Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Top 10 reasons you need to listen to more music.

1. Distraction
Recently I was explaining to the Mrs. that for the first ten minutes of every day, between the time I crawl out of bed to when I get out of the shower, I feel the weight of the world crushing me into a finely ground paste. My brain starts spinning with all the things I have to do that day and all the things I forgot to do the day before. I’m pretty sure I spend the night storing up a zillion thoughts while I sleep, only to have them unleashed in a torrent of negativity, as though they are coming out of the shower head. It is, to be accurate, a shower of doom. 
 At this point she says, “Why don’t you get one of those shower radios? You can listen to music to take your mind off things." To which I replied, “That is your greatest idea since the time you let me use the chainsaw in the house to dismantle the old piano.” Point being, music can be a meditative force that can provide focus and take you mind to a calm place. It doesn’t matter if you’re singing along to Walk Like an Egyptian or War Pigs, as long as it puts you in the moment. Go ahead…sing along and be happy. Just like witches at black masses.

2. Spontaneous dance party
Any time or any place music is playing, the phenomenon known as the spontaneous dance party can erupt. Like an un-choreographed Flash mob, people just drop what they are doing and get down. It happens on back porches in the summer, in bars after midnight, and at all points in between. At my house it usually happens in the kitchen, during meal preparation. Cooking to music is a good thing. Cooking while throwing down some sweet dance moves is a great thing.  Occasionally, Mrs. Rock and Roll Librarian and Junior will join in and we get our dance on.  Recommended pairing: Bob Marley while making jerk chicken offers a great chance to shake it down while adding a touch of island authenticity to your dish.   

3. Emotion
Having music affect you emotionally is a pretty powerful thing. A certain song may bring tears, or joy, or better yet, tears of joy. It might be the Hallelujah chorus in Handel’s Messiah that makes you shiver or a cheesy love song that makes your heart ache but either way, how cool is it that some sounds put together with some words can have the power to reduce you to a puddle? There is a live version of Eric Clapton’s Running on Faith where, amidst the climax of the song, the back-up girls are just killing it, and he is doing a call and answer kind of thing with them and kind of soloing at the same time, and every time I hear it, it makes me smile. How could you not take advantage of some free mood altering stuff that won’t leave you with a hangover?

4. Connect with the Kids
Show some interest in what the kids are listening to these days and you can really make a connection. 
“So son…how about that new Bruno Mars featuring Rhianna and Jay Z?”  I ask casually.
“Dad…I don’t even know what you are saying to me right now.”
“You know….I Should Have Bought You Flowers.”
Then I sing in my best falsetto “I shoulda brought you flowers, I shoulda held your hand.”
“Dad....first of all, that doesn’t feature anyone, and it’s called When I was your Man.”
Well…I like that one. It’s not as crap as the rest of the stuff you listen to.”
“I like that one too dad.”

5. Air Guitar/Drumming practice
Everyone has an inner air guitarist waiting to be released. Like anything though, you need to practice or else your technique won’t get any better. (You never know, you might want to enter the air guitar world championships that are held every year – this year in Oolu, Finland) While not as popular a pursuit, air drumming should also be considered a legitimate form of music appreciation. If you are up for it, try out Jet’s Are you Gonna Be My Girl for a fun air guitar thrash. Recommended air drumming is the intro for Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher, or anything by Rush of course.

6. Singing
You can’t sing dude. Seriously. However, the beauty of singing along to the pros is that the loudness of the radio will cover the suckiness of your voice. If you’re anything like me, when you’re rocking down the highway, volume cranked and belting out Black Hole Sun along with Chris Cornell, you sound great. Listen to music, sing along and before you know it, you’ll be hitting the Karaoke bars and wowing them with your vocal stylings.

7.  Motivation
If the only sounds you hear during your workout are the clanging of weights and the strained grunting of overdeveloped thugs, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re in prison. Here on the outside we’re allowed to listen to music any time we like, so why not during your workout? Make yourself a playlist of your favourite up-beat tunes and you’ll burn through the workout with the greatest of ease. It’s a fact.   (For real…I read it in Men’s Health magazine.) If you are a runner and you have to go solo, an iPod makes things much more enjoyable. Just don’t make it so loud you can’t hear the traffic. Safety first kids.

8. Sleep
Can’t sleep? Radiohead - The Bends or Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

9. Broaden your horizons
They say that most people are prone to listen to the same music they listened to in high school, even after 20 or 30 years, because it harkens back to a time in your life when your main occupation was having fun. This can be a dangerous proposition if you came up in the disco era, or perhaps went through a bad Marky Mark phase. I’m as guilty as the next guy when it comes to reverting back to the old ways, but I still think it’s important to rotate the playlist and keep an eye out for the next Bob Dylan. If you are stumped, my new school favourites are Amos Lee, The Civil Wars, and The Decemberists. Keep searching the old stuff too though. I’ve rediscovered the obscure workings of Steve Earle, Bob Mould of Husker Du fame and Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, which for some reason I used to think was crap.

10. Set the Mood
You need to know your music if you’re going to take control of the iPod. Megadeth at a dinner party is not really cool, unless it’s a barbarian’s feast. Same goes for the dance party you’re hosting or the backyard BBQ. It’s helpful to have a great collection to draw on and even better if you can match the right tunes with the crowd.  

Your homework if you should choose to accept it….I just discovered Grace Potter and I dig this song.

Friday, 20 September 2013

I’m Not Too Old…Seriously, it’s Just too Goddamn Loud

I generally don’t act my age (somewhere north of 40), but a recent trip to see the Sam Roberts Band at The Kee to Bala had me shaking my cane at the sound man with the fury of the angry dad in the Twisted Sister videos. As a grizzled veteran of the live music event, I know the appeal of heavy volume and the euphoric feeling of a well microphoned kick drum punching you in the chest with each down beat. I have survived AC/DC, Guns and Roses and The Cult. I have stood a hair’s breadth from the Marshall stacks used by Gov’t Mule and had my teeth rattled by Nazareth in a club small enough for the bartender to hand you your drinks over the bar without having to lose your spot in front of the band. All of these occurrences were loud. What made the experience good or bad was sound clarity, and whether or not it left you feeling like blood was oozing from your ears.
AC/DC for example, left my ears ringing for a couple of days, but in a good way, if that’s possible. What do you expect when the encore includes a stage full of cannons blasting off for the last two minutes of “For Those About to Rock”? They were simply doing as promised, and saluting us. With cannons.
Civil War weaponry aside, I could still pick out every instrument and hear every note played. I could clearly understand when Brian Johnson screamed at me that rock and roll wasn’t noise pollution. It was full tilt, high voltage, super loud rock and roll. And it sounded great. There is a line though, that can easily get crossed between great sound, and a complete dog’s breakfast of noise. Instead of hearing lyrics, the vocalist starts to emulate the teacher from Charlie Brown doing bad karaoke at 120 decibels.
I consulted my friend who runs the soundboard at Casino Rama, and apparently the cause of too loud syndrome stems from a number of things. It could be the physical limits of the room, an overzealous soundman, or the musicians themselves. Let’s start with the drummer. Now, drummers are similar to hockey goalies in that they’re a special breed- i.e. weird. (Apologies to my friend Dean who is both a goalie and a drummer) They like to smash things and bollocks to you if you can’t keep up with them. This causes the guitarists, who are equipped with monster amps and suffer from smash envy, to turn up to eleven to be heard over the drums. Enter the prima donna vocalist who feels the need to be heard more loudly than everyone else. Now we have a deaf soundman who feels the only solution is to max out the vocals to top the guitars thereby turning them into a pile of sludge. The musicians aren’t affected as much by the blitz because they all wear in-ear monitors, which cuts down the volume considerably.
In the case of Sam Roberts, It was the first of two shows, so maybe the sound guy was just testing the waters. Doing a sound check in an empty hall is a lot different than when it fills with bodies, and maybe he overcompensated with a bit too much power. We all knew what songs Sam was singing because, hey, it’s Sam Roberts, but as far as discerning any distinct separation of parts, all was lost. There was great energy in the room, which was all good and well, but the music was reduced to a great slur of guitars and noise. If it’s too loud, lots of concert goers wear earplugs to take the edge off. I’ve done it once myself and it works great if the sound is clear and you don’t want your ears ringing the next day. In the case of Sam Roberts, all that would accomplish would be a slightly quieter, still muffled version of Brother Down.

Live music should be worth the price of the ticket or you might as well stay home and listen to the CD. It should be better than the CD. It should be the CD on steroids, complete with mistakes and unlikely surprises. It should be sing along choruses and blistering guitar solos, preening lead singers, drum solos and bass players singing backup who have no business doing so. A live show can change your life. It should never be something to be suffered through. Can you hear me Mr. Soundman? 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Girls, Girls, Girls!

This is a tale of a young lad whose life was so mired in boredom that he was oft heard bemoaning to his parents that he had “nothing to do.” To their defense, the parents in question had provided the boy with several trips to Europe, summer camps, ski trips, sports galore and even purchased a Wii so that he wouldn’t feel inferior to the other children. Alas, to their dismay, apparently the only remedy to the boy’s malaise was something called a PS3 and a specific game called Call of Duty.  Without the PS3 and Call of Duty combination the boy feared he would continue to “have nothing to do” and perhaps even be shunned by the other children, who now spent their time slagging the Wii, while playing Call of Duty on the PS3.  (Evidently, the Wii owners in the boy’s class were no better than lepers with their stone age technology and uncoolness.) The boy’s father tried to be helpful by recounting that when he was a lad, all the other children had Atari and Coleco Vision, while he was stuck with a Radio Shack knock off that only played knock off games such as Pic Man. The boy declared that this information was not helpful because he was talking about games from this century.
Suffice it to say, on Christmas morning 2012, after a near divorce level argument between Santa and Mrs. Santa, the PS3 and accompanying Call of Duty arrived under the tree. The boy was, of course, elated. Every available hour was dutifully spent gunning down baddies, lobbing grenades and causing general mayhem for the other gamers. Bliss to an eleven year old boy.  This pattern was only interrupted by school, sleeping, eating, and the occasional piece of homework dashed off in haste to get back to the massacre. Sporting events were attended under duress to the point where the parents thought that measures would have to be taken.
And then one day, out of the blue, measures seemed to materialize on their own free will. The boy came home from school and instead of rushing downstairs to the beloved PS3, he went to his iPod and began pecking away. His father, in disbelief and not wanting to disturb this strange occurrence, watched from nearby. Eventually, the boy’s mother came home.
“What’s going on boys?” she asked
“Shhhhhh!” said the father.
This elicited a raised eyebrow from the mother, which is a warning sign that if provoked any farther, matters could quickly spiral out of control to the death stare.
“Sorry.” The father whispered.
“But…look. He came right in and started doing something on the iPod. I think it’s like texting.”
The boy immediately snapped his head up.
“It’s iMessaging. Free between iPods.” He said, before resuming his activity.
“So…who are you texting?” The father asked.
“My friends,” Was the only information forthcoming.
And so endeth the conversation.
Day after day for nearly a week, the iMessaging persisted, becoming the favourite after school activity, while the PS3 collected dust. Texts were flying fast and furious and then one day a photo showed up as the background image of the iPod.
“If you’re wondering why there is a picture of a girl on my iPod, it’s because I said the first person to like my Instagram got their picture displayed for two weeks,” the boy said, as though the parents would understand what in the name of Steve Jobs he was talking about.
“We weren’t wondering.” The mother said, the archetype of calm.
As if this wasn’t enough, things were about to get stranger when the boy announced that he was interested in going roller skating on a Friday night. The parents, in full support of anything not video game related, were enthused.
“So…who’s going to be there?” they inquired.
“Oh…Randy, Zach, Terry….Nicole.”
The father’s brow furrowed as he glanced to the mother who was smirking as though this was funny.
“Okay…we’ll drive you.” Said the mother.
“I hope they’re not still playing Hall and Oates over there.” Said the father.
Later that evening, the parents conferred.
“Okay, when we drop them off we can corral them and sort this out. I’m going to get a look at this Jezebel,” said the father.
“We’ll do nothing of the sort,” said the mother.
“We’ll drop him off and sneak back early and then we can spy a bit.” She suggested with a wink.
And so, from fifty yards away in the dimness of the roller rink lit only by an ancient disco ball, several females were spotted cavorting with the boy and his group of friends. The girls were all elbows and knees, looking even ganglier with two inches of roller blades under them. The boys jostled with each other, pushing and shoving in various acts of bravado, none of them tall enough to look any of the girls in the eye. In the age old tradition of pre-pubescent courtship, the boy demonstrated a sure sign of affection by stealing an object from one of the girls, in this case a cel phone. He then raced around the rink at top speed, thereby demonstrating his athletic ability and vigor. The phone was returned after a lap, presented to the young lady as though it were a piece of game he had just hunted down on the Serengeti. Apparently the evening was a success.
The very next day, the boy announced he needed a haircut, the sweeping shag to be replaced by a sort of hybrid faux hawk.
“And I need some more Axe deodorant. The spray kind.” Said the boy.
“You know, spraying axe all over yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have to take a shower.” The boy’s father suggested.
“And if you’re going to be putting gunk in your hair, you actually have to use shampoo.” He added for good measure.
Soon after, the boy confessed to the mother that he did in fact have a girlfriend. This was sworn to secrecy from the father lest he either a) go berserk, or b) tease the boy mercilessly. The mother remained calm in the face of this revelation and stated the he was eleven after all, and girls were going to play a larger part of his life.
That is how, in the space of a week, the boy was magically transformed from a video gaming, couch potato, trapped in a darkened basement lair, to a suave, roller skating fellow with a haircut worthy of any English premier league soccer player. The parent’s only concern remains that he overcome the smell of axe deodorant mingling with body odour.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Calmer than you are dude.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the ski hill a near perfect 15 minutes before the start of the boy’s freestyle ski class, I felt a smug sense of satisfaction. Just enough time for him to get his gear on and for me to secure a sweet lunch table by the window. I opened the trunk and immediately knew something was amiss. As in, there appears to be skis, poles and the lunch bag – all the items I carried to the car -  but there is no sign of the boys ski bag, otherwise known as the item he was to carry to the car.
“Kelton, you forgot your ski bag!” I said calmly, not at all yelling. That's my recollection anyway.
“What? I didn’t know I was supposed to bring it.”
Lord, keep me from striking this defenseless, half- witted child.
“I told you to grab it on the way out. You walked right by it.”
I can feel my forehead getting hot as I start mentally calculating how long it will take to drive home, get the bag, drive back and get him on the hill with his group. It’s 30 minutes in each direction. I am starting to feel slightly less calm than I would like.
I consider option B which is to call it a day and just go home but that puts me into an even fouler mood as I start doing the math on that one. Let’s see…8 lessons divided by gas mileage times the square root of new ski boots which he has only used three times. Rage rising.
Wisely, the boy hasn’t dared to poke his head out of the car yet, as I stomp around the parking lot, trying to think of what to do. In a tither I decide to risk waking the mother bear, who is still snuggled deep in hibernation after a late night at the Lacrosse game. I have to abide the pecking order and tread carefully.
“Hello? Guess what…the boy forgot his ski bag and I’m furious and I was wondering if you could run it out here?”
“Who is this?” she asks sleepily.
She knows who it is, but I heed that as a warning shot.
“Okay never mind. How about I meet you halfway at line 11.”
“Why are you boys always waking me up on my day off?”
 There is a pause as she considers the act of leaping out of a warm bed into a cold car.
 “I’ll be there in 15.”
That’s good. Now I get to get back in my car and begin the rant.
“Kelton…I am very very angry. I packed your bag for you, I made your lunch and I loaded your skis. You had one job, which was to get that bag to the car and you didn’t do it.”
This is met with head down silence as we begin the long uncomfortable drive back to the rendezvous. My mind is still spinning a mile a minute, trying to come up with suitable consequences for this act of absent mindedness. I want something between taking away the iPod and being executed by firing squad. I mean, what kind of a kid walks out the door to go skiing without his boots and helmet? When I was a kid I never forgot my boots.  Well I did once, and my dad had to drive back home to get them. Okay, so now that I think about it, the scatterbrain gene didn’t go recessive in this case.
I have another concern though, and that is that I caused this, not through genetics, but by being too proactive in helping this kid with his things. I’m always hustling around, gathering up his equipment for various sports, making sure he doesn’t forget anything. It would appear that the only thing I have accomplished was teaching him he doesn’t need to remember anything, because I’m doing it all. Mouth guard for lacrosse? Check. Elbow pads, shin pads? Check. Did you tape your stick for ball hockey? Never mind – you take too long – I’ll do it.
That’s the thing. In my mind, if I didn’t do these things: a) we would never get out the door and b) he would show up with half his equipment missing. So, it seems I’ve created a two headed co-dependent monster. He depends on me to remember everything and I depend on him to forget everything. It feeds my worry, which apparently I thrive on.
When kids come to our house for sleepovers, they always pack up their own bags and have everything ready to go when the parent comes to pick them up. When I go to pick up my kid from a sleepover, there is the 20 minute ritual where he wanders around, trying to gather the stuff he has strewn all over his hosts house. If his bag is packed and at the door, I can be sure that the mom has done it for him because I’m pretty certain he is incapable of putting a matched pair of anything into a container. One mitt sure, but not two. Ipod yes, but iPod charger, no way. The good news is that he has a change of clothes stashed at each of his friends’ houses. I know that if he looked in the lost and found at school, he could recover enough hats to outfit a small hattatorium.
Suffice it to say, by lunch time, I had calmed down enough to make him a sandwich and send him back out skiing. He was only 40 minutes late for his morning lesson, which wasn’t too bad, so no real harm done. However, there is going to be a clear discussion before next Saturday about who is going to pack what gear, and maybe, just maybe we have both learned our lesson. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Hey Lance Armstrong

Dear Lancey,

You old cheating bastard you.

Talk about landing yourself in a bit of hot water. Actually I think you’ve managed to get yourself strung up by your $400 bike shoes over a cauldron of boiling oil, awaiting the first of many comeuppance style head dunks.

You’re not alone in your plight though, as I’ve done some cheating myself that I’m not proud of. I once shot-gunned a can of Redbull before a championship game in the men’s over 35 soccer league. It gave me a stomachache for the whole first half but I dug deep and ignored it because, like you, I felt I needed to win at all costs. We actually lost the game, so in hindsight it was a waste of $2.99, not to mention compromising my principles. Fortunately, I was able to flush the evidence out of my system after the game with a bunch of parking lot beers, but it didn’t ease the guilt.

There was another time in grade six, where, on track and field day I tried to even up the playing field in the hundred meter dash by sabotaging Arty Reed’s shoes. He was favoured to win and was the only kid with running spikes, so I stole them and tied the laces in knots right before the final heat. I thought I could get into his head with some mind trickery and put him off his game. It kind of backfired because it just made him late for the start, which put him in an even uglier mood than usual. Apparently, rage was the key to his performance because he beat everyone by about three seconds. Regardless, it feels good to get that off my chest after all these years.

So you see Lance, everyone has skeletons in their closets that they’re ashamed of. Granted, most of us don’t have the opportunity to address the world in a controlled interview to explain ourselves after we’ve been caught. That was a stroke of luck for you that Oprah was on your speed dial and willing to partner up with you for the big interview. I hear it might have saved her crap T.V. channel from sinking into obscurity, so it was pretty much a win-win. You get to shed a few tears for the camera and she gets the most anticipated interview since Michael Jackson went on air to talk about why he thought it was a good idea to have sleepovers with children.

Bottom line Lancey, is you’ll bounce back. Imagine the royalties alone from the tell-all book you are undoubtedly going to write. If you can muster up a believable amount of remorse, you’ll make out like a bandit. Speaking tours and key note speeches should keep you busy for years. Remember, America loves to forgive celebrities - talk to Michael Vick, Hugh Grant or Bill Clinton. Hell, O.J. could have come back as a B-list celeb if he hadn't gone berserk there at the end.

I wish you luck with your lucrative new career as spokesperson for the war on performance enhancing substances. I still think you’re a bit of an arrogant twit, but who am I to judge because as I earlier confessed, I’m a former cheater too.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

How to dominate high school

Chartered accountant Gordon Levey, age 37, is magically transported back in time to grade 10 and is granted the rare opportunity to actually know then what he knows now.

Alex- Hey Gordie, thanks for picking me up for school. I can’t believe you just got your license yesterday and you’re already driving.

Gordon – Well, I did get 100 % on the test. It was pretty easy.

Alex – Sweet ride by the way. How come your dad’s letting you drive his car?

Gordon – Oh…I did his taxes for him and saved him like twelve grand, so he’s pretty happy about that.

Alex – Still, I wouldn’t let my kid drive a Cadillac.

Gordon – I know right? We’re going to be a bit late by the way. I have to stop for some coffee.

Alex - But Mrs. Walker said if I’m late again, she’s going to give detention.

Gordon - Jenny? Just bring her a coffee and she’ll let it slide.

Alex - You sure drink a lot of coffee for a kid in grade 10 Gordon.

Gordon - Well, it’s not all for me you know. I have to pick one up for Cynthia at the attendance desk. By the way, did you see what she was wearing yesterday? She looked awesome.

Alex - Ms. Grobowski?

Gordon - Yes…Cynthia.

Alex  - Dude….gross. She’s like 30.

At the school

Alex – You can’t park here Gordie, this is the staff parking lot.

Gordon – Don’t worry about it. I cleared it with Morley.

Alex – Principal McTavish?

Gordon – Yeah, he owes me. I did his taxes for him.

 Later that day

Mr. Sterling – Okay class, here are your projects back on creating a business plan for a small company.  Mr. Levey, I like how you challenged yourself by choosing a multinational oil conglomerate.

Gordon – Thank you sir.

Mr. Sterling – However Gordon, I’m not completely convinced this is your own work. I mean I myself didn’t even fully understand that whole concept of the graduated corporate merger.

Gordon – Well sir, I think you’ll find that the financial restructuring strategy I included explains how the merger would be a success after a mere 3 to 4 years.

Mr. Sterling – Oh… I see. Thanks for the coffee by the way.

Gordon – No problem sir.

On the drive home

Alex - Hey, thanks for the tip about the rum. My parents didn’t even notice some was missing.

Gordon – Like I said, never replace booze with water. Unless its vodka, but even then, only up to 20% 
water. Any more than that and you can taste it.

Alex - Got it. Can you get me some beer for this weekend? Just not that Guinness stuff again. It’s horrible.

Gordon - You’ve got to refine your taste man. Plus, no one steals it at parties.

Alex – Whatever. That reminds me. When did you start playing guitar? You sure have a lot of girls hanging around you since you started that band.

Gordon - That’s the beauty of it. I can’t really play, but the girls don’t seem to care.

 Alex – You’re a genius.

Gordon – Thanks. Hey, I’ve got an extra ticket to see a new band next week. You want to come?

Alex – Are you crazy? Next week is the Poison concert! They’re going to rule the world forever!

Gordon –  Fine, I’ll go see them by myself. They're called Nirvana.

Alex - Well, thanks for the lift. Oh God…my mom’s cutting the grass in her bikini top again.

Gordon - She is indeed! I wonder if she needs any help?

Alex – Go home Gordie.