Archive for June, 2012

Summon the Heroes

This week’s mini hiatus was brought to you by an unscheduled stomach bug. We now return you to your regularly scheduled ramblings.

These days, it seems like I get more of my news from Facebook status updates than actual creditable news sources like CNN or The Onion. The big news this week appears to be that it’s hot in Texas, Colorado is on fire, and the Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare. I can’t do anything about the temperature in Texas, I’m very sorry to hear about the wildfires in Colorado, and I just don’t get into politics enough to form an opinion that anyone would want to read. Therefore, today I’ll write about what everyone’s focus should be on already. Because it’s time once again for the world to come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. It’s time for hours upon hours of sports that you’ve never even heard of before, but damned if you won’t cheer for your country until your throat is raw. It’s time for national pride and smack talk in many languages. It’s time for running, jumping, swimming, and human interest stories. It’s time for hours upon hours of John Williams. Sound the anthems and light the torch. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the Olympics.

Note: This post will be cooler if you listen to the John Williams link while reading it. At the very least, you’ll feel more Olympic by the time I’m done.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved the Olympics. To me, there is no joy so sweet and pure as facing 3rd world countries on the field of athletic competition, and then crushing them. In 1992, the Barcelona games saw the reunification of Germany on an athletic field, pitted Dan vs. Dave (or at least tried to until Dan failed to qualify),  and introduced us to Shannon Miller, who still has not returned my fan letter. In 1996, bravery was given a name and a face in the person of Kerri Strug, who somehow landed a vault with a sprained ankle. I don’t remember a thing about the 2000 games because I was in college then and was young, inattentive, and stupid. In 2004, Carly Patterson became the 2nd American woman to ever win the all around gold medal in women’s gymnastics, the Dream ended prematurely for men’s basketball, and Michael Phelps threw down on the entire world with 6 gold and 2 bronze medals. And finally, in 2008, Phelps went from bad ass to ultra bad ass by winning 8 gold medals in performances that left me jumping up and down in my apartment.  With so many great memories over the years, one might ask why the Olympics are not held more frequently. First, that would be impossible. An Olympiad is a period of 4 years. Therefore,  to hold the Olympics more than once every 4 years would not only tarnish the tradition, it would be a crime against grammar. More than that though, there is an almost romantic mystique that surrounds the Olympics that requires the requisite build up. The manner in which these heroes of the sports arena enter our homes for just 2 weeks every 4 years almost leaves us asking the question, “who was that masked man (or woman)?” Coupled with the fact that NBC will provide us with the extensive back story of each and every Olympian of note during their coverage, the anticipation is just a part of what makes the Olympics so great.

With just 28 days to go until the Opening Ceremonies, I’m already geeked up for the Olympics. During that period, you can expect frequent posts about pride, determination, and if we lose something we shouldn’t, widespread accusations of anti-American cheating. In addition, per tradition I will be tracking an obscure sport and providing detailed breakdowns of the competition. This Olympiad I have elected to go with synchronized swimming. While I do not expect that this will have the same draw as water polo, which was my obscure sport of the Beijing games, I do expect that it will be awesome watching people hold their breath for a long time while dancing underwater. Until next time then, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Bob Costas:

“I don’t believe there’s a single American sitting around saying, ‘I’d like to see Bob Costas’ take on this.’”

Have an excellent Friday!

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Funky Bass Grooves

Back when I was but a mere band nerdling roughly 65 million years ago now, I absolutely hated bass clarinet parts. Music intended for middle school and beginning high school wind ensembles is not, in the strictest sense, often challenging for the kid who plays the bass line. In my freshman year of high school, I had just about reached my limit and was ready to quit. I was in the 3rd band (in order to climb Everest, one must start at the bottom), and we were playing music that not only wasn’t challenging, it was in my eyes a steaming pile of crap. Finally, after one rehearsal, I went up to the director and told him that I’d had it with the stupid bass clarinet and the stupid bass parts that went with it, and that I was ready to walk. Because we were the 3rd band, we were missing a few of the less popular instruments, and as it turns out one of the pieces had a bassoon solo, but no bassoonist in which to play said solo. I don’t know what his original intention was for that solo, but my director was nice enough to transpose the part to bass clarinet and give it to me. I was absolutely ecstatic. Finally, I was going to have my moment in the sun. After years of whole notes and half notes, I was going to take the next step and bust out with a brilliant solo, the likes of which had never been heard in the hallowed cafeteria where we played most of our concerts that year.

Tangent: My high school now has an extremely nice performance hall where they have their concerts now. I would say the band kids are spoiled, but that would be an insult to the football players who play their home games in a multi-million dollar stadium complete with artificial turf and a jumbotron. God bless Texas.

Finally, the concert day arrived. I was elated. I was pumped. I was ready to throw down and blow the audience away. We started to play. The moment drew nearer. Finally, my moment in the sun arrived. The brilliance that flowed from my horn that night was so beautiful that the mothers in the audience spontaneously broke into tears, and the fathers looked upon me, wishing for just one moment in time, that their own sons and daughters could achieve the musical nirvana that I had just put forth. In reality, I don’t even remember how that solo went. I can’t even remember what piece of music it was. I played it just fine, but after we were done, I realized that I didn’t need to be a soloist. I didn’t even need to play melodic parts.

That was the night that I fell in love with the bass line.

No matter what genre of music you listen to, the bass line is the foundation and backbone upon which greatness is built. Without a good bass line, burglars do not creep silently through a museum late at night to steal the Pink Panther . Without a good bass line, Stevie Ray Vaughan would only have a bad feeling, instead of a real, real bad feeling that his baby don’t love him no mo. Without a good bass line, the Empire would have been crushed by the Rebellion at its very inception. A good bass line is, without any embellishment whatsoever, the difference between a lukewarm bath with a rubber ducky, and hot tubbing with this year’s entire Victoria Secret catalog roster. A good bass line is very, very important indeed.

Bass players are generally not the frontmen of music groups. The only bass players I can think of off the top of my head are Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, and my friend Tim who incidentally will be rocking The Parish this Saturday, June 30 at 10:00 PM. Bass players are not the cherry on the sundae. Instead, bass players are that layer of fudge at the bottom of the sundae that remains once you’ve eaten all the ice cream and tastes so damn good that you’d literally cut your pinkie off for just a taste. I can’t remember now where I was going with this.

In closing, my name is Andy Grove, and I’m proud to have been playing the bass line for the past 23 with all the wonderful ensembles I’ve had the pleasure of performing with. We are not the Guitar Heroes who are flooded backstage with autograph requests from scantily clad women. We are not the soloists who fingers fly so rapidly that you’d swear that performance enhancing drugs are involved. Our instrument cases are large, and our hotel rooms are small. But that’s ok. Because while others may get the fortune and the glory, we are content in the knowledge that we are, without a doubt, the biggest badasses on the planet. And with that, I am off to Dairy Queen to get a peanut buster parfait. Mr. Waters, please play me off.

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Bonus Coverage: Musician on Musician Violence

Because today’s earlier post was relatively short, and because I was already thinking about nonsensical things at lunch, here’s a quick bonus entry for today that poses the age old question:

Who Would Win In Steel Cage Matches Between The Following Musicians?

Bonnie Tyler vs. Heart – Bonnie Tyler wins after totally eclipsing the Wilson sisters.

Faith No More vs. Faith Hill – In a surprising upset, Faith Hill proves to be a wild one after delivering an epic beat down to Faith No More, as they are unable to answer the question that has plagued mankind for generations….what is it?

Aerosmith vs. Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction wins since, by Aerosmith’s own admission, Janie’s got a gun.

Hall & Oates vs. Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Ends in a no contest. Although Hall & Oates have the Maneater on their side, the pacifistic nature of CSNY teaches the children well, and hugs instead of punches are given all around. Conspicuous by his absence is Neil Young, who may or may not have been waiting backstage with a steel chair.

Pink vs. Pink Floyd – Pink did that song where she talks about starting a fight. Pink Floyd is the greatest band in the history of the world. This isn’t even a discussion. Pink Floyd makes Pink comfortably numb… six feet under.

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Things In Things That Have Seemingly Nothing Or Very Little To Do With The First Things Are Funny

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnzFRV1LwIo

A few years back, I saw this commercial for the first time. It touched me on a level that I never thought was possible, and irrevocably changed the course of my life. Ok, not really, but it is both an awesome and funny commercial. If you asked me why this is, I couldn’t begin to tell you. Gorillas, drums, and Phil Collins have absolutely nothing to do with British chocolate makers that I know of. So why is this so funny?

Tangent: There is, of course, the chance that you don’t think this is funny at all, and if so you probably think I’m on drugs or am damaged in some other way. You may be right (Mom, I’m not taking drugs), but I would counter your argument with the fact that you are a lifeless, soulless husk of a person that sucks all the joy from the wonderful things in this world. I also stuck my tongue out when I wrote that. Yeah, that’s right. Please remember to tip your waiter because you just got served… blog style.

I’ve always found humor in things that are absurd or even nonsensical. To me, the more abstract you can make something, the more potential it has for humor. For an example, an early episode of Family Guy saw Peter being sentenced in court:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iE4uEsaBF0

For someone who didn’t grow up in the 80’s, this would make little to no sense. For those of us that did, the sudden, inexplicable appearance of a beloved icon delivering his infamous catchphrase sends us back to a time of running through the sprinkler while licking kool aid  ice cubes with toothpicks.

I don’t think I’m articulating what I wanted to say about today’s  topic like I wanted to, but that’s ok. Perhaps it’s fitting that this post should be somewhat nonsensical in its own right. In closing, here are a few nonsensical pairings I’ve come up with that I think should be developed immediately:

1) “Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Kramer” – Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Michael Richards in a love triangle filled with courtroom drama and neighbors who just won’t go away.
2) “The Goondock Saints” – Sean Astin & Sean Patrick Flannery bring a new level of justice to that Fratelli gang. The Goonies may never say die, but everyone who has ever wronged them will…
3) “Remember the Clash of the Titans” – Hades and his minions have bitten off more than they can chew when Denzel Washington arrives to whip up the denizens of Olympus into a lean, mean, tackling machine.

Tangent: The sales guys are now singing “In The Air Tonight” because I played that commercial without headphones a few minutes ago.

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Can You Go Home Again?

I promise that today’s post will not be about music. However, if you”ll permit me a quick story from yesterday…

As I was driving home, I was bouncing around the radio looking for some dulcet tones to rock my face off for the 23 minutes it takes me to commute.

Tangent: Is there any bigger letdown while driving than when you land on a station, sit through an entire block of commercials, and the first song after the break sucks? Though I guess a fiery crash would be worse than that, so never mind.

My radio scan landed on MAJIC 95.5, and lo and behold they were playing 80’s music! As it turns out, they’ll be playing 80’s music the entire weekend. Some might chalk this up to coincidence, since I’d just spent a well documented week listening to 80’s music on Pandora. Not me though. Based on the evidence at hand, I can only assume that MAJIC 95.5 is reading my blog, and has decided that I am the voice of the people. When it comes to afternoon drive time radio, I am the second coming of Che Guevara. Anyway, if you want to rock out to the 80’s all weekend in Austin, feel free to tune in to 95.5 and send me a thank you note later.

All this reminiscing about the 80’s has made for a very nostalgic week. In 1987, my family moved to Singapore, where we lived for 5 years. It was an incredible experience, and allowed me to see parts of the world that I never would have been able to otherwise. Unfortunately, I was too young to really appreciate the opportunities that were given to me. Most people would be ecstatic to do things like stand on the Great Wall of China, gaze upon Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, kiss the Blarney Stone, and ride an elephant through a small village in Borneo. However, to a somewhat over-privileged 10 year old, my proudest achievement at the time was that I’d played video games on 4 different continents. It wasn’t until after we’d moved back to the US that I really began to appreciate the incredible experience we’d had. There was a time when I’d have given anything to move back, especially deep in the culture shock period of re-adjusting to life in Texas. Truth be told, I still have dreams to this day of living in Singapore, and I still have extremely vivid memories of life abroad.

We left Singapore 7,671 days ago now. I’ve often said that I’d like to go back to visit, but I have yet to do so. I think it’s partially due to the fact that 1) I don’t like flying and 20 something hours on an airplane sucks and 2) Flying to Singapore is really expensive when your dad’s company isn’t paying for it. Mostly though, I’m afraid of what I’ll find if I go back. Through the magic of the internet, I’ve managed to connect with some old friends who I went to school with over there, and from what I can tell from them as well as countless hours of Googling, Singapore has changed a lot since we left. I suppose that it’s inevitable that a place would change in the course of 21 years, but my biggest fear is that if I do go back now, will what I remember be intact at all? I know that much of what is in my memory lives only in my memory now, and to this point I’m just not willing to risk tarnishing that.

I don’t think this is a, “you can’t go home again,” type situation. For me, Austin is and will probably always be home, and I’m very happy to live here. Singapore will always have a special place in my heart, and in my memory. Perhaps one day, when we can be put into cold sleep to travel like in the Fifth Element, I’ll go back and visit. Until then, the fond memories of a tiny little island in the South China Sea are enough for me.

P.S. – No, I was never caned, though I probably deserved to be from time to time.

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On Music and Memories

3 posts about music in a row? On the playground, they call that a tic-tac-toe. In College Station, they call that a tradition. In my own warped little world, I just call that being boring and predictable. However, it’s Friday, so you’ll have to take what you can get.

Thanks to the wonderful world of Pandora, I’ve spent the past few days listening to 80’s music as evidenced by my earlier posting this week. All week I’ve been overjoyed to see something coming in the air tonight with Phil, heard about the greatest love of all from Whitney, and even been rocked by Amadeus by that strange German fellow whose name I cannot recall. During this miniature retro odyssey of mine, I’ve been reminded of how powerful music can be in triggering memories. As I don’t remember the vast majority of what I learned in all those college psychology classes (but thanks for paying for them anyway, Mom and Dad), I can’t remember what this phenomena is called, or even if it’s something that is widespread in all of us or just confined in my own fragile little mind. Nevertheless, for me music has always invoked very vivid memories. To demonstrate, here are 3 examples of things that I shouldn’t remember, but do.

1) Chicago – “So Hard To Say I’m Sorry”

This is one of my earliest memories. I don’t know the exact year, but it was around 1982 – 1983. I would have been about 3 years old at the time. This song was playing on the radio when my dad took me camping for what I believe was the first time, when we were living in North Hudson, Wisconsin. We’d stopped at A&W to pick up dinner before driving to the campsite. One of the cups of root beer spilled on the floor of the passenger side, at which time Dad taught me one of my first swear words. It must have been autumn, because when we got to the campsite I remember it was completely covered in leaves, which actually made for a very soft ground surface to sleep on. We used my parents old green Timberline tent, and at one point I was stupid, ran across the campsite with a flashlight, and tripped over a (thankfully) dormant fire pit. I cried like a little girl, but learned a valuable lesson: don’t run around in the forest in the dark, unless the zombie apocalypse has already started.

2) Starship – “Sara”

I remember the song well, but do not recall if the band was called Starship, Jefferson Starship, or Jefferson Airplane at this time.  This would have been when I was 6 years old, and living in Austin for the first time. We were up at my elementary school flying kites in the field where we played soccer at recess. The music was coming from a boombox in someone’s backyard next to the field. I remember my kite was extremely long and had a tail that more than doubled the length of the kite. At first I was having trouble getting it to stay up (shut up), but once it was in the air it was smooth sailing. I remember that there was a lot of flint in that field, and that I took care to not trip over any of the rocks. All in all, it was a good kite flying day.

3) The Highwaymen – “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train”

In 1989, we bought our first CD player for the house. However, to my knowledge we only bought 2 CD’s to start with. I assume my parents each chose a CD, because the only 2 CD’s that ever got played for the first 6 months we owned that thing were Highwayman and the soundtrack from Dirty Dancing. I’ll let you guess which parent picked which CD. I’m sure that Dad wasn’t putting Desperadoes Waiting For A Train on repeat, but that song sure did get played a lot. The memory that this invokes for me is when my brother and I used to “box” in the living room right next to the CD player. We only owned 1 set of boxing gloves, so to keep things kosher each brother got one boxing glove and one pillow. As luck would have it, I’m right-handed and my brother is left-handed, so it worked out well. My brother is 3 years younger than me, and so at the time was much easier to push around. One of the worst days of my life was the day he figured out that he was no longer shorter than me. In retrospect, it’s amazing that neither of us ever sustained serious injury during those boxing matches, as we were surrounded by marble stonework, breakable glass shelves, and all sorts of other things that kids today are overly protected from. Nevertheless, we persevered, and here I now sit, reminiscing for you about how The Highwaymen provided the soundtrack for some of my brother’s early beat downs.

I realize now that this is one of my longer blog posts, and by now most of you are probably bored. However, I think I’ve made my point. Music has the power, at least within me, to unlock some extremely vivid memories. Perhaps some of you have similar cases, where a certain song or piece of music transports you back to the days of big wheels and sit ‘n spins. If so, please feel free to share your memories. In closing, I present for your approval a haiku that has absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve written about today:

Sean Bean lied to me,
Triple digit heat next week.
Winter’s not coming.

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The Music of My Life

Last night I went to a bad ass concert featuring the brilliant Jonny Lang and the legend that is Buddy Guy. It was very likely the best concert I’ve ever been to. I’m not going to try to review it, because every time I try to write a music review it ends up sounding like the scene from Almost Famous where Patrick Fugit tells Stillwater that they’re incendiary. However, it was a truly excellent show, and if you like blues guitar at all then you should try to catch Buddy Guy or Jonny Lang if you ever have the opportunity. If you don’t like blues guitar, then stop reading my blog. Seriously. I don’t write for the likes of you.

Music has has been a big part of my life ever since I joined the school band when I was in 5th grade. I’m not entirely sure where my constant desire to make music comes from, as my parents to my knowledge never did anything music related beyond grade school. Over my own personal musical odyssey, which is now in its 23rd year, I’ve met and played with some musicians for whom playing a technical etude was as easy as reciting the alphabet. I’ve met people who’s instrument was almost an extension of their body. I’ve even met people who’s musical talents are so vast, they’re exceeded only by the size of their egos. Generally, those tend to be trumpet players. I am not, nor will I ever be, that person. I’ve had to work for every note that I’ve ever produced. I have no disillusions about being a musical virtuoso. In my eyes, I’m just the kid who never quit high school band because he liked playing too much. And that is something I have absolutely no problem with. I don’t play because I’m a brilliant musician (I’m not) and I don’t play because I have an unconscious need to show off my musical ability to the world (It’s not that impressive). I play because I love it. The parts I play on my weapon of choice (the bass clarinet) are not the sexy, solo parts that garner worldwide fame, or even result in kids running up to you after a performance. I have no problem with that either, because it’s not my own sound that I’m in love with. What I love is being a part of the sound produced by the finest wind ensemble in the world. The sheer joy I get from doing that is something that I won’t even attempt to put into words.

I chose to write about music today because 1) “Life in B-Flat” is a reference to the key my clarinet is in (it’s not a fancy metaphor like Tim thinks) 2) I’d put music in the subtitle of this blog and I thought that I should expand on that past yesterday’s time warp back to the 80’s and 3) The Jonny Lang / Buddy Guy concert last night reminded me of just how much I love music. I would challenge anyone out there who loves music as much as I do to keep doing it until your fingers don’t move anymore, or there’s no longer a breath in your lungs. At that point you’ll have to just peform symphonies in your own head. You don’t have to be a brilliant musician to love music. You don’t even have to be a good musician to love music. As long as music is something that gives you joy, then it should never stop being a part of your life. Unless you’re a new age jazz musician. Then you should probably just stop now, because what you’re doing is a crime against humanity.

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