And So I Stayed In, With My Tin Soldiers – A Giant Dog and Finding A Safe Space

I have a friend named Tessa. Her name isn’t actually Tessa, but she doesn’t know I’m writing this, and I sorta don’t want her to be pissed at me because she’s a little intimidating. There’s no reason for me to be intimidated, she’s never been anything but perfectly wonderful. She just carries herself so confidently and powerfully it’s tough to be anything but immediately humbled.

She commands whatever room she’s in. She’s impossible to ignore; equal parts charismatic and regal. Her bone structure is perfect and her sentence structure even better. One look can send you scrambling through the recesses of your mind for any minor sin you may have committed. Didn’t use a coaster for your drink? She somehow knows, man, and while she’ll never overtly call you out, you’d better shape up and stop disappointing her.

Tessa lead the charge to the front of the stage while the rest of the crowd (including me…) wallflowered during the opener, Crushed Out. Crushed Out is a two-piece surf rock outfit that oozed cool. Frankie Sunswept and Moselle Spiller matched their impeccable style with a bluesy, electric and accessible substance that few can actually carry. They presented like members of a 1950’s street gang who would torment James Dean, but eventually realize they had a heart of gold and help in the end. The coolest of the cool and incredible musicians and performers, to boot.

I think everyone at a show kinda wants to be at the front. Maybe they don’t want to be rude. Maybe they don’t want to lead the charge. Maybe they don’t want to be the only one standing. Tessa didn’t care. We marched to the front, her in the lead and four or five rallying behind. More and more joined us and by the time A Giant Dog took the stage, it was a party.

A Giant Dog is one of the best live bands in the world, at the moment. It’s not just the guitars and rhythm section combining in a thunderous classic rock meets punk vibe, because the music itself is loud, fast and bone shaking to be must hear on it’s own. It’s also not in the lyrics, which bounce back and forth between juvenile hijinx, to very real sentiment and disillusion with the world around and a need to just be free.

The real show comes from the stellar songs and near perfect musicianship mixed with the performances from the two leads, Andrew Cashen and Sabrina Ellis. They are charismatic and playful. They’re confident with a hint of nervousness that comes across less as performers and more as two people realizing this is their time to just let go. Nothing they do feels manufactured or rehearsed. They move, dance, climb and spin and with each step it feels like a release of the shackles of our demure modern life.

There’s been a lot of talk about safe spaces lately, like it’s somehow derogatory to want to be someplace you won’t be attacked or judged. Like it’s a bad thing to feel comfortable and safe and free to be yourself.

Safe spaces are rad. The more often you’re comfortable in your own skin, the more open and free you become everywhere. The more open and free, without fear of being judged or bothered, the happier people are. It’s nice to have a space where the performers are so free, it’s almost contagious. It also really makes things stand out when someone violates that safety.

Tessa stood at the front of the stage. I stood slightly behind her and to her right. To her left was a dude standing by himself. He was heavier set with slicked back hair and thin facial hair; somewhere in between a beard and five o’clock shadow. He kept sneaking glances at her as she moved and sang along. I’m a bit over protective by nature, so with each glance at her I glanced at him.

At one point, she bent down to put something in her purse and he leaned over her. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get a better look or what, but it was a deliberate action. She stood up, and they clanged heads, the back of her head striking his cheekbone. He saw it coming too as he winced before contact, but didn’t move out of the way. Startled and annoyed, Tessa, turned to the guy, but I slid in between. He smiled and prepared to talk but I turned my shoulder so it was inches from his mouth. It was one of the most sociopathic attempts to get a girl to talk to you I had ever seen. An almost sitcom plot of douchebaggery. A blatant attempt at a meet cute, only she was not Zoey Deschanel and he was not Joe Gordon-Levitt.

It’s why safe spaces are important. No one wants to be harassed. No one wants games. No one wants to bash their skull on a boy who was too chicken to just say hi or too dumb to know when to not bother someone. People want to be left alone. They don’t want worry or fear. This goes quadruple for women. Leave them alone.

A Giant Dog is proof that openness and freedom can be achieved; that comfort and movement should be applauded. Their joy, performing ability and talent makes it clear that’s what we should all strive for.

Really though, it’s not just A Giant Dog, even if they happen to be very good at this, it’s what all shows should be. They should be a place where we are gathered for the same thing: to enjoy music and be free. Breaking that trust is gross and stupid.

My advice: don’t be gross, don’t harass and don’t blacken your own eye on a pretty woman’s cranium because you’re too dense to get those first two things through your now bruised skull.

Also, go see A Giant Dog and Crushed Out because they’re rad.

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The Fool on the Hill – Hinterland 2016

This is a year late. I also did not take pictures. Please see above. Yes, I have an entire folder of just Toru Yano pictures I use as reactions on social media. Everyone should.

But yeah, this is very late. I didn't plan it that way. I planned on attending a music festival. I planned on enjoying myself, then writing some sort of overwrought piece that ties in how music festivals can save America and bridge the gap between and highlight the similarities of city life versus country life. I had planned on breakfast in St. Charles on Sunday to see the interactions of the locals and the festival crowd. I had planned on somehow talking my way into a moment of Willie Nelson's time to tell him about my Grandad's record collection.

It didn't happen, though.

Night one I went with my wife because she loves Ray Lamontagne. We rarely spend alone time because of our kids and it was even more rare last year because I wasn't working. In April of 2016, I had a mental breakdown and ended up in the hospital and unemployed for a bit. I was slowly recovering, though, and excited for the time together.

We got there a bit late and missed San Fermin and heard Houndmouth from way up on the hill because of our need for food and the huge variety of gourmet choices. Cold War Kids were excellent. I was surprised how well the early stuff really held up after being dulled by some lackluster follow-up albums. We were hyped for Ray Lamontagne, although that ended up a bit of a disappointment.

In short, Ray had My Morning Jacket minus Jim James as his backing band, but it ended up being more like a Ray Lamontagne fronted MMJ than a MMJ backed Ray Lamontagne. It was neat, but not what we wanted.

Day two rolled around and I was prepared to go it alone. I took the shuttle bus from Des Moines and sipped on a 20 ounce Pepsi that I spiked with rum and I chatted with my fellow attendees. In my backpack, I smuggled a six-pack and a small bottle of cheap whiskey (about 10 total dollars), because I was too poor for festival pricing.

At the gate, my bag was checked and the whiskey was spotted in a side pocket. I played it cool, and the guy let me in. I played it so cool, in fact, that he didn't look in the main part where I had wrapped up the beers in a picnic blanket and we joked and high-fived as I passed.

Still, I felt bad. I felt stupid because I failed at sneaking something in (and failing at anything always blows) and I felt stupid for trying. I felt like I had broken a major rule and got caught and when that happens I feel like I let everyone down as if I'm not being the best type of person I could be. I also felt guilty for not just buying drinks at a festival friends of mine worked very hard to put on. Even if it was only $10, it should've been their $10.

I slugged down one of the Coors from my backpack. An hour-ish trip from store cooler to the festival grounds mostly wrapped inside of a blanket had mostly thawed the frost brewed chill. I drank a second one. I say drank, but what I mean was inhaled while slightly gagging on room temp macro-brew. I kicked myself further because my stupid plan pretty much collapsed anyway thanks to a lack of proper cooling.

I sat as William Elliot Whitmore played and started to think about how I had messed up. Then, for some reason, I thought about a time in fifth grade where a few of us stole candy off the teacher's desk when he wasn't in the room. He came back and some kid told on us. I got detention and cried right there in the middle of the classroom. I heard about my outburst the rest of the school year. I was the crying kid.

I tried to shake it off but then I thought about a time in high school when I went t.p.'ing on homecoming weekend, but only on the "approved night" and this hoodlum kid made fun of me.

The third beer, at this point, was roughly 85 degrees. I couldn't stop thinking about fifth grade. I couldn't stop thinking about high school. I couldn't stop thinking about how I'd feel bad if one of the organizers saw me with unapproved beer, even though it was the same beer sold there. I couldn't stop thinking about how dumb an idea it was to wrap cold beer in a blanket stuffed in a backpack on an 80 degree day and then try to drink it. I couldn't stop thinking about how much I sucked.

I started to think of how I was at this fest alone. How I couldn't find one person to take the other ticket. How, despite the fact that there were a lot of people there I knew and several of whom wouldn't have hated having me around, I was convinced they hated having me around.

I couldn't stop thinking about how much of a failure, in general, I was. How the whole reason I didn't have money for drinks was because I was unemployed. How I couldn't keep a job and was too weak and packed with excuses for why I couldn't write for a living. How I was forcing my wife to work odd jobs to make extra money and how I had to pull my 3-year-old son from his preschool and doom him to life as a left behind dullard. How, in reality, it shouldn't matter if I have alcohol at all, and yet it did and I couldn't fix that, which worried me.

Then my stomach began to turn.

It's a familiar feeling. It's my body's way of letting me know I was having an anxiety attack. I recognize it as old hat at this point. I got it any time I thought about that cubicle at the big bank that I once worked that sent me to the hospital or when I thought about any mistake I've ever made, ever.

This was different than the bank meltdown, though. This was literally about nothing and I could recognize that it was about nothing , which made things worse. This was me talking myself into being panicked and then being panicked. Which then scared me more because while I did a hell of a job bringing it on, I couldn't control it once it was here and because I didn't want to go back to the hospital. Yet, here I was, bringing it on.

The cherry on this melted sundae of sadness and angst was this was supposed to be my comfort zone: live music, people I know, cold, er, warm beer and a beautiful day. An almost holy place where my tears were dried and my fears assuaged. Yet here I was, sitting on a grass hill, as Pokey Lafarge played songs I knew and could singalong to, with my head between my knees hyperventilating, for no reason. It wasn't because I smuggled beer because who actually gives a shit. It was because I was still sick. I wasn't better just because I cast off one demon, I still had lots of other ones with which to deal and that terrified me.

I fell apart completely. My mind wouldn't stop racing. My toes wouldn't stop tingling nor my stomach stop tumbling. I started to nervously rub the top of my pinky fingers with my ring finger, a nervous tick I picked up a few months prior that I thought was long dead, and I did it with such vigor that I was removing skin via friction.

Pokey ended and they began to switch acts, so I really had nothing else to direct my focus. I started texting people, just in hopes of a distraction but without letting them in on my struggle.

Then I started sobbing. Big, loud tears. I finally calmed down a touch sometime during "KMAG-YOYO" by Hayes Carll. I sat on a grass hill among a crowd of thousands on a perfect, sunny August day and I'd never felt so dark and alone.

I packed up my bag, hopped back on the bus and went home. I left 3 scorching Coors cans behind.

Returning home early to the surprise of my family, I slumped on my couch and thumbed my Facebook feed. Tons of pictures rolled through of the rest of the day. Pics of Shovels and Rope, Lake Street Dive, Grace Potter, and Willie Nelson and I felt foolish. Foolish that I couldn't control my mind, foolish that I couldn't just stay and experience things, foolish that I was this way and foolish that all I could do was just poke at my phone like a loser.

So that's the story of my 2016 Hinterland Music Festival, a beautiful, magical place that unfortunately was the setting of me descending into a hell of my own creation.

If you're curious if you have to wait another year for my 2017 review, I'll save you the trouble: I didn't go. Despite the solid line up, the beautiful setting, the perfect weather and nearly a year of improvement in damn near every aspect of my life, I couldn't do it.

For all of the jokes we make about being "triggered," it comes from a very real place. For a lot of us with mental health issues, being triggered is a constant hazard. I spoke of it previously on why it's hard to go back to my hometown. I feel it every time I see the office building where I used to work. I get hit with it by certain posts or articles. It's an actual thing.

Honestly, it's been hard to go to any show, period, since because I feel like one of the few places I can still feel right was torn down that day and I still get hit with it just by seeing a band and a stage. Things have gotten better for me on a lot of fronts, though. One particular improvement is knowing when I'm putting myself into a real predicament. There's a fine line between immersion therapy and punishment.

I didn't go this year because I was petrified of that hill. I think I will be for some time because this will never go away, completely. People posted their pics this year, too, and I could feel my stomach ever so slightly wince. The best I can do is fight and hope.

So let's set a goal.

I'll be on that hill in 2018. I'll even buy my drinks there. Or, maybe I won't need the drinks at all…maybe I should save a goal for 2019.

Mitski with Half Waif – 7/17/2017 Vaudeville Mews

On the afternoon of my 37th birthday, I sat chest deep in the brown water of an Army Corps of Engineers created lake in the middle of a state park while being pelted with sand by my seven-year-old daughter, who sometimes does jerk things. This lake was about 4 miles south of my hometown, but it was the first time I had taken my kids there. I don't deal much with my hometown nowadays. I tie too much of my mental scars to it. I'm so far removed from that place that all I remember of it is the anxiety of trying to survive it.

I never went out to this beach much growing up, either, even though I've always really liked it. It was a fairly popular spot where cute girls in my high school went in their cute bathing suits, alongside their cute boyfriends and their teenage football player physiques. I was too skinny and I had bad skin, so taking off my shirt was out. I couldn't swim in a shirt either, because that would make things too obvious. So, I just never went to the beach because I didn't want to deal with the hassle no matter the joy I'd get from the activity.

I still carry a lot of that anxiety with me. Doing, well, anything in public is tough, because what if they all laugh at you? What if you show up and people think you're strange? What if they talk about you, your hair, your skin, your teeth, your clothes, the company you keep or the company you don't keep?

To this day, I often find myself looking to avoid these situations by not bothering to go out. It's just easier. I use money as an excuse a lot, even though I could go to a show for less than $20 pretty regularly and often less than $10 (I need extra money to ply myself with booze in order to survive, so it's kinda true, but also not). I use the excuse of not wanting to go by myself, even though I have a pretty extended group of friends I rarely see and even more rarely invite anywhere. It's just easier to not try and so much less stressful.

I was sick the day of the Mitski show with some sort of stomach bug. It had floored me enough that my brain started to kick in. It told me that I should just stay home because I was sick and everyone was just going to laugh at the old man with the big gut singing along at a show he was at least fifteen years too old to attend, anyway, so I should stay home.

I didn't listen, though. I was determined. I knew this was special. I had been listening to Puberty 2 all year. I knew the next time she came back to town, it wouldn't be in an ~200 person venue where I could comfortably stand inches from the stage. I fought all of my inner thoughts and all of my usual demons and I showed up.

I leaned on the wall to the left of the opening act Half Waif, a solo electronic musician in a sparkly dress. I had gotten there a couple minutes late as I had to finish my drink at the restaurant across the street and wait for my friend Casey. Luckily, there was a spot inches from the stage.

We stood and took in the rest of Half Waif's set. She was quite the artist and composer. She moved from ambient to fierce with a press of a button and a strain of her voice. She was a humble mix of Grimes and Kate Bush with smart and emotional lyrics that forced the listen to pay attention. I found myself gravitated towards her between song banter which seemed so normal and sweet, with no hint of pretension or snobbery. Then she would hit another provocative and world altering song. It's nice to be reminded that these mind-bending artists are also just regular people.

Mitski and her band took the stage next and mesmerized. Not much for banter, they ripped through an hour-plus set featuring a bulk of Puberty 2, but older tracks, as well.

What Mitski does better than most is lyrics. Her wit and presence in the face of loss, love, depression and life carries her beyond many others that tackle similar themes. They're big, emotional moments that could be silly in the hands of someone less gifted, but instead come of as clever and learned, and even more so live.

Mitski is a charismatic performer, but not in a Mick Jagger way. She's soft-spoken and somewhat stoic, but also emotional. The songs are about a lot of trying things, so I don't imagine they're easy to sing, but the sullen expression speaks to me.

Listening to the album itself, I can take in the lyrics on their own. I can find myself seeing the performer detached from the lyrics; the author as a storyteller instead of an heartfelt, autobiographical release.

I get the intent and purpose in her songs, because I can relate. I relate to "Dan the Dancer" and his bedroom dance routine. I relate to "My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars" because I can't count the number of times I've repeated "I better ace that interview."

Live, though, it's impossible to detach Mitski from her lyrics. Here's someone using their words, their wit to show their pain and seeing her perform, you can tell how much these songs mean to her.

While I relate to the songs on their own, seeing her perform them live, I now relate to Mitski. I relate to the sadness and pain and trying to use a wry sense of humor to overcome all of that because lord knows I've done it. I can relate to wanting to talk about all of the things on your mind openly because you have a gift and a desire in the face of struggle.

I also relate to the fact that, were I to hazard a guess, she didn't want to be there either. I don't mean this as a knock. Her performance suggested an aloofness or even anger, but it absolutely wasn't. Her performance was a fight in and of itself. It's tough to put yourself out there and maybe I'm projecting, but anxiety is a bastard ghoul who sucks your soul, and it can sometimes be easy to spot. Seeing someone fight through discomfort really helped me to understand what I deal with daily because leaving your soul exposed in front of a crowd of strangers is way more nerve-rattling than just being in public. If she's willing to do that, than the least I can do is show up.

I'm glad I went. I'm glad I experienced this. I'm glad I didn't give in to my dueling sicknesses, both mental and physical. I'm glad Mitski was here and I'm happy I saw her perform and I'm glad she's so willing to give so much of herself.

Love and joy and inspiration and goodness and just relating to and interacting with the human condition is what life is supposed to be, even if your brain tells you otherwise. Because the more you learn to love others you'll see how little they actually affect your enjoyment. The more you let yourself go, the more you find solace and comfort in that same humanity that is also, like you, just trying to survive.

A Bedside Love Song For a Chosen Few – 80/35 2017

I wish I was a good photographer. I wish I had the sense and keen sight they have to capture the world around them with the press of a button. Were I, I'd have been able to capture the look in that kid's eyes.

I say kid, because at 37 years old, everyone at these events looks like fucking children to me, even the people older than I. He may have been my age, he may have been late teens or early 20's. His dirty blond hair was a mess and sweat was matting it to his forehead. He was crammed into a group of people at the front so tight that it was tugging his red t-shirt and stretching his collar.

I stood to the side of the stage and watched him for a few moments. He moved with the cluster of people. Sometimes it looked like he was in control and sometimes it looked like he was just part of a clump of amorphous humanity. Just a dangling cilia on a giant human protozoa.

The rest of the mass would move and headbang or scream to the sky. But his gaze never left.

Standing directly in front of him was Jeffrey Eaton, a lanky figure dressed in all black, the lead singer of hardcore band Modern Life is War. He wore a sleeveless shirt, but the ink on his arms filled in for the missing fabric. His pompadour flopped in front of his eyes perfectly as his head moved. He stood with one foot on stage, another on the thick fencing that was supposed to keep Eaton and the crowd separate. He stood inches from them. Reaching out to them. As much a part of them as security and three inches of an iron barrier would let him.

He sang with passion and anger. The kid looked at him and matched Eaton lyric for lyric on "The Outsiders", the opening track to MLIW's genre classic Witness. A lot of people did, but this kid had this look in his eyes. It was of reverence, of love. It was a look of understanding and pride and acceptance and being accepted. It was a look that said this was exactly where he wanted to be at that moment in time.

I wish I had gotten a picture. I wish I had the wherewithal to capture that moment. But I didn't. Instead, here's the back of my friend Phil's head moments before this scene.

The thing that gets me about this is I know Eaton. He's a DJ in town and co-hosts a monthly party at Gas Lamp. We aren't friends by any stretch, but we've had cordial conversations and share mutual friends. On most days when I see him, he's just a dude at shows I attend or at parties I'm invited that also happens to front an important band.

But to that kid, on this day, at this moment, he was everything. Equal parts messianic and comforting. He was this blistering machine gun of a person who unleashed his pain to a kid that not only feels it, but shares it. Because their pain is understood. Because it isn't wrong or bad to feel the way they do. And because it's nice to not be alone in it.

This is the 10th 80/35 music festival. We know what it is now. What types of music to expect, the experience, all of it is old hat. The people that hate it are the same people that hated it then for the same reasons, but their complaints get fainter and fainter as the years go by. The people that loved it in 2008 are aging, but hold strong. They…I…we have gotten older. We don't party like we used to. The heat gets us a little bit more and our feet hurt on the Sunday after.

We've gotten "real" jobs and had kids, and those kids are getting old enough to go to the fest. Maybe we find a band we like or we play in the concrete stream that runs through the grounds, but the kids that were a twinkle in they're…my…our eyes 10 years ago are beginning to appreciate this more and more.

And the kids from year 1? They're old enough now to play the festival. Like Glitter Density, who were roughly my daughter's age in 2008 and now get a spot on a big stage.

In 2012, I wrote that when they are teenagers, my then 2-year old daughter and 3-year old niece would only know this city as "what we think it could be," and I still believe that to be true and I still see it happening, but I also see the struggles. I see a city still struggling to burst out creatively. I feel the stagnation and the rut.

I see a city that wants to be open to artistic expression handcuffed by puritanical laws, as if a 17-year old kid couldn't get drunk just as easily at 7pm as they could at 10 pm if that's what they really wanted.

I see a city as the capital for a state government that cares more for shutting down the arts while trying to protect "businesses" (among other atrocities) as if you can't make a career in art.

I see this city landlocked in the middle of a country where people have to fight everyday to be treated like a human and get laughed at for "safe spaces" as if every person on this overheating orb floating in a vast nothingness just wants nothing more than to just be accepted and mainly to just be.

So yeah, it feels like somehow we're getting closer while simultaneously being shoved even further away from that utopia. It feels further away because the stress of being 37 with two kids in 2017 is different than the stress of being 28 in 2008 with none because our cares and our fears are different and they feel insurmountable. I feel the stagnation and the rut because I am the stagnation and the rut.

That's why moments count. Moments where you don't feel so alone and your…my…our problems aren't so insurmountable.

Like, talking to a teenaged family friend in the crowd, who's been playing in bands for a couple of years, being inspired and setting a goal to play on one of the three stages.

Or, spending your formative years as a mid-2000s hipster who won't admit they're a hipster and being inspired in part by Garden State who won't admit they were inspired by Garden State because now it's gauche to admit that, and being mere feet from The Shins like, well, a whole lot of us.

Or, that rare moment when you're pushing 40, but you get front row to a new band you fell in love with just this year like you're still 22 and you sing all their songs and you bounce into the people next to you and then take a selfie with the band because for one damn moment you don't care that you're pushing 40 and the world around you is going to hell because that band you like played songs you like and you had fun, like uh…someone.

Apropos of nothing, here's A Giant Dog and I…

But the moments that 80/35 does best are the moments that really matter. The ones that actually help. Not just a diversion or a distraction. The kid looking into Jeffrey Eaton's face wasn't using him as a distraction or as something to just have a good time.

That moment, that look in his eyes, that was hope. That someone speaks to you, feels like you, thinks like you. That in this trash world, you have people on your side and you can fight whatever evil is destroying you. It was hope.

It's even better to know that those moments of hope can be provided by people within your community, fighting and struggling with you. It should happen more often and we should fight for and find that same hope wherever we can.

Even as the world turns and generations age, hope always remains. Sometimes, it just needs to be found, anyway they…I…we can.

Album Review: Quick Piss -Rock ‘N’ Roll Impotence

QP

Check out Quick Piss tonight (9/2) at Vaudeville Mews for their album release featuring Pure Gut and Glitter Density (early) and Goldblums, The Vahnevants and DJ Richie Daggers. Buy the album. Go to both shows.

 

To Do List (Age 16):

  • Eat Junk Food
  • Sleep Late
  • Skip School
  • Learn Math
  • Write Bad Poetry
  • Get In A Car Wreck
  • Drive Somewhere Far Away
  • Drink A Beer
  • Learn Three Guitar Chords
  • Swear
  • Break Glass Bottles For No Reason
  • Do Well In A Class You Actually Like
  • Watch Internet Porn
  • Swear
  • Shoplift
  • Go To As Many Concerts As Possible
  • Start A Band
  • Paint A Wall That Belongs To Someone Else
  • Kiss Someone You Think Is Cute
  • Drink Another Beer
  • Jump A Dirt Bike Into A Pond
  • Figure Out That The World Kind Of Sucks

 

To Do List (Age 19)

  • Go To Night School
  • Try A Drug Or Two
  • Work Retail
  • Show Up To Work Drunk
  • Read A Fucking Book
  • Kick Down A Political Sign In Your Neighbor’s Yard
  • Read A Book About Fucking
  • Fuck
  • Piss Off Old People
  • Get In A Bar Fight
  • Eat A Bagel
  • Wear The Same T-Shirt Everyday
  • Live Somewhere You Don’t Know Anyone
  • Make New Friends
  • Realize Your New Friends Are Lame
  • Get A Fake ID
  • Hang Out With Your Old Friends
  • Play Songs In A Band
  • Vote For A Communist
  • Write Songs With Swears
  • Smash A Guitar
  • Kick A Hole In A Bass Drum
  • Realize Life is Great

 

To Do List (Age 26)

  • Get A Job
  • Hate That Job
  • Meet a Girl (or Guy)
  • Have Sex With Just That Person
  • Grow a Beard
  • Buy a Nice Suit
  • Ride Your Bike Carefully
  • Get a Prescription
  • Write a Cover Letter
  • Sign a Lease
  • Look in the Mirror
  • Sigh a lot
  • Rescue a Dog
  • Open a Money Market Account
  • Listen to Punk Rock As You Drive Home
  • Masturbate
  • Play Co-Ed Softball
  • Eat a Vegetable
  • Read the Label
  • Drink Less
  • Figure Out That Life Actually Sucked Less a Few Years Ago

 

To Do List (Age 36)

  • Have a Couple of Kids
  • Quit Your Job
  • Fight Depression
  • Stare Out the Window
  • Get a Fish Tank
  • Eat a Plum
  • File Your Taxes
  • Go to A Bar By Yourself
  • Describe Yourself As “Fiscally Conservative”
  • Cry
  • Find Yourself

 

To Do List (Age 50)

  • Work A Job You Like
  • Take Your Medicine
  • Talk To Someone
  • Play The Loud Songs You Wrote For Your Children
  • Take Time For Yourself
  • Love
  • Smash
  • Go Fishing
  • Buy A Mid-Sized Sedan
  • Age
  • Let Kids Play
  • Figure Out Life

 

To Do List (Age 70)

  • Eat Junk Food
  • Sleep Late
  • Skip School
  • Learn Math
  • Write Bad Poetry
  • Get In A Car Wreck
  • Drive Somewhere Far Away
  • Drink A Beer
  • Learn Three Guitar Chords
  • Swear
  • Break Glass Bottles For No Reason
  • Do Well In A Class You Actually Like
  • Watch Internet Porn
  • Swear
  • Shoplift
  • Go To As Many Concerts As Possible
  • Start A Band
  • Paint A Wall That Belongs To Someone Else
  • Kiss Someone You Think Is Cute
  • Drink Another Beer
  • Jump A Dirt Bike Into A Pond
  • Figure Out That The World Kind Of Rules

Review: Courtney Krause at Exile Brewing

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This is a story about her.

Courtney Krause is performing and she may also be fighting back tears. Her face etches the pain, the pride, the love and the sentiment with each note hit. Her eyes tell the story as well as, and maybe even better than, the lyrics. She strums her guitar, but frequently uses her right hand to accentuate not just the words and the story she is telling, but the gravity of it all, like a Shakespearean actor in the midst of a monologue. The stories that she tells have to come from deep within, or at minimum, she is wrecked by empathy.

Behind her, an actual storm rages and pelts the windows with rain. Winds whip, lightning illuminates, rainwater floods and thunder shakes. It’s an incredible, metaphorical backdrop to the emotion that pours from her.

Krause stands to the side of the room and sings and they politely applaud, be ultimately are unmoved. She’s the soundtrack to their dinner, the ambient noise while they go on with their life. To her, she stands and creates. She makes her art. She makes it to tell her stories and play her music.

Courtney Krause is a beautiful woman, with kind eyes that squint closed when she makes her big cheek-boned smile. Her long, brown hair flops halfway over one eye (her left, my right). She makes big gestures to match her big voice. Also, her torso does this weird thing where her heart bursts out of her chest as she sings.

She is also a beautiful spirit. She possesses rare ability as a performer and storyteller. Her songs are rich and full of life and love and loss and liberation. They’re dynamic pieces that cut through a Midwestern thunderstorm to tug at the audience and the listener.

I just wish there were more listeners.

*****

This is also a story about them.

Behind me, two professional women in their early 30’s discuss marketing and SEO strategy between glances at their phones. To my right, a  youngish couple are having a seemingly pleasant date. Next to them, a group of people are celebrating a softball victory with beers. To my left, a group of four middle aged women order white wine at a brewery and multiple appetizers, clanging their plates to the table absentmindedly (the same group of women also stole my table as I went to the bathroom, despite a full beer and my phone still sitting there, but I digress). There are others. They have dinner, or watch Olympic swimming or post selfies to their Instas and Snaps.

There are people listening and people who care, friends mainly, but it is baffling to me that there stands a woman releasing everything she has in four to five minute bursts, all while the outside world behind her threatens to destroy us all, and it doesn’t deter the people who just want to make small talk and ducklips for their twenty-five hundred Instagram followers.

What surprises me more is that it doesn’t deter Krause. Beyond the emotion and the empathy and the beauty, there is one startling characteristic that shines through: confidence. It is the confidence to play for a room half paying attention and still unleash yourself. It is confidence that allows her to be her true self whether it’s a crowd of four-thousand or a crowd of fourteen, nine of which aren’t paying attention. Why they’re not paying attention is still beyond me. Here, a woman aches and yearns and sets herself free, and social media and buffalo chicken bites and keyword searches and Jason going 5 for 6 with two home runs all matter more.

Even Krause knows this. She tells me that she signs on to these gigs to be the atmosphere. To get something fresh instead of the latest episode of Sportscenter or the corporate Top 40 Muzak that normally fills the beer hall. It’s a chance for exposure, but it’s just a gig.

I wonder why more people choose not to care.

*****

This is actually a story about me.

I haven’t been a very good writer lately. I mean it both literally and in a more prolific sense. I have been fighting depression, anxiety, insomnia, poverty, regret, sadness and depression (yeah, I said it twice). I have now been out of work since my breakdown and trip to the hospital in late-April. I have done a less than admiral job looking for employment. I have had a couple of leads on making writing about music and other things my full-time job, but I just can’t pull the trigger. I have refused therapy out of fear and laziness despite the urging of all of the people who care about me most.

The night of Krause’s set at Exile, I received news that a job I was angling for had gone to someone else. Someone else talented, more experienced and less fragile. Maybe even a job I wanted no part, so I never really stood a chance. Regardless, it went to someone else. It hurt.

I packed up my computer and went to a bar, determined to right the ship, right then and there. I opened my resume. I did nothing. I stared at a blinking cursor. I opened up a new blog post. I wrote a title. Then I stared at the blinking cursor. I drank beer. I opened Facebook. I drank more beer. Still nothing. I drank more beer. My computer’s battery died. I accomplished nothing.

I wasn’t ready to go home and face my family; to look my 3-year old son and 6-year old daughter in their perfect faces and admit Daddy was a failure. So, I decided to go to Exile and catch a singer I liked sing some songs. I wasn’t ready for my muse, but she was ready for me.

*****

This is a story about all of us.

I sat and I watched and I sipped my Peach-Strawberry Bohemian, a fruity and sour beer that puckered my cheeks and politely assaulted my taste buds like a friendly dominatrix. I watched as she emoted. I watched as they ignored. I watched as her friends clapped and hugged and wooed and took pictures.

I also watched the room as they talked to their friends. As they smiled and laughed and ate and drank. I watched as they were happy. I watched as they devoured lamb sliders and fried something or other.

I watched as she sang and wrecked herself, then finished her song and smiled shyly. I watched as she ran her fingers through her hair and talked, saying words that I couldn’t make out due to the noise in the rest of the bar, but words that changed her demeanor from emotional wreck to pleased artist.

What I watched were people being happy. I watched as a gifted artist plied her trade. I watched as proud friends relished in their friend’s ability. I watched as other groups of friends took pictures of each other, or busted a guy’s balls about a base running mistake. I watched as a guy sipped his beer and pumped his fist at another American gold medal. I watched a young couple look into each other’s eyes, deeply.

I realized that none of the people in that room wanted to be anywhere else, except me. Krause didn’t mind if people listened or didn’t, her art was for her. The groups of friends wanted to be there for each other. The couple on a date wanted to enjoy their love. The man watching the Olympics just wanted a moment to himself.

I wanted to race home and document this. I wanted to jot down my feelings. I wanted to write. I wanted to fix me.

I could no longer feel grief towards those who chose not to pay attention. I could no longer feel sorrow for Krause, who I now realized was, sure, performing for her friends, but mainly it was for herself. I no longer saw writing as a chore that needed to appeal to other people. I saw it as a way to be me.

I saw the things that made me happy. The things that I loved. I saw my wife, my children, my family and I saw my art. The work that made me happy, not the work that made me money. I saw my art as mine again.

In those people, I saw happiness. Something I am desperate to reclaim, for all of those people who count on me, believe in me and love me. But ultimately, for me.

This was a story about her, me, them and us.

Review: The Maytags – Love Lines

Love Lines

Last week, I went to a neighborhood get together in a park. There was beer and food trucks and lawn chairs and people meeting their neighbors. There was also a stage with music being played. These type of events aren’t always the best for those who came to listen to the music, as most people tend to look at the music as a necessary bit of background noise while they chat and drink and their kids play tag and frisbee.

One of the bands that played the event was the soul/pop outfit The Maytags. They were perfect for this type of event because they’re so talented and yet, so non-confrontational. They play music that mixes old-school soul and jazz, traditional show bands and modern pop. Lead singer Dustin Smith uses his Southern style sweet grovel in front of a band that (to borrow a phrase from The Blues Brothers (which is a great comparison really)) is powerful enough to turn goat piss in to gasoline. They’re smooth, tender, powerful and fun.

They’re also the type of band you can play as the soundtrack of your life. They type of band you can throw on in the background at a family barbecue and there won’t be a single complaint. They are also good enough, that if you really pay attention, you are rewarded with strong songwriting and incredible music.

Their new album, Love Lines, is a perfect mix of all the things that make The Maytags great. Songs like “Business Trip” and “Marry Me” have made their way into permanent setlist staples. They also showcase a silken style that can evoke emotions and sweaty dance floors.

Their made for outdoors and for the club stage, for the chill atmosphere of a block party and the heat of a big festival. They’re fun, easy to listen to and gifted. The Maytags can easily usurp the position of Iowas premier party band, but they are also so much more that that.

Catch The Maytags tonight (7/29) at Wooly’s and pick up a copy of the album there.