Sunday, January 29, 2012


I guess I am obligated, based on recent stories; to address the category of most overrated rock bands. To recap, I exhorted on who I thought was the greatest rock band ever (The Who), which begat a story on the most underrated bands. Both of those stories were positive feel-goods, at least from my end, as I attempted to show why all the above were deserving of far more respect than they earned.

Now it’s time to flip the script.

Rock is littered with bands that achieved far beyond their talent. To be clear, I am not talking about one hit wonders here – those bands got their requisite fifteen minutes of fame then faded as they should have. Nothing overrated about the Starland Vocal Band or Bubble Puppy. They had their hit, had their time on the charts then went back to wherever they belonged…which was, not annoying us anymore.

No, I am talking about bands, some of them legendary, as the list will reveal, that in my mind fluked their way to fame. Bands that, if you dissect their work, even minimally, reveal a sham. Now, there is a common thread among the bands on this list, and that is excellent timing. Some appeared at the most opportune time and took advantage of a sentiment or a mood. Hey, cool. But do not ever confuse opportunity with talent. Cuz these bands, quite frankly, did not have much.

So here we go. I got my Hater Hat firmly planted on my head. And with a Ringo Starr (most overrated drummer) drum roll, I give you, first, the runners-up of Most Overrated Rock Bands in history:


This band roared onto the scene in the mid-70’s with a rich, deep, hard rock groove featuring double-lead guitars and the somewhat soulful voice of Brad Delp. They dominated FM radio airplay and their debut album went multi-zillion platinum. “I close my eyyyyyyes and I slip awayyyyyy….’ Then the double-leads kicked in. Infectious, soaring guitars.

Then we found out it was all manufactured in a studio. Tom Scholz was an MIT grad in Engineering who took basic guitar riffs and processed them through various electronic gadgetry, mixed it, mixed it again, then for good measure mixed it one more time before deciding it was a sound worth making money off of.

That first album had fans screaming for more. It took a couple of years for Sholz to 'manufacture' another album, Don’t Look Back, in 1978, that sounded, well, exactly like the first one. But since the debut was so good (supposedly), fans ate up the second one. They wanted more. It took eight years before they got Third Stage, which sounded, you guessed it, like the first two. The bloom was clearly off this rose. Three albums in twelve years were enough to show this wasn’t a band.

It was a science project.

The Sex Pistols

Here was a band that was the beneficiary of outrageously good timing. Coming out of Britain in 1977, they cashed in on a growing unrest among the masses due to a recession and a general distaste for the royalty over there. So they did a lot of heroin, screamed loudly, and hated everything. They didn’t do songs, they did primal rants. Zero musical value. Johnny Rotten (what an appropriate surname, even if it was concocted) couldn’t sing, Sid Vicious couldn’t play guitar, and the rest of the hacks were equally horrible.

“I-I-I am an Anarchist-ah!”

No, you suck. And it is an absolute travesty that they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Y’all knew this was coming, didn’t ya? I have never been a fan of KISS, but hey, at least take comfort in knowing there is a band that I think is even more overrated than them.

But first, my case for having them here:

To be fair, KISS is a great party band. They had some anthemic songs that to this day will get people out shaking their asses. And further, they put on one hell of a show. The KISS Army is a loyal, devoted bunch.

But musically, they’re kindergarteners. Know how most rock songs are three power chords? KISS couldn’t handle three, so they reduced it to two. Really, none of them are decent musicians, as witnessed by their laughable ‘Individual’ albums of the late 70’s. Okay Ace Frehley scored a semi-hit with New York Groove, but you would think that, with four albums consisting of a combined 40-plus songs…if they were any good, there would be at least a half dozen memorable tunes there, right?

There wasn’t. Because there’s very little talent. And they also had the annoying pretense of thinking they were better than they really were. Amazing what makeup and costumes can do, eh?

And Gene Simmons is the biggest douchebag on the planet.

And now…I give you the Most Overrated Band in Rock History:

The Grateful Dead

Oh my. I can already feel the backlash. The DEAD?!? How could you?

Here’s how.

First off, TWO drummers? WHY? Look, I have listened to the Dead’s music and I have divined nothing within it so intricate that it requires two percussionists. They basically play the same damn thing anyway. My guess is one of them was their dope connection so they felt obligated.

Their musical library. Quick – name a Dead hit. I’ll give you Touch of Grey and Casey Jones. Name another one. Okay, Truckin'. This band was around for forty-plus years and nobody can tell me what was so wondrously memorable about their songs. That’s probably because their legion of followers were as drug-addled as they were.

But the real reason is, they didn’t do songs. They did impromptu jams. And that’s the defense their fans give for their supposed greatness – it wasn’t about spitting out airplay hits, it was about their concert aura, how a Dead show was the most spiritually uplifting, five-hour tie-dyed party on the planet (I am still trying to figure out which planet they are referring to). So they just went wherever the feeling (and the dope) took them. And yes, I know, the Deadheads will say that’s what made them great, and why they followed the band on their tours. No two shows were the same – in Memphis they may do a 20-minute version of I Need a Miracle, and the next night in Nashville they may extend it to 30 minutes.


The thing is, even those extended, boring jams were lousy. They were of high-school garage band level talent-wise. What, Jerry Garcia dropped some killer blotter acid so he thought he was suddenly Jimi Hendrix? He wasn't. Bob Weir could sing, but when they went off-script, which they consistently did since they never had a script, it just sounded like a muddled mishmash of guys trying not to overdose while performing. Having been hatched in the San Francisco Summer of Love of 1967, they caught the imagination of the times and turned it into forty years of crappy musicianship. They were the epitome of the now-tired cliché - the more you drink, the better we sound.

So there you go. Four bands that each member of should wake up each morning thanking their lucky stars that they were able to get over on the rest of the world and make a fortune being lousy.

But knowing the Sex Pistols, they’re likely just to give us the finger.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What’s Your Sign?

Every now and then, when I am in the middle of a, say, work conversation on a technical matter, I will preface a statement with “Well, the Virgo in me wants to know…”

The reason I do this is, according to the day I was born, I am supposed to be cerebral, pragmatic and inquisitive. I am also supposed to be anal retentive, critical, and generally a pain to be around. I would make a good accountant but a lousy chef. I am able to balance budgets but cannot get more creative than adding two plus two. Virgos are meticulous perfectionists. Supposedly.

Guess I better straighten up around here then in case the Zodiac Police drop by.

Look, I don’t want to poo-poo astrology, but the, ahem, Virgo in me has a hard time believing that your personality is predicated on what day you were born on. And further, that every single person on the planet that was born between August 23 and September 22 has the same traits. And if you were to go with the Chinese zodiac, they go by years (Happy Year of the Dragon, y’all). So in their system everyone born in a specific year have the same traits. So everyone born this year, 2012, will be like this:

The key to the Dragon personality is that Dragons are the free spirits of the Zodiac. Conformation is a Dragon's curse. Rules and regulations are made for other people. Restrictions blow out the creative spark that is ready to flame into life. Dragons must be free and uninhibited. The Dragon is a beautiful creature, colorful and flamboyant. An extroverted bundle of energy, gifted and utterly irrepressible, everything Dragons do is on a grand scale - big ideas, ornate gestures, extreme ambitions. However, this behavior is natural and isn't meant for show. Because they are confident, fearless in the face of challenge, they are almost inevitably successful.

Sounds like we’re gonna have a glut of porn stars in about 20 years.

I was born in the Year of the Dog. So maybe if we mix the traits of a Virgo with the traits of the Dog, we can get a bit more specific. Yeah, that may work, since now we’re talking about September 1958, 1970, 1982 and 2004:

Dogs can be a bit overwhelming, due in part to their attentive natures. They can march in and take control of a situation, even when it doesn’t involve them directly. This can lead people to think Dogs are nosy or gossipy, but in reality, he just means well. Money and status don’t matter to the Dog. He is more concerned with the welfare of his family and friends and will do whatever it takes to help them out of a tight squeeze or a rough spot.

Hmmm….so the Virgo says I am critical…but the Dog says I am concerned for the welfare of others. Yeah, okay – I am concerned over your inability to know bullshit when you see it.

Did I mention that Virgos are also known for their sarcasm?

I don’t believe in this astrology stuff. But I have to admit that it is interesting, and I find many things I don’t believe in interesting. Like the Tea Party. But I digress. I readily admit that talking about personality traits tied to astrological signs is great party conversation. It even has a certain fascination, as we tend to assess our personalities against what the zodiac says they should be. Invariably we find similarities that could make one conclude hey, there may be something to this. I find this happens when they talk about the ‘positive’ traits of their sign, but as soon as the negative traits are listed, they tend to go Oh no. That’s not me.

So people get what they want out of it. Hey, I’m down. Whatever works. But please – to let it run your life or plan your day? "Oh I can’t take Aunt Harriett to the store today…my eighth moon in the fifth phase of the third house says I’m gonna wrap my Prius around a tree.”

That’s a bit obsessive. Sounds like you were born in September.

Further, the signs say whom we are supposedly compatible with. Hey, many people believe that their mate must have a compatible sign lest the marriage degenerate into a miniature hell on earth. In my case, being a Dog, I am supposed to avoid Dragons. So all you 12-year olds are safe out there. But you 24, 36 and 48-year olds, watch out. We are supposedly oil and water.

Dang. And there’s some hot 24-year olds I would like to get to know.

But alas, I can’t. Not because I am old enough to be your father (shut up), but because your Dragon will devour my Dog. Which actually sounds kinda hot.

But I digress again.

Anyway, if you want to believe in this stuff, who am I to say you shouldn’t. It’s my nature to be skeptical. After all, according to the stars I am a vain, cold, unemotional automaton who falls asleep while making love. Virgos are supposed to make good bus drivers or pimps.

So don’t get on my bad side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Year of the Buzzard

I see that, according to the Chinese New Year, this is the year of the Dragon. Nice. And, of course, just like the traditional zodiac, everyone who is born this year will all have the exact same personality traits.
But that’s now what I want to talk about.
I was driving down I-4 this morning listening to the only FM station that plays rock in this town, and my mind drifted back to when I was coming of age in northeast Ohio in the late 1970s. Yep, I started doing a ‘back in my day’ rant in my head, and the crux if it was how little of ‘my’ music is on the radio these days.
Getting older? Sure. But nowadays it is more about ipods and playlists and downloads and Pandora and satellite radio that customizes each person’s songs to their personal liking. Hey, technology is a wonderful thing. Digitized music shrunk down to a device the size of a credit card that can store thousands of songs. Slip it in your shirt pocket, plug in the Skullcandy and you’re good to go. Consequently, traditional FM just ain’t what it used to be. It has become the poor-man’s playlist.
This was not the case in 1978.
Back then, FM radio was the shit.
Not only because of the music (which was a huge part of it) but because that was our only true vehicle for song delivery. Oh sure, we had eight-track tapes, but any good upstanding red blooded slacker-in-training in northeast Ohio listened to one station, and one station only - WMMS 100.7. The Buzzard. The station said those call letters stood for 'Where Music Means Something'. We always said it meant 'Weed Makes Me Smile'.

The 'Buzzard' moniker predated a lot of markets that imitated WMMS by calling their station ‘The Ape of Cincinnati’ or ‘The Wolf of Kansas City’ or whatever. The Buzzard was it. They won Rolling Stone’s FM Radio of the Year award nine years straight, and for many of us late-teens with raging hormones in the greater Cleveland area, it was our mantra. The Buzzard told us what to do. Whether it was Jeff & Flash on the morning drive, Denny Sanders mid-days, Kid Leo on evening drive or the BLF Bash late nights, they summoned, we obeyed.

Kid Leo signed off at 6pm, but on Friday nights he would end a bit earlier, so that we could be treated to Murray Saul telling us that we "GOTTA GOTTA GOTTA GOTTTAGGOTTAGOTTAGOTTA GET DOWWWWN DAMMIT!" which seque'd into the same three songs - Friday on My Mind, Cleveland Rocks, and Born to Run.

BLF Bash would play Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (the full 20-minute version) every Saturday night at midnight while he likely banged some hot groupie in the studio…or so we imagined.

WMMS was our Facebook. It was our social network that told us where to be, who to be with, and what events that were not to be missed. In 1978, to celebrate their tenth anniversary on the air, the held a free - FREE - concert featuring none other than Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. For the months preceding it, they copiously gave away free tickets to this show, held at the Cleveland Agora, and each time they announced that the twentieth caller would win I would dial (rotary-dial phone) like mad to score those tickets. Alas, I couldn’t. But that was okay, because they broadcasted it live.

I attended college in the mornings and worked at a grocery store in the afternoons. I was in the Produce department where most of my time was spent trimming heads of lettuce, wrapping packages of plums and smoking weed out back…or in the cooler. Being out of the customer area of the store provided me the opportunity to jam out to WMMS, every day, from 3pm to 9pm. Then I would get in my 1978 Camaro Z-28, pick up a 12-pack of Genesee Cream Ale, and me and my cohorts would do whatever criminal misdemeanors we had planned that night…while listening to WMMS. It was a time of relative innocence and freedom - of That One Summer where everything was shimmeringly bright - we were old enough to get down, but young enough not to have mortgages, babies or bills.
WMMS always had the first announcement of any concert dates, and I can recall one in particular - Led Zeppelin. Their 1980 tour. WMMS announced the tour dates at the Richfield Coliseum (which has since been torn down) and how to get tickets. Due to the expected onslaught of demand for such a high-profile show, they had a special arrangement that required getting a money order and mailing it in. The day they gave out the instructions I ran down to the post office to get that money order. Yes, back in those days that’s where you got money orders. The instructions were very explicit - tickets were $30 apiece (Thirty bucks!) plus a $1.50 handling charge, so $31.50 each. I drove like a bat out of hell (Meat Loaf) to the post office ready to hand them $63.00 for my money order then straight to the mailbox.
Standing in front of me was this very cute blonde who was trying to explain to the middle-aged teller what she was trying to do - ‘Uh, they told me I have to, uh, get a $30 plus a dollar fifty, I think, money order for…’
I jumped in. I said “She's going to see Zeppelin! She heard it on WMMS! She needs a $31.50 money order! And a $63 money order for me! ZEPPELIN!!!! WOOO HOOOO!!!!”
Yeah, I tapped that.
Sadly, that tour got cancelled when John Bonhan, Zeppelin’s drummer, died of asphyxiation. He drowned in his own vomit after binge drinking. So I never got the tickets.
Looking back, that event was the beginning of the end for WMMS, and for that phase of my life. Less than a year later, I graduated from Kent State and moved away from the Cleveland area. I became an adult.
Now it's over 30 years later. I'm a middle-aged, responsible father with a mortgage and a mundane job. As I drive down I-4 towards downtown Orlando heading to work, I have WJRR blasting through the box. And I hear that Red Hot Chili Peppers are coming to the Amway Center, tickets going on sale next week.
And I think, I hope Anthony Kiedes doesn’t overdose before the show.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Most Underrated in Rock

Earlier this month I wrote a story on who I thought was the greatest band ever. The Who. Kind of surprisingly, a number of people agreed with me. I was waiting for the Led Zep legion to come out and hang me. Seems the consensus, based on my extremely small focus group of 12 followers, is that not only are The Who the best ever, but that Who’s Next was one of, if not the, greatest rock albums of all time.

Well, that’s a subject of another debate. This time I want to delve into the topic of most underrated band. The only one ground rule I had in this highly subjective competition was, it had to be someone people have heard of, so you can’t say ‘My cousin’s kick-ass garage band.’ These have to be bands that people would at least say, oh yeah…I remember them.

With that kick-off, I give you the three bands that I think truly never got the recognition they deserved. First, some Honorable Mentions:

The Spin Doctors - Awesome debut album with a quirky fun pop sound, then pfffft. What the heck happened?
Montrose - You're Rock Candy're hot sweet and sticky. Sammy Hagar's first band.
Chicago - Never inducted in the R&R HOF, which is a glaring oversight
Midnight Oil - Most relevant Australian Band (Sorry AC/DC)
Cake - Best band you've probably never heard of

Now, I give you the three runners-up, in no particular order:

The Kinks

Okay. Everyone has heard of The Kinks. Many would even go so far as to say, “UNDERRATED? Cmon Jer…they got their due.”

I respectfully disagree.

Sure, they had longevity. Sure, they had hits – Lola, Sunday Afternoon, Come Dancing, Superman, and they even get re-relevantized every holiday season with Father Christmas (give us your money…we got no time for your silly toys…).

But my rationale for including them in this ‘Most Underrated’ category is, they gave us the best guitar riff in rock. And like most memorable rock riffs, it was simple and powerful. Five notes –

Da DADA Duh Da…Da DADA Duh Da…

Girl, you really got me now. You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing.

I just gave you an earworm and you’re tapping your feet now aren’t ya?

I rest my case.

Thin Lizzy

Trust me, this band was a lot more than 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. Led by one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock, a black-Irishman, Phil Lynott, this band had attitude. And they delivered that attitude with a tight, clean sound that had you simultaneously dancing your ass off and sticking your middle finger in the air in rebellion. Their songs were also the works of professionals of their respective crafts, that, when melded together, told wonderful tales of life in the streets, mysticism...and cowboys. 

Yes, cowboys. This is my favorite TL tune -

Sadly, their career was short-lived thus never getting the true accolades they deserved. But for a period of time, from 1975 through 1980, nobody was better. And Phil was taken from us too soon, dying in 1986 at the age of 36.



Humble Pie

Wow. What a band. They were a power punch to the solar plexus courtesy of a driving blues beat punctuated by the one-of-a-kind voice of Steve Marriott. Steve was absolutely amazing. There was no voice like his – a soaring, snarling, soulful much-larger-than-his-body where-in the hell-did-that-come-from sound of absolute joy. Nobody put more of himself or herself into a song than Steve did. Thirty Days In the Hole, Stone Cold Fever. And, of course, he didn’t need no doctor –

But it wasn’t just Steve. That band also featured a guitarist that went on the have a decent career. Guy by the name of Peter Frampton.

But the winner of The Most Underrated Band in Rock History Is…

The Dave Clark Five

The DC5 was part of the British Invasion of the mid-1960’s (that coincidentally also brought us The Who and The Kinks). From 1964 through 1968 they traded top of the chart hits with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, churning out hit after hit – Glad All Over, Catch Us If You Can, Because, Do You Love Me, Bits And Pieces…to name just a few.

They captured the tone of that era perfectly – that mid-60’s pop sound. They were The Beatles with more ‘party’ to them – they were innovative, being the first rock band to have a saxophone player. And if you were having a party, they were the band you wanted in the house. They also introduced the concept of ‘over-modulation’ to producing, later mimicked by Phil Spector and his Wall Of Sound. That sort of almost too-loud, make the speakers shake distortion that had you reaching to turn down the volume, making you think that it’s your phonograph player with it’s crappy speakers doing the deed.

Nope, that was just the DC5 doing their thing. And doing it very well. 

What also made the DC5 beautiful was their simple message - let's have fun. There were no social statements to their music, no hidden lyrics that could only be discerned by playing the song backwards, no hidden agendas. They didn't try to make us think - they wanted us happy. Their message was this: We are gonna have a party, and we are gonna make sure every ass is shaking on the dance floor. Joy. Pure joy. Certainly what we needed as a country in the wake of the Kennedy assassination and the deepening of the Vietnam War. The world was bleak and sorrow filled the air...until the DC5 re-injected some much-needed and cathartic joy.

Their career was rather short-lived, as the psychedelic sound of the late-60’s made most people turn away from that pop sound of a few years earlier. Sadly for DC5, they weren’t some bubblegum band that should have been discarded. They were legendary, and those songs still hold up. If you disagree, give a looksee at the following, or as Dave said, WATCH ME NOW!” -

Tell me you aren’t gonna play that song at your next frat party.

They were (finally) inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, about twenty years too late, which, in my opinion, cemented their status as most underrated. It took the world far too long to catch on. Tell 'em Tom -

Better late than never, for the most underrated band in rock history.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pop Tarts and Hurricanes

I bought a house in 2003, in the nice Florida town of Port St. Lucie. A modest 3/2/2, 1600 square foot slice of suburbia. It was built from scratch and I moved in on December 17, 2003.

Nine months later, in September 2004, I was directly hit by two hurricanes. Frances and Jeanne.


I had never been through a hurricane before, and then – double wham – Frances, a Cat 2, hits on September 4, and exactly three weeks later, Jeanne, a Cat 3 followed the identical path. The eyes of both passed right over my nine-month-old house, as I stayed inside scared out of my wits armed with candles and a loaded shotgun. See, I had heard that after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, that there was widespread looting. Well by God, nobody was gonna loot my house!

There was the first lesson. Nobody robs houses during a hurricane, dumbass. They do it afterwards, when the power’s out and the police are busy with other things…and if you live in Miami.

So the loaded shotgun was kinda unnecessary.

The days following the hurricanes were really crazy. You don’t realize how much you depend on electricity until you don’t have it. And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like for air conditioning or cooking food. It affects everything. For example, gas stations. After the hurricanes passed, gas stations had plenty of fuel in their underground tanks, but you couldn’t get it…because it takes electricity to pump the gas into your car. Street signals don’t work, so each intersection was like a miniature demolition derby where playing chicken was the norm. The radio said to ‘treat each intersection like a four-way stop’ – yeah okay. Tell Earnhart Junior that as he tears through it at 60mph.

Life gets very boring without electricity. No television, no internet. You better have good batteries in your radio because that’s your only connection to the outside world. Which in retrospect, was not that big a deal, since all you are going to hear are 24/7 reports about intersections without working signals.

It is amazing how quickly our mightly country degenerates when there's no electricity. You kind of get glimpses of what Haiti must be like during these times. As we got to our third and fourth day of no power, people started getting desperate. And pretty ripe, from four days of no bathing (which is, by the way, why you are supposed to fill your bathroom tub with water prior to the hurricane coming). Reports of FPL repair trucks, and rumors of where they are restoring power, become the dominant conversation. Hand-made signs at intersections, directing the power trucks to specific locales with the promise of lemonade, food...or other basics needs (use your imagination) were constructed. "FPL...WE ARE ON ELM STREET...FREE BUDWEISERS!" You know how in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, women flash for beads? They were flashing for electricity after the hurricanes here.

Which brings up another phenomena that occurred in the wake of the storms. The electric dance. Not to be confused with the electric slide. Or the atomic dog. No, this was a spontaneous celebration of individuals when the power finally came back on. In my instance, it was a late afternoon as I was lying in my recliner with all the windows open, trying to get my house down to a comfortable 87 degrees. It was Day Five after Frances. I had my eyes closed, trying to force another break from harsh reality, when suddenly, I heard a 'whirr...POP' sound outside. Then there was a flicker of my lights...then off...then...ON! My cable box fired up, my a/c kicked on and my fridge started humming. Power! Overcome with relief, I took to the streets - "WE HAVE POWER!!! POWER I SAY!!! MWAAAAAHHHH HAHAHAHA.....!!!!" And proceeded to do a dance that confirmed my permanent whiteness:

The Electric Dance.

Eating obviously becomes a challenge. To this end, you are advised to stock up on non-perishable foods. MREs – Meals Ready To Eat – were distributed. And that’s another lesson learned. If you see a line of people anywhere, stand in it. Because it meant they were giving out something – ice, bottled water, new fenders…whatever. Get in that line.

You got nothing better to do anyway.

But back to food. Here in Florida, they advise residents to have a ‘hurricane kit’ at the ready, stocked with batteries, first aid kit…and non-perishable food items. I had one. It was stocked with Pringles potato chips, Planters nuts, and pop tarts.

Pop tarts. I had never in my life ever eaten a raw pop tart. They have to be heated in the toaster don’t you know – gotta kill all those preservatives. Well let me tell you – I ate so many GodDAMN unheated pop tarts in those days after Frances and Jeanne that whenever I see them now in the grocery store my mind immediately flashes back to those days after those hurricanes. I cannot even stomach to look at them, much less consume them. Even heated.

The plus side of the Hurricane Season From Hell of 2004 experience was my neighborhood grew closer. My next-door neighbors fired up their charcoal grill and cooked up food for everyone. And everyone brought their meats from their without-electricity refrigerators to cook up before they spoiled. We had a grand time.

But eventually thing got back to normal. Power was restored, and we got back to our lives.

Then Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005.

And I didn’t eat a single damn pop tart.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Kids Are All Right

I was just sitting here thinking about my largest source of pride. My son Nick. He is a great kid. Does well in school, is polite, never embarrasses himself or me.

Which got me thinking – is he a typical teenager?

I mean, I am, of course, biased. I’m his dad for crying out loud, and if he weren’t a good kid I would likely still insist he was. But he truly is a good kid. He lives with his mom, and as such I do not have daily contact with him, so I don’t know if he’s sneeking behind the water tower at school and copping a few puffs or bullying the neighborhood kids. So I ask his mom if he’s getting in any kind of trouble. Her reply: ‘Oh heavens no.’ If anything, Nick keeps to himself too much and should socialize more. But as far as warning flags as he morphs into an adult, they’re not there. Not yet, at least.

And to find out what a ‘typical teenager’ is I ask my friends and co-workers about their kids. Time and again, I hear few problems. Oh sure, there are cases of recalcitrance or worse, but it seems like the next generation is, by and large, doing okay.


Rewind back to when I was a teenager. Rebellion was the buzzword. What we did was defined very easily – whatever pissed off our parents. Back then the social construct heavily touted was the Generation Gap – the gulf of values and beliefs that existed between our parents and us. And honestly, looking back on those days, I feel ashamed. My dad was a World War II veteran who worked two jobs to put a roof over our heads and food in our snarky, disrespectful stomachs. My mom also worked, and she thanklessly and selflessly gave of herself for me and my three siblings’ betterment. And their reward was attitude from all four of us. Or worse.

Good thing abortion was illegal back in the 50’s.

There were monumental gulfs on politics, music, damn near everything between my parent’s generation and ours. Rock and roll was here to stay, and Frank Sinatra was an old fogey. We questioned political leaders while our parents respectfully obeyed them. We protested, they conformed. We opened our mouths, they kept theirs closed. We were considered disrespectful anarchists, to be shoved into a corner and a lid placed on.

So okay. Back to today. Now we are the parents. Ohh boy. Payback time, right?

Doesn’t appear so.

My son loves classic rock, the same music I grew up with. He disagrees with me on some things, but agrees on many. And the ones he does disagree with me on, we can have a discussion about with total mutual respect and without shouting or slammed doors. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I had to raise my voice to him. And he interacts with other adults in a respectful manner. Further, his peers seem to be the same way…if how they interact with me on Facebook is any indication. Gawd, this was nothing like how my dad and I interacted when I was 17.

So does this mean we’re producing a bunch of clones? No. What I think it means is we have raised a generation of kids that ‘get it’ insofar as what we have tried to impart on them. They are free-thinkers, but they seem to, more or less, embrace the same values we did. There’s no perceived Generation Gap, at least as far as I can see.

What does this mean for our future? Not ours, in terms of our generation, but in terms of how the next generation will deal with the world. Well, I think it means they will be cooperative, collaborative, and a bit cynical.

Just like we were with everyone.

Except our parents.

What’s Your Zen?

The world is crazy. Daily grinds can, well, grind you down. We all need an escape, an oasis where we can shut out the madness and calm our minds. Something that is positive, calming, rejuvenating.

So jumping out of airplanes doesn’t count.

I’m not talking about what we do for a rush or for excitement, but rather, what we do to just get away without burning vacation days or spending a couple thou on a cruise. So you can’t say ‘I hop a plane to Bali.’ No you don’t. Hopefully you have a regular activity that’s easy to access. I have one.

I hit chip shots.

I know. I live life on the edge. What can I say.

But that’s my point. This doesn’t have to be some kind of elaborate or costly thing. It just has to be your personal little getaway place. Well, mine is Saturday and Sunday mornings for about an hour or so at Casselberry Golf Club’s practice green where I put on my earphones, throw the iTunes on shuffle, dump my bag of shag balls, and zone in. Two bags of shots, 100 balls each. First bag is usually nice high flop pitches and the second are low running shots.

The world stops. And that’s the key to this activity. I think of nothing other than soft hands through impact, back of right hand to target, and keep the blade square. There are no thoughts of what bills to pay or how I want to throttle the Finance Director at work. Just club on ball, trying to make those shots land softly and roll out to the little flag on the green.

And I sing whatever is playing in my ears. This morning, the playlist featured the following:

So Watcha Want, Beastie Boys
What I Really Want, Alanis Morrisette
Weapon Of Choice, Fatboy Slim
Stormy Monday, Allman Brothers
End Of The World Party, Medeski, Martin & Wood
All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crowe
Everything Is Broken, Bob Dylan
Backwater, Meat Puppets
Caress Me Down, Sublime

And yes, at times I get looks from other players as I sing ‘Mucho gusto me llamo Bradley-ah…I’m hornier than Ron Jeremy-ah…’

Like I care. It’s my own little impenetrable bubble.

I believe this is the key to sanity. Like that line about ‘dance like nobody’s watching’…? That’s how I practice. It is just me out there.

I now do yoga, which ranks second on the list of zen activities, but I am still learning how to do that, so I’m not at the ‘just let it flow’ level, as I am still trying not to vomit during downward dog. But I’ll get there.

So for now it’s me and my balls.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Genesis of Dweebness

How does one become a geek? Is one born that way? Or is it more of a learned habit, of finding activities that one enjoys only to realize that they are judged as being the domain of societal misfits?

The answer, is, yes.

See, coolness is learned. But I believe we are all born geeks. I mean, how does a newborn know what cool is? They obviously don’t. What – did 3-month-old Fonzie shun his teddy bear diaper for a black leather one? No. The Fonz was in the same clueless pool of unknowing formula-suckers as the rest of us.

But somewhere along the way, the cool kids got something. Not a memo, but they just somehow became attuned to what others perceived as cool, and emulated it. God bless these perceptive people, as I was too busy wrapping my toy soldiers with paper from my mom’s adding machine as she cranked out numbers as an accountant. While The Fonz was out practicing how to impart a nuclear wedgie to the local sap geek, I was hiding from him – under my mom’s kitchen table, giving my plastic army men an armor coating of paper. Fonz was coolness in training. I was oblivious of what the world thought of, well, anything.

So we learn one thing that geeks have in common. Loneliness. Or more accurately, contentment in being alone. That was me. I was not a social kid. The majority of fun I had as a kid was in activities concocted in my mind, and executed without the assist of anyone. As a result, I was creative and kind of smart. And alone.

Cool kids are neither creative nor kind of smart. Or alone.

What cool kids are, is popular. That requires social contact. They thrive in social settings. My brother was very cool. So was my sister. Not surprisingly, they had – and still do have – lots of friends. They have PhD’s in popularity. They have always had an innate sense of what to say in a particular situation and it always came out…cool. They got the laughs. So did I, but never intentionally. Cool kids get people to laugh with them. Geeks get laughed at. Which just makes us wrap our plastic toy soldiers with more adding machine tape.

See, those toy soldiers don’t laugh back.

This sounds like a sad tale, and it is not necessarily so. It is just a matter of Darwinian selection. Everyone can’t be cool. If everyone were, then nothing would be cool. Cool is a special, ubiquitous quality that certain people just get. And Lord, there were many times I wished I could get splashed with what my siblings had, like a Holy Water of Coolness. I wanted to be able to saunter up to cute girls like I saw my brother do countless times, drop a couple of syllables, and have them walk off with me like they did with him. When I would try that, I would stand there slack-jawed, my brain erased of any thought, and oftentimes I would just drool or blurt out some kind of inane, insane comment about how nice the weather was…when it was ten below zero out. Consequently, the girl would laugh at me, then turn and walk away…and pass along to her friends that I was mentally retarded.

I didn’t have the gift. The Cool Gods didn’t lay their hands on me. And I never learned it under the kitchen table with all those toy soldiers and all that adding machine tape.

Dweebs are over-achievers. Cool kids are usually under-achievers. This stands to reason, since the cool kids got the respect just by being in that groove they were in – there was no motivation to achieve when the world was already eating out of their hand. This helps to explain, at least in my own case, why I got two college degrees and bristle at any perceived hint of rejection. Us dweebs try to construct a coat of respect, since we can never be just accepted…or so we think. Those formative years of being chased after school, de-pants'd in the playground, and being given held-down wet willies have permanently etched scars in our psyche.

Cool kids don’t have to go to therapy. They are very happy in a world that revels in their appearance. Geeks keep psychiatrists in business. Don’t believe me? How much you wanna bet that Freud was writing in his tablet, as the poor sap was on the couch, “Major four-alarm GEEK’…?

Okay, maybe not.

Because that’s another construct of geeks. The combination of isolation, societal awkwardness and too smart for our own good equates to major neuroses. We don’t see the world as it is, but rather, as the dangers to our fragile psyches that it can be. As I mentioned, we do not feel accepted…even when we really are. If a girlfriend says something like ‘I’m going to run to the store for some milk’ we hear, ‘She’s leaving me for good.’ We are a handful for anyone close to us. We feel misunderstood. We need constant reassurance that we are good enough. The vicious cycle in completed when the girlfriend leaves and we are left alone, clueless as to why she thought suggesting the Marvel Comics convention as a Saturday night activity was a bad idea.

Oh well. This is my lot. We are all – or most of us – constructs of our formative years. For many it takes a lifetime to overcome these experiences, if ever at all. In my case it is a constant cycle of gaffes and inner searches for why I do and act like I do. Why do I over-exert? Why do I try to be right? Why do I think someone will be impressed that I know the last 50 U.S. Open golf champions, when what is actually happening is they just want me to shut up?

Move over, I need a seat on Freud’s couch.

I have some experience in 12-step recovery programs. Want to find out where all the adult geeks are? They are at these meetings. One thing I have learned from my time in these gatherings is, we all share a common trait – we did not feel accepted; we felt like we never fit in.


Note that I didn’t say we didn’t fit in – I said we felt like we didn’t fit in. Chances are pretty good we were fitting in quite nicely, and that we were being accepted just perfectly. But we just could not believe it. You were all lying. I know you think I’m a societal leper. I want to get away from this. I want to get away from you. I want to go crawl into…a bottle of tequila.

Because tequila doesn’t laugh at you either.

And tequila also had the added benefit of…making me cool! Two shots and I was funny. Three and I am charming. Unfortunately, after the fifth I was vomiting. So there was a small window of opportunity for me to feel comfortable with you before I was doing technicolor yawns in the Men’s room. It was a delicate dance, and one that I could never seem to do correctly. But, it was in these recovery meetings that I found kindred spirits. People that felt just like I did. And acted out just like I did. And most importantly, showed me how to overcome these feeling of inadequacy and live a contented, serene life.

And I can also tell you this – I never heard anyone in these meetings say ‘I was the popular kid.’

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Innocently Ignorant

We all know the phrase ‘innocence of a child’, and how imaginative the world seemed when we perceived things through our untainted-by-the-real-world prism. And I find it cathartic to look back to these days when not only were things simpler, but they were also just plain illogical. This is believing in Santa Claus kind of stuff.
 I had two huge misconceptions about how the world was, and in both cases it truly crushed me when I found out how things really were.
The first had to do with radio. Those who grew up in the Akron area in the late 1960s knew of WHLO 640 AM radio. With BIG Tim Phillips in the morning. Big Tim would play the top-40 hits on a tight rotation, and I would listen to The Archies playing Sugar Sugar, then a commercial break, then Donovan would sing Mellow Yellow. I was fascinated by this.
Because you see, in my mind, I thought the bands were actually in Big Tim’s studio playing the songs live. Never dawned on me that he was spinning records. My mind saw The Archies walking in, and when Big Tim announced, “Annnnd here’s The Archies with their smash hit Sugar Sugar….” That was the cue for Archie and Reggie to start singing. Accompanied by Betty and Veronica on tambourines, of course. I wanted to rush down to the WHLO studios, cuz of course I had a crush on Betty. And then they would quickly leave the studio while Donovan waltzed it, set up and crooned Mellow Yellow! And they did this all between a commercial break for Rick Case Honda! Amazing!
Alas, the bubble burst when my older brother informed me one day, “Hey Nimrod. He’s playing records.”
That harsh reality required about six months of frying ants with a magnifying glass as a coping mechanism.
My next shocking wakeup to how the world worked had to do with the American Golf Classic. This was a staple of ABC Sports every Saturday afternoon during the winter months, where, in a given week, Julius Boros would be pitted against Ken Venturi with the winner advancing to face the winner of last week’s Johnny Pott v Bert Yancey matchup. These matches were played at the famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, my hometown. And every Saturday, from December through March, there would be two new golfers playing Firestone in sunny weather, in short sleeves on a course a green as Ireland itself.
Meanwhile, I am looking outside at two feet of snow.
My mind could not comprehend the concept of videotape. It never dawned on me that the matches were recorded last summer for playback during winter months. NO! These pros were playing Firestone RIGHT NOW! I mean, I’m watching them!
So I concluded the following. I lived in Cuyahoga Falls, which is just north of Akron.  Firestone was south of Akron. So in my mind there was a magical ‘line of weather’ that existed somewhere between my living room and Firestone, a distance of about 20 miles, where weather magically transformed from ten degrees and three feet of snow to sunny and 80 degrees. It made total sense to me, because it fit the juxtaposition of snow outside and sunshine on TV.
I informed my dad of this.
I told my dad that I wanted to go to Firestone Country Club TODAY. Being an adult, and my dad (translation: he thought kids were nuts), he said to me, “Son, you’re a kid. You’re nuts.” But no I’m not dad! LOOK! Orville Moody just made a birdie on the 16th hole! See the water tower? It’s Firestone! And it’s sunny and warm! LET’S GO!
My dad, in his usual manner when faced with these sorts of mindfucks I concocted, did his usual routine with me. He pulled out a Winston, lit it, took a couple of long drags, and proceeded to tell me that this was all make-believe.
My dad then laughed, realizing my child innocence. So he took me there. Firestone had the same three feet of snow on the ground that we had in Cuyahoga Falls.
So now it was totally obvious to me what happened.
They got a snow storm right after Orville putted out on 18.
Good thing they got that round in.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Best. Ever.

A friend of mine, a fellow Browns fan who is an entertainment writer for the Jacksonville Times, recently wrote the following article –


Certainly, determining the ‘best of’ anything is a dicey proposition to be subjected to much debate. It’s based on opinion, maybe a survey to get a feel for what a group of people think, whatever. And at the end of the day you take a stand, then take the criticism as it comes and defend your choices.

Well here’s my criticism. How in the hell do you not include The Who Live At Leeds?

In my opinion, Leeds was the greatest rock band at their absolute prime kicking it out without accompaniment – it was just Keith, John, Roger & Pete leaving it all out there. They ripped though their hits (at the time) of Magic Bus, Substitute, My Generation, along with insane covers of Young Man Blues and Summertime Blues. And for good measure, after an intermission they came back and did a 45-minute rendition of Tommy. With no orchestral backup. Four men with their instruments, period.

Being a child of rock, I was influenced heavily by whatever the flavor du jour was in the genre. At one time I thought Blue Oyster Cult was the shit. There was my brief infatuation with Cheap Trick until I realized that their so-called ‘talent’ was, indeed, a cheap trick. The classic bands like Led Zeppelin & The Rolling Stones certainly left huge indentations into my consciousness. The Beatles deserved their place in immortality. As I morphed into an adult, I concluded that Zeppelin was the best rock band ever. Many of my contemporaries agreed.

My brother, who was/is a musician, would shake his head at me. He’d tell me to research Zep’s music and see where it came from – it was a rehash – or straight out pilfering – of the black man’s blues. Boogie With Stu ripped off Ooh My Head by Ritchie Valens. Not much of what Led Zep was original. He then would tell me, you want original? Try The Who.

The Who was part of the second wave of the British Invasion. After The Beatles and Stones came over, The Who came over with The Kinks and Dave Clark Five in the mid-60s. They did their share of pop-tinged music to garner airplay, but there was this depth and attitude…not to mention a propensity to destroy their instruments on-stage. They were punks before there was punk.

For that matter, they were trendsetters in virtually everything they did. They had the audacity to merge the words ‘Rock’ and ‘Opera’ together by giving us Tommy and later, Quadrophenia. Synthesizers? Listen to Who’s Next – perhaps the greatest rock album of all time. Right out of the gate we get synth’d with the opening to Baba O’Reilly. Staying with that album, name me a better line than ‘If I swallow anything evil, put your fingers down my throat’ from Behind Blue Eyes. Other just fantastic cuts like Getting In Tune and Song Is Over enrich the 48-minute experience before they coda the album with the anthemic Won’t Get Fooled Again, which weaved in the synthesizers, a Keith Moon drum solo, Pete’s scissor kicks and bunny hops and Roger’s microphone spinning into a nine-minute climactic cacophony of cynical rebellion. I will always smile and grin at the change all around before I get on my knees and pray that we won’t get fooled again.

They showed their longevity by pumping out music that demanded your attention. One of my favorites is a somewhat obscure mid-70’s song off The Who By Numbers titled Slip Kid, which featured the following lyrics -

Keep away old man, you won't fool me
You and your history won't rule me
You might have been a fighter, but admit you failed
I'm not affected by your blackmail
You won't blackmail me

Right before Keith’s death in 1978 they put out Who Are You, and with that album, their immortality was solidified. My fave cut off that disc is Trick Of The Light, which describes a young man’s affection with a prostitute – ‘Did a shadow of emotion cross your face or was it just another trick of the light?’

After Keith's death they soldiered on, staying relevant with songs like Eminence Front in the early 80's, but they lost their heart and soul without Keith. They got a new drummer in Kenney Jones, who was very good, but he was no Keith Moon.

What made The Who so great? Well, it goes back to Keith. They were an ‘inside-out’ band. Most bands had the drummer keep the beat, as a person whose duties were nothing more than making sure the rest of the members had a metronome to synch to. Not The Who. Keith Moon didn’t keep a beat – that was John Entwistle’s job as bassist. Keith played ‘Lead Drums’ – listen to The Who’s songs and pay attention to that machine-gun splatter into background, and sometimes in the foreground, of Keith’s drumming. He was all over the place, yet always right there. No other band had this dynamic, which made The Who unique.

Pete didn’t so much ‘play’ a guitar as he attacked it. He played angry, and the object of his derision seemed to be that instrument slung around his neck. He treated guitars like an abusive husband treated a cowering, frightened wife. – ‘Do what I say bitch or you’re gonna get it’ – and she ended up ‘getting it’ anyway as the guitar, after its job was done, would get rewarded by having its neck impaled into a Marshall amp. Pete was saying ‘you are here to do my bidding and when I am done so are you.’

And Roger. Name me a better voice in rock.

The Who was a collection of extremely talented; one of a kind musicians that, when put together quintupled the sum of their parts. They were one of a kind innovators, who weren’t ‘one of’ the best bands in rock.

They were the best. Ever.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Vote For Me

With the flip of the calendar to 2012, fasten your seat belts, as politics are going to take center stage for pretty much the entire year. And with it will come the familiar drone of Democrat versus Republican ideals, and how each feels the other is ruining the country. News flash - they are collectively ruining the country, as they cannot coexist because they are so hell-bent on discrediting the other. Our politics used to be about possibilities. Now it’s just about being not as bad as the other guy.
How inspiring.
In this sprit, or lack thereof, nobody asked me (surprise there), but if I were to run for office, which I would never do, here is how I would address the salient issues facing our great country:
The Deficit: The main problem on this debate is each side is only proffering half of the solution. Republicans say we must only cut our way out of it, Democrats say we must raise taxes to get out of it. They’re both half right, and if you put their half solutions together, you get the entire solution - remove redundancies and waste, and raise taxes, on an interim basis. Just as the Bush tax cuts were supposed to be temporary with a sunset at the end of 2010, enact tax increases with the same seven-year sunset. Target the wealthy with the largest (if not all) of the hit. Those that can most afford it should bear most of the burden. The rich aren’t ‘Job Creators’ - they’re rich. Because they keep their money. That's how you become rich, by keeping what you got. With seven years of increased revenues, the deficit will be reduced…if not totally eliminated. And the rich will have to suffer by having one less Beemer in their four-car garage.
Defense Spending: The two largest expenditures of our government are entitlement programs and defense spending. I’ll get to entitlement spending shortly. But let’s talk about defense spending. We have the largest, best trained, armed-to-the-teeth military on the planet. We have enough weapons of mass destruction to blow the earth to bits a thousand times over. We clearly are the baddest mofos in the block. So if we are to target redundancies, here’s where to start. Just to throw out a number - if our armed forces were cut by, let’s say, a third, that would not equate to being weakened by a third. We would still be the baddest mofos on the block by a long margin.
A great way to effectuate savings would be closing unneeded military bases around the globe. Is there any real reason to still have soldiers stationed in Germany, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet Union? Look, I believe in defending this country from attack. But someone has to explain to me how a base in South Korea keeps that from happening. And if it's because of North Korea, I will answer that as soon as I stop laughing uncontrollably.
Entitlement Spending: Ah, the big piñata in this year’s election. Republicans would have us believe we must reign in this spending as it is bankrupting us. Well sure, if we are paying out more than taking in. Well folks, the expenditures are just going to increase significantly as Baby Boomers retire, so you better find a way to fund it, because a promise was made to them - pay into the system while you work and we will pay you back when you retire. And if this means increasing taxes to pay for it, so be it. Social Security works. The money that retirees receive each month gets plowed back into the economy in the form of being spent on food, shelter, vacations, whatever.
How to fund it? Simple. Remove the ceiling on the amount of taxable income subjected to the Social Security tax. That number right now is $109,000. Remove it completely. Those fortunate enough to be pulling in $300k a year, right now, are only paying Social Security tax on a third of their income. There is nothing fair about that, especially when you consider that those making $300k a year are still eligible for Social Security when they retire. Now, I do not want to speak for everyone that pulls in a mid-six-figure salary, but I am willing to wager they will not need the Social Security stipend in their golden years. Wonderful. Others will need it, and your success will help pay for it. Greater good.
Now. For those that want to do away with Social Security, fine. Then all I ask for is a return of all my contributions - with interest - I have made into the fund since I began working. I will invest it myself.
Social Issues:
Abortion: It is legal. Period. Your moral stance on it is irrelevant. And for those that want to make it illegal, realize two things. One, women will still have abortions regardless of the law. Two, by making it illegal you will be creating hundreds of thousands of criminals - those women who will get abortions. How much jail time should they serve? And…how are you going to fund the construction of those prisons to put these scared women in? And once they serve their time, how are you going help put their lives back together that you have destroyed by making them convicted felons?
Marijuana: Legalize it, tax the shit out of it. There’s another revenue source for addressing the deficit. For those that decry that it introduces drugs into our society, wake the hell up. It’s here and it’s not going away. So instead of your local dope dealer reaping the benefits, why not your local government? And, by the way, you will also need far less prisons if it was legalized. Expenses reduced.
Death Penalty: It doesn’t work so why have it? If it was an effective deterrent to murder there wouldn’t be any more murders, right? Obviously this is not the case. And state-sponsored murder is still murder. So it is a total failure from a deterrent standpoint, but boy ho boy it makes us look real tough, doesn’t it? Actually no it doesn’t. It makes us murderers too.
Religion: This is tangential to the abortion topic. I don’t care who or what you worship to. If it makes you a better person, great. It will not make you a better politician or Senator or President. It is well past time to truly separate church from state and inject some common sense into who we choose to represent us. If God makes you make better decisions, wonderful. I would rather have someone who can rely on their experience and acumen to make good decisions. Can you picture a CEO of a Fortune 500 company kneeling and praying before the Board of Directors, or further, claiming that his/her beliefs are why they should be chosen to run a multi-billion operation? It is irrelevant. As it should be in politics.
Drug Testing: There is one group that has been conspicuously absent from having to pee in a cup. Lawmakers. While they are quick to enact laws to make others offload their dignity (like welfare recipients), they have never subjected themselves to the delight of taking a whizz while someone watches. It's time to change this. All state and national elected officials should be subject to random drug screens (if you want your mayor to join in the fun, pass a local law). First offense is counseling and treatment. Second offense is resigning your position.
So, with that slate of positions I am extremely confident I don’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of getting elected.
See where common sense gets you?