I saw American Sniper. Here are my thoughts.

Somewhere around October-November, we found out about the upcoming film American Sniper. It was set to open on Christmas day. We were looking forward to it, and I liked the idea that two years in a row, the newly released movie we’d see on my December 27 birthday would feature Bradley Cooper.

As it turned out, the movie’s release date got pushed into January, so we didn’t get to see American Sniper on my birthday. Interestingly, though, the holiday movie we did go to see on December 27, Big Eyes, also featured an actor from last year’s birthday movie: Amy Adams! We saw American Hustle (Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) on my birthday in 2013, and Big Eyes (Amy Adams) on my birthday in 2014.

I like Bradley Cooper. It’s not a crush. I’m not obsessed with him, and I don’t race to the theatre just because he’s in a movie, but I am a fan. I’ve never seen him flounder in a role, and I’ve never seen a film of his I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some way. Bradley Cooper in a movie usually means that I’m going to like the movie, and this is also true about Amy Adams and a few other actors (Jake Gyllanhaal comes immediately to mind); Callaghan and I are almost always on the same page, which is good. It’s more fun spending money on movie tickets if we strongly suspect that we’ll really like the movie.

So we saw Big Eyes on my birthday, and we enjoyed it, and we continued to anticipate the release of American Sniper. When the day arrived, we went to the theatre with our favorite action-flick movie-watching partner-in-crime, Jason, and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Somehow, I had the idea that the film was about a veteran who was using his lethal military skills for some grand operation in the civilian sector. I didn’t know that I was walking into a war movie. Neither did I know that the story was based on an autobiography/events that happened in the life of a real person.

And I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a war movie, because I generally avoid war movies. Had I known, I would have dropped American Sniper off my to-watch list, and I would have missed out on an incredible movie.

Yes, I know. I’m a Buddhist and a mostly-vegan vegetarian and I’m all about peace and compassion, but I highly appreciated American Sniper. This might seem incongruous, but it’s really not. For one thing, just on the artistic level, I thought it was a brilliant, finely-wrought film. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a tremendous, nuanced performance. I thought Clint Eastwood’s handling of the project was masterful.

Where can I even begin to try to explain my appreciation beyond that?

I guess I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not motivated by politics when it comes to art. I’m a registered Independent, anyway… my political views do tend to lean in a certain direction (if you know me well, you know what direction that is), but there’s a reason why I won’t join a particular party. Also, I generally stay away from the subject of politics on social media sites. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to talk politics here today or any day. I get that it’s hard to avoid politics where this film is concerned, but I’m going to try to avoid the damn politics.

Then I should point out that I’m a combat veteran. I spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Sabre, from the beginning of December 1990 to almost the end of May 1991. The ground war in January took all of two days, and the whole thing was rather anti-climactic after the airstrikes, but somehow I managed to get embroiled in the only real action American foot soldiers saw pushing through Iraq. I ran Commo (wire, radios) in a segment of a ground ambulance unit, and our convoy was comprised of mostly medics from my Garrison unit in Germany, along with some infantrymen, American National Guardsmen and women, and a few British soldiers. We were ambushed, and it was intense, and I brought that personal history with me going into the movie theatre to see American Sniper, not knowing, as I’d said, that it was going to be a war movie.

Now, about that Buddhist thing, since I know that it’s confusing to many people. I’ve been Buddhist all of my life, and I’ve been a martial/fighting artist for more than half of my life, and no, contrary to the popular opinion of our times, this does not create a contradiction. Buddhism and the fighting arts are not mutually exclusive. If you can understand this, then my admiration of American Sniper shouldn’t seem contradictory, either.

Rather than going into a tedious academic tangent on the principles of eastern philosophy, including the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, I’m asking that you hang with me for a minute here!

Buddhist monks in the Shaolin temple of ancient China were resourceful and inventive. They developed seitan, a popular protein-rich meat substitute made of wheat gluten, so they could avoid eating animals. They also developed Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that enabled them to kill with their bare hands and laid the groundwork for basically all eastern martial arts thereafter. What’s more, the full spectrum of the Shaolin martial arts system includes fighting with weapons. The “Buddhist warrior” is actually a thing, and it always has been. I’m not saying that ALL Buddhists are warriors. I’m just saying that warriors in the ranks of Buddhists have existed for ages, at least as long as there have been temples to protect. Long before Bruce Lee, there were the Shaolin Buddhist soldier monks.

Hard to believe that there’s a history of martial arts bad-assery in Buddhism, right?

Enough about me and my background. Returning to American Sniper, I want to talk about the “problem” of the veracity of (every detail of) Chris Kyle’s story. He apparently made some claims in his book that aren’t true. In my opinion, just from my perspective as a literature major, this is normal. Biography/autobiography/memoir/creative non-fiction and, loosely, historical fiction all rely on facts and factual events for the backbone of the stories within, but there’s usually good reason and/or artistic justification for alteration or invention in some places, and authors take this kind of creative liberty all the time.

Take, for example, a staple of children’s literature well-known and loved by most Americans. The Nellie Olson character in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books didn’t actually exist… she was an amalgamation of two real-life figures from her childhood. Because Laura Ingalls Wilder also altered the chronology of her family’s travels (reportedly for the sake of simplicity), she took two classmates from two of her schools in two different geographical locations and blended them together to create the one insufferable character we know as “Nellie Olson.” (The real Nellie Olson was one of the two classmates Laura Ingalls Wilder used to create the fictitious one.)

This is a well-documented fact, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories are meaningless because she “made up” the character or “lied” about the trajectory of her family’s pioneering path, nor have I heard of anyone calling her out on any of the other half-truths, embellishments or omissions that resulted for artistic purposes. I never heard anyone say that because of all this, Laura Ingalls Wilder is not to be trusted or believed, and that the attention paid to her stories is undeserved. I never heard anyone say that the worth of other art based on the books she co-wrote about her life – namely, the world-famous Little House on the Prairie television series – was invalidated by her “lies.” I never heard anyone complain that the T.V. show was “mendacious” because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed some things, omitted things, and flat-out made other stuff up.

We know that she did these things, but we still accept her work as autobiographical. That which wasn’t real didn’t cancel out all that was real. Her story is still her story, and Chris Kyle’s story is still Chris Kyle’s story, and just because Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tone was demure and so many people dig stories about pioneer life more than they dig stories about soldiering life doesn’t mean that by majority opinion, we can have a double standard. If we’re going to call Chris Kyle a liar, then we’re going to have to call Laura Ingalls Wilder a liar for the exact same reasons, and we don’t want to do that, now, do we?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s think for a moment of how Laura Ingalls Wilder “glorified” and “romanticized” how her Pa decided to drag the family into Indian Territory and knowingly illegally squat on the Native Americans’ land, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder plainly recounted her parents’ racist attitudes and sentiments regarding the “savages” (sound familiar?) – have you ever heard anyone lambasting her for this dubious aspect of their “courageous” pioneer life? Neither have I. Needless to say, the storylines in the television series’ episodes conveniently omit any mention or reference to this part of the Ingalls’ “adventures.” Most everyone still loves the show.

But people are sure enjoying harping on Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for “glorifying” and “romanticizing” the darker sides of Chris Kyle and his story.

Finally, I want to say that it’s interesting how the people shouting the loudest about how Chris Kyle was a lying psychopath (and no hero at all) are the ones who never spent a day in his or any other soldier’s boots. Now, I didn’t know Chris Kyle. I didn’t know him before, during or after his service, nor am I a psychiatrist. For all I know, he could have been a psychopath or a sociopath or whatever other -path you want to call him… but I don’t care. I don’t care if Chris Kyle was the kind of guy who’d help an old lady cross the street, or the kind of guy who’d push an old lady off a cliff. Because what I do know is that combat military training and circumstances change you in ways that civilians can’t even begin to fathom. What you were before is rendered nearly irrelevant. Even emerging from regular old Army basic training (Chris Kyle underwent Navy S.E.A.L. training, which is much more intense), you’re different than you were before you went in.

In basic training, you’re broken down from the inside out, with the whole point being to re-build you into something you probably weren’t before you went in: a killing machine that can be set into action when the circumstances call for it. The mental and physical conditioning you undergo in order to serve in combat is complete. I’m talking about the average person here. Now imagine that instead of being an average person, you were already an expert shot accustomed to taking lives (as a hunter)… and imagine, too, that your military occupational specialty is killing.

Someone’s got to do it, guys. The military is an establishment in which there’s a need for many roles, just like in civilian society, and while all soldiers are required to be conditioned in the basics, everyone has to choose an occupational specialty. Some soldiers are cooks. Others are band musicians. Others work in supply. There are the tankers, the ammo soldiers, the administration office-working soldiers, the morgue soldiers and the medics and the mechanics and the military cops and the JAG (legal) corps and the signal corps, the soldiers responsible for ensuring communications in the field (what I did – my 31K occupational title was “Combat Signaler.”) And so on, and so forth… and then you have the soldiers whose specialty is killing. These are the infantry, the “grunts.”

Regardless of your occupational specialty, though, all soldiers function the same way in combat zones, and again, to reiterate, this is what basic training is for. When thrown into a combat situation, the conditioning deep inside you surfaces, enabling you to automatically act according to the situation, and I’m sorry, but combat situations don’t usually involve making butter, choosing fabric for dresses, or embroidering. Pa Ingalls is not going to bust out his fiddle at the end of the day and make everyone laugh merrily as they sing along to his folksy songs.

When I was 18, I went to basic training and came out different than I was before, because that is what basic training is designed to do. Not only are you different, but you’re also no longer your own person. You become government property, calibrated to respond and operate on a situational basis. The minute you raise your hand and take that oath, the Constitution you’re charged to protect no longer even applies to you. You opt out of those rights in order to protect them. It’s the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for you!

A day or two before Christmas 1990, we were out there in the vast, cold and empty Saudi Arabian desert when we were told that Sadam Hussein had threatened an attack as a “Christmas present” for the Americans lying in wait, meaning, us. We went into high alert for an indefinite period of time. I remember my 22nd birthday very well. I spent the entire day in a foxhole in the biting cold, suited up in MOPP 4 (head to toe chemical protection gear) with a full bandolier of ammo strapped around my chest and my M-16 at the ready, and again, I came out different than I was before, because that’s what happens when you spend hours on end with every cell and nerve of your being waiting to either kill or get killed. Just being in that situation day after day changes you. Even if “nothing happens,” you can’t ever be the same again.

A few weeks later, the ground war started, and we switched gear from alert to action. We convoyed out of Saudi Arabia to follow the front line through Iraq, destination Kuwait. We were a ground ambulance convoy in our Cut-V’s and Hum-V’s, and we saw and dealt with everything you’d expect to encounter on a battlefield. Then we were ambushed. There were Iraqi snipers. There were detonating landmines. There were casualties. Afterward, there were smoke grenades and medevac helicopters. I’m not going to go into the details of what I did and saw, but you can bet that again, I was a different person by the end of it.

Now, take my modest little combat experience and quadruple it and give it another hefty boost for increased severity. Chris Kyle couldn’t possibly have ended up being the same person he’d been before any of his four tours of combat duty, whatever that may have been. He killed people, as we were all prepared to do, as Navy S.E.A.L.S. were expected to do, and I would venture to guess that he saved many more people than he killed. Whether I “agreed” with the Iraq War or not, I’m grateful to Chris Kyle for his service, and for the service of all men and women in uniform in all the branches of the Armed Forces, regardless of the conflict or the reason for it or behind it, or the duration or severity of it, or the number of times they deployed, or my opinion of it or your opinion of it or anyone’s opinion of it, or anything else.

I’d like to think that if I never lived the experience of being broken down and built back up to human war-machine specs, if I never set foot in a combat zone, if I never mentally prepared to suffer and die under chemical attack or by gunfire or other ordnance, if I never swallowed 12 mysterious pills a day “in case of chemical attack”… if I never lived a day of my life serving my country… I would recognize that I’m not in a position to judge Chris Kyle.

Like him or not, Chris Kyle was a hero. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who voluntarily raises their hand and swears away their own constitutional rights in order to protect yours is a hero, whatever else they may be, and whether they go to war or not. To try to posthumously shame Chris Kyle for being the lying asshole he maybe was is to miss the point of American Sniper. Deriding Eastwood and Cooper for taking part in “glorifying” anything is also an exercise in missing the point.

Aside from all of this, what’s really important here, of course, is that we found American Sniper to be a great piece of cinematic art in and of itself. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper did a damn fine job, along with everyone else who put their energies into the making of the film. I’m saying this, and I don’t even like war movies!

So, American Sniper? We recommend it. It’s not easy to watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “enjoyable,” but it’s an amazing film.

On that (hopefully cheerier) note, Happy Friday, All!

(Here are some photos I took in the war):

 

The first Hum-V ambulances....

The first Hum-V ambulances….

 

Random tank in Iraq

Random tank in Iraq

 

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

 

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

 

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

 

Thanks for scanning them, Callaghan!

My Double Phobia Dilemma

Good morning, and welcome to Embarrassing Confessions Tuesday on my blog. (Looking through some recent posts, I noticed that such topics are starting to become de rigueur here.)

Snippet of a mock interview:

Interviewer: You went to war, and you were ambushed. Would you say that was the bravest thing you ever did?

Me: No. The bravest thing I ever did was watch Wall-E.

I have two phobias: claustrophobia and roach phobia. Guess which one is more debilitating?

I’m petrified of roaches. I can’t even look at a picture of one without having a physical reaction. When I started writing this, I thought about checking online for an officially recognized medical term for roach phobia, but I couldn’t because I was afraid that the search would pull up roach images, and my eyes do not need to be assaulted by roach images popping up all over my screen. That’s why I’m going to continue calling it “roach phobia,” and that’s also why I took a picture of Ramsey for this post:

 

Ramsey, the unroachiest thing I could find to photograph for this post.

Ramsey, the unroachiest thing I could find to photograph for this post.

 

Scorpions, snakes, spiders, bees and other flying, stinging critters? They don’t bother me. No fear. Tall, rough-looking transient guy wanders off the street past the inattentive front desk person and waltzes into the women’s locker room at the gym? I’m on my feet, furious, in his face, ordering him out. No fear. A sewer roach? Sends me screaming into the hills. Sheer, unadulterated terror.

Dead roaches freak me out almost as much as live ones. The sight of an upside-down roach carcass makes me cringe, hyperventilate and feel phantom sensations of little roach feet skittering up my ankles.

Let’s touch on my other phobia for a second. Since I started working at my job, I’ve more or less conquered my fear of elevators (a sub-phobia of my claustrophobia), because the elevator is the only way up to my department. Once you’re up there, you can use any of several hidden staircases to descend… but going up, the elevator’s your only ticket.

I’m happy to report that I’m now able to ride an elevator without clinging like a fool to other people in there with me (I have been known to fasten myself to strangers in elevators, barnacle-like), but I wouldn’t say that I’m comfortable in elevators. They still make me nervous, and I still don’t trust them.  Throw in the fact that I enjoy the exercise provided by stairs, and obviously, I prefer taking the stairs whenever possible.

My point, you ask?

For several weeks, I’d been in the habit of exiting my office building using the hidden stairs… until last week, when I noticed, in the stairwell, on the floor right in front of the door going out to the street, a rather large, dead roach. On its back. Legs in the air. A roach carcass so old, it’s turning pale (maybe from dust) and somewhat blurry around the edges. Let me repeat: In the stairwell. In front of the door. The door that you have to go through in order to exit.

So NOW, every day when it’s time to leave work, I ask myself:

Elevator or dead roach?

And I have to decide. There’s no other way out of the building. Do I take the elevator down every day, increasing my chances of getting stuck? Or do I step over a large dead roach every day (which necessitates looking at it, which is excruciating) as I exit the stairwell? And is it just me with these kinds of ridiculous dilemmas?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about self-improvement. While I’ve made tremendous progress with my elevator phobia, the farthest I’d gotten with my fear of roaches was watching Wall-E,  and I was proud of it… hella proud of myself, in fact, for getting on top of my visceral reaction to the, um, casting of that movie. It doesn’t matter that it was animation and the roach was widely considered to be “cute.” A roach is a roach, and there’s no such thing as a cute roach. When the roach appeared, obviously a main character who would endure the entire film, I resolved to sit there and watch the entire movie, anyway. Not only did I manage that, but I even ended up finding it brilliant and actually really enjoying it! This was truly a measure of progress for me, I’ll have you know.

After I noticed the dead roach in the stairwell at work, I continued taking the stairs down for the next few days, but I soon decided that the elevator was the lesser of two evils. If something happens and I get trapped in the elevator, chances are high that I’d be rescued in good time. But looking at a roach every day so I can step over it? No, thank you.

Now, the absolute worst thing that could happen would be getting trapped in the elevator with a roach.

Excuse me while I go find some wood to knock.

Birth Control Glasses… Classic!

Yeah, we all know my inner girly parts have left the party, so no need for birth control anything, but I’m getting these glasses, anyway.

Let me explain. See, I have an appointment at the Eye Clinic at the Veteran’s Outpatient Clinic in the first week of September. I’m going to get glasses there because I can, and I need them – not 24/7, but for watching movies and staring at computer screens for long periods of time, which I do (ahem) kind of a lot, being both a movie fanatic and a writer. My current state of “glasseslessness,” shall we say, has gone on long enough. I do have a pair at the moment, but the right-side lens is flawed… it fogs up spontaneously while I’m wearing them, so they’re pretty much useless. Has anyone else experienced this problem with their glasses?

Anyhow, I wasn’t even aware that I was eligible to get glasses from the V.A. until I attended the New Patient Orientation last month, and the presenter covered that topic as he navigated down through his informative Power-Point presentation. I almost missed it, because the subject came up while I was only listening with one ear. (My other ear was momentarily tuned in to my inner voice, which was busy wondering what we were going to have for lunch. I was hungry.)

I heard the venerable older Vet utter the words “eye exam,” and the word “glasses.” And then, as he casually continued on, he used a term I hadn’t heard in many years: “BCGs.”

It took a second for it to come back to me, but once it hit, I started laughing. I couldn’t contain it, and I instantly felt like a Bad Person for interrupting him. He paused… glanced my way… and burst out in laughter, as well! BCGs. Damn! I hadn’t thought of them in so long.

“You’re a Stormer, right?” he asked me, verifying that I was the Gulf War vet on his roster.

“Yes,” I said. The connection was made. Mutual laughter is a wonderful thing.

The military has acronyms for everything, and everything you need is provided as standard military-issue. If you need glasses, you’re issued glasses, and those glasses are known by the acronym “BCGs.” Birth Control Glasses.

The idea is that the glasses are so ugly, you won’t be able to get laid if you’re wearing them. It’s a joke, but “BCGs” is seriously what everyone in the Army calls them. It’s practically their official name, and that’s what’s so funny about it. All soldiers know what BCGs are… at least, they did during my time. I’m sure it’s still the case today. The Army is fairly change-resistant in many ways.

Depending on the era, BCG frames can be horn-rimmed or slightly squared-off, but they’re always large, thick and dark (either black or brown).

Callaghan was sitting there with me, and he was confused. Being French, he was thinking of tuberculosis. In French, “BCG” is the term for the tuberculosis vaccine (Le vaccin bilié de Calmette et Guérin).

 

French tuberculosis vaccine on the left, American military standard-issue glasses on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

French tuberculosis vaccine on the left, American military standard-issue glasses on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

In the civilian world, hipsters have now made BCGs a part of their basic everyday uniform. See how that works? Military HAS to wear them. Hipsters WANT to wear them. (Come to think of it, civilians also like to wear camo print and combat boots. Solider fashion, always in fashion! It’s a classic… never goes out of style. Hmm….)

And so it is that I shall obtain a pair of glasses from the V.A., and I’m grateful for it. When we wandered into the glasses area while we were down there last week, I saw that there’s a plethora of available frame styles, and some of them are quite attractive… so the glasses I get don’t have to be actual BCGs, unless I choose them with the civilian hipness factor in mind. Still, the idea of glasses from the V.A amuses me.

Now for the obvious question: If these glasses are perched on the favorable end of the desirability scale in civilian hipsterdom, what would that make them, in that case? “PGs” – Pregnancy Glasses? “GLGs” – Get Laid Glasses? Parents of hipster kids, lock up those glasses!

 

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll”

On Saturday night, we went to see Black Sabbath, as in, the British hard rock band that was formed in 1968, the year I was born. As in, yeah, these guys are a bit older now, so can you believe that I actually got to see them perform?

Last month, they released 13, their first studio album in 33 years, and the album took off. After its first week, it sold 155,000 copies and inexplicably ripped its way around the Billboard obstacle course, spiraling up to hit Number One on the charts in the UK, USA and seven other countries. With this accomplishment, Sabbath secured the Number One spot for the first time in history and escorted hard rock/metal done the old-fashioned way back onto the scene. At the concert, we saw many people our age and older, but we picked out all age groups in the massive crowd. The teenagers in the seats in front of us were probably no older than fifteen.

I was beside myself with excitement over this show. It really meant a lot to me.

I’m passionate about many different types of music, including classical, EBM/industrial, (some) rap and (some) country and a smattering of other genres, but since I’m talking about Black Sabbath here, I present the following brief chronology of my history just as a hard rock/metal fan:

(First, let me just say that it’s my parents who rock. They survived the years I skulked around in a Black Sabbath t-shirt and chains while they observed other people’s daughters looking cute and preppy in pink Izod shirts [and who went off to college immediately after high school. I was the only daughter they knew who joined the Army and went to war and did the whole college/grad school thing later. But that’s another story]).

–Sixth grade: I bought Back in Black, AC/DC’s new album. I was 12, and Back in Black was the first album I ever purchased myself, which established hard rock as my first love of all the genres of music. I was taking piano lessons, so I was listening to Chopin waltzes, too, among other things, but I didn’t blast Chopin waltzes. I blasted AC/DC, loudly and frequently. My parents started to wonder what was happening.

–Grades seven and eight: my friends and I fixated on Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman. We shed real tears the tragic day Randy Rhodes, Ozzy’s phenomenal guitarist, died in a plane crash. The gloom that blanketed the world of music that day fell heavily upon the halls of Steinbeck Junior High in San Jose, California. Rhodes was a legend, but we felt like we’d lost our brother. I don’t know. We were 13 years old. We were like, “Randy Rhodes is dead? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW?” It was inconceivable.

–Grades nine-twelve: High school. I listened to ALL the metal out there – and it was a lot, remember… this was the 80’s hair-band era – but AC/DC, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Ozzy were my favorites in the genre. Also, I spent many a Saturday afternoon listening to Iron Maiden with the guy who worked the bar at Shakey’s Pizza. (David. Funny that I still remember his name!) It was cute. Though we really liked each other, nothing “happened” when we were hanging out – he was a lot older than me – but he got me hooked on Maiden with Killers, and that was it. To this day, Killers is still my favorite Iron Maiden album, and Maiden is still one of my favorite metal bands.

–During and after the Army, Queensrÿche, D.A.D., Faith No More, Vixen, Warlock, Savatage, Megadeath, Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica were some of the bands that joined the crew in my metal music collection. I also really enjoyed guitarist Joe Satriani, and my love for Alice Cooper’s Trash album bordered on obsession.

–Flash forward to 2003, when I discovered Disturbed’s The Sickness while training in Muay Thai at an MMA gym in Arizona. My trainer kept it cranked, and I loved it so much that I had to own it. I bought it and wore it out in my little truck. The significance of this is that The Sickness was the last metal album that I actually purchased until Sabbath released 13 last month. (This is not to say that there weren’t other bands in the interim, because there were. I just didn’t go out and buy any metal CDs between Disturbed in 2003 and Black Sabbath last month.)

What can I say about Saturday’s show?

It was definitely An Experience. The guys did a fantastic job overall. We had a solid good time, and I will never forget it.

It was an incredible feeling just to be there.

 

Waiting for the show to start. We got there early.

Waiting for the show to start. We got there early.

 

What I really took away from the show was a reinforced crush (maybe not a “crush” so much as some sort of hero-worship thing) on lead guitarist Tony Iommi, who is a God.

Iommi lost two of his fingertips in a factory accident when he was a teenager, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he knew he was born to do. He fashioned some “thimble-like devices” out of a “squeezy bottle” and stuck them on the ends of his amputated digits to extend them, then went on to play guitar for Jethro Tull before co-founding Black Sabbath with Ozzy, Geezer and Bill. They were a bluesy kind of hard rock band at first. From there, they evolved into their signature sound and ultimately grandfathered heavy metal and all of its derivatives. Yes… one of history’s greatest hard rock lead guitar legends has amputated fingertips.

 

Tony Iommi, lead guitarist and co-founder of Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi, lead guitarist and co-founder of Black Sabbath

 

Quoting from wiki: “Iommi is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential rock guitarists of all time. A prolific riff-maker, he was ranked number 25 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’.”

Fake fingertips, okay? And I mean, not costly, sophisticated works of custom-made, medically engineereed craftsmanship, either. We’re talking homemade fake fingertips that he stores in what appears to be an old Altoids tin:

 

 

The man is tireless, in possession of a relentless drive, an admirable work ethic. He’s constantly busy. The solo album he released in 2000, called, simply, Iommi, is a veritable piece of musical collaborative genius and one of my all-time favorite metal CDs. (I introduced it to Callaghan, and it’s now one of his favorites, too.)

Yet young at 64, Iommi’s now working to beat down lymphoma. Blood cancer. Where was he on Saturday night? Here in Austin, on stage, rocking his ass off. His performance was spectacular. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, listening to his solos in the dark with people around us screaming, and thought, Wow. That’s Tony Iommi on that stage down there!! I never thought I’d get to hear him play live.

You know, Ronnie James Dio, who took over Sabbath’s lead vox after Ozzy’s departure in 1979, died of cancer in 2010. (Why yes, we did name our kitty Ronnie James after him!)

 

Ronnie James with my headphones on the left. Ronnie James Dio with his mic on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James with my headphones on the left. Ronnie James Dio with his mic on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

“It’s only now, since his passing, that people are coming out saying how great he was,” Iommi says of Dio in a “good-bye message” he videotaped in 2011.

 

(video cuts off at 1:48)

 

Iommi received his own cancer diagnosis within a year of this interview, in early 2012.

News for you, Iommi: YOU are great. YOU ARE THE MAN. You’re looking good and performing like it’s no one’s business, and thank you so much. Thank you for inspiring us with your passion and dedication! Here’s to many more years of showing them all how it’s done!!

Here’s my favorite Black Sabbath song, “Megalomania” (Sabotage, 1975):

 

 

And here are a few pics we took before, during and after the concert…

 

Callaghan, mid-stride

Callaghan, mid-stride

 

Me, pausing for a snapshot outside of Consuela on Congress

Me, pausing for a snapshot outside of Consuela on Congress

 

 

From left: Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (guitar), Ozzy Osbourne

From left: Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (guitar), Ozzy Osbourne

 

OZZY

OZZY

 

The Texas State Capitol, a gorgeous building. We walked through the grounds to get to the concert and back to our bus on Congress.

The Texas State Capitol, a gorgeous building. We walked through the grounds to get to the concert and back to our bus on Congress.

 

Me with Ronnie James as I was writing this. Ronnie James loves him some headphones!

Me with Ronnie James as I was writing this. Ronnie James loves him some headphones!