Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Collection Of Ground Rules & Etiquette For Those Attending Concerts Contemporaneously With Me Part II

Let me preface these rules for fans with a caveat: they are directed solely at people that I do not know and who irritate the piss out of me at the concerts that I go to.  If I've ever gone to a concert with you, you're exempt from the rules.


Waiting On Line

If we are on line in close proximity to one another do not speak to me or make eye contact with me. I do not want your germs nor do I want your conversation; both will undoubtedly make me ill. 

At The Show

I don't want to see, hear, or smell your good time.


No wearing of concert tour t-shirts. You look like a douchebag. ESPECIALLY if it's from the current tour. Asshole.

Drinking bottled wine does not make you look high-class--it makes you look like an uptight-asshole who is worried about being high class. You're at a fucking concert. Drink your Bud Light and be done with it. Yuppie asshole.

Girls: no group pictures. You're only drawing attention to yourselves and you're doing it on purpose. It's tacky and you're ugly. Don't do it in your seats either because I don't want to wind up plastered all over your shitty Facebook page.

If we are in a General Admission venue do not speak to me and especially do not touch me. There was a guy who was drunker than David Hasselhoff during a Wendy's binge bouncing around and flinging himself into his brother and a friend in front of me.  He turned around and smiled at me and went to push me but fortunately for both of us he saw the death stare I was giving him and he audibled into a pat on the shoulder.  I stared him down and he turned around, thankfully.  I was in a shitty mood that night (in part because of him) and I would not have enjoyed me getting kicked out or him having to pick his teeth out from the back of his throat.  His behavior leads me to the next rule:

If you cannot hold your liquor, DO NOT DRINK AT THE SHOW! Nothing is sadder than seeing that really old guy (or worse really old couple) at the show, usually wearing a brand new tour t-shirt (see rule above about that) and hammered beyond words, talking to the younger kids. Usually that guy is so drunk he can't see the dull horror on their faces and their fight-or-flight mechanisms kicking in.  Worse than him are the twenty-something-year-old-girls drunk on some shitty bottled white zinfandel (see other rule above) falling all over themselves.  Seriously.  I saw TEN people fall either up or down the stairs at the Tom Petty show, most of them females, many of them blonde and young.  Like the whole who fell hard and ate the pavement that was the stairs.  Thanks for spilling your beer on me you dopey whore; I wound up smelling like shitty Budweiser and her shame.

No dancing. Especially if you're white and have two legs and two arms.  It doesn't matter how old you are.  Don't do it.

No making out. I don't care if you're sixteen or sixty (like the couple at the end of my row at the IZOD Center last week). It's unseemly and disgusting. Think of the germs you're passing to one another. Get a room.  Hippies.


No "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOing" and no whistling.  AT ALL.  The band can't hear you asshole! And even if they could they'd be less appreciative of your adulation than your mother was when you made that shitty one-eared ceramic cat abortion in elementary school for her.  She probably thought about dumping you in a garbage can and making a run for it while she still could...and here you are "WOOOOOOOOOOING" to a band that's at least a few hundred feet away from you.  Do you sense a connection?  Probably not because you're someone who "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS" at a show.  My guess is you don't sense much of anything.  Asshole.  And this is aside from the fact that people are trying to listen to the concert and, the odds are, that someone is trying to bootleg it for future enjoyment. The last thing that person wants is to hear your dopey ass drowning out the band screaming on it after the fact.

You know what?  No excessive cheering at all; a concert should be like a tennis match or a golf match.  Predetermined moments where cheering is allowed but with very specific guidelines.  Every usher should have a pair of these:

As for people who like to sing along with the band: NO SINGING ALONG WITH THE BAND! The odds are that you can't sing and I sure as hell didn't pay to come and listen to your off-key ass.  You're ruining the song that everyone else is trying to listen to--ESPECIALLY the ballad!  This applies mostly to female fans and thus presents the largest challenge for them: observing the types of women who attend these concerts, it's pretty obvious that keeping their mouths shut for any great length of time is a foreign concept to them.  Work on it ladies.

Let's make it even simpler: no conversation, whatsoever, during the show, ESPECIALLY when the headliner is performing--not even in between songs and especially not during them! Many of the knuckle-dragging drool machines that I've had the unfortunate displeasure of attending concerts concurrently with don't seem to understand that when the band gets quieter THEY SHOULD TOO! Like during "Breakdown" and "Learning To Fly" when I saw Tom Petty.  Worse, was this asshole sitting behind me who kept trying to talk to his wife over what I'm estimating to be a few million-watt speakers and all he was doing effectively was screaming in my ear and dragging my attention away from the show.  Just whisper in her goddamn ear if you are compelled to speak to her!


Save the pot smoking for the parking lot. Hippie.


If I had my druthers I would always be positioned at the end of the row (either end is fine, I'm not a megalomaniac!)  Everyone to my immediate right or left (depending upon my position in relation to the aisle) would then have to exit the row in that same direction (people to my right must leave right and vice versa).  I cannot tell you how obnoxious it is to have to move so that the same three or four people can leave the row and come back multiple times when I'm trying to watch the show.  I don't know what the hell has been going on but it's seriously getting ridiculous.  People are becoming worse than a bunch of schoolchildren. I can almost hear them screaming "MAMA GO POTTY NOW!" and covering their crotches.  And since when did men become as bad as women with being unable to hold their urine?  Take a leak in the parking lot or go on the way out.  Hell, just whip it out and piss on the seat in front of you!  Whatever keeps your drunk, smelly ass in your seat. 

Maybe we should institute the Broadway rule. There will be no getting up during the performance but if, for some reason, you absolutely must, you will have to wait until the intermission, which means the encore or the end of the show. I am a fair and just disseminator of concert rules and etiquette though so I can bend if need be. Perhaps everyone gets one freebie. Or, rather, a row of ten gets five "get ups." This limits the likelihood that people will get up for the sake of getting up. No one can get up more than once though; repeat offenders will be asked to leave. And by asked to leave I mean forcibly removed. There will be tazers...and there will be blood!

No standing up unless it's a high-octane rock show and your body will simply not allow you to sit still. And that show must have an extremely limited general admission space. If you wanted to stand you should've bought GA tickets. When you purchased a ticket, the odds are that it was for a seat--not SRO. No one says "Oh-Emm-Gee I GOT A FRONT-ROW-STAND!"  You people are like an abscess on the ass of the human genome.

Heading to and Exiting from the Parking Lot

Don't spread out on the walkway; this isn't the goddamn Yellow Brick Road people! Single file, nice and tight so I can walk right on by your inbred asses.

As we head toward the exit, get in line and wait to be let in instead of making a mad rush for the gate at all kinds of ridiculous angles. Dan and I had to wait almost an hour just to get out of the parking lot at Jones Beach because, much like with Courtney Love, people were trying to fill every available entrance and exit all at once instead of just waiting their turn.

Peace and love ya'll!

A Collection Of Ground Rules & Etiquette For Those Attending Concerts Contemporaneously With Me

Last night I saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at the IZOD Center in New Jersey.  It was, if I am not mistaken, my fifty-first concert, which, I would imagine, is a decent number of shows attended.  My very first concert was in September of 2002 when I went with my buddy Dan and my future-wife-but-then-girlfriend Heather to attend a free concert at Times Square.  It was the NFL Kickoff Event for the upcoming season and Bon Jovi was performing (there was also a random fashion show that came on just before Bon was really quite bizarre).  Then a few weeks later in October the three of us attended a White Stripes show and I was less than impressed; the sea of hippies I found myself trapped within, though, ate it up.  Later that same night, Heather and I attended our first real concert when we saw Hoobastank at what was then called "The World" theater in Times Square.

Since then, I believe that there have been only two years where I have seen fewer than three concerts in a calendar year.  By far my most prolific years of concert-going were 2008 and 2009 when, between February of '08 and December of '09, I attended a whopping twenty-six shows (eleven in 2008 and fifteen in 2009).  In no particular order they were:


Foo Fighters @ MSG  02.19.08
Linkin Park @ MSG  02.21.08
Lifehouse @ Roseland Ballroom  04.01.08
The Eagles @ MSG 05.30.08
Three Days Grace, Free Show @ Roseland Ballroom 07.11.08
Billy Joel, 2nd to Last Play @ Shea  07.16.08 
Foo Fighters @ IZOD Center 07.29.08
The Police @ MSG  08.07.08
Everclear @ Webster Hall  08.20.08
Finger Eleven @ The Blender/Gramercy Theater  09.08.08
Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ IZOD Center  12.13.08


Boyce Avenue @ The Mercury Lounge  01.22.09
Metallica @ Nassau Coliseum  01.29.09
3 Doors Down / Hoobastank @ Hammerstein Ballroom  02.24.09
Papa Roach @ The Gramercy Theater  03.10.09
Cold @ The Gramercy Theater  03.24.09
Shinedown / 10 Years @ Irving Plaza  03.31.09
Third Eye Blind @ The House Of Blues in Atlantic City  05.15.09
Korn @ The Starland Ballroom  05.19.09
The Wallflowers @ Irving Plaza  07.06.09
Paul McCartney @ Citi Field  07.17.09
Incubus @ Radio City Music Hall  08.04.09
Jason Mraz @ Jones Beach  08.07.09
U2 @ Giants Stadium  09.24.09
Dead By Sunrise @ The Gramercy Theater  10.14.09
Star Wars in Concert @ The IZOD Center  11.20.09

Just kidding.  They were in a very particular order.

Anyway, so over the course of my concert-going experiences, I have built up a certain level of awareness of what I like and what I don't like about attending concerts.  After seeing the Goo Goo Dolls at Jones Beach recently, for example, I realized that I hate people.  More specifically, I hate that there are people at the show with me.  It is ironic because you would think that I would hate my wife, child, parents, and friends as these are the people that I am surrounded by on a daily basis but instead they are the ones that I love; I enjoy seeing them and speaking with them every day.  Instead, it is the ones with whom I must commiserate for only a few hours that I would like to see burned in vats of acid.

This got me to thinking while I was at the Tom Petty show last night: I need to establish a set of ground rules and etiquette for concerts.  Having thus refined said rules and etiquette this morning, I have decided to extend their scope to the band or performer that I am seeing as well.  I shall start at the top (with the performer) and work my way down...way, way the bottom (the people at the show with me).

We begin with a caveat: all of the rules and regulations listed below apply only to people I do not know and/or do not like.  If I know you and like you, you are exempt from any and all rules except as noted.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get on with the show.

(Did you see what I did there?  A concert joke in the middle of a blog entry about concert rules and etiquette!?  You might be thinking: "Oh Matt you scamp you!  What a rascal!"  And you know what?  You'd be right.)



Yes, every hit.  Even that one.  No, no, wait--especially that one.  I'm looking at YOU, Jakob Dylan!  You don't see Jimmy Buffett bitching every time he plays "Margaritaville" or Billy Joel with "Piano Man" and they've been doing it for almost half a century!  I don't care if you hate playing it--you wrote it.  I came to hear you play it.  I paid to hear you play it.  Live with it.  Tool(s).

Examples of rule being broken:

Finger Eleven @ The Gramercy Theater 09.08.08.  Having played through the bulk of their new album and a few of their bigger songs ("One Thing" and "Good Times" in particular) they abruptly ended the show--without an encore--after their then-current radio hit!  You never do that!  That song is always played toward the beginning to capture people's attention.  Anyway, the only song I really wanted to hear (and expected to!) was their first commercial hit, "First Time."  They ALWAYS play this song!  Except that night.  Scott (the lead singer) was drunk from the very beginning and appeared to get worse as the show went on (forgetting lyrics, losing his place in the song, not knowing what was next in the set list) so I'll chalk it up to his inebriation.  Maybe he forgot because he was drunk.  Maybe he was mad at the crowd because he was drunk and decided to castigate us by "sending us to bed without our 'First Time.'"  Who knows.  The bottom line is that I left there pissed off, especially since that was the first and is thus far the only time I have seen them live.

The Wallflowers @ Irving Plaza 07.06.09.  This was a really weird show almost right out of the gate.  Jakob Dylan was in a strange, sardonic mood and he kept changing the set list on the fly, based upon what he felt the "vibe" was from the crowd.  The band played two of my three favorite songs before the encore ("God Says Nothing Back" and "One Headlight") and I fully expected them to play "Sleepwalker"--arguably their best known song aside from "One Headlight"--as part of the finale.  They didn't.  It was a conscious snub too, which made it all the worse--no, "Sorry, folks, but we're out of time!"  Jakob Dylan knew that the crowd wanted to hear the mega-hit and he specifically chose not to play it.  Why?  Likely as an exertion of his power over the audience.  Something akin to, "I know you want to hear it and that's exactly why I won't play it" (Said with WASPY Connecticut intonation).


Let's be real here: the majority of people who attend concerts are often casual or at least non-hardcore fans of the band (depending upon the act--I'm looking at YOU Wavy Gravy!)  As such, these people are familiar with mostly what is played on the radio and little, if anything, else.  As such again, these people are probably at the show to hear one or two songs but certainly no more than four or five.  Everyone has their favorite song but undoubtedly, in their top two or three is "The Big One."  The Big One is the song that nearly everyone identifies that band with: The Goo Goo Dolls and "Iris," Billy Joel and "Piano Man," Led Zeppelin and "Stairway To Heaven."  You know it's going to be a part of the show (see rule I) and you're looking forward to it.  In fact, in a way, you're enduring the rest of the crap that's thrown at you just for that one song; its like your reward for putting up with the filler from albums you've probably never listened to. 

So what happens when a band plays their gigundous smash hit early in the set?  Chaos.  People are completely thrown.  Sure, they're cheering and screaming (see rule below regarding both of those actions) but is it out of surprise?  Possibly.  Out of excitement?  Maybe.  Out of sheer terror and stark confusion?
Indubitably.  Worse, though, is that you've experienced the climax too soon: from that point forward it's like you're going from foreplay, to sexy-time, and then back to foreplay.  This isn't yoga or meditation--we don't need to stretch and breathe, work our way towards inner peace and Nirvana, and then stretch and breathe again to bring ourselves back. 

Playing the hit too soon leaves us flaccid and wondering when the rest of the show will be over.  It doesn't matter that there are other hits--none of them are on an even plane with The Big One.  In fact, the fact that The Big One has come and gone diminishes the quality of The Other Ones rather than augmenting them.  This might seem like a minor issue but it's a major deal--trust me.  (Don't worry, I almost threw up too; puns always leave a funny taste in your mouth and make you feel dirty).

Cases of bands blowing their loads too soon:

Bon Jovi NFL Kick Off @ Times Square 09.05.02.  JBJ played "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Livin' On A Prayer" as the first two songs of the set.  I know it might seem like I'm nitpicking because they played only nine songs (eleven if you break up the two medleys they performed) and thus it was designed to be a short performance meant to showcase the band's hits...but they finished with Bad Medicine / Shout and America The Beautiful.  Seriously?  Fortunately it was a quickie so there really wasn't much time to start fantasizing about that OTHER guy with a band from New Jersey.

Lifehouse @ Roseland Ballroom 04.01.08  Lifehouse played their biggest hit, "Hangin' By A Moment" fifth out of fourteen songs.  I understand the desire to grab the audience by the balls and demand their attention...but, like the magic trick where you make your brains disappear through a hole in your head courtesy of a handgun, you can do it only once!  It was all downhill after that at the show (made all the worse by a group of guys in their early thirties doing some sort of drinking chant before downing shots at the bar that I can imagine only as being lemon drops or something comparable).

The Eagles @ MSG 05.30.08  Don Henley & Co. decided to bust out the big guns fifth through their thirty-song set.  Now this might not seem as egregious, say, as the Lifehouse faux pas, given the absolute plethora of hits at The Eagles' disposal (they did close out with "Desperado," after all)...but it's Hotel California, man!The only eighteen-minute-long-song worthy of being included in the same breath as "Freebird" and "Stairway To Heaven"!  I believe that The Eagles' playing of arguably their biggest hit fifth in their set is an example of arrogance on the part of Glenn Frey and Don Henley (the abusive parents of Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmidt who caused the former to lose his sobriety and the latter to shake and be timid when spoken to) that is both equal in scope and opposite in form to that of Jakob Dylan.  Both instances reek of hubris on the part of the parties involved, but whereas Jakob Dylan wanted to exert his control over the crowd by not playing his hit, Glenn Frey and Don Henley were so arrogant that they wanted to say, "Hey, look, we know that you love us and that we can do no wrong in your eyes.  In fact, you'll be so enamored with us simply because we are deigning you with our presence, that we'll prove it by playing our biggest hit now and you'll STILL be captivated by the end of the show.  You can't get enough of us.  Seriously.  We could read you the phone book and you would think it was a choir of angels.  Yeah..."

Tom Petty @ The IZOD Center 08.24.10  Mr. Petty announced after his third song of the evening that he was requested to play the next song by a "group of girls backstage."  He then proceeded to play "Free Fallin'."  Now, again, Tom Petty has a tremendous quantity of hits but, again, "Free Fallin'" is the de facto hit and wound up confusing people.  I could almost see them burning the wood in their heads trying to figure out what song he was going to play last.  I felt bad for them.  Maybe that's why it bothered me that he played it so early in the set.  Maybe it was the fact that it almost felt like he was getting it out of the way, in a sense, much like The Eagles did with "Hotel California."  Or maybe it's the fact that Tom Petty is sixty years old and he was with a "group of girls backstage."  Okay it's probably that.


It doesn't matter if you're seeing a heavy act like Korn or Metallica or if the band's entire sound is based upon acoustic guitars--there should be a short-but-not-brief section of the set list devoted to a solo acoustic performance.  This can be performed either by the lead singer alone with an acoustic guitar, a lead singer and an additional guitarist, a lead singer with an acoustic guitar as well as an additional guitarist, or a full-band acoustic performance.  The preference is to begin with the formermost, assuming the lead singer is a decent acoustic guitar player, and to build up, perhaps through each of those steps, to the lattermost where the entire band is involved.  You don't want to see mopey drummers or bass players waiting in the wings; it takes away from the show and leads to dissension in the band.

What is played during this set is entirely up to the band; one must allow for some creativity on the part of the artist!  But, just in case, I do have a few suggestions: surprise the audience with a stripped down version of a mega-hit they are expecting later in the show (but not "The Big One," which would be in direct violation of Rule II), take one of your heaviest songs or a song people would be least likely to picture as an acoustic tune and play it acoustically (Incubus with "Pardon Me," for example), or play a cover tune (this must be done with the UTMOST precision and care though--it must be a performance that people will speak about for years to come and it must be one of, if not the highlight of the show).
Bands who got it right:

Weezer (Opening for the Foo Fighters at the Continental Airlines Arena 10.14.05) Rivers performed a solo acoustic rendition of "Island In The Sun"

Three Days Grace (Starland Ballroom 09.04.06) Adam Gontier performed a solo 12-string acoustic cover version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game."  I still get chills thinking about this performance.

Foo Fighters (2008 Skin & Bones Tour) Dave Grohl and the band had an entirely different stage devoted to a mid-set acoustic session that consisted of  "Skin & Bones," "My Hero," "Cold Day In The Sun," "But, Honestly," a triangle solo performed by percussionist Drew Hester, and then an absolutely amazing solo-acoustic rendition of "Everlong" that began with only Dave Grohl and an acoustic guitar, and which then transformed into a full-blown electric performance with the entire band as the song reached its climactic bridge and final chorus.

Three Days Grace (Roseland Ballroom 07.11.08) Once again Adam Gontier delivered a wicked solo acoustic cover, this time of Alice In Chains' "Rooster."  Chills and tingles abound.

10 Years (Opening for Shinedown at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza 03.31.09) Jesse Hasek performed an acoustic version of "So Long, Goodbye" with drummer Brian Vodinh of the band on acoustic guitar.  It was my first time hearing the song and the performance was so phenomenal that it made the song one of my favorites of all time.

Fuel (Starland Ballroom 05.22.10) Brett Scallions performed the song "Slow" acoustically and then launched into an acoustic cover of Pink Floyd's mega-hit "Wish You Were Here."  Unexpected and expertly covered.


This rule has been in effect since "The Last Play At Shea" (or the second to last, for me) back in 2008.  Billy Joel created quite a stir in the days and weeks leading up to his grand performance(s) as he alluded to the potential appearances of several "guests."  Immediately, people began prognosticating that the great Paul McCartney might be one of these guests as his band "The Beatles" was the first act to perform in Shea Stadium back in the 1960s.  With the closing of the stadium and thus Joel's status as the final performer, it would be only fitting that McCartney be one of the guests.  Needless to say, Billy Joel amassed quite the quantity of talent for his two shows.  Unfortunately, on the night that I went, there was no Paul McCartney and, worse, there was John Mayer.  Still, though, I was delighted to see Tony Bennett, Don Henley, and John Mellencamp come out and sing with Billy.  Of course it didn't help that during the next and actual "Last Play at Shea," Billy had the likes of Tony Bennett (again--he's everywhere, like zits on a teenage face), Garth Brooks (arguably the most prolific country music performer of our time), Steven effing Tyler, and Roger Daltrey from The Who.  THE WHO!  Oh, yeah, and Paul McCartney.  See--Billy Joel was a cocktease the first night because he played two Beatles' tunes and everyone, including me, thought, "OH!  THIS IS IT!!!  THIS IS WHEN PAUL MCCARTNEY WILL COME OUT!" But no, that would be the second night.  Asshole.

Anyway, now that the catharsis and silent weeping is over, let me get back to the rule.  Ever since that show, whenever I go to a concert, I'm always thinking, "Gee...I wonder if there will be a special guest?"  Needless to say, Billy Joel ruined the standard concert-going experience for me...and helped me to craft a very useful rule for bands and performers.  To ensure that the maximum enjoyment potential is reached at the show, a surprise guest appearance is necessary.  However--said guest must be of a stature and level of legacy commensurate with the performer's own status and level.  Think about it--would you want to go see Elton John, know in advance that he's going to have a special guest for the song "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," fully expect it to be George Michael (and why wouldn't you), and then be absolutely crestfallen when they announce "American Idol Winner: FANTASIA!"  It just wouldn't work.

The opposite is true as well.  As exciting as it would be to go see a relatively obscure band and have a high profile artist make a surprise guest just wouldn't work.  It'd be like placing the Hope Diamond on one of those candy ring things that were big in the 80s.  Also, the guest must not subvert the host performer by overdoing it with his or her performance.  We're looking at one or two songs, at most, and then calling it a night.

There's nothing wrong with having the guest be from a comparable band co-headlining the tour either.  Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Seether, and Evanescence often do this where they will have the lead singer from one (or more) band(s) come out to perform one of the other bands' hit with them.  It makes for a good time and doesn't leave the fan feeling cheated or confused.

Bands & Performers Who Have Gotten It Right:

Billy Joel (Last Play(s) at Shea 2008)  Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, Garth Brooks, Roger Daltrey, and Paul McCartney

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (IZOD Center 2008)  Steven Tyler.  I know what you're thinking: WTF?  The Trans-Siberian OrchestraSteven TYLER?  First: that Trans-Siberian Orchestra show was far and away the heaviest and craziest rock show that I have ever been to.  There was more fire there than in the loins of Wilt Chamberlain.  Apparently they always have a special guest during at least one of the shows closer to Christmas.  I was fortunate enough to be attending the night Steven Tyler was there (thereby making up for the despair that Billy Joel had placed me in) AND I got to see him perform my two favorite Aerosmith songs: "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On."  Awesome.

Paul McCartney (First Ditty at Citi 2009)  Billy Joel.  He was only there one night and it was the night I got to go--what are the odds?  Karma can be a fickle bitch but she did me right that night!  Plus it was Timmy's first concert (in utero)--what a great way to start!


I'm not talking just an acoustic version of someone else's song: I'm talking an epic version.  It could be acoustic but it better make my feuchter Punkt tingle.  The best way to fulfill the rule would be to play a ridiculously famous or difficult song that no one would have the balls to cover and to hit a home run with your rendition.  Muse did this with their cover of U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" while in Glastonbury during their tour earlier this year.  Another way would be to take a few awesome songs and to "mash them up," as the kids say, with one of your songs.  Three Days Grace did that with their final song of the night back in 2008 when they played "Home" with a section of Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot" in the middle.  Finger Eleven did one better when they took the criticism of their hit "Paralyzer" sounding like a number of different songs and turned it into something awesome by combining those songs with their hit!  The nearly ten-minute (or ten-minute plus, in some cases) version of "Paralyzer" featured sections of Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out," Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)," and Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot." 

Another suitable option would be for the band to cover a song that is really unrelated to its genre.  Hoobastank is the master of this particular type of cover as they've performed the Ghosbusters' Theme, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" during their concerts.  All three of those are songs that the demographic attending the show will likely know and love.  Good times are sure to ensue!   The acoustic cover will work best if the band is particularly heavy in its sound (say, Breaking Benjamin, for example), and the song is unexpected (such as Ben Burnley's acoustic cover of Aerosmith's "Dream On").  The opposite situation does not necessarily work, however.  During Billy Joel's "12 Gardens Live" tour at Madison Square Garden, he covered AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."  This was a case of a softer-sounding act covering a heavier band's material...and it was just creepy to see.  It was odd seeing him dancing around on stage with a felt like talent night at Shady Acres' retirement community.  There's only so far you can go though if you're heavy.  I don't want to see Korn bring out special guests: the Wiggles, or Godsmack covering a Sonny & Cher song.


I say this not because of my virgin ears burn with each vicious use of the swear word but rather because, frankly, it is unprofessional and unbecoming of you; it is the rock equivalent of the corporate and academic "um."  When people are forced to give presentations at work or at school and said people are uncomfortable with so doing, they will employ a prodigious quantity of ums and uhs as a way of filling the vast void of their sorry-ass public speaking skills.  A rock star overusing the word fuck is really just doing the same thing: belying a deep-rooted fear of speaking to a large crowd of people and the inherent judgment that must inevitably be cast upon the speaker.  A good front man can engage the crowd without resorting to poor attempts at summoning up energy from the listeners; sometimes less is more, in that regard.  If you can't think of anything to say, then don't say anything!  If you're nervous about being up on stage in front of a large crowd (we're looking at YOU Scott Weiland) then just pop another vicotin and you'll be fine!

Fucking Examples Of Fucking Fuckers Who Can't Fucking Avoid Fucking Using The Fucking Word Fuck:

Die Trying & Machinehead:  A sample of their engaging with the crowd:  "What's fucking up you fuckers?  Are you fucking ready for a fucking good fucking time?  ALRIGHT!  YEAH!  FUCK YEAH!  So is this anyone's first fucking time seeing us?  Fucking awesome man."  Less is more people. 

Those Who Got It Right:

Brent from Shinedown literally and quietly told a personal story about the song as the band segued into "Save Me" and had every single person's attention in that venue.

Dave Grohl is easily the best frontman ever.  Who else would ask the audience after three songs (and probably a GREAT DEAL of "Crown Royal and Coors Lights") if we were ready for, "A Rock And Roll Enema Prescribed By Dr. G!"


Occasionally you will be forced to endure a front man in a bad mood or one who enjoys, in general, a surly disposition.  This person can take away from your concert-going experience by killing your good mood with his or her own pessimism.  Johnny Rzeznik recently did this at the Goo Goo Dolls show at Jones Beach when he pointed out that every single time they played there it rained (it was an absolutely gorgeous night as he was saying this).  Realizing the aforementioned weather factoid, he then said, "It's not raining now but the night is young."  Great, dick.  Now you've got everyone worrying that it's going to pour on them and thus turn you into an even bigger dickhead.

Regarding the former aspect of the rule, though, there stands only one man as examplar: Glenn Frey from the Eagles.  After shelling out a decent amount (roughly $30) for NOSEBLEED seats (purple section, Madison Square Garden), I found myself particularly outraged with a "joke" that Frey was recycling (seriously?  Using the same exact material from a previous tour?)  Mr. Douchebag Penis Face Asshole Guy took exception to the fact that a number of people were taking video clips with their cell phones.  He said something along the lines of, "I know that everyone out there has cell phones with cameras nowadays, so feel free to take all the pictures you'd like but please don't take any videos.  Let's be real, none of you paid enough for your tickets to be recording us."

Glenn Frey, everybody.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Big One

Every parent experiences it; there is no escape.  It is as inevitable and unavoidable as Armaggedon and Ragnarök.  It arrives unannounced and unexpected; there is nothing you can do to prepare for it.

It is...

The Big One. 


Perfect.  If you're still here then I'm hoping you're with me for the long haul here; I wouldn't want you ducking out when things start to get hairy...and by hairy...I mean wet.  Very...very...wet.  And thick. 

It was only a few hours ago that my day went from "ordinary and routine" to "life-altering and emotionally/mentally scarring."  I had just changed Timmy's diaper and set about getting him situated in his highchair.  He's been eating from the spoon for a month or two now and recently we began introducing solid foods into his meal regiment with more regularity.  He has been doing well eating both cereal (Rice, Oatmeal, and Barley) and the carrots that we've begun to give him.  A bi-product of this change in his diet, though, has been a mild disruption of his regularity.  Whereas he would go once a day while consuming only formula, now it might be an extra day or two before he has a poo diaper.


I flip on Sportscenter and prep his bowl of cereal.  Little bit of cereal flakes...little bit of formula.  Little more of each to achieve the desired consistency...and we're golden.  I sit down in my chair and face him in his highchair.  He's energetic this morning and keeps his hands above the tray-table when I attach it.  I place his hands beneath it.  He lifts them back up.  I replace them again.  He smiles and puts them back on top.  Realizing that he thinks this is a game, I tell him that it is time to eat and he needs to keep his hands underneath the table so that I can feed him.  I remove the tray, put his hands on his lap, and replace the tray; his hands stay put.

I start spooning the cereal/formula mixture into his open mouth.  He eats it and opens his mouth for some more.  And so it goes until the bowl is finished.  I didn't put much in because during a recent feeding I had to throw out almost a full bowl of cereal when he refused to eat it and wanted formula instead.  He's sitting placidly enough, wondering why the source of his Y-chromosome is walking away when he is still hungry.  I make another bowl of cereal with a slightly larger amount in there.  I sit down and continue to feed him.

If this were Armaggedon, this would be the point that the skies would grow dark.

After a few more spoonfuls of cereal, Timmy's face suddenly turns a deep purple color.  It made me think of Willy Wonka given how vivid the color was and how pervasive the hue proved to be (his entire head turned purple).  Then, like a swifly passing thundercloud, the color disappeared and he returned to normal.  I realized that he was pushing and I felt bad for him knowing that he's been backed up a little.  I think nothing of it and continue shoveling cereal into his mouth.  A few minutes later, when we're almost done, he turns purple again.  Though I understand his biological need to evacuate his bowels, I am also aware of Newtonian physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  I tell Timmy, "Be careful buddy--you're pushing one way but you might wind up having stuff come out the other way."  I was afraid that he was going to throw up because he was pushing too hard.  His color returned to normal, I finished feeding him, and he seemed happy.  He looked adorable with cereal caked onto his face and his big toothless grin facing my own smiling visage.

I grab a napkin and wipe off as much cereal as I can (he has it on his cheeks, on his chin, under his chin on his neck).  I fetch a second napkin and get the rest of it.  I take his bib off and inspect his neck roll.  It is clean and I am both surprised and happy.  I remove the tray table and see a blob of cereal on his pudgy thigh.  I am confused first as to how the cereal could have fallen beneath the tray table and second as to how it could be this color when the barley I had fed him was a dark beige.  That's when I realized that it wasn't cereal.

It was poop.

On his leg.

And then I saw it.

The Fecal Ragnarök had arrived.

Now I know that I have referenced fecal apocalypses before on this blog...but nothing...I mean absolutely nothing compares to what happened next; this was truly the diaper-experience equivalent of the end of days.

I look at the top of Timmy's diaper and I see that there is greenish-brown poop lapping at the top of the diaper; it had created a thick, viscous sea between his diaper and his belly.  I had secured the diaper tightly and created a sturdy seal.  He had produced so much mass, which, when pressing against my diaper sealage, then created so much pressure, that the poo had no place to go; it was as if a fecal grenade exploded inside of a bomb-proof container.

I go to get a wipe and that's when I see that there is poop on the highchair strap.  My gag reflex waters up and I realize that I must get the boy out of the highchair.  I manage to remove him (holding my breath, not because of the stench but out of the fear that the highchair seat cushion would be covered in this sludge) and find that the seat is clear; only the straps have brown liquid on them.  I place Timmy on his back on the changing pad and grab a few baby wipes.  I scrub them against the straps and manage to get them somewhat clean.  I'm standing there wondering how I'm going to clean it when I look over at Timmy and realize that the battle has begun.

I almost dropped the wipes in horror.  Seriously.  It was like a movie moment.  I think that my mouth and eyes opened wide in terror as I screamed out, "TIMMY!"  Whereas the boy had had a dollop of poo on his thigh initially, he had it all over his belly and chest now; it was like something out of a short film starring more than one but fewer than three actresses and featuring a glass or plastic receptacle used for the purpose of storing liquid for future consumption. 

I took in the totality of the scene all at once, as if I were somehow seeing into both the past and the future while experiencing the present simultaneously.  In a moment of nearly divine forethought, I found that before I could even wonder how the poo had traveled north the way that it had, I saw his hands and understood, having deciphered the answer before the question could be asked: he had reached down into his diaper and had raked the poop up his belly and chest.  But remember, fair reader, that we are not talking about "Fecal World War II" or "The Fecal Crusades" (what an entry that second one would be!)...we are talking about the Fecal Apocalypse.

Timmy had scooped out the poop from his diaper and had smeared it inside of his belly-button, all over his stomach, and his chest.  But he scooped it out with his hands and THEY WERE STILL COVERED IN POOP.

You're going to have to keep up with me here because there's no going back and no slowing down at this point.  Deep breath.  Here we go.

I see that his hands are covered in his own excreta as he brings them up to his mouth and shoves them inside; he is eating his own shit.  He is covered in his own shit as he is eating it.  This was when I screamed "TIMMY!" as noted above and then added a resounding "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  Fighting the visceral urge to release the contents of my stomach all over everything, I used an unconscious "parent power" to ignore the impulse and to reach out and grab Timmy's hands.  That was when I saw that, aside from having poop smeared all over his lips like scat-flavored lip gloss ( combined with his drool to create a sheen of shiny shit) he also had it in his EYE.  It was caked onto his eyebrow and splattered across his face like daubs of make-up that has yet to be rubbed in.

I reached for wipes and I realized that it was pointless; I'd go through an entire package just trying to clean his face and hands.  I knew that I had to take drastic action and I decided to take him into the bathroom.  I opened the flaps on the diaper and nearly lost it; there had to have been at least two pounds of poop.  It looked like four packets of Maple Brown Sugar Quaker Oatmeal that had been steeped in green tea.  I couldn't (and still can't) comprehend how it could be so thick and yet so fluid at the same time.

I tossed the diaper back on to the changing pad and grabbed Timmy, holding him at arm's length and trying not to look at what was still far too close to my face.  I got into the bathroom and realized that I had no idea of what I was doing.  I didn't want to put him into his tub because that would require putting him down, which I simply could not do at that point.  I let my instinct take over and, using my elbow, I pulled back the shower curtain and placed him on his back in the tub.  I grabbed the pot that we use to hold warm water when we give him a bath and began filling it up as quickly as I could.  I tested the water and determined that it was a good temperature and then I turned towards Timmy, who was now crying in protest (I can't imagine that the cold tub floor felt good against his bare tushie) and I splashed some water onto him, clearing off some of the poop.

That's right.  Some.

I saw immediately that a fair portion of it had suctioned itself to his skin, not unlike a poo-barnacle.  I did manage to clean off a decent amount...but then the horror of what I had just down sank in.  You see, I splashed the water at him.  From left to right.  Had I had a moment to think, I would have calmly started at his head and splashed towards the drain.  Unfortunately, I didn't.  I was operating on the most primal of wavelengths: Splash boy, remove poo.  As the water splashed over and then past him (getting him in the face, which produced a new chorus of screaming), I watched with horror as it hit the back of the tub and, much like the tides pulled by the gravity of the moon, ebbed and then flowed, coursing back over and around the boy, leaving clumps of poo in his hair on the back of his head and on his shoulders.

He's screaming.  I'm trying not to gag.  And he's still covered in poo.

I turn the water on and realize that it's too hot and then blast on the cold water.  It splashes out of the pot and touches his feet and little shriveled, frightened junk.  He screams in disapproval.  Now the water is too cold in the pot.  I dump some of it out.  Unfortunately, there is poop blocking the drain.  The water runs back up and catches Timmy's lower quarter again.  He is not happy.  I add hot water.  Same thing happens.  He screams and I fear that I have burned him.  I have not.  He is supremely pissed off at this point.  I finally get the temperature right and splash him again, not concerning myself with the tidal flow issue; I remove less poo and think, for the first time, that I cannot believe that this is happening.

After an additional two or three uses of the pot, I manage to get him mostly clean.  I grab some wipes and clean off the rest of the persnickety turdlets that have remained.  I give him the once-over and he seems good.  I take him out of the tub and place him back on the changing pad in the dining room.  This is when I see the poo that is splattered all over the white pad.  I manage to clean it off and then place Timmy down to dry him off.  It is then that I spot the Splinter Cell-like shit that has eluded my cleaning efforts.  It is stuck on tbe hollow of Timmy's knee--his knee pit, if you will.  Thinking that I had already had him clean and realizing that I was mistaken, I decide to give him a more thorough inspection.  It is then that I find poop behind his ear.

Behind.  His.  EAR!

Come on, MAN!

I wipe it off and began looking him over with growing paranoia.  I look at his mouth (clean) and his nose (clean) and then finally his eye.  I see the typical hard, green eye gunk that he wakes up with caked on his lower lid beneath his eye lashes.  I then see an atypical, not-so-hard green eye gunk on his upper lid and eye lashes.  Yup.  It's poop.

After rubbing him down with wipes in a thorough fashion that would have made the clean-up crew at Chernobyl proud, I finally declare the boy clean.  I wipe my brow in relief...but I still smell poop.  I think that it is the diaper that I had not had the chance to throw away...and that was when I saw the turd on my wrist.  I am a hairy man.  Having poop stuck to your hairy disconcerting at best.

I get myself cleaned off and I realize that poor Timmy is lying atop the changing pad completely naked.  I quickly get a diaper and then an outfit on him.  I round up the three hundred or so wipes that I used to clean everything up and place them, and the diaper, into the open diaper pail.  It is then that I realize that I feel like I have an apple wedged in my throat.  The smell wafting up from the pail hits me and I realize that the apple is in fact my gorge fighting back with Herculean strength the vomit-demons of my internal underworld.  I have not had breakfast yet and I am grateful for this; it is probably the only thing keeping me from actually throwing up.

I look over at Timmy on the changing pad.  He curls his legs up, grabs his feet, and sets about rolling playfully back and forth. I give him his binky and he is content. You might even say he is happier than a pig in...

you know what?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reality, Religion, & Identity: How LOST, Inception, The Matrix Trilogy, and Fight Club Prove or Disprove Their Existence

There have been few moments in my life where I have been left speechless by either a piece of visual media or a piece of literature; there have been even fewer moments where, upon finishing the watching of a film or television show, or the reading of a novel, my mind explodes with activity, causing me to reexamine the way I look at the world--even to reestablish my own perception of self and of reality.  Until recently, the only times that those experiences had occurred were throughout the six seasons of LOST, after watching the movie Fight Club, and with each of the three movies that comprise the Matrix Trilogy.  Perhaps completing my own personal trilogy of cerebral films is the movie Inception.

I saw Inception a few weeks ago as part of a master plan to avoid traffic.  Seriously.  I had a ticket for the Goo Goo Dolls show out at Jones Beach and was stoked...until I realized that the show was at seven o'clock.  On a Friday night.  In July.  In Long Island.  At Jones Beach.  "Big deal?" you might ask.  Not if you live in Staten Island and the show is in Wantagh.  That's the Staten Island Expressway, the Belt Parkway, and the Southern State Parkway standing between me and my show--at the height of rush hour!  To misuse an oft-misused maxim:

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

Thus I decided that if the problem was the traffic (and it was) then the simplest solution (which, ergo, would be the correct one) would be to avoid it.  I decided to leave the house around one o'clock (Heather was taking a half-day at work) and I would head out to Long Island to kill some time before the concert.  I figured I would read somewhere for the few hours until the concert started...but then I realized I'd need to find a place to eat.  I thought of the Roosevelt Field mall and, as luck would have it, it proved to be a short drive away from Jones Beach.  My plans seemed settled but then I began to wonder whether a) I would really want to read for six hours straight and b) I could avoid the temptation of window shopping at the mall.  I figured there would be a movie theater there (there was) and that it would probably be playing Inception (it wasn't).  Perturbed by this (and filled with a sense of purpose...of questing, if you will) I set out to find a movie theater in relative proximity to the beach that would be playing Inception at a time that would work with my itinerary for the day.  As luck would have it, I found a theater in Levittown playing Inception at 2:30.  I was thrilled; my plan was set.

I left the house at ten to one to embark upon what would be, according to Mapquest, a fifty minute drive.  Show starts at 2:30, I'm leaving at 12:50...that leaves me with an additional fifty minutes to account for traffic.  I got onto the Staten Island Expressway and then the Belt Parkway...and there I sat.  Ten minutes went by.  Then fifteen.  Twenty minutes in I realized that not only would I not be seeing Inception but that the entire plan that I had concocted was for naught.  Then, miraculously, at Ocean Parkway, the highway opened up and I thought maybe...just maybe...I might make it.  I wound up arriving at the movie theater at 2:06 and enjoyed the lunch I had brought in the car after purchasing my ticket and waiting for the 2:30 beginning of the film.

Now, this entry is not meant to be a review of Inception, or of any of the other movies/shows that will be referenced, nor is it meant to serve as a spoiler for anyone who has not yet seen the movie.  Instead, it will utilize the films to discuss three things that have challenged--indeed plagued--my mind for years: the issues of religion, reality, and self.  I'll start with religion as it will likely be the most controversial of the three.

Some background information is necessary before I proceed with my discussion of religion.  I was raised as a Roman Catholic and I have received all of the sacraments a layperson would want to receive (baptism, first communion, confirmation, reconciliation, and marriage), and I am still a practicing Catholic today.  It is important for me to lay that all out upfront because much of what I will say will seem contradictory to my religious beliefs and affiliation with the church; like all relationships, though, it is that conflict that has served to strengthen my understanding and connection to the entities involved.

Part of my battle with religion stems from the issue that is central to the show LOST: being a man of faith versus being a man of science.  I align myself with both, which, I suppose, would be the first contradiction.  LOST, at its fundamental core, is essentially about Jack Shephard's battle with just this issue (it is also about issues with identity--something that we'll cover later on in the post).  Jack begins as a staunch man of science--always at odds with John Locke, the man of faith.  By the end of the series, though, Jack has found that he has let go of his need for empirical answers and accepts his fate via his conversion to a man of faith.  John Locke, on the other hand, goes from being a man of faith to...well...a demonic pillar of black smoke.  Yeah...that's LOST for you!

But I digress.  Growing up, I went to church and attended CCD classes until I made my First Communion.  My relationship with religion was typical of most children I suppose: nothing really visceral in terms of emotions towards God, just a knowledge that he was out there and that I should pray with regularity.  After I made my communion, though, I found that my "religion" classes were being replaced with math and reading classes (I still, almost twenty years later, have no idea why this happened).  I was therefore being kept an additional half hour at school to do an unnecessary amount of additional work.  I balked to my Mom and was given the opportunity to stop attending CCD.  I did and was a happy camper. 

Over the next few years I began attending church less frequently.  Finally, after I began working at a local deli, I reached my first point of separation from both the church and religion.  I was perturbed deeply by the apparent hypocrisy that I saw in the people of my neighborhood.  I would be working on a Saturday night and see kids my age and younger coming in to buy Visine because they were so stoned out of their brains that they wouldn't be able to go home without their bloodshot eyes being noticed.  These same kids were going "back weeds" (a Gerritsen Beach colloquialism) to keg parties and engaging in, if the rumors were true, activities that would have made Bacchus blush (or fist pump if he was at the Shaw (proper pronunciation of the word "Shore" for New Jerseyians as well as Staten and Long Islanders)).  These very same people would come into the store the next morning and make a point to note that they were on their way to church.  During the week they would also cross themselves reverently or fervently as the bus we were on passed in front of the church.

I had chosen a different path from the majority of my peers.  I never smoked cigarettes, never even tried them, nor did I drink or do drugs.  My focus was on school and keeping myself clean.  As a result, I was ostracized from the clique that the bulk of my peers adhered to and I felt like an outsider in my own home neighborhood.  When I saw how hard I was working to stay on the "right" path and how hard I worked to keep myself "right" with God...and then watched how the people around me acted in the darkness and then so easily traipsed into the light, as if there was nothing wrong with the dichotomy of their appalled me.  When I would be at church, I would look at the people around me and found myself disgusted by them (or more specifically by what they did); my church had lost its holiness for me because I felt like I was attending mass with a bunch of two-faced rats. 

I decided that I could have a better relationship with God on my own than in the presence of these pretenders.  Perhaps it was a result of my low self-esteem--that my way of getting back at them for exiling me was to feel better than them and, consequently, to judge them unconsciously; I didn't want to surround myself with people of their ilk.  And so I stopped going to church. 

I still prayed every night and found that my belief in God had strengthened as my relationship with organized religion began to fade.  Things remained this way until my Upper Sophomore semester of college.  By then, I hadn't thought much about religion at all; I prayed directly to God and was content in my relationship.  Then I had Professor Epstein for my "Great Works of Literature" course.  This was a woman with very deep, bitter issues with her identity, with religion, and with sexuality.  She was a misandrist who declared herself a feminist (which is a misnomer as feminism does not imply implicitly a hatred of men).

To sum up briefly what occurred during that semester: we were forced to read portions of the major religious texts of the world, including the Bible, the Qur'an, and the Bhagavad Gita, and then "discuss" them in class.  This discussion, though, was merely an opportunity for Professor Epstein to spew her own hatred about religion and, effectively, to ridicule anyone's beliefs were they brave enough to announce them publicly.  I must admit that, when she did this with the Bible, I did not speak up in its defense; I suppose it was my moment of moonlighting as Peter in the garden, in a way.  Others argued vociferously for the validity of the Bible as a holy text and not simply as the writing of man but I sat back and said nothing.  I found, though, to my surprise, that I felt incredibly uncomfortable and it forced me, for the first time, to examine my relationship with Christianity and with the Bible itself.

The moment that changed everything for me came when we were forced to read Genesis and Job from the Old Testament.  It wasn't the fact that we had to read it but rather the approach that we were forced to take: we had to treat the Bible as a piece of literature and not as holy scripture.  As such, God became a character in a book, as did Adam, Eve, Job, and all of the other biblical figures.  We analyzed the sections for literary elements, for inconsistencies, and, most impactful of all, for intent.  For the first time I saw the Bible not as a book of God's creation but rather as something man-made with very practical purposes for its design.  The same occurred when we read the Qur'an. 

Ultimately, the experience left me thinking upon the nature of the Bible and the Qur'an, as well as the religions that they served to guide.  It made me question the validity of my religion as a holy entity and to wonder whether or not "the Word" was actually "the Word."  Suddenly, I began to see the practical sense that the Bible made; it served not only as a moral code as dictated by an omnipotent being but also as a moral code that could be used by a governing body of men; it functioned as much as a societal control as it did as a guideline for how to live to save one's soul from eternal damnation. 

The more I thought about it, the deeper I fell into the abyss of logic.  Why only ten commandments (or two, if you believe George Carlin, or fifteen, if you're a fan of The History of the World: Part I?)  Why those ten, in particular?  The logical answer is that those edicts served best the purpose of maintaining order and civility in ancient civilizations.  It didn't just make things illegal--it made them immoral.  By tugging at the heartstrings of people, they effectively guilted them into not committing those acts.  Whether the Bible is the "Word" of God or not, it was still written down by men and, consequently, has been indelibly impressed with their (our) influence.  Why else would the Bible be so misogynistic towards women, for example?

The Qur'an takes it a step further, specifying some truly eyebrow-raising things.  In Verse 228 of the online version found at, the following passage specifies how long a woman must wait to remarry:

And divorced women shall wait (as regards their marriage) for three menstrual periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allâh has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allâh and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect) to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them. And Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise.

There's also an extensive section that describes, in detail, how dowries are to be distributed and what procedures are to be followed with regards to marriage.  The logical question to ask, both in the Christian and the Islamic cases, is: would an all-powerful, all-knowing entity, with the ability to create the universe and life itself, deign it necessary to describe, specifically, legal matters regarding codes of conduct or how long a divorced woman must wait to remarry?  Obviously, the likelihood is that these aspects were written by men as a means of social control and not as a divine directive meant to steer the herd along a path of peacefulness and serenity.
Roman Catholicism, in particular, succumbs quickly to the rigors of a test of logic when scrutinized, particularly its history during the middle part of the last two thousand years.  Indulgences are perhaps the best example that can be used to demote the religion from a holy practice to a very practical human enterprise.  It can be argued either way whether or not there is an afterlife...but to offer guidelines for how to reach said great beyond (ways that ironically also ensure a peaceful lifestyle that serves to sustain the health and livelihood of the society as a whole) and, worse, to offer then a way of buying your way becomes an affront to the left hemisphere of the brain.  Can you imagine what those indulgences would be like today?  I can't help but picture Vince, the ShamWow guy hawking them on some cheesy infomercial on network cable.
Speak with any agnostic or atheist about religion and they will argue against it using logic and reason--the two worst enemies it has.  The great philosopher Ned Apoleoni is just one of many such individuals who are capable of dismantling a religious argument by pointing out the inherent logical flaws that come with belief not in God but rather in a religious text such as the Bible or the Qur'an.  Science and logic can both be used to point out loopholes or blatant contradictions between what can be defined concretely and empirically and what is chalked up to divine will and intervention.
So if such religious texts are so easily deconstructed and are provable as the works of man...then why do so many people still believe in them?  The answer is the same reason they believe in an unseeable entity thought to have created the universe and that interacts with their lives in esoteric ways:

Ignoring Faith for a moment, I would argue that the purpose of religion is control.  Organized religion, as a whole, serves as a means of controlling morally (and otherwise) a large quantity of people.  From an individual standpoint, religion offers each of us a sense of control over our lives and our destinies (if we choose to do so) or an opportunity to leave it up to God.  When we are in trouble we can ask a divine entity to intercede on our behalf.  We can ask for strength, for guidance, for any number of things.  Ultimately, though, what gives religion its strength is Faith.  A church, or a mosque, or a temple, is just another building unless you believe that it is holy; your faith determines whether or not you believe.  Therefore, with regards to the Bible, the Qur'an, or the menu at White Castle, whether or not each of those is holy is determined entirely upon the individual; its level of spiritual significance--its status as unction--exists entirely in the eye of the believer.

What matters is the level of faith that one brings to one's religion; Faith is a release of the controls and confines of logic and reason.  Faith says that in spite of the undeniable proof of science or mathematics I believe in X or Y because I do; nothing more needs to be said.  Even the agnostic or atheist has nothing to say that can prove that that person is wrong in the face of such an argument.

Ultimately, I would argue that the myriad religions in existence today are all, by simple consequence, irrelevant; they are different flavors of the same dish.  None of them can be "right" because all of them would have to be correct.  If you break each religion down to its core, they all have the same elements, going back to the polytheistic days of the Greeks, Mayans, and other ancient peoples: a cosmology or creation story; a moral code or series of governing laws; a multitude of stories or parables that serve as moral guidelines and usually as warnings for those who would repeat the actions depicted therein; a series of important figures that are emblematic of the errors and successes of the people in those stories; the threat of a violent ending for the world--particularly for those who fail to follow the guidelines; and a promise of an afterlife and of redemption for those who do follow the rules.  Any other variations or things left out are like spices that serve to alter the flavor of the dish of religion, which, at its core, is simply the existence of an omnipotent being or presence responsible for the creation of life and the universe and the myriad ways in which we interact on a daily basis with said being.

Ultimately, I found my way back to my faith through my fateful interactions with two religious men: Monsignor Fahy at Resurrection Church and Father Morris at Blessed Sacrament.  The first helped me to see that the questions that I had about my religion were not only healthy but integral to the development of my spiritual identity because they forced me to examine my beliefs.  The second helped me to develop a stronger interest in my religion (Roman Catholicism) and drew me back into the church.  I enjoy attending mass because I attribute Blessed Sacrament (and all churches, as is my wont) with a level of holiness and because it gives me serenity when I am there.  This is ironic as, given the misanthropic attitudes I have developed in my old age, one would think that I would shun being surrounded by people in an enclosed space.  Finally, though, I have found peace with regards to my fellow parishioners and realize that it is not my place to judge them and their attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs as they have no bearing on my own.

So, with all of that said, let's finally dive into the connections to the Matrix. 

The Matrix (referring to each movie in the trilogy it comprises) blew me away when I first saw it because of its saturation with elements of religion, philosophy, and other metaphysical and metacognitive issues.  I have always seen it as being highly allegorical with regards to Christianity but it can be argued, without much effort, that it also represents other belief systems.  To delve into even one would take up far too much of my precious little space and time on this entry and so I will offer only this link that holds a number of essays that speak to some of the various interpretations out there:

(Why there are essays that identify the Matrix as a religious trilogy being hosted on an atheism page is quite confusing!)


So what is the point of bringing up the Matrix if I am not going to identify the importance of religion in the films?  It is simple: I am going to explore the importance of the connection between religion and reality in the film.  Using a Christian lens through which to view the Matrix, it becomes clear right away that Neo (anagram for "One") is the Christ figure in the film.  He is the chosen one (Messiah) who has been prophesied to free the people from the bondage of the machines that control them by forcing them to be plugged into the Matrix (an alternate reality).  He does so by sacrificing himself (as Christ does in the Christian Bible) and being born again (more than once if I remember correctly).  He fights against Smith (the Antichrist) and provides salvation for the people of Zion by allowing himself to be assimilated, thereby negating the existence of Smith (the Alpha and the Omega canceling each other out).

In the Matrix films, the importance of the religious analogues transcends the "true" reality and enters into that of the Matrix itself, thereby existing in both levels--the actual and the fabricated.  This is where it gets interesting.  The reality that one experiences when one is plugged in to the Matrix is akin to being in a dream (something that Inception explores deeply) or, it can be argued, in a coma.  In either case, religion and the presence of God become irrelevant; they appear to exist only on the superficial level of reality that we inhabit when we are awake.  Inception never touches upon the issues of God and religion, again, because they have no bearing on the dreamer or the man in the coma.  I would argue that there is a correlation between the two--that dreaming is a dimmer switch whereas a coma is simply an on-off switch; the deeper one dreams, the more that dream resembles a coma-like state.  We see in Inception that, eventually, if one goes deep enough, one will reach Limbo, which is arguably the same as being in a coma: time moves differently and one loses one's grip on what is real (thus the need for totems in the film).

In the reality that we perceive we exist in, we concern ourselves with issues of life, death, and life beyond-death.  We localize ourselves in relation to God and rely on the Supreme Being in all three issues: He (or She or It) gave us life, will bring us death, and will deliver us to a life thereafter.  In a coma (or a dream), all three of those issues become irrelevant because that reality is not real.  A man falls into a coma and during that time his body is resting in a hospital bed.  A month passes by and on the thirty-first day (let's imagine it was April, June, September, or November to keep it simple) the man awakens...wholly confused.  Why?  Because in his coma perhaps fifty years have passed.  The reality that he found himself in, even if, at first, he knew was a false one, would eventually become his default existence.  When he would then awaken he would be forced to face the fact that what he thought was real was, in fact, not and that now he was in reality.  But what if he couldn't accept that (much like Mal in Inception)?  What if he kept falling down the proverbial mental rabbit hole and found himself incapable of grasping onto anything that would ground him in "reality"?  Christopher Nolan addresses this issue with the use of totems--objects that are known intimately by their owners and which, through that knowledge, allow the holder to determine whether he or she is awake or dreaming.

The question is maddening: what is real?  If you think about it too much you run the risk of becoming lost in it, thereby losing your grip on reality and thereby defeating the purpose of asking the question in the first place.  But is a question worth asking because it strikes at the core of what makes us human.  We are separated from all other species by our consciousnesses; we think, therefore we are...or so we think...we are...nevermind.  All of this is predicated on the idea that there is one universe, that we are special, that we have a unique purpose to fulfill, and that there is a God and an afterlife.  Religion says that God(s) created man but evolution speaks to the contrary, thus eliminating God from the equation.  God's creation of man, though, provides a reason for life and an ultimate purpose for man (redemption, in Christianity) whereas evolution dissolves completely both of those things.  If we evolved from primates, who evolved from something else, and so on and so forth...then what is the point?  It would become mathematical; life itself is the product of chance or probability with no ultimate purpose.  Then again, God can coexist with evolution if one looks at it this way: God created the first spark of life (something that evolution cannot account for) and therein laid the foundation or blueprint for evolution.  Therefore, even if we evolved from an inferior species (from an intellectual perspective), then it must be because it is part of the master plan and that our very existence affirms the fact that we are moving towards our ultimate goal--the purpose of said blueprint.

Heady stuff man.

Personally, I believe that that is the case (God created evolution, if you will) and that we are working our way towards an existence of pure consciousness.  This belief has been influenced not by some great thinker or piece of literature but instead by Mighty Max.  Yup.  That Mighty Max.  There was an episode called "Zygote Music" in which Professor Zygote (a villain hell-bent on taking evolution to its maximum capacity) has evolved himself into a being of pure thought (or consciousness, for my purposes) and then into, as Virgil says, "...the infinite--beyond such primitive concepts as good and evil."  I believe that, eventually, we too will evolve into beings of pure thought or consciousness, shedding ourselves of bodies and existing only as energy.  Though this will ruffle some feathers, I believe that one possibility, too, is that we, ourselves, will evolve into "God" and will ultimately reach an eternal, omnipotent state (assuming we don't nuke ourselves out of existence first) and, as the universe winds itself down, perhaps in the "Big Crunch," we will find a way to reverse the process and, in the precise moment of returning to a singularity, we will bring forth the "Big Bang" and thus repeat the cycle of life by bringing about our own existence.


By the way--for anyone who would be interested, here are two links to the Mighty Max episode on Youtube (it's broken into two parts, each one roughly ten minutes in length).  The parts about evolution, specifically, are around the five-minute and nine-minute marks in the second link.

Part One:

Part Two:

Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand: for the dreamer or the person in a coma...which reality is "reality"?  Is it the place where their physical bodies lay or where their consciousnesses are awake (presumably in the dreamscape or coma...scape)?  Like both The Matrix and Inception, there is a reality within a reality (and an infinite number of subrealities in the dream scenario until one reaches the Limbo or coma level where one loses all sense of what is "real"--of whatever had been anchoring them to the present, "real" world), which makes it more difficult for the individual to determine which is their actual reality, or, to make it easier to explain, the "upper-most level" of their reality, meaning that they cannot remove themselves any further from their dream.  This, of course, presumes that we aren't all dreaming right now...

(Cue thunderclaps and flashes of lightning)

The determination of reality therefore comes down to the battle between perception, experience, and belief.  We see the world around us and, therefore, we perceive that it is real and that we are existing solely in this plane.  Unfortunately, the coma patient, the dreamer, and the insane person all do that very same thing; for each of them, their perception tells them that their comatose state, their dream, and their insanity are normal, concrete realities.  Perception, alone, then is not enough to determine what is real.  Experience (such as Cobb spinning the top in Inception) is a vital component of the equation but it, too, cannot definitively tell us what is real by itself; experience comes from the past and therefore, by itself, has no relevance in the present or future.

Ultimately, in order to ascertain whether one's existence is based in "reality," one requires a combination of perception and experience.  First, one must be able to draw conclusions about one's whereabouts (as opposed to being completely unconscious, floating in a black abyss of cerebral nothingness).  Then, one must be able to use one's knowledge of said environment to determine whether or not it is real, imagined, dreamed, or otherwise concocted.  A fair example would be you standing in your kitchen.  You know it is your kitchen both from your perception (you see a sink, a table, a refrigerator) and from your experience (you see a certain design on the placemats, you recognize the location of the coffeemaker)...but is it "real"?  There are a few ways of determining this, one of which is central to the premise of Inception: can you remember how you arrived in the kitchen?  Do you recall what occurred before you arrived?  If the answer is yes, then that should lend some credence to it being real.  If you cannot...well then you just might be dreaming.

Another approach would be to interact with the environment.  Your perception tells you what you are doing (turning on a faucet) and your experience tells you what you should expect (the water to run down into the drain).  But what if the water instead runs towards the ceiling?  You can be pretty certain, then, that you are not in the uppermost realm of your reality.

But what about belief?  For that, we must wait until the conclusion.

Emotions are an interesting factor in this equation as well.  In many cases, people have had dreams that were so vivid that they seemed real.  They might have had a conversation with a deceased loved one, or perhaps they engaged in sexual intercourse either with a succubus or phantasmagorical manifestation of a suppressed erotic desire for a girl at Starbucks who wrote a message for you on a cup and you had to wait until you drank your beverage before you could see that it was actually her name and phone number (very specific reference to see who is reading this blog!)  Regardless, upon waking they might have a fading recollection that they could actually feel things in the dream...but I would argue that the fervency of the emotions felt could identify whether it was a dream or reality.  The science behind what makes sex feel good can be explained, down to the very nerves and cell receptors, but the reality of that ecstasy can never be described in such a way that another person would be able to feel the exact sensations and emotions.  The reason for this can be ascribed to said emotions that are involved.  Emotions can be explained away as electrical impulses or chemical secretions in the brain but, ultimately, there is an intangible element that is beyond description that is the key to those emotions.  You know when you are feeling them but you cannot describe adequately what happens to you on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level.  Therefore, the strength of the emotions that you feel might possibly help you to determine whether you are experiencing reality (except for teenagers...they are in a reality all their own, especially when it comes to love and emotions).

In all of this discussion about reality we have yet to touch upon perhaps the most important aspect of this: who is the person in question?  What is his or her identity?  What is identity?  This, too, is a dangerous line of questioning to embark upon.  Who are you?  How do you know who you are?  How do you know you're you, to begin with?  We put so much time and effort into crafting the physical façades that we offer that rarely do we question who we truly are deep down.  Of course, some people do; these are the self-reflective types--those seeking self-actualization on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  They've got everything else sorted out and thus they can tend to their most personal question of self.

Of course, the very nature of a single "self" is irreconcilable.  Think about it: how many different selves do you have?  Do you behave the same way in front of your kids or parents as you do in front if your friends or coworkers?  What about on the subway versus at a fancy restaurant?  Billy Joel says it best in his song, "The Stranger."  The lyrics can be found here:

So at the very onset of this discussion of identity, we have proven that it is impossible to develop a single sense of self...but let's take the corporeal frame.  You've got only one of those, right?  You could then argue that that is your identity--your physical self--and that your personality or consciousness is indelibly linked to that body.  But what about transgender people?  Male body, female mind and vice versa.  Again, the "identity" is rendered impotent.  And what about cosmetic surgery?  Is the pre-surgery or post-surgery body the "true" one?  For argument's sake, though, let's say that it is possible to craft a single identity--one that comprises the multitude of personality changes that we go through, as well as the totality of our physical appearance.  Would that then be our identity?  It would be, if and only if, we existed in a single universe.

But do we?

Modern astrophysics and quantum physics are leaning more towards the idea of a multiverse (or parallel universes) and the existence of upward of eleven dimensions.  Let's examine what that would do to the concepts of religion, reality, and identity.

As it is, my personal concept of religion is tied up with the heritage aspect of my identity; I align myself with my Irish heritage more so than with my Polish, German, Dutch, and Viking roots.  Said aligninment is thus arbitrary, thereby making my own sense of self false and thus negating the validity of my religion.  But that's just this me.  What if there are multiple versions of "me" coexisting simultaneously in parallel worlds?  What if in one realm I'm wearing a red shirt and in another black?  Which me would be the "real" me?  Is it all relative, meaning that, in each individual universe or dimension, that me is the "real" me for that me?  What would it mean if we were somehow to meet up and coexist on the same plane at the same time?  What if one of me is dead while another is alive?  What is death for that matter?  Is it the end of reality or simply the beginning of another one?

Religion relies on the idea that there is one universe, created by God, and that he is the all-seeing and all-knowing ruler of all that exists.  But what if there are an infinite number of unique universes created by an infinite number of unique deities?  Which "God" would be the "real God"?  There can be only one, by definition, but the hypothetical existence of even a single other God would cancel out the identity of the "one true God."  Also, right now we believe that God exists beyond the boundaries of our universe.  By definition, there can be nothing beyond the boundaries of our universe because it is infinite and eternal; there is nothing beyond.  By definition, then, God could be the very universe itself as it appears to be infinite and eternal.  But what if there were multiple universes?  Surely they would all have to exist somewhere and, consequently, beyond that space must also lie nothing.  If God were to exist in a place that cannot possibly exist, that would make him undefined and would thus undefine his existence.

So if God and reality are relative to the universe or the dimension that the believer is in, but that very believer can have any number of parallel (and different) versions of himself or herself coexisting in the multiverse...then is it possible to determine which one is "real"?  Is it possible to conclude upon a single, absolute reality?  And what of the soul?  What if some versions have a soul and some do not?  What does that say about its existence or relevance?   As it stands now--our soul is what moves on after we die...but to where does it go?

Death, by definition, is the end of life...but what does that really mean?  Obviously there is a physical death that occurs where the body ceases to operate...but what happens to our consciousnesses?  Do they move on to other bodies or perhaps to another place?  What if the afterlife (heaven or hell, if you will) exists entirely within the confines of the mind, meaning that, when the body dies, the mind turns inward on itself and creates its own world, much like Cobb and Mal do in Inception.  If the mind is still active, though, wouldn't that imply that it is alive and thus not dead?

If death, therefore, is simply another form of life, does it even exist?  What then is life?  Is life a physical existence in reality whereas death is purely an existence of consciousness, sort of like becoming one with the Force in Star Wars?

With myriad identities existing in coexistence in shared realities, none of which can be identified as the absolute identity existing in an absolute reality...isn't it all relative then?  The very nature of "reality"--of a single, identifiable plane of existence, could not exist in the multiverse setting; reality would be determined by the individual and could exist solely for that person.  Surely those realities would be shared by other people (that would be their experience) but what about their perceptions?  The fact that they see the very same things that you see differently than you do also destroys the concept of reality.  If I see a purple pair of scissors and my Mom sees that pair as orange, which of us is right?  (The specific answer is me: it's a long story.)  The general answer is that neither of us are correct and both of us are.

And now we arrive at the conclusion, brought to us courtesy of Inception and Fight Club.


At the end of Inception, the question of whether Cobb is dreaming or is back in "reality" is irrelevant; what is important is the fact that he has found the contentment and peace that had been eluding him to that point--he finally managed to be with his children.  "Where" his reality is (whether he is in what we would consider reality, whether he is in a dream, or whether he is in Limbo) is also of no consequence; again, it is that he has found (or perhaps created) that reality that matters.

It also does not matter whether his totem falls because he believes that he is happy and that he is existing in reality.  He kept trying to keep himself grounded to "reality" by conjuring up the image of Mal from his subconscious (as seeing her would indicate that he was dreaming) and, in the end, he managed to rid himself of her shade.  Whether doing so allowed him to return to reality or simply to exist in happiness in Limbo (as he had done with her earlier) does not matter; it is his belief--not his perception or experience that has created his reality for himHis perception could tell him whether or not he is in Limbo (particularly if he finds that he has the ability to create there) and his experience could tell him whether or not he was dreaming (by seeing whether or not the top would fall over or keep spinning).  Ultimately, though, it is neither of those things that matter to him; only his belief that he has found happiness affects what is real to him.

So how does this relate to us--to our reality?  We are all like Cobb.  WE create our OWN realities and are in control over whether or not we find our own contentment and peace; we determine how we live and how we exist.  We are the masters of our fates--we are the captains of our souls.  We are Jack's cold sweat...his raging bile duct...his completely lack of surprise...we are Jack.  We are also Jack's wasted life...if we choose to be.

To perpetuate the Fight Club reference: we are Jack but the question remains--are we The Narrator or are we Tyler Durden?  The answer is: yes.

In Inception, we are told that, in a dream, you can't remember how you got to where you are.  You find yourself in a diner.  You find yourself with a friend.  You find yourself in your childhood.  Regardless of where you find yourself, in a dream, you can never recall where the dream began; we always find ourselves in the middle of a dream. 

Think about us.  Do we, as humans, have a definite explanation for how we got here? 


Do we know whether it was God or a chance cosmic occurrence that brought about our existence?


For all of the power that our collective consciousness can generate, for all of the theorems and postulations that we can create regarding the history of the universe and of ourselves, we cannot trace our origin back to a single point--to its beginning--whether it is how we came to be on earth or how the universe itself came to be.  It's almost as if we were placed in the middle of a dream and thus we must ask ourselves:

Are we dreaming?

If we learn anything from the endings of The Matrix: Revolutions, Fight Club, and Inception, we can conclude that the only true answer--the only one with any bearing--is simply another question:

Does it matter?

I'd like to think that it doesn't.