I just wanted to put down some notes about my exciting New Year’s trip to Maui. Getting up at 5am sucks, but arriving in Maui around 3pm local time does not. After some initial stress of finding our way around town to the essentials like water shoes (yes I shopped at the Maui Walmart, but I didn’t feel good about it), we made our way around the island toward the hotel. Memories of my previous trip there (must have been around 2000?) started to come back to me. Slowly letting it sink in, the magnitude of the difference in scenery and climate there. Like being on another planet.
We stayed at the amazing Sheraton Maui resort, noted for having one of the nicest beaches on the island. Travelocity hooked us up, because a room there can run upwards of $800/night, and we didn’t pay near that much. The grounds there are breathtaking. Check out their site for pictures, but if I ever win the lottery, I would want to move in there permanently. (Turns out it’s actually very close to the Hyatt I’d stayed at when I was in Maui before.) The air smells sweet, I’m not kidding. It smells perfumed everywhere you go. Then big, open, manicured grassy areas all over. A pool that snaked through the landscape along with a hot tub. We checked in, put on shorts, and headed out to one of the outdoor bars to eat. Not 30 seconds after sitting down to dinner that first night, the older Australian couple next to us noticed my Smiths shirt and started talking to me about them — surely a good omen for the new year. There was live music and hula all the time. Took a walk on the beach at night, where even in December it barely dipped below 70°.
I can’t get over the freedom of a vacation like this. I probably haven’t had it since that last Maui trip. The freedom to just roll out of bed, put on nothing but board shorts — I mean no shirt, no shoes — and walk through the resort on your way to pick up a piña colada (which you carelessly charge to the room) and head to the beach. No need for heating or AC. Indoors and out, day and night, you are comfortable in shorts and nothing else. I felt like I spent the whole week in my underwear, but that’s what everyone does there. There’s no shame. And that feeling is the highlight of the whole trip. I can’t overstate that. The freedom of no schedule and no climate restrictions. (Side note: I wore sunblock religiously and as a result got almost no color at all!) Some of the noteworthy activities include: We went ziplining from tree to tree in a forest canopy. I swam so much in the ocean… which is warm and so clear. Totally unlike the ocean in the Bay Area where it’s murky and prohibitively cold. The ocean in Maui is like being in a bathtub. It’s that comfortable. You can be in it all day, just swimming and rolling in the waves. It makes you feel human again… and animal, all at the same time. I climbed up Black Rock there off the coast and cliff dove. We saw whales jumping and spouting just off shore. We rented snorkeling equipment for a couple hours. I didn’t know it then, but all the time I was swimming and cliff diving near Black Rock… I was surrounded by colorful tropical fish. Armed with the snorkel gear, we got to see what was going on beneath the surface. Thousands of beautiful butterfly fish, trumpet fish, etc. swimming around people’s feet while they don’t even know it. Darting around the coral at the base of Black Rock. It was stunning. We didn’t see any turtles, but we did later see crabs along the rocks in another part of town.
The food was so-so, mostly in that it wasn’t very vegetarian-friendly. I ended up eating a lot of junk food and fried food, but I survived. Front Street was great for shopping and some food. It’s more or less their Pier 39 equivalent. I had some handmade chocolate with kava… which numbed my tongue. We had a fancier dinner at Roy’s, where I had grilled tofu steaks. We had more “local” food at Aloha Mixed Plate. We rang in 2012 at the Sheraton’s New Year’s Eve party, which included a nice buffet, dancing with awkward white people toward the countdown, and an opportunity to wear a Hawaiian shirt. At first I felt a little strange as many others were dressed kinda ritzy for NYE. But soon I realized that I was just the rock and roll one at the party, and I got into that mindset. It’s an expensive resort, and these people don’t know who I am. For all they know, I’m a real rock star. At least that’s the irreverent mindset I adopted, and I think I pulled it off. Our last night there, we did the obligatory luau which included an open bar, a whole roast pig (which was kinda depressing), and a full on music and dance performance. Again, the Sheraton is reputed to have one of the best luaus on the island. Other than NYE and the luau, the resort’s food was overpriced and not great. I was happy when we got to venture out. One last note… at almost every restaurant we ate at, the seating was open air or at least facing wide open windows. There weren’t many bugs, but there were plenty of birds flying into these places and hopping around the floor. I rediscovered my love of feeding birds and exercised it at nearly every meal. As with the geckos that came out at night around the resort, and the flowers everywhere you go, I just loved how much nature and open air is a part of everything you do there. It makes my life back home feel sterile and isolated and artificial by comparison.
The only real downside was the sense that in general, the locals hated us. I mean, I kinda get it. In S.F., we’re annoyed by tourists. And though I don’t know the history, I can only assume there’s some less-than-pleasant past crimes of the white man against the native people. I noticed were some very aggressive and almost combative driving by locals against us both as other drivers and as pedestrians. (Though when I let one particular car in front of me, he very casually flashed a “hang loose” gesture at us, which was so charming!) At one point, we got a very chilly reception by a couple of locals carving tikis. Was it just because I was a tourist? Or white? Or with a girl who looks like she could be Hawaiian? Maybe I read into it too much, but there was a definite sense of “we’ll take your money because we need to, but in all other respects, go to hell.” I’d heard that Maui was the most fiercely independent of the islands, historically speaking. I wonder if there is an active anti-statehood movement there? In any event, if you know me, you know that I was overly polite and careful not to be in anyone’s way or make a mess. So unless I’m oblivious to something horrible I was doing, I’m pretty sure I was looked down upon for no good reason. Mahalo, bitch.
It turns out this is peak season for Hawaii, and so the limited rental cars on Maui are hard to come by. All the agencies jack up their rates significantly, and a six day rental from one of the last places with cars left cost me over $1100! The good news is that it for a small upcharge I was able to snag a convertible Mustang. The salesguy pressed hard for it, but he wasn’t wrong. Driving around the island with the top down was well worth the extra ~$100. For the view and the weather. And these new Mustangs let you change the color of all the dashboard backlighting and trim lights. A silly feature that is so up my alley. But tonight, when I got behind the wheel of my own Town Car — it’s been in the shop since getting hit by a drunk driver after the last TCB show — I was again reminded, as I have been so many times before, just how much I love my car. It’s so smooth. It was made for me.
On the way back, we were in desperate need of food before the flight. The only “real” food around was a bar and grill… it turned out to be called “Sammy’s.” And can you guess why? It’s apparently Sammy Hagar’s own restaurant, and it is every bit as full of self-aggrandizing bullshit as you might imagine. We’re talking walls covered with his platinum records. An autographed guitar. Chickenfoot merch left and right. Picture upon cringe-worthy picture of him posing with various celebrities. Even the bamboo decorations in his signature red. A menu full of recipes he allegedly picked up from his travels and his celebrity friends. A plaque at the front door explaining what a model citizen and philanthropist he is. All of the marketing, none of the artistic integrity, and all done with the delicate touch of a sledgehammer. But what should I expect from a man who has a band named after his own brand of tequila? Good Lord.
But back to the real story here. I’m seriously looking into moving to Maui. The practical side of me is weighing how much of a lifestyle change that would represent, as well as how wise it is to make a decision like that based on a week at a resort, when “real” life there would not be like vacationing at a resort. And what would I do for work? The tech market doesn’t seem to be booming there. And I don’t know if I’m cut out for the tourism/service industry. Maybe a government job? Am I too old to be a cop? I think it fits my personality, and I’ve considered looking into that as a way to do something impactful for a living irrespective of my new Maui plans. Or maybe Maui needs therapists and I could pursue that as a career? Though, who needs a shrink when you live in paradise? Everyone we talked to — and there were dozens — said that moving to Maui was the best thing they’d even done and they love it there. Be they bartender or concierge. From Fresno or Portland. The love it there. Rents are cheaper than San Francisco. But then… there’s no scene there at all. Nowhere to go dance to new wave. Nowhere to go to listen to (or play) rockabilly or Smiths music live. I’d have to join a reggae band if I wanted to gig anywhere out there. Or maybe I could start a weekly new wave club night? OK, maybe unrealistic… but the wheels are definitely turning, folks. You’d all come visit me, right?
“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”
— James Thurber
Another year has gone by, and it’s nearly Christmas time again. I know I always say it, but it continues to be true… and it bears repeating: the years come faster and faster every time. There’s no denying that my blogging pace has slowed down considerably. In fact this is only the 10th — and likely final — entry of the year. And only the third since May! I’ve settled in to where I only post when I’ve got something to say, or really to document. And my annual Christmas list falls into that category I think.
But since I’m here, I might as well throw in a quick rundown of current events. Let’s see… Morrissey was set to play in Oakland last week, but he cancelled literally just hours before the show. I was crushed, as was virtually everyone I know, but life goes on. Brian Setzer is coming to Santa Cruz later this month, and it’ll be a great opportunity to go to a concert with dad, which we almost never do together. Plus Jared is coming to town, so I’ll get to catch up with him! What else… I already posted about Vegas last time, but another fun trip is on the horizon: Maui for New Year’s! More on that as it becomes clear. I’m looking forward to having some great vacations in 2012. I am too lazy and maybe too risk averse to plan real vacations, or at least I have been for years. I want this year to be different, and so in addition to my recent and upcoming trip, I’m looking at Cuba, Europe, Vegas again to finally make it out for VLV, and then even a meditative Buddhist retreat! Other things under consideration or the G.I. Joe Convention in New Orleans in June, and a visit to swim with the manatees in Florida when they return in the Fall. Doesn’t even sound like me, right? What can I say? Time to get busy living.
One more thing… Trader Joe’s has just started offering Speculoos Cookie Butter, which is like peanut butter except for it tastes like liquid gingerbread cookie dough. I ate a whole can in a couple of days. I expect it to be a part of my routine for the foreseeable future.
It being the holiday season and all, this is usually the time I am creating a yuletide mix CD as a gift for my close friends. I have ideas for this year’s stockpiled, but realistically I just don’t know if there’s going to be time to make it happen. I hate to say that, because it really is fun to put them together, but I may have to take a break this year. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’m up for any Christmas shopping. I’m swamped as it is, and we’re already just a few short weeks away from the big day. So unless and until otherwise notified, let’s plan on no gifts this year. Besides, you know how much I hate shopping out of obligation. If anything, let’s continue promoting Scroogenomics (summarized here), specifically the idea of giving donation gift cards of a specified amount where the recipient gets to choose the charity the funds go to. That way, we’re both meeting our gift exchange obligations, and instead of either of us getting junk we don’t need or want, that money goes to a worthy cause. Perfection, I say.
But I do like my things, and I did pretty well with my list last year. My folks blessed me with a Dirt Devil. Kelly’s folks got me a mouse rug. I bought myself the Monkey Island set (which I have not had time to play even once all year!), and then just recently Jared pulled off the gift of gifts by nabbing me the Nile Rodgers sheet music that I had been hunting for years! I’ve been documenting a “gimme” list for a few years now (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), but this year was a real struggle to come up with even 10 items. I guess maybe that’s a good thing? Plus half the stuff on here is kinda silly anyway. Maybe I finally have enough stuff, or maybe I’m actually getting less attached to material possessions? Or maybe I’m just too lazy to even think of stuff for people to buy me. How American is that? OK, so Santa, friends, loved ones, admirers… I command you to shower me with the following:
Lords Of Death Sunglasses
If you’ve seen “Big Trouble In Little China” (and if not, why not?), you know about the amazing white slanty sunglasses worn briefly by a member of the “Lords Of Death” street gang in the kidnapping scene. Reminiscent of the iconic 1965 André Courrèges Eskimo shades. Anyway, those Lords Of Death glasses… this year, I decided I must have them. Well, it turns out that they were only made in the 80’s and are all but impossible to find. The obvious place to look would be the best merch site dedicated to an obscure movie ever: The Wing Kong Exchange. I’ve purchased the Jack Burton tank top, and I love it. But they have little to offer when it comes to the glasses. It’s not their fault though. There just isn’t much information out there. They ultimately direct you to what is far and away the closest thing available, being iJaak Eyewear’s handmade Eskimo glasses. I traded some emails with the artist who makes them, and he was super nice and accommodating, but in the end for the high cost, the result just isn’t quite close enough to the real deal. They do have an excellent blog with some good information and pictures on the originals though. If you see these pop up on eBay or anywhere else, letmeknow!
Johnny Marr’s Signature Fender Jaguar
I’m leaving this one on here from last year because there was a delay. I’m told it will finally hit the market in January 2012. I have to say, from what I’ve seen, it amounts to a stripped-down plain old white Jaguar. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but unless I find out there’s something really special and amazing about it, I may have to pass. It’s not that I don’t want to support Johnny, because honestly who supports him more than I? But I have too many guitars as it is, and even the considerable weight of Johnny’s signature may not be enough on its own to justify a purchase of that magnitude. Time will tell.
White Ghost Cactus
This summer, I had the pleasure of seeing the “Wicked Plants” exhibit at the Conservatory Of Flowers at Golden Gate Park. There were a lot of what you’d expect — Venus Flytraps and the like — as well as some unusual suspects. One that caught my eye was a rare variation called euphorbia lactea variegata or the “white ghost” cactus. It’s basically a low-maintenance plant that grows up to six feet tall, is a striking alabaster white, and is mildly poisonous to the touch. Seems like the perfect conversation piece / Bond villain-esque pet for me to keep on my patio. And you can even buy them on Amazon. What’s not to love?
Vegan Pewter Dr. Martens (which don’t exists) It was only a few months ago that I bought my first pair or genuine Dr. Martens, and it was only because they’d finally reintroduced their vegan line. You are probably aware that I won’t buy leather for ethical reasons, and while I’m comfortable with that decision at the moment, it does come with a cost. There are many fashion statements that I would love to make, but cannot because suitable cruelty-free options do not yet exist. Consider the fantastic pewter finish that I would love to strut in, not to mention the dozens of others. I tell you, if the vegan option were there for more than just two colors (as is the case now), I would own more pairs of these shoes than I would like to admit. White, powder blue, red velvet… the list goes on. All call out to me, but I have yet to hear an argument that will allow me to buy these and still sleep at night, sadly.
So I’ve had a nice ████████ ███████ for a while, though I haven’t done much with it yet. I’m thinking I ought to at least ████ ██ and get some ████████ before adding another ███████ to my life. So hopefully that will happen soon, and I’ll be more certain that I really want this and am ready for it. (Please excuse the redaction; I had to sanitize this for the public. But me and Santa both know what we’re talking about here.)
Multi-System Flatscreen T.V. / DVD Combo
As with smart phones, which I’d successfully resisted until this last summer, I’m thinking it’s time I finally join the free world and get a modern television. You see, I don’t watch it that much, and I don’t really play video games on it, so I’ve been happy with the same old CRT for years now. How many years? Well, it’s the one Jared left with me when he moved six years ago, and who knows how old it was before that? It’s tiny, but I really don’t mind. Seeing how cheap the technology has become and how nice some of my friends’ big flatscreens are, I’m starting to get the itch. Because I upgrade my technology so very rarely, I guess I ought to get something big enough to last me a while. Get it all done at once, you know. I suppose it ought to support HD, since things seem to be going that way. And I guess the new DVD player ought to support Blu-ray, since things seem to be going that way. The only hitch for me is that I want a “multi-system” DVD player that will play all region codes and a “multi-system” T.V. that will display both NTSC and PAL formats. Just so that I can watch my few import DVDs on something other than a computer. You’d think with all the digital technology these days, those concerns would be a thing of the past, but they’re not. They do make multi-system flatscreens, though they’re not super common in the U.S., and for the same price, you can get a much bigger “regular” flatscreen. So to get one that’s both multi-system and also big… well let’s hope Santa’s loaded.
Buddhist Alarm Clock
I’m keeping this one on from last year too. I’m still waking up every morning to the sounds of the local 80’s R&B station. I need to get more sleep, I know, but I also think waking up more peacefully wouldn’t hurt either in terms of reducing stress. So again, I find myself wanting to explore either the gentle bell to gradually wake me, or the synthetic sounds of harbor noises and the like. Anyone have experience wth these?
Puppet Master T-Shirt
It seems like every year, there’s some hard-to-find shirt on my list, and I have struck out with all of them so far. This year’s entry is an awesome design that was once offered by some company called “Lucky Threadz” which is now apparently known as “Loiter?” All I know is that every official site I could find for them (and there was more than one which is a bad sign) was down/deactivated/abandoned (which is another bad sign). I have very little hope I’ll ever get one of these in a men’s XL, but if your Googlin’ skills surpass mine, please do me the great honor of finding me this shirt!
Triumph Rocket III At a Reverend Horton Heat show a couple years back, I saw a motorcycle parked out front with a custom paint job designating it as “The Baron.” I don’t know enough about them to know what kind it was, but the dim photo I was able to snap with my old phone helped my friend Sean determine that it was likely a Triumph Rocket III or something from the Boss Hoss family. What struck me about it was that it didn’t look like a normal bike. It looked like it had a small car engine in it, rather than the usual motorcycle guts. Take a look at that Rocket III, and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not 100% convinced what I saw that night was a Rocket III, but it will do. Sean advises me that this is too much bike for most men, and certainly for a novice like myself. But since when do I listen to reason? Vroom vroom!
Red & White Striped Paper Straws
On a recent trip to the delicious Straw restaurant, I was amused by the kitschy retro straws they provided with their drinks. They were of that barber pole style, and strangely (to me, at least) they were made of paper. Turns out, these are not hard to find. Amazon sells a box of 144 Kikkerland Biodegradable Paper Straws (red and white striped) for under $7. I haven’t picked any up yet, but I’m dying to. Then I want to lay out by the pool and drink from a can of Diet Coke using one of the straws… hmmm, I feel I’ve said too much. I don’t know why, but I still get excited by the prospect of getting things for the home like you see in restaurants. For instance, I recently got rocks glasses at BevMo, along with an ice tray that makes perfectly geometric cubes of ice (as close as you can get to that super clear restaurant / bar ice without buying a heinously expensive professional ice machine — trust me). Seeing the perfect ice in the perfect little glass has actually caused me to start drinking more alcohol at home. For reasons like this, the glassware at BevMo and Cost Plus rocks my socks. Somehow I think this is all tied to OCD, but I digress.
Aside from all that ridiculosity, there are always the essentials: I can always use some Eternity for men (that’s my scent, yo). And then a new year means a new wall calendar for work. For 2011, the theme was manatees. For 2012? You tell me.
In all seriousness, obligated gift exchanges are recipes for disaster and anxiety. I don’t know what you want, and you’re not going to buy me a motorcycle. Let’s avoid the stress, and for Christmas let’s just catch up over a meal instead. Your treat, of course.
I just had to share some deets about the best vacation I’ve had in a while. So I was invited on a spontaneous trip to Vegas this last weekend. I love doing that kinda stuff, but I’m not the type to plan it. So when an extrovert comes along and says “let’s go,” generally I go! And despite my initial hesitation, I’m always happy I did.
We flew out of SFO on Virgin America. I’d never flown this airline, and my was I impressed. The primary lesson of the weekend: ask about upgrades. We asked during check-in if there were any upgrades available, and just for asking (read: no charge!), they put us in whatever class is right below first. That meant early boarding, more leg room, unlimited free drinks, and free movies and services on the LCD screens that adorn the back of every seat. The inside of the plane looked more like a nightclub than a vehicle. I got to watch X-Men: First Class while stretching out my legs and drinking free drinks. I normally fly SWA because it’s cheap and easy, but this was a whole new world. For any flight longer than an hour or two, I’m going Virgin from now on if it’s at all feasible. The only downside of the flight was some severe turbulence, but hey I’m still here, aren’t I?
We stayed at The Wynn. Did I mention upgrades? We asked about upgrades while checking in and scored a relatively cheap (but not free) upgrade that turned our regular room into a Wynn Tower “Parlor Suite.” This is a $650/night 1,200 sq. ft. space overlooking the pool and golf course that is far and away the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. Nearly every surface covered in mirrors. A giant living room, a gianter bedroom, and the most giantest bathroom you can imagine. It seriously had three separate vanities, a big shower with a bench in it, a separate bathtub, a toilet, and a deep walk-in closet. And it was nearly all marble. Whatever I’ve said in the past about money can’t buy happiness, forget it, because money can rent that suite, and that suite equals happiness.
I hadn’t been to Vegas in several years (2007?), and I forget the opulence of that place. It really is magnificent. The whole city is lit up like a theme park, and it even feels that way when you’re walking around at night. Like Disneyland or Great America, but on a civic scale. Every surface in every room, hallway, casino floor, restaurant, elevator, and driveway is carefully designed down to the last detail. There are no plain ceilings, only meticulously carves filigree with carefully placed lighting. Every bathroom is clean. The customer service is excellent everywhere. And it makes sense, because they want you feeling comfortable and safe and important so that you stay longer and keep gambling your money away. And there are people in the casino ALL day and night. It never looks empty, not even in the wee hours. It’s like there’s no night or day there.
The first night, we checked in and then went straight over to see The Blue Man Group. Not my idea, and after a day of work, a flight, and a couple drinks, yes I admit I dozed a little. But it was definitely worth seeing once. Their backup band wore fluorescent paint under black lights… very “In Between Days.” This was in The Venetian, and afterwards we stayed a while to gamble. It was there that I first noticed the music plying throughout the casino was all new wave. I was hearing Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, etc. I later noticed this back at The Wynn and elsewhere too. After giving it some thought, I figure what must be going on is that the generation that grew up in the 80’s are all old enough and have enough money to make up a large part of the tourist demographic there. As the next generation ages, I’m sure we’ll start hearing… I dunno, Taylor Swift in there. And even now, rest assured Vegas is still overflowing with douchey meatheads and hoochie women dressing ridiculously and being their version of “classy.”
The rest of the weekend, we all stayed up gambling and drinking and eating and dancing… till 5am both nights. I gambled more than I have in the past, but didn’t lose my shirt. I was careful. The slots were good to me, and usually kept me playing for an hour or so anytime I fed in a $20. Of course eventually, da gamblin’ mosheen takes it all. Though on the giant Wheel Of Fortune machine (with real giant working wheel!), while playing in tandem we did get the highest value on the bonus (“boners”) wheel on a max bet, which paid a few hundred dollars — basically the best thing you can get on that machine short of the progressive grand prize, if it even had one? Other machines included Tarzan, variations of fishing themes, and several movie slots… Star Trek, Batman / Dark Knight, Ghost Busters, and many others. I tried a table game once (roulette) and it took $70 from me in only a few minutes. I gave up on it very quickly.
Eating was another story. We’d heard of The Wynn’s buffet restaurant called… well, “The Buffet.” It was pricey, but worth it. There’s a line out the door, but we learned that our “red card” room key also granted us special access all over the hotel, including being allowed to cut to the front of the line basically anywhere! We went for brunch Saturday morning. I’d never seen anything like it. This buffet was simply huge. We’re talking Asian, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Mediterranean, pizza, succotash, and a sweet pea truffle oil and Parmesan risotto that was incredible. But I haven’t even mentioned the actual brunch part yet. If anyone has ever thought of eating it for breakfast, they have it at The Buffet. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt, granola, gourmet cheeses, bagels, a salad bar, fruit of all kinds (grapefruit with brown sugar and mint!). That’s just what I can remember now. There were hundreds of dishes. Still hungry? Then head to the dessert section where it’s still all-you-can-eat… red velvet cupcakes, warm brownies, candied apples, tiramisu, rice crispy treats, bread pudding, key lime shots, cream puffs, ice cream, a made-to-order crepe station, and tons more I’m forgetting. Even vegan cookies (which reminds me that vegan and vegetarian options were pointed out everywhere we ate… they really go the extra mile to serve)! And then of course we went back Sunday morning for brunch again. And when we couldn’t eat anymore, we relaxed outside in the Parasol Lounge by the Lake Of Dreams and watched the fountain.
Needless to say, I wanted to live in that suite and eat that brunch every day forever. But all good things must come to an end. The flight home had no upgrades available, so in-flight movies were a whopping $8! I went without. And as always, it’s a great moment to step off the plane when you’re back in the Bay Area and get that first breath of sweet air. Though I would have liked to have spent another few weeks there to see everything we missed, I guess you need some “normal” life to keep perspective on just how amazing your vacation spot really is. It makes the pampering all the more memorable. And remember kids, ask for upgrades! And it doesn’t hurt if you’re super cute and bat your eyelashes too.
“If you could beat the house, there wouldn’t be a house.”
— Maybelle Carter
If it isn’t already, wouldn’t that title be just a dynamite name for a record store? Yet more wasted genius.
By the way, did you know that you can just like… buy a “dictaphone?” Then you could record whatever you want to wax blanks. I’m sincerely surprised that hasn’t taken off among the hipster crowd.
I’m not so young that I missed vinyl completely, but it was on its way out by the time I hit my teens. The first music I ever bought for myself was a 45rpm of Run-D.M.C. doing “Walk This Way.” They were my first favorite band. True story. I may have had a few other records near that same time, but most of my vinyl memories are tied up with periodically examining the cover art in my parents’ collection. Specifically, I remember the ridiculous pictures in “The Who Sell Out,” the interactive folding art of The Mamas & The Papas reversed “The Papas & The Mamas,” and the mystery of the Thunderball soundtrack. And of course Tom T. Hall’s “Songs Of Fox Hollow.” Sneaky Snake, anyone?
That actually reminds me that I did have some records when I was real little, too. Mostly Disney books with accompanying records (including the very politically incorrect “Brer Rabbit And The Tar Baby“). I also have a vague memory of some record that came on the back of a cereal box. The record itself was blue and square! When you listened to it, it was just some spooky guy telling a story with some sound effects. “On an old dark road, there was a old dark house, and inside the old dark house was an old dark…” and so on, until eventually there’s a chest and inside the chest… “there was… a… THING!!!” And as he screamed that, my childhood buddy Jonah and I would run screaming out of the room! I’d die to track that down and hear it again, but even my considerable web-searching abilities have always come up short. And it’s highly unlikely that record is still among those that my parents kept with theirs. But a girl can dream.
Wow, this is not at all what I intended to write about tonight. My project of cleaning out my old storage unit, started way back in the summer of 2010, has been more or less done for some time now. I plan on writing some kind of wrap up to that in the future, telling what all I found as well as what I discovered about myself, etc. But for right now, I’m going through one of the last straggler boxes and feeling the need to share my findings. In the early 1990’s, as I was suffering through middle school, cassette singles were all the rage. I don’t have to tell you. You were there. But for me, that was a very discrete period of just a couple years before I had money of my own and started buying CDs. So to see my cassette single collection (which I found in storage and am about to lay bare for you) is to have a very candid view into my somewhat embarrassing music taste in those days. Here it is, complete (as far as I know)and unedited, the music I bought in the early 90’s:
2 Pac – I Get Around
A Tribe Called Quest – Award Tour
AC/DC – Money Talks
Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
Ace Of Base – The Sign
All-4-One – So Much In Love
Beck – Loser
Black Sheep – The Choice Is Yours
Body Count – The Winner Loses
C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
Cypress Hill – Insane In The Brain
Das EFX – They Want EFX
Digable Planets – Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)
Dr. Dre – Let Me Ride
Dr. Dre – Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang
DRS – Gangsta Lean
Duice – Dazzey Duks
En Vogue – Free Your Mind
Enya – Book Of Days
Faith No More – Epic
Funkdoobiest – Bow Wow Wow
Gin Blossoms – Hey Jealousy
Green Jellö – Three Little Pigs
House Of Pain – Jump Around
Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
Ice-T – Gotta Lotta Love
Ice Cube – Check Yo Self
Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
Ice Cube – You Know How We Do It
Janet Jackson – Again
Masta Ace Incorporated – Born To Roll
MC Nas-D & DJ Freaky Fred – Gold Diggin’ Girls
MC Serch – Here It Comes
Meatloaf – I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
Megadeth – Symphony Of Destruction
Morrissey – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get*
Naughty By Nature – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
Naughty By Nature – Hip Hop Hooray
Naughty By Nature – O.P.P.
Nivana – Lithium
Paperboy – Ditty
Positive K – I Got A Man
The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge
Shai – Together Forever
Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back
Snow – Informer
Spin Doctors – Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
Tag Team – Whoomp! There It Is
Tony Toni Tone – If I Had No Loot
Ugly Kid Joe – Everything About You
Warren G. & Nate Dogg – Regulate
Wreckx-N-Effect – Rump Shaker
* This was in fact my first exposure to anything Morrissey or Smiths, and it remains my favorite Moz solo song. I have a distinct memory of seeing this video and being conflicted about it. Being so afraid of how much it moved me that I almost needed to deny it even to myself. I had this single and listened to it a lot. But I never told my friends I had it or liked it. It wasn’t until after high school when I heard The Smiths and fell in love with them that I made the connection back to 1994.
And for completeness’ sake, here are the full albums I had (some of which I must have lifted from my parents and/or sister):
AC/DC – Back In Black
AC/DC – Let There Be Rock
AC/DC – Who Made Who
Beastie Boys – License To Ill
Body Count – Cop Killer
Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It
Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
Mystic Music Presents: Instrumental Magic(See, I’ve always been way into instrumentals!)
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black
Public Enemy – Greatest Misses
Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.
Run-D.M.C. – King Of Rock
Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell
Run-D.M.C. – Tougher Than Leather
Tom Tom Club – Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom
Urban Dance Squad – Mental Floss For The Globe
The Who – Tommy
Some 70’s funk compilation with Gap Band and the like.
Various mixtapes, mostly from my sister, including Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Scorpions, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Too Short, and ZZ Top.
Funny to see all this stuff again. And now that it’s all documented and catalogued, I can get rid of it. (Well, except the Morrissey one.) Now the question is: what on earth to do with it? Does anyone even take donated cassette singles anymore? Or is this all destined for landfill?
Well friends… I see that it’s been about two months since my last post. You might be wondering what gives. I could tell you that I’ve been super busy with work and two bands and shows happening and more coming. And all the while, my house is a mess and has needed to be cleaned for weeks. And that’s all true. But you’d think I could have found some time to sit for an hour and write this in a span of two whole months. And yet, I didn’t. Have I lost my zest for blogging? It could very well be. Whatever it was that used to drive me to want to document my current events and be clever… somehow it’s not driving me anymore. I could have filled a dozen blogs with all that’s happened lately. Instead, you’ll get the short, short version. And I will have forgotten some things by now. I feel like I should be sad that this thing might be winding down. Maybe temporarily, maybe forever. But it’s just not sustainable. Should I expect to have time to blog every week the rest of my life? And if I don’t, will my memories fade away because I didn’t record them? And will my progeny someday read this and be disappointed that the blog starts to fall apart here? I don’t know. But I guess I ought to just go with my instincts, and right now my instincts are telling me to hit the high points but not spend too much time on it. Let’s see how that approach works out for us…
So last time, I mentioned that I was about to embark on digitizing my music collection. Well I’m off and running, and it’s going even better than I hoped. Sure, it’s taking a lot of time and will probably take several more months. And sure, this pursuit has put a halt on my MySpace archiving project. But it’s what I’m motivated to do at the moment, so I’m going with it. Apparently the legality/morality of keeping a digital copy and selling the original is up for debate, so with that in mind, of course I’m only selling the things I’m not keeping a digital copy of. And I keep an eye out on Amazon to see what’s out of print and going for a high price, and I’m keeping that stuff for now. But hypothetically if everything else were to go to Amoeba, an estimated 30% of my collection I’ve gone through so far would have hypothetically netted about $750 in store credit! Using what credit I actually have gotten, I’ve picked up (often used) CDs and artists I’d been waiting on. My OCD about CD collecting often kept me from buying collections that were not definitive on their own, but with my new digital approach, I have no problem what collection(s) the songs came from, as for all my purposes, they all live in the same digital bucket. And having it all digital and organized and at my fingertips is bringing me way more in touch with my collection. I’m listening to stuff I forgot I had. This whole thing is a win/win… win/win/win/win…
Despite my busy schedule lately, I have managed to squeeze in some time with friends. Back to the Haight with Shel like the good old days. There’s a Dr. Marten’s store there now that sells all manner of Docs… gold, white, powder blue. If they were something non-leather, I’d be broke from all the shoes I’d have bought there. Even caught some movies (Insidious scared the piss out of me for days!). And I’ve managed to hit a few Smiths nights, a Haight Street Hop, and Booze, Broads, & Hotrods. That’s actually not a bad list. Now mellow out, watch this, and realize the we’re really all just clinging to a speck of dust floating through the cosmos…
I’ve been to a couple of great shows lately. OMD with a bunch of good friends, and then Paul Simon at The Fillmore with mom. The latter was a pretty special show as you might imagine. I got the tix at face value the day they went on sale (thanks to Sus), but they were fetching upwards of $500 each on Craig’s List. It was nice to be able to go to a show with mom. Reminded me of doing that when I was little. I think my first concert ever was Don Henley with her on the “End Of The Innocence” tour. Coming up soon is Bootsy Collins at The Fillmore, and Reverend Horton Heat at The Independent. 2011 has been good for shows so far.
And it hasn’t been bad for TCB lately either. There was a wild night playing that Smiths night at Milk Bar in San Francisco. Though it’s a smaller place and the rain was pouring, we got a nice big crowd of die-hards who helped make the night one of our best in recent memory. Some good greenroom stories, too. Sacramento was fun as usual, and our Petaluma debut was interesting. That night, I heard about how Tenacious D once opened for Super Diamond, and a young Jack Black was all over the band talking about his Neil Diamond obsession. Not long after, Saving Silverman came out, which prominently features a fictional Neil Diamond tribute band. Gee, I wonder where that idea came from… Then this last weekend was a Modesto debut (the highlight of which had to be the DJ starting a song through the PA during one of our songs; not between songs, and not our first or last song… but right in the middle of a song right in the middle of our set). Then it was Fresnope, and though the show was rocking, the next day brought me a double whammy of 1) Claim Jumper being closed permanently and 2) my car getting hit by a U-Haul just before leaving town. But hell, I’m alive, aren’t I? Guess things aren’t that bad.
Speaking of music, a random bitch I’ve had on my mind lately. Anyone know what’s up with the trend of musicians naming themselves with numbers? I don’t know who the first one to do it was, but that was probably clever at the time. But everyone who came after… I mean, how lame is that? After the first guy, it totally loses its cleverness and instead looks like an unoriginal gimmick. John 5, Adam 12, Nick 13. At least come up with a clever one like “Claude 9.” You’re welcome.
The quote of the week comes from Virgil, as we watched Davy Jones on Pirates Of The Caribbean in a Fresno hotel last weekend:
This week’s all about music. And a little about pasta.
So as I mentioned before, after more years if frustration than I care to remember, I finally have an original project off the ground. My new rockabilly band The Rumble Strippers has now played two shows! The debut was at Grant & Green in North Beach. I’d never been there, but it was an ideal place for a first show. A small room, low pressure, but still nice. The DIY sound situation was refreshing too. (We’re not in Kansas anymore!) We got a lot of great feedback, and I immediately felt the difference. There seem to be different standards (and of course expectations) for an original band versus a tribute band. I loved the feeling that there were no wrong answers. TCB is like a math class, where there are right and wrong answers. Every note of every song is predetermined, and there is a correct way to play it. Crowds won’t like it if you deviate too much. But this new band is more like a creative writing class. Sure there’s a craft to it, but there’s also a lot of leeway in terms of content. With covers, we can take any artistic license we want, and with originals… well whatever note I play is the right note.
This last weekend we played our second show at El Rio, this time to a much bigger crowd. Again it went over well, and my own private victory was that for the first time ever, a song I wrote was performed in public! It’s called “Let’s Drink Alone Together” and damned if people weren’t dancing to it. A new experience for me to be sure, and one I’ve spent many years considering. So all in all, this thing is shaping up to be pretty exciting. It’s not exactly Madison Square Garden, but it’s fun to be in and play to a different crowd. They’re more forgiving and encouraging than I’m used to. But that must partially be ‘cos they don’t know what to expect. It’s interesting to not be 100% confident my every note is knocking socks off… which is how I usually feel (courtesy of Mr. Marr, of course).
Of course TCB is still doing its thing. We’ve had a lot of shows lately, but it’s been mostly “all killer, no filler” shows where we more or less have to play the hits. But it got us into Bimbo’s 365 again and hopefully got us on a few new radars. It’s all been smooth sailing of course, minus a rare capo flub on “Stop Me” causing us to have to restart the song. (Whoa, double intro… what does it mean?) Needless to say I’m looking forward to the upcoming shows where we can play some of the deeper cuts. This Saturday is the new “Queen Is Dead” Smiths night in the Haight, where we’ll be playing a set. Then April and May will see some new places and some familiar ones. Might even get “Golden Lights” in there somewhere. And then there’s Moz’s birthday to look forward to…
Last night I went out to Du Nord to see rival tribute “The Smiths Indeed” from the U.K. I’m sure they’re very nice guys, but let’s just say they’re not much of a threat to what we do. Their fake Morrissey is far and away the best I’ve ever seen in terms of dress and dance and charisma. If you want someone who does the whole impersonator thing, you’ll do no better than this guy. But as for the rest of the band… well, no contest. I understand they play several dates a week every week and have for years. It was not evident. The surprise of the night came when I snuck over to the Castro Safeway to stock up on Ovaltine ($20 worth; my local Safeway has stopped carrying it during their construction!). In line right in front of me at midnight? Danny Glover.
Speaking of celebrities, did I ever tell you how much I wish I were Mick Ronson sometimes?
What else is going on? Eh, all boring stuff. I ventured into cooking. Whipped up some whole wheat penne and added pine nuts, crushed garlic, sun dried tomatoes, capers, olive oil, basil, and feta. Wasn’t as good as it sounds, but it’s a start. Also, it’s been freezing in SF the past couple months. I guess they call that “winter,” but it’s seemed especially uncomfortable. I installed my first set of flannel sheets since I was a teenager living at home. What a difference! If that’s not right bitches, I don’t know what is.
I’m about to embark on a serious undertaking. Inspired by Shel, I am taking small steps toward digitizing my music collection to FLAC in an effort to 1) save space, 2) save money, 3) go green, and 4) become more efficient. A lossless digital song file is 99.9% of the value I get out of buying a CD. Why waste all the plastic which will just take up space and degrade over time anyway? And hell, the time when CDs have any value at all is rapidly running out. If I don’t move them soon, they’ll be landfill. A couple of redundant external hard drives and I could have my whole music collection in a space the size of a paperback novel. I’m on the fence, but I’m seeing a lot more pros than cons. The major con is the time and effort to convert it all, but maybe a little at a time over the next year or so?
I realize a lot of what’s in here tonight is Facebook rehash. What can I say? Facebook feels fleeting. Statuses come and go. Disappear forever. This feels more permanent. Even though no one reads it anymore.
It may not surprise you to know that there are some big Indiana Jones fans out there, and one of them has quite a collection of props going. Among them is a series of replicas of the Aztec idol from Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
I’ll just say it. I want one of these idols (and a stand) for my desk at work. Now ideally, I’d have a dark office at the end of a long hall to go with it, but sadly, I do not. I just think it would be funny to have that on my desk all the time, but then never really acknowledge it. You know, talk to people as if there weren’t this giant golden fertility idol sitting there. Offer them no explanation for it. I guess I don’t really have enough foot traffic of new people though to put it to good use, and most of the folks at my work probably wouldn’t get it anyway. Which is too bad, because what a great prank it would be to come in one morning to find it replaced with a sack of sand.
It seems like these days video games are a more socially acceptable entertainment choice than ever before, even for adults. Now of course growing up when and where I did, I played a ton of games in arcades and eventually Nintendo, Sega, PC, etc. Make no mistake, I was way into it when I was little. But I can’t remember the last time I had a bunch of free hours to kill playing a Playstation. I mean, my days and nights are jam packed with other commitments, and I thought that was pretty normal for adults. Who are all these people with tons of time to play? How do they ever find the time?
I saw in recent months that Red Dead Redemption has been released. It’s the highly-anticipated follow up to the last game that I really got hooked on back around 2004: Red Dead Revolver. In honor of this new sequel that I don’t have the time to buy and play, I thought I’d run down some of the notable games that hooked me over the years. I will confess though that with this new PC, I did carve out a couple hours to install and play Hitman: Blood Money, which came out in 2006. With this new hardware, I was able to run the game with all the graphics options maxed out, and it ran without a hitch. I only had time to play a couple levels, but wow… I really missed out back then. My old machine would barely run this thing. With this suped up 2011 PC, the visuals were stunning! And again, this is a game from five years ago. It makes me wonder in the last half decade how much more incredible games have gotten… and I’m not sure I want to find out.
I’m about to geek out on video games as I never have and never will again. If there were a way to block girls from ever reading this post, I would invoke it. I’ll do my best not to just list every game I ever played, meaning I’ll attempt to focus on just the ones that really impacted me in terms of my creative development and even just the time and financial investment. Before I proceed, big ups to San Jose’s “Aladdin’s Castle,” Pleasanton’s “Game Station,” and the many pizza parlors, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and 7-11s that I frequented in my youth. In those days, my friends and I kept close track of what arcade games were where. These days, I just watch a YouTube video of the walkthrough of an entire game and I’m just as happy. And finally, check out the KLOV for details on pretty much any game ever made.
Scroll down for the simple top 10 list (top 1010?), but for those of you who care to come along for the whole journey, here’s a brief-ish history.
In The Beginning… My earliest video game memory is of the Atari 400. It had a keyboard built in so as to allow some primitive form of word processing, and there was even something music-related with a cassette tape peripheral. The salesman had told my dad that it was “the last computer [he’d] ever need.” Not quite, I guess. But these were the earliest of games. We were rocking the classics like Pac-Man, Centipede, Joust, Frogger, Space Invaders, Pole Position, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, and Missile Command. I also recall Jungle Hunt, a billiards game called Rack ‘em Up, some mission-to-Mars something or other, and some kind of fifteen puzzle game I can no longer remember. Oh, and of course Krazy Shoot-Out! This was the game where my dad famously pranked the family by recording himself playing very well on the new VCR (also a marvel at the time), then had me pretend to be playing while his recording played. “OMG, everyone look how good Benji is playing!” OK, I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “OMG,” but the rest happened.
Somewhere in the mid-eighties, we got our first “real” home computer of the Amiga variety. I don’t guess I know how you’d classify it in modern computing terms, but I suppose Amiga had their own OS. The peripherals were what you know and love. A monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a floppy drive. It had a real word processor, some basic midi, a program that would “speak” whatever you typed, and Deluxe Paint (think ancient Photoshop). As far as games went, there were some notables. Marble Madness comes to mind. Battle Chess of course! Temple Of Apshai, Barbarian(whoa!), Roadwar 2000, Arctic Fox, Bomb Jack (which I have a vague recollection of winning at school?), some flight simulator, and one of the first text/graphic adventures games — which I was too young to win, but would recognize and admonish you for entering cuss words. And around this time in school we were playing the famous Oregon Trail and Odell Lake on Apples.
My So-Called Life
In my teen years, I got into the Sega family. Those systems came and went so fast, they kinda blur together for me. I know for sure it was the Genesis that had the original Sonic The Hedgehog, as well as a ton of amazing sports games that happen to hit me right in those early nineties years when I was actually into sports (such as R.B.I. ’93, and the many EA series like Madden Football, NHL Hockey, and several basketball games based on Lakers vs. Celtics… gotta love those signature dunks!). At some point, the Sega CD came out, followed by the Saturn, and eventually the Dreamcast. I had all of them, and I can’t recall for certain which games were on which systems as it all bleeds together in hazy memories of my dusty bedroom at the family home in the East Bay. But one of the favorites that strikes me first is the second Eternal Champions, full of time travelling historical figures, fighting and killing each other using elements of the backdrop. My sister and I found rare common ground with our love of The Horde, featuring Kirk Cameron! Then the peerless zombie shooter House Of The Dead, which I fondly recall having two controllers for and starting up players 1 and 2 and going John Woo style. (P.S. Just so you know, 1:06 is how you handle a zombie. Owned.) I remember Jared and I used to play this amazing basketball game (NBA 2k1) where you could create your own players. Of course mine was a 7’6″ white guy with an afro, star-shaped sunglasses, short shorts, and knee-high socks. He could dunk without hardly jumping. Jared’s guy was more true to life height, but he’d sink half court threes all the time. Which brings me to a couple of killers: the Virtua Fighter series and the Soulcalibur series. Those series both spanned into the PS3 world, and spoiler alert: they’re both in my top 10, so more on them below.
During this time, I should mention I had my stint working at Blockbuster, and so I had many, many late nights after closing playing Twisted Metal at Donnie’s house, and later GoldenEye in the manager’s office with The Horsemen.
So then I finally broke down and got the PlayStation 2 everyone was raving about. It didn’t disappoint. In addition to introducing me formally to the Tekken series, it brought another pair of my top 10s into my life: Gladius and Red Dead Revolver. There was also a cool WWF game that let me build my own wrestler and furnish him, of course, with the camel clutch… which I believe at the time I dubbed “the Ugly Clutch.”
Keeping It PC
After the Amiga days, my family got into Windows 3.1, and then when I started buying my own computers, it was Windows 98, then XP, and now Windows 7. People bitch about Microsoft (“where quality is job 1.1″ ha ha!), but I’ve generally been happy with their products. I don’t want to get sidetracked with this, but besides my short love affair with HyperCard on the school-owned Macs in middle school, I’ve never cared for Apples, much less owned one. To me, they’re computers that assume the user is completely non-technical and shouldn’t be allowed to tweak anything. And if that suits you, then great, but it comes across like Fisher-Price to me. I digress. My point was that PC games deserve their own category, though chronologically speaking, it spans from around 1990 to present day. The first PC game I remember being enamoured with was the first (and later second) of the Monkey Island series. Similar to this (and created by the same company, LucasArts) was the excellent Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis. All of these LucasArts adventure games were done with such class and quality, you just can’t find a fault with them. Every little detail is perfect. (Incidentally, LucasArts was also responsible for PS2’s Gladius, mentioned above and below.) Sierra made their share of great adventure games of this style too, and while they weren’t quite as polished, they were still a lot of fun. There was the famously sleazy Leisure Suit Larry series, as well as Police Quest and the masterful King’s Quest VI.
There was SimCity, which later spawned The Sims — being a ridiculous game in which you dress and design virtual people and houses and then tell them when to eat and poop. Jessica and I shared an obsession with it in 2002, even mimicking their language, and I believe my Sim Benjamin cheated on her Sim Jessica with Sim Morrissey. For a few years, I got into first-person shooters like Doom and Hexen, then later had my one and only foray into online gaming with Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Later came the Hitman series, which was way up my alley. I confess I did play the geeky Vampire Masquerade game for a while, which I maintain was awesome. There were some crazy driving games like Carmageddon, where you would race, demolition derby, and annihilate pedestrians all at once. Or Interstate ’76, a hilarious and cinematic take on doing battle… in muscle cars… in the desert… in 1976. (Someone posted all the cutscenes back-to-back here: parts one, two, and three.)
Insert Witty “Arcade Fire” Pun — Which I Am Too Tired To Think Of
Also deserving of its own category, all video game obsession in the eighties and nineties started with whatever was new at the local arcade. In fact some of the titles already mentioned first landed on my radar in the arcade. And some of the ones I’m about to talk about I also had in some form at home. And hell, these days an enterprising PC user can find “free” emulators like MAME to get hundreds of old arcade games working on your computer. But I don’t even know where to start here. I mean, there were so many I played over they years. Maybe I’ll group them by theme?
Side-scrolling fighting games — also known as “beat ‘em ups” — were the real bread and butter of my young arcade-going life. Double Dragon was probably the earliest as well as the gold standard. Other great titles like Crime Fighters and Final Fight followed this format, as did several lesser ones like Bad Dudes and Two Crude (though it was fun to throw cars and beat up a soda machine for more energy). Once you start throwing swords and magical powers into the equation, you get Altered Beast (rise from your grave!) and Strider. There was that Indiana Jones game too that covered all the coolest parts of the Temple Of Doom movie. Awesome ninja games like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden (which spawned a Nintendo game I forgot to mention earlier; its intro sequence still haunts me to this day). TMNT had a well made arcade game similar in style to The Simpsons. Another fave was the Splatterhouse series which essentially let you take on the role of Jason from Friday The 13th. Then the barbarian movie trend of the eighties no doubt influenced the creation of games like Gauntlet (wizard needs food badly… wizard is about to die… you are it!), Gauntlet Legends, and the Golden Axe series (of which The Revenge Of Death Adder was the crown jewel). When it came to side-scrolling shooters, there were dozens more. Most etched into my memory are Rolling Thunder, NARC, Sunset Riders, and ESWAT.
Arcade driving and racing games weren’t usually my thing, but there were a few notable exceptions. I think the earliest one I liked was the classic Spy Hunter, famously featuring the Peter Gunn theme. I remember Super Off Road a little, and have a similarly vague memory of racing my sister on Toobin’. Later in life I found love for them though, while peeling out in a ’56 Chevy in Cruis’n World and going nuts in Crazy Taxi. I could even appreciate the amout of environmental controller feedback in the choppy waters of Hydro Thunder.
I was only really into sports for a few years in the early nineties, and frankly it took the form of video games and baseball cards more than it did actually playing the sports. But in those days, besides the sports games on home consoles I already mentioned, I was all about NBA Jam. The cartoonish format and ridiculous dunks emphasized everything I liked about the sport. Prior to that, I enjoyed the medieval football brawl of Pigskin and the skateboarding classic 720° (skate or die!). The best wrestling games ever (WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest) were found in arcades in those days, helping to feed my insane childhood wrestling fandom. And then of course the blockbuster Punch-Out (which had a long life on Nintendo as well).
My final days in the arcade were centered around one-on-one type fighting games. There are a couple of “kings” of this genre back in the golden age. The first was Street Fighter II which really did seem to revolutionize gaming and spawn dozens (if not hundreds) of imitators. It wasn’t the first game to use that format, but it was the slickest and most sophisticated by leaps and bounds. The same company (Capcom) produced another of my favorite series (just barely missing my top 10) called “Darkstalkers.” It was basically the SFII format, but with better art and animation, more in-depth backdrops and characters, and of course… they were all monsters (vampires, werewolves, mummies, etc.). This was one of several games Jared and I were very competitive with each other on. Along these same lines were the later Marvel vs. Capcom games, which brought a ton of Marvel Comics characters into the world of 2D fighting, against various characters in the Capcom universe. Just before SFII hit the scene in 1991, it was actually Pit-Fighter that first caught my eye. It used digitized pictures, and while it was a little clunky, it gave rise to the second “king” of early fighting games: Mortal Kombat. The first and second games in that series were hugely influential and controversial, if you recall (FINISH HIM!). The SNK/Neo-Geo company got in the mix throughout the nineties. They were mostly known for their several SFII also-rans like the Fatal Fury series, but they hit a high point there with the King Of Fighters series, bringing together characters from many games in the SNK universe. Their ultimate achievement in my eyes though is far and away the Samurai Showdown series, which is on my top 10 below. Their attempts to capture that magic again with the Last Blade series were also admirable. There were many, many other similar fighting games over the years that held my fancy for a few weeks. Some silly, some pretty good. But far too many to research or mention. The whole decade was dominated by these games.
A few final and meaningful standards that don’t fit in anywhere else… Paperboy (where yes, you were actually a paperboy) was hard as hell to control, and it had an infectious theme song. Another vocational was the ancient table top game Tapper, which serves me often as a metaphor when I’m describing my life. Rampage put you in the shoes of Godzilla, King Kong, or a giant wolf… and then let you tear apart city after city. And finally, one of the most recognizable early arcade hits: the controllable cartoon known as Dragon’s Lair.
The Top 10 And after all that, I just know I’m forgetting dozens of great games. I’ll probably be coming back to update this posting for weeks as I randomly remember more. It’s so hard to even settle on 10, because at one time, I had a minor obsession with each of the games described above. Way more than 10 of them. I thought about them a lot. I daydreamed about them. I coveted codes for them, and watched gaming magazines to find out about new discoveries and sequels and strategy guides for them. A lot of my young time and thought spent, now just reduced to a hyperlink somewhere in the last several paragraphs. I can still remember the magic of seeing a new game in the local arcade, pushing the envelope of graphical capabilities, and watching the demo reel over and over. And begging mom and dad for quarters. *sigh* So here they are in rough chronological order… the games I miss, my favorites of all time:
I think I first saw The Secret Of Monkey Island as a playable demo at a Circuit City or something. Later I found my friend Jonah had it, and I played it a while at his house. One day I got a copy for myself, as well as Monkey Island 2 .It’s not like I wasn’t ever captivated by a game before this one, but this is the first one that I can remember felt magical even beyond just the novelty aspect which I think drove me on those early arcade games. I discussed the magic a little on #10 on my last Christmas list, and I did end up getting them for myself. But I have yet to actually install and play them because who has the time?
Street Fighter II
As I mentioned, SFII revolutionized gaming, and I definitely drank the Kool-Aid for that one. I learned all teh moves for all the characters, learned their backgrounds, competed in the local arcades and convenience stores. I’d have to say that it’s actually Street Fighter III and its variations that were my favorite, particularly with the much smoother graphics and weirder characters. (Dudley would easily make my list of favorite game characters of all time.) Though maybe that’s all revisionist history, as I was never really obsessed with the third one the way I was with the second.
Mortal Kombat Kind of simultaneously with SFII, I began my obsession with Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. I was so into every character, every move, every secret in the game. I lived and breathed it for a while. I played with G.I. Joes as though they were characters from the game. I played it until I was somewhat competitive. The later games in the series looked neat enough, and maybe it was just my age, but after part II, my interest waned considerably.
As I was getting into martial arts in real life in the mid nineties, my interest in the associated weaponry expanded. It was right about this time that I discovered the first in the Samurai Showdown series. When the Samurai Showdown II came out, it was phenomenal. I was all about it, and got to be relatively competitive with it. The later games in the series were not common in local arcades, but over the years I’ve discovered that they are “available” via emulators. The graphics improved each time, and I guess now they’re up to part VI. I need to get on that.
Virtua Fighter 3
When the first Virtua Fighter arrived, it was ugly. But it was something new: a completely 3-D game. I played it a little, but it wasn’t until Virtua Fighter 2 came out that I went nuts with it. Aside from poring over every move and graphic, I got good at this game. Really good. I would posit that playing as “Kage” on Virtua Fighter 2 was the best I’ve ever been at any video game. VF3 made another leap in graphics and interactive backdrops and was probably my favorite of the series, and though I was great at it too, I never dominated to quite the extent I did on part 2. There have been several more sequels in this series, but I have failed to follow them.
Half-Life / Counter-Strike
OK, I’m cheating by putting Half-Life and Counter-Strike together here, but they’re closely related. I first discovered Half-Life in my interning days around 1999 I think. Some of the guys I worked with were way into it, and they got me hooked too. We’d play competitively long nights in the lab there. I learned to camp. I learned about snarks. We downloaded skins like Party Bear, which you had to wear as punishment for various things. We madecustom tags to spray all over the maps. We spliced Tommy Boy quotes (“Bees! Bees! Bees in the car! Bees everywhere! God, they’re huge and they’re sting crazy! They’re ripping my flesh off! Run away, your firearms are useless against them!”) into the game to play whenever you got hit with the hivehand. We replaced the remote bomb skin with the healthpack skin. (“Hey, how come I can’t pick up this healthpack!?” BOOM!). Yeah, it was a fun little cult we had going for a while there. Later, Counter-Strike came along which I played more from home. Jared got in on it, too. We had a lame little clan. I never was great, but I was decent. My best score ever was 64 and 11, just before we went to Ireland. Yes, I wrote it down and have been waiting for an excuse to document it somewhere so I don’t have to keep track of it anymore. Yes, I was a secret nerd.
The Hitman series… what can I say. Sneak around, trying to off people in exotic ways and places? Like consulting, but with a silenced pistol. Me gusta. I can’t pick just one. I love them all.
Soulcalibur Soulcalibur was another 3-D fighting game series, like Virtua Fighter but with swords. The first two or three of them I played with Jared, Dad, and a few other friends, and I think that next to Kage on Virtua Fighter, my Cervantes on Soulcaliburs I, II, and III is my most formidable showing on a game, competitively speaking. I could whup some monkey ass with those two swords. This fact made its way into inside jokes like “going Sosa-vantes” when swinging my Wiffle ball bats around, or “going Lipton-vantes” when threatening to teabag someone. And my Astaroth wasn’t bad either. The games were not as sophisticated as Virtua Fighter, but they were definitely epic.
Another fine showing by LucasArts, Gladius was an amazing and tragically overlooked gladiator-themed tactical RPG. It being from LucasArts, every little detail was attended to. The artwork, the characters, the gameplay… nothing lacked depth. It almost touched the level of Monkey Island in terms of immersion, and that’s saying something. At the very least, it remains the best gladiator game ever produced, and I don’t dare plug it in anymore lest I lose another several weeks of my life. It swallowed up my dad for a while too.
Red Dead Revolver
Now we come full circle. The last game that got a hold of me was one I ran across by accident. It wasn’t hyped too much, and it was long after I paid any attention to gaming magazines or websites. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about Red Dead Revolver, but it might be on my top 5 ever. Or even top 3. It’s made by the same guys that brought you Grand Theft Auto (which I’ve never played), but it is instead a spaghetti western. And boy did they do it right. The plot and characters, the backgrounds and weapons, all perfect recreations of spaghetti flicks. The music was breathtaking, culled from real soundtracks (and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I tracked down every one of those hard-to-find Italian soundtracks and built my spaghetti music collection on it; I am less ashamed to admit it had a hand in me trying to start a spaghetti wester band a few years ago). Even the screen flickers and blurs like an old film. It feels like you’re in a movie! I regret that I don’t have the time to jump into the new sequel and all of its expansion packs. If it were 10 years ago, I’d be all over it.
After looking at everything I just wrote… holy shit, I played a lot of video games in my life. And these are just the ones I played often! God knows how many more there’d be if I were just trying to name everything I could remember. What possessed me to even write all this out? Pointless reminiscing about silly things. It’s a sickness, what can I tell you? Perhaps I should have spent this time playing Hitman instead of blogging…
Did you see that Gibson is finally releasing a Marc Bolan Les Paul? At first I thought, “great, something else I gotta buy.” But after seeing its $5,000+ price tag… uh… no thanks. But hell, even for my somewhat unusual tastes in guitarists, this means my top three favorite players all have signature models. Reverend Horton Heat has had his G6120RHH signature Gretsch for a few years now, and Johnny Marr has a signature Fender Jaguar in the works (which I actually will buy). Does this mean I’m like… mainstream?
Back to the lecture at hand. So my rockabilly band finally has a name and is ready to launch. We are “The Rumble Strippers,” and you can find us here and eventually here. All girls ‘cept me. We’ve got a jazzy singer, a bull fiddlist, and a spunky drummer. I’m playing guitar and writing (in theory). It’s wide open though. Maybe someday I’ll sing a little. As we get rolling, we’re still working out a logo and all the housekeeping type stuff. We’ve got a couple originals, but until we’ve built that up a bit, it’s mostly covers. Old Elvis. I’ve snuck some Link Wray in there. The goal is definitely not to be a cover band though. I’m looking forward to a new band experience. There will be no standing on the shoulders of The Smiths. No built-in audience. It’s gonna be starting from the ground floor again and playing tiny places, opening for other bands on ridiculously large bills, etc. You know, stuff normal bands are supposed to go through. I was fortunate enough to skip most of that with TCB’s big success, but now I’m ready to give toiling a try. We’ve got a couple of shows on the books including our quiet debut at Grant & Green in North Beach next Wednesday (2/16).
I’m happy with my new guitar tone. I’m happy to have the chance to redefine my role in a band. To make it what I want. I’m happy to have a chance to stretch myself and be creative and spend more time deveolping a different style of playing. No set expectations, but no limits either. It can be as amazing or as crappy as I choose. It’s all about how much time and effort I want to dedicate to it. Something new. And like I said, I’m all too happy to just be a tiny little bar band for now. Test the waters quietly with no pressure to hit a homerun every time. And depending how it pans out… maybe go balls out with it later. We shall see.
Wouldn’t that be great on a t-shirt? I’d wear that to shows all the time.
It’s been an interesting few weeks, and I am overdue for some quiet time. TCB played a sold out show at The Blank and then turned around to play to 350+ at Rickshaw. There were a ton of friends at both, to the point where at Rickshaw it almost seemed like I knew everyone in the room. Good times. A new Smiths night also started up in the Haight called “The Queen Is Dead,” and it seems to be taking the place of the former “Louder Than Bombs” club night. I went to this last one, and it was tremendous. You’ll be hearing more about it soon. Viva Haight!
Somewhere in all that mess, I snuck away for a short L.A. vacation to see Wanda Jackson and Jack White play the El Rey. It’s a tiny place (explaining why tickets were so hard to come by). Once we staked out a killer spot, we didn’t move around until it was time to leave. We stood next to a nice couple of locals who took brought their teens to the show. Total rock and roll parents. We chatted with them for a bit until the show started. Wanda sounded great, the band was top notch, and Jack was appropriately featured without taking anything away from Wanda. The two of them had a fun chemistry on stage that seemed genuine. And as expected, the high profile show in such a small venue attracted some celebs. In the crowd, we saw Patricia Heaton and Alan Tudyk, and it sounds like Nick recognized Beck, Josh Homme, Clem Burke, Pamela Des Barres, and James Intveld. Looks like someone posted a few songs from that show:
Other highlights of the trip included my first visit to Medieval Times, which was a total hoot and highly recommended if you’ve never been. Basically, it’s a decent prix fixe menu that you eat while jammed together in a small indoor stadium. You wear a paper crown and root for one of the pretend knights that battle it out in the arena. Obviously a kids / family vacation type attraction, but whatevs. At some point, I got in some Claim Jumper too. A waitress there came by our table to compliment our “look” and as us about rockabilly. Turns out she was from Chicago and also happened to be black, so I took the opportunity to in turn ask about the fashion I noticed on a lot of young black girls in Chicago (see #4 here). She confirmed that it’s generally referred to as the “Motown” look, and it’s quite popular there. I wish that would catch on around here!
Incidentally, I’m typing this on my new computer, which I spent the better part of this last weekend getting up and running. See, I’d been hobbling along on the same machine that crashed on me not once, but twice for the last seven or so years. Just the same, the idea of moving to a new one… learning a new operating system, reinstalling all my old software (if it even still works), moving over all my stuff, getting everything reconfigured and set up just so… well, it’s a headache I was all too happy to postpone. But rather than wait for a third crash, I figured I’d take the bull by the horns and at least do it on my own terms. After hours of frustration and exploration, the pain is mostly behind me, and I can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that this screaming fast new PC should last me another several years. Despite the once-a-decade hassle of reconfiguring and relearning where everything is in a new OS, I gotta admit that Windows 7 has some pretty slick UI features. (Any idea what to do with my old machine running XP?) And then I also finished a brand new pedal board for my new rockabilly band. Which involved drilling actual metal! And like, wiring stuff. ‘Cos that’s what men do (I’m told). We’ve got a couple of gigs in the next month or so, and I promise to share the info on us as soon as we officially “launch.”
So yeah, that was supposed to be my relaxing weekend to recuperate. I’ll be trying again this weekend.