Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Coconut Cream Pie Saves the Day

At some point yesterday, I stumbled across the knowledge that the day – January 23rd – was known as National Pie Day. I shared the information on Facebook and said that someone should help me commemorate the occasion by making me a coconut cream pie.

It was a joke and I didn’t expect any kind of follow-up.

I quickly forgot about the whole thing, thanks to the stress of a crappy day. It was the usual stuff; I was tired, work was stressful, and there were lots of money woes. Then I got word that our computer, which had shot craps earlier in the week, needed to be completely replaced; not repaired.

My daughter and I headed to Best Buy after work; a 45-minute drive when I was already bedraggled from the day. She was tired, too. But not tired enough to sleep in the car, of course…just tired enough to be grumpy. And she was hungry. I was grumpy, too, and not happy about making an unplanned – and un-budgeted for – major electronics purchase.

The process wasn’t horrible, but was as stressful as I knew it would be; “this computer is good, but this one would do better for what you want”…”you don’t have to buy this service, but if you don’t, then XYZ will probably happen”…”for just another $70, we can add ABC123 to the computer”…blah-blah-blah. I just wanted it over. I turned down things I maybe should have gotten, got a few things I probably didn’t need, and wrapped it up ASAP.

I could have stopped to get my grumpy kid some food, but I was ready to be home. To crash at the end of a long and tiring and stressful day. So we booked it home.

As I knew it would, buyers remorse set in. Should I have bought this thing? Should I just have paid to have the other one fixed? Sure, it was only a little more to get a new one, and the old one was pretty much on its last leg. Sure, if I fixed the old one, it might break again in short order, and I’d be out that money. Sure, I know I didn’t HAVE to take any action right now. But, very unfortunately, a computer is pretty much a “need” for me these days.

So I went from stressed and grumpy to anxious.

I wanted to be home. I was speeding.

And then, in the blink of an eye, flashing red and blue LED lights filled the dark backseat of my car. Great…on top of an unplanned multi-hundred dollar computer purchase now I was gonna get a speeding ticket. And I was so wound up and jumpy from the stress of the whole day by that point that the cop would probably think I was whacked out on goofballs.

I turned my head around to see my four-year old, grumpy daughter, finally smiling…tapping her foot on the back of the passenger seat, making her beloved “Twinkle Toes” shoes light up. Kate’s Twinkle Toes are her prized possession; the thing she wanted more than anything else in the world this past Christmas. They’re cute. They’re fun. The flash blue and red lights when you walk. And they are B-R-I-G-H-T!

When we gave them to her for Christmas, we didn’t wrap them; we just left them sitting in the open, under the tree, amidst all of her other gifts. Naturally, she was the first one up that morning and she came running into my room and woke me up by slamming them against my bedside table in the dark, about 4 inches from my sleeping eyes. I awoke, certain that the aliens had finally come for me.

So, there she sat in the backseat; a grumpy, hungry kid who’d just suffered a 45 minute drive with a grumpy dad, barely made it through an hour-long visit at a big-box electronics store that held no interest for her, and now, halfway through the 45 minute drive back, she’d finally found something that made her happy.

And all I could say was, “Don’t EVER do that again!” I realized how mean and stupid that was, so I tried to soften it. “Please, don’t flash those like that in the dark when I don’t know you’re doing it...” Even stupider. I finally explained that I thought it was a police car chasing me. Which scared her. Once she “got it”, she felt bad for scaring me. I felt bad for scaring her. She cried. I almost cried.

It was the breaking point that had been a long time coming. I felt bad. We talked about it and both recognized that neither one of us felt good and neither one of us was acting on our best behavior. I apologized, she apologized, and we forgave each other. She’s got a pretty amazing depth of understanding about stuff like this. She’s pretty awesome that way.

We were both still kind of grumpy. I wasn’t really anxious anymore. But after the emotional fireworks, I was even more wiped out than before. More ready than ever to just get home, find something to eat, and get to bed early.

I realize how pathetic this all sounds. I know if this is the worst day I ever have, then I’ll be fortunate. I know people deal with worse stuff than this every day. I’m not trying to throw a pity party. I have a point, I promise.

I’m just trying to paint a picture of one of those days where life just wins. We all have those days from time to time. Yesterday was my day and I was just ready for it to be over. To try again tomorrow.

And just then, right after the fallout of the stressful day, I got a text from a friend who was part of the college group I used to lead. She asked if I’d be around at 9 p.m. that night. Truth be told, I’d planned on being in some sort of (legal) chemically-induced deep sleep by that point, but I told her I’d be around and asked what was up.

She said: “Weeellll…We may have in our possession a coconut cream pie…. ;)

I know…I wrote about BROWNIES yesterday, now I’m writing about pie. It’s not got anything to do with the food. As a fat guy, I don’t usually like to write or talk about food. It’s too easy. Too obvious. So I try not to do it at all.

But these two events have been good reminders for me.

I’m on a kind of major life journey right now, which kinda sucks. I enjoy it in a masochistic way and I’m excited to see how it unfolds. But, at the same time, it’s unpleasant. It hurts.

I used to run a non-profit organization that was all about encouraging small acts of kindness. You know, like bringing someone their favorite pie when they’re down. Its purpose was to highlight that the world can be changed for the better, in small increments, when you do thoughtful and kind things like that.

In a lot of ways, facilitating that charity was a starting point on this whole journey. In the few years since then, many of my beliefs, philosophies, thoughts, and attitudes have changed (including many of those that the whole charity was based on).

My point is this:

My friends didn’t know I was having an epically bad day. I also presume they knew that my Facebook status about wanting someone to make me a pie was a joke.

They didn’t do it because they thought I really wanted them to. They didn’t do it to make up for my crummy day.

They simply saw an opportunity to show love and make me happy. And they took it.

They bought a coconut cream pie and brought it to my house, along with a few friends. We ate pie and talked and laughed.

And the day that had previously seemed so unbelievably crummy then simply seemed…funny.

All of this rambling is to say something I’ve been saying a lot lately; there is love. I may not know what else there is in the world that’s really and truly for real. But there is love.

I’m working out a lot of big stuff. It hurts. And it’s unpleasant. It’s hard work.

But I have people who love me. And as long as I have that, I have everything.

Thank you for the pie, my friends.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


The ridiculousness of a fat guy saying the thought of brownies brought him to tears isn’t lost on me.

But tonight, after I dropped Kate off at her Sunday night program, I thought about what we should have for dinner later. Brownies sounded good for desert. I thought about my memories of my mom making brownies; especially how the house smelled while she baked them. We – my mom and dad, and later, little brother – always enjoyed that special treat as a family; all together. It’s a special treat that my family now – my wife and daughter – enjoy all together, too. We don’t make them often, but it’s special when we do.

I thought about my daughter coming home to the smell of brownies. I thought of the joy she would feel when she ate one. Brownies are a BIG deal to little kids, don’t forget.

And damn if I didn’t start getting a little choked up.

Choked up at the thought of her enjoyment. Choked up at the thought of how wonderful it would be to return to a state of innocence where brownies were one of life’s biggest thrills. Choked up at the hope that someday Kate will fondly remember eating brownies with her mom and dad. Choked up at the hope that eating a delicious warm brownie with her mommy and daddy will make her feel happy and comfortable and safe. Like everything is right.

I know it won’t always be that way. Someday brownies won’t be an ultimate thrill. Someday it will take much more than brownies for the world to feel right. More accurately probably, the world just simply won’t feel right and brownies won’t make a dent in that feeling, either way.

As many of you know, there’s been a lot on the ol’ Miff mind lately. I’m questioning so many things in life. I’m in a state of transition in many areas. Things are different. Exciting. Scary. Uncertainty abounds.

But no matter what I may question or doubt from day to day, as I’ve said before, there is love. There are special moments. The world may not make sense to me right now. It may be scary.

But my daughter and I enjoyed brownies tonight. And even though it won’t be this way for long…for tonight, brownies were enough to bring her joy. We were all together. The house smelled yummy and the brownies tasted great.

There are so many things that we can’t be certain about. But I’m certain that my daughter is real. And I’m certain that brownies are real. And as crazy and scary and out of control as the rest of the world may seem, our lives are full of little things like that. Tiny things, even. But real things. And those are the things that make everything worth whatever it is we’re going through.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: Discovering Jason & The Scorchers

This started out as a simple concert review, but evolved into something much more (obviously)...a description of my discovery of a band I'd always wanted to check out and that I fell wholeheartedly in love with when I did...

Very special thanks to Duane Clawson for sharing his great photos from the concert!
(Contact Duane Clawson at Duanec25@att.net or visit him online at www.musicviews.org)

ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 13, 2012

Throughout life, events take place that forever divide time. The birth of my daughter, for instance, divided time between my never having been, and then forever being, a father.

Last Friday night served as another of those time-splitting occasions. A new existence now lies before me, as someone who has experienced the legendary Jason and the Scorchers live in concert. Lord, I know I’ve been changed. And I shall never be the same again.

For a good portion of my life I had heard of Jason and the Scorchers. As I got into the music that I now enjoy (what I, on Dirty Roots Radio, affectionately call “renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk”), I frequently heard the name Jason and the Scorchers bandied about as forbearers of those sounds. Fellow fans of this types of “roots music” mixed with more modern and aggressive sounds held Jason and the Scorchers in high regard. They’d started it all, I heard. They played music too country for rock and too rock for country.

They didn’t fit anywhere. But…They invented cow-punk. They invented roots rock. They paved the way for alternative country and Americana.

Jason and the Scorchers went on the list of music that I planned to check out as soon as possible. I spend my life continually hammering away at that list. Sometimes I make progress on it. Sometimes I add new names to explore faster than I can explore the names already on the list. When I dig into the artists and groups on the list, sometimes they change my life. More often than not, they don’t live up to the years of hype that I’ve read/heard about them.

Jason and the Scorchers (JATS) came up time and time again. I’d check out some of their music when I had the chance; usually a stray track here or there. But never with the dedication had I intended to devote to the exploration of this legendary band. I’ve learned not to force that kind of thing. It’s best to let these discoveries happen naturally.

So I never pushed it. But I wanted to find out what made JATS so legendary. I liked the songs and snippets of albums that I heard. But they didn’t change my world. I consistently heard that while JATS made good albums, you truly had to experience them live to really appreciate them.

When I saw the notice for the JATS show at Off Broadway in St. Louis (the best place to see live music in the Lou), I knew I had to get there. I also contacted the band’s management and set up an interview with frontman Jason Ringenberg. Just before the show, their road manager informed me that Jason had a cold and needed to save his voice, but I could talk to founding member Warner E. Hodges.

Our brief interview went really well and I truly enjoyed visiting with the very, animated, warm, and likeable Hodges. He told me to drop by after the show and introduce myself.

When I arrived at Off Broadway, the show opener – Brian Henneman, of one of my favorite bands, the Bottle Rockets – had already taken the stage. Henneman played the Bottle Rockets classic “I’ll Be Coming Around” as I walked in. In hindsight, that selection fit the occasion perfectly; when I first saw Steve Earle in concert, he played a cover of that song and called the Bottle Rockets out to sing background vocals. That event officially cemented my love for Steve Earle and first introduced me to the Bottle Rockets. And now that song again was playing a part in the introduction to one of my new favorite bands.

Henneman played a solid solo show with his trusty sunburst-colored Rickenbacker guitar and a buddy backing him up on acoustic. The set featured several well known Bottle Rockets tracks, as well as deeper album cuts. As he ended the show with “Welfare Music”, the audience gathered at the foot of the stage began collectively stomping their feet on the hardwood dance floor. Just enough people had gathered in just the right configuration to produce a powerful sound. Henneman expressed genuine delight as he pointed out that the noise “sounded like a kick drum”. It proved one of those beautiful spontaneous moments when a performer is immersed in something unexpected and joyful, in solidarity with their audience.

As I entered the venue during Henneman’s set, I recognized Jason Ringenberg in the audience, sitting in a folding chair against a far wall, dressed in part of his stage getup and a John Deere trucker hat. The lanky man had his head tilted back, enjoying the music, with a sublime half-grin on his face. A little later, I spotted Warner Hodges leaned up against the bar. Both men casually and happily greeted fans who came by to visit with them. Neither appeared standoffish in the least. They obviously felt comfortable walking amongst their fans. I felt like I’d found the right place.

At one point during Henneman’s opening set, Hodges –dressed to the nines in his country/rock star best (tight jeans, boots, scarf, vest, and shiny sport coat) – walked just behind me and I could swear I heard what sounded like…no, it couldn’t be…holy, holy…DOES HE HAVE ON SPURS? Yup. Spurs on his boots, I said! Now I knew I’d found the right place.

Jason and the Scorchers took the stage to the overwhelming delight of the audience, a mixed-bag of younger and older, biker and country, rocker and refined, etc. I love audiences like that. They had no differences among them Friday night, though; they had all come to worship at the altar of their favorite band.

Throughout their set, Jason and Warner interacted with the crowd; sharing a few inside jokes, talking about places they’d met before – usually at now-defunct watering holes – scattered around the country through the band’s 30-year career, even calling out several people in the audience by name and telling stories on them. These folks had obviously spent lots of time together through the years.

I, a novice, surrendered to the experience, just like the lifelong fans. Unfortunately, I had stupidly opted to leave the sweat rag that I take to most concerts with me in the car that night. I sure needed it.

JATS whipped the audience into a frenzy that lasted all night. It obviously would have been amazing (and I never use that word lightly) to have seen these guys in their early 20s when they were just starting out, hungry and full of youthful energy. But I can’t figure age has slowed them down much. They gave it their all. Who would have guessed that Jason continually flipping his extra-long microphone cord in a whirling arc over the bands’ heads could look as cool as it did? And Warner not only looked the part of a full-on country rock star, he had all the moves of one, too. This man KILLED on the guitar. When Jason introduced the band, he called Hodges the finest country/rock guitar player alive and he nailed that description. In his own words, “That’s not hype that’s God’s honest truth.”

Hodges went through all of the guitar hero moves that would make anyone else look cheesy, complete with the facial expressions that would likewise diminish anyone else’s performance. Those animated gestures/expressions fit him perfectly. And if any other guitarist that I watched for two hours spun his guitar over his shoulder and around his back, only to catch it at the perfect moment and resume his solo as many times Warner did, I’d throw something at the stage. He did it at least eight times Friday and I giggled like an excited little kid every single time.

Several times during all the histrionics I studied their faces. JATS consists of two non-original members (Pontus Snibb on drums – a “good southern boy from Southern Amsterdam” as Jason described him, and Al Collins on bass) and original members Hodges and Ringenberg. Snibb and Collins did mighty awesome…but you could just see “IT” in the faces of Jason and Warner. And when I say “IT” I mean that look in their eyes. That flash of brilliance. The flash of inspiration…of fun. The look of willingness to try anything that serious rockers used to have in their eyes and the scary-as-hell look that hillbilly preachers and vintage country singers had in theirs. The look that said they were laying it all out there These F’ers were crazy!!

And we all loved it.

Partway through the show, Jason called up a special guest, Stacie Collins, wife of JATS bass player, Al Collins, to perform a few songs. I worried at first; I haven’t had the best experiences when bands bring up someone totally unrelated to just take over for a few numbers. But she brought the house down. I daresay it had something to do with the fact that she, too, had that same wild look in her eyes.


So it went for almost two hours. Fan favorites. Great new songs off their latest album. A brand new song. Stories. Jokes. I felt like I had come home. Everything I had heard about JATS proved true; they pretty much invented the music I love. That’s not hyperbole; they brought the whole thing together. You could hear punk, classic rock, metal, country, and everything else there. No one does it like this.

Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better – that I had reached roots-rock Nirvana – they called up Brian Henneman for a jam session. Prior to this, Henneman looked genuinely humbled as an audience member, when Jason Ringenberg called the Bottle Rockets’ “I’ll Be Coming Around” his favorite song of the 90’s and their “The Brooklyn Side” his favorite album from the 90’s.

Henneman ain’t no slouch as a country rocker and he held his own with Warner, sparks flying every which way, trading solos back and forth.

Before we could catch our breath, Jason called up the great singer/songwriter Todd Snider – who had just finished up his own show elsewhere in St. Louis – to join them, and Henneman, on surely the most rockin’ version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” ever performed.

I hate that song. Even Toots & the Maytalls couldn’t save it when they covered it. But JATS made all things right again. It was one of those moments that you will yourself to remember, knowing that you’re witnessing something incredibly special.

At the conclusion of that song, I ran backstage to introduce myself to Warner and he welcomed me graciously. He quickly told me they needed to go back out for another encore, and asked me to stick around.

Once the show ended, I headed back to talk to Warner again. He told me he enjoyed the interview we did earlier and thanked me for my support.

Artists with basic decency typically say that kind of thing to folks like me. The sentiment usually isn’t genuine; I understand that and I don’t fault them for it – they meet more people than they can keep track of on tour, do a ton of interviews, and it’s just part of their job. I mistakenly took Warner’s comments that way. A lot of people were waiting to talk to Warner, so I scooted out of the way as quickly as I could. Warner sensed it, and grabbed my hand, pulled me back, looked me in the face, and said it all again, so I could see that he meant it genuinely. He remembered from our conversation that I hadn’t seen JATS live before that and he asked if I had a good time.

It may not sound like much, but that’s a rare thing for an artist to go that far out of their way to have a “genuine” exchange with a radio guy/journalist. And it says a ton about that artist. You can tell who truly appreciates the support you’re trying to give them, and Warner did.

As I left Off Broadway, Jason Ringenberg made his way back in to meet his fans. As I passed him, I said the only thing I could muster: “Thank you!”

As I walked out the door, I heard Warner talking with some fans about a bar they used to play in Champaign, IL. One night Jason dangled from the chandelier in the middle of the room and tore it down. They had to pay for it, of course, and the damages cost a lot more than their paycheck amounted to that night.

I’ve had a lot of concert experiences. I’ve seen Social Distortion, my favorite band for my whole life, about six times. I’ve seen Tom Waits, another of my very favorite artists, in one of his extremely rare live appearances. I saw the great Leonard Cohen in a concert experience that I can only describe as “Biblically profound.” I’ve seen the Bottle Rockets, my favorite local band, a number of times, including one where Brian Henneman jammed with the legendary Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on a note-for-note cover of Neil Young’s classic “Down By the River”. Some magical moments. And I’ve been blessed to meet, interview, and sometimes hang out with many of the artists I love.

Like Jason Ringenberg, I was born with a gift for hype. I tend to retell these kinds of experiences with a touch that hype.

But I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Last Friday night, with Jason and the Scorchers, is my favorite concert experience. Ever. For so many reasons.

If you haven’t already, check them out.

If they come around your neck of the woods, do yourself a favor and go check them out. You want to support these guys with your hard-earned money. They deserve it.

And the world’s a better place for them doing what they do, still out on the road, hard at it thirty years later.

Rock ‘n’ Roll!

***Once again, a very special thanks to Duane Clawson for sharing all of his great pictures from the event!

Duane Clawson: Duanec25@att.net


Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

INTERVIEW: Author, Benjamin Whitmer (Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers)

Charlie Louvin was a Grammy nominated member of the Grand Ol Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

As a member of the Louvin Brothers, Charlie racked up twenty-nine Billboard charting singles with his brother Ira. He enjoyed continued success as a solo artist after he split from his brother. Ira was plagued with anger issues and alcoholism and became known for his erratic behavior.

The Louvin Brothers had a great influence on many artists who came after them. “You can’t find anybody, I don’t think, that was not inspired by them,” said Vince Gill after Charlie Louvin’s death. Cosmic cowboy and alt.country/roots-rock pioneer Gram Parsons said the Louvin Brothers were the Flying Burrito’s favorite artists.

Charlie Louvin passed away from pancreatic cancer almost exactly one year ago (late January 2011). Before his death, he had worked on a memoir, partly named after the classic Louvin Brothers album “Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers” with Denver-based author Benjamin Whitmer. Whitmer is the author of a novel called, “Pike”, which came out about a year and a half ago and has been described as “country noir”.

I spoke with Whitmer about working with Charlie Louvin and the legacy of Charlie Louvin and the Louvin Brothers…

How did this project come about?

It was kind of wild. I got an email from my agent, saying that Neil Strauss was looking around for somebody to work on a project about a bluegrass legend, and asking if I would be interested. I didn’t know who it was, but I thought it might be worth checking out. So we sent Neil excerpts of Pike and he liked them enough to give us a phone call. Once I found out it was Charlie Louvin, of course, there was no way I was going to pass that up.

The book itself is Charlie’s memoir, mainly about his time with his brother, Ira, during the Louvin Brother’s years, and there’s a little bit about his own life after that.

What was the process for getting these stories out of Charlie’s memory and onto paper?

That was the fun part! The first time I talked to him, he told me, “Make sure you have questions. I can’t just sit down and talk for hours at a time.”

So we started making phone calls that I recorded on my little rig. So I could talk to him and capture everything. I’d take them home at night and transcribe them and come up with some more questions. We just started from childhood and worked our way on up.

I got to go down there for about a week, which was pretty incredible. Sit on his back porch and smoke cigarettes and here those stories.

We got to go see Ira’s grave together, which was amazing.

Wow, tell me about that experience.

It was amazing. It was chilling. Haunting. Incredible. It was actually at the grave where he told me that story about the last duet he had with Ira.

Just hearing that…He still felt very close to his brother and as hard as his brother was on him, he still loved him very much. It was a very touching moment.

I wanted to ask you about that; as hard as Ira lived and as badly as he treated Charlie, you still get the feeling that Charlie loved his brother.

Oh, yes. Right up to the last time we talked, he was talking about it. About halfway through this process, Charlie started to understand that pancreatic cancer was something he was not going to survive. That was something he talked about; part of the reason he wasn’t as broken up about it as someone like me might be…or the reason he could have the courage he did in dealing with it was knowing that he was going to see his brother again.

Tell me a little about Charlie. I met him once and he seemed very down to earth and warm. I know he was a Christian, but he also wasn’t afraid to throw some cuss words around. He seemed like a unique person.

Absolutely. He was a Christian. He was a big believer, but he was not the proselytizing kind, except in his music. He wouldn’t beat anybody up about it or anything like that. He was very down to earth.

The first time I talked to him, I was kind of nervous, to be honest. I had no idea what kind of project this was. I’d never really spoken to him before. But he set me at ease immediately. I mean, he started telling jokes and stories. And pretty much the whole project worked like that. Just sitting around and kicking these stories back and forth. It was really easy to do with him. I’ve heard stories of other people who’ve done this kind of project and it was really hard on them. But not me.

When I do these interviews for my radio show, and then transcribe them for my blog, the written version can be a challenge. When I interview old bluesmen, especially, it’s tough to capture their unique voice, without it appearing contrived or condescending in the written form; like a caricature of their actual voice. This book is obviously told in Charlie’s totally unique voice, but I’m wondering if it was a challenge to achieve that.

As you know, absolutely. That was THE challenge. He had such a strong voice. That was the one thing I felt like I was tasked with not screwing up. If I could get that right, everything else would be OK.

When you sit down and talk to someone, they’re doing like I’m doing now. They’re stumbling for words and muttering and not quite getting it right. There’s lots of extraneous stuff in there that you have to find ways to filter out while keeping that unique voice.

In some of the stories you can tell he told them so many times that it was easier. But with some of the stuff, the tougher stuff and the stuff that hadn’t been told a lot, we had to do it several times and keep working on it.

What did it mean to Charlie to have this story told this way…for this book to be here for people to read?

That’s my one huge regret is that he’s not around to see the reception it’s gotten. It’s gotten a much warmer reception than I think I anticipated for sure, and I think more than anybody else involved in the project thought it would, either.

I don’t think he knew that it would be as big as it had been, or that it would be talked about as much as it has been.

He’d been through this before in a couple different ways. I don’t want to name the books, but he had a couple of books written about him and he was not real happy with them. He was kind of excited, I think, to just get it down the way it was.

There were always rumors. There’s the rumor that Ira tried to choke Elvis to death and all that stuff and I actually believed them. Charlie was happy to set the record straight.

Why is this book important? Why is it important that we remember Charlie Louvin and the Louvin Brothers?

I have a number of different answers to that.

Number one is this idea of these songs. The songs they learned from their mother and that carried over and kept being repurposed and rereleased and reinvented. Some they made hits out of, like “Knoxville Girl”. They’re more like a blood memory than a song.

They came down from generation to generation as the European peasantry passed them along from one to the other. That’s something that I think has been to a large degree lost in country music. I think they did that in a way that hadn’t been done before. I remember talking to him about the Louvin Brothers album “Tragic Songs of Life” and he said, “sometimes it seems like there’s more tragedy than there is life.” And it does feel like that from time to time, but we need those songs. I think they’re absolutely important.

I see some of these newer bands, alt.country or whatever, trying to sort of bring back that sense of these deeper-running songs, with various degrees of success. I just think everyone owes them a huge debt of influence and this huge debt for the influence of those songs.

Benjamin Whitmer has a new novel on the way. You can find out more at www.benjaminwhitmer.com.

Me & Charlie Louvin, 2007...


Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.



Friday, January 13, 2012

INTERVIEW: JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound

Another of the casualties of me being sick right before the holidays was this interview with JC Brooks of Bloodshot recording artists JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound.

I spoke with Brooks before their December gig at Off Broadway, but ended up being unable to air it. As fate would have it, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound are back in St. Louis tonight (Friday, January 13), opening for JJ Grey & Mofro at the Pageant.

A perfect excuse to roll the interview back out again!

RYAN MIFFLIN: Go ahead and introduce yourself to start us off.

JC BROOKS: I’m JC Brooks and I am the frontman for JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. We do a bit of retro soul mixed with post punk and a little bit of indie rock.

I read an article the other day that described your sound as “The MC5 meets Otis Redding”, how do you feel about that comparison?

I feel great about that comparison! There have been a lot of mash-up descriptions like that for what we do. They all tend to mention Otis Redding. “Otis Redding fronting the Stooges”. One of them said, “If Otis Redding had ripped the Velvet Underground off heroin” [laughs].

Yeah, yeah…that’s absolutely fine by me. There are far, far worse people to be compared to.

There aren’t many groups doing the kind of stuff you do, but there are a few folks doing similar things, all with their own unique twist. Audiences are really responding to the people and groups doing this kind of thing.

Well, I think that it’s about going back to a time when “pop” wasn’t a four letter word and when there was a lot more good stuff floating out there, and not because it was necessarily complex or anything like that. Actually, probably because it was simple, and coming from a more direct place.

I think a lot of other groups now are starting with that sound and they just try to move forward and layer on whatever else they’ve liked, musically, since then and are making a bunch of interesting new hybrid sounds.

How did you guys get together and arrive at your sound?

In 2007 our guitarist, Bill, put out an ad on Craigslist and he was looking to make progressive danceable music because he was tired of going out to venues in the city and seeing great bands that people enjoyed kind of with a head bob instead of music that really let people be free or that people would let themselves go to.

He was really into soul at the time. I’d been singing with a group out of Pittsburgh called The Hi-Frequencies that did a little bit more of a retro thing. It was more like Chuck Berry, Hank Ballard, rock and roll, early R&B, and surf rock. So there was definitely a pulling to a more historical music. But there were also lots of rock influences that couldn’t really be denied and we didn’t just want to be a one-trick pony or that one note sort of band.

This was a great place to start. It’s a really likeable, accessible place, but you have to build from there. I don’t even know that we necessarily have “a sound” yet…like, one particular sound…but I think the overarching theme is that we just want to make grooveable, danceable music.

With all that stuff you throw into the pot, I can only imagine what a live show with JC Brooks and Uptown Sound is like.

It’s a lot of me jumping around and screaming and sweating at you. If you didn’t pay to see it, you’d probably think you were in an institution.

That’s the name of the game on this radio show, man!

Yeah, you can go see the same exact thing down at some mental home and it won’t cost you ten bucks, but you can dance to this and not so much that, lest you be incarcerated yourself!


Hosted by Ryan Mifflin, Dirty Roots Radio is a Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.



INTERVIEW: Jason and the Scorchers

Jason and the Scorchers are a legendary band, often cited as the purveyors of what has since become roots-rock/Americana/alt.country/cow punk/ what have you.

They’re currently on a 30th anniversary tour and will be playing tonight (Friday, January 13) at Off Broadway in St. Louis. Brian Henneman, of the Bottle Rockets, opens.

I had the chance this afternoon to speak with original guitarist with the group, Warner E. Hodges.

RYAN MIFFLIN: When you guys started out, did you imagine you’d be celebrating a thirtieth anniversary?

WARNER E. HODGES: I don’t know if as Jason & the Scorchers if we were thinking that way, but for me personally, I’ve always wanted to be in something that would last and had some longevity to it and 30 years deep is kind of cool.

Anytime I hear anything about you or read anything about you guys, I always hear “cow punk” and “alternative country” and 15 other genres are mentioned…

Nobody knows what the hell to call it!

What did you guys call it when you started out?

Well, I just wanted to be in a rock band, but I do have to be dead up honest…I’ve been in the Scorchers 30 years and I still don’t have a nice two-word answer to that question.

I just wanted to be in a rock and roll band, but we’re a country band and we’re a punk band and we’re a rock and roll band and we’re a folk band. I try to think of it more like my dad did; there was to kinds of music…good and bad.

What were some of the influences that got you guys to that sound you achieved?

Well, as kids, when we put the band together, all four of us came from a different place. Jeff was really into the punk rock thing, Perry listened to radio, I was listening to the Stones and AC/DC and Jason was a folkie. And when everybody threw their quarter on the table, it just kind of came out the way it did.

We were all listening to rock stuff, but we lived in Nashville, TN. We also listened to George Jones and Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. It just kind of came out that way, trying to play rock music from Nashville.

And at the time, when you guys came out, there wasn’t much of that going on…

Oh, we were – what did they call it? – alt-country and Americana about 15-20 years before they had a name for it.

Exactly! That makes me think of Bo Diddley…You know, as well known as he was, he never really achieved the level of success that the people who took his sound and did his thing after he did it. Do you guys ever feel like that?

I don’t think there’s a bitterness to it. There is sometimes…like, “Wow, it would have been…could have been”, you know? But the band is what it is. We just ought to be happy 30 years later, that there’s a few people who care.

A few years back the Old 97s had Charlie Louvin open for them, and [Old 97’s singer] Rhett Miller said, “In a just world, we’d be opening for Charlie.”

That’s part of it. I play with Dan Baird [formerly of the Georgia Satellites] also [in Dan Baird & Homemade Sin]. And Danny would tell you flat out if he were sitting here that us and the Replacements kicked open the door that he was able to run through.

We were a square peg in a round hole when we came out. We were too rock for country and too country for rock.

Now, I think, 30 years later if we came out, we’d be a country band. But in those days, we were just so radical.

I love your music, but I’ve never been able to see you guys live…for anyone else in the same boat as me, can you describe the live experience?

Oh, we love first-timers! The band works a lot better live than it ever really did in the studio. The last record we kinda “got it”. But all the parts actually work life.

Jason and the Scorchers is best in a bar 10-11 o’clock at night with a beer in your hand. That’s when the band does what it does. Either that or no beer in your hand, driving down the road, really loud. One of the two.

What’s next for Jason and the Scorchers?

We finish up this weekend and kinda shut it down so we can edit and mix a live DVD we shot in Nashville on New Year’s Eve. We’ll get that out and then we have a big European run in September.

So you’re just gonna keep on goin’…

Oh yeah. Good Lord willin’ and the creeck don’t rise. As long as we’re havin’ fun we’re gonna keep goin’!


Hosted by Ryan Mifflin, Dirty Roots Radio is a Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.



Thursday, January 12, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "The Last Holiday: A Memoir" by Gil Scott-Heron

Anyone interested in reading the memoir of the late Gil Scott-Heron already knows the brother has a way with words.

The telling of Heron’s story in his own words brings a lot of potential. This book achieves some of that potential, while missing out on other aspects of it.

By now you’ve probably heard about the missing contents; Heron doesn’t speak of his years of struggling with drug addiction, his incarceration, or dealing with HIV. Most fans of Heron would welcome some of that content. Not from the standpoint of sensationalist gossip; always a danger in the telling of the story like his. But rather as important aspects of Heron as a person and his story. Ultimately, I respect Heron’s right to keep these experiences to himself, and the tales he does unfold in detail still satisfy.

The book is seasoned with Heron’s unique manner of speaking and what he himself points out as a corny sense of humor. Initially, I feared Heron might overuse these elements as a “crutch” in telling his story, but they – along with seemingly free-styled poems incorporated into some of the anecdotes – actually endear him to you.

You can easily tell that Heron felt a great deal of pride in his intellect and success as a student and writer. The first half of the book describes his journey from Tennessee, where his grandmother raised him, to New York, where he lived with his mother, following his grandmother’s death, and his journey through private school, college, and graduate school. One can easily understand his pride; I didn’t realize Heron published his first novel and recorded his first albums while still in college.

As a fan of the “revolutionary” side of Gil Scott-Heron, I had hoped for more content in that area. While he does rail briefly against racism and includes a section on how he personally “shut down” Lincoln University following the preventable death of a black student, he keeps most of the content personal, rather than political or overly socially conscious.

The publisher has thus far promoted the book as an account of the tour Heron participated in with Stevie Wonder in 1980, launched with the aim of raising awareness of the proposed holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. While Heron does touch on this content, he presents the material as more of a personal history within that time frame, rather than an explanation of his own thoughts on Dr. King, the necessity of the holiday to honor him, or his personal involvement in effort to create that holiday.

I wondered a few times why Heron included certain stories, but you can tell they matter to him. That’s one thing that comes through, throughout the entire book; this material mattered to Heron. His work mattered to him. His academic career mattered. His personal relationships mattered – though, as he points out, he often sacrificed them to complete the journey that “The Spirits” had him on.

While the story lacks details on some parts of the journey (obviously giving the memoir an incomplete feeling), Heron details the journey with love and masterful storytelling.

Gil Scott-Heron presents a heartbreaking, endearing, and somehow comfortingly familiar story. I’ve used the term “journey” a lot in describing this book. More than most biographies, this narrative feels truly like that; not a story, but a journey.

A broken and wiser-for-it Heron looks back on the path he took as a promising and ambitious young artist struggling along his way, telling the good and bad of the journey, and realizing the toll it took.


Hosted by Ryan Mifflin, Dirty Roots Radio is a Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk. Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best Albums of 2011 by Dan Walker

Listener Submitted Best of 2011
By Dan Walker...

Here is my top ten list for 2011 of my favorite albums. Included also are some tracks that I liked that were not in my top albums list. I thought 2011 was a great year for music. The last few years weren't even worthy of putting together a top 10 list. I actually had about 20 this year that were tough to narrow down to 10.

10. Eric Church - Chief

One of the new country outlaws. He writes and records traditional country sounds and still related to the younger generation of pop-country listeners. His song 'Springsteen' relates to anyone who grew up in the 80's and had the Boss as the soundtrack to their lives. Key Tracks: Springsteen, Jack Daniels

9. Panic! At The Disco - Vices And Virtues

This sound is kind of outdated as the Emo sound isn't as popular anymore. But Panic! has continued to write catchy songs in the format while still sounding fresh. Key Track: Ballad Of Mona Lisa

8. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

Another Southern rock-ish band. It's hard to believe they aren't from the south (instead Portland, Oregon). These songs will remind you of early 70's AM hits. Key Tracks: Love The Way You Walk Away, Might Find It Cheaper

7. Adele - 21

The sales show it all. She wrote and recorded a perfect pop album. She's a siren singing her tales of love, anger, and revenge. She reigns you in with her voice and forces you to listen to her drama. You don't want to get involved, but you can't help taking her side. Key Tracks: Rolling In The Deep, Rumour Has It

6. Girls - Father Son And The Holy Ghost

Nothing unique about this album. Just good rock songwriting. Some great guitar riffs reminiscent of George Harrison's slide playing mixed with some organ riffs that will remind you of Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over. Key tracks: My Ma, Vomit

5. Deer Tick - Divine Providence

A great raw rock album from a great raw rock band. They have a great party/Southern rock sound with an alternative feel. Key Tracks: The Bump, Main Street

4. Ryan Adams - Ashes And Fire

His best album in years. Simple arrangements and great songwriting. Hopefully he continues this trend. Sobering up has helped his creativity. These songs stand up next to the best of his career. Key Tracks: Come Home, Lucky Now

3. Glen Campbell - Ghost On The Canvas

It's easy to tell from the first note that this is a man recording his final album. It's so sad that you nearly shed a tear for him knowing what he's going through. Try not to cry listening to the first track 'A Better Place.' Key tracks: A Better Place, Hold On Hope (Cover of Guided By Voices)

2. Wilco - The Whole Love

The sharpest and most accessible album they've recorded to date. Great rock songs but still adding their experimental touches to each song. Key tracks: I Might (my favorite song of the year), Dawned On Me

1. Black Keys - El Camino

The best album of the year. Every song is solid. They added a fuller sound than ever before yet still kept their core elements at the heart of the songs. They did something all great albums do. This album has made me listen to all of their earlier work in a different light. They were all good albums to me. But this album made those songs better. Key Tracks: All

Here are some of my other favorite tracks that were not on the above albums:
Blue Tip - The Cars
Santa Fe - Beirut
Calgary - Bon Iver
Rope - Foo Fighters
Getting Ready For Christmas Day - Paul Simon
Paradise - Coldplay
Hold On - Alabama Shakes
Chicago - Tom Waits (This album could easily move up in to my top ten for the year)
Abducted - Cults
Girl Panic! - Duran Duran (Google this video. Well done.)

This list will probably adjust a bit as I finish listening to some more albums from 2011.

Friggin' Mouse

A commercial came on TV while I was working on the computer. I was paying attention to it only peripherally. For some reason it made me think of Disney World. I couldn’t say why…but there it was.

My wife’s been on a big kick lately about trying to get our family on a Disney vacation. I want to, but I’m doing the fatherly thing; concerned about money…trying to hold off on it, save it for later, Kate will remember it better when she's a little older, blah-blah-blah...

Anyway, I realized eventually that the commercial I’ve been hearing is, in fact, for Disney World.

And they really start working me. Make forever family memories before its too late! and all that jazz.

And of course, I can totally see right through it...





But then, they show a family at Disney world, with the focus on the dad and his little girl…the little girl runs up to meet Cinderella's prince...and they get to the line, “Because it won’t be long before she finds her own Prince Charming”.

Prince Charming...the schemer that will take my little girl away from me...And who will somehow probably do it even sooner if I don't provide my four-year-old with a memorable Disney experience, like NOW.

And it was all I could do, not to sit on my couch, alone, in the middle of the night and TOTALLY SOB.

Mickey, you miserable bastard.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

INTERVIEW: Bob Reuter (Light Fuse and Run)

A few weeks back, I interviewed St. Louis Renaissance man Bob Reuter, who - along with his band, Alley Ghost - was scheduled to open a show for James Leg, of the Black Diamond Heavies, at Off Broadway. I ended up sicker than a pukin' dog that night and didn't get to air the original interview, or make the concert.

But, now, Bob has a book signing tomorrow night (Friday, Jan. 6) at 7 p.m. at Subterranean Books on Delmar in St. Louis, to promote his new photography book, "Light Fuse and Run", so I have a new reason to share a bit of my interview with Bob...

First off, I always like folks to introduce themselves, in their own words...

Oh man…Well, I’m Bob Reuter. I write stories, I take pictures, sing songs, I’m on the radio. That’s it.

Let's talk about your music a little bit to start...

I’ve been playing since I was 14 years old and I’m now like 60. And I’ve been through a lot of stuff. I started doing garage rock back in ‘66. I’ve played all kinds of country-ish rock-and-roll for a while there after that. I played punk in ‘78. I went through a singer/songwriter thing and got so bored to tears with that that I just quit playing for a while.

I became friends with these kids who had Big Muddy Records. I’d been playing in a band called Thee Dirty South with a couple of guys my age. I kept getting a push from these kids that said they wanted me to do an album on their label and they wanted me to use a band they had to back me up. That was about 3-4 years ago and we started playing together on a regular basis. And it’s killer. These guys are like the most amazing musicians, you know. They’ve played in some other bands…the 7 Shot Screamers, the Griddle Kids, Sex Robots, the Pubes, the Rum Drum Ramblers. They remind me of Muddy Waters’ original band that was like really killer, that was referred to as the Headhunters. These guys are just cut-throat.

It ranges from, like, kinda country and, like, punk-ass blues to just everything, but it’s hard and it’s raw. Sometimes it’s not as hard.

But it’s always raw…


Shifting gears a little bit, you’ve got this new book out…

Yeah, it’s called “Light Fuse and Run”.

It’s all these different pictures of the South Side landscapes and this stuff that happened. The picture that I chose for the cover is a night shot and you can see something kind of in the side of the shot that looks like a little bright light with a silhouette of a kid running across the scene and the silhouettes of people standing there and it looks like he’s just, like, thrown a grenade or somethin’.

It’s my second book by myself. There are a few others that I was a contributor to, but this is my second book and I’m really proud of it. Its available most places in St. Louis and you can look it up online.

I do film photography and I do the pictures in the dark room.

The pictures kinda go along with that sound we talked about. It’s always raw and kinda gritty…

Yeah, it’s black and white. I use film, which makes the grain bigger. So, a lot of the time the pictures look like they’re about to maybe even crumble a little bit. Yeah, it’s the only story I’ve got to tell.

Speaking of stories, did I hear you have a book of stories coming out?

I do. It’s coming out in the spring. Well, I think actually, first of the year is what they were talking about….but that could wind up being spring. It’s gonna be a book and it’ll be the longest thing I’ve done. The stuff that I put out hasn’t been as many pages as this is gonna be.

Meet Bob and pick up a copy of his book Friday night, January 6th at 7 p.m. at Subterranean Books (6275 Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis).

To find out more about Bob and his music, photography, and stories, visit www.bobreuterstl.com.

You can catch his radio show, Bob's Scratchy Records, every Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. (central) on KDHX - 88.1 FM in St. Louis, or online at www.kdhx.org.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


A few nights ago my family was watching “Spy Kids” for the first time. One of my favorite character actors, Danny Trejo, is in it. I’d never seen the movie and didn’t love it until I saw him. In the movie he was known as “Machete”.

A quick lesson: The “Spy Kids” movie franchise is written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, who has also written and directed “Desperado”, “From Dusk ‘til Dawn”, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, “Sin City”, and the “Planet Terror” half of “Grindhouse”, among others. I’ve always kind of thought of him as a wanna-be Quentin Tarantino (whom he’s good friends with). He’s “like” Tarantino in many ways, just not nearly as good.

The “Grindhouse” movie experiment that Rodriguez did alongside Tarantino involved two separate movies – one written and directed by each of them – along with several trailers for fake movies, each of which was directed by friends of Rodriguez & Tarantino. One trailer (directed by Rodriguez) was for a fake movie called “Machete”, which supposedly starred Danny Trejo. Response to the fake trailer was so huge that a couple of years later, Rodriguez wrote and directed a full-length version of “Machete”, starring Danny Trejo.

I love when filmmakers have their own alternate universes like that. Where they weave characters in and out of all of the movies they make. Quentin Tarantino – my favorite movie maker of all time – does this in many unique ways. He hates product placement, so he has invented his own line of products; Red Apple cigarettes, Big Kahuna Burger fast food joints, etc. Characters are connected in unique ways in the off-camera Tarantino universe. For instance, Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction is the brother of Vic Vega...a/k/a Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs.

I say all this to give an example of how my brain works. I love this stuff!

When I made the “Machete” connection, I mentioned it on Facebook. No big deal…I just thought it was cool how Rodriguez connected one of my favorite movies to a movie my daughter enjoyed…movies that were made ten years apart and in completely different genres.

I had to explain the connection in much more depth to make it make sense to an online friend and another cyber pal commented, “Good grief, Miff. You’re a machine!”

When I’d first met one of my music-head friends we did the typical “geek dance” with one another. You see, folks like me learn pretty quickly that the average Joe has no interest in most of what we have stored between the ears. So we learn to keep it under wraps in most social settings. As my new buddy and I started realizing we could trust the other one enough to begin spewing our geek-hood, at one point he said, “Man…I used to try to take it easy around you…didn’t want to wear you out talking about this stuff. Now I don’t think it can even be done.”

Nope. I’m an unquenchable sponge. If I don’t already know it…I wanna know it. Teach me.

This is just who I am. No one will play Trivial Pursuit with me. I’m not even aware of everything I know. Sometimes I surprise myself with answers I can come up with by stringing together random information I somehow know. I don’t generally remember how I know stuff. I can just retain it.

Of course, I don’t retain any information pertaining to algebra or science or anything that could benefit me academically or professionally. Just obscure stuff I find really interesting.

Which brings me to my point…

I have a few buddies who are really good at fixing things. One of them installed a ceiling light/vent in our bathroom. Two have done some work on our cars. Others put sheetrock up in my basement. One fixed a few plumbing issues. I can’t do any of these things.

My walls are full of marks where I’ve tried to do various home repair/d├ęcor projects. I have installed a couple of light fixtures, but I’m quite certain I narrowly missed electrocution by just a hair’s breadth. Quite in fact, the first time I put up one of those lights, the screw I used to attach it to the ceiling was resting on one of the wires inside…and POP. After a day or so of use, the wire got hot, the insulation melted, and the screw touched the metal of the wiring.

Our car needed new wheel coverings recently, so I got some and thought I could surely handle such a simple project. They’re all four on, but I cracked one and broke one of the connector tabs off during installation.

I’ve eventually just accepted the fact that I’m pretty much Cliff Huxtable when it comes to home and car projects.

I have basic tools…but I don’t really use them much. I’m not the guy you go to when you need an obscure tool or gizmo. A buddy recently needed a two-wheeled dolly to move some kitchen appliances. I happened to have one of those. I was stoked because I’d never been able to loan anyone a tool before.

Never mind the fact that the tool was basically just something that allowed you to move heavy stuff easier. And that it was called a “dolly”.

What I’m getting at is that I have friends I can call when I need car work done. I have friends I can call when I have something wrong in the house. I have friends who can handle computer issues for me.

But, I’m not the guy you call for anything. Yeah, on one hand that’s nice….I certainly never have to worry about being interrupted during dinner or being awoken in the middle of the night to deal with an unexpected plumbing catastrophe at a friend’s house.

Sometimes it bugs me…I have people I can call for tasks I can’t do. But I can’t ever return the favor.

Do I have skills that other people can’t do? Sure, I do. I enjoy talking in front of huge crowds, making them laugh, coaxing a response from them; usually without a script or notes, and the bigger the crowd, the better. I’m good at hosting my little radio show. I enjoy interviewing musicians and authors and folks I find interesting, and think I do a pretty good job of it. I love writing. And, of course, I have that ridiculous amount of completely useless and mostly-pop-culture-related knowledge. Those other guys don’t have those.

But, really…when are those guys gonna need those services? I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ll need another couple of light/vent things installed in my bathroom before those dudes are gonna need to know the back story of the Machete character in “Spy Kids”.

I don’t get down on myself about not being handy anymore. I wish I was better at that stuff, but I’m simply not. And I’m not ashamed of being an unquenchable obscure pop culture knowledge sponge.

To thine own self be true, I like to say. I know who I am.

If you believe in a creator, then you probably believe that God created you with a specific purpose in mind and gave you certain traits, interests, and skills to fulfill that purpose. Even if you don’t believe in a creator, I’m sure you can still see the value in all of us being different and totally unique; how it would benefit us all as a whole for each individual to have their own “thing”.

But what’s my thing? I know what I like. And I know what I’m good at.

But, what do I have to contribute?

I mean, I feel like we all contribute something to the greater good by being our true selves and doing our own “thang”.

But what do you do when your true self isn’t something you can make a living at?

And how do I contribute when my “thang” doesn’t include skills that anyone really needs?