I Don’t Know Where I Belong or Where it All Goes From Here.

2017 is just about over. This entry will be my annual look back at the year that was as I ask myself the question “am I better off than I was one year ago?” Last year, it was easy for me to answer. I simply said “YES.” I actually did use all capital letters to emphasize it. I can’t say anything as certain as that this year, in fact, I’m not even sure if I am better off than I was a year ago. There’s just too many questions to have definitive answers.

Just under two weeks ago marked my 1 year anniversary at my job. In last year’s entry, I spoke about how I liked it, so far. Well, after one year, I still like it. I don’t know if I could say that I got off to a rocky start there, but it was a totally new environment for me and I had to learn something completely from the beginning. Over the year I’ve become one of the more trusted and relied upon associates in my department. And those words aren’t just coming from me, they’ve been said to me by higher ups. I’m very proud of that.

I didn’t do nearly as many 5k races as I had in previous years. In fact, I only did three in 2017. I made excuse after excuse as to why I didn’t run them. Sometimes there were schedule conflicts and other times I just said “I’m not ready.” I didn’t come to close to setting any new records for myself during the three races that I completed, and I actually ran my 2nd slowest ever during one of them. But, I did finish all three. I hope to do a few more races in 2018. And I’m going to do my best to erase the reasons/excuses that held me back in 2017.

One thing I am very proud of us is my (small) contribution to making one of those races happen. I am part of a committee in my town that does a lot of community organizing and events. Getting my town’s 5k race back from the dead was our crowning achievement. Many people in the group did A LOT more actual work than I did to get that race going, but I did have some contributions and as I said, I’m very proud of it.

Last year I wrote about how much better my social life was than one year earlier. I was in a relationship that I was very happy in. Sadly, that relationship did not last. But, there’s no regrets or ill will in any aspect of it. Sometimes those things just can’t be sustained. It happens. And as 2017 ends, I’m actually hopeful about my social life. I think there’s a chance for something. I’m not pushing the issue. I’m letting the cards fall where they may and I’ll see how it plays out.

I said that two of my biggest regrets in  2015 and 2016 were not hitting my book reading goal and not being able to perform a Black Crow pose in my DDP Yoga sessions. History has repeated itself, yet again in 2017. I didn’t come close with either. Maybe in 2018…
Maybe…

One aspect of my life that isn’t better than last year is my financial situation. I’m in a complete paycheck to paycheck cycle. I don’t know if there’s any way out of that at the moment, but I’ll keep going. It’s what I do. Of course, the political climate and situation in America also contributes to the fears I have about my finances. I don’t believe for one second that the direction we’re going will help me, or anyone in my situation.

Building on that, I do have hope for America’s future. I saw a lot of things happen in 2017 that give me the feeling that we will see a change. I think we will see a progressive movement that will help the greater good of society and not just a select few. That change has actually already started, and I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

Much like 2016, I saw friendships develop and strengthen in 2017. Some people that were just acquaintances became very good friends of mine. I reconnected with some people that I hadn’t talked to for a little while. I even talked to someone (online) that I hadn’t heard from in close to 20 years.

My overall mental health isn’t too bad. I still have my reoccurring feelings of isolation, a lack of belonging, desperation, anxiety, shame, and overall depression. I’m pretty sure they’re always going to be there in some form or another. But, as weird as this may sound, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be depressed. There’s such awareness and so many support systems available now through social media that I think people have new ways to reach out. I know that I often browse various forums and will reply to posts about depression from people I don’t know. If nothing else, I want them to know that they’re not alone.

My blogs got some attention in 2017. As usual, some got more than others. One entry that I’m particularly proud of was the one I wrote about Brian Pillman. In my mind, I wrote that entry for me and the few members of the “Cannon Cult” that used to talk to Brian on AOL in the mid-90s. I thought a few others may read it, but I didn’t expect it to get such attention from Brian’s son. I also didn’t expect someone that was writing a book about Brian to read my entry and then (through a “Cannon Cult” member) reach out to me for stories. And believe me, I certainly didn’t expect to see my name in that book as a contributor after one of my stories was used. I’m so proud of that. It’s actually a bit surreal.

But now, with 2018 only a few hours away, one of the questions I’m asking myself is:
How does one truly start fresh in a new year when we just start our routines over?

I have 365 days to figure that one out. I have a lot of things to figure out in 2018. I have things I want to accomplish. I have places I want to go. I have things I want to do. Some of my goals are really simple. Some may not be as simple. But, like every single year, my resolution for the new year is just “to make it better.” I don’t know what exactly that means yet. But, as I said, I have 365 days to figure that out. With any luck, when I write my 2018 recap, I’ll be able to say that I hit goals and accomplished a lot. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see how it turns out.

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2017 Album of the Year

Medusa

1- Paradise Lost – Medusa
2- Blondie – Pollinator
3- Depeche Mode – Spirit
4- Life of Agony – a Place Where There’s No More Pain
5- Dead Cross – Dead Cross
6- Butcher Babies – Lilith
7- Arch Enemy – Will to Power
8- Fozzy – Judas
9- Scott H. Biram – the Bad Testament
10- Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy

Paradise Lost need to retire.
Yes, that’s how I’m starting off my Album of the Year post. Yes, that’s how I’m talking about the band responsible for the album that I believe is the best album to come out in 2017. The reason I say they need to retire is that their sound has gone full circle. The evolution of Paradise Lost from beginning to now makes a lot of sense if you listen to their albums in order. You may be confused if you skip around without prior knowledge of their changes. Medusa’s sound is very much like their original sound. That does not mean they’ve regressed, it means they just got back to the sound. And I’m glad they did. This album has a great mix of death metal vocals and clean vocals. It also has the signature doomy sound from the guitars that Paradise Lost is known for. I don’t know where they can go from here. They keep reinventing themselves and genres, but what’s left? If you’re a fan of Paradise Lost and you haven’t heard this record, you’re really missing out.

Some of the better tracks on Medusa include “the Longest Winter,” “Shrines,” “No Passage for the Dead,” and especially “Fearless Sky.” I’ve joked that “Fearless Sky” is the best Opeth song to be released in 10 years. It’s over 8 minutes long and it takes me on a slow musical rollercoaster. It’s a great song.

I don’t know if I could praise Blondie’s Pollinator enough. Like Medusa, it’s reminiscent of its band’s early work. Blondie has been around since the mid-1970s and there’s songs on this album that will most definitely be a “best of” compilation one day. It’s just a damn good record. It starts off with “Doom or Destiny” which reminds of their hit “Call Me” with the tempo. It has a few good songs after that one, my favorite song on the album, “Fun” comes on. It sounds like it could have come out during the end of the disco era, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Just like I said about Paradise Lost’s Medusa, if you’re a fan of Blondie and you haven’t heard this one, you’re really missing out.

“Long Time,” “Too Much,” and “Love Level” are also some of my favorite tracks from Pollinator. “Love Level” also features the What Cheer? Brigade as the horn section. They’re a fun act to see.

Depeche Mode’s Spirit is a bit political. But, it resonates with me. And it resonated enough to be ranked as the 3rd best Album of the Year. “Going Backwards” is the opening track and it is a damning view of the world’s political scene as it currently is. The album continues to strike chords about the direction of the world, but with the classic Depeche Mode sound.

“Going Backwards” is my favorite track from the album. I think it’s the most damning song I’ve heard about the current state of the world. “Poor Man” is another song that I relate to. “Where’s the Revolution?” and “Poison Heart” are also worth checking out.

Life of Agony hadn’t put out an album of new songs since 2005. Their 2017 release, A Place Where There’s No More Pain, picked up right where they left off. It’s like they didn’t miss a beat. Of course, they had been touring on and off since then, but that doesn’t necessarily mean new material would be good. In this case, the songs are good. They didn’t play a lot of the new songs during their 2017 tour, and honestly I like the album enough that maybe if I had heard a few more of them done live, I may have ranked this album higher. Live performances can make a difference sometimes, but regardless of that, they put out a damn good album.

“Meet My Maker,” “A New Low,” “Right the Wrong,” and the title track are some of my favorites from this album and I think they fit in with the Life of Agony catalog very well.

Mike Patton has appeared in my Top 10 lists with Faith No More, Peeping Tom, Tomahawk, and his Mondo Cane project. He’s one here again with Dead Cross. I never know what to expect with Patton. Dead Cross’s sound is a mixture of punk, thrash metal, and grind core. With Patton screaming and growling throughout most of the album, it just works. I saw them perform this album in its entirety in September and it was worth it. I’ve never seen Mike Patton so aggressive on stage.

The album starts off with “Seizure and Desist,” which I really enjoy. I also really like their cover of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” But, I think my favorite track is “Shillelagh.” It’s probably the best example of what Dead Cross is. This album may not be for everyone, but if you’re a Mike Patton fan, it’s worth checking out.

I had never heard anything from Butcher Babies until a few months ago. They were recommended to me and I sought out a few songs. I was impressed. I noticed they had a new album coming out and I ordered a copy. I was even more impressed. I have no idea how they had escaped my radar. Their album Lilith is one that I will definitely be listening to for a long time. I’ve already listened to it A LOT. Their sound is a heavy and guitar driven. They have two female singers and I really enjoy how they trade back and forth.

“Burn the Straw Man” opens the album and blew me away. The title track “Lilith” is the second track and I had heard that before I got the album because they had a video for it. They continued with “Headspin,” which I really like, but the 4th track, “Korova” is probably my favorite track. Give them a listen.

It’s because I like bands such as Arch Enemy that I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of Butcher Babies before. Arch Enemy also put out an album in 2017, Will to Power. This is their second studio release with Alissa White-Gluz on vocals. As I said about her debut with them, I think she’s breathed new life into them. I know some fans weren’t happy that she incorporated clean (non-growl) vocals into one track, “Reason to Believe,” but I liked it. It was not expected and it works with the Arch Enemy sound. It’s my favorite song on the album.

Other tracks I really like include “Dreams of Retribution,” “the Race,” and “the World is Yours.”

Chris Jericho is a promotional genius. He knows how to get his name out there and how to get attention on himself. He had been playing the title track from his band Fozzy’s new album, Judas, on his podcast for months before it was released. I didn’t mind because it’s a good song. He was able to market the album in a way that I was very excited about the release date. Fozzy is consistently good. I’ve ranked them in my lists a few times.

“Burn Me Out,” “Drinking with Jesus,” and “Weight of My World” are other favorite of mine from this album.

I don’t know why Scott H. Biram’s the Bad Testament took a while to grow on me. But, once it did, I realized how damn good it is. Maybe I was thinking it would sound differently, but what I got was an album that reminded me of (what I think are) his best albums the Dirty Old One Man Band and Graveyard Shift. Those two albums were the first things I heard from him after I had been introduced to his act after I saw him open for Clutch. What I like about Biram’s stuff is that while each album is good by itself, I can put his catalog on random and just lose myself in his blues/country/punk style. That’s needed sometimes.

I know I’m saying this a lot, but if you’re a fan of Scott H. Biram, you need to hear this album. Some of tracks that stand out (more than others) to me include “Set Me Free,” “Still Around,” “Train Wrecker,” “Crippled & Crazy,” and “True Religion.”

2015’s 10th best album was A Raw Youth from Le Butcherettes. I saw them open for Faith No More and I was intrigued. Their singer, Terri Gender Bender is a captivating performer. She’s different. Along with some other people on the Ipecac Records label, she formed Crystal Fairy, and their debut album is this year’s 10th best album. They have a heavy sound and her vocal style ranges from singing, to screaming, to screeching, none of which is bad.

I recommend “Chiseler,” “Necklace of Divorce,” the title track “Crystal Fairy,” and “Secret Agent Rat” as songs worth trying.

A few albums that were good, but just didn’t crack my Top 10 list include Steven Wilson’s To the Bone, the Front Porch Sessions by the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and TajMo by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’.

Some notes about other albums from the year:
Anneke Van Giersbergen’s new project VUUR released their debut album In This Moment We Are Free – Cities. She’s my favorite female voice in music, but this album didn’t draw me in.

Anathema’s the Optimist starts off great, but lost my interest.

Moonspell put out 1775. But, all the lyrics are in Portuguese. I couldn’t follow along.

Ayreon’s the Source was a major disappointment.

Blackfield V was just boring.

Gov’t Mule’s Revolution Come, Revolution Go has good stuff on it, but it nothing too special.

Gregg Allman released what will likely be his final album, Southern Blood. He died during the year and that made this album difficult for me to listen to. There’s definitely good songs on it, but some of them deal with his impending demise and that made it too real. Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band meant so much to me for so long. I wish this album wasn’t his last.

Neither Garbage nor Muse released new albums in 2017, but they both released one new song. “No Horses” and “Dig Down,” respectively. Both songs are fantastic and make me look forward to their next albums.

I know Clutch and Lacuna Coil have new albums being worked on and I think both will be relased in 2018. Lacuna Coil’s 2016 album, Delirium, was my album of the year. I really hope they follow up with something good. I guess time will tell.

A note about eligibility for my 2017 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States street date in 2017
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist)
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material

Can’t you see? All circuits are busy. Please try back again.

I had a blog entry ready to go. I just had to put the finishing touches on it. That usually means I would scrap it and start over, but keep with the theme. But instead, I’m saving it for later and writing this one. This will be a jumbled mess of random thoughts. I know that already. It’s just the mood I’m in.

Originally, I was going to write an entire entry about the three 5k races I ran this year and while I completed all of them, I was disappointed in the race results. The last one I did this year was the fastest of the three, but the 2nd one was my 2nd slowest ever. Somehow I thought I could stretch that story out into an entire blog. It was too whiny and that’s not the tone I wanted.

Then I thought about writing about the slew of sexual harassment allegations coming from Hollywood and TV. I was going to say how incredibly normal this type of thing seems to be in their bubble. How things that are being alleged now had apparently been talked about behind closed doors within their community for years and nobody did anything about it.

Maybe I would write a full entry about gun violence and how every single time a mass shooting happens we (as a society) say “now isn’t the time to discuss the issue of gun control” and it then fades from our memory until it happens again and we say “now isn’t the time to discuss the issue of gun control.”

I could talk about how the President of the United States says outrageous, slanderous, childish, and often untrue statements on Twitter on a daily basis. I was going to say how I’m not surprised, shocked, or even phased by that any more. I could have stated how I’m really bothered that this has become our normal.

I considered writing a blog about how bad my blogs had become, in my view. I felt even stronger about that one after reading one I published on year ago today, which you can read by clicking HERE if you want to. That one was actually one of my better ones.

As I’m living paycheck to paycheck, I thought about another financial rant. But what’s the point of that? Writing about that again isn’t going to help my financial situation. Well, maybe it could if someone with influence reads it and publishes my work and I get to be a famous author. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I almost wrote a blog about complacency and depression and I thought I was straddling the line between the two. At one point in that entry I was going to say that I was depressed about how complacent I am about certain aspects of my life, but also how the complacency almost keeps me away from a full depression, so maybe it’s good.

There was also a chance of me talking about relationships. I haven’t been in one for a few months. When the last one ended I didn’t get nearly as depressed as I thought I would. I was bothered by that. I was also bothered by being bothered by it. It didn’t make sense to me. None of that does. But, it made perfect sense to me at the same time. How messed up is my head that a lack of depression upsets me? Seriously. Think about that. Was it because my expectations weren’t met?

As far as relationships go, I could talk about how I’m cautiously optimistic about things right now. Maybe something is going well, maybe I’m delusional, maybe nothing is there.  Maybe I’m working myself up worrying about it as I’m writing this paragraph.

I could write about the news in Manhattan today. There was a mass murder. I don’t know more details, because they aren’t available yet. However, I’ve already seen a drastic difference in how it’s being covered depending on the ideology of who is talking about it.

Or maybe, just maybe I could tie all of these unrelated topics into a tight little knot. I could say if we took better care of each other, if we provided for each other, if we made sure that people on the lower end of the economic system were helped up, maybe just maybe a lot of the issues I could have talked about today wouldn’t exist.

I could write about that, but who would read it? My audience is small. Who among the few readers I have would, or could, do something that can truly help the world? Could I be the one by writing this? Could you be the one that reads this and gets inspired? Of course, that all depends on if you can navigate your way through this maze of randomness.

It’s possible I could just write about how I doubt myself so much that I don’t know how to end this entry. It really bothers me that I don’t know how to end on a high note. I’m almost comforted by knowing that I don’t expect this entry to be read by that many people. What does that say?

 

Proud to Serve the Country that Served him Weak.

Just a little bit more than one year ago, I was having a conversation with a celebrity. He had just finished talking to a group about some of his issues with depression. I thanked him for speaking out and told him that his voice holds a lot of weight because of his fame. I also told him about my blog and how I don’t believe my voice is as impactful as his. He made it a point to let me know how I was underestimating myself and even if I’m not reaching as many people as he may be, I may still be reaching somebody. I thanked him again for speaking out and for saying that to me. It stuck with me.

While, the celebrity was right, I may reach someone, the power of a celebrity voice IS powerful. As of the time I’m writing this, I have 225 followers on Twitter. I have barely more followers/friends on another site. The amount of people that could see my writing is not that large, and the amount that actually do read it is pretty small. But, that doesn’t stop me from sitting down (at least) once per month and writing something. I have something to say and if ONE person gets something from it, I’ve done well.

Celebrities often get criticized for expressing their opinions on social issues. I don’t understand why. As I said, their voice has more relative weight than mine based on the size of the audience they can reach. And that is exactly why I’m proud of the players in the NFL and MLB that took a knee during the National Anthem recently. This goes back to last year and Colin Kaepernick not standing during the anthem. I wrote something about it then, and I’m writing about it again because the issue is quite newsworthy and it needs to be discussed.

Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to social injustice. At no point was his protest designed to do anything but that. That’s what the issue was about and that’s what it is still about. It was never a protest of America or a protest of the anthem. It’s a Constitutionally allowed gesture that he did to get attention on himself so he could get attention an issue he felt strongly about.

A flag is just a flag. An anthem is just a song. Saluting them is not a mandatory thing in a country that prides itself on freedom. It’s not a mandatory thing in a country that allows freedom of expression and assembly. It’s not a mandatory thing in a country that was founded on and prides itself on peaceful protest. It will never be a mandatory thing as long as the founding documents are upheld.

The NFL stars that did not stand are not protesting the United States. They are not anti-America. They are not anti-police. They are not anti-soldier. They are anti-injustice. I’ve seen pictures go around recently of Rosa Parks with the caption “Thinking NFL players are ‘protesting the flag’ is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation.” I’m not going to explain to you who Rosa Parks was. Quite frankly, you’re a lost cause if you don’t know already. But, I brought up the thing about her because of how relevant it is. Don’t let the story be something it isn’t. This is about social and racial injustice. It always has been and it shows how while we’ve made some progress, we still have miles to go.

Some critics of the NFL protests are saying that the players should be proud of the flag and what it stands for. I agree, they should be. But the flag is just a symbol of the country. It’s a symbol of a country that brags about being #1. It’s a symbol of a country that says it’s the “land of the free and home of the brave.” It’s also the symbol of a country is which minorities are treated like they don’t matter. The middle class is treated like they don’t matter. The poor are treated like a burden. The flag represents those people being held down. It doesn’t currently represent them being lifted up.

Donald Trump ran his campaign last year talking about the “forgotten men and women” in the United States. What about the people that aren’t forgotten, but barely acknowledged? What about the ones that are ignored? What about the ones that don’t have a fighting chance? What about the ones in which the American Dream is just that, only a dream? That is what the protests are about.

People need to be more offended by policies that allow the Middle Class and minorities to be driven into poverty. People need to be more offended by government officials that won’t properly condemn true racism. People need to be more offended by racial and ethnic profiling that exists in the country. People need to be more offended by people being oppressed and suppressed by a system that isn’t designed for them to succeed.

I’m a 41 year old white male. Some of you think I’ve had all the chances in the world to make something for myself. But have I? I’m a 41 year old white male that lives paycheck to paycheck. Any time I come close to getting ahead financially, I face a setback. I admit that I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and yes I am aware that I do have certain advantages because I’m white. That isn’t a good thing, by the way. It’s part of the problem. Why should the color of my skin matter? But, this entry is not about me. I’m not trying to make it about me. I’m going to keep struggling, but I’m going to keep fighting. If you’ve read my other entries, you know I’m a survivor. But, I digress…

The main point of this entry is this: The celebrities and athletes speaking out are the voices of the voiceless.

I know some people stopped reading this entry the second they saw Colin Kaepernick’s name. They have their pre-conceived notions about him, his protest, and his reasons. They won’t pay attention to any facts about the protests. They just believe what they’re told to believe about who and what the protest is offending.

But, a song is just a song and a flag is just a flag. They both stand for something, but until every single one of the citizen of this country are given truly equal rights, equal freedoms, and equal opportunities, the flag and song don’t stand for much. And if I were a celebrity with a bigger audience then the small amount I reach, I wouldn’t stand for the anthem either. I don’t stand for injustice. I don’t stand for inequality.
You shouldn’t stand for it either.

Dim My Lights, One by One.

I remember who did it. I remember what they did. I remember where they did it. I remember when they did it. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember it because it’s impacted my life. It’s impacted what I’ve become. It’s impacted and influenced how I feel about myself. It’s impacted why it’s not easy for me to trust. It’s impacted so much.

What is it that I’m talking about? I’m talking time I wore a nicer shirt and a sweater when I was in 4th grade and someone pointed at me and laughed. I’m talking about the time in 6th grade that I was scratching an itch on my nose and the girl in the seat next to me said I was picking my nose and from that day on she ALWAYS referred to me as “snot.” I remember when I went to school with braces and headgear and was mocked. I remember going back to my house almost in tears about it and being told there was no choice, I had to wear it and how scared that made me. I remember in my Jr. year of high school someone taped a sign on my back that said “rat boy” in reference to the overbite I had at the time. I remember the looks on the faces of everyone that pointed and laughed at me. I do remember ALL of it. I remember how scared and helpless I felt early in my freshman year of high school while walking back to my house and I was in the parking lot of FoodTown when a few kids took all of my money ($1.50) while one of them had his arm wrapped around my throat. I remember each and every person that played a part in that and how happy they seemed at the time.

There’s more events that I remember. And honestly, most of what I’ve just mentioned has NEVER been talked about. Not in writing and not verbally to anyone at all. I was bullied and picked on so much and so often in school that I felt that I deserved it. It was what was supposed to happen to me. Why else would it happen so often if it wasn’t something that was supposed to be? I remember being shoved into a door as I was tying to exit my eight grade social studies class. I apologized to the kid that shoved me, because I felt I was obviously in his way. That’s how bad it was. That’s how awful my I felt about myself.

Yes, I know that I’m talking about events that happened well over 20 years ago. Why am I talking about them now? Because they helped create me. These incidents, and how they made me feel then have played a drastic part in how I’ve felt every single day since then.

I stated that I didn’t talk about these things then. Why not? Because it would get worse if I did. A group of classmates harassed me in sixth grade. I told my mother. She told a teacher. He told the students. They got worse. I didn’t want it to be any worse than that.

Unfortunately, I usually couldn’t talk to my parents about it. My mom’s response was always to report it. I knew things would get worse for me if that happened, so I stopped telling her. My dad just doesn’t know how to handle situations like this and isn’t someone I could turn to. Also, my parents had their own ways of making me feel small. Honest, thoughtful, positive communication wasn’t something I was surrounded by. I know it’s a term used by some to mock others, and that annoys me to no end, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t have a “safe space.” And in many ways, I still don’t. One day, I may explain this a little bit more, but now isn’t the time.

Think about what that does to someone. Think about what it does to someone in his (or her) formative years. Think about being afraid to go to school and not then not getting the help you need at home. Think about being afraid to report being hurt, physically or emotionally, because talking about it could make it worse. Think about how horrifying of an experience every day life was.

I spent much of my after school time in my room. My room was my sanctuary. I read comic books. I watched a lot of TV. I listened to the radio a lot. I did this all in my room, which was the same room that I was sent to as a punishment when I was younger. My sanctuary was also my prison. This was also a conflict for me.

Writing  all of this is making me very anxious. I wasn’t kidding when I said that I haven’t ever spoken about some of these things. But, recently I’ve read a few stories about bullying. I read stories from people that were talking about incidents from their own school days, by students and by teachers. I’ve read stories of adults possibly being bullied and how that may have triggered a full depression incident in someone. Those things that I read opened up some old memories and feelings in me. Some of the things I brought up here and things I hadn’t thought of in a very long time. But, here I am. I’m now in my 40s and I’m still feeling anxiety over things that happened when I was 14.

I’m sure that more will come to me after I publish this. I’m sure more memories will bubble up to the surface. This is not a matter of letting it go, or getting over it. I also don’t feel it’s as simple as forgive and forget. It’s not even as simple as just moving on. It’s trying to move forward, but with an anchor tied to my feet. Letting go of this baggage is not easy. I do my best to unpack it, little by little, but it’s a mighty arduous process. And honestly, I don’t know when more memories might get triggered. This one was simply started by me reading a few posts on Facebook.

I assure you that I wish none of this happened to me. I wish it didn’t happen to others. But, it did. And it still does. It shouldn’t. We, as a society, and as a culture need to do what we can to stop bullying, harassing, insulting, and abusing others. We need to be more understanding and caring to those that it happens to. I’m here to talk about it. I’m scarred, but I survived. Others like me didn’t survive. It was just too much for them.

We need to better. We need to be better for today’s youth. We need to be better for today’s children. We need to be better for each other. We just need to be better.

2016 Album of the Year

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1- Lacuna Coil – Delirium
2- Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
3- Opeth – Sorceress
4- Katatonia – the Fall of Hearts
5- Heaven Shall Burn – Wanderer
6- Garbage – Strange Little Birds
7- Those Poor Bastards – Sing it Ugly
8- Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
9- Eric Clapton – I Still Do
10- Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

I’m genuinely proud that I’ve been able to announce my 2016 Album of the Year is going to Lacuna Coil’s Delirium. I have wanted to give this award to Lacuna Coil before, and I came close with 2012’s Dark Adrenaline , but they were just edged out by Katatonia’s Dead End Kings, and I mean JUST edged out.  I ranked Lacuna Coil’s 2014 album, Broken Crown Haloat number 10. It was okay, but not great. When I first heard tracks on Delirium, I was taken aback a bit. I was surprised by the sound. With a slightly modified lineup, the album was louder, heavier, and more aggressive than Lacuna Coil had been in years. Their male singer, Andrea Ferro was performing growling death metal style vocals for the first time since their early demo tapes, while their female singer, Cristina Scabbia’s voice was hitting ranges I hadn’t heard before.

Not long after the album came out, I saw Lacuna Coil perform live. I got to see some of the new songs in person for the first time and was BLOWN AWAY. That’s when I realized that Delirium was really the Lacuna Coil album I’ve been waiting for. It just fits perfectly. While other bands, such as Paradise Lost, have also embraced their death metal beginnings , so has Lacuna Coil, and both bands have blended those sounds together flawlessly with what they had done in since those days. Again, this is the album I’ve waited for from them. And having been friendly with members of the band for a few years, I’m so proud to finally be able to say they’ve got my Album of the Year.

Tracks I recommend listening to from Delirium include “the House of Shame,” “You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You,” “Blood, Tears, Dust,” “Ghost in the Mist,” and the title track “Delirium.” I also seriously recommend their cover of Madonna’s “Live to Tell.” But, if there’s one song on the album stands out to as unique, it’s “Take Me Home.” That one definitely threw me off at first, but easily stood out as a favorite quickly.

I’ve said this before, but bands in the “Gothenburg Sound” genre have all fallen by the wayside and have mostly become impossible to listen to. Except one:
Dark Tranquillity has not only not fallen by the wayside, they’ve remained consistent to what their sound is and put out album after album of quality music. Atoma is another example of a great album from them. Before the album came out, they flooded YouTube with new videos from the album. As I heard each one, I got more and more excited about the album. And, like Lacuna Coil, I got to see songs from this album performed live early on, and they fit perfectly into the show. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re one of the most fun bands I’ve ever seen live. I’ve said they’re the “Happiest Death Metal Band” ever. Go see them live and you’ll understand.

Songs that stand out to me from Atoma include the title track, “Encircled,” “Forward Momentum,” “the Pitiless,” and “Our Proof of Life.”

I’ve always liked the ride that Opeth albums took me on. Their brutal death metal sound and their more mellow approach during songs were often a roller coaster for me. When they started to downplay the death metal and then outright abandon it on their albums, I felt I didn’t go on that ride anymore, ot at the very least, it was a different ride. Sorceress is their third album without any death metal vocals on it, and I feel it’s the first one that successfully takes me on the ride I’ve wanted from them without that style of vocals. And they’ve pretty much said the same thing, this is the album that they’ve found where they want to be now. And also, like the new Lacuna Coil songs, I saw some of the new Opeth songs performed live and they fit right into the show. Opeth may be where I want them to be again.

Songs I recommend from Sorceress include the title track, “the Wilde Flowers,” “Will O the Wisp,” and “Strange Brew.”

In all of the years that I’ve been doing these lists, I’ve never ranked at Katatonia album lower than third. That is, until now. Katatonia’s the Fall of Hearts is my 4th Best Album of 2016. The album is very good. The songs that stand out are great songs. But, there’s a few factors in them being ranked at only 4. The first one is that the albums ahead of them are THAT good. The second is that while the songs that are good are very good, the other songs are not as good. I said that seeing Lacuna Coil, Dark Tranquillity, and Opeth perform some of their new songs live helped win me over if it was necessary. Katatonia hasn’t toured the United States for this album yet. I think it’s possible I would have thought more of this album if I had seen songs done live. 4th Best Album of the Year isn’t bad, by any means. But, for a band that I’ve given Album of the Year to in 2009 and 2012, I have certain expectations. They weren’t necessarily met here.

The songs that I feel are the real good ones from the Fall of Hearts include “Takeover,” “Serein,” “Sanction,” “Last Song Before the Fade,” “Decima,” and especially “Old Hearts Fall.” And if you get a chance to hear their cover of Judas Priest’s “Night Comes Down” I definitely suggest you do.

Not only had I forgotten about Heaven Shall Burn, I didn’t even know they had a new album out in 2016. I hadn’t heard anything new from them since 2008. I looked them upo one day and saw they had a new album called Wanderer. I saw the video for “Bring the War Home” and had to heard more. I ordered the album and when I got it, I heard some of the angrist, most agressive, brutal, and good new music I’ve heard in a long time. I got the special edition which had a second disc over cover songs. Some of the songs on that were some of my favorite songs from some of my favorite bands. I was completely won over. I’ve never seen Heaven Shall Burn play live. I had tickets to see them back in maybe 2008, but for various reasons, they canceled the show. Maybe one day I’ll tell that story in a blog.

If you feel the need to listen to some angry music, listen to “the Loss of Fury,” “Bring the War Home,” “Downshifter,” and “Save Me.” If you want to hear some interesting takes on Paradise Lost and Life of Agony songs, listen to the “True Belief” and “River Runs Red.”

I like Garbage. What can I say? Before you make any snide remarks, I’m talking about Garbage, the band. Strange Little Birds is the second album they’ve put out since they got back together in 2012 and it’s a solid record. It is definitely Garbage. And when I say that, it’s a good thing. The opening track is “Sometimes.” It reminds me a lot of their early b-sides and rare songs, which immediately made me excited to hear more. And from that song, the album goes right into “Empty,” which is a solid candidate for a “best of” album one day. Garbage is consistent. They’re Garbage. That’s what I like about them.

In addition to the songs I’ve mentioned, I really like “If I Lost You,” “Even Though Our Love is Doomed,” and “So We Can Stay Alive.”

Those Poor Bastards are a band with a unique sound. I don’t have many albums from their library, but the two that have come out since I’ve been listening to them have both been ranked in my Top 10. 2014’s Vicious Losers and now, 2016’s Sing it Ugly at number 7. I haven’t ever seen this band live, and without question, they’re at the top of my list of acts I would like to see. I find whatever I’ve heard from them to be unique and seriously different for a modern band.

“No Light,” “Unwanted,” “Headed Nowhere,” “Ten Ton Hammer,” and “Sorry for Everything” are the songs that I listen to the most from this record.

Sometimes I just want to hear a good straight-up Blues album. I don’t want fancy Blues with lots of bells and whistles. I feel that takes away from what I’m supposed to feel with the Blues. Eric Clapton has been guilty of putting out albums with bells and whistles, but in recent years he’s returned to the roots of the Blues. And his album, “I Still Do” is a good example of that and is my 8th Best Album of 2016. There is much more I can say to talk about with this album. It’s just a good Blues album, which should be a good enough description.

I like “Alabama Woman Blues,” “Spiral,” and “Cypress Grove” on this album as the standouts.

I am not the biggest Metallica fan and I probably never will be. But, I do like them. To be clear, I like them when they put out a good album. Their critics are right, they’ve put out some bad ones over the past 20 years. But, they seem to have found themselves again. The 9th Best Album of 2016 is Metallica’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. It sounds like Metallica. It doesn’t sound like Metallica trying to be Metallica again. It just sounds like Metallica. That probably makes sense to some of you.

“Hardwired,” “Moth into Flames,” and “ManUNkind” are my favorite tracks from this record.

The 10th Best Album and the last one on my list is Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. Sadly, Mr. Cohen died right after this album was release. But, if you listen to it, he was aware his days were coming to an end. He’s always been very aware of depression and darkness, which was why I liked him. This album is a great farewell for him and from him. He went out well.

The title track, “Treaty,” “Steer Your Way,” and “If I Didn’t Have Your Love” are the songs I would play to someone to hear the best from this album.

Some albums that didn’t crack my Top 10, but were close include Let Me Get By from Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Dion’s New York is My Home, and Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate.

Steven Wilson put out 4 1/2 in 2016 and it probably would have been ranked high, if it wasn’t just unreleased and re-done versions of some of his older songs. But, because it’s not necessarily new material, it wasn’t eligible.

Mike Patton joined a few other people as Nevermen and put out an album. Like much of what Patton does, I don’t know what to make of it. It’s good, but I don’t know how often I’ll ever think of a song from this album I need to hear.

And I have to make a note of David Bowie’s Blackstar. Like Leonard Cohen, Bowie knew he was dying and released one last album, which happened to come out two days before his death. I don’t know how much attention this album would have received if it wasn’t for the sad circumstances. There’s a few songs on it that I really like, but I just couldn’t rank it. Die-hard Bowie fans may feel differently, and I respect that, but it just didn’t do it for me.

2016 was a pretty good year for new music. My Top 5 albums could all have been #1 in other years. I don’t know of many new albums coming out in 2017, but I’m looking forward to a new one from Clutch. I also can’t wait to hear what the new Life of Agony album, which should be very interesting. I’m also very anxious to hear Anneke Van Giersbergen’s new band, VUUR. We’ll see how these all rank next year.

A note about eligibility for my 2016 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States street date in 2016
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist)
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material

Free as a Bird.

Throughout my life, the happiest individual I’ve ever encountered was Jim. In almost every situation I ever saw Jim in, he was happy. Even if something bad had happened to him, once it was over, he was happy again. He almost made happiness look simple, even as there were some factors working against him, and for much of his life, he did have some things in his way.

Jim was a parakeet that I had for almost 10 years. He came to me when I was in 4th grade. My family has had birds since I was a child. I lived across the street from an elementary school and one day while sitting in class during 4th grade, an announcement was made stating that a parakeet had flown into the gymnasium and if anyone lived in the area and had a bird, they should come to the office. I went there, but by that time, they had him covered under a box and wouldn’t let it up in case he took off. But, the school secretary called my house and spoke to my mother who checked and both of the parakeets we had at the time were accounted for. However, she also said that we would take him and keep him until someone claimed him. Nobody ever did, and he stayed with us. We named him Jim due to him flying into the gym at the school. Yeah, we were clever like that.

We had no idea how old Jim was at the time. But, the tag on his foot indicated that he may have been 2 years old when we got him. He wasn’t a tame bird, in the sense that he would very rarely come out and fly around the house and play with people like some other birds we’ve had would do. But, he would still happily sit in his cage, eat, play, and chirp. He was always chirping. He even shared my love of hard rock. His favorite band was Nirvana, and his favorite song was “Heart Shaped Box.” He always reacted to that song.

Another parakeet we had, JJ also wasn’t as tame as others. He just wouldn’t play with people. And at one point, maybe just to save room in the house, we decided to make JJ and Jim roommates. They got along, but JJ was definitely the Alpha Male in the cage. Even though Jim was a bigger bird, JJ quickly established that it was HIS room and Jim was second fiddle. A great example of this would be if the two of them were both on the swing in the cage, JJ would stand as close to the center as possible and Jim would be pushed up against the side of the swing. Sometimes, he would even have one foot on the swing and one foot on the side of the cage, just so he could be partially on the swing.

But, let me get back to an example of why I believe Jim was the happiest creature ever. There was a time when I heard some commotion in the cage. I looked and Jim had gotten his foot caught in a toy. It was a round ball/bell with slits in it. He got his foot stuck and was flapping and screaming in an effort to get out. I went over to help. I grabbed him, and he bit me, but not to hurt, just to grip. He understood the help I was trying to provide. I actually couldn’t get him out, but my mother was able to. Within minutes of his foot being removed from the toy, he was on a perch in the cage (with the foot up in the air), but his head feathers were up and he was chirping a happy chirp. The trauma was over, time to move on and sing. That’s how he lived his life.

At the time we had JJ and Jim, we also had some other birds, including Sparky. Sparky was another special bird. She was incredibly friendly and loved coming out and playing with people. She also liked playing with JJ and Jim. We would sometimes put her in their cage and let them play for a while. JJ often dominated the playtime. There were times when he wouldn’t let Jim near her. One time, we had their cage in the kitchen and we brought Sparky in and put her in their cage. JJ started with his dominance and Jim snapped. He went after him. The two of them were LITERALLY rolling around on the bottom of the cage fighting. Of course, when this happened, Sparky went to the front door of the cage and stared at me until I opened it. Once I did, she took off and flew back to her cage. She wanted no part of that. Once JJ and Jim realized she had left, they stopped fighting. JJ sat in the corner of the cage for a while and Jim went right back to chirping. The problem was over, time to move on and sing.

The fighting I described just now was not common. It was the only time it happened. For the most part, Jim just accepted that JJ was the boss. The swing belonged to JJ. If JJ wanted a particular toy that Jim was playing with, Jim would let him have it. But, he still seemed happy.

Unfortunately, JJ ended up getting sick and he died. We feared for Jim’s health at this point, but he lasted a few more years. Without JJ there, the one thing I noticed first about Jim wasn’t a loneliness, but how his patterns of behavior didn’t change. When he was on his swing, he would still stand off to the side. If there were other spots that he was almost forced into staying in because JJ made it that way, Jim would still go to those spots. It took him a very long time to realize he was allowed to do things differently. He was able to break his programming a little bit.

So, what is the whole point of me writing about a parakeet? It’s not just for nostalgia reasons. While I do like talking about my birds and how much I like them, this particular story is one I relate to a bit. Jim being forced into a way of doing things, being programmed to feel secondary, and not always being able to do anything about is pretty similar to my own story. I’ve often spoken of my programming and I’ll be getting more and more into that in upcoming entries, I’m sure. But, there’s more to it than that.

Jim’s been gone for almost 20 years, but there’s lessons to be learned from him. He showed that IT IS POSSIBLE to break bad programming. He showed IT IS POSSIBLE to move on from adversity. And maybe most importantly, he showed that it is possible to just enjoy yourself, even if things may not be that good at the time. I need to follow his example. But, I do have to say that in all honesty, I don’t know if I’m capable of being as happy as Jim was in life. I don’t know if anyone is, but if I can get to just half of the level of happiness and half of the carefree attitude that he had, I’ll be in a very good place.

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Jim (on the left) and JJ in 1989.