Friday, June 29, 2012

The Victor

Words of Wisdom - Jump, Little Children (mp3)
Can't Nobody Love You - Solomon Burke (mp3)
Baby Alligator - Red Pens (mp3)

Disclaimer: I am not a Constitutional Scholar.

Here's what we know and what I believe after the Supreme Court's decision, handed down Wednesday, supporting the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

FACT: A vast majority of people in our country have no clue about ObamaCare. Most couldn't even tell you what the actual act's name was, what it does or doesn't do, or when and how it will be implemented. Most people seem only capable of parroting back whatever they were told by their favorite political talking heads, yet they manage to do so in even more dumbed-down and inaccurate ways.

A stroll through my Facebook stream is like swimming in a sea of blissful ignorance coupled with rabid judgmentalism. People decrying or celebrating something they know painfully little about, something that for the most part has yet to even taken effect. More Americans could tell you about the NCAA's new approach to determining a national football champion and when it's scheduled to take effect than they could accurately describe even five key facts about ObamaCare.

BELIEF: The odds have increased that ObamaCare will cost the President his chance at reelection. Anyone who believes the decision was a victory for Obama or elected Democrats in the legislative branches is thinking woefully short-term. More than a handful of Presidents promised to address our nation's healthcare problem but never could. Obama got a ball rolling that many thought was impossible. Rarely does such an accomplishment come without serious political cost.

FACT: Republicans created the notion of the "individual mandate." Republicans supported the idea right up to the point when Obama "reached across the aisle" and incorporated it as the centralizing concept of his own healthcare plan.

BELIEF: The Affordable Care Act is highly flawed, and our country will be better off if our bipolar assclown politicians can work together to drastically improve or redirect it in ways that builds greater support, both from healthcare professionals and the millions of citizens struggling to afford basic care. What history will acknowledge, in the long run, is that the Affordable Care Act was the crucial first step, the lynchpin, in fixing a system everyone recognized as breaking if not broken.

FACT: If Obama is a "liar" -- Sarah Palin's words, although plenty of others have parroted them -- for saying ObamaCare is not a tax, then Romney is equally a liar for having implemented the same thing in Massachusetts while claiming to have never raised taxes. Both are liars. As opposed to all other politicians, who are upstanding, honest, and sincere in all ways and at all times, none moreso than Sarah friggin' Palin.

BIGGEST BELIEF FROM THIS: Only one person won a decisive and indisputable victory in the Supreme Court's decision about the Affordable Care Act: Chief Justice John Roberts. I don't say this to gloat, or because "my side" won. I celebrate for the forest's victory over the trees.

The Supreme Court was on the verge of being considered a mockery, just one more part of the political machine. If your side loses in legislation, then so long as your side selects a majority of those nine judges, you can still control the biggest outcomes. Every election cycle, both sides say just that in their commercials: The Judges Are Everything, politically speaking.

But most of us know that our entire system depends on these judges not being steered solely and absolutely on the basis of political ideology. The system needs one of the three branches to be above the whims of voters, to be above the whims of opinion polls, to be above the lobbyists and special interests and elected officials. Unlike the Attorney General, who serves first and foremost the President, the Supreme Court serve the Constitution and the United States as an entity. The system over the people.

Chief Justice Roberts split the proverbial baby. He sided with the generally liberal judges, but he did so with a ruling, which he got to write, that was brilliantly nuanced. And what it ultimately said was that legislators created this problem; legislators would have to fix it. Stop looking to the Supreme Court to fix every last frappin' political hurdle the other side constructs. But he did so in a way that prevented the educated liberal from claiming "total victory."

The extremists and the uneducated can decry Justice Roberts for betraying or for "coming to his senses," but in reality he only proved to be what he was hired to be in the first place: the chief justice of the highest court in our greatest of countries, someone who, more than any other person, must prove capable in the toughest moments of moving above politics and making decisions, rooted in the law, that best serve our country.

FACT: This is the first time I ever recall landing in the same boat, philosophically or politically, with Charles Krauthammer. It's not a word-for-word agreement by any stretch, but I'm going to celebrate this miracle moment by linking to his Washington Post column.

BELIEF: I'm probably going to hell for agreeing in any way with Charles Krauthammer. I must now go pray for my eternal soul.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Simpler Times 2.0

Heavy Metal - Sammy Hagar (mp3)
Thrift Store Chair - Everclear (mp3)

Out in the middle of nowhere, my family stood in an open greenspace throwing a cheap glow-in-the-dark frisbee. We also had a football and soccer ball, and we played with those, too. The field was healthy but not entirely tamed, a stretch of slightly-hilly but open area too patchy to be someone’s yard, too well-kept to be wild.

When I played baseball in 7th grade, and we’d play some public school team from the boonies, their outfield area tended to look a lot like this. But I played in a simpler time before scouts and AAU coaches were scoping out prepubescent talent, before middle schools played on artificial turf, back when players wore "stirrups." Grounders were always tricky in this stuff, so crappy outfields gave us an acceptable out if we screwed up.

The five of us climbed into our family tank and headed 30 minutes down the road to Trenton, Georgia. We might as well have been Marshall, Will and Holly sitting in that old canoe, destined to fall into an entirely different time, a different era.

Our destination wasn’t a Sleestak cave, but rather the Wilderness Outdoor Theater, a wacky surreal "If you build it" Field of Dreams for movie enthusiasts.

Most Americans younger than 40 have never in their lives been to a drive-in. Likely the only time they've even seen one is watching "Grease," when Sandy slams the door on Danny's crotch after he attempts to cop a feel over her sweater.

According to a 2003 "Ask Yahoo!" page, there were fewer than 500 drive-ins remaining in the entire country. Several sites estimate a total number of regular movie theaters at 5,000.

True cinephiles would find the  experience wholly unpalatable. Darker scenes can be difficult to make out on the screen. The sound comes via speakers in the back of the lot or a channel on your car's FM dial, which is to say in luxurious Dolby Digital 2.0. Most everyone has crammed their SUVs, minivans or trucks full of little urchins who have no respect for the quiet necessary to enjoy a good flick. People are constantly walking back and forth in front of you on their way to the concession stand or bathroom.

True cinephiles sometimes miss the wilderness for the trees.

The Wilderness Outdoor Theater is easily one of the most unique and sublime family activities within driving distance of Chattanooga. Tickets are slightly cheaper than usual, due either to the sacrifices in visual and audio quality or because drive-ins are so rare that they're granted some kind of discount.

For $7 per person, you can arrive as early as 7:30 p.m. for a movie that will not start until after dusk, which is after 9:30 for most of the summer. Up to two hours of family time removed from the home computer, from separate bedrooms, from 150+ channels of TV, from almost all of the general distractions of home circa 2012. Sure, you can still use your cell phone, and tablets or portable gaming systems linger, but where can anyone go anymore without those things tethered to our souls?

For an hour, my family played in a field. Great and unforgettable ear candy from my younger days blared out over us. Sammy Hagar and Billy Squier, Foreigner and Saga and even Rush! They even piped in an occasional country song. Never once did "Call Me Maybe" drift over us.

That hour, for me, was alone worth the price of admission. "It's worth $28 to stand in a field and play with your family when you can go down to any park and do that for free?" you ask. Hell yes it's worth it. Especially if you get to sit down with them after dark and watch the latest Pixar movie on the largest movie screen they'll likely ever see.

For the nite owls with teens instead of little'uns, you can stay and watch a second feature that usually starts around 11-11:30 p.m. at no extra cost. One day, if and when my teenage daughters are asked on dates, this might be the one exception I would make for dates ending before midnight. Although it might require that they know I'm parked somewhere in that lot and capable of knocking on their car window at any moment. Drive-ins are great for hitting doubles and relatively safe from triples and home runs. I mean, as safe as any place can be when teens are teens and swimming in a hormonal tempest.

Here's to patchy green fields and funnel cakes, to gravel parking lots and backed-up pick-up trucks, to picnic tables and trunks popped open, to sitting on your fender or snuggling on a lawn chair. Here's to simpler times.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wedding World

The Troggs--"Love Is All Around" (mp3)

Despite my oft-stated desire to live for a few minutes inside of a television commercial--I don't know, maybe one of those old Lowenbrau ones where the guys are scuba diving until someone lowers a fishhook with a beer at the end of it or one of those social settings where everyone is both beautiful and united in one common cause (like skiing or extending a sporting event indefinitely at Buffalo Wild Wings)--I have finally admitted to myself that isn't ever going to happen.  Not even my involvement in the filming of such.

However, I have found a new fantasy "island" where I enjoyed setting up shop recently--Wedding World.  At Wedding World, a small, selected community forms that is not unlike the many utopian visions of evolved society that we have read about in literature for centuries.  People work toward a common cause in relative harmony.  But they do little work, because their main purpose is to be supportive.  And the harmony part is easy as well. 

In Wedding World, that blissful weekend away from it all, here's what happens:

1. Everything is arranged. When you arrive, someone hands you a goodie bucket. A plastic bucket with a shovel, in this case, filled with candy, crackers, waters, loofas, decals, ideas for local fun, breath mints, and other thoughtful little things to make your time nicer. They've already negotiated a good hotel deal for you and set up your social calendar.

2.  Time loses its credibility.  There's nothing like focusing on someone else and their happiness to take away time's sting and outside worries.  I mean it.  It's good.  Most wedding weekends have between 3 and 5 scheduled events and whatever happens in between doesn't matter.  You're just waiting for the next one.  Same thing with money--it's that same kind of "I'm-on-vacation" feel.  And it's all for a good cause--a camera, a new pair of shoes for the wedding, a little shopping or a nice meal on the side that leaves you feeling good about your day and even better about the nuptials ahead.  The world outside is distant, and its rules don't apply. Forget rain. Put politics aside. Let someone else worry about your elderly parent for a day or two. So what if the credit card debt increases a little?

3.  Love is all around.  You can't help but bask in the glow of it.  To be near two people starting off on that journey has everyone else in attendance a) reaffirming commitments, maybe with the caress of a hand or the squeezing of an arm  b) wondering what went wrong between then and now c) resolving to do some things differently, maybe as the result of the things said during the ceremony, or d) looking at how this couple did it and evaluating everything from bridesdmaids' dresses to reception locations in anticipation of their own future weddings.

4.  All you'd care to eat or drink, and then some.  Are you kidding me?  Walk into a brew pub or a country club with smiling men and women saying, "What can I get you, sir?", while before me sit shelves of liquors and mixers and beers?  Then you're going to offer me, on successive nights things like Caesar salad, Chicken Parmesan, Egglplant Parmesan, Fetuccini Alfredo, breadsticks, crab cakes, shrimp and grits, spring rolls, bbq dumplings, key lime pie?  It's a level of hospitality rarely encountered in daily life.

5. Dance fever. Even if you don't dance, either because you don't know how or you feel self-conscious, there's a pretty good chance you'll dance. Why? Because it ain't high school and no one cares! Everyone wants you to dance. Happiness loves company. Don't know the particular dance? Someone will teach you. Don't know the music? Wait a song or two and it will meet your generation head on.

6. The city or town or inn awaits.  Weddings don't happen in isolation--a city or a town or a place comes along with them, and the chance to explore or to discover is all part of the fun.  Most cities have some combination of buildings and water, but the way those are put together yield all kinds of fresh results and pleasures.  The way the sun hits the water, the way the water seeps up through the wood planks on the riverwalk, the way the river flows into the ocean, the way the highways lead to new destinations--all these things enrich wedding days when it isn't your wedding.

7.  Reconnect, reconnect, reconnect.  And really, despite my light tone, this is the best thing.  Weddings pull long-lost relatives or friends back together and the years fall away or get filled in through conversation.  You discover shared interests you didn't know you had or that people are not who you thought they were.  Sometimes you only get to know relatives at weddings (and funerals) because it takes momentous events to pull people long distances.  Sometimes people who you are not particularly friendly with in your own city take on a different aura in Wedding World. 

8.  Best friends can be made in seconds or minutes, not months or years.  You can meet someone new and share an instant connection forged by that compression of time and society, can have a relationship as intense as one that might take  months or a semester or a decade on Facebook.  It's like, "Woah, I didn't know you, but I really like you and we don't have much time."  What happens after, well, who knows? 

The only problem with Wedding World is how temporary it is.  I know that is what gives it its beauty and its value as well, but its good feelings fade so quickly after a return to the "real" world, that it almost doesn't seem like it was real, and the next time the offer comes around, so many of us see it as an obligation instead of a blessing. 

Not me; not now while I'm still under the spell.  I don't know why people don't have weddings more often.  I'd certainly attend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Michelle

Michelle (Again) - Local H (mp3)
I Lose My Heart - Chris Isaak (feat. Michelle Branch) (mp3)

Michelle Pfeiffer.

These two words mean so much and yet so little to me. I know nothing about her personal life beyond what can be found in her Wikipedia entry.

She was briefly married to Peter Horton, which guarantees that all good things can indeed be traced back to thirtysomething

She married David E. Kelley, whose TV shows regularly kicked ass in an oddball semi-intellectual way throughout the '90s and early 21st Century (Especially The Practice, without which we wouldn’t have Michael Emerson in LOST). They’ve been married for 20 years. No, seriously. They've been married and almost completely out of the tabloids for two whole decades! And they have two children, one of whom was adopted. And they’ve been married for 20 years!!

The cynic in me would note that her career lost both critical and popular steam right about the time she married Kelley. But, being a man who values romance and family over career success, I can’t help but think of her career slide as a compliment to her priorities.

For one glorious decade, from 1983-1993, Michelle Pfeiffer was as close as it got to a female movie star who pleased both critics and fans with equal aplomb. She starred in 16 films from 1983’s Scarface to 1994’s Wolf. In that stretch, Rotten Tomatoes only tallies three films that failed to get enough critical acclaim to pass the 60% approval rating. And one of those rotten tomatoes is Tequila Sunrise, which includes a scene where Mel Gibson lifts her nekkid out of a hot tub, a singular scene for which the entire crappy movie was made. It's the closest she ever got to a nude scene, and I'm sincerely grateful she never went Full Monty*.

Pound for pound, and certainly if you include talent in the assessment, Michelle Pfeiffer is hands down  the hottest actress of that Hollywood generation.

Ms. Pfeiffer is so hot I grew up afraid to have a crush on her, because she seemed so completely from a different planet than myself. Ever hear those urban legends about high school girls who were so otherworldly hot that all the guys were afraid to talk to her? I’ve never yet actually known a real-life version of that mythical high school girl, but if it ever happened to anyone, it should’ve been Michelle. She could render Regis Philbin mute.

Her final movie in that grand decade-ish stretch, WOLF, is one of the few movies I’ve ever loved more because of the actors than the actual production. Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader are all so much fun to watch that it took me five or six years to realize that the movie itself just wasn’t very good.

Bob would like to dampen my enthusiasm for Ms. Pfeiffer -- or Mrs. Kelley -- by noting that she allegedly had a nose job, and possibly cheek job, early in her career. However, because I watched Grease 2 more than eight times solely due to the presence of a pre-jobbed Pfeiffer, and certainly not because the movie was remotely anything close to watchable (see also: Mannequin), I can sleep well believing Ms. Pfeiffer was born hot regardless of nose shape.

Would I think differently about Ms. Pfeiffer if I knew her, if I knew the sordid or boring details of her daily existence and life? If so, I'm glad I don't. Doesn’t the only worthwhile part of adoring celebrities from afar stem from the privilege of not really knowing them as people, and from not having to?

Michelle, if one day someone brings this silly stuff to your attention, I hope you don’t take it as an insult that I’d just as soon watch some of your movies again than sit down with you and have a cup of coffee. Please trust, m’lady, that this is meant as high praise, not criticism. However, if you were to insist, I’d love the chance to dance with you briefly in a barn like Matthew Broderick in Ladyhawke. The barn part isn’t all that necessary.

* --  (if I'm wrong about this, please let me live with my illusions. Thanks.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Under 40

La Sera--"Break My Heart" (mp3)
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears--"I'm Gonna Leave You" (mp3)

For a long time, I was a bang-for-the-buck guy, but I'm over that now.

When CDs burst onto the scene with their "DDD" super clear sound and expanded storage capabilities, I was often about nothing more than how clean a CD sounded or, more importantly, how many minutes of music it contained.  If the CD didn't have at least an hour of music on it, I figured I was getting ripped off.  You've got the space, I thought, fill the damn thing up with tunes. 

I remember the outrage I felt when Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks put out Everybody's Rockin'.  Forget the fact that it's probably his worst CD, with unnecessary rockabilly versions of songs that others had done better.  No, my outrage was based on the fact that the CD ran just a little over 30 minutes!  I just couldn't believe that a major artist, one known to be quite prolific, couldn't get together more than a half hour of music and then would charge the same amount for it as for something with 70 minutes of music on it. 

Yeah, of course, I bought it anyway.

If you're buying music these days, you're noticing a very different trend much of the time.  Many CDs are clocking in at under 40 minutes.  Songsters, hipsters, indie rockers, r + b types are all putting out tight little records that aren't inclined to overstay their welcomes. 

And I'm not complaining.

The new paradigm is as follows:  10 or 11 songs, somewhere between 2 and 4 minutes each, no particular filler, songs have distinct differences from the ones that preceed or follow them.

Why is that a bad thing?  Well, it's not, at least not to the new me.  Now I'm all about quality over quantity, even if the quality isn't always particularly there.  I know that may not make much sense, but what I mean is that rather than have to wade through 15 or 20 songs to find the ones I really like and want, I'm only having to sift through a dozen or less.  There's usually a good chance that the best songs are front-loaded anyway, a circumstance both Billy and I have blogged about in different ways.
Yes, it's serving attention spans, but it's also serving lifestyles.  And, it's an adjustment to the fact that people who buy music are often buying songs, not whole CDs.  So if we're going to cherry pick anyway, why not put out about 35 minutes of your best stuff and be done with it?  Imagine if Pink Floyd's The Wall were not a bloated concept double-album and if, instead, it only consisted of the 10 best songs coming one after another, bang-bang-bang.  You wouldn't be comfortably numb; you'd be hitting replay over and over.

So yeah, it's retro, it's 60's, baby, it's probably in come cynical way to the advantage of the music companies, but for me, a tight little song as part of a batch of them on a tight little CD?  Bring it. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Lamest Generation

Our House - Madness (mp3)
Good Pain - Live (mp3)

Do Baby Boomers know exactly when they sold their souls? Do they feel the emptiness inside them?

For me, the words “SOLD OUT” don’t conjure thoughts of of Phil Collins or Johnny Depp nearly so much as Baby Boomers.

n a recent guest op-ed for the Washington Post, Matt Miller writes, “At the federal level, seven dollars go to programs supporting elderly consumption for every dollar invested in people under 18,” Even when including the more education-heavy state and local government budgets, he notes, the elderly still receive $2.50 for every $1 aimed at those under 18.

What a bunch of selfish pricks.

And this is before all of the Boomers have taken their pension plans into retirement, where they will feed off these pensions not for the projected 7-10 years, but for more like 15, 20, even 25 years.

This is the generation that protested for women’s rights, for civil rights? This is the Age of Aquarius? People holding hands and looking out for the commun(ity) over the individual?

Their numbers were always going to be a challenge for our way of doing governmental business. Because they’re the proverbial “pig in the python” of our population, they were always going to drain a little more than any other demographic no matter where they were in their timeline.

But if you add to this challenge the fact that this group has become, bar none and indisputably, the most self-involved, self-important and selfish generation in the history of our modern world, the result is precisely what we’re seeing for America’s present and future: A group of Baby Boomer politicians who kiss their own demographic ass. A group of politicians incapable of cooperation or collaboration for fear of repercussions from... you guessed it, their fellow whiny Baby Boomers.

Nationwide, the Baby Boomer ego trip isn’t limited to a single party. In the South, I’m surrounded by selfish Baby Boomers who insist that they earned every penny of their money and that the gub’ment should keep forking out all those delicious promised benefits yet stop taxing them. On the coasts, liberal Baby Boomers -- and there’s more left Boomers than right -- want every penny of their pensions and entitlements and don’t care much what that does to future generations.

Pensions, by the way, they didn’t really pay for. I know this because my generation won’t get pensions. Most of us get to plan our retirements around nothing but a 401k. Which is like giving a baby a security blanket with Black Widow spider eggs in it. Know why? Because businesses are going broke paying out pension plans that weren’t properly funded, because the pensions were unfairly inflated on the backs of future workers.

I grew up listening to all this talk about how Generation X was weak for one reason or another, that we grew up in the Big ‘80s with all its worship of Gordon Gecko, big hair for both genders and synthesizers (and I’m sure these are all interconnected). We’re cynical and more easily bored. We’re less cooperative. Yada yada.

Well, Generation X is also the first generation that won’t be as financially well off as its predecessor. And guess who was at the wheel when this happened? Yeah, that’s right, Boomers. Y’all are the fucknuts who captained the Titanic, and we’re gonna be the ones who have to somehow right the ship once y’all forget your names and have to be fed your rice pudding by us and our children.

Boomers are just like the old people at every dying church in the country. You don’t care if the ship goes down, so long as it keeps doing things the way you like them. You’d rather sink doing things your way than to adapt and evolve. You’d rather hoarde what is yours than worry about others. And guess what? It's working. You're getting your way, and everything's falling apart. Happy now?

You went from Jesus Christ Superstar to Scrooge McDuck in less time than it took you to melt a couple of centimeters of our globe’s polar icecaps.

In the land where everyone screams about gettin’ what’s coming to them, Boomers have more voices, more votes, and more power, and no one can stop them from getting what they want. Certainly not themselves.

All their talk of selflessness disappeared about the same time they had to start saying No to Drugs.

If you’re reading this, and you’re a Baby Boomer, I’m sorry, but you’re part of a shitty generation. Whatever gripes you’ve made about my generation, or teenagers, or really anyone else? Take them back before lightning stikes you square in the reproductive organs.

Of course, there’s still time to redeem yourselves... but I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bumper Cars

Grace Jones--"Pull Up To The Bumper" (mp3)

Throw out the polls.  Throw out the pundits and pontificators.  If one were to gauge the upcoming presidential election simply based on the number of candidate-based bumper stickers seen while driving around Chattanooga, Obama would be crushing Romney by a margin of 10-1.

The election is less than 5 months away.

Based on this reporter's many weekend drives into numerous neighborhoods in this fair Southern city, there exists but one "Romney" sticker in the whole darn town.  And it sits on the back left bumper of a high school boy's car, a boy who, by my calculation having spent the last 29 years teaching high school boys, may or may not be old enough to vote.

Before you think I'm gettin' all partisan and political, bear in mind that by this same cub reporter's calculations, that puts exactly 10 "Obama" stickers on the cars of Hamilton County.  And, though I ain't willing to say it, more than one of those stickers might have been on the same car.  Those ain't exactly braggin' rights for the prez, either.

This, though, is the reddest of Red States, this Tennessee.  After all, "we" went for Santorum, not Romney.  And it's unlikely that Mr. Obama will ever set foot in this state even after his presidency ends.  George Washington, of course, visited every state after he finished his presidency; Mr. Obama will like have to stick to the East and West coasts and places that touch large lakes.  And Vermont.  Blue water, Blue States.  Unless it's the South.  Maybe Florida, though.  But I digress.

What there are all over the place around here are posters and yard signs--for the local elections that will be coming up, judges, and county commissioners, and the like.  And these, I have to say, make for a pretty dull clutter at the street corners where there are stoplights and us waiters have to ponder the signs.  Yeah, they're all red, white, and/or blue, depending, unless you're running for office using your "milk money," in which case your campaign signs are the same color, style, and font as the logo on your milk and ice cream.

Branding. Clever.  Not.  Yeah, his signs stand out at the stoplight, but they only serve to remind me that I need a gallon of skim milk.  There's no slogan.  There's no "Let's freeze spending" or "I'll stop Washington from milking us."  I know, I know.  I missed my calling.

But seriously, do you want to know what kind of slogans are out there?  "For the people."  Crap like that.  For the people.  Really?  I mean, it's been 36 years since Albert Brooks got one of the few laughs in Taxi Driver as the irate campaign manager who chews out the button company on the phone for making buttons that say "We are the people" when they're supposed to say "We are the people."  Or vice-versa.  For the people?  That's the slogan progress we've made?  I'll bet there's some advertising exec somewhere who's been holed up all weekend, skipping Father's Day, so he can come up with a new slogan, something like,  "Let's Keep America Strong." 

Here's my slogan:  "Otherwise We're Fucked."

As in, "Obama 2012: Otherwise We're Fucked."  Or "Romney 2012: Otherwise We're Fucked."  I don't care.  I just want a job in advertising at this point. Make some money.  Based on the slogans out there and Mad Men, it doesn't look like difficult work, plus you can drink in your office.  So, whichever one of you gets to it first, it's yours.  And you can guarantee yourself that you will have taken total and complete control of the political discourse in this country.

Why?  Because there's no comeback.  Let's say Obama hopped on it first.  He blankets the back bumpers of every Subaru and organically-maintained yard in this country with "Obama 2012: Otherwise We're Fucked."  What can Romney do?  His only response sticker can be something like "Romney 2012: No We're Not" or "Romney 2012: Because Obama Swears."   C'mon!  Those aren't catchy at all!  Too open-ended.  Too defensive.

I want something on my bumper that settles the deal.  Something that other-party bastard behind me won't want to get too close to--out of fear and maybe hatred, but also respect.  Yeah, respect.  I got a free bumper sticker in the mail the other day, but I decided not to put it on my car.  It said, "Not A Republican," which is ironic and kind of funny and all of that, but it's also weak and puny.  And indecisive.  Okay, not a Republican, but what am I?  Or is it a kind "I know you are but what am I" kind of thing?  I'm pretty sure that if we can win the bumper war, we can win this thing.  And we need to.  Badly.  Otherwise, we're fucked.

Who is "we"?  Why, you and I, of course.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Say a Pledge

Unknown ("Arrow Through My Heart"?) - The Rescues (mp3)

I just made a pledge, and it tickles me pink.

One of my favorite bands*, The Rescues, have begun a project via They're recording a new album, releasing it on their own, and raising money through this site. In 24 hours, they had already raised more than 2/3 of what they need to fund it.

The world is full of needy people and serious causes. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of little musician people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

But music matters. Music matters to me. Music matters a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

Music is what moves me from living to being alive. I wouldn't put it on the same level of vitality as food or sex -- well, my head tells me that food and sex are more vital than music, but my heart hurts when I write this. My heart is disappointed in me. Because in my heart, music is every bit as vital to our lives as food and sex. Music is the sunlight for our photosynthesizing humanity, and all the rainwater and healthy soil on the planet won't keep a plant alive without that precious priceless sunlight.

When I'm sad, or when my day has gone to hell, or when I'm seething about my job or my family or my own pathetic fallacies, music is that piece of timber floating on the rocking waves, and I can fling my soul onto it and hold on until I see land or a ship that can save me. When I'm soaking in a moment of joy or import, music timestamps everything for me, and decades later, when it would seem that moment is long lost, the song can take me back, and I'm right there in that moment, with a drumbeat kickin' in the background.

Music is The Real Quicker Picker Upper. And The Rescues have a gift for making music that makes me love music all the more.

Intrigued but don't like The Rescues? Ben Folds Five raised enough money for their album in 13 hours. They've raised 3x what they needed just off pre-orders and special extras! Just take a look at the long list of bands who have had their projects funded and be amazed at the power of the people.

At the same time I'm kicking in and backing the good guys, I get the distinct pleasure of helping lift both my middle fingers to The Music Industry.

Music right now is at a Star Wars crossroads. The Music Empire's Death Star of record deals and A&R plotting has already blown up, but they're trying to rebuild another one. All their stormtrooper lawyers and suits are working to keep music under their thumb. is behind the red planet Yavin. It's where a large chunk of the Rebel Alliance is hanging out.

The Rescues are, like, Wedge. They're not Luke, but they're definitely a kick-ass part of the X-Wing squadron, and they're gonna be in more movies fighting The Music Empire.

And me? I'm a music Ewok. I'm basically useless in this fight, but I can throw rocks and sing shitty Nub Nub songs, and I can swipe my primitive plastic card and contribute my part to the overthrow of The Emperor.

On PledgeMusic, most Bands make a "pitch" video (the song above is from it and quite friggin' awesome), where they tell their story and sell their "cause." The Rescues tell theirs in a clever way, and every time I get to the 2:00 mark, where they explain that working with the record label almost killed their band, I have to fight back tears.

How many bands have record companies killed, not from ignoring them, but by signing them? How many bands have been signed, only to be picked and preened like prize steer or 4H sows and then sold off in parts as beef? How many bands and artists have drunk the record label Kool Aid only to discover too late that it's poison?

I don't know. But it's a big, big number.

But not The Rescues. They will survive it. They'll live to see another day, another concert, another album. This is reason to pitch in a little money. This is reason to weep a few tears of joy.

Power to the people, yo.

* -- Don't ask me where they rank. I don't do rankings. Top 20-ish.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Surfin' M.P.3.

Here's a frothy mix for your summer, mostly finds from the BOTG mailbox that I've been setting aside for the past several months. 

Billy and I have said it before, and I'll say it again, it's difficult to wade through the music sent our way and then to distill the good stuff out of there.  That's not a complaint or a "woe is us."  That's an acknowledgement of how tough the business is and how many, many, many bands try their best but lack that something that makes a listener want to hear their songs again. 

All of these tracks caught my ear for one reason or another--a good hook, a great voice, a professional polish, an intriguing roughness, an energy, a promise.  Or maybe I just told someone that I would get around to posting the song and I'm keeping my word.

I hope you'll give them a listen and see if there aren't some that you like, too.  Not all of them, of course, because we all know that isn't how this game is played. 

There are a couple of ringers, La Sera and Norah Jones (singing for someone else), simply because I like the songs and I think they fit.



Annie and the Beekeepers--"Wake Up, Mama" (mp3)

Tin Sparrow--"My Own" (mp3)

French Wives--"Younger" (mp3)

La Sera--"Love That's Gone" (mp3)

Paper Lions--"Don't Touch That Dial" (mp3)

Esperi--"Come Dine With Me" (mp3)

San Cisco--"Awkward" (mp3)

Danger Mouse and Daniele Lupi (feat. Norah Jones)--"Problem Queen" (mp3)

Annie and the Beekeepers--"Come On" (mp3)

The Griswolds--"Heart Of A Lion" (mp3)

Dave and Marissa--"Hit Like Waves" (mp3)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dawes On Track

When My Time Comes - Dawes (mp3)

“This is the kind of music you’d hear at a party, and no one would complain about it, and a few people would be asking who it was.”

These were the words of my friend who joined me in a last-minute oh-what-the-hell trip to Chattanooga’s Track29 to watch Dawes in concert. Before he walked in, he’d never once heard Dawes. He’s what I consider a casual music fan, someone who really gets into music in the moment, but when the music ends, he doesn’t miss it that much. Out of earsight, musically out of mind.

Dawes wasn’t a sure bet for him to enjoy, but I was willing to take the chance and cajoled him.

Nothing Is Wrong, Dawes’ 2011 sophomore effort, is an intriguing mishmash of classic rock staples. The most obvious and commonly referenced is Jackson Browne, and one would be a bit tonedeaf not to hear Browne’s voice haunting every word Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith utters. Goldsmith probably has a love-hate relationship with this connection, depending on how many times people say the name “Jackson Browne” to him in a given day.*

And if Dawes was just a Browne clone band, well, they wouldn’t sell many records. But their range is solid, and their influences a bit more complex. Most importantly, they can turn some pithy, sharp phrases.

“I’m like a bird that crashes into the window / that was drawn to the reflection of the sky,” he croons in “If I Wanted Someone.” Another, “Coming Back to a Man,” has a healthy handful of clever and catchy moments, and rare is their song that doesn’t inspire an eyebrow-raise and a nod to the lyric gods from the attentive listener.

What I especially loved about their live performance -- and you just can’t believe how rare this is in the last 20 years -- was the ability to understand what the hell Taylor was singing.

Most rock concerts, in my experience, are worried about the instruments. Usually they want to blow your doors off, but rarely do they let you understand the words. Country music concerts are usually a little better, and folk is almost always trusty because it’s usually a stripped-down sound.

It’s my theory that rock bands just assume their audience already knows the words and will sing along literally or in their heads. Or their lyrics suck enough they figure their chances of impressing are better sans distinction.

Dawes, though, managed a sonically-pleasing, instrumentally-gratifying show while also offering that rare pleasure of letting the uninitiated enjoy their words.

They’re also damn chill. Sure, they have a lot of up-tempo numbers, but even their up-tempo is kinda mellow. Part of that is they syrupy Browne vocals, but the band clearly made a decision that they were not in the business to blow doors off, or to be the official band of a biker gang.

About the fourth song in, I realized how much they reminded me of Toad the Wet Sprocket, another alt band whose best moments were located in that mid-tempo range of mellowness upbeatness.

Dawes is exactly the kind of band Track29 exists to promote. Unfortunately, Track29 exists in Chattanooga, a town more likely to turn out in droves for Lauren Alaina** than for true musicianship and songcraft.

The drummer, Taylor’s younger afro-clad brother Griffin, quickly became a cult hit, as his facial expressions while performing are unintentionally, almost Tourette-like comical. Griffin is the Anti-Charlie Watts, and doesn’t that absolutely have to be a good thing?

Dawes closed out their night with a sublime encore performance of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," buttressed by the superior craftmanship of 2/3 of Nickel Creek, Sara and Sean Watkins. True encores aren't supposed to be about your Greatest Hits; it's supposed to be a bonus, an extra. While I'm no fan of cover songs on albums, I love a good cover concert encore, especially an ensemble encore. It reminds the audience that the band is one of you, just peeps who love music and love musicians.

* -- After the concert, Taylor Goldsmith told some friends that Jackson Browne has been very supportive and is a fan of the band, which has to be pretty cool. And the best thing about smaller concerts and smaller venues is when bands are real enough to step down to the crowd level and hang out for a while. It’s not unusual, but it’s certainly not ubiquitous.

** -- No offense, honey, but as ol’ Morrisey was fond of saying, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Show I Came To See

Joe Louis Walker--"Sugar Mama" (mp3)

Much as I have enjoyed listening to Nils Lofgren's solo work off and on for the past 30 or more years, I have often wondered why Springsteen doesn't give Nils a song or two during one of his mega-concerts.  Lofgren has a fairly impressive catalog of classic, if underheard, rock songs, particularly in his earlier years, and songs like "Moon Tears" or "Back It Up" would rock it pretty good in most any concert setting.

 The same with Steven Van Zandt.  He has a wealth of songs, songs he's written for Southside Johnny or for Gary U.S. Bonds, plus songs from his own solo records that sometimes strike me as good as Springsteen's own songs.  It has seemed egotistical  to me, almost selfish, that Springsteen wouldn't draw more from the talents of these other performers.  No more.  I've wised up.  I've realized that when you go to see a live show, you go to see the person(s) printed on the ticket.  That's the show you came to see.

Case in point:  last night, I saw Mr. Joe Louis Walker, in my estimation the finest living blues guitarist on the planet.  The man not only has incredible stage presence, he can also play with virtuoistic brillance in a variety of blues styles, with a clean tone, with speed when he needs it, with an economy of notes when that fits.  I was blown away by his playing, and, in fact, I texted a blues-aficionado friend of mine during the show to tell him that Walker "is the finest blues player that I have seen."

The problem, if there is one, and if there isn't, I am creating it here and now, is that Mr. Walker's show featured a backing band of "all-stars" in their own right, or, since I didn't know them, all-stars in Mr. Walker's estimation.  And all-stars must be given their due.  So, during a Joe Louis Walker show (as build) we were treated to two songs sung by his back-up female vocalist and two sung by his other guitarist, the son of none-other-than Larry Coryell.

Most people in the audience seemed to think that this was just fine.  But I came to see Joe Louis Walker, and I expected/wanted to see him as the focal point of every song.  Which is not to suggest that he didn't play a stunning, idiosyncratic solo on every song in the set, save one.  He did.  Each one further confirmed his skill and breadth.  But when you do to see Eric Clapton, for example, you don't want to see him playing back-up on other people's songs, do you?  I don't.

So I end tonight with an odd feeling: that I have seen the best blues guitarist out there, but I didn't see him at his best.  I've noticed this as a kind of trend.  We have a free concert series here in Chattanooga, called Nightfall, and I know of at least two other occasions this summer already, and more at Jazzfest, when I was there, where the main vocalist, a strong performer, has given songs to someone else in the band--a guitarist, another singer, a member of the next generation.

What gives?  I see two patterns:  1) Handing off the lead duties gives the main performer a chance to rest, and 2) someone else in the band is trying to establish his or her own career, and the main performer wants to help out.  I don't like either pattern.  The shows we're talking about here are brief, an hour and fifteen minutes at the most, and though I admire the desire to promote others, I didn't come to the concert, ultimately, didn't spend the money, to see these other performers as featured performers.

A few years ago, a friend and I went to see Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the Marsalis clan, at Snug Harbor in New Orleans.  The eldest Marsalis is a terrific piano player, which is what drew us out of the French Quarter and to his show.  But during the show, it turned out that Marsalis had added a vibes player to his trio, and, as the show went on, the vibes player seemed to be featured more and more.  Now, for me, a little xylophone goes a long way, and I was disappointed to hear Marsalis' piano featured less and less.

I can't speak to how pervasive this trend is beyond my own experiences, but I still don't like it.  Sure it's great that older musicians want to offer a helping hand to younger musicians, but I think that their first obligation is to the concertgoers, those who have dropped their money on a ticket. 

Joe Louis Walker has a great blues voice and an even better blues sensibility, and when he hands on-stage focus to his back-up band for four or more songs in a row, I think he does a disservice to his fans, regardless of how exceptional a background musician he is.  I don't want to make a big deal about this, but I have been listening to Mr. Walker since the 1980's, and while I've learned from Alejandro Escovedo that I have no right to request particular songs at a concert, I still remain confident saying that anything from Mr. Walker's catalog would have intrigued me more than the current projects of his sidemen (and women).  Yes, they are very good, but they are not who I came to see.

In most settings, it costs quite a bit of money to see a concert.  I don't think it unreasonable that a concertgoer expects to see the listed performer perform as the main part of the act.  Sure, maybe there's a song here or there where the main person plays a different role, but that should be rare and an exception.  And , sure, when I go to a concert, I have little way of knowing what the performer is into at that time.  Maybe he really gets off on playing other people's stuff and getting to hang back, except for solos.  Rock critic and general asshole Dave Marsh is probably going to leave another comment saying that it's none of my business what a performer does or doesn't play or how he decides to play his show. 

But I have to disagree.  I think I've played Mssrs. Walker and Marsalis et al the supreme compliment that there's no one I'd rather listen to.  That just happens to include members of their own bands.  I mean, who would you rather see?  The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Hendrix backing up Buddy Miles in the Band of Gypsies?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making History

Western Pier - Craig Finn (mp3)

Surely hell hath frozen over.

These were my exact thoughts as NPR announced that the single most watched program of the week was not on NBC, or ABC, or CBS, or even FOX, but the freakin’ History Channel.

A 3-part miniseries that I hadn’t even heard of until the day after the first episode debuted. A Western on a minor cable network! Beat out all competitors!

Forgive me this Anime moment, but TEE HEE.

The History Channel winning a ratings week is the equivalent of Bobby Riggs beating Billie Jean King in tennis and then walking into the ring and beating Muhammed Ali in MMA. And they did it with a Western. A mini-series Western. Are there two more dead notions in 2012 television than “mini-series” and “Western”??

Sure, there’s “Pillars of the Earth” and “John Adams” and “Mildred Pierce” and now “Hatfields & McCoys,” but we’ve hardly returned to the days of “North & South.” And sure, Robert Duvall or Costner or Sam Elliott might show up in a great Western once every few years, but it’s not a genre ripe for heavy revival.

A little investigation reveals the clues of an upset ripe to occur.

Kevin Reynolds directed it. As someone who fell in love with both Reynolds and Kevin Costner with the movie Fandango many moons ago. I can’t pretend Fandango was a great or timeless movie, else I would’ve taken 90 minutes of my life to re-watch it in the last 20 some-odd years. But I did like it a lot. I was still enthralled -- perhaps unfairly -- with Judd Nelson at the time. (Besides, Fandango is precisely relevant to Bob’s post from yesterday.)

Ted Mann helped write it. He was a key player in this little HBO series called “Deadwood.” I’ve kinda written about it a few times. It’s still my favorite TV show of all time.

Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton starred in it. These two have helped make more than a handful of movies and TV shows dear to my heart, but let’s at least mention “Bull Durham,” “Aliens,” “Weird Science,” “Open Range,” “Big Love”... that’s really just a starting list.

In other words, if you put some big-name talent in the room for something different and unexpected, and if you market it properly, it’s possible to beat a bunch of reruns, reality shows and hockey for a top spot in our ever-shrinking television attention spans. This isn’t nearly the surprise it should be.

The “Big Four” have been diminishing for quite some time, but surely this is the moment when they officially became “Four of the more popular cable channels.”

If you didn’t watch “Hatfields & McCoys” but enjoy yourself a good Western, I reckon you oughtta make plans. It’s plenty flawed -- and what Westerns aren’t, ultimately? -- and it’s an unusually dark chapter in the genre, with few characters with more than brief flashes of anything like heroism. But it’s well-written and predominantly well-acted.

I even like how one family is portrayed as more pathetic and noble while the other has more viciousness and venom but also more stones. If I'm learning anything about humanity, it's that viciousness always carries its head higher.

I found myself watching more in the hopes that justice would find purchase in a few of the more detestable characters. If you watch Dook basketball games hoping they’ll lose, or Alabama football games, or Dale Earnhardt Jr., then you’ll totally enjoy this miniseries.

If you prefer Happily Ever After bullshit, then you won’t be watching anything on History Channel, like, ever.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

We Take Care Of Our Own

Song removed at artist's request. Thanks, Bruce, for picking on a 39 year fan who has invested thousands of dollars into your career.

How do men love?

Simple answer: they don't.
Women's answer: not the way you want them to.
Manly answer: by doing.
Realistic answer: D) all of the above.

There's a not-great Blake Edwards movie from the 80's, I can't remember the name of it or who was in it and I haven't tried that hard to find out, but the essence of the movie is that three guys whose friend has recently died decide to give him a Viking burial. You know, flaming funeral pyre on a boat as it drifts out to sea. The movie is set in southern California. In the present day 80's.

Of course, it's played for comic effect, but there is something about that idea that has always haunted me. It's the way a group of fully-grown responsible men ignore risk and law and common sense to fulfill the wishes of one of their ranks. Not that the men that I know spend their days taking on all three of those cosmic forces at once all the time, but certainly, over and over again, in singletons or pairs.

It can be pretty amazing what men will do when they get past feeling stupid, maybe because of something they drank, maybe because stupidity loves company.

Last night, we had a send-off. It only happened through the sheer force of will of one of our friends. At a school where if you retire at the end of a career you get a big to-do, but if you decide to leave willingly, unwillingly, or switch careers, you get a single handclap, my friend said, "No. That's not enough. Not for one of us."

So he orchestrated a night where a) he got a critical mass of people together to celebrate the departing at a time of year when so many have already gone their separate ways, b) he found a location for them to gather and convince them to bring enough food and drink to keep everyone happy, c) he honored the departing with decorations and photographs, d) he put together a video of of our friend's time with us, e) he created a trivia contest based on what people did or didn't know about our friend leaving, and e) he convinced those of us who loosely play in a band to put enough time into practicing some Springsteen songs that our friend leaving loves and then to perform those songs in front of a group of peers who probably didn't even know that we played. And much of it as a surprise.

And so, a ragtag fleet of semi-musicians pulled off acceptable versions of "We Take Care Of Our Own," "Rockaway The Days," "The River," "Cynthia," "No Surrender," and "Glory Days" (as well as a much-later coda of "Cadillac Ranch" for one ukelele and three voices) to a group of awe-struck partygoers. The reasons for their awe may be best left to posterity. And, for you Springsteen aficionados, some "deep cuts," eh?

The older you get, the more you will realize how difficult it is to move masses of people in one direction, let along a variety of directions, some out of their comfort zones, all at once. As another friend of mine commented this morning, "I don't know how he does it."

I know how it was done. It was done out of love. Aw.

My wife and I got into it a bit this week. She is a vegetarian who had backslided recently and then vowed she would never eat meat again. And so, at a start of the week Monday night supper, she eschewed much of the apple-bleu cheese-candied pecan spinach salad I had made her in favor of a desire to eat some of the tuna pasta salad I had made for the rest of us. I tried to hold her to her vow; she didn't see what the big deal was. I suggested that had I known she was back to eating flesh, I might have cooked a different meal. Trouble, hurt feelings, much ado about nothing ensued.

As we tried to process it later, my daughter, the future counselor headed to grad school, offered this analysis: my wife had ignored my "love language," which is to show love through cooking/providing for my wife and family (my wife, the alternative counselor, opined that I was acting like my father...). Anyway, for the purposes of this post, I'm going with my daughter, because I think that her analysis captured an essence.

Men show love by doing. That's not a novel idea, and it certainly didn't originate with me or her. But I think it's pretty true. And after this week, it feels very true. I saw supreme acts of love from men this week (I'm not including me--that would be a tough sell) and, you can mock sentimentality all you like, they were a beautiful thing to see. And no flaming ship sent out into the harbor was even necessary.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What For Me Work?

Keep It on the Inside - Matthew Perryman Jones (mp3)
Dead Sea - The Lumineers (mp3)

The first days of summer are dark days.

Not for my kids. Not for my fellow teachers, who heard that last bell and soared away from campus so quickly they had those Road Runner zip-zip-twang dust clouds behind them. Not for the graduating seniors or the underclassmen who feel they've earned a too-brief reprieve.

When you are an "administrator," you keep coming to the school campus. The goofy adolescent soon-to-be-adults are all gone. In their place are squealing skittering young kids. The cafeteria's barely-tolerable regular food is replaced with summer fare: chicken patty sandwiches, pizza, pasta, hot dogs, PB&J, more pizza, french fries.

That first official day of summer, I think, "This is what it must have been to own the hotel in a Gold Rush town." The gold dries up, the people run for the next rush, and you're stuck with your empty hotel, trying to figure out your next step.

The beauty of remaining in the ghost town is in learning a different rhythm to things. The school year is filled with regularly-scheduled meetings, regularly-scheduled campus events, regularly-scheduled lunches and appointments and expectations. In-between this avalanche of being regularly scheduled, you shovel through emails, crafting responses you hope seem sincere and have little if any tinge of bitterness that it's just one more rock clogging up the cave entrance, keeping you trapped.

The adjustment to this new rhythm is never easy at first. It's like walking out of a mid-day matinee, squinting and sneezing, or climbing out of the cold river after your body had become accustomed to the water.

After that first week, though, summer becomes what it was meant to be, full of varying storylines, like some great Choose Your Own Adventure book. After that first week, summer becomes an epic battle, a summer blockbuster in my own little corner of the universe.

The battle, every year, is between the part of me dying to be carefree and the part desperate to get better. It's a colossal battle, a clash of internal titans. I pride myself in having both, in the ability to see the fun and lightness in life, and in the driving need to be unsatisfied with what I'm producing, what I'm doing, what I'm becoming.

Many a year, the fun part wins. I sneak out for a few rounds of afternoon golf. I sneak out for a few afternoon matinees. I sneak out for long coffees and reading. I sneak in a TV series I’m watching and catch a few episodes when I need “a break.”

Other years, I catch inspiration and hunger. I fire off proposals and ideas to my boss, my coworkers, key “change agents.” Some shots miss their mark, but the joy is in the firing, in the certainty that the ones which find their mark might really make a difference down the road. In moments of uncertainty or confusion, I back away and organize my surroundings, tidy my messiness, clean up my computer files.

Rarely does one side win in a landslide. Often it’s like a Presidential election, where the winner is lucky to get 55% of the popular vote.

The transition usually occurs this week, and I’m starting to be excited about summer. I’m starting to pull out of my discomfort in the change of schedule -- in the nigh-disappearance of schedule, actually -- and beginning to realize that this stretch of time is, with precious exception, whatever I want to make of it.

Will I be Wile E. Coyote, eager to build the newer and better mousetrap, or will I be Road Runner, giddy only while leaving smoke trails in my speeding joyful path? Who will win this summer's battle?

Let the Summer Games begin.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hiding Behind The Telephone

Blondie--"Hanging On The Telephone" (mp3)

My daughter, who rightly claims to be inspiration for untold numbers of my blog posts, did it again the other night when she asked, "Do you remember when the phone used to ring and we didn't know who was calling?"

Actually, I do remember that, but I guess I'm surprised that she does.  The whole Caller ID on the family phone morphing into individual phones where 98% of the calls we receive show up with the caller's name attached to them because they are in our "contacts list" has happened far more quickly than I realized.  Partly, that is because we didn't get Caller ID until very late.  Partly that is because it happened so fast.

About six years ago, when a friend of mine's marriage was in trouble, one thing that struck me was the role that the telephone played.  No, there weren't infidelities discovered or anything sordid like that.  The situation was far more simple: when they dropped their home phone in favor of individual cell phones, none of us ever called her again.  We called him. She disappeared from the social network, though she may not have even missed it.

Before that, when we didn't know who would answer the phone, we might get a random question from her or a diatribe against my friend or a chewing out or a pleasant conversation or even a child's voice.  Just like in any other home.  In the larger phone world, when we answered the phone in those old days of it's-ringing-and-somebody-better-answer-it-could-be-important, we might get a telemarketer or a relative or a drunk dial or a creditor or a parent or an invitation to go somewhere or a free plot in the local cemetery.  The world was calling, and there was no way to know which small corner of it was on the other end of the line.

Now I find myself more and more irritated by almost any phone call that comes at the wrong time, because it feels like a real inconvenience, like they are supposed to know that I'm sitting in a restaurant and it's a bad time to call.  I think to myself with that same irritation, 'Why didn't they just send me a text?'  I tell my family to text me at work, or to call, let it ring a few times, hang up, and then call back if it is really important. 

Because there is that obvious other side of the discussion, that the phone that used to be in the house, at first only in one room, at first maybe with a party line, and whose rings we would miss if we weren't home, until we added the answering machines, and then the Caller ID and all of that, those phones are on us all the time now.  And as a society, we are still in the process of figuring out how to manage that reality.  But the very fact that we think we can manage it shows how far we have come and that we have been given an easy way out, a way to avoid what may be immediately unpleasant or complicated.

There is a loss here, a real loss.  Probably few of us miss it, though, because life is much easier and less confrontational when we know who we are dealing with before we answer and, therefore, can decide whether or not to answer.  When we can get prepared and call back.  When we can share the potential situation with whomever we're with and solicit advice or follow the group-think and ignore the call altogether. 

SIDE REALITY: even though every call is logged and even though we are reminded of its occurrence and continuing existence, we still pretend that we didn't get it, when useful. 

We cheat ourselves, and we especially cheat our children, when we opt out of this randomness, though.  That, to me, is the greatest danger of becoming a society that can hide behind a phone.

We create the great pretense that we do have control, that we can manage, that protection is always better than exposure, that order somehow controls chaos. One need only revisit Newton's 2nd Law, or a lawn after being gone on a 2-week vacation, to remind us that all things tend toward chaos, and quickly.  But, like most things, we act with the best of intentions.  Time is precious.  Who wants to waste it doing something like getting roped into a political survey or listening to a long-lost friend who only calls when he's drunk?  Who wants unknown people calling our children (or, taking all of the fun out of the telephone, who wants our children calling unknown people?  Is your refrigerator running?)

Part of what I'm feeling, of course, is what happens when we start to get older, that Seinfeldian concept of "I survived; let's see if you can, too."  Having gone through it myself, I like the idea that a boy asking a girl out (or vice-versa) has to risk a parent answering a phone, might even, later in the relationship, have to deal with that parent's anger or disappointment.  I think it was educational that when I owed money that I couldn't pay, I actually had to talk to someone on the phone about it.  It made me never want to do it again.  I've taken those awful calls that seem to come in the middle of the night on a phone that couldn't be turned off.  I've had to deal with unexpected anger from unexpected people at unexpected times.

Not anymore. Now that phone in my pocket tells me that I can do things my way and that nothing will interrupt the schedule I've planned for myself.  Unless I want it to.  Now I want people to be at the other end when I want them to be and not there when I don't.  Yes, I'm living it just like you, but something doesn't feel right about it.