Sunday August 7, 2005

Toby Keith revels in the revenue of a red state.

Today is my Dad's birthday. He would be 57 years old. In my mind, he is. He's got some softball tournaments this weekend and just doesn't have time to talk to me. That's what I'll choose to think. Wherever he is, he knows that I'm thinking of him, I miss him and I wish him a happy birthday.

Meanwhile, my Grandmother's on her back in a hospital room. She's making remarkable progress but it's still so hard to see her that way. She's always been so independent, especially for a woman of her time. I spent the morning at the hospital. Several of Grandma's relatives from the Florence area were there. I was glad to see 'em checking up on her. That really means a lot to all of us. I didn't have long to stay today. We have to get back on the road. I'm supposed to photograph Shooter Jennings, Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith tonight in Atlanta. I was supposed to photo Toby back at the beginning of October '03...instead, I was burying my Dad that day. What a strange coincidence that he's back today. The difference? Grandma's fighting back HARD. I wanted to go see Toby Keith today. My Dad loved that jerk. I even gave him a Toby Keith press kit and promo CD in either 01 or 02. He kept it all sealed up in a drawer in his room. For me to see Toby tonight would be a way to connect with my Dad. So that's what we did.

It was a long, boring trip to ATL. We got there, though, safe and sound. Shooter Jennings (Waylon's son) was opening up and he and his girlfriend Drea de Matteo (Sopranos, Joey) were hanging out backstage with their bulldog and pitbull. It was mildly interesting to see just how well those animals were treated. They seemed to have their own crew. As for the shoot, I was a bit disheartened to know that by the decree of Mr. Keith, we would only be allowed 1 minute to shoot the first song and we would then be granted exactly 1 minute to shoot the second song. What a poor decision from a media perspective. It only means you're less likely to look good when you do something like that. Not only that but he also wouldn't let us shoot the openers for any longer. So basically, I had 6 total minutes of shooting time for the entire night for all 3 acts. I got what I needed but it wasn't much to brag about.

I liked the little that I heard of Shooter. It sounded like an attempt at what his Dad did. It was much better than what's on country radio these days. Maybe he needs to live in his own skin a bit longer to get that extra edge but he's off to a strong start.

Lee Ann Womack was the slick 'un of the lot. She was perfect, professional, extremely talented and utterly forgettable. I enjoyed the set at the time but nothing stood out and I remember very little from her set at this point. Maybe it's just my frame of mind.

Toby came out in a fake Ford truck that crashed through the back of the stage after a ridiculous video of him and a talking bulldog being abducted by aliens. My Dad would've loved it. Trying to photo Toby was like trying to make a cat look at himself in the mirror. It wasn't easy. I was much happier after I dropped the camera off in the car to come watch the show. I gotta tell you, Toby Keith's actually a really good songwriter. His APPARENT politics suck but after seeing the show, I really believe his Red State anthems are mostly a business decision. I think he just feels like he has to blindly follow his president even when he's wrong. And Toby Keith has the right to believe that, even if he's wrong. Sure, the songs were either jingoistic, maudlin or redneck frat boy chic but they worked. My favorite part of the show was when he and his co-songwriter came out with just two acoustic guitar to play some "bus songs." They were amazingly well-written and infinitely better than the songs he puts on his albums. I was surprised at how much talent Toby really has. I just hope at some point he puts it on display on his albums. Now that he's on his own label, he has that chance. Of course the show ended with red, white and blue confetti explosions. Predictable and no doubt satisfying to his masses. I enjoyed the show more than I thought and I enjoyed it even more thinking that I was seeing it for my Dad's birthday. Hopefully, he was lurking there with me. Certainly, he coulda got there from his tournament via teleportation or something, right?

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.




Saturday August 6, 2005





Well, Amanda and I tried to leave to go back to Athens today. We went back out to the hospital. Grandma was fine when we got there. Then she requested pain killers. I should've left then but I didn't. I went to pick up some stuff from the store that she wanted and when I got back, she was a mess. She was sitting in a wheelchair. It was good to see her up but she was barely functional by the time we got back. It only got worse. Then she accidentally pulled her IV loose. I had to sit there while my Grandmother's blood shot all across the room. She seemed fine with it 'cause she was so out of it. It was horrifying to me. When I was a kid, I saw my Dad nearly bleed to death. This reminded me of it. It's funny, she's the one that's helpless but I feel just as helpless. There's nothing I can do right now. I just want her to be okay. And she soon was. And then it was time for us to leave. She had fallen into a deep sleep before we did. I couldn't bear the thought of leaving without saying goodbye. The nurse told us to wait for her because she would want us to say goodbye. So we did. We said our farewells and Amanda and I went out to the car. We got on the interstate and within a few miles we were trapped in the biggest traffic jam I've ever seen in that area. It took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the next exit. Luckily, I know the way around there so I jumped off on a side road and took Highway 1 into Columbia. We ate a quick dinner at Lizard's Thicket. It was there that I decided that I wasn't ready to go home yet. I just couldn't do it. The traffic jam was a sign, if you will. So after dinner, we turned around and went straight back to the hospital. When we got there, Grandma was awake again. My Aunt Margaret and Uncle Roger were there. I got this weird feeling that they weren't happy to see me come back in that door but I chalked it up to my feeling out of sorts. It felt right to be back home. We stuck around for awhile before retiring back at Amanda's family's for the night.




Friday August 5, 2005



My God. What a tramautic day. I was up at 4 something a.m. I had to go see my Grandmother before her surgery. She's so weak. It's unbearable. The surgery was scheduled for 7 but they said they'd take her down at 5:30. I wasn't about to not see her off...just in case. When I got there, my Aunt Brenda was already there. My Aunt Margaret and Uncle Roger weren't far behind. We followed her out. She seemed as positive and together as can be expected. I'm terrified. She seems okay. I held her hand and told her to "hold on". She referenced a joke that Amanda made yesterday about her not being able to skateboard as much, we exchanged "I love yous", she smiled. I tried to return it. And she was off. This is so hard I can't put into words here. There have been times when this woman was my whole family due to one thing or another. It's nobody's fault but she has been the only secure thing in my life from day one. Today, it's not that secure. To top it off, she had a bad reaction to anesthesia the last time they put her under AND her oxygen levels are very low. That's not a good combination. The doctor decided it was too risky to put her under so they're just giving her a block.

So we waited. My Aunt Margaret watched some pseudo-feminist, conservative preacher woman (yeah, I know) on the TV. My Uncle and other Aunt went on the search for coffee. To my surprise, my Mom, Vern and Benji all showed up, too. And we waited.

Before 8 o'clock, the doctor came out and said everything was a complete success and that she says "hello" to everyone. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Thank God or whoever or whatever. Thank Grandma. She's pulled through again.

I knew she'd be in recovery for an hour or so before we could see her so I rushed back to Amanda's parents' to get a quick bit of breakfast. Of course, when I got back and was allowed in, I was the first one to her. I couldn't not be. Man, was it good to see her again. I will never be able to express how thankful I am for this.

I think I was nearly as out of it as she was. I was just in pure fear. She was in and out of consciousness all day due to all the serious pain killers. She'd be talking to you and then drift into a world where she was talking to relatives that have been dead longer than I've been alive. It was very strange to say the least.

At some point, I went and took a nap. I sincerely thought I was going to collapse. The stress and exhaustion had nearly done me in. This nap took. I felt a lot better. After visiting again, I even went out to dinner with Amanda's family at Sakura, the wonderful "Japanese" place in town. I ate well.

The relief is great. But I'm still worried. What next?






Thursday August 4, 2005



August 4, 2005 is (so far) the second scariest and second most heartbreaking day of my life.

This morning, I was sleeping soundly. I dreamed that the phone rang once. I jumped up to answer it. The phone wasn't plugged in. We had left it unplugged overnight to get some sleep after last night's lateness. So I plugged it in and it rang.

I answered it.

It was my cousin Rod's wife, Kim. My Grandmother, who means the world to me, was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance at the moment. She got dizzy and fell. Apparently she shattered her hip. I'm terrified for her (and for me because I don't know who I am if I lose her now - I had to relearn my own identity after I lost my Dad less than 2 years ago). I immediately went into a daze. All that pain, fear and gut-wrenching agony came right back. I feel that same hole in my chest. Now...I'm glad that my Aunt Margaret was driving by the house and saw the ambulance there. She made sure that I was contacted and she accompanied my Grandmother to the hospital. To me, all that matters is I have to get there. And until Amanda can come across town from work I have to pretend that things are normal and edit pictures of Foreigner.

I've got to get home. I've got to see her and talk to her. Nothing in Georgia matters until I do.

I finally got on the road by about lunch time.

I even got to speak to my Grandmother when I was about half-way there. Hearing her voice was just what I needed. She was telling me that I didn't need to come home. She'd be okay. She and I both knew that didn't matter. I'm on the way. Nothing'll stop me from getting there as long as I'm alive.

When I finally got in, it was so hard to even get to the room. The smell of a hospital, the sights and sounds were nearly too much. But I didn't slow a step. I had to get to her. When I got there, she was thankfully surrounded by family. She looked (obviously) terrifyingly frail. She was in traction, hooked up to more machines that I can remember and doped up to deal with the pain. Still, when she saw me, she smiled. When she saw Amanda, she smiled even more. It may have been the greatest smile I've ever seen.




Wednesday August 3, 2005

Mick Jones, Jason Bonham and Kelly Hansen of "Foreigner."



Today, Amanda's mom and sister Alyssa came up for a visit. Alyssa wanted to go see a show so I dropped an email into cyberspace and came up with four tickets to the "Foreigner" concert in Atlanta. Now I have "Foreigner" in quotes for a reason. There's only one guy, the guitar player Mick Jones, from the original band there. I really had no interest in seeing this show except for the fact that Jason Bonham (John's from Zep's son) was playing drums and he's one of my favorite drummers. Since Alyssa wanted it, we went on out.

On the way, we stopped by a convenience store. I happened to pick up the current Rolling Stone and was happily surprised to see one of my photos in it. Granted, I wasn't too happy with the cropping or overall quality of the image but I ain't complainin' about landing in the Stone. It was a pic I took of Guided By Voices at the 40 Watt Club here in Athens back in November when they were on their farewell tour. I remember I was standing in the back of the club chatting with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers when I took the pic. Oh well, 'twas cool to run across.

Back to the show now.

I'm against these old bands replacing pivotal members to go back on the road but I'll tell you flat out, I think "Foreigner" may be better than Foreigner. Kelly Hansen took over for Lou Gramm on lead vocals and Kelly had more charisma and range than Lou ever did. Granted, Lou is a big reason that Foreigner ever mattered but Kelly (formerly of Hurricane) did a heck of a job. The bass duties were held by former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. He added a lot via backup vocals and added even more energy. Original guitarist and keyboard player Mick Jones played like a monster. Surely, he's feeling inspired by the (relatively) young blood. This was all held down by Jason Bonham on drums. He'll never make it out of his dad's shadow but he's nothing but a credit to the Bonham name.

They opened with "Long, Long Way From Home" and knocked it right out of the park. From there, the hits kept coming. "Cold As Ice," "Double Vision," "Blue Morning Blue Day", "Dirty White Boy", "Head Games", "Waiting For A Girl Like You", "Hot Blooded", "Urgent", "I Want To Know What Love Is" and on and on. On top of that were cool album cuts like "Starrider" and "Headknocker." The only song that was missing that I really wanted to hear was "That Was Yesterday." During the show ending "Juke Box Hero", they even did a big chunk of "Whole Lotta Love." For an encore, they paid further tribute to the senior Bonham with "Misty Mountain Hop". Even though Kelly messed up the words on it, it still rocked.

I was quite shocked but by the end of the night I was a convert. "Foreigner" 2005 rocks so don't just dismiss them like I almost did.




Tuesday August 2, 2005





I got the new Alice Cooper CD today. It's called Dirty Diamonds. It may be his most consistently satisfying album since the '70s heyday. The song "Sunset Babies" is particularly classic, swaggering and cops The Stones better than just about anything else I've ever heard. Get a listen to it by clicking here. The cross-dressing country "Ballad Of Jesse Jane" is a standout, too. Of course, there's some crap. That seems inevitable. But that was the case on those classic records, too. He'll always be one of my not-so-guilty pleasures and a solid secret ingredient to my song now you know.



Monday August 1, 2005



Today was just your usual Monday. You know very well what that means. I edited the weekend's pics and got 'em all uploaded. Too bad I'm apparently never going to have the time to upload Concert Shots again. I must admit, with all that's going on between photography and the band, this diary gotten to be unmanageable. I wanted a daily review. Perhaps I should go the wuss way that everyone else does and do it sporadically. We'll see. Unless I get a laptop, there's no way I'll be able to do it soon. I'll do my best 'til then!

Also, I joined TAXI today. It cost me several hundred bucks. I hope the band appreciates it and will at least kick in the dough for us to respond to listings. I don't know whether TAXI will do us any good but I've got a good feeling about it and so far every one of my good feelings with this band has paid off. My wallet doesn't feel so good right now, though, especially since SONY still hasn't paid me for that Bow Wow shoot back in April. I could really use that cash right now, lemme tell ya.

I got word that lightning struck my Dad's home that I'm in the process of selling to my Aunt Brenda. Is this it? Is this the big, bad thing I've been feeling was coming? I hope so. 'Cause while this is a big nuisance, there's nothing we can't fix here...and it's not a total loss.

Click here for last week's festivities.