Friday Playlist

It’s been a rough music week. As you can imagine, I have been listening to a lot of Frightened Rabbit’s music. Their songs always had a difficult quality to them. Those elements have been amplified since Scott Hutchison’s death.

But it is time to move on, so here are some new tunes for you. No video this week, as I’m waiting on our fourth visit from AT&T this week and videos aren’t loading right now. (Update: dude was here for three hours and was unable to completely fix the situation. Apparently we have a rogue wire that is hidden behind some ductwork that may need to be fished out at some point. But this involves holes in walls so we’re going to put that off for now.)

“I Am a War Machine” – SONTALK. / “Lake Erie” – Wild Pink. These two tracks have both been highlighted by music writers as songs for people who are into The War on Drugs. They each hit different parts of TWOD’s sound, and do so rather nicely. The SONTALK track probably hews a little closer to classic TWOD. The Wild Pink track veers more towards Americana, although that late solo is pure Adam Granduciel. They’re both nice songs.

“Howlin’ Heart” – Richard Edwards. Indy’s Edwards had a rough few years. He became very ill. His marriage ended. In this song you can hear both heartache and hope.

“Special” – Angel Olsen. I didn’t devote too much attention to Olsen’s Phases album, which came out last year and featured leftover tracks from other projects. This one is quite good, though. I love how it smolders and builds and eventually roars to the finish.

 

C = 12

It’s a wacky, wild time around here right now. I’ve been busy with a bunch of outside projects, we’re in the midst of a big family project I may be able to announce officially soon, and then the end of the school year has brought a bunch of during-the-day and after-school events that have filled up my calendar.

Oh, and our Internet has been bugging out all week and AT&T can’t seem to figure out the problem. There’s been a lot of cursing when web pages don’t load.

So that’s why I’ve not been able to post much. But today I had to carve out time to get something pushed out, as it is C’s 12th birthday!

Year 12 is big in our house because that’s when you get a phone. I had hoped to sneak into C’s room this morning, place her iPhone next to her bed, then call from another room to wake her up. But she was wide awake, fully dressed, sitting in bed reading when I opened the door 10 minutes early. Oh well. And she had picked out the phone, case, and pop socket so it’s not like it was a surprise. Still, she was excited to get it.

Each year on this date I write something about how C is our wild mood swing kid. That has both changed and not changed. She can definitely control her moods better than she used to. But she’s also the most likely kid to burst into tears for no apparent reason.[1] Some days she’s wildly bouncing off the walls and can’t stop laughing. She’s the hardest kid to get settled in the middle ground, where she’s in a good mood but not acting crazy because of it.

The thing that has changed the most, and for the best, this year is how sports have helped her to develop more self confidence. She’s always been the least confident of our three girls. But between her success in cross country and becoming the best kickball player in her grade at St. P’s, she just carries herself a little differently now.

I especially love watching her play kickball. She just has this look on her face that she knows she’s faster than everyone else, and can make plays no one else can make. She’s learned to use her speed to force the defense to make mistakes. When she turns a single into a triple, she arrives and third trying to contain a smile/giggle at the ridiculousness of what she just did.

Here’s another example. A few weeks back a throw back to the pitcher was wide and rolled near home. In kickball, until the pitcher controls the ball it is still live, so the baserunners could keep moving. There was a fairly fast girl on second. Her coach saw the ball rolling away from the pitcher and told her to go to third. C raced over to get the ball, ran around the other team’s players who were lined up to kick on the third base line, and beat the girl to third by a step. It was an outrageous athletic play. She even knocked the girl over in the process of tagging her, but immediately reached over to help her up and asked if she was ok three times.

As the girl went back to the bench, her coach said, “Sorry, I didn’t think there was any way they could catch you.” I chuckled to myself and thought, “Yeah, you didn’t know that was C.B. with the ball though!”

C is still at her happiest when she’s working on art projects. She does some amazing stuff, and I’m not exactly sure where her talent came from. However, she remains a complete disaster in her room with her art supplies. Most mornings I struggle to open her door because there are piles of art crap strewn about everywhere. One of our goals for her now that she’s 12 is to keep her room cleaner. I have a feeling this will always be a source of contention between us.

C has always been, and remains, the sweetest of our girls. She tends to be drawn to kids who are somehow marginalized. From my view it seems like everyone in her grade likes her, but she’s also kind of in her own space rather than part of a specific circle of friends. She spends lots of time with the girls who are somewhat removed from the main social circle. She even told us that she wanted to get one classmate a birthday gift, “Because she doesn’t have many friends and won’t have a party.”

With middle school coming up, we are anxious to see how she handles that. She gets good grades, but school is also more of an effort for her than either of her sisters. I have a feeling there are going to be more tears as she struggles to learn how to balance the additional work that comes with sixth grade with everything else she likes to do.

Like all parents who have more than one kid, I have a different bond with each one of my girls. M is the most like me in her personality, so we both drive each other crazy and understand each other better than the rest of the house. L is likely the closest to me because she loves sports and is a pleaser by nature. Where her sisters run off to do their own thing, she’ll often find a way to hang out with me regardless of what she has going on.

But C, as the middle kid, is the one I think I sympathize with the most. She gets it from both sides, and I find myself often stepping in to tell the others to knock it off. It’s not in C’s nature to stand up for herself. I probably step in too often, but sometimes that is the best way to prevent another crying episode. I’m hoping the confidence she’s developed recently will translate into her fighting for herself when she gets pushed around by her sisters.


  1. Unlike her big sister, who will burst into tears because of hormones, drama, or something she’s manufactured. L only cries if she gets in trouble.  ↩

Scott

Normally on Friday mornings one of the first things I do is start combing through my playlist of newest music to put together the Friday playlist.

I can’t do that today.

News I had been fearing for several days was confirmed just moments ago: the body of Scott Hutchison, lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, was discovered in Edinburgh overnight. Hutchison sent out some cryptic Tweets Tuesday night (our time) and then disappeared. Those tweets were not unusual; Scott battled depression and would occasionally go off the rails with late night Tweets, only to apologize the next day. Wednesday did not bring apologies but rather appeals from Scott’s brother Grant, FR’s dummer, for anyone who knew of Scott’s whereabouts to ask him to contact his family.

The last two days passed with more pleas for help finding Scott from both his family and authorities. And now he is confirmed as gone.

I feel terrible for his family and loved ones. I feel terrible that Scott had so much pain that he was unable to find a way to manage.

I also feel terrible for finding so much joy in his songs about his pain. Over the last 10 years, since I first discovered Frightened Rabbit’s music, I’ve listened to and enjoyed no band more than them. I often found that a little odd, as his songs of romantic failure, depression, and internal pain came at a time in my life when I was happily married, having kids, and generally leading a placid suburban existence. What about late 30s/early 40s me connected with these songs of deeply damaged 20-somethings? Hell, even in the brief periods of my 20s when my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to and I felt aimless and unhappy, I never reached the depths of what Scott sang about. So there was no connecting dots of my previous life with his.

I think it was always the utter, brutal honesty in his songs that kept pulling me back. Plenty of people sing of heartbreak and sadness. There was something unique to his lyrics that dove right into the uncomfortable bits, as he might call them, and made it impossible not to find some connection with them.

And there was always that glimmer of hope in even his saddest, darkest songs. There was the feeling that Scott was going to bash his way through the pain by strumming his guitar just a little harder, while his brother beat the hell out of the drums behind him, and through communion with his audience, find a way to get through another day.

All week I’ve been thinking of “Floating in the Forth,” the final full track on FR’s 2008 breakthrough album The Midnight Organ Fight. The song, which begins with a low moaning that sounds like a tug pulling from harbor, works through the process of a man stepping to the edge of a bridge – in this case the actual bridge that crosses the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh – and then deciding he’ll “save suicide for another year,” before exploding in a glorious, angelic closing sequence. “Take your life, give it a shake…” was the line I kept repeating to myself, hoping Scott had found the strength to do that one more time.

Initial reports say that Scott’s body was found near the Forth Road Bridge he sang about 10 years ago.

I was worried about Scott two years ago, as much as a fan who briefly met and shook hands with him once can be worried. The band’s 2016 tour had several “off the rails” moments, they may have broken up briefly two different times, and 2017 dawned with some real questions about their future. But they toured heavily through that year, released a fine, three-song EP in the fall, and 2018 dawned with optimism. The band did a small club tour for the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight. Scott and Grant recorded with two other Scottish brothers as Mastersystem. Scott spoke with several publications about both where the band had been and where they were going. He seemed positive about their future, noting that several songs were already in the works for FR’s next album. Just a week ago he told a writer, when asked about his health, he said:

“Pretty fine. Middling. On a day-to-day basis, I’m a solid six out of ten. I don’t know how often I can hope for much more than that. I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me. I don’t think I’m unique in that sense. I’m all right with a six. If I get a couple of days a week at seven, fuck, it’s great.”

So much of the best music comes from pain. As a music fan, you hope that the albums you buy, the digital tunes you stream, the tickets you buy, and the positive vibes you send back to the artists you love can ease their pain and help to sustain them. I’m very sad today that all of us who loved Scott Hutchison and his music could not help him keep his demons at bay.

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Kids and Whatnot

We are in the midst of our two busiest weeks of the spring.

Last week the family had a combined eight kickball games in four nights. We swept all eight of them, the closest game being the first of the week. L’s team, which played without five players because of injury/illness/conflicts, came from 10 down to win by one. Most of the rest of the games were comfortable, with a couple run-ruled wins in there.

Last night we had a kickball and soccer practice and tonight begin a run of five games in four nights.

M’s team is in the best shape. They are undefeated and lead their division by a game. They play the second-place team, who they beat by one run in 10 innings a few weeks back, on Wednesday. Win that and the go to the City finals for the fifth time. Lose and they will have to play a single-game playoff to determine the division winner.

L’s team has just one loss, but that was to the first-place team by 30+ runs. They play again on Thursday, but I’m not real confident we can manage a 30-run swing to force a playoff game. C’s team has a couple losses, but have mostly played against teams filled with older girls. Spring of fifth grade is often about toughening the girls up for the fall, when they will play on A teams.

I have a few good kickball stories I’m going to save for next week. We will dive into the 10-inning game M had in great detail.

L’s soccer team is undefeated as well. We made sure we got the prodigy who played for us last fall to sign up again. We figure he will always out-score opponents on his own, so as long as he doesn’t have a conflict with one of the other two teams he plays for, we’re good. They did have to play without him in one of their games last weekend and L picked up the slack, creating shots for her teammates and putting in enough of her own to ensure the win. She’s averaging 5–6 goals a game, but that number is padded by a game when she scored 10. The poor team we were playing that day just was not very good and even pulling our kids back and telling them to work on passing wasn’t enough to slow down our goal scorers.


I mentioned we had a few projects that were keeping me busy during the days. One of them involved getting a new car. We still had six or seven months left on the lease on the Suburban I had been driving for almost three years. We were ridiculously past the miles limit already, so just planned on buying it when the lease ran out.

Our salesman called me a few weeks back to check on our plans. When I told him we would probably purchase it, he said, “Come in and see me. We’ll work something out.”

Ominous words coming from a car salesman!

I went in and a couple days later ended up dropping off the Suburban and driving away in a much nicer Tahoe. I’m still not really sure I understand how this works for them, but they bought us out of our lease with zero penalties or fees. Granted, they put us in a new lease for another 39 months and have a Suburban in very good cosmetic shape with decent miles on their used car lot. But, still, seems like we got the better of the deal.

The Tahoe is much nicer than the Suburban, which is cool. Power everything, leather, etc. where the Suburban was the lowest tier of trim. We lost a seat in the process – the middle row has captain seats instead of a bench seat – but the girls like not being on top of each other. One less kid we can haul to games or practices, though. The big thing is the loss of all that cargo space Suburbans have. That was vital to our lake weekends, so we’re really going to have to rethink how we pack when we head south.

That was good, clean, unexpected fun!


S and I went to her cousin’s wedding Saturday. It was nice and fun. We were all well-behaved, so no good stories to share.


M and I were supposed to head south today for her seventh grade retreat which is always held at the CYO camp down near our lake house. There was a scheduling snafu with busses, parents were asked to transport kids, but only a few of us volunteered, thus the trip got cancelled. M’s class has had a rough few weeks; there have been some broad behavior issues and the entire grade had their school-issued laptops taken from them. When she learned their retreat had been cancelled, she sighed and said, “They all hate us…” Meaning the teachers and administrators. So dramatic. I was cool with not having to get up at 6:00 this morning and spend the day with moody teens. Plus I’m headed to the lake Thursday to take care of some projects down there.


The girls are down to 13 days of school before summer vacation. They are beginning to think ahead about what they’d like to do over break. We already have a number of camps scheduled. We’re going to join the local water park. No trips this year, or at least none that involve traveling out of state. At dinner last night we were throwing out ideas for the days when we don’t have something scheduled. It’s going to get here quick.

Friday Vid

Today is the St. P’s annual day of service. I’m signed up to join C’s class at a local food bank and we were scheduled to leave very early, so this was actually posted Thursday night.

Last month was the 10th anniversary of my favorite album of this century, Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight. I have not posted anything about that because I’m saving my recollections for the anniversary of when I first heard the band. Believe me, I will have some thoughts to share.

This winter the band went on a mini tour to celebrate the album’s 10 years of wrecking people’s hearts. They played very small clubs – clubs the size they were playing 10 years ago – and the dates sold out brutally quickly. Too quickly for me to even consider seeing them in Chicago, let alone try to get tickets. Luckily they stopped off at the AV Club’s office to do an AV Club Session.

Here is the first Frightened Rabbit song I ever heard. In a few more weeks I’ll share how that song, and the album, affected me nearly instantly. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to get the AV Club’s videos to embed in WordPress, so please follow the link below to watch.

Frightened Rabbit – “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms

 

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 7

Chart Week: April 21, 1984
Song: “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper
Chart Position: #36, 2nd week on the chart. Peaked at #1 for two weeks in June.

I recently read an article suggesting, based on an analysis of information from Spotify, that for the majority of us, the music we listen to between ages 11–16 form the basis for the music we listen to as adults.[1] I suppose this helps explain why I so love the music of 1984; that was the year I turned 13. Then again, that was a truly magical year for music so I don’t know if it matters whether I was 12/13 or some other age. It likely would have stuck with me regardless.

And I don’t know that it necessarily set the musical standard that I’ve stuck with my entire life. I certainly still listen to a lot of music both from and influenced by that period. And I come to a full stop when I hear a countdown from 1984. But I’ve also been listening to, primarily, alternative and indie rock for well over 20 years now. And I’ve always taken pride in keeping up with the latest trends in those genres rather than just listening to old tunes over and over. Witness my year-end music lists I spend hours putting together each December.

Still it was comforting to know that there may be some deep, biological explanation for why the music from 1984 still has such a strong effect on me.

Last week I listened to a good chunk of this countdown. Unlike the 1984 countdown I heard in February, we are now starting to get into the heart of the music that defined that epic year. It featured four songs from the Footloosesoundtrack. Lionel Richie, Madonna, and Van Halen were all on the chart. And there were two Cyndi Lauper songs.

“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is one of the iconic songs of that era. Helped immensely by its goofy video and Lauper’s unique look, it is one of those songs that seems undeniably connected to a specific moment in time yet will be played and loved forever. Lauper was this wacky, likable, non-threatening feminist who was intent on carving out a new place for women in music and society. Based on this song, she didn’t seem all that different from Weird Al Yankovic, an artist who would provide more comic relief than artistic quality.

Then she dropped “Time After Time” as her follow-up single and began staking a claim as one of the biggest, most important artists of the year. I think she also blew everyone’s minds a little. “Wait, is that really Cyndi Lauper singing this serious, somber song?”

Folks woke up quickly. With good reason, as it is an incredible song. As I recall, I tried to resist it. It was written for people at least 10 years older than me. When I was just trying to hold girls hands and maybe get a kiss, I couldn’t understand the emotional weight behind a track like this. Yet it still resonated with me, even if I couldn’t quite grasp what Lauper was singing about.

That emotional content is something I learned to appreciate as I aged. Plus, getting older means you can admit to liking slower, deeper songs that are made more for quiet moments alone than for dancing around with friends.

I swear I hear this track at least once a week on SiriusXM. Which makes me happy. I think people unfairly recall Lauper’s look, her unforgettable New York accent, and the video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and forget the rest of her career. They’ve turned her into a de facto one-hit-wonder even though she was far from that. She had four Top 5 hits in 1984 alone, then added another #1, a #3, and a #6 before the end of the 80s. It’s good that some other people out there remember “Time After Time” which is, by far, her best song.

Don’t believe me? The writers behind Parks & Recreation were down.


Reading up on the song’s background, I found something I knew and something I did not.

I knew that Lauper wrote the song with Rob Hyman, just before his band, The Hooters, became famous.

What I did not know was that her label was pushing for “Time After Time” to be the lead single for her album She’s So Unusual. Lauper objected, saying leading with a ballad would close people’s minds about her music and derail her career. She and her manager fought for “Girls” to be the first single. Who knows if things would have been any different had her first two singles been swapped in order. But she deserves credit for fighting for control of her career. Her choice worked out pretty well.


Somewhat ironically the same day I heard this on our local AT 40 replay, the Sirius replay was from 1987. My brother in music, John N, sent me a message saying he had just heard Lauper’s remake of Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On” in that countdown. He wondered why she thought the world needed that song in 1987. My response was: hubris. After her 1984, when if not for Prince and Bruce she would have had the biggest chart year of any artist, Lauper and the people around her probably thought she could do anything. Apparently a lot of the public agreed; her remake peaked at a respectable #12. She would only have one more Top 40 hit after that, though.


  1. For men it is 13–16; women are a little earlier at 11–14.  ↩

Stats

April 2018

  • MasterSystem – 48
  • Janelle Monáe – 41
  • Lord Huron – 31
  • Wye Oak – 31
  • Amen Dunes – 24

Complete stats available at my Last.fm page

Reader’s Notebook: 4/30/18

The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin
This was my spring break book, the final in Cronin’s super virus/vampire trilogy. In this book, thought it took him a long time to get going, offering a lot of background in the first half or so. Some of the background, that which centered on the life of Tim Fanning and how he came to be Patient Zero in the outbreak, was quite good. The rest of that half of the book, though, was a slog.

But Cronin finally got things cranked up in the second half. As the final entry in a trilogy about good vs evil, it all build up to a final confrontation. The build up was better than the actual moment of decision, to me. But Cronin made up for that with a highly satisfying epilogue, which jumped even further into the future when the world had begun rebuilding itself.

This was a perfect spring break book: not too heavy, thus did not require too much mental effort, but long enough to fill up nearly a week’s worth of reading.


Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike That Saved Baseball – Jeff Katz.
If there was a moment when I most loved baseball, it was the summer of 1981. We moved to Kansas City late in the 1980 season, so while I was able to jump into the midst of George Brett’s chase of .400 and the Royals’ pennant drive, 1981 was the first season that I started from scratch. My room was filled with baseball magazines, baseball cards, sections of the Star and Times sports sections with blurbs about the Royals. I remember one week, when I was home with a stomach virus, falling asleep listening to rebroadcasts of that day’s Grapefruit League game. If baseball was an illness, I was fully infected in 1981.

Which made that summer’s strike a real pisser to me.

Katz’s book covers everything major that happened in baseball in 1981, but he spends his most time breaking down that year’s labor dispute, which was one of the most damaging and significant in any sport’s history. Sometimes he even goes too deep into the strike. There are incredibly detailed accounts of negotiations, behind-the-scenes maneuverings, and the public relations offensives both labor and management put out. My head was spinning at some parts trying to keep everything straight.

But it’s a useful read to get a feel of where the game was at that time. The owners actually wanted teams that lost free agents to be able to claim a player off the roster of the team that signed their outgoing player. So when the (then) California Angels signed Reggie Jackson that fall, the Yankees would have been able to claim a player off the Angels’ roster. How insane does that sound today? The motive was clearly to dramatically reduce the opportunities for free agents, both increasing the likelihood they would remain with their most recent team and keeping salaries from escalating so quickly.

Katz is unabashedly on the side of the players, as I generally am today. I don’t know if that was the case for 1981 me, most likely because of people around me complaining about the players being greedy.

There’s plenty of on-the-field stuff, too. Katz follows Fernando Valenzuela’s amazing rise, the Oakland A’s incredible start, another year of heartbreak for the Montreal Expos, the insanity that was the Yankees, and the general strangeness that came from baseball’s only split season.


American War – Omar El Akkad.
Another alternate history that takes place in the future and has to do with a division within the United States.

American War takes place late in the 21st and early in the 22nd centuries. The US has been split in two, between the north and south, once again. This time the casus belli is a global ecological disaster. As the climate has changed, the oceans have overrun coastal areas. Florida is completely under water, along with other long stretches of the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The US capital has moved to Columbus, OH, where it is safe from the encroaching waters. And the government has banned the use of fossil fuels, an act the oil producing and exporting areas of the south refused to go along with.

South Carolina led a secession effort that was quickly followed by Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. While other border states sympathized with the southern cause, they remained in the Union. (Texas and much of the southwest are under Mexican control, but we never really learn about the war(s) that caused this.) In response, the US launched a biological war effort on South Carolina, infecting its population with a virus that kills people incredibly slowly. To isolate the disease, South Carolina has literally been sealed off with a large wall monitored by guards with orders to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to get out. South Carolina, and the south, got the last laugh, though. When US scientists were working on a vaccine for the disease, they unwittingly unleashed an even more powerful and much faster virus that ended up killing over 100 million Americans.

So in the late 21st century the US and Free Southern State are in a stalemated war that has caused both sides to live economically stunted lives. A new power, that spans Northern Africa and the Middle East, works behind the scenes to keep the war going to protect their status as world’s biggest power.

With all this as backdrop, we follow Sarat Chestnut through her life. Born in the coastal area of Louisiana, she, her mother, brother, and twin sister are forced to flee to a massive refugee camp in northern Alabama after her father is killed while trying to gain documents that would have allowed the family to travel to and live in the US. At the refugee camp Sarat becomes known for her lack of fear. There is no dare she won’t take, no area she won’t explore, no person she won’t talk to. Eventually she comes under the wing of a mysterious man who travels with ease across borders and boundaries that stop others. Patiently he recruits Sarat until she begins taking on missions against the US troops that are stationed just outside the camp. In her late teens she pulls off an audacious assassination of one of the US army’s leading generals, which in turn causes a violent new turn in the war. This brief moment of triumph for Sarat does not go unpunished. Eventually she is captured and undergoes seven years of brutal torture. When finally released she slowly works her way back to normalcy with an assist from her young nephew. However, the damage done to her is too strong, and although she finds herself without interest in who wins the war, she craves revenge.

In an epilogue written from the perspective of her nephew in his adult years, we learn that Sarat’s final act was unleashing yet another massive biological attack that nearly wiped out everyone left in North America.

El Akkad was born and raised in the Middle East, but has spent most of his adult life working as a journalist in Canada. The book reflects his journalistic background, as chapters of the proper narrative are divided by various “historical accounts” of the war from after its completion. These help to provide context to the broader story.

American War works well both as a novel of a dystopian future and as a statement on the effects of war. Sarat’s development displays how anyone can be radicalized given the right circumstances. And her hopelessness late in her life demonstrates how war destroys the soul.

Highly recommended.

Friday Playlist

“Breath In, Breath Out” – Melody’s Echo Chamber. Such good news that Melody Prochet is returning this summer after suffering serious injuries in an accident last year. Her new album was all recorded and set for release before her accident but was delayed pending her recovery. Glad that she is back.

“AZ” – Now, Now. Mother Nature keeps pushing spring back. It might, MIGHT, be up in the 80s here next week. I wish it would hurry up and warm up, because we’re wasting good songs like this on these cool days when you can’t drop the windows and drive around with them blasted.

“Wild Light” – Peter Matthew Bauer. Bauer is an artist who I generally like, but I also seem to miss his new releases and only discover them a few months later. His latest album, led by this single, came out last November but I just came across it recently. This is a fine, Kurt Vile-like tune.

“No Soul Will Remember” – MOLLY. Here’s some shoegazy, dream pop from Austria of all places.

“Dreams” – Japanese Breakfast covering The Cranberries. A pretty solid take on a classic, recorded in a Spotify Studio session.

“Pynk” – Janelle Monáe. As always with Ms. Monáe, VIDEO IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

Yeah, I know this was in last week’s playlist. But her album, Dirty Computer, came out today and it’s most excellent. And this just might be the best song of the year, so far. Even bigger, Janelle dropped the quote of the year in her interview with Rolling Stone, in which she came out as “pan-sexual.” She labeled herself as “a free-ass motherfucker.” I want that on my tombstone. 

College Hoops: KU and Condi

I suppose I’ll finally take my head out of the sand, hold my breath, and write about KU’s name coming up in the most recent FBI indictments related to shoe companies, college hoops, and recruiting.


Over spring break I was only mildly tuned in to news of any kind. At the end of the day, while the family was taking turns getting showered and ready for dinner, I would check Twitter and scroll back just an hour or so to make sure I didn’t miss anything big. It just so happened that the KU news broke right as I was doing my daily check, so I got sucked into the instant analysis. That was a fun half hour or so as I and others speculated on what KU players were involved and combed through the indictment to see how bad it really was for the program.

I’m a little relieved to say, based on what we know right now, it’s really not that bad. I recognize that can change as more information comes out. And it’s certainly not good. But KU has not reached Louisville’s level of filth.

Why am I confident in saying that? Two words: Billy Preston. It is generally assumed that Preston is one of the two players referenced in the KU portion of the indictment. KU kept Preston from playing a single minute in a regular game last season. They appealed his eligibility to the NCAA for nearly three months before he gave up and took a paycheck in Europe. If KU was directly responsible for, or even had knowledge of, Preston and his representatives getting money from Adidas, there is no way they would have worked with the NCAA to get him cleared. That would be both the dumbest and boldest move of all times. “Hey, we arranged for our shoe company to pass a bunch of money to this kid’s mom. But we want you to examine his family’s financial records, our recruitment of him, and then rule him eligible.”

To me – admittedly wearing crimson and blue glasses – that’s a pretty clear sign that KU had no direct involvement in Adidas passing money to players they have recruited.

Again, I’ll say that’s based on what we know now. And I’m not saying Bill Self didn’t sit down with Adidas folks years ago and they had some kind of agreement that any player we were recruiting would get a bag of cash from Adidas if they signed with KU, and that agreement has held without any recent discussions to keep Self and his staff in the clear.

But if that was the case, why would KU rule Preston ineligible to begin with? Why not either let him play and hope they don’t get caught? Or just cut him loose when they believed the payments would come out? I suppose they could have fought to keep him eligible in order to keep his family from talking to the NCAA and spilling the beans. In that case, though, the smarter move is not to hold him in limbo for three months but to release him so he can sign a pro contract somewhere and get paid.

Now Silvio De Sousa likely being the other player named is more concerning. Silvio, of course, did play after becoming eligible in January. He played a major role in the Big 12 tournament championship game win over West Virginia. And he made some huge plays late against Duke in the Midwest regional final. When it became obvious that he was player #2 a lot of KU folks were saying things like, “Well, no need to put that Final Four banner up, because the NCAA is going to make us take it down because of Silvio.”

Now Silvio’s guardian, who allegedly took money first from Under Armour and then Adidas, denies he got any money from anyone. Which, of course he does. They never admit to taking money.

I’m a little less worried about the NCAA stepping in here for two reasons: Corey Maggette and Cam Newton. Duke was the only school not penalized in any way in the Myron Piggie scandal because they convinced the NCAA that they were not aware that Maggette’s eligibility was in question. Their 1999 Final Four banner still hangs. Same for Auburn and Cam Newton. Auburn is still, officially, the 2011 BCS National Champion despite Newton’s father getting paid. As with Maggette, Auburn successfully argued that they were unaware of the payments and that Newton’s eligibility was in question. If it comes to it, that is going to be KU’s argument regarding De Sousa.

Now Silvio may not be eligible to play another game at KU, but I have about 75% confidence that the NCAA isn’t going to make KU vacate any wins from this past season.

Again, this is all based on what we know now and can change if/when more information comes out.

Honestly, I was surprised this wasn’t a bigger story when I got back home and was catching up on news. I think that’s because the facts, as the public is aware of them, favor KU. No coaching staff members were named in the indictment, nor were any arrested in its aftermath. While some bomb throwers have been busy taking the allegations and running with them, it seems like most reasonable, national observers who have examined the evidence agree with my view: KU players, or more specifically their parents and guardians, were involved but so far there is no evidence that the KU program was directly involved.

So that’s my stance, and I’m sticking to it. And hoping more, worse information doesn’t come out.

Besides, Marvin Bagley III’s dad got way more money from Nike than Silvio De Sousa’s guardian got from Adidas, and it was Silvio who cut down a net in Omaha not MBIII. I view that as a much wiser investment. Flags fly forever, fools!


I haven’t dived into the details of the report released yesterday by the commission led by Condolezza Rice on reforming college basketball. I have read some summaries and reactions. I think I have to agree with the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger who said the commission was a disappointing waste of time.

I’ll bullet point the major items here:
* Ending one-and-done. Ok, whatever. Kids should be able to go pro whenever they want.
* Allowing players to get advice from agents. Good. Would be better if they could accept money and stay in school.
* Holding coaches more accountable for cheating. Excellent.
* Guaranteeing scholarships for 3–4 years. Good.
* Penalizing schools who have players go pro early by locking those scholarships until that player’s eligibility would normally run out. Absolutely fucking terrible. Texas Tech recruits a Top 200 player who blows up and is now likely to be a top 15 pick in the draft in Zhaire Smith. They get punished for that by losing his scholarship for the next 2–3 years???
* Giving the NCAA more power over summer ball. The worst.
* Completely punting on every aspect related to player compensation. Cowardly.

In short, a bunch of well-meaning, but half-baked and toothless ideas that, if implemented as expected, will probably cause as much new harm to the college game as it does clean up the issues.

I love college hoops. It’s my favorite sport, the one I live and die with for five months every year. I wish it was like the 1980s again, when the best players – guys with NBA Hall of Fame talent – stayed in school for three or four years routinely. But those days are long gone. The NCAA needs to wake up and realize that, too, and help to create an environment that helps everyone, not just the organization’s revenue stream.