Sunday, November 28, 2010

CrossFit...more proof that it works

I've previously gone all blahblahblah on you on the wonders of CrossFit as a fitness system, but yesterday I learned, once again, just how good it is. See, I used to be a runner years ago, but the daily grind really wore me down. Once I hit my forties, my joints were always sore and the repetitive-motion injuries that daily distance running was causing me were simply not worth it. Eventually, I started doing anything but run -- ellipticals, stair climbers, whatever. Then I started doing CrossFit, ditched all the old gym routines and went whole-hog with their integrated system of strength training and metcons that involved all sorts of fast, intense intervals of rowing, sprinting, weights, etc. Yesterday it paid off.

I ran the Haddon Township, NJ Turkey Trot, and, as an experiment, did absolutely no distance running beforehand other than ordinary CrossFit training, in which the longest "distance" I ran was one mile consisting of 4x400m as part of a larger metcon workout. The last time I ran as far as 5k before yesterday was the Warrior Dash on October 10 of this year. OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I should make clear that, when training for that race (i.e., the Warrior Dash back in October) I once ran 4.5 miles, and once ran 5k, divided up into 12-400m runs separated by pushups, pullups, lunges, etc., but, still, in the last year, prior to yesterday, I'm sure I hadn't run more than 15 miles total for the whole year, and it's probably more like 10. Just CrossFit, baby.

And it worked out great. I was never a speed demon, and I haven't run a 5k in years, but I still came in at 22:57 (or, if you believe the stupid chip timer that didn't work right, 23:02), which is less than a minute slower than a 5k that I ran when I was eight years younger and, most importantly, running all the time. And I know I could have run faster yesterday, but I held back just a little because the course was so badly marked that I never saw a one-mile or two-mile marker and was vaguely freaked out wondering how far we'd gone. So anyway, whoo-hoo CrossFit! You made a non-runner like me run almost as fast as when I was a daily runner. And I am not nearly as sore. Nice.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"It would all be so much easier (and nicer, and, yes, higher quality) if we controlled things for you...."

This past week, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), told us how much more "quality" news there would be on television if only the FCC would assert its regulatory self and take FOX News and MSNBC off the air, presumably for the crime of being too opinionated for a "news" channel. Jay apparently is pining for a bygone age of Cronkite, et al, which is fine if all he's doing is pining, but suggesting that the government ought to step into the speech wars in "our" best interest is tantamount to a full-on assault on the First Amendment.

I'm not a FOX News guy at all; I watch a little MSNBC, primarily "Morning Joe" because I think Scarborough has a reasonably accurate finger on the pulse of the independent vote in this country (you know, the one that controls national elections that you might have heard me mention before). But I will go toe-to-toe with anyone who wants to strip either of these channels of its respective right to broadcast. I don't care how "faux" their "news" is. I understand -- it's political opinion under the guise of "news." I get it, but it's still political opinion -- the very thing the First Amendment is intended to protect, no matter how noxious, dopey or otherwise offensive that opinion may be. The mere notion that a sitting U.S. senator could conceive of trying to put a sock in the mouth of a TV network under the guise (or even the honest goal) of "protecting" us or raising the "quality" of news is enough to make me quite certain that I don't want to see that senator hold his or her job for very long, regardless of party affiliation.

If you want to read more about this flap from the perspective of a Denver Post columnist, go here. If you want to be not surprised at all that Jay Rockefeller is trying to regulate cable news content, go here and learn that he's been at this sort of thing for a while now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mogwai Fear Nothing

Last night, I sat down with a freshly-bought copy of Mogwai's Burning movie. It's a 48-minute, black and white concert film spliced together from a three-day run the Scottish (mostly) instrumental quintet did at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn back in April 2009. The easiest way to get it is as a bonus DVD disc to the recently-released live CD Special Moves.

It's taken me a little while to reach this point, but, holy jebus, Mogwai is good at what they do. And the movie enhances every aspect of their considerable attack. My initial thoughts on the band were formed a few years back when I bought a couple albums, liked 'em fine, but dismissed them a bit as just another band working a loud/soft thing. Well, yeah, they are "working a loud/soft thing," but they clearly are not "just another band,' and there's a lot more to them than loud/soft -- particularly just enough rhythmic complexity to be interesting as hell without lapsing into proggy King Crimson-isms (not that I don't have an occasional weakness for those, mind you).

Burning takes all of that rhythmic and dynamic tension and ups the ante with wild/weird/closeup camera angles that start as disorienting and distorting and end up placing the viewer not merely in a front-row position, but onstage, up-close and personal. As a drummer, I particularly gravitated to the many shots that hovered just inches above a ride or hi-hat cymbal, or occasionally backed off just enough to give Martin Bulloch the chance to thrash and pound with precision, all seemingly only an arm's reach away from the camera.

You feel like you are in the band at many points of this film ... like on the super-quiet bit of "Mogwai Fear Satan" where the band members exchange knowing glances, after which feet tap pedals and the world of near-silence disappears into a cataclysmic explosion of sound and light. It is awe-inspiring.

And the pacing of the film could hardly be better. Things start slowly and deliberately with "The Precipice" and "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead," falter ever-so-slightly with the only vocal song in the film, "Hunted By a Freak," and then take off, never looking back, and barely breathing for air, with a five-song run of "Like Herod," "New Paths to Helicon, Pt1," "Mogwai Fear Satan," "Scotland's Shame," and "Batcat" that left me reeling.

Interspersed throughout the between-song bits are shots of the area around the venue, jarring the viewer even more by quickly jumping back to the onstage closeups only seconds later.

It's an amazing movie, maybe even the best pure concert film I've ever seen, and it has me just a little sad that it's still five months until these guys come to Philly. I already have my tickets, and I suggest you get yours.

VIDEO LINK 1 -- "Batcat" live (not from the movie)
VIDEO LINK 2 -- "Batcat" promo teaser from Burning film (so much better than Link 1)
VIDEO LINK 3 -- "Mogwai Fear Satan" (not from Burning film, but shot by same guys who made that...from a concert in a cathedral in France)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oh yes....

I love this so much, and I am about to go watch the full-length movie. Report to follow....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Democrat's guide to whom you should really really fear in 2012

I have a lot of lefty/Dem friends. And a lot of them think all Republicans are an equal threat, politically speaking. (OK, almost all Republicans; I don't know anyone who genuinely fears Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe).
When I say things like, "Oh come on, there are a lot of different kinds of Republicans. You shouldn't be equally afraid of all of them," I feel like they aren't buying it. A quick look at the potential GOP presidential field for 2012 tells me that they reject my advice on this topic at their own peril.
And look, I realize that I am not sympatico with some of the goals/means of the Dems/left. For instance, I think the current level of spending is wacko, the deficit is too high, and the government needs to permanently stop taxing everyone for the act of dying (i.e., the estate/death tax and, I know, that's a topic for another post). On the other hand, on the personal-freedom front, I'm generally with you, my Dem friends. I'm pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, and generally think the government should spend its time doing something other than telling people what to do with their personal lives. Hell, I'm even registered in your party, if only because that's where I started and if I register as an independent (which is really what I am) I'll lose the right to vote in a primary.
So, while you may not think there'd be a hell of a lot of difference between the various potential GOP presidential candidates, I'm here to tell you, as someone who believes in at least some of what you believe in, that there is.
Let's start by reviewing the potential 2012 GOP field, and then quickly narrowing it down to the ones who could actually get the nomination and then, of those, the ones that could actually win the presidency by defeating President Obama, and then, finally, of those, we'll talk about whom you should be really genuinely scared of.
The field:
Mitt Romney
Sarah Palin
Mike Huckabee
Tim Pawlenty
Newt Gingrich
John Thune
Mitch Daniels
Rick Santorum
Gary Johnson
Ron Paul
Haley Barbour
Chris Christie
Mike Pence
I'm going to discount Pence right off the bat as not really running. It seems pretty clear that he's going to run for governor of Indiana, not president. Paul and Johnson (I will digress for a moment and tell you that I really like much of what I have heard from Gary Johnson) are out because their libertarianism is too socially tolerant to get them nominated in the current GOP. I also think that, practically speaking, Thune and Barbour wouldn't stand much of a chance in any sort of crowded field, and, let's face it, the field looks crowded. Plus, this post is about whom you Dems should really fear, not who might make you a little queasy on the crazy off chance he (or she) gets nominated.
So where's that leave us: with a potential GOP nominee named Romney, Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Daniels, Santorum or Christie.
Next step....which ones of that crowd could plausibly beat Obama by capturing what I have already branded in another post as the crucial, election-deciding, center of the electorate? As I have previously discussed, I don't think Palin, Huckabee or Gingrich can win enough of the center to beat Obama. Take it from a centrist...Sarah Palin freaks us out; Mike Huckabee does too (albeit with more humor and smarts, but way too much social conservatism) and Newt Gingrich is like your mean uncle Myron who treats everyone like crap while simultaneously moralizing and visiting hookers. Newt has no credibility with the center at this point, and he seems like he'd kick you while you were down, steal your money and give you a lecture about compassion and the evils of theft all at the same time.
So...that leaves Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels, Christie and Santorum. Now, I don't expect my Dem friends to love any of these guys. Hell, I don't expect you even to like any of them, but let's be serious. You have much more to fear from one of them than the others. They are all fiscal conservatives, but only one of 'em is bent on telling you what to do in every aspect of your personal life.
Daniels? Hell, no. He's the guy calling for a truce on social issues. Christie? He hasn't mentioned a social issue in a long time either. Pawlenty? I am quite sure I don't agree with him on personal-freedom issues, but he hasn't struck me yet as a Bible-thumping demagogue. Romney? Frankly, I never believed him when he said he's anti-choice. He was governor of Massachusetts fercryingoutloud. And even if he is anti-choice, he, Daniels, Pawlenty and Christie have been hammering the economy and spending as the big issues for 2012. This isn't to say, my Dem friends, that you'd love any of 'em, but I don't see any of the four as moral crusaders bent on invading your bedroom.
No, that status is reserved for the guy who said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery." Yup, Rick Santorum.

There are so many things wrong with that statement that the mind boggles, but let's focus on just two. First, it equates consensual same-sex relations with incest and polygamy. Second, and let's not lose track of this implies that adultery ought to be illegal. Did you catch that? I realize that adultery is on the "bad" list of things you shouldn't do, but are there many adults who actually think it ought to be criminalized? Like, you know, people going to jail for it? That's our Rick. 
And he's a good campaigner and a reasonably smart charmer --  smart enough, in fact, that I think he's learned a lot from Pat Toomey's U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania: talk mostly about economic issues while quietly assuring your social-conservative pals that you are their man. The hangup for Santorum is two-fold -- he can't get the GOP nomination without winning Iowa (thereby leaping to the forefront of the field), where he can only win if he out-moralizes Palin and Huckabee, and then he may have positioned himself too far to the right, socially-speaking, to win the center in the general election. But, like I said, he's smart, and if anyone can pull off that trick, it's Santorum, not Palin or Huckabee. 
This is a guy who cannot help himself when it comes to moralizing. Where many of the other GOP candidates are focused on the economy, he is quick to tell you, "If all the focus is on spending and taxes, I think we miss the whole picture. There are great concerns about where America is going not just on the economic front." That's code for: "I am dying to tell you what to do and not do in your personal life." And his PAC can't help it either. Right there in the list of what he thinks are pressing issues in 2012: "We must protect those who are the most vulnerable." In case you aren't clear on this point, that's more code-speak. He's not talking about helping out any actually already-born Americans; I can assure you that. Santorum also supports the teaching of intelligent design in public schools and has called life-saving/changing stem-cell research: "the wholesale destruction of human life paid for by the federal government." Really, Rick? Thanks for the hysteria.
In fact, I like to think the "can't help himself" part of it will be Santorum's downfall. Let's not forget that Dems just held a Senate seat in Colorado by exposing GOP candidate Ken Buck as too socially right-wing for the residents of that fine state.
So there you have it my Dem friends. None of these guys are with you on economic issues, I realize, but, on the personal-freedom side of things Rick Santorum is a frighteningly electable cut above (below?) the others in terms of his burning desire to legislate morality at the federal level.  I don't come close to sharing your fear of all Republicans, but, if you're smart, you'll at least learn to fear some of them more than others when it comes to 2012. President Santorum ought to be a very scary prospect, indeed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Warrior Dash!!

Back on October 10, 2010, right around the time my old computer gave up the ghost, my 16-year-old son Sean and I ran in the 3.15-mile Mid-Atlantic Warrior Dash, held at a paintball place in Quarryville, PA. I highly recommend these sorts of antics to anyone who likes to run and doesn't mind getting dirty. If, like us, you are a CrossFit person, you have double the reason to do it because it incorporates a lot of your CF training when it comes time to go over/under/through the various obstacles on the course.

You can check out a course map for the race here. But, basically, it's a whole bunch of obstacles scattered over the 3.15 miles. If you want to get any sort of decent time, you need to take off reasonably fast at the start, or else, as happened to friends of ours, you will get stuck in lines at obstacles. Not us, though. We weren't flying, but we were just fast enough to avoid the lines.

I should mention that the whole operation was really run smoothly. When you check in, there were a bunch of alphabetically arranged lines to pick up your number, timing chip, etc. There was a great, well-organized checkpoint for any gear you wanted to store during the race, and yes, they give you cool fuzzy Viking helmets. We didn't wear ours during the race, but a few people did. I can't imagine that those were anything but filthy by the end.

The good organization was even evident in the way the course was plotted out. You had to run for just short of a mile before hitting the first set of obstacles. That distance allowed the racers to sort themselves out really well, so the backups didn't begin until long after we were through. Of the first six obstacles that you'll see on the course map, none were particularly difficult. The "tankers" that you had to climb over had well-positioned ropes for assistance. I suppose the cargo net was the toughest of that first group, if only because I'm a klutz and got my feet caught on the descent.

But as soon as that section was done, there was a short sprint across a field (if you are a runner in real life, you can make up a ton of time on the open sections), a quick climb through some wires that were strung across the woods, and another dash through more woodsy trails. This pic makes me look faster than I really was:


Then came the muddy stuff. There was a short blast through a tunnel, and then a big splash into the Breathless Bog. A word to the wise: don't do what I did and figure the bog can't be very deep. In this section you had to wade into the swamp and vault over a set of four or five logs. It turned out that it made a huge difference on which side of the log you were standing. The side closer to the shore was in only about 3 to 4 feet of water, whereas the side farther from shore was about 5+ feet of water. Stupid me was on the deep side of each log and it's an effing miracle that I didn't end up with a waterborne parasite thanks to all the swamp water I swallowed.

As soon as you cleared the bog, it was up and over a series of wooden boards/hurdles, into and out of another much smaller bog and up a muddy creek bank. Most people chose to walk these sections and the muddy parts in between, but I passed a ton of people by jogging these parts instead. It must've been a hell of a sight -- me staggering/running past my fellow mud zombies. The muddy creek bank was particularly interesting. You had to either hold on to tree roots or just jam your hands into the mud and hope to hang on as you climbed. Thankfully, that part was over quickly and, once we rounded a bend, there was a cheering crowd and a mud pit with barbed wire to crawl under!

A few guys -- two of them are with me in these photos, dove in headfirst. Others (who got booed) tried too hard to stay clean and actually walked between the sections of barbed wire and just kind of ducked under the wires. That seemed lame to me, so I took the middle road -- sliding into the pit feet-first, but then crawling/splashing all the way across and under the wires to the end of the pit, after which the race ended with a leap over a "wall" of flames (really a bunch of Dura-Flame logs).

You end up muddy, and really happy.

So, you might do I train for such a race? The best suggestion I have, and it's a CrossFit-inspired one, is to run as many 400-meter sections as will make up the race (in other words, for a 3-mile race, that would be about 12 400-meter intervals) and between each 400, do 10 of something (e.g., pushups, situps, burpees, push presses with a weight bar, pullups, ring dips, whatever). If you can do that, you will have no problem getting a decent time in a Warrior Dash. I was nursing a bad/recently-strained hamstring, and I finished in 27 minutes and change. My kid beat me by about 90 seconds. Neither of us are close to elite/fast runners. But we both finished up reasonably high in our age divisions, so we were happy.

We had so much fun that we are already signed up for the Poconos WD in June 2011. On the other hand, I am signed up for a "regular" 5k Thanksgiving weekend and may have to splash through puddles just to make it interesting.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Road trip

So, off we were going to go....four dudes in a van. The Mondo Topless "Midwest tour."
The original plan was to leave on Wednesday, drive to Ypsilanti, Michigan, just outside Ann Arbor, hope to pick up some long-ago Stooges vibe and rock like hell with local band Mazinga, who came highly recommended. Then there would be a succession of shows in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, Columbus, OH -- Thursday through Sunday, then home Monday to Philly. The best-laid plans....

First we got bumped out of the Columbus gig only a day or two before we were about to leave. Something about a "house-band rehearsal" secretly scheduled at the same time as our (early) gig. That's a new one. The hell with 'em, we figured. Columbus on a Sunday night never really screamed out, "Rock 'n' roll," with or without the hootchie-coo, so we chalked it up to good luck. This way we could stay up late with our friends in St. Louis at the Beat 'n' Soul festival the night before the canceled Columbus gig, and just use Columbus as a way-station on the way home. No biggie. We still had four shows booked.

So Wednesday morning it was up at 4 a.m. to go get bass player Scott and head to Vox-guy Sam's house where we would all pile into the van, pick up guitarist Kris, and roll. It was a pretty uneventful 600 miles to Ypsi, other than the glorious stop at Beef Jerky Unlimited in Dundee, Michigan where Scott, Kris and I loaded up on various cured and salted four-legged beasts while vegetarian Sam looked on in horror. Elk, bison, alligator, venison and good old beef were all purchased and then, over the next few days, gleefully devoured. We joked that the Ypsi gig was off thanks to a jerky overdose. Turned out we were half right....

We met up with our pal Mark for one hell of a delicious meal at a Vietnamese place in Ypsi called Dalat. Awesome food (squid!) and uber-cheap. And then....the power went out at the club. Well, OK I think it'd been out already for a while that day. Instead of too much jerky, it was insufficient electricity that derailed the Ypsi gig. The club and about three or four other businesses on the block were pitch black with no hope of recovery. Promoter dude threw a few bucks at us for gas (thank you, sir; really!). We said goodbye to a sad Mark (he loves us and we love him too for his commitment to all that rocks) but we rebounded quickly, however, thanks to Meijer. How great is a store that sells everything, including alcohol? My Michigan-bred wife had long ago clued me in to the wonder of Meijer, and it saved our moods that night with a bottle of Evan Williams, some Leinenkugels (can't get that beer around here) and a pile of snacks. Band hangout night! Lampshade on Sam's head!

Only three gigs to go, and we hadn't played a gig yet.

And so, Thursday morning, Milwaukee beckoned. I hadn't been there since the early '80s, but it struck me as the same shot 'n' a beer town that I remembered. Everything was different there from Philly: the food (Scotch eggs!), the beer (Old Style!, Blatz! (has anyone ever put an exclamation point after Blatz before?)), the people (absurdly nice with no edgy East Coast vibe at all!). The venue: Frank's Power Plant.

Frank's is the epitome of a no-frills down-to-earth bar. And we love 'em for that. Starting the four-band bill at 10:45 pm on a Thursday? Not so in love with that, but we soldiered on, including an emergency "Oh shit, my pants just busted wide open and so did my belt and I don't know how to get back to the hotel so you have to help me" plea from Sam to me. It's hell being the navigator sometimes. Somehow he and I drove fast through detours, road closures and general madness back to the hotel, got him new pants and a belt and arrived back in time to wrangle our way into the third slot on the bill at the last minute (we were originally last of four) -- and when I say "the last minute," I mean DJ/promoter Wendy turned to us after band #2 and said, "Oh why not? Go on now. That'd be cool." We rocked. The setlist will never quite be known because it was thrown-together, handwritten-only amalgam of the best of what we were going to do in Ypsi and what we had planned for Milwaukee, but it went something like this:

Get Me to the World on Time
Ain't Dead Yet
Just One Thrill
Don't Want You
Magic Potion
Can't Dig It
I'm Crying
Pay to Cum
No More
Unsafe at Any Speed

And it was a blast. People seemed to dig it all. That set was the debut of our new Bad Brains cover, "Pay to Cum," and, despite a rocky start for the first five seconds or so of the new one, it kicked into gear in fine fashion and the punks up front started fist-pumping and yelling along to the "Hey!"s. Just the reaction I was hoping for. Thanks, guys. If you wanna watch a couple of videos that someone in the crowd took of us that night, go here for "Get Me To the World On Time" and here for "Can't Dig It."

The night ended with a local band who played through a best-forgotten cake/pie throwing incident engaged in by most of the remaining crowd (not me...I was packing up my gear), and all I could think at the time was: (1) "Glad my gear is in the back room away from the food-throwing," and (2) "This really isn't cool unless you are promising to clean it up." Unsurprisingly, none of the cake/pie throwers seemed to be involved in the cleanup. Hmmm....

We slept late, for us old guys anyway, hit the Denny's down the road for breakfast and drove the easy hour-plus to Chicago for a gig at Reggie's Music Joint. There was a wee bit of confusion at first about our placement on the six(!)-band bill (including one Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers). But our third slot ended up working out great. I'm pretty certain there were more people in the room raising a ruckus during our set than during any other. And, before I forget, let me send a special "hell yeah" out to 13 Tikis, who are not only a killer surf/instrumental band from the Windy City, but a band that knows the travails of the road, and, as a result, gave us their share of the door. Good on ya, boys (and girl). We truly appreciate it and hope you'll come to Philly one day. Salud!

And our set went something like this:

I Want To
Mystery Girl
Ain't Gettin' Any
Break the Ice
Left in the Dark
Nothing Can Bring Me Down
Panty Sniffer
Pay To Cum

Short, sweet, and fun despite being punctuated by ridiculous house-drum-kit nonsense where the rack tom went airborne off its stand more than once and the whole kit kept moving outward like an amoeba each song, whereupon I would take a few seconds to re-collect the pieces and we'd play the next one. We learned right after the set that Mystery Girl is the favorite song of the 13 Tikis guitar player and we learned during the set that: Pay to Cum only gets better, Panty Sniffer is a stupid song that is too too fun to play and Loose is a seething rock and roll monster that I never get tired of playing. We had a great time. Thanks, Chicago.

So Saturday morning we were St. Louis-bound, specifically off to the inaugural Beat 'n' Soul fest. A quick word about Beat 'n' Soul, actually.... it was put together by friends of mine. Marie Arsenault, John Wendland, Jason Baldwin and Mark Wyatt are all veterans of the grassroots Twangfest festival, and they are hardcore music fans who wanted to start a garage/soul fest. So they did, at considerable financial risk/expenditure. They brought together a bunch of garage and soul bands that they love, and we were honored to be on that list. Thanks, guys. You rock. I hope B'n'S has many successful years to come.

Back to the trip....
It's an easy five-hour shot down I-55 from Chicago to St Louis through farmland so flat that we were playing "count the wind farms" and quickly gave up thanks to wind-farm overload. A rest stop in Godknowswhere, Illinois produced two amusing incidents. First, we ran into the Sights, the band playing after us on the bill that night. We didn't know at first that they were the Sights, mind you. But two of our guys saw them and said, "Hey, you guys must be in a band, right?" The shit was briefly shot, and we both rolled onwards toward the big arch....but not before Kris and Scott both bought 24-oz alcoholic energy drinks that produced two wildly different reactions. Kris: "Oh my god...what chicken just shit on my tongue? Can I sue myself for damages?" Scott: "I think I might have another." He didn't. There's something like four Red Bulls and five beers worth of caffeine and alcohol in each can, and good sense won out eventually.

We showed up at our friend Rick's house (dude, really, your house was amazing, and thanks), dropped off our bags and headed to the club. Five bands were playing that night and we were second on the bill, with an hour set aside for us to play. Nice. Instead of the 12 and 13-song sets we'd done so far this tour, we got to play 17 plus a one-song encore. It was awesome. I had designed the set for maximum festival appeal -- lots of covers (13 of 'em!), and lots of energy:

Ain't Dead Yet
Take It Slow
Magic Potion
In the End
Gonna Find a Cave
Bottomless Pit
Pay to Cum
Left in the Dark
We're a Bad Trip
Freaking Out
Asteroid B-612
Panty Sniffer (encore)

I am such a music dork that, knowing I would know a bunch of people there, I had specifically included songs in the set for specific people, and, apparently in a sign that I know my friends well, nearly every one thanked me for playing the precise song that I had dropped in there for that person. I had even more fun playing than usual. Everyone in our band was jacked up and animated as hell onstage, while people were whooping it up, and, well, I'd do it again in a heartbeat, so, yeah, count us in for next time, whenever that is. Best night of the tour, and that's not even including the amazing gourmet food truck that was parked outside all night or the fact that my wife Jamie met up with me there. The Stooges cover was, as always, for you, darlin'. What a great night.

Afterparty back at Marie's was much appreciated and, thankfully, subdued enough that no one paid for it then next day.

(Photo by Jason Baldwin)

And that's pretty much it. Yeah, we drove home for two days thereafter. But there's not much to tell about seven hours to Columbus and then eight to Philly. Best night's sleep all tour was in Columbus, but the absence of a gig that night pretty much predetermined that. We arrived home, still-exhausted, a little grumpy, but glowing with the knowledge that we tore it up for three gigs. And that's why we do it, 'cause that'll keep you going when nothing else will.

Stuffing a sock in the mouth of the moralizers

Perhaps the greatest truism of American politics, at least on a national stage, is that the independent center controls elections. Every time, about 40% of the electorate is going to vote Dem; about 40% is going to vote GOP. The remaining 20% in the middle is going to swing back and forth, deciding who they feel is best equipped to handle the crisis du jour. The center is, generally speaking, fiscally fairly conservative and otherwise possesses a "leave me alone" sort of social libertarianism that is quick to recoil in horror when a candidate starts a moral crusade. Sometimes, the center goes en masse for a particular candidate, e.g. 1984, Reagan over Mondale, creating what we later dub a "landslide." Sometimes they break hard for one candidate, but not quite in one big lump, e.g., Obama over McCain. And sometimes they split down the middle and make things close, e.g. Bush and Kerry in 2000.

But....the parties are often slow to realize this. Or perhaps "tone deaf" is the better word. When primary time comes around in either party, you usually see the candidates running hard to the extremes, throwing as much red meat as possible to the "base" of the party in order to get the nomination, and leaving the eventual nominee looking more like a hardcore lefty or righty and less of a centrist. Which brings us to 2012.

You might think that Barack Obama is in trouble for 2012, based upon the midterm elections, but not so fast. Remember, it's the middle 20% who are going to decide this thing. 80% of the electorate (40 Dem and 40 Repub) already knows what party they are voting for. The key, as always, lies with the middle 20%. That middle 20% makes its decision on a multitude of factors, but it all comes down to personality and trust. Do centrist voters have a problem with many aspects of the Obama presidency? Sure, the midterms just showed that, and many of those problems revolve around spending and fiscal issues. But those problems will evaporate fast if a moralizer like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee is the 2012 GOP nominee. The only way one of those types could win is if a third-party candidate comes in and skews the results enough that no one gets to 270 electoral votes and the whole mess ends up in the House of Representatives. Put differently, if it's Obama v. Palin (or Huckabee) in a two-way race, President Obama will be a two-termer.

So, who could the GOP turn to, if they were smart and could back off the moralizing and focus on fiscal issues? New Jersey governor Chris Christie's name gets bandied about a lot. He got elected (and has remained popular) with nary a peep about social issues, but he has recently rather definitively ruled himself out of the mix for 2012.  Mitt Romney is more of a centrist than Palin or Huckabee, but he has the reputation of flip-flopping on a lot of issues, and you have to wonder if that wouldn't come back to haunt him in both the primaries and the general election.

That leaves Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana. Daniels has a strong record of fiscal conservatism, and has already called for a "truce" on social issues. He looks, frankly, electable as all hell. He's funny, bright, blunt and plainspoken about tough choices regarding spending. By the way, this isn't an endorsement, just a discussion of electability. I'm a social libertarian and a fiscal conservative, so Daniels' stance on social issues is not in keeping with my own. I like many things about both the president and Governor Daniels and don't know for whom I would vote if they were running against one another. But here's the catch when it comes to the electability of Mitch Daniels: if he's running, it won't be on a social-issues/morality platform. His focus is purely on fiscal issues. That could have a lot of impact with the independent center -- you know, the ones who control elections.

This post was prompted by another article extolling the electability of Governor Daniels but noting how tough it may be for him to get his party's nomination if social conservatives rule the roost, as they often do, in the nominating process. If those social conservatives in the GOP were thinking tactically about winning an election, instead of figuring out new ways to tell us all what we can and can't do in our personal lives, they might wake up and see that Governor Daniels may be the most electable candidate they could put forth against President Obama. I'm not holding my breath....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stuck in the van, living to rock

I have a love/hate relationship with touring, even the kind of quickie mini-tours that we are forced to do out of life circumstance, day jobs, etc. Don't get me wrong...I love every moment of playing onstage, maybe even a little more so when it's playing in a city where the band either hasn't been in a very long time or has never played at all. The rush of a good show can keep you going for days. It can also, much like the joy of hiking up a really badass mountain (or, I've been told, childbirth), can leave you with a distorted picture of just exactly what the pain-to-joy ratio was (that'd be high, if you're wondering). Just like that amazing feeling of conquering the big peak often obscures the substantial effort and exhaustion it took to get there,  so can the great hour onstage dull the drudgery of the rest of the touring experience.

And drudgery much of it is. You wanna know, figuratively speaking, just how far up each others' asses four guys can get after six days in a van? That'd be pretty damn far. That joke was funny the first time, but not so much on Round #57. That annoying thing you do when you eat? Someone may kill you for it. Someone's penchant for too many (or too few) rest stops? This could all go postal in a short time. But, thankfully, if you play well together, most days the glory of the show that night will blot out all the bad vibes of any of the rest of the trip.

But this is not to say that there are not some really basic rules to make everyone's life a lot easier. There are, and no one has nailed those rules better than this guy. I don't know who he is, whether the band he plays in is crap or godhead, but he has pretty well gotten this aspect of band life perfectly. Just this past week, while on a Mondo Topless swing that went something like Philly to Ypsilanti (Michigan) to Milwaukee to Chicago to St. Louis to Columbus (Ohio, not Indiana) to Philly, I found myself chanting a few of these (silently, mind you, so as not to further annoy) like a mantra. I particularly like the one about the road making everyone bi-polar, so let the bad times pass by quietly, and things will get better. No life-changing decisions while in the midst of a "this/I/he/they suck(s)" bender.

But, at the risk of adding one too many rules to an already lengthy set of them, let me propose one more: when you get back, back off. Don't have band practice for a little while. How you define "a little while" can be dictated by circumstance, of course. For some, it might be a week or so. For others, take a couple months off. In our case, we are currently penciled in for a practice 10 days after we returned home. That seems about right, but, honestly, if an extra week makes it 17 days instead, that'll be just peachy too. I love playing in this band, and, when not cooped up like chickens, these guys are great to hang with, but it's a tough nut to stay shiny, happy, smiley, peace-loving for six days in close quarters. That's a fact. Dealing with it honestly is better than trying to ignore it.

Next stop....a few musical memories of the tour, 'cause it was a good one, and, yeah, I'm sure we'll do it again.