Thursday, March 31, 2011

28 Days

Before you even think it, no. This entry will not be a confessional about rehab. I'm no Erik Ainge or Charlie Sheen.

28 more days. Unbelievable. April 28, 1995 - my first young 'un was born. Sixteen years ago ... less 28 days. One of the milestone birthdays of life. I'm toomuchcountry, and I've nicknamed him toomuchtexting.

7 lbs, 11 oz. 21 inches long...16 years ago less 28 days.

The last 16 years are a bit of a blur as I look back on them. And I have no friggin clue what lays before me.

What I do know is that he will turn 16 in 28 days. Suddenly, I've aged to within four weeks of some questions that I've never really asked before:
  • What kind of birthday soiree do you have for a sixteen year-old boy? I'm guessing its a big deal to turn 16 as a girl (cue Molly Ringwald/John Hughes movie). But for a son? I have zero memories of turning 16 myself. A big dinner with a bunch of friend? Just a normal dinner with family? Gifts? Or just a shoulder chuck with 'have a great day pal - and clean up your room when you get home'? 28 days...
  • Is it that big a deal to get your driver's license on the day? Apparently, the answer is a resounding YES. I got my license during my 17th year (post 16th birthday); however, my mother and I were not in line on the day. But he has his mind set that is the one thing he really wants to get. 28 days...
  • Am I prepared for how my insurance rates are going to skyrocket when he does get his license? My answer contrasts the previous bullet: a resounding NO. 28 days...
  • When will he start digging girls - at least enough to make it known to us? I'm not least not that stupid. He is 'friends' with several PYTs, but he hasn't dated or really even asked about it. For the most part, he is still just a geeky, teen boy. 28 days...
  • How in the world will the two of us who brought him into this world avoid taking each other out of it over the idea of a car? My wife is scared to death to ride with him. He does fine - its just excessive nervousness on her part. On the other hand, I've got 40-50 hours of passenger time with him behind the wheel, and I think he has done remarkably well. Yet, she is the one who wants to give him a car for his birthday to drive solo whereas I'm the one saying "now wait just a damn minute". 28 days...
  • Assuming we agree to get him a car (meaning she'll say "we're getting one whether you like it or not"), what shall we get? My vote: a high-mileage, reasonably maintained, 4-door, inexpensive car. Comfortably less than $5,000. Statistics say as a male teen he'll wad the thing up before he moves out from under my roof. I'm viewing any purchase as analogous to buying a blister pack, commodity item near a Wal-Mart register. Use it up, throw it away and start over should the actuaries' prediction prevail. Her suggestion: The precious boy needs a low-mileage, don't-leak-oil-on-my-driveway, current model so he can carefully drive it the next 6 or 8 years. Oh, and it needs to be a bit stylish too. And its gotta be a Toyota, Honda or Nissan because Consumer Reports says those are the best types of used cars. Huh? The kid's whole live is pretty much based on a 10-mile radius from his mattress. If he breaks down somewhere, he could walk home before a tow truck arrives or hypothermia sets in. He isn't a middle-aged, father-of-two who is under employed, struggling with the mortgage and high gas prices and needs a deeply discounted sedan to roundtrip a 30-mile commute from the 'burbs five days a week for the next decade. But I digress. 28 days...
  • Have I come to grips that in a bit over 2 years from now he'll pretty much be gone? College, work, somewhere (hopefully not the pokey). Kinda. Even though I don't remember turning 16 during my sophomore year, I do remember turning 18 my senior year. I knew I just had to graduate that spring, work the summer and then move away to college. I love my folks, but I was ready to get gone. So if that's the mindset he's got too, I'm good with it. As a matter of fact, I'll probably struggle more if he does NOT leave. So help me if I have to change his nickname to 'toomuchleeching'. 28 days...
When he was born, I had no clue what to do. He peed, crapped, ate, puked, slept and drooled. From around age three until nine, he thought I had hung the moon. And I adored all the time we spent together. Years 10 to 15 were a bit weird - we didn't talk as much even though we spent time together. Now as he approaches 16, I'm trying to learn how to treat him more as a young man while still trying making him realize I'll bust him down to buck-private at the drop of a hat if circumstances dictate.

28 days.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tiling Tunes

With apologies to Government Cheese and their song Fish Stick Day...

Friday's here
We're excited, we're delighted

Its Grout Tile Day, Grout Tile Day
I can't wait for Grout Tile Day

Run, run, run for the Home Depot. Yay!
Grout Tile Day, Grout Tile Day

Grout Tile Day

An understanding has evolved between my wife and me over the last few years. I make arrangements to go to a couple of NASCAR races annually as frugally as possible. Score free tickets, crash on a friend's couch where possible, ride with someone else to split gas costs, drink cheap beer, etc. In return she gets to buy some expensive purse or urn, or she sets me up with a big home improvement project. Sounds like a fair trade, right? Well it isn't, but that's the price to pay for me to have some fun nonetheless.

Friday, I finally got around to starting a project for one of my 2010 trips. I installed ceramic tile above the shower in our bathroom. In terms of mega-tile, "This Old House"-type jobs, this one ranks pretty low. Still, I wondered if I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

I've installed tile once before - about 10 years ago at our previous house. I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing then, and I'm not sure I was a whole lot better prepared this time. I'll do lawn care, change light bulbs, paint some here and there, and am competent at rudimentary handiwork. But tiling is for keeps. Once you apply a section of thin set and install your first tile, there really isn't any turning back.

But by cracky, I was gonna knock out this job for a few reasons.
  1. I believed I could do it. My previous tiling experience, getting do-it-yourself tips on the web, discussing the project with big box hardware store employees and exchanging ideas (and tools) with co-worker/slum lord/fellow blogger and tweeter Ozzy Nelson convinced me so.
  2. My wife expected it. I went to my race in 2010, had an...ahem...uh...large time, was gone for 4 days and returned pretty wrung out. This project was partly to enhance the bathroom and partly my come-uppance for having such a good time with my buds.
  3. I'm too cheap. Even if I could have bought my way out of the project by hiring someone, I really didn't want to fork over the cash to have someone do a professional version of what this amateur hack could do adequately.
Friday: 90% of tile installed. Cuts of corner pieces await

The one thing an all-day (which morphed into a multi-day) project like this allowed me to do was queue up the iPod through external speakers. As I spread thin-set, back-buttered square tiles and cussed as my corner spacers kept falling out, I enjoyed several playlists leftover from events of the past. From there, I moved on to a few specific artists and bands.

When Friday was over, it dawned on me I could have built my own playlist before the project. Based on what I listened to during the project, I may compile Tiling Tunes for that next big project. (I have three races on deck for 2011, so I know big projects are headed my way.)

Here's some tunes that seem to make sense to add to my playlist.

Time To Start - Blue Man Group

Ain't Skeert - The Anomoanon (stream it here)

100% Pure Fool - The Derailers

If I Were A Carpenter - Allison Krauss & Dwight Yoakum

What Was I Thinking - Dierks Bentley

Courage - The Tragically Hip

Width of a Line - The Rainmakers

Go Faster - Black Crowes

If I Had $1,000,000 - Barenaked Ladies

Saturday: All tile installed. Grout, de-hazing, caulk and sealing yet to go.

Hard on Equipment - Corb Lund & The Hurtin Albertans

Far From Perfect > Mr. Dependability - A Duane Jarvis double

Small Miracles - Blue Rodeo

Maybe I Can Paint Over That - Guy Clark

Going The Distance - Cake

I'm pretty proud of myself. Waste of tile was kept to a minimum. Sharp tools or tile weren't dropped that could have gouged the floor, shower or bathtub. I didn't cuss too much - at least not loudly enough for the rest of the family to hear. And none of our cats ended up with a dollop of grout in their fur.

Sunday: Grouted baby!

All in all, a successful project gets logged in the book. Tiling Tunes certainly played a key role in keying me on point.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CD Review: 4 on the Floor

2010 was a bit of an anomaly for me. Through a variety of sources, I usually glom onto about a half-dozen or more new singers or bands each year (at least new to me). Last year seemed to be one of just enjoying the comforts of those I already liked.

One band has already got my attention in 2011: 4 On The Floor from Minneapolis, MN. Admittedly, some of their hooks included:
  • One of my favorite breakfast meals: The Twos at Mickey's Dining Car in neighboring St. Paul, MN.
  • Delighted Minneapolis is delivering more music in line with my interests vs. Prince
  • The band's name: 4 On The Floor
  • The title of their new release: 4 x 4
  • The vinyl release date: April 4
  • The time signature in all their songs: 4/4
  • My current vehicle: a Dodge Dakota 4x4.
  • All 4 band members tap their toes to ... individual bass drums.
  • I marched bass drum my sophomore year in high school.
  • My son marched bass drum his sophomore year last fall.
So right out of the gate, this band seems to have more gimmicks than a Carrot Top Vegas act, right? First thing I pondered when I heard of this band where everyone plays bass drum is "hmm, I wonder if they'll be like Big Pig." About 20 years ago, I picked up a cassette of this short-lived Australian band. Each band members played percussion, and a vocalist was added. Think industrial, prog, Bauhaus/Peter Murphy, etc. No guitars. Unusual but great recording.

As it turns out, Big Pig is nothing like 4 On The Floor. This band is very uh... 'garage' oriented - and I mean that in a good way. There's more to them than perhaps I originally thought might be there. A constant 4/4 bass drum beat, slide guitar, rough vocals and an ample supply of single and double chord songs fills the bill pretty well for this debut LP.

A few thoughts about some of the songs...

Exile - A bit of an odd start to the CD. A slow, monotone-lyrical dirge with opening chants and the soon-to-join constant bass drum thump. But hold on, because the opener tees up the 2nd cut nicely.

Lionhearted - After wondering about the opener, the singing of Lionhearted suddenly hit me right in the mouth. I first played this cut during my morning commute, and it cost me a few extra cents in fuel as I accelerated 10 MPH. Singer, Gabe Douglas, sings like he starts his day by gargling shredded razor blades soaked in a cup of yesterday's cold coffee ... again, I mean that in a good way. I struggled for a listen or two to put my finger on his sound. About the best way I can visualize it is a deeper-voiced Patterson Hood from Drive By Truckers fronting a metal band. I'll say this though - a couple of lines in the song kick-started my motivation for the day.
You better get your legs beneath you,
you better *LION* find those feet below you

Workin' Man Zombie - ZZ Top's Tres Hombres era came to mind as the opening riff of this one began.

First on a List of Things I Don't Need - best song title of the album - This song opens with the repeated strumming of a single chord. One. For 20 seconds - which began to seem like a liftime. As soon as the lyrics began, I had a good laugh. Whether an unintentional or deliberate effort, the lyrics were the antithesis of the guitar lead-in:
Change, who needs it
It just jingle jangles in my pocket
Do not change - not for me.
So afraid of different scenery

Don't bring change to my table
It'll just get lost in the mix
Do not change, I'm not able
So don't call me a hypocrite
On Tuesdays - The single most inspiring, uplifting tune of the whole bunch. [/endsarcasm]
I'm drunk on Tuesdays
I didn't make it halfway through the week
I'm drunk on Tuesdays
And some days I can barely speak

Cashillac - My first reaction to hearing the first few bars of this song was to think a Johnny Cash trib may be in play. This was before scanning the packaging for song titles. I have to believe its more than a coincidence that the song's influence and vibe matches its title.

For Pa / For Ma - Bands often bury their weakest song as the final track. I frequently found this to be an issue back in the days of vinyl. I supposed producers rolled the dice that listeners may not always listen to all of the B side. In a digital age, however, with track shuffling and iTunes purchases, bands have to bring it. In the case of For Pa / For Ma, the band closes with one of the stronger tracks of their album - musically and vocally. My only complaint? The song includes some banjo, but its almost too distant. It would have been nice to see it raised in the mix.

Despite the gimmick of all four players thumping a bass drum, the sound isn't overpowering on the CD. Its there on every track, but I can deal with it. Admittedly, I haven't ripped the CD to my iPod yet to listen with ear buds as I'm mowing the grass. I suppose I could end up munching a fistful of Advil if I did so. But its otherwise been an enjoyable CD so far.

Would I like to see the band live? Based on a few YouTube videos I've seen, I think it would be a fun show. It would be interesting to hear how tight the four of them could be or what ad-libs might be pulled with the drums.

Because the band originally caught my attention with some novelty about their name, album, and release date, I guess its only appropriate if I offer suggestions for future releases to catch the eye of others.
  • For their next release, maybe they could add another guitarist, release it on May 5th, live in a camper as they tour and name it 5th Wheel.
  • For their third album, they could add a second drummer a la .38 Special or The Allman Brothers, release it on June 6th, upgrade their camper-towing vehicle to a Ram 3500 diesel pick-up and title it Dually.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Government Cheese at The Rutledge

In June 1987, I began my first professional career in Chattanooga, TN and immediately built some new friendships - a few that still exist to this day. In June 1988, a young lady began at the same office, quickly hit my radar and later lowered herself to marry me. From mid-1987 and into 1989ish, my friends, my girlfriend and I spent many Friday nights listening to cover bands and drinking beer at a long-since-gone joint called Yesterdays.

In 1988, Michelangelo's Pizza opened near Yesterdays. It was a good lunch place for us during work hours, but that was about it. Until. The manager started booking bands - regional, touring bands with original music. We loved the vibe of Yesterdays, but I really started getting into Michelangelo's as they booked such bands as The Connells, Stealin Horses, Royal Court of China and ...

The band then ...

My girlfriend / later wife and I have never really seen eye-to-eye (or heard ear-to-ear as the case may be) on the same type of music. As a general rule, I'm a below-the-radar, not-on-radio music fan. She's always been about the top 40 pop crap and can listen to the same drivel over and over and over and over and over. But she even liked Cheese cuts such as Fish Stick Day, Mammaw Drives the Bus and Yellow Cling Peaches.

A former roommate of mine, she and I saw the band a second time in Nashville. The band opened for Guadalcanal Diary at The Cannery Ballroom. Its one of the most ironically-named music venues in the city as its just a big ol' warehouse room with columns in it. But that night, I remember the place was PACKED. The columns were our oasis. If a bit of breathing room was needed, you just shuffled over to a column because each one seemingly had its own personal buffer zone that folks respected.

The third and final time I saw them (until last Saturday) was at a Chattanooga pool hall called Shooters. (The place ran a very dumb ad: Come see your favorite sporting events on the area's largest 10' TV screen.) I don't remember a lot about the show except they had the band on a platform stage a good bit above the main floor level. It gave singer Scott Willis all the room he needed to leap from the stage with his microphone and sing amongst the crowd below before climbing back up to re-join his band.

Then they were gone - or maybe I was. The band lasted another half-dozen years I think, but I didn't get the fourth opportunity to see them. In recent years, however, the internet played out a wonderful scenario. I Googled the band, found lyricist-singer-guitarist Tommy Womack, cold-emailed him, revisited some of my memories from those shows, and closed with something lame to the effect of "well, thanks for reading".

To my surprise, he replied within a day, said he remembered those shows and thanked me for contacting him. That led me to purchase all of his CDs and see him perform live probably about a dozen times and counting. I also credit him for introducing me to the music of Todd Snider about 7 or 8 years ago. He was headed somewhere to play bass in a band to back Todd. I had no idea at the time who Todd was but figured I'd give his music a shot. A pretty good tip TW.

About 20 years later, I got the opportunity to see the Cheese a fourth time. Late last year, Womack released a 2-CD anthology of Cheese music - songs from their four commercial releases, alternate recorded versions and live tracks from a show in Kentucky in the early '90s. In support of the CD, the band reunited for a World... err... Nationwide... umm... I-65 Tour consisting of... well... just two dates. One for each of the CDs I suppose. The first gig was in Bowling Green, KY, and the second and final one was last Saturday night at The Rutledge in Nashville.

I intended to take good show notes for this entry. I took a pre-printed "set list" of Cheese songs in alphabetical order and planned to number them as the night progressed. Apparently, however, the pen fell out of my pocket on the way from my truck to the front door. Feeling it was a sign to ease-up, I simply did my best to remember what happened and just enjoy the night.

After procuring a Yazoo pale, I walked into the room and was able to land a spot at stage left near bassist Billy Mack Hill and guitarist Chris "Viva Las Vegas" Becker. It wasn't long, however, before "the eclipse" moved in - a good size feller who shoe-horned his way in front of many of us blocking our view as he head-bobbed for the early part of the show. Once he bulled his way in, it created a leak in the dam where another 8 to 10 folks forced their way in as well with the simple exchange of "Hey, you mind if we get up here? Thanks. Hey y'all, come on up here too!" But it was the Cheese, I was up front, and nothing was going to derail the fun times.

With very little banter, the band hit us right in the mouth by opening with Oh Yeah.

After months of planning and rehearsing for the two shows, Tommy apparently got really sick on game day. He donned his rally derby and soldiered on to the show. As a hedge, ringer guitarist and pleasant surprise to all, the band brought in Warner Hodges, the legendary guitarist from Jason & The Scorchers. From what I gathered, Warner had planned to join them on a couple of songs. As it turned out, he seemed to have a genuinely good time and played on about a third of the setlist.

Tommy Womack

For the third or fourth song, the band kicked off Underneath the Watertower, the second track from their EP, C'mon Back To Bowling Green And Marry Me. About half-way through the song, Willis seemed to forget the lyrics, seemed ready to bail on the song and was ready for the band to re-start the song. But there is no crying in baseball and no mulligans in rock-and-roll. The band kept their rhythms, the crowd chanted their support, Scott smiled and gathered his thoughts and they forged their way through the rest of it. He apologized when the song ended saying he moved it up in the setlist to get it out of the way early and hedge against forgetting the lyrics. But no one cared.

Scott Willis, Viva Las Vegas and Joe Elvis

With only a minor hiccup or two, the band ripped through their first pretty tight and VERY LOUD set. I glanced over at one point and noticed a guy half my age with ear plugs in his ears. I dismissed him as a complete FAIL. After another song or two though, Willis asked someone to grab him some napkins so he could stick them in his ears. Sure enough, someone soon fetched a stack of about 100 for him.

He wadded up a couple, crammed them in his ears and gave the rest to the crowd saying "You may need these. We're turned up to 11." Hopefully my fellow middle-agers got the Spinal Tap ref. As for me, no way was I going for the ear protection. I didn't wait two decades to hear a clipped MP3 version of the Cheese. Who cares if everything on Sunday sounded as muddy as a Polygram cassette tape? (Surely some of you are similarly aged to appreciate how awful pre-recorded Polygram cassettes sounded back in the day.)

Twenty years ago at a Cheese show, alcohol flowed in prodigious amounts and cig smoke hung in the air like a San Fran fog. In 2011, though the room was packed, the bar wasn't overly busy and smoking is almost non-existent anymore - at least on a club floor. Most folks seemed to claim their spot and stay there much of the night. Once the first set ended, I downed another couple of Yazoos quickly and figured I'd stake out a new spot as folks took bathroom and smoke breaks. Sure enough, I eased to the opposite end of the stage and secured a great spot. I laughed a bit as I talked to a youngster standing next to me saying "I'm guessing you weren't around much for the first go-round of Cheese." The kid said something to the effect of "they were around in 1985 but I wasn't born until 95." It then dawned on me it was Tommy's son. His mother, Beth, settled in behind him. As Tommy noted in his write-up of the show, his son finally got to see his dad in the rock-and-roll glory he'd only heard about as he's grown up. Tommy references his son's drumming skills in his solo song, Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood. I jokingly needled Nathan a bit by suggesting he ask for a chance to drum on one of the songs. But smartly I suppose, he was content to stay at the lip of the stage and just absorb it all.

Scott Willis & Billy Mack Hill

Tommy Womack and Warner Hodges

The second set picked up right where the first one ended. Included was one of my faves, Billy Mack's The Shrubbery's Dead Where Danny Used To Fall. Its hardly an uplifting song, but I've enjoyed it since day one for a couple of reasons: One, lyrically its the complete opposite of some of the Cheese's more comedic songs. Two, the visual created by the song's title made me laugh in a whacked sort of way from the first time I heard of it. Three, being a Monty Python fan, the word "shrubbery" always brings a smirk to my face - even in the midst of the dark subject matter of the song.

Another example of how the show of Saturday wasn't the show of 20 years ago. As the second set peaked, a near 50-year-0ld Willis pulled a stage dive several feet to the right of where I was standing. Rather than be prepared to catch him, the aging audience with their iPhones and Droids in hand shrieked a bit, parted ways and barely broke his fall.

A beer-soaked playlist

As mentioned at the beginning, I didn't keep notes about the setlist. But I know the following songs were played. Other than opening with Oh Yeah and closing with the Jim Carroll cover People Who Died (are you listening Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen?), I'm not going to pretend to remember the exact order or set.

Oh Yeah (TMC video'd)
Rebecca Whitmire
Underneath The Watertower
Stay With Me
Mammaw Drives The Bus
I Wanna Be a Man
A Little Bit of Sex (less Tommy's 10-minute Gene Simmons story he generally tells in his solo shows)
No Sleeping in Penn Station
For the Battered (TMC video'd)
Face to Face
Nothing Feels Good
I Can't Help Myself
Yellow Cling Peaches
Camping on Acid
Sunday Driver
I Can't Make You Love Me
Cattle Prod > American Band (TMC video'd)
The Shrubbery's Dead (Where Danny Used To Fall) (TMC video'd)
C'mon Back to Bowling Green and Marry Me
Fish Stick Day (TMC video'd) > My Old Kentucky Home

Bathtub He Asked
Folsom Prison Blues
Skinny & Small > People Who Died

Attention: Bonus Blog Content! And today - available to you at no charge!

The songs I recorded are included in my YouTube GC playlist, and a few of the photos I took are available in my Photobucket album.

...and the band now.

These days, I prefer a chair at a small, round table or perch myself on a bar stool in a small room listening to a singer-songwriter over arena/stadium concerts or ridiculously loud rock shows in a club. But if the Cheese reunite in another 20 years, I hope I'll be there to see them - even if it means turning my hearing aid up to 11 to enjoy the show.