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.

A Year On The Mend

It was a year ago today that my wife drove us an hour east on a rainy, dreary morning to Parkview Hospital for my back surgery. It doesn’t seem possible it’s been that long. It seems like it was just a couple months ago I was waiting for that day to come, both anticipating and fearing it. Taking Norcos and muscle relaxers and sitting in the basement making mixtapes and listening to Flying Lotus, Madlib, and j dilla’s Donuts. I would sit wondering that cold March if I’d ever walk right again. The pressure on my spinal nerve had caused numbness that ran down my leg to the top of my right foot. It also gave me a “drop foot”, which basically means I walked like Igor in Young Frankenstein. Before the severe pain started, I assumed it was just a pinched nerve that would work its way out. I still tried working out(like an idiot.) I attempted to do all those normal things I was doing before the numbness began. I tried stretches, yoga poses, and willing my foot to WAKE UP! But on February 15th of 2016 the numbness turned to sharp, bitter pain that shot me out of bed in the middle of the night. After a day of that I went to a convenience clinic first thing in the morning and thanks to the quick action of the doctor on call, she got me into the hospital for a cat scan. That revealed a herniated disc in my lower back, between my L4 and L5. What that meant was physical therapy or a cortisone shot would be worthless in helping me. A visit to a spinal orthopedic surgeon a week later confirmed the herniated disc and got me a front row seat for the big show. A discectomy was in my future.

Surgery. That word scared the hell out of me. I spent the month of March numbing the pain, working with restrictions, getting my medical leave set up, and spinning records on the weekends. I was relieved I knew what the problem was and that there was a plan of action to fix the problem, but I hadn’t quite heard a bunch of positive stories regarding back surgery. In fact, I didn’t know anyone that had a great experience. Just terrible ones. I couldn’t go on the way I was, so I didn’t really have a choice.

So on March 31st, 2016, my wife drove me on a dreary Thursday morning to Fort Wayne, Indiana for this thing called a discectomy(They basically make an 8″ incision in my lower back, go in, and cut out the portion of my lumbar disc that was protruding from the spine and pinching the nerve. Sew the disc back up and close me up. Nothing was implanted. It was, by surgery standards, pretty cut and dry.) I waited in a room in a hospital gown with my wife and mom and dad while the TV played some terrible show while everyone nervously made small talk. Pretty soon, they came for me and wheeled me off. While en route to the operating room they started an IV and I quickly began to go out. Next thing I knew I was groggily waking up in recovery. The surgery was successful. No complications, though my disc was in worse shape than the doc first thought. I was carted to our car in a wheelchair and we were home bound.

Those first three days home were a bit rough, but I had a wife and three kids that took good care of me. It was spring break, so the kids were all home. We watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, listened to a lot of records, and generally took it easy. I was also iced up for most of the week. The hospital gave me this contraption that looked like a back brace you wrap around your torso that had tubing inside of it, which was attached to a box you filled with ice and water. The icy water flowed up into the tubes and it was the most wonderful feeling ever. Really, it was fantastic.

Three weeks I was home healing. A month after surgery I was walking two miles a day. Six months after surgery I was running. Eight months after surgery I could stretch properly once again. A year later, it’s as if I never had a back problem. The only evidence is an 8″ scar on my lower back. I’ll occasionally feel the scar and I’m still amazed that I went through it all. Amazed I was taken care of as well as I was by the doctors, nurses, technicians, and pharmacists. I’m grateful for my family and friends that gave me support when I needed it. Hell, even my dog kept me company while I sat on the couch wondering if I’d ever heal up. You learn a lot about humility when you’re put into a vulnerable position like that. When your wife has to wake you up every couple of hours to ice you up or give you a pain pill. I’m usually the caregiver in the house. I’m the one cooking dinners, mowing the lawn, picking up the house, and buying the groceries. When all of a sudden you have to stop all of that it can be a jarring experience(really, it is.) Letting those responsibilities go is a hard thing. Of course, when you get ’em back you’re like “I missed this?”

So one year ago today I had back surgery. Happy to say things turned out pretty damn well. I now know at least one person who’s got a positive back surgery story: me. Now you do, too.

Memory Upgrade

So sometimes your memory betrays you. Okay, most of the time your memory betrays you. Like for example, how you may remember an argument with an old friend that caused a riff between the two of you. When you finally have that heart to heart and discuss things you realize you remembered things all wrong. That friend didn’t actually say what you thought they said. Or you watched a movie as a kid and you remembered it a certain way for 25 years. When you go back and watch that same movie as an adult you realized the ending in your head was all wrong. Even how you remember a person. My grandma died over 6 years ago. I think I remember how her voice sounded, and her laugh. But I don’t have anything to go on anymore. No old home movies or answering machine messages saved. I’m going on those pieces still lodged in my brain. A couple phone conversations just a few weeks before she died, and a visit to her house just a month before she was gone.

It’s all I got, so I have to run with it. Try to keep it fresh and glowing, like stoking embers in a fire. Once it’s out it’s out. No more kindling to throw on the fire.

There’s no lesson here I’m trying to teach. There’s no moral to any of this. I’m just thinking a lot about memories and the importance of making them. My oldest was home this past week for spring break. I took the last part of the week off so I could spend time with her. My wife had to work all week and the younger ones were still in school(they aren’t off until the first week of April.) When the oldest comes home on extended weekends she’s often either sleeping, hanging out with her old school friends, or with her mom on some shopping excursion. I’m here at home making sure she’s getting her favorite meals while she’s here. I’m keeping the gears running at the homestead. I’m not ever going on adventures with her. So this time I wanted to be able to do something with her, so she knows I care and that I actually do like to spend time with her.

Wednesday was taking her to the dentist and the eye doctor, then being at home waiting for the heating and cooling guys to put in our new water heater. Thursday wasn’t much, but then Friday my daughter and I spent the day in Fort Wayne shopping for books and music, eating quite well, and just enjoying time together. We hit three spots for books and came out of it with a stack for each of us. I wanted to hit up Neat Neat Neat Records as well as I haven’t been there in over two years. Hasn’t changed much, and I’d hoped for that. For lunch we ate at Bravas Burgers. Probably the best burger and fries I’ve had in a very long time. We will go back for sure. After a coffee refueling we hit the road and made it home by 5pm. Saturday was just hanging out at home mostly, which is what we all needed I think.

Today, my wife and mom are currently driving the oldest back to school while I’m home with the younger ones. Making dinner and keeping the gears turning at the homestead.

I look back at my life, even just the last 6 years, and there are these moments that stick out in my head. They’re good moments: family vacations down south, trips to record shops, Christmas eves with board games and snack-y foods, a Colorado wedding, school carnivals, and band concerts around the holidays. They’re not grand gestures like trips to Disney World or anything like that. They’re just these little moments that define such significant times in my mind. More than a grand gesture can do, the trips to the bookstore, or a cabin in the woods, or the cinema on a Sunday afternoon are what stick in our memories. More memories we make the easier it is to remember them all.

Anyways, that’s what going on in my head. We made some memories this week, and I’m happy about that.

“Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens”

We’re just a mere few hours away before midnight hits and Santa comes down the chimney(or for us chimney-lacking folks he uses the key under the “welcome” mat.) So make sure you’ve got those milk and cookies waiting out for the big guy and the dog is secured, otherwise you’ll be getting coal in your stocking and melted, dirty snow under the tree. We know how this works guys. We’ve been doing it for some time now(some more than others.)

starI’d just like to let everyone know out there that I wish you all the merriest Christmas and happiest of New Years. I hope this Christmas Eve finds you with loved ones in a warm and cozy home, Christmas cheer in the air and Christmas spirits in your glass. Raise that glass to those that may not be as fortunate; maybe they’ve lost loved ones this year, have hit hard times financially or emotionally, or maybe they just don’t have that support group that you do. Wish them well, give them a call, invite them over and share that warmth with them. I think that may fall under the “Christmas Spirit” banner, too. While things may be going alright for you, others may not be as fortunate.

Just saying.

Anyways, I love you all. Here’s to 2017 and more posts about music, life, movies, comics, and whatever the hell else comes to mind.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

J

To my friends in Europe, Australia, and beyond…I hope you’re having a great one! 

 

 

Family Values : Revisiting ‘Sukierae’

I guess on some level the idea of a father and son collaboration has been romanticized in my head. I can’t help but think how cool it would be to play in a band with my son(or daughter for that matter.) A collaboration between father and child just seems like that perfect connection of heredity, art, and family togetherness. Not that Partridge Family crap, but hanging out in the studio, father and child and creating art together. Of course, when I think about how I was in my late teens I can’t imagine I would’ve thought jamming with my dad would be all that great. So, maybe this is just a one-way longing kind of thing. Maybe you can’t appreciate that sort of connection until you’re a dad yourself.

So I guess the boy and I won’t be writing an album together anytime soon. That’s okay because I’ll just live out that fantasy through Jeff and Spencer Tweedy and their wonderful album Sukierae(named after the Tweedy matriarch, Sue Tweedy.) The father/son collaboration known as Tweedy was one of my favorite albums in 2014, and going back and revisiting it the last couple of days I’m astounded at just how good it is all over again. The album was made at the Wilco Loft by just Jeff and Spencer after Spencer would get home from school. They had some help with some extra guitar work and production from a handful of folks, but for the most part this was Jeff Tweedy writing songs, Spencer playing drums, and Jeff playing pretty much everything else.

A family affair.

Originally Sukierae was going to be Jeff Tweedy’s first solo album, with the album intending to be a collection of singer/songwriter songs; sparsely ornamented and acoustic-driven. But once son Spencer started showing up at the studio and playing along with dad’s tracks the solo record became a father and son collaboration in the best way possible.

Personally I think this is the best Wilco-related release since 2007s Sky Blue Sky. Like that record, the songwriting on Sukierae feels natural, earnest, and void of pretension. There’s an honesty in these tracks; you can practically hear pen to paper as if Tweedy is writing these songs in front of you. On Wilco(The Album) and The Whole Love, while still presenting wonderfully arranged tracks and intriguing writing, those albums almost felt overbaked and overthought. There was little to no breathing room. A feeling of claustrophobia permeated those albums, to my ears anyways. When you have six incredibly talented musicians in one band I suppose it’s hard to not use everything at your disposal when arranging and constructing these songs. But, at some point the original intent of the song -the skeletal frame- gets too much meat on its bones and eventually weighted down by best intentions. Sukierae on recent listens feels like a breezy fall day. There’s a looseness and freedom on the album that comes from having an open mind and open heart. You get the feeling that Jeff Tweedy is having the time of his life writing and recording these songs with his son.

So the songs. The album opens with the jagged and snarky “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood”. It rips and roars out of the gate as if post-punk rose from the shores of the Mississippi and not the grey-painted skies of England. I was pretty surprised when I first heard this song, and especially as it was opening Jeff Tweedy’s first proper solo affair. A breath of angry, fresh air. Soon enough things get groovy with the lackadaisical “High As Hello”. Tweedy sings in a woozy whisper as the strummed acoustic welcomes the listener into the fold. “World Away” is pure groove with some of Jeff’s understated and underappreciated guitar work. It’s particularly reminiscent of the creative six-string work he did on A Ghost Is Born, one of the few records he played nearly all the guitars on. “Diamond Light Pt. 1″ has the spirit of experimental freedom. It’s a sprawling track clocking in at just over 6 minutes and feels like a standalone track in comparison to the rest of the album(they released a clear 10” single of the track with “Pt. 2” on side b.) The absolutely beautiful “Wait For Love” is a waltz-style number that sounds as if 10 acoustics are being plucked and strummed at the same time. Among the guitars is a nylon string guitar that gives the song an almost Spanish feel. Spencer does an amazing job of giving the song a feeling of floating on air; an effortless flow moves throughout. “Low Key” is a classic pop track that Jeff seems to be able to create out of thin air. If he wasn’t driven by such artistic eccentricities, Jeff Tweedy could’ve been one of the premier pop songwriters of my generation(as it stands, he’s one of the premier songwriters of my generation, period.)

From this point the album goes into singer/songwriter mode. The tracks at times become much more sparse and bare. Jeff Tweedy has the innate ability to take simple melodies and chord changes and give them a heft few could. For a guy that can be painfully shy and inward he seems effortless in his playing when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar. Tracks like “Pigeons”, “Flowering”, “Honey Combed”, and “Fake Fur Coat” resemble well worn classics. Nothing needed other than a grizzled, earnest voice and the accompaniment of a faded, beaten acoustic. These tracks are where the pure strength of Tweedy’s songwriting lies. “Where My Love” with it’s piano accompaniment sounds like a lost Nilsson track, and album closer “I’ll Never Know” is pure melancholy and nostalgia. It’s a heartbreaking and simple. It’s a reminiscence of quiet moments spent with someone now gone.

I loved to watch the ghosts
Of cigarette smoke Turning lithe and blue
And I loved the time we spent alone
That you never knew

But at the end it becomes clearer…

My mothers ghost
Of cigarette smoke curling calm and blue
And I love us being alone in the TV glow
When I think you don’t know but you do

jeff-tweedey-and-son-detroit-2014-billboard-650While it is Jeff Tweedy singing and playing, and yes the urge to compare his music to past Wilco endeavors is powerful, it would be a lazy comparison. The feeling on this album is far spacier and loose. There’s more of an air of spontaneity here than with Wilco. The lyrics are also more direct and honest. There’s not as much artistic license or vague indifference in the poetry of the language used on Sukierae. This record is personal, like a quiet conversation among old friends. Or even a internal dialogue with someone long gone. Sukierae is truly a special album.

That father/son band may not happen for me, but if it did I can only hope it would be as special as Jeff and Spencer’s record together. That connection is one you don’t find everyday.

Editor’s Note: I suppose the boy and I could try that comic book shop thing. That might work. 

 

 

Summer’s Almost Gone

As usual the summer seems to be slipping through my fingers like sand. It promised me back in June that it wouldn’t be in a hurry to leave. “Yeah J, I’m sticking around for a bit. I know I blew through last year but this time it’s different”, Summer distinctly told me back at the beginning of June when the kids left the 2015-2016 school season behind them. But of course -like always- I’m sitting here typing with the faint smell of gunpowder barely making a dent in my nostrils as the charred, plastic carcasses of Independence are slowly not decomposing at various points in my front yard. That mid point summer holiday, the Fourth of July, is but a distant and unseasonably cool memory for us now. The kids are on their final countdown to going back to those hallowed halls of higher education and I’m left wondering where the f**k did the time go?

The swift shell game that time plays with me on a daily basis seems to sting a little more with each passing year. Looking for that elusive “one more minute” is a feeble attempt, albeit on a much smaller scale, to steal away just a few more precious memories before the man in the bright nightgown comes a-knocking I suppose. I’m not worried about death. I just long for the softer moments to linger around a bit longer, that’s all. Maybe it’s that I’m getting(and feeling)older, or having semi-serious surgery back in March that’s put me in a such a melancholy state. I want to savor the moments, but when savoring the moments as they’re happening you pull yourself out of the game, so to speak. You’re concentrating on how you’re feeling, and not just going with it. I guess when I’m looking back nostalgically on holidays, family trips, an afternoon at the cinema, laughing hysterically with the kids for no particular reason at all, a fantastic 20th anniversary meal with the wife, or an evening stroll along the beach then I should be happy. Happy I was in it. Happy that in those moments I wasn’t taking anything for granted. Happy that despite how quickly summer arrives and then leaves, that the time spent was not wasted.

We lit the fuse. We watched it burn down and ignite the colors, explosions, and controlled chaos high above our heads. It was glorious while it lasted.

35 days until summer leaves and school begins. We still have time to blow some more s**t up.

Pizza, Beer, ‘n Rock and Roll : How I Spent My Summer Vacation

July 8th(Part One)

Sitting poolside at the Vermilion, OH Holiday Inn Express and the chlorine is burning my nostrils. All the kids are happily dropping into the 5′ deep water like anvils in a tub of jell-o and they seem to be quite content to do this for the remainder of the day. I’m opting out of the pool. I’m not really much of a swimmer. In fact I don’t swim. As a kid with perpetual ear infections/problems(I had ear surgery a total of 6 times from the age of 5 to 11) I was never allowed to get water in my ears. I even had to put cotton balls in my them with Silly Putty over that to completely seal my ear canal when I’d take a bath. Yeah, I was a freak. So given my medical freakness I never learned to swim. Thankfully I never developed sea legs, or a taste for the butterfly stroke.

So, I keep to myself poolside, typing on my Chromebook like some dorky dad in Birkenstocks, un-chlorinated swim trunks, and a ratty t-shirt while the kids(and now my wife) get their Atlantian on. The reason for this overnight stay is a short-but-sweet getaway for the Hubner clan to the Buckeye state to visit the one and only rock and roll mecca, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame located in that dirty city located along the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first time we’ve taken the kids to the Hall of Fame, and the first time the wife and I have been here since 1997. When we visited as still newlyweds we got to see the John Lennon exhibit, which included guitars, his Bentley, hand-written lyrics, and his famous wire-rimmed glasses. There was also a Grateful Dead exhibit, complete with a psychedelic VW van, probably tie-dyed items and several bad acid trips bottled in mason jars from 30 years of Grateful Dead shows. There was also a 12-string Rickenbacker owned by Roger McGuinn that the guitar neck would light up.

It was a pretty cool experience to see 40+years of rock and roll history under one roof. I was still pretty young and naive to the politics and bullshit that went into the nomination process, the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” mystery of how someone gets the nod, and sadly how the artists are treated throughout the whole process. I guess what I’m saying is that this isn’t quite the magical experience it was for me nearly 20 years ago. Still, I’ll never not love rock and roll and the effect it’s had on me. So I want my children to experience the Hall of Fame just once in their lives. See the artifacts that resonated with millions and pushed a greasy Midwest kid like me to beg my mom and dad for a guitar and lessons. I want them to see Rob Halford’s leather hat and Nikki Six’ studded dog collar. Maybe some bits from the British Invasion, which informed so many bands in the 70s and beyond. If we could even just lay our eyes upon Jeff Lynne’s magical beard from 1978, maybe my son’s blindness would be cured(my son’s not blind really, but you’d think he was by how filthy his bedroom gets.) I guess I’m just hoping that hitting up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will spark something in my younglings. Maybe they’ll want to pick up one of my guitars when we get home. Or maybe sit at the keyboard and play the opening chords to “Smoke On The Water”. Maybe one of them will have the urge to slam out a sloppy Neil Peart-esque drum fill on my lousy Ludwig 5-pc Rocker set. Hell, maybe that Beyonce exhibit will bring out the inner Diva in one of my girls. Who knows?

All I know is sitting poolside, dreaming of the Hubner Family Rock Experience beats the hell out of walking around Cedar Point in 85 degree heat with 110% humidity.