This is dedicated to Ti-Lin Todd Sun. I’m forever grateful for him telling me to listen to his cassette tape.
I started to draft this article over six years ago and could never navigate my brain and heart well enough to find the right words to adequately describe why Ten became so meaningful to me when I was a kid and how it remains a pillar of my interpersonal development. I realized this week as Pearl Jam is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the album that I could spend another six years tinkering with words and it’ll never be perfect.
I have to settle with offering a glimpse into my mind back in 1991 when I was an incredibly anxious teenager trying to figure out who I was and how to comfortably and confidently be myself. The following is my relationship to a few songs on Ten and I hope – at the very least – an expression of appreciation and gratitude for all it has meant during my life.
Once (upon a time)
I was born in 1976 and the music I consumed throughout the 1980s was a combination of pop, rock and metal. The topics covered in most songs were about partying, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Meanwhile, older bands that had songs with deeper themes seemed outrageously old at the time. Anything released before 1980 felt like the Stone Age; even Queen seemed like a relic from the distant past and they released a studio album in 1991 – the same year as Ten.
It all started with a cassette tape that a friend convinced me to listen to earlier in the day. I listened to the cassette on a beat-up Walkman in the dark that night in my den. What I did earlier that day or in the subsequent weeks, I have no idea. But I remember the first time I listened to Once kick in. It sounded so good and different from the type of music I usually heard. A couple of songs later, Alive immediately caught my attention and captured my imagination.
Longtime friend (and two-time guest) of Childhood Ruined, Chad, joins the show again after he bought Chris and I a pack of “10 Hot PhotoCards with Facts and Photos of Your Favorite ROCK, RAP, & POP STARS” from a card set released in 1991. We opened the sealed pack, and magic ensued!
Not to give away surprises, but we got a chance to talk about some popular artists from our late-elementary and early-high school years. Do I play a few seconds of ‘Ninja Rap’ about 40 minutes in?
Do we celebrate Extreme a bit too rambunctiously?
Is Roxette now underrated?
This was a fun episode to record. I hope you enjoy.
We take the Presidents Day holiday to record a new episode and give each other an update on our son’s behavior. Chris prods me on my lofty expectations for my two-year-old son, and I encouraged him to follow his son’s diet of recreational activities. Chris brings up the topic of the Grammys, and discusses how they seem even more irrelevant than usual. The hosts ponder if an organization like the Grammys is losing prominence as the pace of the music accelerates and the scope of music broadens. The conversations expands to discuss the Oscars, and how the film industry in heading in a similar direction. The hosts debate over whether awards shows do (or should) mean anything to a wide audience given that they are still decided by a group of people that are older, wealthier and whiter than the general population.
Ed Grabianowski (aka, “The Grabster”) joins me on the show to talk about his career as a freelance writer for outlets over the years including io9 and How Stuff Works. He speaks to his start as a writer for a local newspaper in Buffalo and how that led to other writing opportunities as he continues to work on a novel. He discusses the pressures involved in producing content for an online audience that is bombarded with an endless stream of content. Ed also talks about his musical project, Spacelord. Ed performs vocals for the band, and he details their journey in the independent rock scene. While Ed provides details about Spacelord’s influences, a few samples of their music are including to give listeners a taste of their sound. The band is GOOD, and you should give them a listen! Ed shares a hilarious story about the cover art for the latest Spacelord album, and we close the show by rehashing our efforts in 2016 to narrow down to the best 12 songs from the Use Your Illusion albums by Guns N’ Roses. If you haven’t read our takeson this, then go do that now.
Enjoy the 38th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Childhood Ruined is back with an emergency episode dedicated to Weezer’s Teal Album. We discuss our shared confusion about the aims of the artistic endeavor while going through the album track-by-track, and explore why a popular band from the mid-90’s still inspires such blazing-hot takes across the internet. Chris and I talk about what makes a good cover album, or even a good cover song. We throw around the question, “What is the best Weezer album?” while being completely self-aware that Saturday Night Live already executed the best version of this conversation! As a bonus, I got to test out a new microphone-and-headset combo for the podcast, so it feels good to be back. Stay tuned for more episodes in 2019!
In other news, I have two articles about Dungeons & Dragons marinating, and those will be posted in the next week or two. For now, here’s the emergency episode….
The Bard is a class that I never played before, so when I was invited to play in a new Tomb of Annihilation campaign earlier this year – I figured it was time to give it a try. I lived vicariously through the exploits of other players talking about Bards and celebrating them through social media. The concept of playing a Bard always seemed enjoyable to me; it’s a character with high charisma that can solve problems in unique ways and bolster the efforts of the rest of the party. When playing in a campaign, I typically like to be up-close and personal in melee range making attacks and eliminating monsters, so playing a character that does not exactly shine in one-on-one combat would be a stretch.
I took on the challenge!
One thing I wanted to do with the Bard was come up with a relatively simple backstory that did not rely on the character going through significant traumatic experiences early in life. Perhaps influenced by recent fatherhood, I created a character that is a family man first, performer second, and adventurer third. He’s got a stable home, a spouse, several children, and he travels the Realm from time to time to perform his music and assist other adventurers.
During our first session, I even had him ask the first major NPC we encountered, Syndra Silvane, to send money to his family in the event that he did not survive the quest to locate the Soulmonger. It was interesting to roleplay a character that expressed hesitation about the perils of adventuring rather than being eager to run in the direction of the next big, bad evil thing.
When creating my Bard, I thought about his name for a long time.
A very long, long time.
I borrowed/stole a device from Saga and named him The Stone. For a few moments before my son was born, I thought about Stone as a possible name; my wife wasn’t as keen on the idea. Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and Stone Gossard is one of the members. Plus, I’ve been curling for the past 5-6 years, and the rocks in curling are often referred to as stones. My wife and I ultimately decided on the name, Hugo, for our son – mostly inspired from this lovable guy.
With the name locked in, The Stone, the next step was to find some art that inspired me. While creating the character, I noted that a Bard could specialize in a small variety of instruments. The instrument that jumped out to me was bagpipes. YES! My Bard is going to play the bagpipes, and that obnoxiously glorious noise will be a part of future gaming sessions. I thought about a band we saw at a Renaissance Festival many years ago, Tartanic, and how they were wildly entertaining with pipes and drums. The next step was to conduct an Image Search on Google for: bard bagpipes.
Swap out the jug for a hand crossbow and we are set! I sent a question to our Dungeon Master, and asked if The Stone could have a companion animal. I clarified that the only thing the dog would do is carry around a tip jar on his back for times when The Stone performs. She enjoyed the idea, and allowed it, which has provided for some hilarious situations as The Stone tends to his pet in the severe jungles of Chult!
Earlier this summer, a close friend, Chris, and I launched a new podcast, Childhood Ruined. The title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the notion that various things we were fond of while growing up in the 1980’s are not mangled for some reason in the modern day. We saw the podcast mainly as a forum to catch up with each other, and to talk about the realities of being two nerds beyond the age of 40. Chris and I are both mental health providers (we met in graduate school close to 20 years ago), and we thought an audience might enjoy listening in to our conversations about the intersections of geekdom, pop culture, and mental health. You can download and subscribe the podcast at the following locations:
The first episode truly hit the mark in terms of feeling like a part of our formative years were lost. We recorded the weekend after Chris Cornell died, and learned that his death was by suicide. We spoke about our love of alternative music in the 1990’s, which was during our high school years, and how Cornell’s suicide complicated the relationship with his music. We also explored the stages of grief, the realities of life with depression, and how it is vital to openly talk with loved ones about suicide.
In the second episode, we shared our thoughts on how music has changed in importance over time, and then dove into how our consumption of music has changed in the past 20-30 years. From buying cassette tapes in the 80’s to streaming music in the present day, we explored how and why music feels different now. The results from a recent research article about engagement in music over the lifespan was reviewed.
Chris and I felt like we were finding out grove with Childhood Ruined by the time we recorded the third episode. We spoke about a recent article, Why Do We Play Games Nowadays? The article presented eight reasons for playing games, and we provided our reactions to the reasons presented. Along the way, we detailed how our approach to gaming has changed over time and explored the changing nature of community in gaming, including the rise of eSports.
The fourth episode focused on Chris’ enjoyment of electronic dance music (EDM), and how he turned that into a hobby of mixing music and DJ’ing. This transitioned into a conversation about music festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival, and the psychological principles that often result in bad behavior at these shows. We discussed the grief associated with losing touch with important hobbies as we age, and how our children fill that void in some ways. Chris talked openly about his son being on the autism spectrum and how that shapes his experience as a father.
Chris and I had put together four shows in four weeks, and we were feeling better and better about the content. However, soon after we posted the fourth episode I experienced a devastating personal loss when my brother died suddenly. Chris also spent weeks during the summer dealing with some personal matters – and Childhood Ruined got put on the shelf just when it felt like it was getting into a good routine.
And We’re Back
We decided to hop back on the horse this week, and recorded an episode about how we both approach competitive gaming, and how we handle the management of hobbies and collections. I talked about my first real attempt to reach the Legend Rank in Hearthstone, which resulted in an increase in stress, frustration – and maybe an ulcer! Chris provided some counsel to me, and we reviewed coping strategies for dealing with the anxiety that can come along for the ride during competitive gaming. Chris reviewed a current dilemma related to his collection of Magic: The Gathering cards and music albums, and we both talked about how hobbies from our teens and twenties start to lose a bit of meaning and value as we age.
After grousing about how “miserable” it was for me to try hard to achieve Legend in Hearthstone during the last episode, I succeeded in that quest after all. I believe talking out my frustrations with Chris was a big factor in being able to regroup and focus on that task – and I did have fun with it. I plan to write about my season of hitting Legend in Hearthstone in the future; stay tuned.
Our plan is to record and post new episodes almost every Friday starting later in September. If the content sounds up your alley, then give Childhood Ruined a listen, and let us know what you think.
This week I am joined by Wayne June, voiceover artist and narrator with extensive experience in the audiobook industry. He is perhaps best known recently for his work as the voice of the Darkest Dungeon; he performs the lines of The Ancestor, who serves as the narrator throughout the game. Wayne first discusses his years as a musician and touring with the guitar icon, Johnny Winter. He pivots to detail how he became interested in the voice recording business, and how he found he niche in “creepy” literature such as volumes of H.P. Lovecraft works. Wayne talks about the shift from collaborating in a band to the isolation of voice work, and how the request from the Darkest Dungeon team thrust him into the gaming community. He shares the process for finding the voice of The Ancestor, and what it’s been like to gain attention for his work in the game. He closes by talking about current audiobook and gaming projects.
Enjoy the 15th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
The purpose of this article is narrow the 30 tracks from Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II into a single, 12-track, classic rock album. But before we get there, some background . . .
The first concert I ever attended was on December 17, 1991 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA – close to 25 years ago. I had turned 15 years-old earlier in the Fall and was a few months into my sophomore year of high school. At that time in my life, music was important. Of course music remains meaningful to me now, though it does not match the passion and enthusiasm of the 15 year-old version of myself scrawling lyrics in the margins of notebooks during class and eagerly going to the mall to buy new albums at Sam Goody each week. The internet as we know it today did not exist, so being a music fan was a completely different experience back then. The only form of streaming music was taping your favorite songs while they played on the radio. It was a time when MTV still mattered; viewers actually learned about new music through that channel, and video premeires from popular artists were appointment television. I recall making sure I was by a television when Riki Rachtman on a special episode of Headbangers Ball introduced the video for November Rain, an epic, 9-minute power ballad from one of the biggest and baddest musical artists on the planet at the time, Guns N’ Roses.
Watch the video, and soak in the excess. To a teenage boy in the early 1990s, Axl, Slash, Duff, and the gang seemed like aliens from another world. They were unashamed rock stars that were larger than life. Of course Axl is dating Stephanie Seymour from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, which was the closest thing to pornography readily available to me outside of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. And of course she appears in the video portraying his bride. And of course Slash walks out of a church in the middle of a desert and rips off a soaring guitar solo while being filmed from a helicopter. It made perfect sense at the time, and it was all so epic and f***king glorious!
So on December 17, 1991, I tagged along with my older brother and his friends to see Guns N’ Roses with Faith No More and Soundgarden. To this day, I am salty with my brother because we missed Faith No More’s set. My brother and his crew had no interest in the opening bands, and I lacked the confidence to leave them and enter the concert on my own. So I waited in the parking lot while they tailgated and tossed a Nerf football around. I finally convinced them to go inside the building and we caught a few songs from Soundgarden, which had just released their second album, Badmotorfinger. Soundgarden did not fit into the rock or metal category, and the term “alternative” was becoming a musical genre. In the months leading up to my first concert in December 1991, the following albums were released:
Pearl Jam, Ten – August 27, 1991
Nirvana, Nevermind – September 24, 1991
Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger – October 8, 1991
Three Seattle bands were about to change the world, and the 1991-version of me was rather unaware. Even though I really wanted to hear the opening acts, including Soundgarden, I was most excited about seeing Axl in person. The Use Your Illusion albums were released a week before Nirvana’s Nevermind. We now know how the story unfolded; the bloated excess of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II foreshadowed the band’s demise. Axl fell from Rock-God status to caricature, and the band flamed out. Slash and others went on to different projects and they only recently got back together to tour. Guns N’ Roses ruled the world for about five years from 1987 through 1992, and I caught them live before it was torn asunder.
The concert that night was unlike anything I experienced in my young life. Of course they did not take the stage until close to 11:30PM, which left the historically docile Philly fans to alcohol and their own devices for several hours. When they finally did take the stage, Axl was a tornado. He ran around the stage, belted out lyrics with his impropable voice, and performed as if he was the baddest man on the planet. At one point while talking to the crowd, he exclaimed, “Get me a piano.” A piano rose up from a hole in the stage; he calmly sat down, took a moment to gather his thoughts, free-styled for a bit, and then started pounding out November Rain on the keys. The concert concluded somewhere around the 2AM mark, and the entire experience was amazing.
I continued to listen to Guns N’ Roses along with other artists I was getting into at the time. I do not recall reading reviews about the Use Your Illusion albums; I only recall consuming them day and night. Several tracks seemed out of place, but I found most of the songs enjoyable. Many of the songs felt EPIC, and the video for November Rain and my experience of seeing them in concert only bolstered that opinion. Nothing in my mind could top their work on Appetite for Destruction, but I had the thought – even back then – that had the band limited themselves to one, 12-track Use Your Illusion album, it might hold up as a worthy successor to their debut masterpiece.
I have written the following article in my mind countless times in the intervening 25 years. I mentioned this to Ed Grabianowski on Twitter last week while I was defending the Use Your Illusion albums. He responded that it might be a challenge to even come up with 12 tracks from the two albums to make a decent follow-up effort to Appetite for Destruction. We agreed to compose our thoughts within a week and post them on our respective sites; his thoughts are now posted as well. It was finally time for me to externalize my decades of thought on this matter.
Below is my thought process on selecting the 12 best songs from the Use Your Illusion albums into one sophomore-slump defying Use Your Illusion slice of brilliance. And, no, the watered-down, no-swearing version that sold in stores like Wal-Mart does not count.
DMs have a variety of tools at their disposal to set a scene for players. First, there are the core rulebooks and other resources featuring campaign settings, story hooks, NPCs and monsters. The core books set the stage for the DM and the players to execute published adventures or lay the foundation for homebrew campaigns. Second, there are visual stimuli ranging from the very crude – a flat map grid sheet of paper – to the very elaborate – terrain pieces like those sold by Dwarven Forge. DMs can find many useful visual aids for their gaming sessions in craft stores; in the past, I have used cheap mosaic tiles, Play-Doh, colored plastic sheets of paper, and decorative stones to bring the visual element of the game to life. In the past, I relied too often on visual stimuli both as a player and a DM. But there are four other senses, which should not be overlooked.
As a DM, when I describe a scene to my players, I generally start with what the PCs see. Unfortunately, I often stop there as well, assuming that my visual description is enough to draw the player into the scene. This is a problem because when we enter new environments, our bodies give us a lot of sensory input that is non-visual. In order to truly draw the player into the scene, we need to play to these other senses as well. So we ask the question: how can we start to describe scenes more fully? I’ve begun using a “blind characters” approach. By that I mean, assume that the characters are entering an environment with their eyes closed, and at the end, they open their eyes. With that in mind, I describe the visual last. By filling in all the other sensory input before giving the full visual picture, I am forced to think about what the characters experience rather than what they see.
It is a very useful strategy for DMs to implement, and I must be honest that I have strayed away from doing this lately. I encourage everyone to read the full article. Visual stimuli are likely the easiest sense to engage with your adventuring party, especially if you have elaborate terrain, but the four remaining senses – smell, taste, touch and hearing – can be a challenge.
Soundwave superior. Constructions inferior.
I continue to experiment with bringing the various senses to life. For example, I am thinking about searching for specific incense candles for upcoming encounters and locations. In the past, I gave out a bottle of blended scotch-whiskey to the party after they defeated a dastardly pirate. The prop doubled as a healing potion in-game, but required the person to consume some of the “Rot Gut” out of the game. I have not incorporated the sense of touch into the game, unless you consider props such as burnt parchment and other documents created for the campaign.
Below, I focus on the sense of hearing, and provide suggestions for bringing this sense to life during your sessions. I have been wanting to discuss my thought process regarding music and sound for D&D sessions for some time. I finally set my mind to it, and have posted some ideas that may help other DMs out there as they plan for gaming nights.