Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finally Found What I'm Looking For

One of my big hangups with politics is that I really want a civil engagement with someone who thinks differently than I do. This, in an era of talking heads yammering away on the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit, is incredibly difficult to achieve. But, I think I've finally done it.

What happened is this: one evening a few weeks ago I was wasting time while Miss Tessmacher was on the phone, and I got to entering names into Google. You do that, right? The narcissearch? Try it sometime…see what your web presence is really like. Anywho, I ended up entering my dad's name, and lo and behold I coughed it up in some guy's blog. Turns out he's a former band student of my dad's from the late-'60s/early-'70s! He brought my dad up as part of a larger political post, and he had nice things to say. Probably nicer things than I'd have to say about Dad, that's for sure! While the man wasn't any kind of abuser to me, he was…distant. I was the "Whoops!" pregnancy, sired on a woman not his wife, and even when we all lived together as a family…he and I just never got along. Part - most? - of that can be blamed perhaps on generational distance. Older than my grandfather, Dad probably couldn't wrap his mind around a son who liked neither hunting nor sports, but instead chose to decorate his room with cut-out pictures of hairy madmen snarling into microphones and doing really loud, unpleasant things with guitars. (Kiss and Twisted Sister, I mean.)

Anyway, I read a few of this guy's blog posts, and I realized I'd found it: someone who was educated, erudite, and fairly well balanced me on the political spectrum. I'm not as far left as a true-blue, quasi-socialist, bleeding-heart ecophile; he's not as far right (or at least doesn't seem to be) as a red-in-the-face, quasi-anarchist, come-to-Jesus Bible-thumper. He blogs nearly every day, and his blog is generally about whatever current political event gets a bee in his bonnet. I did an original comment on his blog about how I found him, said that I agreed with much of what he wrote (in that particular post, anyway), and asked if he'd mind if I kept reading.

Because, you know, alliances at the Capitol aren't really what interest me, nor do I see that kind of very public political back-&-forth as much of a problem-solver. What interests me is frank, respectful discussion among people who basically try to live their lives as best they can, but go about doing so thinking (occasionally, or even usually) very different things.

If you're interested, go read his blog. It's called The Violence Worker, and I've linked to it. I would ask, though, before you read a particular post, you read his Manifesto. I agree with about 85% of what he writes there…which, in my mind, is the more humorous and odd because, just as I was counting down the days, hours and minutes until Bush left office, he's got a counter on his blog for Obama! See what I mean? We're just two dudes, livin' life…lots of the same core beliefs…and yet, still so different.

I believe that those differences define us (meaning ALL of us), but not in a bad way. Understanding where those differences are, and talking about them in a meaningful way, is part of what should define a great society. So go there. I've been treated well. If you post a comment, please: be respectful. THINK.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett vs. The Fox

November 24th, 1991. A death. A death that was mourned by millions, the world over. The death of a hero, to many of us. Someone who was iconic, who came from virtually nothing to conquer the world. Someone who was truly of the era.

And no, I'm NOT talking about the death of Freddie fucking Mercury!

Not that that wasn't bad…a man taken too young, who had so much more to give, and to live. But…that wasn't the death that had me in tears that day. Nope. I mourned for Eric Carr.

Obvious pun notwithstanding, Eric had some VERY big shoes to fill when he took the place of original Kiss drummer Peter Criss. Rather than recycle Peter's makeup (as Kiss has done in recent years), they opted during the early 1980s to create new "characters" to be in the band. Hence: The Fox.

Eric was a tremendous drummer. While I credit Peter with "teaching" me how to play, I listen to '80s-era Kiss and realize that much of my drumming style is also right in line with how Eric played. Heavy. Thunderous, even. It was such a shock to even hear him: while Peter was a one-bass-drum kind of man, Eric pulled Kiss into the '80s with a double-bass setup and enough toms to make even Nick Andopolis green with envy. While the era of Kiss that he played in was at times their worst, it wasn't any fault of his; they (meaning, Gene and Paul) were searching for a post-makeup identity, a look and sound that still said "Kiss," but also fit the era. They succeeded, if only by washing out their originality and joining a faceless parade of hairy headbangers.

I never met Eric, but according to most anecdotal accounts I read he was a gentle, giving soul. Who, oddly, always worried about going bald! As if. Anyway, his role in the band was more akin to "hired gun," and while he never publicly complained of his treatment, I assume it must have rankled to join what was, at the time, still one of the biggest bands in the world, and then basically be told "Sit there, drum, and shut your fuckin' mouth." If only Gene-&-Paul had put Eric's writing and singing talents to good use, the 7 albums that featured him might have a little more oomph. Alas. R.I.P., Eric. I remember you fondly.

June 25, 2009. A death. A death that was mourned by millions, the world over. The death of a hero, to many of us. Someone who was iconic, who came from virtually nothing to conquer the world. Someone who was truly of the era.

And no, I'm NOT talking about the death of Michael fucking Jackson!

Not that that wasn't bad…a man taken too young, who had so much more to give, and to live. But…that isn't the death that has me in tears today. Nope. I mourn for Farrah Fawcett.

Ahhh, that hair, right? The mid-'70s, right there. Just wash with a little Lemon Up, pull that swirly comb outta your back pocket, and feather away. Shaun Cassidy, eat yer heart out.

Farrah was perhaps too much "of" her time. The hair that defined an era, the smile that melted many a dude's heart, the All-American wholesomeness of a fantasy girl-next-door. Even if that girl came into your home every week, courtesy of ABC.

I was stunned to read on IMDb that Farrah was only an Angel for the first full season. No disrespect to Kate or Jaclyn, but man, Jill Munroe was IT for me on the show. Seems like she was in every episode…but, not so.

Despite nearly constant TV work (with some minor films splashed here and there) since that time, Farrah was for all intents done in by her '70s heyday. Even the NPR dude talked about that today: that, despite 3 Emmy nominations, Farrah the actress - perhaps even Farrah the person - always had to compete with Farrah the icon. Alas. R.I.P., Farrah. I remember you fondly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Collector In Me

Cleaning the basement is, for me, a sort of never-ending exercise. Not one of futility, but one that seems to always need completing; I'll go at 'er for awhile, then things will get hectic and pretty soon any previous work is buried under boxes that need breaking down, outsized baby clothes that need putting away, and a host of tools that need organizing. It's work that I enjoy, even though in my heart of hearts I wish that just once I could go down there and see NOTHING that needs organizing. *sigh*

Part of the problem - maybe the biggest part of the problem - is that I am, in the kindest possible description, a collector. Always have been, and to some extent probably always will be. I feel that at least some of this collector-hood must be genetic: my dad didn't really collect stuff, but my mom sure does. She gets into one kick after another, pursues it with almost maniacal purpose, then abandons it at or near completion and moves on to something else. Farber Bros. Krome-Kraft, lead soldiers playing band instruments, bottles, Mego action figures…the list goes on. Some of my collector tendencies also come from stories I've heard my grampa tell all my life: about how, when he was a paperboy in the late '30s, he'd be on his route down by Farmington and see all this "great stuff" that people had put out to the curb to go to the trash. We're talking full, working floor lamps; toasters and radios and all manner of early electronic gadgetry; furniture in varying stages of decay (including none at all); and just really all manner of "treasure." He'd lug some of this home, maybe fix a frayed wire here or clean out a motor there, and pretty soon he'd have a perfectly usable piece of…whatever when he was done. Of course, his mother would scream blue murder at all of this stuff appearing in their house: "Bob! Get that out of here!" And he'd complain that it - whatever "it" was - was perfectly good and shouldn't be thrown away.

That ends up being one of my biggest problems: sometimes I'm less a "collector" and more just a "saver." Because of those stories Gramps would tell, I somehow have it in my subconscious that everything has value. And so I save shit. eBay has been like a godsend for me: once that craze hit, stuff that I normally would have tortured myself about throwing away could easily be disposed of - for money, yet! - by selling at online auction. And those of you who were there know that the early days of eBay were like the wild west: anything went, and I mean anything. Whatever sort of crap you could possibly list and describe, somebody out there wanted it.

Times change though, as does the availability of time itself…to clean items, photograph them, list & sell & pack them. What was once a heyday of "Gotta have that!" has settled down into more rational acquiring, and stuff that used to bring at least a few bucks has once again been relegated to the 50¢ table at your spring yard sale. (Where, no doubt, it's snatched up by someone who thinks "Aha! I'll sell this on eBay!") And, whereas once I lived in an apartment and had tons of free time to sell stuff, now homeownership forces me to mow the lawn and shovel snow and all manner of upkeep, and I rarely have time to list anything of true value, let alone crap that has been gathering dust in the basement for several years.

Which brings me back 'round to collectorhood. I was talking with my best friend the other day, and we each (independently) agreed that, for us, the fun of collecting had started to dim. For him it's a simple decision: he's now facing his 4th move in 3 years, and really, what's the point in packing up literally dozens of 30-gallon totes full of '80s-era G.I. Joe figures? Fuck it. Sell 'em on eBay. (Where he's been making an absolute killing, by the way!) For me it's a little more…I dunno, existential, maybe? I just…have sort of lost the drive. Chalk it up to age, fatherhood, or the aforementioned homeownership; whatever the case, I just don't really get off on having these gargantuan collections anymore. Look at it this way: at one time or another I collected, with varying degrees of fervor:

1) football cards
2) coins
3) comics
4) pewter-&-crystal fantasy figurines
5) records (and CDs, and cassettes…)
6) Avon figural cologne bottles (cars, pipes, you name it)
7) model Corvettes
8) Fawcett Peanuts paperbacks
9) Magic: The Gathering cards
10) action figures

The list could probably go on, but who has the time, eh? Anyway…I'm sure at one time or another there was a logic behind all of those things (well, except the football cards, because I don't even LIKE football!), but changing attitudes about storage and display have forced me to admit that most of this shit is exactly that. The complicating thing about all of these one-time collections is that I am what's referred (kindly or unkindly) to as a "completist," meaning, if I have three of something, I've gotta have 'em all. Bought a record by the band Axe in the early-'80s? Ooohh, gotta have the rest of 'em! Found an interest in toned (i.e., interestingly colored) Lincoln cents? Now they ALL have to be that way! And so on, filling boxes and bookshelves and dresser tops. No more. Miss Tessmacher is a much simpler, more minimalist person, and so I've finally begun to see the light. And to disperse collections to the wind.

Some things are still there, and (I assume) always will be. But the logic behind these things has changed, and so the collections, if not necessarily getting smaller, are at least growing at a MUCH slower pace. For instance:

1) Comics. I've quit buying new issues - after nearly 600 issues and 50 years, how many new Fantastic Four stories are there? - and have focused on going back and reading complete series that I already own. Series that are close to completion - like Tomb of Dracula - get finished off, and when I'm done…who knows? Maybe keep, maybe sell, maybe give to Eric or Joel to read. And store. So now, I don't buy zealously, and I read what comes into the house. What gets read, often gets gone.

2) Records. Like comics, they still serve a general purpose: in this case, listening. But I've abandoned completist tendencies, and now focus on stuff that I simply like. I don't need ALL the Bee Gees albums, because I don't like the flower-power Australio-pop of their first '60s heyday. I basically want Main Course through Bee Gees Live, plus the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

3) Coins. I haven't actively collected coins in some time. I don't buy "old" coins, I don't go to shows, and I don't search rolls. I pretty much buy the proof set, mint set, and any commemoratives that the Mint puts out each year. Hopefully, these (largely) silver coins will retain some value over the years, and either I or some future inheritor will see a return on the investment.

4) Magic cards. Used to be, I'd need at least one of every card in a set. Well, at 3 sets a year, that's a lotta cards! Now, when Eric & I play, we get a few packs of whatever's new, and then I look through the guidebook to see if there's something I really want to play with. If so, I get on (where else?) eBay and buy just that card.

Ultimately, I still have thousands of comics, coins, and cards in the basement, and hundreds of LPs on the shelves. But by abandoning lots of other dippy collections, and tightening the focus of what I've kept collecting, I've toned down the background noise in our lives, and at least minimized the amount of shit coming through our front door. Besides, who needs to be (almost) 41 and still have his dresser top crowded with glass tchotchke full of stanky cologne??

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Music

NPR did a little bit last evening about summer-specific music. I liked the idea of the article, because I generally listen to music by season. And yes, I really am that anal. Ahem. Anyway, the author of the article focused mostly on what seemed to be slow, steamy classics by Billie Holiday and the like, stuff for when the humidity is high and all you want to do is drink white wine on the front porch. Which, for me, not so much.

I have a regular CD playlist for the summer, which is not only comprised of (surprise!) a lot of heavy rock, but is also geared toward music that I already associate with summer. These are usually releases that happened just toward the end of the school year and then throughout the summer months. Chances are, if you're not already listening to this music, you won't rush right over to iTunes and buy any of this…but, if you're sitting there reading blogs, maybe you've got the kind of free time to go and have a listen. Here, forthwith, are my main summer CDs. Enjoy.

1) Kiss - Love Gun (release date: June 30, 1977) For me, this one is an all-time classic. I was the perfect age to just have all the time in the world to devote to listening to new music, and of course Kiss was IT for me. From the first jangling chords of I Stole Your Love to the last (bizarre) fading riffs of their cover of Then She Kissed Me, this really sums up the hot summer months.

2) Kiss - Dynasty (release date: May 23, 1979) Pretty much the same idea as #1 above. Tons of free time, plenty of adulation of Kiss, and not yet old enough to be concerned that they'd really changed their sound in the ensuing 2 years. They played the Pontiac Silverdome on my birthday that summer, but my mom thought I was too young to go with the big group of my friends who came back with tales of the concert. *sigh* I'm over it now. Really.

3) Cheap Trick - At Budokan (U.S. release date: February, 1979) This album was intended for Japan-only release, but quickly became one of the biggest-selling imports in the U.S. Although it came out in the dead of winter, a slow burn insured that it really hit its peak by summer '79. The song I Want You To Want Me, which Trick had had high hopes for several years earlier, and had basically abandoned for dead, was released in April and spent 19 weeks on the charts, peaking at #7.

4) AC/DC - Back In Black (release date: July 25, 1980) My first big foray into non-Kiss/Cheap Trick music, AC/DC wasn't even a blip on my radar until You Shook Me All Night Long captured the charts. This is quintessential early-teens music to me, and it really sums up that summer. Funny: I heard Have A Drink On Me blasting from the car stereo of some teenagers at the basketball court just the other day…I wonder if the kids really understood that they were proclaiming coolness by listening to music that was just shy of 30 years old.

5) The Beach Boys No specific album comes to mind, but the bulk of BB tunes really signifies summer, right? I started listening in high school, and haven't stopped.

6) Jimmy Buffett - Songs You Know By Heart (release date: January, 1985) Again, a mid-winter release, but for me Buffett is only eclipsed by the Beach Boys as signifyin' the sound of summer. I could really listen to ANYTHING by Buffett, but in spite of other greatest-hits packages that have come out since, this is the one I come back to.

7) Van Halen - VH II (release date: March 23, 1979) Are you seeing a theme here? Lots of stuff from the late-'70s, lots of good solid hard rock. The first VH album was great, but I actually like this one better. Perfect music to cruise the strip…preferably with your T-top open!

8) Mötley Crüe - Saints of Los Angeles (release date: June 24, 2008) Ahh, finally something new! Or…maybe not, once you listen to it. Crüe was all together again, and whatever infighting might have been going on between individual members, I thought they hadn't sounded this good since Dr. Feelgood. Tough, ballsy rock, delivered with that certain touch of "Fuck you!" swagger. Love it.

9) Kiss - Revenge (release date: May 19, 1992) One of the last albums I bought that I really listened to, you know, really learned all the words and just couldn't take out of my cassette player. The best non-makeup version of Kiss - Gene, Paul, Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick - had finally settled on a look and sound that was intense and in-your-face, but still melodic and accessible. Favorite tune? Take It Off. Nice.

10) The B-52's - s/t (release date: July 6, 1979) I wouldn't even begin to listen to stuff like this until the early/mid-'80s, but since then, like the Beach Boys, the 52's have come to epitomize summer. And it's the early stuff like this, as opposed to the "more accessible" sound of Love Shack, that really does it for me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Son of The Cold That Wouldn't Die

I was going to blog a week or so ago about THE COLD THAT WOULDN'T DIE (insert your own '50s-era theremin sci-fi music here), but things got hectic and now I'm already on to the sequel.

Because, goddammit, we've been sick in this house for about 4 fucking weeks, and I'm pretty tired of it all.

First, it was The Rozzle who brought croup home from daycare…you know, that place you take your child, and she catches stuff from kids who ought to damn well be kept home, but their parents *apparently* don't have any other options, so they send 'em sick as hell? Yeah. THAT place. Croup is just a virus, and in adults it usually results in nothing more annoying than a cold…which we both promptly got, with accompanying fevers and general malaise. Roz got better, but Tess & I kept up this whole coughing…THING, you know, that for me resulted in bringing up loads of thick green goo from my lungs and upper breathing apparatus. (Mmmm…I could go for some GUACAMOLE right about now!) We were really shaking it in the clean crisp air of Copper Harbor, but now a week later we're both back at it, only this time it's a less productive cough, accompanied by a dry tickle in the back of the throat that no amount of Hall's will satiate. *sigh* Plus, now Roz has been seeping a whitish goo from the corners of her eyes (Guacamole! With a side of hollandaise sauce!), and even though she's not picking or rubbing at them, I decided it was damn well time to go to the doctor.

He immediately confirmed conjuncivitis in her, then took one listen to the two of us hacking and (bless him!) said "I know exactly what's wrong with you, too, and I can prescribe Z-pacs for you both as long as you're here." Bring it. You bring that shit, Doc! He said it was "grixozyprenmumbojumbo pneumonia," which sounds alarming because of that last word, but is really just a bacterial infection. Whatevs. I got me my drugs, and I take a hefty mixture of warmed honey, lemon juice, and Southern Comfort right before bed, and within a day or two I should be ready to roll.

Which is good, because summer colds SUCK anyway, and I'm goin' on the middle of June with nary a really good day since school got out. And, you know, fuck that.

The only other worthwhile news is that some total fucking dimshit, you know, the kind of guy that you just KNOW was standing too close when a big ol' dumb-bomb went off, he torched the big fantasy forest playground where Roz goes every day. And while the damage was relegated to only one of the towers, it still burnt that bitch to a crisp, and you know, WHAT THE FUCK?!? Who burns the goddamn playground? RRRRRGGGGHHH! Makes me itch, is what it does. Pfagh.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Then & Now…34 Years Apart

Miss Tessmacher and I recently returned from our anniversary trip. After our 1st anniversary, we decided to forego giving each other a bunch of shit (i.e., "gifts") and take the opportunity to actually go someplace, which we rarely do otherwise. It's not that we're stoic homebodies…but, I suspect in large part because of me, we do tend to hang around the house a lot. I didn't grow up really being a "goer" and am typically happiest just farting around the house. (Blogging, apparently!) But our anniversary provided a nice excuse to shake things up, and push me out of my rut…trips that I now really look forward to.

We also chose to switch off every year in terms of planning; to wit, she decides what we do on the even years, and I get the off years. The 5th, which should have been more of a big deal, was kind of downplayed because of our pregnancy; I was massively restoring our stairway and upstairs hall that summer, and to lessen any risk of lead paint exposure, Tess moved to her parents for a few weeks. That anniversary I picked her up at her parents' house, endured many good-natured jibes to "have her home early!", and we went to a simple dinner…after which, yes, I dropped her off just as if it was a date and headed home by myself. *sigh!*

So, I wanted to do something pretty special this year. I tend to follow the goofy gift themes for anniversaries; you know, the first is the "Paper Anniversary," 2nd is "Cotton," etc. This year happened to be the "Copper" anniversary, so I planned a trip - where else? - up to the tip of Michigan: Copper Harbor.

I'd been camping there in the summer of 1975, but hadn't been there since. We had a grand time, staying at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which was built in the late-'30s under the Civil Works Administration. I chose that spot as it sits at the trailhead of an extensive system of hiking & biking trails all over the area. We got up in the mornings, ate a simple breakfast, then headed out for hikes of anywhere from 5 to 8 miles…usually accompanied by vertical drops of 400 or 500 feet. It was cool but exhilarating, and I loved it. We ate all the fresh Lake Superior fish we could order, and spent cozy evenings drinking good wine in front of a fire…watching all the "bad" satellite TV we could stand. (I include in that statement the Biography Channel feature on Abba.)

One part of our visit took us to Fort Wilkins, built in the mid-1840's to facilitate "neighborly relations" between copper-rush Whites and the Chippewas from whom the U.S. government had stolen - er, purchased the land. When the copper boom busted the fort was closed, reopening briefly after the Civil War. Below are two pictures of me taken at the fort: the first, from 1975, shows me at age 7, with a healthy young boy's fascination with large weaponry. The second was taken last week, 34 years later, not quite coincidentally at the same spot, and from the same angle.

Nice, eh? Funny, how time flies…