“Alexa, Fart.”

The Gambler passed away today and a tiny spark lit up the cobwebs of my memory hole. Around a decade or so ago (holy shit has it been that long?)… my Grandpa was wandering around in a listless fog warbling “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucilllllle” over and over again in his empty house. My Grandma had died a few days earlier, and my Grandpa was to follow her to eternity a few months later. As I rummaged through their smelly basement I unearthed Kenny Rogers’ “TEN YEARS OF SOLID GOLD” on vinyl, along with an album of JFK’s speeches, a whole mess of Bing Crosby and some Polka. I listened to “Lucille” today. It takes roughly 47 minutes to get to the chorus ’cause Kenny got so much storytellin’ to get off his chest.


As a youth I listened to a lot of crap. Other than a few Beatles albums, my parents record collection was filled with hilariously bad ’70s folk and soft pop country beauties. Thanks to the wonders of Spotify, I’ve recently rediscovered my favorite song from when I was 8. A goofball country cover called “Elvira” which has a chorus made up of nonsense words like “Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow.” For 36 years I thought that number was sung by the band Alabama. Turns out it was by something called “The Oak Ridge Boys”. Whatever. Same diff.

My father has continuously bludgeoned me with Gordon Lightfoot albums for 40 odd years. To this day it’s all he plays in his car and at his house. For his 65th birthday a few years back he took us to see the old bastard at the State Theater. The only time in the last decade where all 4 of his male children were in the same room with him due to various feuds and various distances. I got so plastered that I couldn’t remember which ramp my car was parked in and wandered around downtown Minneapolis in the pouring rain for an hour, completely lost. I thought it was humorous to purchase my father a giant glass of scotch for $26 at the venue and try to make him finish it. Lightfoot’s voice sounded like barbed wire hell, but the tone of his acoustic guitar was like a warm nostalgia bath.

Quarantine sucks eggs. Lucky for me, my work did not start making us work from home until Friday. Which meant my wife had to try to chase two kids around and get her work done remotely for a good part of each day. I got a taste of this on my first day working from home yesterday. To say it was mildly annoying would be the understatement of the century. My head nearly exploded as my kids screamed song requests into the Alexa and jumped off the furniture while I attempted to write my yearly performance review. I don’t know how my wife did this for 4 straight days or what in Hades is going to happen in the coming weeks. God bless every teacher in America, you deserve a million dollar raise.

The Earth is currently a simmering cauldron of denial, fear, paranoia and we’ve decided to horde all the 2% milk. Yet my biggest gripe is getting The Lumineers’ “O-O-phelia” belted into my ear tunnels by children. Clearly we are all spoiled rotten brats. An extremely aggravated Mother Nature has decided to hulk-smash the phantom construct in which we toil.

During my first work from home day I “allowed” my wife to leave for a few hours and run around and do some hoarding herself. She reported in about the various weirdness, ATM lines and missing bread. She also said something that really struck a chord with me. There was a line around the block at the liquor store. Now that I have been sober for awhile, I don’t think about this stuff much. I usually just shrug my shoulders, maybe chuckle a bit, and say “that’s not for me”…but I can’t help thinking about what I would have done had the Coronavirus hit 2-3 years ago. I’d have probably been in that line, grumpy as fuck, trying to get the right flavored IPA that I needed. I’d probably be obsessing with OCD levels of absurdity:

“OK, I need this one for when I am done working from home, I need this one for when I grill, I need this one for the season premiere of Westworld, I need this for when I re-watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the 8th time….no screw that…no beer…I’ll make Rick Dalton whiskey sours for that.”

It really says something about the human condition that when the apocalypse is upon us, all we care about is booze and toilet paper. Really? Not me. Something about that just repulses me. Of course if I go much longer without my Key Lime LaCroix water, I may cut a motherfucker. 

When I was 8 I dove deep into my parents music collection. Sure the music was corny, but there was something genuine about the storytelling that made it interesting to me. I loved Kenny Rogers “Coward of the County.” It was a crazy wild story and even more engrossing than the little Star Wars storybook I listened along to with a 45. It felt so grown up, it made me feel like I was in on the meaning of life. But by the time I was 9, I was already rebelling against my parents. “I want to listen to MY MUSIC, not this old man stuff!” …my parents allowed me to buy a cassette of Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” and wander around our gravel driveway with one of those one speaker cassette players cranked to tinny ear splitting (all treble) levels.

It always feels so trashy and stupid when a celebrity dies. All the social media tributes swirl aimlessly for days. Sweet tributes to the has-beens we haven’t given two shits about for decades. The problem with the cynicism towards these posts, is that music and art tend to burrow themselves deep into your core. Deeper than you can even imagine. It’s the first thing people turn to in times of tragedy. Who doesn’t know someone that has “divorce songs” or that song they played over and over after their Dad died? Who doesn’t remember exactly what song was playing when they danced their first dance at their wedding? Who doesn’t laugh about songs their kids made them play in the car on repeat on the way to school (burn in hell KIDZ BOP!)…

At some point every human needs to be uplifted, I don’t care who you are or what you believe in. That’s why there will be some album that comes out in the near future that will be known as “the coronavirus album” – something akin to Springsteen’s “The Rising” following September 11th. Some people will laugh at this album’s unbearable cheese…but they will always think of this time in history when they hear it. It’s astonishing to think about what sparks the magic of your memory. It doesn’t have to be cool, it doesn’t have to have any relevance to anything, it doesn’t have to have any merit whatsoever. It just is.

So send out your sympathies to Prince, Chris Cornell, Kobe Bryant or Tiny Tim if you need to make yourself feel better. Who am I to judge?  An awful Kenny Rogers song brings me to tears and I can still live with myself.

I wonder what will spark nostalgia from 2020 when my kids are my age?  I hope it’s not paranoia or Donald Trump or lack of Pasta. Fuck Pasta. Who needs that much Pasta?

Maybe they will have nostalgia for all the times they asked Alexa to fart. I know my greatest memory of “The Quarantine” so far is seeing my son laugh when Alexa played Jingle Bells using nothing but farts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being laugh as hard as that. Pure joy can come in any form. Remember that when you are hoarding Bud Light Lime, and I’ll remember it when I am wiping my ass with lyric sheets from 70’s country records.


My Funeral Suit.

I’m going to write about death now.

Did you know the 1996 hit song “How Bizarre” has an accordion in it? At least I think it does. I’m positive I heard it in there on my way to buy Bubly water instead of beer. I am about to embark on the annual family vacation to Duluth, MN. My first completely dry excursion there. No breweries, no can beer out of a cooler after a long hike, no flights of beer at Grandma’s Saloon while the kids down Mac & Cheese. Bone. Dry. Sober as a judge.

I am positive that was a damn accordion. But who really listens to the song “How Bizarre”? It’s pretty much designed to be unobtrusive, moderately funky elevator music. However, if you think about it long and hard for some odd reason, like I was about to do…”How Bizarre” is a brilliantly crafted piece of bubblegum pop trash. The annoying vocal inflection of OMC’s lead singer is just slightly off kilter…not too much…but just enough to make you listen about 10% closer. It’s odd without being too weird. The disgustingly catchy hook and idiotic storytelling are just icing on the cake and somehow keep you from nodding off completely. If this song was a smile it would be a wry smirk from on overconfident nerd you think you recognize, but cannot place. Fuck it. I gotta google if this has an accordion in it. This is very important to me at this moment. I don’t know why. I need the answer. I find none. I do find out that the lead singer’s name was Pauly (that’s perfect) and that he died in 2010, just eight days before his 41st birthday. How bizarre.

I received an alarming phone call from my father while I was vacationing in Duluth. His tone of voice took on an inflection that I have never heard it take before. I didn’t just listen to him 10% closer, I listened 600% closer. This was something new. This was something really, really bad. Now five days later I am driving south for Winona, MN. My funeral suit hangs frumpily in the back seat of my 2012 Jeep Liberty. It had just been worn a few weeks earlier. It hadn’t even been dry cleaned.

My funeral suit is a dull, unobtrusive grey number that I wear with a simple black dress shirt. No tie. Fuck ties. When you are a boring dad in your 40s you are allowed to become Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice if you like. Nobody gives a fuck. You might as well be invisible. This is my “groutfit”… there are many like it, but this one is mine.

This is the 3rd time I have worn the groutfit in the last year and a half. The first of these 3 times inspired my very first post on this here sober blog. When I was in the foggy mist of the first 30 days sober, the big D word seemed like an important monumental thing to write about. After that, I felt like I had written all I had to say on the subject. I felt like I had sufficiently depressed myself, and now it was ok to soberly move on. Clearly though, when an 88-year-old grandma dies…no matter how poetic you make the details sound…this is the “quaint” version of death. I know this now.

I also know that there will be much darker times ahead. Even more terrible then the other 2 times I wore my groutfit this year. Like when someone extremely close to me dies. I know that just around the corner lies the kind of uncompromising sadness that makes you question your very existence, and I know it’s coming for us all. I also know that Bob Dylan said: “death is not the end” and that it may or may not be true. This is okay though, as long as the living are still there to comfort you.

I bought my first funeral suit in 2009 when my Grandpa Lowell died. Actually, it was the first suit I ever bought that had 2 matching pieces. I was 33 years old. My brother was with me and he got one too. A guy at Men’s Warehouse in Maple Grove, MN sold them to us. This guy must have really had a good laugh when we walked out. My first funeral suit was navy blue with white pinstripes. He set me up with a yellow shirt and a yellow paisley tie as well. Quintessential mourning wear.

My brother had the good sense to go with an all-black with white pinstripe ensemble. It looked like a Harlem zoot suit designed by Johnny Cash. When we got to the church to meet our younger brothers, both of them looked like they had robbed Goodwill of mismatched suits 3 sizes too big for them, then paired it with whatever black accessory they could find at Ragstock. My littlest brother still looks cooler than me in the picture though. There are two reasons for this… the first being that he actually IS cooler than me (he played in a band silly), and two he found a skinny tie that looked like Mr. Pink’s in the movie Reservoir Dogs. I looked like freakin’ Nic Cage in The Family Man when his wife buys him the green Armani suit that is on clearance because it’s 10 years old.

As I drive out of the Twin Cities with my funeral suit, I listen to Spotify. I have found what I think is the unofficial soundtrack lineup for Joaquin Phoenix’s upcoming movie ‘Joker‘…lots of depressing heavy music on there. Good. Do your worst. The song “Sweetness Follows” by REM comes on and I drift into hazy highway daydream driving. “Sweetness Follows” is the most epic funeral song ever written. When I drove back and forth from the Twin Cities to Rochester, MN as my Grandpa Joe was dying I played REM’s Automatic for the People repeatedly (yeah the one with ‘Everybody Hurts’…eh…I was a rookie whadya gonna do?). I never cried once in the 3 times I drove down there (my Grandpa Joe practically raised me when my parents got divorced). However, the floodgates finally opened the last time I drove back home. He died that very evening. I wasn’t there. I felt something snap on that ride back. I just knew it was over.

“Sweetness Follows” is one of the most depressing and also one of the most surprisingly uplifting songs I have ever heard in my life. Randomly hearing it at this exact moment in time is like a warm fuzzy blanket. I am deep in thought. I miss my exit. When I come to my senses, Bowie’s “Life on Mars” is playing. Where the hell am I?  Hastings, MN? During the last 4 minutes and 22 seconds, I could have been beamed up and prodded by alien life forms or the puppeteer of ALF for that matter. I could have kept driving down the same road for 18 more hours if that song had kept looping. I could have been crushed by an oncoming vehicle like Elliot, my 16-year-old cousin. He too was listening to Spotify.

I had originally wanted to write a blog post about a man named Aaron Klein. Aaron was a fantastic human. He had an earnestness for life that I’ve never seen in anyone else before or since. He was so earnest it actually became downright annoying at times. Aaron worked with me at the network as a director and producer for 14 years, including the last few years in which I was his manager. I still remember the exact moment he told me he had some weird back pain. I told him to go to a chiropractor. A year later I was surprising him with a cake for his “retirement” to stay home with his kids. A year after that I was hugging him and telling him I loved him as he lay on his death bed. 36 years old, with a wife and 3 young children. It was hard to put on the funeral suit a week later. The hardest.

That tragedy coming full circle completely gut-punched us for the last month at work. I just couldn’t write about it. Didn’t have it in me. It was hands down the most devastating thing I had witnessed in 43 years on this planet. Until I got that call in Duluth from my dad. My uncle’s youngest son…my 88-year-old grandmother’s youngest grandchild…one of the two teenagers who pall-beared her casket with me on that frigid North Dakota morning in 2018…was now suddenly and shockingly erased from this earth. That was literally the last time I saw him too. When 4 of us (we didn’t have enough people for the usual 6 man crew) hilariously near-fumbled a casket down a flight of stairs in Carrington, ND (see blog post: “Formaldehyde”). Unbelievable. He’s gone? Just like that? What the fuck???

I am at Elliot’s service. I go through the receiving line (a line which would snake forever I’m told and last more than 2 hours). I am barely able to form words when I see my uncle, his oldest son Ian, and Elliot’s mother. I sit mouth agape for the entire service. Probably looking something like the hordes of teenagers that file through the funeral home, jaws on the floor at the sight of all those flowers and the thought of the supreme finality of death.

I can’t cry. Even though I sit directly behind the bereaved and feel a pit in my stomach the size of a beach ball everytime they start crying. I just can’t possibly comprehend the loss they are feeling, it’s unattainable to my mind’s eye. There are words read from my uncle’s hand about “not enough time” and a speech from the poor vacationer who drove the other vehicle. Beautiful words and profound closure of what happened at the accident scene. It is a vortex of pain. It is a wake-up call that is burned like a brand into everyone who walked through the door that day. Death is not the eternal sleep. Life is the slumber and death is the vicious alarm for which there is no snooze button.

I leave immediately after the ceremony. I feel an unstoppable need to drive two and a half hours home through darkness and the world’s biggest river bugs splattering my windshield in order to hug my kids before they go to bed. Like Nic Cage in Brett Ratner’s cheesy 2000 movie The Family Man, this is my “glimpse”. This is the good Lord sitting me down for some cocoa and saying “you think you have it bad because the network laid off 20% of it’s staff 2 months ago….well…get a load of this raw shit you groutfit-wearing fuckhead.”

I better get busy living I guess…life begins at 43?

I read a David Lynch quote recently which bluntly and succinctly sums up the last month for me:

“I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense of it.”

We are all one-hit wonders. We all have hidden accordions in us. We grab onto every distraction we can to remind ourselves that we aren’t animals that decay or die suddenly. Every person on this earth is a one-hit-wonder named Pauly or Sugar Ray or Tommy Tutone trying to milk a decades-long career from one flash-in-the-pan melody. In the end, we all end up playing State Fairs and go to a potluck in a church basement after a funeral. I no longer fear this. It is inevitable.

When I get back home my kids are already asleep, all worn out from their 2nd day of the new school year. I find a card in my pocket. Elliot’s family has given out memory cards to everyone at the service. You’re supposed to write down a memory of him and keep it with you always. I couldn’t think of anything to write at first, but then I remember the North Dakota trip and jot down “4 Man Crew.”  I take a picture of it, text it to my uncle, fold it up gingerly and stick it in my wallet.

Another thought floats through my head, fleeting but relevant…something from the service about remembering Elliot’s family on what would have been his 17th birthday on Oct. 1st. I briefly consider putting a note in my phone to remember to call my uncle that day. How the fuck am I not going to forget to do this? Wait…Oct 1st? I check the funeral home leaflet with Elliot’s obituary on it. Then I remember something…

On October 1st I will be exactly 1 year sober.

How Bizarre.


The Hunger

“I hate myself and I want to die.”

That’s what I woke up to every day in the winter of 1994-95. A massive poster of Kurt Cobain with one of his favorite quotes adorning the lower third of it. It hung on the wall in which my dormitory bed was pushed up against. So every morning for a period of weeks and months, that’s what I saw. It so irritated a girlfriend I had at the time that she made a point to scold me about it. She never scolded me about anything, in fact, I never even thought she liked me that much until I broke up with her that Spring. I found that the poster suited my black sense of humor and my obsessive love of the band Nirvana. She thought it was a dumb cop-out and quite possibly the least inspiring mantra that had ever existed. She was right. This was probably why we spent most of our time in her room.

I had my first craving for booze this weekend. I shouldn’t say booze, I’ve mostly drunk beer the past few years. I hadn’t really wanted a beer since the first few weeks of “Sober October”…it’s Thanksgiving weekend now. I don’t think it was the actual taste that I coveted, but more the camaraderie it brings this time of year. The tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram pics make Thanksgiving weekend seem like this magical paradise where you float back into your hometown the night before and whimsically reminisce with old friends at a tavern. The next day you coyly sip beers during football with your relatives, slosh down a couple glasses of wine with the meal, then top the night off with a return to the tavern for about 4 hours of “nightcaps”.  If that weren’t enough, after reversing your path from grandma’s house back through the woods and over the river you still have 2 more nights (or 2 nights and 1 day if you’re feeling frisky on Sunday) to fade into oblivion before starting the yearly December ritual of happy hours and holiday parties. What a cliche. Just writing that down seems gross to me, but it’s what we all live with…year…after year…after year…after year. Resistance is futile.

I watched a movie last night called The Hunger. It’s Tony Scott’s first movie. You know, Ridley Scott’s brother. One day in 2012, Tony hated himself and wanted to die enough to jump off a bridge in the San Pedro port of Los Angeles. In this 1983 film, however, he seems inspired. More inspired than when he did Days of Thunder anyway. Creative juices and heady doom themes puddling up all over the place. This got me thinking…what if old Tony Scott never met Jerry Bruckheimer and that incorrigible coke head Don Simpson?

A couple of years after The Hunger bombed, Tony was enticed to make a movie called Top Gun and spent the rest of his life making entertaining popcorn films with sassy dialogue and macho, yet sensitive leads. He never made anything remotely like The Hunger again…which is about lesbian vampires and features a sequence in which David Bowie ages 75 years in two days. What if Scott just wanted to keep making weird shit like that? I would argue the world of film would be much better off (considering Scott’s talent and world-building acumen). What if Scott DID make Top Gun and then used his newfound cache & money to start making crazed monuments to cinematic visual excess like Stanley Kubrick? Instead, Tony went and made Beverly Hills Cop II.

How often in our lives do we just “fall into” stuff and just stay there in that prefabricated rut? Maybe that rut is lucrative, maybe it’s easy, or maybe we just “fall into” something and become really, really good at it like Tony Scott did. How many times have you pushed yourself in another direction? The exact opposite direction of the way you’re used to going? I can only count a scant handful of times in my life that I’ve done this.

It is the winter of 1994-95 and I decide to skip the horrible cafeteria dorm dinner and get a start on drinking. I am sure I’ll end up at a keg party somewhere anyway. I am 19 and I have acquired a nasty habit of “pre-partying” before any type of social event I go to. In my mind, I am being prudent…have a few now and then I won’t have to worry about long beer lines or god forbid sobering up once the booze runs dry.

There is a 3/4 full bottle of Root 100 in the room – this is 100 proof Root Beer Schnapps. I don’t know where it came from…maybe it’s my roommate’s, maybe someone left it there last night? I decide to drink it even though I have a mini-fridge full of Busch beer, which I also have no idea how I got as I am nowhere near 21 and have no fake ID. The album I am playing will burn itself into my memory for the rest of my life. In fact, I was unable to bring myself to listen to it again for over a decade after this night. Unbelievably it wasn’t anything by Nirvana, it was Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.

I don’t remember how fast I drank the Root 100, but the ensuing blackout was as fierce and ferocious as any I’ve experienced before or since. I was in and out of coherence during Dancing Days and by No Quarter I was in a full-on “dogs of doom” spiral.

Close the door, put out the light. No, they won’t be home tonight. The snow falls hard and don’t you know? The winds of Thor are blowing cold.”

What a spectacularly awful song. I’m glad I didn’t listen to it again for 10 years.

I black out again and come to for a few minutes. The dorm room is now pitch black and tomb-like quiet while I vomit profusely. Then I am out again. Way out. So out… that I go on a little journey while I sleep and wake up in a strange white room. This room seems to be a hybrid hospital room/prison cell. I have to pee worse than I ever have in my life, and there is no toilet. I gingerly move towards the door, still groggy and unsure if this is a dream or reality. The heavy steel door is locked tight and there is only one tiny rectangular-shaped window.

I am officially freaked out now. I scream bloody murder about my urinary woes until someone comes in and tells me I cannot leave. I am strapped down to a hospital bed by two faceless snarling humans, like something out of a David Lynch movie. They give me a bedpan and I furiously try to get my fly down and pee into a blue plastic kidney bean. “You fucking idiots! How am I supposed to piss in this with my arms strapped down!”, I hiss. I manage to sort of make it work for a few seconds before drunkenly peeing all over myself. “Fuck You!” I yell. Then I flick the half-full kidney bean as hard as a shackled loon can do with drunken, limp wrists. I hear the piss splash on the gleaming white tiled floor. A short time later an elderly janitor comes in with a mop to clean it up. I laugh in his face. He just shakes his head at me, like he’s seen this a million times before and is completely bored with it. In hindsight, this is the absolute nadir of my life.

After what seems like an entire day in solitary confinement (but is probably only a few hours), I talk my way out of the room. I tell them I am sober now and need to get back to the dorm. However, the person at the front desk puts me right back in the room and says “I’ll show you how sober you are.” She gives me a breathalyzer and it reads .15.  “Do you know what time it is?” I have no idea. “It’s 7:30am”, she says in a motherly, yet stern tone. They make me sit for another half hour or so, but I am such a pain in the ass they finally call me a cab. I have no money. They force me to take the cab anyway and won’t let me walk.

Later, after my yellow limo arrives at the dorm, I can’t get into the building. I have no recollection where my keys are. So I sneak in when someone else goes in and make it as far as the 2nd-floor room of an acquaintance. I watch to see how long the cabbie waits until he realizes I am not going up to get money from my room. He squeals out angrily and I laugh like a hyena. Serves them right for not letting me walk home. My parents were never notified of any of this happening by the way, until a $500 ambulance bill appeared in my name at my dad’s house. He didn’t pay it.

Last week I watched Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born in a nearby theater. That morning I saw a video for some unearthed Chris Cornell song starring his son. The son is riding a bike around Cornell’s neighborhood doing Cornell’s old paper route. After the movie ends, all I can think about is what Vicky Cornell would think of that ending. She still thinks the drugs killed her husband though… so then I think about the pivotal scene in which Cooper’s doomed cowboy Jackson Maine pisses himself in a very public and shameful way. I think about the time I pissed all over myself in the Hennipen County Medical Center in the mid-90s. It’s the first time I’ve thought about that moment in years, perhaps even a decade or more. I was once at that level. I hated myself and wanted to die… but only because Kurt Cobain said it was okay.

One of the scant handful of times I truly pushed myself in the opposite direction of what felt natural was the Spring of 1995. I started actually going to class, toning down the booze, met a new girl, and completely untethered myself from a whole section of friends I had. This was one of the greatest 3-month spans in my life.  I think I got 3 As and a B that quarter. I only drank light beer instead of hard alcohol. I started playing basketball again, even going as far as playing in some pick-up games with the 300 pound U of M football behemoths on the outdoor dorm courts (they were all much faster than me btw).

When I moved back home and the girl went back to Wisconsin… all hell broke loose. She simply stopped talking to me after school got out. That was it. Never gave a reason and I never talked to her again. I was devastated and returned to drinking harder than ever…even dabbling in hard drugs for the first and only time in my life. By the time the fall rolled around I went right back to the party boy lifestyle I had left behind that spring. Hell, it felt like THAT lifestyle was “slowing down” since I raged so hard the entire summer. There’s a quote that says “Only dead fish go with the flow”…that was me. I met my wife a few years later and the natural progression of marriage, children, and father time kept the dogs of doom at bay.

As I sat in that theater next to my wife watching Brad Cooper’s depress-o-rama, something reignited in me. An old fatalist sensation. I think I actually enjoyed self-sabotage at one point in my life. I never once felt like I wanted to off myself in any way other than swimming in a volcano-sized pool of the finest craft lager, but there is certainly an over-arching fatalism amongst my age group. Perhaps it was a rite of passage, or perhaps it’s the remnants of growing up during the 80s under a mushroom cloud of Russian nuclear war threats and 80s “War on Drugs” excess. I don’t know what it is, but it still persists. And now there is a new crushing burden of raising children in the era of school shootings, Trump, and Khashoggi. For some of my ilk, the path seems pre-ordained. Suicide is at an all-time high, all of the heroes we grew up with have killed themselves in some way. It started with Cobain…then Michael Hutchence from INXS…then Staley (that was a suicide, I don’t care what the coroner report says)…Elliot Smith…Cornell…Chester Bennington…the guy from Emerson, Lake & Palmer… And there are others…Bourdain, Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen, Robin Williams, David Foster Wallace, professional wrestlers, professional football players. Google it. The list is enormous. The druggie list is even worse…Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, Scott Weiland, Heath Ledger, Chris Farley. My point is…the reason A Star is Born is so popular and resonates with so many is not the music or “star-making” in the age of social media…it’s the fatalism of Generation X. Hollywood taps into the zeitgeist and out comes a schlocky version of our inner id.

I heard that Bradley Cooper followed Eddie Vedder around for a week in preparation for his role as Jackson Maine. Perhaps instead of going the way of Cobain & Cornell, his character should have been more like Vedder. What’s it like to see all your friends and contemporaries die all around you? What’s it like to be “washed up” and just be okay with it? What’s it like to be Mick Jagger corpse-dancing with Keith Richards’ skeleton on stage as a septuagenarian? What’s it like to churn out albums on Spotify that nobody listens to? What’s it like to be a 57-year-old female actress that nobody wants to hire anymore because she’s past her prime? What’s it like to be Fred Durst pivoting to movie directing because his music is so rancid and outdated nobody wants to touch it with a 10-foot pole? What’s it like to play the State Fair circuit? What’s it like to drop from 15,000 seat venues to 500 seat venues and be okay with it? What’s that like? Nobody wants that story though. They want noble seppuku.

You know what the best part of Tony Scott’s The Hunger is? Seeing David Bowie act. The man lights up every frame he is in with uber coolness, even though he is under 6 lbs of old man make-up half the time. Remember how good he was in The Man Who Fell to Earth? Remember how electric he was (pardon the pun) as Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige? You probably don’t. That’s too bad. Just like Tony Scott’s lesbian vampire film, this kind of craft deserves to be honored. Imagine if Bowie just said eff it and went into acting for the last 20 years of his life? His best musical stuff happened in the 70s. What would we have missed? The hideous “Dancing in the Streets” video he did with Jagger? The swan song doom of his last album? By the way, his acting in those final music videos outdoes anything he put on wax. Bowie was an enigma, a once in a lifetime Haley’s comet. There was no harnessing him, he did what he wanted on his own terms. We should all be so lucky.

What’s the best thing about life? There are a thousand answers and a thousand doors which lead to more doors and more answers. But the one thing that remains constant is our ability to simply stop, change course and swim in another direction. If you get conked on the head with a coconut and float back to where you were, it doesn’t mean you are destined to stay there.

Keep. f*cking. going.


Demon Sweat

It’s last Saturday at approximately 7:54pm. I am standing on the floor of the Palace Theater in St. Paul, MN. I am leaning against a sort of drink rail structure next to the ramp that goes down to the stage. My friend C.S. points out what appears to be a middle-aged man with gray hair and a ballcap hurling his guts out on the concrete wall 5 feet away from us. Judging by the fact that the woman next to us is holding her shirt over her nose for the next 10 minutes, I’m guessing the guy had more than just a 3 martini lunch. I am at a Ween show drinking Coca-Cola. C.S. is slowly slurping Surly beer. This is what middle-aged white guys do at concerts in Minnesota. They slowly slurp the Surly beer.

All rules of engagement for rock concerts are suspended at Ween shows. There are “that guys” everywhere wearing the tee-shirt of the band they are seeing. Nearly all of these shirts look like they were purchased at a Mushroom Festival in Hell sometime around 2004. Standing directly to my right is a man who is wearing what looks like a hard plastic archer’s quiver. It is harnessed to the back of his person like a hiker’s knapsack. This sacred scroll holder is most likely protecting an ultra limited edition poster he bought at the merch table. Probably the one with the cartoon rabbits. You know… one of those tour posters that you want to frame, but your wife threatens to Bobbitt you if you hang it anywhere but the garage? Yeah, that’s this guy. I would have to be 8 Surlys deep and possibly on mushrooms to wear that thing in public.

In order to pass the time until the band hits the stage (this is one of those “Evening with” shows where there is nothing to do but stand around, get bombed and people-watch until showtime), we make purposefully bad dad jokes under our breath about Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings at this man’s expense. C.S. names the poor bastard “Legolas, Prince of Prints”…and we yell it to each other in haughty Renaissance festival voices whenever we see the man for the rest of the night. Ween takes the stage at exactly 8:07pm and proceeds to melt people’s faces for 2 hours.

At 8:08pm sharp, a massive surge of bearded males and B.O. surrounds our prime spot near the railing. C.S. makes it exactly 3.5 songs before wanting out. C.S. is notorious for his Larry David-level fear of brushing up against strangers, and for having mind-crushing claustrophobia. I must admit as much as I love this particular view of the band, I too am a bit annoyed with current circumstances. My butt is not only nearly tipping over a garbage can, but I think it’s actually partially pushed in it now. I’m too old for this shit Riggs. Plus the two cokes I have pummelled have me needing to pee, so I relent and head up the flight of stairs to the bar area to collect myself and find the latrine.

A quick aside here…it is mind blowing how fucking dumb intoxicated concert-going males are. They wait until the last possible second to enter the venue, then all pile on top of each other like they are in a clown car. This train wreck inevitably happens at the first entrance to the venue’s floor that they see.  Nevermind that there is another, perfectly good entrance fifty feet to their right. They also do this with the bar. 40 people line up on the corner of the bar closest to the theater entrance and set up shop for days as bartenders on the far side wave frantically for them to come down to the other side of the bar. But I shouldn’t rip the Ween dudes. They are the most cordial, easy-going fans you will meet. These are gentle Viking giants. Noble and honorable men.

The other side of the venue (where the beardo pile-up isn’t happening) is filled with couples and drunk chicks who came with their friends. It turns out the females are the aggressors in this little tribe. This is interesting and hilarious to me because it’s something I never would have noticed had I been shitfaced at this concert like I normally get. I saw not one issue with dudes being assholes or fighting in the pit…but the women are running up and down the venue ramp handing out forearm shivers to everything in their path. I’m not paying attention for a second and one nearly knocks me completely over. She is 5 foot 2. The guy behind her laughs and I give him a goofy, knowing smirk.

I’m also getting a ton of butt bumps (not the good kind) and elbows to the midsection from these determined little Ween warrior goddesses. They are all stupendously drunk, holding hands with their girlfriends, and some are even wearing fairy wings. I suppose if I had to navigate a forest of 6 foot 4 bearded Viking giants as a small female, I imagine I’d probably be hosing people down with Mace by now. Who am I to judge? I can’t see over these fuckers either and I’m nearly 6 feet tall. I see my opening and start following some of these miniature ass kickers down the ramp. I sidle and inch my way back up towards the stage. I am sans C.S., who is standing behind the bar next to an oversized AC vent airing out his sweat ass. Papa Gener is destroying the solo to “I Don’t Want it” and I have a brief, crystal clear sightline between two oafs that look like 1970s-era Bill Walton.

It is 1995. I am in St. Paul at a place called Roy Wilkins Auditorium. This is the first time I ever see anyone try to crowd surf. These jolly fools are attempting to crowd surf to the Goo Goo Dolls. Nope, not making that up. One of these doofuses is my friend Pat, his blonde hair looks like a curly Cobain wig. The 17-year-olds get him almost 3/4 of the way up only to ceremoniously dump him sideways. He lands on his feet and smiles that toothy Pat smile.

Hold on…did I forget to mention my first ever concert in the Twin Cities was Gavin Rossdale’s Bush? I am not one of those cool kids who came in from the suburbs every weekend and saw all the best 90s bands before they were famous at 7th Street Entry. Oh hell no. I get to tell people my motherfucking first concert was BUSH, the Monkees of grunge. To make matters worse, the Goo Goo Dolls were there. If not for Nickelback and Creed coming along a few years later to save their asses, they would most certainly be known as the worst band of the 20th century. To compound my misery with this virgin concert-going experience is the fact that the only notable thing about this shit sandwich is the fact that this is the infamous tour in which Gavin and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani met and fell madly in love (until years later when he fucked their nanny and she fucked Blake Shelton on the set of The Voice). That’s kind of cool nugget to tell people right? Wrong. No Doubt was a no-show for some reason, so I can’t even say that I got to see Gwen at the peak of her Gwenness, or even make up some excuse like “my girlfriend made me go.”

I am standing at the far side of the bar at the Palace. The drunks have figured out they can actually use all bartender stations at this humongous theater bar now. I am waiting in line for my 3rd Coca-Cola. I see a small refrigerator filled with Red Bull. “Maybe I should drink that instead?”, I think to myself. But then I will get real twitchy, my heart will start racing, I will crash and have to drink more Red Bull in roughly 17 minutes. Then I think…Jesus Christ I don’t want to go back on that fucking floor. C.S. was already trying to drunkenly barter our way to the upper deck with a rando we met the last time we went outside for a heater. What if I just had a couple Red Bull/Vodkas right now? Nobody would see or know. I need it to calm my nerves and tolerate all manner of bullshit in the sweaty mess below.

I imagine myself as Popeye ripping the top off one of the ice cold Red Bull cans, pounding half of it, then biting the cap off a Grey Goose bottle. I spit the cap off the barkeep’s face, then take all it’s goosey awfulness in my mouth, swishing it around and spitting it back into the Red Bull can. I then theatrically sniff the nose like a sommelier before shoving the whole mess down my gullet. The supernatural burst of energy and drunk strength blows gentle, yet forceful winds up my tooter… thus allowing me to storm all the way to the front of the Palace stage. I wave “hi” and give devil horns to Deaner as his solo during “Fluffy” goes off like a grenade in my face.

Yeah I could do that…that would be fun. However, I am now behind two men getting Bill Bratzke-sized Windsor cokes and it smells like Unpainted Huffhines and rubbing alcohol. Seriously that shit is the worst type of spirit known to man. My brother and I used to call it “Hairspray” and dare each other to take shots of it while watching Vikings games in our 20s. After gagging silently, I take my unleaded Cola and head back to the floor. This time I meander farther up the side wall towards the stage on a solo mission to get at least 10 good minutes of Ween trance.

It’s hot as fuck in the pit at the Monkees of Grunge show. Now I’m not saying this is Pantera in here by any means, but these skinny teenage peers of mine are attempting a pitiful Yacht club Slamdance up in this shit and I can’t breathe. When people start to pogo up and down during “Machinehead”, I do too…not because I am supercharged by the hard-driving rock…but because I can get a sweet gulp of unsweaty B.O.-free air. I am 19 and I hate being around people. I have violently oppressive social anxiety, and this is the most miserable situation I could possibly be in. Little did I know, that this issue would go undiagnosed for over 15 years and the only way I would know how to treat it on my own is to get blind drunk and bull my way through it.

I slither forward weaving through the joyful teenage American idiots until I find another cool pocket of air. I can’t push any farther because I am hitting something made of metal. Shit, I burrowed my way up to the rail! I slowly look up and standing directly above me is one Gavin Rossdale, Esq. I have never been this close to a “celebrity” in my life. Of course, he’s not really that famous yet, just a mop-haired British dude with 3-4 milquetoast grunge songs in heavy rotation on 93.7 “The Edge”.  I grew up in Winona, MN, there were no local bands or even a place to see concerts…unless you count the bandshell by Lake Winona where the Municipal Brass Band played.

Naturally, the first thing I want to know is if Gavin is fucked up. I inspect him closely, his eyes seem intense, but also slightly glazed over. I suspect he has had a few drinks. I look behind him and there are 4-5 Heineken bottles on the drum riser. I wish I could afford exotic beer like Heineken. Instead I will spend another 4 years drinking vile swill like “Milwaukee’s Best Ice”.

Gavin is singing a song called Glycerine. I know this one. I have recently attempted to pick up a guitar, and it’s four chords have been an easy way to try and woo girls with my friend Dallas (who is the only person I know with a “single” dorm room). I can only play 3.5 songs on guitar at this time in my life. Knocking on Heaven’s Door, About a Girl, the riff from Come as you Are, and this Glycerine business that has recently been tearing up “The Edge’s” airwaves.

Holy shit was I not cool in the 90s. Hilariously, I never even went to First Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis until I was like 28. Mostly due to poverty…but still, that’s pathetic. When I was in Winona I had no idea how to even go to concerts. I remember seeing a blurb in the Winona Daily News about Nirvana coming to the St. Paul Civic center on their 1993 In Utero tour. I wanted to go, BADLY. Yet I had not the foggiest inclination on how to make this happen. Later, I was to find out people waited in line at Dayton’s in a mall and had an operator place their order with something called Ticketmaster. When I moved to the cities I might as well have been a teenage Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, dunder-headedly roaming this new earth looking for beer, tunes, and shelter.

Gavin says he is going to cover a Prince song. What in the blue hairy fuck? Is Gavin going to sing “When Doves Cry”? Maybe a grungified “Purple Rain?” …no, he plays a song I’ve never heard of. I kind of like it though. Something about a cross. The Cross? Later this would become my favorite Prince song, which is funny because the first time I heard my favorite Prince song it was being sung by Gavin Rossdale the Nanny fucker.

“The Cross” is one of the only “religious” songs I can tolerate. The other is “I Believe in You” by Bob Dylan off one of his much-derided “born again” albums. These songs are earnest, yet somewhat dark. Lyrically heavy, yet simple in structure musically. Hell, “The Cross” is only 2 chords…this is probably why the Heineken-fueled Gavin is able to pander to the locals so effortlessly and off the cuff.

I’ve always felt like rock n’ roll concerts are one of the only true “communal” experiences humanity has left. You sing. You absolve yourselves of your daily sorrows. You go home. Since hardly anyone under the age of 75 goes to church anymore, concerts are one of the last vestiges of this ancient custom we have. And I am definitely not one of those douchebags that believes concerts are only good in tiny clubs either. The bigger the venue, the harder this type of communal transcendence is to pull off for the artist. I fucking love that bands need to tour and get in front of large groups to make money now. This is the best medicine for a world of disconnected humans.

I have weaseled my way down the concrete wall of the Palace theater. I am at the last tiny staircase which leads down to the smaller floor section right in front of the stage. I am right at the top of the stairs with only a shorter man in a beanie in front of me. I have a perfect view of the stage. Ween lifers surround me. One yells “Captain Fantasy!”…the guy in the beanie bellows “Laura!”

What is with the old school Ween fans always clinging to “The Pod” album? It’s like a little Ween cult within the Ween cult. A tiny niche inside a smaller, thimble-sized niche in rock history. I’d honestly rather listen to anything off Quebec, but at this moment I’d strangle a small goat to hear “Dr. Rock”. I think about ironically yelling it (Dr. Rock is probably the least weird song on The Pod), but then I’d risk getting 1,000 “fuck you poser” eyes from everyone in front of me.

It’s hot down here, I feel the anxiety building inside me. I feel like I am watching the show in a fur-lined snowmobile suit and just stepped into a sauna. A beardo next to me yells “DEMON SWEAT!” at the top of his lungs, and as if on cue, Deaner invites Gener to go to a small keyboard on the opposite side of the stage. A reverent hush falls over the raucous inner circle of Ween fanatics. This is the equivalent of the Pope giving a blessing at the Vatican in some quarters of this establishment. I’ve never really thought that much of the song, but other than Gener’s “I Don’t Want It” solo, this is THE transcendent moment of the show.

A few minutes earlier the guy in the beanie  (most likely under the influence of a few different recreational drugs) had asked me to plug my ears as he was plugging his ears. I plug one ear…humoring him. “No man! Do BOTH ears!”  I do as I’m told, this guy could be tripping balls for all I know and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to tempt fate and screw with his journey. I plug both ears, high on Coca-Cola. “You feel that man!?? IT’S SWEET!”  I do feel something. I feel the ground vibrating from the sound below my feet… I put my hand on the wall and it is vibrating as well. I look up and we are under a giant speaker. He turns around again and we are all lost in the music, everyone within 100 feet of me. I hear a harmonica. The song somehow sounds 3-dimensional. What the fuck?  I don’t remember there being a DEMON SWEAT harmonica solo?  I look down and the guy in the beanie is leaning waaaay back with his eyes closed. He is playing a goddamn harmonica along with the music.

DEMON SWEAT ends as quickly as it begins and the beanied stoner invites me to his spot – “Here.” he seems to say, “Enjoy the best seat in the house, you need it more than I do.”

C.S. and I have been fucked up together more times than I can possibly count. He took me to my first high school keg party when I was 17. He kicked me out of his “like-new” 1989 Mustang at Kwik Trip after I puked all over the seat. He had to use one of those gas station squeegees to clean it out. I only had to walk 4 blocks to get home, so no biggie.

C.S. and I used to get into all sorts of shit. His parents live all the way out in a small valley beyond the ridge on a beef farm. We’d get fucked up and hang out in the parking lot by the Hardee’s in town, then have to drive like 30 miles down treacherous winding dirt roads to get to his parents’ house.

One time we hit a deer going full speed. We hit is so hard that it shit on the windshield. We stopped for the briefest of moments and deliberated what our story would be to his parents when they saw the bashed in Mustang. Then we sped off cackling as we tried to run the windshield wipers on the shit. The next day we went looking for the deer and were astonished at how far into a cornfield it flew. It lay there still and silent, it’s hind leg wrapped around its head.

C.S. doesn’t try to get me drunk at all. He knows when I set my mind to something it cannot be changed. We don’t speak much about it, just enjoy the show. I hate talking about not drinking. It’s annoying to me. I am not going to prance around saying “my sobriety this” or “my sobriety” that….people that do that sound like they are taking their fancy French poodle for a walk or some shit. Now I just say I’ve “stopped having the beers” or that I’m 38 days “Grondahl” (after a former co-worker and ace drinker who went to AA, got clean and moved to Seattle).

Sometimes I just feel like stopping. I’ve done it a few times before. Once was quite humorous….C.S. and I went to the “Americanarama” festival featuring Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Bob Dylan. This is the only time I have actually seen Dylan. But I didn’t actually SEE him, because I was on the side of the stage watching C.S. puke by a row of Port-O-Sans (to be fair…it was extremely hot that day, and C.S. was much larger than he is now…not to mention violently wasted and stoned).  I could only hear Dylan because he was somewhere near the back of the stage behind his piano. The side of the portable stage was blocking my view. He sounded like shit. We left early.

The second time I “stopped having the beers” was right after my 40th birthday. I quit for nearly 6 months. Then D. Lu and one of my best friends from college got married on back to back days one fine May weekend. A couple of beers turned into a nearly 3-year craft beer guzzling odyssey. Here’s a word to the wise, if you have an anxiety disorder and you are taking anti-depressants for it, it’s probably not the greatest idea to go to a brewery and slam copious amounts of a DEPRESSANT every other weekend. Kind of defeats the purpose.

After having a smoke with C.S. I make my final descent into Weentown from the back of the Palace Theater bar. The encore is starting and I am determined to try and get back to where I was before. I don’t get that far before Ween starts blasting a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”… the snowmobile suit is on me again but I don’t care.  I fumble for my phone to try and record some of this momentous occasion. As I hold my phone up wildly and devil horns from the other revelers bat it back and forth, I see a text pop up on my phone from C.S., “Holy Fuck” is all it says.

I am glad I am back in the sauna. After blowing the doors off the place as a three-piece with Dave the bass player singing lead, Gener pops back on stage. “How you gonna fucking follow Ace of Spades?” Deaner chuckles. Gene knows how… by closing down the night with an epic version of “Poop Ship Destroyer.”

All 2500 of us in our snowmobile suits are gently swaying in unison (or wobbling like gentlemen in some cases). POOP. SHIP. DESTROYER. POOP. SHIP. DESTROYER. It feels like the room is 48.5% more stoned, but also happier than they ever could be outside these walls. Tuesday is election day, and a shit veil of horridness has descended upon the national news cycle. I’d rather sing about Poop. I’d rather start my own church in an old basketball arena like Joel Osteen. We’ll do nothing but sing “The Cross” and “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” for hours on end. Krist Novelselic will be contractually obligated to play accordion at every mass.

I am sitting in a church basement. My daughter and her friends are playing “Simon Sez” and learning about the Ten Commandments. C.S. left early this morning, long before I woke up…even the kids weren’t up yet. We are sitting around a long table with other parents. There is another table next to us which houses the coffee, big black urns the size of flower vases. We are now going around the room and saying “hi my name is”…Christ, this might as well be an AA meeting. I think about my response. I should say: “Hi, my name is Andy, my wife made me get married here in 2003 and I sometimes attend sporadically on holidays. I don’t really believe in organized religion, but I do feel spiritual at times when singing about Demons and Poop.”

I don’t say any of those things. My wife fields the question and talks about how she was baptized here when she was little. My kids were baptized here too, and come here to make crafts on Sunday mornings sometimes just like their mother did before them. They will never have to know about their father’s odd upbringing in a hardcore Polish Catholic enclave in southern Minnesota. They will probably never have to explain what a Catholic mass feels like as a 10-year-old altar boy (picture Tom Cruise meeting Red Cloak in the film Eyes Wide Shut). They will never experience a “polka mass” or get sprayed with holy water. They will never be shown anti-abortion movies on a ratty projector once a year. And they will never, ever pass out from holding their breath while kneeling next to a coffin getting peppered by an insense orb. Not unless their grandparents force them to altar boy weekday morning funerals once a week that is!

I watch my daughter slowly slather paste all over a candle and glue some paper mache shit all over it. I hork down my slimy brown church coffee. I see my daughter’s fingernails are still painted jet black from Halloween. A slow, evil grin spreads across my sober, yet tired old man face. She’ll be just fine.

As I wait for C.S. outside the Palace Theater, a busker is playing the Pee Wee Herman song “Tequila” on a sax and there is a dwarf making laps around the gathering crowd. I am standing next to a stone tablet emblazoned with the Hamm’s Beer Bear on it, our planned rendezvous point. The marker/statue is about 7 feet tall and looks like a large cartoon tombstone. “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters”, it says. It might as well be a gravesite marker for my beer drinking career….or a gravesite marker for when I inevitably fall off the wagon again. Works either way! The perfectly awful, multifunctional life metaphor!

I hear a goddamned Harmonica. Am I going insane tonight?  I peer slyly around the Beer tombstone, it’s the beanie guy going to town on his harp right behind me.

Maybe he’ll follow me wherever I go now, my stoned guardian angel.