Sunday, January 31, 2016

You and Me

Yes, you and me.

May I tell a musical story?

Okay. Thanks!

The Moody Blues wrote and recorded a song entitled “You and Me” way back in 1972, before Hopper even graced the doors of a government school. Is it a song protesting the Vietnam War? Probably. Is it a song that mentions God the Father and God the Son? Maybe. All I knows for sure is that it’s a hippie song, and as far as hippie songs go, it ain’t all that bad.

In fact, it’s pretty damn awesome.

Young Hopper first heard it sometime circa 1989, when he had his little Peavey practice amp set up amongst the old furniture in the basement before it was taken over and converted into a motorcycle repair shop by his brother and stepfather. Heard it on the headphones, he did. Couldn’t get those fast strummed twelve-string major chords out of his head, and that lead guitar prowling among the pentatonics of the low E and A strings.

Awesome! Did I mention that?

What he recalled most of all, now that he re-found the tune nearly 30 years later, was the ending, that gradually fading outro, those heavy lead runs over those fast strummed chords. For years and years that ending reverberated in his mind. He imagined those riffs in his ethosphere, and even managed to somewhat duplicate them, to a very amateurish extent, on his four-track Tascam recorder, sometime in the early, early 90s.

The tune has just, this night, been rediscovered, to his immense pleasure. And now, to yours.

Check out the intro, the first minute or so (though that first minute is more aggressive than the outro which imprinted and endeared itself upon my fragile psyche, O so many years ago).

Listen to but do not put too much faith in the hippie lyrics.

Then contrast the intro to the outro, at around the 3 minute mark, the outro being that majestic bravado that raised goose bumps off my arms for decades.

I’ve played the tune at least twenty times writing this, since rediscovering it by chance earlier in the day.

One word: Awesome!

You and Me, © 1972, by the Moody Blues …

There’s a leafless tree in Asia
Under the sun there’s a homeless man
There’s a forest fire in the valley
Where the story all began

What will be our last thought?
Do you think it’s coming soon?
Will it be a comfort
Or the pain of a burning wound?

All we are trying to say
Is we are all we’ve got
You and me just cannot fail
If we never, never stop

You’re an ocean full of faces
And you know that we believe
We’re just a wave that drifts around you
Singing all our hopes and dreams

We look around in wonder
At the work that has been done
By the visions of our father
Touched by his loving son

All we are trying to say
Is we are all we’ve got
You and me just cannot fail
If we never, never stop

All we are trying to say
Is we are all we’ve got
You and me just cannot fail
If we never, never stop
You and me just cannot fail
If we never, ever, never, ever stop...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Checkin' In

It’s been a week since the Snowpocalypse of ’16. Three-quarters of it’s melted, thanks to temperatures averaging in the 40s. Was supposed to get a dusting either yesterday or today, and despite overcast skies and the mercury declining Friday, got nothing. Today it’s mild and sunny.

But I’m not writing to update you about the weather.

I’m not quite sure why I’m writing, except that I get oogy when I don’t.

’Twas a busy week, though nothing of substance seemed to get accomplished. The days flew by even though the sun stays out later and later. I had a job interview on Monday that went nowhere. I am e-stalking a corporate lead for the opportunity to speak with her in person in the near future. Took a two-hour computer class one night at the local library to bolster my resume. Considered answering an ad to be a postman while mailing some bills this morning, but the pay is only two-thirds what I’m used to (yes, I know, a million times what I’m making now).

Morale was up and down over the past seven days. Cheated twice on my diet, in major ways, but I think I can get back on it without too much difficulty. On the brighter side, taught Patch some constellations and stellar names one night. Watched her soccer practice on Tuesday and an indoor game earlier today. She played hard because there wasn’t enough teammates present to enable substitutions, and she had just finished an hour of basketball practice, and a schoolmate’s birthday party even before that.

Me and Little One did errands after I paid the requisite bills: bank, post office, dry cleaners, recycling center, library, grocery store, and then lunch. Earlier in the week we watched The Faculty and Cloverfield in the afternoons after she finished homework. She graded the first an A+ and the second a B. She has some friends coming over for a sleepover after her basketball game at 6:15 tonight, so I had to tidy up and vacuum the house so a quartet of tweens can destroy it later on. It also means the wife and I will be exiled to the upstairs master bedroom. We’ll probably end up watching a bad action flick on cable. The wife will fall asleep at 10, I’ll have to stumble downstairs to tell the girls to be quiet a few times, and try to make headway on my Deerslayer book.

Speaking of books, I finished Anthony Beevor’s The Second World War. That conflict and the Civil War fascinate me, a peace-loving guy for all intents and purposes. Not sure why. After reading Beevor’s book, I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t read much more about it, which is a pity as I got Ike’s and Churchill’s autobiographies staring at me from the Shelf of Unread Tomes. The technology and the military theory appeal to me, but the incredible, voluminous magnitudes of human suffering do take its toll on the reader. Though Beevor does not go into the Holocaust or the death camps in depth, details here and there grip me and rip my heart asunder. O thank the Lord I or my family did not have to suffer through such terrifying times.

Looking to finish James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer in the next few days. I’m around the halfway point of the 662-page paperback and find myself under-motivated finish it. It’s not that it’s a bad story, it’s just that, as Mark Twain famously pointed out, the book meanders like nobody’s business. Cooper’s certainly in no hurry to bring events to a head. What I might describe in a few words he details with a few sentences. Likewise, a Hopperian sentence translates to a Cooperian paragraph. The man takes his time wrapping his thoughts around his subject, binding ideas, actions, and dialogue in yards and yards of exposition tied firmly from every conceivable angle. The pages do turn, yet I feel I do not make headway into the tale.

After that I think I’m going to resume my physics reading. No death or Sisyphusian suffering in physics. Only the unravelings of God’s masterpiece, the universe macro and micro. Probably will start with physicist Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, a book I read about 15 years ago that I just recently rediscovered in mint condition in a box in the attic.

Worked out five times this week, slinging the weights around, and chase each workout with some hard boiled eggs, a can of tuna, and/or a protein shake. Arnold has nothing to worry about concerning me, but I do feel better, look better, sleep better, and that’s all that counts.

Something interesting on deck for tomorrow, if I can eke out an hour or so to pen it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nietzsche in a Winter Wonderland

SCENE: Front yard during the Great Blizzard of ’16. Hopper is out shoveling the sidewalk between random snow plow drive-bys. Daughter Patch, age 7, is laying in ten inches of snow making a snow angel.

HOPPER: Look out! (dumps a shovel load of snow on Patch)

PATCH: (indignant) Dad!

HOPPER: Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

PATCH: Dad, it’s not making me stronger! It’s making me colder!

Note: The above incident did, in fact, take place exactly as described, four hours ago. Patch is resolutely refusing to draw any life lessons from Nietzsche’s well-worn adage, a well-worn adage I’ve recited to her many, many times, usually after inadvertently (or advertantly) injuring her in some small or not-so-small capacity during play.

Some Pics:

Scene from the upstairs bedroom window 

The Nietzsche incident took place ten feet to the left of the pic

Patch with the windup ... and the pitch ...

And Little One goes down ! ....

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Glenn Frey

Hey 2016! Quit messin’ with all my music icons and heroes, all right?

At the tail end of last year I suffered through the loss of classical conductors Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez and metal god Lemmy. Then, Bowie passed on a little over a week ago. Now, Eagles co-founder, guitarist, singer, songwriter Glenn Frey died yesterday in New York City recovering from surgery.

How terribly, terribly sad. Of all the aforementioned, this truly messed with me the most.

While I didn’t grow up in the strictest sense of the word on the Eagles, every one of my three long-term girlfriends (the last of which became my wife) were huge fans of the band.

Way, way back in the ancient days of the late 80s, for three consecutive summers filled with long, warm nights, me and my pals would congregate on the steps of my first girlfriend’s house, drinking Coors and Miller Lights and smoking Marlboros, all to the tunes of Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Joe Walsh, all night long.

How many nights did I spend listening to “Hotel California,” “Heartache Tonight”, “Take It Easy,” “The Long Run,” “James Dean,” “Journey of the Sorcerer,” to name just a few of dozens? 150? 200? More? Probably more. Though I spent my weekdays working and weeknights listening to harder stuff and rehearsing with my band, weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day always seemed to have an Eagles soundtrack to them.

I could never decide who I liked better as a singer or songwriter, Frey or Henley, nor could I decide who made the band. They both did, I guess, and now that Glenn is gone there will never be another new Eagles recording. (Though, truth be told, for me the band ended with 1980’s The Long Run.) Their voices and personalities complemented each other perfectly, kinda like McCartney and Lennon, or Jagger and Richards, I suppose.

One afternoon almost thirty years ago me, my singer, and my lead guitarist showed up at some dude’s house to jam. The house had a deck that opened out onto a valley between some high mountains far away in the distance. If you fell off the deck, you might roll a couple hundred feet to the bottom and get yourself killed. Or at least that’s how I imagined it. Still, we opened beers, lit cigarettes, plugged in amps and tuned instruments.

With my singer switching to drums, the dude grabbed a guitar and went up to the mic. “Hey, you guys know how to play ‘Already Gone’ by the Eagles? It’s easy, basically just G – D – C.”

A moment later he launched into the opening riff of the song. My singer kicked in on percussion, I began the bluesy riff and my lead guitarist added fills here and there. And echoing throughout the valley was our version of that classic Eagles tune.

Now, I’m more a fan of the band’s last two albums, after Joe Walsh joined. But I like this clip to showcase Mr. Frey. Though it’s an older banjo song of a type I don’t normally dig, “Midnight Flyer” has perhaps the one of the best endings for such a tune I’ve ever heard. Glenn is playing lead guitar, and the fat, phased, fuzzed-out tone coming out of his Les Paul and his amp never fails to blow me away. The action starts around 2:40:


Monday, January 18, 2016

Minus 11

That’s the results so far, eighteen days into my “No Added Sugar” diet. Minus eleven pounds. My body is shifting around, my clothes fit better, and my mood has been pleasantly positive pretty regularly.

Like I said, I’m not super gung-ho about it. A week ago I had a couple of sweet mixed drinks. Had two beers and a glass of wine over the weekend. Had a chocolate truffle and a granola bar a few days ago. But other than that, I’ve been eating mainly natural, non-processed, non-junk food. And no soda, only water.

This did start off as an “energy-management system”, and to that effect I think it’s working. Probably have to wait a few more weeks to see if there’s any real improvement. If I was to guess, I’d say my energy level, after being added-sugar-free for eighteen days, is about 10 to 20 percent higher. With the exception of one bad night, I fall asleep ten minutes after turning out the light. And with two or three exceptions, I get up out of bed pretty easily in the morning (though I have been sleeping in later than usual on the weekends).

So … I recommend it.

Even if amazing high energy results don’t materialize, it’s still an awesome feeling to know that I am off the SAD diet, a diet that leads to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and a whole host of other maladies.

I do find myself more thirsty than normal (due to increased nut intake? I did switch my snack food to non-salted pistachios and almonds yesterday). The afternoon lull, that desire to take a nap around 2 or 3 pm, hits me stronger now than in the past (probably because that Diet Coke at lunch swatted it away). Otherwise, no real complaints.

I intend to keep the diet at this level until the end of the month. Then, based on my weight and energy levels, I may decide to get super gung-ho about it.

Results to follow then …

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Revenant

minor spoilers ...

A few days ago I did something I never, ever do: saw a flick on its opening weekend.

Me and my buddy watched The Revenant this past Sunday. Normally I never see a film on its opening weekend; I’m just crowd-averse to the point of panic. I think I only agreed to go because I thought the movie had been out for weeks, since I’ve been seeing previews for it on the small screen since at least before Christmas.

Turns out the first showing was sold out while we were waiting at the back of the line of forty people or so. Truth be told, I’d been looking forward to seeing this flick, since at least before Christmas, so I suggested we wait an hour for the next showing. There just so happened to be a restaurant – with a bar – directly outside the movie theater, so we went there and downed a few brews. Which in no way influenced my feelings about the main event.

Now, since we were enjoying ourselves on the barstools, we kinda forgot the time and had to rush in to a heavily packed theater. We wound up sitting in the second row, so close that the screen towered above me like a Manhattan skyscraper. I literally – and I’m using that word literally literally – had to swivel my head 90 degrees to take in action from one side of the screen to the other. While in one vivid spatial sense it felt I was directly in the middle of the action, I also had the dismaying feeling I was missing a lot of the film.

The Revenant is one of the greatest advertisements for the advance of medicine and creature comforts we take for granted every hour and every day of our 21st century lives. Seriously. 1830s frontier life was B-R-U-T-A-L. Only the tough survived, and only the toughest of the tough even had a chance to thrive. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays one such man, Hugh Glass, apparently a real-life individual, a hero from frontier lore of whom I confess I know little about. We spend two and a half hours with Glass as he overcomes near-death to avenge the murder of his beloved son in the rugged, unforgiving, snow-covered frostlands of Montana.

Man, does Hugh takes a beating in this film. Mauled – not raped – by a grizzly. Stitched up sans anesthesia. Immobile and helpless in the dangerous wilderness, eyes only able to move and observe as his son is killed. Buried alive and left for dead. Crawling out the grave, he slowly, agonizingly, regains strength in the subzero winter weather. Eats raw fish, raw buffalo. Plunges over a waterfall in frigid waters, sees his rescuer murdered, dodges attacking Indians, plummets off a cliff onto a fir tree, sleeps inside horse carcass to avoid freezing to death, suffers a knife impaled through the palm of his hand.

Despite all this – I loved the movie!

For the film is not without its beauty. The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous – crystalline snow, icy rushing rivers, the wet forests, the wind-whipped plains. The outlands of Montana and South Dakota breathe a life its own, becoming a supporting character in the movie. You feel the cold and the damp and the frozen breeze in your bones, without actually freezing in your movie seat …

What a beautiful and dangerous world, this untamed, uncharted, unharnessed world of twenty decades back … I think, had I been born 200 years ago and raised into this sort of life, I would wholeheartedly be a mountain man. (And being raised into the life would be a non-negotiable, as right now I’d starve to death overnight or succumb to hypothermia if I simply locked myself out of my house in Suburbia, USA.)

The solitary life lived by men like Glass … how attractive and yet how frightening. How incomprehensibly and incredibly foreign to us of the 21st century. No internet, television, radio, no constant noise and hustle and bustle we’re constantly consistently exposed to. If I was to survive out in the mountains way back then, I’d need a Bible, a book of philosophy, and a Shakespearean play to survive those long, long hours when not on the move, after camp’s been made and food’s been cooked, and before the sun sets and the stars come out.

To return to the film, I’m not quite sure why it’s entitled The Revenant. Hugh does vividly dream and sometimes hallucinate about his dead Indian wife (and later, dead son), killed many years ago. Or is he the “revenant,” a ghost, the spirit of one who returns from the dead? I guess that’s what the filmmakers were intending, and it’s not a bad choice, if offbeat.

Leonardo seemed a bit flat, a bit one-dimensional in a way I find hard to explain. Yeah, he conveys pain and anguish, anger and command to extraordinary effect. Perhaps that’s what I mean – there is no joy or humor in Glass, even when sitting at camp early in the film. Perhaps because he’s only given a handful of lines to speak in the movie, and half of those are in Indian. And to my ears, for basically a big guy, his voice still sounds like a teenager’s and not a hardened mountain man.

His foil, Tom Hardy, pulls off menacing in a non-menacing way. He disappears into a role – is this the same man who played Bane a few years ago? He’s a talented, interesting actor who made what could have been a mustache-twisting villain a little more authentic, a little more natural. A man of competing motivations, cowardice and greed and self-interest overpowering a better nature, perhaps, buried deep down in order to survive the harsh conditions.

I really liked The Revenant. Can’t wait to see it again on a smaller screen, to see if indeed I did miss any detail painted upon that great big two-and-a-half hour canvas.

Grade: solid A.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Copier Repair Man

I sorta remember, vaguely, watching parts of Kevin Costner’s dystopic The Postman many, many years ago. Didn’t read the Hugo and Nebula Awards-nominated mid-80s book by David Brin it was based on. I must’ve been channel surfing or something and recall watching a couple of scenes from the movie, maybe a total of twenty minutes worth.

But one line of dialogue stuck out, struck me, and stayed with me all these years.

Now, I don’t know the exact context of the story. But apparently society has broken down to the point where warlords roam the countryside of what was formerly the United States of America, conscripting locals into their armies for the purpose of mayhem and conquest.

One of the warlords is played by Will Patton, a character actor you’ve seen in a bunch of other stuff. He’s confronting our hero, Kevin Costner, trying to get him into his militia the easy way, by persuasion, or the hard way, by the threat of physical force.

Patton asks Costner if he has any idea what he, Patton, did before the Apocalypse.

“I was an office copier repair man,” the warlord says.

Not trying to draw any deep thoughts or allusions out of this. Just something that interested me.

* * * * *

What did you do before the Apocalypse?

I did payroll, and self-published a couple of books …

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

Wow … sad, but a life lived to the fullest, even if I may not have agreed with everything he did or was reputed to do. I was not a fan but I respected him as an artist. Liked some of his songs, such as “Heroes”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “Ashes to Ashes” to name a few, and dug his weird onscreen persona (see especially The Man Who Fell to Earth).

This has been an unsettling couple of weeks for me. Many artists who I have respected and enjoyed over the years have died – Kurt Masur, who I saw at the New York Philharmonic ten or so years ago, Pierre Boulez, of whom I have a dozen or so of his conducting performances on CD, Lemmy, who I’ve listened to off and on over the past thirty years dating back to my college days, and now Bowie.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sugar Free

Normally Hopper likes to post his New Year’s Resolutions here on the blog on December 31st. Normally I extol the whys and hows and suchforth for each one, polishing the benefits for your approval.

Normally, they last a day or two.

Now, things are being done a little differently here at the Hopper. I did not post my resolutions. Indeed, I really didn’t have any concrete ones (other than, “get a day job” and “sell / write / publish some more books”). Going in to the evening of Thursday last, I had no idea what I specifically wanted to accomplish. In my frazzled mind, I wasn’t sure I wanted to accomplish anything.

However, a thought occurred to me alone in the house that afternoon (the wife took the little ones to see the new Star Wars flick). A while back – don’t recall exactly when – I was reading some self-improvement maximize productivity type stuff and recall someone writing – don’t recall exactly who – that getting things done really isn’t about Time Management.

It’s about Energy Management.

Since May, I’ve been quite active: walking the track and the streets, lifting the weights in the basement, kicking the soccer ball with the girls. It’s not always consistent, but a week doesn’t go by without me doing something. Usually a lot of things.

But I was still tired, flabby, achy, irritable. More so than what I would expect a middle-aged man in a moderate program of exercise to be experiencing. I’m not a doctor, but I know me. And this just didn’t fell right.

It had to be my diet.

I subsist on the Standard American Diet – SAD, for short. Lots of processed foods, lots of fast food, lots of fatty, sugary food. At least a Diet Coke a day. A whole pizza consumed slice-by-slice by the end of the week. Hamburgers. The occasional Chinese take-out. When I’m home watching the girls, Cheese Macs are a staple. As is pasta in various permutations. The only time I really eat healthy is when the Mrs. cooks, and with her job – the travel, the NYC commute – that isn’t often.

So I’ve gained weight. Probably twenty-five, thirty pounds above and beyond what should be normal for a man my size. Four-five permanent pounds a year over the past six-seven years. Imagine the fatigue of lugging around a 25-pound iron plate all day. Worse, imagine all that fat and sugar and excess gunk clogging my veins and arteries and God-knows-what else. And even worse than that, my poor body trying to get through a hectic, stressful life fueled by that crap.

You can’t run a Ferrari with a gas tank filled with cheese, as they say.

That’s what I realized on New Year’s Eve.

Originally (the first couple of hours leading up to the Ball dropping), I was only going to cut out the Diet Coke and Pizza combo. I did a pretty good job of this the first half of the summer and felt fairly energized.

Then the thought popped into my head: Why not go all the way?

Well, becoming a hardcore raw vegan is too great a step for SAD old me, at least at this stage. But surely there was a compromise somewhere …

Sugar. Over the years I have heard and read so many bad things about it. So bad, in fact, that you should just substitute the word “Poison” for it. Picture yourself in the grocery store and the kids pick out a really sugary cereal. “Hmm,” you say, turning the box over to look at the ingredients. “How many grams of poison are in each serving?”

The problem is that sugar is in everything. Everything. But I thought I could make some strides in eliminating the excessive sugar in my diet by following these simple rules:

Eat nothing processed / out of a box

Eat nothing “white” (pasta, bread)

Drink no Diet Cokes and no beer

Eat no pizzas – or any other fast food for that matter

Increase my intake of fruits, veggies, and nuts

And that’s it.

For the past seven days, I’ve pretty much stuck with it. I’m not a Gandhi with my internal discipline, so if I mess up, no biggie, as long as I get back on track. I had some tortellinis one night. Raviolis for lunch a few days ago. Just not with sugary tomato sauce.

But – no Diet Coke. No pizza. No fast food of any kind. Nothing out of a box. Every morning I have my Quaker Oats natural with half an organic apple cut up into it coated with cinnamon. I snack on nuts and grapes. (Not “grape nuts”.) Hard boiled eggs and tuna after a workout. I’ve eaten four salads. In the past, it would have taken me four months to eat four salads. No cookies, candies, ice cream, granola bars.


As of this morning, six full days, I am minus-five pounds since December 31st.

However, and it’s a big however, there were some pretty strong detox effects from Demon Sugar.

I had no energy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Absolutely none. Monday I took three thirty-minute naps. Tuesday an hour-long one. Wednesday I did not nap, but experienced something far worse than fatigue. A dreadful black cloud settled on me, much more intense than I ever felt before. It came in around ten in the morning and didn’t leave until I picked up the girls around three. Such dread, despair, and blackness. I felt the urge to weep. Intellectually, I knew this was a (weird) side effect of detoxing from a drug, a very, very, very powerful drug, but man, were those feelings strong and frightening.

Those were Days Four, Five, and Six. Today, Day Seven, I felt alright both physically and psychologically. In fact, unexpectedly chipper and upbeat – I actually flashed my pearly whites to many people in my travels today and started up a few conversations.

Now I’m just waiting for that Energy to kick in. I need it.

For that “get a day job” “write / publish / sell more books” stuff.

P.S. In case you’re interested, I’ll keep you posted now and then on how the Anti-Sugar Lifestyle is coming along. Especially if I suddenly do shift into higher gear.

P.P.S. If you’re really interested in the Anti-Sugar thing, go to youtube and search for “Lustig” and “sugar”. It’s ninety minutes long, but it’s quite enlightening.