Month: April 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Reading Assignments: The Challenge Ahead

I shared earlier this week that I’m paying less direct attention to the news over the past couple weeks. I am, though, still reading plenty of deeper pieces on where we are at and where we are headed. I still have several articles in the queue but I thought these two pieces were very good and worth sharing. They take a look at the structural issues in our country, largely political, that the Coronavirus crisis has highlighted.

In general I am optimistic that we can restart and rebuild when the time is right. America does crisis recovery pretty well. But as these pieces note, there are some serious hurdles inherit to modern America that will make that process an even bigger challenge.

We Are Living in a Failed State

Why we can’t build

Covid Chronicles, 4/28

A big step back toward normalcy today: S went back to work. She’s on a limited schedule, just two days a week and only seeing two patients per hour, all of whom are age two and under. She’s also not back in her office as it remains closed for the time being. This will be the plan for six weeks or so and then there is a phase 2 and 3 in the works before her practice is completely open again. I think she was pleased to be out of the house again. I woke up before 7:00 and she was already gone. It’s only one step, but it is the first on what should be a long and slow trek back toward the world restarting.

The whole concept of reopening has, like everything else these days, been so completely politicized that it is nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion about it.

We absolutely need to reopen. What we do NOT need to do, though, is just open up the gates and tell everyone to pretend it is March 13 and pick up where we left off then. The reopening needs to be cautious, planned, and controlled. People need to keep social distancing, keep staying at home unless they absolutely need to be outside the house. Wearing masks and gloves when they shop. Avoiding large groups. And so on.

I get the feeling from the public statements of many politicians that they far prefer the idea of rushing back to normal. Many of them express little interest in setting up a system of testing that is required if we hope to get society anywhere near where it was before the coronavirus hit. Those people are idiots.

There will be a second wave of coronavirus. If we remain vigilant and continue to make individual sacrifices for the greater good, we can put off that second wave and make it more manageable, flattening the second curve as we did the first. If we cast aside all the restrictions we’ve adopted over the past six weeks too quickly, the second wave will arrive quickly and with ferocity. Parents are already sweating the idea of school beginning on time in August. If we start having birthday parties and other gatherings, we can go ahead and write off the fall quarter (if not semester) because wave number two will be burning the country up just when schools are set to open.

There have been many maddening statements and actions by our political leaders over the past four months. Fortunately there have been some who have proven themselves to be true leaders by taking decisive, definitive actions based on science and the desire to protect their citizens, regardless of whether they voted for them or not. The cowards, the fakes, the bullies have been more interested in casting blame, attempting to claim credit for things they had nothing to do with, pandering to their base, trying to distract, and otherwise doing all they can to NOT make rational, reasoned, intelligent decisions.

I’m thankful our governor, who I did not vote for, is firmly in the first camp. He’s held daily press conferences that have been honest and sober. He’s relied on the experts around him and not attempted to present himself on an expert. His tone has been one of caring and concern. He seems guided by a desire to keep as many Hoosiers safe as he can. Most of all, he has behaved like an adult.

He’s been a leader. I’m pleased that he has been in charge, as opposed to his predecessor. His actions this year have likely earned my vote in November, even though I disagree with many of his other policies.

With the politics of this in mind, I have again stepped way back from the news. A month ago I was deep into news, checking a series of websites constantly, listening to the BBC, adding news sources to my Twitter feed. I’ve scaled all that back. I only check a couple news sites a few times each day, usually when I hear that something noteworthy has happened somewhere else. I haven’t listened to the BBC in weeks. I’ve culled many of those Twitter accounts.

All this is an attempt to maintain a sense of sanity. There’s no avoiding so many of the worst parts of the news: the daily death and new case numbers, the afternoon meltdowns in the White House. But I’ve found I can’t do it all day the way I could a month ago.

Let’s Go Crazy

Last Tuesday CBS aired a very important program. Officially titled Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince, the show as a tribute to the late Prince, who died exactly four years ago from its initial air date. The show got such a great reaction that CBS re-aired it Saturday night.

I recorded the Tuesday broadcast and watched it Thursday afternoon. It was outstanding! These tribute shows can often go off the rails, become mawkish, or serve more as vehicles for the performers than the honoree. None of that was the case Tuesday.

I admit, some of the artists I was not familiar with. But most I was. And most did an outstanding job. I thought I would rank the performances, in reverse order.

Tier 1 – Meh
Juanes, “1999” – I had no idea who this guy was. I will admit his voice sounded almost uncannily like how Prince sang this song. But the fact I had no idea who he was, and he was remarkably faithful to the original didn’t do much for me.

Chris Martin and Susanna Hoffs, “Manic Monday” – Man, I do not know what they were thinking here. Why was Chris Martin’s presence needed? If all the Bangles don’t want to get together to perform, Susanna would have been just fine on her own. And why did they take a bouncy, infectious song and turn it into a slow ballad? The biggest disappointment of the night.

H.E.R., “The Beautiful Ones” – Another artist I had no knowledge of. She has a lovely voice. It just was not fit for this song. That was most obvious in the back half of the song, when Prince screamed the lines, “What’s it gonna be, baby? Do you want him? Or do you want me? ‘Cuz I want you!” H.E.R. couldn’t capture a fraction of the passion from the original, which kind of defeats the point of the song.

Beck, “Raspberry Beret” – Beck could not be more opposite of Prince. Where Prince was graceful, athletic, and smooth, Beck is all awkward shrugs and jolts of movement. And where Prince was passionate and expressive, Beck is mellow and flat. It’s hard to mess up one of the greatest pop songs ever, and Beck did a reasonable job. But it was the visuals of this performance that struck me as off.

Miguel, “I Would Die 4 U” – I know this guy’s name but don’t know his music. Opposite of Beck: a fine visual performance but nothing special about the vocals.

Common and Sheila E, “Sign O’ the Times” – I like Common, positive dude. This felt like forcing him into the broadcast in a spot that he just didn’t fit.

St. Vincent, “Controversy” – This was a perfect matching of artist to song that fell flat for me. St. Vincent is one of the most obvious direct links between a modern artist back to Prince, with her pushing of sexual boundaries, her image, and her willingness to make pop music that can be uncomfortable. She just seemed a little tense to me. A looser performance may have ranked higher.

Tier 2 – Flawed But Enjoyable
H.E.R. and Gary Clark, Jr., “Let’s Go Crazy” – Again, you can’t really go wrong with some of these songs. I don’t know if this pairing should have been the first of the night. I think you put a more known artist in this spot. Or take a newer artist and pair them with someone from the ‘80s.

Princess, “Delirious” – How many of you knew Maya Rudolph had a Prince cover band? I did, but I admit I’ve only seen them perform once before. This was light-hearted and fun, but not real memorable.

Sheila E., “America,” “Free” and “The Glamorous Life” – Sheila E. put this event together, so she rightly had a major role in the night, serving as musical director and leading the backing band on most songs. That meant she was on stage a lot. With that in mind, I’m not sure she needed a three-song set. Just sing “The Glamorous Life” and be done. A fine performance that was simply too long.

Tier 3 – The Highlights
Foo Fighters, “Darling Nikki” – Remember when this song got Tripper Gore all worked up? And now it’s being played on network TV in prime time without editing any lyrics. We’ve come a long way in 35 years. Good to have a rock artist involved in the evening.

Usher, “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss” – This performance was recorded during the Grammy award show, and it was absolutely great. I’m not sure what Usher is doing these days but he can still put on a show. This was, again though, a performance that showed just how great Prince was. Usher was dancing, singing, putting on a hell of a show. Basically doing what Prince would have done. But his vocal performance was about 80–85% of what Prince would have done. Prince was not just a phenomenal performer, not just one of the greatest musicians ever, not just a great singer. He did all of that, at the same time, and he sang in all kinds of different registers, from low and smokey to falsetto to screaming. And he always sounded great. Usher could not quite match what Prince’s vocals would have been.

Gary Clark, Jr., “The Cross” – One of my favorite Prince deep cuts, this was a good pairing of performer and song. You needed someone who could shred a guitar solo to handle this, and Clark did a fine job.

The Time, “Jungle Love,” Cool” and “the Bird” – In some ways the highlight of the night was seeing the original Time – including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who Prince had kicked out before the Purple Rain/Ice Cream Castles cycle – on stage, doing their Time thing: the Morris and Jerome mirror act., the entire band dancing in sync like in their Purple Rain performances. And appearing to be having a hell of a good time while doing it. Prince’s history with the Time was full of complications, ill will, and controversy. It’s been good to hear those guys all speak highly of Prince since his death. It would have been easy to be bitter about how his ego may have cost them bigger careers than they had.

John Legend, “Nothing Compares 2 U” – I’m not a huge John Legend fan, but he sang the hell out of this song.

Earth, Wind, & Fire, “Adore” – The absolute surprise of the night. I never expected to see Earth Wind and Fire on stage at a Prince tribute. I wasn’t sure how many of them were still alive. (Founding member Maurice White died four years ago.) But Philip Bailey is still around, still hitting those high notes, and just nailed this song. I was literally hooting and clapping during this song it was so unexpected.

Mavis Staples and the Revolution, “Purple Rain” – Prince’s signature song, one of the greatest songs ever, played by the Revolution. You could have put just about anyone on vocals and this would have been a thrill. Staples obviously offered a very different interpretation of the song than Prince did. But sung from her perspective, it really resonated with me.

The Revolution sounded great. What floored me, though, was seeing Wendy Melvoin play Prince’s guitar solo. She was certainly capable, she’s a magnificent player and had her share of solos on the Revolution’s songs. But this seems like Prince’s ultimate solo. With them time-editing other songs I wondered if they would skip over it. It was kind of emotional for me to see her play it. I’d rather her play it than anyone else but it was still jarring to me.

In all, a fine way to memorialize Prince. I know the timing on these events can be odd, but I wondered why Janelle Monáe was not included. She’s one of the few current artists that Prince had a direct relationship with and she’s likely the current artist that carries on his spirit better than anyone else. I wonder if she wasn’t available, wasn’t interested, or wasn’t asked. A minor quibble with an entertaining program.

Friday Playlist

“Runaway Dog” – Retirement Party
Seems like there have been several songs I’ve shared lately that have a strong, mid–90s vibe. Not sure if that means the grunge years are coming back. Add this one to the list. Especially in the rhythm section this has the feel of a Belly song.

“Wash it Away” – Black Lab
This wasn’t really grunge era – it was released in 1997 – but it is a forgotten gem from the ’90s alt-rock scene.

“Chattanooga” – Briston Maroney
Man, I am digging this dude’s vibe. I wish he had a proper album out instead of a three song EP. I’ve spent a night in Chattanooga so this really speaks to me. (It doesn’t.) This song is the shit, my friends.

“Roadless” – Frightened Rabbit
From their final EP, this absolutely gorgeous track. I hold out hope there are some more of these in their archives, or that the final songs Scott had recorded demos for can be turned into something worth releasing.

“A Thousand Words” – Jay Som
A hazy, pleasing leftover from the sessions for last year’s Anak Ko album.

“Jungle Love” – The Time
I recorded the Grammy tribute to Prince earlier this week and watched it yesterday. Loved almost every second of it. I may run through it again over the weekend and do a breakdown for you. Was pleased to see the Time performing and still kicking ass.

“Nuthin’ But A ”G“ Thang” – Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
On 4/20 Dre’s legendary album The Chronic finally hit streaming services. I was quick to listen, once I had some headphones handy. That is not an album you want the kids walking in on! It had been a long time since I had listened to it. It brought back memories to the spring of ’93 when it hit and I was listening to it constantly. It was likely the last major hip hop album I bought. Anyway, speaking of kids, that was back when six buddies and I rented a big house in a neighborhood that was otherwise real adults, not idiot college kids. We would occasionally have big football games in our yards that featured a few of us then about 20 neighborhood kids. I remember a kid, maybe 12 or 13, playing with us and knowing every word to this song. They were the radio version lyrics, but he gave us a look that said he knew the album lyrics if we wanted to hear them. Man, Snoop looks young enough to be one of those little hoodlums that played with us back then.

Reader’s Notebook, 4/23

I worked my way through my stack of library books a few weeks ago, so it’s down to the Kindle and re-reading a few books I have around until the physical library opens again.

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name – Vendela Vida
With the transition to Kindle books, I’m finding recommendations in odd places. Someone on Twitter recommended this book about a month ago, when it just happened to be on sale. I snatched it up without knowing who the author is. Turns out she is married to David Eggers, although she is quite accomplished on her own. I’ve kind of fallen out of love with Eggers work in recent years. I actively hated his last book and vowed to never read another of his works.

Fortunately Vida’s story was much better than her husband’s recent output.

She tells the story of Clarissa, a 20-something woman whose father has just died and whose mother disappeared suddenly 15 years earlier. Shortly after her father’s death she learns that he was not her biological father. A copy of her birth certificate reveals her biological father to be a man who lives in Finland who her mom apparently met during some years she lived there.

Clarissa runs off to Finland in a search for her true father. She treks deep into Lapland, crossing into Norway, to scour through the Sami communities for the man listed on her birth certificate. She finds him, learns that he was not her dad. He was indeed married to her mother, but the pregnancy was the result of a rape. Using this knowledge, Clarissa begins searching another small community for men who might be about her biological father’s age and with whom she shares physical attributes.

She does not find her true father. But she does find her mother, who is uninterested in either a formal reunion or answering any of her questions.

Vida tells this story through sparse prose. I wouldn’t call it Hemingway-esque, but she doesn’t waste words. This style fits the desolate environment of Lapland. It also fits Clarissa’s character. She’s pretty no-nonsense, cuts to the chase, and isn’t afraid of being abrupt in conversations when she is disinterested or they no longer serve her purpose.

I did enjoy the story though I found Clarissa a little difficult to connect with. There is a coldness to her that made it tough to be fully invested in her. I wanted her to learn the truth of her parents, but more to resolve the mystery than to give her a sense of emotional closure. Maybe it is fitting that she never gets that closure, then.

One Giant Leap – Charles Fishman
This is a deep yet not overwhelming look at the Apollo space program. Fishman goes back to the earliest days of the US space program and its struggles in the 1950s, the impact the success the Soviet Union had on the American psyche, and then the push to get to the moon that began with John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to Congress in the spring of 1961.

He spins all this out in a satisfying way. He doesn’t just go through all the key events in chronological order, but rather picks a cornerstone for each chapter then jumps all through the history of the program to tie different events back to that theme. He takes deeper dives in the politics surrounding the program, the development of the computer systems and software that made the missions possible, the massive engineering advances that were required to get three men with enough material to survive for over a week off the earth, and the process in which the lunar module was designed and built.

One of the most surprising elements of the book is Fishman’s argument that we likely would not have made it to the moon in 1969 had JFK not been assassinated. Just weeks before his death, Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral to see the massive Saturn rocket that was about to be launched. In that moment, with the development of the biggest rocket in the world, the US had clearly passed the Soviet Union. Once the Saturn was successfully tested, the Apollo program would enter a lull of about two years of testing and training when nothing exciting to the public eye would occur. Aware of this lack of PR eye candy, congressional pressure to trim his budget, and his true feelings about the space program – JFK was much more ambivalent about going to the moon than he declared publicly – Fishman believes had he survived and served a second term, Kennedy would have declared victory in the space race, requested less money for Apollo and slowed the pace of development. This likely would have either pushing the moon landings into the 1970s or delayed them so long they never happened.

Who knows what JFK would have done if he had lived beyond 11/22/63, but it’s a fascinating thought to consider.

Beyond that, Fishman’s work is a really good look into arguably the greatest thing humans have ever done. Even knowing the history of it coming in, it is still pretty amazing that we went from barely being able to get Americans into space in 1961 to landing men on the moon less than eight years later. I could read/watch/listen to stories about the Apollo program forever.

By the way, one annoyance of Kindle books is how they don’t differentiate between body text and notes, appendixes, etc when showing your progress. There are so many notes in this book that you only read about two-thirds of its pages. It was a bit strange to think I had a couple hundred “pages” left only to reach the end.

Covid Chronicles, 4/22

This is more of a random tidbits post. Nothing real earth-shattering in it. More mundane details of life in April 2020.

I think we’ve reached the point in our house where we are all a little pissy with each other. Last week did not help. Damp, dreary, cool. We were stuck inside all last week due to the chilly, wet weather. My mind kept reaching for something that would get us out of the house: a practice or game, a birthday party, a sleepover, a dinner with friends.

I’ve certainly been a little shorter with the girls the past few days. Their moods seem darker, too.

Fortunately the sun is back out this week. Tuesday was unseasonably cool despite the sun, but Monday was warm and nice. C and L asked me to put our tent up in the backyard and they actually spent a good chunk of the day outside. If we can just keep the temperatures in the 60s and have a few dry hours each day, that will go a long way toward improving everyone’s moods.

I put off calling our pool company a week too long. I finally called yesterday in hopes of opening the pool up in 10–14 days. The best they could do was May 13. Which isn’t terrible, especially given how we are going to have cool nights for awhile and opening the pool now means the heater would be running constantly.

My big accomplishment of the week was doing some work in our bedroom closet. It began with some normal, seasonal movements. Taking most of my cold-weather clothes to the basement, tossing some items I don’t wear anymore into the Goodwill pile, putting the warm-weather clothes in a more convenient spot. Standard April stuff.

I really got nutty, though, and completely changed how I deal with my everyday shorts. For years I’ve been hanging them up. I did this with the idea that this keeps them from getting wrinkled plus you can see each pair rather than having to dig through a pile to find the ones you’re looking for. But I tossed them over a standard hanger, which means they would get kind of bunched up and hang awkwardly. I was not interested in buying a bunch of expense hangers with clips to let them fall off rather than over the hanger.

So I texted a couple college friends and asked how they store their shorts. Neither of them hang theirs. One stacked his on a shelf, the other in a drawer. I did some moving of items around to create space on a closet shelf and now my summer shorts are all stacked in two neat piles.

One of my friends suggested this was the most important issue the three of us had ever texted about. I’m inclined to agree.

Some academic changes. M will have no finals and now finishes classes a week earlier than planned, May 15. St. P’s will adjust their grading scale for Q4 and have a 3–1 scale, three being highest, one being lowest. They will not have GPAs or an honor roll this quarter, and for the year the grades from Q’s 1–3 and four will be separated. What a nightmare to be a school administrator right now, between trying to figure out how to handle e-learning and grading while also making contingencies for how to begin the 2020–21 academic year. I do not envy those folks at all and keep reminding our girls, when they get frustrated, how hard that job is at the moment.

S does telemedicine visits each morning. She had a call last week that made us both laugh. A lot of times her patients get on the phone with their parents, especially older kids that can explain exactly what they’re experiencing. The younger kids just like to get on and talk to Dr. S. After one of those visits with a three-year-old, the kid asked if he could have a sucker like when he visits her office. We thought that was great.

L has taken over the house office for her school work. S does most of her calls and computer work from the living room couch. Me? I spend most of my days in our sunroom. I have all my electronics in here. Several books, magazines, and my Kindle stacked on the coffee table. There’s a deck of Uno cards that L and I have used a few times. My old Strat-o-matic baseball game that I keep meaning to actually open up and play. A couple golf clubs leaning against a chair. It’s pretty random, it is (hopefully) relatively temporary, but still feels pretty comfortable. Especially on the days I can open the windows.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol 41

Chart Week: April 10, 1982
Song: “Genius of Love” – Tom Tom Club
Chart Position: #37, 12th week on the chart. Peaked at #31 for two weeks.

(Administrative note: this is the second RFTS entry from this chart week. The first is here.)

This entry is both about the song and about the radio station on which I heard it the most as a kid.

Tom Tom Club was a side project of married couple Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, members of Talking Heads. In Tom Tom Club, they branched out from Talking Heads more avant-garde sound into dance-oriented music. Which made sense as they served as Talking Heads rhythm section, Frantz on drums and Weymouth on bass.

“Genius of Love” was the biggest song of Tom Tom Club’s career. It topped the the Billboard Disco chart and reached #2 on the Hot Soul Singles chart. More on that in a second.

That success on the Disco and Soul charts wasn’t enough to drive strong pop chart success. “Genius of Love” slowly simmered on the pop charts for three months before it finally cracked the Top 40. From its peak at #31, it dropped a massive 54 spots to #85 in early May and was gone soon after.

Yet the song made its mark. Thanks to its overall funkiness and its shoutouts to legends of the Black music world, it got serious airplay on Black radio. From that exposure, it became one of the most sampled songs of the 1980s, both in other dance and R&B songs, and in hip hop.

My early knowledge of the song came from its more obscure chart success. In the early ‘80s, my mom bounced around in her default radio stations. She would listen to pop stations, to adult contemporary stations, and to Kansas City’s only soul station, 103.3 KPRS.

KPRS was a whole new world to me when we moved to Kansas City from a small town in southeast Missouri. My parents had long listened to “Black” music, but it was to crossover artists like the Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer, and so on that they heard on pop and disco stations. When we moved to Kansas City in 1980 and they began listening to KPRS, I was hearing all kinds of soul artists that I had never heard before.

More importantly, KPRS was truly a Black station. It was the first Black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi, and remains the oldest continuously Black-owned station in the country. All the DJs were Black. It featured a nightly news bulletin from the National Black Network, which certainly brought a different perspective than what the AM news-talk stations were providing. Biggest was how KPRS ran ads from Black-owned businesses you just didn’t hear on Q–104, KY–102, and ZZ–99. Harold Pener’s clothing store is the most memorable example. Listening to KPRS in the early 1980s opened my ears to a whole different world.

So how do we tie together “Genius of Love” with KPRS? Well, KPRS played very few white artists back in the day.[1] And often it was just individual songs by white artists they would play. Hall & Oates were an obvious cross-over point, but really only “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “One on One” got serious airplay on KPRS. Teena Marie was white, but she was basically a Black artist and KPRS played many of her songs. And then “Genius of Love,” with its totally funky sound, got airplay.

KPRS used “Genius of Love” in a weird way, though. KPRS was an automated station for a long stretch of that era. Before the NBN news bulletin at five minutes to the hour, the computer would often select “Genius of Love” to fill in the gap before the news ran. If there were six minutes until the news, “Genius” would play once, jump back to the song’s midway point, and begin again. If there were two minutes until the news, the first two minutes would play before it abruptly cut off and the news began. The nights when the computer got confused and began playing it too early, over another song, and then re-started it multiple times to attempt to get the timing synced up always made me laugh. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but looking back this low-tech, high-tech moment is pretty charming.

Thus the song was cemented into my memory.

  1. Apparently this has changed, to much controversy, in recent years.  ↩

Friday Playlist

I’m going to try to mix these up a little more than I have been lately. The focus will still be on sharing new(-ish) music. But I’m also going to throw in a few more older songs each week, just to stretch this out a little and make it feel a little more like my old podcast. If I could figure out a way to put my own vocal commentary between Spotify tracks, I would re-launch that podcast. Alas, I’m not that smart and don’t want to go out and buy every song I share each week so that I can record. A simple playlist is probably better for all of you, anyway. So just imagine my voice as you read through the little tidbits I share for each of these songs.

“Desire” – Liza Anne
I’m deep in a run of the music I listen to being dominated by female artists. It’s been several years now and shows no sign of abating. Nashville’s Liza Anne comes at that sound from a slightly different angle. The crunchy guitars lends this song a heavier, late 90s feel while her vocals don’t sound too far away from Phoebe Bridgers.

“Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers
Speaking of Phoebe, another new track from her in advance of her upcoming album. On this you can hear the influence of her work with Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center. The brightness here was not present on her first album.

“Never Destination” – Pearl Jam
I should go back and look, but this may be the first time since I’ve had this blog that I have not reviewed a new Pearl Jam album. I’ve listened to Gigaton a little bit over the past month. It’s ok. I like a few tracks quite a bit, the rest kind of blend together. This track is not a throw-back; the lyrics don’t make you think of “Jeremy” or “Animal” or “Corduroy,” etc. But it is nice to hear the band cut loose and clearly enjoy playing together on a track that should get you at least stomping your foot if not jumping around a little bit.

“Sunflower” – Dizzy
There are a lot of songs about sunflowers out there. My girls loved Post Malone’s from last year (I liked it, too). Vampire Weekend had a popular one. I think back to Paw’s song about jealousy in the Lawrence, KS music scene from the mid–90s. This Canadian group adds their name to the list with this gorgeous, breezy track.

“Hole In the Ice” – Neil Finn
I’ve been trying to listen to an album, start to finish, every day. A few days back I went through Finn’s 2002 disk One All, which is filled with great tracks.[1] This is one of those tracks that doesn’t stick out at first, but slowly burrows its way into your head and reveals itself over time.

“Long Time Coming” – Delays
A band that showed tremendous promise in the early-mid ‘00s produced a song that I listened to endlessly back in the spring of 2005. I first heard a live version of this the band recorded for a BBC show and fell in love with it. That was back in the days when I would listen to a song over-and-over again if I liked it. I remember listening to this song endlessly while I ran errands one day, hitting the back button on my iPod as soon as it ended to start it again. For all that, I had kind of forgotten about it until I did a review of my iTunes catalog recently to add some more tracks to my Spotify Liked Songs list. Glad I re-found it, as it remains glorious.

“Heart of Glass” – Blondie
Tom Breihan’s The Number Ones is about to cross into 1981, so it’s been a couple months since he posted his review of this, Blondie’s first #1 hit which peaked in 1979. It’s a near perfect song of its era, and this is a nearly perfect video. My biggest memory of the song? Remember Chu Bops, the bubble gum pressed into the shape of an album that came in a mini-album sleeve? The only one of those I ever remember having was for “Heart of Glass.” It took me a few moments of debate to decide if I should actually chew the gum or keep the package sealed as a collectors item. I made the smart decision and chewed the gum. Oooh-oooh, aaah-aaah…

(Coincidentally today’s The Number Ones entry is another Blondie song.)

  1. It may be the only import album I ever bought brand new. It was originally called One Nil and only released in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe in 2001. I bought that then the slightly reconfigured American release One All a few months later.  ↩

Covid Chronicles, 4/16

First, some great news. I have not shared here that a good high school friend of S has been in the hospital with Covid–19 for over three weeks. He was in the ICU on a ventilator for over two of those weeks. Based on the updates we were getting, we think he was very close to death on at least two occasions. We know the hospital chaplain paid him a visit three Saturdays ago and believed that would be his final visit.

After this long battle, that included several moments of false hope, he has finally been doing better for the past week, getting steadily better each day. He came off the vent over the weekend. He ate real food Sunday. He sat upright in a chair for six hours Monday.

S has been getting updates from other classmates and his wife. This morning she got a text from the man himself, saying he was about to be discharged and sent home. Absolutely fantastic news! This is a great guy with a big family that has been through a lot already. His kids needed their dad to stick around, and we are so pleased that is the case.

He is the only person we are close to who has gotten this sick. We know of a few other folks who have been hospitalized, but none were in as dire a situation as him. We are hopeful he can fully recover and he is our last friend to go through this.

Now some quick not-so-good news. This week felt like we were beginning to turn a corner. Positive cases seemed to be plateauing in most areas. Although deaths lag behind those numbers and we still have several more weeks of horrific news on that front, the curve did seem to be flattening. Intelligent people realize this doesn’t mean the end is close, but at least we may be seeing the early stages of a positive trend.

What bummed me out, though, was reading several articles that focused on the summer and beyond. None of them were optimistic. There are real concerns about our medical supply chain. Beyond PPE and ventilators, we are seeing a significant dip in the availability of important medicines. There are issues getting medical equipment, supplies, and medicines out of China, India, and Italy. There are also worries about people with other chronic issues being forced to go several months without getting needed, regular, in-person interactions with their physicians.

There are some food supply chain concerns. Several processing plants have shut down because they are overrun with the virus. Delivery services are struggling in some areas to get food from processing to storage to location of sale. In some areas perishables are being trashed because they are spoiling before they can be distributed.

And then there’s the whole “What happens to the virus?” question. We are still in the very early days of this, and while there are dozens if not hundreds of studies in process, the experts can’t yet determine if people who are Covid–19 positive develop an immunity to it. They don’t know what the true infection rate. Combine those two details and you get to an idea of how soon we can get back to normal. If former positive patients develop immunity and the US infection rate is around 20%, we are on a path to recovery. If either we don’t develop immunity or the infection rate is much lower – many physicians think it is more in the 2–5% range – there is no way to get back to a normal economy and society until there’s an effective vaccine.

Although I knew the “good news” was fairly light, it still gave me a glimmer of hope after a month of shitty news. But these long term views, which stretch this crisis out much further than most people expected, was a real kick in the nads. There was always the late spike in the models that allowed for the curve being flattened. But these articles suggested the worst is still ahead of us, and I really wasn’t prepared to hear that right now.

The saving grace to all of this is that we are still so early in this, and know so little about the virus. When dealing with the unknown, in the midst of a crisis, I think scientists tend to default to scenarios that are closer to worst case than optimistic ones. I’m hopeful that the many incredibly smart people working on this will find unexpected ways to keep us safe and allow us to begin transitioning back to normalcy sooner than the darkest scenarios lay out.

I’ve said before in one of these messages that I’m working hard not to judge people who are handling the Covid–19 crisis differently than I am. There is enough pressure in the world without being a dick because you disagree with whether or not to wear masks, whether it was appropriate to shut down schools and businesses, and how long we need to remain in lockdown. We can certainly have those arguments later, when the stress level has come down significantly.

Still, I have a hard time when I scroll past posts of Facebook friends who are pushing back hard against the restrictions we are living under. There are just a few, but they are definitely in my feed, as I’m sure they are in yours. I realize many of them are doing so not because they are bored and restless, but rather because they face serious financial pressures because of the lockdown.

I’ve seen a couple throw out the “It’s no worse than the flu” or “It’s just a bad flu” argument. I want to rip my hair out when I see these posts. Especially since they are often couched as insightful statements based on hard facts despite all the data telling us the opposite.

I have not engaged any of these people. It’s not my place and, again, I don’t want to be a dick. The whole “Well my wife is a doctor and here’s what she says…” isn’t a great look right now. Plus S would probably kick my ass for drawing her into these conversations. She has enough stress of her own right now.

Being a passive aggressive person by nature, I did kind of want to post the chart and article I link to below with some snarky comment about it clearly NOT just being a bad flu. I decided I should not engage people, even passive aggressively.

But I will do it here on my personal blog that gets a handful of views every day, mostly from people who agree with me! Feel free to be more direct than me and post it to your social media feeds.

People who look at this and still say Covid–19 is overhyped are either purposefully being dicks or aren’t interested in getting into the truth of the numbers.

Not Like the Flu, Not Like Car Crashes, Not Like…

Reader’s Notebook + The Masters Rewinds

The Second Life of Tiger Woods – Michael Bamberger

There was a hole in Easter weekend: there was no live coverage of the Masters. Even in that long stretch when I didn’t have much interest in golf, the Masters was still must-watch TV. It was a sign that spring was close, the carefully manicured lushness of Augusta National giving hope that the earth tones of winter would soon depart from your home as well.

But we did get two gifts in the 2020 Master’s place. One was Michael Bamberger’s new book on Tiger Woods, the second were replays of old Masters on ESPN and CBS last week.

In reverse order, I caught some of the old replays. I watched much of the 1986 final round, which is one of the three most important modern Masters. Jack Nicklaus somehow coming from four shots back to win was a huge moment for the older golf crowd. I was just getting into golf in 1986, and since I was a Tom Watson fan, I didn’t like Nicklaus. I thought Greg Norman was cool and was pulling for him, which would turn into a problem time and again over the next decade.

It was fun to watch CBS’ old graphics, their standard definition coverage, and to hear Brent Musburger pop in during key moments to set the stage. What I thought was amazing was how poor the crowd mics were. When Jack was dropping birdies on the back nine, the shots of the crowds showed them in absolute ecstasy. And CBS offered a moment of that sound to the home viewers. But as soon as the announcers began speaking, they cut the crowd noise to almost nothing. So you would see thousands of people going nuts and only hear muffled cheering. Weird. They definitely do that better today, both with how they capture the crowd’s noise and integrate it into their broadcast audio, and how announcers these days often step back and let the crowd tell the story.

Vern Lundquist’s call on 17 remains legendary, “Maybe….YES SIR!” Verne had another pretty good call at Augusta 19 years later.[1]

I watched bits of other years. Adam Scott’s playoff win over Angel Cabrera in 2013 was a good watch. I caught some of Phil Mickleson’s first win in 2004 on Saturday, which I always consider more of a loss by Ernie Els. I remember flying back from Kansas City that day and getting to the Indianapolis airport just in time to see Phil’s clinching putt as I walked by a sports bar.

But Sunday I was locked into the replay of last year’s tournament, the third in the modern trilogy of most important tournaments.[2] Although I watched every minute last April I still couldn’t turn away this year. Well, I did take about an hour nap after Tiger’s group finished the 12th hole, which was the moment the tournament flipped.

During the CBS broadcasts this weekend they brought in Mickleson and Tiger for commentary on the key moments of their rounds. Tiger’s comments Sunday seemed a little flat and repetitive. When the tournament ended and he came back in for an extended discussion with Jim Nantz, I turned it off because he seemed to be spouting the same cliches he always spouts.

I gave up too quick, as moments later he offered some of the most honest, emotional comments he has ever shared publicly. When he spoke of winning in front of his kids, of how he interacted with his son and daughter differently because of their personalities, that was great. And then when he spoke of his hug with his mother, he had to stop and catch himself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do that before. When he began talking about his family something had changed inside of him and he went from the cold, calculating assessment of his performance he’s done thousands of times to suddenly speaking openly and from his heart. I’m glad the moment was captured so I could go back and watch it.

Coincidentally I was reading Bamberger’s brand new book about Tiger last week. It’s a decent read.

Bamberger has a lyrical, circuitous style of writing that separates his work from other golf writers. His focus is mostly on the last three years, from the moments Tiger told Gary Player he never thought he would play again in April 2017 and his DUI arrest Memorial Day weekend 2017, through his Masters win a year ago. But Bamberger spins out from that core thread to examine all aspects of Tiger’s life. It’s not a deep biography, those tangents are always brief to provide context for how Tiger got to 2017, but they are useful.

Bamberger does take one odd tangent, a lengthy and inconclusive investigation into whether Tiger ever used PEDs. There were some connections between Tiger and Alex Rodriguez, primarily through two men who assisted A-Rod in his doping. But there is never really proof that Tiger did anything. We can certainly draw our own conclusions just based on how Tiger’s body changed over time, how he suffered chronic injuries that are consistent with PED use, and because one of the men in question insists he provided Tiger with PEDs. But there’s never hard proof as there was with A-Rod, Barry Bonds, and other baseball players.

More interesting to me that if Tiger used is why there’s never been any outcry about it as there was with the swath of baseball players who used in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Is it because Tiger is Tiger, and every other successful golfer in the world made mountains more money because of his presence? Are people afraid to cross Tiger? Or might PED use be more prevalent in golf than we realize and no one wants to speak up about Tiger because they don’t want to expose the entire game?

Anyway, a timely and interesting if slightly frustrating read.

  1. “Oh, wow! In your life, have you ever seen anything like that?!?!” when Tiger chipped in on 16 in 2005.  ↩
  2. Tiger’s first win in 1997 is the other entry on that list.  ↩
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