Summer Drinking: The Food Center Liquor Store, Brookline, MA

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“Time is a jet plane it moves so fast” – Bob Dylan, “You’re A Big Girl Now”

I was texting with my drummer friend yesterday. He’d read my review of the RHCP’s new song, “Dark Necessities” and had reached out. Like me, he’s a huge fan of bands with strong rhythm sections like the Who, Rush, Rock Garden and of course, the RHCPs. Give me that bottom. He was complaining about the overly-produced sound of the drums. I have to admit that Danger Mouse put so much polish on the record I can almost see my reflection in it, but I still love the song. It’s in high rotation here at the house. He then mentioned his band had a gig that night, and said, “It’s almost like summer, man!”

Ah, summer. It always makes me think of Boston and the Food Center Liquor Store, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s nothing better than summer drinking. And while I have to consume some bourbon today (I’m working on a “deconstructed” mint julep, straight bourbon from the bottle with a peppermint in my mouth) for the Kentucky Derby, the world’s greatest sporting event, when summer comes it’ll be time to put away the dark liquors and heavy beers. Time to dust off the vodka lemonades and the Blue Moon. I would suggest buying stock in Ketel One immediately, they’re about to have a sales surge. When summer comes to the Midwest the entire region opens like a flower.

This time of year always takes me back. It’s not only summer’s arrival, but the fact that it’s graduation season takes me back to my own college graduation.  At the time, I took all the money I’d been gifted for graduating and bought a ticket to fly to Boston to join my buddies Matthew and GP who were both living out there. Matthew was in Law School and GP was peddling soft drinks. I had somehow convinced GP to move out there with me…I’m not sure he’s forgiven me yet. My corporate overlords didn’t need me until September, so I thought, “What the Hell, why not?” Once I arrived in Boston and got myself ensconced at the apartment the three of us shared on Commonwealth Avenue, I immediately spent the rest of my Graduation Money at the used record store two blocks up from us, “In Your Ear.” I found all the Faces records on vinyl I’d been searching for in that used record store and I can close my eyes and still see myself standing there, mouth agape at my “huge” discovery. Unfortunately spending all my money on used albums wasn’t going to sustain me for the summer in super-expensive Boston.

Matthew and I went to the local grocery store on the outskirts of Brookline, the birthplace of JFK, and after watching Matthew fail while hitting on the beautiful, Hispanic store clerk, I noticed a “Help Wanted” sign on the window of the liquor store adjacent. My reduced circumstances made me bold and I strolled in and inquired after the opening. I was told the job was in the “other store,” two miles away, in the main village square of Brookline.

The next day, I set off on my adventure to find the Brookline Food Center Liquor Store. I walked for what seemed like forever until I finally spotted it, situated on a main street, next to a police station which I regarded with suspicion at the time. I strolled in and a man with sunglasses on (while inside) and a 70’s porno-star mustache was behind the register. I introduced myself and asked about the job. Being from Kansas, I had always thought I had no accent at all. Apparently to this hardened, Boston liquor store owner I sounded like I’d just wandered in off the plantation in Mississippi. He probably couldn’t delineate between Mississippi or Missouri as I was to find out later… He smiled at me and immediately started on my accent… “You ain’t from around here are you (it sounded like “ah yoo”)? You from down South somewhere?” I told him I was from Kansas and that was suddenly my name, “Kansas.” I asked again for the job and he replied “Uh, Ok Kansas, you uh, wanted for anything criminal? I got cop friends, I’ll know so don’t fucking lie to me.”His Boston accent was so thick I struggled to understand him. It took a while to adjust (he kept saying Food Center as Food Centah). It was an odd interview question. I replied that I had no record and I wasn’t wanted for anything criminal… well, nothing that would stick. “Ok Kansas, welcome to the Food Centah, you start (staht) tomorrow, be here at 3pm.” I had a job!

The next day, and really for the rest of the summer, it was my job to show up at the liquor store and a) stock the beer fridge and b) take the Massachusettes 5 cent beer can returns. The man with the mustache who was named Doug but referred to himself as “Uncle Chico” explained it to me my first day. He took me out of the cooler to the front of the beer display. We stood a few feet back and he said, “Kansas, look at that, do you see any gaps in the beer coolah?” There were none. “Thats how I wanna see my coolah from now on, no gaps.” I was literally responsible for walking into the cooler and pushing six packs forward so people could easily reach them. Every now and again, I’d get busy with beer can returns and I’d hear, in that thick Boston accent, “Kansas, Kansas?” and I’d run out to the store floor from the back cubby hole where we took returns and he would always say, when he was upset about the beer cooler, “Do you love Uncle Chico? Do you love Uncle Chico?” There was only one reply, I’d mumble “Yes, I love Uncle Chico…” “Then, uh, Kansas, will you do the fucking beer coolah, I see gaps.”

There were a group of guys that I worked with, salt of the earth guys, Kenny, Wardy, and Matt. The guy who was the night manager was named Murph. One was an artist, one was going to be a cop and one of the others was always looking for a construction job. People always speak of folks from the East being cold or stand-offish but those guys embraced me almost immediately. I have to admit they asked me if I grew up on a farm, I was from Kansas after all. I had to explain I didn’t grow up with a cow in my yard. I used to tell them the only thing different between Kansas and Boston was that in Kansas everything was in black and white and here in Boston everything was in color. They liked the Wizard of Oz comedy…

These guys went out drinking every night. The liquor store closed at 11pm and everyone on the shift was allowed to drink one beer of their choice. It was where I really developed a taste for good beer – not this American piss that passes for beer here – but good, exotic beers from far away places. That one beer after shift usually led us to the bar across the street. After the first couple of nights drinking with these guys, on a Tuesday night, I demurred when Matt asked me where we were gonna get beers later. He looked stunned when I said I was just gonna walk home. “Kansas, what the fuck are (ah) you talking about? It’s summah (summer)… you drink… you know, with your friends.” It was wisdom I carry with me to today. It’s what I always think of when I think of summer drinking. I was embarrassed I’d been so stupid and said “no” and at the same time I was honored that these guys had already accepted me as a friend. Although, I must confess they continued to ask me if Kansas was in the South… apparently I had an accent I was unaware of and they don’t teach geography in the Boston schools.

Now, here I am, all these years later and I’m on the cusp of summer. Another summer has snuck up on me. I’m not sure where all the time went… It slips away, people. Dylan was right, “time is a jet plane.” I’m happy, with a great family and my job now doesn’t entail pushing six-packs forward to the sound of “do you love Uncle Chico?” Although I have to admit, pushing six-packs forward was a lot more fun and it didn’t keep me up at night…

I always try to remember the wisdom of the Food Centah…. And, I hope you all will remember this wisdom folks – “It’s summah (summer), you drink beer, you know, with your friends.”

Cheers!

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A Bit of Humor: The Phantom Shitter (not for the faint of heart)

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I’m going to admit to you right off the bat, that this story is gross. It’s not vulgar, it’s just kind of sick. It’s out of the ordinary for BourbonAndVinyl, but it still makes me laugh in that junior high, National Lampoon kinda way. So, with that in mind, read at your own discretion, you’ve been warned. Hopefully, you’ll get a chuckle.

There aren’t many advantages to working for a multi-national, enormous corporation. One of the few advantages is that you get to meet a lot of people from a lot of different places. From Paris and Rome to Arkansas and Alabama. A friend of mine, Michael was shipped off to one of those small, backwater towns that only my company has representation in and he shared this story with me. We have two small office buildings located next to the headquarters of a large company in this small town. Our complex is across the parking lot and over some ancient railroad tracks. It appears we’re on the wrong side of the tracks, if this story has any validity.

Most of the hard core sales guys reside in Building One of the complex. In Building Two we house a large contingent of people from other cultures who do a lot of our IT work. These two populations, the sales guys and the IT guys rarely co-mingle as they have separate missions like they have separate buildings. However, the hard core sales guys often have to hold meetings over in the IT building, as meeting space is sparse. One of the hard core Sales Leaders in this office is a fierce, crew cut, belt-and-suspenders-at-the-same-time guy named Sarge. Sarge is a ginger with fiery red hair and when he gets fired up about something he turns purple his face turns so red. Sarge is usually fired up about something, it doesn’t take a whole lot to turn his face red with rage or happiness. Both emotions look the same on the guy.

Sarge got in the habit of hosting meetings over in the IT building because nobody ever wanted to make the effort to walk the short distance to the second building and thus the meeting rooms were always open. Plus the second building had the advantage of being “away from the maddening crowd” and the prying eyes and ears that are so prevalent in any small office setting. Pretty soon Sarge got in the habit of setting up in a conference room over in the IT building and working there all day. He’d get to the office early and leave late. He’s just that type of guy. He probably does push ups in there for all I know. I’ve always taken a more casual approach to work.

Late one night Sarge went into the men’s room in the IT building to splash a little water on his face to keep himself alert while he worked on the current proposal he was immersed in. He realized immediately upon entering the men’s room that something was amiss. It smelled like somebody had killed a goat in there. He literally gagged upon opening the door. It didn’t take long to surmise what had happened. Someone had taken a shit in the trashcan. Sarge was dumbfounded. There were two working toilets in the bathroom, merely feet away from this defiled trash can. Sarge was horrified… worse yet, Sarge was motivated for justice. He was going to find this man, this animal, this….Phantom Shitter.

He raced across the parking lot to his boss’s office, his boss liked to work late too apparently. Sarge stammered with rage, “Boss….somebody…. somebody…” he was struggling to even get the words out, Sarge was that horrified. “What is it Sarge, what’s wrong?” his boss inquired. “Someone shit in the trash can in the men’s room in Building 2”. I would have paid cash money to have witnessed all of this live. Well, from afar anyway. Feces makes me wretch.

Sarge’s boss was a man full of good humor and much to Sarge’s chagrin, his boss laughed out loud when he heard this news. It was gross yes, but it was nothing to turn red in the face over. Sarge’s boss quietly had his secretary type up a secret memo about hygiene and proper use of the bath room, something very HR-centric and in a sealed envelope, sent the memo with Sarge over to building 2 so he could tape it, without a lot of fan fare, to the inside of the bathroom door. I’m not sure what the note said, but I think it had to be something like, “Please don’t shit in the trashcan,” but who knows. As he taped the note to the door, Sarge smiled to himself. This trashcan shitting would surely come to an end.

Late that evening, despite his misgivings, Sarge had to use the men’s room. He felt confident as he walked down the hall to the bathroom, the office was deserted and certainly the memo carefully taped inside the door would have done it’s job and he wouldn’t discover a shit stained trash can. But still, he was nervous. It’s very unnerving to find something like shit in the trashcan.

Upon opening the door to the men’s room all of Sarge’s worst fears came true. The room once again smelled like a goat who’d been eating curry for a week had exploded. As the door closed behind him, Sarge’s eyes began to water as the smell almost overwhelmed him. He could feel himself on the verge of swooning so bad was the smell. He turned to run from the bathroom and it’s shit filled trash can. And that’s when Sarge first saw the inside of the men’s room door… And there, to Sarge’s horror, smeared over the door and his carefully taped-up memo about not shitting in the trashcan, was a giant Smiley-face…written in, yes, smeared shit.

The Phantom Shitter had a sense of humor.

Sarge ran from the bathroom horrified, but he was also transformed. He was now a man with a mission. This was personal now. The Phantom Shitter’s shit stained smiley-face was clearly a message to Sarge, at least in Sarge’s mind. His obsession with the Phantom Shitter quickly jumped the rails to “out of control” territory. He had, in his little conference room that he now kept locked with the shades drawn, a wall with work schedules of all the IT guys. It looked like something out of the TV show, “Homeland”, with strings connecting different memos and hand written sticky-notes with Sarge’s mad musings scribbled in magic marker on them. He was going to slowly narrow down, based on work schedules, who was in the building at the time of the shitting incidents. This man, this smiley-faced bastard was going to be caught and then Sarge himself would march the smart-ass fucker out of the building.

After three weeks and two more shitting incidents, Sarge’s boss decided to bring in an HR expert to have a meeting with all the hard-core sales guys and the IT guys to talk about culture and hygiene when it comes to the use of the restrooms. I think Sarge’s boss scheduled the meeting more out of fear that Sarge was going to snap vs concern about the actual shitting. He had to include the sales guys in the meeting because he didn’t want it to look like he was assuming it was one of the IT guys. So half the meeting was rapt-attention, IT guys listening respectfully and the other half of the room was like a high school class with a substitute teacher. They did everything but throw spit balls. During the entire meeting, Sarge stood at the front of the room, behind the HR person glaring at each IT guy, in an attempt to see into their soul, to find out, if he could, who the shitter was.

Sadly, to date, the Phantom Shitter has never been apprehended. But after the HR meeting, all Phantom Shitting behavior ceased. We may never know who the culprit was, but it’s pretty unnerving to think… somewhere, he’s out there, defiling trashcans… Meanwhile, Sarge generally drives down the street to the Starbucks when he needs to go to the bathroom. He’s having trouble putting this behind him.

Cheers!

Has iTunes and the MP3 Players Destroyed the LP?

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There are many things I know for a fact. Such as, never trust a man with a pinky ring or a woman really into Pink Floyd. These are just common sense facts. However, most things I wonder about. With each passing year the list of things I don’t understand, or things that are in that “gray area” of understanding seems to grow. Technology that was supposed to bring us all together seems to be separating us further and further apart.

And so, I’ve been wondering lately if the iPod and iTunes have destroyed the LP. I am a huge fan of the album. There is something about the unifying concept of the album: unifying sound, lyrical content etc. Without the album how do you come up with “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”? The whole thing hangs together as the great albums usually do. Even double albums like “Exile on Main Street” or “Blonde On Blonde,” all the songs sound like they belong together.

 I know there are always stray songs I like and I will just purchase that one song, but for the most part I’m a catalog kind of fan. I not only buy the album, if it’s an artist I think has some talent, I’ll buy most of their catalog, if not the entire catalog (talking to you Free, my current binge listening obsession). For example, I even own Dylan’s religious-period albums and I can probably be best described as a druid (well, without the flowing, hooded robe, I don’t dress like Gandalf). I’m just that into Dylan’s music. If he wants to warble on about serving somebody, I’m ok with that if its lyrically interesting and I can tap my foot along to the beat or the riff. I’m intrigued by the artist and the dialogue he wants to have with his audience, in LP length conversations. Springsteen talks about the “conversation” he’s having with his fans all the time and I totally get that.

In the old days if there was that stray song you wanted, you were pretty much forced to buy the album anyway. That was good in some cases (discoveries were made), extortion in others. There’s no reason anybody should own Lou Gramm’s “Ready Or Not” album even though “Midnight Blue” was a damn catchy, if nonsensical song. Alas, I owned that record at one time. iTunes has always been great to cherry pick those stray songs, without the investment of the whole album, but that instance is becoming more rare for me. I want an artist who can string together enough content to keep me interested over the course of a long-player, aka LP.

This new single-track flexibility that iTunes provided has a down side. Current fans have moved away from the album toward the song as the basic unit of musical creation. We live in an attention deficit world. I can’t even remember where I left my car keys… but that may be age… Nobody has the attention span for the entire LP. Many artists can’t maintain quality music over the length of an album any more. I think it all started with the multiple CD players. I held out against the CD as I figured it was a “fad”. Finally the Stones released “Steel Wheels” only on CD so I had to break down and buy a CD player. I bought a CD player that could hold 5 discs. Unbeknownst to me, there was a button on the CD player, “Random”, that I could hit, with the 5 CDs loaded and it’d randomly skip from song to song, disc to disc. Suddenly listening all the way through an album was no longer required. If I had a party, Zeppelin 1, 2, 3 and 4, and then some Sabbath, hit Random and wait for the women to complain about the music.

The advent of the iPod took the “random” concept to an extreme with the “Shuffle” setting. Once I had all my cd’s “ripped” to my iPod, I could shuffle randomly through all the 17,000 songs I had loaded (it would appear to me, typing that sentence that my OCD with music has gotten out of hand). Many days, because I’m at heart lazy (a lazy druid,  now there’s a concept), it’s easier to just hit shuffle vs dig through the 100’s of artists and select an album. Although when I have something new, in high rotation, that problems is minimized (thank you, Rival Sons). The Rock Chick hates it when I “shuffle” my whole iPod, our musical tastes are a Venn diagram of sorts – definite intersection/overlap but a lot of my music she’s less than fond of, hence her lifetime ban from B&V. I think the shuffle concept is another thing that eroded people’s ability to sit through a whole album. Gone are the days, when I’d drop the needle on a record, lay down on the couch and scour the liner notes and just let the album engulf me. I think a lot of people today have learned to listen to music in this selective way.

I read an editorial article on rollingstone.com or utlimateclassicrock.com recently about the music listening public’s consumption of cd’s dropping. The gist was something like “cd’s are the last vestige of the LP, why are people abandoning them?” If you’re like me the Rock Chick has outlawed me taking any additional shelf space for CDs with the box-set exception I got written into the contract. So I get it, storage can be a problem. Even Ian Astbury, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Cult has been quoted about abandoning the concept of an LP, hence the “Capsule” releases before “Choice of Weapon” came out. I think all of this is a terrible error on the part of listeners and musicians. As listeners we should be demanding musical artists create an album worth of artistic, meaningful music. Artists should expect listeners to make a similar commitment on our end.

So people, take the time to invest in purchasing and listening to the entire album. Trust me on this, I do not nor have I ever worn a pinky ring. Hold the artist to the album-length quality standard and reward them for doing so with an album purchase, not just the single.

Rock and Roll Will Never Die! Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from B&V

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There are holidays sprinkled throughout the year on the calendar. Some were created by Hallmark Cards, i.e. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and the grandmother of them all, Valentine’s Day. There are government mandated holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day and Arbor Day. Yes, Arbor Day, trees need some love, people. There’s even one holiday I actually like – Thanksgiving –  all I have to do is show up, drink and eat and watch football while napping after dinner, it’s almost perfect. Of course, there are religious holiday’s like Easter, Christmas, and Hanukkah just to name a few. For me, there is only one religious holiday I still observe and that is St. Patrick’s Day. Is there any other holiday that could better represent the ethos of BourbonAndVinyl than St. Patrick’s Day? I think not. St. Patrick’s Day is the BourbonAndVinyl “High Holy Day”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me. Italian, Austrian, Belgian, English, and who knows what else. I could be part collie, although I’m much taller than the average collie and not nearly as hairy. I’m the classic American mutt. But I love St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone is in green, everyone is drinking and everyone is just a little bit more friendly.

Perhaps it’s the timing of St. Patrick’s Day, in the spring, just after the Ides of March that I love so much. The weather is often sketchy but for the most part spring has begun to sprung and that rebel spirit of my youth is reawakened. My home town has purportedly the third biggest parade or the third biggest “celebration” (depending how you define that) in the U.S. There’s something cool about being the “third” best or biggest. Neil Young and Crazy Horse toured in the late 80’s billing themselves as the “Third Best Garage Band In the World”. They claimed that being first brings a lot of pressure: to remain on top, to remain #1. To be Second Best brings a lot of pressure to overtake the First Place guy. If you’re Third, you’re just cool and you know it. I can live with that title for my hometown.

In the old days, we’d go downtown to Westport and have breakfast at Kelly’s, the city’s oldest bar. From there we’d hit the parade, full of floats, some from old, historic Irish clans, others from local charitable groups and quite a few marching bands. As soon as that was over it was back to Westport. All the streets are blocked off, the cops form a perimeter, and drinking in the streets, where God intended it to be done, is legal for a day. We’d rage until the sun went down and beyond, eating from food trucks and staggering about women with “Fuck Me I’m Irish” buttons on. Ah, the wearing of the green. It’s a spring tradition in my town. Alas, now I work all day and if I’m lucky slip out to a local Irish pub for  one or two and then back home before dinner. But I always try to make it out however briefly to commemorate The Day.

In my early professional days, I’d always meet my buddy, the General, no matter what was happening and we’d head to Westport for St Patrick’s Day. We would occasionally slip down there early, but as the years wore on, we’d get down to the celebration later and later. We made a tradition of saying, “To hell with work and responsibilities, on this one day, we ride!!” The years seemed to strip away and we were college kids on spring break for eight or nine hours. Alas, my pal the General has disappeared into the fog of work and parenthood. I don’t get to see the General much these days. I keep telling him he’s in a tunnel and he will come out, but I digress. And my own situation has changed considerably. The Rock Chick loves St Patrick’s Day too, but I always feel overly protective of her while were out on St Patty’s. Work responsibilities have often shackled me to the desk just the same as it does the General.

Early in my career, I was interviewing internally for a job. The guy I was interviewing with decided to fly in on St Patrick’s Day. We were to meet at 10 am. Because the parade ran past our office he wasn’t able to even get through the parade traffic to the office until noon, my scheduled departure time. I can still remember sitting in a corner office, in what was an intense interview, while constantly glancing over the executive’s shoulder to the parade and my drunken friends who were waving at me below. “Why yes, I can be very responsible in a management position sir, uh, how long is this gonna take, I have a drunken, green train to catch?” He was a religious man so I had to tread lightly.

A few years ago, I drunkenly got on stage at an Irish pub up North and told my favorite St Patrick’s Day joke…which goes something like this… A proud Irishman in a kilt was walking home to his farmhouse after a wedding in town. He was terribly drunk and laid down by a tree and passed out. Around dawn a pair of milkmaids were walking by and spied our intrepid Irishman asleep. Shyly they approached the Irishman, and curious, peeked to see what was under his kilt. One of the milkmaids pulled the blue ribbon from her hair and tied it around his…manhood. They giggled together as they walked away. About an hour later the Irishman woke and feeling something was amiss “below”, pulled up the kilt. Spying the blue ribbon, he said, “I don’t know where you been lad, but I see you won first prize.” I think that sums it up.

While I’m not crazy about all Irish music I shall spend tonight listening to Van Morrison and U2, loudly! My day tomorrow won’t be complete if I can’t open my windows and hear a bagpipe or two off in the distance. Who doesn’t love bagpipe music?

I want to wish everybody out there in Ireland, the Irish diaspora and those of us who are merely Irish in spirit for a day – Happy St Patrick’s Day from BourbonAndVinyl!! Enjoy it people. Get out there and enjoy the spring weather (if it cooperates). Raise a Jameson or two! Put on something bright and obnoxiously green. Skip work and do something naughty! Head down to the tavern and “talk a little treason” as they say in my favorite John Wayne movie, ‘A Quiet Man’. Me, I’ve got work and responsibilities, so you all have to carry the torch for me… although I must admit I received a text from my old pal the General, my first in a while, asking what I was doing for the holiday… Hmmm, that rebel spirit just may be calling me. St Patrick’s Day, like Hope “springs eternal”…

Cheers! Slainte and Erin Go Bragh!

The Rock’n’Roll Concerts That Got Away

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Like Sinatra when he sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, ” I’ve had a few regrets when it comes to concerts I could have attended. Well, that and a few women I’ve known, but those records are sealed. But I feel like Frank when he went on to sing about those regrets, “But then again, too few to mention”. But then again, here I am on a Saturday night, brooding and mentioning those regrets. AC/DC is in town this weekend and I didn’t even make an effort to attend, something 13 year old me would have been pissed about, but I digress. The shows I missed out on aren’t concerts like, “Oh, I wish I’d seen Hendrix in Golden Gate Park…” I wasn’t even “potty trained” at that time. These are shows I could have actually attended without the miracle of Time Travel. These are the 6 shows that I missed by sheer stupidity. I think we’ve all been there… the chance to see a show, the ticket in our hand or dangled in front of us, but for some inexplicable reason, we didn’t go… Here’s a tribute/list of shows that I could have seen…. oh, if only, as the Faces sang, “I knew then what I know now…”

  1. U2, The Joshua Tree Tour, 1987. Arkansas Joel and I were in Atlanta for some corporate training and it just so happened U2 was playing there. Arkansas Joel and I were big U2 fans, but Joel knew more than I did that they were a band for the ages. He wanted to go down and get tix. I wasn’t familiar with Atlanta and was worried about the price. More embarrassing, I was in “love” with a girl in my class… It was a lot like that scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where he said, “sorry boys, I’ve got to go see about a girl.” HUGE mistake. U2 actually dressed in disguise and opened for the opening act as a country band. This may be the greatest concert I ever missed. The girl and I dated for a year. That concert would have stuck with me for a life time.
  2. The Who, Face Dances Tour, 1981. ‘Face Dances’ was the first Who album I bought. It’s a much maligned album but it still resonates with me. You can hear Pete struggling with drug addiction. My friend Brewster and I spent every dime on our tickets. We were supposed to go with some buddies of ours, Steve and Evan. We didn’t have enough money to fill up Brewster’s gas tank to get to the show. It was our ill-advised idea to siphon gas from several folks in the neighborhood… (Crime does not pay kids). We actually snuck out at 2 a.m. to do so… Brewster’s dad caught him on the return, sneak-in to the house which led to a 3 a.m. call to my folks. “What mom, I was asleep, what are you talking about gas for…” Needless to say, no Oscars were awarded that night. My dad was so mad he grounded me and forbid me to go to the concert. Like Brewster I gave my tix to Evan and Steve who sold them and used the cash to buy weed instead of reimbursing us. Douche bags. At least that led me away from the life of a miscreant… well, sort of.
  3. Neil Young, Life Tour, 1986. Neil Young’s most troubled decade was the 80’s. He finally reunited with Crazy Horse for the tepid album ‘Life’. They went on tour billed as “The Third Best Garage Band In The World”. As “Third”, there was no pressure. First place has the pressure to defend the throne. Second place has the pressure to take over first place. But in third place, you were just cool and didn’t have anything to prove. I started drinking before we left for the show, which was a two hour drive. By the time Neil took the stage I’d already thrown up and made out with the girl in front of me. Thankfully her boyfriend didn’t notice. She was pretty wasted too. I was at the show but couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I rushed the floor, from the lower deck, but actually fell over the barricade and was led out by security. I couldn’t face Drew and Dennis, my comrades that night for weeks. They continue to rave about that show but they might just be fucking with me out of spite.
  4. Queen, The Game Tour, 1980. Matthew’s beautiful high school girlfriend actually sang “Another One Bites the Dust” directly to me to entice me to go to the show with them. She ended up going to Michigan or Ohio State to study brain surgery. I know she wasn’t hitting on me, but sweet Jesus, what if she was, but I digress. Queen at their last real high point. What was I thinking? It’s not like I was a homophobe. At the time none of us believed Freddy Mercury was gay, we just thought he was British, Monty Python in drag and all of that…not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. How did we not know? Anyway, people talked about that show for weeks.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door Tour, 1980. They announced the US leg of their successful comeback tour of Europe in support of ‘In Through…’ There was a guy in my high school who was arranging to charter a bus and get a group of us up to Chicago for that show, they weren’t coming to KC. I was already working the, “Mom, I’m a straight A student” angle when John Bonham died… So, this one isn’t explicitly my fault…
  6. Springsteen, The River, 1979-80. Springsteen was playing Kemper Arena in KC in February of 1980. ‘The River’ was my first Springsteen album I purchased with my own money. It was a double album which took a lot more of my lawn mowing salary. I thought Springsteen was a secret I alone held. Unfortunately my pal Brewster was also a huge fan but kept it to himself. He went to the show with some dude named “Mack” and never considered inviting me. It was February and the KC Star said, “without a doubt, this is the concert of the year.” FUUUUUCK. You just can’t get some things back.

Folks, if you have a chance to see a show but have to scrape the money together. If you have to take a bus. If you have to skip school. No matter what you have to do, trust me, I know what I’m talking about here – do it and GO TO THE SHOW. Always, always, GO TO THE SHOW. If you have to steal a car, well don’t do that or anything else illegal, trust me again, I know what I’m talking about, but try to get to the God damn show. You’ll regret it if you miss it.

Sigh… I’m glad I got that off my chest. I can now put the cork back in the bourbon and sleep. Advice, Free.

Cheers!

My Father’s Birthday Sushi, A Bit of Humor

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 It’s always been a tradition in my family, on your birthday, to pick the restaurant where the family goes to eat together that night. When I was a kid I’d pick one of my favorite burger joints – I only ate burgers and peanut butter, no veggies please. My brother invariably picked whatever Mexican place was currently popular. He liked a place named Taco Villa that we went to a lot, probably because he knew I hated Mexican food and especially Taco Villa. Like I said, I was a picky eater. My mother always picked a modest, affordable restaurant. My father always chose to eat at home because it was cheaper. Ah, growing up.

When I met the Rock Chick and her daughter I expanded the tradition to my new family. My wife took the reigns on that one and started picking whatever the newest, trendiest, most expensive restaurant in town was. I am pleased to report that over the years she has modulated her choices and backed away from some of the Birthday Dinner excesses of our early days together. This was a woman who ordered steak and lobster on our first lunch date… I don’t think she thought she’d see me again so she was intent on milking the lunch for all it was worth. Her daughter always chose, and continues to choose, a local Japanese steak joint. It’s probably the funnest of the Birthday Dinner traditions. Even my wife’s sister shows up for that one, although only my daughter and I agree to catch the flying shrimp.

With the introduction of the Rock Chick and her daughter’s Birthday dinners, my parents stepped up their game. My mother started picking nicer restaurants around town and my dad would choose a different BBQ joint every year. Kansas City has a lot of BBQ joints to choose from so it worked out pretty well. After the holidays, things slow down for everybody so by February, when my dad’s birthday is, we’re all ready to get together and get out.

So it came to pass this month, my father made a rather startling selection for his Birthday Dinner. He called up and said, “Ken, I don’t want BBQ this year, this year I want to go down to the Kona Grille.” Hmmm, I had to ask him if he realized that the Kona Grille is a sushi place? “Ken, I’ve eaten there plenty of times before I retired. We used to go there for lunch.” This was news to me. Have you ever ordered the sushi? “Well, no, but now is the time.” I was proud of my father for getting outside his comfort zone. I enthusiastically reported the news of his Birthday Dinner choice to the Rock Chick and my daughter, who laughed and said, “Senior is going to try sushi?” My whole life my father treated sushi as a trick the Japanese were playing on us in retribution for World War II. He felt the same way as Robin Williams who once joked, “I imagine the Japanese staff in the back room, laughing and saying, “we got them to eat the raw fish, let’s see if we can trick them into drinking hot wine too.” That pretty much summed up my dad’s opinion of sushi.

The night of the big Birthday Dinner, we all rode down to the sushi place together. My father sat next to me as we dined on the appetizers and drank the warm wine. He kept elbowing me and pointing to different rolls on the menu. “How about that one, huh?” as if I’d sampled every roll on the menu. “Mmm, crab, that sounds good…” I am not a sushi expert by any stretch of the imagination. “Yes, dad, try the Dragon Roll, by all means, give it a shot.” I just kept nodding and trying to encourage him.

Finally the waitress came to the table to take our orders for the main course. I watched as she went around the table, first to the ladies and then to my father. When she got to my dad, I thought, this is it, the old guy is going to try something new. I couldn’t help but think of it as a big moment for my dad, who is rather stuck in his ways. When the waitress said, “What can I get you, sir,” my dad said quickly, with great conviction, “I’ll take the pork tenderloin, well done.”

Oh, well. Maybe next year.

Bob Seger’s KC 1980 Concert, Jack Daniels, & My Mom’s Knee

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My wife signed us up at a gym a few years ago. I was perfectly content to continue working out in our basement, all by myself. Such is my reclusive nature these days. Admittedly it’s been a great experience for my wife, she’s met people and made friends. For me, not so much. I keep running into people from all stages of my sketchy past: grade school, high school, college, even my current job. Talk about a motivation killer. I actually forced myself to go out there yesterday and I found myself staring vacantly at a TV screen blaring some young chick’s video. My wife startled me back to reality with the curt question, “What are you staring off into space for, you need to use that machine or move…” I hadn’t really been focused on the video, I had just seen someone I think I dated in high school. It ended badly (my fault). I mumbled a reply to my darling wife, “I’m just watching this Taylor Swift video…” She crinkled up her nose, “Honey, that’s not Taylor Swift, that’s Beyonce.” I thought everything was Taylor Swift these days… Oh, well.

Seeing someone at the gym I knew when I was in high school had me thinking. Music just seemed more dangerous back then. Punk had come and gone, new wave was big. Concerts were major events. They involved planning and cunning. You had to come up with the cash for the tickets, gas money, and most importantly booze. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to October 23rd, 1980 and the Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band show I saw that night. Seger was touring in support of his seminal album, ‘Against the Wind’ and my buddy Brewster (name changed to protect the guilty) and I were stoked to see him. Unlike the Springsteen concert later the next year, Brewster actually called me on this one. It was my first Seder show.

About a week before the show, we discovered a liquor store with an elderly cashier. He wouldn’t ask you for your I.D. he’d do this weird stare-you-in-the-eye thing. I was tall as a kid. I went to bed one night at 5 feet and seemingly woke up the next day over 6 feet tall, that’s how quick my growth spurt was. So I always drew the short straw and had to be the guy who went into the liquor store. My practically terminal acne couldn’t have helped… I had twice defeated the “stare-down” test. I believe I could now beat a lie detector because of this cooky old cashier. There was always more pressure to make the buy when it was for a concert.

The night of the show, I pulled out the flask sized bottle of Jack Daniels we’d purchased the previous weekend and stuffed it into the front of my pants. I pulled out the t-shirt and flannel shirt I had on and covered the bottle. I just had to clear about 15 minutes in the living room with my mother, my dad was out of town, and it’d be off to Kemper Arena to see Bob Seger. Fuck yeah! There was just something about Jack Daniels and rock and roll. I had seen the iconic pics of Jimmy Page swilling the stuff backstage at a Zeppelin show. There was a photo of Mick and Keith huddled around a bottle of Jack Daniels while recording ‘Exile On Mainstreet’. Oh yes, I was carrying the rock and roll flame. Even if I was carrying it hidden in my crotch. The top of the bottle stuck out where my belly button was but I just pulled out my shirt a little more and folded my arms, like I was hiding an unwanted hard-on in math class (we’ve all been there).

I sauntered down to the living room like Paul Newman in “The Sting”. I was a gangster. I was one with Mick & Keith. The TV was on in the living room and my mother, always an anxious woman, was bounding around the house. She was cooking dinner for my brother and racing into the living room to see the show. I wasn’t really focused on her, she was more of a blur around the house. Suddenly, she was standing beside me, in front of the TV. There was a woman in tights and gym clothes moving around the screen to some awful music. I thought she was having a televised seizure. My mother exclaimed, “Oh, Jazzercise, I love this…” I couldn’t help but mutter, “Ma, you wanna be careful here…” But before I knew what was happening my mother was doing a jerky imitation of what was happening on the screen. My mother had gone from cooking dinner and pestering me to exercising with little to no warm up. There was no way this was going to end well… I just kept thinking, at least she’s distracted. That’s when I heard the loud “pop” noise followed by a blood curdling scream from my sainted mother. Yep, she’d blown her ACL. She crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. I was going to bend over to help her up, but I had a bottle of Jack Daniels crammed down my pants.

She was frantic and I wasn’t much better. I knew I had to do something or I was going to miss the concert. This was Bob Fucking Seger, ma. My buddies were supposed to pick me up any minute. I didn’t want to leave my mom laying on the floor, but she was sort of forcing my hand. I quickly called the neighbor lady, my mom’s best friend. She could hear my mother caterwauling in the background and she suggested I call an ambulance. Jesus, how was I gonna pull this off? No one told me that when you call for an ambulance, the cops come. That information might have altered my strategy. Within minutes I had two cop cars in front of the house and a cop in my living room, standing over my mother. I stood, with my arms folded in front of the Jack, next to the cop, over my prostrate mother. “So, your mom says you’re gonna see Seger tonight?” I wanted danger, here it was…”Well, yeah Officer Friendly, I’m kind of a music nut…” He was eyeballing me like I was a “person of interest”. We continued to make small talk until my little brother finally emerged from upstairs to see what all the flashing lights were about. I was soaked in sweat. I had visions of the cop realizing I had whiskey in my pants, (and on my breath, I’ll admit I’d sampled the fire water) and going berserk with his night stick, beating me about the head and shoulders until I was laying next to my mother on the ground. With my brother now engaged with “the heat” I slowly moved outdoors to the front porch. The ambulance had finally arrived and was in the driveway. I waved meekly, while holding the Jack with my other hand. I looked like I had an upset stomach…

It was at that moment that Brewster’s car pulled up. I lived on a cul-de-sac. He was literally on top the two cop cars before he knew what was happening. I could see the look on his face – half questioning, half utter terror. If I’d lived on a through street he’d probably have kept driving. Although since I was holding the whiskey, I had some leverage. I immediately bounded off the front porch. I pointed to the front door for the EMTs and said, “She’s in there, I have to go now…” With my head bowed and my hands on my stomach I raced for the car and practically dove into the front seat. Brewster slowly turned the car around and then raced out of my neighborhood.

I felt awful for leaving my mother, but man what a concert that was. Buzzed on adrenaline and Tennessee sipping whiskey I was blown away by Seger. He opened with “Nine Tonight” and I was in rock and roll heaven. By the time he played the guitar solo in “Her Strut”, mid-concert, we’d abandoned our lower balcony seats and headed for the floor. We slipped past security and made it up to the stage in time for “Let It Rock” the monster encore. Drew Abbott, a true unsung hero guitarist in rock music, stood in front of me and destroyed his guitar solo. When the show was over, Brewster and I just stood there passing the Jack, as people filed out and the roadies took the stage. I had suddenly remembered my poor, frail mother, lying on the floor, when suddenly to my right a blonde woman had pulled up her shirt to reveal her two lovely breasts to the roadies in an attempt to get back stage. They were the first boobs I’d ever seen at a concert. I thought I’d died and ascended to Nirvana. All thoughts of familial loyalty fluttered from my adolescent mind.

Now that’s danger…

Rock and Roll and Jack Daniels… They belong together. Do you have a concert story to share? Comment and I’ll post it.

Be careful out there folks… Beware of any exercising mothers… Stretch out ladies…. and as always, Cheers!