Safety Off

I grew up in the Midwest in the late 70s and early 80s. I played in the mud and I climbed trees and I pretended I was the Hulk, Spiderman, and a soldier, sometimes even in the same day. I had a collection of toy guns that was impressive by the standards of the Husky jeans-wearing conglomerate. Pistols, rifles, machine guns; I had a collection that would’ve armed the local National Guard.

The woods behind my house was where many battles took place. We’d hide in the trees, build shelters out of tree limbs and cover them in pine needles, and wait for our enemy to walk by. That’s when we’d take them down with various plastic and metal toy firearms. Sometimes you were the U.S. marines, and sometimes you were the enemy. Back in the early 80s the enemy was usually the Russians, as we had entered the second Cold War with them. Though, we also grew up watching plenty of WWII epics starring John Wayne, so the Germans were also enemies in these fake backyard battles.

Once the battle was done, the enemy was defeated, and the Pines Addition Accord was signed, we usually convened in someone’s kitchen for an ice cold Capri-Sun and a Fruit Roll-Up. We’d lay down our arms and watch a healthy dose of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Amazing Spiderman. We’d part friends and then reconvene the next day for the great treehouse battle or do some scouting missions around the neighborhood on our BMX bikes(military grade, natch.)

I grew up with guns. There were firearms in my house. My dad had a .22 rifle, a .22 pistol, and a small .25 caliber pistol he bought for my mom for protection(I’m not sure she ever carried it with her, but whatever.) There was never some sort of infatuation with guns. There was never any fetishizing of these blunt tools. Guns were no different in our house, than say a hammer or a saw. They were instruments for one thing, and that was to kill. None of my friends had parents that lauded their shotguns or revolvers. Those weapons were just that, weapons. Most had them in their house for the same reason my dad did, as protection(or, in my dad’s case to occasionally shoot a crow or two.) Some were hunters. Guns were used for sport. You hunted deer or rabbit or duck. I was never interested in that aspect of firearms, but I understood it(in fact, I lost interest in firearms around the time I grew out of those Husky jeans.) I respected those that cared for their weapons like they were antiques. The care that went into building a double-barreled Remington. Oiling the cherry wood stock and cleaning the barrel with oil. These were still seen as a weapon, but respected for what they could do if not used properly. These weren’t toys, like the ones I used in the pines warfare.

Unarming an entire nation doesn’t seem like a good option to me in regards to stopping mad men(women, children) from gunning down the innocent; whether they be in a classroom, an outdoor concert, a mall, or a church. But I think taking things like military-grade weapons off the market is a pretty good start. I’ve never heard a politician from either side of the aisle say “We need to ban all guns.” I’ve heard taking things like AR-15s, bump stocks, hollow point bullets, armor-piercing bullets, and other military-grade weapons out of the circulation of everyday weaponry. I think that’s a good idea. Sure, someone wanting to kill will find a way regardless, but I’m pretty certain far fewer students, concertgoers, shoppers, and parishioners would’ve died had their not been AR-15s, bump stocks, and hollow point bullets being used, legally, in these situations.

Gun Advocate : Yes, but even if you ban these weapons these people will still get them because they’re criminals.

Me: You’re right, but why make it easier for them? And why let gun makers profit off of mass shootings? By that logic, why not legalize all narcotics? Let’s de-criminalize all drugs. People are going to get them regardless so lets just legalize them, regulate them, and the government can make a fortune off taxing them. Seems like a win-win.

Gun Advocate : Yes, but drugs are dangerous and addictive. Drugs are killing people.

Me : Well, by your logic drugs aren’t killing people. People are killing themselves with drugs. You know, like that old argument I’ve heard after every other school shooting over the last nearly 20 years, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” 

Gun Advocate : Guns aren’t the problem. Violent video games are.

Me : Still going with that one, huh? 

Gun Advocate : It’s these kids that aren’t being disciplined. They need more discipline.

Me : ???? 

Gun Advocate : Thoughts and pra…..

Me : So let me know when we’ve legalized black tar heroin, cocaine, meth, and marijuana and then we can talk.

I’m not here to change anyone’s mind about guns, gun safety, gun regulations, or gun laws. I’m not here to expound on our second amendment right to bear arms. I believe every sane, competent, common sense-possessing American citizen that is of age and of sound mind should continue to be allowed to own firearms if they see fit. I don’t see a problem with someone owning a gun for protection, for sport, or for the pure enjoyment of shooting at a firing range(with proper training.) I’m here saying that as a parent and as a citizen of this country I think there’s a serious problem with what sort of weapons are legal to own in the country. With every school shooting that happens and we’re offered “thoughts and prayers” by government officials the more I feel completely abandoned by the government. I realize more and more that congress and the senate(and the White House for that matter) are not run by elected officials, but the lobbyists paying them to pass beneficial laws in their favor. The NRA is one of the biggest.

Don’t tell me we should arm teachers. It’s a teacher’s job to teach not to be a soldier of fortune. I know teachers that would lay their lives on the line for the kids in their classes(tragically that was proven once again this past week.) But turning the English Lit teacher into a pistol-packing Judge Dredd isn’t the answer. Pulling machine guns out of the hands of anyone that wants one is. Infrastructure investments in schools(metal detectors at every door, bulletproof glass, locked doors, dedicated officers at schools) would also help greatly.

If you feel that strongly about being in possession of things like AR-15s and armor-piercing bullets then there’s an organization just for you. It’s called the military. Visit your nearest army recruiting center immediately. Uncle Sam wants you! If you want to carry a pistol on your hip into Walmart and McDonalds, then there’s a job for you and it’s called being a police officer. We’re in dire need of some good ones, so I urge you to check into it.

 

Dale’s House

On yesterday’s morning delivery from our plant to a local supplier I had stepped out of the company van and was hit with the smell of burning wood. In-particular, it was the smoke from a wood burning stove coming from a nearby house. That smell, along with burning leaves and the scent of a distant burning campfire, always take me back to being a very young boy and being at my Grandpa Dale’s house.

There are gaps in my relationship with Dale that I think are partly his fault and partly my own, but when I was very young he made a huge impression on me. My Grandpa Dale’s house was a place I visited often in my youth. My mom was very close to Dale when my brother and I were little. She was never not close to her mom, but I think there was a part of my mom that was extremely mad at my grandma for leaving Dale. It was her parents and their marriage collapsed when my mom was only 18(her youngest sibling was only 8 at the time of their divorce.) There was still a house full of children that were basically abandoned by their mom, and my mom sort of had to step in and make sure things didn’t fall apart. Make sure her dad didn’t fall apart(time would later reveal sides to the story that weren’t known, but that’s for another day.) So early on in the split and then re-marriage(my grandma remarried, with Dale remarrying not long after) my mom took us over to see Dale a lot. I can remember spending the night often. The house was cozy. It wasn’t very big, but to me it felt like a vast space. It seemed as if each room you hit, there was another room hidden inside. When you’d walk into the kitchen when you first arrived you were hit with smell of maple. I think the reason maple pershing donuts are my favorite donut is because I smell them and they remind me of Dale’s kitchen. I also have an affinity for iced oatmeal cookies because of his house.

Then before you left the kitchen there was a stairwell that went upstairs to two bedrooms, one was my uncle Mark’s room and the other was my grandpa’s stepson Jack’s room. Jack was a few years younger than Mark, so he lived at the house longer. But in the mid-70s I can remember going up to Jack’s room and the walls were covered with KISS posters. He had even made a scrapbook with nothing but cut-out pics of Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter in various states of rockdom. I was fascinated with that scrapbook, especially with Gene Simmons and his demon character. One picture in-particular was of him on stage with mucous-y lines of bloody spit and phlegm dangling from his reptilian tongue as he was probably eyeing the crowd for some underage girls to abuse after the show. It was scary and exciting all in one.

But I didn’t go up there that often, as my favorite spot in Dale’s house was his living room. It was where he had the TV, various comfortable spots to sit, and the wood burning stove. There was something so comforting about being in that room. It’s where my grandpa and I would sit later in the evening on nights I’d sleep over and have our bowls of ice cream(vanilla with chocolate syrup, natch) and watch late night TV. Usually it was The Benny Hill Show. My grandpa loved Benny Hill, and in turn so did I. When I was over in the winter Dale would always have the wood burning stove going. It instantly brought the room to an almost womb-like comfort. You never wanted to leave that room. You had everything you needed; direct heat, vanilla ice cream, and Benny Hill. I can remember waking up with Dale at probably 5 in the morning and he’d opened the door to the stove to put more wood in. I remember looking into that iron box of glowing embers and endless heat and saying to Dale “Is that where the devil lives?.” Dale just laughed and said “Maybe.”

Dale Gaut, 1975

There are other memories of Dale and that house. He’d run to the main drag in Nappanee and grab burgers and fries from the drive-inn and bring them back for dinner. I remember one of the “rooms in a room” was a small den behind the living room where all the board games were. My uncle Mark would pull board games out and do magic tricks(like pulling a foam red ball out of my ear or making a quarter disappear.) My uncle Mark became quite good at magic, btw(still, another story for another time.) I remember more than a few holidays spent in that house. An old piano sat in the dining room where my uncle Donnie would sit and plunk out some chords to Christmas songs while the kids rummaged and wrangled throughout the house waiting for the sign that it was time to open Christmas gifts. I can remember staying a whole week at Dale’s because the pipes froze in the trailer we lived in at the time. My dad stayed at home because he had to work, while my mom, my brother and I hung out with Dale.

Eventually Grandpa Dale and his wife Gloria sold the house in Nappanee and bought a farm in a small town called Wyatt. I think he was living out some long-seeded fantasy of being a farmer. I’m not sure if he ever grew anything, or if he even had animals, but he had a pretty awesome classic International Harvester tractor that he tooled around in. He also had a nice patch of forest where there was great mushroom hunting to be had. After he had his stroke the farm was sold and they moved to Florida where the heat and humidity made his injured body easier to manage.

I miss that old house where my Grandpa Dale lived. I miss my grandpa Dale. He’s been gone for over 5 years now and I find myself wanting to send an email to him and ask him a question about when he was younger. I’d want to ask him about Benny Hill and the favorite thing about living on a farm. I’d also want to ask him why his kitchen always smelled like maple pershings.

Funny what memories the smell of a wood burning stove will bring back.

Birthday Les and the Hubner Boys Jamboree

Primus were one of those bands that even in the throes of my relentless fandom in the early 90s I still wasn’t sure what it was that I loved about them. I seem to have that problem with music that comes across both funny and prodigiously. Primus did both in spades.

Les Claypool played the bass as if it was an animated object that hung around his neck. It bent and slapped like it was made of rubber and psilocybin nightmares. His voice wasn’t singing more than it was yelling stories like a carnival barker in various states of slackjaw hillbilly and grizzled longshoremen. Larry LaLonde was rumored to have been a former student of guitar wizard Joe Satriani, but I heard no evidence of that. His playing on albums like Frizzle Fry, Sailing The Seas of Cheese, Pork Soda, and Tales From The Punch Bowl sounded like chicken scratch and a pained squelch. Tim “Herb” Alexander was the only guy in the band that it was apparent he was a rock and roll guy. He played like Neal Peart and looked like a welder. He threw fills in that could’ve come off of “YYZ”, but they somehow fit perfectly with what these two strange, lanky dudes were playing.

I loved Primus into the mid-90s, as in I bought their albums up until Antipop in 1999. The only other person that loved them as much as me was my older brother. He actually got me into Primus. I remember him coming home from a weekend in Cincinnati, Ohio with a lady friend and he returned with a Sailing The Seas of Cheese t-shirt and a copy of Suck On This on CD. What were these things? Who were these guys? Why did I like this weird band so much? All three times I saw Primus live was with my brother(along with my wife, then my girlfriend.) First time was 1993 in Grand Rapids, MI at a little dumpy theater called Club Eastbrook. The Melvins opened for them and it was mind-blowing. They were touring for Pork Soda and that album played heavily into their set. Later on that year we saw them again at the World Music Amphitheater in Chicago on the Lollapalooza tour. They were great(as were Dino Jr, Fishbone, and Alice In Chains), but I found out early festivals aren’t my bag(neither is an afternoon in 90 degree heat with no SPF 30.) The last time we saw them together was 1994 in Peoria, IL at some convention center. This time they were the opening band, opening for Rush. Holy crap, that was an amazing night of music. If I’m not mistaken Primus even went into King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginsheet” at one point. I’d just started getting into 80s Crimson so I was pretty blown away.

I continued to dig Primus and Les and by Tales From The Punch Bowl I’d started to hear what I hadn’t been hearing before in Les and Ler’s playing: that they were fucking amazing players. Les was obvious from the start, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the guy. Ler was a little harder to crack. Once I’d gotten into Crimson I could here where LaLonde was coming from. He had a real Fripp vibe to his playing. And “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver” had some pretty killer “chickin’ pickin'” going on which showed a whole new side to the guy’s ability. But after The Brown Album and the disappointing Antipop I kind of lost track of the band. Les continued to put records out under his own name, as well as side projects like Oysterhead(with Stewart Copeland), The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel, and even played on Adrian Belew’s Side One LP, but I just didn’t really keep up. Still dug the older albums, but my brain had remolded and had been rewired to go into different musical proclivities.

Fast forward to December of 2014. My older brother stops by to wish me a happy birthday and hands me a bag. I recognize the bag, as it’s a Karma Records bag. I pull a record out of the bag and it’s Primus’ Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. I hadn’t heard a new Primus album in close to 15 years. Turns out my brother and sister-in-law caught Primus on the Chocolate Factory tour twice that year. He knew I hadn’t heard it yet so he wanted to spread the Primus love my way. After we had a beer my big bro was on his way home and I put the record on. They were still the Primus I’d always known but there was something special about this record. This record I realized that all those years of cartoonish records, weird characters, and rubbery musical escapades were from a real honest place in Les Claypool. In an interview Claypool had said that he was in the 3rd grade when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder came out. He said he obsessed over that movie until Jaws came out a few years later. Les loved the cartoonish and absurd. He loved oddball characters and storytelling. It’s what he’d been doing since the beginning, but being able to take something that made such an impression on him when he was young and turn it into this musical piece was and is something to behold.

The next year for my birthday my big brother stopped by and handed me yet another Karma Records bag. Inside was Les Claypool’s solo album Of Whales and Woe. This one’s a real treat. Some seriously funky stuff going on within this 2006 LP. Probably the most straightforward grooves Claypool has put to tape. If it hadn’t been for my big brother re-opening my eyes to the wonder that is Primus I’d have never known.

More than Primus, all this is about brotherly love. Even given the fact that my brother and I are well into middle age and we live less than a block away from each other but rarely get together, we still go out of our way to dazzle each other on our birthdays. There were a couple Primus years, then in 2016 he gifted me Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe. Zappa was always a very interesting character, but not one I’d delved into(his autobiography, however, is pure gold.) Since my  big bro gave me that record I’ve been delving pretty deep into Zappa. Hot Rats, Over-Nite Sensation, Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar, and Joe’s Garage are just a few I’ve dug into.

For my part, I make sure I get my brother a book of some interest every time his birthday rolls around. From biographies of Monty Python members to Henry Rollins poetry collections to Keith Richards and Bruce Campbell autobiographies, I’m always looking for something I know he doesn’t have and hopefully doesn’t even know they exist. A couple years ago there was a Frank Zappa doc I found that he dug. This year, I returned the Primus favor by grabbing him their newest, The Desaturating Seven as well as their 2011 comeback album Green Naugahyde on CD as my older sibling hasn’t fallen prey to vinyl like me. He was thrilled.

You know, I started writing this well  before my birthday. Probably sometime before Thanksgiving. I wanted this to be a Primus piece, but I couldn’t seem to finish it. Something just felt off. Turns out, it was because it wasn’t meant to be a piece for Primus, but how Primus fit into the relationship I have with my older brother. Liking Primus doesn’t quite go deep enough. It’s about sharing a love for something with someone else you love. In this case, it’s my brother and I digging Primus together for the last 27 years. I don’t see him all that often, but when I do I cherish the ample laughs we have together. I’m sure we’ll share plenty of laughs in May as we’re heading down to Indianapolis together to see Dweezil Zappa at the Vogue Theater. It’s his “Choice Cuts” tour where he’s playing specific pieces from his dad’s discography. My brother and sister-in-law saw him up in Michigan last year and said it was an amazing show. Well I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Dweezil with my brother. I can’t wait.

Maybe we’ll listen to some Primus on the way down.

“Farewell”

My son came home from school Thursday and told me that his best pal is moving to Colorado. His buddy Nathan hadn’t been at school the last two days and on Thursday sent my son an email titled “Farewell”. In it Nathan explained, vaguely(he is a 13-year old boy, after all), that he was moving to Colorado to finish out the school year and to live with his mom. He mentioned the name of the school he would be attending and then said he’d miss my son, saying that they’d see each other again someday. My son let me read the email, to which I replied “Would Nathan actually title an email ‘Farewell’?” “Yes he would” my son replied. My boy’s only reply underneath Nathan’s email was this, “Sorry to sound mean, but is this a joke?”( my son turns 13 in less than two months.)

When my wife got home from work I told her what was going on and she messaged Nathan’s dad to let him know we were sorry to hear Nathan was moving away and that we hope the best for him. His dad replied back that Nathan was going to really miss our son and that maybe this would just be temporary. Nathan may be back for next school year. Either way, he appreciated the message.

I have to be honest, I didn’t really know Nathan all that well. It seems kids don’t have friends like they had friends when I was a kid. When I was my son’s age I had my pals over all the time, sleeping over on the weekends, during holidays, and 3 or 4 days at a time in the summer. My parents knew my friends and my friends knew my parents. They were like my brothers from other mothers. With my kids, I could count on one hand how many sleepovers my two youngest have had at our house in the last 5 years(and that’s if my hand was missing a couple digits.) My oldest, on the other hand, for her and her friends our place was hang out central. Even now when she’s home from school she’ll have 4 or 5 of her pals over to hang out, eat, watch movies, and gossip about whatever 17-year old girls that don’t get drunk or party gossip about(getting into college, boys, school drama, boys.) But my 14 and 12 year old? It’s like they don’t want anyone here. I’m not sure if it’s because of my wife and I or them. I feel like I’m starting to develop a complex about it. “Wh…wh…wh…what’s wrong with our house? Are you embarrassed by us?” I’d say to myself during weird conversations in my head as I’m trying to go to sleep. My 14-year old daughter, her best friend has a 3-story house pretty much all to herself as her parents run a small restaurant in town called The Cozy Cottage. They’re at the Cozy from the crack of dawn to the evening, so my daughter’s friend is on her own to get around for school, do her homework, eat, and whatever else. She does pretty well for herself, as she’s had to for so long. But I think the idea of a massive house at two teenage girls disposal is a much better proposition than coming to our barely 1,200 square foot ranch-style and hang out in my daughter’s bedroom, or the finished basement. I suppose I get that. Plus, she’s got a goofy Australian Shepherd that likes to eat everything, so that’s entertaining.

My son, on the other hand, I don’t get. He’s a homebody. He loves being home and hanging out in his room. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to have a pal over and hang out. The buddy that’s moving to Colorado has never been over. My son had a birthday party 3 years ago where one kid from his class showed. Other than that, just the weird neighbor kid has been over occasionally. Nathan’s house isn’t much bigger than ours, so it’s not a space thing I don’t think. But Nathan lived in town. There’s lots to explore. I think twice while my son was over at Nathan’s house they rode bikes across town and got lunch. Once they went and got pot stickers and egg drop soup at the Great Wall, while another time they got Mexican food at another local establishment. Nathan also lived near Oakwood Cemetery. It’s the main cemetery in town over by Pike Lake. It’s huge. I remember going there in high school and taking photos of headstones for Photography class. My son said that him and Nathan used to go over there and run around for hours, exploring the variety of headstones. They were fascinated at the older ones. These tiny limestone markers that had names like “Abel”, “Lucretia”, and “Ole” that were born not long after the Civil War, and died not long after they were born. He said they’d get home from exploring after dark, sweaty, scratched up, with nettles stuck to their socks. But they had fun. Lots of fun.

I’d ask my son if Nathan liked comic books. He replied “No, not really.” Does he like watching comic book movies, or playing with action figures or Legos? “Nope.” “Hmm…” I’d wonder. So what was it that those two bonded over? My best friend and I bonded over Star Wars, Transformers, GI Joe, music, horror films, and that elusive thing the opposite sex. There was plenty for us to fill our time with. Building forts in my bedroom based off my bunk beds. We took trips to Cedar Point, Kings Island, and boating excursions with my grandma on Lake Manitou. I was puzzled as to what it was that bonded my son with his buddy Nathan. But then he mentioned he liked horror movies and video games, like my son. They both seemed to have the same, quirky sense of humor, too. Finding funny in unlikely places is one of the true gifts a person can have, and when you find a fellow human who shares that innate gift it’s truly a treasure. And of course the adventuring. The city bike adventures, pot sticker lunches, and cemetery exploring are the kinds of activities that transcend comic books, action figures, and some of that other “kid stuff”. A scar from a pebble on your shin will always take you back to that tumble that you got it from. That startle you got that made you take off in the first place. It will always be there, and the person you shared it with will always be there, too.

I’m sad for my son and for Nathan, but I hope this is a move for the positive for the boy. I don’t know what’s going on in his life to cause such a quick, abrupt move. One can speculate, but that never does anyone any good. Hopefully his dad is right and that it will be a temporary move. Maybe this time next year my son and his pal will be laughing at weird things again, and running from non-existent dangers in cemeteries. Or sharing a pot of hot tea and crab rangoon at The Great Wall.

Either way, best of luck in Colorado Nathan. Here’s to new adventures, and never forgetting the old ones.

New Year’s Evolution

With each successive New Year’s Eve I feel as though I’m getting more and more boring. No crazy New Year’s Eve parties, no sloshing of drinks, no drunken toasts at midnight to ring in the new year. There wasn’t even a party favor or party hat to wear to make the evening more festive. I made myself a drink at 5:30pm(a rum and coke.) After drinking that I just felt tired and decided it wasn’t worth it. My wife took our 14-year old daughter to do some post-Christmas shopping at the mall in the early afternoon so the boy and I stayed home. We ended up cooking up some grub, watching the last episode of Gotham, then finishing up the ‘Crisis On Two Earths’ crossover special with The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends Of Tomorrow. By the time that was over it was nearly 9pm and I was already in my pajama pants and sprawled on the couch. The wife and I rang in the new year by finishing this season of Mr. Robot and popping some popcorn.

Happy New Year.

Don’t take any of that as complaining or disappointment. On the contrary, that’s pretty much how I prefer to celebrate New Year’s Eve anymore. I’m too old for hangovers and going to bed drunk. Those days have pretty much passed for me. They’re not fun for me, nor are they fun for anyone around me. There’s just a certain point in one’s life when you go, “Okay. Time to be an adult.” I do enjoy a tasty lager or mixed drink, don’t get me wrong. But I just don’t see the point in downing drink after drink until you reach some kind of personal desolation point.

So while some were toasting to the death of the old year and the pending birth of a new one dressed to the nines or in costumed regalia, I was perched comfortably at home in a Christmas fleece eating popcorn and peanut M&Ms entranced by costumed heroes and a depressed computer hacker named Elliot.

2017. Gotta say this hasn’t been a very good year, pretty much all around. We’re all still healthy, happy, and looking forward to promising days ahead here at the Hubner compound. We’ve all moved past the negatives of 2017 and are looking forward to a better 2018, but it wasn’t easy getting to this point. A summer infestation of bed bugs has left its scars, both physically and psychically. I lost one of my very good friends to suicide, which I’m still trying to cope with. But everyone within our four walls are doing well. I have to be thankful for that. The world at large is still a massive dumpster fire with cretins pissing on the flames everyday. I know there’s still people out there with common sense and big hearts trying to get things right, but the noisy bastards make it hard to concentrate on the good stuff.

I’m looking forward to 2018. No, I mean it. My oldest is graduating high school and will be heading off the college in the fall. My wife is heading into the new year with a job she really loves and we’re excited to see where she goes with it. My two youngest are doing well in school and are looking forward to where things will lead them. I’m excited to continue writing, listening to music, and sharpening my skills as a musician and songwriter. I’m ready to get back to some serious playing, guitar-wise. It’s recently been a great thing for me to head down into the studio, plug into the Marshall and play.

So here’s to 2018. More great records, more great comics, more great opportunities,…and did I say more great records?

 

 

 

 

Post-Christmas Post

So how did you all fare? Did you survive the Christmas push to insanity? Did those kids of yours appreciate the underwear and cheap aftershave(or perfume) you left in the stockings with care? How did that experimental, gluten-free fruit cake turn out the wife made? I bet you couldn’t get your uncle Frank to put down that cup of eggnog long enough to open his novelty ‘Evil Dead’ tie, could you? And I won’t even ask about the dining table discussions between your aunt and cousin on whether Breitbart or FOX have the best news stories.

We’ve made our way past the “Christ was born” line once again. For me, this is my 44th Christmas(God, I’m old.) I think my most memorable had to have been my 4th. I spent that holiday in an oxygen tent with pneumonia at Goshen General hospital. You’d think it would be hard to remember something like that but lying in a plastic tent with doctors and nurses staring down at you wearing surgical masks is something that’s hard to forget. It’s more like a vision that comes up during hypnosis sessions with a therapist years later. Or deeply buried alien abduction memories. Anyways, besides it being 40 years ago I can distinctly remember the smell of that pure oxygen. I remember the nurses coming in and giving me a mesh stocking that was as long as me and filled with candy, toys, and whatever else. I can remember watching ‘Good Times’ on the television and my mom sleeping in a chair next to my bed. I remember distinctly how the door to my room looked, too. There was a small window where I could see if my parents were, or someone I knew, was standing outside waiting to come in.

I think I was in the hospital for a week. There were other memorable Christmas holidays. Many that were far more fun and less life and death, but that one really stands out for me. There were the countless ‘Kenner Toys’ Christmas mornings and then towards the mid-80s it was the Hasbro mornings with GI Joe and Transformers.

As I got older the Christmas mornings were mostly clothes, cassettes, and music videos. But in the Christmas of ’88 I got a pretty fantastic present. I’d been playing guitar for 2 years by then and I had my Fender Squier Stratocaster I’d gotten for my birthday the year before. I opened this nondescript box under the tree and it was a Tom Scholz Rockman. For those not familiar, the Rockman was created by Boston’s guitarist and on-call MIT engineer Tom Scholz. It was a box about the size of a Walkman that you could clip to your belt. It was essentially a little amplifier that you could plug your guitar into and play with headphones. It had two clean settings and two gain settings. I loved this thing. My parents bought it off my uncle who’d had it for a couple years and moved onto keyboards. I played that thing for years. I learned Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” on that.

 

As you get older and the Christmas mornings become more about your kids and not you, they become fun for different reasons. The joy you get from giving as opposed to receiving is different, but equally amazing. Seeing something you bought for your children make their faces light up like yours did 30-35 years prior is really indescribable. And when you raise your children to appreciate what goes into a Christmas morning, and not just expect things to appear, well that’s even better.

I celebrated my 44th Christmas morning this week. It was a great morning. Coffee, my wife and kids, and that Yuletide log burning on the television as the kids opened their gifts.

How did your Christmas go?

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?