Thursday, March 7, 2019

At It Again

I have to confess… I’ve been trying to make male friends again.

I know it’s a fool’s task and I’m bound to get disappointed but there’s just something masochistic in me that likes basking in the warm glow of rejection. I suppose things would be easier if I knew how to relate to others, or wanted to try for friends more than about 15% of the time (with the rest of the time being in a “why bother” mode).

So here’s what this fool is doing. First off I’ve met twice with some guys to play music. I met them on Craigslist and didn’t get killed in some basement at the initial meet up. I guess not many people get killed in basements in la-tee-dah Pine Valley. The first time it was just the one guy and myself and we flubbered around some songs where only one of us knew the songs and eventually we just played praise songs. Hey, at least I got out of the house for an evening. The second time we were joined by a drummer and a young –pup guitarist (I think he was early thirties). This worked out a little better but we still don’t really have much of a common musical grounding. Not like when I went to my ol’ high school pal Rogers house in January. That was nice, not having to explain bands or music.
“Ya wanna play this song by The Choir?” “Sure! I love that song!”
“Have you ever heard of a band named The Choir? No? How about Adam Again? Okay, here’s an easy one: Phil Keaggy. You ARE almost fifty and have been a Christian for longer than three years, right? Okay, how about The Newsboys. Really? You haven’t even heard of The Newsboys? Rich Mullins? Now you’re pulling my leg. No?

So we’ve played twice and the idea is to get together the second Monday of every month, which is just around the corner and we still don’t have any new songs picked out. I guess we’ll play “Wrap It Up” for an hour.

My second attempt is even crazier: I’m crashing a men’s Bible study at a church where we don’t attend. Our own “church” is pretty much a lame-o worship center (“If you want fellowship you do it in our own small group but keep that crap outta this building”) but we go there for complicated reasons. However my kids have choir and go to the mid-week Kidz Club (or whatever it’s called) at a different church where I drop them off at 6:45 and pick them back up at 8:00. I supposed I could drive home and back again during that time or patronize a bar but I’ve been kicked out of every bar in the tri-state area for telling lame dad jokes so that’s not an option. I had been seeing a room full of guys when I dropped off my kids so after Christmas I decided that I would interject myself into their club. And there’s nothing they can do to stop me! BWA! HA! HA!

So far I’ve attended eight classes and I think there about about ten more until summer. Because my wife found a statistic somewhere that it takes adult males 10-12 interactions of being around each other before any kind of friendship forms I figure I’m already two-thirds of the way to disappointment. I try to talk to at least one other guy each week but so far it’s not like anyone is approaching me after the study ends. There’s a core group of five or six that are there each week (which I guess includes myself) and an additional roving cast of ten or so who may or may not show up. It’s pretty obvious everyone knows everyone else and they all go to this church (big surprise there). It’s a decent sized church with two services so maybe they think I go to a different service than the one they attend. Maybe.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Tim Chandler and His Bands

Tim Chandler passed away almost two months ago. One of the admittedly selfish but immediate thoughts at learning of his death was “What does this mean for the music of The Choir and Daniel Amos?” Here are my thoughts on the issue.

Let’s look at The Choir first. I’ve gone into at length elsewhere how The Choir was instrumental in my early Christian walk, allowing me to see that I wasn’t alone in being imperfect and giving me lyrics deep enough to cause one to chew on them a bit. However here I’m just going to lay it out with no sugar coating. The Choir haven’t put out a good album since 2005. There. I’ve said it. I write album reviews for a local publication and always enjoyed being able to toot the horn of my pet bands but for the past few albums I decided not to write a review of The Choir. I mean, it’s one thing to gush over a band few have heard of in the hopes that they might gain a few more fans but it accomplishes nothing to write a negative review. Tim and I had been friends for about twenty years and he would call me after each release to ask my opinion, telling me that he appreciated my honest thoughts. I would tell him that songs I liked and why as well as what I didn’t. Sometimes it seemed that the lyrics seemed trite (at least for a band founded on poetry) but often it was that the songs just weren’t very strong or that the music seemed a bit light. It seems to me that for the past ten years or so Derri and Steve have been trying to muzzle Tim’s manic playing, lowering it in the mix or not letting him play as extravagantly as he felt the song might need. Sure, I understand why. Steve and Derri had tasted some small bit of success in the larger Christian music world and wanted to appeal to a larger audience (and pay some bills… I have no problem with that). However Tim was still interested in making art, another foundation of this once seminal band. It’s was often Tim’s deranged bass lines that took a simple “silly love song” and added tension. Consider “Flap Your Wings.” Without all of Tim’s noise and sonic destruction it’s just a slightly interesting introduction song. Other times Tim would play notes outside of the key of a song, often subliminally adding interest.

As further evidence of my theory is the recent acoustic version of Kissers and Killers. This was their most raucous, distorted album and Steve and Derri recently endeavored to make an acoustic version, stripping off all of the grit. Sure, it makes it easier to tour as a duo and gives an easy album release to sell, but it just feels to me like they’re trying to rewrite history.

So even if Tim was still alive, how much effect would he had been allowed to have on their next album? The horrible answer is that Tim wasn’t even officially a member of the band when he died. In very early July Tim called me because he had been kicked out of the band by Steve via text message. Tim was more incredulous than anything. There had been no meeting, no discussion, just a text message. Apparently Tim’s ex-wife said something that the source could only have been Steve so Tim called him out on it. Shortly thereafter, Tim was out. I don’t know more than that, though I have some speculations, and admittedly I only have one side of the story. I called Tim a month later to see how things were. This was the last time I ever talked to him. He and Steve and Derri and Dan were on friendly terms but he was not back in the band and Robin was going to play the gig in the fall. Who knows if the fences would have been mended by the recording of the next album so that Tim would even be playing on it?

Tim had expressed his frustration to me on a couple of events during the recording of Bloodshot and how the band wasn’t really reaching for the brass ring anymore. I remember him saying “There was a reason why I never jumped in the air and landed on my back with The Choir.” But he did do so with Daniel Amos.

I have less insights into Daniel Amos, mostly because they are not as active as The Choir so Tim didn’t talk as much about them. But what he did say was always positive, both about the music and the other members. I fear that the passing of Tim, however, means that Daniel Amos has also died. They have put out two albums in the past twenty years (one was a double album so let’s call that three) plus a Swirling Eddies release. Tim had been a member of DA since album number five and was an integral part of their sound. According to Terry, Tim pushed him to be more adventurous musically. If you’ve heard any of Terry’s Patreon recordings it’s easy to see that this is true. But to be fair, it’s true for everyone. What makes bands interesting are the blends of influences. Take one person out of the band as a solo artist and usually it’s pretty bland. The best example of this I heard was the Beatles song “Getting Better.” It’s a cheery McCartney song but Lennon adds just one line: “It couldn’t get much worse.” This one humorous, pessimistic line takes what would have been a saccharine ditty and makes it great.

So would Daniel Amos have made another album? There was always talk of doing another one. The fans were certainly there with their wallets open. My guess is that they probably would have done one more album before Terry or Ed got too old or had health issues. I mean, Terry is only sixty-eight but in his Patreon videos he doesn’t look overly robust. I know that might be taken as unkind, but the man is definitely slowing down and that’s okay. That’s normal.

That’s about all I have. I’ve had this blogpost rolling around in my head for quite a while and just had to get it out.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rallys Eat-It-All #25: Bacontastic Burger and BBQ Bacon Cheese Fries

It's been a while, eh? However when Rally's puts up a sign that says "BACON FOR DAYS" I'm a moth to the flame.

Here's the Bacontastic Burger in all it's gloopy glory. A couple of strips -o- bacon and some bits of bacon and some cheese gloop AND a slice of cheese. What's not to love? Flavor-wise it's good but not mind blowing. The cheese goop is the problem... more goop than cheese.

And now... the end of the story.

Look at them. The BBQ Bacon Cheese Fries. They look good, don't they? And they tasted good. Going down. Not so good coming up. Four times.

You see, I went to Rally's during their off-peak time of freshness, approximately 2 PM. The employees are much less stressed than during the noon-time rush, when I normally visit. Apparently they are so relaxed that they don't care about washing their hands after using the restroom. I have a vague memory of having an upset tummy after visiting this same Rallys during off-peak hours in the past year but it was just that. This time was totally different.

I ate the burger on my walk back to work. The burger and the demonic fries have about the same ingredients so in all honesty it could have been either. But I blame the fries because as soon as I ate them they felt like a ball of goo in my stomach. And I knew I was in for some trouble. My body reacts quickly to food poisoning so within an hour I was starting to sweat and I visited the closest private restroom a couple of times, once even trying to make myself purge, something I've never done before. No luck. I was in this for the long haul. My fitbit tracker tells the story of my evening:

A is me walking willingly to my doom.
B is me walking as quickly to my car so that I could get home and lay down. In between A and B are the trips to the restroom, wondering when or if the horror would begin.
C, D, E and F and those horrors.

I'm still not sure exactly what item could have gone bad so quickly. These cheese sauce is an easy fall guy, but it was likely heated in a closed can with a pump. Which leaves the bacon. BACON! How could you turn against me, dear friend?

Which is all to say that I'm done with the Rally's Eat-It-All Series. There have been good times but now it must end. I will likely go back in the spring for their frozen deserts but certainly never again will I buy hot food from them after 1:00 PM.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Master of None

This morning while driving to work the song “Butterfly” by The Choir came up on shuffle play and I immediately broke down in tears. This is one of the songs I consider to be a classic example of Tim Chandler’s style, with groaning swells and playful sliding in the instrumental section. The reason for the tears is that Tim Chandler passed away about two weeks ago and he will never again grace the world with new and exotic (yet still melodic) bass lines. But this post isn’t really about Tim’s passing, although it is related.

One of my daughters used to say that she wished she was really, really good at just one thing. My wife and I would argue that she is extremely talented at makeup (her own and friends who ask her to do their makeup for proms and photo shoots) but she denies it. Tim was an incredibly gifted musician, a man whose unique style should have elevated his name to that of Flea and Claypool (that is, if the world even knew what a bass player does, which in this case Tim often colored waaaaay outside of the lines). If there was one thing that Tim did well, it was music related.

In the past couple of days this started me thinking about myself. Is there anything I do really well? It would be fantastic if I could say that yes, I Kickapoo at my job but in reality, I’m a solid B player. There are a couple of A players on my team, including one guy who just received an employee of the quarter award for the second time in three years… out of a company of thousands. He’s now my arch-nemesis. My strength comes in creative solutions and while I started at this company when it was quite young, it’s since been bought out and most of the problems have been solved. And so I maintain data instead.

In mentioning this to my wife she stated that I’m good at woodworking and music, but I disagree. I’m capable at both (well, capable at woodworking and merely mediocre at music) but excel in neither. I can “get the job done” in both but I wouldn’t say that either of them is elevated to a level of fine craftsmanship. Which is pretty much my problem… the stereotypical “jack of all trades and master of none.” Perhaps hundreds of years ago I would have been a tinker, that guy driving from town to town in his wagon full of junk, fixing things just well enough so that there would be work for me again the next time I came to town. Or in the 1950s I think I would have been an excellent special effects guy, in a time when there were no rulebooks and you had to mix art with science and one guy had to do a little bit of everything. Or maybe I should have been a Jim Henson muppeteer. I’ve often found myself drawn to the world of puppets, although maybe this thought is because I just finished reading a book on the creation and history of Sesame Street.

My wife also mentioned writing and this is a tough one to gauge. Like music, I write because I have to*. I’ve been “coming up with content” ever since I learned to read and write. But how would I know if I’m decent at it? I’ve submitted a few of my stories for publication and all have been rejected. Sure, tales abound of some famous author who had a now classic novel rejected by thirty publishers before it found a home but my skin is not that thick. Maybe it should be. Maybe 2019 is the year I take the small trove of stories that I’ve written and shop them around in earnest. The problem is that no one gets rich on short stories and I really need to get rich by the summer of 2019. Seriously.

I don't mean for all of this to sound like a downer. I've had worse times in my life by far. It's just something ruminating in the back of my mind as I get closer to age 50 and come to terms with "Yeah, this is probably it. I shouldn't expect any kind of massive upswings." To quote another dead musician, "It is what it is what it is."

* If I don’t have something that I’m working on, like writing or a song or a home project, then I feel unconnected and of low worth. Yes, I know I should probably see a professional and get this fixed.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

My Kids Need Friends

Within the past couple of years I've come to terms with the fact that God doesn't want me to have any Christian friends, or any friends* for that matter. I'm 47 and I've been praying and trying for a very long time and now I've given up. And I guess I'm okay with that. Really, what choice do I have?

The hard part is seeing your kids face rejection on the same front. Sure, I know I'm some kind of freak that causes normal people to feel uncomfortable**, but you want more for your kids. Thankfully God has blessed me with a wife from the same planet as me, though apparently from a different continent. My kids don't even have that. Many are the times that my wife and I have said that we wished we could just be "normal" and blend in with the people who spend all day golfing on Saturdays or hang out at tailgate parties or "get sports" or binge watch whatever is the latest hot show on Netflix. But it's not to be. And so we hope with each child that they may somehow break the curse and be blessed with friends.

But those apples fall close to the trees and such a genetic mutation is something Darwin could only dare dream about. Our kids are like us. Dorks. That don't fit in. The way I figure it, you've got the 40% of "normals" who all follow the same trends and do the same things, Christian or otherwise. I'm not knocking them. Like I said, many times I've wished I could just not care about things and just blend in. But even though there are more nerd/dorks/dweebs than normals they are fractured. There are the Star Wars geeks and the Star Trek geeks and the Dr. Who geeks. There are the music nerds who like jam bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead. And then there are the people who like Dave Matthews band, but I really think these are just normals. There are the Rush prog-rock fans and the (name your poison) prog rock fan. And ne'ver the two shall meet. Good luck finding someone similar in THAT mess!

We've been praying for years that God would give each of our children one good Christian friend. Just one. It's not like we're asking for them to have expensive sports cars or great hair. Just one Christian friend to encourage them and help them grow. Iron sharpens iron and that kind of thing. I mean, it's ultimately for HIS glory! All I'm asking is for another coal to be next to theirs so their passion isn't extinguished. But apparently God has so far reviewed our requests, flipped us the bird and said "Request denied, you dork. I only grant the prayers of normals." It's a bitter pill to swallow but I see no evidence to the contrary. This doesn't give me much hope that God's listening to our prayers for their future spouses.

* Meaning friends that I can call up and/or hang out with. I guess I'm pretty sucky at hanging out. I'm more of a "project" relationship person. I have a couple of cyber friends but no one closer than 100+ miles away.***

** And when I try to be normal I just become boring instead, mostly to myself.

*** As if this needed a punctuation mark, yesterday Tim Chandler, one of my very best long-distance friends, passed away. Tim or I would call each other every few months and he always made me laugh and feel loved. Now he's gone too.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

This Too Didn't Pass Two

If you read this bloggy post and the updates you'll know that I bought the lavender Danelectro DC 59 but that it had a slight neck bend. After my original fix I had to lower two of the nut slots even more to make it in tune, which made one of the strings quite low. Playing it in my usual position (sitting on the floor of my basement, as is my want), the top horn would poke into my less-than manly chest. It still sounded great, though.

And then...

This past summer there was a Craigslist ad for a plum Mod 6 for $450. It ran for a good long while and I considered calling the guy up to see if I could come play it but I didn't want to waste his time. When it comes to electric guitar, I'm not even close to being qualified to play a $450 guitar, especially one that often goes for $600 on eBay due to it's rarity. Then the Craigslist ad went away and I settled for the $150 DC 59. And the boy was happy.

But not really.

Okay, I really was happy. I liked the DC59 plenty but it wasn't exactly a great player. And then a co-worker told me that the Craigslist ad came back. FOR $300!!! I am EXACTLY a $300 guitar player! The very next day, over my lunch, I met with the guy, gave the guitar an all-too quick look over, and handed over a wad of twenties.

Here it is! It's like a piece of modern art! After I spent an hour carefully cleaning everything (and spraying copious amounts of electronic contact cleaner into the switches to make them work reliably) it looks even better than in the picture (less dark, more sparkly). Even better, it plays like a dream and doesn't poke me in the chest!

So there I was with two Danelectro guitars in the house and only money for one. Fortunately Guitar Center has a 45 day return policy, even on used guitars! I couldn't believe it! It went back in a flash. The crazy thing is that if the guitar had been shipped on time I would have just missed the 45 day window. I'd say that was God giving me a tickle, which I need because right now I'm spiritually in cruise control. It just seems like nothing is happening and any prayers I toss up hit a lead ceiling. So this was a nice touch that He didn't have to do, a kind of "Hey kid, I'm watching out for you." Thanks, generous Diety!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Biscuits and Gravy Review : The Dash-In

The Dash-In has been around for at least twenty years. They sell over-priced sammiches at lunch and host live music in the evenings. You're almost guaranteed to see a hipster or two inside wearing flannel*. A full order of biscuits and gravy is a whopping eight bucks so I broke my own rule and just ordered a halfsie for a still whopping $4. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. It took twelve minutes before my food arrived and that place was NOT busy. There were other patrons, sure, but the place was far from capacity. I suppose one could Dash-In but you aren't going to be Dashing-Out any time soon.

When they finally brought my vittles this is what I got. Pretty, yes? The green onions are a nice touch, giving a nice zing of flavor when you chance upon one. That's about the only positive thing I can say. The biscuit, while large and homemade, had not been warmed. It tasted okay, though, and had a good non-gummy consistency. Slap some butter on it and throw it on the grill and it might have been the bomb-diggity.

As for the gravy, well, maybe my order had sat for a while waiting to be delivered to my table but it was barely past the warm stage. I think I had one bite that could be characterized as "hot." The meat was of a decent amount but it was pink/grey and had a strange texture. Maybe, being a hipster place, it was free-range goat meat. For as cold as it was I'm surprised that the gravy was not gelatinous, but it had an okay flavor with just a hint of spice. It was skimpy in volume, although I was able to make it stretch for the whole meal. Overall it was a disappointing experience and I'm glad I didn't throw away eight hard-earned dollars.

Biscuits - 4
Gravy - 4
Value - 3
Service - 2

As far as I know this will be the last Biscuits and Gravy review, unless some other place downtown adds them to their menu. It's been a good, albeit brief, run.

So how are they ranked?

Arbys : 7.25
Comfort Food Cafe : 7.0
Cindy's Diner : 6.75
Revitalize Health Bar : 5.25
City View Cafe : 4.75
Dash-In : 3.25

That's a little embarrassing... a fast food place won. Keep in mind that this ranking includes service and value. But what if I was rich and had ample time and ranked them based on just the food?

Cindy's Diner : 6.5
City View Cafe : 6.0
Arbys : 6.0
Comfort Food Cafe : 5.5
Revitalize Health Bar : 4.5
Dash-In : 4.0

That's a bit better. I've actually had a hankerin' for more B&G from City View and Comfort Food Cafe**, which in my mind speaks volumes for the quality of their food.

* Back in the late 90s, before there were hipsters, you would see guys wearing flannel shirts and whatever else was trendy with grunge fans. I guess they were hipsters before hipsters became hip.

** Until I went back and looked a the vomitous picture of Comfort Foods Barfcuits and Gravy. It really is somewhat off-putting.