Straight Into Compton
Falling Water, Rising Tides Part II

In June of 2004, my firstborn daughter was 18 months old. Our first road trip as an extended family was a trip to Spring Green, WI with the primary objective to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin home and studio.

When we arrived at the visitor center we discovered no one under the age of 12 was allowed in Taliesin. We could only go to the Hillside Studio building, which was cool, but disappointing.

This year, my wife was kind enough to recall the disappointment and find a day that I could see Taliesin. Now we have four kids, all still under the age of 12, but she offered to drop me off and take them through the nearby and tacky as hell, House on the Rock, which was a place we went to in 2004. I realized the extent of her sacrifice as I would never want to go through House on the Rock again, let alone solo guiding the four kids.

I booked the four hour full estate tour. It included another go of the Hillside Studio, Frank Lloyd Wright’s grave, a close up of the Romeo and Juliet windmill and the home.

I loved the tour. It was transcendent to feel that a dead genius was speaking to me in the structures he left behind.

Everything was smart. Every curve and angle had a purpose. Every nook and cranny meant something.

Low ceilings elevated humanity. Open rooms pointed beyond themselves. Entire structures hugged their environment and pointed to the majesty of the hillside around it.

I am lacking as a poet, but a true poet is what it takes to describe the way Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings mesh with their surroundings and mold mankind into a unity with something bigger.

Falling Water, Rising Tides

I grew up in Oak Park, IL. Oak Park’s favorite celebrity is Frank Lloyd Wright coming in just ahead of Ernest Hemingway. Wright’s home and studio from his initial rise to prominence is there. I was immersed in mentions of Frank Lloyd Wright from an early age. Before I knew him, I was tired of him.

“Frank Lloyd Wright. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

I dismissed him.

When I was in college a good friend of mine named Jim was an architecture student at the University of Illinois where I studied engineering. He, too, was from Oak Park, but Jim had not dismissed Frank Lloyd Wright.

We were home from school one summer Friday night. We sat out on his front porch near ten o’clock in the evening. He talked about how he had always wanted to see Falling Water, the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in western Pennsylvania built over a waterfall.

I said, “Well, why don’t we? Let’s go.” And I meant right then.

Jim caught the bug realizing there was no reason not to go. He went into the house, woke his mom and asked if we could use her car to make this pilgrimage. She said yes. After stopping home to let my parents know of our plans and to pick up a few things, we were off.

I grabbed my brother’s old cassette of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” as I headed out the door. When we pulled onto the Eisenhower Expressway eastbound at midnight beginning our ten hour drive to Pennsylvania, I put the tape in the player and cranked it as high as the stereo could go. When the song ended, I ejected the tape, rolled down the window and threw it out into the night.

Not long after Falling Water opened to tours for that Saturday, we pulled into the parking lot, tired, but still exhilarated. I didn’t know what to expect. It was hard to picture what it could be from Jim’s description of a home built on a waterfall.

It blew me away.

It’s still the most amazing structure I’ve ever seen. The home with cantilevered balconies that recede upward with a waterfall cascading down underneath is breathtaking in grandeur. It looks like a natural extension of the boulders and pines. Then to go inside and see the viewing hole cut into the floor, with the water about to topple over the edge, was stunning. I’ll never forget that living room. That was my wake up call to Frank Lloyd Wright. He was not one to be dismissed.

That was the moment I became a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan.

This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of touring Mr. Wright’s second home and studio where he lived after Oak Park, Taliesin, in Spring Green, WI.

I will write about that in Part II, yet to come.

Favorite Albums of 2012

What a year for music. There was a lot of good stuff, so much so, that for the first time my year end list is going to 25. Take that Nigel Tufnel! Examing the bunch as a whole I seem to have a love for loud distorted rockers interspersed with catchy folk rock and an appreciation for genre throwback sounds done with modern freshness. These albums were the backdrop of my year living and loving life.


1. Efren - Write a New Song

This is balls out rock and roll out of Atlanta, GA. The distortion is cranked and the smart, fun songs are in your face. This record was the soundtrack of my summer. Many a barbeque was had playing this loud on the driveway. I repeatedly surrendered in a good way to this musical journey.


2. Allen Thompson Band - Salvation in the Ground

In a year that saw the passing of Levon Helm, this album was very welcome. It evokes some of the best stuff The Band ever did and sprinkles in a little 70s Neil Young, all while maintaining a contemporary joy. I especially dug this one in the car.


3. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

The Lumineers are a joyful bunch, raucous and celebratory, all while singing tales of struggling and sometimes seedy characters making their way in the world. Catchy and poignant. A great, great album.


4. Tyler Lyle - The Golden Age and the Silver Girl

I took a chance on this album and boy am I glad I did. Stripped down acoustic rock that transports me to the beach, contemplating the universe with a smile on my lips. I listened to a lot of music this year and I kept coming back to this one more than I ever would’ve imagined.


5. Langhorne Slim & The Law - The Way We Move

This record is a more recent discovery, but man it hit me powerfully. It has a raw sound, jumping with energy. There are impassioned vocals delivering great stories. The single “The Way We Move” is like a zen anthem. And the song “Someday” says a lot powerfully in just 87 seconds. The record is full of joyful surprises I didn’t see coming.


6. Hacienda - Shakedown

This San Antonia outfit brings no nonsense rock to the forefront. They lay down a rocking groove and show they have great chemistry. This album is so good I often found it was over before I knew it as time flies when you’re having fun.


7. Ryan Bingham - Tomorrowland

I’ve been a longtime fan of Ryan Bingham. He’s always blazed his own path and I never know what to expect. That’s a great quality. This is a cranked up rocker with attitude. At times the attitude is layered in strings which is wild and cool. He’s knocking at the door with this record and you better answer, motherf*&$er!


8. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

This is raw and rocking. The production is top notch. Sounds come in and out while grabbing your collar and never letting go. It’s nice, too, that the message is happy and upbeat throughout. This one is meant to be played very loud.


9. Bob Mould - Silver Age

Bob Mould brings out the distorted guitar again and it sounds great. It’s got the moxy of Sugar, just 20 years later. The album puts the pedal to the metal and reminds me of all that Bob has given to rock and roll over the ages with a fresh sheen. This one is a lot of fun to listen to.


10. Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

I really like the musical pictures Imagine Dragons paint. They are masterful in the studio creating whole worlds without ever losing the joy of a song with a simple hook. It’s catchy and deep at the same time.


11. Dr. John - Locked Down

It is good to have the doctor back in.


12. Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit

Driving, vibrant and eclectic “Delta Spirit” delivers an indie album that rocks enough to keep me on board.


13. Ponderosa - Pool Party

Ethereal, epic soundscapes painting tapestries for the ears.


14. Nick Waterhouse - Time’s All Gone

Old school R&B evoking the 60s, a pleasure to bring back to life.


15. John Hiatt - Mystic Pinball

John has a bite to him this time around that adds to his usual gruffness
and great songwriting.


16. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Retro, yet contemporary and oh, what a voice!


17. Vintage Trouble - The Bomb Shelter Sessions

This LA outfit is full of spunk and energy delivering blues, retro soul.


18. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

It’s like Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye had a baby and named him Michael
Kiwanuka.


19. World Famous Headliners - World Famous Headliners

It’s always good to hear Big Al Anderson, even better when it’s with
musicians of this caliber.


20. ZZ Top - La Futura

This is the best thing ZZ Top has done since Degüello so enjoy.


21. Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears

With so much bad contemporary country, it’s great to hear a great country record.


22. Bob Dylan - Tempest

Even at his age, he ain’t done yet being relevant.


23. Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

Catchy, rocking pop numbers are always welcome.


24. The Infamous Stringdusters – Silver Sky

Modern day bluegrass virtuosity that rocks.


25. Help Me Devil – Lokanta Hell

A rockabilly throwback with guts and grease for good measure.

Here’s to Good Health

Last week I got some good news about my health.

In June of 2011, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It was a huge wake up call for my lifestyle. I immediately made changes and six months later when I went back to see my doctor, he was impressed enough by my progress that he cut my meds in half. I lost fifty pounds. My diet was greatly improved.

When I stepped back and analyzed how far I had come, I decided to get more ambitious. I believed I could improve my health even more to the point where I wouldn’t need any medicine. I did not want to take drugs if I didn’t absolutely have to take them.

In January, I shared with internet friends my diagnosis and progress. All was well and going to get better.

I added exercise to my regimen. I curtailed drinking to almost nil. That was when I changed my twitter ID from @drivewaydrinker to @drivewaydranker. I also began meditating. I decided to read up on hinduism to learn their style of meditation. Now I wake up before the rest of my family and meditate on a daily basis.

I also stopped taking my perscription. That was a somewhat bold move as I didn’t consult my doctor about that. I just believed I could achieve success in my health without medication.

In October, I went back to my doctor. He was skeptical. I was a little worried with his concern, but he sent me for labs. Last week, I got the results back. I had kept my blood sugar low without the medicine. All my tests came back great. I actually came up on his chart as pre-diabetic.

I’m not here writing this to gloat. I do feel good about where I’ve gone with my health, but the main reason I’m writing this is to encourage others. My initial steps came from realizing what my body was telling me. I read online five symptoms of diabetes. When I saw that I had all five, I started looking for answers. I found an endocrinologist and read up.

If you have these symptoms you may want to start taking similar steps to what I did.

* Increased thirst
* Frequent urination
* Unexplained weight loss
* Fatigue and irritability
* Extreme hunger

I was always thirsty. I was peeing a lot, even making three or four bathroom trips during the night. I was always tired and my family will tell you, always cranky, which can make for good fodder on twitter but can make those close to you miserable. Hunger would hit me like an avalanche. The nice symptom was weight loss. I lost 20 pounds inexplicably. After I changed my diet I lost the additional 30.

If you think you might have diabetes get to your doctor. A simple glucose test will quickly give you an answer.

If you do have diabetes, take heart. You can improve your situation drastically. Though it is a progressive disease, it is also one that you have a sizable amount of control to improve. I’m pretty much an idiot and if I can improve my health as much as I have, so can you.

I’m pretty ecstatic about where I’m at with my health. Now you throw in my happiness over the Obama victory and it’s hard to take the smile off my face.

The Top Ten Albums of the First Half of 2012

As selected by me…

1. “The Lumineers” by The Lumineers
The stories of lost souls woven beautifully in catchy acoustic pop.

2. “Write a New Song” by Efren
Raw rock ‘n roll from the rough and tumble side of the tracks with hooks that pull you in and keep you coming back for more.

3. “The Golden Age & the Silver Girl” by Tyler Lyle
This album is such a mellow pleasure to listen to, it’s usually over before I realize it.

4. “Celebration Rock” by Japandroids
I hear the driving guitars and gut wrenching power of these songs and I can’t help but think this might be what U2 would’ve sounded like had they evolved down the punk-ish path of their first couple records instead of pursuing navel gazing anthems.

5. “Shakedown” by Hacienda
Raw and rockin’, this band out of San Antonio has benefitted from the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach producing a modern, edgy sound.

6. “Boys & Girls” by Alabama Shakes
Soulful rock, maybe even could be labeled “retro”. The Aretha/Joplin charisma of Brittany Howard is ably supported by solid musicianship.

7. “Locked Down” by Dr. John
Dr. John is back with a vengeance. He has not lost that voodoo soul. Another production by Dan Auerbach this time bringing new life to an old legend.

8. “Continued Silence” by Imagine Dragons
Poppy, modern and smart. This might have come in higher in my list if it were more than a six song EP.

9. “Pure” by The Bluefields
Old school rock and roll. Pure and simple. Not without minor flaws, but certainly great at times. Dan Baird plays bass this time around.

10. “Royal Southern Brotherhood” by Royal Southern Brotherhood
A New Orleans rock ‘n funkin’ sound bringing Cyril Neville and Greg Allman’s son, Devon, together with the rest of a tight band for an album of fun songs. Some of the production choices aren’t my favorites, but this is still worthy of a top ten selection.

Outskirts of NATO

I live in Chicago. NATO is visiting our fair city this weekend. I just thought I’d take a couple moments to share my experiences of this unusual event.

I haven’t been in the heart of anything. No protests. Nothing. I’ve just used the highways in the city a bit

I’ll say this. Traffic is awesomely light. I loved it.

Saturday morning, my wife and I took our kids to see a children’s play in the Lakeview neighborhood. We got there lickity split and found great parking. The two of us also went back into the city to see a very funny play at the Royal George Theater, The Doyle and Debbie Show. It’s like a country duet spinal tap thing. It started slow but won me over. I digress.

Traffic was so light heading into the city on a Saturday night, we were forty minutes early. It was great to move at such a leisurely pace.

Tonight, I went to pick up some stuff I loaned a friend. He lives near Comiskey which isn’t too far from McCormick Place where everything is happening. Traffic was really light. I got hit briefly with a shut down of the highway when someone important must’ve been coming through, but I only saw the tail end of the shut down. Nary a delay.

It was ominous and weird, though to see the cops standing at the overpasses down near the loop. That had the feel of coming right out of the movies. But it was kind of cool. Something’s going on and I’m just touching the periphery.

On the way home I had to pull aside one lane as a white van with a four squad car escort zoomed by. That was kinda cool to see too and didn’t slow me down much.

Bottom line though, NATO really cleared up traffic for me this weekend. So cheers to them for that.

A depiction of a tale from the heretical gospel of Qui Gon, Enormous Jesus heals the walrus man. Mostly with fashion advice.

A depiction of a tale from the heretical gospel of Qui Gon, Enormous Jesus heals the walrus man. Mostly with fashion advice.

They’re cutting her down. Where’s that lorax dude?

They’re cutting her down. Where’s that lorax dude?

Good To Play

It was good to jam last night with these musicians I’ve been trying to line up for months and months.

We were in a rehearsal space the drummer rents. Five guys in a small room, but it worked.

Three of these guys are better players than me, which is good for me. That’s how I will get better. There’s nothing like playing with those better than me to get me to see my deficiencies. Last night was a great litmus test.

I don’t know if this band will come together. Guys are so busy with life and one guy has a new job. Two of them play in other bands. It may not be worth their while to get up to speed.

I’m approaching this group as a chance to improve. Ultimately I want to write and perform originals, fronting the deal. That’ll be down the road a little as I need to get recording gear in place to craft originals. There’s a timeline on that happening, so that’s cool. It’s just not today.

One guy called my playing “over the top” which I actually took as a compliment. I stayed in my comfort zone since I was in over my head, but when I was in that zone, I played with passion. I fronted a few songs last night and I’ve started trying to channel Steve Marriott as much as I can.

Jammin’

My band is jammin’ tonight. I cannot wait.

I’m thinking of throwing them a curveball by asking them to give wilco’s “I’ve Got You (It’s the End of the Century)” a go. The Band of Heathens played it Friday night and I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since.

The Band of Heathens was great. Colin left the band in January, but they still have so much talent. They’re song-centric and tight. It’s not really fair to compare what they were before with what they are now, because losing an integral piece changes the dynamic so much. Colin was one of the three songwriters and their multi-instrumentalist. A lot spice that was sprinkled on the songs is gone, but now they’ve got another keyboard player on hand full time. The songs are still interesting. Just different.