Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tunesday: "Tones of Home," Blind Melon

First off, 1992 was a big damn year for music. I was 12/13, so you must appreciate how important the very best albums of that year were to me. I don't intend to write about every great album released 20 years ago, but I'm sure I'll touch on a few.

Publicity photo
While not as critically acclaimed or popular as REM's "Automatic For the People," The Beastie Boys' "Check Your Head," Rage Against the Machine's debut, Sonic Youth's "Dirty" or "Dr. Dre's "The Chronic," Blind Melon's self-titled major-label, national release was a landmark album. As I remember it, the record belonged in the alternative scene but it had an excellent late-60s flavor and superb musicianship that made it stand out. And I may or may not have wanted to have hair just like singer Shannon Hoon's.

While "No Rain" and that Bee Girl were most people's first introduction to Blind Melon, the album's first single actually was "Tones of Home." Makes sense: It's the better song. Better groove, better lyrics, just better. I'm sorry, I know this is an unpopular opinion; "No Rain" is beloved. But I think people heard it and, more importantly, saw it for the better part of a decade. It's etched in their memories. Never one to try to change someone's mind on such matters, it's cool by me to agree to disagree.

The main reason why I love "Tones of Home" so much actually didn't develop until about 2006. I was living far from Texas in Rockford, Ill. Blind Melon's tune about leaving your home (fun fact: Shannon and Axl Rose share the same hometown — Lafayette, Ind.) and discovering a new environment (fun fact revisited: new home for both — L.A.), which struck a chord.

At times I really missed Texas and its three Fs — family, friends and familiarity — and disliked my new surroundings. Other times, I loved living in Northern Illinois — seasons, new friends, growing career — and wondered if I should plant roots. During a particularly rough period, I often questioned if I had made the right decision. Ultimately, I decided that I had made a good decision (learned so much during those two years), but I knew it was time to return home. Considering how great my life is these days, I don't regret that choice and I still regard Rockford/Loves Park as home, too, if only for a short time. When you open yourself to your surroundings and its possibilities, you'll find home is anywhere you are.

What else?

My college band often received comparisons to Blind Melon. I cannot deny that there are some serious similarities between "Tones of Home" and "Luggage Car." I swear, it wasn't intentional.

Also, despite Shannon's overdose death in 1995, the band eventually reunited in 2006 (that news brought their music back into my life) and they continue to perform on occasion (rumors are circulating about possible 20th anniversary shows).  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hot-hot heat & 12 hours on a seat

Not even three months ago, I said I would switch my focus from running to riding. My plan didn't go exactly as I laid out (I missed a couple of rallies and passed on some mountain biking opportunities), but the end result was all that mattered — regaining confidence as a strong cyclist. That happened over hundreds of miles of riding and rallying. It feels great to once again feel strong and comfortable on the road. And just in time! Hotter 'N Hell Hundred is next on my plate. Nearly every Frunner is either signed up or considering it; no doubt a good time will be had in Wichita Falls. 

As challenging as 100 miles in near-or-above 100 degrees sounds, that won't be my hardest ride this year. After hearing Dex Tooke describe his RAAM experiences (3,000 miles!) at an REI event last weekend, I quickly looked into ultracycling events in the area. As his wife, Joni, and others in attendance mentioned, there are good opportunities to ride longer distances without needing to invest the serious cash for an adventure like RAAM (Dex said he did it on the cheap for about $20,000, which includes travel expenses for him and his support crew. 

Sooooo, I'm planning to clip into the world of ultracycling with a 12-hour race — the Texas Time Trial on Sept. 27-29 in Glen Rose. First, that's a long time on a saddle! (BTW, I'm purchasing a new one today.) Other TTT racers will ride 48 hours that weekend, some seeking to complete 500 miles, which will qualify them to ride RAAM. I can't wait to join them on the 26.5-mile loop at 6 a.m. that Saturday. I can only imagine how inspiring it will be to see these impressive riders pursuing their goals. My goal: Ride that loop as many times as possible with limited stops — hopefully just to refuel and change kits — and see how tough I am. Just thinking about it makes me incredibly excited! I'll drive to Glen Rose in the next week or so to ride the loop at least twice so I'll have a better idea of what to expect. 

For the record, I haven't completely abandoned running. I still love it! It's just not a priority. I have time (not much, but some) before I begin focusing on my Dallas Marathon goal. And sure, a 12-hour cycling race isn't on many marathon training plans. But it's on mine, and I'm going to make it work. You know why? There's nothing that's going to stop me from living extraordinarily.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tunesday: "Angels," The xx

The xx's eponymous debut album is a treasure. Released in 2009, descriptions of the band's first effort commonly included the words haunting, sexy and intimate (good "Sound Opinions" interview from 2010). The key members of the xx, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, have written music together since they were 15. Are they romantically tied? Dunno. It's sort of a mystery from what I can tell. I'll venture to say they at the very least were together. How else could one explain the authentic emotion they express on a song like "VCR"

Rumor has it the band's second album, "Coexist," (Sept. 11 release date) will be a departure from the xx's signature sound ("complex ... introduces steel drums" and mentions of "club music"). If the first single, "Angels," is any indicator, we're in store for songs that sound like a continuation of where the band left off in 2009. The track is sparse. Sim's voice completely absent, Madley-Croft does just fine alone — describing her feelings of profound love to her silent counterpart. The beauty is in the stripped-down simplicity of the music and Madley-Croft's convicted-yet-fragile delivery — you know she means every bit of what she's singing, but at time you doubt she'll have the breath to sing it. 

What else? You can listen to reasonable live recordings of four other "Coexist" tracks and question the tour schedule (no Texas dates).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Catching up with former Dallas-Fort Worth kids TV show star, ex-Lake Highlands resident John "Bonkers The Clown" Rainone

“Do you know there’s a clown in your neighborhood?”

The most interesting stories often start with a question — in this case a most interesting question from my girlfriend, who noticed a professional clown’s business listing on Google Maps.

Well, I’m no fool. I know that everyone isn’t lucky enough to have a bona fide clown in his or her 'hood. I was excited to do some investigating and hopefully meet this fascinating neighbor.

Fortunately for my search, the clown — Bonkers — had a website. It’s what you would expect for a clown — looping circus music, list of skills/gigs/honors (from The Dallas Times-Herald, no less) and a link to a video clip. This wasn't any ordinary YouTube video (at right). It was a trip down memory lane. The video was from a TV show called “Club 27,” which I remembered from my childhood. 
The clip showed Bonkers doing a trick. I knew this clown. I grew up watching him and Poppy, the other clown that hosted the show. “Bonkers lives across the creek from me,” I thought. How cool is that?!

I quickly clicked on the site's “contact me” page and sent a short message introducing myself as a Lake Highlands resident who blogs and formerly worked for The Dallas Morning News. I said I fondly remembered his show and was interested in chatting and interviewing him for a “Where Are They Now” style post and possible freelance story for the Morning News.

I received a reply 10 minutes later from John Rainone (Rai-noh-nee).

“Thanks, Robert! I've moved and sort of gone into semi-retirement. I'm happy to talk with you if you like.”

Disappointed he had moved but not dejected, I replied back, saying I would still be interested in chatting with a clown who never talked (Poppy was the Penn to his Teller, Jay to his Silent Bob) and relied on his expressions to convey ideas and emotions.

First, for a guy whose stage name is Bonkers, John is anything but. Dearborn, Mich.-born and Dallas-Fort Worth raised, the Arlington Sam Houston High graduate is calm and pleasant. He doesn’t laugh as much as you would expect, but that doesn't make him unpleasant; it probably means I'm nowhere near as funny as the scores of hilarious people he's met in his lifetime.

He says he chose the name Bonkers because he was looking for something similar to a fellow clown’s name.

“Crackers (Edna Flanagan) was among the four or five clowns listed in the [area's] phone book in 1976-77,” John said. “Crackers is British for going crazy, being unruly. So I chose Bonkers, which also means all wild, gone disorderly.”

John also says choosing the right letters matters when it comes to humor.

“J is funny, Z is funny, K is funny. B is funny. There are letters and numbers that are funnier than others. For example, saying 87 in a joke is funnier than saying 88.”

Photo courtesy of John Rainone
John Rainone (Bonkers) and Valentina Burton (Poppy) were more than just performing partners. They met in the ’80s and married. They recorded approximately 1,000 episodes of “Club 27” — an incredible achievement. But, as John said during our phone chat, his proudest achievement is his talented son, Nick. Now 22, Nick performs as Zerp at Six Flags OverTexas and with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. For more on Zerp and the realities of being a professional clown, I recommend watching this long, but good video (humorous — potentially offensive language to some, just so you know — the process of applying clown makeup is involved). 

For the most part, John has put jokes to the side. He now lives nowhere near Lake Highlands. He and his second wife moved permanently in 2011 to their Ozarks vacation home in Lost Bridge Village, Ark. But back in his hey day, John’s character was half of a successful team. Poppy, aka Valentina Burton, was not only the other half of the comedy team that hosted “Club 27” every weekday from 1988-1991 on KDFI-TV, channel 27 in Dallas; she was his wife. The two even continued to perform together after their divorce. 

Eventually, they got back together, and moved to Lake Highlands in 1998, John said. They were in good company in the community. In addition to Crackers, John rattled off a list of names from Dallas-Fort Worth’s clown/entertaining community of the ’80s and ’90s — Stanley Green, Stringbini The Clown (Jimmy Perini), Tharpo The Clown (Jeff Tharp) and Kimo The Clown (Kimo Goree), Bo and Gretchen GerardHe also mentioned that he and Poppy weren’t the only entertainers in Lake Highlands — at one point, there were four other friends who were performers living just blocks from his home.

And though John loves the semi-retired life, surrounded by the serenity of the Ozarks, he has fond memories of Lake Highlands.

“We’d see foxes in the creek behind our house,” John said. “They’d make their way from White Rock Lake and we’d feed them.”

Photo courtesy of John Rainone
The Piano Man: John Rainone still performs occasionally at all types of celebrations and events — from anniversaries and corporate functions, to store openings and weddings. A talented pianist who first started playing professionally at the age of 15, he’s versatile and popular. “I’m an adequate juggler and good clown,” John said when asked which is his best talent. He said most people with an untrained ear think musicians who can play an instrument reasonably well are fantastic. “I can play piano reasonably well," he said humbly. "I guess I have the ability to fool [an audience]." He also said the key to being a good performer in a lounge/restaurant environment is to be like good "wallpaper" — an unobtrusive but pleasant element to a setting that is nice but doesn't overpower and disrupt the guests' evening. 

Although he has traded McCree Creek for the Ozarks, he says he really misses his friends and high school buddies. He says he still returns to do shows in Dallas from time to time.

When asked what’s the piece of information he wished he knew back when he got started, he didn’t hesitate.

“Don’t think it’s not a business,” John said. “If you want to make money doing this, you have to treat it like a business. Take a business course, learn how to be self-employed.”

But would he do it all over again?

"Anyone with half a brain should get into Wall Street. But knowing me, I’d do it all over again."

(Note: I had no idea the wealth of information I would learn from John. This post is only a small portion of my notes from our 30-minute conversation. There's a lot more research, reporting and interviewing I may pursue — locations and names of clubs, other people involved in the entertaining scene, etc. In particular, it would be cool to speak with Paul Osborne, a legend in children's TV who produced "Club 27" and countless theme park shows. Most notably, he was Larry "Bozo the Clown" Harmon's right-hand man. It would be cool to write a looking-back piece about '80s-90s Dallas-Fort Worth kids TV programming. If you grew up in the area during that time, you're well aware of UHF shows like "Club 27" and "Cartoon Clubhouse/Good Time Gang" — nostalgic stuff you can revisit on this YouTube channel.)  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tunesday: "I Come From The Water," The Toadies

What do I need to say about The Toadies? If you were a teen in the '90s, there's little chance you haven't heard "Possum Kingdom," "Tyler" or any of the other tracks from this Fort Worth band's first record, "Rubberneck." Easily one of the greatest rock success stories from North Texas, I rank this album only slightly lower than Tripping Daisy's "Bill" on my personal list of the most important D/FW records.

The Toadies, unlike Tripping Daisy, went on to major national success. Perhaps that and the incessant radio play of the hits were the main factors in my not owning "Rubberneck" until 2003, about 10 years after it was originally released. I can't explain it; it's a damn good record. Making up for all that lost time, once I finally got a copy you couldn't keep the disc out of my car's CD player. I'd listen to it ritualistically en route to the mountain bike trails at San Angelo State Park.

"I Come From The Water" is a straight-at-ya rock treasure that doesn't eff around. From the opening riff to the closing rock cliche, it's too entertaining to not like. And hey, don't discount how I — a word guy —  am able to look past the grammar; even I understand that Vaden Todd Lewis is just having fun with the language. And it is fun.

If you know your Toadies history, you're aware of the group's rocket trajectory to global super-super stardom fizzled during the process of recording and releasing the followup to "Rubberneck." The label rejected and refused to release "Feeler" in 1998m which led to the not-as great, label-approved but fairly good "Hell Below/ Stars Above." The toll was too much for the group, which split shortly after the record's release in 2001.

The group eventually reunited with a different bassist and recorded a couple of albums. The next one — "Play.Rock.Music" — is set for release July 31 (intrigued fans should check out the odd and entirely NSFW video for the first single, "Summer of the Strange"). 

What else? If you're itching to see The Toadies, it's your lucky summer: Make plans to head out to the Fifth Annual Dia de Los Toadies on Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels. Originally held at Possum Kingdom Lake then Rough Creek Ranch in Glen Rose, DDLT made the move south a few years back. In addition to two sets a piece by The Toadies and reunited '90s-era Austin staple Sixteen Deluxe (anyone remember "Idea"?) the unbelievably eclectic lineup includes Fort Worth garage rockers The Phuss (nice Q&A with the DMN's Mario Tarradell), Helmet, Mariachi El Bronx (alter-ego of hardcore band The Bronx, get a load of this performance on Leno), P1 favorites The King Bucks and a handful other acts.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nothing to fear here

What, with the name of my blog — tr13ce = trece (thirteen en Español), which sounds like Tracy — one might assume I have grand plans of celebrating Friday the 13th by watching horror flicks and getting a $20 tattoo of the number 13 at Elm Street Tattoo. Well, I do have grand plans, but neither of those 13-centric activities is on the itinerary. 

BUT, in honor of this day, here are some interesting articles related to Friday the 13th:

• ABC News reports that businesses are prepared for fewer customers today. Turns out not many folks want to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries or get married today. TheKnot.com says fewer that 2,845 will wed today, compared to more than 4,000 next Friday.

• Afraid of the no. 13 (triskaidekaphobiaor Friday the 13th (paraskevidekatriaphobia)? You're in good company, writes Donna Henes at The Huffington Post. Turns out Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Christopher Columbus and Winston Churchill weren't fans of the number either.

• But can you make a scary amount of money on the stock market? Lauren Simonetti at Fox Business writes that the broader market rallies 60 percent of the time on Friday the 13th

• If you're scrounging for change today, there are some deals to be had. Starbucks is letting customers try its new Very Berry Hibiscus and Cool Lime Refreshers for free today; and RestaurantNews.com says Krispy Kreme and Chik-fil-A are game for freebies, too. If you buy a dozen doughnuts, your second dozen costs just 75 cents today. Dress as a cow at CFA, get a free meal. I am not interested in any of these offers, today or any day. But hey, I figured I might as well share, because you just might be. If you do dress as a cow (today or any day), please take pictures!

Whether you're staying inside and watching movies until the 14th, running a half-marathon or getting some fresh ink while eating doughnuts, I hope you enjoy this fantastic day!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tunesday (ska edition): "Break The Glass," Suicide Machines

First, let me say this: I am still a fan of ska. Don't hate. I became hooked on the horns, upstroke guitar and bass scales of the third wave. It's a fun genre in small-to-medium doses. Most of the music is fairly upbeat, but there are myriad styles of ska from that third wave. The era's groups included jokesters (Skankin' Pickle, "I'm In Love With A Girl Named Spike"), part-time jokesters (Less Than Jake, "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts"), 2 Tone (The Toasters, "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down") and some clever portmanteaus (Mephiskapheles, The Skatalites, Bim Skala Bim).

Originally called Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines (that'll get your attention on a poster), this skacore outfit shortened its name when it signed a deal with major label Hollywood Records (probably avoided litigation, too). Practically every second of the band's first album — 1996's "Destruction By Definition" — blew me away when I first heard it (well, maybe not the "Vans Song") The 16 songs are still smokers — clocking in at a total 37 minutes, the speed and energy make up for lackluster lyrics.

I was fortunate to see the "DBD" lineup play at Deep Ellum Live (remember that place?) in 1997, sandwiched in between Shades Apart and headliner Descendents. SM whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I was there with my friend Karen, so we stayed away from the pit. As the set wore on, the crowd became more raucous and the pit grew, but I was mesmerized by the stage presence of the group. It was the first punk concert I attended where the music was just as good live as it was on the album. I also remember bassist Royce killing dead time between songs by playing "Stairway to Heaven."

And, I really remember seeing a gnarly compound fracture of the tibia — my first up-close experience with such a wound. A random dude was chewed up in the pit and spit out. He landed near Karen, his screams silenced by the loud sound system. But, seeing how severely broken his leg was and realizing he didn't need to be on a smokey club's beer, spit and whatever-else covered floor, we picked him up and carried him outside the venue to wait for the ambulance that the bouncer called for, effectively ending the concert for us. We could have gone back in to see Descendents, but we figured the club's atmosphere could possibly get worse. By far, that was my most insane concert experience.

So yeah, the album that led me to that show never fails to get me hyped. The followup disc, "Battle Hymns" was too polished, not chaotic like "DBD"; so I stopped listening to the band and eventually ska all together for a few years. But any time I'm looking for a boost, "Break The Glass," "Hey" or "New Girl" never fail.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

An assortment from a wonderful week

Photo by That Pink Girl
Get a load of this fun group! Pre-race snapshot — before the heat really kicked in — July 4 at Liberty By The Lake in The Colony. 

The last 10-plus days have been incredible. There's just too much I could blog about; I'll hit on two highlights and, of course, give ya a bit of randomness (at the end). 

If you're like me, by the time July 4 rolled around on Wednesday, you probably had seen some fireworks, listened to patriotic music, watched a parade, and spent time with friends and family the previous weekend. It's hard not to; my best guesstimate (subtract 5, divided by 7, carry the 1, to the third power) puts the Dallas-Fort Worth area's Independence Day celebrations total at 57,139. No complaints here. They all offer special ways to celebrate our country, and I had the good fortune to attend a few. One even offered racing — Liberty By The Lake in The Colony
Photo by Mama C
My look: "I'm not getting caught in Mama C's trademark
'candid stuffing your face shot.'" Ninja's look? Caught!
(Note: Totally acceptable to wear the race shirt after the
race. Much better than a stanky tank.)

The race was OK — my first 10K, so guaranteed PR. The 10K course was mostly on a trail along Lewisville Lake, which was a new racing experience for me. I also left my fuel belt at home, opting to carry a handheld bottle. ("Hey, it's only a 10K, how much water will I need?") With the temperature in the 80s and little shade, that wasn't the best idea. I finished in 53:06 and felt good about starting the day racing. I certainly have room for improvement, and I will improve. Despite the heat, I would gladly run LBTL again.

BUT, the real highlight of the morning: eating post-race waffles and hanging out with Frunners. It's impossible to have a bad time with good friends and food (Gracias, Team K for the hospitality). Oh, and there was Shiner, too (the official beer of Tr13ce). The little Spoetzl Brewery was a hot topic pre- and post-race. Well known for its beer and bike ride (G.A.S.P.), the brewery will have its Inaugural Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon and 5K on Dec. 12. The Dallas Marathon is Dec. 9, so I'll have to miss the Beer Run. Looks like it could be a good time.   

Gearing up

More adventures are on the horizon, in particular some camping and hiking excursions at state parks. The first adventure: shopping at REI's Dallas store. You will not find a single venomous reptile or poisonous plant in this store (that I know of). However, winding through each section of the store can be exceedingly treacherous — there's just so much great stuff and most of it costs serious coin. As you pass all these badass items, it's really easy to justify your needing them, price tags be damned. 

Knowing all this and with a clear goal of upgrading to a multi-day backpack, I made a bee line to that section where I met Bob. First, let me tell you this: Bobs/Roberts tend to get along; in fact, I can think of only one exception to the rule. But, yeah, REI Bob, well, he's friggin' awesome. You'll recognize him as the 6-foot-8 fellow with white hair and beard. Can't miss him. Super helpful and knowledgeable, he helped me with six packs (a mix of REI brand, Deuter, Gregory and Osprey). Sure, I researched plenty online, but nothing compares to excellent, expert customer service. Bob helped with the fit, loaded each pack with about 20 pounds of sand bags and told me to walk up-down-and-around the store. I probably definitely looked strange, but it was an important exercise to rate each pack's weight (ounces matter, folks), cushioning, hipbelt and overall fit. If I hadn't done that, I definitely would have purchased what looked good online, and that would have been a big mistake. The ones I liked online cost a bit less but fit poorly.    

In the end, I picked up the Osprey Kestrel 68, which has everything I was looking for: ample storage, water reservoir compartment, ridiculously light and should be comfy for long hiking. If it's not, my REI membership allows me to bring it back for a replacement — among the many perks $20 will get ya (much more than just free rockwall climbing, which is nice, too).

Rando photo

Across from NorthPark Center in Dallas, there's a shopping center called Lincoln Park. It has a Blue Mesa, The Container Store, University of Texas Co-op, Barnes & Noble, Tom Thumb ... and, now, two businesses, that, when paired together, make Yogurtland the odd biz out (unless you've got the munchies). I know, I know, neither Up In Smoke nor The Joint is a head shop, but I couldn't help chuckling at these two being so close to each other. I also entertained myself trying to create a new, assimilative name for the froyo sto': THCBY? Any other thoughts?   


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tunesday: Liberty By The Lake edition

It may be Tunesday, but my mind is firmly focused on tomorrow — the Fourth of July. It'll be another guaranteed PR day for me — heading up and over to The Colony to race my first 10K at Liberty By The Lake. Unlike my first 5K in May, I'm bringing the shuffle along; here's a peek at two tracks that will make the playlist.

Rancid is another one of those bands that I like to play to death, put down and then revisit after a year or so. What makes "Django" so bad ass? Why, it's that Western cowpunk guitar riff. Hell, I like this song so much, I can even look past Tim Armstrong committing a major rock 'n' roll sin — introducing a guitar solo by yelling, "Solo!"

Punk actually makes up a large portion of the Liberty playlist. Nothing is more patriotic than music by bands that exercise their right to express themselves — punctuated with sneers, offensive words, spit and middle fingers. Need more punk and/or Rancid in your life? Read my review for "The Other F Word."

The Brits may have lost America, but they occupy a substantial size of my iTunes catalog (quite a consolation prize, I know). In addition to British invasion artists, '70s UK rockers, Britpop '90s bands and assorted indie outfits, I also have a soft spot for British rappers. It started about 8 years ago; The Streets and Dizzee Rascal received a lot of play. Dizzee still has regular rotation status, especially this song. Turning a Billy Squier tune (hilarious video here) into an outstanding hip-hop track is no small feat. But don't take my word for it. NME says it's the no. 9 song in the last 60 years.