Blog: Skewed Views & News

Battle of the bands

My custom bass drum head. Not at all ripped off from The Police.

If you ever want a window into someone’s soul, pinpoint his or her hobby. For me, after the typically lame and knee-jerk response “spending time with my family,” I can list a trifecta of favorite pastimes that includes writing, running and drumming. And during this beautiful summer weekend, I got a rare chance to indulge in all three.

I call this weekend rare because as I get older, my drumming gigs have sadly become few and far between. When I was in college and throughout my early 20s, I played in a mock ‘n roll band called Language: Power and Abuse (L:PA), named after a course none of its members took. The band’s unofficial motto was “we’re friends first, musicians second,” – a philosophy that was clearly evident to anyone who heard us play. We also adopted an official slogan: “We want to work your private functions!” And not surprisingly, nearly all our gigs centered around alcohol: Beer as compensation. Beer as stage decoration. Beer as projectile weapons when crowds got out of control.

Now that I’ve reluctantly entered middle age, L:PA sadly is no more. In its place, however, is a party band of fiftysomethings I play with a few times a year, including this weekend’s gig at a suburban city-pride festival. Comprised of the best musicians I’ve ever played with, this band is called The Backyard Band, named when we auctioned ourselves to the highest bidder at a charity event to play a backyard summer gig years ago.

Comparing these two band experiences is probably unfair. My college band was more interested in making the bar crowd laugh than playing in the same key. My “adult” band is more interested in mastering four-part harmony than making certain that their beer cups are never empty. But if I could change one thing about my current group, it’s the set list. Take a quick look at some of the artists featured in the two bands’ set lists, and the difference is pretty clear:

The Cure
The Replacements
Gear Daddies
Guns n’ Roses
Def Leppard

The Backyard Band
The Beatles
The Turtles
Roy Orbison
Steve Miller
Whoever the hell wrote “Midnight Hour”
Jimmy Buffett
Neil Diamond
Whoever the f*#! wrote “Jump Jivin’”

I suppose what this tells me is that when you hit middle age, you make some compromises if you want to play with really great guys who are excellent musicians in a really tight band.  Even an ’80s music lover and accidental adult like me. I also imagine this tells me I must really love playing my drums, especially if it means playing “Margaritaville” five times a year.

But like all accidental adults who are outnumbered by assimilated adults, I’ve found a way to cope. It works like this. In their earliest years, Van Halen often put their own spin on cover tunes by other artists, and I always imagined them doing a rocking rendition of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” So whenever The Backyard Band plays “Croc Rock,” I simply close my eyes and apply the Van Halen filter, imagining David Lee Roth’s howling screech above Eddie’s ripping guitar licks. When I told the bass player of this trick, he laughed and said, “You know Colin, I’ll bet you apply that Van Halen filter to just about every song we play, don’t you?”

That adult knows me pretty well.

The Happiest Place on Earth

My girls.

Remember that scene at the end of Platoon where Charlie Sheen and his company just completed their tour of duty? As they walk in exhausted slow motion toward the awaiting chopper ride home, the jaded and broken soldiers exchange priceless glances with the young members of the fresh-faced replacement platoon just arriving in Vietnam. No words are spoken, yet the squinting messages spoke volumes from the disillusioned veterans to the unsullied virgins: You have no idea what’s in store for you.

This week, I exchanged one of those defeated departure glances with a starry-eyed newly arriving dad and his young family in Disney World.

Yes, we vacationed in Central Florida. During the Fourth of July week. With the peak of the summer crowds. At Walt Disney World. How original, I know. But after getting married, moving to the suburbs and having three children, a Disney World vacation becomes almost expected. What wasn’t expected? Hearing the following comments from me and my family during our 144 hours at The Happiest Place on Earth.

  •  “That’s a really good looking Woody!”
  • “Don’t point that pirate musket over the table at your sisters! You’ll spill Mommy’s and Daddy’s drinks!”
  • “What’s that ‘Trex’ restaurant about?” 
    * “Um, that would be ‘T-Rex’ Kelly, and I’m pretty sure it features dinosaurs.”
  •  “It’s sooooo hot! I’m sooooo thirsty! My feet are sooooo sore!” (The kids did a lot of complaining too.)
  • After consoling my 11-year-old daughter who lost the contents of her stomach while strolling Disney’s Main Street: “Wow! Plastic Disney shopping bags are amazingly leak proof!”
  • “In my next life I want to come back as an 18-year-old boy from Rio travelling with these 95 percent female tour groups from Brazil. Easy picking!” (OK, so that was a thought bubble . . . not exactly spoken.)
  •  “Kids, for the love of God! It’s 900 degrees in the shade, so please stop touching my hands, my arms, my stomach, my neck . . .”
    * After a frantic 60-second search for a temporarily lost eight-year-old son: “Don’t you ever let go of my hand again!”
  • “Can’t we just lock the kids in the room, and go spend some Disney dollars down at the bar?”
    * “Sure Kelly. And we can watch one of those 48 Hours episodes six months from now to see how it all turns out.”

Disney was chaotic, crazy and costly. But it also was at times a wonderful backdrop to a collection of memorable moments I hope my kids will cherish forever. Like circling the nighttime air on the Dumbo elephants as fireworks exploded over Fantasyland. Like hearing my son credited during a Magic Kingdom comedy show when his joke was the first one chosen from the audience’s submissions. Like watching my six-year-old daughter’s eyes light up when she met Belle.

I doubt my veteran’s glance told that wide-eyed father all he needed to know about his family’s impending Disney days. I just hope his vacation offered him as many sweet surprises as mine did for me. Among the most pleasant discoveries for this accidental adult and long-time Little Mermaid fan? In person, Princess Jasmine is actually better looking than Ariel. Way better.

Ah, the magic of Disney.

The indoorsman

Where's the thermostat?

You might think that growing up amid Midwestern fields, marshes and forests would have instilled in me an intimate understanding of the outdoors and the ability to proficiently navigate nature’s offerings. It didn’t. In fact, my years spent observing outdoors enthusiasts have raised more questions than answers, questions that tend to infuriate true naturalists, such as:

• Can any reasonable couple actually consider an outward bound weekend a romantic getaway when the itinerary includes tramping across dusty trails, bathing in leech-filled ponds and defecating behind trees?
• Why would reasonable parents give their kids a few dirty tree branches, a pocketknife and a bag of marshmallows and send them off to an unsupervised campfire where the shoving matches inevitably begin?
• Why do so many anglers avidly advocate properly releasing a fish back to the water (Gently push and pull the fish through the water to aerate its gills . . . ) after you just enticed it to swallow a barbed hook?
• Why does something as simple as the pure, uncorrupted experience of walking up a hill require hundreds of dollars of sophisticated hiking equipment and navigational gear?
• How can you not laugh when someone suggests pitching a tent? (“I see someone already has” is my stock response.)

Of course, my disinterest and ineptitude in many outdoors activities makes me something of an anomaly among my more adept, nature-loving peers. But when it comes to the world of accidental adults, I’m right at home. Once again, we reluctant grownups realize that true adults embrace outdoors activities with confidence primarily because they know what they’re doing. The accidental adults? Well, at least this one, not so much.

Nature may be God’s masterpiece. But a roof, four walls, a picture window and a thermostat are pretty damn beautiful too.

My amusing muse

You win, Kelly. Your version is funnier.

A humor writer who is uncomfortable smiling? Well . . . kind of. It’s not that I don’t smile very often. It’s just that when a camera is nearby, I can sometimes stiffen up, zone out and look super sleepy, scared to death or in physical pain.

So when I needed a new headshot for some book publicity last week, I turned to a friend who’s a gifted photographer: Margo LaPanta ( Despite my full confidence that she could coax a reasonably natural smile out of me, I invited Kelly along to make sure I’d be laughing.

With Margo’s steady presence behind the lens and a refreshing bottle of Stella Artois to loosen me up, I was ready to go. Let the photo shoot begin.

Cue Kelly.

Goofy faces behind Margo? Check. Inappropriate mock flashing? Double check. Laughter? Not really. It wasn’t until Kelly started to read passages of my book, taken very much out of context, that I really started laughing. And protesting.

Kelly: “Welcome to our cabin! We spend 95 percent of our waking moments performing backbreaking repairs and maintenance up here.”
Me: “Hey Margo, you know Kelly and I don’t have a cabin. And I’m not ripping you if you do. Sorry!”

Kelly: “Am I secure with my sexuality?”
Me: “Um, there’s a bit more to that paragraph than that!”

Kelly: “My neighbor’s wife was a cinder of passion in the snowbank.”
Me: “Don’t listen to her Margo. I wrote that when I was in high school. Some stupid metaphor assignment.”

The moral to this story? With the right photographer, people can appear much more photogenic than the original material. Likewise, with the right comic, words taken out of context can produce bigger laughs than the original material.

Fortunately, I had them both. Margo and my amusing muse.


Senior Comp. Honors (of course)

Last week I did a reading at one of my favorite Minneapolis bars, Kieran’s Irish Pub. Reading parts of my book in a bar full of strangers feels a little bit like performing standup comedy. Kind of exciting, but I’d rather share my twisted viewpoints through the written word. I did the reading as a favor to the event organizer, a guy named Wonder Dave, without whom I couldn’t have written Chapter 12: Nostalgia. A few years ago, Wonder Dave agreed to organize a juvenilia event, in part, so I could write about the experience. Wonderful!

If pressed to think about it, I suppose Chapter 12 is my favorite part of the book because it’s about checking in with your inner child through juvenilia. So what exactly is juvenilia? Technically speaking, juvenilia is a centuries-old term that describes the early literary, musical or other creative works of a young artist. But loosely speaking (my favorite kind of speaking), juvenilia is a word for some of the crap you wrote when you were a kid.

Remember that letter you wrote to your girlfriend, apologizing for flirting with the new freshman girl in the cafeteria and begging her to take you back so you can go to Homecoming because your dad is giving you the keys to the Oldsmobile station wagon along with an extended curfew to 11 p.m.? Well, that’s juvenilia. Remember that rap you wrote to the beat of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” chastising your mom and dad for grounding you after you “forgot” that 11 p.m. curfew? That’s juvenilia. And remember that diary entry you wrote promising the world you’d someday become more famous than Huey Lewis (or the News) and you’d tour the world with your band finally free of your parents’ lame-ass 11 p.m. curfew? That’s also juvenilia. And for accidental adults, it’s comedy gold.

If by some stroke of good fortune you’ve happened to hang onto old diaries, or eighth-grade movie scripts or letters returned by scorned sweethearts, for God’s sake don’t hide them in a shoebox under your dresser. That sappy crap deserves to be laughed at by others. Believe it or not, literary organizations, bar owners, website publishers and a host of other sadistic groups are hosting juvenilia events everywhere, offering what one group calls “personal redemption through public humiliation.” In other words, adults are encouraged to share their shame by exposing their pubescent perspectives on life, love and homemade Air Supply–style song lyrics for the empathetic enjoyment of a live audience who feels their pain—mainly because they wrote garbage like that, too. In return, accidental adults get to grab a microphone and reconnect with their younger, cooler and goofier sides. A win-win for all.

Father's daze

Don't let Dad get screwed

After more than a decade of practice, I’m still not sure what a full-blooded adult dad is supposed to be—I just know that I’m not it. And neither are many accidental adults. Especially the kind of fathers that most retailers think we should be—judging by those “Gifts for Dads” displays that pop up in stores around Father’s Day.

Music for Dads:
Are we really supposed to buy CD box sets of Elvis, Jimmy Buffet, and The Doobie Brothers, just because we procreated? Sure, I’ll admit it. I’ve seen Neil Diamond in concert a few times. I was even singing “Bah-bah-bum” to “Sweet Caroline” long before it was cool. But I’m prouder to say I’ve seen Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and Prince several times, and at an age when more responsible fathers were spending their hard-earned money on family vacations and not on concert tickets.

Tools for Dads:
When was the last time you got excited over a socket wrench set or a wet/dry vacuum? Same here. So why do retailers think these are the perfect gifts for fathers? Don’t they know that gifting a tool sends the wrong message to us accidental adults? “Hey Daddy, you deserve a special treat that makes it easier for you to perform manual labor in every spare moment you have!”

Clothes for Dads:
By now, my family knows better than to give me a snazzy tie or a smart pair of trousers, and I hope your family does too. Yet too many clothing stores still think that most fathers simply love a good cardigan or a pair of toasty wool slippers. Like these stores, we accidental adults also are prone to delusional thinking from time to time. We may not be fashion-forward fathers, but most mornings, the guy we see in our bathroom mirrors is more of a Banana Republic dad than a JCPenney dad.

After a series of mind-blowing events, this year I’m hearing that my book will become a Father’s Day gift for some dads out there. A big-time women’s website even featured an interview with me and promoted my book as a fun gift idea. Chick Lit is Not Dead =

To think that this book might help some dads navigate the road to reluctant adulthood and take comfort in knowing there are other accidental adults out there? Ironically, that makes me feel downright “adult.” And I’ve just got to believe they’ll appreciate my book more than a Beach Boys box set. (If not, they’re probably assimilated adults anyway.)

Expect evolutions

Do I have to spell it out?

Like it or not, eventually we all grow up. Even accidental adults like you. But when those watershed maturity moments hit you – and they will – don’t freak out.

So you’re pretty sure you now understand the difference between rotating your tires and balancing your tires. Some would call this progress. Die-hard accidental adults might consider it selling out. I simply call it inevitable. Don’t worry. A slight metamorphosis of maturity doesn’t mean you’ve become “one of them.” Chances are, your journey as a reluctant grownup will feature plenty of relapses, ensuring your membership in the accidental adulthood society is not in jeopardy of revocation anytime soon. Need evidence?

  • Once a week without fail, aren’t you still that well-intentioned but absent-minded homeowner who drags his garbage cans to the curb, walks back to the garage, gets into his vehicle, and backs out of the driveway smacking into the cans, having forgotten the previous thirty seconds of his life?
  • When you’re angry with your spouse, you’re still the guy who grabs his kids’ Speak & Spell toy keyboard and repeatedly presses the F and U buttons in rapid succession, aren’t you?
  • You still unplug most electrical cords by sharply yanking on them several feet away from the outlet, don’t you?
  • When a neighbor drives by while you’re watering the plants outside, you still lewdly wag the garden hose between your legs while waving to her, right?
  • And if you luck into snagging a particularly convenient parking space in a crowded lot, you usually still shout, “Rock star parking!” like you did in high school, right?

Thought so.

See, adulthood in and of itself is not to be feared, so long as growing old doesn’t mean growing up. And if you’re like me (and I know I am), then you’re not  in danger of completely growing up any time soon.

Tastes great? Less thrilling.

Why complicate this?

Yet again, another friend of mine recently encouraged me to try his homemade beer. I know many assimilated adults will say they genuinely love the craft of home brewing. They consider it an art form of sorts . . . a labor of love. I’d be more easily convinced of the merits of their endeavor if it ever produced something truly lovable, much less drinkable. It rarely does. I’ve tried a lot of lagers in my life, including dozens of homemade beers pushed on me by friends, and not a single one was worth trying again. In fact, most tasted like a glass of room-temperature, day-old coffee with a surprising yet disturbing hint of cough syrup in the aftertaste. So why do they bother? Here’s why I won’t.

The inexplicable popularity of this hobby has sparked an industry that produces some very comprehensive and easy-to acquire beginner’s brew kits and sets of ingredients. The costs of home brewing kits aren’t prohibitive, but the choices are. Which recipe do you want to try first? An English brown ale? Perhaps a German pilsner? How about an amber hybrid beer, or even a classic doppelbock? I’ve heard the ladies like a fun spiced-herb beer, but shouldn’t you offer them a sour ale first? By the time you sort out all the choices and finally pick your poison, you could’ve downed a six of Sam Adams already.

Another challenge to consider is where you are going to store your fermenting buckets of liquid fun. Of course, if you’re married, this decision is likely not yours to make, which means you can expect your recreational choice will be relegated to the basement crawlspace. Quite the endorsement of a worthwhile hobby.

Granted, there was a time when mixing up a batch of homebrew in your dorm room closet was daring, exciting and worthy of BMOC status. But that was back when you were underage, perpetually broke and looking for a challenge to outsmart those lame-ass nosy hall directors. So what’s the point now?

Hey Jude

Hey Jude. Thanks dude.

I dedicated my book to two saints – my late father and St. Jude. Both were easy choices. My father was a man of few words, lots of love, incredible wit and will probably remain the greatest man I’ll ever know.

So what’s the deal with St. Jude?

To start, he’s the patron of the impossible. I know . . . plenty of friends and family have told me that nothing is impossible – including that I would someday find success as a writer. That’s all fine and feels great to hear, but the facts remain stacked against most writers getting a book publishing contract with a national release, especially the way it worked for me. Consider my story and these statistics:

  1. Some writers spend years sending book proposals to hundreds of literary agents and publishers. All told, I mailed fewer than 20 pitches over a six-month time span before I received a contract offer.
  2. About 80 percent of the books in bookstores today got there with the help of a literary agent who represented the author. I never found an agent who would represent me.
  3. The publisher who reviewed my manuscript and offered me a contract is Adams Media of Avon, Mass. Each year, Adams receives 5,000 queries, and they publish just over 250 books. That means they actually publish only five percent of the pitches they receive. Of those 250-some books they publish annually, only 40 percent are from unagented authors and only 40 percent are by first-time authors.

Please understand I’m not sharing this background as a way of propping up my accomplishment. In fact, no one could be more humbled, honored and fortunate to be considered a published book author. I mention these stats only because they beg a question: If the odds were overwhelmingly against me, why did it happen? Persistence, passion and some level of skill? Sure. But I also believe this took something else to push me over the top. That’s where I believe St. Jude came into play.

During the 18 months when I was writing essays with no contract in sight, I spent quite a bit of time praying a novena to St. Jude, asking him to help me get a book deal. I’m sure Jude has more pressing issues to attend to than my humble request, yet I’m certain that he listened and put a good word in with The Man. However it worked, I know this: If you really, really want something badly – something you fear is impossible, give St. Jude a try. If it worked for me, I’d bet it can work for you.

If you try this and find your prayer answered, let me know. But better yet, spread the word by giving St. Jude a shout out in whatever way you can. Even saints could use a little earthly praise from time to time, even if it comes from flawed, immature and very human accidental adults.

Kicked in the face

Kicking and screaming

I’m a very proud child of the ‘80s in every way, but especially in music. Like most of my friends during high school, I warmly embraced the L.A. hard rock, glam metal, hair band scene. In that musical genre, my teen-aged Top 3 list looked like this:

  1. Van Halen (always, always #1)
  2. Ratt
  3. Motley Crue

When I was a mullet-wearing teenager, and later a slightly better-groomed twentysomething, I prided myself on following every move of these bands, tracking their upcoming releases and saving money for their over-the-top, self indulgent concerts. Today, as an accidental adult, I still love a good rock concert. I’ve even been known to spend way too much money on reunion tours, justifying to Kelly, “These might be once-in-a-lifetime events!” So imagine my surprise this weekend when I discovered that Ratt was playing in the Twin Cities, but it was too late to make plans to bang my head. I kind of felt kicked in the gut. Which is ironic, because years ago I actually wanted to be kicked in the face by the band’s lead singer. The story goes like this:

In the late 1980s, my friends Louie and Bar (don’t ask) accompanied me on a pilgrimage to a Milwaukee-area Ratt concert. A high school classmate of ours attended the same show with her boyfriend, and the couple lucked into front row seats. About halfway through the show, this boyfriend had the temporary misfortune of being mistaken for the drunk idiot next to him who was spitting on the lead singer, Stephen Pearcy (one of the coolest names in rock, BTW). For this offense, Mr. Pearcy penalized him with an undeserved kick in the face. Bleeding profusely from his nose and mouth, our classmate’s boyfriend was escorted backstage for an interrogation during which he quickly explained the case of mistaken identity. Moved by this story of injustice, the group’s manager treated the bewildered guy to free drinks with the roadies and a backstage pass to party with the band and their groupies. He also had his bloodied shirt autographed by my hero, Mr. Pearcy. 

When I returned from the show I told my older sister about the bloodied dude. Her reaction was, “How awful!” My response was, “Yeah, how awful that it didn’t happen to me!” In shock, she asked, “You mean you’d really like to be kicked in the face by that idiot singer?” Without missing a beat, I replied, “If it got me backstage to meet the band, hell yeah!”

If asked again today, decades later, I suspect I’d be slightly less enthusiastic to kiss Stephen Pearcy’s boot. But please don’t mistake that for a sign of assimilation. Had I known Ratt ‘n Roll was coming to town this weekend, I’d have called my fellow accidental adult buddies, and we’d have enjoyed a hell of a show, no matter the price of tickets. Why? It may no longer be super cool to be physically assaulted by a heavy metal singer, but no matter your age, rock concerts can still provide any adult a much needed kick.