Unemployment Nine: Bittersweet deposit

I just got back from depositing a check. Normally, this would be good news for anyone, especially the unemployed, but this one was kind of bittersweet.

Several weeks before my job was yanked from under me, I bought two tickets to see AC/DC at Madison Square Garden. The check I deposited today was the money I received for selling those tickets.

Back in Black

Back in Black

I grew up on AC/DC. Back in Black was one of the first records (yes, records) I ever bought. And I cackled like a 13-year-old the first time I heard “Big Balls,” which was nothing unusual, since I actually was a 13-year-old. The last time I saw them live — in the late 1990s, also at the Garden — they were amazing.

But cuts have to be made somewhere until my situation is stable. And the party for my softball league, during which my team received its championship trophy, was being held the same night. So, the choice came down to the following: $95 plus Ticketmaster charges for the show, or a free three-hour open bar? The open bar won, and I think there’s still some Yuengling left in my bloodstream.

A little bit of the pain was taken away when I saw the set list for the show I would have seen: 14 songs. Weak. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by some of my other favorite artists, like the nearly four-hour marathon shows put on by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and the good solid three hours usually offered by Rush. But 14 songs during your first tour in years? Weak.

I can’t wait until I’m back in a situation where I can do what I want again.

Save me from zero

The new Toyota commercial, based on “Saved by Zero” from 1980s few-hits wonder The Fixx, must die.

Commercials are a necessary evil and, while most are annoying, some really grate on my nerves. This Toyota ad is one of them.

Maybe it would almost be tolerable if it wasn’t the first commercial in every single ad break during Sunday NFL coverage and the World Series. Probably not, but maybe.

But I’ve had it. This is the most irritating ad I’ve encountered in quite some time, and it needs to die.

Save me from zero. Please.

Fuck you, Toyota. Honda for life. Represent.

Unemployment Nine: A much-needed break

I had a great day yesterday. I took a much-needed break from doing laps around the Internet Explorer bookmarks under “Job Hunt,” and from staring at my résumé and wondering if further changes were needed. It doesn’t mean I’m being any less aggressive about this job hunt, but sometimes clearing my head is a good thing.

I met a longtime, very dear friend of mine and her boyfriend at a very unlikely place: The Irish Rail in Manasquan, N.J. The bar is, literally, the Manasquan New Jersey Transit train station. There’s a small waiting room and ticket booth, and The Rail takes up the rest of the building.

On Thursdays, The Rail offers $3 pints of Guinness, Bass and Smithwicks. Since Guinness makes up about one-third of my blood, and it would be unhealthy to risk fluctuations in that ratio, I decided to take the train rather than driving. I’ve always been very good about having no more than two drinks before driving, and I knew there was no way in hell I was limiting myself to a pair of $3 pints of Guinness (great pour, by the way).

Unfortunately, there are no direct trains between Hoboken and Manasquan, so the trip ended up taking nearly three hours each way, versus the one hour plus assorted traffic that it would have taken by car. But it kept me away from the PC and gave me the time to read a great book.

Slam

Slam

If you’re not familiar with Nick Hornby, become familiar with him. He is a truly fun writer who is probably best known for High Fidelity (the John Cusack movie) and Fever Pitch (the real one, about Arsenal soccer, not the gay-assed Red Sox disgrace starring Drew Barrymore). Yesterday’s selection was Slam, about a 16-year-old boy in London who gets his girlfriend pregnant. It’s a great, humorous, fun read, and I definitely recommend it.

I got a lot more reading done on the way to Manasquan than I did on the return trip, however, and it wasn’t because the Guinness was making me see three books and I was having trouble focusing on the one in the middle.

When I boarded the train for the second leg of the trip, from Long Branch to Newark, it was quite crowded, so I just grabbed the first available window seat. I couldn’t have possibly picked a worse location.

This bizarre ass hat proceeded to sit directly across from me. He looked like Bill Walton, only with short, dark hair. He was tall, thin, lanky and goofy. Despite being a big guy, the Phillies hat he was wearing dropped down over his head, making him look like a kid wearing his father’s hat. He was carrying a Sony Walkman — not an iPod, not an MP3 player, not a CD player, not a Sirius or XM satellite radio: the original Sony Walkman. I had to really fight the temptation to tap him on the shoulder and say, “Um, dude: 1982 called. It wants its product back.”

Sony Walkman

Sony Walkman

The train pulled out of Long Branch, and this tool started yelling — not mumbling, not singing, YELLING — the words to the songs on what I not-so-affectionately nicknamed the Solo White Man Mix Tape. I like all of the artists I’m about to mention, but not when the lyrics are being yelled by someone who sounds like his testicles are caught in a can opener.

The first number I was treated to was “Angry Young Man,” by Billy Joel. This was followed by the one and only Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with “Badlands.” The worst musical performance I’ve ever been forced to sit through finally concluded with Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.”

I don’t know if his four AA batteries died, the cassette tape caught in the spool, or it was an act of God, but the shrieking finally stopped and I was about to dive back into my book.

Anyway, all in all, it was a refreshing break from the monotony of searching for employment, and the bonus was finally checking my e-mail late last night and being offered the opportunity to interview at a well-known media company sometime next week. Keep your fingers crossed. Just don’t sing on a train while doing so.

Why don’t more bands make their concerts available?

As I type this, I’m listening to a bootleg of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band July 27 show from Giants Stadium. The quality is fairly strong, for a bootleg, and it’s always fun for me to relive a show I attended and enjoyed. But why can’t I listen to a CD-quality version of this show?

I’ve never understood why more bands don’t make their concerts available for downloading. I realize the overhead of producing CDs would be way too high, although Pearl Jam released an entire leg of its tour on CD a few years back. But how much could it possibly cost to put the files on a server and make them available for download?

Fans will buy them. I have no doubts about this at all. And even if piracy is a concern, as I said before, the overhead costs are minimal, so how much would really be lost?

Of all bands, Metallica, the band at the forefront of the war against Napster, is offering people who buy tickets to its upcoming tour live downloads of the shows they attend. And Barenaked Ladies has been offering live downloads for years.

I really wish more bands would get with the program on this. And if anyone even remotely associated with Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band happens to read this blog, please start with the July 31 Giants Stadium show.

The musical gods are with me this week

The gods of music have been kind to me all week.

First, I saw three incredible shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the last one, Thursday night, incredible beyond words.

Then, while out at happy hour at the Shell on Long Beach Island yesterday, a brief rain shower chased Monte and the All-Stars off the stage before they could butcher Rosalita. What they do to that song should be illegal. Two minutes of raindrops saved me from eight minutes of suffering.

Finally, I was way too tired to go out last night, and I missed out on a pretty good band, Laura Lea & Tripp Fabulous. But I’m happy I missed out on their cover of Mr. Jones by Counting Crows. As much as I like Laura Lea’s voice, that song is awful, brutal, hideous, whiny, irritating and foul beyond saving by anyone.

Thank you, gods of music.

The Legendary E Street Band

Thursday, July 31, 2008: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Giants Stadium. It didn’t start out promising.

It was a stressful day at work, even though I worked from home. Unlike some people’s definition of working from home — sitting by the pool and sipping on a tropical drink while their dog answers their e-mail — I do a ton of work when I’m at home. You have to love people who e-mail you stuff to do at 5:44 and 5:45 when you expressly state that you need to be in your car at 5:45.

Bruce Springsteen and Little Stevie, Giants Stadium, 7/31/08

Bruce Springsteen and Little Stevie, Giants Stadium, 7/31/08

While scrambling to get everything done, the phone didn’t stop ringing. “What time should I be there?” “What’s the weather going to be like?” “Should I pick up food?” “Did you get beer?” “What do you want on your sandwich?” All legitimate questions, but constantly being on the phone wasn’t helping the stress level.

And for the record, asking me if I got beer is among the silliest possible questions. If I could get away with it, I’d pick up a 40 for the walk to the PATH every morning.

Then an e-mail came in from TicketBastard warning me that a truck overturned on the exit from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Meadowlands. I guess it’s TicketBastard’s way of justifying the $18 “service charge” they tack on to every ticket. So the thought of every possible approach to Giants Stadium becoming a vehicular clusterfuck wasn’t helping the stress level, either.

Getting there and parking actually wasn’t as bad as I feared, and I thought things were going really well when I got a call from my friend and his wife that they were parked, too. The problem is that they were “parked” on Route 17, which wasn’t moving at all.

But everyone finally got there and, despite our abbreviated tailgating time, sandwiches and beer were consumed (several beers by yours truly) and we were in our seats well before 8:45, which is when the first two shows on Sunday and Monday nights began. (Yes, I went to all three. Yes, I am aware that I have a problem. No, I don’t give a shit. Yes, I’d do it again.)

Well, the first two shows started around 8:45. Thursday’s third and final concert, however, did not. I guess Springsteen and company were waiting for people to get through the traffic. Rather than cooling off as the minutes ticked away, the temperature inside the stadium continued to rise, as did the impatience level. I sweat completely through two layers (Under Armour and my Rosalita T-shirt).

Sounds like a completely awful, stressful, grueling experience, doesn’t it?

WRONG!

Jersey Girl, Giants Stadium, 7/31/08

Jersey Girl, Giants Stadium, 7/31/08

That was, by far, the best Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many and several (probably around 15, but senility and beer-murdered brain cells prevent an exact count). They played from 9:30 until 12:45 a.m. and emptied the old-school Springsteen playbook. The energy level was incredible, both by the band and the crowd. This show even topped the 10th and final show of the 2003 run at Giants Stadium, and that was no easy task, trust me.

I mean, seriously: Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Prove It All Night, Two Hearts, The Promised Land, Spirit in the Night, Blinded by the Light, Cadillac Ranch, Candy’s Room, Night, Because the Night, She’s the One, Incident on 57th Street, Badlands (I know, he always plays it, but still), Jungleland, Born to Run (see Badlands), Jersey Girl and Rosalita in the same show? Are you kidding me? Wow. The last two songs alone were worth the $95 (plus TicketBastard charges).

Ladies and gentlemen, I was just rocked by the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, nerve-breaking, Viagra-taking history-making, legendary … E-STREET BAND!

The set list, courtesy of Backstreets.com (http://www.backstreets.com/setlists.html):

Summertime Blues

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Radio Nowhere

Prove It All Night

Two Hearts

The Promised Land

Spirit in the Night

Light of Day

Brilliant Disguise

Pretty Flamingo

Blinded by the Light

Cadillac Ranch

Candy’s Room

Night

Because the Night

She’s the One

Livin’ in the Future

Mary’s Place

Incident on 57th Street

The Rising

Last to Die

Long Walk Home

Badlands

* * *

Jungleland

Born to Run

Bobby Jean

Dancing in the Dark

American Land

Jersey Girl

Rosalita

Concert tickets through the years

I saw my favorite band, Rush, at the PNC Bank Arts Center last night. It was, as always, a damn good show and, while driving home, the thought struck me that Sept. 17 will mark 25 years since my very first concert — Rush at Radio City Music Hall.

I also thought about one of my biggest pet peeves: the fact that, unless you “know someone,” it’s utterly and completely impossible to get truly great seats for a concert.

I’ve had times when tickets have gone on sale at 10 a.m. and I’ve gotten through to TicketBastard.com at 10 a.m. and one second and ended up in the third deck. And, if you want to take a ride in the way-back machine, there were times when I was one of the first few people on line outside a TicketBastard outlet or a venue’s box office and gotten disappointingly mediocre seats. As always, the true fans get screwed, much like sports.

Then I had a few laughs thinking about the things I used to go through to get tickets before the Internet became the norm.

I remember camping out at Madison Square Garden from 6 p.m. on a Friday until 10 a.m. Saturday morning, when tickets for the first KISS show at the Garden in years went on sale. And after 16 hours of no sleep but plenty of Jim Beam, fast food and emergency runs to the lovely, pristine bathrooms of Penn Station, about 50 people, clearly working for scalpers, rushed the front of the line. Not only did the cops and security guards do absolutely nothing about it, but they prevented any of us from doing anything about it. So the end result of my 16 hours on the street was a set of marginal, second-level tickets.

I remember spending the night outside a Sam Goody on Madison Avenue with a TicketBastard counter on a frigid winter night to buy Metallica tickets. I wanted to strangle the guy two spots ahead of me on line for playing Metallica’s “Trapped Under Ice” about 30 times in a row until, mercifully, the batteries in his boom box died. Other than being scarred for life and never being able to enjoy that song again, take the KISS/MSG experience and substitute Jack Daniel’s for Jim Beam and the spot between two delivery vans on 44th St. for the Penn Station bathroom, and there you have it.

I remember somehow scraping up enough money on a college student’s budget to see seven of the nine area shows by Rush on the Hold Your Fire tour. Even though every show had the exact same set list and I didn’t have good seats for any of the seven shows, I still enjoyed every minute.

Things are different now with the Internet. But are they really any better? Getting tickets is still absolute torture.

Granted, it’s a lot more comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts, in my climate-controlled apartment, in front of my PC than it was on the sidewalk of Madison Avenue with temperatures in the 20s and a biting wind.

But there are few things in life more infuriating than the countdown feature on TicketBastard.com. The irritating little device that tells you how long your wait is for tickets is nowhere near accurate. I’ve seen it count down from 15 minutes to 1, only to ratchet back up to 6, stay there for about 10 minutes, then suddenly offer me tickets for seats that I’d need a sherpa to bring me to. Watching the computer screen while praying you get tickets for, say, the last show at Giants Stadium by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band one of the more nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever endured.

It is really that much worse than a night outside, fueled by whiskey and the naïve thought that I might actually, for once, get good seats? Ah, to be 18 and dumb again. (Well, I’m still dumb — just double the 18 and add four years.)

To the cover bands who play on LBI

A lot of the cover bands who play down on Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore are incredibly talented musicians and really know how to put on a good show, display great stage presence and keep the crowds in the bars in Beach Haven entertained and revved up.

But, seriously, how many times can these bands play songs like Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” without wanting to hurl all over their amps?

This summer will be my eighth down on LBI, and I have never been more bored with the musical offerings. I love live music, but most of the bands who venture down Route 72 and onto the island seriously need to update their play lists.

I realize that learning new songs is a serious time investment, and bands don’t want to spend valuable hours learning a song that might be the flavor of today but gone from memory tomorrow.

And I realize that a cover band can’t really push the envelope with music that isn’t “bar-friendly.” Yes may have been a vault of musical ability, but if a cover band broke into a 12-minute Yes song, they might be staring at an empty bar by the time the number was over.

Finally, I realize that there are always going to be people yelling for songs like “American Girl” and “Living on a Prayer,” and pleasing the crowd is goal No. 1.

But come on, already. At least try to work in a few different things. Mix it up a little. Take some chances.

Most of the bands I’ve seen definitely have the talent and ability.

Other songs exist besides “American Girl,” “Living on a Prayer,” “Santeria,” “Mr. Brightside,” “All the Small Things” and a few others that seem to be required for entry onto Long Beach Island. For the love of God, please come up with something new.

Smashed Gladys

Amazon.com and I have become quite friendly in the days since my 40th birthday, as several friends went above and beyond the call of generosity and gave me gift certificates.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old codger, I’m not thrilled with a lot of today’s popular music, so I decided to try to replace some 1980s metal that vanished from my collection, either due to the transition to CDs (you know, those shiny round things people used before iPods) or to being permanently borrowed.

One of my gifts arrived yesterday and took me back more than 20 years: the self-titled CD by Smashed Gladys, a glam-metal band I saw a couple of times at a long-gone venue on East 13th Street in Manhattan called the Cat Club. It just reminded me of when things were so much simpler.

I listened to Smashed Gladys on my iPod during my PATH commute this morning and, in quite the rarity for me, I was actually smiling pre-caffeine. The odds of my smiling in the morning – especially while en route to cubicle hell – are fairly close to the odds of bin-Laden emerging from a cave to wish a group of Jews a happy Purim.

I thought about how much more fun music was back then. I believe I saw the band sometime during the period of 1985-87, when music just had to be loud and fun. Rock bands didn’t feel the need to try to record the one song that was going to suddenly convince the president to call off a war. Hip-hop groups bragged about who the better rapper was, not about their arsenal of weapons and how many cops they smoked.

I thought about the feeling of accomplishment when I actually got into places like the Cat Club prior to turning 21. Obviously, that’s not a problem for me anymore, but it always felt good to not get carded at the age of 19 or 20.

I thought about the gigantic crush I had on Sally Cato, the lead singer of Smashed Gladys. Mmmm … Sally Cato.

It was a great trip down memory lane, which ended abruptly with my arrival here in cubicle hell for another day of drudgery.

So thank you to my generous friends, to Amazon.com and to Smashed Gladys.

Mmmm … Sally Cato.