Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 6 of 6)

It's Tuesday, May 24, 2011, Day Six of my six-day blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU. Today actually IS the site’s seventh blogaversary, and as such I thought I’d change things up just a bit. Up to now I’ve been reposting of some of my more obscure, yet favorite stories over the life of this blog, however, today’s entry isn’t exactly all that obscure.

On the afternoon of Thursday August 6, 2009, I received the shocking news via a news alert email I opened at work. Filmmaker John Hughes had sustained a fatal heart attack at only 59 years of age. Hughes was best known for the coming of age film, ‘The Breakfast Club’, a touchstone classic for millions of GenXers. And while I wasn’t attached to his most famous work, Hughes’s demise hit me in way that was nearly as painful. I loved his work as well, not necessarily for the subject matter of his films, but for their essence and the way they made me feel.

Combine Hughes’s death with that of what seemed like half of Hollywood that horrendous final year of the new millennium’s first decade, and what you get is a fairly good representation of how all of 2009 went for me. At that point I was three months out from losing my job at The Company; already feeling the sand beginning to give way beneath my feet. I remember that day having that sickening sense that the loss I was feeling wasn’t an isolated happenstance; it was a wave that was ready to break over my head.

It’s a moment in time I wish not to forget, but rather, to celebrate.

It was was one of those periods of melancholy in my life that somehow have the opposite effect on me than they seem to on other people. No, I’m not a masochist, but just the same, I don’t run from pain either; I embrace it, because the sun will indeed come up tomorrow. When it does, the pain will subside, but I find that the memories of times you’ve had to really fight just to get through is always the best reminder that you are indeed alive.

That’s why this story is special to me, although that has little to do with its relative lack of obscurity.

There have been and continue to be, blog posts that receive more hits from the search engines on a cumulative basis, but no other post that I ever wrote received more traffic in the week that it was first posted than this one. And I can’t take credit for that either. A person I mention in the follow-up to this post, a young woman who had maintained a penpal relationship with Hughes over the years since ‘Breakfast Club,’ received a great deal of attention for her own blog’s reaction to his death, and was kind enough to link to my story, greatly enhancing its ‘Google juice.’

So whether you are a fan of John Hughes or just want to get a better handle on why I’m so weird, here is final installment in my blogaversary reposts series for this year.

Happy Birthday, AYBABTU.



He Made Us Comfortable in Someone Else’s Skin

What a lousy year…
I’m really not in the mood to write today, but I feel I must. I need to do so in order to pay tribute on at least a somewhat timely basis to the passing of yet another luminary in our culture whose life has come to a premature end; a man whose movies defined a generation in a way that may never be duplicated: reknowned 1980s writer/director/producer, John Hughes.

Photo courtesy Cinetext/Allstar

Over the past three months I’ve started and stopped at least four stories regarding the notable lives that 2009 has claimed; the list is staggering. It seems that each time I try to express my regret for one of the individuals who has passed, another one drops off and I’m once again crippled by grief and have to set it aside.

On June 25th we experienced the double-whammy of losing both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson within mere hours of one another. And though these were the two who captured the attention of the TeeVee news magazines for weeks, there were others who preceded them. Giants of significance to me, in the personal, entertainment, pop culture, and political arenas; names like Ed McMahon, my Father In-Law, David Carradine, Dan Miller, Chuck Daly, Dom Deluise, Jack Kemp, Bea Arthur, Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych, Paul Harvey, James Whitmore, Andrew Wyeth, and the great Ricardo Montalbán.

But the Grim Reaper wasn’t finished in June; he kept right on going, and has in just the past six weeks claimed the additional lives of Walter Cronkite, Robert McNamara, Steve McNair, and Karl Malden.

Now if you’re looking at that list and either scratching your head because there’s a bunch of names there you either don’t recognize — or in whose passing you weren’t quite moved enough to really feel bad about, well, no worries here. Chances are you’re not 53 years old, have split your lifetime between LA and Nashville, and/or are married to the daughter of a late, former Apollo 11 Moon Mission engineer.

You Just Never Know
We all have our own individual list of people that have touched our lives; its not the same for everyone, just as we also wield our own sphere of influence that touches the lives of others.

Sometimes that influence is through incidental contact; other times it’s quite intentional. Sometimes it’s a part of our job; other times it’s none of our freaking business. Sometimes our influence is a good thing; other times it’s the worst thing that we could possibly do to another person.

There’s one constant in all of this however, and that is that we never know.

We never know how just a look from us can change another person’s day; how an encouraging word can either make or break a child; how the conscious decision to NOT let our ill mood affect our response can make all the difference in the outcome of an inter-personal situation.

We never know how years of direct exposure to another soul can either mold that person’s character for good, or cast an irrevocable die of pain upon their life.

We just never know.

My all-time personal favorite quote — the single greatest influence I have ever received from a poet, is displayed in the masthead of my blog. It’s not from a poem, but is from the heart of a wise and inspired poetess, Maya Angelou:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This has become my mantra; something I attempt to use to govern my actions; to make each and every contact with another person a positive one, because…you never know.

A Hughe(s) Loss
John Hughes probably had a clue, but I doubt he ever knew just how influential his movies were, or how much he would be missed when he left us this past Thursday.

I sure as hell didn’t know how it would affect me.

And the thing is, at the time I heard the news, I really didn’t know why I was so shaken.

Perhaps it was just the straw-that-broke-the camel’s-back of this god-forsaken ‘another one bites the dust’ kind-of-year.

Perhaps it was the fact that just a few days earlier I had actually done a Google search on Hughes to try and find out what he was up to. I hadn’t heard anything about him making movies in what seemed like forever. Was he ill or just laying low? Why had he dropped out of the limelight? Why had he not directed a single feature film since the early 90s?

And then came Thursday...and he was gone.

The irony was simply too sharp. I really had to swallow hard as I read aloud to my co-workers the news of John Hughes death from the press release I received via email late Thursday afternoon.

I felt as though someone had punched me in the gut.

The man was 59 years old — just six years my senior. I had no idea. I’d always assumed him to be was much older than that. I’d never even seen a picture of him prior to that news release.

I guess I knew a different John Hughes. The filmmaker I admired was perhaps different than the one whose movies you connected with as a teenager. I was well beyond my teens in the 1980s, but instead was traveling through my late twenties and into my thirties by the time Hughes’ films exploded upon the scene.

Hughes’ original Brats: (clockwise from left) Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, and Molly Ringwald
Photo courtesy WashingtonPost.com

I was, by MY generation’s directive, almost ready to join the ranks of ‘those not to be trusted’ when The Breakfast Club hit the theaters in 1985.

Oh, and did I mention, I what an ASS I was back then, too?

In the mid-80s I used to bristle at Generation X, as they recently had been dubbed. The kids born after the mid-60s; those malcontents who listened to Punk Rock, dyed their hair chartreuse, and spent their time yakking about ‘No Nukes.’ These were the age and experience group that John Hughes’ films were directed to the most.

I realized at the time that this must have been how my parent’s generation felt about me and my mates in the 60s, when the first so-called ‘generation gap’ formed.

I was aware of The Breakfast Club, although not necessarily cognizant of Hughes per se. What I did know, however, was the ‘Brat Pack’ — this group of up-and-coming actors, and how they were being hyped as ‘the next big thing’ in Hollywood. The Breakfast Club was ostensibly the birth of the Brat Pack, as noted in the 1985 New York magazine cover story which popularized the phrase.

Yeah, they were brats alright, I thought. Kids these days.

I just rolled my eyes.

But as has so often in my life been demonstrated, I later realized that I needed to stop assuming things that weren’t necessarily true. I mean, you know what they say about ASSuming…

So I went to a different ‘Brat Pack’ movie that came out that same year: St. Elmo’s Fire. It wasn’t a John Hughes film, but its ensemble cast featured three of the Breakfast Club’s five principles, including Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson.

I loved it.

But enough about brats; back to John Hughes.

An Overdue Present
I may have given the Brat Pack a second chance in 1985, but would continue to be late to the John Hughes love-fest for another five years, until a screaming kid would force us to take him to a movie about another screaming kid: Macaulay Culkin in his portrayal of the precocious Kevin McCallister, in Hughes’ comedic masterpiece, Home Alone.

Our kids were ages eight and six in December, 1990, and Home Alone was all the rage among most of the young parents we knew. So after much cajoling from our son Shawn, we treated the kids to the now-classic Chrismastime flick — which they loved.

However it was I who received the long-overdue present at the movie theater that day: the gift of John Hughes.

There are two movies from the Early 90s that simply enrapture me, not necessarily for their production values, or even their story lines alone, but rather the aesthetics created by the combination of those two elements that infuse the mind of the viewer.

One film, about which I’ve written fairly often in previous stories, is City Slickers — both for it’s breathtaking cinematography of the West and its humorous-yet-gripping truths about a man saying goodbye to his youth.

Home Alone is the other, and probably for exact opposite reason. Oh it’s funny, silly, and all of those things that one would expect from a plot about a young boy who believes he’s made his family disappear, but there was something more in it for me.

Home Alone reconnected me to my childhood — not that I ever spent any time fending off burglars by greasing up the basement steps or pretending I was a gangster joyously filling my enemies full’a lead.

What I got out of the movie — and the numerous other John Hughes films I would subsequently rent and devour over the years that followed, was pure John Hughes; a guy who was a child of the Midwest, just like me; a child of the 50s and 60s, just like me; and a filmmaker who poured out just the right amount of that part of his life into every movie he made.

I don’t really know how else to define it, but the ‘feeling’ of Kevin McCallister’s neighborhood in suburban Chicago is exactly how it ‘felt’ in similar settings throughout the Midwest I grew up in. The flavor was unmistakable to me. And amid all the movie’s laughs and high-jinx was the poignancy of this connective tissue that bound it all together.

This wasn’t just a movie about a kid in suburban America, it was a movie about me. And I’m certain that the way Hughes affected me in Home Alone is the same way so many GenXers felt about The Breakfast Club.

He made us feel connected.

John Hughes didn’t just make movies about teens; he made movies about the human spirit — weaving characters into whom we could lose ourselves and identify; seeing our lives through their eyes for just a little while, and then returning us to reality a little more enlightened; a little more encouraged to go out and make the world our own. He had a remarkable ability to speak to the heart, whether in laughter or in angst, making us comfortable in someone else’s skin.

And he will be missed.

Next: John Hughes — addendum

Monday, May 23, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 5 of 6)

It's Monday, May 23, 2011, Day Five of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU, reposting of some of my somewhat more obscure, yet favorite stories over the seven-year life of this space.

I’m beginning to see a pattern here. It would seem that many of my favorite posts are thoughtful, rather sad tributes to people in my life who have died. Yesterday it was Johnny Carson, today it’s my step-mom Maxine, and tomorrow it will be filmmaker John Hughes. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself...

Anyway, one thing I wanted to mention regarding today’s repost is how much I wish I’d taken Latin in school; it’s a fascinating language for me, largely because so much of our English words are based on Latin derivatives. And being the latter-day etymologist-wannabe I’ve become in my old age, I could poke around a Latin/English translation website for hours – which is what it appears I DID in coming up with the title for this story.

However again, I don’t want to get too far off-track here, except to say that I now realize that when I wrote the story back on June 1, 2010, I goofed a bit in my self-translation of the title phrase Secundum Memor, which, allegedly, is Latin for, In Accordance With Remembering.

The problem is that in actual Latin usage the words would be transposed. It should be phrased, Memor Secundum, with the preposition secundum following its object instead of the other way around, as I’d mashed it up via an online translator. Oh those crazy Romans; maybe I need to get to know their language a little better if I want to use it.

But all levity aside, this is another serious post and one that’s especially close to my heart, as its subject is the woman with whom I shared a turbulent, emotional, quintessential love-hate relationship in my youth. Nevertheless, there was perhaps no person I ever more wished to be accepted by than my step-mother, and thankfully, in the end, I was. Enjoy...

TUESDAY, JUNE 01, 2010

Secundum Memor

For me, Memorial Day is always at least a day late
My father served in the army during WW II, but luckily for my family, didn’t see any time on the battlefield. He’s still with us today; a hale and hearty 86-goin’-on-87 year-old.

None of my aunts and uncles lost their lives fighting for our country either.

I didn’t have any friends or relatives who died in Viet Nam (that I know of, anyway), save for a high school buddy of my late brother David, Glenn Bailey, for whom I always say a prayer each time the calendar rolls around to the final Monday in May.

I don’t believe either of my kids have had friends who’ve lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan; nor have any of our family friends with children in current military service dealt with the anguish of such a fate.

Even my most famous soldier-relative, WW I’s most decorated, Sergeant Alvin C. York, who defied incredible odds and employed legendary valor, managed to come through his tour of duty in The Great War with life intact.

So, that being said, Memorial Day, apart from a general reverence on behalf all of the men and women who fought to secure my freedom, had never been all that personal a day of remembrance for me.

That is, until ten years ago today.

June 1, 2000 was the day my step-mom, Maxine was laid to rest.

She died that Memorial Day weekend from a viral infection, which suddenly overtook her body during recovery from a previous surgery. It was shocking; unexpected; devastating. She was 78 years old, but had always been in good health. However that began to change following a second knee replacement in 1999 and a subsequent series of complications, including removal of a benign tumor and a staph infection, which she was recovering from at the time that the secondary viral infection took over and ended her life.

The stormy relationship Maxine and I shared is well-documented, yet the loss I still feel each June 1st has never abated; and I doubt, ever will.

For the vast majority of my adult life, I was on wonderful terms with the woman who raised me; who taught me responsibility, and “the principle of the thing.” But it hadn’t always been so.

The lessons she delivered were hard and unrelenting; the same way that she had learned them, growing up during The Great Depression. I had every reason to rebel; every reason to hate her, but I endured, and eventually won her favor.

The years seemed to mellow her, but I’m not certain of that. All I know for sure is that her stance toward me changed after I became an adult. She often made it a point to let me know that finally, I had “done good” after years of not-so-subtly suggesting that I never would.

I learned the definition of forgiveness through my step-mother; not by her example, but rather by God’s provision of my opportunity to grant it unto her, despite all the reasons I had not to.

Ten years later, now with adult children of my own, with whom many of the same issues of will that my Mom and I battled having come and gone, I see things through different eyes; even more so now than I did ten years ago, when I stood at the podium of Forest Lawn’s Church of Our Fathers, delivering her eulogy.

There are always two sides to every story; dual points of view, both seemingly ‘right’ in the eyes of those who hold them. Whether it was hers or whether it was mine that was the correct one is immaterial.

What is important, and what is that part of the substance of my character gleaned from my relationship with Maxine, is that there is good in every situation, no matter how dark or daunting. A battle of wills does not always declare a victor, nor does it always brand a loser.

Maxine taught me that there is more than one way to love.

Thanks, Mom.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 4 of 6)

It's Sunday, May 22, 2011, Day Four of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU, reposting of some of my somewhat more obscure, yet favorite stories over the seven-year life of this space.

Seeing as though we apparently missed The Rapture, I thought that today I would reprise a story about someone who at least lives in Comedy Heaven: the legendary King of Latenight, the late Johnny Carson.

The post, The King Is Dead...Long Live The King originally appeared on Monday, January 24, 2005, the day after Carson’s passing, as my tribute to a longtime hero of both my childhood and adult life. Johnny Carson defined an entire genre of television and certainly, just as well defined a big part of the lives of his millions of fans throughout his show’s 30 seasons on the air.

It’s almost unbelievable that today marks 19 years since, quite literally, Carson’s swan song: Bette Midler’s rendition of ‘One For My Baby’ at the close of the penultimate Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (the actual final show the following night, on May 23. 1992, included no guests besides sidekick Ed McMahon and previous Tonight Show video highlights).

At any rate, in tribute to that, and because I’ve always considered this one of the most heartfelt stream of words ever to proceed from my fingers...Enjoy.


The King Is Dead...Long Live The King

Sorry to interrupt, but this can’t be helped.
It was my sincere intention to complete my current series before I went on to any other subject. The story of my brother’s current battle with Alzheimer’s Disease has taken more than six weeks so far, and it’s been excruciating to try and get through. As a matter of fact, I’ve got plenty of other story ideas I want to get to. They’re all lined up in queue inside my head just waiting to be written as soon as I can get this current gorilla off my back. However interruptions happen, such as my side posts at Christmas and New Years, because they’re holidays that merit such timely recognition. Now another event has occurred, which in my world deserves similar pause and reflection.

The King is dead.

No, I’m not talking about Elvis — he’s still working the graveyard shift down at the 7-Eleven. I’m not talking about some Middle Eastern potentate or even the King of Beers. I’m talking about the King of Late Night. I’m talking about Johnny Carson.

Johnny passed away around dawn Sunday morning in his Malibu, CA home, apparently due to complications from emphysema. It was no doubt the result of his many years of cigarette smoking, which makes it all the more disgusting and painful for me to take.

You see, I come from a long line of smokers. I am the only one of all my brothers who has never smoked. My Dad quit 22 years ago after having smoked on and off for 23 the previous 43 years. All of his family have been heavy smokers, including my paternal Grandfather, who himself succumbed to emphysema in 1973. I guess that makes Carson’s death a little more personal for me. And it also makes me a little more angry because it circles back to add a stinging reminder as to my own failure as a parent; the fact that despite the example of our family’s history I apparently couldn’t make a strong enough case to prevent my own children from becoming smokers themselves.

Shawn and Amy tell me that they are mostly ‘social smokers.’ They acknowledge that it’s a harmful habit and that someday, they will definitely quit. But as I’ve told them to no avail, I’ve grown up around it and would dare say that I’ve known quite a few more people in my lifetime who after only smoking for a few years have tried to quit and found it extremely tough. How tough, I can’t say, because thankfully it has never been my problem; yet it’s obviously something that’s difficult to deal with, so why start in the first place?

Okay, okay...I’m veering way off course here. It wasn’t my intent to make this post a rant about smoking. I’m not a cigarette-Nazi, and quite frankly it doesn’t bother me to be around it; after all, like I said, I grew up with smokers; I’m used to it; it’s not a major issue. What I do have an issue with is the fact that it has killed yet another person; a person I grew up with; a person I truly loved and thought the world of: Johnny Carson.

You all know who he was, but if you don’t have a clear recollection of actually witnessing him host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, you likely don’t know what he was. He was a pioneer. He not only defined the genre of late-night talk, he was The Beatles of talk show hosts. He set the standard. He broke the mold.

In the 1960s, when I was between 8 and 12 years of age, there was no cooler treat than being able to stay up until 11:30pm to watch The Tonight Show. I always felt so ‘grown up,’ getting the chance to laugh at the sometimes racy, certainly ‘adult-oriented’ humor of Johnny and his guests. Carson defined the now standard concept of the comedic monologue to begin each show; now it’s standard practice. It may not have started with Carson, but he became the standard-bearer for its use to subsequent generations of comic talkshow hosts to follow.

I know that a lot of you thirtysomethings probably think that Johnny Carson was a little old-fashioned, compared to the raucous, zany or hip, urban styles of David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Arsenio Hall. Certainly they all fed off of the Carson genre and added their own special augmentations, most of which are both funny and worthy of praise in and of themselves. But if you were to ask them (and all have been asked over the years) who is the greatest of them all, to a man they point to Carson.

Everyone watched Carson. Of course the fact that there was no cable in all but a fraction of U.S. households in even the latter years of his run didn’t exactly hurt his ratings. But the fact is, Johnny Carson was the definition of water cooler discussion. His show was what everyone talked about in the office the next morning. His monologues were often the topic of discussion for morning radio DJs throughout the country. And perhaps as importantly, all America knew that if someone made an appearance on the Tonight Show, either as an interviewed guest or a musical performer, that person or band was important. They had made it. That’s how significant Johnny Carson’s influence was.

Johnny & Ed
I had actually been thinking about Carson recently, and wondering how he was doing; it seemed amazing how time had flown since he left the public eye. After leaving The Tonight Show on May 23,1992, he basically went into seclusion, making public appearances very rarely and television appearances almost never.

Carson’s sidekick for over 30 years, Ed McMahon would go on, following The Tonight Show to enjoy perhaps his greatest celebrity with the syndicated Star Search TeeVee series, while also putting his face on seemingly any show or product he could throughout the decade of the 90s.

Yet even as McMahon’s public presence began diminishing over the past few years, I was still hopeful to see Johnny to resurface at some point. Unfortunately he stuck to his guns just as he’d said he would when he announced, “When I retire from television, I’m going to stay retired from television.”

And now he’s gone...and I feel like shit.

I feel as though someone just reached into my soul and ripped out a huge chunk of my childhood, not to mention a good part of my adult life. I don’t know anyone my age who didn’t think the man was The Man. He was, quite frankly, a hero to my generation; someone to be admired.

Johnny Carson was 79 years old; not exactly a spring chicken, but three years younger than McMahon, who is now 82. Not that I would have ever wished it upon him, but I always figured that Ed would be the first to go.

The Boy Who Would Be King
When we were kids, my brother Alex and I would pretend that we were Johnny and Ed. I was Carson, of course.

We would do imaginary interviews with greats like Jimmy Stewart (with me doing double-duty with an extremely lame Jimmy Steward impression). Of course Zha Zha Gabor would always stop by with her legendary cat and her even more legendary question to Johnny (which I would learn only years later are merely urban legends). And of course, Carnac the Magnificent would make an appearance as well, giving the answers to Ed’s questions before they were even asked.

But now all these years later I hold in my hand the LAST question. It has been hermetically sealed inside a mayonnaise jar, sitting on Funk & Wagnall’s porch since noon today.

The question is a simple, “Why?” However, we’ll never know the answer. Carnac won’t be making any more appearances.

The King is dead.

Long live the King.

Photo Courtesy Carson Productions, Inc.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 3 of 6)

It's Saturday, May 21, 2011, Day Three of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU with some reposts of some of my somewhat more obscure favorite stories over the seven-year life of this space.

Today's entry is one of my favorite music-related posts, a concert review from November 4, 2004, of one of my all-time favorite rock guitarists, Joe Satriani.

Surfin’ with the Aliens

Rock ‘N Roll’s Mister Clean
Joe Satriani. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it could be for a number of reasons:
a.) You're a not a man.
b.) You don't play electric guitar.
c.) You’ve never played air guitar.
d.) You were born after 1987.
e.) All of the above.

If those five items don't describe you and you're still at a loss, perhaps the title of his breakthrough 1987 release, Surfing With the Alien will roust your memory. Perhaps now I've got your attention, if for no other reason than because you're wondering, "What the hell could a song with a title like that be about?" And of course, the answer to that is, "It doesn't matter," because the song has no lyrics, like nearly all of Satriani's body of work, covering 18 albums and spanning 18 years.

Without getting into an unnecessarily involved history of the term, “heavy metal” as a definition of big-sounding genre of guitar music was first coined in 1969 by John Kay and Steppenwolf with the phrase, “heavy metal thunder” in their classic hit, Born to be Wild. Since then artists from Alice Cooper to Lamb of God have etched their mark on a genre that has ambiguously flowed in and out of the pop mainstream.

Despite hitting its pop stride in a big way during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 90s, Heavy Metal has typically existed on the outskirts of the establishment; a rebel without a cause; rife with testosterone-driven power and élan. Metal can be liberating, but can also be dark and tedious. A stalwart of rebellion from the 1960s on in one form or another, it’s the kind of music that teenage boys feed upon; and that which typically drives their parents up the wall.

Metal can be gritty; raunchy; nasty even — and that’s not always a bad thing. It’s
also not always a good thing either.

Joe Satriani’s sound, on the other hand is “clean” Metal — in nearly every respect — from his shaved head to the seemingly endless procession of gleaming guitars he pulls out to play onstage. He is, quite rightfully known as "the guitarist's guitarist." He actually used to teach guitar in San Francisco, attracting the likes of Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde of Primus and the acclaimed Steve Vai as students. He is in my opinion the preeminent Rock ‘N Roll guitarist of his generation, bar none. Eddie Van Halen? Puh-LEEZE. Joe has both the improvisational and melodic chops to carry his music without vocalist in his act. His guitar does the singing. His albums are 99.5% instrumental. And they rock!

Joe Satriani is different. Some Metal digs ditches. Joe’s Metal soars above the clouds.

Rock ‘N Roll Heaven in the Mother Church
Last week I saw Joe Satriani in concert for the first time after loving his music for 17 years. It was a decidedly different crowd than I was used to seeing at the Ryman Auditorium on a Thursday night. The gender ratio was about 20-1, male-to-female. There was a decided tinge of male essence in the air; and for the first time in the ten years that I’ve been attending concerts at The Ryman, the lines into the men’s restrooms far exceeded those of the women’s.

It was an older and largely blue-collar crowd. I’ve probably not seen that many work shirts all in one auditorium since the union strike vote meetings I attended back in the 1970s as a member of the AFL-CIO. It was almost comical to see all these pudgy, graying, middle-aged guys standing and pumping their fists after nearly every song. You could just about guess that it was all they could do to resist the urge to break out their air guitars and play along with ‘Satch.’

And just as the crowd had a blue-collar makeup, so did Joe Satriani’s work ethic onstage. He played from 7:30pm sharp until 11:00pm with only a 15-minute break in-between. This dude is no glam-rocker. His look was understated and cool, with his signature wraparound shades, a plain black t-shirt, blue jeans and black boots. His backup band featured drums, bass, and rhythm electric & acoustic guitars, but they were clearly in the background.

Not really knowing what to expect, I was sort of expecting a little more in the histrionics department from Satriani, but to his credit, he’s not a very ‘showy’ performer. He does however really step into his music; the deep emotion and joy of his instrumental intercourse is readily apparent in his body language and the incessant smile on his face. The only thing that’s ‘bigtime’ about Joe is the quality of the sound emanating from his axe. Whenever he graciously addressed the crowd, he almost seemed embarrassed by the cheers, which on this night were more than raucous.

I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable experience, unless it were possible for me to be close enough to catch the dozen or more guitar picks he showered the first few rows with throughout the night. Nevertheless, my vantage point was more than adequate to see the man and capture the experience.

As I had hoped, Satriani borrowed most heavily from his still most commercially successful album, Surfing With the Alien, performing five of the album’s ten songs and finishing the show’s final encore with the classic title track .

A week later that concert is still ringing in my ears. I had always wondered whether or not Satriani would be able to match the output of the recording studio in a live setting, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Much has been made of the fact that a number of Satriani’s former students have now gone on to greater fame than he has. For all of his acclaim in guitar player circles, due to the lack of marketability of all-instrumental rock albums, Joe, while often nominated, has never won that elusive Grammy Award. He has long since been given the playful title of the ‘Susan Lucci of Rock Music.’

Yet the oversight hasn’t bothered him enough to consider combining his efforts with a vocalist (à la Carlos Santana), to produce an effort that the general public would more readily embrace. I really respect him for that. He has said that doing so would detract too much from the music in the way he conceptualizes it. He really does write his music with the idea that his guitar has a voice.

And I’ll always love to hear it sing.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 2 of 6)

It's Friday, May 20, 2011, Day Two of my six-day pre-blogaversary celebration for AYBABTU, reposts of a few of my personal favorite posts that you may have missed, and a few that I, quite frankly, had all but forgotten about myself until I decided to do this retrospective.

Andy And Me
Today’s retro post is another in what I consider to be one of my more personal back-glances at my professional career, and yet another reason why I will never feel as though my life hasn’t been absolutely full.

For anyone my age, the image below is unmistakable; its artist as easily identifiable as a Renaissance master. Andy Warhol was perhaps the best known pop artist of my lifetime. And inasmuch as his timeless, ‘Marilyn’ is perhaps his best-known work, his greatest contribution to pop-culture may in fact be a written quote rather than his trademark painterly photographic treatments.

Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ 1962
© 1962 Andy Warhol

In a 1968 exhibition catalog for his exhibit at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Warhol penned the wildly-famous and oft-used pop-culture maxim, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” The quote’s popular paraphrase, “15 minutes of fame,” is attached to seemingly every ephemeral, one-hit wonder-celeb that comes down the pike these days, in essence, giving prophet’s credence to Warhol’s famous line. And while its sarcastic, quasi-derogatory inference may be an insult to those who crave fame’s fickle favor, for regular folks like you and I, it can be a subtle vote of accomplishment to actually see the product of your own hard work reflected in even a modicum of recognition; to realize even your five minutes of fame.

For when it all comes down to it, in my opinion, sometimes close is more than close enough.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Still Scratching My Seven Year Itch (Day 1 of 6)

A Royal Awakening
Today is Thursday May 19, 2011 and I just got a jolt of adrenaline from my visit to the blog of a dear old friend; someone with whom I rarely communicate anymore. She was the very first person to let me know that this blog was more than merely an online diary; that there actually was someone out there. She became AYBABTU’s first commenter, in my third post on May 25, 2004.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made reference to the story about Queenie’s inaugural comment, but now, years later, I come back to it because it holds such a strong place in my heart.

We each started our blogs that same month, as did thousands of others during Blogger’s historic upgrade of early ’04. We became enthusiastic supporters of each others’ work for several years thereafter, but gradually, as has been the case with many, we each eventually fell off the pace as life took precedence.

However on a nostalgic whim today I decided to check up on Queenie’s blog and was delighted to discover that after having dropped out completely for more than a year, she has recently begun posting again.

And just as great (to me, today, at any rate) is the fact her blog still looks exactly the same now as it did in 2004, so I was immediately transported back to seven years ago, when this wonderful adventure of blogging began for both of us.

And then suddenly it registered that the anniversary of AYBABTU is just a few days away, as is Harold Camping’s prediction of the coming of The Rapture, supposedly happening this weekend, on Sunday May 21st.

So, I decided that just in case the world comes to an end as we know it a few days before my seventh blogaversary on May 24th, I wanted to mark the occasion a few days early.

As a matter of fact, I think I’m gonna make this a running theme this week; a sort of ‘The Six Days of Blog-mas’ if you will.

Each day I’ll post a brief blurb regarding the life of my blog along with a link to one of AJ’s (other) Greatest Writs that's not listed in my ‘best of’ page (in the nav bar above). To be honest there are a few favorite stories that I’d been considering regurgitating anyway, so this seems like as good a time to do that as any. Hopefully you’ll find them enjoyable to read again, or for the first time.

Blogaversary Post #1
Anyway, for today I give you, Random Ruminations of A Man Left To His Own Devices (Part II). It’s the humorous part of an early two-part post from June 2004, on a pair of topics that came to mind while I was left on my own by my wife for the weekend.

Part two is a site more enjoyable read than part one, which now in retrospect I find to be a rather bitchy whine about the shortcomings of male friendships. You can read it if you want, but don't forget to wear your hip-waders.

Enjoy, and I’ll seeya tomorrow!