Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

20 February 2011

Changes In Attitudes

I have decided to leave the job I’ve been in for the last 3.5 years. It’s a long story. The reason I gave my boss is that I am simply uncomfortable with the night flying we do; it is a level of risk higher than I’m willing to take at this stage of my life. And this is true. There's more to it than that, as you might suspect, but the basic premise is true enough. And good enough. This has caused the boss no small amount of concern. If it’s too much risk for me, then he has to legitimately ask if it’s more risk than he should be taking? However, that’s something I cannot answer.

I told him that I’d try to find a suitable replacement. I put an ad online for a pilot, with some very narrow requirements. Boom! Right away I got over 30 resumes. Most were well-qualified, but some didn’t even come close. I’ve got a handful of really good candidates, guys who could step in and take over for me without missing a beat, kind of like Dick Sargent did for Dick York on TV’s “Bewitched” back in the 1960’s. Or, if you’re not quite as old as I am, like Will Ferrell will do for Steve Carell on “The Office” soon.

It is distressing to me to see that many helicopter pilots have no earthly idea of how to compose a cover letter and resume. One young pilot sent me a letter that began, “Dear Sir, I am your next loader and/or pilot.” Loader, as in "chemical loader of a cropdusting aircraft." And I thought to myself, “This is a COMPUTER-GENERATED LETTER! Are you SO lazy that you couldn’t cursor up and delete 'loader and/or' from that sentence? We are not a crop-dusting outfit!” Other pilot’s resumes and letters were filled with spelling errors –an instant turn-off.

I put in the ad that I wanted the applicant to have a minimum of 300 hours of flight time experience specifically in the Bell 206, the type of helicopter we fly. The boss wants someone who is intimately familiar with the model. Yet I got some resumes in which the pilot appeared to have no 206 time at all. I emailed one guy back and asked him about this. He quickly responded that he had x-number of hours in the 206, but he did not explain why this experience was not reflected in his resume. Again I wondered, “Are these computer-generated resumes THAT hard to change?” If I have to search through your resume to find out if you’re even qualified for the job your resume gets tossed. If I were submitting my own resume for a job that had specific requirements, I’d make damn sure that the recipient could see at a glance that I had what he/she wanted.

Is it that hard? Apparently. Or maybe helicopter pilots are just stupid.

I’m almost sorry that I agreed to find my replacement. I had planned on spending these last two weeks getting drunk and watching porn, but...as usual...it's not working out that way. It’s turning into more of a chore than I thought it would be. But I want to leave my boss with a good pilot, someone who’ll be happier in the job than I was. And maybe better. Certainly someone more comfortable in the job.

Ironically, even before my time is up here at this company, other fairly attractive flying job offers have been popping up. They aren't full-time gigs (that’s not going to happen again), just jobs I can do part-time…or not, as I choose. It’s funny, I’m trying to get OUT of flying helicopters for a living, but this industry just won’t let go. My first attempt at divorcing myself from helicopters occurred back in 2001 when I left PHI. Three jobs later, I’m telling myself that this one really, really, really is my last flying job. But deep down I know it probably will not be.

I’m afraid I might have to change the title of this blog back to “Helicopter Pilot,” for it seems that is what I am forever stuck being and doing. Ain't that something? I'd call the blog "Life's Funny Like That" but I do believe that one's already taken.

19 February 2011

Monsters of Folk

When it comes to music, the term “supergroup” gets thrown around often. The rock group, Cream is generally considered the first to have the name bestowed on them. But here in the U.S., while we might have heard of Eric Clapton, nobody on this side of the Atlantic had heard of…well,
the other two guys (Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce). In 1969, another prototypical supergroup called Blind Faith teamed Clapton and Baker again, adding Stevie Winwood of the Spencer Davis Group and…some other guy…named Rick Grech.

Over the years, there have been many other supergroups, some of which barely deserved the title. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? Why, yes! Bad Company? Puh-lease. As Wikipedia observes, “The category is not rigidly defined.”

In the 1980s, the Traveling Wilburys were a legitimate supergroup. George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and ELO’s Jeff Lynne? Talk about super! And speaking of the Traveling Wilburys, there is another, current band in which the end result is way more than just the sum of the individual members.

The names M.Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Jim James may not mean much to you, but to us indie-rock freaks they are very familiar. Ward has been around as a solo artist for a long time. Oberst and Mogis have been in a couple of groups, most notably one called Bright Eyes. Jim James is in My Morning Jacket. They’re all in their 30’s and have been kicking around a while. They’ve all achieved a degree of fame and respect if not the popularity and commercial success of overnight sensations like a Justin Bieber, say.

As the guys themselves explain, they got to know each other while touring with their respective bands. The idea formed to do some stuff together. They tongue-in-cheekily called the project the Monsters of Folk. It’s a side project that they do just for fun. But if the term “supergroup” is applicable to anyone, it is to them.

I stumbled on the Monsters as they appeared on the terrific Austin City Limits program on PBS a couple of weeks ago. I did not recognize them at first; just a bunch of guys in dark suits playing some decent music. “Decent” music? Hang on…this is way better than just “decent.” And then... Wait a minute...hey, that’s Conor Oberst! And Matt Ward! Whaaaaaat?! I quickly went to the internet and saw who the band was. I remember reading something about the project, but all of the guys are involved in many different projects so I didn’t realize they’d taken their act on the road, as it were.

The Austin City Limits show was literally the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life. And that’s saying something! Every song is incredible, even the slow ones. MOF is an unbelievable live band. These guys can play! All of them play multiple instruments and sing - except Mogis, he doesn’t sing lead. But he is an extremely talented guitarist and equally awesome on the steel guitar, mandolin, bass guitar…and, hell, anything else that he happens to pick up. As the "quiet Monster" he is the backbone of the group.

I’ve always loved the music of M.Ward and Conor Oberst separately. Hearing them together, trading lead vocals in the songs is surreal. Their unique voices blend very well together. Back in the day we used to listen to Beatles’ songs, trying to figure out if it was John or Paul singing. It’s like that with MOF too. Only…there is the addition of Jim James from My Morning Jacket who has a voice that has to be heard to be believed. Even the drummer, Will Johnson picked up an acoustic guitar and sang a song.

While they call themselves the Monsters of Folk, there is nothing Pete Seeger-ish about them. They really are a rock band. They do their share of softer, acoustic stuff, but they do love to rock out. Jim James goes pretty crazy. I mean, it’s not Ozzy or AC/DC (a group that has never done a ballad, by the way), but it’s not Air Supply either.

After the ACL show, I punched it up on the PBS website and watched it again in its entirety from the beginning. I don’t believe I’ve ever been so blown-away by a live performance.

Of course I downloaded the album from iTunes. Ironically, I like their live stuff better – there’s more spontaneity and improvisation.

Below is one of the very few videos MOF have produced. It was made before they recruited Will Johnson, so Jim James fills in (a little awkwardly) on the drums here. To me, it is four minutes of pure heaven. Listen to Mogis' guitar. This guy is so amazing! In the 1970's (and with more hair) he would have been a guitar god. Not to diss the other guys; they're all incredible musicians.

LATE EDIT: I just watched the clip of Austin City Limits that I posted, and realized that it's only 20 minutes long! Gyp! There is so much more to hear on the full episode, I really hope you do watch it.

If you like music and have an hour or so to spare, it really is worth going on the Austin City Limits website and watching the Monsters of Folk show. I’ll post the link to it below. Wear earphones for the full effect! I love the fact that there are still bands out there with guys in them who like to play real guitars, write and sing really good, clever, intelligent songs…songs that are not over-produced and vocals that aren’t Auto-Tuned to death.

Watch the full episode. See more Austin City Limits.

They open with "Say Please," but I have to admit the "live" version just puts the video on the bus. The rest of the songs are equally strong, even the slow ones. As I'm writing this I've got the ACL video on in the background, which I do a lot. I wanted to write something here about which songs I like the best, but they're ALL so damned good. I'm just awestruck by this - can't believe how much I like it. I don't even have a least favorite song! It's been a long time since I've like a group this much. (The last ones were The Rosewood Thieves the Low-Stars but sadly, both seem to be in a period of inactivity.)

I love the way Ward, Oberst and James trade off the vocals within the song, and their harmonizing is beyond belief. I love the way Matt Ward (his friends just call him "M" so that's what he goes by) plays the guitar like Johnny Cash did. I like the fast songs better, naturally, but only slightly. They do an astounding version of My Morning Jacket's "Smokin' From the Shootin'" which will make you as big a Jim James fan as I am right now. They close with a foot-stomping, jaw-dropping version of "Losin' Yo Head." By the end of that last song I am in nirvana.

I don’t know when or even if the Monsters of Folk will tour again. Their get-togethers seem to be sporadic. But I can assure you, if they ever do appear anywhere east of the Mississippi River, you’ll find this particular music fan in the audience.

Monsters of Folk on Austin City Limits

04 February 2011

How To Capitalize On Your Talents

The mullet-haired boss catches Scott hanging around doing nothing when he could be cleaning.

Scott says: "I'm a very fast leaner. It said so in my resume."

Boss says: "Oh, I'd thought that was a typo. So I guess you aren't a fast learner."

Scott replies: "Neither of us is."

This is one Basic Instructions that had me laughing all the way through. Scott is consistently the funniest cartoonists on the planet. Perhaps of all time.