I took my mom to a metal show


I was a metalhead starting in Junior High. My mom had been sending me to summer camp most summers. The last summer I went to camp Takatoka, I met a boy there who was into metal. His name escapes me at the moment, but I do know his name. Matt Whitehead? No, that’s not it. I might get back to that. My mom hated my metal. She made fun of it every chance she got. How can you listen to that? It sounds like noise. They all sound alike. She is not wrong in a general sense. I can totally see how you could hear it that way from a distance.

Oh yeah that kids name is Matt Whitaker.

I told my mom she might like some of it if she gave it a chance. I gave her Iron Maiden Piece of Mind and the booklet with the lyrics. At the time she was a high school history teacher. She was blown away by that album. It was as much of a gamer changer for her as it was for me.

piece of mind

She took it to her classroom and played a couple of songs for her students. She then gave them an assignment. Take the current history lesson they were being taught and apply it to an art form of their choosing. They could write a play, a rap song, a metal song, a poem, a short story and so on and they had a choice to even perform it in front of the class if they were up to it.

The students embraced that assignment and many performed them in front of the class. This helped her win a free trip that year from the school board , which was a 2 month trip to Egypt over the summer.

From there I turned her on to a few more Iron Maiden albums, Number of the Beast, Power Slave. She found stuff she liked on each album. I then decided it was time to turn her on to Queensryche. Queensryche did not have much in the way of lyrics about history, but dealt a lot with global issues/moral issues. It was smarter and deeper than most metal. Most metal consisted of lines like “touch my gun but don’t pull my trigger”, which by the way is the worst sexual request of all time.

She absolutely loved Queensryche. With each album that would come out, we would sit and listen to them together. After I’d be out of high school for a  few years, Queensryche came out with an album called, “Promised Land”. Promised land dealt a lot with characters trying to make the best of a bad situation, dependency, struggling to find happiness. The album closes with a song called, “Someone Else?” The song is a piano ballad and in my opinion one of the greatest vocal performances recorded by a metal singer. She was obsessed with that song. She thought it was the greatest song to ever exist. At this stage in her career she was a student counselor at the same high school and had me design her a poster with the some lyrics from the song. I do not recall which lyric lines she requested from the song. I have looked through the lyrics and I have a pretty good idea, but not sure. She framed it in her office to help convey to kids that they still have plenty of chapters left to write in their life and not to be defined by their current or past situation.

I had since moved to Dallas. One night I was on the phone with my mom and I told her Quensryche was coming to Dallas. She asked me if I would take her to the concert. I said, “Absolutely”. She said, “You sure you won’t be embarrassed taking your mother to a metal show?” and I said, “Are you kidding, taking my mom to a metal show is the most metal thing ever”. So I bought us tickets and we went when the time came. We were about 16 rows back, a little right of center.

They closed the night with her favorite song. That was such a great night.

About six years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She fought it for six years, which is longer than most get to stick around after being diagnosed with that cancer. She died 8 years ago and I’ve dealt a lot with the loss outwardly, but have not dealt with it inwardly. Every time it crosses my mind, I just swallow it down. I know better, but that’s what I’ve done.

Last Saturday morning before mothers day I walked on to my back porch, lit up a cigar and began writing. Mostly writing my to do list for the weekend. I then texted my fellow cigar smoking friends a pic of the cigar I was smoking and jokingly asked one of the friends, who lives six hours away to come pick me up for the Queensryche concert he was going to that night. He had mentioned they were playing about an hour from his house and that he was going.

I then asked the other friend on the text who lives in Dallas to come pick me up and we would all go to Queensryche together. I knew neither plan was going to happen, but the more I thought about it, the more I really hoped we could pull it off. All three of us had lost our mothers to cancer around the same time. It started to really make sense that the three of us be together on mothers day. After both of those plans fell through, it started to really make sense to me that I should see Queensryche for my mom the night before Mothers Day.

The friend in Dallas could not come, because he had a gig. I decided to just get in my car and drive the five and a half hours to meet up with my friend so we could go to the show together.

I was not betting on it giving me any feeling of connection with my mom, but I also was hoping it would. The band has undergone some changes, even a new singer, but the new additions have been sounding great and I have enjoyed the new work they have been putting out.

The show was at a Casino in Coushatta, Louisiana. Coushatta is about 30 minutes northeast of Lake Charles Louisiana. My friend and I met in Lake Charles at a cigar bar. Bought some, smoked one and went on to the show.


It was a great show. On any given night at any given gig I feel like there is almost always someone in the audience that has something emotionally riding on the performance. The band could not know some dude drove five and a half hours to see their show at a casino in honor of his mother. To them it was just another gig and a solid one.

Thanks for everything Queensryche. My mom would have enjoyed that show.

Valentine’s Day Love Letter


The last two months I have listened to two albums, almost exclusively. I listen to them every day. I know them inside and out. Ben Folds/Nick Hornby’s Lonely avenue and Dana Falconberry’s the lowering night. Oh my God I love these albums. I have listened with the lyrics in front of me. I have listened in my car. I have listened in headphones. I have listened laying on my bed in the dark. I have backed a track up a few seconds, dozens of times to hear something that I did not hear the first few times, like the dog bark forty-seven seconds in to Dana’s song “the dream”, which is track three. I love the dog bark.

I had faded away from Ben Folds for a while. I was feeling like his albums were becoming hit or miss, mostly miss. I still continued to pay attention to his albums coming out, but mostly just listening a time or two to see if  or when I would change my mind. Nothing much grabbed me for a while, but I knew I would give another listen to them later down the line to see if I connected with them later.

Right place, right time. It happened with Wilco as well as many other bands or albums. I bought the first few Wilco albums when they came out hoping to like them. I did not. I stopped paying a attention for a while. Then a friend snuck Sky Blue Sky onto my mp3 player and I stumbled onto it while on a bike ride and fell in love with it. Then I went back to albums prior and could not figure out why I had dismissed those albums earlier in life. Right place, right time. It’s important. Sometimes we are just not in tune with certain vibes at certain times or maybe we just haven’t had similar life experiences at the same time as a particular artist and can’t fully get it until we do.

The Ben Folds Nick Hornby album came at right place, right time. It came out six years ago, but I never got to it until recently. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought much of it when it came out, but now? My God I love it. Right now it is just refreshing to hear songs with out of the ordinary storytelling, like a song about Levi Johnston, the boy who knocked up Sarah Palin’s daughter during her campaign to be VP. A song about Doc Pomus, who wrote hit songs from the fifties to the eighties. A song about having a crush on the poet, Saskia Hamilton.

A few months ago Dana Falconberry came to the studio to lay some vocals down on my new album. After the recording session we talked about the love of songwriting. What made us fall in love with it and how we sometimes struggled to stay in love with it. She brought up that she had just recorded an album in her bedroom with a laptop like she did when she first started. A few weeks later she posted it online.

It could have easily missed me among the never-ending stream of content that happens online. Our conversation made me really excited to hear it. I downloaded it and gave it a listen. It killed me from the first note. I fell in love with it instantly. I cannot stop listening to it.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with songs. I would swing on my swingset and sing songs word for word. I would do this for hours and hours. To the point it worried my mother. Sometimes she would wake up to get a drink in the middle of the night and I would be out on my swing in the backyard, just singing. She just let it happen, mostly out of guilt. She, like me struggled with unwarranted guilt.

Now the swing has changed to a car and cigars. I drive hundreds of extra miles a month around my city, just listening to music. I sing, I cry, I soak in the lyrics. I am very happy songs still move me. It’s a Sunday. I have some driving to do.



Girl I dated, whose name I do not recall


I used to give quite a few presentations when I was working in the corporate world. I worked for a massive company and the presentations were always to other people in our company. After one of my presentations a girl approached me to ask me questions about my presentation. It seemed like she was slightly coming on to me. In the rarest of occurrences in my life, I just got ballsy and asked her out. She said yes.

For our first date I brought flowers and chocolates and took her to a nice Italian restaurant. I could tell during that date it probably was not a good fit. She spent her time at the restaurant judging and commenting on what other women were wearing and the styles of their hair. She was ugly about it. I was pretty turned off by it. The meal was decent enough, so all was not a waste. I dropped her off at her house and went on my way.

A few days later she called me to see if I wanted to go play some pool that night. I had nothing going on, so I accepted. We went to this little dive of a pool hall in a strip mall that at some point was a new and exciting addition to a neighborhood, but now was old and mostly vacant.

I love playing pool, grew up on it and had even seriously considered playing professionally at one point. I let her win, not because I was trying to earn points, but because I could tell she was a real sore loser. She started to a get a little too drunk, too fast. I went to the bathroom and was trying to figure out how to handle the situation. When I came back to the table, she was angry and pointed a guy out to me. She said, “That guy just called me a bitch. What are you going to do about it?” I was pretty sure she had incited the situation. The guy in question was not trying to escalate it to a fight. I told her I was not going to fight and that it would be better if we just called it a night.

She got mad at me, questioned my manhood, but then apologized in the car ride home and tried to make out with me. I was not into it. By the time I got her home, which was at most a ten minute drive, she was throwing up in the parking lot of her apartment complex and could not walk. I carried her inside, cleaned her up as best I could at the bathroom sink and put her to bed. I slept on the floor next to the bed to keep an eye on her. I wanted to make sure she did not puke on herself in her sleep. She made it through the night okay. She was however mad I chose to sleep on the floor, instead of in the bed with her. Not in a way that concerned my comfort, but in a way that said, “Why didn’t you take advantage of me, I would have been fine with it”. She was fairly mean that morning, but I did not really care at that point. I left that morning, but stopped by her house later in the day and made her some soup to help cure her hangover and she was still mean, so I broke it off entirely. I was just trying to be a good friend at that point, but even being her friend was not worth the headache.

A year or so went by and I got an e-mail from a friend of hers that also worked at our company. She told me that she considered me to be a very nice guy, that her friend always spoke highly of me and that I should give her friend a call. I asked why, she said “well right after you went on your dates with her, she met a guy and fell in love. He was still married, but promised to leave his wife for her. He eventually did and they were going to get married, but literally on the way to the wedding he got in a wreck and was killed. She could use a nice guy to help her get through it.”

I responded thoughtfully and eloquently, but the gist of my e-mail was  “There is no way I’m going to insert myself into that shit storm”.

There were no more e-mails exchanged.

Music memory – Survivor, Eye of the Tiger



For a few years in a row, from 1979 to 1982, I was Rocky for Halloween. I went in black and gold boxing trunks, boxing gloves, no shirt, no matter how cold and a painted on black eye. I was the prime target audience for the Rocky series. I wanted to be a boxer. I wanted to chase chickens. I wanted to wear gray sweat suits and jog early in the mornings and run up stairs.

I was 12 years old at the time Rocky III came out. When I first heard the song, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, I had to get my hands on it. That is the theme song to Rocky III.

My mom took me to the mall, which was where the only music store in town was and bought me the Survivor cassette. I worn it out over the summer of 1982. I doubt I listened to anything else. I knew it from beginning to end, backwards and forwards. I loved that cassette. All my time was spent finding ways to listen to that cassette.

My parents had been divorced for a number of years by that time. Every summer my dad would take me and my sister to visit his parents. They lived in Arkansas. We lived in Oklahoma. It was a good 6 hour drive or as my dad would say, about six to eight beers away.

My dads dad was a retired Methodist preacher. My dads brother was also a preacher. My dad was probably the black sheep as he was a hard-drinking, country boy that spent his time hunting, fishing, gambling and drinking.

I remember that trip to his parents house more clearly than any of the other trips we had taken there. I was on the verge of booming into a teenager. Up until this trip I saw my dad as an authority figure and nothing else. This trip was the first time I had realized he was just a person like the rest of us and he had his own things to deal with.

I took my cassette on the trip, but I knew there was a good chance my dad would not let me play it in his truck. Not without some ridicule of my music choice he let me put it in between Johnny Cash, Hank Jr and Merle Haggard. I got to listen to it once on our way to their house.

He drank and smoked more than usual on the way there. He was not allowed to drink or smoke at his parents house, so he was getting it in while he could. I sensed he was stressed and not necessarily looking forward to the arrival. Before we got to his parents house he stopped at a gas station, brushed his teeth, changed his shirt and put on some cologne. From there, we drove to their house with the windows down to air us off a little more.

As all kids my age, I was incredibly bored at their house. I sat around while the grown ups talked about things I could not relate to. The first night there I could not sleep. The house was stuffy, too warm. I decided I would sneak out to my dads truck and try to listen to my Survivor cassette.

It was about one in the morning. I was very nervous about sneaking out. I was new to the concept. I snuck out of the house as quietly as possible and was walking up to the drivers side of my dads truck, when he swung open the driver side door and quietly and calmly said, “get in”. He was in there smoking and drinking and was in a real quiet mood. He was not angry. He did not even seemed to care at all about my actions. I told him I came out to listen to my Survivor cassette. He put it in and played it in its entirety while we sat there, quiet. He seemed to be in a real heavy mood and I remember feeling a bit sad for him, even though I did not know exactly what to connect his plight to.

After the cassette played, he said, “well we should probably get back inside” and we quietly returned to the house and went to sleep. It was never spoken of.

That summer passed and I moved on to listening to other things and have not heard that album since 1982.

These days I have a buddy I smoke cigars with while we sit in his truck and listen to new releases of artists we love. We also listen to old stuff we have not heard in a while. I had been joking around with him for a while that we needed to drive around, smoke and listen to the Survivor cassette in its entirety. He was reluctant, rightfully so, but a few nights ago we did just that.

I was nervous and curious. I expected to hate it. My only intentions were to see if I remembered any of it. Back in 1982 I had every second memorized. I was curious if that still existed in my brain somewhere.

We lit a smoke and put it on. It opens with Eye of the Tiger, so obviously I remembered that. The next five songs I had no recollection of. I was a little disappointed it was not striking more of a chord with me. I was however enjoying it. It was a solid eighties rock album. It sounded nice and warm. The songs were good, better than I thought they would be.

Then a piano ballad came on for song seven and I knew it immediately. I remembered how much I loved and wore that song out. It reminded me that I do love a ballad. Tears streamed down my face while that song played. It took me back to to sitting in the truck with my dad. I am a sap for nostalgia. It is something I have always considered more of a flaw than a blessing. Tonight it was a blessing.

There was only one more song I remember that was near the end of the album, probably because it was the other single from the album and was also somewhat of a hit.

Thanks Survivor. Thanks for giving me this memory with my dad.

Here’s the piano ballad for your listening pleasure.


Hallway Closet


Hallway Closet

When I was in eighth grade, the first night of spring break, I got a call. I was not an unpopular kid, but I was not in the click of the popular kids. The call was from Lisa Brodbeck, a girl I did not know very well. She asked me if I was interested in coming over for a party that night. Her parents were out of town and she was having a get together. I nervously, but eagerly accepted. I am not sure I had ever spoken a word to Lisa before this call.

I rode my bike over to her house. Probably a two to three mile ride. Normally I would be able to tell you what I played in my walkman on the ride over, but in this case I have no recollection of it. I am sure it was early rap, Nucleus or Fatboys or something of that nature.

When I arrived it was mostly boys and girls that I considered part of the popular crowd. I was happy to be invited into this scene.

Soon after arriving, it was revealed that the sole reason for this get together was to play spin the bottle. Any normal boy would have been ecstatic about this, but it freaked me the fuck out. I was slightly socially awkward, but more internally than externally. Inside I was a wreck, but I felt I kept my cool pretty well.

Through conversation leading up to spin the bottle it was revealed that I was kind of far down on the list of boys she called. Most boys had gone out of town for Spring Break with their families. It was not meant to hurt my feelings, but it did. It was clear who had crushes on whom and being pretty good at reading people, due to being a mostly silent observer all of my life, I knew no girl in that room had their eyes on me. This was going to be a disaster.

This was the first and only time I played spin the bottle. As I predicted it ended in disaster for me and another girl. I don’t recall many of the details, but I tried to capture it in a song on my new album, WOLF. The song is called Hallway Closet.

The song ends on a cliff hanger, but I did up in the closet with Lisa. As soon as the door closed, she told me she did not want to kiss me and for one solid minute, we stood in that closet in silence. I can literally still conjure up the sound of her breath from that minute in the closet. It sends chills down my spine to recall it.

There are more tracks from the album in the sidebar to the right. If you are interested in the entire album, it can be found at http://robertsteel.bandcamp.com/album/wolf-4

There will be an official release in June. Thanks for reading.

Music Memories – Motley Crue


I will never forget the first time I heard Motley Crue. My sister had the same boyfriend through all of her junior high years and through most of high school. Towards the end of her high school years, she was growing apart from her long time boyfriend, Ron Fralix.
Ron was the biggest athlete in a very small pond in junior high. He was the star quarterback, the star pitcher, the star at all track meets. However, that was junior high. In high school he found himself to be more in the middle of the pack.
My sister was planning her move to college. Ron had no college plans and his plans of being an athlete had fizzled to the point where he was no longer even on any high school teams. I was two years younger than my sister. Ron was always real nice to me and spent a great deal of time playing sports with me and teaching me anything I wanted to know about any sport. I was real fond of the guy and he felt like part of the family. He went on all trips with us. It was hard for me to watch him and my sister grow apart.

Ron Fralix and my dad from a camping trip

Ron Fralix and my dad from a camping trip

One day Ron was parked outside of our house, talking with my sister. At this point my sister had broken up with him and he was coming around trying to find anyway to stop that train. He was looking for any reason at all to stop by. He wanted her to hear this new band, Motley Crue.  He turned it up with his window down, while she stood outside of his car door and pretended to listen. The intro came on loud and sounded like a howling train and then a voice comes in and delivers a Vincent price type of intro, “In the beginning…”. If you know the album, you know the intro well. If not, here’s a link:

In the beginning
Good always overpowered the evils of all man’s sins…
But in time
The nations grew weak
And our cities fell to slums
While evil stood strong
In the dusts of hell
Lurked the blackest of hates
For he whom they feared awaits you…
Now many, many lifetimes later
Lay destroyed, beaten down
Only the corpses of rebels
Ashes of dreams
And blood stained streets
It has been written “Those who have the youth have the future”
So come now, children of the beast
Be strong
And Shout at the Devil

I was outside playing basketball, mainly to eaves drop. This intro sent chills down my spine and when the first song came blasting out of his car, I was absolutely hooked. I walked over and asked him who it was and it changed the course of my music landscape forever, which had primarily been real early rap, i.e. Fatboys, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Nucleus, etc.
I fell head first into Motley Crue and covered my room with Metal posters. Between Shout at the Devil and Motley Crues next album the lead singer, Vince Neil killed his friend that was in the passenger seat of his car while he drove drunk and recklessly. I grabbed every Metal magazine I could get my hands on in hopes to find out new things about the trial and the new Crue album.
Vince got off with a slap on the wrist and then released a new album called, Theater of Pain. I could not wait to get my hands on it and got it on the first day of release. At this time my dads sister had decided to take the family on a trip to Colorado. She invited me and my sister to come to Colorado with her family.
I got the new Crue album right before this trip and I was disappointed in it. I was hoping for more rawness, but it was more glam and polished. I remember purposely taking only a handful of cassettes with me on that trip and decided I would spend my time in the back seat of the car listening to Theather of Pain and trying to find a way to love it.
We drove from Lawton, Oklahoma to Creed, Colorado. The entire trip there I listened to Theather of Pain over and over and over and over. I listened to nothing else. I remember taking off my head phones and exclaiming, “I give up on this album. I don’t like it”. My sister, whom did not like metal at all asked to listen to it and put on my head phones. After a while she took them off and said, “I like it” and I said, “and that’s exactly why I don’t”.
That was 1985. I have not listened to Theather of Pain since that trip until a few days ago. I lit a cigar, put gas in my tank and set out on I-35. I was excited and nervous. I could not even recall the track listings. I did not even know what song started off the album. I got on the highway with a lit cigar and hit play. It is a fairly long album with thirteen songs on it. As I listened to it, I pictured being back in the back seat of my aunt’s car. I conjured up any memories I could find. I remembered I had a red Koss walkman at the time. The Motley Crue cassette was the very first clear cassette I had seen. My headphones had tape holding one side together. My Uncle was a Doctor and I remember on this trip my cousin taped him on the shoulder while he was driving and he said, “Not so hard, you’re going to give me a chronic inflammation of the left clavicle”. I remembered the small tan box that held my cassettes. I remembered going out to fish at six in the morning and encountering a doe and her baby no more than ten feet away, drinking from the stream with no fear of me. I sat behind the passenger seat the entire trip, crammed up against the door. A few nights ago I took a trip back in time to when I was fifteen and full of angst. I listened to Motley Crue’s, Theather of Pain very intently… and it still sucks.

A wallet


a wallet

This was my dads wallet. He died when I was fifteen. Before the estate auction I was able to go through his house and get small things. I took his wallet, a few Texaco shirts, a pair of shorts and a few other things. His wallet had business cards, his current fishing license, some receipts for gas and a receipt for an old traffic violation. No cash as he carried a money clip for that.

From age fifteen to twenty-two I used this wallet as my own. It is morbid to think about now, but at the time it was sentimental that I left everything of his in the wallet.

From the time I stopped using it, it has resided in the top drawer of my dresser. The dresser was passed down to my father from his father and then to me.

I do not see or think about this wallet often, but it stood out to me today and I thought long and hard about my dad. Little things can really ruin/make a day for me. I can be going along fine and something small will throw a stick into the spokes of my mind. Often the rest of the day I’ll silently stew in heavy thought or if I can turn it into something productive, I will do what I am doing now and write.

In March of next year, I will have had this wallet for thirty years.

While using the wallet, I pulled it out to pay for something one day. I was with my grandmother and she mentioned that the wallet had seen better days and that she was going to get me a new one for Christmas. She did not know this was my fathers wallet. I do not think anyone knew. I think I kept that to myself.

Come Christmas that year, I opened a gift to see a new black wallet. Pressed into one side of the leather, on one side of the fold was a man fishing. I figured that was as good of time as any to move on. I took his expired fishing license and my current one out of our wallet, placed it in my new one; Threw away the rest of the stuff in it, except some of my receipts. Thinking about that now, it might have been my first tiny step towards accepting his departure from this world.