Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flying with Jimi Hendrix

I don't know if I have ever told this story before, but I've had a few brews and am trying to unwind for the evening, and I don't feel like working on any major projects. So it's story time.

Many years ago, in 1995 or so, I was flying from Tuscon, Arizona to Tampa on a flight to see my family for the holidays. Back then, being young and completely unwise to the ways of booking travel, I found the cheapest flight I could from Arizona back to Florida, one that meant flying all night and arriving at a God-awful hour of the morning. Which also meant someone had to drive two and half hours to the airport to get me and then drive two and a half hours back to my parents' house with me.

The teenage mind thinks not of these things.

Anyway, as I was flying in this late-night flight, for whatever reason I could not sleep. All the people around me fell asleep the moment the plane took off, but I couldn't doze off for more than 15 minutes at a time. After waking up for the 18th or so time, I figured I would find something to do. I plugged in the headphones from my walkman into the armrest post and immediately heard one of the most miraculous songs I have ever heard. It was seven minutes of amazing blues guitar soaring over a groovingly soulful rhythm section. There were no words, just passionate playing.

I had never heard such an impressive song. And because as far as I could tell I was the only one awake, it was like the song was playing just for me.

After it was over, the DJ - whoever he was, he could have been the voice of God for all I knew - said the song was Jimi Hendrix playing Albert King and Booker T & the MG's "Born Under a  Bad Sign". Then, as if that was the signal my brain needed, I closed my eyes and slept for the duration of the flight.

For months after hearing "Born Under a Bad Sign", I searched for whatever album it was on. In those days before the internet, that meant going to every record store in town and perusing their Jimi Hendrix selections until I finally found it: Jimi Hendrix Blues - a posthumous collection of Jimi's best blues recordings.

Fifteen years later, Jimi Hendrix's cover of "Born Under a Bad Sign" is still one of my favorite songs. The fact that I still enjoy the song makes me think that maybe I was supposed to tune in to that particular station on that particular flight at that particular moment for a reason.

Like it was a sign.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Helping out Clark Brooks

One of more interesting local bloggers I have met in the past year is Clark Brooks. Clark is big on the Tampa blog scene. Not only does he know everyone, but he also writes for the SB Nation Tampa sports blog.

In the last month however, Clark has been taking some time off from his personal blog to write his first novel. He asked other local bloggers to volunteer their services to keep his blog fresh.

Yesterday was my day in the sun.

I wrote about one of my biggest complaints: my hatred of a certain type of "freetionary".

Please go check it out.

Guest Blogger: Jordi Scrubbings - Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Lonely Condom

Here is an editorial I wrote in the FSView and Florida Flambeau in May 2003, just before I graduated from college. My editor loved it and thought it was one of the most original pieces he had ever read. Responses varied from people that "got it" and thought it was hilarious, to people who said I was pathetic.

Four years ago, like many incoming Florida State students, I stood in line outside the FSU bookstore, waiting patiently to get my FSU ID card. After what seemed like hours, I finally got my picture taken and was handed my brand new, hi-tech ID card.

As I proudly left the ID Card Center, I slipped my new card into my wallet. There it joined the other inhabitants of my small, black leather billfold – my driver’s license, military ID card, ATM card, a couple of dollars, and a recently placed Trojan condom, which I thought wouldn’t be a bad idea to have on me. After all, Florida State University was just named the number one party school in the nation and its student body was, and still is, over 50-something percent female. It couldn’t hurt to be prepared.

In the days and weeks that followed, the condom made a home in my wallet. It befriended already established residents such as the ATM card, who every time it left brought back with it money – those transient presidential portraits who never seemed to stay more than a day or two. Money surely could never be called a “wallet fixture,” a title the condom hoped it too would never have.

When was its day in the sun, the condom quickly came to ask. There were nights, Fridays and Saturdays in particular, when it would get its hopes up. It would watch as the ATM card would get money before going to the club, the driver’s license was used to get in the establishment and the money would leave and never return once inside the club. The condom knew its role was in the closing act of a fortunate night that never seemed to arrive, the final runner in a relay race that never seemed to reach its last lap. Patiently, it awaited its baton, its imaginary arms outstretched.

Bad luck seemed to plague the provalactic. Its mere existence was cursed. Months turned to years as the condom recalled legends of unfortunate “rubbers,” as they were called in the early days, which had “dried up” and had to be discarded before ever being used. Its lack of use was not from lack of trying, the condom was told. But after the first dozen or so wrong phone numbers and several mismanaged dates, the condom started to count down the days to its expiration, like an inmate on death row awaiting execution.

Why was it here and not in the wallet of a more socially fortunate soul, the condom wondered. Others formed in Trojan factory, those with whom the condom had an almost brother-like bond, had long served their purpose, protecting their masters and dying on the frontline with honor and dignity. The condom tried hard not shed a tear of despair.

The only source of pride the condom had was in an unmistakable ring it was leaving on the outside of the wallet. A ring that if the condom was used quickly it would have never had the opportunity to make. A consolation prize in the losing game that was the condom’s depressing existence.

On May 2nd, 2003, the condom joined me as I walked across the graduation stage. With one flip of a tassel, I became an alumnus and the condom, with its four-year birthday quickly approaching, was now an institution in my wallet. It had seen many changes sweep the wallet landscape and survived them all. My driver’s license had been replaced twice, ATM cards had changed banks, military ID card expired and even my shiny new FSU ID card had fallen apart, only to be replaced with a newer, more hi-tech card.

Thank goodness the condom has two more years left until its expiration. Two more years of keeping hope alive.

Picture from this Sexual Health site.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sevendust in Tallahassee in 2003

Here is a preview article I wrote for the FSView and Florida Flambeau about a Sevendust show in Tallahassee in 2003.

On Wednesday, September 10th, Tallahassee will again play host to the hard rock/ heavy metal band Sevendust. The Atlanta band, which last played Tallahassee in April 2000, will be performing at the Late Night Library in a show aptly titled “An Evening with Sevendust.”

Known for their extensive touring, the Late Night Library show is among the many on Sevendust’s second 2003 tour. This tour, which featured opening acts Element Eighty and Tallahassee’s own Presence on earlier dates, started in August and is set to conclude on September 25 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Besides continuing to bring their music to their fans, Sevendust is using the tour to promote their new album “Seasons,” due to be released on October 7. The first single from Seasons, “Enemy,” has been receiving considerable airplay on rock radio stations throughout the country.

This year’s tours have revealed a new side of Sevendust, as approximately half the shows have been performed acoustically, according to The band, which has opened for heavy metal legends Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica, has opted to try a more mellow “unplugged” sound in 2003.

“Doing acoustic sets was always tough for us,” drummer Morgan Rose said in a interview. “But then we started screwing around with some of the songs and changing the beats a bit and reinventing things and that turned out really cool. We were invited to do [an acoustic] set in Orlando, and we did it, and the vibe was great. It was so weird. Here's a band that usually tries to destroy everything in sight for 90 minutes, and we're just sitting up there on stools for an hour and playing.”

These acoustic shows do not feature an opening act, according to, instead fans will be able to hear the new album, Seasons, in its entirety prior to the performance.

This new calmer facet of Sevendust is a departure from the usual hard rock/ heavy metal repertoire their fans have grown to expect. With the commercial success of Sevendust’s first acoustic song, “Angel’s Son,” a tribute to former Snot lead singer Lynn Strait, the band has continued to experiment with the unplugged sound, putting more acoustic sounds on their latest album, “Animosity” (2002), than any of their previous releases.

Despite “mellowing out” on several songs, the band has continued to be one of the most well-known and respected modern hard rock bands and continues to perform with bands such as Godsmack and Puddle of Mudd.

Originally called Rumblefish and then Crawlspace, Sevendust has been known has one of the best and most frequent performing bands in the genre since their first tours in 1996. Even then, before crowds totaling fewer than 100, lead singer Lajon Witherspoon developed a habit of speaking personally with the crowd and has often insisted fans in front of the stage form as big a mosh pit as allowed. Their dedication to the road and constant crowd involvement helped the band’s first album, the self-titled “Sevendust,” sell more than 500,000 copies (Certified Gold) and their second album, “Home” (1999), to debut at 19 on the Top 200 chart, according to a promotional card distributed by the band in 1999. Animosity was also awarded Gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America.

After concluding the acoustic dates on their current tour, Sevendust is planning to continue their trek around the nation with Staind and LoPro, according to

“An Evening with Sevendust” at the Late Night Library is an all-ages show. Tickets are $15 each and are available at CD Warehouse locations throughout Tallahassee. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more on the show, contact the Late Night Library at 224-2429.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sevendust and the HardDrive Live Tour Tampa, 11/9/2010

Continuing my concert ways yet again. This time with a show combining the locality of the Duck Down Records show of a month ago with the rock of the Berzerkus Tour show of two weeks ago.

Back when I was in college, I was really up on my rock radio bands and songs. Unfortunately, I'm not up on it much anymore. So although I was at Ritz Ybor primarily to see Sevendust, I thought it was a good idea to check out some of the other bands in the HardDrive Live Tour. Overall, I was impressed.

Aranda - I was expecting the first band to be a new group that would do little more than warm the crowd up. I was wrong. Aranda came to play. They had a classic rock vibe, which really didn't go with the rest of the show, but was very catchy. Although I wasn't really into them at first, they covered Led Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused, which is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs. And they did it well. After Dazed and Confused, the focus of the band shifted to the guitar player, who started pulling out solos and performance tricks, such as taking his shoe off and using it as a slide. Absolutely impressive. I might have to check out their albums.

Overall grade: B+

(Here is a video of Aranda covering Zeppelin in Chicago.)

Since October - Out of the five bands, Since October was the most disappointing. They looked incredibly generic, with a dred-locked lead singer and a bald drummer. I thought that fad in band composition went out of style in the mid-2000s. Then after about three songs that sounded like Korn outtakes, the lead guitarist's rig went out. Ok, that can happen. But then the band left the stage for over five minutes. Totally inexcusable. Does their drummer or bassist not know how to solo? Play some bass riffs to keep the crowd's attention. Something. Anything.

Overall grade: D

Anew Revolution - These guys impressed me as well. They were loud and had great stage presence. Their songs were typical modern heavy rock - nothing out of the ordinary - but they were good. I'd even heard a few of their songs on satellite radio. During their performance, the lead singer did something I've only seen one other time. He stood on the shoulders of the crowd and sang a verse. The only other person I have ever seen do that is Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Overall Grade: B

10 Years - According to their Wiki page and website, 10 Years have been around for a while. Until Tuesday night, I had never heard of them. I did recognize a few of their songs however. Sound-wise, they sounded a little like the Deftones, a little like Finger Eleven, and a bit like Staind in their lyrical tone.

Overall Grade: B

(I think that's why as I get older I've gotten more and more bummed out on "new rock". Everything I hear, it seems like I've heard before. I'm hard pressed to find many differences between songs made in 2010 and songs written in 2000. Outside of rap-rock and small pockets of classic-rock influenced bands, most of this decade's rock sounds mostly the same to me. I don't know whether to blame this on my music ear or a growing corporate influence towards conformity. Maybe a little of both.)

Sevendust - This was my seventh time seeing Sevendust. I've been a fan of theirs since I saw them tour in support of their first album back in 1996 or 1997. I swear it was 1996, but they didn't put out their first album, which I bought the day before the show, until '97.

Anyway, they were my first concert. I saw them again in 1999 at the Orange Bowl, 2000 at Floyds in Tallahassee, 2001 in Orlando, 2004 twice at Late Night Library in Tallahassee (once acoustic), and now 2010. And they are still kicking ass.

During the show Sevendust's set list was comprised of a few songs off the new record, Cold Day Memory, a few songs off their second, Home, their third, Animosity, and even the song "Black" off their self-titled debut album. And of course, they played "Angel's Son" from the Strait Up album. I was really impressed with how extensive their show has become.

Sevendust also brought out the best in the crowd as well. Although I stood in the back of the venue for the first few bands, I went closer to the stage for Sevendust. There were people jumping, yelling, flailing, and quite a few folks throwing down in a decent sized mosh pit.

Sevendust definitely gets an A.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing about Tallahassee's Haunted House

While "googling" my name today, I found an article on a Tallahassee haunted house that I wrote back in 2002 while I was with the FSView and Florida Flambeau. Considering the FSView doesn't have an archive of their old articles, finding something I wrote online is a very cool find.

Check it out:

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror

I kinda wish I found this a few days ago, I would have included it in the Halloween link dump.

(Pic from the Terror of Tallahassee Haunted House web site.)

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror

Those desiring a good scare can check out the haunted house on North Monroe

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror
Those desiring a good scare can check out the haunted house on North Monroe
Mike Lortz
Issue date: 10/31/02 Section: Lifestyles, FSView

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror frightens people for charity. Photo by: Katherine Ruddy

The long lost art of the haunted house is alive and well in Tallahassee. The Mystery Playhouse of Terror, located in the old Brooklyn Pasta Factory at 2576 North Monroe St., is designed to bring a bit of fright into this year's Halloween.

Conceived and designed by Kurt Kuersteiner, an adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College, the Mystery Playhouse of Terror has been in operation since 1999.

"I went to work in Harrisburg, Penn. and there were a ton of haunted houses up there, and attendance was great, but (the houses) weren't as good as I thought they could be," Kuersteiner said. "So when I came back home, I figured I'd bring the concept here but do it a lot better."

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror may just be better as it features a wide array of scares. There are areas such as Hell's Kitchen, Dr. Frankenstein's Lab, an electrocution chamber, a black magic show, and the "Hell-e-vator," a 13-floor drop to the depths of terror inspired by a freight elevator in the FSU Chemistry Department.

Although most of the characters are original, there are appearances by Dracula's bride, Beetlejuice, and the usual mix of ghouls, zombies and un-or-near dead that come alive during the Halloween season.

Although the former restaurant is supposedly haunted in its own right, with several fires having broken out and people claiming to hear strange sounds and unknown voices, over the years Kuersteiner and his small crew have transformed the over 6,000 square-foot area into a house of horrors, sparing few expenses.

"We've done four years of three months a year hard labor and spent close to $40,000, most of which I've gotten back," Kuersteiner said. "Some people spend their money having big parties; we spend our money doing this."

The Mystery Playhouse of Terror not only makes money for its organizers; it also benefits the local community. Twenty percent of all ticket sales on a given night are given to the organization that assists in the performances for the night.

This year, several groups, such as V89 Student Radio, Kappa Kappa Gamma and the Tallahassee Film Society are helping out. The FSU College Republicans and College Democrats also put aside their political differences to assist and put a bipartisan scare in Tallahassee.

"Like most people, I admire the work these local groups do and want to see them succeed," Kuersteiner said. "But it's always easier to contribute money when they give you something fun in return."

The volunteers do a lot of the work but most believe it is worth it.

"It's really fun, a bit tedious at times, but we're doing it for charity," said sophomore Tracy Arkin, member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

When volunteers arrive at the Mystery Playhouse of Terror, they are assigned performance roles throughout the house. This often results in them getting dressed and made up, using props and getting used to performing.

"I get to be the girl that gets cut in half," Arkin said. "During the volunteering part, the magician picks me and he cuts me in half and then he leaves me there to die."

Unfortunately, this is the last year for the Mystery Playhouse of Terror. The building, owned by Sparky Sparkman, a former accounting professor at FSU, is being sold.

Kuersteiner commented on hearing the news of the impending sale.

"I am disappointed, but I can't be disappointed at him (Sparkman) because he allowed us to have it for four years," Kuersteiner said. "It's a sweet regret."

But the volunteers are happy to have had the opportunity while it lasted.

"I'm sure they will be moving on to bigger and better things," Arkin said.

So for a real scare this Halloween, visit the Mystery Playhouse of Terror.

"It may be our last year, but it will also be our best," Kuersteiner said.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Black Label Society and Clutch in Orlando, Florida 10/26/2010

Another fortnight, another concert.

Two weeks after seeing Duck Down Records and some of the best names in underground New York hip-hop, I went to Orlando last Tuesday to see two of the best guitarists in heavy metal, Zakk Wylde and Alexi Laiho, frontmen of Black Label Society and Children of Bodom, respectively.

Wylde, Lahio, their bands, and supporting acts Clutch (one of my favorite all-time bands) and 2Cents were all part of the Black Label Society-fronted fall 2010 Berzerkus Tour.

For those who follow my blog regularly, you know it’s been a while since I saw a good metal show. Since January, when I saw Obituary in Tampa, to be exact.

So I was due.

Now I’ll admit, I’m a bigger Clutch fan than Black Label Society fan. I was introduced to Clutch first, have all their albums, and didn’t get into BLS until a few years ago. And although I’d heard of Children of Bodom, I had never heard any of their songs. But I knew of Laiho’s reputation as one of the best living guitar players so I was excited about seeing him play.

After meeting up with professional wrestler Bryan Maddox outside the Orlando House of Blues, we walked in at about the middle of 2Cents’ set. From what I saw, 2Cents wasn’t bad, they were just sorta generic. They were loud and heavy, which made them a good opening act, and maybe if I knew more about them, or heard of them before, I might have been more into their songs. (Although they did cover a Pantera song – kudos to them for it not being “Walk” or “Broken” or anything else on the Pantera’s greatest hits album.) As it was however, I was grabbing a beer and getting settled in.

Next on stage was Clutch. I was surprised they were before Children of Bodom, as the billing had Clutch below BLS with Children of Bodom below them in a smaller font. But considering the crowd and the heavy metal environment, Clutch fit better performing second in the lineup.

Even though I have seen them four times before, I’ve never been disappointed with a Clutch show. With a catalog as wide and diverse as they have, from heavy metal to groove-based metal to bluesy, Clutch can fit on most rock billings. In Orlando, their playlist consisted of their heavy rock songs from their latest six albums, from Jam Room to Strange Cousins from the West, and even one off their side project, the Bakerton Group’s El Rojo. Although they don’t have the guitar acrobatics of the other bands, Clutch’s heavy groove definitely rocked the crowd.

Following Clutch was Children of Bodom. Like I mentioned, I had never heard a Children of Bodom song before and didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was Laiho had a reputation for being a beast on the guitar. That reputation is definitely deserved. He was phenomenal. With his small frame and blond hair, he reminded me a little of Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, although a lot better guitar-wise, where he reminded me of a metal version of Eddie Van Halen. Lyrically however, I could barely understand a word Laiho said. I’m not even sure if the songs were in English or if they were sung in the usual vocal tone of death and black metal.

Despite not following along lyrically, I’m definitely acquiring some of Children of Bodom’s music soon. Although I am big lyrics person (being a writer and all), I was that impressed musically.

Last but not least was the headliner of the show, the always brutal Black Label Society. Zakk Wylde and crew were absolutely awesome. While they played songs off their latest album Order of the Black, they also played some of their more popular songs, to include “Suicide Messiah” and “In This River”, the emotionally stirring tribute to Dimebag Darrell.

(Check out the setlist here and youtube clips of "Stillborn" and "Godspeed Hellbound".)

While Zakk Wylde was no slouch with his own guitar virtuosity, the highlight of which was a near-10 minute solo, and musically and performance-wise the band kicked ass , what impressed me the most was his connection with the audience. Although it sounds almost cliche, not since I saw Dimebag Darrell and Damageplan have I seen a band so in tune with their fans. Between songs, Wylde talked about the fans being members of the Orlando Chapter of the Black Label Society and mentioned that his band members also came from different “chapters”. There was a communal bond that was undeniable.

Personally, although one could say that because I was there, I was by default a “member” of the Orlando chapter, from a community standpoint I still felt like an outsider, not being 100% familiar with the Zakk Wylde catalog. Almost like being at a new church for the first time – it takes a few times to be comfortable. But in the case of the Black Label Society, I’ll gladly make return trips.

Unlike the Duck Down Records concert of two weeks prior, the Berzerkus Tour show ended at the reasonable time of midnight. And even though I had to drive an hour and half back home, I was still home sooner than I was after seeing the hip-hop show. Of course, that didn’t make the following work day any easier.

But once again, I didn’t care.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another clip from The Willie Brown Blues Benefit Concert

Here is another clip from The Willie Brown Blues Benefit Concert hosted by Jason Rewald of TheDeltaBlues Blog ( on 9/26/2010. The show took place at Rick's on the River in Tampa, Florida. This clip features bluesman Eddie Wright getting things started with a nice instrumental jam.

Great news! Apparently, the concert and the fundraising was a success. Here is the latest from TheDeltaBlues website:
We have picked out the headstone, thanks to a connection and friend local to Tunica County.  A picture of the headstone is below.  Instead of a floral pattern or cross though, we will have an acoustic guitar etched on the stone.  We have also finalized the text to appear on the stone.  It will read: WILLIE LEE BROWN
AUGUST 6, 1900
DECEMBER 30, 1952

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Duck Down Records 15th Anniversary tour in Tampa,10/11/2010

Monday night I checked out the Duck Down Records 15th Anniversary tour at Club Empire in Ybor City, Tampa. It was a long time coming as I have been a fan of the label in since it started in 1995.

For those that might not know, Duck Down Records is one of the premier underground labels in hip-hop. While other labels aspire for the pop market, go for the artsy hipster rap niche, or attract the suburban market, Duck Down has kept to it's Brooklyn-style roots and carved a niche as a home for veteran "grown man" rappers. Throughout the years, the Duck Down ranks have included the Boot Camp Clik, comprised of the four founding groups of the label: Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, Heltah Skeltah, and the Originoo Gun Clappaz; Phife Dawg (formerly of A Tribe Called Quest); Masta Ace; current member Pharaoh Monche; and many others. They are New York street hip-hop at it's best.

Now that we have covered who they are, here is my experience seeing this highly esteemed collective.

Having learned my lesson from previous hip-hop shows, I knew there was no way the Duck Down show was going to start anytime near the 8pm time listed on the ticket. As I mentioned on Twitter after I entered the venue, hip hop shows are one of the last public bastions that still work on "black people time". I wouldn't be surprised if jazz clubs and blues juke joints back in the day also operated on such a schedule, but now that those genres have been subsumed into white culture, they have been put on more rigid performance schedules. In the case of hip-hop shows, that's just the way of the world.

Little did I realize how late the show would be.

After listening to the local DJ spin back-in-the-day jams until 10pm or so, local group The Villanz took the stage. Along with their generic hip-hop name, they had one dude who sort of resembled Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan, another who looked like the missing member of the Fat Boys, and a big bald guy. They were ok, but forgettable.

Following The Villanz, Mike Mass took his turn on the mic. Although he was a better than The Villanz, his 15 to 20 minutes on stage was also filler and nothing special, although the crowd did know a song or two.

After another half-hour of the house DJ's old-school mix, Dynasty, a third local act, got her chance to entertain the crowd. (Keep in mind, it was nearly 11:30pm when she took the stage.)

I've seen Dynasty before and I really enjoy her songs. She is a female rapper in the Lauryn Hill mode, with raps about battling MCs and what it means to be a female MC in a male dominated genre. If it wasn't so late, I think I would have enjoyed her show more but even as it was, she was really good.

After another 20 minutes of Dynasty and other 20-30 minutes of the house's old school mix, the Duck Down Records crew finally started to take the stage.

(Yes, I am 550+ words into this review and finally getting to the headliners. This review is exactly like the show, except I couldn't scroll down.)

The first Duck Down artist to take the stage was a young MC named Skyzoo. Skyzoo is a newcomer to the Duck Down label, having only been signed in 2009. Before then however, he made a name for himself in the underground via assorted mixtapes and independent releases.

Although I had only heard him in cameo appearance prior to the show, I was impressed. Skyzoo came out on stage like he was shot out of a cannon, revving up the crowd with a rapid-fire delivery and sharp flow. Like many of the other Duck Down artists, Skyzoo is all about the lyrics and the storytelling. I'll definitely be picking up some of his releases soon.

(Check out a youtube clip of Skyzoo from Monday night. And check out this interview from 2007, Skyzoo knows his hip-hop history, which is a definite plus in my book.)

Next on the stage was veteran rapper Pharoahe Monche. Most people know Pharoahe Monche from his 1999 hit "Simon Says", but few realize he is still on the scene and still making music. I know I was surprised.

Unfortunately, the curse of having one massive hit messes with Pharoahe Monche's show. Even though he rocked the mic with a bunch of good new songs, after each a group of fans would yell "Simon Says" in hope that he would go into that song.  That must be annoying for him as I know it was starting to bug me.

Of course, he ended with "Simon Says" and everyone got the f**k up. You know it goes.

Next on stage was old school MCs Smif-N-Wessun. Like I said, these were the guys who got me into the Duck Down sound with the song "Wontime". Even though they didn't play that song, Tek and Steele ripped the stage with a bunch of other songs - some off of albums I had and some I had never heard before. Like Skyzoo and Pharoahe Monche, Smif-N-Wessun also came with a lot of energy and charisma. Check the video.

After Smif-N-Wessun, I glanced at my phone and saw it was nearly 2am. Worknight or not, and even though I had to get up at 6:30am, I was already in for the long haul.

Following Smif-N-Wessun was Duck Down Records' biggest name and one half of Heltah Skeltah, heavyweight MC Sean Price. I was looking forward to seeing Sean Price more than anyone else. Like the others, Sean P killed the crowd despite getting angry at the house sound guy for an annoying feedback that plagued his entire performance.

If you have never seen Sean Price, he is a big dude. As he got angrier and kept trying to spit rhymes about destroying MCs all the while battling an uncontrollable stage malfunction, I began fearing for the sound guy's life. Remind me never to mess with Sean P. Check the video.

Last but not least, at 2:15 in the morning, the final act came on the stage, the founding father of Duck Down Records, the legendary Buckshot. Although I had a bunch of Buckshot cameos, the only album I have of his is his duet work with KRS-One. Even though it was late and even though a lot of the crowd had gone home (maybe if they started earlier there would have been more people there!), and despite the continuing feedback problem, Buckshot still worked his ass off. Despite there being only 50-75 people there, Buckshot spit rhymes in every direction and even played his biggest hits, "Who Got the Props?" and "I Got Cha Opin".

It was an awesome display of MCing. Check the video.

At 3:00am Buckshot finally concluded the show. That's right, 3:00am. After a night of magnificent hip-hop, I brought my tired ass back to the house and collapsed on the bed. Only to wake up 3 hours later.

Oh well. Such is life. Gotta make the sacrifice for a good time sometime, right?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why shop at the local music store?

By now you guys should know I am a huge music fan. If I'm not out and about or watching sports, cartoons, or movies, I'm listening to tunes.

How I get those tunes however, has gone through a small transformation in the past few years. Admittedly, I was really late in getting on the music download bandwagon. While friends of mine were using Napster way back when it first started, I finally downloaded my first album two years ago. Although I've download dozens of albums in the last few years, most of what I download is re-mixes, mix tapes, and free giveaways. I'm still a fan of going to the music store and buying CDs, getting the entire album, checking out the album art, and reading the liner notes. I'm old school like that and I can't see regularly getting music any other way.

Although I am also a fan of supporting local businesses, my music buying habits have never effectively "gone local". Even though the closest independent music store to my apartment, Vinyl Fever Tampa, was ranked 18th on Rolling Stone's top 25 record stores in the country, I don't have the incentive to make them my only music destination.

Maybe my music tastes aren't unique enough. Vinyl Fever carries a lot of vinyl (of course) and hard to find stuff. My music tastes tend to fall outside of mainstream, but not quite independent. Take a band like Clutch, for example. They are one of my favorite hard rock bands of all-time. They have a few songs on the radio, usually one per CD, but have never had what anyone would call a mainstream hit. Although they have been around for over 15 years, you can't find them at Best Buy and you may find one release if that at a mall music store.

When I looked for Clutch's latest, I bought the only copy Vinyl Fever had. Maybe other rock fans had been scooping them up, but I doubt it.

Maybe I am being too specific, but I could also not find a few old school rap CDs I've been looking for, groups such as the Gravediggaz and Aesop Rock. I know I shouldn't expect them to have everything, but I can't figure out if going there will help me find what I am looking for.

Of course, I know I can order CDs through the store. I have done that on occasion. My problem with doing that is once again there is no incentive. I can order music through my local FYE or other mall music shop. There is no 10% discount or anything for ordering through Vinyl Fever.

That brings me to another point: cost. For the CDs I do find, and I do find things on occasion, Vinyl Fever is no cheaper than any other store. As a matter of fact, their usual $12-16 per CD was severely undercut by a sale at one of the local mall stores that marked every CD  down to $9.99.

$9.99 for a Miles Davis, a Sly and the Family Stone, a Ghostface Killah, and a Black Label Society? I can't turn that down.

If they are going to price their stuff the same or higher than the bigger vendors, it might help if Vinyl Fever Tampa had buyer reward cards. Perhaps if they created a community amongst their clientele and maybe gave one used CD free for every 10 new CD purchases. That would keep me coming back.

Finally, I also have a small complaint with their customer service. Normally, they are average to above average. However, there was an incident lately that really rubbed me the wrong way. A few weeks ago, I went there on a Sunday.  Unfortunately, I was there five minutes before their opening time of noon. Noon passed and the store was still not open. 12:05 someone finally wandered out from the back and opened the door.

That's it.

It would be have nice if the person acknowledged my presence, especially considering he was late opening the store. He could have said hi, maybe asked if I had been waiting long, and maybe even apologized for my wait. If he was really customer friendly, he could have offered 10% off one of my CD purchases.

That would have cost Vinyl Fever $1.60, but would have won them my loyalty.

As it is, I have no overwhelming reason to shop at my local record store.

(Apparently, a commenter on the Rolling Stone site doesn't think too highly of them as well. I wish they had listed which Tampa-based record stores they thought were better.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Florida College Football and the Age of Empires

(Originally posted on

On the morning of the first big weekend in college football, I figured I would make my triumphant return with an idea that has been marinating in my head for the last few months. This probably should have been written sooner, but I had to make sure my research was correct.

Before the season, I was thinking about how important this season is in the annals of Florida college football history.

Being an international affairs major and a bit of a history aficionado, this season reminds me of a very interesting point in 20th Century world history. Feel free to disagree, but I think the 2010-11 State of Florida college football season is very similar to post-World War I geopolitics. Now this may be the craziest thing you have ever heard, so let me explain:

Prior to World War I, empires still controlled much of the global geopolitical scene. During and immediately following WWI, the three of the biggest of these – the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the German Empire (a fourth being the Austrian Empire) – were still relevant and had much sway on the discourse of nations.  Entering the discussion, but not yet in the class of “Empire”, was a small upstart power called the United States.

For many years, the Florida college football season was likewise dominated by three major players. Like the post-World War I empires, the Florida Empires each face different challenges as they enter the second decade of a new century. And as they confront their own internal identity issues, a new power is slowing emerging, growing every year in strength and confidence.

In matching empires to Florida college football powers, one of the easiest connections to make is that of Florida State to the Ottoman Empire. From 1299 to 1922, the Ottoman Empire covered a vast stretch of land spanning from Algeria to Iraq, Hungary to Ethiopia. During that time, the empire was ruled by a Sultan, who doubled as the Islamic Caliphate, or religious leader. Although power was dispersed, the sultan was still the “supreme monarch”.

Kinda like Bobby Bowden.

Continuing the analogy, during the final few hundred years of its existence, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of stagnation, again not unlike Florida State during the 2000s. Although many believe a portion of the Middle East is still suffering from this malaise, the nation of Turkey recovered from the destruction of the empire thanks in part to new leadership and a new national philosophy. Whether or not new head coach Jimbo Fisher can guide the Noles back up after the plodding rule of Sultan Bobby I has yet to be seen.

The second empire analogy is the University of Miami to the German Empire. Here the comparison is more valid in the years following World War I, when Germany was stripped of many of its national privileges, including the ability to build a military-industrial complex. They also could not export or import at the rate they did prior to the war. Eventually, they looked inward, to a leader who invoked the brightest confidence in glory days gone by. A man who, despite his evilness, promoted an increase in German pride.

Please note, I am not comparing Randy Shannon to Adolf Hitler, AT ALL. However, the hiring of Shannon and the emphasis on his pro-Miami background was done to return a sense of pride in the Hurricane players. The idea that the name “Hurricanes” means something once again to the players is what is important. Team pride is on the rise in Miami thanks to Shannon and slowly they are rebuilding the war machine in an attempt to establish a new Reich.

Unlike the German Empire, which would rebuild and rise from the ashes of WWI and aspire for world domination a generation later, the British Empire was all but deflated after the First World War. According to the Almighty, All-Knowing Wikipedia, World War I crippled the British psychologically more so than physically. Will the University of Florida face a similar fate? Will the years of domination and competition combined with the loss of their most esteemed athlete ever cause UF to slip from the ranks of the elite? It is very possible that the UF fanbase could fall off the immense high they have been on for the last four years and end up like the bored and disinterested Red Sox Nation.

Besides an effect on their national standing, British prestige also took a hit after the Great War. Slowly those who saw allying with the British as the only way to go began to reconsider their options. This phenomenon is not unlike the most recent recruiting class, particularly the decision of highly touted running back James Wilder to attend FSU over UF among others.

Last, but definitely not least, is the University of South Florida. Not considered a major power until recently, USF’s rise to relevancy is similar to that of the United States. An outsider in global geopolitics immediately after the war, the US found itself on level ground with the Empires after the war due to circumstances and opportunity.

Unfortunately however, the United States withdrew from discussion and practiced isolationism for several years until the Great Depression and the Second World War thrust them back in the spotlight. Unless USF loads up their schedule with powder puff cupcakes and focuses only on the Big East, I do not see them taking an isolationist route. Only time will tell if their strategy of taking on the old empires head-on is a wise one, but I think new Head Coach Skip Holtz will carry the tradition of his predecessor and heritage and continue the stampede.

Of course, there have been many other changes throughout college football leading into this season. In the past few months, the headlines have proclaimed tales of new alliances, scandals, reloading, and rebuilding. Across the nation, programs have flexed their muscles (Texas), and had their muscles taken away (USC). But nowhere is the presence of change more prominent than in Florida. And now, as each major program in the state faces its first huge challenge of the year, fans can only watch as a new era of college football in Florida begins.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

See The Freak (John Merrick)

(Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago. It is, of course, directly influenced by The Elephant Man.)

Help me.  My master has put me in the cage again.  The monkey screams.  The darkness always envelops me.  A freak. The monster I am.  People come from miles around.  I am educated.  My deformity makes them think otherwise.  Help me.  I am a man.  The master makes his money.  I see it.  I help him, yet he gives nothing to me.  He lives, not concerned with me.  But I provide for him.  Ungrateful.  I am shuffled to the side.  I am sick.  Dying.  Please, please help me.


I am a human being.

He looks ill.  Pathetic.  I wonder how his life has been.  How is the life of a circus freak?  That can’t be a politically correct term.  His sad eyes connect with mine, sending the pain of a lifetime of misery.  His master doesn’t look very compassionate.  Does he care more about the man or the money the man brings in for him?  Others are disgusted, I'm saddened.  He does not deserve this life.  There is nothing any man could have possibly have done to be treated like he is.  Can I save him?  Someone should.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Interview with Wrestler Ethan Essex of the Hatchet City All-Stars

I have to admit, I've had the interview sitting on the shelf for a minute or two. I was looking for a more mainstream place to post this, but after negotiations with other forums feel through, I figured I would post it here. Enjoy.

Jordi Scrubbings: How did Ethan Essex get his start in pro wrestling?

Ethan Essex: Growing up in Delaware, I had a lot of exposure to it. You had all kinds of fresh little indy shows that me and my friends would go to all over. You have ECWA in Wilmington run by legendary promoter Jim Kettner, and you had Delaware Championship Wrestling out of the Southern Delaware area. Maryland Championship Wrestling has been running all over Maryland for quite a while and it was only a 20 minute drive to Philly. Every three weeks, ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) would return to the Arena for television tapings. I would be there every taping chanting “EC'dub” so loud that my voice would be gone at school the following week. When ECW closed, that spot was filled by CZW, ROH, 3PW, and WXW and so on later on in my teen years. And of course watching WWE and WCW.

All I ever wanted to be was a Professional Wrestler. How could you not with all these great companies around me? So I began training with Jeff Rocker at DCW (Delaware Championship Wrestling, now Dynamite Championship Wrestling out of Dover, DE) and had been doing ring announcing duties. I had some issues come up in my life and had to move to Florida. Jeff Rocker recommended I continue my training with Bam Bam Mancuso and Florida Extreme Wrestling. It is there that I met and worked out with fellow Hatchet City All-Star and brother Bryan Maddox and another one of my good friends inside and outside of the wrestling world, Nooie Lee.

JS: Where are you currently wrestling?

EE: Currently, Maddox and I are wrestling for WWE Hall of Famer Afa the Wild Samoan's WXW (World Xtreme Wrestling) and are the 4-time WXW World Tag-Team Champions! How fresh is that?

JS: Who are your wrestling influences?

EE: Owen Hart, Sean "X-Pac" Waltman, Shane Douglas, Raven ... I really could keep on going with guys that influence me. There is so much talent that never really got credit or pushed as main guys, but ran with it when given the right booking. They were always more over with me than the top guys.

JS: You and your partner in the Hatchet City All-Stars, Bryan Maddox, come out to Psychopathic Records Artists Twiztid and wear Insane Clown Posse garb in the ring. What does ICP and representing the Juggaloes mean to you?

EE: I love the Juggalo Fam. Straight up. It’s the one place I know I can turn when life is down and out and somebody is like, “Man, go get ya shine on in this piece”. I've been listening to ICP for almost as long as I’ve been watching wrestling. I’ve been a Juggalo even longer. I can't say we represent juggalos, if anything they represent us.

JS: How accepting has the ICP community been to the Hatchet City All-Stars?

EE: We always get love from the Family when they come out to shows. Except at Gathering of the Juggalos last year. Bryan and I were tagged up with Trent Acid for Juggalo Championship Wrestling.

On a side note, Trent was a really cool guy and learned a lot from him. I’m glad he and I got to cross paths. RIP Trent. The party might be gone but it’s certainly not dead.

Back to the Gathering, we were tagged up as Trent’s Alter Boys against ICP, (former WWE legend) Scott Hall, Sid Vicious (aka Psycho Sid, Sid Justice, etc), and Corporal Robinson. Now all weekend guys like Sabu and Mad-Man Pondo and Ian Rotten were coming up and telling Bryan and I to watch out for trash flying at us from the crowd. Here are some legit tough guys and they are telling me to be careful of the fans?

Anyway, the Juggalos got rowdy and since were aligned with the top heel in the company we needed to have eyes in the backs of our heads. Well, let me tell you the Juggalos didn't disappoint. All kinds of stuff were thrown at the ring that night. From chairs – the poor ref took a chair from a fan in the back of the head and it cut him – to hundreds of two liter bottles of Faygo Pop. I got nailed with an empty Faygo bottle and Maddox and I narrowly escaped a diaper. It was like a landfill come to life!

After that match I had a lot of Juggalos and Juggalettes come up and say what’s up and give us respect. To me, that made getting the entire festival’s trash dumped on us by 20,000 Juggalos and Juggalettes all worth it.

JS: What was your best match ever?

EE: I have had some good ones and I’ve had some bad ones. But my best singles match would have to be against a kid named Freestyle. A lot of other workers had come to that show. I felt like I had something to prove to them and we tore the house down. That match was a very important match to me – there was a lot of back story, but that’s a whole other thing in itself.

JS: What all-time wrestler would you like to have a match with? Why? What about a tag team would you like to take on?

EE: Hulk Hogan, hands down. If you’re wrestling Hogan then you’re in a good spot.

As far as tag-teams go, I think Maddox and I would agree on Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith.

JS: What is your greatest accomplishment in wrestling?

EE: We recently captured the WXW World Tag-Team Championship for the fourth time. That’s a record for that company and we feel honored and privileged to hold that record. Also performing in front of 20,000 Juggalos with ICP will always go down as a top moment.

JS: What does the future hold for Ethan Essex?

EE: If the past four years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is promised. It’s what you make it. So we'll see. Good things I hope.

JS: Would you like to say anything to the fans?

EE: Thank you for the support you guys have shown us. It blows my mind. We need you as much you need us. Whoop Whoop.

JS: Where can we see more Ethan Essex? Do you have a website?

EE: The Hatchet City All-Stars page is under construction, so in the meantime fans can find me on Myspace at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Flashback: Carlton Williams, Tallahassee's Local Badass

Here is an article I wrote for the FSView & Florida Flambeau in February 2003. Quick backstory: when I was doing research into the local goth scene I met this interesting gentleman who was dressed like a desert biker version of Willie Nelson. Needless to say, I had to tell this guy's story.

Tallahassee’s Local Badass

Tallahassee’s bar and club scene is ever changing. Names and locations come and go seemingly as often as the students that frequent them. Just in the last year, for example, clubs such as Chubby’s and Skyline opened, adding to the wide array of establishments. For the last five decades, there has been one constant in the scene, however, no matter what bar or club comes or goes. His name is Carlton Williams and he is a local Tallahassee legend.

Contrary to any rumors of him “crawling out from under a beer stein,” Williams was born fifty-five years ago right here in Tallahassee.

“I was born on Orange Ave.,” Williams said. “I was impatient. It’s a good thing my grandmother was a nurse.”

During his youth in Tallahassee, Williams saw the integration of Rickard’s High School and later partied at the same places as Jim Morrison, who would later become famous as head of the 60’s rock band The Doors.

“As a human being he [Morrison] didn’t need to exist,” Williams said. “His poetry was good. I liked some of his music. But at a party he always had to be the center of attention and he always Bogarted.”

Afterwards Williams joined the US Army. His Army career was cut short after his training when he was told he was “too crazy” to stay in.

“It didn’t make no sense to me because that was 1967 and I was just a body count basically,” Williams said.

After his time in the military was abruptly over, Williams used his Army training to become a bounty hunter.

“I was working at the Piggly Wiggly and split out of there. I figured I’d go and have a good time,” he said. “[Bounty hunting] was different then then it is now. You didn’t have to be certified.”

Although bounty hunting didn’t pay very much- a lot of the money went to paying informants- it gave Williams a rush. For over 25 years, he strapped on his familiar military utility vest, body armor, mask and hood and hunted down people who skipped bail.

“I was doing it off and on,” Williams said. “When you do something like that, you get to where you think you can break the law. You have to know when to walk away.”

In the meanwhile, Williams worked in construction, carpentry, laid vinyl, and sold handmade leather goods. In 1970, he met Judy, his future wife. They married in 1971 and have been together since.

“I told her I was going to marry her and she said ‘no way’,” Williams said.

The couple claims to have been the first merchants to sell their goods in the FSU Student Union.

“We were just some old hippies,” he said. “We would just throw a blanket down and sell our stuff there. Now they charge an arm and a leg.”

Still Williams bounty hunted, rounding up a vast collection of bail jumpers.

“Me and my boss would just sit in the neighborhoods and watch for these people,” he said. “There was one guy- mean old guy, strong as an ox- he wore me around for like three or four months. We finally got him. I waited at the backend of the guy’s house when I could hear my boss beating on that man’s house. I could see the guy running out. My boss pulled his car right in his way and grabbed him, sticking his gun in his stomach. I came out the passenger side and pulled out my gun and pointed it up against his skull. We put the handcuffs on him and gave him to a deputy. It was exciting. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.”

After bounty hunting, Williams went on to do security at the Cow Haus. There he said he saw a situation there where bouncers weren’t acting as well as he thought they should. He worked there for several years, “cleaning up the place.”

Recently, Williams has been stricken with several health conditions. He has suffered a stroke, had a major heart attack, and just weeks ago, his doctors thought he might have cancer.

“The night of my heart attack, I kept saying ‘Something ain’t right. Something ain’t right,’” Williams said. “The doctor told me I might have had several smaller heart attacks when I worked at the Cow Haus but I whenever felt tightness I would just jump in the mosh pit and get the blood flowing.”

The heart attack made him eventually leave the security job at the Cow Haus and resume selling homemade leather goods at the flea market.

“I would sell leather bikini tops to the college girls in exchange for a picture them wearing it- that was the deal,” he said.

Currently, because there “isn’t much work for someone who has had their chest opened up,” Williams works overnight security at car lots.

Throughout it all, Carlton Williams continues to do what he does best- visit the bar scene. Whether it be a bar on the Strip or Club Jade on Tuesday night “Goth Night,” Williams feels at home.

“I’ve been in bars so long, even if I didn’t smoke, I would probably still be sick,” he said. “It [a bar] is the only building I can be in and be comfortable.”

Epilogue: A quick Google search doesn't find much for a follow-up on Carlton Williams, although I think he may have created a twitter account. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since September 2009.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flash vs The Aliens: The Earlier Adventures of Flash Hercules Part 4

Part 4 of my magnum opus is now up. You can see Part 1 here , Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Let me know what you think. For someone who never made a movie and found this movie recorded on an VHS tape, I think it turned out quite good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big Brother: A Poem about Google and Facebook

Here is a poem about Google and Facebook.

Facebook and Google like to know where you are
Facebook and Google see you driving your car

Facebook and Google know where you were born
Facebook and Google know when you're lookin at porn

Facebook and Google know when I have mail
Facebook and Google know when I post bail

Facebook and Google can track what you send
Facebook and Google found your 9th grade girlfriend

Facebook and Google want to know what I think
Facebook and Google want to know what I drink

Facebook and Google want to know when I pee
Facebook and Google you are scaring me

Facebook and Google please leave me alone
Facebook and Google please get out of my phone

Facebook and Google oh can't you see
That my P-R-I-V-A-C-Y is priceless to me

That last line is a shout-out to Pearl Jam, by the way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The day I met a Wookie

Star Wars has always been a big part of my life. I've been a huge fan since I was a wee lad and from what I was told, Empire Strikes Back was one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater - at a drive-in as well if I am not mistaken. Growing up, I had dozens of figures, a bevy of vehicles, and a plethora of other miscellaneous platforms and playsets. I had the posters, the paperbacks, and the Marvel comics. And four of the six movies I've seen on their respective opening nights were Star Wars-related.

(The other two were Waterworld and Eyes Wide Shut. Don't ask why.)

As an adult however, my Star Wars fandom had been weening a bit. Especially after seeing Episode 3. Sure, I saw the Clone Wars movie (yuck) and read the book where Chewbacca dies (WTF?), but other than that, I hadn't paid much attention to the Star Wars Universe.

Somewhere along the way, however, one of my co-workers must have picked up that I was a fan because last Tuesday she asked if I was going to Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando. To be honest, I had no idea what a Star Wars Celebration was. They explained to me that it was a convention of Star Wars fans, vendors, and special guests who all had a love for the fictional universe and that it was supposed to be a great time.

My co-worker was right.

Star Wars Celebration V was impressive.

Most impressive.

Although I was only able to go to the convention one day of its scheduled four, and although I barely missed the "main event" of Daily Show host Jon Stewart interviewing Star Wars mastermind George Lucas, I still had a phenomenal time. Right as I walked in, I saw numerous people dressed as jedi and sith, bounty hunters, ewoks, and of course every type of stormtrooper possible. Eventually, I learned many of the costumed fans were part of a fan-costume organization called the 501st Legion, an organization
"...formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work..."

And they are good at their job. Whether part of the 501st or independent costume wearers, there were no amateur costumes at Star Wars Celebration V. No garbage pail R2D2s, no people wrapped in a rug claiming they are Chewbacca, and no one trying to pass muster in a mask cut from an old cereal box. All of the costumes were extremely well done. Of course, besides the typical costumes, there were also many people in variants on Star Wars themes. I saw several pink stormtroopers, a pink jawa, a pimpin' disco themed Darth Vader and Boba Fett, and even Barf from Spaceballs.

Besides costume gazing - and not just at the slave girl Princess Leias, I promise - I checked out the enormous vendor area. There were vendors from all over the world peddling Star Wars wares, from toys to books to everything and anything in between.

After perusing the merchandise (where the real money from the movie is made), I took a gander at some of the exhibits, to include a display of some very interestingly designed stormtrooper helmets, some of the artwork of famed Star Wars illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, and a showcase of individually designed, completely operational astromech droids.

(Of course, thanks to the Internet, droid builders also have their own organization, complete with magazine, website, and local chapters.)

After seeing the exhibits, I finished my day with a few shows. The first was the critically acclaimed "One Man Star Wars Show", performed by comic performer Charles Ross. Ross was amazing and his show was absolutely hysterical. Click the link to see part of his show or look him up on YouTube.

Shortly after Ross's comic depiction, I got in line for the real thing, a viewing of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in one of the many convention center theaters. The showing of Empire was especially exciting for everyone in attendance as 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the celebrated Star Wars sequel. And of course, those movies never disappoint.

Watching Empire and Jedi with hundreds of other diehard Star Wars fans was perhaps the highlight of my visit. Although I was at first taken back by the constant comments and cheering by many of the other viewers during the movie, I quickly learned that getting into the movie is part of the experience. People hooped and hollered when they saw Darth Vader, chanted "Yoda" when the character attempts to levitate Luke Skywalker's X-wing fighter, and moaned sounds of disgust whenever Luke and Leia kissed in a non-sibling way.

Of all the reactions, however, one stood out more than the others. As the night was ending and Return of the Jedi was coming to a close, during the scene when ghostly Anakin Skywalker joins Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, a young fan, probably no older than seven, stood up in his seat and yelled "It's Anakin!". I like to think that maybe at that moment he connected the dots and put the Star Wars story together for the first time.

Perhaps at that moment he also became a life-long fan, eager to devour all things Star Wars, from the figures to the vehicles to any miscellaneous platform or playset. Maybe he will also acquire the posters, the paperbacks, and any other literature or art he can get his hands on. Then, maybe after 30 years or so, as he finds his fandom weening, he will go to a Star Wars Celebration convention and have a great time.

May the Force be with him, always.

(Click to see all 118 of my Star Wars Celebration V pictures.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Review of Metallica's St. Anger

(Here is another old article I originally wrote for the FSView and Florida Flambeau. This was my only album review for the paper and was originally published in June of 2003, shortly after I graduated.)

In the years since Metallica’s latest album, 1997’s “Reload,” the band has fought the evils of Napster, said good-bye to bassist Jason Newsted and survived lead singer James Hetfield’s trip to alcohol rehabilitation. Despite these obstacles, the band vowed to “take it to the next level” on their next album.

Sadly, the only level Metallica’s newest release “St. Anger,” reaches is average at best.

St. Anger falls short of being a quality Metallica album in three key categories: originality, quality production and memorable lyrics or guitar riffs.

While St. Anger is indeed an album made to be played loud, its in-step riffs and repetitive double bass drum call to mind current bands such as Slipknot or Mudvayne. Added to the confusion are frequent time-changes and melodic intervals similar to Korn or System of a Down.

St. Anger also marks the possible “nail in the coffin” of a long-standing heavy metal standard: the guitar solo. Surprisingly, there are no solos on the entire album, a musical first for Metallica. The high-flying guitar mastery of previous albums such as “Kill ‘em All,” “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” has been replaced by the same chug-chug-chug guitar riffs of “nu-metal” bands such as Disturbed or Staind.

These bands, along with the many others who have tried in vain to capture Metallica’s sound over the years, now have Metallica sounding like them. The question now is if Metallica no longer solos, who will?

Production on St. Anger is also less than stellar. Producer Bob Rock, who doubled as the band’s bass player, apparently felt the album need to be very bottom-heavy, emphasizing the rhythm section to an almost annoying level. Besides making the guitars sound as if they are an afterthought, Rock’s work on the drums make them sound as if they were recorded by hitting garbage pails in an empty basement.

This poor production gives St. Anger a very raw local-band-like sound, as if Metallica could not afford better.

Deficiencies in overall originality and production could be excused if St. Anger had at least one song that stood above the rest, either musically or lyrically. A classic, per se.

This is not the case. The album sounds long and drawn out. The only possibly memorable guitar riff is in the third song, “Some Kind of Monster,” an eight minute long odyssey that should have been cut in half.

Lyrically, many previous Metallica albums contained songs that told stories, songs such as “One,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Unforgiven” or “Unforgiven II.” These songs had strong messages many listeners were able to relate to. St. Anger comes up short in this category as well.

Although many of the lyrics of St. Anger deal with Hetfield’s battle with alcoholism, the opening lines of the song “Frantic” – “If I could have my wasted days back/ Would I use them to get back on track?” – could also be directed at the band’s feeble attempt to recapture its past glory.

While St. Anger is not the most disappointing album ever (that distinction is reserved for the first Slash-less Guns’n’Roses album), it is definitely a deity of disappointment. Any more albums like this and Metallica’s reign as heavy metal gods could be over. Sad but true.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hatin' Through the Ages

(Here is an editorial I wrote that was originally published in the FSView and Florida Flambeau in late 2002. I still think it is funny.)

People need to stop hatin’. For those who may not be hip to hatin’, let me explain. Hatin’ is not so much the vile dislike of someone or something, it is four of the seven deadly sins rolled into one. Hatin’ is anger, envy, lust, and greed. It occurs when an individual or groups of individuals attempt to prevent the success of another because of jealousy or dislike. Hatin’ on someone is the desire to see that person fail.

Hatin’ has been around since the beginning of time. According to the Biblical story, Cain may have been the first ever hater. Cain, jealous that God accepted his brother Abel’s sacrifice and not his, killed Abel in cold blood. So began a long line of haters that has continued to today.

Oddly enough, religion and hatin’ seem to go hand and hand. Whenever a martyr has been killed, it was probably because of haters- haters who prevented the martyr from doing his or her thing. In history’s most infamous display of hatin’, Pilate had Christ crucified because Christ said he was the “King of the Jews.” Greek mythology is also full of hatin’, with jealous and angry gods holding down mankind and other less powerful gods out of spite.

Hatin’ is not confined to ancient times and religious stories. In the 1800s, John Wilkes Booth was definitely guilty of hatin’ when he shot Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, wrote the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, and saved the nation after the Civil War. Still Booth showed no love by putting a bullet in the back of Lincoln’s head.

Also on the list of historical haters is Adolf Hitler. Hitler and the Nazis hated on anyone who did not have blond hair and blue eyes. Their quest to wipe out all non-Aryans and impose their will on the entire world was the most blatant case of hatin’ ever.

Currently, three decades removed from Woodstock and the Summer of Love, we again have a world full of haters. Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist cronies are an excellent example of modern day international haters. Even our own president, George W. Bush, displays hatin’ tendencies. Bush and his administration have made Saddam Hussein the victim of pure hatin’. Almost daily, Bush discusses war and removing Hussein from power. As a display of his own power, Bush threatens to bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age every time Hussein strives to achieve something Bush doesn’t like. That’s hatin’ if it ever was.

Although there is hatin’ in politics and other serious aspects of the world, it is most prevalent in entertainment. Hatin’ has become a favorite pastime of many who are not in the spotlight. How long this hatin’ has gone on is a question that may never be answered. Were there jealous playwrights in Shakespeare’s day? Did other composers hate on Mozart or Bach- “Why does his majesty always have Beethoven play in his chamber? My symphonies are much better.”

Speaking of music, there is a recent trend that hatin’ be discussed in song. One of the earliest documented examples of lyrical hate is Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” Lynyrd Skynyrd responded to Young’s hatin’ on the South in their classic “Sweet Home Alabama.” These lyrical tit-for-tats have continued through to today (see Nas vs. Jay-Z, Eminem vs. The World). Sadly, as shown in the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., there are instances where lyrical hatin’ has lead to unfortunate real-life tragedy.

So as the calendar turns towards this holiday season, maybe people worldwide need to make a conscious effort to reduce hatin’. Anyone found hatin’ should be rounded up, forced to hold hands with those they are hatin’ on, and made to sing Kumbaya until their hate disappears. Maybe then can there be a chance of peace on earth.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trying to be funny at Comedy School

I am doing something I never thought I would do. No, not be a road manager for Cher. That's close, but not quite.

I am going to comedy school.

Under the tutelage of self-proclaimed "New York City Bad Boy" Artie Fletcher, I've been learning the tricks of the trade, putting together my first jokes, and gathering the gumption to get some guffaws. I've never done anything in the entertainment field before, so I'm definitely excited.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flash vs The Aliens: The Early Adventures of Flash Hercules - Part 3

Part 3 of my magnum opus is now up. You can see Part 1 and Part 2 here.

 Thanks for checking it out. Part 4 coming soon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Interview with Jason Rewald of The Delta Blues

A few months ago, I learned that the webmaster of the blues blog The Delta Blues, Jason Rewald, lives in the Tampa area. As I am always looking for the opportunity to talk about the blues with some like-minded fans, I met with Jason and followed up our meeting with some emailed questions about the blues, Tampa's place in blues history, and a show he is putting on this Fall.

How long have you been writing about the blues?

Not too long actually.  I have been a long time listener, but never really much of a writer, or scholar of any kind.   This whole "project" started when I was planning a trip to the Delta with a few guys who live on the East Coast of Florida.  I decided the easiest way to plan the trip, while sharing it with the world, would be to write about it.  At the time, it made sense.  I was also able to educate those guys on the historic spots we were going to see.  That, in turn, led me into researching the blues and writing about it.

What got you into blues research?

Like I mentioned, it started with planning a trip.  From there, it turned into more of a personal journey to have questions answered.  After reading a few blues books, I started to learn just how easy it is to do this kind of thing, and I was quite amazed more researchers are not diligent in what they do.  From there, I decided I wanted to do blues research more so I could disprove others research than to prove something myself.  The blues is such an oral history, and has always been regarded as such.  I mean, just because some guy in the Delta says he knew Robert Johnson and he lived "right over there" - to me, that was never enough.  Show me the proof.  Show me a Census Record.   Once I started getting good feedback and support from the blues community, I knew I was onto something.  Once I started getting challenged on my research, I knew I was being taken seriously.

You have done some great work researching blues roots and the scene in Tampa. How important is Tampa in blues history?

Well I appreciate it!  Tampa is far more important in blues history than most people - especially other scholars - give it credit for.   Since Tampa was a stop on the Chitlin' Circuit, a lot of great played here in Tampa.  But there is more than that.  For instance, Ray Charles recorded his first album here.  The dance "The Twist" was invented on Central Ave here in Tampa.  The song "A Tisket a Tasket" by Ella Fitzgerald was actually written in the lobby of the Jackson House, a boarding house for African Americans that still stands today by the train station downtown.  It is also rumored Martin Luther King Jr. roamed those halls.  The history here is rich.  Everyone always thinks of Ybor, but the truth is, there is more to Tampa history than Ybor.  Then there's Tampa Red.  I mean, he was the absolute Epicenter of the blues scene in Chicago back in the early days - and he learned his chops in Tampa.  I mean, he was known as "The Guitar Wizard" and he learned here in Tampa.  That has to stand for something, right?

How do you find the information you write about? What about here in Tampa?

I find my information in a variety of ways.  Usually a good place to start is challenging or supporting other people's research.  I usually read a book, or an article, and see gaps missing - I try to fill in those gaps.  With more and more agencies placing their databases online, it gets easier to search for documents and evidence to support your research. Sometimes though, it does require travel.  Some smaller towns still have documents on file in court houses, and you have to pay a visit to check them out.  But for the most part, you can find a lot of things online.  Not to mention, sometimes all the research has been done by 5 other researchers, they just all found different pieces of the puzzle, and never spoke to each other about it.  I simply come along and put the puzzle together.

As far as here in Tampa, it all started with research into Tampa Red.  I knew he was from Tampa, but I wanted to know from WHERE in Tampa.  I wanted addresses.  This led me looking into African American communities, because of segregation back then.  I in turn found out about The Scrub, the ghetto in Tampa where a lot of the African Americans lived.  This term got me interested - I knew things had to be in close proximity, because of the lack of travel, and again, the segregation.  So I started looking around the area of The Scrub.   After a few calls to local libraries and visiting USF, I learned about Central Ave, the main African American business district back in the 30's.  From there, it was all downhill.  I found interviews, documents, old maps, and more about this historic area.  I feel that history like this should not be just forgotten ... someone has to help keep those memories alive.  Actually, The Scrub - or where it was - is right by the 275 and I-4 interchange.  There are still historic buildings and churches from that time thriving in that area.

(Ed note: for more information on the "lost" African American culture in Tampa, check out this link.)

You are doing a benefit show for Willie Brown. Who was Willie Brown and how did you locate his resting site?

Willie Brown.  He was .... the man!  So, he was a guitarist back in the heyday of the blues.  He was born in 1900 in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in Tunica County, Mississippi.   Most people know him from the song "Crossroads", where Robert Johnson - or Eric Clapton, depending on who you listen to - belts out the line "You can run, you can run.  Tell my friend-boy Willie Brown."  Willie was actually a sideman to a lot of blues greats. He played with Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and even Son House.  Willie recorded a few of his own sides, but only three copies are known to exist today.  Anyway, he was a mentor, friend, and sideman for most of the great pre-war Delta bluesmen.  He was actually playing with Son House quite a bit.  When Willie died, Son House laid his guitar down, and refused to play.  Of course, he was talked back into it during the blues revival of the 60's.  But Willie was that influential.  And just to be clear to any fans out there - Willie Brown is NOT Kid Bailey.  I get that question a lot!   So I am planning a benefit show to get Willie a headstone.  It's long overdue.  All the money raised - every cent - will go towards the purchase of a grave marker for him.

I cannot take credit for finding his resting place, though I did do a bit or research on it.  Most people don't realize that researching people with a common name - like Robert Johnson, or Willie Brown - is pretty hard to do.  I mean, there are a lot of Willie Browns out there!   As far as finding the grave, it started with the research of Gayle Dean Wardlow.  Gayle was able to track down Willie Moore, who was a long time friend of Willie Brown's.  The two met in 1916, so it is safe to say they knew each other well.  In interviews, Moore said he was aware of Brown's hospitalization for alcoholism, as well as the burial.  Moore confirmed this burial to have been in The Good Shepherd Church.  Moore and Brown were even both drafted into the Army together - but peace was declared before they were sent overseas.  Moore even used to sing while Brown played guitar.  They were close.

Of course, interviews are never enough for me, so I went digging further.  After finding his death certificate, it says he was buried in "Good Shepherd" in Prichard, Mississippi.  There you have it.  Now there is an interview, and a document verifying his burial location.   To make matters even clearer, I was looking into the listed funeral home that is on the death certificate.  I was able (through another acquaintance) to reach out to a man who lives in that area.  Another blues fan.  Turns out he had talked with the funeral home (now under a different name) and was working on getting the location of the exact plot Willie Brown was buried in.  Though that information is hard to come by - funeral home records are private records after all - it does also confirm the cemetery as The Good Shepherd.

Why here, why now for a benefit show?

Well, the here part is easy.  I live here!  I have a family, and the challenge of organizing an event far from home is ... overwhelming.  So I figured Tampa has a rich blues history, and has a lot of blues talent in the area.  Not to mention, a lot of the blues talent in the area has played in the Delta.  I mean, it's all blues, right?  Willie Brown is such a huge influence on blues, most blues players at least know of him.   As far as the why now part ... well, if not now, when?  The truth of the matter is, a headstone is long overdue for Willie Brown. He was an iconic figure in blues music, and essentially, American history.  It's time he gets some recognition.

Can you tell us a bit about the show? Who will be performing?

Sure!  The show is scheduled for September 26th, which is a Sunday.  It's at Rick's on the River, a really cool venue here in town.  It will start at 4pm - nice and early.  It will go until about 9pm or so.  We are going to have a raffle with amazing prizes, as well as an auction for a really nice guitar.  Of course, we will pass a donation bucket around too. Really we need to raise $2100 to get Willie his headstone.  I should also mention this is a free show!  No cover!

The lineup is amazing, and I cannot thank the sponsors and the bands enough for all their help, and willingness to do this event.  The lineup includes Sean Chambers, The Backwater Blues Band, Lee Pons, Eddie Wright, and Special Guest Damon Fowler.  It will be an amazing show.  Every one of those guys can play the blues.  I mean PLAY the blues.  And a free show to boot?

I hope a lot of people are able to come out for this worthy cause.  Everyone is welcome!