Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chevy (Hit and) Runs Deep

  For the first few years after earning my drivers license, I only drove around my dad's pick-up, a white 1981 Chevy Silverado. Dad let me drive the truck quite a bit, usually with a Hutch Only stipulation.
  Dad never knew this, but I committed two hit-and-runs in that truck. The first was outside of  Gamblers, a short lived bar on Hutchinson's east side. Gamblers allowed you to enter at 18, an allowance most likely made to attract younger patrons of the female persuasion.
  I was 18 myself so I was very sober when this occurred, just not yet very experienced behind the wheel of a vehicle. I had just arrived, and finding that I had parked the truck uncomfortably close to the Ford Explorer beside me, attempted to back and re-park. Not yet having many opportunities to drive at night, I turned my wheel too soon, scraping the right side of the trucks front bumper down the driver side of the Explorer.
  I hightailed it out of there! A few blocks down the road I pulled into a Kwik-Shop parking lot and checked for damage. There was nothing! No marks on the truck, no collection of paint from the Explorer. Nothing! Elated at my good fortune, I went back to Gamblers, parked on the opposite end of the lot, and on my way inside walked past the victim-mobile to see what I had done. There was a huge gash in the green paint all the way down the length of the Explorer. I had fucked that bitch up!
  Upon entering the bar I had a waitress that I knew sneak me a beer.

  The second occurrence, I was meeting a friend who was just about to end her shift at an assisted living center. She had already pulled away, and I was to follow. Again, it was night. And again, I turned my wheel to soon.
  This time the victim was a little compact car with a hatchback. The front bumper of the Silverado caught the other car at the driver side door, and actually began to lift the rear of the little car as I backed. The further I backed, the higher it lifted. I thought about putting the truck back into drive, but   I was so close that had I gone forward, my entire side would have scraped against theirs. My only other choice was to commit and keep backing, which is what I did.
  The rear of the car lifted from the ground even more until I reached it's rear bumper. I gave the truck a tiny bit more gas and I had come free. The car fell back to the pavement and, unbelievably, the hatchback flew open! Once again, I fled, and reaching my friends house, I asked her mother for a flashlight to check for damage on the truck. Again, nothing!
  If I learned anything from those experiences, it was this: Nothing sticks to a '81 Chevy Silverado.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Musical Tastes Volume 2: Crue-cial Elements Concluded

 It's funny how sometimes you can wake up expecting your day to be a certain way, and by the time you close your eyes that night you are in awe of the path that you had just been led down. In my last post I had mentioned that I had planned to do a review of a Motley Crue show for writing practice. I even had my little flip-up notepad and my Pilot gel pen in my pocket. However, pen and paper would not be meeting. There would be too much testosterone and alcohol in me for that.
 I suppose that I should first explain that I did not pay for my ticket that night. We have just bought a new house. And between that, a new baby on the way, and a few other personal events, I would never have been able to think about paying for a concert ticket. Right before tickets went on sale, I half-jokingly said that I would go if someone were to buy me a ticket. Much to my surprise, my sister and my cousin Pete did exactly that. Consider it an early birthday present, they said. I have rarely been so grateful.

 We met up in Wichita at Walkers Bar and Venue just 2 hours before showtime with the plan of having a few drinks to get us loosened up. Walkers is located directly across the street from Intrust Bank Arena, a perfect location for preparatory imbibing with no need to drive afterward.
 '80's rock cover band The Banned is playing on the patio under the 97 degree sun and the presence of local rock station T-95 is everywhere. Upon entering we place our names into a radio station drawing for a pair of front row seats. The place is packed but the air conditioning feels great, which is good because the lines at the bar are very long and it takes forever to get a drink. We hang, sip our drinks, and make fun of our bartender who looks like Bobcat Goldthwait dressed as a male stripper in his leather vest, top hat, and eyeliner. 
 Our first drinks go down quickly and soon we are back in another eternal line for drinks, people watching and making derogatory comments about Bobcat the Bartender. After we once again have drinks in our hands we decide to brave the heat(there is no shade anywhere on the patio) and check out The Banned. I'm not sure if these guys are really bad or if the sun and heat are making them unenjoyable. Maybe it's the fact that they keep mutilating Motley Crue covers and we're about to see the real thing. Pete bails first and heads back to the air conditioning. I'm sipping on some straight liquor and while it is delicious, I find myself wishing that I had some soda and ice to make a cooler, more refreshing drink. The heat and The Banned both suck and I tell Hope and Anna that I'll be joining Pete in the AC.
 Pete and I do some catching up while the girls are outside listening to the music. We're only 6 months apart, and as kids we did everything together. We were very close as kids and even into high school when our differing interests and cliques sent us down divergent paths. As adults we see each other far less and always enjoy our opportunities to get together, catch up, and reminisce. Motley Crue is part of that history, and their music is one of the things that kept us close as teenagers when we sometimes had little else in common. That and the fact that our family is just too close to ever really let anyone drift too far.
 The ladies make their way back in when the band finishes. My sister mentions that it's pretty much time for the drawing. I'd nearly forgotten about it, my drinks are very strong and after only two I'm already quite foggy-headed. I tell everyone a gruesome story of a botched attempt to score concert tickets from plasma donation earnings, and how after giving up completely I ended up winning a pair from a Kansas City radio station five minutes after waking up the morning before the show. I've never won anything else. The balloon arm story is one I like to pull from my pocket every once in a while.
 We walk into the main bar area and there are at least another 300 people waiting to hear the same results. Just as we find a spot where we can see what's happening, a T-95 "rocksquad girl" is reaching into the box to draw a name. The dj takes the slip of paper and announces the winner into his mic. Travis West. Wow, whoever that dude is, he's super lucky to be sit-  Wait a second, that's my name! 
 I'm more intoxicated than I thought and suddenly I've gone totally deaf. I see my family members freaking out and jumping up and down but I'm just standing there staring at them.   Allow me to say here that cognac is very good shit, be careful with that stuff. Finally, Anna gives me a little push and the world turns back on. I walk up to the T-95 table with the entire bar cheering and hollering and they ask for my ID. After confirming that I am me, Tyler from the Todd & Tyler Morning Show asks if I already had tickets. Yes. Where were those seats? All the way in the fucking back, I tell him. "He says all the way in the fucking back, folks!"
 They hand me my new and improved tickets, turn me toward the cheering crowd in the bar and take my picture. I'm not even sure of who is in the photo with me until it appears on the station website the next day. 3 - 4 people offer to buy them from me immediately but these babies are mine! No way I'm giving up a chance to see the Crue and Alice Cooper from the front row!
 It's easily decided that Pete is coming up front with me. I find a quiet corner to call my wife while Hope calls our mom to let her know that there are two extra tickets and that she now has her opportunity to see Alice Cooper. Angie is just as excited for me as I am about winning. A Crue fan she is not, but she understands the significance this moment holds for me. I love my wife!
 We leave Walkers and head across the street to the arena. Walking through the parking lot, one of the T-95 guys from the bar spots me and introduces me to Hank the Mechanic, T-95's afternoon guy. Hank takes my number, gives me his card, and we agree that I will call him on the next Monday to talk about the show.

 Pete and I part company with Anna and Hope then make our way into the arena. First things first: restroom, beer, t-shirt. In that order. It's 6:45 and although the tickets advertise a start time of 7:00, opening act The Raskins are already on the stage. We hear 3 of their songs: a cover of The Breakup Song by Greg Kihn, an original that I forgot as soon as it was over, and another cover tune, this one of The Stooges' Search and Destroy. 
 A very short break follows before the man, myth, and legend that is Alice Cooper appears under a cascading shower of sparks, kicking off his performance with Hello Hooray. Alice is a rarity of an artist with his longevity in that, along with all of his classics he is also continuously making and performing new music. However, being an opening act and only having 50 minutes, tonight he is sticking mainly to his classics. Even the heavy theatrics that  he is known for are largely stripped from his show, relegated to a 3 song arc. His boa constrictor comes out for Welcome To My Nightmare, during Feed My Frankenstein he is transformed into a 12 foot monster, and he is made to wear a strait jacket by a wicked nurse for The Ballad of Dwight Fry, at the end of which he breaks free and attempts to strangle her. He is then punished at the guillotine.
 For a man of his age Alice still sounds very much as he did in his youth, and he pushes his voice to the limit for the set closing School's Out. Alice is one of the masters and, overall, he and his band put on a very solid and entertaining display of rock and roll showmanship.
 As soon as The Man Called Alice leaves the stage we hit up the beer stand again, grabbing 2 apiece. We get back to our seats and discuss how absolutely crazy it is that we are going to see one of our favorites so close up. Motley Crue's stage show is so over the top that, to me, it is best enjoyed sitting some ways back. The better to take it all in. What will it be like so close up? We are soon to find out.
 A Motley Crue show usually starts with a fiery bang, but their first 2 songs are performed balls-out without any show-y excess. They play so loud that it takes a few minutes to even comfortably breathe due to the sound vibrating through our chests. I have seen many a metal band and never has it felt like this!
 As they launch into their third song, Primal Scream, it finally turns into a true Crue show as giant fireballs take up half of the space on the stage. The heat from pyrotechnics of this sort are able to be felt even from the very back of an arena, from front row it feels like having a blow-dryer in your face. You can even feel the heated wind blow your hair back!
 During the course of the show we will also be witness to a flamethrowing bass and a drum set that raises some 30ft into the air and over the front of the stage, careening end over end and upside down the entire way. And while all of these spectacles are entertaining, what really matters tonight(to me anyway) are the songs, and the sheer volume of it all. The Crue play every song one would expect them to play with a few surprises thrown in. My hearing won't entirely come back until the next day.

 From the ages of 12 to 16, Motley Crue were my favorite band in the world. I owned every one of their albums, and scooped up any music magazine I could find with their name on it, reading every interview to gain some new insight on the band or some new information on things to come. As I've grown older, my music tastes have grown and expanded. I listened to punk and grunge in the '90's like everyone else my age. But no matter what was popular at the time, I never let trends dictate my tastes. And I never stopped liking Motley Crue. I still own all of their albums.

 We can't go back in time. There is no such thing as a time machine to take us back to relive the defining moments of our youth. Yet, on July 12, 2014 for 2 hours, I was 14 again. It has been many years since I've spent my entire time at a concert leaning on a security barricade while pumping my fist and singing every word to every song. For me, everything about this night comes down to 20 seconds.
 Motley Crue are playing the classic Sex Pistols tune, Anarchy in the UK. When they reach the verse that begins, " There are many ways to get what you want. . .", bassist Nikki Sixx walks to the edge of the stage in front of us, crouches down with his bass, establishes eye contact, and from the beginning of that verse through to the end of the chorus, we sing possibly the most classic punk rock song ever written. At the end of the chorus he stands back up, gives a Hell Yeah fist pump, and moves to the other side of the stage. Pete reaches over and smacks my shoulder. "That's you!", he shouts.

 For those 20 seconds the two of us are not 37 year old men, but we are two boys of 14 years having our existence acknowledged by one of our rock 'n' roll idols. It's funny and trivial, sure. But it's also badass as fuck! Your own father would do the same if Keith Richards were to sing Brown Sugar with him.
 They say that this will be their last tour, and if so, that will be fine with me. This is how I want to remember them going out. When Motley Crue left the stage that night, Nikki Sixx had already forgotten about us, more nameless faces in the masses. But the 14 year old boys inside of us will remember.

Alice Cooper
Intrust Bank Arena
Wichita, Ks July 12, 2014

Hello Hooray
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under My Wheels
I'm Eighteen
Billion Dollar Babies
Dirty Diamonds
Welcome To My Nightmare
Feed My Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry
I Love the Dead(partial)
School's Out

Motley CrueIntrust Bank Arena
Wichita, Ks July 12, 2014

Saints of Los Angeles
Wild Side
Primal Scream
Same Ol' Situation
Looks That Kill
On With the Show
Too Fast For Love
Smokin' In the Boys Room
Without You
Mutherfucker of the Year
Anarchy In the UK
Dr. Feelgood
Shout At the Devil
Don't go Away Mad(Just
go Away)
Drum Solo
Guitar Solo
Live Wire
Too Young To Fall In Love
Kickstart My Heart

Home Sweet Home 


Friday, July 4, 2014

Musical Tastes Volume 1: Beginnings and Crue-cial Elements

I'm kind of a dork about music. I'm not a musician. I've never learned to play a note of anything past the recorders and little blue keyboards that we would mess with in grade school music class. Once upon a time, I was able to play the riff from J. Geils Band's 'Centerfold' on the keys, but the intervening years have eroded that knowledge. I've often thought myself interested in learning to play guitar, but the truth is that I am not. I've come to realize this fairly recently.
 Still, I love music. Love it! My wife calls me the ultimate fan. So many of the people, places, and memories in my life are associated with music in my mind. Almost anything that happens or is said around me can bring a bit of music and lyrics out. I'm the guy who will randomly blurt out words to songs in the middle of conversation. Excuse me, I'm sorry. You were saying...?
 It's always played a huge role in my life, and I really can't remember it not being there. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad and his friends playing music loudly and singing along just as loudly. I remember hearing Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'What's Your Name' and imagining the singer to be a bald, bearded guy with crazy sunglasses and a big toothy smile, as if Elton John and Doctor Teeth from the Muppets had somehow made a child and named him Lynyrd Skynyrd. I would have been 5 or 6 then, and when I was a little older and began to explore Dad's records, I was surprised and a little dismayed to find that Ronnie Van Zant was actually a short, chubby guy with a blond skullet.
 Dad had tons of great records in that old fruit crate. Classics by The Beatles, Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and the aforementioned Skynyrd.( Dad sometimes referred to them as Skinny Leonard. ) The collection also featured more obscure stuff by Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Spooky Tooth, Black Oak Arkansas, and early REO Speedwagon albums that were actual rock and roll. I spent endless hours listening to those records through my headphones.
 Dads albums weren't all I had. I was also discovering music on my own. This was the mid-eighties, and for my 8th birthday I received my first boombox and Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' on cassette. I played that tape so much that my parents threatened to reclaim it. Other acts making the Travis rotation included Van Halen, Fat Boys, the Hooters, and Tears For Fears.

 In 1987, when I was 11, two things happened that would alter my music tastes at the time.
 The first was the discovery of snark. I bought an album by a 4-piece band out of Kansas City called the Rainmakers who boasted a crazy-eyed lead singer named Bob Walkenhorst. Their music was straight ahead rock in the vein of Tom Petty, but Bob sounded crazy and lyrically was a real smartass.
 It may have been the first time I really paid attention to the words of a song. I still have that album, both on vinyl and cd.

 The other thing happened on my 11th birthday: I discovered Motley Crue.
 For my birthday, my step-cousin Jason said that he would let me choose from a couple of cassettes that he had. One was 'Night Songs' by the band Cinderella. The other was Motley Crue's 'Shout at the Devil'. Having never actually heard either band, I was in no position to choose based on music so I had to make my decision based on the covers of each tape.
 On the cover of 'Night Songs', Cinderella are standing in what appears to be a tunneled alleyway. A lamp-post can be seen through the fog/steam rising behind them which is backlit by a separate light, casting a very purple hue over everything. The bands logo is also purple, and the guys are wearing long, dark, sparkly coats over black or zebra striped spandex pants. Silk scarves hang from everywhere. Their hair is very teased and lead singer Tom Kiefer looks as if his lips are caught in a mousetrap.
 The 'Shout at the Devil' cover is similar, yet quite different. It is made up of four separate photos, one for each member. There is fog/steam in the background of three of them. Their hair is teased, and their make-up and red and black leather outfits make them look like a group of post-apocalyptic whores straight out of a Mad Max sequel. Bassist Nikki Sixx has one hand raised; thumb, index and pinkie fingers extended. He is either shouting at the devil, or preparing to give a blowjob. Vince Neil and Tommy Lee look like a couple of Barbie dolls whose heads have been placed atop men's bodies, Vince's blond and Tommy's raven-haired. The real kicker is guitarist Mick Mars. This man actually looks like the devil that the rest of the band have been shouting at. Instead of fog, the background of his photo is a pillar of flame.
 With song titles such as 'Bastard' and 'God Bless the Children of the Beast', I was sold and my choice was made.
 Although the Crue had a look that was similar to that of bands like Poison, Ratt, and Quiet Riot, they always sounded a little tougher. Poison may have wanted you to talk dirty to them, but it wasn't hard to imagine them wanting to hold hands and cuddle afterward. Motley Crue wrote songs about fighting cops, the seedy/druggy L.A. underworld, dirty sex, and of course, the devil.
 It wasn't long before they became one of my two favorite bands along with Guns 'n' Roses. And with the exception of GNR, who were even harder(at least on that first album), no one from that era even comes close. Maybe W.A.S.P.

 My first concert in an arena was Poison in Nov. 1988. I was in the 7th grade. It made a big impression, lots of lights and fog, and very loud. But the next year, 8th grade, I finally got my chance to see the Crue! They made Poison look like the poseur amateurs that they were.
 My parents were really cool, and they and some friends took me and my cousin Pete to the show at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhatten, KS. We stood there slack-jawed at the spectacle before us. Many don't remember this, but Motley Crue used to have a cartoon mascot, much like Iron Maiden has Eddie and Megadeth has Vic Rattlehead. His name was Alister Fiend, and he was an amalgamation of all the band members. During the show intro a laser graphic 'hologram' of Alister appeared above the stage and told a brief history leading to the bands entrance. They shot out of the stage like leathered, hairsprayed jacks-in-boxes accompanied by an arena shaking pyro ka-boom. They were way louder than Poison had been, and gave way less of a fuck. As a matter of fact, Vince Neil even said "Fuck". A lot. And urged the crowd to chant, "Fuck". A lot.
 Then came the highlight of every Motley Crue show: Tommy Lee's "drum solo". I use quotations because Tommy doesn't use his time to show off his prowess behind the kit and therefore, does less of a drum solo and more of an entertainment interlude. This show, Tommy shared some of his favorite classic rock tunes with himself as drummer, all while his drum set moved out to the rear of the arena on a track suspended from the ceiling above the heads of the audience.

 Pete and I left that concert totally stoked and forever changed. This was March of 1990, and that July the band came around again, this time to Wichita. And we went again! I mowed lawns for a month to earn the ticket money and this time we went with an older cousin, sans parents. Until I saw The Rolling Stones 16 years later, no other show had left me with that feeling of having just seen something truly special, an enjoyable assault on all senses. Maybe my first time seeing Ozzy.

 I love music of all kinds, and along the way I've seen some tremendous stuff. I've seen Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash with June Carter, The Ramones, Roger Waters performing The Wall, and the original line-up of Black Sabbath. All were fantastic performances and I enjoyed them all. I'd still like to see David Bowie, Neil Young, Iggy Pop. Those three guys are on my personal bucket list.
 I've heard people say that you can't love one style of music as much as another. That you can't love The Beatles as much as the Stones or Elvis. I call bullshit. I love all three, all for different reasons. Maybe I'll like The Beatles more today. Maybe next week it will be The Ramones. Maybe one of my favorite local bands. Or maybe I'll just listen to the radio.

 I've managed to see Motley Crue twice more since those two shows in '90. In 2005 and 2011. They killed it both times. I used to tell people that they were my guilty pleasure band, but not anymore. At 37, I'm getting too old to feel guilty about liking anything. I saw Iron Maiden last September and they were amazing. I like what I like. No apologies or excuses.
 This past January, the Crue announced that they were done and would head out for one final go-around. And I'm actually believing them, they seem to get that one can play hedonist for only so long. July 12, in Wichita. I'll be there with my sister, my cousin Pete, and his fiance Anna. Pete and I saw them for the first time together, and we'll see them for the last time together. Full circle. This time I plan to document the show for my first concert review. It will probably be biased. I'll let you know how it goes.
 I can already smell the pyro and AquaNet.

*Note: As I've mentioned before, this blog has no real theme. I'll just write about random stuff. However, I probably will write about music quite a bit, hence Volume 1. Like I've said, this is just for writing practice and your entertainment. I hope everyone enjoys reading my bean spillage. Have a safe and happy 4th, and until next time. . .