Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Downfall Blue Book Exam

When I saw Matchbox 20 several years ago, they had a very simple, understated stage setup...a few speaker towers here and there, and whatever instruments were necessary, and not much else.

But they had three long vertical video screens behind the stage, and flashed patterns and graphics and other such stuff on them like many bands do at concerts. During "Downfall," they did something a little different, and it stuck with me. There were big bright flashes of light on the screens, that quickly zoomed out to reveal a question that stayed for a few seconds and then vanished. And then...another bright light came, and another super fast zoom to show another question. This went on throughout the song.

It was pretty powerful. The one thing I missed from that song, though, was the Gospel choir that backs up Rob Thomas about halfway through. If they could have gotten a big production choir like that together, it would have blown me away. I realize that's a bit tough to do during a tour...pack a dozen or so gospel singers.

Anyway. Back to the questions. I searched around on a forum site a day or two after the show, and found that someone had copied the questions and posted them. The presentation probably loses a bit of its luster without the screens and the light flashes. But I thought they might be fun to answer. Some of them can be simple yes-or-no questions, and others...well, they might take a little more time.

Are you happy?
An easy one to start with, right? Sooo simple. Or, is it? My answer: on a scale of one to ten, one being least happy and ten being most happy, I'm probably about a 3.749. Bump that up to a 4.312 on weekends. And an 8 whenever I'm in Vegas.

What do you love?
This question should be constantly revisited and added to and edited and revised. I love music...I love people who can make me laugh...I love condiments...I love the power of the written word...I love family and good friends...I'd love to spend the time it would take to give much deeper, sexier answers than the ones I just gave.

Do you trust your friends?
Most of them, yes.

...your family?

...your political leaders?
Fuuuuck no! No matter from which side of the aisle they spout their promises.

Do you trust the media?
Only Nancy Grace. Everyone else I'm a bit leery of. (no, I don't trust the media. all the no-spin zones out there have whirlwinds of spin. And Nancy Grace? someone pleeeease get her off the air.)

Do you trust yourself?
Much of the time, yes.

Do you trust your pets?
No pets to trust or distrust.

Do you care to dance?
I DO care to dance, and I've got rhythm and everything! But often, I'm too self-conscious to let myself go and be a dork out on the dance floor. What's that famous saying, "Dance like nobody is watching, and love like it's never going to hurt."? I probably need to take a lesson from that quote. Many other brilliant minds have also spoken up on the topic of dance..."We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh."--Nietzsche. "Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who did not hear the music."--Angela Monet. "Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance."--Dave Barry. "The man that can't dance thinks the band is no good."--unattributed. "We're fools whether we dance or not. We might as well dance."--unattributed.

What do you believe?
I believe in karma...I believe in good people...I believe a beer with too much hops is a bad beer...I believe the Lions just might be better than the Packers this year (but I believe that every freakin' year)...

Do you believe in yourself?
Ahh, don't you love introspection? (yeah...neither do I.) Yes, I believe in myself. No, I don't believe in myself as much as I should.

What's on your mind?
Why I don't write more often, when I enjoy it as much as I do...where I'll be a year from now...Willie Nelson is always on my mind...FRIDAAAAY is on my mind...and so is sleep.

Did you see that?
I see a lot of things. I like to consider myself a pretty keen observer and a rather perceptive person.

What's so funny?
I assume this question pertains to the little smiley face thingie that flashed on the screen during the concert, but I'll answer it with people who are always funny to me: Dave Barry, Steve Martin, Al Franken, David Sedaris, Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Sandler...many more (as soon as I move on from this question I'll think of them). From my little sidebar blog category...she's so funny. And he's so funny.

Do you mean what you say?
I make a conscious effort to try to mean what I say. I hate insincerity, and I think it's so easy to spot. If you don't mean what you say...don't say anything. Pretty simple.

What are you waiting for?
This question made me chuckle a little more than the first time I ran down this list and tried to answer them...because since then, I got a refrigerator magnet from a friend with the exact same question on it. Kinda like a subtle drive-in-the-ass hint, I'm guessing. And I appreciated it greatly. So.......what am I waiting for. I'm waiting for the girl of my dreams to ring my doorbell and tell me she can't live without me...I'm waiting for it to rain money...and apparently, I'm waiting for my life to pass me by.

Who are you most yourself with?
Myself. (is that a cop-out answer? yep, it is. fine...I'll delve a little deeper.) A buddy with whom I shoot darts...a buddy with whom I do a fair share of sisters...V.

What's going on?
Often times, not enough to keep me entertained or interested. (and who's fault is that?)

Are you different when you are alone?

Do you like your life?
What the fuck are you trying to do, Matchbox 20 people...get me all depressed and shit? Geeeez. The answer is sometimes, ok? I like my life sometimes.

Do you count your blessings?
For all the pissing and moaning I do in some of these questions, the answer to this question is a resounding "yes". I know in the grand scheme of it all, I'm pretty lucky.

Do you know how to be silent?
All too often.

What are you scared of?
Being misunderstood. I don't think I make the greatest first impression. (and we've all heard how many chances you get to make one of those.) I think maybe I make a better third or fourth or seventeenth impression. But by can be too late, can't it?

Was it as bad as you feared?
For the most part, nothing's as bad as people fear. I think anxiety takes hold and messes with people's heads, and when it's over you look back and realize that whatever it was...wasn't so bad.

Are you more than you think you are?
(this one's easy. three simple words, and lots of dots.)

Anybody else wanna share?

"But some things in this world
Man, they don't make sense.
Some things you don't leave
until they leave you."
—Bright Lights, Matchbox 20

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can I Get An "Amen!!"?

I recently had the great fortune of attending an unusually diverse trifecta of musical performances on consecutive nights. I would have pushed for more, but my menu of musical options was running thin after those three.

The first was my nephew's high school jazz concert. Actually, there were several jazz bands performing that night, from sixth and seventh graders to eighth and ninth graders up to high schoolers.

I was a band geek (saxophone) through school, and I stuck it out for a number of reasons. was an easy A. Two...I was pretty good with the rhythm 'n stuff. And three...I got to play in jazz band. Like about 98 percent of people with ears, I love music, and in jazz band we got to play good music. Sometimes. That was worth it for me.

But seeing the group my nephew plays in...not to mention some of the younger groups below his...makes me think that we didn't know what the hell we were doing back then. Some of the kids these days are just ridiculously talented. I saw a symphony concert of his last year, and came to the same conclusion. The bar is being set higher and higher.

The third concert I saw was my niece's and nephew's elementary spring vocal concert. Their school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so the grades sang songs from the '50s in its honor. Last year they did a Beatles theme for Paul McCartney's 64th birthday. (get it?) It was definitely grin-inducing this year to see third-graders singing "Rockin' Robin," and fifth-graders singing, "We Go Together" and doing the Hand Jive. (that one's a little more current than the '50s...apparently the students talked their music teacher into letting them get away with that one.)

So we've got high school jazz, and we've got elementary kids singing songs from 40 years or more before they were born. Might as well throw a little Gospel music in the middle, right? Ohhhh yeah.

I came home on that Sunday night after the concert and had to look up the word, “hallelujah,” because I didn’t want to misspell what I was shouting. And I also broke my rule of no more than two punctuation marks together...this one deserved three.

“Hallelujah!!!” I proclaimed.

After seeing a press release blurb in the paper a couple weeks ago about a visit by the United Voices of Praise Gospel Choir of Milwaukee to a nearby church, I had to go and investigate.

I’ve got a rather eclectic mix of musical genres on my DellPod...from Metallica to Neil Diamond to Counting Crows to Green Day. And while I don’t own any, I will bravely state out loud that...good Gospel music rocks!!

As someone who’s wrestled for most of my adult life with the broad canopy of ideas included in the word, “faith,” and what that word means to me, I was a little nervous that if there was a quiz at the door as to what one’s beliefs were, I might be turned away and told to go home and repent.

Luckily for me, this was an exam-free event, and I found a seat in the smallish church up near the front.

As the church filled up, I began to notice that, save for a soon-to-be-teenage boy a couple pews in front of me, I was probably the youngest person in the crowd by at least a couple decades.

Having heard the strong chorus of a Gospel choir in movies and on backing tracks for several well-known popular music groups, I had an idea in my head as to what I might hear that night, and when the 27 choir members walked up the center aisle to take their places on the risers at the front of the church, I was anxious to hear if they could deliver.

The choir’s opening number started out rather slowly and quite mellow, and a thought immediately crept into my head that I’d set my expectations for the evening a bit too high. But about halfway through that first song, the swaying started, the clapping began, and the volume was amped up a couple dozen notches, and a different thought replaced that first one that said, “This is what I signed up for!”

Good, live music is all about passion. And as the group sang, that passion was palpable throughout the church. There wasn’t dancing in the aisles, or audience members jumping out of their seats shouting, “AaaaaMEN!!” But I got the feeling that if something like that would have happened that night, it would have been a perfectly acceptable reaction.

One of the featured soloists in several of the numbers personified what good Gospel music is to me. A reserved, almost timid personality when she was among the rest of the choir, a bit of a transformation took place as soon as she grabbed the microphone and stepped out in front to sing, belting out songs of praise in a gorgeous, powerful voice.

Even in the lobby after the performance, when I stepped over near her to offer a quick three-second compliment and a handshake, she seemed reluctant to acknowledge how much she impressed the crowd.

No matter one’s faith or beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to leave an hour like that and not feel more than a little bit spiritually uplifted, and that a bit of soul cleansing had taken place. It's about the music...and the passion.

— • — • —

OK, so here at the bottom is where I give you a little heads-up as to what's coming tomorrow. (yes, I said "tomorrow"! as in...two entries in two days. hopefully this in-a-row stuff will catch on.) I'm giving you all fair warning that there will be a test tomorrow. A slight tie-in to today's post, because when I think about Gospel music, I think about the backing vocals from the song, "Downfall," by Matchbox 20. And tomorrow's exam will draw from "Downfall." I'll 'splain it better later, but...all you lurkers out there, get ready to become non-lurkers. I wanna read comments. The post will be quite similar to many of the memes you see floating around out there, but this one's got a bit of a unique origin to it. And may require a bit of soul baring. If I'm gonna flash mine, I expect y'all to do the same. (well...I might not bare my complete soul. but I'll probably show a little leg.)

Check back, and have your keyboards at the ready, and your brains in gear.

"If you believe what you like
in the gospels, and reject
what you don't like,
it is not the gospel you believe,
but yourself."
—St. Augustine

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cheers! (I think.)

I fear that my brain may be shrinking, and there may not, in fact, be much of it left.

A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed a study that has found that over time, drinking alcohol has contributed to decreased brain volume.

Yikes! So all those Super Bowl Sundays, all those summer holiday weekends up north, all those...Thursdays and Tuesdays and Fridays and Mondays, are whittling away the big squishy mass of knowledge in my noggin.

The study raises an interesting debate as to whether drinking may be good for the heart, but not so good for the brain.

I wish I could say that it’ll make me stop and think *ahem* the next time I crack a beer if that act means I’ll be losing some nugget of information I learned back in elementary school.

Just to be sure, on Memorial Day weekend, I might have to make a toast with each beer I open, pausing to say, “Goodbye, multiplication tables. It’s been good to know you, 9x7.” That’s why calculators are so readily available on all of today’s computers, though, right?

But what if those beers or glasses of wine erase some of the things you didn’t want to remember anyway: old girlfriends, bad football seasons, uninspiring presidential administrations. Perhaps there’s an up side to this drinking thing after all!

To be fair, the study specifies that it did not measure if decreased brain volume meant a decrease in cognitive function. So it’s possible that all of the information up there now could still be there after you go on a weekend bender or pay a visit to a kegger at your local frat house.

Besides, isn’t there another study that says that most humans only use a tiny percentage of their brains, anyway? Alcohol’s not that smart...if it’s going to obliterate some brain cells, it’d probably go after the vacant ones first.

Ann Helms, an assistant professor of neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, read the study and had a much harsher stance on what may or may not be acceptable. “There is no safe level of alcohol when it comes to loss of brain volume,” she said. “If you are worried about cognitive function, you shouldn’t drink anything.”

Not too much wiggle room there. If a statement like that doesn’t make you want to belly up to the bar to drown your sorrows while considering the harm of all the binge drinking you did in the past, then the brain cells that held your binge drinking memories have already been killed off anyway.

Some of us will have to either change our weekend ways, or change our opinions on the importance of cognitive function.

I, for one, would rather have a drink or two to help my heart and run the risk of forgetting how many planets there are in our solar system. (Nine, right? No, eight. No...yeah...eight. I think.)

I just don’t see myself canceling out of too many summer barbecues or concerts or ball games in the hope of saving my brain cells.

Doesn’t Google give us everything we need to know, anyway?

"I have taken more out of alcohol
than alcohol has taken out of me.”
—Winston Churchill

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm So Peeved

It's Sunday...time for a squib.
Seeing as how the big wide InterWeb has a little corner for everything else, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are sites to piss and moan and air one's grievances. (wait...I think I just described every online forum and message board, didn't I?)

How about a site dedicated to pet peeves? Found this in an article by the Associated Press last week, and thought I'd pass it on. Maybe it'll be good for a laugh, and maybe those who pass by this blog will want to stop and jot down a couple of their own.

One of mine biggies is people who think they never make mistakes. And when they do make mistakes (we all make mistakes), they try to blame somebody else, or if that doesn't work, they make up some lame-ass excuse to make their mistakes seem like no big deal. Their mistakes are miniscule, while everyone else's mistakes are so gigantic they run the risk of knocking the earth out of its orbit!

Repeat after me:
"I. made. a. mistake."
The End

There. Is that so tough to say?

Another pet peeve of mine is people who don't hit on a 16 when the dealer has a seven or higher showing. But it's not like I'm a blackjack expert or anything.

Anyone else care to share?

"To have a grievance
is to have a purpose in life."
—Eric Hoffer

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Open Mouth...Insert Foot

Here we go.

Expect to see much...much...more of the scene on the left over the next 18 months, as presidential debate season has gotten underway. I didn't catch much of either of them, but the GOP held its first mass debate on Thursday night, and the Dems held theirs a week earlier. (podium builders are currently working overtime, as everybody and their brother or sister on both sides of the aisle are announcing plans to run for president. there should be an official announcement on this blog by next week as I throw my hat in the ring, also. my platform: free toast across the country with the purchase of any specialty omelet, be it at a nationwide franchise restaurant or a mom-and-pop diner. oh, and lower taxes and better health care and more jobs and three-day weekends for everyone, of course.)

I saw some of the talking heads going back and forth on the highlights...or lowlights...of each debate.

One that made me sit up and say, "what the fuck??" was a clip I saw of The Dairy State's former guv, Tommy Thompson, who was asked if employers had the right to fire homosexual employees just for being gay.

He hemmed and hawed for several seconds, saying something to the effect of, "I think...umm...individual businesses, and uhh....states, able to decide those, umm, types of issues themselves." At least I think that's what he said. He wasn't being very direct with his answer.

The moderator jumped in after he was finished, and asked, "So your answer is.....yes?" Thompson: "Yes."

And the debate moved on.

The very next day, Thompson was talking to reporters, changing his answer, and saying he didn't really hear or understand the question.

If anyone's looking to send a parting gift to Mr. Thompson as he exits the race, may I suggest a bottle of tough-actin' Tinactin for his athlete's tongue?

Republicans are trying to figure out the best ways to make themselves shine leading up to the primary. John McCain, one of the front-runners, first distanced himself a little from Bush, and then cozied up to him a bit more in recent months, and now seems to be trying again to put a little...but not too much...separation between himself and G-Dub. It's a difficult task, to be sure. Bush has no coattails to ride, and why would anybody with any hopes of a political future want to be in bed with a president who just might close out his reign with an approval rating so low it begins with a decimal point? (he is "the commander guy," though. so he's got that going for him.)

Rudy Giuliani is at least a social liberal, which will persuade me to listen to him more than any of the others. Not that he's going to get my vote (probably)...but I won't pick on him as quickly as I will the other nine hundred and fourteen conservatives who are running—or thinking of running—for president.

The next round of debates is scheduled for early June, I believe. And it'll be fun to watch how all the right-wingers dream and strategize and explain their vision in an attempt to win the White House in '08.

You know how I think that'll best be accomplished this time around?

Be a Democrat.

"Finishing second in
the Olympics gets you silver.
Finishing second in politics
gets you oblivion."
—Richard M. Nixon

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Show Me The Way


In Taoism, one of the great religions of ancient China, "the Tao" translates into "the way," or "the path." The Tao Te Ching is its most important text, a simple yet profound book of wisdom.

Over the years, people have applied the Tao to other areas, in books such as the popular The Tao of Pooh (as in, "Winnie the..."; didn't you know that Pooh was a closet Taoist?) and The Tao of Writing, aimed at tapping one's creativity.

For the purposes of this blog entry, however, Tao refers to a hip, happening nightclub in Las Vegas. Forgive me for being so shallow.

On my recent trip to Sin City, members of the group I was with discussed spending an evening at a club, perhaps reserving a table and getting European bottle service, which is a fancy way of saying you're gonna pay through the nose if you want the privilege of "owning" one of their tables for several hours during the night and partying like a rock star.

I pushed for Tao, quite honestly because of its name, and the fact that I'd read the club had such lavish interior touches as a 20-foot Buddha, and also hundreds of mini Buddhas lit by candles surrounding one of the club's three bars.

I'd also read that among the hip and trendy clubs in Vegas, Tao was considered by many to be the hippest and trendiest. If I was going to party out of my league anyway, I may as well party all the way out of it, right? Right.

Members of the L.A. Lakers hold events there, rappers are known to drop in and hang out, celebrity A-listers show up and mingle, or retire to private VIP skyboxes. Paris Hilton spends time there, dancing sans underpants. the time our group made its final decision on Saturday night, there were eight of us, and we were headed to Tao. Three-bottle minimum for a group that size, and I doubt I'll ever pay that much for two bottles of vodka and a bottle of Captain Morgan again. (until, you know, the next time I go back.)

At the entrance to the club, there were more than a dozen hosts and security people and ushers name it, they were stationed there. We were herded into an elevator that took us up one floor, and when the doors opened, the first thing we saw was the bar with the 300 little Buddhas. I returned to that spot more than a handful of times throughout the night, just to stare.

The club was fairly empty when we got in, because we were advised to arrive early, or there was no guarantee that our table could be held. (someone with a handful of Benjamins could have come in, and our names would have mysteriously disappeared off of the guest list.) But within an hour, the other tables were filling up, as were the aisles and bars and every other available space. During its peak time, about midnight to 3 am, the place was jam-packed, and the bass-heavy, high-energy music was thumpin'. I was on an adrenaline high the entire time I was there.

There are two main rooms in the club, and I spent my time traveling between the two, going to the one in which our table was located to fill my drink, and then maneuvering back into the main room with the dance floor and an outdoor terrace with a view of The Strip.

The smallish dance floor could not have had any more people on it than it did. You didn't exactly have to be "dancing" when you were out there, you just had to bob up and down a little bit, and you looked as hip as everybody else. Seriously...sardine companies should contact Tao to get tips on how to more effectively pack their tins.

In the elevator on our way up at the beginning of the evening, the attendant told us to make sure and catch the show at 3 a.m. Someone asked, "what kind of show is it?" and he replied, "just catch the show."

I was in the main room at 3 a.m. to catch the show, and I still don't know what I saw. On one of the platforms off to the side of the dance floor was a guy dressed in a full-length Native American headdress, waving a five-foot scepter along with the music, and next to him was a stuffed animal of some sort...a lion perhaps? Don't know. Those two bounced along to the music, revving up the crowd, along with several gorgeous Tao dancers, of course. And then...shaved ice started falling from above the dance floor. So it was essentially snowing on the crowd.

No wonder the elevator guy couldn't tell us more about it. He didn't have a clue, either.

Here's where my story gets good...

During the snow and the headdress guy and the stuffed mascot guy, a girl standing next to me on the dance floor turned to me and yelled in my ear, "Do you have any idea what this means??" Possibly the most profound question of the night. I yelled back, "I have no idea! I've never been here before." (didn't want her to mistake me for an A-lister, ya know.)

I got a grin out of her, and she grabbed my hand and led me a little farther out on the dance floor. I wasn't complaining. So we're doing the dancing thing for a couple songs, bobbing up and down among the crowd, enjoying the, umm...atmosphere. I think (soon you'll find me questioning my thought process) that she's digging me, and I'm digging her. After about 10 minutes or so, she leans in and yells to me, "Are you from Vegas?"

And I say, "No." And before I have a chance to lean in and continue, "I'm from Wisco.....," she lets go of my hand, turns away from me...and a quick move here and a shimmy there, and she's four or five people away from me. A few seconds later, she's gone.

Apparently...........the correct answer to her question was, "Yes!" (I swear, next time I'm out in Milwaukee or Madison or anywhere for that matter, if someone asks me where I'm from, I'm gonna say Vegas. I learned my lesson, boy.)

So not only did I get to party at Tao. I also got rejected at Tao. Score!!

I was a bit confused, but unscathed. My goal was to stay until closing, and a buddy and I did just that. On many of the Web sites I've seen, they're supposed to stay open until 5:30 on Saturdays. But they closed down the room with our table at 4, and then closed the main room at 4:30.

As everyone was clearing out and it was easier to hold an actual conversation, my buddy and I stopped to talk to a security guy, and asked him if we could sneak upstairs for a minute or two and check out the VIP boxes. He said no, in a very friendly manner. I asked him if that was where Paris spent her time when she was at the club, and he informed us that, no, she liked to get her VIP table right near the dance floor, and every time she got up to dance, the DJ would announce her as "Princess Paris." Awwww. He also told us that she was there the night before we were there. Don't know if that's true or not, but who am I to say she wasn't? When we asked him if any big-name celebs were there during our Saturday night, he mentioned something that he thought one of the Wayans brothers had made an appearance.

So, not the cheapest night I've ever spent partying, but would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I would have stayed until sunrise if they'd have let me.

A little time spent in the casino at the Venetian before we left and a stop at the lounge in the middle of Mandalay Bay when we got back, and I didn't get to sleep until after 7 am the way it was. Only to be awakened two hours later, to get packed up and pointed toward the airport to catch a flight.

Can't wait to do it all again. Whenever that may be.
This time I'll remember........I'm from Vegas.

"The Tao is so vast
that when you use it,
something is always left."
—Tao Te Ching