A lesson in $oundgarden

I went with my brothers to see Soundgarden at the Queen Elizabeth theatre last Sunday night.  For weeks I had been anticipating a great comeback after the excitement of listening to their latest album.  We had seen them previously in 1996 at the PNE Forum.  Their live set although heavy and hard was disjointed and you could see the band was not much in the mood for rapport with the audience.  Hell they even had a hard time looking at each other.  Being an excited youth you tend to ignore those things though because as I see it now, it was all about being with your brothers, your friends, your music.  For us Soundgarden’s music was the stuff you listened to when you went camping, singing and yelling in the darkness by the firelight, among the tall trees, and beside a flowing river.  It was the music you popped into your car deck with your rolling sound system to show how great everything sounded and when those four rock gods forged gems like Jesus Christ Pose, Outshined, Slaves and Bulldozers, Holy Water, Superunknown, Fourth of July, Like Suicide and on and on, it slammed into me and picked me up in its grasp.

So back in 1996 when I saw Ben Shepard spit at the crowd it wasn’t a surprise to me that they broke up shortly thereafter…

Can you really go back?  Should you ignore what happened in the past based on the dream you built up in your mind of how it could be…if?

When we got outside the venue we needed one ticket, I canvassed the scalpers and people with extra tickets looking to make a deal.  This is the hustle, the real night market.  Nobody is serving you bad food, or hawking pirated software.  There is a best by date on every ticket.  It is all about how comfortable you are with money, and how much you can balance parting with it for the goods you want.  My problem is I don’t like ripping people off, however the paradox is if I can get in for less I’m not complaining.

There was a fellow who was being firm on his price. A regular guy.  There were the usual suspects buying and selling tickets.  People and faces I have become familiar with at the growing number of shows I have attended.  My brother pointed out a couple who were looking to sell.  On my approach I became aware that these are not people you would ordinarily see selling tickets much less attend a hard rock concert.  I said hi.  They were middle aged, man and woman, with a heavy eastern european sounding accent.  I dismissed this strange combination of time and place and circumstance and asked their price.  They named it and looked at me with a forced stoicism.  Waiting for the counter-offer.  What ran through my mind at that moment was:  This is strange.  Why are they selling Soundgarden tickets?  Are they (tickets) for real?   I checked the tickets.  Hardcopies.  Balcony, Centre, Lower row.  Good seats for balcony I thought.  I named my price.  It wasn’t a low ball offer.  They immediately took it without looking at one another.  Like I said, strange.

I now had a pair.  I wanted a single ticket.  I wanted to use the pair as leverage to get that single ticket.  I was pacing the grounds nervously.  I wanted to get that seat.  I was holding the tickets in my hand for all to see, and was immediately approached by a fellow who balked at my asking price which was $40 more than the price of a pair.  Immediately, a scalper with a single ticket in his hand chiseled his way between us.  “I’ll buy them”, he said.  The other fellow who initially balked, began to fret and complain.  Thus the lesson:  strike while you can.  Now I wanted his single ticket, and I was holding the money exchanged between us.  I didn’t count the money.  I checked the ticket and made a deal, but this time I screwed up.  Instead of being content with getting the ticket, I had already started counting the money in my head, and how much ‘I’ would be getting in for.  I should have taken a cue from that famous song ‘The Gambler’:  You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done”.

By the time we got in the door, I was already counting the cash, running the figures in my head, confusing this that and the other thing.  Not enjoying the situation.  Not letting it go, just yet.  My youngest brother and I lined up for beverages, we collected our beer allotment and waited for our brother who went to the merchandise table.   While we were waiting the whole circus came to a head.  A face who I recalled waiting outside with his friends encountered me inside and approached.  “You sold some fake tickets” he said.  I looked him in the eyes and said “I don’t think so”.  “Maybe not directly through you”, he continued, “but my friend bought the tickets from a guy who said you sold them”.  Now just to let you know, what I was wearing stood out from the regular Greater Vancouver suburbanite winter garb of blue jeans, dark outerwear shells, non-obtrusive shirts, etc…  Nondescript or as a person I once worked with in an office referred to derisively as ‘Reasonable Grey’.  No, I was wearing a multi-coloured, knitted toque.  Full of coloured yarn in light beautiful blues, deep browns and tans, creams amidst ambers, some fleshy pinks.  A gift.  The knitting work was done so that if you looked at it from farther off it would seem like hair.  As well I had on a white wool pullover sweater tight knit dotted with little holes if you looked closely enough.  It belonged and was worn by my father-in-law long since passed whom I’ve never met.  He wore it when he worked in a fish cannery many years ago.  So safe to assume nobody makes them anymore.  I’ve yet to see another like it.  “My friend is at the box office now trying to get a refund”.  He looked a little irritated with me, and then he asked:  “Who did you get those tickets from?”  If it was any other place the words “From an older couple, an old man and woman”, wouldn’t sound so ridiculous, but as soon as I started to speak, my realization, and the forcefulness of my testimony grew in inverse proportions.  The whole situation was turning into a gong show.  All I could do at that point in answer to his ‘uh yah’ gaze was to say I was sorry for his friends, but that if it was me it wasn’t intentional.

The p.a. announced the show was to start in 10 mins.  The lobby was still full of people purchasing drinks and merchandise.  No way this show was going to start on time.  Another announcement that the show was about to start and so we decided to drink up and head over to our seats.

There we separated.  I went to the balcony and my brothers lower down to the dress circle.   The crowd was taking its time to get seated.  The age range was varied from a pre-teen I saw to the 40 somethings male and female including myself.  The roadies were doing their final checks and photographers were ensconced around the front of the stage taking pictures of the crowd while the house lights were up.  There did not seem to be the anxious impatience attendant to a highly anticipated show.  It was as if the audience was waiting for a tribute band.  And maybe they were because when the house lights finally went down and the band took the stage there was an appreciative roar as Chris Cornell yelled a perfunctory “Vancouver!” and then “Canucks!” (seriously), before launching into ‘Non-State Actor’ the second track from King Animal.  I was immediately into it singing along and clapping.  A pause before the band proceeded into ‘Get On The Snake’, the dirty raunch of the guitars and the tightness of the drums sounded muddy, and Chris’ vocals were lost, overpowered it seemed.  This continued on into ‘Ty Cobb’ a highlight of their oeuvre and one tune any punky speed metal grunge lover could latch onto and rock out with.  Next up was ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and although the band was spot on the sound continued to disappoint.  Chris was barely audible over the cacophony bouncing off the theatre walls.  By the time ‘Outshined’ rolled around the crowd was looking for a spark.  ‘Outshined’ being that spark seemed to be the strongest number of the night.  We were rocking out hard up in the balcony.  I even exchanged high fives blindly in the darkness with a patron behind me and it seemed the house was going to be right into it.

Now my brother will attest to this:  I will remove my shirt(s) as I feel like it and rock out half naked for the rest of the night.  This night was no exception.  So there I was, this over 40 dude with no shirt waving his arms and bobbing his head while playing air guitar. :0

Hey harmless fun right?  But for those who decry Vancouver as ‘No Fun City’, what happened next does not help to remove the label.  For tonight’s proof:  At the beginning of the concert I went down to the railing separating the dress circle from the balcony to take pictures of the band performing.  At this time I had all my clothes on and with nothing more than a passing glance of the flashlight from an usher I took my shots without interruption.  Fast forward to ‘Taree’ a relatively mellow song punctuated by dark imagery of drug induced depression.  I made my way down to the same spot this time sans shirt.  As I stood there taking my shots I could feel the strobe of the flashlight playing over my body making quick deductions.  In an instant an usher came up and said:  “Excuse me, but I think you need to go back to your seat”.  Huh?

When it became apparent the sound deficiencies were not going to be solved on the evening the disinterest of the band increased hand in hand with the audience.  Some of the songs were being cut abruptly, and the pace became an agonizingly slow race to get to the end of the set.  Even on ‘Bones of Birds’ which was one of the rare occasions Chris would speak to the audience he mumbled “This is a song about stress”.  You think?  Before the end of the first verse he mixed up parts of the second and then by the middle of the song forgot the words entirely.  The band continued to play while Chris leaned heavily on the mic stand, head down looking like a dead flower, his hair covering the mic like a mop head.

By this time people were starting to head for the exits.  There would be a few more numbers with ‘Fourth of July’ ordinarily a crowd pleaser but only drawing a weak response as the set ended.

A quick thank you and with that the exit of the band to the signature reverberating feedback of Kim Thayil’s guitar.  The band quickly returned to do the now obligatory encore.  No untethered full throated roar from a Soundgarden of long ago at that point could have salvaged the evening, so much so that when ‘Rusty Cage’ rolled around it seemed a hollow and sobering reminder of what happened that night in December 1996…

…Can you really go back?  No you can’t.  King Animal’s album opener states that plainly.  As if to say:  “Dude you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think we’re the same crew with the same youthful fire you want to us to recapture”.  Yes you remember.  Fondly sometimes, regretfully at the others.  There is no grey area.  Yet the band appears to be attempting to create a niche there.  Not too much fire to burnout on.  Pedal halfway to the metal.  Having your cake and eating it too.  I had already dressed before the encore, waiting to make for the exit.

The house lights went up quickly as the last song ended.  The band had by then disappeared into the ether.  As if the tour bus was running outside in the back alley and they were pulling away.  The roadie teardown by then was already in full gear.

Thank you.  Now gtfo.


Remember how I said the band could hardly look at each other before.  Same thing this time around except it looked to be business first.  Personal stuff gets checked at the door.

The next day I was left looking for a positive to the evening.  It had started out with the search for a ticket.  It ended with us going out for a late night bowl of soup.  Brothers sitting around a table, eating.  There are very precious few things that compare in a simple way.  But having brothers to lean on is something special.  For a brief moment wandering outside around the plaza I had forgotten what that was about, being interested only in following the money.  I felt it later in the look my brother gave me at that dinner table when I was breaking down accounts heedless of who we were that night.  The too quick pause and look that questioned my intentions and whether I considered the value of his company and in a greater sense the value that has no price on being family.


photo by Rebecca Blissett [check her website out]

‘…looked better than they sounded last night’-from Georgia Straight Newspaper.

Seattle rock band Soundgardenphotograph by: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun


Dinner guests

My wife and I went out Friday night.  It has been awhile.  Lack of being alone together is one of the known side effects of child introduction.  Another known side effect is drowsiness.  We were cognizant of the fact that we would be at the edge of the ocean of drowsy.  We were not sure what to do.  We had discussed some options:  art gallery opening, movie, restaurant.   So with knowledge of said known side effects, there is a tacit agreement to leave it open.  Included in this agreement is the likelihood there would be only one stop.  Most of our time spent outside of work is meting out energy to cover the needs of our children.  As we stood in line at an Italian restaurant we had not visited before but would speak about cursorily in the fashion of placing it on a mental sticky note for later reference it became the backdrop for us catching up.  I am not complaining.  Our coats were checked, and we were escorted to our table.  We remarked how the menu was on one page.  I liked that too.  We ordered pizza.  We heard and read the pizza there was the real deal.  My brother had introduced us to its day old pizza one afternoon.  The memory of that tasting became smeared on the aforementioned mental sticky note.  We had a laugh with the waitress when we mentioned we’ve had their day old pizza.  She seemed confused at first stating they don’t serve day old pizza.

We talked about the children.  We compared various serial murder > catch the killer > forensic investigation series and the characters.  We were unanimous in our choice of the original CSI (Grissom era) as our favourite based on the interplay between the central characters and the quality of the acting.  At least for me it is.

We talked about death.  She thought organ donation was not for her.  Her organs that is.  I recalled hearing a radio interview with a woman who upon her death wanted her body to be left in the forest to return to the earth, left to the elements and wild animals for consumption.

We did not talk much about work.  I reminded her about a previous conversation we had regarding an elderly man and his wife involved in a motor vehicle collision.  The man was in her work area waiting for x-rays.  Broken this, broken that.  The wife had passed.  He had no other family.  She had remarked how hard it would be to recover.  I remember saying recovery would be difficult without a reason to live.  She said that it was quite common for surviving husbands or wives to pass away shortly after the death of a spouse.  I divulged I recently found out a person I had become acquainted with through work passed away.  Lorna had been married to a very nice man who would always greet me with a smile and a lightness of spirit.  His name was Duncan.  Duncan would always say there was no use in complaining because nobody listens anyway.  I remember later trying that on my chiropractor and he looked at me bemusedly and said:  “but that’s my job”.

Duncan had cancer but you would never know it.  Other than the observation that our meetings became less frequent; on those rarer occasions we would exchange pleasantries he was ever jovial.  “How are you doing Patrick?  :))  I’m good Duncan, how are you?  Never better, never better!  You know I could complain, but nobody listens anyway!”  🙂  And then he would pat me lightly on the shoulder with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eyes.  And then he would stroll away.  I did not know until he died that he was so sick.  The truth is I did not want to know even though my mind considered that possibility whenever I would see him move a little more slowly on the less than handful of dwindling occasions left where we would reacquaint each others hello.  The last time I ever saw him, he was driving out of the underground parking garage.  In the dim fluorescent haze of the garage he drove toward the slowly lifting parking garage gate.  The sunlight was streaming in from the other side.  He was driving away in his sports sedan, sunglasses on, Lorna at his side.  Their faces to the sun.

My wife said it made her feel special that I had made the arrangements for us to go out.  Highlight.  Mark it off.

The first post

I’ve been rolling this around in my head for awhile.  Actually it’s been years.  Stretching out taking a further spot on down the ‘to do’ list.  You know the one.  No not a bucket list.  Just a list of getting around to’s that you don’t treat like a chore or an asap meaning right away.  One of those things you know you’ve wanted to do, needed to do as essential as breathing.  Except you’ve been holding your breath waiting for the perfect moment.  The quiet time.  The muse of first report.

I finally rolled it forward enough in my head, placed it in a spot where I could retrieve it when I was ready.  Ready to roll it forward once more.  Ready to place it in a new hiding spot, so that when the time was right I could crack it open.  It being writing.  Pure, a river stream cold and running its course.  I could paddle over it or dive into the current and let it carry me onwards.  Uninterrupted.

Recently I had it in my phone scheduler:  Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 8:00 pm:  Blog.  Now before anyone thinks I was only behind by a couple weeks, I had been rescheduling this writing a couple of weeks before that too.

Of course it’s been even longer than that.

I remember listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’  for the first time when it really meant something.  I was in my thirties.

I had heard some of the album before.  I remember sitting under my aunt’s back porch.  It was early evening, dark, pouring rain.  My cousin had set up a hang out and bs area with some white plastic chairs around a white plastic table.  If you looked out into the yard you could see the sillouhette of a pear tree in the background to the right past the grass lawn.  It and an apple tree in the foreground kitty corner to the balcony straddled my aunt’s garden now shaded in the twilight.  The cassette tape lay beside the player among some other titles on a wooden bench.  I popped it in and turned it up.  As the rain beat down on the metal roof above I became more aware of the sound of a heartbeat but because the player was small and the speakers obviously suited only for AM radio frequencies it sounded like: CRUP CROK, CRUK CROK,…and then “AAIIIKKK, AAAIIIKKK, AAAIIKKKK, AIIIIKKKKK, AAAAAAAA…..bbrrunnngkkkk”

That was in my teens.  I guess for a lot of my years up until turning thirty my radio dial wasn’t quite tuned in.  I like to think we were brought up by a bunch of adults who may have considered muzak, and ‘easy listening’ as audiophile reference material.  Background noise filtered through disposable radios.

So when I first listened to the heartbeats, the moans, the grumblings, the cash register, the stoned laughter, the lyrics.

I was stopped.

I began to awaken to the chase that I would be running, remembrances of the mild admonishments from my elders.  The meaning of what my grade four teacher meant when she referred to me as a ‘late bloomer’ in order to soften the sting for my mom.

The knowing glances.

The original ‘omg’.

I know with writing I can stop for a moment.  There is no headlong chase for the warmth of a sunlit ray long past.  The only thing stopping me was my commitment to an excuse not to write, my commitment to ‘to do’.  It seems absurd one would rather hold their breath in order to hold on to what could be rather than breathe naturally.  I guess it is the first hurdle for an artist, to acknowledge that you are not for display to be judged.  That your work, or more accurately ‘the work’ is something that needs to get out and expose itself.  My youngest brother once said:  “Your whole life is just a dream…”, from some techno tune he liked.  Then he added:  “god’s Dream”.  If that’s the case then to me my life is a movie and the whole question surrounding the lead character is:  is this guy going to go with the script or make it his own?

The name of this blog is Close your eyes…Fall.  If it sounds pretentious then let me know, not because if you think it is I will change it.  It’s more curiousity about who would read this than anything else.

In the meantime, don’t sleep, you might miss something special:))