Month: December 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook: #58

For my final entry of 2016, I’ll make my first attempt at my promised adjustment in how I share the books I’ve been reading. No more monthly entries, where I can barely remember the details of the book I read five weeks ago. Back to individual posts for each book. Or occasionally a small group of books.

I began 2016 reading Richard Price’s The White’s, which he wrote under his pen name of Harry Brandt. It was an excellent, gritty, New York cop novel. To close out the year, I stayed in the cop realm, but went a completely different direction in tone. Stephen Dobyns’ Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? was one of the funniest and best reads of the past year.

Fat Bob revolves around, prepare yourselves, a man named Fat Bob. Who just happens to love Fat Bob Harleys; he had a garage full of them in a wide assortment of colors. On a warm, breezy, early March day in New London, CT, Fat Bob runs into a big problem. Literally. He hits a municipal trash truck at high speed, causing grievous and fatal injuries: Fat Bob is sliced in half, decapitated, and otherwise torn asunder. Or at least we think it’s Fat Bob. It’s definitely Fat Bob’s bike.

And thus sets off a delightful romp of a book. The cast of characters is absolutely first-rate. There are bumbling detectives assigned to the case, who are often more interested in passive-aggressively driving each other insane than looking for a solution to the case. There is a witness to the accident, Connor Rapaso, who works for a “family business” that rips off people with telemarketing scams. He is deeply troubled by his new profession, is a terrible liar, and has conflicted feelings about three different women. There is Fat Bob’s ex-wife, who is hoping for his death so she can collect on his life insurance and finally have all the procedures completed that she believes will make her look like a prom queen again. There are hapless hitmen who somehow keep letting their intended victims get the best of them. There’s Fidgit the homeless man, who somehow ends up with the booty that half the characters are looking for.

Dobyns weaves a fantastic tale with these, and a handful of other, tremendous characters. His writing reminds me of Carl Hiaasen’s: it’s profoundly silly, but acknowledges its silliness. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, who slips inside the heads of many of the characters to reveal their wants, needs, and flaws. The narrator often breaks the fourth wall by pointing out what the reader may be expecting at this point, or noting the necessity of not sharing every detail of a specific scene in order to move the story forward. Dobyns has a wonderful way with words, and slips in dozens of beautiful turns of phrase.

This was a most excellent way to wrap up my year in books. Oh, for the final record, I read 58 books for the year. There were two books I began but dropped after 100 or so pages, which may have robbed me of hitting the 60 book mark. The 5–6 weeks I devoted to two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s books were probably as damaging. Still, a fine year on the reading tip.


Yesterday was one of those weird afternoons where you take a brief nap and, after waking, nothing seems quite right for an hour or so. The cobwebs seem too thick to push through and you’re left feeling like you’ve taken a bunch of cold medicine. As I was sitting there, trying to find solid ground again, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through Twitter, soon finding the news that Carrie Fisher had died. Suddenly I felt even more unsteady.

I don’t think Carrie Fisher was my first celebrity crush, but I do know I, like all the other boys my age at my school, was totally in love with her after seeing Star Wars. I’ve shared before how, the morning after I saw Star Wars for the first time, I went outside and sat on our front step and just stared into the distance, still trying to make sense of what I had seen. A healthy portion of that was caused by Fisher’s presence on the screen. I don’t think any of us ever lost that love for 1977 Carrie. I admired the way she lived her life after getting past her addictions in the mid–80s. She was smart, funny, outspoken, courageous, and brutally honest about her many failures and battle with mental illness. I can’t think of a better way to publicly live a flawed life.

On Christmas Day it was George Michael who died and sent a wave of shock through Gen X. I was never a huge Wham! fan, or George fan in general. But I did love a handful of his songs.[1] I listened to the first half of Faith yesterday. Those first four songs are an amazing reminder both of the times – when epic albums filled with massive hits were common – and Michael’s talent. He also lived a flawed life. Like Fisher he battled the expectations of fame, and fought to hold onto his sanity and manage his career on his terms. Word has it he was very generous and shared his wealth with many organizations that helped others, often doing it with minimal or no publicity.

I wrote on Facebook yesterday that, now that our generation has reached middle age, the heroes of our youth are climbing into their old age years. And they seem to be slipping away with shocking frequency. As upsetting as their deaths are, they also make sense. Muhammad Ali was 74. David Bowie was 69. Fisher 60. Prince 57. Michael 53. While the last three were still fairly young, they’re also into the years when the actuarial tables begin to catch up with them. Especially when they’ve often lived rather hard lives thanks to the trappings of fame. That doesn’t make these loses any easier.

I wrote in April that Prince’s death was the first celebrity death that ever floored me. It still shocks me when I’m walking through the grocery store and I hear “Raspberry Beret,” as I did last week, and I am reminded that he’s gone. While not to the same extent as with Prince, I did have a few moments of genuine sadness yesterday after learning of Fisher’s death. And I’m beginning to dread learning who is next.

  1. “Everything She Wants,” “Faith,” “I Want Your Sex,” “Father Figure.”  ↩

Christmas 2016

A very busy and fun first quarter of our Christmas break is in the books. As is required of anyone who still runs a personal blog, here is a rundown of the past few days.

The girls were not released from their academic responsibilities until 1:00 Thursday. By comparison, the neighborhood kids all finished the previous Friday, so our girls felt like they got a late start. They do go back a week later than the neighbors, so it all evens out.

Friday evening we went out to dinner with our neighbors and then took all the kids to Christmas at the Zoo. It sounds like a lot of fun in theory, but in practice it was a bit of a letdown. Sure, there are pretty lights throughout the zoo along with other holiday decorations, but some of the animals have been removed for the winter. Others were simply locked up for the night. And even some of the animals that were still out for display had their lights turned down for the evening, so they were hard to see. Oh, and there was a steady if gentle rain the entire time we were there, which made the evening kind of sloppy. It needed to be about eight degrees colder so the rain drops turned to snowflakes, which would have been perfect for the evening.

Friday and Saturday daytimes were filled with the usual, last-minute racing around to get the house prepped for hosting folks. Multiple “final” trips to the grocery store were squeezed in between cleaning and straightening and organizing. Our first family gathering was Saturday evening for Christmas Eve. Lots of good food, the four youngest kids in the family all together for the first time, and a good kickoff to the official holiday.

Christmas Day. It’s funny how kids who have likely all figured out the Santa thing get upset when you insist they can’t wake the parents or go downstairs until at least 7:30 on Christmas morning. We had a couple arguments about this on Christmas Eve. By the time all the teeth were brushed, the fire was lit, and the obligatory pre-gift pictures were taken, the girls finally got at their presents around 8:00.

M got a Fujifilm Instax camera, a Vera Bradley cross-body clutch, a new volleyball, and a sweatshirt for her future high school. C got a Yogibo, new headphones, a neck pillow, and a Boogie board. L got a stunt drone, a teepee tent, and headphones. The family gifts were a couple games and a karaoke machine. In addition, they each got some fancy colored pencils and coloring books and other arty gifts from various aunts and uncles. They each seemed pretty pleased with their overall hauls.

After that, the two big family events of the day: brunch with the immediate family and then afternoon dessert when a handful of the extended family joined us. In all, we had guests for nearly 11 hours on Sunday. It was a long, tiring, but very good day.

Monday it was spring-like here in central Indiana.[1] L and I hit a park early so she could fly her drone on wide-open soccer fields. Later, we took the 18-month old cousin to a bigger park so all the kids could run and play. The afternoon and evening was apparently 1985 here in our house. S and I watched Fletch in the afternoon.[2] The girls all got an old movie in their stockings and we selected The Goonies for our evening flick. It was in L’s stocking and she was the only one who watched all the way through. She really liked it. Amazingly, I don’t know that I had ever seen it from start-to-finish.

Our agenda for the rest of the week involves doing some more cooking and probably a trip to a local, kid-friendly indoor attraction or two. Our Denver relatives arrive late tomorrow night, and our annual family game night will be at our house on Thursday night. And likely lots of lazing around.

So it’s been a good break so far. The girls have had their moments of annoyance, but for the most part been decently behaved. Same for the adults. The Christmas music has been stashed away for 11 months, but the tree is still lit, the decorations still out, and we still have six days of the most wonderful time of the year remaining.

I hope all of you had pleasant Christmases, too.

  1. Mid–60s and balmy. This morning the wind chills were back into the 20s.  ↩
  2. Her choice!  ↩


I didn’t read, or really pay any attention to, the Harry Potter books or watch movies when they were first coming out. Sure, I was aware of the phenomenon. I knew what Hogwarts was. I knew that adults seemed to enjoy the stories as much as young adults. But they came along at a point in my life where I really had no interest in digesting them.

However, I loved how Joe Posnanski wrote about reading the stories with his daughters. I made a mental note that, one day, when our girls were old enough, I would try to do the same. The only problem was that our girls weren’t interested in the stories. I tried for several years to get M to read them with me. But she always refused. She tackled other lengthy series of books, like Percy Jackson & the Olympians. But she always said no when I asked if she wanted to get started on Potter. She didn’t even want to do it on her own.

That changed about a year ago, however. When S had to bring the girls back to Missouri for my stepdad’s funeral, she was trying to find something that would interest all three girls in the car for six hours. She settled on the audio book for Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. Not sure if it was simply doing it via audio book, or all of them listening together in the car, but the girls were quickly hooked.

After our weekend drives, they all wanted to read the entire series. Each of them started with traditional books, but eventually I got the rest of the series on CD from the library and put them on their respective iPods. For the next couple months each girl would walk around with their earbuds in, listening as they did stuff around the house, as we rode to school, or as they fell asleep. In fact, C listened the the entire series about five times and in the process became a little addicted to audio books. Now each trip to the library for her involved selecting a new batch of books on CD for me to rip for her.

I knew that I would eventually get to the series myself, but other books or movies or baseball season kept me from cracking them. This fall we scheduled an early 2017 trip to Universal Studios in Florida, so I figured I better knock them all out before we go so I’m not completely clueless in the Harry Potter parts of the parks.

The week before Thanksgiving, I started The Sorcerer’s Stone. Four and a half weeks and seven books later, I have completed the Harry Potter saga! We had a nasty little ice storm here Friday night/Saturday morning, so we ended up spending the majority of Saturday just bumming around in the house. While S and the girls watched some of the Harry Potter movies, I sat next to the TV with my earbuds in and raced through the last 300 pages or so of The Deathly Hallows. It was a pretty solid way to burn four or five hours. We have all the movies on our DVR and I’m going to watch them as well after the holidays.

As I read the books, the girls would check in with me periodically to see where I was. I’d tell them the most recent scene I had read and they seemed to enjoy tracking my progress. I did have to shush them a few times and say, “Um, spoiler alert!” so they didn’t reveal anything too important.

I don’t know that I can or should add any great observations that haven’t already been made about the series a thousand times over. I did enjoy it very, very much. It’s a well crafted series. I liked the way J.K. Rowling grew the story as Harry grew. Her writing, and the depth of the stories, fit where Harry is at each step in his life. A few of my friends warned me that they get pretty dark as you move through them. That’s certainly true. I was a little worried that The Deathly Hallows was too dark and intense for our younger girls. But by the time I read it, it was too late. And they didn’t seem to mind or get frightened by it.

Speaking of The Deathly Hallows, that was by far my favorite book. I like how that’s the one time Rowling set aside the standard structure of the stories and turned it into a 750+ page race to the finish. That’s probably why I was able to sit and read so long Saturday finishing it; it’s pretty intense and I didn’t want to break my momentum. I thought the last 150–200 pages were simply magnificent. You kind of know what the ultimate result is going to be, but still it’s the author’s job to make the road to that destination interesting and entertaining. Rowling did throw significant doubt into how exactly the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort would turn out.

And all the zig-zags and moments of redemption along the way were most excellent. Neville turning into a badass! Draco confirming his weakness and perhaps showing compassion for Harry. And Snape! Good lord, Snape! The chapter where Harry dives into Snape’s thoughts, and discovers his true motivations and Dumbledore’s plans for Voldemort’s defeat about did me in. I had to get up and walk around a few times to clear my head and get the dust out of my eyes. I mean, I knew where we were headed. But I kept thinking, “She’s not really going to kill Harry, is she?” The final resolution was simply magnificent.

So I’ve knocked out a pretty significant literary accomplishment. The Harry Potter series was excellent, and I’m now well prepared to visit Universal Studios in a month. Oh, and along the way I eased past 52 books for the year. With my usual collection of holiday-time quick reads, there’s an outside chance I’ll get to 60 books for 2016. Which is pretty good considering I was well behind book-a-week pace for a significant stretch of the year.

Holiday Catalog Insanity

Over the past year or so, Drew Magary has become one of my favorite writers. Whether in his novels and collections of anecdotes about being a parent, his writings for GQ and Deadspin, or just on Twitter, he never fails to amuse me.

I might have first discovered him through his holiday-themed posts on Deadspin. You might recall when he shared his daughter’s ridiculous Christmas list and broke it all down for us.

Another of his evergreen holiday assignments is tearing apart the preposterous Williams Sonoma catalog. As always, this year’s edition is a delightful read.

The 2016 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog

As a bonus, he also ripped apart the insane letter that Restoration Hardware CEO put in the front of RH’s holiday encyclopedia, err, catalog collection.

The Restoration Hardware Catalog Intro Letter Is Lofty And Insane

If you’ve got the holiday blues, these two reads might just be the thing to jump start your jolly.

33 Favorite Songs of 2016

I usually offer some State of the Music Union thoughts when I share my favorite songs of the year lists. 2016 got off to a great start and then kind of cruised to the finish. Most of my favorite albums of the year came out during its first six months. There were some albums I was greatly looking forward to that I never connected with. To me, 2016 was a better year for singles than albums. And, because of that, I’m offering my biggest Favorites list ever.

A week ago I was toying with doing a Top 50 list. But I did some whittling, and then some more, and then one more round, and finally ended up with 33 songs. Thirty-three songs? Yep. Partially because I’m throwing out one of my core rules for year-end lists by including two songs from two bands. It was just too hard to pick for each of them. And since all four songs in question were Top 10 material, I figured why keep trying to distinguish between the pairs. Plus, 33 is a magical number when it comes to music.[1]

This year also continues a trend where more and more female artists are on the list. I always wonder why that is. Is it because I have three girls? None of them listen to this music, but perhaps I’m either channeling what I hope they listen to as they get older, or I just want to constantly project an acceptance of strong, independent women to them. Or maybe there are just more great female indie/alt rock artists now than ever before, and my preferences just reflect what is going on in the music marketplace. Or, maybe, women are rocking a little harder than men these days. I continue to be frustrated by how the various indie rock channels – be they blogs or SiriusXM stations or over-the-air radio – have been dominated by more synthy, dances music in recent years. I can handle some of that. But I’m a guitar guy first. I’m thankful at least the women aren’t afraid to rock.

Or maybe it means nothing at all. Probably that.

I would also add that the numbers attached to these songs are a little looser than normal. I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between song #32 and #17. If I did the final list tomorrow instead of today, the bottom 23 songs could be shuffled in an number of different orders. If you listen to them in order, though, you will likely find some songs belong next to each other, whether because of title or sound.

They’re all good songs, though. Which is the important thing.

I’ve included both a Spotify playlist of all 33 songs and YouTube videos for each song. As always, keep in mind these videos aren’t always safe for work.

33 – “For The Weak” – Lily & Madeline. This sister duo, from the north side of Indianapolis, got some positive national buzz for their album Keep It Together. I listened to it a few times and didn’t love it. But this song was the notable exception. And worthy of making the list for more than just being a local act.

32 – “Ludlow Expectations” – Butch Walker. Nostalgia gets a bad rap. Too many art critics dismiss it, for one reason or another. I can’t deny I’m a nostalgic dude, though. And every time I hear this song, it doesn’t just recall the sound of the mid–80s, but it touches something inside me that makes me physically feel like I’m back in that time, listening to music on a Panasonic Boombox while playing Atari and daydreaming about the cutest girls in my middle school.

31 – “Cleopatra” – The Lumineers. As I said when I shared this song earlier this year, I’m not a huge Lumineers fan. But I did come to love this. Probably my favorite song that got a lot of radio airplay this year.

30 – “Too Soon” – DMA’S. It can be tough to draw the line between influence and rip-off in music. These guys, for example, sound straight out of Manchester circa 1994, every element of the nascent Britpop movement packed into their music. Hell, they even dress like they’re from that era. The first time I heard one of their songs, I would not have been shocked to have been told it was an early, lost Oasis song. But when you go all-in, and are totally faithful to those roots, it works. Their album is an absolute joy to listen to, with most of the tracks barreling along unapologetically as this one does.

29 – “Open Your Eyes” – School of Seven Bells. We thought SVIIB was gone with the passing of founding member Benjamin Curtis late in 2013. But surviving member Alejandra Deheza took tracks left uncompleted before Curtis’ death and turned them into finished pieces. Knowing their history – they were friends and musical partners, then lovers, then just friends and partners again – this song, and the rest on SVIIB, have an extra level of emotion attached to them. Deheza’s tribute to Curtis is powerful and touching.

28 – “Dorothy” – Kevin Morby. A) Morby makes the list because he’s the only new Kansas City artist I discovered this year. B) He had a handful of great songs and a generally fine album. C) This song has an infectiousness that you can’t ignore. D) Dorothy was my paternal grandmother’s name. E) Songs about an artist’s instrument of choice are always great.

27 – “Twentynine Palms” – Carter Tanton featuring Sharon Van Etten. A song for contemplative moments on warm, summer nights. Or maybe those hours when summer nights are becoming summer mornings.

26 – “Sleepy Lagoon” – Carl Broemel. The epitome of lazy, summertime music.

25 – “Anxious Animal” – Syvia. There’s a little Metric, a little Fleetwood Mac (the drums), a little glam, and a little shoegaze in here.

24 – “Fading Lines” – Amber Arcades. Swirly, jangle/dream pop goodness. And she’s an internationally respected expert on war crimes. Talk about range!

23 – “Edge Of Town” – Middle Kids. I had been digging this song for awhile when I came across a blurb on a music site than commented on how it sounded like a Frightened Rabbit song. I have no idea how I missed that the opening notes of this song mimic the opening notes of my favorite FR track, “The Modern Leper.” Because once you hear it, you can’t un-hear it. I guess it helps that the rest of the track goes off in a very different direction, and is wonderful in its own way.

22 – “Queens” – La Sera. Just pure, indie rock joy.

21 – “Called You Queen” – Haley Bonar. Bonar’s been making music for a long time, but I just discovered her this year. This terrific rave-up harkens back to all that was good about female, singer/songwriter, rockers of the mid–90s like Julianna Hatfield and Tonya Donnelly.

20 – “Empty” – Garbage. I’m usually pretty skeptical of reunions by once-great bands. It’s one thing to tour. It’s another to make a “triumphant” return to recording music. Usually bands that go away and then try to come back end up sucking. That’s why this song just blew me away. It’s fan-fucking-tastic, arguably as good as anything Garbage did in their mid-late 90s prime.

19 – “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” – Phantogram. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if Phantogram wasn’t a natural progression from Garbage. Although they aren’t a perfect match, there are enough common threads to connect them. Phantogram has been making great, dark, electro-dance pop for years. After collaborating with Big Boi in 2015, they tweaked their sound ever-so-slightly to reflect some of his influence. But, at its core, their music continues to plumb the depths of the darkest sides of romance. I bet life with Sarah Barthel is a wild, wild ride, man.


18 – “My Man” – Valley Queen. A big, rootsy, ass-kicker of a song, filled to the brim with soul.

17 – “Masterpiece” – Big Thief. A massive, clunky – yet beautiful – beast of a song.

16 – “Can’t Understand the News” – Big Search. Such a great song for the melancholy part of the summer, when it’s coming to an end. The line about not understanding the news in a foreign city feels a little more relevant as we begin the Trump era.[2]

15 – “Fountains of Youth” – Local Natives. LN songs are always kind of hit-and-miss with me. This one hit in a big way, as it builds and pulls back and builds and pulls back and finally crashes gloriously.

14 – “Shut Up Kiss Me” – Angel Olsen. I loved, loved, loved Olsen’s 2014 album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Although this year’s MY WOMAN got glowing reviews as well, I did not connect with it the same way. That’s fine, because it still offered up this scorcher as a single. It is a huge change from Olsen’s previous sound, which was often dark and somber and vulnerable. This song, however, is loaded with sass and confidence and is completely undeniable.


13 – “Personal” – Matthew Logan Vasquez. Fuzzy guitars, a quick tempo, and a catchy chorus. All you need for a great driving song.

12 – “Antony” – Twin River. Combining 80s pop[3] with War on Drugs guitars? Hell yes! For about 10 days last winter, I thought this was maybe the greatest song ever.

11 – “Same To You” – Lydia Loveless. One of the most honest and powerful singers in the game right now. She has the classic “Midwestern” sound. If you clicked it a couple notches to the right, it would be country. A couple notches to the left, it would be straight indie rock. She’s perfected that space right in the middle.

10 – “Watching The Waiting” – Wye Oak. From their Tween album, which featured tracks recorded between their previous two studio albums, this sounds like nothing else in the Wye Oak catalog. Buoyant, light, happy, and delightful. Sometimes it’s the exception to an artist’s main body of work that most proves their genius.

9 – “Pale Kings” – Shearwater. The single greatest musical moment of the year is the stretched out “RIIIIIIIIGHT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!” that closes this song. And the two choruses just slay me every time I listen to it. The song is the centerpiece of an album that the band described as summing up the discomfort of wanting to protest in an age of relative peace and prosperity. Little did we know…

8 – “Seasons Change” – Nadia Reid. One of the most exciting and promising young voices in music. The depth of this song – and the rest on her debut album Listen To Formation, Look For Signs – is almost shocking given she wrote most of the album while still in her early 20s. I just love the gradual fade-up, which builds to a gentle swagger that demands your complete attention. She just released the lead single off of her next album, which will drop in March, and it’s another stunner.

7 – “Run” Eliza Shaddad. I do love dark, turbulent, cinematic songs. And this is an absolutely epic example of that from this amazing new artist. The song’s slow burn to massive crash is astounding.

6/5 – “Never Going Back”
“80 West”- Caveman
These were two of the three singles Caveman released in advance of their Otero War album, and I absolutely loved them. “Never Going Back” treads awfully close to The War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes,” but it does so respectfully. That would have been something, had it been my favorite song of the year, as “Red Eyes” claimed that honor two years ago. “80 West” is a gorgeous piece of synthy pop. Sadly the rest of the album didn’t match up to these two songs. I saw Caveman open for Frightened Rabbit in April, and they put on a fine show.

4 – “Valleys of the Young” – Andrew Bird. Bird has landed on my year-list at least twice in the past, and I’m a big fan of his more rock-based songs. This might be the best song of his career, though. Written after getting married and having a son, it’s a long rumination on all the responsibilities, pressures, and fears that come with being a parent. It’s brilliant lyrically, musically, and emotionally.

3/2 – “Break”
“An Otherwise Disappointing Life” – Frightened Rabbit.
This was the year I finally got to see my favorite current band live. And twice! Painting Of A Panic Attack shifted FR’s focus a bit, but most of the songs were still centered on difficult relationships. They just weren’t always dying romantic ones.
On “Break,” Scott Hutchison seems to be singing to his brother and bandmate with whom he’s had several public tussles in recent years. I love his acknowledgement that he’s fucked up, and that he is fully capable of repairing the damage, but still leaves it uncertain as to whether he’s going to try to mend what is broken.
“Disappointing” is, to me, the centerpiece of the album. Here Scott sings to his partner, who has become the one, steady, certainty in his life.[4] Everything else might be a mess, but at least he’s done right with her. And, on an album which producer Aaron Dessner intentionally dialed back FR’s signature build-build-crash sound, the explosion of sound in the final 60 seconds is both jarring and reassuring.

1 – “To Know You” – Wild Nothing. For an assortment of reasons, 2016 will not go down as one of my favorite years. I think some of that is reflected in the music on this list. Not necessarily sad songs, but certainly ones that are more inward-focused and layered with tension and/or melancholy.

This song, though, was a big, shiny point of hope that never went away. It first popped up in very late 2015, when I was mostly avoiding new music to listen to holiday tunes. But, still, I noticed it on SiriusXM and it quickly dropped into my high rotation listening list when the holidays ended. Over a year since it debuted, I’m still hearing it a couple times a week on satellite. For nearly six minutes you can set aside whatever ails you – whether it’s the state of the world or something more personal – and get completely lost in this song’s swirling, welcoming layers.

  1. Perhaps I should have included a third of a song to make the number perfect.  ↩
  2. Sigh.  ↩
  3. I hear some Madonna and Belinda Carlisle in lead singer Courtney Ewan’s vocals.  ↩
  4. Or at least was when he wrote the songs for this album.  ↩

Friday Playlist

A special playlist this week. I think I finally got my Favorite Songs of the Year list hammered out yesterday. I’ll finish my write up over the weekend and share it early next week.

When I used to do a semi-private podcast, each year before I shared my favorite songs, I would do a review show counting down the #1 songs of all the previous years. Seems like a good way for me to share some good tunes with you.


2004 – “Float On” – Modest Mouse. Famously the song I was listening to when S yelled at me that her water had broke, and it was time to head to the hospital. Nine hours late, little baby M had arrived!
2005 – “Going Missing” – Maximo Park. My social life went missing after I became a father. Hey-yo!
2006 – “Star Witness” – Neko Case. The song that introduced me to the treasure that is Ms. Case.
2007 – “Intervention” – Arcade Fire. A controversial year. As much as I loved this song at the time, a couple years later when I did my Best of the Decade list, it was knocked down by two songs that I had rated much lower initially.[1]
2008 – “The Modern Leper” – Frightened Rabbit. The year this not-so-merry band of Scots blew my mind.
2009 – “Whirring” – The Joy Formidable. Re-released two years later to wider acclaim, I was a cool “into all the music blogs” guy and loved this song the first time they unleashed it.
2010 – “FootShooter” – Frightened Rabbit. Every fucking line of this song is utterly amazing. All the other songwriters should have just stopped at this point.
2011 – “He Gets Me High” – Dum Dum Girls. Starting a hell of a run for Dee Dee and her pals; they claimed the #2 slot the next year.
2012 – “The House That Heaven Built” – Japandroids. Kick ass rock still exists.
2013 – “Holy” – Frightened Rabbit. Three-time champs!
2014 – “Red Eyes” – The War on Drugs. I can still listen to this song – and the album it came from – 20 times in a row.
2015 – “California Nights” – Best Coast. Bethany Cosentino’s entire career was a build up to this song.

  1. “Stuck Between Stations” by the Hold Steady and “Mistaken For Strangers” by The National.  ↩

Fifteen Down, One To Go

My counting may be off – I did make a chart to double-check my numbers – but I’m pretty sure that last night was the 15th, and next-to-last, Christmas program of our girls’ school lives. Every year since 2007 we’ve had at least one school program. 2013 was the sweetest spot in that stretch, with M performing in the St. P’s 3rd grade play, C in the first grade living nativity, and L in her St. S’s pre-K play. And there were a couple years in there when we had two girls in preschool, so they were both performing in different parts of the same program; I count those as a single event.

In that run we’ve had seven preschool programs. Three first grade living nativity plays. Three second grade classes singing in the third grade play. So far, two third grade plays. And now, just next year’s third grade play left.

Anyway, L sang with her class last night. They did a fine job, at least as far as I could tell. I thought the third graders did awesome, but I also have to grade them on a curve. St. P’s installed a new sound system this past year, so you could actually, clearly hear what all the kids were saying. There were years past where only the parents and families sitting near the stage could understand what the hell the actors were saying. All the corny jokes made it to the rows farthest back this year.

Some things about these programs never change. The rush to get there before all the good parking spots and seats are taken. The parents who roll in two minutes before the performance begins, looking harried as hell, and getting frustrated that they have to stand in the very back of the cafeteria to watch. The parents who have to work the entire crowd and are still standing, talking after the lights dim. Your non-performing kids pairing up with friends and disappearing out into the hallway or to a back corner of the room where they can chat. Folks trying to video their kids, leaning one way or the other to avoid all the cameras and phones that are raised up in front of them. And then the mad crush of hyper humanity in the lobby when the program ends.

It’s a good thing the kids have fun and the performances are always good for at least a laugh or two.

Now that chapter of our holiday season is complete. Another 4.5 days of school and Christmas vacation will be upon us.

Weekend in Chi-town

We had a nice weekend up in Chicago, the Mrs. and me. The occasion was for her to attend a conference for work, something we did for the first time a year ago when we went to Arizona. Amazingly, this was the first time I’ve been to Chicago in 15 years, since I ran the marathon in 2001. We’re three hours away! What’s wrong with us?

This time around we road-tripped it, dropping the girls off at school right at 7:30 Friday then getting on I–65 for the trip north. Clear roads and the time change put us in our hotel before 10 AM local, so S only missed a couple of the morning presentations. When she booked our room a couple months back, she had requested an early check-in time so I would be able to get into our room right away. With the hotel being filled with conference attendees, we figured that wouldn’t be a problem, something the person she booked with confirmed. On Friday, though, they threw a twist at us when we were checking in. They were working on the room we booked, but it might be a little bit before we could get in. However, if we upgraded, we could get in right away.

How convenient…for them!

We upgraded. Not sure how much nicer the room we ended up in was than the room we had originally booked, but the view was nice. We were staying at the Swissotel, right in the Loop, and as the picture below shows, we had a very nice view of Navy Pier.

She headed downstairs and after getting all our stuff unpacked, I grabbed my camera, bundled up, and headed out to find lunch. I stress bundled up because, after a long and very warm fall, it finally turned cold over the last 7–10 days, as many of you have also experienced. It was only in the mid–20s, with the wind whipping off the lake. First time I’d worn my heavy coat this season, and I had to add a scarf, gloves, and hat as well. I planned on cruising around a little before I found lunch, but after just 20 minutes I had to pop into a sandwich shop to eat and warm up. I crossed over to Millennium Park next and got some obligatory photos of the Cloud Gate sculpture, a few of the big Christmas tree, then decided it was time to hustle back to the hotel, where I spent most of the afternoon watching old ACC Tournament games on ESPN Classic.

A friend of mine from St. P’s grew up in Chicago and still goes up there a lot for work. He’s also a bit of a foodie/beer snob, and gave me a long list of places that were options for food over the weekend. For dinner Friday, we selected Howells & Hood, in the Tribune building. It was a 10-minute walk, and a rather nice one in the early-evening rush of downtown foot traffic. We had a very enjoyable dinner and then headed home. I don’t think the temp dropped more than a few degrees while we were inside, but it felt terribly cold. We acted like big babies and whined the entire walk home.

Saturday I got out a couple times while S was in sessions. The morning was insanely cold. I spent maybe 15 minutes outside before deciding it was stupid to be outside and went back to the room. A few hours later I decided to walk up Michigan Avenue, though the main shopping district. That was pretty cool. The streets were packed, there was plenty of Christmas cheer in the air, and the tighter quarters meant it didn’t feel nearly as cold. I walked all the way down to Bloomingdales and went inside to check out the huge tree and the even bigger line to see Santa, before heading back for the hotel.

S was done mid-afternoon and we ventured out for a late lunch. We went to a spot I had found online called the Broken English Taco Bar. It was a quirky little spot that had great margaritas, guacamole, and a page full of taco options. We shared a couple kinds, went over to Millennium Park for a pic at the Cloud Gate, and then hustled home as the wind had kicked in and the temperature had dropped again. My camera had stopped working because the cold was sucking the life out of the battery.

Now the big turd in our weekend plans was an approaching winter storm. The forecast had finally settled on Chicago and northern Indiana getting as much as 10” of snow by Sunday night. This was problematic because we were driving home Sunday. The city got a couple inches Saturday night, but the roads seemed clear. S went off to her morning session Sunday and we planned on getting out of town by 11:00, just before the next round was supposed to start. Thinking it would be tough to go through check-out, get our vehicle, etc., she bounced a little earlier and we were on the road by 9:30. It was wet and slushy and dark most of the way home. We hit one spot where I felt the tires slip a little, but once we hit Lafayette, it was over freezing and the precipitation eased up.

So a fine weekend in Chi-town. I could have used about 10 more degrees of heat so I could have explored more. As we were driving out of the city, I realized I didn’t even make it near any L tracks, which are an area I wanted to get some pictures. But we decided we need to take the girls up and stay in the city sometime when it’s warm, so we can get out and do stuff.

Friday Playlist

A few weeks back, we got a new Japandroids single plus a 2017 release date for their next album. Over the past week, two more artists I’ve spent a lot of time listening to in recent years did the same thing.

“Radio Kids” – Strand of Oaks. Someone said this sounded like Ryan Adams doing a Dinosaur Jr. song. I approve of that assessment. SoO’s last album, Heal, was a brutally honest account of both his and his wife’s failures in their marriage. Can’t wait to hear where he goes this time. His new album is out in January.

“Do You Still Love Me?” – Ryan Adams. FINALLY! The ultra prolific Adams has been teasing his new album for over a year. At one point there was even a Nov. 7 release date announced, but that came and went without new music. At last, though, we have the new single and an official date of Feb. 17 for Prisoner. Adams never holds anything back in his music, and this one promises to be especially epic and soul crushing, as he wrote it during and after his divorce from Mandy Moore.

“Christmas With You Is The Best” – Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick. Originally done by Roderick’s band The Long Winters, in a much different manner, this rocked-up version is perfect for those of you not really into a big Christmas.

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