Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman: A Sort of Review

sunne in splendour          With all the hullabaloo recently regarding the newly discovered remains of English King, Richard III (of which I am still not convinced is true), I am reminded of my favorite Historical Fiction novel, The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman.  This was the first of the genre that I read, and it hooked me instantly.  I knew nothing of Richard III when I read the book, but I have always loved Medieval European history, and so the story suited my tastes.

This epic tale of 944 pages includes battles, political alliances, family discord, romance, intrigue, and a little mystery—all things one should expect from a story regarding the English throne.  It takes place during the War of the Roses, as the House of York retrieves power back from the House of Lancaster, and puts Edward IV on the throne of England.

The book’s title comes from the standard of Edward IV, and is at first centered on his climb to power and his twenty-two year reign.  Richard is portrayed in the book as being fiercely loyal to Edward and the House of York, and is content to serve his brother in any way that he can.  He has no ambition to rule, and merely wants to guard his own corner of the kingdom and serve as one of Edward’s closest advisors.

Penman writes this book almost as an apology for all of the horrible things that history has said about Richard III.  In her own research, she felt that Shakespeare, commissioned by the House of Tudor, had unfairly portrayed Richard III as a deformed, disfigured monster who brutally murdered his own nephews to take the throne for himself.  Shakespeare portrayed Richard III as a dwarf hunchback with a withered right arm and a hideous face that terrified children.  Clearly, there is a lot of spin put on that description by the victors (The Tudors), who may not have had as strong of a claim to the throne of England as the Plantagenets.  There was never any mention of any deformity before Shakespeare’s time, nor was Richard III ever accused in his own time of murdering his nephews.

Richard’s nephews—Edward IV’s sons—were locked in the Tower of London for safe keeping after Edward’s death, because of a dispute to their legitimacy due to some improper troth to Elizabeth Woodville.  There can be no way to know for sure if they were locked up because of Richard’s ambitions, or because Richard wanted to keep them safe from warring factions.  If the boys were truly illegitimate, then the House of York would lose the throne, and Richard definitely did not want that.

What is indisputable, however, is that some time during the boys’ imprisonment in the Tower, they were taken away and never seen again.  The boys disappeared in 1483, and the remains of two young boys were found in 1674 under the stairs leading to the Tower’s chapel.  It was then assumed that the remains belonged to the boys, and that Richard had them murdered so that he could take the throne uncontested.  All of this is covered in Penman’s novel.

Many scholars believe that the Tudor spin machine, and then later, Shakespeare, created terrible stories about Richard III to strengthen the Tudor’s claim to the throne after Henry Tudor defeated Richard’s armies at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.  The Tudor’s did not have a strong claim to the throne, but they had allied with the Lancasters to dethrone Richard and the House of York.

Penman seems to take the opposite extreme.  She portrays Richard as a saintly man; dedicated to the Church, his wife and children, his mother, and his brother Edward.  He also helps to intervene on his other brother George’s behalf after George’s treachery against Edward.  He doted on Edward’s children, and even tried to accept Elizabeth and her insufferably useless family.  Penman depicts Richard as a good man who would never do the horrible things for which history remembers him.

In my own later research, I have come to find a happy middle between Shakespeare’s monster and Penman’s saint.  Richard III was certainly an ambitious man; how could he not be?  But he was deeply religious and pious, and he was intensely devoted to his family.  I have a difficult time believing the portrayal by the Tudors as anything but political spin aimed to make all of England’s citizens hate the Yorks.

And with that, I have a difficult time believing that the remains found in the parking garage in Leicester were, in fact, Richard’s.  It would be wonderful to believe that his lost remains were found, and could be buried with honor, but since the remains show a severe curvature of the spine, I am inclined to believe that people are still looking for the historically inaccurate version of Richard.  Even if the DNA tests prove that the skeletal remains match the living descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne of York, I am not convinced.  It only proves that they found some relative belonging to the House of York, and not necessarily Richard.

After the Battle of Bosworth, Richard was brutally butchered and desecrated by the victorious Tudor army.  Local Friars buried Richard in haste, in an attempt to keep his body from being further desecrated, and the grave was quickly forgotten and lost afterwards.  Scholars have been looking for the remains for centuries, and now they believe that they found it, but I still think there are too many questions left to ask.

Regardless of current events, Penman’s book is a beautifully crafted epic.  It is historically accurate in most parts, and she fills the blanks masterfully with an appropriate voice.  Although Edward is the King throughout most of the book, the story is about Richard.  Penman creates believable characters that are both beautiful and ugly, which is something that we all face, especially ambitious political leaders.  It is the type of book that I love to lose myself in, and then feel a deep sadness when the book ends.

And so, I immediately devoured everything else she wrote.  I read the “Welsh Princes trilogy” (Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, and The Reckoning), but I read them in the wrong order, so I want to read them again.  I also recommend the “Plantagenet” series (When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and The Devil’s Brood), as well as her historical mysteries (The Queen’s Man, Cruel as the Grave, Dragon’s Lair, and Prince of Darkness).  I have yet to read her latest book, Lionheart, which is actually book four of the “Plantagenet” series.

The Sunne in Splendour introduced me to a whole new genre of reading: Historical Fiction.  I have read the wonderful Helen Hollick, Bernard Cornwell, Ellis Peters, and so many others thanks to this one book!  I have a degree in History, and I have been a lifelong History nerd.  I do not know why it took so long to discover this genre.  I also plan to use Historical Fiction as a teaching tool in my History classes.



Filed under Literature Reviews

Wednesday Earworm

I have been too busy to write anything of any worth these past few days, what with the new job and all.  But before I head off to job #1 this morning, I thought I would share the song that is stuck in my head since I woke this morning (wow, I’m writing like someone who has not had enough sleep).

I wrote a while back about the Canadian Indie musical revolution of 2007, and I always wanted to do a Part 2.  Well, until that happens, here is one of my favorite bands from Montreal, Wintersleep.  From their 2010 album, New Interiors, this song “Trace Decay”, is a nice upbeat rocker with a smooth breakdown in the middle.  I love it.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!


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Song for My First Day on the New Job

By the time this posts, I will be about half-way through my first day on the new job.  However, if I were at home hanging out with the kid, this is the song I’m sure I would be hearing him play on the bass guitar.  It’s one of his favorites, and one of my favorites to hear him play.

Have a lovely Sunday, folks!


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Character Development Exercise – An Interview with Matthew “Huey” Guinness

From an October 1999 interview with Music Science magazine:

Matthew Neal Guinness, better known as Huey, was born on February 8, 1968 in the Arden-Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento, CA.  Huey was the sole product of a one-night stand between his mother, Lucinda Guinness, and an unknown member of the popular rock band, The Turtles.  Even Lucinda could not remember whom it was that she slept with, and her younger brother suggested that it might have been a roadie.  She managed to get backstage after the concert, and got so excited that she had sex with someone from the touring party.  Nine months later, Huey was born.

Lucinda lived with her parents in Sacramento for the first six months of Huey’s life, before marrying an old high school friend who was a recent draftee of the Vietnam War. He shipped out shortly after the wedding.  Nine months after that, Huey’s only brother, Terrance, was born.  Terrance’s father was killed in the war, leaving Lucinda alone to raise her two boys.  She received a decent pension, but lived with her parents for another seven years before marrying again and moving to the Sacramento suburban neighborhood of Orangevale.

Huey got along well enough with his stepfather, Grant, but was rebellious in nature.  Huey would fight with Lucinda and Grant about doing chores around the house, and then go to neighbor’s homes to work odd jobs to earn money for himself.  Later, in his adult life, he was a natural hard worker, and Huey rarely spent any of his time idle.  After a full day at a landscaping or roofing job, he would come home and renovate cabinets at home, or paint the walls.  He felt best when his hands were busy building or repairing.

Huey got his name from his best friend, Cody.  In middle school, most kids called him Matt, but Cody decided that there were too many Matt’s in the world, and if he was only going to use half of his name, then he should use the last half instead.  So, Matt became Hew, and eventually, Huey.  Only his mother still called him Matthew.

At 5’11, and roughly 185 lbs, Huey’s body is lean and muscular, and his hands betray the brutal calluses of a man who has worked manual labor for most of his life.  He is handsome, but his exterior toughness hides it from the world, as if beauty were a sign of weakness that he would like to snuff out.  He leers and snarls a lot, and covers his face with an old trucker’s cap that looks older than him.  His wild, brown curly hair is barely contained under the cap, and he prefers to keep it short, but months on the road has kept him too busy for grooming.

He still wears the old jeans that he used to wear hanging sheetrock just two years ago.  They are torn and worn in the front, like a $100 pair of designer jeans, except that Huey’s pants came to this state naturally.  Like Cody, Huey prefers a plain, solid colored, pocketed T-shirts to anything fashionable or designed. And there is always a pack of Marlboros in the shirt pocket.

There is nothing contrived about Huey.  He may be busy with the success of Dutch Oven’s platinum album, Me & Whoever, but he acts as though he is just as content to go back to work building a house.  One gets the idea that success has not changed Huey at all.

We meet at his favorite deli in Old Orangevale, and he gives a curt wave to acknowledge me before going straight to the counter to grab a couple of Heinekens–both for him.  As we start the interview, it is clear that he is uncomfortable talking about himself, and would prefer to have Cody with him.  But he honors my request for a private interview, and after a couple of beers, his answers come easier with each question.  However, by about the twelfth question, Huey is onto his fifth beer, and it is clear that other substances may be affecting the interview.  He gets more contentious and defensive with each question.  By the end of the interview, he is almost completely incoherent.

20 Questions with Huey Guinness:

1)  If you had a full free day with no responsibilities, what would you do?

            Um, besides this interview?  I don’t know.  I guess I’d see what kind of work needs to get done at the house…

Sorry, that sounds like a responsibility.  What do you do for fun?

That is fun, for me anyway.  I don’t like to hit the bars, or anything; not a club rat, or anything like that.  Usually, I work, and then I drink some beers and watch a game, or something.  The guys like to hang out here, which is fine, ‘coz I don’t like driving around too much.  Since I’ve been in this band, there has not been a whole lot of time for fun.  When Cody’s off with his other band, I still work with my brother doing custom home remodels.  But when Cody is home in Fair Oaks, we play all the time.  We are rehearsing, or recording, or playing gigs.  There is no free time when Cody’s home <laughs>.

2)  What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

You tell me.  No?  Okay, I guess I am pretty quiet and shy.  I really don’t think too much about what kind of impression I make on people.  I prefer to think about what I gotta do each day.  If I’m building, then I am too wrapped up in that.  If it’s music, then I am too wrapped up in that.  It’s not as if I ask people to fill out a questionnaire.

How about after they have known you for a while?

            Well, I guess I scare people a bit.  I like to drink, and then I get honest, and when I get honest, people don’t like me much after that.

What do you mean?

Well, I guess you could say that all my inhibitions slip away.  Everything that I am not saying when I’m too busy to think about saying them comes out of me.  I guess I can get a bit nasty.  Cody and Jamil call me “Crazy Huey”, like it’s a different person, but it’s still me, just talking.

3)  What is you proudest personal achievement?

That I am still here, I guess.  Nobody has ever handed me anything.  I earned my right to be here today.  I earned my right to say whatever I want.

You mean this interview…

            No, everything.  I worked my fucking ass off my whole life, and nobody has ever given me a single fucking thing.  I have been supporting myself since before I left my mom’s house because I knew that it was only a matter of time before she kicked me out.  I prepared myself.  I have worked every single crap job you can imagine to keep me on my feet.  Even this Dutch Oven bullshit; it won’t last, and that’s why I still work construction during the off-season.

Even though you have sold over 1 million records in eight months.

            Especially since we have already sold a million records.  We don’t know if we are a flash in the pan or the real deal.  I’m not going to wait around for the bottom to fall out.

4)  What are you most ashamed of in your life?

            When I was a kid, I used to steal stuff.  This was before I started working, but I would steal stuff.  I would shoplift from stores, steal from my Grandma’s purse, steal from my step-dad’s wallet, from friend’s dad’s wallets.  You name it.  Someday, I’m gonna find a way to give it all back.  It won’t be enough to make up for the deeds, but at least I can give it back.

5)  Do you believe in God?

Not in anything that you would recognize as a god.

Could you elaborate?

            Well, I was raised Catholic; I was an altar boy and everything, but something never really clicked with me about it.  Me and Code would have long, deep conversations about it when we were kids, and I’ll bet he’d give you the same answer.  It don’t make any sense.  I’m sure there is something more powerful than me in this universe, but here on Earth…I don’t see it.

6)  What would you like for your epitaph?

“Don’t fucking call me Matt!” <laughs>

7)  What is the worst thing you have ever done to someone?

            Well, I used to steal, we covered that.  I burned a dope dealer once or twice, but who cares about them?  I used to give my mom all kinds of undeserved hell.  Aside from all that, I can’t think of anything too terrible.

8)  What are you most afraid of?

Having nothing, and no way to earn my way in life.

9)  What is the most important thing in your life?

My little girl, Sunshine, of course.

What about her mother, where …

We don’t talk about her.

10) What do you like best about yourself?

Oh Jesus! Are you kidding me?  Well, let’s see…hang on…

            <goes to get another couple of beers>

What was the question?

What do you like best about yourself?

            Shit.  Umm, well, I guess I like that I am a hard worker.  I would do anything for my daughter.  I’m a pretty good guitarist. I’m gorgeous! <laughs> Fuck it!  Next question.

11) What do you want right now?

For you to erase over that last question.

No, seriously…

            No, seriously.  Right, let’s get serious.  I want more beer and a blowjob.  That’s it, now let’s wrap this up.

12)  How important are your friends to you?

            Awww, I love my friends.  They are really important.  I mean, I’m a pretty independent guy, but I love my boys.

Didn’t you and Allan Beard have a falling out?

            Say that name again, and I’ll knock your teeth through the back of your fucking head!

All right…take it easy.  Nobody told me that was a forbidden topic.

            I just did.  Next question.  <gets up to get more beer>

13)  How important is your band to you?

            Well, it’s a chance to be with Cody.  Who knows if he’d even come hang out if not for the band.

So that’s it, just to hang out with Cody?

            I’d be just as happy pouring concrete or hanging drywall.  The music is great, and I am getting more used to being on stage in front of people, but I don’t know if I would do it if it weren’t for Cody.

14)  Could you stay in the band if you were no longer friends with your bandmates?

            I think I just answered that.

Right, but some bands don’t even speak to each other.  They are just a corporation forced to work together…

            Naw, it would never come to that.  I’d quit if it ever looked like that was happening.

15)  Could you stay friends with your bandmates if there was no longer a band to hold you together?

            Oh yeah, easily.  Remember, Cody was gone for 10 years before he came back and started the band.  We did fine without him, and we would see him whenever the Manatee was in town, and hang out and shit, so you know, we’ll always be friends.  The band’s just a thing.  We don’t need it.  It’s just a thing that’s goin’ on right now.

16)  What would you do if Cody walked out of your life right now?

            What the fuck are you talking about?  You know something I don’t? 

No.  It’s just a question.

            Well, didn’t I already say that he was gone for 10 years and when he came back it was just like he never left.  We got a pretty tight bond so even if he did bail we’d just reconnect later in life.  You put too much emphasis on these material ties, man.  He would never just walk out anyway, more like he’d be on some other trip, and I’d be on some other trip and we’d just move on.  But then we’d get back together and have a few beers or whatever.

17)  What is the worst thing a friend could ever do to you?

           Fucking betrayal, man.  Friends are supposed to have your back and always be there and never fuck you over.  They don’t steal your shit, and they don’t fuck your woman, and they don’t send people over to take your shit.  Man, next question.

18)  Say you met the love of your life; your perfect soulmate.  Now say she wanted you to quit the band.  Would you do it for her?

            I dunno, I’ll let you know if I ever meet her.

Well, think about it.  Is the perfect lover enough for you to leave the band.

            What the fuck is with you and all these questions about me quitting the band?  What’s goin’ on here, man?  I ain’t quittin’ and Cody doesn’t want me to quit and so fucking what if he did?  I got other irons in the fire, man, and this band thing is just a thing, and if some chick wants to break up the band, I’d tell her to fuck off ‘coz she ain’t worth it.  The band’s the thing…<the tape gets unintelligible at this point>

19)  What do you offer the band that no one else in the world could offer?

           I’m Cody’s man, man.  We’ve been best friends since 7th-grade, and even 10 years in Connecticut couldn’t break up this friendship.  He would leave the Manatee so he could be in California full-time if I asked him to.  We learned how to play guitar together.  He gave me my name, Huey.  I’m like his other half, but not in a gay way, right?  We ain’t like that, but we might as well be.  We’re like twins.  He needs me, the fucker!

20)  How honest have you been throughout this interview?

            I don’t even remember most of it, so I’m guessing I been real honest.  Wasn’t really payin’ attention.  Gotta work hard to lie, right?

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Alice in Chains – Dirt (A Review)

Even if you were actively engaged in the Grunge era of 1991-1994, you may not remember much about this album.  Sure, it contains the mega-hits, “Rooster” and “Would”, and it also charted well after its release.  Some even consider this to be one of the best Grunge albums of all time, and I would have to think hard before arguing with that claim.

However, twenty years later, it hasn’t aged well due to the extremely graphic nature of most of its songs.  This album is a shocking masterpiece; the musical version of movies like Se7en and Requiem for a Dream, in that you probably only want to watch them once, and then never again due to their deeply disturbing nature.  Dirt is not a fun, party album; in fact, it is a horror show, vividly depicting the Hell an addict lives through every day.  You would have to be able to appreciate beauty in dark places to appreciate this album.  Like Se7en and Requiem for a Dream, Dirt is easy to love, but you probably will not revisit it until after a few years of emotional recovery.

Most of the songs from Dirt deal with singer Layne Staley’s drug addiction.  It is graphic and honest, suggesting that his deepening descent into addiction was so obvious that there was nothing else to write about.  However, not all of the songs are about drugs.  The album starts with two angry, but drug-free, powerhouses.  Of the twelve songs on the album, guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote five of the lyrics and Staley wrote the rest.  However, even some of Cantrell’s lyrics seem to deal with Staley’s worsening problem with addiction.

Musically, it is a masterpiece.  It is a heavy Grunge album, with saturated tones and the dark-sounding drop-D tuning, and every song is masterfully crafted.  One of the finest features of Alice in Chains is the vocal harmonies of Staley and Cantrell.  The two sing together so well that it is no wonder that Staley rarely sings solo.  Cantrell’s smooth, high harmony blends perfectly with Staley’s gritty baritone, and the two voices add so much character to the songs.

The first single, “Would?”, is the last song on the album, and is classic Alice in Chains.  Whereas most bands have the lead vocalist sing the verses solo and bring harmonies in at the chorus, Alice in Chains does just the opposite.  The song is haunting and brooding, almost a whisper during the verse before kicking the chorus into overdrive.

Cantrell wrote the lyrics to “Would?”, reportedly in response to the accidental overdose and death of friend and Mother Love Bone singer, Andrew Wood, (Wood, Would?—get it?).  However, since it closes out an album filled with Staley’s drug-addled moans, you can imagine that they were aimed at Staley; whether in support, or in an accusatory tone, I am not sure.  With lyrics like…

Know me broken by my master


So I made a big mistake, tried to see things once my way

…it is not hard to see the connection.  Perhaps Cantrell is trying to tell Staley something.  Either way, the song closes out the album, and seems to confirm every statement made in the previous songs.

The album begins with “Them Bones”, a driving, dirty, grungy pulse in 7/4 time featuring screams from Staley that are just as coarse as the guitars.  Due to the subject matter of later songs on this album, it is easy to assume that the lyrics are about drugs and death.  However, I interpret it differently; I think it is about the rising stature of the Seattle music scene and that posers and second-rate knockoffs will soon overtake the natives. Perhaps Cantrell is saying that in the end, we will all become a “big old pile of them bones”, but I do not think it is due to addiction.  For example…

Dust rise right on over my time, Empty fossil of the new scene

…seems to speak to the growing popularity of the so-called Seattle scene.  The nightclubs and bars had more record executives than music patrons at this time, and bands were changing their sound to fit the new fad.  By late 1992, most of Seattle’s Grunge heroes were already denouncing the name “Grunge” and anything related to a Seattle scene.  Their private world had been encroached upon, and they did not appreciate it.  Kid of like the original San Francisco scene during the Summer of love, except grungier.

The next song, “Dam That River”, is reportedly about a fight between Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney.  The lyrics are angry and violent, with “So you couldn’t dam that river” a metaphor for holding back your trash talk.

The third song, “Rain When I Die”, is the first of the drug songs, and the first of Staley’s lyrics on the album.  It is an oblique statement about trying to get clean and failing.  In the lyrics, Staley speaks of a woman, and it seems as though they are trying hard to get clean.  When she tries, Staley slips and she eventually walks away from him.  His heart is broken, but at least he has his drugs to soothe him.

The fourth song, “Down in a Hole”, is possibly the most ambiguous song on the album.  One can easily interpret it to mean drug addiction, with lyrics like…

I’ve eaten the sun so my tongue has been burned of the taste


I’d like to fly, by my wings have been so denied

It is easy to imagine that he has overindulged in his habits to the point that he can no longer break free from this life he has created.

However, since Cantrell wrote the lyrics, I imagine the song is more about losing love and feeling as though one could never love again.  He writes…

Bury me softly in this womb, I give this part of me to you

…I interpret it as someone who has given everything they had to a relationship feeling lost and alone when it ends.  Beautiful song, however sad it may be.

The next song, “Sickman”, is quite obviously about Staley’s addiction.  I can see no other way to interpret it.  It is a song filled with self-loathing and desperation.  He knows that he is fucked, and may have already resigned himself to death.

I can feel the wheel, but I can’t steer

When thoughts become my biggest fear

What’s the difference, I’ll die

In this sick world of mine

Track number six, “Rooster” is probably the best known Alice in Chains song.  It is probably also the best song on the album.  It is the odd man out; not being about drugs or death specifically, rather, it is a tribute to Cantrell’s dad, who fought in the Vietnam War, and was nicknamed ‘The Rooster.”

The next five songs are all Staley lyrics, with the last two being written entirely by him—words and music.  These are the most gruesome of the batch, and are the reason that it is so hard to listen to the album on a regular basis.  I mean, they are dark!

“Junkhead” is about as in-your-face as a song can get.  No hidden meanings here–no ambiguity.  Staley almost seems to glorify his lifestyle, but it is more of an honest depiction of the daily life of a junkie.

Nothing better than a dealer who’s high, Be high, convince them to buy

What’s my drug of choice?  Well, what have you got?

I don’t go broke, and I do it a lot

Next is the title track “Dirt.”  This is the most horrifying of all.  The song takes the point of view of someone so smacked-out that they no longer care about life or their friends and family.  The song is about wanting to commit suicide out of revenge for how he got to this place.  He clearly blames someone; an ex-lover, a family member, a friend, and he wants them to feel as badly as he does now.  It’s pretty sick, and I will admit that I always pass this one over when I listen to the album, which is too bad, because the music is quite awesome!

Next is “God Smack”, which on the surface is a clear ode to heroin. Staley takes it a little deeper, though, and makes heroin his God.  In the lyrics, he knows that heroin will kill him, and he even admonishes himself for trying it in the first place.

What in God’s name have you done?

Stick your arm out for some real fun

So your sickness weighs a ton

And God’s name is Smack for some

Staley knows what he has done, and now he knows that he is powerless to change it at all.

“Hate to Feel” continues the theme, but goes even deeper into Staley’s addiction.  This is the first of two songs that Staley wrote entirely.  Here, he takes his self-loathing to new highs.  The song is about not wanting to feel anything.  It is unclear if he started doing drugs to blot out some old pain, or if the drugs have made him numb and now he hates to feel anything (meaning the drugs have worn off and he needs a new hit).

Used to be curious, now the shit’s sustenance


The last of the autobiographical songs by Staley is “Angry Chair.”  In this song, Staley seems to vent his anger at anything that crosses his path.  He hates his addiction, but it is now all that he wants to do.

Little boy made a mistake, Pink cloud has now turned to grey

All that I want is to play, Get on your knees, time to pray

He refers to the record company waiting for the album to finish, and that he freely admits to imbibing on the job anyway.

Corporate prison we stay, I’m a dull boy, work all day

So I’m strung out anyway

He now realizes that no one can relate to what he is going through.

Loneliness is not a phase, field of pain is where I graze

Serenity is far away

This song is not about the drug itself, but the mind of the person who lives with addiction.  It is about personal struggles, and the realization of what he has become.

Dirt is not exactly a concept album, but the drug songs follow a pattern from trying to clean up (Rain When I Die), to the gradual descent toward accepting one’s fate (Sickman, Angry Chair), to the eventual death of the constant user (Would?).  The non-drug songs fit perfectly with the drug songs due to the tone of the music, and the aforementioned gorgeous vocal interplay between Staley and Cantrell.

I will freely admit that I only listen to a few of the songs from this album on a semi-regular basis.  There are clear classics, like Would?, Rooster, Them Bones, Rain When I Die, Down in a Hole, and Angry Chair, but the darkness of the lyrical matter is too much for me these days.  Back in the day, I listened to this album all the time, but I guess I like to be happier when I listen to music nowadays.

However, I will not dispute that this is a brilliant masterpiece of an album.  Just don’t listen to it when you are already depressed!


Filed under Music Reviews

It’s Not About What I Want, It’s About What I Need to Do

So, I am starting a new job this weekend.  This will actually be a third job for me.  My first job, substitute teaching pays peanuts and is not nearly enough to cover my bills.  My second job, massage therapy, has gone the way of the water buffalo, but I still have the occasional client.  So, now I am going all the way back to my roots—restaurant work.

Times are tough.

I put everything that I had into my education, and I finally got my teaching credential at the end of last summer—right after the hiring season.  I want to teach high school History, but here in California, budget cuts have put the squeeze on schools, and they just are not hiring as they ought to.

Now, I am in a pretty dire situation financially, and am forced to take a job that I do not necessarily want, but this job will help, and that is what is important.

What I want to do is teach History by day, and write by night (or late afternoon).  I also want to do yoga everyday, and go to Giants games with my son when baseball season starts.  Oh, and there is the large musical project that I have wanted to do for years that is still collecting dust in the attics of my imagination.  I also want to climb Half Dome and summit Mt. Shasta.

Again, it is not about what I want, but what I need to do.  Right now, my priority is taking care of son and myself.  That means food, clothes, housing, and utilities.  Then I can make time to write.  And then we can do yoga, play catch, go to Giants games, etc…

I have a positive attitude about starting this new job; it is a good restaurant, and I was impressed with the people who work there.  Not like my old restaurant jobs where everybody hated each other and competed to fuck each other over whenever possible.

I was a chef for twelve years.  Actually, I cooked for twelve years, and I was a chef for the last six of those twelve years.  I love to cook and create dishes.  I loved creating menus and blowing the minds of the wait staff with my daily specials.  I worked in one restaurant where all of the cooks were encouraged to create the most ambitious specials every day.  That type of creativity inspired me.

Then I went to work for a corporate prison of a restaurant in which everything was cooked exactly the same every time, and there were no variations, and no daily specials.  The menu was God!  That place was so uptight and vicious that all of the employees were at each other’s throats regularly.  I lasted there three months.

I have also worked in restaurants in which business was so slow and unpredictable that we usually had a skeleton crew working, and if we did get busy, the place turned into a living nightmare.  We were so understaffed, that when the inevitable busload of people walked through the door on a Friday night, we could not keep up with the orders.  It is no wonder that place failed.

I have worked with some of the finest chefs in Sacramento, and learned a lot from them, but at the end of the day, kitchen staffs are often filled with overly ambitious, angry, and bitter little people.  And I got tired of it.

I retired from the restaurant industry in 2000, and have not walked into a kitchen since; until this past Wednesday when I had my working interview.

This new restaurant seems different.  For one thing, it is a Vegan restaurant, so no more coming home smelling like fish and industrial-sized deep fryers.  Another thing, because it is a Vegan restaurant, the employees seem to bond over a common interest in healthier eating.  I think this also brings a much healthier attitude to the kitchen.

I think I will be happy working there.  It is only a part-time gig meant to supplement my teaching income, so I doubt burnout will ever set in for me.  It will mean that I will work literally every day of the week, but so what?

It is what I need to do right now.


Filed under Deep Thoughts, man...

Why Gotye is My Mortal Enemy

I know that hatred is a wasted emotion; it does nothing to serve me, and it can be both physically and emotionally toxic.  However, just as Richard Nixon had his enemies list, so, too, do I have a few people that I will never forgive.  For example, Dwight Clark robbed the Dallas Cowboys of the NFC Championship in 1982 with “The Catch”, and it took the ‘Boys ten years to recover.  Will Clark hit a grand slam against the Cubs in the NCLS in 1989, which pretty much ended the Cubs’ great season right then and there.  Finally, Glenn Ballard created Alanis Morrisette, made Aerosmith a joke, and stripped away everything unique about the Dave Matthews Band and turned them into every other band on mainstream radio.  These things are unforgivable.

I used to have Dick Cheney on this list, but since he is a demon, and sucks the souls of the innocent, he cannot be held to any human standards.

However, I have a new enemy, and the fact that he is the darling of the music world now because of his treachery makes him the worst of all.  I am referring to Gotye.

The face of evil!

The face of evil!

I know I should love him because he is Belgian, but no, he committed the most heinous crime of all:  He ripped-off Elliott Smith.

The face of a saint!

The face of a saint!

Long before that techno-wannabe-poser got famous for the song, “Somebody That I Used to Know”, Elliott Smith recorded his own song of the same name.  Gotye copied Elliott Smith in title only, but it was a unique title and response.

When Elliott Smith recorded his original version of “Somebody That I Used to Know”, it was an original sentiment.  It was clever, and the perfect burn on an ex.

            I had tender feelings that you made hard

            But it’s your heart, not mine, that’s scarred

            So, when I go home I’ll be happy to go

            You’re just somebody that I used to know


            You don’t need my help anymore

            It’s all now to you, there ain’t no before

            Now that you’re big enough to run your own show

            You’re just somebody that I used to know


Elliott pours his heart into the lyrics, all while trying to pass off nonchalance.  He acts as if he does not care, but he clearly does.  His internal pain is evident, even if he tries to shrug her (?) off.


Compare that eloquence to Gotye’s boring sentiment.

            But you didn’t have to cut me off

            Make out like it never happened at that we were nothing

            And I don’t even need your love

            But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

            No, you didn’t have to stoop so low

            Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

            I guess that I don’t need that, though

            Now, you’re just somebody that I used to know

Those look like lyrics an 8-year old might have written.

As if that is not enough for me to spew my contempt and spite toward Gotye, he stole the title of another Elliott Smith song, from the same damned album!  Is he intentionally stealing material from Elliott’s album, Figure 8? Makes me wonder who else he is ripping off.

The other song that I refer to is Easy Way Out, and it is another beautifully crafted song by Elliott.   Gotye’s song is, of course, a cheap piece of crap.

There can be no forgiveness.

I know that Goatse will be hurt by my words here, but he needs to learn that cheaters never prosper, unless you consider winning Record of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammy’s prospering, then he totally can.

One last thing, “Best Alternative Album”?  Alternative?  Really?

Fuck you, Grammy’s!

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Filed under Music Reviews