Monday, September 30, 2013

Navelgazing, Part the First . . .

So here we are again, dear reader(s).  I am starting my third week of wielding the iron fist of justice that is a middle school assistant principalship and so far, while there have been a few tears and some minor bumps and bruises, all is going very well.  The school is wonderful- everyone is very positive and I have a lady who makes me coffee in the mornings.  I have my own office, complete with a chair, and I feel like I have been able to make some positive contributions to the school community as a whole, so I am happy.  Also I am finding that I'm becoming more and more into wearing tie clips- I even caught myself mulling over the purchase of a few extra ones the other day.  Quite a leap forward for a man who learned how to tie a tie this past summer in between episodes of Teletubbies whilst watching my niece make eldritch burbling sounds at me.

But enough about my life, of course.  What's the big news?  Well, in a few days I am off to Dubai for an education conference (hard knocks life, for sure), but, more importantly, after 17 years the new Carcass album is out.

Kick ass!

It's called Surgical Steel.


There has been much rejoicing and giggly head banging here at the Rage Cage.

I cannot express how much my first meeting with the musical stylings of the "other lads from Liverpool" changed the course of my musical direction.  Their initial mix of crazy grindcore mixed with death metal, dueling vocalists, and weird ass guitar solos drew me in, and with song titles like "Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition" what's not to love?  

Little known Lippart fact, for all the Polish groupies out there:  the first cd I ever purchased was their third album, awesomely titled Necroticism- Descanting the Insalubrious.  Here is a taste. Enjoy!

Okay, for all of you that are still here- I loved that record.  Still do.  Then they took a turn that changed my life again- they became much more melodic, with delicious twin lead guitars, simplified song structures, great grooves, and slightly more normal lyrics.  When I first encountered their fourth album, Heartwork, I was blown away.  I hadn't heard anything like it at the time.  I can still picture that day: sitting in Marine Park rocking my Walkman (remember those?) and playing it, over and over again.  To this day those first few seconds of the title track get my blood pumping.  I also have a vivid memory of staying up late on a Saturday night to catch their debut video on MTV (remember that?) It's still as good as ever:

How do you top that?  I wouldn't know, sweet, patient, hopefully leather clad readers, because I've never topped anything, but they switched gears, AGAIN, when their (until now) last album came out.  Swansong was a revelation to me.  Between this and Wolverine Blues (Entombed was kick ass), these guys were doing exactly what I was trying to do with various people but wasn't good enough to pull off:  they were taking the emotional rawness, the sheer brutal energy, of death metal,  and slotting it right on top of a foundation of basic, timeless rock and roll.  In the process they wrote a song (Keep on Rotting in the Free World)  that, to this day, is an easy top ten of all time for me, right above Father and Son (Cat Stevens was also kick ass!) 

Don't believe me?  I challenge anyone to listen to this track and not immediately want to go out and buy a drum set, leather pants, hair extensions, and a mirrored codpiece with knobbly bits on it.

It felt like validation to me, because I had been wanting to do something like it for a few years at that point, but also a wake up call, because it showed me how far I still had to go. 

And that was it, for 17 years.  That album came out when I was 19.  It was done before I moved to Santa Fe and went to college, before teaching, before traveling the world, and before having all those crazy adventures that draw like seven or eight people to read this column every other month or so.  

Every once in a while I would try to get a musical project off the ground, usually involving chunky rock riffs with an aggressive growly voice, but it never went anywhere.  The closest I managed to come, after lots of attempts at getting groups together and coming up with imaginary groupie nicknames and band logos, was the recordings I did in Myanmar (oh God cheap plug!).  Check out a sample here:

I pale shadow, I admit.  And now, they've done it again.  17 years, about 4 years longer than any of my current charges have been walking upon this pale blue dot (Sagan sneak attack!)  and they are back, with an album that again just blows my mind.  

With bits from all of their albums mashed together, it's like they have come full circle, from grind to death to metal to rock and back again.  I can totally empathize because after switching my career this past year, I have been spending emo-riffic amount of time thinking of my own strange journey to get where I am.  I am sincerely glad they have had this chance to step back and revisit the past again.  To have a chance to examine where you came from with unsullied eyes is a rare one, and not to be missed.  I can tell from the opening track that these guys have thought long and hard about where they came from, where they are, and where they are going.  

And where would that be, you ask?  Well, ladies and gentleman, I leave you with a brand new Carcass song, the first in 17 long, wonderful, crazy, beautiful, chaps filled years.  Here it is, a new track off of the brand new album: Noncompliance to ASTFM F899-12 Standard (goddamn I missed you guys).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Pizza Slice

Today is indeed a sad day, dear readers.  One for the record books, especially those dark Gothic kinds.  No, I am not talking about the recent chaos in my newly adopted land, or the awful mess that is Syria and the requisite vapid Facebook posts where people who've never been there or done much of anything give their opinion on whether Syrians are "worth saving".  This is something a bit more personal than all of that. Much much closer to my greasy, greasy Jersey Style heart:

I just found out that Mr. Pizza Slice is retiring.

Well, you may ask, you inquisitive bastards, who is Mr. Pizza Slice?  Why should I care?

Fair enough.

To the first question, Mr. Pizza Slice is the restaurant in Red Bank, NJ (been there for 44 years!) that has been a social hub for generations of greasy Jersey boys and girls- especially with those killer bangs.

On the Boardwalk, you would be a queen.

 It's a place where you could have a slice of pizza, an awesome Italian Hot Dog, and circle fries, for like $10.  It had an arcade machine in the back corner- usually Pac Man, but later on replaced by Joust, Gauntlet (and the little heralded side scrolling version, Quartet) and, for one brilliant, fleeting moment Joust 2 (!).  The food was great, reasonably priced, and every time you walked in there was Mr. Pizza Slice himself, ready with his usual Jersey gruffness.  "Hey.  You eating, or what?" became such a powerful greeting that when he wasn't at the counter one was a bit lost, cast adrift on a sea of expected terseness.

You magnificent bastard.

So, good stuff all around.  But more than that, for me.  Much more in fact.  He might never have known it (the topic never came up between us anyway), and he might not recognize me if I walked up to him now, but this was a man who had a profound effect on me as a wayward youth and also encapsulates why Jersey was such a good place to grow up.  

As a sit here on the beautiful beaches of Dahab (it's okay to be jealous, I will not be offended), it is hard not to reflect upon where I was, how I got here, and what random twists and turns happened along the way that have molded me into this reasonably tan, slightly saggy person you see before you.  Mr. Pizza Slice was definitely one of those twists.

Cast your mind back, dear reader, about 26 years ago.  

Those weird leggings with stirrups at the bottom were coming into style, Reagan was president, and The Highwayman was on TV.

Oh God yes.  A thousand times yes.

I was in 3rd grade then, which is usually a time of exploration, discovery, and learning how to make funny noises with various body parts.  For me, however, it was a time where I was anxious and afraid more often then not; where I would spend my school days wondering what kind of scenario I would come home to, and dealing with teasing/comments about my eyes (as posted here!  Oh God, self pity plug!).  Life then was not very stable, or kind, or even very consistent, for young Lippart.  I was dealing with the crippling self esteem issues that follow in the wake of addiction, and also being one of the few white kids at a school where my ethnic group was not exactly tolerated by many of the teachers or the students.   In short, most people treated me like crap, or, even worse, ignored me, and so I learned to think of myself that way.  Not unusual at all, of course- nothing about my story is any different than the stories most of us have growing up, or see on Oprah, or read about in the middle of Readers' Digest, but as a kid I felt that all that bad stuff was uniquely MINE.  That no one else (even my own three brothers, which shows how kids think) suffered like I did, and therefore I was a man alone, unique in the grand expanse of time.

This shortsightedness, of course, made me feel worse.  Like I was being picked on by destiny, abandoned by fate, and whatever else kids say these days after watching Twilight.

Special snowflake, my ass.

But in the midst of that nonsense, there are always people who are The Helpers (to quote Mr. Rodgers). The ones who offer what kindness they can and reach out to people.  The ones who made an impact on people's lives not by grand, Drew Barrymore-esque gestures, but by being human, and allowing you to be human 
right alongside them.  As a veteran educator (where's my monocle!), I have seen how powerful it can be to just be there for someone, be present in their lives, even if you don't have awesome theme music.  

Mr. Pizza Slice was one of those types.

I used to go up there to have pizza when I was young, back when people under 18 were allowed to leave the house, and he would always greet me with his customary phrase, hand me a slice of pizza and some circle fries, give me shit about ruining his pizza by adding too much pepper, and then ask if I wanted change for the arcade game.  Once in a while, he would ask about my family, how was school, all that kind of stuff.

Nothing too earth shattering, for sure, but he was THERE.  And sometimes, he was more than that.

I'll never forget one time, in the beginning of Grade 4, when my mother dropped me off and then went to the nearby bar.  I whiled away the time with my usual slice of pizza and Pac Man knowing, in my young, small brained way, what was going on next door, but not able to stop it or hide from it.  Even though I tried to be super casual, there was a finite amount of stuff I could do to occupy my time.  After an hour, my initial dollar and pizza long gone, Mr. Pizza Slice came over to the corner where I sat and gave me another plate.  

"On the house.  I made extra anyway."

I finished the slice, eating slowly, and afterwards, when more time had passed, he brought me a soda and a plate of circle fries.  

""Here.  I should make you clean my windows."

He  never asked me to leave, and never asked what I was doing there for so long.  Soon after that my mother came to get me (we had walked downtown together) and, in that way of his, he told her I'd been sitting there a long time.  Then he nodded down at me and said, "but it's okay.  He doesn't take up too much space.  Quiet little guy."

After that, whenever I came in, he gave me free circle fries and asked about my mother.

We moved away from Red Bank a few months later but eventually came back, because all roads lead to Jersey.  Now I was 14 and I had just discovered the life changing sounds of Death Metal, so I filled with both anger and a terrible taste for leather spikes and earrings.  

I walked into Mr. Pizza Slice and he recognized me right away.  Asked how my mother was.  I wasn't living with her at the time but probably said something reasonably smarmy because, you know, 14.  I started counting out some money when he put up his hand.

"You know what?  I got to put some pizza boxes together.  You do it for me, I'll give you a free pizza.  You still owe me from last time anyway."

So I went to the corner and constructed 50 empty pizza boxes.  This took me probably about 30 minutes or so and when I was finished he gave me a whole pizza, with circle fries, plus some to take home.  For the next couple years every once in a while I would walk by and he would lean out the window and tell me I needed to make some boxes for him.

Looking back, it was obvious he didn't need the boxes made.  It was a super easy task and it wasn't like he was selling 50 pies at a time or anything.  Plus, he had his sons there to help.  He would just end up with huge piles of empty pizza boxes everywhere (he had other kids doing the same thing from time to time). What he did, though, was listen.  As I was folding the boxes, he would talk to me about school ("don't do anything stupid"), about girls ("don't do anything stupid") about my family ("yeah, sometimes adults do things that are stupid") and about what I wanted to do with my life ("Dreams are never stupid").

Then, the job done, we would share a pizza, have some soda, and he would look at his watch, nod and tell me to get the heck out of there.

He is a wonderful man.

May your retirement be as kick ass as your retirement video, sir.  You'll be missed.  By all of us.