On April 29th, I had the honor of photographing the culmination of a love story between Stephen and Mary Ann Bender. The details, of course, are theirs to share, but their love began and spread across continents and oceans and is a story of sacrifice, strength and enduring tenderness. On what began as a dreary Spring day and ended in the sunlight and warmth, these two wonderful people enjoined cultures and bridged distance to become something greater than themselves. What follows is but a sample of the beauty and celebration of the day. To the happy couple, my humble thanks for including me and allowing me to capture a few of the memories to be shared. Huzzah and Love to all.
Many thanks to videographer Stephanie R. Schmidt Productions for her professionalism and teamwork approach to making the day a success.
Credit goes also to R & B Productions, the days DJ for keeping the dance floor live and the guests moving.
I've got a failure complex. I thought maybe it was my battle with Depression, but I'm starting to win that war and still I feel a failure. A failure at work. A failure as a father and husband. A failure as a man. A failure at life. Failure with a big, fat capital F.
I understand feeling inadequate as a parent or even a spouse is a natural thing. I can live with that. I don't like it, and I'll always feel that I should be doing more, but my best will have to do. The rest of life however keeps me awake at night. It's what I think of before finally falling into an often fitful sleep at night and the first thing on my mind as I prepare for another day at work.
To understand, we have to go back. Way back. Twenty years back to be more precise. I was a dorky unathletic senior in high school. Awkward, introverted and lacking confidence. I had one thing going for me though. I was pretty damned smart.
As it happens, my intellect is the one thing that I really like about myself. I'm not bragging. I'm certainly no genius. There are scores of people intellectually superior to me. But I'm still on the high side of average. And that's really where things start to fall apart.
I graduated high school near the top of my class, had one of the higher SAT scores in the state and was told the sky was the limit. Except that it wasn't. The limit turned out to be my attention span. I went to college and changed majors as often as people change the batteries in smoke detectors. From Pre-Vet Med to Elementary Education to Criminal Justice, I just kept shifting.
I functioned at a high level, so nobody took notice of how difficult it was for me to keep on task. To be fair, I didn't notice it myself. I found it impossible to pay attention to anything not relying heavily upon theory. STEM type classes were my nemesis and I avoided them like the plague. In theory classes, you can get the gist of an argument and fill in the holes. STEM, however, required a person to understand the entire process. Since I often spaced out, giant holes were left and I struggled.
I thought maybe I was just lazy, but I still couldn't will myself to change. It wasn't working, and so I had to adjust to a focus and major that suited me. That's where the constant major changes came in. Now, I have a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice and make my living as a salesman. It's not me, and I don't like it, but this is the hole I dug for myself.
A few months ago I finally began seeking therapy for depression. Part of that process was also seeking the help of a Psychiatrist to fully diagnose my condition and to find a treatment that might help me cope. The expected result, of course, was a full on Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis. Toss in a little Generalized Anxiety Disorder and you have absolutely no surprises. Seriously. Tell me something I don't know.
“Oh. Hey. By the way. Do you have trouble following conversations? What about finishing things? Do you often struggle just to follow along to a television show? What about household projects. Are some of those laying around waiting for finishing touches?” “Yeah, but what are you g....Oh. Oh Fuck.”
It was like a sledgehammer to the back of my head. As soon as the doctor began asking the questions I knew where he was going, and it was the surprise that shouldn't have been. Attention Deficit Disorder. ADD. I was shocked and then I wasn't. Just that fast everything fell into place.
The natural reaction, I think, would have been to be grateful that there was finally something that may result in positive change. The depressive jerk in my head had other plans. Now I lament 20 lost years. Two decades of wasted time. Somewhere around seven thousand three hundred days lost to an endless abyss.
Now, instead of just disliking my job, I have an intense hatred for it. Walking in the door becomes the epitome of wasted years. The small talk. The lack of a challenge, of a mission, of having any real impact at all. It is the symbol of my failure, like a giant billboard reminding me of sixty grand in wasted education and twenty years of spinning my wheels.
I should be happy. I should be relieved that a weight chained to my ankles for so long will soon be released. I should be able to look ahead and formulate a plan.
Nope. I can only see the wreckage behind me, the shredded remains of 7500 days and each new day only adds to the shame.
I don't want to wallow in my failure. I don't want to constantly look over my shoulder, ashamed at the wasted potential I've left behind. And yet here I sit, hammering away at my old laptop, getting ready to post to a blog few people read and submit another piece of writing, of my art, for free to any website that will publish it.
I used to say I was just smart enough to realize that I'm not quite smart enough to do anything great. Now, I'm not so sure that's true but I'm also of the opinion that it may just be too damn late.
I can sit in my chair and think my life is barely half over and there is still plenty of time. But the great question is time for what? I've spent so much time dabbling in so many things that I'm left with no idea of what's next. Like a swimmer pulled underwater who is unsure where the surface is, I just don't know which way is up.
Oh look. A squirrel.
It's funny sometimes how things work out. I was just a music fan looking to get access to a rock festival so I could take some photos. I'm not a hardcore know the names of every person in every band kind of fan, but music is my release. There are only a few times in life when I'm able to escape the prison my mind can be, and getting lost in a song is one of them.
Throwing a Hail Mary, I requested media access to the Monster Energy Rock Allegiance festival based upon my affiliation with The Good Men Project. I figured the worst case scenario was being called out as a fraud and denied credentials. About three weeks prior to the show, my credentials came through and along with it came about a dozen interview invites. I'm not an interview guy, so most of them I let pass.
Among the invites however, was one for Jim Breuer. Positive that I'd read it incorrectly, I scanned the email again. Sure enough, Comedian Jim Breuer was going to be at the show performing with his band, Jim Breuer and the Loud and Rowdy. The Fanboy in me got ahead of the anxiety ridden introvert and I quickly accepted the invite.
I've listened to his comedy acts for a few years and remembered him from Half Baked, but knew nothing of his musical ventures. I jumped at the opportunity and scheduled a ten minute interview, knowing absolutely nothing of the band or Jim's life. Fortunately for me, I was emailed a copy of the bands album and the internet is always rife with the personal lives of celebrities. I dug in, hoping to find something I could latch onto that might make for something a little different.
I found more than I'd bargained for. Jim Breuer the comedian that I'd remembered was simply a character, with no more resemblance to the man than a Skittle to a refugee. I found someone both warm, welcoming and eager to discuss his comedy, his music and his family. He is, in his own words, a “hardcore family guy.”
I made two critical errors however, and for that I owe an apology not only to Jim, but to the readers as well. I didn't test my main recording device and my backup failed. My camera picked up nothing save for a few good clips and background noise. My cell phone recording cut out mid way through the interview. However, I'll do the best I can to bring the Jim Breuer I experienced from the media tent to life.
My first question, and one I'm sure he'd faced countless times before, was “Why the band?”
As it turns out, there was a band before there was comedy. Back in high school Breuer and a few friends formed a band, but as kids often do, some of the members lacked the drive and intensity of Jim. “It's something that's been in me forever...” When music didn't pan out the first time, that's when he turned to comedy, propelled to fame by Saturday Night Live and the movie Half Baked.
The comedy had consequences though, and they really hit home for him in 2008 or so. “I was appeasing, trying to appeal to an audience and I wasn't that person. I had fun and I don't regret it, but I was doing what I knew.” He developed an undeserved reputation as a stoner and it followed him for years.
The music didn't come until a show 2010 or 2011 at Sonisphere in England and Baaken in Denmark. He was just winging it with a band and the crowd ate it up. That's when he knew he could make work, and when he began to lay the foundation for creating Jim Breuer And The Loud And Rowdy.
How did a change of message affect your career?
“In 2007 or 2008 I was in a bar. It was dads night out and we'd talk about family, marriage and whatever was going on. There was a woman there and she goes 'aww your that famous guy in town. You're that comedian guy. You're really into drugs. I can't go see your shows.' I thought, if she thinks this, how many other people think this? That's the moment I thought, I'm a family guy. If people saw the way I really live maybe it'll inspire them. That night changed my life and I had so much fear that the crowd wouldn't follow me.”
Until a comedy show he did in Cincinnati Ohio, where a fan drove 6 hours to see the show and “smoke up” with his idol. According to Jim, that was a night that changed his life. His show inspired that kid to change his life and think that he could be a dad and a successful family man. That was when he knew his transformed message would work.
How do you balance being on tour all the time, starting a tour with the band and also being a dedicated family man?
“I don't put myself away more than ten days at a time and even those ten days become wearing down. I took myself off the road in 2003 because my parents were getting older and my kids were really young. And I took a job on satellite radio so I can be home and I just did local gigs. Now, the the girls are in teenagers years. I don't travel to the point where it'll exhaust and break the family. My wife and I are a great team. Right now our focus is if the band tours at all these festivals next summer, then the whole family is touring. I don't care if I don't make money. To me its just a life journey as long as I stick to the passion of it. I get to be with my family and people will love it. It's a balance and its hard but I love it.”
You reference your family a lot on the album. It's very autobiographical. How does your family take that?
“Again, we're all so very open. I show every song to my wife and kids. My daughters loved it because it's me. I'm not just doing it to be funny. So many people relate to it. It's funny because my wife thought Family Warrior was a corny song, it IS a corny song. But its becoming one of those songs that helps people. It's a song people identify with. It's alright to be a family guy and into metal and have a rough edge and deal with all of those things that family guys deal with.”
I closed the interview asking Jim what he thought a Good Man might be. I lost the audio, but what he said struck me. I'll do my best to paraphrase:
“It used to be people would say Faith, Family, Job. That was the order of their priorities. Somewhere along the lines that changed to money, money, money. That's just wrong. It can't work. If you want to be a good man, just do the right thing. Sacrifice yourself for others. Do things to make the lives of others better. It's not that hard.”
As for the album itself? It's good. Really good, especially if you like traditional metal music and can relate to the struggles of being a dad and a family man. Songs like Family Warrior, Raising Teenage Girls and Thrash are easy to identify with and the music is well done. The album, Songs From the Garage, includes Brian Johnson of AC/DC fame on two tracks, and Rob Caggiano played and produced. Available on Metal Blade Records, the collection is a must for any dad who may be feeling alone while struggling with the day to day life of being a family man. My recommendation? Check out Jim Breuer And The Loud And Rowdy. You won't be sorry.
Monster Energy recently sponsored the Rock Allegiance two day music festival at the Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. Somehow or another I was fortunate enough to be credentialed as media with pit access and a front row seat to artists both established and on the rise. In its second year of existence, the festival expanded to two days of food, music and beer.
I'm no festival aficionado, but I have been to a Vans Warped Tour show and been around my share of concerts. Going in, I expected some terrible bands to front for the mainstays and a raucous crowd of people in their twenties hitting the mosh pits and generally behaving badly.
First, for the uninitiated, the Rock Allegiance festival is completely unlike anything I've experienced. It wasn't just music, though the list of performers was impressive especially for a second year event. Outside the stadium were lines of food trucks serving everything from tacos to crab cakes and everything in between.
Of course, there was plenty of alcohol on tap as well. Craft beers were well represented with Fordham & Dominion, Troegs, Victory, and others while mainstays such as Anheuser-Busch and Corona were available from vendors inside. Topping it off, Jack Daniels was a major sponsor and was available throughout as well.
Gourmet “man food”, alcohol, three stages of continuous music and a party atmosphere right off the river in Philadelphia made for a great two days of fun. Those three stages? Two were set up adjacent each other so that fans didn't have to move to hear them. Those main stages, the River Stage and Bridge stage were inside the stadium and showcased some of the biggest names in rock.
From newer names like Avatar, Trivium and Sick Puppies to long established bands like Slayer, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold and Alice in Chains, just about every genre of rock was represented. The only missing element were the female vocalists. Despite being on the early list, The Pretty Reckless ended up out of the lineup. Every other band save for Sick Puppies and Ghost lacked female representation.
Speaking of Ghost, a band from Sweden, they are the rare breed of performers who understand how big a component theatrics play in a live show. While older bands like Anthrax and Slayer were all over the stage performing, some of the younger bands failed to engage the audiences. Avatar and Ghost, both from Sweden, came out in full costume and their theatrics rivaled the metal bands of old. They played a role well and paired with their music made them both crowd favorites.
The crowd was an equally big part of the show. Despite 10-12 hours of constant live shows alternating stages, they stayed enthusiastic and loud to the end. In today's society, where we are seemingly divided on every issue from race to religion, the crowd often represented the best of us.
We often think of heavy metal rock concerts as the domain of the young only, and while much of the crowd was made up of the young, there were plenty of people well into their sixties and seventies there rocking out with the best of them.
Music has the ability to bring people together, and it was a concept every artist on stage understood. Many of them made mention of music saving lives, and it was something that hit home for me as well. People all over the venue were helping others, from offering a light to smokers to flagging down medics for those struggling with the heat or who over indulged in alcohol. All over the place there were people representing the very best of us.
The Monster Energy Rock Allegiance festival may have been just a place to grab a craft beer, gorge yourself on food truck offerings and let loose in a mosh pit, but to some of us, it was something more. It was a place to close our eyes and get lost in the music or to open them and see humanity coming together in peace.
Sure, there were the drunk and disorderlies, but the police and security were just as happy to be there as the rest of us. Even one of the security personnel was offering the photographers hugs as we shuffled from stage to stage. For my part, as someone who doesn't enjoy being stuffed into a large mass of people, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The festival wasn't just a big show. It was a showcase of humanity.
Music is more than the sum of its parts. A few notes on a page, perhaps some lyrics, and essentially what you have is poetry accompanied by noise. But music has the potential to be exponentially greater than that. Music can affect change. It can galvanize our hearts or break down walls. A single song, at the right moment, can reduce us to tears or lift us to elation. Some music can even define us.
In the sixties, there was Woodstock, an icon of a generation. When Rock music began its evolution from the blues and jazz, young folks rushed to celebrate it while “the establishment” was quick to condemn its latent sexuality and rebellious messages. It awakened something within us and has continued to evolve and do so even as society has changed with it.
Rock Music is as diverse as it has ever been, and festivals have sprung up all over the country. Coming up September 17th and 18th is the Monster Energy Rock Allegiance Tour in Chester, PA. One look at the lineup here and it becomes easy to see why it’s been so popular.
From Alice In Chains and The Offspring to Avenged Sevenfold and Slayer, the tour appeals to young Gen X’ers and older Millennials while bands such as Buckcherry, Breaking Benjamin, Of Mice & Men and VolBeat can appeal to a younger crowd.
Not only does the Monster Energy bring the music, but it brings food and craft beer to the table as well. They aren’t serving the typical hockey puck hamburger, shriveled wiener, congealed nachos. Pushing the hashtag #gourmetmanfood, it’s a gastro intestinal delight. Five local breweries will also be represented, giving every beer snob a sure joygasm.
But music festivals are more than the music, the food and the drink. They unite us. Rich or poor, black and white, they are a place where we can all crowd in close, close our eyes feel the beat. We can be transported far into our past and relive moments long forgotten.
Music is my sanity. When I’m struggling to cope and feel like I’m falling apart at the seams, I can close my eyes and get lost in the rhythm. I can focus on the story in the lyrics and see it in my mind’s eye. When I’m numb from the constant thrum of life, music makes me feel. It’s not always warm and happy, but it is deep and it is raw.
The Monster Energy Rock Allegiance Tour is an opportunity to spend a weekend listening and feeling in a setting unlike any other. I’m excited getting out of my comfort zone, mingling with a few thousand of my closest strangers, and losing myself in the moments. What more can a guy ask for?
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