Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Art of Talking or Not

Badfinger--"Perfection" (mp3)
Babyshambles--"You Talk" (mp3)

We were sitting in Mama Leone's in Venice, Florida over Spring Break. They have terrific pizza and other pasta offerings and the place is a big hit with "the Oldies." I'm sorry, that may not sound like an appropriate label, but you have to call them something. It is not normal to be in a place with such a preponderance of the elderly. All of the Seinfeld jokes come to mind about "the eventual left turn" being legal in Florida and the "I survived, let's see if you can, too" method of elderly drivers pulling out in front of you.

Anyway, at the next table three elderly couples chatted back and forth, the gist of the conversation being one couples' upcoming trip to Italy. It sounded like they had spent a lot of money on a villa and were trying to recruit at least one of the other couples to come along.

I've spent a lot of time in Florida, observing these social groups. Often, there is an alpha female, rather than an alpha male, who runs things. I guess by the time we pass 65 or 70 years, the women are even more in charge than ever. We're just happy to get a steady stream of urine.

In this group at the next table, there is a definite alpha female: she has more jewelry, blonder hair (her true age not a factor in hair color), and clothing that she didn't buy at one of the old lady boutiques down on Venice's main street.

So. She is saying, as if this will close the Italy deal, "And, Edward, you will like this. There is a separate exit for the boys, in case you boys want to head out at night."

Everyone looks at Edward. I think he smiles a little, but I can't really tell. There is a silence that follows, and we can hear it at the next table. Our salads are long gone, our pizzas nowhere in sight.

Edward's wife intervenes. "I try," she says, "I try and I try but I just can't get him to talk."

Then I realize that the alpha female knew this and that is why she spoke to Edward in particular, in hopes that he might speak.

Is it possible, that among the many things that fall away as we get older, the need to talk is one of them? I don't know. I'm just a nosey eavesdropper at the next table. But it doesn't seem like Edward had a stroke or anything. It's more like he just lost the need or lost the interest in talking.

Sure, it must make for a hell of a marriage, but what a circumstance. I think of the lines from the Neil Young song, "You know, I keep getting younger/My life's been funny that way/Before I learned how to talk/I forgot what to say." What if a person can simply run out of ideas for conversation?

Each night, or at least each work night, I seem to hit a magic hour when the idea of talking and listening becomes less and less attractive to me. Usually, that happens around 9 or 10 o' clock. Maybe it's something about having a job where people walk into my office all day long and want to talk about whatever's on their minds. Pastoral care, they call it. In an informal way, at least. Those of us who, however correctly, are identified as good listeners must have ears that are more like cisterns than anything else. Maybe we can only fill them so full.

And so, at some point, we don't have have anything to say anymore, and don't really want to listen to much either. Many things, we know, are finite, but we don't really think of talk, of speaking, of needing to get some point or some information across, either in a given day or in a lifetime, as one of those things.

If Wallace Stevens is right that "[t]he world is ugly and the people are sad," then how much of that can we stand to hear about? Maybe no more, I would argue, than most of us have to say about it. Maybe our internal mechanism tells us that we can only take so much, and much of our conflict, especially with our spouses, comes when that other person doesn't realize that we have had as much as we can take that day even though he or she has something about that ugliness or sadness that has to be said, to be emptied into someone else's cistern. But, we have so much more to hear tomorrow, and we have to have some time to get ready for that.

Of course, the alternative, though interesting to ponder, is awful. Trying to imagine the need to say nothing, ever, for weeks and months, like Edward, is almost more than most of us can imagine. "Successful conversation can take you very far."

"Perfection" comes from the Badfinger album, Straight Up, not currently available on Itunes and probably caught up in those Beatle song negotiations. "You Talk" is from Babyshambles' last CD and keeps alive the hope that the Libertines might one day reunite if Pete Doherty doesn't die. By the way, turn up that Badfinger song, converted from a vinyl album, and listen to how good the old technology sounds!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

(In)Glory Days

Young America - Jump Little Children (mp3)
Teenager - Better Than Ezra (mp3)

"The Infamous El Guapo."
"Infamous? What does that mean?"
"IN-famous is when you're more than famous."
-- The Three Amigos

For most people, adolescence -- particularly high school -- is an IN-famous time. William Shatner's melodramatic acting style holds nary a candle to the minute-to-minute emotional roller coaster of the starship U.S.S. Teenager. On that spaceship, a strange odor can make a girl cry. The clearing of a throat can start fights between boys. A shirt that doesn't fit right, hair that doesn't brush right, and zits that don't pop right are among the WMDs hidden in the ship's crawlspaces. All passengers on board are required, at least one time during their service, to claim that they hate their parents.

Hormones are the engine that keeps the U.S.S. Teenager in hyperdrive through space. Many on the crew can handle exposure to lighter levels of this radiation, because they have the opportunity to release them through physical interaction with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, some of us work on the engineering crew, where we had to stay below deck, incapable of getting lai-- uh, are forced to merely absorb the radiation without an appropriate outlet for releasing it.

The strangest part is that I find myself spending the better part of my life in that world, like a Tribble that has snuck aboard the U.S.S. Teenager as a castaway. That's kinda what teachers are, I think.

Teachers are all stowaways. Not all of us really love that particular starship, nor did we all adore our time as teenagers. This just happens to be the ship that's taking us where we were hoping to go at one point or another. Some of us have chosen to remain on board indefinitely.

Not only do I work in a high school, I find myself voluntarily emerged in books, movies, TV shows about adolescents. "King Dork" was one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2007, but I also read "Be More Chill," "Looking for Alaska," and "Hacking Harvard," and at least three or four more teen-centric books. The first season of "Friday Night Lights" has me absolutely mesmerized in spite of the fact that I romanticize neither high school football nor towns obsessed with it. "Freaks & Geeks" and "My So-Called Life" are two of the three best single-season television shows ever, both very much about the miseries of high school.

I am one of the millions who worship at the altar of John Hughes, an altar all who worship him can tell you is located in Shermer, (Come On Feel the) Illinois, where Anthony Michael Hall is the Arch-Bishop, Molly Ringwald is the Mother Superior, and James Spader (left) is that Paul Bettany Opus Dei character (right).

Why is this? Why are we so drawn to that which most of us despised experiencing? Why, God -- er, Mr. Hughes -- Why??

"When you grow up, your heart dies," says the true love of my teenage loins, Ally Sheedy, in "The Breakfast Club." While that assertion is insultingly ludicrous, I totally adore the convicted fear behind it.

Most adults have been on so many emotional roller coasters, have experienced so much loss and lust and elation, that we often can manage to keep our emotional lunch down. We don't have to vomit our emotions every time that roller coaster does a loop-de-loop. When we get that Christmas bonus we've been desperately awaiting, we don't jump up and down like some overweight black woman on "The Price is Right." At 30, the dramas we need to escalate our emotions are far weightier than they were at 15. What once took a rip in the favorite jeans or rejection from the potential prom date suddenly requires a trial separation or the death of a friend.

But the fear -- and teenagers really fear this, because every emotion that courses through them is at an elevated threat level -- is powerful and obsessive. If adults fly at Emotional Mach 3, teens are almost always set for a jump into light speed. And jumping regularly.

Our hearts don't die. They just get pickier. Or, as a more cynical feller once said, The child is grown / The dream is gone / but I have become Comfortably Numb.

Working for a living surrounded by teenagers -- or even just reminding ourselves of what they're going through via books or TV shows -- can stave off this numbness. What better example of symbiotic beauty than this, to make a living by helping teens fight their fears of growing up while they help combat the numbness that can fester in our hearts?

Monday, April 28, 2008

We Have A Winner In Our First-Ever Contest, But Only By Modifying The Slogan From Outback Steakhouse: No Rules. Just Wrong!

Problem 1: So, we listed a bunch of entries, but, in reality, only three people entered (and one additional straggler who had some great offerings, by the way).

Problem 2: None of the contestants sent us a file of their music to listen to.

Problem 3: So we're judging a book by its cover. Yes, we're choosing a winner without ever hearing his song; it's just that the cover of the CD is so scary, and so off-target for the leader of the band that produced arguably the best song of the '80s.

Yes, this is the same gentleman who so forcefully sang "Come On, Eileen."

Our winner, Mr. Josh Edwards, argues just as forcefully that the songs on this album of covers, especially "The Greatest Love of All," are "scary." So, Josh, you win!

Problem 4: We don't have a prize, so we've decided that Josh can go to Billy and ask for whatever he wants and that will be his prize.

Problem 5: Some of you thought/hoped it was a best covers contest. Fear not. We will go there soon. But you have to outdo the obvious no-brainer: Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower."

As Bartyles and James would say, "And thank you for your support." Congrats again to Josh. Peace out.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Roy Exum Moment

Murray McLauchlan--"Child's Song" (mp3)

Because it's raining in Nashville.
Because I'm sitting in a French cafe where they don't offer refills on the coffee.
Because I miss my child at college.
Because morose French music whose lyrics I can't understand is playing overhead.
Because the air is chilly and it was still dark when I got up much too early and 4am is the most hopeless hour of each day, when you know you should be asleep, storing energy for the day to come, but instead the swirling events of the past days won't let go quite yet.
Because I live in a country where people apparently won't vote for someone because he is black.

Because of all of these things, I am thinking of a boy who died this week.

I did not know him well. I had supper with him once, teased him about a few things, asked him a few questions, mostly tried to put him at ease about what he would face in a scholarship competition the following day.

It isn't ever supposed to be like this. There is nothing more awful in this life than for a parent to have a child die before he or she does. There are larger catastrophes. There are dreadful imaginings. But this.

I don't know what I would do.

Would I be still waiting for miracles?
Would I happily send my little boy to heaven with a new set of wings?
Would I lash out angrily at anyone who might have had a hand in it?
Would I enshrine him?
Would I change the memory of him so that he would become in death those things that he never was in life but that no one dares contest?
Would I put a price on him?

Always, we think we want to react rationally to the irrational. But I don't know.

"Child's Song" appears on Canadian songwriter Murray McLauchlan's 2-record live set, Only The Silence Remains, long since out of print.

Friday, April 25, 2008

iRorschach: The Game Show

All In All - My Friend Steve (mp3)

Common People - William Shatner (mp3)

"You sure do love your whiners." --
One of my oldest and most trustworthy friends in the whole world has said this in regards to my musical preferences.

In my previous post, I asked the following question: Do the characters with whom we identify shape who we become, or do we simply identify with whom are destined to be?

Megan G. is slightly overweight -- maybe "big-boned" -- and had hair bordering on black. It wasn't naturally that color. If she didn't dye it, her hair would be what my mother lovingly describes as "chicken-s#!t brown." She streaks it every month or so, mostly pink, but occasionally lavender or blue to mix it up and remind everyone of her originality. She'd like to convince you that her weight and her hair aren't the two most important things to know about her, but in the back of her mind, she kinda fears that they are.

Megan was mostly in the loop in her middle school years but started to fall out of the center of things by high school. Maybe she had some serious acne problems. Possibly she had a bad experience with a boy while out with a group and drinking, possibly experimenting with drugs. Whatever the case, although she held onto her love of that cheesy music she adored in her younger years -- "Forever Your Girl" and "I Saw the Sign" -- by the time she got to high school, her musical tastes got angry and aggressive. Lords of Acid and Limp Bizkit, Rob Zombie and Sevendust, and plenty of Drowning Pool thrown in for good measure.

Her family was middle-class, and only to the degree that I can claim to be 6-feet tall even though I'm only 5'10". Her dad, who left when she was still that happy middle school kid, got Megan an iPod Nano for her 17th birthday. Megan wasn't all that obsessed with music. She enjoyed listening to it, but mostly as an afterthought or to stave off boredom, not because she constantly hungered to experience it.

She hated high school. Hated. It. It was everything that's wrong with this country, wrong with this world, from adults who only show up to get paid to peers who only show up to get laid. Everything about high school boiled down to sex, which only served to constantly remind her that she wasn't all that physically appealing. And being reminded of it only served to start her down the vicious cycle of bitterness and pasty-white pudginess.

Megan got her first tattoo at the end of her second semester at Chatt. State. She got more attention and comments from classmates about that one goddamn tattoo than she'd gotten about anything in, like, her whole life. She had three more by the end of August. But just like any fix, the return on investment went downhill quickly, so that fourth one was her last.

In late October, she traded her Nano at McKay's. She had bought an iPod Touch with the money she'd saved up working 30 hours a week while taking classes at Chattanooga State. The purchase was more of an impulsive, rebellious act than anything. She was sick of seeing others around her buying shit they couldn't afford, and she wanted to know what it felt like.

* * * * *

When my wife told me she wanted an iPod Nano for Christmas last year, I went out and got her a used one at the local Used Pop Culture Valhalla we call McKay's. When I got it home, I discovered it still had the previous owner's collection of 400 some-odd songs.

Of those 400, a quarter of the songs were by three artists: Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Nirvana. Although these pointed to a male owner, I'd bet the farm the previous owner was female. She had 10 Tori Amos songs from two different albums. She also had "Ice, Ice Baby," and a healthy portion of Ace of Base and Paula Abdul.

Of the two males I have ever known who owned more than one Tori Amos album, both were gay, and neither would have been caught dead listening to Marilyn Manson.

With just her iPod Nano -- named "Megan" -- I constructed a rudimentary psychological profile of this former owner. My creation kinda depressed me. So I returned the iPod Nano to McKay's 10 days after Christmas and got my wife a refurbished one, a green beauty exorcised of all previous-owner's musical demons.

But I kept 100 or so of Megan's songs. Can't really explain why. But Marilyn Manson's version of "Tainted Love" and Limp Bizkit's version of "Faith" both should be nominated for "Worst Cover Songs Ever" consideration.

* * * * *

There should be a new game show where 10 people hand over their iPods, and the first 100 songs that play on their SHUFFLE are listed off. Two contestants would face off to try and match up the playlist with the 10-person panel. Each person on the panel would give a 1-minute bio about themselves, including the crucial stats -- age, marital status, hometown, current town, etc. It would be a mix between "What's My Line?" and that Penn Jillette gameshow "Identity."

Then again, I'm not sure I want to know the biography someone would predict for me based on the if someone looked at the first 100 songs that emerged from my SHUFFLE.

"You sure do love your whiners..."

"All in All" by My Friend Steve is the whiniest of all the whiny songs I've ever loved. "Common People" by William Shatner w/Joe Jackson is the most kickass song ever recorded by an over-the-top melodramatic actor slash icon. The former can only be purchased on their used CD, "Hope and Wait." The latter is worth every penny to buy it on iTunes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coming down from Robert Plant/Alison Krauss

Led Zeppelin--"Hey Hey What Can I Do" (mp3)

Fortunate enough to get to see the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss show tonight, I offer these highlights (in a night of many, many highlights) in no particular order:

1. The five Zeppelin songs they played: "Black Dog," "Black Country Woman," "Hey Hey What Can I Do," "When The Levee Breaks," and the showstopper, "The Battle of Evermore."

2. Alison singing a solo a capella "Down To the River To Pray," before Plant, Buddy Miller, and another guy joined in.

3. Yes, Buddy Miller was the lead and pedal steel player in the band.

4. How much better the songs on the CD sound live, especially "Fortune Teller," "Rich Woman," and "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson."

5. The fact that Plant was singing "I got a woman who wants to ball all day" and just a couple of songs later, Krauss was singing the gospel number, "Going up yonder/To live in green pastures."

6. T-Bone Burnett singing "Shut It Tight" from a record probably only I bought in the '80s.

7. Alison Krauss' form-fitting dress.

8. The final song, George Jones' "One Woman Man," with Buddy taking some of the lead lyrics.

9. How much obvious joy musicians with lengthy resumes took in getting to play Led Zeppelin songs with Robert Plant.

"Hey, Hey, What Can I Do" was never on an original Led Zeppelin album, but it did show up on some later compilations and is available at Itunes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Missed Hits #1

Bash and Pop--"Never Aim To Please" (mp3)

In the wake of the Replacements' demise, Paul Westerberg began a well-received solo career. Missed in the fallout, however, was a sweet little record, Friday Night Is Killing Me, from former 'Mats bass player Tommy Stinson. The opening track, "Never Aim To Please," is a superb rocker in the Stones/Replacements vein, full of power chords and bluster. I love the self-cancelling logic and doomed exuberance of the line: "Wish I'd jumped off your goddam planet/When I thought I could."

Friday Night Is Killing Me is no longer in print, but used copies are available from

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"But I Play One On TV"

Camera One - Josh Joplin Group (mp3)

Bully - Sugarbomb (mp3)

When you were a kid, did you find yourself watching certain movies over and over because you identified so strongly with one of the characters? Writing a post that never made the light of day got me thinking about an indelible movie from my pre-teen years. It was right after we got HBO in '82 or '83, and I watched this movie several dozen times: "My Bodyguard."

Every time "My Bodyguard" came on, I found myself drawn into the TV, even though I never would have said it was particularly beloved. I suspect it's allure was because I identified, even at the ripe age of 11, with the main character. The actor, Chris Makepeace, was also the pathetic outcast Rudy in "Meatballs." I identified with him in that film as well.

When I realized how pathetic it was, that at some point in my past I identified with this goober, I started going through a list of all the teenage movie characters with whom I identified during my pre- and prime adolescent years. It wasn't pretty:
  • Chris Makepeace in "Meatballs" and "My Bodyguard"
  • Andrew McCarthy in "Heaven Help Us"
  • Ralph Macchio in "The Karate Kid"
  • Patrick Dempsey in "Can't Buy Me Love"
  • Ricky Schroeder in "Silver Spoons"
  • William Katt in "The Greatest American Hero"
  • Corey Haim in "Lucas"
  • Jason Bateman in "It's Your Move"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in "Sixteen Candles"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in "The Breakfast Club"
  • Anthony Michael Hall in... just about everything up to 1985.
It doesn't take Dr. Phil to look at this list and acknowledge I had a depressing and disturbing fascination with wimps, geeks and outcasts. Strangely, I never -- at least not before I watched that damn clip from "My Bodyguard" -- made the connection that I was so drawn to all these pathetic Loveable Losers. (OK OK, part of my obsession with "Silver Spoons" undoubtedly had to do with the fact that Erin Grey was one of the '80s hottest women.)

Although I absolutely adored Ferris Bueller, I never really identified with him. I simply held him in awe. Likewise with pretty much every role John Cusack played. He might have been an outcast, but it always felt like he had more coolness in his pinky toe than I could muster in my entire body. And I sure as hell never identified with anyone in "Dirty Dancing" or "Pretty in Pink."

And thus began a true Chicken vs. Egg debate: Do the characters with whom we identify shape who we become, or do we simply identify with whom are destined to be?

Did kids who grew up to be aggressive type-A jerks watch these same movies, but instead of identifying with the geeky protagonists, they secretly yearn to be Matt Dillon ("My Bodyguard") or Kevin Dillon ("Heaven Help Us") or William Zabka (Johnny from "Karate Kid")? Yes, the Dillons had the market on asshole bullies covered for several years.

Were there others out there who watched Alex P. Keaton and Gordon Gekko with this same glossy-eyed fascination? Did some girls feel their heart strings tug at Winona Ryder's Veronica while future witches found themselves drawn to Shannon Doherty's or Kim Walker's Heathers? Did most girls watch "The Breakfast Club" and find themselves inevitably identifying with either Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy, that movie's own version of the classic "Mary Ann v. Ginger" dichotomy?

Are there others who watch all movies and TV shows without making the slightest hint of a personalized connection to anyone?

There are only two encouraging silver linings to my obsessive cloud. First, lots of dudes in Hollywood clearly had these same hangups. So I'm not alone... but I'm not necessarily comforted by the company I'm keeping.

Second, these characters eventually stood up for themselves. They looked deep within themselves, found the strength beyond their doubts, and fought back against the bullies and the naysayers. But that hardly makes the obsession comforting. It's hard to find comfort in what breaks down to a Geek Fetish.

Yet something about these fanciful tales fed my soul. Awwww who am I kidding by using the past tense? These damn things still feed my soul. I still get misty everytime Elisabeth Shue rushes the mat to jump all over Daniel-San, too giddy to care about his wounded leg. I clinch my fist in glee everytime Anthony Michael Hall winds up locking lips with a girl five furlongs out of his league in "Sixteen Candles" or "Weird Science." Snot runs out my nose everytime the student body gives Lucas a standing ovation.

If you think I admit this with pride, you're very wrong. Acknowledging this is only slightly less painful than confessing my young devotion to Blair from "The Facts of Life." (While this isn't as embarrassing as if I'd been in love with Mrs. Edna. Or Nell Carter from "Gimme a Break!", it's nothing to go Tootie-ing my horn over.)

Perhaps our guilty pleasures, not our eyes, are the true windows to our soul.

(If you have any sympathy for my confession, please comment on your own guilty pop identifications to help me feel less... outcast.)

"Camera One" is off the Josh Joplin Group's debut big-label CD, Useful Music. "Bully" is off Sugarbomb's only album of the same name. Both are available on iTunes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Are You Living In Your Head?

A poem? I know. Sorry. I got to thinking about people sitting in front of computer screens and not even interacting with the people behind those screens and this is what came out. Coincidentally, these songs about solitude and loneliness are living in my head:

New Pornographers--"Adventures In Solitude" (mp3)

Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash--"Beautiful Cage" (mp3)


Are you living in your head?
Are you saying what you wished
You’d said, but only in your head?

Do you look in windows at
Other lives, yellow lamps and
A flickering screen behind a cat?

The car at night streams black,
Traveling through blackness and you
The blank, the central fact.

Wind, scream, white, strum, salt, shine:
Everything’s outside the window;
Nothing stays within the lines

Or lights. No, the road curves.
The sun comes up blindingly
And startles slumbering nerves

Shrilly as a crow’s noisy beak,
Cawing the fearful knowledge
That you will have to speak.

The New Pornographers feature the incredible Neko Case sometimes, but are quite good in their own right. "Adventures in Solitude" comes from their recent release, Challengers. "Beautiful Cage" is from Distance Between, the second release from The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash. Both CDs are available from Itunes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Songs I Prolly Misinterpreted #1: Fast Way

The idea behind "Songs I Prolly Misinterpreted" is to offer up songs I love where I've ascribed very personal and significant meaning to the song, even if said interpretation is totally and completely off the mark. My aim with SIPM is to hopefully remind you the reader of the true power of music to usurp all logic and clear thought and dig into our deeper selves.

Or, if not that, then to give you a chuckle.

Fast Way - Letters to Cleo (mp3)

Actual Meaning of Song: A break-up song? Maybe?
My Interpretation, In Summary: Let's f*#k and get on with our lives already.

Why you gotta sit in my easy chair?
What makes you think that I would care?
When I say to you - "What are you gonna do?"

The narrator in this story is a young woman with a history of giving up the pootie with minimal resistance. She might not necessarily sleep with a guy on the first date, but it's definitely happened. And if she hasn't done it by the third date, there ain't gonna be a fourth, 'cuz she clearly doesn't like you. Unfortunately, this lifestyle choice has left her lonely and fearing that love is merely an illusion used to sell Hallmark cards.

She's got a guy over at her place, and she's asking this guy -- a guy she thinks is hot as hell -- why does he have to sit in her "easy chair." The easy chair is a metaphor for her own sluttiness. She's the easy chair. She's actually asking herself the vital internal question, "Why am I going to sleep with this guy so quickly when I actually like him and want him to hang around for a while?" But then she counters that with, "Why should I care? He means nothing to me." This is a standard defense mechanism for someone jaded on relationships.

To him, she directly delivers the line "What are you gonna do?" As in, "Poop or get off the pot, Cowboy!" As in, "Hey Goose, you big stud! Take me to bed or lose me forever!" ("Show me the way home, honey!")

So I got you to at least say please,
that's how I know that you're on your knees.
But I'm thinking too: What am I gonna do?

Now it's the next day. He's gone. She's satisfied that she at least stretched out the flirtation and foreplay long enough to have him begging. And apparently he's quite gifted at giving oral pleasure (you don't think he's on his knees to propose, do ya?).

But now she realizes she's falling for him, that he's already got a hold on her. Crap! What'm I gonna do? Why'd I give up the pootie so damn fast?!?

To not take the fast way
it evens out every time.

She soothes herself a little with this chorus. In the end, why does it matter whether two people f*#k right away or dance around the mulberry bush for a six months before f*#king? Either way, the final result is two people f*#king, right?

This is the classic "You take the high road, I'll take the low road" defense that people who sleep with others shortly after meeting them resort to when realizing they don't really like where their low road leads. It's human nature to, when realizing that your own road is full of potholes, remind yourself that the other roads are in just as much disrepair. So she takes comfort thinking of all those couples who waited and waited to f*#k yet still eventually parted ways. Damned if ya f*#k, damned if ya don't.

God, how I love a boy on the go
and what you've got I just have to know.
'Cause what else is there to say?
"It's such a sunny day"??

This guy, he's proving difficult to get hold of. Very busy. Probably brushing her off. But she's obsessing over him, and she needs to know if there's any chance for something deeper between them. Unfortunately, she's not really sure where or how to start the conversation. This is often tough for a young couple that f*#ked on the first night. They know one another intimately, yet know almost nothing about the each other's life or interests. So she's thinking, is all I can use as a starting point a crappy line like "How's the weather"??

So I got you to at least say please
that's how I know that you're on you knees.
But I'm thinking too: Baby, are we through?

But... But... she had him begging, dammit! She played him quickly, but intensely, and he felt it, too. He just had to. He went down on her, fer Chrissakes! ... But then, why isn't the bastard playing along? Why won't he call me? Is this damn thing over before it started?

To not take the fast way
it evens out every time.

Apparently, yes, it's already over. A full-fledged one-night stand. And if the narrator was being honest with herself -- which she's trying to be in this song -- this is precisely the way she likes it. Better to suffer a very superficial heartbreak over a guy she might have fallen for if the relationship had dragged out over months or years, if she'd held off on sleeping with him. Better that the ecstasy was quick and the heartbreak was quicker.

And with that conclusion firmly in her head, she's off to start the cycle off again, find a man to sleep with, obsess over briefly, and move on before he causes her any real pain. Sure, she loses out on the deeper emotions, but most of those deeper emotions are just awful and painful and miserable. You take the good with the bad. She'll take the fast way.

WHY IT'S PERSONAL: This was one of my Angry Songs in college. Twice I went out with girls that I fell for quickly but who weren't particularly interested in keeping me around. Many other times -- and even worse -- I fell for females who preferred having me as the friend on whose shoulder they would cry after sleeping with other guys on their first date. This song was soothing because it let me believe that, one day, I might be so lucky to find a girl who just wanted to screw my brains out. Yes, hope is a powerful and necessary thing.

This song was one of five on the second side of my favorite college mixtape. I played these five songs repeatedly whenever I needed to wallow in the muck of self-pity. (The other four songs were, in order, "King of Pain" by The Police, "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?" by U2, "Rocket Man" remade by Kate Bush, and "Broken Arrow" by Robbie Robertson.)

(If you want the cinematic version of this song, watch Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King." In it, as Robin Williams is walking the mousy Amanda Plummer back to her apartment, she explains what is going to happen after she invites him up to "have coffee," but after the sex, none of it sounds too great. And he laments, "We just met, made love and broke up all in the space of 30 seconds and I don't remember having the first kiss, which I think is the best part.")

"Fast Way" is from Letters to Cleo's second album,
Wholesale Meats & Fish. The band had three albums, but Kay Hanley went on to do the soundtrack for "Josie & The Pussycats" as well as several other solo projects, including the overlooked power pop gem "Cherry Marmalade."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You're Not The Boss Of Me (anymore)

For Jeff.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band--"Prove It All Night (live bootleg)" (mp3)

Every time Bruce Springsteen goes on tour, someone will ask me if I'm going to try to get tickets. Every time, I say, "No."

I'll get an incredulous look. People know I like him; why wouldn't I want to go see the greatest live show ever? "Dude," they'll say, "he plays for three hours."

I know. I saw him twice in 1978, and afterwards, I knew that I never needed to see him again.

Some moments are so trapped in time that there is no point in trying to repeat them--in any way, for any reason. My collegiate experience with Bruce Springsteen was like that. Even if I could recreate it, I'm not sure that I would. Bruce was all-night, shout out the lyrics, puke out the window. He could salve the pain of love and raise the glory of salvation. He was the savior and we believed.

Ah, those 1978 concerts--I saw him twice, in Hampton Road, VA and Pittsburgh, PA-- transcendent shows, both of them. From the extended jungle percussion jam at the start of "She's The One" to the doctors carrying Bruce back out on a stretcher to play "Rosalita," the set lists captured the mixture of poetry and frivolity of his early career. The Darkness songs had added weight. He even recaptured "Because The Night" with a searing, extended live version that told the story that Patti Smith's single had not. In Pittsburgh, he sat solo at the piano and fumbled (a little) through "Lost in the Flood," requested by an audience member whose friend had recently died in a motorcycle accident. But at the center of it all was Bruce's guitar, notes bending to capture the pain in the dark new songs.

Of course, I still listen. I was one of the few who likes The Ghost of Tom Joad. For the first three anniversaries of 9/11, my ritual was to sit alone in the kitchen with a six-pack of beer after everyone else was asleep and listen to The Rising with a beatific smile. I like the new CD, too. Good, kind of retro-Jersey, songs. But it sounds muddy to me. Too many instruments and layers, no virtuosity. I mean, Little Steven has got a few chops, but Nils Lofgren, seriously, is one of the great rock guitarists and a distinctive vocalist, but you'd never even know he was in the band, given the stock guitar parts he is expected to play. (For contrast, check out "Moon Tears" by Lofgren's original band, Grin--it's a worthy bookend to Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown") On Magic, even Bruce rarely, if ever, plays lead.

Somewhere between 1978 and now, Bruce went from being a rocker to becoming an artist, from having a hungry heart to living a vegetarian lifestyle. It may sound sophomoric and pointlessly reckless, but rock and roll was meant to fueled by greasy cheeseburgers and amphetamines, not exquisitely-detailed backstage food contract riders and personal trainers.

I used to get angry at critics who would seek to remind us that rock was never supposed to last this long, but every time I see one of the elder statesmen trying to keep repeating youthful posturing, I think those critics were probably right.

But, in 1978, Bruce was it. This was the tour where he seemed to want to remind everyone that he could actually play that guitar he was holding on the cover of Born To Run. I mean, really play it.

All I have to offer as evidence is one song, "Prove It All Night," taken from a beat-up record with most of the highs and lows worn away, a bootleg of Bruce's 1978 show at the Roxy. It is not a great recording, but maybe somewhere in it you can hear what was then that isn't now--how stripped-down the band played, how much Bruce believes every word he whispers or growls barely on key, how his guitar cuts in like a chainsaw (sounding like no other guitar before or since), how after the solos it all drops off to just his voice and the drums, how every second of that 9-minute version of a 4-minute song seems essential. Hell, the opening piano-guitar sequence is longer than the original song. Before his guitar enters, he announces, almost to himself, "Prove it all night. Prove it all night again."

Nowadays, Bruce is promoted and canonized by adoring upper middle class adults who can afford tickets to his shows after a light supper of sushi and wine. Back then, he was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences who had heard his name on the wind, but didn't know what to expect. Then they saw. And heard. And believed.

"Prove It All Night" comes from a bootleg LP purchased at a record store in Upper Darby, PA in 1978 and recently converted to MP3 using a USB turntable I got for Christmas. The original recorded version is on Darkness on the Edge of Town, available from Itunes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lighted Fools to Dusty Death

"Might" - Archers of Loaf (mp3)
"Web In Front" - Archers of Loaf (mp3)

The two biggest goals of Generation Y are, according to numerous surveys and reports, to get rich and be famous. I would mock them, but lightning might strike me.

My mother comes from a generation of busy-bodies. I acknowledge that without a hint of mockery or scorn. For her and most of my relatives between the ages of 60-80, to be sitting and doing nothing is a clear sign of failure and pathetic to boot. Unfortunately, I also acknowledge their restless hunger to be productive without much envy. God how I wish I envied them, but I can no more manufacture envy than I could force myself to love someone.

Was it around the time the government injected our precious bodily fluids with that Commie drug flouride that our obsession with fame sprouted from the dirt? This particular plant -- a society's lust for fame -- might have spent its first few dozen years growing slowly, but it seems to have accelerated in the past decade.

The Baby Boomers and my generation -- "X" -- seem to fall somewhere between the obsessive busy-bodies of my mother's "Greatest Generation" and the glitz & glamour trappings of Generation Y. I think that mostly just means my generation prefers lazing above all else.

I distinctly remember being a teen-ager and feeling certain that Greatness awaited me. Greatness was my prom date, and my only purpose in college was to find out when and where the prom would be held, and where to pick up that hot slut Greatness so I could get what was comin' to me after a few dances. Does most everyone feel this way at one point, that naive sense that we're Bound for Glory? Aren't we all victims of the Lake Wobegon effect, even in matters of fame and fortune?

When I landed one of the five coveted spots as an op-ed columnist for UNC's newspaper, I felt I'd finally taken that crucial first step. Over the course of that year, on a very small but very real scale, I encountered Fame. I could walk into bars on a weekend and have someone approach me about one of my columns. I probably had a dozen or so people buy me beer or shots for no other reason than because they recognized me from my column. I had a fraternity offer to throw a party in my honor because of a column I wrote (this was both a badge of honor and shame). The chancellor of the school sent me letter thanking me for one. My Valentine's Day column on "Love v. Lust" netted me a half-dozen letters (this was before the email revolution) from females asking to meet me... and it also was the column that introduced my wife to the psycho she would fall in love with two weeks later.

The experience was so enthralling I ended up making my next career move in the desperate hope I could be the next Dave Barry slash Paul Krugman. (Unfortunately, there's a very good reason these two men are not the same person. Even more unfortunate, I'm neither as witty nor as world-wise.)

With all of my might I do this.
It's a waste of my time to pursue this.

I'm so full of self-indulgence to think that you'd like this song.

We hunger to be appreciated and yearn to be coveted, even though nothing good much seems to come of fame except a guaranteed stint in rehab and the chance to have your own moment in Reality TV five years after you've returned to meaninglessness.

Fame is heroin chic for the domesticated and lazy.

People perform in Karaoke bars for just a whiff of Fame, like the scent of sex on week-old panties. Many secretly fantasize there's a Simon Cowell sitting in the corner shadows, desperate to find that Next Big Thing. Others go to poetry readings where they sit patiently, making grocery lists in their heads while other people read their poems. Yet others write blogs, thinking just maybe some really influential people might stumble across their brilliance and offer them a book deal or connection to a newspaper.

(I'm guilty of the trifecta.)

Bottom of the Glass does not exist to bring us Fame. Might I have wonderful 3 a.m. fantasies that it brings us such? Natch! But I also have wonderful 3 a.m. fantasies that I play point guard for the National Champion UNC Tar Heels, that I am part of a platinum-selling rock band that gets critical raves while also filling arenas, that I write best-sellers that survive the scrutiny of generations.

The good news, for someone like me, is that the fantasy of Greatness is much cheaper than heroin and much more nuanced than mere Fame. And I can enjoy that little perversion while sharing some random thoughts and a few cool songs along the way, with friends both old and, hopefully, new.

Archers of Loaf were hit their peak in Chapel Hill and in the national alternative scene at just about the same time. They tasted Fame, albeit an alternative post-grunge version. Their songs managed to be painfully off-key and catchy at the same time. Off-key with purpose and direction. "Web In Front" and "Wrong" are both off their first album, Icky Mettle.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Contest. Prizes. If We Can Think of Any.

............................................... These bastards ruined Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light."

Who came up with the bright idea that the Cure's "Lovesong" needed to be redone? That Roxy Music's beautiful "More Than This" needed a makeover? That the best chance for a hit lay in revisiting Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi?"

Well, I guess someone smarter than me because all of those did become hits of one sort or another. And I've heard at least two of those cover versions while shopping in the Food Lion on Brainerd Road, so they have probably insinuated themselves into the national consciousness.

But guess what? They all suck. They miss the point. I'd rather eat souse than hear them again. The first time I heard the original "Lovesong," I thought I had stumbled into a smoky club in East Berlin before the wall came down. When I heard the remake, I punched myself in the nuts. And I hope Adam Duritz is scraping the shit off himself somewhere right now for infusing Joni's song with all the depth of a GAP commercial. As for Roxy's original "More Than This," every understated musical note and Bryan Ferry croon was already recorded perfection, so why, why, why fill our ears with drivel?
But enough about me. This is actually an announcement about our first ever contest!


1. What is the worst cover song that you have ever heard and why? How does it run afoul of the original? Send your song entry and explanation to
2. If possible, attach the mp3 of the cover version with your entry. This is especially possible if you have a gmail account and are able to operate outside of a school or work network.
3. Contestants may enter as many times as the inspiration strikes them.
4. Entries must be received by 3:45am on Monday, April 28, 2008.
5. Winners will be announced whenever Billy's mom is ready to announce them. Prizes will be determined by the financial status of the bloggers. If possible, we will post the top three "winning" songs on the blog.
6. Bloggers and their immediate family members are not eligible to win, nor are employees of Krystal, which is little more than a cover version of White Castle.
7. In order to head off annoying clarifying questions, yes, Eric Clapton's covers of his own songs are eligible for the competition.

These guys got it right:
Fine Young Cannibals--"Suspicious Minds" (mp3)

The Waiting (or "The 44")

Tom Petty--"The Waiting (live)" (mp3)
Pretenders--"Mystery Achievement" (mp3)

Right now, sitting in the cupboard pantry that runs down my basement stairs, waits "The 44." The 44 is a homemade liqueur based on a traditional drink in Madagascar. You take a large orange, punch 44 holes in it with a sharp knife, insert a coffee bean into each of the 44 holes, add the orange to a glass canister containing a liter of light rum and 44 teaspoons of sugar, and store in a dark place for 44 days.

The symbolism of the number 44 did not make its way to me, just the recipe. I doubt that I'll even drink the stuff (I'm not much of a hard liquor guy), though they say it's pretty good over ice. Place your order now if you want some.

(UPDATE: I tried "The 44" Friday night, after 42 days, and it kicks ass, or at least mine.)

What I have enjoyed about "The 44" is the waiting. Of course, I had read about how sweet it would be chilled straight up or on the rocks, how it could be mixed with sparkling wine to make a real cocktail, how the coffee taste would hit first and then the orange aftertaste would linger on the tongue. But all of those things could prove to be untrue (they are true!). I have made any number of things that, followed to the letter, didn't yield the pleasures that they were supposed to--love, corned beef, reservations at Brennan's. Yeah, yeah, I know the waiting is the hardest part, as my own posted song reminds me over and over. But I like the waiting. I like the idea that I have to put something up on a shelf and not get into it for awhile, while I always know that it's there and that some point down the road, I'll experience it.

Maybe it's because I bake bread. Once you start that endeavor, you learn quickly that the longer you stretch out each phase, the more flavor and complexity your loaf will have. So you ignore the advice to proof the yeast in very warm water, to let the dough rise in a warm place. Instead, you put the dough in the refrigerator, let it rise overnight, punch the dough down and let it expand three times instead of just two. Bread nutured and baked over the course of several days tastes as noble as the old world itself. And that's a good thing. People who want quickly-made bread deserve it.

It's an irony of life: as you get older, you should, arguably, be more in a hurry to make things happen. But you aren't. You're more likely to let them take their own time. Over Spring Break, I was driving a car that overheated if it was driven too long at too high a speed. Since I had to drive from New Orleans to Tampa, I lamented the fact that I would have to slow way, way down. But you know what? Once I settled into that lower speed, the trip became one of the most pleasurable that I have driven in a long time. No rush, no pressure, no stupid drivng decisions. The traffic roared past me, but I took my time because I had to. It took me a much longer time to get below Tampa, but the wait was worth it. I actually stopped and got the free sample of OJ at the tourist trap.

Waiting, letting things take their time, in this very, very fast world is an odd kind of luxury. It has become, simultaneously, both retro and the latest trend. There's even an international food movement that embraces the notion of slow food. They argue that food should be "good, clean, and fair," and if you explore their connotation of those adjectives, you realize that they are talking about growing and creating food that takes time. Anything that is handmade, made in small batches, constructed to order, microbrewed, grass-fed is taking that same approach.
So when I talk about waiting, I realize that what I'm really talking about is putting in an effort--to cultivate, to nurture, to oversee, to maintain, to protect, to repair --over a long period of time. And don't all of the best things, from relationships to wine, require that?

People often talk about what it will take to get from point A to point B in a linear representation of a problem or situation, but what they're really asking for is the quickest possible solution. In fact, the line between those two labeled points contains an uncountable number of other stops. If you think about it, that's where the life is, in the Big Waiting between point A and point B. Waiting reminds you both of where you are right now and where you can be in the future. Too deep? Make " The 44" and drink up. It's worth the wait.

"The Waiting" is from Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's live CD, Pack Up The Plantation. "Mystery Achievement," arguably the best song on one of the best rock albums ever, is from the Pretender's first. Both are available from Itunes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Fine Art of Beautiful Lies

Untitled Song - Buddy Miller (mp3)

According to my wife, who swears she saw this on Oprah or some such, all of us have the same amount of gas. Pound for pound, all humans have equal fart-ability. Such a study seems pretty dubious, but for the purposes of this entry, I'm gonna say it's food for thought. Just keep this seedling planted in your noggin, and I'll get back to it.

I lie to my children. I teach them to lie to other adults. But don't worry. Newsweek says it's OK, and if anyone should know, it's journalists.

The Newsweek article suggests that certain kinds of lies are totally OK to tell your children. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Other times it's totally OK to encourage your children to lie. Yes Auntie Gertrude, I just love that disco jumpsuit. I'll wear it all the time!

If those are the good lies, what are the bad ones? According to the article, lies that abdicate one's own responsibilites
-- as a parent, as a friend, as a coworker -- are much less acceptable. These are lazy lies that come back to haunt you, karmically speaking.

All I did was help you tell a lie.
You never even knew it when I said goodbye.

A superb article from the New Yorker last summer explored our cultural fascination with lying and our over-inflated belief that we can catch others in lies.

In reality, we totally suck at detecting lies. We're only slightly better than 50-50 at doing so. Think about the significance of that for a second. If someone is lying to you, or telling you the truth, flipping a coin is almost as accurate as your "gut feeling." Much like most of us think we're "above average" in intelligence and looks and talents, most of us think we're above average at smelling bullshit.

In reality, our BS detectors are BS. We think so highly of them because we pat ourselves so heartily on the back when we catch someone in a lie, not realizing that for every lie we've caught, another one or two have snuck by us unaware, like small insects we unknowingly eat while sawing logs in slumber at 3 a.m.

Back to the discovery that we're all equally full of hot air. Hot, stinky, noxious air. Most of us don't like admitting that our shit stinks, or that we're full of shit. But lying is more about the fumes we expel than actual substance. Lying is more flatulent, less fecal. And more often than not, our lies are the Silent-But-Deadly type. Besides, it's somehow less of an insult to tell someone they're full of fart.

All humans have in them this need, this natural-born drive to tell lies. As much as I'm a religious fella, I believe this need, in and of itself, is neither sinful nor evil. Lying is a dangerous weapon, but it has its good and proper uses, much like money, which is only the root of all evil when it is held too close to the heart.

All our words are written down in chalk
Out in the rain on the sidewalk.

At the risk of coming across as a frightening sociopath, lying is what makes us human. It's one of the most complicated and nuanced facets of our lives and one of the easiest ways to separate us from less-sophisticated animals. It is to humans what flight and X-ray vision is to Superman, a power we uniquely possess that can cause tremendous destruction but also help us navigate life's treacherous SpyHunter-esque highway (and no, Tom Cochrane, that's not always a road you want to drive all night long).

Let's use an embarrassing example.

I'm 17. My parents are out of the house at a dinner party. One of my precious and rare female pals calls. "Whatcha doing?" she asks innocently. But what I'm doing is touching myself and watching one of my dad's not-so-well-hidden dirty movies. So when I said "Um, nothin'" rather than saying "Watching one of my dad's porn movies and imagining you and me doing what these people are doing to each other"... was I really doing the world some kind of disservice? Is this the kind of honesty our world needs or wants?

(NOTE: I have never ever in my whole life touched myself in such a way. Nor do I know anyone else who would do such a repulsive thing. I was just using something that happened to a friend of mine. As an example.)

Here's a more kid-friendly example: I believe in Santa Claus. That's a very complicated lie for me, and one I'm not ashamed to state. In fact, I bet even a lie detection machine would say I'm telling the truth on that one. (By the way, even the most biased studies in favor of lie detectors put them at around 90%... how would you like a 1 in 10 shot of being put on trial for a capital crime because that damn machine read you wrong?)

Lies can be complicated, nuanced, delicate things. Lies can be beautiful. They can save marriages. They can bring people to Jesus. They can reunite long-exiled family members. Lies can save innocent lives.

Picasso said, "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." The word "Lie" is Legion, three letters possessed by a thousand different demons and arguably a few dozen angels. If we don't see lies for all the good -- or non-bad -- they can do, how can we properly fear and respect their power to do harm?

This Buddy Miller song, written by his wife Julie, is neither on any of his albums nor available in any form that I know of. But I highly recommend sifting through's MP3 collection of Buddy Miller (or Buddy and Julie Miller) songs and showing this renegade Nashville couple some luv.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tend Your Garden

Colin Hay--"Beautiful World" (mp3)
Hot Tuna--"Water Song" (mp3)
We stand poised at one of the most perfect times of the year. The grass isn’t growing too quickly; the mosquitoes are still slumbering or groggy, yet to hear the call from the mosquito god to “be fruitful and multiply;” the dogwoods have just a day or two until that ephemeral moment when the white or pink on their branches become a natural Impressionist painting.

It is the time when all is possible from the ground. In the spirit of this hopefulness, you should plant a garden.

Seriously, when was the last time you got down and dug in the dirt? When was the last time you kneeled to pull weeds, saw a triangle-shaped white insect you've never seen before flee to new cover? When was the last time you scooped sopping mud from the bottom of a hole you shoveled so that you could plant your tomatoes a little deeper? When was the last time you had that impressive outline of dirt around your cuticles that makes it look like you know how to change your own oil or something?

With a garden, you can pretend you’re a landowner, even if you are one. At dusk, you’ll stroll arm-in-arm with your lover to the boundaries of your property to survey the day’s growth, pausing to brush aphids from the leaves of your tomatoes and to stake that pepper plant that’s been struggling a little too much in the wind.

In the mornings, the path to those plants will be nothing more than dark green footprints pressed into the dew. And soon, you boast of eating locally when all you've done is to nick a few vegetables while walking the dog with the sun half up, when the basil holds its fullest flavor and the green onions are noticeably taller than the night before.

I guess you've figured out that by garden I mean stuff that you can eat. As a man and a not-particularly-fussy one, I like to grow things that are pretty good at fending for themselves and that have something to offer--that means yields of peppers, tomatoes, onions, basil, sage, rosemary, chives, thyme and basil.

And don't be deterred by a lack of space. We’re not farmers; we’re not out to maximize our partial acreage with the highest potential yield using genetically-modified seeds and the latest fertilization techniques. An herb garden can grow in your window; a jalapeno pepper plant will thrive in an 8-inch clay pot on your deck. Heck, if on Halloween you carve your pumpkins in the yard and drop a few seeds, you'll have your own pumpkin patch right in the grass by the following August.

Don't forget the simple fact that rules all of life: seeds and plants want to grow. You have to work harder to stop that from happening than to keep it happening. Plants have all kinds of built in ways that will help them.

Even if all you do is to dump some water on them when the weather isn't doing its part, you'll be fine. You may not have the greatest crop in the world, but you'll have plants that are alive and that will pool every genetic resource they have in order to yield something for you, something that has seeds.

Plants do want to return next year, somehow and somewhere, after all. Don't you? Do your part.

"Beautiful World" is from the former Men At Work frontman's solo CD, Going Somewhere. "Water Song" is from the classic Hot Tuna CD, Burgers.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Our Strange Musical Loyalties

These Days - R.E.M. (mp3)

Sometimes our ties to music are stronger than the bonds of logic or love. If you have ever found moments where music became a timestamp on your life, you'll understand.

I had a roommate in college whose first sexual encounter with a girlfriend happened while Don Henley's "In a New York Minute" was playing on his stereo. That song became their song. So what if the song is about a family man jumping in front of a subway train. Yes, a song about suicide, imploring us to enjoy each fragile minute became, in the minds of two people for a short time, a song about the way they felt towards one another. Deep down, he knew it was screwed up to have this song as their special song. But they bumped fuzzies to it, so logic and lyrics flew out the window.

(Obviously the relationship was doomed. All those couples who thought "Under the Bridge" was their special song have long gotten divorced by now, too. Hell, I didn't even go into the bad choice of choosing a song titled "In a New York Minute" for your LuvMakin' song. Why not use "Mack the Knife" while you're at it?)

In an odd way, a 25-year-old Athens band has just such an irrational hold on me. R.E.M. is like the church I've attended my whole life but for whom I would rarely evangelize. Stipe's quartet is so interwoven into the fabric of my adolescent life that, even if I could somehow manage to admit I didn't think they were all that stupendous, I still couldn't dissect myself from them. This kind of musical attachment is proof that nicotine and alcohol aren't the only substances that can instill lifelong addictions if we start young and impressionable enough.

In 8th grade, the first girl I ever kissed introduced me to R.E.M. Technically, I didn't kiss her. It depends on what your definition of "kiss" is.

She was the girlfriend of a classmate. They prank called my house on a weekend night, and I amused her so much she called me back after her beau left. And then she invited me to visit her the very next night. She would be mere blocks away, babysitting.

Having never been invited for such a rendezvous, and having no clue just how over my head I was about to get, of course I went. I was so excited about it I don't even know if I slept that night. After she got the kids down, we sat in this living room and talked about our lives while listening over and over to her brand new LP of Life's Rich Pageant. A lot of guys at school talked about R.E.M., but I wasn't cool and was still listening to radio crap like Lionel Richie and Tears for Fears. By the time both sides had played through several times -- with a few extra spins of "Superman" for good measure -- it was time for me to leave.

She asked me for a goodnight kiss. She might as well have asked me to rebuild a car engine, since neither was something I'd done before. To say I was nervous painfully understates it. I was practically wetting myself and truly vibrating with nerves. But I went for it. I closed my eyes, leaned towards her, and ended up firmly planting my lips just above her right collarbone.

The shame of my bad aim had me running tuck-tailed out the door and fleeing on my bike homeward. But not before my chain snapped going down the driveway, sending me sailing over the handlebars. Not only had I humiliated myself by being less sexually experienced than most first graders, but I had also caused her to further pity me with a move straight out of Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

It wasn't a perfect First Kiss memory, but it at least helped keep my future expectations with the fairer sex very low.

The precious silver lining was that she lighted my alternative rock path. Life's Rich Pageant was just the first step in my adolescent musical evolution, but a crucial one. The equivalent of the tadpole crawling up on the shore before sprouting legs.

R.E.M.'s significance doesn't even stop there.

Their Green Tour was my second concert. Ever. The Indigo Girls opened up for them, which meant Stipe & Co. were also responsible for introducing me to my favorite pair of songwriting lesbians on the planet.

Along with the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe" was easily the most played song for our school dances, so I owe Stipe et al the few and precious opportunities to dance with girls, even if our dancing was more like bad scenes from The Breakfast Club. But even that was an oasis in my sex-starved desert of high school, so my gratitude is painfully valid.

Like my New York Minuteman, I was hopelessly devoted to R.E.M. The fact that Document and Green continued to amaze me (even as they began pushing away the cooler kids who claimed the band had sold out) only further cemented my loyalties. I remained loyal through New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which is easily one of the more underrated albums of the mid-90s. Monster sounded like the band really wanted to be cool like those young Seattle grungy people who had overtaken their hipness, but Hi-Fi sounded like they just wanted to have fun again, play around with sound and take some silly risks.

R.E.M. has always been at their best when their shoe-gazing and heavy lyrics are a secondary priority to making really catchy (and, preferably, primarily upbeat) music. I didn't buy UP because it was so decidedly not up. It was the first album of theirs I did not purchase. I have to this day listened to maybe two songs from it, not out of protest, but because I never got the feeling I was missing much.

I did purchase Reveal and spent the next month wondering why I did, so I sure as hell wasn't paying for Around the Sun. I was done with R.E.M. I had finally broken away from them and their pull on my nonsensical emotions.

So why the hell am I sitting here and typing this while Accelerate plays on my iTunes, you ask? Because they brought back these things called drums. And they brought back this thing called tempo. And they apparently realized that heavy-handed castor oil never goes down well without a spoonful of sugar. R.E.M. went and pulled a U2. They returned to the well from which they found their greatest successes. They accepted the painful reality that they can't be all things to all people, but that they also suck when they don't care about being anything to anyone but themselves.

You break up with that girl you love because she's no longer what you fell in love with, or because you've changed and she hasn't, or some other incompatibility bullshit. Well, R.E.M. started working out again. They lost all that weight they'd gained. They saw a therapist. They found themselves again and came back to my door asking for forgiveness, begging for a second try.

I bought Accelerate because sometimes our ties to music are stronger than the bonds of logic or love. Nine bucks to reward a nod to their glory days and reinvigorate a 20-year romance. Money well spent.

Leave - R.E.M. (mp3)

"These Days" is from Life's Rich Pageant. "Leave" is from New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Billy didn't include a song from Accelerate because he figures R.E.M. and the corporate giants for whom they toil have magic fingers and eyes, and we don't want to get spanked. But if I were to post a single song from the album, it would prolly be "Hollow Man. "Just sayin'. You can purchase Accelerate at Amazon for $8.99 or at iTunes for an over-inflated $13.99.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Does Time Equal Money?

Kieran Kane--"He Never Knew What Hit Him (mp3)
So I'm in TJ Maxx as often happens on a weekend, killing time while my women look at clothes, looking for some kind of upscale bbq sauce at a cheap price that I'll put in a cupboard and forget about until long after its expiration date. Armed with a mango-ginger-habanero dipping/grilling/sauteeing/marinating sauce, I drift over to the clearance aisle way in the back by the layaway counter. TJ Maxx claims that it's a different store every time you come in, but that particular aisle always seems to have the same kind of crap--pots without lids, candles with gouges in them, opened boxes of key lime cookies, obscure utensils, and imitation African masks that didn't make it into anyone's living room.

"I don't have time for that," I overhear.

There are a couple of black women there with me. They're picking up items and looking at the prices. The shorter, thinner one says, as she sets each one down, "I don't have time for that." Her friend agrees. "I can get that cheaper at Big Lots. I don't have time for that," she says.

I don't have time for that. In the language of the day, has the expression has come to mean 'I'm not paying that kind of money' or 'I can't afford that?' I had no idea that connotation had come into being.

But now the connection is made in my head explicitly: time and money are the same thing. I don't even have to ponder anymore if it's true.

See, what I'm grappling with most specifically is this idea of a pay raise. I don't want a pay raise. Or at least I don't want to raise my pay in the traditional way. Instead, I've decided I'd rather that they keep the money and give me an extra week off in the summer. That is a pay raise, too, isn't it? Pay me the same amount of money, but give me an extra week of free time. Now it isn't that I've got some whompin' huge salary and don't need the money. I do need the money. But I don't know about your raises; mine kind of suck and have for years, don't even keep up with key costs of living. So what it comes down to is this: if you could have $100 each month after taxes or an extra week off in the summer, what would you pick?

Me, I'd take the time. Let them keep the hundred bucks. That's nothing more than a big afternoon at Bud's. Well, a really big afternoon, maybe.

There comes a point, and it doesn't have to be driven by age (though my perspective is beginning to be) when most of us would rather have time and freedom than money, wouldn't we? How glorious would it be here at the beginning of April to have an extra week of no obligations to walk around the yard, trim this, plant that, clear out over there, and paint everywhere? How nice right now to walk down the hill and watch soccer for as long as I feel like? But that's just the start.

Time is a scarce resource, but few people mind taking it from us. They snatch it in small increments and big chunks with equal facility, and we usually give it away willingly. We trick ourselves into thinking that we can give up time in order to get time. Huh? Here's an example--your job requires you to work a Saturday night that you don't normally work, but you tell yourself that if you can just get through Saturday, you'll have earned the luxury to take your wife to lunch on Sunday or to go watch football with friends. So Saturday's gone but you've earned Sunday? Are we so short of time these days that we talk to ourselves in terms of earning time for ourselves?

We don't challenge the fact that we allow the people we work for to consume inordinate amounts of our time as long as we can stash just a little, just enough, away for ourselves. Maybe there's no way around that. And let's face it, in the modern world, there are a lot of other people who also want to take control of your time. It isn't just the delivery guy who gives you a 4-hour window when he might show up or the professional who bills you by the hour, but doesn't mind keeping you waiting. It's also the church that wants you to teach Sunday School or your son's sports team that needs a coach or the out-of-town wedding or the latest Walk for Everything and Anything or any number of other perfectly legitimate and valuable claims on your time.

My point is simply this: if you're going to give up so much of your time, you're going to have to find a way to take some of it back now, even for perfectly legitimate and valuable uses like doing absolutely nothing. If you don't take back the do-nothing time, you won't regain the do-something time. I used to spend a lot more time playing guitar, writing, even cooking than I do know. Now, I spend my time working and the time when I'm not working doing nothing but passively not working.

Here's the key difference between time and money: money can go into the bank for future use. It can be saved and spent later or even passed on. Time can't. It's not a renewable resource. When it's gone, it's gone for good.

I don't have time for that.

Kieran Kane's song "He Never Knew What Hit Him" is from his CD, Dead Rekoning.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Standing By

Standing By - Actual Tigers (mp3)

There's a lot written about those nightmares of the 21st Century known as "Helicopter Parents," those adults who become the micromanagers of their child's life. They complain to teachers about grades. They complain to coaches about playing time. They hover and schedule and thrust themselves into the minutiae of their youngster's existence.

Now that I'm back into the interesting zombie state of parenting an infant, returning to this state after five years thanks to the rhythm method, I sympathize with Helicopter Parents more than I did previously. I was just starting to get a little of my normal life back, y'see, and then another baby comes along and takes it all away. Damn you, baby!*

Now that I'm back into my parental cocoon, it would be tempting, stuck with a pathetic excuse for a social life, searching desperately for a bigger gauge of your day than which prime time show comes on that night, to make your child's life an extension of your own.

In fact, our society encourages it, like your buddy on the couch with the big grin on his face, smoke leaking out of his nostrils, arm outstretched and holding out a joint to you. We tell parents the more they're involved with their child, the better job they're doing. C'mon. Everyone's doing it. It's cool. But it's never really cool to do it as much as that guy on the couch. It's never good to do something so much you get a nickname for it. Like "Helicopter Parent."

Parenting is an art, not a science, no matter what H.I. McDonough might say, the Dr. Spock book nestled comfortably under his arm. The art is not whether we let our children make their own mistakes, let them learn how to recover, let them pick themselves up after a fall. The art is knowing when. The challenge is sitting on your hands knowing damn well you can help them and make things easier for them.

I'll be standing by,
ust don't forget to come on home...
First sign of recovery is the climb after the fall.

The wisest of sages, from my first girlfriend's father to Bruce Leroy's master teacher in The Last Dragon, have noted that true happiness comes by finding a critical balance between doing things for others and being comfortable with oneself. True selflessness is a pretty ideal that sells books, but 99% of us stuck on this planet seem fated to be a little more needy. We need our space. We need our time. We need our spotlights and attention and praise, silly stuff that's just for us and no one else.

We must all find balance, Daniel-san. Balance is rejoicing in our children's successes and mourning their failures while restraining from punching out the umpire or cussing out the teacher. Balance is telling you love them by letting them fall off their bike a few hundred times.

I'll be standing by... just don't forget to come on home.

* "Damn you, baby!" is 95% joke.

The song "Standing By" is from the Actual Tigers' only album, titled Gravelled & Green. It's a darn fine album that delves into Paul Simon, Ben Folds, and maybe even a little Guster. Go show this one-album wonder some luv.