Story of my life: Songs

Random brain-dump of songs that remind me of people, places, and events. In some cases this is just a single song representative of an entire album. In every case, the song holds some connection for me.

3 Doors Down, Kryptonite
Ani Difranco, Parameters
Ani Difranco, Untouchable Face
Ani Difranco, Welcome To
Arlo Guthrie, Motorcycle Song
Bob Marley, 3 Little Birds
Carpenters, Top of the World
Chvrches, We Sink
Concrete Blonde, Joey
Dido, See the Sun
Divinyls, Touch Me
Dream Theater, The Spirit Carries On
Elton John, Crocodile Rock
Evanescence, Bring Me to Life
Foreigner, Jukebox Hero
Frank Turner, Love Ire & Song
Iron Maiden, Wasted Years
Jeff Beck, Where Were You?
Joe Satriani, Flying in a Blue Dream
Kiss, Beth
Kosheen, Catch
Metallica, Enter Sandman
Metallica, Ride the Lightning
Nine Inch Nails, Something I Can Never Have
Nine Inch Nails, Hurt
Oasis, Stop Crying Your Heart Out
Queensryche, Silent Lucidity
Rush, Show Don’t Tell
Skid Row, I Remember You
Stevie Ray Vaughn, The House Is Rockin
U2, One
Violent Femmes, Blister in the Sun

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My Friend Is Gone

This is Kitty.

She used to have a different name, but I always just called her “Kitty” and so we eventually changed her name to that. My friend Chad brought her to us on the very first full day that we spent in our new house. For about a year she was an only cat. Soon, she became the oldest of the four cats that I had acquired. For a while it was just four cats and myself against the world. As the other cats passed on, Kitty was the only one left, and for the last five years she was once again an only cat.

Kitty died two days ago on Friday, March 9th, 2018.

The sense of loss that I feel from her absence is immense. After 18 years I have spent more time with this cat than with any other living being. More than with my Dad, more than with my Mom, more than anyone. I used to joke that it was because she couldn’t operate doorknobs. In truth, this cat adored me and followed me everywhere. Like the picture above, she was almost always in contact with me if she could be. When I was home she was almost always at least within my sight. She’s been with me through the best parts of my life and the worst. There have been days when I have collapsed in tears as soon as I got in the door, and within minutes Kitty would be there licking the tears from my cheeks.

Sue and I sat with her for about eight hours on Friday, comforting her as best as we could as she faded away.
The last weak meow she made, and the last lucid movements she made, were to get us to continue giving her belly rubs as we were shifting positions. She never seemed to be in pain. She just got continually weaker until she was gone.

It leaves a scar on my soul to have to dig a grave for my closest friend, carry her to it, and bury her forever. The scar will heal with time, but as with all such scars, part of it will always be there. I was so lucky to have her in my life for as long as I did.

This house has always had a cat in it, until now. There were other cats, but Kitty was the one constant. It was her house, and she was it’s cat. It is less of a home without her.

I miss you my friend. I miss you terribly.

I've Lost My Friend

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2017: Making 2016 Look Like the Golden Age

2017 has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of year. In the larger sense it often feels like I’m living through some of my history books that were dedicated to illustrating where great societies chose to fail, written with the optimism that having learned the lesson, we would be smart enough to avoid such mistakes in the future. Whether we have learned those lessons yet or not still remains to be seen. Personally, it was a good year. There is tension in that disconnect, but all I can do is try not to focus on the things that are out of my control.

The first big event of the year was trading in my one Mazda for a different Mazda. Driving the Speed 3 was the most fun I’ve had while wearing pants. It was the most reliable car I’ve ever owned, so I’m hoping for a good long life out of the new MX-5. It’s also a ton of fun to drive around.

The highlight of the year was the two vacations that we were able to take in August. The first was a trip up to Tennessee in hopes of seeing a total solar eclipse. When I found out that a total solar eclipse would pass over Nashville, I immediately booked hotel rooms for that weekend. At worst, I would get to visit friends up there. Good thing we booked ahead of time. As the date approached it became impossible to find a room anywhere near the totality. The next decision was trying to figure out where we wanted to view it from. I was thinking about Centennial Park or downtown Nashville, but ended up settling (at the last moment) on Edgar Evins State Park which would have a slightly longer totality. Another lucky choice as much of downtown Nashville got clouded over at the crucial moment. We had perfectly clear skies, and it was AMAZING! I definitely plan on going to see the next one if we can.

Next up was a trip to France. I had never been there, and it was just a fantastic trip from beginning to end. I am very fortunate to have been able to make the trip.
Eiffel Tower

It’s starting to sink in that not only are my mosh pit days behind me, but it’s getting more difficult to commit to standing for 4-7 hours for a show. As a result, I find myself getting more choosy about which shows I go to see. With that in mind, there were still a lot of top-notch shows in 2017.

For non-concert events, we got to see John Cleese, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Henry Rollins, and the USA women’s hockey team.

Concerts included Ghost, Iron Maiden, U2, Lady Gaga, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Muse.

There were others, including some that I got to see for the first time, but the top concert for the year had to be seeing Frank Turner at the Sanibel Writer’s Conference. This was a weird one since it wasn’t a traditional concert venue and we found out about it from a social media post just about a week before it happened. We were not attending the conference, but they said that the evening events were free and open to the public, assuming that there was still space after the conference attendees were seated. We went to Sanibel for a night (about a three hour drive) Not knowing if we’d be able to get in. In the end we managed to see Frank Turner for free from about 10 feet away in a room with only about 100 people in it. It wasn’t strictly free considering it took a tank of gas and a hotel room, and we did make a contribution to the conference for hosting the whole thing, but it was worth it. What a memorable show.

And with that, as 2017 draws to a close, I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that things better in the coming year.

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The Alligator Picture

I’ve said before that once a person gets a camera in their hands, they will do some crazy things to “get the shot” that they would never do if the camera was not there.

I am no exception to that rule.

Clyde Butcher is a photographer who is mostly known for his nature photography of the Sunshine State. He’s a nice guy and a Florida treasure. Back in the innocent days of 2010, I took a trip to go camping in the Everglades. On my way down I stopped at Clyde’s Big Cypress Gallery.

As I pulled into the parking area I saw a gator sunning himself by the entrance, just chilling out, so of course I walked over there with my camera. He wasn’t a big guy. I’d guess between six and eight feet in length.

Gator story, pt 1

Gators are common in Florida. We joke (with some basis in reality) that any pool of water large enough to contain an alligator will, at some point, contain an alligator. Usually what we see is just the nose and eyes sticking up out of the water. To see a gator sunning himself (herself?) is not strange, but it’s not quite as common if you live in a suburban area like I do.

So I was moving around the gator and trying to get a better angle for a picture. He saw me, and he wasn’t showing any signs of aggression such as opening his mouth or hissing. I moved in front of the alligator.

Gator story, pt 2

Don’t try this at home. From this point on I will freely admit that I was being an idiot. As awkward as gators look on land, they are fast. As kids in school they teach you to zig-zag away from gators because they can outrun you in a straight line but they don’t corner very well. Chill as this guy looks, I was now taking a risk. Most people reading this will think that I’m crazy or that I have a deathwish.

And yet, I know that some photographer out there is thinking “c’mon, you can do better than that!” Hell, it’s what I was thinking, so I wanted to find a better angle. Like I said, without the camera I would never have been in that position, six feet in front of an alligator’s toothy grin.

I wanted to get lower, but there was an obstacle in my way. In the first picture you can see a guardrail reflected in the water. That guardrail is on the side of US-41, a.k.a. Tamiami Trail. The second picture was taken while holding the camera on top of the guardrail. The only way I could get a lower angle and stay out of arm’s reach was to shoot UNDER the guardrail. After a few attempts at putting the camera on the ground, it was apparent that the only way I could properly frame the picture was to get down there with the camera. This shows you where I was, on the small piece of dry land between the parking area and the water.

I waited for a break in the traffic, took a step out onto the highway, and I got down on my stomach to get a quick picture. I was trying to look left and right down the highway to make sure I didn’t get flattened by a truck, all while keeping an eye on the gator to make sure he stayed put, and trying to frame a picture and operate the camera at the same time.

I was probably on the ground for less than 20 seconds. During that time, no traffic snuck up on me and the gator stayed put. I checked the camera, decided I’d had enough adventure for the time being and went to tour the gallery.

On my way into the gallery, a lady got out of her car with her young daughter and I told her there was a gator over by the entrance sign if she was interested. We were probably a hundred feet from it at this point, and the lady rushed her daughter inside the gallery and away from the gator before I could draw my next breath, as if the gator would rocket across the parking lot.

Ten years ago when I bought my camera, camera displays weren’t as bright as they are now. When I checked the picture I could see that it was crooked but the gator was in the frame, and I didn’t bother to go peeking at individual pixels.

Maybe I should have. I didn’t really see the picture until I got home a few days later. I don’t think I’ve ever posted this before, but here is the shot where I risked getting pancaked by a truck and/or eaten by an alligator so that I could get a picture that is focused on some nice grass that is next to an out-of-focus alligator.

Gator story, pt 3

Sometimes you just don’t get the shot. I occasionally wonder, if I’d known at the time that the picture was out-of-focus, if I’d have gotten down on my stomach and tried again.

We’ll never know.

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Random Thoughts from France

I finally finished processing the pictures from France. Already it seems like it was so long ago. Here are some random thoughts from the trip.

  • Several Paris Metro stations are artistically themed. Arts et M├ętiers is done in a Jules Verne theme that makes it look like a steampunk station. Louvre-Rivoli has copies of some of the statues in the Louvre.
  • When pulling into a Metro station, the recorded voice will announce the station name twice. The inflection on the first one makes it sound like a question, while the second one is a statement. Tuileries? Tuileries.
  • Sue’s French was good enough that some people didn’t seem to know we were American until I opened my mouth.
  • As Hurricane Irma was approaching Florida, when people asked where we were from, and we said Florida, their faces would light up, they would smile, and then they would immediately drop the smile as they made the connection to the news about the storm and asked us how we were doing.
  • Some of the French food we got was fantastic. Most of it wasn’t very good.
  • Almost all of the other ethnic food we got was excellent. While in Paris we were able to find Senegalese and Tibetan restaurants.
  • Most ethnic food was simple to order since the name was simply a different transliteration than English, but the pronounciation was essentially the same.
        Pho = Pho
        Hummus = Hoummus
        Tagine = Tajine
  • Drivers in Paris will cram as many cars into an intersection as the laws of physics will allow, regardless of lanes or directions, on the assumption that they will figure it all out by the time they exit the intersection. They generally do.
  • Highway entrance ramps actually have signs for no left turn (if entering the highway) or no right turn (if already on the highway) to discourage people from going the wrong way. It seems a bit extreme, but then see the previous point about drivers putting a car any darn place they can.
  • In the older part of Tours, roads were so narrow that I’m surprised we didn’t damage the door making some turns.
  • After driving the narrow streets in Tours, we then noticed that almost every single car had damage to it’s side from not making a corner properly.
  • Sitting at a street-side cafe in Tours, corners were so tight that the guy at the table next to us had to pull his foot in when a car came around the corner.
  • There is almost no concept of take-out coffee.
  • We never saw a single speed trap, other than automated ones that are clearly marked ahead of time. They essentially had signs a few hundred meters before them warning you not to speed past the camera.
  • France has an odd (to me) “Priority to the Right” rule which means cars come barreling into the road from side streets without really looking and it’s your responsibility to make way for them.
  • Once again, roundabouts are fantastic!
  • Proper signalling in a roundabout is incredibly helpful.
  • Drivers will typically use their left turn signal when they pull left to pass someone, but they will leave the signal on while passing.
  • White shirts with blue horizontal stripes really are the national outfit.
  • Dogs and cats are everywhere, as though it’s just accepted that pets are part of peoples lives and will be in public places.
  • Dinner hours are limited. Many restaurants are only open from 7-10. If you miss out on their hours, good luck finding food.
  • Not only are the hours limited, but expect dinner to take at least 2-3 hours. They do not rely on turning tables like American restaurants so they are not quick about it, and if you get a table, it’s probably yours for the night.
  • It seems like absolutely everyone gets bread every day. We watched steady streams of people leaving bakeries with a fresh baguette on their way home.
  • Within a week we were both getting social media ads in French.
  • Two and a half hours is not enough time to clear customs and make a connecting flight in Atlanta.
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Blade Runner 2049

We went to see the new Blade Runner sequel over the weekend. After giving this some thought, I think I like many of the individual bits more than I liked the movie as a whole.

The setting and the music are top-notch. The photography is very good. While most of the characters are pretty good, one or two are fairly pointless. There are a lot of memorable parts to it. There is the seed of a compelling story in there, but it’s never given a chance to take root. Without giving spoilers, it just seems that there was so much of an emphasis on getting Harrison Ford into the movie that they didn’t really know what to do with him. Once he shows up, all of the plot points that seemed interesting get set aside (for future sequels?) in order to focus on him. That portion of the film seems haphazard and rushed, as if this was the 17th attempt at writing something terrific, some parts has already been filmed, and they just had to go with what they had at that point.

There’s a lot to like in it. I just don’t think it fits together as well as it could have.

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The 2017 Eclipse

2017 Eclipse

Sue and I took a quick trip up to Tennessee in hopes of seeing the eclipse. The trip consisted of two full days of driving in order to spend two days there, but even if the eclipse fell through at least we would have the chance to visit with friends in Atlanta and Tennessee.

It turned out that we couldn’t have asked for a better day. We went to a Tennessee State Park on a reservoir, so we spent the day surrounded by trees, hills, and water. Not a cloud in the sky for most of the day. Some clouds picked up as the eclipse was building, but they disappeared about 20 minutes before totality.

I have been lucky to see many amazing and interesting things in my life. That said, the total eclipse is without a doubt the coolest thing I have ever seen. I’ve seen partial eclipses before, and while they are interesting there is just no comparison to looking up and seeing a ring of fire.

I want to write down some things I noticed before I forget them. We got the opportunity to look through a couple of good telescopes at the sun, and could see sunspots. It took about an hour and a half from the start of the eclipse until the totality. Up until about 15-20 minutes before totality we couldn’t really notice any change. Even with the sun about 80% covered it was a bright sunny day.

The first change I noticed was that the summer sun was no longer baking my skin. It was still a bright sunny day, but I didn’t feel like I was standing in an oven. Then the light got a bit weird. Almost like late afternoon, with the light just a bit less intense, but without the nice orange glow or the nice contrasting shadows you get when the sun isn’t directly overhead.

With about 5 minutes to go things started really picking up. The cicadas started singing. People were getting excited. Even at one minute to go it seemed no dimmer than a cloudy day. I looked through my peril-sensitive sunglasses and watched the last of the sun disappear, and then I saw nothing. It never occurred to me that I’d need to remove the glasses once the totality began.

I pulled the glasses off, looked up, and was just stunned. Seriously, I failed to adjust the camera and just stood there in awe of what I was seeing for about two and a half minutes until the sun came back out from behind the moon. The picture up above doesn’t even come close to describing the beauty of it.

Imagine about 20-30 minutes after sunset, when the sky is a deep cobalt blue just before turning black, and the horizon just has a bit of orange and pink left in it. Now imagine the horizon looks like that in every direction. Up in that blue-black sky is a disk of the deepest black you will ever see in our life, blacker even than having your eyes closed. It is surrounded by the fiery brushstrokes of the suns’ corona. It was fantastic.

All too soon, it was gone. Quickly the light came back, and all that was left was a sense of amazement and a desire to see it again.

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Ten of the albums that most influenced a teenaged me

This one has been going around Facebook a bit. I like to give more detail, so it’s more of a blog post for me, as well as an opportunity to make more than one post a year. It’s also an illustration of how far behind me those teenage years are.

A while back I made my ideal setlist which is a mashup of metal, blues, and electronic music. When I started to think about what really impacted me as a teenager, I can see where that all started. I like to think my musical tastes are pretty eclectic. That wasn’t necessarily the case in my teens. This is a metal-heavy list, but it’s where my head was at that time. I tried to stick to video from the era when possible. These are my Bloody Roots.

Foreigner: 4

The first album (cassette really) that I bought for myself was Foreigner 4. I’d spent a summer with family in Wisconsin and played Jukebox Hero to death on the jukebox (how appropriate) in my family’s tavern. That wasn’t enough. I had to have it for myself. It’s built around bass, guitar, and a heavy beat, so I’m pretty sure this set the stage for the metal to come.

Black Sabbath: Paranoid

I honestly don’t remember what my second album was, but the third one was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. As I tend to say, it was all downhill from there. This is the album that made me into a metalhead. This one obviously pre-dates my teenage years, but it was as a teen that I discovered it. I had to crack this cassette open and splice the tape together at one point, putting the tape back in backwards so sides one and two were reversed, but I still have this cassette.

Iron Maiden: The Number of The Beast

The next big album to grab my attention was Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. This began a lifelong love of Iron Maiden and introduced me to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and bands like Motörhead and Judas Priest. Iron Maiden was my first CD (Powerslave) and my first concert. The concert was so incredible they re-created it 30 years later, and I can absolutely see why having that as my first show would start a passion for live music that lasts to this day.

Pat Benatar: Crimes of Passion

The aggressive rhythms of metal are part of my soul, but life wasn’t all metal. Not many metal songs had lyrics that really made an impact on me. I’ll admit that my love for metal is sometimes in spite of the lyrics. Pat Benatar’s Crimes of Passion was the first time I really remember getting into the lyrics of a song. “Love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child” and “Knock me down, it’s all in vain, I get right back on my feet again” were, and still are, deeply relevant lyrics to me. She was also the first woman I was aware of that had a complete “do not fuck with me” attitude. It was influential, and all in a good way.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Live Alive

Following metal music led to a love of guitars, and Stevie Ray Vaughn could tear it up with the best of them. In the end he may have been a bad influence for me. I could cover songs on guitar to the point where they were at least recognizable, but Stevie could get more out of one note than I could with an entire fretboard. I got frustrated with the guitar and haven’t seriously picked it up since. Perhaps I hold myself to some ridiculous standards? I was lucky enough to see him twice before he died.

Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks

With heavy metal as my core, I have a love for most things that are loud and aggressive. It’s hard to be more aggressive than punk, and somewhere in the 80’s I discovered the Sex Pistols. Odd that they caught on with me before The Ramones did, but it opened up a window into another genre that I never got tired of.

Ramones: Rocket to Russia

Punk Rock with the added benefit of being just the local bar band. I got to see them play live and Joey Ramone seemed to go to most of the shows that I did so I was always bumping into him at concerts. I got to learn that rock stars were just regular people like the rest of us. There’s something about the New York sound in metal, punk, and hardcore that always reminds me of home. Plus, The Ramones are just silly. I can’t listen to them without smiling.

Slayer: Reign in Blood

The aggression of punk was incorporated into heavy metal as thrash, and nobody did it better than Slayer. I have owned more copies of this album than any other album I’ve ever bought. That’s a tough feat considering the cassette was short enough that the entire thing fit on one side, so they simply put the the entire album on each side. This is still one of the best live shows there is.

The Cars: Heartbeat City

As much as I love screaming guitars, I also harbor a love for fat synthesizer sounds. While it wasn’t the focus of my teenage years I always paid some attention to new wave (loved Blondie in my pre-teen years) and this was one of my favorite albums from that time. This is one band that I never did get to see.

Missing Persons: Spring Session M

This band had a surprising amount of musical chops for a synthpop band. Metalhead or not this album always had me hooked. Beware: This is the most 80’s video you are likely to see this year.

Special mention

Just a song, not an album, and it came out before my teen years, but since I’m on the topic of music that influenced me in my younger years, I have to give a special mention to Surrender by Cheap Trick. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t listen to rock music and rock was still young enough that you just knew most “old” people didn’t like it. In my young brain I thought that meant that people would come to hate rock music as they grew older. I loved this song so much as a kid that I remember thinking “I hope I’m still cool enough to like this when I’m old.” I’m too old to have any idea what the kids consider “cool” nowadays, but I still love this song. Mission accomplished!

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2016: The year that everyone loves to hate

What with all that’s gone on this year, most people seem pretty eager to put 2016 into the rear-view mirror. As I get older I am more reluctant to let the years slip by, but as always the end of the year is a good time to reflect on what has passed.

This was a year of small pleasures. No big trips for us this year but we took a few small ones and kept ourselves pretty busy.

First up was New Orleans. Sue had never been there, and I hadn’t been in many years. We had a blast, and just thinking about it makes me hungry again.

New Orleans Trolley

St. Louis Cathedral

For springtime events we had the St Pete Grand Prix and the Gasparilla Music Fest. Unfortunately, both happen on the same weekend, so we didn’t get to see all of the Grand Prix.

Once again the Lightning made the playoffs and we got to see them eliminate Detroit and the Islanders. We had a ton of fun at those games.

Summertime got us to Tennessee for a friend’s wedding. Sue actually got to see Nashville this time instead of just driving by. We also made it to the Jack Daniels Distillery, which I had never been to even though I’ve been to Tennessee over a dozen times.

October was crazy with concerts. Near as I can tell, I saw 12 different bands in October, including the Prophets of Rage, Slayer, and Trivium. It was a bit insane really. I may be getting too old to go to so many shows. Other great bands that I got to see during the year were Gogol Bordello, Frank Turner, Epica, and Nightwish.

Prophets of Rage

For many years Sue and I talked about going to the Kennedy Space Center. We finally got around to it this year. We were there from opening until closing, and we even got to tour the Launch Control Center, which I’d never gotten to see before.


Launch Control

Bigger Than I Thought

To round out our trips, we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving in St. Augustine. That was the first trip that Sue and I had taken together, and it was nice to get back there and check out some things we’d missed the first time.

Castillo de san Marcos

I Can See My Future

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy, but I do have one that I hope I can stick to:
Take more pictures!

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

As the year draws to its close, I like to reflect on all that has happened. This last year was a tough one in some ways. Both Sue and I lost our closest remaining family members. Neither one was expected, and it will still take a while to absorb that loss.

This was also a year of amazing highlights. We got to see Neil Gaiman (again) and Amanda Palmer, Gogol Bordello, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard, Chvrches, Jake Shimabukuro, Selwyn Birchwood, and many other great shows. We went to many Lightning playoff games and watched them eliminate both Detroit and Montreal from the playoffs. We watched the US Womens’ Soccer Team beat Brazil. We got to see Arsenal beat Stoke City at Emirates Stadium in London.
Arsenal vs Stoke City

Of course the highlight of the year was our trip to the UK. About a week each in Scotland and London. I have been fortunate to go on some great vacations, but this one was the best by far.

Rob & Sue in Glencoe

Dinner at the Shard

And so it goes. Fantastic memories made, and some great personal losses. 2015 will be memorable for both the good and the bad. We will miss the ones that we lost, but I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to still be here.

Here’s to hoping that you all have a great 2016.

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