Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend Update

I had a rather marvelous weekend this time around. I didn’t get to spend much time with my family, which is kind of a downer, but with sound work being ever more scarce, I got a boat load in and I feel much better about myself.

I started off on Friday at 4 AM and traveled to a high school an hour and a half distant to do a concert assembly. It was pretty much routine, the same thing I’ve done three or four dozen times a semester for the last couple years. There were the added bonuses of having been to that school already and knowing all the ins and outs, and also being reunited with an old friend who was filling in on bass.

The tricky part of the day came at noon. I had everything in the truck and ready to go at five after, with what I thought would be an hour drive to my next load-in at one o’clock. Unfortunately I had the GPS set for shortest distance instead of fastest route. I passed by several roads that would have gotten me there faster, but I assumed the little box knew what it was doing. Allow me to pause here to formally state my stance on allowing little boxes to do your thinking for you. It is never a good idea. Weather it’s a GPS, automatic EQ, grammar checker or anything else, it’s always best to do your own thinking.

On the way there I got a phone call from my co-engineer, saying that the venue turned out to be a recital hall and there were serious concerns about amplified instruments being in there, much less a whole sound system. We were in the middle of discussing how we were going to thin out the rig when a cop pulled up to my passenger window with his lights on. He gave me a silent “What the f---?!” at which point I dropped the phone and he accelerated past me. A little shot of adrenaline turned out to be just what I needed.

At the venue, stress was high, among the venue tech, the event promoters and the techs. The musicians were largely left out of the drama but felt no less entitled to some stress and helped themselves liberally. Eventually it was determined that a symphony orchestra could easily hit ninety decibels on the peaks and that was the level we would strive for. By the end of the night we had done it, audience, band, promoters and techs were happy with the results, and the venue tech appeared at least somewhat less unhappy when he found himself free to go home an hour early.

All in all it was a beautiful day, lots of work, time spent with friends I see not often enough, and a balmy atmosphere. I could have done with a little more of the atmosphere, but the time for outdoor events is fast approaching and I’ll get my dose of that soon enough.

Saturday held a high school talent show in store for me. After a twenty hour day on four hours sleep I expected to just grit my teeth and endure it. But it was at my alma mater, where I’ve been training a few sound minions and I had good help, was plenty familiar with the venue, and nobody cared if I took my shirt off.

Blissfully, the participants turned out to actually have some talent. The afternoon was completely taken up with a run-through and I was pleasantly surprised eighteen times in a row. The nineteenth act was a high-school band that took nearly an hour to set up a four piece drum kit and only had three members present for sound check. I missed dinner for their sake and while their performance wasn’t bad enough to earn a spot on my list, the fact that I had to eat a cold burger for dinner because of their ineptitude is, sorry guys, that sucked.

Eventually it was all back in the box, and I had earned my keep. My family may actually be emerging from behind the proverbial eight-ball at last with the proceeds from this weekend’s gigs. I spent a lazy Sunday mulling over this delightful concept and talking over ham radio stuff with my brother-in-law in my back yard. What a weekend, sorry it’s nothing that profound to read about, but to me it was the best in a long time. I thought a glimpse into what makes me tick might be a good post after nothing for ten days.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bread

Some of our tree hugging friends got into baking their own bread. It was partially through their influence that we started baking our own bread as well and we owe them our thanks for all the help and good recipes. One of the things that kept coming up over dinner was a passage our friend Tom read in one of his bread books which is something to the effect of: Bread is just flour and a liquid. You can add stuff to it to make it more interesting if you want to, like yeast, sugar and eggs; but all it needs to qualify as bread is those two ingredients.

Every time he says that my mind goes back to the ancient Israelites, leaving Egypt with their unleavened bread. They were in a hurry and getting bread to rise in those days was a little more difficult that tossing in some Fleischmann's. Thousands of years later, Catholics the world over still celebrate communion with a wafer that symbolizes that unleavened (un-risen) bread. As a side note, I know of a number of people who go to great lengths to procure wafer type materials for impromptu communion services. If they only knew how simple it was, they could easily make their own.

Speaking of making your own, I tried it. I was washing up some dishes the other night and gave it a whirl. I put some flour and water in a bowl. I put in a pinch of salt too, so it wouldn’t be too boring. I fried it in a dollop of oil, ate it, and it was good. My mind went in two directions at that point (Three if you count the anticipation of my wife’s odd look when she found out what I was up to.) Half my mind was thinking of ways to add a little seasoning and pass it off as a trendy appetizer the next time we have company over. The other half was swirling back and forth between how complex and varied the bread we eat today is, and how simple, yet enjoyable and sustaining that simple bread was.

For a couple decades now the middle of my day has more often than not revolved around a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was what I packed in my lunch as a kid, what I longed for at college (with homemade jam) and what I still pack in my lunch box nearly every day. If lunchtime doesn’t include biting into a hunk of soft, sweet PB&J, it’s just not the same. Lately I’ve been working backwards toward that simple diet of those ancient people, at least a little bit. My sandwiches these days have homemade jam and peanut butter, and the bread is homemade as well. Gone are all the additives, preservatives and softening agents. I don’t mind a bit if the slices are getting a little hard around the edges by the end of the week, my girl made it for me, I love it.

It is to be counted a blessing that I have big, fluffy slices of bread in my lunch, when I consider the lives of people who lived on simple cakes of grain. The primitive lifestyle revolves almost entirely around getting enough to eat; there are many in the world today who could tell you so. The growing of the grain and all that entails and the procurement of fuel to cook with are enough to fill up ones days by themselves. It’s a wonder that mankind ever found time for things like commerce and art.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tattoos

I was walking around without long sleevs on for the first time in months and I started thinking about tattoos. Being a Christian with tattoos puts me in sort of a situation sometimes, as the Bible has this to say about the subject:

Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:28

Now, I already had two tattoos by the time I found God. I had grown up in the church, I just hadn’t gotten it yet, and likely that had something to do with the fact that my first two were not of naked women or skulls with wings. Also, my mother had made me promise not to get a tattoo until I turned twenty-one (I cheated, but only by a month) and being slightly more mature than the required eighteen likely helped with my choices.

The real kicker is, that despite what the black and white statement is in the Bible, I have yet to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit so strongly as when I got the idea for my first Christian tattoo (the fish on my left bicep). Now there are a lot of rules in the Old Testament that even devout followers no longer adhere to. If you decide to stick to all of them (there’s a guy who did and it really ticked his family off, I wish I could find his blog) you wind up with a life with a severely limited diet, and also cutting out such things as fabric made from two types of fibers (say goodbye to all those poly-cotton shirts). What a lot of people think, is that the OT law was a way for God to set up some standards for healthy living to protect His children the Israelites. If you read it closely, it’s actually a pretty good regimen for staying fit and free from infection and contamination.

But I digress. Jesus said that he didn’t come to do away with the old law, but to fufill it. I’m not going to even begin getting into that idea, except to say that it’s the reason I went ahead with more tattoos after I found my faith. I’m not saying that it’s the right thing for everyone to do, or even for me to do, but I know what I felt when I got that first Christian tat. It may turn out that I was mistaken and I’ll have some explaining to do, but in my case, and for many of my friends, it’s an outward and visible sign of our faith. My ink is a way to show people about my faith in God, without ever saying a word, and occasionally a way to start a conversation.

At any rate, here’s a catalog of my artwork.

First piece: Mackie level meters – inside right calf
Date: June 1997
Reason: Turned pro in the sound business

Second piece: Pocket watch – left shoulder blade
Date: January 1998
Reason: I like pocket watches but don’t find them practical to carry. The time, two minutes to midnight, as a statement on my chronic procrastination, and also my favorite Iron Maiden tune. This is as close as I will ever come to getting a band tattoo.










Third piece:
Ichthus (Christian Fish) – left bicep
Date: November 1999
Reason: I had just found my faith for real and wanted to show the world, with flames!










Fourth piece:
Dove – right bicep
Date: July 2002
Reason: I had always said that I would commemorate the first band that took me on tour with a tattoo on my right arm. The logo for that band was a shamrock and I wasn’t in to that. But the bus that we renovated and lived in for 22,000 miles was a Bluebird and that was the logo I stole, with flames to match my fish.










Fifth piece:
My daughter’s footprint – right shoulder, top
Date: January 25, 2003
Reason: OK, it’s cheesy, but the drummer from Savatage has his kids’ feet on his shoulder. I’m a total copy-cat, but I’m the only one with these particular footprints. It’s her actual footprint, inked on a card at the hospital and driven straight to the shop, as soon as my wife was safely resting.
Sixth piece: My first son’s footprint – right shoulder, middle
Date: July 27, 2005
Reason: Why break with tradition?

Seventh piece: My second son’s footprint – right shoulder, bottom
Date: November November 27, 2006
Reason: Little HB might not be as well documented on film as the previous children (it takes a while to learn how to shoot with a toddler on each ankle), but he’s recorded here permanently. The shot is in the mirror, I didn't forget which shoulder they're on.

Eigth piece: The word “Providence” in Ben Franklin’s handwriting
Date: TBA
Reason: I recently read his biography and in addition to being interested in his inventions and accomplishments, it was interesting to see the way his faith developed over his lifetime. I also really like the way the word portrays God’s providing hand.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Relevant Worship

One of the groups I work for as a sound guy is Relevant Worship. They play original, contemporary worship aimed at not being run-of-the-mill, trite material. There's eleven of them and it's quite an effort for them to get anything accomplished for that reason, hence, I believe it's the Lord that accomplishes their feats. This isn't some people who would be at church anyway on a Sunday and play some music at the start. This is a troop of people who dedicate a significant part of their lives to creating new, effective music. All told, the team is comprised of over twenty core members, musicians and support, with who knows how many more contributing here and there as they are able.

They've just completed their second CD and the release party was this weekend. They rented a club. A thousand people came, it was sold out. The hand of God was clearly visible in that: eleven musicians, an opening act with fourteen members, five sound techs, two house techs, a video crew, a projection crew and at least a dozen volunteers pulled the show off on schedule. Well, not really on schedule for a couple reasons. The first being that apparently no one knew what the schedule was and we just went at it until we had things ready. The second reason being that with everything ready to go at the stroke of seven, we delayed the show twenty more minutes because no one told the emcee to go out. We all stood at our posts with the tension mounting. But with that being the worst snag of the day I'd call the whole thing a resounding success.

Within two blocks of the Buffalo party scene, surrounded by revelers on a Friday night, one thousand people gathered to worship, and it was amazing. The album doesn't do the music justice. The opening song, "Anthem for the Redeemed" starts with an ethereal keyboard section, at some point the whole band kicks in with a couple short bursts. The effect is truly stunning. To put it purely in sound guy geek terms, with a dynamic range of over 40 decibels between the background and the hits, combined with twenty kilowatts of sub-bass power, it's a moment that literally blows your hair back and makes your pant legs flap. It's full contact worship folks. Before you know it the song is idling along in fourth gear, two thousand hands are clapping along, and one very meek sound guy is standing at the monitor mix on the side of the stage, trying not to cry in front of the house techs.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Little Poetry

I'll try to make the lead in to this one as short as possible. I've been reading Bullfinch, who was a guy in the 1800s who wrote vast, in-depth, summaries of all sorts of things. I'm just starting to wade through his summaries of ancient literature and read about the time Jupiter and Mercury visited Phrygia in human form and went looking for hospitality. Finding none they finally happened on the home of an elderly couple who welcomed them. To make a summary of a long story even shorter, they hung out a while, then the two gods revealed themselves, sank the rest of the town under a lake and left only the elderly couple's hut, which they turned into a temple.

To finally get to the point, Swift drafted a more modern version in which two saints do the visiting and turn the happy couple's home into a church. I'm not a huge fan of poetry, but this one has a lot of appeal to a carpenter. Anyone who can use the word "joists" and then rhyme it is OK in my book. The last line is also a killer, I've read it five times now and I'm still on the verge of peeing my pants. Here it is, for your amusement, an excerpt:

They scarce had spoke, when, fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter;
The heavy wall climbed slowly after.
The chimney widened and grew higher,
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fastened to a joist, (Ha!)
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below;
In vain, for a superior force,
Applied at bottom, stops its course;
Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.
A wooden jack, which had almost
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels.
Increased by new intestine wheels;
And, what exalts the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower;
The flier, though 't had leaden feet,
Turned round so quick you scarce could see 't'
But slackened by some secret power,
Now hardly moves and inch an hour.
The jack and chimney, near allied,
Had never left each other's side;
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone;
But up against the steeple reared,
Became a clock, and still adhered;
And still its love to household cares
By a shrill voice at noon declared,
Warning the cook-maid not to burn
That roast meat which it cannot turn.
The groaning chair began to crawl,
Like a huge snail, along the wall;
There stuck aloft in public view,
And with small change, a pulpit grew.
A bedstead of the antique mode,
Compact of timber many a load,
Such as our ancestors did use,
Was metamorphosed into pews,
Which still their ancient nature keep
By lodging folks disposed to sleep.


Yup... still funny.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hospital Update

My wife returned in good shape from the hospital. Several hours away from the short people would do that for anyone I think. At any rate, she appears not to have kidney stones and instead may be having some trouble with her gallbladder. For the time being she is just enjoying the narcotics she got sent home with. She managed to post to her blog before she passed out, you should read it, she's plastered. We were both rather surprised at the feedback we got from our readers, it's nice to know you folks are out there keeping tabs and hopefully saying a prayer or two. We'll keep you posted. G'nite.

Trip to the Hospital

My wife Pamela is on her way to the hospital with what may possibly be fairly serious kidney stones. Your prayers would be appreciated

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spring Time Haiku

Spring time breaks anew
Life creeps back into the world
It smells like cow shit

(Editor's Note: I happen to think that the smell of cow manure being flung far and wide over thawing soil is wonderful. It's the true first smell of spring, as it usually precedes the smell of green, growing things by at least two weeks. Be sure to keep your nostrils tuned for the other delights of the season, the first BBQ, first campfire, and on that first warm Saturday afternoon... carwax!)

Geezer-isms

To Cuss Or Not To Cuss

I’m a collector of Geezerisms. That would be those odd phrases uttered by the various old codgers I’ve encountered that almost seem to be in another language. Short turns of phrase that to the speaker sum the situations up perfectly, but often make little or no sense to members of a younger generation and occasionally not to anyone. The majority of my collection comes form a plumber I used to work with. Some of his phrases were inherited from a previous, even older batch of codgers and originated so long ago that their meanings were uncertain, even to him. For a frame of reference think of anything that Foghorn Leghorn would say on the old Looney Tunes. (The boy’s about as sharp as a bag of wet mice.)

I mentioned in my “List of 100 Random Things About Me” that I enjoy cussin’ but just for fun. When I’m mad or in the middle of an intense situation, I prefer to say something silly. It usually defuses the situation and gets things back on track. Anybody can drop an emphatic F-Bomb when things go south, but I think it’s a lot classier to say something like, “Tarnation!” Another favorite of mine, especially in church situations is to let fly with a robust, “Sunova!” and just let it tail off. Frequently it just passes, but occasionally some disapproving parishioner sends a scowl my way, or even, “Son of a what?!” To which I coolly reply, “Son of a preacher man!” in a perfectly innocent manner that implies that I’m slightly hurt that they would think I would say something offensive.

I brought this up, because eventually my kids are going to learn how to swear. Quite likely it will be on the bus, where so many of us learned the “Big Seven”. I was in third grade when I picked up the full arsenal from some fifth and sixth graders and proceeded to get myself into all manner of trouble with them. The grownups in my life obviously disapproved, so I simply learned where I could get away with it. It took a long time to get it all sorted out and I still wrestle with some of it.

My wife already told me that she’s willing to let our short people get away with a couple choice words, but only if they really mean it. I’ve had a similar philosophy toward bands on festival stages I’ve worked. One promoter that I worked for realized he had to draw a line somewhere because there were a lot of parents in the crowd when school age bands took the stage. The rule was simple: It’s ok if you swear in a song because that’s your art, but if you cuss on the mic in between songs you’re cut off.

One thing you won’t catch me doing is “taking the Name in vain”. Someone finally explained to me that when you toss off a G.D. or J.C. in anger, you’re calling on the power of God, with no expectation of His action. Insulting really, so I don’t do it anymore. (How many times does somebody have to call your name without wanting anything before you get fed up?) There’s also the biblical concept that you’re polluted not by what goes in your ears, but by what comes out of your mouth. Parents who try to shield their children from bad language are just delaying the inevitable, more important to teach them proper usage. A character in one of the Alien movies who’s a member of a group of religious brothers drops an S-Bomb at one point, and when corrected by one of his mates replies with a growl, “It’s all right to say shit… it ain’t against God”.

While I still have a tendency to let loose with some cussin’ when the company I’m with will not be offended, it’s impossible for my words to escape the ears of the Almighty. Hence the vast arsenal I’ve gathered of odd things to say instead. Just having a few of these in your pocket, despite their seeming stupidity can make you seem more intelligent. Here are a few examples:

Anybody can say, “Tighter than a sunovabitch” but if you come out with, “Tighter than two coats of paint” you’re sure to get a chuckle or at least a smirk.

“Man I’m F***in’ hungry!” is easily replaced with “I’m hungrier’n a tick on a teddy bear”

That’s it for now, I’ll be runnin round like a banty rooster the rest of the day. The driveway’s rougher than a cob and I’ll be sweatin like a butcher by the time I get the place cleaned up. I’ve got a million of ‘em. Send me yours.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Heavy Metal

Somebody asked me the other day, in an offhand sort of way, “What’s the deal with all this bang-your-head music the kids listen to?” Apart from wondering how many times in the last thirty years that phrase has been uttered, I was at a loss for a truly good answer that wouldn’t take twenty minutes to relate. Having been a head-banger for nearly twenty years, I thought it was finally time to boil down my long, involved explanation of why people love metal into a short, succinct statement that I could give without people drifting off… or at least get it down to three paragraphs.

The first part of it is that metal is a ready made peer group for angst-ridden teenagers. Boiling with hormones, anxiety and anger, and with no good outlet for it, guys that don’t smash into other guys on the football field find their way to metal to get their aggression out. Like so many forms of music it’s a cathartic experience, either directly through the content of the songs, or just from simply knowing that there are others who feel the way you do. And so, like I did, many a junior high kid finds himself with an art-form to pursue, some guys to pursue it with, and a wardrobe that scares his parents.

The second part is that good metal is really, really good. There’s a lot of dregs out there in the ol’ coffee pot, but good metal takes time and dedication. If you’re a little bit crafty, you can write a good country song, and you can write a punk, or pop song sitting on the can and have it turn out all right. Phenomenal musicians put this stuff together, and more than a few kids have struggled to learn their favorite riff on a poorly tuned guitar, only to find that it doesn’t sound as good as the album. Much to the glee of people who sell distortion pedals, the kids don’t realize that it’s not their tone (and decided lack of skill) that makes their rendition sound lame, it’s the fact that good metal layers the guitar parts in much the same way that classical music has a melody and counterpoint. A good metal tune might not even sound right until you add in the drums as well. Having watched the evolution of metal for the last two decades, the thirst for proficiency seems to have no bounds. Now that the cutting edge is to start where bands left off in the late eighties, go faster, and add more layers, the intricacy is several orders of magnitude higher.

The last part goes back to that raw emotion. The anger and aggression that is the motivating force just has to be there. That’s why so-called “math metal” only appeals to a small sub-set of metal fans. Crazy time signatures and guitar licks so fast they bleed together can’t stand up to the raw groove power of a Pantera tune, or the grind of an Overkill song that sounds like a machine that eats people. Those examples, by the way, are bands that have managed to hang on to their attitude, while still growing and changing. Some people find it engrossing how Metallica went from the heights of metal power, to sliding down to writing country tunes and airing their dirty laundry on HBO. (I’ll never forget when my friend who is a huge Metallica fan called me up to tell me to rush out and buy the new record. “You’ll love the music” he said, “the lyrics are a little whatever, but it rules!” I thought, “Great, three years and millions of dollars and all they can give us is half an album?”) Myself, I’ll take Slayer… twenty-five years and still pissed… I mean PISSED! Even being a fairly mellow, church-going, Bible-believing father of three, I still find myself boiling over and need to scream along with Reign In Blood or Stain Of Mind on the way home from work occasionally. I never left that peer group and I likely never will.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Quote of the Day - That Bag

The owner of the construction company that I just started with also raises some beef cattle. One day last week after finishing some repairs in the barn, the boss and a few others were standing around admiring the herd. Some were more experienced farm hands than others (I only worked two summers doing hay on a dairy farm, I know next to nothing about cows). Some uttered phrases like, “Hey, look at that one, he’s got some spirit” and, “That’s that runt we didn’t think was going to make it.” The topper of them all though was when the boss pointed to one and uttered the following:

“Look at the bag under that heifer!” (pronounced HEFF-er for your city kids)

Indeed… There were knowing grunts all around while the roofer and the electrician (myself) just looked at each other. Priceless. I heard a few other phrases this week that fall into the category of geezer-isms. I collect the exclamations of old men and write them down on my Palm Pilot so I can remember them and perplex the coming generations. This weeks gems are:

“He’s got a twelve boot and a four hat.”

and

“He’s sharp as a bag of wet mice.”

That last one reminds me of my very favorite Foghorn Leghorn phrase, “Ni- I say nice kid, but the boy’s about as sharp as a bowlin’ ball.” I've got a whole article saved up about geezer-isms, I'll get it posted shortly.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Winter's Over

This is not going to be the usual joyful ramble about the wonders of the Earth, waking from their long slumber. This is going to be a rant about the state of retail in America.

I realize that the retail industry has time-tested formulas for how they keep their stock of seasonal items. I know that at some point they have to put away the mittens and things to make room for sandbox toys. But for cryin’ in the sink… I live in Western New York!!! Ever heard of a “Buffalo Winter”? This is the part of the country where kids wear their long johns under their Halloween costumes and we have blizzards on Mothers’ Day!

So, last week (the last week in March) while it was snowing sideways one day at work, I lost my warm hat. I went in search of another warm hat and was totally disappointed. Just tonight I went looking for some new boots to keep the mud and occasional snow of the season off my socks and again, had no luck.

That’s retail for you! Hey guys! It’s the middle of January already… we better put away the snow suits and get out the shorts, people are gonna want to hit the beach soon!!! Not yours truly, I would like to refrain from, in the local parlance, “freezin em off” until the actual warm weather gets here. Cripes! I’m going to have to start monitoring the life span of my outerwear and stock up in August (which is when really good deals on winter clothing abound, logically of course), just in case I wear through my gloves in February when all I can find on the racks are cargo shorts and sandals.

Sheesh!