Spirit of ’92


My old friend, Brad Barnes is living the dream.  He may duck out of that dream too soon, but he refreshed a memory so strong it remains vivid even 24 years later.  Just with a hint of that mentioned on Facebook, it flushed back the what was the hardest, most complicated, most difficult, and thereby becoming the greatest summer of my life.  The summer of 1992.

Bearfeeders should know by now that I marched in drum corps – but if you don’t, the best way to describe it is the most advanced level of the competitive marching band activity.  I fell in love with drum corps after watching the ’87 world championships on PBS and becoming infatuated with a group out of New Jersey at that time called the Garfield Cadets (previously and later named the Holy Name Cadets, then for my time the Cadets of Bergen County, and now known simply as The Cadets).  Five years, and a hundred times begging my parents, later I spent two glorious summers as a member of that Corps.  The first of which was the infamous 1992 group.

To understand why 1992 is so special you have to understand more than you probably want to know.  Drum Corps was under some major changes.  What was once a ‘local kid’ activity shifted in the late ’80s to one where recruiting happened more national.  The best way to recruit is to .. well … not suck the year before.  The Cadets, based in New Jersey, didn’t excactly have a strong pool of talent like the Midwest or West Coast had.  The Cadets in ’91 were extremely talented & reaching their age limits, but they had a show that wasn’t exactly accessible to the standard 18-20 year old band geek.  So the ’92 corps before the year began was relatively … well .. we kinda sucked.  Seriously.  I mean, I assumed that for most of the pre-season, if they could find someone who wanted to march to replace me, they would have.  I remember seeing others brought into camp that smelt like reasons to cut me.  Somehow I made the corps, and when spring training began, it seemed like the same could be said for half the group.  We couldn’t fill all our spots, and even went as far as recruiting kids right out of stands in the parking lots (one of those people that we snatched from a parking lot ended up marching the corps for 7 years).

The 1992 Cadets, though, weren’t just ‘undertalented’, we were cursed.  Spring Training was where it began.  Three weeks in a remote camp at Camp Greeley, Pennsylvania seemed like an excellent opportunity to learn our program.  Instead, it became toilet.  Some flu bug struck in the first week, and at the time we felt it was strange that a couple of people got the same ‘puking’ problem that laid them up after a couple of tough days.  Then a few more people got it.  Then … EVERYONE got it.  We aren’t just talking about, you feel bad so you have to lie down for a day.  No … this is the explosive puking and diarrhea kind.  It approached so fast on unsuspecting people that the practice fields became war zones of mess.  Members, staff, volunteers, everyone got it at some point (except for two … and I was one of the lucky ones … leading to a short period of time where I was sure I was ‘typhoid Biscuit’).   That spring training was stuff of legend, and stuff of disgusting.  By the time we broke camp we were so far behind we had to spend the first couple shows of the year in exhibition.  That wasn’t the end of the bad luck either.  Buses broke down like they were going out of business.  The corps was sized that the members could get around in 3 buses, but we spent half the summer it seamed with one of them not with us.  They brought in a forth, then a fifth.  One classic day, we were heading to a show site and we started for what was expected to be the rest of the summer with 5 buses … the 30 minute drive to the show, three of them got left on the side of the road.  There were tougher things to talk about happening too, as if something was determined for us to fail, but it just kept piling on, over and over again like the doomed group we seemed to be.

We weren’t just ‘undertalented’ or ‘doomed’ either, we were asked to do things that arguably we couldn’t do.  We did a show that year based on modern flight called “To Tame the Perilous Skies” based on music by David Hollsiner, and included visual images and dance reminiscent of birds, fighter pilots, areal dog fights, and the beauty of flying.  Our program was clearly written for a far better group of people than we were, but would have still challenged the hell out those people.  Musically, it was complex.  Visually, it was a nightmare.  Tempos were high.  We were spread out like noone’s business.  There was innovated and crazy things being tried that seemed destine to fail.  At one point, our drill writer was setting up a portion of the show, and asked me: “Go as far as you can in 20 counts.”  I did that and he said “Good, now do that (distance) in 12 counts.”  If that wasn’t enough, he pulled the same stunt again, except he made our visual tech who was 6 feet 19 inches tall stretch it out, then made me do that crazy.  Early on in the season, we were a hot mess.  The difficulty was killing us.  There was suggestions we needed to stop mid show for water breaks.  Our group, which was world champions just 2 years before was barely beating groups that would be in 8th or 9th place by the end of the year.

The 1992 Cadets of Bergen Country could be listed down as just some other group that was nothing of nothing.  Maybe remember for the rumors of a rough spring training.  Maybe remembered because they made an airplane on the field.

I remember it for 2 weeks … The Best Two Weeks of My Life.  Or … THE period BEST period TWO WEEKS period OF MY LIFE!!!!

The rumblings of it all started actually 3 weeks out.  We walked into a mid-season championship against every group in the Top 25, and we placed 6th.  Now, Drum Corps is not like some sports where any given day you can change things around.  Come From Behinds take weeks and weeks.  6th at mid-season, means the best you can hope for is around 5th.

We didn’t take 5th that year.

With 2 weeks to go, we did a show in Allentown, PA.  After fighting a show that was way bigger than we thought we could swallow, we were starting to get the hang of it … some would argue, getting to be a bit comfortable.  That show, we proved it.  We put on a soft, uninspired program that was basically going through the motions.  After a bit of chewing out, and a bit of introspection, an attitude change was in order.  While those of you reading this knows that the context had nothing to do with what I am about to say, the most direct way of saying what changed happened when the defacto head of our brass line, Rob Pechoda, stood up in the back of the bus and stated:

“Everything before this was Game A.  From now on, it’s Game B.”

It was 14 days until the end of the season.  We realized everything we did in rehearsal was essentially the last time we could be doing it.  So the attitude became “we get this right, or it will never get right”.  Everything became faster.  We ran everywhere.  We worked on everything.  If there was a hour left for a lunch or dinner, we would spend 30 minutes of it practicing.  Laundry Day, a day beloved by all drum corps members as a few hours off, we agreed to give up for practice.  We dug our heals in, and we worked.  That monster that beat us for half the summer, we started beating back, and it became our Bitch.

It immediately started showing up in our results.  In two days, we tied the 5th place corps.  In a week, we passed the 5th place corps.  Crowds were reacting more and more.  People were jumping up to see what was happening with our show.  We were sniffing at higher placements, our scores were skyrocking upwards, and rumors were going on that something special was happening.  The one moment etched in my head happened when we finished a warm-up, and were marching to the field to put on a show.  The 3rd & 2nd place corps were warming-up and were literally looking over their shoulder at us as we were going by … the look in their eyes was something out of awe and inspiration.

It seemed the only break we took was a night spent with Scotty (God help me, that is the only know I know him by).  He was/is the corps historian.  He brought out all these old photos about who the Cadets were, what our history was, and how we shaped so much of the activity over the 80 plus years (now) we have been around.  I touched old uniforms like they were artifacts. I studied old pictures and dreamed of what it was like back then.  A few days later, Scotty introduced me to a drum major who was there some forty years before and he told me that when he saw us in uniform the night before that “you looked just like we did.”  In the moment, with all we were trying to accomplish that last two weeks, it actually made me start to tear up, to try to make those Cadets who came before me proud of what we were doing.

So that’s what we did, we made them proud.

Quarterfinals, after being way out of the competition two weeks before, we tied for 3rd place.  Semifinals night, we took 3rd outright.   But on Finals Nights … holy cow … finals night!!!

The Finals were held at Camp Randell Stadium in Madison, WI.  I had played in a football state finals there, I had watched college games there, I had even marched there previously – never had I been under such lights at such a time.  40,000 people who looked like a wall staring back at me were flashing camera lights, throwing streamers, releasing balloons.  The buzz was in the air.  They all were there to see us, to see what we could do.

There was a T-shirt we had that summer that said:

“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.

That night … we flew.

We really didn’t care what the scores or the placing was that night, honestly.  It’s easy to judge me if I were to tell you the outcome to suggest I am just downplaying what the result was, but I do mean it. When you are in a competition where you can’t control what other groups do, all you can do is make the best of what you got.  We could have been better, but that night, we were the best we could ever hope we could be.

I mean it … we flew!!

For those of you who weren’t there, for those of you who don’t know the activity … for those of you who weren’t a part of the ’92 Cadets, it’s so hard to explain what that summer was about.  You do your best to explain the adversity, the troubles, the highs, the lows, the uglys, the beautifuls – but you just can’t.  It’s just hard to let you see what that opened up, what that made all of us who were a part of it.

That night, we placed 2nd, the margin of victory was at the time considerable enough to accept that the victors were deserving.  A year later, I won that world championship but the tightest of margins with a far more talented corps and a brilliant show (though not as challenging).  Many of the people who marched in ’92 with me either won the championship with me that next year, or had done so previously.  All of us seem to agree – 1992 was the best year we marched.  ’92 was the stuff of legend.  It’s not just because we overcame so much adversity, or we achieved so much despite our undertalented line, or that we were asked to do so much beyond what anyone could be expected; but we did so not because we were asked to do it … but because we chose to do it. That last two weeks was about us making the conscious decision that we would not go quietly into that good night.  That last two weeks was about choosing to write our own destiny.  That destiny was … we would be at our best!

Did we win?  No.

But you know what?  I Am A Cadet.  Not because I won a championship in ’93.  Because I Became a Cadet in ’92.  Now, every time I see that corps reach the field, every kid I see go out there I think “They are a Cadet … They look just like us.  They too can fly.”

On my wall of my condo, as it was on my wall in my Alaskan house, as the Wichita house, as the ten different apartments going back to the early 90s, hangs my Bucks … my white uniform shoes, initially hung to remind me that I hung them up and can no longer march again.  They now reminder me of who I am.  I accomplished magic in 1992.  I was a part of a group that did things that are the stuff of legend.  I know what I am capable of, because in 1992, I was able to do something spectacular.  The spirit of ’92 lives on.


The (Fen)Way to Fight Boredom


I took me out to the ball game, Red Sox at Fenway Park.
I skipped on the peanuts & cracker jack, If they keep serving Goose Island I’ll never come back
It looked, looked looked like a rain out; the Sox didn’t win, that’s a shame
But i had One … Two … Three cups of beer at the old ball game!

It had all the prospects of being a boring Saturday night, and I wasn’t going to let me keep it that way.  Quick scan of what was going on that interested me, it came down to driving a half hour to watch a soccer game, or head on over to the old ball diamond to see the local team take on a bunch of has beens from some rinky dink little state that is so bad God had to pock mark it with 10,000 lakes to make it sound interesting.

This was my second ever visit to Fenway & first as an actual resident of the city, which kinda tells you how little time I’ve spent in Boston since I moved here.  To make it that much more like a local, I took the T to the game (that’s the subway), and for the first time ever successfully avoided paying parking charges for Baseball.  The heat of the day was dying quickly, with a line of storms dragging in some Canadian air and a heck of a lot of fireworks if it stayed together.  Yet after a huge set of gusts that made batting and catching balls an adventure for the first couple of innings (as well as watching dust storms blow through the infield), the game went off without a hitch.

For the unfamiliar, Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, is the oldest baseball stadium in Major League Baseball.  Built in 1912, and named for the neighborhood it sits in, the old park is as well known for it’s history as it is for its quirks.  Keeping to the old motto “Boston wasn’t planned, it just happened”, the parameters of the park had to be controlled due to things popping up around it, like train lines, interstates, apartments, swamps, etc.  The result is playing dimensions which are against the rules (some of the fences are as much as 30 feet shorter in distance than allowed).  More famously, it overcomes some of this with the Green Monster, a 37 foot tall left field wall ensuring that if you don’t have the distance you better have the height.  At just under 38,000 seating capacity, it is one of the smaller stadiums for attendance; and nearly all of that is in the lower bowl of the main stands.  From some directions, coming up to the stadium is unremarkable except for the light towers; so much so that the famous pitcher Roger Clements on his first visit in the 80’s thought that when the car pulled up the taxi driver took him to some dank warehouse to mug him.

What you really get when you visit Fenway, though, is a true sports atmosphere in the most classical sense.  I loved that feeling that you can start to tell the game is coming from the moment I got on the T line; and I had 10 stops & a train change to go before the park. By the swarm of people left the T, we were heading in a wave towards the lights and the sounds – souvenirs and program vendors already barking for our money.  The street outside of the main gates on Yawkee Way were closed to traffic, allowing the constant spill of beer vendors and food to ready you for the night.  The close seating, the low angle, and the nearness to the field helped create a sense of involvement by everyone in the stands.  Around me people exchanged stories of the times they came to the park, or where their favorite places to sit were at, or what games they got to see.  The long game, dragged on by high scores, caused the more casual fans to hit the road after the newest of Fenway traditions (Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond at the 8th inning stretch).  What remained were true sports people, but committed to the experience.

In one of those great highlights of any sport event, the last couple innings attracted a great bit of attention in our part of the grounds. About halfway up down the left field side in one of those sections thinned out by departing fans, a young boy no older than 7 stood up on seat rests and started chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox” all by himself.  Slowly, more and more people clapped along with the chant, but didn’t join in the chanting.  Only his young high pitched voice shouted, and the thunder of the claps followed it.  At it’s height, at least ten thousand people still in ear shot of the boy were clapping along.  The true definition of a cheer leader, his single voice brought equal parts encouragement for the game and over the top cuteness.

The Red Sox lost, something they haven’t done as much this year as they had in the past.  But when your hitters can smash 8 runs and your pitchers can’t keep the Twins under 10, then you got a problem.  Today, though, that didn’t matter.

Baseball is the national pastime.  Meaning, it is how you pass the time … a way to enjoy a place, enjoy it with other people, and enjoy a game.

I just didn’t want to be bored on a Saturday night.  Win or lose, I wasn’t bored.


It Was A Hot Summer Night


During one of those periods when I was trying to be creative, I tried to summarize the seasons on how it makes us feel.  Nearly all of it seemed cliche.

Spring was the time of hope.  That period where you feel reborn, reawaken, and drawn out from the darkness of cold to warmth, light, and happiness.

Winter created that cold veil over you, challenging your ability to survive with cold, wet, and dry.  Making you hide away from the world until such time you can break away from it all.

Autumn was Packer Season.

Summer, however, was a tough one for me to pin.

I try to use my experience and memories to help define it, and I have to fight through a mix of conditions – but what seems to be consistent is that I don’t contribute any of it to “summer”.  Summer is just when it happened.  The last week, though, I started realizing the reason why.

Sometime after I returned to the East Coast, and shortly before I started traveling around New England for work constantly, my heating/cooling unit went out on me (which makes sense, because it’s only a year old, those things go out every year don’t they?).  Thermostat works, signal seems to go to the system, and I don’t think it’s the compressor because I can’t get the heat to kick on either.  Probably with an hour long service, it can get cleared up.  But that means I have to have a predictable enough schedule to be sure I am in Dorchester on a specific day – and nearly a month & a half later, that hasn’t happened.  For the last two weeks, temps have been consistently in the 80s and low 90s. Luckily, the house get nearly no direct sunlight, and the evening ocean breezes keep the unit cool until late afternoon — and by that time I have the pup sucking on doggie ice creams.  Plus, with all this work around the area to do, we are spending most of our time in hotels anyway.

The condition in the house is similar to what I had to deal with in my old house in Kansas.  That ancient cooling system trying to cool a 1600 sq ft house built in 1910 with more holes in it than the plot of a summer blockbuster couldn’t handle keeping itself up during the consistent triple digit heat.  Even after putting up with that for 5 years, and finally get well needed service, it still barely made the inside feel a little better than the outside.

It’s not the heat of the day that gets you in those times, it’s the nights.  In Kansas, the open expanses of farmland baked in the daytime, and as the sun set the winds began to blow bringing all of that heat in the air across the land.  It wasn’t out of the question for the hottest time of day to be 7 or 8 at night; and by morning things hadn’t improved much.  Plus of course the sun is up later, and rises earlier, meaning you have less of the dark to trick your body into resting.  Trying to sleep in that meant keeping the windows open, and the sheets balled around your feet hoping at some point you will get to use them again.  Hum of fans blowing, or the crackle of ice melting in a glass by the bed is sounds you now notice.  Sleep.  That … that really didn’t happen though, did it.  How much did it seem like on hot summer nights that you found the roads more filled, the downtowns more common, but the people no more alive.

All that heat weakens you, drains your strength, drains your mind.  You shower, you sweat, it dries, and a film cakes onto you constantly present until the cycle repeats .. if it repeats.  The heat challenges you to find something to make you forget.  It makes you learn to love the things that stop your dreaming.  In a world where will power is about saying ‘no’ a thousand times, summer makes you say ‘yes’ that once that makes all the roads begin to change.  Elvis sang about nights like that in the ghetto.  Meatloaf left those nights praying for the end of time.  Literary anti-heros for generations emerged through those summers with blood on their hands, and regret in their minds.  If winter is a survival battle of man vs. nature; summer pits him against himself but he hot summer nights speak in his ear like the Devil asking for his due.

Years from now when this old life isn’t ambling anymore, I am going to look back at my summers in Dorchester with a strange curiosity.  Making it through summers like this with my world still intact will be challenge, but I can look out the windows and see how I can be inspired to overcome.  Out the back, where i can literally see the back porches of nearly 30 residences I can see how some have made their homes there rather than the stale indoors.  Summery linens cover wicker couches and chairs, lamps illuminate the area, laptops out to watch videos or books open to read, all letting the evening air to overcome.  One neighbor has taken to practicing her singing: a guitar, a bottle of beer, and her best attempts to find the right key while letting her voice ring out over an entire street.  Kids no longer play in the streets, too hot for that, bu they sit out on the steps and let their sodas fill their gullets.

Like I said, my good memories about summer seems to be more about what you do.  Yet the nights I can attribute to summer, those hot summer nights, it’s trying to keep yourself from doing something you regret that fills my memories.  Trying to just let you do nothing.  That seems to define summers now.

14 Albums


I’m in one of those rough periods where work takes too much of my mind to come up with a blogable experience for y’all – so I stepped back for something I started working on months ago, and just needed to finish up when I needed a good excuse to blog something.  On Facebook back then, one of those “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” posts came up in my radar and made me pretty reminiscent.  The concept was supposed to be:

List 14 albums that made a lasting impression on you, but only 1 per band/artist. Don’t take too long and don’t think too hard. No compilations.

First of all, I couldn’t go without taking too long or thinking too hard.  That’s just not me.  It made me really think about what music made an impression on me, and got to the point where I could put this together.  Knowing me, I wanted to blow this up — I wanted to expand on those albums and touch on those things.  BUT — I bound myself to certain rules:

  • This is about personal impact to me; what influenced me in some way.  That means, it may not be my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong, these are practically every group that I love over no other, but these may not be my favorite albums of theirs … just the ones that were most influential.
  • One Album Per Band/Artist Applies just like the rules state.
  • One Band/Artist per Album.  Honestly, I could have had soundtracks and compilations on this list.  That, however, didn’t match the spirit of this exercise.  For you readers out there, it will just be easier to identify with this list if I did what you can kinda embrace.
  • No classical or drum corp albums.  Really, this is eliminating some pretty important recordings to me.Again this is a ‘spirit of this exercise’ thing.  Plus, with those, it sometimes is not as much about the specific album.
  • ‘Greatest Hits’ or ‘Best of’ can be used.  That’s because there are just groups that I was introduced to only in Greatest Hits form.  One can argue that they aren’t composed like the original album, but when an album speaks to me, it speaks to me.
  • This is not a list in order of ‘the greatest’ or ‘the most impact’; because that simply is hard to judge.  Instead, this is actually in order of appearance.  Not as in, the order that the albums were released, but the order they entered into my life.

So enough talk … let’s get to the list … and Buckle In, this is a long one!!!

#1 — Dire Straights – Brothers in Arms
There may have been albums that I purchased before I picked up Brothers in Arms, but this was the first one I actually owned – and the first that owned me.  Sucked in by the hit “Money for Nothing” and it’s Anti-MTV statement this album introduced me to elements of blues and jazz in very approachable means through songs like “Your Latest Trick”, “Why Worry” and the title track “Brothers in Arms”.  Mark Knopfler’s trademark guitar sound and voice was such a different experience from what you hear on the radio, it was like a secret treasure that made me feel like I found something no one in the world heard of.  Other songs like “Tunnel of Love” and “Romeo and Juliet” found on other albums rank higher in the great song list for me, but as far as an introduction into what music could be this album started me out a path that is dripping with all the other albums on this list.

#2 — Paul Simon – Graceland
This is probably the most critically acclaimed album on my list, and what made it so was part of the impact it had on me.  Graceland was Paul Simon’s successful attempt to introduce the Western World to traditionally African music.  Known for the still popular “Call Me Al”, this is an album rich with great themes and rhythms.  It came out and I found it during a very busy and stressful time in high school; and even today I still use it’s music to help me relax, meditate, and center my thoughts.  Sure, it was a great introduction into world music and challenged my impressions on music for years to come, but the personal impact on the way it helped me through trying times stays with me today.  I listened to all those songs so many times, that I still can receipt most of the lyrics without even a thought.  Like when someone calls someone crazy, I think “she must have diamonds on her shoes … man that’s no way to lose these walking blues”.  When I am going to Memphis, “I’m going to Graceland (Graceland) Memphis Tennessee” with all those poor boys and pilgrims and families.  In FACT … if I ever do have kids, and especially if I ever have a boy and a girl, they will be named “Betty & Al”.

#3 — Blood Sweat & Tears – Greatest Hits
During that period when I was 14 through 24 years old, music performance (marching band, drum corps, pep band, etc) dominated my life.  Yet in mainstream music, there wasn’t many instances you can hear influences of what I was doing in what they were playing.  Blood Sweat & Tears bucked that trend.  If you are a fan of Chicago or Tower of Power, or you love the music from the movie Blues Brothers, you know what I am talking about.  Good hard rock music with lots of brass players playing their brains out.  They were playing it on the bus and the gyms in my early Drum Corps career, and I couldn’t stop asking “What is This” to people who kept trying to be a music snob to me.  But this album was the first that made me ask “Why haven’t I heard this before” & “What else is out there?”  Think of the orchestration — saxs, brass, guitars, drums, soulful vocals.  Add to it lyrics like “God Bless The Child” that’s got it’s own, or “You Make Me So Very Happy”, or “One Child Born”, or “Spinning Wheel”.  Man I love that sound.  Thank goodness this got played into my brain until I loved it.

#4 — Pat Metheny – First Circle
This album is as much symbolic about a period of time in my musical influence as anything.  During my first two years of college, I got to spend a few hours every week as a DJ on the school’s radio station.  To be different, I did a Jazz(ish) show – the only one that was on the station (and they loved me for it, just to get a mix). I had a whole jazz library just for me to play with, and boy did I ever.  I took a half hour every week to pull a random album off the shelves, sample all the tracks, and still pick one to play.  So many great music came to me that way with names and projects that are legends even though I didn’t know it.  First Circle I knew of, but exploring it during that time was so eye opening.  I still tag the title track as the perfect ‘right brain meets left brain’ song, and is one of my favorite single songs ever.  Pat Metheny is a master at mixing melodies, rhythms, and orchestrations as it passes along from section to section and time through time.  Add to that, this song had a difficult meter and I could decontruct this peice for hours.  I also love “Yolanda, You Learn” but just as much as it transitions off of the most unique song on any of the albums on this list.  “Forward March”, the first song on the album, is practically a parody of a marching band song … as if it was played by a junior high.  The instruments are out of tune, noone is in time with each other, performers fall to reach notes, and all of this with a very very simple song to play.  It’s so bad, it’s great!  Overall the album just makes me remember good times and good springs in Houghton, Michigan everytime I play it – and still remains my springtime go to album to this day.

#5 — Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell
Ever form an opinion of something, stick to it for years, and then go back on that opinion because you saw the light?  When I was a kid, something convinced me that Meatloaf was no different than the crap that was rabid in ’70s rock; which is odd because my only memory of Meatloaf from that time was a anti-smoking ad where he wore his trademark velvet jacket and dress shirt with the frilly cuffs.  But remember when I mentioned how I said the Blood Sweat & Tears hit me with a “Who is this, and why haven’t I heard of it?” moment?  Well … One day at college while helping setting something up, and someone had music playing.  It made my blood boil with excitement, it made me want to do back flips with energy, it made me laugh, it made me listen close, it made me wonder what story was behind other great songs.  When I asked who this was, I actually scoffed – thought no way that guy who had the frilly napkins hanging out of his velvet jacket with the sweaty hair made that kind of brilliant music.  Yet there he was … and there he still lies as a go to album in my collection.

#6 — Indigo Girls – Swamp Ophelia
I can’t really remember when I started listening to Indigo Girls, but it had to be somewhere in college.  By the time Swamp Ophelia came along, nearly most of what I listened to on a day-to-day basis was some of their earlier works.  Unlike most of the music that made this list up until this point in my life, this is the first album that I anticipated in advance and bought right after it’s released.  In my opinion, it is their best work.  Indigo Girls hadn’t become significantly political by this point, and spent so much of their time writing songs that challenged perceptions on relationships and how we see ourselves.  I so easily identified with songs like “Language or the Kiss” (an oddly predictor for my traveling life) and “Mystery” that they seemed to define key relationships in my life.  Yet I still remember the first taste of the starting track “Fugitive”, it’s aggressive energy and tempo, and hearing the out-of-breath singers recovering at the end wanting to be so into something to give it their all like that.  Say what you want about this duo, but this was a seminal album of individual songwriting, something that started me to draw to independent singers more than anything.

#7 — Barenaked Ladies – Gordon
You knew someone was going to show up to touch on my inner-Canadian.  During the late ’90s, I seemed to have a better relationship with the Barenaked Ladies than real people.  It stared with bringing home Gordon for the first time hooked by their most famous song “If I Had $1,000,000”, and falling in love with their quirky Canadian mix of humor, storytelling, and music.  During this time, I was commuting an hour to work (one way) and grew pretty tired of the crap that was on the radio; so the tapeplayer with these guys in it dominated my audio for a good three years.  What I was noticing was that I had become a real fan of singer-songwriters.  The people who not only just make music, but write words that are influenced by the audio .. and vice versa.  When those songs come alone with depth of meaning even when disguised as whimsy (see “You can Be My Yoko Ono”, see also “Blame it On Me”) it can pull me closer, and leave me wanting like in “Good Boy” or “Crazy”.  Again, this ended up not being my favorite BNL album, but they had such a great influence in my outlook on life and the world I was living in, I couldn’t ignore how Gordon started me down that path.

#8 — Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
I’ll be honest with y’all.  There are somethings that I will just not share on a blog, as they aren’t things I will share to people generally … almost never at least. This album showed up in my life at a point that was a big crossroads.  It was just as influential in nearly sending me down the wrong road as it is the symbol of following the right road. If I felt I could open up about this album, this segment would be half the blog’s length.  Without much more of the details to add, I’ll just say I can’t make the drive to Gettysburg without this on the radio.

#9 — Nora Jones – Come Away With Me
What’s funny to me is that when I looked at this list, I realized there was a gap when in the late ’90s Ben Folds was kicking around, and then the rest of them showed up in the mid ’00s.  So when I questioned that, I realized I missed someone important.  Nora!  Okay, this period was marked with more of my compilation findings (Bluegrass mostly, but some choral groups too); but Nora came along in that period with an album that just tantalizes my right brain enough that I forget I have a left brain.  Soulful, seductive, and sexy, Nora Jones is really the Barry White of the new Millinium.  Her break-out album found me when I was searching for quality amongst the crap, and this is quality.  I used to joke about the title track:  “Only Nora Jones could convince you that when it’s overcast you should take public transportation to an overgrown weedpatch; then convince you it’s a long song.”  Her soft touch and steady flowing sounds filtered through my ears in the early days of traveling too heavy.  I still will come away with her whenever she wants.

#10 — Panic! At the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat  Out
This just barely made the list; yet it points to a very strange week and some great memories.  Panic! is one of those bands that either you have heard of them or you haven’t.  They had one kinda hit from this album, but is generally obscure and only have a limited following.  For mainstream-ish albums it is in my opinion one of the best full composition albums I have heard, as each song seems to build and align with a continuing story.  The concept of the album has to do with dirty little secrets, their ugly rumors, and how all of it comes together at one classy party. It’s unique titles (like: “There’s a Reason the Tables are Numbered, Honey, You Just haven’t Thought of it Yet”) just adds to the theme.  Each song molds together so nicely that they struggle to stand alone or out of order.  Part of the reason I grew such a good connection to this album was that it ties itself to other things I love, specifically musical influences to The Decemberists (see #12) and my favorite writer Chuck Palahniuk (including using a quote from his in the title of the song “The Only Difference between Martyrdom and Suicide is the Press Coverage”).  I first heard the main track (“I Write Sins not Tragidies” … if you heard it, you would remember the chorus: “haven’t you heard that I’m the new cancer, never looked better, you can’t stand it”) when I was in Los Angeles for a week of work somewhere during 2005.  During that week, I came across a radio station that sucked me in and kept me coming back.  It was one of those stations that was not the “Top 40” music, but what was expected to be the “Next Top 40”.  During that week, I opened my ears up to a ton of new music, and split through a number of different groups.  As it turns out, this was the only one left behind, but its a reminder of a great week of new music exploration.

#11 — Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Of all the albums on the list, this one is the hardest to summarize, because there is so much that is so unique about it.  As a whole, it is wonderful album, but it’s pieces are where the brilliance lies – so bare with me as I give you some of those tastes.  I still remember like yesterday the first time I heard the first sound – a creak of a piano pedal, warm first note interrupted by a second, interrupted further by a haunting rhythm, mysterious, strange, haunting, and you are only 10 seconds into a full album (that on a song so aptly & descriptively named: “Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois”).  This is a concept album, nearly all the songs based on locations and stories from the flatlander state.  From direct references to Chicago, Decatur, and Bloomington-Normal in song titles & lyrics; to thematic connections like mythical Metropolis & Superman’s similarity to steel workers.  This album drew attention for it’s guttingly dark “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” which after condemning the serial killer for the way he drew in his victims, the singer compares himself to the killer too closely.  Some songs on this album are short, shorter than it takes you to read their mostly long names.  Some are instrumental, but are rich with depth — like I use “Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run”  as a very accessible five minute example of the minimalist classical style of music.   Yet the fugue-like “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!”  dances and sings with a lightness that the old composers never achieved.  Yet I would be missed to not mention one song – the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful song I know:  “Casimir Pulaski Day”.  This song is about a boy who is coming to grips that a girl his age that he likes is dying of ‘cancer of the bone’.  It’s that kind of selective phrases that hint to you how deep these characters are in the story, from the way they try prayer to heal, the way her father runs away so noone can see him cry, or how the girl & the boy share a ‘kiss on the mouth’ at an age when a mouth kiss meant something big.  The ending, in it’s sadness, is more gutting when you empathize with what the boy’s life could be because of this chapter.  All within 3 minutes.  That’s the power music can have on you.  That’s the impact an album can have on you.

#12 — Decemberists – Crane Wife
I have said it at least three times in this blog.  To know me is to know that I love The Decemberists.  The Portland based band that no better describes Portland, they perform pieces that are a mix of folk, rock, country, and awesome.  The first time I heard of them was on an NPR show where this was named Album of the Year in an incredibly good year for albums; and on the show they played the opening track “Crane Wife #3” – who’s guitars, drums, bass, and eventually even glockenspiel suckered me in.  I currently own every album they put out, can sing nearly every word, and they stand as the only group I have seen in concert in an actual concert venue (not just at a bar or … Salmonstock stage) in years.  This album, and particularly the three part title (as in … Crane Wife Part 1 & 2 and Crane Wife Part 3, oddly separated in the wrong order on the album) inspired some of my own creative story telling to significant time wasting levels.  Not only that, when this album came out in 2006, it sparked a period for me where I explored and loved independent groups and song writers; something I still chase to this day.  I almost went with another great album, “The King is Dead”, that influenced the great summer of ’11, but “Crane Wife” has influenced me for a longer period to a greater degree.  And Summer of ’11 was greater influenced by another album … #13.

#13 — Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Ever feel like something becomes the soundtrack for your life?  Maybe not that the words define everything you do, but the right words filter at the right times.  The summer of ’11 for me was a stormy one.  It was when I was at the low point in my major weight loss of the period, and I was wrecked by ever changing emotions & imbalances in my own chemistry.  Some other key factors were chasing my personal life, and I was hitting a point where I was ready for the seas to calm.  Bon Iver’s style is just that calm sea.  Written in a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, you can feel that slow satisfying nature to the pieces.  Sometimes hypnotic, sometimes stoic, sometime rhythmic; this album feels like a comfortable place where I can hide when trouble finds me.  It is the big track from the album, “Holcene” that no better helped me through this time.  While it’s hard to explain, the song writer suggested that we all believe our lives are the epics written by master hands; but then moments come when we know “we are not magnificent”.  He made the statement: “…it’s also a song about redemption and realizing that you’re worth something; that you’re special and not special at the same time.”  This album took my hand through a very difficult to understand period in my life, and let me know that greater things were to come.  Sometimes, only music can do that for you.

#14 — LP – Into the Wild
You probably never heard of LP.  As it turns out, my introduction was because there was this credit card commercial that annoyed me – and the song in the background seemed to make no sense (something about someone dumb enough to leave a gate open, and the commercial showed a woman climbing a rock). Finally, I decided to Google the dang thing.  The album is actually just an LP (yes, that means LP by LP) consisting of only four songs.  Yet each track is an absolute winner.  The title track is absolutely incredible.  It is about taking the fear of the unknown and using it to jump out and experience the world.  It is aggressive, energetic, and life changing.  This all came along just as I was heading up to my great unknown, my years in Alaska.  No music better entered my life to define my life at the right moment in my life than this album did.  It defined six months of my life, and validated all the decisions that led me to reaching the 49th state.


Honorable Mentions:

Weird Al Yankovic — Dare to Be Stupid
When I decided to be a “Close Personal Friend of Al’s”

Grateful Dead — Greatest Hits
No drugs were used in the selection of this album, though video games were.

Counting Crows – Films About Ghosts
Best of Album, and its hard not to love the symbolic poetry in the lyrics of what they did.

Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home
You want a mind blowing intro?  Listen to “To Youth” without listening to anything else of their’s first.  Just keep your hat on for this crazy ride.

Colin Hay – Man @ Work
Call it my “As Heard on Scrubs” period in my life, this album by the former Men at Work Front Man was a pretty cool thing.

Five for Fighting – Battle for Everything
“As Heard on Scrubs” again.  What a good album, but just got lost in the disconnects there.

Kishi Bashi – 151A
Never heard of him?  Check out “Manchester” and I dare you not to like it.

The Postal Service – The Postal Service
A short lived group who made only one album, but was a pretty brilliant work.  I absolutely love this album, but honestly, wasn’t really life changing.

Less Than Jake – Boarders and Boundaries
Something about a Ska Band that includes sax and trombones is too good to overlook.

Passenger – All the Little Lights
Honestly, if I wrote this blog in another year, it would be on that list.  It’s getting there, but it sometimes takes years for these things to reach this level.

The Bristol 4th of July Parade


I hate parades; but I loved the Bristol 4th of July Parade; and today I returned to that event for the first time in 23 years … kinda.

Before you get all wrapped around the axle on this hatred of parades thing, give me a minute to explain first.  Hate’s a strong word, one that I don’t use often; but I do hate hate hate parades.  I won’t judge you if you like them; but you have to understand that its the beast of the event that sucks out of my brain.  Think of it like meeting someone who works at a slaughterhouse, and you find out they don’t like sausage.  Nearly every parade I attended, I did so as a marching member — either in a marching band, or in a drum corps.  For those of you who never were a part of the activity, its hard to picture a parade being anything different for us; but it’s a whole different world in all the wrong ways.  Even in the most advanced drum corps I marched in, we trained to march in short movements, changing directions, stretching, pulling, and running for a program that ran for 15 minutes tops.  Parades were a straight line, with no variation, constant heat of the uniform, and letting your brain phase for well over an hour.  I mean, the shoes I wore were hard leather and rubber and nails (who makes shoes with nails in the ’90s?  drum corp shoe makers do) designed for the sole purpose of reflecting my gotdam face when you polished it right — not for actually putting on your feet and marching for 10 miles.  I still have scars from the wounds grown in one of my first parades back in 1985 when my old band director Tom Cook had to drag me to the side to show me how marching actually worked; scars that still festered nearly a decade later when socks soaked with blood had to be peeled off on a hot July.

That’s why I hate parades.

But not Bristol.

Bristol, Rhode Island is a small town of 20,000 people rested up on the East side of Narragansett Bay (the big mass of water that splits the state in half) whose main industry is has it always been – ship building.  The old colonial downtown is as postcard worthy as any little town you can find, almost to the point that you wonder when the next ice cream social frequented by kids playing with sticks & hoops.  What takes it all to another level is the Independence Day celebration.

Bristol is home to the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in America.  Officially, records show there has been a parade to celebrate July 4th every year since 1785; but some historical records show that a celebration took place every year dating back to 1777 (or the 1st anniversary of the Independence).  Many of the traditions of the parade, including naming a chief marshal, reciting ‘patriotic exercises’ by notables, and having a visiting ship moored near the city, goes back to the early 1800s.  They name having world class drum corps as a tradition as well, which is exactly how I came to find this place.

They call Bristol the “Most Patriotic City in the Country” for this parade, and boy do you ever get it.  Nearly everyone is wearing red, white, blue, or a variation there of.  None of it, for what it’s worth, feels tacky or ironic.  People are showing their country’s color in a modest pride of the celebration of the day.  I wandered around this morning wearing the most patriotic thing I had – a blue shirt with a Captain America shield on it – and more than few pointed out they liked the look.  Everyone you pass says a “Happy 4th” or “Happy Independence Day” almost the same way you hear greetings around the Christmas season.  The parade route has a red-white-blue stripe marking it down the center year round.  That sleepy little 20,000 people grows to well over 200,000 annually for this even.

What I remembered from when I marched was how smart they were as parade followers.  We performed Sousa’s Stars & Stripes forever, the most patriotic of marches.  You never played the whole parade, our chops weren’t made for that.  Heading down the street, our drumline would rattle off a cadence to keep us in step meanwhile watchers would call out for us to play.  Then came that moment – the drum cadence would end, and the crowd buzzed knowing that music was coming.  Then a roll-off started, and the crowd got up knowing something was about to start.  Horns up, and they were already cheering.  Unmistakable opening notes of Stars & Stripes, and the crowd erupted .. and I mean ERUPTED.  They seemed rowdy, but genuinely rowdy for what we were doing.  They clapped, they jumped, the sang.  They were truly wrapped up in that moment.

Honestly, if that was it, I would probably still not like that parade.  But Bristol holds such meaningful memories that outlast time.  I did the parade there twice, both years with The Cadets (then “of Bergen County”).  Back in those days, the 4th was a grueling period to be in a drum corps.  Drum corps got paid to do parades, and on a weekend like this where parades could be going off at any number of small towns, it would be common to get in a couple or three (back in the Colts, they would sometimes split the corps up so they can knock off five or six).  You were running into the mid-season championships filled with critical competitions broken up by long rehearsal days.  Knowing the nature of the parade period, they sometimes gave us some time off, but when you are in a small town like Bristol – it’s not like you can do much more than laundry.  Yet walking around those streets this morning, I was reminded with how rich those days in Bristol were.  Some of it surely anyone can figure out:

  • We stayed in a school downtown just off of the parade route, and could intermix with the locals.  Many looked to us like celebrities, recognizing that we could be anywhere, but our corps chose Bristol.
  • There was an old convenience store just down the street.  While we visited it, someone told me I had to try this ice cream.  It came in Pints, just big enough to finish yourself, and the best was this one that had chunks of cookie dough in it.  The brand was tiny, but was named after two guys … Ben and Jerry.
  • I bought a Green Camo Bonnie Hat at an Army/Navy store because everyone in the our contra line in ’92 were buying them – complete with an Airborne pin to match the flight show we were performing that year.  That hat became all that I wore the next two summers, and most of the winter too.  Because:
  • There is a grassy area next to the water where we did marching practice – and Dan Rider dawning his own Bonnie Hat became “The Terminator”  … a legend in our group.  More to the point, in a summer where we were fighting to just survive, our line made a simple commitment, and we decided from that point on “We Weren’t Going To Suck Anymore”.
  • I remember in the next summer, when we were just playing some warm-ups, and a group from another corps came up and wanted a picture of us.  It was the first time I had groupies … surprisingly, not the last.
  • I remember in 1993 that about 20 of us wandered down to a park, sat around, and got really honest with each other.  With that corps, the rehearsal mentality seemed to segregate the different sections.  The group that sat in the park in Bristol strived to understand, some of them having been with the group for years and were learning things about each other that moment.  While we didn’t intend it, those who hung out in that park that night left it with an intention of approaching the rest of the year with a supportive, unified direction.  We bonded as a full corps like I hadn’t seen in a year and a half until that moment.  The rest of the year was different.  A month and a half later, we as one unit, were named World Champions.

I can go on … on and on and on.   Bristol was a magical place for me, and I maybe spent a total of 40 hours there back in the day.  Not only that, it is such a beautiful place to just … be.

So I arrived at 8AM this morning, over two hours before the start of the parade, and the streets and parks were already filled with parade goers.  As I walked around those streets this morning, watched the people, felt the building patriotism, I was pulled back to those great days.  I remember what it was like to march those streets, meet those people, hear those cheers, dream those dreams.

I left Bristol by 10AM, still a half hour before the parade stepped off.  I probably should have stuck around and watched the show march by.

But … I still hate parades.