I’ve been giving a lot of thought to life lately. Asking myself if I’m really making the most of my time on earth, or if I’m mindlessly going with the flow because it’s easy or because I assume I have no other choice. I was reading the April 2012 issue of Guitar Player magazine a while back — bear with me — and the editor (Michael Molenda) offered up a gem, just the latest great quote encouraging us to be present and mindful and take the time to sit down and savor life’s great moments. As he put it, “‘Live every day as if it were your last’ often gets rewritten as ‘Make sure every day is crammed with meaningless, self-important crap that allows you to feel busier and more valuable than the person next to you.’” And that pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling about a lot of the things that I spend my time and energy on. I have this increasing sense that it’s time for some big changes. Some once-every-ten-years kinda changes. That could mean a pretty big shake up. Maui might be one part of it, and just think of all the consequences that might have.
Before I get too deep, how about some more lighthearted updates? I’ve seen some great shows lately. Most astonishing was The Darkness at The Fillmore. That show was jaw-dropping. The ease with which Justin Hawkins seemed to set the stage on fire with his soaring falsetto, acrobatics, and guitar mastery… I mean it was stunning. I saw him drop a plectrum, kick it back up sideways hacky sack style, catch it, and start his solo, all while looking not at all surprised it worked. It is a contender for the best live show I’ve ever seen. Other highlights include Devo (looking very old but not caring… oh, and also sounding amazing), The Buzzcocks, Pulp (another fantastic show), and a one-time reuniting of our old friends Dead Souls. After dragging my feet about it, I finally broke down today and got tickets for Morrissey in Stockton this weekend. Happy birthday, you old diva. You get my money again.
My own music has been good, too. The Rumble Strippers have had a few successful shows and seem to be climbing the ladder a bit. Our name is getting out there. We’re working on new songs. We recorded four songs in an actual studio (which was new to me), including one I wrote. It’s all very promising. And then TCB has an incredible new singer (Michael) who is possibly the best I’ve ever heard outside of Mozzer himself when it comes to those songs. He’s got the moves, the voice, and is a terribly nice person to boot. We’ve got a ton of shows coming up this summer, including trips to Portland, Seattle, and SoCal, and even a date opening for The Polecats. Not to mention the great shows last weekend at Slim’s and The Catalyst! Slim’s had some epic moments like walking on to “Imperfect List,” playing the “Subway Train” intro to “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as well as having David’s help on keys. He also joined us for “Jack The Ripper,” and Nick took on an acoustic guitar for “King Leer” and “Seasick, Yet Still Docked.” We closed with “Now My Heart Is Full,” which Michael ingeniously medley’ed with “I Won’t Share You” and then bowed and walked off while we continued playing. It was perfect. But come to think of it, the last couple months were brutal in terms of shows. I think at one point I had six or seven straight weekends of shows, alternating between TCB and The Rumble Strippers. But I guess that’s a Cadillac worry, as they say.
I had a minor surgery which was new for me as well. No stitches, but dealing with caring for it led me to have my first panic attack in ages. It happened at the hospital. Good times. But at the end of the ordeal, I was left with a better sense of my own resilience and confidence in what I can deal with, and that’s the ultimate antidote for anxiety. Let’s see, what else? Had a fun time at the pinball museum in Alameda thanks to Eden’s surprise party for Margaret. Damn, there was a ton of stuff in past months I never got around to mentioning, including my brief attempts at ice skating and Bikram yoga, as well as ongoing vocal lessons. Then there were two big trips. One was Europe (yes, Europe!), but more on that next time. The other was Viva Las Vegas, which after all these years I finally attended, along with my expert C-Po. I’d intended to write about it last month, but preparing for Europe kept me swamped. I’ll do my best to recall it now…
I’d been waiting to go to Viva since around 2004, but the right situation just never presented itself. C-Po calls it “rockabilly summer camp.” And specifically for vintage-lovin’ girls, it’s the “Fashion Olympics.” Both descriptions are totally accurate, it turns out. We spent most of the time within the Orleans Hotel, as that’s where all the events were anyway. We perused the many, many booths of clothes, jewelry, pomades (where I picked up some Layrite swag), stickers, etc. There was a vegan custom shoe maker from the U.K. that I plan to work with in the future. We gambled and won and then broke even. (Penny slots, dude. It’s the only way to go.) We didn’t stick around for the whole of Elvira’s show, but we caught most of one of Charles Phoenix’s hilariously-narrated slideshows. We took advantage of several free dance lessons, and though I’ve forgotten many of the steps already, I was a damn decent jiver and bopper for a few days there. We skipped the car show due to time constraints, and limited our time at the pool party to a quick walk around it just to get the feel. We took a walk through a fancy mall full of only the highest-end designers’ storefronts. We saw tons of friends and spent a good amount of time with the drummer from Quarter Mile Combo. I heard there were something like 8,500 paid attendees this year. Then there was that damn wristband, pretty and detailed as it was… I did not appreciate having to keep it on 24 hours a day for four days. The “rockabilly summer camp” vibe was really all about all these scene people under one roof, staying in the same hotel as if it were a giant dorm or a sleepover party. And of course everything is open 24 hours a day. Everyone getting all dressed up to be seen each night. It was fun, I can’t deny. And as for that “Fashion Olympics” aspect, I don’t doubt it now. There were countless unique and wonderful outfits. Obviously I don’t know what I’m looking at, but C-Po and her friends all know and recognize who’s bringing it and who’s a poseur. I actually held my own, poseur-wise. You know, part of me was staying away from VLV just to avoid being anonymous in a sea of people who look just like me, and that’s valid. But if I’m being honest with myself, I suppose there was also the fear that I would feel like an imposter among people who are rockabillier than thou. But there was none of that. If anything, I saw more neophytes than veterans, and I felt totally confident and comfortable in my own skin there. It probably helps that I’m old now. In fact, from what I saw, there were lots of badly dressed people, and I looked comparatively great. It was interesting to see all the different directions the neophytes and the veterans alike have taken a relatively small amount of cultural reference and tried to make it look flattering and authentic. What I saw ran the gamut from cherry print everything, to just a flower in the hair, to totally immaculate vintage from head to toe. I saw full-on cat suits, incredible dresses, and even overalls. For the record, I lost track of how many compliments C-Po got on her outfits, from friends and strangers alike. It was an embarrassing amount though, so apparently she really brought it. In terms of this scenester posturing that we’re all guilty of, my favorite moment was in an elevator when a wannabe queen bee — who didn’t know who she was talking to — responded to a casual compliment from C-Po with, “Yeah I don’t know if you know this, but my purse is like super rare. It’s worth like $1300.”
Over the course of the weekend, the dining was hit or miss. Right there in the Orleans, there’s a T.G.I. Friday’s, which disappointed us twice. However, there was a decent Denny’s-esque diner and great Asian place there too. The in-house food court had a Subway and Baskin Robbins, neither of which I took advantage of, but I got the obligatory veggie burger at the Fuddruckers there. Their facade was decorated with jukebox record streamers, a cardboard cut-out of James Dean, and a cringe-worthy banner that read, “Fuddruckers loves rock-a-billy’s. Welcome back!!” There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t even know where to start. We ventured away from the Orleans twice, and it resulted in the best and worst meals of the trip. I’m fairly certain that food poisoning from Garduño’s is what led us to have to stay in sick one night. But then brunch at the Mon Ami Gabi bistro at the Paris was one of the best meals I’ve had all year! Warm brie with black pepper, honey, hazelnuts, and croutons? Crisscut fries with blue cheese dip? Some kind of amazing salad that I can’t remember now? Yes, ma’am. I even did my share of drinking over the weekend, mainly to collect the commemorative mugs, including a boot, a skull, and a bowling pin. I vaguely remember some delicious Sailor Jerry punch.
Music was the main attraction for me, of course. I got to see most everything I intended to. Seeing Duane Eddy and The Ventures in person was definitely something I’m glad to say I did. The “legends” show featuring older stars on the verge of senility was interesting. J.D. McPherson was alright. Saw our friend Irving play in The 454’s. I forget who else now. The highlight was The Polecats, who were just full of energy and sounded great. Awesome to see Boz cutting loose and really playing! We even got to meet him and Tim Polecat after the show! Now with all that went on during the weekend, it’s just impossible to see it all. The bands that — in hindsight — I wish I’d seen include: Si Cranstoun (who is apparently Jackie Wilson-esque and amazing), Voola & The Jayhawks (which are all but a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tribute), Jinx Jones (whom Paul has seen locally and has raved about), and Blind Rage & Violence (a Link Wray tribute). There were tons of other bands too that might have been nice. C-Po knew many of them, but I did not. Seeing the massive list of events for VLV meant seeing a lot of rockabilly band names alongside each other. And that led to some observations, and ultimately to us creating this:
So that was Viva. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year. Which I guess brings us back to the bigger “life” stuff… I didn’t do a “New Year’s” blog this year the way I’ve done in the past, but that’s not because I haven’t been reflecting. As I mentioned, I’m considering some big changes. And I mean big. Virtually no sacred cow is safe. This public forum isn’t really the place for me to get into it, but I’m pondering things. They’re not quite formed into specific resolutions, but instead loosely arranged into areas of my life that are due for an overhaul. A while back at work, it was suggested that each of us take a shot at creating a personal “mission statement” to succinctly sum up what we’re all about. At first, I thought it was kind of a silly exercise, but I admit that when I sat down and really gave it some thought, the end result was pretty valuable. This is what I settled on. My “mission” is:
To search for meaning and understanding, strive for absolute integrity, actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, and do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same.
I wrestled with the precise phrasing of that statement, considering alternatives for nearly every word, and making sure the connotation and message was exactly what I meant to say. Now that was written sometime back in 2011, and though I didn’t intend it, it really fits well as a kind of framework for me to work with as I do some life overhauling to get more aligned with my real goals.
- So to search for meaning and understanding makes me think of Spirit Rock, the Buddhist retreat. I’ve been thinking about doing a week out there for almost a year now, and I just know it would be helpful, but I may have to put it off (depending on my vacation time situation what with Europe burning up two weeks). Spirituality is something that I had a real awakening with while I dealt with anxiety a few years ago, and I know that there would be a tremendous benefit to pursuing it further. I really have to make this happen.
- Then to strive for absolute integrity, that comes naturally to me. It may not surprise you to hear that “Responsibility” was my #1 strength according to StrengthsFinder. It isn’t always a good thing though, as I hold myself to an unrealistic standard sometimes. That’s where the word “strive” comes in. That’s to remind myself that I should shoot for perfection but remember that I am human too. Another big thing for me here is to continue to get comfortable with anger — allowing myself to experience it, express it, and let it go, rather than tamp it down like I’ve done for years. My progress and small victories there have been kind of amazing. To see how fast you can let something go after you express it. It’s still so foreign to me as I’m used to holding it in until it hardens into resentment. There are many great quotes on that subject. Anyhow, I feel like I’m still making slow progress in this area.
- And then to actively recognize and experience as much joy as possible in every moment of my limited time on earth, that’s a loaded one. A lot of key words there. “Actively” because it takes attention and effort to see (or “recognize”) the value in everything you experience. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you view it. Easier said than done, but that is the ultimate power to have in your own life. That’s the ultimate goal. Originally, instead of “recognize,” I was playing with variations of “pursue.” I’m at least putting some of this into action this year by travelling. Already VLV and Europe are behind me. With my remaining vacation time, I still would like to try to pull off Cuba later this year, maybe combined with a Florida manatee stopover. New Orleans is off the table for a number of reasons, but I’ll see it and the G.I. Joe convention eventually, even if they’re not at the same place in the future. I’d like to make time to relax and rest and ponder and redistribute my time based on true enjoyment rather than just trying to use it to efficiently complete and endless list of tasks. I want to feed ducks more. I want to finally get an Ocean Beach bonfire going with friends, and throw more events like that to expand the circle of friends. I want to finish my massive house clean and purge of all non-essential material things. I want to purge non-essential commitments and usages of my free time. I want to do something for a living that excites my passions and feels real. I want to live somewhere (Maui?) that helps me “be here now” rather than silently prods me to work on a to do list. That “be here now,” that idea of mindfulness is the really the key. Pursuing happiness through vacations and simplifying my schedule, it’s certainly a valuable use of my time, but it’s too limiting as an overall goal. It’s not enough just to try to improve what happens to you, because you can’t really control everything that happens to you. Vacations are nice, but no amount of vacations or material things is going to guarantee your happiness. The happiness comes from your mindset. It’s easy to be happy on vacation with your friends, but that’s not where you spend the majority of your life. It’s more important to find how to be happy the rest of the time.
- And finally, to do what I can to protect the right of all living things to do the same. For this one, I struggle. I need to find something meaningful to do here, and if it doesn’t come in the form of a new career in that field, it might at least be some volunteer time. Ideally though, I would do for a living something that leverages my talents towards a noble cause that matters to me and to the world and makes a real difference, rather than just the accumulation of wealth.
So those are the big plans, somewhat mapped to more actionable items. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by day-to-day life and commitments while your big plans… your important plans… your life plans… all stay on the back burner. In some ways, that’s the biggest obstacle. Some of these goals have been on my mind for months with no progress or answers yet, but hell if I’m not trying.
The quote of the week is just a question for you to ponder:
“If your life had its own board of directors, who’d be on it?”