Friday Playlist

The flow of new music has slowed recently, as it always does this time of year. Thus, I’ve spent more time reviewing and whittling my Favorite Songs of the Year list lately, getting it ready for unveiling in about a month. 

So for today’s playlist, I decided just to open up Spotify, select my Songs, hit shuffle, and share the first five songs that popped out. Enjoy!

“Shark Fin Blues” – The Drones. Great, sludgy, grungy, emotional song from this Australian band, released in 2005. I remember it as a song I discovered on the great woxy.com. I just looked it up and found that it in 2009 it was voted, by a group of current Aussie songwriters, as the best Australian song ever. Wow! 

“Little Black Submarines” – The Black Keys. The Keys’ take on the “Stairway to Heaven” formula. And it works pretty well.

“This Lonely Morning” – Best Coast. We ought to be due for some new music from Best Coast in 2018. Please!

“Inside Job” – Pearl Jam. PJ’s 2006 self-titled album was a bit of a comeback after two straight albums that were often uneven. Fueled by anger about the Bush presidency and the way in Iraq, Eddie finally found something to get fired up about again. But this closing track was remarkable in being unlike anything the band had ever done before. It was written by guitarist Mike McCready. In fact, it was the first song he wrote entirely – including lyrics – to appear on a PJ album. 

“She’s A Girl and I’m a Man” – Lloyd Cole. Hey, it’s our old friend Dave introducing one of the greatest, forgotten pop songs of the early 90s. 

Reader’s Notebook, 11/16/17

Funny thing. After reading that Van Halen book in one day, I then didn’t read a thing for an entire week. And then took roughly a week to really get into my next book. Obviously my body was self-regulating and making sure I didn’t get too far ahead of my book-a-week pace.


The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Here we have An Important Book. So important, in fact, that Beatty became the first American to win the Man Booker Prize. That label and accolade make this a tricky book to write about. Oh, and the fact the book is a layered and outrageously original look at race in America makes it difficult to write about, too.

Do I just run through the plot? Tell you how it’s set in the mythical community of Dickens, CA, in south central LA, a predominantly black neighborhood that has been “disappeared” into larger LA – its borders erased, exit signs noting its name removed, city services all but dissolved? Do I focus on the narrator, a second-generation farmer in the community who continues to adhere to the original intent of Dickens – farmland for black folks – even as the land around him becomes increasingly urban? Do I tell you about his assistant, errrr, slave? The last surviving Our Gang actor who, after facing decades of racial abuse decides to turn himself back into a slave and demand to be worked hard, whipped, and otherwise degraded? Or do I go into detail about the narrator’s plan for saving Dickens as a distinct entity, which involves re-segregating its schools, buses, and businesses? Any one of those elements could demand 500 words or more to break down.

And then there’s Beatty’s writing style. This is an insanely funny novel, but also deeply disturbing, depending on how you approach it. I read some reviews by people who either didn’t get Beatty’s humor, or were put off by it, and thus missed the power of the book as a whole. The book is profane and direct, yet also laugh-out-loud funny on nearly every page. I guess some folks think when you’re writing about the series concept of race in America, you can’t have any fun while doing it.

This is a crazily good book. It’s one that you want to go back and read again as soon as you finish it, both because of Beatty’s writing ability and the story he’s trying to tell. And beyond all the laughs are some deeply important questions about where we are as a country and how we should try to move forward, and how in a multi-ethnic nation we find the balance between a new, common culture and keeping the traditions of our various sub-cultures alive.


Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill
After reading the collection of Daniel Woodrell short stories, I did some digging for authors with a similar style and came across Frank Bill. As the title of his own collection of short stories suggests, he is from southern Indiana, and all his stories take place down near the Ohio River.

Like Woodrell, and Donald Ray Pollack, Bill’s stories are dark, full of violence, and rarely have sympathetic characters. There are criminals and borderline criminals. Meth heads, dog fight trainers, cheating spouses. There are murders aplenty.

That this was Bill’s first published work was apparent. His stories lack the polish and subtleties of Woodrell’s and Pollack’s works. But they show promise, if you’re into the genre his work fits into.

Hoops Are Here

Here we go. Too early for sure, but the first big night of the college hoops year is tonight. These games would likely be much better if played a month from now but, whatever, we have to live with all these marquee matchups before Thanksgiving.

This year’s Champions Classic is perfectly arranged. Duke and Michigan State, #1 vs. #2, two complete and mature teams, will open the night. Then Kansas and Kentucky, #3 vs. #4, one fairly young and one very young team, both with lots of questions, will close it out. Doesn’t mean we’ll get two great games, but at least the matchups make sense this year.

The hard thing about these games is you don’t know what to expect. A week ago, KU struggled with a mediocre D2 team. On Friday they annihilated a mediocre D1 team. Kentucky struggled with a mediocre D1 team Friday and had to hang on for dear life against a solid D1 team Sunday. Of course tonight both teams might come out and shoot 60% and play a breath-taking game, as KU and Indiana did last November. Or it might be a dog of a game. It’s November freaking 14th, we just don’t know.

My expectations for this year’s KU team are fairly low. I must add the “relatively speaking” label to that, of course. Baring significant injuries, they should still be really good, win a lot of games, and have a high seed in March. But it doesn’t feel like a national title contender to me. They are just too short of depth and experience inside and are lacking that NBA prospect that can elevate a decent college team into a great one.

There is potential for that first problem to be eased a bit. Current high school recruit Silvio De Sousa is petitioning the NCAA to join KU after he graduates from the IMG Academy next month. There is some historical precedence for this – from one of the greatest KU players ever coincidentally – but since it hasn’t happened in years I’m not sure whether I should get my hopes up or not.

If high school football players can graduate in December, enroll in college in January and begin practicing right away, why shouldn’t De Sousa be able to play college hoops as soon as he’s graduated from high school? If Marvin Bagley III could decide in July that he was going to reclassify into the class of 2017 and enroll at Duke, how is this any different?

Still, I hate all this reclassifying nonsense. I feel like there need to be hard rules about it, and kids should stick with an academic class. So I’m conflicted.

Anyway, De Sousa could really help KU, even if he’s just another clueless body to plug in down low this year. I have a hard time seeing Udoka Azubuike play more than 25 minutes a night. And once he’s out, that leaves KU Billy Preston, who is 6’10” but is also more of a face-up player,[1] and Mitch Lightfoot, who is only 6’8” and checks in just over 200 lbs, as the Jayhawks inside guys. Even in the age of small ball, that’s going to be a problem.

Fortunately the Jayhawks have Devonté Graham to steady the ship. It’s unrealistic to expect him to go BIFM on the world this year. But through a couple exhibition games and one real game, he looks like he will be a much more productive player without Frank Mason III next to him. He’s still a deadly shooter and has already shown better ability at getting to the rim. There’s going to be a huge weight on that kid’s shoulders this year, and I think he’s up for carrying it.

The rest of the Jayhawks are a bunch of 6’3” – 6’7” athletic dudes. Which I love. Some of my favorite teams have been made up of interchangeable, athletic guys.[2] The question is, do these parts fit together? Can Malik Newman show the pro-potential offense he entered his freshman year at Mississippi State with and add the defense Bill Self wants from him? What is LaGerald Vick’s ceiling? Can he be a poor man’s Josh Jackson, playing all over the court on both ends? Can Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk finally, consistently deliver on all the hype he came with four years ago? Is Marcus Garrett ready to play a huge role as a freshman?[3] When Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible in January, what will he bring to the table?

Can a team this shallow, with a huge hole at backup big man, weather the battles of the 18-game Big 12 season and extend KU’s title streak to 14? I think that’s a huge question right now. And no matter what happens tonight, I don’t know if we’ll have any real answers to any of those questions. Playing a callow Kentucky team on a neutral court in November is nothing like playing Baylor at home on Saturday and then going to Morgantown on Tuesday then having to play Oklahoma on Sunday. Josh Jackson was one of those rare talents who could fill just about any hole on the court. This year’s team doesn’t have someone with his talent or basketball IQ to hide the roster’s gaps.

My expectations are also limited simply because I think Duke, Michigan State, and Arizona are several very clear notches ahead of the pack this year. Sure, someone else could win the title. But those three are the overwhelming favorites.

After two-straight Elite Eight seasons and the BIFM/Josh Jackson experience, and with a monster recruiting class coming in next year, this is looking like a gap season for KU. Thank goodness gap years at KU mean a lot of really fun things are going to happen between now and April.


  1. Prediction: Billy is going to drive KU fans nuts. He’ll be great one night and a disaster the next. Basically the new Carlton Bragg, hopefully without the off-court stuff.  ↩
  2. The classic UNLV teams, 1989 Illinois, to name a couple.  ↩
  3. Prediction: he’s going to become one of my favorite players over his time at KU.  ↩

On The Academic Tip

A couple cool things M has accomplished recently.

Earlier in the year, a big group of girls in her grade attended the induction ceremony for National Junior Honor Society. M had never mentioned a thing about it, and when I asked her, she just shrugged. I dug into the student handbook and saw her GPA last spring was 0.3 points too low to get admitted.

M worked really hard in the first quarter of this year, raised her GPA up over 3.6, and a week later came home with an invitation to join NJHS. When she handed the letter to me, she was trying to act cool about it, but you could tell she was really excited. She filled out the application, turned it in, and last week came home with her certificate recognizing her admission into the hallowed halls of that august organization. I mean, I guess it’s august. I have no idea what they do, and neither does M at this point. Not sure if there are meetings, secret handshakes, honors and privileges, etc.


A quick aside to point out that I was never in National Honor Society in high school. I was only a solid 3.3 student throughout my years, for starters. And when I was a freshman, I got in trouble for the one time in my high school years.

Our science teacher floated between our high school and the rival school across the district. Like any teacher worth their salt, she harnessed a class full of kids to do her grading for her. She’d pass out papers from the other school to us, run through the answers, and we’d grade them. Her nights were suddenly free! She was young and attractive so I approved.

Anyway, our papers always came back from the other school with good natured comments on them like, “Ray South Rules, Raytown Drools!” Well, one day we were a little wound up at our table, and I decided I would not stand for the name of our good school to be besmirched by the hooligans from the south side. On a paper I was grading, I wrote, “Q: Why is Ray South so good at basketball? A: Because they’re good at playing with their balls.” Dude, everyone around me thought it was hilarious! Especially since I wrote it on the paper in red ink. And we had to sign our names next to the final graded score, so there was no way they could get blamed for my heroic act.

You can probably see where this is headed.

It took a day or so, but there was blowback. I was sent down to the assistant principal’s office to discuss my transgression. He also happened to be the athletic director, and Ray South had been kicking our asses for years in basketball. He read what I wrote and literally laughed out loud. It was the 80s, he could do shit like that. He quickly coughed, composed himself, and issued me one day of in-school suspension. But there was a gleam in his eye, and a wry smile that let me know I had impressed him with my gumption.

When I reported for my day of in-school suspension, the teacher monitoring the morning session did a double take and said, “I never expected to see you in here.” Same thing for the teacher that came in at lunch. And then the teacher that covered the afternoon. And several of the deadbeats who spent most of their time in the ISS room. “Man, what did you do to end up here?” I thought about saying, “I stabbed someone.” But since most of these kids were headed for jail eventually, I figured they might see me as a threat rather than a badass. I remember getting through all my work for the day well before lunch and then spending the rest of the day reading Basketball Digest and Sports Illustrated. All-in-all, not a bad day.

One of my teachers, though, shook her head the next day and said, “You know you can never be in National Honor Society now, right?” I gave her a dumb look because it never occurred to me that I would want to be in NHS, let alone writing a stupid joke on someone’s science quiz would eliminate me from ever joining.

Oh well. I have a solid story and what are all those geeks who were in NHS back in the late 80s doing now? Probably being lawyers and doctors and titans of commerce and whatnot. But still, I think I came out ahead in the deal.


OK, back to M. Middle schoolers at St P’s have to do a monthly service project. For October their assignment was to get involved in a local issue. They were to research things going on in the community, find something that required government attention, and contact a local official about it. She read about homeless kids struggling to get their homework done and came up with an idea for secure spaces where these kids can do their school work. They would be small kiosks that were covered to keep the weather out, supplied with pencils and papers and good lightning, and had security cameras to keep the kids safe. After putting together all the details, she wrote a letter to the governor with her idea.

On Friday she got a letter back from the governor’s office. One of his outreach staff wrote M a letter thanking her for sending the letter, saying she had some good ideas, and how important it was for citizens to get involved in issues like this. She said the governor thought M was a “fine young Hoosier,” which caused me to laugh out loud. I’ve been here 14.5 years and folks willingly calling themselves Hoosiers still makes me laugh. I’ve been calling her a Fine Young Hoosier ever since.

Anyway, M was beaming after reading the letter. She realized on her own the governor probably didn’t see her letter or direct someone to respond on her behalf. But she still was thrilled to get something back. She carefully examined the signature at the bottom and said, “I don’t think this is a stamp. She really signed it!” which I thought was sweet.

Saturday Song

Damnit.

I’ve reached the point in my life where if I want to remember things, I have to somehow set a reminder. The girls tell me they need more school supplies? Set a reminder. There’s something I’d like to remember in three months? Put it in the calendar. 

I know this isn’t some kind of radical new system, but up until a couple years ago, I could always count on my brain to recall things when needed.

Even with these electronic assists, sometimes my system falls apart. Like if I’m hurriedly putting a reminder in and use an abbreviation I can’t recall, or put in a reminder without any details. For example, last week I had one pop up that just said “Door.” OK, was I supposed to paint a door? Buy a door? Knock on a door? No idea.

This week I noticed a reminder on the calendar for Friday that just said “EF”. Hmmmm. I stared at it for awhile but couldn’t figure out what the hell I meant when I had first put it in, so I ignored it. Nice system, right?

Later in the day I came across a Tweet that reminded me why I had put a reminder for EF in, turns out one year ago. It was because yesterday was the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Falling on a Friday it seemed like the perfect day to include Gordon Lightfoot’s ode to the lost ship in my Friday playlist.

A couple things.

First off, I had long written off the song as some cheesy, mid-70s folk tune, a remnant from my childhood I didn’t need to rediscover. Then when our girls got to St. P’s, the music teacher, who is in her late 70s, always had them learn the song and the story behind it the first week of November. That’s kind of cool. I listened to it with them and realized it’s a hell of a tune. There’s that unforgettable riff that carries the song. The lyrics are pretty genius, and the epitomize that era: writing a folk/pop song about a tragic, real life event.

Also, people around here tend to recall the event more than I ever remember it being brought up back in the Great Plains. Apparently with Indiana bordering on a Great Lake, the events of November 1975 were a much bigger deal here, and more deeply ingrained into the cultural memory.

Between all of that, and hearing it once every six weeks or so in SiriusXM’s 70s channel, I’ve come to really love the song. I suppose it works out just fine that my reminder system let me down and I have to share it on its own rather than in yesterday’s playlist.

Friday Playlist

“Intrepid” – Pinegrove. A fine new single and the exciting “More News Coming Soon” entry on Pinegrove’s website is promising for 2018. 

“Boy Crazy” – Lydia Loveless. Likely the first single I ever heard from Loveless, who in now in that group of 20 or so artists that I love the most right now. Originally released in 2013, it’s the title track of a collection of B-sides and older stuff she just released.

“Find the River” – R.E.M. Today is the release date for the 25th anniversary edition of Automatic For The People, so might as well include another song from it. This has to be in the pantheon of all-time great closing tracks, the perfect summation of the perfect album.

“For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)” – Pete Yorn. Man, this song… I had no idea who Pete Yorn was and then I heard this song in the summer of 2001 on the old Music Choice channels that were part of my cable package in Kansas City. It’s a cornerstone song for that era, when we were coming out of the grunge years but the indie rock ‘00s hadn’t really kicked off yet. The entire album, musicforthemorningafter, is an underrated classic. 

Quick Notes

A few assorted notes for the middle of the week.

Election Night

A little less traumatic than a year ago, for sure. The result I was most interested in was the vote on the new airport in Kansas City, which passed overwhelmingly. There’s no doubt that KCI needed a facelift, but I’m among those who still love it. It’s the most convenient mid-sized airport I’ve ever been to. You can literally get dropped off at the curb and be through security, at your gate, in less than 10 minutes if conditions are right. Compare that to Indianapolis, where you have a 10-minute walk just to get to security. And then likely another 10 minutes to get to your gate. And IND is a small airport!

That said, I’m all for my hometown building a single-terminal airport. IND is really nice, and when you throw out the unique KCI, it’s comparatively very fast to get through. Hopefully Kansas City will follow Indianapolis’ lead in building something that has space for the future but keeps the middle-sized city compactness to it.

Colts

Andrew Luck’s season is over without it ever beginning. There are rumors – some substantiated, some disputed – that folks within the organization are calling out Luck for his inability to play – well practice – with pain. Let’s not forget it was the Colts who built a terrible offensive line in front of Luck that forced him to flee for his life or get pummeled on every snap. Let’s not forget it was the Colts who, likely, mismanaged several of his injuries over the past two years. I understand frustration with an injury that seems to be defying what the medical experts forecast in terms of recovery time. But there doesn’t need to be any throwing of Luck under the bus.

Oh, IF he comes back healthy next year, he’ll begin the year having just turned 29. And the offensive line will still be shit.

We thought we had the next Elway when the Colts drafted Luck, and a worthy successor to Peyton Manning. It’s looking more and more like Luck’s career will mirror Archie Manning’s that Elway, Peyton, or even Dan Marino. Moments of brilliance but ultimately disappointment at a missed opportunity.

KU Basketball

I watched their exhibition game last night. Kind of sorry I did. They did not look good at all in the first half, only mildly interested and lethargic. My first thought was they had been run really hard in practice on Monday and were suffering. The mantra the past couple years for KU hoops has been “this team has less margin for error than in the past.” That’s even more true this year. We’ll see how they look when the games count, but right now, on November 8, I think this could be the year the Big 12 title streak finally ends.

Sick Days

We had our first sick kid day of the year yesterday. C stayed home not feeling well. Ironically she had the first sick day of the year last year, also on November 7. I know that because of a Facebook post from that day. S suggested she watch A League of Their Own and said Madonna was in it. C’s response, “Who’s Madonna?” I guess I’ll go ahead and mark her down for absent on 11/7/18.

Leaves

What a weird fall. Hardly any leaves fell early. Colors changed quickly and a bunch come down last week. But we still have trees that are normally bare right around Halloween that are full of leaves. It’s made for easier gutter cleaning than normal. And we only spent an hour blowing leaves at the lake Saturday, although that may have much to do with my finally investing in a gas blower instead of S and I using two electric blowers like in the past.

Comfort Zone

I’m not the most outgoing person in the world. Particularly when it comes to strangers. I just don’t have that gene that makes it easy for me to talk to people I don’t know in non-social settings. I’m not the dude striking up a conversation with the guy next to me while we wait in line at the deli, or the mom sitting by me at a first sports practice for one of our kids. So when I do have a lengthy encounter with someone I don’t know, it always stands out.

A week or so ago I was making my normal Monday grocery run. I went to a store I don’t normally go to, wearing a generic KC hat.[1] I was heading toward the meat cooler when I noticed a woman looking at me and making a beeline in my direction. I looked away, looked back, and she was still heading right at me. My first thought was that she had her eye on a particular package of pork chops and was worried I was going to get it first. But then she broke into a smile and I began racking my brain for if I knew her from somewhere. She was probably in her early 60s, so I’m thinking grandmother from St. P’s, parent of one of S’s friends, etc.

Anyway, she rolls up on me and kind of nervously says, “Is that for Kansas City?”

It took me a moment to realize she was asking about my hat.

“Oh, yeah, it is. Are you from there?”

“I thought so! No, but we just had some very good friends move there.”

Thus kicked off a roughly 10-minute conversation. And by conversation I mean she stood there and told me all about her friends who moved to KC, what their jobs were, how this woman and her husband used to have dinner with them, what each one of the four would make for their dinners, etc. The man who moved to KC made really good lasagna and his wife made the most wonderful salad to go along with it.

So, you know, I was totally comfortable with all of this.

Eventually she asked me what I did and what my wife did. When I told her, she mentioned that she had a friend who was in medicine. Then segued into telling me about her daughter who lives in North Carolina for about five minutes.

I kept waiting for some kind of pitch to come. The question of whether I’ve accepted Jesus. Or if I’ve heard of Amway. Or even about how she was down on her luck and could just use a few bucks to buy some groceries for the week.

None of that ever came, though. I think she was just a lonely lady looking to talk to someone, and my KC hat was just the opening she needed to corner me.

After several awkward pauses and me saying, “Well…” she finally wished me a good day and left me to finish my shopping. Which I did nervously, hoping I wouldn’t get cornered by someone else.

Needless to say I’ve not been back to that store or worn that hat while doing my shopping since.


  1. It is royal blue with gold, block KC on the front. So vaguely Royal-esque in a late 1970s way. I got it off an ad on Instagram. It’s kinda dope.  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Walkaway” – Weaves. I heard this song for the first time yesterday and immediately fell in love with it. I think I hear a little bit of Martha Davis, of The Motels, in the vocals.

“On And On” – Curtis Harding. This song has been bouncing around for a bit, but Harding just released the album it is the lead single for last week. Similar to Leon Bridges, Harding takes us back to a classic era in soul music. Where Bridges mills the early 60s, Harding pulls his sound from the early 70s, when soul music was exploding and going 100 different directions. His music has a lot of the same influences in it as Cee Lo Green’s music. Which makes sense, since Harding was a backing vocalist and musician on Green’s biggest hits. The album is a really good listen.

“Atlas Drowned” – Gang of Youths. Another one from my current music obsession. A week-plus into listening to their album constantly, this song is emerging as one of my absolute favorites. And the album itself is creeping up my best of the year list. Which has only 5-6 weeks left before I have to lock it in and share it with the world.

“Maria También” – Khruangbin. I don’t usually include instrumental tracks, but this one is delightful and demanded a spot on the playlist. These kids are from Texas but are obsessed with Thai funk, thus their name which translates to “Engine Fly” in Thai. OK then. 

“Town Called Malice” – The Jam. This song doesn’t get enough respect in the States. I’m a huge Clash fan, but I can also make a pretty reasonable argument that this is the best song to come out of the first wave of British punk bands in the late 70s. The organs and Motown bass disguise a pretty stark look at life in England in the dreary 70s, and Paul Weller’s hope to change things just a little bit.