November 05, 2007

Psychobilly Freakout

Autumn and I had tickets to see the Reverend Horton Heat this past Friday Night, up at Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. The Landing is a unique place to see a show: it’s literally built into the courtyard between a set of condo units, right in the heart of downtown. It’s also extremely close to our place, about a half hour drive without taking traffic into account, and gives us an excuse to cruise over the always-pleasant Sunshine Skyway bridge. Nice drive, a nice open-air location (assuming it doesn’t rain) and a small enough location that everybody in the audience can see the band.

When I arrived home after work on Friday, I took a look at the tickets: “Rev. Horton Heat, with Hank III and Assjack. Doors: 7:00.” Having learned from my previous experiences at the place, I made the call to leave the house a little late. The Jannus stage crew is notoriously slow to set up, and I didn’t really have a lot of interest in standing around through two opening bands and the accompanying waits between acts. We left our place around 8:30, thinking we might be cutting it a bit close.

After getting lost downtown, (I swore that I remembered how to get there, when in fact I did not) cursing the one way city streets and killing Autumn’s manual transmission Escort climbing up the parking garage incline, we finally arrived at the site of the concert. Not only were there THREE opening bands, (the all-female "Nashville Pussy" hadn’t been billed) but only the first had actually played their set. We arrived almost two hours after the billed start time, but the Reverend wouldn’t climb onstage until around 10:30.

Now resigned to our fates, we decided to enjoy the opening acts anyway and try to press forward for a better view before the headliners could hit the stage. Hank III was all right, a weird mix of bluegrass, rock and punk, and the crowd was really into him. The guy behind us must have been the group’s number one fan, singing along to every single song of their set. The bass player was particularly unsettling, staring into the audience with accusing eyes that would alternate between piercing fury and uncertain worry. His fluffy turd of a hairstyle (shaved on the sides, lazily floofed into a little pile on top) was accented beautifully by his one-piece workman’s jumpsuit. An oddball group, for sure, but they were entertaining to say the least. The group couldn’t have been onstage for more than half an hour before the lead singer stepped aside and the entire band (electric fiddle and all) immediately transformed themselves into a hardcore speed metal sextet, complete with a muttenchopped new singer. Hank III and Assjack were virtually the same band.

But where the former band’s style was fairly close to that of Horton Heat’s, the latter’s was completely out of left field. Witty, angry country lyrics were instantly replaced by indecipherable screams. The audience reacted accordingly, forming one of the biggest mosh pits I’ve ever seen. This was an ANGRY pit, too – furious skinheads were throwing punches with ill intentions, aging hippies were taking the opportunity to release some of their pent-up aggression. There were representatives from a dozen different age groups and walks of life in that circle, but they were momentarily unified in their ferocity. We kept our distance.

As planned, we pressed forward between bands and managed to land in a great spot about six rows from the stage by the time RHH and his band stormed out. I wasn’t expecting a mosh pit during the main set, since their music is much more low-key than the opening acts, but just in case I’d taken note of where the previous pit had formed and shuffled us to a “safe” location. Two songs into the set, I noticed one of the shirtless ringleaders of the AssJack pit. As if on cue he turned around, looked at one of his buddies, smiled broadly and drew a circle in the air in front of his chest with his index fingers. This guy was standing about six feet to my right, and he was moments away from reviving the angry mosh pit from hell. I immediately scooted Autumn towards the left side of the stage. Before the song had ended, the frenzied masses were once again throwing punches. On stage, Horton Heat smirked at these developments.

No sooner had we reached relative safety, (my right shoulder had become the outer boundary of the mosh pit) than two 300 pounders directly in front of us took to fisticuffs. And when I say “directly in front of us”, I mean that when the wife of the first participant took offense to the actions of the second and threw her drink in his face, half of that drink wound up on my shirt. I made a few meager attempts at keeping them apart, but the efforts were futile. When a bird in the Serengeti sees a pair of wildebeests about to spar, he takes flight. We took that as an inspiration to seek higher ground.

From the relative safety of the elevated deck at the back of the venue, Autumn could actually see the band, (at a short 5’4”, she constantly has trouble with visibility in large crowds) we didn’t have to rub elbows as closely with our neighbors, and the audio mix was a lot tighter. Those were the positives. The negatives? We had to use some fancy footwork to sneak into a vantage point that wasn’t directly behind a tree, and we were the youngest people on the deck by a good twenty years. Yep, we spent the rest of our Friday night at a concert – hangin' with the old people in the back of the room. We can no longer count ourselves among the rebellious youth.

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posted by drqshadow at 3:40 PM 0 comments

October 24, 2007

Undersea Meditation and Me

One of my favorite recent activities has been firing up the Volcano, then heading down to the swimming pool to enjoy the late summer evenings with Autumn. In my inebriation, I've stumbled upon a strange form of near-meditation that's proven to be somewhat elusive and difficult to replicate, but entirely relaxing and settling on the occasion that I do.

For years, I've held an affinity for being underwater - there's something about the isolation, peace and tranquility of being under the surface for mildly extensive periods of time that really appeals to me. Where other swimmers might do laps, float along the edge of the waves or occupy themselves with aquatic toys, I can usually be found aimlessly wandering the bottom of the pool. On one such swim, I made an unspoken connection between my fruitless search for consistently effective meditation and my love of being alone underwater.

I simply push myself away from the wall of the pool, shut my eyes, clutch my knees loosely to my chest and twist my body erratically until I've lost all concept of up, down, left or right. When you've intentionally closed off your senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste and direction, there's little left but the spirit and the abyss. There's no car stereo blasting six blocks away, making just enough noise to break your concentration and nibble at your brain waves. Your back doesn't complain about your posture. Your knees don't ache against the solid Earth upon which you squat, don't notice the subtleties of the texture of the pad you might be sitting upon. Without any external stimulation to distract yourself, your mind can more easily set about the task of clearing itself and reaching complete tranquility.

My biggest issue with meditation in the past has been just those kind of external interruptions. My mind is easily fascinated, which means it's prone to sudden, creative tangents of thought with just the slightest nudge of inspiration. This has proven to be a problem as I've tried, time and time again, to get into deep, trance-like meditation to alleviate stress. If I hear a bird chirping or a pair of shoes softly marching, my brain will turn the sounds into a rhythm, and before I realize what's going on, my foot is tapping along to its own beat and I've lost my concentration. I find it excruciatingly difficult to clear my mind of any flash of thought or inspiration with so many different things happening within earshot, so many different sensations of smell, of touch distracting me from my ultimate goal.

When I'm without direction underwater, (aaaaand a little high) all of those distractions simply cease to be. The only challenges which remain are swapping my busy cluster of thoughts and ideas for a clean, blank slate and enjoying the fleeting moment of utter peace and harmony within myself.

Unfortunately, these little experiences are extremely difficult to attain, and even more difficult to maintain for more than a few seconds at a time. If my mood isn't right, I can't clear my mind. If I can't get the right angle at the moment of my dive, I sink or rise too quickly. The moment is lost as the gentle touch of fresh air at the surface hits me like an open palm, removing my spirit from its trance and returning me, jarringly, to true consciousness. It's the same thing if I sink to the bottom of the pool - the texture of the floor against my skin is immediately irritating, and the effect it has on my psyche is depressing. Actually reaching that complete loss of direction is a challenge in and of itself, as well: for the practice to be effective, you must convince yourself that you truly don't know where you are. And, no matter how good a liar you are, there's no bullshitting yourself. But despite these hurdles, I keep trying because there is no high this rewarding, both spiritually and physically. For those few fleeting seconds, I've lost my place in the world. I've cleared my head of all the day's frustrations, all of my body's aches and pains, my hangups, my uncertainties, my worries - it's a surreal experience.

The combination of a depleting air supply, a loss of direction and the ability to let go of your consciousness for just a few seconds flips a trigger in your brain. You undergo a strange blend of calm mixed with urgency mixed with utter happiness and content, which sort of flows over your body... almost like taking a warm, eagerly anticipated shower. I don't want to call it "tingly," but that's the closest sensation I can compare this to.

It's something that's best done at night, because not only does that lack of daylight further eliminate your sense of sight, but you're also more likely to let go of your preconceived notions about what others think, since the pool is generally vacant after sunset. If you allow yourself to consider how your body looks, wildly thrashing about under the surface and then suddenly going still, you'll never be able to let go of the guilt and self-consciousness when the time comes to go blank. This is where the MJ comes in, at least for me... it makes that concept of forgetting what the others think and just doing into a much more natural, easy endeavor.

When I mentioned these experiments to a few friends, they suggested that it was a sort of primitive version of a sensory deprivation tank, which I'd heard Joe Rogan speak briefly about in the past. Apparently your experiences can go to utterly wacked-out extremes in one of these tanks, sending your mind on wild voyages that leave behind the tethers of the body and sail out into outer space somewhere. I don't know if I'm ready for that kind of religious experience right now, but the relation between the two methods makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe some day I'll look a bit closer into that practice, when I've had enough experience with these temporary voyages to feel ready for the next step. For now, though, I think I'll keep chasing that clean, open moment of pure solitude and happiness under the waves.

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posted by drqshadow at 4:47 PM 1 comments

October 18, 2007

Is Science Still Colorblind?

I just happened upon a link to this story from one of the message boards I frequent, and it set me off to an extent...

Nobel winner in 'racist' claim row

...he said there was no reason to think that races which had grown up in separate geographical locations should have evolved identically.

This part actually makes a good deal of sense to me. But then he follows it up with...

"people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

I do find it kind of zany that something like this is immediately out of bounds and totally an impossible option. We know jack shit about the differences between one human and another, regardless of ethnicity, genetics and social upbringing. If someone were to find some compelling evidence to suggest any difference between individuals, be it men vs. women, whites vs. blacks, gays vs. straights, etc., even if the point were scientifically valid, it would be immediately slapped with a racist / sexist / homophobic label and cast aside, never to be discussed again. In my eyes, that's totally ridiculous and more closed-minded than racism itself. If you close your eyes, cover your ears and start singing every time someone says something that upsets you, that doesn't make the issue go away.

His delivery was tactless, and there's no doubt in my mind that he has some racist tendencies based on that fact alone, but it opens the door for some really interesting conversation, if nothing else. Scientific fact is colorblind.

I have no reason to believe his claims are true, so don't construe it that way. If anything, I think the whole concept is completely wrong, especially since many of his peers are evidently calling him a complete loon without any basis for this argument. But the idea that something's immediately incorrect simply because it involves something touchy like race, that intrigues and bothers me.

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posted by drqshadow at 5:02 PM 0 comments