in an industrial washer/dryer at a laundromat in town. I told my wife they looked like giant piles of freeze-dried jerky. We leave later today for Brown County where I’ll sleep in a bed for the first time in nearly a week. There will be woods, nature, and a hell of a view. I’m hoping nature doesn’t want to kill me down there. I’m hoping we can call a truce for the sake of sanity. I know things could be a whole lot worse. There was no house fire or cancer diagnosis. No car wrecks or job loss. The kids are healthy, as are the wife and myself. The house will once again look normal, and the bugs will be a distant, bad memory. A memory I wish could be tossed out with the family couch, but I’ll settle for a bug-free sleep.

I haven’t spun a record in over a week. It doesn’t feel natural.

Motorbreathless

Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.

My brother bought me that book, natch.

From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.

I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.

So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.

They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.

What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.

My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy.  But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.

I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.

 

 

 

 

Blue Suede Tap Shoes

My earliest memories are of me sitting on the bare wood steps that led down to my parents half basement and attempting to spy on my mom as she practiced her tap dancing routines. It would start out as me going all ninja, thinking I could somehow blend my stocky, big-boned 5-year old frame into the painted cement blocks behind me and pine steps that were under me. I’d watch from my aerial view from atop the stairs as my mom would tap dance over a repetitive voice that emanated from an old reel-to-reel recorder. Even at that age I imagined that voice belonged to someone that looked like a cross between Richard Simmons and Jonathan Harris from Lost In Space as the flamboyant voice repeated “shuffle-hop-shuffle-hop-shuffle-ball-change-turn-reverse” over and over to the accompaniment of a tinkling, chime-y piano. As I sat there thinking I was the sneakiest 5-year old around the sound of those taps as they hit the cement floor would begin to lull me. I don’t know what it was, but it was almost mesmerizing to sit and listen to. The rhythm of those hits, the distant, muffled sound coming from that old reel-to-reel, and the smell of laundry detergent in the air would put me in a daze. A “shuffle hop coma”, if you will. Soon enough my mom would turn around and see me sitting there and yell “Get back upstairs, John! I don’t want you playing on those steps!”

I never asked my mom why she started tap dancing. My mom, like a lot of moms back in the 70s, stayed home and was a “homemaker”. Now we know now that what that means is that she took care of everything. I mean everything. She wasn’t dusting in a dinner dress and pearls while watching soap operas and waiting at the door for pops to show up from work with his slippers and the evening paper. No, she was handling the down and dirty of home life. The cooking, cleaning, bill paying, grocery shopping, laundering, and making sure me and my brother were washed, clothed, and getting to where we needed to go. She also was the caregiver when we were sick. My brother wasn’t sick very often, but I was sick all the time. Ear infections, bronchitis, lots of fevers and vomiting, and did I mention bronchitis? I was the sickly kid that spent his 4th Christmas in the ICU with pneumonia. My mom was there by my bedside every night. This was back before hospital rooms were like studio apartments with pull out beds and comfy chairs for guests. In 1977 they were still white, cold, and unforgiving to the sleeping guest’s back. My doc when I was 5 years old thought I had Leukemia until my mom nearly strong armed him into testing me for allergies. She was right, I was just allergic to cats, dust, mold, and lima beans(okay, not lima beans.)

I love my dad. He worked his butt off for all of us so we could have a decent life and a roof over our heads. But if it weren’t for my mom we’d a been a bunch of wild animals roaming the Pines searching for food, water, and clean underwear.

So looking back at this whole tap dancing thing I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe this was an outlet for my mom. Some “me” time to get away from the insanity of domestication. I can remember going to the tennis courts near the Green Acres mobile home park with my mom and she’d play with her friend Shirley Bell. I’d play on the playground with Shirley’s daughter Sherry as mom and Shirley would do their best Billie Jean King. Later on my mom was on a bowling league. She played that for years. Every Thursday night she’d meet a couple friends and they’d bowl till 7 or 8pm, then have a few beers afterwards. But in-between the tennis and bowling was tap dance.

I went with my mom a few times to her tap class. It was in the basement of the dance instructor. She’d fashioned a dance studio down there, complete with mats and a wall covered in mirrors. In one of the corners there was a milk crate filled with various toys and puzzles for the brats of her students to play with while the women danced and joked about Dallas, The Stepford Wives, and key parties. The one thing that had always stayed with me over the years was a particular song they would dance to a lot. I never knew what it was called, but it was this pretty piano melody that built up to this classic 70s crescendo filled with orchestra, tight bass, and super compressed drums. I didn’t notice the drums and bass till years later. That piano melody always stuck with me. It was sweet and sad. Music always had an overwhelming affect on me(I can remember my eyes welling up whenever Paul McCartney got to the high notes in “My Love” as it played on the car radio.) There was even a recital that I remember going to. It was at the high school auditorium. I remember as soon as my mom coming out onto the stage to dance I started yelling “It’s mommy! It’s mommy!” to my dad’s chagrin. I couldn’t help it. My mom was up there on stage in front of a whole auditorium of people dancing to the piano song I loved so much.

My mom had all of her tap stuff set up downstairs. She had a few 45s that she would dance to down there. We had an old console stereo down there that used to be the main stereo upstairs. After dad went hi fi with the Pioneer receiver, turntable, 8-track, and speakers, the old Zenith console was delegated to the basement for pool parties and beer consumption. My mom would use it to play her 45s, one of which was Elvis Presley. The A-side was “Blue Suede Shoes”, while the b-side was ‘Tutti Frutti”. I never saw my mom tap dance to either of those songs, but I grew a great fondness for that 45. I was partial to “Tutti Frutti” myself. The line “Got a gal, named Sue/She know just what to do” always got me. I had no idea what Sue knew what to do, but I imagined it was pretty great.

It was years later, long after my mom had put the dance shoes away that I think I’d figured out why my mom took up the tap lessons. I think she wanted something to do outside of the house, for sure. Find an identity other than “homemaker”, yes. But she could’ve done anything out of the house. Hell, keep the tennis dreams going. Or maybe racquetball? But no, she chose tap. My grandma Ruth LOVED Shirley Temple. She had a bunch of Shirley Temple movies on video cassette when I was younger, and I remember my mom having a collection of Shirley Temple movies, too. Could my mom have taken up tap dance for my grandma? My mom and grandma were very close. Always were. My grandma was at the tap recital, too. I remember her clapping and clapping when my mom finished. Not the humoring kind of clapping, but the honest kind where maybe some tears might’ve been shed. Maybe. Anyways, I wouldn’t put it past my mom to do something like that. Take up a hobby because her mom would’ve gotten a kick out of it. When my grandma died a few years ago I remember one of the few things she wanted of my grandma’s was her Shirley Temple movies.

So why all this reminiscing about tap dancing and my mom? I don’t know, I guess because I think my mom is kind of a badass. Mother’s Day just passed and it felt like a good time to talk about her a bit. And besides, without her I’d probably be in some makeshift mud hut in an undisclosed northeastern Indiana woods, eating squirrel over an open fire in dirty underwear.

Thanks mom.

“a cup of coffee and a slice of time…”

So where do you go when you feel like you’ve gotten to a dead end? Where do you find the answers when the questions you hear yourself asking are falling on deaf ears? Your mind tells you “No one cares and no one ever really did”, and who are you to argue with your mind? “You’re just some loser who can’t get your shit together. No one cares about you, no one loves you, no one even knows you exist at this point.” I don’t have an answer. I’ve never been at that place in my head. Sure, I deal with self doubt at times and I feel like I should lose 20 lbs and I should pick up a hobby like painting. Or maybe I should learn how to fix things around the house. But these are normal things everyone goes through. All in all I have a pretty good overall opinion of myself(not horn-tooting here.) I do the best I can. I feel like I’m a pretty giving and open person to those around me. I don’t wallow in self-pity or self-doubt for more than 10 minutes a time. My family loves me, and have told me on many occasions that they don’t know what they’d do without me(my wife can’t even pick something to watch on Netflix. The struggle is real.) And I feel like the luckiest mug in the world having my high school sweetheart at my side, along with three kids that are equally sweet, polite, and looking at the world with eyes wide open.

My point is, I can’t step into the head of someone so lost and in the dark that suicide seems to be the only answer. You can’t empathize with that sort of deep, dark, sadness unless you’ve been in the thick of it. It’s not that I don’t want to help. I want to reach in and pull that sludge out of that person and shine as much light in as I can, but it doesn’t work that way. Depression isn’t coaxed out with some supplements and a handful of “Hey, keep your chin up!” You can’t will someone to be happy by praying for them or dropping by occasionally and leaving them with a “We should get coffee sometime, or something.” Being there for someone you know is going through it is a start. Opening your head and heart to what they’re going through is a good place to begin. You can offer your services as a coffee pal or a fellow bookstore rummager. You can ask how they’re doing and offer some honest advice. You can’t make someone take it, though. You can only hope it’s a lifeline enough to keep that person interested. Enough to keep the conversation going.

I’ve dealt with this darkness more times than I’d like to count in my life. Friends, family, acquaintances that gave into the black hole of regrets, guilt, despair, and whatever else you can find on any early Cure albums, regardless of how much they loved others or were loved by others. It’s a sickness, plain and simple. It’s not a bad mood you’ll eventually get out of. There’s no bucking up and getting over it. There are chemicals imbalanced, wires crossed, and emotional scars a mile long wrapped around ones heart like a python squeezing.

Like I’ve said, I don’t have any answers. I just want to stay engaged with the world around me. I want to stay plugged in and available to those who need me to be. I may not have any answers, but I can maybe help with figuring out the questions that need to be asked. We’re all in this together, for better or worse. Let’s make it more better than worse. We start doing that by not averting our gaze off to the side, but by laser-pointing it directly ahead. No matter how uncomfortable or awkward it may be. Let those around you having a rough go of it know that you’re there and that you’re buying a cup of coffee and have a spot to sit and talk. That’s how we make it better. Sometimes a friend is all we need to get to the next day.

That’s all we can ask for, isn’t it?

Paul Gilbert : The Everyman’s Guitar Hero

It’s been close to 30 years so my memory may not serve me correctly, but somewhere in the vicinity of the spring of 1989 I got to see and meet Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert. Why do you care? “Paul who? The Mr. Big dude? Yeah, so what?” Will you please let me finish? Thank you. So in the spring of 1989 my guitar teacher heard that Paul Gilbert was doing a guitar clinic at the now defunct Music Spectrum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spectrum was the who’s who or what’s what of local music stores. Neal Peart got kits from this place(check some of the late 70s/early 80s Rush albums for the liner notes “thank yous” to MS.) Gilbert was touring the country doing clinics at various music stores for Ibanez, and my guitar teacher Tim Bushong had the forethought to load a few of his in-training guitar slingers into his car and drive us 50 minutes to see Gilbert do some shredding. My older brother at the time was taking lessons from Tim as well, so it turned into a big brother/little brother bonding experience.

Photo courtesy of Paradise Artists

So to give you a little history into Paul Gilbert. Gilbert was from a small suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1966, and by the time he was 15 years old he’d sent a tape to Shrapnel Records owner Mike Varney about auditioning for Ozzy Osbourne. Varney was blown away by the 15 year old from Pennsylvania. Gilbert moved to Los Angeles and attended GIT(Guitar Institute of Technology) and by the time he was 19 he was an instructor there. Soon after he joined the metal band Racer X and put out some premier shred albums. But in 1989 he left Racer X and formed Mr. Big with Billy Sheehan, Eric Martin, and Pat Torpey.

I owned one Racer X cassette. Second Heat was the one Gilbert album in my collection, and to be honest it was just okay. His playing was out of this world good, but musically it just wasn’t my thing. It was too heavy for its own good, in my opinion. Most of the Shrapnel Records roster was like that. Guys that grew up on Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and most of the AOR-ready rock we hear on classic rock stations now, but in order to show off the speed and neoclassical riffs the band pumped up the metal. When I’d read that Gilbert was in a new band with David Lee Roth’s bassist Billy Sheehan I was pretty excited to hear what they would do.

So on a Thursday evening my brother and I headed to Fort Wayne with our guitar teacher, along with a couple other students, to Music Spectrum to see Paul Gilbert in the flesh and hear some virtuosic guitar playing and mentoring. We arrived and the place was packed. There wasn’t any open carpet anywhere in the place. Mulleted teens and men alike(even a few guitar-slinging chicks if I remember correctly) filled the place to its capacity. Gilbert had a stool set up in the front, along with a 4-track cassette recorder and some PA speakers.  I didn’t know what to expect from the guy, really. I guessed by the looks of him he was maybe my brother’s age(he’s actually a year older than my brother, born in 1966), but I’d never seen any interviews with him. After an introduction and some energetic clapping Gilbert walked to the front with his Ibanez guitar and so began the clinic.

Now I can’t remember specifics, so I’ll hit some highlights:

Gilbert played some pretty eye-popping licks for us all to guffaw at. There was a portion of “Name That Tune” where Paul displayed his array of music history knowledge. During this part my brother yelled out and correctly guessed The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear”, to which Gilbert was impressed. Gilbert also previewed a track from the debut Mr. Big album which hadn’t been released yet. With the 4-track cassette player, he played the backing tracks to “Addicted To That Rush” and perfectly followed along with the rest of the band trapped in the confines of the multi-track recorder. I believe there was a Q&A as well, but I can’t quite recall(a lot has happened in 30 years.) It ended with everyone getting in line so they could personally meet Gilbert and get his autograph. I brought along that copy of Second Heat and Paul kindly signed it. One of Tim’s other students brought his Ibanez guitar and Gilbert signed the back of the guitar neck. I thought that was kind of ridiculous, but whatever.

I walked away from that guitar clinic a fan of not only Paul Gilbert’s guitar playing, but of Paul Gilbert the dude. He came across like someone my brother might’ve hung out with and brought over to the house to listen to tunes with. The guy was as relaxed sitting in a room playing and chatting in front of a room full of hungry wanna-be guitar heroes as he would’ve been had he been chatting in a living room with a couple friends, strumming on his six-string. There was no pretentious, “I’m better than you” attitude coming from this guy at all, yet he’d earned it by being one of the best guitarists in the world at the time.

I went on to buy that first Mr. Big album and thought it was a great mix of superior pop hooks, prodigious playing, and pristine metal-lite that could be played loudly in one’s bedroom or on a family trip in the car without any strange looks from the parental units. The guitar/bass combo of Gilbert and Sheehan was a force to be reckoned with. Pat Torpey was a great drummer in his own right, while singer Eric Martin had the perfect mix of sweet and gruff in his voice as to pull off both great pop melodies and the come hither swagger needed to be a proper late-80s rock outfit. I bought their 1991 follow up Lean Into It as well and that one topped the debut. It had the acoustic singalong “To Be With You” on it, but the highlights were “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” and the hefty “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy(The Electric Drill Song). That album made Mr. Big a household name(sort of), and I played that album for the most of junior and senior year.

And then that was it…for me, at least.

Seattle took over and I discovered The Kinks, Procol Harum, and Brit pop. The urge to be a guitar slinger was tampered by the urge to be a songwriter. The Shrapnel Records cassettes I’d amassed were designated to an old shoe box, along with those late-80s hard rock cassettes. CDs were in and so was a new era of music for me.

But I never forgot about Paul Gilbert. Despite changing tastes over the years, I’ve always liked Gilbert and his playing. I’d look into what he was doing every once in a while, but it wasn’t until last year that I’d really starting digging into my guitar slinger past and found a treasure trove of Paul Gilbert videos on Youtube. For the past 30 years Paul Gilbert has never stopped making music or doing guitar clinics. In the many that I’ve watched, these videos show a guy that’s never stopped loving playing for people. He seems to still be that 17-year old kid from the suburbs of Pittsburgh playing UFO covers in his room, or excitedly playing his guitar with an electric drill. He still has that urge to share and show others what he’s learned. He still comes across as a dude coming by the house to listen to records and jam in the basement. I love that.

I think one of my favorite videos that I’ve discovered is of Gilbert on a Japanese game show where guitarists name a band and another guitarist has to name the guitar player in that band and then play a portion of one of their songs in that guitarist’s style. It was Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, and a Japanese guitar player. Gilbert pretty much ruled the game. To me it shows just how much Paul Gilbert loves music in general.

I won’t be on a buying spree for Mr. Big and Paul Gilbert albums(at least not yet.) But it’s great I can jump into the wayback machine while watching his instructional videos or live performances and be reminded once again how much I like the guy. And you should check out his most recent album, Stone Pushing Uphill Man. It’s mostly instrumental cover versions of some of his favorite songs. It’s pretty great. His cover of The Police’s “Murder By Numbers” is particularly awesome.

 

Tea Leaf Dancers and the Bonus Beat

Flying Lotus, aka Steve Ellison, has been somewhat of an obsession of mine for the past couple of years. His beats are like these liquid-y flows that carry psychedelic melodies through the ether. His music is transformative. There seems to be a constant state of movement and reforming. It’s hip hop-based, for sure. But as his albums have progressed there’s a sense of jazz free form composing going on. It’s electronic music, but it sounds organic. Even the weirder stuff seems like if you threw it into the earth it would act as compost and come back as something newer, greener, and heartier. I also think that for a lot of folks only about 25% of what Ellison makes is something you’d want to hit repeat on. Maybe 20%. Me? I went all in with Flying Lotus after I bought You’re Dead! back in 2014. It was so out there at times, yet the underlying rhythms kept me going back. It’s like Ellison is the Zappa or Beefheart of the electronic/hip hop/breakbeat world. J Dilla kept it mostly with beats and groove, where Flying Lotus took it one(or two or three) steps further by adding this alien personality in it.

I’m sure I’ve said all this before in previous rants, so sorry.

This time I’m here to say that if you were ever on the fence with Flying Lotus or you prefer him in smaller doses, then the Reset EP is for you. I saw this one sitting at my local record store for the longest time and wondered if I should pick it up. I hadn’t done much research on it and wasn’t sure if it was an EP or single. Turned out it was Ellison’s debut with Warp Records and it came out a few months before his excellent Los Angeles(another album I think the “on the fence” crowd would really dig as a whole.) So a couple months back I grabbed Reset EP and am glad I did.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s 6 tracks and they’re spread over two sides of a 12″. What it lacks in songs, it makes up for in quality songs. “Tea Leaf Dancers” is a sultry, groove-heavy track complete with soulful vocals by Andreya Triana. Strangely enough I could hear a certain Thom Yorke singing this one, too. It snakes along at its own pace. This one really shows the genius in Ellison’s approach to building a beat and committing with some serious melody. “Vegas Collie” is just an absolute killer beat. It’s seems to be unraveling and reforming before your very ears. Wonky sounds and video game noises come in and out of the mix. It’s one of those tracks you see some slow motion kung fu fighting happening as this blasts your ear holes. “Massage Situation” is more languid grooves and expertly placed vocal samples. “Spicy Sammich” sounds like a galactic jungle rhythm Miles Davis might’ve dreamt up in a fever dream. It’s very moody and dark before the snare kicks in and things get very street level. “Bonus Beat” has a video game quality to it, like something Ellison would’ve come up with for his Cartoon Network music montages. “Dance Floor Stalker” sounds like its name. You can almost picture some weirdo heading out on the dance floor looking for some unsuspecting victim to gyrate next to. It’s a quirky 808 beat with wonky noises laid out throughout. Perfect way to end a debut.

Like I said, within months of this EP Flying Lotus released his second Warp Records release, the excellent Los Angeles. Reset EP is very much in the vein of that album. Ellison had yet to truly fly his freak flag on this one. Here he’s honing his beatmaking skills to the nth degree. It’s a swift shot of liquid beats and organic clicks and clacks with some serious street grit and groove.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a spicy sammich with my name on it waiting for me.