Our Heroic Ride

Longing to put more than 8-10 miles on one of my Bicycles, I set my alarm to wake me at 5:00 AM on this particular Saturday, as I often do. My intent was to ride to our Gideons prayer breakfast that we hold every Saturday. Yet, as I stumbled about the house for a few moments attempting to get my wits about me, I succumbed to siren call of my bed, still warm from where I too recently had lain. If I had to describe my life, I’d use an expression I heard my boss use once to describe the work of debris crews on a natural disaster job – I go from can to can’t, as does my entire family (wife and kids). These days, especially since returning from deployment, this way of living has nearly destroyed my capacity to get up, especially if I’m not obligated to do so. I digress. A few hours later, as I set about my normal Saturday morning tasks – coffee, breakfast, laundry, etc., I found the desire to ride still hadn’t left me. After all, I want to do a big cycling event soon, so I’ll need to get in some miles. First things first though: I brought in my bass drum pedal and throne which had been sitting in my truck for over a week so I could work up drum parts for two songs that my band mates in Axiom of Maria had asked me to learn, “Grey” and “REM”. After a decent familiarization with the songs, it was time to ride.

I walked into my son, John’s room, and asked if he wanted to go for a bike ride. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tear him from his latest task of creating a functioning Star Trek ship in Minecraft. To my surprise, he said yes! I loaded his bike on the bike rack that seems to be, these days, permanently attached to the back of my truck. Next came the question of which of my four road bikes I was going to bring along. There was my 2016 Bianchi, which would put me on par or better with John’s 2013 Specialized Allez, but I also wanted to ride one of my vintage bikes. I had not long ago finished building, from the ground up, my 1982 Peugeot P8, which I wouldn’t have minded riding. However, what I really wanted to ride was my recently purchased, new-old-stock, new-in box, 1986 Bianchi Squadra. I was torn. I asked John his opinion. He wanted to see me on that 1986 pink Bianchi. I left it in my office so I would have to go get it. After a shower, and again to my surprise, I found John in his cycling kit, ready to go. Though, in his small, yet still adult bib shorts and jersey, given to him by a friend at work, he looked like a caricature of a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes. I helped him find his cycling shorts (the ones that actually fit him), and off we went.

First, it was to be a quick stop off at the office to get the Electric-Rose Bianchi, then to Epley Station on the Long Leaf Trace. We would then ride from Epley (near Sumrall) to Hattiesburg, eat in Hattiesburg, then ride back. Those plans quickly began to change upon discovering that John had left his water bottles at the house while digging for cycling socks in my clothes basket. I decided that since John mentioned wanting to get Specialized branded bottles to go with his bike, much in the same way that I have Bianchi bottles, we would go to the Specialized dealer in Hattiesburg. Jed’s Perfect Endurace Bikes happens to be closer to our destination than Moore’s, with whom I usually do business, so that worked out. While we were there, I decided to let John pick out a new jersey that would fit better. As he was perusing the jerseys, the conversation between the lady working at the store (presumably the owner’s wife) and myself turned to involving John in bike racing. I remarked that John would probably rather play Minecraft. She seemed genuinely stoked to see a kid into cycling. We also learned the correct pronunciation of John’s bike model – Allez (pronounced “Allay”, all Frenchy like). I paid for our purchases then we stopped by the gas station and grabbed water and Gatorade. Next, it was off to the trace.

Somewhere either before the Bike shop or after the gas station, the sky started making ugly noises, and intermittently began dropping clear liquid. I was hoping the atmospheric calamity was moving toward the west, and away from us. It was still hot and sunny when we reached the trace. I unloaded the bikes and aired up Johns tires while he filled his bottles. After getting our gear situated, we started our journey. Right out of the gate, John surpassed me as I struggled to slip my ultra-modern Bontrager cycling shoes into the shiny chrome toe clips, held down with their red leather straps. I finally got clipped in, and was off! The heat of the day quickly subsided as the cool wind generated my our speed rushed past us (or as we rushed past it). So far, so good. The only real issue I had to deal with was coaxing John into riding a little faster – a fairly consistent issue when road-riding with kids. At first, there were many reasons to stop along the way – I need to raise my seatpost. John needed to drink or scratch. I needed to adjust my toe clip straps. As a result, the first few miles were slow-going, something which I find to be somewhat unbearable. After all, while cycling is fun, and it is my hobby, it is also my primary means of exercise. I needed a workout. I was finally able to make some headway by asking John to stay slightly ahead of me.

The tires on our two-wheelers whirred as we ran through the freshly deposited water on the trace. I was glad, for it seems we had just missed the rain. We attempted to stop at the restrooms that are situated along the trace, but to our chagrin, they are all apparently closed for construction. I was relived to see that they all have new doors. You see, one of those bathroom doors nearly took my finger off right before an event in Sumrall last year. Perhaps these new doors will be less dangerous. We passed Jackson Road, then, as we neared Hattiesburg, the sky began to grow forbodingly dark, and once again came the aforementioned ugly noises. We could no longer avoid it. It was as though someone in the heavens decided to un-plug the drain on an unimaginably large bath tub. We were drenched. The only reason I was still able to see was because I was wearing my sunglasses. I had to change my breathing so as to not get water up my nose. Occasionally a build-up of water, presumably from behind the bill of my vintage-styled Bianchi cycling cap would trickle down my face and behind my sunglasses. I’d try to remove my sunglasses, briefly, but the rain was too heavy. I pressed my sunglasses tight against my face, which did nothing to stop the salt deposits from where I had previously sweated being washed down my face and into my eyes, stinging them. Up ahead in the distance, I could still see John, despite the very heavy rain. He was performing admirably. I half expected him to stop and seek shelter. We were wet now, no use trying to fix it. We soldiered on.

With each road crossing, I’d offer John words of encouragement, “just a bit farther, and there’s a tunnel that we can get under”. Eventually, we sought refuge for a few moments in the tunnel under the junction of 4th and 7th streets. A couple of pedestrians walked under the tunnel, apparently for the same reason. There were a surprising number of runners and cyclists on the trace considering the weather. John and I took the opportunity to take photos and selfies. He seemed to be enjoying himself! The weather showed no signs of dissipating, so we both decided to continue onward for the USM gateway to the trace, which was only a mile or so ahead. Through the driving rain, we finally made it to the gateway, and thus the pavilions there. We stopped for another break. My idea from the beginning was to eat at Glory Bound – a Gyro place in Hattiesburg. Were it not for the buildings in the way, the restaurant would have been in sight at this point, but now that we were soaked to the bone, I wasn’t sure how we would fare in an eatery. We took yet another opportunity to take some photos together, and after the rain slowed a bit, we proceeded down the new extension on the trace, then to the side streets that would lead us to where we were going to dine.

As we approached Glory Bound, we found the front of the building woefully lacking in places to chain up a bike. In front of the doors was a small covered area, only large enough to accommodate a few people, held up by two columns that were far too large to wrap locking cables around. However, I recalled seeing around back a ramp and a wooden patio with railings and supports which would be adequate to secure our bikes. I was worried about leaving them in the rain, but then I realized how silly that was considering we’d just been rained on for nearly an hour. Plus, we probably weren’t finished being rained on if we planned on riding back to Sumrall. We turned off our bike lights, chained up our bikes, then proceeded around to the front to enter the restaurant. When we entered, I inquired of the hostess as to whether being completely soaked was going to be a problem. She assured us it wasn’t, then showed us to our table.

It was cool in the restaurant, as one would expect it to be in the middle of the summer in South Mississippi. What self respecting establishment wouldn’t have ice cold A/C blasting? My fat kept me from getting too cold. John, on the other hand, complained of being freezing. I suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t have sucked down his cold lemonade so fast, then told him that he might be able to dry his jersey in the bathroom if they had a hand dryer. He tried to no avail as they didn’t have one. We both ordered regular Gyros, and an appetizer of Mediterranean olive hummus. The first bite of hummus was awful – something I would have never noticed had I not just spent six months on the Middle East. Over there, hummus is smooth, creamy, and rich. Here, it is gritty and bland. I shall have to remember not to order hummus at American restaurants again. The Gyros were quite good though! The food brought back some of our warmth. Typical of restaurants in Mississippi (and probably the US as a whole), every TV in the house was showing a sport of some kind. John seemed intrigued by the fighting taking place on the TV behind me. He said that the women fighters were hitting each other like cats. I texted Theresa to let her know what was going on. I ran through my list of people that I know in Hattiesburg who might be willing to come get us. Ultimately, we decided to just ride back. After all, this was our heroic ride. We finished our food, then set about once again on our task of riding against the water falling from the sky.

The way back needed none of the coaxing that the initial part of our trip did. John seemed almost invigorated by the rain, as did I. As we conversed along the way, John remarked that despite being completely soaked, this was the best bike ride we’d ever been on. Since all the riders, walkers, and runners had gotten mother nature’s hint and gone home like sensible people, John and I had the trace to ourselves. We each took a lane, I, staying slightly behind John. He was riding in his big ring, and I in the small one. Gearing on those old bikes was significantly different than that of today’s bicycles – I swear my small ring is the size of the big ring on some modern bikes. We kept pace with one another nicely, though occasionally, I had to loudly warn John that his bike was in serious danger of veering into mine. At one point, I looked at John, plowing through the rain in the moments he was able to keep his bike steady, and I thought to myself, “man, John looks freakin’ pro up there.” I managed to pull my phone out and take a picture of him riding.

24 miles and a couple of gyros later, we found ourselves back at Epley station – glad of the epic ride we just had, but ready to be done. We took turns photographing each other doing victory poses with our bike. John gave his attempt to lift his bike over his head, but only made it half way. As I dealt with the logistics of strapping both bikes to the rack without them touching each other, John remarked once again about this being the best bike ride ever. We got into the truck, then drove to the nearest Wendy’s for a frosty, which I had promised earlier. For that is what motivated John to keep riding 🙂

 

 

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I Hate Music

The title of this article is something I’ve said in jest for many years, yet recent soul searching has revealed it to be at least somewhat true. For example, if I dislike 98% of all Mexican food (which I assure you is not the case), then one could logically – and safely conclude that I dislike Mexican food. Well, I hate more than 98% of all music, so logically I hate music. There are many reasons I hate music, but the biggest reason is because I actually love music. After all, I am (and have been for most of my life) a musician.

For me, music listening isn’t some half-assed passive thing I do. It isn’t background noise. It isn’t to set the mood for a party or gathering. It isn’t something I do to make a drive more pleasant (though it does help). It isn’t any of the things to me that it typically is to many other people. As a matter of fact, I prefer not to listen to music at times when most people find it to be vital to the situation: I don’t like music when I am working out. I don’t like music when I’m talking with someone, and above all, I absolutely can’t sleep when music is playing.

I believe that last point may serve to illustrate my relationship with music adequately. If I try to sleep with music playing, I will not go to sleep. I will instead, listen to every note, every beat, and every word, analyzing how it is put together. That is what I do. When I listen to music, I almost prefer to not be doing anything else. I want that time to be about the music. I like it to be loud. I like it to be at the forefront, and in order for it to do something for me in that moment, it has to be interesting.

For me, music needs to be either very skillfully executed or aesthetically very unique. It also needs to be hard and driving. My musical tastes require the music to offer something to me on those terms every single time I listen – it needs to be interesting to me every time I listen. As such, the music that meets that criteria for me gets listened to over and over and over and over again, causing me to have a very narrow focus when it comes to music. Most of the stuff that gets played on the radio does not meet that criteria.

I traditionally have found most popular music to be over produced attempts to sell records to people, and that the people who like it simply don’t know any better. Lately, though, I’ve begun to feel as though there may be something wrong with me. Maybe I’m the one who is messed up. Maybe I don’t actually know any better than to be weird for the sake of being weird. When I hear someone say of a particular song, “oh man, that’s such a good song!”, I want to know why. Why is it good? My instinct is to turn my snobby musical nose up and immediately proclaim the song as rubbish. Perhaps it isn’t rubbish.

I’ve found my attitude to be a point of contention with people very consistently throughout my life. I’ve had many unresolved futile arguments with my wife over my attitude toward music. I’ve worn my friends out on the music I love to the point that they hate it. Just today I shared a playlist I made highlighting the music I’ve loved over the years with a gathering of people. It wasn’t long before someone proclaimed in a very disgusted manner, “what is this music? put on some Taylor Swift “. I felt so foolish and embarrassed. I just wanted to crawl under a rock.

I have a saying: If variety is the spice of life, the monotony is the rice of life. I like rice. Perhaps it’s time to put some Tony’s on the rice. I am not going to go as far as to listen to top 40 pop hits on the radio – I’ll kill myself. Below, I’m going to list the bands that have meant something to me over the years with a very brief description of why. Then I’ll have a favor to ask the three of you who are reading this.

Vanilla Ice – First music I truly liked on my own. First songs I memorized.

3Rd Bass- They hated Vanilla Ice. Their rap was top notch.

Nirvana – got me into rock, and showed me how to drum heavy.

Pearl Jam – also helped get me into rock.

Smashing Pumpkins – Showed me what real musicianship looked like for the first time.

Primus – Also great musicians that showed me how to be weird.

Rush – The best band ever. Period. If you disagree, I’ll fight you.

Depeche Mode – not a good musician one in the group, but cool sound, and able to re-invent themselves while still being themselves.

VNV Nation – excellent electronic music. Dark. Hard. Well put together. Showed me how electronic music is done live.

Mind.In.A.Box – Skillfully executed electronic music that weaves a tale throughout the band’s discography.

Rotersand – Dark, hard electronic that is still approachable. Driving.

The Police – Good musicians all around – interesting blend of sounds. Good drumming from Stewart Copeland.

Babymetal – Three cute Japanese girls singing over perfectly executed metal. So weird and beautiful it made me cry the first time I heard it.

Savlonic – A YouTube musician who makes funny silly songs invented a fictional synthpop band. Great electronic music.

Scandroid – If the 80’s synth aesthetic carried on, this is where it would be today. Top notch 80’s-esque music with modern power.

Now, it’s your turn. What is your favorite band? Tell me either here or on Facebook. Tell me why you like it. I’ll give it a listen. It has to be actual musicians that make their own music though. I need more variety.

 

Commuting to Work Via Bicycle

A few days ago, as I was reading one of the many bike forums, I read one of the forum members’ signature. It read, “Work is just the 8 hours between bike rides.” The phrase stuck with me, as I have recently become quite familiar with such sentiment. As I am prone to do from time to time, I recently embarked on one of my “challenges”, wherein I try something I have always wanted to try for an extended period – something that usually would seem off-putting to my peers, but will be beneficial for me in the long run. In this case, I decided to try commuting to work by bicycle. I have thought many times about bike commuting as a means to give me more time in the saddle, as well as improving my overall fitness. In fact, I did it quite successfully last year at Tyndall during ABM school, and again when I was working at my guard unit in Gulfport. However, bike commuting here at home is a completely different animal entirely. My squadron at Tyndall was only 4 miles from home, and my unit in Gulfport was less than a mile from where I was staying. Both places, being costal areas are also very flat. Here at home, the safest route from my home in Kokomo to my office in Columbia is 15 miles, complete with steep rolling hils in some places. The logistical challenges alone of such an endeavor would be off-putting to most, myself included… until recently. In the last few weeks, I have decided to give bike commuting a serious go. What follows shall be my experience bike commuting along with the pitfalls and lessons learned.

Never to be one who looks before he leaps, I decided to take on my new challenge full-force. I took my car to work on a Sunday after church, with my bike strapped to the back. I left the car along with the clothes I was wearing at work, donned my cycling kit, and embarked on my first journey home. The rest of the week proved to be something of a false start. Weather thwarted my rides several days. My 2005 Fuji Roubaix Pro, though fast, smooth, and nimble, has a frame geometry that is great for racing and exercise, but uncomfortable for commuting with a backpack. Additionally, the clipless pedals make negotiating traffic a daunting task. To compound matters, my fitness has wanned a bit over the last few months, making the hills between Kokomo and Foxworth absolutely grueling. To top it all off, the 1:10 commute time means I have to hit the ground running at 5:00 AM if I want to make it to work at 7:00 (breakfast, shower, clothes and all…). The next week, suffice to say, I wasn’t really digging the prospect of continuing my experiment. Yet, I didn’t let that stop me.

If you read any article about bike commuting tips, many suggest driving half way, so as to ease your way into riding to work. Following that advice, I decided to leave my work car at work, and drive my personal car from home each morning to my church in Foxworth, cutting out about 6 miles, and all of the really bad hills. There are still hills on my commute, but now, I’m not totally burned out with nine miles left to go. In addition to shortening my distance, I decided to use my vintage 1981 Concord Freedom Selecta 12 road bike as my commuter. Recently outfitted with a Brooks leather saddle, it is an absolute pleasure to ride. The Concord fits me a little better, and has a more relaxed frame geometry. It also seems to handle climbs better than the Fuji. With those adjustments, I am now entering my third week of bike commuting, with no plans to quit.

Lessons Learned – Logistics

I you plan to bike commute there are a few things you will want to consider. First, you’ll want a solid plan for clothing. Unless you own some cycling-specific casual clothes, you probably don’t want to tackle any great distances on the bike in your work clothes. Proper cycling kit is the way to go (jersey, padded shorts). I’ve found that it’s best to leave some jeans and casual shoes at work. This makes for less bulk in your backpack since all you have to bring along is a shirt, socks, and underwear. Second, many fear that they’ll be sweaty and smelly after the ride. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take a shower before you ride, and apply deodorant. When you get to work, you can use some baby wipes (which you will have left at work) to freshen up, applying more deodorant if needed. Also, wait until you cool off before changing – this is a trick I’ve used often on days when I’ve worked out at lunch. You won’t be smelly. Last, always have a backup plan. I have my work car at work, so if I need to drive, I can ( I realize not everyone has access to multiple cars, but have a ride from a friend/family member lined up just in case).

Lessons Learned – Gear

For your bike-commuting adventure to be a success, you’ll need the proper equipment. A good, well maintained, functional bike is a must. The bike should not make yo miserable. Make sure the saddle is the right type for you and your bike – a big cushy saddle is not always the best option. If you plan to ride during hours of darkness, you absolutely need lights. I use a headlight that can light up the road in the pitch pitch black wee hours of the morning, and has a flashing mode that can be seen by motorists when the sun starts to come up. I also have two flashing red tail lights – one on the back of my bike and one on the back of my helmet. These tail lights are so bright that if you make the mistake of looking at one when you turn it on, it will blind you (not literally). Between these lights, I’ve found that motorists can obviously see me since they give me such a wide berth that they nearly run off the other side of the road sometimes. You may also want fenders for your bike, or at the very least an ass-saver to keep water off of your…, well, you know.. Additionally, a good backpack is a must.

Conclusion

Apart from the health benefits and gas savings, cycling to work is very rewarding. I get to experience the sights and sounds of my town in a way that I otherwise would never notice. I get to speak to people along the way. It wakes me up like coffee simply can’t. Overall, so far, I’d say my latest challenge is a success. Now, if people would put their freakin’ dogs away…

Review of my DW Collector’s Series Drums

My two favorite drummers are Neil Peart and Brian “Brain” Mantia. What do those drummers have in common? Absolutely nothing. Their playing styles and philosophies regarding drumming are polar opposites. Well… I say they have nothing in common – there is one thing: They play DW drums. Ever since the days when I was a huge Primus fan, and Brain was my favorite drummer, I have wanted a set of DW drums. I have always heard very good things about them. I’ve read about their attention to detail. I’ve heard the robust tones they create in the music of my drum heroes. Yet, one trip to Musicians Friend to check the prices on a set of DWs has, in the past, put them far out of reach.

Back then, I would never buy anything used, but now buying used things is a way of life for me. I can have the quality items I want without spending a fortune. So, this time, when the “I want new drums” bug bit, it wasn’t Musician’s Friend or Sweetwater I turned to, but rather eBay and Craig’s List. I’ve been playing for close to 27 years. It’s time for me to have a grown-up drum kit. I would settle for nothing less than the DW collector’s series, and if I was going to get one, it would have to be used. To my dismay, DW Collector’s Series drums, even used ones, are outrageously expensive. Before the venom of the “I want new drums” bug left my system, I finally happened upon it – a DW kit of the right size, a color and finish I could live with (my only requirement was that it had to be sparkly), a very reasonable price, and local pickup within driving distance to me.

After ruminating on it for a day, I finally pulled the trigger, and bought the finest set of drums I have ever played – A 2008-2009 5 Piece DW Collector’s Series shell kit in super tangerine glass. After purchasing it, I noticed the seller had a nice snare drum listed. I went ahead and purchased that too since I would likely be selling my old snare. So, along with my sparkly orange bass and toms, I got a DW Collector’s Series solid wood, steam bent, single ply snare drum. Here’s a picture. I had to doctor up the picture because the lighting in my bedroom where the drums are set up is terrible. This picture doesn’t do it justice.

Photo Mar 25, 1 08 06 PM

Initial Impressions – Build Quality

When I met up with the seller (who was driving the exact same make/model/color vehicle as me) and began loading the drums into my vehicle, upon picking up the first drum, I was immediately struck by the quality of these drums. Though shorter than my old drums, these are noticeably heavier. Nowhere on the shells was the wrap separating or bubbling up – it is almost like the wrap is another ply of wood. The mounts are attached to free -floating brackets in which the lugs sit, unlike many other drums on which the mounts are screwed to the shells directly. The hardware is all  sturdy and well made. The clamps on the mounts are spring loaded so when I unscrew them, they open up to accept the tom arm. I don’t have to man-up on any of the tension rods or wing nuts to loosen or tighten them. Everything about these drums just feels solid.

Inside of each drum is printed a musical note that shows what DW calls the “shell note”. This is the note the shell produces if you tap on it. In their instructional video on how to tune their drums, DW says it’s best to try to tune the heads to this shell note.

When handing me the snare drum, the seller asked, “have you ever held a singly-ply snare?”. I told him I hadn’t. When he handed it to me, I could tell this was a quality instrument. Again, like the other drums, it was heavy. Actually, it was very heavy. Usually drums are made out of thin layers of wood that are glued together. This drum is made from a single, thick piece of wood that is bent into the shape of a drum using steam. The only thing I could say was, “That is beautiful…”

Ergonomics

For the past 20 years, I’ve played the same kit, a mid-90s Tama Rockstar. It has these old-school, very tall toms. I’ve always found them very difficult to position in a way that perfectly suits me. The toms could never go over the bass drum in a good position that was comfortable to me – I like the drums to have less of an angle to them, but the height of the toms necessitated turning them at weird angles to be playable. In recent years, I’ve noticed that toms have shrunk, or players have begun to favor shorter toms. Well, the toms on my new DWs are really, really short. I can now position my drums at the perfect angle, in exactly the right spot. My only concern when I saw them on eBay was that perhaps the drums were too short. I was worried that they wouldn’t sound fat and resonant like I wanted. As it turns out, my worries were unwarranted.

Sound

Despite being on the short side physically, these drums sound massive. The higher toms sing, with an almost bell-like tone. The two floor toms are not just heard, but felt. The kick, despite being only 20 inches, is chest-thumping deep. As the drummer behind the kit, I feel almost like an audience member listening to a set of drums through a big sound system with sub-woofers. To me, drums usually sound harsh in person. These drums sound almost like a good recording. DW drums are known for their long sustains and deep resonance. I can tell you, that reputation is firmly based in reality. Even with used two-ply heads, the toms continue to sing long after being struck. I can’t wait to get some coated ambassadors on them! I only wish I had some really nice cymbals to complement the jaw-dropping sound that these drums make.

Conclusion

As I sat behind my drums, talking to my wife who sat across the room, she said something to the effect of, “so I guess you’re just going to sit there all day?..” Or maybe it was something about not paying attention (I wouldn’t know, I was not paying attention). I told her, “I’m kinda awe-struck right now… This is the nicest, best sounding musical instrument I’ve ever played, much less owned…” I can’t believe I finally have my own set of DWs. I know other manufacturers make high quality drums, but I can’t imagine they come close to DW. Color me super impressed!

 

Depeche Mode’s Latest Albums Are Still Depeche Mode

depeche-mode-tickets-jpg-870x570_q70_crop-smart_upscaleIn the last number of years, Depeche Mode has risen to the top of my list of favorite bands, not second anymore, but now equal to Rush. Depeche Mode is almost the antithesis of what I typically look for in a group of musicians – they’re not virtuoso instrumentalists, and they don’t even have a drummer! Yet, there’s something about their music that keeps me coming back for more, time and time again. They are often mislabeled as an 80’s synth pop band, however, they are so much more. In fact, they are not and 80’s band at all. Actually, they are one of the few “pop” bands from the 80’s that has never stopped making albums (as a matter fact there are some blasphemous rumors that there is a forthcoming album and tour in 2017). Apart from that, they bring to the table a dark aesthetic and soulfulness that truly sets them apart from other bands that one may commonly associate them with. I love Depeche Mode. I celebrate their entire collection… well, almost their entire collection, that is, until recently.

As with anyone who has a favorite band, I tend to get totally sucked in to the band’s current collection as it exists at the time that I discover them. Anything after that tends to seem somewhat foreign to me. I’d be lying if I pretended to not be disappointed with Depeche Mode’s later albums. They don’t seem like “Real Depeche Mode” – and I’m not speaking about some perceived lack of depth in their music after the early 90s departure of Alan Wilder. There’s something more, and I finally found an opportunity to explore that.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an occasion to listen to Depeche Mode’s last four albums, “Exciter”, “Playing the Angel”, “Sounds of the Universe”, and “Delta Machine” in their entirety. While listening, I had a long time to evaluate the music and give lengthy consideration to why I haven’t paid much attention to these albums. I discovered, in fact, that these albums are not only brilliant, but quintessentially Depeche Mode. Heres why:

The issue is not totally with me or even with the music itself, but rather with the nature of what Depeche Mode, at its core is – an electronic band. Throughout their career, they have been a band full of keyboard players whose sound relies heavily on the technology of the day. Unlike my other favorite band, Rush (we’ll use them as an example here), who can play one note, and you know without a doubt it is Rush, Depeche Mode’s sound has changed drastically over the years. Sure, an 80’s Rush album sounds 80’s, and a 90’s Rush album sounds 90’s, and so forth. Yet, no matter the era, Rush is still a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer, giving them a common thread despite adapting to the times with their sound. Synthesizers, on the other hand have changed drastically since their inception both in terms of sound and application. Furthermore, the very nature of electronic music, even in the last 10 years has evolved. Just as a band like Rush alters their sound to fit the era in which they are playing, so too must an electronic band like Depeche Mode. Combine that with the aforementioned technological changes, and you can see how Depeche Mode’s sound might change a great deal.

Just listen to a song like “Just Can’t Get Enough”, and compare it to “Walking In My Shoes”. Now, compare that to anything on “Delta Machine”. On the surface, you will undoubtedly notice a very serious difference between the three. In each case, the song sounds like an electronically created song of its time, but given a further listen, each song is without a doubt Depeche Mode.

Now before I go on, I will make notice of personal preference briefly. I like electronic music a lot, and have even been a practitioner of said music once in my life. Aesthetically, in music and art, I like things to be rather hard-edged. I like sharp, punchy sounds. I like drum patches to be loud and noticeable. I like synths to be hard and gritty. In fact, I once was letting a friend of a friend listen to some of the music I created, and he asked, “why do you always use that drum machine sound”. This should have clued me in to the fact that people who were into modern electronic music at the time were looking for a more soft, ambient type of sound. Guess who was doing that at the time? Depeche Mode. Yet, as I stated previously, deep down they were still totally, unabashedly, Depeche Mode. Let’s Make a checklist:

1. Dave Gahan. Check!

2. Martin L. Gore. Check!

3. Andrew Fletcher. Check!

4. Synthesizers. Check!

5. Dark, yet approachable sound. Check!

6. Bizzare electronic percussive noises interspersed throughout. Check!

7. Weird synthetic sounds somehow bludgeoned into fitting the music. Check!

8. Intentional discord that enhance the dark aesthetic. Check!

9. Thoughtful, well placed transitions. Check!

10. Lyrical themes exploring the not so pretty side of love. Check!

11. Martin singing the odd, very emotional songs. Check!

So you see, The soul of Depeche Mode is alive and well. Maybe I was alone in ever thinking it was’t, but if not, then I hope I have persuaded you to give these latest albums of one of my favorite bands a listen. There are some killer tracks to be heard for sure!

The Minimalist Grown Man’s Wardrobe

FullSizeRender [186464]A few years ago, as I was browsing Maximum PC’s blog, reading an article listing the 100 websites you must read (or something of that nature), I stumbled upon this article from a blog called “Put This On”. The blog sought to educate men on how to dress like grown-ups. This was one of those magical moments where a real need in my life perfectly coincided with a helpful bit of advice from my source of all knowledge, the internet. At the time I looked like what can only be described as a goth who’d lost his way. Black dri-fit polos and tactical pants were about as professional as it got for me. I needed to look more professional. I was tired of the Wal Mart greeters leering at me as though I was stealing something. As a 30-something father, husband, IT Manager, part-time military member, my look didn’t fit my life. Reading about menswear and how a grown man should dress sparked a long, weird journey to find my personal style. Unfortunately, what also ensued was an unhealthy obsession with clothes and a bloated wardrobe full of things that simply don’t work for me. (A word of warning: Menswear bloggers like the above referenced ones tend to go off into the weeds a lot. My aim here is to approach the subject with an eye toward minimalism)

After a great deal of experimentation, I did find that there were a few items that I tended to gravitate toward. Around that same time, I began to really key in on a lifestyle that is almost the polar opposite of the excesses of my large collection of menswear – minimalism. There is something attractive about living a life free of excess – a life boiled down to the bear essentials. It is a life that I strive for, although unsuccessfully. I have way too many hobbies that require way too many “things” (drumming, cycling, etc.). However, if there is one area of my life that I should be able to boil down, the mundane, utilitarian act of clothing oneself should definitely be the one. I immediately began tossing everything that didn’t fit or work for me from my wardrobe. Several years later though, I still struggle to reconcile the desires to dress respectably and yet, to live free of excess. In this article I shall attempt to show you, the reader (all three of you), how to dress like a grown man without having a glut of excess clothing. I will provide some general guidelines and considerations, and a list of clothing items with an explanation of why I chose each of them.
Considerations and Guidelines

A man’s wardrobe should frame the person, and not the clothes. A minimal man’s wardrobe should contain good quality, versatile items. Every item should be able to match well with every other item. The key, however, is to accomplish this with as few items as possible.

The man’s wardrobe should fit his lifestyle and his job. I work in a place where people wear jeans and t-shirts (or polos) a great deal. Dressing “nice” usually entails a golf shirt and some slacks. I should be able to fit into that culture without going too far over-the-top. I’m also very involved in my church, and a member of the Gideons. Somehow my attire should be flexible enough the bridge my job and my social activities. These considerations will vary from person to person.

A man’s wardrobe should be timeless, and not subject to whims of fashion. If it works now, it should work 20 years from now.

Lastly, a man’s wardrobe shouldn’t break him (monetarily). You can find most of these things at thrift stores in good condition, as they are all staples of classic men’s attire. Also, polyester is the devil.

 

Wardrobe Items

Shirts

FullSizeRender [186462]At a minimum, a man should own a light blue shirt and a white shirt. If you need a little more variety, a striped shirt can be added. The best type shirt to own is the Oxford Cloth Button-Down (OCBD). The OCBD is made from a more coarse fabric than a regular dress shirt, and has buttons on the tips of the collars to button them down. I chose the OCBD because it is absolutely the most versatile shirt a man can own. Wear the OCBD with khakis or jeans, and you’re ready for work. Put a tie and blazer, and you’re ready for church. Roll up your sleeves and put on some shorts, and you’re ready for the weekend. Additionally, the fabric of the OCBD is a little more rugged looking than a regular dress shirt, so if you work in a place where everyone dresses very casually, you won’t stick out too much. My OCBDs are from Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren. I like Brooks Brothers OCBDs the best – they are expensive, so thrifting to find one is key. Ralphie would be good too if they would replace their stupid horse thing with a pocket.

In addition to the two OCBDs, every man should own a gray T-shirt and a dark blue T-shirt of decent quality with no logos. When you are trying to be super casual or low-key, you can throw on a t-shirt with khaki chinos or jeans, and still look respectable. Any brand will do as long as they look decent.
Pants

FullSizeRender [186460]Every man should own one pair of straight cut dark blue jeans and a pair of flat front khaki chinos. Both are comfortable and versatile, and can be paired with various other items for a variety of occasions. Currently I don’t have any chinos that I like, but rather a pair Levi’s khaki pants that are cut like jeans. My jeans are also Levi’s.

Additionally, a man needs at least one pair of khaki shorts – no cargo shorts (note, I own one pair of cargo shorts, and they look stupid). The climate of your home may dictate the need for more shorts.
Jacket

FullSizeRender [186458]One Navy blazer is all you should need. In today’s world where “dressing nice” is a term used very loosely, a navy blazer should serve all your purposes. In fact, if you wear one to church, people will ask you all sorts of ridiculous questions like, “you preachin’ today?” If you wear one to work, be prepared to be asked if you are going to a funeral. My blazer is a Stafford one from JC Penny. It works.

*One caveat to this is if you work somewhere that requires a suit, then own a navy one or a gray one (or both).

 

 

 
Shoes

FullSizeRender [186454]This is a tough one because footwear is where I struggle the most. Not all shoes work for everything. If I had to only pick three, I’d say every man should own a pair of chukka boots, a pair of nice looking sneakers with minimal branding, and a pair of leather dress shoes (real leather please). Currently I have some Nunn-Bush tan chukkas, a pair of Crocs leather sneakers (Crocs are horrible, but these shoes are an odd-ball find that I absolutely love), and a pair of Johnston and Murphy saddle bucks that I thrifted several years ago (they were like new for 12 dollars!). I have other shoes, but if I only had these, I’d have all bases covered.

 

 

Accessories

FullSizeRender [186456]In addition to the main clothing articles, every man should own a belt to match his shoes, a modest but decent looking watch, a tie, some shades, and a white pocket square.

A tie should be of good quality and should dimple near the knot. I have bought and gotten rid of many ties, but my enduring favorite is a blue Chap’s tie with little faint yellow dots – the material is thick, and it matches everything I own.

My watch is a $30.00 Timex I bought from Target. It is a dead simple analog watch with a nylon cloth band that has functioned flawlessly for over 3 years. It looks smart, and adds a nice little pushing agent to my otherwise very plain wardrobe.

My shades are Costa Del Mar. They are expensive, but you can almost look at the sun with them. (Please don’t look at the sun!)

 

 

FullSizeRender [186444]On Wear and Care and Such

Make sure your clothes fit well. Unless you are super thin, avoid slim fit. Non-iron finishes, much like polyester, are the devil. Get an expensive iron (I like Rowenta irons), and get after it. If the shirt has a rounded bottom, it is meant to be tucked in. Your socks should match your pants.

Leather shoes need to be polished occasionally. Mink oil is awesome as well.

You may notice some fraying on my OCBD – this is going to happen, especially if you wear the same 2 or 3 shirts all the time. When your shirts fray, iron them, and wear them like a boss. Do it with purpose, and you’ll come across looking wise and frugal.

Don’t be like me. Don’t wear khakis when you work on your bicycle. Wear an apron when you cook. Clean your chukkas off immediately when you accidentally drop an egg on them cooking. I don’t follow any of this advice, thus my clothes are all messed up.

Conclusion

If you strive for simplicity while still managing to look respectable, I hope the tips I have provided here prove to be helpful for you. Remember: keep it simple and versatile.

 

Some examples of outfits that can be made from these items:

FullSizeRender [186452] FullSizeRender [186450] FullSizeRender [186448] FullSizeRender [186446]

I’m Making Videos

So, in my last post, I mentioned having been inspired to make videos on YouTube. Well, I’ve since made a number of videos. I’ve been trying my hand at short comedy sketches and vlogs. The vlogs, honestly are the hardest. I want them to be personal. I want them to give viewers insight into my life. Yet I also want them to be coherent. It’s tough to find something to talk about for several minutes when I’m the only one talking, and also have it hold together (thank God for editing!).

I’ve had a blast making these videos. I’ve needed to do something creative forever now. It is so gratifying to have an idea, act on it, and see a final product out there for people to watch. Anyway, I’ll be making a tab here for my videos, and also a link to my YouTube channel below. Please, check it out!

https://www.youtube.com/user/audiomatron/videos

So, what’s next? Well, I want to redo my popular “How to Clean an IBM Model M Keyboard” video in HD. I also have an idea for a series of visual puns that I’d like to do. I’m starting to see video ideas in everything. It’s awesome!

Out