Friday Playlist

 Not exactly the most promising start to the 2019 winter season. Yesterday morning we had an ice storm roll in at just the wrong/perfect time (depending on your perspective) and had a snow day because the roads were just bad enough to force our principal’s hand. We went four years without a snow day; now we’ve had two this calendar year and the earliest one in the season since M started kindergarten. Throw in how we went from the 90s to the 40s in about 48 hours back in October, and a November that has been running 10-15 degrees cooler than normal, and this winter is already looking like a beast.

Here are some tunes to help ease you into the pre-holiday weekend.

“Stay With Me” – Longwave. These cats have been making enjoyable indie rock for a long time now. They were kind of second-tier staples of my mid-‘00s listening. Glad that they’re still at it.

“Come Back (Left Behind)” – Palace Winter. This Danish group (shout out to my paternal grandmother’s ancestors!) sounds like someone else, but I’m not exactly sure who. So I was surprised to learn that they’re not some side project or supergroup of people I already know. 

“Sunshine Rock” – Bob Mould. Is there a more reliable artist in music for fast-charging, power-pop tunes like this than Mould? The lead single off his up-coming LP, this refers both to his recent years living in Berlin (celebrating the explosion of the sun after Germany’s long, dark winters) and his desire to find the bright in the world, despite our political landscape or personal issues, like the loss of Mould’s two parents. This is a song better suited for spring. But as we slip into what appears to be an epic winter, it is just the jolt that I needed.

“Hey Jude” – Wilson Pickett. Good Lord, how had I never heard this until this week? I discovered it via Tom Breihan’s columns on Stereogum where he is running through every song that has hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This week he hit The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Breihan always tries to share significant cover versions of the song he’s writing about. In this case, he was unapologetic about his belief that Pickett’s version far outshines the original. I’m not sure I would go that far – It’s Hey Fucking Jude after all – but I love the swing to it, Pickett’s wail, and the epic closing solo by a (then) young and unknown Duane Allman. 

“She’s A Beauty” – The Tubes. I didn’t have any any videos lined up, so here’s an absolute classic that I heard after dropping the kids off this morning.

The Footballs

A few quick football thoughts.


The Sisyphean rite that is the changing of football coaches at the University of Kansas continues. David Beaty, a truly decent but woefully under qualified man, got the ax a week ago. The timing seemed a little strange given KU had just knocked off TCU two weeks earlier. But things never really make much sense around KU football.

If there were any doubts about Beaty’s ability to handle the job, those were removed last Saturday as the Jayhawks lost a thoroughly winnable game against Kansas State. Once again KU was plagued by seemingly basic mistakes that consistently cost them points. It was the same shit that’s been going on for years: terrible game management, penalties at the worst possible moments, the inability to make one play to win a game. The talent level is up. The numbers are up. But, week after week, it is the little things that teams should master in August that kill KU’s chances.

As I wrote earlier this year, Beaty no doubt has made the program better. It was a nearly impossible task to dig out from the hole Charlie Weis put the program in. Beaty at least got things stabilized. But he simply isn’t a good enough coach to get the program to the next step, where winning even 4–5 games each year is a possibility.

Now for the new coach speculation. Les Miles’ name has been out there since before his buddy Jeff Long became the new KU athletic director last spring. I believe as soon as Long got fired at Arkansas, people around KU were clamoring for Sheahon Zenger to get the ax so they could hire Long and, hopefully, bring his pal Miles along. Last week at the Champions Classic, when I got to sneak into a conversation of people who know people, Miles was the only name that anyone was talking about.

I honestly don’t know why Miles would take the KU job. If he wants to coach again and make a lot of money, there will be better offers whenever he is ready. I know he and Long are legitimately close. But I doubt they are close enough to come to the worst Power 5 program in the country for the last gig of your career.

Some KU fans worry that Miles would be Charlie Weis version 2.0. I don’t buy that. Charlie was never invested and refused to do any of the hard work that came with coaching a lower-tier program. I don’t know that Miles is prepared to do all that work, either, but I have a feeling if he took the job he’d actually recruit the best schools in Kansas City instead of only going to New Jersey and Hawaii to “create pipelines” to those states like Charlie did. And Miles had plenty of on-the-field failures, but he’s still a much better coach than Charlie.

Some folks worry that Miles would be a short-term choice, arguing he’s likely to not coach more than five years. As always, I say this is the dumbest reason not to hire someone in the world. We’re already firing a coach every 3–4 years. We should be thrilled if we can finally get someone who can stabilize and improve the program and then wants to leave in five years, either for another, better job or because they’re ready to retire. In fact, I think KU should be in the business of hiring a new coach every five years because the last one went to the SEC or Big 10. Iowa State has kind of gone through that cycle. They’ve had their share of down years along the way. But the program is also miles ahead of KU’s.

The biggest problem with Miles, to me, is that if he doesn’t come to KU, whoever they do hire is going to be a huge letdown. With the notable exception of Dave Doeren, who I think is highly unlikely to leave NC State, there isn’t another name on the list that moves the needle with fans. So just as people who were excited about Jim Harbaugh were disappointed with Turner Gill, or who wanted Mike Leach and were instead given Charlie Weis, there will be an enthusiasm gap from day one if it is anyone but Miles.

I also wonder if Miles is as big of a deal to kids these days as he is to adults. Let’s say he takes the job, dives in 100%, and gets a good staff around him. Will kids give a damn about what he did at LSU and Oklahoma State now that he’s at Kansas?

My basic philosophy for KU football these days is that it can’t get any worse. So I’m hopeful whoever is next can build on what David Beaty started, keep improving the talent level, understand how to manage a game, and get the momentum behind the program up from 25 MPH to maybe 40–45 MPH. Nothing too crazy.

My personal KU coach wish list is:

1) Dave Doeren
2) Les Miles
3) Anyone else with D1 head coaching experience who is competent

I’m resigned to being disappointed and writing another version of this three or four Novembers down the road.


Hey, the Colts aren’t terrible! In fact, they actually have a path to the playoffs.

Let’s not get carried away now…

The Colts defense has been a revelation so far this year. But it also tends to break down way too often in the second half. The offensive line has been, gasp, solid. Andrew Luck, after a rough week one, rebounded nicely and is playing really well. If he had more than one NFL-caliber receiver, his stats would be even better. I’ve only watched parts of Colts games here and there, but three different times I’ve seen passes that were comfortably in the hands of Colts receivers somehow slip through, ricochet off of pads, helmets, or chests into the hands of defenders for interceptions.

Rebuilds in any pro sport are tricky things. You’re always balancing who you have with what you need and how those various pieces fit together within a budget. I think it’s safe to say the Colts are ahead of schedule in getting back to prominence. But the bigger concern for me is how they handle the up-coming offseason rather than what they do for the last half of this season. Do well in the next draft and round of free agency and the back third of Luck’s career suddenly has the promise the first third had.


As a long-time Chiefs hater, it pains me to admit that the Chiefs are freaking awesome. So I am hoping at some point their traditional luck comes through and torpedoes this season.

I will say, though, that after the Royals winning the World Series, and seeing how the city reacted, there is a part of me that admits it would be cool if the Chiefs somehow defied nearly 50 years of bad luck and made it to the Super Bowl. Not that I’d be pulling for them. But I am finally comfortable saying that would be a nice thing to happen to my hometown.

Kid Hoops Wrapup

After starting cross country practice back in mid-July, we are finally free of kid sports for awhile. L’s basketball season came to a rather dreadful end Sunday in the City semifinals. Although the result was not a surprise, the way we got there was a bit of a shock.

We were playing the team that gave us our only loss of the regular season. We lost that game by 16 after being down by just two at halftime. In that game our girls just came unglued in the second half, the other team’s best player went off, and everything just snowballed. We knew that team was better than us, but went into the semi hoping if our girls kept their composure and hit some shots they could stay in it until the fourth quarter.


L had the ball stolen from her right at mid court on the first three possessions, which went a long way toward the other team starting the game on a 12–0 run. After the second steal she went totally passive and started throwing terrible passes just to get the ball out of her hands. No one has worked her over like that on D all year. Even the first time we played these girls she was able to get by the girl guarding her.

No one else for us had any better luck. The final was 28–10 and we didn’t have a single player who scored more than once. The only good thing about the game was our coach throwing out his zone defense for the first time in a game. The girls had no idea what they were supposed to do, and our opponents had different offenses to combat a zone,[1] but it at least muddied up the game enough so that we didn’t lose by 30. We did have some stretches in the second half where we were getting turnovers. But then the wrong girl would bring the ball up and we’d lose it again before we got anywhere close to the basket. Or if we got a shot, it came no where near going in.

So that was a crappy ending. Getting to the semifinal was another story. On Friday our girls played awesome, especially L. At least for the first half. L was dishing out what she would get on Sunday, getting straight steals or jumping in the passing lanes to pick off passes and pushing the ball up court. She scored six points in the first quarter, all she would score for the game, but that and her defense set the tone and we held off a late rally to win by five. L had at least 10 steals…and also had at least 10 turnovers. She got cocky in the second half after making a couple really nice passes and just started throwing the ball all over the place. She, and her teammates, need to learn how to slow down and make sure there’s, you know, a teammate where they toss their passes. But her energy was so high that night that she played almost the entire game, only coming out once. With 11 players we usually sub girls out every three minutes, although L often gets an extra shift.

They finished the season 8–2, which was pretty solid. We have athletes. If they can turn into players they have a chance to be even better as they get older. One big problem is that, right now, we only have two point guards, L and another girl. They both averaged a team-high six points per game. And those two girls are the ones most likely to drop basketball for other sports at some point. Or, more likely, only play CYO basketball in the fall and not winter ball. So while they are the two best players right now, are they going to keep getting better? And if L does go all-in with soccer and A. goes all-in with softball, who brings the ball up for this team? I think L will play CYO basketball for at least a couple more seasons. But if she eventually moves to a more competitive soccer program, I don’t know that she’ll be able to do both since they will overlap in October.

M and C both have volleyball tryouts this Sunday, but won’t begin practice until Christmas break. It’s nice to have an empty calendar for the next month or so.

  1. These girls clearly play together in other leagues. Our plays all have one-word names; theirs sounded more like football plays “Sweep 41” and when we went to a zone their coach would call out “Sweep 41 ZONE.”  ↩

Reaching For the Stars, Vol. 17

Chart Week: November 3, 1984
Song: “Penny Lover” – Lionel Richie
Chart Position: #18, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #8 for two weeks in December.

Usually these entries are about great songs, forgotten songs, or just songs that have some kind of special meaning to me. This week is a little different: this song was selected purely for interesting trivia reasons.

I’ve always considered very late 1982 through mid–1985 the peak of 1980s music. New Wave was at its height. Pop was insanely strong. The hair metal that would dominate the back half of the decade was ascending. There were a handful of strong r&b artists that were hitting the charts consistently. It was also the period that contained the biggest albums of the decade: Thriller, Purple Rain, Born in the USA, and Like a Virgin to name a few that probably come to mind quickest to most people.

Even for a music trivia fiend like myself, if you asked me to expand that list, I bet it would take me awhile to get to Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Once I got there I would probably smack my forehead at listing it so low; it was massive at the time, spinning off five singles, each of which hit the top ten, and two #1 songs. It, not Purple Rain or Born in the USA won the grammy for best album. In time it sold over 10 million copies and is the 18th best-selling album of the decade.

Why isn’t it remembered as well as those other albums from that time? Likely because Lionel’s music leaned more to adult contemporary than any of the other albums of that era, and thus hasn’t aged as well. And while “All Night Long” still gets played a lot, you really don’t hear the other songs from the album played in high rotation on 80s stations, where you’re likely to hear a handful of songs from Springsteen, Jackson, or Prince’s biggest albums.

There were two tremendous pieces of trivia surrounding Can’t Slow Down this week in 1984. With “Penny Lover,” the album became the first ever to have a single on the charts continuously for over 52 weeks. From when “All Night Long” cracked the Top 40 in October 1983 until “Penny Lover” fell off the chart in January 1985, there was no week without at least one Lionel Richie song in the countdown. I guessed Thriller when Casey Kasem teased this going into a commercial break.

Outrageous, as Lionel would say.

Another piece of trivia: “Stuck on You” became the first song to ever hit all four major charts: it hit #3 on the Hot 100, #1 on the adult contemporary chart, #8 on the black singles chart, and even peaked at #24 on the country chart.

Friday Playlist

I wish I understood how Spotify works with WordPress. Some weeks, after I put these posts up, I’ll check them and get an error on in my browser window that Spotify can’t load. I’ll check it in a different browser and it works fine. So I don’t know if you all are running into the same issues, or if it is something on my end (I’ve checked to make sure it’s not my ad-blocker). Anyway, I hope these posts are working for you.

This week a celebration of some of the brightest, new artists I’ve enjoyed recently. They all just happen to be women.

“Cost Your Love” – Miya Folick. Folick’s debut album, Premonitions, arrived with on a wave of critical praise a couple weeks back. I’m having a hard time describing her music, because it doesn’t fit into any of the categories that I am used to slotting music into. All I know for sure is that I really like this song.

“Light On” – Maggie Rogers. Speaking of hyped artists, Rogers was all the buzz not too long ago as she came out of seeming nowhere – well, Alaska is pretty off the grid, pop culture-wise – a little over a year ago. She’s produced a series of outstanding singles that blend pop, indie, R&B, and occasionally folk. I highly recommend checking out her performance of “Fallingwater” on SNL last week. It was breath-taking.

“Just Goes to Show” – Eliza Shaddad. My biggest, and perhaps only, complaint about Spotify is its presentation of new music. Each Friday it throws all the new music out onto a single page. Rather than assessing my listening history and likes and pushing artists I like to the top of the page, the most popular artists are always at the top. So I have to wade through a ton of singles by artists 16-year-olds are listening to to find my middle-aged, suburban dad indie rock waaaaaaaay down the page. So, often, I miss out on new albums by artists I like if they are slightly out of the critical spotlight. Honestly Apple Music gets this wrong too, and no one has really nailed it like the defunct Rdio service did. Anyway, this week I accidentally discovered that Shaddad, one of my favorite discoveries of 2017, had released a new disk last month. It’s quite good, with this track standing out just a little more than the other excellent tracks.

“Salt In The Wound” – boygenius. Man, as supergroups go, boygenius has knocked it utterly out of the park. Their EP, recorded over just four days, came out a couple weeks back and has floored pretty much everyone that has listened to it. They are slaying people with their live shows. There are at least two songs on it that are in the running for my rapidly approaching Favorites of 2018 list. This is one of those two, a scorching stunner.

“thank u, next” – Ariana Grande. When Grande first hit the scene, I hated her. It was mostly because of that terrible Cat Valentine character she played on various Nickelodeon shows. Well, the shows were horrible too. So horrible that we banned our girls from watching them. Eventually I was worn down by the irresistibleness of her voice, as well as her sense of humor and global outlook. Plenty has been written about this song since it dropped at 11:00 last Saturday. All I can add is that it is a brilliant piece of work when you understand the context behind it.


College hoops is here! And it kicked off in a big way for those of is who are in Indianapolis.

I did not plan on going to the Champions Classic. I have a couple acquaintances who I know could have easily gotten me decent seats. But L’s city basketball tournament was starting last night, at the exact same time as the KU-Michigan State game, so I decided to be a good dad and stick with her.

Until I got an email late Tuesday morning with the offer of a free ticket. I scrambled to make sure L could get a lift to her game and then jumped all over that ticket. That was a wise course of action, as I had a solid night downtown.


One of my acquaintances is a very well connected booster. I met him and some other friends at the team hotel for a drink before the game. While I was enjoying a Woodford Reserve I got to meet several people who work in the basketball office, a few coaches wives, a member of the coaching staff, and a member of the broadcast crew. I acted like I was supposed to be there and listened quietly as folks discussed the search for a new football coach, past coaching searches, and how each of the last two KU athletic directors made colossal fuck ups that brought KU football to its current lowly state.[1]

That was fun!

On to the game. I was sitting with a guy I know very casually, who lucked into some great seats when his brother-in-law got called away on business. We were 15 rows off the floor, behind the basket on the KU bench end of the court. Other than the basket being in the way on some plays, they were great seats.

Even better was how KU play for the first 30–35 minutes of the game. A steady, controlled effort that built a big lead and answered every Michigan State run. Those last five-plus minutes did get a little ragged, and I think KU’s relative inexperience really showed in that stretch. But MSU never had the ball with a chance to tie, so I’ll chalk this up as both a nice W and a learning experience.

Oh, and I got off my Indy losing streak! KU had played here two other times in the 15 years I’ve lived here. I saw both games, and both were losses: to Michigan State in the 2010 Sweet 16 and to Kentucky four years ago. Throw in driving to Louisville to watch the Elite 8 loss to Villanova three years ago and it had been a long time since I had seen KU win a game in person.

Quintin Grimes looked really good in his first real collegiate game. He seems like one of those kids who can do anything he wants, but at the same time never tries to do too much. And he still has clear room for improvement in his game. Despite kind of a ragged stat line, I thought Devon Dotson was really good, too, at least on offense. MSU really didn’t have an answer for his speed. He just needs to learn how to be smarter in using that speed.

Dedric Lawson seemed to have an off-game, yet he still went for 20–14–6, which is a hell of a night. That came without hitting any jump shots, missing several relatively easy shots at the rim, and struggling against MSU’s size. You always wonder about these high-tier transfers, who come in with impressive stats at another school, and how they will fit into a different system where they’re surrounded by other great players. But, man, he is legit.

So plenty to feel good about in a game that shouldn’t have been as close as the final score. I was worried about this one, figuring although KU is more talented, they are new to each other where MSU was loaded with experience. KU needs to find consistent shooting, teach the freshmen how to play defense, and build a solid bench. But there’s a lot of promise with this squad.

It was fun looking around before and during the game and seeing how many former KU players were in attendance. I had confirmed sightings of: Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush, and even Joel Embiid who is in town to play the Pacers tonight. I saw another guy who played way back in the day but couldn’t place his face. I couldn’t decide it if was Roger Morningstar or other dude from the 1970s.

Fortunately we were in a mostly KU section. The building was probably 75% crazy Kentucky fans. I still have PTSD from the experience against UK in that building four years ago, so I was really glad we weren’t playing them. We were pretty much opposite the one big MSU section, although there were a few Spartans scattered around us. It is always hard to tell how the fans are split when you’re in the middle of one of those groups. I would say KU and Duke probably had about the same number of fans, each spilling into two sections, slightly more than Michigan State.

My favorite UK fan was sitting two seats from me. He was a good ol’ boy who would constantly take videos while narrating them. I really should have asked for his YouTube name so I could check them out. He was also hitting the beer pretty hard. He ordered two Bud Lites and two “Coolers” Lites, acting like he was buying for his friends and then proceeded to pound all four. “Coolers” Lite might be my favorite name for a shitty beer I’ve ever heard. He was all fired up for the 30 minutes between games and the first five minutes or so of the UK-Duke game. Then he got sullen and quiet and just complained about all the “pussy ass calls” the refs were hitting his Cats with. Pussy ass is an interesting phrase, too.

OH MAH GAWD DUKE. Holy shit, man. Seriously, they put on the most impressive layup line I’ve ever seen. They had skinny white dudes throwing down 360s. Zion Williamson was casually throwing lobs to people. He’d occasionally toss down a dunk of his own, but would often stop at the 3-point line and drain a 3. The UK fans were all over him. “Fall in love with it!” is what the drunkard to my left said every time he took a 3 in warmups.

And then the damn game started. Kentucky just ripped KU apart in this game four years ago. It honestly looked like KU was a D2 team bussed in for an exhibition game that night. I think what Duke did to UK last night was even more impressive. It was downright scary. Every single piece Duke has looked amazing. And the scary thing is, they weren’t really playing good team basketball. They just overwhelmed Kentucky with their raw talent. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish were just putting their heads down and beating people one-on-one, or pulling up and drilling threes. It’s not like Kentucky doesn’t have talented, athletic kids on their team. The scary thing for the rest of the college basketball world is that if Coach K can get his team listening to him and playing together, this Duke team could be untouchable. Us Duke haters can hope they either never click and are always trying to just play hero, AAU ball, and that good coaches will find tendencies to exploit and ways of slowing them down. But good Lord they looked amazing. And I only watched the first half!

My favorite Coach K moment of the night came when Kentucky was shooting free throws in the first half. It was a two-shot foul. I noticed after the first shot K jumped off his bench and started screaming at the ref nearest to him, pointing at the three-point line. A couple subs were checking in, so he had a 10–15 second break when he could just lay into this ref. My best guess was that he was complaining that one of the Kentucky guards who was standing behind the shooter had stepped over the arc before the first free throw. Again, on a two shot foul. This is like the most meaningless thing you could complain about, but K was red in the face and screaming. I guess this is part of his method – Dean Smith used to do the same thing – arguing about tiny little things to just wear down the refs over the course of the game. It seems silly and petty to me, but I haven’t won 1100 D1 games, so what do I know.

Anyway, college hoops is back! Way too early; what can’t we play these games the first week of December when the teams have shaken the rust off? But, still, the Road to the Final Four has begun.

(Oh, and L’s team won their tournament game. I was getting text updates from other parents, one of whom described the first half as a “shit show.” They were playing a team they beat by 20 in the regular season but were only up 5–4 at halftime. Fortunately they pulled away to win by 10, L scoring six, all in the second half.)

  1. Ask me offline, I have stories!  ↩

Reader’s Notebook, 11/5/18

The World As It Is – Ben Rhodes
This memoir by the former speechwriter and national security aide to President Obama has been on my list since it came out earlier this year. I had heard good things in several places about it. But I was not sure if I was ready to re-live the Obama years, or if I wanted to read anything about politics for that matter.

I had profoundly different reactions to the book. On the one hand, it was good to read through the high points of the Obama era from someone who was inside and a part of those moments. Rhodes began working for Obama in 2007 and stuck through until inauguration day 2017. It is not an exhaustive account of those years. Rhodes isn’t interested in getting into the most finite details of each policy debate, national security crisis, or showdown with Congress. Since we’re still so close to the Obama years, that higher altitude view felt better to me. Right or wrong, good or bad, I think we need more time to judge Obama’s legacy before we dive into a deep breakdown of everything he tried to do.

On the other hand, much of the book was infuriating, as the Obama years were the moment when the Republican party shifted its focus from being for a set of conservative policies to being more interested in destroying its opponents. It was the moment when the party decided to fully embrace the racist elements that it had always tried hard to keep behind the scenes. It was also the moment in American politics when the normal stretching of the truth that every politician of every party has always engaged in shifted to constant, systematic, outright lying.

Regardless of your view of him and his policies, Obama was a decent man who made efforts to implement policies that made the US, and the world, a better place for more people than they hurt. It was hard reading Rhodes’ book and then hearing the nightly headlines of our current president, who seems only interested in promoting himself and uses blatantly racist fear mongering to motivate large swaths of the population to vote for policies that are focused on dividing people and taking a larger chunk of the pie for a smaller group of people.

The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport – Carl Hiaasen
Talk about interesting timing, I found this randomly on a recent visit to Half Price Books while waiting for them to price out my latest offerings. I’ve read a bunch of Hiaasen’s novels over the years, but I had no idea he had written a non-fiction golf book. And one about getting back into the game after taking many years off. It’s like this book was written for me!

In his case, he retuned to the sport in his 50s, after taking roughly 30 years off to build a family and career. But, otherwise, I felt some strong parallels between his return and my more abbreviated return.[1] He was a shitty golfer in his 20s. So was I! (And in my 30s, too.) He didn’t jump back into golf in some misguided belief that after three decades away from the game he’d magically be better. Rather he just wanted to beat his best score from his youth, which was a modest 89.

The book is part diary, with small entries after a day of action, part longer pieces that follow his quest to shoot 88. He was fortunate in that he had sold a bunch of books, so he could go buy a new club each time an old one pissed him off. He could join a private club and play daily, mixing in rounds at other clubs along the way. He could drop a grand on a private lesson at an officially PGA-sanctioned training facility. He could spare no expense in trying to get better. Not exactly the typical golf experience.

Like everything Hiaasen has ever written, the book is laugh out loud funny. He makes fun of himself and his game often. He shares the most embarrassing things he does on a golf course – the winner being when the parking brake on his cart failed and it rolled into a possibly gator-infested lake and he had to dive in to try to save his clubs.

The best thing about the book is that it gives me, and anyone else who is contemplating a return to the game after a long time away, a reasonable goal: just beat your best score from your previous, shitty golf life. I never shot an 89, so that should be even easier for me than it was for Hiaasen if I decide that 2019 is the year I play more than one round.

In The Woods – Tana French
I read a book like this about once a year or so, and it just pisses me off: a debut novel that is almost completely perfect and makes me feel ashamed I’ve ever harbored any hopes of writing anything.

In The Woods is a brilliant crime/psychological novel. It follows the investigation of the murder of a 12-year-old girl, whose body is found on an archeological dig just south of Dublin. The lead detective assigned to the case, Rob Ryan, grew up on the same estate, playing in the area where the body was found. In fact, he was at the center of a similar case 20 years earlier: in the summer of 1984 his two best friends disappeared from the same woods, never to be found. Ryan, who then went by the name Adam, was found catatonic and with no memory of what happened, but otherwise safe. He was immediately sent off to boarding school in England, where he adopted a new name and accent, and eventually joined the Irish Garda’s murder squad without anyone other than his partner knowing his true background.

Ryan’s initial hope is that by solving the new murder, he will find answers into what really happened to he and his friends when they were 12. The pressures of both trying to crack a difficult case and confronting his own demons takes a toll. He slowly falls apart, destroys his relationship with his partner, and finds himself under the spell of a particularly evil person of interest in the case.

The book is a rather straightforward presentation of the case, told from Ryan’s perspective after the fact. Thus there are some moments in the middle where it drags just a little as the tension slowly builds. But for the most part it is an exceptional read, especially in the final third. French offers many twists and turns and feints as to who the actual murderer is. As both a police procedural and a psychological thriller, it is first rate. I’ve heard some readers disliked its ending and how Ryan, over time, becomes a rather dislikable person. Neither of those bugged me, though. I enjoyed that French challenged both what a traditional crime novel should be and her readers to have different expectations.

  1. I still have played just the one round back in September, although I’ve hit plenty of balls since. I may be going to TopGolf later this week with a buddy at lunch, though. Not that that counts as real golf.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 16

Chart Week: October 13, 1984
Song: “Strut” – Sheena Easton
Chart Position: #31, 8th week on the chart. Peaked at #7 the week of November 24.

To me, at least, it seems like Sheena Easton’s career was longer than it actually was. She exploded onto the scene in 1981 with the world-wide smash “9 to 5 (Morning Train),” which went to #1 in four countries and was top 10 in four others. She followed that up later in ’81 with the theme song from For Your Eyes Only which hit #1 in three nations and was top ten in nine more. She hit the US top 10 again in 1983, singing with Kenny Rogers on “We’ve Got Tonight.” And there were a handful of minor hits that have been largely forgotten over the years.

In this initial stage of her career, she struck the image of a sweet, wholesome girl from Scotland. Whether it was a concerted effort to push her songs higher up the charts, or just maturity and confidence, in the mid–80s she made a dramatic change in her image. She showed more skin. Her videos were sexy. And she recorded one of the most notorious songs of the decade with Prince.

But “Strut” is the song I remember most fondly from that second phase of her career. It is big, bold, brassy, sassy, and a ton of fun. Where “Sugar Walls” was pornographic, “Strut” is simply about self belief. If 1981 Easton was the ingenue, bright-eyed and reserved, 1984 Easton was a grown-ass woman who was totally in charge of her life.

It’s a pretty good song, but if it came in any other year I would likely have pushed it aside in my memory banks for other songs. Coming in the greatest year in pop music history, though, means it will always have a little boost above other random 80s songs.

Ironically the week I heard this countdown I came across an old Miami Vice episode on local TV. Which got me digging through the list of MV episodes. I had forgotten that Easton had a brief guest run on the show as a pop star that Sonny Crockett was assigned to protect. As these things go, they fell in love, married, and she was eventually murdered by a rival of Crockett.

I couldn’t recall if Easton and Don Johnson had a relationship outside of the show. A quick check suggests they did not; her time on the show coincided with Johnson’s relationship with Barbra Streisand and Easton may have still been involved with Prince at the time. I did find that Easton has been married four times, never longer than 18 months. I find that random and wacky.

Friday Playlist

We’ll start with a playlist. If all goes well, I’ll have a video for you later in the day.

“Rain Check” – Carl Broemel. I’m not sure if I totally missed Indy native Broemel’s new album earlier this year, or if I listened to it and it just didn’t connect. I’m guessing it is more option A because this song rocks and I’m sure I would not have ignored it had I heard.

“4AM” – Spielbergs. Speaking of rocking, that’s all these guys are capable of doing.

“Ever Again” – Robyn. Her new album, Honey, takes longer to hit than her last album, the classic Body Talk. But moments like this are immediate and vital.

“Salt Eyes” – Middle Kids. I love the pace that MK work at. A couple singles in 2016. An EP in 2017. Debut LP this year. And already dropping new music on us. Fitting, then, that this was recorded in Ryan Adams’ PAX-AM studios, where he is constantly cranking out new tunes. MK are, officially, my favorite up-and-coming band now. Their sound is constantly morphing and they’ve yet to miss on anything they’ve tried. More people need to know about them.

“Love Is Alive” – Gary Wright. A throw-back jam for you. For some strange reason Fox used this song as a regular bumper music track during the baseball playoffs. Not sure if it was pulled directly from Joe Buck’s record collection or what. Anyway, it is a jam and a half, built on that opening riff and bass line that repeat throughout. It hit #2 back in 1976, matching what Wright’s previous hit, “Dream Weaver,” did. 


I mentioned some time after our move last summer that we were all having a hard time making the small adjustments that come with a new home. Where are the cooking pots? Where are the cutting boards? Where is our stash of paper towels? Etc, etc etc.

The longer we’ve been in this house, the more all of that newness has become routine. What continues to be strange, though, are the seasonal things we did in the old house and how to bring them to the new house. Living in one place for 15 years, we had countless established routines that waxed and waned with the movement of the calendar. As we drifted from summer into our first fall here, I kept having weird, unsettled feelings, like I should be doing something. I was never sure what exactly it was I was supposed to be doing, but I felt a sense of unease left when those habits of 15 years were uprooted.

For example, at the old house, we always put up Halloween decorations as close to Oct. 1 as we could. We’d take a look at the weather forecast, our schedule of kid activities, and sometimes the weekend before Oct. 1, sometimes exactly on Oct. 1, we’d pull the boxes out of the basement and start spreading our lights, skeletons, witch, vampire, etc around the front yard. This year it took me a couple days into October to realize that we needed to drag all of that stuff out. Then we realized many of our items were purchased because they perfectly fit something about the old house, but were not as good of matches for the new setup. Oh, and it didn’t help that those young punks stole a bunch of our decorations a year ago.

We still got some decorations out. Just not as many as in the past. But it took us years to build up what we had. I suppose the same will be true here.

We stuck to the old plan for Trick or Treating last night. We left a bowl of candy at the front door of the new house and went back to the old neighborhood to hang with friends. C and L both dressed up – C as a “party llama” and L as a hot dog – and made their rounds. M decided she was too old to dress up and beg for candy. I think in truth she would have gone out again if it was up to her. But her friend in the old hood is a year ahead of her in school, and decided that high schoolers do not trick or treat. So M just hung out with her. Which was fine, but I was a little bummed that she let someone else make a decision that I’m not convinced she was 100% down with. Oh well, she still gets plenty of candy from all of our leftovers.

S and I sat in our old neighbors’ driveway next to a fire, eating chili and drinking beer while catching up. Fortunately it ended up being a cool but pleasant night. It had rained most of Halloween day but stopped just before trick or treating time rolled around. As we were getting ready to head out, the sprinkles of the next round of rain were just beginning. It poured overnight – our power went out twice – and today has seen a steady, bitter, cold rain fall. It’s been unseasonably cool here for several weeks, but November 1 definitely brought the feel of late fall with it.

And, of course, November 1 means the holiday countdown officially begins. I noticed two Christmas music stations on SiriusXM this morning. We saw a Miller Lite commercial that was Christmas-themed during SportsCenter this morning. With the countdown will come a whole new set of bumping between old traditions and new ones as we host our first Thanksgiving here and then decorate for Christmas for the first time.