Posts Tagged reflection

Soul Purpose

22 May 2012

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?”

Aloha, Motherfuckers!

5 January 2012

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

Wax Nostalgic

28 September 2011

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:

  1. 2 Pac – I Get Around
  2. A Tribe Called Quest – Award Tour
  3. AC/DC – Money Talks
  4. Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
  5. Ace Of Base – The Sign
  6. All-4-One – So Much In Love
  7. Beck – Loser
  8. Black Sheep – The Choice Is Yours
  9. Body Count – The Winner Loses
  10. C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
  11. Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
  12. Sheryl Crow – All I Wanna Do
  13. Cypress Hill – Insane In The Brain
  14. Das EFX – They Want EFX
  15. Digable Planets – Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)
  16. Dr. Dre – Let Me Ride
  17. Dr. Dre – Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang
  18. DRS – Gangsta Lean
  19. Duice – Dazzey Duks
  20. En Vogue – Free Your Mind
  21. Enya – Book Of Days
  22. Faith No More – Epic
  23. Funkdoobiest – Bow Wow Wow
  24. Gin Blossoms – Hey Jealousy
  25. Green Jellö – Three Little Pigs
  26. House Of Pain – Jump Around
  27. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
  28. Ice-T – Gotta Lotta Love
  29. Ice Cube – Check Yo Self
  30. Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
  31. Ice Cube – You Know How We Do It
  32. Janet Jackson – Again
  33. Masta Ace Incorporated – Born To Roll
  34. MC Nas-D & DJ Freaky Fred – Gold Diggin’ Girls
  35. MC Serch – Here It Comes
  36. Meatloaf – I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
  37. Megadeth – Symphony Of Destruction
  38. Morrissey – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get*
  39. Naughty By Nature – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
  40. Naughty By Nature – Hip Hop Hooray
  41. Naughty By Nature – O.P.P.
  42. Nivana – Lithium
  43. Paperboy – Ditty
  44. Positive K – I Got A Man
  45. The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  46. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze
  47. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge
  48. Shai – Together Forever
  49. Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back
  50. Snow – Informer
  51. Spin Doctors – Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong
  52. Tag Team – Whoomp! There It Is
  53. Tony Toni Tone – If I Had No Loot
  54. Ugly Kid Joe – Everything About You
  55. Warren G. & Nate Dogg – Regulate
  56. 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):

  1. AC/DC – Back In Black
  2. AC/DC – Let There Be Rock
  3. AC/DC – Who Made Who
  4. Beastie Boys – License To Ill
  5. Body Count – Cop Killer
  6. Eazy-E – Eazy-Duz-It
  7. Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation
  8. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
  9. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
  10. Mystic Music Presents: Instrumental Magic (See, I’ve always been way into instrumentals!)
  11. N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
  12. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black
  13. Public Enemy – Greatest Misses
  14. Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C.
  15. Run-D.M.C. – King Of Rock
  16. Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell
  17. Run-D.M.C. – Tougher Than Leather
  18. Tom Tom Club – Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom
  19. Urban Dance Squad – Mental Floss For The Globe
  20. The Who – Tommy
  21. Some 70’s funk compilation with Gap Band and the like.
  22. 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?

Meleagrine Woes

12 January 2011

New Year’s was quiet, but nice.  I hadn’t been to Monterey in a long time, and I forgot all the great little shops and touristy things to do there.  We found a great Italian place, ducked into a few storefronts, and bought some candy.  Then I got to see my folks New Year’s Day.  In fact the only downside at all was the wild turkey prints I found on my car.  Sometime during the night, a wild turkey(s) managed to climb or fly up onto my trunk and leave a few prints and talon scratches in the paint (where it apparently slid off the edge).  Thanks a bunch, Mother Nature. 

If you’ll indulge me getting a little philosophical on you for a paragraph, I had a strange period of wonderment when I was driving out for that short New Year’s vacation the other night.  (If you want to know why I never got into drugs, read on.  Evidently I am stoney enough while sober.)  Maybe I was subconsciously in a reflective year-end mood, but as soon as I hit the freeway, I was struck by the crispness of my vision.  The sparkling clear details of the other cars and lights all around me.  I mean I really noticed a difference, almost as if I truly were under the influence of something.  (This part could all just be due to that brand new windshield.)  But then an opera singer was discussing on the radio about how all human voice comes from these most fragile of tiny membranes in our throats.  And she sang and I thought of how the sound of opera evokes — at least to my tiny, uncultured brain — images of great white halls and gold and sunlight.  All the decadent splendor you see in Greek and Roman period pieces.  (Corny, I know, but it is what it is.)  And then I arrived at my rural destination and saw how bright the stars shone out there.  How much more I could see in the sky when I got away from the city for a bit.  You’ve all been camping, you know what I mean.  All this was swimming around in my head.  The gifts of sight, sound, and speech.  The blessing that is being a sensitive creature capable of experiencing all of these wonderful things.  And I thought of how easily we could lose any or all of it through accident or illness or age.  All of our senses and abilities, and our life itself, we are so fortunate to have them.  More fleeting than any of us fully realize until it’s too late.

And we are indeed fragile.  I am officially getting wrinkles.  Well, the beginning of some creases on my face.  Another casualty in my life-long war on lotion.  Sure, I wash my hands more than Lady Macbeth, and with the brutally cold weather we’ve been having lately, I would expect (and mourn) my hands to age more rapidly.  But my precious face?  I guess my good looks are fixin’ to get even more rugged, if you can believe it.  For better or worse.

And speaking of aging, I ran across this video the other day.  Rosie Hamlin of Rosie & The Originals in 2002.  “Angel Baby” was a beautiful enough song as it is, but something about seeing an aged and matronly Rosie singing it as sweetly as ever… it lends a whole new dimension and gravity that make it so much better, but somehow somber too.  It moves me in a way that I can’t quite articulate.

Looking forward to a new Smiths night in the Haight, TCB shows at the Blank and Popscene, and Wanda Jackson / Jack White… all within the next couple weeks!  And further out are Social Distortion in February and OMD in March.  Good times ahead…  And the crushing quote of the week was yelled out by a friend between songs at a Swamp Angel show we went to.  (Swamp Angel is a new suspiciously Deadbolt-like band from an ex-Deadbolt member.)

Second-scariest band in the world!”

2010, Come And Gone

27 December 2010

Before I get started, a quick note… when all was said and done, I made out surprisingly well on my 2010 Christmas wish list!  I scored a Dirt Devil, a Mouse Rug, and a calendar… as well as an amazing Marr/Rourke autographed Shoplifters 12″!  One of the best holidays I can remember from a loot perspective.

I know I say it every year around this time, but this seriously must have been the fastest year of my life.  It seems like just yesterday I was down on vacation in L.A. and playing a TCB show in Seattle for New Year’s.  And here I am again, closing in on another New Year holiday.  Last year, I know I had meant to do a “2009 in review” type blog, but guess I didn’t get around to it.  It’s too bad, because there was a killer link to share which of course I never got to: the now-slightly-less-relevant decade (2000-2009) in review from SFGate.  Still a great read down memory lane (when you’re done reading this of course).  Anyhow, I’m not going to do a full “2010 in review” as I have sometimes been known to do in the past.  But I will sum up some of the things I learned over the last year or so, mostly about myself:

  1. I spend too much of my life (time, effort, money) trying to be clever.
  2. I need to give up Clint Eastwood as a de facto male role model.  That quixotic idea of a quiet, mysterious, stranger… it only works in spaghetti westerns and romance novels.  Which is to say that it looks good on paper, but in practice it just makes you seem antisocial.  I need to be more outgoing, because there’s no glory in keeping to yourself all the time.
  3. There are a lot of immature people out there.  Both women and men.  It’s not worth wasting your time, though that isn’t always immediately apparent.  But in the end, they don’t have their shit together, and they can’t be reasoned with.  In that regard, I feel like I know very few actual “adults.”
  4. However, even the people you love are not perfect.  If you expect perfection or even absolute consistency from your closest friends and family, they are bound to disappoint you.  And if you expect or demand absolute consistency from yourself… well it can cause a host of mental issues that I can personally attest to.  So maybe the best you can do is strive to be as consistent as possible, allowing that you are human and can have conflicting emotions… and will not always act consistently… and will not always do exactly the right thing… and will not always be totally impartial and fair or even kind.  Despite your best efforts to be consistent, you will not always succeed, no matter what kind of priority you place on it (see #8 below).  But you can try your best and hope you get the same integrity from the people you let get close to you.  Without exception, people have character flaws and shortcomings.  People get confused and clouded by their emotions.  People have moments of weakness.  People make mistakes.  Even your favorite people.  And yes, even you.  It doesn’t make them evil.  It just makes them human.  (That’s not a free pass for anyone to do anything without consequences.  Which is hard for me to reconcile, because it complicates the process of distinguishing friend from foe.  So how do you judge?  Just by intentions?  I don’t know yet.)
  5. Life is hard.  Every time I think I’ve got a handle on it, something new comes up and turns it all on its head.  And each life problem, health problem, relationship problem that I thought I’d never have to deal with (because I was too smart, too careful, too lucky, etc.) finds a way to impact me after all.  God knows what else is in store for me over the coming decades.
  6. Speaking of the coming decades, here’s something to think about that is so commonly heard that you (like me) probably just ignore it.  But take a moment to really ponder this: how many things have you put off assuming you have time?  Any one of us could die today, tomorrow, next week… and you can bet the last thought in your head is going to be all the things you now regret never doing while you had the chance.  Realistically, it’s hard to throw caution to the wind and lead every day like it’s your last.  But think about what you did yesterday.  Now think about how differently you would have spent yesterday if you knew you would die today.  Surely you can incorporate some of that into how you spend today.  I don’t know about you, but it makes me want to stop being so damn scared to put myself out there creatively, to travel, to try new things, to love without reservation.  What the fuck am I protecting myself from?  I’m very fortunate… I could have been born to the Vietnam era and never made it anywhere near age 30.  I feel I have a responsibility to make use of the time I have here.  A safe life could be a life unlived.  I mean given the choice, do I want to be buried with 1) lots of joys and sorrows or 2) little of either?
  7. I don’t do well with serious illness and mortality.  I always feel this tremendous weight of being expected to have some reaction that I almost never have.  It makes me feel like a sociopath.  Detached from humanity a little bit.  At first, I didn’t wouldn’t even discuss this with my own family because I was afraid even they wouldn’t understand.  It’s not that I don’t feel it.  But when things like that get to be too much, like a circuit breaker, I shut it off completely.  And then I process it slowly over time.  It’s just my way.
  8. If there is any value in the Enneagram system, I am unquestionably a “Type One” (possibly with a “Type Nine” wing).  I hesitate to put all my eggs in that basket, and I know it’s not the be all / end all.  But if I’m being honest, I was sincerely moved by how true most of the Type One stuff rang for me.  Here’s hoping it helps me to understand myself a little more…

2010 was an amazing time to be alive, don’t doubt it for a second.  To explain… I’ll pick a random year of our lives.  Say 1994.  Think about that year.  It’s amazing to have lived it.  You were there for the one and only 1994 there will ever be.  The one history books refer to for this or that event, the one future generations will wonder about, the way you do when I say 1969 or 1776 or 82 B.C.  The year 1994 was every bit as unique and significant.  When I say “1994” what do you think of?  I think of the friends I had then.  The school I was attending.  The house I lived in.  The events, the births, the deaths, the way people dressed, the popular music, and the movies that came out.  The people I lived in the time of.  And think about it: you were there.  The one and only 1994 for all of history.  And you were there for the one and only 2010.  And you’re about to join me in being an equal participant and witness in the first and only 2011.  And that is amazing.

My New Year’s resolution remains — as always — to get an original music project off the ground.  But there’s good news on that front.  The rockabilly band I’ve been woodshedding with finally has a complete lineup, with an inaugural gig as early as February.  Stay tuned for details!  While I don’t have anything I’ve written officially on the docket yet, it’s only a matter of time.  I hope.  The related quote of the week comes from a shocking source.

“You have to dare to suck to be great.”
— Ricky Martin


22 December 2010

In August 2005, I was taking photos around the apartment I was living in.  This was just days before I moved out, following my friend and roommate Jared’s departure.  I just found one I snapped of the magnetic fridge poetry as it was last left by us and the various guests we’d had over that year.  For no good reason I can think of, I decided to transcribe them here.  Enjoy!

  6. GUYS ARE 100% MEAN
  43. CHORES _____ EVERY DAY

I can’t say for sure, but if I recall, I think in general most of the dirty ones were mine, the gloomy ones were Jared’s, and the incoherent ones were from our guests… because neither of us would have stood for that.   And hopefully it goes without saying, but I wouldn’t read too much into any of this.  Let’s remember we were idly moving magnets around on the fridge, not confessing anything about our respective essences.  Though it may still be fair to say that it was a different world back when we roamed the earth.

Five Years Of This Charming Band: A Retrospective

31 October 2010

Just by chance, today is Halloween and also Johnny Marr’s birthday.  How many more reasons do you need to celebrate?  More for the latter, it’s a good day to finally finish and post this.  Enjoy!  (Or suffer through, as the case may be.)  Friday, November 12th, This Charming Band will be playing Café Du Nord to celebrate our anniversary.  We’ll be joined by our old friends Depeche Mode tribute “For The Masses,” who played with us many times in those first couple years.  I hope you can make it out to join us in reminiscing and reliving some fond memories.  Come party like it’s 2006 (when we were ourselves pretending it was 1986).

November 16th, 2010 will mark five years to the day since This Charming Band first took the stage.  As I look back on five years of my life, it seems like an appropriate time to sum things up, tell a few stories, and see what we’ve learned.  You’ll have to forgive me if I get a little lofty or dramatic.  What can I tell you?  I take this stuff seriously.  And apparently I have a lot to say about it.  I don’t know how it will come off to you when you read it, but I just felt like telling some back story for anyone interested.  And by the way, these are all my own thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect the feelings (or memories) of any other member of TCB, past or present.

The irony is not lost on me that we’ve now been around as long as The Smiths were, and that’s hard to accept.  Should we be proud?  Ashamed?  I’m not sure.  In those five years, TCB has gone from practicing acoustically in living rooms to headlining big venues all over the country and playing for hundreds of people at a time.  Our intentions were pure.  Our mission was simple.  But we started in a city that — unlike Los Angeles — didn’t have the automatic audience of a huge “out” Smiths fanbase.  We were going to have to carve out a niche for ourselves.  We were going to have to twist some arms and play our balls off to make people pay attention.  And to our amazement, it happened even sooner than we could have hoped.  In our time together so far, we’ve played 101 official shows, along with some radio and acoustic appearances.  Performed 67 of the Smiths’ 72 songs, as well as dozens of Morrissey solo numbers.  Had two singers, two guitarists, five bassists, and one drummer.  Visited seven states.  Stayed in more hotels than I care to remember.  With that  many shows and almost as many road trips under out collective belt, there are more fond memories and inside jokes than I could ever hope to recount here.  But I’ll do my best to give you as much as you could possibly want to know about This Charming Band.

A Brief History Of TCB
In April 2005, I happened to be looking on Craig’s List trying to find a band to join.  I was settled in the city and finally felt ready to take on a musical project.  I had never been in a band before, and there was so much I didn’t know.  I wasn’t looking for a tribute band, but I must have been searching for “Smiths” to find a project I would fit in with.  But when I saw an ad for a Smiths tribute band that was trying to start up, the wheels started turning.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  I knew in my bones that this was something San Francisco desperately needed.  I answered the ad and met up with Orlando.  Originally he wanted to play guitar and get our local Moz-alike Tom to sing.  But the way it worked out, Orlando decided to take a shot at fronting a band, and I took a shot at just being in one.  After a couple of meetings at my apartment to run through a few songs I thought I knew how to play, we found a bassist in Wally.  Super solid player, able to handle Andy Rourke’s craziness.  Not to mention the most mature and level-headed member TCB has ever had, to this day.  A few more living room sessions later, we started trying out drummers.  No luck until Nick came along.  I didn’t know it at the time — I was green after all — but Nick was a rare catch.  A real pro, lots of experience, perfect time, and encyclopedic knowledge of pop music (and culture).  Within a few weeks, we’d also unexpectedly picked up Isaac and Peter.  Isaac being a trained pianist who gave us early renditions of “Asleep” and string sections where they were called for; Peter, a second guitarist who turned out to be the author of much of the internet tablature I’d been working from!  We picked a band name, and it wasn’t long before the six of us were ready to take on the city…

Our second show was Popscene, a break which I gather is unheard of.  From there we played some smaller pubs (like our home away from home Ireland’s 32) and some bigger places like (San Jose’s Blank Club).  Even in those early days, we were fortunate to rarely have to open for anyone, or even share a bill withanyone.  It was easy to get spoiled, and the boys kept telling me not to get used to it because this was not how things normally went for a band.  I had nothing to compare it to, but I did my best to absorb the message.  Of course we did (and do) occasionally open for bigger bands at bigger venues, but it makes sense in the tribute band pecking order.  Zoo Station and Stung were good to us in those days, and we shared a lot of bigger bills with peers like For The Masses and Japanese Baby.  In just that first year, there were so many adventures.  Some unforgettable trips to SoCal.  But by our year anniversary, Isaac had left to pursue jazz (keyboardin’ in a Smiths tribute is a strange gig) and Peter had bowed out too.  This left us as a lean and mean four-piece band, and it left novice me alone to face Johnny Marr’s legacy.  In December of 2006, we played our Brixton anniversary show, recreating the Smiths’ final concert song-for-song.  It was my trial by fire to see if I could handle guitar duties alone.  I was rough in those days, no question.  I shudder to think what I sounded like.  But in any event, we were forged as a foursome and never looked back.  Just after Troubadour a month later, Wally and his voice of reason made their exit.  He recommended Cameron to us.  A nice guy and excellent bassist (who eventually went on to play with Rogue Wave).  After his departure, we took on another bassist Dave for the remainder of 2007.

Now 2007 was an interesting year for us.  By this time, we were coming into our own.  Orlando was finding his feet when it came to really working the crowd, and he knew it.  Nick was spreading his wings as a tenacious booker, getting us amazing shows and really building our success in a way that other tributes couldn’t match.  Here we were, a tribute to the relatively obscure Smiths, and we were playing shows that tributes to world famous acts couldn’t get.  I myself had played enough shows that I was gaining serious confidence.  My playing was improving all the time, and it was even getting a bit old hat for me.  We had a summer of great shows, venturing out to Vegas and Arizona and making a name for ourselves in Sacto and Fresno.  We were getting our foot in the door at big time venues like House Of Blues and Bimbo’s 365.  This was the year I started to feel like we were invincible.  We weren’t.

As 2008 got rolling, Dave departed and Cameron came back for a short while.  TCB had always had the occasional argument, but we started having some serious knock-down-drag-out fights around then.  You’ll have to wait for the “Behind The Music” to hear any of that dirt from me, but suffice it to say that we all got into it with each other for different reasons many times.  The cracks were starting to show.  We were fortunate enough to find Paul when his Joy Division tribute opened for us at Café Du Nord in May.  By July, he had cut his dreds and was playing with TCB and has been ever since.  Great player, super nice guy, and a real positive energy that we needed to balance out my stone stage-face.

Just after Paul joined us, my nerves cracked.  I barely made it through our August 2008 Slim’s show (our biggest headline in S.F. to date), and in fact we only played two more shows that year.  Things gradually picked up in 2009, but we didn’t do any real travelling again until Portland and Seattle in May.  By that time, we were back up to a good clip of shows, and hit a lot of our old stand-bys.  Still bringing out fans locally.  Still finding new hamlets to visit.  The SoCal market had cooled considerably.  Band fighting continued over 2009 and through the first half of 2010.  Ultimately, this all culminated with Orlando’s departure following our 2010 Morrissey birthday show — clearly the most significant change  to our lineup ever.  We were left with original members Nick and myself, as well as our longest-running bassist Paul.  We continue to search for our new frontman, but in the mean time we’re aided by Virgil, the excellent singer in San Diego’s Smiths tribute “Still Ill.”  We’re less tense these days, and the chemistry is stable.  And to my ears, we sound better than ever.

For all the shows we’ve played, the scores of hours spent promoting, and the thousands of people who’ve seen us, there are still many Smiths and Morrissey fans even here in San Francisco who’ve never heard of TCB.  I meet them all the time.  It’s just hard to get on their radar, I guess.  And to be fair, I guess I never really thought about tribute bands either until I joined one.  The “market” for tribute bands has ebbed and flowed in the last five years.  At the moment, the economy is sucking air, and Morrissey isn’t touring.  We’ve seen better times and worse.  But as long as you guys keep coming to see us, we’ll keep doing our best to keep the flame alive for the songs that saved all our lives.  This has been one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done in my life, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity each and every time I get to step on a stage and help play the music I love for the people who love it too.

Everyone has their own story, but for me, I can’t tell you what The Smiths and Morrissey meant to me.  I didn’t grow up with them, but when I did discover them, I immersed myself almost to the exclusion of all other bands.  But I thought I might be the only one.  Living where I did and with no connections to hip crowds of any ilk, my only glimpses into other fans like myself were in dim gossamers on mysterious websites.  The world of Smiths super fans seemed unreachable.  It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in Jessica that I realized maybe I wasn’t the last of my species.  She was from the O.C. and was hooked into that loose network of Smiths fandom.  And from there, I was able to branch out further and further until I found my place (such as it is) in our small community.

I imagine a lot of Smiths fans have that experience.  Feeling like they’re the only one.  And if we’re being honest with ourselves, Smiths/Moz super fans are by and large a catty/skeptical/snobby bunch.  We all feel like Morrissey somehow belongs to us a little bit more than anyone else.  Like he’s somehow speaking to me more than the guy next to me, who happens to also have a pomp and dress like me, and knows all the words, and is also singing along.  No no, somehow I’m the outsider and the insider, the one who really “gets” Moz.  But the sense of community is still here, maybe partly because that mentality works on another level to make us all feel like brothers and sisters who love Moz together against the rest of the world who doesn’t.

The way I always saw it, TCB was a band of Smiths fans for Smiths fans.  We wanted to help bring those outsiders together to find other outsiders like them.  To help gather a community in San Francisco (which the Louder Than Bombs dance night was also doing around the same time).  And even more, we wanted to try to demonstrate the fire that exists in this music when played live, to introduce the uninitiated folks (and those who never paid attention to The Smiths the first time around) to the best band that ever lived.  And we wanted to do it respectfully and withclass, so that long-time Smiths fans could relive some of the excitement of a live Smiths show.  Quality control is always key with us.  Put simply, “good enough” isn’t.  We treat this music reverently.  We’re working with a paying audience’s precious favorite songs, and we take that awesome responsibility seriously.  I don’t mean to sound like a religious zealot, but it is kinda like that.  You can still go see U2.  You can still even go see Morrissey.  If you want to go see them live, you can.  But The Smiths are gone.  And if you want to see them live, you need someone like us.  In a way, I feel like TCB is a public service.  Keeping a lost tradition alive and preaching the good word.  Bringing the message to the people.

It was also important to be humble (yes even me!), at least with respect to keeping what we’re doing here in context.  No matter how popular TCB has been or will be, what little notoriety there is to be had isn’t ours.  We are not the stars of the show.  The Smiths are the stars of the show.  People are there to enjoy the music of The Smiths and share in a group experience of celebrating it with others.  TCB is merely a vessel to try to make this happen.  Do I have pride in the TCB and the job we do?  Of course!  But I always keep in mind that for the most part no one is there to see Benjamin.  They’re there to see fake Johnny Marr, who just happens to be played by Benjamin.  (Except maybe a few friends who are actually there to see me.  :))  I have no illusions about the fact that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants here, and I only hope it’s clear that I got into it and stay with it for noble reasons.  Would I be headlining Slim’s with some shitty little original project?  Not bloody likely.  We’re extremely fortunate to get to play to the crowds we do at the venues we do.  It’s something a lot of bands never get to do, and we have The Smiths and their fans to thank.  We only hope we’ve done justice to their memory.

Of course all of the rhetoric, practice, and promotion really just comes down to one thing: the shows.  Behind the scenes, it’s arguing about the content and order of the set list.  It’s showing up early and loading in, sound checking and dealing sometimes awesome sound guys and sometimes… not.  It’s getting cleaned up and ready for the stage.  Sitting in the green room and trying to mellow out.  Watching the opening bands and monitoring the crowd.  How’s the turn out?  Are my friends here yet?  It’s the lights going down and the intro music* playing.  Nerves grabbing you, walking out to (hopefully) some cheers and an energetic crowd.  Kicking into an upbeat number to start off, and a few more after that.  Then taking it down a notch.  Peppering in the deep cuts among the hits so we don’t lose the more casual fans.  Ending the show with a few huge danceable songs, and then possibly a quiet ballad to send them home with.  (The mix-tape approach to set list making, I guess?)  It’s floodlights and flowers.  A noose for “Panic” and a picket sign for “The Queen Is Dead.”  It’s tambourines and maracas for the crowd.  It’s a crowd-controlled Kaossilator for the bridge of “Suedehead.”  It’s cupcakes for birthday shows.  It’s two and a half hours of the band playing our asses off and Orlando connecting with the crowd.  Saying we’re here for you, this isn’t our music, it’s all of our music, and this is your stage.  A whole room dancing and singing together, throwing flowers, grabbing the mic, sweating, drinking, laughing and yes even crying.  By the end of the night, people would be on stage dancing and singing along.  If there was time, we’d do our best to take requests and keep playing until the club made us stop.  We’d say hi to our friends, occasionally weather some drama or break up a fight.  We’d sheepishly ignore the flower petals and stems that had exploded all over the stage.  After packing up, we’d inevitably all end up with friends at a nearby Denny’s (or rarely, another 24 hour place), “This Charming Slam” being the preferred menu item.  (This is a “Moons Over My Hammy” sans the hammy.)  And then it was home or to the hotel.  There you go, one exciting night in the life of TCB.

*Intro music is another tricky thing.  We’ve done the Smiths’ own “Montagues And Capulets” as well as “Dance Of The Sugar Plumb Faeries.”  We’ve done Elvis and nods like Twinkle’s original “Golden Lights.”  We’ve done a relevant clip from the film “Rock Star” about tribute bands, and even Moz’s approved “Imperfect List” from the 2007 tour.  We’ve even considered making our own imperfect list naming our own enemies, but oh well.  My favorite was sadly botched during the last Slim’sshow, but we may try it again next time: kicking off the show with the full movie clip that spawned “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty” and jumping directly into a live “The Queen Is Dead.”  A clever and epic intro that we didn’t quite pull off.  Doh!

I thought about doing a timeline of significant shows and moments in the band’s history, but I think that’s maybe too much.  Instead, I’ll just mention some of my personal favorites.  Our first show was definitely our most humble.  A shared bill at El Rio that included a one-woman Huey Louis tribute called “Huey Louise,” as well as The Cock-Tees and a number of other questionable acts.  Then was Popscene which was amazing, not to mention that Aaron, Omar, and Nako were great to us and we’ve gotten to work together many times since.  I had seen The Cardigans and Loquat there the year before there, and to my suburban mind, Popscene was about the pinnacle of hip culture in S.F.  It’s where I first heard Franz Ferdinand, The Postal Service, Pulp, and many others.  Coming from where I had, to find myself on that stage was unreal.  Ireland’s 32 was always one of my favorite places to play since it was so laid back.  We made a lot of friends there, and in fact I believe that was the birth place of The Choir Boys — a lovable group of Bay Area Moz fans who have befriended and supported us over the years.  Returning to Ireland’s 32 for my 30th birthday show in 2009  was such a great idea, and it’s among my favorite TCB shows ever.  Going to SoCal that first time was probably my favorite road trip of all time.  The first night, we got to play “Suedehead” with Alain Whyte himself!  The second night was a massive 500+ person sell out at The Hully Gully (another of my favorite shows ever).  The third night and introduced us to Club London at Boardner’s (my fave place to play down there) and to the famous Moz Krew — a lovable group of SoCal fans who have given us huge support and travelled all over to see us.  San Jose’s Blank Club has been another home-away-from-home for us, and there are tons of great memories there with the South Bay’s amazing fans.  I think my favorite show there has to be the St. (Steven) Patrick’s Day show we did, where the Moz Krew showed up in green Moz Krew shirts.  They wanted “Sing Your Life” and our bassist didn’t know it.  We improvised.  The Troubadour was another big show for us, one of our first with top-notch lighting and sound.  Plus so much history at that place… that was good times.  Slim’s is the biggest place we headline in San Francisco, and of course that’s always a big event for us.  With a crowd that size, it’s hard not to have a great show.  And speaking of big crowds, I have no complaints about the few times we’ve been fortunate enough to play The House Of Blues.  We got a huge crowd at that New Wave City show for the Brixton anniversary, which was another crazy night I’ll never forget.  Playing out doors in Las Vegas was a great change of pace.  And then surprisingly, Fresno’s Club Fred is among my favorite venues we ever get to play.  The audience there is just as good as it gets in terms of love and energy.  OK, that’s probably enough.  There are just too many memories to mention.  For a while, I was in the habit of trying to chronicle the details of these shows and trips in my old blog, but it’d take forever to get through it.  You’ll have to check back on those yourself if you want the details.

As for me, remember this was my first band ever.  So I was completely green starting out and had much to learn.  I was terribly nervous before every show in the early days.  My hands would shake and seize up, which isn’t helpful for live guitar playing.  Chewing a toothpick, the blank face while playing, all of those aspects of my on-stage demeanor came from trying to zone out in an effort to calm my nerves.  Doing my best to look cool as a cucumber even though inside the panic was raging.  It was a good kind of nervous though, and of course in time it subsided almost completely.  These days, those habits have stuck with me, so that even though I’m relaxed up there, I still end up looking disinterested or even angry.  (I promise, I’m not!)

What else?  I do my best to not wear the same shirt to a show ever if possible, or at least never to the same venue twice.  Always a darker color so as to hide sweat.  That’s all Sus’ influence.  I know tee-shirts aren’t exactly dressy, but the hidden reason is that I need something with a smooth front (no buttons) so I don’t scratch up my guitars.  That’s the real story behind it.  Though in all these shows, I’ve gotten a few nicks and scratches on some of my most precious guitars (none my fault, sadly!).  I even had someone accidentally break the head off of my #1 guitar earlier this year!  Experiences like that, painful as they were, have helped me relax a little bit about damage to my gear.  It’s just a fact of life I guess.  Along the way, I sure received an education in equipment.  You can see in the picture below (on the beloved Ireland’s 32 “raft” stage), I started out using a pair of turquoise Epiphone Casinos — which at the time I thought was a pretty slick signature look, ha ha!  (The aforementioned danger of damage is exactly why you never see me with it these days… my remaining Casino took a beating and now it’s not allowed on stage anymore.)  Over the years, I’ve tried many guitars, amps, and pedals as I’ve honed my sound.  I’ve also improved my playing quite a bit (I hope), and become more comfortable on stage as I mentioned.  It all came together in the end, didn’t it?  What an arc from the nervous little me of 2005 to the veteran I am now, with monster tone and serious six-string expertise.  Not.  🙂

In terms of theme shows, we’ve had a few.  We’ve done “album” shows for The Smiths (eponymous), Meat Is Murder, and Strangeways, Here We Come.  The idea always sounds good, but in practice, I think lots of people have trouble sitting through all the less popular album tracks.  We did a rockabilly show where we played an entire set of all and only rockabilly-influenced Smiths and Morrissey tunes.  We did a little acoustic show which included some different takes on songs (my favorite being our bossanova Bigmouth immortalized here).  My favorite theme show though has to be our December 2006 New Wave City event where we celebrated/mourned the 20th anniversary of The Smiths’ last ever concert at the Brixton Academy on 12/12/86; we played their exact set list from that night.  There have also been some other themes we’ve kicked around but have yet to do, such as a chronological night that follows the history of the Smiths and Morrisseysolo, hitting the high points and performed in chronological order.  We thought about a live karaoke night where we have a bunch of songs ready and people from the crowd sign up and sing for or with us.  We considered an outdoor “tribute-palooza” where we’d gather the best and brightest tributes we know to play an all day event maybe in Dolores Park or something.  Could be free or supported by vendors maybe?  Oh, and then there’s my secret plan to have a marathon of either a Fri/Sat/Sun night trio or a three consecutive weekend residency where we play one set of 24 songs each night, adding up to all 72 Smiths songs.  Can you imagine playing The Smiths’ entire catalog live in one weekend?  No?  Too much?  Some ideas are bigger than others.

We’ve had guest musicians to add cello here or keys there.  We’ve brought back former members like Peter and Wally to join us for “reunion” shows.  We’ve had merch on rare occasions, which is to say we’ve made large orders of green/pink shirts and later brown/orange shirts but been so lazy about selling them that over time we’d just give most of them away.  The band and a few close friends also have limited edition black/white and black/pink shirts.  Each had the TCB logo on the front and a different lyric on the back.  But yeah, we were never really a merch band.  Let’s see, we’ve raffled off a Morrissey painting from one of our flyers.  Once upon a time, we’d meant to do a promo video to parody the video for “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before.”  We were all going to dress up in hats and glasses like Orlando and follow him around on bicycles.  I think it would have been hilarious, but since he’s no longer with us, I don’t see that happening.

We have some massive shows these days, big sell outs, tons of fun.  But I do sometimes miss some of the shows in the good old days.  There seemed to be a golden era of tributes around 2006-2008 where people were discovering it for the first time and we could do no wrong.  Things are different now.  Could be the economy.  Could be a reduced public interest in Morrissey for the moment.  There is more competition for us out there.  We can’t play L.A.  without some other Smiths tribute playing the same night across town.  Its’ all slowed down a bit.  And I guess things aren’t as new to me as they were in that era.  At that time, every show was such a brand new and mystical experience for me.  Every show was prom night.  Things are different now of course, but different isn’t always bad.  Our mission remains the same, and I’m confident that we’re still helping to bring the Smiths to a new audience.

One of the most valuable things that has come out of This Charming Band is the amount of quality people we’ve met.  My bandmates were new friends themselves, then I met their friends.  And then every show we’d meet new people.  All of them Smiths fans.  I guess maybe that’s what being in a band is always like, but again I didn’t know that.  It just seemed like I was meeting new people all the time which for a shy boy like me was quite a switch.  This holds true even today, and I continue to marvel at what a great way it’s been to socialize.

I’m tempted to start listing off all the great friends I’ve made directly or indirectly from my relationship with TCB, and though it would include some of my closest friends to this day, I know I would inevitably forget dozens and then feel like a jerk.  So my blanket statement is: you know who you are, and I’m glad that because of TCB or otherwise, you came into my life.  Bay Area fans (including The Choir Boys), SoCal fans (including The Moz Krew), and everyone else… thank you!

But there are two people who require special mention.  Sus and Shel came to our third show (at Edinburgh Castle, not one of our best), at which time I met Sus.  Then our next show (at Blank Club) I met Shel officially.  The two of them went on to attend nearly every one of our shows up through 2009, present at something like 78 of our first 80 shows (I forget the exact figure, but that’s not far off).  One or both of them travelled with us to SoCal many times, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Portland, Seattle, Reno, and more.  It just doesn’t feel like a TCB show unless I look out and see them in the crowd.  They’ve become two of my closest friends, above and beyond the endless support they’ve given to the band.  Tireless advocates, helping us spread the word, bring people in, make travel arrangements, and even feed us.  Sus has captured video of almost every song from every show we’ve ever played including nearly every video you see of us on YouTube.  Shel’s photography skills have helped us capture so many moment on stage and off over the years and make up almost every picture you see on our website.  (They’ve done all this for free.)  There have been countless post-show Denny’s meals.  And beyond just our band, there have been untold concert outings, movie outings, roadtrips, Morrissey shows, brunches… well, one paragraph isn’t nearly enough to chronicle all they’ve meant to me and to TCB over the years.  They’re woven tightly into our history.  Thank you both for all you’ve done and for being such a big part of my life these last five years.

I remember the second TCB show ever.  We were at Popscene, a club which at the time intimidated me as it was.  Add to that it was TCB’s second show ever.  It was my second time on stage ever.  And after having practiced all these songs with Peter on second guitar, for some reason he couldn’t make it, so I’d be playing alone.  We took the stage, and I was plugging in my guitar, double checking my cables and all, and a couple of guys about my age came and stood directly in front of me.  They crossed their arms and one of them said, “alright, let’s see it.”

That experience helped form and now sums up my attitude about playing the music of The Smiths.  Most people are skeptical of tribute bands in general, and snobby Smiths fans especially so.  If you play the guitar and you like The Smiths, then no doubt you’ve spent some time trying to work out a few of Johnny Marr’s tricks.  And if you’re like most people, you eventually throw up your hands and give up.  I did, several times.  It’s hard and unusual music to figure out, and there are few guides out there to give you a starting point.  And even those are mostly wrong it turns out.  So with all this in mind, I try to imagine our audience.  I think to myself, if I were out there, what would I be focusing on?  And I realized that I’d be watching the guitarist and waiting to see how far he got learning before giving up.  I’m sure the reality is there are maybe one or two guys in the crowd at any given TCB show that actually fall into this camp, but those are the guys that I’m personally trying to win over.  Those are the guys whose respect I’m trying to earn.  The guys who know guitar and know The Smiths, and know what it means to get this stuff right.  The guys who inevitably aren’t expecting much from any Johnny faker, and instead get damn near the real deal.  Or at least that’s what I’m shooting for.

I’ve spent more hours of my life than I care to admit analyzing Smiths songs and the guitar work of one Johnny Marr.  Don’t get me wrong, every song was a labor of love.  I won’t bore you with the process (which I discussed at length on Morrissey-Solo once, if you care), but I’ll just say that each song involves a lot of research in many areas (books, articles, interviews), as well as a lot of time spent poring over studio and live bootleg audio and video.  We’re talking hours and days for some songs.  All in the name of absolute accuracy.  Friends have pointed out that unless you’re a guitarist and super fan, most of our audience isn’t going to be able to tell the difference between my 100% accurate version and some other band’s 85% accurate version.  And that might be true.  So then why bother with all those details if it’s lost on most of the crowd anyway?  In short, because these songs deserve it, and because the details do matter.  If I were in a tribute for virtually any other band, sure, who cares?  But this is The Smiths.  Every note is golden.  The guitar work of Johnny Marr is like a magic spell.  And if you want the spell to work right, you have to get every little word right.  I still believe that even if the crowd at large can’t put their finger on it, the overall effect of TCB is more impactful because of that attention to detail.  And I admit my ego is involved in this quest too.  It’s important to me to feel like I’ve got these songs down.  Not just “close enough,” but seriously note-for-note.  That’s one of the few areas in my life where I have a competitive streak.  I want to know that I’m doing my job here better than anyone.  And if you think you know of a fake Johnny Marr in any other tribute band or YouTube video who’s more accurate than I am, I’d like to know about it.  🙂

At the time of me writing this, I have learned and deciphered (to my exacting standards) 70½ of the 72 Smiths songs and will probably finish off by the end of the year.  I don’t know what I’ll do after that.  My compulsion will be fulfilled.  What then?  Even though it was a huge time commitment, it’s made me a better player by leaps and bounds.  Part of that is the playing regularly with the band, but most of it is all the technique and tricks that I’ve picked up from trying to be Johnny Marr.  And this quest even led me to learn piano from scratch!  In fact the only three songs I know on piano are Asleep, A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours, and Oscillate Wildly.  And though I am completely untrained, I still strive (and hopefully achieve) note-for-note accuracy even on the ivories.  Amazing, but true.

No discussion of learning Smiths songs would be complete without a tip of the hat to Peter, former guitarist with TCB.  He is the only person I know who shares this Johnny accuracy madness with me, and that we happen to live in the same city is uncanny.  I privately doubt there is anyone on the planet who knows some of this stuff better than Johnny, Peter, and I.  (Damn, there’s that ego again.  Sorry!)  Over the years, we’ve traded hundreds of emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings to argue over open B’s vs. fretted B’s, and all other manner of minutiae concerning Smiths recordings.  I bet Johnny himself didn’t give as much thought to some of his own slides and ghost notes as Peter and I have.  Seriously, no compromises.  Someday when I’m out of the tribute circuit and no longer consider them trade secrets, Peter and I will combine our notes and publish to the world our meticulous transcriptions.  More often than not, whatever I’m playing was the result of a combined research effort by both of us, so he is due half the credit.  Thanks for all the years of friendship and consultation, Peter!

It came at a price though.  Learning and deconstructing Smiths songs to the extent I have is a little like looking behind the Wizard Of Oz’s curtain.  Before TCB, I would listen to a Smiths song and, as a novice guitarist, be absolutely baffled by what I was hearing.  My ears couldn’t make sense of it.  It didn’t sound possible.  It was this incomprehensible magic, right in my ear holes you understand.  I don’t know what made me think I could ever recreate that.  The ego of my 20’s I guess.  But in time, little by little, I started to unravel those mysteries.  In an effort to understand, and from a desperate desire to emulate, I dissected those songs in excruciating detail, one by one.  And in the end, yeah I can play them.  And I’m proud of that of course.  But when I listen to a Smiths song now, I don’t hear it the way I used to.  In the same way a magic trick isn’t the same after you know how it’s done.  I still love those songs.  I just appreciate them in a different way now.  But sometimes I miss what it felt like to hear “This Charming Man” and want to just put down my guitar forever.

Actually, I should add to all of that — and Peter will attest — that in truth this is a never-ending journey.  No one ever really knows every little part of a Smiths song completely.  I don’t purport to have Johnny Marr all figured out by any stretch.  There’s always a note or a part to refine and argue about.  Until we can lock Johnny in a room and make him tell us all his secrets, there will be no shortage of work to be done learning Smiths songs.

Morrissey’s solo work was a different animal.  With Johnny, after learning enough of his songs, I started to feel like I have gotten into his head a little bit.  I kinda know some of his tricks and could anticipate certain things when learning a new song.  But with Moz solo, there were so many different writers and guitarists to contend with.  The music is less complicated and easier to work out, but it almost always requires two guitars to execute appropriately (as opposed to Smiths stuff where Johnny wrote guitar parts with a “one man orchestra” approach).  I love Morrissey solo stuff too, and there have been some killer guitar parts no doubt, but it doesn’t always have the same magic of The Smiths.  And in general, I was often less jazzed about the task of learning a new Moz tune than I would be taking on something new from The Smiths.  Interestingly though, I found that dissecting and learning a Moz solo song would typically give me a whole new appreciation for it.  I can’t tell you how many times I started loving a song only after I learned to play it.  Contrast that with what I just said about The Smiths and killing the magic.  But that’s how it goes.

On Being Clever
If you know me, you know how much I value cleverness above all else.  That theme crops up at a few different points in this retrospective, but I wanted to focus here on just the music.  I’m always pushing for ways we can do something special for each song, even if it’s something that only the most die-hard Smiths fans will pick up on.  In general terms, it could be that the chorus was played slightly different on the album than it was on the Peel Session / Hatful Of Hollow version.  So I might alternate, playing the “album” version the first chorus and the “Hatful” version on the second chorus.  Little things like that to show that I’ve got all the bases covered.  Sometimes we do the “live” versions of songs, and sometimes we stick to the studio.  Usually the live version’s influence just shows up in how we intro and/or outro the song (too many of those to name), but there are tracks like The Draize Train, Meat Is Murder, and Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others where we pretty much just mimic the live version start to finish.  We’d do the medleys The Smiths did like London / Miserable Lie, Rubber Ring / What She Said, His Latest Flame / Rusholme Ruffians, and even Ouija Board / November Spawned A Monster for Mozsolo.  Then we also had some experimental medleys like throwing in Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” into the middle of Sweet And Tender Hooligan or Chic’s “Good Times” into Barbarism Begins At Home.  We started and ended songs with the appropriate sound samples (the Salvation Army Band on Sheila Take A Bow, the animal cries on Meat Is Murder, etc.).  And in case you missed them when we played, here are a few of the more obscure nods we’ve snuck in over the years:

  1. Back To The Old House — This was always a hybrid of the studio, radio session, and live bootleg versions, all of which had significantly different picking patterns.
  2. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle — We’d start off playing it straight like the album, but quickly jump in to the completely different original version from the Troy Tate sessions, which is rare even by Troy Tate bootleg standards.
  3. Jeane — For a brief period of just a handful of live shows, Johnny played The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” riff in the bridge.  I do that too.
  4. Miserable Lie — During the Meat Is Murder tour, Johnny added a pretty little descending line to the intro.  We do that too.
  5. Pretty Girls Make Graves — We play the bouncier Troy Tate version, which is easier to find now but was still a rarity when we started playing it.
  6. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out — On  rare occasions, we’ve added the line “there’s a light in your eye and it never goes out,” which we got from an early demo version of this song where Morrissey was more explicit about its meaning.

There are other things we’ve intended to do, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  The next time we play “Asleep,” I’ve got part of the original full sound clip that “you are sleeping; you do not want to believe” comes from, which should make a stellar intro.  At some point I’d like to do the original intro to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”  Then there’s an extra verse in a long lost demo of “Paint A Vulgar Picture” that would be nice to slip in (as it explains the title of the song).  When we get around to doing “Wonderful Woman,” it might be fun to perform it a few times with its original lyrics as “What Do You See In Him?”  And given its genesis, “Panic” is just begging to have a few lines of “Metal Guru” added.

The old me would have been paranoid about our competition stealing these ideas (as they have others in the past), but at this point, I say fuck it.  I don’t have anything to prove anymore.  And if you’re a rival about to nick one of these ideas for your own band… well you and I both know where you got it, don’t we?

Creating our flyers is work to be sure, but doing them is also one of my favorites on the (surprisingly long) list of “all the things you have to do to keep a band going other than just play music.”  Between the logo and the flyers, I always felt like TCB had a recognizable brand.  Clearly the main influence is the body of Smiths single and album covers.  We’ve tried to glean some of the class and relative obscurity of those Morrissey-designed sleeves, choosing pictures that capture a poignant moment, using people that meant something to Morrissey or meant something to us.  And there were subtle nods to those of you who looked deeper.  Like a boxing Elvis for our big Troubadour show in the heart of our competition’s territory (here).  The full image from Morrissey’s “Interlude” single for our show with a Siouxsie tribute (here).  Morrissey’s original choice for “The Headmaster Ritual” single which graced our last Café Du Nord flyer (here).  A quiet tribute to Dennis Hopper, using a picture he took himself, which you may also recognize from a certain singles compilation (here).  For adjacent shows and mini-tours, we’d recolor the same image or use complimentary halves of one image, not unlike The Smiths did with their singles.

Somewhere along the line, I started including song lyrics which struck me as somehow fitting for each picture.  Innocuous enough, but I’ll confess that they often doubled as vague statements about what was going on in my life at the time, or comments on memories associated with that city, or even occasional indirect missives to certain people I know.  And on rare occasions, it was all three.  In addition, I tried my best to never reuse the exact same color scheme on any flyer, and in 101 shows, I think I’ve succeeded so far.  But show #102 is our five year anniversary, and so I specifically revived the colors from our first flyer.  (Another subtlety that no one but me likely noticed or cared about, ha!)  Anyway, I hope what we’ve ended up with is a style that’s aesthetically pleasing, decidedly “Smiths,” but also recognizably “us.”  (And in fact we have seen that TCB style imitated — to put it lightly — on several occasions in other tribute bands’ flyers, websites, and artwork.  But a great man once said “genius steals,” right?)  In the last year or so, we’ve moved to a new format which is a little easier to work with, is more standardized, and leverages our full logo… but retains the essence of the early flyers.

Along the way, there have also been a number of guest flyers.  In the early days, a handful were well done by Peter, in a similar Smiths-esque style.  Nick’s brainchild was the Manchester / Sgt. Pepper tribute for our Rickshaw Stop show (here), which has too many sly references to list, but have a look.  Can you name everyone and everything in that picture?  Then for our big Slim’s shows the past few years, we’ve brought in such ringers as Jenny Wehrt and even R. Black (here) — which to me was just the coolest thing ever.  I’d long been a big fan of concert poster art.  I’ve got them hanging in my house.  I’ve collected many books on the subject.  But to see our band’s name on these professional flyers by a respected artist… little old us… well, it was one of the many “I never thought I’d be here” moments that color my whole experience with TCB.  That artwork later adorned one of Nick’s bass drum heads, succeeding the previous TCB logo one.

When we were first starting out, we were aware of a few of the big Smiths tribute bands out there.  We knew we were upstarts, but we had the idea that we could do a better job than what we’d seen.  But the intent was always to be friendly with the “competition” since we all presumably have the same goal.  There’s no reason to fight each other.  Hell, we might even find ways to work together, or at least keep a positive relationship.  We reached out on several occasions and got no response.  And in time, we heard things.  Smiths fandom is a small community, and we share a lot of the same friends.  We work with the same bands, clubs, and bookers.  The same fans that see and talk to them also see and talk to us.  It became clear in no uncertain terms that we — and perhaps all newcomers — were not welcome by the competition.  That there was a sense of entitlement that left no room for any other Smiths tributes in California.  Aside from the issue of who the better band is, it’s just the attitude that kills me.  I would (and have) happily befriended any other tribute out there doing their best, be they better or worse than TCB.  But the attitude of entitlement when this music doesn’t “belong” to any of us, it boggles my mind.  I can’t and won’t recount all of the peculiar run-ins we’ve had both directly and indirectly with a certain established tribute band to the south, but I feel confident in saying that in my experience they appear to be every bit the bores people paint them as.  At least such fans as have not drank the proverbial Kool-Aid.

Now I’ve written and said much over the years on this topic.  Often in searing indictments against other Smiths tributes that I feel take their audiences for granted, honor themselves above The Smiths, and generally fail to treat the music with the respect it deserves.  Those that seem to see themselves as above their fans… instead of united among their fans in the greater love of The Smiths.  I’ve long said that if I felt the existing tribute bands had been doing it right, I’d be going to their shows instead of playing my own.  I guess I was always the militant member of TCB.  Our ministry of defense, as it were.  I wrote in many old blogs and Moz-Solo and its forums discussing various angles of my views on all of this stuff.  It’s tempting, but I won’t try to dig them all up now, or even try to quote from them as I don’t know if I even really feel the same these days.  But you can go find them if you’re interested.  I think I made a pretty strong argument on those occasions.  You can see, even here I couldn’t resist taking a few shots.  I’m only human.  But I’m also old and tired, and I care less about what people think.  People are free to prefer the lesser band if they so choose.  🙂

TCB always tried to focus on the music and the shared experience with the audience.  We didn’t get caught up in the dress up component, so there was no Morrissey drag involved.  That aspect seems to be the main focus for some other bands, perhaps at the expense of the music.  Some people liked that we didn’t dress up, that it gave us credibility and kept us from being silly.  Others missed that aspect and thought we looked silly because we weren’t dressed up.  Whatever our formula, it seemed to work for us.  We were able to connect with fans in a way I would have never thought possible.  From my perspective, it seems like we blazed some trails with respect to that audience participation, our attention to detail, even our flyers and website.  Thanks to Nick, we’d travel to all corners.  Towns and venues that no tributes played, we would go there and carve out an audience.  We’d ferret out the Smiths fans hiding in the woodwork.  And before long, other tribute bands (Smiths and otherwise) would start trying to get in there too.  That must sound pretty pompous to make all these claims, but I’m just telling you what I saw.  They’d try to force the crowd interaction that developed organically for us.  They’d follow us to the venues we “discovered.”  They’d try to devise their own artificial “army” in a Petri dish to match the Choir Boys and Moz Krew that just happened naturally at our shows (though those groups happened on their own and were not “ours”).  Their guitarists would watch our hands.  You get the picture.  The old guard trying to co-opt the fresh ideas of new blood.  I guess if nothing else, I think we made everyone up their game.

Final Thoughts
If you actually read this whole retrospective, bless you.  I had no idea it would end up so long.  Hope it was worth it.  🙂

TCB may have saved my life.  Maybe that’s dramatic, but I think it’s true.  Where I grew up, there wasn’t a scene of any sort, or at least none that I was hooked into.  All the cool clubs and cool kids you all have grown up with… I mean, I liked good music I think, but I was pretty alone in my little world.  I moved to San Francisco with my best friend, and didn’t branch out much.  A year later, he left the country and I was facing a potentially lonely existence in a big city where I knew almost no one.  That’s the exact moment TCB came into my life, and not only did it help to open me up, but it gave me an opportunity to meet a number of quality people with similar interests.  Many of my closest friends have come from my relationship with this band.  Without it, who knows how long this introvert would have lasted in S.F.?  I may have moved back to the ‘burbs, never to be heard from again.

Being in a band is funny.  I used to go see live music and the people on stage appeared to me as untouchable.  I never thought I would ever get there.  What magical creatures must these people be to be worthy of taking the stage and having all these people come to see them?  Somehow in the last five years, I have ended up on the other side of that looking glass.  It has its highs and lows and sacrifices.  I’ve spent Saturday nights on stage at The House Of Blues, and I’ve spent Saturday nights at home with a guitar, a Smiths bootleg, and a notepad.  And it’s changed the way I watch a show.  I go see someone at The Fillmore and I look at them like a colleague more than anything else.  They’re just people.  They’re arguing about set lists and dealing with crappy sound guys and looking for water in a dirty green room just like me.  So I guess it killed some of the magic for me there too, but that one I don’t mind.

Things I could have never imagined have happened to me directly or indirectly through TCB.  I’ve gotten to play venues and even turn down (!) venues I used to see my heroes play at.  I’ve seen Morrissey front and center, shaken his hand, been given his microphone, appeared in his video, and owned a shirt scrap.  I’ve shaken Johnny Marr’s own hand, stolen his pick, and accused him of making his songs too hard.  I’ve played a song on stage with Alain Whyte and met Boz Boorer in a casino after a show.  Hung out a bit with Gary Day.  A recording I played on appears on a CD you can buy at Amazon and Amoeba alike (which reminds me, somewhere there is an mp3 of 3/4 beat “sea shanty” outtake version of TCB doing “Hand In Glove” which you will probably never get to hear).  Anyway, I don’t mean all that as a bunch of name-dropping or bragging at all, but I want to illustrate the stark contrast.  In just over five years, I went from being a secret Smiths fan who felt more or less alone in that, to joining a community I never knew existed and meeting heroes that may as well have been unicorns to me before.  So whatever magic I may have lost along the way, I got back in spades.  I became, in my own awkward way, one of the cool kids.

I’ve got so many wonderful memories of playing shows, hanging out with the band, travelling, and making great friends.  It’s an absolute honor to play this music, and I can’t thank enough all of you who made it possible… bandmates past and present, friends who supported us every step of the way, and most of all the fans who love this music as much as we do and have found our efforts worthy of their time and money for the past five years.  The queen is dead.  Long live The Smiths.

My Froat Hurts

29 June 2010

I can’t believe it, but I’m down with another sore throat.  For once, I actually think this one can be blamed on allergies, but I’m not taking any chances.  The headache, the fatigue, it could be anything.  This may cause me to miss The Lost Boys in Santa Cruz.  Aww piss!

I had an exciting birthday weekend that included another great show by Slim Cessna, as well as some dinners and lunches with friends and family.  This weekend is a merciful three-day, but as I’m too lazy to drive down to SoCal for Hootenanny (I-5 on a holiday weekend?  No thanks.), I’m left with some time to kill.  Could this be the weekend I finally make some headway with storage?  Let’s consider:

The Facts
When I left the East Bay in 2004, I put everything I owned (that I wasn’t taking with me to S.F.) in a storage unit out there.  We’re talking years of toys, sports equipment, baseball cards, school papers, books, and God knows what else.  I haven’t even cracked the door on this place in the last six years.  I don’t remember all of what was in there or even how much of it there was.  For all I know, the unit was broken into the day after I left it, and I’ve been paying monthly rent on an empty unit for the better part of a decade.  This is hundreds of dollars going out the window every year, and for what?  Because I haven’t gotten off my ass to take care of it.

The Options
The way I see it, there are four possibilities, and they are as follows:

  1. Do Nothing
    There’s nothing that says I have to do anything about it now.  It’s not that expensive, and I could leave it all in storage for another 10 years if I wanted to.  The upside is that it costs me no effort.  The downside is not only the monthly rent but also the mental and spiritual weight of knowing I have all these possessions in my name that are going to waste and occupying space in my consciousness.
  2. Keep It
    There’s too much to move in my car in one trip, and it’s a 45 minute trip one way.  But I could take a few trips, or else rent/borrow a truck and get all of my stuff out of there.  The question is: what would I do with it?  I don’t have room in my place for all of that crap unless I want it in a big pile in the middle of my living room.  And then there are the spiders to consider.  After all these years undisturbed, I shudder to think how many critters — alive or dead — might be lurking in all those dark boxes.  The last thing I want to do is bring that nightmare into my house!  All I’d really be doing here is trading the cost of the storage unit rent for space in my living room.  No me gusta.
  3. Give It Away
    Now we’re getting into the more serious options.  I think the reality is that I have lived this long without this stuff, to the point I don’t even remember most of what’s in there.  Do I really need it anymore?  I guess I always thought I’d have kids someday and that they’d inherit all this stuff and it would find the perfect use.  Even if I do have kids though, they’re going to be all about Nintendo.  What would they want with an old G.I. Joe or a box of baseball cards?  I feel like the era of passing toys onto your kids has started to pass.  It’s not the same as it was with our parents’ generation, is it?  Or is it?  I can see the value in going through all these old toys again and the memories it will surely evoke.  Is that final going-through-them-in-preparation-to-give-them-away a sufficient final extraction of value?  Or do I need to keep them longer?  Or could I get away with taking and keeping pictures of them?  The memories could be preserved that way.  It feels like a scary proposition to just give all this stuff away.  For all the time and effort and money that went into collecting it and storing it for what amounts to almost my whole life… to just wake up one day and sweep it out the door?  That’s huge!
  4. Sell It
    This feels about the same as just giving it away.  It has the bonus of at least feeling like it’s going to someone who appreciates it.  I mean, if someone bothers to track down a Hot Wheels from me, he probably really wants that car.  So it would be like it was serving a purpose again, plus there’d be at least some money in it.  If I could snap my fingers and sell everything in that storage unit for its fair price, heck it might not even add up to what I’ve spent on storing it the last six years.  And of course it won’t be that easy.  It’d probably be a big pain in the ass to catalog and sell all of that stuff.  Ebay?  Craig’s List?  It might take weeks to move it all.  And this isn’t exactly the economy to be selling trinkets.  But I feel like I should be getting some money for it at least.  I mean, my parents paid for most of it with their hard-earned money during my childhood.  The least I could do is get a return and pass it on to them.  Just getting rid of it feels like it would be an insult.

The Horns Of A Dilemma
On the one hand, I feel like I need to shed this weight, but on the other it pains me to think of the wasted money and stress of keeping it for all this time just to suddenly dump it unceremoniously.  So in all seriousness, I’d love to get your input.  Surely some of you have been through some variation on this same experience.  Am I being ridiculous?  The Buddhist in me says “give it away, let it go, it’s served its purpose, and it’s only hurting you now.”  And I secretly fantasize about what it would feel like to know all my material possessions are right here with me, easily tracked, easily moved, and easily disposed of.  Like I’d be more mobile.  Lighter.  What to do?

The Sudden Change Of Subject
That debut album from The Drums finally came out.  It’s pretty good, kinda like Joy Division with an upbeat surf slant… and a healthy dose of new romantic.  In terms of accessibility, I think their “Summertime!” EP was a little catchier, but this album is still worth a hear.

Shedding The Past, Sartorially Speaking

29 May 2010

So for whatever reason, I got the sudden urge to clean out my closet and get rid of all the stuff that I don’t wear anymore.  Of course I wasn’t hoping to get any money out of it — I don’t wear those kinds of clothes.  But I figured if I can prevent it from going to waste and maybe gain back some of my apartment real estate in the process, everybody wins.

Well today I had at it, and I’m left pissed at all the clothes I piled up.  Sure, there were plenty of old t-shirts and shabby clothes that aren’t much good to anyone who isn’t desperate purely to keep warm.  But there were also loads of perfectly good quality bowling shirts that I used to think were so stylish.  See, back in the early and mid 2000’s, I was all into the clothes of Daddy-O’s.  Girls love the dresses there, but I was all about the bowling shirts.  I can’t knock the quality, because they really make good stuff.  But these days, those things look less rockabilly to me and more… I don’t know… douchey Vegas?  That’s not an across the board indictment, because certainly some guys can still pull it off.  It looks more appropriate on older men, I’d say.  Anyway, my point is that those things aren’t cheap, and so I’m looking at hundreds of my old consulting dollars down the drain.

I am not dumping any of my Hawaiian shirts though, because I have every intention of bringing back the Hawaiian shirt this summer.  You have been warned.

In my digging, I was surprised to find my beloved and practically unused powder blue suede shoes, as well as my real saddle shoes back before you could buy them at Hot Topic.  I came across (and kept) some sweaters and sweater shirts, several PeopleSoft shirts, a few holy skater shirts from middle school.  I had forgotten I even had a t-shirt from Shotgun Willie’s strip club in Denver.  (That’s a consultant story I’ll share in redacted form someday.)  And horror of horrors, I even found some silk boxers!  I had chosen to forget I ever used to wear silk boxers.  And the last remaining proof goes in the garbage tonight.

In fairness, I did unearth some other unnameable corruptions in the back of my closet.  I don’t know if the Dragonfly shirt company is still around, but they should be charged with crimes against humanity for some of the blasphemous garments they supplied to my wardrobe.  Plus, was I like… a raverat one point?  I have all these trippy millennium-era club shirts.  Black and white swirly patterns and weird shimmery materials.  Blanket apology to any woman who had to be seen with me in them.  I almost hesitate to give them to Goodwill, as passing on these dark testaments to the lower bounds of fashion is surely no show of any “good will.”

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “where are the pics?  I want to see these unspeakable things!”  No, you don’t.  Believe me.  You think it will enrich your life, but you are mistaken.

So long black Nike swim trunks with the giant white “swoosh” across the butt.  Goodbye hideous plush polo shirts I used to wear when I started consulting.  Au revoir countless pairs of semi-worn black slacks that span my career from working in a pool store to last year.  Sayonara black satin club/bowling shirt monstrosities.  Adios polo shirts with a stripe across the chest that I used to sport every day in place of the t-shirts I wear now.  Ciao endless piles of white t-shirts that I kept for who knows what reason.  No, I didn’t have to get rid of you today, but you’ve been going to waste in my closet for the last decade.  And the momentary fond memories of 1997-2005 that you brought back to me during this exercise is your final act.

400 Miles Of Bad Road

26 April 2010

Well it was a long drive to and from SoCal this last weekend, but a worthwhile trip all in all.  In lieu of a full narrative, here are 10 fun facts about the trip, in no particular order:

  1. Both shows were great, particularly the Juke Joint in Anaheim.  The 454’s “Secret Agent Man” helped us out on a couple songs.  I felt like we were all pretty solid, and I really felt like I was “on.”  I attribute some of that to a new guitar, which made its debut this weekend.  More on that in a future post, but you can see that it’s featured on the Couch Guitar Strap site, along with me, my strap, and Meg’s photography!  How cool is that?
  2. Nick was kind enough to play tour-guide for me while in Hollywood, and one of our stops was the famous Griffith Observatory, which I’d never seen.  The drive up to the top of the mountain included some close encounters with coyotes, closer than I usually get to them near my house anyway.  The building is amazing, and the view you can imagine.  We posed for obligatory pictures next to the bust of James Dean.  I narrowly resisted the urge to pose with Griffith Park’s dancing bear statue, a decision for which I am sure to receive flack from some of you.
  3. I got to see Jessica and Paulo!  We dined at the hip “Kitchen 24,” and they even made a rare appearance at our show!
  4. I got to see Colin!  We spent some time in Amoeba, and just before parting ways, we saw Brigitte Bardot herself pull up, put her two puppies in a stroller, and step into the store.  She smiled at us!  And I snapped a quick pic of her Jaguar (the plate read “BBARDOT”) as proof.
  5. Hollywood is just drowning in famous hotels, offices, high schools, avenues, and other landmarks.  Big pink Greek houses that could only belong to celebrities.  Thanks again to Nick who pointed them all out.  In San Francisco, we have the occasional small claims to fame.  This or that restaurant appeared in this or that movie.  But what a trip it must be to live in Hollywood and be just surrounded with that stuff daily.
  6. I made it to a Claim Jumper after all.  That’s right, bitches.
  7. The Castro is pretty gay, no question.  But I’d argue it’s got nothing on WeHo.  My favorite sight?  The giant billboard for Pink Moving.  Phone number is 877-OMG-PINK.  I love it!
  8. While we’re at it, Hollywood Blvd. beats the Haight or just about anywhere else in the Bay Area in terms of quantity of stores to shop at.  So much to do and see there, I think Shel and I would never get bored.
  9. Before you go thinking I have some love affair going on with L.A., let’s be clear about the cons, because they are major.  Deal breakers even.  The traffic is horrific.  There are 4 million people there, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise.  But the consequence is then terrible air quality.  I was hoarse and coughing the whole time I was down there, and it was so refreshing to breathe in the cool and moist air of home as I crossed the Bay Bridge last night.  Sorry SoCal.
  10. The most unexpected aspect of the trip was that I started to realize that as part of getting over some of my travel anxieties of the past couple of years, I’m starting to actually rediscover the excitement of travelling!  As much as the long drive down I-5 sucks, the freedom of open road, no schedule, and anything goes reminded me a bit of when I first got my license as a teen.  I’m only scratching the surface of it now… barely a formed thought… but more to come as I get my head around it.

Well then, that’s the weekend in a nutshell.  It was not what I expected, but in some ways even better, and a welcome diversion to be sure.  I’m looking forward now to some of the upcoming trips… I think.

“Shyness is nice, and
Shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life you’d like to.”

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