Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Truth and/or Consequence

Keep Your Head - The Ting Tings (mp3)
Set Adrift On Memory Bliss - PM Dawn (mp3)

Our cultural hypocrisy continues to drive me a little bonkers.

Please note that when I say "our," I don't mean "y'all." I don't mean "me." I mean all of us. We elected George W. Bush, and we elected Barack Obama, and we bought hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Michael Jackson music within 72 hours of his death. Did you? Did I? It doesn't matter. We did. All of us. Together.

I'm specifically troubled at the moment by our claim to give a rat's ass about truth, about honesty, about sincerity. Truth is, we don't like truth. We don't prefer honesty. We don't want sincerity.

Maybe we want all of these things -- more often than not, anyways -- out of our loved ones and close friends. But once you get past that first circle of connections, we as a society don't want any of these things from anyone else. What we want, what we expect, what we demand, is simplicity. We want things easy to ignore, easy to digest, and easy to forget. This is my best conclusion after seeing how the journalistic and political cognoscenti reacted to Gov. Mark Sanford's (R - SC) weird press conference-slash-confession of adultery.

What I'm asking of you, dear reader, is to put aside your judgment of the man's actions for just a minute, because my focus here is not so much on his misdeed, but on our collective reaction to his press conference.

On this everyone agrees: Sanford's rambling explanations of his disappearance and, um, ignoble actions were unscripted and unrehearsed. What he said came from something close to his heart. It was sincere, unflattering and almost embarrassingly foolish.

On this most of the talking heads agree: He's a f*#king moron for saying all that stuff without a script and without rehearsing it and without having his dearly beloved wife standing behind him.

NPR had an interview with one of the dudes who helped Clinton script and rehearse his explanations for allowing an intern to fellate him on numerous occasions. And this guy kind of mocks Sanford for getting up in front of reporters and speaking from his wacked-out screwed-up poorly-organized heart rather than the trite mea culpa whilst the humiliated spouse stands quietly in the background showing symbolic support for her moron husband.

We live in a world where Jon and Kate announce in front of cameras their intention to divorce, but hold off on allowing the general public to know of their intentions for months so that their "revelation" can occur as a part of their television series. They hide and delay the truth so that the truth can be televised in a more dramatic and revenue-generating fashion.

We live in a world where Adam Lambert can't or won't or shouldn't admit or acknowledge that he's as gay as Zorro's blade until after the American Idol season has concluded because it might mess with the voting? Because it would hurt ratings? It only matters that there were reasons that people in charge knew it was better to be deceptive or misleading rather than acknowledge truth.

We live in a world where politicians seem to script every single breath they take. The more scripted and planned, the more likely the public will eat it up. We know this is true because each successive POTUS seems better and better at scripting, plotting, orchestrating rather than just doing. I can hardly believe it, but Obama is even better-scripted and better "on message" than Bush.

The more important someone is culturally, the less genuine we want them to be. We only want them to be able to act genuine. We want them adaptable and malleable, adjustable like ladders and sweatpants.

As for judging Sanford, I'm totally cool with it. He opened the door a good bit by throwing big stones at others previously in his shoes. Further, it's tough to argue with the logic that Gov. Sanford baldly neglected his duties as governor by disappearing without letting his staff (or family) know where he was.

And maybe this whole "honesty" thing is a hair-splitting matter in the big scheme of things. But somehow Sanford's confession makes him feel more human to me than Clinton's, or John Edwards' or Jim Bakker's, or... well, the list goes on. Does it make him less guilty or less responsible or any such thing? No. But it feels more real.

And dammit, shouldn't that somehow count for something?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Strange Condition (a collection of observations small and smaller)

Bob is settling into a month-long NEH seminar in Chicago and will probably offer lame entries like this one until he gets it all figured out up here or finds the closest dispenser of Old Style.

Pete Yorn--"Strange Condition" (mp3)
Love and Money--"Strange Kind Of Love" (mp3)

1. Based on the “Spam” I get, I sure do seem to send a lot of emails to myself. Why do I keep doing that?

2. Why can’t the political party that preaches “family values” keeps its dick in its pants?

3. What happened to the fast lane on the interstate and why do people think it’s okay to switch into that lane and go slow?

4. Why would anyone buy pre-limed beer instead of squeezing his or her own lime into it?

5. Why is the growing of things more satisfying than the harvesting of them?

6. Why did a middle school think it was okay to look in the underwear of an 8th grade girl to see if she had drugs in there? Ibuprofen? Why was Clarence “Coke Can” Thomas the only Supreme Court justice who thought this was okay?

7. What should I be doing right now in preparation for 2012?

8. Do I really want to see a lot of movies in the summer or have I been conditioned to think that I should want to?

9. Who invented air conditioning and when and why? Sure, I like being reasonably cool, but in the summer my body is continually trying to adjust between two thermostats and now I’m sick. Think about it: in the winter, you either try to stay warm or get warm, but in the summer, you either end up very cool or very hot.

10. When you are out running or driving a car with a tendency to overheat on uphill climbs, you tend to be a lot more aware of the ups and downs of the terrain than if you're just cruising along in a car.

11. When a pizza place accidentally makes me a large, instead of a medium, at no extra charge, why do I eat the large anyway when I only wanted a medium?

12. Do has-been bands know that they are has-beens? What do they tell themselves each time they go on stage to play hit songs from 20 years ago?

13. Do Americans really only want to choose from about 5 fast food restaurants when they drive across this great land?

14. Why are public fountains so attractive?

15. Why, in our soundbyte, quick surfing world is accessible poetry not more popular?

16. Given that Southern people are clearly different from Midwesterners, where is the true dividing point? How do you know when you've left one culture and entered another?

17. Am I addicted to technology if for a month-long trip I brought a laptop, an external hard drive, a Bose music system, a cell phone, an Ipod, and a portable DVD player?

18. Why isn't the Iraq War on my radar?

19. Though I don't gamble much, why do I like the concept of casinos so much?

20. If you were walking into the "Taste of Chicago" food festival and the first they were handing out as you entered the gate were free samples of Pepcid AC, what would you think?

Pete Yorn is available at Itunes; I'm pretty sure Love and Money is out-of-print.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Live Together, Die Alone

New Test Leper - REM (mp3)
Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want - The Scattered Pages (mp3)

Live together, die alone.

For the non-LOST geeks out there, this is one of the show's recurring quotes and one that encapsulates at least a part of the governing philosophy on this mystical island. For those of us in Real America who find ourselves on the less than a day away from knowing that Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson are both dead, this quote should mean something as well.

When I look at these two deaths, I don't feel sadness for the loss to our popular culture. I don't feel sadness for myself or their fans. I feel a sadness for celebrity. What's been on my mind when thinking about these two people is this: for every rung we climb on the ladder to success and fame, how much more isolated and lonely must we be?

Michael Jackson sold out concert after concert across the globe. He made teenagers and adults cry from something like fetishistic ecstasy when he walked by or when he moon walked or when he grabbed whatever was left of his crotch. He was surrounded by guards, advisors, lawyers, and anyone else who qualified for his "entorage." Yet I'm sure I'm not alone in believing that no one on this entire planet knew Michael Jackson.

When I look at George W. Bush, I might mock him, and I might loathe many of the things he has done to this country, but I can't deny him this: many people know him, and some very deeply. Laura knows Dubya. I think Barbara and Jenna know Dubya. I bet a few other dozen people know Dubya pretty damn well, too.

How many people knew Michael Jackson?

And when I say "know," I don't mean "know he targets little kids, scurries them to his private quarters, feeds them Jesus juice and takes advantage of them." I don't mean secrets or personal peccadillos. I mean, I don't think anyone knew the guy. I think he died alone. Utterly, completely, and in all ways alone.

He will be mourned by millions. Hundreds of millions. Yet never known.

Farrah Fawcett is also a total mystery and stranger, although a little more understandably so. Here's a woman on whom our culture thrust about a million fantasies and hang-ups solely because of a single poster and a single season on Charlie's Angels. Sure, I also loved her in Saturn 3 and Logan's Run. Hell, I knew Farrah was hot well before I understood why my pee-pee was getting all stiff inside my Underoos.

Maybe because I didn't understand the sex part, I never found Farrah as attractive as Jacklyn Smith or Cheryl Ladd, or Olivia Newton-John for that matter. I don't know if I understood it at the time, but I think she seemed both slutty and clueless, and that's a combination of qualities I've never found appealing. (Slutty and wise? Hell yeah. Clueless yet cuddly adorable? Hell yeah. Slutty and clueless? You've got to have a predatory glee in you to find that appealing, no?)

Unlike the King of Pop, I imagine Farrah had at least a small set of people who knew her. If there was anything there to know. Between her own drug issues and those of the people around her, you wonder how much she actually knew of herself, how much of her there was to know. Even as she's fighting for her life, she's trying to figure out how to use a camera to share her struggle with viewers via two-dimensional TV screens. She's playing the role of Farrah Fawcett Dying, the role of a lifetime.

What I'm begging someone to explain to me is why we as a culture envy this shit. Why do so many of us want what they have (or had) so desperately? Fame and success isolates you. It throws you into a huge ant farm with creatures who idolize you but don't really want to or can't know you. Your identity is so overtaken by handlers and/or the hunger of the masses that most of these people eventually lose themselves. And as they lose themselves, they increasingly isolate from the world around them.

Sure, there's minor exceptions. The oft-cited Bruce Springsteen seems to have held onto most of his humanity. Jon Bon Jovi (God help me for using him as an example) has convinced me in interviews that he's almost a normal person. Paul Newman somehow convinced everyone that he never got swept quite as deeply into the Fame Whirlpool as everyone else (but if you look at his history, a lot of it ain't pretty).

Fame at that level is like playing Russian Roulette with five bullets. And it's somehow a game far too many of us are dying to play.

That's what leaves me sad. I'm sad that our culture devours the very souls of the people we idolize. I'm sad we want to be devoured like that. And I'm said that we'll never really know -- or really, really care about -- either of these two dead stars on the walk of fame.

Live together, die alone

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Paradox of Summer

Van Ghost--"Summer Promise" (mp3)
Belle and Sebastian--"A Summer Wasting" (mp3)

Summer days are a precious commodity. Unfortunately, when I perceive something as too precious, I become a bit obsessed with how to hang onto it, or, how to best "spend" it. A substantial gift card drives me crazy because I debate so much with myself about what to do with it. With summer, my problem is that I get pulled in two directions simultaneously, and often find myself often unsatisfied with both.

Here's the first: End of school, beat to hell, had enough, can barely drag myself to my office, and feeling like this, the only thing I want to do is to get the hell out of Dodge! So, I start looking for grants, pressing for overseas opportunities, or just planning a bunch of good ol' vacations of various lengths that will get me away from here whenever possible. Heck, a trip to the outlet malls down in Calhoun 50 miles away feels like a sabbatical.

Here's the second: With school over and the chance to have some down time, with a 4:00 PM release time during summer work days, I finally have a chance to appreciate what's around here, from big events like Riverbend and the Strut to little pleasures like a family movie or the lure of my grill on the back deck.

But, you see, here's the problem. I've spent summers here taking the "small pleasures" approach, and, tell me if I'm wrong, but what happens is that the days all have a certain sameness to them, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but the sameness of days makes them all run together and uses up the summer way, way too quickly. When I get into that kind of rut, I start to get miserable and develop a bad case of cabin fever, or Chattanooga fever.

And here's the problem. When I get that grant or seminar or trip together and it finally comes time to leave, the time to leave always seems to hit just when the garden is starting to come in, the tomatoes are ripening, the basil is ready for pesto, the pepper plants are shedding their blooms in favor of small fruit that will grow and ripen quickly in the sun. And all of the work I've done on the house--the clearing, the cutting, the reorganizing, the throwing out, has made for a much more comfortable living environment now ready to be enjoyed. And people are ready to plan things, but in summer, since everyone leaves at different times for different places, there's always this "What? You're leaving then? I thought we were gonna...."

I'm not sure there's a solution. Like all beautiful things, the key to the summer's beauty is its transience, and so there's not really any way to pack all of the home joys and all of the pleasures of travel into what has become about 10 short weeks.

But I can't deny that when I'm sitting on my deck drinking a beer and listening to Dylan, I wish we had gone to New Orleans after all. And when I'm exploring the wonders of Chicago for a month, I know I'll tire of the pressure and pace and inconvenience of the big city and wish I were doing something simple like making pesto from my garden and spreading it on a piece of French bread with a few slices of my tomatoes.

Sure, with the heat and the work and the expenses, summer will eventually have us yearning for fall (probably not me, but some people have this feeling). But the stronger yearning will be for the next summer to come, the next chance to perfectly spend that most precious of commodities--summer days, albeit as someone another year older.

Van Ghost's Melodies for Lovers will be released soon. Belle and Sebastian is/are available at Itunes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading (What?) Is Fundamental

More Than Words - Extreme (mp3)
My Paper Heart - The All-American Rejects (mp3)

Before June 1, I'd only read two books in the last six months. This, in my world, is a huge problem.

For whatever reason -- be it an expectation of my time or the values of my mother or the educational baggage I refuse to leave behind -- when I use the word "reading" as an activity, what I actually mean to say is "reading books." Therefore in recent years I've found myself saying aloud in conversation and to myself hundreds of times: "I'm not reading nearly enough lately."

But I have been reading.

I probably read more on a daily basis now than I ever have in my life, but not "reading books," the only real kind of reading. No, I've been doing cheap and dirty reading. Newspapers, magazines, articles, columns on the Internet. I read articles to keep up with my job, which means lots of stuff about marketing and education. I read stuff to stay (relatively) in tune with current affairs of politics and medicine and psychology. I read funny stuff from Joel Stein... well, I did before he apparently got canned from the Los Angeles Times in late April. I proofread hundreds of words daily my coworkers have written. I receive roughly 100 emails every day to my work address (fewer in the summer, admittedly), another dozen or so to my Gmail account, and another few from Facebook.

Thousands upon thousands of words. Every day.

Yet I still go to bed at night thinking to myself, "I'm not reading enough." Is this a problem exclusive to English majors, or do others out there suffer from this confused situation?

In the last six months, I actually managed to catch up from my backlog of New Yorkers. That single magazine is the albatross of any human being who likes to read good long-form journalism. While non-fiction books tend to wear me about about midway through, a good New Yorker article can feel like a whole damn book yet maintain my energy for the topic at hand. Why the hell, and how the hell those bastards put out a new issue of that magazine on a weekly basis befuddles the ever-lovin' shit out of me.

Reading the New Yorker is like falling into the lightning sand from "The Princess Bride." You fall in, and you gotta have some serious lung capacity and a thick-ass rope to get yourself out of it before you die. And then damn if, not minutes after you get out of there with your life in tact and your lungs in order, another issue doesn't land in your mailbox.

Add to this my Newsweek subscription. This add-on was bad enough a few months and years ago, but the recent redesign has rendered this weekly almost as thick and juicy as the New Yorker. Now I've got two thick-as-hell, packed-to-the-gills with words magazines to swim through every dadgum week. Pile onto these two burdens my magazine version of meth, Entertainment Weekly -- easily the best crapper reading material this side of Weekly World News -- and the thank-God-it's-monthly WIRED subscription.

If I were being fair to myself, getting through even 3/4 of my monthly Newsweek and New Yorker pages, all of my EW, and 1/2 of my WIRED has to border on a novel if not a little more.

So how in the hell do I find myself haunted at times by the feeling that I'm not reading?

Here's my guess, and it's just a guess: I think writers, and people who aspire to be writers, feel some strange obligation to support others in the field. Just as wannabe young angst-filled poets find themselves sitting in coffee shops or bookstores with other young angst-filled wannabe poets and acting like they're paying attention when the other poets read their crappy poems. Just as karaoke addicts suffer through the torture of those no-talent ass clowns because they're fellow karaoke addics.

Or maybe there's reading for information and reading for expansion -- of our imaginations, of our philosophies, of our being -- and maybe all those magazines and Internet articles are too much about the trees and not enough about the forest.

Thankfully, I'm wrapping up my second book of the last three weeks. I Love You Beth Cooper. It's hardly expanding any part of me other than my rabid teen-obsessed immaturity, but it sure has been fun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Mandate for Man Dates?

The Weather Girls--"It's Raining Men" (mp3)
Joe Jackson--"It's Different For Girls" (mp3)

Male bonding has never been more prominent and celebrated, it seems. I doubt that is just my perception. With both I Love You, Man and now The Hangover getting strong word of mouth and doing great box office, the concept of guys needing to be guys in order to be better guys has achieved validation.

I like that phrase I just made up, so I'm going to repeat it: Guys Need To Be Guys In Order To Be Better Guys.

Is it true? Without really thinking about it, I accept that it is true. Our society accepts that it is true. I think we've somehow convinced our women that it's true. Think of the words that have entered our lexicon in the last 5 years or so: man crush, man date, mancation, bromance, etc. All of these words have an implied consent to them, kind of a boys-will-be-boys wink.

Madison Avenue has picked up on it by switching to the word "guys" in so many ads. What men want is one thing, what guys need is something different entirely. Men are involved in the important affairs of the adult world, or at least they used to be. Guys, on the other hand, like to engage in a lot of sweaty, sports-related activities and then spend their spare time in bars drinking guy beer and eating unhealthy guy food. And, in the commercials, guys let their girls come along to so that they can experience a little of what it's like to do the things guys do. And in the commercials, the girls/women love it!

Now, I'm no sociologist, but in my marriage, we talk sometimes about "space." You know, that concept that allows dad to go off and do pretty much whatever he wants while mom stays at home with the kids. And, occasionally, it works the other way around. It isn't much of an issue since we grant it pretty willingly (or it is granted to me). We have even concluded, I think, that most of the successful marriages we know involve the wife giving the husband enough space. It might be nice in the abstract to assume that husbands and wives should or would want to do every single thing together, but it usually doesn't work out that way. So there's an all-guy action flick, an afternoon of football, a concert, even a trip that accomplishes that concept of space.

Of course, it must said that some of the least successful marriages involve too much space, so there is that very fine line.

I do have what started out as a "Guy Night" every Thursday night, when a friend and I go to Magoo's and debrief about life. We started going many years ago after playing basketball to rehydrate and eventually eat. We even had a well-trained waitress named Vicki who knew automatically to bring us another beer as soon as the current one was empty. The funny thing we noticed was that as long as our Magoo's evening was all guys, things were great, but anytime a woman or two came along, the service, the automatic beers, everything, went to hell. It was kind of funny. These days my wife, and sometimes children, come along on this man date, and everything works. We have a good time. It's a One-Guy-And-Another-Guy-And-His-Family Night. It's a good compromise.

Because there is one major concession that at least us marrieds would have to make. It is so easy to fall into the easy camaraderie of men, probably too easy. Back in school, there may have been fights and jealousies and rivalries, but adult male friendships are pretty easy to maintain. Boys, men, guys, dudes, bros--you name it--like to do things that are fun and possibly competitive. So we can build friendships around doing fun things with other men who like to do the same fun things and probably drink some fun things and possibly stare at some (potentially) fun women.

Juxtapose that with the ups and downs of keeping a marriage and a family going. Even if you, God forbid, subscribe to the concept of "date night" with your spouse, that romantic night out is likely going to involve a number of discussions that focus around the general, anxiety-causing question of "What are we going to do?" It could be finances, it could be a child's grades or health or social assimilation, it could be marital issues, it could be anything. And even if you're in a relationship but not married, it isn't that different.

It probably isn't a level playing field, either. The opportunities are not the same for all-women camping trips or roadtripping or tailgating before college football games. Or else they just don't. And they have that awful split between the ones who work and the ones who don't, each looking at the other camp with at least mild disdain. The ones who don't work, plan trips to a condo in Hilton Head. The ones who do work feel guilty when they're not working or with their families. And think about it. What is the societal message about what happens when women go on a gal trip? Thelma and Louise.

Ultimately, man time is an escape, isn't it? I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but how do we know when we are escaping too often? I guess when being guys doesn't make us better guys.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Vagina Dentata"

Victim - Dreams So Real (mp3)
The Sound of Coming Down - The Long Winters (mp3)

So I'm at this local place, Tremont Tavern, Saturday night with a friend of mine. He dashes off to the bathroom while I stand in line at the bar to order a beer.

The female bartender is young and incredibly adorable and has some kind of red and yellow tattoo above her left breast. Not that I noticed. Someone else, um, pointed it out to me. But when she looks at me for my order, she's all pissed off and annoyed, so Billy being Billy, I ask, "What's wrong?"

"That fucking guy over there hasn't left a penny in tips all night. He's paying for three people and not tipping a thing." Then she shakes her head. "Sorry."

"Oh. No problem. You should spit in his beer."

"Heh. I'm thinking about it."

Then, right as I'm about to start ordering my beer, this woman next to me interrupts and orders two beers. And then the bartender looks back at me and takes my order. And then the woman next to me says, "Sorry to interrupt you, but I was afraid if I didn't order right then, I'd totally forget to do it."

"No problem," I said, because I seem to say No problem a lot. "The bartender was just about to ask me for my phone number, and that would have been really awkward. We were getting pretty intense there, so I'm glad you saved me."

Then this woman says, "You see the guy standing behind me? He's a jerk, but I'm married to him."

"Oh really?" I say, smiling and playing along with the joke.

"No, seriously, he's an asshole," she says.

Hmm. Awwwwkward. "I'm sorry about that. How long have you been married?"

"A year and a half. If you don't count the separation. Which I don't."

"So you've actually been married longer?" Her husband is standing RIGHT behind her, his hand rubbing circles on her back while he talks to this brunette twentysomething sitting in the barstool next to his wife. I am not a quiet talker, but he's not paying the least bit of attention.

"Almost three years, but we were separated for 11 months, so I don't count those as being married."

"Hmm." (Seriously, what the hell else is a fella s'posed to say to that?)

"Yeah, so we're seriously unhappy," she says to me and his hand casually continues rubbing circles on her back while he keeps talking to this other woman. I have no reason to think his conversation with this other woman was the least bit inappropriate, but you couldn't help but feel it was.

It's at this point I should acknowledge that the female in question was, by my own judgment and that of the guy I was with, attractive to a degree that anyone who knows me or has seen me would ask themselves the very same question I was asking myself*: If she was that attractive, why was she talking to you??

This woman, were she not a little too skinny -- we later theorized that her marital misery had yanked at least 20 pounds from her frame -- would be acknowledged as "hot" by most reasonable judges. Even Simon Cowell. She had her natural-seeming (who the hell knows anymore) blonde hair pulled up into a bun, with all these strands falling out of it, a long faceline with a slightly over-pronounced chin, a facial flaw with which I'm intimately familiar from staring at myself in the mirror. She wore minimal makeup and clothing that was neither desperately revealing nor excessively conservative, cream-colored thin-fabric pants and a black tube top kind of thing. She couldn't have been a day over 31 and probably more like 28.

The bartender returns with my beers, and piles them up with this woman's beers. I started at this point to walk back to a side booth where my friend awaited our beers, but she says, "No wait wait." So I stay.

"I watched one of the worst three movies I've ever seen tonight," this woman says to me. Yes, she not only announced that she was unhappily married, but then she re-instigated the conversation with a total non-sequitur.


"It was called 'Downloading Nancy,' and it's awful."

"What were the other two awful movies you've seen?" (It seemed like the best way to go.)

"That movie 'Bug' with Ashley Judd?"

"Oh! I've seen that!" I said.

"Really?? Omygod! Did you hate it?"

"Well, I watched all of it, so I must not have totally hated it, but Ashley Judd is pretty hot, so maybe that had something to do with it." Her husband has now started to take a more serious look in my direction. His hand is still very much running circles on her back.

"That and a movie called 'Vangina Dentata.'"

"Van what?"

"Va. Va-gina Dentata."

"Is that a foreign film? I've heard of a movie called... I think it's called 'Teeth'... is it, like, a foreign version of that?"

"No! Holy shit! No! That's it!! Omygod I can't believe you know these movies!! I rented 'Downloading Nancy' on Comcast and watched almost all of it tonight. Totally freaky. You should see it."

"But I thought you said you hated it and it was awful."

"Yeah, I did, but you should see it."

"Is it awful like 'Requiem for a Dream' awful, where the movie is good, but it just leaves you frightened and lonely?" I asked.

"Ooooh. Saw that. Yeah, that was freaky. But no, this one was just not very good. But it did have sex in it."

At this point, my friend came over and got his beer, making me all the more aware that I'd been carrying on this random conversation with a very very attractive blonde woman for quite a while.

"I'll jot that down in my steel trap of a brain," I say, tapping my skull and winking. Because I'm a charmer. And because I'm also a chickenshit not to mention married, I start walking away toward my friend.

"No wait, wait," she says, pulling me back toward her with the power of a mere curly finger. "It has Maria Bello in it. You know who that is?"

"Hell yeah. Cowboy Ugly and History of Violence."

"She's adorable."

"I totally agree!"

"Anyway, she's in it. I thought that might make you consider it a little more. More than 'Just because Krista says to.'"

"Your name's Krista?"

"Yup, that's me." The response of someone clearly more intoxicated than they're used to. The only sober person to say those words are Ferris Bueller.

"I'm Billy."

"Billy, I see you're married. I hope you're not as unhappy as me."

"You don't look that unhappy."

She took a sip of beer before responding. "You just haven't seen me really happy." Before you get the wrong idea, this last line was not stated in some kind of winking grab my ass come-on kind of way. It's possible she meant it as some kind of come-on, but if that was her intent, it wasn't as obvious as it reads now. At the time it seemed more like a simple declaration: I'm getting by on a low standard of happiness compared to my life at earlier times.

At this point, I managed to utter something about not wanting to ditch my friend, and backed slowly away.

I felt slightly bad about this because (a) I really don't like backing away from conversations with incredibly attractive women, especially when I'm sufficiently filled with alcohol; and (b) she had just offered a kind of sad and vulnerable moment and was reaching out. But I had to because (a) I'd like to remain married for a little longer, and it sure seemed like I was talking to a very vulnerable and flirtatious woman; and (b) her husband was now staring Terminator-like lasers through my flesh, and I couldn't win a barfight against a microphone stand, much less a living, breathing person.

I then replayed the general conversation with my pal in a relatively hushed fashion, since Krista and her asshole hubby were only four feet away from us. Later that night, after the miserable couple left -- "We told the babysitter we'd be home an hour ago," she leaned over and told me as she was leaving -- we tried to break down the conversation like Chris Berman and Tom Jackson break down football plays on ESPN.

She first interrupts me ordering a beer. Then she commits a way-serious breach of personal confession by telling me, a perfect stranger, just how ridiculously miserable her marriage is. But she can get away with this because she's smokin' hot. Then she mentions movies about a couple that wig the fuck out (Bug), a vagina with teeth that devours male body parts (Teeth) and another movie I'd never heard of.

When I got home, I Googled "Downloading Nancy." It's about a near-suicidal wife who meets a dude online and arranges for said dude to meet up with her and kill her. The trailer makes it look like 9 1/2 Weeks meets 21 Grams meets that James Spader/Cronenberg Crash movie.


What I'm saying is, in my drunken mind at the time it happened, the conversation was kind of fun and flirty, albeit a little awkwardly confessional. But now, looking back on it, I think I'm kind of spooked and sad. How are sad people supposed to reach out? Where do we go for help if we're isolated from people we can trust and have a spouse we can't talk to? How can you get a nice-seeming guy to pay attention, REALLY pay attention, when he's drunk and too busy feeling all flattered that this (desperate and panicked?) attractive woman is hitting on him?

Or maybe that's just my conscience trying to find a reason to feel guilty about talking so long to an attractive woman, turning what was a totally random and harmless conversation with a flirty attractive woman into something darker and more disturbing.

Who knows.

Both songs can be purchased at iTunes. I almost used "Crazy Bitch" by Buckcherry, but it's kind of a raw song, and I thought using it risked making light of my final thoughts...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't Let Your Ears Get Tired

Jenny Owen Youngs--"Led To The Sea" (mp3)
Leeroy Stagger--"Petrified World" (mp3)

I was reading a review of a new Elvis Costello cd this morning, a bluegrass effort, I believe, and it dawned on me that I'm all Elvised out, that I have been for a long time, that I don't expect to seek out anything else that he puts out, that I'm somewhat indifferent to hearing him again.

I like Costello, or liked him. Probably own or owned between 8 and 10 of his records and cds. Some of them were favorites for awhile, especially Get Happy!. But somewhere along the way I got tired of Elvis and his schtick--he writes pop songs of one sort or another that are so damned clever that at some point, for me, they outclevered themselves.

But Elvis Costello is really just an example. And he isn't the first artist that this has happened to for me. I believe I've stated on these pages before my complete disdain for the Eagles and my hope never to hear another one of their songs again. Same with the Police. Especially "Roxanne."

That makes for an interesting contrast--the Eagles were such hitmakers and all of their stuff got so overplayed that I just said enough, while Costello, more of a critic's darling, never got the excessive airplay. He just didn't continue to do enough to hold my interest. Fans of his might exclaim: "But he's always changing! He did that thing with the Kronos Quartet, he went country, he works with different bands, he did the "spin the dial to see what song we'll play" tour, Burt Bacharach duets, now he's moved into bluegrass." I certainly acknowledge that he has busted out of his original punkish mode.

But is it possible that Elvis Costello was only supposed to be an angry young man, put out 2 or 3 snotty, cynical, condescending records and then fade away before he tried to copy the lush Beatles production, before T-Bone Burnett stepped in to give him a roots sound, before he became a crooner?

Or it is possible that ears can get tired of a voice, of a stance? Certainly our taste buds get tired of eating the same foods over and over and we can hear a song too much and get sick of it.

But I think for my ears there was only so much Elvisness, in whatever genre or style he was experimenting, that I was willing to take in. I don't know if that means he's a minor artist or that I have some genetic predisposition that means I'll only be able to take so much of him. It may also simply be a factor of age--I'm pretty tired of the Rolling Stones, I listen to the Allman Brothers in cycles where I'll take several years off before I feel like hearing them again.

Which makes it pretty amazing, I think, that there are some bands that I don't get tired of. The Beatles have that gift. So does Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead. I continue to be interested in Dylan's latest stuff. I came late to the Pink Floyd party, so their less-popular stuff still sounds fresh to me. In newer generations of rock, I'm always happy to hear Bob Mould, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, to name a few.

But I gotta tell you, more than anything, music, for me, is about moving forward, and I'm always amazed by people who reach a certain point somewhere and stop. I think it comes down to being a collector or a listener. I choose to be the latter. It's nice to have the many cds that I have, but most of what I listen to is what is coming out now. People, even I, can argue that music isn't what it once was, that the glory days of rock are over, that the 90's can't touch the 80's and this new century is even worse and all of that. It doesn't matter if you keep moving forward.

I guess that's why after waiting for years for Neil Young, arguably my favorite, to put out his extensive Archives, when Volume 1 came out a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't going to buy it. I'm not that disappointed by how much of it has been previously released in one form or another; the new versions are supposed to be sonically superior to what I have and the discs are filled with treasure troves of info about my beloved Neil. But you know what? I love Harvest, but I'm not going to listen to any more Harvest than I did before, just because it has been remastered. And I'm not going to listen to hours and hours of straight Neil either. I'm just not listening that way anymore. And so, if I bought it, I'm pretty sure it would just become part of the collection, admired and impressive, but not listened to. Neil's earliest years are undoubtedly kind of interesting, but right now I'm much more interested in what is going on right now.

I'll leave you with this simple truth: great, great music has been made over the past 5 decades of rock and folk and blues and jazz, but there is still nothing better than that new song that hits your ears for the first time, doing something a little different, a little fresh, that makes the emotions well up so that you think, yeah, this is good.

Those songs are still coming out.

Jenny Owen Youngs' songs are available at Itunes. I should know. In a flurry of activity a couple of afternoons ago, I bought all of them. Leeroy Stagger's songs are also there, but not this one, not quite yet.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do You Feel a Draft...?

Love and War (11/11/46) - Rilo Kiley (mp3)
Bible vs. Gun - Will Hoge (mp3)

America needs to reinstate the draft, and soon. No, I'm not kidding, nor am I talking about fantasy football.

If we don't go with a draft, then I'd recommend a flat-out military service requirement similar to Denmark, Israel and the Latter-Day Saints!

Reinstating "conscription" in the United States would have a Dan Quayle impact on our conscience in shit that matters most. What I mean is, if anything had happened to Bush 41 and Dan Quayle had taken over as POTUS, our national attention would have quickly focused on what the hell that cardigan-wearing Nancy-boy was doing daily. Screw L.A. Law and Murder She Wrote, 'cuz we'd be scared poopless about our idiot President doing something irreversibly stupid, like banning Potatoe Guns.

Another reason can be summed up in a single word: "Patriotic."

"Patriotic" gets bandied around so cavalierly you'd think it meant something stupid, like "peeps" or "krunk." Truth is, 95% of people born after 1965 wouldn't know patriotism from shinola, and many older folks hardly have any sense of it, either. We act like "patriotic" means stupid and simple and meaningless shit like holding up signs that say "We support our troops!" or "USA #1!" or "Can I be your lover, Condoleeza?" We have, as a country, determined that being "patriotic" requires only being capable of saying the word "patriotic" in some kind of sincere-sounding way.

Know why World War II holds such a special place in America's collective heart? Because practically every portion of America's collective society stepped up and donated. Ten percent of the country's population served during WWII, as opposed to less than a single percent during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. When you focus most of that 10-percent on a 20-year span of males, you're talking a huge chunk of a generation of men, "the Greatest Generation," we claim.

I'm sick of the word "patriotism." The only word that's been more damaged and misused in the last 20 years is "Christian."

First off, our military could use a little bit more diversity, and by that I mean normalcy.

Did you see Saving Private Ryan? Remember the scene where Tom Hanks tells his comrades he's a schoolteacher? Well, those days are long gone, and instead you get soldiers who miss their Mustangs more than their spouses. You get people who want to be soldiers, which ain't really s'posed to be something people want to do all that badly. In the few conversations with the dozens of WWII and Korean War veterans I've known -- many long gone, including my father -- none of them were obsessed with being a soldier. None of them glorified the experience or even got all that excited answering my eager questions.

I remember especially one of my father's friends who served in the Korean "Conflict," who said something close to this: "Those were the most important years of my life, and I'll never forget them, but I wouldn't wish them on anyone if I could help it."

Old school soldiers are mostly proud, mostly patriotic, and mostly heroes. But don't confuse their pride and patriotism with glorifying something that's naturally ugly and scarring. Sure, you'll always have the "nothing beats the smell of napalm in the morning" types, but they're s'posed to be the outliers, not the standard-bearers. I have several relatives who did or currently serve our country, and a handful of past students I know are in the field. Only a couple of these were your "kick ass and take names later" kinds of people, but "normal guy" and "soldier" aren't as linked as they should be in modern times.

Secondly, nothing about the last 10 years of warring angers me more than how quickly our country turns away from its injured veterans. Soldiers whose service is cut short by a lost limb or worse are often discarded like yesterday's leftovers.

Most anti-abortion folks fight the noble fight of "a baby's right to live" right up to the point where the babies are born, and then they don't give a shit about the baby after it comes out of the womb. After that precious thing is born, it suddenly becomes less the responsibility or a morally-upstanding country and more that of the meth-addled single mom with an IQ of 25. After the birth, it's suddenly that mother's fault for not practicing abstinence. Then, when the mom buries the kid under the wood chips at a playground because she has no clue what she's doing, we can feel better that we fought for this child's right to live.

It's the same with our military. We support them so long as they can still carry a gun and guard that wall. But we sure as hell don't wanna have to pay tax dollars to nurse them, keep the IVs in them, provide 'round-the-clock care for them, or offer psychological counseling for them, once they return home.

But... what if all of us know the soldiers? If we all have an investment in Charlie Company, so to speak? We're sure as hell more likely to care about their potential conflicts, and we're sure as hell less likely to tolerate veterans being treated like doggie doo. It's hard to care about something until it lands on your doorstep. The numbers 9-11 are proof. Well, it's time we landed the job of defending and fighting for our country on more of our doorsteps.

Perhaps most importantly, our words would immediately carry more weight. Words like "patriotism" and "country" and "service" and "honor" would tug at our hearts because our own loved ones were on the other end of that barrel. Every death of an American serviceman or -woman overseas, every attack on our people, would rattle our souls to their core as we fretted over the safety of those we love, at least until we got their Twitter that they were OK, that it was some other family's tragedy.

A draft wouldn't guarantee that the likes of George Bush or a Kennedy child would have to serve. The super-wealthy and super-influential can find loopholes for anything, it seems. But a draft or other kind of conscription would force enough of us in the middle and upper classes to care that the entire political dynamic of fighting and war and abused words like "patriotism" in this country would have to change.

Our government would also have a much higher standard to meet before sending troops into a scrum, or a conflict, or a "peace-keeping mission," or a war. Because suddenly a significant majority of voters would be closely tied to the very bodies being considered for those fights. Flag-waving and Lee Greenwood songs might not feel quite so empowering and "patriotic" when you're sending your own kids to the front lines.

And I guaran-damn-tee you we'd all like the sound of the word "diplomacy" a whole lot more.

Both songs can be purchased on iTunes or at Amazon.com's mp3 site.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Odd Juxtapositions of Life

Drake (featuring R. Kelly)--"Best I Ever Had (Skeemix)" (mp3)

I laid a big turd the other night, a big, fat, musical turd. We were playing a casual game of "Ipod Wars," a contest my friend created wherein everyone takes turns trying to pick a song from their pod that is somehow better than what was previously played. In its serious form, each song actually gets a rating from 1 to 5, not exactly for how great the song is or isn't, but for how perfect that song is for that Ipod War at that moment.

So into the mix of Ukranian folk punk, 90's rehash, classic stuff (no ladies, please!) and several guys just spinning through their Iphones, looking for the perfect song but not actually competing, I went with the song "Best I Ever Had" by Drake and featuring R. Kelly. That's right. Hip-hop. You'd have thought I farted in the room. And I suppose in the context of the game, I shouldn't have played it--the room was kind of loud, the music wasn't quite loud enough, you couldn't hear the words.

What? Couldn't hear the words? It's a hip-hop song! Are you kidding me? No, I'm not. I'm here to tell you that Eddie Murphy was wrong when he criticized white people for listening to the words. In rap, that's where the fun is.

You know, it took a long time and a fair amount of help for me to come to terms with rap. It used to really piss me off, offend my sensibilities, all of that. Because I used to, in my serious white-boy way, take it seriously. I don't recall when it finally hit me that rap is all a joke, a big posturing, but when it finally did, then I got it. Rap, a good bit of it, is laugh out loud funny. Rivals, smackdowns, East vs. West Coast, champagne in the hot tub, street cred from a rough upbringing (which is why Usher tried to pretend he was from Atlanta, not Chattanooga), smoking weed all the time, 24/7, while cruising down the street. And I mean, if you're going to be a decent rapper, you've got to be a misogynist about the entire race of females cause all them bitches and hoes be throwin' themselves at you all the time, but you still want to find that perfect lady and treat her with the respect that she deserves.

Check out Mr. Drake, for example:

Baby your my everything,
your all I ever wanted,
we can do it real Big
bigger then you ever done it
You be up on everything
other Hoes ain't never on it
I want this forever
I swear I Can spend whatever on it.
Cause she hold me down every time
I Hit her up when I get right
I Promise that we gon' live it up
She make me beg for it till
she give it & I say the same thing
Every single time I say you the Fucking best,
you the fucking Best, you the fucking best,
you The fucking best,
you the best I Ever had,
best I ever had,
best I Ever had,
best I ever had,
I said you the fucking, etc.

It ain't elegant, but it's from the heart. Unfortunately, if it is meant to be sincere, it's also very funny, at least funny in the sense that these guys are sitting around making this stuff up and someone suggests the bare-bones, stripped to the core sentiment to the woman he loves. "Look, man, just say it like it is: 'You the fucking best.'" And I can see the nods going all around then thinking maybe we can get R. Kelly to come in and sing it. It's straight, it's real. I mean, what woman wouldn't want to hear that from her man? Or vice-versa.

But wait, there's more. By the second verse, Drake has gotten a bit more expansive, maybe has forgotten his original mission stated at the start of the song:

You know a lot of girls be thinking
My songs are about them,
This is not to get confused
This ones for you .

Because by the end of verse 2, it's all spinning together:

You the fucking best,
And I'm the fucking best,
So we the fucking best.

Whoa! Do you mean, Mr. Drake, that the song isn't really about her? Is it quite possibly about your own sexual prowess? I thought we were going toward "you complete me" here, but I'm sensing a shift towards "I complete you." You don't even need her to tell you that you're the "fucking best" because, darn it, you already know it, you've always known it.

As I was thinking about all of this, I was reminded of the spam in my mailbox. I don't know if you ever look at your spammed email, but here's a sampling of the subject lines of some of mine recently:

Be Her Love General
Don't Let Your Rod Fall
Right Packs for Night Acts!
Carnal Revitalizer
Immediate Hot Rod Reviver
Increasing Your Instrument Means Enlarging Your Masculinity
Your Bedroom Doesn't Smell Like Intimacy Anymore?
Lost Your Libido and Strength? We Will Help You Look For It!
Now You Don't Need a Crane To Life Your Instrument Up
With A Monster Device You Will Feel A More Important Man
Take Her From Above
How To Measure That Long Tail

Yes, we remain a society obsessed with sexual prowess, so much so that the concept of "snake oil" seems to take on a whole new meaning in the context of what these Internet offers promise they can do for your God-given manhood. You know, now that I look these emails over, I realize that with just a little Internet online shopping help, I could be the "fucking best" myself. Maybe I could give Drake a run for his money. But, naw. Wanna know why? Because here's what Drake throws down at the end:

She call me the referee
Cause I be so official,
my shirt Aint got no stripes
but I can make ya p---y whiiiiiiiistle
Like The Andy Griffin theme song

Man, that's outta my league, just like them Ipod Wars. Drake, in my head right now I can hear Aunt Bea scolding you. That ain't right, man.

I don't think Ipod Wars are ready for rap just yet. Cock Rock, AC/DC, that kind of stuff, is always going to go down well, get the knowing nods and the "good calls" and all sorts of affirmation, but cock rap, hmmm, I don't know, maybe too threatening. Or maybe the music, the backbeat, everything is too manufactured and repetitive. All I know is this: if they ever invent Ipod Song Lyric Wars, my man Drake will be in my corner. He's the best.

Drake is available at Itunes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The Shyest Time - The Apartments (mp3)
Darwin Was a Baptist - Ninja Gun (mp3)

Saturday morning found my wife and youngest downtown at Panera munching on bagels and scarfing down coffee. The downtown restaurants and eateries are fascinating, sociologically speaking, because they increase the sense of Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get walking into Panera at 9:20 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

A few pre-churchgoers. Lots of runners and bikers, exercising types. One dude had on this Axl Rose bandanna on his head, some curly reddish blonde hair, and carried himself with a level of confidence comparable with Pepe Le Pew, which is to say "supremely pleased with himself." He was wearing a red wife-beater that said "Citadel Marines" on it, and the shirt gave clear exposure to both his "guns" as well as the chest upon which a woman could eat dinner with a steak knife and evince nary a wince from the man. (I mock, but I mock with muscular jealousy and mousy respect.)

Plenty of other types milled and munched around my little middle-class triumvirate, but one family stood out. More specifically, the daughter portion of one family stood out.

The female in question stood a gangly 5'6", had medium brown stringy hair, a mildly acne-ridden face, and glasses. Had she been dressed normally, most people wouldn't have noticed her, and the ones who did would have thought, "awwwwwkward!"

Her outfit took her over the top. The closest I can come to explaining the overall fashion feel she gave off was to say the words, "Desperately Seeking Susan." The Madonna period where she just wore layers of shit, and had trinkets and what-nots dangling and hanging and wrapped all over everywhere? Well, this girl had that look. She had on black leggings with no socks that fell into teal Crocs. She had some kind of plastic pink bangle on one leg. She had these little tin (or plastic?) animals she'd pinned to her shirt in random places. She had another couple of odd bangles on one wrist.

And then, the coup de grace: she wore what resembled a bonnet on her head. A teensy bonnet (unlike the version at left), but a bonnet nonetheless. White and red checkerboard mini-bonnet from ear to ear.

Are you understanding this? A teenage girl was wearing a red-and-white checkerboarded fucking bonnet!

Everyone looked at her. It was one of those where you look at her, and then you look around at everyone else to see who else is seeing what you're seeing, to make sure you're not making more of it than it's due.

It reminded me of that scene in the Steve Martin movie Roxanne, where he's playing a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, and the moronic yet hot Slider from Top Gun finally meets him and can't stop staring or commentating about the size of Charlie's proboscis. Or a time when I was at an outlet mall with my wife several years ago, and the most poorly put-together cross-dresser (or, perhaps sadder, transvestite) I've ever encountered came strolling in. The dude reminded me of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. That's how unfeminine he looked. Or she. Whatevs.

We know it's rude to stare, and we know we shouldn't, but sometimes we do anyway.

But to my point.

Much of our society has glamorized the notion of being different. And we glamorize it with the word "non-conformity." Pixar has made buckets of money mining the depths of the Conformity v. Non-Conformity battle lately with Ratatouille and Wall-E and Up. In fact, a huge percentage of comedies and inspirational movies -- and particularly animated films -- base themselves on this dichotomy. The herd versus the one who dares to be different. A Bug's Life. Bee Movie. Mulan. Little Mermaid. Happy Feet. In fact, it would be one helluva drinking game to start going through the names of movies where the non-conformist is the protagonist and hero. (Or, for you nerdy literary types, I'm sure you could do it with books... YAWNNNNN...)

In theory, we love the non-conformist. We write stories about her. We craft entire movies around him.

In practice, however, when we actually encounter an honest-to-God living, breathing non-conformist, we stare. We gawk. We laugh quietly to ourselves or loudly with our conforming friends. Or maybe we couch our amusement in "concern," because there must be something mentally deficient in a teenage girl wearing that outfit out in public. Why would she do that? Is she suicidal? Or maybe just below the Moron level of IQ?

In practice, non-conformity scares us. And it should. True non-conformists are difficult to understand.

I'm not talking goth kids, or sk8er boys, or emo girls, or tree-huggers or any of these labels. If there's enough of your type for it to have earned a label, then you're really not doing anything all that frakkin' unique, mmkay? True non-conformists break all the molds, usually to the point that they really don't make much sense to anyone except maybe, possibly, to themselves.

Enter my final movie reference of the day: Cool Hand Luke, one of the greatest movies of alllll time. Luke was a true non-conformist. He's contradictory and confusing. He earns the adulation of others and then spurns it. One could argue Luke can't even explain himself, understand himself. He almost seems guided by forces beyond his own comprehension, because he seems to get how to go along and get along, and he almost seems to want to... but he just... can't.

As is often the case, we glamorize a concept only to simplify it and dumb it down to suit our conveniences. Choosing "the road less traveled" isn't a punch line, and it isn't a fashion statement. It's a nasty, difficult and confusing way to live, and the ones who are doing it the most sincerely are the least likely to be capable of explaining it to you.

And with that, I raise a glass to non-conformity. And bonnets!

"The Shyest Time" comes from the soundtrack to Some Kind of Wonderful, a 1985 John Hughes movie that desperately wants to be about non-conformity and hits the mark as often as it misses. And either way, it has Lea Thompson and Mary Stuart Masterson, both of whom were ridonkulously hot, according to some nerdy teenagers I knew back then. Both songs can be found on iTunes or Amazon.com, and if they can't, call me and we'll bum rush those companies together!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Learning To Speak Spanic

Spanic Boys--"Keep On Walking" (mp3)
Spanic Boys--"I'm All You Need" (mp3)
Spanic Boys--"Dream Your Life Away" (mp3)

Last week's barrage of Riverbend-related activities, coupled with texts from a friend at Bonnaroo, put me in mind of some of those acts I mentioned last week from Riverbends past. In fact, as I've been working on my house all weekend long, cleaning, clearing, cooking in preparation for a friend's visit, I've been listening to the Spanic Boys.

Father's Day is, after all, coming up this weekend, and what better way to get into that frame of mind than exploring rock's only (that I know of) father and son duo.

The story, such as it is, is both legendary and unknown. The known part is that when Sinead O'Connor cancelled on SNL in protest of Andrew Dice Clay (probably the least talented comic before Dane Cook), G.E. Smith called up the Spanic Boys and asked them if they wanted to play. They didn't believe him, of course, didn't believe that he was who he was. After all, they were a fledgling band from Milwaukee who were well-reviewed, but little known. But after he convinced them, they were in NYC on SNL playing KOW ("Keep On Walking"), easily their best-known but little-known song to this day.

The unknown part is probably more interesting. While Todd Marinovich's dad was on a singularly-focused-and-eventually-failed mission to turn him into an NFL quarterback, Tom Spanic successfully interested his son, Ian, in learning to play the Telecaster. It's difficult to even think about who the other father-and-sons of rock are--at least those that play together. But for over 20 years, the father and son Spanic have been playing together with a variety of supporting bass and drum players.

To me, it's a fascinating dream fulfilled. Yeah, there are dads who hand over the family business to their boy or welcome their son into the law firm or simply dole out a bunch of cash to their next generation. But ponder this one: "Hey, son, let's form a band and hit the road and spend our lives performing music together. So both of us are overweight with Link Wray haircuts, so what? Can we play the guitars? Yes. Do our voices sound good together? Yes. Did you have something else you would rather do? I thought not. Let's rock! You can play lead."

The Spanic Boys are one of those bands who don't sound good on a mixtape. I'm not sure what it is--maybe the sound is too trebly, so much so that, like an early Beatle CD, it sounds kind of tinny. Or maybe it's just that when the Spanics come on, you don't really have a reference point and your ears aren't sure what to do. Did someone slip some Buddy Holly into the mix? Is rockabilly still hip? Will someone pour me a Milwaukee's Best?

You have to enter the Spanic world in order to embrace them. After a few songs, there is one thing you know for sure: what is happening in the music world at the moment will have little or no impact on the sound that they have been creating for 20 years.

I've picked three songs to introduce you to the Spanics, just in case you don't know them. "Keep On Walking" is the song they played to a national audience on SNL; it is a perfect pop song, engaging lyrics, catchy chorus, appropriate solo. "I'm All You Need" shows you their clean, mature sound and their love of a digital effect processor, a love played to even greater emphasis on "Dream Your Life Away," the third track and title track of their third CD.

I hadn't checked in with the Spanics for awhile, but, judging from their website, they're alive and well and doing what they do best--putting out catchy, jangly, rockabilly-tinged pop music that just seems a little more authentic, a little more roots, than most of the other stuff you're listening to.

And much of their catalog is available at Itunes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's all about the rewrite

It's a lazy Friday here in the office and, frankly, there's not much going on in my head either, so, uh, "Usually, I don't do this, but...:"

R. Kelly--Ignition (Remix) (mp3)

Depending on what time of day you stumble upon this blog, you are likely to read to read sometimes distinctly different versions of the same post. I'm not talking about the correction of misspelled or filling in of missing words (thought that does happen all to frequently). I am, believe it or not, talking about reconceptulization.

If you're a Johnny-On-The-Spot-Check-The-Blog-First-Thing kind of person, we certainly appreciate you, but you may not be getting the best version. I often finish posts late at night and schedule them to "launch" at 12:01 AM, and things can be a bit fuzzy by then, so even though I read over what I've written, I'm usually more pleased to have the post written than certain that I've said everything that I want to say.

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is the knowledge that whenever I see something that I don't like, I can quickly go back and change it, even rethink it, to make it clearer or even, God willing, funnier. The journalist with an absolute deadline does not have that option. In fact, even when I put myself on a tight deadline, which I often do, I can still go back to the post and tinker with it over and over.

Most of us, I think, are tinkerers. We like to fiddle around with little stuff, trying to get it a little more right, whether it's the decoration of a room or an Ipod playlist. People who write tend to do the same thing. If I'm sending out an email to a lot of people, I'll tend to go over it 20 or 30 times trying to get it right, though in my obsession to perfect, sometimes the different layers of the same reworked group of words don't quite go together, and because I've looked at it so many times, I can't see the mistake.

I know that talking about writing is boring, but think about the larger concept of revision. We spend a lot of our time inside of our heads replaying, revising, and correcting what has already happened. Usually, by then, it is way too late. Great comebacks and witticisms are so contextual that while "what I should have said is..." may get a chuckle from a sympathetic listener, that is more an acknowledgement of support than an affirmation that the words still have any power, given that they have been constructed for a moment that has passed.

"In our heads, there is the right thing to say."

In our heads, if we just have enough time to think it through, we can win every argument. In our heads, if we can just clear away the clutter, there is the right thing to say to make the point, to soothe the hurting, to woo the potentially wooable, even to fix the ills of the world. In our heads, given the infinite power of our minds, we trust that as the train of ideas continually rushes past us, eventually the perfect expression will signal to the conductor, have the train stopped at our station, and get off.

And that's the attraction of putting words down on a computer, posting them to a site like this. I don't have to wait for that and I'm not stuck either. While Thomas Friedman is locked into what he wrote in Tuesday's column or David Letterman is having to apologize and to try to clarify what he meant about which Palin daughter, I can keep tinkering and adjusting. "That is not what I meant," says T.S. Eliot's Prufrock, "That is not what I meant at all," but here at The Bottom, I can select a fine chisel and circle the subject and keep chipping away and maybe get closer.

It's a luxury we rarely enjoy in other parts of our lives.

R. Kelly is available at Itunes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Small Window for Kinky Sex

The Kinks--"A Well-Respected Man" (mp3)
Fleetwood Mac--"Oh Well" (mp3)

It's a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago. I'm in my office, trying to wind down the week. The door opens amid a lot of passing traffic in the hall outside. One of my regular visitors enters, a guy whose company I often enjoy, but who has the unusual habit of assuming that his listener is fully up to speed concerning whatever it is he is about to deliver a monologue about and there for launches right in without context:

"Well," he says, unloading his backpack onto a chair and taking a seat right by the door where the headmaster's secretary can hear everything that is said from that position, "This evening is probably my best opportunity for kinky sex for at least the next three months. None of the children are home. We have no obligations. A few Jack and Cokes for me, and if I can get a couple of margaritas in her, then tonight will be the perfect time for kinky sex. I think I can push her a little farther than she's used to going. Now, here's the problem: I texted her about it and her response was that she thinks we need to go see this little boy that we've been helping through our church play baseball. That text message, that was like pouring a bucket of cold water over me. I mean, we're going up to __________'s graduation, and we'll have romantic sex up there, but tonight is our only chance for kinky sex. I'm hoping she'll text back with something else. I'm hoping that maybe if we get home and have a drink or two and she realizes we have the house all to ourselves, then maybe she'll change her mind about the game and we'll have kinky sex."

First, a definition from Merriam-Webster:


Function: adjective
Inflected Form(s): kink·i·er; kink·i·est
Date: 1844

1: closely twisted or curled

2: relating to, having, or appealing to unconventional tastes especially in sex ; also : sexually deviant

outlandish, far-out

OK, so back to that whole context thing I mentioned above, as in, if you were like me, you were getting ready to go home, if you had been passively listening, as I was, then you are bound to have some questions :

a. first and foremost, can the Penguins win Game 7 in Detroit?

b. is "kinky sex" better left as an abstract concept, or should an inquiring mind arm itself with a list of specific, example behaviors? (BTW, I'm staying in the abstract; if I start Googling "kinky sex" here in the office where I'm slaving away on this blog, I'm sure there are some kind of red lights that will start flashing down in the Tech Office, similar to the ones on the back of my house that go off when the sewer backs up. At the very least, a call across the room, "Everyone, interface with Bob's computer now!"

c. why do ______'s eyes kind of squint up when he says, "Kinky sex?"

d. why, if you know someone and you know his wife and he continually utters the phrase "kinky sex," does your brain search for a companion visual? why? why? why?

e. does that scene where Maria Bello wears the cheerleading uniform in The History Of Violence count as "kinky sex?" what are the chances your brain will let you substitute that for the visual mentioned in the previous question?

f. why does _____ feel the need to insert the term "keenkysex" so often into the conversation?

g. why, oh why, _________, are you telling me this? Usually, you come in and talk about what's going on in your church and that kind of thing.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that conservative Christians are a lot more intentional about their sex than the rest of us. Admittedly, I'm not basing that on much--1) a "kinky sex" monologue in my office from a guy whom I usually think is witnessing to me, 2) a realization that I've never pondered the sexual possibilities of the next three months in toto, and 3) my knowledge of Creative Counterparts, probably the most significant book to bring issues of sexuality into frank discussion in a Christian marriage and to argue for a woman's submissiveness to her husband. And also the fact that the "campaign," if you will, that this guy has mapped out clearly extends months, if not years, into the future. I think he was only revealing to me the current battle. If so, more power to him, I guess, but I just wish I didn't know.

Of course, for all I know, maybe the kink was getting me to listen and, therefore, somehow, be in on it.

UPDATE: I did receive a text from him later that evening, letting me know that not only was he at the baseball game, but also that he had had to pay 6 bucks to get in, and that the boy didn't even get any hits. Clearly, that put a kink in his plans.