Filtering by Tag: music

Once Upon a Howl

First and foremost, you need to know that the third ‘a’ in ‘Appalachian’ sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘lack,’ not the ‘a’ in ‘lake’. Phonetically speaking, it’s pronounced app-uh-latch-uh, not app-uh-lay-shuh.

Okay. Now that we’ve squared that away, we can start. 

*

In the middle of a slow day in the middle of a February in Philadelphia, my friend (who also happened to be my co-worker and housemate) came over to my desk. “Hey, you’ve got to check out this Kickstarter. It’s a pretty great video.” We sat down on a couch and he showed me the video on his laptop. 

The video was made by a singer-songwriter who needed money to finish recording a full-length album. It was one of the more earnest, sentimental videos I’d seen. Normally, I’d be quick to critique any imperfections in the video itself. I was working for a production company at the time and had been working as an editor for several years. 

I knew what a “great video” looked and sounded like. This was, by most aesthetic markers, an “okay video.” But I watched the whole video with my friend. Then, after he returned to his work, I watched the video again on my laptop.

And then I watched it again. And again.

In the middle of that slow day in the middle of February in Philadelphia, I was in the middle of a slow-motion heartbreak. Many things I’d believed in, both personally and professionally, were dissolving before my eyes. And despite my efforts, I couldn’t do anything to stop it. 

In hindsight, it’s not a surprise. After all, I was broken myself. It was akin to Humpty Dumpty attempting to piece back together someone else who’d fallen off the wall, while himself still scattered across the sidewalk.

I watched John Lucas’ video in the middle of a heartbreak. I heard his overly earnest, carpe-diem words talk about the kind of man he wished to be, the kind of songs he wished to write, the kind of world he longed to contribute to. Had I watched this video a year previous, I would’ve criticized his framing, his editing, and his color grading.

But watching it at that exact moment, all I did was watch it again. And cry. 

And watch it again.

“Yes,” I said, rejoicing, from the bottom of the pit in which I found myself. “Someone who believes. Someone who hopes. Someone who yearns and is unashamed in their yearning. Someone who has determined to love at all costs, no matter where that leads.”

I gave what I could, more than I’ve ever give to anything before or since. Included in the funding, I wrote to Lucas — “Much of what you hope to see, much of what you believe exists in the heart of every person — I believe and walk with you. I'm too broken to be cynical, too hurt to be angry. I'm just gonna believe every word you say and do what I can to support the howl in your heart.”

Lucas responded, surprised and grateful for the funding. We kept in casual touch since then — I’d listen to his music, and he’d read the poetry I’d post online. Last year, he interviewed me for his personal blog, which was another lovely experience. Earlier this year, I received an email from Lucas. He and his wife were backpacking in Nepal at the time, but they were looking to return Stateside soon: “It's been wild to say the least,” he wrote, “and has made me think a lot about what life could be like when we get back home. I've been thinking for awhile that I would love to finally get to spend some time with you…I wanted to extend you an invitation to come stay with us and to be one of our first guests at our new place.”

I responded hours later by forwarding my flight itinerary, the trip planned for the Fall.  

*

I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina late in the day. Lucas picked me up and drove the hour-plus out to Boone, located along the Appalachian Mountain Range. Though we’d only emailed for approximately three-and-a-half years, we leapt into conversation as old friends. 

The next morning, we set out along the Blue Ridge Parkway. While taking on a series of hikes, we talked about — in no particular order — Jesus, the Devil, aliens, siblings, creativity, farts, music, climate change and sushi. 

Over the course of my days in Boone, I learned about Wooly Worms, the Brown Mountain Lights, and the lawn game Kubb. I learned that sriracha mixed with honey tastes delicious, but that sriracha mixed with maple syrup might taste even better.

I learned the beauty of what Rosaria Butterfield calls “radical hospitality”: a generosity of home and all resource. Lucas is a thoughtful, imaginative artist who, from time to time, loves a good game of backgammon. Danielle is a heart-shaped pistol, unafraid to both speak her mind and love without reservation.  They’ve backpacked together across the world and continually explore what it means to be courageous in both word and deed. My time with the both of them reaffirmed my own desire to love people, to know and be known by others. Lucas and Danielle’s constant affections for friends and family alike showed me the potential of what could happen when you intentionally pursue relationships with others.

The last hike they took me on was Snake Mountain. We began our hike at approximately 3,000 feet above sea level, and though the hike to the summit was only three miles, it also included 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile involved trudging through bits of snow slush, ducking trail overgrowth, and a small bit of rock-climbing. When we arrived at the top, Danielle took Lucas’ and my picture.     

Many times during my trip, I thought back to when my friend first showed me Lucas’ video. And in those times, I smiled. I thanked God — for my friend, for Lucas and Danielle, for the heart God placed in me, and for seeing it through the breaking. 

Sometimes, when a heart breaks, it shatters. Its fractures are gaping and cavernous. The heart splits open and tears apart in seismic fashion. Through its breaking, it births new territories of raw-nerve-grief-despair-confusion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell between a joyful howl, and am embittered wail. But in the midst of that volcanic ache, seeds of healing are planted, sometimes without our knowing.

Sometimes, in the midst of the dying, resurrection is already on the move.  

under construction: BONZO

So. Many. Cobwebs. 

The good news is that, in the two hours of cleaning out various webs and dark spaces, there was only one spider that wound up crawling up my sleeve and inciting a freak-out. In my mind, each of its legs were as big as the St. Louis Archway, and its fangs were like claw hammers, and its eyes were jet-black baseballs of death.

I’m too afraid to google for spiders and find out exactly what kind I saw in my garage. Mostly because I had a bunch of weird dreams last night. Also because it’s 6:30 in the morning, and I don’t want eight legged freaks invading my subconscious that early in the day. 

The carport at the back of my house was used, by the former owner, as a motorcycle repair shop. With that in mind, there’s a lot of various apparatus I need to remove — pneumatic tubes, pulleys, chains — before I can do anything resembling a proactive remodel. It’s a bit like Doc Frankenstein punched his ticket for the coast and left the shop with half the gear dangling from the ceiling. 

However, what the carport is almost immediately useful for — is my drum kit.

Because, you know, priorities. 

*

Well there's a light in your eye that keeps shinin'

Like a star that can't wait for night.

I hate to think I been blinded baby.

Why can't I see you tonight?


An' the warmth of your smile starts a burnin'

An' the thrill of your touch give me fright

And I'm shakin' so much, really yearnin'.

Why don't you show up and make it alright

*

Led Zeppelin entered into my life via Kyle Heath, a late-twenties janitor at church with long blond hair and an affinity for both Big Gulps and the Oakland Athletics. My brother and I took a shine to him, and during our junior high/high school years, we attended, on average, 10-15 A’s games a year. I grew up in San Jose, and yes, the Giants have “territorial” rights to San Jose, but the A’s were closer and cheaper, so there.

Our 45-minute drive to the Coliseum was a crash course in music education. We’d always kick off the drive with Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.”

“ALL ABOARD!!!!!!!!”

After that, however, it was fair game as to what we’d hear. Kyle introduced us to Van Halen and Eddie’s brain-melting, finger-tapping, bewildering solos. To my brother — a budding guitarist in his own right — this was like hearing the Sermon on the Mount from Christ himself, buddy. Christ himself. 

Kyle also played rockabilly (Paladins, Stray Cats), early and late-stage Journey, Cheap Trick, and more Butt Rock (80’s hair metal) than I care to recount. 

One sunny day during batting practice (we always arrived early for BP), I asked him about Led Zeppelin. “They were a band back in the seventies. They’re pretty hard rock. Their drummer died though right at the beginning of the eighties.” Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” played over the Coliseum’s loudspeakers as Jason Giambi stepped into the box. We, in the right field bleachers, readied out gloves. “I can lend you a couple CD’s; see what you think.”
He lent me Led Zeppelin I, II, III and IV/Zoso/Untitled, depending on your denomination.

I was hooked from “Good Times, Bad Times”, the first track off the first album. You can almost see the audience waiting in anticipation, and the lights cut to black at the opening crunch of Jimmy’s guitar. There’s Bonzo, John Bonham, stomping along with Page, slowly ramping up the tension, right up until that Motown-by-way-of-Worcestershire swagger drum fill ushers him, Page, along with bassist John Paul Jones and lead vocalist Robert Plant rollicking into the blasting light. The crowd goes wild.  

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 

*

And if you promised you'd love so completely

And you said you would always be true

You swore that you never would leave me baby

Whatever happened to you?


And you thought it was only in movies

As you wish all your dreams would come true

It ain't the first time believe me baby

I'm standing here feeling blue!

*

My first drum kit is, so far, my only drum kit: A six-piece used Magenta Tama Rockstar. 22-inch bass drum, and five, count ‘em five, toms (8, 10, 12, 13, 16). I remember the exact number on the Guitar Center receipt — $523.16 It was, at that time, the most expensive thing I’d ever paid for with my own money. That receipt was like Wonka’s golden ticket.

I set up the kit in what was my and my siblings’ play room, where we kept our toys, video game consoles, lightsabers, championship wrestling belts, etc. I played and wailed and sounded like drunken elephants stumbling down a hillside. I promised my parents to not play past 8PM, and I kept my word. To this day, in fact, I still can’t play past that deadline.  

When I moved down to Southern California for college, the kit stayed at my parents’ house. Same for the first apartment after college, same for the house after that. I had six roommates in that house; a drum kit was one thing too many. 

However, a year and a half into my time on the East Coast, it was time. I jammed the kit into my car and brought both the car and the kit out to Philadelphia. I set it up in the basement and renewed my love affair with music. With drums. With Led Zeppelin. 

The kit came with me to Portland, and after a few more basement stopovers, she’s found a wonderful home in the remodel-in-process carport.

*

Now I will stand in the rain on the corner

I watch the people go shuffling downtown

Another ten minutes no longer

And then I'm turning around, ‘round


And the clock on the wall's moving slower

Oh, my heart it sinks to the ground

And the storm that I thought would blow over

Clouds the light of the love that I found, found

*

 

In Through the Out Door, Zeppelin’s last album, was released in 1979. The album garnered so-so reviews upon its initial release, though some people (myself included) defend its quality. The album is personally notable for two reasons: first, it includes one of my favorite Zeppelin tracks, “Fool in the Rain.” It’s the song whose lyrics I’ve been quoting throughout this piece. It’s a rollicking 6/8 track that, for me, gives me an idea of what Zeppelin would have sounded like had they made it to the 80’s.

Second, the album was released with six different cover designs. The concept, created and executed by famed English art design group Hipgnosis, is a single scene shown from multiple perspectives. The scene depicts a man, wearing a cream colored suit, seated in a New Orleans Bar. He holds a “Dear John” letter in one hand as the letter’s corner ignites in flame. The album’s colors are muted, save for a wipe in the center of the picture in full color. There’re several people in the bar —  bartender, piano player, additional patrons — and each cover showcases their point of view of the man at the bar.

Collecting all six would be a difficult task in and of itself, but Zeppelin upped the ante by sealing the album itself in brown paper bags. Therefore, when you bought the album, you’d never know which cover you’d be purchasing. Nowadays, when you walk into a vinyl, most of the Zep albums aren’t plastic-wrapped, so it’s easier to look at which covers the store has in its possession. I’d collected four of the six by the time I graduated college, but I put the search on hold for a while.

And by a while, I mean ten years gone. 

But this past Friday, a friend and I walked by a record store, and I told him about Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door…and my passion was rekindled. That night, I laid out the four covers I had and took a picture of them for reference. The next day, I returned to the shop, hopeful but realistic of what I’d find (it’s one of the smaller vinyl shops in Portland). 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear…

The last two covers. 

Thirty dollars fled my account like it was a prison break. Maybe the guy at the counter thought me weird for buying two of the same album. No matter. I had my six covers — more precious to me than Infinity Stones or Horcruxes — and my quest had been completed.

*

Ooh now my body is starting to quiver

And the palms of my hands getting wet, oh

I got no reason to doubt you baby

It's all a terrible mess


And I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless

When I'm breathless I'll run till I drop, hey!

And the thoughts of a fool's gotta count

I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block!  

*

Today, September 25, marks the 38th anniversary of John Bonham’s death. In the aftermath, we’re left with drums that cascade into the room and reverberate in your rib cage. It’s Hammer of the Gods, from first to last.

Now that the kit’s up and running, I’m playing drums more regularly. I’m rusty, and my chops aren’t what they used to be. Intermittent playing has done me no favors. 

Good Times, Bad Times, sin pregunta.  

However, as I continue to clean out the carport, continue to dream about what the space could be, continue to find more and more chains, belts and spiders, I continue to stop every so often, put on the headphones, and ramble on with the madman behind the kit.

Ramble on, Bonzo. Ramble on.

*

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found

Light of the love that I found