Monthly Archives: September 2011

Why Adventure?

There are things that are important to me. One of them is adventuring.
Why? is a question a lot of people ask me. It’s a question I ask myself as well.
Part of it is being part of a group that understands the thrill of doing these things, that have felt the same thrill.
I’ve jumped out of airplanes twice – the first time on a static line, the second time as a tandem.
Most people I’ve spoken to that have jumped all say the same thing – they don’t remember the first five seconds of their first jump.
I have the same gap. I think that happens because there is just no frame of reference for the brain to process what it’s just done.
Even after the brain catches up, it’s kind of hard to process. But it leaves a pretty damn big smile on your face, even after (if you’re like me) you blow the landing, smack your knee into a rock and limp for the next three weeks.
Battle scars are cool.

Part of what I love is the discovery of what this magnificent, complex, under-appreciated body is capable of.
I’ve gone climbing many times at the Shawangunks in New Paltz, NY.
Sure, there’s a safety line, but once it’s fixed and checked for security, it’s forgotten, only used as a last case if (when) you come off the wall.
I remember 2 climbs in particular: Slightly Roddy, and the second pitch of High Exposure.
Slightly Roddy is a short climb – about 25 feet vertical, with a 10 foot overhang ledge. To reach the end of the climb, you shimmy up a very accessible face, then climb out parallel to the ground along a crack that is navigated by jamming both fists and both feet into it.
It’s a short climb, and as a Top-Rope, it is well protected. But on my third try, I was laughing so hard at the absurdity of the position I was in, that it was guaranteed I was going to fall off. And, laughing to my partner who was belaying me, that’s exactly what I did.
I never finished it, but it is one of the stand out climbs of my trips there.
High Exposure is memorable for a different reason.
Finishing a 100′ climb to a ledge, the exit move is done from that ledge onto a point.
To make the move (just below the woman in the picture), the climber has to lean forward over a 100′ drop, reach over their heads to find a hold, then grab it, spin around and climb up into nothing. Nothing.
I couldn’t do it. I took that look down and seized up.
If the two climbers rappelling down hadn’t stopped, called out encouragement and yelled guidance on where to put my hands, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
But they did. And with their words, they welcomed me into the club of “Because it’s There”.
That day, I learned, more clearly than from any other situation before or since, what my body and mind can do when they work together.
Same thing with hang gliding. The body and mind have to be focused and working together, or bad things can will happen.

Or scuba diving.
As an insulin-dependent diabetic, I’m not supposed to dive. But it was pretty high on my list of things to do, and on a resort vacation one year, I decided to take the whole Open Water Diver course.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Flying. I was flying. Moving in three dimensions with a wave of my arm or kick of my leg. Hovering. Rising. Falling. Flipping (a little weird doing somersaults in scuba gear, but still fun). And so, so relaxing. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean. And you can understand a conversation about the fun of being self-contained in an alien world.
If you haven’t, stop reading this, find a dive shop, and get your butt in the water.
You’ll thank me for pushing you into it later. Even you, Greg.

Or surfing. Which I suck at.
I don’t suck at all parts of it. there’s a move called “pearling”, which is flying off the front of the board. While it’s not the goal of surfing, I have managed to discover 117 different ways to do it. And mastered them all.
But I keep going out and I keep trying. Because it’s fun. And lets face it, driving through suburban NYC with a surfboard strapped to your roof is cool. Especially if you know how to use it! (Which I will one day. I hope).

It’s part of being in a group that knows what it takes to do these things, of the commitment and focus needed to ride on that edge between lots of fun, slightly insane, and totally unbelievably stupid.

In the end though, more than the community, more than the cool factor, even more than discovering my limits and how to get past them, it’s about discovering joys and perspectives that I just can’t find commuting to work, or just sitting at my desk, or doing any of the mundane daily tasks that are part of life.

If someone asks “Why adventure?”, my two answers are a quote from George Mallory, “because it’s there”, and the other, even truer for me, to answer every surprised gasp or aghast sneer of “why would you do that?”, I can only answer…

“Why would you not?

A bit of tweak…

I’ve been trying to post daily. And mostly, I’ve succeeded.
Because I love you all. In that cool, not creepy, everyone loves everyone on the internet kind of way.
But I also think a bunch of the posts have not been that great.
So I’ll be slowing down a bit, and trying to (gasp) edit new posts over a day or two before publishing them.
Because you guys are worth it.
Stuff to look forward to include Concerts Remembered from the Ticket Stub Bin, More adventuring (if I ever manage to get my board in the water. Or do anything, ever, really), and more general Babblesomeness (it’s a word, dang nabbit!)
And of course, Today’s Music!

So don’t be worried if the updates aren’t as frequent. I hope to make them a lot better!

The Cars Live (at last!!!)

Today’s Music: The Cars – Move Like This
Today’s Adventure: Removing my head from my bottom

The Cars came out of New Wave, but transcended to main stream success in a way few other “New Wave” bands did.
Their songs had great hooks, occasionally great lyrics (though honestly, it was sometimes very hard to figure out what the heck Ric Ocasek was talking about!), and as a band that came of age at the start of the music video era, some great videos.

And then, in 1988, they broke up. The band members wandered off to their own projects, Ric Ocasek got into producing and writing songs for others,and Benjamin Orr, the bassist, died.

The story goes that Ric Ocasek was going through a bunch of songs he wrote , trying to decide on studio musicians to record it with, and instead, called up his former bandmates –
Elliot Easton on guitar, Greg Hawkes on keyboards (and now bass as well), and David Robinson on drums. Ric plays rhythm guitar, sings and writes the songs.
And they put out Move Like This. Which sounded exactly like The Cars.
And they announced a tour.

For me, this was a big deal. The Cars were one of the first bands I was aware of and wanted to see, but they broke up (you can keep the New Cars, thanks) and a member died, and Ric Ocasek said “no way in hell” to a reunion.
When tickets for the new tour went on sale, there was no way I would miss it.

I ended up seeing them at Sound Academy in Toronto(a story for another post), and Roseland in NYC.

Both shows were in mid-size Standing-Room-Only venues, about 2000 – 3000 capacity. Both stages were the same, both sets were the same.
They came out and opened with Let the Good Times Roll , a classic. From there they moved into Blue Tip from the new album, and the set list was a nice combination of old and new.
The sound of the new songs is so consistent to the old band that there was nothing jarring in the set list, no feel of jumping from one era to the next.
Ric Ocasek stayed up front the whole show, often just strumming his couple of chords. There was very little interaction with the crowd, and he moved very little.
Hawkes was frenetic behind the keyboard, and at times seemed a bit overwhelmed, especially when coming around to the front and strapping on the bass (when he also gave a shout out to Benjamin Orr).
Easton had several songs where his leads transported him. While The Cars are not (and never were) a jam band, his solos were interesting and far ranging, going from high tinkling notes all the way up the neck, to crunching lines that growled out of the amps.
Robinson on drums kept time solidly, but there was not much beyond the basic rhythm – no interesting fills in his set.

It was good to see them, but in some ways, it was like watching a live video of their albums. One of the joys of going to see live music is the additions, the interaction, hearing new twists on lyrics or music, and The Cars offered very little of that besides the guitar solos.
But the band was on, they played well, and as someone who waited twenty two years to see them (and got to see them twice!), I though they put on a really good show.
the stage dressing and lighting was used to silhouette the payers, and added a nice touch. The sound at both venues was great, and the music was clear and easy to follow.
The crowd was into it, and their enthusiasm made up for the straightforwardness coming off the stage.
Ric even looked a bit uncomfortable, a few times saying “Thank you” after a song, then staying at the microphone a bit longer, without saying anything, for a brief awkward pause. Then the next song would start and they’d get right back into it.

The Cars of yesteryear were icons. The Cars of today seem like they were going out there to acknowledge that, even if they couldn’t quite match it.

But their new album, Move Like This, is great.
And in the words of Irish Paul: “The Cars? Seen ’em”.


Today’s Music: Dropkick Murphys – Live in Landsdowne
Today’s Adventure – NOT PUNCHING SOMEONE!!!

No, I won’t really be punching someone. but I’d really like to.
So the sick relative that has been staying with us is back in the hospital, mostly because of short-sightedness.
The human body is 60% water. That water is absorbed by food, it’s used by cells, it leaves the body as sweat and urine.
The relative has been ill for about a month now, first triggered by dehydration. He would drink a tiny bit, but not much. As a result of the dehydration, he spent a week in the hospital. He has stayed with us about 2 weeks, in 2 separate stints. He has gone to see a battery of heart and circulation specialists, as well as his GP and a podiatrist. They all agree that he is in bad shape.
He is on a battery of pills that have a variety of side-effects, most of them unpleasant.
Because of his illnesses, he has been mostly lying down, getting minimal exercise, so his leg muscles and general muscle tone are very poor.
So to avoid having to get up to go pee, he is – wait for it — not. drinking. water.
And now he’s back in the hospital.
The most wonderful girl in the universe (my wife, thanks) has been running ragged taking care of him and working her 60 hour a week job. I’ve been helping and mostly trying to support her. In fact, my concern for his health mostly goes as far as its effect on her.
At the hospital yesterday, she used stronger than usual language to try to explain to him the effect his condition, and how the lack of work on his part to improve it was beginning to affect us.
He wasn’t happy about that.
No one was.
But now it’s been brought out. He will be in the hospital at least the next day, and will be seeing a specialist who might be able to expedite work on his heart. Which he has reluctantly agreed to. This will make it a longer hospital stay, but hopefully the last one for a while. And if he can see it through instead of getting hung up on smaller stuff along the way, that would be wonderful.
Maybe he’ll take the longer view this time…
And drink enough water…
And not drive his loved ones to want to smack him in the back of the head.

If anyone has anything to suggest, the comments are all yours…

What makes a song great?

Today’s Musice:Dave May – great traditional country
Today’s Adventure: Adapting a dynamic climbing line to be a surfboard roof rack (bad idea!)
I listen to a lot of music. It’s one of the things I enjoy most in life.
And sometimes I wonder about what makes a song great.
There are songs most people agree on – The Beatles – Twist and Shout, Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven, Eric Clapton – Layla.
There has to be a hook. It might be something catchy that sets your feet to unconsciously tapping. It might be something haunting that grabs you low in your gut or make you joyously, ecstatically happy.

The musicians have to know what they’re doing.
I saw a guy recently open for Buckethead (who was incredible). The opening act, however, was singing through his tuba. Couldn’t understand a word (not the venue’s fault). He was playing riffs then looping them over each other.
He was crap. There was no musicality to it. I can appreciate the skill in techno, in industrial, and  in anarchistic screaming punk, but if you’re going to take my money to see you perform, at least have one song recognizable as such.

There’s nothing at all wrong with using technology. Kraftwerk are nothing without electricity. And check out this video of K.T. Tunstall – Black Horse and a Cherry Tree. A master class in using loop pedals, but don’t tell me that song isn’t stuck in your head, at least for a little while…

On the other end of the scale are performers like Lou Reed, who once said he knew 3 chords, and was still trying to perfect those, but Walk on the Wild Side shows he’s got them down just fine.

I’ve been subjected to some hideously memorable hooks over the years. the worst lately is the Ting Tings, who I hate. But just typing “Ting Tings” has started the endless loop of “that’s not my name” in my head. Where it will be for the next 3 hours.

But what about great songs that don’t find an audience?
A lesser known song I’ve been listening to is They Might Be Giants – Anna Ng. If that song were coverd by the Foo Fighters, it would be in the top 10, but aside from Ironic Hipsters, how many people do you know that recognize that song, let alone They Might Be Giants.
Sometimes it’s cool knowing about a song that no one else has heard of yet. I saw David Gray perform Babylon right before it exploded, and that night, it didn’t seem like there was any way possible it would be a monster hit.
I hope everyone will hear and love The Vaccines Wrecking Bar, partly because it’s a great song, and partly because then I’ll be so much cooler for hearing them first!

But the songs that stick with me after the “Breakfast at Tiffanys” and “Tub Thumbings” have faded away into “whatever happened to…” status, are ones that make a point – Neil Young – Rockin in the Free World (great hook, good lyrics, strong statement) or Paul Simon Spirit Voices which gets me every time, especially at the bridge.

You may think I’m full of it, and that every song I’ve singled out is crap. You may have your own list that has nothing to do with mine, filled with Trance and Industrial and other sounds I really don’t like.
But if we put our lists side by side and described what it was about those songs that moved us, that made us think they were great, we would probably both be saying the same thing – we are emotionally invested in them, because they make us feel something. They make us angry, or they inspire us, or they let us let it all out and forget our problems and lose ourselves in the moment.

Isn’t that what makes a song great?