Calming the Savage….

My friend Michael, who no longer really blogs–wrote his most recent post (about as long as my last post) about the band Porcupine Tree. I first got introduced to this band by listening to Transatlantic. Their guitar player formed up with the keyboard player for Spock’s Beard, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and Pete Trewavas of Marillion and made a pretty cool album with, albeit, college freshman lyrics (Mystery Train? Please!). So, I listened to a song or two from the In Absentia album and was powerfully blown away. What a sound–the musical sensibilities of a band not overwrought in guitar heroes, but fully aware of the idea of a group making music together. The originality is what got me. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s and being a child of Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, etc.–I wasn’t aware there were bands making music like this. How naive I was. When I first heard Dream Theater, I thought the same thing–but I actually like Porcupine Tree’s sound a bit more than that—it’s not terribly raw, though at times, it kicks some serious rock a$%.

So, today, I got a hold of their latest album Fear of a Blank Planet and I have to say that it was exciting. I mean that word literally. I haven’t been this excited about music in a long time and so I have to echo Michael’s sentiments that you really need Porcupine Tree’s music in your life. It’s spectacular. This particular album, a concept album dealing with some familiar rock themes–isolation, escapism, etc.–revolves around a boy who has essentially let his X-box, his computer and his TV run his life. The album has a lot metaphors, both musical and lyrical, that never ask the words–but essentially beg us to reconsider engaging in life again.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, I got excited because Rush was putting out yet another album. Allow me to establish my street-cred, here. I was a Rush fan at 15 years old when I heard Tom Sawyer for the first time. That song spoke to me the way previous generations had Bob Dylan or The Beatles speak to them. Rush was my band. I was “saving up” (hard for me to believe that I was saving up for 12 bucks or whatever–but there it is) to buy the record–yes, the vinyl record. One day, I was haunting around what was then known as Topanga Plaza but I think is now known as something else. There, on the floor, I came across a $20.00 bil and could not believe my luck. I looked about me to see if anyone was looking for it–they weren’t–and I scooped it up. Yes, I suppose we could have an ethical discussion, but the point is the statute of limitations is up–and anyway, I took the money. I walked straight into the record store and bought Rush’s Moving Pictures. After that, I went to See’s Candy and bought a pound of Apricot Delights to share with my mom. But that’s another story…

The album was a revelation. It wasn’t just good, it was great–it still is. Everything from the arrangements to the lyrics to the recording of the record were eye opening and the songs, well they were written for teenage boys. In many ways, Rush still writes for teenage boys and that’s the issue, here. That album expressed that angst, not to say ennui, that my generation felt. The Cold War, which we little understood, was our center of gravity and we were caught between the hedonism that the 80’s promised–and the sort of wondering if we would be called to defend the very hedonism we loved so much. Pretty petty–but hey, we were 15. Tom Sawyer expressed that emotion pretty solidly.

Well, I’ve bought every Rush album since. I’ve seen them 11 times in concert on every tour from Grace Under Pressure through Test For Echo. I actually e-mailed–and got a reply—from Geddy Lee back around 1995 when he was on AOL (he’s not anymore). So–I think I’ve established the credentials. I’m a fan–and like their work a great deal…

Until now.

I bought Snakes and Arrows with high hopes. Vapor Trails, the band’s last release, was a strong record with some great songs and really experimental guitars. That tradition is carried on in Snakes and Arrows, but almost to the point of repetition. This is not to say the albums sound alike, they don’t. But ever since Rush began to write catchy short tunes–going all the way back to their Permanent Waves record, they have almost literally never changed. Verse, Verse, Chorus, Verse, guitar solo, chorus, end. OK–stick with what works, but I miss the variation.

To be sure, there is no shortage of brilliant musicianship on Snakes and Arrows. The two instrumental pieces–The Main Monkey Business and Malignant Narcissism–are nothing short of astounding; though I admit I have trouble with the title of the last one because it indicates a band that knows its good–and thinks this song is proof of how good they are. For the record, the bass and drums particularly on the piece are incredibly self-indulgent, but the guitar work on The Main Monkey Business, for my money anyway, far exceeds that on Malignant Narcissism. Either way, it seems a little pretentious to me.

No, it’s not the instrumentation that bothers me–Rush are at the top of their game, still, and write some truly wonderful riffs. The lyrics, however, are another matter. If you’re a Rush fan, you know that Neil Peart has been writing about some pretty basic themes for quite some time now–and that has not changed here, even though occasionally, Peart’s true pathos and power come through when he yields to the urge to get personal, which he does precious too little.

But this album’s silly tendency to write about fate in myriad ways is just not alluring. OK–we get that you don’t believe in God and you’ve said it on songs from Tom Sawyer through today, so the track Faithless, is a little redundant. The hard part is, after listening to and enjoying Rush for so long, I kind of overlooked the lack of faith issue. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I’m fine with that. But when one writes about it–didactically–as Neil Peart does, it becomes as annoying as a Bible-Thumper trying to save your soul after you’ve told him to shoo. Atheists can be Evangelical, too–and Peart has arrived at that level. It is now, at least in my book, officially annoying.

The other side of it is the aforementioned college freshman philosophizing about fate–and why do some people get rich and some are born into poverty. Geez–talk about hackneyed themes. OK, OK–I understand that there are those who are rich and those who aren’t–and I get that in Africa, the chances of someone being fabulously wealthy are a lot more scant than if they’re say, American. It’s actually not fate at all. It has to do with birthrates in 3rd world–and totalitarian–countries. But leave that alone. I’m just amazed that a man in his 50’s who is so well read and so intelligent can think of nothing more prescient to ask than, “why me?” Talk about malignant narcissism. Whew.

It wouldn’t be right to say I’m disappointed–I’m not. The music on Snakes and Arrows is still quite good, if a little reminiscent of most of what Rush has done. But, it’s not a great album–and the bottom line is, it’s not very exciting.

Porcupine Tree might just be exciting because they’re new to me–and I’m willing to accept that. Maybe it’ll wear off. But Marillion’s Somewhere Else is not repetitive and they’re still exciting–and so, it appears that perhaps the progressive torch has been passed and is burning brighter than ever.

On the Mend

Feeling better, though the voice has not returned. This is seen by my family as a good thing: Can’t yell at Peanut, can’t talk back to the wife—hmmmm….maybe there’s room for this laryngitis thing in our lives….

A grand and parental day as Sue was off to work and I held down the fort. I thought that since this was really the first day of summer that Peanut and I had some real time together, I’d do it right….so, no voice and stiff neck and all, we packed into the car and headed over to…..the high school. I’m a true giver, no?

But seriously, at the high school where I work is a full-time, hard working agriculture unit complete with tractors, fences, a barn–and sheep, lambs, pigs, chickens, roosters and a few steers. All the larger animals, of course, are not pets—they are part of a working ag. and farm program and will head off to the Ventura County Fair at the end of the summer–never to return, alas. But, no need for Peanut to know that…

As you can see, no shortage of new and fun experiences. I mean, this child has seen animals that are near extinction in other parts of the world….she’s been to the L.A. Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the Santa Barbara Zoo. Heck-the S.D. Zoo has a whole pen of animals that hardly anyone ever sees in the wild–and there they are, like little pets, running about in San Diego. But, you know-I don’t think she’s ever petted a lamb or a pig before. She was enamored, needless to say.

From there, it was off to Wendy’s for lunch. Peanut likes Wendy’s and I’m OK with it. She wasn’t happy that dad spent so much time talking to various people at the school, so I rewarded her with her choice for lunch. I know—spoiled. If you can’t spoil ’em, you shouldn’t have ’em, though–so, that’s my position.

From there, it was off to the library and looking through the extraordinary children’s section there. We’ve now been several times and she has taken to it beautifully. She reads like a champ at 6 years old, though I confess, there is an interesting–if somewhat delineated line between the books she can and cannot read. We’ve found a series of books called Dear Dragon by Margaret Hillert which are really terrific. I love them myself–and she’s on book number two. She likes to read them as soon as we get our mits on them in the library, but then she comes home and reads them to her dolls. It’s the sweetest thing in the world to watch.

Then–just as mom pulled in the driveway, we were off again to Vacation Bible School and we rounded out the evening there. Peanut loves it, though she thinks this year’s program not nearly as good as last year’s. She has a point. I ran VBS the last few years, but that’s not why she thought it was better. Heck, in that respect–this year’s VBS kicks major butt over last year’s… No the reason she thinks this is that we used Group publishing with whom I’m not ecstatic. Their Theology is pretty fundamentalist, but that’s from a grown-up’s point of view. From a kid’s point of view, they are just pretty cool with their videos and their cool toys and crafts and music that is truly designed just for them. This year’s delving into Faith Inkubators (yes, that’s how you spell this company’s name), is a little above their heads. The music is almost straight rock and roll sung by a guy who can at least pretend to sound like Jon BonJovi–and kids don’t listen to much Bon Jovi–not elementary school kids, anyway. The art is pretty hard core, too. No primary colors, here, as you can see if you click on the link. Someone liked Picasso a great deal–that’s all I’m saying. The theme is heroes of the Old Testament and the first night highlighted David and Goliath. “So,” I said. “We’re teaching kids to pick fights with someone bigger than them because God is on their side, kill their enemies and then pray when they’re done. That’s cool…” It didn’t go over well. But, the kids thought it was fine.

This year, all I did was a couple of sessions–or classes and that made up my contribution. I was happy to let go of it–it’s a lot of work–and my friend Janel, who took over, is doing a much better, much more organized job than I did. She’s really done great with this new program and made it work.

OY…Tangential, no? Fine. Off then.

Labeling

I am a labeler. This angers some of my friends. They think I’m too willing to pigeon-hole every aspect of life. Perhaps there is some validity there, but in the end, labeling makes me feel better. If I know a thing by its name–I can control it a bit better. I remember Ursula LeGuin’s The Rule of Names for just this reason. The whole thesis of the story is that if you can name something, you can control it—from dragons to people. Seems true enough.

So–I have bronchitis. Yesterday, it was the crud. Today, it’s bronchitis. It’s a name–and all it literally means is inflammation of the bronchial tubes. It’s the reason for the fever–which while having gone precipitously down, has not broken yet, the chills, the aches, the laryngitis (another label!), the coughing, etc. But–knowing that it is bronchitis–and treating it which my good Dr. decided to do, already makes me feel better.

Labeling helps me order my life. Sure, it has its down-sides, but in the end, it’s a way for me to put a face on something, get a hold of it and have control of it. It’s true, we never really have full control–over anything–but there are degrees, I think–and we can improve our chances. Labeling helps me do that.

Summer suffering

Oh gentles, I suffer. How I suffer. Neck’s getting better….but really, really slowly. Then, after all the train caca and vacation stuff, I apparently picked up the crud. Voice is gone, temperature is up, ear hurts, coughing, sneezing, you name it. And such is the case that my suffering leads me not so much to not want to physically type, but thoughts aren’t coming as quickly to my fever addled brain and I’ve not much to say….

Vacation Bible School goes well. I didn’t run the show this time, that was left to better people than me. I did, however, get to teach two of the “classes” and that was a good time. We did poems and prayers where the kids wrote, well….poems and prayers. And then we did Posers–where the kids acted out the story of Esther from the Bible. I photographed them and we ran the pics at the end of the evening to tell the story. It was really great–and fun, even if I did feel like the aforementioned caca.

I did do an interview today which was weird. I mean, I have no voice, but I had to ask questions over the phone. Luckily there were two things in my favor: 1)I know how to ask open-ended questions. Teaching and being a magazine writer will do that for you. 2) I was talking to a PR person about her favorite subject–the group she works for. It worked out nicely.

Beyond this, gentles, I am sleepy, feverish, headachy, ear-achy and….did I mention sleepy? Yes, right then….

Vacation Phlog 07

So, if you’ve read the last few posts then you know about the transportation nuances that make train travel in Southern California kind of a drag–and you know about the delay we had because Peanut wasn’t feeling well after 36 hours at Disneyland–and you know about arriving home and what a great time we had….so now…the phlog:


Sea World is owned by Anheuser Busch and so not only can you buy mediocre pilsner beer, you can also see the San Diego Hitch of the Budweiser Clydesdale’s. Pretty neat–and very, very large.


How large, you may ask? There’s Peanut standing with Dallas (the horse’s name) at the stable.


We’d never ridden the roller coaster, Atlantis, until this year. The thing is mightily impressive, if somewhat short—half dry, half wet with a waterfall drop and a track or dry drop as well as an elevator that lifts each car to the top. Along with it is a display of these guys–the Commerson’s dolphins of the seas off South America. Beautiful little guys that look like mini-orca’s.


Here’s Peanut feeding a dolphin at the pool. These guys were amazing and Peanut was in awe, of course. You’d swear he was going to talk to you–but then you realized that’s just an eco-whacko thing to think and the fact is this dolphin would largely ignore you if you didn’t have a supply of smelly sardines in your hand.


Now, the sea lion is even more, well, personable, than the dolphin. But it’s also a lot more…of a whore. These little gals (they were all females but one–and he was neutered, poor fellow) were noisy, obnoxious and fun. In this shot, I’m handing peanut the fish to feed–and she dropped them in the tank with abandon–being careful of the local seagull population which hangs out at the tank to snatch the fish from unsuspecting feeders.


My big brother loves polar bears–wanted to have one as a pet once. Apparently, though–they don’t make good pets. It could have something to do with the fact that the males, like this one, stand close to 12 or 13 feet on their hind legs. And while they’re cute as all get out–they are amazing efficient predators…Neat, eh?


Beautiful animals, though–and agile in the water. This is a female and she’s swimming after food that the keepers are dropping in from above.


Peanut wanted to master this little deal. This is a replica of a Polar bear “cave” in the Arctic and there is a recording of a sleeping bear. Every so often, when little people run through, the recording has the bear waking up and growling in discovering visitors. She did indeed go through alone–but wanted dad there to take the picture with her. How can I say no to that? Thus ends the vacation posts. Thanks for your patronage.

Vacation Posts coming!

Well, after the one-day delay saw Peanut improve remarkably, we embarked on our 5th excursion to San Diego–and Peanut’s 4th (I think) trip to Sea World–a place she loves as much as she loves Disneyland. We took Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner for the second time and it turns out to be a decision we lament. As I wrote previously, the romance has gone from train travel. Smelly, bitchy, mean people–and that’s just the crew–followed by whiny, filthy and still more bitchy people (which may explain the crew’s disposition), just simply aren’t a lot of fun. To be honest, every flight I’ve taken on Southwest is far, far more comfortable and fun than is the train. As a guy, it’s still a kick for me when the engine pulls into the station and you get to climb up on the car. But once you sit down, you immediately become aware of the dirty seats, the fetid air, the rude people, etc.

We purchased business class tickets to avoid a repeat of last year’s Marine Corps event. That is–on a Friday, the Marines from Camp Pendleton tend to take the train from Oceanside to points north. No one–certainly not me–begrudges a young marine anything at all. However, the language that these young men sport–and the amount of alcohol they consume (at one point shutting down the cafe car because they sold out of booze), does not lend itself to a 6 year old’s presence. I’m always amused when I see blog and web posts about the “respectful young men” in their crisp sharp uniforms, referring to everyone as “sir” or “ma’am” and how nice and kind they were. I’ve never, ever experienced that on train travel–though I have on an airplane. Most of the time, the young marines referred to me as “dude” and thought that whatever conversation we had was “cool.” Once again, let me assert that I harbor no ill will here, these young men are fighting for our country and right now, are dying for it. I’m inclined to suffer a few drunken marines and a few “dudes” and “cool’s” for that—it’s just that spending 4 and a half hours in the company of such young men–with a 6 year old picking up everything they say—doesn’t really work well. So–business class where the young marines are unlikely to be.

The Surfliner has become Amtrak’s most popular train, apparently, and this includes most East Coast runs. The result is that the Friday train from San Diego north to Santa Barbara is very crowded, at times only allowing for standing room. Business class is little affected by this, but still–it’s noisy and lots of people come crowding through on their way to other seats. One young woman who sat behind us from San Diego to Los Angeles asked if she could share our table. There are certain sections of the car that have a table with 4 seats–2 on each side that are reserved for families. This young woman, traveling alone with her laptop and her headphones asked if we would mind if she shared our table. I said, “well, to be honest, we kind of do mind. We’ve been traveling for a couple of days and we’re all tired and the three of us just want to spend a little family time here.” Well didn’t that go over well…. She was angry and sought revenge throughout the trip at one point even asking my daughter to turn down her DVD player–which was already so low that I could hardly hear it–and she was behind me. She was annoyed to the point where when someone else got on and the seat next to her was the only one left, she told the lady to “go sit next to that family…they have an empty seat.” The lady demured and sat with the young woman. She would purposely slap things down on her tray table, make noises, sigh very heavily–all indicating her displeasure with us. I ignored her as did Sue and Peanut—this made her angrier. She got off in a huff in Los Angeles and is, at this moment I am sure, relating her experiences to all her friends. I just kind of wonder about the waste of such energy….that’s all.

The trip to San Diego was far more comfortable. It was Wednesday morning and the train was not crowded at all. We were all very happy and anticipating a fine vacation coming up–and we weren’t disappointed, either. But more on that shortly…

Jiggety Jig

We Storer’s pack a great deal of vacation into a short amount of time. This probably all started because Sue and I, pre-Peanut-would take lots of weekend trips. It was almost like a pastime for us to simply get in the car and go somewhere for a weekend. Those days are gone, of course, as baby makes 3–and makes a lot more bills. Traveling, for all of its joys, is pretty expensive. Witness this our recent jaunt to San Diego. Now, we’ve been doing this trip since Peanut was a baby–or at least, about 2 and a half or 3 years old. She’s been to Sea World 4 times now (and she loves it still!) and she’s been to the S.D. Zoo, the Wild Animal Park and Legoland once each. She’s a goer, as they say.

But here we are back home after a mere two nights from home and we’ve spent well over a thousand dollars what with two nights in a fair hotel, rental car, train fare (that’s how we got there), tickets to the park (which are actually a bargain), food and various trinkets. It ain’t cheap to take your kid places. So–rather than disappear for weeks on end, we go little trips. That will change, of course, but there it is.

The romance of train travel, by the way, is way past gone. What with Amtrak employees who mostly don’t seem to like….well…..people and passengers who run the gamut from smelly bums–yes, for real—to whiny, bitchy women who feel entitled to just about everything and anything they ask for–to men who drink way too much booze and then feel themselves entitled to bother said women, it’s really a spectacle of the American middle class.

I shall continue this rant more when I’ve slept some and I will also include this year’s phlogging which promises images that you would normally have to pay for (well, OK, you probably wouldn’t pay for them–but still, they’re pretty good). Meanwhile, it’s off to bed. Toodles.

Vacation Delay…

Perhaps it was inevitable. One cannot live on less than 8 hours of sleep while walking the equivalent of a marathon, swimming, running, climbing, riding–all of it—without a price when one is six years old.

So it was that this morning began inauspiciously with a 5 A.M. seal bark from the Peanut’s room. She got up because she had…well….an indelicate accident. While changing bedclothes, she made the sound a seal makes and Sue and I looked at each other…..well, go back to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.

Two hours later, the bark was still there and while no temperature accompanied it, Peanut’s throat is a bit red and her tonsils are a bit large-ish. Hmmmmm. Should we still get on the train and down to San Diego? No—much as she wants to, that wouldn’t be right. There exists the possibility–very real, I might add, that she won’t get the sleep she needs in the next hotel either. What she needs is fluids and rest. So, I made phone calls. Amtrak had no problem with it–a quick 6.00 dollar fee for the postponement (kind of silly–but it’s only 6 bucks) and then a call to the hotel. I was a little more leery, but I didn’t have to be. They were very kind. We’ve postponed until tomorrow as we’ve seen this pattern in Peanut before. By tomorrow, she should be OK as long as she gets the rest she needs. We will postpone by one day and hopefully, have better luck on the morrow.

And now, the phlog of Disneyland:

Father’s day obligatory photo of the dads. Two with strollers no less.


The fam over by Winnie the Pooh. Peanut loves this ride.


Part of the Wolfe pack and the Storer’s at Winnie the Pooh’s ride which occupies what used to be the Country Bear Jamboree.


Peanut and friend exploring the essence of Disneyland…New Orleans Square

Still 'Vacationing.'

Pardon, gentles, all–but vacation time is upon us and updating is not what it should be. I am considering not bringing the laptop along when we leave for tomorrow’s vacation, though I’m still not sure. We are just back from an overnight to Disneyland and sleep was in short supply. We’re all overly tired and punchy Peanut went down about 40 minutes ago, but as near as I can tell isn’t asleep yet. This is bad because we need rest for tomorrow’s travels and such, so I’m not sure what’s on tap. Ugh.

Degenerative disc disease was the diagnosis from the x-rays of my neck. Thought as much. Not much to be done about it, but maybe some strengthening and deep tissue massage is in order. We shall see.

There shall be more substance, soon….but not just yet.