Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Overcoming And Ink


I got a tattoo, and I'm danged proud of it.

Didn't think I was a "tattoo guy"? Neither did I. Pushing 40, I've never had ink put on my body outside of a penned phone number or some Sharpie fun, but over the recent past, I've had something nagging at the back of my mind, and I decided it was time to do something about it.

Discovering that you are autistic as an adult is not an easy thing. Some five years ago, through the process of conversation with our son's doctor and my wife, I had to stand up, look myself in the eye, and come to grips with the fact that yes, I am autistic.  The doctor's words in my ears were not easy, but I can still hear them, and I am grateful that he took the direct approach and stated simply, "Let's do some simple math...."  

It all makes sense.  In many ways I have higher-than-average intelligence, and the ability to see things in creative, unusual ways, but at the same time my life has been spent riding the pendulum between being socially awkward, socially inept, and a social pariah.  Simple conversation has always been a task for me, even with people I love, interaction has always been tortuous, and I'll spare you any other details.  See, when I was a kid, they didn't have things like "the autistic spectrum" or "Asperger's Syndrome".  There were autistic kids, who were rather severely limited in what we considered to be mental capacity (oh, how wrong we were!), and there was everyone else.  The autistic kids were the ones who flailed about, shouted and screamed nonsensical noises, and were kinda scary because you didn't know what they were going to do next.  Something was "wrong" with them as individuals, and while there was a level of concern and regard for their plight, they formed our picture of what it meant to be autistic, and if you didn't display the same outward signs, then it was plain and simple: you weren't autistic.

So, then, what of the kid who made the same noises in his head, even though they never escaped his mouth?  What of the kid who had to make a concerted effort to keep his hands in his pockets - in his hard-to-reach back pockets if need be - in order to not "stim" and flail them randomly?  What of the kid who couldn't maintain eye contact, even when he tried to speak in a common setting?  What of the kid who occasionally simply could not speak, no matter how hard he tried to form words?

I know that kid, and I know the label he received.  He was "weird."  That was my diagnosis from the community in general, and given the times, it was well-deserved.  We just didn't understand the full range of autism at the time, so diagnosing it properly was more complicated that it might be today.  Yes, I was some kind of weird, and I knew it.  I begged God to get me out of it, but I knew it.  It drove me to some of the most severe depression I've ever encountered, and even to the brink of life-ending self harm, but I knew it.  I just didn't know why, and I couldn't escape it.

Oddly enough, the thing that carried me through my teenage years turned out to be a completely misguided thought.  I had developed this concept that eventually I would grow out of this "existence", and as an adult, that I wouldn't face the same challenges, so I pushed on, day by day, and year by year, hoping for the time when the issue would pass.  Someday I would be able to make eye contact that wasn't painful.  Someday I'd go through the day without taking unnecessary "restroom breaks" to pound my fists into each other to rid myself of the "stimming" urge.  Someday the moments of non-verbal silence would be replaced with the ability to use my voice to express myself.  Someday the screaming in my head would be quieted.  Someday....

It wasn't easy to create the masks to cover my traits.  I developed the ability to express myself through writing, singing, playing guitar, songwriting, and other methods that channeled out pieces of me here and there.  My social abilities formed under the guidance of a strong mentor who saw potential in me (thank you, Buck), and I was able to hide the bigger quirks and characteristics, but the older I got, the harder it became.  I had so counted on age and maturity to be the way out of my struggles, but although the years came and went, it only became more and more taxing to create covers and form versions of myself to fit different situations.  Without knowing it, I had only exacerbated the problem.  The harder I tried to hide myself, the harder it was to find myself, and in my desperation to escape my autistic mind, I only found it more prominent all the time.  Adulthood just meant the same prison in a bigger mind and body.

There was one person who knew, and just didn't seem to mind.  Meeting someone who loved me unconditionally amazed and baffled me, so when I met Sandra and she didn't seem to mind my social ills, I wasn't about to let go.  She's the gentle, but brilliant type, so she knew before I even had a clue, and she loved me anyways, and she never pushed it.  She just loved me.  She saw deep into my mind and heart, but she didn't let it dissuade her, and didn't push away as so many others had.  She just loved me.  She loved me for who I am, even though I didn't know who I was.  She was right there through the worst of it, right there when the doctor uttered those words, and she was right there when it all became clear to me and I let myself believe what she already knew.

I am autistic.

It's not easy for a man in his thirties with a construction-related job, a family, and a "life" to realize these things, but through the process of having a son diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and facing other family difficulties at the time pushed me to the point where I had to look myself solidly in the eye and come to grips with who I was.  I am autistic.  Perhaps I am weird as well, but I'm not just weird.  Perhaps I'm naturally intelligent, but I'm not just intelligent.  No longer a kid, it took me to the brink, and forced me to see myself as I have never seen myself before.  So many things started to add up and make sense, and yet at the same time it troubled me deeply, and brought up a spirit of regret and resentment.  I was faced with a decision that was as monumental as anything I had ever seen, and as I began to be aware that I could easily regress into a place of darkness, at the same time, it was opening up to me that I had conquered so much already in my ignorance.  My choice was clear.  I would overcome.

Nothing is easy about telling people you're autistic.  It's probably a confusing thing to hear someone say, and I get that, but the responses you receive are so weird.  It would be so much easier to hide this, and not hear replies like,

"That's just for kids.  You must have grown out of it."
"I don't think you are.  My nephew is autistic and he ____."
"That's so overdiagnosed.  You probably just have a deficiency."
"Is that why you act so strange sometimes?"

Honestly, one of the most empowering responses I've ever heard came from a friend who just said, "I know!"  No one knew what to do with the information, and it made some very awkward conversations!  Nevertheless, I was not going to let the workings of my mind hold me in bondage anymore, and I began to be honest with people about it.  It wasn't going to be an excuse, but if I was ever going to triumph, it would start with honesty, and so I made up my mind that I would simply speak the truth about it, own it, quite hiding, and be the person I was created to be.

That's why, at 37 years of age, with no ink anywhere to be found on my body, I decided to get a tattoo.  I had been toying with the idea for quite some time, but it wasn't something to take lightly or decide on quickly.  I wanted something on me - in me! - that represented my identity, reflected my story, and would serve an an encouragement to others.  One thing I found was that as I began to open up about who I am, it empowered other people to overcome the issues that they faced.  I'm in a minority as an autistic adult, but far from it when it comes to being a person with issues.  Everyone has something they face on a day to day basis, and the idea of overcoming is, or should be, universal to all of us.  It starts with the concept of self-awareness and acknowledging what holds us back, and isn't fully conquered until we use the lessons we have learned to help others.  I wanted a permanent piece of that as a part of me, and one day as I mindlessly sketched some thoughts on a piece of scrap paper, it all came together, and I formed what would be my art.


* The puzzle piece is clear enough.  It is the universal symbol of autism, exemplary of the cryptic, mysterious nature of the syndrome.  No one really knows where it comes from, and no one really understands how it works.  It is all an enigma, and the pieces do not fit.
* The heart is a reminder that I am loved.  Nothing is more important to me than to know that I am loved, even though I can convince myself otherwise in an instant.  I can never forget now, though, and it is a reminder to me to love others the way I am loved.  Unconditionally.  Fully.
* The word "overcome" is my way of encouraging others to face their fears and conquer them.  It's also for me.  Don't think that I have convinced myself I've arrived.  It's all a work in progress.

Getting this tattoo is one of the most difficult things I've ever done.  Needles are a phobia of mine, and my pain tolerance is incredibly low.  No, lower than that, even.  This process scared me to death, and I'm still somewhat in shock that I was able to go through with it.  In fact, this process was all about facing fears of so many types for me, and it became all the more real for me as I headed to my appointment realizing that it would just be me and the tattoo artist who was essentially a stranger to me.  I would be staring these fears down completely alone, and being alone terrifies me.

God must have sent the perfect person to do this job, because Mandy at Mona Lisa Tattoo in Nampa seemed to understand all along the way.  It was uncomfortable to approach her with this unusual (for me) idea, but she "got it" from the start, took my sketch, and adapted it to a skin-oriented piece of work that combined meaningfulness with artistry.  This was one of the most important things because I didn't just want a tattoo -- I wanted this tattoo for a very specific reason, and it took someone with understanding to pull it off correctly.  It was a great relief to be able to honestly explain my idea and the reasoning, and have someone be able to carry out what I had in my mind.  There was no judgment for my timidity or mockery of my fear.  Gently and compassionately, she walked me through the process, showed me her idea for the final piece, and it was time to begin.

Hurt?  Heck yes, it hurt.  Voluntary pain is not something I am accustomed to, and the fact that I signed up for this became that much stranger as the needles began their work.  At one point, I was almost ready to ask her to wrap it up, when Tom Petty's classic "Won't Back Down" came on the radio, and reminded me of why I was there.  It wasn't less painful, but it pulled my attention away from my discomfort and back to the purpose.  This wasn't just for decoration or fun.  This was for a reason.  This wasn't just for me.  This was for everyone who has mountains to climb.

The result?  I couldn't be happier.  As Mandy began to clean up and give final instructions, I started to become a bit emotional, realizing that I had just done something so incomprehensibly difficult, but found the courage and did it.  I constantly tell my students to "do hard things" because the rewards are so great, so as I came to grips with what I had just surmounted, and heard the words, "I'm proud of you", it overwhelmed me.

Do I recommend getting a tattoo?  Not necessarily.  I wouldn't do it again without an extremely good reason.  It's painful as heck, permanent, and carries a stigma with some, including some people I love.  It was incredibly unpleasant, and totally unromantic.  Oh, and I'm so glad I did it.

People want to know the story behind every tattoo, and this is one that needs to be told.  It isn't an easy story.  This must be the most uncomfortable thing I've ever written, but it bears being told because there is a world that needs encouragement to overcome their obstacles, and the love that will help carry them through.  Whatever your story is, I hope that hearing mine will help you honestly face your burdens, use the beautiful gifts that God has given you, and by His grace to overcome them.  Don't stop there, though, because as we work through this process called life, we will be surrounded by those who need our help to overcome as well.  Reach out a hand to them, because maybe they're just reaching for one, and yours will be the only one they find.

I'm overcoming.  You can too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Cowboy Rides Away - Through Nampa

It is unquestionable and uncontested: George Strait is my favorite recording and performing artist. This is nothing new, as I've been a fan of his since the mid-90s, and it's not really a secret, either.  There are countless people in this corner of the solar system who would echo exactly the same sentiments as these.  However, is the man coming through their town this week?

George Strait will be in my home town of Nampa, Idaho this week, bringing the Ace In The Hole Band, and a hat full of hits.  Now, I should be excited about this, but I'm not really.  I'm happy for the thousands that will be there, but as I am economically excluded, it doesn't thrill me like it should.  The occasion should not go unmarked, though, momentous as it is.

Enough has been written about George the artist: his ability to select the best songs, his mind-blowing collection of #1 hits, and how he almost singlehandedly saved country music from itself.  Enough has been written about George the man: his genuine personality, his long marriage to Norma, his triumph over family tragedy, and his work with veterans' charities.  It's not as if George is an obscure figure whose story is yet to be told.  What can I possibly add?

No, I have no news to break.  No scoop or startling revelation will be found here.  No controversy will be discovered.  I just like George Strait.

My disappointment at missing this show is tempered by the fact that I got to attend one of his concerts in 2007 at the Taco Bell Center.  It was the best concert I've ever attended, and six years later I'm still so grateful at the opportunity to have seen him and his band there.  It was a night I'll never forget, and while I cannot predict the future well enough to guarantee that it will never be equalled, that will certainly take a remarkable experience to accomplish.

For George's sake, I'm glad he's retiring from the touring game.  It's no secret that the road has never been his favorite thing, and this frees him up to keep making great records.  I've always had a greater respect for those who have known when to hang it up than those who keep dragging out their career through ever-diminishing venues to disappointing ends.  Frankly, I'm surprised George didn't call it a day earlier, but glad he didn't do so before '07.

If you have tickets for the show Saturday, I really am happy for you.  It should be amazing, and you're bound to enjoy yourself.  A concert like this is bound to be at the same time fun, emotional, and definitely memorable.  If you think of it, snap a pic for me and send it my way - that would just make my day.

Is there a point to all this?  Perhaps.  It's not like George needs me there to make his career complete.  Oh, and while I'm a fan, I'm not a crazed fan: missing this show won't make me suicidal.  It may be that this is just my way of tipping my hat to the man from the nosebleeds. Will he read this?  Not a chance.  Will it devolve into the anonymous noise of a million other blog posts?  Certainly.  Will it be quickly forgotten?  Absolutely.  Still and all, I can't let The Cowboy Ride Away without saying it one last time.

Thanks, George.

Thanks for making me love country music.  Thanks for "Amarillo By Morning" and "Wrapped".  Thanks for our wedding walk-out song ("Blue Clear Sky").  Thanks for the drumstick from Kennedy... even though I'm not really a collector.  Thanks for keeping it traditional, but not being afraid to be yourself.  Thanks for rescuing a dying genre that needed the genuine-ness you brought it.  Thanks for the show six years ago.  It was a heck of a time.

Thanks, George.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Curious Tale of Randy Travis

Everyone's talking about Randy Travis the past couple days, and while it has been said that "no publicity is bad publicity", somehow I doubt Mr. Travis is relishing this new found fame.  Once he was among the group at the pinnacle of country stardom, reaching rare levels of renown with songs like Digging Up Bones, Three Wooden Crosses, Deeper Than The Holler, and Forever And Ever, Amen, among many others.  His voice was sincere, his story was dynamic, and his image was squeaky clean.

It's this last item that makes the latest turns in Mr. Travis' story so surprising.  There have been plenty of country stars over the years who have run afoul of the law in a variety of ways, but what it boils down to is this: if you had said to me five years ago that Randy Travis would divorce his wife, start drinking heavily again, get a DUI, then six months later walk into a convenience store naked and demanding cigarettes, only to later be arrested for DWI whilst threatening the attending officers with deadly retribution... well, I'd have called you 1.) crazy, 2.) highly imaginative, and 3.) disrespectful.  There's just one problem with that -- it happened.

Now, I don't know Mr. Travis.  I've never met him, and never even seen him in concert, so I can't pretend to understand what makes him tick. All I can say is that this is completely contradictory to the image that he has worked so hard to develop and maintain over the past 25 years that it is hard to actually comprehend.  Add in the fact that one of the most remarkable elements of his life is that his squeaky-clean image was a beautiful contrast to his troubled past, a young life that was riddled by addictions and crime.  All I know is what I've seen from far off, but from this distant vantage point, it's a very confusing situation.  By no means am I alone in this, either.  It seems like everyone else who sees this situation unfolding has been asking the same question:

What happened to Randy Travis?

Truth is, I don't know, and neither do you.  Anything we can offer would just be conjecture, and our best explanations are nothing better that educated guesses.  Psychiatrists may opine, and preachers may postulate, but ultimately, the answer lies in the head of one man alone.  My purpose here is neither to defend Mr. Travis, nor to crucify him, and I have no understanding whatsoever of the rationale that led to these actions.  However, the story presents us with the opportunity to face some bigger issues in life, and should make us take a second look at how we view others as well as ourselves.  Before rushing to judgment, take these few things to mind, won't you:

1. These sorts of incidents are almost always traumatically triggered.  Except in rare cases, when someone relapses, or suddenly falls into disgrace, there has been some event which has catalyzed the spiral toward the action(s).  Depression may cause a sober person to seek chemical refuge, and lack of intimacy can lead to an affair.  It is not planned, it is not intentional, and it is typically not even entirely rational.  Where a vacuum exists, we will seek a way to fill it, and where pain is felt, we will seek a way to assuage it.  Our self-made solutions are sadly not always wisely devised or profitably implemented.

2. We do not know celebrities like we think we do.  Their public lives are lived with the knowledge that everyone is watching, but the privacy of their homes and the comfortable environs of their family life is something of which most of us are completely, often blissfully, unaware.  Be careful to never assume that the image your favorite artists/entertainers project on stage is entirely representative of their private lives.  Sometimes the two may bear some equality, but always recall that they are on stage, and know when people are watching.  This doesn't necessarily mean all public figures are fake, but be sure to differentiate between an individual's personality and their character.

3. Celebrities are real people with the same problems other real people have.  Human beings are flawed creatures, plain and simple.  Everyone has their own burdens to bear, and their own issues to deal with, so why would we be surprised when Mr. Travis, or any other celebrity, has their own?  No matter how beautiful, how talented, or how compelling a celebrity is, they are still created from the same flesh and blood that constitute everyone else.  Their stresses might be different than the rest of ours (they might not have the financial concerns, but even that might not be a fair trade for the increased scrutiny they endure),  but they are no less taxing on the psyche

4. None of us are immune to this potential.  Any of us who think we don't have the capacity to be drawn into the unexpected are just fooling ourselves.  After all, the fact that we call it the "unexpected" should make it clear enough that this could happen to anyone at anytime.  We need to pay special attention to the things we use to fill the voids and soothe the wounds in our lives.  No, I'm not saying we're all doomed to get stoned, strip down to our skinnies, lie in the middle of the road, and offer to shoot an officer of the law, but any of us might do something we'll regret later once the opportunity arises.  Tragically confusing things have happened to many wonderful people - am I so far superior to them that it couldn't happen to me?

All in all, I'm just left with a feeling of sadness about the situation.  I can't say I've always been a huge fan of Mr. Travis; in fact, not being a Southern Gospel fan, I don't care for his work in that genre at all, but he's always given the impression of being a good guy, and I hate it when things like this happen to good guys.  Whatever demons he's fighting seem to be winning, so I hope he fights this with all he has.

"There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sara Evans in Caldwell, Idaho

Sara Evans in Caldwell, Idaho
Sara again?  Yes, I know - it's the fifth time I've seen her, but you're not tired of her, and neither am I.  It's odd that I've had the opportunity to see her this many times -- I wouldn't call myself one of "her biggest fans", although I appreciate her work, and consider a couple of her songs among my favorites.  ("Born To Fly" goes right up near the top of my rather long list.)  Still, she always seems to be around at the right place and the right time, so when she was in town again, we figured, what the heck?


The fact that this lovely lady has just released another album led to three new songs being included in her set, but other than that, most of the setlist has not changed over the past few years.  Her dramatic personal issues resulted in quite a bit of time off, which led to an unfortunate "hiccup" in her career.  Consequently, I believe this presents significant difficulty in keeping song selection and arrangements fresh, and you can't really blame this on Sara.  Having said that, it really is time for new encore song.  "Want You To Want Me" was fun the first couple times, but changing it up couldn't hurt at this point.  My suggestions for a classic-rock cover?  "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" by .38 Special, perhaps?  "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith?  The one I think would really work with the same tempo/spirit, and totally in line with Sara's twisted and somewhat risque sense of humor?  "Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC.  Think about it.

(The set was also a bit short, only running around an hour, which caused a bit of a stir among some ticket purchasers, who dropped $30/each on their seats.  Since we were in the free General Admission area, it didn't bother me a bit.)

The band configuration has changed somewhat, as bands are prone to do.  Lawson has left to pursue his fantastic band, Tin Cup Gypsy, and the revolving-door list of guitarists has settled with Kris Donegan, whose tone was simply unbelievable.  (In particular, his Gretsch tones were ridiculously good.)  The most notable change was that none of Sara's sisters were doing backup vocals for her, which actually cleaned things up musically a bit.  They are fine musicians with the Evans' good looks, but there is something musically "cleaner" about the new sound with those bgvs rotating between the different instrumentalists.  On the other hand, it also eliminated the cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene", which was one of my favorite parts of the show.  All things have their benefits and drawbacks, I suppose.  Still in place are the nimble Brent Wilson, sporting a nice new Les Paul, the stone-solid Jim Bloodgood, and thumper/brother Matt Evans, who reminded me how bass players never look like they're earning they're money.  It's not that they aren't earning their money - they just make it look way easier to play well than it actually is.

Sara is still just as lovely as she ever was, and she's not intimidated about it.  She is still as sweet-and-sassy as ever, and strutted her stuff confidently about the stage just like always.  It tugged at my heart when she took notice of my autistic little guy (who tends to noticeably "stim" when in a hyper-stimulative situation like a loud concert), and made sure he saw her waving to him.  He likes people, and people really take to him.  Apparently even the big names are no different, but it still does a dad's heart good to see.

More to report after Sara show number 6?  Perhaps.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stampede '12 - Some Things Always/Never Change

Did you ever have a friend get a new hairstyle that made you do a double-take to make sure it was them?  You recognize them... then you aren't sure... then you look again... and they say, "Hello".  Why, hello, my friend.  It's you again.

That's how this year's version of the Snake River Stampede felt for me.  Every year there are changes to keep things fresh and interesting, but this go-round featured more "different" aspects than I had previously experienced, and certainly more than I expected!

There was a difference in the way the Stampede sounded.  We knew that last year was Bob Tallman's finale at this event, but there was still something slightly unusual about not hearing his whiskey-toned voice welcoming us, and walking us through the circumstances of the evening.  There's just something about the Stampede and Tallman that feel like they belonged together, even if it was a false sense of entitlement.  Some things always change.

It was the same way we felt when Leon Coffee moved on a few years ago.  The longtime Stampede entertainer has since been replaced by a revolving series of painted pranksters, including this year's man-in-the-can, Justin Rumford, but when you think of the Nampa event, you still see Leon out there.  My love/hate relationship with barrelmen continues.  I'm not a huge fan of the comedy (although, to be fair, I missed this year's act while on a bathroom break for the kids), and it seems like they're less and less involved with the actual reason the barrel is there in the first place.  Keith Isley is still my favorite barrelman, and maybe all the rest just pale in comparison.  (While bullfighters are rarely long-term at any rodeo, I missed now-family-man Cory Wall as well.)  Oh well.  Some things always change.

Another Stampede tradition went by the wayside during the singing of the National Anthem.  In the past, Philip Hurley has sung the Anthem without fail at each performance, but he was nowhere to be seen this year.  Apparently throughout the week, a variety of musicians were honored with that selection, and it was actually refreshing to have a very powerful rendition at the Friday performance by the after-party band, Riverbilly.  Kudos to the committee on this choice.  Some things always change.

Yet again, some things never change.  Walking in the Idaho Center to the smell of cinnamon roasted nuts and the sight of the green-and-yellow festoonery.  Seeing a handful of friends before you even get to your seat.  Watching 4-H kids fairly sprint through the seats with their tubs of treats, and knowing that by the barrel racing, they'll be worn out completely.  Hugging someone you haven't seen since the last Stampede.  Boyd Polhamus.

Boyd Polhamus?  Yes!  Boyd was back!  My favorite half of the announcing team -- in fact my favorite announcer, period, was back to keep us up on the action.  This time, the supersized cowboy with a voice to match was doing his job from horseback, though, which was a nice new touch.  Some things change, even though they don't.  Now, for the first time, Boyd was in charge of all the mic duties, including the opening prayer.  As you might know, my only complaint about Bob Tallman was that he frequently introduced political discussion into the prayer, and gave lengthy oratories during the same.  Sometimes it made it hard to understand whether he was praying, or postulating.  I rarely disagreed with his stances (although his theology and mine were frequently at odds, which doesn't bother me so much), but Christianity and conservative politics are not one and the same, and my preference is to leave the two separate.  Boyd touched on some governmental concepts, but did not revolve his prayer around it.  His focus was Scripturally founded, and seemed primarily intent on making sure everyone in the arena knew that salvation came only be grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Hey, man.  Some things never change.

Was is the greatest performance ever?  Actually, not even close.  The stock seemed "off", and in an uncharacteristically moody frame of mind, save the bull draw which was exceptional.  (Cervi stock remains the best in the business.)  Performers weren't having a great night, either, to the point that the number of missed loops, lost grips, and other unforced errors caused me to consider calling this post the "Snake Bit Stampede".  It just felt like the contestants were having a collective bad day.  It wouldn't have been fair to use that title, though.  Ultimately, there were some fine rides and scores posted, and my favorite part -- the Justin Sports Medicine team never had to get on the arena floor to tend to an injury.

All in all, I like the new format of the Stampede.  The youth rodeo is fantastic, the variety of singers is most welcome, and the new announcing style is a nice tweak as well.  The only thing I really missed was the "mamas and babies" showcase at the end of the event, when bucking mares and their newest little ones were let loose in the arena.  In the place of that, emergency vehicles from Nampa Police and Fire Departments took a lap with lights flashing, which was cool, though.  That part wasn't bad - I just missed the others.

The matinee is occurring as I type this, minding the shop all the while, and tickets for the short go are long gone, which means my Stampede experience is done for this year.  No problem, though.  I'll be back for Stampede '13.  Wonder what'll change then....

One last thought: I must pause to thank whichever Idaho Center staff employee left this chair sitting in the corner, right in front of my seat.  It made for a most comfortable experience, and my hat is off to you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where Has NoGoodGuitarPicker Been?

Where has NoGoodGuitarPicker been?

Well, once upon a time, I was a frequent blogger, and when my carpentry job slowed down, my blogging picked up that much more!  When that job went belly-up, everything changed. Trying to find work threw my life into a spiral of catastrophic proportions resulting in eventually finding a job that sucked the loose moments from my day and the joy from my life.  In a single year, I must have aged five or more.  When, finally, I was unceremoniously replaced and let go at that job, I wasn't sure whether I should despair further, or feel relief!

Enough.  Time for change.  There's a new place to find NoGoodGuitarPicker:  Canyon West Guitars.


After all the frustration, I decided, to heck with it all, and started my own guitar shop here in Nampa.  Guitars, coffee, and me.  Check us on Facebook or Twitter (obligatory like-and/or-follow inserted here), and stop in if you can.


There's nothing really revolutionary about the shop.   We sell guitars and related instruments, gear, and accessories to go with them, give lessons, and do a lot of service work.  As those of you who know may well guess, though, the whole tone of the shop is pretty laid back.  New customers are sometimes surprised that right there on the sales floor is a "visiting area", complete with comfy couch and chairs, but once they kick back with a cup of our own coffee blend, and find themselves engaged in pleasant conversation with a fellow picker, the idea grown on them pretty quickly!   The shop isn't about making sales or racking up profits - it's about serving people and passing along the great heritage of good tone.  We call Canyon West, "Your Home For Tone", and try to keep things as home-y as possible here.  No, I really wouldn't have it any other way.

Hopefully I'll be writing a bit more frequently, too.  Unless you want to keep me busy selling stuff, that is....


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hoodies

Hooded Mergansers are pretty rare around here, so when I saw this pair near Eagle, I had to grab a hasty camera pic. Hard to see, I know, but they're such lovely birds! Wish I could have hung around to watch them for awhile!
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Product Review: Tapastring StrapKeeper

Some time ago I wrote about the great guitar strap that my friend Jim made for me. Well, it's just about the greatest thing ever, and it's my "official" acoustic strap. Yep, I use it all the time!

Wait.  Not quite all the time.  Actually I stopped using it for just a little while.  You know how it is with straps. After a while, the hole starts to work itself open a bit, and before you know it, you're thinking more about the security of your guitar and the strap, and less about what you're supposed to be doing -- playing.  When Bowser came along, he became my go-to, but brought an endpin jack with him, as opposed to the sidejack that can be found on my others. Simply putting a nylon washer on it as a strap lock didn't sit well with me, so after hanging out, waiting, and making excuses, I finally started looking into the options for this application.

Tapastring StrapKeeper

There aren't many.  Nope, not many at all.  The simplest option outside of the aforementioned hardware-store washer was a little item called the "StrapKeeper" from a small Colorado company called Tapastring.  It seemed pretty applicable to my situation from the website description, so I took the ten dollar risk (to use the term rather loosely), and received it in the mail just about two days later.

It's simple, unobtrusive, effective, and (my favorite part) only took me about two seconds to figure out.  If you have enough talent to slip your strap over the pin in the first place, you can figure out how to put this together.  You can see from the image that it is easy on the widened strap hole, and completely out of the way, lying flat against the base of the guitar's body.  The endpin isn't wearing on the hole anymore, so even if it is called into use for another guitar, it isn't currently being harmed.

It seems extremely secure, which is the point in the first place. Tapastring uses the image of a brass-bodied resonator suspended head-down by a StrapKeeper.  I don't quite have that much faith in my new little piece of gear.  It's not that I don't think it can hold up to the task; I just don't think I can hold my guitar like that.  Call me the nervous type.  In any case, I don't plan on swinging it about by the strap, so it works well enough for me.  (On the other hand, viewing the site while listening to Little Big Town started making me get the "wants" for a reso.  Mrs. NoGoodGuitarPicker isn't gonna like this.)  For good measure, I put a regular "push-button" strap lock on the other end, but that might be over kill.

One of the best parts is that it comes from a small US company. Purchasing items from the big guys is not necessarily dissatisfactory, but there is something particularly cool about getting a great piece of guitar gear and knowing that you're not just getting another part that rolled off an assembly line somewhere.  Your money isn't going to a bigwig somewhere -- it's going back into a small business in the United States.  Yep, that's a fair bit of satisfaction right there.

The strap lives on.

The StrapKeeper at Canyon West Guitars

Friday, October 29, 2010

Test Post From My Android

Hoping that we'll get more consistent content if I'm hooked into the ol' Droid here.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Failbird X

Dear Gibson Guitar Company,

I like guitars.  I like guitars a lot.  Some people might even say I love guitars.  My wife says I do, but... well, that's another story entirely.


From time to time, people ask me what kinds of guitars I like.  Naturally, I give them my top two, but always manage to fall into so many others I like as well.  Big fan of Telecasters.  There just isn't much you cannot do with a Tele.  Love Danelectro baritones, and some of the U2 and DC models.  Those are fun, too.  Jaguars are a hoot, Gretsches with Filtertrons are awesome, and... well, you get the point.  I really like guitars.


Oh, and I like Gibsons, too!  I like them a lot!  In fact, along with that Tele, the other guitar in my top two is the ES-335, and that's not #1 and #2 -- they're both at the top!  The ES-335 has the most soothing neck pickup tones of any guitar ever made, and great versatility in the bridge.  Yep, it's a classic.

So is the Les Paul.  I'm particularly fond of old goldtops and double-cut specials with P90s.  Nothing like a Les Paul with P90s for that stinging sound with just a bit of overdrive to really set apart lead tone.  Good stuff.


Your Blueshawk was a pretty cool guitar, and even though I can't say I'm a huge SG fan, they definitely have their place, too.  And the Melody Maker!  Now there was a cool guitar! Straightforward, no-nonsense single pickup simplicity.  Yep, that's good stuff!


Wait, I almost forgot the Firebird!  Those are amazing guitars!  They have the best sustain of any electric guitar ever created, let me tell you!  Yes, sir, if someone sat me down in the studio and said, "All I need is sustain, son", I'd grab a Firebird and that would be all it would take.  That neck-through design with the angled headstock really is something unique, and it's a thing of beauty!  I like them in red and white, but the sunburst is pretty cool, too, and black is always doable.  It took me a little while to get what you were doing with the headstock shape, but eventually I saw how it complimented the body shape, and it certainly isn't confused with anything else!


So, tell me, Gibson.  When it came to the Firebird X...


What the heck were you thinking?


Frankly, this is a guitar that completely befuddles me in almost every possible way.  I like Firebirds, but when I clicked on that page, all I could think was, My good Heavens, that is one ugly guitar!  Seriously, from the strange orangish-red finish to the mismatched fretboard wood and inlay combination to the sawed-off headstock to the hardware store selection of knobs... I mean, do any of those knobs even match each other?  Holy Toledo!  None of those knobs, levers, switches, or gadgets match each other at all!


Still, it's not fair to judge a book by it's cover, nor a guitar by its JPEG, so let's see what the details are.


* One of those knobs is an 11-way selector switch. Wait, but it's not the same as the 5-way selector switch?  Umm, this is one of the reasons Airline Guitars by Eastwood never really "made it".  I mean, they were cool, but too high maintenance and finicky.  Like those old Teiscos from the 60's, remember?  Too much to fiddle with on the fly.  Honestly, I'm not even sure what the 11-way switch does.  You might want to mention something about it on your page. More about its function might justify that "TM" symbol up next to its title.
* One of the knobs is volume.  That's great because you can control the volume.  Three pickups, but one volume.  They also make a big deal about the (single) tone knob being a momentary switch.  So... that's interesting.
* The headstock design is changed because it has a robot headstock.  Oh.  Maybe because the Robot Guitar was such a stunning success?  Wait.  It wasn't, was it?  It's not that it's a bad concept, but it doesn't understand intonation, doesn't always get the top two strings, and is beastly expensive to repair. Putting a PolyTune in the chain is a much better and less expensive option, apparently.
* The toggle switches are for onboard effects.  This is just a bad idea. Aside from more obvious reasons, you can set your compression, reverb, and whatnot on this guitar, but what if I decide to switch to another guitar?  Do I have to play it direct into the amp?  And if I'm using that Holy Grail for my other guitars, why do I need to dial in two sets of reverb settings?  Or EQ? Or compression?  Or...
*The neck design is mortise and tenon, which makes the least sense of anything on this guitar.  The biggest feature that sets the Firebird apart is the neck-through body.  Get rid of that, and you have a guitar with a Firebird shape.  It doesn't even have a Firebird neck or headstock.  Just the body shape.  I can't call it the "Firebird".  It is what it is.  It's a Failbird.


Here's the worst part, though.  The MSRP on this guitar is $5,570.  That's right.  Sticker price on the good ol' Firebird V is $2,299, but the new version is twice that.  If you ask me, this is downright insulting to musicians.  Most hard working musicians I know don't have 5 and a half to drop on this sort of guitar.  They are doing their best to provide for their families and love playing their gigs, but this kind of thing is way out of our league.  Heck, I have a wife and four kids, and can't even go poking around for new guitars that are half this price, not to mention that a nice, vintage 335 could be had for this price!  I know, I know, Gibson.  I'm not your target audience.  You want the pro to buy this one, right?  The pro who spent hard-earned cash for a real echoplex that has authentic tube warmth. The pro who saved his per diems over so many road trips to get that old Fender amp that has an oceans-deep analog reverb at the correct placement in the loop.  (Last, that is.)  The pro who got that antique ribbon mic from a legend who saw potential in them.  The pro who gets out there and night after night gives the people what they want, just like you do Gibson.


Correction.  Just like you did.


See, this really doesn't count as "bringing it".  You are Gibson.  You are the LP Jr.  You are the Varitone.  You are the PAF.  You are Gibson.  Have you read the comments on this new guitar?  Nobody has touched one yet, and yet pages are filling up with negative comments.  Why?  Because your customers are getting just too used to this.  We've lived through the Zoot Suit SG, the Dark Fire, the Robot Guitar, The Eye Guitar, and the Nighthawk.  These are not good guitars, but they keep getting worse and worse.  We have now come to expect this from you.  Substandard, bad guitars.


Know what people want?  Firebirds with neck-throughs with two volumes and two tones.  We want Les Pauls like the great models of the 50s and 60s.  We want 335s and 345s and 330s and 339s that give us a classic look with tones that range from traditional to cutting-edge.  We want searing performance from SGs, and even... yes... Vees and Explorers.  We want the things that made Gibson great.  Not this.  This is just making you a laughingstock.  This is the guitar version of the now-popular "fail".


Please.  Be Gibson again.


Kindest regards,


NoGoodGuitarPicker
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