The Pop Culture Road Trip

First of all, we picked a winner in the signed book giveaway. All of your “first concert” experience comments were wonderful, it was a totally random pick and the winner is someone who described what it was like to see the band Avenged Sevenfold.

Now, there were many comments about the band, so odds were high I’d pick one of those reviews.
However, it also seemed fitting. 
You see, here in our city of Huntington Beach, California, we had a loss last December: Jimmy Sullivan, aka “The Rev,” drummer for Avenged Sevenfold, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The band is from here, and for 10 years, more or less as brothers, they have created intense, meaningful music. 
In doing so, they also created an intense, meaningful fan base.
The Sullivan family and my family are close friends, and so we took the loss hard. After the funeral, I asked the family if I might write a piece about Jimmy (I write a weekly newspaper column here in town). They gave me the okay and so I wrote about the beautiful service, in which band members, friends and family all talked about the kid who was born to be a drummer–the kid who grew up to live his dream.
Once the column ran, I started hearing from fans of the band–young people who expressed their grief, their pain and their frustration–but mostly their love of The Rev. 
Each day more and more letters arrived and I was given a peak into a community that was so  hurt yet so affected by the music, that I started learning things I’d either forgotten (or never known). The faith, hope and importance they placed on the songs was something of another era–back when music meant something–back when lyrics spoke to you and related to you and made you feel like you were never alone.
So yes, inside, when I pulled an Avenged Sevenfold winner–I smiled. 
A coda to the story. This summer, when Avenged Sevenfold hits the road in support of their new work, their drummer will be the legendary Mike Portnoy from the longtime progressive-rock band, Dream Theater. 
He was Jimmy Sullivan’s musical hero growing up. And so when the band approached Mike about sitting in, he was honored. 
I’ve never heard of this happening in music. It’s a very special show of faith and friendship, and I’m sure the Avenged Sevenfold faithful will make Mike feel right at home this summer.  
On another Dream Theater note: my good friend, Jordan Rudess is the keyboard player in the band. He’s a supremely talented individual who melds art and science in a way that produces sublimely powerful music. 
Recently, he created/released a new app for iPad called “MorphWiz.” It allows novices and pros alike to turn their iPad into a space-age instrument that produces dreamlike sounds and effects.
Last week, Jordan was in Los Angeles. Dream Theater was playing that night, but in the afternoon my son and I met him at the La Brea Tar Pits and I shot a short video of Jordan to help promote his iPad app. That night I also shot some concert footage to edit it.
I cut the video to a piece of music Jordan created using the new app. 
You’ll know the song. 
But I never you never heard it like this before. I hope you enjoy it. (And to all of you Avenged fans, maybe it will make you think of Jimmy for a moment or two).

It was quite a couple of months for rocker Bret Michaels. April 12, an emergency appendectomy. April 21,  a near-fatal brain hemorrhage. May 20, a stroke.

So it’s no wonder the public has watched intensely as he has carefully come back into the spotlight. His appearance on the American Idol finale this year was, for many of us, one of those unforgettable moments when you root, cheer and pray for someone all at once. 
Yes, in his career Michaels lived excessively at times. But he also proudly supports the troops here and abroad, traveling to play for soldiers and voicing his support from stages all over the world. 
A diabetic, he’s also done a lot to raise money and create awareness for the disease.
I was backstage at the Idol finals this year and the Michaels appearance was kept completely secret. It wasn’t until he walked on stage for his duet with Casey James on “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” that most of knew what was happening. 
He looked good. He sounded good. It was as if nothing had been wrong. 
When Bret came down to talk to the media, it was a bit different. He was helped to the microphone by two assistants. His walking was weak, he was clearly tired, but still, remarkably energetic given what he had been through. 
I taped a bit of one of his answers and thought I’d share it here as an example of just how amazing he was that night, off stage. After this, he greeted fans, took photos, signed autographs–he was Bret Michaels.
Some of the people there that night had concerns that he was pushing himself too hard, too fast. Maybe that’s true, I don’t know. But listening to him, you heard a man who was thankful, faithful and grateful to be standing there. 
He asked the room humbly – “Did I sound okay out there?”
And the room cheered.
As he embarks on his summer tour, in our house we’ll be cheering for him too.
What do you think? should he be taking some time off to recuperate?
Here’s the video I shot at American Idol:
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What was your first concert? Do you remember? Did it change your life?

Mine was the Rolling Stones. I do remember. And it did change my life. Big time.
June 22, 1975, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. At 13 years old I was already a devout Stones fan and my dad, rest his soul, pulled strings to get great seats for the whole family. Closer to show date, my folks decided to let a pair of 30-ish cousins take us (me, my twin sister, my younger sister and a friend of mine) which worked out great.
Seeing the Rolling Stones in person was a surreal experience. I couldn’t believe it was *them* in the flesh. Rather, it felt like we were watching an animatronic Disneyland show; a simulation of the “greatest rock and roll band in the world.”
So much bigger than life did they seem to me in that primordial mist of time before MTV.
But it *was* them, on a giant, star-shaped stage lit by intense neon colors; magenta, purple, blue and blood-red crimson. The roar of all my favorite songs washed over me; waves of sweet sonic thunder led by a prancing dervish in pink-patterned Egyptian pajamas: Mick Jagger. 
That first concert cemented a lifelong love affair with the band I’m listening to as I type this. 
In the next few years after this I’d see Led Zeppelin, YES, Neil Young, Kiss, Aerosmith–virtually every major act of the era. And I’d always leave thinking the same thing: It was good. Maybe great.
But it was not the Rolling Stones.
I’ve since seen them many times. I’ve taken my son to see them (he saw them at about the same age I did for the first time). My wife and I have seen them. And while it’s always been memorable, there’s never been anything to challenge that first night, 35 years ago to this date. 
I had intended to write an entirely different piece today. 
Until I looked at the calendar. 
And remembered. 
Do you remember your first show? Or at least, the concert that made the biggest impact on you when you were young?
Post it in the comments section. At the end of the week I’ll randomly pull one and the winner will receive a signed, first edition of my new book, “Hello It’s Me — Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie,” which comes out July 1st.
I heard a lyric in an old Tommy Bolin song today that really nails these nostalgic pangs I sometimes get: “I’m just a fool for yesterdays,
I’ve seen too many things in so many ways.”
And on that note, good luck in the contest, and thanks for taking this little trip with me. I’ll post the winner end of day this Friday.
PS–at that first Stones show, this photo appeared on the cover of the NY Post newspaper. That’s me in the circle, joined forever, at least visually, with Mick Jagger on that monumental night.


Our road trip today takes us to Boston, about 1983. I was in college (Emerson) and my cousin Frank, who lived with his family just outside the city, asked me to take a drive down to Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

So I did.
When we got there I met the new basketball player Frank would soon be representing. My cousin, a lawyer, had started helping out “hardship” basketball players who wanted to get to the NBA. He’d have them live at his house with his family, they’d work in his restaurant to learn new responsibilities, etc. He’d look after them like a father they never had.
Oh, and the new player? 7 foot 7, 180-pound Manute Bol from the Sudan.

I have a book coming out in a few weeks and one of the stories in it is about getting to know Manute. In the months following meeting him, I’d visit my cousins and hang out with Manute. I helped him with English, would tell him things about this new strange country he was discovering, and we’d even shoot baskets in the driveway with Frank’s wonderful kids. 

Soon, Manute took the NBA by storm. There had never been anything really like this shot-blocking machine with the mystical countenance.  

I’d go see
him play when I lived in New York, when the Warriors or 76ers were playing the
Knicks, and he’d always come over and say hi to me and ask how I was. No matter
how notable he became, he never seemed to forget those nights up in Massachusetts,
where he was like one of the kids to Frank and Terry (Frank’s wife). 

So it was incredibly sad to read this over the weekend:  “Sudanese-born National Basketball Association player Manute Bol, who passed away over the weekend, is being remembered as a kind giant who did a lot to help his country people.” (It is thought that he died of kidney disease.)

After his playing days were through, Manute went back to his homeland to help people. A report in the Washington Post newspaper stated that Bol remained devoted to his homeland and its customs, and recounted when Bol proposed to his Dinka wife and gave her family 80 cows as a gift. (Manute also once donated an estimated $3.5 million to a Dinka-led rebel group.)

A decent, kindhearted man til the end, he was just 47 when died. He never forgot where he came from and he always did whatever he could do to help others. (He was also a gentleman, never responding to the jeers, insults and taunts that greeted him in opposing arenas.)

Rest in peace, Manute. The world will miss you. 

 Manute Bol