Working Class Gyro

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and today is the 37th anniversary of when I found out about John Lennon’s murder. I was 7 years old and in the kitchen of my mom and dad’s house. We had a tiny black and white TV that sat on top of the refrigerator for those mornings and nights when we wanted to watch Good Morning America and M.A.S.H. reruns while we fed our faces. On that morning I remember seeing Paul McCartney being interviewed by the GMA crew and seeing the face of a man that usually looked kind of sad anyways seem both sad and completely at a loss for words. I was young, but I was well aware of John Lennon. I had been given the gift of parents with good taste in music, so since I could remember I was hearing John Lennon sing “A Day In The Life”, “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.

Of course, those were off Beatles albums.

I loved Lennon and McCartney, but I always gravitated more to John Lennon. He seemed to have the more biting humor, seemed to have more fun, and he reminded me more of people that I would’ve known in my life than Paul McCartney. Plus, I just loved his voice. Like a good old tube amp, when he pushed his voice it got gritty and harsh while still having plenty of soul. As I grew up I fixated on Lennon. His solo albums were a big influence on me. I felt like as he got older he became a guy looking for answers to the psychological trauma inflicted on him when he was a kid. Dad left him, mom left him, mom came back into his life only to be taken away again by being hit by a bus. How do you not get screwed up by that? There was just a lot of real heartache and emotional fuckery that bled into his solo work, and early on unfortunately into his relationship with his first wife and his relationship with his son Julian. It’s been well documented how much of an asshole Lennon was to his first wife, and that he all but ignored his first son. In the early days of the Lennon/Ono relationship there was a lot of self-involvement and publicity stunting that may have had good intentions at its core but just ended up being more like performance art gone awry. As a dad, I see how he treated Julian and it’s infuriating to me. It seems to be this period of acting out on Lennon’s part. It’s not an excuse for his behavior. I’m just stating my opinion. John Lennon was a complex, damaged man that whether he liked it or not affected more lives than he ever could’ve imagined.

But this isn’t an indictment on the man. This is about something completely different. It’s about gyros. And George Clinton.

In 1995 I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend. We’d made the plunge into the world of apartment renting and were digging it. She was working 2nd shift while I was on days. One week night while she was working my friend Chad asked me if I wanted to head to the mall and grab a bite to eat. I said sure because I was bored and my laundry was caught up. We hit up the National Record Mart, which was a chain record store at Glenbrook Mall and I picked up Working Class Hero : A Tribute To John Lennon. I was still very much a fan of Lennon and this tribute seemed to have quite a few bands I was into at the time so I took a chance on it. Before we left Fort Wayne my friend Chad suggested eating at King Gyro before we headed home. I’d never eaten at King Gyro before, but as to not disappoint my pal I said sure. I found the gyro decent enough and the conversation on the way back home pleasant. I got home and put the CD in the stereo and proceeded to listen to old timers and up and comers alike pay tribute to John Lennon. I was enjoying it, but there was a feeling that something wasn’t right as bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, and Sponge did their best interpretations of Lennon classics. About halfway thru the disc I shut if off as I couldn’t concentrate with the loud, abrupt growls and whines coming from my gut. A sickly sweat formed on my forehead as the rest of my body went to a pasty, clammy texture that was like sweating warm cooking oil out of my pores.

King Gyros revenge.

I was sick for the next 12 hours. The initial few hours were the worst with gyro exiting my body from both ends. My girlfriend got home and gave me a wet rag to drape over my green forehead. Small offerings, such as ice chips, stale saltines, and empty prayers were appreciated but did little to qualm the typhoon of stomach acid that ripped and roared in my innards. By morning I’d been emptied out and tossed to the side like an empty tube of Crest, twisted and squeezed for every last drop.

It took nearly three days to fully recover from that Greek tragedy, and I’ve only eaten at one other King Gyros since that day(it was in a post-Cure concert hangover stupor…this was also not a good choice.) Besides my bowels and my tattered and violated soul, the other big victim here was Working Class Hero: A Tribute To John Lennon. Due to the circumstances surrounding the initial listen of that album, I just couldn’t get myself to go back to that CD and listen to it again. Every time I thought of George Clinton doing “Mind Games” or Collective Soul covering “Jealous Guy” I could feel the sweat begin to form above my upper lip and I could hear the ghostly sounds of my abdomen as it screamed “Eeeeeaahhhhh!” and “Reeeeeeaaauuuhhhh!” on that pained evening in 1995. That tribute CD sat in my CD tower for the next 22 years, waiting for me to make my way back to it(with Tums in hand.)

So yesterday with the anniversary of John Lennon’s death on my mind I made my way downstairs and pulled out that tribute disc, despite the gastro-intestinal PTSD involved with it. Most of the morning I sat at my desk and listened to this album that paid tribute to a guy that changed and rewired so many hearts and minds in less than a 20 year span. For the most part, it’s still a solid spin.

The highlights first:

Candlebox covers “Steel and Glass” to great effect. I was never a fan of them when they were the alternative rock flavor of the month back in the early 90s, but here they show they’re capable of taking on John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges sleeper.

Screaming Trees’ taking on “Working Class Hero” seems like the most perfect coming together since chocolate and peanut butter, or chicken tenders and honey mustard. Mark Lanegan seething out the line “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” is your moment of zen today.

Scott Weiland’s Magnificent Bastards do justice to “How Do You Sleep”. Here’s a spot where Weiland was very much on his game and he delivers the venomous lyrics with vigor.

The Flaming Lips’ “Nobody Told Me” is near perfect. It’s ramshackle, noisy, and has the feeling of being pasted together with spit and mildew, but that’s the beauty of it. Coyne and company doing what they do best.

Cheap Trick hadn’t sounded this good in years when they tackled Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”. They sound like a bunch of young punks fresh out of the Midwest with something to prove.

A band I dug in the mid-90s was Super 8. They were pretty much here and gone, but they left a couple good records and this amazing cover of “Well Well Well”.

I don’t know why, but Collective Soul’s cover of “Jealous Guy” is just about perfect. They didn’t try to “make it their own” as much as just do it justice. It’s a simple and earnest rendition and I love it.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grow Old With Me” is just a plain beautiful cover. She makes the song her own while still allowing Lennon’s spirit to live on.

The not-so highlights:

Pretty much everything else. Either the rest tried too hard to make it their own, or kept it so close to the original that it was kind of like “what’s the point?”, or it just kind of sucked(I’m looking at your RHCP.)

I think there were more cheers than jeers, which makes this compilation well worth checking out(Gyros be damned.)

Even after 22 years and with half the artists on this tribute not existing anymore or gone from the public eye for two decades, it’s a great collection of covers. It is interesting looking at this playlist and seeing that so many of these bands are truly “of the times.” Super 8, Candlebox, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, Mad Season, Sponge and Blues Traveler were all these big bands from like 1993 to 1996 then they disappeared into the ether of alternative rock limbo. Here’s a testament to their love of John Lennon, and to the fact that they did indeed exist I guess. Though I think any local fair would be a testament to that, as I bet a few of them are playing fairs pretty regularly nowadays.

A working class gyro is something to be.


Much thanks to Bruce over at Vinyl Connection for inviting me to participate in his tribute to the Various Artists collections we’ve all indulged in over the years. Without them, where would K-Tel Records be today?

 

Forty-Four

Today I turn 44 years old. I don’t feel much different from 43. Some days I feel like I’m 26. Other days I feel like I should be retired and taking chondroitin with my prune juice and egg whites in the morning. Tomorrow I’ll probably feel feeble and in my 80s because I worked in the yard today.

So it goes.

I’ve got no complaints about aging another year. Maybe if it could slow down a bit, I’d like that. I’m getting grayer and more sore quicker than I like. My kids aren’t so small anymore, either. Nap time, trips to the Children’s Museum, and that crazed look of glee on Christmas Eve have faded to quiet indifference and sleeping past 9am on Christmas morning(I’m okay with that  part.) Time, it’s a fickle beast. Jane can’t stop this crazy thing we call life. It keeps moving whether you’re ready or not.

Every birthday makes that all the more clearer.

I remember as a kid on birthdays I’d have at least one set of grandparents show up for cake and awkward glances as I’d run around the house in Superman Underoos(c’mon grandpa, you’ve never seen a 16-year old boy run around the house in just his underwear. You were a free mason for God’s sake.) I remember my 7th birthday party and the neighbor girl came over with her mom and I hid behind my mom for the first hour. I guess that was my first taste of dealing with the opposite sex. Birthdays were a learning ground for so many things. My 12th birthday party was the best. Me and 4 of my best friends went to Pizza Hut and then came back to my house where they all spent the night. We stayed up watching lousy horror movies and playing with GI Joe figures and Transformers. I think three of us stayed up till close to 4am that night.

My 21st birthday I bought my first new vehicle, a 1994 Nissan pick-up. My parents and older brother drove me to Fort Wayne to pick it up. My brother drove home with me and afterwards we went to the Ye Old Pub in North Webster and ate fried fish and I had my first official “of age” beer, which was a Michelob on draft. Two years later I spent my 23rd birthday in our new home. We’d only been in the house for less than a week so it still had that “empty, we’re new to this homeowner thing” feel. I’d gotten the flu and spent the day between my bed newly minting the toilet.

I have lots of birthday memories. Most of them good. Maybe a couple not so good. But the one thru-line is that you better enjoy ’em as they come because one day you’re hiding behind your mom as she lights the candles on your Boba Fett birthday cake while a confused 8-year old girl looks on, and the next you’re sitting on the couch, newly minted a ripe old 44-years of age typing on the couch as your wife of 21 years and your 12-year old son are in the kitchen making you a pineapple upside down cake.

To another year of learning and loving. To another year of figuring out the difference between relief and joy. To another year of enjoying these days as they come. As they slap you right in the kisser.

 

Thanks

Thanksgiving 2017.

It’s an overcast morning. Mid-30s and it’s currently snowing. It’s nearly 11am and I had to do that thing I detest more than anything on a holiday: I had to run to the store because we used up all the milk. My thoughts on stores being opened on major holidays has always been that those folks working the registers, stocking the shelves and working behind the meat counter have families at home that they can’t spend the day with because they have to serve idiots like me that forgot to buy an extra gallon of milk.

20 years ago stores were shut down, with the exception of maybe a gas station on the highway. There was an unspoken rule that on Thanksgiving and Christmas, stores would be closed so that EVERYONE could be home and enjoy the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie with their husbands, wives, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended families. The only place you needed to be was the kitchen basting the turkey and shooing little hands away from bowls with sweetness in them. You’d arrive at wherever the festivities were taking place and hit the appetizers(veggie trays, deli trays, cheese balls, deviled eggs, and other delights.) There’d be lots of conversations, lots of laughing, and coffee poured. Grandparents would tell tales of past holidays while the kids would run around the house being told to “Stop running in the house!” You’d eat till the point of misery and then sit the allotted time for proper processing of the food and hit the pies. More coffee was poured, more laughs, more stories, board games were played, and when it was good and dark and cold outside you’d load everyone in the car and head home.

This was what Thanksgiving was when I was a kid.

But at some point(I’m guessing when Walmart completed their world domination in the early 2000s) that unspoken rule of keeping the doors locked on Thanksgiving went by the wayside. It was more important to stay open in case someone had the urge to go buy a videogame or a frozen pizza or a cookware set. So if one store is staying open then by God everyone had to stay open. It’s become a free-for-all for consumerism, tradition be damned. Then of course there’s Black Friday, which pretty much sealed the coffin on tradition.

So what am I saying here? I mean, I was one of those assholes this morning that headed into the grocery to buy milk and a couple extra cans of green beans. I think what I’m getting at here is that I’m thankful for those folks at the store that aren’t home basting their turkeys and shooing kids away from pie fillings in bowls. I’m thankful for those that are stocking the shelves where I grabbed the green beans and guys and gals in the dairy putting out the gallons of milk that I went in to pick up as well. I hope they all have an amazing time and a great meal with their loved ones at some point today. I know I plan on it. I’m thankful for having a home full of amazing humans(and a dog) to share this day with. I’m thankful for a hell of a lot, really. I hope you all have an amazing day with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

 

Michael Myers and Trent Reznor

It’s Friday The 13th, so I should be talking about Jason Vorhees. But you know what, I don’t care. Michael Myers has always held a special, darkly-lit place in my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Halloween growing up. It was on TV at least once a year(edited, of course) and I’d always watch it. Even prior to seeing the unedited version on videocassette, it was a very scary, visceral experience for me. The initial murder of Vorhees’ sister, the escape from the institution, stalking of Laurie Strode, and the murders at the end of the film all filled me with such dread that even the most goriest of films can’t come close to that angst I felt lying under a blanket on my parent’s couch in the living room as a sticky little kid.

Even years later that iconic theme music would stick with me, showing up in various forms(Halloween toys, plunking out the theme drunkenly on my best friend’s piano, and various viewings over the years), that I never thought someone covering this theme would affect me as much as the version I just heard today did. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a version of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme and released it today, on Friday the 13th, 2017.

It’s actually pretty amazing.

They take their time with it. They savor the nuances and tease the theme generously before going full Carpenter, with some generous Reznor/Ross vibes. They toy with the main theme with lots of distortion and chaos lurking in the background for a good 5 minutes before close to the end when a Reznor-approved beat comes crashing in to make Carpenter’s iconic theme become some sort of dark and sultry remix. It’s really rather stunning.

They haven’t rebuilt the Halloween theme more than they’ve reimagined it into something modern and dystopian. I think it’s genius. You may think it’s shite. That’s okay. Give it a shot and see what happens. I’m fanboying right now. I think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are two of the most exciting film composers working today. The NIN stuff is still good to my ears as well(we can’t keep recreating the past now, can we dear?), but their film work is absolutely stunning. If John Carpenter decides to not score the new Halloween, I know two guys perfect for the job.

Happy Friday The 13th, lovelies.

Favorite Albums of 2017(so far) : Maine’s ‘V’

There’s been a gradual shift in my brain over the last few years to music that doesn’t necessarily tell a story through words more than through mood. Listen, I grew up devouring the Beatles, Rush, the Kinks, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Wilco, and the list goes on. I was a song guy. I was moved by stories and words and grand musical statements in the classic songwriting tradition. I still love the songwriting tradition and even do it myself when time allows, but over the last three to four years I’ve found myself drawn to instrumental music. In-particular, heavy synth music. There’s something about synth music that feels ingrained into my DNA that I hadn’t known was there till about four years ago when I bought Walter Rizatti’s score for House By The Cemetery. The last time I’d heard that music was when I was probably 14 years old when I first watched Fulci’s trashy classic. Hearing it again at the ripe middle age of 39 I felt there was something that I’d unlocked in my head that had been stuck up there since that balmy summer night all those years ago. That music instantly connected with me. There was no warming up period. It just instantly hit me.

From that point on I began grabbing as many of those Italian horror scores as I could, and expanded into newer artists that had a kinship with the synth and all things eerie and Gothic. I’m always looking for someone who can move me with a turn of a melody, hypnotic repetition, and who can create a sonic world where I’m quite comfortable spending time in. One person new on my musical radar that can do all of those in spades is Michel Dupay, aka MAINE. While a lot of synth music is a synthetic creation, built on circuits, wires, tubes, and buzzing waves of noise, Dupay takes a much  more organic approach to his heavy synth sound. According to his Bandcamp page, MAINE’s music is “Fiercely analogue, pre-midi musique from Montmartre, Paris.” A lot of electronic music uses midi to help create and build songs. It’s a process by which an artist can connect and sync several pieces of electronic tools and gadgets allowing a pristine connection of different musical pieces. Dupay is creating music the old fashioned way, by performing these songs as a band without the safety net of midi and syncing.

“He makes music the old fashioned way. He performs it.” – John Houseman.

I’d seen Burning Witches Records talking MAINE’s new album V up quite a bit over the summer. A couple months ago I finally got around to checking it out and I was absolutely blown away by the record. It hits every dark, melancholy tone just right. It’s a slow burn LP, too. It allows you to work your way into the album gradually as to savor the bits and pieces without overindulging. You find new things to love each time you drop the needle. There’s something very European about the sound. It’s quietly alluring and subtly dance floor-ready. Something like the vinyl-only “Black Cloud” feels like a slow cloud rolling in over the Parisian sun. “La Pluie” evokes visions of cobblestone streets, centuries-old villages, and seaside walks. “Cadence” has a very early-80s vibe. Something that might have accompanied the opening credits to a “Satanic Panic” occult film. “Below The Landslide(featuring Nina)” is an exquisite piece of synth music. With the addition of vocals it becomes something far more emotional and engaging. “The World Without” is pure desolate beauty, like a slow crawl through some dystopian landscape. “I Never Wanted to Write These Words down for You” gives you the feeling of waking from some long, ancient rest. Tremolo-effected electric piano gives the track an almost pop sensibility. It’s like the moment when the clouds break and there’s shards of light hitting the earth once again.

This record is so sonically rich. It has the production value of an early 70s Alan Parsons production. There’s an aged refinement that permeates the record I can’t get enough of. It’s dark, but there’s a warmth in the songs. Like early OMD obsessed with Vangelis. The production and engineering is almost like another instrument altogether.

V is an hypnotic listening experience. There are not overwrought explosions of sound. It’s all very cool and calculated. Some tracks feel as if they feed right into the next, giving you the experience of one long, musical piece rather than individual shots of songs. The album’s organic nature only adds to the feeling that these songs sprung up from the earth. Dupay masterfully weaves these songs together like a Gothic tapestry for us to wrap ourselves in and embrace whatever journey they’re going to take us on. I cannot recommend V enough. It’s a masterpiece of restraint and storied beauty.

Buy the album right here.

 

Friday Thoughts

Some Friday thoughts:

May your coffee stay hot, but your demeanor cool

May your boss keep a liberal distance

May the phone not ring, and the breakroom not stink

May the copier not offer any resistance

Here’s to another, week under the belt

And at 5PM the traffic not vociferous

For there’s beer in the fridge, or soda or tea

If there’s anything better I can’t think of it

The week’s been a shit, this much I know

There’s no other words I can say

But the garage door is up, the wife’s filled me cup

Christ, thank God it’s Friday – J. “Hub” McHenry

I’m pretty much out of words today. It’s been a pretty terrible week all around. People arguing about guns, people mourning yet another large group of innocent lives taken by the hand of a lunatic, and we lost an American treasure in Tom Petty. I woke up this morning feeling like shit. Achy, stomach sour, and just a general feeling of malaise. But goddammit, it’s Friday and I’m not going to let a little ick in the gut ruin that. My oldest is coming home for the weekend and I took Monday off so I’m happy about that. I’ve also got lots of music to indulge in over the weekend(which you’ll hear about I’m sure.)

So despite the shit storm yet another week in 2017 has brought us I’m going to try and appreciate what I’ve got and who I’ve got to enjoy it with. Time is limited on this rock. How limited? Well, we don’t really know. We’ve just gotta enjoy each one like it could end tomorrow. Let ’em know you love ’em. Take care of yourself. Savor that cup of coffee. Indulge in a piece of cheesecake. Get outside and breathe in that fresh air. Throw the ball with your kids. Watch a movie someone wants to watch, even though you may not want to. Take time to read that book you’ve been meaning to read. Make yourself as well-rounded of a human being as you can. Shove as much knowledge into your head as you can before your skull blows open. Even then, keep shoveling it in. You don’t have to love your neighbor, but at least wave at ’em when you cross paths, you jerk.

And most of all my lovelies, Happy F*****g Friday.

 

The Lions, The Switch, and A Guy Getting Old

I guess I’m getting older, dammit.

I find myself looking back at little moments that at the time seemed to be difficult and time consuming, but now I think of them and long for those moments. Little things like putting the kids in a stroller and walking the neighborhood in the fall. Bedtime stories, either out of a book or made up by me, told in the confines of a blanket fort. Bike rides in the summer complete with Spiderman and Barbie helmets. That inevitable walk down the toy aisle at Walmart or Meijer before we leave with groceries knowing there would probably be a Lego set, superhero action figure, or Barbie doll leaving with us as well.

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the afterschool pick up at Lincoln Elementary. The last three years I’ve been the main pick up parent. When my wife started taking school photos for a living I was the one given the task of picking up the two youngest. Sure, they could ride the bus but it was an hour of their lives stuck on a hot bus with stinky, noisy kids every afternoon. If I picked them up they’d be home almost a whole 30 minutes sooner. More time for homework and unwinding, so I really didn’t mind. Sure, if I went home I would’ve had a whole hour and a half of wind down time myself. Time to get dinner going, have a cup of coffee, workout, or just space out in my favorite chair with a new record spinning. Instead of doing that, I’d hit the gym and work out before heading to the pick up line and waiting for the kids to be excused from the gym. It was time I could be doing something for myself, but I grew to enjoy the time sitting in the car and winding down from the day at work and the workout. And if I didn’t go workout on a certain day I’d hit the local bakery and grab a donut and coffee and indulge a bit as I listened to public radio in the car while various mini-vans, pick up trucks, and SUVs lined up behind me.

It was an annoyance that turned into habit. A habit I learned to enjoy.

Now, the kids are all too old for Lincoln Elementary(go Lincoln Lions!) The last one to attend Lincoln was my son who graduated 6th grade last year. He’s now in Lakeview Middle School, while my 14 year old is a Freshman and my 17 year old is a senior two hours away at a private high school for smart kids(she gets it from my wife.) The old Lincoln Elementary was torn down last year and replaced with a new school that has no pizzazz or character. The pick up line is gone. No more classic brick building with its reader board and flag poles in front, nor the sidewalk that laid in front of the school for 50 years. The open, grassy field where my wife conducted the Race For Education Walk-A-Thon for five years in a row(2011-2015) is filled with a new, bland school and a parking lot. Those memories can’t be triggered by seeing that field anymore, as the field is only in memories and pictures. I suppose this is progress, but progress doesn’t take memories into account. History. Emotions.

At least not mine, anyways.

It is what it is, I suppose. Time moves forward, kids grow up, buildings fall, men go balder by the year, and some memories and moments remain like ghosts in your brain to haunt you when you least expect it. I find myself driving by the school and trying to find those feelings and moments once in a while. It’s just not the same. The street remains, but a street with a gaping hole where something that meant a lot to me once used to stand. A place where my kids grew up, parent/teacher conferences occurred, school carnivals transpired, school musicals went on too long, and kids walked in a field while I played top 40 hits to entertain them(and the teachers) on sunny Friday afternoons in October. It was a place I used to sit in my car every day between 3:00 and 3:40 listening to Fresh Air on NPR, drinking a coffee and waiting patiently for my little ones to jump in the car and tell me how their day went.

Those days are gone, and I guess I’ve gotta deal with that.

The Lions Den, gutted and fading