Night shift

I come home from my job pretty late at night. I work security at various music venues. Bars in Oregon close at 2:30am, so sometimes I’ll get home at 3:30am after closing. I call this the middle of the damned night. People who have been up are usually in bed by now, and people who have to wake up early for work usually are not yet awake. On my drive home I primarily see first responders doing their thing. Police vehicles, ambulances, and fire trucks are all out taking care of people.

When I get home I quietly press the code and 8 beeps notify the dogs that I’m home. My fiancé and my two step-kids are always asleep when I come home. I step quietly in the house and check on everybody. Everybody has their own rooms, but tonight I noticed 4 little feet poking out of the blankets on the couch in the living room. Sometimes one child will still be out there after watching shows with their Mom. I think she intentionally leaves them out there sometimes, knowing that I’ll gently pick them up and tuck them in their beds.

But tonight was the first night that both kids were still out in the living room asleep on the couch. Looking at the Netflix queue I can gather that they were alternating between Naruto anime that I got them hooked on, and another cartoon series called Trollhunters. Then my fiancé watched some West Wing once they were asleep.

I often come home smelling like the smoke from a fog machine, or beer, or sweat (mine or others). This is my surreal life, and it never fails to make me smile.

“Is that a new cologne you have on?”

“No, that’s just the fog machine.”

So tonight I gently wake up the 8 year old girl and say, “Hey, grab on to me and hug me, I’ll carry you to bed.” She wraps her arms around my neck and I stand up, lifting her up off the ground. Her legs dangle down with her feet still over a foot off the ground. Or sometimes she wraps herself around me like a koala bear. I can smell the shampoo in her hair as I walk carefully to her room. I carefully step over the toy figurines of horses, and piles of books, and gently lower her into her bed. “Goodnight, sweetie.” Her face looks a little like a sleepy turtle.

Then I go back and gently wake up the 10 year old boy. “My dude, give me a hug so I can carry you to your bed.” He is a substantially heavier than the girl. But he wraps his arms around me and hugs me the same way. Legs dangling a foot off the floor as I carry him down the hall to his room. I have to slowly walk over the minefield of matchbox cars on his floor. Those little hunks of metal can really dig into the soles of my feet. And since his head is nestled right next to mine, I can’t cuss in pain if I crush a die-cast Bat-mobile car. I cover him up with a blanket and tousle his hair. “Goodnight, young man.”

When I leave for work , they both ask me to wake them up when I get home. Or sometimes they claim that they will wait up for me to get there. I tell them I would never wake anybody up at 3:30am intentionally, and they are always zonked out when I get in, as they should be. But it’s cute to think they fell asleep on the couch, knowing that I’m going to pick them up and carry them to bed in the wee hours of the night.

I spend most of my shift at work keeping people safe. Or trying to. When I come home I am reminded why. I spend many hours at work dealing with drunk or rude people trying to do things that I am not allowing them to do. Then I get to come home and keep these two little ones safe. They don’t understand or care about bars where people go to drink alcohol and flirt and see a music concert. All of this is still many years off for them. Once I showed them how I use a UV flashlight to show the hidden hologram on Oregon state IDs to see if they are real. They thought that was really cool.

Whatever problems I had to deal with at work always melt away when I come into my house. I’ll often replay interactions or situations or incidents that happened at work while I’m driving home. I’ll often be shaking my head at the behavior of a patron that I had to intervene with. I’ll be thinking of ways I could have handled that situation differently. Mostly I just think about how some people simply shouldn’t drink alcohol. But I am always humbled by coming home after thinking my problems are oh so important. I happily take care of our two dogs and two kids and I am reminded what is important. Taking care of everybody you consider family. Making sure everybody is loved and safe. These little moments that may or may not even register consciously for the kids. But when they wake up in the morning, they’ll remember that they fell asleep on the couch and are now on their beds. Maybe they won’t have any nightmares because I pulled their blankets up around them and told them I loved them.

I’m also painfully aware that these moments have an expiration date on them. In a few short years they are going to enter into puberty and will be teenagers. They are also going to get bigger and heavier. All of this means I’m not going to get to pick them up and carry them to bed to be tucked in for too much longer.

These two aren’t my biological kids. But I feel like they are mine nonetheless. Like they belong to me, as I belong to them. Family should never be determined by blood alone. You can choose your family. And they are mine.

I’ve got the night shift. And I’ll watch over you while you’re asleep. Sleep well.

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Let me stamp your wrist

I’m a security guard at several music venues around Portland, Oregon. It’s probably one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. You come in to a music venue to see a band or a DJ perform. To dance all night, drink, flirt, and tell loud stories. To make bad decisions and have great stories to tell the next day.

I’m the guy at the door checking IDs. We are going to have a brief little moment together. Usually polite, usually friendly, almost always pretty surfacy. Our special interaction takes anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. In that time I’m trying to do several relatively simple things.

I’m trying to be friendly and welcome you to the venue. Then I’m engaging you in small talk, looking at your eyes and your gait to assess if you are already too drunk or high to allow into the club. I’m checking your ID to be sure that you are actually the person on the ID. I’m making sure that you were born before this date on 1995, and if your ID has expired. I’m examining the ID to see if it looks fake in general. I’m also trying to keep an eye on people in my peripheral vision that might be trying to sneak past while I’m engaged with you. Then, depending on the event or venue, I’m also scanning your concert ticket and giving you stamps on your wrists. Usually you get one stamp for having a valid ID and being of age, and then you get a different stamp for having a valid ticket to the concert.

I’m also the guy who escorts people out if they’re fighting, or simply are too intoxicated to be there. I answer a lot of questions. The most common things I end up saying besides the usual include, “Yes, there is re-entry. The bathroom is over there. No we don’t have a coat check. You can’t take your drinks outside. The ATM is just outside by the door. The box office is just over there. Yes the show is sold out. No there aren’t any more tickets available.”

Depending on the venue, and my specific duties that night, it is possible that I will have anywhere from 150 to 600 small interactions with patrons of the venue. We’re  going to handle all of these things as quickly as possible, and I’ll try to not ask the same questions several hundred times.

Since I’ve lived in Portland for 20 years, it is a rare night that I don’t see at least one person that I know from my various circles of friends and acquaintances while working the door.

When I ask to give you a stamp on your wrist, we have a strange little physical interaction where a complete stranger is touching your wrist and putting a little ink mark on you. It’s actually sort of intimate. I’m cradling your hand in mine with one hand, then stamping your wrist with my other hand. We’re close and looking in each other’s eyes. It’s almost the way you would cradle your lover’s hand if you were proposing. Sometimes you have to remove gloves, move bracelets, or switch your phone or beer to your other hand. Very often you have wrist tattoos that make it difficult to find a good visible place to put the stamp. And sometimes you have a scar on your wrist.

This happens far more than you would think. I look at the scar on your wrist and sometimes I know it’s from a suicide attempt. Or that you are or were a cutter. If you and I ever had a personal talk you’d probably tell me it was from a car crash. I’d probably smile and agree with you. But cuts from windshield safety glass can look like cuts from your broken wine glass in the bathtub. Or a straight-razor. If the scars go across the wrist like where your wristwatch band would be, maybe you weren’t that serious. If the scars go up the length of the forearm, you were more dedicated. If there were numerous scars of differing healing patterns, colors, and scar tissue, you might have tried a few times.

I think about all of this in the few seconds before I stamp your wrist. Occasionally I have a debate in my mind deciding if I should put the ink stamp off to the side of your scar, or directly on top of it. Some people must wonder, “Why did that door guy just stamp my scar?”  It’s a strange little moment we have where neither of us acknowledges it or says anything, but we both know what just happened. Two complete strangers now sort of share a secret. When I stamp you on your scar I think of it as a protective seal. It is a magical binding. Don’t open this again. It’s me placing my sigil of safety over your wound.

It is a sobering thought to imagine that every person who has a scar on their wrist may have been so depressed and dejected that they tried to end their life at one point. I hope I’m wrong about this. Because I see a bunch of them each night. But here you are, out and about trying to have fun. Not staying home in your apartment where the darkness can take too strong a hold of you. Don’t paint it black.

Maybe someday you’ll try to take your own life again and succeed. Maybe you’ll never try it again. Maybe that was a specific dark time in your life. Or maybe you have to fight off suicidal thoughts every day. You may be here because music is the only thing in your life that keeps you going. Or you’re here meeting the one person that you’ve met that understands you and gives you reason to keep going.

I’m just glad that you are here. And I want to see you here again. Music heals.
Maybe tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and wash the stamp off of your wrist and remember what a great night it was. And maybe you’ll think again about how that scar got there in the first place.

Maybe I’m overthinking all this and I’m just a guy putting a stamp on your wrist.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve been having this dream where dozens of people are stumbling into the venue holding their bleeding wrists out towards me. I’m supposed to suture everybody’s cuts shut but there’s too many of them and I can’t close the wounds fast enough. They all are asking me to help them and pulling up their sleeves to show me their wrists. The crowd starts pushing past me into the venue. Both wrists of every single person have been slashed open and they won’t stop bleeding.

Everybody streams past me into the venue and I hear the music start. Then a figure slowly strides through the doors and stands in front of me. This tall robed figure gently lifts up my wrist and pours candle wax on it. This doesn’t hurt. Then he stamps a sign into the wax, just like Kings in ancient times would do after sealing a private letter. I look up to see his face and I just see light. And then I wake up.

I am an ally

I am an ally. I have always been an ally to the queer community.

I am also a straight white man admittedly coming from a place of some privilege.

Since high school I’ve been a supporter of the LGBT community. Always seemed like a no-brainer. Love who you want. Reject any religious faith or family member who condemns your love.

As a young child I was part of a dance class, so I was around gay men all the time. Kudos to my parents for putting me in those dance classes and not demonizing the gay men, like other parents might. One of the first jobs I applied for in high school was as a DJ at the local gay club in Eugene. My parent’s rental house was rented to a gay man, and I used to go over there to help my Dad do yard work and minor home repairs. Their example of not behaving any differently around him taught me volumes. When that renter became a more vocal activist in Eugene politics fighting against some hateful propositions, they didn’t evict him. They didn’t raise the rent. When the house got vandalized by bigoted morons, they never expressed wishing they had a straight renter that didn’t have these problems. I believe that they rented to him for many years after, until he also moved to Portland.

I’ve attended the gay pride parade every year since I moved to Portland in 1996. So that’s twenty years of gay pride. Some years I just attended as a participant. Other years I staffed the outreach booth for the non-profit dog rescue I ran. Other years I walked in the parade for that non-profit with available dogs for adoption. One year I held the banner for a drumming group. And for the last three years I’ve performed on the main stage at Portland Pride with my rock band, The Shrike.

I worked for many years as a mentor for at-risk youth. I would always work with them to understand others and learn tolerance and acceptance. Some years I would even bring the teenagers to Pride with me. A few youth came out to me over the years, and one helped start his high school’s first GSA group. As we would study the civil rights movement, we would also study the gay rights movement. I loved telling them about the Stonewall riots that ignited the fires that still burn today.

In the 2000’s I took a part-time job delivering the area’s only gay newspaper. It was called Just Out. I would work a couple of days a month delivering bundles of papers to over a hundred stops on my route. I wanted to support the cause and learn about cool businesses and venues in Portland, so it was perfect. I’m certain that everybody assumed I was gay as I walked into the gay club during the summer mornings in my tank top shirt. Getting hit on by people at noon in a bar is surreal. I also met one of my best friends while working at Just Out, Marie. After a decade of friendship, Marie introduced me to my girlfriend, Marcela. She and her two kids have moved in with me, and we are very happy and in love. Thanks again, Marie.

When the Multnomah County commissioners legalized same-sex marriage in 2004 I got to be part of the celebration. Hundreds of couples were standing in line outside the Multnomah County building waiting to get their marriage license. I was on my route delivering the issue of Just Out that had the story of recent legalization of gay marriage on the cover. I thought it would be a good use of my time to stop and get out with a stack of papers, offering them to everybody in line. So many people were excited to get an issue of Just Out as a souvenir of this historic date, and to commemorate the acquisition of their marriage license. It was a sweet moment, many people had tears in their eyes from happiness. Obviously, later that decision was nullified when voters made gay marriage illegal again. Luckily, about ten years later, a Federal Judge made same sex marriage legal across the country.

I have dated several bisexual women in my life, attended numerous lesbian weddings, and have always been a supporter of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. I could go on and on.

But all that is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to inform you that now my job is to keep people safe. And in particular to keep the queer community safe. I’ve recently switched careers and work in the security industry. I got DPSST certified in November. My first event was a lesbian dance party at Bossanova Ballroom. My second event was a gay dance party also at Bossanova. I love these events. I felt kind of like I was back in college again. I have regular shifts at Doug Fir Lounge. Other locations include Stag PDX, Analog Theater, The Raven, and Tryst. I’m the bouncer. I’m the nice friendly bouncer, but I’m still the bouncer. I’ll check your ID, scan your concert tickets, answer all questions, maintain crowd control, help the bands load in/out, and even help you get a cab.  But I’ll also kick your ass out if you’re too drunk, agitated, hateful or aggressive.

I feel really good about this new career switch. I’m around live music all the time, and happy crowds of people. My employers have stated that the security industry has changed for the better. Instead of wanting huge scary dudes to break heads, they want a kindler, gentler security presence. My rangering skills from Burning Man are coming in so handy.   I don’t even care so much about refusing fake IDs. I’ve already politely refused several IDs that were fishy or expired. One guy felt such empathy for me having to deny his entry that he gave me a hug before he left.

But fair warning to the uninformed:
If I see you harassing a woman or trying to take advantage of someone who is too drunk, you’re gone. If I hear any homophobic slurs or gay-bashing, you’re gone. If I hear any racist hate-speech, you’re gone. You will be dragged out of the establishment and the police will be called for trespassing, disturbing the peace, harassment, or hate-speech. Not on my watch. The line has been drawn. That bullshit stops here.

Any venue that I’m working at is going to stay safe for everybody. I’ve already called for ambulances and police in just a few weeks on the job. I can kick you out for any number of reasons. And I will. So to all my queer friends, come out and have fun. Celebrate. Be heard. Be strong. Don’t hide. Unity is all the more important now. Nothing makes me happier than seeing 600 people dancing, flirting, drinking, and kissing in a safe space where acceptance and happiness is paramount. In some cases these dance nights are likely the ONLY place where people can feel this safe and open to be themselves. In the upcoming political landscape where our president-elect is condoning and encouraging sexism, intolerance, racism, and homophobia, this is all the more important. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better. I’ve got at least four more years of fight in me.

I can sign up for particular events and venues that I am drawn to. So I’m purposely signing up for lots of events at queer clubs, or music venues that support and book queer events. Doug Fir has a drag queen brunch every week. Bossanova has huge dance parties several nights of the week. I’ve already worked a Blowpony event and a Bearaccuda event there. Apparently when Euphoria stopped booking queer events, Bossanova took over and is now welcoming the queer community. Tryst and Stag are strictly gay clubs. So I’ll be carding a lot of drag queens. I worked one event where I was the only white person there for hours. That is an experience that I highly recommend to any of my white friends. It’s humbling and eye-opening. I know that my working security at these events isn’t going to change the world, but it’s important to maintain a safe place for people in our community. The more islands of safety and sanity in Portland, the better.

And I’m not posting this for ‘likes’ or for kudos from anybody. If you like what I have said here, awesome. If you don’t, feel free to unfollow me and unfriend me. I don’t have time for bigotry.

I’ve always been drawn to helping people. And I’m still doing that, just more directly now. I’m here to help. And I’m watching out for all of you.

Hoping for peace, love and understanding.

Love always wins.

Spaghetti Apocalypse

Four of the Apocalypse is a 1975 spaghetti western film directed by noted horror director Lucio Fulci. And it’s unlike any film I’ve ever seen.

I am a huge fan of spaghetti westerns. As a teenager I fell in love with the big three by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). While those are probably the most satisfying and well done, there are literally hundreds of others to explore. A few dozen of them are great and worth your time. Unfortunately, once producers saw a successful genre they milked it too deep. Putting out so many mediocre-to-bad spaghetti westerns killed the genre for a long time.

I had already been a fan of Lucio Fulci’s horror films. He became known as the ‘Godfather of Gore’ in the 70’s and 80’s and earned that moniker from such great films as The Beyond, Zombi, and The House by the Cemetery. When I learned he dabbled in various other genres including spaghetti westerns, I quickly tracked this film down and gave it a watch.

Honestly, I kind of hated this film when I first watched it. I imagine that was because I went in with expectations of a gore-fest like his other films, and/or I expected a gritty revenge tale in the style of Death Rides a Horse or the original Django. I found it very unsatisfying and the music irritating. Four of the Apocalypse in indeed an odd movie. Some would call it batshit crazy.

Here’s the description from the back of the Blue Underground DVD release:

Having survived a vigilante slaughter, four hard-luck strangers – gambler Stubby Preston, a pregnant prostitute, the town drunk, and a madman who sees dead people – escape into the lawless frontier. But when they meet a sadistic bandit named Chaco, the four are plunged into a nightmare of torture, brutality, and beyond. In a land that screams with the pain of the damned, can four lost souls find redemption and revenge?

Yeah I guess that is the basic description of the plot, but it’s much more than that. I can’t tell if Fulci wanted to just mess with our expectations of his film, or if he was trying for a more surreal and emotional classic quest story. The film at times feels like a road film, other times a pseudo-love story, a horror film, or even an exploitation flick. Normally this tonal change would sink a movie, but somehow I think that it works here. They are all flawed, anti-heroes that end up meeting a truly sinister and evil antagonist in Chaco.

One of the strongest performances, and a compelling reason to watch this film, is Tomas Milian’s role as Chaco. He exudes menace and malice with every squinty dusty glare. He based this character in part on Charles Manson. Scraggly hair, wild eyes, unpredictable, and sadistic. He clicks his ring against his Winchester rifle like a nervous rattlesnake about to pounce on a desert mouse. He draws crosses underneath his eyes in a completely striking and original move. He gives all four miscreants peyote and ties everyone up. He tortures a captive just for the sake of torturing them, rapes a character, kills many many people, and basically seems to have an agenda of chaos. Most recently, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow seems to have taken much visual inspiration from Chaco. Much like Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now, his character doesn’t actually have all that much screen time, but he is talked about and feared and reacted to for the entire movie. And his presence dominates any scene that he is in.

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If the film was more hallucinatory and symbolic, it would give Alejandro Jodorowsky a run for his money. I was definitely reminded of El Topo and The Holy Mountain at times. But then the opening scene has great slow-motion shootouts with bloody squibs a la the great Sam Peckinpah. Parts in the middle of the film feel like a horror movie. The snowy landscapes bring to mind McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Great Silence. The love story reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This movie is all over the place. Maybe Fulci was inspired and intentionally mixing it all up. Maybe he was lost and didn’t really have storyboards or all the details worked out. Maybe he and the entire cast were drinking and drugging in the desert making it up as they went. All possibilities are valid.

Don’t watch is as a spaghetti western. Watch it as a mythic quest film. I think then the chance of disappointment would be lessened. Upon my second viewing, all the characters are archetypes and antiheroes desperately trying to escape a torturous and insane antagonist. Their surreal journey across the harsh desert will bring redemption, death, life, madness, and revenge, among other things.

One criticism is the music. Indeed there are numerous folk songs that, by today’s standards, seem to distract from the story. I hated the music the first time I watched it. Some of the songs have the exact vocal effects and style as 70’s Pink Floyd. Which makes sense since Dark Side of the Moon came out a couple years prior to this film and sold a bazillion copies. And, just like Keoma, another spaghetti western with questionable music, some of the songs actually are narrating the action on the screen. That’s a hard narrative choice to pull off without sounding corny.

But it was the 70’s and music like that was huge. It wouldn’t be any stranger than a current film using current bands and styles on their soundtrack. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out a few years prior to this movie, and I don’t love their use of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. Some of the most successful album-oriented-rock acts then were artists like The Carpenters, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, etc.  Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Keoma, Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, and Django all use folksy acoustic music. So go into it knowing that this film is of its time, and it has some interesting music to show it.

But on the good side, this film is unusual and takes you to areas you didn’t expect to go. Which I love. One of the best scenes is when Bud is walking around naked in the rain talking to tombstones in the graveyard as if the people were there and could hear him. I’ve never seen something like that happen in any other movie. Another striking scene is when a small town comprised entirely of men all stop and react to the sound of a baby crying after being born. No baby had been born in the town prior, people had only died. The way the men rally around and celebrate that new life is touching, and something very unusual in movies, let alone a spaghetti western. Finding out the fate of the church caravan is very well framed and directed. I noticed a group of baby goats walking over to the corpse of their Mama goat when I watched it this week. What a subtle detail that probably took several takes and intricate staging.

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The cinematography is gorgeous and gives us creepy spiderwebbed rooms in an abandoned church. The director caught heat wave ripples in the air above the mountains when the band of four trudges across the wilderness. Images of the group carrying one person on a stretcher across the cracked desert playa are beautiful. It’s a surreal and almost nihilistic film where you’re just rooting for the least evil character. At times I feel like the film, and director Fulci, are actually sneering at us. When the film first came out it was apparently censored or banned in some regions due to some graphic violent scenes. By today’s standards it would only be rated R, or even a hard PG-13, but the subject matter and oppressive tone and dread certainly can add to it’s reputation. It is stark, violent, and disturbing stuff, to be sure. But I think marketing the DVD in this way does a disservice because then we except some horrific scenes of brutal graphic violence like in Fulci’s horror films. And what we get instead is a very unusual and actually poetic spaghetti western that will keep you on edge if you let yourself be drawn into it.

I’m a big fan of the final confrontation amidst shaving cream, blood, and a straight razor. This film stands alone in its greatness. I actually think that is is Fulci’s best film. Join the group of strange anitheroes on their quest across the desert of hell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going on tour

I’m in a rock band called The Shrike. We go on a small tour annually in October.

As we just recently completed our Chase the Sun tour, I have lots of recent memories and observations to blog about.

Most of my friends probably don’t understand the gritty realities that being on tour actually entails. It’s certainly not glamorous or particularly easy. Touring is quite possibly the most fun I have playing in a band, yet also the most challenging. Many better writers than me have written entire books about tour life. But here is a glimpse of my shift from regular dude to on-the-road musician.

Before leaving for tour, my life centers around the regular things that we all do.

I am a new stepfather, so I spend a lot of time with my step kids. We have one girl and one boy in elementary school. I wake up at 6:15am no matter how tired I am to get them ready for school and walk them to the bus stop. I’ll go to their school with their Mom to meet with their teachers. Set up some volunteering opportunities at their school.

Of course I take care of my own mundane life needs like paying bills, grocery shopping, and keeping the household and vehicles going in smooth order

At night I enjoy running the bedtime routine for them. I’m in the bathroom with them, all brushing our teeth together. Or sending them through bath-time. The girl loves to create concoctions like she is a chemist making new cremes and body washes imbued with magical powers and named after celestial bodies. The boy likes to hold his breath underwater while I time him, also searching for bath toys and identifying them by touch. Every night I’ll read out loud to each of them for a long time until they fall asleep.

Before I headed out for our tour I printed a map of our route so they could follow along and know what state and city I was in while I was away.

Then before you know it….we launched our tour.

Now the focus of every day is event planning, coordination, networking, traveling, and juggling the minutia of spending 11 days on the road and managing 9 shows in 7 states.

Most of us have extensive background in attending the Burning Man festival and regional events, so packing some clothes and food in coolers for two weeks is something we can do in our sleep. Most of us have dietary needs and restrictions, so packing our own food is helpful and cheaper. Eating on the road is necessary but challenging to say the least. Some days you really only have time to find some food at the deli in the gas station while you’re gassing up. They’re known mainly for deep fried, unhealthy meat-based items. Or processed desserts and chips and donuts. Teriyaki beef jerky, goodbye to you.

We’re already spending too much time sedentary sitting in a car. We don’t have any opportunity to exercise or work out, so any poor eating choices we make we will pay for later. One of our band members is vegan and one is vegetarian. I decided to try eating vegetarian this tour out of solidarity, and for ease of choosing places to eat. The other band member decided to take that challenge along with me. So when we stopped at the gas station food marts, my stand-by item became egg salad sandwiches. Or, as they became known on this tour due to my tired slurring of my words, exile sandwiches. I must have eaten a dozen of those. Pro-tip: grab the condiment packets before you leave and add relish, mayo, and mustard to the exile sandwich to spice it up. Also, buy one to eat immediately and one to save in your cooler for later.

Your entire day is structured around the 45 minute set you will perform later that night. Sometimes it will be a longer set, depending on if we’re headlining and how many other bands are on the bill. But you don’t really think like you do when you grind away at an office job for 8 hours, looking forward to your breaks, slacking off, and trying to look busy. We are busy. Traveling, securing housing at friends or getting a cheap hotel. Reminding yourself the names of the people I’ve been communicating with for weeks if not months. The minute we enter the venue it’s time to interface with the booking agent, talent buyer, security guard, sound engineer, bartender, the other bands, managers, promoters, radio staff, and anyone else you might need to. Loading in heavy gear, making sure we locate safe storage and never leave the trailer unattended. Staging my drums, warming up, practicing. Creating a custom set list for this venue. Securing any food and drink tickets if applicable. Determining the correct person to find after the show se we can get paid out. Is it a door split or did we work out a guarantee? How much does the venue take out of the money for their expenses? How much does the sound engineer get paid from the door? Are the bands doing an even split, or if we are headlining is it more like 60% for us, and 20% each for the two opening bands?

This year we got to make a stop at a drum store so I could replace some gear. I noticed not one but two cracks in one of my cymbals during one of the early gigs. That makes the cymbal sound like crap, and it could easily destruct onstage during a show. I went to a drum store in Boulder, Colorado and found a great Zildjian rock crash cymbal. I also bought all new drum heads because I hadn’t changed my drum heads in months. I beat the hell out of my heads when I play, so they need more-than-regular changing otherwise they sound bad.

Then let’s load all our gear onstage for a sound check. This is where the sound engineer mics everything and tries everything out to ensure good sound. Each musician tries out their instruments while the sound tech dials it in so it sounds distinct and balanced. We’ll run through a song or part of a song so they can balance everything out in relation to each other. Supposedly these levels are recorded and saved for when we return to the stage later. Often we then remove all gear from the stage and store it backstage somewhere while the other bands go onstage and do the same thing for their soundcheck.

We wait. We get in our stage clothes, put on make up, put in contact lenses, try to find some healthy vegetarian food, finalize the set list. Put some friends on the guest list so they can get in free. We are all crashing on their couch later tonight, after all. If there is a green room, that’s the perfect place to tune guitars, play a challenging solo, warm up, and try to get in the right head space. Often our friends are outside and want to talk with us. Honestly, sometimes we’re on a mission and don’t have time for more than a 30 second check in. I used to think musicians that hid in their dressing rooms before the show were being arrogant wanna-be rock stars who wouldn’t take time for their fans or friends. Now I get it. It’s  possibly the only time where you won’t be ‘ON’ and having to be talking with someone about something. It’s the last-minute calm before the storm. And we’ve got shit to do.

This tour we were on the ball and had a few live interviews set up with some of our favorite internet radio stations and honest-to-goodness real FM radio stations. Gotta set those up from the hotel room, at the venue, or even on the road when we pull over to talk on the phone with less road noise.

Did we make money at the door last night? Great. Let’s use it to fill the gas tank so we can drive for 7 hours to get to our next gig. Did we make more money selling merch last night? Cool, we can use the band bank account card to fill the tank up with gas. Some gigs don’t bring much money at all. But some gigs bring enough to splurge for a Motel 6 room with a shower, and a couple tanks of gas. I call that slingshotting us to the next gig with the money from a show where we actually have a following/crowd. If you can stagger those shows so you either have a decent guarantee, or you know you can bring a bunch of your friends, you’re golden. For this tour, our slingshot gigs were Portland, Billings, Reno, and Boise.

Hopefully we’ve delegated and divided duties so the merchandise table is set up and ready. Our cash box has appropriate change for people buying with cash, and our Square card reader is working and compatible with the smart phones of the band members or friends who are staffing the merch booth for us. For the love of all that is holy, please PLEASE buy some merch from a local band you like. That usually ends up being the only area that they may actually make some money. Door money is unpredictable and at the mercy of many factors and fees and charges that you often don’t know about until you’re being handed a too-small wad of cash at 2am.  If you like a band at all, please drop a little cash to purchase their product and you will be loved forever. It really makes a huge difference. Much as we love playing music in a venue live, most bands are actually trying to run their band as a business and profit from their art. Bands are up against it already. I’ll blog another time about all the expenses and dedication and trying to get people to attend your shows.

Further, all the big established bands that you love  started like this. There’s pretty much no such thing as an overnight success. Bands grind it out in clubs for years and put out numerous albums before that one thing happens that gets them on the radar of a crowd outside their hometown. Support local music. Bands play in small rock clubs charging a cover and trying furiously to build a following and a strong fan base for years before ‘making it big’.

So after the show it all begins again but in reverse. Break down our gear and get it the hell off the stage as fast as possible. Get it in the trailer. Thank all the other bands that played with you and try to get them to play with you again either in your town or theirs. Try to sequester some of your biggest fans to help you load out your gear quickly. Grab the money from the manager, sign any forms you need to sign, and drive to the hotel.

Your night is not over yet. Bands get all of their gear stolen all the time. Any trailer is a target. Any evidence that you are a touring band will draw attention you don’t want. Much as you’d love to have a huge tour bus that has your band name emblazoned across the entire side panel, don’t do it. That basically says, “Hey, there could be $20K of musical equipment in here. Want it?” We spend the extra time to load all of our gear into the hotel room with us. Piece of mind is priceless. If we had any of our gear stolen while on the road it would bankrupt us and possibly end the tour. Can’t take the chance. We have a story of a band we played 2 shows with on tour having this exact thing happen to them. So after loading all of our gear in the tiny hotel room, we might scarf down some leftover Chinese food and take a quick shower before passing out on the beds. Send a quick text to our partners back home so they don’t worry. And dream about starting this process all over again tomorrow.

And I honestly thought that I would have time to read books or write lyrics or blog from the road. Since it was October I even brought some horror films on DVD to play on a laptop at night. Silly Darren. Didn’t happen.

This Macbeth is mine

Well I finally have it. The filmed version of Macbeth that I had in my mind for my entire life. This film is so well done, from every single acting performance, to the music, the cinematography, the palpable dark feel of every scene. The entire movie is a mood piece, and that mood is one of dread, paranoia, and death.

It reminded me of Refn’s striking film VALHALLA RISING. Imagine the style of that film matched with very stylized slow-motion shots that elongate the moment of violence or anticipation of that violence.
I also was reminded of my favorite Werner Herzog film, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD. That film was a perfect match of long shots of the river or explorers moving through landscapes to the droning moody music of Popol Vuh. The director of Macbeth had to love Aguirre. He also matched similar visuals with striking music that keeps you anxious. Lot of violins and cellos and droning bagpipes lurk under most of the film.

The use of color and mist was inspired. Several shots of silhouettes of human figures walking reminded me of John Carpenter’s underrated film, THE FOG. And AGUIRRE, again. Maybe a bit of THE WITCH. Many scenes choose a color scheme and stick with it. Many blues are used in the hills and castles, gold and yellow candlelight are used perfectly in scenes with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the bright reds and oranges are used in battle scenes of blood and fire. Sparks float by in slow motion as warriors draw their swords, and I could almost feel the heat from the maelstrom behind them.

A few scenes of character’s faces in a room of hundreds of candles reminded me of Ridley Scott’s amazing lighting in BLADE RUNNER. I was actually looking for the glint in Macbeth’s eyes that would hint that he was a replicant. I also recalled Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON, where he used natural light and specific lenses to actually film the period piece by the available light that was available at the time of the story. Candlelight. Every scene in Macbeth is gorgeous. The location shots in the Scotland and England landscapes are stunning. It was reminiscent of the New Zealand beauty in the Lord of the Rings films. It has the same attention to rolling hills, snowy mountains, and small lakes and rivers. The majesty of nature.

Nothing about this film struck me as being stagey, or ‘just a play filmed for the screen’ like the Roman Polanski version. This film makes Polanski’s version look like watching a poorly done high school play. It is certainly quite dramatic and heavy, and all actors were completely immersed in their roles. Lines and speeches we’ve all heard a hundred times seemed new and fresh. They didn’t do anything in an expected or familiar way. Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth gave the best portrayal of that character that I’ve seen. And Michael Fassbinder was a Shakespearean force of darkness. I truly believed that he was Macbeth.

Although it is violent and bloody and filmed in a very engaging manner, it still is Shakespeare’s words. So younger viewers expecting a hyper-edited action oriented film will, of course, be disappointed. If you’re not into the colloquial language of Shakespeare, steer clear. The olde style vocabulary combined with the heavy Scottish accents requires your attention. I will admit I put on the subtitles at some points.

Again, this is by far the best film adaptation of this play. I’m already looking forward to watching it again. Well worth the time investment.

THIEF, 1981 Michael Mann

Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors, and this is the first film of his that I saw when I was a kid. As an adult, I can re-appreciate this film on additional levels. This feels like Michael Mann’s rehearsal for HEAT, his crime classic from 1995. And what a great rehearsal it is. James Cann is fabulous. His diner scene with Tuesday Weld is reportedly his proudest moment of his acting career. He plays a great tough guy with a heart who has goals like all of us: starting a family, adopting a child, accumulating wealth and the status we all strive for. But he is betrayed and broken. One particularly effective line is when he pulls a gun on somebody in his office and says, “I am the last guy in the world that you want to fuck with.”

But what makes his characterization so great is that he’s not just a one-dimensional tough guy. If Mann wanted that he would have written the part differently, and had somebody like Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone play him. Somebody larger than life, impervious to damage, and often quipping one-liners. But James Cann’s portrayal of Frank is so much more powerful because he is believable. An everyman. He’s been in tough situations and can certainly be the tough guy. But he gets just as upset over everyday things as he does deals gone bad or rip-offs. And his vulnerability in the infamous diner scene is expertly acted. Not many action characters spend time on-screen talking about adopting a baby, helping friends in prison, and  talking about past personal brutalizations. But this isn’t an action movie even if it appears like it on the surface. It really is a drama that happens to take place in the crime world. James Caan had been superstar for almost a decade when this film was released due to the worldwide success of The Godfather. His Sonny Corleone character was unforgettable. We know that going in, and sort of expect that hot-headed reactionary character. Mann surprises us by giving us a calm collected criminal that prides himself on thinking everything out beforehand, which is the exact opposite of Sonny Corleone. When the film builds to the inevitable violent climax, we are almost relieved to see him finally react in this manner. One could almost imagine Thief as an alternate universe where the Sonny Corelone character from The Godfather actually lived, left the protection of the family, and struck out on his own as a diamond thief. Sonny calmed down and learned self-restraint and calculated planning, and became Frank.

Michael Mann is a meticulous director who researches police procedure like no other. Part of the reason that Thief, Manhunter, and Heat work so well is the attention to detail and the honesty of what you see onscreen. He employed actual high-end bank robbers as consultants on this film, and a couple of them even have small roles. The detail of the heist scenes is unequaled. No dialogue is used, just the amazing droning pulse of Tangerine Dream on the soundtrack. Watching them burn their way into a strong safe with the use of a thermal lance is surreal and mesmerizing. This is pure visual film-making that really draws you into the scene, making you feel like you somehow snuck in behind the diamond thieves and are right there with them.

I must comment on the epic denouement of the film, in which James Cann goes against logic and does what is right for his personal code. (SPOILERS) He purposely breaks his girlfriend’s heart and sends her off (financially taking care of her) so she will not be in danger. He destroys everything linking him to his double-crossing bosses, devaluing any possessions they could claim as theirs. He literally blows up any connection to that life of material possessions that was once his dream. His house, his local bar, his used car business, and dozens of cars.

This is a portrait of a man erasing himself.

To quote Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” After he destroys all of this, he goes after the bad guys for revenge, not caring if he destroys himself as well. An unofficial version of Pink Floyd’s song ‘Comfortably Numb’ pushes the final action along. Mann steps into a comfortable zone of staging action scenes like no other director. He had just done numerous episodes of Miami Vice, and the stylized and colorful action and editing styles do indeed remind me of that show. I was a teenager when Miami Vice was on TV, and I absolutely loved the marriage of popular current music loud in the mix with the striking visuals. Mann used this technique in the climaxes of both Thief and Manhunter, two of my favorite films.

Tense, exciting, stylized and rewarding shootouts ensue in the climax.  This is a fantastic crime drama that everyone should see.