Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, it's a book that details the fears and often intense agony writing (primarily novels/stories) can involve, with anecdotes and excerpts from famous authors and books. It's a fantastic read that I go back to often, especially since I began the process of writing my novel in January which has involved almost every emotion in the spectrum so far.

For me, coming up with ideas and plodding along through dialogue, has never been a difficult endeavor. That's not to say the story and language is brilliant-not by a long shot-but instead the words themselves just flow with ease. When I go back and re-read some of what I've written I am usually overcome with several waves of nausea, regret, embarrassment, shame and many times erupt into fits of laughter. "Did  I really describe a frolicking puppy that way??" My eyes will go over the words of a particular passage and question how I could have ever described an action as I have. What led me to choose such ridiculous words, bland colors, clich├ęd expressions? At this point I usually delete an entire paragraph and start watching You Tube videos about dumb things humans do to themselves or how to build a boat out of water bottles and twigs.

Writing can be a laborious process-of course, it's not meant to be wall to wall joy and there will be moments when the words we string together aren't the most eloquent choices we might have made. However, why does it seem that sometimes it's an exercise in utter brutality? Why are we such relentless and unforgiving critics of ourselves when often we will read someone else's work and not notice or be as bothered?

Doubt.

It really is no more complex than that, in my opinion. Unless we are a sociopath, it's human nature to question the brilliance, complexity and beauty of what we create. We feel inferior to others who work within our realm-in some cases justly-and our fears of criticism and exposure as a phony dominate our working minds as we soldier through various projects. Writing is often exposing an open wound to the world, revealing secrets long kept or recounting traumatic, painful events-we want to accurately if not poetically illustrate these while not making light of them. As the words hit the paper sometimes they sound trite and overused, and other times too contrived and convoluted. So, after reading and editing what we've done we begin to question everything and assure ourselves it's crap and that nobody would want to read it. Of course, considering there's a chance it IS crap and nobody would want to doesn't make the process any easier.

Let's assume, however, that the reason we all write-or at least most of us-is because we end up being fond of the results of our efforts. The story, novel, etc., we craft offers us a release and a catharsis-an outlet for those pent up feelings that have remained dormant for so many years, and it feels good to let it out. Is the pleasure worth the pain, in the end, then?

Absolutely.

When we write, we are the architects of our world, the programmers of language and the artists who use their keystrokes to paint landscapes unlike any other that have existed on paper. Will those words be "better" than Tolkien, King, Rowling or Hemingway? In my case, highly unlikely, but they will be my words, said buy no one before me nor anyone after. When writing, we can devise character flaws, conflict, speech affects, relationships, personalities and sub plots like no one has previously. We can begin with an idea and embellish it with our own unique world view, character traits, opinions and desires and transform it into a tale that's never been told; think about the power in that. We can be the intelligent designers of our own universe.

Writing is terrifying, frustrating and torturous, but it's also euphoric, liberating and invigorating. The pain we endure while working through the process is often overwhelming but it's easily quelled by holding a finished piece of work in our hands-something we created-and knowing it's never been done before. Whether the words were always the perfect choice or the story the most compelling ever told is irrelevant because it is ours. When I finish each chapter of the novel I'm working on, I read it back, make a few notes and then lean back in my chair and grin a little, because even though it will still need tweaks and rewrites, I wrote it. Then I generally start sobbing, shotgun a beer, beat myself with a sock full of pennies as I call myself a loser, standing in my Wal-Mart sweatpants before I fall asleep curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.

Then I get up the next day and do it all over again. I wouldn't have it any other way :)

-DAA

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tree House Brewing Company




I have spent many a morning and afternoon waiting in line for concerts tickets "back in the day", prior to having anything/everything available for purchase on the Internet. The anticipation, the excitement, the uncertainty that accompanied each step forward towards the ticket window. It was entirely possible you could line up two hours early and then get to the window only to be met with a "Sorry, Sold Out" sign, dejected, depressed and ticket-less and forced to head home to listen to Van Halen's latest album in your room as you wept gently. I'm not saying I ever did this-twice-but it's been known to happen.

As I've grown older, (and the aforementioned world wide web has made virtually everything accessible without lines), my willingness and desire to wait in line for anything has all but evaporated. I was standing behind three people at Target to buy Band Aids recently, Band Aids that I desperately needed as my thumb was bleeding at a steady clip after a tragic tennis ball can opening event, and I decided to bail because it was too annoying. I let my thumb bleed into a Dunkin Donuts napkin for three hours until it fully clotted-spilling over onto my steering wheel, J. Garcia tie, work shirt, pants, Iphone case...all because the prospect of standing in that line was too daunting, and I am somewhat of an idiot. However, every week for the last three months, usually several times a week, I stand in line on average for twenty plus minutes to buy beer.

It's almost unfair to even call the liquid I wait in line for every week 'beer" as it's so much more than that. The fact that Busch Light and Keystone are technically referred to as beer along with what I'm in line for every week is all but blasphemy. There is beer all over this great land and this planet-some of it excellent-but there's a vast disparity between what some folks call beer and what awaits me at the end of my weekly line. 

Tree House Brewing Company is located up a hill and at the end of some curvy and bumpy roads in the woods of Monson MA. They are approximately thirty five minutes from my office, I often encounter traffic on the way up, I routinely dodge squirrels, potholes and apparently suicidal birds that enjoy dive-bombing my car but I would continue to make this trip even if the roads were lined with glass, dragons and landmines. See, Tree House makes beer, technically, but they are crafting beer that's so far and above everyone else that a new moniker is really deserved. I mean, I can paint and some of it looks pretty good to me but the Sistine Chapel it is not so to label my work as "a painting" is almost ludicrous. I do slap together a lovely apples & bananas sitting in a bowl though. You'd be impressed, kinda.

Tree House got it's start, as the story goes, when Brew master Nate Lanier received a Homebrew kit from his girlfriend and started making beer that was probably 88000% better than I could make after ten years and reading 900 beer books. He then moved his operation into his buddy Damien Goudreau's barn that rested on his new home in Brimfield MA and before long everyone on Earth was declaring him a genius and wanted his beer. That may be a slight exaggeration but only by a smidge, which you fully understand  if you've tried the concoctions this kid and his team put out every week. I rent a barn from my friend too but I use it to practice cartwheels and store my Hong Kong Phooey action figures. Very doubtful anything genius level is gonna come out of that barn.

Nate and the folks at Treehouse have been making their nectar out of the current location in Monson since 2012, and I am almost embarrassed how late to the party I am. I have always loved beer and have made a concerted effort to sample brews from a variety of breweries but somehow, up until the last few months, I had missed out on Treehouse. I had heard the name mentioned by several friends and seen them praised in various blogs and publications but I was young, brash and impetuous and I was very tardy in sampling their goods. I blame Obama. Or maybe it was George Bush or the terrorists or Wilford Brimley-it really doesn't matter-I was late in hitching to the Tree House bandwagon but I am now making up for lost time. Waiting in line three times a week!

Let's get real here for a second...there should be lines for Tree House beer. There should be lines from the front door all the way to Canada. They only sell what they make at their location in Monson and it's so far superior to every other fermented liquid that instead of complain about the lines I wait in each each week I do cartwheels that I even have the opportunity to be there, and not just in my friends barn! The line itself  is an event at Tree House, as I have met a multitude of great individuals who not only love their beer but either brew themselves or plan to. I have become friendly with other locals who have helped school me on the intricacies and science of the brewing itself. I've run into former and current co workers and friends that I had no idea shared the deep affinity for Tree House that I do; the location has become a place of commerce, camaraderie and conversation-and it's an absolute joy.

From the moment you arrive in Monson at the brewery, you're met by very helpful and courteous dudes that are staffing the numerous parking lots and ushering you in. However, when you park your car and begin the walk-run to get in line at Tree House your mind sort of loses the ability to notice your surroundings other than it's most basic survival instincts to avoid walking into a ditch, tripping over a feral cat or attending a Justin Bieber concert, so these poor folks are sadly and unfairly overlooked. I commend them for their jovial attitudes, brilliant flag waving ability and adaptability to some severe temperature changes over the seasons. When you bolt out of your car and start the walk down to get in line, you watch the others shuffle through the main lot to get in line and you intermittently loathe and adore them. Part of you grows angry as you see that you don't have the angle to get ahead of them from across the street so they will likely be inside Beerapalooza  before you and tasting the day's fresh batch sooner, while the other half adores them for their dedication and worship of Tree House that you share in tandem. No matter which emotion wins out, by the time you're in line it's all smiles and brotherhood and giddiness as you know that taste bud euphoria won't be far off...

When you finally get through the door of Tree House, it's as though you've arrived at the culmination of a lifetime's recurring dream. You're inside a sanctuary that's equal parts pleasing wood grains, aromatic teases for the nose and warm, friendly attitudes. The staff inside the brewery are so accommodating, cheerful, and welcoming that you almost feel like you're at a family reunion and these are your cousins-the ones that aren't' idiots-serving you the beer. Of course, the treats at this reunion cost money but if my relatives invited me to a party every week and made anything that tastes half as good as what Tree House is cooking up I would happily fork over my hard earned dollars to them! On one side sit the numerous taps where Growlers are filled and retail glassware is sold and the other rests the tables where the cans are put in cardboard packages and sold to the eager patrons in line. Behind the can line you see the massive stainless steel tanks that assist in bringing the magic Tree House nectar to life, if not a few of the staff checking levels or cleaning or posing for a goofy picture; the atmosphere and vibe inside this place is second to none-everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and eager to be there-it's infectious.

Someone said to me recently, "Dude, it's just beer," after I explained where my weekly trips were taking me and the excitement and joy that accompanied it. After I berated him, screamed and then grappled him to the ground in anger, I took a few deep breaths and pulled myself together and tried to enlighten him in a way I will echo now...

Yes, Tree House Brewing Company is just making beer, as it's defined by it's primary ingredients of Water, Hops, Barley and Yeast. However they are making exceptional, delicious, superior beer at their location and they are doing it with a smile on their faces while hundreds and hundreds of patrons wait to be served each week. They have created a demand with their limited availability but unlike many other items that are hard to obtain, Tree House not only lives up to the hype, it surpasses it by leaps and bounds. These folks are crafting a product that is artisanal and without peer, and they are doing it with patience, love and an intense focus on quality over quantity. They are bringing people together, making people happy as they lick their lips while also acting as a conduit for others to forge new relationships. Tree House is a destination and a state of mind and not just a brewery or beer. It is an escape from the familiar, the mundane and the common. It's an experience that-for a short time while you're there or as you savor it sip by sip-that removes you from some of the darkness in your own world or the greater one. Tree House is the treehouse we all wished we could build and enjoy as adults but never got around to because jobs, kids, life and an inability to brew anything close to what Nate Lanier is capable of got in the way. Tree House is our happy place.



I don't pretend to know even ten percent of what some of the "beer snobs" of the world do and I have yet to even attempt to brew my own beer, but I have taste buds that luckily have not been completely eradicated by the $9/case ________Light beers I used to drink as a younger lad. When I taste beers from Tree House my mouth does it's own cartwheels and my entire face feels like it's having a New Years Eve party. This is not the reaction any beer(s) prior have ever induced and I know it's something special, as do thousands and thousands of others across New England and this country...and beyond. When you add in the amiable personalities and attitudes of the staff it makes Tree House a destination that has really has no equal. I would love to keep singing the praises of this incredible brewery but I need to check their website and see what they will be canning tomorrow as well as make room in my fridge. Luckily, said fridge is stocked with 90% Tree House beers, along with milk, the occasional and random meat product as well as a generous sized can of whipped cream- and because the beer doesn't last long-I will have plenty of room to add my newest bounty this week!

Do yourself a favor and make your way up to Tree House Brewing Company in Monson Mass and allow your taste buds and soul to be happy. You won't be disappointed, and if you are then you're obviously mental so please don't go back. In the meantime, please feel free to check out some of my "reviews" of Tree House Beers on YouTube, including my current favorite, King JJJulius. They are irreverent, ridiculous and odd but the affinity shown for Tree House beers is absolutely sincere. Tomorrow is Wednesday and they are open so I need to go practice cartwheels so stop reading this and leave me alone. 

I love you all,

-DAA

http://treehousebrew.com/ is located at 160 East Hill Rd - Monson MA 01057. They are in the process of opening a larger location in Charlton MA in 2017.




Thursday, May 5, 2016

Stand Up. Sit Down. Shut Up.

The origins of Stand Up comedy are sometimes disputed. There are those who believe it has its roots in the United Kingdom as early as the 18th Century and then there are those like myself that believe it began when Mort Sahl began performing at the hungry i in San Francisco. I don’t really believe that, but WikiPedia mentions him a lot tied to Stand Up’s beginnings and I have always adored the name “Mort”. You must have to be really fucking funny if you have a name like “Mort” because there are very few scenarios where a chick would want to get naked for a dude with that name.

“Hi, gorgeous, my name is Mort and…” She’d have her lady bits in lock down before she even glanced down at the sweater vest.

Stand Up comedy-and more specifically the comedian’s themselves-have always fascinated me. I have written in the past about the admiration I have for the truth they expose through their work, the fears, flaws, insecurities, and sometimes perversions (see: Jim Norton) but it’s not only their truth that intrigues me, it’s their lies. Comedians-especially the exceptional ones-are brilliant storytellers that can craft an epic tale out of even some of the most mundane experiences we human beings are involved in, often filled with fabrication and exaggeration. I once watched a middle aged comic in San Diego tell a seven minute story about opening his mail when he was laid up with a shoulder injury that was one of the funniest bits I have seen yet was filled with obvious bullshit. It’s the method comics employ to inject fantasy into reality that differentiate the good comic from the geniuses. Colin Quinn, in my slightly biased opinion, is the most talented comedian working today and blends these elements of reality and fantasy perfectly. Before those who know me bitch and moan it’s because he’s my best friend* let me elaborate…

Colin has no trouble accepting the label he’s often given as a “Comedians Comedian”, which essentially means he’s been around so fucking long that he sort of gets that title based on age and experience alone-the pseudo Godfather of the Stand Up comedy family. In truth he deserves the title as he’s one of the best there is for reasons well beyond age and achievements. Colin WORKS at his craft. He is always writing and performing and is unafraid to expose his newest work to a live audience.  I saw him at the Village Underground in NYC earlier this week and he had more notes on stage than I bring on a first date**. He bounced around, in his typical manic, mumbling, rushed fashion, between topics as diverse as Greek Philosophers to the “Asshole” friend we all have that takes pride in being a shithead. I won’t reveal the specific details of the bits as I plan to steal them all and use them in my own act but there were some real gems in there. One of the highlights of the night was that he billed the show with the theme “The Impermanence of Things” but then proceeded to tell the audience when he first hit the stage that he did so to dissuade dummies from coming out to the show, as it was possibly too cerebral for them. Colin has never enjoyed performing to an audience of beer swilling tough guys and inebriated co-eds as his act is more for the “thinking man” anyway, but Monday night at the Comedy Cellar he went on stage for about an hour in front of myself and other beer swilling dolts and we all loved the shit out of it. A comedian like Colin Quinn, in truth, could perform anywhere. His timing, charm, quick wit and sharp mind can adapt to any environment he’s performing in; he’s like a Chameleon of Mirth.


So recently I started performing Stand Up comedy myself, or at least decided to revisit it after a few feeble attempts over ten years ago. Sure, it’s primarily been at Open Mics and I haven’t ever been on stage more than about seven minutes at a clip but ya have to start somewhere. I am one of those assholes that (as Colin hilariously pointed out Monday night) that occasionally likes to be a shithead just for sport but entwined within my ball busting is a decent wit, a versatile mind and a dash of charm. I am at least funnier than all my friends and family and ninety eight percent of the people I meet so venturing into Stand Up comedy was really a no-brainer. Here’s the problem though: I kinda stink. Oh I get laughs, I have even had a decent amount of praise after getting off stage several times which is always appreciated, but I know I am not a great comic…yet. There have been countless times over the years with friends, coworkers, at parties, social events, in bed-whatever, where I have been the funniest guy in the room and told “You are hysterical!”, but that fact does not automatically mean I will be a great Stand Up comic. The art of Stand Up is just that-an art. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, work ethic, creativity, perseverance and patience and not simply talent alone.
A comic like Colin Quinn is brilliant because he works at his craft and doesn’t rest on the fact that he’s naturally funny. He is always writing and working through newer material and performing to new audiences. He has developed an almost infectious sense of timing that although at times can be disorienting is unquestionably humorous. He’s developed an ability to mumble-talk his way around three or four different topics at the same time so well that now that itself has become a bit. When you blend that with the material itself, which is equal parts Irish asshole/wannabe tough guy and intelligent commentary on all facets of life, you have the recipe for an excellent Comedian-and to me at least, the guy is the best of the best. There are others I love in the business-none of which I will mention here as CQ prefers to be the only star shining in the sky-but Colin is at the top of the food chain, undoubtedly.

I plan on making a serious go at Stand Up but it’s going to be a long and arduous journey, as the path to anything rewarding always is. I am talking way the fuck too fast, like a used car salesman after speed balling coke with a Venti Caramel Macchiato , and I don’t pause for laugh breaks; it helps when you actually do make a funny observation if you allow the audience to react to it before you race into a joke about your balls, etc. I am also terrified and overly cautious of not doing material that may have been done in similar fashion by other comics so I am forced to perform only my own original material, which is flat out horrifying. Truthfully, I am a decent writer and can put together a good amount of humorous anecdotes and "jokes", and the way I tell a story is amusing but transferring that to the stage in front of a strange audience is a different animal. It takes constant practice, alone and on stage, and the ability to survive those cold moments where a bit you lay out for the first time is met with stone silence. As audience members, comics always hope you at the very least will allow them to spit out there witty observations and one liners without having to talk over you while you show your buddy that some chick liked your shirtless Instagram pic or while you bark at the waitress for another Orgasm shot-if you enjoy live comedy, sit down and shut the fuck up, that’s all we’re saying. XOXO

Stand Up is also a young person’s game, I realize this. Most of the comics I perform alongside at these Open Mics look like Baristas at Starbucks and could be my kids, and they are better than me. They have sharp and relevant material and generally solid timing. I take solace in the fact that I could kick all of their asses but eventually I am sure I’ll end up performing alongside some dude that kills AND can do that split that Van Damme did between the 18 Wheelers. Douchebag. I am a forty six year old Insurance salesman with a good sense of humor and a fearless attitude about performing in front of other people and a voracious appetite for stage time. That’s either a recipe for incredible success or the final piece of evidence that I have totally lost my shit.

Either way, the show goes on.

-DAA
*Colin’s ranking of our friendship may be just a tad bit lower :(

**I like to be prepared with several “ice breaker” questions and conversation prompts

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Purple Reign in the Basement

Big screen TVs were not that common in 1986. In fact I had never seen one bigger than maybe 24" prior to that year and most of those I had seen were in some dumb futuristic movie. So, when I first saw the monstrosity that was in my buddy Chris's basement it was like I had walked into the Playboy mansion except there were no half naked chicks or rampant drug use. That would come later.

The TV itself was an utter piece of shit. A gargantuan hunk of wood and metal, layered with some odd textured plastic at the front, that at best reproduced a picture that resembled what you'd see if you covered your eyeballs in Vaseline and dirt and were perpetually squinting. The sound was atrocious, the colors were so fucked up it looked like a moving Salvador Dali painting covered in sludge and it smelled. Yes, the TV smelled.

But I loved that thing like it was my child.

When I moved to Suffield in 1984 I had spent my previous years bouncing around from town to town with my mom and brother Geoff, usually with forty three dogs, a couple cats and a string of recalled adventures in tow. Most of those adventures involved me getting beat up by neighborhood kids because I a.) Had never really learned to fight at that point. b.) Seemed to encourage kids to want to punch me c.) Looked like Ronald McDonald but had no fries & d.) As ridiculous as I looked, I always made moves on chicks and this pissed off the locals. You know, the local 12 year old kids that don't like some new, strange red Afro sporting, K Mart fall line wearing, wise cracking shithead sneaking glances at their chicks asses. Every town has 'em. Suffield was a chance for me to have some "roots", and thanks to momma being willing to stay planted-and some coaching from my old man on how to not get the shit kicked out of me for sport and have a non-creepy conversation with a girl once in a while-the roots took hold.

When I met Chris it was actually at a football game in between Freshman and Sophmore year down at the Suffield Academy. I was a decent football player so I made an impression and ended up becoming friends with a number of guys I still talk to today. Incredibly, not my Ronald-fro nor tendency to crack wise angered them, and in fact in some ways endeared me to them...but it was Chris that I connected to most naturally, as he was a ball busting, clever, athletic little shit like me. Except he was good looking.

The first time I went into the basement of his old mans Condo-and saw that enormous fucking TV-the only thought I had was "Why does it smell like that Jamaican guy from Hartford that used to fix my dads shitty cars?" Yes, there was an olfactory party happening there, embedded deep in the DuPont shag carpet, and it was 90% Cannabis and 10% Drakkar Noir. I had smelled weed before but this was so enticing and intoxicating it's at that moment I knew I was headed for some real changes in my life. Changes that



meant I would likely be wearing ponchos made of hemp, possibly headbands, acid washed jeans and certainly expanding my musical catalog. I had a home on Mapleton Avenue, an idyllic one for the most part minus the random mushroom growing in the bathroom, but this place felt like the home of my soul. Where former adolescent loser dorks with massive feet come to escape their past and are reborn into slightly less douchey kids but with a couple joints on them at all times.

"The Basement" was where I watched a number of classic films, all on the screen of that hulking, blurry TV and through the bloodshot eyes of a lanky Ginger, but none were as memorable as Purple Rain.  The movie itself was awful-laughable dialogue, poor acting, over zealous characters making inexplicable movements and commentary at strange times-but Prince man...and that music! The guy was a tiny, somewhat effeminate, Pirate shirt wearing, goofy ass motorcycle riding, girlfriend abusing shithead but when he got on stage the dude radiated sex like Beyonce being shot out of a Nuclear Submarine on a Torpedo made of Dildo! It was the music that was most captivating though, the way he poured every passionate notion, every fear, every ounce of jealousy or anger into his words. The music bled from his lips and guitar and on that big screen-even soaked in fuzzy confusion-it just captivated the senses of this and many other teenage minds.

From my recollection, Purple Rain was on 89% of the time I was in that basement, with the rest being rounded out by The Wall or the VHS of Nightmare on Elm St., which I have still failed to return to the Freshwater Video Store in Enfield CT. The movie was on so often that I swear the room started to develop a mild purple tint after a year or so. There's a slight possibility that had more to do with what I was inhaling vs. what I was viewing but I'll leave that for scientists to figure out, as I am just a simple man recalling his memories.

Purple Rain, in truth however, was nothing more than the enduring soundtrack to an indelible slice of my young life. There were more memories made in that basement, with countless friends and random acquaintances, than I could recall if I spent the better part of a week, though some are unforgettable. Twelve to fifteen boned out teenagers crammed in front of a shitty TV, silent and captivated, unaware the value and weight of the moment they are part of. Myself and Chris, he in his bed and me behind the shuttered door on a sleeping bag, each with our girlfriends, discussing why the other should actually get the last remaining condom (safety first!). It was like an intellectual chess match between an adolescent Cheech and Chong. The time where several of us friends listened to The Final Cut by Pink Floyd, all "enhanced" by earthly substance, and let the music become part of us and not just an external stimulant. There were sometimes words spoken harshly there, as there were tears openly spilled. Relationships began and ended there, and often the basement was a place of retreat from pain suffered in our other worlds. There were no rules, no boundaries really, and no closing time, 'cept for an occasional Dungeon Master who often appeared late in the am and demanded to know who ate his Chicken Cordon Blue. Though even he, in his later years and deeper wisdom, couldn't deny the magnetism of the basement, as he often chose to celebrate with us instead of rally against.

The Purple Reign didn't last forever, nor could it have. Time moves down its unburdened trail like a ball bouncing down a hill that falls off the Earth. Friends grow-and grow apart-and other lives blossom from the roots planted long ago. The magic of the basement and the music that served as its score was that it was a time in our life where, despite the fear and "awkward teenage blues" as Bob Seger so eloquently put it-that all that seemed to matter was the moment. That time of day or night where you sought out your friends and went to that place that was only yours and served as solace and stimulation and sanctuary from anything you needed it to be. It wasn't just the sex, drugs and rock and roll it was the collective energy of youth, angst, love, passion, fear, desire, anger, confusion and lust that made the time and place so relevant and lasting. Our lives are are filled with responsibility, order, necessity and commitment now whereas those years ago in that funky basement they were about nothing more than feeling. Experiencing. Living.

As an election year gains momentum and political differences and ideological beliefs become the language often spoken on social media and in the Starbucks and workplace and corner deli, I let my mind slip away to the basement and the opening strummed chords of Purple Rain. Prince is gone now, but his legacy and music will ring out for decades to come, just like the memories that accompanied my time watching the film of the same name in that damp, cool place. I don't see most of the friends that filled that space as often anymore but that's more a function of life getting in the way than anything else. Most of us have different views, different perspectives, misaligned goals, wants or needs though we all share a common experience from so many years ago. I, for one, haven't evolved much from the skinny Ginger punk I was all those years ago in the sense that I still will choose silly over serious almost every time. I would still always prefer to laugh than cry, though I'm not as afraid to do the latter anymore. I worship music more than I ever did then, though I like to think the locale as well as the company and soundtrack(s) helped forge my deep affinity. I know, as I did then, that I would do just about anything for someone I believe is a true friend, even if that means things that are unpopular or painful with the purpose of bringing peace or truth. I know that those years spent with Chris and so many others were priceless, permanent and will be recounted often, far into my final years.

Life has gone and gotten itself all kinds or serious and intense and grown up, and I am OK with that. I don't expect to be able to seek shelter in a basement playing Purple Rain or to smoke my cares away as I did so many years ago, without regret. However the life you live now is the same life-it's not someone else's life. If you find yourself waking up sometimes and pondering where that "kid I used to be" went, just look in the mirror. Yes, you were probably an asshole like me sometimes back then and smoked and drank too much and gave your parents acid reflux before anyone knew what that was-hell you probably still do-but that wasn't all there was to that kid. They probably had dreams and aspirations and talents that now lie dormant and haven't been nurtured in years. That kid probably had some questions about things they were told and yet didn't have the courage to inquire about and instead just let it go. They probably had a vision of themselves at your age now and it's likely a little different than what you see today. Instead of silencing that kid and continuing with the status quo, why don't you jump in the car-take your own kid or two if you have them-crank up Purple Rain and try to remember what it felt like to embrace their voice and not fear it.

If you really want to connect with the feeling I speak of, see if you can find a 200lb TV made out of lead, iron, plastic, oak, wires and shit and hook it up in your basement and watch the movie instead. Cannabis is optional, but creates a noticeable improvement in viewing clarity ;)


-DAA

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

David Gilmour @ MSG April 11th 2016 Review



If David Gilmour, the now 70 year old lead guitarist and singer of the iconic Pink Floyd, were to sit on a tree stump and play a couple spoons while scatting I would likely be watching in awe, mouth agape and trembling. In my eyes he's not only the greatest living rock/blues guitarist but his soulful and unparalleled note bending is heroin for the years and I am a long time addict with no hope for recovery, and who'd want to be sober? Last night he brought his "Rattle That Lock" to Madison Square Garden and spoke poetry through his fingers on various Fender guitars as an audience of twenty thousand listened fervently for three hours.

When a legend like Gilmour-tied to one of the most popular and influential rock bands in history-goes on a solo tour, it's inevitable that a large portion of the audience is there to see the artist play the "hits" associated with that band. Last night was no exception, as I listened to a heavy set, Butterbean-esque dude at the urinal talking into his iPhone tell a pal "I'm just here for the Floyd shit, man. He's playing all that old, slow Gilmour stuff now, it's lame." It wasn't only his overly tight white button down shirt tucked into his way-the-fuck-too-tight grey pants that was wrong, but also his commentary on the Gilmour solo music playing in the background, unless you consider songs from a five year old release to be be "old stuff". Gilmour crafted his show into two sets (with a short break in between) into a Part 1 that included primarily tracks from his recent album, "Rattle That Lock" as well as one from the stellar "On An Island" in 2011. Yes, the music doesn't resonate the way Floyd era tracks do and they are mostly unfamiliar to the crowd but these are songs with depth, texture and drenched with the signature Gilmour note bends and tone-certainly not offerings that encourage trips to the soft Pretzel vendor. The first set also included classic Floyd tracks "Wish You Were Here",  "Us & Them" and "Money" as well as a couple offerings from 1994's The Division Bell, "What Do You Want From me" and "High Hopes". While it's "Wish You Were Here" that seems to always get the most enthusiastic reaction from any former Floyd member when it's played, for me it was the woozy and hypnotic "Us & Them" from Dark Side of the Moon that captivated me most in David's first set last night. I have long adored the track, but hearing it live for the first time in well over twenty years renewed my affinity. Both Gilmour and Roger Waters always have exceptional female backing vocalists as part of their band when they tour but the ladies present last night night with Gilmour were sublime and helped songs like "US & Them" soar to new heights. Vocally, however, it's difficult for me to imagine anyone outshining Gilmour himself as he's one of the true greats, combining luscious tone and soul with great strength. Considering he is now a seventy year old man, the fact that his vocal range and tonality has barely suffered an audible decline is almost miraculous. 

The second set opened with the Syd Barret era, "Astronomy Domine" from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Part of the allure of any Floyd-related show is the visual stimulation, and per usual this Gilmour stage included a large circular screen and plenty of odd videography and intricate lighting displays, which were showcased with full force during the song. "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (I-V)" followed and sounded as flawless as I would imagine it had in the seventies in Wembly Stadium. "Fat Old Sun" from 1970's Atom heart Mother was next and closed with Gilmour doing his version of "shredding"-playing his ass off with the most intoxicating tone on Earth and note bends that probably made BB King wide eyed while he was alive. I saw Eric Clapton play with Steve Winwood at this same venue in 2008 and although I adore Clapton, and he too played his ass off that night, there is something communicated in Gilmour's fretting that no living guitarist that I have ever heard can convey. 

My favorite post-Waters era Floyd track has always been "Coming Back to Life" from The Division Bell. Beyond the personal reasons I love the song, the track itself is just nearly perfect. It begins with haunting, bent, reverberated notes notes and wiggles it's way into a pleasing solo from Gilmour, then softly transitions into a beautiful, grieving solo vocal. What makes this such an exceptional song is the way it falls off into a slow, chugging piece that transitions from melancholy to hopeful in music and vocal simultaneously. It closes with lavish, signature Gilmour soloing and last night MSG was pulsating as he closed out the song in his signature manner.

A couple more tracks from the solo Rattle That Lock followed, including the sultry jazz infused "The Woman in the Yellow Dress", which has finally grown on me after numerous playings of the album. It's a decent enough song but misses a little for me as Gilmour's style and sound aren't an exact match. The intense "Sorrow" from A Momentary Lapse of Reason followed and David's playing was taken to new heights on this one. The tone he achieves on his Fender's is, to me, the best ever in Rock/Blues and it was in absolute top form on this song, tearing at the walls of MSG. The second set closed with "Run Like Hell" from The Wall and always whips an audience into a frenzy and last night was no exception. The scratchy echoing at the beginning and flickering colored lights sets the tone for the songs high pitched main riff that follows. Gilmour closed out the night on this very high note, no pun intended, and left a crowd of twenty thousand dizzy and shouting for more. When he and the band returned they opened with Dark Side of the Moon's "Time" which led into "Breathe", both of which sounded exceptional and again sounded as though they could have been in a time capsule from the early 70's. 

No Gilmour or Roger Waters show would ever be complete without the iconic "Comfortably Numb" closing things out, and, coupled with the biggest reaction from the crowd, last night didn't buck the trend. David, and his Piano player (name escapes me) who handled the Waters parts, sounded immaculate and the green/red laser lighting added a common visual element so often present in live versions of the song. Gilmours solo at the end has long been on many fans top 10 solos list and I wouldn't imagine anyone who was present last night and would bump it down the list after hearing it ring out through MSG. David Gilmour is a artist of the highest order when it comes to the guitar and although there are a great deal of excellent players still around it's hard to imagine anyone claiming his throne on the very sad day when he eventually leaves this world.

Gilmour plays again tonight at MSG and then his tour heads overseas. As a longtime fan I can only hope he decides to extend it to stadiums and allows the momentum to keep driving forward because this is a talent that is still at the top of his game even as he's in his 71st year. 

Setlist for Madison Square Garden - April 11th 2016

Set 1:

5A.M.
Rattle That Lock
Faces of Stone
Wish You Were Here
What Do You Want From Me
A Boat Lies Waiting
The Blue
Money
Us and Them
In Any Tongue
High Hopes
(intermission)

Set 2: 

Astronomy Domine
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1-V)
Fat Old Sun
Coming Back To Life
(band introductions)
The Girl In The Yellow Dress
Today
Sorrow 
Run Like Hell

Encore:

Time
Breathe
Comfortably Numb


https://youtu.be/IJ3pjuuUjK0

Sunday, April 3, 2016

You’re Never Too Old

I have previously written about the joy of hitting my middle forties, and what a joy it is. My latest ailment is “Plantar Fasciitis”, which is best defined as an aching in your foot/heel lower leg when you wake up and turns into HOLY FUCK I CAN’T WALK WITHOUT FEELING LIKE I HAVE SEWING MACHINE STITCHING MY FEET AS I MOVE. The irony and insanity of the situation is that this affliction stems from me taking better care of myself by running semi-regularly, which has resulted in some sizable weight loss. So apparently I can be skinny and never walk again or chubby and be able to run, hop and jump like fuck all over the place; fantastic Sophie’s Choice there.

Getting older certainly presents its physical challenges, but that doesn’t mean it prevents us from taking risks and engaging in activities-both mental and physical-that we haven’t found time to begin in the past. Routinely I will hear people around me say, “Oh I am too old for that!” or “Can you believe they did that…at THEIR age?”, and I understand it’s a common reaction to scenarios like a ninety year old man skydiving or a senior citizen taking up auto racing or my mom talking about sexual positions but the fear or resistance to participating in anything based on one’s age is lunacy. 

Why?

Science.

OK maybe there’s no actual science to what I’m saying other than that humans are living longer than we ever have. However, whenever you want to shut someone up in an argument it’s best to say, “because science, duh” or something to that effect because few people understand science and will just clam up when they hear that, in fear they may end up over their heads. In truth it has little to do with science and more to do with life itself.
Life is finite, as we know, and a decent chunk of it is spent on childhood first of course-a time when risk aversion is almost nil-and we are willing to dive into almost anything head first. When I was nine I let a neighborhood kid put me into a shopping cart and push me down a 30% grade hill, wearing no helmet, padding or protective gear, and at the end of the line when I hit the curbing and was tossed ten feet into the air and tumbled across the bumpy earth all I could think about was when it would be my turn again. Sometime around that same age myself and another friend took apart an electronic car racing set and hooked the wires and “trigger” mechanism that make the cars go up to a huge battery and then plugged in the primary power source to an outlet in his garage. We wanted to see if we could “blow up” the battery. Incredibly it only shorted out and aside from a bit of a scare and mild fireworks neither one of us ended up with 72 virgins. Children are reckless, insane, fearless fuckheads with a death wish-that’s understood. However as we get older we tend to become more conservative and begin to understand the concept of “consequence” so we become more risk averse and take less chances. This behavior isn’t just contained in the physical realm but extends to relationships, financial endeavors and even social behaviors. But why, exactly?

Fear. It’s always about fear.

When we’re young we seldom comprehend the consequences of our actions and that enables an environment of bravado that rarely extends to later life. Certainly there are exceptions among us-including myself-who will still dive head first into swamp to chase a three foot Snapping Turtle just for fun, but with age comes wisdom and the years we spend living this life teach us valuable lessons about the ramifications of foolish action. So we dial things back, take fewer chances, engage in less risky behavior and begin the process of letting fear guide our lives instead of that screaming hellion who lives in our soul and cries out to us to do a backflip off the deck into the swimming pool for absolutely no reason. We should be listening to “Fuckit”, as I call him, more and not less.

I could write a piece about the thousands of individuals whose risky choices and behaviors led to some of the greatest discoveries on this planet, and helped pave the way for innovation, industry, iconic businesses and most of us would nod our heads and say “Hmm, that’s true,” yet still continue living our lives the way we do until we die. I could tell tales of brave souls who risked their lives saving others in fiery buildings or raging waters and most of us would get the chills and admire their bravery yet we’d go to work Monday to a job we hate and still let that annoying coworker annoy the shit out of us. We know the benefits of taking risk, the reward of being brave, yet we so often choose the safety of the familiar and comfort of routine, foolishly. When I was eleven years old I was living in South Windsor, CT and I had a crush on a girl named Vikki Green. She was a dirty blonde, adorable, always smiling Aphrodite to my lanky, clown footed, red-afro sporting Ronald McDonald. When I saw her at my first school dance, radiating in the glow of a cascade of colored lights reflecting off a giant disco ball and shaking her hips to “Just What I needed” by the Cars, I felt like I had been injected with the blood of an early 80’s Ralph Macchio. I smiled at her and moved in for the behavioral version of the crane kick – asking her to dance. Incredibly she said yes, and those three and a half minutes I was moving around the floor with her, hands on her hips, eyes locked in stare, lasted what seemed to be an entire evening. Had I allowed my fears to dictate my choices that night I would have stayed on the sidelines with the chubby kid in glasses wearing a “Space Invaders” shirt and not had what was probably one of my best boners ever.

In the interest of journalistic fairness I will mention that my courage may have lead me to take too large a leap the following school day. I approached Vikki in the hall and, drunk on the power of having had her in my arms for less than four minutes, asked her if she would “go out” with me. She actually took a couple steps back, looked me up and down, turned to one of her 11 year old hot chick friend minions she kept in tow and then said “Umm, no. Sorry,” and then laughed and walked away. Apparently our brief romantic moment under the refracted rainbow lighting was just a charity move of some sort, and now I had to live with the scars of being rejected in front of a dozen or so kids in middle school. There were no cell phones or Snapchat or Facebook back then but it didn’t matter because by the afternoon the whole school knew the story, and just like a good game of Operator it had morphed into “She actually spit on him and then he started crying and ran into the nurse’s office! I think he killed himself!!!” So did Vikki’s annihilation of me in the halls have a major impact on me and my life going forward?

Absolutely.

I started asking out every girl that would even look at me. I asked out nine and half’s when I was still barely a four. I told any girl I was interested in immediately and without filters how I felt and you know, a lot of times I was lit up like downtown Baghdad circa 2003 but sometimes I wasn’t…and I had girlfriends from an age and at a time in my physical development where anyone looking in would have serious questions. I put my balls out there-not literally until several years later-because I chose to have that traumatic event empower me instead of destroy me; I wasn’t about to let fear be the divining rod in my life.
This piece wasn’t supposed to be about my ability to fool chicks into thinking I was actually a catch but rather our resistance to engage in new things as we get older, so let me try to bring this all together. “The greatest risk is the one not taken”. Simple, poignant and very accurate. If we spend our lives worrying only about the potentially negative outcome of a choice then we risk more than had we just take the leap from the start. In how many films and great works of literature have we watched the protagonist or supporting characters talk of regret for having not taken action on endeavors they had long planned to? Have we ever witnessed someone we admire-real or imagined-who spoke on their deathbed of “being happy I played it safe all my life?”.  Wow, sounds great.

It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, how big your family is, how famous you are, how much wealth you’ve accumulated, how much talent you have or what you do for a living-your life will end at some point and you’ll be remembered for your actions. Hopefully your life will end after you’ve had some time to reflect on your previous ninety plus years and as you do that, alone or with those you love around you, I believe you’d want it to be filled with as little regret as possible, no? If this is the only go around we get, this body, this mind, this soul, these friends and family and these experiences, why not dive into anything and everything you have ever dreamed of headfirst and fear not the consequence of failure.

Get in the car and drive across the country, take the kids if you have them, they will love it and so will you despite the smell and bickering about using the iPad. Go take the college course on Ancient Civilizations you’ve always wanted to, the actual class, sitting in a chair and not online. Talk to the person next to you and speak in front of the class and ask any and every question that comes to mind. Start writing that book you have always had in the back of your mind but never put into actual words. Write an hour a day every day-make the time as we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day- and keep writing even on those days you feel like it’s all shit. Go apologize to that person you hurt and that you know may not want to hear from you. Then go back again and again and make sure they know it’s sincere. Do it for you but mostly for them as they likely need it more. If you’re unhappy in that relationship, go. Leave, and do it respectfully if they have treated you with respect but just go. Life is not over when you’re middle aged or a senior citizen or anywhere in between and starting over can be scary but it’s also empowering. Quit that dead end job and start your own company finally. That voice has been in your head for years, begging you, pleading, and screaming at times. Answer it and stop making excuses. Get the fuck off the couch and stop feeling sorry for yourself and get healthy. It’s not your kids, your job, your family, your lover or your “genes” that are keeping you from taking care of yourself, it’s YOU. It’s hard work but it can be done and has been by lesser people than yourself so just make it happen. Get on that plane and fly to Whereverthefuck, USA or Cantfinditonamap, Earth and stop letting your fear of being 30,000 feet in the air dictate how much of the world you see. When it’s your time it will be your time but better to have laid eyes on all those places you’ve dreamed about rather than the same thirty mile radius from your house it’s been the last thirty years.

And go ask out your own Vikki Green. Start with a text or email or call if you must but then walk right up to him/her and tell them exactly why you can’t get them out of your head and what you feel. Yes, it may result in being eviscerated on the spot, possibly a restraining order or even a kick to a strategic body part but you’ll be a stronger person for having taking the risk. I can promise you the closure that comes from taking the chance will pay far more dividends than the anticipated comfort from having never made the move at all.
You’re not too old, so get off your ass and do something you’ve always wanted to. Your future self will thank you.


-DAA

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Biggest Problem Facing World Right Now: A Multi Generational Perspective

Recently I asked my youngest brother and mom if they'd be willing to write a short piece to be featured here on "What the greatest problem facing our country" was, and that I would contribute as well if they were game. I figured having three different generations (I am 46, my brother Wesley 24 and my other is...over 60) offer opinions on a question that could have infinite and complex answers would be a intriguing exercise and indeed it was. With my submission I chose to borrow a good deal from an earlier post as it answers the question posed in this piece precisely, so I am sorry for the mild rehash.

Here are our submissions, unedited for content, and in an "age before beauty" order ;)


Mary Andrea Abare - 

OK, so so my son asked me to write down what I believe the biggest problem facing our world is today. Me? Oh I know there are a multitude of critical issues I can think of off the top of my head, who can't, but what's THE most important one. I wracked my aging brain for awhile and finally it became so obvious...it's the demise of the Good Humor man!!! Wow, that was easy...and before you laugh me off as just a deluded, demented old fool, hear me out. 


Some of you may not even know who or what the Good Humor man is...you're too young. But there's sure to be many of us "older folks" reading this who do. This was the guy driving his charming little truck into my neighborhood every sultry summer afternoon with that welcoming GOOD HUMOR" printed on the side (along with a picture of a mouthwatering ice cream bar beckoning me) .The musical tinkling tune of his trucks bell beckoned me from the house starting around the age of four and affirming to me that life was full of joy, love and FUN! Always dressed in a crisp white outfit and accompanying white cap, I was never afraid to just run out the door (and neither was my mother) to scoop up the flavor of the day (usually toasted almond covering creamy vanilla ice cream on a stick).  I was never afraid I could possibly be molested; I never feared he might have an AR15 rifle hidden under the seat and I certainly wasn't suspicious of the grin he greeted me and my friends with each day because it was genuine. This was all part of my small world, everyone's small world in those days...a world where neighbors knew and cared about neighbors, where a five-year-old girl like myself could safely walk a mile down a city street to get to school, where a shooting of any kind was front page news for its rarity. 


I guess older people always talk about "the good ole days" but the truth is I'd give anything to be transported back to that small, safe little world now. With the advent of social media EVERYTHING has changed. Violent images, both real and produced, have bombarded our lives for decades now. Sad to say, that even the Internet, and sites like Facebook and Twitter have caused relationships to become less personal, even enabling the "bad guys" to hide behind them for nefarious purposes. Our brains are overloaded with violent stimuli and the media thrives on propagating fear. Being overloaded with these horrific stories and images, our brains, not unlike machines, have gone "TILT"!! "Too Much Information" is a truism. We have become a world of "haters" rather than "carers"(if that's a word), whether it's for religious, racial or political reasons. Everyone is now out for themselves and God forbid (interesting term) you don't hold their same beliefs! Shoot up a school must be the solution to the nervous breakdown so many people and cultures are experiencing. I guess I really have to admit the Internet and the media, to me at least, are the biggest causes for the worlds problems. That and religion, which I'll get into another time. For now, I'll just say "We need the Good Humor Man"


David Abare -



What is the biggest problem facing the world today? For me it's as easy as a five letter word we're all intimately familiar with though often estranged from: Truth.

We often hear people say "It's my truth," when referring to a particular religion one believes in or when describing someone's moral code, etc. but those statements are nonsensical. There is no subjective version of "truth"-something is either true/factual, real or it's not. We can believe whatever we choose to but that belief does not in turn make it true. The chemical composition of water is in fact comprised of Hydrogen and Oxygen; it's a true statement. Claiming that drinking 8 glasses a day is the reason you are smarter than all your friends is your truth, and not a factual declaration. However people do this every day, making statements and attaching the word truth when it has no place being associated with what they've said. Yes, I understand this could be semantics and that when someone claims "It's my truth" they in fact may be using the phrase in a way that's meant to represent what they believe, vs. what they know is supported by logic, reason or evidence-I am not trying to split hairs here-but I feel something as vital as truth shouldn't be subject to individual definition.

Somewhere in the Social Media Revolution, however, truth has become pliant. Many of us began sharing "their truth" in various political or spiritual posts, passing off a system of beliefs as fact when in numerous cases truth wasn't even in the same galaxy. When questioned, some will get defensive and angry claiming others have no right to question their version of truth, which is of course ridiculous, and even dangerous in certain situations. Over the years I've seen countless links to stories on sites like Facebook and Twitter packaged with "true" headlines detailing supposed actions/statements made, which after even elementary fact checking proved to be false. These fabrications and mistruths are often shared on these same platforms, read by some readers unwilling to research the claims, which then leads to opinions that are formulated with information that wasn't accurate to begin with-garbage in, garbage out, as they say in computing. The end result is masses of individuals whose "truth" is an opinion that isn't rooted in logic, fact, science or reason.

So why is it so easy for some of us to allow truth to be something other than what it actually is? Certainly part of it is related to cognitive dissonance-the difficulty in accepting information that conflicts with previously established beliefs-however I am convinced a lot of it has to do with fear as well. All of us have elements of our personality, background, history and desires that don't reflect beauty when a light is shined on it. So we create our own version of truth about ourselves, beliefs, principles, etc., until the manufactured version is more appealing to those around us. The problem is that a great deal of those around us are doing the same thing. So your truth and their truth is all just a fairy tale, a narrative born of our need to exist in mental head space that allows us to feel comfortable and safe vs. uneasy and in need of introspection.

So why do I feel that truth is the biggest issue facing our world? Well, in order society as a whole, across the globe, to continue evolving and to heal so many of the wounds of our history that still linger we need to care about truth, seek it, desire it above all else, and most importantly define it in the same terms. When it comes to issues of racism, gun control, abortion, climatology, police brutality, immigration, crime and the economy we have to be willing to look at all the data, all the facts-no matter how inconvenient-and make decisions based on truth and not just our interpretation of that truth. That still allows plenty of room for dissection, opinion and debate but assures we are all working with the same core data. How often have we been angered by a court decision, criminal or otherwise, where the overwhelming evidence was silenced by a crafty attorney who was able to create their own narrative for the jury? Do we really want to allow that to happen in all facets of our daily lives? If we allow ourselves to believe that a hot button issue facing the citizens of our country is the most significant issue we face yet half the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water, are we being truthful or delusional? If we want to condemn a group of people-whether bound by Uniform, Religion, Color, Political Party or other yet we're unwilling to accept facts that may dispute our previously established opinions, are we being truthful?


"It's not a lie, if you believe it," said George Costanza in a great episode of Seinfeld, and sums up what I have long felt is the greatest concern we have as human beings. Unless we are willing to take a look at ourselves first, and then those around us, and demand absolute truth in all things then unfortunately I see the problem growing exponentially versing receding. I hope mankind collectively turns the corner on this, though I realize the magnitude of the problem makes it unlikely, yet as a cautious optimist I will remain ever hopeful. Ish.

Wesley Contro -

The Biggest Problem Facing Our World: No connection. 

If I were to say this to most people of the modern world they may automatically think of internet connection. It has almost become a necessity in day­-to-­day life that we get connected to the world wide web. It is a comfort to many and a tool used to get whatever we may need, just as the web of a spider acts as its home as well as its means to sustenance. But as we continue to dabble around in what is truly the infant stage of the internet era, we may eventually come to find out that we are not the spider using the web to its advantage, but the fly caught in the silken stickiness cut off from the real world around us and, ultimately, wriggling to our doom. I understand the irony of my statements as I sit here typing this out on my computer with a very strong WiFi connection. The sad reality is, though, that we live in a time where your best means of getting a message heard is through the screen. And this leads me to what I consider the biggest problem we face today: the gradual loss of true human connection. 

It seems so contradictory to think that we have created a technology that connects to just about everyone around the world, and yet we are less connected than ever before. But if you take one look at the current state of affairs, nationally and internationally, you will see that there is a widening gap. Hate runs rampant around the world. People killing each other over petty issues such as theology, race, finances etc. In this country alone, the incredible wealth gap and racial disparities have caused massive amounts of protests, rioting and even murder. All this going on, and yet so many want to turn away those being tragically affected, regardless if it is actually any fault of their own. People seem scared of one another. Where did all this distrust come from? Seems like when talking with elderly they will tell you that “back in their day” people were more friendly, inviting and kind. 

There are two factors I could think to attribute to this societal shift. The first being that we have slowly faded out a great deal of substantial human interaction. Interaction primarily occurs through some kind of screen these days. Research has found, that more and more students these days feel more comfortable interacting through some kind of online or cellular platform than in person. What implications does the loss of all the unquantifiable qualities of face-­to-­face communication mean for future generations and their relationships with others? The other factor would be would be the constant bombardment of the evil that exists in the world through various technological lenses accompanied by so few reminders of people’s ability for good. “Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures.” (Tolle) Compassion is the greatest human strength. But, when you are made to believe that compassion is lost or that it is actually a weakness, you begin to see the world as “us vs. them” instead of just “we”

Connection with each other is not the only thing we are losing. We have lost connection with our home, Earth. We are forever connected to this Earth. All that we are came from it, and eventually we will go back to it. Yet we live in a way that implies we are separate from it. We treat it like a constantly renewable resource that will give, give, and give as we take, take, take, assuming it will not ask for anything in return. But the great Earth and mother nature is much wiser than any of us. It has been around a lot longer and will most likely continue to revolve around it’s warm, glowing star long after we are gone. Those who think we may cause the eventual downfall of the Earth are letting the ego get the best of them. If an asteroid 36 miles wide, moving 12 miles per second couldn’t cause the demise of Baby Blue then I doubt we will really have much luck. Though that doesn’t mean we won’t make it inhabitable. There is a global conversation about the impact we are having on this Earth and what that means for our own survival in the future. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, I don’t think it is too wild to say that we all need to take time to go out and appreciate everything that this world have given us. 

The final and most profound connection that I see we are losing and the one that may just be the cause for everything else is the loss of self connection. We live in a world of constant stimulation and distraction. Being alone, truly alone, is thing of the past. Whether it is through some kind of social media or even the subconscious fear that we are being constantly watched or tracked, there is the continuous awareness that there is someone on the other side of the computer or pocket screen. We have done away with waiting and boredom. These things seemed like inconveniences, but what did they really mean to us? Waiting provides opportunity for patience. Boredom provides opportunity for action. Without these things we become apathetic, anxious and high strung. We lose connection to our internal states of being. We cannot come to know who we truly are. It is through moments of real solitude that we connect with and begin to understand our own emotions. Without this what do we really have? We stumble through life from one day to the next trying to numb anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. But to grow as people we must be able to be aware of the moments that make us feel alone, sad, anxious, apathetic, worried, and scared, accept them, and then use them to bring forth socialization, ambition, courage, and compassion. We need to take time to learn about ourselves and our place in this world. This seems difficult these days. It is tough to pull yourself away from the numbing agents and push yourself into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. But it can be easy. That is why I am suggesting that we all take a moment, leave the tech at home, go outside and sit under a tree. Close your eyes and breathe. This is the simplest way to get in touch with yourself and it has been done for thousands of years. Not only may it do YOU some good, but you may find that it helps you connect to everything and everyone else.

-DAA, MAA, WC

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lone Bellow @ House of Independents - Asbury Park NJ

Every year or so I discover a band that becomes a bit of an obsession. They end up dominating my Playlists, being shared & promoted to my social media friends, family and co-workers and I see as many of their shows as time and funds will allow. This pattern began in my teens and hasn't shown any signs of abating in my forties, but as obsessions go I suppose it's a healthy one to endure, as music can't file restraining orders and rarely requires medication to manage. A couple years ago it was Volcano Choir, more recently the brilliant The War on Drugs and in the last month it's been The Lone Bellow, a band so remarkable I am frankly embarrassed I hadn't heard them at length prior to this year. I was at Newport Folk Festival in July and listened to several fans sing their praises, yet due to a GI system that felt like Slayer was playing inside it, I missed their set, unfortunately. 

The Lone Bellow are Zach Williams on Guitars and lead vocals, Brian Elmquist on guitars and vocals & Kanene Donehey Pipkin (certainly the most fun name to say in Rock & Roll) on mandolin, vocals and bass, and formed in Brooklyn in 2011 after meeting at a Diner and thankfully realizing that the the combination of these three melodious voices results in total sonic bliss. Their two CD's, The Lone Bellow and Then Came The Morning have received sizable critical acclaim and drawn fans worldwide, and although the recorded material is excellent, The Lone Bellow are a live act, meant to be experienced instead of just heard. With some bands that means there's an "entertainment" factor present that includes visuals, stage antics, props, etc., that adds to the bands music in a live setting, but with this incredible trio it's all about the sounds bellowing collectively and independently from each member.

Last night, in the intimate new venue House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ, I was finally able to experience the impassioned performance of the The Lone Bellow and it's left me spellbound. There's always been beauty in vocal harmonies, but when it's blended with great songwriting and musicianship-as well as engaging stage presence-it crosses over from captivating to completely mesmerizing. Zach Williams' lead vocals, emanating from his "6 foot stature" (according to his mom), are where Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon wishes he could push himself, yet with Williams it comes naturally and with better tonality. He drove songs like "Take My Love" that rely heavily on the harmonies to more dynamic places with his timbre and power. He soared on tracks like "Fake Roses" and "Cold As It Is" as the band filled in the sound around him. Both Elmquist and Pipkin are exceptional vocalists in their own right, with Pipkin taking lead on the beautiful "Call to War", but it's when the three of them are in unison that you realize you are experiencing something spiritual. The singer/songwriter Marc Cohn has a line in his hit "Walking in Memphis" where he answers a woman asking if he's a Christian where he replies, "M'am I am tonight" and that's how you feel experiencing The Lone Bellow in a live setting. They aren't a "Christian band" nor do the majority of their lyrics talk a lot about God but when you're in their presence, hearing them perform and taking in the majesty of the moment, you're a believer in whatever they are preaching. 

The band closed the main set with the upbeat "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold" and from what I heard it's a reference to one of Zach's two young daughters, who were both at the show and at one point dancing in the aisle. Many of the bands songs have elements of Country, Bluegrass and Roots music but it's the infusion of rock and roll that makes songs like "Green Eyes..." and others so intriguing. It's curious to me that the band is most closely associated with Country as I haven't heard anything in that genre in years that's moved me the way The Lone Bellow has, though I know everyone enjoys putting music/bands into little boxes. Whatever label-or lack thereof-the band prefers for itself is fine as long as they continue to write and perform their music, as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps one of the best moments of the show, and certainly most endearing, was during the encore where the band prompted audience members to share in a chorus of Christmas Carols chosen at random. The only moment that could have topped that happened when Zach brought his two little girls onstage while Brian sang "Watch Over us" (with one of the girls even offering her vocal support). If there's a better living postcard of Christmastime in America I can't imagine it. 

The venue, House of Independents, just opened in Asbury Park and was an intimate setting perfect for the band, even if their immense talent and power is deserving of far bigger stages. Last nights show was full of friends and family as well as the the bands last performance of this year before they head off to Europe. My only complaint at all, other than choosing the worst possible seat to sit in based on the row being the easiest line to bar and bathroom, was that the band omitted "Tree to Grow" from their set. It's almost like complaining that your Maserati is broken and you have to drive the Ferrari, the Lambo or the Porsche instead however, as the bands set is so strong and full of exceptional music that skipping one song is easily forgiven. Having said that, (in best Larry David voice), The Lone Bellow will be playing in Northampton MA at the end of February and I am hopeful that the song finds its way back into the set list. If not, well, I'll drive the Porsche.

-DAA

Full Set List was: "Take My Love", "Marietta", "Fake Roses", "You Never need Nobody", "The One You Should've Let Go", "Two Sides of Lonely", "You Don't Love me Like You Used To", "Cold As It Is", "Call to War", "Teach Me To Know", "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold", (Assorted Xmas songs, audience participation), "Watch Over Us". 

The Lone Bellow are on Descendant Records and their latest Album is titled "Then Came the Morning".



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