Monthly Archives: February 2011

Video Clip of the Week: Elliott Smith at the Oscars

With the Academy Awards tonight, I thought I’d post my all-time favorite Oscar moment. No, it’s not when Roberto Benigni acted like a raving lunatic, nor was Bjork and her swan dress. For me, a moment that I will always remember is when Elliot Smith graced the stage and performed his Oscar nominated song “Miss Misery” from the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack. He would go on to lose to Celine Dion for the schmaltzy “My Heart Will Go On”.

On that night back in 1997, I first discovered Elliot Smith.  For a small town Iowa boy, an artist like Elliot was a complete unknown. But that night, watching him up on the stage, voice warbling, guitar squeaky, vulnerable and exposed, I fell in love with Elliot and his music.   Elliot’s music led me in a new direction, not only in my musical taste but in life, and his songs would be the soundtrack to my confusing college years. Fortunately I got to see Elliot perform in Austin just months before his eventual suicide.

It’s crazy to think that one Oscar performance could shape my life so much. Who knows, maybe a performance tonight by Gwenyth Paltrow, Randy Newman, or Dido will have the same impact on some teenager lost out in the midwestern cultural vacuum, but I doubt it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Clips

Road Trip 2008, Days 17-18: End of Days

“Nature is a revelation of God; Art is a revelation of man.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After our tour of the abandoned Lyman high school (which will someday be “Paul’s Brewery/ Concert Hall / Apartment Complex/ Campground/ Baseball Diamond/ Center”) we walked back towards John’s place.  On the way, we stopped at the only bar in the area, also the only beer retailer in town. Located right next to the bar were three coolers.  We scoured the small selection of brews, yearning for the great dark concoctions we enjoyed the past few weeks, but there were none to be found. Paul decided we should get Coors. He claimed it tastes better since we were so close to the brewery.  I agreed to his logic and lunked a 20 pack onto the counter.    Fully stocked on beers, we walked across the lot to John’s place.

I hear the cream can boiling; it's boiling on the flame, and I ain't seen a cream can since I don't know when.

John’s dad was already at his trailer setting up the cream can.  We exchanged handshakes, his father looking like an older version of John but with a long grey beard and rosy red cheeks.  He opened up the cream can (which is exactly that, an old style metal cream can) and showed us how he filled it to the brim with corn on the cob, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, sausage, and anything else you can imagine. He then walked me through the cream can process. With a couple cans of skunky beer, he filled the container.  He placed the lid on top, set it onto a propane burner, and turned the flame up to full to get the beer boiling.

“In forty five minutes we’ll have ourselves some cream can to eat,” his dad proudly announced, taking a seat in a lawn chair nearby. I liked John’s dad; he seemed so calm and easy-spirited.  Soon, more and more people showed up, the familiar faces I’d met in the past (Doug, Eric, Wes, and Carl) and people I’d heard about in Paul’s stories of growing up (both John’s brothers, Crazy Jimmy, and Frano).  It was a strange experience finally meeting all the crazy characters I heard about in Paul’s stories.  It felt a bit like the funeral scene in “Big Fish” when the son realizes his dad’s stories were all true.

Who knew people like Crazy Jimmy and Frano actually existed?

With the beers flowing smooth and easy, the cream can finished boiling before we had the chance to get hungry.  Jon Jon came out with an aluminum baking pan, and his dad poured the contents of the cream can out. It looked like a shark getting his stomach cut open, with a menagerie of vegatables and chunks of meat spilling out.

We all lined up and dumped the buffet of beer baked food onto our plates. Once seated, I took my first bite from a sausage and couldn’t believe the burst of flavor within my mouth. A minute later the entire sausage had been devoured, forcing me to move on to the vegetables. I’ve never been the biggest fan of veggies, so I cautiously approached.  To my surprise, the veggies tasted amazing, challenging the godliness of the sausage. Why I doubted veggies boil in beer and sausage grease, I’ll never know.

(As a testament to the greatness that is cream can, that summer I told my friends in Iowa about it and they decided we should give it a try one night after golfing.  We used Tony’s turkey fryer, and it did the trick, although not up to  Papa John John’s standards.  My friends loved it so much that we ended up having a cream can a week later when another friend came to visit.)

After eating and filling our stomachs to bloated conditions, a bunch of us guys took seats on the back porch letting the food settle. I’d heard so much about Paul’s friend Frano, and he lived up to the tales.  He had all of us cracking up with his stories.  For some reason I envisioned Frano as a fat little dude, probably due to all of Paul’s stories of going to his house to gorge himself on quality Mexican food.  In reality, Frano had the physique of a stocky wrestler, and even talked of his exploits in mixed martial arts.

Once our food had settled we returned to our drinking.  Many of Paul’s friends who had kids had left already, which seemed kind of rude since Paul rarely comes back home.  Some wives allowed their men to stay, including one of Paul’s best friends Carl, so I couldn’t completely denounce all wives as “evil hags”. The living room became party central with the bugs getting nasty outside.

I talked with Wes for a while, a friend of Paul’s who lived in Omaha during the couple years I also lived there.  We always seemed to get along great when Paul tried mix-and-matching his friends.  After getting his degree at Creighton, Wes returned to his hometown to work in the local hospital.  Paul never understood this move. He always asked, “Why would anyone want to return to small town life when you’ve lived in a town like Omaha?”  I could see Paul’s point, although part of me will always miss the simple-ness of small town living.

When Paul noticed us talking, he joined in and began berating Wes for moving.  Wes tried defending himself, but his defense of saving money didn’t float.  I began thinking about Paul’s future – where he would end up.  I knew he would like to stay in Omaha, but I’d already moved away and then Wes followed suit. It had to be tough seeing all of his friends jump ship just as he finally got his diploma.

Paul harassing Wes for moving as Eric contemplates life in the background.

After a few more beers, a case of the dizzies began to haunt my weary head.  I approached the tray of left-over cream can and began grazing the cold, slimy vegetable chunks. It still tasted pretty damn good.  When the left-overs didn’t stop me from seeing double, I somehow moseyed into John’s spare room and passed out, leaving Paul and his friends to their reminiscing.

The next morning I awoke with a major hangover. I laid there for a while, still in my t-shirt and shorts, dreading the long bike ride home that lay ahead. I thought back to how rough the drive to town had been when I was completely sober.  Then Wes, my knight in shining armor, burst into the room with glorious news.

“Paul’s going to ride his bike back to the farm. Do you want me to give you a ride? We can just throw your bike in my trunk.”

“Yes!” I shouted, jumping up from bed. Suddenly, my hangover didn’t seem so dreadful.

“We have to find my brother’s glasses first though.”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, you missed the fight. My brother and John’s brother got into it. Crazy Jimmy’s glasses are somewhere out in John’s lawn.”  Obviously I had missed a lot of action while passed out, but I was hurting too much to endure a long-term conversation about what happened.  We wandered around the lawn for a while, squinting and shielding our eyes from the sun’s harsh morning glare. After 10 minutes, the glasses turned up, slightly bent and covered in chunks of grass like a football cleat.

We loaded the bike into the trunk and headed back toward Paul’s.

Once there, I thanked Wes for the ride and wished him luck with his new job.  Back inside the Peterson household, I headed straight to my sanctuary downstairs and fell asleep as Jesus glared down at me with disdain.  I hibernated for a few hours.  When I heard stirring of the farm family upstairs I realized I wouldn’t be able to fit in any more of my nap. I grabbed Dharma Bums and began reading once again.  As Kerouac talked of finding God within the nature of Desolation Peak, I looked up at the traditional version of Jesus staring back at me with his baby blues. When I prayed as a child, I always envisioned God as the same long haired bearded hippie tacked on Josiah’s wall.  But no longer. I knew what Kerouac talked about as he said goodbye to Desolation Peak:

“I don’t know when we’ll meet again or what’ll happen in the future, but Desolation, Desolation, I owe so much to Desolation, thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I and I’ve grown two months older…God, I love you.”

The hour I spent on the top of the Sphinx mountain was the closest I’ve ever felt to God. I saw his face in all of the splendor around me.  I don’t know if what I saw was Buddha, Christ, or an eight armed elephant – the denomination didn’t matter. But I have no doubt that I saw God. In each wild flower, in each jagged rock, in each green valley at my feet.  And as I sat looking at the blue eyed Jesus printed on a piece of manufactured cardboard, I thought about how no artist could capture what I saw with my own eyes – who I saw with my own eyes.


You be the judge: who is the imposter?

I went upstairs to find Paul’s mom slaving over the stove, cooking chicken fried steak.  Out in the living room Paul and his siblings sat around busting jokes on each other (mostly Paul making fun of Caleb and his hippie hair).  Paul’s dad sat at the computer, occasionally chuckling at the banter coming from his children.  Soon after, mom appeared from the kitchen with a plate of sizzling fried steaks.  My grumbling stomach yearned for grease to coat its aching walls, easing the drunken sickness churning below.  I’d never had actual homemade chicken fried steak, but I think I have the authority to profess Paul’s mother’s as the best. The steaks quickly remedied my stomach ache, and I even went in for another half of a steak.

With lunch finished, we began packing up the car, preparing for the final leg of our drive.  We had eight hours of blacktop ahead of us, so we knew we had to hit the road soon.  Before leaving, Paul said his final good byes, hugging each of his siblings.  His dad came over and gave him a big bear hug, wishing him good luck on his job search. As the family wishing Paul off, I wondered where his mom had gone. I knew she had to clean up the kitchen, but during the entire visit, she had been cold toward Paul, speaking only a few words to him and rarely spending time in the same room as him.  Just as these questions crossed my mind she came out from the kitchen and approached Paul. She gave him a quick hug, then stood back and smiled.  As she looked at him, I could see she did care a lot about her boy. Sure, he caused a lot of stress and mental anguish over the years, and he was far from being the obedient young man her other sons had become.  Maybe she didn’t understand her son and his love of “devil music”; maybe she couldn’t comprehend his penchant for the unexpected. Despite all that he had done wrong over the years, she still deep down cared about her son – I could see it in her eyes.

I thanked the family for everything, and we headed out, back up the gravel road that led us to what Paul once knew as home.  Our drive across Nebraska would be one of exhausted reverie, thinking back on all of the experiences we had the past few weeks.  We kept ourselves entertained for a while practicing “rock screams” while listening to Iron Maiden, but nothing seemed quite as fun as our foray through the mountains. We both knew the end of our trip would come alongside with sun down.


With Nebraska's flatland surrounding us, I entertained myself by playing mouth trumpet on a straw.

At one point Paul put in Destroyer’s latest “Trouble in Dreams” and let Dan Bejar’s nasally voice and morose tunes drive us down the final stretch of endless corn fields, all waiting to be detasseled in mere months.  As the album came to its final song “Libby’s First Sunrise”, ironically during a sunset, I caught myself listening to the lyrics, and quickly realized how fitting they were with the lights of Omaha in the distance ahead.

You’ve been wasted from the day
of wandering, boozing and sleeping outside
Playing the idiot all of your life
and this is what you get
Master of all you survey, but today
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around – oh
And this is what you get
Now the light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret

The lights of Omaha did hold a secret, although I hoped they weren’t as terrible as Bejar had foretold. What did Paul’s future hold for him? This thought prompted me to ask Paul what his plans were for his job search, and his response was exactly what I expected from him, ” I have no clue.”  I didn’t know what would become of my friend Paul.  I mentioned he could move to San Antonio and substitute for a year, but his silence told me he had little interest in Texas life.  I wondered if he’d stay in Omaha now that so many friends had left the city he loved so much.  With the sun setting on the plains of Nebraska, I looked out toward the horizon and wondered what the future held for my comrade.  A semblance of a smile grew on my face, realizing he would be fine, regardless of what happened. 


Filed under Road Trip Blogs

Video Clip of the Week: Swans at Mohawk in Austin

Friday February 18; 2:25 AM-

At the moment, it sounds like there are elves in my ears playing tambourines. My ears have never rung like this in the history of my life. This is a side-effect of the Swans. The first ten minutes of their live show consisted of the a guitar being placed against an amp as feedback resonated. It could have been 10 minutes; it could have been 20. Piercing, howling, feedback, mind you, no one was on stage. Just NOISE. Then, suddenly, a man appeared, shirtless, with the greatest mullet known to man, hair reaching down to his asshole like a true neanderthal. He walked over to what resembled a wall of church bells and began banging upon them with mallets. He banged, and banged, and banged, for another 10 minutes (feedback all the while mind you).The keyboard player eventually made his appearance and added his noise, soon after followed by the steel guitar player, raging upon his weapon of choice like no one has ever before for another five minutes. We are 30 minutes in at this point. In the next five minutes a guitarist with the greatest snake tattoo upon his arm joins the noise, followed by a bass guitar that had the beer can in my hand shaking. It was on. 40 minutes in, singer/guitarist Michael Gira emerges from the backstage wearing a 10-gallon hat. He stands at the front of the stage for another five minutes amidst the noise, snarling his lips and raising his eyebrows like a modern day John Wayne. And then….the real action began… this was just the first song.
A small snippet of the intro opus that someone else filmed:
Unfortunately, I didn’t capture this 40-plus minute performance on my Flip-Cam. In fact, I was so caught up in the show that I didn’t remember to film any of it until I had a moment to gather my thoughts before the encore.

Here’s the encore:

And here is a clip someone else filmed (although I don’t like there oldie time camera effect):

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Clips

Road Trip 2008, Day 16 and 17: Home, Home on the Plains

“Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.”

Oscar Wilde

With the flat chested landscape of Nebraska ahead, I took one last glimpse at Wyoming's massive mounds..

We left the Abe Lincoln rest area and continued on our way east toward Cheyenne where Paul planned for us to meet up with his old high school friend Val.  Traveling toward the edge of Wyoming, I admired the last few rock mounds in the distance, knowing they’d probably be the last rocky terrain I’d see for a while.

We exited the interstate in Cheyenne and found the Applebee’s, located in a cookie cutter shopping center found in every American city.  Inside we found Val sitting in the bar area.  Awkward introductions were made, and then I sat back as Val and Paul caught up on life.  Once we had food ordered, I stared off into the TV screens watching the nonstop coverage of the Brett Favre hostage exchange. Midway through our meal, Paul excused himself to the restroom, leaving us in that uncomfortable “we don’t know each other” silence.  Finally, she spoke up.

“So, you guys are staying at his parent’s house tonight?”

“Yep. I’ve never met his family before.”

She paused, and then responded, “Yeah, they are nothing like Paul. He’s the wild child of the family.”

“I figured,” I responded with a giggle.  We continued our conversation, loosening up with stories of his craziness.  Our storytelling ended when he returned.

As they continued talking, I thought about what she had said.  Ever since I’d known Paul, his relationship with his family had always been kind of a mystery.  He probably makes it home once a year and only stays for a few days.  In the ten years we’ve been friends I can only recall a couple times that he actually went home for the holidays.  Every Christmas I can’t help but think of my buddy Paul sitting somewhere alone, sipping a glass of goat’s milk and listening to Norwegian death metal.

Paul's Egg Nog

Once finished with our food, we said our good byes and continued on our way toward Lyman, Nebraska. Further up the road with rock formations transforming into fields of wheat, Paul put in Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night”. We sat in silence, both enjoying Neil’s soothing falsetto voice and growling guitar – the perfect soundtrack for our last leg of the trip.

Rolling across the Nebraskan Plains, Paul interrupted my meditation saying, “We’re getting close … it feels weird going back home.”

“A good weird?” I asked.

“It’s always weird going home,” he said, and our silence returned.  With Young’s music in the background, I couldn’t help but think about how Neil and Paul are long lost souls, making it on their own, always jumping from one endeavor to another unpredictably: Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crazy Horse, Pearl Jam Or his sound: from folk to rock, grunge to rockabilly, or even his meanderings in the experimental with “Trans.”

Neil always seems to play with a band or a sound for a few months and then jumps ship, much like Paul’s college career.  Both are loners, there and gone before you know it.  As we rolled down a gravel road, the lyrics to “Mellow My Mind” seemed fitting with Paul’s home approaching in the distance ahead:

I’ve been down the road

and I’ve come back
Lonesome whistle
on the railroad track
Ain’t got nothing on those
feelings that I had.

After 10 minutes, listening to the soft jingle of beer bottle souvenirs in the back seat, we approached Paul’s driveway.  Moving up the gravel lane I could see a modest farmhouse nestled behind bushes and trees.  We parked next to a beat up old Chevy truck and hopped out of the Element.  Paul seemed to stall for a minute or two, digging through his bags in back, but eventually he led the way, bursting into the house like a rural Kramer.  Inside Paul’s brother Josiah greeted us with a surprised smile.

“Well look who just walked through the door,” he announced to the others who hadn’t noticed the arrival of their guests.  His dad and brother Caleb turned from the computer and Paul’s mother appeared from the kitchen.

“I thought you said you’d be here a week ago?” she asked. “We got steaks and everything for you guys.”

“Awesome. That sounds good right now,” Paul replied. The entire family shook their heads and smiled.

“We already ate them Paul. We got them a week ago.” Obviously Paul didn’t let them know when we would be arriving, but they didn’t seem surprised in the least at his unexpected arrival. Suddenly his sister Sarah appeared from the hall.

“PAUL!” She shouted, running out and hugging him.  I couldn’t understand why Paul felt so weird coming home. Everyone seemed excited to see him and very welcoming.  But as I watched them continue their conversation, I began to notice a distinct difference between Paul and his siblings. For one, none of them had the same crazy fire twinkling in their eyes.

At one point Paul’s dad joined in on the conversation, walking up to Paul and giving him a hearty pat on the back.  Based on the little Paul had told me about his family, I knew he felt closest with his dad.  As they talked, I could see a resemblance between the two: the same curly blonde hair and mischievous grin.  His dad walked up to me and gave a strong handshake saying, “Nice to meet you Andy.  I’ve heard a lot about you.” In my head I hoped he heard all good things.

The three of us sat around the kitchen table and Paul told him about our trip.  As he told the story his brother Josiah would occasionally interrupt with “you hippie homos.”  His dad would chuckle and continue listening intently to his boy Paul.  I could tell through his father’s excitement at hearing our trip where Paul got that adventurous spirit. Sure, he may be planted by his farm, but I could tell part of him yearned to let his seeds be sewn.

As we sat talking, Paul got distracted by two four-wheelers parked outside the house.

“Why’d you get those?” he asked.

“To help us run chores. It makes it easier to get to the field and back during the day.”

“You guys are so lazy.  Why didn’t we have anything fun like that when I was growing up?” Paul inquired.

“Because you would have crashed them,” Josiah interjected. Everyone laughed, except Paul and I.

Ignoring his brother, Paul asked, “Can Andy and I take them out? I want to show him around the land.”

His brothers began chuckling uncontrollably as his father calmly responded, “Paul, those things have immense power.”

“So?” Paul scoffed.

“Well, they are very difficult to drive if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I’ve driven a four-wheeler before,” Paul responded.

I could tell his dad was getting a bit irritated by Paul’s questioning.  “Well, they cost a lot of money, and they are extremely powerful vehicles.”

“And he doesn’t want you to crash them,” Josiah added.

“You let Josiah and Caleb drive them – ”

Josiah interrupted, “Yeah, because we’re responsible.”  The conversation continued for the next 30 minutes. I sat back and watched it, seeing part of the reason Paul didn’t like coming home.  They didn’t trust him.  Maybe this lack of trust was warranted, but it still seemed a bit cold.  Eventually it was decided that Josiah would drive us around in his truck (he didn’t trust Paul driving the truck either).

With Caleb in the truck bed and the three of us crammed up front, we headed up a gravel road.  A little up the path we began passing the Peterson’s fields.  Josiah told us a list of rare crops his father was growing this year.  Instead of growing common wheat and barley like most Nebraskans, Paul’s dad opted for an odd combination of crops like cloves, alf-alfa, and some strange strand of hybrid wheat.  I could tell where Paul got his quirky obsession with obscure music.


Alf-Alfa crops: Mother Nature's version of Gang of Four

Throughout our drive, Josiah would stop on occasion to point out a landmark saying, “That’s the drainage ditch Paul got in trouble for swimming in” or “That’s the bridge Paul crashed a stolen three wheeler into”.  Each story ended with Josiah’s tagline, “That’s why I’m the responsible one.” Obviously someone had been pumping the mantra into his brain from a young age in order to avoid another rebellious son.

15 minutes later we came to a stop at the family’s final plot of land. Josiah began doing a u-turn to take us back home, but Paul kicked his foot onto the brake pedal and said, “Let’s go right here.”

“No, no, no, you’re not going to get us into trouble this time.”

“Just do it,” Paul said.

Like a good little brother, Josiah turned, but as he did he kept repeating, “If we get in trouble you’re taking the blame.”  For the next dozen intersections the same scene played out with Josiah begging to take us back home and Paul enforcing his older brother influence onto him, pulling on the steering wheel and kicking the gas pedal.

To keep his mind off the prospect of actually getting in trouble, Josiah told us about how Abraham Lincoln was a dictator and the confederacy should have won.  Even Paul who thinks Abe gets too much credit disagreed with his brother’s extremist views.

Abraham Stalin looks a bit like a flying monkey.

40 minutes later, after passing through a road that said “Do Not Enter” and passing what looked like a missile launch center, Josiah’s wariness returned.  “Where are we!? You got us lost Paul!” From the back of the truck Caleb conveyed the same uneasiness about where Paul’s directions had led us.

Paul laughed. “You guys have no idea where we’re at?”

“No!” they shouted in unison.

“Don’t you guys ever leave the farm, explore the area? That’s all I did growing up.”

“Why? There’s no reason to leave the farm,” Caleb said leaning into the driver’s side window.  And right there in a nutshell I saw the dichotomy that is the Peterson brothers: Paul, like a city mouse without a worry in the world or concern of what his decisions may lead to, and the cautious field mice, afraid to stray far from home. And why would they?  Everything they needed was at home.  After Paul got kicked out of Christian school and a rebellious tenure at public school, the Peterson’s chose to home school all of their children.

“We’re never going to get home,” Josiah whined. “It’s your fault and I’m not taking the blame this time.”

“Quit being a puss. I’ll tell you which way to turn.”  Within 15 minutes Paul miraculously led us back to the farm.  He knew the area like the palm of his hand.

Inside the house Paul’s parents and sister were huddled around the computer watching some evangelical show, so we tiptoed downstairs.  Josiah led me to his room and told me I’d be sleeping there.  On the door I read a warning sign Josiah had posted, written in large Arial font:

WARNING: The presence of the Lord is so intense in this room for the following: Those who don’t know God, obey the gospel, the religious backsliders, slanderers, fearful, unbelieving, idolaters, atheists, and liars.  Direct contact will result in EXTREME HUNGER for more love for Jesus and his words. Do not enter unless you desire to be changed by the glory.

I would be the old/wise Morgan Freeman while Paul would be the dashing young Brad Pitt.

I closed the door behind me and flinched fearing the wrath of God smiting me for my sinful ways. The seven deadly sins alone would grant me eternal damnation: my lust for women throughout the trip, my gluttony for tasty beers, my greed for more and more CDs, my slothful approach to Long’s Peak (too lazy to finish the climb), my King Kong-ish wrath upon the hipsters of Denver, my envy of those who live in Montana’s Godly splendor, and the pride I displayed in Bozeman (treating Paul inferior because he wimped out on The Dodos).

I braced myself for a moment, realized I was safe within the Lord’s mini-sanctuary, and sat down on the bed. Turning to flip off the light, I had a moment of clarity as I came eye to eye with Jesus himself, staring back at me with those warm blue eyes.  Right above the bed hanging next to an American flag was a painting of white Jesus.


Never have I seen such a literal interpretation of God and country.

I flipped the light off quickly, fearing that Jesus’s loving look would transform into a judgmental glare. I took comfort knowing I’d be safe with God literally looking down on me as I slept.

The next morning I awoke early to the creaking of floorboards upstairs; the farm family was up and preparing for another day of field work.  I returned to sleep, and awoke again hours later when the sun had actually risen.

I headed upstairs to find the house empty except for Sarah doing her daily school lessons on the computer.  I moseyed over to the couch and sat, admiring the view of the fields from the bay window. Part of me has always wanted that farm life – the seclusion and freedom to live as you like.

20 minutes later Josiah returned on a four wheeler, and like clockwork, Sarah got up and went out to the field while Josiah sat at the computer and began his lessons.  I sat back and admired the family’s resourceful vigor, working together like a machine. I was watching self reliance at work. Emerson would be proud.

With Paul still in bed, I returned down to my room and read my book for a few hours.  Around noon the entire family came back for lunch.  Paul’s mom cooked up some burgers and we sat with his dad.  His dad kept asking Paul what his next plan was after graduating college. I could tell he was proud of him for graduating from college, but he also seemed worried about what his unpredictable son would do with his diploma.  Paul seemed a bit uncertain on what he planned to do, which I’m sure didn’t sit well with the hamburger in his dad’s stomach.

Around two, Paul and I decided it was time to head into town to visit our old friend John John.  A get-together had been planned, with all of Paul’s friends coming over to John’s for what they called a cream can dinner.  Since Paul didn’t want to drive my car through the gravel, he suggested we ride bikes into town.  He promised me it wasn’t far, so I agreed. I could use some exercise after our to day marathon through brewery country.

Paul led me out to the barn and located two dusty bikes parked near the back.  We rolled them out and Paul grabbed an air compressor to blow the dirt off of them.  He then began filling up the empty tires, but his father’s bike tires seemed to have a hole.  We were left to our second option: Josiah’s bike.  This bike was dustier than the first two, and smaller in size, but the tires seemed fine.

With me on the little bike and Paul on his mom’s, we set out on the gravel road with the sun beating down on us.  Paul quickly disappeared in the distance ahead of me as I struggled to figure out the gears.  Eventually, he stopped and waited for me at the next intersection.  When I continued struggling with the bike’s gears, Paul stopped again and offered to switch bicycles.  Being selfish, I agreed.

The switch didn’t make much of a difference. Paul quickly figured out the gears and once again disappeared in the distance as I pedaled slowly, like a fat kid riding home from the swimming pool.  I’ve never been a “bike rider”. The idea of riding Ragbrai across Iowa has always sounded fun, but the whole “bike riding” part of it just doesn’t settle well with me.  The penis shaped seats are uncomfortable, and my back always seems to ache within ten minutes. The ride from Paul’s farm into Lyman was no exception with my back throbbing as I struggled to catch up.

I preferred being drunk on this immobile bike over riding a real bike sober through the countryside.

When we finally reached a paved highway, we turned left and headed into town.  I followed Paul to Jon Jon and Tif’s house where we parked the bikes against the fence.  When we got inside the air conditioned trailer I quickly went to the sink and filled up a glass of cold water, then grabbed a dish cloth and wiped off my sweaty bald head.

Tiff came out from her room and joined us.  Since John was still out at his parents house preparing for the cream can, she sat with us and told us all about their motorcycle trip to Yellowstone.  We exchanged stories of the amazing scenery we encountered while “The Big Lebowksi” played on the television.

When John got back home, he mixed us up some whiskey drinks to start our celebration off on a good foot.  While we sipped grandfather’s medicine, Jon showed us pictures from their motorcycle trip. Instantly I was brought back to our experiences from a week prior.  Some of their shots were even more spectacular than what we’d seen, to which Paul mentioned, “We’ll have to take that route next year.” I smiled, enjoying the idea of traveling through mountain country once again.  I’ve always wanted my road trips to someday take me all across the country, and world for that matter, but if the remainder of my road trips all take place in the mountains of the West, I won’t be disappointed.

After slurping down our drinks, Jon told us he wanted to show us something.  We followed him on foot to a run down school a few blocks away.  A friend of his bought an abandoned school for $4000 dollars from the city, an unbelievable price considering the size of the land alone.  We walked around the back and into the garage that once served as a automotive classroom.  Now it functioned as an actual biker garage, filled with old bikes and pieces.  John’s friend sat working on a bikes motor when we walked in.

“I wanted to show these guys around the school. Is that cool?”

“Sure man,” he smiled, wiping his greasy hands on a rag.  The garage led into a kitchenette area, that I guess once served as a home economics room.  As we looked around at the ancient counter tops and refrigerator Paul commented, “This would make a great bar.”  He had a point.

Jon then directed us into a large room that served as back stage to the theater, then walked us onto the stage.  The rows of old wooden seats reached upward and the balcony frowned from above.

“The acoustics are great in here. I brought my guitar over here once and jammed,” John said.

Paul’s eyes grew wide as he took in the whole auditorium.  “This is friggin amazing! He should fix this up! You could have concerts in here!  Dude, you should have bought this John!”  I could tell by the crazy look in his eye that Paul was caught up in one of his big ideas.  I had to agree that it would be a pretty sweet venue, but then again, how many people would travel to Lyman, Nebraska to see Man Man in concert?


Lyman Rock City

As we toured the remainder of the school, Paul continued his reverie. In Paul’s dream the upstairs classrooms would be apartments, the downstairs rooms would house a brewery and a recording studio, and the basketball court would be used for even bigger concerts. As we looked out of the window of one classroom Paul noticed a football field (a campground) and a softball field (where he imagined bands could play the fans in a game of softball before a concert).

Needless to say, Paul’s imagination was running wild, and I just sat back and enjoyed his vision. He wasn’t rambling just for the “what if” factor; he really believed this dream would someday be accomplished. I guess that’s what I admire most about my friend; he thinks big and doesn’t worry about the obstacles that may arise along the way.  I must admit, I wish I still had a little bit of that childlike wonder, that same dreamer that once believed he’d someday be an NBA All-Star.

Ladders make dreams for adolescents

Leave a comment

Filed under Road Trip Blogs

Video Clip of the Week: Arcade Fire wins Album of the Year

Well, it happened. Arcade Fire “Suburbs”: album of the year.  Wow.  Who would have thought?

And despite giving the Grammys a thrashing last week,  I watched the last bit of the ceremonies, and my alibi is that I was waiting to see Arcade Fire’s performance. But I have to admit there was some curiosity as to if Arcade Fire could pull it off.  And they did. And I cheered like the Spurs had just won the NBA Championship.  I’m not sure exactly why. As discussed in my last blog, Grammys are a joke, yet it was exciting to see a band I’ve loved for years actually get recognized. Maybe this is a sign, or maybe it was just a one year fluke (probably the latter), but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

My favorite part is that instead of giving a lengthy, self-congratulatory speech, the band simply wanted to play another song:

The otherwise torturous Grammys were made much more tolerable thanks to Tweets by fellow artists that came up throughout the night. Here are some of their reactions:

@mountain_goatsThe Mountain Goats

Hear furious scribbling. Pretty sure cat is downstairs journaling about the Arcade Fire straight up winning a Grammy

@leftfordamian Damian Abraham (lead singer of Fucked Up)

Shout out to the good folks @arcadefire for adding a bit of credibility to the Grammy’s.

@owenpallettOwen Pallett

Damn I lost $50


Good. Does that mean there is actual hope for music?

@arcadefireArcade Fire



Congrats Arcade Fire!

@jonwurster Jon Wurster (drummer from Superchunk)

I’m happy for the Arcade Fire but now I’m worried Superchunk will get dropped from Merge.

@timesnewvikingTimes New Viking


@kanyewest: KanyeWest

Arcade fire!!!!!!!!!! There is hope!!! I feel like we all won when something like this happens! FUCKING AWESOME!

@SPINmagazineSPIN Magazine

Win Butler just casually placed a Grammy on top of his amp. Then started playing the best song he ever wrote.

@SurferBloodSurfer Blood

Okay…that fucking rules.

@ACNewmanCarl Newman

I love that Arcade Fire winning album of the year is greeted with controversy, yet no one ever questioned Starland Vocal Band’s win.

@okkervilriverOkkervil River

“Never heard of ’em!” is such a bullshit insult. It just means you’re ignorant.

And here’s a page that has compiled Tweets from  ignorant douche bags who are upset about Arcade Fire’s win:


Filed under Video Clips

The Grammys.

As Christina Aguilera stood at mid-field last weekend preparing for her Super Bowl flub of the national anthem, the announcer echoed in the background “Grammy award winning artist Christina Aguilera!” I giggled to myself finding this supposed “honor” to be a joke.  The Grammys are about as respectable as Brett Favre’s dick pics. But this did make me wonder if the Grammys have always been so misguided.  With another year of lackluster Super Bowl commercials, I soon after found myself researching the award’s history in the Album of the Year category (the only category that really matters), and what I found is that the Grammys were NEVER good. There is a pattern of ineptitude that reaches back all the way to the Grammy’s beginnings.

In the 1960s Frank Sinatra won album of the year three times, Barbara Streisand won in 1964 with the cleverly titled “Barbara Streisand Record”, and Bob Newhart won in 1961 (yes, a comedy album won album of the year).  I have no problem with old blue eyes, but think of all the classic albums of the 60s not represented here.  No “Pet Sounds”; no “Are You Experienced?”; no “Highway 61 Revisited”.  Dylan wouldn’t win the award until 1998 – inexcusable.  The Beatles were possibly the only deserving winner of the 60s with “Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1969, but even our cherished Beatles struggled to gain love from the Grammys with this being the only album of the year award they ever won.

This out-of-touch voting continued through the 70s with the awards beginning to insult the art form that is the album by awarding a live album (“The Concert for Bangla Desh”) and a soundtrack (“Saturday Night Fever”).  I’m sorry, but neither of these should even be considered albums of the year. I’m sure the Bangla Desh deal was a good cause, and yes, “Saturday Night Fever” had some toe-tappers for the times, but album of the year? How much thought goes into basically making a disco mix-tape? Stevie Wonder won the award three times in the decade, which is all fine and dandy, but you won’t find any Neil Young (he’s never won any AOTY Grammys for his solo work),  no David Bowie (ditto), no Black Sabbath (do I even need to say it?), and no Velvet Underground (…you guessed it).

(Also no Springsteen, Zep, Floyd, Stones, Kinks, Who, Mitchell, etc, etc, etc…)

In the 80s, they got their heads on straight for a couple of years, giving the award to John Lennon in ‘82 for “Double Fantasy”, to Michael Jackson in ’84 for “Thriller”, and in ’87 when they gave it to Paul Simon for “Graceland”.  But these classics are over-shadowed by probably the worst decade of Grammy winning mishaps that included George Michael, Toto, Lionel Richie, and Christopher Cross (although Mr. Cross did have stiff competition in 1981 with Barbara Streisand and Frank Sinatra – Grammy zombies!).

In the 90s they figured things out, right? Wrong. This was the decade of awarding “Unplugged” albums, two of them in fact (and no, it wasn’t Nirvana or Alice in Chains).  How can the album of the year be a recording of old dudes (Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton) performing their greatest hits acoustically?!  You will not find one “grunge” album in the award’s history during the 90s, which makes sense, right? Who needs Nirvana when you’ve got “The Bodyguard” soundtrack? Plus, weren’t the 90s truly defined by Natalie Cole, Bonnie Rait, and Celine Dion?

The 90s also brought in another horrible pattern: the guest appearance album.  In the past 20 years, artists like Quincy Jones, Santana, Ray Charles, and Herbie Hancock have each won for “albums” comprised from buffet-style track lists,  a series of songs featuring a wide array of guest singers.  Once again, I’m not saying these albums are necessarily horrible, and I understand this is a starting line-up for the rock-and-roll hall-of-fame (another confused music entity), but do they really fit the definition of what makes a great album?  Does the voting committee even know what a good album is?

I’ll say it again: they are out-of-touch. And last year showed the award reach an all-time low with a ballot that consisted of Dave Matthews Band, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift (where’s Barbara Streisand when you need her?). Swift won the award because, really, what’s more thought-provoking than an album based on the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl.   This year is not much better with Lady Gaga making a second appearance alongside Katie Perry, Lady Antebellum, and Eminem.

But there is one beacon of hope on this year’s ballot: Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs”.  Some may disagree with me that it’s the best album of 2010, but I doubt anyone in their right mind would argue that it’s not the best in this line-up of hacks. Many writers believe Eminem will win which is hard to imagine considering “Recovery” isn’t even the best rap album of the year (Kanye West, The Roots, Big Boi).  But then again, it wouldn’t be surprising if he won based off the voters past penchant for awarding artists who are over ten years past their prime.

You may ask why I even care. The Grammys have always be pointless; why would I even want Arcade Fire to win? Part of me doesn’t (it’s become almost an insult; a scarlet letter).  Then again, the thought of an album off of Merge Records getting a Grammy? That would represent something big, an indie label winning the top award, a sign to  the major labels that there end is near. Artists no longer need radio or MTV to succeed; thanks to YouTube, iTunes, Pandora, internet radio, and a plethora of other technological advances, people finally have the ability to decide what’s good on their own.

But I’m not filled with pure hate here for the Grammys. In fact,  I’d like to see the Grammys become respected like the Academy Awards. When the Oscar’s list of the best films comes out, many rush out to see all the films before the awards. Can you imagine the same happening in response to the Grammys? The Academy Awards ability to build this excitement for their nominees is due to the fact that they don’t nominate films based on popularity; they nominate them simply on content. What a concept.


Filed under Bob Dylan Hates...