The Curse of “There Must Be More.”

This entry is being published on July 1, 2014. That means there are only 733 days left until my 40th birthday. That impending milestone has me reflecting on things a little bit more than I usually do right before a birthday. Not only am I looking at where I’ve been and where I am, but I’m most definitely looking at where I’m going.

I’ve written a lot about how I’ve been programmed and how things from my past have had a definite negative impact on my life so far. But, the last two words of the previous sentence need to be important, “so far.” I need the “so far” to be more of an “up until now” instead of “so far.”

There’s always been somebody or some thing holding me back. To some degree, that somebody was me, but if I was strong enough to break free from various negative influences, I may not have any of this to write about. If I didn’t have the issues that I wrote about in my last entry, maybe I would be strong enough. However, there’s not much I can do to change what has happened. I can only change the direction that my life goes from this point on.

I probably should have accomplished a lot more by now. I probably should have been a lot more independent than I have been. There’s a lot of factors that went into why I’m not. Again, in some cases it comes down to how I was programmed by certain influences in my life. And while those influences may not be around any more, I haven’t truly been able to break free. And that leads to me feeling like I haven’t truly hit my stride in “adulthood” yet.

In my younger days I was often told that I was incredibly selfish. If I was selfish in any capacity, it was due to my belief that the only person that was truly looking out for my best interest was actually me. In recent years, I’ve been told that I spend too much time worrying about other people and not enough about myself. So once again, I need to find a balance somewhere in life.

Over the last few years, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to improve myself. I KNOW I’m better off than I was in various aspects, but the aspects I haven’t been able to improve cause me so much stress. But I also know I shouldn’t be upset about things I can’t control, and unfortunately a lot of has stressed me out are things (or people) that I can’t control. Does that mean I should stop trying? I don’t know. I know I have put forth my best efforts there, it’s just that the results haven’t matched the efforts.

I seriously do wish I was better off than I am. I wish a lot of things had gone differently in my life. But I’m not and they didn’t. There is nothing I can do about any of that now. It is what it is, and it was what it was. Everything that’s happened has made me who and I what I am. I wasn’t dealt the best hand in the game of life. I’m not setting my 40th birthday as the specific goal date of having everything in place. I know that’s not necessarily realistic. But when I look back at this in 2 years, or at any point in between now and then, I hope to be able to say that I’m definitely on my way to something better. And a quote that I like from someone who I know has had a very rough life, but is determined to make the best of his situation from now on is how I’m going to end the entry. It’s a very wise quote and it’s something that anyone that has struggled throughout life can gain something from.

“My history will not be my destiny.”
- Jake Roberts

The Vanishing of Doubt Will Unfold My Empty Space

For much of my life I have had overwhelming feelings of fear and shame. I’ve survived with those feelings even as they consumed my being. They’re powerful feelings and a potentially emotionally crippling combination. I’ve given some thought to this subject recently and the inspiration for the thoughts came from an interesting source.

I was recently watching a reality show, WWE Legends’ House to be exact. And before you start judging my taste in programming or dismiss what I’m saying because of the apparent stigma attached, just keep reading. During the last two episodes of the show, the eight WWE Legends sat around a table a few times and opened up to each other. I watched them tell stories of tragedy, horror, and anguish. On more than one occasion during these scenes, I saw at least one of them apologize for crying and being emotional.

Another big thing I saw in the last episode of that show was when I watched a 70+ year old man announce publicly that he was gay. And while that was one of the worst kept secrets in the professional wrestling world, I wondered why he had to “announce” it if we all already knew. And then it hit me, when he actually said those words publicly for the first time, he let go of a massive burden. His secret, as poorly kept as it was, was indeed a weight on his shoulders.

How do those two things from a reality show apply to me? Well, I’ve noticed that when I write things here or talk to someone about my issues that I am also unburdening myself. I’ve realized that many depressed people have also been keeping their depression to themselves for a long time. Why did I do that, and why do they?

Fear and shame. That’s why.

I was always, and in many cases still am, afraid to ask for help. Even in minor instances, I feel like I don’t want to bother people. But why is it like that? What’s there to be ashamed of?

On that TV show, why did I witness men in their 60s crying and feeling ashamed to show emotion when talking about things as significant as the death of one of their own children?

Fear and shame, that’s why.

In other blogs I’ve written, I’ve mentioned my “programming” as a child. I was programmed to be ashamed to show emotion, because crying was seen as a weakness. As a result of that, I held so much in for years. I’m sure that added to the overwhelming burden of depression that weighed me down for so long.

I realize now that my programming was wrong. I realize now that the kid that was picked on, bullied, and made fun of in high school was not strong for keeping it in. I realize now that the kid that was pushed into walls in school and had such little self esteem that he apologized for being the in the way of the person that pushed him was not strong to keep that in. However, that little kid’s weakness was not the weakness that the bullies saw. The weakness was the fear of not being able to ask for help and the fear was due to shame.

Yes, the kid I’m speaking of there was me. But what was I afraid of? What was I ashamed of?

Why did I grow up ashamed of myself? Why did I feel so poorly about myself? Maybe I could break it down with two simple words, “words hurt.” Maybe it’s not THAT simple, but regardless, no matter how much you tell your kids to ignore insults and taunts, it doesn’t make a real difference. Words do hurt.

While thinking about this entry, and it’s been in the works for a while now, I’ve thought about how sometimes I was the one taunting or picking on kids that were perceived to be weaker than me. I said insulting things to some kids. I am not defending that behavior by saying this, but it goes back to the programming. There was a pattern of behavior in the culture I was in, and unfortunately, I didn’t break the pattern. This is one thing that I do feel shame about. I feel shame that I may have contributed to the damage done to someone the way I was damaged by my own experiences.

I once wrote that I wanted to stop using the word “can’t.” That word is too negative, I now prefer to a challenge as something I’m “not yet capable” of doing, and not something I “can’t” do. My programming has always taught me to believe I can’t do things. My programming has also taught me use words viciously. I try my best to choose my words well, especially when discussing important issues. I have tried to remove various words from my everyday conversations.

I no longer want to say that I “hate” something or someone. That word is too powerful.

I don’t want to call anyone “crazy.” After dealing with my own issues over the last few years, I realize the negativity attached to that word in many contexts.

Recently I heard a friend discuss how a few kids taunted her for not being as thin as other girls in high school. She made a comment about how they think she’s “the cute one” now, but it doesn’t matter as much, because they still damaged her perception of herself. She felt shame over that, but if they didn’t say anything, or even complimented her once, she may not have felt that way.

The name of my blog is “Unpacking the Baggage.” And it’s what I do in the majority of the entries I write. I unpack my baggage, and in some cases I unburden myself and erase some of the unneeded shame I had in my life. I do this now because I now know that people that show emotion don’t show weakness, they show strength. The men in that reality show were showing strength when they were talking, my friend showed me strength when she shared her story, and I’m showing strength now, and that’s something none of us should be ashamed of.

You’ve Come a Long Way to Find Emptiness

If anything has been proven to me when I receive feedback on my blogs, it’s that I’m not alone. Another thing besides my blogs that gives me a sense of community at times is the music I listen to. Last year I wrote a blog about my experience with Lacuna Coil and how listening to that band gave me so many friends and good experiences. This entry is about another band that has had a tremendous impact on my life, Katatonia. And while I could write a very similar entry today about my experiences at Katatonia shows, I want to focus on other aspects.

I consider the impact that Katatonia’s music has had on me to be a positive one. I can easily see why some people may consider it to be not so positive. The majority of Katatonia’s lyrics and themes are miserably depressing. But that’s the point. I relate to them. I relate to this band probably more than any other I’ve ever heard.

I first heard Katatonia in 1997. Unlike now, I didn’t pay close attention to lyrics at that time. I really only listened to music that I liked the sound of. However, there was something about Katatonia’s lyrics that stuck out. On their 1997 album, Discouraged Ones, I heard lines such as “Who’s painting my life in sorrow blue?” I always loved the visual that I was able to get from that line. It was something that connected to me.

1999′s Tonight’s Decision was a slightly heavier album than Discouraged Ones, and I really liked it from the first time I heard it, but again, it’s the lyrics that drew me in. There were so many things on this album that I really liked, but it wasn’t until their next release that I GOT IT.

Katatonia released Last Fair Deal Gone Down in 2001 and that album hit me like nothing else had ever done before. When I first heard the songs, I was going through a depression spell. It was one of the first times that I actually realized what was happening to me and wasn’t in denial of depression. Last Fair Deal is the perfect soundtrack for what I was going through. From start to finish I consider it to be an almost flawless album. You can hear and feel the misery, agony, and desperation throughout the record. However, there’s been some points that the lyrics on this album hit too close to home and it was difficult for me to listen to it. As I said, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing.

On June 4th, 2004 I was finally able to see Katatonia perform live. Unfortunately, they didn’t play in the United States very often then. And since this was only their second North American show ever and I felt I needed to experience it, I was willing to go some distance to see them. I drove from my house in New Jersey to Cleveland for that show. And two days later, I saw them again in Montreal, Quebec. That was the one and only time I had ever left the United States, and it was to see Katatonia.

At that show in Cleveland, I have no shame in admitting that I had tears in my eyes from the very first note they played. I knew I was seeing something special. Both of those shows had me experiencing a nice range of emotions, but it was all positive.

Katatonia started touring the United States somewhat regularly in 2006. I was lucky enough to see them four times on that first tour, as they had an abundance of shows that was not tremendously far away. All four of the shows I saw on that tour were very memorable to me for various reasons, some very personal and still hold incredible significance to me today.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Last Fair Deal Gone Down in 2011, Katatonia performed some shows around the world in which they played that entire album from start to finish, and then played at least one song from every other album. I was lucky enough to attend their show in Rochester, NY. In the year or so before this show, I had a very rough time. I had a lot of things in my life go wrong and this show was beyond therapeutic for me. I got to see the album that has emotionally impacted me maybe more than any other album I’ve ever heard and it felt great. I had a few friends there and they had some of their friends there as well. We were all 100% into what we were seeing and hearing. It was a community of Katatonia fans. And no matter what we were dealing with at that time, or had dealt with prior, we knew we that we were NOT alone.

“and when I pause for a breath I see millions like me.”
- Katatonia, from the song “Clean Today.”

As a little addendum to this entry. I’ve had a very difficult time writing it and I’m not even sure why. Maybe it was a writer’s block thing or maybe my self-imposed deadline of June 4th, the 10th anniversary of my first Katatonia show. Or maybe it was just due to having so many deeply personal things tied into Katatonia music and shows that it was difficult for me to put it into words. Regardless, I’m still glad I was able to share this much, even if I’m not completely satisfied with what I wrote.

The Promise of Deceit

My New Year’s Resolution for the last few years has been “to make it better.” And at the end of the year I’ll I always ask myself “am I better off than I was a year ago?” It’s difficult for me to answer that question in 2013. There’s been some bad things that have happened to me, but there’s also been some good things to counter them. There’s been some challenges and there’s been some victories, but there’s also been some victories followed by complications. In many ways I feel that my life in 2013 was in a holding pattern. I wonder if this is the balance I’ve spoken of.

In my 2012 year end blog I mentioned that I knew my credit card debt would be paid off at some point in the first half of 2013. I accomplished that goal in March. Two of the best feelings I’ve ever had were the times I made the phone call to authorize the final payment towards my debt and a few weeks later when I saw the statement that said two simple words, “Debt Free.” From that point, I started a budget plan and by the end of the year I was finally able to start comfortably putting some money aside from each paycheck in an effort to build up some savings. Of course, I didn’t anticipate losing my job in the process. Yeah, that happened. I’ve been unemployed for just over one month now. A victory followed by a challenge. Am I better off than I was a year ago. Well, I’ve been in a better position in my life to be unemployed, so sure. I’m better there, but having no income is not better. Don’t worry, I’m working on fixing that issue.

I’ve written about my depression and my sadness a few times during the year. Those issues are still quite prevalent, and may always be, I don’t know. But I do know that during the month of unemployment, I did go into a funk which resulted in laziness and a bit of depression. Much like I’ve stated before, I don’t know which of those traits comes first, but they’re both there. I have always believed that my awareness of the issues is my key to combating them. I also believe that speaking about it helps, and so many of you that have reached out to me have shown me that no matter how lonely I may feel at times, I am truly not alone. So, it’s possible that while I may feel lonely, depressed, and lazy at the moment, I may actually be better off than I was a year ago.

I ran another 5k during the year. My time was not as good as my time in 2012. I did not match my previous time, nor did I meet the goal time I had. But, I DID finish the race in a respectable time. I’ve stated that I was not really thrilled my effort during the race, but I was satisfied with the result. I’ll call that a wash.

Early in the summer I had decided I wanted to be at a specific weight. I needed to lose 10 pounds to get there, or so I thought. I had actually gained 15 pounds without even realizing it. That post 30 slower metabolism is rough. So in order to lose the (now 25) extra pounds I changed my diet, started a stricter DDP Yoga regimen, and paid close attention to the calories I took in and burned during a day. As of now, with just a few hours left in 2013 I still have not met my goal weight, but I am within 5 pounds of it. I also understand that I did lose fat and gain muscle, which is a good thing. And despite not hitting my goal, I am still in the best shape of my life, so I’ll say that I am indeed better off than I was a year ago.

“My social life is no worse off than it was a year ago. In fact, I would say it’s a bit better. I’ve definitely made a few more friends and gotten closer to some people that were only acquaintances before. And both of those things are good things.

In last year’s year end blog I talked about obstacles in my way and my desire to move past them. I moved past as many of them as I could. As it turns out, some of them are not movable. But in those cases, I’ve learned to go around them or re-evaluate the situation to the best of my ability. Regardless of whether I got past them or not, I have no regrets to how I handled any of it.”

The last two paragraphs were taken directly from 2012′s year end blog. The sentiments from both paragraphs are echoed for 2013. I made some new friends, I got re-acquainted with some old ones, and strengthened a few relationships. I also have obstacles in my way that I haven’t been able to get past. But, I still do not regret any choices, actions, or feelings I have on any of those situations. I did what I did because it was the right thing to do at the time and in the long run. I would tell you that I”m stronger for my actions, but I’m still depressed over some of the results, or lack of, so goes back to that holding pattern. I am no better nor worse than I was a year ago.

Early in 2013, I lost my uncle. There was a long period of time that I had little to no contact with him or his side of the family due to issues that I really don’t understand fully. We had reconciled and had some good moments in late 2012, which made everything a bit easier for me. But also, while I lost my uncle in 2013 I also became an uncle in 2013. And, every time I see my nephew brings me so much joy. He’s actually a motivation for me to improve things in my life. I want to take him to a Yankees game when he’s old enough to enjoy it. And the way ticket prices are, I need to get myself a really good job to be able to start saving to possibly afford anything resembling good tickets for that. I don’t know if I can say that this is either better or worse, but it is part of the circle of life and there’s almost a balance to it.

I think 2014 will require changes to hit my goals. My goals for 2014 are somewhat simple. 365 days from now when I write a recap of 2013, I want to say “Yes, I AM better off than I was a year ago.” I want to say it with conviction and I want to see it without hesitation. I also want to be able to successfully pull off a Black Crow pose in DDP Yoga. I haven’t even come close to that yet.

I have two quotes that sum up things about life and I think are somewhat appropriate.

“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda

I think, in some cases that’s easier said than done. I don’t want to go against the words of the great Jedi Master, but sometimes I feel that all I can do is try.

Over the past few years, I’ve been complemented by some people in regards to “how far I’ve come” in a short time. I’ve written about how I was never able to talk about feelings before, and I’ve come out of my shell a lot there. While other people are confused by my ability to discuss feelings, since I was never able to before. The quote I’m leaving you with sums up that area very well, and may even be part of my mantra for 2014

“Times change, and so must I… We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good. You gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” – The Doctor

2013 Album of the Year

Wisdom-Of-Crowds

1- Wisdom of Crowds – Wisdom of Crowds
2- Clutch – Earth Rocker
3- Anneke Van Giersbergen – Drive
4- Gov’t Mule – Shout!
5- Hank Williams III – Brothers of the 4×4
6- Ministry – From Beer to Eternity
7- Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
8- Dark Tranquillity – Construct
9- Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
10- Black Sabbath – 13

This is the 10th time that I’ve done a blog and/or a countdown for my Albums of the Year. Last year, I wrote the difficulty I had choosing the top album, as Katatonia and Lacuna Coil both put out such strong albums. This year, I found myself with a similar dilema, as well as a new one. I’ll discuss the new dilemma after I do the run through of the top albums. And to give you a slight hint about the dilemma, let me just let you know that this year could have been the “Year of Jonas Renkse.”

Jonas Renkse is the lead singer of Katatonia, and it’s no secret that they’re one of my favorite groups. They’ve been awarded my Album of the Year honors twice (2009 and 2012) and have come close in other years. I heard that Jonas was going to be doing a project with Bruce Soord, whom I had never heard of. He has his own band, the Pineapple Thief. But, I’ve never heard of them either. Their project was called Wisdom of Crowds and I was curious to hear it. When I finally got the album, I could not believe what I was hearing. The music was a perfect fit for Jonas’s mellow tone. And on some tracks, I thought I was listening to early Nine Inch Nails stuff, especially with the emotion, and even with musical style. It’s a progressive album, and sometimes sounds a little poppy, but it’s still a solid album from beginning to end and I enjoy the ride it takes me on every time I listen to it, which is often. I look forward to more collaborations with Jonas Renkse and Bruce Soord, and I may even check out some of Soord’s other projects. But, as a result of this effort, I think Jonas Renkse has definitely solidified a spot as one of my favorite male vocalists working today.

I recommend every track on the album, but if I had to pick a few as a sample for people to check out, I would suggest “Wisdom of Crowds,” “Radio Star,” “Frozen North,” “Pleasure,” and “Pretend.”

One of the things I liked so much about Lacuna Coil’s album last year was that they “returned to form” after a few albums that disappointed me (to say the least). Clutch is a band that I’ve been listening to for over 20 years, and only once did they put out an album that I genuinely didn’t like, and that was 2009′s Strange Cousins From the West. I’m not alone in my dislike for it, and I’ve discussed it with friends a few times. The album never “grew on me” is a common statement about it. I think that’s the issue with it right there, it shouldn’t have had to.

However, Clutch’s 2013 album, Earth Rocker is definitely a return to form for them. It’s everything a Clutch album should be. If people ever ask me to classify Clutch, I can’t put them into a specific genre, but I do use the title of their 2001 album to describe them. They’re simply “Pure Rock Fury” and that’s exactly what Earth Rocker is. I couldn’t believe how much I liked the album when I was listening to it for the first time. And just as I was thinking “wow, this album rocks, there isn’t a mellow song yet,” I heard “Gone Cold” for the first time. That very well me the best blues song Clutch has created. That’s a bold statement, but I stand by it. It pulls at my heart’s strings, which is what a good blues song is supposed to do. It’s nice to see a band such as this return to what I want them to be.

Tracks from Earth Rocker that I believe you should check out include: “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “Crucial Velocity,” “Gone Cold,” “The Face,” and of course, the title track, “Earth Rocker.”

In last year’s blog, I mentioned that I felt Anneke Van Giersbergen had finally found HER sound as a solo artist. She expanded on that with this year’s realase, Drive. The album has some significant emotion in her voice, and sometimes it’s anger, but it works. And if Jonas Renkse is my favorite male vocalist at the moment, Anneke Van Giersbergen is definitely my favorite female vocalist.

Tracks to check out include “We Live On,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” and my favorite track on the album due to hearing the anger and emotion in it is “Treat Me Like a Lady.”

Gov’t Mule is the quintessential rock/jam band and their front man Warren Haynes is one of the best guitar players in the world. The first disc of Mule’s album Shout! would be a strong contender for anyone’s album of the year list by itself, but it’s the second disc of this double album that puts it over the top. The second disc has all of the songs from the first album redone with different singers. It’s interesting to hear the different interpretations of the songs, but in all honesty, the album would be in my top 10 even without the second disc.

I recommend tracks such as “Stoop So Low,” and I either version is excellent, but the second disc version with Dr. John is unreal. I also really liked “World Boss,” “Funny Little Tragedy,” and “Whisper in Your Soul.”

Hank Williams III put out two albums in 2013 and one of them was a double album. For some people that’s quite an accomplishment, but I consider it slacking for him. He put out 3 albums in 2011, and one of them was also a double album. Regardless of that, his double album, Brothers of the 4×4 is the 5th best album of 2013. Hank knows how to write a country song in the style that his legendary grandfather wrote, but still puts a modern take on it. The songs on the this album are slightly longer than I’m used to from him, and that just adds to the enjoyment. Brothers of the 4×4 is what I expect to hear from Hank, when he’s doing a country album, that is.

Track recommendations from Brothers of the 4×4 include “Nearly Gone,” “Hurtin’ for Certin,” “Toothpickin,” and “Loners 4 Life.”

I didn’t think I would be reviewing another Ministry album, especially since I saw their retirement tour in 2008, but they’re back with their second (and likely last) album since then. This album, From Beer to Eternity, like their previous, 2012′s Relapse is a fun album to listen to. You can seriously tell that they enjoyed making it. If this is indeed their final final album (and yes, I did mean to write “final” twice), it’s a good reminder of how good Ministry can be. Some of the songs on this album remind me of their peak from the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you like Ministry, or industrial music at all, you should check out From Beer to Eternity.

“Hail To His Majesty (Peasants),” “Permawar,” and “Side FX Include Mikey’s Middle Finger (TV 4)” stand out to me.

Made Up Mind from Tedeschi Trucks Band is a great mix of rock, blues, and funk. If you take those elements and through in the amazing guitar skills of Derek Trucks and the soulfull voice of Susan Tedeschi and you should have a great album. I can’t say enough things about Derek Trucks’ guitar skills. I truly believe he IS THE BEST guitar player alive today and watching/hearing a solo from him is just amazing at times. If you’re a fan of Trucks or Tedeschi, or the Gov’t Mule, or the Allman Brothers Band, this is an album you need to hear.

The title track, Made Up Mind is a great track, as are “Sweet and Low,” “All that I Need,” and “the Storm.”

It’s unfortunate for Dark Tranquillity that so many other bands that represent “The Gothenburg Sound” have fallen off and put out such incredible dreck over the last few years. It almost makes me afraid to hear a Dark Tranquillity release, but luckily for me, they have not disappoint me. Construct is another good release from them. I’m always so relieved when I hear that they haven’t lost the sound that makes them distinct. There’s a few times when listening to this album when I said “oh yeah, that’s Dark Tranquillity.” And that’s a good thing.

The opening track, “For Broken Words,” along with “Weight of the End,” and “State of Trust” are some of my favorite songs from the album.

Depeche Mode is on my list of Top Albums of the Year. Who saw that one coming? I know I didn’t, but here they are with Delta Machine. I don’t have a tremendous amount of Depeche Mode’s catalog, but I do have a few “best of” albums and a few of their other releases. I think there’s two or three songs on Delta Machine that could end up on a “best of” one day, and for a band that’s been around for over 30 years with as many hits as they’ve had, that’s saying something.

The songs I was referring to are “Welcome to My World,” “Heaven,” and “Soothe My Soul.”

If Depeche Mode on this list is surprising, so is Black Sabbath, especially since it’s the Ozzy Osbourne incarnation. If only for the fact that nobody ever thought that would happen again. And like Metallica and a few other acts before them, Black Sabbath went to Rick Rubin to produce the album and he made sure to capture the Black Sabbath sound that we expected and wanted to hear. Rubin has a way to get bands to sound like they should, which of course bothers me, because maybe they shouldn’t have strayed from that in the first place, but that’s a different rant for a different time. But, 13, the first album that Black Sabbath released with Ozzy Osbourne singing since 1978 is a solid Black Sabbath effort. As I’ve said, it has the sound we want and it is a good album to close out my 10th Annual Countdown.

Tracks from 13 that I suggest include “God is Dead?,” “Pariah,” and “Loner.”

Some notes on some other albums that came out in 2013:

For a few consecutive years I wrote in these blogs that Steven Wilson was a genius. His albums with Porcupine Tree and Blackfield usually ranked very high on my lists. However, over the last few years, Porcupine Tree has begun to disappoint me, Blackfield is fading, Wilson’s solo projects didn’t do much for me, and I don’t want to get into his Storm Corrosion collaboration. However, that didn’t stop me from getting his newest solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories. Let me state that I don’t belive the album is nearly as bad as some of the other things I’ve heard from him over the last few years, but it didn’t do it for me. And seeing him perform some of the tracks live made me like them less than before, and that’s not supposed to happen. I would say that his music has become quite pretentious, but that wouldn’t insult him or the music, since he’s described it that way himself. If you like progressive albums, you may like this one. It just wasn’t for me.

Another progressive act that I enjoyed over the past decade was Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project. Lucassen will assemble a large cast of musicians to basically tell a story in a rock/prog opera style. 2004′s Human Equation was a masterpiece and 2008′s 01011001 brought Jonas Renkse and Anneke Van Giersbergen together for some songs, so how could I not like it? But Ayreon’s 2013 release, The Theory of Everything is really lacking where the others succeeded. It bothers me to say that, as one of my all-time favorite singers, Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia is on the album in a prominent role. It’s just that the story in this album isn’t that good and unlike other albums from Ayreon, there aren’t many (if any) songs on this album I would go out of my way to hear. Maybe Lucassen can rebound next time.

Nine Inch Nails came out of retirement and released Hesitation Marks. It’s okay, at best.

Carcass also resurfaced and put out Surgical Steel. It’s just not my thing.

Mike Patton’s Tomahawk released Oddfellows and like Nine Inch Nails, it’s okay.

The other release from Hank Williams III was a Hellbilly album called A Fiendish Threat. It’s not bad.

And that brings me to Katatonia. I struggled with this decision, but neither of Katatonia’s two released are eligible for consideration based on the rules I’ve previous set and followed for these lists. Katatonia won album of the year last year with Dead End Kings. They re-issued that album this year after changing up the musical style of it and called the album Dethroned & Uncrowned. While it is a new take on songs, it’s not new material and therefore, not eligible.

The other release from Katatonia was a 10th anniversary edition of Viva Emptiness. I always liked Viva Emptiness as it was, even though I always felt is sounded a little bit different from the rest of the Katatonia releases. Well, the band thought it did too, but they were never happy with it until now. They remastered, re-mixed, and re-released it this year. I now feel like the album I had been listening to since 2003 was nothing more than un unfinished demo-tape and I’ve finally been able to hear the final (and much better) product. However, it is still not new material, and can’t be considered for this list. Although, if either album from Katatonia were eligible, they would likely be very high on the list, and that would explain my previous comment that this could have been the “Year of Jonas Renkse.”

I don’t know many bands releasing albums in 2014, but I do know that 2011′s Album of the Year winner, Within Temptation will have a new album out early in the year. Scott H. Biram, Lacuna Coil, Anathema have also had some studio time soon, so I expect releases from them as well. All of those acts have had some stong albums recently, let’s hope that continues. I look forward to hearing what 2014 will bring me.

A note about eligibility for my 2013 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States street date in 2013
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist)
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material

I Miss the Comfort of Being Sad

nor·mal (nôrml)
adj.
1. Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical

But what really is “normal?” Is normal white picket fences around a nice house? Is it two attentive parents who treat their children and each other fairly? Is it growing up without worries and achieving a level of success? Is it having healthy relationships? Maybe it is those things, but they are not my normal.

As I continue to think about my life and analyze situations in it, I’ve thought a lot about what my normal is, has been, and hopefully what it could be. It has been a life filled with underacheiving, feelings of insignificance, mediocrity, depression, emptiness, and loneliness. Some of those are topics I’ve discussed in previous entries and I’m sure I will discuss them more in future entries.

I do like success and I have succeeded at some things. I have also experienced happiness at some points of my life, but that feeling is one that genuinely confuses me. Happiness is not my normal. I do not like feeling sad, but it’s what is normal to me, so there is a comfort level there. By no means does that make it good, but it is what it is, and it is my normal.

I function adequately in social situations. But then again, so did Patrick Bateman and Dexter Morgan. Those two people may be fiction characters with homicidal instincts, but I related to them, just not the homicidal part, just their social angst. Very often they would put on a fake smile and thrill people with their small talk to get through a social event. I do that as well. I am not very comfortable in social settings and that makes it difficult for me to get emotionally close to people.

To make matters worse for me, I am usually confused by anyone that does get close to me. The whole thing is overwhelming to me at times. It can sometimes get to the point that I am the most tense around the people I’m supposed to be closest with. And that can sometimes make situations more uncomfortable. But all of this seems so incredibly normal to me.

Underachieving and sometimes failure are also two things I’m quite used to. Throughout my years in school, I would always just get by. I was often told that I could do better, but I interpreted those words to mean “I am not good enough” which would then result in me shutting down my efforts more than usual, but then again, just getting by was my normal.

In my professional career, I have been promoted a few times. Unfortunately, some of those promotions did not last. In some cases, the promotions were only given to me after the higher ups had exhausted every other option they had. I’ve actually had a promotion offered to me due to me being “the least unqualified” for the position. Backhanded compliments like that do wonders to my already frail ego and esteem. But, it all seems to normal to me.

I do have a good set of friends in my life. I have been able to accept that, but I still don’t understand it. And while I do have good people, I also still seem to very often get myself into unhealthy situations with people that challenge my ability to grow my esteem and generally don’t advance much. But as I’ve been saying, it’s my normal.

Sadness is not what I strive for, at least I don’t believe I do. After writing this, I am starting to wonder about it. But sadness is a comfortable feeling for me. It’s been my normal for most of my conscience existence. Everyone has a “comfort zone.” Happiness is not mine. Although, the confusion surrounding happiness is not too far removed from my comfort zone.

I feel that this entry is skipping around a little bit into the subtopics of what I’m discussing, and in some ways I’m just starting to scratch the surface of the issue. And I do hope to be able to get more of this out there in the near future. It’s just that I’ve lacked the motivation lately, but that’s also normal for me. In addition, I do genuinely hope that one day I can write about all of this again, but in the past tense. It might be nice to have my normal be a positive thing. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe one day I’ll be there and hopefully it won’t confuse me as much as it has so far.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

Last month I wrote a blog about Mickey Mantle and the wisdom expressed towards the end of his life. Another person that was able to express some words of wisdom when he knew he was dying was Warren Zevon, who died ten years ago today. While appearing on “the Late Show with David Letterman” for the last time Zevon was asked if he knew something more about life and death than he did before, he said what is now a famous line, “not unless I know how much I’m supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”

Take a moment and think about that. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? “Enjoy every sandwich.” We are a society of people that do not enjoy simple things as much as we should. Don’t get me wrong, I try to, but I don’t find it easy. I battle depression regularly and often good moments are lost on me. It’s a shame.

And while I know “enjoy every sandwich” does not refer only to sandwiches, I can 100% relate to it and took it 100% literally recently. After needing to budget myself very strictly about one month ago, I had been eating ramen noodles for lunch every day for over a week. I want to make it clear that I enjoy ramen noodles, but it’s one thing to like them, and it’s one thing to eat them because it’s all you can afford. But anyway, my point is when I got my next paycheck after the week of ramen, I went out for a sandwich on my lunch break. It was nothing more than an Italian combo from Subway, but I can’t begin to describe how great that sandwich was to me.

It’s important to enjoy simple things and moments. That is the point of Zevon’s comment and that was what I did with my sandwich. Having that lunch was not a life changing event, and it truly was not a memorable one, but I felt I had earned that lunch. It was an accomplishment, and it meant something.

I can’t claim to be the biggest Warren Zevon fan out there. Actually, other than “Werewolves of London,” I don’t know if I knew any of his songs before his illness. But after reading about him, I became interested and started listening to more of his work. I really liked what I heard. He wrote songs that were wise, humorous, and just relatable. And trust me, while “Werewolves of London” is his biggest hit, it really does not showcase his songwriting as well as other songs do. And in reality, the last album he wrote, “the Wind, “which he started after knowing he was dying was some of his most touching work.

Over the last few years as I had much of my life fall apart in a fairly short period of time, I like to believe that I gained a lot of perspective on what is truly important and what is just trivial nonsense. But I can say that I don’t have nearly the perspective that Mickey Mantle or Warren Zevon did towards the end of their lives. We all know we’re going to die at some point. But it’s a bit different to know it’s coming soon. Both Mantle and Zevon were able to say some wise things that we all need to pay attention to. Not only do we need to take better care of ourselves as Mickey Mantle said we need to do, but we really do need to enjoy every sandwich. Both are incredibly simple concepts that we all need to pay attention to. I’m working on both of them. Hopefully, I’ll be able to succeed.