Inspirations from Nowhere

As a writer, writing is supposed to come as naturally to us as breathing. The words should flow onto the page (or the internets) like water down the falls.

But let’s face it, folks. That shit is for the birds.

It’s hard some days to find the time or the drive or even the will to sit down and focus for more than five minutes without clicking over the reddit or check out someone’s new pictures on Instagram. My generation was one of the first raised wholly on television and videos and our attention spans have gotten even shorter.

Now I’m not saying everyone in their mid-twenties has ADD but the fact that many of us can’t have a conversation without getting distracted by that girl’s bad haircut ten feet away or ….SQUIRREL!

SQUIRREL!

Uhh. What was I saying? Oh yeah, we can’t focus long enough to get anything produced.

The bright side of it, I think, is that we have the ability to save, autosave, draft and redraft anything we work on (Bless you Cloud) so when we have those days when we just can’t sit still, we can eventually go back to it.

Take this blog for example. This is something that upon starting it, I had four or five posts drafted and saved to ensure that I could stay on top of it and set up a routine. Habits are created after 21 days. Alison here could only get 4 repeat sessions.

I needed some work.

Funny as it is being a writer – being able to sit back and observe and draw conclusions about my fellow-man, about me and about everything around me, it’s tougher than you think to actually put those thoughts to paper. Especially if you’re as out of practice as I am.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently re-evaluating my life goals and my intentions. And oddly enough, the source of true inspiration and drive came from some unlikely places.

Take my boss for example. She sat me down in a meeting and asked me, “Why the fuck are you here?” To which I meekly responded, “Uhh..my job?”

“No, no, I mean why are you here. Obviously you’re good at your job but I can tell you aren’t trying. I can see this isn’t what you want to do with your life. Why the fuck are you here?”

Thus began a long conversation about my life goals, my passions and why the fuck I am working in a shitty 9-6 cubicle hell. Turns out, I don’t challenge myself enough nor do I have enough confidence in my own talents to make sure I can go through with what actually makes me happy. I’d rather be miserable and financially stable than to be content and poor. Living the American dream, huh.

(To prove my previous point, I just disappeared from my computer for about 10 minutes because the mail was just delivered and I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that the holiday Netflix envelopes look like an ugly Christmas Sweater.)

Netflix! For Christmas!

Anyways. I’ve been meeting a lot of people lately who have only know me through mutual friends or through passing who seem to have more faith in me and my writing based solely on hearsay than should even be possible.

Another Allison (she spells her name wrong – we’ve discussed this) from my hometown is very close friends with a 10 year-crush turned best friend. She said he speaks highly of me and has heard that my writing is often inspired, detailed and incredibly insightful. I laughed at the thought but she continued gushing. “You know, you have every outlet going for you. You have people here, in DC and Pittsburgh that adore you and support you. You just need to sit down and find the time to take your passions and your talent and make something of them. I can’t make you do it, but I can tell you that you absolutely can.”

She’s one I can believe because she and her husband both own a local thriving photography studio and they’re doing incredibly well for themselves.

Then, a friend of a friend found my blog and called me later that day and said how much he enjoyed it. This guy had his own blog and podcast running for years with a mutual friend, and oddly enough had to cancel it due to his job. He told me it was funny and cute (yay?) and very precise. He is excited to read more.

Turns out I’m better than I think and that there really are people out there that want to read the nonsense that I think about. There was once a time when my writing was compared to that of Hemingway’s. I still scoff at the idea. I think I much more of a verbose and less organized Andy Greenwald. Which, if anyone remembers Spin from the late 90’s to early 2000’s as I do, this is a great compliment to myself. But, alas, even the great Greenwald has ceased to produce the type of writing I once aspired.

“So what’s with all of this rambling? What are you getting at, Alison? I have the /r/bacon subreddit to read more about the bacon shortage,” you say.

Well, when you think no one cares, there are loads of people who believe in you and your abilities. Even if you fail, there are people who will care for you and boost you back up. There are people whom you know insanely well and those you’ve just met that are a fountain of inspiration and will drive you to your goal and to a better you.

Don’t take for granted those around you and don’t forget the kind words you may hear on a random Wednesday night at a micro-pub in York. They could turn out to be your biggest fans.

And you know, you can’t let down your fans.

Nostalgia and Terrible Things

I’ve been finding myself crippled with nostalgia and thoughts of days of my past. Even Twitter has been trending #tbt (to better times). It makes me realize that we all yearn for times long gone when we think things were perfect. When we were infinite. When tomorrow seemed so far away

I caught myself listening to music from when I was in high school lately. It put me in a positive place where the options were endless. It also made me remember all of the shows and musicians I’ve met along the years. Some have blossomed into bigger stars than any of us could’ve imagined. Some fizzled out. Others became “those” rockers – who take for granted the people who helped along the way.

But then I had the chance to see one of my favorite musicians and human beings of all time perform here in Pittsburgh recently. I’ve been following the guy for about 10 years now. He never disappoints live and he always opens his heart to his fans and his old friends.

I started following Fred Mascherino when he was in Breaking Pangea, a Philadelphia based band. He then joined Taking Back Sunday and shared in the post-“Tell All of Your Friends” success that the band had. He later branched off to do his solo-project, The Color Fred. He then began working with his drummer, Steven Curtiss, from the Color Fred, on some new music for Terrible Things, their current project.

Curtiss, Mascherino, van Allen

I found out Terrible Things was playing at The Smiling Moose, one of my favorite local venues and knew I’d be there. I honestly hadn’t heard much of the new stuff, but I wanted to be there for Fred.

The performance was all I could’ve asked. Two small TV monitors playing a mix of old cartoons and old movie footage – some picked for emphasizing the lyrics. Others, seemingly non sequiturs.

The energy Terrible Things was explosive, busting through song after song off of their 2011 self-titled release. Fred, Steven and Aaron van Allen, the new bassist, didn’t skip a beat either when they peppered in tracks from “The Color Fred”. It seemed as natural to them as breathing.

And what else besides a little surprise in the set than an announcement of a new EP release to spice things up! Fred said, “Well, I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but we’re recording some new stuff and the new EP should be coming out this winter,” followed abruptly and appropriately by the newest song.

As the night drew to a close, “Lullaby” beautifully wound down the set with its mesmerizing riffs and hauntingly beautiful lyrics. (Speaking of nostalgia, “Lullaby” was originally recorded on the “Take Apart the Words” EP from 2000 by Breaking Pangaea. And one of my personal favorites.)

Nothing fills me with more pride and love than to see my friends succeed and do something that truly makes them happy. It also makes me beam to an annoying degree when I see complete strangers come up to my friends and drool all over them, their talent and sometimes looks. It’s even better to see my friends handle themselves with such grace it makes you remember why they’re a part of your life anyways.

As we spent time talking after the show, Fred and I were reminded how far we’ve come and how much has changed in the ‘scene’ and in music. Fred marveled at the successes of his friends and his previous band-members and couldn’t applaud them more. We also continued reveling in the past we shared – basement and VFW shows in the middle of Pennsylvania, someone’s terrible haircut.

Sticking to our roots, Fred and some other of my favorite musicians from my youth are doing some small house shows. “You invite like 20 of your friends and we sell tickets to like 30 of ours.” A house party? With Fred Mascherino? AND Geoff Rickly from Thursday? Yes, yes! A million times yes!

Trying to do something different to keep himself creatively satisfied but continuing to develop as a musician, a businessman and a person is something I’ve always admired about Fred. To continue growing and changing but holding so strongly to your beliefs and your core is something I’ve always struggled with and admired Fred for.

He has always been an inspiration to me and will continue inspiring kids to make music and help change the world. He truly is a hero.

Some heroes lose sight of what’s important. But not with Fred. He will always be a dear friend, a great musician and performer, but most importantly, a beacon of hope and a line directly to a past that was once so pure for us both.

Now for something completely different.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last written. And there’s no excuse for that. It’s now fall and it’s time for pumpkin spice lattes, sweaters, scarves, and my allergies to dying leaves to kick into full gear.

It’s also been a year since I lost one of my best friends in the world and it’s caused me to do a lot of introspection.

Not enough to sit down and write insane amounts, but enough to force me to look at where my life has been and what Brian would think of it since he’s left this world.

I’ve been submitting more job applications and willing to take more risks, but I’m still stuck in the job I can’t really stand. I’ve not done enough writing. Brian was always an inspiration to me. Sitting down to have a coffee with him would lead my mind and imagination down paths it had never seen before and I could write for hours. Those hours would turn into days.

But alas. It seems my fountain of inspiration had dried up.

That is, until I, myself, was faced with my own health scare. Brian had lost his life too soon to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The doctors caught it too late. At stage 4 when there’d be no looking back. I, however, was lucky enough to find the lesion before it spread into something nasty, which could take my life.

My surgery is this week. I’ve never had surgery before and I’m absolutely terrified. It’s pretty routine, so says my doctors, my friends, my family, any coworkers, strangers. But still, it doesn’t help keeping my mind from wandering to the worst outcomes.

“What if this doesn’t help? What if it comes back? What if it becomes worse? Or we miss something?”

Brian would just shake his head if he heard me fretting so. He’d take my hand and say, “Don’t worry until it happens. No sense in stressing yourself out over this. You have so many other things that you can control and help to better yourself. This will teach you to be stronger. You’ll be able to laugh about it soon enough. Time’s too short, Alison. Seriously, enjoy the sun today.”

And you know, he’s right. This time of year, as with any day, I should be enjoying my time here. With those I love. I should try harder to stay in touch with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while. I need to go out and explore. Meet more people, see more places.

This health scare has been keeping me locked in my room after work and on the weekends because I’m terrified of what could happen.

The scariest thing is always the unknown. But for Brian, that’s what made life so exciting and magical.

I miss you and love you every day. Thank you for changing my life entirely and thanks for being such a positive influence. I promise, I’ll beat this thing. For you, for my family. For my friends. And for me.

(Please do some research of your own and help find a cure for the disease that affects so many of us here. Also here.)

The Big Easy Express

As much as I love documentaries, I have a hard time typically sitting through music documentaries. Whether it’s because I”m expecting every person to have a drug addiction or in the case of Spinal Tap, the drummer dies again, music docs are tough to stomach.

My world changed when I caught “The Big Easy Express” by Emmet Malloy last week. Malloy directed “The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights”, of which I still haven’t seen. (I guess I still can’t call myself a true White Stripes fan because of this)

“The Big Easy Express” escorts Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros across the country’s railroads, through six cities, living the old way – playing music and reveling in every minute.

The concert/road film was beautifully shot. I was impressed by the use of lighting and its ability to help emphasize each band’s personality. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had such soft lighting, putting the viewer in an almost ethereal trance. The lighting went hand in hand with their folky-psychadelic style that, for me, is such an homage to music I grew up listening to in my parents’ house. Edward Sharpe’s music transports me to what I could only imagine the 60’s and 70’s being like when seeing the Mama’s and the Papa’s, Jefferson Airplane or The Association. It was a soothing lighting and you could sit, eyes closed, and imagine yourself running through fields while Alex Ebert’s voice danced on the softly blowing breeze.

Mumford and Sons, the most polished of the trio of bands, had very crisp and clean lines and colors. The lighting here seemed the most deliberate to extremely differentiate the group from their hippie fellows in Edward Sharpe and veteran counterparts in Old Crow. It added a touch of class to this classic Americana road trip, hopping tracks and trails. (As long as you don’t count Winston Marshall, Mumford’s banjo player, and his EPIC rat-tail in the tally for class.)

And my favorites, Old Crow Medicine Show, had the lighting and camera work of an undergraduate film student’s final project. The lighting was much dirtier than Mumford’s but a lot rougher and harsher than Edward Sharpe. It added a nice bridge between the other bands and helped the lighting and camera work flow seamlessly.

Although Old Crow’s song, “Bound for Glory“, was the unofficial theme song for the tour, I could have done with way more of the Nashville boys.

Because of this documentary, I would’ve killed to get tickets to any of the shows on the Railroad Revival Tour last year. And, I’m much more likely to see Mumford and Sons on tour if they ever come to Pittsburgh. I’ve always thought Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros would be fun to see live and this flick proved just that.

No one can touch Old Crow’s live performance and I’m probably going to go on a tour of my own following them. If I have to. (please see totally go tomorrow)

Upon the close of the film, Alex Ebert and a few other members of the touring bands sit down and write a song called “Train in the Sky” about their love for the tour, their love for each other and their love of the music.

(Take note that this version isn’t nearly as rowdy or as fun as in the documentary. No Old Crow at this performance. Sad face.)

After leaving the movie theater with two of my best friends, I realized that I was the happiest I’ve ever felt in the cinema and the happiest I’ve ever felt after leaving a showing. I’ll buy this DVD. If I have a shitty day, this documentary will single-handedly restore my faith in humanity.

Old Crow

Not often does an old steel town like Pittsburgh get a ton of great bluegrass bands, especially since us Yankee’s don’t quite “get” the whole southern music thing, but when we do, we do it big. This summer we had Durham, NC powerhouses Carolina Chocolate Drops, my personal favorites, The Avett Brothers, and Sunday we were lucky enough to see the return of Old Crow Medicine Show and Denver’s own, The Lumineers.

Old Crow Medicine Show

When Old Crow came to town a few years ago, they graced the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, which I sadly missed. From everything I’ve heard about this band’s live show is that it’s incredibly lively and the musicianship is unparalleled.

Although we opted for the cheap route and tailgated outside of Stage AE (hey, I’ve got a ton of student loans to repay), we still caught all of the excitement a few dozen yards away*.

They began by opening with “Carry Me Back”, the title track of their newest album, released on July 17th. Having spent a few years in Virginia myself, the song did resonate with me more than some of their others (“Bobcat Tracks”, anybody?).

A surprising twist for me was when the Nashville-band not only played their signature song “Wagon Wheel” in the dead-middle of their set, they also did not play an encore. All of these things are okay with me, let’s be real. I wanted to hear “Wagon Wheel” and remember it and by the time they were wrapping up, I was pretty exhausted having spent much of my afternoon drinking either on my porch with some friends (who didn’t join us because they were attending the Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings  show outside of the city) or in the parking lot next to the venue.

I was pretty pleased, as were my compatriots, that they played several songs off of “OCMS” and “Tennessee Pusher”. I was equally as thrilled to hear a live version of not only “Hard to Love”, but also my favorite drug-inspired tunes “Cocaine Habit” and “Methamphetamine“.

Opening the evening was the 2005-founded group, The Lumineers, most famously known for their 2012 track, “Hey Ho!”

From playing their entire self-titled debut flawlessly to having a few guests (*coughOCMScough*) join them, The Lumineers are a great Americana band that folks everywhere need to see live! They played while the sun set over the three rivers and Heinz Field and were the beginning of a perfect evening.

Nothing better, in my eyes, than an evening spent with family, friends, a few beers, beautiful weather and even more beautiful music to bring you back to the moment and be thankful for the simpler things in life. Like beer. And bluegrass. But mainly the bluegrass.

*total unintentional rhyming.

You Blew It!

As I was walking home this morning, I was streaming Episode 204 of The Nerdist (surprise) called “Gersberms” and Jonah Ray recommended this newer band called You Blew It!

Now he said they were very much the late 90’s emo-indie  music that was on repeat in my CD player so I knew I had to check it out.

Luckily, he was right!

Their first album, “Grow Up, Dude”, bleeds with teenage angst that I long thought forgotten. I can see this album being popular in my age bracket (late 20’s) as a throwback to better days. It’s almost nostalgia rock.

Whenever we’d turn on any of the Saves the Day albums before “Nightingale” or start bumping New Found Glory‘s self-titled, the party erupts. Same goes for Weezer, Taking Back Sunday (“Tell All Your Friends”, of course) and Jimmy Eat World. You want to see a party full of kids on the brink of their 30’s go crazy? Try this little number:

Who knew a song written about a love torn apart by the Holocaust would really get a party going?

You Blew It! is a Florida based band, just like our old favorites in New Found Glory, Further Seems Forever and Less than Jake. The new band’s website proclaims proudly, “Florida Doesn’t Suck.” which is the opposite of anything I’ve ever heard about the Sunshine State. Having never been before, I can only hope that if Florida does indeed suck, that it keeps pumping out great music.

With hilarious song titles (“Good for Bond, Bad for You” or “There’s Nothing I Like More than Baseball”), catchy riffs and heartfelt lyrics, You Blew It! should be a band to look out for in the future, especially on the small club scene. I just looked and saw I missed them playing here in Pittsburgh at the Mr. Roboto Project back in July (damn it!)

Looking back on these types of bands and on these songs all about love and loss at such a young age made me realize one thing that I had overlooked as a youth. These songs embody the idea of living in the moment. To embrace every day, to live and love wholly and to never regret what you once wanted. As cliché as it sounds and as cliché as some of these bands can be, the message is the same across the board.

Maybe we needed ten different bands that are cookie cutter images of each other with the same sound to beat the idea that today only happens once into our thick adolescent skulls. Maybe YOLO isn’t the reason to act like a whore (thanks Internet) but to actually do something with your life that you didn’t think possible. Live in the moment, yes, but don’t be a dumb fuck about it. Enjoy your choices and thrive in them.

As the tenth track off of “Grow Up, Dude” “I’m Bill Paxton” says, I’m finally right where I need to be.

Finally…

Alison gave in and decided to start a blog. Over the next forever, you’ll be forced to read through my inane ramblings about music, bands, shows I’ve been to as well as movies, TV shows and all things I find fascinating.

I will say, though, I do wholeheartedly blame Chris Hardwick.Chris Hardwick

For those of you living under a rock, Big C is the creator the amazing and inspiring Nerdist blog, podcast and now BBC America Show! He also is on E!’s Websoup and has a show on G4. I started listening to his podcast after I caught the BBC America 2011 Christmas Special and thus began streaming past episodes.

Hardwick innovates and develops new programs, shows and events focusing on the one thing he loves: being a nerd. I ordered a copy of his book, “The Nerdist Way” and I’m excited to read it. Just waiting for Amazon Prime to send me a copy on Tuesday.

But point being, from listening to the podcast*, it inspired me to revisit all of the things I love and just didn’t find time for since I graduated – writing, music and cultural analysis. I got away from it for too long and decided I need to get back to my passions and make something of it.

I also picked up a few books a few years ago about how the creative minds have difficulty finishing projects and seldom make anything of them. I’ve read one chapter. Guess who has reading homework this weekend…womp womp.

Today will be spent reviewing old work, reading “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky and probably drinking more coffee than a normal human being should consume.

I’m excited for you to join me over this journey to find my voice again in print and discover new worlds of music, media and all things nerd. Do me a favor, tell all your friends 🙂 Also! Check out Chris’s Twitter and the Nerdist!

♠ insert clever valediction here (I’ll work on this too, folks)

*Keep in mind, the Nerdist podcast isn’t all puppies and rainbows about doing what you love. It’s a lot of nerd talk about Doctor Who, Star Trek and all things amazing. Plus, a lot of the language and the discussions are NSFW.