Wednesday, 23 February 2011

You may recognize yourself, or someone you know, in this this infrequent field resource and spotting guide on concert sociology – the Taxonomy of Rock.

Medicinae Saltator — Dance of Drugs (Acid Dancer)

Medicinae Saltator, or acid dancer, is that guy — and 99% of the time it is a guy — whose dancing, while without hint of self-consciousness (and I do have to give him credit for that part) is a mix between drunken stumbling and the flailing of a person drowning. Even with careful observation it is difficult to discern the rhythm, or even the song, to which he is grooving.

It should be noted that, despite the pharmaceutical base to the genus name, not all acid dancers are drug users. Encountered in the wild, most are harmless, even those under the influence of chemical enhancements. However, close proximity to the medicinae saltator is difficult as most exude a pungent oder, commonly a mix of patchouli, body oder, and clove cigarettes or marijuana.

Given the medicinae saltator’s extemporaneous and unpredictable movements, their lack of awareness for their own surroundings, and limited personal space found in a typical concert environment, the greatest danger in MS encounters comes from the occasional trodden foot or other minor jostling. Examples of normal MS habits can be found in film/video footage from The Woodstock Encounter of 1969 or Grateful Dead shows from 1966-present.

The greatest risk from the medicinae saltator does not stem from a normal concert environment, but rather uncontrolled social gatherings that can quickly degenerate into a tympana circulo, or a hippie drum circle.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A new installment of my infrequent series on concert sociology — a spotting guide for the concert-going public. It’s possible you will recognize someone you know, or perhaps yourself, in this field resource.

Altus Quinque – High-Five Guy

When a performer so much as approaches the edge of the stage, Altus Quinque — high-five guy — is right there, arm aloft, hoping for a handshake, fist-bump, or other minor acknowledgement from the band.

Altus Quinque shows little concern for the personal space or discomfort of other concert-goers and will reach through any available gap to attain his goal. Fledgeling AQs may exhibit more reserved tendencies, but they are quickly outgrown and easily overcome through regular use of intoxicants or other mood-altering substances.

While stage proximity is important for proper completion of a high-five, the AQ’s sense of distance grows less accurate over time. Field research shows that Altus Quinque will extend their fore-limbs from lengths in excess of 50 feet in a quest for even the slightest contact with someone in the band.

There is a particular sub-species that is driven to reach out during the performance, usually between songs, but occasionally during them. Gentle admonitions may prevent them from becoming an annoyance, however their short-term memory is lacking and they will quickly resume their gadfly-like behavior.

AQs are presumed to be asexual as there is no known female of the species, although actual reproductive habits are unknown. In its natural concert habitat, high-five multiplies spontaneously, much like wire coat-hangers on a closet floor.

Not known to be immediately dangerous, small injuries may result from repeated contact with Altus Quinque. The back of the skull, upper shoulders, and head coverings are most at-risk as the AQ’s sense of space and situational awareness are not typically attuned to their surroundings.

Spotting Altus Quinque in the wild is more difficult at sit-down concerts; club shows offering easier stage-front access than more more formal venues, however you will find high-five guy any time there is live music.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Other than my Aunt Cheryl (a Lutheran pastor) and my Dad’s folks, mine are not a particularly religious people. We don’t go to church or practice any religion – at least not formally. Yet we say grace at holiday gatherings, mainly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

It’s as if begging alone will guarantee a good spot in the hereafter.

At Grandpa Armstrong’s it was usually up to either my brother or me to say grace. I was terrible at ad-libbing prayers since we didn’t get much practice at home, so I always stuck with an old, childhood favorite:

God is great, God is good Let us thank Him for this food, Amen.

One time I accidentally – ACCIDENTALLY – flipped the middle line “Let Him thank us for this food” and got away with it, but that was rare. Grandma Armstrong had a great sense of humor except when it came to The Almighty. Prayer was to be taken seriously. You played it straight and didn’t take chances if you knew what was good for you.

At Grandma Bertula’s it was a different matter entirely. Grandma herself was pretty dour, but the rest of us were a fun-loving bunch. Jocularity and good-natured ribbing were de rigeur and pretty much nothing was off limits.

That extended all the way to saying grace; a task normally reserved for “the kids.” My Mother and Brother were spared, which meant it was up to Uncle Ray, Aunt Mary, and me. Ray did the honors when he was in town, and I’d pick up the slack when he wasn’t.

We had two classics, I’m not sure where Ray came up with them, but they were like well-worn friends. The first beautiful in and almost artfully minimalist:


That was it. After that he’d dig right in and you’d miss the stuffing if you weren’t paying attention. The other, extravagant by comparison, was probably my favorite:

Rub a dub dub Thanks for the grub Yay God!

Every year Grandma Bertula acted annoyed, but I think it was all an act. Truthfully, I think she secretly enjoyed it. She’d smile, kind of sheepishly, and exclaim “Oh, Ray!”

My Uncle Ray and Aunt Cindy were visiting her family one year, so I was asked to do the honors. I didn’t dare look at Grandma because, she had this face she’d make. The disapproval face. In spite of our family’s long-running, if irreverent, tradition, she expected something more traditional. Somehow I just knew. So I just bowed my head, took a slight pause for dramatic effect, and said:

Clap your hands and stamp your feet Praise the Lord! Good God, let’s eat!

I remember getting a “Michael!” from someone, possibly Mom. I couldn’t tell if Grandma was more shocked or amused, although I did catch her stifling a smile. Either way I just beamed; I hadn’t chickened out and had pulled it off.

After all, if you can’t have fun with your family, you’re taking life far too seriously.

Saturday, 05 April 2008

This is the first installment in an infrequent series on concert sociology that will depict a particular segment – genus, if you will – of the concert-going public. Kind of a taxonomy or spotting guide for concert patrons. Don’t be surprised if you spot someone you know, or even spot yourself somewhere in here.

Aves Liberticus – Freebird

First up is the Aves Liberticus, or Free Bird. Abundant in their natural habitat of Southern-Rock concerts, they are plentiful at nearly any public music performance.

For the unfamiliar, “Free Bird” was a song released by Lynyrd Skynyrd in November 1974. It begins as a slow power-ballad, but clocks in at over 9 minutes (album version; longer in concert) and features gospel-flavored organ, slide guitar, and a 4+ minute guitar duel. At one concert, Steve Wilson (the band’s guitar player), says that they will play one more song. Someone in the audience yells back “Free Bird!” likely due to the song’s length and a desire for the band to play as long as possible. In the 1980’s a radio DJ urged listeners to yell “Free Bird!” at a Florence Henderson concert as a joke.

Whether it’s an opportunity to make a request, or done as a gag, every band seems to have it’s “Free Bird.”

I was at a CD release show for Nickel Creek’s Why Should the Fire Die? The band played each song from the album, in order (a neat concept for a release party), then took requests. A couple requests in there was one of those uncomfortable pauses and someone in the band said “It doesn’t even have to be one of our songs!” Everybody got a laugh out of it, then Chris Thile added “I know there’s one guy out there dying to yell ‘Free Bird’ right now. Don’t. That stuff isn’t funny.” There was a brief chuckle, then someone asked for “American Pie” or something else completely ridiculous and the band nearly choked from laughter.

At the Mike Doughty show the other night, and pretty much every one of his shows, there’s someone that yells “Firetruck!” between every song until it gets played. This time around Doughty said “Dude, if I promise to play ‘Firetruck!’ will you stop screaming for it?” Then a long pause and “In fact, if anyone shouts ‘Firetruck’ for the rest of the show, I promise never to play it at any show ever again. You’ll ruin it for everybody.” He said it with a huge smile on his face, but I wonder if there wasn’t just the tiniest bit of truth to it.

Even my favorite band, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers has a “Free Bird” in the form of “Mekong.” It’s a song from Rogers days heading The Refreshments. At every show there’s a guy hollering for “Mekong” practically every song. Finally at one show Roger laughed and asked “Have you ever been to one of my shows where we haven’t played Mekong? It’s coming later.” For Roger to skip “Mekong” at a show would be like the Rolling Stones not bothering to play “Satisfaction” – it would quite possibly start a riot.

There you have it, the next time you’re at a concert, you’ll be ready to spot the Aves Liberticus and see for yourself.

Sunday, 12 March 2006

I lived in a two bedroom situated in what is best be described as an interesting part of town. It was a convenient location, near shopping and entertainment in the Midway district near University & Snelling in St. Paul. The area was quite diverse and you could meet all sorts of odd characters, regardless of the hour. For example, 5:30 in the morning while taking out the trash.

Rubbish in one hand, recycling in the other, and barely awake, I ran into what would charitably be described as a formidable brunette coming up the stairs. Dressed in a long, purple coat, red scarf, and black pumps, she was not only quite drunk, but unbelievably ugly.

Turns out it was the guy who lived across the hall.

The neighbor I knew had a shaved head and Russian or Slavic features that were bloated from years of heavy drinking. Most of the time he wore stained blue-jeans and an open-front sport shirt that was never buttoned. I seldom saw him without a drink in hand, his usual poison being a 40-oz. malt liquor. Basically he looked like an alcoholic linebacker.

He always talked about being in the movie business, but I got the sense that it was more porn and less Hollywood. Still, he seemed decent enough — if stuck in one place and somewhat lost.

He was transfixed by the Internet, which at that time was still in its infancy. Attracted to many of the get-rich-quick schemes, he’d sometimes solicit my opinion. I’d always tell him the same thing, “If it seems too good to be true…”

But now, seeing him disguised as a remarkably homely woman, all I could do was stammer “Dude, it’s way too early for me to deal with this.”

I’m not sure who was more surprised: my neighbor because he really didn’t expect to run into anyone or me because…well, the obvious reason. He went into his apartment to change, and perhaps sober up, while I went on about my business; content to never give it a second thought.

Don’t get me wrong; as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, I really don’t care. I like to think I’m as open-minded as the next person. Besides, if he wants to play with gender roles, who am I to get in the way. But I can’t shrug off honest surprise either.

Several minutes later he tapped at my door. Dressed as a man, he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t tell anyone. “It’s just something I do once in a while and I don’t want anyone to find out.”

“No worries,” I said, while thinking “Who’d believe me?”

Saturday, 24 December 2005

It was tradition in our family. We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house and spent Christmas Eve at Grandma Bertula’s.

Both dinners were pretty much the same: turkey and all the trimmings. We had candied yams (sweet potatoes), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, asparagus (Grandma didn’t like broccoli), pie, and, and, and… And stuffing.

Now, Mom wasn’t known for taking shortcuts in her cooking. For Thanksgiving, she went all out, even making her own cranberry sauce. She’d start with bags upon bags of cranberries then boil them for hours down in water with a bunch of sugar. It’s primary purpose was to make yifta (it’s a real dish!), but one delicious benefit was that we never had to eat the stuff out of a can.

Mom would even make the stuffing from scratch, tearing the bread by hand; a task for which she got up early just to have time. The hard work certainly paid off, because the whole house smelled wonderful and dinner was amazing.

Yet year after year, one thing troubled my Mom – she never felt that her stuffing lived up to Grandma’s. She could never get it quite as moist or to taste just like her mother’s. Personally, I thought it was great, but Mom wasn’t satisfied.

Finally, as we sat down to Christmas Eve dinner, Mom took her first bite of Grandma’s stuffing. “I use your recipe every year and no matter what I do I can’t get my stuffing to come out like yours. I can’t figure out how you get it so perfect. How do you do it?”

With a wry smile on her face, Grandma said “The stuffing? I’ve been using Stove-Top for years.”

Thursday, 24 November 2005

I ended up not going down to Kansas City this year for Thanksgiving. I usually ride down with my Aunt Mary, but her car and mine both conspired to keep us in town. Talking with my mom a few days ago, I told her that if we had the “mashed potato conversation” again this year, I was so going to put it on my Web site. She said to do it anyway:

It happens every year. We’re gathered at the table, someone has said grace (a story for another time), and people are loading thier plates. When the mashed potatoes come around I quietly pass them along. That’s when it starts.

Mom: “Don’t you want any mashed potatoes?”

Me: “I don’t like mashed potatoes.”

“When did you stop liking mashed potatoes?”

“I’ve never actually liked them. It’s not about anyone’s in particular, I just don’t care for them.” My mom’s are quite good, by mashed potato standards, but that doesn’t really change anything as far as I’m concerned.

“You used to eat them. When did you stop?”

“When I was 8 or 9, I think. Old enough to load my own plate and therefore pass them along quietly, without further comment.”

Except, it seems, for the annual mashed potato conversation.

Monday, 12 May 2003

Vanessa and I had been dating for a little over a month when she decided it was time I cooked dinner for her once. Until then, either she cooked or we went out whenever we got together. Not this time. In spite of my warning, she insisted and we made a date for Saturday.

I spent all day getting ready; cleaning the living room and kitchen, dusting furniture, straightening the mess that was my office.

I decided on pasta because it’s fairly easy and I make a mean red-sauce. Early afternoon I went shopping. Italian Sausage, tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, rigatoni noodles, cheese from the deli, garlic bread, a few other bits, and a decent bottle of wine.

My plan was to have dinner ready for when Vanessa arrived at 6 o’clock. I set about making the sauce, which would need to simmer for about an hour. I opened the tomato paste and tomato sauce, dumped them in a saucepan, and added a touch of oregano and a little something else to give it some zip. After that, I put the sausage on to brown and started water for the noodles.

Checking the sauce, something was off. Way off. It was runny and tasted horrible. Turns out I got the wrong stuff and had something closer to tomato soup than spaghetti sauce. Maybe I can recover.

The sausage needed a few minutes more, so I started the oven on low, put the bread in, and tried to find something that would save the sauce. Rifling through cupboards turned up nothing useful and there was no time for another trip to the store.

Right about then, Vanessa called to see if we were still on for dinner and if there was anything she could bring. Unwilling to admit defeat so early, I lied, “No thanks. Everything is fine on this end.” There was no turning back now.

It wasn’t enough that my kitchen skills weren’t the greatest—and I knew it. I really had a thing for this woman, so I had to complicate matters by trying to impress her. On top of it all, it had been a miserable week at work and I wasn’t feeling well. I wrote off the queasy stomache to simple nervousness and started thinking about what music to play.

To me, the right music is almost as important as the right food or the right wine. Choose wisely, and it helps make an entire evening. Choose poorly, and it can ruin your night, leaving it a crumpled, tattered mess.

Somewhere between The Cocteau Twins and Elvis Costello I was wrested from my musical reverie… What’s that smell? A sense of dread washed over me and headed toward the kitchen. Oh my God! The stove is on FIRE! As if to drive home the point, that was about when the smoke alarm started screaming. Thankfully I had the sense to cover the pan and get it off the heat before any real damage occured, but not before the room was completely hazed over and the sausage was beyond ruined. Opening a window, I tried to calm down and thought “OK, we’ll go meatless for the sauce.”

With cleanup operations underway and less than 15 minutes to go, I was getting desperate. I put the noodles on and made a quick check of the neighbors. Two not home and the third with nothing more than sauce in a jar. “No thanks, but I’ll Keep it in mind.” A call to my brother and my mother, both excellent cooks, for advice was no use; nobody home either place. I was on my own.

The noodles were doing fine and the smoke was cleared with help from a good size window fan. Looking in on the bread revealed no progress. No heat. No pilot light. Oven broken. Great. Wonderful.

Moving the noodles off the stove and over to drain them, I dropped the pot. Boiling water and rigatoni noodles exploded everywhere.

What I should have done was give up, but I was determined to see things through. Vanessa was supposed to be there any minute, so I had to think fast. There were regular spaghetti noodles in the cupboard, so I got the water going again and put them in, then back to the neighbor’s for that jar of sauce.

I had just finished dumping the jar into a pan when Vanessa arrived. In an effort to catch my breath and to hide my frazzled nerves, I sat to chat for a just a minute. One minute turned into five and then ten. All the while I didn’t let on what had transpired. “Is every thing OK? I think I smell smoke.”

“Not to worry,” my keen sense of understatement running full-tilt, “just a small problem with the stove earlier.”

Then she asked how long ago I had started the noodles and that should probably check on them. Too late; they were already over-done.

There it was, my abject failure on a plate. Sticky spaghetti under mediocre sauce with cold garlic bread and a passable salad. To top it off, the wine wasn’t very good either. Culinary disaster in three courses. Make that two–I completely forgot about dessert.

Awful as it was, Vanessa still found something nice to say. With as much sincerity as she could muster, considering the tears rolling down her face from trying not to laugh, she said “The sauce is good.”

“Here’s the thing,” I confessed, “it’s from a jar.”

Friday, 01 March 2002

As we were leaving the bathroom at work, one of the guys told me about an office party he once attended. They had arranged for some games and needed to divide into two groups. One person stood up and said “Crumplers on the left, folders on the right.” Then he sat back down and refused to explain further.

Eventually it dawned on people as to what he meant. One person would figure it out and whisper it to the next. There would be the occasional “eewww” or disgusted look, but as word spread quickly around the room, people started to gather.

The surprising thing was that the group was divided almost perfectly 50/50. On each side there was a good mix of young and old, men and women, managers and worker-bees.

I’m left wondering what the guy from the party thinks about in quiet moments. Imagine sitting across from him at a meeting, he appears to be listening but really he’s thinking about weird stuff like crumpling vs. folding.

About 5 seconds after I get back to my desk, an IM comes in: “So, are you a crumpler or a folder?”


Thursday, 30 August 2001

So I’m at the grocery store the other day, picking up a few, much needed, supplies. Things like soda, bread, noodles, rice, paper towels and toilet paper. Last time through, TP got skipped because the store didn’t have the right kind and I wasn’t down to my last roll.

Standing in the aisle, looking at a wall of toilet paper, they still didn’t have the right stuff. Resigning myself to a substitute, all I see are 12 packs, 18 packs and 36 packs, but nothing smaller. Normally I by four pack because I’m not home that much. Four rolls lasts about a month and the bathroom storage space holds five at most.

While I understand the 18 and 36 packs for families, I’m just one guy. What on do I need with even 12 rolls of toilet paper at one time? I gave up landscaping in Jr. High School.

Over and above storage considerations, transportation for that much toilet paper is a challenge. The package is so large I practically need to stick wheels on it and ride the thing home.

My other purchases barely filled a grocery bag. This room divider sized package would require a third arm to carry it, a case of soda and the bag at the same time. Even splitting the pack would mean two extra bags and not enough hands to carry them all.

I ended up breaking down the package and shoving several rolls into my messenger bag. That got me down to two bags, plus the soda. Wouldn’t you know it, the food bag broke on the way in the front door, obliterating a carton of eggs. It was only fitting that I used the extra TP to clean up the mess…I forgot to buy paper towels.