Life is a Verb!

Eat, Drink, Be merry, Risk, Walk, Run, Play, Leap, Ask why, Sing, Dance, Make music, Laugh, Cry, Scream, Live, Laugh, Love, Believe, Doubt, Wonder, Wander, Have courage, Stargaze, Stare at the moon, Sleep under the stars, Work, Rest, Nap, Drive, Fly, Create, Learn, Think, Talk, Give, Reuse, Recycle, Save, Occupy, Vote, Tell a story, Dream, Decide, Cook, Confess, Pray, Party, Meditate, Read, Kiss, Hug, Wink, Smile, Share, Make a difference, Watch, Look, See, Listen, Hear, Understand, Feel, Explore, Experiment, Innovate, Instigate, Theorize, Debate, Forgive, Remember, Forget, Fantasize, Dream, Encourage, Hope, Text, Chat, Call, Write, Visit, Tweet, Take a picture, Quit, Start, Try, Rhyme, Make no excuses, Go, Stay, Leave, Plan, Prepare, Execute, Elevate, Engage.

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I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide…

wink!

At the risk of repeating myself, because god knows I never do that. It’s been a hell of a year!

I just want to give shout-outs and thanks to those who are in on the joke, in the loop, inside the circle, along for the the ride, get the joke, have my back, held my hand, held my heart, called me on my bullshit, put up with my bullshit, bullshitted with me, bullshitted me, bought me drinks, drank with me, danced with me, sang with me, sang to me, yelled with me, yelled at me,  cried with me, laughed with me, laughed at me, lifted me up, kissed me, hugged me, scolded me, listened to me, dared me, double dog dared me, confided in me, trusted me, shared meals with me, made memories with me, kept an eye on me, head banged with me, moshed with me, played air guitar with me, ran with me, picked me up, dropped me off, fed me, ate my cooking, let me fetch coffee, read me, let me sleep in, stayed up way to late with me, encouraged me, poked me, tagged me and generally made life worth living this year.

You know who you are. 2012, we are coming for you!

Peace, love and cheers,

Mark

Top Songs of 2011.

OK, as usual the criteria is simple.  It has to be – consider the source.  The song had to be released in 2011 and I had to like it enough to pay money for it.  I was going to do the traditional Top 10, but the first cut included over 30 songs, so let’s see if I can narrow it down just a bit…

Not content to release one of the biggest Alt-Rock albums of 2010, the Akron, Ohio based Black Keys come in under the year-end wire with El Camino.  “Lonely Boy” is the first single and will catch your attention quickly.  At the same time sounding vintage and new, it’s a high speed rock n’ roll dance tune that will get you moving and singing along.

First let me say that I love how divisive Coldplay have become.  The band that the critics and the hipsters love to hate.  Well, I have a new acronym for you , “FUILCP”… Have we become so cynical that a band that has become successful for recording well crafted pop that makes you smile and you can sing along to on the radio is a bad thing?  Sure they’re treacly, but so is pumpkin pie – and I love pumpkin pie!  On to the songs!  The first two singles off of the new album Mylo Xyloto are a contrast in styles for sure.  ETiaW is classic Coldplay.  Starting out with a bouncy (yes I said “bouncy”) synth part that is more than vaguely reminiscent of the Eighties, it then proceeds to flow into a guitar sound that would make Big Country proud.  I have no real idea what the song is about, but damn if I can get it out of my head.  “Paradise”, on the other hand, is rather atypical of a Coldplay song.  It wouldn’t completely sound out of place on a Justin Timberlake album, production wise.  Chris Martin’s singing of  “Para, Para, Paradise” in the chorus makes me laugh and think of Rhianna.

Death Cab’s lead man, Ben Gibbard’s introduction of this song on Storytellers goes something like this – “being that I’m a happily married man now, I figure I can put a love song on the album.”  He and his wife separated soon after.  Ironic, huh?  That notwithstanding, “Stay Young, Go Dancing” is a lovely, wistful love song.

OK, time to gush… I love, love, love, love this girl.  I discovered her first album earlier this year and have tried to listen to everything I can find and expose as many others to her and her wonderful song-craft. Think if Kate Bush, Anne Lennox, and Tim Burton had a love child.  Yeah, I know!  “What The Water Gave Me” is a gothic, melodramatic torch song, or something like that.  You just have to hear that voice and you’ll know.

Dave Grohl is doing his level best to keep guitar based rock music alive.  I’d say he’s done a great job with this year’s Wasting Light.  The album is chock full of great songs, but my hands down favorite is “Walk”. Listen to the lyrics.  If you know me, you should be able to piece it together. It’s also got one of the coolest Foo Fighters’ videos ever!

I wasn’t real familiar with Kasabian before I heard this song, but they get my “The Next Oasis” award.  There will always be a place in my heart and my cochlea for snarling Brit rock.  The Album is Velociraptor, because “Raptors are the glammest of all dinosaurs”. ‘Nuff said?  “Days Are Forgotten” is a stomping, swinging rock song full of cheeky attitude.  It’s best played with the windows down and the volume up!

A number of others have already declared Adele’s ubiquitous hit the song of the year.  It has even been nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy.  It’s a gut wrenching tale of lost love, for sure.  The Linkin Park cover, recorded live, adds just a bit of Chester Bennington’s trademark anger to the song.  I highly recommend adding both to your post breakup playlist.  One for sad, the other for mad as hell!

These two go together because I saw them both open for the Foo Fighters.  Social D has gone from an early Southern California punk rock band to a more mainstream rock sound over the years.  “California (Hustle and Flow)” finds them dropping a bit of soul into the mix. Mike Ness sings “Well I was born, babe, with nothing to lose, But the black man taught me how to sing the blues…”  That tells you everything.
The Joy Formidable create a special sound. Call it noise-pop, if you will.  The trio hails from Wales and fronted by the diminutive Ritzy Bryan.  Swirling, layered and noisy guitars only serve the enhance her sweet alto voice and the melodic structure of the song.

Here we have a trio of bands that made their marks originally in the 1990s and have come roaring back in the second decade of the 21st century.  Blink 182’s ode to the worries of adulthood is a slamming piece of pop-punk that’ll get you pogoing for sure.  (Dated myself there a bit, huh).  Jane’s Addiction’s “Irresistible Force” is a love song about the symbiosis between Creationism and the Big Bang Theory. Seriously. Perry Farrell said so.  “Sunset in July” is as an infectious and bouncy Summer dance hit as there was this year, on Alt-Rock radio anyway.

OK, this is where I go off of the mainstream reservation on you.  Here are a trio of bands who’ve become the critics darlings, but probably have eluded most everyone’s radar.  Wild Flag is a Portland, Oregon/Washington, D.C. based all woman band consisting of ex-members of the bands Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Minder. U.S. Royalty is out of Washington D.C. and the young lads of the Smith Westerns hail from Chicago.  “Romance” is a pulsing rocker with a great win guitar attack.  “Monte Carlo” sounds like Rumors era Fleetwood Mac with a gentle fiddle melody.  “Weekend” is a Strokes like nugget that will get you itching for some open asphalt.

There’s something about this song that makes me feel like morning.   It has kind of a hazy energy that’s pretty irresistible.  The video is a game of musical chairs with models, pretty clever.

Great Big Rock Songs!  That’s Seether’s speciality.  So here, they crank it back a notch and release an almost sensitive love song.  Almost.

The RHCP are back in a big way this year.  Flea brings the Funk on this track, with a Bootsy approved groove.  Lyrically it’s fairly typical Chili Peppers, not sure WTH Anthony is singing about, but it works.

2011, what a long strange trip…

2011 – the year in review
Wow, what a year. 2011 has been an epic year by any measure, certainly one to remember. I feel like I’ve squeezed a decade of memories and experiences into 12 short months. A friend who is sensitive to such things told me late last year the the number 11 held special significance for me. If I’d only known…
So, if you’ll indulge me, here’s a brief review of the ride that was the year 2011. Ok, maybe not so brief.
January – the calm before the storm! The year started much like any other, with the exception of my starting a training program to run in the Cherry Blossom 10 mile run in the spring. Me running? Yeah I thought the same thing…
February – the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. The month was pretty ordinary until the last weekend of the month. A group of high school classmates were gathering in DC for the weekend and I was invited to join the festivities. On Saturday the 26th, Michael Cowles, Laura Borovich, Birgit Watson Kilpatrick, Tonette Hicks Thomas, Debbie Oxner-Patrick and I participated in the Crystal City Wine Walk followed by dinner at the Zum Rheingarten in Stafford. We were joined by Mark Polk. After dinner I came home to the bombshell that changed my life and altered the course of much of the rest of the year. If you know what I’m referring to, you know. If you don’t know… well, there’s a story to tell that I won’t share here. On Sunday, minus Mr. Cowles, we descended on the National Mall for an impromptu tour of the Monuments. This weekend was the beginning of what continue to be some of the most important relationships of my life.
March – primarily a month of regrouping and planning. Stayed close to home.
April – this is where the real fun began! I ran the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler. This was my first long race and only my second race ever. Achieved my goal of simply finishing and not finishing DFL. In fact, I finished in under two hours. That felt pretty damn good. Lois Squires Kindley was in town, so I was able to spend the afternoon with her, again playing tour guide in DC. We had a delightful time and a nice lunch. You can’t ask for better company – she’s a real sweetheart! My first concert of the year, was Accept at Jaxx in Springfield. Ran into Steve Stalcup at the show. That was a pleasant surprise. This was my first solo show of the year and it was good to see a familiar face. I went out to Missouri to spend Easter with my parents and my sister Jennifer. Tina Moore Davies drove down from Topeka in some pretty miserable weather to get me and I spent a few days with her and Geoff before coming home. This would be the first of many times Tina would have to put up with me this year. She’s an amazing friend.
May – the first weekend of the month I went to North Carolina with Steve Kramer to go to the Carolina Rebellion concert in Charlotte. Reina Truitt Mosley was gracious enough to put us up and accompany us to the show and keep us out of trouble. She even drove! What a great day of hard rock and metal on a glorious spring day! On the way down, Steve and I stopped in at the Red Oak brewery for the tour. This was followed by getting turned on to one of my great new music discoveries of 2011, the Ryan Montbleau Band. Leann Baugh invited me to join her and her daughter and friend Steve Sullivan in Ashland to see the band. I liked them so much we went to see them again the next night in Arlington at the Iota with Steve Kramer and LeAnn. May wrapped up with a wonderful Memorial Day weekend in Salisbury, NC at Beth Spencer Dixon’s place – my home away from home. We were joined by my best friend from high school Jeff Strohaver and his lovely, long suffering wife Anne. It was another memorable weekend. Truly great. May also saw the arrival of “the Roommate”. Michael Cowles moved in.
June – this is where things start to really get busy! I started June off with seeing the Go Go’s at Wolftrap. I was honored to be joined by Laura Borovich. We had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant there onsite and the show was pretty great. We stayed up way too late and drank a bit of wine, it was pretty special. After Laura headed back to Florida, I hit the road for Pennsylvania to my sister Susan’s place outside of Allentown for a family gathering to celebrate my niece, Anne Marshall, finishing high school. Jennifer and I took Anne Marshall for a day of roller coastering at a local amusement park and we also took my parents out for dinner at a fancy sushi place to celebrate their wedding anniversary. When I say fancy, I mean fancy. They even had a Japanese Hefeweizen. I saw Black Country Communion at the 9:30 club in DC, again a solo show. It was pretty damn amazing. This was followed by the big K-Town/Ramstein reunion in San Antonio. I flew out on Friday and back on Sunday. Well I tried to fly back on Sunday. Due to weather delays, I missed my connection in Atlanta and got to spend the night in the Atlanta airport. That was less than fun, I recommend everyone try it at least once! The weekend in San Antonio was jam packed with partying. Made some great new friends, hung out with Jeff and Tina a lot, had a wonderful lunch with Laura , her sister Monica , Jeff , Tina and others on the River Walk. We found a great breakfast spot on Saturday morning. They seemed to specialize in hangover cures! Made a bunch of great memories, in spite of a few “unaccounted for” hours. I think I got all of 7 hours of sleep that weekend, and that was more than some. Oh and Mick Circeo and I actually talked about running. Yeah, that didn’t happen.
July – the craziness continues. Found myself in Salisbury at the Dixon’s again for the Fourth of July weekend. Had a great time in spite of Beth trying to kill me in the Great Smokey Mountains! Glenn and I continued our tradition of baseball on the Fourth, watching an American Legion game at the Kannapolis Intimidators stadium. Saw Soundgarden at the Patriot Center with LeAnn and Steve, even if LeAnn did her level best to miss the show. It was great to see the band back together and at the top of their game. July also saw another K-Town reunion. This time on a bit smaller scale in Seattle. Safe to say, it was the best weekend of the year. Flew to Seattle from Washington National Airport via Philadelphia. That had to be the shortest flight I’ve ever been on. The plane sat on the runway in DC waiting to take off longer than the flight to Philly took to complete. My flight left after work so by the time I landed in Seattle it was about 11 pm local time. I took a cab to my hotel downtown – the Crowne Plaza. It was fancy! Nicest place I’ve stayed in on my own dime. Even though the hour was late, I was still pretty wound up. I checked in, stashed my bags and went to the bar for a proper nightcap. I felt so grown up! A glass of bourbon and a nice Washington IPA. Spent the first day with James Brock, Su Ring Vitue and Tina. Su hosted us at the TV show she works on and then James and Tina and I went for lunch at a really cool little French restaurant. We had tongue and pate and wine and a really cute waitress! After lunch we moved next door to the Virginia Inn for a couple of beers. Su joined us. The Virginia Inn was featured in the film “Singles”. We then met a bunch of fellow K-Towners at the Skillet Diner and I met up with Jeff Holdaway for the first time since he moved from Stafford. We had drinks and dinner. I had the rabbit. It was heavenly. That was Thursday. Friday I got to spend the day in the company of the lovely Laura Borovich, Murray Lu and Tina. We discovered the Pink Door! Laura and I went to a wine tasting and she attempted to show me Mt. Rainer, but we were foiled by clouds. Friday was also the meet and great for the reunion. We totally did not behave ourselves! Saturday the group took a tasting tour of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It was fun and informative and we ended up at Uli’s German deli for beers and brats. And we had a surprise guest. After the tour James, Laura, Tina, Murray Lu, Donna Gates and I went to Elliott’s for oysters and a couple of drinks before going to the hotel to get ready for the reunion dinner. That was tasty. James and I met Cathe Guptil for a drink in the hotel bar before we went to dinner. It was great to see Cathe again. We met up with the whole gang at a German restaurant and had a great time. After we got back to the hotel, the same crew that went to Elliott’s went to the W hotel down the block for a drink. The next day, Sunday was the highlight of the weekend. Thanks to Lawrence Sylvester we had tickets for a wine tasting and tour at Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in Woodinville. Su, James, Tina, Murray Lu and I were joined by Jim Swartz and his wife Cindy. We had a nice time and sampled some really good wine. But the best was yet to come! It had been decided that James was to cook for everyone. The whole crew landed at Su’s house and proceeded to take over. I was initially recruited as sous chef, but was soon given my own entrees and sides to prepare. It was a special thrill to learn from such an experienced cook. We prepared scallops and lamb shanks. Everyone seemed to enjoy dinner. Jeff Holdaway was even able to join us and he brought a bottle of Scotch. Spent the following day with my sister Susan and her family doing the tourist thing around Seattle.
Upon returning to Virginia I was blessed to attend the wedding of my oldest daughter Alicia to Shawn Harte Speidel. It was truly a great day. The day before Seth and I took my oldest grandson, Connor to the Mayhem Fest. We were joined by Steve Kramer. It was a great day of hard rock and heavy metal. Seth and Connor got into the pit at some point. Not so much the old men. We sat in the shade and drank over priced beer.
August – Things were a bit slower as the summer began to wind down. Seth and I spent my birthday at King’s Dominion riding the coasters. We rode the tallest and fastest roller coaster I’ve ever seen. The Intimidator 305. The 305 is the height of the first hill. What a ride!  Had a nice joint birthday party with LeAnn out at her place on the Potomac River.  We were joined by Steve Sullivan, Steve Kramer and Maria Zivalich. Steve and I made dinner and we had some adult beverages.  Went to the Uproar Fest on the 31st. Again, another great day of hard rock and metal. It was my second time seeing some of the bands this year, many of which were at the Carolina Rebellion show. Got to spend a good part of the day with Shari Dodson Towler and her husband and daughter.
September – Started with me finding myself, yet again at the Dixon homestead for the Labor Day weekend. Even though the weather foiled some of our plans, we still had a great time. Beth is the best.
Seth turned 21 on the 4th. Wow. That’s hard to believe. Went to the Capital Ale House Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg the Steve Kramer, and Michael Cowles even joined us for a bit. Got to see Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at the State Theater in Falls Church. Great, great, great band.
October – The first weekend of the month I went up to New Jersey with Matt Hartman to run in the Jersey Shore half marathon. We went up on Friday and landed in Asbury Park at the Wonderbar. Lo and behold, but who would join us? None other than Wendi Franzyshen Brown and Karey Franzyshen Anderson! Not sure Matt knew what to make of a little K-Town reunion in his midst, but he was a good sport. Wendi brought me Palm trees! Sunday was the race. 13.1 miles of pure hell. I was happy to simply finish. Spent a good part of the course trying to figure out a way to bail out. But as a friend and fellow runner told me, “when you cross the starting line, you’ve made a contract with the race – to finish”. So finish I did. I celebrated by getting my first tattoo. The following weekend I met up with Tonette Hicks Thomas and Laura Borovich to go ride roller coasters and do some whitewater rafting. It was a great, fun weekend with two of the loveliest ladies I know. Tonette made me grits! The month rapped up with another small reunion. Birgit Watson Kilpatrick was in town to visit Debbie Oxner-Patrick. I got invited to go out with them Friday night, which turned into early, very early, Saturday morning. We then got together with Mike Cowles Sunday night for dinner. October also saw Michael move out. He relocated to Florida to be close to his Father. I also made the attempt to publish a piece each day on this blog, and I almost made it.
November – Started off with the Foo Fighters show at the Verizon Center. Definitely the show of the year for me. The first opener started at 7 and the Foos didn’t go off until after midnight. Spent Thanksgiving out in Springfield with my parents and sister Jennifer. Ran the Turkey Trot with Dad on Thanksgiving morning. Finished the 5K in under 29 minutes. Tina once again came down to take me for a weekend in bustling Topeka. Did I mention that she’s a great friend? And I got to see my best girl Gracie, I still have her hair on my sweater. I got stranded in KC trying to get on my flight out and Michael Kelly came to my rescue. He’s another great friend. Michael and I have begun a tradition of airport adventures it seems. Signed up for the “Write a Novel in a Month” program, but the wheels came off early on that challenge. I will be revisiting my work next year, so stay tuned. Thanks, Su.
December – It has been a slow month so far. That’s a good thing, I think I need the rest! Jim Swartz and I went up to Purcellville VA to visit the Catoctin Creek distillery, home of Roundstone Rye Whisky. Keri Oaks turned me on to Rye Whisky earlier this year. It’s become a favorite. I celebrated my 25th anniversary at Allstate. The old traveling jones is kicking in again though. Can’t wait for my next trip. Not sure where or when, but I’ll be hitting the road soon enough. Christmas and New Year’s will be quiet and reflective this year, an appropriate ending for what’s been a life changing year. I’ll begin the new year by getting serious about training for the Cherry Blossom 10 mile run and saving and planning for the K-Town class of 82’s 30th reunion in Vegas in July. Wow, has it really been 30 years? You people are getting old!
I’ve tried my best to be a good friend, brother, son and father this year. Results are mixed, and there’s always room for improvement.
Thanks to Mom and Dad, Jennifer, Susan, Alicia, Sheena, Seth, LeAnn, Michael C, Michael K, James Brock, Matt, Karola, Laura, Tonette, Murray Lu, Joanne, Keri, Lois, and Kathie.
Special thanks to Tina, Beth, Steve, Su and Jeff.
Here’s to 2012, more shows, more races, more travel and maybe even pitching some woo, try to keep up!
Peace and Love,
Mark
P.S. I know I’m badly in need of an editor, what’re ya gonna do?

If

If I were a lover
I’d love you deep and wide

If I were a singer
I’d sing you a memorable melody

If I were a pilot
I’d fly you to the moon

If I were an alchemist
I’d turn your dross into gold

If I were a poet
I’d write a sonnet to make Will proud

If I were a philospher
I’d think

If I were a teacher
I’d teach the children the song of life

If I were a sailor
I’d go see the Southern Cross

If I were a priest
I’d build you a temple

If I were an artist
I’d show you the truth

If I were a friend
I’d be faithful to the end

What shall I bring?

This dates from 2003, thought I’d share it again.

I wonder…
What could I give?
What shall I bring?

I’ve seen…
Them desecrate
Your most holy place

But, I…
I don’t need their help
Cluttering your temple,
It has become second nature to me

So…
What can I bring?
That’s not of dust and dung
From a manger floor

But then…
The angel said,
“Behold”

And…
A star that died
10,000 years ago
Sings of your birth

And then…
The star shone
On a crowded little backwater
On the fringes of an empire

And shines…
On a sad little ball of mud
Covered with souls
Now given worth

And then…
Redemption rips through the night
Carried on an infant’s cry
Like a ripple on a glassy pond

And so…
Nature and creature sing
Death and hell tremble
A blaze begins with but a spark

So when…
Abel’s blood cried out
The streets of Jerusalem ran red
And pharaoh’s heart was hardened

And still…
A light shines in the dark – darkest place
Beyond the reaches…
In the hearts of men

And when…
Herod’s men ride
Into the night…

What shall I bring?