Tuesday, September 26, 2006

COLUMN: Cowboys

It's times like this -- the creative, laid-back moments when I sit down to write each week's column -- that my thoughts naturally turn toward one thing: world domination.

I've made no secrets of my eventual goal to conquer and rule you all with my cold, iron heart and rapier wit, so it shouldn't come as a shock to you. The only real shock is in how stinkin' long it seems to be taking. Frankly, I was kind of hoping that you readers would have all become my Horde of Evil Minions by now. I don't get what the hold-up is.

Regardless, it WILL someday happen. So in my position as the future ruler of all mankind, mankind often asks me, "Gee, Shane, if you could change ONE thing in the world, what would it be?"

Hmmm. Would I fix the political climate of the Middle East? Well, I suppose. (I actually have a plan for this. It's a work in progress, but it starts by kicking EVERYONE out of Israel and turning the whole area into a global state park. No one owns it, no one lays claim to it, but everybody can visit as long as you play nice. Park closes at dusk. Camping with permit only.)

Maybe I'd fix global warming. (Again, a solid plan exists, involving the 7-11 Corp. and a Slushee machine the size of Greenland. Soon, Al Gore will have his icebergs back, and this time they'll be a delightful cherry flavor!)

But these issues, critical as they may be, are on the backburner. Because, first and foremost, if I ran the world, I'd need to change one thing straight away -- an issue that has plagued our fragile world for far too long.

I'm speaking, of course, about guys who dress like cowboys.

This month I've been to a fair share of weddings, birthdays and formal dinners. (One of my female co-workers tells me this is because "autumn is the new spring!" I am extraordinarily happy to NOT know what that means.) At every one of these functions, without fail, there's some dude dressed up like a cowboy.

You know the look. Big ol' cowboy hat, a bolo tie (usually in torquoise,) shiny leather boots, and a button-up shirt that has at least a 60 percent chance of incorporating some element of the American flag. This fancy get-up is supposed to blend right into the normal, sane world of suits and dresses. It is supposed to be formal wear. It is in no way, shape, or form supposed to be what it truly is: a poorly timed Halloween costume.

Why is this "cowboyism" socially acceptable? Are there any other occupations that I can play dress-up and go out in public as? Could I show up at a wedding dressed as a pirate? Wander into the Outing Club in a crisp set of medical scrubs? Yet, bizarrely, I can show up in a 10-gallon hat and expect to not get laughed onto the first stagecoach outta Dodge.

Do these people not own mirrors?

The way I see it, there are TWO acceptable scenarios for showing up at a formal party dressed up like Roy Rogers:

1. You are paid to entertain children with lasso tricks and balloon animals.

2. There is an emergency situation at the party involving cattle that need to, in some form or another, be wrangled. Nothing ruins a good wedding reception quite like a stampede. If, as a seasoned and professional cowboy, you sense at least a 75 percent chance of bovine interruption in what otherwise would be a pleasant soiree, then -- and ONLY then -- should you be allowed to step into crisis mode and don the appropriate cattle-handling wardrobe.

Look, I'm no expert in the ways of the cowboy. However, I have seen my fair share of Westerns, so let me tell you one universal truth I've picked up about the cowboy way: Cowboys are, as a general rule, quite dirty people.

The cowboys I'm familiar with have no time to freshly iron their shirts. They don't have the means to glue shiny stuff onto their belt buckles in the shape of Texas. The cowboys I remember don't do brunch. They're a tad bit too busy having gunfights, hitching horses, and taking care of an assortment of "no-good varmints." They are covered in dust and mud, and they most likely smell of horses. What's scary is that there must be a surplus of guys out there who think this is COOL.

This, friends, is the crisis I would handle if I ruled the world.

Hmmm. But honestly, do I want to rule a world that deems it socially acceptable to emulate Brooks and/or Dunn in public settings? Do I want evil minions capable of performing the Boot-Scootin' Boogie?

As much as it hurts my achy-breaky heart, perhaps I need a rethink. Or at least a dress code next time I throw a shindig.

I Started a War...

That's a quote from Belle & Sebastian, one of my favorite bands. This is a post about music.

Specifically, it's a post about a really bad blog that I posted somewhere else.

Like I've mentioned some umpteen times both in my newspaper column and here on this blog, I'm a bit of a music nerd. Before I worked for the Dispatch, I founded a little e-mail discussion for like-minded music nerds. Imagine being part of a group full of pretentious people who each think that their musical taste is the best on the planet, and thusly spend countless hours of back-and-forth e-mails arguing about music.

To some, that must be hell. To me, it's a Tuesday. Our little e-mail discussion list eventually spawned a website, Excellent Online, that remains in play today.

Anyways, as a result of spending the last 15 years of my life professionally arguing about music, sometimes it gets me in trouble. Last week was one of those times.

This past weekend was the River Roots festival in Davenport. It's the second one that the RME has thrown -- and it's an annual fest that's trying to become one of the biggest music draws here in the Quad Cities.

Too bad, then, that I'm so disappointed by it.

The lineup for this year's festival was really strong. Some good acts (The Nadas, Hackensaw Boys, etc.,) some GREAT acts (Junior Brown, ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO, Martin Sexton, etc.,) and a slew of other decent acts.

The problem? It wasn't the right lineup for the Quad Cities.

I'll spare the long-winded argument and stick with the basic premise: Other than headliners The Black Crowes, most people in the Quad Cities wouldn't know any of these artists. And the Black Crowes are hardly the draw they were a decade ago.

We don't live in a huge market. As a result, it takes name recognition to draw in fans. Some people may say, "I don't know any of these bands, but I'm excited to go see 'em!" If only EVERYONE were like that... Without acts people know, most people don't go - that's the ugly truth. And, as perfect and impressive of a lineup that you bring into town, without a sea of fans turning out, it's labeled a disappointment.

So... a lineup that Joe Quad-Citian isn't familiar with... plus a $50 ticket price... isn't exactly what I'd call a good business move.

THIS was the point I was trying to make when I logged onto the River Roots forum and made a post. However, like I said, I'm used to some rather heated language when it comes to arguing music, so I sort of went into their forum with music nerd guns blazing. Words like "sucks" and "yuck" were bandied about. Venomous posts like this are common among MY set of friends. Unfortunately, this wasn't my friends.

As a result of my overly-harsh post, I opened up not just ONE can of worms, but a whole factory of worms on the River Roots forum. Basically, those folks want my head on a stick right now.

And I'm really sorry. I'm sorry that I used such harsh words in their forum. I should've toned it back a bit (or kept my yap shut from the beginning.) I honestly wanted to offer some constructive criticism and support the local music scene; instead, I came off like Joe Buzzkill raining on everybody's parade.

Anyways, I want to let it die. I really do. But there's ONE post that was made on that forum that I need to address. But, rather than feed the flames of the River Roots forum fire, I'm bringing it over here instead.

Here's what someone who posted to the forum said about me:

I attended some of the Raves that Shane (now with the Dispatch) put on in the 90's and I remember paying something like $15 which I thought was outrageous for some DJ's. As I recall shane said to me "We are not making any money, we have a $30,000 light and sound system and thats why it costs so much". I replied that $30,000 sound systems rent for $400 a night, there were at least 300 people in attendance that paid $15, and Danceland rents for $250 bucks and will even do a split on beer sales. I told him that we booked the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Naked Raygun, and similar bands, usually having 4 bands on the lineup, rented a hall, rented a sound system, promotions and such and usually charged 6 bucks with the same kind of turnout as his $15 DJ events. He still insited that they don't make any money off of the raves with a straight face.

I'm sorry, but I needed to reply to this.

First off, yes, gang, I used to throw raves back in the day. Myself and my close friend Chris brought raves to the Quad Cities under the name of Exstasis Promotions. Hopefully, you made it to one of our parties. If not, you shoulda, 'coz those nights made some of the greatest memories of my life.

If only I could remember as well as this guy who made that post. I wish I could remember verbatim conversations from A DECADE AGO as much as this guy does. But I do remember SOME things about our parties...

(1) $8. That's what we charged for parties. I think we may have had one or two events where we jacked the price up to the $12 range, but that was only when we had a big-name DJ that we needed to cover.

(2) Danceland Ballroom might have rented for $250 back in the Naked Raygun days, but that's less than half of what we paid for it. And Danceland is only one of the places we threw parties at. The Col Ballroom, for example, was $1000.

(3) Our sound and light system (which we rented together) cost a lot more than $400 a night.

For this poster's benefits, and frankly for me to save face, let's look at some of the expenses:

First you had the venue to pay. On top of the rental fees, many venues require the event coordinators to hold insurance, so there's another $500-$1000 right there.

Then you had security to pay. We didn't mess around; we had licensed, uniformed security guards at every event. These guys were approx. $20 an hour per staffer.

Then you had sound and lights. Lasers, intelligent lighting, big stuff... with big price tags.

Then you had talent. Good DJ's don't come cheap, and we took GREAT pride in our DJ lineups. What's a DJ possibly cost, you ask? Let's take Superstar DJ Dmitri from the group Deee-lite for instance. Dmitri charged us $1000 for a 90 minute DJ set. Plus we had to fly him into the Quad Cities AND put him up at a hotel. And he was one of 8 DJ's that night.

Then there were the pre-costs of promotion. Back then, we didn't have a Kinko's in town, so we drove every month to the one in Iowa City to make 3000+ cardstock flyers. Then we took those flyers and put them everywhere from Chicago to St. Louis and everywhere in between. That meant road trips to Peoria... Macomb... Iowa City... Cedar Rapids... Cedar Falls... etc., etc.

Are you getting where I'm coming from? Throwing events isn't cheap.

We weren't in the rave business to make a profit, as much as this guy claims. We were just two bored recent college graduates wanting to try something different and fun. I distinctly remember a party where our greedy profiteering made us exactly $19 apiece. The whole time that Exstasis existed, I held a full time job (and often a DJ gig on the side) just to make ends meet. On the parties that we DID turn a profit on (which were about 50% of them), we just took that money and put it towards our NEXT event.

In other words, don't ever accuse me of putting on events in the Quad Cities for financial gain, because those were the leanest years of my life.

/end rant

Again, folks, sorry to be so harsh in my post on the River Roots board - I can't apologize enough (though I still stand behind WHAT I said... just not HOW I went about it!) The RME is a great addition to the Quad Cities soundscape, and I hope the fest gets better and better each year.

Now back to the funny stuff...

Monday, September 18, 2006

COLUMN: Catholic Wedding

My closest friend here at work got married this past weekend, and I got enlisted to lend a hand with the music at both the wedding and reception. For the most part, it went off without a hitch. (The other part being when a random attendee fainted mid-ceremony. Or when I was given a sound cue too early and accidentally drowned out the minister in a sonic wave of Etta James.)

Otherwise, it went off perfect. My buddy Nathan looked happy, and his new bride looked positively radiant. It was a good wedding, and for once, I didn't feel insanely awkward. You see, me and weddings usually don't get along too well.

My awkwardness and dread of weddings all stems from one particular blessed union I had the pleasure of attending a few years back. I'd been to my share of weddings by then, but this was my first Catholic wedding, complete with full Mass.

And this is nothing against Catholics, I love you guys, but when Catholics call it a "ceremony" -- well, they don't kid around. I have never felt more like a fish out of water in my whole life.

Thankfully, I brought my friend Kelly, who was raised Catholic. Little did I know my date would also turn into my interpreter, as I had NO clue what was going on. It started like any other wedding -- the bride walks down the aisle, a family member gets up and courageously sings a cute almost-in-the-right-key song. The priest comes out and gives a great little affirming sermon.

Except that it wasn't so little. It was, in fact, longer than your average college lecture. I sat there, trying to follow and appreciate the words of the sermon, but after awhile, I was getting confused. There were loads of Bible passages and one too many so-and-so said unto so-and-so's... and before I knew it, I had zoned out.

Here it was, my friends' special day, and I'm in my own little world. Random thoughts cruised through my brain at warp speed.

-- Gee, it's kind of hot in here. I should have worn something cooler. No, it's not hot; I'm just not used to wearing a tie. Did I tie my tie right? I bet it's crooked. Man, that's kind of a pretty stained glass window over there. I wonder how exactly one goes about staining the --


-- Whoa. What just happened? Everyone around me just spoke, all at once. Oh, man, did I miss a cue? Is there a script somewhere? Is it in the wedding program? I totally should have been paying more attention to the --


By now, I was sweating bullets. My friend Kelly leaned over & whispered, "You don't have to say all the stuff back. It's a Catholic thing." Then why did it seem like I was the ONLY one not chiming in? But there WAS no script to follow -- everyone just KNEW when to speak in unison. I felt like it was the 7th inning in a Cubs game and I was the only one in Wrigley Field who didn't know the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

That's when the worst bit happened. The priest said something, and out of the blue, the amiable old lady sitting on my left grabs my hand, smiles, and says, "Peace be with you." Well, I figure, that's actually kind of nice. She was right, I was stressing out a little bit, I could use some peace. But the thing is, after she said it, she kept gripping my hand and was looking at me a bit expectantly.

A million possible responses flew through my head. Surely I must have to say something in return. She just wished me some peace, what's the appropriate comeback? I thought about it for exactly 2.4 seconds and settled on a proper response. I looked her square in the eye, smiled, and said it.


At this point, my friend Kelly elbows me in the ribs and whisper-yells, "And also with you!" I was like, wow guys, sentiments of peace from both sides of me? These Catholics are pretty cool. I made sure to thank Kelly, too. She just rolled her eyes.

Obviously, this was a learning experience. As with all strange situations, I turn into a Follower and not a Leader. This would explain why at the same wedding, Kelly later had to physically restrain me from walking up to take Communion. "You're not even Catholic!" she hissed at me under her breath. Well, no, but everybody else was going up, I thought I had to, too. Perhaps this is why its hard finding dates for weddings.


What you're reading right now is the 100th column that I've written for the papers of the Moline Dispatch Publishing Co. I figure it's the right moment to thank the editors for going easy on me, and to thank all you guys for reading and strangely seeming to care about what a 35-year-old loser like me has to say. To all of you, I say from the heart with belated grace:


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COLUMN: Disco Inferno

I'm hiding. As I type this, it's Saturday night and I've drug my trusty laptop down to the District. As many of you know, I moonlight on the weekends DJ'ing down here at 2nd Ave., and right now, I'm out on the back patio waiting to go on. As I look around, approximately eleventy billion are outside gyrating to the disco inferno of The Travoltas. What I'm trying to figure out is why.

This is no slight against the band. If you're in the Quad Cities and you've never heard of The Travoltas, congratulations: you officially live under a rock. What began as a random booking of a novelty disco band at Ribco has morphed into a mouth-gaping phenomenon. Some five years after their first appearance, the Travs' annual summer shows draw thousands each and every time they take the stage -- all of this despite the fact that their set list never changes. It's always the same disco songs in the same disco order.

That said, they put on a heck of a show. In fact, if your idea of fun is watching a pack of 30-something Canadians in wigs and shiny suits singing "Kung Fu Fighting," I can safely say I've seen none better than the Travoltas.

You might think I'm making fun, but truth be told, I've had a penchant for bad disco ever since I was 8 years ago and my mom let me buy my first K-Tel compilation ("Hot Nights and City Lights!") How can you go wrong with bell bottoms, platform shoes, and stairstep basslines? And even the crunchiest of metalheads has to admit that, in their day, ABBA wrote some hot jams.

I'll say with pride that the first R-rated movie my folks took me to was "Saturday Night Fever." And hey, if not for that movie, we wouldn't have its fantastically kitschy sequel, "Staying Alive," which is responsible for THE greatest ending line in the history of modern cinema:

"You know what I wanna do? STRUT."

Point is, I'm old enough (albeit barely) to appreciate disco. I was a macho man, I was a superfreak, and by golly, I WILL survive.

Ergo, it's appropriate for someone like me to enjoy a band like the Travoltas. But that doesn't explain why this sea of humanity mere feet away from me is comprised of mostly 20-somethings. At least 50% of the Travoltas fanbase are too young to know disco firsthand -- yet they're out there grooving away. Frankly, I don't get it.

Would I enjoy watching a 50's cover band play songs I didn't grow up with? Ick, no. So why would people younger than me enjoy disco? It's a mystery. Sure, tunes like "YMCA" and "Brickhouse" are inescapable -- if you've been to a wedding in the past decade, you've danced to 'em. But what are 20-somethings doing singing along to deeper catalog disco like "Car Wash" or "Hot Stuff"? Is there some weird disco conspiracy afoot to keep these songs alive to future generations? I have issues with all this.

Well, I guess I just have one issue: I'm getting OLD, and that sucks. The other day I was channel hopping on my car radio and it landed on KUUL-FM. "Yuck," my brain thought. No offense to the station, but I can't stomach Bill Haley and Elvis and all that ilk. Yet suddenly I was gobsmacked. Instead of hearing some Bobby Darin or whatever, I was instead greeted with Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny.)"

I went comatose with shock, even more so than the other week when my friend Jason said, "Wow, Shane, in the daylight, you can really see your grey hairs." It's official -- MY music has become "oldies." I remember going to Musicland and buying the 45 of "867-5309" when it came out. KUUL-FM has moved from 50's and 60's to 70's and even some 80's.

I guess I just naively expected oldies to stay the same forever, but that's just silly. As radio listeners change generations, stations change their playlists. In other words, 50's music fans, it was nice knowin' ya.

When I was in high school, I remember listening to The Beatles and, though I loved them and still do, I couldn't help thinking how old and dated music from 15 years ago sounded. Well, here's an ugly newsflash: the music I was listening to in college is now 15 years old, and I shudder to think what today's kids would make of it.

I have visions of a small child coming up to me and going, "Jeez, Dad, you listened to Nirvana? You're SO lame." And this is why I'll never reproduce. And why I'll never listen to KUUL-FM in 20 years when they introduce a "golden oldie from Marilyn Manson!" Of course, by then, pop music will be nothing but sounds of power drills over computerized voices screaming obscenities.

Ain't evolution grand? Now if you'll excuse me, I've some disco dancing to attend to.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

COLUMN: Car Window

In the hard-living, acidic, thankless world of semi-professional humor writing, sometimes the only things that keep us going are the fans.

Take this week for instance. Column ideas have been few and far between lately, and I was fully prepped for an ill-advised hardcore night of Starbucks Doubleshots and sensory deprivation -- anything in order to muster my way through this ugly writer's block and fill my Notepad screen with something passable.

I was dangerously close to having no column topic this week. That all changed thanks to one of my fans. Yes, a good samaritan stepped up to bat and figured out the perfect way to break my writer's block:

Throw a huge chunk of concrete through the back window of my car.

Now, why didn't I think of that? Suddenly I've got a perfect column! And it's all thanks to one thoughtful mysterious stranger who hurled a piece of pavement and turned it into comedy gold! GEE, IF ONLY I COULD FIGURE OUT WHO PERFORMED THIS GOOD DEED SO THAT I MIGHT THANK THEM IN PERSON. Or perhaps simply thank their car. With a lead pipe I like to call my "thanking stick."

I approached my car from the front, so I didn't see the seismic hole in the back window until I sat down in the driver's seat and slammed the driver's door shut. That was the moment when the entire back window exploded and rained glass all over my car. Somewhere Connor MacLeod was saying, "There can BE only one" -- it was definitely my own personal end-of-"Highlander" moment.

Interestingly, my first reaction was to presume that someone was shooting at me. Why this was my first thought will probably be one of those unanswered questions that'll finally rear its ugly head when I give up and start seeing a shrink. All I know is that I probably looked really silly when I (a) slammed my door and my window exploded, and (b) responded to it by quickly DUCKING and cowering in fear.

Happily, once I managed enough courage to get out of the car, I found the weapon du jour in my back seat: a hunk of concrete from a pothole in the parking lot. Obviously, some random yahoo decided that it would be a great deal of fun to chuck it at random car windows -- and apparantly I won the victim lottery.

My first phone call was to the police, and to their credit, one of Rock Island's finest was there within minutes. The officer took one look at where the concrete landed and then looked at the impact point on what was left of my window and was able to estimate the position of the evil-doer and the trajectory of the rock.

All of which is kinda neat-o, but frankly, I wanted justice. I wanted CSI: Rock Island to come dust for prints. I wanted the rock bagged up and taken in for evidence. Instead, the officer asked me, "So, do you have any enemies?"

ENEMIES? ME? Wow, that would be cool. I've always wanted an arch-nemesis. It sure would liven up those boring nights at home, having to ward off evil at every turn. That MUST be better than my nightly reruns of "Frasier," right? Alas, I could come up with no suspects.

I took some grief over those global warming columns I wrote a few weeks ago, but vandalism isn't usually the environmentalist style. I ripped on those Isabel Bloom statues a while ago, but those people don't throw concrete; they turn it into ART. That's when it hit me. Maybe it was perpetrated by the one person who's been the victim of ridicule in my column for years. The one person with enough money and manpower to pull off such an elaborate crime. My true arch-nemesis:

TOM CRUISE. Think about it - my column reaches over 100,000 households every week. Odds are good that one of you is a Scientologist. You tipped off Tom. He's had little to do now that his movies flopped and Paramount canned him, so he hatched a nefarious, complex plot to spare no expenses to, well, put a rock through my window.

But the cops weren't buying it. Instead, they gave me a report number and told me to call my insurance company. Owning a Volkswagen, I was terrified that my replacement window would need to be hand-blown by a guy named Jorg in a war-torn bunker in Dusseldorf, but surprisingly, the fine folks at Moline Glass had one in stock, and my car was good as new within hours.

So -- well played, Cruise. You committed the dirty deed and escaped scott free. You win this fight... but the battle wages on. I have now installed a new security system in my car that -- upon shattering a window -- yells, honks, flashes, and shoots poison darts in a 360 degree radius. At least pretend that it does, 'cause that was a pretty lame thing to do, even if it DID give me something to write about this week.