Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ten Shows: Part II

Part II in a, I don't know, maybe 5 or 6 part blog post...? To read the original post, look over to the right over there- yeah, right there. The one that says "Ten Shows: Part I"

The Dead Weather, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR         7/24/2010
No, this isn’t some Grateful Dead tribute band; it’s a Jack White band. Jack White usually plays guitar. Jack White plays drums in the Dead Weather. Jack White is fucking awesome.
I just knew this show was going to be good. First off, it was at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland, a beautifully reappointed dance hall replete with massive springs supporting the vast wooden floor (you can see the springs from the bar, Ringler’s, situated directly downstairs.) The floor gives slightly as you walk about the place, an odd sensation for a seemingly sound construction. If a crowd gets especially frenzied during a performance the entire place will bounce dramatically, creating an almost single entity of the audience as the crowd rolls and bounces on the mechanically enhanced floor.  Supposedly it’s the only one of its kind in the entire country.
A mediocre opener warmed the crowd up for entirely too long, and as the house lights dimmed following an even longer intermission, the crowd was eager, stomping and cheering in attempt to lull White from whatever backstage activities he was engaged.
The Dead Weather put on a show that epitomizes what a rock and roll concert is all about. Cranking out a fiery, nearly 2 hour set that failed to let up, the audience almost struggled to keep pace. It didn’t matter that I barely knew the material—I had picked up their 2nd album, Sea of Cowards, just a week prior. It was rock and roll, and yes, I liked it. Alison Mosshart , The Dead Weather’s front-woman, aroused  the black-clad, rock star swagger of any number of her forbears. She evoked the ghosts of Morrison and Joplin as she belted out song after song with a casual, confident intensity. She cussed, she drank, she smoked, and she even spat on the stage! Wow! The way she strutted about with that microphone in hand… I think I was in love.
Jack left his perch behind the drums late in the show, the band rotating instruments thus bringing him up on guitar, much to the squealing delight of the audience. Have I mentioned Jack White is fucking awesome? Like some freak birth spawned from a coupling of Hendrix and Page, Jack White truly makes it looks easy, pounding out a dirty, bluesy racket that sounds familiar yet innovative all in the same riff. The intensity built exponentially as White brought the show its climax, a blur of sweat and wound-nickel glimmering off the body of his dime-store guitar.  I swear there were vapor trails on stage as the set wrapped up, my ears ringing in painful delight.
I stirred late the following morning, and after a cup of coffee made my way to my downstairs office and read the morning paper. I gazed upon my gloss-black Gibson Les Paul Studio, admiring its lines for a moment before lifting it from its perch upon the basement wall. I didn’t play it, but rather returned it to its hangar and went about my day.
Because really, after hearing Jack White play live, what’s the point?

The Doors of the 21st Century, Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, CA   12/31/2003
It had become a sort of tradition in the late 90’s-early 2000’s for my wife and I—and whatever friends were game— to head to the Bay area for New Year’s Eve. It was always centered on catching some incarnation of the former members of the Grateful Dead at places like The Warfield or the Henry J. Kaiser arena. When I saw that Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger were doing a sort of Doors reincarnation/tribute for New Year’s with none other than Ian Astbury of The Cult on vocals, well, shit, how could we miss an opportunity like that?
Plus the show was in Hollywood—a mere 20-30 minute drive (depending on traffic of course) from behind The Orange Curtain.
Thus we decided to celebrate that New Year in true L.A. style, reserving a decadent room at the Renaissance Hotel adjacent to the Kodak (now Dolby) theatre in downtown Hollywood. It’s that little place where they do the Academy Awards and whatnot. Of course dropping my ’97 Civic with a valet in front of one of the more posh hotels in Hollywood was a bit… humiliating, but I guess in a town as fake as L.A., really, who gives a crap?
After some pre-game drinks in the lobby and a stroll around the Hollywood and Highland Center we headed to the show. The Kodak is a fabulous (and I mean fabulous) theatre; television doesn’t do it justice. The architecture, appointments, and layout of the place make for a great concert experience and there’s literally not a bad seat in the house.  Even in the cheap seats up near the rafters and belfry the sound and view is great.
Opening with a somewhat-lazy version of Peace Frog, the Doors of the 21st Century tore through a respectably long set of the band’s classics, even playing the album L.A. Woman from top to bottom, which comprised over 1/3 of the show. Ian Astbury did his best to evoke the Lizard King that night, taunting the audience at times (“C’mon L.A.! This is your band!”) to discussing drugs (“More cocaine for the gentleman in the front row!”) to outright vulgar tirades which included replacing a key word in a line from Backdoor Man with an intimate part of the female anatomy. It went something like:  I’ll eat more (fill in the blank) any man ever seen!” Because, you know, he’s a backdoor man.
At times Ian tried just a little too hard, blowing out his voice and rasping through a good portion of the set. Regardless, they brought down the house in epic style, ringing in 2004 and what ended up being our last year in California. Too many Heinekens later I was more than happy to have dropped such a fair sum of money on the hotel next door.
I was saddened to learn of Ray Manzarek’s passing just a few weeks ago.  But you know what they say about rock n’ roll heaven: they have a hell of a band.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ten Shows: Part I

For the next few posts I’m going to engage another aspect of my music experience through the years: concerts.

A smattering of memory lurks about from the first show I ever attended: The Beach Boys at Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood, CA. I was with my parents and older sister and likely 8 or 9 years old at the time. I recall beach balls being bounced about throughout most of the show and what may have been an inebriated Brian Wilson saying he “forgot the goddamn words” to a song he was trying to pound out on the piano. It also may have been the first time I smelled marijuana—I vaguely remember a group in front of us sharing (what I thought at the time was) a cigarette, my parents likely looking on in dismay as an unfamiliar scent wafted about.  

Overall a pretty respectable experience for my first concert.  

How many shows have I seen since? I have no idea. I kept track for many years, collecting ticket stubs and making scrap books, happy to shell out $20-$30 on a shirt to add to my ever-expanding collection. Concerts were a package deal in my teens and twenties—you partied in the parking lot, you saw the show, you got a shirt, and in rare cases you could score a recording of the gig at some point to preserve the memory for a lifetime. 

The older I got the less important the mementos and parking lot-partying became. Bordering on snobbery now, I am fairly particular about the shows I’ll attend. Put simply some artist’s whose albums I enjoy are just not all that great of a live act. Sure, the concert “experience” is just that, an experience, but I just won't cough up $30-$100+ on a band that has some great albums but puts on a so-so live show. 

Segue to my subject—the 10 best concerts I’ve attended. I’m going to blend some criteria (performance, overall experience, etc.) for this one due to cloudy memories and the less-discerning ear of my youth. I don’t think I knew a bad performance from good one as a teen, thus what I thought was an amazing performance by, say, Pearl Jam at Lollapalooza in 1992 may have been mediocre at best. Regardless, a great time at a concert is just that, even if performance-wise a band was lacking.

I’m also going to diverge from my usual modus operandi and split this list up over several posts to keep from losing those of the shorter attention span. I know how it goes...

 Again, in no particular order, although I will save the best few for last:

Phil Lesh & Friends/Bob Dylan & his Band—Ventura County Fairgrounds, CA 6/30/2000
This was the 2nd show of a run of concerts I hit with my wife and some friends in the summer of 2000. Making good money and having no kids yet, we were free to indulge in impromptu just about anything back in those days. With a couple of weeks of vacation to burn, we drove up and down the state of California, camping, partying, and doing what all twenty-somethings should get an opportunity to do.

 We had hit the first of two Lesh/Dylan shows in Irvine and puttered up Pacific Coast Highway in my ’73 VW bus to catch them in Ventura. A literal caravan of vehicles with a cadre of friends snaked its way up the California coast from L.A., one in our entourage picking up a few hitchhikers near Rincon as we made for a campground not far from the concert venue at the county fairgrounds in Ventura. 

After setting up camp, everyone piled into my van and we headed to Seaside Park.

Sufficiently primed in the parking lot after partaking in the usual pre-show reverie, we headed into the venue. The place was certainly more suited to hosting a demolition derby than a rock concert. The stage sat in the middle of a dirt rodeo/race track surrounded by a rickety grandstand. A plume of dust kicked up as a hoard of Deadheads filtered down towards the stage. 

Dylan went on well before sundown and delivered a respectable set, actually annunciating more than he’s known to and picking mostly well-known songs from a hit-rich repertoire while mixing in just a bit of newer and more obscure material.

 The show overall was fantastic—Phil jammed well into the late hours, noodling away and sounding fluid and comfortable with his then-incarnation of ‘Friends.’ The music was cerebral and psychedelic, hitting song after song from the Grateful Dead’s vast catalog. Phil’s band took the tunes to a level that, at times, sounded like a reborn version of the Dead circa 1969.  Much to everyone's surprise, an Amtrak train roared past outside the grounds just behind the stage sometime during Phil's set, adding an exceptionally surreal, if not storybook quality to the concert. If only they had been playing Casey Jones… 

After the show we crammed back into the bus and I eased it slowly back towards the oceanfront campground. Working my way through the finicky gears we buzzed along, covering the short distance without incident only to find the entrance to the campground blocked and locked. Apparently (obviously) no one noticed the overly-conspicuous sign posted both inside and outside the campground that stated no entry after 11:00 p.m. Shit. 

Yet the exit was unfettered save for a row of those tire-puncturing retractable teeth that of course had their business-end facing our direction.  Not to be put out so easily, we managed to strategically jam branches and rocks into the teeth and depress them just enough so that I was able to squeeze two of the VW’s wheels along the non-booby-trapped edge of the exit while the others rolled harmlessly over a pile of rocks and sticks. 

Much to our neighboring camper’s displeasure, victory (and a roaring campfire and plenty more booze) was ours. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Top 10 Albums of the 90's -or- What I Listened to When I Wasn't Listening to the Grateful Dead

The 90’s are absolutely a defining yet bi-polar era in regards to my taste in music. I graduated from high school in 1993, so it was obviously a key time for me  as far as music goes—being full of all that teenage angst and whatnot. But I was based in Japan with the military from October of 1994 until the late summer of 1997, and of those roughly 3 years out of country I spent nearly 2 of them deployed aboard an aircraft carrier. There was no internet access (on land or at sea,) and in fact the World Wide Web was really just a novelty to me at that point—something I had heard about and saw in ports like Singapore and Hong Kong a handful of times. Access to new music and the verities of American pop-culture were limited to magazines and what little American television programming we could get in Japan. My point being, I didn’t have the daily MTV-level of exposure during those years.
Not that it would have mattered. By 1993 or 1994 I was a wholly-absorbed Deadhead. I shunned most new music in favor of collecting (via U.S. mail; on cassette) bootlegs of the latest Grateful Dead shows in the U.S. I drove my roommates absolutely bonkers with hour upon hour of Garcia-driven noodling.  Being a deadhead in the military was a bit incongruous to say the least. Hell, I could write a book about that subject actually… oh wait I did.
But I digress. Unlike my 80’s list, most of these albums I actually bought brand new and loved in the 90’s. It’s heavy on early 90’s material due to the aforementioned Dead Zone I was in for many years. It’s also heavy on hard rock/metal. That said there are a few 90’s gems in there I came to appreciate in the subsequent decades of the new millennium. So here you have it. In no particular order:

Jane’s AddictionRitual de lo Habitual*                             
Jane’s is the only artist that appears on both my 80’s and 90’s lists, and Ritual is one of my favorite albums of all time—top 10 for sure and possibly top 5 depending on my mood. I remember listening to Ritual over and over again my sophomore year in high school. Entranced by the quiet intricacies and haunting melodies of songs like Three Days, and absolutely awestruck over the power and ferocity of the opener, Stop, Ritual is just a solid, diverse, well-produced album; everything on it is amazing. *Except Been Caught Stealing that is. I feel like that song was some sort of truck stop bathroom abortion that managed to cling to its momma’s leg. How it was written or remained on the album I can only speculate. The dog barking? WTF is that? I think I disliked that song even more due to its popularity at the time. I mean, of all the songs on that album…? Really…? The rest of the album thankfully smothers it.

Skinny PuppyToo Dark Park 
Too dark what, you ask? Sounding more like a science fiction horror movie soundtrack than a conventional album, Too Dark Park is a multilayered viscera cake, full of blood-curdling gravelly vocals, hypnotically throbbing drum tracks, and a plethora of horror film dialogue samples all slathered together with an industrial array of synthesized noise that, at times, surprises you with a buried, finger-snapping hook. Honestly I think the reason I loved this album so much is because my mom hated it so much.

PhishA Live One          
I bought this album while on liberty in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I had heard of Phish and I knew a lot of Deadheads were getting hip to them, yet it was coincidence that I found this album just a month after Jerry Garcia died. Among Deadheads there’s a contingent that hates Phish—I didn’t know this until years later nor did I ever get why there was such a vehement dislike of the band by some heads, but as those first few notes of Bouncing Around the Room bounced around the bar (I had talked the waitress into playing a few tracks) I was immediately hooked on Phish. I never came to love them as much as the Dead, but Phish is an amazingly talented band, Trey Anastasio being one of the greatest rock guitarists of our time.

PanteraVulgar Display of Power          
This album is just pure adrenaline-fueled aggression funneled through a hardcore metal band from Texas. Although I didn’t appreciate it until years after I had bought it, the production quality on this album is absolutely stellar. Dimebag Darrell is one of those guitar players that is (or was) immediately recognizable by tone and playing style—those crunchy chorus riffs often imitated but never matched. Cruising about in the scalding summertime heat of Hemet, California in my 1970 VW, I used crank that album as loud as the VW’s tinny little speakers could go. Distorted and trebly it was in the soundtrack of my summer in 1992.

Alice in ChainsDirt     
Another summer of ’92 soundtrack (that was a great summer by the way,) Dirt, is Alice in Chains at their best. The album has more substance and better songwriting than the previous release yet retains the raw, hard rock sound that was lost on subsequent albums—all good albums mind you, Dirt just stands far above the rest. Layne Staley’s drug-inspired lyrics are blatantly foreshadowing given the unsurprising circumstances of his death.

Snoop Doggy DoggDoggy Style            
This will likely surprise those of you that actually know me. I never cared much for rap in the 90’s. I did have a Run DMC tape and Licensed to Ill in the 80’s, but as my listening tastes gravitated towards alternative music I was one of those people that said things like “you can’t have ‘crap’ without ‘rap.’” I ended up with an MP3 of Doggy Style about 5 or 6 years ago and I love it. I don’t know why I love it—it’s vulgar, immature, and misogynistic. It glorifies murder, drugs, and that whole gangsta lifestyle, but damn it’s got good hooks.

Rage Against the MachineRage Against the Machine                
I was stationed in San Diego in early 1994 when I picked up this album. I had actually seen Rage play for about 10 minutes on the side-stage at Lollapalooza II at Irvine Meadows in ’92 (have I mentioned the summer of 1992 was a good one? Yeah…) I don’t remember them making a particular impact on me then, but when I bought the album… Holy. Shit. I remember reading the liner notes, and there was something to the affect that “no synthesizers were used, etc. etc.” Tom Morello made all that funky noise with just a guitar? Rage was also a pioneer in incorporating rap and hip hop into metal and arguably spawned a genre.

Tom PettyWildflowers             
Tom Petty has never been one to break ground in the music world. The songs he and the Heartbreakers compose are not revolutionary by any stretch and they fit nicely into a sort of adult contemporary/classic rock radio genre while appealing to a younger crowd (at least in the late 80’s/early 90’s.) So why is there a Petty album on my list? And why this particular album? Petty may have not been groundbreaking, but his song-craft is solid, more so when he leaves the Heartbreakers behind. Every song on Wildflowers is superbly written and exquisitely produced. Revolving around and interweaving themes of love, lust, alienation, and, well, life, the content of the album is easy to relate to while being listenable and enjoyable in every regard.  

CakeFashion Nugget                
The first time I heard The Distance, I remember thinking, “what kind of Jock Jams crap is this?” My opinion of the song was certainly tainted due to the fact that the first time I heard it I was at sea, trying to get some sleep whilst my berthing-mates unwound playing spades and cranking various albums of which I had no desire to listen. 10 or so years later the album found its way into my possession and I realized what an absolutely superb album Fashion Nugget is. I mentioned on my 80’s post I’m a sucker for rock songs with non-traditional time-signatures. Nugget has that. And they have a trumpet (or is that a fugal horn?) And they do the raddest freakin’ cover of a Gloria Gaynor song I have ever heard. Okay, it’s the only cover of a Gloria Gaynor song I’ve ever heard but you get the picture.  

White ZombieRoute 666; Devil Music Vol. I    
For the last album on my list (even though it is in no particular order) I take it back to my High School days. This is the only White Zombie album I own or care to own. It’s a blend of fat guitar riffs, a driving rhythm section, and kitschy horror-movie samples. This is a well-crafted metal album that makes fine use of clean studio production and vivid songwriting imagery while keeping the old head-a-banging the entire time. My favorite sample: “do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?” I’ve wondered that myself sometimes…

I’ll throw in a few honorable mentions this time:

Depeche ModeViolator          
They continued the trends of Black Celebration and Music for the Masses with Violator. Great production and great songwriting.

Temple of the DogTemple of the Dog               
Grunge era Seattle super-group with Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on vocals? What more can I say?

The Black CrowesThe Southern Music and Harmony Companion         
I love this album for the same reasons I love Wildflowers.

MetallicaMetallica (the black album) Leaving any hint of sophomoric production quality behind, Enter Sandman is probably one of the best opening tracks for a metal album ever.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Displaced Commuter

It may have been George Carlin that said “anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot; anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac.” It’s funny, because, well, it’s true. Like most Americans that dwell in city or suburb, I commute to work. Adding to the world’s environmental woes, I travel in a non-fuel-efficient, 15 year-old pickup along I-5 (or “The 5” to keep true to my Southern California vernacular.) I make this commute 4 or 5 days a week, from the Portland suburb of Tigard to the not-quite-Portland suburb of Wilsonville.  From house to freeway to high-tech industrial campus, I pass any number of bus stops and rail stations that could be waypoints in my journey from home to work. But no, like many Americans, I drive, and I drive alone.
My alter-ego as a commuter started at age 22. I say alter-ego because let’s face it—we’re all different people behind the wheel. The kind-hearted grandfather boils with rage and flips off the overly-cautious Asian-American software engineer because of a slow right turn. The Asian scowls back, yelling profanities as grandpa leaves a smoking trail of rubber down the otherwise quiet parkway. If they had met in a bank line or grocery check-out they might have made small talk about the weather or gas prices. But no, out here on the roads, it’s kill or be killed.
It’s a strange phenomenon, really. What is it about sitting behind the wheel that makes us impervious to the outside world? Not only will we flip people off and shout random insults but we’ll pick our nose and sing at the top of our lungs. Imagine doing that in the bank or a convenience store: “Sweeeeet Caroline!!” erupting behind you at 7-11 as a middle-age mother of two digs into her nose with gusto, rooting around to capture an elusive snot-goblin. And imagine your continued surprise if she started belittling you for taking a bit too long to punch in your pin number or decide on a brand of cigarettes. The truth is, our behavior behind the wheel is often deplorable.
I’m no exception. I drive well over the speed limit. I tailgate in the fast-lane (it’s the fast-lane! Move it!) I’ll squeeze to the far-right lane between two cars 1/16th of a mile before my exit. I’d like to think I have an excuse though—I learned to commute in Southern California. And more specifically, I cut my teeth driving between Orange County and Long Beach on the most infamous of L.A.-area freeways: The 405.
If you’ve never lived in the L.A. area you likely have the misconception that people there drive like shit. Not true. Yes, L.A. drivers are aggressive. Sure, they don’t slow down in the right lane of the freeway to let you merge, and god-forbid you do any less than 75 or 80 MPH in the fast lane. But the thing is, L.A. drivers know how to get where they are going with the most efficient use of time, space, and conditions. If that means cutting you off, riding your ass, or swerving across five lanes of traffic mere feet before an exit—well, it is what it is: places to go, people to see, and limited time to do it. Like a monstrous mechanical ballet of grand proportions, the L.A. freeways buzz along, bumper to bumper at speeds of 80 MPH and faster.
 Unless it rains. Then all hell breaks loose. That’s another post altogether.
Segue to my move to Oregon. My first trip to Portland I rented a car at PDX and did the 205 south/84 west/5 south routine to the city. I passed car after car, weaving through the slow-moving traffic wondering all the while what was going on. Is there a cop somewhere? Do these people know something I don’t? And that’s when I saw it as I dropped down through the 84 to 5/405 interchange in Northeast Portland:
That’s the school-zone limit in most Southern California cities.
Much to my surprise people were not only abiding by it, they were even driving under the posted limit. I mean, really? Driving under the speed limit? Preposterous!
Portland is a great place to call home. People are proud of this city and region and I often find myself touting its exceptional qualities to my friends and family that don’t live here. It has so much to offer from outdoor activities and a thriving food scene to a unique (albeit sometimes pretentious) urban culture. I’ve been here for over 8 years and have no plans to move in the near or distant future. Perhaps a home on the coast someday, but I’m in the Pacific Northwest for good.
I’m sorry though, many of you Portlanders drive like shit.
And notice I didn’t say “you Portlanders drive like shit.” No, not everyone here drives like a senior citizen on Sunday afternoon, but a surprising percentage of you do. Overly cautious and polite to the point of being hazardous, your driving irks my Californian commuter sensibility to its core.
You don’t slow down to let someone merge! Those cars had better be going freeway speed by the time they get on the freeway! And you use every last bit of what’s left of that “right lane ends” space before trying to merge over, and don’t you dare try and change lanes into the backed up traffic in the next lane when there’s a good ½ a mile of clear freeway beckoning you forth. What? Do you think you’re cutting? You folks that drive the 405 to 5 south interchange headed out of the city know exactly what I’m talking about.
How many times have I seen a vehicle stopped, motioning for some idiot, jaywalking pedestrian in 4 lanes of busy traffic with no crosswalk to “go ahead, go ahead” as cars hurtle by in either direction? Are you kidding me?
I suppose in a case like that I should be resigned to let that whole “survival of the fittest” thing run its course.
                But again, the speed limit—it’s merely a suggestion. It’s bad enough the interstate limits are 65 and most of the freeways in the city are set to a molasses-like 50. The average cop will tell you you’ll never get a ticket for going 5-over on surface streets and up to 10-over on the freeway. And unless there’s an inch of water on the road, a locust swarm, or Mt Hood is spewing forth a plume of lava and ash that has blanketed every road in the city, you never, ever, drive under the speed limit.
Portland, I do love much about you. Sure, the rain gets old come April (and maddening come July,) and I could do without so many hipsters and fixed-gear bicyclists (my truck will win you know,) but really, I do adore you, City of Roses.
 I just wish you’d learn how to drive.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I thought I had dreamed the banana-yellow single-fin-behemoth of a surfboard lying in the middle of my bedroom floor. My dad was in the dream, still in his sheriff’s uniform, shaking me and saying something about learning to surf. A strange dream I thought, drifting back into lurid, early-adolescent male fantasies. Yet when I awoke, there in fact was a single-fin swallow-tail surfboard, probably 8’ or so, laying deck-down next to my bed. I rolled out to examine it, rubbing my eyes while wondering what had possessed my dad to bring home such a thing. He had talked about surfing before but I never thought he would actually buy a board. I admired its lines and turned it over. I could barely lift it.
The town I grew up in, Hemet, was 60 miles from the nearest beach on the Southern California coast. Hemet was just far enough to make daily surfing nearly impossible, but close enough, that with some motivation and dedication, I could get out and learn whenever my mom or dad could haul me and my sister or friends to the beach. My dad had originally hoped to learn as well, yet after a few disastrous attempts that included a near-concussion, he left the surfing to me.
Like any kook kid starting out, I floundered about in the beach-break for months and months, riding walls of foam, getting an occasional reform on the inside that would, much to my surprise, suddenly have me shooting down a glassy face, the sluicing of the break at my heels and the soft, distinctive slapping and slicing of fiberglass against a curling wave ahead.
There was nothing like it. At 12 years old, surfing became a part of who I was.
                It was hard to get really good, surfing weekends and occasional weekdays in the summer and far less in the winter. There were trips to Mexico with my mom and sister after my parents split up, but mainly I surfed the beaches of San Diego County around Oceanside, Encinitas, and Leucadia, with occasional forays into Orange and L.A. counties.  By the time I was in high school I was a competent surfer… that is I could paddle to the outside fairly easily, my timing improved and I knew where and how to paddle into and even catch waves. By then I was primarily riding a Midget Smith 6’2” thruster that had replaced the banana-boat as well as an 8’2” Becker pin-tail egg that my step-mom gave me. I certainly wasn’t great, and I paddled after far many more waves than I caught. But when I did manage to pop up and carve down the face of a peeling break, the rush and excitement and sense of luck was like getting a girl’s shirt off as a teenager for the first time. In retrospect, I’m sure I caught more waves as a teen.
Yet even when I did get up, a fair amount of the time I would wipe out ½ way through my bottom turn. Of those times I successfully made that bottom turn and carved my way back into a wave that didn’t close out, pitch me off into the washing machine or otherwise peter-out, well, those were the endorphin releasing moments that elevated surfing beyond any casual hobby or sport. I understood what being “stoked” really meant. Hours and sometimes days after a good session or even just a good ride I would step just a bit lighter, my state of being floating in some Zen-like cloud of existence.
Spring turned to summer turned to fall in 1993. I was out of high school and navigating my way through a stint in the military. I spent most of the winter of 93-94 in Tennessee yet ended up in San Diego by February where I had a decent beach-break on Naval Station North Island essentially to myself. Point Loma did its best to block any west swells but a south would churn up nice sets on the military installation that would be mine alone to ride.
Later that year, in the fall of ‘94, I was transferred to Japan. I didn’t surf for a couple of years- the longest gap since I started at 12 years old. Full steam ahead in any one of the 7 seas I would sit on the port-quarter of the aircraft carrier I was based on and imagine towing into the massive wake left by the ship. A 9’0” or better would have been sufficient- hell, I had ridden smaller, sloppier surf on the Becker back in California. I imagined carving the frothy peak, following the ship for miles as it launched jets and recovered helicopters.
A friend in my squadron picked up a brand-new 5’11” pin-tail thruster when we ported in Perth, Australia in 1997. When we got back to Japan we paddled out at Enoshima, a decent break just south of Tokyo. I took my girlfriend’s sponge out, but my friend, Kenny, found the thruster too light and squirrely for him. I paddled out and had more luck with it and soon found myself catching the train from my base to the coast whenever I could skate out of work, Kenny’s board under my arm. The years of not being in the water and the hard-partying in the Navy left me soft. Just paddling out was exhausting, but within a few weeks of going regularly I got competent again. Just in time to get out of the military and move back to California: Huntington Beach specifically.
I ended up a 3 minute bike ride to Huntington Pier for a few years, renting a place on Huntington Street in the heart of Surf City. I started paddling out daily and began gravitating towards the Becker. The more I watched the innumerable longboarders that surfed HB the more I wanted to get my toes on the nose and, well, catch more waves. Let’s face it, the inconsistency of the sand-bottom break at the pier meant more waves with a longboard—much to the absolute enragement of the shortboarders. Challenges such as “I’m going to shove that tongue-depressor up your ass!” were common as longboaders were able to sit a bit further outside and pick-off the choice waves.
Not one to be discouraged by such hyperbole, I picked up a used 9’0” triple-stringer with a 2+1 fin set-up. I fought my way into the line-up and, although I always despised localism, was none-the-less eventually accepted as one due to the sheer fact that I was surfing the pier every day and pretty much lived in downtown.
It was around this time—at 23 years old in 1998—that I got good. Really good. I took to surfing a longboard like I never had on a shortboard. Something about the ease of catching the smallest, crappiest of waves and being able to deftly step foot-over-foot up the board, kicking up spray as I moved one, and eventually two of my size-twelve feet within millimeters of the nose. The thruster design allowed me plenty of maneuverability: it was a snappy, reactive board that I began riding exclusively for the years I lived in HB. Other than an occasional trip to Trestles, The Cliffs off Goldenwest or Bolsa Chica, I was a fixture at the pier. Longboarding suited me.
 Unfortunately my days of daily surfing were limited. Job, housing, and the life-situation as it were found me buying a place in Costa Mesa  just after the close of the 20th Century. I was close enough to the ocean to still surf daily but rather than hop on my bike I had to drive, park, etc, and some of the allure wore away. Unfortunately, I fell out of love with surfing. I chased my dream of being a rock star for a while and then went to college. In early 2005, I moved to Portland, Oregon.
There was a time when my life revolved around surfing- if I missed a day or two in the water I felt like a slug. The perpetual stoke would wear off after 3 days, and after a week out of the water, hell, I wouldn’t even consider myself a surfer anymore. I can distinctly remember my last proper ride in California. It was a left—the wave probably 4-5 ft. I was so wiped from paddling I took the wave in after only having been in the water 30 minutes or so. I didn’t catch another wave for over 5 years.
With a heavy heart, in February of 2005, I sold the Becker and the 9’0” to my neighbor in Costa Mesa as we packed the last of our belongings and headed to the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to keep the boards for sentimental reasons I suppose since I had no inkling that surfing would ever be in my life again. Alas, they wouldn’t fit in the moving truck.
I dreamed about surfing regularly; I would wake up almost feeling stoked. I would catch mythical breaks on fantastic beaches or struggle in storm swells on some imaginary coast. Anytime I found myself at the Oregon coast I would size up the break, daydreaming of how I would paddle into a wave. Right there- paddle,paddle- BOOM! I would imagine my bottom turn, pulling a floater, noseriding…
In 2008 I got back in the water. But it wasn’t Oregon. While stationed in Japan I met my future wife, and we visited her family with our 2-year-old son in the late summer of 2008. Coincidentally, my wife’s hometown is home to some of the best breaks in Japan- Shirahama near the town of Shimoda being one of them. My wife never surfed but was a surf-groupie of sorts growing up. She knew where all the breaks were and still had local connections—enough so to get me hooked up with an 8’0” single-fin egg for a day. I floundered. Paddling out wasn’t much of a problem- the surf was small and clean and the water bath-tub warm, yet my timing was off and my arms turned to noodles every time I managed to get in the sweet spot with enough forward momentum to catch a wave.  Rather than popping up I did old-man pushups as I slid down the face, pearl-diving more often than actually standing up.
I could say I caught 3 waves total that day. My balance was terrible. I didn’t so much as carve as cartwheeled my arms to keep balance as I haplessly plowed down the face of several semi-clean 3-footers. Being so out of shape it took me 3 times as long to paddle out as it did back in my glory days. After an hour of pummeling I was done.  I had been too long from the water. Regardless, as I dragged the board in from the ocean my face was fixed in a permanent grin. I certainly hadn’t killed it, but I had surfed again.
Fast-forward 5 more years. Again, I was beyond soft. I had put on 15 lbs at least. I was out of shape and had made a few feeble attempts to run, bike and otherwise get myself back into some semblance of shape through the years. And through it all, the dream of surfing again wouldn’t quite leave me. I was a few years from 40 when I finally got real with myself and made some serious lifestyle changes. I quit the nightly microbrews. I started training for 5ks (which, due to numerous knee and ankle injuries, I never quite managed to compete.) I biked almost daily and started doing serious core workouts. I changed my tune and started feeling the best physically I had felt in a long time.
It was around February of 2013 that I decided—I am going to start surfing again.
The weather was great for early May in Oregon, with temperatures in the 80’s in Portland and 70’s at the coast. We got a surprise taste of summer at a time of year when it was rare for a sunbreak or 70 degree day to roll in. I was shopping for a board daily, perusing Craigslist as well as the used inventory at the only surf shop in Portland. I made an offer on a 9’6” that was on consignment there but never heard back.
The next day I found it. The day before dragging my suburban brood to Seaside, Oregon for a quick overnighter. I found an ad online that read something like:
“surf board. 8’4” one small ding on the underside. $250”
Seemed like a decent deal—8’4” was a little smaller than I was looking for, but I when I opened the first picture online, I realized this guy had no idea what he had. It was a Robert August mini-longboard, epoxy resin, laid with balsa veneer. Aside from a garage-rash ding on the left rail, the board was in amazing shape. I later found the exact model for sale online in L.A. for $900. I emailed the guy immediately, and as the stars aligned, the next day the board (including a nice FCS board bag) was strapped to the roof rack of my urban attack vehicle (a Subaru Forester,) cruising out highway 26 towards the Pacific.
Looking out over Indian Beach in Ecola State Park I got that familiar tingle. There was a bit of an onshore breeze; the waves 2’-3’ and somewhat choppy. It looked ride-able at worst, with a few clean rights forming up that would amount to a good 10-second ride. With no booties, no gloves, and no hood, I paddled out wearing only my worn and torn 3 mm Victory fullsuit. The water may have been 52 degrees- it took my breath away as a plunged in and paddled for the nearest rip to help pull me out.
I fared much better than my last outing in 2008. Perhaps being in shape helped.  Even with the rough, choppy mess on the inside paddling out wasn’t much of a struggle.  The lineup was sparse, and there were more kook-newbies flailing about on the inside than there were guys actually beyond the break, waiting patiently for a well-formed swell to roll in and send them on a 5-15 second joyride. Just sitting on my board in Oregon’s stretch of the Pacific was an experience all its own. The frigid, emerald-green water so different from California—foreboding and commanding respect as it crashed along the rocky shore to the north.
I paddled after my first wave. It failed to materialize. I had forgotten how deceiving a swell could be—one moment you could swear a peak was about to spill over 20 or 30 yards further outside, yet as soon as you started to charge out, it might roll past you, breaking another 50 feet closer in to the shore.  I sat for a spell as the faux-wave rolled under me and turned to watch the shore—the protected cove limited the amount of cross-current that might pull you north or south parallel to the shore. I went after a few more waves until I finally found the sweet spot—I paddled hard, and soon felt the power of the wave take the board, my arms free to push myself up. I didn’t so much as pop up as struggle, but got up I did, taking a right as the much-faster-and-reactive-than I expected mini-longboard hurled me down the clean face of a 2’ wave.
It was a short ride. But it was a ride. As the wave closed out I managed to snap the board to the left and stepped off with a bit of finesse. I plunged headfirst into the water just ahead of the whitewash, much as I had in my more “talented” days, ending the ride with an “I meant to do that” finish.  Emerging from the foam with a gasp, I jerked my board back with a tug of my leash, snapped it around and under me and charged back towards the outside. I lasted an hour or more in the water this time, and finally, my arms burning, my feet numb and my teeth chattering, I rode in and walked up the beach, my face beaming and my soul alight. I was stoked.

Top 10 Albums of the 80's (In my opinion of course)

I was the recipient of a mass email from a friend recently asking everyone to name their 10 favorite albums from the 80's. My response follows:

10 albums… tough. Maybe I don’t think the 80’s were any worse than any other decades as far as quality rock goes- I mean, yea, there’s some crap in there, but for every Flock of Seagulls or Dexy’s Midnight Runners there’s a Vanilla Ice or Bay City Rollers from decades that bookend the 80’s. I will admit though, save for a few gems,  literally none of the big hitters from the late 60’s or 70’s put out much of anything good in the 80’s. I guess they were all in rehab.
That said, I had a hard time whittling it down to just 10. Several of these albums I didn’t come to appreciate until well after the close of the decade (I’m not sure what the average age of the recipient list is but I graduated in 93.)
So, here’s my take in no particular order:
·         The Smiths- Meat is Murder        I got this on cassette from my sister’s boyfriend for Christmas in 87 or 88. I credit this album and the next one on the list for steering me down the alternative music road.
·         The Cure – Head on the Door     I had a tough time deciding between this and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss, Me. I think the diversity and song-craft on Head is superior though. They really cover all the bases on this album: flamenco-ish guitar, screaming rock anthem… and a song in 6/8 time? C’mon! The Cure is one of the most underrated bands ever.
·         Depeche Mode—Music for the Masses So I realize I’m on the mid-late 80’s Brit-Alt music tear here, but this album and Black Celebration were by far DM’s most mature and well-written to date. They left a lot of the cheesy synth-pop behind for more meaningful lyrics and a darker sound.
·         Van Halen—1984             There’s just too much good stuff on this album. I always thought David Lee Roth was a clown but I’ve come to appreciate his shtick for what it is— good, fun, 80’s rock.
·         AC/DC—Back in Black    I remember figuring out what Givin’ the Dog a Bone was about. Cue Beavis and Butthead laugh… This album is not only top 10 for the 80’s, it is top 10 of all time on my list.
·         Minor Threat—Out of Step          This album is the epitome of punk rock alienation. Ian Macaye is pissed off at the world, and this album, the first of the “straight-edge” hardcore genre represents everything good about punk rock. The songs are simple yet well-crafted. The studio production is sparse but clean. Too much of the California and D.C. punk rock sounds like shit; Minor Threat kept it real but also made it sound good.
·         Jane’s Addiction—Nothing’s Shocking   I wanted to cheat and use Ritual, but Nothing’s Shocking is an epic album all its own, and at the time, Jane’s represented a genre all their own. No one else sounded like them, and to think they were playing the same clubs in L.A. around the same time as other L.A. bands like… Poison… shudder.
·         Soundgarden—Louder than Love             All things considered I think Soundgarden was the best of the Seattle scene bands, Alice in Chains a close 2nd. Louder than Love was much, well, grungier than their subsequent releases. It had a garage band-quality to it that personified grunge before it was, well, grunge.
·         Metallica—…And Justice for All  The song One is the Stairway to Heaven of metal. I hear a lot of critique that the production quality of this album is lacking and that it is thin in places. Maybe, but Justice is a pinnacle album for Metallica. They were maturing and getting away from some of the trite lyrical content of previous releases, but were not mega-stars yet, staying true to their roots as such that even the hardcore metalheads could forgive and even appreciate the first few minutes of One.  
·         Grateful Dead—In the Dark I couldn’t not put this album on my top 10 list. Sure, the Grateful Dead were never known for great studio releases. That is not to say they didn’t record good albums. There were a handful of Dead albums in the 70’s that are as good as anything CSN&Y or The Eagles put out, they just never had a reputation for being a studio band (duh.) In the Dark contains the band’s only top 10 hit (Touch of Grey) and is overall, a well written and produced album which caused their popularity to skyrocket in the late 80’s. Yes, my name is Jeff, and I’m a Deadhead.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why start writing a blog? Isn’t there enough trite, opinionated bullshit out there to pollute the interwebs until the eventual demise of humankind? Is there any opinion you haven’t heard or discourse you’ve not debated? Is our attention span whittled down to a degree that, unless an idea can be summarized with a meme or tweet or faux inspirational poster it suddenly appears too bloated or cumbersome to engage?
Frankly, I don’t really give a shit.
Maybe I’m being pretentious in calling this blog “Out of Step.”  Like some Portland hipster trying so hard not to be like all the other Portland hipsters they end up the epitome of all the other Portland hipsters.
“I’m different! See! look how different I am!! I compost! I only shop at the Saturday Market! I liked vinyl way before it was cool again!”
And in saying so fall in line. Wax your mustache. Brew your beer. Write your blog.
So what’s my point? I don’t have one. I am a professional writer—albeit of the technical nature. So to keep from going blind with boredom, I have opted to share my musings on life here. There’s not much use for snarky one-liners or verbose rants on the raw food movement (not that I really care about the raw food movement) when cobbling together instructions for troubleshooting an aircraft guidance system (yes, that’s what pays the bills.)
Hence, I vomit forth upon the page. Enjoy.