Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Poem" of the day #3

"Reign O'er"

The terrible tyrant trots out another excuse

Tries to rescue himself from the swing of the noose

"And the statues they build of me
must surely reflect my nobility
of blood, most goodly bred."

The armies clash in the streets outside

Even unto the fall of night

Black treason in the air

Hear the oaths the generals swear:

"This day we stand together,
if for no other
than each other."

Now, as the thunderclouds roll over the sun

Behold the chosen one

White trash son-of-a-gun

As the stars fortold

So done

The armies dash like water off his flanks

Victorious sign with a roar from the ranks

A forest of spears in the sky

The cries of hawks upon high

"Let the glory of this noon
be remembered.
Let each man to fight
choose his own legend."

Thus was the kingdom established

And prosperity reigned

Until the pestilence threatened

In the year of the plague

Thirty years yonder

Very few remained

Your humble blogger has been scribbling words of varying degrees of coherence in countless spiral-bound notebooks for many years. This is one small sample of them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I am so tired

Oy, I am so tired of living from paycheck to paycheck. It's been like this for years, but in the turmoil of the past year has been the worst ever. There have been times when I literally couldn't have bought a pack of chewing gum. You can imagine how this makes me feel about my ability to support my wife and son. I generally live from day to day, just hoping I can buy groceries to feed Simon or eat lunch at work.

But this week I was finally given a significant raise at the job I've had for 8 months. We're not on easy street now, but at least I hopefully won't have to go begging for handouts from family members so I can buy enough gas to get to work for the next couple of days. Yes, it was getting that bad. Humiliating at best, desperate at worst.

My employer does seem to value me to some degree, and I like my immediate bosses. But I don't care about wacky things like having a jazz band playing live in the office (yes, that actually happened last month), or having no dress code, or praise. I need money, badly.

I'm glad they stepped up to the plate, but I've been dissatisfied with quite a few things at my job lately, and I'm not the only one. There has been a lot of grumbling around there, and in the past few weeks a number of people have quit. Just last week, a guy in my work group went to lunch and didn't come back. I can't say I blame him.

The upshot is that I've been looking for another job for a few weeks. This raise has diminished my dissatisfaction somewhat, but lo and behold this week I managed to get two interviews for jobs next week. Real employers, not the usual shady recruiters that flock around you like vultures when you post your resume on This is a much better success rate than when I was unemployed last year; back then, I sent out over 200 resumes over the course of a few months and got only 5 or 6 interviews. This time, I applied for about 12 jobs over a few weeks and already have 2. Maybe the economy is improving? What other opportunities are out there...?

So I'm conflicted. On the one hand I would really love a satisfying job that doesn't require me to donate 10 pints of blood a month. On the other hand, I absolutely hate looking for a job and the whole interview/hiring process, and I feel I have some more potential for advancement at my current job, and they did give me a pretty fat raise. So I am going to check out these two opportunities next week and see if they lead anywhere.

They are going to have to offer me some serious $ incentive though, if they go so far as to make offers. That is my number one concern! You might not understand if you haven't been through the sort of financial trauma my little family has been through. We have been barely holding our shit together.

The other thing: my band had a pretty good rehearsal this evening. But I apparently blew a speaker in my amplifier, my beloved 1976 Fender Twin Reverb. It sounds like bacon frying when I hit the low notes. Oh well... they are the original speakers and are nearly as old as I am, so something had to give, sooner or later.

I don't really have much more to say right now. Time has just been so short lately. My job is working me an average of 10-12 hours per day, plus weekends too... it's hard to find the energy to say something worthwhile. But I will persist in my attempts!

Maybe some more "poetry" tomorrow, if I get a chance. People seemed to dig it... to my surprise. I only posted it to fill a bit of space. Anyway, that's all for this evening.

Have I mentioned that I like bourbon? Jim Beam is calling me. Bye.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Poem" of the day #2

"Object Lesson"

it's a plush chair to sit in

the comfy spot under the bridge

the paperbacks you'll never read

they are all you'll ever need

it's a dirty coin to pick up

if someone will make change

collecting the odds and ends

dissecting the fads and trends

it's a plastic toy dump truck

the child would never grow up

a sad reminder of the past

but happy days are here at last

it's a ticket stub from a show

back when the band played cheap

wrote your name with your young blood

before you saw the grave was dug

a soiled scrap of twisted paper

the thoughts that came and went

the missing moments that didn't come back

from the void where they were sent

a rusty can, a ripped-up shirt

a soiled mattress in the dirt

a pickle jar and broken sticks

the thoughts you lost and found again

now you forget what they meant

Your humble blogger has been scribbling words of varying degrees of coherence in countless spiral-bound notebooks for many years. This is one small sample of them.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Guitarists I admire: Tony Iommi brings the thunder

This is the second of a series of posts I have planned for years, but rarely gotten around to writing... until now! These are guitarists who have been greatly influential on my style of playing. Part one, about Jimi Hendrix, is here.

Black Sabbath, though they were not the only band emerging in the late 1960s to play the style of rock that would eventually become known as heavy metal, were undoubtedly they heaviest in their heyday. Their sound was generally despised by the critics of the time, and yet more than four decades later their early music, specifically their first 6 albums, is among the most influential and revered of any rock band before or since. Each non-guitarist in the band – Bill Ward’s amazing sludgy backbeats and whirlwind fills, Geezer Butler’s throbbing, flailing and deceptively simple bass llines, and Ozzys wailing, sometimes-slightly-out-of tune vocals – contributed massive amounts of talent and drug-infused inspiration to the band.

But it was Tony Iommi’s sledgehammer guitar riffs and bluesy soloing that was the keystone of the band. Without Iommi, there simply would have been no Black Sabbath. It was Iommi who wrote most of the riffs and songs, with Butler writing most of the dark lyrics. His talent is all the more amazing because he lost the tips of two of his fingers back in the mid 1960s in a machinery accident in the metal shop where he worked before Sabbath blew up big (all of the members came from working-class backgrounds).

Just to get it out of the way, contrary to the popular beliefs of the ignorant, the band did not worship Satan. Their songs did often dabble in dark, occult or druggy waters, as well as science fiction. These themes suited their doom-laden, downcast music, which generally merely commented on the dark side of life with an old-testament vibe of retribution and punishment for sins, rather than a celebration of them. They also had a strong anti-war streak, with a number of songs decrying the destruction and death of war.

Though I hate ranking my favorites, Tony Iommi is near the top of the guitarists at whose pantheon I worship. The riffs and songs of Black Sabbath’s early “Ozzy” era were generally recorded quickly and cheaply in-between tours, but are among the classic albums that to this day I do not tire of hearing…. as seems to be true with a lot of bands that recorded classic albums in the late 60s and early 70s. And I generally bore pretty easily.

There’s something about those sludgy, overdriven, precisely loose riffs, dripping with the smooth blast of Marshall amplification that made a boy of 15 want to play guitar like that. Heck, I still do! I play a lot of Sabbathy solos in my current band, and that’s ok with me. He could play so soulfully, those fat, pentatonic runs, his impeccable sloppiness (just enough behind the beat and accented to let you know he knew wtf he was doing) and his howling, moaning vibrato. I would say that, by default if not by design, my current soloing style owes a lot to this guy.

Iommi’s signature guitar was a Gibson SG, which, after many years of fudging around with other kinds of guitars, your humble author/guitarist finally settled on as having the ideal blend of fat tone, lovely sustain and affordability. Iommi’s guitar tone, generally amplified to earsplitting levels through stacks of amplifiers, was also a thing to behold. I have played an SG as my main electric guitar for more than a decade now and though it is beat to shit and showing its age, to this day I still love it’s tone. I owe it to Tony!

More about tone and why Iommi’s is so special… back in the day, heavy guitarists used much less distortion than most metal bands today… and yet they recorded music that was both groundbreaking and timeless. This lesson in tone has stuck with me. As the years went by and heavy metal developed as a style, the guitars became much more extreme, overdriven and distorted, sometimes sounding like swarm of killer bees at 110 decibels, or in the worst cases, like a thundering dentist’s drill.

As Black Sabbath lost and gained new members (eventually only Iommi remained) Iommi’s tone became more processed and distorted, his style less bluesy and more conventionally metal, and his music less inspired. He recorded a few dreadful albums in the 1980s that are better forgotten, believe me. He seems to have, anyway. In the past decade his bread and butter has been touring with various lineups of members from Sabbath’s classic era. This is as it should be!

So it’s really in Black Sabbath’s early era that you will find the good stuff. Specifically, the band’s eponymous debut, Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Volume IV, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Sabotage. Every one of these albums is a classic from beginning to end, and I continue to throw one of them into heavy rotation every few months or so.

So, here’s a few examples. First up is their classic ode to marijuana, “Sweet Leaf”:

I often describe this riff as one of the stupidest (and most awesome), ever written. Basically, it's a three-chord, repetitive slog that that begins to really get under your skin by the second verse. This song’s famous riff (which is one of the first any metal kid learns), though indisputably great, is like a teaser, deceiving you into thinking the band is a bunch of unsophisticated galoots incapable of playing any more than these three notes.

Many aspiring guitarists have been lulled into a sense of complacency by this awesome and easy-to-play riff, including yours truly. This song is actually very difficult to play, because of the speedy middle section. The band speeds up, building to a crescendo as Iommi whips out a major-key lick that splits the sky with lightning. There is then a tornado of virtuosic double soloing backed with the band whipping itself into a wind-lashed frenzy before the main riff comes crashing back in at the original tempo. This song also features one of the first uses of sound sampling in popular song – the dry hack of Butler coughing is looped into an instantly recognizable intro to the song. I speak from experience: cover this song at your peril!

Next song. “Wheels Of Confusion” is probably my favorite Sabbath tune, though again, I hate to pick favorites.

The introduction is a slow, mournful blues that collapses into a droning one-chord riff. Again, deceptively simple. There is a short turnaround at the end of each section that I have never been able to master. This song again follows the tried-and-true template, first pioneered by Sabbath, of a sludgy verse section followed by a speedy middle only to slow down again for the climax. Hey, it works! This is a great example of a song that just draws you in with its hypnotic groove only to explode with fury in the middle section with a strangely beautiful guitar lick in the middle that sounds like a shooting star. There is also a great coda to the song with a very nice solo… for some reason they titled it “The Straightener”. The lyrics are some of their best, about a dark night of the soul or depression or something, but they fit the song perfectly. It’s a masterpiece of rock dynamics and the band plays like a single instrument, each member’s simple part contributing to create a mighty mountain of stark, hard rock beauty. It’s the perfect example of why they were one of the great classic rock bands.

Finally, anyone who doubts Sabbath’s greatness needs to watch this awesome performance of the band’s anti-war anthem “War Pigs” from 1970, by a young and hungry Sabbath with something to prove.

Just look at the way Ozzy wails, Butler flails, Ward beats his drums to death…. and Iommi actually moves around a little! Sabbath cut its teeth in the days before MTV, and Iommi’s stage presence was usually not very rock star-ish. He generally just stood there on stage right, whipping out these amazing riffs and solos. But here he is clearly rocking even more than usual. What I like most about this video is that this was filmed before the whole “arena rock” conceit. There are no stage props, no pyrotechnics, no fancy lighting. Heck, there ain’t even a riser for Ward’s drums! Just a ripping band at the peak of their powers, clearly enjoying themselves and rocking out... and I love the size of Ward's bass drum, which is much bigger than on the average modern trap set.

Sabbath will never go out of style. All hail Sabbath!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"Poem" of the day #1


The must-have purchase of the year

Converts easily into a toaster or a bed

Well-received in savvy circles

You must strip out the gizzard and other viscera

Complete with personalized, airbrushed logo of your choice

Be specific about the order of events

A few of my favorite things

The antibiotics are having limited and diminishing effects

Some may yet survive the depopulation

The merger was planned for years to be the largest in history

In retrospect, public opinion did not conform to reality

A face above the dais commands, scowling

Hunched columns, distant gunshots

Deep orange sunset

Fade out

Your humble blogger has been scribbling words of varying degrees of coherence in countless spiral-bound notebooks for many years. This is one small sample of them.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The new look

So I finally upgraded to Blogger's new template editor. I hope everybody likes the new look. Not that it matters much.

But I did take the narcissistic step of Googling the name of this blog, and it came up on the 2nd page of results. Today, the 2nd page of Google results... tomorrow, the world! Or maybe later than that. Oh well.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A year of storms

Not to be trite or exhaust my metaphor, but this blog is called what it is for good reasons.

I can’t say there is any particular reason why I haven’t blogged in over a year. I’ve been busy, for sure. I also began finding my political leanings somewhat tiresome to write about. There was all the chaos and desperation of my personal life, most of which I didn’t feel like writing about. I have to live it, every day after all. Writing about it just makes it that much more inescapable, to some degree at least. In many ways, I’m glad I never bothered to update this blog with that stuff. Talk about a drag to read!

But the number one reason I’ve been so inactive: Facebook. I’ve been more active there in the past year than at any time since I started an account a few years ago. It’s great for keeping up to date with the lives of lots of people, and for wasting time on stupid surveys, playing games, and sharing links about things that interest me.

But Facebook has some downsides to it. For one thing, Facebook is insidious and opaque about the way it collects and shares personal information. Its interface can be clunky, counterintuitive, far too complex, and often changes without warning. People’s posts seem to pop up on my feed at random, with no rhyme or reason with respect to how close I am to them. And, most of all, it is not very good for blogging about things that interest me. It’s just not very good for writing more than three or four sentences at a time.

With that in mind, my New Year’s Resolution is to keep this blog updated at least twice a week. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to hold to that, or that all of the posts will be worth reading. But I’ll at least try to make it interesting, even if it’s just short thought/link/youtube video/whatever.

So…. by now you may be wondering, what have you been doing for the past year, Matt? Well, it’s been an “interesting” year, in the ancient Chinese sense, and not in a good way. In fact, 2010 more or less sucked for my little family and me.

Well, probably the worst thing that happened was that I lost my job back in February. It’s still painful to me and I’m fairly bitter about it. I won’t go into details, but I don’t feel what happened was warranted or very fair, and I still have some pretty hostile feelings towards TransMontaigne. I was unemployed for about 3 1/2 months until I found my current job (at a slightly higher yearly salary) at Rivet Software.

You might say I have first-hand experience with The Great Recession. I lived through it. Heck, I’m still living through it. Some people might not understand why I feel so strongly about the things I do, or why I can’t be so detached from social issues as people who haven’t had to go through what me and my family have been living through and dealing with every day of our lives recently.

I know I sound negative sometimes. It’s not because I’m a particularly negative person. It’s because I’ve come very close to losing what little I have, and I am still scared to death of losing it all. We are still living a day-to-day existence, forget about the future. And I perhaps am more aware than most of issues that are larger than myself. And for all our travails, I know that my family is one of the luckier stories to come out of the Great Recession.

About the only other thing I have to say about that is that I certainly appreciate Unemployment Insurance. UI, and the kind assistance from my extended family, was my little family’s lifeline. We would’ve been sunk without it. We still haven’t recovered financially.

So it galls me to see politicians playing political games with UI, making things up about how people collecting unemployment don’t want to work or that they are lazy. During those 3 1/2 months, I applied for more than 200 jobs throughout Denver, nearly any opening in my field for which I was remotely qualified. I accepted the first offer I was given, because I was pretty desperate. Yet apparently Republicans think I should have been looking for jobs at Taco Bell (which, btw I am overqualified for and may not have been able to get hired for anyway, which would have resulted in my family becoming homeless even if I did get a job as a fry cook). But I digress….

Other stuff... after a 6 1/2 year-long slog, in May of last year I finally graduated cum laude from Metropolitan State College of Denver with a BS in accounting. While I am happy that I finally crossed the finish line, I crossed it more at a staggering limp than a triumphant dash. I am so utterly sick of school, and then there is the matter of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans that I have no idea how I’m going to pay back. I never want to go back to school again. Wendi wants me to consider going for a CPA certification. Though I am considering it, I am also dubious, for career based reasons as well as “school fatigue.”

For Wendi’s part, she is nearing the finish line of her own long slog through college. She’s on track to graduate next May and has worked hard all this year to make sure that happens. I’m very proud of her. She’s done some of her best photographic work ever this year. She doesn’t like to “toot her own horn” but rest assured she is very talented and her photos are artistic and of fine quality.

She’s done it all while taking care of Simon too, as well as looking high and low for a job. This means she is pretty exhausted most of the time. She can tell you her own stories about what The Great Recession means to her.

Speaking of Sy, he turned 3 years old in 2010. He’s the babble of every brook these days. In the past six months his vocabulary has exploded exponentially, with a corresponding increase in potty humor. He thinks a poop joke is the funniest thing in the world… “I pooped on the ceiling! Poop jokes go bleeaaaghh!!!!” That’s is a typical line of comedy from him, followed by lots of giggling.

He started preschool in August, which we struggle to afford but is providing him with some much needed social interaction with other kids his age. He of course has all the wild mood swings and crazed behavior that any 3-year-old does, but he is also a sweet little boy full of love and affection…. when he’s not beating the crap out of his Mom or Dad.

After 7 years in the corporate world, I am less than enthralled with it, especially given my recent experience at TransMontaigne, which ended so bitterly after more than 5 1/2 years and stellar performance reviews all the way. At some point, I have realized that I just don’t fit into that world very well. I don’t really have the temperament to reach for that corporate brass ring, and I am certainly not executive management material. I am good at what I do though, and I’m currently trying to figure out where I want to go with my skills and experience.

My band, Governors, played 5 shows last year. We really tightened up and I have to say we sound gooood! In August we lost our awesome bassist, Ross, who moved to Utah to accept a music teaching position at Utah Valley University. After trying out a few more people we found our current bassist Abe Willock, who is another veteran of the local music scene. We played one show with him in October and are planning to ramp up our activity significantly in 2011.

This band is the most musically adept bunch of dudes I’ve ever had the fortune to play music with, and is devoid of the personality conflicts and petty stupidity that seem to plague most bands. I don’t think it’s because we’re all older (in our 30s), because all 3 of us generally have the maturity levels of teenagers.

I think it’s because we’ve just been around the block in other bands, and would rather shut up and play music than argue or get mad at each other. Don’t’ get me wrong, there’s plenty in the world that I’m angry about, but it’s all there in the music, baby. That’s how it should be.

I hope 2011 is a better year. I’m tired of treading water in life. So, I’m going to be tentatively optimistic. And I hope at least a few people will forgive my inactive period, and check out my blog from time to time as 2011 rolls on by.