My Writings. My Thoughts.
Those who know me and follow my silliness on facebook know that I have recently endeavored to get my fat ass in shape. I don’t have any delusions of running marathons or swimming from the bay to Hawaii or any such ignorance. I don’t want to die. I simply want my breath back. I want my internal image to be, well, relatively close to reality. I need to be able to close my eyes and pretend I’m a rock star. I cannot afford to let the fantasy die. It’s all I have most days.
And so, on July 3, 2012 I began doing something to make my doctor – the one I will eventually have to see – proud of me. Living and working in San Francisco – our office is beneath Levis Plaza – I have everything I need to get started. I have stairs to climb. Right outside the office there are nearly 400 of them going straight up a cliff. This is where I started. The goal: Make it to the top. Simple. In a month’s worth of climbs I have gone from one stop to zero. I have gone from climbing the stairs to climbing the stairs plus walking a few blocks to waking several blocks to no longer being afraid of the many crazy-steep hills. So my lunch break is now 1 hour and 6 minutes longs. It involves the stairs and a brisk walk that totals 3.6 to 3.7 miles depending on the accuracy of the software that tracks me. I’m all technical like that yo…
A few weeks ago I added what I will forevermore refer to as the “Hill From Hell” to my daily routine. This hill is Union street, down from Coit Tower to Washington Square in North Beach, then up four blocks to Hyde Street. It’s the “up four blocks” part that makes the whole thing evil. As I have said before, the first thing I shall do with my lottery winnings in to buy that stupid hill. The second thing I shall do is flatten it. Oh glorious day! Suffice it to say it’s a tough climb that’s getting progressively easier. Well, more like less difficult.
The “Hill From Hell” is separated into 4 blocks, each getting more steep until I reach Hyde street at the top. It’s a real slow grind, one foot in front of the other, lean in to each step, NO, remember posture, kinda slow grind. It’s hard enough when things go well. Today they did no go well. Today, on my way up, halfway through block three, I was attacked. A thief? A homeless person? An angry progressive? No. It was none of these. It was…
The Pigeon From Hell. After all, this pigeon lives on or surely near the Hill From Hell. It’s a good name. It went like this:
I’m walking, digging my way slowly up toward Hyde street when, out of the corner of my eye I see it coming. I had little time to react and so I’m quite proud to be alive. As I looked up and to the right I saw it coming straight for me. It lunged, steepening its trajectory. As I turned in panic I saw it’s evil little bloodshot eyes. We were essentially face to beak. I ducked and raised my hands simultaneously as if performing some strange yoga pose right there on the street. The damn thing missed me by mere inches.
In the split second that followed I was able to, reasonably I thought, figure it was an accident, until the little bastard came at me from the other side. Again it was close enough for me to see directly into it’s beady little hellish red eyes. I flailed again helplessly as it swooped down, diving directly for my skull. Another near miss. Well now I figure for sure the son of a bitch it trying to kill me. For real. With no other recourse I began to run – okay jog – okay walk more quickly – up the hill from hell, and dammit it dove at me a third time. This time it came from behind with clearly nothing but death, for one or the other of us, on its diseased little mind. It missed me, but only narrowly, and by now I’ve reached the end of the third block on hell hill. Foster street. There are steps here which will quicken my descent. Or I can continue up to Hyde, but that seems risky considering the grade is steeper still, and I’m being harassed by a diseased-ridden true-to-life angry bird who clearly thinks it’s him or me.
My breath is coming quick. Imagine an out of shape fat bastard trudging up some stupid hill with a real-world angry bird hot on his tail. Sweat dripping. Chest pounding. Heart racing. Panic in my eyes. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Up or down, there’s no way I can move faster than death with wings can fly. I decided I would simply have to stand my ground. I looked around for a weapon. Nothing. San Francisco street sweepers clearly do an excellent job. Exhausted, both physically and mentally, and with a real fear for my life it occurred to me. I have a pocket knife. I found it in my Dad’s tackle box after he died and I carry it with me every day (except at Airports and Six Flags). Quickly I reached into my left pocket, retrieved the knife, extended the largest blade, and positioned myself for the next attack.
It never came. I never saw the crazed pigeon again. And I was careful to stand still, searching in every direction with my knife poised and ready. I was fully prepared to cut the little bastard. I suppose it was a draw? I will never know how it came to be so hacked off at me. I wasn’t carrying food. If pigeons are territorial I had no idea, and for that matter I walk that same route every day – have been for weeks now. Now I’ve heard that bees can remember a person’s face. Perhaps pigeons can too. Maybe this one has seen me before and just didn’t like the way I look. I will never know.
But I can tell you this. I will not be intimidated on my path to health by some rogue pissed off pigeon, nor shall I be afraid of any of his amigos should he decide to call for reinforcements for a follow up attack tomorrow. No. I shall persevere. Of course I’ll make damn sure I have my knife on the ready going up the hill from hell tomorrow. Don’t laugh. I got kids to feed!
Once upon a time, we grew up. And then we went stupid. Not ignorant. Stupid. For most of us, it likely happened sometime around the time we turned 12. We’re almost grown. Soon we shall be teens. Not long after we’ll be full grown. We can do adult stuff…without getting arrested – generally speaking I mean. Eagerly, we gave up our innocence. We charged full steam ahead into adulthood. We didn’t think about whether or not we’d miss being a kid. Are you kidding? Screw that. Give us beer!
We got jobs. Where we used to simply ball our parents out when they dissed us, now we have to toe the line. Yell at your boss like that and you get no money. No money? No beer. No chicks. No parties. No cruisin up and down the street aimlessly ’cause you can’t afford the gas. No Taco Bell. Gots to be humble before ‘the man’.
And then we got married. And then we got kids. And now it’s far less about us than it ever was, because now we have other humans to look after, and we love them purely – unlike anything else we ever thought we loved, and so we do what we must to take care of them and give them the best we can. We buy practical cars. We sell our souls for a place to live. We gots to buy clothes for everybody, shoes for everybody, and food for everybody. We need furniture. We need an internet connection. We need 14 thousand channels on our HD televisions (note that’s plural ’cause you have to have more than one). We cannot survive without central air. Surely we shall perish without central heat. We have grass, so we need a lawn mower. We have weeds so we need a weed eater. Kids get hot, so they need swimming pools. Young ladies need My Little Pony stuff – in fact they need ALL of the My Little Pony Stuff. Two year old boys become infatuated with automatic car washes (mine calls them “Bubbles”), and so you must budget 50 dollars a week to keep him happy.
Budget? What the hell is a budget? Did I just say ‘budget’?
So, this glorious adulthood finds us on the hook for thousands every month. Of course there’s birthdays, holidays, vacations, and ice cream. The wife needs a new thing. The husbands needs a new thing. Baseball games. Violin lessons (because I couldn’t talk her into piano or guitar). Toy trucks. Pretty pink dresses.
And so just like Sting said, we pack ourselves, like lemmings, into shiny metal boxes (or in my case super duper fast motorcycles which, don’t let them fool you, cost more to maintain than a damn car) and head off to work every day. We are frustrated even before we arrive. Even on good days. We are prostrate to our higher-ups. We do this over and over again. On Sunday’s we go to church. We are Penitent while those who know what’s right for us beat us over the head with how bad we have been that week and how we’re all going swimming in a lake of fire.
And then the next round of bills arrives in the mailbox we don’t technically own.
And then we have to get up again at the ass crack of dawn because, you know, it’s Monday again.
And the pressure. Oh dear God (or Buddah, or Alah, or whomever is planning on having YOUR nuts roasted soon) we have to assume our peer status among the other lemmings again.
So we try and find ways to relieve stress, but they cost us annual money. Gyms. Beer. Tai Chi lessons. They all cost cash money yo. Yoga poses can’t be learned unless you pay somebody. This is common knowledge. Any attempt at physical meditaion on your own and you’ll wind up in the emergency room, incurring yet another bill. ’Mo money for the ‘man’.
So, forget all that other stuff. Well, don’t forget the beer. That would be stupid. But forget all that other stuff – exercise and bending your body in ways the maker didn’t intend for adults to bend their bodies is a pagan practice and if you do that stuff you will go to hell.
Here’s what you do. And before I get started, you gotta get uncivilized. If you’re too prim and/or proper to do this then you are doomed. Let loose. Send the family out for ice cream or potato chips or something. If you’re in decent shape, do this naked. If you’re not in decent shape, DO NOT do this naked, because if you do your inner image will be destroyed and this will result in more stress. Just keep your clothes on, k? No excuses. This will only take 10 to 15 minutes a day. The older you are and the more you do this the less time it will take. I will explain why in a minute.
You need some stuff, so take inventory, and don’t skimp out. You will need:
- A stereo that plays stuff really really loud. And no, and iPod will not work.
- Headphones. And no, good speakers will not work. You must have headphones – decent ones too. If you spent less than 30 bucks on the ones you have, they suck. Get better ones. Clear? Good.
- Space, but not much. Imagine you’re standing in a circle. Give yourself about 3 or 4 feet in any direction. That should do. This is low impact baby.
- AC/DC – most any song will do, however for this demonstration, “Back In Black” is highly recommended.
Remember. UNCIVILIZED. You can do it. This really works people.
Alright. So you should be standing in your imaginary circle. Your headphones should be on. The volume on your stereo should be cranked up as high as your headphones can reproduce sound without distorting. To be more precise, 120 dB, which is approximately where rock concerts and jet engines live, will be sufficient. Louder is okay. Lesser is 100 percent not okay. Volume is key.
Place together your middle finger and your ring finger. They should be touching. Curl them inward toward your palm. Place the tip of your thumb over both of them at the nail. No higher. If you’re thumb is beyond the first joint on either finger you’re doing it wrong. Your middle and ring fingers, along with your thumb should now make a circle or something pretty close. The other two, the pointer and pinkie, are both extended. For the curious or otherwise uneducated – or for the civilized – this is an International (and probably Galactic) symbol. It means “Rock And Fucking Roll”. By the way, if you’re right-handed you should make this symbol with your left hand. If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. Dangle this hand freely by your side. Oh yeah. Professionals often extend the thumb too. You can do this too, but don’t try it until you’re ready, because other people will know you’re a pretender. You’ve been warned.
Now say it. It doesn’t have to be loud. Just say it. ”Rock and Fucking Roll”. Don’t be nice. Maybe even snarl a little bit on the third word. Sometimes a simple head tilt works too. Close your eyes and say it again. ”Rock and Fucking Roll”. As you say it, bring your ‘symbol’ hand up about half way, bending at the elbow and making sure the extended fingers are either pointing up or away from you otherwise it’s considered bad form. ”Rock and Fucking Roll”. Now, place your hand back at your side. Do it again.
Do you fell that? It feels good. It’s completely mental. No muscle burn. You’re not sweating yet, but you can feel it. If you can’t feel it you’re still being civilized. Remember. UNCivilized is paramount.
Now, when you start the song, there are 8 beats before the chords kick in. High-hats. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about music. It’s okay. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…just count them out. The last two will almost leave you hanging. This is okay too. Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick, One Two… What I want you to do is to close your eyes, keep the “Rock And Fucking Roll” symbol formed with the correct hand, and bob your head slightly to the beat. Try it. Think “uncivilized”, and snarl a little bit. Think early Elvis if you have to. Not the almost dead, fat, “How Great Thou Art” Elvis. The other one…
Feel it yet? Sometimes it takes a bit to get in the right frame of mind. Work on it. Once you get the snarl – once you can feel it, let the song keep playing. On the 9th beat – the first beat on the third measure, the guitar kicks in. If you’re doing it right you should get a chill. If you don’t get the chill you’re not doing it right. Remember: Practice. Remember: Uncivilized. You’ll know you’ve got it when the Elvis snarl changes to a Billy Idol snarl. Now you’re cookin’.
The beautiful thig is that there is nothing else to learn. No steps. No right moves. No wrong moves. The only rule is you are not allowed to break any furniture and you’re not allowed to kick, punch, throw, or otherwise harm the family pet. Remember. You’re in a 3 to 4 foot imaginary circle. You’re living right there. You’re feeling the beat. Maybe you’re tapping your foot. Maybe you’re stomping it. Swinging your arms? It’s cool. Air guitar? That is encouraged. Singing? Nope. Absolutely not. You can lip sync, but singing might alert the neighbors, and they might call the police. It’s just not worth it. You can play the song as many times as you like. Put it on repeat even. If you’re uber-stressed you may need 3 or more plays. This is a-okay. Listen as many times as you need, then keep reading.
So, now that the song is stopped, remove the headphones. If you’ve done things precisely as I’ve described you should hear a loud ringing in both ears. Doctors will tell you this is a bad thing. Fuck them. They just want your money. If your ears are not ringing you didn’t do it right. To be specific, if your ears are not ringing the song wasn’t loud enough. Remember, this exercise requires a minimum 120dB. I have the luxury of professional sound equipment. If you do not, go purchase something appropriate. Spend the money. You already owe everybody anyway.
The ringing is important, because it keeps your brain from thinking about other shit. You just Rocked man, and that ringing in your ear keeps you focused. It forces you to reflect on the music you just heard rather than all the external shit that has you so stressed out. You cannot think about your problems when the music is that loud or when the ringing is that loud any more than you can sneeze with your eyes open. It isn’t possible. As the ringing slowly dissipates, you will experience a gentle landing back to reality, and you will be relaxed. You will feel better because you just spent a few minutes truly letting go. You weren’t worried about getting the moves right, because there aren’t any. You weren’t worried about who was watching because nobody was watching. You kept your clothes on if you’re one of the many who can’t rock the naked thing. You weren’t worried about the family pet because you’re not allowed to hurt it. That’s one of the few rules. Hell, the dog may join you! You feel rejuvenated. Like a kid.
Thaaaaaaat’s Riiiiiiiight. Like a kid. Like before you decided at the ripe old age of 12 that being a grown up was better. Because kids don’t care who’s watching. And they aren’t going to hurt the family pet (unless they should be on medication I mean). UNCIVILIZED. Unencumbered Rock and Fucking Roll people. It’s better than Tai Chi. It’s better than Yoga. It’s easier on the joints than real exercise, and it’s even better than beer! When you do it right it’s a hell of a lot more relaxing. No trainer to pay. No hangover. No risk of arrest (notwithstanding cardiac of course) because it’s legal and because you didn’t break the no singing rule. Just remembering what it’s like to be a kid – to let the fuck go, even if just for a few minutes.
It doesn’t take long to complete a session, and it will take less time over time because you will damage your hearing some and so the ringing won’t last as long. But that’s okay. Nobody is going to send faint tones to your ears and ask you to raise your hand when you hear them. And since you already owe every damn body anyway, you can just add the hearing-aid people to the list when the time comes. No big freaking deal.
The song “Back In Black” has a tempo of about 96 beats per minute. That means if you’re tapping your foot to the beat (quarter notes) you’ll need to tap it 96 times each minute to keep up. Most anybody without any obvious physical concerns should be able to do this. Now, you don’t have to necessarily keep a precise beat to rock it. That’s part of the beauty of the whole thing. However, if you haven’t rocked in a while or if you’ve been civilized your entire life (you poor bastard) then you don’t want to start with anything faster than more or less 96 beats per minute. Exceeding this limit before you’re ready is hazardous to both you and the family pet, so don’t do it. Nothing is uglier, and few things are as dangerous, as an out-of-control rocker, especially those trying to rock the naked look. So start slow and work your way up.
AC/DC is perfect for the beginner. Even the savvy rock veteran enjoys AC/DC. The beat is steady and most songs are going to come in somewhere around 100 beats per minute. That’s safe. The lyrics also lend themselves to the snarl, and the snarl is important, especially for the new-comer who needs a little help switching to uncivilized mode. Stick to AC/DC for a while. Don’t’ worry. When you’re ready for Metallica you’ll just know it, and by then your dog with have become used to your antics anyway.
Oh and by the way, it is absolutely okay to do this in public once you get your ninja rock skills honed. The best place is a gathering of people where loud music is played. These are called concerts, and there are a couple really great things about concerts: First, pets are generally not allowed, so that’s one less thing to worry about. The second is you can sing along if you want and nobody will arrest you. Now, you might get punched in the face if you sing too loud and suck, but at some concerts that’s considered part of the deal and who knows? You might actually enjoy it.
I was getting coffee at work yesterday. We have a nice, cozy office in a nice cozy complex, and we have this 14 thousand dollar coffee machine, and I fully intend to help our CEO and CFO justify this expense. We’re in Levi’s Plaza, on the Embarcadero just underneath Coit Tower and a 10 minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Yeah, we got it good. I sit on my ass all day (which is how it became fat) trying to break software and listening to great music that I get to pick. And I can have as much coffee as I want. And I have a lot. And there are snacks like chips, nuts, cereal, candy, gum, soda, fuzzy water (it’s carbonated), fruit and, yeah, it’s good.
So I’m waiting on the machine to fill my third cup ‘o goodness of the day and I can see from our 3rd floor perch, across the park, in the direction of the bay, a huge plume of black smoke that looks like it’s billowing up from something that might be on the water. Whatever it is, it’s close. So I drop three little pouches of sugar into my stimulant, stir it in, head back to my cozy and cool office, grab my company paid for iPhone, ride the elevator down to the lobby – because I’m too damned lazy to take the freaking stairs like I should because I’m a fat bastard – and walk across the park in the direction of the smoke.
I quickly blend into a crowd of thousands. No joke. The south side of the Embarcadero, the non-water side, is literally three blocks deep with spectators. I suppose because of the huge fire folks were afraid to stand in the median. I wasn’t. If they want me to move they can friggin come tell me to move. In fact they did, but whatever. So all these people are standing around doing the same thing I came to do. Everybody is holding up their phones taking pictures and videos, because Pier 29 is on fucking fire.
Oh it’s burning alright, and there are fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, motorcycle cops, and even those bastard meter maids in their stupid little go cart things they ride arrogantly all over the damn place. The place is absolutely crawling with city employees. They’re working it. And I’m sure the fucking parking ticket cops are worried more about their quota than they are the fire, but lets just move on.
So I stand there, moving around and trying to get closer so I can take better pictures and videos on my stupid phone. Some official-looking person told me I had to be on the other side of the street, so I obliged and then, when he wasn’t looking, I walked back to the median again. There are fire fighters all over, some dragging hoses, some driving trucks, some 200 feet in the air aiming high pressure water on the fire from above the building. And then the front of the building started to fall away. It crashed to the sidewalk, but I didn’t get it on camera because that same dude that made me move the first time came along and made me move again just before it happened. I was pissed, but I got over it okay. Another piece fell away soon after, but I missed getting that one on my stupid phone because the police, now fully frustrated with the throng of thousands getting in the way, were stringing up their yellow tape and forcing everybody to get behind it.
Eventually I bored of the whole thing. I mean, not bored really, but damn it I couldn’t get close anymore. I tried one more time and some new official-looking dude walked up and said, “excuse me sir, are you a member of the port authority or are you with the media?”
I came SO close to saying, “Damn skippy. I’m with brokehippie dot com and we’re an independent news outlet. Back the hell off!”, But I didn’t.
“No, sir”, I said, caving in to his officialness.
“Then you’ll have to move back to the other side of the street please.” At least he said please I thought.
Anyway, what I really wanted to do was get some close up pictures of the fire fighters. There were both men and women, all ages from what I could tell. All races. By the way, any idiot knows the fire was set on purpose by someone. ”America’s Cup” is coming to San Francisco this year, and waterfront property is at a premium I am sure. If Pier 29 is used for anything it’s bound to be storage, and I have no doubt somebody wants to do something far more creative with that prime piece of real estate before the insanely rich people in their stupid boats start arriving. That’s my conspiracy theory anyway, fully supported if not fostered by a co-worker who’s lived in the bay area a lot longer than I have, and his wife is a fire fighter in Oakland. Go figure.
So I’ve been beaten back by the authorities, much unlike the late Rodney King thankfully, and as I’m walking back to my cozy office I start thinking about all those fire fighters. It occurred to me those men and women were not panicked. Not even a little. They were very business-like in their approach from what I could tell. Granted I don’t know jack about extinguishing an inferno, but I could see they new precisely what they were doing and they had a plan. You could tell the ones who were in charge and the ones who were taking orders. Very organized. They each had a role. They moved in and out in groups. It was interesting to watch. The cops were a little less organized I suppose, but they were dealing with people, myself included, and we weren’t exactly helping. But even ‘the man’ kept his cool and was firm and became more so as the idiots, like me, kept disobeying direct orders designed to keep us a safe distance from a burning building that I supposed could have exploded or something at any moment.
The point is not only are these people good at what they do, we NEED them to do it. We can’t tell them when we are going to need them. We can’t tell them where. All we can tell them is, you know, listen, when we ring the bell you people get out here and, you know, do your thing. Make sure nobody gets hurt, especially us gawkers, because we might call our laywers or something. In fact, we ask them to risk their lives if for no other reason than to save our stupid crap. I mean, they save lives no doubt, but as was the case yesterday, there’s no living thing they are risking THEIR lives for. They’re walking underneath a crumbling building and hanging 200 feet over it trying to put out a fire to save somebody’s stuff…I guess. It was real a life Towering Inferno minus Newman and the stupid people too drunk to follow simple direction. Well, and the “Towering” part was missing too I guess. But still, ain’t that some shit?
What’s even more amazing is we’re trying as hard as we can to cut their funding. We’re closing fire houses and cutting back on police forces all over the country because we ‘can’t afford’ them. People that’s a great big steaming pile of monkey shit. God only knows what kind of political pork we are continuing to fund in favor of cutting back critical services like what these men and women were providing. Did you know that, in San Francisco, you get free needles if you’re addicted to Heroin? Oh, it’s true.
Let’s consider the toll bridges. They generate over HALF A BILLION DOLLARS annually. 600 million plus. SIX HUNDRED MILLION! Fees for parking (and for parking incorrectly and paying the stupid tax) in the city of San Francisco generated over NINETY MILLION DOLLARS last year and this year’s projected take is over ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS! This is how I know those SOB’s in their little go carts weren’t interested in the fire – they were looking for a bumper extended 3/4 of an inch over some stupid line. Let’s move on. Again.
So, that’s closing in on three quarters of a fucking BILLION dollars just on those two things, and I’m sure plenty of that money goes for worthy endeavors, but I’m telling you they should take half of it off the top and give it to our fire fighters and our police officers. Maybe we can do without those new bicycle paths that those evil peddle-happy bastards never use anyway because they ride on the damn sidewalk. Maybe our parks can be just a little less beautiful? I don’t know. If I tried very hard I’m sure I could document at least a hundred ‘nice-to-have’s’ the city could curtail in favor of funding people who, oh, I don’t know, risk their fucking lives to save our stupid stuff. But I don’t need to do that, because I know you agree…
So why? How in the hell has it come to this? I mean, I know how. You know how. We ALL know how, but nobody is doing anything about it. We spend billions on everything from new sports stadiums to landscaping to free needles for heroin addicts. You’d think we’d have the collective sense to recognize that we NEED these people who fight our fires and keep us from otherwise doing stupid things to ourselves like trying to stand underneath a burning building so we can take better pictures. You’d think so wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.
Anyway, I make it back to work, push the button and make yet another cup of deliciousness and meander my way back to my desk. I sit down and become completely unglued at the fact that, in this day and age, I’m fighting a damn computer because it doesn’t seem to want to boot from a CD. And I need this to happen pronto, because I want to leave on time so I can get home and let the cable TV wash over me for a while before I stuff my stupid face and go to sleep. But I wonder, once we hack these programs to the bone, who are you going to call when YOUR stuff is burning? Yeah. I know. Me too. But I tell you what you can do. You can get high and watch it burn, and I know where you can get some free needles if you need ‘em.
So, I’m using the wonderment (or is that foolishment) of social media a few days ago. Actually I use it nearly every day, a fact about which I am not necessarily proud. I’m going back and forth on Facebook with a friend/co-worker about what constitutes ‘good’ music. Now I am passionate about music, and although I was once a music snob, I am now far more forgiving. There was once a time when I would chastise somebody – anybody – over why this song or that song or the other song sucked balls and thus should not be enjoyed – and I was always correct. No more. I am still a passionate music critic, only now I recognize that what makes music great is that each of us is moved by it in our own way. Put another way, Achy Breaky Heart still sucks balls, and Billy Ray Cyrus is still a tool, but I fully support a person’s desire to enjoy it and/or him. Whateverthefuck…
Anyway, my friend is a punk rocker from way back – a Southern California native with a unique view on things. I’m more of a Classic Rock kinda guy. We’ve debated in the past over why I refused to give punk rock its due. The truth is in many ways I was overlooking punk’s brilliance (I just threw up a little) due mostly to its chaos and lack of real musicianship. That I’ve come at least a little closer to center on that debate of late is irrelevant except to show that I’m getting older and dislike confrontation most of the time. What matters is that, while I was expecting my friend to post a bunch of punk crap that I felt certain I would have no trouble dismissing, she threw me a curve and posted an Eric Clapton song. Well a “Derek and the Domino’s” song. Same same. She called it an “Eric Clapton” song and I let it slide. She is forgiven for this trespass.
It stands to reason, being a “Classic Rock” kind of fellow, listening to my friend’s favorite “Eric Clapton” song would motivate me to go back and explore my Clapton favs. It did, and there are many. As a Classic Rock fan, it also stands to reason that I am a fan of the guitar – and not just an “oh I like the guitar” kinda fan of the guitar, but a critic. I don’t pretend to understand all the theory involved, but I can play enough to know when I hear something that is complicated or artistic versus something that, well, something that sucks monkey nuts.
Poking around on Youtube I find all sorts of Clapton stuff. Funny. I watched an Eddie Van Halen interview once where he was asked if he thought Clapton was a great guitar player. His response? He said, “well, yeah, I guess so, when he was still doing drugs anyway.” I’m not sure there is a human being alive with the clout to say that about Eric Clapton other than Ed. And surely Mr Van Halen, from a technical point of view, is more qualified than anyone to judge so harshly. Still, I classify Clapton as ‘great’ pretty much across the board. From his early stuff with The Yardbirds and Cream to his solo stuff (back when I worked as a country DJ I used so slip “Promises” in late at night), it’s hard to dis the man. For Christ’s sake he’s been inducted into the Rock N Roll hall of fame three times! At last count he’d won seventeen Grammys. He doesn’t suck by any measure, no disrespect to Eddie of course.
So I’m going through all this stuff and I start wondering which Eric Clapton song I could call my favorite. I mean, there are many, and my likes span his entire career, but is there ONE Clapton song I like beyond the others? Which one, to me, is definitive? ”Layla”. Well, yeah. Both versions. ”I Shot the Sheriff”. No doubt. He has collaborated with every blues player alive and I love that stuff too. Blind Faith, The Yardbirds, The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Derek and the Dominos, and all his solo stuff. I love it all.
But my one favorite? You know. That “one fucking song“? I guess it would have to be “Cocaine”. And while the lyrics weigh on this decision, I would like to point out that I’ve never used cocaine, so it’s not like I can relate on some personal level. And, in the event my mother is reading, it is also important to note that “Cocaine” is actually an anti-drug song. And it’s not the guitar playing either, which to me is strange considering, well, it’s an Eric Clapton song and, as Eric Clapton songs go, the guitar arrangement is actually pretty tame. I do think “Cocaine” (the song, not the drug) epitomizes his nickname, Slow Hand, but that’s not why I love that song the way I do. Nope what I love about that song, my favorite Eric Clapton song of all, in fact has nothing to do with Clapton a’tall. Ain’t that some shit?
Nope. In my humble opinion, the best thing about the song “Cocaine” isn’t the lyrics, or the vocals, or even the guitar. It’s the drums. This is a great lesson. See, as listeners, most people don’t really pay attention. I mean, not really. But the talents of the people supporting your favorite artists are indeed recognized by the people who make their living based on how good their music sounds. The drum track on “Cocaine” is subtle. It never rises to prominence in the song. It’s just kinda there. It’s that drum track that makes you stick your chin out and do the white man’s overbite. As savvy and as tasty as Eric’s guitar is on that song, if you really listen – I mean if you isolate each part, it’s the drums that really light it up. That dude can really play, and by that I mean he knows how to blend in and brings the groove to the song that makes it what it is, because I could damn near play the guitar part, no offense to Mr Clapton…
The man’s name is Jamie Oldaker, and no, I didn’t know that. I had to look it up. He’s from Tulsa, and he’s played with everybody from Frehley’s Comet (that’s Ace Frehley of KISS fame) to Asleep at the Wheel to the freaking Bee Gees. That’s what I call diverse. He is also a songwriter and a producer, working with people like Clapton, Willie Nelson, Bob Segar, and the Tractors. It’s worth noting that he was a founding member of The Tractors, which was, hmmmm…country funk? The Tractors are worth exploring if you’ve never heard any of their stuff. I sure didn’t know the “Cocaine” drummer was one in the same.
But sure enough. And I don’t know why I’m surprised. I’ve read enough about singers and songwriters and musicians to know this isn’t a unique story. I mean, check the credits and you’ll find out that the community of people responsible for the music we all know and love is actually quite small. That nifty guitar riff on Richard Marx’s song “It Don’t Mean Nothing”? That’s Joe Walsh of solo and Eagles fame. Vince Gill’s most excellent song, “When I Call Your Name” is made whole because of the harmony. That’s Patty Loveless. Trisha Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe”, one of her best and in my opinion most overlooked songs, is special because that’s Don Henley on harmony. That blistering guitar track on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”? That’s Eddie Van Halen. And isn’t it ironic that the only reason Van Halen’s album “1984″ never made it to #1 was because of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” which, you guessed it, featured the song “Beat It”. ”Thriller” may still be #1 – I’m not sure. DOH!
Anyway the point is that my favorite Clapton tune has nothing to do with Clapton. Hell, he didn’t even write “Cocaine”. JJ Cale wrote it. He also wrote “After Midnight”. And guess what? He’s from Oklahoma too, just like Oldaker. The irony boggles the fucking mind, don’t it? But Clapton gets all the credit. And that’s okay. He’s the brand. Still, I think I’m going to write Oldaker a letter. It’s the least I can do. I wonder if he’s on Facebook…
I Forgive You Eddie
Preamble (or is that ramble?):
Valerie Bertinelli was born on April 23rd. I was born on April 24th. No matter she is my senior by nine years, because everybody knows age means nothing once you clear high school. Considering her popularity with the sitcom “One Day At a Time” from 1975 to 1984, there is little doubt thousands of other prepubescent boys felt the same as did I. But I knew I was the one for her. Those other guys could never adore her as I could. I knew it just as sure as I knew the Coyote would never catch Road Runner. Some things in life just…well, they just are. It was destiny. I just had to figure a way to inform the lovely Ms Bertinelli of our cosmic connection, and don’t think I wasn’t trying to figure a way to do that very thing.
So, then, you can imagine my horror when, in 1981, I learned that the love of my (then) short life married Eddie Van Halen! What the fuck, over? She married a guitar player? Seriously? And not like, you know, some classical guitarist who played for uppity people who dressed formally and offered polite applause at the end of each 17 minute interpretation of some classical piece of music. Civilized. That’s at least respectable. Hell, had that be the case I might have been somewhat understanding. No. This dude was (from what little I knew of him at the time) some hard rock fret burner – probably just another flash in the pan, because even at my age I knew most hard rockers burned out. I was twelve. The fantasy was over, only I didn’t see it as fantasy. Remember we were connected through fate as far as I could tell. I managed to go to sleep at night by telling myself the whole misguided venture would end in divorce. I was young, but Mom let me watch late night TV sometimes, so I knew the deal. In fact this could prove to be a good thing. She will be in shambles, having been taken advantage of by this hard rocker dude, and I would swoop in on my white horse and save her. Actually I planned to borrow my Grandpa’s horse for my heroics, and he was brown…nevertheless…
As you have likely figured, I got over it, at least mostly. I’m pretty sure it took the likes of Christie Brinkley or someone similar to heal my wounds. I honestly don’t remember, but heal they did. I had a lot to look forward to after all. Soon I would finish the 8th grade and be in high school. Hell, I’d be driving in the near future, and when one is mobile, one’s possibilities are endless. So let’s flash forward…
…to 1984. I turned 15 on April 24th, 1984 and, a few months later I attended driver’s education and obtained my license to operate a motor vehicle. Of note is that I achieved the legal right to drive shortly after my birthday with the promise to attend driver’s ed in the summer. Amazingly, though, that glorious achievement is almost a side note. What is of note began in December, 1983 or January, 1984 depending on the source – doesn’t matter.
As a kid I used to lock myself in my room for 4 hours every Sunday and listen to Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40. I recorded the songs I liked on cassette tapes. If you were born after 1987 you won’t understand, and I’m not going to take the time to explain – you’re just too young. Sorry. I’d record and listen to my favorites over and over. Not really an obsession, but close. Anyway, we all know the song “Jump”, by Van Halen. That song was climbing the charts in early 1984 and, by the time I hit driver’s ed that summer, the album (that’s a great big piece of vinyl with music on it for the young readers) “1984″ was dominating, and I’m mobile now, with Mom’s occasional permission of course, so rather than lock myself in my room and listen, I can actually get in the car and drive and listen, which is as we know better than crack Cocaine, especially to a newly-christened freshman. I fell completely for “1984″, but as I was doing so, I felt conflicted. It was as if (almost) I was cheating on my first love. I was betraying her, knowingly. This album was (damn the irony) the mastermind of that bastard Eddie Van Halen — the son-of-a-bitch who stole my girl. I knew it, and yet I was completely immersed in every song. 1984, the year and the record, changed me. I found a new girl, one year my junior, to obsess over, and I fell hard in love with the guitar. I blame Eddie Van Halen for both.
Of course we know that was the last album with the Van Halen I was compelled to love. It only made it to #2 on the charts because Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was entrenched at #1. Seems Eddie, the musical mastermind of the group, and David Lee Roth, the shiny front man, were at odds over the band’s direction. Eddie wanted to continue to experiment, just as he had done with “1984”, and Diamond Dave wanted to get back to the hard rock style heard on each of their previous albums. Now, for reasons that should be obvious by now, I always blamed Eddie for the breakup. The truth is Roth quit. Well, the complete truth I will never know, but I do know they never really liked each other. We all know what happens when egos such as the egos put on display by two successful musicians collide. It ain’t pretty. Alex, the band’s drummer, and Eddie’s brother, once said in an interview that he and Eddie never liked Dave. He said the only reason they let him in the band (while they were still playing back yards in Southern California) was because he had a PA system. Ed was both playing and singling lead at the time. Alex advised his brother they’d have a better chance of success if Ed gave up singing and focused full time on guitar. Dave’s dad was a physician. He had equipment and a consistent (and free) place to practice. But Dave was (and continues to be) a showman. Eddie was (and is) a musician’s musician. Frankly, young as they were, and as immediately successful as they were once finally discovered, I think it’s a miracle they lasted through 6 albums.
Now, Dave had some solo success, and Van Halen just kept on rocking. Van Hagar, as they became loosely known with Sammy Hagar on vocals, was, in fact, extremely successful by any measure. I will be kind to the Gary Cherone years and just acknowledge that, you know, it happened. But Dave was never “Dave”, and Van Halen was never “Van Halen” after the split. Dave was overly, well, “Diamond”, and Van Halen became polished – too polished. Prior to “1984″, Van Halen was rough around the edges by design. They didn’t cover up or make any attempt to hide mistakes on their recordings. Ed once said they wanted their music to be real, and it certainly was, especially during those first 6 albums. The polish that came with Hagar wasn’t enough to overcome Ed’s brilliance, but it alienated fans of the original band, like me. It wasn’t that it was bad. Clearly it was anything but bad. It just wasn’t Van Halen damnit. And nothing else was either.
Van Halen has always been, mistakenly in my humble opinion, classified as “hard rock”. No. Early Metallica is hard rock. Better yet, think Slayer. Speed Metal. Hell I guess it has to be classified as something, ‘cause that’s what people do – we classify stuff, so whatever. For me, though, Van Halen was a middle ground. It wasn’t “Heavy” metal, but it was heavier than, say Bon Jovi (I just thew up some). There is nothing ‘thrashy’ about it, but those riffs, and that crunch – Ed’s ‘brown sound’. And it wasn’t cheesy either, like so much of Poison, Cinderella, and even Motley Crew could be. For whatever they were (or still are), I like each of those bands any plenty others, but Van Halen left a huge void in Rock N Roll when they split, and so from 1985 until 2012, save a few respites like Guns N Roses and, well, fuck it, thank God for Guns N Roses, because that’s about as close as anybody came, and they couldn’t get along either.
So traditionalists rightfully started salivating when the band announced late in 2011 that it would be on tour with the original members in 2012, and the follow up announcement of a studio album, “A Different Kind Of Truth”, sent plenty of my brethren to I.C.U. Please note that one original member is missing. Michael Anthony, the group’s bass player, also feuding with Ed over some damn thing or other, was left off the reunion card. It isn’t that I fail to mention him as a slight. View it instead as a nod in favor of the band’s new bass player, and Ed’s kid (Ed and Valerie’s kid) Wolfgang. So the tour is announced and the CD (although you can buy the Vinyl version if you’re a purist) is released and let me tell you people this: “A Different Kind Of Truth” fucking rocks! If Anthony’s backup vocals are missing, his bass playing surely isn’t. Wolfie can play, and with Ed for a dad why not? It’s the best collection of music released since Guns N Roses debut album was turned out on the unsuspecting public in 1987. Don’t argue with me about that or I’ll kick your ass.
By the way, Ed and Valerie did get divorced just as I predicted, however I’d long since moved on, never forgetting her but recognizing we were worlds apart – too much water under the bridge. I will always love her and you know, never say never I guess, but Ed won me over. What can I say? The band is back together, the really big show is coming to Oakland on June 3rd, 2012, and I’m there in a chair, because I’m old now, but I’m ready do rock it. Can Van Halen still deliver?
Oracle Arena. I arrive gloriously on my motorcycle at 5 o’clock for the show that starts at 7:30. I mill around the place, outside, register to win a Harley Davidson from a local radio station, and make my way to the East Entrance. I’m 4th in line and wait for about an hour for the doors to open. Once inside, I spend 40 bucks on a t-shirt and make my way to the floor. Yes, the floor. The last time I spent that much money on a thing it had wings. So I find my seat and scope the place out, locate the restroom and the concessions (because I’m old and could need either at a moment’s notice) and settle in. Oracle isn’t huge, but it’s plenty big. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show this size – that being Usher, but don’t tell anybody.
Oh, I had to check out the audio stuff too. The sound engineer is typically center stage at the back of the arena. To be honest I found it a little sparse. I’ve been to shows – ZZ Top comes to mind – where I swear you could power a 757 for a cross-county flight with the power it must have taken to light up all that hardware. This wasn’t the case for this show. As you can see, there are just a couple boards. The lighting gear sat on two tables behind the mixers. Later, two huge walls of amplifiers were revealed on stage, but as I’ve heard Eddie say before, it’s very (and surprisingly) minimal.
Back at my seat I’m watching the people assume their positions. Because we’re all old and thus somewhat friendly I can say the following about my neighbors directly to my right: Nice people, but in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guy, clearly a professional of some sort or other because he was dressed too proper (even if casual) for Rock N Roll, was one of maybe 2 people in the arena to keep his seat while he was there. His wife was the other one. During the intermission between the opening act and the headliner, I left for a frosty beverage. When I returned, I’m pretty sure he was asleep, and I am certain I woke her ass up as I went past them. Why are they here? Did they really pay as much as I paid just to drop by and take a nap?
Directly to my left sat another man and his wife. Actually, his wife was the only one there when I came back from my beverage hunt. She said, “my husband is going to sit in your lap when he gets back.” I said, with a friendly smile and laugh, “uh, wanna bet?” She was probably once thin and attractive like me, but, like me, the years are adding up. Her husband arrived and did not sit in my lap. He didn’t attempt it either, thankfully. A guy about my age with less hair (and that ain’t easy by the way) but who clearly enjoys a good number of hours a week at the gym. I should be so motivated.
And I sure as hell don’t want to forget to mention this guy. Yes, the guy from the Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which Way But Loose”. What the hell is his name? Geoffrey Lewis! That dude. Yeah. That dude and his wife were directly in front of me. Okay, so it wasn’t him for real, but I swear the dude looked just like him. He even wore his cap all cocked off to one side and would turn it backwards every now and then. I mean, it could have been that guy. It wasn’t, but I did a triple take because the resemblance was so close. His wife didn’t look a thing like Sandra Locke though, so I didn’t bother looking around for Clint.
The rest I saw close by were as you might expect for a show headlined by a band that peaked 30 years ago. Lots of middle-age folks. Plenty of dads with their newly teenage sons, showing them what Rock N Roll concerts are all about. I found myself wishing my kids were old enough, but at 6 and 2, not yet. Plenty of ladies who match the description of my row-mate to my left. Once attractive, perhaps still somewhat, but certainly not what they once were. That’s my crowd – no worries. I’m not throwing stones, at least not at them. Now, those who refuse to age gracefully are a different story. And this goes for both men and women. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Rock on. But have sense enough to know if you don’t have it and thus spare us your completely irresponsible flaunting. Of course there were the trophy dates, and it did not escape me that these ladies were, generally speaking, somewhere between rows 1 and 10. Their ‘Ken-Doll” escorts (do I have that backwards?) were clearly proud of their sidekicks, and there were few (if any) wedding rings in that crowd. To my surprise, the obviously 30 and under crowd was well-represented, but I am sad to say the early 20-somethings were scarce. They are either not smart enough to know or simply don’t care that their bands of choice once patterned themselves after a band that probably patterned itself after Van Halen. Holy shit I’m old…
Finally, I’d like to make mention of the wall of beef. I watched them, worriedly, as they made their way down the aisle. There were an even 10 of them – a family I assume. Each was wearing the largest Van Halen t-shirt of its kind. They were happy. They were drinking. And they were…big. Once again, not throwing stones here, because I could stand to shed a pound or 10, but collectively, these folks could have put any average NFL running back into the hall of fame if you know what I mean. And when it came time to cut it loose, let me tell you they were ready. Hell, they were dancing to the piped in crap they play before the show and during intermission. The one I pegged as the father had worked up a good lather before they dimmed the lights. His wife, I assume, was at a Van Halen concert 30 years ago in Oakland. She photocopied her ticket from that show, blew it up, and laminated it. She displayed it proudly. Good for her I say…until Kool And The Gang took the stage. I’m relieved enough to say I’m glad my kids weren’t there to see it.
Oh, and speaking of — Kool doesn’t suck, and neither does the Gang. While there were only a few of the original members on stage (the ones with gray hair I’m sad to say), they put on one hell of a show. Lots of people have questioned the wisdom of a band like Kool And The Gang opening for Van Halen, because remember, people like to categorize stuff and would never pair the two. And I must say the crowd was a bit slow to respond. As for me, I was in to it right away. Any time you have a horn section you have my immediate attention, and Kool And The Gang has one hell of a horn section. By about the third song the crowd was in to it too. The place was hopping, and the wall of beef was doing something similar to the wave I’m pretty sure. Maybe it was a sideways wave. I do not believe anyone was injured. They played for a solid hour, non-stop, and covered all the recognizable stuff you’d expect. It was my 3rd time to see them live in various incarnations. They can play, still, and you won’t be disappointed.
It took the crew 30 minutes to break down the stage and prep for the headliners. I took this time to stand in line for nearly 20 minutes trying to obtain a 12 dollar beverage. At 7 bucks, water didn’t seem worth the trouble, or so I reasoned. It was upon my return that I unfortunately woke the otherwise nice people sitting to my right. I wasn’t in my seat for long when the lights when down and the place truly came alive. Let me say that, for a bunch of 40-somethings and above, we can still make some noise, and I had to smile. The roar of an arena crowd like that can give a guy chills, even if he’s not the guy on the stage.
Van Halen’s entrance wasn’t exactly what you’d call grand. I mean, it wasn’t like the movie “Rock Star” where the guy is lifted up by hydraulics to the top of the stage. They just, I don’t know, kinda assumed their places. In fact the stage itself wasn’t very spectacular at all, with the lone exception of a giant screen that spanned the length of the stage and would have made Jerry Jones jealous. Just a couple relatively low platforms, some stairs, maybe 4 or 5 of them, leading up to the drums, and a slick wooden surface put in place so Diamond Dave could do his thing. The screen made every seat in the place a good seat. It’s that big. From what I could tell there were four cameras projecting images. There was one stage left, one center, one stage right, and a final one behind the mixers at the back of the arena. All in all it was very nicely done. Gotta remember this crowd has cataracts and would probably benefit from surgery.
Now as I’ve said, I’ve been to a few shows in my time. But I have to confess the volume startled me. I’ve seen country shows and rock shows. To be honest, the loudest, and probably the most poorly engineered for sound quality, was Hank Williams Jr. ZZ Top was loud. But this was loud. This was really fucking loud. Oh it was glorious. Yelling at top voice to the person next to you would be 100 percent worthless. If you need to communicate during a song you use sign language or you’re fucked. Period. Did I mention it was glorious? Not only was it loud, but it was good quality. It was a perfect mix of bass, drums, lead, and vocals. It was the best sound quality in an arena I’ve ever heard. And it will knock you on your ass if you’re close enough and not prepared, as I was not prepared. I actually had to blink my eyes and regroup. The wall of beef was not affected as far as I could tell.
I found out as the show progressed that the couple to my left was using Mother Nature’s glory to enhance their experience. I knew I recognized that smell…a little twenty twin twin perhaps? It turns out dude is exactly my age and so, he graduated high school in 1987 just like me. He’s a lawyer of some sort or other although he doesn’t look the part, and Van Halen, to him, is the last of a dying breed. At one point he said (between songs of course because otherwise its way to fucking loud), “You know dude, we’re lucky to see this.” I’d already come to the same conclusion so I nodded my agreement. He put his hand on my shoulder and I put my hand on his shoulder and, as if we’d practiced it, we both put up the pointer and pinky as defiant rockers do. I screamed “Rock and Fucking Roll!!!” I’m not sure if he did, but he screamed something. By then the next song was up so who knows?
I should point out too that Van Halen knows the deal. People are definitely there to hear those old songs, and even a few of the new ones, and everything was covered. They performed at least 5 cuts from their debut album in 1978, at least 3 from “Van Halen II” released in ’79, a couple from “Women And Children First” released in 1980, a couple from “Fair Warning” from ’81, one from “Diver Down” in ’82 – not counting “Cathedral”, and a solid 6 from “1984”. Of course Eddie took the stage solo for “Cathedral” and “Eruption”. The encore was easy to guess since two hours into the show they hadn’t played it. “Jump” was indeed the finale, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. Just a little. Nobody could tell. And I’d be willing to bet I wasn’t alone. Lawyer dude was probably in tears for sure. Or maybe he was too stoned. It was sure as hell too fucking loud to ask him.
They did 3 from the new stuff. Let me say it again. “A Different Kind Of Truth” is the best Rock N Roll album (okay, CD, whatever) to be released since Guns N Roses debut in 1987. I’m not dissing the other stuff, because there was plenty of good Rock N Roll with the Alternative stuff from the ‘90s, but where so many of those bands are gone forever and in many cases hardly missed, Van Halen, at damn near 60 years old not counting Wolfie, can still bring it. Not only that, but they’d blow anybody off the stage at any age. I’m completely certain of that, including Nirvana, and including Guns N Roses.
So, I have to forgive Eddie. I have to forgive him for stealing Valerie, at least mostly, because, you know, there’s a part of me that will always be pissed at him for that. Knowing that it takes two, I have to forgive him for whatever his roll was in the initial breakup. The way I see it that breakup cost me and countless others 3 decades of solid Rock N Roll, and while the new stuff is really that good, you just can’t make up for 30 years of rock with one CD.
Ultimately he is forgiven because of this thing that happened this morning as I’m leaving for work sporting my new Van Halen t-shirt. My daughter asked me why I went to see “that guitar player”. I told her it was because his music meant a lot to me when I was young and that at least in my opinion he is the best Rock N Roll guitar player who ever lived. I told her it was important to me to get to see him play because I never thought I would have another opportunity to do so.
The best way I know how to describe it? I don’t know. I’ve thought a lot about it over the last 24 hours. When I walked out of the arena, I couldn’t tell for sure if I’d just been born again or if I’d just given birth. What I mean is that 20 years ago I felt like I felt last night, and I was completely exhausted, and it was good.
I have been to the mountain top. The music there is really fucking good and sounds like a jet engine playing a chord progression. The lead singer up there can still work a crowd, and the guitar player is Eddie Van Halen. Could Led Zeppelin have been any better? Maybe. I’ll never know. I wish I could find out, but for my generation, Van Halen still out rocks them all. Lawyer dude agrees.