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Entries in rick allen (5)

Wednesday
Jul152009

Rock Of Ages

My god the day has come when I wax nostalgic about the day—20 years ago today—when I bought my first piece of recorded music as a willful teenage act. It wasn't like a total act of rebellion or anything, but I guess it did seem to have some of that effect in my household. It wasn't the latest and greatest, most cutting edge stuff that all my school buddies were listening to that season. Nor was it even radical in its message. It wasn't protest music like maybe Kelli was listening to at that time. It was just what got the ball rolling for me.

Def Leppard's Pyromania.

Pyromania was already about six years old when I got to it. I remember some of the songs from their early days on the radio: Rock of Ages, Foolin', Photograph. Only earlier that year of 1989 I had a paradigm shift in my musical tastes, away from the straight pop sounds on the radio to the more classic rock and hard rock that KGB-FM was playing back then. All of a sudden, all sorts of songs that I had not heard in years erupted into my consciousness, and this included a number of tracks from Pyromania. A certain older brother-like friend named Ross Shekelton was the link; the hobby shop he worked at was the place I haunted for hours at a time every damned weekend for eight months straight, so he was pretty influential at that time. And, for me at the impressionable age of 15, he brought all sorts of new and exciting things. We'd always have KGB on the radio and when the Def Leppard songs were playing he'd mock Rick Allen and his one-armed drumming. This was amusing and intriguing, so the curiosity mounted. It led me to getting my copy of Pyromania one day at the Wherehouse music shop down the road from the Command Post hobby shop. What I never saw coming was that by the end of the summer, my model-building days were over and out. And more so, only a couple weeks later did I attend (and win) my final contest of the IPMS (International Plastic Modeler's Society). By the start of the school year, I dropped the models, picked up drum sticks, started buying a recording a week, and I was off and running. Yep, rock and roll was here to stay. It was quite a summer for me.

I basically began drumming in earnest because of Rick Allen. I've told this story here lots of times. What I don't think I ever told was the fact that I used to use empty 2-liter soda jugs as drumsticks in the weeks before I actually set up my hitherto unused drum kit and unleashed my fury all over that no-named Taiwanese POS kit. The folly with the soda bottles really had to do with the fat thud that results from playing them on the tops of thighs, something approximating the deep snare drum sound on Pyromania! As it turned out, they made a more immediately useful sound than did my funky old kit that I was years from learning how to tune worth a shit. I was far from understanding the massively processed sound that was Mutt Lange's production signature on that album and most other things he recorded in the 80s. Whatever works, man.

My copy of Pyromania was without much liner note information, and no lyrics. In the pre-internet era, I was stuck with just getting off on the music if it rocked my little soul. Enough of the songs did do just that, and as I began to play drums and could keep up, it held its own for a while as I duly learned my rock drumming sensibilities from this album. Now, the lyrics were never my strong suit. It was years before lyrics functioned as more than filler in most of the music I listened to. So I never really listened to songs to extract lyrics much. On the song, Action (Not Words), the chorus has a thick Mutt Lange wall of vocals shouting "Shock Me!" which I misheard for a long time as "FUCK ME!" And I was certain that my old man was going to hear it that way when at one point he announced later that year that he was going to listen to my growing music library and throw out whatever he found objectionable. So I feared for Pyromania. None of that PMRC shit ever happened, but I think it was still a while before I got the lyric right to that song.

It might be that I got my first cowbell to play some of the songs on this album. Prior to my first "proper" drumset cowbell, I used one of those touristy cowbells from Switzerland, much to my old man's chagrin, who was unduly fond on his bits of European artifacts, cheesy as they might have been. Mounting the tiny thing to my kit was a challenge, and it didn't have that deep "thwonk" sound that would give Christopher Walken-as-"THE Bruce Dickenson" wood. Eventually I gave up the toy cowbell for the first in a series of cowbells coinciding with my Neil Peart era. (Oh, Shelby is still making fun of me for my Neil Peart era, I just know it!)

By the end of the summer of 1989 I had the four DL albums thus far. I enjoyed Pyromania and Hysteria for sure, but never really got into the first two much at all. The cassette sleeve for Hysteria included an offer for a book that chronicled their story to that point, and like a dutiful fanboy, I bought it and immediately read it cover to cover. (I still have it even now, even after trying to put it in giveaway stacks, or threatening to put it on eBay.) Rick's story is still oddly compelling to me, and no matter how many times I think I know it, I still look at the opening chapter of the book to find out one more nuance about his accident and recovery. (Even as I write, a combination of factors might permit me to meet the guy in person. He lives in Los Angeles now, not in England. And a customer at my shop has a past life in concert and event production and has told me he is friends with Rick's tech or someone who knows the custom drum kit inside and out. I actually put the word in with this guy that I'd like to meet Rick once and for all, seeing how he uh, singlehandedly (sorry!) changed the course of my life. (I'm sure that's not why he got into the accident in the first place.)

Okay, so you have to start somewhere. Nothing Def Lep ever put out has deep consciousness or political edge to it. They provide entertainment, a soundtrack to your own drama or your Camaro customization progress. And indeed, upon hearing some of these songs, the movies of my life play at once. They make for an odd mix of images as I moved out of one phase and into others: plastic models and that world; drums; the summer that launched my earnest participation in church life; sophomore-junior years in high school; the last summer that I was under regular adult supervision. Pyromania certainly sounds dated now, but some of the songs—a bit goofy as they are—are still joys to hear. They are still excellent productions with a certain melodicism, depth and detail and dynamic range that a lot of music lacks now. Taken for what it is—a pop metal album—it is quite good. I don't have any albums from DL's clones who came in their wake—Bon Jovi, Poison, et al. Even though that stuff was in the air just the same as this album, for whatever reason they never captured me the same way. Maybe it is Rick and his transcendence of tragedy. Or maybe it is the cowbell on Foolin' or the Swedish chef voice on Rock of Ages. I don't know. But from this vantage point, it does what music should do: remind you of good times, who you were at those milestones in life. It also makes me want to rock. Now, about the fact that I haven't hit a drum in 16 months. Just say you need it, and if you need it say YEAH!

Monday
Mar232009

1989

It is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago now when a most remarkable year of my life took place. In many ways it was the year when I began to think that my own story had a flow and meaning to it, and perhaps the first year when I took any steps to document it at all in anything resembling a journal or calendar notes. Sure, there are bits from before that year, but in large part, there was a shift in this period—10th and 11th grade, 15/16 years old—and somehow things seemed important enough to weigh and consider. Certain characters and experiences laid the groundwork for those in years to come. It was a time of paradigm shift for me, as you would sort of expect of a person of that age. Here are some bits of the picture. I suppose I shall revisit this theme some more before the year is out.

I first heard the name Jethro Tull the day after the infamous Hard Rock/Metal Grammy award show that gave Tull the dubious honor in a complete upset over the odds-on winners Metallica or Jane's Addiction. Even Tull were embarrassed by the attention. So, the next morning, the radio show I was listening to then (the B-100 B Morning Zoo with the Rich Brothers) were mocking the win. I had no idea what was so funny about it all; I knew none of the characters they were talking about. It wasn't until maybe a week later when I somehow decided to try the leading rock station, KGB (which for some reason always seemed like it was a metal station before I gave it a go), that I eventually heard Tull's song Bungle in the Jungle, and the irony slowly dawned on me. I didn't like metal. I really didn't even know any of the classic metal repertoire, but it was pretty clear that Bungle wasn't metal! So the joke was sinking in. But before long, I heard a couple more Tull songs—new ones from their most recent album, intriguingly named Steel Monkey and Farm on the Freeway. Steel Monkey rocked more but it too didn't seem like metal. Farm on the Freeway captured my interest right away and I never stopped liking that song. But yeah, metal they were not!

So, I stopped listening to the pop music radio programming I had long listened to since I was about nine years old, and went with KGB and its hard rock/classic rock programming. All of a sudden, it came alive and I found myself reconnecting with some riffs that I had heard and liked but never knew how to find. I would do the obligatory recording-off-the-radio onto old tapes so I could absorb some favorites, and you can be sure that my fragmentary collection of Tull songs were on there. I think for a while I had no idea Tull were already a 20 year old band with a few hundred songs. After a while of expressing interest in them at the Command Post (hobby shop detailed below), an employee named Sara hooked me up with a cassette copy of the 20 Year of Tull set, which was a totally weird experience. I followed that by launching headlong into a collection of Tull music, a couple of  albums at a time. I had no idea how deep the well was, but I plunged in. Even now, I am still listening to some things in a serious way for the first time.

The Command Post was a hobby shop I used to frequent every weekend for months and months during my heyday of model building. I'd bike over there twice a weekend and spend all my free time there. I wasn't old enough to work legally, but my expertise and product knowledge scored me some free swag sometimes. I would also help stock things and fetch rolled tacos for whoever was working for the day. There was a pair of dudes who operated the shop then, and to them I owe the shift to rock music and all that it opened up for me. Ross Shekleton and Jim Kerr—both about 20 years old, and sort of like big brothers to me at the time. Ross was an Anglo-American guy, a history major and a prog rock geek who is directly responsible for me getting into Rush and Yes and not going down the path of Guns N Roses. He played up other prog acts, but his most memorable influence on me was his piquing my interest in Rick Allen of Def Leppard. He used to do a one-arm-behind-the-back mocking of Rick and I didn't get the joke till he explained that Rick was THE guy who bounced back to drumming after losing his arm. (I recalled a friend telling me that back around the time of the accident in 1985, but that had long slipped my mind till Ross brought it back in 1989.) I got intrigued by Rick and still am amazed at his determination after his accident. That led me to ask myself that summer, after rediscovering some Def Leppard I had not heard in years, what exactly is my excuse for not playing drums? After all, I had a set in the corner of my room for the last few years. Anyhow, in this shift to more rock oriented stuff, I also happened into Def Leppard, which set the stage for the next thing that led me into a totally new direction for years. My recording collection officially commenced with my purchase of Pyromania on July 15th of that year.

Ross Shekleton was influential in two ways. Initially, he egged me on to be a model building junkie, and then later on he set the stage for a musical identity that arose out of his prodding to listen to something more than the pop stuff I had been listening to. His influence was such that he is the one figure to straddle two sides of this lifestyle fence of mine. While I was still consumed with building models, I was getting really good at the craft. That summer of 1989 I entered a few of my pieces in the contest at the national convention of the International Plastic Modeler's Society (IPMS—sort of an unfortunate initialism, eh?) It happens the convention was in San Diego so it was easy for me to get to. I guess there was a small hometown advantage. After a year or two of sweeping a few quarterly contests of the local chapter (big fish in a small pond), I entered the national contest and did quite well, taking a Junior Best of Show and some others (Best Jr. Sci Fi for a radical mod of an F-14 Tomcat, and Best Jr. Armor and Best Jr. "Out of the Box"). Even there among national juniors who showed up, I was sort of a big fish in a small pond, but it was a fairer competition. Anyhow, I got my models pictured in the post-convention newsletter, and that was sort of my model building swan song. That contest was in July, but by October I was so into drumming that I had dropped model building altogether. The materials and half-finished models and the reference materials just got pushed aside not unlike the drumset once was when it fell out of favor in 1985 or so.

ed on drums, his first kit, back in 1989Me and my first kit in late 1989But I guess I am getting ahead of myself. It used to be that for a few summers between 1987-89 I went to my grandparents' house for the day while my old man was at work. Much of the time I was working on models outside in the patio area. In the first two years I was regarded as too young to ride clear across the three mile span of Clairemont between their house and mine, so usually I stayed put. But by 1989, I was free to do so, and one day rode back home earlier than usual and uncovered my drums, set them up, and dug out my old instruction books and tried to make heads and tails of the stuff. Of course, you can't be too discreet about playing drums, particularly when you play them as badly as I did in that period. But for a couple weeks in August—starting on the 15th—I clandestinely did what I could to read musical chickenscratch and discern how to play what I heard on recordings, and dammit to blazes, but my lessons had prepared me more than I realized! The main difference between my newfound interest and the old days of lessons was that back in 1984-5 I was not exposed to records and told to go listen and enjoy the music. It was just exercises issued me by my teacher, an older man who played many instruments and taught out of his general service music store. But now I heard the music and wanted to be a part of it, and with Rick Allen as my first influence, I wanted to prove that I could "come back" to the drums. A couple weeks later, after my old man's birthday dinner at Anthony's Restaurant, I "treated" him and the grandfolks to some of my tennis shoes-in-the-dryer playing. And I guess they pretended they liked it. Or maybe my grandmother was happy to see me finally playing after those years off. It was she who bought the drums and paid for lessons after all, only for me to give it all up after a few months once I had a kit!

In a parallel universe, another part of me was trying something new, and by far the influence of this is deep and long lasting. It seems sort of twee to consider what church was to me back then, but one has to start somewhere. My association with the church of my birth/baptism/youth was never consistent. I didn't ever go too regularly unless that was sort of required or convenient for an adult in my family. Most of my history is at the one church in Pacific Beach where my grandmother was among the founders, with most other churches being very short lived dabblings of my parents. But, about the end of 1988, I darkened their door more frequently, frankly because of a girl (more later), but because there seemed to be some community of folks who cared for me. My pastor Jerry had been there since early 1986, and so I already had some rapport with him, and indeed he had been highly concerned for me. But I was still sort of at a distance from the church until one time when the youth group leader-cum-associate pastor Judy took us to see Dead Poets Society and hosted a pizza dinner and discussion afterward. The theme of carpe diem left an impression on me. (Later that summer after the IPMS contest sweep, I pointed to carpe diem and had a fun time telling people how I seized the day, just as I was told!) That movie and discussion helped lead me to some feeling of fondness for the people involved, and I was persuaded to take part in the summer vacation bible study with them and members of another church from down the road. That was my social world for the next few months, really. It's funny how I can't remember a damned thing about what happened there as a bible study, but I remember the feeling of being among some good people who were preferable to my school scene. (Years later as a 28 year old, I would return to the church after a ten year gap and try to find that chemistry again, but it never quite worked out.) From that point on, in early July of 1989, I spent about a year and a half doing literally everything that I could at church. All the social, study, worship, workshop, youth and mixed fellowship and other gatherings that I had time to do, I did. It was in that time when I was introduced to the ideas of Martin Buber in an evening study group. Now, I have a dog that is named after him, but back then it was sort of exceptional to be the only 16 year old in a study group reading I and Thou. Jerry and Judy used to be quite supportive of all this, even picking me up to take me to some of these events. A number of folks opened their homes to me as well.

In that same summer I was part of the brainstorming effort to launch a group that Jerry and Judy thought was needed to address alienation among people my age, of which there were close to ten at the time. The so-called Shalom Group was created to keep peers in touch not only with each other, but also with a few well-chosen adults. There was a lot of dialog that was held in confidence so it was made to feel safe for us who were dealing with various of the problems of that age. The kickoff gathering was in the mountains and held over a weekend immediately before the school year started. It was a really magical time for me, and coming down the mountain and rejoining the "real" world was misery-making in a way that I guess Moses understood. Not all the meetings were so transcendent, but enough of them were, and there was a good trust that resulted. A certain new girl showed up and joined Shalom about a year after its founding. Her name was Kelli Parrish. She liked classic rock and even some of the Jethro Tull stuff I copied for her. The rest is history.

Suffice it to say, church was a profound experience for me, but it had its disappointments. As much as one would like to think of it as a different world than the one outside, it has its shortcomings because church people are of course a cross section of the population at large. At the time, I was a really uptight guy, and was not prepared to see my peers (barely into high school, and with the Shalom group barely formed by then) sneaking some beer at the church camp. It was a lot for me then. It was the first of many such disappointments with the church that unfortunately revealed themselves over many years—up to the present even—and a chain of instances which led me to leave the place a couple years back, but one where Kelli still participates. Anyhow, for consolation at such scandalous behavior as a group of teens cracking a beer in the camp cabin bathroom, I retreated to my bunk and listened to Jethro Tull. It was all I had at the time. It spoke to me somehow, and that was just one experience that led me to absorb Tull's music on more and more levels over the years. Disappointments aside, the church was a place that did me a lot of good. It was from those experiences that I never really too closely identified with my peers or some who were younger, except Kelli who turned up later on. In this period of church life, I associated with people who were 40 something and older. Then later on, I found that many of them were alcoholics in their own right, and in some ways, even some of my most respected figures were among them. But let me not soil the image they had for the naive 16 year old me back then. They were some of my most trusted relationships then. Ignorance was bliss.

It is true that I met my wife at church, but over a year and a half before we met in the middle of 1990, there was one girl who came to church and was cause for a lot of hope and vexation for years to come. Shelby was a friend of Judy's daughter Jennifer. Shelby dropped in a few times in December of 1988 and totally lit up my world at the time. She was an odd bird for sure. She wasn't really interested in religion except as an anthropologist would be, or perhaps a comparative religions student. I had no understanding of the stuff myself back then so she was a total mystery to me except that on one evening a week before Christmas, we were at someone's party and we got to talking, and for the 15 year old me to talk to a girl-peer was heady stuff! I guess the feeling was one of acceptance as she listened to what I had to say. Considering I dressed like a dork (not of my own choosing, I assure you), and she came off looking like an angel to me then, it truly was something new to behold. Anyhow, for a few weeks in early '89 (months before the whole summer experiences with DPS and VBS) I was sure to get to church to have a chance to talk to her again. We talked on the phone too, but she was from a different school and therefore a different world. I don't even know how to sum up what we had in common because it seemed so little. But she was nice to me and that was a leap ahead like no other. You can imagine the hope.

That little fantasy lasted for about two months and seemed to come crashing down at around the time of Valentine's day, or maybe it was because of the idea to go to Balboa Park and see some museums, among which—the Aerospace Museum—had on display a model of mine. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel like going to church for several months and she totally dropped off the radar for a few months till later in the summer as the youth group was planning a youth service in September. From that time on, she was a total enigma to me, and an emotional rollercoaster for me as I tried in vain to figure her out—for the next 11 years! The few weeks before the youth service were spent with a couple planning meetings with Shelby and Jennifer and a couple others, had over pizza and soda at Round Table. It was different at least, and I don't think I mentioned models anymore because by then I had shifted my allegiance to the gods of percussive thunder anyway. (The shift to music didn't automatically increase my cool quotient, but if I was relying on Shelby for validation, I could die first. For years to come she routinely gave me shit for listening to Rush and having Neil Peart posters.) The day of the youth service was a fulcrum moment for she and I. I knew she was at church to sort of just give herself exposure to Christianity while not really liking any of it, or seemingly not liking any religion, having been raised with an atheist mom and agnostic grandmother. Judy had been beaming about the service to some folks after church and was heard to say that she was proud of her "investment" in the kids. Hearing this, Shelby flew off the handle, stormed off, and as far as I know, was not seen there again. Later on, she got all political on me (her consciousness for this sort of thing was astounding at even that age) and was angry at the term "investment" being applied to impressionable young people. I think she was a bit severe; I think anyone else understood Judy was making a compliment and expressing pride in her experiment. Shelby's semanticism didn't tarnish my fondness for Judy and her impact on me.

That division between wishing to understand Shelby and participate in church life was in the mean time met with the decision to remain connected to the church. Later on most of the decade to come was spent more in some pursuit of Shelby and away from church altogether, only to reverse itself in that amazing period of 2000-2001 when the whole Shelby thing crashed down in a single day. But, for a while during the remaining period of high school I held them in tension, often to face some ridicule from Shelby who was more and more aggressive in badmouthing the church life I led. Later on, most of what my life was like was badmouthed. I guess maybe I should have learned to let it go back then. I have said for years now that everything I needed to know about her was learned in the first two years. It was a far cry from the seeming acceptance that started it all off. Oh well.

By the second half of 1989 the components were in place: Jethro Tull, drumming, Shelby, church life, a shift away from models and the interest in military machinery. It was far from the multiinstrumental, Jesus-loving, peacenik-Democrat, naked-biking, domestic wife/dog family man I am now, but it was a first step. Or maybe it was a bunch of first steps, all taken at once with a bunch of left feet!

I found myself doing pretty horribly in the first semester of my junior year in high school. After all, the start of my drumming, the fateful youth service and complicated quasi-relationship with Shelby, the start of Shalom group, and my plunge into Tull collecting all happened within a few weeks of each other. I spent all my allowance on Tull cassettes (and got my first CD player for Christmas that year). I really had no idea what I was getting into with that music, but even still, I was pitching them to church peers nonetheless, and finding no one to share my deep and abiding love for the band (so you see it was amazing when Kelli came along the next year and sort of took the bait). I was so into playing drums that fall that for a few weeks I had my kit in the living room, and in order to stay close to them and play whenever possible, I actually did my homework on them—literally, upon the drum heads! The only class I distinctly remember hating was a chemistry class, but I soon got transfered to a biology class and got along a lot better. I guess I hated my math class too, and by 11th grade I must have already been repeating algebra. The school scene was all so shallow to me compared to my life outside. Social life in the school setting was something to be endured for five days while as much of my own time was spent trying to do something associated with church, if it's a social life we're considering. All of that did pave the way for the church to elect me as a deacon the following year, at the tender age of 16. The year of 1989 was an interesting time of finding new stuff to do, but by May of the following year, I felt overwhelmed and was about to have my first brush with depression, coincidentally about the same time as I began my first job—at the Command Post!

Yeah, this is skipping into the next year a bit, but it is interesting to behold. The Command Post used to be paradise on earth when I went there as a sycophantic kid on his bike. But I got the invitation to work there (albeit at a new location where I had helped them move to in the summer of '89) in April of 1990, basically on Easter weekend if I remember right. I had always been cautioned not to get drawn into working on Sundays. And here I was, getting called in to fill in at the counter one Sunday when no one else would work. The world got complicated all of a sudden. This was months after I had stopped building models, so already I was a bit ambivalent about the place and the personalities, particularly after Ross left. The new location didn't have the funky charm of the old one. But somehow, I ended up working there for a few months in 1990. These days, I am far more defensive about not working on Sundays, and feel cheated and sold out when I do get suckered into it. Back then, despite the church life I led, I didn't fancy myself religious per se, but I think that doing commercial work on Sunday, even sometimes, was a crack in the wall that pointed me away from my meaningful social life, particularly a year later still in 1991 when I worked at Subway and didn't get home till 1:30 am on Sunday morning—hardly making it easy to get to church life at 9 am. Subway pretty much was the wedge that kept me from church long enough to forget it for a decade. Among the circumstances that led me back years later were developing more of a relationship with Kelli and a massively empty work schedule in the post-9/11 period.

There was another mildly interesting subplot to the year of 1989, and that was the matter of all things German. I started taking German in tenth grade after a summer of dabbling but more so once I realized the connection between it and early forms of English. The school years included my first and second level German language classes. The second year level was in the fall of '89 and was actually an independent study. I was the only one who took the second year course that year. Jerry, pastor from church, had taken German a long time back to help with his theological studies so that he could get more from certain of his theological heroes. He sort of egged me on with the subject but always joked that I was much better at it. For years afterward, he consulted me on pronunciation. One of the extracurricular church events in 1989 included a local concert which featured this remarkable bass vocalist who sang in German. (It was a little surprising because he was a black man. But have you ever heard a black bass soloist fill an old church? The richness of tone! Ahhh.) I talked to the guy afterward and asked him if he spoke German, and he said he didn't really know any at all. Hah!

All this makes for a backdrop to be excited for the news of what was going on in the world at the time. This was of course the season when the old Eastern European Soviet bloc began to crumble and Germany was among the first to throw off the old regime. My old man seized upon the moment to go to Berlin and actually take some hammer swipes at the Berlin Wall in the midst of all the crowds that were there in the last week of 1989. I know he had a pen-friend/love interest at the time who lived there and set him up for this particular trip, so that was justification enough, but I think the historical import finalized the scheduling. He brought home a bit of the wall and it was quite a piece of show-and-tell that season. Upon reflection of all that has happened since, he seems to be better at putting walls up than taking them down, though I guess it is a feather in his cap that he helped bring the Berlin Wall down. He can tell that story. I will tell mine.

Good as that experience was for him, I remember that Christmas being one of the turning points of fractured family experiences for the holidays. I spent it with my grandparents and doing whatever was available through the church family. At Christmas Eve dinner with my grandparents, in a cheesy family diner that is now replaced by an Outback Steak House, I remember enthusiastically enumerating all the instruments I knew Ian Anderson of Tull to have played on Tull records. I barely knew what a sopronino sax or balalaika was! I may as well have been speaking Mandarin to them. Or maybe Mandolin. Whatever.

So that's what is on my mind about my experience that year. The rest is details. But I wouldn't want to bore you with details. Not at TAPKAE dot com!

Saturday
Jan012005

Def Leppard

These dudes still bring a smile to my face. Rick Allen is still my hero. Pyromania was the first recording I ever bought with my own money because I wanted it.

Tuesday
Oct122004

Superman, Supermen

Now I wasn't a stark raving mad fan of Superman, though of the superhero set, he was my favorite. I did have a Superman shirt but I don't believe I had any other superhero shirts. I don't recall reading any of the comics, but if there were cartoons of Superman, I would have watched them. I don't think I ever saw any one of the movies more than a time or two, and maybe not even all of them once. I wasn't a rabid fan, but Superman was my guy. Then again, typically, I am not particularly outspoken, especially as a kid. But I guess if there was any childhood hero, Superman may have been mine.

But I winced in grief when I heard that Chris Reeve got hurt nine years ago. You know, Superman is supposed to be indestructible, and here he was, broken. The cult of Superman personality had waned for me by the time I was 21 or 22 but I still remember thinking it was a damned shame that it would happen to Reeve. Even if he wasn't Superman, he was still an impressive human being, at the very least in his physical figure. We don't like to think that strong, well-built, active people can be reduced to such a fate so easily. It makes the rest of us look bad. Superman is so much a part of our national psyche, I think we all winced at the news of his accident. It's sad that it would happen to anyone, but poignant that it would happen to the man who was supposed to be indestrucible.

But then we also knew it was good old Chris Reeve and not his superhero persona who was hurt. I didn't follow his post-accident life much more than I did before then, but when I checked in or heard stuff on the radio or TV, I always paid attention. In 2002 or so, I was listening to NPR when he was on Fresh Air or some other lengthy inteview. He was talking about how he could move his finger and could feel touch, pinpricks, and a few other sensations. Everyone who had anything to say about it proclaimed his progress a miracle. Of course anyone in his position who would achieve that would be deemed a miracle, and it would be fascinating, but this was Superman on the mend! He was even talking about being able to walk again. Even if he wasn't the Man of Steel, he was the Man with the Will of Steel, and you can't knock that.

If I were an aspiring actor, Reeve may have been my hero like Rick Allen was to me in my early days of drumming. Both are really inspiring to me, but Rick was my direct personal hero. I think Viktor Frankl would be damned proud of these guys. I guess you find the strength to go on after such massive setbacks, but it is hard to imagine how to conquer the situation when it is not your reality. Rick Allen and Chris Reeve are celebrity figures though; both of them at least had some ability to pay for the best treatment that money could buy, and could find ready supporters of their causes, or just in their daily lives. But now I have to think of less fortunate people who are now in their shoes and aren't nearly as influential or known.

It brings me great sadness to realize how many of our soldiers are coming home with missing limbs, or nerve damage, or some even para- or quadriplegic. Some will come home to an underfunded VA hospital, or will commit suicide, or will have wives that divorce them and take the kids. These guys are not going to get the popular reception that awaited a recovering Chris Reeve or Rick Allen. I don't dismiss the progress of Chris or Rick, but for a moment, let's say they are the same as any other who have lost use of all or part of their bodies. Their traumas are great as they are, but let me imagine the mental anguish of one of our soldiers, or of any soldier, who has not only become disabled or disfigured, but also has seen numerous buddies die (survivor's guilt), and at the same time, a government that sent them to this for a lie, and on top of that, has cut benefits and pay for servicemen. These soldiers don't stand much of a chance, their trauma has been piled on so high. It just hurts me to think of the injustices done to them. And for the most part, they struggle on like all the other soldiers have done, with a dogged belief that they fought and gave to a cause they believed in.

But does the cause believe in them?

One of the most devastating scenes in Fahrenheit 9/11 is the part at the VA hospital, where we see armless, legless, and nerve damaged soldiers who just don't know why they gave what they gave. They went in good faith and with the best of intentions but were not given the degree of attention they deserve for doing the World's Dirtiest Job. There is more to Iraq than death tolls. The dead ones are almost the lucky ones (not to say their families are). Chris Reeve had clout that no US soldier except maybe Pat Tillman would have, and he's dead. What the government is doing now is so wrong. Going to war for a lie is wrong, getting maimed is more wrong, but whittling down soldier's pay and benefits is just downright evil, especially in the context of other people getting rich off the war. Some of these guys are going to make something of their lives, but what about the dude who lost both arms? It's hard to go to college when you can't write or hold a book.

It makes me sick.

So farewell Chris Reeve, Superman. I hope you set something into motion while you were here. Our next president just said you were a great inspiration and center of a key movement that could really do some good. I know there will be some soldiers looking for meaning in life, with their careers being cut short due to the loss of their body's full functionality. I hope they get to know you and your story and what hope really is. I hope they decide to go home from the hospital and become another great soul in the world, maybe a Max Cleland who knows what sacrifice is, but didn't give up. I hope they go home and are as determined to be good husbands and fathers like they once set out to be patriotic and determined fighters. Say a prayer that people don't forget them and their cause.

Friday
Aug152003

August

It was 14 years ago this afternoon that I began my entry into being a musician. Or more specifically, out of the will to do so. I was summering during the days at my grandparent’s house (same as where I live now) that year. Earlier in the year, I got into listening to the local rock station, after some prodding from my older brother-like buddy Ross Shekelton. I got into listening to Def Leppard and Jethro Tull that year. Those are the two main reasons I began to play drums after about four or five years of not doing anything with the kit I had, that had just been stacked in a corner for that time. This time around, the difference was, I felt the music, and I wanted to play. My drum teacher back in the mid 80s was an older man, and he had me reading out of a book of popular rock and pop rhythms that I later discovered were Beatles tunes, and some other classic 2 & 4 backbeats we all know and love now. But he never did whatever it took to make music come to life. He never said I should listen to music, so to me it was always just a matter of reading some notes off a page. No feeling, no dynamics, nothing. He played a Rhodes piano to help give context to my drum playing, but I really didn’t get anything from it.

So, after about four or five years of not playing, and finally being a 15 year old discovering music in a visceral fashion, one Tuesday afternoon, I rode from my grandparent’s place back home to my dad’s and without actually announcing my plans, put together the drum kit and opened up the book I used years before and tried to read some of the stuff that had been so tediously worked over (but that never sank in). There was some shorthand numbering that we had written in over the notes, and I think that actually helped, but even more so was finally wanting to play, and wanting to play because music had spoken to me. Rick Allen of Def Leppard was my first musical hero, being the guy who let nothing get in his way, even losing his arm in a car accident wasn’t enough to make him stop playing the drums. And I, a little ashamed of my quitting long before, asked myself, ‘what is my excuse, if he can play with one arm?’ Realizing that I really had no excuse, I started spending some time with tapes of my extremely limited music “collection” started only a month before and featuring the four Def Leppard albums and various artists on tapes made from the radio!

My dad worked days, and I wasn’t really too good on drums, and really wanted no one to know that I was trying to get back into things, so I stopped shortly before he got home and made like nothing had happened. But after about two weeks of this clandestine work, I announced it at his birthday party, while my grandfolks were there. I thought they’d be happy to find that I was finally using the drums that they had paid for years before. (About as soon as I actually got them, I quit some short time later.)

That was 14 years ago. Among other August dates that sort of got lodged in memory include the 13th, specifically back in '94 when I got my green drums, and met a girl at a band party on a really humid summer night. The drums are still here, and the girl, well, after years of giving me an emotional rollercoaster ride both inside and outside of the relationship that started on that night, we are friends to a degree, but can’t really do much with that because our past is too troubling. That has certainly been an adventure. She is the only girl I got on account of being a rock star (ahem!). I can’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

August 13 did triple duty in the music gear buying department: in addition to the drumset in 1994, 1997 saw my getting the VS 880, which utterly changed my recording life, and started a real long creative streak that lasted for about 3 years. A couple years later, on the same date in 1999, I got my Mesa Dual Rectifier amp that was a game changer and led to the work that became Receiving.

August 26th, 1996 was the day I moved out of my dad’s place in two hours. Everything I had got moved in two hours. It was one of the worst days of my life. The matter isn't that I moved. I knew it was time to do so at the age of 22. But it was the father-induced circumstances that made it a horrible time.

August 10, 1993 saw the dissolution of my erstwhile drum-vocal duo Rhythmic Catharsis with my buddy Matt. He stiffed me when we were going to do a show together. Absolutely didn’t show up. I was pissed. Three days later, I told him I never wanted to see him again for that little antic. Eventually that passed and we got back in the saddle as friends, but still on an on-off basis for the time since.

August 10, 1997 saw me running into an old “friend” in the most unlikely of circumstances after over two and a half years of utter silence. At the time, I took it as a Godsend. But I have since considered it a grave misfortune.

August 10, 2001 is when I bought this computer I use. It was my first after years of avoiding computers for any number of reasons. On that same day, I went to my ten year high school class reunion.

And this year... There isn’t much going on of the musical kind. I have packed up my gear and left it out of sight for the most part. Only an acoustic guitar remains, with some things left out and ready, but not enough to carry on as I have for years. Somehow, it's just feeling wrong to me to have my musical activities curtailed like this. It's not something that came easily, but carrying on like I was was taking me nowhere. Time for some change. I have found some value in watching movies recently, and I have gathered a list of flicks to see after ignoring movies for many years. I also am interested in some more visual art, both as viewer and participant. I signed up for three classes at Mesa College, the ever popular junior college here in San Diego that I used to go to, but stopped—TEN YEARS AGO! I just needed time off then, from school, to sample the real world, to do different stuff, meet people, maybe do music more, etc. Well, that hiatus from school stretched on much longer than I thought it would, but now I feel that it's time I got back to some classes and back on the road to a degree. Life has been channeling me toward it, little by little for all that time. I really believe in the lessons of doors closing and opening. Maybe music needs to take a back seat to other things, the same as going to school did a decade ago. The time off from school did allow me to find things of interest and passion, something that was lacking back as a recent fresh face just out of high school. Matters of politics, religion, psychology, history, art, social fabrics are all congealing in some way within me, and maybe school will help some of that along, among other benefits, tangible and intangible. I just feel it's time to act on that, after a rather prolonged absence, but one that needed to happen, so as to deliver me to this point.

I just want to say hi to a few friends who make life better. When I listen to them, that is.

Doug Duhon: multiinstrumentalist, artist, home repairman, general renaissance man, and a buddy I have never talked to or met face to face, but feel I have known for ages, thanks to the web. So far Doug is the best success story from my countless hours on the web.

Jerry Lawritson: minister and friend of 16 years, and a man worth listening to.

Kelli Parrish: an angel.

And a certain feller who ran around with a bunch of freaks in the desert about 2000 years ago... We’re getting to be better buddies too.