Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Re-Meet The Beatles

The Beatles--"Dr. Robert (original)" (mp3)
The Beatles--"Dr. Robert (remastered)" (mp3)
The Beatles--"Norwegian Wood (remastered)" (mp3)

I have a long history of owning Beatles music. When I was 7, my brother and I got our first Beatles album, either before or after we saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was Meet The Beatles, one of those "American" versions that chopped up and rearranged the British albums. We bought other Beatle albums, especially the earlier ones, but some of the later ones, we never owned. Abbey Road we heard on a cassette tape that my brother borrowed from one of his friends. By the time the red and blue anthology albums came out, we had moved onto other things, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Chambers Brothers and Iron Butterfly, and so avoided that round of Beatle purchases.

Which led me to buy a boxed set of all of the British Beatle albums back in the late 80's, early 90's, because when you're my age, you always return to the Beatles, however often they move in and out of your life. Very, very soon after that purchase, everything turned to CD's. A few years later, I bought the same boxed set, this time on CD. And, as they came out, I added to that Live At The BBC and the CDs that contain outtakes and alternative versions. In short, before 2009, I had bought a lot of Beatles.

Last night, I started buying the Beatle records again.

On CD once again. With rare photos this time. And a mini-documentary on each CD. And supposedly better sound through remastering. I stood in front of that rack at Target, looking at all of the nicely, subtly, attractively-repackaged albums, in eco-friendly cases this time, just as friendly as the original records.

I know there is a boxed set coming, in fact, two boxed sets, depending on whether I want to own the Beatles in stereo or in mono or both. But I was also calculating in my head just doing the whole deed right then and there: for about $180 I could own the latest, "best" version of the Beatles. And I couldn't help feeling like I was getting scammed, having now purchased the exact same songs for, in some cases, the fourth time.

But you know what it was. It was the sound, the chance for better sound, that called to me. The website Tone Audio claims that the remastered Beatles are a "feast for the ears," going on to say that they contain "[n]ear-miraculous improvements in the key areas of information retrieval, hidden details, palpable physicality, expanded midrange, transient presence, and frequency response." And the bass and drums are supposed to be there in ways they haven't been.

So I stood in front of that rack at Target and thought, I can't do them all, not all at once, not only can I not afford to do it, but what if I'm just buying the same thing and the better sound is really not all that much better? So which ones do I buy? Abbey Road for that suite on the second side, which ought to sound amazing, if anything does? The White Album for its stripped-down sound and variety of song styles? Something early with a favorite song on it, like "I've Just Seen A Face" on the Help! soundtrack? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for all of the obvious reasons?

In the end, I suppose my choices were pretty conventional. I went for Revolver and Rubber Soul, right in the middle of the group's output, right when they're getting control of the current recording techniques and pushing the boundaries of those same techniques. I like those records because they aren't full of hit songs, and so they still sound fresh to me, even after all these years.

Props to George Harrison, because in spite of all of the Lennon/McCartney classics in their catalog, the first song to undergo a serious listening of the remastered sound was George's "Taxman."

Now, you never know whether you hear what you hear or what you've prepped yourself to believe you hear, but I thought from the start that the songs sounded appreciably better. Couple this with the fact that the Beatle albums are recorded pretty damn well to begin with. And remind yourself that you aren't going to hear things that you didn't hear before (necessarily), you're just going to be more aware of them. On "Taxman" it was the bass that caught my attention first. With the possible exception of "Come Together," I don't often think of Beatles songs as having a bottom. On "Here, There, and Everywhere," it was the unadorned Epiphone guitar playing rhythm that stood out. It wasn't louder in the mix, I don't think, but there was just more of it.

Some things can't be fixed. On "Got To Get You Into My Life," there are two drum tracks, and one of them is way too low in the mix. But "Doctor Robert" came alive in a way it never has before, with more crunch and punch to John's rhythm guitar and more separation between it and George's 12-string parts. And that's the key to most of the songs--more separation. It may be because I've been listening with such focus, but I am simply more conscious of the construction of the songs, who's doing what. I like that. It makes the songs, in a way, feel new to me.

When I want to test out the quality of a recording, however, it is acoustic, rather than electric, music that I seek. "Norwegian Wood," off of Rubber Soul, is simply gorgeous. It sounds like it could have been recorded this year.

The songs posted above are here so that you can test some of this for yourself, though I don't know that computer speakers are the best way to make a judgment. On my ones at home, the two versions of "Doctor Robert" sound almost identical, but those speakers do not have the depth or range of the Bose system I used to compare the CDs in my living room. MP3 files undoubtedly diminish some of the sound quality, as well. So, worth it? Your call. I do think the remastered versions have better range and separation, and I know they are louder. That means they fit into the mix of the other music I listen to better.

All of the remastered Beatles CD's are available at Target for $11.98, or $16.98 for the double cds. If you buy two, you get a $5 gift card.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Taste of Shoeleather

Quiet Little Voices - We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)

The following are the first six paragraphs on a story that appeared in Friday's
The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s chief lobbyist and public affairs official resigned Friday, two weeks after posting a controversial diatribe on the social networking site Facebook.

His departure comes just one day after Chamber officials sent an email to board members notifying them that [this dude] had been suspended without pay for a month.

The controversial Facebook comments were posted on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, and included repeated profanity and racial slurs.

"This picture says it all, even after eight years. It symbolized our anger after those ragheaded b------ds manifested theirs through death and destruction. There is no substitute for victory and plenty of work left to be done. There is something to be said about the 'Chicago way,' but Sean Connery (in the film 'The Untouchables') left out the last line ... when they send one of yours to the morgue, you send a thousand of theirs straight to hell,” Mr. Ledford wrote.

"We don't need to be reckless in our resolve,” he continued, “nor fail to remember that they came at us. Measure it right, use overwhelming force and decapitate those sons of b------s once and for all."

The comments, which were summarily deleted within days after they were posted, were available to his 730 Facebook “friends” who reportedly included both state and local officials as well as members of the Chattanooga business community.

What will disturb many people who "ain't from 'round here," but what won't surprise a soul who has lived here more than a year or two, is that locals quickly came to his defense on our little in-town cyber-paper. (No seriously, go read the first three. You'll love it. I'll wait right here.)

As someone who works in public relations for a school and writes a blog where I use profanity and say some potentially controversial things, perhaps I should be more unabashedly opposed to the suspension and resignation of this man, who has a wife and children but must now search for employment at a time when jobs aren't exactly widely available.

The risk of "new media" like Facebook is that it allows all of us a moment of stupidity or weakness that can't be erased. In the 20th Century, if you had a drunken midnight rant, the only people who heard it were either family members or other equally-drunk people at a party or a bar. Whatever the case, I can't recall many people who weren't D-I college basketball coaches whose late-night moments of stupidity got them fired.

But now, one slip-up on Facebook is permanent and available not just for your 200 or 300 or 1,000 "friends," but any of your friends' friends who happened to really like or really hate what you wrote. This kind of Foot-In-Mouth Disease used to be a pesky STD that hurt a little and required some penicillin, but now it's AIDS that can't be cured and won't go away.

I had a highly-entertaining conversation with another PR guy who's much more in the downtown mix than myself, and he felt certain that the entire problem rested on "ragheaded." He's probably right, although that leaves me feeling kinda sad, because what is more disturbing to me is that people like Mr. CoC have watched Commando too many times. He -- having apparently no understanding whatsoever of the real military and real war -- seems to think you can walk into a foreign country, quickly identify the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, kill all those bastard Bad Guys, and then shower off and go back home. Either that, or more likely, he just doesn't care how many innocent lives are lost, so long as they're in a country where people wear something other than baseball caps on their heads.

Hiding behind "free speech" is interesting, since our Founding Fathers' concerns about free speech was solely to shield the individual from the government. Very little about our country's notion of free speech were meant to protect individuals from their employers, perhaps save for a few "whistle-blower" laws. The man who resigned from the CoC wasn't blowing a whistle, and his rights weren't being attacked by our government.

He was, quite simply, the victim of the cold and impartial capitalism.

Just like the two writers of Bottom of the Glass could be at any time, which is exactly why we try to keep our complete identities and that of our school at least a tiny little bit in question. All the really awful stuff I write goes into Texts From Last Night!

We Were Promised Jetpacks is a sublimely raucous Scottish band whose album These Four Walls I'm proud to have obtained via eMusic.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Charitable Exhaustion

The Knife--"You Make Me Like Charity" (mp3)

I did the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure today. It's a good event, a big event, but it is part of the charitable overload that is exhausting the good citizens of this city and this country.

You see, I am "walked out." While I can't claim that I've participated in dozens of walks in the past year, I have done a couple of others, and my job puts me in a position to have to say "yes" or "no" to the many charities that want, quite rightly, to involve our students. And these days, when a good cause looks for a way to raise a bunch of money, at least in this city, you can almost predict what their event will be:

1. a walk.

2. a t-shirt.

3. or an event involving alcohol (these, of course, do not involve students).

When a non-profit looks to raise money, their first thought seems to be 'Let's do a run or a walk-a-thon.' The Komen Race is the gem in that jewel box, without doubt, but the success of that now-27-year-old annual event has led to so many imitators that people have to be worn out with the idea and increasingly discerning about where they will commit their sore feet for charity. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with a walk or run--sponsors with schwag, drinks, t-shirts, live or taped music. I'm not trying to diminish wonderful events, but they've all become pretty much the same.

At our school, the favorite fundraiser is a t-shirt. You can charge a pretty significant price over cost, make a lot of money quickly, and students love t-shirts, especially t-shirts that commemorate important student events, so much that those t-shirts will become the first fashion selection for a lot of students. Tommy Hilfiger would turn green with envy if he knew how many units of the same shirt design were sold in this city every single year during the week of the great football rivalry! I broke the hearts of the March of Dimes a couple of weeks ago when I told them that our school's t-shirt market was glutted and we would not be participating in their t-shirt fundraiser.

The last option is kind of the new kid on the block--Brewfest, Wine Over Water, there was even a mixed drink fundraiser for a couple of years at the Convention Center where everybody got completely shit-faced for charity. But as these events get more and more expensive, once you have done them once or twice, you may hesitate before dropping $80 bucks for your and your significant other. You may conclude that the band doesn't look as good as last year's band, or that the vintage or microbrew you enjoyed so much the previous year isn't going to be represented, so you decide not to go.

Is that fair? Does a charitable event have to be "worth it?" If you support a cause, shouldn't you just support it and not worry about what's in it for you or how expensive it is? Well, idealistically, that may be true, but we are a culture who expects something for our sacrifice. At least throw a bumper sticker our way so that we can let other people know what our causes are and where our money goes.

I do not condemn this mindset. America, as a capitalistic society, has always embraced the maxim that "It takes money to make money." Why should it be any different for charities?

But with the exception of the t-shirts, which are almost guaranteed in our school culture, most charitable options in this city are pretty played out at this point, at least in my opinion. Some of them don't even make all that much sense. We have helped out "Pennies for Patients" for the past three years, and will again this year, but people aren't carrying around change, let alone pennies, much any more, which makes this a flawed concept. It's only because we have those students who will shove a $20 bill into the box that we make any headway at all.

You probably think I have a solution, but I really don't. And I don't have to. We try whatever we can think of--koozies, sunglasses, Thunderstix, buttons, Chik-fil-A sandwiches, sno-cones, free dress days, etc. and most of them will work because we know our target market so well. But for a large local or national charity that wants to involve thousands of people in an event, it must be increasingly difficult to try to keep ahead of the pack with fundraising options.

All I'm saying is this: it's reaching the point where I'm having to say, "I'm sorry, we're already doing a walk that week (or that month) and I don't think we can handle another one." It's time for good old Yankee ingenuity to pay a visit to the non-profits of America and give them a fresh slate of money-making ideas. Otherwise, there's going to be a lot more room to walk.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If You Say Something Enough, Does It Really Become True?

Harry Nilsson--"Everybody's Talkin'" (mp3)
All Hail--"Truth Be Told" (mp3)

About three years ago, I brought a nutritionist onto our campus to speak to the boys. She was a hardcore, but positive, vegan, and accepting of other choices. In touring the campus before her talk, she got a look at everything from the dining hall and its setup to the snack machines outside the bookstore. She advocated restructuring the soda-first approach of our dining hall, so that the students' first option in the natural flow of getting food and sitting down was not a gauntlet of sugar drinks. She also noted that every single snack or drink in the machines outside the bookstore was absolutely unhealthy--full of fat or salt or sugar or all three.

Of course, due to federal or state law concerning public schools, or simply to a greater awareness of the obesity and other health problems plaguing our nation, this year, our school is adopting every one of her recommendations.

But at the time, she was a threat.
Our bookstore depends on selling junk food to students for a substantial portion of its revenue. The dining hall, already an expensive proposition with cost overrages each year, had no intention of rearranging drinks or expanding their menu to include more expensive, healthier options.

And a threat must be dealt with.

So one obsequious faculty member was walking somewhere that morning and happened to see a woman sitting in her car in the chapel parking lot smoking a cigarette. He made the immediate connection that this must be the nutritionist. While she was speaking to the students in chapel, he told the story to a school administrator, and the story very quickly made the rounds, even while the nutritionist was on campus. When I spoke to that school administrator the next day, he told me the story of the "smoking nutritionist" with more than a hint of mockery. I explained to him why that could not have been her in the car because she was with me the whole time. He nodded.

But it did not matter. The next day, he was still telling the story of the smoking nutritionist, and all of her suggestions were ignored. It was as if she were never on campus.

Could this be a post about the Iraq War? Bush and company said so often and in so many places that Saddam Hussein had been connected to the 9/11 terrorists that a significant number of Americans believed, and probably still believe, that it is true.

Or a post about Barack Obama? Conservatives have trafficked in claims that Obama a) is Muslim, or b) was not born in the United States, or c) is a Socialist, or d) is a Communist, or e) wants to be the One World leader, or f) you name it, so often that people have begun to believe them. In the South, nearly 50% of the people believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States; it's about 10% in other parts of the country.

Or about Health Care? Well, you get it. You get the point.

We all tell lies. No point in denying that. We all have told the same lie more than once. No point in denying that either. But there is something so insidious, so virulent, so wrong in telling the same lie over and over in the public discourse of a school or, even worse, a country as a way of undermining one's opponent. Whether it skews more towards pathological behavior or towards Machiavelli, it is a repulsive act.

The problem is that it tends to work. Like all ad hominem attacks ("against the person"), such statements are hard to refute, because every time you say that something isn't true, it feels to the casual observer that it might be a little more true. And the other problem , for the human soul, if that matters, is that a person who tells the same lie over and over starts to believe it's true, starts to act on it as if it is fact, will defend it against all opposition with greater ferocity than an equivalent truth.

And so what happens to a society that gets bombarded with false statements repeated over and over? I'll tell you. The people in that society become confused, they become paranoid and distrustful, they become passive, and any attempt to move that society forward becomes mired in that mud. You want a quick way to get a sense of where we are right now, then take a hard look at the statements that are out there every day, being mouthed on radios and televisions and then being repeated in cars and churches and locker rooms.

In America 2009, if you think that whatever side you're on is winning, you're wrong. It is only the voices of the shrill that are winning, drowning out any middle ground as we push farther and farther apart.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everyone's An Expert

I Hope, I Think, I Know - Oasis (mp3)
Too Much Information - The Police (mp3)

A few weeks back, I had a group of students over to my house for a meeting and munchies. When I let my dog out to piss, I noticed a very large bird -- a size somewhere between Big Bird and an emperor penguin -- crouched oddly on the hill above our house.

I kind of oohed about it, and a few of the boys followed me out, and what came next was a standard pissing contest of knowledge between males.

"Is it a hawk?" I asked.

"I think it's a falcon," said #1.

"No dumbass, it's not a falcon. Falcons are tiny. It's a hawk or an eagle," said #2.

"It's definitely an eagle. I think it's a blah blah blah Eagle," said #3. (He didn't say "blah blah blah." He said some kind of name of an eagle, but I don't remember it.)

"How would you know?"

"Because I've been a Boy Scout for, like, my whole life and worked part of last summer doing wildlife rehabilitation, you moron."


"So I guess it's an eagle then," I said.

"Is it hurt?" said #1.

"It looks hurt," I said. "It looks very young." (As if I can really tell this. I mean, did I think it looked young because it didn't flash its driver's license? Or because it didn't have enough gray feathers?)

"It's probably young," said Eagle Scout. "And it's not hurt. It caught some prey. That's the kind of position it gets in when it's feeding but scared. It's trying to make itself look bigger to intimidate any perceived threat."

We all looked at each other, and we nodded, and conceded to Eagle Scout's experience and wisdom. We kept watching the eagle, because it was huge and beautiful and mesmerizing. All the while, having been silently granted the Grand Poobah of All Things Eagle, Eagle Scout kept sputtering on and on about all the things he knew about eagles and birds and the first six days of creation.

After a minute or two of thinking about it, I spoke up. "You know, if he's feeding and feeling threatened, why doesn't he just grab his food and take off to a safer place?"

Eagle Scout didn't even mull it over. "Could be a pretty big animal. They can kill medium-sized dogs."

Hardly had these words finished emanating from his vocal chords when the eagle began clearly hobbling up the hill, one painstaking semi-bounce at a time. It had no prey. It was hurt.

"Um, I'm pretty sure it's hurt," #1 said. #1 isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even dumb guys like pointing out obvious mistakes by those who act like they know more.

Eagle Scout tried to recover. "Well, the way an eagle tries to protect its prey from a perceived threat is a lot like how they do when they're hurt. 'Cuz, like, they want to look big and scary even if they're, you know, hurt."

But Eagle Scout had lost his cred, and that summer of wildlife rehab had lost its weight.

We went in for all of five minutes to grab a bite of dessert and so I could call my sister, who really has worked wildlife rehab for more than a decade, and by the time we got back outside, the eagle -- if the damn thing was even an eagle -- was gone. And by gone, I don't mean it hobbled further up the hill. I mean, the damn thing had clearly flown away.

So basically, here's what we know for sure about this creature: it was a bird. We don't know for sure what kind. We don't know if it got hurt or how badly. We don't know if it killed anything and ate it or didn't. We don't know jack shit. But by golly, such things never keep us from trying like hell to impress others with knowledge we don't really have.

What is it about the human condition that makes some of us feel so compelled to be experts or knowledgeable about everything even when we're not? Do you know people like this?

There's the INTERLOPER, who noses into conversations uninvited to spew his knowledge. For example, there's a group of women sitting around and talking about Manolo Blahniks or something, and The Interloper will step in and start trying to spew information about women's shoes just because he read one dang article in Cosmo at some point, drowning out the conversation while the women roll their eyes and wonder how said male ever felt invited to say anything.

Then you've got the ONE-UPPER. You're whining to a few people about the frustrations you have with your infant son. And the One-Upper, unmarried and childless, begins telling tale after tale of nephews in faraway states or the children of friends and giving all sorts of reasons why her knowledge about child-raising and the nature of parenting should carry more weight than yours.

Or how about the MONOPOLIST? The Monopolist just can't tolerate anyone questioning their knowledge on any subject, and if anyone threatens their fiefdom with an equal level of intelligence or understanding, the Monopolist feels compelled to try and drown them out like it was some shouting match on Hardball.

Most of us fall on a Bell curve when it comes to these tendencies. I'm the first to acknowledge that I can be a guilty of all three of these from time to time, particularly in matters of '80s pop culture, comic book history, or certain musical trivia. That is, I'd like to think my need to be an expert is conditional on the topic. Certain readers could probably humble me with impunity by pointing out the many examples I've conveniently omitted.

But then there's people like Eagle Scout, who go so far out on the limb of expertise -- of expertise on seemingly everything, an omni-expertise, if you will -- that it leaves the rest of us practically praying for that limb to snap just so we can stare and laugh as the expert is debunked and humbled. Unfortunately, it seems that being wrong rarely stops Expert Wannabes from continuing to be Expert Wannabes. (Insert politically-motivated insult of Rush Limbaugh here.)

At times you want to feel sorry for Expert Wannabes, because you know it's a sign of wanting acceptance, of seeking approval through knowledge they sometimes don't possess and other times wield with all the grace of Daffy Duck with the quarterstaff. But eventually, if their timing is off, they wail away at you so frequently and so mercilessly that your defenses of politeness and pity can simply no longer withstand the barrage, and you're left to seethe or explode.

Oh. By the way, that eagle? It was a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tailgatin' and such

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble--"Scuttle Buttin'" (mp3)
Lou Reed--"Coney Island Baby" (mp3)

"Y'all tailgatin' this week?"

I don't have much experience as a tailgater, just a few Vols games here and there with varying degrees of sophistication, but since I am now a season ticket holder for our local college team, we have already tailgated for the first two games and expect to continue that streak this weekend. Your basic fallback tailgate is to get some kind of fire going and cook some hot dogs on it. Check that. The real fallback tailgate is to get a bunch of chicken strips and fries from Sawyer's or some such and eat those off the back of your car, sharing a quickly-warming six-pack of beer because you don't even have a cooler. Done those, yes, but moved beyond 'em, too.

First game of the season this year, we did it right: actual grill (though small, it had feet), three different kinds of hot dogs, including Nathan's, homemade cole slaw, pickled shrimp, homemade dip and vegetables, chips, homemade cheese spread and crackers, artichoke dip, homemade chow chow, all the requisite toppings for a Chicago hot dog (chopped tomato, diced onions, sport peppers, mustard, no ketchup, etc.), chocolate cake, iced-down coolers of beer and water.

Still, it only took one tailgate (or watching a lot of TV on Sunday) for me to realize that I am a tailgating amateur, a mere pretender. For starters, I have no team-specific tailgating gear. Heck, one of my folding chairs is aquamarine! Maybe it could work at a Dolphins game, but nowhere in the red-blooded South.

I remember one outing in particular where we were very much in a makeshift mode, using a disposable aluminum pan, self-lighting charcoal, and a cookie rack stolen from the kitchen as our alleged grill. Around us were the behemoth grills of real tailgaters, team color-coordinated beasts that needed to be pulled on trailers behind team color-coordinated cars. As I knelt, trying to get the charcoal to light, a team color-coordinated boy, about 5 years old, wandered over to watch. He didn't say a word. He just stared, probably glancing back at his dad's grill and then again at ours. A staring child requires a response, so I looked at him and said, "I know." Then added, "Your dad probably tailgates all the time." He walked away.

'At least,' I was thinking in my head, 'we're the ones with the kicking tunes. Your dad is listening to the pre-game show. Yawn.' However, it was not long after that that however I was playing music (probably left the air-conditioning on) completely sapped the power in the car, which then died. It was the little guy's dad who gave us the jump start.

The unspoken mystery of tailgating, which veterans have no doubt solved to their own satisfaction, is where are you supposed to pee? I mean, you are drinking beer like a madman trying to preload some kind of a buzz that will carry you through the first half of an alcohol-less collegiate football game, when all of a sudden you realize that your bladder feels like you are carrying a watermelon in your abdomen and there is no bathroom anywhere in sight. It's at that moment that it dawns on you: wait a minute, I'm having a party in and around my car. I'm like camping. In an urban setting. But not staying the night. And without a forest. Or a tent. Or any kind of privacy for bodily functions.

Before you get too philosophical about what tailgating really means, the need-to-pee pain becomes so intense that all rational thought dissipates and is replaced with William Shatner-style thoughts: 'Must urinate. Getting dizzy. Blacking out. Must get control of pain. Need release.' At that point, all rules of civilization go out the window. The first one is, if there is a Port-O-Potty nearby that exists only for the exclusive use of particular customers who are parked in a parking garage, you are getting in that line, no matter what. And when the guard comes around, you will tell a lie, any lie, to hold your place in that line. If that fails, you will beg.

The second rule that becomes suddenly meaningless is this concept of public urination. Is that really so bad? I mean, if you're discreet, if you're polite about it? I guess I'm talking about a continuum--there is private, sweet-smelling bathroom private urination at one end and there is piss in somebody's gas tank in broad daylight at the other end. But what about the middle? What about "only kind of public" urination. It's a shade of gray, I know. But the tailgater in need will get down on his knees between cars in the corner of a parking lot and let loose secure that any vantage point of naked wangs and thangs is pretty much blocked, the only telltale sign a frothy, perhaps steaming if the weather is cold enough, yellow puddle running and spreading along the wall towards the entrance.

It's then that you remember when you got caught drinking by your parents in high school and, to scare you, your mother told you that you were going to end up someday on the floor of a concrete parking garage, wallowing in your own urine. Maybe that isn't exactly what she said, but you still think of it, especially when you put your hand on the cold concrete to push yourself up, the cold and dry concrete that was once wet with fluids from other bodies.

Which takes me to my final point: tailgating is, or should be, a coed activity. A bunch of guys are going to burn a rack of weiners and pee in the corners of parking garages and watch other guys get into fights or near fights with fans from the other team. They'll be in their element, to be sure. They'll be having a blast, no doubt. But add women and you get a vegetable tray with dip, a tablecloth, garbage bags. You get civilization. And there is something civilized about the tailgate. It descends, with a slight detour through the backyard barbecue, from the picnic far out in the country, a journey taken with horse and buggy on a sunny day.

Invite women to tailgate with you often enough, and you'll get all of the team-themed gear you can handle, from the pom-poms on down. And, I promise you, women will solve the mystery of peeing at a tailgate. Not only do they have a sense of dignity, but it probably only involves asking someone.

Lou and Stevie Ray are at Itunes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why the Music Industry Sucks (Part XLVII)

Fairweather Friends - The Wooden Sky (mp3)
Damage is Done - Me My Head (mp3)
Empty Hearts, Empty Eyes - Sam Billen (mp3)

This is why... this is why... this is why you suck.

Those of you who read BOTG with any regularity know that, once in a while, I've made an effort to promote some of the better musical acts that get sent our way.

For example, just since September 1, Bottom of the Glass has received promotions and free music files (or links to them) from more than 20 bands and artists. Almost all of these are being sent out to a huge number of music blogs by promotion companies hired to spread the virus of a new band, but some are sent by friends of an artist or even by the artists themselves.

Because I can imagine few things more challenging than trying to spread the gospel of one's own musical vision, in the hopes of maybe being able to eke out a living and maybe a few free beers now and then, I feel compelled to do "a li'l sum'pin sum'pin" here and there to help out. We only get 200 or so visitors every day, but hey, if only one of you morons actually likes and/or buys their stuff, then I've paid it forward like Haley Joel Osment, right? (And if not... well, at least I tried, which does wonders for a conscience.)

So here's the 47th reason The Music Industry Sucks.

To my best recollection, my posts -- that is, those written by "Billy" -- have been "flagged" for potential copyright violation nine times since we started doing this in April 2008. Of those nine, four of them happened because I had linked to songs sent to me by music promoters.

Do you see what I'm saying?

I got busted for posting a Keane song because Keane doesn't need my help and didn't ask for it. That has happened to me five times. And although it puts a dent in my opinion of a band like Keane that they'd jump on my ass for saying something nice about their music and using their song as an example... well, the law's the law, and I'm mostly just grateful that the only consequence is that they pull down my post and remove the file.

But... almost half of the time I've been notified of doing something wrong, I was doing exactly what "the industry" had asked me to do!! They hand me the gun, they hand me the bullets, they beg me pretty please to fire the weapon toward that target over there, and then they call the fucking police and have me arrested for illegally discharging a firearm.

All four times this has happened, I've expressed my disappointment and frustration with the music promoters who gave me a poisoned pill, and each time they apologize and explain that the people who ratted on me aren't in the same company as the people who begged me to promote the artist.

BOTG is Archie, and I've apparently got Veronica standing behind me with a baseball bat waiting for me should I lean over to try and kiss Betty, who's sitting next to me rubbing my inner thigh and whispering sweet nothings in my ear. And I'm supposed to believe they don't work together, even though they always seem to be in the same places at the same time.

Truth is, I'm sure one arm doesn't have one clue what the other is doing. But that hardly does anything to improve my opinion of the industry. In fact, it's just a reminder that their system has become so convoluted and confused that they can't even keep track of themselves. They work against their own interests. And even though the music promoters have responded that they're aware of this odd little problem, they also seem to shrug and say, "Yeah, that kinda sucks, but there's not much we can do about it."

The Music Industry is on the verge of dying. It's a wonder they're not yet in Hospice care. But I fear they're gonna prove themselves like Fidel Castro or Kim Jong Il, capable of hacking and wheezing and moaning for several decades longer than their bodies or souls deserve. Because, as Clint's William Munny says so well, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."

One bright piece of news, though. Blogger has started to revert posts to "Draft" status rather than deleting them altogether, which allows us to "fix" the copyright problem and then re-post it rather than lose everything altogether.

So while the Music Industry continues to ride its dinosaurs and lament the death of the 8-track, other industries continue to prove themselves capable of adaptation. "Adapt. Improvise. Overcome." That's another Clint Eastwood-ism from the guiltier pleasure known as Heartbreak Ridge, a.k.a. When did the music industry become more like Grenada and less like the butt-kickin' good ol' US of A?

As a test, I've posted three songs from a sampling of bands whose albums or singles have been sent to me free of charge in the last month. There's roughly a 50% chance that this post will be yanked due to my having violated the DRSM act, despite the fact that the music promoters sent these two me and asked me to use them. Enjoy 'em while they last, and if you like 'em, try and find some way to reward the bands without stealing!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

U2--"Walk On (live)" (mp3)
Dire Straits--"Walk Of Life" (mp3)

The epiphany came during the dog days of summer, those miserable days here at the office when life seemed to consist of getting up, throwing on whatever seemed clean and pressed enough, dragging out to the car, driving to my parking spot, stumbling down the stairs to my office, sitting here until lunch, driving home or somewhere to eat while sitting and reading the paper, then back to the parking space and back down the stairs to this office, sitting here until 4 PM and then heading home to take a nap until I felt like throwing together some supper, then maybe (only maybe) walking out to water the garden, before returning to watch a movie or read a book or sit and drink beer.

Wait a second, I thought, is this what a sedentary lifestyle is? Have I really reached that point?

And then I was reading somewhere that an average person takes about 5000 steps a day. The article suggested trying to raise that to 7000 steps a day. Which, of course, had me wondering, how many steps was I taking in a day?

So I went to Target and bought a pedometer.

Life changer, that was. Not a huge, earth-shattering life change, but one that was significant enough to alter my thinking, because now I am thinking about how many steps I take in a day and I have a way to measure that.

Each morning, before I take the dog out for a walk, I reach into my pocket, take stock of the previous day’s step count, and reset it to begin anew. From time to time, during the day, I’ll take it out, just to see where I am on my extended daily path versus where I think I should be. Sometimes, like after cutting the front lawn, I will take a moment and celebrate the incredible number of steps I have just racked up.

With my trusty pedometer, which is the pocket kind, I can input the length of my stride, which will let me keep track of how many miles I’m walking each day, as well as how many steps. It will then also tell me how many calories I’m burning, though I don’t really trust that figure, but I assume it’s a conservative number, since it doesn’t take into account the steps and hilly terrain of this campus.

Like I said, it has changed me. For example, when I used to take the dog out first thing, I’d shuffle half-awake up about two houses and then cut back on the other side of the street and wander through my yard back to the front door. Now I go all the way around the block. Anytime I think about sitting down while teaching class, I think twice. As much of a pain as it is, I still walk down to the bookstore to get my mail.

There is a program out there called 10,000 Steps, which suggests that figure as the new benchmark for people to make sure that they are getting enough physical activity each day. Of course, the hope is that they, that I, would get more, would incorporate several sessions of sustained physical activity during a week as well. But it's a start.

What I like about taking and counting steps is that it gives me a goal, a reasonable, daily goal. Okay, so maybe I didn't run today, maybe I didn't lift, maybe I didn't dominate in Wii Sports Resort 3-on-3 Pickup Basketball, but I can make sure that I get my steps in, even if it means carrying the laundry up and down the steps 17 times.

Dire Straits and U2 are available at Itunes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Under Your Skin...

Future Love Paradise - Seal (mp3)
Informer - Snow (mp3)
It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin (Texas), every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to (Professor Birgitte) Vittrup's entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles -- like "Everybody's equal" or "God made all of us" or "Under the skin, we're all the same" -- but they'd almost never called attention to racial differences. They wanted their children to grow up colorblind...
This paragraph, early on in a Newsweek feature story about children and discrimination, was one of those moments when I was very happy to be reading it in the exclusive privacy of a bathroom rather than in public. Because if others had been watching me read that paragraph (and many others after that one), they would have seen me begin to gulp and fidget and even look around, slightly paranoid that others might notice my discomfort.

In short, that paragraph describes with almost perfect accuracy how I've been trying to raise my daughters on matters of race.

And whenever our behavior or attitudes are called out in a national publication with such accuracy, trust me, it's never a good thing. It means we're fucking up somehow. And I knew it early on in this article. But I kept reading anyway, despite my gross discomfort.

When it comes to issues of race, when it comes to talking about race, I'm astonished anyone from my generation could feel comfortable with the subject.

I was raised by and surrounded by adults who couldn't even figure out their own opinions on the matter. Some of the most memorable "serious talks" my father had with me were about race. One of my father's co-workers at TVA was black, and he and his wife always attended the annual work parties my parents hosted.  On several occasions my father would that night or the following day explain to me that they were good people and equal in every way to everyone else at the party. He would talk about how proud he was that things had changed and improved so drastically since he was my age, because he had black friends who weren't even allowed to come to his front door or enter his house without clear permission from his mother, and she almost never gave permission.

Yet I also saw him struggle with those very prejudices.

Most specifically, I remember us watching Flash Gordon together on HBO back in '81 or '82, making me 9 or 10. There's a scene where Ming gets Dale Arden drunk on some Midori or something. In the scene, Dale is surrounded by a bunch of female "slaves," many of which were African-American, and I remember my father calling them several words. One or two I'd heard before and knew were wrong, and one or two I'd never heard before.

I realize in hindsight that Dad was shitface drunk when we were watching it. Not that intoxication excuses it for the general public, but it helps make sense of what seemed to me at the time as confusing contradiction.

Dad wanted to believe races were equal. He wanted to believe that America was quickly moving past inequality and injustice based on race. But deep down, he was constantly fighting this deep-seeded feeling that black people just weren't as smart, weren't as capable. He wasn't proud of it, but it rolled in like a mild thunderstorm once or twice a year. (If he managed to prevent passing that contagion down through another generation, isn't that at least a small victory?)

All I've ever felt when it comes to matters of race, my whole life, is a mixture of pity and fear. Pity because it's one of the few subjects where no one seems to be allowed to get over their ignorance because all ignorance gets labeled as racism, and being called a racist isn't conducive to a willingness to learn, and everyone on all sides sometimes seem doomed to be stuck in their own ruts because they either shut up and keep it to themselves or they speak up and get raked over the coals.

Fear because I've learned that shutting up is the best approach, and I absolutely hate shutting up.

In college, my freshman RA was a black guy named Chris. He was from inner-city D.C., and he was the President of his black fraternity, and he was sharp and confident and smooth. He was the first guy -- one of the few African-Americans I've met my whole life -- who could comfortably and calmly discuss things with white people who had a lot to learn (or, he'd say, unlearn).

At the time, there was a huge movement (and opposition) on campus for a stand-alone Black Student Union, and a group of guys from my floor got into this debate with Chris. "Y'all have this whole campus," he said. "All we want is one damn building."

"But the whole campus is yours, too," several guys retorted. "You're not excluded from anything or anywhere."

"But it's not ours. It's yours. We're just welcomed to visit."

Later that year, I walked into the Black Student Union -- it was just a couple of rooms inside the larger Student Union building at the time. I was so nervous my knees were buckling, and I honestly fought back tears. I wanted someone to explain to me why I was so scared to ask questions, why I felt so guilty for having done nothing, to my knowledge, that was hateful or cruel. What I couldn't deny, however, was having grown up with family members and, later, friends, who expressed racist opinions and used racist language. And I felt guilty just for being a part of it, for knowing it was out there, and that people who looked like me thought and said those things.

And I felt guilty because I had no idea what I was supposed to do about it or how to make it better.

The BSU's assistant director sat down with me. I don't remember much about the conversation. I remember her actually smiling and patting my shoulder and having a look of pity on her face. I remember her telling me that having the nerve just to come into the BSU and talk was a sign of courage and progress, and that my responsibility was to refuse to tolerate hearing expressions of prejudice from others.

Almost 20 years later, I still feel knots of fear and discomfort. I've tolerated some expressions of racism and expressed intolerance for others, but more of the former than the latter.

So when my daughter, at 5-years-old, referred to her black classmate as "tan," I didn't even try to clarify. We used that a lot in our house for a while. "Tan." It sounded good.

And when I did talk about race with them, it was in those vanilla (Neopolitan?) notions of "everyone's equal," "everyone's the same," yada yada. I was so afraid of educating them incorrectly that I ended up not educating them at all. And I'm using the past tense just to deceive myself, because it's not like I'm suddenly Daddy Diversity.

And I'm left to wonder, is this merely my failure, or are we as a society doomed to continue to fail until we can figure out a way to talk about it without being paralyzed by fear?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Patrick Swayze stars in the greatest movie of all time!"

The Jeff Healey Band--"Confidence Man" (mp3)
The Jeff Healey Band--"Angel Eyes" (mp3)
The Jeff Healey Band--"Don't Let Your Chance Go By" (mp3)

My homage to Patrick Swayze, who passed away Monday night at the age of 57, follows something of an odd and circuitous route. I never saw Ghost, watched only snatches of Dirty Dancing, don't know much of anything about him before or after. All I know is that he starred in what must be considered the greatest movie of all time: Roadhouse.

Well, okay, we won't go that far, but it was the role he was born to play, the movie he was born to make, the tribute that will last.

You really can't even argue against it. Roadhouse is an immensely satisfying film that does everything a movie should do for a youngish male (and female) audience.

PLOT: In a parallel universe, across the midwest of the United States there are huge, lawless roadhouses where patrons come to drink, oogle women, play pool, and fight. There's one outside of Kansas City that is struggling because it's situated in a town where one man owns everything and everyone, and he doesn't like competition. So, the owner of the roadhouse goes in search of the best bouncer there is. Word is that Dalton, the character played by Patrick Swayze, is the best. Honest and principled, he's still a gun for hire. Sound like the Old West? It should. Swayze is something of a Shane character, something of a sheriff brought in to clean up a dirty town, or, more exactly, a loner who does what he does for pay but can't help getting personally involved.

ACTORS: It's a good cast, knowns and unknowns. Sam Elliott plays Wade Garrett, a mentor to Swayze's Dalton (who knew that bouncers had mentors?), who gets called in when the situation becomes unmanageable. Ben Gazara plays Brad Wesley, the bad, bad man who runs the town, even while saddled with that wimpy character name. He also continues the sacred tradition of lead heavies who should easily get their asses kicked by someone like Swayze's Dalton, but, though 20-30 years older, manages to use some martial arts of his own to make it an even fight for awhile. Kelly Lynch plays doctor and love interest, fresh off of the extremely lame Cocktail.

SEX AND ROMANCE: People say that Top Gun is the ultimate romantic movie of the 80's, but I prefer the understated romance and "R"rated sex of Roadhouse more, especially considering where Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis are today. Kelly Lynch's character, a doctor, is sweet and shy, hiding her beauty, as movies like to do, behind a pair of glasses, when we first meet her. And, eschewing violence, she tries to stay out of the crossfire, merely performing her medical role, until circumstance and Swayze's charm tip her emotions his way. When he takes her up against the fireplace, logistically, it must be his taut abs that he is pleasuring her with, but it doesn't matter. We've seen those abs, those battle scars. We buy it. And women get a lingering shot of Swayze's butt.

ACTION: How about action so over the top that when Swayze uses a martial arts move to rip another guy's heart out of his chest at the end of the movie, it seems natural and right and just and in keeping with the rest of the movie? There are bar fights, parking lot fights, martial arts fights, pool cues uses as lethal weapons, knives, guns, you name it. Swayze's background as a dancer must have helped here, and it reminds us that for his brief reign as action hero, he was meant to be moving, meant to be physical, not wrapped up in a parka with a gun as he was in Red Dawn.

MUSIC: Sure, a movie like Top Gun has a cheesy hit soundtrack full of jacked up production and commercial appeal, but Roadhouse one-upped movies like that big time. They got a real band, a working band, the Jeff Healey Band, and worked them right into the movie as road buddies of Swayze's character, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Healey, arguably the finest blind blues guitarist of his generation, has since passed away, but when Roadhouse came out, he was at his peak--he had a popular CD out and then a movie, too. He had a big, fat sound and fresh cover songs by the likes of John Hiatt and ZZ Top mixed in with his competent originals. The dude could play. And over the closing credits, he played a cover version of a Dylan song only heard in concert, "When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky." Cool.

TAGLINE: If you are a male, you remember the tagline from this movie. Most of us have heard it in one context or another. Everytime people meet Swayze's character for the first time, they say the same thing: "I thought you'd be bigger." Yeah, heard that.

Roadhouse was both moral and immoral, violent and filled with touches of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, narcissistic and voyeuristic, overacted and underdeveloped in terms of character. But I would compare it to another 80's cult classic, Big Trouble In Little China, a movie that has no business working on any level, but that is hard to turn off when you come across it while flipping channels. All of the reasons Patrick Swayze was a star for awhile are on display in Roadhouse; they aren't sophisticated reasons. They don't have to be. In Roadhouse, as in life, he fought the good fight, no matter what the odds, and we should grant him his little piece of celluloid and DVD immortality for his endeavors.

Jeff Healey is available at Itunes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Deer Abby

Dear Lord - Joseph Arthur (mp3)
Anonanimal - Andrew Bird (mp3)

You can learn a lot about people when someone hits a deer.

Last weekend, I was on a golf course in Kentucky with family members. We had three groups of three, and I'm probably the second-best golfer in the group even though my handicap hovers around 20. My threesome included a cousin by marriage who struggled to get his drives up in the air. But this cousin is big. And strong.

So we turn the corner and arrive at the 10th tee to see a family of deer eating about 40 yards ahead of the tee box, just outside of a wooded patch. We walked up to the tee box and joked about hitting the deer.

As we looked a little more closely, the family of deer were very emaciated, with their rib cage pushing strongly out of their fur, and I asked how deer surrounded by so much grass and nature could find themselves starving. Apparently most grass is like celery for a deer, which is to say it's not very filling. Apparently only certain strains of grass and nuts and other such stuff helps provide a deer its beefiness... or, um, venison-ness.

The first cousin steps up to the tee, and he's decent off the tee. "Maybe once they hear me hit the ball, they'll scamper off," he said. It seemed like a good plan. So he teed off, and it was a moonball, heading directly up into the stratosphere. The deer didn't even flinch. They just kept munching away on the thin grass. The male even inched out a little more, so that he was now sitting at about 10:30 on the proverbial hour hand.

The next cousin steps up, and Brandon and I look over at each other. He's lined up a little bit left -- he tends to push the ball right -- so I raise my eyebrows at Brandon, and he raises them back to me. "Is he gonna hit a deer?" he mouths to me. I kind of shrug in the How the hell should I know? kind of way, because trying to predict how this dude's golf ball is gonna come off that tee is like trying to predict when the next earthquake will hit Tennessee. But we just sit back and watch, 'cuz I guess we felt like we'd already given these animals a fair warning.

The minute Cousin #2 connected with the ball, Brandon and I kind of yelped and raised a leg and raised our arms up to our faces, acting like maybe we hoped that deer might react, kind of like people who lean the way they wish a bowling ball would roll. But the damn skinny-ass deer just kept chewing away at its tuft of grass as that golf ball hurtled toward it at impressively high speed. According to a super-fast Google search, it's safe to assume the ball hit that deer going well over 100 mph.

Had the ball hit the deer in the head, the result would have doubtless been deadly. Fortunately (I guess), it sailed directly into the animal's hindquarters and struck with a surprisingly strange sound, somewhere between a smack and a thud. Even on a deer this emaciated, the ball hit the most muscled and least bony area of its frail body. It kind of jumped in a shocked reaction, as if to say HOLLLY SHIT!! and then started limping off into the patch of trees. But it didn't run. It reacted like a very sick, very emaciated deer would react. Slowly, and sadly. As if it were saying, "Aw, go ahead and hit me; I'm half-dead anyway."

Now here's the part you don't want to read.

For the first full minute after that deer limped, pathetically, a few feet into the trees, all three of us were on the verge of silence. Maybe one of us said something like "Ohhh shit" or "Ohhh no" or "Ohhhhh my God" or something else with an "Ohhhh" in front of it. And the other two of us kind of held a hand to our mouths in something like disbelief -- seriously, do you really, truly appreciate how impossible it is for a crappy golfer to hit ANYTHING??

And we felt awful. We sat staring at that poor "doe-eyed li'l deeuh," as Marisa Tomei might say, waiting on pins and needles for it to just collapse to the earth and expire, it's murdered soul on our conscience.

But it didn't die. It just walked over to the trees and kept munching on grass. Albeit with a slight limp.

And once we realized he didn't kill it... once we realized he'd only nailed the ever-lovin' crap out of it with a golf ball at 120 mph by pure crappy-golfer accident... well, I don't know who chuckled first. It wasn't me. But I know I was second. I was a quick second. And I laughed pretty loudly. Guffawed, actually.

Now look. (That's an Obama favorite!) I know it's not great to laugh at something like this. But I'm one of those people who laughed when I saw Faces of Death. I'm one of those people who laugh during most of Pulp Fiction, even the twisted scenes with Zed. Laughter, if you didn't know, is a perfectly natural nervous reaction in the face of extreme situations one is incapable of completely grasping. So in the face of almost murdering a deer with a Maxfli... well, I laughed.

We all did.

So, in honor of Serena, Kanye, and Joe Wilson, here is my public apology to the deer:
Dear Deer,

I'm very sorry I laughed that my crappy golfer of a cousin defied all odds and actually hit you in the left haunch with a golf ball at full velocity. There's nothing remotely funny about such a violent act, even if it was unintentional and failed to result in your death. And even if I maybe found it funny at the time, and even if as I write this I'm chuckling a little, laughing at such a painful moment makes me a very bad person, and for that I'm sorry.


Monday, September 14, 2009

In Debt We Trust

Bruce Springsteen--"My Best Was Never Good Enough" (mp3)

Well, I worked hard and I tried to put my money away,
But I got debts that no honest man can pay. --Bruce Springsteen

Something very curious happened in the world of debt this week. People paid a bunch of it off. And there was no rejoicing. Why?

Back up first. You will recall that one of the key causes of the current recession that we are in (or coming out of, depending on how your 401k is invested) is the mortgage crisis, specifically, the lending of money for the purchase of homes to people who could not afford those homes. Money that put them into greater debt than they could handle--payments didn't happen, people lost houses, banks lost money, banks and other lenders failed.

Many analysts suggested that things would become even worse because of another debt problem--personal consumer debt. The statistics have been everywhere for decades. Americans aren't saving enough. Americans are in bad shape for their retirements. Americans have too much credit card debt.

So what should Americans do? Well, Americans decided to pay off some debt. Quite a lot of it actually. When the numbers came out last week for whatever time period they were measuring, analysts were expecting Americans to pay off about (in round numbers) $5 billion of debt, especially credit card kind of debt, interest payments, loans, etc. But Americans have gotten the message, and, instead, we paid off over $20 billion in consumer debt.

You'd think that would be a cause for celebration. Hooray for us, right? We're altering our lifestyles, behaving more responsibly as a people. Heck, even yours truly took out a 401k loan (not really a loan, since I'm borrowing from and paying back myself) and paid off $6000 of a Bank of America credit card that was charging me 29.9%, or something like that. It was kind of a no-brainer that didn't really enter my brain until I had some time to think about it. Let's see, pay a huge bank that's received billions in taxpayer bailout dough 30% of the balance each year, or don't pay them 30% and pay myself about 10% instead. That's quite a swing.

But here's where it gets Orwellian, Brave New Worldian, you take your pick. The "analysts" were not happy at all that consumers had paid off so much more debt than expected. They said that consumers paying off debt instead of spending was going to slow the economic recovery.

Just think about it for a minute. Ultimately, the official blame for the economic downturn rests largely on the back of consumers who bought homes they couldn't afford and who couldn't handle the debt. And the cost of the bailout for that downturn rests on those same backs. And now the blame for a potentially slower-than-expected recovery points at those same consumers.

What's a poor, confused consumer to do?

Me? I blame capitalism. And, please note, attacking capitalism does not make me a Socialist; it makes me a doubter of capitalism. The success of our economy depends on buying and buying, spending and spending for new versions of goods that haven't worn out necessarily, but are no longer "in style," if you're talking something like clothes, or "cool," if you're talking cars and electronics.

The idea of capitalism made sense maybe even as recently as 50 years ago, when there was room for expansion and when there were seemingly unlimited natural resources, but now, when people are everywhere and are using everything up and natural resources are scarce and recycling is still something with the status of a Sunday School project, capitalism does not make sense.

The idea that the way to fix our current economic struggles is for us to compromise our futures and undertake a whole new round of expensive purchases that we can't quite afford is absolute folly. In essence, we are being expected to save us from ourselves and from everyone who made it easier for us to get where we are. And we are being expected to save them, too. Some of that, yes, I'm willing to take on as a foolishly-idealistic taxpayer, but I do not see it as my patriotic duty to dig myself a deep hole of debt and to replace everything I have that kind of works or works well enough with this year's model. Nope. Sorry.

But if you agree with me, I'm sure you realize what the problem is, right? The problem is Plan B. That's right, Plan B, the only other proven way to get out of a depression.


Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad is available at Itunes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Go Find a TV"

Into the Fire - Bruce Springsteen (mp3)
The Kingdom - Bethany Dillon (mp3)

One of seven faculty speeches given in memory of 9/11/01 on Friday morning at our school.

My wife called me just before 9:00 a.m. She was at home nursing our second daughter, who wasn't even a month old.

"I'm watching the Today Show, and they think a plane hit the World Trade Center," she said. "Go find a TV. You need to see this."

"Honey, I'm right in the middle of finishing up this story," I said, or something to that effect. "Why don't you just tell me what's happening?"

We were on the phone no more than three minutes when she said, "Oh my God oh my God."

"What? What?" I said.

"Hold on. Oh my God. I think another plane just hit the other building."

"What? Another plane? Are you..."

"Go find a TV," she said.

I walked across the floor where I work, and then up the stairs, and then slowly down the first floor admissions office hallway, looking in rooms for a TV set; it now seems like some weird 60s mind control movie. I remember passing people's doorways, and they're coming out into the hallway, too, because they've just heard, and they're looking for a TV. And we all have this dumbfounded look of confusion and disbelief on our faces.

I might have been the sixth or seventh person in the office of the one dude who had a TV. Another dozen or so crowded in over the next 10 or 15 minutes. By that point, we knew it had to be the work of foreign terrorists.

I'm 37. Vietnam ended before I could say "Mama." I never had drills in school where I ducked under my desk just in case a nuke dropped on us. The only conflicts I ever knew my whole life were quick and simple. Grenada. Libya. Panama. Kuwait. The fights were over almost before they started, and they made us proud to be Americans, and everyone said you just don't mess with the USA. As if to add exclamation points to this, the Berlin Wall fell, the USSR collapsed, and everyone who wasn't distinctly an American ally seemed to experience calamity and disaster. It really was as if God was speaking, and He was telling us all, "America is my country, and everyone best follow suit or prepare for the apocalypse."

At 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, when that second plane hit... well, clearly something happened on the way to paradise. And it created a fear in me and others that was to that point in our lives unknown and unthinkable.

Many of you aren't too crazy about coming into the Chapel three days a week. I understand that; I do.

But let me promise you something. There are times when this place means everything. If you were a student at this school on September 11, 2001, if you were a teacher or a staff member, if you were Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Hindu or completely 100% atheistic, you wanted desperately to be in this place. The power of a community gathered together for comfort in a time of high emotion cannot be explained. The value of hope that someone or something greater and wiser and more loving than humankind might be out there cannot be adequately explained.

On September 11, I learned that the world had changed, that my children would grow up in a different time, that hate existed and we were a target. And I was also made eternally grateful for this space and for this community. We were fortunate to have this Chapel and to have one another.

It's only unfortunate that we need tragedies of unspeakable proportions to be reminded of such simple truths.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Music for the ADD Generation, Part 2

Jenny Owens Young--"First Person" (mp3)
Yellow Fever--"iMac" (mp3)
Richmond Fontaine--"Kid Steps Out Into The Road" (mp3)
The Weakerthans--"(manifesto)" (mp3)
Eliott Smith--"Georgia, Georgia" (mp3)
Big Star--"I'm In Love With a Girl" (mp3)
Warren Zevon--"Jesus Was a Cross Maker" (mp3)

Push the "play" arrow on the first song on the playlist above. Sit back. Close your eyes. Listen all the way through the whole list. Just over 10 minutes worth of music. Seven songs. Quick songs. Good songs. All short. All different.

Sixteen months ago, and long before Bottom Of The Glass achieved its current status as one of the "million most popular" blogs on, I posted an entry about Really Short Songs.

My conditions were these:

1. The song lasts less than 2 and 1/2 minutes.

2. The song is a stand-alone song, not a transitional song in a rock opera or other thematic setting. For example, the Who's "Do You Think It's Alright" or Pink Floyd's "Goodbye, Cruel World" both qualify in terms of their brevity, but they lose both meaning and appeal out of context. Personally, though, because it tells the whole story, I think "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" qualifies.

3. The song must feel like a complete song, not an incomplete idea, not a snippet of something longer, not a reprise version of another song.

4. If #3 is accomplished, when you listen to the song, you don't realize how short it really is because it has done so much in so little time.

5. The song has vocals. Instrumentals don't count, cool though they are.

I was looking through my Ipod playlist of "Really Short Songs" yesterday, adding some new ones, etc. when I took a look at the list. There were 386 songs on the playlist!

So, I got to thinking I'd better tighten things up. Let's face it. I was wrong. Songs that clock in at somewhere in the two minute plus range are short songs, but they're not "really short songs." So I'm lowering the boundary. Really short songs must be less than two minutes long. Special props, of course, if they're less than one minute.

On to the songs: you've got Jenny Young laying out a whole relationship in about 40 seconds. As you listen to the song, you won't believe there's any way she can get out of it; you think it's just going to cut off. But it doesn't. The Yellow Fever ditty that follows uses the chorus and subject of the song as its underlying rhythm. Richmond Fontaine's "Kid Steps Out" has one of the great opening lines: "Kid steps out into the street with three m-80's taped to his forehead and lights the fuse." I've put the songs in order from shortest to longest, so that by the time you get to the Weakerthans and Eliott Smith, their songs are clocking in well under two minutes, but are still 60 or more seconds longer than Jenny Owens Young. They sound fleshed out, expansive, normal. It's funny what the mind will do. Bloggers love Big Star. I love Big Star. "I'm in Love with a Girl" is simply a classic. Finally, Zevon goes into Quention Tarantino mode, reinventing Jesus as a bit of a Western Hero. The heavenly female voices between verses seem almost indulgent in this 1:47 gem.

The world of really short songs is a skewed world. You've got to make compromises, take shortcuts, leave things to the imagination when you working on such a small stage. I like when musicians give themselves restrictions or are still in touch enough with their own art that they realize that different ideas can have radically different sizes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Come On!!"

Glory of True Love - John Prine (mp3)
Serves You Right - Manuok (mp3)

There was a time, decades ago, when ordinary average men would sit around a television set to watch tennis. They did so to watch two seemingly ordinary average American men -- perhaps with a bit more temper than average -- claw and growl and bark their way to the top of the heap.

John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors seemed blue collar. I don't know their life stories, but I know they seemed like guys everyone could root for, so long as you could suffer their brashness and their impatience for little things like rules and decorum. Maybe that's what made them so American.

In the last days of the wooden racket and the early days of the crappy metal ones, serves didn't clock in at 120mph. Forehand blasts didn't leave rubber burn marks on a court surface. In the days of the wooden racket, power was less vital than placement and strategery. You got the feeling McEnroe and Connors survived the circuit more for their bulldog stubbornness than for their power.

My own personal love of watching tennis exploded in 1985. I was bored and watching HBO that summer and witnessed the highlights of a second-round victory by this German teenager named Boris Becker. He was diving and scraping and clawing all over the court. Becker had a lot of bulldog in him, but his rise also marked the early stages of Power Tennis, where strength and height became crucial factors.

Becker and Stefan Edburg became rivals du jour, engaging in serve-and-volley shooting matches that often went five sets but rarely seemed to last more than three or four volleys.

Oddly, it's probably Becker's success -- and the advancing technology of cannon-esque rackets -- that brought on the assassin-like coldness of the last 15 or so years of tennis. Jim Courier and Michael Chang had something of Connors in their game, with the endurance and the stubbornness, but they seemed to lack the personality to seem bigger. And maybe it was also because the days when endurance could compete with power were gone.

Seriously, other than maybe Andre Agassi, who lost a lot of his court personality as he got older, what other great male from the last 15 years has had a smidge of personality? Sampras? Puhleeze. Federer? Knock it off. Nadal? That's as close as you get, which isn't close.

On the women's side, things have been a little better. But where once roamed the petite and adorable likes of Tracy Austin and Chris Evert now roam Amazonian hulk-people. The Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport, and the Eastern Bloc women, where Sharapova is considered "lithe" at 6'2" and 130 pounds. The hopes of the underdog rest exclusively on the likes of Justine Henin, who retired but hit #1 several times at a mere 5'6" and 120-ish. I cannot possibly explain to you just how difficult that must be. Yet Justine didn't exactly have me running to turn on my TV. She was a teensy bulldog of a gal, but still not particularly compelling.

What I'm saying is, tennis hasn't had any good characters in a long time. It's crammed with amazing talent, raw force, and even decent looks. But personality? Not a lick.

For a brief, shining moment this week, we've seen what tennis could be if the right people could find their way up the ladder. This enlightenment has come in the form of Georgia teenager Melanie Oudin. At 17 and unseeded, she's the first female since Serena Williams to make it to the quarterfinals of the US Open at such a young age, and Serena did it a decade ago.

This girl is mesmerizing. I haven't watched this much tennis in a long, long time, and it ain't because she's hot. Although Ms. Oudin is cute enough, she also looks like the kind of friend you want with you if you get jumped by 20 ninja, because she'd stay in the fight and prolly take out a dozen of the bastards, even if she had to bite and scratch and claw. Or donkey-kick.

In David Foster Wallace's essay damning Tracy Austin's autobiography ("How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart"), he realizes that the quality that tends to make for superior athletes often makes for boring people: they live in the moment. They can bury the fears of the future and the ghosts of the past and completely commit themselves to The Now. (Writers, on the other hand, tend to live in exactly the opposite way, with equally damning results.)

If you ever liked watching tennis. If you ever wondered whether you should give it a shot. If you can tolerate watching any women's sport at all. Tune in on Wednesday and watch Melanie Oudin. I don't know if she's going to win, but I know it's going to be almost impossible to take my eyes off her. She's what tennis could be and should be about.

And you'll be sure to hear what is apparently the Ultimate Tennis Saying for women of all ages and from all countries: "COME ON!!!"

P.S. If you watch Oudin in interviews, she is a perfect match for Anna Farris' movie star character from "Lost in Translation."