Posts from the ‘Life-Changing Events’ Category

Death of a Legend: A Midnight Swan Song Never Sounded So Bittersweet

I knew the story as soon as I saw the headline. “Warner Theater to Close” is a rather simple and self-explanatory statement, but for an avid movie-goer such as myself, I knew what it really meant. It meant my afternoons of limited release films and late nights at the Rocky Horror Picture Show would end immediately. It meant that my high score on the Dig Dug machine would not be challenged again. But most of all, it meant that the movie theater that made so many memories for me would never make another memory for anyone.

The Warner Theater was definitely a hidden gem. The facade looked rough, but the lobby and cinemas were absolutely beautiful, having been restored in 2004 to make it look as awe-inspiring as it did when it first opened in 1931. The theater had a tendency to bring old movies back from the dead. I remember seeing “Pulp Fiction” with some friends last year, and I took my first serious girlfriend to the Warner to see “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” as a first date. That was in 2007. “Holy Grail” was released in 1975. Finding an original print takes lots of dedication.

While many patrons are sad to see it the Warner pass, we were blessed with one last special showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show last Saturday night. Having been my 31st time seeing it at that theater, I knew that the event would be a big deal. Management stated that they sold out one cinema and opened another, something they had never done in the 5 years of playing the movie. The next day, the theater projected a film for the last time. Today, a company from Ohio will open the doors long enough to take away my Dig Dug high score, and when they close the doors, I’ll never see the inside again.

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Sweat-stained Santa Hat: The Road to the Flaming Lips

One final check of my pockets would show what was truly important for such an occasion. As I stood, one foot out the door, I patted my pockets to make sure I had the essentials. The phone was in its usual pocket, along with thin plastic wallet and ticket. My best Zippo, in case someone needed to borrow a light, and a Sharpie were residing in my left front pocket. My best only Santa Hat was nestled tightly on my overly large head. A quick stop by the Morgantown Sheetz finished off our list of necessary accouterments for the concert.

After all, we had to have our Faygo.

The Amphitheater was within a few miles of everything else in Pittsburgh. We could see the stage from the long, traffic-filled bridges over the rivers and hear the sound of excited tailgaters from the exhaust-filled parking garage. The walk to the venue was relatively short compared to the 80 miles we had driven that day, but it revealed something that I had always expected.

It truly takes a certain kind of person to want to the see the Flaming Lips in concert. We saw old, black, toothless men with tie-dye hats, shirtless men and women that were smoking cigarettes (I think) and playing hackysack, and even the palest woman I have ever seen wearing a large ceremonial Native American headdress. I remember remarking that the closer we got to the show, the more normal I looked. Honestly, a bright t-shirt and a sweat-stained Santa hat are somewhat commonplace on the road to the Flaming Lips.

Once I fought me way through the port-o-potty line and wrestled my ticket from my homemade wallet, we lined up outside the gate to enter the open-air amphitheater. I was asked if I could be patted down, and I replied “Well, you’re going to do with whether I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…” The guy just looked blankly at me and started patting my pockets. Apparently, the lighter checked out perfectly, but the Sharpie was a threat to every person in the concert venue. The man at the gate threw my best Sharpie into the nearby trashcan as if I were planning on using it for some heinous acts that evening and he was the hero to keep the entire crowd safe. Just imagine the horror that would occur if I were to write a phone number on my hand or have Wayne sign an autograph after the show.

Appalling, I know.

Either way, I made my way through the gate, freshly Sharpie-less, past the burly men selling t-shirts and the cute girls selling too little beer for too much cash. Seven dollars for a pint of any beer just didn’t sit well with any of us. Approaching the crowd, we saw tiny fjords of open space that jutted out towards the stage and we settled nicely into one. The people in front of us (Tiny Seth Green and his skinny wife) were extremely nice and showed us some pictures from previous shows they had attended. The guys beside us offered us pot every 15 minutes or so. And then, there was the Tiny Hairy Man.

I don’t know what the Tiny Hairy Man’s real name is. All I know about him is what he looks like and what he wants.

As I stood facing the stage to catch a glimpse of the band during their sound check, I felt a tiny tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a very tiny, pale man with a tangled mane of black, crispy hair encircling his head and face. Before I could ask what he wanted, he cupped his hand over my ear and whispered, very politely and eloquently: “Would you like to eat some really good LSD?”

I politely declined, stating that “I wanted to be of clear mind and body the first time I saw the Lips,” which is true, but I really just didn’t want any acid. He claimed that he saw my Santa hat and thought he would offer me a piece of blotter paper. I wished him well and turned to point him out to Jimmy and Sam. However, when I turned around to thumb the guy, he had vanished.

As quickly as the Tiny Hairy Man arrived, he had disembarked on another journey to offer someone else the LSD I had refused.

Soon after, the concert itself had started. The opening band, Fang Island, was one of the better ones that I have seen. But, they were overshadowed by the impending appearance of the Flaming Lips. The lights soon kicked on, the disco balls began spinning, and the large semi-circular screen commenced spitting out some of the strangest images I had seen. Perhaps the images themselves were harmless, but they had been edited with split-second jump cuts and intense panning, giving a feel of watching a schizophrenic’s mind played out on a TV screen.

Tremendous sounds of computers and digital static washed over the crowd as the images on the screen turned to a video of a brightly coloured petite lady dancing fully naked to her own rhythm. She then sat on the floor, spread her legs as if to place them into a gynecologist’s stirrups, and her vagina began glowing intensely and spewing ripples of energy and psychedelic colour. The band then entered the stage via a door in the gigantic rainbow vagina. Why?

Because they are the Flaming Lips. That’s why.

The next two hours flew by in a strange, vibrant, pulsating orgy of light and static-laced lyrics. Wayne ran around on our hands in his large Space Bubble and donned the Tremendous Hands with hundreds of green lasers recently installed in the palms. The men backstage powered cannon-full after cannon-full of bright orange confetti into the air. We sang at the top of our lungs all of our favourite songs. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song. She Don’t Use Jelly.

Looking back, it is rather difficult to recall precise moments or events of the show. I can’t even recall some of the songs they played. But I do remember the important stuff. I remember the warm, engulfing feeling of love and harmony that flowed over the crowd as we danced and jumped and played with balloons. I recall the chill I felt as I looked into the night sky to see torrents of confetti spray past the moon and gently flutter down over the audience like a blizzard of Halloween-coloured snow.

I remember feeling like I was important and that you were important and that everything just made sense.

I remember thinking that, even though I couldn’t quite understand what was going on at the time, it was still one of the most important events of my life. I felt important and loved, and I just wanted to hold someone near and tell them they were just as important as anyone else in this expanding universe.

I remember feeling like me life had changed.

Ever since that show, I have felt like a bit of a different person, but the difference is rather hard to explain. I suppose that’s why I put off writing this piece for so long. I couldn’t quite understand what had changed, so I felt like I couldn’t tell you, the reader(s), what I needed to tell.

As for the music, well… it’s the Flaming Lips. Either you love what they do, or you just shrug and keep walking. I’ve been a fan of the Lips since right after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and I’ve been waiting for 6 years to experience what I lived in that blocked-off parking lot that night.

I think Tiny Seth Green summed it up best when he told us his only Flaming Lips story. He said that last year, he and his wife had paid $60 apiece (almost twice the price of our tickets) to see the show in Philadelphia. The rains came, and after 5 songs, the concert was canceled. He had to wade through water almost up to his waist to exit the amphitheater.

Keeping all that in mind, he said that it was still worth the $60. Then he looked me in the eye and said something that the Flaming Lips would spend two hours proving.

He said, “It’s like Christmas and Halloween and your birthday, all wrapped into one. Except it’s a concert… and it’s f*cking amazing.”

I’ll leave with a few more photographs from the concert, courtesy of my good friend Samantha Jones (her Flickr is available here. Check it out for more pictures of the show and others that she has taken over the years). Enjoy what you see, and be sure to get tickets next time the Flaming Lips are in town.

TUSK!

It’s been a long few weeks (see the previous post for an extremely brief explanation), but that doesn’t really give me license to stop writing. So… time for a new blog post. I suppose I’ll write about my most recent addiction, a strange world that I have recently immersed myself into wholeheartedly.

No, not crocheting.

Tusk‘.

However, before I get into that, I have to make a small confession… I hate Fleetwood Mac, and by Fleetwood Mac, I mean Stevie Nicks. I really hate Stevie Nicks. If I met Stevie Nicks, I would beat her to death with her own ego.

I love ‘Tusk’. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate Stevie Nicks, but that just doesn’t matter at this point. ‘Tusk’ is borderline transcendental. The rhythms, the paranoia, and the noise are on par with any Merzbow or other various ‘experimental’ music pieces that garner high play counts on Dr. B. H. Robotnik (that’s my iPod’s name. Get used to it.) The subtle use of vocal harmonies, the random drum break, and the legendary use of the USC Trojan Marching Band are the kinds of things that make me, well… you know.

Oh, and by the way, I am only talking about the song ‘Tusk’, not the whole album. ‘Tusk’ is 3 minutes and 29 seconds of utter aural bliss, which is consequently exactly what the good Doctor ordered. But, how did I find this song now, a full 31 years after its release? Glad you asked, you inquisitive little reader.

Again, I must give all credit to the mighty radio. I don’t know what I would do if Nikola Tesla hadn’t invented the radio so many years ago. The scene is similar to that of my first discover of music. While the car is vastly different, the players are the same. My father and I were on an old road outside of Fairmont, seated safely in the front seats of a totally different station wagon. My hand played at the radio’s control this time around.

Unfortunately, the savior station wasn’t the same station to rescue me this time. The call numbers were 105.7 on the day in question. When the tuner found those numbers, my hand stopped. My ears perked. The only words I could say were: “I don’t know what’s happening on the radio right now.” Dad just shrugged his shoulders and kept driving. I remember sitting in delight, much like I had in those days long ago, smiling and absorbing everything I could about the song.

When the DJ announced that it was Fleetwood Mac, I was astonished, mainly because I was tricked into liking a Fleetwood Mac song. But, I bit the bullet, and upon returning to my house, turned to the internet to allow me to hear it again.

I’ll admit, I don’t illegally download music that much, but this one was a must. I don’t want to give Stevie Nicks any of my hard(ly)-earned money. So… I sailed on over to a certain website specializing in the art of music piracy (hint hint) and found the song.

Honestly, I listened to ‘Tusk’ ten times in a row. I listened to it every time I opened my laptop. The only reason I am not listening to it now is because I am on the phone with a pretty lady. (I’ll probably listen to it when I get off the phone and pick up my crocheting again.)

I know all 4 of you readers must be wondering if this has caused me to change my mind about Fleetwood Mac and give them another try. Honestly, ‘Tusk’ is one-of-a-kind. From what I can tell, there is no other song on that album that is comparable to it. So….

Nope.

No more Fleetwood Mac for me. I’ll sit in the corner with my ‘Tusk’ and be perfectly happy.

SIDE NOTE: I’d post a link to the song itself, but the jerk-offs running YouTube have decided they don’t want to pay Stevie Nicks any of their money either. Sometimes, the jerk-offs behind YouTube don’t have their collective head too far up their collective ass. Well done on this one, YouTube. I’ll post a link to the song when I find one.

EDIT: The Internet Gods have finally smiled upon me in my search for a link to present to my readers. Being that this is the official music video, the first 20 seconds of noise are cut off. However, you can still hear the noise build throughout the entire song, so overall, the cut isn’t so damaging. Regardless, I bring you…. TUSK!

A First Time for Everything

I’m not quite sure why or for how long it happened, but for the first 5-8 years of my life I was forced to listen to country music. Is it because I live in West Virginia? Perhaps. Is it because my mother was raised on the same music and, being that my father worked midnight shift, my mother was always in control of the car radio? More than likely. Either way, I have grown to resent my mother for her actions. She’s the reason I made a cassette of myself singing Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” when I was way too young to understand the sexual implications of the song. I think my father may have found this cassette soon after I made it.

I think that is why the following story happened.

I don’t recall the time of day, the destination, or even the automobile itself. We cycled through many different station wagons during my childhood. I still drive one that used to be the designated “Family Car”. Those of you who know me have seen it once of twice. Regardless, we were taking a ride in one of our station wagons. I was in the passenger’s seat and my father was at the helm. I believe it was the first time I had taken a ride alone with my own father, which may seem a little strange considering I was 8 or so.

I remember getting into the car and fastening my seat belt like a good boy. I had reached toward the radio to turn it on and starting fiddling with the buttons to find the local country station, which I believe was 102.7 FM. I don’t recall the call letters though, as that was the last time I would listen to that station. My father took his eyes from the road for a moment, and asked a simple question. “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting some music on, daddy!”

He looked back at me with that same expression of wonder and misunderstanding. “Wait a minute. Just…. stop.” I thought I was in trouble for some reason that I couldn’t truly understand. “Here. I’ll put on some GOOD music.”

My father’s hand went to work undoing what I had done. Not looking away from the open road, his fingers played on the buttons of the radio until he was confident that he had found the correct one. Pressing it, the radio flipped from 102.7 to 94.3 FM, WRLF and as if by some divine providence, the tuner hit the station at the perfect moment. A song had begun to play as soon as 94.3 was reached.

I sat in wide-eyed amazement, listening to what was exiting the speakers as if I was hearing music for the first time. In retrospect, that’s what was happening. My ears had been clogged with years of country twang and hick lyrics, but as I sat listening to this new music, all of that melted away. I remember hearing what sounded like a chorus of angels, enveloped in light, singing the first meaningful lyrics I had ever heard on the radio. In a way, it was as if God himself was speaking to me through this music. Through the radio, he said:

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
no escape from reality.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.”

Little did I know that it wasn’t God that was singing, but instead Freddy Mercury (although, I understand if you can hardly find a difference.) The voices were then followed by soft piano, wailing guitars, lyrical wordplay, and every other bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that makes it (one of) the best song(s) of the last century. (Sorry, boys, but it just can’t stack up to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.)

I remember sitting still and listening very intently through the entire song, wondering how it could get any better.

After Queen had finished with their epic, a very different song began to play. The song was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. I listened as I had to the song before, understanding the feeling of defiance in the singer’s voice. I was in elementary school at the time, so I had at least a few years of experience with various teachers and understood at least a baseline dislike for certain teachers. Perhaps, I didn’t understand the point completely, but I knew something amazing was happening.

And, as most of you know, I am still a huge fan of Pink Floyd. Most of you have seen me in a Pink Floyd shirt. I own several.

Either way, the fact that I still remember this can speak to the depth at which music can touch a soul and affect a life. To remember almost 15 years later the first song I truly heard should show everyone something. Frankly, I believe this event to be one of the most important events of my life. I don’t remember the first book I read. I don’t even remember the name of the first girl I rounded 3rd base with (a story that will never grace this blog. Trust me.)

Music, however, has been a huge part of my life ever since, and everyday I silently thank my father for single-handedly bestowing the gift of music upon me. He may not be able to play an instrument and he has absolutley no understanding of basic music theory, but the instant he passed onto me the music that he had grown up with, he changed my life forever.

So, Dad… I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely.

And, Mom… I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll… but I like it.

I’m not quite sure why or for how long it happened, but for the first 5-8 years of my life I was forced to listen

to country music. Is it because I live in West Virginia? Perhaps. Is it because my mother was raised on the same

music and, being that my father worked midnight shift, my mother was always in control of the car radio? More than

likely. Either way, I have grown to resent my mother for her actions. She’s the reason I made a cassette of myself

singing Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” when I was way too young to understand the sexual

implications of the song. I think my father may have found this cassette soon after I made it.

I think that is why the following story happened.

I don’t recall the time of day, the destination, or even the automobile itself. We cycled through many different

station wagons during my childhood. I still drive one that used to be the designated “Family Car”. Those of you

who know me have seen it once of twice. Regardless, we were taking a ride in one of our station wagons. I was in

the passenger’s seat and my father was at the helm. I believe it was the first time I had taken a ride alone with

my own father, which may seem a little strange considering I was 8 or so.

I remember getting into the car and fastening my seat belt like a good boy. I had reached toward the radio to turn

it on and starting fiddling with the buttons to find the local country station, which I believe was 102.7 FM. I

don’t recall the call letters though, as that was the last time I would listen to that station. My father took his

eyes from the road for a moment, and asked a simple question. “What are you doing?”

“I’m putting some music on, daddy!”

He looked back at me with that same expression of wonder and misunderstanding. “Wait a minute. Just…. stop.” I

thought I was in trouble for some reason that I couldn’t truly understand. “Here. I’ll put on some GOOD music.”

My father’s hand went to work undoing what I had done. Not looking away from the open road, his fingers played on

the buttons of the radio until he was confident that he had found the correct one. Pressing it, the radio flipped

from 102.7 to 94.3 FM, WRLF and as if by some divine providence, the tuner hit the station at the perfect moment.

A song had begun to play as soon as 94.3 was reached.

I sat in wide-eyed amazement, listening to what was exiting the speakers as if I was hearing music for the first

time. In retrospect, that’s what was happening. My ears had been clogged with years of country twang and hick

lyrics, but as I sat listening to this new music, all of that melted away. I remember hearing what sounded like a

chorus of angels, enveloped in light, singing the first meaningful lyrics I had ever heard on the radio. In a way,

it was as if God himself was speaking to me through this music. Through the radio, he said:

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
no escape from reality.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.”

Little did I know that it wasn’t God that was singing, but instead Freddy Mercury (although, I understand if you

can hardly find a difference.) The voices were then followed by soft piano, wailing guitars, lyrical wordplay, and

every other bit of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that makes it (one of) the best song(s) of the last century. (Sorry, boys,

but it just can’t stack up to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”.)

I remember sitting still and listening very intently through the entire song, wondering how it could get any

better.

After Queen had finished with their epic, a very different song began to play. The song was Pink Floyd’s “Another

Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. I listened as I had to the song before, understanding the feeling of defiance in the

singer’s voice. I was in elementary school at the time, so I had had at least a few years of experience with

various teachers and understood at least a bassline dislike for certain teachers. Perhaps, I didn’t understand the

point completely, but I knew something amazing was happening.

And, as most of you know, I am still a huge fan of Pink Floyd. Most of you have seen me in a Pink Floyd shirt. I

own several.

Either way, the fact that I still remember this can speak to the depth at which music can touch a soul and affect

a life. To remember almost 15 years later the first song I truly heard should show everyone something. Frankly, I

believe this event to be one of the most important events of my life. I don’t remember the first book I read. I

don’t even remember the name of the first girl I rounded 3rd base with (a story that will never grace this blog.

Trust me.)

Music, however, has been a huge part of my life ever since, and everyday I silently thank my father for single-

handedly bestowing the gift of music upon me. He may not be able to play an instrument and he has absolutley no

understanding of basic music theory, but the instant he passed onto me the music that he had grown up with, he

changed my life forever.

So, Dad… I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely.

And, Mom… I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll… but I like it.