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.



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. 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.


BeaUTAHful. I saw that on a bumper sticker in Utah recently.

My home state really is beautiful.  It’s outdoor activities are hardly paralleled in the US. The southern part is especially so. On a trip just last weekend to Cedar City, I spent a day river hiking (I didn’t even know you could do this!) at Kanarraville Falls. It was treacherous at moments. Imagine all the rigors of hiking only doing it in water anywhere from 3 to 18 inches deep. It was soggy.

That night I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which I learned is apparently one of the best of its kind in the nation.

A couple weeks prior I saw a Western themed version of Joseph and The Technicolor Dreamcoat at an outdoor theater at Sundance. If I’d been in Texas, I would’ve been sweating like mad in the 95+ degree evening sun. Instead I was wearing pants and a hoody in the mountains where Robert Redford used to jog.

Utah has all four seasons. It’s hardly ever very hot or ever very cold – except in the mountains. It’s rare for the temp to ever drop below 0 in the valleys unlike places like Minneapolis where the high is sometimes sub-zero.

It’s very high in elevation. It’s the second driest state in the nation (not humid!!)

It’s not very highly populated.

Utah’s a weird and special place. When I think of all the places one could be from, Utah isn’t too bad. Sure it’s a little culturally dead at times (though I did see Free Salamander Exhibit there recently) but it’s got its own version of oddness that you can only find in a desert state.

It’s the headquarters of the quintessential American religion (for white people): Mormons. Of those, it’s got the modern version, the re-organized version that still practices polygamy out in the middle of nowhere. Mormons are very independent and yet they seem to understand the value of interdependence. Of course we modern day anglo-natives come from a Utah culture that had to band together to survive some pretty harsh conditions and travel just to get to the Salt Lake Valley. This is celebrated on July 24 each year with the state holiday Pioneer Day – which may as well be Fourth of July with all the fireworks people set off. Mormons get stuff done. It still amazes me that 18-year old boys enter the Missionary Training Center and come out speaking a new language in a matter of months rather than years.

My point is that things like survival, perseverance, patience, integrity and cooperation seem to have been handed down to me culturally. I’m very grateful to have descended and learned from people who care(d) enough about the next generation to teach them and instill good values and habits in them.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – DAY 8 – Ability to Forgive


I learned the value of forgiveness from my family.  Mostly from my mom who has had to be very forgiving of nearly all the men in her life.


Recently, a friend asked me why we should forgive. Why not just write the offending party off?  I had to think on this and read up on it a lot. I guess the best reason to forgive, in my opinion, is to also be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all say things we don’t mean. We all cross a line once in awhile. We can all be selfish, careless, out of control, short-sighted, scared. If you can forgive others, I believe you can forgive yourself and hopefully be forgiven by others. When we truly forgive, anger and stress can be freed from our minds and allowed to move along.


I’m not saying that we shouldn’t hold people accountable. How many times can you forgive someone for the same thing? Depends on how really offensive and hurtful the thing is and that is completely relative to each person.


My mom has endured some pretty intense hurt. I admire how tough she’s had to be to get through. Amazingly, she’s stayed positive through it all and continues to be resilient. Her faith helps but I think that it takes someone with real self-confidence to push forward through trials rather than just bailing when stuff gets hard.


In the past, I’ve allowed negativity and pessimism to permeate my efforts, attitude and life and yet I persevered. I think this is largely because I’ve been able to forgive myself, even if silently, and just keep going. Sometimes it’s felt good to just say, “this sucks and I don’t know what I’m doing nor do I deserve to succeed!!” in the  most negative way while continuing through the fog. I don’t know why. But it has given me the opportunity for self-forgiveness over and over.


And as a result, I’ve become much more accepting of others’ mistakes. I may get angry, but I can almost always forgive. This has preserved and even strengthened me and others and I’m grateful for their patience.

GRATITUDE JOURNAL – Day 7 – Deep Connections

I watched this video of Simon Sinek recently in which he talks about millennials in the workplace and how they’ve been dealt a “bad hand.” One of the problems he sees for this younger generation is a lack of deep connections which he links to overuse of social media. (I tend to agree with this assessment.)

Listening to him, I wondered, “How could anyone go through their life without deep connections?” I guess people do.

I don’t.

In fact, I go through life with LOTS of connections I find to be deep and enriching. These are people who come running when I’m in crisis and vice versa. They support me and what I’m doing. They humble me because I often think they’re better to me than I am to them. These are people with whom I share my deepest thoughts, my darkest fears. I will admit, I can lean in to the territory of over-sharing. I like connecting with others. However, I think it takes courage, vulnerability and willingness on the part of both parties to really connect  deeply and I know I have that.

It takes quality people.

I suppose “quality people” is a subjective term. For me, quality people choose the high road even when things get tough. They genuinely care about others and themselves. They to maintain their values and ideals even when tested or questioned but are also flexible enough to consider other points of view. The best among them are not only confident enough to be honest with themselves and their friends but kind enough to use tact and compassion. They share their innermost selves and accept others’. They understand the value of interdependence over independence and practice it.

Some of my deep connections are family but the vast majority these are friends simply because of sheer numbers. I’ve been going through the hardest period of my life this spring/summer and I will be forever grateful for the outpouring of support and love I’ve been given by my closest and even some of my not-as-close friends and family.

I love all of you. I may never be able to repay you in the same way that you’ve honored me with your support. Frankly, I hope you’ll never need it. If you ever do, I’ll be there.

Thank you.