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Friday, January 27, 2012

Yoo and Tanner Lee Boyle

This is a story 'bout a boy named Yoo
who lived in a town where there's nothing to do
and no one around to do anything with
except Mrs. Greely and and Old Mr. Smith
and Tara and Fern, the Beverly girls
and Tanner Lee Boyle, only friend in the world
that Yoo's ever known and though sometimes a pain
Tanner Lee means well, goes out of his way
to help out a friend, to aid and abide
Yoo and Tanner Lee would spend their time
all of this summer at each others side.
Our story begins on a morn soaked with dew
outskirts of a town with nothing to do
'cept riding one's bike where one doesn't belong
through empty lots and other folk's lawns
and into the fact'ry that's since been abandoned
and out to the lake, and into the campground
'til under the bridge we find our friends
Yoo and Tanner Lee smoke cigarettes
and play poker with cards with pictures of women
without any clothes on and they try to spit in
an old tin cup 'bout a meter away
and so do our friends carry on with their day
til the day subsides and falls to night
back on their bikes our boys take flight
through the camping grounds, factory, other folk's lawns,
back through the lot where Yoo heard a sound
off of his bike he did spin around
onto his knees with an ear to the ground
heard strange rumbling, tumbling some where
deep in the earth he heard crumbling there
Tanner Lee stopped, and looked to the sky
time stopped for Yoo and they both wondered why
or what it could be, a freight train or plane
or had their young brains just gone insane
for this sound was too loud, it was really a feeling
Tanner Lee spun, but Yoo was still kneeling
when out of the sky came rolling and ripping
a great ball of fire, sped over the city
and into the trees not a mile due west
“The end all”? Asked Tanner Lee under his breath
Yoo said “Aliens, I think have just landed”
without one more word the boys had abandoned
the factory lot and did head for the fires
they could see the glow from no more than two miles
Here's Harlan Juniper's old Chevy truck
it looked like our boys may just be in luck
Harlan pulled up and the boys jumped inside
and they raced off to see what might have collided
and what could've shaken the ol terra firm
it wasn't too long til they got to the turn
out by Terry Fry's place, and then Hap Todd's farm
they wheeled into Hap's drive, and there in the yard
was Hap, his wife Linda and their only boy Cy
standing round embers at the top of the drive
As things turned out, or at least in the paper
the scientists up at the research center
said “about 8:52 on this twelfth of July,
a large piece of space junk did fall from the sky”
but Yoo and Tanner Lee know that the truth
that large piece of space junk did change their youth.
The world seemed so small, and how big the sky
the image of fire in Hap Todd's drive
was forever embedded in our boys young minds
and for years ever after they both would find
that every spring, when they'd smell that smell
They'd remember the wonders of life and swell
with pride in their hearts and recall from their youth
the space junk storm of two thousand and two.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vacation (All I Ever Wanted)

Until I was 34, I had never been on a real vacation.  My wife, Grace, gets the wanderlust every few years, and asked me if I would like to go abroad for a week or so.  I agreed, and left her to the task of choosing where we would go, and planning the trip.  Basically, she did everything, and I kicked in some money. In February of 2010, we went on a two week trip to Nicaragua.  This would be my first passport, first flight, first time out of the continental United States.  This was an eye opening experience for me.  Being lost in another country where no one speaks your language, feeling like you're in a movie but knowing it's real.  We rode horses, swam in the ocean, pushed our way through the packed market places, and walked for miles down deserted dirt roads.  We slept in grass huts next to the ocean, rode buses down dirt roads next to people with live chickens tucked in their armpits, blazed through towns in taxis that went too fast for comfort, and awoke to the shrieks of the jungle in the morning.  Everything went according to Grace's schedule, and we were never treated poorly, scammed, or robbed, with the exception of one guy that made a weak attempt at Grace's wallet.
I brought a cassette walkman on the trip, and kept a daily audio diary of the trip.  I also recorded the sounds of the Jungle and the marketplace.
About two weeks later, I was to take flight once again, this time with my boss, to Las Vegas for three days, to attend the 2010 Bar and Nightclub Convention.  This trip was more like a drunken nightmare with glimpses of sunshine and awe.  Highlights included :
- The convention itself, which was a stadium sized floor, with about 500 booths, each trying to sell their alcohol, beer, or nightclub related merchandise.  Basically, every ten feet you stopped to do a shot of something, all day long.
-The Stratosphere, highest building West of the Mississippi, I think.  Its a casino / mall / amusement park stuffed into something like Seattle's Space Needle.  Looking down from the top was dizzying.
-Being able to walk freely anywhere with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.
The flight back was a bumpy, drunken hellride, and I missed my home badly.  Too much time with my boss, too much of the air conditioned daymare.  It was so good to get home, I had barely unpacked from the Nicaragua trip yet.  Getting away really helps you appreciate the things you take for granted, and reminds you that there is a world outside of the borders of your mind.

Days of the Living Dead

My sister Tricia, the closest to me in age, bought a beat up old drum set when I was about 12, and I learned to play some basic rock beats.  Dad played the accordion, so there were always microphones and amplifiers laying around.  My two best friends and I pooled a few bucks together and got a Fender  knock-off electric guitar, and ordered a generic bass guitar from the Sears catalog, and I also got a high hat and some cheap cymbals for my sister's drums through Sears, and we played in my basement and garage on and off from eighth grade until we graduated high school. We landed a gig somehow at a short lived youth center that started out of a former strip club called the Spider's Web.  That bass came in the mail two days before the show.  We didn't know about tuning guitars, how to properly utilize an amp, nothing.  We just choked songs out of our instruments however we could.  At first we used our home stereos as guitar amps, any dirty rocker worth his salt knows how to pull that off.
This will be the only time I go here, at the risk of sounding trite;  When we were kids, it was hard to contact people that you wanted to contact.  Hard to get a specific part for a guitar, bike or skateboard, or to get your feet into some real skate shoes.  Hard to have any idea how a rock band works, because there is simply no one around to explain it to you, as far as you knew.   Any object that was considered “some kind of band equipment” was worth it's weight in gold to us.  We traveled hours to go to shitty music stores.  We traveled hours just to get our hands on good music to listen too.  We made broken skateboard decks work for another week, we repaired drum heads and shoes with duct tape until all they were anymore was duct tape.   Any and all equipment was repaired ten times over before you would consider buying a new one. I want to say we appreciated everything we had, but the truth is we ruined everything we touched..  We thought it was the worst of times, never realizing we had it all.
In the beginning, I don't remember us ever talking about song structure, we were of a hive mind, and we would just make up songs off the top of our head, hitting all the changes together without discussion, just basic rock structure.  We knew nothing about properly tuning an instrument, but we figured out a way to tune a guitar so you could just lay one finger across all of the strings, and it sounded like a proper chord.  I can never recall working these things out, they just happened.  Later on we would consciously write some songs, and that all happened really easily, too.  We were absolutely full of ideas, energy and creativity.  We had to pick and choose from the many, to use only the best ideas.  We would often record our rehearsals, and I still have many of the tapes. One day I figured out how to record vocals over a tape of a song my buddy and I had recorded on to a cassette, and so was born my fascination with multi track recording.  The school faculty eventually let our band, “The Living Dead”, and later “Sixtyseconds”  play at the homecoming pep rally every year through high school.  I think we hated school too much to appreciate the gesture.  I was always bummed out about something when I was that age, just mad at the world.  I would never have thought at the time, just how how fondly I would one day look back upon those days.

Wild in the Streets

I don't remember my friends and I ever being aware of any sort of boundaries in Neillsville.  We went wherever we felt like going, through peoples yards, into abandoned buildings, we would even go through the city's storm drain system, underneath the entire town.  Up until a certain age, none of these things seemed wrong.  Neillsville was our playground.  Over the years we had dozens of  forts, all on someone else's property, we didn't know, we didn't care.  I would be gone all day, come home, and tell my Mom that we had spent the day at our newest fort.  She would casually ask about the whereabouts of this newest fort, and I would tell her what I felt she wanted to hear.  I don't know if she ever really wanted to know. One of those forts was built near an old train track, a fort made mostly out of different doors, solid oak and screen doors.  The abandoned train track was like the main street to our fort, and we put a jump ramp for our bikes that was nothing more than a door, leaning on a three foot tall piece of wood, that was propped against it.  No nails even holding the two boards together, they were just leaning against the other, on that rocky old train track, that you could barely ride your bike on in the first place.  Every third or fourth attempt, the ramp would collapse just as the rider was cresting the top of the jump.  It was considered good style to hit that jump and collapse it, stall in the air for a second, and land back on top of the flattened door, then calmly ride away. One time we were terrorizing the neighborhood on our bikes in the fall, ripping through the piles of leaves that everyone raked to the boulevard.  One of my neighbors up the street caught us in the act, jumped into his black T-bird, and chased us down.  He made us go back and clean up our mess.  That dude was scary to us.  I remember he called himself Billy Con, like the boxer from the 1930's.  There were a lot of shady characters living up the street, another was this woman known only as the Dragon Lady.  When I was a kid, I really had no idea what all the adults around me were up to.  When I got a little older, I learned that the things that I thought were confined to big cities also happened in little towns like Neillsville.  Drugs, violence, even murder.  We were blissfully unaware of how often we poked at the hornets nest, disrespecting the people of the neighborhood, like Billy Con.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Metal Mania!

Heavy metal music is a huge part of my character.  I have, over the years, developed very specific tastes regarding the metal.  Here is a brief history of heavy metal music in my life.
I am the youngest of four children in my family, and the only boy, so my sisters definitely had a hand in shaping my tastes in tunes.  When I think of Tina, the oldest, I remember her sitting on a bean bag listening to Billy Joel records on huge curly-cord headphones.  With Tara, the second in line, I picture her blow drying her hair in the morning listening to the Go-Gos.  And then there was Tricia.  Trish had a little more 'tude, and she was more inclined to be rocking some Bon Jovi, Def Lep, Motley Crue, and Van Halen.  Trish had a dual cassette deck, and I would sneak into her room and dub her tapes when she was out. MTV came to Neillsville when I was about ten, and I was hooked, especially to the more rocking stuff. Beyond that, in the following years, there are a handful of specific incidences that I remember being stepping stones for me in the way of discovering proper metal.
*At the Warrens Cranberry Festival in Warrens, WI, Trish and I came across a guy selling bootlegged cassettes, just like official releases, but when you opened up the tape case, there wasn't anything printed on the inside of the packaging.  I bought Run DMC's "Tougher Than Leather", and Trish bought Ozzy Osboure's Randy Rhodes Tribute album.  I still have, and love, that Run DMC tape, but I was really fascinated with Tricia's purchase.
*In sixth grade, I met Bob, who thoroughly schooled me in the ways of good metal.  Bob turned me on to Danzig, Metallica, Megadeth, as well as punk-bordering-on-metal stuff, like DRI, and Misfits, oddball acts like Dead Milkmen, and strait punk rock from the Ramones, Minor Threat, and Dead Kennedy's. I have to admit that I didn't bite right away, at that time I was rocking Def Lep's "Hysteria" 24-7, but I was intrigued by the things Bob was introducing me to.
*Somewhere around this same time Metallica performed "One", live on the Grammy Awards, and the ripping hook in that song really got to me.  I bought "And Justice For All" out of the tape rack at the Kwik Trip down the street (my go-to source for the hottest releases) and began a strict regimen of listening to that album repeatedly.  I still wasn't sure if I liked it, it was just so....different.  Almost frightening in it's aggression.
*Like many of my peers, I bought into the BMG Mailorder's "12 albums for a penny" scam.  You could choose a genre that you liked best, and they would send you a catalog with choice albums of that general sound.  I ended up choosing Alternative/Modern Rock initially, moving over to Metal years later, but through BMG's Alternative selections, I did discover some good stuff like the Pixies, Sisters of Mercy, the Smiths, and Sonic Youth.
*I discovered Thrasher Magazine at the local grocery store in sixth grade as well.  I would buy anything that Thrasher featured in music reviews or in the advertisements, 9 times out of 10 this strategy was a winner.
     I still feel good about what I was listening to from sixth grade, all the way through to high school graduation.  I listen to a lot of it to this day.  Faith No More was a big one for me.  Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Helmet, Clutch, Tool, Danzig, and Slayer.
Here is where I fell off.  One thing happened, and one thing didn't.
What DID happen was Nu-Metal.  I specifically recall watching Limp Bizkit play at the Rave in Milwaukee, sometime around 1999, and thinking "yeah, this is good, this is where metal is going in the future."  What DIDN'T happen was my acknowledgement of black metal, death metal, grind and doom in their formative and perhaps most important years.
*My buddy Dewey took me on a trip to Youngstown, Ohio in 2002, to a three day doom/stoner metal festival held at the Nyabingi bar.  We slept in his van behind the bar, and those three days saved me from the dark path I had been treading with the nu-metal thing.  I finally found my place.  Huge stacks of amplifiers, down tuned guitars, zero rock star ego, and the slow tempos of DOOM!  We got to see sludge pioneers Eyehategod,  Mastodon in their first year of touring, and slow-pop sensation FLOOR, which is probably my favorite band ever. I was back on the righteous path.  My new found interest in psycadelic/stoner/doom metal sent me back through the years to discover my love for the originators of the genre like Black Sabbath and Sleep, as well as metal staples like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Scorpions, which I was never really into back in the day.
The whole psychedelic doom and power metal sound has evolved so much in just the last decade, it's really a diverse genre with some great acts.  Neurosis, Yob, and High on Fire have taken the Black Sabbath sound over the mountain, and it's not such a low-brow thing to be a metal head anymore.  I love so many different styles of music, especially in the last few years, my record collection has really become much more eclectic, but I will never escape from the clutches of METAL.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Built to Grind

Since the age of nine, skateboarding has been a huge part of my life.  Growing up in a small town in the early eighties, street skating as we now know it was just starting to creep into the upper midwest.  In Neillsville, there were a few guys older than my circle of friends, literally three dudes, doing jump ramps and skating parking blocks.  Those three guys, along with myself and four or five of my friends, were the first generation of street skaters in town.  We were into BMX as well, but the skateboarding culture ended up dominating our psyche.  Those older guys were bad asses, and I will never forget the few occasions that they let us hang out with them.  They taught us correct attitude and style, how to properly do your thing, how to party.  Skating has always influenced the way that I see the world, just as a football enthusiast may look at life as a game that can be won, I see life as a series of transitions, that I hope to ride out in the best style possible.  Of course there are also all of the metaphors; balance, consistency, and power.  The times in my life that I skated the most, were the best, most creative and positive times I've known, and when I wasn't skating at all, were the times I was falling off in life in the worst way.  I'm now thirty five, and I've graduated to simply cruising down hills in the warm seasons.  This year I broke my knee, a tibial plateau fracture, I basically broke the top half of my right leg away from the bottom half.  The recovery has been long and tedious, and initially I felt really lame about getting sidetracked in life by hurting myself on a skateboard, but later I realized that there probably wasn't a better way to get hurt.  I can't wait to go back to the top of that hill this spring, and ride it out properly.  Skating, music, and art keep me young, and as far as I can tell, keeping a youthful perspective on things is the key to happiness.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Call the Cops!

Sometimes it's hard to decide if you should call 9-1-1 or not.  Here are some situations that I decided it was the thing to do.
*Enraged drunken man heaves a bar stool over the bar at me while I was bartending.
*A friend's brother was crying and bleeding from the ear on the street corner.  He said he was mugged, but it turned out that he was drunk and somehow slammed the side of his head into something.
*Crazy man walking fast, in big circles in elementary school playground across the street from my house, repeatedly yelling to himself/anyone - "The white man is DEAD!"
*Car driving the wrong way on the beltline, along side of me on the opposite side, for, like, four miles.
I wish I wouldn't have called on my friends brother, because he ended up paying for an unnesesary ambulance ride, but I'm pretty pumped about the other ones.  Nothing wrong with helping the law fight the good fight.

Unrest in the Forest

On the day of my fourteenth birthday, I started working at Jan Peirce Tree Farms, in the little city of Neillsville, Wisconsin.  I would work there on and off for the next five years, and for a couple of desperate years later on in my twenties.  Anyone could get a job on the tree farm, but few lasted more than a day.  In early June every year, Jan would hire a crew of about fifteen people, mostly young boys, with a few older guys, usually down on their luck, or maybe just getting back on their feet.  He would pack us all into the back of his truck, and haul us out into the country to one of his six fields to shear thousands of Christmas trees into a nice conical shape with a three foot long machete in each hand.  It was akin to trying to create fine art with dull steel blades in 100+ degree weather, with thistles poking in your armpits and bees buzzing around your head.  After the first day, Jan would fire nearly everyone, and the next morning there would be fifteen fresh faces to try their hand.  The conditions were torturous, heat unbearable, and Jan was an unrelenting test on a young man's psyche.  He would stand on the tailgate of his truck, screaming at us like a drill sergeant, individually tearing us down to nothing, and rebuilding us in his own image.  If Jan decided to keep you around, there was a sense of pride, you were a man.  It was always great when somebody like the star quarterback on the high school football team couldn't make the cut in Jan's fields, or the guy that used to bully you around in school.  Jan leveled the playing field.  There were other tree farms in the area, and they all knew Jan's rep as a spirit crushing madman.  He was the worst to work for, but you were among the elite as far as tree farmers went, if you made the grade.  Three months later, the shearing season would come to an end, and Jan would keep three or four of us around to do random jobs on the farm, and in the fall the harvest would begin.  No longer dying of dehydration and fatigue in the summer sun, we now found ourselves chilled to the bone, trudging through the same fields, this time through slush and mud, cutting, dragging, and loading the trees onto wagons, into the yard to be separated into piles, then reloaded onto semi trailers to be shipped out for sale.  It never occurred to me until years later what a strange trade this was.  As I got older, Jan would have me train the new guys, as well as fire them if they weren't good enough.  It was so sad and awkward to have to fire some guy twice my age, obviously down on his luck and nearing rock bottom.  No matter if we were five minutes or two hours from home, if you were fired, Jan was done with you, and you walked home.  Remember, this is before cell phones, so there was no calling for a ride.  Jan was cruel and unfair, and at the time we were too young and ignorant to see that he was trying to teach us lessons about life.  I think about him quite often.  We later became friends, or as close to friends as one can be to the man, and I went with him to Oklahoma to sell trees on one of his two lots.  I am so glad to have experienced those tortured summers, who knows what I would be like now if I hadn't.  Whenever I get bummed out because of some menial task I have to do, I remember the trees, the blisters, the heat exhaustion, the chafing, and the fear of the man.  Nothing will ever be that hard again.

Fat Man Starving

Full.  I am so full
Full to the gills and stinking with sweat.
Full.  I am so full
Full of myself, and the food that I et.
Tired, I am so tired - of working on my appetite.
Tired.  Perhaps it would help-
To take bigger mouthfuls,
in occurrence with the use of less bites.

Really Sweet Loser

He's a nice enough fella with a heart full of gold
   Poppycock, he's just a really sweet loser
She's a fun loving gal, though a bit of a boozer
   Bullpucky, but, she's a really sweet loser
Happy go lucky but never been told
   Buddy, you're naught but a really sweet loser
Still in the club, but out of the fold
  A real man's man and a really sweet loser

Ghost Story

When I was in high school, me and a friend of mine, Nate, bought a Ouija board and started messing around with it.  We had both previously played with other people, and we wanted to find out if this thing was a hoax or not, for once and for all.  We made a serious pact, we swore to each other that we would not puposely move the planchette, in the name of science.  The things that we experienced over the course of that winter were totally frightening and surreal, to say the least.  I find that often times when a person encounters things so unreal, i.e. ghost sightings, ufos, strange animal sightings, etc., these things get tucked away in an off limits area of your memory, sometimes never to be opened again.  When I thought to write about my ouija board experience, I realized that I hadn't even thought about it for some fifteen years, and now it seems like a far off dream, I doubt my own recollection of the details.  At the time we were very much into the band the Sex Pistols, and the legend of Sid and Nancy.  We decided to ask to speak to Sid, and that would get the session rolling.  We would often ask to talk to other spirits, and the board seemed to comply, but we soon decided that we were always talking to the same person, acting as many.  More than once the planchette quite literally flew off of the board, sometimes spinning wildly.  One night we decided to ask if we could speak to our host without the board, it responded with a resounding "yes!".  We put a magic marker through an upside down paper cup, and put that on a big piece of drawing paper, and it literally drew pictures for us.  There will always be mystery and scepticism surrounding the things we don't understand.  This experience was a reminder that there are things in life beyond our comprehension.

Bring in the Clowns

For a short period of time I lived in a small band practice space in a dark and desolate area of Milwaukee.  One night I was coming home and ran into a couple about my age in the hallway, and invited them in for a beer.  They were both dragging emormous paper mache heads and had clown paint tattooed on their faces.  They claimed to be coming home from their "circus", which I took to be their two person street act.  They seemed to be genuinely pleasant and forthcoming, and we talked for awile.  As open minded as I could ever hope to be, I still couldn't shake the idea of thier face tattoos, and the repercussions such a commitment would have on their lives.  On one hand, they represented a freedom of spirit I could only dream of possesing, on the other hand, they seemed somehow doomed to a life that I couldn't see as anything but certain misery, no matter what decisions they may make in the future.   Did they encompass everything I loved about this country, or had they gone too far?  Could I possibly hope to suppress judgement of someone with the tattooed face of a circus clown?  I felt myself and my father entangled in a battle within my psyche, over whether these were fine, upstanding citizens and artists, or crazy people, in whose presence I myself was certainly crazy to invite into my space.  We're all clowns, sure, but who is willing to admit it to the world?

Made in the USA

I spent the majority of my twenties working in a muffler factory.  Starting out performing the most menial tasks on the line, I eventually worked my way into the inspection office and a management position.  Our plant employed about ninety people, and ninety percent of them, if you could state thier attitude towards the work that they did in two words, those words would be "fuck it."  They hated their coworkers, hated their bosses, hated the company, and hated the government.  Most of the products made, mufflers for all kinds of machinery, steel parts for big equipment, and motorcycle frames, among many other things, barely passed inspection, if inspected at all, before being shipped out.  Everyone, as far as I was concerned, was payed quite well.  The parking lot was always full of the latest model trucks with aftermarket rims and custom paint jobs, usually a four-wheeler or snowmobile in the back.  Most folks knew all the tricks to get around putting any effort at all into their work.  In 2002, the plant was closed, and work orders and equipment shipped south, no one could understand why.  Must be the fault of the big bosses, and conspiring Mexicans, they mused.  Sloth, shoddy workmanship, and bad will towards men, made in the USA.

The Dead Bird Trick

When I was seven years old, in the deep of Wisconsin winter, I discovered a dead bird outside.  It just seemed stuck, eyes open, magically frozen in place.  I decided that I would take the bird inside the house, thaw it over the heat register in my room, hence bringing it back to life.  I fully believed that this would work.  I knew that I couldn't let my family know about my ploy, not because of any doubts on my part, but because I knew that they wouldn't believe my idea would work.  When I was eventually caught in the act of thawing the bird, and automatically chastised for my junior sorcery, I would forever believe that my family's doubts were what killed any chance of that bird ever again taking flight.  We all forget about the magic of childhood, it's a given.  When I want a glimpse into the unyeilding faith of my youth, I remember trying to give the gift of life to a dead bird.

Celebrity Baseball

When I was a little boy, growing up in central Wisconsin, I frequently spotted celebrities around my little hometown.  Often I would see them at the park by my house, playing baseball.  I saw Phil Collins there, and "Silver Spoons" star Rick Schroeder.  I met the guitar player from the band Yes downtown, and caught a glimpse of the bass player from the metal powerhouse Voivod grabbing a burger for the road at Hardee's.  Of course these people weren't who I thought they were, but at the time, it wasn't so unreasonable to think that the faces on the T.V. lived just north of town.  The borders of Clark County might as well have been the edge of the universe.  Sometimes I used to think that I was the only real person, and everything else was just an intricate play set up by God.  Perhaps there were more "real people", but they were in other worlds, in their own play.  Pretty heavy philosophy for a twelve year old.  Maybe my grip on reality was stronger then than it is now.  Anything is, in fact, possible, if you believe it to be.  My sisters would pick on me relentlessly every time I came home from the park with another celebrity sighting, planting the early seeds for the skeptic I would one day blossom into