Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Journey fan's dream deep cuts setlist -- that means no DSB, peeps

What kind of setlist would I like to see Journey play before the group stops touring? The band has a large catalog of hits, but there are a lot of lesser-known gems that you may not know about, and if you do, know them, in the last few years you didn't hear them in concert.

Journey, 2011, the Today Show / Pam Spaulding
The last several tours have been triple bills (2014 will feature Tower of Power and the Steve Miller Band opening for the J-Boys), and that means little more than the Greatest Hits (or "Dirty Dozen") will be played for the mass of casual fans that show up. This leaves a chance for one, maybe two lesser-known nuggets to make the setlist. I will not shed a tear if I don't hear the beloved Don't Stop Believing again. A few more from the band's rich catalog would be greatly appreciated!

This post is about a hope and dream that Journey will think about doing maybe 5 dates, in strategic locations in the U.S., that die-hard fans will be willing to travel to -- smaller, more intimate venues (I fantasize about them coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center; and how about going to The Apollo in NYC for the hell of it!?), where they can do a 2.5-3 hour single bill show. If it's just 5 dates, there's no dread about the endless, tiring road dates. They will have time to think about fresh arrangements/concepts for the concerts, and they will be well-rested and enthusiastic about traveling down memory lane to revisit songs that rarely or never saw play on the road, plus personal faves, etc.

Or, rather, MY personal faves. Since this essay is about a dream set list of deeper cuts from albums that I happen to love, I get to set the terms! There's plenty here to argue over, of course (such as leaving the pre-Perry albums off of my consideration list). I welcome comments, and it would be great to see others make their own fantasy setlists; it's all good.

Journey fans are opinionated die hards and there are definite differences as to which period in the band's history is "the best." The fact is that this band is much more than its "classic" period that most casual fans know about and love. (And for the haters? Why are you reading this? Move along.)

What isn't in question, as you sample some of the video clips, is that the band excels in the live environment. They come alive in concert when released from the constraints of the studio.

A couple of caveats about this fantasy --

1) It has to be grounded in reality. Steve Perry is not going to reunite with the band. Period. Done. If he ever turns up in a concert, it will be solo, one-night-only kind of deal, and it will be on his own terms. Or he'll remain happily retired and we'll possibly, one day hear new recorded music from him. Having lunch with The Voice is on my bucket list (I'd probably pass out if I ever did get to meet him), but there's no way a concert appearance going to happen in the context of a reunion tour -- I accept that; and

2) It is has to be plausible that a couple of the former lead vocalists could be convinced to show up at this handful of dates. I'm thinking Robert Fleischman (who's that, you might ask -- well, he wrote and performed in the band before Steve Perry, and is still going strong with his band The Sky these days), Gregg Rolie (the original Journey vocalist, now on the road with Ringo Starr's All Starr Band in 2014), and perhaps even Steve Augeri would say yes to an invitation to sing a couple of numbers from their chapters in the Journey catalog. While I'd love to see short-term frontman Jeff Scott Soto on board to handle a few of the hits that call for the considerable R&B swagger that he possesses I'm not sure things were left off in a place with the band (long story, for another day) where he'd say yes, given I set the "plausible" standard here. Oy.

So where to begin? I won't bother attempting a sequencing of the setlist. First I need to pick some cuts. My picks for the setlist will have 2 asterisks, runners-up, 1 asterisk.

Let's be counterintuitive and start from the most recent album and go backwards in the DeLorean ...

Eclipse (2011).

I saw the kickoff concert for this 2011 release, and they played 5 cuts from this CD, so I was quite fortunate. However, there are fantastic, very Journey-esque tunes on this guitar-heavy work that were never played in concert. Here are the ones I definitely want to hear live (two stars):

Current Journey frontman Arnel Pineda./ Pam Spaulding
City of Hope *
Edge of the Moment *
Chain of Love *
Anything is Possible **
Resonate *
She's a Mystery *
Human Feel *
To Whom It May Concern *
Someone **

For crying out loud, there was not a sane reason to leave Anything Is Possible off a 2011 set list. It was actually released and charted as a single! I heard it 3 times when I was randomly out in public, once in a grocery store, once in a Subway. I forgot the third venue. I also heard it on the radio a few times. But it was never played in concert by the band. Huh? It's pure, classic, Journey. Uplifting message, positive, it showcases Arnel's warm, rich tenor, great harmonies, and Neal's guitar just sings during the solo and outro.

Someone -- come on, boys, this is another sure-fire single that never was. It's has a great zingy, pop confection of a synth opening by Jon Cain, paired with ample classic piano keying. I would consider kicking the concert off with this one! Arnel's energy is infectious; so much fun energy!

Runner-up Human Feel was one of the songs played at the Las Vegas February 23, 2011 concert. It has a unique, fascinating syncopation, courtesy of skins master Deen Castronovo, and great pulsing bass on the part of Ross Valory. It threw a lot of concertgoers off beat as they tried to dance to it. It was hilarious. Interesting lyrics about the disconnect in this "digital ocean" of information make this one a winner live. I'd enjoy hearing this one again just to watch Deen go wild on the kit.

Deen Castronovo / Pam Spaulding
On to Revelation (2008):

Never Walk Away
Like a Sunshower **
Change for the Better **
Wildest Dream
Faith in the Heartland *
After All These Years
Where Did I Lose Your Love **
What I Needed
What It Takes to Win
Turn Down the World Tonight

Almost all of these got an airing in concert as it was Arnel Pineda's debut smash with Journey. The release also featured a CD with re-records of classic Journey hits. But what holds my interest are the original recordings -- Cain and Schon definitely wooed fans with a classic sound on this CD.

Like A Sunshower didn't see the light of day in concert, and it's a pity, so that's why it makes my cut here. Beautiful, slow ballad in an unusual time signature (Pandora says twelve-eight time signature; it's the same as the classic "Lights") and sonically pleasing chord progression that takes advantage of the J-Boys harmonizing. Win.

Change for the Better is a driving rocker, with a 80 synth + crunchy rhythm guitar style. My ears tend to tire of over-reliance on synthesizers that Jonathan Cain used to create the signature sound of the band in the 80s. Some songs simply don't age well (more on that later), or head directly into Cheez-Wiz land for me. However, this one perfectly matches up to the material and Arnel and Deen's energy. Neal's standard wailing solo fits as well. It's upbeat and has there's a nice pulsing bridge.

Also played in concert during this period is one of my favorites, Where Did I Lose Your Love, that clearly (to me) is a echo/tribute to Motown, written in a minor key, and it benefits from strong piano work by Jon, and great singing guitar work by Neal, and again, the harmonies make this song rise. Want to hear this one live again.

Let's step back into the Journey Wilderness Years after the jump....

Friday, April 25, 2014

What a difference a new pair of glasses makes!

I CAN SEE! I picked up my new glasses today. No big style change for me, as you see. These glasses are plain, black geek frames, a little larger than my last pair, to give my eyes a bit more coverage for sun protection with Transitions lenses. My current insurance allows me one new pair a year, I think.

My horrid nearsightedness improved, as did my reading script. But it's still bad; I needed hi-index 1.67. This is the script for the progressives:

OD Sph: -7.75 Cyl:-0.50 Axis: 180
OS Sph: -7.50 Cyl: -.75 Axis: 165
OD ADD 2.25
OS ADD 2.25

I used to be > -8.00 in both eyes prior to requiring bifocals when I turned 42 (I'm 50 now). I also need a separate single-vision lens for computer work (I just had them replace the lenses in my old glasses to save $). I'm still blind as a bat by most folks' standard:

OD Sph: -6.50 Cyl:-0.50 Axis: 180
OS Sph: -6.25 Cyl: -.75 Axis: 165


Blind as a bat without them.
Q: Has anyone ever ordered a pair of prescription glasses online? I didn't know how satisfied people were, particularly if they have a difficult script. I was thinking of getting a pair that is tinted for indoor use, since I have light sensitivity from developing cataracts.


On a related front, I can report that my prescription insurance, ExpressScripts, actually covered Restasis (drops for extreme eye dryness caused by RA/Sjogrens and other similar conditions). It's insane how much these meds cost. I paid $100 for 3 months' supply, the insurance covered > $700! Why does this med cost so much? Never mind. I'm sure it's cheaper across either border.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Managing a RA flare sick day

Sick day today; my first full-blown RA flare up in months since I switched to Orencia as my biologic vs. Enbrel. I haven't taken an actual sick day like this from work in months, as in: no work email, texts, calls, IMs. I was only online in the AM to "call in" via email and to rearrange all the meetings I had to miss. And even that was a horrible effort since light is really hurting my eyes this time. Flat out on my azz sick. Not working through it to prove that I'm impervious to chronic, life-altering pain. No way to fake it through a flare.

I then slept almost all day. It's annoying to be so wiped and in pain that you have to sit there in a stupor thinking about a plan to get up to make it across the room, but that's the reality of a big time RA flare. It just has to pass.

It was about 80F today, but I was cold when I briefly stepped outside, so my body therm is screwy. Doc gave me a script for prednisone a while back, but I won't take it unless this goes on for days since steroids F up my BGs.

The light sensitivity has abated somewhat this evening (why I can type this), but my muscles and joints are so tight that I'm already showered and coated in my rotating cast of liniments (tonight starring Biofreeze + Sombra + Capsaicin!).

Getting under the fleece and going to fall asleep to mothership L&O (1992 season is on We).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life changes -- RA drives me onto the professional off-ramp

Last week I officially acknowledged what I can no longer do -- my current job. It was announced in my org that I was stepping down from my position as an IT manager. I'll vacate as soon as they hire a successor.

I did this job for ~15 years. But I am no longer the person I once was because of pretty aggressive rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and I've been telling my boss for a couple of years now that a person is needed in this position that can handle the long hours that come with the job. So the succession plan is being rolled out ASAP.

Actually, my rheumatologist and endocrinologist have said for the last 4 years to "get out of that job," because the stress that comes with the ever-demanding and changing world of IT is wholly incompatible with an autoimmune condition that is profoundly affected by stress, the weather, and random foolishness I never can quite figure out. I'm deteriorating faster than I could have imagined. I guess the docs were right. I was in denial.

But those who know me know that I thrived for a long time on stress and long hours (or so I thought I did).

It's part of my own acceptance process to admit that I am not the person that I once was, chugging away on ungodly over-work up to about 3 years ago (doing this job plus running a full-time, nationally recognized blog, traveling during my vacation time to go to press conferences, the White House, covering all sorts of things as a citizen journalist in digital media). It was tiring, wonderful fun.

Fast forward to now -- rheumatoid arthritis has so destroyed me from the inside out that I:

1) can no longer down a 40 hour job;
2) had to shut down my blog;
3) can no longer travel alone because I can't lift my bags and I suffer from extreme fatigue and threats of flare ups from the barometric pressure changes because of flying;
4) live by the clock for meds, sleep breaks and the like; and
5) give up my weekends, taking my RA biologic med, and methotrexate that make me sick as a dog, and doles out unreal fatigue, all sacrificed so I can work the next week.

My spine is also now affected and one of my disks not only re-herniated (L5-S1), but it is collapsing on the other side, affecting feeling in my left leg and foot.

All in just three years. 

My life now revolves around preserving myself for work -- and nothing else of me is left for life. I am one of only a couple of patients of my rheumatologist that is still able to work. It's estimated that as many as one-third of people with RA are forced to stop working within 10 years of being diagnosed. You can read about others' experiences with RA and the workplace here.

Unlike some RA patients on the professional off-ramp, the organization is crafting an accommodation that may allow me to slide over to a different, hopefully more manageable 30 hr/week job. What's definite is that I will no longer be a senior manager. Does this bother me? Actually, I'm in such a constant state of pain and exhaustion that losing that status isn't something I'm mourning. It remains to seen how much of a demotion this new position represents.

In terms of reactions to the change, it's pretty clear that thinking about disability and my need to step down scares many people into silence (after all, it's natural to think "glad it's not me/that could be me" -- it's a very human reaction). Are you supposed to congratulate the person, have a sense of sorrow that they are stepping down for obvious health reasons? There is no good way to react. It was kind of like the interesting reactions I encountered during the couple of days I lost my voice due to a med change ("People -- I can't speak, but that doesn't mean I can't hear or think..."):
"[T]his temporary situation shows just how ill-prepared the average person is to deal with a disability of this nature. Our ability to speak allows us to convey a lot of information in very few words. Body language (thumbs up, down, OK gesture), is pretty limited when you need to communicate detailed thoughts or nuances.
Those who can communicate vocally assert their privilege/ability to try to force the mute to communicate on their level even when logically they know the other person cannot speak. You can see the frustration on their faces; they'd rather avoid me rather than try to compensate for the communication delay. Well, of course -- a pad and pen is a poor substitute.  I've also had to whisper from time to time because of my frustration in moving conversations along so I can get back to work. They don't want me to break my vocal rest, mind you, they just don't know what to do, so they avoid."
What I cannot avoid

Emotionally, I'm not really able to celebrate anything, since some things are still up in the air. But honestly, I'm still having those feelings of "Dead woman walking" or that I represent "the old dog taken out back and shot in the head." Pick your poison of negativity. It's all normal feelings I've had over the last week, and I just have to work through it. I do take solace in that I know that I'm not alone; this is a story that has played out (with even worse circumstances and resolutions) for most patients with severe RA. It's the netherworld prior to full disability -- too sick to work full time, not sick enough to qualify for disability. It's a high bar to clear. Besides, in my case I, want to work. And just be able to exit with dignity when the time comes. That option usually doesn't happen for most. Many simply have to resign.

It's horrible to know that I have a professional expiration date that isn't long in the future. Even something as simple as writing longhand is excruciating. I have to wrap my hands (and now my thumbs too) each AM, to tolerate typing all day. If I lose that ability, I don't know how I'll adjust. I detested using Dragon Naturally Speaking when I tested it. I think so much faster through my hands; when the day comes and I cannot type, it will be a real crossroads.

Part of me wants to flee and leave it all for someone else to deal with rather than exist being less than whole and involuntarily on a professional off-ramp at 50.

But I live in the real world. I just have to stay healthy enough to make it through the fire of a long list of to-dos to pass the torch to the next IT manager.

And figure out how I'll be able to make it to the next Journey concert when they hit Raleigh (on a weeknight, no less. I'm usually in bed by 7PM these days). I'll really pay dearly in terms of fatigue, but I need something to feel positive about right about now. I'm still holding out on buying tix because of the health circumstances, so I guess I won't get good-for-photos seats now. Sigh. Ah, just think Anything is Possible.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My eyes, my eyes! Travails of progressive bifocals, the eye doc...and cataracts?!

Saw eye doc yesterday. Terribly necessary because I cannot see anything in focus in any field of my progressive bifocals at this point; things are fuzzy, and for close up (like reading a pill bottle), I just take my glasses off or lift them up. It's incredibly annoying.

Good news/bad news. Good news first - no damage from taking Plaquenil (rheumatoid arthritis drug), or any sign of diabetic retinopathy. She was shocked since I've had insulin-dependent diabetes for ~30 years at this point -- I keep my BGs in line, that's why! [Eyes fine; legs/feet and neuropathy not so much.]

My prescription at this point has changed (no shock there), but the other element at work is that because of RA and some of my meds, my eyes are extremely dry, so much so that the doc said I need to come back next week. I have to use eye drops every 4 hours and eye ointment at night. Then I'll come back retest and see if the script matches my tests yesterday. Some info:

Dry eyes is a common problem for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients may notice irritation, a gritty feeling, painful burning, sensitivity to light, and a sensation that something is in the eye. It is caused by a lack of tear production. Patients with dry eyes are at increased risk for infections around the eye and damage to the cornea. 
Eye dryness is also a symptom of Sjögren's syndrome which is an inflammatory disease that can affect many different parts of the body, but most often affects the tear and saliva glands. Approximately 10 to 25 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients will develop Sjögren's syndrome. Treatment for dry eyes include artificial tears or prescription eye drops (ie. Restasis).
We'll see how things go in a week. On the matter of the actual glasses, I don't know if I just need to pick my battles and trash the whole progressive bifocals thing.

Oh yeah, the bad news -- she was shocked to see that I'm developing cataracts in BOTH eyes. She was like -- "wait, you're too young for cataracts at this stage!" (I'm 50) Last year there was no sign of this, but yet again, inflammation from very active RA can play a role. So I have to stay out of the sun, keep blood glucose numbers (BG) in line and stay away from prednisone (a steroid many RA patients rely on for some relief; I don't use it because it screws up my BGs). Thankfully I don't smoke, another factor in developing cataracts.

It also explains why night driving has become more difficult, and why bright light has been hurting my eyes more than in the past.