Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Now Hear This!

Been awhile since I've done one of these round-ups of music I'm currently listening to and you oughta be listening to.  Hopefully, it will serve as an introduction for some of you to a band or two you might never have heard otherwise.  In the four previous Now Hear This posts, which you should check out here, here, here and here if you haven't already (and are worth revisiting if you have!), I've culled a fairly eclectic mix of goodies.  This post follows in that spirit.

It's a big wide Internet out there, and it's full of tunes.  Some are good, some are bad; some you can acquire legitimately, some...well, not so much.  It's enough to make your head spin! Friend, I'm here to help.  I've done the hard part - I've separated the wheat from the chaff and come up with a list of 10 more excellent musical curios for your musical curio shelf...er, iPod.  These aural treats are not presented in any particular order, and I am receiving no compensation of any kind from the artists, other than the sheer enjoyment of listening to their creations. Almost all of these are very recent, but some are not. Some aren’t even actually released yet. That's just the way it is – deal with it. Let's dig in!

Rancid - ...Honor Is All We Know

Might be my most highly anticipated release of the last half of 2014 – the first new Rancid album in six years is scheduled to hit shelves October 27.  Thanks to a three-song preview video (and allowing those songs to be had in advance through iTunes), we can rest assured that …Honor Is All We Know will see the mighty Rancid doing what they have always done so well.  Their particular brand of 1977 punk rock nicked directly from The Clash’s playbook and strained through filters of two-tone, rockabilly, and street life has always been right in my musical wheelhouse – I love this stuff, and cannot wait for the entire LP.  Meanwhile, this trio of tunes has been played regularly and loudly in anticipation…



James Williamson - Re-Licked

Also looking forward to this one, scheduled for official release on October 29.  James Williamson joined The Stooges in 1970 and continued writing and recording with Iggy even after the band dissolved.  Here he takes a handful of leftover Stooges material and presents all-new recordings paired up with a variety of vocalists from Gary Floyd of The Dicks to Jello Biafra to Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell.  This re-imagined “lost” fourth Stooges album takes a better swing at it than the old Kill City release, if the early leaked tracks are any measure.  “I’m Sick Of You” (with Mario Cuomo of The Orwells on vocals) is one of those tracks and has been on high rotation here in Ruttville for the past week or so.  Re-Licked can be pre-ordered over at Amazon.com.





Sonic Scream - Up Your Sleeve

Sam Sergeant and Terry Knight make one heckuva racket for two people, but it’s a racket worth raving about (as I did back in May of 2013!).   The lads from Hertfordshire are back with a brand new batch of brain-thumping grungy goodness.  Up Your Sleeve continues in the same vein as its predecessor; tracks like “7” and “Ain’t Having That” roll in like thunder and shake the floorboards. It’s meant to be played loud, friends, so crank it…



The Electric Mess - “Better To Be Lucky Than Good” 

Another favorite of the blog, NYC’s The Electric Mess, released House On Fire this past April. With it came the simply fantastic clip for the single “Better To Be Lucky Than Good,” which demonstrates that even though MTV may have abandoned the music video, the format is still viable and, in the right hands, powerful.  This one is the running for song of the year if’n you ask me, and the whole album is well worth picking up.



Wheels On Fire - "I'm Turning Into You"

Every now and then something turns up on the ol’ iPod that’s been hanging around in my collection but somehow always just stayed under the radar.  Then, one day, it leaps through the earbuds, grabs me by the eardrums and shakes some freakin’ sense into me.  Like this track from Ohio’s Wheels On Fire.  How on Earth I haven’t been raving about this since its release on their 2009 album Get Famous I can’t say – I can only apologize and insist that you listen to it and revel in its farfisa-driven wonderfulness with me now.  Ready?  Go!




The Mystery Lights - The Mystery Lights

The Mystery Lights have apparently arrived here (or at least in NYC) from 1968.  They play a seething, eerie kind of psychedelic lo-fi freak-out music that all but demands to be played loud wherever swirling lights and neon colors and altered states of mind abound.   Their four-track debut is uniformly excellent, with the standout being the final track, “What Happens When You Turn The Devil Down,” which will snake its way into your skull and slither down your spine in a most pleasing fashion.  Hit up their Bandcamp site for more.



Radiohearts - Nothing At All

Fans of bands like The Buzzcocks, The Knack, Generation X, The dB’s and other like-minded late-70s powerpop/punk bands (the younger set might use The Exploding Hearts and The Cute Lepers as frames of reference), rejoice! There exists a band today who knows what you want to hear, and it is exactly what they play.  Well. Radiohearts’ new EP, Nothing At All, practically bubbles over with high energy melodic hooks dressed in skinny ties and wraparound shades.  The only drawback here is that there are only four songs.  More! Give us more!



Lexxi Vexx & the Modern Gentlemen - The Evolution Of The Modern Gentlemen 

Punk done Portland style.  Lexxi has been around for a bit in the underground scene; this is her latest combo, and possibly the best of the bunch.  A lot of ground is covered on The Evolution Of The Modern Gentlemen.  At times the sound develops a decidedly metallic glint; other times echoes of west coast punk groups like The Nuns, UXA, and even The Avengers ring out.  Lexxi doesn’t come by that booming voice by chance – her dad, Todd McPherson, in addition to being one of the Modern Gentlemen backing her, has been a member of The Kingsmen  (yes, those Kingsmen) since 1992. That’s about as killer a Portland rock ‘n’ roll pedigree as you can ask for.  This is one not to be missed – get over to Bandcamp and grab this’n.  If you need proof, listen up:



The Empty Hearts - The Empty Hearts

The Empty Hearts are Wally Palmar of The Romantics, Elliot Easton of The Cars, Andy Babiuk of The Chesterfield Kings and Clem Burke of Blondie.  And that, my friends, should tell you roughly what it sounds like, why I like it so much and why you need to get yerself a copy.  If it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’re going to have to retake That’s What I Was Going To Say 101 next semester.  The video for the single “I Don’t Want Your Love (If You Don’t Want Me)” will make a good study guide in the meantime.



The Cheap Cassettes - All Anxious All The Time 

“Big guitars and big hooks” is how The Cheap Cassettes describe themselves on their Bandcamp page, right after listing a sizeable selection of their musical influences ranging from Big Star to Redd Kross to The Replacements.  OK, sold! Their debut LP, All Anxious All The Time, is out now, and you can hear a couple of tracks from it on their page as well.  They even offer up a pair of bonus free downloads of otherwise unreleased covers of The Vibrators“Whips And Furs” and The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains.”  What are you waiting for?




Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Social Distortion "Mommy's Little Monster" (1983)

Every record collector has his stories of great finds and amazing deals, and I'm no different.  Among my crate-digging stories is the day I scored an unopened second-pressing copy of Social Distortion's outstanding 1983 debut album, Mommy's Little Monster, from the swiftly thinning vinyl racks of a mall chain record shop that was making the conversion to CD and cassette only and therefore dumping their vinyl stock for cheap.  Total out-of-pocket cost including tax: $2.12.  That, my friends, is a bargain.

Mommy's Little Monster captures Social Distortion immediately after their 1982 US tour with Youth Brigade chronicled in the excellent documentary Another State Of Mind.  In the interim they had disbanded, but the film got enough interest going in the band again that they reformed and slashed out the album in a single day.  Instead of making everything sound like a rushed job, the extremely short process imbues the album with a consistent sense of immediacy, urgency and energy that reflected the band at that point in time very well.

This isn't the Social Distortion that would evolve in later years, after Mike Ness became a hardened, jaded, modern day version of Johnny Cash.  Here Ness and company are simply punk kids with an obvious appreciation for a well-placed hook and the yet-untarnished spark of enthusiasm that kicked an entire music scene into gear once upon a time.  In nine short but memorable bursts of West Coast punk, Social Distortion created a classic album.

From the dizzying opening riffs of "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)" to the ever-shifting tempo of the album's closer, "Moral Threat," the three A's of the genre (alienation, angst and anger) are consistent themes. Solid playing and some surprising twists keep this from being just another by-the-numbers punk rock record, however: the song which lent its title to the previously mentioned documentary, "Another State Of Mind," briefly drops the dangerous punk swagger for a surprisingly uncertain bit of reflection over life on the road; echoes of the sort of American roots rock that would become a hallmark of Ness's later music are already reverberating under the surface on more than a few tracks here.

The centerpiece, naturally, is the title track.  "Mommy's Little Monster" paints two caricatures of go-nowhere punk kids, one male and one female, as society-rejecting, self-destructive wastes -- at least in the (socially distorted?) view of their parents -- and leaves their tales unresolved and without value judgment.  Are they really so bad for having chosen a path away from the conformist norm? ("His brothers and sisters have tasted sweet success/His parents condemn him, say his life's a mess"  and "Her eyes are a deeper blue/She likes her hair that color too...") Maybe, as another Cali band would suggest a few years later, all they wanted was a Pepsi.

Mommy's Little Monster has been reissued several times over the years on a number of different labels, so it's not difficult to find.  If you don't have this one, you should.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Tex & The Horseheads "Life's So Cool" (1985)

Tex & the Horseheads always struck me as if they just came stumbling out of a saloon in some post-apocalyptic future version of the mythical Old West, laughing and slapping each other on the back and falling down sloppy drunk and looking for their next drink, score or fight - whichever they happen to run across first.  They were cowpunks before cowpunk was a subgenre, both in musical style and in lifestyle.

They were led by a pint-sized whirling dervish by the name of Texacala Jones, a female version of Stiv Bators wearing Adam Ant's makeup who sported a sleepy "C'm'ere darrrrlin'" hick drawl worn raspy from an equal mix of whiskey, cigarettes and heartbreak with which she belted bootstompers like "Tumbleweed" and purred bluesy ballads like "Big House Part III."  They were ragged, amphetamine-fueled, and authentic.

The best of their three albums was 1985's Life's So Cool, which contains the two titles mentioned above among its collection of hard hitting redneck punky rock-n-roll. Tales of drunken escapades ("Bartender Sam"), promises of rehabilitation ("I'll Quit Tomorrow") and the inevitable backslide into bleakness ("Jailed Again") combine for a helluva gut punch - you have no doubt at all that they have lived every word of it.  Add to that a 40-second slice of Cream's "Cat's Squirrel" (Texacala's Southern Comfort-slurred "AWWWWrightawrightawrightawrightawright...all ri-i-ight!" is the perfect intro to the album's festivities) and one of the greatest break-up songs ever, "The Slip," and you've got a platter that is damn hard to beat.

Their earlier self-titled debut album is also good, but not nearly as self-assured; the import-only concert album that followed should have been a better document of the band in action but suffers from poor sound quality.  Life's So Cool is the one to look for.

Check out two of my faves from the album, "Lucky Hand" and "Big House Part III."  Enjoy!




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Angry Samoans "Back From Samoa" (1982)

The Angry Samoans were abrasive, irreverent, sarcastic, crude and, as often follows, damn funny. On their second album, Back From Samoa, they were absolutely brilliant.

Fronted by the snarling "Metal" Mike Saunders, the Angry Samoans were part of the first wave of L.A. hardcore bands in the late 1970s.  While they played as hard and loud and fast as any of their contemporaries, they stood apart from the crowd in attitude. Other bands may have taken the political route or tried to deliver some sort of message in their music, but not the Samoans. Instead, they reveled in B-movie schlock, class-clown antics, and a devastatingly sharp skewering of the very scene they were a part of. They refused to take themselves too seriously, but they had enough of an edge to make you think that they just might be dangerous.

On  top of all that, they were good. Damn good. Their songs were short and punchy (Back From Samoa's 14 songs fly by in just over 15 minutes!) but solid, and the musicianship matched.  Even at top speed, the riffs are crisp, the rhythm on point, and the energy just crackles through the speakers.

Taken at face value, especially in today's Politically Correct world, the album could be seen as jaw-droppingly offensive; in the context of its time and place on the musical spectrum, the calculated shock factor is so defiantly over-the-top as to go beyond cartoonish and into the realm of self-parody. Songs like "They Saved Hitler's Cock," "Homo-Sexual," and the staggeringly foul "Ballad Of Jerry Curlan" (in which the title character's perverted sins, including incest and bestiality, are listed in specific detail) are so far over the line that only the most purposefully obtuse could possibly take them seriously.  The band isn't actually encouraging you to  "put a fork in your hand/poke your eyes out" (from "Lights Out"), they're just having fun (and poking fun at) being a stoopid punk band. Remember, in those days mainstream America thought punk rock was going to take us all to Hell in a hand basket.  The Angry Samoans played right up to that fear and had a good laugh about it.

There are real gems to be found on the album as well:  "Gas Chamber" is in the running for best hardcore song ever written; the sci-fi drenched "Not Of This Earth" foreshadows the direction the Samoans would go musically as the years went on; their cover of the Chambers Brothers' hit "Time Has Come Today" is not to be missed.

Back From Samoa is a classic punk album through and through.  It has been reissued many times on many labels over the years, so tracking down a copy is not difficult at all.  Obviously, the easily offended should stay away; those who can look past the surface and are willing to wallow in the muck for a bit will have a blast.  To give you a taste, enjoy a clip of the Angry Samoans performing "Gas Chamber" and "Not Of This Earth" on New Wave Theater (with a brief interview that includes Saunders grabbing the microphone for an important message) and the actual video the band made for "Time Has Come Today."  Enjoy!


Friday, September 12, 2014

You've Been Comped!
10 of the Best Compilation Albums from the Punk/New Wave Era

The compilation album is a wonderful thing.  In the times long before you kids had your newfangles digital doohickeys that allowed you to set up playlists of your favorite songs we had, of course, the mix tape.  But before even the mix tape, the compilation album was the only way to go to have a mix of artists and songs all in one place.  Part musical sampler platter, part musical buying guide, the compilation was a great way to be introduced to new bands that you were pretty much assured you were going to at least tolerate, if not like enough to go out and find their record. (One friend of mine built the foundation of his record collection on his stated goal to buy "every record by every band on that fuckin' Burning Ambitions album!")

My collection, too, experienced growth as a result of more than one compilation album brought into the house, and I can say from my own experience as a DJ on WDCE in Richmond, VA, that the comp is certainly the disc jockey's friend - a portable record collection in itself if you will.

Today, we celebrate the compilation album with this round up of ten of the best.  You could begin with these ten and branch out from there to create a record collection that would be the envy of all your friends. So let's get to it! In no particular order:

1.  Burning Ambitions: A History of Punk (1984) – If you are looking for one compilation to point to as a basic primer on UK punk rock, this double-record import on the Cherry Red label is the one to pick, hands down.  Though they weren’t able to get the licensing to include the Pistols, The Clash or Siouxsie & the Banshees (a fact bemoaned in the album’s liner notes), they were able to include just about everyone else!   The Exploited, The Damned, Adam & the Ants, Generation X, The Stranglers, The Lurkers, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69 – they’re all here.  Even a couple Yankee acts (Dead Kennedys, The Heartbreakers) show up in the mix.  I remember whole weeks going by when this album did not leave my turntable.  Why would it? It’s a virtual punk rock jukebox!  Essential.


2.  Rodney on the ROQ (1980, 81, 82) – As young punk I remember being pissed off that I lived on the wrong coast to hear the legendary radio station KROQ out of L.A.  I read about the station and the fact that they played -- an actual radio station that actually played -- all these bands I was into.  Longtime DJ and scenester Rodney Bingenheimer led the charge with his Rodney on the ROQ show.  The closest I ever got to hearing the show live was in the form of the three comps put out on the Posh Boy label under Rodney’s name.  All three are excellent, with the first being the best of them:  when you begin with Brooke Shields leading into Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains,” you know you’re in for a helluva fun ride.  Volume One also features The Adolescents, Black Flag, The Simpletones and Cristina’s killer rendition of “Is That All There Is ?”  Volume Two keeps the pace going with Social Distortion, Shattered Faith, The Minutemen, The Little Girls and The Stepmothers; Volume Three counts Ill Repute, Kent State’s killer “Radio Moscow,” Channel Three and a very early cut from The Bangles (when they were still called The Bangs).  Each splits the difference between a definitely punkier side one and new-wavier side two, and each contains a special issue of Flipside magazine.  All three are well worth picking up.

3. IRS’s Greatest Hits Vols. II & III (1981) – A two-record set that begs the question, “Whatever happened to Volume I?”  (Bonus points to the first person commenting with the correct answer.)  IRS (The International Record Syndicate, silly) was one of the most awesome record labels of the early 1980s, and this compilation of artists on their roster at that time is flat-out mind-blowing array of talented artists with the chops and the attitude to not only ride that somewhat tenuous line between punk and new wave, but to stomp it fully into submission.  The Damned, The Cramps, The Fleshtones, Oingo Boingo, The Buzzcocks, The Fall, The Payola$, Squeeze, Skafish, Alternative TV, The Humans, Fashion, Klark Kent and more!  This one was a standard party album for many years around these parts…

4. This is Boston Not L.A. (1982) – A wicked good encapsulation of punk rawk done Boston style and, honestly, one of the best hardcore albums ever.  With bands like Jerry’s Kids, The F.U.’s, Gang Green and The Freeze, how can you possibly go wrong?  Loud, hard, fast and fun – we used to call this stuff “skate punk,” and while it certainly was a youthful scene this old punk still smiles when he hears it.  The Freeze’s stuff is the best here, in my opinion, including classics like “Idiots at Happy Hour” and an otherwise unavailable version of “Trouble if You Hide,” but there really aren’t any duds here either.  The CD adds the 7-inch Unsafe at Any Speed comp released not too long after the album. 

5. No New York (1978) – In the late 1970s, New York City was not a pretty place.  But there were a lot of scenes happening all at once.  You had the Studio 54 disco scene, you had the CBGB’s punk scene, and you had your mind-melting, ear-splitting No Wave scene combining the best parts of both with a little (OK, OK, a lot) atonal saxophone skronk added to the mix.  And you had Brian Eno there to document the latter in this nearly indescribable album.  The Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (featuring a shrieking Lydia Lunch on vocals), DNA, and Mars each contributed four cuts of mutant funk-punk squawking and screaming and searing sound.  Some will find it painful to listen to, others (like me!) will revel in its anti-art defiance, but anyone who hears it will not forget it.

6. Not So Quiet On The Western Front (1982) – 2 records. 47 bands in 74 minutes. An insert booklet that doubled as the first issue of Maximum Rock’n’Roll.  About the finest damn hardcore compilation you’re ever going to hear, and proof that those who said all those bands sounded alike either weren’t paying attention or were fucking posers, man.  Just a recitation of the band names will bring a smile to the face of anyone who was into the scene at the time: 7 Seconds, Pariah, Code of Honor, Bad Posture, Flipper, Angst, No Alternative, MDC, and on and on.  It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s excellent.  And oh how we used to laugh (and still do) at the Naked Lady Wrestlers’ “Dan with the Mellow Hair.”  This one has been given a really nice CD reissue with every track intact.  

7. Marty Thau’s 2 X 5 (1980) – Marty Thau had been around the record business forever, and was an early proponent of New Wave, helping many artists get heard through his Red Star record label.  For this compilation he selected two songs from each of five New York City-based bands (hence the album title) and damn if he didn’t go 10-for-10 picking them!  Your big name band here is The Fleshtones, who check in with an early version of “Shadow Line” and a typical ‘Shtones romp, “F-F-Fascination.”  Bloodless Pharoahs go a bit over the top with their purposefully odd vocals, but they did count a young Brian Setzer among the cats in the band.  Neither The Student Teachers nor The Revelons ever made big splashes on the scene, but their contributions here are fantastic (especially Student Teachers’ “Looks,” centered around the great couplet, “I know I got my looks and  you got yours/I guess it just wasn’t what I was looking for…”  A couple of tracks from The Comateens, who would go on to become a second-tier band of some note, round out the collection nicely.  A must-own. 

8. Declaration of Independents (1980) – This early comp collecting assorted regionally well-known independent label acts looking to break big nationally is thoroughly undeserving of its relative obscurity nowadays. (Granted, being on the fairly small but perfectly named Ambition label meant the album wasn’t headed for a high-profile life from day one.)  The biggest name on the album then – and now – would be Pylon, whose debut single “Cool” is found here.  But the music is start-to-finish solid, ranging from the sparkly power pop of Luxury’s “Green Hearts” to the bar band toughness of Robin Lane & the Chartbusters’ “Rather Be Blind.”  There’s rockabilly from Tex Rubinowitz, surf instrumental goodness from D. Clinton Thompson, Kevin Dunn’s giddy synth take on Chuck Berry’s “Nadene,” and – only a few months removed from the Three Mile Island nuclear scare – Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band teaching us to do “The Meltdown.”  Don’t miss Washington DC’s Razz (featuring a young Tommy Keene, trivia buffs!), whose contribution “You Can Run (But You Can’t Hide)” is a song begging to be covered for today’s crowd.  

9. Let Them Eat Jellybeans (1982) – Jello Biafra curated this collection released smack dab in the midst of the classic hardcore era. The big names here read like a who’s who of that scene: Circle Jerks, Black Flag, D.O.A., Bad Brains and the Dead Kennedys themselves all make appearances slashing along at top speed.  From Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha” providing an uneasy funhouse-mirror opening to Voice Farm’s eerily unsettling closer “Sleep,” the album never lets up.  Even a brief side-step in pseudo-reggae (The Off’s wonderful “Everyone’s A Bigot”) is a bit jolting in its frankness, and the guaranteed-to-offend track from The Feederz (“Jesus Entering from the Rear”) simply has to be heard to be believed.  A stunning collection. 

10. URGH! A Music War (1981)  - Soundtrack to the movie of the same name, the double-LP set compiles live performances by a simply fantastic collection of new wave bands ranging from the famous (The Police, Devo and Joan Jett are all here) to the infamous (Skafish’ s “Sign of the Cross” nearly got the whole project banned in some places).   Interesting to note who was left off the album despite appearing in the film:  punk poet John Cooper Clarke, the utterly mysterious Invisible Sex (seriously, has anyone ever heard anything else from them apart from their URGH! performance?) , and the only true punk band in the picture, the Dead Kennedys, were all left off the vinyl.  Still, it sits now as a nearly perfect time capsule of what early 1980s radio would have sounded like in a perfect world.  Avoid the truncated CD reissue and seek out the original vinyl. 

So, there's my list - how about yours?  What are the compilations that got your record collection started?  Which ones do we just have to hear?  Tell us about them in the comments!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Last Cigarette - Celebrating Ten Years Smoke Free!

"Yea I know its killing me
Yea I know its killing me
Yea I know I know I know I know I know I know I need a
Last cigarette, last cigarette, last cigarette, one before I go to bed..."


 - Dramarama, "Last Cigarette"

Last Cigarette by Dramarama on Grooveshark


At my worst, in my junior year of college, I was on a two pack a day habit.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  20 cigarettes in a pack means 40 cigarettes a day.  To maintain that level of smoking, I had to pretty much constantly have a cigarette going. And I pretty much did.

My smokes were always within arm's reach of the bed when I went to sleep at night – you know, for those wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cravings – so the morning routine involved having my first smoke of the day lit and half gone before I even got out of bed.   If it was a weekday, there were the before and after class clutches of smokers to join in with.  I smoked while I walked between classes.  I smoked before and after meals in the dining hall.  I smoked while playing pool in the commons building.  I smoked while I studied back in the dorm room.  If it was a weekend, well, there were parties all over campus, and you couldn't have a drink without a smoke.  Hell, I even mastered the art of smoking in the shower.

Back then, though, most people I knew smoked.  I knew more people who smoked than people who didn't.  It was something we just did.  It was relaxing, stress-reducing.  It was a social activity.  It looked cool and chicks dug it, or so we told ourselves.  Hey, what better way to break the ice with a cute co-ed than to ask if she had an extra smoke – or better yet, to come to her rescue with an extra of your own if she was smokeless and nic-fitting. 

We coughed up black stuff, we hacked and wheezed, we smelled like chimneys, our clothes were permeated with the stench of stale tobacco, our fingers were yellowed with nicotine stains.  And yet we smoked, smoked, smoked and smoked some more.

I had smoked on and off pretty regularly since I’d guess about age 13 (confession: as a third or fourth grader I had experimented a little bit thanks to neighborhood friends’ older brothers and sisters letting smoke some of their cigarettes – usually as part of the pact made with the younger siblings in exchange for their silence around their parents), but it was in college where I became a true smoker.  Never mind my terrible sinuses or semi-annual bouts of bronchitis – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!

One year, a particularly bad bout of bronchitis brought my smoking to a temporary halt.  I physically could not breath in regular air without launching into an extended coughing fit, much less inhale a lungful of tobacco smoke.  After about a week, I was at my wit's end, decided I was feeling well enough, and broke down and had a smoke.  And another.  And then another.  As coincidence would have it, the bronchitis had run its course, and within a day or two I was feeling much more like myself again.  When I recounted for anyone who would listen that finally smoking was surely what had cured me, my roommate simply shook his head and said, “Bryan, you have no friend in the Surgeon General.”

After college I wound up spending a few years in the restaurant industry – again finding myself among a group of people who smoked.  Heavily.  By now I was down to a more manageable half a pack a day, but still I smoked.  My girlfriend at the time and I lived in a tiny two-room apartment, and we both smoked - she probably more than I, although with a drink or two in me I could still run through a pack or more in an evening if the mood was right.  We’d tell each other that we really should quit; we’d make pacts to quit together, but we never did quit.

Now, fast forward a few years.  That girlfriend and I had split up; I was out of the restaurant biz and doing very well in my marketing career.  Well enough, in fact, that I was ready to move out of that cramped apartment and buy my first house.  As my friends and I were moving things out of the apartment,  I saw a sight I will never forget.  We pulled the sofa away from the wall, and there was a nearly perfect outline of the sofa on that wall – clean wall where the sofa had been, soot- and smoke-stained wall where it had not.  I vowed at that moment that I would not treat my new house that way.  I made a rule for myself that I would not smoke in the new house. I would go outside to smoke.

Over the course of the first two or three years in the house, that's exactly what I did.  There has never been a cigarette smoked inside this house since I've owned it.  I either went out on the front porch or the back patio if I wanted to smoke.  Slowly, over time, without realizing it, I was finding less and less desire to stop whatever I was doing to go smoke a cigarette.  Soon I was pretty much only smoking at work on lunch break. 

The Day came at the end of week's vacation from work.  As usual for me, it was a stay-at-home vacation.  One night I went out on the patio and lit up a cigarette.  After just a drag or two, it occurred to me that this was the first cigarette I had lit up in a week.  Not intentionally, not consciously, it just hadn't occurred to me to smoke; I hadn't needed to smoke. “I don't need this!” I said to myself and crushed out the nearly unsmoked cigarette.

That was September 4, 2004.  Ten years ago.  I have not smoked another cigarette since that day.

I vowed that I would never be one of those militant ex-smokers. I’m of the live and let live school: you want to smoke?  Go ahead, enjoy.  Believe me, I know how good that smoke can be.  You're trying to quit?  Believe me, I know how hard the habit is to break.  But I am living proof that it can be broken – for good.
 
Ten years smoke free.  That’s worth celebration.