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How the West Was Lost

I’ll be departing Arizona and heading back east in a few months.  It’s not what I would have chosen, but it is what’s right and responsible.  I’m slowly setting the resentment aside and accepting the necessity of the move.  Work, eldercare, children and a beautiful, sociable spouse all push me eastward and up, while the desert, isolation, and lazy puttering that I covet hold me back and down.  “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” as a logical friend says.  I strive to ponder less, embrace more.

Of all the versions of me that have existed over the years, I think it’s the one who sported a jeans jacket, cowboy boots, and a leather belt with his name on the back that I miss most.  He lasted for a few years, from roughly junior year in high school through Mormon mission and college until fading away gradually as graduate school and career took him east.  He wasn’t a put-on as he’d been raised in mountains and forests, regularly fishing, hunting, gazing at campfires and riding in pick-up trucks.  It was at the age of 16 or 17, however, that he really came into his own.  It was then that he bought his own pick-up, a ’56 Chevy, and settled in with a small group of like-minded friends, a few of which had horses, lived up in the valley, or boasted brothers who competed on the professional rodeo circuit.

  Queries unwelcome as to which of the horse’s asses is me…

Since coming to Arizona in 2017, my love of the western novels of Louis L’Amour, which had been teenage favorites, has seriously rekindled.  I’d never set them aside completely, picking up one or two every couple of years when seeking easy airplane reading or whiling away the time in some troubled land, but they certainly weren’t top of the reading list.  I imagine it’s their fit with the landscapes that surround me here, coupled with their endless availability at every local thrift store – often at less than a dollar a pop – which has coaxed me back.  The stories of quiet, honorable men and strong-willed, independent women standing up against dire challenges, both villainous and natural, are a salve against the worst of human motivations with which we are bombarded daily.  I find it easy to lose myself in their lonely gulches and solitary plateaus.  They’ll go with me back to Virginia.

With the Ferguson rifle in my right hand, I drank coffee from the cup in my left.
       — Louis L’Amour, “The Ferguson Rifle”

The young me would have never pretended himself a true cowboy, but among the high school cliques I guess that is how we were categorized.  While trucks, boots and leather belts were shared standards, we fancied ourselves rugged individualists.  Save for one head-spinning attempt, I never joined my friends in the enjoyment of Skoal, their preferred chewing tobacco, although I did work my way through a few boxes of Wolf Bros. Rum-Soaked Crookettes.  Our nights were spent either dragging the boulevard in search of girls to bother or drinking coffee and playing pool at the Tamarack Restaurant in the old Flying J Truck Stop.  More than once, some old trucker would spring for a round of baked potatoes in return for us letting him share his tales.  Another draw was my eventual senior prom date Cindy, who was a waitress at the Tamarack, although during most of that time she was the girlfriend of my buddy Patrick.

I’ve been spinning my Chris LeDoux records quite a bit of late.  His straight-forward songs of rodeo life and western living, with their rough rides, longing for home, and simple goals have always appealed to me but had not really been part of my regular music rotation since my early 20s.  Chris was the real deal, having won the World Champion Bareback Rider title at the 1976 National Finals Rodeo.  One of my major music-related regrets is never having seen him live.  My high school buds and I bought tickets for a Charly McClain concert in the early 80s only to learn she’d been snowed in at Denver and wouldn’t make the show.  Having been all revved up to ogle Charly, we opted to get our money back rather than stay for an extended show by opening act Chris LeDoux.  Chris was always putting on shows in Utah and I figured there’d be a million future opportunities to see him on the cheap.  Unfortunately, I never did get around to seeing him and, with his death from cancer in 2005, I never will.  His records will definitely go with me back to Virginia.

Life back east is going to be good.  I miss my kids and being close enough to embarrass, harass, and hang out with them will be a pleasure.  My noble wife will have siblings nearby who can grant her an occasional break from eldercare demands, and Mamá Lidia herself deserves to be surrounded by children and grandchildren as she plays out her story.  There seems to be a broad spectrum of work positions available for me to choose from, and, as long as I spend the next couple of months sticking to my exercise routine and eating better, I shouldn’t have to buy any new suits.  Yep, I’m sure that this is the right move.

Amarillo by Morning by Chris LeDoux

Caballo Diablo by Chris LeDoux

Musing Magnetic: The Memory Remains

Pakol Magnetic

It was hard to stay connected with loved ones during the yearlong stint.  There were a couple of VOIP phones that we shared among the Base occupants and could use when bandwidth allowed.  I tried to talk to my wife and daughter back home roughly weekly. I also rang up my son, who was in his first year away at college, maybe biweekly.  The combination of a highly inconvenient time difference and my exceptionally poor telephone performance meant that the calls were seldom satisfactory.  I regularly heard myself inexplicably leading unnecessary inquests into whether yard work was being done and vehicles serviced or conducting ad hoc financial audits and unsolicited remote arbitration of minor disagreements.  I missed my family immensely and wanted desperately to send and receive love across those fleeting airwaves, but I too seldom found the correct frequency to carry that tune.

My kids grew up hearing music played constantly; in the car, in the house, and everywhere else.  With me, they’d hear rock and metal, and with their mom it was salsa, cumbia, and Top 40.  While I encouraged their own interests in “whatever the kids are listening to these days,” I also actively sought to cultivate in them an appreciation for the head-banging strain.  I loved it when my son caught Metallica fever in his middle school years.  I quickly bought him music lessons and a beautiful flame-top Ibanez SZ-series electric guitar, and then annoyed him endlessly to play Metallica riffs for me as he showed himself to be an incredibly fast-learner.  In later years, watching him rock the axe in high school bands would be some of my proudest vicarious musical moments.

So, when my boy mentioned during one of our globe-crossing calls that Metallica’s World Magnetic Tour would come through his college town, I told him he had to be there.  Unsurprisingly, he did not bristle at the command, accepting happily my instruction to use Dad’s credit card to score the tickets.  (Now that I think back on it, I actually had to give credit card guidance twice as he somehow inadvertently bought Jimmy Buffett vice Metallica tickets on the first online try.  How does one confuse the ‘Margaritaville’ dude with the purveyors of ‘Master of Puppets’?  I’m still flummoxed…)

The upcoming concert became the main topic of our much-improved phone connections through the fall.  As gig day neared, I was as excited as he was, if not more so.  When the actual day hit, I had calculated the time difference and knew just when he would be in the arena.  I got little work done as I daydreamed about the glories he was witnessing.  I felt close to him; I put on headphones and listened to Metallica and believed I could somehow sense his elation.

Within hours of the show ending, I was on the internet looking for reviews or a set list or anything else I could find.  What a wonderful surprise when I found that Metallica’s own site not only put up a set list, but offered for purchase an actual recording of the concert itself.  I double checked; it wasn’t a concert, it was the concert, the actual one my boy had attended.  I couldn’t type in my payment details fast enough.

We had strict rules about our communal satellite internet connection.  There was absolutely no streaming or downloading allowed.  It simply was not fair to use up that much bandwidth given the number of us that had to share it, a point I made to my colleagues regularly.  But I was the boss and I had a special family-related need, right?  I chose the poor-quality, but significantly smaller 128 kbps file option so as to slightly moderate my hypocrisy and started the download at about 0200 hours in hopes it would finish up before the morning online rush.  (Note: It didn’t.  Even opting for the lower bit rate, the full download took over six hours.)

I put the show on my iPod and listened to it repeatedly over the next few weeks, fantasizing I could hear my son within the crowd noise, yelling and singing along throughout the two hours of live metal.  Even though I was alone and using the headphones to block out the real world, it somehow felt like a two-way connection.  I burned the full gig onto a pair of CDs and sent them off on a protracted mail journey to him, but I doubt my son ever really understood how important that “shared” concert experience had been and remains for me.  In the middle of shit, those imagined two-hour turns rocking out with my beloved boy were a much-needed, emotional escape.  We’ve attended many fantastic concerts together before and since, but Metallica in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 17 October 2009 is, to me, the most special of all.

My boy is a man now, and once again we are separated by both distance and demeanor.  He is making me very proud on the other side of the country, achieving much and making his own mark.  He has unfortunately inherited my substandard telephone manner, however, which means the airwaves once again carry an insufficient charge when we speak.  I miss him dearly and worry he’s not as happy as I would wish him to be.  I want him to know how often I think about him, and I want him to know that the vast majority of those thoughts are thankful and loving, vice judgmental and prescriptive.  Most of all, I want him to know how deeply I pine for our next Metallica moment.

Metallica- Seek and Destroy (live), Charlottesville, Virginia; 17 Oct 2009:

Torn on the Fourth of July

I’ve decided against going to see Ted Nugent play when he comes through Phoenix next month.  It was a tough decision to be honest.  After two decades living in places with limited such opportunities, I’ve been taking advantage of this area’s robust concert scene to see a ton of shows.  Besides a slew of newer bands, I’ve also rocked and rolled to plenty of yesteryear heroes as they’ve come through, enjoying most every one of them immensely.  Guitar-slinger Ted is someone I’ve wanted to see dating back to my youth and I was initially thrilled when I saw his name pop up on  However, as I’ve thought about it over subsequent days, I’ve realized I just can’t do it.

Lest anyone jump too hastily to conclusions, let me make clear that my decision is only indirectly related to the Nuge’s partisan blathering.  While I doubt Mr. Nugent and I would find much common ground in the political realm, for better or worse I’m generally able to mentally partition the music from the bigotries, chauvinisms, or otherwise unshared values it or its creator may espouse.

At risk of tanking my chances to ever competitively vie for the Presidency – although maybe not nowadays – I admit that I love listening to Sleep’s hour-long masterpiece Dopesmoker while fantasizing about giving in to the lyrical invitation to ‘Drop out of life with bong in hand’ and join the Weedians on their stoned trek to Nazareth.  However, this musical empathy doesn’t imply much sympathy for parental-basement-dwelling potheads journeying nowhere.  Similarly, I’ve been known to laugh out loud listening to Steel Panther, and have even enjoyed the highly-talented and horribly-inappropriate band live with my son.  Nevertheless, as the incredibly proud father of a beautiful 23-year-old soon-to-be professional woman, I am adamantly anti-sexist and actively oppose any political party, cultural bullshit, or old boy network that would seek to keep my daughter from being all that she wants to be.


Judge:  Is it true that the band Carcass played songs called ‘Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment‘ and ‘Vomited Anal Tract’ when you traveled over 2400 kilometers to see them live in 2013?

VotF:  No, it is not.  But they did play ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’ and ‘Exhume to Consume.’  And man, those are some highly-skilled and creative musicians crafting mesmerizingly aggressive music.


Nope, my opting out of seeing Ted isn’t about his rhetoric, it is about geography.  I know where I live now, and I expect that, in this overwhelmingly red state, too many concert attendees will care as much about Ted’s politics as they do about that guitar of his, which can blow the balls off a charging rhino at 60 paces and just refuses to play sweet shit.  I simply don’t want to be in the middle of a crowd that will yell louder when the Nuge mentions his guns, his disdain for our last president, and his love for our current one than they will when he announces that all-time classic ‘Stranglehold’ is next.

I absolutely don’t care what Ted says from the stage.  For me it is about the fantastic rock and roll he offers; it is about the music.  Unfortunately, I’m convinced that, in these angry times and in this angry place, many concert-goers will view their attendance as a political message more so than a live music event.  I don’t begrudge them that.  After all, we are celebrating the birth of our democracy and the freedoms it provides on this Fourth of July as I write this.  I’m just not going to be joining them.

Prickly Ted

For now, I will continue to solely enjoy the Motor City Madman’s musical output in its analogue and digital forms, regularly and without apology.  Hopefully the day will soon come when the victimhood and outrage fetishes shared across the spectrum of today’s political divide will be relegated back to their dark corners and fade from the national consciousness (as well as from the endlessly yammering co-dependent media).  Then, if old Ted can avoid getting offed in some hunting or BBQ accident in the meantime, maybe we can once again experience the joy of liberals and conservatives side-by-side pumping their fists and banging their heads in unison to the magnificent chug of ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.’

Do Not Waste Time Blocking Your Ears

Do Not Panic!!

It was billed as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, which the angry internet ensured I knew was controversial, legally speaking.  But if leveraging his old band’s name really was the cynical cash grab that the indignation enthusiasts claimed, it can’t have been an especially successful one.  On 6 November 2017 at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona, there were no more than 35 of us contributing funds to Nik’s coffers to the tune of just US$13.00 a head.  And, truth be told, the actual paying number may have been less as the venue issued each ticket buyer an additional free pass “to give to a friend” a few days before the gig in an attempt to bulk up attendance.

What those of us that turned up that Monday night received in return for our modest financial outlay was the opportunity to watch and hear an animated, eccentric, and contagiously happy man play and sing songs that irrefutably carried his DNA in their genes.  Backed as he has been for some years now by prog-psych rockers Hedersleben, Nik performed a set of Hawkwind masterworks from albums dating to his epic time in that epic band.  ‘Sonic Attack,’ ‘Orgone Accumulator,’ ‘Master of the Universe,’ ‘Brainstorm,’ ‘Time We left This World Today,’ and even ‘Silver Machine’ all got served up, along with six or seven additional Hawkwind tunes and a couple of new songs from Nik’s 2017 solo album Life in Space.


Having commendably achieved “elderly gentleman” status now, Nik nonetheless was a ball of cosmic energy up there on stage, albeit a relatively stationary one.  (Maybe more a “column” of cosmic energy then?)  He handled all the vocals himself, dynamically singing or speaking each song’s trippy lyrics as warranted.  More thrillingly, he unleashed those signature saxophone blasts, bleats, and squonks as if he’d been grooming them for decades, while also enticing melody and radiance out of both that instrument and his loyal flute whenever the flight path demanded.  For their part, the Hederslebeners demonstrated both their talent and their affection for the legacy.  This was neither a Hawkwind nor a Hawkwind-tribute show; it was a Nik Turner show.  The band soared and shined impressively – and extended interstellar journeys were most definitely taken – but always in a way that subtly and lovingly kept the focus on the venerable hero out front.


An aside on Hedersleben:  Led by UK Subs founding guitarist Nicky Garratt, the group emerged as a touring/recording entity out of the band that backed Nik Turner on his 2013 album Space Gypsy.  It has gone through many members since, but always with Garratt serving as the center post around which the others revolve.  They played a progtastic instrumental-heavy opening set prior to Turner coming on stage that successfully bobbed heads and temporarily freed minds from earthly worries.  Introducing one suite of songs from 2015’s The Fall of Chronopolis, Garratt called the album “all you could possibly want from an epic progressive rock record.”  Based on what I heard live, I added the digital LP to my Spotify library shortly after the show, and have enjoyed it occasionally a few times since.  Whether the relatively polite album – inspired by the 1974 sci-fi novel of the same name by Barrington J. Bayley — is all I could want is debatable.  It is without doubt, however, a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes with headphones in a darkened room.


Despite playing for an audience of less than three dozen, Nik showed no signs of disillusion or disappointment.  I think we all got our individual share of smiling eye contact with him over the course of the night.  I’ll also admit, sincerely and without shame, to being truly moved at the way Nik repeatedly turned to Garratt with almost childlike pleading in his eyes to seek permission to keep going each time the small crowd yelled for more at every attempt to finish the show.  Once Garratt finally exercised parental authority and the band started packing up, Nik still continued, blowing extended solo sax versions of ‘Tequila’ and ‘The Pink Panther Theme’ to the hunkered-down crowd.  Even after that, he simply put down his instrument and stepped off the front of the stage to enjoy excited back-slapping and round-buying with the congregation.

As I departed the venue, I happily plunked down $30 additional for a concert tee and a CD copy of Life in Space.  I am a Hawkwind fan, but I am no Hawkwind expert.  That said, I cannot imagine any but the most Brock-blind fanatics not enjoying this Nik Turner solo offering on its own merits.  Ignore the over-stated marketing nonsense about “guest appearances by Hawkwind alumni” and the nothing-wrong-with-it ‘Master of the Universe” re-recording.  Instead, seek out this album for the great new songs played by all-in musinauts who are willing and able, if you’ll simply allow them, to merrily teleport you out to where your beloved Space Rock is no longer bound by the constraints of time, whether past, present, or future.

Root, Root, Rooting for the Home Team, Augmented



With rare raindrops wetting the Arizona desert outside, my Peruvian spouse of 30 years and I have just finished watching the Peru vs. Denmark World Cup soccer game on a Spanish-language cable network.  Our two “mixed” children, separately thousands of miles away in the eastern U.S., shared it with us via Spanglish text shout-outs in a WhatsApp “Family” group we’ve set up for the four of us.  It was a fun bit of family bonding, the likes of which we seldom get to enjoy now that our babies have matured into faraway, busy 20-somethings.

   A little bit of Peru in Arizona

Our daughter saw the game in a Peruvian restaurant owned by the parents of a friend in Washington D.C., shouting herself hoarse surrounded by fellow fans of the red and white.  She’s been sending us excited messages in support of the team for weeks.  Even our relatively less-communicative eldest was fully engaged, blasting emoji-filled rants after each action of note.  Intriguingly, just as the game was set to begin, he sent a picture of himself and an unidentified girl decked out in Peru jerseys over the caption “Ready for the game!”  Would this be the woman he has hinted about dating over the last couple months but has otherwise shared nothing of?   As I type, I hear my wife and daughter reassuring each other over the phone that, even in losing 1-0, the muchachos played well and still have the heart and the skill to make it out of their group, although that now likely requires a win over France and the three points that go with it this upcoming Thursday.

Even as they grew up sporting U.S. passports, we’ve always made an effort to ensure our kids also felt a connection to their more hot-blooded halves.  They each spoke Spanish before they spoke English – although really only by a few weeks thanks to Barney the purple dinosaur – and are fully bilingual, wonderfully able to converse fluently with monolingual grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended kin on both sides.  While their mom and I have always mainly spoken Spanish to each other at home, by school age each of our pair had independently drawn a notional line in the sand, deeming it unbearably uncomfortable to either speak to Mami in English or to Dad in Spanish.

     Ours at left and right

Besides the occasional trip down to Peru to visit family when they were little, my work life also allowed them a three-year stint living in and experiencing their maternal homeland during an important chunk of their individual pre-teen ripenings.  Their mom, an incredible home-schooled cook, has always served us superb Peruvian fare, but living in Peru gave them the opportunity to expand their love for that globally-praised cuisine to include street food and lesser-known regional delicacies that they still seek out.  Between family vacations and school-sponsored trips, they gained robust familiarity with the country’s arid coast, lush jungles, and especially the fertile mountain valleys and towering Andean ranges whence spring the indigenous side of their greater American ancestral legacies.

   Abuelita Tani, ca. 2004

Happily, the legacy they inherited was not solely historical.  Each of them as infants had received the personal blessing of their maternal great-grandmother, Abuelita Tani, but living in Peru at an age when they could value it also permitted them to etch into their memories the joy of holding her soft hands and partaking of her mountain-grown wisdom and stories prior to her passing.  Someday, when they’re settled and maybe even raising offspring of their own, I’ll hope to reinforce those remembrances by passing along copies of the 1991 audio recordings I made of La Abuelita sharing some of her life story.

Our kids have been dipped in the culture of Peru as well, both as spectators and as participants.  They regularly heard Peruvian music at home and on the amateur stage, clapped as their kin danced huaynos at family gatherings, and heard both Happy Birthday and Cumpleaños Felices sung as they celebrated each birthday.  As seen in the videos embedded below, our boy surprised us one Father’s Day strumming some Andean guitar rhythms while his music teacher played the quena, or traditional Andean flute.  Likewise, our little girl melted our hearts in performances of traditional dances, such as the marinera norteña (seen below), and zamacueca.






From where I sit, there is great goodness in my kids’ ability to just as joyously hacer bulla for “their” Peruvian national team during this World Cup as they did when cheering on “their” championship U.S. national team in the Women’s World Cup in 2015.  At a time when division and insularity seem to have the momentum, I could not be happier for the divided allegiances, or better yet the augmented allegiances of my progeny.  Of course, it’s also nice that having two home teams gives us a better shot at being able to actually pull for our own against the world every four years…

¡¡Arriba Peru!!

Give them Lace Blooz hell!!

¡¡Sí se puede!!