Remembering Metal’s Boss

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

As this week wrapped and I came upon an incredible New York Times Magazine piece, I realized Thursday marked nine years since the singer Ronnie James Dio passed away from cancer at 67. If you’re, like me, a fan of the genre, Ronnie James Dio personifies Metal. The same holds true if you’re not a fan.  You just don’t know it yet.

Born Ronald James Padavona, Dio performed in a band named Elf, which eventually earned a slot opening for Deep Purple. In the 1970’s, Purple’s guitarist Ritchie Blackmore formed the band Rainbow, and Dio joined as a lead singer. And, if you’re even remotely curious, I’d encourage you to look up Rainbow’s “Man on the Silver Mountain” featuring Dio’s lead vocals. You won’t find a better representation of his work.

After creative differences with Blackmore led Dio to leave Rainbow he connected with Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath guitarist. The band had just fired singer Ozzy Osbourne and honestly didn’t know if they had any future. Dio ended up joining Sabbath for a brief stint from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, serving as a lyricist and lead singer. The band’s albums from this year are certainly different, but in a good way. Hard, melodic, but maybe not as sludgy.

Band infighting led to Dio leaving Sabbath and forming his own namesake band, which released a series of solid albums through the 2000’s. If you’re reading this post and Ronnie James Dio sounds familiar but you’re just not certain, then you’ve likely heard his song “Rainbow in the Dark,” off Dio’s 1983 signature album Holy Diver.

Short and slight, with unruly thinning hair, no one would ever mistake Ronnie James Dio with David Lee Roth or Vince Neil in their respective heydays. But it was Dio’s authenticity that made him resonate with fans. Even though I never got a chance to see Dio in concert, he built his enduring career based on making an audience member feel as if he was performing directly to them. In this regard I would almost consider him Metal’s version of Bruce Springsteen.

Widely known for popularizing the “devil’s horn” symbol common among headbangers worldwide, Dio sang in a theatrical, operatic style.  His songs reference dragons, serpents, mountains and of course, rainbows.  Dio openly flaunted his nerd ethic, his outsider status. I truly wish he could have lived long enough to see shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones embraced by mainstream society. He probably would have smirked knowingly and then gotten back to the task at hand.

It’s my sense as a long-time music fan, that Metal hasn’t really been widely embraced since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But I can assure you that bands who you haven’t thought about in years, who you may relegate to “What ever happened to?” status, have been regularly producing albums, many quite good, and touring each year.  And each night their singers, in some shape or form, pay homage to Ronnie James Dio, Metal’s inimitable boss.

Heaven and Hell in concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland, America - 24 Aug 2009

Image credit: Rolling Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Goodness Begets Goodness

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I hate surprises; always have. In fact, I’d go as far as saying I’ve only enjoyed two surprises in my life. And that was when my wife told me we were pregnant, first with our son, now 14 and daughter, now 12.

So you can imagine my truly authentic surprise when I found out this week that two colleagues of mine, both men in their late 20’s, have wives that are expecting. I’m close with both of them; think highly of each. I’m confident that they and their respective spouses will make excellent parents. Which makes the surprises all the more sweet.

I know that mathematically, either of these men could be my sons but in the time that I’ve known them prefer to think of myself more as an older brother. Despite being of a different generation, they’re both old souls and I can tell they were raised well. And I’m not just saying that because of their respective excellent tastes in music.

Especially lately I’ve found that the whole notion of generational differences is becoming overdone. Sure I’ve met individuals who personify the negative stereotypes associated with their generations. But overall I’ve found that good people are good people. And I want to believe that goodness begets goodness.

When the first friend told me of their impending arrival, yesterday, we discussed fairly pedestrian but important matters. Houses, dogs and the mechanics of child care. But the conversation with my other friend, which just occurred earlier today, took a different turn.

He asked me flat out if I had any advice and I told him two things. To embrace all the moments, even the ones that aren’t much fun, equally and not wish time away. And to remember that all the cliches you hear about parenting – how time goes way too fast, how you love and abhor every stage equally, and on and on, are absolutely true.

I told this friend of the jealousy I feel when I’m walking our dog in my neighborhood and see relatively new parents pushing strollers. That I envy their freshness and newness. Although I wouldn’t trade places with them in a million years.

I’m already looking forward to sharing my friends’ respective journeys with them; to get a sense of how they’re faring, of where I might be able to weigh in and offer counsel. But more likely, where I can smile or smirk knowingly, as the situation requires. I offer them my best wishes, my sincerest empathy and shared appreciation for what’s ahead.

Here’s to them both. And the goodness to follow.

Be Good

Image credit: Alex Shye

Road Age

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I ran my first road race on July 4, 1982, when I was 11 years old. Now, before you get too impressed, I’d like to issue a couple of qualifiers. For starters, I started running out of desperation. I have horrendous eye-hand coordination and growing up always had difficulty with any team sport involving a ball. And back during that time frame, I believed I had to participate in some sport, given the lack of activities in my small town. My build and stubborn, almost masochistic pride lent themselves to distance running. So distance running I did. Oh, and that other qualifier. I ran my last road race in the waning months of the Reagan administration. Until this past Sunday, that is.

For the past 22 years our family has spent Mother’s Day participating in the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities Race for the Cure. We do it to honor my mother-in-law, who lost her own long and courageous battle to breast cancer back in 2008. And we do it because we enjoy ourselves; it’s become tradition.

While our family typically participates in the 5K walk, this year our son Ethan, 14, expressed an interest in doing the earlier run, which follows the same route. I was game so the two of us woke up early on Mother’s Day and rode our bikes to Southdale Center in Edina, where the race is held. The plan was for Ethan and I to do the run together and then meet up with my wife, daughter and other family members to walk.

Prior to leaving the house I had grabbed a drawstring bag one of our kids had obtained at some activity. I figured it would come in handy and I was glad I had it as Ethan and I walked through the Southdale parking lot, prior to the race, loading up on bottled water, granola bars, bananas and other race swag. Ethan and I smirked at each other knowingly, pleased to get while the getting was good, before the crowds formed later in the morning.

Gradually, Ethan and I sauntered over to the starting area, where we congregated with the rest of the runners. The vibe seemed fun, casual, with runners of all ages and, from the looks of it, all fitness levels. I put the drawstrings over my shoulders and waited for the race to start.

Within the first couple of steps I realized that bringing the drawstring bag was an enormous tactical error. There was no way it would stay situated on my back. So I ended up running while untangling it off my shoulders and holding it clenched in one hand, while trying not to drop the iPhone I held in my other hand, and not trip and fall in the process.

Meanwhile, Ethan ran several places ahead of me, swift as a Gazelle. I caught up to him and kept alternating the bag between my right and left hand. Both were equally uncomfortable. “Dad, are you OK?” Ethan asked, for the first of many times.

I told him I was fine. Really. But it was clear I was slowing Ethan down.

Other runners started passing me. Adults. Young adults. Kids. But I soldiered on, holding the drawstring bag, feeling like some type of deranged robber. If someone was dumb enough to actually steal swag.

Eventually we saw a cheerful volunteer holding a Mile 1 marker. But that had to be wrong. I could have sworn I’d been running for about 15 minutes. Nope; it just felt like it.

Once my frustration at the bag subsided, all kinds of incredulous thoughts and rationalizations went through my head. About how I was in what I considered decent shape for my age. How I ran regularly, plus swam at least once a week. Surely I could do better than this.

Then I realized that I ran and swam by myself, early in the morning, lost in my own inner world. I typically had no one else to compare myself with. Plus, what was the point in comparing myself, anyway. Ethan was having fun. I was pretending to have fun. We were supporting a good cause.

Ultimately Ethan and I finished right at 27 minutes. Then we took the selfie that accompanies this post. Ethan seemed about as nonplussed as he appears, barely sweating and ready to tear into the swag. I was relieved but happy.

I’m already looking forward to doing the run with Ethan next Mother’s Day. Except I plan on leaving the drawstring bag at home. Along with my ego.

Race for the Cure

 

 

 

A Mantra Tale

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I returned early yesterday evening from a three-day work trip. During the past several years I’ve been traveling fairly steadily. Put it this way – if you rarely travel – it would seem like I travel all the time; if you travel constantly, my schedule would appear fairly moderate. Either way, I was glad to be home.

My trip culminated with a presentation I gave. Now, as background, as part of my job I offer presentation training and coaching. So I paid extra close attention to my preparation, mindset and interactions with my colleagues, knowing I’d document it and incorporate it into future discussions.

I’m not sure if he actually said it but there’s a saying I’ve seen attributed to Mark Twain – “There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” It’s absolutely true. I don’t care if you present weekly or once a year. Presenting is tough; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This might seem obvious but for me nerves are directly related to preparation. So I make sure to prepare like crazy, know my material and even plan for possible scenarios such as having my presentation rescheduled, shortened or cancelled altogether. But I realize, in hindsight, that my preparation was a bit myopic – focused perhaps too much on the content and not on the delivery.

This was driven home to me in the days leading up to my presentation when colleagues would ask me if I was ready. I’d respond in a way that seemed to me at the time like I was trying to boost their confidence in me but I was really boosting my own confidence. In my responses I’d focus on my material, note the key points I’d hope to make, the time I had allotted. When our exchanges concluded, my colleagues either said “Well, enjoy!” or “Have fun!” I thanked them and went on my way.

The evening before my presentation I was on my own for dinner so I went to a Japanese restaurant that is part of a local Whole Foods. I sat at the bar and ate a bowl of Ramen, feeling like a protagonist in a Haruki Murakami novel. Then I returned to my hotel and took a long walk outside, listening to a podcast.

Even though I was away from home, outside of my normal surroundings, I felt very much at peace, content. I was experiencing adrenaline, but more of that solid warm buzz; not the heart-pounding variety. I knew my time presenting the next day would go by way too quickly. I wanted to savor this feeling. Then I thought back to what I’d been hearing from colleagues about enjoying and having fun. As soon as I got back to my hotel room I took out a Post-it note from my bag and jotted down “Savor,” “Enjoy” and Have fun.” (Pictured below – I’d say please excuse my handwriting but there’s no excuse for it).

I woke up early the next morning and went running, again reminding myself to savor the moment, enjoy it and have fun. “Did I come upon a mantra?” I wondered to myself. Nah. I wasn’t the mantra type.

I always bring a paper copy of my presentation with me when I present. I’ve never once actually looked at it as I’m usually projecting on a screen. But I think of it as my security blanket. I kept the post-it note with my mantra stuck to the front page, and continued to sneak glances at it during the other speakers, as I waited my turn.

Just like I expected, my time presenting flew by. I enjoyed myself. I had fun. I did my best to savor the experience.

After the presentation was over, I snapped a photo of the Post-it note and then crumbled it up and threw it away. I knew I’d use it for this blog but assumed that the mantra had served its purpose. It did, but now I realize it can be applied to some other areas of my life as well.

Mantra

 

No Must, No Fuss

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

Every so often I’ll hear a song by Björk played on a local independent Twin Cities radio station. There’s certainly no mistaking her voice and I know she’s one of Iceland’s most notable exports. I also know she’s a highly-regarded, accomplished artist. But I always think the same thing every time I hear a snippet of Björk’s music: “Does anyone actually listen to her?”

I thought of Björk the other day as I came upon a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in one of the many Little Free Library boxes in my neighborhood. Everyone, even if they don’t read much, knows the opening. But has anyone beyond students and academics actually read beyond that point?

I recall reading Dickens’ Great Expectations in high school and forcing my way through it more than enjoying the novel. But given that I’ve seen Dickens held up as the inspiration of countless authors, surely some people actually read A Tale of Two Cities, not to mention his other work. They can’t all be faking it.

The reality is that, despite being an avid reader for my entire adult life, I’ve completed relatively few “classics.” My sense, and this is based on my own ignorance, is that books written a long time ago are inherently boring or stuffy. With one notable exception.

For the past few years I’ve been reading the entire collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories on my Kindle. And you know something; I’m really enjoying them. I’ve found the pieces to be well-plotted and fast-paced with just the right amount of detail. The type of writing people would read on airplanes, if they had them back in the 19th century.

As background, while I’ve read the Sherlock Holmes stories in a clear, well-lit and odorless format, my copy of A Tale of Two Cities, pictured below, looks old and smells musty. It features a blah, stuffy-looking cover. In some instances these variables might be considered endearing or whimsical. For now I see them as anything but.

Yet I have every intention of starting A Tale of Two Cities, of getting beyond that opening sentence and learning what it is Charles Dickens has to say. I’ve learned that ageism, in our everyday personal and professional relationships, leads to short-sightedness and missed opportunities. I have a hunch the same holds true for literature.

A Tale of Two Cities

 

When Social Currency Expires

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

Yesterday marked our first truly beautiful weekend day here in the Twin Cities – the one we’ve waited for all winter. Our daughter Sasha had soccer practice and I arrived a bit early, approaching the field with a certain buoyancy in my step, hoping to savior the day as much as I could. Often times in these situations, I’ll bring a book with me if I’m alone but this time I arrived empty-handed. I stood on the edge of the field and watched the practice for a bit. Another soccer Dad came by, stood next to me and said hello. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather and then fell back into silence.

Now, as background, we’re fortunate in that our daughter plays soccer with a great group of girls and the respective families are very supportive. Many of their kids have played soccer together for years and the parents formed something of a clique. And, as I’ve found on multiple locations, they’re not big on outsiders joining. The soccer Dad who I’d just spoken to is part of that clique.

After a few minutes, another soccer Dad, also part of the clique, came by wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. Both the gent I’d started speaking with earlier and I commented on the irony of him wearing this shirt on May the 4th. But he quickly displayed exasperation, saying that he bought the shirt to appease his daughter and joked around  ( I thought) about not being a nerd.

The conversation then turned to Game of Thrones and both Dads said neither of them had seen a single episode. “Me neither,” I opined, and both of them smiled knowingly. Wow. Little did I know that not watching a show would be the social currency required to penetrate a well-formed clique. I bet pretty soon we’d be having beers together.

One of the Dads noted that he also hadn’t read the Game of Throne novels, saying he wasn’t much of a reader. The other Dad offered that he never read. Uh oh. I read constantly. So I turned to humor.

“I read all the time,” I offered. “But I’m a nerd.”

I was smiling when I said this but both Dads suddenly had quizzical looks on their faces, not quite sure if I was being serious. I figured I’d get the conversation back on track with a self-deprecating, true anecdote about nerddom.  About the time I saw Rush at the Minnesota State Fair with a group of guys – one who, on the weekends, dressed as a Stormtrooper and performed in a pre-Disney George Lucas-sanctioned Star Wars review. “Do either of you listen to Rush?” I offered as a lead-in.

“Uh!” one Dad said disgustedly. “I hate Rush!” “Not only can’t I stand Rush,” the other offered. “I actively look down my nose at people who listen to them.”

Another Uh oh. Rush is one of my favorite bands and I actively recommend Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, the 2002 memoir by drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, to anyone willing to listen.

So I again turned to humor, laughing along and taking the “c’mon, guys,” approach but inside I was fuming. A line had been crossed. I wished I had brought my book after all.

Especially during the past few years, as time and friendships become more precious, I have admittedly seen the value in social currency – bonding with people over shows, movies, bands, books, podcasts and the like. Yet I temper this way of thinking by reminding myself that it’s not what you like but what you’re like. Usually, I’ve found that to be the case. But not yesterday. It turns out social currency does have an expiration date. And this time it was May the 4th.

Expiration Date

Image credit: Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials

 

 

Email: My New Fountain Pen

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

Back in the 1980’s I received a LAMY fountain pen for my Bar Mitzvah along with a couple of engraved Cross ballpoint pens. It was the kind of thing kids received for occasions like that back in the day and I remember being particularly excited about the fountain pen. I had always wanted to be an author and I envisioned a fountain pen as a key affectation of the trade, along with a tweed jacket and ever-present cigarette.

Over the years, all the way up through my late 20’s, actually, I would take out my LAMY fountain pen when I wanted to do some writing. And by “writing” I’m referring to taking one of my black and white Composition-style notebooks I kept on hand and using the pen to create some type of lyrical content – poem, song; it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to get my innermost feelings on the page and I figured at the time a fountain pen would help me do it.

Of course this all seems so hopelessly cliché now and I literally laugh as I read over the last paragraph. I never quite mastered the mechanics of a fountain pen – how to properly hold it and write without leaving small blots of ink on the page. But more telling, I clearly didn’t get the mechanics of creativity – the staring-at-a-blank page discipline required.

A few years back I read a profile on Paul Auster, one of my favorite authors, that mentioned he wrote all the first drafts of his novels using a fountain pen. I read a similar piece on the writer Neal Stephenson, who ironically writes about technology and futurism, where he refers to preferring a fountain pen. “With the fountain pen, which is a slower output device, the material stays in the buffer of your head for a longer period. So during that amount of time, you can fix it, you can make it better, you can even decide not to write it down at all — you can think better of writing it,” he says.

Stephenson’s insight resonated with me as I am always on the lookout for ways to slow down and be more deliberative in how I approach communications. I tried to locate my LAMY fountain pen and couldn’t find it; I’ve come close to buying a fountain pen a few times on Amazon. But something, perhaps remembering all those small pools of ink on the page, keeps holding me back.

During the same time frame I’ve realized that I now only have a handful of friends who, for whatever reason, I still communicate with primarily via email. Now, like I’d imagine many of you reading this post, I use email daily, multiple times a day, for work. But I view the channel more as a necessity and focus on brevity, clarity and intent.

Yet somehow I view my emails to friends differently. Knowing I don’t have access to them via Instagram or Facebook, which are largely visual mediums, I aim to use language as evocative as possible. That means pausing at times, being more deliberative, with my figurative fountain pen in hand. I’ve come to cherish these email exchanges and think of them as the closest experience in my current world to old-fashioned letter writing.

I’m not sure I’ve gotten the curiosity of fountain pens out of my system. Just yesterday I stopped at Walgreen’s on my way home from work to pick up a new black and white Composition-style notebook (old habits). I paused to use to look at cheap fountain pen and almost bought it. But instead I went home and wrote an email to a friend.

Fountain Pen

Image credit: Penopedia.com