Month: November 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

November 30. This is when my music listening patterns begin to change. I’ve been listening to some Christmas music, but not as much I have in the past. I think I’m waiting for December 1 to really dive in. This week has been largely devoted to rounding out my Favorite Songs of the Year list. But more about than in a couple weeks. For now, some new music is still rolling in, but the pace has certainly slowed. I think I’ll augment these playlists with some throwback songs until the spigot opens a little wider in January.

“Your Nail And Your Hammer” – Oh Pep! Delightful pop music from Australia.

“What Do You Want Me To Do” – Bob Mould. 58 years old and his next album, based on two early songs, seems like it’s going to be an absolute motherfucker. From a musical perspective, this is the best Pearl Jam song in 12 years. 

“Portions for Foxes” – Rilo Kiley. I just missed Rilo Kiley. They were kind of on the perimeter of what I was listening to when they were at their peak. When I got into some of their later work, it didn’t compare to their early stuff and I never connected strongly with it. I heard this song on SiriusXM this week – and have listened to it about 10 times since then – and forgot what a great track it is. It really should have been a massive song, and probably would have been had it come along 7-8 years earlier and RK had a bigger label push behind them. Any time Jenny Lewis sings about cheap, meaningless sex I’m totally on board. My ’90s would have been better if I knew more women like her…

“Yellow Bike” – Pedro The Lion. I’ve been sitting on this song for about a month. Although I’m not sure it can really be called a Christmas song, its narrative base is a favorite Christmas present from David Bazan’s youth. Do kids still get bikes for Christmas? And do they love them as much as those of us who were born in the 1970s did?

“You Gots To Chill” – EPMD. I didn’t have a vid lined up so I just randomly scrolled through my Spotify library until something caught my eye. Here, then, is one of the greatest songs of the golden age of hip hop.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 18

Chart Week: November 15, 1986
Song: “Human” – The Human League
Chart Position: #2, 10th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 the week of November 22.

I only got to listen to a few minutes of the local countdown two Sundays ago. I felt obligated, though, to write about it as that was the last old AT40 we will get here in Indy this year. The station that airs AT40 replays switched to Christmas music on Thanksgiving, and will be airing the special holiday editions of AT40 for the next month. Sure, I’ll still have the SiriusXM countdowns. But they are not the same as listening to Casey and the original countdowns.

For years I’ve said this was one of the most important songs of the 1980s. Not because it was the best or biggest song of the decade. Rather because of who recorded it, the production team that helped them record it, the sound of the track, and the moment it arrived.

The Human League was one of the biggest artists of the British New Wave invasion of the early 80s, primarily on the strength of “Don’t You Want Me.” That 1981/82 smash is one of the biggest singles in British music history. It was a massive hit world-wide, hitting #1 in seven countries and peaking in the top five in seven other countries. In the US it was inescapable in the summer of ’82.

When the mid–80s rolled around, Human League was looking to adjust their sound. They hooked up with the Minneapolis production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were fresh off their first big chart success with Janet Jackson’s Control. Jam and Lewis kept some elements of HL’s classic synth-pop sound, but relied far more on the sleek, processed Minneapolis Sound R&B that they would soon dominate the charts with.

The result was another monster hit for The Human League and confirmation that Jam and Lewis were A) more than a flash in the pan and B) could work with more than Black artists. This song was the transition point for music, not only in the 80s, but beyond as well. It was a white, British act singing modern, American R&B. In a few years the Billboard pop charts would be dominated by Jam and Lewis’ music, as well as by other artists and producers they influenced. That was the gateway for hip hop taking over the charts later in the 90s.

Today the charts are almost entirely made up of hip hop and hip hop adjacent tracks. All of that goes back to the fall of 1986, when The Human League shut the door on the movement that had brought them to prominence.

Thanksgiving Weekend Notes

Our Thanksgiving weekend was, by one measure, perfect. We were intensely busy for parts of the weekend. At others we sat around and did nothing. Every long, holiday weekend should have that balance.

C and I went to watch some of her classmates play for the CYO girls basketball city championship Tuesday night. They lost, handily, but C had fun watching them.

Wednesday I snuck a trip into Costco before our builders sent some guys over to wrap up the final thing they still needed to fix. Their work took the entire day so I was glad I had all my Thanksgiving shopping done.

Thursday we did something new, for us, to begin our holiday celebrations: we walked the short course of the biggest Thanksgiving race in town. We were joined by a few friends and our three, two-year-old nephews and their families. It was chilly but clear and dry, and walking for about an hour was a nice way to kick off the day.

We scrambled home to get the food prep underway. I was taking care of the bird – I did two turkey breasts rather than a full bird – corn soufflé, dessert, and the obligatory Giada’s stuffing. We were running well behind schedule, but fortunately all of our guests walked and they were also running late, too. So it all worked out! It turned out to be a really nice day so after stuffing ourselves, we were able to sit on the back porch for a bit watching football on the outdoor TV. It was a small group for our family, only 13 counting the little ones. We will have a bigger group at Christmas.

A couple things different about Thanksgiving in the new house. First, we have double ovens, which made it much easier to get everything ready. The fact that the turkey took a lot longer than I expected which would have caused a much bigger problem if we didn’t have the other oven to throw things in. Second, at our old house you couldn’t see the TV from the kitchen. Over the past 15 years football became less and less a part of my Thanksgivings because I was usually in the kitchen working. Now, though, the family room is directly off the kitchen. So I could sneak peaks at the Bears-Lions game as I was prepping dinner.

Friday as traditionally been our Christmas tree day. That changed with the new house, too. We caved and finally got an artificial tree. We needed something that was tall but also skinny because of the space where a tree would fit best. So a week ago, when the girls had their snow day, we bought a fake tree and stashed it in the hall closet. Friday we busted it out and put it together. It looks pretty good, I admit. But I am very much missing the smells that come with a real tree. We got some of those little scent sticks you can hang as ornaments the give the impression of a fir, but they don’t work very well. As I saw other people driving around this weekend with their trees on top of their cars, I felt pangs of jealousy.

Saturday we went out to look for some more decorations. The girls were very excited that the nursery we went to had a bunch of llamas out for petting and pictures. M has been obsessed with llamas since before it was cool to like them. The look on her face was priceless. Of course, five minutes later she blew off Santa and then minutes after that she made C cry. Freaking teenagers.

S and I went out to dinner with friends that night. We had some excellent food, better conversation, and my pal and I drank some very enjoyable bourbon.

Sunday began with laziness. L really wanted to see the new Grinch movie. At first I thought it would just be she and I, but everyone ended up going. L really liked it. I thought it was ok and struggled not to fall asleep three different times. I prefer the original. Grumble, grumble…

There was, of course, a lot of football and basketball sprinkled in. I watched KU win two games in the NIT. We watched the Pacers lose. We watched some of the high school state title games. Lots of college games Saturday and most of the Colts game on Sunday. L and I even got outside Sunday to throw the football and baseball for a few minutes.

All in all a pretty decent weekend. We were very lucky to have pretty great weather the entire time, with several days in the 50s. Hopefully all my readers back in the Great Plains are safe and sound and digging out from the blizzard. We a getting a few flakes today but the windchill is expected to be around 10 tomorrow morning.

KABOOM!

OK, this is one of those little things that, if you did not know it, will absolutely blow your mind. It sure did mine. Mostly because it seems achingly obvious yet it isn’t something I had ever thought of, nor had I heard someone else talk about it. I’ve even had relatives live in Australia and they never pointed this out.

The Moon Is Flipped Upside Down in the Southern Hemisphere


Irish

Our Thanksgiving week got off to a great start. Monday M learned she had been accepted to attend Cathedral High School for the next four years. S and I got an email around noon, which I forwarded to M’s account. When she got into the car after school I told her to check her email. She had a moment of confusion, because like most kids her age email is about the last method of communication she would ever use. But after that moment there was a flicker of recognition and she scrambled to scroll through spam to find the message from school. Her face lit up, she gasped, and even got a little teary. And then one of her sisters tried to ruin it by being a jerk. I yelled at the sister in question. But M was still excited.

Then yesterday she got her official acceptance letter, complete with sticker and pop socket with the school logo on them. That made her happy, too.

Not that there was much question of her getting in. She’s a high honors student who has never gotten into trouble, has a parent and grandparent who both went to CHS, and has parents who can afford the tuition. It was nice to find out for sure, though.

Only a few of her friends did the early admissions thing and CHS is the only Catholic high school here that does early admissions. So while it seems like the majority of girls in her St. P’s class are going to CHS, only three others found out this week.[1] Another friend found out last week that she will be going to the Jesuit school on a full ride thanks to her academics (and, cough cough, the fact she’s a great basketball player). But for the rest of M’s class who are going to private high schools, they won’t find out until February.

So now, baring something crazy, we will be an Irish family for the next eight years. Although once CHS gets its hooks into you, you can never really get them out.


  1. Every class at St. P’s is different, but it seems like the majority of 8th grade girls this year will go to CHS, while the majority of the boys will go to rival BCHS. A handful from both genders will go to public schools, likely splitting among three different choices. St. P’s could send kids to six different high schools, with an outside chance at seven if someone does the super fancy, non-religious private school that is nearby.  ↩

Reader’s Notebook, 11/20/18

Blowing My Cover: My Life As a CIA Spy – Lindsay Moran
I found this book while doing some research on DB John, whose tremendous Star of the North I read earlier this fall. It was on a list of some of his favorite espionage books, and thus seemed worth the read.

I did not enjoy it as much as John did.

This is Moran’s recounting of her experience as a CIA agent in the late 90s and early 00s, from recruitment through training to becoming an active field agent. Far too much of the book, in my opinion, is devoted to the training and the shortcomings of many of her classmates. The field work itself is often boring: she was sent to the Balkans to try to find war criminals the US and others were seeking after the Balkan wars. Much of her time was spent making possible sources, who often had little to offer in terms of intelligence and were generally unsavory themselves, as happy as they needed to be to continue to feed the CIA information. Along the way she struggles with being a woman in her 30s who wants a committed relationship but keeps finding opportunities at love torpedoed by her career.

Moran writes in a breezy, almost magazine-like voice. Maybe that’s what put me off as much as anything. Her tales are often light and silly. I guess I wanted gritty spy stories.


The Long and Faraway Gone – Lou Berney
I forget where I came across Berney’s name, but I owe whoever sent me to this book a huge thanks. It was fantastic.

The story centers on two characters who survived heinous crimes in 1986 in Oklahoma City. Wyatt is a private detective in Las Vegas, and was the only survivor of an armed robbery of the movie theater he worked at when he was 16. Later that same year, Julianna, then 12, was at the Oklahoma State Fair with her older sister, who snuck away to meet with a carnival worker and disappeared, her body never found.

Twenty-five years later, Wyatt returns to OK City on a case. Although focused on trying to find out who is terrorizing the owner of a night club, he is haunted by the constant reminders of his youth, and eventually begins investigating the questions that have plagued him for a quarter century: why did the robbery occur and why was he the only one not murdered?

Julianna, on the other hand, still lives in OKC meets regularly with a detective assigned to her sister’s case in hopes of finding some explanation for her presumed death. She learns that most credible suspect back in 1986, the man her sister was going off to see but who had been cleared, has returned to Oklahoma City. She does her best to get an explanation from him for what happened that night, but in the end get no firm answers and is humiliated in the process.

Berney juggles the three mysteries throughout the story with heart and deft. Although as a reader you know that Wyatt and Julianna must cross paths at some point, when they finally do it is only incidentally. Berney puts them together not to tie up loose ends in some happy, made-for-TV fashion but rather to move their stories forward. It’s a delightful move on his part, their brief moments together giving us a deeper view into each of their states of mind but nothing more.

Berney’s resolutions are, simply, fantastic. They are satisfying and surprising, but also a little messy. He’s not afraid to leave some open threads that might dissatisfy some readers. The reveal for one of the storylines is especially amazing; it caught me off guard, was incredibly moving, but also left me needing to know more.

This is a fine, fine novel and I’ve already added some of Berney’s other works to my reading list.

Les!

It happened! Really, I thought somehow, someway, the deal would get screwed up. Another, better, bigger deal would come along. Or there would be complications ending his previous contract. Or he would just decide he didn’t want to coach again.

Yet here we are with Les Miles as the new KU football coach!


That along with Pooka Williams going wild in Norman Saturday night combined to make this the biggest, most exciting weekend for KU football since the 2008 Missouri game.

It is telling, and very KU, that the best weekend in a decade for the program still did not include a win.

Oh well, baby steps.

And I figure the odds are best that the Les Miles era is well less that an unqualified success, so I’m going to be giddy for a day or two before I accept reality.[1]

I said before that I wonder if Les will be as exciting to high school and Juco recruits as he is to fans. It was one thing to recruit at LSU, in the heart of the deepest pool of talent in the country. It’s another at KU in a state/region that doesn’t produce huge amounts talent of talent each year. But people who know Les say he was always able to connect with recruits because there’s no other coach really like him. He’s wacky, bordering on nut job at times, but that makes him stand out from others. He doesn’t have to recruit like he did at LSU, either. He doesn’t need to challenge Oklahoma and Texas for the best recruiting classes in the Big 12. He just needs to get solid classes every year with a few potential stars. I’m hopeful whatever recruiting mojo he still has is good enough to do that.

There have been some complaints about how Les did not alter his thinking as the game changed over the last decade. He claims he spent his time out of coaching reevaluating where the game was. I’ve been saying this for years: KU has to stop trying to run the same offense everyone else does. When you have way less talent, these highly complex, pass-happy offenses will not work. Run the ball. Build an offensive line that can expose holes in Big 12 defenses designed to cover five receivers on every down. Get a competent quarterback who can keep those defenses honest. But KU does not need to throw the ball 60 times a game right now. If, in 3–4 years, the talent level on offense makes that possible, then you switch. I’m just fine with Les bringing his old school sensibilities to the team and focusing on the ground game and defense.

Beyond that, I just hope Les realizes what he is getting into and has the energy, desire, humility, and commitment to get the program turned around. David Beaty got things started, and leaves behind some very nice pieces. But it is still a very shallow roster that loses some significant pieces to graduation. Keeping the Oklahoma game competitive Saturday does not mean the addition of Miles immediately turns KU into a six-win team next year. Not with how good and deep the Big 12 is.

This feels like a good hire. KU people are excited about it, which hopefully means more asses in the seats in the coming years. Honestly, in my lifetime I don’t remember a new KU coach generating more buzz that Miles has.

But buzz doesn’t automatically become wins. And Kansas football always finds a way to disappoint. I’d love to be surprised this time.


  1. I figure the most likely outcome is he gets KU to a crappy bowl game, maybe two, before he retires/leaves for another job. Next on the list would KU making zero progress. Third on the list would him turning KU into a consistently decent program. I’m fine with the first scenario.  ↩

Friday Playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Footballs

A few quick football thoughts.

KU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My personal KU coach wish list is:

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

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

Colts

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

Let’s not get carried away now…

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

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

Chiefs

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

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

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