Music

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve posted about lots of different things on here, but for some reason, I’ve left out music. I honestly don’t know why — music makes up a pretty big portion of my life and always has. As a kid, I would sit for long stretches of time and listen to my parents’ records. Jackson Browne, Elton John, Steppenwolf, Emmy Lou Harris, and others formed the soundtrack of my early life. When I was about 7 years old, I got a boombox, and two tapes for Christmas. They were Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Phil Collins’s No Jacket Required. I loved them.

I still remember that Christmas pretty well; it was the first one where I felt like I had gotten something grown-up. It’s hard to describe, but I had finally reached some new plateau of freedom. I no longer had to rely on my parents to put an album on for me… and I no longer had to succumb to someone else’s musical whims. I was free to play any tape at my disposal, or even just listen to the radio. For a seven year old, that’s power…

At night, I used to go to sleep to music. I kept my stereo on the headboard of my bed, and my tape case was next to it. I had all of their locations memorized. When a tape finished, if I wanted to listen to a different one, I could reach behind me, eject the tape, put it in its case, find another one, and slide it into the tape deck without ever having to turn on the lights. If I had memorized my multiplication tables as well, imagine where I’d be now…

And my tastes have always been pretty eclectic too. In 3rd grade, I saved up and bought Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album. I also had stuff by Billy Joel, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Def Lepard, and though I’m somewhat ashamed, New Kids on the Block. I was lucky enough to start high school at a great time for music… the summer of ’92. I had just discovered Eric Clapton and was really digging his guitar licks, when I also started getting into Pearl Jam, Metallica (the Black album is what first got me interested in them), Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. And so while I was becoming indoctrinated with the grunge bands of the 90’s, my love of Clapton was also leading me back toward the 60’s and 70’s. I ended up becoming one of Hendrix’s biggest fans. And from there I got into the Doors, Grand Funk Railroad, and Pink Floyd.

At this point, it’s hard to find genres that I don’t like; although, it’s gotten much harder for me to listen to anything with offensive lyrics. But beyond that, I can usually find something I like in any style.

There are all kinds of things that can make music great. I love the delicate intricacies that can sometimes be found in melodies and progressions. There’s a live version of Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a’Comin'” that contains a riff that is just heavenly to me. And David Gilmore’s solo in Pink Floyd’s “Don’t Leave Me Now” is simple, but so incredibly powerful! Gilmore and B.B. King always knew that the notes you don’t play are just as important as the ones you do. Like King said, “notes are expensive… spend them wisely.”

Sometimes it’s the lyrics that really make a song. That’s why I love Jackson Browne and Dashboard Confessional. It’s that line or story that comes out in a song, and when you hear it, you might not even be able to put your finger on what it is, but something just seems to speak to you. Something that shouts a resounding YES! in your head because what they’ve said is somehow just right.

That’s why I love music. Whether it’s simple or it’s complicated, it doesn’t really matter. It just has to be something that fits you. The reason why is irrelevant.

And so I think I’ll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs. Maybe it won’t be anything special for you. And to be honest, I think I love it as much for the musical phrasing as for the words themselves. So if you ever get the chance to hear the song, do it. By the way, one of the things I love about this song is how some of the imagery is carried farther than just a line or two.

Farther On – Jackson Browne
In my early years I hid my tears
And passed my days alone
Adrift on an ocean of loneliness
My dreams like nets were thrown
To catch the love that I’d heard of
In books and films and songs
Now there’s a world of illusion and fantasy
In the place where the real world belongs

Still I look for the beauty in songs
To fill my head and lead me on
Though my dreams have come up torn and empty
As many times as love has come and gone

To those gentle ones my memory runs
To the laughter we shared at the meals
I filled their kitchens and living rooms
With my schemes and my broken wheels
It was never clear how far or near
The gates to my citadel lay
They were cutting from stone some dreams of their own
But they listened to mine anyway

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say
It could be I’ve lost my way
Though I keep a watch over the distance
Heaven’s no closer than it was yesterday

And the angels are older
They know not to wait up for the sun
They look over my shoulder
At the maps and the drawings of the journey I’ve begun

Now the distance leads me farther on
Though the reasons I once had are gone
I keep thinking I’ll find what I’m looking for
In the sand beneath the dawn

But the angels are older
They can see that the sun’s setting fast
They look over my shoulder
At the vision of paradise contained in the light of the past
And they lay down behind me
To sleep beside the road till the morning has come
Where they know they will find me
With my maps and my faith in the distance
Moving farther on

It’s the WEEKEND!

And man, am I ready for it!  It’s been a long week (but a good one) going back and forth between work and school, and I’m ready to relax for a little while.

I probably won’t get to though.

Wes is going to show up at my house tomorrow morning around 5:30 (some of you probably don’t even know what 5:30 am looks like; I wish I didn’t). At that point, my brother Daniel and I will accompany Wes to pick up our friend Matt and head down to Enterprise, AL.

And as a point of interest: you know all the times you’ve tried to plan family vacations that would be both exciting and educational? You know how you always end up going to your second or third place choices (NYC, the Grand Canyon, etc) because you can’t seem to find that one special place that has a statue dedicated to a boll weevil? Well, your search is over. Enterprise is a weevil lover’s dream come true.

Anyway, what’s in Enterprise you ask? Well, aside from a giant metallic boll weevil, Wes’s family is giving me a piano; the only stipulation is that I have to go pick it up. Those of you who know me are probably aware that I’ve been wanting a piano for a long time, so this was quite an opportunity for me. What’s really amazing is that I actually persuaded 3 other non-geriatric people to get up before 6am on a Saturday. They must be masochists.

I’m Back!

Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. Things have been very busy for me. Last week I worked in Huntsville, Thursday night I had my first class, Friday night we went to that Star Wars concert, and Saturday I helped a friend and his family move some furniture. Sunday I went to church services, and then we had a Bible study at our house that evening.

_mg_1054-1200.jpgThe concert on Friday was a lot of fun. I hadn’t expected it, but the 501st Legion showed up. As I was walking down the steps into the amphitheater, I glanced up and saw a sandtrooper and someone dressed in the Boushh disguise (what Leia wore when she infiltrated Jabba’s palace). It was awesome.

800px-merson2.jpgThe 501st is a group of people that all own authentic Star Wars costumes (there’s also a group for those who like dressing up as Rebels and Jedi). Membership is free, so long as you have an approved costume, and they often support different social functions all on a volunteer basis. At this concert the other night, there was a girl dressed as Princess Leia, several Storm Troopers and even Darth Vader. A couple of other people had some great Jedi costumes as well. It really helped set the atmosphere for the show, and all these people worked great with the kids. Lots of them posed to have pictures taken, etc.

Needless to say, I’m now researching how to get my own suit… 🙂

Triumph

As a boy (who am I kidding? I still do this), I used to daydream about survival. We spent countless hours playing with toy guns or beating each other with sticks in our “sword fights.” The movie Red Dawn was iconic to me. It’s the perfect guy’s movie. Communists invade the US, and some high school kids are left to defend it by running through the woods with hunting rifles. It’s hard to beat a scenario like that.

In February, Lauren and I went to Gatlinburg with Josh and Joy (my brother and his wife). We were staying in some cabins on top of a mountain, and we ended up getting snowed in one night. The next morning, the four of us got up, put on some warm, comfortable clothes, and began our trek down the mountain.

We hadn’t gone far when we ran across 3 old couples piled into a Lincoln Towncar, or something similar. They had tried driving down and slid into a snowbank. We offered help, but they said a wrecker was coming to get them. I don’t know how many miles we hiked, but it took us quite a while to get down. Of course, the footing was pretty treacherous in places, and that slowed us down considerably.

We finally got into town, bought some supplies at a grocery store, and ate lunch. As you might imagine, hiking back was significantly more difficult that hiking down had been, but we still had a lot of fun. We came across the Lincoln again on our hike back up the mountain. Apparently, the wrecker had pulled it out onto the road, only to have the car drift into another snowbank. The wrecker pulled them out a second time, after which, the car ran into a telephone pole.car-crash.jpg

The biggest thrill we had was when we ran across other people who had been staying on the mountain. Most had been unable to drive down, so they were pacing around their driveways like refugees. They would watch us anxiously as we approached them, and then they would come up to us with glassy eyes and ask us questions while hungrily eyeing our packs. “Y’all hike up from all the way down there?” Invariably, they were surprised when we told them we had actually hiked down early that morning, and were now coming back.

It was amazing how helpless people seemed to become when they could no longer rely on their modern conveniences. I mean, they couldn’t imagine traveling unless it was motorized. We felt like brave explorers, even though we hadn’t really done much. Sheeple need a shepherd, I guess.

I also felt that way a little bit on Saturday. We essentially had a family reunion at my grandparents’ house in Prattville. It basically consisted of my grandparents’ two kids and their families, as well as my grandmother’s two sisters and their families. There were quite a few of us there.

My grandparents own about 35 acres of woods that surround their house, which my siblings and I grew up playing in. A fairly deep gulley runs through the woods. After a while, it gets shallower, but it still has a small stream that goes on for quite a ways. The woods around the stream are extremely thick and green — almost jungle-like. It’s not uncommon to see magnolias, bamboo, and many, many briers growing all along it.

When we were kids, it seemed as though we were on some dangerous expedition any time we ventured down the length of the stream (which was rare). That part of the forest seemed to hold some deep mystery.

Saturday, a large group of us went out into the woods, and we followed the trails over to the gulley. After crawling around it for a little bit, my brothers and I couldn’t resist trying to follow that stream again. But almost half of our party didn’t want to go. As I said, the woods here were very thick. There was no trail to follow; you had to make your own.

 The only ones who ventured along the stream were me, Lauren, Madelyn (our 3 yr old), Josh, Joy, Bryan (their son), Daniel (my brother), Brittany (his girlfriend), Ryley (my sister), and David (her boyfriend).  I was proud.  The same kids who grew up there are the ones who went through the toughest parts of the woods on Saturday.  But this time, we brought others with us.

 It was tough going, but it was so much fun.  We had to duck and twist around branches, bushes, and thorns.  We had to cross and recross the stream several times over.  We had to climb up some banks and jump down others.  And the woods still held that sense of mystery, like you might uncover some ancient ruin at any minute.

We hadn’t gone very far when I found a hatchet stuck in a tree with an old hacksaw hanging on it.  Nearby, we found a 7-iron golf club.  I asked if we should take those things with us, and Josh said “we were meant to.”  He was joking, but not really, you know?  Exploring woods and caves gives you a sense of fate, a sense of purpose.

 Life is a lot like that as well.  It’s meant to be lived, not avoided.  Adventure, excitement, Jedi crave not these things.  But I do.  🙂  I can’t help it.  And deep down, I think everyone else does as well.  The difference is, some people take the risk and others don’t.

Teddy Roosevelt probably said it best:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”The Strenuous Life

My Dad Was a Spy…

… but I’m pretty sure he’s retired now.

When I was a little kid, my father had the rare gift of striking fear into the hearts of all of my friends. This was an ability that seemed to require no effort on his part – he simply had an aura about him that caused sphincters to tighten and hair to raise.

I think most of my friends were allowed to get away with many more things than I was. By a fairly young age, I had figured out how to keep a low profile and get into minimal trouble. My two younger brothers never seemed to get quite as good at that as I did, but they still knew how to play it safe. However, when our friends came over, we were usually persuaded to do something ridiculously stupid, which typically ended with spankings for me and my siblings, while our friends cowered in abject terror.

Of course, we (my siblings and I) had no problems getting into trouble on our own. We were fully capable of performing asinine stunts even when none of our friends were around.

For example, when I was about 11 or 12, my parents would sometimes go out for the evening and leave me and my brother Josh in charge. Why my parents needed a break from 4 children, I can’t imagine, but occasionally, they did. Anyway, let’s say I was 12 at this time; that would have made Josh 10, Ryley (my sister) 7, and Daniel 5.

As soon as my parents left (they were going out for dinner and a movie), we decided that it would be an excellent idea to have a watergun fight. Furthermore, we didn’t feel like doing this outside.

So we galloped about the house, darting in and out of bedrooms and bathrooms, firing water at one another in some bizarre acquatic urban warfare. Josh was, and I believe still is, rather prone to nosebleeds, and it was at this time that his nostrils gushed forth jets of blood. Under normal circumstances, a truce would have been called while Josh took care of this problem, but we didn’t go for that option that night. Instead, Josh tore off his shirt and smeared the blood all over his chest and face, never pausing in the watergun fight.

I remember rounding the corner toward the front door with Josh in hot pursuit when I heard the jingle of keys come from the other side of the door. I skidded to a halt in my sock-feet and watched in horror as the front door swung inward, revealing my parents. Apparently, the movie had sold out.

Yeah, we got in trouble over that one…

But I should probably point out that my father was in no way abusive; in fact, he enjoyed playing and roughhousing as much as we did. Now that I have kids of my own, it’s hard for me to believe that Dad actually took me and Josh for rides with him in one of those Radio Flyer wagons. We would all climb in and rocket down a hill, while he tried to steer with that little black handle. We rarely made it all the way to the bottom of the hill (at least not while still in the wagon), and our wagon didn’t long resemble the ones you see in the store.

But at the same time, he believed that there was a time and place for everything. For instance, the place for waterguns was not indoors…

But I think the other thing that may have contributed to his sometimes frightening demeanor was his work. On the surface, he worked as a general manager for Jenkins Brick Company. But while I was in high school, Josh and I began to wonder if perhaps he was doing something else.

In the early 90’s, Dad had to go to London on business, and then to Ireland, shortly after. Why would someone in the brick business need to go to Europe? He took other trips as well, though we didn’t always know to what locales.

And as the 90’s progressed, strange things would sometimes happen around our house. One day, Josh and I walked out into the front yard and noticed a Ford Ranger parked just up the street. We didn’t recognize it, but didn’t think a lot about it, until we saw some man sprint from the far side of our house, jump into the truck, and speed away. We’ve never been able to figure that out.

And then there was the Schwan’s ice cream truck. I think someone was spying on our family for a long time, and they were using the Schwan’s truck as cover. I know that sounds ridiculous. I mean, if someone really had been trying to scope us out, wouldn’t they have used something a little less conspicuous? But perhaps that was the idea. Using an ice cream truck for cover is so ludicrous that they probably thought everyone would dismiss it.

About two houses down from us, our street did one of those things that looks like a cul-de-sac, but is actually a 90 degree turn. I’d say at least once a week, a Schwan’s delivery truck would sit in that 90 degree bend for an hour or more at a time. We might have assumed that the driver knew someone at that address or something, but he never got out of his truck.

Ok, ok, so what, right? I mean, who really cares if the Schwan’s guy sits at the end of your street for no apparent reason on a regular basis. That doesn’t really mean anything.

And that’s true. But what made it a little more bizarre was that the Schwan’s guy started turning up in weird places. One afternoon, I had gone to the dentist, and my dad had met me at the dentist’s office, for some reason. After my appointment, he and I were sitting in his car talking (I was getting ready to get into my truck so we could go back home), and something across the street caught my eye. Across the street, not directly, but down the road a little ways, a guy in a Schwan’s delivery truck was sitting in an abandoned parking lot. I pointed this out to my Dad, but he didn’t really comment on it much. Shortly after that, we headed back home, but the Schwan’s guy sat there the whole time.

Then, a couple of years later, me and some friends had been driving around Pensacola, where we lived, and decided on a whim to stop at this little roadside park. We got out of the car, and immediately, a Schwan’s truck pulled up next to us. We played around on the swings and stuff for a little while, and I kept stealing glances at the Schwan’s guy, who was still sitting in his truck. We didn’t stay at the park long, and as soon as we walked back toward our car, the Schwan’s guy started up his truck and pulled away.

It was also around this time that Dad quit his “job” at Jenkins in order to start his own masonry business (I won’t bother enumerating all the potential benefits that working with concrete could have for someone who might have to “dispose” of things), but this change only caused Dad to travel more than ever, and he managed to get into probably the best shape he’d been in in years.

But I also moved away from home shortly after that, so it’s hard for me to say if the Schwan’s guy continued to come around. Now, Mom and Dad have relocated to the Atlanta area, and Dad’s gotten a job with another brick company. Things seem to have settled down for them, and I’ve got a feeling that if my father ever did work as a spy, those days are behind him now.

But I still think about it every time I see a Schwan’s delivery truck.

Lazy Radio

So Birmingham has a new rock station, 105.5 The Vulcan, which I’ve been listening to lately. They specialize in new rock, but have a heavy focus in stuff from the 90’s. Obviously, that’s something I really dig; I mean, it reminds me of high school, college, and endless frivolity (which often equals stupidity). But it’s made me a little concerned too…

For instance, I was listening one day and heard the song “Burden in my Hand” by Soundgarden. Great song. I hadn’t heard it in years. But two days later, I heard it again.

And that’s ok too, but I think you see where I’m going with it. There are several great songs from the 90’s that they’ve brought back out, but they’re starting to overplay them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam or “Self-esteem” by The Offspring. Those are great songs too, but don’t overdo it! There’s such a vast and wonderful catalog of material out there, you should almost never overplay anything.

So, why would they do that? Why would they focus on a handful of songs and play them into oblivion when there’s so much great stuff out there? At first, you might assume that they are strong in the lazy side of the force. After all, what could be lazier than picking out a selection of songs and never replacing them with anything else?

Well said. It sounds like you’ve really been trying to embrace the lazy side. And perhaps, that is why you fail.

The lazy side can’t be embraced. It eludes embracing, because embracing is action. Instead, you must treat the lazy side with indifference. You must sit back on your couch and act like you don’t care about the lazy side at all. Maybe eat a few chips, or ask someone to get you a drink (but don’t get it yourself…). Yawn a lot. The lazy side will draw ever closer.

See, the lazy side will never fail you. Let’s go back to our example of this new radio station. When using the lazy side, one concentrates on maximizing and sustaining enjoyment. Playing good songs on the radio is enjoyable, and if you own the radio station, it’s also lucrative. The lazy side likes “lucrative.” A lucrative life-style enables laziness.

Therefore, a true lazy side master wouldn’t just pick out a few good songs, then let them run continually. No. Instead, he will (using minimum effort) periodically change up the song selection so that no tune gets old. Thus, people continue to listen to this rocking station, and money continues to pour in.

Truly, the lazy side IS powerful (and I would have added an exclamation point there, but I was feeling too lazy)