GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Phil, Aaryn & Dylan

THE NEW INVINCIBLE CZARS – Dylan Younger, Aaryn Russell, Phil Davidson, me.

I’m writing this entry from the road on the best tour I’ve ever had.  I’m grateful beyond words for this but it’s not going to stop me from using some to express it.

 

There are several factors contributing the greatness of this tour.

 

A big one is the fact that we’re mostly playing venues/towns we’ve played before and setting it up and doing it has been easier than any ever before from a logistic standpoint – even the dates in Canada (and getting in/out of Canada.)  This has eased my mind and attitude on the road a bit. I’m not scared of our imperfections pissing off promoters.  They already know and like us and know that we’re pros.

 

Another factor is the audiences. I don’t know that we’ve played for more enthusiastic, responsive audiences than on this tour. Thank you if you’ve been among them. I’ve met a lot of really cool folks out here.

 

We beat our old single-night merchandise sales record – old record in Buffalo, new record also in Buffalo. That’s pretty awesome!

 

Mostly, though, it’s the line-up. I’ve taken to calling it The New Invincible Czars: Aaryn Russell, Dylan Younger, Phil Davidson and me.

 

I’ve never had as much fun on the road. Set up and tear down has never been so easy. Everyone knows how to set up their gear, the PA and how to troubleshoot. We’ve never powered through challenges (broken window, a few long drives, lack of organization and some unfinished planning on gigs and lodging by me, truncated load-out times, etc.) as well as this tour. We sound good and instead of little mistakes coming into the music, they’re more like intentional improvements.

 

For the first time, everyone wants to be on the tour. Everyone’s getting along. Everyone sounds good. I look forward to every single night. Ideas are accepted, considered, built upon. It’s the most functional team I’ve ever worked with musically.

 

Phil and I have been playing in this band together for 12 years. This tour almost didn’t happen but Phil had faith in what we do and in me. He’s always been flexible. He’s always taken my crazy ideas into consideration and sometimes followed me down rabbit holes when I’ve wanted to take an ill-advised risk. I guess there’ve been enough of those that turned out ok to keep him coming to practice. Thank you, Phil, for standing by me all this time.

 

Aaryn is a real road warrior and one of the most pleasant, fun people to tour with. One of the best moments on the whole tour was listening to …And Justice For All in its entirety with Aaryn riding shotgun as I drove. It’s been a long time since there was someone in the band who has many of the same favorite albums as me. Aaryn is supportive and appreciative at all turns. He’s connected, talented, flexible and has added more than just his musical skills to this tour. Thank you for joining the ranks, Aaryn.

 

It’s particularly hard to express my gratitude to Dylan. He drove down from Minnesota to do this tour without really knowing much about me or the band. He took a BIG leap of faith and I hope the rewards have been worth it for him. I feel incredibly lucky that I stumbled upon him in one my darkest hours. He’s taken on the very difficult co-star role (next to Phil) and done it masterfully and surprisingly quickly. When most people would’ve said, “good luck with all that,” to a desperate stranger,  he was friendly, supportive, willing to do tough work and enthusiastic. Thank you for taking this risk, Dylan.

 

All three of these guys have brought their A-game to this tour. They’ve brought every bit of fun, musicality and enthusiasm that they can. That is the best any bandleader can ask for. Thank you, guys, for joining my on this journey and for all the great moments, shows and lessons for me to learn.  If this isn’t nice, what is?

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY ??? – The Culture of Sharing Useful Information

I feel extremely grateful to the countless number of people throughout history who figured out how to do something well or right, documented it and then shared it with others.

 

I suppose I could just say that I’m grateful for the scientific method – but its not the method I’m talking about here today, its  the people willing to use it and the fact that they share their findings in hopes that the next person to confront the dilemma or issue can skip a few steps, gain new perspective or just learn something new.

 

I think of it more like a culture of sharing useful information and it’s the people who exercise it outside their tribe (family, co-workers, investors, etc.) to whom I’m particularly grateful.

 

Sure, some of these people have made a lot of money helping others help themselves but most don’t.  The incredible volume of actually useful do-it-yourself instructional videos on YouTube that will never make any money for the creators is pretty astounding.

 

Why do these people do it? Maybe they thought their video would go viral or that it could lead to some other lucrative activity.  That doesn’t bother me. I believe that this is one of the seldom recognized great things about humans that’s easy to overlook in the 24 hour news cycle era.  I believe we’ve somehow incorporated the idea of helping the next person into our lives over the course of who-knows-how-long.

 

That’s not to say that all information out there is good.  It’s not. I’ve been into self-help books since I was about 24 years old.  A few great ones stand out including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Feeling Good Handbook.  But for every one of those, there’s at least one Four Agreements or The Secret – books that enjoy popularity and have some good parts but mostly rely on subjective, spiritual mumbo-jumbo or pseudo-science as a basis for their teachings and/or, in my opinion, are less about truly growing and more about justifying irresponsibility (and making money for the author.)

 

But by and large, there’s a lot of good, useful information out there and in fact the concept of school and education is an outcropping of our evolved sense of helping the next person.

 

So the next time someone impatiently or angrily tells me when I’m doing something wrong or that there’s an easier or better way, I hope to take a step back and just thank the person for caring enough to set me on a better course.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 17 – Bruno B. Badcat Robins Austin (RIP)

I spent the last two days crying from the loss of the best cat I’ve ever had. In spite of how rude he was, we were best buddies.

I chose Bruno from the Townlake Animal Shelter (now Austin Pets Alive) in 2004. I saw his picture on their site – a real novelty in those days – and went right down and got him. He sat with me for 20 minutes, completely calm.

What a faker. The moment I let him out of the cardboard carrier the shelter gave me to take him home, he was like a lightning bolt.  With teeth and claws. He always seemed to think that biting (hard!) and (deeply) clawing at flesh was a good way to show his affection to humans.

Other than me, Evelyn Goss, Greg Yancey and Dave Irish all suffered physical lacerations at the paws of Bruno’s tough love.

Later in life, Bruno became a pee-er. I nearly killed him a couple of times for ruining stuff — and not just mine!  Austin Luminais had to throw out all kinds of stuff.  I paid him back by moving all his other possessions into and out of storage one summer.

Bruno loved to sidle up and cuddle hard. He would wake me up most mornings with a slow claw to my eyelid. He loved food. In his younger years, he’d eat all his food and then scare the dog (Fajita) away from her food and eat all of it, too.

ugh!  Bruno could be a real pest at times but I won’t ever forget him and I’m so grateful for his companionship over the last 13 years.

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 16 – Obscure Bands That Make Great Music

“Obscure” is hardly a relevant term in the music world anymore. Nearly everything is accessible through the internet. The days of rummaging through used CD bins for hidden treasures or special ordering a title from a music store are long gone.

That said, we’re also in the age where everything is flash-in-the-pan. Since nothing is scarce or difficult to find, it’s hard for anyone to feel very invested in an artist. You’re lucky if anyone listens to your whole song or watches your entire film even if they downloaded it illegally.

It’s not easy to keep making music or art that goes against the grain over and over. My taste in music was forever changed when my friend Ben Hedquist was the first in our little group of 12-14 year old skateboarders to love Faith No More’s hit “Epic”. After that came Primus, Butthole Surfers and NoMeansNo. Then Nirvana and grunge changed MTV and Top 40 overnight. By the time I was 18 or 19 I was looking for hard to find albums by groups like Naked City and Ed Hall.

My favorite albums ever include some pretty obscure stuff and a few really mainstream entries. I don’t think you’d find many of them on Rolling Stone’s top 100 or even top 1000 list:

  1. NoMeansNo – Wrong
  2. Opposite Day – What Is Is
  3. Van Halen – Fair Warning (had to sneak this one in here!)
  4. Sonic Youth – Dirty
  5. Neko Case – Fox Confessor
  6. Dead Kennedys – Frankenchrist
  7. Showbusiness Giants – I Thought It Was a Fig
  8. Reverend Horton Heat – Smoke ’em if Ya Got ‘Em
  9. Faith No More – The Real Thing
  10. Mr. Bungle – s/t
  11. Don Caballero – 2
  12. Megadeth – Rust in Peace
  13. Frank Zappa – We’re Only In It for The Money
  14. Jesus Lizard – Down (I know… but it’s my favorite by them!)
  15. Ed Hall – Motherscratcher
  16. Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese
  17. Godflesh – Pure
  18. Ween – God Ween Satan
  19. Rabbinical School Dropouts – Cosmic Tree
  20. Secret Chiefs 3 – Book of Horizons
  21. Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On

and so on.

There are tons of bands I’m so grateful to for making weird music that’s so much more interesting than young people on The Voice or American Idol singing the hits of yore.

Stinking Lizaveta, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum & Free Salamander Exhibit, Victims Family, Steel Pole Bathtub, Shudder to Think, Fantomas, Melvins, Octopus Project, John Zorn, Captain Beefheart, Black Flag, Shellac, Alice Donut, Scratch Acid, Brown Whornet, Shaolin Death Squad, Stop Motion Orchestra, Zeni Geva, Kayo Dot, Hammers of Misfortune, Churchwood, New Pornographers, Estradasphere, Naked City, Faraquet, Sebadoh, Tortoise, Brian Kenney Fresno, Mirthkon, A Minor Forest, Slint, Neurosis, etc., etc., etc.

I’m grateful to all of them and more for making really cool music that was never going to be a hit and I really admire the ones who turned their obscure thing into a career or at least a non-money-losing venture.

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 15 – The Kindness of Strangers

Two months ago I was in an exercise class at the East YMCA in Austin. It’s a super tough class. It’s the hardest exercise I’ve done since I was in basketball training as a freshman in high school. One hour of non-stop cardio.

Normally I’m the only guy in the class but that day, I arrived to find another dude complete with a shaven head and 80s style headband. We normally pair up in the class and since I’m the only guy I’m almost always in a group of one. So I made sure to stand by this new guy so that when the time came, we’d be partners.

(Yes, I’m the person who always makes friends on airplanes.)

As soon as the instructor gave the word, we looked at each other and I said, “partners?”

He said, “Yes, but I’m new and didn’t understand most of what she said we’ll be doing at each of these stations.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve done them all a bunch. I’ll help you.”

The hour we spent exercising and talking was special. It turned out that he’s returning to grad school to become a therapist so I got a free session. I told him my recent tale of woe. He replied that he was surprised I had left the house let alone come to the class!

But talking to him wasn’t the most valuable part – it was hearing his story.

This poor fellow lost his HR job during the 2008 financial downturn. At almost the same time, his boyfriend left him. He couldn’t find good work and wound up taking a pizza delivery job at Domino’s. Then he contracted Legionnaire’s Disease and had to be hospitalized for two months; he spent the first month mostly unconscious and the second at home connected to an oxygen tank on wheels.

He woke up from that first month to learn that he’d been fired from Domino’s for no-call-no-show. Without work, we couldn’t make his mortgage payment. He asked the bank to please come repossess it so that his credit could be spared but was informed that they don’t do it that way – they can’t repossess until the third straight missed payment. And then of course it destroys your credit. That’s exactly what happened.

He lost his home, his job (twice!), his health and his partner all in about a four month span.

I was floored. I felt horrible for him and asked more questions. He wound up filing bankruptcy and has almost come out of it at this point. He’s returned to school to become a therapist and miraculously married his boyfriend – yes, the same one that had left him in 2008!

I thanked him for sharing all this with me. I told him I admired his resilience. He kindly told me that he thought my story was worse and more dramatic and said he couldn’t believe left the house let alone come to this difficult class. I tried to laugh and thanked him for listening.

We kept talking about these things until the end of the class.  When it was over, I hugged him and cried right in front of everyone. He hugged back hard and said, “Thank you for being so vulnerable. Never lose that.”

I may never see this guy again but that hour we spent together was a gift – hopefully for both of us.

 

 

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 14 – Compassion

I’ve recently been forced into a closet with compassion and a beautiful new relationship has sprung forth.

I’ve always thought of myself as a compassionate person but it’s easy to feel compassion for the less fortunate. It’s much harder to feel compassion for those you disagree with, who hurt you or those you may even consider an enemy.

I read the Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Anger this summer. In it, he suggests replacing anger with compassion. To anyone new to Hahn’s concepts, replacing anger with compassion is like replacing fear with courage. Total opposites.

It’s taken several months and baby steps, but I have slowly but surely adopted the practice of stepping back when I feel angry or threatened, asking myself how I can be compassionate and then acting accordingly.

It’s not easy.

I was in the grocery store with a really angry family member recently. This person was throwing items around, hitting the self-check screen with all his might and generally throwing a tantrum. I felt embarrassed and annoyed but took a moment to step back and muster compassion. I said, “seems like this thing isn’t going fast enough for you, can I help?”  I kept talking and trying to remain positive or neutral, even laughing when I felt like rolling my eyes. I felt better and so did my relative. I engaged in a conversation that was not pleasant at first. I realized I wasn’t the source of my relative’s ire and kept talking. Eventually it came out that this person wasn’t irritated with the store, the people in the parking lot or the self-check machine — all of which had received a good deal of aggression in the process. No – the real reason was a deep sense of under appreciation by the people for whom we were shopping and a sense of obligation and hopelessness that there would never be any relief from this duty.

Once that came out, my relative calmed quite a bit. I said, “Well, I appreciate what you’re doing even if they don’t. It has to be done and here you are doing it.”

This has kept happening. Since then, I’ve been seeking opportunities to use compassion instead of anger. It’s been easy – any time politics comes up in conversation I have a chance to choose compassionate dialog instead of heated debate.

Everyone needs compassion. Even the people we disagree with most – hell, they often need it the most! I’ve never been perfect and I appreciate others’ acknowledgment of that and their acceptance. Their compassion has helped me keep going.

I’ve been finding that the more compassion I give, the more I get back. I’m really grateful to Henry Vines for lending me that book and for the opportunity I’ve had to put a lot of it into practice.

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 13 – Now

I could’ve been born at any time in the past or future but here I am now.

I’m a 41 year old white male living in the most powerful country that ever has ever existed on this planet as far as any of us know. How lucky and rare is that? Of all the people on the Earth right now, I’m one of the truly privileged.

In addition to that, I’m living in a “future” that the younger me didn’t dream would come about in my lifetime – the internet, smart phones, AIDS is now a treatable disease. Things that seem like parts of the sci-fi novels and comic books I read as a kid are right around the corner – CRISPR, self driving cars, renewable energy.

It’s a lot to take in and as exciting as some of this stuff is, the side effects of all this advancement can be pretty scary. Technology evolves quickly but we don’t. At least not right now. (That reminds me of a thought I had once – evolution sped up might be the same thing is as mass extinction.)

Still… I loved a bit by comedian Dan Cummins about how his father talked about how he’d like to live in the 1800s. Cummins’ logic about this is hilarious. The Hygiene of the day alone is enough to make you glad you were born after the discovery of penicillin.

Sure, I have to live with the effects of social media and cell phones on our psyches and driving habits, fake news and North Korean nuclear armament but at least I probably won’t die from polio in my life, have a life expectancy longer ever in history and get to live most of it with air conditioning.

Now is all we have. We can’t go back even a second. We can only move forward at the same rate as always – one second at a time.

I’m trying to be more in the now. A helpful person recently told me that the past and future will take care of themselves when you focus on the present. I hope that’s true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 12 – Cognitive Therapy

Maybe that’s a weird thing to be grateful for but I think it has saved my life. Dictonary.com defines cognitive therapy as a type of psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought about the self and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression.

My first inkling of the concept I later came to know as cognitive therapy happened while I was making copies at my old day job at Sandalwood Management over 15 years ago. I’ve had a history of negative feelings and self-esteem issues and that day I was feeling down and had been for days. As I watched the original pages flip through the feeder, I asked myself, “Uhh.. what am I feeling badly about again?”

I couldn’t answer the question. At that moment I had this thought: The me of 20 years from now is looking back and thinking, “why did I waste my youth wallowing in sadness about something I can’t even identify?”

It was the first time I chose to feel better.

I’ve struggled with that, like most people, since then. Controlling our feelings is not easy and doesn’t come naturally. Not at all. I’ve gotten myself into big, big trouble several times.

There’s a book I highly recommend called The Feeling Good Handbook. When I first was given this book (thank you, Leila!) I let its size intimidate me out of getting very far into it. The first few exercises were HARD. Knowing there were 500+ more pages of this, I felt hopeless – exactly the way the book was trying to guide me out of feeling!

Over the years I’ve come back to the book. Recently I read almost the entire thing and found that a very significant amount of those pages don’t apply to me or most people at all. 

So if you find yourself reading this book, don’t be intimidated!  It has whole sections dedicated to schizophrenia, phobias and other serious psychological problems that most people never experience.  The whole last third is just for therapists and a lot of it is drug description info.

The best part of the whole book is the very beginning – 10 Forms of Twisted Thinking.  This really helped me identify my own issues and take some steps – baby steps for a long time – to fixing my twisted ways of thinking.

The next best part is the chapter I wish I had read years and years ago about the steps of intimate communication.

Along with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I think this book should be required reading for all humans.

 

 

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 10 – Basements

Here’s a bit of a weird one. I’ve always loved basements. I suppose it’s because I’ve mostly lived in place without basements. I don’t know why I like basements so much. It seems like they’d be a place for anxiety to fester – only one way in and out, usually dark, often unfinished, smelly and dank with all the sounds of things like water heaters and furnaces. Even finished basements have some of these features.

But they’re so secluded. Usually quiet, peaceful and cooler than anywhere else in a house even in the summer. There’s something about being underground that I like, too. It’s cozy in it’s own way – or maybe it’s just that invites one to get cozy.

Basements seem like just about the perfect practice space for a band other than having to load your gear up and down stairs – blah!

You can’t always tell how much time has passed in a basement. When I’m really flowing with something, I feel like time isn’t passing at all. Stuff’s just happening. Basements can simulate that sense.

I mentioned before that I loved my Little Grammy’s basement in Fruit Heights, UT. I have a lot of soothing dreams that are set there and usually feature her, my mom, my sister and my older younger brother as a very little kid.

Anytime I have a chance to be in a basement, I get excited. I’m grateful for those times.