Too Much Input

Windows Live… another network. I ignored myspace and facebook long enough, and I refuse to participate in the Twitter idiocy. So here we go, another social network. There can”t be enough of them, really. Web 2.0, Web 3.0, iPads, 1.5 TB hard drives, 64-bit dual-layer blu-ray syncho-flash technology, etc., etc.

Even I, a guy who”s supposed to keep up with these things, am left to rasp in a curmudgeonly way, “Who needs this shit?” Sometimes I”m tempted to side with the luddites who claim that computers have made us “stupider.” I mean, how do you people have the time for all this? I don”t think I even had the time before I had a child!

It”s a good thing no one reads this blog, or they”d be pissed at me for my highly irregular updates. But I can rationalize my inaction by claiming that I just don”t want to add much to the maelstrom of information that we bombard ourselves with every microsecond. I guess I”m a humanitarian after all.

Metal Disbelief

This is one of the most idiotic metal-related things I have ever read:

Is Udo Dirkschneider the Lemmy Kilmister of German heavy metal? Not quite, as that title would probably go to SODOM”s Tom Angelripper.

What the hell does that even mean?

No passing an ongoing rant

Admit it. If you commute to work in your car and you drive through suburbs, you’ve been stuck behind a school bus at some point. And like me every once in a while, you may have found yourself cursing out loud at the behemoth in front of you, then feeling guilty for the cursing. Of course you should have to stop for a school bus. On both sides. Of course it’s a good idea. Even people who don’t have children of their own probably agree. I agreed with it before I had a son of my own. He doesn’t ride the bus (yet), but any law that objectively enhances the safety of children is valid in my book.

But that leads me to this: We shouldn’t need this law. Call it idealism, maybe, but if we had decent, well-designed roads with sidewalks and crosswalks, and drivers who were skilled and gave a shit, we wouldn’t. This brings me back to one of my long-standing peeves: sidewalks and bike paths, or the lack of ‘em. (Another reason I have affection for Rachel Maddow – she loves to get geeky about the unsexy subject of infrastructure.)

If we planned our communities instead of leaving them to the whims of developers concerned only about the almighty dollar, we might have schools and shopping centers and gathering places within walking and biking distances of homes, not this moronic and unsustainable sprawl. We’d have sidewalks and bike paths and playgrounds and all of that, and cut down on traffic, danger from traffic, use of fossil fuels, emissions from using those fuels, and use of energy in general. We’d increase fitness levels, and most important of all, provide the means for a sense of COMMUNITY. Oh shit, there’s that word, with the same root as that dreaded Stalin/Marx/Mao thing… what was it called?

I’m guilty of it, too. I live in a house far from any real cultural centers. Sure, there are carbon-copy strip malls everywhere, but how does that help in bringing a sense of community? I’ve noticed this since living here in the US: people can be so isolated from one another. I hardly see my neighbors, barely remember their names. I admittedly am far more interested in international news and issues than what happens locally – local issues hold no interest for me because I’m not involved. Sure, it’s partly my fault. But the way we do things is not conducive to people being involved. It’s not encouraging. When it’s dangerous to walk to a friend’s house a couple of streets away because there are no sidewalks, we drive. And no wonder we don’t have a sense of community, we never talk to each other because we’re always in OUR FUCKING CARS! I ride my bike a lot (for fitness, rarely for transportation), and to see the incoherent rage of the imbeciles whom I dare to slow down because of my meager human-powered perambulation is saddening. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been honked at for no good reason, and even run off the road on occasion because some frazzled mom was late getting her kids to soccer or just wasn’t paying attention (or whatever), wrapped up in her own world. Oops, I just used a woman for my example of bad drivers. Guys can be just as bad, usually in a different, more aggressive way.

Back to community. I have to bring up Germany again. Yes, I know it’s a tiny country compared to ours and the logistics just don’t compare. But there are bike and pedestrian paths everywhere, not to mention a stellar public transportation system. Sense of community? I used to see people sweeping the sidewalk in front of their home. The sidewalk – not part of their property. (OK, knowing the Germans, it’s probably a law.) But there was always more of a sense of community there to me.

Besides there not being any real connectedness between us, I guess my sense of community, or rather the lack of it, stems from no sense of history and culture. Rather than grand stone buildings with admirable design, we have cookie-cutter housing developments, the houses built out of wood and drywall I can put my foot through. Rather than well-respected businesses that have been in the same family for a century or more, we have ugly little pre-fab strip malls, whose tenants seem to change yearly. Rather than locally-owned, dedicated, and homey restaurants of all kinds, we have slick, neon fast-food chains that serve up grease-laden hunks of mush. Am I too critical of my own country? It’s all out of love and a wish to improve it, man. Well, most of it. Believe me, I have plenty of critiques of my other favorite country, Germany, besides the thing that happened a few decades ago. That’s for another rant.

How to resolve this lack of a sense of community I see here? A confluence of many things, and that’s for the many people smarter than I. But for a start, let’s build some damned sidewalks and bike paths and some community places we can be proud of – and I ain’t talkin’ any more churches. That’s also for another rant. Oh, if I had the time, volumes I could fill. Humor me – writing about things I like just ain’t as interesting.

General Smallwood Olympic Triathlon, 9/22/07

(OK, it only took me 7 months to post this… so I’m slow, nothing new there)

(1500M/T1/25miles/T2/10k – 31:52/5:29/1:19:59/2:29/1:07:40) Total time – 3:07:26

Surviving Smallwood, 9/22/07

Drove up to VA Friday afternoon, got there around 1930. Had my wheat pasta & veggies, talked a bit, slept on the couch. Up at 0500 and on the road to Smallwood State Park. Had my tea & PB&Banana Sandwich on the way. It was just getting light slowly when we got there. We were able to casually get our race packets and chat (Dan and Shan knew quite a few people; a lot of Team Z-ers there, I guess). Apparently, they moved the swim just as they had to do the year before, because of seaweed and algae. I had wanted to get the rented wetsuit on and swim a bit in the water before the race began, but trying to time it right was an issue. Thank Crom there was a real bathroom in the building at the park, because my usual pre-race weight loss routine rapidly became a necessity. When I got to where the swim was rumored to be, there was nobody warming up, so, naturally, I didn’t want to get in there first and look the fool. So soon all participants waddled over in their funny rubber suits, and we wished each other good luck. I had forgotten to take off my rings, and so had my friends, so Shan put them all in her bag. Dan was in the first wave, I was 2nd, and Shan was in the 3rd. Missed most of the pre-race talk, so had to ask people what exactly we were doing. Swimming out and around the buoys without coming back in to land after the first lap, apparently.

‘Twas getting mighty hot in that wetsuit – must’ve been over 80 degrees and high humidity (it had rained earlier). We had to jump in; the start was in water about 5 ½-6 feet deep, with horrible, tangly, and slimy stuff underfoot. But, damn, it felt so nice and cool as it slid under the wetsuit. And then it was time to go, not much time to dwell on my nerves and apprehension about a .9-mile swim in a branch of the Potomac. But it wasn’t too bad, except for the carnivorous seaweed, attacking at every turn. It didn’t feel longer than the last sprint tri I did, which was half of the distance. I was able to keep rhythm much better than last time. I guess the wetsuit also helped, and the fact that the water was cooler and cleaner than Lake Crabtree. Not hard to do, I suppose. Suddenly it was time to get out. Guys were helping people out onto a little platform, from which we climbed up the stairs and began the long run to transition. I had felt a cramp threaten in my right calf toward the end of the swim, and it threatened more on the run. I ran gingerly, considering the bare feet on concrete, the burgeoning cramp, and trying to strip off the wetsuit. The worst and most feared part (for me, and for most, I think) was over. Finally got to transition, which must have been at least 300 meters away. Wetsuit came off with little difficulty, but got a little flustered because I kept thinking I was forgetting something. Probably wasted a good minute or even two in T1, with my slow run to get there and my dawdling. But shit, I’m just aiming to finish, I ain’t an elite athlete.

Set out on the bike, immediately consuming a gel, which of course, tasted nauseating. I knew on the way in that nutrition would be my problem, because I’ve yet to work that out. The bike was very pleasant, a nice country route, many trees, little traffic, not difficult at all. I passed quite a few people, but tried not to push it too hard. Finally got to a few going my speed and we swapped off leads. No, we weren’t drafting, I swear. There was a thin girl with long, dark hair who seemed to be laboring profusely, whom I passed, and I said something encouraging to her. Of course, I was embarrassed later when she passed me again and left me in the dust. It was a nice enough ride that I didn’t start wishing it would end until around mile 20 or so, when my lower back started to stiffen, and quads and calves to tighten up. I had been drinking regularly, but still not enough, I suppose. Now I realize that I probably should’ve been taking in a bit of salt here and there, but live and learn. My calf really started to cramp right before transition. Not good, I thought, worried. Haven’t even started the run and my calf’s cramping.

Tried to drink, drink, drink, but after I left an uneventful transition, shirtless because the heat was coming on, I had to pee like a madman. But I couldn’t find a decent place to stop, then somehow I forgot about it as the pain increased. Long hill out of transition, and I couldn’t even get up it without walking. The gels were starting to make me sick again – I think I’ll be staying away from those. Legs cramping. 6.2 miles of this? Crom’s stone balls, I can’t do that, I thought. But I didn’t want a DNF in my first Olympic tri, so I would walk or crawl the damned thing if I had to. When I got off the bike, I had more than an hour to spare before the 3-hour mark, which was my goal, and I thought, ah, excellent. If my fastest 10k is around 48 minutes, no problem. Yeah, right. I watched that goal fade as I jogged-hobbled-jogged-limped. I thought for sure the friends I came with would re-pass me (I saw both of them in the out-and-back parts), but it turned out they were hurting and slowing, too. The last mile was the longest of my life so far, even longer than the last mile of the Shamrock Marathon I ran in 2004… fucker just wouldn’t end!

Walk. Jog. Stumble. Hot. Walk, job, stumble. Finally to the slight incline and I could see the finishing area. And my mom and dad ready with the camera. It just wouldn’t do to have pictures with me walking with my jaw scraping the ground, agonizing and exhausted. So I had to pick it up a bit, no matter how much it hurt. And smile. And so I did. They didn’t come out half bad.

I sat in the grass, conversing with my folks between labored breaths, and waited for my friends to finish. I tried to get up several times and found the world spinning and nausea encroaching. I hadn’t experienced that yet after a race. This went on for 20 or 30 minutes before I finally had it under control, with the help of four or five bottles of Gatorade, pizza, and salt tablets from my friend (thanks Shan). We hung out at the Team Z tent for a while. Nice group of people, if I lived in the area, I’d definitely join.

An adventure? You bet. Masochistic and a bit crazy? Of course. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But not until I figure out my damned nutrition issues! More salt, more salt, no Gu, more liquid, and piss when I have to, no matter what the situation.

The lunch my parents bought me was sorely needed, but the 4-hour drive home was NOT. I was surprised I made it home without passing out, but it was one of those “body tired but zoned-out” drives. Back to home and the routine.

Triangle Triathlon 7/8/07

(750M/13.8miles/5k – 17:08/2:17/45:15/1:49/25:42) Total time – 1:32:09

My first true sprint tri. The day had arrived, after weeks of inconsistent training. I was really only worried about the 750-Meter swim. I had never swum that long without a pause, except for the Friday before the race – just to reassure myself that I could. Sure, I’ve swum over a mile in the pool, but that’s with many breaks.

Did my anal checks and re-checks the night before, got up at 5 AM. My wife had the consideration to take my son and stay at her mom’s to allow me to get some rest, but I didn’t get much anyway – nerves, I guess. Scarfed my traditional PB & banana on wheat and drank my Earl Grey. Somewhere along the way, or the day before, I made a digestive mistake. But more on that later.

Arrived without incident, rode the ½ mile there. Walked into transition, thinking I’d set up my stuff and go look for somebody who had handlebar end-caps (which the race instructions demanded), but they were actually checking for it as you enter transition. That’s good, I suppose. Thankfully one of the volunteers walked right up, offering them. So I put ‘em in and taped ‘em with the handy electrical tape that always goes in the T-bag. Helped another guy out with some, too. My good deed for the day.

How do you get used to this with Tris? My stuff was ready after a check and six re-checks, and I had an hour until my wave started. I wanted to do a quick warm-up swim, but I didn’t want to walk around for an hour in just my tri-shorts and bare feet. But what else was there to do, sit there? Of course the urge to – shall we say – unload struck me with half an hour left. Not wanting to use the port-a-potties for my mission (I cringe at having to use even clean public restrooms for this uncomfortable but necessary craptivity), I thought I’d see if the nearest park restroom was open. No dice. Some smart soul had locked it and put a sign on it saying “closed until after the race.” Oh well. It would have to wait.

Waited in line twice to use the port-a-potties for the longer-distance activity of peeing, and, man, the lines were long. Should’ve just used the trees, I guess. Saw Bobby, friend and ex-colleague of mine, which was cool. He was volunteering for the race – I guess a sprint tri is far too short for an Iron Man of his ability. There’s more respect than snark in that comment, really.

Swam out to the first buoy and back as a warm-up. The water was a bit mucky and unnaturally warm, I thought, but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Someone had told me that the lake was uniformly shallow and you could touch bottom in most places, so I tried. But they also said that you probably wouldn’t want to stick your feet in the slimy muck down there. So I did. Slimy, indeed. I downed a Gu gel 15 mins before my swim start, which I think was my first mistake. Don’t do anything new on race day, right? Well, I’d tried Gu before – once or twice – and didn’t feel any ill effects. Didn’t feel any effects at all, really. So it couldn’t hurt, right? Well, it didn’t – for a while. As I was standing in the water with the other Clydesdales, blabbing nervously, mostly about the condition of the water, whose first tri it was, etc., etc., the standard stuff, just as I was saying that I had done a warm-up swim and the water wasn’t nearly as bad as its reputation, a blackened, half-disintegrated Styrofoam coffee cup floated by us. “Well, maybe not,” I muttered, or something equally as futile and idiotic.

And we were off. As always, my rhythm was the first thing out the window. I’d been training to do the alternate-side breathing, i.e., once every three strokes. I tried, but mostly I fell back on the every-other-stroke-breathe-on-the-left-side sort of thing. I started at the back and avoided most of the others, making it to the turnaround without much trouble. Then it got harder. Swim. Breathe. Sight. Correction. Swim. Breathe. Sight. Correction. I could not keep myself going in a straight line for any reward. It went on this way for what seemed hours, with the shore getting no closer. Other people with different-color caps would pass me or I would pass them, but I didn’t know if they were from the wave in front of me or behind me. More likely behind me, for I could have sworn the swim was taking me half an hour. (Turned out to be a bad but not THAT bad 17 minutes or so.)

T1, no issues, out to the mounting line, no issues. But here I made a mistake – concentrated too hard on trying to get my feet in the clips and my gloves on my hands. I should have sped up to a decent speed first and done it as opportunities arose. We learn. Several folks passed me here. Then over the little causeway and a slight hill, and all the breath went out of me. Shit! A short ride like this and I’m gonna have trouble with it? I thought. That’s just sad. But I recovered shortly.

I realize I could maybe have kicked it into a faster gear, but I held back a bit, feeling those gut rumblings, overtiredness from only a few hours of sleep, etc. So I rode at maybe 80-85% of effort. I thought a couple of the hills would hurt, but they really weren’t that bad (I spun in a low gear). I passed one guy who had no helmet and earphones, wondering if he had been dq’d and just didn’t care, or what. Every once in a while a hardcore cyclist would whiz by on a whirring tribike, which was disconcerting, but what can you do? I ate a Gu gel about a mile or two before the end, as planned, and that was a mistake. Disgusting. One more note about the bike: I’ve read in many places that it’s not actually 15 miles, and by my computer, they’re right, it was about 13.8. That’s a long way to be off, and apparently it’s been that way for years. Do the organizers even know? I mean, it doesn’t matter, but either correct the course or SAY that it’s 13.8 miles. Hmm.

T2 was no big deal. Since I have clips or cages on my pedals, I use my running shoes to ride in, and don’t have to change them. Maybe the only benefit to not having clipless pedals (yet). Decided to run without a shirt (which I almost never do because of fear of sunburn) because of the oncoming heat. 5 mins or so into the run my stomach started to rebel against the insanely sweet Gu, and I had to slow down and pace myself more evenly. The course was easy, and I saw Bobby 2x more, but I was hurting towards the end and had no gear left to kick it in. Damn, I was happy to see that finish line. My first true sprint tri complete, and really only nutrition mistakes to mention. Could have been much worse! I had wanted a finish in under 1:30, but the official 1:32:09 would have to do.

All in all, the race was well-done, decent course, well-organized. The tons of fruit and bagels and donuts and drinks were great. Complaints? There’ve always gotta be some. Having the pre-race meeting the day before is definitely NOT convenient, but I can understand it with a big race. Not enough port-a-potties, bike course too short, water disgusting. That last one is not the organizer’s fault, of course. Will I do it again next year? Perhaps, but the prospect of swimming in lake Crabtree again is not a nice thought. Next on the agenda: an Olympic or International Tri.

Race for the Cure 6/9/07

There’s not all that much to report here. My wife volunteered for the race, as she’s started to do every year, and my mother-in-law was a participant as a survivor, so I figured why not try for a PR in the 5k? I ran around trying to get my son Spenser situated; he had to stay with his mother during the run. There were soo many people. But that’s good, right? Got ready at the starting line of the run, and I must have been 200 yards back. Must have been thousands of people in the race, by far the hugest I’ve ever done. And the gun went off. I had set myself farther back than I thought , so I was passing a lot of people. Sure it felt good, but would I pay for it? The summer heat was already starting to crank up. I thought I might try for a PR – even though I hadn’t trained vigorously for a 5k – which meant a goal of 22:54. I was on target and doing OK until the end of the 2nd mile, when the heat really started to get to me. Thankfully, there was a team of kids on the side, ready with a hose to spray those who wanted it. I’ll take some of that, please! Crom bless thee. The long, slow uphill at the end before you turn the corner back into Meredith (if I remember it right) was murderous, but I was able to maintain my pace and sprint it home after the turn, even though I misjudged the distance to the finish line. I was so out of breath I couldn’t even bend down right away to help the volunteer take the damned chip off of my shoe! But I looked at my watch and, holy shitbrick, shmatman! 22:38! Wow. I was impressed with myself, because the end sure felt hard. Now if that run had taken place in my preferred running weather (about 52 degrees, overcast, drizzly, low humidity, naked cheerleaders), I might have toyed with breaking 22:00! Maybe someday, but I’m not getting any younger. That tantalizing 19:59 may be out of reach in this life (especially for a man who usually weighs 208-220 lbs.).

A great race, well-executed despite its size, and fundraising goals were exceeded, I understand. Kudos to all involved, especially to the survivors. And double credit to the survivors who raced, many of whom were much faster than I!

As the bumper stickers on the cars of my wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law proclaim proudly, “Save the Ta-Tas!” Maybe I’ll get one for my car that just says, “Hooray for Boobies.”

Finish Strong Challenge 4/15/07

I’ve been admonished by my anal-retentive German genes that I really should jot down a race report for every race, even though it will never be read, except by me, and maybe not even that. Finish Strong Challenge/Banks D. Kerr YMCA Triathlon 4-15-07 A first-time tri, the first for its organizers, and my first road tri. How appropriate. They did a good job, despite the threat of large storms. But someone (Tom Robbins?) said it – the weather is to be celebrated or ignored.

This was all new to me, but the nerves weren’t overwhelming because of that debacle of an Xterra I did 10 months ago – after that one, I knew a road tri would be child’s play. But I’m really not a great swimmer, and even the tiny 200-yard swim had me a little worried. Mostly if I would get passed by three people in the staggered pool swim. But as worries usually are, these were unwarranted. I didn’t do great, lost all rhythm after the third length, but I passed one guy instead of getting passed. I could have cut off 10-20 seconds if my damned watch hadn’t kept coming off! Excuses. Can’t do flip-turns, so didn’t even try. Passing under ropes was hard to get used to. The pool was very warm, almost too warm. We were staggered according to projected swim times, so it worked out fine. I suppose that’s how they always organize pool swims. It was a long run to T1, all wet parking lot on bare feet, so slow I went. No big problems, except for everything being wet, even though I had covered stuff with trash bags. Drying feet and lacing up shoes took the longest. Had to be reminded to fasten helmet strap before leaving.

Wasn’t looking forward to being drenched on the bike. Had only had my road bike for a couple of months, so I wasn’t too used to it. But it held off, luckily. The wet roads made me a bit more cautious, but I passed many, many folks. Pretty nice 10.5-mile course, through some posh suburbs (ex-urbs?) of multi-million $ homes. Got passed twice about a mile from T2, although I was going hard. Didn’t have much trouble with the hated pedal clips, which don’t like my running shoes much, but it does allow for a quick T2.

Off on the run. One of the two guys who had passed me on the bike said “You’ll be passing me in about four minutes.” I thought, nah. Couldn’t feel my legs for a few minutes, and for a second, felt like a fist was squeezing my chest, trying to force my heart out through my throat. Thankfully, that went away. I passed the guy, who said, “You’re ahead of schedule.” Tried to respond with encouragement, but no breath. Passed the other guy later, so that felt good. Felt like the course was 75% uphill, but it also felt too short. I bested my stand-alone 5k time by a minute! That makes me think that the course was maybe 2.7-2.8 miles or so, rather than a full 5k. Who knows?

I went to breakfast with my wife and son and didn’t stay for awards, never expected anything. Don’t think there were awards for it, but it turns out I was 2nd in the Clydesdales (only 6 or 7 of us), and if I had gone with age group (35-39), I would’ve been 2nd, too! Argh!

I expected a road tri to be much easier than the Xterra Sport, and it was, by far. But only relatively.

Official results: \r\nSwim 200 Y 4:11/T1 4:11/Bike 10.5 Miles 36:27/T2 0:49/Run 5k 21:56\r\nOverall 38/93, Clydesdale 2/7 (Age group 35-39 2/?)

This log at www.beginnertriathlete.com

Queensryche

Considering I’ve really had over a month to listen to this (don’t ask how), you’d think I would have written something about it by now. After all, Operation:Mindcrime, part the first (henceforth OM1), may be my favorite album of all time. So you would think I’d be quick to jump on the sequel for good or bad. Perhaps I wanted to wait until I bought the official release to see if they redid or added anything (they didn’t, as far as I can tell). Maybe I was reluctant to put down my thoughts on this – to me – momentous event, to figure out what I really think about it. But in the end, it’s a good thing. Although I often read online reviews of albums, I decry the instant review process. I think that it is nearly impossible to get a good opinion of a new release after just a couple of listens, especially after just one. Often, the closer you are to the music or the artist, the more this is true. If you put Eminem’s new CD on for me, I would howl insults at you after the first faux-macho sneer. But I’ve been a Queensryche fan for more than twenty years, and more loyal than most. I’ve given them breaks left and right through the beginning of their decline with Promised Land, their reviled step into softer, melodic art-rock in Hear in the Now Frontier, the slightly heavier but even less-inspired Q2K, the better-but-not-quite-there Tribe, and the numerous in-between live and greatest hits offerings. As a matter of fact, I love all of their studio albums. Some are better than others, but they are all different.

Queensryche’s debut EP was fairly straight-forward 80’s metal with hints of their progressive potential. Their debut LP The Warning was an explosive, intelligent work, heavy and thoughtful in places, with cheesy sci-fi and glorious fantasy themes fitting perfectly (note “NM 156” and “Take Hold of the Flame”). Rage for Order showed them succumbing to the image-whores, painted and big-haired up to look like some gothic, new-wave-prog-metal hybrid horrors, and fans like me didn’t know what to think. But after a few listens, the album showed its true glory, image be damned to the hells of Motley Crue. “Neue Regel” and “Screaming in Digital” were and are mind-blowing works which make me sing (or howl, some would say) in enjoyment and wonder to this day.

And then came OM1. I remember discussing it with my friend at the time. A concept album? Oh, gods, no! This spelled the ruin of the band’s career for sure! I don’t remember how long it took me to realize how unbelievable the album was, but damned if it wasn’t brutal, honest, skilled, nuanced, atmospheric, raging, experimental, and introspective all at the same time. I fell in love with it, as did maybe millions of other teenage boys across the nation and world, all somehow identifying with Nikki, the tormented and self-tormenting protagonist. Beneath all of the drug addiction, revolution, mind control, yearning, and angst, after all, he was a rebel, and we were feeling rebellious. It was an outlet, a hip, fun, and rocking catharsis. Every once in a while I sit down to revisit it and am amazed once again. How many works of art can do that – amaze you through the years? Isn’t that the definition of a masterpiece?

Then, capitalizing on the critical laudation and a successful tour, Queensryche did exactly the right thing – commercially, at least – and released Empire. How I would have loved to hate that album, with its commercial appeal, spotless production, melodic hooks, and neo-prog-rock-balladry. But, Goddamnit, it was GOOD! The musicianship was not quite as experimental and aggressive as OM1, but it was still first-class, and Tate’s singing was even better and full of range and emotion, if that was possible. The album sold so much that to this day, even I am still sick of “Empire” and “Silent Lucidity”, but the rest of it I still enjoy shamelessly.

Then followed the wane in their careers, popularity, and possibly talent, with the decline of metal, rise and fall of grunge, the rise and persistence of “Alternative Rock” (I’m still not sure what that means), and the eventual departure of DeGarmo, the band’s main and best songwriter. But I stuck with them, loved their works, saw them play three more times, and they did not disappoint.

When I first heard early in 2005 that Tate was planning a sequel to OM1, I probably reacted like many long-time fans. Oh no! Oh Crom, leave it alone! And then: Holy shit, a sequel, wonder what that will be like! I can’t wait! So I expected the worst. And I have been disappointed. That is to say, my expectations were not met. OM2 is a good, maybe a great album. The burning question, is it as good as the first one? Well, of course not. But times are different, we are older, and it is not the same theme or subject. Same characters, yes, but it is less urgent, more crafted. Geoff Tate, now in his mid-to-late forties, has not lost much as a singer. Maybe nothing at all, because he does a phenomenal job, and still ranks with my other favorites, Dickinson, Alder, Arch, Dio, and Eric Adams. The guitar work is inspired and skillful, but I’m not sure I would say “effortless.” I wasn’t that sure about Mike Stone in concert, although he performed decently, but he seems to have found a rapport with Wilton. Jackson and Rockenfield do their job well, especially Rockenfield, whom I’ve always thought of as a first class rock/metal drummer. Not quite in the caliber of Portnoy and Zonder, but nearly there. OM2 is heavier than anything since Promised Land, maybe since Empire, but there are definitely songs that hearken back to Hear and Q2k.

I’ll try to give a brief impression of the songs, because I could probably go on forever about this band. “Freiheit Ouverture”, the intro, is not the metal attack of “Anarchy-X”, but it builds up nicely. “I’m American” is a good start, with a nice, chugging riff and Geoff’s lyrics celebrating and mocking our nation and mindsets. He tries to insert commentary on the current political situation while leaving it open to be as timeless as OM1, like “You want what they’re selling – another television war?” And although it might be a bit transparent, I was singing along in no time. “One Foot In Hell” has a nice low groove, and “Hostage”, maybe the best of the album, has hooks worthy of Empire. “The Hands” starts with a tasteful, minimalist tribute to an OM1 riff (was it “The Mission”?), although I can’t understand why they chose this as a single over “Hostage”. “Speed of Light” sounds like it was ripped right from the Hear in the Now Frontier sessions, but it has an interesting end with a gritty, devolving guitar and what sounds like cowbells! Pamela Moore, the woman who sung the part of Mary in OM1, shows up here for the first time. “Signs Say Go” is a frenzied rocker that fits well, and “Re-Arrange You” has a nice, mysterious keyboard line, chugging riffs in the right places, and great drumming from Rockenfield. “The Chase” is the long-awaited duet with Ronnie James Dio – and it’s good, but not mind-blowing, and too short. The vocal arrangement gets a little muddled and overcomplicated, but it’s a joy to hear these two in the same song. “Murderer?” is presumably where the long-suffering Nikki takes out Dr. X, but Tate leaves the ending purposefully ambiguous. “Circles”, a Mars Volta-ish interlude, along the lines of “Waiting for 22”, I found annoying. “If I Could Change It All” and “An Intentional Confrontation” feature Pamela Moore, in all her glory, far more than OM1 did. She has a great voice, no doubt, but she doesn’t fit as seamlessly here as in OM1, where you hardly noticed she was there – she sounded like an extension of Tate. “A Junkie’s Blues” has a nice, dirty, grooving intro, which then morphs into Empire-like cleanliness. I really dig “Fear City Slide”, with emoting from Tate, a catchy chorus and guitar lines. The closer “”All the Promises”, unfortunately, is an anti-climax that drips cheese in its “oh we were so in love” themes. “When you said you loved me it made me feel like I could fly.” Aaargh, that’s painful. Not only is there no resolution, there is no indication of what really is happening with Nikki, besides having a discussion with Mary’s ghost. Is he dead? Insane? Married with three kids in a house with a two-car garage and bonus room? I tend to like narratives that are not resolved and wrapped up cleanly and handed to the unquestioning, unthinking consumer, like a McDonald’s Heart Attack Special, but this end was just a disappointing ending to a good album. But OM2 has grown on me so much since I first listened to it, who knows?

Most artists will never again make an opus as masterful and inspired as they did when they were young, drunk, and hungry. Look at Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, Rush’s 2112, Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Dream Theater’s Images and Words, Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman, Accept’s Balls to the Wall, and Madonna’s Like a Virgin, to name a few. Just kidding on that last one. That applies to me, too – I don’t think even I will equal the dark and brooding poetry of despair I wrote in the early 90s (not that anyone will ever read it, which is probably to their benefit). But you have to give them some kind of kudos for trying. This was a big gamble on the part of the Ryche. Not that they had a lot of fame or momentum to lose, but to set out to add to the legacy of an icon such as OM1 with the possibility of tarnishing it forever, is quite an undertaking. Have they marred the epic immortality of OM1? If Metallica has not hurt the legacy of Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All with garbage like, well, everything since the second half of the Black Album, I think it would take something much worse than this very-satisfying, if not quite masterful, album to do that to the legacy of Operation:Mindcrime. Here’s to Nikki and to hoping he’s found some kind of peace at last. Just, please, guys, you have other things to offer, don’t let there be a III. I’d rather have a Warning or Rage For Order II than that!

My Present Times are Better than Yours

If I were World Coordinator, I would immediately outlaw anyone speaking in melodramatic tones – or any tones – of our living “in extraordinary times.” To me, this is narrow-minded and bombastic talk. That we live in “changing times” or “a fascinating era” is a highly subjective point of view, like saying that Britney Spears’ latest dance opus Bare My Midriff Baby – or whatever it’s called – is a pivotal moment in music history, or that Trading Spouses represents a massive step forward in the evolution of television. Everyone knows that Britney will never top her debut, and Survivor was just as good as TV gets in teaching Americans the two-faced, manipulative, peer-ridiculing values they need to succeed as unapologetic cormorants. What, don’t you agree?

Perhaps outlawing isn’t a good answer. I, being an uncompromising advocate of free speech, would never want to criminalize expression, even if it is godlike in its moronity. Maybe public flogging with historical texts of boring eras (the Reformation, my college career), and groping by a wet Wookie. Hey, I’m in charge here.

All times are “historical times.” Current events always affect the course of history; that’s how things work, if you operate from the supposition that time is linear. The false view that current times are more exciting or relevant than others is sort of a reversal of the enhanced nostalgia to which people often fall victim – when past times in their lives seem so much better than the present (when often they weren’t). I call this dichotomy the “Inverse Era Bias.” Not very sexy, but better than “the 80’s ruled, the 90’s totally sucked, dude.” So from a personal perspective, things were better in the past, but from a societal perspective, events were never more interesting and pivotal than now. The Inverse Era Bias demonstrates, I think, the continuing separation of the individual from the community; at least in America. Was 1776, 1865, or 1945 a more important year than, say, 1993? Were the years surrounding the Norman or Mongol invasions or World War II more relevant than now? Perhaps, but how can we judge that? If the Serbians hadn’t assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, we may never have had a World War I or II. So that’s all the Serbs’ fault. Sorry, a little sarcasm there, I’m still practicing the art. If Nader hadn’t run in 2000, we would never have had to deal with the idiocies we’re dealing with now. So it’s all Nader’s fault. Well, not all of it – I can’t blame him for Global Warming.

Any important historical event is preceded by a cause or causes, which are usually other events or a succession of events. Situations are shaped by many circumstances, individuals act upon those circumstances, and create the next situation, and the cycle continues. It is also extremely subjective to put boundaries on events or eras, as in, it started here and ended here. Let the victors of future wars and political conflicts modify history to decide that.

So I admonish people everywhere, especially speech writers and commencement address deliverers, to avoid the Inverse Era Bias. Yes, the times we live in are extraordinary, fascinating, pivotal, historical, blah blah yadda yadda blah, but please don’t claim that they are more so than any other.

If I were World Coordinator, I”d have to further address this issue. But I’m not, and it’s probably better that I’m not, but hey, it’s just a point of view.

The Lost Decade

I think somehow we’ve lost some years in evolution. Shouldn’t there be another decade in there between the twenties and thirties? That way we could live off our parents for a few more years and not even think about taking on real responsibility until our thirties. I guess there’s never enough youth to really enjoy youth.