Month: July 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

“Mariana Trench” – Bright Eyes
I’ve never listened to Bright Eyes, but I enjoyed Conor Oberst’s collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers last year as part of Better Oblivion Community Center. As if for people like me, Bright Eyes is about to put out their first album in over a decade. Based on this track, I’ll at least give it a courtesy listen.

“Country Church” – Holy Motors
If Mazzy Star made a song that had some swing to it, and it landed on the soundtrack of a mid-90s noir film, it would sound like this. This band is from Estonia, which I believe is a first in all the years I’ve been sharing music online.

“Ice Cream and Sunscreen” – Martha
Even in the age of the pandemic, some things remain summer requirements.

“this is me trying” – Taylor Swift
Announced just 24 hours ago, Taylor’s new album dropped at midnight. Produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, it is a definite departure. I’m only about half to two-thirds of the way through, but am really liking it. Dessner produced the final Frightened Rabbit album, and I hear some common musical and sonic elements, especially on this song.

“Down” – Pearl Jam
I opened up YouTube to find a video for the week and this was front-and-center. Not a bad choice. “You can’t be neutral, on a moving train.”

July Media

July is not over. But as we will be out-of-town next week, and I haven’t found much to write about this week, I thought I’d go ahead and share my media post for the month.


Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Always reliable, but never quite as great as Michael Schur’s other creations. What was strange was watching a show that was recorded before and during the Coronavirus outbreak. It was weird seeing commercials and promos from back when life was normal and then suddenly seeing them change in tone when April rolled around.

B+


Meet Don Byers

A Golf channel short about an insurance salesman from Omaha in his early 60s who became the oldest (known) college athlete. What made this piece interesting was the narrator and the production. Ron Livingston provided the voice overs, and with him in mind, Don Byers’ dissatisfaction in his insurance job was given an Office Space spin. Which was nice.

B


Free Solo

Despite my strong fear of heights, I was able to watch this without my stomach getting too upset.

It is the documentation of Alex Hannold’s free solo climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan, the first time such a climb – done without any safety equipment – was ever completed.

It is absolutely gorgeous to watch, and does an amazing job capturing what it was like for Hannold to be hanging 3000 feet about the ground without any ropes or harnesses to save him should he slip.

It is also a look into Honnold’s life, which is a little odd. He likely has Asperger’s, and this complicates his relationships. He has a super-cute girlfriend who is clearly way more into him than he is to her. The part of his brain that registers fear doesn’t seem to work like most people’s, either, based on an MRI. He’s just a different dude, but those differences make it possible for him to do what no one else has ever done.

The most compelling parts to me were the moments the day before his climb, when the camera crew are going through their checklists and you could see on their faces that they all were pretty sure they were about to watch their friend die. And during the climb’s most difficult stretch, which he failed on consistently while practicing with ropes, one of the cameramen turns away and refuses to watch. That guy was me. I could watch the film already knowing the outcome, but in realtime, there was no way I could have continued to watch as Honnold attempted insanely difficult maneuvers with basically no margin for error.

A-


Tiger Slam

An accounting of the time when Tiger was at his most Tiger-ish, and won four-straight majors, including probably the two best major wins ever, the 2000 US and British Opens.

B+


The Human Bean

Back in April I watched Beau Miles’ A Mile An Hour, in which he ran a marathon, a mile at a time, over the course of a day, and did all kinds of cool stuff in between those laps.

Here, he decides to eat his weight in beans over several weeks as he preps for an endurance run. It’s pretty goofy and not as engaging as A Mile An Hour, but still entertaining.

B


Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

Funny story, remember when we moved into our new house two years ago and it took three-plus weeks to get cable installed? Well, shortly after the Comcast guys got the house wired, I recorded this show…and never watched it. Until now. You’d think I would have devoured it right away back when I was starving for content.

Williams has always been my favorite historic baseball player. Even knowing much of his story was mythological, I bought into him as the quintessential 20th century American Hero, capital H. As the show mentions, he was who John Wayne claimed to be.

So I was really surprised to learn that his heroic story was more complicated than I realized. Sure, he was a war hero – and lost nearly five years of baseball to service in two wars no less – but I never knew that for both World War II and the Korean War, he fought leaving baseball to serve. Now that certainly puts his service in heroism in a different light. It does not diminish his military accomplishments, or give back those five years in his prime that he missed. But it does undermine that he was a selfless athlete who sacrificed a significant chunk of his baseball career to serve his country.

S was in the room while I watched much of this. She has no idea who Ted Williams was or anything about him. The film is brutally honest about Ted’s brutal honesty. She was not a fan.

B


Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

I got this at the library. I really thought I had picked up the Jumanji movie that was just out over the last holiday season. Fortunately L and I had never seen this one and it made sense to start at the beginning.

So, this didn’t bridge any new ground at all. But it was surprisingly fun and entertaining. And it was tight. A solid family movie that takes roughly 90 minutes to watch? That’s good movie-ing there, my friends!

B


Jurassic Park

The other movie I picked up for L and I to watch. Man, this has not aged well. I remember being blown away by how realistic the dinosaurs were back when I first saw this. It was the ultimate 1990s summer blockbuster.

Nearly 30 years later, visually it looks very dated. It just doesn’t compare to what CGI can do these days. And the story, honestly, kind of sucked. Reading old reviews I saw how it was hailed as a return to form for Stephen Spielberg. Even with how awe-inspiring the visuals were back in 1993, I don’t see how this comes close to his best work in the 1980s.

C


Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of this flick. I enjoyed long stretches of it, but also didn’t really get where it was going. Well, I knew where it was going in terms of the historical event that anchored it, but I just thought it had a weird flow. It was entertaining as hell, but I never really latched onto some central theme that was pushing the story forward. Tarantino films often have that lack of traditional structure to them, but this felt different and more incomplete to me.

I also thought to myself, midway through, that it was the least violent Tarantino film I’ve ever seen. Boy the last 10 minutes did their best to make up for that. Yikes, some of that stuff I had to look away from. I did enjoy Tarantino’s alternative history take on what could have happened to the Helter Skelter killers.

The whole dirty feet thing put me off a bit. And for some reason I really enjoyed how much Leo’s character hated hippies, and the invective he threw at them.

As always, Leo and Brad Pitt were great. And Margot Robbie? Good grief, she’s like an angel from heaven. I could watch her do goofy 1960s dances all day.

B+ for the movie, many A+’s for Ms. Robbie

Weekend Notes

Some notes from the past few days.


Nephews

We watched two of our nephews overnight Saturday. Number one just turned four, is very strong willed and stubborn, but generally a good kid. He loves to swim at our house, and spent a lot of time in the pool Saturday evening and Sunday morning. I tell you what, there’s nothing better for wiping a kid out than letting them swim for a couple hours. Bedtime is awfully easy when they can barely keep their eyes open!

When his strong will kicks in it always makes our girls laugh. He just does not like when things don’t go according to his preferences, and lets you know about it. He straight up tells you that you can’t do things if he doesn’t want you to. For example, he was getting fussy about leaving on Sunday and when S tried to help him get his belongings together, he started whining, “No Aunt S, I don’t want you to do that!” The beauty of it is that S and I have been through this and take no shit. So we either tell him how it’s going to be, or ignore him, both of which make him even less happy.

It’s kind of fun.

Our other favorite thing he does is how he’s recently learned that boys can pee outside. This may seem obvious to most of you, but to a kid who is being raised by a single mom, it didn’t come as naturally as it did for most boys. But now that he’s done it, he is kind of obsessed. Especially at our pool. On the Fourth of July he was getting out of the pool every 15 minutes and running to our trees to take another leak. Maybe he was drinking too much water, maybe he had a urinary infection, but I think he just liked to pee outside.

Along with this new skill has come the ability to pee standing up inside. That is more a function of him being tall enough to get over the rim and into the bowl. Sunday morning when we were getting ready to swim I asked him if he would go to the bathroom before we put on his swim trunks.

“Oh yeah, Uncle D, I’ll do that!” and he raced to the bathroom. As he ran he said, “I can stand up and hold my penis!”

Shit like that just makes me laugh.

Number 2 is almost seven month old, and just starting to smile and interact with people. He’s a little cutie and generally very pleasant, although a couple weeks ago when I was watching him he dropped a 45-minute meltdown on me. That was whatever the opposite of fun is.

For as cute as he is, he challenges his momma and anyone who watches him by not sleeping for more than 2-3 hours at a time. During the day naps usually last around an hour. At night he still wakes every couple of hours for a bottle. Thankfully S took the boys to the basement Saturday and while #1 slept straight through, #2 was up every few hours. He’s starting to eat some solid foods so maybe that will help him start to sleep longer.


My Golf

I had a very good round last week. I played a tougher course and shot a solid 89. Not my lowest score but, given the course difficulty, likely my strongest round so far. I hit the ball fairly well, although I still managed to put four balls into the trees. But I putted my ass off once I got warmed up.

I started the back nine by just missing a 50+ foot putt from off the green. It kissed the edge and left me with a foot coming back. On the next hole I had a 40-some foot putt from off the green. I barely lined it up, I just stepped up and whacked it, figuring because it was severely uphill I just needed to get it close for my second putt. I took one look, hit it, and watched it roll right in. And on the next hole I had a 60+ foot putt for birdie. Everything about the putt was perfect: the speed, the line, the break I played. The only thing that was not perfect was the Covid pool noodle in the cup. My putt dropped in, hit the noodle, and popped back out, stopping six inches beyond. I had to look up whether I could count it as a birdie or par. Sadly the rules say since it came out, it doesn’t count. But in my mind I know I hit a 60-foot birdie putt and really shot 88. Finally, after butchering my way up the 18th fairway, I dropped a curling, 30-footer to close my round.

A week earlier I had shot 99 on the same course. Ten shots is obviously a significant swing, and given how I putted last week my true score for that course is probably somewhere in the middle. But I sure felt good about my game after this round.


PGA Golf

OK, the Memorial tournament this weekend was fantastic. I always love how the US Open beats players up and makes them look like us weekend duffers. Since we have not (yet) had this year’s US Open, Jack Nicklaus clearly tried to give us the next best thing at his tournament. The course was baked out and very firm. Approach shots that would have stuck or only taken a couple hops and stopped on other tournament courses where bouncing through the greens into thick, gnarly rough.

The beauty of the rare PGA tournaments that take place on courses like this is how it gets in the pros’ heads. Suddenly they seem helpless because their games are so built around being able to bomb and gouge and putt. Few of them have much imagination and/or ability to adjust their game plans for different conditions. And as their confidence waivers, their mistakes get bigger.

Jon Rahm won the tournament thanks to some beautiful golf Saturday that put him well ahead of the pack. But I freaking loved seeing him put one in the deep rough on Sunday, then pitch out only to see that shot shoot through the green and land in the rough on the opposite side. That’s the shit us high handicappers can relate to!

Friday Playlist

“Divine Accidents” – 5 Billion in Diamonds
This band features Butch Vig, the drummer for Garbage and producer for dozens of big 1990s alt acts, and Ebbot Lundberg of Soundtrack of Our Lives. It sounds like a mashsup of SOOL and ELO, which is not unpleasant at all.

“Destroyer” – Lala Lala
Phoebe Bridgers recently recommended Lala Lala’s new album. I have only listened to this song so far, but I really like its vibe.

“Staying Power” – Emma Ruth Rundle
Another brooding track by a female vocalist, something Rundle does about as well as anyone.

“Your Boy” – Mo Troper
It doesn’t sound exactly like The La’s legendary “There She Goes,” but it’s close enough to get in your head. Which is just fine.

“You’re Gonna Get Yours” – Public Enemy
I know I share this song every year or so. There’s a good reason for that: although it rarely makes the cut for best songs of its era – or even of PE’s career – it is a roaring, undeniable track and one of the greatest side one, track ones of a debut album ever. It wasn’t the first PE song I heard, that was the legendary “Bring the Noise” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. But when I heard this song for the first time, I knew “Bring the Noise” wasn’t a fluke and I was going to be listening to a lot of PE music.

“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (1979 version)” – Prince
Another mind-blowing track from the Prince vaults. I don’t think I had ever heard that this classic, one of my top five Prince tracks, had been written and recorded in 1979 in the sessions for his second album. The sound is right in the pocket of his songs of that era, but obviously very different from the version he recorded in 1986 and put on ’87’s Sign “O” the Times. I’m always fascinated by artists who can write a song has a certain sound, then completely change it into something else that becomes a hit. I can edit, but rarely do I change something I’m writing to have a completely different tone and arc. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Of course, I’m not a genius like Prince was, so I shouldn’t compare myself to him.

“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” – Prince
And here’s the ultimate version of the song, a live performance from the movie Sign “O” the Times, which is just fucking fantastic. A visual reminder that not only was Prince as good a guitar player as anyone ever, but that he also danced his ass off at the same time. Jimmy, Jimi, Eric, and Eddie couldn’t dance like Prince. MJ couldn’t play like Prince. Just saying…

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 45

Chart Week: July 3, 1982
Song: “Hurts So Good” – John Cougar
Chart Position: #5, 11th week on the chart. Peaked at #2 for four weeks in August.

This entry is about how the biological information Casey Kasem shared on American Top 40 was not always accurate. John Cougar (Mellencamp) is the perfect artist to demonstrate this point, as he charted under three different versions of his last name. For simplicity, I will refer to him by the name this song charted under.

During this week’s countdown, when “Hurts So Good” was beginning a two-month stretch where it held either the #3 or #2 position, Casey told a story about John’s family life.

Mr. Cougar is famously from Seymour, Indiana, a small town not too far from Bloomington. His primary residence remains between the two cities, he holds very good season tickets for IU basketball, and has donated millions to the university, notably for the indoor sports practice facility.

As Casey told his audience, when Cougar was just out of high school, he went to a party in Seymour with some friends. They had a few beers and started “acting like jerks,” in John’s words. John saw a pretty woman and attempted to talk to her. She rebuffed his approach, though, saying he was obnoxious and she wanted nothing to do with him.

John kept seeing this lady around town, kept working her a little, but she was never interested.

Eventually, however, he proved to her that his behavior at that party wasn’t his true personality and she agreed to go out on a date. John and Priscilla Esterline were married and, according to Casey, had by 1982 been married for 13 years.

“And that,” Casey concluded, “is the persistence you need to succeed in the music business.”

OK, nice story. Although I’m not sure how chasing a girl equates to not giving up when the music business keeps knocking you down, but whatever, Casey had time to fill and he probably got this blurb from Cougar’s agent or someone else close to him.

One problem: Cougar and Esterline were divorced in 1981. In fact, if Wikipedia can be trusted, Cougar was already married to his second wife before “Hurts So Good” hit the charts.

Over the years Cougar has been married three times, engaged at least two other times, and had numerous other public relationships with women.

As with all people in the public eye, there may be better tools to demonstrate his dedication, commitment, and work ethic than by using the length of his romantic relationships.


By the way, “Hurts So Good” landed at #8 on the year-end Hot 100 for 1982, the highest position for a song that did not reach #1 over the course of the year. That was one spot higher than one of the three songs that kept “Hurt So Good” out of the #1 spot, the Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra.” Cougar’s other massive ’82 hit, the far superior “Jack and Diane,” was one spot ahead at #7.


On Lost TV Shows

Since I’m struggling to write about current affairs at the moment, I decided I am going to try to get back to doing something I used to do a lot more often: link to interesting articles.

I can’t think of a better way to start than this piece.

The Strange Disappearance of Ed, the Great Show That Time Forgot

Old school friends will remember how much I loved Ed. Every few years something will remind me of it and I’ll sniff around a little to see if there has been any resolution to the music rights issues which have prevented it from ending up on cable or a streaming service. Each time I’ll find an article like this one, which is from 2016, where the writer laments the loss of the show, explains why it disappeared, and then talks to people involved in the show who are hopeful there will eventually be a path to the fans of Stuckeyville being able to watch our old heroes again.

There’s a tiny part of me that hopes that NBC’s new streaming platform is the answer, but I mostly resigned to the reality that we will never see the show again. Which could be a blessing. I wonder, after 20 years, if the show could live up to the place it has carved out in my memory.

Reader’s Notebook, 7/13/20

Death in Her Hands – Otessa Moshfegh
I read Moshfegh’s Eileen a few years back. After I started this one I had to go back and read my summary of it to recall that it was an odd little book.

This one was odd, too.

It is the story of a Vesta Gul, a widowed, 80-something woman who lives in an old Girl Scout cabin with her dog. One morning on their daily walk through the woods she stumbles across a note that claims that the body of a dead woman named Magda is nearby.

Vesta quickly becomes obsessed with finding out who killed Magda, and what led the Magda’s death. Using fiction writer’s tools, she sketches out details of the lives of Magda and the people around her. She sneaks around the small town near her home, hoping to find clues. Then the story gets really odd.

I struggled with this book a lot. Especially the final fourth or so. I really was not sure what Moshfegh was trying to do, or where she was trying to take me. Was this a deconstruction of the classic murder mystery? A new take on that genre? A psychological examination of a woman who may be exhibiting signs of dementia? A treatise on aging and loneliness? These are all ideas that popped into my head, but I don’t know that I could make a convincing argument for any of them.

I’m glad I’m not in a book club where people smarter than me who got the book discussed it while I was forced to sit there flipping pages, wondering how the hell they came up with their theories.


The Majors: In Pursuit of Golf’s Holy Grail – John Feinstein
It’s a good thing Feinstein tells good stories. Because as I work my way through his books I’m finding them more and more repetitive. It doesn’t matter what sport he writes about, he hits the same notes, finds the same rhythms, uses the same phrases over and over. What is especially annoying is how cliched some of his writing is. I would expect better from a Duke grad who, according to the jacket of this book, is America’s most beloved sportswriter.

I may have written that exact same paragraph the last time I read one of his books.

This one is about the 1999 golf majors: The Masters, The US Open, The (British) Open Championship, and the PGA Championship. There are some good stories in there, and it was another notch in the old book count for the year, but I probably need to stop with his books because they are more annoying than entertaining to me now.

40 at 50

I missed an absolutely huge anniversary over the holiday weekend and have been grievously late in finally getting to it.

Last weekend was the 50th anniversary of the first American Top 40 broadcast.

If you follow here closely you know that there has likely been no bigger pop culture influence on my life than AT40.

I remember my parents and their friends listening to the show in the late 1970s. Once I got my own radio, AT40 became an integral part of my weekends. Often I would listen to both the morning broadcast and the evening repeat. I would also watch Solid Gold or America’s Top 10 to catch their countdowns. When we got cable, watching MTV’s weekly Top 20 video countdown was required viewing.

By the late-80s my tastes were changing and adult contemporary music was taking over the top 40, so I listened to the countdown less-and-less. Like most people my age, my tastes drifted to hip hop and grunge and alt rock, genres that (at the time) had almost no chance to make the charts. Occasionally I would come across AT40 while driving, and I might listen for a few minutes before moving on to another station, or popping a CD into the player. By then Casey was gone, anyway, replaced by Shadoe Stevens, so there was no real nostalgic reason to listen.

Even as AT40 got further in the rearview mirror of my pop culture life, it still had an impact. I was a dedicated list maker of my own, for sure having a year-end favorites list and occasionally making ad hoc lists of my favorite songs of the moment. Friends were annoyed by me saying things like “This is my third-favorite song,” or something dumb like that. That all came from Casey and AT40.

And AT40 became a part of my life again as I passed into adulthood. There was that weekend in Iowa when I heard an old countdown and thrilled my then fiancé with my ability to guess the top four songs of the week.1 A few years later, living in Indianapolis, I came across a station that played those old countdowns and would listen occasionally. That was a temporary arrangement and the countdowns disappeared again, until right about the time L was born, when the station that currently broadcasts the classic AT40s picked them up. For nearly 12 years now listening to pop music countdowns from my childhood has again became a Sunday ritual. A couple years back I found the iHeart radio channel that broadcasts countdowns from the 1970s and 1980s constantly and made it a favorite that I listen to while in the kitchen the way others listen to NPR or talk radio.

And, of course, all that modern listening helped create my Reaching for the Stars series, which I hope you enjoy.

Since AT40 arrived a year before I did, I don’t know if music lovers were already obsessed with making lists or if we can credit Casey for warping our minds. I think there’s something about being a music freak that makes you want to rank and order songs and albums, whether it is to rate them by quality or simply to physically organize them. But Casey and AT40 certainly pushed my generation toward being neurotic about those lists.

I’ve been obsessive about a lot of things in my life. That’s how my mind works. But no obsession has been longer, or more consistent, than my obsession with ranking songs. I owe it all to Casey’s dream of sharing the top songs in the country with America every weekend.

1. She was not thrilled.

Friday Playlist

“Light in the Heart of Our Town” – Joensuu 1685
This Finnish band created some buzz about 10 years ago then splintered into side projects. They are back after that long fallow period and arrive with this absolutely gorgeous song

“same mistakes” – We Were Promised Jetpacks
Along with label mates The Twilight Sad, WWPJ practice a wonderfully miserable brand of Scottish indie rock. Their songs are dark and brooding and match the weather of their homeland. If you’re into that kind of thing, you should love their newest track.

“On the Floor” – Perfume Genius
I heard this song by accident, when Spotify played it randomly after another playlist ended. I don’t remember if I’ve listened to any of Perfume Genius’ music before; I’m guessing I have and didn’t like it and thus have avoided his later work. But I’m pretty sure this sounds nothing like whatever music of his I listened to in the past. There’s a Terrence Trent D’Arby element to the vocals, and a lightness to the music that I really enjoy.

“Fall Back” – Hoops
In my now 17 years in Indiana, there haven’t been a ton of good bands that have come from the area. Hoops have been around for awhile, and while they aren’t exactly making it big, it’s good that there is some solid music from the Indy-Bloomington area to fill out summer playlists.

“Undone” – Pearl Jam
I heard this last night for the first time in awhile and it seems to fit the moment pretty well.

“Summer Girl” – HAIM
The Haim sisters released their long-anticipated Women in Music, Pt. III album a couple weeks back to rave reviews. I finally got around to listening to it this week and agree that it finally fulfills all the promise they’ve shown through their young career. In the past their albums would have a couple good singles then a lot of good ideas that didn’t necessarily work. The new album, though, is a stunner from start-to-finish. This song was released at the end of last summer and serves as a bonus track, but it’s good for mid-July.

« Older posts

© 2020 D's Notebook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑