Sunday, March 22, 2015

Arming Myself

Chief Ken Ledford, James Banks of Phase Line Defense, and Me
(photo: Phase Line Defense)
I always find it hard to explain to folks the why. Most of the time I explain myself; they either project their own philosophies of their own why or they dismiss my philosophies of my why.

So why did I pay for, take, and qualify to carry a CCW license? It is hard to explain. So let me start as close to the beginning as I can.

I had a father who was a Captain in the Army. He was a Green Beret during the Vietnam war. He was part of the 82nd Airborne. He was stationed at Fort Bragg. When I lived with him in St. Louis I asked a lot of questions about his service. Most of it was deflected. He rarely spoke of his time there and when he did it wasn't in much detail. He did not like hunting. He didn't get the point of going out into the woods to shoot at a defenseless animal for sport. He didn't see the sport in shooting at something that couldn't shoot back (he always said this with a wry smile on his face). He did not like rifles. He did not have the sort of things around his house that would tell you that he was a qualified sniper. But to say my Dad did NOT have deadly weapons in his house was a gross gross understatement.

My Dad has plenty of weapons. Most of them used in martial arts, in which my Dad was a trained black belt. He once told me a story of when he got out of the military, lived in Florida and a group of Cubans surrounded him in Miami in a parking lot. They were trying to rob him. My dad calmly said that if they came after him they would probably hurt him or kill him, but there would also be a few of them coming with him. They disbursed and nothing happened.

So when I look at it owning a firearm is the same as owning a sword. The object itself will not hurt you. It will not hurt someone else. It will not kill you. The person wielding such weapons are the people who will hurt you, you will hurt someone else, and they will kill you. Simple as that.

So understanding how a firearm works should be approached just like learning how a sword works. Understanding how to render them safe is not a bad thing. I didn't have a Dad that was willing to teach me about firearms, but he taught me about this swords. I didn't have a mom who signed a permission slip for me to learn about firearms at boy scout camp. Up until 3 weeks ago, I had never fired a firearm more powerful than a bb gun. My mom was the quintessential mother who lived and breathed the philosophy, "you'll shoot your eye out".

Despite it being drilled into my head that firearms are dangerous, it didn't sway my curiosity from them. I was very nervous to learn how they worked from a hillbilly who passed an NRA instructors course. When I met the man my wife's sister was going to marry he offered to take me shooting with his dudes, who were what you could safely call redneck outdoorsy types; my asshole puckered up so tight and I declined their offer. So when Kevin emailed me about James at Phase Line Defense, I did my diligence. He was in federal law enforcement. He was an Army veteran. He wasn't a hillbilly, despite the fact he grew up in the South.

The approach that I take is if you are going to learn about guns, do it in a safe, controlled environment, from not only someone the state and NRA deem competent but also is federally trained in law enforcement. Honestly the hillbilly in a cabin teaching me about firearms is exactly why I haven't learned about firearms. I can't relate to them. I don't care about their politics that usually are intertwined into their approach. I don't like the sole approach that firearms are the correct answer for self defense. I didn't get this from James. What I got from James was simple. If you are going to carry a firearm, you had better know how it works and know how to use it.

There are two dangers to owning a firearm. Carelessness and Ignorance. Careless in wielding it, careless in the storage, careless all around. Ignorance is about lack of knowledge. The person with the firearm didn't have a proper knowledge of it. That's when you hear about a kid killing themselves or someone else. Or it is always a combination of both. I am trying to clear my life of the ignorance. Knowledge is power.

James' class was amazing for me. It was exactly what I was looking for. It took away my nerves. I learned that I am competent at shooting at paper targets. I also learned that I don't have a lot of bad habits because I am so green at operating a firearm.

I think America is made up of a lot of people like me. In the center politically and curious, but there is a barrier to learning about something because of the political stigma. There are vocal minorities that are shouting in each direction. One side says firearms are terrible. One side says firearms are the only logical form of defense and everyone in America should have one. I think there is a quiet majority that are in the middle, just like me. This is why I think James would be the perfect instructor for lots of folks. He has a deep knowledge, understanding, and training to help you understand the purpose of carrying a firearm. One thing that stuck with me from yesterday is this; "If you are in a fight and are carrying a gun, there is always a gun in the fight, because YOU brought it."

That is a lot of responsibility. I don't think I am there. Not sure if I will ever be. What I do know is that I am interested in it enough to keep learning, and I am not sure I would use anyone else beside James at Phase Line Defense to learn. His approach is exactly what I was expecting. He is a confidence builder and that, my friends, is what it takes to understand a firearm.

Knowledge what I am choosing to arm myself with.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Seven Minutes


Seven Minutes from Zach Shildwachter on Vimeo.


Indie movies, micro budget films, they are all part of a vibrant arts community. A lot of attention is paid to the local music scene and I think small indie movies deserve just as much attention; even a 10 minute movie takes months to edit and get right so they aren't easy to do. BJ and Zach make it look effortless.

Zach and BJ are folks I would consider friends. Take a look at their latest effort. The writing is great, cinematography is awesome. It is a lot of fun to watch. What more do you need?

Share it all over.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Old Fashioned Music

Ohio Sky's new album "The Big Distraction"
 Much has been said about this recent resurgence of vinyl records. My question did it ever really go away? Some might say yes; it was all but extinct. With the advent of Napster in the late 90's, music changed. The way we look at it, the way we consumed it, and the way bought it (or didn't buy it).

Growing up in suburban Cleveland was glorious and one thing I had in the house since I could remember was a record player. One of my first memories about a record player was when my mom was teaching my brother how to slow dance in the living room to a slow song on a record on the record player for his first dance. My younger brother and I sat on the couch and laughed and giggled. After we moved across the street the record player was gone. Where it went I wasn't sure.

My older brother had a record player on his stereo in his room, but he always used the cassette deck, playing Extreme's Pornographitti til it wore out. Then Escape Club. I mean he had a ton of great cassettes. Rarely did the record player get used except on the mornings of our birthdays. You know those songs you could buy on a hair thin piece of vinyl that sang a birthday song with your name in it? Yeah my mom had one for each of us. The morning of our birthday it was our wake up call. The popping and cracking, Zoom would come down to Earth just to since us this song.

When he went to college he took his stereo and record player with him. That's when mom bought a surround sound system. I was bummed. It didn't have a CD player. Instead it has a dual cassette deck and a record player. What the hell? Tastes had changed, even in the early 90's. Everyone started to go digital albeit very slowly. It wasn't until I found old HiFi speakers in the basement and hooked them up to the new system did I really appreciate the sound of it. The sound of the old speakers that seemed as clear as anything you could buy brand new. They looked like crap, but they sounded cool. That's when Mom pulled out the crate of old records.

Among the records, as I thumbed through them, was Michael Jackson's Thriller. I remembered this record in a distant memory. I remember it being propped up next to the record player in the old house. I remember looking at the photo on the inside of the jacket of Michael and a baby tiger. I took the LP out of the jacket, put it on the record player, and dropped the needle.

The sound was unreal. When Thriller came on you could hear the footsteps like they were coming down the hall. You could hear every sound each element of the song gave. It is like I was hearing the song for the first time. I had played this damn thing over and over, but never like this. It was just amazing. My young adolescent ears just heard the clearest sound in the world. I will always remember it fondly. I played that record over and over and just sat and listened.

Later in the 90's Napster happened and it was awesome. You could get this endless supply of free music from anyone you could think of. The sound was good. Hell I even played some of the stolen tracks on CD I burned later on that old HiFi system using a line in and a DiscMan.

Record stores had switched to tapes and then CD's long ago. Those cool little stores that I never went into had records. With that change came the way we listened to music. The Walkman came with the ability to take your personal music with you. Music went from the forefront to the background. It was now the music bed of our montage we called life. When you listened to a record you always had to pay attention to it. Sure we'd put a record on and clean the house, but when the music stopped we would stop and turn it over, then continue on. Tapes had a similar experience, but then they invented a way for it to keep playing without stopping.

When music went to the mp3 not only did it get worse, but artists who would spend a year putting together an album from start to finish with song choice and order in mind, people were picking one or two songs to download off of it and mixing it with other songs from other artists. The listener became their own artist. Sure we did this a little bit with mix tapes in the 80s, but mp3s grew it. For a long time I never paid for a single track of music. Not a single one. Then something changed.

I started taking photos, putting a lot of time into it. I would go out take photos, share them, and do it again. I loved it. That's when people started asking me to come out and do pictures for them, except they expected it for free. I was once asked to send a photo to someone so that they could print it out. In my head I was thinking hell no. I'm not going to give up that kind of control over what I took, and do it for free.

That's when I started thinking, why would I spend all this time making art for them, and then give it away. My time was worth it. That's when I looked down at my phone and looked at all the songs I have. All of them works of art that I had stolen. I was a hypocrite. That's when I started buying music again.


Now that I was paying money for tunes, I was paying attention to the music. I would carefully choose which albums to buy, which ones that weren't worth my time and my money. I noticed a few things. Electronic format is nice and convenient, but it was missing something. A soul. It's cold sterility of a near perfect quality of sound took away the warmth of the sound. Like Agent Smith said in the Matrix, "...it was a perfect reality that our primitive cerebellum kept trying to wake up from."

Records went away but yet they are still here. There is a growing group of 30 somethings buying them and starting to listen to their old collections and look for folks putting out new stuff on vinyl. Why? Because they are music snobs? Probably, but what made me want to get a record player again is that I found a band that I really loved, they put out a vinyl record, and dammit I wanted to listen to it. Just this morning my five year old asked me what this box on the table was. So I showed her. Her eyes wide with wonderment. How could that disc make the sounds it could? I dropped her off at school and she immediately saw her friend. I heard her say, "My Dad got a record player." Her friend responded with, "Cool! What's that?" and off they went into school. My wife said, "wait til she sees a landline phone. It will blow her mind."

When I see someone who listens to vinyl, I see someone who has stopped stealing art and started paying for it again. I see someone who doesn't take the art of music for granted and something that shouldn't be taken or given away. They don't give vinyl out for free. Somewhere along the line someone had to pay money for it. That's why I bought a vinyl record in 2009 and again this past Saturday night from the same band. I wanted to support a band so that they can continue to make art that I enjoy in a format that has more soul than the iWhatever you have in your pocket.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ohio Sky

I have devoted many words on my various blogs to Ohio Sky. April 18, 2009 I was at their record release party for their first album; 'Apophis'. I knew then that I was in for a treat especially because they named their record after a near Earth asteroid. Heck yes.

Last night was another record release party and it was great. Great is a poor adjective, but I looked in a thesaurus and I couldn't find anything suitable so great it is. I mean outstanding is a good one. Excellent I guess, but every word in the English language cannot come close to an Ohio Sky experience. 

Admittedly I felt very selfish leaving my very pregnant wife at home with the 5 year old. When she said to go, I heard sirens going off, "It's a trap!". She assured me to go, it wasn't like I go out all that often, and a lot of bands do not get me off the couch to spend money. Ohio Sky did, does, and will probably continue to do so. She even said she would have gone had she not been, you know, been almost 9 months pregnant. 

There are some things I don't get about concerts. I was going to pre-order tickets, but the prices online were $16.75. So I decided no, I'm not going. When I did decide at the last second to go, I walked up to the box office and got my ticket for $12.00. Does it really cost the House of Blues that much to process the transaction online? 

Anyway I walked in and went right to the merch table and grabbed the new record pressed into clear vinyl and I got the CD and I entered into the room, record in hand and just listened. 

What I love about Ohio Sky is that they shed the delusions of grandeur. Their first demo recording of 6 songs under the name THE Ohio Sky I picked up at the first Cleveland Ingenuity fest was really good. I knew right then and there that there was something special about this band, but the band's myspace page at one point had a phrase; "changing the face of rock." but when you played their music, as great as it was, didn't offer anything in the way of a change in the face of rock as they professed. It fit the current popular rock music, big vocals and catchy hooks but it just sounded like everything on the radio. I think their rhetoric regarding their talent was a product of the narcissism of the now former front man. Maybe, I don't know, but as talented as he is as a singer and songwriter and he is, his lyrics and his sound didn't push the genre as much as I knew he could. THE Ohio Sky was just a rehashing of a band they might have been before, repackaged, and re-released.

When Rob departed and Vinny took over the lead vocals and added a keyboard player (Patrick Finegan) and a rhythm guitarist (Michael Bashur). The addition of the keyboardist and Vinny on vocals gave the band and completely different sound and then they dropped the "THE". Vinny's tenor voice coupled with all the neat sounds the keyboards come with made for a completely spacey journey. This was the genre pushing I knew this band had in them. This is when things really started to take off for me. They got rid of the flashy myspace posturing and just made great music. This was when they transformed into Ohio Sky. 

Apophis is as much groundbreaking as it is a space odyssey to those recesses of your mind you could only enter when you were asleep. Opening an album with a 7 minute instrumental is as much genius as it is risky. 

Ohio Sky established their sound with Apophis and made a statement. Their second album, Curses, took that space rock sound and polished it, packaged it up with radio friendly tunes and crazy hypnotic riffs. It is best you listen in a dark room with your stereo turned up to 11. It truly is a visceral experience.  

"This House" is a further exploration of what kind of range Ohio Sky has. Taking it slow and methodical, the songs sound as much improvised as planned out. They clearly have a desire to be kept out of a box. Scratch that. The box, smash it and say to hell with boxes. 

Their new album "The Big Distraction" sounds like they know exactly who they are and who they want to be musically. They are unabashed to rock you so hard you're trembling and then take you down and just relax. 

It's hard to think back to a band in recent memory that has gotten continually better, creative, and didn't get into the genre definitions that come with being a band in the world of classification. I literally have them sorted into their own genre on my phone. They aren't rock, they aren't acid rock, they are straight up, Ohio Sky. 

Ohio Sky keeps getting better. Each person brings something to the table. With Michael moving over to bass when Mike Drury left, the foursome has never sounded tighter. Michael at one point uses a bow from a string instrument on his electric bass. The sound is just hauntingly delightful. 

This show opened with a black out on stage and nothing but a projection of snow, stars, and smoke in the background and the lights never came up. They were back lit like shadows on a wall, letting their music speak for itself and it happened to rock your face off. Their stage presence is intoxicating. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This new album is worth a dictionary and the hour break in your day to listen to it in its entirety. This is what rock can truly be. 

When you look back to footage of bands that started a movement, last night could have easily been one of those shows. Playing to a packed room, shoulder to shoulder on stage and in the crowd, Ohio Sky took you along on their musical journey. All our hearts beating with every smack of the drum and strum of the guitar. Our heads bobbing as one. Live shows are amazing and if you miss your chance to see Ohio Sky live, you are wasting your life. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Questions

A person's a person no matter how small - Dr Seuss
It is early on  a Tuesday morning and here I am typing away to you. I am confused. Confused by what happened in Ferguson, MO, confused about the national conversation, confused about everything.

You already know what has happened in Ferguson, MO. You already know what happened in Cleveland. If you are looking for answers here, you aren't going to get them from me. I'm afraid all I have are more questions.

A questions that has yet to be asked in this mess is; why is a black person's life only worth anything if they are killed by a white person?

I don't see protests for injustice when there is black on black crime. Why do we need to classify it as black on black crime? Why do we need to classify it? A human being took the life of another human being, yet we aren't protesting in the street. Outside of the police shootings crime happens daily, in those places you only talk about but rarely go. There are hundreds of thousands of cases that are open right now that are more violent, heinous, and disturbing than what happened in Ferguson, MO. Still no one is protesting about those because people write it off as that the victims were just victims of their environment.

What is happening in Ferguson has been smoldering for years, and this shooting was the lightning rod that lit the powder keg. There isn't just perceived injustice in this city, it is real. I have seen it with my own eyes. I lived not far from there when I lived the St. Louis area. I left there for two reasons, I missed home and I didn't like the racially charged atmosphere that was there. It was on both sides.

I had a friend who lived in Ferguson, I would visit her and we stopped at a Denny's in Florissant and you could hear people on one side talking about the crooked cops, and the cops on the other talking about at the <insert you favorite racial slur here>. White dudes who hated black dudes, black dudes that hated white dudes. This was back in 1999-2000. The most ridiculous thing I heard while living there was; if you were a black guy driving through Missouri, fill your car up in St. Louis and don't stop til Kansas City. It was crazy.

But what we are missing is that we need to stop meeting violence with violence.

Somewhere in this whole mess we stopped respecting human life. As a species we are a flawed bunch. We have contradictions that make no sense; but we also have each other. No matter what we think, a human was killed by another human. That is a tragedy. It always is. But I ask the question again; why does a black man's life only mean something if they are killed by a white man?

Dr. Seuss was right. We need to realize it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wanderlust

wanderlust - 

[won-der-luhst] noun 1. a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. - source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
It write a lot. Not here as much, but in my trusty Moleskine. I find myself that I write more when I feel the need to escape or feel burnt out. I go back and read my entries and it seems I only have been writing when I have this sense of wanderlust. Where this desire comes from I don't know, but it nags at me when I get stressed out, when I get overwhelmed, but also when I am happy. The desire to just go somewhere is always something I love to do.

When I get these pangs of innate desire to rove, I usually turn to Netflix. Actually Netflix can be a catalyst for these things too. In March I found the documentary series, "The Long Way Round". It chronicled Ewan McGregor and Charly Boorman around the world from London, across Europe and through Asia eventually making their way across America to New York City, then back to London. Sounds awesome. What made this whole endeavor exciting is that they did it only on motorcycles. They had chase vehicles and a support team, but in the end, they rode their motor bikes as far as they could. Across terrain that you could barely walk. They stopped when they got tired, met interesting people. I was so enthralled, but at the same time telling myself I could never do that.

I guess this is the ultimate exercise in futility. I want to do these things, I want to experience traveling to all these places, but never actually try to plan, save, reduce money drains in my life to do any of these things.

Another documentary I was very curious to watch was "Tiny". It was about people who sold all their possessions and reduce their living area to about 200 square feet. The people love it, they talk about not letting their stuff take them over. I was so into this movie, all the while drowning in a house full of stuff we can't seem to let go of. Stored baby clothes. Stuffed animals that all have names and birth dates. Knickknacks with memories and sentimental values tied to them. Supplies for the art studio my wife and I would love to have. Dishes for a dining room we don't have. Wall art for a movie room we don't have.

Everywhere I look I am surrounded by stuff. Stuff we can't seem to ever put away. Stuff we don't really need. Stuff.

This past week I have been watching documentaries about sailing. See, on Labor day some friends, Justin and Jessica Mason, invited us out on their sail boat. They had just purchased the 39' vessel and this was the first big weekend they were taking it out. The wife, Addison, Audrey, and I met them at the dock, loaded the provisions we all brought, cast lines and off into Lake Erie we went for the day.

Sailing in Lake Erie off Cleveland on Labor Day (click to enlarge)
I have never felt more alive inside. The satisfying act of leaving a safe place and willingly going into a place that can turn on you is just exhilarating. I was quiet most of the day asking questions when I wanted to learn, but just allowing myself to be present in the moment. I took the camera out a little. Took some photos. We were in the breeze all day. When we got back to the yacht club, Wifey and Addison got off and drove home, and Audrey and I stayed on to help take the boat from Rocky River to Lorain another three to four hour sail. Jessica suffered a slight injury earlier in the day when the boom went hard from port to starboard, ripping the lines out of her hand and causing a slight burn. I know sailing needs lots of hands, and there was no way to get that boat from Rocky River with only Justin's hands especially with a breeze gusting up to 25 knots. So Audrey and I stayed on. I learned a lot about sailing that day. A lot more than when I sailed as a young kid on my Uncle's Catalina sailboat. I was just a passenger back then. When I was out with the Masons I felt like a part of the crew. Pulling lines, trimming sails, tossing dock lines. Cleaning seasickness out of the galley's sink when Audrey couldn't make it topside.

After experiencing the freedom of turning off the engine and being powered only by the wind, I need more of it. I stayed up most of the night last night watching youtube videos of a crew of people who 5 years ago left Seattle, Washington on S/V Delos. They have been shooting videos of their journey for 5 years. I watched every. single. one of the them. These people are living the dream. They didn't win the lottery. They weren't multi-millionaires. They were just some people that wanted to sail to untie from the crap they hated and go do something they loved.

Wifey said when we pulled into the marina that Labor Day morning, "I'd like to have a boat someday."

I would love a sailboat one day too, but is it the sailboat I want or the freedom that casting lines brings? Do I have a dream that involves getting rid of everything I own, distilling my life down to contents of a car and living on a sailboat? Yes. Why that is I don't know, but I look at it this way. Living on a sailboat is like living in a tiny house that travels. Takes both of these philosophies that people who live in tiny houses and sailors and combines it into one. And that is something I would like to work towards. The freedom to do what you want, and the uncluttering of my life down to the essentials.

Sometimes getting there IS the adventure.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Abort, Abort, Abort


ABORT from Zach Shildwachter on Vimeo.

So I was in a movie. I had a great time helping bring this short film to life.

A quick background on this is, BJ Colangelo, and Zach Shildwachter approached me to act in a short film as a submission for Project Greenlight. I was stoked to help out, although I feel much more comfortable behind the camera rather than in front of it. Check it out. Share it up. Zach, BJ, and their crew, which was Shawn Booth (cinematography), Camille Champa (sound), Michelle Sabato (my onscreen wife), and Faythe (little redheaded child). It was great not only seeing how they make movies, but also learning about why they do what they do it. They all have some serious talent and I am stoked they let me hang around them for four hours to put this together.

Please share this with as many folks as you think might like it.