Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping a Balloon in the Air

“Go ahead and sit down,” Jaime directed after stopping the timer in her hand.  “Good job!  Do you need some water?”

It was a little early to be wrapping up that day’s session, but I was exhausted from trying to balance on the half yoga ball things while trying to bat a balloon around.  Something was up.  Jaime was being very quiet.  Generally, we chattered through entire sessions.

She began her unbelievably fast and rather loud typing into the computer – updating my records.  This was my penultimate appointment.  Next week would be the last session of outpatient physical therapy permitted by insurance.

“You’re doing well Chris,” Jaime smiled as she glanced momentarily at me.  “Remember when you first came in and you couldn’t keep your eyes open and would get exhausted just standing for a minute?” 

“Thanks to you Jaime!” I encouraged.  “These appointments are the highlight of my week!”  It was true too.  I had returned to work three months ago and was now back to full time.  I was still using a cane some of the time, but about to make the jump to no cane at all.  Despite this, I would get really depressed each day feeling like I was no longer improving.  I was committed to my assigned exercises, but I was still struggling to get around.  Still trying to get used to having to consciously think about every step or move I made, because any lapse in concentration could mean disaster.  It was during these appointments when we would go over baseline tests that I would actually see my progress.  My hard work was paying off.  It was actually the only time each week I felt any kind of joy or relief from the mountain of uncertainty and fear weighing down on my shoulders.

“Aw, that’s nice to hear,” Jaime replied sheepishly and looked down at the floor.  “There’s not much more I can do for you Chris.  Your coverage ends next session, but you’ve achieved all of the goals you need to reach.”  I looked down as well, knowing what was next.  She was getting ready to pull the Band-Aid.  She was dumping me.   “This is going to be your graduation.  Congratulations!”

This should’ve been a happy moment, but neither of us seemed very ecstatic.  I was in a state of shock, because I relied on these appointments to keep myself going and I still felt so unsure about my condition.  I can’t speak for her, but it felt as though she had more work for me.  Like she had more tools to help me recover from my stroke, but her hands were tied by the limitations of my insurance and financial means.


This last October, I found myself kind of reliving my hemorrhagic stroke from Halloween of 2015.  I was having a lot of terrifying dreams related to the experience at the same time as finding myself reading a book called A Stroke of Faith (2017), written by Mark Moore, which I received as a gift the prior spring when I attended the American Stroke Association’s local “Saving Strokes” golf teaching event (can we find any more plays on the word “stroke”?).  I also happened upon a powerful Netflix documentary named My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014), about a stroke survivor’s struggle to recover.  Mark Moore’s experience definitely rang familiar in many ways to mine, so I could relate in a very tangible way, but it was the moving movie that really got to me emotionally.  Though Lotje Sodderland’s experience was very different in that her after effects were more cognitive and less physical than mine, her portrayal of loss, loneliness, disorientation and helplessness was spot on, and brought tears to my eyes along with a deep sadness and underlying fear that a stroke could come back at any moment.  Her story, however, glosses over her recovery after a meaningful meeting with her hero David Lynch, and then provides the audience with a rundown that she’s basically living happily ever-after now.  It feels a bit disingenuous, especially after her big set-back within the film.  Which got me to thinking about most of the great recovery stories I’ve heard since I’ve joined this club no one wants to belong to.  Without question, all of them are heartwarming, but I’ve noticed a commonality – good healthcare coverage.  Moore’s story is well told, but a big part of it is how his great business success prior to his stroke afforded him comprehensive coverage, the ability to have the best care possible, and to take the necessary time to truly recover.  I also heard the story of a local woman who spoke at the “Saving Strokes” event I attended in 2016 who tearfully spoke about her 10 year struggle from a devastating stroke that left her unable to speak, read or write, and here she was publicly speaking about her journey.  She was also fortunate enough to have come from old Portland money and had a personal therapist guiding her through this journey.  Even Lotje, being in the UK, could recover at her own pace due to public health coverage.  I do not hold this against them.  Actually, their examples are not only of triumph of their spirits, but of the importance of having true reliable health insurance.

I’m not saying that I didn’t get good healthcare during my ordeal.  In fact, it was mostly excellent, once I got into the right hands.  I had some really fantastic doctors and all of my therapists (physical, occupational, speech, recreational, etc.) were exceptional, as were the rehabilitation nurses and counsellors.  What I’m saying is that our health professionals really know what they’re doing and can, with a patient’s effort and cooperation, pretty much perform miracles.  What is strange to me is that the insurance that most of us spend so much money on each year only goes so far.  The downfalls in my experience wasn’t the care itself, it was that the care was limited and had an end date before I was ready.  I consider myself lucky in that I did have insurance and help and support, but still felt the pinch financially in very real ways.  I had to return to work and learn to try to manage without help long before I was physically and mentally ready.  What about the multitudes of those who have less or no coverage?  It scares me to think about not having a safety net of some sort, because serious illness effects every aspect of a person’s life – not just physically.  Yet, as long as we have healthcare for profit as a thing, helping people will never be the end goal of these businesses – just a possible side effect of doing their business to make money for their investors.

It all makes me think about those awful weeks, after leaving the hospital, trying to pry my eyes open long enough and to summon up the stamina to address my unopened and unpaid bills, trying to read through form after form to try to secure short-term disability (who treated me like a freeloading thief), to consider looking for a way to find assisted living housing if need be, to sign up for ADA public transportation, and to navigate the nearly five day a week appointment schedule with doctors and therapists.  I could not do any of those things.  I could not do anything.  Unfortunately, I do not know how to help change things – to get it out of politics.  Maybe if everyone could feel that terror of helplessness brought on by some sort of serious health crisis for at least a few moments to understand how important true full healthcare coverage can be - to experience true empathy.  But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Beyond Desire

Dead Leaf Echo
(Moon Sounds Records)

Here’s a NYC band that I have known of and read about for most of their ten plus years of recording history, yet somehow, until last weekend, I never actually heard their music.  This second full-length album was released a couple of months ago, so this review comes a little late, but music is music and the best of it is timeless. 

I love the name of this album.  Beyond Desire.  What does this actually mean?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s one of those ‘giving a 110%’ things, but the implication is that this gang are striving for a higher level of engagement than what is even possible – way past the basic human needs and wants – and that all seems like something really good to strive for.

This album contains a musical thread that pops up at the beginning intro instrumental (“Desire”) into the title track opening side two and as the closing portion of the epic finale “It’s Starting to Happen.”  This unifying theme gives this collection an added weight that harkens back to the days when people had the patience to listen to their albums over and over again, because it wasn’t so easy to access music at any moment and those rare and possibly adventurous purchases were treasured (okay, old man, shut up!).  Similarly, I had always heard Dead Leaf Echo referred to as a modern “shoegazing” band, but what I hear goes back further in its lineage.  Beyond.Desire strikingly reminds me of those luxurious goth-tinged 4AD bands of the mid-80s (the sleeve design is by 4AD’s Timothy O’Donnell), or some of the Projekt bands that came along later (especially the amazing Mira), or all-time favorites The Autumns.  I drift in and out of this style, but when it’s done right, as the aforementioned artists, and on this album, it can be captivating and invigorating.  What sets this band apart is the busy and distinct rhythm section of Kevin Kahawai and Steve Schwadron and the really strong vocal harmonies between guitarists LG Galleon and Ana Breton.

I just downplayed DLE’s “shoegazing” influence, but it sure comes out in spades in the cranking “Temple,” which explodes out of the dreamy opening intro to become one of the highlights of this collection.  This song immediately captured my attention with its dramatic live feel, impassioned vocals and stratospheric guitar washes.  Plus there’s the pre-LP single “Strawberry.Skin,” also a catchy straight-ahead pop song that will get one’s head bopping around.  The echo chamber reverb of all the best dream pop splashes the bittersweet “Lemonheart,” as well as the tragedy of The Cure-like downward spiral of the downbeat “Drifting.Inside.” 

My favorite two songs come back to back and speak to the breadth this band has at it’s disposable.  Both songs are quite different, but sound great paired together three quarters of the way in the album.  First is the spacious “Cloudancing,” which absolutely dances and sways as it glides along the buoyant bassline and sparkling guitar fills.  Second comes The Sundays and The Ocean Blue inspired nugget “Sunlessoul,” which is easily a rainy day comfort song worthy of both of those excellent bands.

Don’t overlook Dead Leaf Echo, as I have for so many years, they are worth being heard.

 Dead Leaf Echo "Beyond.Desire"

Monday, September 11, 2017

This Wreckage

Recently, I finished reading Mark Baumgarten’s 2012 profile of Olympia, Washington’s venerable K Records Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music (Sasquatch) and Mike White’s 2015 book about Bristol England’s Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records (Bloomsbury) and they got me to thinking.  Not only did they both bring back a lot of memories of my nascent explorations and discoveries of the so-called indie music scenes around the US and UK in the late 80s.  I was still young and exploring my tastes in music, books, movies, and culture in general, but what encountering these two labels, learning about the early punk and post-punk histories of the burgeoning “college rock” bands I already loved by then, as well as San Francisco punk labels and mail-order services such as Shredder, Tupelo, Communion, Allied and Blacklist did for me is teach me about independence and the spirit of doing things for one’s own.  Sure, this idea is old-hat now.  There’s even a TV channel named D.I.Y. that’s been around forever, but it’s not the D.I.Y. part that intrigues me as much anymore, because these days it’s all so much easier.  As Calvin Johnson, founder of K Records and that guy from Beat Happening with the deep voice, is quoted as saying in Baumgarten’s book: “(People) don’t need the record store or a record label.  They can just do their song on their laptop or their ukulele, and then it’s available instantly, all around the world.  It’s really the most basic form of punk rock revolution.”  It is really more the sense of community and connection that these labels (and others), bands, and zines created.  There was a true feeling of involvement by being engaged as a fan – one that feels oddly absent now that worldwide connection is just a device tap away with the omnipresence of social media.  And I’m not exactly sure what it is that’s missing.


When I first started ordering records from small labels and distributors directly via mail in the late 80s and early 90s, I began to not only receive the great music, but personal notes and correspondence.  Usually, it would be a “Thanks for the order” note on the back of a release schedule inserted into the record sleeve, but sometimes it would be more in depth and personal, like the now famous letters from Sarah Records founders Matt Haynes and Claire Wadd.  I remember directly ordering the very first SpinART Records 1992 compilation release “…one last kiss” and soon after even started to get occasional postcards in the mail from Lancaster, PA band Suddenly, Tammy! who had the second song on that compilation (indie version of sharing mailing lists?).  Or there’s the time I ordered PoPuP’s CD combining Magnetic Fields’ first two albums and received the disc along with a letter from Claudia Gonson wondering how I learned about the band.  Who would’ve ever thought I’d be carrying on casual correspondence with the artists from all over that had become my personal tastemakers.  I guess what I’m saying is that these direct contacts with bands and labels and zines tore down walls that went far beyond what I had ever understood before.  These people were doing stuff that was cool and that I admired, but they were clearly and tangibly real people.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been the type of person, good or bad, who gets so fired up about the stuff that excites me – the stuff that gets me going – that I’ve always searched for ways to share those things with anyone and everyone.  Of course, with me, it’s pretty much always been music.  I was that guy who made mix tapes for friends (still do an annual summer mix!), wore concert shirts, left random lyrics on my school locker, created a fake radio station with its own music charts, did music for a handful of school dances, and finally a zine and this thing.  I’ve shared this before, but my friend Wil and I were inspired to start a zine named This Wreckage.  Like so many of them before, we wanted to revolutionize, if not the world, our little town.  We wanted to create an open forum for people to make something that is normally done by professional writers and visual artists.  It was meant to be freeform, and then, of course, at the end I would add a few poorly worded music reviews.  What we found is that most people don’t care.  Most people don’t read.  Most people couldn’t be bothered to actually take part, because they have their own lives and interests.  However, when people did decide to engage, we found it could be really powerful.  We received cool music from new bands that I still love to this day (and new music almost always spawns more discoveries), we had a few fun adventures, and believe it or not, met some really great people – one of which is a dear friend to this day.  Though we were small and misunderstood and really didn’t put forth a massive effort, and didn’t last very long, we still managed to reach a few people out there who tripped over the scrap paper littering the ground that were moved enough to say hello. 

I’m not 100% sure where I am going with this, but even though we now have unlimited access to pretty much all things we think are cool at any time we want, maybe it’s just me, but that personal engagement doesn’t feel as strong.  Even though it goes against so much what I have always believed about how everyone should have a forum to express themselves, perhaps things were better when there were more curators sifting through everything in order to present us with the cream of the crop.  Maybe it’s because I’m old, but for me, it’s too much.  It’s all too much.  Everyone’s social media account is like a mini zine based on their likes.  In a random five minute perusal of my Facebook feed I am presented with vacation and food photos (lots and lots of photos), news of a friend’s recent misfortune, two new bands I should check out, an old music video, some political statement followed by a lot of agreements and a few dissenters with little actual reasoned debate.  What I often get is overwhelmed and frustrated and I’ve become one of those people mentioned above: no longer engaged with anything beyond the tip of my nose.  I don’t want to be like that!  I don’t want to be the one who tells people to not freely express themselves in any way to see fit.  If I get involved with social media I want to feel connected and interested and inspired, but instead I simply feel exhausted.

It brings me to this position, where I feel like I either need to re-engage and try to connect again and push for a This Wreckage-type revival, in order to regain that feeling of community, in addition to the amazing music, that once was such a lifeline, or to simply withdraw like I’ve done the past year and not continue to muddy the waters with yet another voice (this blog) that no one needs to read, really wants to read, or frankly won’t spend the few moments to read anyway.  That’s when I remember the frustration and feeling of futility that Wil and I felt when trying to find an audience for This Wreckage twenty plus years ago, which was a big reason we gave it up.  We lost the fun.  That’s what I miss most: the fun.  This all feels like the complete life re-assessment and makeover that I’ve been mumbling about for several years now, but never seem to make happen.  It has to happen before I completely lose myself in the dreaded “life on repeat” – working a miserable job just to stay alive (only to hold onto health insurance), something I addressed here, sadly, over three years ago.  In that piece, Apathy and Exhaustion, I concluded that “This (turning around the downward spiral) feels an insurmountable task.”  It still does.

This Wreckage art by Arlon Gilliland

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Color Blue

The Color Blue
(Shifting Sounds)

Last December, when I first happened upon the song/video “Roger McClain” by Honeyrude, I had the sudden feeling that I hadn’t felt since the early songs from The Joy Formidable.  The song has an energy, spark, and call to action that transported me to another place, reminding me why I love music so much.  Each song they’ve sneaked out over the past several months has had the same effect on me.  Their music sounds so effortless and perfect, as if the alternately stinging and dreamy guitar-leads (Ian Lund) interlocking with the flawless rhythm section (Billy Kunath – bass, Paul Goetz – drums) have always been out there in the atmosphere awaiting for some brilliant musicians to collect this amazing bounty for our ears to feast.  Then you add Jess Leadbetter’s wonderfully chameleon-like vocals and open-ended, thought provoking lyrics and things just get better!

The last time I wrote about an album on this blog thing dates back to June 5th last year, when I wrote about Kristin Welchez’s complete discard of the amazing Dum Dum Girls legacy in favor of an embrace of top 40 dance pop with Kristin Kontrol.  I kind of felt like that was the last review I would ever write (here).  Somehow, it pointed out to me how criticism of any art is truly insignificant and a waste of time (though what I have historically done is not criticism as much as recommend), not just because I really have never found an audience, but because all art should be allowed to find its way, and all artists need to be to do what feels true to them.  Yet, here I am again, at the least momentarily, because I cannot hide away my love of this debut album!  I have to shout it from the mountaintops!

Like fellow Austin, Texas band, Magnet School (whose Brandon Tucker had a hand in mixing this), Honeyrude take the more aggressive approach of the so-called “shoegaze” music from the early 90s, so much so, that I hesitate to mention the dreaded shoegaze term (twice now, dammit!).  Songs like the closing “Falling Backwards” and pounding “Sorry I’m Late” don’t evoke that era at all.  While the aforementioned “Roger McClain” is a straight forward pop song (whose message all of us trapped in some sort of purgatory of our own making need to listen to and act upon) with Johnny Marr-ish light to the touch guitar layers that get gradually more loud and intense as the song progresses before breaking out into a brief, blistering solo.  Meanwhile, the opening “Something About Milwaukee” evokes the chiming majesty of early Adorable crossed with last two album Pale Saints, as does the spectacular and yearning “Flowers,” as Leadbetter sings of a perfect love with the tinged realization that it’s not possible.  The opening explosions of “Ring Ring Ring” melt into sparse, reflective verses, calling to mind some of the bands of the mid-80s L.A. neo-psychedelic scene, before closing with an exciting instrumental flourish.  Speaking of which, the title track contains a wonderful dreamscape, much like a Slowdive epic, but once the drums go double time, the song contains a jam session that feels like it should go on forever and never be quite loud enough.  To me “Lover in Denial” calls to mind Chrome-era Catherine Wheel and first album Concrete Blonde (“Dance Along the Edge”).

I use a lot of these comparisons freely, but in fact, these are simply touchstones.  Honeyrude, sound wholly themselves.  This debut is simply excellent.  They sound like seasoned veterans at the height of their creative powers and cannot recommend this record enough.  They have lifted my spirits and helped provide me with a dose of fire that came along at a much needed time.  What more can one ask for?

Honeyrude "Roger McClain"

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ruined in a Day

Late afternoon, during the first round of the Cambia Portland Classic, I found myself completely out of gas.  I was worried, because this was just the first of four long days (Besides the two days of Pro-Am caddying I managed to get through).  Even the golfer I had decided to cheer on, Amy Yang, her first trip to Portland, seemed to be lacking focus.  All round, she couldn’t make a damn putt.  On the beautiful 13th hole – par 3 over water – she hit a shot that reminded me of how I play, when I’ve completely given up and am about to give my golf ball to Ken to throw down the fairway in lieu of actually swinging a club anymore.  Meanwhile, I was thirsty, hot, and sore.  My feet were covered in blisters and I was worried that my normal fiery run of inspiration from the annual LPGA visit was going to be cut short.  I sent text messages out pleading for someone to drive out onto the course, drag my lifeless body into their car and dump me in the parking field near my car.  No one was willing me help.  As Amy (ranked 11th best in the world!) missed putt after putt and proceeded to build a score of three over par, I had to crawl my way on my hands and knees towards the 17th hole where the beer tent generally resides to at least enjoy a cold one before expiring – only to find that it was gone!  As panic set in, I began to wonder if this was how it would all end.  Not from a botched surgery, or from all the strong medications I take or from cancer or a failed transplanted kidney, but from sheer exhaustion out on a golf course watching the LPGA.  If that were to be the case, then I would be more than okay with that.  It’s not very often that I feel like I make a decision throughout a day, where I can say: “This is exactly what I want to be doing,” but when I am out in the sunshine, on a beautiful golf course, watching talented professional golfers, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing.

Every year when I go through this, I ponder why I do the things I do.  I think about why I like the things I like.  I begin to question everything.  What is it about attending this golfing event that is so much of a thrill for me?  I never feel like I really find any answers, except my extreme dislike of my current employment becomes more focused and intense, and that I do not do enough of the things that bring me happiness (I’m sure most can relate).  Even though I get so much out of this event, I am fully aware that a huge percentage of people out there do not understand.  Every time I find myself informing people about the event and my excitement for it, I can see the mystified or the completely disinterested expressions sweep across their faces.  At best, I’ll get a sympathetic pat on the back as they try to understand the ramblings of someone on the verge of a mental breakdown (which is not far off the mark).  Yet, every time I am involved with this LPGA event, I meet fellow volunteers who have been at it for years, expressing the same kind of excitement (many of whom are not golfers), as well as meeting new volunteers with huge smiles on their faces, who find out how great this event is.  During the tournament, I overhear comments from first-timers like “This is way better than I thought it would be” over and over again.

I do love golf and have since I was a little kid.  I used to be a dedicated seasonal player.  Going out a couple of times a week from around May till October.  I have always watched golf on TV, which I realize to most people is akin to watching paint dry, but it’s the internal drama that I thrive on.  Golf is so individual and so mental, that is much different than most competitive activities.  I understand this as a hacker, who has had many dark moments cracking up from the internal pressure of trying to be good at the game and not pulling it off even for a moment.  I’ve been attending the Portland LPGA event now for seven years and I have barely put together 27 holes of playing golf in the last 4 and none in over two years.  Instead I’ve been living golf vicariously through these up close stretches of seeing how talented people manage.  It’s not just the competitive story-line of trying to win the tournament, but it’s the stories of each player trying to achieve different levels of success.  A young player trying to earn their first check as a pro, or an older player still trying to eke out a living as long as they can, it can even be as simple as trying to be better than the day prior. 

For me, the joy of watching these women play golf is that I can see their amazing skills up close, but also that I can see how they cope.  You get to know them through their body language, their reactions, and what they do during the moments while they are waiting for their playing partner to hit a shot.  Golf is so humanizing.  The game is played so much inside the head.  This year I chose Amy Yang to support, because over the last few years, I have seen her play really well on TV in major tournaments like the US Open, but she has never pulled through with a win.  I’m one of those people who often feels sympathy for those who fall just short.  I seem to have an appreciation of the underdog.  It’s clearly present with the music I love.  I have always been more inclined to sit at the empty or near empty table in the lunchroom, than to sit with the popular crowd.  Of course, there are stages of this, so I try to fill out my golf spectating by seeking out lesser known players to follow, players who could break out at any moment, and of course, the players at the top of the tourney competing for the big prize.  One of the things I love about golf is that any of these levels of players can win any week.  Anyway, back on track, Amy, for reasons likely only apparent to me, reminds me of my cousin Laura.  It’s something that I see in the expressions and mannerisms they share.  I made the decision to root for Yang, because I need a main rooting interest to maximize my own experience out there. With golf it’s unique in that you want everyone to do well - just your favorite a little better.  I don’t dislike players, as with other sports where, for example, I can hate the Seattle Sounders with an intense passion – so much so, that I get more satisfaction from seeing them lose than to see the Portland Timbers win.  And as usual, she won me over, like these players generally do. 

For this year’s tournament, Stacy Lewis, a multiple winning (but not for a few years), perennially Top 10 player won.  It was a great story, because she has had a long run of Top 10 finishes and runner-ups, but has not closed the deal since 2014 (she placed second in 2016’s Portland Classic).  And before the tournament began, she pledged that any money she earned, this Houston native would donate directly to Hurricane Harvey relief.  Sadly, for me, Amy Yang struggled both in the first round and the final round.  However, the ride she went on was dramatic as can be.  She began the second round tied for 122nd and four shots over the weekend cut line (after two rounds the field gets “cut” approximately in half – the players who do not make the cut, do not earn money) and with 5 holes to play was still two shots above the cut line.  I began mumbling goals to myself for her to reach (“She’s gotta get at least 3 birdies over the last 4 holes) and that’s exactly what she did!  The slumped shoulders and forlorn looks to the sky after yet another just-missed putt from Thursday were now bright smiles and energized fist bumps with her caddy.  Then on Saturday, after a slow start, Amy made a clutch long putt for par on the 4th hole after driving behind the big pesky tree down the left side of the fairway.  Then she birdied 5, eagled 7, and nearly aced the par 3 eighth hole (made birdie).  She then made birdie on the 10th hole.  So in 24 hours she went from tied for 122nd to a tie for 10th!  I was practically floating on air.  The fireworks stopped from then on as she played one over par the rest of the way.

The final round, unfortunately, was bleak from the get go.  She bogeyed the first hole from the middle of the fairway and from then on struggled with every facet of her game, especially her chipping.  She just couldn’t put anything positive together.  The smiles and purposeful stride from the day before, became stern expressions.  Amy began walking far apart from her caddy muttering to herself with a stern lecture.  Pure frustration had set in.  And I was with her in spirit the entire way, but there’s nothing I could do.  Sometimes I joke that my presence curses the players I encounter and in times like these, it begins to feel real.  Despite myself, I let her go after 13 holes in favor of that final group with the crowds and popular kids.  I still feel guilty and sad about that decision, but I can’t wait to be out there to make up for it next year.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Independence Day

As I slowly crested the steep slope up next to the 18th green, and then down around behind the grandstands and past the clubhouse – pushing the empty pull golf cart, my eyes began to well with emotion.  I swallowed hard and took in a fast deep breath in an effort to keep the burgeoning wave from splashing over the edge.  I pulled down my white golf hat to try to disguise my stretched and distorted face.

Stephanie smiled at me, as her right hand gestured to the area I should park the cart, and said, “You made it!  Grab some lunch!”  By the looks of the limited lunch offerings, I must have been one of the last volunteers back from the golf course.

“I can’t believe I made it,” I mumbled in response.  She smiled.  All I could think about was that six months prior, I was dragging myself around in a wheelchair around the 5th and 6th floors of the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon, inside Good Samaritan Hospital.  They had me doing intensive Physical and Occupational therapies every day for three weeks.  “No, really, I can’t believe I made it.”  Earlier that morning, as I took that cart out to the 5th hole tee box for the shot gun start of the Pro-Am, I was pretty sure I was in over my head.  I was stumbling around awkwardly on the uneven ground, quickly short of breath, and beginning to feel stress on my weakened left side.

I didn’t want to say anything about it to Stephanie, but out came a brief explanation about the stroke I experienced last fall and how hard I have worked to essentially get to where I was at that very moment.  I couldn’t help myself.  I was brimming with pride, a decidedly foreign feeling, and gratitude for all of the amazing help I have received along the way from therapist’s Kate, Denise, Adriane, Erin, and especially the wonderful Jaime for her miracle work over the last five months or so (I am still doing my homework!!).  Yes, I have worked really hard to regain my independence, first and foremost, a truly underrated thing.  But the more focused direct and immediate goal I have been striving for has been to be able to have the stamina, balance, and ability to walk well enough in order to volunteer caddie for the two annual Pro-Am’s and to be able to roam freely around all four days of the LPGA tournament: the Cambia Portland Classic.  It may seem like a silly thing to be so intent about, but if you’ve spent any time perusing these words I share here, or have spent any time with me, you already know how much this all means.

Morgan Pressel

This was my 5th year volunteering as a caddie and my 7th year in a row of attending and I am already looking forward to next year’s event (hopefully, back in August where it belongs).  I have already espoused endlessly about my enthusiasm for this tournament and my love of the LPGA (see the rundown of last year’s event: SomethingMust Break), so I will try not to repeat myself too much about the quality of the golf, the competition, and the approachability and friendliness of the players, whom you get to see so up close – like a courtside seat for nearly every shot.  A quick example: it was touching to see Morgan Pressel smile and pick up a toddler who was stumbling toward her as she moved from the 15th green to the 16th tee box – as Morgan (we’re on a first name basis) gingerly returned the little girl to her rightful guardians and took a moment to take a picture with the family and sign a golf ball, even though she was really struggling through a terrible round of golf. 

Brooke Henderson

Admittedly, the tournament lacked a little spark for me this year.  I have lost my two favorite players to early retirement, first Leta Lindley in 2011 (see Summerside), then Jee Young Lee last year.  I found that I need to have a true rooting interest.  Still, the tournament was really exciting down the stretch until Brooke Henderson grabbed a stranglehold on the lead for good by the 71st hole with an impressive up and down, but I missed the intensity I have felt in previous years – living and dying with every shot of a particular player.  There are so many great players to root for, I am having difficulty picking one!!  Plus, I continue to bring some kind of curse to the players I go out to watch hole to hole (is it my deodorant?).  They seem to play fine until I show up (see the Morgan Pressel example above).  How often does one see a player shank a shot into a tree and have the tree keep the ball?  Hello penalty stroke.  Hello triple bogey.  My apologies, Victoria Elizabeth.

Victoria Elizabeth

In the end, however, this one was more for me and my own goals.  I made it!!  I tracked just over 72,000 steps on the course watching these talented women over four days (one of the sponsors was handing out pedometers in an effort to raise charitable dollars), when it was only a few weeks ago that I was still relying heavily on the use of a cane to get around.  Now that I have managed to do that, I know I can continue to work to get better.  There is still a long way to go and likely a lot of frustrating challenges ahead, but I needed to make it through this big event to prove to myself that I still have the will to keep on.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Kristin Kontrol
(Sub Pop)

On “Trouble is My Name,” the final song of Dum Dum Girls’ 2014 album Too True, Dee Dee sang “I had a vision / I begged and I plead / I had a vision / I wanted to be dead.”  Little did we know then, that she was perhaps foreshadowing what was to come.  Dee Dee has always been the moniker for Kristin Welchez, who has steered the Dum Dum Girls since her early bedroom recordings in 2008.  Now she has decided to toss the eight years of building a loyal audience (over three fantastic albums) into the wind, as she dumps the Dum Dum Girls name in favor of Kristin Kontrol – along with a total synth pop makeover.  My first introduction to this wholesale change was early this year when this name kept appearing on my Facebook feed.  There was a 30 second video clip with a clanging techno beat and Dee Dee posing for a photo shoot.  I was shocked, and honestly dismayed, and began to panic.  It felt like a massive betrayal like when the untouchable Siouxsie Sioux shimmied uncomfortably and dawned movie star hair and make-up, pouty lips, diamonds, and a sparkly dress amidst a heart-shaped hot tub and popping champagne corks for her first U.S. hit single “Kiss Them for Me” back in 1991.  Like then, I felt like I had lost the artist who has provided many of my favorite songs in recent times – the songwriter whose words have been a comfort due to their complete understanding of utter and complete loss and despair.  Upon first hearing the lyrics quoted above, shivers rushed down my spine, because I have those desires and visions of death nearly every day and it is helpful to not feel alone in those moments.

Siouxsie and the Banshees "Kiss Them for Me"

I was completely conflicted.  I was dismayed by this short preview clip and talk of Kristin delving into the realm of some of her previously untapped Top 40 dance pop influences, yet hadn’t she completely earned the benefit of the doubt over the last eight years’ worth of excellent and often transformative music?  That 1991 Siouxsie and the Banshees album Superstition may have been impotent as compared to their previous cannon, but once I got over my initial consternation about “Kiss Them for Me” (admittedly after many years), and I began realize that the discomfort and awkwardness Siouxsie Sioux displayed in that video and the sheen of the music was perfectly fitting for the subject matter of the song.  With some excitement and anticipation and a tiny bit of dread, I went ahead and purchased X-Communicate, this debut album by Kristin Kontrol on its May 27th release date (coincidentally the same date I first saw the Dum Dum Girls live in 2012 – see story here).

One of my initial concerns is the idea that somehow the Dum Dum Girls material feels like it’s being dismissed – like somehow it is hasn’t been a true reflection of Kristin.  It hurts to think that, because her songs have been so damn important to me.  Her authenticity has always been a part of her appeal.  How much more personal can one get when the cover of her first album (2010’s I Will Be) is adorned by an old polaroid of her mom who had passed away after a battle with cancer (of course chronicled on the heartbreaking powerhouse that is 2011’s Only in Dreams)?  But, what makes something authentic?  If she wrote all of those songs as fictional stories, would they be any less impactful or authentic?  Why is it okay for a fictional movie or a novel to move us, but not a fictional song?  Why is it okay for musical icon, David Bowie, to change his artistic identity every few years, but no one else?  Didn’t Bowie build an impressive cutting edge catalog by mixing things up and always keeping it fresh by looking for new inspiration?  Not everything he did was perfect, but much of his genius spawned from his ability to keep things vital and to keep himself engaged all the way to the end.  Kristin is providing herself an opportunity to shed the pre-conceived notions and expectations that we have of her and to actually give us a fuller picture of who she is.  What could be more authentic then that? 

The album opens with the mid-tempo “Show Me” and it’s huge 80s sounding drum machine snare beat, a Psychedelic Furs inspired saxophone melody, and words of unconditional love.  It’s Kristin’s fantastic voice that raises this song (all of her songs) to another level.  The energy gets ramped up on the stroll down “White Street,” as a squalling guitar rides along a stuttering dance beat.  It carries that dance club street cool chic that the Furs tapped into so well with “Heartbreak Beat” back in ’86 and is undeniably addictive.  In “(Don’t Wannabe)” Kristin sings with her cool menthol flavored Christina Amphlett voice: “my unhappiness offends me,” perhaps a reference to much of her past work, as the song fittingly blossoms from an atmospheric opening into a big bright full blown pop song.  Meanwhile, the throbbing rhythm of the title track “X-Communicate” is still taking its time on winning me over.  It’s overblown chorus and repetitive sound are just so far removed from where I’ve gone musically, since I was about 15 and still spending all of my money on 12” dance mixes.  However, it’s that New Order-esque guitar outro that hints at “Bizarre Love Triangle” greatness.  Similarly, the giant pounding techno beat of “Skin Shed” is an unexpected detour, but it is easy to get lost in its dreaminess and slow burning musical tension.

The album begins to lose a bit of steam for me at this point, but does not lose me completely.  The most rock song on the album, “Drive the Night,” oddly feels like a throwaway, while the near power-ballad “What is Love” begins with ominous piano and synth atmospherics before spreading into a crossover bound Lone Justice - tinged chorus.  “Face 2 Face” and it’s boisterous arching sounds are somewhat fatiguing, while “Going Thru the Motions” remedies this with another cool song that has the same kind of streamlined Euro-reggae sunshine sound that Bananarama employed on “Cruel Summer.”  The earnest pleas of the closing heavy sounding “Smoke Rings” is likely the most reminiscent of Kristin’s previous Dum Dum work, as she sings of trying hard to reignite that certain spark that keeps us all going.

Kristin put the album together with Kurt Feldman (I know him from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart) and Andrew Miller, who played guitar off and on throughout the history of the Dum Dum Girls, and yes, it is quite a departure from where she’s gone before.  Though it is not what I was hoping for, I find myself caught up in most of the songs on this record.  Her sudden bold positivity is infectious.  Kristin has thrown aside any pre-conceived notions as to where she will go next.  What I do know is that she will continue to inspire by going in with all of her heart, which is what makes her such a compelling artist.

Identity is a helluva thing.  We spend much of our lives trying to galvanize an identity – sometimes scratching and fighting for one, but do we ever achieve what we’re looking for, or was our identity simply there the entire time?  Isn’t our identity essentially a collection of our body of work – positive or negative decisions and actions taken along the way?  As humans, we aren’t one dimensional.  We each have our varied tastes and cannot be pigeon-holed into simple categories, though we try to do this to everyone and everything – all while not wanting to be classified and placed into a neat little box ourselves.  It took a lot of guts for Kristin to throw aside the artistic identity that she has so impressively forged over so many years and begin anew.  However, would I have given her the benefit of the doubt, if she had released this same album under the Dum Dum Girls name?  I’d like to think so, but I cannot be sure.

Kristin Kontrol "X-communicate"