Friday Playlist

“We Could Run” – Beth Ditto. The former lead singer of The Gossip released her first solo album last week. Her voice is still awesome, and she takes the music in a poppier, more radio-friendly direction. It may lack the rawness of The Gossip’s best work, but it is still mighty fine.

“Somebody Else” – The 1975. I came across this song by accident a week or two back. It sounds like something I would have listened to in 1984-85. Something really good, that is.

“I Ain’t No Joke” – Eric B. & Rakim. The rumors have been strong for some time that hip hop’s greatest original duo may be getting back together after over 20 years apart. This week they announced a show at The Apollo Theater in New York to honor the 30th anniversary of their legendary Paid In Full album. That show will be something else.

“300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues” – The White Stripes. Last week was the 10th anniversary of the Stripes’ final album, Icky Thump. Don’t get me wrong, I love just about everything Jack White does. But none of his post-Stripes work, in its many forms, measures up to the brilliance he and Meg dropped on the world. Interestingly enough the album disappeared from Spotify last week in advance of a deluxe reissue. Thank goodness for videos. Here White shows that even if he just has an acoustic guitar, if he still has an amp and effects pedals, he can still blow the roof off the joint.

Television Notes

I finally wrapped up season five of The Americans last night. With shows that I watch a few weeks (or months) after their original airing, I generally have a folder in my Instapaper account where I stash reviews and discussions of each episode from places like The AV Club, The Ringer, etc. to read after I’ve watched them. I don’t read them when I save them, but I often get a feel for what’s going on from the headlines, blurbs at the top of the page, etc. So I knew there was some dissatisfaction with this season by some folks.

Which I completely understood. This was a slow, sometimes tedious, season. No matter your view of it, it has to be ranked as the weakest 13 episodes thus far. But when I say that, it’s with the understanding that the first four seasons were all spectacular and, arguably, the best drama on television each of those years.

To me, though, it wasn’t a poor season. Rather, it was an intentionally difficult year to set up the show’s final season. It was that dragging middle 30 minutes that sets up a movie’s final, breathtaking 45 minutes. It was just a little harder to take because it stretched out over three months.

While this season lacked a lot of the flash and overt brilliance of past seasons, it also was as psychologically taut as any season thus far. As the season went on, almost every character got pushed deeper into corners that became more difficult to get out of. In the last two episodes, Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, and Oleg all seemed to descend into levels of stress that would destroy normal people. As always with this show, sometimes the best moments were the ones with no dialog, as when Oleg looked at his mother in their kitchen before he left their Moscow home for an evening walk, or when Philip and Elizabeth stared at each other wordlessly at the end of each episode. In these moments I was often thinking, “FUCK, I CAN’T TAKE THIS! SOMEONE CRACK!”

For some this was a problem, as the show was setting up season six without offering nuggets about where it was headed. One critic said the show is a mess and doesn’t see any way it can recover and end with honor. I disagree. The producers and writers have always thought five or six steps ahead. They knew exactly what they were doing this year, and how season six will resolve (or not resolve) each storyline. As I trust them, I was willing to put up with a relatively slow season knowing the payoff won’t come until next spring. It’s a long time to wait. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they wrap things up.

Now I’m on to either Better Call Saul or Fargo, which both ended this week.

With it being summer, the girls are watching a little more TV than usual. We probably let them watch too much to being with, so we’re well past appropriate levels. But I figure as long as we get out and do something active every day, and as long as they aren’t watching for five hours straight, it’s fine.

The girls have, for the most part, graduated from animated shows. L will still watch a Star Wars-themed show, or a few others that are aimed at older kids. And they all still enjoy the king of all animated shows, Phineas and Ferb.[1] But usually they’re watching the tween shows on Disney and Nick.

These shows absolutely madden me because there are always a couple really good ones, and the rest are absolute trash. A couple are so bad that I constantly belittle them. “Why are you watching this show? It’s terrible!” The shows on Nick tend to be a little worse, mostly kids just screaming and yelling constantly, but they have a gem and Disney has its own clunkers.

What makes a good (or bad) tween show? It’s really not much different than adult TV. You need good writing, believable characters, and good actors. For some reason with kids shows you either have all three of those qualities or none. Good Luck Charlie, which ended two years ago but Disney still shows regularly,[2] has been by far my favorite of recent vintage. Writing that appeals to both kids and parents. Parental characters who are both present and not total buffoons. And three really good actors for the three main kid characters. It was one of the few shows that could make all five of us laugh at the same time. And I felt like it dealt with some of the issues that kids go through in an honest, but not overwhelming, manner.

Then there are shows like Nick’s Henry Danger. The stories are dumb. The parents are generally not involved with the kids, and only as cartoonish caricatures when they are seen. The action sequences attempt to be silly, slapstick but come off as ham-handed and stupid. The kids are often cruel to each other. And, as mentioned above, much of the dialog is screamed out. Somehow Nick’s Game Shakers takes all this to an even worse level. I had to tell the girls to stop watching it, it’s so bad.

Nick has one good show, The Thundermans. I think it is saved because the two main teenage actors have some chops, both dramatic and comedic, and carry the rest of the show. They’re also not screaming at each other all the time. Seriously, stop with all the screaming!

Another recently concluded, but still airing, Disney show we like is Liv and Maddie. I hated the one-actress-playing-twins gimmick at first. But it has a lot of the same qualities as Good Luck Charlie: decent stories, good acting, solid humor, involved parents. Joey is the element that really makes the show work; that kid cracks me up.

Stuck in the Middle is wrapping up its first season and has become a big hit in our house. Again, it ticks all the boxes: good stories, talented actors, involved parents, moments of genuine humor. Throw in the Latin family and powerful female lead angles and it’s off to a great start.

Rather than go into great detail about all the shows the girls watch/have watched recently, I’ll wrap it up with some power rankings.

1) Phineas and Ferb
2) Good Luck Charlie
3) Stuck in the Middle
4) Liv and Maddie
5) The Thundermans
6) Andi Mack. L and S really like this one, but it leans drama over comedy so I slot it down a little.
7) Girl Meets World. This one often seemed a little heavy for our girls, and I found it too pleased with itself at times. But in general a solid show.
8) K.C. Undercover. I want to like this, but it comes off as too silly most of the time.
9) Bunk’d. A lazy spin-off from Jessie, which I hated.
10) Henry Danger/Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, & Dawn/Game Shakers. All terrible.

L also watches Crashletes, a blooper video show featuring Rob Gronkowski a lot. It’s harmless and safer than turning her loose on YouTube. She and C watch Walk the Prank, Disney’s kid prank show. I find it thoroughly unbelievable. I mean, no one ever has to have curse words bleeped out when surprised by a fake bear, and instantly calm down when told “You just walked the prank!” Come on, clearly these are staged and actors are involved.

  1. Seriously, greatest animated show ever, right?  ↩
  2. Because they know how good it is?  ↩


Anyway, I’m now officially closer to 50 than 40, which sucks big time. I know, I know, 50 is the new 30, blah blah blah. And most folks of our generation look a lot younger than I remember our grandparents looking when they were in their 50s. But, man, the body just keeps rebelling. It feels like I’ve aged more in the past five years than I did from 30 to 35, or 35 to 40. I think it’s because aging in your 30s is more subtle, where the changes are more dramatic in your 40s.

There are all the lingering aches and pains. The back that is always one wrong movement from seizing up. My right hip has gone a little wacky over the past couple years. Knees that creak. You know, all the typical joint and muscle stuff.

But then there’s my hearing, which was always kind of shitty in crowded, loud environments and seems to have gotten a lot worse. On my last visit to my eye doctor, he said I was a year away from bifocals. I swear as soon as I got home that day my close vision went to shit. When we first moved here, I laughed at how my father-in-law got pissed when they dimmed the lights at a restaurant and he couldn’t read his menu. He was in his early 60s at the time. Now I’m doing the back-and-forth, try to get the menu under the right light and at the right distance, dance at restaurants. And I’m only 46!

Good grief.

And then there’s the medical stuff. As I shared, I got my first colonoscopy a month ago. That was the result of about a year of varying stomach issues. Fortunately, the scope was clean aside from one small polyp that they took out. But I’ve had to make a dramatic change in diet – completely cutting out caffeine – to try to get my stomach to work right again. My symptoms have finally slackened off a bit. But I know if they bubble up again, I may have to adjust my diet in more ways.

When you’re 25 and your stomach hurts, or you have a bad knee, or your muscles are just a little sore for a couple days, you don’t really sweat it. When you reach this stage in life, you start getting a little more worried when your body tells you something isn’t right.

I don’t mean this to be a bummer of a post. I have a couple close friends who are going through much more difficult medical issues than anything I’ve ever experienced. I really shouldn’t complain, and I’m not. But I do admit I’m starting to understand the wave of movies and TV shows in the 80s and 90s by Baby Boomers who were lamenting the carefree days of their early adulthood.

Anyway, thanks to all who checked in yesterday. I appreciate the words. And I’ll try to keep the complaining about my age off these pages until my next birthday!

Getting Together

A weekend of gatherings for us.

Saturday was new nephew #2’s first birthday party. Cake, presents, and the never-gets-old fun of watching a little one have their first experience with cake. Seriously, I love watching the pure comedy that is one-year-olds taking 5 minutes to figure out they can do whatever they want to the cake in front of them before they finally dive in with both hands. Good times.

New nephew #1 came to our house after and started walking. I don’t know if they were his first official steps, but it was the longest he had ever walked. He spent about half an hour advancing from 2–3 steps to moving about 4–5 feet at a time before needing to catch himself. That was fun.

Sunday was the Father’s Day gathering. We didn’t plan on it being a big deal, but since my in-laws are heading to Florida permanently, it ended up being a chance for most of the locals to say goodbye to them. They spent most of the winter in Florida, but returned in April to get their house here ready to put on the market. It’s been a long, grueling two months for them as they’ve tried to reduce nearly 20 years of collected stuff.

Their house went on the market just over a week ago. They got an offer Thursday, accepted it on Friday. Now they just have to wait for the inspections to come back and then they’ll be done. They stayed with us for the past week. They came-and-went a lot, and with the girls in VBS last week, it was pretty easy. There was some sadness this morning as they jumped on the road with no plans to be back until maybe the holiday season. Our girls want to go visit again, but we have at least two destinations on our list before our next return to Florida.

Now it’s time for the girls and I to jump back into our Summer To Do list. Fortunately after a very hot, humid week, this week looks much more comfortable for doing things outside.

A belated Happy Father’s Day to the rest of the dads out there.

Friday Photo

Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm at f/5.6, 1/1250 sec, ISO 200

One irony of my photographic exploits is that I dove into the “real camera” pool in an effort to take better family pics. But my girls are often uninterested in being photographed these days. Plus I only share pics of them in forums that I can control rather than the general public. Thus most of what I share here and on Instagram has nothing to do with that original intent.

I don’t think I have an area of primary interest in photography. I’m not exclusively a street photographer, or a landscape photographer, or an architectural photographer. I just take walks with my X-T2 and hope to come across interesting things. I have a certain fondness for taking pictures of house numbers, though. I’m not really sure why. I just enjoy what you can imagine about the inside of a house based on its exterior entry point.

Here’s one I took a couple weeks ago. The late morning sun had just broken through the low clouds and was bathing everything in harsh light. I converted this to black and white in-camera, and really like how the contrast combined with the bars on the door, the NRA sticker, and the basic, military stenciled house number give this a feeling of a home to be avoided. In reality, it’s probably some nice, old lady’s home.

Friday Playlist

“Lannoy Point” – Ride. Another of the great bands of the early 90s British shoegaze movement returns with a fantastic effort. Along with Slowdive, they really know how to make a comeback.

“Line of Sight” – ODESZA, WYNNE, Mansionair. I often complain about how dance and electronic music has squeezed out traditional guitar-based rock in the indie world. But when a song is this good, I can totally get on board with it.

“No Curse” – Waxahatchee. Katie Crutchfield’s “Silver” is one of my favorite songs of the past couple months. And now this, which is a one-off single for the Shaking Through project, which is also awesome. I’m officially stoked for her new album.

“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” – James Brown. Happy Father’s Day to all the other dads out there!

“Father’s Song” – Prince. Appropriate for the weekend, another unreleased track from the Purple Rain sessions just hit the nets. The melody of this instrumental track should be immediately recognizable to most of you.

“Feel It Still” – Portugal, The Man. I love it when some indie band that has toiled for years gets an out-of-nowhere hit. This may be the indie rock song of the summer of ’17.

Reader’s Notebook, 6/15/17

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter – David Sax.
I generally think whether astrology and people’s birth signs determine their personalities are both bullshit. However, as a Gemini, I’m often surprised about how much of who I am is about balancing two seemingly different emotions, interests, etc.

Take me and gadgets, for example. I love new, high-tech toys. I’m fortunate that I am in a position to purchase the latest shiny electronics on a regular basis. At the same time, I love old-school, vintage items that are from before the days when everything had a microprocessor in it. I wear an analog watch, not an Apple Watch. When selecting a camera system, although I bought one that is full of the latest tech, my Fujifilm camera can fool you into thinking it is a film camera from 30 years ago based on its manual dials and overall look. Hell, I get frustrated when the volume knob in my car spins freely rather than having hard stops at both the minimum and maximum levels as a mechanical controller would have.

So this book seemed right up my alley. In it Sax first examines the fairly recent phenomena of folks getting more interested in “analog” gear, including Moleskine notebooks, vinyl records, mechanical watches, or a general revival of bookstores. He argues that people form stronger emotional attachments with analog gear, and that they offer a wider range of experience than digital items.

He goes beyond simply looking at consumer products and also examines how analog gear is changing society. Board game cafes give people opportunities for face-to-face interactions, and thus create community, in a way that playing games online can not. Same with bookstores, which create a space for like-minded folks to come together. The Shinola watch factory in Detroit is both putting land that had fallen into disrepair after that city’s economic collapse to good use, and training people who would otherwise be unemployed to work in skilled positions. The digital economy, he says, is all about code and support. The need for labor is minimal, and often requires advanced education on the front end and can be outsourced on the backend. Making watches – and now high end leather goods – in Detroit creates jobs that will linger over time.

Surprisingly, Sax found that the demographic most drawn to the analog wave are not nostalgic Gen Xers who long for the mechanical products of our youth, but rather Millennials who came of age totally in the high-tech era. This generation grew up knowing nothing than the longing for the next big update that makes last year’s exciting gadget obsolete. Going analog allows them to slow down and focus on utility rather than the fashion of the device.

I would say not all of that rings entirely consistent to me. I love my gadgets, and we all know plenty of people who may get a new iPhone ever single year, but use and love the hell out of it in those 12 months. And the argument that the latest and greatest tech product is all about status can certainly be said of those who have a drawer full of mechanical watches.

I don’t know that I was able to draw any great conclusions about my life from Sax’s book. I think I’ll always strike a balance between analog and digital. And I know I’ve lusted just as hard over each side of the spectrum when I’ve had some cash burning a hole in my pocket. To me the ultimate point is use what works for you, regardless of if it is digital, analog, trendy, or antiquated.

The Finals

I caught parts of almost every game of the NBA Finals. As compelling as the series was, I just couldn’t lock in for three hours for all five games. Often I would turn the game on only after the girls went to bed, which meant I generally just saw the second halves of the games.

I think that’s a little funny because L is a big Steph Curry and Kevin Durant fan. But she never wanted to watch the games. When we were in Kansas City, I watched game two in one room of our hotel suite while she watched the Disney Channel in the other room. She’d come in during commercials of her shows and find out what the score was, but never sat down to watch. Other nights, she would ask me to tell her the score when the game was over, or in the morning.

Anyway, I don’t have any truly deep thoughts about the series. Doesn’t mean I can’t write a little about it.

As with the past two years, I was pulling for Golden State. I love the way they play, I like most of their players, I really like their coach, and I have a half-assed local tie since I lived a couple freeway exits away from their arena for 11 months in the 1980s. Not that I was a Warriors fan when we lived there; I was a diehard Lakers fan at the time. But, still…

And although I was against the Cavaliers, I couldn’t help but admire the brilliance in their team. LeBron James took the next leap in his legend this year, when folks finally started to entertain the debate of him vs. Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever. He’s not there yet, and who knows if he will ever be. But you can at least have the conversation now with a straight face. Regardless of your thoughts on that comparison, I think he’s firmly put himself in the #2 all time spot. He’s just a remarkable player who, amazingly to me, has never been completely appreciated. Someone has always doubted/hated on him. I think that’s more about the age we live in than about him. But people need to realize there ain’t gonna be another LeBron.

Kyrie Irving might be the most un-guardable guy on the planet.[1] He’s just ridiculous anywhere near the rim. Some of his finishes seem to defy the laws of physics.

JR Smith is something else. A well-documented flake at many times. But he just hits unconscious shots that look effortless when he’s on. A couple of his 3s Monday were of the highest degree of difficulty and barely moved the net.

The Warriors matched all that brilliance with more of their own.

Steph, who is (perhaps) the league’s all-time greatest long distance shooter and is a ridiculously good all-around player.

Klay Thompson, who isn’t too far behind Steph.

Draymond Green, who for all his infuriating moments, makes about 15 hustle plays a night that change the course of the contest.

The overall joy the Warriors play offense with.

And then there’s KD, who may have put up the greatest statistical series in the history of the Finals. He was just bonkers. He does so many things that appear effortless but at the same time impossible because of his alien-like body. Seriously, guys his size should not be able to drill off-balance shots from 25-feet with a defender draped on them. And destroy people in the low post. And get behind the defense on the break for easy dunks. And kill people in transition. We are in the era of the athletic freak. Of them all – LeBron, Russell Westbrook, etc. – KD is the most complete player of the group. Despite being a Texas guy, I’ve always loved his game. I was glad he got a ring.

I hate all this “Super Teams are bad” talk. Um, no they’re not. Right now ESPN is debuting their latest 30 for 30, a three-night series about the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. They may have come together differently due to the labor constraints of the time, but those were Super Teams in the 80s. Anyway, I was also glad KD got a big eff you to the people that killed him for joining the Warriors last summer. He can look at them as say, "They won 73 games last year but couldn’t win a title. Look what the did once I got here. Oh, and pro basketball is about winning, right. Check this ring.”

I loved KD’s interactions with everyone when he was presented the Finals MVP trophy after the game. He had the standard bro-hug for commissioner Adam Silver. He moved on to Bill Russell and offered a very respectful, traditional handshake and was clearly deferring to the legend. And then he turned to the crowd and mugged just a little with the trophy. It was all perfect.

Steve Kerr had the best line of the night when Doris Burke asked him about blending all the talent together into a cohesive unit. “We don’t have that much talent, it was mostly coaching.” I don’t know what his future holds, but I would love it if he either stays in the game or can go back to broadcasting. He’s a great coach, a great broadcaster, and a guy I admire for things that have nothing to do with basketball. I hope his body cooperates and he can do something that fulfills him. But if he has to go out, this isn’t a bad way.

Oh, and Doris Burke is the best sideline reporter in sports. She’s not a former model like so many of the other sideline reporters are. No, she’s a former player, with a deep understanding of the game. And a much better grasp of how to ask questions that elicit interesting and enlightening responses. Her postgame interviews in this series were fantastic, and far from the fluff you typically get in those situations. I don’t think I heard her say “Talk about…” once. I think KD got that, as their exchanges were particularly good.

My constant thought while watching these games is how different the NBA game is than the college game. Most of it has to do with officiating. Guys in college get called for illegal screens for the tiniest infractions. In the NBA, both the screener and screenee lock up, nearly tackle each other, move five feet in the process, and there’s no whistle. You can just kill guards on traps and get away with it. I think NBA officiating is more consistent, but like college refs they realize they can’t call all the fouls they see or else the game will lose its flow and everyone will foul out before the fourth quarter.

The skill level at the next level is so different than in college, too. Everyone can do one thing really well. And they can often do two things really well. If a guy gets the ball at a spot 18 feet from the rim, it’s because he can drill that shot. In college those are air balls when someone who isn’t supposed to have the ball gets it. College is going more-and-more to the current NBA style of bombing away from outside with little regard for traditional inside-out basketball. But those young kids just aren’t skilled enough to do it the way the pros can.

Despite ending in just five games, it was a fun series to watch. Both of these teams are loaded with unique players who are a joy to watch. Countless times in each game there were moments that looked more out of a video game than something living, breathing humans should be able to pull off. Who knows, maybe next year will be the year I watch more than five games all season again. That will depend on what the Pacers end up doing with Paul George, I guess.

  1. Along with LeBron, Durant, and Westbrook.  ↩

Lake Weekend

The first big, friend lake weekend of the year is in the books. I believe all who attended will judge the weekend as a success.

This was a four-family, 17-person weekend, including us. The kids ranged from 13 to 8, so it’s a pretty good time. The 13-year-olds, all girls, are still capable of relaxing and having fun with the younger kids. And the youngest kids are all comfortable in and around water. The beauty of that is the kids pretty much take care of themselves. Sure, we keep an eye on them, ensure they follow rules, etc. But we also get interrupted a lot less than we used to.

It was the perfect lake weekend, weather-wise. Mid-upper 80s both days, sunny, hot. Last week was still very cool at night, though, so the water remained on the chilly side. It was warmer than two weeks ago, but it did take a few seconds to get used to.

We determined on cool water days, the best way to get acclimated is to just jump off the upper deck. I took my first plunge ever this weekend. Our guests agreed with my impression from our first view from the top deck: it looks a lot higher when you get up there. It’s not really that high. I’m guessing it’s 11–12 feet down to the water. But it feels higher once you get up there. My leap benefitted from me having to remove my glasses. I pretty much held my breath as soon as I jumped because I couldn’t gauge when I was going to break the surface. Anyway, it’s a solid drop, it’s fun, and it’s deep enough where you aren’t hitting anything other than some tall seaweed[1] after you enter the water. You do have to be careful with your limbs. You’re moving pretty quickly when you hit, and that impact can sting. One of the other dads, who jumped off a good 20 times over the two days, had big bruises on his inner biceps Sunday morning. Tuck those wings.

What else? There was a lot of tubing. One of the 13-year-olds is a real daredevil and likes to go by herself. I whipped her around more than the other kids and even dumped her on the big turn. She loved it and the other kids enjoyed watching her antics.

L did her usual fishing. Her count was down this week, only five total fish. But she also landed this beast, by far her biggest catch ever. That’s an adult’s hand next to it for comparison.

Other than that, lots of good food and conversation. The obligatory Cards Against Humanity game at about 10 pm Saturday evening for the adults. Plenty of beer, wine, margaritas, and bourbon was consumed.

The crazy thing is our summer is something like 1/3 over already. I kind of hate these shorter summer breaks. Ask me again how I feel when we hit mid-July.

  1. Or lakeweed, I guess. Why does everyone call it seaweed, including me?  ↩

Friday Playlist

“SGL” – Now, Now. The first new music from Now, Now in five years, and it does not disappoint.

“How to Boil an Egg” – Courtney Barnett. This is a song Barnett performed when she first began playing live music, but never put to wax until now. It’s a one-off single, but she also just announced that she’s working with Kurt Vile on new music. That should be interesting.

“First High of the Morning” – Against Me! Their contribution to Record Store Day is finally available digitally. And it’s pretty solid.

“Living Like the Rest” – Thunder Dreamer. One of my disappointments of my nearly 14 years in Indiana is that I haven’t discovered a local band that I’ve really loved. There have been some songs by local bands that I’ve enjoyed, but I’ve never found a band to follow closely over a course of several albums. That may have finally changed with this band from Evansville, of all places. I’ve been listening to this song for a few weeks and finally spun the entire album this week. It’s really good, to my ear sounding very much like what a mid-90s group that discovered Neil Young through Pearl Jam might sound like. The Pitchfork review – they slapped a 7.7 on the disk – said this was the perfect summer album. I think it’s more of a fall album, with its reserve and mood. But I’m still going to listen to it like crazy for awhile.

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” – Middle Kids covering Crowded House. As we slide into June, the obligatory “Best Songs of the Year So Far” lists are popping up. I don’t usually do mid-year lists, but if I did, I would face a dilemma. I think my favorite song of this year may well be a song I’ve been listening to for over a year, and which landed on my Best of 2016 list. I’m pretty sure that would violate all my stupid, music list rules. That’s what happens when you discover a song well before it hits radio, as was the case with Middle Kids’ “Edge of Town.” 

Anyway, here is their live, in-studio cover of my favorite song ever. Fortunately they do it rather well.