Friday, March 6, 2015

Best and Worst - The Concert Edition

So earlier today my friend Keith asked us Facebook friends to answer his curiosity question:

“Best & Worst Live band you ever saw? 1,2,3 Go!!”

I thought about it because I’ve seen a LOT of live music over the years.

Since my first concert at age 11 – The Cars where the people in front of us smoked weed during the whole show – to  the last show I’ve been to as of this moment – Banana Gun and Sugar Thieves January 2015 – almost every band/singer/songwriter I’ve seen perform has had a definite impact on my life.

But the reasons are almost as varied as the styles of music I listen to. Because it’s not always just about the music.

Music has permeated every aspect of my life. In fact, that scene in High Fidelity where Cusack’s character is filing his records autobiographically is just about right. So it’s no shock that live music will have an even greater impact on me because of where I am, who I’m with and what made that journey amazing.

Including, but not limited to, the music.

Those songs that remind you of another person can be a blessing or a curse depending on the person in question, am I right?

It kind of hit me that’s probably the real reason Keith and I have maintained such a strong friendship for so many years – we’re both music junkies. Bonding over music is a very powerful thing.

And our tastes, though different at times, are both pretty well varied. As a DJ my friend has to have a healthy appreciation for all kinds of music. Knowing the exact right moment to play the exact right tune is a talent. For me, a writer, I need to feel the music because it helps me with character and story development.

So there was no way my answer to his question would be short. In fact, I opened my comment with:

I could write a book on this (and I've actually considered it)

Starting with the best and then in no particular order, the concerts that came to mind today include…

Best - Jason Mraz at Irving Plaza in NYC 7/21/2006.

He’d been touring his second album, Mr. A-Z, non-stop and Irving was either the last or one of the last tour stops from that year. This was a while before he started getting healthy & quit smoking so the road had taken a definite toll on the poor guy.

I was a Jason live junkie back then – anything and everything I could get my hands on from his live shows I wanted to have it in my music collection. So I knew his usual personality on stage but that night at Irving his tank was empty. He went through the motions but anyone could tell he needed to stop and go home to sleep.

Despite his one big hit, he was still relatively unknown in 2006. There were only about 100 people in the place.

I was 10 feet from the stage, and feeling bummed that the show was so devoid of character, when someone yelled out 'Jason, have my Asian baby!' and he LOST it. He half chuckled then had to turn away from the mic for a second because of laughing. And it seemed to be just what he needed. He finished the set with a little more energy.

I like to think that Asian baby helped get him through when he just wanted to give up.

Because I like to wonder about those moments in an artist’s life. Moments that could have possibly been a turning point whether realized or not. What if that never happened and he barely held on for the rest of the tour, went home and decided it was too strenuous? What if he’d quit music?

That would have changed the material fabric of my life.

People I know as friends wouldn’t be in my life. Life experiences may never have happened – like one of my backup favorite shows when Matt and I went to see Jason opening for Dave Matthews Band in Hershey, PA. And we saw Centralia that weekend too. Would we have never done that either?

It’s crazy to think about but I like wondering the what if’s. Like I said, character development.

My best backup concerts in no particular order:

  • Godsmack in Amherst, MA in 2000 or 2001. I won tix on WAAF and went alone because I was going straight from there up to Waterville Valley, NH where a group of work friends were skiing all weekend. Met a limo driver and convinced him to use my other ticket. We left before the end so he could get back for the clients at the end of the show and we hung out smoking a joint in the limo.
  • Godsmack in Manchester, NH a few days after 9/11, every time a plane flew overhead the whole crowd cheered. It was flipping awesome.
  • Ozzfest June 2,1999 in Charlotte, NC. It was about 115 degrees and I passed out from heat exhaustion, weed and exertion. I laid down on the lawn then woke up during Pantera, asked my friends for the keys and went to sleep in the car. Totally missed Ozzy! I got in a pit during Godsmack and came home with a bruise on my leg in the shape of Martha's Vineyard.
  • DMB in San Diego 2013 . He played “Sister” and in 15 years I'd never seen them perform it before. I danced my freaking ass off all night and it was a really special show.
  • Melissa Ferrick at the MFA. Matt and I met her after the show. I was a total fan-girl!
  • Tony Bennett 8/23/2014 because who knows if that chance could come again, he IS about 1000 years old. But man, he’s still got it!
  • Grownup Noise in Fountain Hills, AZ 2011 (this one is personal because I know the bassist so the band crashed at our apartment that night)

As far as Worst…

Keith knows I was the original Blockhead. New Kids on the Block fan to the nth degree. He even played “Hangin’ Tough” at our wedding. So I knew he wouldn’t believe it but two of the worst shows I ever saw were NKOTB back in the day, at The Garden & Great Woods.

I was 16 years old or thereabouts and getting to see them live was definitely an experience, shows sold out in like a millisecond those days. The problem? That’s 20,000 screaming girls in one place.

Of course they were cute and I was really excited to see them too but that level of squeal is probably the main reason I have tinnitus today.

Even all these years later after endless clubbing, seeing loud as hell bands like Limp Bizkit, Staind, Metallica, Disturbed, Pantera, Megadeath, Godsmack, etc. I have NEVER come home as deaf as I did after a New Kid’s show. Which sucked because I didn’t pay to hear girls scream, I couldn't hear a single thing the band was saying or singing so what was the point? Wasted money.

And the worst backup award goes to Fiona Apple at Jones Beach, LINY in July 2006. One of the reasons I always loved her is her jazz-smooth voice mixed with raw, emotional, angry lyrics. The juxtaposition of those polar opposite things is something few bands can pull off (think: Sublime).

From the opening word Matt and I were shocked and disappointed. She maintained ZERO control over her voice and I don’t think it was because she was sick or anything like that. She was just angry screaming every lyric. No melodic softening. No balance to the torture. It was too much. That was the only time we've considered walking out of a concert we paid to attend.

All in all this is just today’s list. Ask me again in a week, month, year, decade and my answers will likely change!

How about you? What were your best and worst live music experiences?

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Resolve to Blah Blah Blah

Why is it that we look to the first day of a new calendar year to kick-start actually living our lives? But instead of looking forward to the promise of that new year, why do we spend hours looking back over the year we’re still living in to qualify the things we plan to do in the new year?

Resolutions are supposed to be about making changes while moving forward. Seems pretty impossible to do while facing the other way right?

It’s like we need to see what great times we had, or mistakes we made, and then we resolve to either fix or do more of that shit starting on January 1. But what’s the point right? I mean all we’re doing is looking at what we used to do; thinking about what could have been.

Not what is.

I’m guilty of doing it too. Especially this year.

But I truly think the people who “fail at resolutions” don’t really fail. They just weren’t facing the right direction.

So this upcoming year I’m facing the future, not the past.

I fully intend to take this year by the balls and make it my bitch.

Or something like that.

The definition of resolution in the case of New Year’s is “firmness of purpose or intent.”

But I’m not getting hung up in the meaning of the word, the definition as purported by millions, if not billions, of people worldwide.

Because as far as I’m concerned the calendar year isn’t really a crucial part of the plans I have, other than it being a gentle guide for the things I plan to do.

See, for me this upcoming year isn’t about resolving to do anything.

I will set goals.

Because goals challenge me. They make me try harder. They make me focus, get down to work, and then get down to celebrating when I achieve them.

And I don’t care if I achieve all of them within the tight restrictions of January 1 – December 31. I’m setting my goals and working to achieve them, so if they come to fruition this year then great! If not, that doesn’t mean I give up. It means I keep trying no matter what the date says.

As we all know goals can change mid-stream. They’re fluid, flexible and always evolving in order to get you to the best version of yourself you can dream up and go after.

New Year’s resolutions come with a built in pass/fail mechanism. You either do the thing or you don’t.

Bleh. How limiting is that?

I have four goals I want to tackle this year:

Release new books (yes, multiple).
Learn to cook (meals that aren’t boring).
Read more (books specifically).
Be more active (watching less and doing more).

Yup. That’s it.

Because if I can set out on a course to do all of those things then all the other stuff I might think about in terms of resolutions will just fall into place.

Eating healthy, exercising, getting my career on track, traveling, saving money, or anything else I could dream up that I’d love to change about myself, I’m simply striving to be a better version of me in 2015.

But I’m not going to consider the whole year a failure if I take 3 days off from writing or veg out in front of the television occasionally either.

I’ve always got the next day to get back on track. There’s no point in looking at a little misguided step as a fail. Like I said, facing backwards doesn’t help me achieve my goals.

So as my vacation comes to an end, and a brand new calendar year gets started, I’m looking forward to doing my best to achieve all the goals I’ve got laid out in front of me.

Have a safe and festive New Year everyone!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Off the Deep End

So here we are again. And by “we” I mean me and all the characters that live in my head. It’s November and for the first time in four years I’m back doing NaNo.

Yup, that’s right kids. The time for fiction has returned!

What’s that you ask? Have I gone off the deep end? Let’s just get all the questions out of the way now so we can push on unfettered:

“Um, are you crazy?”
“Didn’t you just start a business with a partner?”
“Aren’t you already working as a writer?”
“How do you plan to find the time?”
“Won’t you miss showering?”
“Won’t you miss your friends?”
“You won’t try to sell this thing you think will be a manuscript, will you?”
“Um, are you crazy?”

For those not in the know on the NaNo skinny (and why any and all of those questions up there are totally valid points)…

The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during just the month of November.

Sounds scary right? Well trust me, it is every bit as scary as it sounds. But I’m doing it anyway because fuck it. If I’m going to be a writer then I’m going to be the type of writer I want to be.

That I’ve always wanted to be.

But, there are so many reasons I gave up on the whole idea of being a freelance writer after 3 years. I had to have a long sit-down with myself to figure it all out. Which wasn’t too challenging considering I broke my wrist at the beginning of October. I had more than enough time to ruminate on life and career while I sat around doing nothing.

And, boy, do I ever mean nothing.

I was in a ton of pain, could not type, and I could barely move my left arm at all. Hell, I’m still in a temporary cast right now!

Last month was really a wakeup call in so many ways – personal and professional. I discovered many things that I never would have thought about before the moment when I incapacitated myself.

The biggies:

- Freelancing is not for me after all. Hey, I tried. Honestly I threw everything at the wall on that one and really wanted it to work out because it would’ve been nice to make a steady paycheck as a “real” writer. Alas, no matter what I did or what wall I tossed it at so little stuck that I just couldn’t justify wasting perfectly good shit like that anymore.

- I’m way to narcissistic to be a ghostwriter. Yeah, I really do need to see my own name, in print, on the cover of some amazing book that I wrote. I was good at ghostwriting but part of what I discovered is that my ego needs to release work into the world and, when people read it, they’ll know I wrote it.

- My words are worth more to me than the frustration of working like a dog for peanuts. I can make that writing fiction and have more fun in the craft again. I did make some money as a freelancer, that’s true, which of course was nice because I worked my ass off for it. I just couldn’t ever feel what I was writing.

- Freelance ghostwriting is essentially all marketing all the time. Sure, marketing is super important no matter what field you’re in, but I was always writing with a spin in mind – be it for a product or service – everything I wrote as a freelancer had the end goal of bringing in a sale. Hey, I’m all for that because I have shit to sell too. Which is why I’m glad I took a few years to really learn the concepts so I can now market my books instead of someone else’s product or service I have no vested interest in.

- I was reminded of something I’ve been saying since I worked in retail (circa 1996-ish.) I hate people. Most people are crazy, only out for themselves and pay no mind to your schedule, your business needs or anything else that matters in your life because they’re too busy worrying about all that same stuff for themselves. Just like me. It was time to get out.

Bottom line was that I missed writing from the imagination and not the wallet, I’m glad I learned better ways to sell my books though, and I’m using NaNo as the catalyst toward getting at least four out next year.

Yup. Four.

My goal is to get the heroine from my second book into a series and have her solving crimes all over this great nation for the next year.

Which reminds me…

Side perk of fiction I don’t get as a freelancer? A trip to Colorado can be a write off. Or a trip anywhere for that matter. Score.

By the way, I’m totally using this as word count today.

Just kidding.

No I’m not.

Or am I?

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