Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Ghosts of Dallas, 1pm

Nearly half a century has passed since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps, the greatest story never told. The details of that day in Dealey Plaza are tucked away in official records, sealed until such a time that every person involved will have passed on. So much for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

JFK’s death, while a tragedy in and of itself, has triggered a chain reaction that as a people, we will never recover from. We the people, have not trusted the government ever since.

I say that as a spectator, as I was thrust upon this sunlit marble some six years after the fact. But, I don’t see another event occurring on American soil prior to this that was so polarizing in an “Us vs. Them” sort of way. There was the Civil War, but that was more “Us vs. The Other Us,” this was different. This event gave rise to unreal levels of suspicion. Suspicion so strong that we doubted our leaders…that we chose! Suspicion so strong that has us doubting the very thing we hold dearest…the truth.

Doubt has created cottage industries. Don’t believe me? Moon landings staged in a Texas Air Force Base, top secret alien runways in the New Mexico desert, Bigfoot… there are countless conspiracy theories generated by this inherent doubt and lack of trust. Take 9/11…as a nation we got punched in the gut, and then had lingering doubts as to who really did it, and why. Why is it that when someone famous dies, we fail to believe it? We’ve got Elvis, Hitler, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison working in the sporting goods department of Wal-Mart.

Doubt as a form of entertainment. We’ve skewed perception so badly that we now, as a people, are force-fed “Reality TV”, a concept so unbelievably wrought with doubt and deception. Often a show is based on the premise of someone doubting, or causing doubt, lying, cheating, or stealing to move on to the next round, Bill. All the while wired for sound, in perfect lighting, and caught on super-deluxe hi-def equipment, with the right amount of “life-like” drama, prodded-on by directors and producers. Barely “TV,” and certainly not “Reality.” The good news is that the “reality TV stars” will be back next week to dance with the retired relief pitcher. Where the fuck is the Brady Bunch when we need ‘em? At least we knew up-front they were putting us on. And, Mike Brady always made sure we knew the truth before the end credits.

Doubt has created health issues…anxiety, gastritis, addiction… Doubt has made us cynical as fuck. Ever try to give something away? I’m always met with “What’s the catch?” or “I’m not interested.” It’s because we simply doubt the sincerity of the giver or their motives. Just as you can’t un-ring a bell, we’ll never be able to trust the government, and we’ll never really be able to embrace the truth, without giving pause for…what if…

I’ve researched quite a bit of the JFK story…as a work of fiction, it’s got it all… murder, sex, power, intrigue, and at it’s core, conspiracy. There are way too many theories on the subject to number, but suffice to say, a tangled web indeed. Some theories even contend that the government seeded some bizarre theories to throw us off the scent. But I know the truth…Bigfoot did it, in a UFO, with Colonel Mustard and a lead pipe.

The saddest thing about the JFK assassination is lost among the scattered shards of truth and deceit. A young man lost his life, a young woman lost her husband, and a young family lost “Dad.” Perhaps I’m hyper-sensitive to that because being a father and a husband is all I really have, and all I really wanted out of life. But that idea is perhaps the most disturbing out of all of it.

I used to watch the Oliver Stone film JFK quite a bit, admittedly swept into the double-crossed details of regicide that would give Bill Shakespeare a boner. I also watched a ton of those documentaries about the 'dissection of a crime', applying science to the shooting, where they buy Oswald’s Mannlicher Carcano rifle on Ebay and shoot fruit from a crane while timing it against standard Marine training. Then I thought, hmmmm...would JFK watch a show about my death? Granted, I’m not very presidential and don’t have any high schools named after me. But, I’m sure he was as important to his wife and son as I am to mine.

How about the assassination of John Lennon? I was watching a show about his last days, and the narrator discussed his relationship with his son, Sean, and his re-invigorated role as a Dad. The details carry on through his last day; signing autographs for fans that he never dreamed would end his life, going about his business, recording, etc. My son recognizes John Lennon, and the rest of the Beatles for that matter, and he always says, “Daddy, he was shot on his way home to see his son!” My view is forever altered on the details of that day.

I guess what I’m getting at is… We’ve created a mess for ourselves, we’ve let outside sources create a lapse in confidence in us as a country, and in us as individuals. We can’t go on together with Suspicious Minds (thanks Mr. The King!). We’ve excelled at turning our shortcomings and our misfortunes into entertainment; we’ve turned entertainers into heroes, and heroes into fundraisers. Truth, Justice, and the American Way…man, Superman’s gonna be pissed when he sees what we’ve done with it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Has it really been a year since I peed on this here tree? It has been a long strange trip indeed. As I write, it’s a Tuesday, the first day of March 2011. That number, 2011 seems so freakish to me. A mere 4 years away from Marty McFly dropping in to Hill Valley to help his son make the right decision. Alas, no flying cars and hovering skateboards in my neighborhood, what a gyp.

2011…what the fuck happened to 1997? Why can’t I seem to remember a single thing that happened in 2003? And who’s that fat guy that moved into my bathroom mirror?

So as I sit here, a goblet of Malbec, the whir of the dryer in the background, and the soothing strains of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue providing the ebb and flow of the wordsmithing (what? go on…), I reflect on the juxtaposition of my life vs. the rest of the world…in the year of our lord 2011.

As alluded to in the last words herewith, we brought our beloved Metal Lessons Radio internet radio broadcast, or rather webcast, back from the dead, in fact, alive, err live. We spent a few years honing our craft, recording, editing, and listening to playbacks of the show. It took something like five nights a week to get it where we wanted, then we eventually got sick of the work, a seemingly thankless task, in that there was no real-time gratification, no organic reaction, no interaction. The airings occurred all over the clock. So we brought it back live, one night, one show, and it is worth it.

One night, during a show in early summer, we received a phone call whilst we were on the air. Our friend and former drummer, Curtis Beeson, was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor. It was right about the time my father was fighting off a very aggressive melanoma on his skulltopper. After surgery and rehab, radiation…Curt’s bills started rolling in. A lifelong musician that dabbled in cab driving to support his drum habit, he didn’t have adequate health care insurance, which is to say he didn’t have any. In true underground fashion, the local metal scene decided to try and take care of their own!

“We’re getting’ the band back together….we’re on a mission from God!” – Elwood Blues

Several years ago, whilst attending an emotional roundtable discussion, I blathered on in a Cabby Savvy-induced weep about my dream of having one more shot, one chance to front a band. Not just any band, but my guys, a once fierce force of metal know-how and spare time, Fester. I mused at how interesting it would be to once again be on stage, with life experience, and a better sense of performance. After all, I had to teach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Macarena once, so I don’t embarrass as easily anymore.

Somewherez around Christmas time, I was dispatched to a top secret meeting at a clandestine location. We all met at Hooters and hugged, chatted, and committed to performing at what would be dubbed the Curtis Beeson-Kill The Cancer Benefit held in Ybor City on February 11, 2011. After twenty years, we were a band again, and had six weeks to prepare for what would be thirty minutes on a bill that included some 8 bands, including Tampa heavyweights Obituary and Deicide, and headlining was Curt’s other band, Nasty Savage.

Commence the rehearsal. As we slogged away trying to figure out the hours of our collective youth, the football playoffs moved silently in the background. That was the feeling! It must be like that first heroin rush that the junkies keep reaching for. Making music with those gents is a sensation I won’t even begin to try and explain. Pure aggressive magic.

The show day arrived, the old school metal scene responded better than expected. For most of us, it was our college reunion. 500 or so people packed into the Crowbar to help raise money to combat Curt’s immense medical-bill-mountain. We raised over $10,000 to get him started, but the night meant so much more. For us, it put away a lot of ghosts that had been running around our conscience for a coupla decades. It did a great deal of healing for anxious memories, answered a lot of questions, and raised a few new ones…what if?

There we stood like men amongst men, a compliance officer, a postal technician, an insurance agent, a disabled electrician, and a cancer-fighting cabbie. Inciting the muse of days gone by, the band roared through twenty years in a single half hour. The response, and the pure magic has inspired us to give it the old college try once again. Metal has never had to grow up before so, middle age really is a new suit for the music to try on. What the hell 45 is the new…40, something like that. Anyway …

I joked on my birthday that I wasn’t 42, I was on my second lap at 21. While at 42, I’ve refinanced the mortgage, sat for state insurance licenses in property, casualty, life, health, and variable annuities, and fathered three amazing children, I get to be 21 again. I get to enjoy the experience of joining a band again, writing songs, and being part of something built on mutual respect, rare in this world. On a mild Florida friday night in February, I took to the stage to throw a musical tantrum right after Deicide and Obituary left the stage, on a day that started with Dad’s-n-Donuts at the catholic school!

The juxtaposition? Well, according to the media, facebook, and word on the street, the world is in trouble. The economy, crime, pills, the government….a heep of mess. And for me, it’s a quirk of timing that I seem to excel when all else is falling all around us. In the midst of all this decline, I’m alright. I love my wife, I’ve settled into a career, there’s room in my life for two music habits, I’m in a good place with my faith…I’m comfortable in my own skin.

Now, it’s time to live vicariously through my son, as I share with him one of the sacred scrolls…Van Halen I. Another generation of…lives ruined by music.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Analog kids...

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time or energy to write, but I need a little catharsis at the moment. I see underneath is the farewell to MLR piece, which was a difficult thing to put to bed, but we needed to reshuffle the deck and take a leak, but the dealer has called us back to the table….more on that soon! Today’s thoughts are brought to you by the good folks at Facebook.

Facebook has created this really strange universe where characters from all my 41 years show up with an electronic spray can and periodically toss up some relevant graffiti, on my wall (I guess that’s why Facebook calls it a wall!). Mitch Hedberg once said “dreaming is like work, I want to go to sleep and next thing you know I gotta build a go-kart with my ex-landlord”. Facebook is like that, seeing my niece, a friend from the 80’s, and an MLR listener interact is a bit surreal. Maybe it’s crassly trendy, or perpetual performance art.

Recently, I was tossing out old cassettes that had experienced magnetic shifts, changes in temperature, and the absolute cruelty of time. Old friends that had "given up the ghost" as it were. I was lamenting the thought of the mix tape or compilation tape as a lost art form. It was brought to my attention that a digital version is superior in matters of sound quality and continuity, not to mention ease and time. I contend that it was a matter of inspiration in making it great. The difference was the creation in “real time” making the finished product a matter of dedication…for at least the length of blank space available…90 minutes was my canvas of choice.

The thread eventually morphed into a discussion about LPs and album covers, and the ritual of buying new music. The loss of physical medium in the consumption of music…even the death of a concept like “Side 2”.

I’ve commented hundreds of times over the years that I don’t ever remember being bored, especially as a kid or teen. I used to spend countless hours staring at the ceiling with a favorite album, or a new one, reading the album cover, liner notes, credits several hundreds of times. Some random things I know over the years from my obsessive vinyl youth:

I know the mailing address for Warner Brothers Records, but can’t remember my own.
The best photos were taken by Barry Levine.
The Columbia House version had a plain white sleeve.
Red Apples mean it’s over.
Phil Chen was the bassist on every record.
Side 2 and Side B are the same except for a difference of 5 inches.
Home taping is killing music.
If you trace the logo, you’ll dent the cardstock.
If you buy a used gatefold at the flea market, it will have pot in it. Really old pot too!
Germans don’t rhyme.
Every album was mastered at Criteria in Miami.
K-tel could fit 20 songs on a record with smaller grooves, compression, and quick fade edits.
Cellophane tape will turn yellow.
The artists name in pen increases value, your name in pen decreases value.
Kiss uses Gibson guitars and Pearl drums exclusively…

Here is the Reader’s Digest version of the thread thus far…

John O'Brien: I was an artist at one period of my life...my medium was Maxell XLII, a black Sharpie, and 90 inspired minutes, with only one interruption...the flip.

Tony From Kansas City: You can still be an artist. Keep the Sharpie, use a blank CD ROM, take away 10 of the inspired minutes but have no interuptions.

John O'Brien: But it took 90 minutes to make, like a performance...feeling nostalgic for the cassette-era. We'll never again have "Side 2". I still have my vinyl, and that puzzled look on my son's face...Son, this is an album cover, a 12x12 cardboard carrying case for your soul!

Tony From Kansas City: Do you remember going to a record store on release day? I used to treat those Tuesdays like they were a national holiday. In the summer time, I was there when the store opened. During the school year, I acted sick to get Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil. That 12 X 12 carried my soul.

Chris Karlik: I still have some of your "art", Johnny. You were ahead of your time

Tom Degan: I miss opening a brand new vinyl LP.

John Mahoney: So sad that in only a few short years of their existence that we are more or less eulogizing the cassette tape..I also remember the Tuesday that Fastway released "All Fired Up"..I was there in the A.M. at Record Bar in Clearwater; FL. in my parents Ford Ranchero to get the LP. Problem was you couldn't hear it until you got home. You could only stare at the front and back covers at the traffic lights. I miss the innocence of outdated technology.

Loki: Miss the "innocence" of demo tape trading and DIY artwork too.

Tony From Kansas City: Mahoney, I remember taking records to school so we can exchange them overnight with friends. Just like you did at traffic lights, between every class, I would go to my locker to get a quick glimpse of the liner notes. By the way, it takes the bond of a close friend to lend one's vinyl.

Tom Degan: You've started a very interesting thread here Johnny. One that is bringing back too many memories to even count. DAMN! I haven't given up on the old cassette! Although the burned CD sounds somewhat better, the cassette is a lot more rugged. You would not believe the trials that some of my casstette tapes have survived.

John O'Brien: There was a time when purchasing new music was an event. The suspense of the promise of greatness. The eloquence of well written liners or the "in-jokes" in the thank you list. The album covers introduced the initial landscape of the sound, but your imagination put on the show. I would cherish the opportunity to stare at a popcorn ceiling for 45 minutes lost in a complete LP start to finish. Or watching that apple spin round and round whilst the masters held class...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hit it Fat Lady....

Dear Friends:

It is with an unreal amount of sadness that I compose this letter…

As you know, John Mahoney and I started Metal Lessons Radio as two passionate fans of hard rock and heavy metal. We were stay-at-home dads that had time to painstakingly craft a playlist, record, edit, produce, and upload…what we thought was a quality show, and along the way, turn a few people on to something old, new, or forgotten in the world of heavy music!

We’ve kept you abreast of all the ups and downs and ins and outs of our life, and as you know the financial climate has changed. As a result, I have gone back to work as an insurance agent, and Mahoney has returned to the pharmaceutical field.

Whereas we used to deliberate for hours about “who qualifies to be on this week’s theme”, we now barely have time to catch up with each other on a week-to-week basis, none-the-less record a show. It is also not fair to our families that now have us for even less time than before, to spend one evening to record, one evening to edit, one evening to chat and promote… and truthfully, I’m really enjoying the time with my kids in their sports and activities, as I know John Mahoney is as well.

So it is with a great deal of sadness that, at least for now, we’re going to put Metal Lessons Radio to bed. At least for now…. It is our hopes that we can bring it back, perhaps bigger and better, and hopefully soon. But for now, it has become unmanageable, and it is not fair to you that we continue to beg for patience as we scramble to piece together shows. So in lieu of re-running old re-edited shows and/or hastily produced playlists, we’re going to retire MLR.

We appreciate the friendship, support, and participation of our friends over the last couple of years. We will be airing a special Farewell Show this week, and hope you can join us for this last one! We’ll be hosting our farewell chat Thursday, Oct.22 at 8pm EST at hardrockin80s.com. It has been a joy and weekly highlight sharing our love of music with you, and hope to see you again on the airwaves of the world wide web some strange way…

Until then…Keep It Metal!

John O’Brien
John Mahoney

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It was 40 years ago today, Uncle Charlie told the band to slay...

This was indeed the death of the 60’s. A tumultuous time for the hippie movement, 1969 had the extremes of possibility. What could an unwashed, free-loving, stoned society provide that gave that utopian ideal its legs. How could a chemically altered youth movement prove it could create beauty out of anarchy?

Woodstock – 3 days of peace, love, and music! An Eden for the children of Lennon and McCartney. Yes, the dream came true, the people came in droves, the gates came down…and the bands played on…could have lasted forever…provided the food, water, and plumbing continued to be provided by the locals that were foolish enough to hold down jobs. What squares.

But no one got hurt!

We still lament over the end of the sixties, and celebrate it at the commercial break with 40 songs from the Woodstock-era for only $19.95. Hits by swinging sixties superstars like Sonny & Cher, The Turtles, and The Mamas & Papas (none of which actually played at Woodstock!). So call before midnight tonight…

But wait there’s more….

The darkside of the hippie movement strode out of the gate in a hallucinogenic fog, a literal Pandora’s Box of violence opens in the west. The “anti-Woodstock” was the free concert at Altamont Speedway, where the Rolling Stones hired the Hells Angels with drugs and booze to run security for the show. The event was plagued with violence from the opening of the gates. Footage of the event shows bikers armed with pool cues and gallon-jugs of wine pushing through the crowd like sadistic farmers. Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin was cracked across the melon, knocked-out cold by one of them. No wonder they got so mellow in the 70’s.

Even Jagger got socked in the jaw as he exited the helicopter for the show. The somewhat effeminate frontman for the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band was visibly rattled by the vibe, meekly pleading for the crowd to cool out and get along. The sixties ended during Sympathy For The Devil as the Hells Angels murdered Meredith Hunter in front of the stage.

What the Summer of Love revealed in essence was a generation that wanted to be vastly different from their folks, which is cool, and damn if they weren’t original! I mean, tye-dye? Fuck…Anyway, they were a culture that yearned to be recognized as a new Renaissance, and for the most part they were. Albeit, enhanced by altered-minds…but the cultural leaders undoubtedly were the troubadours of the new era. The electric emotion of Hendrix, the confident intellect of Lennon, the words of Morrison, all as classically relevant as DaVinci, Galileo, or Walt Whitman.

A culture constantly exploring the universe in their mind, questioning divinity, always searching for the answer. An unfortunate drug-side-effect…they forgot the fucking question!

Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets…

As a predominantly Christian country, we grow up looking for the second coming. If you were young, dumb, and fulla cum, living the hippie dream in the Haight, searching for Jesus on acid, you might have bumped into him in the streets, an ex-con gulping down life in the Summer of Love. Banging teenage runaways and preaching the idea of a travelling commune, the second coming collects misfits one-by-one, building his family. His name is Charlie,

I timed the writing of this so that these words are laid down just before midnight. It is exactly 40 years to the hour since Charles Manson prepared his hippie death squad to go to Benedict Canyon and “do something witchy”. That night the dirty, disillusioned youth of the Haight introduced unimaginable violence to a country that only heard about such atrocities in times of war, but that was for “a good cause”, not what America would expect of twenty or so teenagers’ version of Jesus Chist’s second coming.

Charlie was a con-man that studied scientology in prison and used a bizarre version of it to build his own cult. He was a failed musician and a career criminal that had spent most of his life in jail, and had his very own collection of wasted youth, most don’t realize he was in his mid-30’s at this time, hardened and institutionalized, a bit “mazzo” as George Carlin used to say!

There are 3 working theories behind the Tate-Labianca murders (without getting into too much detail about the case!). One was, a staged copy-cat murder, mirroring the Gary Hinman murder 2 weeks earlier, a ploy to make the police think that they had the wrong guy in family-member Bobby Beasoleil. Two, revenge on Terry Melcher for not signing Manson to a record deal. Melcher lived in the house on Cielo Drive before Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. And Three, the murders were staged to start a race war that was the culmination of all wars, or Helter Skelter.

Helter Skelter was this weird theory that Manson had, that there would be a race war, and only blacks would survive, and Manson and his Gonorrheans would emerge as the rulers, and the murders would kickstart this chain reaction. He developed this ornate theory based on the White Album, he thought the Beatles were talking to him. He transposed Lennon’s ideals of revolution to correspond to the book of Revelations in the Bible, the ruling white middle class that kept his people down were George Harrison’s very own Piggies. The kicker is Helter Skelter, as outlined in the song, is a slide at a British funfair from the 50’s-60’s.

The difference between what you say, and what people hear…

I’ve had a fascination with the case since I read the book by Vincent Bougliousi as a teen. I think the Beatle aspect, and it happening the year of my birth, and it really just killing (no pun…) an era of social, political, and cultural change fueled it as study matter. I’ve read every case-related book, been to all the sites, seen all of the documentaries, know all of the players… My wife thinks it’s a bit creepy, but it’s a story too bizarre to be real. Sex, Drugs, and Murder, soundtrack by the Beatles, top that!

So as I sit here, decanter of South African Cabernet, John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things playing at low volume, I wonder, what would have happened had the Family not murdered those seven people 40 years ago. Culturally we left the 60’s wounded and confused, running headlong into the loving arms of the Carpenters and the Osmonds.

Did we get what we were looking for out of the revolution? Or did we just do the American routine, and just suck all the decadence out of it for fun and profit, and leave the carcass of ideals by the roadside?

Tough to say, I grew up in the 80’s, living the 60’s vicariously through documentaries and vinyl LP’s. All the violence, and war, death, turmoil, social change, and cultural upheaval in the 60’s, or even in my own generation, the 80’s, makes me realize one thing after all these years…the 70’s ruled!

Monday, August 3, 2009

As the sun pulls away from the shore and our ship sinks slowly in the west...

We're blogging! We're bloggers now! We blog...

As one of two Johns that will be peeing on this tree, I'm happy to say that we will have a little space to open up and breath a bit as far as our writing goes. For those that know us, we produce an internet radio show called Metal Lessons Radio. We'll use this as a forum to discuss further the highlights and lowlights of our show, more indepth discussion on the artists, albums, and songs, and most likely more nostalgia. In fact, we're getting older, so there's a lot more shit to remember, so, yeah, probably a lot of nostalgia.

Our literary output thus far has been limited to album reviews on pitriff.com, and the odd facebook/myspace postings, however this particular forum will give us a chance to discuss much broader and diverse topics that, let's face it, you just can't do on a metal show.

Remember that scene in Spinal Tap where they're on the rooftop after Nigel quits and they're talking about all the projects they never got to do? This is that scene...

We're going to talk about Beatle records, wine, station wagons, Disney, British Reggae, sneakers, children's television, Steve Martin, hot sauce, Martha & The Vandellas, Diet Dr. Pepper, hockey, Stratocasters, little league, K-Tel, serial killers, headphones, divinity, and boobs...

We will not be discussing politics, religion, celebrities, or reality TV. We will be using punctuation, and English (for the most part...) in a conversation style.

Check in with us on occasion and see what's up. If you enjoy the words, please be part of it, and leave some of your own. This is not meant to be a mean-spirited experience, the world has enough of that. This is just a collection of meandering thoughts from a couple of 40 year old elitist douchebags...See you on the airwaves!