Friday, April 29, 2011

Big 4 Review

The song in my head right now is "Peace Sells," so let's start there shall we?

The VIP area was very peaceful. We set the O/U at fights witnessed at 10, but we only saw one involving a mosher and a young lady's spilled beer and that was just shoving and pointing and one hand gesture I believe conveyed "Toss off." We did see a couple security takedowns of intrepid interlopers in our pristine VIP area--one of impressive middle linebacker-ian power--but, overall, the mood was festive, rather than maniacal. At one point during Slayer, we were in a thin safety area between two thrashing pits, but the vortex never closed in on us. Even those circling with relish were a conscientious lot, following pit etiquette and creating what my friend Salk once terms, "A Pit of Good Intentions."

So, VIP? Totally worth the extra hundred bucks. Trying to think of $100 that has ever been better spent, I can only come up with two:

1) When Iggy paid donkeypuncher that same sum to ride in the front seat on the way back from Key West.

2) When I wagered that amount on Mrs. Human Head to take down Phil Gordon in Roshambo.

The boys (Al, Blood and StB) and I figured there was room enough for about 1500 humans in the VIP area, which arced out in a half moon from the stage. Behind two restraining barriers, the huddled masses were jammed together like Vienna sausages. It was insane. Ninety minutes before the first note, those crazy kids had packed themselves in, midday Indio sun pouring down on them. It was with more glee than guilt that we stood in our spacious area, stretched out our arms and marveled at their commitment. My single act of charity was to toss them a bottle of water and ask them to share.

Not sure they did.

As for the VIP beverage area, we were promised "better" food and drink selections. The food was fine, including a burger truck cleverly entitled "Grill 'Em All" (which I'm sure Lars slapped with an injunction of some sort), but the beer selections were Coors Light and Blue Moon, neither of which I could consider better than the amassed and mingled sweat of those kids in the front row. Fortunately, I fired up my craft beer radar and tracked down the Stone Brewing tent (arriving there at the exact same time as StB, who had taken another route; eerie), not that there was time or inclination for epic sudsing, but that Stone IPA was a far finer quencher of thirst while waiting for Megadeth.


I suppose you want me to talk about the bands some, eh? Bear with me. I've been backed up like a Beijing traffic jam with the writing and it's presently flowing, so I have no desire to edit or stop, so you get stream-of-consciousness or you get nothing you sniveling snivelers.

Though I've always admired Anthrax, I pretty much got off their train after the first album. It's the only one I ever owned, though there was plenty of "Among the Living" blasted into the hallways of my college dorm. My biggest contention with them was always Joey Belladonna, who did not sing on the first album. Even so, I was looking forward to their set, party since I'd never seen them, party because Al's enthusiasm was infectious and partly because I knew that they would be fun.

Of all the bands, they were the happiest to be there and it showed. Joey was probably the most happy, since he was admittedly "higher than a (compound curse word") and appeared to have aged double of everyone else. That fake tan he had working achieved the opposite effect of what I figure he was going for (that's our first winner of the day: Joey wins the Keith Richards Award). Their sound wasn't that great--first band curse--but the energy was fantastic and Scott Ian's maniacal stomp-dance entertained. The highlight was "Metal Thrashing Mad" (from the first album), edging out "Indians" and the playful admonition from Charlie Benante that our War Dance was less than stellar.


The second winner of the day, in lieu of a segue, goes to the dude in the blue shirt who was listing dangerously left, making his way (somehow) through the VIP area at a 45-degree angle to the ground. When he led with his right foot, he looked ready to fall over, but the left would magically find terra firma just in time to keep him from a public face plant. I sincerely doubt he made it through all four bands without some sort of trouble, but he can be proud of the fact he was our Big 4 Lewey Award winner.


Megadeth opened with "Trust" and then went into "In My Darkest Hour," which succeeded in whipping me into an off-key singing frenzy. It was the one song I told Blood I wanted them to do and it was superb. The song has a lot of history, especially with Metallica in the compound, and Dave Mustaine sang it with full bitterness and anguish, feelings he no longer feels, but was able to summon for the occasion, which is exactly what was demanded.

They were damn good and awfully tight, Mustaine and Chris Broderick trading technically superior riffs while banging away (Best Hair Award goes to Broderick; I told Blood the only reason I ever wanted to grow my hair long was to whip it around in Broderick-ian fashion. Sadly, I don't look nearly as cool as when he does it). Mustaine was short of audience interaction, but before launching into "Holy Wars" he decried the "brother against brother" nature of our world today.

Well said, Dave.


Here's the metaphor I used to describe the Slayer performance to Blood:

"Hi, we're Slayer. These are large steel-toed boots and we would like to come on stage and use them to kick you in the teeth."

Wow. Wow. Wow. They opened with "World Painted Blood" (a song I once used to illustrate to Emet what is awesome about this music I enjoy), followed by "Hate Worldwide" and "War Ensemble." Three absolute punishers. Sure, you can make that case for most of the Slayer canon, but they do have the ability to offer nuance. They simply decided not to in their entire set, which contained songs from 1983's "Show No Mercy" all the way up to 2009's "World Painted Blood" and there was not the slightest variation in quality or pause for respite. Kerry King spent 65 minutes pummeling his guitar. Tom Araya, always the coolest guy in the room, wailed away and when not singing, stepped back, surveyed the scene in front of him and offered that self-satisfied, bemused smile of his. It's a look of pure confidence. "Take that!" it seems to say.

"Silent Scream" was an unexpected addition to the set, but the biggest surprise was when regular guitarist Jeff Hanneman came out for the encore, his first appearance with the band since October. He'd been rehabing from necrotizing fasciitis (google'd it), which is flesh-eating bacteria, likely caused by a spider bite. He made sure to cut the sleeve off his t-shirt so we could see the atrophy and scars as he ripped through "South of Heaven" and "Angel of Death." Really cool moment for him and for us.


I'm a Metallica apologist ("St. Anger" excluded). I've always backed them ("St. Anger excluded) even when Lars exposes his most douchey side (frequently). They were the band that started it all for me. I went from Top 40 to Metal thirty seconds after I heard "The Four Horsemen" in 1983. But I have to say, they were terrible.

Okay, perhaps not terrible. Just...out of place. A parody, closer to Spinal Tap than to Slayer, with their flash pots and double-decker stage and goofy guitar designs (Kirk Hammett) and big, black beach balls and the way they positioned LArs's drum kit to make sure he'd be in the background of every video projected onto the big screen and the way he jumps up from behind the kit at the end of every song (sit down and play!). It was all rather silly. Even worse, they did not play well. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which followed the opener, "Creeping Death," was horribly botched, especially by Hammett, who didn't seem to find the pocket until midway through the set.

The songs they chose weren't bad. Only one song from the years between the "Black Album" and "Death Magnetic" and heavy on the first four studio albums. The best was a startling and fantastic "Orion," which was dedicated to the late Cliff Burton, a nice touch from the boys.

Of course, there were the songs none of us wanted to hear, though we protested less vociferously than the guy near us in the Pit who thrust his middle finger at the band throughout the entirety of "Sad But True" and then stoically turned his back to the stage during "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman."


The encore with all the bands was both telegraphed and onerous, but it was still kind of fun to see them up there together. Not all. Araya passed, later saying he didn't approve of the song selection ("Am I Evil?"), but he would have happily participated if they'd chosen something more "metal" like "The Four Horsemen." That would have been awesome (Big 4, Four Horsemen; get it?) and you know Mustaine knows the song already. Alas...

All in all, a vital and must-seen adventure for me and I was happy to share it with the others, a great bunch (as you all know) who made the experience that much better. I think my metal concert-going days are over now and I can't think of a better way to have gone out.

Well...on second thought...I'll probably go see Slayer again.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I'd like to thank all of you who reached out via comments, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, text, carrier pigeon, stone tablets and voicemail (sorry to those of you in the last group, but we still don't get any cell reception at home; might take that one up with the Big Guy tonight).

As I said, I didn't want to write that post. That was my overwhelming feeling when it became apparent I had to. What you read was something I began about four months ago. By the time I hit 'post' 90% of any trepidation I felt about it was gone. Part of that was the process and growth, but also thanks to a serendipitous conversation I had with Blood, Al and StB.

On our way out of Indio (as I said, my faith is a work in progress, as evidenced by my spending Easter Weekend with Slayer), we were briefly caught in Easter Sunday traffic and the conversation veered toward my own experience. And I felt totally at ease talking about my faith with the boys, which provided impetus to finally finish the darn thing.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple people who were integral in me finally sacking up to post this. Emet, of course, is unflagging in her support and had known how I've struggled to say what I wanted to say lo these six months. She never prodded me and was, at the same time, always there. I'd not have arrived without her and we are both so thankful that God has brought us together.

I also want to thank maigs for that brief, but meaningful, conversation in Chicago. It was the first time I felt like I could do this (though I continued to fight it; the lesson there is, she's always right).

I wrestled with that post for so long and started and stopped and edited and re-edited and second-guessed and...well, let's just say it was hard. There was one part I kept revising and cutting and, finally, I just took it out altogether. I won't put all of it here, but, allow me to summarize:

God is, above ALL else, tolerant. He loves everybody. Muslims, gays, strippers, rappers, atheists, dogcatchers. There is no room for intolerance in His heart or in his Word. Using scripture as a basis for discrimination against any single person or any group is not what I've been taught, nor what I believe.


So now that the damn dam is broken, I think I can write again (your mileage may vary) and we'll get back to the usual silliness contained herein. My Big 4 review is on deck.

Thanks again, everybody. I'm overwhelmed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


When I was in 3rd grade, I played a significant role in a youth musical at our church. I was several years younger than the rest of the cast, but the part called for a little brother, so they brought me in (if there was an audition process, I can't recall it). I had two solos, scores of lines of dialogue and was in the thick of the action for pretty much the whole program. The first time we performed, I blanked on the first verse of my initial solo. The words were just lost. I stood there, quaking like a rabbit on the highway, knowing the words would not come back to me. So I waited.

I felt that ball of paralysis in my gut, but I was able to sing again when the chorus came. With each word I sung and spoke--remembered--it eased. And by the time we'd finished, I felt no shame at botching a few lines. I was, however, confused, maybe even a little hurt.

"Why did they laugh at me?" I asked my Mom. The script, at one point, called for me to run out the back of the chapel screaming. As I did, I heard laughter behind me.

"They weren't laughing at you, honey," Mom said. "They thought you were cute. You were acting."

I've spent most of my life in fear of being laughed at. I don't ascribe this failing to this event. It's just the way I am. It causes me to shrink from certain situations, to keep my thoughts to myself for fear of saying the wrong words, for seeming foolish or ill-informed. Sometimes, I am able to overcome, when my emotions boil, when the task of holding everything in becomes to great.

I imagine there are those out there who will laugh at me after reading this, think me ignorant.

That's okay.

I have to tell you something.


My parents raised me in the Baptist faith. Southern Baptist, no less. Those of you not well-versed in such matters should know that being a Southern Baptist is a full-time gig. There are services on Sunday morning. Sunday School. Services on Sunday evening. On Wednesdays. Tuesday nights, my Mom worked with senior citizens, often deputizing my sister and I to help out. I was in the children's choir, then the youth choir, with practice multiple times a week. I both attended and taught Vacation Bible School.

To sum up, church and God were a constant presence in my upbringing. I became a Christian at age 6. Yes, age 6. During the benediction, I said to my Mom, "I have to go." She thought I meant the bathroom. I meant the altar.

You can argue a child is in no position to make a conscious decision at that age. I understand that. I also know that moment is as clear to me today as it was 37 years ago. I remember every step I took up that center aisle (and it was a long way, as we were sitting in the back). I see Dr. Morton's face as I approached and him whispering in my ear, asking me if I knew what I was doing. I was adamant. He baptized me soon after and I have perfect clarity of that, as well.

What followed was many years in the ministry. I was proud to serve God. I held a bible study in my backyard for other kids on my street. I relished the once-a-year-occasion when youth got to teach the adults in Sunday School. I went on all the retreats, the summer camps, the snow trips. Our choirs sang at other churches, at campgrounds and rest homes.

One of my soccer teammates' father once said he expected me to become a Pastor. I figured he was probably right.


I haven't written in a while, as you've no doubt noticed (or not; I'm really not that vital). I've carved out a number of excuses. I've not felt like it. I have no time. I don't have anything to say. I'm spending time in other, more worthwhile pursuits, like my new marriage and my golf game.

The truth is, I haven't been able to write. I've tried. Everything comes out unfocused and cliched. My energy for this space sapped. Silence, better than foolishness. Any day.


I came into my teens and, as boys of that age are wont to do, started railing against the rigid aspects of the life I had led to that point. It manifest itself in the usual ways. Disregard for parental control, the need for peer friendships and acceptance, alcohol and then drugs. Church, the cornerstone of my upbringing, became a nuisance. I was 16. I knew everything.

I started to ditch worship service, sitting in a car in the parking lot listening to music or the football game on the radio. I'd go to choir practice and then leave before the evening service. I begged illness on Sunday mornings.

By the time I left home for college, I had no intention of going to church. And I didn't. My commitment was gone. My belief was right behind it.

My second semester in college, I took a class called "Myth and Legend." It examined the "creation myths" of different civilizations. There are similarities among all of these. It was the first time I'd ever questioned the existence of God. It became something of an obsession for me. I was disappointed and angry. Any chance I got, I took religion-centric GE classes. World Religions, Philosophical Approach to Religions, Ancient Israel and, of course, The Bible, a course I figured to ace due to my background, which I did, but only thanks to hyper-diligence as the material was so far beyond what I'd learned in church.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my obsession was a way of seeking. I felt, in a word, betrayed. I looked for proof that God didn't exist, because that would be a way for me to justify my own secular-focused behavior. I tried very hard to succeed at this errand. And I did, in a way. I convinced myself enough so that I could carry on with the direction my life was headed.


Moses killed a guy. Did you know that? Smote (weeeee Biblical word!) a dude, buried him in the desert and fled Egypt, ultimately marrying and becoming a shepherd. It was later that God called to him from the burning bush, called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. At the bush, Moses held his staff, the tool of the shepherd. God told him to cast it to the ground, where it became a serpent. After coaxing a fleeing Moses to pick up the serpent by the tail, it once again became a staff.

God had taken away a man's livelihood--Moses the sheep herder's staff--and then gave it back to him for greater purpose, to follow His instructions.


It wasn't until X left that I went back to church. The intervening years were chaotic and varied. Many times, I would have characterized my life as happy. I became a Dad, I made lasting friendships with good and genuine people, I found attention and enthusiasm in a number of pursuits. I lived.

Through it all, despite my protestations to the contrary, I held to my belief in God. I prayed, sporadically, but also with purpose, with the knowledge I was being heard. I asked for a great many things. Guidance, health, forgiveness. I meant every word. After "Amen," I went right back to living my life how I wanted.

I never paused long enough to hear Him answer. Eventually, he had to show me.

God doesn't mind making us suffer for Him.

My first time back at church was with my Mom. X was still living with me, but preparing her way out the door. I started crying midway through the service and didn't stop until we left the chapel. I can't even remember what the message was about. I don't even know why I was crying (though my general abject sadness during time in my life is a pretty good guess).

I do know that I left that day knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my troubles were entirely of my own making and that my only way out of that despair was through Him.


I haven't written here because God asked me to write what you are reading now. I didn't want to.


I started going to church regularly, having found a wonderful community near my house. It's called Water of Life and its message is "Passion for God, Compassion for People." It was the third or fourth time I went when I realized the pain I felt was not simply from X's betrayal, but from all those many years I lived in selfish service to my own ego. The myriad things, and people, I sought to fulfill me were never the answer. The nagging desire for meaning was always beyond my reach. The hurt was of my own offing.

The service that day was about regret, debilitating regret, and that once it gets inside of you, when you linger over your past mistakes and let them dictate your future, you are well and truly lost, for those mis-steps can not be corrected, they can only fester and bloom black.

It was a lesson I took to heart. Not an easy one, mind you. I forgave myself, though, as God has forgiven me and I set my heart to begin anew with Him.

Oh, but it's hard. Brand New Struggle. To give it all over to Him.


It's been many months since God asked me to write this for you. I've failed/balked at every turn. Like Moses. God has taken my words away from me, only to give them back if I follow his dictates.

I pray--and listen--more frequently now and it was in the midst of a serious discussion with Him that he told me I had to do this. I was asking for a lot. Emet and I were facing a difficult decision. We wanted answers! We got 'em.

Hers was way easier to do than mine, I assure you.

This makes me very uncomfortable. Most of you reading this have known me for a while and you can count with zero fingers the times I've mentioned my faith. Going to church, yes, but my belief? No, we haven't discussed it. I'm still that 3rd grader that doesn't want to color outside the lines, to be laughed at.

Yet, I can't deny the power I feel when I'm in worship. Every word is so meaningful, so precise and I'm often moved to pure joy. I can't deny any of this any longer. Can't not talk about it.


I was playing golf the other day and got to talking with an out-of-work teacher I'd been paired with. The conversation moved to our children and I asked where his go to school. "Water of Life," he said. I was so excited. I peppered him with questions, finally asking which service he attends. "I don't," he said. "But my wife and kids do."

"You should come," I said, before I even realized the words were out of my mouth. "You should come."


I'm learning. It's no easy thing to give yourself up completely, no simple task to suffer, to admit failure, to know that I, by myself, could not cure that long-festering emptiness that I denied, while also knowing it was always there.

And difficult to do what God asks of you even though you don't want to. So many thoughts and I shudder at my inability to get them all on the page. I didn't want to do this, but even more frightening, I don't want to do it badly. I wonder if it's all here.

And then I wake up in the morning and I write,

When He looks at me, he doesn't see all those years, bleak and without hope, and the crooked paths I wandered and the black stain of sin. God looks at me and he sees His Son, in whose image I am made and forgiven, sees only the perfect, a pure, devoted believer in Him, a simple, but eager man, whose ugliness is covered and whose debt is paid by the blood of the Lamb.


I thank God for reminding me of the words. I thank you for reading them.