Mon the Biff!

Biffy Clyro made their 9:30 Club debut last month and I almost missed it!

Biffy are one of the bands that have had a major influence on this portion of my life and, as a point of fact, are represented on my body as one of my now three tattoos.  Biffy tattoo  So to have me sit out their ascension to 9:30 Club would be almost unthinkable. Why did I almost miss it? They were playing Easter Saturday – a holiday that sees my extended family gather at my parents’ house in northeastern Pennsylvania. Hmmm, what to do, what to do? For a “normal” family, perhaps I would have bowed out of attending this year’s festivities (egg hunt in the backyard, Easter baskets, a new dress for a family photo…) But as you might possibly have guessed, my family is just slightly better than normal. My solution included moving Easter to MY house and having the entire family go see Biffy. And guess what?  That’s what we did! It took no convincing at all because my sister and mom love the band as well – my mom has seen them four times now! It was quite exciting to have one of my sons join me at a full on show at the 9:30 Club (not an acoustic radio/record store thing). Now he knows just a little more about his mom’s life.

I managed to secure an ADA stool for my mom up in the top bar and my sister and I decided to forego our usual rail spots and stick with the family. It’s definitely a different experience when you are not right up front.

Biffy fam

But this gave me an idea. Because I am always at the front, there is no need or opportunity to crowd surf. But tonight? This was possibly the most perfect chance and the most perfect band. I picked my moment, chose the group of rowdy boys I thought would put me up, and headed off. It took a few seconds for the chosen guys to figure out what I wanted, and I was almost dropped (staff inexplicably did not come the barrier to pluck me off the crowd like they usually do), and my friend Haley was the one who grabbed me by the waist and lowered me to the floor instead of having me tumble into the photog pit. Still, it was exhilarating!  It was a fabulous night shared with my family. And everyone agreed that moving Easter was a great idea.

Biffy Surf

Usually I get to see Biffy more than once per leg of their tour and this time I just squeaked in another one. The day after I came home from a trip out west (blog post to come) was show #2 for me. This time in Baltimore. I took my dutiful place in the queue to wait for hours to get a spot up front and rocked out lBiffy upfrontike I love doing.

The venue was undersold, but the crowd was loyal and boisterous. At the end, Ben tossed a drumstick directly at me. Despite the many hands that surrounded mine, it flew right into my hand. It was the first time I have caught a drumstick in mid-air! After the show, my friend Haley (yes same Haley who prevented me from landing on my head) and I waited for the band. Although a band’s set is often only 90 minutes long, the before and after is sometimes the best part. Queuing with friends and catching up; waiting with friends and talking about everything else. But I can’t lie, talking to the band is always a thrill. I have been chatting with Simon, James, Ben, and various members of the crew for over seven years. I am recognized and greeted by name. I have had some spectacular experiences with them that I have felt were very personal (Patron, anyone?) I am also grateful that they are wonderful, caring men who are still interested in chatting with the people who make an effort to come see them play. That night was no different, hugs and hellos all around.

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In the many years that I have been following them, I have been privileged to hang out and chat with them on so many occasions.  You can see the years go by simply by watching my hair grow!

So who is this band that I love so much? They are a Scottish rock trio who have been around for awhile. I always tell people I would never make anyone go to a Biffy show, they have to want to. They are loud, shirtless and sweaty, and if you don’t know the words, sometimes unintelligible. I know I’m not making a great case for them, but if you like it, you LOVE it. I didn’t come to know about the band until 2009 – when they were already five albums in. The very first time I saw them, they were playing support for a band I had never listened to, in a town near where I was visiting my sister. I BEGGED her to agree to go. We only stayed for Biffy (babysitter issues), I had no earplugs (last time that ever happened – my ears hurt for a day and a half), I stepped on/bounced on a girl with a cast & crutches (her fault, she shouldn’t have been at the front), and I was in heaven. I couldn’t wait to see them again. And I did, four days later and closer to home. But the real excitement came a few months later when they played their very first headliner show in the U.S. It was at DC9, a place that has a capacity of 200 people. This was a band that could sell out small arenas at home and they were playing DC9!  We actually had a friend from Scotland come over to join us to be able to get the experience of seeing them in that intimate of a setting. I have traveled up and down the east coast to see them and even met up with Haley in Austin because they were playing there ON my birthday. Got a birthday shout out from Simon on stage that night. 😉 Despite their exterior presentation – long sweaty hair flying around, heavily tattooed, curious lyrics “Kill your bizarre mindset, fuckhead , soldered to a three-layered concrete brainwave castration” is one of my favorites, they are some of the nicest guys I have met in the music industry – sincere, genuine, interested. I truly feel like I have been rewarded for my loyalty as a fan with a fairly personal relationship with a rock band. Do I want to see them “break America”? Sure I do. That’s what’s best for them. I’ll always have the days when I shared a drink with them at small clubs and for me, that’ll be enough.

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Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

Evolution of an Artist

I always thought of myself as creative, but not artistic. Crafts have always been in my life and I love doing them. But I always stuck with things that let me “put together” elements rather than have me create from scratch. I tried “real art” a few times, but it seemed that even proportional stick figures were a stretch for me.

I was a rubber stamper many moons ago. I did elaborate pieces with many wonderful elements. I had friends who were rubber stampers too; I belonged to a group that met monthly called Capitol Inkers Anonymous. It was a lot of fun to get together and see what everyone else was working on. Good heavens, we even had our own custom designed stamps – two of them because we couldn’t decide which one was best!

This was all years before I had children and plenty of disposable income. Since I got to spend it all on myself, you know what I did once? I took a trip to Santa Barbara, CA with members of this group to a rubber stamp store. Yes, just to go to the rubber stamp store. This was the early 90’s before EVERYTHING could be bought on the internet. They had stamps that were exclusively designed for their store and could be purchased no other way but in person.

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The scrapbook page (see artistic endeavor below) of the rubber stamp trip.

This adventure should come as no surprise to my music friends though. It sounds a lot like winging off to Austin, TX for my birthday to see Biffy, doesn’t it? Shades of things to come, I suppose. So I made stamp art on my own and with these people, we made mail art, exchanged art challenges, and entered contests. It was a fantastic community to belong to and I felt a little bit like an artist. But not really.

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No, this isn’t all of them, some are on a downstairs shelf…….

Then came scrapbooking. I have TWENTY scrapbooks, each a couple of inches thick. It was the height of the “scrapbooking craze” and there were stores, clubs, and events to feed my interest. I had several friends with whom I got to together at different houses for the sole purpose of scrapbooking together.  Writing this blog post prompted me to pull some of them off the shelf and page through them. I am so happy I made the effort to put these together.  Although some of the decoration and cropping of photos is rather dated and cutesy, I have years of my children’s lives neatly and beautifully commemorated. Man, they were cute kids! I seemed to have stopped shortly after my oldest hit eight years old, but that’s OK. That’s still a LOT of years I got done. It was a little like making art.  Kinda, but not really.

Then several years ago, I had an opportunity to clear out a lot of clutter in my house and in doing so I faced the mountain of “art supplies” I hadn’t used in years. I reached out to a friend in the spring of 2015 who was actively doing art and offered to let her go through my things and take anything she wanted. She took a lot, but not everything, I had hoped she would take it ALL and unburden me of the guilt at not doing anything remotely arty. But I still felt lighter and satisfied that my clutter was reduced. Then as often happens, I was inspired by this lighter, freer feeling. I found a free art journaling class online and thought “hey, I can do that” and sure enough I could. This led me to another class and another and soon I was drawing and painting like I never had before. I was drawing faces and trees and flowers. I could draw things that looked like THINGS. I was ecstatic. I even applied for and received a scholarship for a year-long online art class – many of you have seen the fruits of that labor on Facebook. I am currently into watercolors, although I still like to try my hand at mixed media, acrylics, and sketching.

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I have aspirations to try my hand at more assemblage art like this house-person.

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I am surprised and delighted by this new found skill and hope that I can continue to try new things and enjoy myself. Now, I feel like I can really say I am making art.  I know I should cut myself some slack and accept that the things I have done all along were forms of art, but I do feel like now I have arrived.  Now I get to call myself an artist.

Music Makes My Life Go Round

Overwrought teenagers often emotionally claim “music saved their lives!” But if I could have you take a deep breath and try to believe me, I can tell you that music did, in fact, change my life in dramatic ways, not once but twice.

I gave up a lot when my first child was born. He was a “hard baby.” I never knew how hard until my second child was born and there was a DRAMATIC difference. “Oh my god” was all I could think, is this what it was supposed to be like?  After nearly ten years of utter (although admittedly voluntary) subjugation to the special needs of my son, things changed. I read a novel that somehow allowed music back into my life. My sisters were involved in this too. We would pick songs that would go with different parts of the storyline and I became a complete teenager in this pursuit. BUT, it pulled me out of a self-imposed hole I was sunk in and returned “self” to me. I eventually joined an online forum for a band and made many, many friends from around the word. The name I used as an online persona persists today – 10YearsGone – in my Twitter, Instagram, and one Gmail account. This return of self had a deep and lasting impact on my life. I actually know the day it started and it’s noted on my calendar as my “re-birthday”. It’s coming up next month and it’ll be eight years. I know it sounds simple, but only someone who has lost themselves and then found their way back truly understands how profound this is. It’s possible that I never would have found my way back, sometimes that happens to people. I know it was those early days of picking out music from bands I had never heard of before that sparked the soul in me to fight its way back.

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Is there any other place to be other than the front row?

The second time music changed my life it was more a function of the community that developed around me. I spent a lot of time going to live music. I even started writing reviews for a music blog. I was well entrenched in the music scene and I was thriving. My personal life, however, was in the crapper. I had a couple of very poignant interactions from my music sphere that finally made me understand that I was better than what I was getting at home. I could finally see that I needed to make a change and I disentangled myself from a marriage that was not working for me. It was revelatory to know I could move on and be a happier person in all aspects of my life.

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This community is so tight-knit that the “tour flag” gets itself from venue to venue handed off to a new carrier each time with no involvement from the band.

Since then I have gotten some of my tattoos to commemorate the music of the bands that have inspired me – Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and Biffy Clyro. These two bands have fan groups that make up a significant portion of my music friends. I saw Frank Turner play just the other night and Biffy are playing in April right before my birthday. Both these bands definitely deserve a post of their own. Another band, Snow Patrol, while they did not inspire me to ink myself, provided me with the lion’s share of my international/online friends. Sadly, Snow Patrol hasn’t toured in a dog’s age so it’s been a long while since I’ve see many of these people, but they are still very important to me.

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Snow Patrol at Letterman. The sisters and I are on the right (I’m in *yellow*!)

These three bands and the people who follow them have influenced me in profound ways that I could never have projected back when I was mired deep in the difficulties of early motherhood. Music and my involvement in it changed my life infinitely for the better. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I bought a TV!

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I haven’t had a TV in six years. Well, that’s not exactly true, there is a TV in my house, a huge analogue monstrosity that sits (and fills) a corner in my family room. But if you turn it on, very little comes through and a high whine is emitted that drives my sons crazy. So it doesn’t get turned on. A long time ago, before broadcast TV was digitally transmitted, I watched my TV. Through the air. Via an antenna (the antenna has long since blown out of alignment.) How about that? I was so far ahead of the “cord cutting” trend, that maybe I am even hip – I’m a “never-corder”. I have never had cable (or satellite or Direct TV…) When I lived in my parents’ home, they didn’t have it yet and ever since I have been on my own, I never ponied up for the expense. And yet I love watching TV. I always figured that with as much as I loved TV, I would watch it all the time if I had cable. So, since it would have been a stretch to afford it at many times of my life, it seemed a good idea to avoid it.

So how did I stop watching my TV in the family room in the first place? Over six years ago, my son’s anxiety was in high gear and I had to work very hard to help him manage it. All of a sudden, he could not be on a different floor of the house than an adult, ever. He would check several time before falling asleep to see if someone was there and even woke a few hours after he fell asleep to check again. Since I was the only parent at home at bedtime, I was forced to abandon the TV in the basement level family room. So I began watching things on my laptop. I started with Netflix, added Hulu, and finally Amazon Prime. I’ve been watching like that ever since.

About a month ago, I needed to change some things up, so I decided it was time to buy a TV. I ended up redoing my entire living room to accommodate the TV, and I love it. It’s now light and airy and just gorgeous! New rug, new curtains, repainted tables, new pillows, and a Craigslist find as a TV console table. My wonderful new smart TV came with Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube right on it. I quickly added ChromeCast to the mix and now everything I watch on my laptop can now be slapped up on my TV. I am giddy with excitement. And am watching a little too much TV!