Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's All Rock 'n Roll to Me

I love music.

There's nothing quite like good chord progressions, catchy hooks and memorable lyrics to get my blood pumping, feet tapping and vocal chords wavering.

Over the years I've reveled in the adrenaline of resting a needle on vinyl, popping in a new cassette single, slipping in a new CD, or downloading an mp3. About a year ago I finally entered the world of iPods and now I don't know what I'd do without my Nano 3g…unless of course an iPhone or Touch sauntered along and wanted my affections instead; then I might find it easier to say goodbye.

Listening to music is my perfect way to pass the time while cleaning, grading, or driving, but nothing beats hearing that same music live, especially in an intimate setting. Of course, Rachel completely disagrees: "Why pay to stand up and hear what I can hear sitting down at home whenever I want?" Still, she tolerates my love of a live show most of the time.

I've seen concerts in venues of all sizes by all manner of artists from Weird Al Yankovic along the riverfront in Little Rock, August '92 (Don't judge...I enjoyed every f#cking minute of that concert!) to REM at ConstantlyNewlySponsored Amphitheater in St. Louis, September '95 (I want to be Mike Mills) to U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago, June '97 (we snuck in using tickets snagged from a greasy couple with grabby hands who "Had better things to do" back home.) Before the adrenaline could wear off, that was quickly followed by Rockfest at Texas Motor Speedway, June '97 (my parents had me drive instead of my best friend, Ryan, because he was a "reckless driver"...I wrecked the van about a mile away from the gates...we missed most of the performances by Bush, No Doubt, Counting Crows, Matchbox Twenty, Jewel, Collective Soul, The Wallflowers and others as we sat along the side of the road waiting for my none-too-pleased parents and a tow truck.).

I've also seen some before-they-were-stars shows: The Dixie Chicks at an early 90s Fourth of July celebration in Richardson, TX; N'Sync in the late 90s in front of St. Louis' Union Station, John Mayer opening for Guster at The Pageant a couple months before he returned with Guster as his opening act.

While at Truman a group of us braved what turned into a six-hour trek through an ice storm to see Weezer play at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis.

Of course I could go on and on about other shows I've loved: Jackopierce at Truman's Dog Days, They Might Be Giants and Cowboy Mouth at Columbia, MO's Blue Note, The BoDeans beneath the Gateway Arch, Third Eye Blind and Coward at Dallas' Trees, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers wherever the hell they want to play, but I won't.

For this post, the who is so much less important than the where.

After moving to St. Louis I quickly discovered Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. It's the perfect place to see a show. Dank, dark, intimate, not-too-smoky-or-skeezy, cave-like, but brightened by good acoustics and lovely duck-covered walls. The first artist I saw perform in the Duck Room was Bob Schneider and since that night I've become a concert venue snob. Whether it was more about Bob or the ducks is neither here nor there. The evening was magical and I fell in love.

Sure I'll go to the Pageant, ConstantlyChangingSponsors Amphitheater, or other local venues to see a show if I must, but my druthers now prefer feathers. I've seen Bob three times, Todd Snider twice, Roger Clyne four times, and a smattering of other shows in between all at the Duck Room.

I love that place!

It's no surprise, then, that on a recent, rainy Sunday I found myself hunkered down in front of the Duck Room's stage.

This particular crowd was the smallest I'd ever seen in my little slice of heaven, but its energy more than made up for that fact. I'd convinced Rachel to come along and, as we waited for the show to begin, we glanced around and felt old…really old!

A pair of eccentric twins wearing tutus stood to our left (female twins...they weren't that eccentric). A kid with plaid shorts and a popped collar leaned against a table to our right. A couple of girls behind us (sisters probably) danced with a man who seemed old enough to be their grandfather.

Before we could comment too much, though, the band sauntered onto the stage and immediately tore through one of their lesser known, but highly energetic songs. The ducks on the outer edges of the room absorbed the rhythmic buzz of guitar strings and pounding bass. Initially hesitant, the crowd, small in number, but large in voice, pumped its arms in the air and sang along. By the second song of the set the entire room was a frenzied mass of exuberance. The band felt it, the crowd felt it, the bartenders felt it. Hell, even the people eating upstairs felt it.

After a few more songs, Rachel and I looked at each other, goofy grins across both our faces.
“This rocks!”
“I know!”
And we went back to singing along at the front of the stage.

For the next hour we enjoyed one of the best concerts either of us has ever attended. We sang, we danced, we got our groove on. I even got up on stage to sing and dance with the band. Talk about a dream come true! Me…onstage…standing back-to-back with the lead guitarist…at the Duck Room!

Like I said before: Best. Concert. Ever!

And Mini-Me thought so, too.

He was a bit unsure intially, and spent the first song in Rachel’s arms, but by the second song he was movin’and groovin’, singin’ and swingin’ harder than anyone else. The twins in tutus certainly couldn’t keep up. The kid with the popped collar imitated most of Mini-me’s moves. And the sisters? They ditched their grandpa and danced with my boy the entire second half of the show.

Sure Rach and I were at the front of the stage, but it was while we were hunkered down with our backs to it photographing our boy bouncin’ to the beat.

Sure we sang along to every song, but so did most of the kids and parents in the room. I even knew the guitar chords to a few of the songs.

Sure I got on stage and performed with Ralph and the band, but I was just one of five dad’s who lived vicariously that day. We sang ‘Abby’s Alphabet Soup’. When I was back to back with the lead guitarist it was because we were forming the letter 'Y'.

Before Mini-Me was born I spent months researching kids musicians that weren’t Barney or The Wiggles. I scoured the Internet and found Ralph’s World, a band whose songs I now find myself singing instead of skipping while alone in the car. Ralph Covert was a 90s era indie-rock star in the Chicago area with his band The Bad Examples. Their song ‘Not Dead Yet’ got some major Chi-town radio airplay, was covered by Styx on their 1990 release, and was featured on Six Feet Under. Now he’s making awesome kids music and winning Grammys. What a life!

So the crowd was small in number, height, years, teeth, and ability to divide fractions, but seriously large in voice, excitement, and passion. The kids watching Ralph and his band sang at the top of their lungs, danced their hearts out, and allowed the music to wash away the troubles of the outside world (diaper rash, having to share, getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar), just like many of us grown-ups do. For the hour-and-a-half Ralph played those kids were in their own little slice of heaven.

And Mini-Me? Mini-Me’s now been to three concerts in his 2.9-years: Dan Zanes & Friends, May 09 at Wash U and Ralph’s World twice at The Duck Room. He loved every minute of every show, but seemed especially energetic at this last one. He’s been putting on concerts for us since he could stand up and hold a ukulele and he’s now performed on The Duck Room stage twice. I’m so proud! Watching him dance, sway, clap, stomp, wiggle and sing absolutely made my life. The Duck Room is a magical place; I’m glad I shared that with my son.

I know it’s a bold statement, but I won’t hesitate to say that the best concert I’ve EVER seen was Ralph’s World at The Duck Room, March ’09…and remember, I was there when Weird Al played the banks of the Arkansas River.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winners Never Cheat and Cheaters Never Win

Unfortunately I'm swamped with grading right now as the school year comes to a close. I want to maintain my goal of posting weekly and the boys are certainly still actively filling my notes with topics to write about, but I haven't been able to make time to sit down and groom those nuggets of truth tapping at my cerebellum. They're begging to escape so, painful as it will be, I'll do my best to contain them for a while longer. To satisfy you, faithful reader, though, I'll share a recent poem:

Today I sat and ate my breakfast;
I didn't stand behind the trough
In the middle of my kitchen
And slurp at the cereal grains and
Fruit I'd poured into a bowl.
I sat.

I sat and sprinkled my breakfast with
The words of a poet.
A poet who speaks in such a way that
I must sit to eat my breakfast.
His words swirl about me in the
Furious flurry of a weekday morning.
They cross my tongue alongside the
Sugary sweetness of cereal and the
Delicate tartness of berries,
Fortifying me before I start the day.

The soft stirrings of my sons
Waft in from the back bedrooms
Like the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
I have precious few moments left
Alone with the poet before I can no longer sit.
I have precious few moments to spend with my boys
Before I must head off to work.

I scoop up a final spoonful of words
Before scooping up my sons for a morning embrace.
I gather my bag and keys and
Stand next to the table where the
Rinds of poems sit alongside
An empty bowl.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Coffee Time Trysts

"Do you want to go get some coffee?"

Those simple words, lovingly spoken on a Saturday morning with no hint of "Why don't you go out and get coffee," are almost as exciting as waking up at 6:30am, which, in my household, is a delightful treat.

Now to be honest, I don't drink coffee regularly. It's not that I don't want to because I've actually developed quite a lustful affair with the hot stuff. It's more that, in the rush of our noisy little morning adventures, I don't often leave the house early enough to stop somewhere and grab a cup and, while I have a wonderful coffee maker that's simple to set on a delay, the apathy towards cleaning it afterwards far outweighs my desire for a cuppajoe on weekday mornings. Thus, when my wife offers to buy me coffee on a Saturday morning she's got me wrapped around her pinkie before I even realize what's happened. She apparently knows that I'll whore myself out for an overpriced coffee made by an overpierced teenager. And that's why, for the second straight Saturday, I spent the morning chauffeuring the family around local neighborhoods looking for Cubic Zirconia in the rough.

Of course, I'm not the only one she manipulated into the car for the big adventure. Rach worked her magic while tucking Mini-Me into bed the night before:

"If you stay in your bed tonight, buddy, we can go to some garage sales tomorrow morning."

[No, buddy, don't do's a trick! You'll regret this one day...most likely during the years after the excitement fades but before you'll whore yourself out for coffee!]

"Oooh! Really, Mommy!"

[You're on your own now, buddy! Oh, who am I kidding...she'll buy me coffee and I'll be there, too.]

"Yes, really!"

"I want a school bus! I want a red school bus, Mommy!"

"We'll see. Goodnight...see you in the morning, sweetie."

The kid's a sucker...just like his dad.

I haven't always loved garage sales the way my current caffeinated self does. It wasn't too terribly long ago that a different phrase lovingly spoken on a Saturday morning sent fear coursing through my veins.

"Lawzy, should see what I found for you this morning!"

Those words meant Mimi, my grandmother, had either found me 'new' underwear or awesome bell bottoms (it was the mid-80s and neither they nor I were in style). I have to give her props for discovering some occasional gems (Matchbox cars, puzzles, sports equipment, crazy-fun wind-up bath tub toys), but for the most part she gravitated towards hideously ugly clothes. In fact I'm pretty sure there's an Olan Mills photo or two in which I'm wearing one of her finds. Some of my nightmares involve a purple, blue, and white collared, long sleeve velour shirt. That's a memory I'm glad was captured forever.

For my wife, though, the thrill is found in hunting for shoes. She's collected enough shoes in a range of shades, sizes, seasons and styles to last for years. It looks like I may have to build a new closet just to hold them all and that's just from the past two weekends. Before she reads this and never buys me another coffee, though, I should probably clarify that the shoes are not for her, they're for Mini-Me...and they're awesome!

If somebody could hand me my murse (man purse) I'll continue...thanks.

I now know how Mimi felt when she found those fashion treasures. There's nothing like the surging adrenaline that rides the wave of caffeine through my veins while we're standing, whispering in some strangers' driveway and Rach holds up a pair of shoes:

"Look at these!"

"Those look brand new! They're seriously selling 'em for $1?!?"

"I know! Whaddaya think?"

"I love 'em! He's going to look adorable in those!" [dammit, I just said 'adorable' out loud!]

"They're a size 12." [He's currently in a 9...we're taking 'planning for his future' to a new level!]

"Great! We don't have any of those, yet!"

It's sad, but it seems this is what happened to the energy and excitement I used to put towards collecting baseball cards.

Of course I don't want you to think shoes are the only items that gets me up garage saleing on beautiful spring mornings. I absolutely love searching out cool toys, especially now that Mini-Me is getting to action figure age. I have been the proud Andy to many an action figure and the demented Syd to many more. My favorite job in college was working at Toys R Us and my favorite part of every Target trip is the stroll through the toy aisles. It's because of this devotion to toys that most of my childhood psychological scarring stems from a rash decision to sell Star Wars toys at one of our family garage sales just so I could get enough money to buy a New Kids on the Block cassette. It was a sad day when I realized what I'd done...and it's a sad day now that I realize I've shared that tidbit publicly.

I'm hoping Mini-Me can make amends for the horrible toy-related mistakes I made in the past. So far I've been incredibly impressed by his garage sale abilities. In fact, it seems the boy's got super powers.

Two weekends ago before we left the house he said he wanted to find a #2 had a helicopter.

This past weekend he mentioned that red school #3 had two red school buses.

I've been dropping hints to Rach that we should go out again this weekend because I'm teaching Mini-Me to say 'Gibson Les Paul Standard'.

Wish me luck!