Friday Playlist

“Just for Once” – The Building.
This song fits right in with the music I’ve been digging the most in recent years. Especially that guitar solo in the middle, which sounds like a combination of Wilco and The War on Drugs. I had no idea until about three minutes ago that the main creative force in this band is Anthony LaMarca, who just happens to be in The War on Drugs. Bookmarking their other tracks to check out as soon as I get this posted…

“Motherland” – Julia Jacklin.
This goddamned song. It will pop up randomly every few months and just floors me each time. I know I’ve shared it before, but whenever I hear it I feel obligated to share its brilliance with you again.

“Canter” Gerry Cinnamon.
Speaking of things right up my alley, here’s a Scottish singer who writes “brutally honest” lyrics. Apparently canter translates as “easy peasy” to Scots. I tend to agree with him: things would be easier if people weren’t such wankers.

“Not” – Big Thief.
HOLY SHIT. I MEAN, REALLY. Big Thief released an album earlier this year that was almost universally loved. I say almost because I didn’t love it. I think my dissatisfaction reached them, because they immediately recorded another album, and this is its lead single. Big Thief has never sounded this big, this angry, or this dangerous. I like it a lot. I think Neil Young would approve of the extended solo that closes the track.

“Couldn’t Know” – PAW.
It’s been a minute or two since I’ve shared any classic, Midwestern grunge with you. So here’s the best track of the genre. I did a lot of damage to my ears listening to these guys.

Back at It

Whew! It has been a very busy couple of days.

Wednesday was the first day at St. P’s, C starting 7th grade and L starting 5th. Which meant it was also our first day dropping off at two schools. The morning went about as good as possible. C was already awake when I got up, everyone was ready to get out the door at 7:00, and we encountered no slowdowns on the way to CHS. It’s about 20 minutes to CHS, then 10 or so back to St. P’s.

What did I do on my first day alone in a couple months? Well, I spent the entire day working on kickball things. Schedules came out the night before so I was plugging them into both our scheduling calendar at school and our personal calendar. I was making final adjustments to a couple teams. I was answering questions from coaches. I was sorting uniforms and getting them ready for distribution. I dealt with a couple minor issues with players and parents. I collected sports physicals so players are eligible. And I also had to scramble as I got a nasty gram from the parish office because of some parking issues at practice. It was a constant cycle of emails, texts, and calls that added two things to my task list for each item I checked off.

Thursday morning was also easy. C was not only awake when I got up, but she was dressed, had eaten, and was turning on the Xbox. We’ll see how long this new morning routine lasts with her. Friday will be the first day I take C and L to school then come back and get M since it is a late-start day at CHS.

Thursday I did take some time to relax a little. Unfortunately I decided to go hit golf balls and it was a disaster. I had been working on the swing changes my coach gave me and they were becoming more comfortable. I wanted to hit some balls Thursday, which would be the first time in a couple weeks, and then hopefully go play one day next week. But, good grief, you would thought I never swung a club before. Normally I can get a rhythm with my irons and hit two decent shots for every one bad one at the range. It’s on the tee that I struggle.

Today I couldn’t hit an iron to save my life. I kept hitting awful shot after awful shot. Once I took a huge divot about five inches behind and three inches inside of the ball. The ball sat there, untouched, taunting me. But I was halfway decent on the tee. Driver was slicing every time, but not always a terrible slice and generally with decent distance. And I was scorching my three wood. I’d say I had a 50-50 split between straight shots and slices, and the straight ones were very long. I’d hit 7-8 shots with the three wood, feel comfortable, and try to take it to my irons. As soon as I swung a lofted club my swing went to shit again. Usually it’s the opposite way. Looks like I need another lesson before I try to play.

My afternoon and evening were a constant battle with traffic. Pick up at St. P’s at 3:20, back home. Leave at 4:30 to get M from practice. Because of traffic what would be a 40 minute trip in the morning takes an hour. Immediately back into the traffic to get C to her practice. Back through same traffic again to go home and eat. And then back to get C. Part of me is bummed that C and L play kickball games at the same time, in different locations, four times this season. Another part of me is happy because that’s a few less drives I have to make since I’ll get one girl or the other a ride to her game.

What I’m Watching: July/Early August

As usual, I’m late in starting what I want to be a new, regular feature of the blog. I already let you know what I’m reading and listening to. Stealing from Jason Kottke, I want to start sharing the other media that I consume each month.

This was meant to be shared at the beginning of August, but I wanted to finish one thing on the list before I posted.

American Experience: Chasing the Moon, The Farthest Home, Death Dive to Saturn. L and I have been on a space exploration kick all summer and these shows were the latest in our research on the topic. The Chasing the Moon shows were really good and they reinforced the sheer incredibility of the effort to reach the moon. Even 50 years later it is absolutely stunning that it worked. For all the amazing things that we have done with technology since then, we would have trouble putting a man on the moon tomorrow if we had to. I was more into the other two docs, the first about the Voyager missions and the second about the Cassini mission, than L was. In fact she generally either fell asleep or left the room during them. But I enjoyed them, especially the Voyager show, as I remember learning a lot about those missions in school in the late ‘70s. Again, it’s amazing what we were able to do with relatively primitive technology. More amazing that the two Voyager craft are still operational. A, A-, B-.

Narcos, Season 2. This is a show that has been on my list for awhile. I watched season one in May and then put off getting into season two for awhile, finally finishing it over the weekend. Overall, I thought it was really good. It had some flaws, and it also had some elements that are beginning to feel required in shows like this, i.e. high-brow cable/streaming dramas. But what pulled the show through were a series of fine acting jobs, none better than Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar. Moura was mesmerizing and turned a man who was a brutal killer into a sympathetic character. The final episode recalled the last episode of season one of Stranger Things in how it wonderfully tied up all the loose ends of the first two seasons while taking just a moment at the end to throw out some leads into the next season. A-.

Megamind. Out of nowhere L decided to watch this like three days in a row, saying it was her favorite movie ever. Which surprised me as she had never expressed that opinion before. It’s good, I laughed quite a bit the one time I sat down and watched with her. But I don’t know that it’s the best of the animated movies we’ve watched over the years. Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and David Cross do great vocal work. B+.

Holey Moly. Another show L and I watched together.1 It hit two sweet spots: Steph Curry for L and golf, well miniature golf, for me. It’s dumb, heavily edited to squeeze into 44 minutes, and filled with “contestants” who seem too wacky to not be actors. Plus hosts Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle generally annoy me on their own. Together they are barely tolerable. But L likes it. C- for me, A- for L.

The Ugly Truth. L did not watch this with me. I think she passed through the room while it was on and we had to chase her out as it hit on some adult content. Rather, this was a movie S picked randomly one evening and I half-watched while reading. I found it lazily written, cruel at times, far too crass at others. But, come on, watching Katherine Heigl made it worth keeping an eye on. Apparently the ladies like Gerard Butler in the same way. D+ on content, A+ on eye candy.

Spider-Man: Far From Home and Spider-Man: Homecoming. I’ve mostly avoided the Marvel superhero movies over the years. C is really into them, though, and L likes Spider-Man, so the three of us went to see the latest, Spider-Man: Far From Home last week. It was really good! Then L and I grabbed Homecoming at the library and watched it over the weekend. Again, pretty good! Now is this because all the movies are good, or just because Spider-Man is the one superhero I ever liked as a kid? All I’ll say is that if L wants to watch some of the other Marvel universe films, I may be ready to join her. Also, I laughed at Michael Keaton playing Vulture. L asked why I was laughing and I explained that he was Bat-Man when I was in college and it amused me that he turned into a Marvel villain. A/A.

  1. Sensing a trend? M and C watch their own shows on their devices in their rooms. 

Friday Vid

Too busy of a week to build up a list of songs to share. So, once again I’ll cop out and share/write about a song that was featured this week on The Number Ones.

”Rhinestone Cowboy” – Glen Campbell
Bet you didn’t expect this! But I have a good story about this song that makes it worth sharing.

I loved this song when it was first out. I remember having a whole routine in which I sang and danced along to it that seemed to delight my grandparents. It was so popular that when large groups gathered for a meal at their home, they demanded that I perform it for all. Or at least that’s how I remember it. What all went into that routine I could not tell you or recreate today. But I did enjoy hearing it back in the summer of 1975 when I was spending time on my grandparents’ farm.

In time the song took on different meanings to me. First a corny joke of all that was wrong with that weird country-pop-rock sound that filled the airwaves in the mid-70s. “Pick a side and go with it, don’t be wishy washy!” Later an ironic, sing along that tickled something deep inside us Gen Xers but wasn’t a song you would put on to enjoy on your own.

And then one day last spring I was alone in the car and heard it on SiriusXM’s 70s on 7 station. For the first time probably ever I really listened to the lyrics and they struck me. I loved the clarity of the protagonist’s visions of fame. It’s one thing to hope for success. It’s another to think about getting fan letters from people you don’t know and offers to perform causing your phone to ring off the hook. And, as Tom Breihan writes, there’s that total confidence that Campbell sings with that carries the song. If you’re ever feeling down on yourself, put this song on, crank it up, and you’ll be ready to take on anything three minutes later.

Oh, and how about this video! I love every single thing about it. Glen walking down the street in a typical, cheesy 1970s video look. Wearing two watches no less! Then for the chorus the switch to him in an all-white outfit on a horse, waving to an imaginary audience. So. Freaking. Good. I really don’t understand how “Sledgehammer” and “Thriller” are considered the best videos ever when this beat them to the punch a decade earlier.

Firsts and Near Firsts

The first morning of high school went as well as we could have hoped. M woke up on her own, on time, got ready, and was pretty cheerful once she came downstairs. She was pleasant during the obligatory photo session and was chatty on the way to school. She admitted she was nervous but equally excited to get things started.

The first day of the school year is always a big deal at CHS, as the seniors teepee the trees on the long hill that leads to campus, and then line the street to cheer the other students as they drive in. There are always extra folks hanging around so the traffic is super tough to navigate. It is probably with that in mind that the first class begins 30 minutes later than normal. I had been warned by other parents about the nightmare of first-day traffic and those warnings were legit. We made it roughly a half mile from campus when we hit the gridlock. It took 20 minutes to travel about two blocks, thanks to traffic backing up through the one entrance to campus, and three directions of traffic coming together the way we were arriving from. Once we cleared the logjam of back-to-back lights, it was only five minutes up the hill to drop her off. We left a little later today than we normally will, but it was a good exercise to confirm if we don’t leave early next week, the sisters will be late getting to St. P’s.

We’ll see tonight, after she goes to cross country practice, how the first day went.

In the midst of all this M-centric posting recently, I forgot another huge story from her life: she went to her first concert last week.

Well, she was supposed to.

She and her three best friends lucked into free, suite tickets to see Cardi B at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. They were crazy excited. The parents organized who would drop them off and pick them up, the girls were given very clear instructions on how to get to the suite, how to never walk around alone, etc. There was very little discussion amongst the parents, probably owing to the fact that these four girls are all smart, rule-followers.

That said, I don’t think any of us parents were upset when the concert was cancelled at the last moment because of an “unspecified threat.” M called me and told me there had been a bomb threat, but that has never been confirmed. After a couple days word leaked that Cardi B was either too drunk or too hungover during her sound check and decided to call the show off. That has not been confirmed, either.

So instead the girls went out to dinner and shopped together before hanging out one last time for the summer.1 I was picking M up when I heard them all shrieking. They had just gotten word from the classmate that gave them the tickets that his family would let the girls use them for the makeup show in September. We’ll see if that actually happens.

On the way home, M was very dramatic, sighing heavily and saying things like, “Of course this has to happen at the concert I go to,” and “Why did this have to happen in Indianapolis instead of some other city?” I listened to her quietly while laughing at her in my head for her drama. I also did my best to reassure her that it was better to cancel the show than let it occur and let some crazy person do something awful. We were all glad the girls were not yet in the arena and the mom driving them could just turn around and come back. Three St. P’s 8th graders made the paper in a photo of them sitting on a curb, staring at their phones in disbelief.

The best part, though, was last Saturday at CHS orientation, one of the dads said to me, “I had never listened to any of Cardi B’s music before. I listened to a few songs the other night. They’re really awful! She says terrible things!” I chuckled, thinking of some of the stuff I listened to when I was a teenager. I’m hopeful as with how my parents raised me, M has enough sense to know that it is all a show and not to take any of it too seriously.

  1. One of the girls started high school last Thursday. 

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 29

Chart Week: August 31, 1985
Song: “Invincible (Theme from The Legend of Billy Jean)” – Pat Benatar
Chart Position: #12, 15th week on the chart. Peaked at #10 the week of September 14.

I’m cheating a little for this entry. Although I’m sure if I listened to the iHeart Radio classic AT40 station long enough I’d hear a countdown from around this period, I decided to pick a week on my own.

With M off to high school tomorrow, I was thinking back to my last day before I started high school. I remember going to Oceans of Fun, the water park in Kansas City. But I have no idea who I went with, which is a little strange. My best guess is a good friend that went to the other high school in our area. But I have no concrete memory of that afternoon other than being at the park.

I also remember sitting around that night, burning off some nervous energy for the big day by playing the game Risk with my parents. Yeah, I played Risk as a 14-year-old. Yeah, I got along with my parents well enough to play board games with them. Sue me.1 And I’m roughly 95% sure that while we played games, the evening replay of American Top 40 was on in the background. Or maybe the Rick Dee’s Weekly Top 40, which was broadcast at night and I enjoyed listening to to compare/contrast with Casey’s countdown.

Regardless…I was listening to a pop radio countdown from the heart of my favorite years. So many good songs on this week’s list, but I just happened to hear this song as I was driving to pick M up from her morning orientation session, and it seemed like a sign.

You can’t really go wrong with a Pat Benatar song. Her big hits were all really, really good. For as big a part of the culture of that time she was – admittedly that is as much because of Fast Times at Ridgemont High as her music – it surprised me to see Pat only had four top ten hits. But she did have 11 other top 40 songs, which is a pretty great career.

I think this and “We Belong” are my two personal Benatar favorites.

As parents we know that the high school years can be tough. I’m hoping M has a little invincible in her for the next four years. And that she never gets herself into any legal misunderstandings like Helen Slater did in the summer of ’85.

  1. I was a terrible loser when it came to games. So I’m sure I got pissed off at some point that night and stopped talking while I tried to battle back from my tiny foothold on the map. 

The Final Countdown

Days are getting marked off the calendar, this meeting or that passes, and we keep getting closer and closer to M’s first day of high school.

Last week she took part in a three-day study skills workshop. I must share that this was not her choice. But it was the better end of a bargain she struck with us for making up for slacking off in her final quarter of 8th grade. We hope she picked up something from the sessions that will help make the transition to high school academics a little easier. She came home Friday kind of excited about things, and being able to explain these wacky, new-fangled high school class schedules to me.1 And she met a few more kids.

Saturday was a long, family orientation session. Everyone checked in at 3:00 before the kids went one direction, parents another, for about 90 minutes of presentations. We reconvened in the gym for a mass, which was brutal because the sound system was not working. It was amusing to watch all the kids who are not Catholic approach during communion for a blessing, unsure how to properly act. One kid was making me laugh because he had his arms very rigidly crossed across his chest and was nervously looking around to make sure he was doing it right the entire time he was in line. Been there, done that, young fella.

After that we ate and then parents went home while the kids hung out for another four hours. They played games, there was a dance, and then a quick candle ceremony outside at pickup before midnight. We think M had fun. She didn’t talk too much about it. We know she met a few more new kids. It was funny to see her going around hugging all these girls we’ve never seen before during the registration process. If nothing else the various summer activities she’s participated in have helped her make some connections so she won’t walk into classes Thursday not knowing anyone.

Oh, she had told me after the first day of the study skills workshop that there was a kid who is 6’8” in her grade. He was right behind us as we were getting our name tags Saturday and she was elbowing me to look. Kid is a legit 6’8”, 6’10” with his puffy hair. In fact, I saw a whole group of freshmen boys that are all much taller than me. If they are basketball players CHS is in good shape. If they’re football players, they need to get on a program because these kids were skinny.

This morning was the first official cross country practice of the fall. She did not wake up fresh as a daisy, rarin’ to go. But she is running as I type this. Or at least I hope she is. One more, final, technology orientation session Wednesday morning and then she’ll be off Thursday.

In semi-related news, we’ve started checking out the drivers ed options. She is very eager to get started. I’d be fine with her waiting awhile. If my mom and stepdad were still alive I’d ask them what the hell they were thinking letting me start driving at 16. And I think I was way more mature than M is. But what are you going to do?

  1. I don’t get them. Why does the schedule have to rotate? Why can’t math first period every day, science second, etc? And get off my lawn! 

Friday Playlist

August has arrived. There’s been a lull in good music lately, but there are some promising albums on the horizon. I still managed to cobble together five new songs and a classic video for your Friday enjoyment.

“Rocket Fuel” – DJ Shadow feat. De La Soul. This song is a bit of a throwback. Not necessarily to the second-wave hip hop of De La Soul’s first act. But rather to some of the genre-bending music that was around at the turn of the millennium. A fun little track.

“Skin Game” – DIIV. DIIV is one of many bands that have taken the 1990s shoegaze sound and added modern elements to create an updated take on the genre. On this track they seem to be perfecting that sound.

“Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” – Wilco. My Wilco phase ended about 14 years ago. Since that golden age in the middle of their career, the band has morphed, Jeff Tweedy got sober, and their sound drifted to what I’ve thought to be a safer, more boring direction. I’ve liked a few of their songs, but I haven’t given any of their albums more than a couple listens since A Ghost Is Born. This is the first one of their songs I’ve really liked in a long, long time. I may have to give those old albums a listen this weekend.

“Summer Girl” – Haim. Not what I was expecting when I saw Haim had a new track dropping this week. Why I was surprised, I’m not sure. The Haim sisters have proven they are willing to go about any direction in their music. So this breezy, jazzy track, that owes a ton to Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” shouldn’t be that big of a shock. Still, I was expecting something more aimed at pop radio than this. That said, this is a delightful song that has a hidden weight. Danielle Haim wrote it for her boyfriend after he was diagnosed with cancer a couple years back.

“Be Still Moon” – Steve Gunn. Gunn makes music well-suited to summer. This seems like the perfect song to take us into the final month of the season.

“Jive Talkin’” – Bee Gees. Tom Breihan is up to mid-1975 in his The Number Ones series, and just came across the first moment in the Bee Gees’ takeover of music. His writeup, as always, is tremendous, with tons of great tidbits about the song. The band not knowing what “jive” meant is the best. Also interesting to note that the bass that Maurice plays in this video is not what was played on the studio track. And could Robin not play an instrument? He’s left just standing, waiting for the choruses. I think Breihan also makes a solid argument on how we should assess the manner in which the Bee Gees mined Black and gay culture for their monster run in the late 1970s.


July 2019

  • Hatchie – 40
  • Pete Yorn – 34
  • Van Halen – 30
  • Spoon – 24
  • Middle Kids – 18

Complete stats available at my page

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 28

Chart Week: July 24, 1976
Song: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” – Elton John and Kiki Dee
Chart Position: #8, 4th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 for four weeks in August.

What a song. I could stop right there, throw up the video, and that would be enough. A quarter-century after its release it was a Saturday night staple at a bar many of my friends and I frequented, a song that brought a smile to the face of everyone in the house as people sang along with those “OHHH-OH! Nobody knows it,” lines.

The summer of 1976 was a big one in my life. That was the summer my family packed up and moved from a small college town in western Kansas to a small college town in southeast Missouri as my dad began his teaching career. I was used to moving. I believe my parents moved every year the first five years I was alive as they completed their educations and began their careers, bouncing around from yearly rental to yearly rental. This move was more exciting, though, as it took us two days of driving to get to our new home. And it was in a whole new state! 1

My memories of that summer are about as hazy as you would expect, the actual events being 43 years in the past. Everything comes back to me with a Kodachrome tint to it. I remember the heat and humidity of southeast Missouri in the summer. I remember hearing cans of soda, which failed in the boiling heat, exploding in the cooler in the car trunk that my parents forgot to remove. I want to say I remember watching a presidential debate while at a hotel somewhere in southern Missouri.2 I thought the hotel was the coolest because A) I had never stayed in a hotel before and B) they had a pool I got to swim in. I can only imagine what a dump it was, being 1976, located on the side of a highway, and my parents not having much money. Motel is probably the better word here.

I also remember the music of that summer. “Afternoon Delight.” “Shop Around.” “You’re My Best Friend.” “Turn the Beat Around.” “Let ‘Em In.” “A Fifth of Beethoven.” “Sara Smile.” All these tunes playing over-and-over as my mom and I drove in our car with my dad driving the moving van behind us.

Force me to pick one song from that summer, though, and it would have to be “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” As I would do with friends in a bar three decades later, my mom and I would sing it loudly as we travelled over the hot asphalt. We had to sing loudly; we had no air conditioning and rolled the windows down to get some relief from the heat. I’m sure my sweaty skin stuck to the vinyl seats and it was uncomfortable as hell. But Elton and Kiki made it tolerable for a few moments. And then I waited to hear it again an hour or so later, when one station faded out and we searched for another down the dial.

As a bonus, Craig Finn joined Frightened Rabbit for a messy and delightful cover of this for a 2010 FR B-side. They performed it once live, as far as I know, and, happily, there is video of that wonderful night.

  1. A few more miles east and we would have been two states away! 
  2. I have no idea if this happened. I mostly recall a couple guys on screen and the sign language interpreter in the little box in the corner. We were a better country when there were sign language interpreters on screen.