Monday, May 31, 2010

That Summer Frame of Mind, Part 1

Crooked Fingers--"Sleep All Summer" (mp3)
Crooked Fingers--"Gentle On My Mind" (mp3)

If you had to drag into work this morning like me (and unless you're one of the 12 of our 15,ooo readers who works here at the same school with me, it's highly unlikely), you know what I mean when I say that the "summer frame of mind" really kicked in this past weeked.

It was a weekend of flowers, staking plants, yard clean-up, a summer movie, a cookout (okay, a cook-in because of the rain), staying up until 1:30 in front of a fire drinking too much beer, canning salsa, listening to music outdoors, roasting marshmallows. In short, it was the summer. But not quite.

So you know it's a rough transition back to work on a day like today, Memorial Day, that day of barbecues and family gatherings, flags and memories. But not for us working stiffs. For us, it's a day of business as usual. By the time we get home and ponder the big cookout, we realize that work again tomorrow looms and, therefore, undercuts our initiative.

But, undeniably, it is also almost summer.

Right now, the Platonic Conception Of The Summer hangs before us like a perfect, homegrown tomato. Everything is planted and growing beautifully; none of it has begun to wither and rot. It will be the best crop ever. Those trips, those destinations, those walks on sandy beaches--all pristine, all perfectly executed. No thoughts of oil or hurricanes. That money? Who needs to worry. There will be plenty of it to indulge any spontaneous excursion, any summer fancy. Work? Who cares! Each day will fly by and we will rush home to our grills and our sandals, a cold beer and a warm friend, a comfortable evening with no humidity or mosquitoes or firecrackers that send the dog under the couch.

Some of us, no doubt, have other favorite seasons, but the summer offers so many more hours, and so many more hours of light, to live instead of work, so that sheer vitality is perhaps the greatest of its many charms.

Which is why I really hate working in the summer. It just feels like I could be doing so many other things. And working at a school and being on a "school schedule" for most of the past 50 years and having that mindset ingrained within, that only makes it worse. I know I could be elsewhere, doing...I don't know, working on the farm, maybe to helping to bring the crops in, or whatever the hell created the idea of summer vacation in the first place.

But, we all trooper on through, and I will be doing the same. With no students around, I'll probably play music here in the office, head home for lunch and walk out in the sun to look at the tomatoes, plan a few late afternoon matinees to see summer blockbusters, plan a strategy for Riverbend and the Strut.

Plus, I've got a couple of good "summer reads" here in the office, Shogun and 1984, so maybe I'll get in one chair, prop my legs up in the other, and pretend I'm sitting by a pool somewhere with a fancy cocktail and a warm breeze. Maybe I'll even fall asleep, and in this energy-efficient office, if you don't move often enough, the lights turn off themselves, and then I'll be slumbering here in the dark and maybe no one will even notice that I'm here.

And I'll be dreaming away about summer.

Coming Wednesday: In Part 2 of this series, I'll be bringing my "Summer Cruisin' 2010" mix to the party. Get your ears on!

Friday, May 28, 2010

27

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band--"If I Should Fall Behind (live)" (mp3)

Today is 27 years. It is not easy to believe.

Twenty-seven years ago, we exchanged vows in a country church in rural Kentucky (redundant for emphasis), a church where every seat was taken, a church where every seat taken we had cleaned ourselves two days before the wedding. It was that kind of church.

My parents ended up left behind the mass exodus back to my wife's house for the reception. They got lost. They stopped to ask directions. They were told, "All roads lead to Dixon." It was that kind of wedding.

By the time we got to the reception, all of the champagne was gone. It was a dry county. My father-in-law thought one case would be enough. He was wrong. The moment we walked into the house, a receiving line formed, and we spend the entire reception in that receiving line, greeting and exchanging pleasantries with everyone who had come all the way up until it was time to leave and my wife's mother stood at the front door, weeping and basically begging her not to go. It was that kind of reception.

We got into a car and headed off to our honeymoon. North. Mackinaw Island, Michigan. We made it as far as Evansville that first night. We had had nothing to eat. We didn't get anything that night either. The next morning, my wife wanted coffee and remembered a place nearby and I walked around the hotel three times looking for it, but it turned out to be a place outside a different hotel in a different place. It was that kind of honeymoon.

There is nothing harder that anyone will do in their lives than be married for 27 years or less or more. That is not a comentary on my marriage or anyone else's. It's just a fact.

Marriage involves not quitting when every other part of your life involves quitting. Don't like your job? Quit and find a new one. Don't like your church? Same thing. And it holds true for your grocery store, your health club, your magazine subscriptions, your lawn service, your cell phone provider, your dog, you name it. Don't like them? Quit them. Get rid of them. Find new ones.

Don't like your house? Build an addition. Paint over it. Put siding on it. Or sell it.

You can't do that to marriage. Marriage runs counter to every other aspect of our disposable lives. And if you make it to 50 years with your spouse, it's an absolute miracle. It means that you have probably been blessed with both understanding and long life. Few people get both; many hope to get either.

And so, 27 years feels like a special day, even though it's an odd number and doesn't fit the media definition of recognizing key benchmarks that come in fives.

It's a special day because it was to be celebrated with Neil Young tickets in Knoxville, something that didn't happen because my daughter lost a close college friend to an unexpected medical condition and my wife accompanied her up to the services somewhere in Central Michigan and I sold the tickets and now whatever happens today will be low-keyed and perhaps unworthy of marking such a milestone, except that whatever happens today will mark the day (it can't help but not) and, in doing so, will nudge the journey forward, ever so uneventfully, toward 28.

Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind" is, arguably, one of the finest songs about a long-term relationship ever written. It was originally available on Human Touch (or Lucky Town, I can't remember). Unfortunately for listeners here, the recorded version is far superior to this live version.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Slick

Dark Water - Galactic (mp3)

I am not an environmentalist. I am not Green. I am not someone who values animal rights or plant rights over those of humans who scratched and clawed our way to the top of the food chain.

I don't hunt, but I have no beef with dudes who get off shooting Bambi. I don't fish, but hoorah for dudes who sit out all night, drunk, on a small motorboat, to catch a few bass.

So why is it that someone like me, someone entirely non-leftist about our environment, finds myself beginning to boil with rage about The BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster of 2010?

I'm mad that it took me so goddamn long to get upset about it. I'm mad that I'm in a very large majority of equally-apathetic people.

It's been five years since Katrina, when all of us discovered the ineptitude of the Bush Administration.

Five years later, our entire country has turned into the Bush Administration, where we're all slow to give a shit and even slower to react and do anything about it. It's like we were all out on our verandas, sipping mint juleps and wearing critter pants, our sweaters tied around our shoulders, when our butler walks out and informs us that our son is strung out on heroin in the pool house. And our collective response, as the citizens of the Greatest Country In The World is: "Meh." And then we go back to checking on our 401k mutual funds and scheduling our next pedicures. Our son will be fine. He's just going through a phase.

What the hell's the matter with us? And why does it feel like our collective lack of vitriol -- or anything beyond a symbolic grimace and flashing look of concern, really -- might well be the real beginnings of our own Fall of Rome?

Raise taxes, and by God you'll get the wrath of every red-blooded red state redneck this side of the Canadian border. Show pictures of a Mexican-looking man getting treated in an ER at cost to taxpayers, and you'll enrage more than a fifth of our national population. Say the word "evolution" or "abortion," and you'll have self-righteous people marching all over your ass until it's jello.

But say "bigger environmental disaster than Exxon Valdez," and people kinda shrug and say "tsk tsk that's a shame" and then go back to working on that bugger of a Sudoku puzzle.

On the larger scale of politics and news, I totally get why no one is stoking this fire.

A Democratic "Socialist" President attempted to mollify Republicans by announcing an expansion of drilling in the Gulf. Republicans love oil, and they love drilling, so the absolute last thing they want is to spend energy making Obama look too bad. Hell, it's easier to find a politician beyond Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to criticize Obama on his choice of shampoo than it is to find one who will go on record questioning this crisis.

The left, meanwhile, is scared to complain too much, because the mood of their voting bloc is already dubious enough, and scaring away too many voters by excoriating their leader could lead to more talk about crap like "Tea Party mandates."

So no politicians want to complain. And BP is so intertwined up our government's ass, that we can't really be too mean to BP without causing serious problems for the fuel needs and costs of our beloved Pentagon. There aren't many other big corporations out there dying to throw stones at BP, either, because those skyscraper headquarters are still mostly made of glass.

And the six large news corporations remaining only seem capable of doing compelling stories on Jesse James or the Salahis. Anything that gets us too worked up risks motivating us to get our asses off the couch. Which kills ratings. Which kills ad revenue. Which is dying fast enough as it is, thank you very much. They need to keep us on that couch.

This isn't a conspiracy. It's a collective, shared, desperate desire to keep us from giving too much of a shit. And it's working because we're complicit in it. We the citizens of the United States in the 21st Century are desperate to do as little as possible. Sure, we'll give some money. Just make it easy for us.

We'll happily text five little numbers to give $10 to Red Cross, and then we'll congratulate ourselves like we're the next Nelson Rockefeller 'cuz we're so damned charitable. But if you ask us to get off our couches and kick in to the effort? If you ask us for any kind of personal sacrifice for the betterment of our environment or our children or our country's fiscal health? Bugger off already. The NBA playoffs are on!

Here's my peeps on Morning Joe talking about it. And, even though Mika and Joe sound like they don't really know what they're talking about towards the end, it's just nice to see 'em getting worked up about it.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seriously, America

Neil Young and Crazy Horse--"Be The Rain" (mp3)

Sitting here with nothing to do, wishing I was watching the finale of 24 but not wanting to wade/wait through those commercials (I'll see it on fancast.com tonight), I have been picking out the last remaining nuts from a jar of Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts. And now, they are all gone, except for those last few that I don't want to eat because I don't want that handful of salt that will go with them.

But, that's beside the point. What's really on my mind is the large, heavy glass jar they came in.

And now that they're gone, the incredible, unnecessary waste of it. I bought a pound of peanuts; the jar that they came in weighs 14 ounces.

Seriously, America, I don't think we're getting it. I don't think we're figuring out waste and excess and reusing and cutting back and making do. Yeah, I know we're cutting some corners financially, maybe not eating out as much or buying some things we might like to have, but the increasing scarity of the world's resources? I don't think we get that at all.

Take me. Take that jar. For 18 of the last 20 years, I chuck that thing in the garbage and don't give it another thought. For the last two years, we've "kind of gotten into recycling" (italics mine, because the phrasing clarifies the commitment), but if we weren't "into it," I'd still be chucking that thing in the trash. Like a lot of other people still are.

Oh, I'm not playing high and mighty, believe me. I don't really know why we're recycling. I mean, I know it's a good thing to do, but I haven't felt a mandate, no one has asked me to do it, either locally or nationally, no government campaign or presidential plea has come my way, no public service ad campaign has caught my attention. I think we really just got tired of throwing so much shit away. We're kind alone on some kind of recycling island, as many of you are, I'm sure. We're blind virtue.

In the late 70's, when a president suggested that we turn down our thermostats and put on a sweater in the winter, he was ridiculed. Two years ago, when a presidential candidate talked about efficient light bulbs and other little things everyone could do, he was ridiculed.

Sadly, both caved to that ridicule and dropped the issue.

And now, here we are. It's 2010, and most restaurants giving to-go cups are using styrofoam. What? In 2010? You can't recycle styrofoam. Styrofoam takes longer to biodegrade than a Twinkie, for God's sakes!

Now, I certainly don't want to argue that Europe has got it all figured out. Not when their daily financial fears are dragging down my 401k. But if I bought those peanuts in Europe, say France or Italy, since those are the only places I've been, those peanuts would not be in a heavy glass jar.

First of all, the portion wouldn't be even half as large. And probably wouldn't contain MSG or whatever is in those damn things that makes them impossible to stop eating (while your brain sends you contradictory messages: a) "Nuts are good for you," and b) "Why does my head feel like it's swelling from a salt overdose?") Second, there would be some kind of fresh nuts that you could buy on the street somewhere. And, finally, they would come in some kind of light, unassuming cellophane wrapping. Not that cellophane is God's gift to the earth.

But still, window dressing aside, America does not seem at all to be on a mission to save itself environmentally. Al Gore has figured out how to make a lot of money from it. Madison Avenue learned that "green" sells products. Hell, even the Fox networks have gotten into the game, promoting "green" this and "green" that, and you know those bastards are marching to the drum beat that says man-made global warming is an impossibility.

As for my family's recycling empire? I grade us no better than a B-. That's a grade that would send any self-respecting private school student into a teacher's office to grub for a higher grade. And I think we're pretty committed. We've done a good job at sticking with something I didn't think we'd stick with. But come any time that we're putting on a party or simply get too overwhelmed and backed up, we just bag it all up and throw it out, vowing to do better next time.

No, we're all still consumers first, and everyone, from our own government to the world's other interdependent economies, wants us to to be consumers first. So that when we buy our peanuts, we not only support the nut roasters, we support the glass jar maker, the plastic lid maker, the label maker, the boxmaker, the grocery store, and, a little bit, some sorryass farmer who grew the things in the first place--for peanuts.

"Be The Rain" comes from the underappreciated cd/novel Greendale, available at amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Because TV Shouldn't Be Used Just for a Quickie

There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve - A.C. Newman (mp3)
I Lost It - Lucinda Williams (mp3)

People spend more than half their working lives watching television. That has to shape the neural pathways. It creates an impatience for irresolution. -- David Milch, creator of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and Deadwood

Because fathers can be miserable pieces of shit.

Because faith can't help but trump reason eventually.

Because we sometimes find ourselves doing mindless repetitive things simply because we've been told to.

Because sometimes we trust the wrong people.

Because sometimes the wrong people are right, or correct.

Because love is messy but essential, like caramel.

Because all people have at least a little goodness in them.

Because nobody's perfect.

Because puzzles are fun, but require patience.

Because the best heroes are often aggravatingly flawed.

Because most promises we break, we really intended on keeping.

Because even Sammy Hagar is haunted by the notion of fate and free will.

Because we live together and die alone.

These are just a sampling of the reasons the followers of LOST were so loyal, a reason I loved the show so much and will consider it, for the rest of my life, one of the best TV series of all time.

I'm privy to that David Milch quote thanks to the super-awesome TED talk by Dan Meyer, a talk aimed at addressing what he sees as a tragic flaw in our 21st Century culture, one that has trickled down into our educational system and the mentality of students.

We don't like irresolution. It frustrates, aggravates and bloviates. The reason Law & Order and CSI are so damn popular and have so many damn spin-offs is because every episode is a clean package. You can buy a DVD of any season of these shows, randomly pick out an episode, and be able to follow along with 95% of the plotline without asking a single question. Further, the odds are strong that, at the end of the episode, all loose ends are tied up, and all questions are answered: That dude shot the other dude. Any questions?

LOST was, in a sense, the anti-CSI, a show hell-bent on giving you more questions than answers at the end of an episode.

CSI is a whore, a street-walkin' prostitute. You can go visit her once, or fifty times, and all you need to do is be willing to pay for her. With commercials or whatever. She's available at any time, for any position. She's there to joylessly get you off and then return to the street for her next john.

Most sitcoms? Crack whores who can do things twice as fast for half the price. Seinfeld was, by all accounts, the biggest baddest most incredible crack ho the TV world ever knew. Any episode, at any time, can please untold numbers of people and needs almost no back story or context of any kind. Someone who has never seen a single episode could pop in episode 10 of the fourth season of Seinfeld and still expect to enjoy it.

LOST, on the other hand, was looking for relationships. It wanted to date you, to go steady. And, if you liked LOST and it liked you, it expected you to be devoted, and dedicated. If you missed a date, it was hell on wheels trying to catch up. If you missed two dates, then you were on the verge of breaking up. And the only way to get back in LOST's good graces was to do your homework, make up the lost time, and catch the hell up.

There were a million reasons to dislike LOST, so I'm not trying to tell all you non-LOST people that you're defective. We're not all supposed to want to marry the same people. Viva la difference. But I do believe this: if you only watch shows like CSI, where every episode is its own little Lunchable package, then you're missing out on the most important aspect of the TV genre.

Unlike movies, where an entire story must absolutely be told in the timespan of 90 minutes to three hours, a TV series has time on its side. It can build up multiple plots, develop a multitude of characters who change and mature and grow -- or sometimes devolve -- over time.

If you don't watch at least a few shows like 24 or The Wire or LOST or others requiring a patience with irresolution and a love of development, then why are you watching television at all? Why not just stick with movies?

Our culture, our kids, us. We're all impatient. We want answers. We want simplicity. We want disposable diapers and single-serving snacks.

Fight that shit, and fight it with everything you have.

Find ways to exercise your patience. Jog your memory. Wrestle with your morals and ethics. Aerobicize these parts of your head and heart. Build up those muscles. They'll come in much handier when you're 70 than those damn biceps.

LOST made it fun to talk to friends. It left you with stuff to think about. It made you ask questions, some of which were even really good and important ones. Not many shows give you much to talk about any more. I'll miss it dearly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Lowdown, No Good Peace Offering

Jakob Dylan--"Everybody's Hurting" (mp3)
The Hold Steady--"Constructive Summer" (mp3)
Trashcan Sinatras--"Oranges and Apples" (mp3)

I have believed and acted upon all of the following beliefs, at times, somewhat chronologically and, at times, somewhat simultaneously:

1. Music should be bought and paid for.

2. Burning a CD of music that I got from somewhere else is no different than recording a cassette tape of music I got from somewhere else is no different from loading my Ipod with music I got from somewhere else. No one was ever prosecuted for his or her personal collection of self-recorded cassette tapes.

3. If I once owned a song or a bunch of songs in 45, 33, cassette, or CD form, it is fair for me to take free copies of that song or those songs that become available.

4. Music can be freely downloaded, if I only dowload music that was not available for sale (ex. live music, demos, outtakes, etc.).

5. It is okay to download music for free, if I do not intend to distribute it.

6. It is not okay for me to use the "lack of money" argument as a justification to steal music.

7. It is okay for me to buy some music and take other music for free. Corollary: if a musician performs at my school or at my house, I always buy the CDs rather than burn them from someone else.

8. It is okay to take music from other blogs to use on my blog.

9. It is okay to take music from other blogs to use in my mixes and to put on my Ipod.

10. I will buy an entire CD, but it may be okay to take the random song that comes my way (I say take, rather than steal, because so often now, the first song or two from a new CD is put out on a website as a free offering). I know, full well, however, that in a piecemeal fashion, I may acquire the entire CD over time for free.

11. It is the obligation of the music industry to protect music that it wants to protect from free sharing.

12. It is the obligation of the music listener to protect music by "doing the right thing."

There has been some discord on this blog recently, albeit anonymous, concerning how we or others do business, involving the procuring of and sharing of music. The comments "Nice to post any stolen song you feel like" and "Must be nice to just steal your music from other people" seemed to get other commentators (including me) cranked up.

Probably underlying the communal discomfort about Mr. or Ms. Anonymous' pithy remarks are their black and white implications. We infer from those comments the following perspective: #1 and #12 on the list above are the only acceptable statements. Statements #2 through #11 are either admissions of outright theft or equivocations justifying outright theft.

For most of us, equivocators or not, the issue of how we get our music is much more complicated than that. I'll wager that most of you carry around several simultaneous, irreconcilable perspectives, just like I do.

And, I imagine ethicists would or do have a field day with this issue.

Because, sure, it would be easiest if we just followed #1. But that would be in a world where we could put all of our Halloween candy in a bowl on our front porches with notes that read "One per person, please," while we head out to take in a movie and spare ourselves the annoyance of continual knocking on our doors. The fact is, we not only stay home to protect our candy, we also stay home to protect our homes.

While certainly I am not condoning basic thievery, I am also not naive enough to deny its very existence. When the cat is away, the mice will play. If you are not going to lock your door, Mr. Homeowner or Mrs. Music Company, eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, someone is going to check to see if the door is locked. If I should not go onto hypem.com, find a song that fits my blog post, go to the blog that has posted it, download it, and then use it on this blog, it is up to the gigantic, multinational music corporations to prevent me. I hope they don't, though, because I'm certainly not trying to hurt them, and may be helping them. It's unclear. I'm just taking advantage of the technology that allows a person to listen to the song(s) I've posted while he or she reads my post.

If you disagree, that's fine; I don't think my position is particularly supportable, schizophrenic as it is.

Anyway, by way of a compromise, here's a bit of a peace offering. If you have never ventured onto the incredible site called Daytrotter, you have missed an opportunity to hear, live in the studio or live on location, some of the finest bands going these days, often of an alternative nature, the kinds of bands that bloggers like, but also some pretty established artists, one that I happen to like like Aimee Mann. And the good news is, you can also download the songs for free and completely legally.

You can get 4-5 songs from someone, usually songs that you like as well as songs that are new, in crisp, performance versions that dovetail nicely from the studio versions that the artists have just recorded. I've offered a few examples in the songs above.

At the risk of speaking for Billy, the music industry really needs to figure out how to best serve people like us. Not only are we significant consumers of their musical products (I, for example, purchase regularly from Itunes, eMusic, and Amazon), but we spend a fair amount of time promoting and highlighting those products from the past, present, and future. For free.

All of the songs above come from the artists' Daytrotter.com sessions.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"...But I Don't Like You Like You"

Tell 'Em - Sleigh Bells (mp3)
Falling Out of Love - Ivan Neville (mp3)

"I like you, but I don't like you like you."

Between fifth grade and my engagement in 1996, I heard these words or some variation, from the mouths of a dozen of girls and young women, approximately 2,454 times. (This is a rough estimate culled from my many journals over the years.) Another few hundred thought these words but never said them aloud. What these wonderful, adorable females were trying to tell me, without breaking my poor and fragile heart, was that they didn't really see much need for us to kiss or bump fuzzies. When it came to them and Billy, the Platonic notion of "like" was plenty. Plentonic, I guess.

The value of Facebook is and has always been right in that area of "like."

It's most useful in keeping up with the people you like but don't necessarily like like, and definitely not with the ones you love. It is, and has always been, to cultivate lazy friendships.

This isn't meant as an insult to Facebook. This quality is precisely what made the service so perfect, because it's an easy, harmless, lazy way to reach out to hundreds of people you don't particularly dislike. And, occasionally, it can do even more.

Guys, for example, can go looking around in the picture galleries of their female friends and jerk off, or so The Daily Beast would have you believe. If you haven't properly adjusted your privacy settings, guys you've never met and don't know can stare at you, jerk off, and then send you a private message telling you how hot you look. (Let's face it. Porn is now so easily-accessible and ubiquitous that it's blase. Men in 2010 are in a Reality-Based world! Better a clothed real normal person who lives near them than some skanky surgical oddity somewhere in the bowels of Los Angeles!)

One of the parts of my job that is both fun and a little sad is when the students who get to know me well, as they approach their final days as a student, come up to me and say, "I get to Friend you after graduation, right?" And I say, "Yup." And they say, "Oh that's so cool. Can't wait, Uncle Billy!" (Yes, that's one of my nicknames. I promise I don't let them sit on my lap or anything.)

It's fun to see that they Like me, to see their excitement of venturing into uncharted adult waters. It's depressing because they're gonna Friend me and realize that I'm not really all that entertaining in the Facebook world. And, lately, college guys don't much give a flip about Facebook.

But here's what I started to realize in the last month, as Facebook has continued to prove that it doesn't much give a shit about its users, their privacy, or the never-ending learning curve of adjusting to what seems like major changes in how they do things every other friggin' month. Here's the quick summary:
And you know what I'm thinking this whole time?

Facebook? I like you. You're a nice guy. But I don't like like you. And when you keep trying to stick your grimy thumb up my ass? I don't really need to put up with that. I don't care how drunk you are when you try. I'm not Arnold Babar (with two B's... just not together), and you're not my proctologist. It's not appropriate, and I haven't allowed it since that huge suppository I took when I was 24.

I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And gosh darn it, people in the real world can like me without you.


May 31.

Think about it.

The new Sleigh Bells album Treats is the most refreshingly awesome uncategorizable new album I've heard since The Go! Team's debut album first hit my ears in 2004. It's a sonic distortion assault and utter nonsense and absolutely delicious.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SO YOU WANT TO BE IN MOTION PICTURES?

Alien Ant Farm--"Movies" (mp3)
The Beatles--"Drive My Car" (mp3)


CASTING CALL: I’m planning to make a movie, and I really want you to be in it. If you drive a car, ride in a car, have ever ridden in a car, or plan to ride in a car in the future, I would like you to try out for a part. If you drive a motorcycle, I am prepared to hand you a part. If you are part of a motorcycle gang, even better.

It will be shot locally, using regular folks just like you as actors. I will shoot it on a shoestring budget, so I can’t really offer you much beyond union wages on the front end, but I will offer you a percentage of the profits. I expect it to do quite well in Somalia.

I was flipping through my Wii/Netflix instant playlist the other night, and I noticed how many movies have two words in their titles, especially of the adjective/noun variety: Sudden Impact, Dead Calm, Hard Bargain, Runaway Train, Inglorious Basterds, etc.

Sometimes, though, a single word is more dramatic.

WORKING TITLE: Sinkhole.

Even if it is a noun which includes an adjective in it. Ponder the possibilities.

Sinkhole
.

PLOT SYNOPSIS: A sinkhole opens on an interstate and various people drive their vehicles into it. Tragedy, heroism, comedy, birth, death, human interest all ensue.

TAGLINE: In life, everyone encounters bumps in the road, but for some, there’s……Sinkhole.

PITCH TO HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER: “It’s Jaws meets Grand Canyon. It's a disaster epic like Poseidon Adventure, only on land, but they'll still have to escape from down below. I’m tellin’ ya, baby, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be on the edge of your seat, it’ll be a great date movie. I see product tie-ins out the wazoo! At the theater, we’ll rename the bottomless popcorn/bottomless Coke combo the….well, you guessed it. Christmas time, picture this: a racing set where kids race their cars around the track, but at random moments, before they can get to the finish line, parents can push a secret button and they’ll hit, well, you know. Even a line of panties at Victoria’s Secret like those ones that said “Pink” but weren’t pink, I never really figured that out, but anyway, yes, a whole line of women’s undergarments, only these will say, well, I don’t want to get crude or nuthin'.”

GRATUITOUS OPENING SEX SCENE: A lacrosse player and his girlfriend headed to a party in Nashville get a little frisky while driving, start doing fun things to each other on a clear moonlit night, heading down the Interstate when all of a sudden they find themselves in Sinkhole.

So may you, if you're lucky enough to get a part.

And once we get that out of the way, we can get to the real stories. The down-on-his-luck singer headed to Nashville to give it one last shot. An ambulance racing a heart patient, a single mom, to Nashville for a heart transplant, her last shot. A couple of disgraced road construction workers looking for one last shot at redemption, stumbling across the kind of road problem that entire careers are made (or resuscitated) from. And maybe Howie Mandel as the leader of a gang of bald, badass bikers who take their freedom on the road in a last-shot, desperate attempt to capture the American Dream. Who will make it?

All must to get past..............Sinkhole.

There will be roles involving plenty of other everyday folks just trying to get to their destinations for various reasons. All of those reasons are probably their last shots, in one way or another. And they’ll never know what hit them…….or what they hit.

Sinkhole.

AUDITIONS: Friday, May 21st. Bring your car. Or motorcycle. Or bike.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou, Kenny Loggins?

Playing with the Boys - Kenny Loggins (mp3)
Down With the Sickness - Richard Cheese (mp3)

We need another Kenny Loggins. We will not find peace and harmony in our lives or on this planet until his replacement is found.

If you wanna know why the world's gone to hell in a handbasket in the past couple of decades, it all goes back to the disappearance of Kenny Loggins from the pop charts. I'm totally serious.

The world is all about balance. Yin and yang. Anyone who watches LOST or studies the martial arts understands these things. And Kenny Loggins was a vital cog in the interworkings of natural balance.

Don't misuderstand here. Even when I was a shrill, gum-chewing ankle-biter, annoying the crap out of my older step-brothers and expressing myself in all the obnoxious ways hyperactive elementary school nerds do, I still thought Kenny Loggins was a tool. In fact, as best I can recall, no one I ever know actually stood up and proudly proclaimed their love of Kenny Loggins.

Why would you stand up and proclaim your love of a tool?

Kenny wasn't just a tool, like, loser tool. He was a tool, like, corporate shill tool. He was a Hollywood wet dream, with the God-given talent of crafting a catchy pop hook around whatever subject matter and theme your movie needed. And he did it over and over. Hell, he even managed to do it in retrospect by making that God-forsaken awful song "Heartlight" in homage to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, after the movie had already become a blockbuster!

So, including his after-the-fact E.T. song, Kenny wrote songs for six movies. Each time, he had at least one big hit, and each time, the movie kicked ass at the box office.*
  • "I'm Alright" for Caddyshack
  • The theme for Footloose
  • "Danger Zone" and "Playing With the Boys"*** from Top Gun
  • "Meet Me Halfway" from the Sly Stallone arm-wrestling epic worthy of Homer known as Over the Top. Yes, this movie did better than you'd think, money-wise. For a few years, Sly could make movies where all he did was sit on a toilet, and the movie made money (see: Cobra)
Kenny also had a few more legitimate pop gold nuggets in which any fool could believe, including "What a Fool Believes" (performed by the Doobies), "Your Mama Don't Dance," and "This is It" (performed with Michael McDonald).

But back to my point.

I can't recall a single human being, ever, who owned a Kenny Loggins album. No Kenny Loggins posters on anyone's walls. No kids at school announcing that they couldn't wait for Kenny fucking Loggins to roll into town, because they just knew that dude could put on a kick-ass show and rock the motherfuckin' house!!!!!!!

Yet.

Yet we all listened to his music. We weren't proud of it, mind you. In fact, you're probably reading this right now and shaking your head and denying it. "No, not me. I always hated that dude." Sure buddy. Sure you did.

When people would catch us actually bopping our heads to the beat of "Danger Zone," opening our mouths wide enough to take in a river as we imagined ourselves screeching out those wonderfully cheesy lyrics, we'd play it off, make fun of that tool Kenny, and talk about what a loser he was. No one can ever prove you listened to his songs, that you liked them. That truth is between you, God, and Kenny.

But Kenny knew what he was doing all along. Kenny is King of the Earworms, and I betcha he's made enough money off the eight or so legitimate earworms he crafted to provide a comfortable living for his children, and maybe his children's children. His grandkids will be like the Hugh Grant character in "About A Boy," who lives solely off his father's royalties from a single Christmas song.

Every generation of music lovers and pop addicts needs its Kenny Loggins. He provides a sense of balance to the world. He balances the scales of Musical Justice. He unites all people by creating tunes we secretly enjoy while giving us a symbol of uncoolness to mock. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads... they all mock Kenny Loggins, but none of them can quite seem to punch the dial when "I'm Alright" hits those speakers.

Kenny Loggins is the Yin... and the Yang.

You, Kenny Loggins, are one of the first Real Man of Genius and the obvious inspiration behind its singer. I can't wait to see the hack that one day ascends to your throne.



* -- Well, until Caddyshack II. At which point, Kenny was announced DOA, along with Chevy Chase and the rest of the cast. That one movie was the smoke monster of its time.**


** -- LOST reference. Sorry, but I'm so wrapped up in that show right now, it permeates everything I do. I'm afraid to masturbate right now because I'm so caught up in that whole "Live together, die alone" mantra.


*** -- Sorry for the masturbation reference in **, but I can't help but go there when I hear Kenny's song "Playing With the Boys."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eine Kleine Nacht Heavy Metal

Richie Blackmore's Rainbow--"Man On The Silver Mountain" (mp3)
Rainbow--"Rainbow In The Dark" (mp2)


Funny how things line-up. Yesterday, the announced death of Ronnie James Dio to stomach cancer. Today, a conversation about a festival of student bands at another school leading a discussion about earplugs and hearing loss, misspent nights at rock concerts in my youth. The price my ears have paid. Stir it all up in my brain and what do you get: heavy metal.

I was never much of a metalhead, but growing up in the 70's, unless you owned nothing but Seals and Crofts, you couldn't help being on the fringe of it--Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep (coming to Riverbend), and countless others had hits that made it onto FM stations, if not even occasionally AM stations. Heavy metal was mainstream.

I'm talking, of course, about 1st generation heavy metal. Once Van Halen came onto the scene with the same kinds of riffs and speedy guitar licks, but with girls as the subject matter of all their songs instead of Sturm und Drang anthems about ambiguous battles between good and evil (think "Iron Man" or even "Smoke On The Water"), the torch was passed. Boston, Def Leppard, Poison, and their ilk were the logical progression.

The original heavy metal was not happy music. It was not a soundtrack for love on a waterbed. Zeppelin maybe, Black Sabbath, no. It was simply droning, pounding, electric riffing best suited to a stupefying intake of marijuana or worse. It was music exploring the lower boundaries of consciousness played by virtuoso musicians, often with classical training, that perfectly captured the downer sensibilities of post-Watergate, post-60's, post-peace, love, and happiness America.

My first arena concert: Deep Purple. 1973. Sixth row. Civic Arena. Pittsburgh. Seated right in front of a massive wall of speakers. As was typical of those days, a confused triple-bill with David Gray opening (wrote "Outlaw Man," covered by the Eagles on Desperado), followed by a very, very, very late Billy Preston who only had time for two songs, his current funky hit "Will It Go Round In Circles" and one other. Made no sense as openers for a crowd primed for Deep Purple in their prime, still milking Machine Head and featuring a bit of Who Do We Think We Are as well.

Deep Purple played two hours. Deep Purple played 6 songs. You do the math.

"Lazy." "Space Truckin'." "Highway Star." "Child In Time." "My Woman From Tokyo." "Smoke On the Water." That was it (not necessarily in that order).

From that 6th row in front of that massive wall of speakers, Richie Blackmore's guitar, Jon Lord's organ, Ian Gillian's voice all pushed the upper limits of what my ears could tolerate. If there were girls there, I didn't notice them. If there were girls at any of those heavy metal shows, they weren't the kind my mother was going to let me date. The smell of reefer hung thickly in the air. Cigarettes flamed or glowed everywhere. I don't know what the ushers were expected to do.

And I'm not sure we, the early 70's concertgoers, knew what to do either. That close to the stage, but it isn't like we were moshing or dancing or even standing. We were sitting in our seats, politely passing whatever came from the left or the right while the noise blasted us further into oblivion.

Though I would see Led Zeppelin later that year, first stadium concert, Deep Purple was my only real foray into that hardcore heavy metal scene. Led Zeppelin was somehow different and bigger. And yeah, I saw Kiss a couple of years later for something to do during Christmas break my first year of college, and yeah, I saw Blue Oyster Cult a year or so after that in the Philadelphia Spectrum, with my coat over my head while people threw M-80's from the upper decks during the show, but those were even more fringe experiences.

See, I actually liked Deep Purple. I still do. Those old songs still hold up in their own way. Even though they are extremely dated in their sensibilities, in the kind of voice required to front such a band, in the riffs that have become cliches, the songs also convey a real sense of passion that comes from rock (not rock 'n roll) being so young and a band having the chance to define it and carve out their own space with each album.

And, just to finish the story, in case you didn't know, when guitarist Richie Blackmore left Deep Purple around 1975, he formed Richie Blackmore's Rainbow and choose Ronnie James Dio as the lead singer, the man who many mourn today.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Lacrosse Thing

You're a Wolf - Sea Wolf (mp3)
Cumbersome - Seven Mary Three (mp3)

Lax Bros. Pronounced "Lacks Brohs," not "brothers" or "bras."

Lax Bros is the name my school has given the guys amongst us who play lacrosse. It is not a term of endearment. Rather, it is a term that the rest of the school gave the Lax Bros because they are so annoyed by the general attitude and behavior of said guys. And then, said guys, taking pride in their different-ness and the fact that other students are jealous, gleefully adopted it for themselves as well.

Meanwhile, I sit back and think to myself, WTF? Riddle me this, Batman. How can a sport that registers on the same level of Pop Cultural Consciousness as curling or duckpin bowling get so much attention, most of it so super awful bad and negative?

First, the Duke Lacrosse Scandal. Now the Virginia Lacrosse Scandal. The first surrounded a case that, ultimately, was a crock of shit. The second was all too real. In both cases, the demeanor and attitude of  Lax Bros was under the microscope and looking ugly.

Professionally, I got lots of love for lacrosse. It's one of the most powerful marketing tools a school like the one where we work can have. In lacrosse, if you have any talent and potential, and if you live in the South, your chances of getting college attention increases exponentially at a prominent lacrosse school. Baseball or wrestling or football, you can play those most anywhere and, if good enough, raise the right eyebrows. Not lacrosse. Most schools don't have a team, and most of the ones that do have one more in name than in quality. It's also the perfect sport to appeal to a niche market all expensive independent schools need: "Full Pay Students."

That's my professional take.

Personally, I can't deny the pervasive, annoying reality of the Lax Bro attitude. Nor do I like that some coworkers seem to celebrate and encourage it. Unfortunately, the penis-dangling competition amongst adults in high school environments is neither exclusive to us nor exclusive to the sport of lacrosse.

A friend sent me this link to a very opinionated piece on the George Huguely murder, and it included this description of the stereotype in question:

For better or worse, I’ve grown up going to hundreds of lacrosse parties over the years, forced to acknowledge these "athletes" that looked more like caricatures of a stereotype—overgrown hair, croakies around their neck, a lacrosse pinnie, pastel-colored shorts, some rainbow flip flops and a backwards hat. (For all the generalizations you hear, 9 times out 10, this is actually what they look like.)

Herein begins my sympathy for the culture: They can’t help it. Lacrosse is a sport that’s somewhere between Youth Soccer and Jai Alai. It was created by Native Americans, but perfected by a bunch of Mid-Atlantic prepsters, eager to congratulate themselves on their dominance of a sport that only they can play.

Because of the expensive equipment, and the distinct advantages provided to those that learn the game on suburban travel teams or at expensive prep schools like Landon, the sport remains fairly insular among wealthy children. To excel at lacrosse, it helps to have parents that have the resources to fund the hobby, and the time to cart their children to and from games.

It's true of other sports, too—hockey, for instance, requires similar time/money commitments from the families of young players—but the economic divide is more pronounced with lacrosse. If it seems like the sport belongs to different class, that’s because it does; most of the schools that excel are all-boys private schools, with skyhigh tuition, strict dress codes, and large expanses of green field space. Look at the top 10 High School Lacrosse Programs in the country.

The writer, Andrew Sharp, throws down a vicious and pitiless assault on its culture.

A part of me takes great pleasure in watching him skewer it all. Any fan of Revenge of the Nerds or Glee would have to derive a healthy dose of joy from reading such a screed. But... but I also feel like the guy has put together something of a straw man.

In college, I knew lots of lacrosse players. Most of them were the very jerks Sharp describes. None of them, to the best of my knowledge, killed anyone.

And it's not like lacrosse players had a monopoly on egregiously awful stereotypes. I only encountered the UNC wrestling team out at bars six or seven times, but every single time, one of them got in a fight. It was like a meeting of Napoleon Complex Anonymous invading the bar scene. I also knew more than a few fratters. One frequent reader and former fratter doesn't even tolerate use of the word "frat," but expects you to say "fraternity." ("Would you call your country a cunt?" he asks. And I tend to think, "Well first, it ain't my frat. Secondly, if my country was named "Kappa Sig," I might well call it the C-word and a whole bunch of other awful names. That said, he knows I love him anyway.)

Point is, as despicable and predictable as most of those frat guys were, I'm pretty sure none of them murdered any girls in cold blood, either. Date raped? Gang banged? Grouped together to beat the crap out of a single dude? Oh yeah, they did all of that crap. But murder is a different level, and just because they're assholes doesn't make them automatic candidates for a capital crime. The Duke lacrosse thing serves as that reminder quite nicely.

In conclusion, I wish Andrew's essay had been much shorter. It should have been summed up in a few sentences:
  1. I hope George Huguely gets shivved in his nuts a few times in the clink.
  2. I pray for Yeardley Love's soul and beg God that nothing like this ever happens again.
  3. I sure wish so many lacrosse players weren't such giant fucktard narcissistic assholes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Child's Fault

Suzanne Vega--"Luka (live)" (mp3)
Ron Sexsmith--"Reason To Believe" (mp3)

Inspired by the recent trial and the tragic circumstances of one of our students.

It is not a child’s fault that no one else saw.

It is not a child’s fault that no one asked.

It is not a child’s fault that when warned not to tell because bad things would happen, he believed it.

It is not a child’s fault that she didn’t tell.

It is not a child’s fault that he was afraid.

It is not a child’s fault that she was found out.

It is not a child’s fault that his body contained evidence.

It is not a child’s fault that she said a name.

It is not a child’s fault that the police were not properly trained to question him.

It is not a child’s fault that a parent asked too many times, over and over, exactly what had happened to her.

It is not a child’s fault that he acted out sexually as a result.

It is not a child’s fault that a lawyer didn’t know how to properly present her as a witness.

It is not a child’s fault that he didn’t remember at age 8 everything that had happened to him at age 6.

It is not a child’s fault if she remembered it sometimes differently, sometimes incompletely, sometimes completely.

It is not a child’s fault if he forgot, or if he tried to forget.

It is not a child’s fault if she was coached, like every witness who has taken the witness stand has been coached.

It is not a child’s fault if he wonders why he was not believed.

It is not a child’s fault if she no longer trusts how the world works.

Eventually, it will be passed off as something that happened to them way back in childhood, and they will be expected to get beyond it, and everything that happens later on will indeed be seen as their fault.



Friday, May 14, 2010

Heaven Is Whenever

Your Little Hoodrat Friend - The Hold Steady (mp3)


For almost eight minutes into my introduction to The Hold Steady, way back in 2005, I was pretty sure I'd made a mistake.

I'd read a bunch of critical raves about their sophomore album, Separation Sunday, and since I'd just received a bunch of iTunes gift cards for Christmas, I decided to jump out on the limb and buy the album. Sure, :30 into the opening song, "Hornets! Hornets!" made it clear why critics loved 'em, but that song didn't call out to me specifically. It just sounded like a clever band schooled in the ancient arts of classic rock with some talky Lou Reed type on speed at the helm.

But once "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" blew into my earphones, and pretty much for the rest of the album, I felt like I'd finally found a critical darling I could love.

They've since released an additional three albums, including their newest, Heaven Is Whenever.

My suspicion is that the fan base who fell in love with Craig Finn and his G-Street Band of merry men back in 2004 or 2005 started losing their passion with 2008's Stay Positive. That album made it pretty clear that THS had maxed out their indy cred and were looking to break into something bigger. Fans who pride themselves on finding diamonds in the rough don't really get much joy in watching a diamond get polished and cut into something fit for a wedding. For those fans, I imagine Stay Positive was their sign to head for the exits.

Stay Positive was indeed that first baby step attempt at bigger things. But it was just that: a baby step. And babies don't always have a pretty gait when they learn to walk.

Heaven Is Whenever is their second step at hitting a bigger audience, moving up the ladder, becoming one of the very bands they spend all their time writing about, either in direct or indirect references. They dropped their keyboardist, which at first seemed like a foolish move, but once you hear what it does to their sound, it makes a lot of sense. Not that Franz "third-generation Roy Bittan" Nicolay wasn't awesome, 'cuz he totally was. While I can't often tolerate an organ in my rock, I can always find a spot in my rock heart for a band member willing to pound the ivories of a true percussion instrument.

So ditching that dude seemed like a risk, but if their goal was to create music that was more accessible to more people, it paid off. Heaven... is the most likable first-listen THS album ever. And if you're gonna pull in more fans, you can't go expecting people to give you three or four spins before they decide whether to like you.

Creating a friendlier rock album doesn't guarantee it being better, but for me, so far I'm enjoying this as much as their other stuff.

If you're a THS fan, I ask you to stick with them and appreciate that it's not a crime to want to hit the big leagues. Nobody faults Nuke LaLouche for wanting to go to The Show. Maybe The Hold Steady is just a Crash Davis, destined to etch their place in the minor league hall of fame, but don't blame 'em for trying. That's what any band worth its salt should aim for at one point or another.

Should they fail, I'm sure they'll dredge up some more stories about Charlemagne and Holly for you. Hell, Craig Finn might even go back to doing a shit-ton of drugs and stop singing so much. But for now, let the boy try and stay relatively sober and attempt to taste the finer things. If he keeps hanging around at keggers, he's gonna turn into one of those spooky older dudes that everyone calls "Chester the Boozer Loser Molester" when he walks away from the tap.

If you absolutely refuse to pay for an entire album, here's your best songs: "Soft In the Center," "The Smidge," and "Hurricane J." The last one is the heart of the album and the closest THS has ever gotten to arena rock. (No one should be surprised that "arena rock," coming from me, is a compliment.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

GUEST BLOG by John: Watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the First Time Again

Neil Young--"I Am A Child (live)" (mp3)

“Get captured and escape. Get captured and escape. Get captured, escape, open the box and die.” That’s how my oldest daughter summarized the plot of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark tonight. She’d been watching some Cartoon Network show that was a parody of Spielberg’s movie, one of the favorites of my childhood, and when I tried to explain to her that her cartoon was a parody, she asked me what parody was. So after dinner we found the DVD, curled up on the day bed, and listened to the opening movements of one of the most memorable soundtracks in film history.

Movies today tend to give it all away in the first few minutes; they don’t trust the attention span of their audience and maybe, probably, they shouldn’t. Our attentions spans are shortened these days. But watching a movie tailored to popular audiences of decades ago is a revelation, especially if you’re watching it with a ten year old.. You have to be patient, for at least twelve minutes or so, as the narrative draws you in and leads you to the world you’ll be graced to inhabit for the next ninety-seven minutes.

There are so many dark places, so many shadows in the early part of Raiders; you can barely even see Indiana most of the time he’s on his way to that golden idol; you can barely see Indy most of the time he's on his way to that golden idol. But when he comes out of those shadows, he takes your breath away and you understand why that co-ed in his class flashes her eyelids at him in Anthropology 101, those eyelids that state: “Love” “You” even though he’s in a suit and tie and nowhere near the dashing man he was: more Clark Kent than Super Man.

But before that moment in the film, my daughter was entranced. She’d bought into the entire fiction. The fake cobwebs, the smarmy guide, the cool torches, Indy having to navigate those stones. And when we were, the both of us, convinced that he’d found just the right amount of sand to drain from his palm to make the weight of the sandbag equal the weight of the golden idol (and really, how could the two even come CLOSE to equaling out? You’d have to have large bag of Purina Dog Chow to equal that little golden god’s weight), you could feel her shoulders ease a bit, sensing that all might be well.

And then. And then. The slow descent of that altar stone. The chaos of that opening with the false guide, the sliding under the stone wall, those poison darts shooting from the tiki bar figures in the cave, the rolling of that impossibly big boulder like some Rube Goldberg initiate or the stone of the grave of Christ.

And then later, the snakes. She’s no big fan of that brand of reptiles. Whenever we go to the local zoo, we tend to avoid the “Misunderstood Marvels” exhibit with its pythons, tarantulas, grave digger lizards and various other poisonous snakes and frogs. I read somewhere that Harrison Ford didn’t much like snakes either, so the scene where he’s face to face with about a gazillion vipers and one aggressive cobra was a cool special effect with him behind really well Windexed glass. I told her that. She seemed relieved.

Other surprises. She didn’t really know much about the Ten Commandments or Moses. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of teaching her about Old Testament stories and even better a job of New Testament ones. Not so, evidently. Having to explain, in the middle of an action film, about the origins of Judaism, as your ten year old daughter tells you, “Well, if I don’t get this story line (the Exodus) then how can I get this whole movie?” is a humbling moment for someone who considers himself a person of faith.

Nazis and the swastika that figures so prominently in the film? Never heard of them. The nuances of the Holocaust, an historical moment in which many of her ancestors on her mother’s side of the family died, needed more than just a gloss during a particularly rousing chase scene. Still, I tried.

“The Nazis were really bad guys.” Her response: “Yeah, I can tell because of those glasses and the way they talk. Plus the music is creepy and they’re mean.”

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant” writes the poet and the Holocaust to a ten year old seems a slant truth to tell, indeed. We talked a bit about it, and her final word on the discussion was, “Well then, I’m really glad to be only half Jewish and mostly Christian.” Why I felt the need to remind her that she had been baptized says more about me than anything else.

My daughter and I don’t really watch many movies where people’s faces melt off, but I recalled from my viewing of Raiders several decades ago that that wax face special effect is the culmination of the Nazi’s end as they deign to behold the holiest of holies, as Indiana and his girlfriend shield their eyes, like Lot, like Odysseus plugging his ears, and the notion that my daughter might be traumatized led me to caution her, “You might want to look away here; it gets pretty gruesome when they open that Box.” “What happens, Daddy?” “Well, their faces melt off. The Nazi faces, I mean.” Her response: “Oh, well, that’s ok then.”

And we both watched what I’d looked on in horror years ago but which now strikes me as so dated to be almost comical and I grabbed her hand and she squeezed back, as if to comfort me. All those bad Nazis with the lasers of the justice of God ripping through them like cannonballs hitting soldiers point blank, the unbelievers smoking their filtered cigarettes all the while. All the Madame Tussaud figures with their laughable eyeballs. And then, at the end, the Ark of the Covenant stacked away in those endless miles of wooden crates, buried in some crazy parody of the Smithsonian or filmed as a tribute to the ending of Citizen Kane and all that holiness buried deep down, so deep down, as my daughter and I roused ourselves from the day bed and went to get a drink of water and play a last game of Uno before heading off to bed.

Neil Young's Live At Massey Hall is available at Amazon.com.

What Does "I'd Do Anything" Mean?

When It Don't Come Easy - Patty Griffin (mp3)

One particularly forgotten aspect of the Tonya Craft trial in North Georgia has kept me awake several nights in the last month, and it's this: Her parents have spent virtually every penny they possess and have taken on substantial debt, to finance their daughter's criminal defense. The costs of the defense, according to the trial, is in the range of $500,000. (I guarantee it's over $750k.)

I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents say to me, "I'd do anything for my child." Hell, I've said something to that effect a few times myself.

Maybe we all mean it. Maybe we don't. Maybe we don't even quite know what the words mean when we say them in the comfort of our philosophical bubbles.

Some of the hypotheticals are easy.

If your house is burning and your child is inside, of course it would take battleship chains to keep you from going back in to get her. If your boat capsizes, of course you'd risk your life, or even gladly sacrifice it, to keep them alive. In fact, anytime a parent must choose their life or the life of their child's, it's a no-brainer for most of us. Harsh as it may seem, sacrificing your life isn't nearly the toughest call a parent would have to make. In fact, it's probably one of the easiest ones.

But how about this one? Your daughter is charged with molesting not one, but three children. She swears to Sweet Little Baby Jesus and all his kinfolk that she's innocent. And of course you believe her, because she's your daughter. If found guilty, she will probably still be in jail when you die, and she'll likely never see her children again.

Sure, you'd die for your child, but would you put yourself into such a financial hole that you'll never be able to retire? Would you spend every penny, cast off every possession, for the best criminal defense you could obtain, or would you just hope justice is blind and numb to money, and that justice would be served with a more reasonably-priced defense?

Or what about a problem a family we know from church, where they've adopted five children over the years, and one of them has clearly become a problem they are incapable of reaching. Everyone who knows this boy feels confident that a juvenile detention facility is only a matter of time. Meanwhile, he steals from the house and terrorizes his parents and his siblings. But he's barely 13. Just a boy. Do you give up on him? Can you, as a parent, justify deserting one for the needs of the others? Or must the others suffer while the wild child steals all the parental time and energy and sucks the last drop of potential joy from a household?

What if your child is 18 and chose not to go to college because she was umbilically attached her boyfriend, who plays in a band in the local bar scene? What if she lives in your house, only works two days a week at Chick-Fil-A, and uses every last drop of her paycheck to buy... well, you're not sure what she's buying, but it's clearly screwing with her mood and her appearance. She's lost more than 20 pounds in four months, but she's not dieting. And if you kick her out, she'll move in with that boyfriend who probably dragged her into his shithole in the first place. Or, worse yet, they'll break up soon after, and she'll end up skanking herself out to someone even lower on the totem pole to continue doing God knows what to her precious body and mind. Do you let her stay with you, perhaps slowing but passively condoning the inevitable self-destruction, or do you risk alienation by taking a stand, under the auspices of LOVE?

And then it gets even stickier.

What if it's not your child, but your spouse? What if -- and maybe y'all didn't do it this way -- you and your spouse stood up in front of God and everyone and swore that you'd stay by their side through thick and thin and rich and poor and all that shit? What if you said all those things when you were young and believed in unicorns and leprichauns and happy endings? What if you woke up one day and realized that you never imagined the kinds of conflict and discord that could weave itself into a marriage?

Societally speaking, we would rarely if ever damn a parent who just can't give up on their kid. But we look down on spouses who won't leave their screwed-up husband or wife all the time, don't we? Because the kid is blood. The kid you can't divorce. It's a bigger duty. Right?

Ironic, no? That we say vows for a marriage that we probably don't understand and don't always expect each other to keep, but we don't say any vows when we become parents. We forge a bond with this tiny mewling, utterly vulnerable creature without any promises or proclamations. Saying "I'd Do Anything" is almost easier than saying "I Do."

Here's to hoping we -- you and I, dear readers -- don't ever find ourselves in a situation where we have to pony up and prove we meant what we promised.

A part of the Tonya Craft case that should not get lost on people regardless of their opinion of her guilt or innocence is this: she was found not guilty because she could afford an amazing defense team. Some frightening and unknown number of innocent people are wrongly convicted every year of any number of crimes for the simple reason that they couldn't afford 1/100th of what Tonya Craft had.

Oh yeah. This is my all-time very favoritest Patty Griffin song ever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Unremarkable Day

A Student--"Song #1" (mp3)
A Student--"Song #2" (mp3)

It was an unremarkable day yesterday, a day hardly worth noting, a sad day. The pall of a teenager's death, a girl from a nearby school, hung over an already cloudy and chilly campus.

The first student I saw in my first class at 8:00AM was the boy who had taken her to the prom a mere week earlier. "You don't need to be here," I told him, but he had a missed assignment he needed to complete for me and he was there to complete it. He said he knew he had three difficult days ahead to get through and so he wanted to do it now.

He carried the additional burden of being thought of as her boyfriend, which he wasn't, not her friend, which he was. The prom connection carried all kinds of implications, and like it or not, he was going to go through this day, and perhaps several that follow, expected to be something that he might have liked to have been, might have just started to have been, but wasn't. But he was there.

It became a day of labored excuses. When a student dies, anyone who wants a piece of the tragedy is welcome to it, to use for his or her own purposes. Such is our fear of teenage depression, perhaps with good reason. And so, classes were skipped, assignments put off, expectations excused, obligations not met.

I got caught up in it, too. It became a day of laborious inactivity. By nightfall, I was lying on a couch watching episode after episode of a season of 24 that I had already seen, just pushing the button for the next episode the second that the credits for the previous one had ended.

But a couple of interesting things had happened, small things. We have a final assembly for our graduating seniors today, and we had to move it up a day to accomodate the girl's funeral. As happens in these situations, everyone wants a senior assembly, but no one wants to do it. And so, it falls on, typically, just one student to pull it off. All the other seniors want it to be good, funny, memorable, but they are done, done, done. They got nuthin'.

And so it falls to that one guy, and I keep running into him all day. He's getting video together, calling and texting like a madman, he's negotiating with the Upper School head, he's calling other guys trying to find out when and where their parts of the assembly are and when he can get them, he's reassuring me that he'll get me the stuff by night. At the same time, he's trying to work out some kind of senior prank, find some way to pay for it, hope against hope that it will matter. I tell him to call me, to let me know what he needs. He never does.

And, late in the morning, a senior I barely know walks into my office and hands me a CD. "Here's my senior project," he says. I look at it; it is obviously a bunch of songs. I look at him and say, "You have made my day," but I don't mean it, at least not in the way that I say it to him. I said, "I will look forward to listening to these songs later," and I shake his hand and he is gone.

But the truth is, I didn't remember his senior project, didn't remember giving him the green light to spend his required two afternoons a week working on writing, performing, and recording his own music. And so, when he handed me the CD, I was shocked, didn't even know what it was, and, as I said, didn't really even know him. All of which made it more awe-inspiring that he had fulfilled a fuzzy obligation that we had set who-knows-how-many-months earlier.

How surprising it is sometimes when someone does what he has committed to doing.

We tend to think that we can decide when we're finished with something, and perhaps we can, but it makes all the more remarkable those persons who keep on going, even in the smallest of ways, when everyone else has thrown in the towel.

I think the songs by the student are better than you might expect.