11.30.2013

Turkey Day Shenanigans: Part Two

View part one here.


From here, I can see everything.

A lidless container of cutlery hovers near the edge of the table, the surface of which is peppered by twist-off beer caps, like so many discarded coins. There is a bag of hardened bread looming on the eastern chair, still untouched. The cord of my laptop threads across the tabletop, vaulting over smears of food, only to cross a dirty rag before sliding over the edge of the table and into the wall behind me. A pair of forks, listless and encrusted in frosting, cross to form an "x" on the rag, as if to mark some salvation yet hidden by the wooden surface.

The kitchen has obviously taken the worst of it. Even now, its unlit interior still hangs heavy with the memory of a dozen bodies crowding over every inch of the imitation marble tiles. Casualties of every shape and size cover the island - empty water bottles, gravy-stained plates, neglected vegan dishes, and cold coffee mugs - all pile over each other, forming a queue to the maw of the trashcan, waiting patiently below. 

There is no hope for the sink. A large cooking pot, rewashed and used half a dozen times for as many dishes, stands abandoned in the left sink. Smaller dishes float lifelessly on the tepid water within. Silverware is strewn across the counter top, signifying a trail of dead. Twin bottles of Apothic Red stand guard over a box of cookies destined to go stale. The tool to open them is nowhere in sight.

People no longer crowd the room. Conversation no longer lilts down the hall. The fire has not been stoked for a day, the furniture refusing to return to its original place. Only the hum of the heater speaks at all, and it too falls silent after its piece. 

In the corner of the room, I sit at the dirty table. The aftermath is no longer my concern. I've become numb to it. The only worry that pulls at my mind is that of the task of cleaning it up. I can live with disorder, but only for so long. 

My back arches in weariness. I resign myself to these words. For now, the mess will have to wait a little longer.

*     *     *

As you can probably guess, this year's Thanksgiving was a grand success. Yes, I'm putting off the cleaning of the event for now. Last year, there was more food, more people, and longer hours of fellowship. Despite this, I enjoyed this year's festivities much more - except the cleaning part. Last year I rose with the dawn following the holiday and set to work on the kitchen right away. This year, not so much.

Both years have been my first and second up here in Seattle. Last November found me barely five months into my transition here, one that had already been marred by moving four times. Even that could not pull down my spirits, as the day was one of joy. For a bunch of college kids, the dishes and planning had been impressive. I remember standing before the table of food (minutes before it was to be destroyed) as we all looked on, wondering how we had accomplished such a big thing. After the meal, we went around the table to mention what we were thankful about. For some reason, as least two people said they were thankful for my being there. I still don't know if these words were uttered in jest or sincerity, but either way I was flattered by them.

This year was more of the same, but better. Instead of making 40 deviled eggs like I did last year, I upped my game and made 60 plus this year. Don't be impressed; it's literally the only thing I know how to make. Last year, they were consumed before half the guests even arrived. This year, a plate yet lingers in the fridge. I'd call that a success.

While there wasn't as much food or company as there was last year, there was a feeling of overall contentment, at least on my part. A year had seen four engagements in our group of friends: at this time last year, one couple had just started dating, another couple had been dating for years, one couple barely knew each other, and another couple hadn't even met. Many things can change in a year. Two of our friends have since left Seattle and one more will in less than a month. Many things.

None of these things crossed my mind during the day's celebration, and they barely register on the outskirts of my thoughts now. It may be a cliche, but my mind doesn't surrender to melancholy during the holidays. Sure, financial concerns are always there. I'm the worst gift-giver ever. But those things barely matter when pitted against the knowledge that the people closest to you are there for the time being. They come and go, they get married and break up. For that day at least, we were all together.

I couldn't have imagined things going so well following my move to Seattle. I've said it again and again, but the way in which things fell neatly into place amaze me. Despite having only been here for less than six months, last year brought me enough good fortune to feel at home and loved on this holiday. This year the feeling only multiplied. The move from Texas to the northwest had not changed anything; there were friends in each place.

Other than the fact that the Cowboys won, this year could not have gone any better. Yeah, there's still tons of cleaning to do, but I'd rather clean up after a dozen people than not clean up after having no company. I think. Ask me when I'm done. 

Thanksgiving is the first in a trifecta of holidays this season. My start to this season has been wonderful. I can only hope that Christmas and New Year's are equally as inviting. It is my further hope that yours is just as grand. I'm thankful for and to my friends for making it such an amazing time. 

Stay alive until Christmas. We'll talk then.

Cheers,

JDS


PS - I'll start cleaning up if you do. Ask me later how my progress is going.


11.26.2013

Turkey Day Shenanigans: Part One

If someone asked me to describe what I would consider to be a perfect day, my answer would most likely consist of the following: reckless consumption of inordinate amounts of food, a television schedule that includes an expertly timed string of football games, and falling victim to the only type of coma that should be warmly welcomed by humans - all while surrounded by friends and family. To some of us, that's every Sunday (double the amount of football and comas and you're getting there). But for many of us, it's part of a weird holiday we celebrate here in the states: THANKSGIVING.

A long time ago on some rock in the northeastern part of the US of A, some people on a boat ran out of beer, resulting in a panic that led to the immediate necessity to find land, with the hope that their empty tankards would soon be replenished. However, instead of the beer gardens that all people should expect to see when landing on unclaimed land, they instead found natives, who were willing to share provisions with the beer-thirsty newcomers. Perhaps fearing that the natives had pilfered all the local stores of alcohol, the pilgrims gifted the the natives with smallpox, an even trade for those days. This would later result in wars between the two sides, all stemming from the simple needs of a thirsty people. 

Today, we celebrate that exchange of disease and food as Thanksgiving, a federal holiday consisting of the arbitrary ingestion of what may possibly be the dumbest creature on the planet. You might be wondering how I've come to know all of this. "But Jordan," you'd whine, "how can you know these things? You weren't there!" This is true. I know of this because I was a history major, once upon a time, which automatically makes any of your arguments invalid. Your whining has now been reduced to the drivels of a petulant child's discourse on what is and isn't fair in this world. 

I know you didn't come here for a history lesson, and that's not what I care to talk about. Maybe you came here to talk about the levels of L-tryptophan in turkey, which would explain why we get so sleepy on Thanksgiving. In that case, I'd tell you you're wrong - it's a myth, and you literally need all of 46 seconds and access to Google to figure that out. Or perhaps you are wondering why the Dallas Cowboys always get to play on Thanksgiving. I'm with you on that one. After all, it wasn't the cowboys who invented Thanksgiving, it was the Vikings. A Bachelor's Degree does not lie.

In all seriousness, for a holiday with so much emphasis on family, I can safely say that the last time I spent Thanksgiving with all of the members of my immediate family was in 2007. For reference, that's when Eli Manning beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl...the first time. Even then, I can only vaguely recall the celebration. What I do remember is that during those days, a pair of young and enterprising Jehovah's Witnesses would come to our door fairly often in the course of the several months prior to Thanksgiving. Though normally most of us would pretend to not be home, their repeat visits were encouraged by my dad. My dad was a minister for eleven years, so a healthy discussion was always had whenever the two young men would stop by. Whether or not they were trying to win us over, Thanksgiving found these two missionaries in our home, sharing the food with us as if they were members of the Smith clan. 

To me, that's what Thanksgiving is all about. It's easy to associate the holiday with football and turkey and whatnot. There's a big parade in the morning and a glimpse into the failures of the human race immediately following the holiday on the infamously named Black Friday. Like anything, it's easy to commercialize and taint. But it's also not that hard to find joy and fellowship with others, by taking part in something as simple as a turkey dinner. 

I spent four years going to college in the city of Abilene, which lies in the epicenter of God-forsaken west Texas. From 2008 to 2011, it was never difficult to find someone to share the holiday with, even though I was living 1200 miles from home. It was my first extended time away from home, away from the comforts of familiarity. I was never the best at making friends, having to combat both my introverted nature and social ineptitude. Even so, my first Thanksgiving away from home in the fall of 2008 would not be spent alone. My sister, my roommate (who was no better at life than I was), and I were invited over by a friend who was from our hometown who also attended the school. Few people spent the week on campus, and it was a depressing affair for those of us who did - but that Thursday was no exception to what I believe the holiday is all about. For that one day at least, we wouldn't be wasting away in our cold and gloomy dorm room. Cinder blocks and fluorescent lights are the coldest of company.

And so it was. Each following year in Texas would be more and more reminiscent of spending the holidays with my family:

In 2009, I traveled to Frisco (Dallas area) and spent a few days with a friend I had met while working at a summer camp. She had allowed me to stay at her house on the weekends during the breaks between camp weeks. She also happened to be the mother of my church's high school minister back in California. Along with him and a few other guests (one of which was a girl who was in the middle of a cross country journey to "find herself"), we ate food, threw the football around in the front yard, and took turns playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which had just come out that month. 

In the fall of 2010 and 2011, I was also in the Dallas area. My brother in law's grandparents lived near there, so I tagged along with him and my sister to spend two consecutive Thanksgivings with them. Other members of his family came, and my mom even flew out in 2011. We assembled jigsaw puzzles (I don't even like puzzles) and played card games. Let me tell you this: there's nothing more warm and inviting than spending Thanksgiving with grandparents, whether they are related to you or not.

I was also able to take part in some special service trips in 2009 and 2010. My school had an organization called Weekend Campaigns, and we'd  travel to different parts of Texas for a weekend to engage in some community service of some sort. The Thanksgiving trip was always the most popular one. We'd all crowd into several of those massive white vans and drive to a little town just outside of Edmond, Oklahoma. Together, we'd spend the entire day handing out turkeys and various other food items to low-income families. It was a drive through of sorts; cars would be lined up for blocks and they'd open up their trunks and doors to us while driving through, and we'd stockpile tons of food for them so that they could enjoy the blessing of a Thanksgiving meal. Looking back on that, it felt like nothing more than a fun weekend trip, but I imagine it meant much more for those families.

My main point is this: I've been incredibly blessed by others this time of year. While living thousands of miles away from home since 2007, I have never been without good food and company come the holiday season. There always happens to be at least one person nearby who doesn't think I'm such a bad guy. Good on them, because we all know otherwise. In all seriousness, it doesn't take much to please me on Thanksgiving. Just give me ham, a decent slate of NFL, and a fire - and I'll be a happy panda.

I'll regroup after the holiday to share the second part of this blog entry, which will transition from my Thanksgivings in Texas to my Thanksgivings in Seattle. I'm further away from home and family than I've ever been, but there's been no lack of friends to spend it with. I don't know what I've done to deserve that, but I'm thankful for it.

To close, here's a video of some guy trolling a bunch of turkeys:



Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

JDS


11.07.2013

Concert Review: The Chariot Farewell Tour

Greetings to you, lovers of all things music, and welcome to the retelling of my sixth musical adventure in the lovely city of Seattle. Last time I wrote about my fifth viewing of the glorious Between The Buried & Me. 

I decided to put my life at risk by going to see The Chariot this weekend. For those of you who aren't aware of who they are, think feedback-laden breakdowns, frantic vocals, and absolutely zero rules as far as the live performance is concerned. Constant stage dives (by spectators and band members alike), aggressive spinning/tossing of instruments, and climbing/hanging/jumping from anything more than three feet off of the ground.

So yeah, it was pretty fun.

THE CHARIOT - 11/1/2013 @ Studio Seven
w/ Rebuker, To The Wind, and Birds In Row



As stated in several prior posts, I was all about the metalcore scene in the early to middle 2000's. I enjoyed practically every band on Solid State records, home to bands such as August Burns Red, Zao, and Becoming the Archetype. One band in particular - Norma Jean - struck me as much different than the others because of their brand of chaotic and dissonant music, blended with odd time signatures and unique breakdowns. They were described as "mathcore" which is a genre I was wholly unfamiliar with (think The Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge). No, they don't sing about quantitative reasoning and rise over run - which would be lost on my math-challenged mind. Despite how awesome that may sound to you nerds, there is no method to Norma Jean's madness.

I present to you the video for the single "Memphis Will be Laid to Waste", from Norma Jean's 2002 debut Bless The Martyr and Kiss The Child. My friends and I spent many long and loud hours in a garage creating our own sloppy renditions of this hardcore anthem, even going so far as to cover it at events where we were recruited to strictly play worship music. We were such rebels.


Vocalist Josh Scogin surprised both fans and band mates in 2002 when he abruptly decided to leave the band. Returning home to Georgia, Scogin almost immediately formed Christian hardcore band The Chariot, taking its name from Elijah's vision of the chariot of fire.

I had a friend in high school who wrote a paper about the difference between Scogin's first band and his new project. He held that Norma Jean's music was more of an organized chaos, whereas The Chariot produced a much more intense sound that followed no rules or conventional forms. If Norma Jean is chaos, then The Chariot is pure upheaval and destruction. Piercing feedback shrills, muddy bass rumbles, and vocals like sledgehammers came together to form The Chariot's 2003 debut Everything is Alive, Everything is Breathing, Nothing is Dead, Nothing is Bleeding. With the mouthful of a title, The Chariot quickly grabbed people's attention, and they stayed for their legendary live shows.

The band recorded their debut live in one take as an entire band, hoping to emulate the raw power of a performance, emphasizing the fact that playing shows was what they solely made music for. From the opening shrieks of feedback and punishing drums comes Scogin's gritty vocals, loudly declaring "This ain't my first rodeo!", I knew that I had to see this band live.

A stream of the band's 28-minute debut.

I received my chance to do so in 2004, when they toured with Showbread, He Is Legend, and As Cities Burns. That was nearly ten years ago, but I'll never forget Josh climbing on amps and hanging upside down from the rafters, all while screaming into the mic. I had never seen anything quite like it. The band came to be known for this type of live show. Here are some fun pictures from some of their shows over the years:






Sadly, my music interests began to shift. I enjoyed much more methodical and technically skilled bands as opposed to the blistering soundscapes that bands like The Chariot and Norma Jean offered. Because of this, The Chariot's second, third, and fourth albums all passed me by with little interest on my part. I had stopped listening to them altogether. In fact, it wasn't until the reviews of last year's critically acclaimed One Wing - the band's fifth full-length - that I thought to listen to them again, seeing as how the album had been receiving high praise.

I wasn't disappointed, as One Wing made the list of  my favorite  metal albums of all of 2012

So after hearing that the band was calling it quits and would be embarking on a final US tour, I knew that I would have one more chance to see them before the end. Nine years had gone by after my first and only The Chariot show, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

The day of the show, my roommates and I arrived in time to catch the band right before the headliner. I surveyed the crowd, trying to pick out which meatheads would be the safest to avoid, and which ones were most likely to break my face unprovoked. I had been to Studio Seven three times, and it had never been as full as it was that night.

There wasn't much fanfare as Scogin and his band mates took the stage. There was no massive fifteen foot banner hanging behind the drum kit, nor was there an intricate light show. Crunchy guitars went through their sound checks, Scogin screamed a line of dialogue from the movie Hot Rod for his mic check, an unusual sample droned from the speakers, and then we were all blasted in the face by the opening assault of "Evan Perks".

The band ripped through 20 songs in a blur. Drums were stacked on top of each other, trumpets were blared (literally), a guitarist found himself in the crowd on several occasions, faces were stepped on, etc. I had spent the entire week listening to the set list in a playlist so as to reacquaint myself with the songs I hadn't listened to in years, as well as to prepare myself for everything I had missed. Oddly enough, I was able to keep track of what songs were being played, despite the fact that if you skipped to the middle of almost any The Chariot song, you would be hard pressed to name the track. Every song was a punch in the face.

Packed shoulder to shoulder in that blazing little room, I found myself lifting up the flailing limbs of strangers onto the sweat-stained shoulders of still other strangers, shielding myself from the whirlwinds of fist-swinging brutes in the churning pit. The place smelled of morning breath and coppery guitar strings. Scogin never let up, absolutely torturing his vocal cords throughout the night, occasionally flinging the mic haphazardly into the crowd so as to get his share of surfing in.

I'll be honest, it was the most crazy show I've ever been to. I've been to super fun shows (New Found Glory), visually mind-blowing shows (Tool), and stripped-down intimate shows (William Fitzsimmons), but never anything like that. Add in the fact that I don't listen to hardcore bands or frequent their shows, and you have a wide-eyed 25 year old and his achy bones enjoying a wonderful and bloody night.

Here are your standouts and burnouts.

Highlights: There was a guy wearing a full-on hot dog suit. That was pretty cool. I've only stage dived once in my life (Nodes of Ranvier), and crowd surfed once as well (Circa Survive). But when The Chariot came back on stage for an encore - and they never do encores - I knew I had to do something stupid to make the night even more memorable. So I looked to the two huge bros in the pit who had been taking volunteers to launch onto the heads of the crowd, and I let them throw me headlong towards the front. My pants were almost pulled off (thanks Dom) and I narrowly avoided getting jumped on by Josh. If you click on this link to the video, you'll see that I'm the moron at 40 or so seconds who absolutely didn't know what to do. My roommates can also be seen if you know where to look.

Lowlights: I mean, you're gonna get silly people at silly shows. Metal kids don't know how to act at hardcore shows, and bald-headed dads are going to defend their kids with as many fists as they can summon. Girls are going to get hit by dudes, and someone is going to serve the toe of their Vans to your forehead. You'll taste their sweat and feel their elbows in every part of your abdomen. And you'll like it, or you'll go home. It's that simple.

The Chariot was a show I'll never forget. I'm thankful that I got the chance to see them before they called it quits, because there's nothing quite like it. If they're coming to your city on this tour, I urge you to catch them, even if you're a fan of heavy music in general. It will be a spectacle, I promise you that.

Alright, I need to quit the metal stuff for awhile and go listen to something quiet.

Until the next show,

JDS


Words: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
Lights: Battletoads & Double Dragon
Sounds: Lights & Motion, The Chariot, Erra, Impending Doom