Florida again

I have been in a weird state lately, in which I can’t really find anything I want to read, I can’t figure out what music to listen to, and most importantly, I have no fucking idea what to write. I think I’ve been doing this for about a week, but in the bigger sense, I have been avoiding a new book – a real one, not a collection of shit – for about two years now. I think part of it is weather and part is diet, and there’s also the fact that I haven’t taken any time off since January, so I’m getting pretty burned out. So maybe I need a vacation. Maybe I need to find a way to pay for a vacation.

I went to JetBlue today and found that it would be fairly cheap to get down to Florida again. I had a lot of fun down there in 2001, on Treasure Island, driving to random places and taking lots of photos. I’m afraid though that if I go now, I will get deathly depressed. That area is a good place to go if you want to see a lot of nobody, because it’s a ghost town during the summer. I occasionally saw some teenager locals, kids that probably worked shitty jobs and smoked a lot of bad pot when they weren’t flipping burgers or mowing lawns. I related to them about as bad as I did the older folk that bumped around down there. I’m not saying I fit in with everyone here in New York, but at least I see people here when I’m walking around. I’m afraid I will start thinking about 2001 all over again and get into some heavy depression and piss away 3 or 4 of the 7 days of the vacation. And also, it would probably be like a hundred degrees when I’m there, and that might be bad.

I know everyone had the typical migratory path for winter vacations, of heading to Florida or some island or Mexico or whatever, so they can cheat mother nature and catch a few rays. But does anyone ever do the opposite? I mean, I don’t really hear of people going to Alaska for the summer, or Iceland or something. I’ve always wondered what vacation spots would work for this. It doesn’t seem like there’s as much air travel infrastructure going north as there is going south. Sure, Montreal is well-connected, but I don’t see many planes leaving for Yellowknife at JFK.

The other issue is I want to do something that basically involves a 200-some dollar ticket, a hotel that won’t bust my balls price-wise, and maybe a rental car. I don’t have thousands of bucks to fly to central america or rent out a fucking cabin in the mountains plus all of the gear I’ll need to pack out to cook my meals. One of my reasons I like Vegas so much is I can always find a cheap fare and a cheap room and slap it all together with minimal Visacard damage in about two minutes flat. Unfortunately, I am bored of Sin City right now, and the bug to go back won’t hit me for a few more months. I’m actually thinking of going in August, when the room rates will be like $50 a night and the AC will be blowing full-blast everywhere (which it won’t be in my apartment.)

I think I’m going to read some Hunter S. Thompson now.


Dream Theater bootlegs

I bought some CDs today and got a few more in the mail, and that brings the total in my collection up to 900. I think the goal is to get to 1000, but I don’t know if that’s doable by the end of the year or not. I’m buying CDs at a much more rapid rate these days, but I’m sure things will slow down as I get toward the end of the year. There’s also the issue that I am out of room for the damn things.

Five of the CDs that arrived in the mail today were from a company making these offical bootlegs of Dream Theater stuff. I guess a couple of the guys in the band got together with some small record company or something and somehow got permission from the record company to do small runs of each of the titles. I do not entirely know who is really responsible on the business end, and I felt a little scared sending a credit card to this unknown business, but they came through, and the products are pretty incredible, with real CDs and color booklets and lots of liner notes and everything. They have six titles, and I bought three of them. One is a collection of old demo tapes before the band was Dream Theater; one is a 2-CD live show from ’98 (when I saw them in Seattle); and one is the making of the album of Scenes From a Memory.

I listened to the demos, and they really brought back some strange memories for me. I never heard these tracks before – they came from when the drummer, bassist, and guitarrist first got together at Berklee school of music and started laying down stuff into their portastudio. And that reminds me a lot of when I used to hang out with Derik and Jamie and they got a portastudio and started recording all of this crazy shit, prog-rock stuff that they put together after listening to the first Dream Theater album a thousand times, plus way too much Rush, Marillion, Yes, Steve Vai, and so on. In fact, these demos include a version of the Rush instrumental “YYZ”, which reminds me of the thousands of times I sat next to Derik’s drum kit as he tore through the song. I have many fond memories of listening to Derik, Jamie, and both of them together work through all sorts of songs and arrangements, some written by other artists and some brand new, but all getting better and better with each jam and each mix. Unfortunately, I don’t have the pleasure of sitting down to a finished product by these two, as they eventually went their own ways without ever making a CD or tape.

The other CD I am listening to now is the making of SFAM, and it’s a very strange one. I first heard this album the weekend it came out (I think), which was when I drove to Cincinnati for my uncle John’s funeral. The whole trip out, my stay at a strange little hotel near some college campus (and, coincidentally, a stone’s throw from where me and Ray drove in 1993 to see Unleashed and Cannibal Corpse) is another long story I may have told elsewhere. And then I spent a few hours in Bloomington on Halloween. Then on the 13-hour trip back to New York, I was going nuts from boredom, and stopped in some little Pennsylvania town where they had a strip mall. The place was absolutely vacant, and reminded me of the days when me and Karena used to go to the mall in her hometown of Longview, Washington; there were about a dozen stores and a Target and Red Lobster all congealed together, maybe with a two-screen movie theater, and the inside of the place pretty much housed like three or four old people waiting to die, and nothing else. So I went into this mall and went to a Sam Goody or Musicland or whatever they are (I think they are all owned by the same company) and found a Jerky Boys tape that I knew would entertain me for about 20 minutes of the remaining 8 hours, and then I saw A NEW DREAM THEATER ALBUM! I got it and rushed the car to listen to it and see if it was as cool as the last one.

It turned out it was much cooler. Someone in Metal Curse (and I forget who, but it wasn’t Ray. King Foley? Jack Botus? Not sure.) said there are only two concept albums out there, Rush’s 2112 and Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime, and everything else sucks shit. He is partially correct, but wrong on two counts: first, 2112 wasn’t a concept album, it had a full-side song that was conceptual, but the B-side contained 5 regular-sized songs; second, this then-new Dream Theater album was a concept album better than either of those put together! I could not believe the total perfection, power, precision, and depth this 80-some minutes of music could lay down. The story, which is complicated to tell, is about the 1928 murder of a woman that haunts a modern-day man’s dreams. He goes to a hypnotherapist who helps him peel back the layers of the onion and find out about the conspiracy behind the woman’s death. Instead of being one song, there are a dozen tracks, some of them clocking in at over ten minutes each, some of them serving more as short introductions and bits for the story. Prior to this album, DT spent a couple of discs stripping back their sound, playing pieces that might get the occasional spin on an AOR station or that could make a good video, with the guys in stupid leather costumes probably, that might get played on some European metal show. It’s almost as if they said “fuck this!” to all of that and decided to completely Zappa out and pour as much black ink onto the music staff as possible to build these incredibly fast and complex rhythms. But it’s not all just a shredfest either; they make it all emotional and build strong songs where it’s needed for the story.

Anyway, I listened to the tape a half-dozen times straight through, then bought the CD, bounced it to an MD, and listened to the whole concept album at least once a day for probably six months straight. I still pop it in every once in a while and I’ve got every note memorized. It’s on a DVD and a live album of theirs, so I hear it there too. And now, it’s truly strange to hear this CD of them writing the songs in the studio, changing around riffs, fucking up and then swapping things around. Jordan Rudess replaced their previous keyboard player on the album; the old guy, Derek Sherinian, was more of a hard rock guy, and wanted to be some big rock star, so they fired him. Rudess is more of a classically trained guy, and you can tell the other guys feed off of his ability in the studio to put down good lines and structure. These guys worked together in the side project Liquid Tension Experiment, which is an equally project that involves the guitar, drums, and keys of Dream Theater with the bass and Chapman stick of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson’s Tony Levin.

Anyway, it is hilarious to listen to this studio work – sometimes they slow down a line, go back over it, then speed it up until it works again. I have every microsecond of this album so memorized, when I hear it performed differently, it’s very noticeable. Some of the stuff is interesting, though. There are occasional guitar licks and even some saxophone lines that were recorded but dropped from the final mix. And then there are just strange placeholders, like when vocalist James LaBrie doesn’t hold a long note in a scratch track and and does an almost yodeling song, or when the writing track for “The Dance of Eternity” breaks into an impromptu (but very kick-ass) version of “Foxy Lady” by Hendrix. It’s all very good stuff.

I thought my eBay auction was over, but it’s on PST, so I still have almost three hours. It’s up to $61, but I hope someone snipes out the thing and pushes it up to a hundred or something. Okay, time to go play the Simpsons game.



Okay, I’m back. I’m a bit bored of the current project, and I don’t know if I will keep with it or jump off onto another tangent. I hate that I’ve basically been doing this for two years, but as long as I keep putting words on the page, I will be doing SOMETHING. And I was going back through old entries on here as I tried to complete a list of every DVD I own and I did like some of the things I wrote. So, here I am. Sorry if you hoped I wouldn’t write for a while, and glad if you didn’t.

The book I’ve been working on is a lot like Summer Rain in its style, and the fact that it roughly takes place during a pivotal summer in transition of the main character, but this time it happens between high school and college, and is a lot more centered around the underground heavy metal culture (or lack thereof) in Northern Indiana in 1989. It has been interesting to hack out, and I have many 20,000 words of pieces of essays and experiences, but there’s not enough central “stuff” to really keep the stories going. I had the same problem with Summer Rain in the early drafts – there were these stories, these things happening, but there are no great revalations or points where the reader goes “yeah! exactly!” and it’s hard to just throw those in without really planning out the whole thing. I mean, you can write a bunch of riffs that sound cool, but you need a SONG to put them in to make it all work. (Unless you’re a stoner metal band – then you can just repeat the riffs over and over and over, and put a pot leaf on your CD.)

I’m happy to say my bitching about groceries is over, as now delivers to Astoria! I have been waiting for this for years – when started selling books in the mail and I got my first package in the mail, I said “god damn it, they need to do this with food.” And they have! I logged in, signed up, and started pointing and clicking at all of the food, with nice examples and nutritional information and cooking tips and everything else. I put in the Visa number, selected a delivery time, and that was it – just like ordering books or DVDs or whatever else. Tonight, two guys showed up and unloaded three boxes and a bag of food at my doorstep. I spent just over $100 and got $20 of it free for my first order. I can’t complain about the food, either. The produce all looks fresh and in great shape, properly wrapped and unbruised. They have their own brands of frozen stuff like pizzas and seafood and whatnot, and that all looks great. The usual staples are at decent prices, and there’s a good brand variety. I got my 2-liters of Coke for 99 cents and didn’t have to lug them back from the Key Food, or pay $1.89 at the bodega across the street. So it worked great, and I’m going to keep doing this and cooking my own dinners. You can’t buy stuff on-the-spot or anything, but if you plan ahead a day, it’s great. And you can figure out your menu or list online and then drill it into the browser without going to the store and seeing what size of tomato paste they carry or whatever the hell. It’s all very awesome.

I got the new Joe Satriani album today, which was a surprise, because it isn’t out until the 13th. I ordered it (Is There Love In Space?) direct from Sony a week or two ago, and they sent it early, along with an extra booklet that was signed in silver marker by Satriani! The album’s interesting – he has largely ignored his electronica interest that was on his last couple of albums (which is good, because I hated it) and focused more on exploring what he can push the six-string into doing and saying. The guitar work is a step above everything else he’s done, and the songs are for the most part memorable and deep, similar to what he did on Crystal Planet. But there are a couple of real stinkers on there too, similar to what he did on Flying in a Blue Dream, with him singing and this white man’s boogie blues thing going on, and that doesn’t work at all for me. It’s probably one of those things where I’ll leave two or three songs out when I move the thing to the iPod, and then listen to everything else 20,000 times.

It’s been a deluge of media lately. I got Geoff Tate’s solo album, which doesn’t sound much like Queensryche at all, but works rather well with his voice and range. I also got a Queensryche CD-single for “Jet City Woman” that was signed by Chris DeGarmo, which is slightly humorous in that he left the band. I also found the UK import of Peter Gabriel’s “Burn You Up/Burn You Down” song, which is a relief because I thought it would only be available in the new Myst game, and the song sounded cool, but not cool enough for me to buy the game and try to capture the sound or whatever. I also finally got Carnivore – Retaliation, which I haven’t heard in almost ten years. We were listening to it at work and cracking up at some of the classic lines in it, like “I shit my pants and wait for the reaper” in “Ground Zero, Brooklyn”, and “every hole in my body drips blood”, from “Inner Torment”. Very cool, but it set me back $17.99, and nobody cut me a deal on it.

Man, these grape tomatoes are incredible. I didn’t even pay for the vine-ripened ones, and I could sit and eat these all day like candy…