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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

30 April 2006

Tattooed Ladies

Friday, 28 April 2006
Dale is always hinting that he would like to play more shows closer to him in the Lincoln County Missouri area. Many of his friends make the drive to St. Charles to see us there, and sometimes even to Edwardsville IL to see us at Rusty’s. I can understand the pressure from them asking him to do some local shows, as I have had some of that myself. Most of the BWB stuff centers around the St. Charles and North STL County area, as the majority of its members have traditionally been from that area.

So, Dale decided to take matters into his own hands and booked a gig at a new bar in Moscow Mills MO called The Tattooed Lady. He knows the new owners, or knows some people who go there, or drove past it one day, or something of that ilk. At any rate, we were scheduled to play for their Opening Weekend celebration.

It was originally slotted to be a small PA gig, as the room is slightly smaller that Rusty’s. Bobby’s small system is not yet together, so I was to bring mine. We discovered last week that the band scheduled to play Saturday night was some old SLME friends including Rob Sherman and Tony Hines (both excellent musicians, I might add). They offered to bring in their system for us to use Friday night, which would give them the opportunity to tweak on it without having to be playing at the same time. It sounded like a win-win situation from both sides, so we readily agreed.

I arrived a bit past 19:00, right behind Bobby and his lovely wife Roberta. Load in was a snap, as there is a door at the back of the building just to the side of the stage. Well…I say “stage”, but it’s really nothing more than a drum riser built into one corner of the place. Said door is literally right next to the “stage” and we were told not to block any of the doors, including the most important one just to the left of the back door which is the beer storage room. This made setup a bit trickier than normal, but, being the experienced professionals that we are, we made it work. Rob and Carlos arrived a bit later, as they got caught in accident traffic on I-70. Rob’s system was quite compact (not unlike mine), but also quite powerful (completely unlike mine). Most of it fit in his Jeep Cherokee, the rest stowed in Carlos’ minivan. Setup went very quickly and we were done with about ½ hour to spare.

We jumped into the sets with reckless abandon. Well, actually, it was really nothing out of the ordinary. I just wanted to say that. There’s very little about BWB that qualifies as reckless, unless you consider the second set from this night. For some unknown reason, we seem to have lost complete control over the beginning of that infernal Georgia Satellites song Keep Your Hands To Yourself. It found its way to the top of the second set, where we commenced to butcher it with reckless abandon (or, as Mike Stevenson would say, “You sliced that one deli-thin.”) I don’t know what went wrong, but in the last six months we have lost the ability to hold that one together. I made a mental note to myself to remember to send out an urgent email requesting that we drop this song from the repertoire and erase any record of its ever having existed in the setlist. I never really liked that song anyway, even when I was playing it back in the 80’s with Deron Boyd singing it. He did a fine job – especially the Sam Kinison break-down – I just never cared for it. Unfortunately, everyone seems to like it well enough to always pack the dance floor and sing along. There’s no accounting for taste.

The end of this set was a complete and utter disaster as well. Possum Kingdom is not a song that we have really had any trouble with in the past. Of all the songs we play, this seems like it would be the most likely candidate, as it is replete with odd time signature changes. We’ve never really had any issues with this until this night. Dale seemed to loose it around the beginning of the second verse, and everything went south from there. He simply forgot the words. No problem, right? We’re professionals. We can deal with this. Instead we just idled in the groove, waiting for Dale to find himself – which he never did. Through shear frustration, we lost the groove and the song became a giant fustercluck. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. I finally walked up to my mic and started the second verse myself. This seemed to prompt Dale out of his malaise, and he picked up midway through the verse. When we finally ended that abortion, we thanked the crowd for suffering through that and took a break. I grabbed the setlist and made a B-line to Carlos to express my wish to never ever play that Georgia Satellites song again. He agreed that we should definitely replace it with something that we can still play, and was as perplexed as me about where it all went so wrong…and why. We all have theories, but…

The rest of the night went off pretty much without any more catastrophes. We ran a bit long at the end of the night due to the door prize drawings in between sets, but still managed to squeeze in War Pigs. Carlos didn’t go hog-wild with the solos, and seemed a bit agitated and ready to get out of there. We had a pretty decent crowd most of the night (in fact, the place was packed when we started), but they began filtering out by the middle of the last set…that whole Friday night thing, I guess. It wasn’t the most beautiful crowd I’ve ever seen, but it was much better than I had expected considering the circumstances. Most of the BenWahBabes were there – Carlos’ lovely wife Dawn, Bobby’s lovely wife Roberta, and Dale’s lovely wife Chris. My lovely practically-wife/girlfriend Dawna didn’t make it this time. It’s a long drive, and she had to work Saturday morning. So, she just went to my house after work and was waiting for me there when I got home. Sweet! No diversions to Baltimore this time. My long drive home was accompanied by the debut album from the Utah-based prog band Hourglass. It didn’t last the whole way, so I popped in that Circus Maximus CD to finish the journey.

20 April 2006

Baltimore Revisited

Saturday, 15 April 2006
Tax Day. Enough said about that.

BenWahBob had another one of our seemingly increasing number of gigs at Rusty’s in Edwardsville IL. When we first started playing there, it was dead. We couldn’t buy a crowd. We had pretty much given up on the place and decided not to book any more gigs there…at least, not on purpose. Then, all of a sudden, we had a night with a tremendous crowd. Ever since then, we have had pretty decent attendance every time. It went from “paid practice” to a real gig. No complaints from me, as it’s one of the closest gigs to home for me.

Unfortunately, though, this has turned into a PA gig as well…which means it’s actually work now. Since my system is small and the load-in is easy, though, it’s not too bad. It’s also not too good coming off a week with the last two days spent in Baltimore MD…again. The church seemed to find a way to run 220VAC into their organ relay where it was looking for 14VDC. Not good. They fried just about every electronic board in the thing. Mark Wick called me Thursday morning and told me to run home and grab a change of clothes and whatever tools I would need…we were flying to Baltimore to rebuild their organ on-site. Great. I knew my boss Eric was going, but found out this week that he was the one who recommended that I go, too. Thanks, Eric. I owe you one, buddy.

It wasn’t really a bad trip, all in all. Wick’s owns a small Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, which seats four with a small luggage compartment. Mark flies quite a bit for business, so this was really just another trip for him. I, however, had never been in anything smaller than a Boeing 737. This was quite a pleasant experience for me. I have long harbored the thought of getting a pilot’s license, specifically to fly small planes like this. Of course, that whole musicians-don’t-belong-in-planes thing always stayed any action in that direction (see Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.). The flight out got a little bumpy when we were going over the mountains, but other than that it was pretty uneventful. Mark laughed and joked with us the whole way, until we got close to Washington DC airspace. Then, all kidding around came to a complete halt. As Mark put it, “You don’t screw around here, and you keep talking to them.” Sounded like good advice to me. I had no desire to see an F-15 from my window. Air traffic control chatter is nonstop there. Eric and I just shut up and listened.

We arrived at the church late in the afternoon on Thursday and worked until almost 23:00, when we gave up for the night and retired to the hotel. We started early the next morning and finished around 15:00. We got a huge amount of work done in the relatively short time that we were there. We drove back to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and climbed back into the plane to head home. The weather was against us, though. A giant, vicious storm was moving toward us through Indiana and Ohio. Mark plotted a course that would take us around it, but we would have to go south through Virginia, across Kentucky and up through southern Indiana into Illinois.


While I had no desire to fly anywhere near this storm, which apparently contained a few tornados, I also had a great desire to get home as soon as possible. Dawna and I were supposed to have one of our unfortunately few dates Friday night. When I called her from the church to tell her that I would probably not be home before 20:00, she said she would just go to my house and wait for me there. What a sport. She did her best to hide her disappointment, but it was obvious to me. We stopped in Roanoke VA to refuel and I called her again to inform her of what we were doing and where we were, and told her that I would probably not be home until after 22:00. She was driving past St. Jacob as we were speaking…on her way home.


We landed at Greenville Airport around 23:00, and I drove home to an empty house.


The only real bright spot in all of this, besides the quickness with which we rebuilt an organ, was that I learned how to navigate a flight. I sat up front there and back again. Because Eric was the smallest, he had to sit in the back for proper weight distribution. This put me in the co-pilot seat, giving Mark the opportunity to teach me in-flight. So, that was pretty cool.

Uhhh…what does all of this have to do with BWB playing at Rusty’s Saturday night? Nothing, really…other than that whole thing about setting up and running a PA from the stage after a hard week. (I know…Waaaa!) Most of the rest of the night at Rusty’s was pretty uneventful, though, compared to the two days previous. The crowd filtered out early, leaving us with about five people for the last half of the last set. We jumped over a couple of benign tunes in the middle of the set and opted for Sabbath’s Faeries Wear Boots and Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song to close out the night. We didn’t even bother with War Pigs. We just shut down a few minutes early and went home. I listened to a new CD I had just gotten from LaserCD.com from a Norwegian progmetal band called Circus Maximus. It is their first album titled The 1st Chapter, and is very Dream Theater-ish. It’s definitely worth a listen, if you like that sort if thing.

BTW…inside joke…for those of you who don’t know – and why would you – Great, Swell, and Solo are the names given to some of the manual divisions of an organ (that’s the keyboards, for those of you in Rio Linda). Probably not funny to you, but I had fun writing it…especially the double entendre of the last one. My sick humor. Don’t mind me.

09 April 2006

Tornadoes and Old Churches

It’s not all music-related, but the events of the last week have been significant (to me) and bear transcribing.

Sunday, 02 April 2006
Sunday seemed a fairly normal day. I slept in after the late night of playing followed by a long drive home. I played my cello a bit and did some laundry before heading over to Dawna’s to fix a flat tire on her truck. As I got there, the weather seemed to be getting a bit dicey. There had been predictions of potentially severe storms, but that is par for the course this time of year in the Midwest. After some quick attempts at loosening the Arnold Schwarzenegger-tightened lug nuts on her Kia Sorento, we gave up in favor of running into Highland in my van to pick up some things at the store and grab some carry-out from Farmers (owned by the same people who own Ravanelli’s in Granite City), the local eatery with great pasta dishes. She was skeptical about going out, as we had been hearing reports from Fairview Heights of a fair amount of storm damage. I assured her that we would be fine. (Remember this point…because she does.)

As we left her driveway, I looked at the fast-moving clouds and mumbled something about us getting caught in the rain. We drove north toward Highland along the back roads, remarking about how it looked like Collinsville and Glen Carbon were probably getting hammered. Along the way, we saw a young boy flying a kite in a field about 150 yards from a farm house. I joked about him not learning anything from Benjamin Franklin, and Dawna wondered why his parents would let him remain out there. As we made a turn west to zigzag into town, I noticed that the storm seemed to be following us from behind, as well as along the side of us, and remarked about it.

We turned north again and proceeded into town on Poplar Street. This was a near-fatal decision. It began to rain instantaneously. Hard. Followed quickly with small hail. Then, the wind shifted sideways and the trees and power lines were straining and flapping like I have never seen. This should have been enough to warn us off. But, no…we continued onward. She expressed her doubts about our trek, but I assured her again that we would be fine. It was just a storm, right? About two blocks later, I started to have my own doubts as I couldn’t see well and began worrying about trees and power lines falling on us.

It was just about then that things started to fly past us…by “things” I mean parts of buildings, tree limbs, and who knows what else. We saw no cows, though. Like an idiot I drove onward, weaving around large chunks of insulation, wallboard, and siding…and in some cases driving right over them. About another half of a block later, we stopped in front of a downed power line stretched across the street. End of the road. Dawna, who had been simply sitting there with her hands around her face, finally said, “I want to go home.” That was good enough for me. As we started to turn around, a minivan that had stopped on the other side of the power line pulled out and went around the car in front of it, driving right over the top of the line. He had apparently decided that he was getting out of there at any cost. He made it over OK, and zoomed around us like we weren’t even there.

I didn’t really think about it then, as I was concentrating too much on driving, but the overall cacophony was almost deafening. The wind was whipping the rain against the windows from seemingly every direction, the windshield wipers were screeching and thumping at high speed, and there was hail. All the classic signs were there, but I completely ignored them. When we turned around to head back to her farm and saw some of the devastation, it finally occurred to me that we had just driven into a tornado. We had to drive through a farmer’s circle drive to get around one of his trees that had fallen across the road, and dodge a considerable amount of other debris before we returned to her home. Once there, we started getting regular reports from her grandmother about the damage they had received while we were away. We also started hearing details of the damage in Fairview Heights. We looked at each other and shook our heads in amazement.

There was considerable damage on her property as well. One barn had damage to part of the roof, as did one shed. An old travel trailer that had been sitting on a hill next to the lake was now little more than a scrap pile. She had one of those portable garages for her convertible that had simply disappeared. We found it later in the lake. (Fortunately, the car was in the driveway and not parked inside.) On its way over there, it had apparently taken out the power line to the barn, as we found this lying across the ground and strung up into the orchard trees. It had been ripped right out of the well pump house; the wires there still dangling off the side and the electrical box inside ripped off the wall and hanging by wires.

We all stood around outside after the weather had started to clear marveling at what we had just experienced. Growing up in Granite City I had seen a few tornadoes come through town and wreak their havoc, but I was never closer than several blocks away. My mother had always told us stories about the tornadoes she had experienced as a child growing up on a farm just to the north of Highland. One had even taken the roof off of their barn, which was found in a field several miles away. She told of the tell-tale “freight train” sound associated with the intense wind and vacuum of a tornado. While I don’t really remember that specific sound, it was loud overall, as I mentioned before. Oddly, though, the van was remarkably still during the whole ordeal. Other than having things bouncing off of it…like rain, and hail, and buildings…it never really seemed to be considerably shaken by the wind.

I teased Dawna quite a bit afterwards about being the first to drive her into a tornado. No one can ever say that I don’t know how to show a lady a good time.

Tuesday, 04 April 2006
Since starting at my new job, my boss has occasionally asked me how I feel about traveling. My answer has always been the same; I don’t mind, but I’d rather not. Well, they finally got me off the ground this week.

The very first digital organ shipped after I started went to St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baltimore MD. We didn’t yet have the pipes finished, but they wanted to have an organ by Christmas. So, we sent them the digital part and shipped the pipe work when it was done. Since we didn’t troubleshoot the complete organ before it left the shop, this was done in the church by the installation crew…a couple of women from the Virginia area. They called and told us they were having some trouble getting the pipes to play. When they told us of the “modifications” they had made to the digital serial data lines, it became readily apparent that someone would have to go there to fix it. Everyone immediate looked at me. My turn, I guess.

I hopped on a Southwest flight at 06:25 Tuesday morning and arrived at Baltimore-Washington International right on schedule. One of the ladies from KMK Services met me as I walked off the plane, and after retrieving my luggage (tool bag, laptop, etc.) we drove straight to the church. I was glad they agreed to meet me there, because I didn’t particularly relish the thought of driving a rental car in that area. When we got to the church, we went immediately to work.

This church is about 100 years old, and, accordingly, has that majestic landmark look to it. It is constructed of stone and mortar on the outside, but fairly modern materials on the inside. In a matter of about ½ an hour, I had the pipes playing by replacing a MIDI conversion pc board. My attention then turned to the serial data line that ran from the back of the church through the ceiling to the front organ chambers. Once I climbed into the ceiling area above the altar, I immediately wished that I had brought my camera with me. It wasn’t a pleasant situation in which to work, but the view was priceless. I had my camera in my bag to take pictures of the installation anyway, so I would have to remember to climb back up there later to get some “behind-the-scenes” shots.

After a few non-productive attempts at cutting and re-soldering the data cable, I gave up and just decided to run a new one that I had brought with me. This was when it got interesting. Along the apex of the ceiling was a catwalk running the length of the building. The ceiling itself was some kind of old masonite-type material. Every so often, there were holes in the ceiling that appeared to be about the size of a foot. As the floor of the chapel was some 40 feet below me, I had no intention of being the first to put a body-size hole in it. I dragged the new cable along with me as I traversed the catwalk, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds. The catwalk was really just a 1x8 board mounted on the top of the ceiling, with ropes strung along the sides – unevenly, I might add – for handrails. It is never too difficult to walk in a straight line unless you start thinking about busting through a ceiling and falling 40 feet onto a bunch of church pews. Add a 180-foot cable in one hand, and the rearward tension it is exerting as it is being dragged, and balance is suddenly a precarious thing. After ninja-walking across this thing, ducking under several waist-high cross-beams, I arrived at the other end. The hole in the wall leading into the rear organ chamber was about ¾ of the way down the side from the middle point. When I asked Mary-William how they got down there the first time, she yelled back up to me that Kathy had done this, not her. The best she knew was that she had slid down the ceiling to the wall and caught onto an I-beam to stop herself.


Now…besides being a very old building made with materials of questionable rigidity, it is in an old industrial town, which means it is very dirty up there. As there was no way to walk down the edge of the wall against the front of the building, it seemed that this was the only way. So, I placed my left foot as close to the wall as possible, guessed about where the second ceiling support would be (about every two feet, I was thinking) and placed my right foot there. I then let go of the catwalk and promptly slid down the ceiling at about a 45 degree angle. I caught hold of a vertical I-beam and stopped myself about where I needed to be. Success!

Now all I had to do was figure out how to get to the hole with the cables running through them. It was located a couple of feet under a stone wall outcropping. I had just enough room to kneel on a metal I-beam and, crouching down, almost reach the hole. MW had climbed up a ladder in the chamber and could just barely get her fingers into the cable hole. We flipped the cable back and forth for awhile before she finally got a good grip on it and pulled it through. What a nightmare. Surprisingly, I was able to walk back up the ceiling with little trouble. As fun as this was, it was time for me to get down on solid ground for awhile.

We worked together on some other issues with the pipe chest wiring, and before I knew it, it was time for me to head back to the airport. The minister came in and remarked about the time. It was then that I realized that we had worked the whole day through, not even stopping for lunch. I had eaten a granola bar on the plane, but nothing else all day. I wasn’t even hungry until I started thinking about it. As the minister looked me up and down and grinned, I realized that wearing a white shirt had probably been a mistake. I was filthy, to say the least.

I cleaned up a bit, and the minister agreed to drive me back to BWI, as Mary-William had a few more things she wanted to fix before leaving the church. We had a nice conversation about the merits of the Baltimore area, music preferences, their new organ, sports, his connections to St. Louis via the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and summer festivals. We successfully avoided altogether any discussion of religion.

He got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. This was a good thing, as I now had a one-track mind steering me towards food. As I walked the concourse browsing the restaurant choices, I opted for the easy way out. McDonald’s. Or, in this case, McMolasses. I have never seen a more poorly run place in my life. After about 10-15 minutes of watching other people come and go with their food, I finally asked the girl at the counter if she had forgotten me. She looked at me, then turned and walked away. A couple of minutes later, I walked over to the manager and thundered in my most type-A mean-man voice about how I didn’t care for being soundly ignored and wanting my damned food. Amazingly, I had it in my hand just mere moments later. Everyone around seemed to get a good chuckle out of this display…well, everyone but me. I was just hungry.

After enjoying my burger on a stale bun, and watered-down Dr. Pepper, I boarded the plane and headed back to St. Louis. About half way home, I realized that I had seen both sunrise and sunset from a plane window. I wasn’t too thrilled about the thought that this might become a common occurrence for me. It was a long day, and I was fighting the urge to sleep during the flight, as I still had a fair drive home from the airport.

I never did get those pictures of the church, though. When I pulled out my camera, just before I left, the batteries went dead almost immediately. Bummer. Oh, well…I’m sure there’ll be a next time. On the bright side, though, I did get to play a Wick’s Royal Classic organ in an old church…and no, I didn’t play Mr. Crowley this time.

06 April 2006

Horses and Hotties

Friday, 31 March 2006
One of the true joys of playing with BenWahBob is the summertime gigs at Fairmount Park. These are sponsored again this year by Anheuser-Busch, who provides the funding, food, and $1 bottles of their adult beverage products. I must admit, the scenery there isn’t too bad either. I arrived there Friday evening for our first one of the year, loaded in the small rig, and sat down with the rest of the band to a nice meal of hot wings and fish nuggets. Yummy.

The place filled up rather quickly. Greg, the guy who runs these events and – more importantly – pays us at the end of the night, was quite agitated by this. The facility officials had apparently decided to not open one of the lower level areas that often catches the overflow crowd. Their reasoning was that it was too early in the season for there to be a big enough crowd to necessitate the availability of that area. Oops. There was already over 1000 people there by 19:30. Add to that the fact that they only had two bartenders who also appeared to be responsible for keeping the bar stocked, and the lines were just plain stagnant.

We kicked into gear around 18:30, played for the first hour, and then stopped for the first race. After that, it was the standard operation of playing between the races (“Every 19 minutes, the band stops playing!”). It is sometimes difficult to find a groove like that, but we’re not really there for that anyway. We are the secondary entertainment in-between the primary entertainment of horse races. It’s a tough job, but…

We put the sets through the usual paces, with no real unusual occurrences of note. Well…except for the healthy-chested young lady who lost her battle with containment while jumping up and down on the dance floor. That must be the first time we’ve ever been flashed (albeit inadvertently) at one of these gigs. Then there was the Georgia Satellites tune on which Dale took off into his own tempo. This has on past occasions been a clusterf**k. This time, rather than try to get back together with him, we all just let him go and continued in our tempo. It was awful. From that point forward, it became Keep Your Timing to Yourself. We had fun with the rest of the song; inserting odd little ditties, playing out-of-key phrases, and breaking down into a drums-and-bass-funk-thing during the last verse. Dale just kept looking at us sideways, as if to say, “What are you guys doing?” I even drank a beer – well, part of a beer – between one of the sets, rather than waiting through the ridiculous lines at the front bar. Just when you think you know what to expect…

As the races seemed to go pretty quickly, with only one photo finish, we finished a little early. I didn’t mind this in the least bit. Dawna had planned on coming out after she got off work, but called to tell me that she had a headache and was instead going straight to my house and to bed. (The jokes about it being from her job were profuse.) Needless to say, I didn’t waste any time hanging around when we were done. I packed my gear and headed for the door.

Another nice bonus of these gigs is that they are close to home for me. Of course this also meant that I didn’t get to listen to too much of the fifth Spock’s Beard CD during the short drive home. Oh, well…a trade-off I am willing to make.

Saturday, 01 April 2006
Baha Rock Club in St. Charles MO was on the docket for this night…about once every six weeks…like clockwork. The weather had been pretty nice over the weekend and we were anticipating a decent turnout. We were not disappointed. The Club had pretty much filled up before we even began at 21:00. We’ve started to institute a revolving set list system to help us keep fresh the songs that sometimes get put on a back burner and forgotten. So, the sets are a bit more interesting now as we pull out stuff we don’t normally play. That Georgia Satellites tune was on there again, but try as we might, we couldn’t purposely throw Dale off tempo. Bobby tossed in some double 16th note kicks, and I stood right next to Dale stomping on the floor in an altogether different tempo and rhythm. No dice. He wasn’t to be shaken on this night. We all had a blast trying, though. Welcome to the world of live music.

I must say that the scenery this night was almost as good as the previous night at Fairmount. One young lady who danced in front of the stage all night had on a white tank top with the saying “F**k Off! I’m with the Band!” She wasn’t, of course, but it’s nice to know that those girls are still out there for the bar stars willing to indulge themselves.

The sets this night were more straight forward. We played from 21:00 to 01:00; four 45-minute sets with 20-minute breaks. As usual, we gave them our standard Baha Rock Club/BenWahBob “Big Rock Ending” at the end of the night. We whipped out Immigrant Song, then What You’re Doing, Paranoid, and War Pigs to close out the evening’s festivities. That was kind of fun.

When I went to the parking garage to retrieve my van, I couldn’t help but notice that the St. Charles Police were in full force on Main Street. They had one guy in a Jeep pulled over at the intersection in front of the bar, and another just a couple of blocks north. By the time I had my gear loaded into the van, the cop cars were gone and the Jeep was up on a tow truck. I didn’t stick around long this night either, as I was tired and just wanted to put behind me the long drive home. As I was sliding in a CD, Dale pulled up and asked if I was listening to Queensryche for the drive home. “Nope…Liquid Tension Experiment tonight,” was my response. Hmmm…I haven’t listened to Queensryche for quite some time. I believe I’m long overdue for a dose of Mindcrime.