Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Are We Surprised? Pt. 3: The Wrath of Travis

In Stamford, CT, Charla Nash 55, was brutally attacked by a pet chimpanzee belonging to 70 year old Sandra Herold. Nash sustained serious injuries to her face and hands and is still in the hospital. Travis the chimpanzee wasn't acting right earlier in the day, getting all worked up. So Herold decided to give the 200 pound chimp a cup of tea laced with Xanax to help calm him down. Travis, who was raised by Sandra Herold and her late husband, instead grabbed her keys, let himself out of the house and began beating on cars out on the street.

Oh silly, Travis. Herold was unable to get the chimp to come back inside so she decided to call her neighbor, Charla Nash, over to help her get him under control. As soon as Nash gets out of her vehicle Travis attacks her, biting her hands and face. Herold calls 911 and grabs a butcher knife from inside and begins stabbing the 14 year old ape and hitting him with a shovel, trying to get him to stop. Travis runs off, stunned and confused. Police and ambulance arrived to attend to Nash, but then Travis returned and began harassing the officers. He tried to gain entry to a squad car, smashing its side mirror. He then moved around to the driver's side and when the officer sitting inside felt threatened by the animal he had no choice but to pull his pistol, shooting Travis several times in his torso and chest. Travis stumbled away from the scene and officers, following a trail of blood leading back to the house, found the chimpanzee dead inside his jungle-like play room.

Travis the chimp
Officials don't really know what sparked the attack, although it is speculated that Travis had contracted Lyme Disease which can cause fits of frustration and rage. Another possible reason for the attack was Charla Nash's recent haircut which dramatically changed her appearance.

This isn't the first time Travis has caused trouble. In 2003, the primate jumped out of the stopped SUV he was riding in and wreaked havoc on the town for a couple of hours until officers finally put him down with a tranquilizer dart.

Travis was well known in the community of Stamford. He could be seen walking along the streets with the Herold's, sometimes without his leash. He also starred in several television commercials for Old Navy and Coca Cola. It was said that Travis ate his meals at the table with the family sometimes drinking wine from a long-stemmed glass. He could log onto a computer to see pictures and use the television remote control.

Ok, Ok, Lets pause a second. What are people thinking sometimes!!! Sandra Herold is a 70 year old woman who owned a pet chimp! I've known a couple of elderly women who could barely handle their hyper pet dogs, let alone a 200 pound chimpanzee. I've seen plenty of wildlife documentaries that profile highly intelligent bands of chimps, stalking, hunting and killing members of neighboring chimp groups to gain territory, females and food.

Does anyone remember the incident a few years ago involving a California husband and wife who were visiting an animal sanctuary where their former pet chimpanzee was being kept? They had brought a birthday cake with them to give to their chimp Moe to celebrate the day he came to live with them. While they were eating the cake two other males in the facility escaped from their cages and attacked the couple. One male went for the wife, biting off her thumb and when her husband pushed her out of the way to protect her, both male chimps focused their attack on him. They mauled his face, gouging out one eye, biting off his nose, lips and some teeth. They also gnawed on his buttocks and tore off his genitals. Both chimps were shot to death by one the keepers who heard the couple screaming. Eventually, Moe the chimp, who sat in his cage helplessly during the ordeal, was transferred to another facility where he escaped and has yet to be found.

Moe the chimp
We think we can take a chimpanzee and dress him up and let him eat at the table and play with the kids in the neighborhood. We can take this animal who possesses the strength of 3 grown men and turn him into a member of the family.

People who own these kinds of exotic and wild animals are the same ones who keep vicious dogs locked up in their apartments and then are surprised when the dogs maul one of the neighbors to death (this happened in San Francisco). These are the same people who keep giant boa constrictors in their homes and are surprised when the thing gets out of it's little aquarium. These are the same people who keep baby alligators in their garages and when they become too big or unwanted they release the animal into a city park pond (this happened in Los Angeles county and the alligator, later named Reggie, took two years to capture. When he was finally caught and taken to the zoo he had grown to 7ft long. Reggie eventually escaped from his temporary enclosure at the zoo also).

Reggie the alligator
How about Roy Horn in 2003? Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, Las Vegas magicians who use tigers in their act, was left in critical condition after a tiger in the show lunged at him, biting him around the throat and dragging him off stage.

Roy Horn and one of the tigers he uses in his magic acts
These are animals, people. They are not human beings. Humans beings act irrationally and violent enough in our society. We don't need to add fuel to the fire by bringing jungle animals into the house as well. Pet owners keep chihuahuas and fluffy terriers and little kitty cats in their homes; they dress them up in outfits and kiss them and call them "baby", and that's fine--I think it's insane--but at least "Mittens" isn't going to rip your neighbors arm out of it's socket.

I read an article about a man whose rat terrier had jumped off a jetty, into the ocean and was immediately attacked by a Great White shark. What did the man do? He jumped in after the dog, that he considered a member of the family, and beat the shark on the nose until he let go of the dog. Now, let me just say--I love animals, I do. I respect them and am always filled with wonder at God's beautiful animal creations, but if it were me up there on that jetty watching Fido swimming into the open jaws of a giant shark I would have to tip my hat and say "So long, old friend. You were a good dog," and chalk it up to it being the circle of life. Fortunately the man didn't make his wife a widow and he saved his dog.

Jake the Rat terrier who was saved from a Great White shark.
Every year animal attacks happen, just maybe not as bizarre as Travis the chimp's. The headlines usually read,"Child mauled by neighbor's pit bull." So if folks are getting attacked by pet dogs, why are people allowed to own pet chimpanzees? And why are we surprised when they go ape and hurt someone?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crowders Mountain and Fish Camp

This is for all the folks new to the Charlotte area. As a Californian who grew up near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of the first things I try to do if I move to a new place is find the best hiking trails nearby. I lived in both Los Angeles and San Diego and the hiking wasn't much. I mean, it was better than nothing, but it was usually hot and dry and rocky with very few trees. I certainly missed the giant Sequoias, the back-country lakes and streams and wildlife. So, the other day I was introduced to Crowders Mountain State Park. The park is located just outside of Gastonia, NC; about 45 minutes drive from Charlotte.

I was pretty excited about having a state park practically in my backyard so, last Sunday, after church my wife and I ate a quick lunch, packed some snacks and fruit and headed down the Interstate toward the park. At the trail head, located next to the visitor's center, we glanced over the map, choosing the Crowders Trail to start with and then eventually switching to the Ridgetop Trail that winds across soft level ground giving way to steeper climbs leading to the top. The peak of the mountain is craggy with rock formations that jut upward like a saw blade offering views of the vast surrounding countryside. Unfortunately though, without leaves on the trees you also get views of the creeping "progress" of housing developments and warehouse structures scattered throughout. I did my best to ignore that part and also the amount of dogs people brought out onto the trail.

view from one of the peaks on Crowders Mountain

I love dogs, my parents have a dog, she's great, but I've always had a problem with hikers bringing their dogs hiking with them. In my opinion, it breaks the serenity and beauty of the place when you watch two leashed dogs approach each other on the trail as their owners do their best to reign them in, they sniff behinds (the dogs do), and then commence to snarling as the owners reprimand them.

We found ourselves on the trail following a couple who had a great big dog that I thought I heard them call "Horse" and it was almost comical watching them lift this poor dog up through the trail's rock formations. The man would try to lift the dog's front legs up to the next step as the woman, who was standing higher up on the rock tried to pull the dog up to her level. The man then tried lifting Horse's hind end as the his back paws clumsily scratched at the rock trying to get a firm hold. When that didn't work the man tried to set him up on the rocks by hoisting the dog up from it's middle. He kept squirming, his back legs jabbing out like a jack-rabbit, obviously not understanding what his owners were trying to do with him. When Horse finally did get to a spot where he could stand comfortably his back legs shook like crazy, probably terrified by the whole ordeal. I stood back and watched this canine lifting ceremony wondering why they hadn't just walked their dog in the city park that morning instead of subjecting him to Crowders Mountain and then further wondered why they didn't lead the poor beast down the lower path, one that circumvented the rocky part of this trail completely, but ended up at the same place.

lichen--Crowders Mountain

Anyway, I'm not trying to get off subject. I just don't understand it. Back to the beauty and splendor of the trail.

The thing that I do appreciate about North Carolina hiking is the extreme changes in scenery during the seasons. California's mountains may have giant trees and massive peaks, but they don't have the variety of changes in the foliage. In spring, North Carolina wilderness is bursting with energy and shaking off hibernation, in summer the thick trees display deep green leaves, in fall everything turns gold and orange and red; and in winter the forest becomes cold and gray. There is a melancholy feeling in the woods during the winter. The infrequent bird calls can cut through the stillness, echoing in this sparse landscape like a hammer striking an anvil. The trees are bare and their trunks come out of the dense leaf compost like concrete columns.

lower section of the Crowders Trail

We ate our apples and energy bars at the top and took a few pictures then hiked back down a trail stairway along the Backside Trail, eventually rejoining the Crowders Trail. By the time we reached the visitor's center we calculated that we had covered about 4 1/2 miles, not bad for a little afternoon hike.

My wife and I at the top of Crowders Mountain. A note to all my Carlsbad friends: If you look closely you'll see I'm sporting my Pollos Maria hat* (see footnote).

A company store building, built in 1890, found just outside of the Crowders Mountain State Park.

Hunger was now setting in. My wife, who has the metabolism of a hummingbird, was starving. Earlier, while driving through Gastonia we had spotted signs for a fish restaurant called "The Captain's Cap". It was a fish camp:

Now let me pause here and explain a few things to my west coast brethren about "fish camp". A few years ago my wife had tried, unsuccessfully, to explain what her people call "fish camps". I had NO idea what that was. She laid out in perfect detail the decor of fish camps, the type of food served at fish camps, the candy shelves next to the cash register, the fishing nets and trophy catches on the walls, the rustic wooden booth seats or tables aged to look like they had been gleaned from a torn down wharf. Sometimes there was a fisherman statue carved out of wood, painted and standing outside to greet customers. The only guess I could come up with was Long John Silver. She laughed. I tried Red Lobster. She shook her head. When I visited Memphis awhile back (before moving to North Carolina), I called her convinced I had finally understood what a fish camp was. I said, "Is it like Captain D's?" More laughter. I've come to realize now that fish camps are very, very rare in California and when Californians see one they sure don't call it a fish camp. Now that I think back--no longer a fish camp green-horn--I seem to recall eating at a restaurant that fit the above description on the coast of Oregon somewhere.

The Captain's Cap sign outside the restaurant

So the Captain's Cap billboards led us to smaller signs which directed us along winding back roads. "Make a left at the old church," one sign read. It seemed like we were out in the middle of nowhere with nothing around us except this old church and a vacant trailer park. But sure enough as we rounded a curve and came over a hill, there nestled in a little valley was The Captain's Cap.

It was a true fish camp. The menu featured several different combinations of fried fish and sides. I chose the catfish and flounder combo with onion rings. My wife went with her favorite, popcorn shrimp. We shared an order of hushpuppies between us and drank water to counteract the effects of the fried food. The staff was fast and very friendly and the fish was gooood. The average age of the patrons was probably about 65 and most were white-haired. One group was celebrating a birthday. The birthday boy who was probably about 70 received a giant, brightly colored birthday card and every time he or someone else opened the card, the card would "sing" out, "Cel-e-brate good times! C'mon!.....Celebrate good times!.........Celebrate good.......Celebrate good....."

fish camp

When we were done feeding like hungry sharks, we pulled ourselves up out of the booth and slowly moved toward the cashier. In true fish camp fashion the cash register sat right next to the candy shelves, with gum and candy bars for sale and tiny complimentary calendars reading "Captain's Cap'' with monthly pages you can tear off. My wife was in fish-camp-nostalgia heaven as we added a couple of peppermint patties to our bill.

We walked back to our car through a little maze of GM made vehicles and driving past the old church and the trailer park, in a heavy fried fish stupor, we got back out to the highway and headed home to Charlotte.

*Pollos Maria is a Mexican restaurant in Carlsbad, CA that specializes in serving char-broiled chicken. One day, while I was at Pollos Maria ordering food, I asked the cashier if they were selling the hats that the employees were wearing. He said yes, but that he thought there was only one left and it was for sale for $2. Two dollars? That's it? So I reached in my pocket pulled out the cash and handed him the money. He reached behind the counter and gave me the hat. The first thing I noticed about it was that it was slightly stained with grease. No big deal. I figured I would use the hat for hiking or working in the yard anyway. Then discovered that someone had written the name "Faustino Danger" under the bill. Still, no big deal. But when I walked away from the counter, I saw printed on the receipt for my order, the cashier's name-- Faustino.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Traffic Reports

I'm not going to lie, I miss the west coast. I lived in San Diego county before I moved to Charlotte, NC and I was checking out one of my friends, Veronica Miranda's blog today, reminiscing about the things I love in San Diego county. There is a pace of life and a feeling in the ocean air on the west coast, north and south, that is unlike any place I've been. I saw her photographs and longed for the smell of salt air, the company of funky beach people, even the heat on the sidewalks in summer.

But the thing I will NOT miss is driving, no, sitting in my car in traffic everyday. Living in San Diego people don't have it nearly as bad as folks living in Los Angeles. I did that too, for a short while, and everyday you could feel your brain start to atrophy, melting down to the point where you start speaking gibberish to yourself and punching your steering wheel, feeling precious years slowly being taken away from your lifespan.

This morning around 7 a.m. I was returning home from dropping my wife off at work (we only have one car) and I was listening to WFAE 90.7 (NPR) on the radio when the traffic report came on. The broadcaster mentioned a traffic accident at some intersection in Charlotte and then moved on to another segment of the show. ONE traffic accident! After it was announced he said something like, "And that's the only traffic problem we have to report this morning." I couldn't believe it. In Southern California, and as I mentioned, especially in Los Angeles and Orange counties, there are entire segments on the radio devoted solely to traffic reports. Most of those stations have hired reporters just for that purpose; to report on jams, grid-locks, crashes, animals running around on the freeway, ladders in the road, construction and more. Some radio broadcasts report traffic stories every 15 minutes. At 7 a.m. in Southern California there would probably be at least 5 freeways jammed, and maybe 10 traffic accidents. And it's that way everyday.

photos from top to bottom: Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego on a normal weekday afternoon.

During my short time living in Charlotte I've very rarely had to use the freeway. And when the time came to do so I discovered the speed limit was 55 miles per hour. Most of the time, I'm driving through town going 35. And when people tell me, with some exasperation in their voice, that it takes about 30 minutes to drive from south Charlotte to north Charlotte, I chuckle and say, "30 minutes? That's it?".

So yes, there are very nice things about Southern California, the entire state of California for that matter, but having to sit in your car for hours, creeping along on the asphalt, isn't one of them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

North Carolina Initiation

Last night my brother-in-law invited me to what was my first true initiation into North Carolina. Tarheels-Bluedevils basketball. He's got three little kids and his wife is out of town, so first he called up and asked if my wife could come over and babysit so he and I could go watch the game with some of his buddies.

Initially I thought we would be going to someone's house to watch the game and have a couple of beers and that would be that. Nope. Last night we ended up at the Visualite Theater to watch the game on the big screen.

I'm not that familiar with everything that is North Carolina, but I was aware of there being a little rivalry between Carolina and Duke, considering that the schools are only about 10 miles apart from each other.

Except for teams like UCLA, college basketball isn't the same in California. My glory days on the court ended when I graduated from high school and I didn't finish college, so I don't have the same devotion to college sports as many people out here do. I used to watch the Lakers back in the day, that was about it.

I was a little unprepared. Knowing that my father-in-law, sister-in-law, her husband, several of my wife's aunt's and uncles had all attended UNC Chapel Hill I wanted to fit in at the big game last night. So I hunted through my closet for any piece of clothing that would at least come close to being "Carolina Blue". What I finally found was a light blue and navy track jacket that once belonged to a member of the Bundeswehr*. So I put on my jacket and told my wife that it was a "North Carolina basketball, neutral-fan outfit" which, I found out later, doesn't exist. You can't be neutral. You're either a Tarheels fan or a Blue Devils fan.

Me with my "neutral" jacket in Copenhagen 2007

So we picked up my brother-in-law's buddy and headed over to the Visualite. Rain poured down heavily, soaking all of us as we hustled to the doors of the theater. Inside, the place was packed with mostly, ex-Chapel Hill students. Come to find out later, when I was wondering where all the Duke fans were, the night's event was sponsored by the alumni association, or something like that. Slices of pizza were being sold and Tarheels swag given away. There was a raffle at half-time and $5 "Blue Cups" of Bud and Bud Light were being poured. For those who don't know about "Blue Cups"; there is a bar in Chapel Hill, He's Not Here, that serves beer in these 32 ounce plastic cups.

I'm not a sports writer so this post is more about people watching sports than an actual play-by-play of the game.

The game started out with the tip-off in favor of Carolina which immediately caused the crowd to erupt into cheers, followed by the first two-points on the board and more cheers. And it went on like that for the rest of the night. Anytime a Tarheels player did anything positive, like scoring or stealing the ball the crowd went crazy.

I started noticing that as the night wore on and more blue cups of Budweiser were consumed the cheering grew louder and the individual fans became more belligerant. One man near me, a grown man, with his face, beet-red with alcohol, slammed his fist on his cocktail table, raised his middle finger and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Pass the f**king ball Green! You f**king ***hole!" I'm sure Danny Green heard that. The fan didn't realize that he was shouting at a movie screen, I guess. But a moment later, Green scored and redeemed himself. He had been forgiven as made known by the guy's hoarse cheering, letting by-gones be by-gones. His buddy even joined in this time by lifting his chair and slamming it's legs down over and over again on the concrete floor. It was North Carolina's versions of soccer hooligans.

I've been a musician for many years now, so I've seen a lot of crazy drunk people. But I have to admit that it was fun being part of this crowd, crammed in the dark theater chanting "Defense!" at the movie screen. It was almost like you were actually at the game in the upper bleachers and could hear the voices echo off the wood floors of the court.

It was a basketball theater melodrama of sorts. The referee would make a call for Duke and the crowd would boo. The Tarheels would take advantage of a turnover and the crowd went wild with shouts and applause. They even laughed at a Duke student who was caught on camera at the game wiping tears away from his eyes as Carolina piled on more points. My brother-in-law remarked, "It's all right for a player to shed a couple of tears after a lost game, but man, you don't want to be a Duke fan caught crying on camera in front of this crowd."

Thank goodness Carolina won. I think people would have torn the place apart if Duke had claimed victory. When the game ended we shuffled to the exit and out onto the sidewalk. The rain had stopped. The sky was crystal clear as if God had ordained the win for Carolina. We walked out as fans tried to leave with their half-full Blue Cups, red-faced and staggering; pissing in the bushes of the parking lot. Ahhh, like I said, it was almost like you were actually at the game.

We got home and as I drifted off to sleep, with my ears ringing from the crowd noise and screams, I reflected on the evening and the game. I had a great time and had watched one of the best basketball games in my to the Lakers' 1987 & 1988 NBA Championship wins, that is.

*Bundeswehr is the name of the unified armed forces of the Republic of Germany (man, you can find out about anything on the internet). A funny story: My brother found a Bundeswehr track jacket several years ago at a thrift store in the farming community of Delano, California. In 2007 I found the exact same jacket in a small thrift store in Copenhagen, Denmark!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Creative Loafing's "Lust List" 2009

Ooo, ooo, the Lust List is here! The Lust List is here; in the Febrary 11th edition of Charlotte's Creative Loafing newspaper! The Lust List is the paper's "annual showcase of the Queen City’s hottest citizens."

February is a slow month in Charlotte, I guess. I know that times are hard and print media is becoming a thing of the past, but why make it worse by printing more shallow garbage. No wonder Creative Loafing is filing for bankruptcy protection. Actually, in this day and age, the "Lust Lists" of the world seem to be the only way people will stay interested in anything. Maybe this is CL's version of a "stimulus package", a way to increase readership and bolster ad sales.

There seems to be so many stories to tell; stories about people and places. I'm sure there are interesting artists and musicians, volunteer workers and community activists to write strong articles about. As a new Charlotte resident (I don't dare call myself a Charlottean) it would be nice to find out about interesting places to visit in and around the city, hiking trails or historic landmarks and short, weekend vacations, not profiles about people who "just happen to look sexy as hell".

Call me a stick-in-the-mud (I'm almost positive that that term is pretty curmudgeony...oops, there I go again) but it seems to me that the magazine tends to emphasize more of the loafing part than the creative part. Now, granted, there are a few interesting columns found within CL's pages, but they seem few and far between. That's why it was odd to me to pick up my copy of Creative Loafing and find this week's issue devoted to 6 pages of Lust List.

I understand that there is a delicate balance in this kind of publication, held between keeping it free of charge and being able to sell ad space to pay for the paper itself. If no one picks up a copy of CL then businesses won't want to waste money placing advertisements in it. But there has got to be a way to add more quality content.

There are 72 pages, from front cover to back cover in this week's CL. About 45 of those pages of space are used for advertisments--venue music calendars, nightclubs, restaurants, classifieds, sex, etc. Approximately 11 pages of space, only eleven, were designated for actual writing--articles, commentary, reviews and so on. Which leaves the last 6 pages or so for the Lust List.

The Lust List doesn't really have any written content. There are photos of the "lusty" people and very short lists of Q and A's like, "What is your biggest turn-on?" and "What's your idea of a perfect date?". The feature opens with: "Valentine's Day is on the way, so that means lust is in the air--and between the pages of Creative Loafing." But if you look through a CL magazine during most holidays, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Halloween; you'll find advertisements for wet T-shirt contests and "sexy" masquerade balls anyway. And so what's different about it now? The article doesn't mention anything about love being in the air for Valentine's Day; because the "Lasting, Meaningful, Loving Relationship List" takes up too much room on the page, I guess.

8 out of the 11 List members, when asked what food they associate with "sexy" mentioned chocolate and strawberries. Of all the foods in the world everyone chose chocolate and strawberries!? C'mon people, you can do better than that. The food that I associate with sexy is delta short ribs and apple pie, but that's just me.

When asked how the recession has affected her, one "Lister" answered that it's "affected me personally because I work at Hooter's and work off tips." Tough times in America. Another, when asked, "What was the last book you read?" said, "That was in college..." I'm hoping college for her ended just a few weeks ago.

One question asked was, "Do you think it is more important to be right or to be popular?" Hmmm, I do like popularity, but.....C'mon what are they supposed to say?! That's like Rick Warren asking the presidential front-runners in '08 whether they believed evil existed or not. These are beauty pageant questions. Which raises the question, "Can a person be lustful/lusty and handle intelligent questions?" We'll see.

I know the economy is bad and times are hard and many businesses are implementing hiring freezes so I shouldn't really give Creative Loafing such a hard time. The magazine does inform me about where and when movies and bands are playing around town and maybe the occasional art show, so that's good.

Anyway, Creative Loafing has included a website so you can go online and get in touch with these Queen City celebs and you can stop by a Lust List "signing party" to get their autographs or maybe phone numbers. I'll be there with my "sexy" apple pie.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Musical Beards

A few years ago I noticed a trend that seemed to be growing steadily in the indie-rock music business. No, it wasn't overproduced pop garbage and it wasn't boy bands or skinny jeans or trucker hats. It was beards. Beards everywhere. Everyone seemed to have one. It was almost as if you couldn't be taken seriously as a musician if you didn't have a Rock-Beard. For awhile, everyone was just unshaven with two or three days growth and that was the style, but something changed in each musician and suddenly, or actually slowly, thick beards began to emerge like Rumplestiltskin from his slumber.

That was about two and a half years ago and the trend hasn't gone away and two and half years is long time for a trend to stick around in the music business. The beards continue to flourish and seem to have become their own entities in marketing the musician on whose face they grow. At one point, I even had one, just to see what it was like. After it grew in it took me about 3 months to realize that it was too hot and uncomfortable to have on my face.

I compiled a short list of current bands and musicians who sport rock beards, or who rock sporty beards and other facial hair styles and have followed the list with another list of musicians who were bearding it long before them. You can mix and match them, if you like, to see which contemporary band goes with it's classic Rock counterpart. Have fun.

Because I just moved from San Diego, CA I'll start with my personal favorite, Dirty Sweet. I first encountered this band at the San Diego Music Awards and to be honest when I saw them I thought they were cast members for the remake of “Almost Famous”, but when I heard them I liked there tunes ok. They played Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not indie rock, not blues rock, but just good ‘ol rough-edged Rock. You’ll also notice in the picture of Dirty Sweet, a hair sub-trend, the “straight-long-hair-parted-down-the-middle” look:


Next we’ll move onto a band called Band of Horses. I just listened to some of their songs on their website. Not bad, but what is important here is that Band of Horses refuses to be tied down to any trend band wagon. They’re seen in the photo below representing each stage of Rock facial hair. Clean shaven, a few days growth, and the full beard:


Next is a band I discovered on a random Charlotte music website that I can’t remember, but I will remember the band. This band has done things right. They've got a catchy name, 2013 Wolves; their Myspace website features a pack of rabid wolves in the background, the "four wolves of the apocalypse", I assume, and they’ve got some cool beards. I just listened to their stuff. Pretty exciting:


Ok, let's get away from the Rock category for a second and get into the Roots-Rock category. Roots-Rock is a place where, in my opinion you can find the most backwoods facial hair growth.

First up in this category is another Charlotte, North Carolina based band called the New Familiars, a band whose music mixes acoustic folk styles with a little electricity. I like their stuff and they also feature a strong variety of hair growths. In this group you’ll find: long beards with long hair, short beards with short hair and everything in between. Bravo:


Next up we have, ME. This is a photo of me during a very long layover in New York on my way to play festivals in Italy. The beard was fun to grow, but it was July in Italy and close to 90 degrees and I came to hate it. I got stopped by Italian Police on my way back from the festival late one night. And the trooper kept glancing back and forth from me to my license as my driver was nervously explaining to him that I was a musician. Not a great time to have a Rock-Beard:


Here’s a photo of a friend of mine, Ben Prestage, from Florida. We competed together at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. This guy is a serious musician. He plays a cigar box guitar plugged into two amps and sets up almost an entire drum set and plays it with his feet, one foot for the kick drum the other foot’s heel and toe playing high hat and a snare balanced up on it’s side, struck with a kick drum mallet. He’s the real deal and so is his beard:


Below is Black Keys front man Dan Aurbach who has just released his new solo album. He started out playing in the Black Keys clean-shaven, but found that he couldn’t quite achieve the sound he wanted, so he opted for more facial hair. Aurbach keeps his hair cut short and also crosses trends with the stingy-brim fedora. Good move Dan!:


I have to pay respects to the home state favorites and so, last but not least, comes The Avett Brothers. Their sound is raw, their shows are entertaining and their Roots Rock beards are great. The Avett brothers keep you on your toes. Seth and Scott feature the “long-straight-hair-parted-down-the-middle” look with shorter beards, but also sport the thick “Gentleman-Lumberjack" look. Excellent:


Now comes the “Legends of Rock-Beards” match up:

First we’ll start with the late, great Sam Chatmon, who I’m sure most of you have never heard of. He was a member of one of the greatest string bands of all time, called the Mississippi Sheiks, whose songs were covered by numerous rock bands in the 60’s.


Next is Canned Heat who probably covered a few of Sam Chatmon's tunes. They have huge "beardal" variety.


Credence Clearwater Revival from California. Mop top, mustaches, long hair and of course Rock-Beard. Ahh, CCR.


Next is The Band. Also a good mix of hair and facial hair styles.


We can't forget Lynrd Skynrd. One of Southern Rock's finest and with a splendid hair variety:


The great Allman Brothers Band. Another Southern Rock giant. Good Rock-Beards and nice display of the "long-straight-hair-parted-down-the-middle" look:


And of course, no Rock-Beard list would be complete without the reigning Rock-Beard champs, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top:


Monday, February 9, 2009

Red Clay and Gray Concrete

On Friday, February 6th the Charlotte Folk Society hosted a concert at the Great Aunt Stella Center featuring North Carolina’s own Watson, Hicks, Craver and Newberry (WHCN). WHCN has a long history of playing authentic American Roots music, blending bluegrass, stringband, and ragtime styles. Their songs represent a rich musical heritage that was born in the hills and valleys of the southeast.

With the massive brass pipes of the church organ directly behind them, stretching up to the ceiling, WHCN took to the stage and played old favorites as well as their own originals. Jim Watson, mandolin, Bill Hicks, fiddle and Mike Craver, keyboard, founding members of The Red Clay Ramblers were also joined by well known banjo picker Joe Newberry replacing another Rambler original, the late Tommy Thompson. Lighted stained glass windows fixed in the ceiling, stages left and right and throughout the balcony area gave the place a very warm presence, reminiscent of the Grand Old Opry’s Ryman auditorium.

The evening was filled with music and stories, both intimately expressed to the “family” of audience members. At times it was raw and raucous, break-downs that got everyone shouting, songs that kept Jim Watson’s hand flittering across his mandolin and which powdered Bill Hicks’ fiddle with white rosen from his frantic bow. Other selections featured tender folk ballads by Joe Newberry and humorous ragtime-style show tunes by pianist Mike Craver, such as, “How Does A Glass Eye Work?”. Afterwards, the band as well as musicians from the audience split up and formed groups throughout the building for informal jams.

photo taken at The Carter Family Fold, Hiltons, VA 2008 by Bren Overholt

The Great Aunt Stella Center is a beautiful venue indeed. Once a Presbyterian church, the Center is now an island in a sea of concrete and modern skyscrapers. I peered out the window and noticed a cold, gray parking garage that seemed to creep ever closer to this historic red, brick building. In a time when, from what I’ve heard, the city of Charlotte seems to push, full-steam-ahead to tear down these structures in it’s race to modernize, the Great Aunt Stella Center remains. It’s a port in the storm for music like WHCN's, a place where DJ’s and pop music have no foothold, an old refuge for old music; folk traditions that lie in the foundation of much of American music as we know it today and thank goodness for it.

As a younger player of old roots music myself, I’ve definitely noticed, at times, the lack of young people supporting it. I was surprised (and then again I wasn’t) that so few younger fans were in attendance. There are groups of musicians who during the day, will profess their love for old-time music, sitting in a coffee house or on their college campus spewing out names of legendary artists. There are bands that claim inspiration and influence from American music pioneers, but at night they’re nowhere to be found when authentic acts like WHCN are performing. And last Friday night’s concert was free!

At any rate, the show was nothing but entertaining, which a good show should be. I felt like I had been let in on a Charlotte secret by hearing Watson, Hicks, Craver and Newberry at the Great Aunt Stella Center. As a musician new to the Queen City I had the opportunity to make much needed contacts and break out harmonicas, jug and gutbucket bass to present my own “resume” to the other musicians. I’ll definitely continue to support the Charlotte Folk Society if these are the kinds of acts and shows that they produce. Be sure to check out this link for WHCN to see when they might be passing through your town and stay in the loop for other great shows presented by the folk society at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Real Life Music

(Taken from a Nathan James & Ben Hernandez website post from December 2007)

By Ben Hernandez
Nathan and I notice a lot of things when we're out playing shows. Working in the kind of environments that we do, we see just about every facet of human psychology. There is anger, humor, sadness, happiness, tragedy, pathetic-ness, and just plain bizarre behavior. We have the ability to sort of step back, remove ourselves and observe and many times enjoy the situation. There was a drunk guy that got angry with me and started cursing at me while we were playing a show in Long Beach years ago because he had reached across the stage and started beating on my washtub bass while we were in the middle of a song. I told him not to do that, that he knew better than to behave like that and his response was, "F*** you!" There have been many times that we've had to stop playing in the middle of a set to protect our instruments from being crushed by groups of "dudes" clearing the room to start fighting.

Once, while we were on a break, a woman wanted us to play "Born On The Bayou", I guess because all the unique ragtime, country blues, gospel, and jug band music that we were playing and that she probably never hears wasn't good enough. Nathan informed her, very cordially, that we didn't know that song and we don't play those kind of covers. Well, the woman insisted that we did know that song and we should play it for her. "It's a great song by a great rock band," Nathan replied. "But we just don't know it." That wasn't the answer she wanted to hear. "C'mon," she pleaded, "you know it, it goes like this: dum, dum, dum, dum, dee, dee..." At that point her eyes closed slightly as if she had been transported back to some Creedence show in her mind. Her hands and arms awkwardly fell into "air guitar" position and she started rockin'. Now during this time, as Nathan continued to inform her, still as politely as he could and almost talking to her like a child, that we didn't play that song; her husband kept pulling on her arm trying to get her to stop and return to their table. Finally she blurted again, "No, c'mon, it's a really easy song. I know you know it." Nathan glanced over at me then back at the woman (she was still going on and on). He held up his finger and said, "Shhhhh, ma'am, stop....I can't talk to you anymore," and walked past her. Luckily, I was still standing there to see the reaction on her face--as if no one had ever done that before during one of her drunken rants.

Last night we were playing in Orange County, and although this incident didn't happen inside the venue we were playing it was strange enough to put into this story.

I had just pulled up across the street from the club, in front of the post office. I was listening to an album that Troy Sandow (bassist and harmonica player) had loaned me: Aretha Franklin live at the Fillmore. In the space next to me, a guy ,who looked like he was in his early forties, was blaring some teenage pop-punk or something, out of his windows and into my soul filled car. It was like nails on a chalk board. It was one of those bands that would be featured on the T.V. show "The O.C." or some MTV "reality" show. A band whose lead singer's name is Tyler or Casey or Cody or Brett.

Anyway, I stepped out of my car, grabbed an armload of equipment and headed into the club. Nathan was there setting up and I remarked to him what a rude awakening it had been pulling up listening to the Queen and First Lady of Soul only to have her drowned out by the stuff that that guy was listening to.

We chuckled about it as we walked back outside to get more gear from our cars. Then, as I approaced my car, I noticed the man who was listening to the "Aretha hating" music was standing there between the two automobiles waiting for me. He was huge! At least 6' 4" built like an oak tree, with thinning, dyed blond hair and wearing these clear- lensed, sport glasses--you know, the kind that cyclists wear.

He stepped in front of me, I could hear "Cody's" whiney vocals come out of the guy's stereo. He said, "Do you think you could sing a song with words like that?" I chuckled uncomfortably, not knowing what the heck "Tyler" was singing about. All the while I was thinking that maybe he heard me trashin' his music and I pissed him off. "Yeah, that's right," he continued. "Their singing about this fake war in Iraq."

"Oh yeah?" I said, trying to play it cool. Still thinking he had heard me bad-mounthing his tunes.

"Yeah, they've got the balls to sing about it. About how we're stealin' oil from some another country and givin' it to China. They're with the people not the pussys. You're either with the people or the pussys. Do you have the balls to sing about that stuff like they do?" he said intensely, pointing his finger at me.

"Well," I replied, looking up at him. "I just do the best I can."

And with that he turned and grunted, not too satisfied with me, I guess; dropped his mail into the post office night box and jumped into his GIGANTIC, FULL-SIZE, GAS-GUZZLING TRUCK, and drove away.

Why Are We Surprised? Pt. 2: The Rise of Bale & Phelps

So the other day an audio recording was released of Christian Bale falling out of his tree and going off on the director of photography while they were filming yet another Terminator movie (Does anyone remember James Cameron holding up his Oscars for Titanic and shouting, "I'm the king of the world!"? He's not involved in this new film). Bale was accusing the DP of stepping into "his" scene and distracting him in the background. Christian dropped the F-bomb just about every other word of each sentence he shouted at the guy, saying things like "My mind is not in the scene if you're doing that..." What scene is that, Bale? Is it the one where you kill the robot aliens? Yeah, I could see how you would need the utmost focus and concentration. You see, this is a movie. Christian Bale is an actor. He pretends. He pretends to kill robot aliens. Other times he pretends to be Batman. My wife's 6 year old nephew pretends to be Batman, too. Bale gets paid a lot of money to play pretend while other people film him pretending. The audio of his rant actually starts to get pretty funny, like a little kid losing it because his Cheerios got soggy. The thing that's really sad is that news organizations like CNN devote whole segments of their show to this kind of crap. They have analysts and "experts" sit and discuss how crazy Christian Bale is. Gimme a break!

First of all, Christian Bale is not our moral leader. I've worked on a couple of film sets and people used filthy language every single day of filming. Secondly, how is it that we're shocked by the language when the actual movies that these actors are in sometimes have worse language in them. Christian Bale sounds like a spoiled brat, so what. HE'S AN ACTOR! He's not a social worker. He's not a school teacher. He's not a volunteer at a homeless shelter. He plays with toy laser guns. Or toy cowboy guns. The bad part about it is that Christian Bale was in the guy's face ready to strangle him because he broke the actor's focus, but if the director of photography had popped him in the face like he probably deserves, Bale would've probably sued the guy.

Next up, Michael Phelps. In 2004 he was arrested for drunk driving in Maryland. And just a few weeks ago a photo was taken of Michael Phelps with a bong up against his face in South Carolina. He has now lost his Kellogs endorsment (no more free Corn Flakes) and USA Swimming has suspended Phelps from competition for a short while. USA Swimming, the nation's governing body for competitive swimming released a statement regarding the Michael Phelps situation: "This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming-member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero." A hero? Did he jump into the water and save someone who was drowning? Did he swim underwater to avoid capture to deliver needed information about the advancing enemy? No. He swam in a pool faster than some other guy and got a prize for it.
The Columbia, South Carolina sheriff's department is investigating whether the marijuana inicident happened on the university campus and if so, they would take action by filing criminal charges. Smoking pot on a college campus? I know, I know, it sounds crazy, to me too.

And role model? That's right kids, if you work hard and lift weights and eat right you can: make lots of money?...probably not. Become famous?...not likely. Get a book deal?...Nope. No kids, you can swim faster than the next person and maybe, just maybe, win a colorful ribbon or a gold-colored medallion made of die-cast metal.

Ok, here's the thing: Michael Phelps is a SWIMMER! He is an athlete. Again, he is not a moral leader. He shouldn't be a role model. He's not a hero. He's a 23 year old kid with lots of money who likes to smoke pot and drink. The ironic thing is is that he didn't even really make his money by swimming. He recieved endorsments from corporate companies so they could put their labels on him to sell more of their stuff. Do you think Kellogs and Speedo really care whether Phelps is a stand-up citizen? No way, they're just trying to sell more swimsuits and cereal. We need to stop holding these people up on a pedestal. They play games. That's all. We enjoy watching them do it, but should we want to be them?

Here are some other great sports role models:

Kobe Bryant: Got caught up in a rape scandal.
Michael Vick: Dog fighting ring scandal.
Jan Ullich: champion cyclist tied to Spanish doping scandal.
Jose Conseco: steroids
Barry Bonds: still fighting his performance enhancing drug scandal.
Marion Jones: US track and field star. Caught doping. Did six months in jail and lost all of her medals dating back to 2000.
Ron Artest: jumps into stands and beats on fan.
Alex Rodriguez: recently admitted to using steroids from 2000-2003.

Athletes people, not heroes, not role-models. There are some out there who are good people and have used their influence as celebrities to help in the world, but when it comes down to it they are still athletes who play games for a living. Teachers should be role models. The fire fighters who rush into burning buildings to save people are heroes. Not swimmers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why Are We Surprised? Pt. 1

Politicians are crooked. Big surprise. Well it always seems like everyone is surprised and outraged when stones are overturned and all the creepy, dirty garbage underneath is exposed. Right now people are up in arms over a couple of the Obama administration's cabinet choices. I'm a little upset myself, but c'mon what did you expect? Here's the thing, before you start getting all tied up in knots about it: Geihtner was the only one who was confirmed. He did have about $35,000 in screwed up taxes, but he was confirmed. Let it go for a second. Tom Daschle had about $140,000 in back taxes and "paperwork errors". Did Daschle get confirmed? No. Let it go. Bill Richardson has a pending grand jury investigation for "pay-to-play" dealings in his home state of New Mexico. Was he confirmed as Secretary of Commerce? No. Let it go. Move on. Big politicians are treated differently. They've got more money. They have friends in high places. Do we think that's really going to change? I messed up on my taxes once. It took the IRS 5 years to discover the mistake. I got a call from a representative who told me that I needed to pay them $75. Are you kidding. 5 years! Well I paid it because I knew that someday I might want to run for public office and didn't want that hanging around my neck. Can't we wait just a little while to see how everything is going to turn out in the first one hundred days before we release the dogs? We did the same with Donald Rumsfeld, we let him in, let him shuffle the papers around on his desk, send off a few emails and then when we realized he didn't work well in that position we got rid of him.

Ok, let's see, who we have in the cabinet so far:

Agriculture--Tom Vilsack (confirmed)
Commerce--Judd Gregg (nominee)
Defense----Robert Gates (selected)
Education--Arne Duncan (confirmed)
Energy----Steven Chu (confirmed)
Homeland Security--Janet Napolitano (confirmed)
HUD------Shaun Donovan (confirmed)
Interior---Ken Salazar (confirmed)
Justice----Eric Holder (confirmed)
Labor----Hilda Solis (nominee)
State-----Hilary Clinton (confirmed)
Transportation--Ray LaHood (confirmed)
Treasury---Timothy Geithner (confirmed)
Veterans Affairs--Gen. Eric K. Shinseki (confirmed)

That's 11 people already confirmed with no problems so far, with two nominees waiting to be confirmed out of a total of 15 positions. So two guys didn't make the cut at all. TWO PEOPLE! That's a pretty good percentage when you think that all of the politicians are crooks in some way.

People are griping because they're candidate didn't win. People are griping because they think that Obama said he was going to change the way politics was going to be in Washington. Let's not forget all the griping and finger pointing when it came to Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Mark Foley, Ted Stevens, Duke Cunningham, Harry Reid, Bob Ney and William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson. It's a two way street, both Republican and Democratic. Politicians are screwed up. They are not our moral leaders. They all have corrupt, immoral skeletons in their closets. And it seems like these days even our "moral" leaders can't cut it. But if we get shocked and apalled and mock the other side for saying this and that during their political campaigns we'll never get anywhere. In George Bush's first campaign he vowed that he wouldn't use or military for "nation building". Well?

This is exactly how Rome fell. A huge empire was filled with corrupt politicians, and the wealthy elite who finagled their way out of paying taxes, among other things, and eventually the whole system just fell apart. So what did they do? They just kept hosting more gladiator events to keep the everyday people occupied so they could do anything they wanted. Hmm, no wonder the Superbowl is such a huge event.

I'm from California, so what do I know. If you don't like it I'll sick Arnold on you. It is funny, though that one of the most liberal states, CA has a Republican governor and one of the most conservative, NC has a democratic governor in the capitol. It would make for a great gladiator event.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Classic Cars in Charlotte?

I was driving back from church this morning and it popped into my head that I haven't seen any classic cars here in Charlotte. Why is that? Living in California, you see a pretty good number of classic cars on the road. While I was touring and playing music I would occasionally run into old-timers who were part of Model-T Ford restorations clubs. Those were always cool to see, a huge caravan of Model-T's putt-putting down the open highway. In the northern portions of Orange County near the city of Orange and Pomona there were always cool car shows going on. And in my home county you could occasionally spot a beautiful 60's caddillac, '57 Chevy, or more often a 60's Mustang. I owned a 1968 Mustang at one time. But it's in a better place now. A friend of mine, who restores classics, bought it from me and restored it for a relative. I'm glad, because by the end, I was hating that car. I didn't have the time, money or knowledge to keep a car like that up and running. I recently owned a classic 1991 Honda Civic Hatchback and was deeply sorry I had to sell it before moving here. It had over 171,000 miles on it, hardly ever needed any serious maintenance and could sometimes get close to 40 miles per gallon. If GM started making more cars like that then maybe they wouldn't be in so much financial trouble.

Anyway, with advanced auto technology and fuel efficiency and all that, I'm still glad to see mint T-birds, old Chevys, hot-rodded fords, and classic Cadillacs drive past me.