Thursday, August 30, 2007

No basement song this week. With the announcement of the Boss touring, I've been listening to "The Rising" and "Darkness" the past several days. If there were 200 or so readers, I would dish out another Springsteen song. Alas, with only twenty people checking out the old thunderbolt, it's just not fair to always talk about his music. So, I'll wait another week.

Besides, it was back to school night and I'm dealing with all of the anxiety that comes with the territory. Coupled with the fact that it is one thousand degrees outside (and we didn't melt, go figure), I just don't have the energy. Lame. I know.


As is customary in the world of the thunderbolt, I'd like to welcome Stacie, a friend from my NOHS days. Way back in 8th grade, I recall her having a crush on me and me, being Scott, I had no frickin' clue what to do about it and I probably listened to some of my idiot friends and blew her off. Did I call my friends idiots? I was an idiot. Anyway, she married a guy who I knew in high school. My last memory of him comes from a sincerely out of control party I threw at my folks house back in '87. That I spent another year with him in high school tells you how much damage I did to my brain cells while attending BGSU. Anyway, she contacted my friend, Cindy, who gave her the blog address and now that I've completely bored the shit out of you, I will end this story.

There is another guy, Steve, who leaves comments every now and then. This is not my best friend, Steve, who visited me last spring. I know this because Steve is constantly complaining that he is computer illiterate. So, Steve #2, whoever you are, drop me an email and I'll add you to the basement song list. If you love getting your email box full of music, I'm your guy.

So, I guess that ends today's entry. I was quite stoked that I walked approximately 100yards out of the house this morning and felt the driving urge to turn around and go write. It has been a long time since that drive has been in me. If you're a writer, this is the greatest feeling. For me, it means some of the fear I carry around with me is lifting and I'm excited about the work again. Someday, when I finish this damn screenplay, I hope to feel this excited about writing that novel I've been threatening to tackle for, oh, six years now. Ah, who am I kidding.

Well, I'm off. I hope to write this weekend. I really want to post a review of "Super Bad", the new Rilo Kiley and Crowded House albums, and talk a little bit about the great television shows I've wasted my time watching this summer. Anything to distract me from the laptop and cystic fibrosis.

One final note. I'm not a super political guy. I don't claim to have the insight like my friends Blake and Steve. Most of the time, I go with my gut. And my gut tells me that two years after Katrina, New Orleans is still trying to get back on her feet. Where is the money promised by the government? Where is the manpower guaranteed to help the rebuilding? This is one of the greatest embarrassments of our government. These people are our brother and sisters. They still need out prayers and help. This weekend, as we hang out on the beach or grill up the dogs and burgers, take a moment to send a good though down south.

Aloha

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's been along day in front of computers and my eyes are fried. I having troubling focusing on objects. Still, I found time to watch the "Saturday Night Live" retrospective tat NBC reaired tonight. The show reflected on the first 5 years of SNL, the "classic years". As I watched, I couldn't help but go "Damn, Belushi, you fool." Fucking drugs, man.

To this day I remember sitting in my parent's basement the night he died. It was sad and 'MMS played "Imagine" a couple of times. Strange that the death of a comic actor was my first real understanding of mortality.

However, I'm not down today. The Tribe is in the playoff hunt. A new Springsteen album drops to earth in early October and the Boss is coming to town right before my birthday. Looks like it could be a true "Rocktober" this year.

By the way, Sophie is already planning on going to the show.

Aloha

Monday, August 27, 2007

It took us awhile, but Sophie and I finally completed "Charlotte's Web" tonight. Ironically, I leafed through "The Elements of Style" (3rd Edition) by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (illustrious author of "Charlotte's Web"). In it, I came across a passage in the chapter "An Approach to style" in which it is written:

"The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. 'Spontaneous me,' sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity for genius.

"The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that pops into his head is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day."

Boy, I wonder what Mr. White would have though of the blogosphere. Still, it did give me pause to think about what I write on thunderbolt and exactly why I do it. Is it to be a part of a larger community of writers and readers? Is it the thrill of knowing that someone is actually looking at something I've written? Lately, I feel like I'm doing this for your approval. I'm 37 and still trying to get an 'A'.

I shouldn't let Mr. White's text get to me so much. I'd rather think about this passage that he wrote in "Charlotte's Web":

Charlotte is dying and Wilbur is having his last true conversation with her.

"Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

Aloha

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Basement Songs - "Stay On" by The BoDeans




Inspiration comes at you from all places. Sometimes it is the actions of another person, sometimes it is the encouraging words from a friend or loved one. And sometimes, inspiration comes in the form of a random discovery like a song on a cd you find in the $2 bin. Thus is the case with this week’s basement song, “Stay On,” by The BoDeans.

Just before The BoDeans achieved their most commercial success by supplying the theme song to “Party of Five" back in the mid 90’s, their 1993 album, “Go Slow Down” was released and went nowhere. Luckily for me, Los Angeles had an Adult Alternative radio station that favored the BoDeans and their song “Idaho”. When I discovered “Go Slow Down” in a $2 bin at the once famous (now defunct) Aaron Records in Hollywood, I swooped it up and slapped down my hard earned cash for it and three other cd’s I no longer own. With T Bone Burnett on board as executive producer, the entire album is full of heart, charm and the touching harmonies that are the trademark of Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann, the guys who write the songs, play the lead instruments, and break your heart every time they open their mouths to sing. That’s how damn good they are and it’s a shame they’ve never achieved the type of success they deserve. For the number of records they put out, these guys could have given up at any time, but they did not, which leads me into the song, “Stay On.”

If I’m reading the liner notes and the lyrics correctly, the song was written at a point when they were soul searching and pondering reasons to continue with their music career. And that seems to be where this song came from. For me, the opening verse is what lays out the whole song for me. “I fear, I fear I’ve gone too far/ Yes I fear I’ve led you astray”. In a nutshell, those have been the feelings that have haunted me since the day we moved to California. Did I drag Julie out here? Did I lead her astray? Whenever I have expressed these fears to her, Julie has made sure to point out that she chose to come with me. She puts those fears to rest. She supports me and is my greatest champion. Perhaps that is why this song chokes me up so much when I listen to it. It’s not just that the BoDeans are encouraging me and all the dreamers like me to keep on keeping on, but it’s Julie’s voice I hear when they sing. Those are the words she has told me so many times since we met back in 1992.

“Stay On, stay on, steady on/ Stay on stay on, don’t you stray.”

As we have grown, her words of encouragement are not as direct as this song. It is her tone and the look she gives me. If I’m having trouble with a script (as I have been for a year) she is the first to say “If it’s making you miserable, maybe you should ditch it.” And when someone dismisses my work, she’s my champion, my true defender. “What the hell do they know?” To hear her support, to see that she still believes in me keeps me going every day. And it’s not just about the writing. Man, that’s pretty damn lame if it was just about the writing. It’s so much more. It’s about being a decent husband. It’s about being a good father. It’s about being a good soul mate and friend.

This past year has been tough. We’ve struggled financially and somehow managed to keep afloat. We’ve dealt with the pressure and stress of Jake entering school and how it may effect his health and he continues to be strong and healthy. We’ve worried to death about Sophie and how all of this crap is bearing down on her. Lord knows there are things she sees and fears that she is not telling us. And we have dealt with our own depressions, mine getting to a dreadful low point back in the spring. I can honestly say that I had never felt so awful as I did back then. I thank God that Julie was there to hold me up and I thank God that Steve made his unexpected visit. Those two kept me sane and I am so much better today because of them. Throughout this past year, we have had to stay on and remain steady.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m doing the song justice. Sometimes, it’s pointless to analyze a song and break down what it means to you. So often, music just hits you in the right place at the right time and whether it’s an entire album or a single song (or perhaps two notes of a song) the emotional effect it has on you isn’t supposed to be broken down for twenty or so people to read about on a Friday morning. We’ve all been there, though, haven’t we? We’ve all been so down, ready to throw in the towel on this shitty world and we’ve found someone singing about the same crap we’re going through. That feeling you get from a good basement song, the feeling that you’re not alone, that’s the glory of music, whether it’s a Copland suite, a Bryan Adams power ballad, the hillbilly yodels of Hank Williams, the inane gobbly gook of the Wiggles, or the acoustic glory of the BoDeans.

With that, I send out my offer to any of you out there who aren’t getting the songs each week to email me and I’ll send it your way. Join the rest of us dreamers and blue eyed devils in the basement for a little soul searching and good music.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The first day of school pretty much signifies the end of summer. Jake went into kindergarten like a champ. No tears, a little nervousness (which I'm proud to say, he was able to tell us about) and off he went. Sophie was pretty much "hi/bye" when Julie dropped her off. The school at the end of our street, Emblem, reopened after two years of shuttling kids across town. Although there is still construction going on (which will continue for several months), it's nice to be back in the neighborhood. All of the students were handed plastic yellow hard hats to signify the return to Emblem. It is a small school, only 200 or so kids, but it is home.

Since this is the end of summer, I thought I would post this picture Julie took with the kids last week at the Santa Barbara Zoo. It's a great, great picture, one of my favorite pictures of all time.

Aloha


Monday, August 20, 2007

This morning, while waiting for the train, a father and his toddler son sat at the stop with the rest of us commuters. The little boy, with long, curly blond locks, walked around, curious by his surroundings. I sat down to write some notes, caught up in my own worlds. Minutes later, a sickening thud grabbed my attention and my stomach dropped. I knew that sound.

A quick look around and I saw that the boy had fallen and smacked his head on the sidewalk. It looked like he'd slipped off one of the waiting platforms, two feet up from the sidewalk. The boy began crying, but I'll tell you, a fall like that could cause any many to bawl his eyes out. The father rushed to his child and hugged him tightly, soothing and rubbing the back of the boy's head. The combination of the boy's head hitting the cement, his tears, and the silence that fell over everyone around me made my eyes well with tears.

No matter how hard we try, no matter how much love we provide, there is only so much protection we can give them. Each night, before she can go to sleep, Sophie makes me tell her that there are no bad men and that no one is going to get her. God, how I wish I could be sure of that. I am a bundle of nerves worrying about her safety. They are going to grow and take their spills. I pray that I'm there to hold them and hug them and rub the backs of their heads to make the pain go away. The truth is that most of the time, as parents, all we can do is hope for the best.

School begins tomorrow and I am saddened. This surprises me because just two days ago I was seemingly okay with the kids growing up and heading off to e new year of learning. Then it began to sink in. Each year they get older is a year less that they are children. It is a year less that they will need me to say there aren't any bad men out there and a year less that Sophie will startle me from behind with a sudden hug or a year less that Jake will call me in from the back of the house just to tell me he loves me and it it is a year less that they will be our little boy and little girl. They're growing up too damn fast.

I look around the house and there are pictures and drawing and photos from the past. Constant reminders of where we have come from. I don't want Sophie and Jake to remain children forever, but I just wish the clock would slow a little.

Aloha

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The end of summer

Arrived home last night and the kids were ecstatically watching the end of "High School Musical 2". When they finished, we made milkshakes and began rewatching the movie so I could get the full experience. It has been blazing hot this past week, 110 at one point(of course, not the day we went to the beach). A quarter of the way back into the movie, Jake and Sophie wanted to go for a swim. The sun was down and the only light came from our patio. They jumped in and splashed around. "Not so bad," Jake said, amazed at the water's temperature. Sophie practiced her turns in the pool and Jake did cannonballs. Ten minutes later, I joined them. "Not so bad," I thought. The three of us swam around under the trees and the stars, splashing and laughing, while Julie looked on with an expression of sadness. Sophie and Jake begin school on Tuesday. The summer is drawing to a close.

Aloha

Friday, August 17, 2007

Basement Songs - "Riviera Paradise" by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble



To date, I have lived in two houses with basements. Budd and Eleanor’s nig house on North Park was the original basement. I grew up there, spent my college summers there, and for a brief period after Bowling Green, I spent time charting the next step to adulthood. The other basement was the room I lived in during my junior and senior years of college. In a blue house on Ridge Street, right next to the railroad tracks, my friends and I moved into the lower half of a duplex and called it home.

The blue house was two floors, a living room and a basement area, with fours rooms divided between those two levels. Each room became progressively smaller as you descended into the dank underbelly of the house. I immediately chose one of the basement rooms, an unglamorous, cold space with exposed cinder block walls. My thinking was that by volunteering for a one-bedroom shithole in the basement, I wouldn’t have to fight over the bigger, upstairs bedrooms. By doing so, I got the larger of the two dungeon rooms. Looking back, I know that it felt right having a place to escape to for studying, alone time with my girlfriend, or for dialing up the stereo when a release was needed.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was an avid listener of the electric blues. The few rock/blues songs that made it on to the radio were a breath of fresh air from the hair metal bands and slick, faceless pop rock at that time. I saw Clapton on tour with Phil Collins in ’86 when The Robert Cray Band opened for him. That was a killer show. And I was fortunate enough to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble twice before that tragic day back in August of 1990 when Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash. Because his death occurred at the same time we had just moved into the blue house his music will always be intertwined with my memories of that time.

After his death, I rushed out and purchased a couple of his earlier albums, as if I was afraid they would go out of print now that he was dead (little did I realize that his status would grow to legendary by decade’s end- well deserved, I might add). While I did listen to Texas Flood and Couldn't Stand The Weather quite a bit, it was his triumphant In Step that I continually slapped on to my $85 CD player (purchased from Dillon a year earlier). In Step had been one of the first albums I bought on cd, so it was destined to hold a special place in my heart. I’m strange that way. That album, recorded after Stevie Ray had defeated his drum and alcohol addiction, is one of the best rock/blues albums from that era. In my opinion, it may be one of the best rock/blues albums of all time. Yet, for all of the slow and fiery guitar licks and the blazing finger work he poured into IN STEP, the last track “Riviera Paradise” is the one I listened to the most. From the first listen, this quiet prayer of a song played with smooth accompaniment by Doubles Trouble remains one of the few songs that can send me back to the blue house and that cold, noisy basement room I lived in for two year.

Stevie Ray opens with a jazzy, thrilling riff, quick and reverberated, distinctly different from the other songs on In Step. As the rest of Double Trouble (Tommy Shannon on bass, Chris Layton on drums and Reese Wynans on keys) join in, the rest of the piece allows your mind to journey and relax, opening up the imagination. In my mind, the song always made me think of a dark, moonless night with the rain pouring down. Two lovers lay in the dark listening to the pattering of raindrops falling against the window. Their movements are hesitant at first, unsure what the other is thinking or wants. Then, lips meet, almost by accident, and passions are awakened… assured. The lovers move closer, letting their hands explore each other, all the while, the quiet storm of “Riviera Paradise” plays in the background and the skies open up. Finally, their love reaches a climactic moment. Their bodies are in sync. As the song cools to an end, the lovers hold each other. Outside, the rain begins to let up and the song comes to an end.

Not that I can recall ever making love to this song, the romantic dreamer that I was back in 1990 treasured the idea of two people merging together like that. I also treasured that A song like “Riviera Paradise” existed to provided a soundtrack. So many nights my mind relaxed and my worries slipped away as the moon shone through my lone window and a space heater rattled at the foot of my bed. So many nights I drifted off listening to the intricate playing of Stevie Ray.

It has been some time since I’ve truly reflected on the blue house and who I was back in Bowling Green. I believe the reason Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and “Riviera Paradise” are so much a part of my college experience is that I didn’t know many people back then who were fans. Aside from my roommate Brian, it was a pretty solitary club. The other reason the music is such a part of college is that I don’t listen to Stevie Ray as much as I used to. My tastes have shifted and the blues just aren’t what I am drawn to when choosing my music. Seeing my friend Hurley last weekend stirred the kettle. Hearing the names of people I’d long forgotten was so wonderful that I have decided to go back and listen the songs and artists that meant something to me in my early 20’s. This trip through the fields of nostalgia may be short lived, but I have a feeling I’ll keep a copy of IN STEP near the top of my stack of cd’s. It’s time to rediscover the masterful playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the world of wonder that exists in “Rivera Paradise.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's 7:15 am and I'm half awake. Normally, I'm up and just about ready to leave for the train. However, we're off to the beach today (I have to use up those vacation hours sometime, don't I?) for what is unofficially our "last day of summer". The kids go back to school on Tuesday. So, I should be sleeping except that I have a living, breathing alarm clock that meows incessantly each morning until someone (generally yours truly) climbs out of bed, cursing her, and plops down a dish of her expensive, special cat food that (most of the time) keeps her from shitting all over our house.

Sorry. A little cranky out here. I haven't had my coffee. I can't believe the summer is drawing to a close. Sophie will be entering the 3rd grade and Jake will be in kindergarten. Each time I turn away, they grow a few more inches and mature. 3rd grade. Damn. The way time whizzes by, she's going to be in Middle School before you know it. This is both exciting and sad at the same time.

Aloha

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Van Halen follow up

Seems the people at VH management caught wind of some growing resentment by fans over the whole album cover alteration. Today, they covers have been restored to their original look and Michael Anthony is back in place.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

D.O.A.

My response to this latest Van Halen reunion is "who cares." David Lee Roth should have rejoined the band ten years ago, as was originally planned, and I would have paid good money to see that show. But Eddie's ego is too huge and he had to go and hire Gary Cherone as the "last" Van Halen singer ever. They were, like, brothers, man; you know what I mean? And the way they connected was, like, too difficult to describe. They were brothers until everyone called Van Halen a joke and their new music made them sound like a lame Vegas metal band.

Then there was the "reunion" a couple years ago with Sammy Hagar and, once again, they all claimed that "we're like brothers man. This is a new beginning". The new beginning came to a quick end when Sam and Ed couldn't get along and Ed became a screaming drunk.

Now we get this current attempt to make more money for Eddie Van Halen. He has kicked out originally bassist, Michael Anthony, and replaced him with his 16-year old son, Wolfgang. Everyone I know has always called Anthony a cheese ball. But now, having been removed from the band for which he provided the coolest backup vocals ever for a metal band, critics and fans alike are suddenly praising his musicianship. Van Halen isn't Van Halen without Mikey. Period.

Making matters worse, and more disgraceful, is the fact that the band has suddenly removed pictures of Anthony from their album covers at the Van Halen website home page. The Roth era albums are all present and accounted for when you log on to vanhalen.com. Once you highlight each cover you will discover that Anthony's photo on the cover of "Van Halen" 1 has been replaced by Wolfgang, and the original band photo from "Women and Children First" is gone altogether. Lame.

Anthony fell out of grace with Eddie because of his friendship to Hagar. And through Hagar (who has become a sort of hard rock Buffet), Anthony no longer needs Eddie Van Halen to provide him with job security. I believe that that is what pisses off Eddie the most. Roth? Dude's got nothing (unless you count his EMT career) and Wolfgang is his song. 'Nuff said. Alex Van Halen has the kind of loyalty that only brothers can share. It's fierce and unbreakable, even when Eddie is being a complete moron. As many times as Ed has taken the reins of "his band" and fucked up, Alex follows blindly, as if dependent on his virtuoso brother. This is a shame because if any musician in that band has continued to get better as the years progress, it is Alex Van Halen. The guy should be a session drummer. He shouldn't have to be a slave to his younger brother. Hagar and Anthony, on the other hand, don't need the Van Halen bullshit. Sure, the cash is nice, but they make a good living touring, and partying at their club in Cabo.

Like most people my age, I grew up on both Van Halens. I don't call the Sammy era Van Hagar because that diminishes what that version of the band accomplished (which is, they sold more records than the Roth era band and had a ton of hit singles... not too shabby). I will be shocked if this new reunion produces any music. I will be shocked if they manage to stick it out for the entire tour. I will not be shocked when, in five years, Eddie has regrouped with Gary Cherone for a new reunion. Because, they’re, like, brothers, man; you know what I mean?

Monday, August 13, 2007

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"

I completed reading Michael Chabon's brilliant "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" this afternoon. I found myself so attached to the characters of Josef Kavalier, Sam (Sammy) Clay and Rosa Saks that I was saddened to let them go when the last words of the last paragraph slipped past my lips and into my gray matter. Chabon, author of another one of my favorites, "Wonder Boys", wrote a beautiful/literate tale about love, friendship, family, escapism, art, comic books, sexual identity, and most of all, hope. The last book to draw me in this way and sweep me into another world was Steinbeck's "East of Eden", which I worked through a couple of summers ago.

It's not just the story, though; it is Chabon's writing that is so rich with description and language. This man loves to write. But his tone is never condescending. He's not trying to throw words at you to show off. Each sentence was carefully crafted.

The novel weaves the story of Josef and Sam, cousins thrown together in pre WWII New York. Together, they go on to create a series of Golden Age comic book superheroes, most prominent, The Escapist. In addition to an epic tale that spans almost two decades and three continents, Chabon has written an argument on the legitimacy of comic books as an art. I know from my own childhood of sneaking into the basement to read X-Men and Superman that a certain shame and embarrassment can be associated with comic book reading. Even today, some people I know scoff at comics as "kiddie books". But Chabon, a longtime comic book aficionado, using comparisons to fine art and motion pictures to state his case and does so convincingly.

What I love best about this book is the sheer joy it was to have these words flow over me. Some I would have to go past, not knowing the definition. Others I had to scramble and look up. This excitement of discovering a new language, so to speak, was inspiring. From page 1 of this book, I wanted to jump back into my own writings and try to make them better.

What this book gave me more than anything else, though, is hope. Hope has been missing in my life lately. Somewhere in the past couple of years, hope has been trying to visit, but I've kept the shade drawn and screened my phone calls. Why? Why have I closed off the one part of my life that I need more than anything else to survive the many trials and ordeals that our life throws at us? If I don't have hope, how can I preach to my kids that they must have hope? A great book like "Kavalier and Clay" goes to great lengths to show us that hope is sometimes lost, but it can be found. We have to open our hearts to welcome it home.

I'm trying. Man, I'm fucking trying. Until I can really feel my heart swell up with the type of optimism I used to feel, I'll have to carry the words of Michael Chabon. I know, I know, I might think about turning to something more spiritual. Not sure if I'm ready for that yet. Not sure if God is ready for me.

While it took me a month to finish Chabon's book, this was one marathon that didn't have me staggering to the end. I finished strong and proud, for a change. Thank you Mr. Chabon. And thank you Kavalier and Clay.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Driving through the Verdugo Mountains, I couldn’t help but grin and crack up. This was the kind of event Matt would have loved to attend, wasted out of his gourd and giggling the entire night. I was on my way to meet my friend, Hurley, at the DCI Championship at the Rose Bowl. DCI stands for Drum Corp International. Each year, 22 international marching bands (consisting of drums, all brass, and a percussion section along the sideline) compete to become the DCI champion. This is not your typical marching band you see at the halftime of football games or in the local Memorial Day parade. These are hard core dancing/technical marching units that play the same show night after night for two months straight in stadiums across the country. And when I say dance, I mean, guys and girls, all college age, leaping through the air while holding trumpets or mellophones, and flag guards performing modern dance movements on the field.

Hurley is a huge fan. Fanatic is a better term. Since I’ve known him in college, he has attended these shows. At one pint, while we lived in the blue house, we would often find him sitting alone in the basement listening to DCI tapes. It was strange to me then, and it’s still a little odd to me now. Fortunately, Hurley has a good sense of humor about the whole thing. He knows it’s a little geeky, but what’s he harming. We all have our obsessions. For some, it’s some singer out of Jersey, for others, it’s a bunch of kids marching routines over and over again.

I turned off the freeway and took Arroyo down toward the Rose Bowl. Memories of my marathon days rose up and I wished I were still running. This was the same turf I had trained on two years ago. Man, I miss it. As I drove toward the $15 parking lot, I came upon three kids with their thumbs hitched out. They were obviously on their way to the show. If there was anyone who wasn’t going to carjack me, it was three DCI kids. I told them to hop in and they were pretty stoked. Sure enough, they all marched in a Santa Clara division II corps band (I guess the minor leagues of drum corps). We parked, I dropped them off and they quickly disappeared into the stadium. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one late for the show as there were numerous carloads of people still arriving.

Let me point out that my sole reason for attending this event was to see Hurley. He had an extra ticket and was kind enough to invite me. However, my three years in college marching band didn’t prepare me for this crowd. These folks are intense, man. As I walked through the gates, the first thing I had to wade through was the tour merchandise of all of the bands. Trailers with t-shirts (“What happens on the bus stays on the bus”), hats, key chains, and just tons of crap. You could tell the faces of the kids who were in the bands. A lot of the guys were skinny, tanned and wore tank tops. They had a swagger that I can only describe as cocky. You see, in this world, they’re all rock stars. To band geeks, these guys RULE! In college I knew one guy like this. My last year of matching, he started hanging around the BG drum section and all of the other drummers drooled over the fact that he was in a corps band. My inferiority and territorial feelings kicked in and I fucking hated the guy. Truth is, he was a great snare player. I never saw him play any other instrument. He didn’t have to, though. Snare playing is the tops of the food chain in drum corps.

I finally caught up with Hurley. We had to wait until the band performing ended. Proper etiquette, I learned. Never enter the stadium while another band is playing. After that, we sat in what were excellent seats. With Hurley were two guys I knew from Bowling Green. They were nice men, Chris and Bob, whom I hadn’t seen in 18 years. As you can assume, we didn’t have much to talk about. But, damn it, we weren’t here for talking, we were here for the show!

The first band I saw, the Blue Knights of Denver, performed what can only be described as modern dance done to marching band music. It was disorienting for me. I am used to seeing a band play the field and entertain with music. This was more about movement and getting your ass across the field as fast as possible. More athletic than musical, the percussion section up front (consisting of what seemed to be a thousand marimbas, some bells, chimes, a huge ass bass drum or two and Christ, I think a toilet) carried what you would call the melody. If this was what I was going to sit through for four hours, I was in for a long night.

Ah, but it did get better. Like any competition, the best bands are held for the end. The entire championship is a three-day event that began Thursday with 22 bands. 4 were eliminated for Friday and finally, there were 12 left standing for the Saturday show. The Bluecoats, from Kent, Ohio, were next up. The theme of there show was “Criminal”. The costumes of the color guard were interesting, but I thought the music was “eh.” I was mo0re entertained by the three insane judges who ran on the field, through the band, as they performed. One guy wore a hat, another resembled Jeff Fischer (head coach of the Tennessee Titans) and there was a third guy who kind of slipped into the band and remained a mystery to me. He was very clever. At a certain point during each performance, Jeff Fischer ran across the field to judge the drum line. It was quite ridiculous and there was one or two times I wished one of the flag carriers have nailed the guy. Now that would have been something.

A brief intermission followed. Hurley and I went to the bathroom and he bought me a bottled water. Hurley nearly got into a fight with some prick that thought we cut in front of him. Man, these people could get mean. If you thought the San Diego Comic Con a couple of weeks ago was the biggest collection of nerds and geeks in the world, well… you’d still be right. But this crowd has to come in a close second. Actually, most in attendance were parents, alumni marchers, and freaks of nature that followed these bands around for two months. Wait, Hurley is one of those people. Okay, maybe not freaks. Unique? Maybe that’s a better definition.

We returned to our seats and waited for the next band. Fortunately we had running commentary from the guys sitting behind us. Throughout the course of the night, they debated the dynamics of the band and questioned the masculinity of the male color guard members. Finally, the Carolina Crow, from South Carolina took the field. I have to tell you, these guys were my favorite of the night. They played something that actually was music. Their theme was Triple Crown (as in the horse races). They had the good fortune of a cool breeze sending chills through the audience while they played Copland-esque melodies. And that’s what they played… a melody, not a bunch of random freaking notes while the marimbas drove you to the brink of insanity. Their performance also had the most heart. That’s what I liked best. Unfortunately, their soloists had several clinker notes, so I knew they would not win.

The Santa Clara, CA Vanguard was next. Couldn’t tell you what their show was about. Their drum line was excellent and mysterious, though. They all wore Calvary style hats with the brims turned low, concealing their eyes. A good portion of the crowd was dressed in the scarlet and green of the Vanguard. The Phantom Regiment of Rockford Illinois performed a show about flight and ended with the Firebird Suite. I loved their ending and the visuals were outstanding. A couple of their color guard ran across the field with drapes resembling wings flowing from their arms. Nicely done. Next, the Cavaliers of Rosemont, Illinois came out with a Billy Joel themes program. I suppose you could call it a Billy Joel themes program because it was Joel’s music, but damn, did they screw it up. I mean, they just overplayed everything and didn’t know when to shut down the drums. At one point, the band slowly marched toward us playing the beautiful “And So It Goes”. Yet, someone had the idea that the drum line should keep playing polyrhythmic sextuplets throughout the sequence. Shut the hell up! Let the melody wow the people. Make it a special moment for people like me! I was in the minority, though. The crowd ate it up.

Next were the Cadets of Allentown, PA. They were musically outstanding, but they thought it would be an innovative idea to let band members speak throughout the show, explaining their routine, as in “When I think of drum corps, I think of drums…. And horns…” And I think you shut fire the person who thought this was smart. For the first time, I was in the majority. I got the sense that the rest of the crowd was sick of the talking. Then again, most of these people had seen the same routine for three days in a row. Finally, the last band, the hometown favorites from Concord, CA, took the field. The Blue Devils have a shitload of power. They really now how to blow their horns. But with so many members of the percussion section on the side, things started to sound “splatty” by the end. Not that this mattered. They were precise and the crowd erupted at the end.

And then we waited.

After like, thirty more minutes, the results from Jeff Fischer, the hat dude and mystery man were tallied. While the Marine Corps Band performed, all of the competing bands lined up for the presentations of the awards. Luckily, Mrs. America and Mickey Mouse were also present, as were the cameras of ESPN, which plans to air the even in early September (my TiVo is already set). My Carolina favorites made it into the top 6, but they also won a nice award for innovation. The victors of the evening and the year were the Blue Devils from Concord. It wasn’t even close. The crowd went crazy. Some due began shouting to fans of other bands, “You thought you were going to win, but you didn’t. Know what that makes you? Losers!” Hey buddy, that haircut of yours went out when Vedder, Grohl and Cornell chopped off their locks. Know what that makes you? (Oh, and hey, it’s DCI, dude. Chill!)

After the Blue Devils received their gold medals, the other bands mingled and took pictures. Their summers were done. They would all go home and their separate ways. For some, it was their final year. They may never have an experience like this again. It was touching, until the announcer had to shoo these other bands away. The Blue Devils had earned an encore and this being Pasadena, I’m sure there was a sound ordinance that dictated no band music after 11 p.m. The Blue Devils played their award winning show again. The second time through their piece was more inspiring to watch. The players were looser and wore huge smiles on their faces. The pressure to perform for Jeff Fischer and his pals was lifted and they could finally enjoy what got them there in the first place: to play music.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Birthday, my dear friend...

Today would have been Matt's 37th birthday. Funny how I could always remember his birthday. I think it had something to do with the fact that it was so close to my dad's. We never really "celebrated" our birthdays. We would usually get each other a book and sign some corny inscription inside it. One year, Matt bought me Stephen King's "IT" and wrote a simple inscription, something like "To my best friend Scott. Someday you're going to be as good a writer as this guy. Your friend, Matt".

Several years ago I was cleaning out the bookshelves and I donated that book to Goodwill. I had never gotten past that inscription. I wasn't really into King anymore, but I held on to that massive tome for a long time. I am sure it was during the last years when the two of us weren't speaking that I gave away the book. I wish I had it now.

Back when we were freshmen in college, Matt wrote me this letter.

Sept. 14, 1988

Dear Scott,

Hey, Dude! How's it going? God,
this college life is great! I just got done
studying for about five hours tonight, and I
thought I'd write you.

My classes are pretty cool, and my poetry
class is awesome! The prof's not quite
as cool as J.D., though. I joined a "Free
Nelson Mandela" activist group, and am
really getting involved in a lot of stuff.
It's really cool. I haven't been to any parties
yet, but everybody here seems really fun.

How are things with you? Cool, I hope.
I hope things with Lisa are still semi-
cool (no fights by mail, right?), and I'm
sure band is going good.

I got a job working ten hours a week
at the campus library, so I'll get some
spending money that way, I hope.

Our room is pretty cool- a bit sparse,
but livable. We got our refrigerator, and
I guess everything's going all right.
There's some cool record stores down here
and the town is great.

In case you were wondering, my
address is 220 Read Hall, Ohio University,
Athens, Ohio 45701, and my phone number
is (614) 597-9747- I hope to hear
from you soon.

I really miss you, and Lindsay
(although her parents might let her come
here next year- that would be awesome!),
and a very few things about N.O., but
I'm gettin' by.

Well, I'm really pooped, so I think I'll
cruise, but you fuckin' better write me
soon, Guido! Take care and stay Scott,
you hear? And keep writin' those
screenplays!!!

Love,
Matt

P.S. It's a town full of losers and
I'm pullin' out of here to win,
because tramps like us- baby, we
were born to run!


Two things struck me after reading this letter: How much Matt loved commas; and how much I still miss him.


Happy Birthday, Matt. R.I.P.


Aloha

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Today is an overcast, gray morning and the summer heat has cooled to an autumn-like temperature. My back is acting up again, the first time in over a year. The stress of our financial burdens is pressing down on me once again. I should have predicted this back pain coming. My limbs have ached at nighttime for over a month now. Of course, at that time of the night I'm not thinking that it is stress and fear attacking my body. At that time of the night I'm usually thinking that I've been afflicted with early rheumatoid arthritis or some other debilitating disease.

It's not that we're any worse off than I thought we would be at this point in the year. I just thought we would be able to make the dollar stretch a little better. Not anyone's fault, just the way of the world really. And yet, I still dream that I'll be able to raise a million dollars to fund a low budget movie and place our woes at bay for a while.

These are the days when I feel so blessed that I am married to a woman as loving and strong as Julie. Despite my black mood all day yesterday, she remained bright and somehow positive, even after spending all day with two wily children. Man, I blew it later in the evening when we were on a pleasant walk through the neighborhood. The sun was setting and the weather was so agreeable. As Sophie and Jake rode the bike and scooter in front of us, the two of us compared the other houses in the neighborhood to ours. In the coming months, we plan to repair and paint the front of our own home. I was tired, cranky, and let slip a stupid remark that hurt her feelings. Damn, how I wish I could have those thirty seconds back.

What I said is irrelevant in this forum. Why I said it had less to do with what we were discussing and more to do with the frustration I have been feeling. The helplessness. The uselessness. There are better ways to express these feelings. I know it. We all know it. If I just sit back, take a deep breath and relax on occasion, a solution may present itself to me. Then maybe I won't lash out at my loved ones and my back won't constrict itself into a crippling knot.

Ah, the beauty of there always being another day to try again, eh?

Aloha

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Our date last night was fantastic. We dropped the kids off and a friend's house and then it was off to glamorous TGI Friday's. Although it's not some fancy restaurant, in a way, it was appropriate since our first date was ended up in a couple of dive bars. So when you look at it that way, it was a step up! Truth be told, Julie and I don't need some high brow place to enjoy ourselves. We sat and had some beers, appetizers, a burger and good conversation. That's all I want out of a date: the opportunity to actually talk to my wife without the interruptions and expectations of everyday life.

I need to retract a statement I made the other day about this script I've been working on. First of all, the Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon have been nothing short of spectacular. I would be a luck man to be working on smart, entertaining movies like those ones. Second, being a graduate with a Pop Culture degree, I should be the first person to know that the best genre films reflect our society and use the popular form of entertainment to deliver a message (if they so choose. I don't think "Daddy Day Camp" was out to give a message... not that I won't end up seeing "Daddy Day Camp", because Sophie and Jake have already expressed the desire to see it). It's my job as the writer of my thriller to make it personal and to place a message within the context of the story. In my desire to be done with the script, I lost sight of this point the other day.

We're off to the beach today. This will probably be my only trip to the sands and waves this year.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

It's Saturday morning, late, and the coffee has just begun brewing in the kitchen. Sophie and Jake are watching "Hannah Montana" or Scooby Doo" or some other mindless kids entertainment show and Julie has been at work for a couple hours. I slept late today which is unusual for me. Generally, I'm the first one up when that damn cat begins "meowing" at 6:30 in the morning. ***

I'm back after starting Jake on his breather, feeding the other cat (we really have to bring her food in at night, I'm sick of feeding those damn raccoons), and brushing Sophie's hair. The coffee’s done and I still have to eat breakfast. I am now considering the option of skipping my shower so I can get to the lawns before the temperatures get too hot this afternoon.

Last night I went to the Dodgers game with a couple co-workers. It was a last minute invite and I enjoyed the game and all, but I felt lonely, believe it or not, sitting among the 51,000 (supposedly) in attendance last night. I missed Julie and the kids. Isn’t that nuts? I'm having a rare night out and I'm wishing they were there with me. Is this the start of another one of those waves I go through? I would hate to head into the school year as down and depressed as I was at the tail end of the spring.

Tonight, Julie and I are going on a date. I told her that we should celebrate the anniversary of our first date every year. Why? Well, December is always a difficult month for us. End of the year, holiday worries are on the top of our minds, and that other anniversary that brings the cloud over our Christmas spirit sort of stops us from truly enjoying the celebration of our marriage and how much we love each other. So, why not go on a date five months earlier? We'll probably end up at one of our favorite restaurants. I can't tell you the last time the two of us went to a movie together. It may be as many as six years.

That's all I have for now. Writing in the morning certainly has its advantages. Without that jolt of caffeine, I sort of write off the top of my head. Maybe I'll try that for a while.

Aloha

Friday, August 03, 2007

Well, I heard from the manager about the script last night and the news wasn't all bad. Honestly, I was expecting him to shred the thing to pieces. However, he thought it was "pretty good" and liked the direction. I probably shouldn't be telling you he thought it was "pretty good" because it makes me sound like a lame writer. I don't know folks; I think I write okay. It's just that this beast (and it really is a beast at this point) is in that genre of the "thriller". No, even better, it's a "political thriller". Thus, besides having to keep you on the edge of your pants, I need top make sure it makes sense... politically.

This is NOT what I thought I would be doing ten years ago. Christ, 1997 was a golden year, wasn't it? I'd just finished "Southern Cross" and was about to work on some sci-fi script with Tony.

For those of you who don't know (and I know you're out there... I've seen your comments), "Southern Cross" was the original working title for "King's Highway." I know, I know, enough with that fucking movie already! [By the way, you can still watch it in its entirety by clicking on the link to the right].

Where was I? 1997. Wasn't that the period when any dork with a script and a camera could get a movie deal? I was wrong.

Like, Springsteen is playing right now. "Shut Out the Light", which is one of his most emotional songs about a Vietnam vet who returns from the war and doesn't feel like he belongs. His life is shattered. His folks and his wife try to make everything like the way it was before he left, except that he's not the same. It's tragic. This beautiful song (available on the "Tracks" box) was originally the b-side to "Born in the USA". Remember b-sides. Let's take a minute......

So, "Shut Out the Light" represents one view of the war and "Born In the USA" another. My idea was what if these two guys from the same hometown return from war and have different experiences. The character from "Shut Out the Light" volunteered for the war. He's the hometown football hero and felt it was his duty to serve his country (think Ron Kovic). The war ruins him. Meanwhile, you have the guy from "Born in the USA" who has had run ins with the law and the judge sentences him to go to war. This guy is a complete fuck up. The war makes him stronger. He was placed on the front line, but he survived.

So, now you have these two men back in their hometown and we watch how they try to cope. To me, that's a story. It would be sort of a modern retelling of "Best Years Of Our Lives" (which is, by far, one of the best movies ever to portray the post war experience for veterans). If you have not seen "Best Years..." you must rent it or TiVo it the next time it's on Turner Movie Classic. I challenge you not to cry during that movie.

Man, I'm rambling. My original point is that these small stories were what I wanted to write. How did I end up working on a Jason Bourne movie?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Basement Songs - "Book of Dreams" by Bruce Springsteen



It was supposed to be like any other first date: Go to a movie, get to know each other, maybe have a couple of drinks, and, if lucky enough, share a kiss goodnight. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. This was only going to be a fun night out with the pretty co-worker whose smile had a way of warming the dark corners of the store we worked in and whose laugh was infectious and full of life.

The summer of 1992 was full of pivotal moments in my life. College graduation. The wedding of my brother and his wife. More significantly that the precious two examples was the quintuple bypass surgery that saved my father’s heart and his life. By the end of July, the plan I had set in motion was going the way I wanted. With my college degree in hand, I was building a savings account for a move to Los Angeles that fall. As I said, I was not looking for a relationship. I certainly wasn’t looking for love. With no agenda, on August 1, 1992, I went on my first date with Julie Flynn.

At that time, the two of us worked together at the same produce store in Lakewood, Ohio. Julie worked weekends and one day during the week. I generally took Sundays off, so we saw each other twice a week. That year, the 1st was a Saturday. The previous Wednesday I had surprised her by, seemingly out of the blue, asking her on a date. That scene went down like this: As she was manning the cash register, alone in the store, I popped in from the alley and stood just past the doorway. With half a store of fruits and vegetables between us, I blurted out my request to go out. She smiled, excitedly, and said “yes”. I replied, “cool”, before returning to the alley to sweep up or pump my fist triumphantly.

On Saturday, off Julie’s suggestion, we went to a movie that night. It was the Kurt Russell, Madelaine Stowe, and Ray Liotta thriller, “Unlawful Entry”. Ironically, this is the type of movie Julie dislikes. To this day, I have a hard time convincing her to watch creepy films about stalkers. What’s not to like?

She picked me up at my parents’ house (where I was house sitting with my younger sister, Heidi- Mom and Dad were on a recuperative vacation in Hawaii) and we drove to the now defunct Great Northern Theater in her Volkswagon Fox (also now defunct). The film was above average. Despite the presence of the great, underrated Russell, the ending was a bit cliched. Afterward, with the night still young, we stopped at Frank’s Place, one of the several dark, smoke filled watering holes in North Olmsted. Frank’s Place is notable because it is located in a plaza directly under the North Olmsted water tower. Over some beers we began to talk, slowly stripping away some of our guarded layers and revealing parts of ourselves. Soon thereafter, we drove to Arturo’s, another dive, this one with a kitchen, so I could get something to eat. As the night carried on, we just kept talking. It wasn’t what we talked about that effected me; it was the ease in which we were able to open up to each other. It was natural, like I’d known her my entire life. Nothing felt forced. I remember thinking, “This girl is special” and “man, I want to kiss her.”

The evening came to an end and Julie drove me back to my folks’ house. The Fox pulled into the driveway and Julie stopped the car. Then, for only the second time in my life, I asked a girl if I could kiss her. Even before we’d left Arturo’s, I’d felt a real connection with Julie, something magical was occurring to me… to us. I didn’t want to screw that up.

“May I kiss you?”
“I’d like that.”

Our lips met and that’s when the thunderbolt crashed down from the heaven’s and opened up my heart. In actual time, I don’t know the duration of that first kiss, but in a grand sense; it has lasted 15 years.

We said goodnight and I walked into the house, dazed, floating, and changed. When Heidi saw me enter looking wide eyed and confused, she asked, “What’s up with you?”

“I think I just went out with the woman I’m going to marry.”

I saw her the next day at work and every day after that for the rest of my life.

Three weeks into our bliss, I did the obvious thing and made her, yes, a mix tape. Cut me a little slack. I’d just bought a new stereo. Plus, what better way for someone to discover whom you are than by exposing them to the music in your collection? So, in went the Maxwell XLI and on went selections from my LP’s, cd’s, and cassettes. That tape still exists somewhere in a box crammed in the rafters of our garage. I couldn’t tell you what songs are on it, save for one composition, Bruce Springsteen’s “Book of Dreams”. Taken from his ’92 release, “Lucky Town”, this song represented the new Bruce: Happy, married and a father. The music is simple and direct, sparse and mostly acoustic. I love the “Lucky Town” album and “Book of Dreams” touched my heart at the exact moment that thunderbolt was crashing down on me. Perhaps “If I Should Fall Behind” is the better written song of his ballads on this album, but “Book of Dreams” represented everything I felt and everything I wanted to say to Julie.

Falling in love so quickly and discovering my soul mate raised thousands of questions. I did some heavy soul searching for over a month. Meanwhile, “Book of Dreams” played over and over in my head. This song made sense to me. Julie’s love made sense to me. Being with her is what I wanted deep in my soul. Anything else, we would figure out down the road. The day I gave her the tape, I pointed to that song, as if to say, “this is how I feel.” When I finally found the courage to spill my guts, I was amazed to learn that Julie felt the same way as I did. Wherever I was going to go in life, she wanted to be with me on that journey.

Jump ahead to November, the day after Thanksgiving. My parents were throwing an East Coast reception for Budd and Karyn at the house. The whole family was in the same place for the night. In the months between that mix tape and this reception, I’d asked Julie’s parents for her hand in marriage, decided to wait a year before moving to California, and had secretly bought an engagement ring. I also had Matt teach me to play the guitar… well, one song on the guitar. Julie once told me she’d love to be serenaded with “You Are The Woman” on guitar when being proposed to. Matt, in his infinite wisdom, suggested something else. I’m sure the conversation went something like this: “Uh, dude, isn’t there something, like, better that you could learn?” “This is what she wanted.” “Come on. There has to be something more personal.” I didn’t even have to think twice about it.

On the last Friday in November of ’92, I took Julie away from the family and friends gathered in my parents’ house and lead her into the basement. There, I played and snag the only song I’ve ever learned on the guitar, “Book of Dreams.” A year later we were married.

Fifteen years ago today, I went on a date that changed my life. The movie wasn’t memorable, the beers and wings were bland. But that kiss… Oh man, that kiss rocked my world. When the thunderbolt struck me, it not only opened my heart; it opened a book of dreams with new chapters being written every day.