Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rock out with your adult male domestic chicken out

I looked out at the crowd in Yamasaki Plaza. A sea of familiar faces looked back at me expectantly. Very shortly, I'd find out if I was going to fail miserably. I looked at my keyboard, its black and white teeth smiling vacantly back at me and wondered how I got into this situation.

I blame Ajax Laundry Detergent.

Well, I guess I need to explain that a little further. One day I was hanging out at my friend Eric's house. Eric had a drum set, and we'd just kind of goof around and try to play along with whatever we were listening to. I was goofing around intermittently with the keyboard he had lying around.

"Brother and Sister" by Erasure came on, and I picked out the intro on the keyboard. Here's the song for reference:

Eric was impressed with how quickly I picked it out, hearing the song for the very first time, and asked how long I'd been playing. I told him I got my first keyboard for my 10th birthday, but I didn't really play very well. This was true; I could pick out melodies by ear, but I had a hell of a time trying to play anything with both hands at the same time.

I tried to tell him it was luck more than anything that I played it, but he didn't buy it. I felt like I was deceiving him somehow. While it was the first time I'd heard the song, the intro was similar to something else I'd listened to a kajillion times: the jingle for Ajax Laundry Detergent.

One of the CDs I listened to constantly was the TeeVee Tunes compilation of classic commercial jingles, and the "stronger than dirt" part of the jingle was similar to the intro of the Erasure song.

Yes, I realize there's an entirely good chance that I was the only 15-year-old in the world who would've made that connection, but let's just ignore that for right now.

Well, this one little thing got blown out of proportion by Eric, who told our friends that I could play anything after listening to it once, and in all honesty, I was not as diligent as I could've been in dispelling this notion.

So when it came time for the Spring Cultural Faire my senior year in high school, a few of my friends decided they'd band together and play some songs. They had a drummer and guitarists, but they needed a keyboardist for a few songs.

"Hey, Sparkman," one of them asked me, "do you think you could learn the intro to 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' in time for the Cultural Faire?" I had put the song on a mixtape I'd made for this particular friend, so I was already familiar with the song.

They just needed me to play the introduction; I didn't need to learn the solo crap in the middle. That wouldn't be a problem, I thought.


"Awesome. You'll be our guest keyboardist," he told me. Another friend of ours, Nick, was going to play on The Doors' "The End."

Being the attention/affection whore that I am, I couldn't pass up a possibility to perform in front of fellow students, so I was looking forward to it.

Not so forward to it that I started to learn it as soon as I got home that day, but I was pretty jazzed about it. We went over to Eric's to practice, and everyone else was hashing out their parts. Someone would ask me how my part was coming along.

"Oh, I'll be ready," I said, which sounded positive, but was also true, considering that I had yet to try figuring it out. This was pre-Interwebs days, so it's not like I could just Google the song and get the music.

Here's part of the song. The part I was in charge of is at the very beginning.

So the weekend before I was to make my guest performance in front of my peers, I decided that I'd stalled long enough. I pulled the album out of the cabinet and put it on the turntable. After a few abortive attempts that had me seriously worried that I wasn't going to figure it out in time, I turned the record player off and tried to play it from what I had stored in my brain.

And all of a sudden, it clicked. I kicked myself after seeing how simple it was. So I spent another few minutes just trying to play it all at once without screwing up.

Within a half-hour of starting, I had it. Now I was able to go over to Eric's to practice. We ran through the song a few times, and we had it down about as good as we were going to. We were prepared.

So on the day of the actual performance, it occurred to me that I didn't know what I was supposed to do once I finished my part. It was only a few seconds long, and this was a long song. Was I supposed to sit there like a tool?

The band, Toast House (I didn't come up with the name, but I wasn't surprised at the story behind it), was introduced, and I realized that this was my moment to not screw up.

I started playing.

Aside from a minor screwup, I did okay. After playing the last note of the intro, I turned off the keyboard and went to sit in the front with the rest of the audience. The rest of the show went just fine, with one of the high points being my friends and I wondering if Richard, our guitarist/singer, was going to drop the F-bomb during his rendition of "The End."

After the performance, people I didn't talk to much would say hi or make a comment about the performance, even though I played only for a few seconds. Considering I was used to getting attention as a target of ridicule--which admittedly was seldom by the time I was a senior in high school, but old habits die hard--it was nice to be noticed for something else.

Thus I ended my rock star career while I was still on the top.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Taking the day off to spend time with the family.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Crazy-ass pizzas

Notice the hyphen in the post title; these aren't ass pizzas that are crazy (although the very notion of an ass pizza certainly is crazy; I can't deny that).

Apparently, in 1970, since there was no Internet, no home VCRs and only a handful of channels on TV, people had lots of spare time on their hands.

At least, that's the only reason I can think of to explain these treats:

Is that Ronald McDonald in the top left?

With Chef Boy-ar-dee Complete Pizza Mix and copious amounts of alcohol, you too could create such edible masterpieces. You get all the basics: sauce, flour mix and cheese.

Now, looking at these pictures, it appears that Chef Boy-ar-dee is being slightly disingenuous. I'm thinking you get a dime bag of Parmesan cheese. Any other dairy products are purely from your own supply.

These look like the pizzas (or pizza pies, if you will) I've seen in old drive-in intermission commercials for the concession stand; pizzas that appear to have been sponsored by Clearasil.

And I'm sorry, if you put sliced hard-boiled eggs and pasta on my pizza, you're getting deadlegged as soon as I catch you.

Funny-shaped cakes = good

Funny-shaped pizzas = lynching

This nightmare-inducing ad came from the Dec. 1970 issue of 'Teen magazine. Yes, the Siftin' archives truly know no bounds.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Thundercats, LOL!

I can't believe this isn't a shirt already:

See, kids, you can have fun with apostrophes.

And while we're talking about Thundercats, why haven't I seen ThunderLOLcats?

...And keep your foot off that blasted samoflange!

Oh. Right. Well. Moving along...

Monday, June 30, 2008

A writing quandry

I actually prefer writing fiction to nonfiction, not that you'd ever know it by my writing output. Aside from a brief productive period during my junior year in high school in which I managed 125 pages (not coincidentally, in the mostly pre-Internet, pre-insanely addictive guitar-based video games era), I don't get very far in my fiction writing.

Part of it is guilt, I suppose; feeling guilty that I'm taking time from my family by being hunched over the computer. Another part is the feeling that I'm wasting my time--I have nothing "important" to say.

This usually manifests itself in wondering "how the hell would I market this to someone?" The stuff I find myself writing isn't all that easy to explain succinctly. I guess you could say it's funny. I mean, I try for it to be, anyway.

But I don't see many books marketed as comedies; do you? And the humor section is generally essays and other nonfiction.

I started a story for National Novel Writing Month last year, and much like every other story I've started, I haven't finished it yet. At least with this one, I'm still interested in seeing where the story ends up.

But I find myself balancing the notion of justifying spending time and effort on something that will likely only be seen by me and a few friends with the simple fact that when it comes down to it, I have to write. I can't go long without it, lest I get headaches.

Writing: My brain's way of taking a dump.

This is not a thinly veiled plea for compliments, though I admit I have no shame and will take them. It's mostly me just wondering out loud if the stuff I want to write has an audience that makes it worth writing.

Here are a few stories I've worked on in the past few years, boiled down:

Fraternal twins celebrate the end of their 20s by going on a road trip.

Dracula's son and the Frankenstein Monster team up with other monsters to halt a zombie invasion.

A coming-of-age story about a smartass high school student.

I stop once I get to the point that I ask myself why I'm writing it. I mean, those are all interesting to me, but I'm not sure that I'm the average book buyer.

My ultimate goal is to sell a book, but first, I have to finish one, right?

When I was in junior college, the teacher offered a chance for extra credit if we a) made a list of 10 potential markets for our writing and b) submitted a piece to one of those markets.

I'd never submitted anything before, and if I didn't want the extra credit, I probably wouldn't have bothered, because damn near every book on writing tells you not to be discouraged because no one gets accepted on their first submission.

When August rolled around and I got a manila envelope in the mail with a check for $10 and a copy of the magazine my article appeared in, I was ecstatic. Yeah, it was only 10 bucks in a tiny magazine, but I got published on my first try.

A normal person would be inspired by such an event and start churning out reams of stuff, submitting it to every market that seemed to fit.

But since I'd met my goal of being published by the time I turned 21 (I actually beat it by a little over a year), the pressure was off. I set a new goal to publish a book by the time I turned 25.

This turned into 29, 30, and is now resting perilously at 35, which gives me a shade less than two years to get off my ass.

If I were smart, I'd write a story about some wiseass who keeps procrastinating when it comes to a life goal he set when he was in elementary school.

I'll write that when I get around to it. I've still got until November 2009.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Walk this way...

Taking the night off and playing Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. W00t!

My band name is FVB, which stands for Future Villain Band. Before you tell me what a craptacular name for a band that is, watch this: