Category Archives: 30Hz Bl-g

Ramblings at the frequency of 30Hz

The Christmas Blues (aka The Creeping Holiday Terror)

With Krampus haunting theaters this holiday season, I’m today concerned with how quickly “ho ho ho” becomes “ho ho horror.” There’s Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night and Rare Exports and Christmas Evil. The list goes on and on. If you want a good one you’ve probably never heard of, try the Dutch Sint (2010). St. Nicholas is a murderous bishop that kidnaps and murders children whenever there’s a full moon on December 5th. As far as rampaging St. Nicholas movies from the Netherlands go, I’ve got to believe it’s the pinnacle of the genre.

I’m not really here to talk about Christmas-themed horror movies because quite honestly most of them are pretty shit. That was just a sidetrack to start a bl-g post. (Can you have a sidetrack before you even have a track? Discuss.) I thought I’d try something new to spice things up before jumping into the post proper.

There’s always Gizmo in a Santa hat. Because that’s all kinds of warm and fuzzy.

gizmo santa hat

The relevant ho ho horror is the “Christmas blues.” I’ll call them the “Christmas blues” because Dean Martin sang one of my favorite Christmas songs about them, but for many people it’s far more serious than a case of the “blues.” Myself included. “Christmas blues” is the palatable version. Soul sucking self-loathing laced with fear, helplessness and anxiety doesn’t go over well with egg nog at office holiday parties. Maybe “Creeping Holiday Terror” is a more acceptable middle ground.

In case you haven’t been a loyal reader since I started this bl-g four years ago (and I have the site analytics so I know such a reader doesn’t exist), I’ll get you up to speed rather quickly. I came down with a touch of that clinical depression that’s going around in December of 2010 (linkified in case you’re unfamiliar with the traditional symptoms). I just wasn’t equipped with the tools to recognize or combat these feelings so I allowed it all to snowball. It was like experiencing all past disappointment and future fears at once. Even if you’ve experienced this brand of sadness it’s very hard to explain. I felt my most violent unease in fact when I tried to detail my feelings to my wife. I had no words, only metaphors about black pits and face grabbers. I assumed that what I was feeling would just pass. It didn’t.

alien face grabber CPR

I’d lost interest in the things I’d loved. I couldn’t watch my favorite movies or my favorite music. It had all become steeped with ghosts, with haunting nostalgia that reminded me of times and places and people now gone. Most vividly I remember not being able to write. I was in the middle of a novel at the time. I’d written more than 80,000 words. I just stopped. In fact I’ve never actually gone back to that work. That manuscript remains too closely associated… plus, it really wasn’t very good. (Or is that just the doubt and self-loathing?)

There were clues beforehand. I felt intermittent and unexpected anxiety. For example, I had to leave Inception a few minutes before the end because I experienced my first panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. My chest hurt. I waited outside the theater until it subsided. I thought I was having a heart attack. When my wife and father-in-law came out of the theater, I lied. I said I’d just gone to the bathroom and since it was almost over I watched from the hallway into the theater. I became dependent on video games to refocus my attention away from this shapeless dread and fear I couldn’t understand. Reading, watching movies, focusing on music all left too much time for my mind to wander into dark corners. But there’s a danger that goes along with constant anesthesia. Feelings like these don’t generally disappear, and I wasn’t addressing the root of the problem, merely avoiding the symptoms.

I found myself on the verge of tears throughout Christmas. Only focusing on my daughter’s immediate joy helped dam the waterworks. I could lose myself in her unbridled enthusiasm. Watching her comprehend Christmas for the first time. Not yet 2, she discovered how much fun it was just to rip wrapping paper. The gifts inside merely a bonus. These little moments saw me through. Until they didn’t.

Two days after Christmas I came home from seeing Black Swan. (It’s funny how I can put a timestamp on these moments because of my connection to film.) My wife had seen it the night before — the  home-and-home for young movie-watching parents. (One goes to see a movie one night, the other goes to see the movie the next.) We discussed the movie and drank wine at the kitchen table. After some time, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Tears started flowing. I stopped talking about the movie. My wife said nothing. “I need help,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But I need help.” Later she told me those words took her breath away. She knew something had been wrong, but only then had she truly understood.

I started going to see a therapist and yada yada yada 18 months later, my therapist released me again into the wild. I’m not here to detail my path back to relative mental health. I’ve talked about it intermittently in 30Hz bl-g therapy posts. I merely want people to recognize that sometimes we’re just not okay. That sometimes we all just need a little help. The holidays in particular are a time of nostalgia and regret as another year winds down. I can’t speak for everyone, but I take stock of the past year and find my efforts wanting, my failures and disappointments numerous. Another year wasted on idle tasks, another year I didn’t do A, B or C. How could 365 days have passed already? How could I be 37? My once wee daughters growing up and becoming young girls and soon they’ll be gone… or worse… teenagers. But those are the easy “blues” — the “blues” we can measure and put into context. There’s so much more that wells up during the holidays that we just can’t really explain.

Help comes in all different forms. It’s not just professional help. Help is family. Help is acknowledge and addressing these feelings before they become all consuming. Help is being present in the moment and being grateful for everything that’s around us and not focusing on the ghosts of Christmas past and future. Charles Dickens was a pretty darn smart guy. I never realized it until I felt the arrival of my own haunting Christmas spirits.

scrooged spirits

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wasn’t just talking about the crotchety old skinflint named Ebenezer Scrooge; he was talking about all of us. We may not all be penny-pinching bastards, but we suffer Scrooge’s fear, anxiety and latent desire to be better versions of ourselves. Scrooge self-anesthetized by collecting and hoarding money. We all have our individual ways.

The last line from A Christmas Carol:

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

That one line should speak to all of us, those that have experienced depression firsthand, those that have known depressed friends and family. “…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well…” As the holiday season takes off in earnest, I hope you enjoy family and friends and that if you’re someone who feels the ho ho horrors of Christmas, that you pay attention to what your mind and body tells you. Don’t spend too time lamenting past or fearing the future. Remind yourself to look to the present and to the emotions we’re actually experiencing in real time. Enjoy the people that are your here and now. Most importantly, keep those other spirits locked safely in the shackled armoire of your long-deceased business partner… or nearest approximate containment unit. Keep Christmas well.

But whatever you do, don’t ask about the Christmas Twinkie.

ghostbusters storage facility

In parting, have a wonderful holiday. Don’t be afraid to sample some fruit cake (some are really quite good). Have some hot chocolate (with lots of marshmallows). Be a kid again. Unwrap a present and absolutely shred the wrapping paper. Take a midnight walk to look at the neighborhood Christmas lights. Put on a favorite Christmas record (maybe the Star Wars Christmas record?) and sit by the tree. Do nothing else but watch the lights. Make a gingerbread house and eat the gumdrops because why the fuck not? Roast chestnuts over an open fire/gas flame/backyard bonfire pit. Indulge your holiday traditions, but don’t forget to make new memories right now. It’s the new memories that keep us away from the Creeping Terrors of Christmas.

Echo and the Bunnymen @ Mr. Smalls 9/17


Some nights turn out shit. It’s an inescapable law of the world. “The best laid plans of mice and men” resonates for a reason. Still, I had a feeling about last night before it even began. I hadn’t been to a show in ages, yet I was looking for reasons to stay home. Not that I had anything particular to do. Maybe laundry. Killing flies for my wife… as this is apparently how she spent her evening of solitude… with a rolled magazine and white hot rage.

The great Mr. Smalls Funhouse venue is located in an old church in the Pittsburgh hamlet of Millvale. Millvale is a sleepy little enclave, going completely dark by 8pm… except when there’s a show at Mr. Smalls… and/or when the entire planet seems to converge on the town under the name of festivities called “Millvalle Days.” Millvale Days are a three-day festival where people prone to being drunk wander the streets, eat kettle corn and listen to Skynard cover bands. Someone ultimately stumbles on the uneven pavement and requires medical attention. It’s a scene, man. And every year I seem to attend a concert at Mr. Smalls during Millvale Days.

Combine Millvale Days with a sold out concert and you’ve shaken the powder keg. The main street is blocked off, thereby rendering half of the town’s parking inaccessible. Far away side streets, shady back alleys next to dumpsters and cars on blocks and illegal parking become the primary alternatives. After circling the illogical streets of Millvale for more than twenty minutes I settled on a 1/3rd legal parking spot, a spot that was far more legal than at least a dozen other parking jobs I’d already passed. I calculated the odds of a police person having enough time to rip tickets for the more egregious offenders before hitting the secondary offenders before the end of the show. I felt good about my chances.

So. Echo and the Bunnymen. I arrived just in time to grab a DogfishHead 60 Minute IPA and sidle up in a spot toward the rear center of the venue. Don’t get trapped under the new balcony, by the way, Mr. Smalls attendees. Echo opened with “Crocodiles” — the title track from their debut record. This introduced a block of songs that an average listener probably didn’t recognize. The earliest and the latest tracks — speaking of which, apparently Echo released a record last year. Who knew? And if you knew, why didn’t you tell me? Anyway. These were the tracks for the fans, tracks made us all anticipate the anthemic moments that were still yet to come. As much as I enjoy these early Echo tracks, they’re not the huge crowdpleasers. They’re not the tracks that incite spontaneous sing-a-longs and fuck yeah fist pumps. They’re welcome headnodders.

Ian McCulloch’s voice rang true as he hovered stoically at the center of the stage. A little more gravelly and aged, a weathered gate worthy of his 56 years. After shaking the rust, he sounded shockingly similar to the recorded tracks that by now feel etched into the stone tablets of our minds. But it wasn’t McCulloch that ultimately brought the crowd fully into the fold. Will Sergeant’s instantly recognizable guitar riffs catapulted the sold-out throng to life during the first moments of “Rescue” and then later when Echo launched into that string of mega hits, beginning first with “Seven Seas.”

McCulloch rarely opened up the proceedings for levity. He remained the angsty twenty-something raging against the dawn, a rare treat for fans of classic bands that have long since put aside the angst for a more age-appropriate level of placidity. He stood at the front of the stage, always in sunglasses and often cloaked by the shadows of the rear-lighting. He’d sing a block of songs before pausing to introduce another, his Liverpudlian accent and microphone reverb rendering all such words unintelligible.

For what reason has Echo and the Bunnymen fallen into relative anonymity? This is the question that began rattling around in my brain. They’re often compared to a band like The Psychedelic Furs. Post-rock. Jangly guitars. Brooding frontmen. Is it because the Furs contributed a song to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack? Their legacy endures because of the synesthesia nostalgia associated with Molly Ringwold and Ducky? If you type  “Pretty in Pink” into Google, it will suggest an autofill of “Pretty in Pink song” above the autofill for just the name of the movie. In my mind, Echo looms large over the 1980’s. Am I wrong? Have I been misled? If Duran Duran and The Cure are like the A-list of sometimes brooding, influential post-punk bands of the era, Echo feels like an A-/B+. Though I came around to Echo shortly after their peak, I vividly recall a time as recent as the late 90’s where everyone who knew music knew Echo and the Bunnymen.

When Echo announced this show at Mr. Smalls, I hopped online, day one, and bought a ticket. I figured this would be a hot ticket, a much ado about something in Millvale on September 17th. After all, when the hell had Echo last played Pittsburgh? Not during the 13 on-and-off years I’ve lived here.

A college kid that did some housepainting for me over a couple of days this summer really knew indie music. We engaged in many conversations. He asked about any upcoming shows I had on my docket. I mentioned Delta Spirit. I then added, with much enthusiasm, that I’d snagged a ticket to see Echo and the Bunnymen! Cool, right? Echo and the f’ing Bunnymen!

He stared at me blankly. The same guy who’d browsed my record collection, calling other 80’s-born records with admiration. Though we listened to the exact same music, followed the same modern bands, he had no idea about the Bunnymen. I never blame anyone for not knowing a band. Unlike some maniacal music fans, I do not take offense when someone’s frame of reference does not overlap my own. I was just confused. I knew… well, I thought I knew that Echo and the Bunnymen still resonated. You can’t turn on more than 20 minutes of college radio without hearing the influence of Echo and the Bunnymen laced throughout that amorphous genre known as “indie-rock.”

It’s time to start a public service movement. Introduce someone you love, someone you want to grow as a human, to Echo and the Bunnymen’s Porcupine or perhaps Ocean Rain. These are the gateway drugs. Once they proclaim their affection, keep going back to their debut, Crocodiles. Standing in Mr. Smalls on Thursday, seeing this mass of sold-out humanity moved once again by these songs reminded me just how essential Echo remains. Spread the word, Echo never really went anywhere; they just don’t remind anyone of Andrew McCarthy’s bitchin’ hair.

Lucky for me these epiphanies occurred during the show. Appreciation. Admiration for a band continuing on despite waning popularity due to time and distance. Remember when I said that some nights turn out to be kinda shit? Well, I skipped out of Smalls, on a nice post-show buzz, hopped it my car and headed home only to find out that the city of Pittsburgh closed the southbound tunnel. After 80 minutes of stop-and-go traffic around the damn mountain, I finally arrived home. Carnivals and closed tunnels. Semi-legal parking and ambient Skynard covers. A 4-hour round trip for 90 minutes of Echo.

So worth it.

photo by Justin Gill. This image pretty much sums up Ian McCulloch.
photo by Justin Gill. This image pretty much sums up Ian McCulloch.


I’ve never seen such a bizarre and bountiful collection of facial hair at one show. Is odd or distinctive facial hair the new midlife crisis? I saw Rollie Fingerses, Magnum, P.I.s, Johnny Fevers, Goose Gossages. I saw beards of all widths, girths and ineptness. I saw handlebars and fu manchus, braids and mutton chops. Instead of documenting the show I felt compelled to document the litany of notable facial coifs. A truly notable assemblage. Hence, the noting.


The Fuck It All Catharsis

From a certain perspective, I got back into the writing game these last few months. I’d taken a long time off to work on my James Bond project and start dabbling with a manuscript detailing the evolution of the entire project. With all my essays completed and the heavy lifting begun on the “behind-the-scenes” or “immersive journalist-y” part of the manuscript, I abruptly stopped writing. That makes sense right? I’d submitted 10 agent/publisher queries for the manuscript and received nary a derogatory comment in return. I’d not received a positive comment either. I’d received exactly zero words in return. In case you’re not well versed in the submission process, one must prepare a tailored pitch for every agent or publisher. So in addition to the hundreds of hours of work poured into the manuscript, there’s at least another 30-45 minutes spent on each submission. This includes researching targets and crafting the query. Silence is absolutely, positively, 100% the worst response for any submitting writer. This says, “Hey, you’re not even worthy of a form rejection.”

I’m not wallowing here. I accepted this bullshit part and parcel when I resigned myself to being a writer… or a failed writer. Or whatever kind of purgatory this is. Still, this is damaging to forward momentum. I shifted that manuscript to the “HOLD” pile while I tended to a few other projects and figured out what about my sales pitch caused people to not give any fucks.

During the month of May I poured myself into a James Bond short story for LICENCE EXPIRED: The Unauthorized James Bond short story collection. I played it safe, used characters from Fleming and drew inspiration from my favorite James Bond novel. I felt really good about my submission. I didn’t try to push boundaries. I made a few sly inferences that the nature of James Bond was something like taxidermy. I wrote what I felt was a very strong story with a nice bit of commentary on the whole franchise.


Dear James

Thank you for submitting your story The Bulgarian Tumble to LICENCE EXPIRED: The Unauthorized James Bond. Sadly, we are unable to include your story in the collection.

It did come very close, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut as it dwelt on themes and characters that too many other of the stories also touched. We’ll both be keeping an eye out for your work though; if you spot one or both of us in an editorial capacity, do consider submitting.


I should have known that expectations in the writing game only exist to be trampled upon. I hadn’t felt disappointment like this in years. I’d become hardened to all manner of writing rejection. At least I thought. This rejection, however, rekindled a landslide of forgotten emotions. I even heard from those old friends Self Doubt and Self Loathing, the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of cliched, sad sack writers everywhere.

Until this rejection arrived on Saturday, I’d planned to tackle another two projects in short order: a submission packet to write a 33 1/3 book for 333Sound’s open call window and a short story for Matrix Magazine’s LitPOP competition. Now, eh… let’s find out what’s jamming up the DVR. (A whole bunch of TCM movies! I’ll finally watch Wasp Woman!)

How quickly confidence becomes a bottle of gin. This is why writers become f’ing alcoholics. Gin always loves my writing. I kid. (I don’t. I really don’t.)

I went for an early evening run in the rain on Monday evening. I went for a run in the rain because it’s been raining every day and if I wanted to go for a run it was apparently going to have to be in the rain. I didn’t wear my headphones. As a result I couldn’t listen to some sad sack singer-songwriter with the Michael Smith seal of approval corroborate and lend credence to my unhappiness. I watched the rain come down and felt like a pathetic stooge in a 1980’s teen dramedy meant to piggyback the success of Say Anything. I felt thrilled to be a part of such a production. I also came to the realization that I’d never actually written a detective/spy/genre short story in my life. To backtrack/summarize: my harshest critic (me) had been *happy* with a story I’d written despite never having dabbled in that style of writing once in my life. (Anybody know where to submit a spy/espionage story featuring James Bond Clive Hardwood?)

George Saunders is a big f’ing deal because he was on the Colbert Report.

I came home and immediately sat down to polish a story for the Matrix Magazine contest, judged by George Saunders. Why? Because George Saunders is one of the reasons I write. If I had to name my literary idols, the list would begin with George Saunders. I picked an old oddball story about self-aware puppets on a Christian version of Sesame Street. The original ran upwards of 40,000 words. I selected one storyline and excised it, specifically for George. 6 hours of brutal editing brought the story in under the 3,000 word maximum.

Do I think it’ll make the cut?

No. Because that’s the healthy response.

People — and by “people” I mean the cultural hegemony of false positivity — suggest that we should always think positive. I disagree. I think we should try our best with as much time as we have and just say “fuck it all” when we’re done. “Fuck it all” doesn’t dismiss or judge or place expectation. It’s not even necessarily negative. “Fuck it all” just means, in that moment, I’ve done all I can do, I’ve done my best, so come what may. It means now I’m moving on to that next thing. I will not dwell on my disappointment. “Fuck it all” is new wave self help.

I had 48 hours to turn a 40,000-word story into a 3,000-word story. I did my best because I how often do you have the chance to put your work in front of your idol. I submitted that story early this morning. I’m under no delusions here. He won’t see a word of it. The Matrix Mag editors will put the kibosh on that puppet story long before he sees it because I didn’t play it safe or I did play it safe or it just wasn’t any good in the first place. It’s not what they’re going to want to read. But maybe it is. Maybe he will read it. Either way, fuck it all.

Now on to that other project. No, not the Bond book. Those typed pages are staring at me right now from that “HOLD” bin. I’m crafting a submission packet for the go ahead to write a book about one of my favorite albums for the aforementioned 33 1/3 series (a collection of books about music — each one focusing on one individual, influential record album). When I first thought about sending in a submission, I tried to figure out what album would be worthy of the series. I had a list of five or six records that hadn’t yet been tackled by 33 1/3. Records that most everyone would agree deserved a spot in the series. But then I thought about what records mattered specifically to me. And about what records inspired me, shaped me… and I decided I wanted to write about Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Dulcinea. Do most people consider that an essential record? No. But it is. And I do.

So fuck it all. Back to writing. Back to giving all the fucks… but at the same time none at all.



2Cellos plays Welcome to the Jungle: The Best Thing I Watched This Week

It might only be Monday, but I’m calling this race early. A) I’m too busy catching up on episodes of Bob’s Burgers to watch anything new on the tele and B) This is amazeballs. These two guys manage to rock as hard on cellos as Slash did on his guitar. Okay, almost rock as hard. But you can tell they’re rock stars. Just look at their cellos. I, of course, had to do a little bit of research on these Croatian fellows (Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser), known as 2Cellos, and it seems they’re quite popular and have records and tour and stuff. I’ve watched a handful of videos now and I have to say that this riff on GNf’R is easily their best stuff. It at least includes the most cello headbanging you’ll ever see in a two-minute video. And there’s something to be said for that.

the best thing I watched this week


2Cellos playing Welcome to the Jungle: The Best Thing I Watched This Week

Sidenote: Is it just me, or could these guys also be a pair of excellent Bond henchmen?

I don’t think I need to say too much more about this. I’ll just mention that they played this on the Ellen Degeneres show so there are a few million housewives that are more in the loop than I. (edit: apparently they also appeared on Glee at some point, but that begs the question if you appear on a television show after everyone stops watching it, do you actually appear at all?) Since I’m taking the rest of the week off from scouring the globe for “Best Things” I’ll just abandon ship without my usual assortment of hyperbole and rhetoric. As always, no need to thank me. You’re always welcome.

Bonus: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Sidesidenote: the image they’re currently cultivating is a half-step removed from John Corbett’s version of a Yanni character in Serendipity. He plays an oboe-like Indian/Pakistani/Bengali/Iranian instrument called the shehnai.

The More You Know… about John Cusack movies.

john corbett serendipity shehnai

Bob’s Burgers: The Best Thing I Watched This Week

Every so often we happen across a movie or a television show that’s so far up our alley that we have to stop and question how we’d co-existed in the same world for so long without crossing paths. So that happened this week. I had been watching a movie last Sunday night. When the movie ended, I flipped back to my cable feed. On my television I found myself staring at a show I’d long heard about but never watched. Confession: I’d long since given up on animation offerings on major networks. “The networks” just don’t take the risks necessary to make animation truly essential. At this point in my life I don’t have time for anything that’s not essential. Five minutes of Bob’s Burgers had me hooked.

the best thing I watched this week


Bob’s Burgers: The Best Thing I Watched This Week


This was the particular episode in question:



Once the novelty of hearing the voice of Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) performing the doughy, middle-aged titular Bob wore off (not to mention the number of references/connections between Archer and Bob’s Burgers), I found myself enraptured, held in comedic bliss. The family owns/runs a greasy-spoon Burger joint but that setting only provides a backdrop for endless opportunity for riffing on the various  personalities. The wiser-than-their-years children contribute most of the immediate laughs in juxtaposition with the languid, laid-back, even-tempered and thoroughly put-upon working-class Bob and his Jersey-ish wife Linda. The inimitable Kristen Schaal voices Louise, a perpetually bunny-eared pre-teen with isolated megalomaniac tendencies. Eugene Mirman (Flight of the Conchords, Archer) makes magic with Bob’s naturally dim son, Gene, who lives to provide the musical score to the family’s hijinx on a Casio DG-20. Set to electric mandolin. Okay, sorry… Flight of the Conchords reference. Gene’s keyboard is really good at sampling though. And then there’s the pubescent and sexually (perversely so) confused Tina (Dan Mintz) with a bizarre affection for horses. Bob’s Burgers is often perverse and a little bit crass, but a good-natured sincerity provides a baseline that grounds these characters as humans despite their crudely drawn animation and preposterous reactions to everyday events. There’s a bit of South Park, a touch of Archer’s banter and a heap of The Simpsons’ familial unit tucked into Bob’s DNA, but don’t let the similarities direct your judgment. Bob’s Burgers carves out its own unique slice of that animation pie.

Bob’s Burgers is available on Netflix Streaming and Hulu. Since I stumbled across this show on Sunday, not a day has gone by that I haven’t watched at least one episode. I can’t get enough. I’m off to see Mad Max: Fury Road tonight, but you can bet that I’m going to come home and queue up some more Bob’s Burgers to cleanse my palette. If I had to recommend a favorite episode from all of those that I’ve watched, I’m going to have to pick “Sheesh. Cab, Bob?” — the episode in which Bob starts driving a taxi and inadvertently becomes a pimp for a gaggle of transsexual prostitutes in order to pay for Tina’s 13th birthday party. Pure gold.