Sunday, August 29, 2010

High Powered Entertainment

Evan fishing in the rapidly fading daylight.

Last evening Evan, Lyndy, and I went to the State Lake for a few hours.  We were going to have a campfire, but there are only a few places they are allowing fires due to the dry conditions.  Unfortunately all of them were taken by campers.  As a consolation prize we did find us a nice spot that was very shady and had a dock.  We ate dinner and Lyndy played her iPod over the portable stereo.  Evan and I did some fishing.  I caught a pretty nice largemouth bass.  I took my telescope along and set it up just before dark. We all looked at Venus, and later, just before I dismantled it, I got a view of Mars.

I have had my telescope since 1989.  I placed it on layaway at Wolfe's Camera downtown and made payments on it for nearly a year before I finally paid it off and got to take it home.  My telescope is a design called a Schmidt-Cassegrain, and the company that made it is called Celestron.  Schmidt-Cassegrains are a type of catadioptric telescope, a fancy word that just means it combines mirrors and lenses with spherical surfaces.  The primary mirror on my telescope is 8 inches in diameter.  Schmidt-Cassegrains work very well for looking at deep sky objects like star clusters, nebula, and galaxies.  On a telescope like mine, you swap out different lenses to pick and choose the magnification you want.

All in all a pleasant evening combining the outdoors, fishing, food, and science.

Ready for the stars.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bicycles in Europe

In 2003, Lyndy and I flew to Amsterdam and spent 5 or 6 days in Europe.  We rented a car (actually more of a European-style minivan) and drove about 900 miles through Holland, Germany, and France.  Our trip began and ended in Amsterdam.  The city is built in what was originally the ocean before the dikes were built to increase the available land.  Even with the dikes though, water containment was a problem.  So, in the 1600's, they got busy and channeled all the remaining water into rings of canals surrounding the city center.  This helped them to control the water and provided land to build upon.  As you walk through Amsterdam it alternates- street, canal, street, canal.  There are 1,900 bridges in this one city!

In the photo above I am standing on one of the bridges looking down the channel of one of the larger canals.  Because of it's location Amsterdam is very flat.  The only hills of any kind are the slopes up and down getting on and off the bridges.  As a result, there are thousands of people riding bikes.  I'm sure that's also partly due to the fact that it's an ancient place with narrow streets not designed with cars in mind.  But also, with it so flat, it's very easy to ride around town.  As you might imagine, with so many bicycles in use, they are parked everywhere. You can see several of them alongside me here as I stare pensively into the middle distance.

I believe most of the bikes in the photo above are in long-term parking, probably by people working all day in nearby stores.  I say that because these bikes appear to all have bike locks on them.  However, we noticed that when people are just jumping off their bike and going into a store or a restaurant, they don't lock them.  They just put them on the kickstand in front of a store and go in.  There's no need to worry.  They don't get stolen.  People didn't seem the slightest bit worried about someone taking them because nobody is going to steal your bike.  Well I come from a place where bikes do get stolen, so I didn't let their quaint notions hold me back.  Though after I had stolen about 7 of them I had to admit to myself that it was just too easy to be really much of a thrill after all.

OK, I was kidding at the end there, but I wasn't kidding about bikes not being locked.  Here are some parked in front of a store in Amsterdam.  You'll note that few, if any, have locks.  You'll also note a McDonald's, something we saw in all three countries.  What we did not see were many mountain bikes.  Most all looked like what everyone around here was riding in the 1950's.  I guess simple, sturdy, and reliable is what they want, though on those cobblestone streets I think I'd still want my GT Palomar.

 In this action photo a couple chicks are riding their bikes through town, heading to work or maybe college.  On the far left a woman is bicycling along one-handed while deftly carrying an armload of shopping.  On the right, leaning against the greengrocer, is a parked, unlocked bike, which I later stole. 

Bicycles for transportation are very common in Europe.  We saw them in abundance everywhere we went.  As a parting shot, here's a sight you just don't see in the U.S.  Check out this bicycle parking lot I photographed in Heidelberg, Germany:

Click to enlarge & guess the number of bikes. Winner gets a new car.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Text Messaging in Kansas

A new study shows that cell phone owners in Kansas send the 4th most number of text messages per month of all the states.  The only states that have more text messages sent are Indiana, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania.  That is interesting, it shows that population alone doesn't indicate who sends the most text messages.  I wonder why California or Florida or New York don't send as many messages as Kansas, or Arkansas?  The report doesn't offer any explanations.  It does say that in 2009 there were 202 billion text messages sent nationwide over the AT&T network, and in the first half of 2010 there had already been 297 billion text messages sent. 

If Kansas comes in fourth, I can proudly say that I contribute heavily to that total.  I send a lot of text messages.  I dislike talking on the phone immensely, so when text messages came along I jumped on that bandwagon with much enthusiasm.  I send a hundred text messages for every one phone call I make.  Text message technology was designed with me in mind.  Lyndy had to change my cell phone plan to allow for virtually unlimited text messages.  They could turn off my ability to make phone calls and I wouldn't even care.   

A month ago it became illegal in Kansas to send a text message while driving, and I have honored that law.  I admit it is dangerous to text while driving, and I admit I was doing it a lot.  I stopped doing it cold turkey when that law went into effect.  I hardly ever talk on the phone while driving, so I'm back to just driving and listening to my precious am sports talk radio, another thing that I cannot do without.  I never listen to music in the car.  Now I just speed everywhere I go so that when I get there I can start texting again!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Memorial Hall, Kansas City Kansas

Last fall I began taking photographs of the many places I have seen rock concerts over the years.  And there have been a lot of them.  Gradually one by one, I will cover them here on my webpage.  I have decided, for no particular reason, to start with Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. 

You see here a photo I took of the majestic front entrance of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.  The venue opened in 1925 and has been the site of countless concerts, speeches, sporting events, and other gatherings over the years.  The main arena holds 3,500 people. 1,000 can be seated on the floor, with 2,500 in the surrounding seats and balconies.  Upstairs there is a banquet hall that seats 500, and is often used for large wedding receptions. 

Photo from inside lobby looking towards entrance doors.

On March 3, 1963, when I was 15 days old, Patsy Cline played the final concert of her life right here in Memorial Hall.  The concert was a benefit show for the family of "Cactus Jack Call", a local disc jockey who had died in a car wreck. Two days later she died in a plane crash while en route from Kansas City to Nashville.  During the 1970's, Thursday night professional wrestling was very popular at Memorial Hall.  Now they regularly hold Mixed Martial Arts competitions.

View from stage looking out into arena.

Based on my recollections and concert ticket stub collection, I have concluded I have seen four concerts in Memorial Hall.  The first was in June, 1985, and the band was Tears For Fears.  They were a popular New Wave synth band in the mid 80's, and I saw them on the tour for their very successful "Songs From the Big Chair" album. 

Number one album for 5 weeks in 1985.

Tears For Fears was essentially a duo with a backing band.  I had started listening to them in 1983 with their album "The Hurting".  Songs From the Big Chair had a more commercial sound, and proved to be popular worldwide.  Four long years passed after Songs From the Big Chair until their next album, then they kind of ended their working relationship and went their separate ways.  Finally, about five years ago, they reconciled and toured again, and I saw them at a casino in Kansas City.  I don't have a ticket stub from the 1985 concert, none of my old stubs from prior to 1988 have survived.

The next Memorial Hall concert I attended was the best of the four.  The performer was Lou Reed.  The date was April 10, 1989.  Reed was a member of the 1960's band the Velvet Underground.  That band had a strong connection with Andy Warhol and was part of the New York avant garde world.  They never sold many albums, but were extremely influential and broke down a lot of doors that later bands passed through to greater success.  It is for their important influence that they were elected in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.  I  have also seen another member of the Velvet Underground in concert, a man named John Cale.

Through the 1970's and 80's Lou Reed released a series of gritty, harsh solo albums.  He covers a lot of ground that most artists won't.  His songs often discuss the hard life of the unfortunate addicts, prostitutes, hustlers, and homeless of the New York streets.  He is as much poet as musician, and he comes closer to speaking than singing in most of his songs.  In January, 1989 he released the album New York, and I immediately liked the song "Dirty Blvd". 

Lou Reed's "New York" album cover.

He was still singing about the underbelly of New York, only he was surrounding himself with top-knotch musicians and writing songs that were more accessible. The whole New York album really appealed to me.  He was already kind of an elder statesman of rock even back in 1989 and was greeted warmly by the audience all evening.  He had chain link fence, trash barrels, graffiti, and other things strewn about the stage to give the appearance of giving the concert from some vacant lot in New York.  I still chuckle to myself as I remember a guy just a few feet to my right who was so drunk he literally just fell down on the floor and passed out right in the middle of the show.  I can still remember everyone around laughing at him.

It's now March 19, 1994 and the band is UB40.  They are a reggae band from England.  They formed in 1978, and at that time UB40 was the number of the government form you filled out to request unemployment benefits. 

I first saw UB40 back in 1983 in Kemper Arena when they were the opening act for the Police on their Synchronicity tour.  I had been listening to UB40's Labor of Love album ever since it came out the previous year, so I was glad to see them with the Police.  The 1994 concert, however, just wasn't that inspired.  They seemed kind of bored, and didn't interact with the audience much. 

UB40 in the 1980's.

I was invited to go to the concert literally 2 hours before it began, so maybe I just didn't have time to get psyched up or something, but whenever I think of that show it's always with a sense of "it was ok, but not great". 

The last concert I've seen to date at Memorial was the alternative rock band Everclear, on June 16, 1998.  They were around the peak of their popularity.  It was during the tour for the album So Much For the Afterglow. The concert included two other bands that were hot at the time- Marcy Playground and Fastball. 

Sponsored by Doc Martens, of course.

For a long time Everclear was Lyndy's favorite band.  During their mid to late 1990's heyday she saw them in concert many times.  We have determined that this particular Everclear show at Memorial was one of two or three concerts we both attended before we knew each other. 

The So Much For the Afterglow album cover.

My strongest memory of this show was of the leader of Everclear, Art Alexakis, playing a different guitar on almost every song, and every one of them was a Gibson.  He had a very flashy, glittery, gold colored Les Paul that he seemed to favor that night.  I remember him being pretty profane as he talked to the audience.  It was good show and I remember the crowd seemed to really get into it.

So that concludes the tour of my Memorial  Hall concerts.  Considering how many concerts I've been to, four is not that many for such a cool old building.  It doesn't have the greatest acoustic sound in it.  There isn't a parking lot, you park on the streets in the surrounding neighborhoods.  But I'm glad they keep the old barn up and running in this, it's 85th year.  I took the photos of the outside of the building.  The interiors are from the Memorial Hall webpage.

Monday, August 16, 2010

We Miss You Elvis

Elvis Presley died 33 years ago today- August 16, 1977.  If he were still alive he would be 75 years old.  In the time since his death he has gone from a living being to something more like a corporate brand, like Colonel Sanders, or the Michelin Man.  He has become such a pop culture icon and subject of so many jokes, impersonations, commercials, and other uses of his image that he is now just a caricature.  It's hard to put oneself back in time to recall what it was like when he was a serious musical artist, charting hits, being on television, and mattering about what he was doing instead of who he used to be. 

I was too young to really experience Elvis the hitmaker.  Listening to his music now, I prefer his 1950's Sun Records era recordings that he made in Memphis.   After that it was Hollywood, then the army, then back to Hollywood.  From that point on he kind of quit trying very hard.  He churned out occasional decent hits, and bland movies (33 of them total, but alas, only one plot) during most of the 1960's.  His last hurrah was his 1968 Comeback Special on NBC television.  The Comeback Special had Elvis performing live, his first performances in front of an audience since 1961.  I own the DVD they have of this concert.  It's so well filmed that it looks like they made it yesterday.  Elvis looks so good and alive in it.  He appears to be really enjoying himself, something that history suggests was all too rare of an event for him.  For a brief moment in time he snapped out of it and pulled off one of the great live performances in rock history.  It's one of the few places you can reach out and almost touch the forgotten Elvis. 

By the 1970's he started really mailing it in, doing long engagements in Las Vegas.  He did a concert in Hawaii in 1973 that was one of the first shows of it's kind broadcast worldwide by satellite.  I own a DVD of that concert, too.  It's only five years after the Comeback Special but the change in his style and effort is shocking.  It's like watching Liberace or something.  Much of the show you are wondering if perhaps his Madame Tussauds's counterpart is standing in for him.  He doesn't move around much and seems a little bored, despite about 15,000 cheering fans.  Now and then, though, he sings a song that seems to mean a bit more to him, and out of nowhere, just for a moment, he is- Elvis.  The operatic voice, the sneer, the King.  Then the song ends and he kind of melts back into his jumpsuit.  Playing guitar for him in this concert is the great James Burton, one of the very influential guitar players from the early days of rock and roll, and still playing today.  I can't help but wonder if Mr. Burton felt a bit out of sorts playing along with an Elvis so diminished and removed from his peak.  He may have, but it didn't matter, the crowd eats up everything Elvis does the whole concert.

The only song I can remember being on the radio as a "current" single release by Elvis was called "Way Down."  I just looked it up and that song was recorded in October 1976 and was released on June 6, 1977, only two months before his death.  My main memory of his actual death is reading about it in the various National Enquirer-type magazines we always had around the house in those days.  Unfortunately for Elvis, his death fought a losing battle that summer with my preoccupation, ok obsession, with Star Wars, still in it's first run glory.  As for Elvis, I prefer to think of him as the man in the photo above.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Birthday Concert

Last night my band performed at a birthday party.  We didn't have to hunt too far to find this gig- it was the birthday party of our lead singer, Jarod.  It took place at a house out in the country up in Jackson county.  Our band is nameless at this point.  We had been calling ourselves Avondale, but after Jarod joined us a few months ago we felt we had become a different band and decided to change it, but we just haven't found the right name yet.  The members are me on guitar, Jarod is lead singer, Josh is on drums and backup vocals, and Jordan plays bass and sings lead vocals on some songs and backup on others.  We play a blend of half original songs and half covers, in styles varying from fast punk songs to reggae to arrangements of alternative and classic rock songs.  When I listen to music I will listen to about anything under the sun, but when I play with a band I mostly prefer music that is either fast and loud, or atmospheric and technically challenging. 

All of our musical gear is set up full time in my basement, where we practice every week. I spent the evening before the concert tearing all the gear down and preparing to transport it to the party location.  By the way, please click on all the following pictures and you'll get a larger version that you can see better.

Friday night, getting the gear ready to load into the trucks.

On Saturday, in the early afternoon, we stuffed my car and two SUV's full of musical equipment and took the 30 minute drive north to set everything up and do a sound check.  It was incredibly hot as we went about unloading all the gear and assembling it into a concert stage on the driveway.  Evan helped unload the trucks, then he went swimming in the pool in the yard not far from where we were setting up the gear.  Tom, who is Josh and Jordan's uncle and is one of our inner circle in the band, met us out there and helped with the roadie work.

We have a lot of heavy speaker cabinets and amplifiers.  It takes miles of cables for it all.  The drum kit, even when disassembled, takes up quite a bit of space.  We also had to set up lighting because it would get dark on us during the show.  We started by laying out a carpet and setting up the drums, then assembled the sound system, then moved on to setting up the guitars and all the microphones.  After it was all set up we did a sound check, testing all the instruments and adjusting the amplifiers so that all the sounds blended together properly.  After that we left everything sitting ready to go and everyone went home for a few hours. 

Unloading the drums.

Setting up the drums.

Tom helps Jordan set up his bass rig.

Returning in the evening, I went about setting up the lighting and as well as the video cameras and the audio recording equipment I used to record the show.  This time the temperature was much more pleasant.  The low angle of the sun created a nice shady area for the band and the audience, which numbered around 20.  Those of us in the band did some final checks on the gear, and then relaxed and talked with the party guests for a while.

In the evening an hour before showtime.

My guitar arsenal, ready to go.

We started playing shortly after 8:00 and over the next 45 minutes it turned from evening, to sunset, to darkness.  We had prepared a setlist of 20 songs that we rehearsed over the few weeks prior to the show, and played all twenty of them.  I felt like I played pretty well.  There was only one song that I made what I would consider a mistake, and I was pretty satisfied with how I played most of the rest of them.  We played for about an hour and a half.

This was when we first started, in the daylight.

Later, after darkness set in.

Playing the guitar allowed me a certain amount of freedom to kind of wander about and take in the atmosphere of the show.  I was looking around at the country scenery, the gorgeous sunset, and the moon, which hovered over us the entire show.  I watched the other band members.  I observed the audience, some of whom were our closest supporters and watched us intently the entire evening, cheering at the conclusion of every song.  I only knew a few of the people in attendance at the party.  Some of the guests kind of milled about in groups in the back, talking amongst themselves and listening to us more than watching us.  When it got dark we were in kind of an island of light in a vast darkness.  A number of tiki torches around the perimeter of the yard added to the ambiance.  All in all it was a great experience and makes all the time spent practicing and writing songs and dreaming about new gear well worth it.

Rock and Roll under a darkening sky and the moon.

Josh, Sunset, Jordan, Darren, and Jarod, partially hidden.

Me and my 1989 Fender Stratocaster.

A little blurry due to low light, but I like this picture of us talking about something between songs.

Thanks go to Lyndy who took most of these photos.  She sacraficed just enjoying watching the show to take pictures and shoot video of us all evening.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Suburban Bike Ride

Here Evan and I proudly display our bikes and expensive biking clothes, ordered online from the finest suppliers in Italy.  We are standing in front of the Payless Shoes store on S. Topeka Blvd. where Lyndy has a part-time job.  Our first destination was to get air in our tires, which we did at the local BP station.  I figure the people that own that station didn't have anything to do with the oil spill and they need to make a living, too.  So we plunked down 4 quarters and aired up. 

We pulled up in front of Payless in time to see a bunch of wild, screaming kids come out of the store.  One girl, about 12, was yelling and completely flipping out at her little toddler brother because his sandal had fallen off as he walked.  Her reaction appeared totally out of proportion to the seriousness of his offense.  I asked Evan what he thought she would be like by the time she was 30, and we both shuddered at the mental image.  A shellshocked Lyndy staggered outside to see us as they left and she looked like she wanted to fire a pistol at their van as they drove off. 

After having our photo taken we started for home.  We rode towards Gordman's and I noticed that the Girls Gone Wild bus was parked in front of the Wild Horse Saloon country bar.  Looks like the cowboys are going to be seeing some pretty interesting mechanical bull riding tonight.  Tempting as it was to ride up and knock on the door of the bus, we headed home, riding past my childhood home on W. 31st St. by Holiday Square shopping center.  It was thundering as we got near home, but alas, no rain.  It was a fun bike ride and I'll probably be sore for a while.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia, one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, became dead for real on this date in 1995.  He would have been 68 years old now were he still alive.  He played with the Dead from 1965-1995.  I was never a big Grateful Dead fan but I always liked Jerry and thought he was a great guitarist.