Monday, August 23, 2010

The Return of Poetry!

Today I found a relic. It's called Watermark: the creative arts magazine of Linganore High School. I have four submissions (the first four submissions in the magazine, as it were): three poems and an essay entitled "A Redress of Grievances in Regards to Ocular Aides OR 'My Rant About Glasses'." Wow, what a mouthful - I can't believe I thought that was a good idea.

Anyway, I'd like to share two of the poems with you, because surprisingly enough I think they actually hold up fairly well. Without further ado, I present Poems from the Past.

Theme to the Fall of Man

Factory fires, funeral pyres,
Putrid stench of burning tires.
Smoke stacks, flapjacks,
Acid-leaking battery packs.


Computer chips, pink slips,
Fools go out and skinny dip.
Lines of code, a la mode,
Information overload.

It's falling out. It's falling out.
We're learning to live in doubt.

Human race, turn your face,
Hide away in your happy place.
Sing your song, nothing's wrong -
We can all just get along.

Digital music and books on CD;
Pray to the god of technology.

Everything is fine, The O.C.'s on at nine.
Who cares if the world is in a swift decline?
Don't go out alone, hold on to your cell phone;
You sold your soul for the coolest ring tone.

All that was green turns to brown.
Idols of man come crashing down.

Bottled water, lambs to the slaughter,
Got to get the money come hell or high water.
Jet lag, corporate slag,
Pledge allegiance to the flag.

Drowning in a sea of McDonald's and Wal-Marts,
The world's a stage, and we're all just bit parts.

Nuclear winter, summer of love,
Astronauts rockin' in the stars above.
Global warming, media storming,
Politicians all performing.

Wherefore hath the flaming balls of doom
Descended on your living room?

Apocalypse now, don't ask how,
Step on up and take your bow.
Nuclear war, hammer of Thor,
There will not be an encore.

Exit stage left.
Exit stage left.

War Child

Mind like a Rubik's Cube,
Heart like a vault,
Poised before the brink of the final assault.
Know they enemy as thy friend
And let him meet a merciful end.
Men fall like stalks of wheat
And vultures swoop to collect the meat.

The warrior's blade is his only companion.
Old vendettas run deep like a canyon.
Can you hear the bell sound?
For whom does it toll?
For men who've lost their souls.
Some are going home
And some are left in holes.

Under a bloody sun,
Bloody deeds are done.
The warrior waits anxiously
Like the bullet in his gun.
This lonely mother's child
Once was meek and mild;
Now his clothes are torn
And his eyes are wild.

Now his tears run like rivers
And he's filled with shrapnel slivers,
And though the day is hot
He's cold and he shivers.
The warrior's been brave
But he's too wounded to save.
Now the call of duty
Calls him to his grave.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bit Gen Gamer Fest

Today, August 14, was devoted equally to both nerding out and rocking out (cock-in I should note) at the Bit Gen Gamer Fest at Sonar in Baltimore. This festival (though I don't believe "festival" truly encapsulates everything that transpired there) was devoted to gaming culture and showcased 11 of the biggest names in video game music - and those are big names indeed. They are also extremely nerdy names. These names were, in order (or as best as I can remember it):

  1. Armadillo Tank
  2. Rare Candy
  3. Ultraball
  4. Year 200X
  5. The X Hunters
  6. The OneUps
  7. This Place Is Haunted
  8. The Megas
  9. Entertainment System
  10. The Protomen
  11. Powerglove
The event was MC'ed by none other than Brentalfloss (no, I have no clue who he is either). DJ Cutman was also spinning in the merchandise room. In the main room, there were a number of arcade cabinets set on free play. It was truly a unique experience playing Excitebike and Marble Madness at a rock concert. There was also a wall of consoles set up with comfy couches, but I would venture a guess that those were occupied by the same people the entire night, so I never even got near those. They also had Super Smash Bros. set up on a projection screen in the merchandise room.

I won't go into detail about every single act - in fact, I didn't even see every single act. I will discuss the ones that were the most notable.

Armadillo Tank, the first act, certainly had me intrigued by their name. See, when I hear the phrase "Armadillo Tank," there's only one thing that comes to mind:

Why yes, that is the cover of the 1971 Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Tarkus. I thought, "Surely, this is a coincidence. There's no way I'm listening to a video game music band named after an obscure progressive rock album." Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the band's music was decidedly less than my enthusiasm for their nomenclature. Well, I should rephrase that: the music was actually decent, but it was completely ruined by their vocalist, who had absolutely no business being on that or any stage. What was she doing there, other than ruining what could have been a good thing? They should have just handed her a cowbell or a tambourine - anything to get the microphone out of her chubby hands.

The story regarding Armadillo Tank does not end there, however. Later, after their set, I was walking through the merchandise room and stopped by their table. The reason I stopped there was because the Armadillo Tank table was being wo-manned by the bass player, who was hot. I wanted to strike up conversation, but I didn't want to come right out and ask her what was on mind.

So instead I just asked, "So...Armadillo Tank? How'd you come up with that name?"

She starts to reply, "Well, I don't know if you've ever heard of the band Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "

"YES!" I exclaimed, probably more jubilantly than I should have. But I really was that excited - after all, what were the odds of meeting a hot female bass player who not only likes ELP, but likes them enough to name a band after one of their lesser-known albums? I was so thrilled I told her about my idea to get a tattoo of the Tarkus, uncaring of how stupid that sounded.

Now I was in a bit of an awkward position though. After all, at this point I was pretty much obligated to buy something. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way I was going to purchase their CD. Instead, I used my last $5 to purchase the Armadillo Tank t-shirt. Now, I can walk around the world with this shirt on, and when people come up and ask me "Armadillo Tank? What's that?" I can answer, "Oh, it's a band that I don't really like."

Allow me to back up for a moment and enlighten those who may be confused about what I mean when I talk about video game music (henceforth referred to as VGM) bands. It's actually not as self-evident as the label would suggest; like "indie rock," VGM encompasses a wide variety of musical styles, from 8-bit electronica to ska to metal. Another important distinction is that not all VGM bands simply covers of songs from video games. A number of bands, e.g. The Protomen (more on them later), write original songs whose lyrics are inspired by video games. For the Harry Potter fans, this would be comparable to wrock bands.

I'll run down the other bands that actually left an impression on me. Rare Candy I had seen previously when I saw them open for The Protomen at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore back in the spring. Their lineup consists of a drummer, a bass player (who shreds in another VGM band Entertainment System), and two keyboard players, which for some reasons strikes me as awesome. When I saw Rare Candy the first time, I liked them enough that I actually bought one of their CDs. They do straight up covers of 8-bit video game songs, but they rock so hard that I can actually excuse their drummer for playing in a Pikachu costume.

We left to get some food just as Ultraball began "performing." They were a band only in the loosest sense possible, as their act appeared to consist solely of two dudes in Pokemon costumes screaming the in the faces of the audience. They didn't even bother getting on the stage. We also missed Year 200X and returned just after The X Hunters had started playing. They played frantic guitar-driven covers of Mega Man songs and appear to be fairly new to the scene. I was strongly considering buying their CD.

The OneUps did not leave much of an impression on me. They boldly proclaimed at the beginning of their set that they are the only band who play "video game music you can have sex to." I was skeptical, and while they certainly weren't bad, they didn't really live up to this lofty ambition.

The next band, on the other hand, definitely left an impression on me. They were called This Place Is Haunted and they performed perhaps the most random set list I have ever heard. They opened with a medley of 80's TV theme songs, which included: Duck Tales, Inspector Gadget, Full House, and Ren and Stimpy. They also played a couple Disney songs ("Under the Sea" and "Prince Ali"). And, of course, a generous helping of video game songs, including selections from the classic games Castlevania and Chrono Trigger (one of the greatest RPGs of all time, I might add).

The Megas, like The X Hunters, play songs based solely on the Mega Man games. Unlike The X Hunters, they play rock songs with Mega Man-inspired lyrics. This sounds a lot like The Protomen, but unlike that band, The Megas weren't that good. They suffered from the same problem that Armadillo Tank had (though not to as great a degree), i.e. solid music muddled by shoddy vocals. I really don't understand why so many bands insist on relying on a sub-par singer when they would really be much better off as a purely instrumental band (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*).

Finally, I get to the last two bands (we didn't stay for Powerglove, so I can't speak to them) and to where shit got out of hand. As soon as The Megas left the stage, my friends and I made our way towards the front so that we would be in a prime position to see The Protomen. The band preceding them was called Entertainment System, and they were certainly the heaviest of all the acts that performed. The guys could certainly shred, I'll give them that. Unfortunately, at this point the drunkest of those in attendance completely abandoned propriety and began moshing. Now, those of you who may scoff at the idea of a mosh pit at a VGM concert probably don't realize that a lot of nerds are also metal-heads and metal-heads love to mosh. There was some moshing at the Rare Candy/Protomen show, but it was nothing compared to what happened at Bit Gen.

Now, after Entertainment System left the stage, I think The Protomen realized that this might be a problem during their set and so, while they were setting up (which took nearly an hour), their personal MC/cheerleader K.I.L.R.O.Y. attempted to rid the crowd of their excess energy and also get them excited for the band by leading an impromptu dance-off and then a train around the club led by the winner of said dance-off. Unfortunately, the moshing actually got worse, so much so that it almost ruined the show. The moshers were even moshing during songs that were completely inappropriate for moshing. I'm not even sure they were paying attention to the music at this point.

Directly in front of me was a short, stout dude wearing a backwards cap and a button-up shirt. The first time that a mosher inadvertantly slammed into him, this meaty dude grabbed the mosher by the collar and shouted in his face, "If you fucking touch me again I'll fucking kill you!" This seemed such an exaggerated reaction to me that I actually thought this guy was joking, that he would suddenly grin and go, "Nah, I'm just messing with you." This did not happen. As the moshing got more and more out of control, this guy got angrier and angrier. Any time moshing caused him to so much as have to shift his weight, he would turn back and glare at the moshers with a look of such frightening intensity that I really thought he was going to just dive into the middle of the mosh pit and start swinging. The second time this guy had to grab a mosher and yell in his face, I genuinely believed that the concert was about to devolve into a brawl with this dude at the center. But ultimately, Angry Dude had more common sense and left the crowd before things got violent.

As for The Protomen...well, they were still awesome, of course. But I'm glad that wasn't my first time seeing them, since the constant moshing made it very difficult to pay attention. As this post has already gotten quite lengthy, I won't go into a full description of the band. Instead I'll just direct you to their official website and their Wikipedia page.

Anyways, Bit Gen Gamer Fest was a lively and spirited time had by all. I will definitely be attending next year as well as the Magfest coming up in January. I hope that, for those of you for whom this is a completely unfamiliar concept, you will check out some of these bands and perhaps become a convert to the VGM scene. I mean, video games are great and music is great, so what could be greater than combining the two?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Childlike Faith in Childhood's End

Sometimes I actually feel like I've gotten dumber over time.

Maybe "dumber" is not the proper term. But it certainly seems that, in spite of all my education and experience, there are certain things that I could do when I was a kid that I just can't do now. Where did those capabilities go? Can I get them back? Will I ever buck my over-reliance on rhetorical questions?

I used to read - like, as a hobby. As in, more than when I was just on the toilet, like it is now. Not only that, but sometimes I would read two books at the same time. Not simultaneously, mind you. I would go back and forth between each book, reading a chapter from the first one day and a chapter from the second the next. And somehow I did that without using bookmarks. Seriously, I didn't need bookmarks. I would just remember where I left off and go right to that page. There is no way I could do that now. Being a college student doesn't leave a whole lot of time for recreational reading. Well, in my case, it does - but when you have to read dozens of pages a night for class, it doesn't leave a whole lot of desire.

Another thing I seemed to have lost is my endlessly active imagination. Actually, that sounds really depressing when I read it. Perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement, but it doesn't change the fact that I was a lot more imaginative as a child - as we all were, I suppose. I used to sit in the laundry room playing with Legos while my mom did the laundry, and while she busied herself with that chore I would entertain her with ridiculous stories that I would make up off the top of my head.

The details of these improvised tales are largely lost to me. I believe one was about something I referred to as "gopher fillings," and no I haven't the slightest idea what those are; one involved "a carrot that turned into a brick," though I believe there were many more permutations involved; and one was about a floating head that could only say "Hola!" and terrorized an entire town of people in spite of their best efforts to destroy it. This last story was inspired by my older brother who was taking Spanish. At the time, the extent of his vocabulary was "Hola! Como estas? Bien, gracias. Y tu?" which he would utter as one sentence...over and over again. In addition to entertaining my mother as an adorable little raconteur, I would also do characters. For example, I once pretended to be a newspaper reporter with severe amnesia interviewing her about doing the laundry, but every few minutes would forget key details like what I was interviewing her about and my own name.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I had more ambition as a kid than I do now as an adult. My very first personal computer was a hand-me-down from my grandfather running Windows 3.1. It didn't even have a mouse. This was my first experience with a word processor and it blew my mind. One of the things I distinctly remember writing was my own spy novel "inspired" by James Bond - which is to say it was completely ripping off James Bond. I was playing the shit out of some Goldeneye at that time. But it was still an original plot with an "original" character and it was at least 50 pages by the time I was done with it. I'd be thrilled today if I could stick with a story for 50 pages before deciding that I hate it.

When my younger brother and I played games, we didn't just play "Cops and Robbers" or "Tag." I forced Adam to be a character in a story which existed only in my head, to combat imaginary foes who actually had a motive and an objective which we were trying to thwart. This still consisted primarily of us running around with sticks, but looking back it makes me realize that I totally should have done drama in high school.

So what the hell happened? Where did all that amazing (if childish) inspiration go? When I was a kid, I came up with ideas faster than I could even write them down. Now, in the rare instances when I am presented with a nugget of an idea, I seize it like a starving man reaching for a piece of meat and inevitably end up smothering it. Now, the creative process is cruel to me, but back then being creative didn't require a "process," it was just something I did naturally.

My theory is that self-awareness is a double-edged sword. Self-awareness in the sense that I am referring to is something that children do not possess. It is the ability to step outside yourself, in a sense, and examine yourself from the eyes of another. It is the ability to assess your own strengths and weaknesses and understand just what it is that makes you tick. It's an extremely important trait to have as an adult; I firmly believe that it is self-awareness and not education or IQ that separates intelligent people from idiots. But with self-awareness comes self-doubt, and self-doubt is ultimately what cripples the imagination and turns innocent little kids into cynical hipster douchebags. Kids don't stop to wonder whether their ideas are hackneyed or derivative, or what the critics will say, or even whether or not the idea makes any sense at all. When a kid has an idea, he simply takes it and runs with it.

So I ask you, the readers: what are some things you used to be able to do as a kid that you can't do now? Are there things you remember doing as a kid that you wish you had the guts to do now?

ALSO: 1 million blog points to anyone who can tell me the artist whose song I have taken the title of this post from.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Outlaw Jam, Frederick Fairgrounds

I saw some strange things today.

These include, in no particular order: a man wearing a t-shirt that read "Tits Clits Or Bong Hits;" a middle-aged biker chick with a patch on her leather vest that read "My inner child is a mean little fucker;" Karl Marx in a muscle shirt and cargo shorts; a mentally handicapped guy wearing hipster glasses and size-0 gauges in his ears; a group of 40-year-old women trying to act like teenagers; a shirtless middle-aged man with a gargantuan potbelly and a bushy mustache smoking a cigar whilst exposing his ass-crack to the world; a man with a prosthetic leg and Confederate flags tattooed all over his shoulder.

These people were gathered all in one place today at the Frederick Fairgrounds. The 2010 Outlaw Jam (the first and, hopefully, last of its kind) drew a staggering assemblage of rednecks, bikers, and redneck bikers. Today I saw more horrendous tattoos than I have ever seen in my life. I saw hairstyles which stretch the very definition of that word to new lengths. I saw basically the worst that America has to offer. I cannot think of another situation in which a family of Jews could possibly fit in worse.

The event was an all-day affair, but my family and I did not arrive until 4 pm when the main acts began. We came to see Candlebox, Blue Oyster Cult, and Bad Company, with Bad Company being the headlining act and the one that most people were there to see. Candlebox did not leave much of an impression on me, as I know exactly one of their songs. Blue Oyster Cult was very impressive, especially since they played at the Fourth of July celebration at Baker Park two years ago and I recall that performance as being lackluster. Today, the guitar solos were supercharged and technically dizzying, especially on "Godzilla." They were accompanied by "monster bass player" Rudy Sarzo, who has played with such acts as Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Whitesnake, and Dio.

Bad Company did not disappoint. Paul Rodgers, the singer, has not lost anything with age and the music sounded even better than it does on the albums. Bad Company is not a band that I necessarily get excited about, but they are still a truly classic rock and roll band and they put on a truly classic rock and roll performance. Bad Company is a band that both of my parents grew up with and so this was a pretty big deal for them. I, for one, appreciate the lyrical depth of Bad Company's music; with songs like "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," "Ready For Love," and "Feel Like Makin' Love," this is a band that is not afraid to tackle the more dense, challenging themes.

Being immersed in the beer-soaked heart of Fredneck only served to remind me that, although I have lived in Frederick County since I was in kindergarten, I have never and will never consider it my community, and its people will never be my people. I'm not ashamed to live where I do, but I'm certainly not proud of it either. It's not something I generally think about. The fact that I live in Frederick County only enters my mind in those rare instances when I have to deal with large numbers of Frednecks and in the more common instances when I have to listen to people from Montgomery County talk about how great they are simply because they live in MoCo.

This I can never understand. MoCo people are the only people I have ever known to a) see their county as a source of pride and b) feel a sense of camaraderie with people who have nothing in common other than happening to also live in Montgomery County. The only bearing that my county has on me is that it determined what schools I went to, and since Mt. Airy sits on four counties, it's just as likely that I could have ended up in living in Carroll, Howard, or even the prestigious Montgomery County. My girlfriend makes fun of me for shopping at Wal-Mart, but I find it more bizarre that there are apparently no Wal-Marts in all of Montgomery County, at least according to her. Why is this? Does Montgomery County consider itself "too good" for Wal-Mart? Does it even matter?

Clearly, there is a class issue at the heart of this matter, as Montgomery County is the second-wealthiest county in the entire nation. But I've gotten sidetracked here. My point here is that I hate being surrounded by rednecks, but what I hate even more is people assuming that I myself am a redneck simply because of where I live, especially since that could not be any farther from the truth.

But I'd like to hear some feedback on this issue. Post a comment telling me whether your county is actually important to you and if you have had any experiences similar to mine in dealing with people from Montgomery County.