Blue Orchid

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The power chords drove my mind into a dark place. I felt the singer’s voice scream his snarky question into my eardrums, “You got a reaction, you got a reaction didn’t you?” I was only on my second beer so there’s no way it was a drunken dream, Jack White wasn’t talking to me, at least not directly, was he? I struggled to keep myself together while writing in a notebook at the bar. Three weeks after filing for divorce, turning my sheltered suburban life into a drama worthy of its own reality show, I found myself wondering if The White Stripes were sermonizing to me like manic street preachers.

It was February 1, 2006, exactly 10 years from this keystroke. Miserable, lost and looking for answers in a bottle of Guinness, I swore then I’d screwed up my life so severely, I’d never recover. It was hyperbole worthy of a teenage YouTube star, that didn’t exist yet.

If life is made of key moments, ones that define you, this was one. I was alone, emotionally. I was single, living as a co-caretaker for my sick grandfather and trying to figure out how to be a good father to my then 2 1/2-year-old daughter. She’d never remember this tumultuous time in our family, but I’d carry the memory a decade later.

All I wanted was to be happy combined with finding the decent fatherhood skills. I didn’t ask God or myself for a new wife or more daughters or even to finally become the writer and creative force I’d envisioned when I graduated college 13 years earlier. Yet, they all happened. The details are pointless, because they wouldn’t have occurred without fixing my problems. I went to work on myself with a ethic I created on my own, as I went along. Church, therapy, writing every day, focusing on my kid when we were together and understanding that what I thought and did was important, as long as they were honest.

Almost 3 years later I would remarry and add two more daughters to my family. I fixed a broken man, then made him ready for happiness with people who deserved him and vice versa. It’s a bizarre but self-aware anniversary.

So yeah Jack White, I got a reaction, I got a reaction didn’t I?

Bring on the filthy guitar licks.

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Volunteers

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One’s man’s revolution is another’s nuisance, a philosophy I cobbled after running a Saturday morning errand.

I walked out of an auto parts store with jumper cables to help my wife from a bind. A young woman, around my daughter’s age, twenty, bounced past me with an arm full of political flyers. They read “Feel The Bern.”

Curiosity and mischievous like-mindedness made me turn around. I watched her get turned down by middle-aged men inside.

“We don’t do politics here.”

I smiled at her as she idled by and had a peculiar, sinking feeling that her burning idealism was better than my cold apathy.

 

****blogger’s note****

My friend Tara of Thin Spiral Notebook http://thinspiralnotebook.com/2016/01/27/100-word-challenge-peculiar/ has taken over the 100 Word Challenge from Velvet Verbosity. It’s how Tara and I met well over 5 years ago. Each week, a new word is posted and you write 100 words in any style then post it to your blog and hers. I’m excited to be back into it.

This week, Paul Kantner, the co-founder and rhythm guitar player for the legendary San Francisco band, Jefferson Airplane died of organ failure at age 74. In tribute to him, I wrote 100 words about being politically active. RIP, sir. Here’s one of the greatest political protest songs ever, Volunteers.

Stagefright

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Like a lot of 11-year-olds, my youngest daughter wants to be “a famous singer or dancer or writer or something where the spotlight is on me” when she grows up. Soon, I’ll be able to tell her whether it’s all that it’s cracked up to be because I’m the headliner at a comedy show for thirty very long minutes of blue light directly cast upon me and a room full of people wanting to be entertained.

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I remember wanting to be a writer or maybe a sportscaster or a news reporter at her age but I was more interested in my mind being the center of attention and not all of me. After several years of working the media, both radio and televisions stations, having me in front of others seemed overrated. I quit in 1995 and became much more anonymous. Last year, I started doing stand up comedy after a two-decade break. At first I thought I’d get some stuff off my chest, collect some laughs and move along. Then I met some fellow comedians, got some advice, wrote a lot and figured out I could perform in front of five to fifty mostly total strangers and not completely suck.

One the places I became a “regular” was a bar and comedy club in Athens, Georgia, about 45 minutes from my house called The Office Lounge. Hosted by two comedians, Alia Ghosheh and Veronica Darby, it became a unique place where they let me work on topics I wanted to talk about and tighten “my act” once a week. Also, once a month, they ran a comedy show with a headliner, a feature act and the usual “open mic” comedians who wanted to show up and work on their jokes, stories and one-liners. I was usually part of the “open mic’ers”. Eventually showing up went from half the battle to winning the war. I headlined a couple of non showcase nights and didn’t have anyone walk out asking for their five dollars back.

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Monday night, January 25th, I’ll do something for the first time, be the headliner of an organized, paying comedy show. I want to tell you I share my little girl’s confidence, but I’m terrified. I’m not scared of the crowd, there will be some familiar faces in the audience including my wife, close friends and Office Lounge regulars but I’m more worried about taking the next step of being an open mic’er and occasional feature act (the “opener” for the headliner) to having the spotlight like my daughter wants.

Showtime is 8pm and there will be some extremely funny comedians before me including my friend and selected feature act, Keyla McClure. If you’re in the area, 2455 Jefferson Rd, Athens, GA 30607 aka The Office Lounge, stop by and see if I can handle my Stagefright.

Thirty-three years ago this week, an album was released that ruled mu suburban Atlanta suburb for over two years. Here’s a deep cut from Def Leppard’s Pyromania, Stagefright.

A Funny Thing Happened To Me On My Way To Quit Writing

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If there’s a universal truth among every person it is that they want to matter; to their loved ones and to themselves. For creative types, the ones who paint, sculpt, play, conduct or write like me, we want to express ourselves in the most real way we know, our art.

I’ve been writing almost every day of my life since I was eight-years-old. I’ve written four books, published two, and worked as a journalist on and off for over twenty years. I turned forty-five less than 2 months ago but I almost quit writing earlier this year because I thought I didn’t matter.
Writing online is a full contact, brutally damaging intellectual activity. After a decade doing so, I’ve noticed that not being able to look people in the face when you critique them makes it easier to be ridiculously cruel and ultimately very dishonest.

At the beginning of the summer, the first week of June, I did something to salvage my love affair with writing.

I became a stand-up comedian.

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It’s the best artistic decision I’ve ever made because now, I can see people in the face when they tell me I suck.

I’ve always liked comedy. I listened to comedy albums of many famous comedians growing up. Once my parents got cable television in the early 1980s, I watched any comedy special that aired. I grew to admire people who could stand before an audience and make them laugh, just like the musicians I also idolized. I thought comedy and music were the greatest forms of artistic expression because the audience feedback is immediate and very organic.

Writing is different, especially on the internet. You spend hours, sometimes days writing something, and finally after crucial, gut-wrenching edits, you hit send. The reaction is also fast, but I’ve learned it’s not always true.

Many studies have been done about online bullying or “trolling” and while an argument can be made that it’s more sociological than psychological, I’ve come to my own conclusion that understanding why people behave the way they do over the computer is a lost cause. Some people just want to watch the world burn and take others into the fire.

Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 23, I took to a comedy club stage for the first time. Over a span of about 15 months I did dozens of open mikes, five to fifteen minute comedy sets, then didn’t pursue it further. I thought I was just a writer.

Earlier this year, to both break through writer’s block and find out why I had become so disillusioned, I talked with several comedian friends I know through the internet. Surprisingly, they all encouraged me to give stand up another try because of the material I shared over the Twitter and Book Of Face (Facebook). After this advice from friends, I penciled jokes, one-liners, asides and funny stories about my life with a blended family of a wife and 3 daughters into a notebook, practiced in front a mirror and my dog then booked a set at a local comedy club.

What happened next not only changed my perspective on people, it saved my love of writing.

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Onstage in a comedy club, there’s a weird sense of equality. Everyone’s there to have fun. If you’re funny, you’re funny. If you can make people laugh, you can make them listen and eventually think. After five minutes of telling a room full of strangers how unpredictable and dysfunctional my life is, I was transformed. I didn’t “kill” but I didn’t bomb either. I did get immediate feedback and it was more honest than anything I’d ever received from writing online. People came up to me with smiles on their faces and told me what they liked and disliked. They were encouraging and even thought I’d been doing comedy for a while.

Since that night in early June, I’ve performed more than 30 times. One recent set happened in a pizza pub turned comedy club for a night in front of about 50 people, mostly college students, twenty years younger than me, you know, my college sophomore daughter’s age. I made a room full of diverse jaded millennials laugh consistently for over 10 minutes. The best part was sharing the stage with several comedians who have been doing comedy as long as I’ve been writing. The democracy in their constructive criticism made me appreciate my writing.

I’ve even found two to three “regular” places to show up and do comedy each week. I’ve even been paid a handful of times.

The lost hope I’d felt from faceless review was now buoyed by the in your grill honesty of heartfelt evaluation.

I’m not saying everyone who blogs or tweets or tosses up a status that gets more than 5 likes should find a hot mike to justify their online existence but for me, using another creative venue to expand myself artistically helped. Now instead of avoiding the comments, I can just use them in my next set and become slightly more annoying by adding “comedian” to my media that are social bios.

Plus, I feel I matter, at least to myself, a little more.

Thanks a lot, that’s my time. My name’s Lance. I’m here all week.

Here’s a song about a comedian, one who did everything he could to be different and find himself, Andy Kaufman; immortalized by R.E.M.’s Man On The Moon.

Electioneering

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I have a deep, dark secret and I think it’s time I reveal it.

I’m a idealist.

I know you read this space, follow me on the Twitter or the Book Of Face and you swear I’m a dark-hearted skeptical cynic that thinks everything sucks and so do most people. It’s the skin suit I wear over a heart that believes in a lot of things, but mostly the world can be a much better place if we just paid attention.

With the media that are social seemingly controlling our lives in at least how we communicate you’d think we’d figure out different avenues to drive down to make our streets safer and the people on them smarter and more caring.

But, no. Because the one day of the year when we can make a difference, the majority of us do nothing.

You know what, screw that. I’m being too nice, too co-dependent. I’m kicking all kinds of butt when it comes to trying to improve myself and the town, country, and world in which I live. It’s the rest of YOU who don’t give a crap and it’s time you got called out.

Yesterday, I dropped my youngest daughter off at her elementary school early for her fifth grade chorus class. She wants to be a famous singer when she grows up and this is her start. I indulge her dreams, you know, like idealistic BOSS. Anyway, I told her goodbye and I love you then looked through my car windshield and saw the orange and black sign proclaiming “Voting Station Here.”

I’m a voter, a proud one. In 1988, when I turned 18-years-old, I got my state of Alabama driver’s license (I was starting my freshman year at the University of Alabama, Roll Tide) and the little old lady behind the counter said “do you want to register to vote and get your voter ID card too, hon?” I yes ma’am’d her, checked “independent” because I wanted to be an objective journalist someday, then voted two months later like civic duty was my right.

Wait, it is.

And here lies the major rub. As I sat in my car and decided if it was worth the five extra minutes to go inside my kid’s school and check off some boxes on a ballot, I wondered aloud, “is the rest of the country going to do this too?”

I knew the answer but it would take several hours to confirm.

Most of you suck.

In 2014, only sixteen percent of the entire country voted. Yesterday, that number was around seventeen percent. There are over 325 million registered voters in the United States of America. My awful math retention tells me a boatload of the country blew it, again.

I don’t care what your political views are, save them for the yahoo news comment section or your drunk Uncle’s Book Of Face page. Sure, I’m a huge lefty and I used to co-run a liberal website. The ballot I filled out yesterday had less than 5 items on it and none of them were people, just a couple of minor laws and referendums. But I voted. That’s the point.

In Kentucky, less than 19 percent of their population participated and as a result their new Governor is likely going to take away their health care.

This is why so much of America can’t have nice things and quite frankly, doesn’t deserve them.

I’m bad at a lot, but one thing I feel like I have going for me, on point most of the time, is my compassion and how that compassion translates into well-meaning idealism.

So, what’s your problem? In less than 365 days, we do it again, but this time it’s for President and Congress. You have one job that really matters day, my fellow Americans. Put on your Nikes and Just Do It.

Just once in my lifetime, I’d like for election day voter turnout to be over 75 percent. I’d also like to be six inches taller with abs.

I know Taylor Swift is easier but listen to Radiohead. They’re better for you and they have something to say, about voting.

New York New York

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A year ago, this week, I stood on the rooftop of a first responders’ communication site on Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan looking out to where the Twin Towers fell and emotionally broke down. I was working, surrounded by four other middle-aged men, who were in a similar state of emotional turmoil. I don’t know why they were tearful and it’s taken me twelve months to figure out why it hit me so hard.

I’m not a New Yorker but I always wanted to be one. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia where very little happened and most of the towns closed down after 10 o’clock at night. Spider-man was my childhood hero. I imagined being Peter Parker, his “real” identity, working for a newspaper in New York City during the day while web slinging at night.

My dad’s favorite sports figures were Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees and Joe Namath of the New York Jets. They became mine as well. I eventually graduated from the same college, the University of Alabama, as Broadway Joe then adopted his Jets as my “other football team”. I could never pull off a fur coat on my high school football team’s sidelines, though.

I thought I’d end up a comic book writer, or a great American novelist or a stand up comedian, riding the subways in the Big Apple. I’ve been there as a tourist a dozen times, worked there through my real day job a dozen more, and even turning 45-years-old yesterday, I still hold out the possibility that once my three daughters leave the house, I can convince my wife to move into a brownstone in Brooklyn or a small house in Queens or get real crazy and rent an apartment in Manhattan and be poor New Yorkers forever.

When the planes hit the buildings, I was 842 miles away, working in Lawrenceville, Georgia as a project manager for a small design build firm. I turned 31-years-old the day before, was married to someone else different than I am today and wasn’t a parent, yet. I was entertaining thoughts of ending my difficult marriage and running away to pursue dreams I’d thought I’d already let slip away. The only direct impact of that terrible day was that it scared me, not just of terrorism but of being something other than a settled family man with non-creative pursuits. I became more guarded and eventually afraid to make positive changes to my life.

The anniversary makes me sad because of how it changed all of us as Americans. It created a monster called Fear. Those towers falling and the emotional chaos that followed impregnated the worst instincts in mankind and born from it was this Godzilla creature of doom that drives personal politics, interpersonal communication, and how each of thinks our neighbor is supposed to be.

By January 2006, I was a divorced father of a toddler. By November 2008 I was a married man with three girls. By early 2010, I was beginning to pursue those lost goals of a decade earlier. In the past five years I’ve published two books and started doing stand up comedy. In between all of those years, I’ve tried to fight the Fear monster. I went into therapy, treated my mental illness, and dedicated myself to being outspoken about things I considered important.

The day after my birthday, September 10th, will always be hard to get through. In remembering the innocent lives taken and the brave ones that tried to save them, we passive-aggressively tie patriotism into fear-mongering because that monster is so massively destructive.

New York, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania of Let’s Roll heroes deserve our reverence. But somewhere, I hope my fellow Americans can harness the self-awareness to look Fear in the face and fight back. Because we’re just not going to be as great as we want until that happens. If one guy can find positive change in his own life, surely millions more can too.

I know why I lost it on that rooftop and it wasn’t just because almost three thousand people died. It was because what it meant to be an American perished too. And now we’re all running from that Fear creature, hiding in shelters of misery hoping it just goes away.

I love you New York.

One day, I hope America learns to love itself, all of itself, too.

Here’s Ryan Adams.

You Oughta Know; Why The 20th Anniversary Of Jagged Little Pill Matters

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One of music’s many powers is provoking decades-old memories from even the most forgetful people, like me. Most of the time I can’t remember my daughters’ names or what I had for breakfast, but a lyric, a guitar riff or even feedback as a song changes from soft to hard can take me back twenty years and recall almost every moment.

Alanis Morissette’s breathy, staccato vocal in the opening line, “I want you to know, that I’m happy for you, I wish nothing but the best for you both” bounced off my car dashboard. I knew it was a loaded line, probably a lie, and what was about to happen next was going to be memorable. As the power chord rolled and the unforgettable piece of naughty poetry occurred, “an older version of me, is she perverted like me, would she go down on you in a theatre” I knew I was listening to my generation’s “Go Your Own Way”, but much angrier, and it was fantastic. Kurt Cobain had been dead just over a year but there seemed to be an torch-bearer, literally and figuratively, to his honesty and rawness.

Twenty years ago today, June 13, 1995, Jagged Little Pill, the American debut album of Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette on Madonna’s fledgling record label, Maverick, was released. Sales were slow at first and it would take over three months for the first single, You Oughta Know, to rule the music world. Morissette’s Canadian invasion of the U.S. pop charts was unique. It would fully usher in an era of dominant popular female artists like Sheryl Crow, Sarah MacLachlan, Jewel, Liz Phair, and many others that would have their own festival tour, Lilith Fair, and break the ridiculous radio taboo of “too many women on the air”. Jagged Little Pill screamed its way into people’s hearts and minds and showed that female entertainers could not only sell millions of records but also fill stadiums.

Just after my July 4th weekend of 1995, I quit my radio job for a local Atlanta radio station, ending seven years in the field. The band I was managing part-time broke up shortly thereafter. While on my way home from one of their bar gigs, I turned on then Atlanta powerhouse radio station 99x, which played alternative and other new forms of music. Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know punched me in the gut and it felt brilliant. She was pissed off and wasn’t relying on flowery metaphors to convey her frustration. It was a well-crafted pop rock song. A waft of stale beer settled under my nose as I arrived home. I called a radio DJ friend of mine to ask him what he knew of this Alanis Morissette person. He reminded me of her appearances on the Canadian comedy show You Can’t Do That On Television, which we both saw as teenagers. I was a few months shy of turning 25 in July, 1995, but I was buoyed by a lack of cynicism over a new artist.

You Oughta Know became one of those touchstone songs. People of both sexes identified with it and the speculation over who it was about flourished for years. After many coy interviews, Full House actor Dave Coulier aka Uncle Joey, denied being “Mr. Duplicity” in 2014. Morissette has kept her secret even better than Carly Simon did with her subject of You’re So Vain. Former boyfriends including ex-New Jersey Devils hockey player Mike Peluso, Friends actor Matt Leblanc (who appear in a Canadian video of Alanis’ in 1991) and Leslie Howe, the producer of Alanis’ first two Canadian albums in the early 1990s are also likely culprits. Mostly people just plug into the rage and brutal honesty of being rejected or mistreated or forgotten by a former lover.

Jagged Little Pill was more than one amazing song. It was a 2-year chart phenomenon. Seven cuts from the record were released as singles including mega hits, You Learn, Hand In My Pocket, Head Over Feet, Ironic, and my personal favorite from the album, All I Really Want. Ironic became famous for not being Ironic. Many stand up comedians performed bits over how the lyrical content was simply a collection of bummers rather the definition of Ironic. Jagged Little Pill’s plug into the culture made it a global success, topping charts in ten countries. It was number one in Morissette’s native Canada for almost 6 months. It hit the top spot in the U.S. for 12 non-consecutive weeks. In 2010, its sales topped 33 million copies worldwide. Billboard ranked the album as the number one Best Selling Pop album for the 1990s decade.

Jagged Little Pill ages well. As the father of a teenage daughter, I recognize the sentiments of the album in her life. But how the record was so well-written and produced by Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette speaks to its power. You Oughta Know still gets the same reaction from me and many others when it comes on the radio.

Twenty years is a long time for anything. But the memories of what Alanis Morissette was able to accomplish with raw emotion are impressive. She oughta know how much people love that record.

Tell me why you like Jagged Little Pill and your favorite track in the comments.