Monthly Archives: August 2014

Father of the year

Dads, we get a bad rap. We rarely get enough credit. And, you know what, a lot of us totally rock.

We do the things no one else at the house will – plumbing, mowing, raking, gutter cleaning, taking out garbage and grilling. We don’t ask for credit. We don’t need praise or crave attention. Maybe it’s because we’re used to not receiving any.

That’s about to change.

It’s time to give dads credit. We deserve it.

Heck, we’ve earned it.

Earlier today, I dropped my only child off at Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School, part of the Greensburg Salem School District, in Southwest Greensburg. The day was landmark for several reasons:

  1. Anna was embarking on her first day of kindergarten.

photo (7)Anna friends

  1. Dad works an evening job.

For 5 1/2 years, my daytime was filled with Anna. All Anna. All the time. We took walks. We read books. We listened to music and watched cartoons. We sang and danced to Katy Perry. We played soccer, wiffleball, rode bikes, went to the mall. Had lunch dates. She came to the gym with me. She was my constant companion, and one incredible friend.

Suddenly, at 8:53 a.m., my Anna walked herself inside Hutchinson after giving a couple football players from Seton Hill high fives and disappeared into the masses. She was officially a student. My whole world changed at that very moment.

I had something called FREE TIME.

What’s that you ask? Well, for parents, it’s that time when you’re not working and not watching your children. It’s rare, some say. I wouldn’t know. I hardly had any the past five-plus years. Now, I’ll have plenty of it. Golf? Fishing? Not rushing at the gym? Day drinking? These are all possibilities.

And I’ve earned it.

People keep asking me, “How are you going to be when Anna starts school?”

I dreaded the potential answers. The day before she started, I grew sentimental. I knew I’d miss her. I even teared up a time or two thinking about the impending event. I thought about how women would smile and tell me what a wonderful father I was because I took my child to the doctor’s office, the dentist, the grocery store or wherever. It always came across as sexist to me. After all, I don’t work during the day. What else would any respectable father do?

But as I walked with Anna, hand-in-hand, toward Hutchinson today, I didn’t get upset or sentimental or sad.

I was happy. Yes, I’m going to miss her constant chatter, companionship and love, but I’ll figure it out.

Happy for Anna, who was hopping along singing some Mary Poppins tune. Her life is just beginning, and I see someone who is going to seize every opportunity.

See, Anna isn’t your typical kindergartner. Sure, most parents would say that, but how many of them have kids who can more than hold their own in conversation with a roomful of adults or can name extensive songs from the KISS catalog or not only question everything and anything, but take the time to critically think about the answers. She’ll hear something two years prior and bring it up in conversation for the first time, every detail intact.

I’m only skimming the surface. If you’ve met Anna, you know. She’s the true definition of “something else.” She’s going to own that elementary school. No doubt in my mind. I hope you all feel the same way about your child.

And I’d like to think I played a big role in that. I’m certain I did.

Halloween

Dads, I know a lot of you are just like me. You’re willing to be there for soccer practice, school pickup, to put on your daughter’s jewelry when she asks, wear a costume to the school Halloween party or to sing a Guns’n Roses song when the mood hits. You’ve taken your child to the doctor and ice skating lessons and dance recitals.

So that’s why this one’s for you. Keep on rockin’.

 

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Joining the KISS Army

Destroyer

Anything can trigger a romance with rock. And the great thing about jumping into something serious with the art form is that love never dies. The flame may flicker, but it will always burn.

And it’s impossible to forget the thing that made you falls head over heels with it.

It can start with something simple. Maybe it’s holding a hard copy of KISS’ “Destroyer” on vinyl. At least that’s how the romance blossomed for me.

It happened along Water Street in West Brownsville, a sleepy, little community just inside the Washington County border and across the Monongahela River from Brownsville in Fayette County. West Brownsville’s inhabitants are hard-working people. Some worked on the railroads, or at least had a father or uncle who did. By the time I was six, my mother’s parents lived on Water Street, and my Uncle Jimmy occupied one of the upstairs bedrooms. Inside that bedroom was one kickin’ record collection.

Elton John. Little River Band. Loggins & Messina. Hall & Oates. Just some of the records that caught my attention at an impressionable age.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, made an impact like “Destroyer” did. The cover – the four members of KISS in their full kabuki regalia, rock poses struck, an ominous skyline possibly from another planet – remains one of the best on rock history and easily ranks among the best KISS created, with “Dressed To Kill” right there.

I had to know more.

I had to hear this band.

And what I heard wasn’t anything like I had heard before. This wasn’t Michael Jackson or Kenny Rogers or Neil Diamond (all amazing acts). This was rock. I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I was on a mission to own every KISS recording on cassette.

And, 34 years later, KISS still makes a giant impact, not only on me, but the music of theirs I share with my 5-year-old daughter, Anna, who wants to be a certified card-carrying member of the KISS Army. See, KISS isn’t the devil’s music, like some wanted people to believe in the 1970s and 80s. Paul Stanley, aka the Starchild, is Walt Disney and Cal Ripken rolled into one package of 60-and-over awesomeness. Listen to the Starchild and, you too, will believe hard work and rock can change the world. That’s the Walt Disney in him. Watch Stanley bring it every single night on stage and it’s easy to realize he brings it every single night, never taking a night off. That’s the Cal Ripken in him.

Stanley sure brought it Sunday night at First Niagara Pavillion (so hard not calling it Star Lake). So did the rest of KISS, particularly guitarist Tommy Thayer, who are co-headlining a tour with Def Leppard.  It’s the 40th anniversary of the New York band, and they weren’t lacking for energy or volume.

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Indeed, it was another outstanding show, albeit a short setlist. No “Strutter” or “Firehouse” or “God Gave Rock’n’Roll to You II” or “Cold Gin” or “I was Made For Lovin’ You”  or “Shock Me” – all KISS live staples. That’s about the only complaint to be had from the show. Unlike Motley Crue, who are stuggling through a farewell tour, KISS seem to be getting stronger.

They can’t get back to Pittsburgh soon enough. Hopefully, it’s not with another headliner.

 

 

Joining the ALS fight

I was critical of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in a recent post, but as long as people are donating in addition to dumping water, I’m ok with it.

Donating is what I did after my friend Michael Findley challenge me to do the #ALSicebucketchallenge. Then, I dumped the cold water.

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Tesla still gots the chops

More Aerosmith than Def Leppard, more swagger than glam, Tesla continues to fly under the radar as rock’s most underrated band despite yearly touring and an impressive output of new music the past decade.

Tesla's Dave Rude, left, and Frank Hannon form a formidable 1-2 guitar punch.

Tesla’s Dave Rude, left, and Frank Hannon form a formidable 1-2 guitar punch.

The Sacramento, Calif.-group’s chops were on full display last Thursday at Stage AE, an indoor/outdoor venue just across from Heinz Field along Pittburgh’s North Shore. Tesla played indoors, and overwhelmed an appreciated audience with a mix of new tunes off the band’s latest release, “Simplicity,” and timeless Tesla classics. And, yes, many of Tesla’s older tunes have more than stood the test of time. “Modern Day Cowboy” sounds as fresh and urgent today as it did when the group dropped its debut album, “Mechanical Resonance” back in 1986.

Tesla’s setlist went as follows: MP3, Edison’s Medicine, I Wanna Live, Hang Tough, So Divine, Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out), Mama’s Fool, Life is a River, The Way It Is, Burnout to Fade, What You Give, Signs, Love Song, Gettin’ Better, Modern Day Cowboy, Little Suzi.

Lead singer Jeff Keith delivers whether it's a rocker like "Hang Tough" or a ballad like "Love Song."

Lead singer Jeff Keith delivers whether it’s a rocker like “Hang Tough” or a ballad like “Love Song.”

Hard to believe the band had only two top-10 hits during its peak (Love Song and Signs), but that’s part of Tesla’s appeal and that appeal is a reason why the band can tour every year and still pack people into smaller- to mid-size venues. The guys in Tesla – lead singer Jeff Keith, lead guitartist Frank Hannon, guitarist Dave Rude, bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Lucketta – have an every-man appeal. They come across as the guys you might be living down the street from and can hang out with while slamming beers at a backyard barbeque.

Tesla truly plays like a band that wants to be on tour, not one that needs to tour.

Frank Hannon. Enough said.

Frank Hannon. Enough said.

And with a guitar player as strong as Hannon, a criminally undervalued axmaster who blends expertly with Rude whether the song is electric or acoustic, and a solid rhythm section, Tesla brings energy and raw power to its shows. Even if Keith’s voice isn’t as strong as it was when the band supported its “Twisted Wires & The Acoustic Sessions” album two tours ago, it’s still got plenty of mileage left. And Keith’s voice is one of rock’s best – part Mick Jagger, part Steven Tyler, part Joe Elliott, 100 percent awesome.

Save water, write checks

The latest craze sweeping America? It’s the well-meaning Ice Bucket Challenge, which is designed to raise awareness for ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Everyone from Bill Gates to the downtrodden have accepted the challenge of dumping a bucket of ice water on their head. 

Here’s a video:

The cool thing is celebrities are donating money to help the fight against ALS. As for the millions of people filling up social media timelines with videos of dumping ice water on themselves and challenging others to do it, let’s be real. 

Stop wasting water and start writing checks. 

Farewell to Motley Crue

My musical tastes are geared toward rock from the 1970s and 60s, in particular the Grateful Dead. But, as 40 is knocking down the door, there’s no denying I grew up in the age of stonewashed jeans, Ocean Pacific t-shirts, biker shorts, big hair and flourescent everything.

Tesla, Whitesnake, Guns n’ Roses, Ratt. These bands were a big part of coming of age.

Count Motley Crue among the many musical products of 1980s excess that always please the eardrums. Every time “Girls, Girls, Girls” comes on, I instantly remember driving in the front seat of my dad’s car on the way back to Somerset from Cairnbrook, where half my family still calls home. The song just hit No. 1 on B94’s “Top Eight at 8” and I was so ecstatic, I rolled down the window, blasted the song and pumped my fist in jubilation.

The celebration was short-lived. Pops told me to turn it down. But that love of Motley Crue still lives. It’s why I’ve seen the Crue every time they’ve hit the Pittsburgh area in recent memory.

The most recent came Wednesday. Billed as “All Bad Things Must Come to an End,” Motley Crue claims it’s no longer touring after this last gallop through the country. The group went as far as signing a cessation of touring agreement.

Here’s hoping Motley Crue holds up that end of the bargain.

Or, if they don’t, they return with someone other than Vince Neil fronting the band.

What Neil delivered Wednesday was nothing short of garbage, and without a quality frontman, that brand of hard rock just doesn’t hold up live. My friend BT, one of the few people who’s seen more live music than I have, contemplated suing Neil on behalf of rock that night. It was a good joke. Kind of.

The case would be credible.

Neil coasted his way through the show. Little effort given. And it conjured up images of Tommy Lee, one of the 10 greatest drummers in rock history and a main reason why the Crue has a level of credibility many of bands of the genre don’t, saying, “If I ever see Vince Neil’s fat, bloated face again, it will be too soon.” But this isn’t meant to pile on Neil for being pudgy, it’s about cheating fans out of hard-earned money.

At the Pittsburgh show, Crue’s backing vocals drowned out Neil and the instruments were so loud, there were times Vince couldn’t be heard. Apparently, this isn’t a one-time thing. It’s how most of the farewell tour has gone.

So, yes, it’s time Motley Crue. It’s time to say farewell. Thanks for the memories. Just stop providing bad ones.

Even when Motley Crue played the mellow "Home Sweet Home" Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Vince Neil was hard to hear.

Even when Motley Crue played the mellow “Home Sweet Home” Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Vince Neil was hard to hear.