Month: December 2021 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a normal Friday playlist. Might as well wrap up 2020 by getting back into the routine of sharing good music with friends on Fridays.

“Maelstrom” – Melts
I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile. Turns out it is perfect to save for New Year’s Eve, as it is about a getting caught in times of turmoil and being powerless to resist. I can’t think of a better analogy for the past few years.

“Easy” – Sun June
This band makes some nice music.

“Spinnin’ N Reelin'” – Creed Bratton
I watched most of the Christmas episodes of The Office multiple times over the past few weeks. I wondered what that catchy track Creed sings in the legendary/infamous “Benihana Christmas” episode was. Turns out it was one of Creed’s actual songs! It is really good!

“Take Me to the Mardi Gras” – Bob James
Monday’s The Number Ones covered PM Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” from November 1991. One of the samples used in that track was this, a 1975 cover of a 1973 Paul Simon track. I don’t recall ever hearing this version before, although it was one of those random tracks that got sampled all across early hip-hop, most notably in Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper.” It’s funky as hell! My life is better for having heard it. After you listen to this, go listen to Simon’s. It’s amazing that there is one step between his mellow, mostly acoustic track and some of the greatest hip-hop tracks ever made. Also, I went back and listened to a few PM Dawn tracks after reading that piece. Their “I’d Die Without You,” which was on the Boomerang soundtrack, is definitely worth a re-listen if you haven’t in awhile.

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” – Taylor Swift
As much as I’ve come to like Taylor Swift, I didn’t have much interested in her re-recorded albums. Until this landed on just about every Best Songs of 2021 list, and usually near the top. I gave it a listen and was floored. She has such a gift for writing these intensely personal songs that both come across as universal and are loaded with perfect pop elements. I love this song’s slow climb that builds and builds the tension until that little moment of release at the 4:25 mark. And reading through the stories behind the lyrics (and the fan interpretations) is pretty amazing. There aren’t many mega-stars like Taylor who share this much in their music. If you were a doubter, like I was, I recommend you listen to this with an open mind. I bet it will floor you, too.

“New Year’s Day” – Taylor Swift
After that, why not give T-Swift the final say on 2021? Happy New Year to you all!

Jayhawk Talk: The David Problem

KU has entered the silly season. Three-straight scheduled games either cancelled or postponed because of Covid issues with their opponent. The next regularly scheduled game is in jeopardy, too, although the new quarantine rules may save it. Odds are at least the first half of January will continue to be crazy, and perhaps only a quickly declining Omicron wave will keep the entire conference season from being a mess.

In place of two of those games, KU scrambled to get new opponents. Last night was Nevada, giving KU a chance to earn some redemption from the Kirk Snyder/Nick Fazekas disasters in Bill Self’s early days in Lawrence. Seriously, those were weird times.

A blow out win with lots of dunks was a fine way to close out the calendar year. The team defense looked improved. And, in the second half at least, I think we saw another glimpse of how the team should play on offense if they want to fully unlock the team’s potential. That included fewer passes to David McCormack, and when he did get the ball, him looking to pass first rather than put his head down, plow to the hoop, and throw up an off-balance shot that slams off the backboard. He’s a good passer. He has shooters all around him. He’s limited offensively. It seems like a no-brainer to me that he should be complimentary rather than featured on offense.

Earlier this week Bill Self said the KU offense needs to run through McCormack. KU fans know what Self says to the media is often a way of challenging or pumping up players. I sure hope these comments were about keeping Dave engaged and soothing his ego. Because it makes no sense in the context of this roster to make Big Dave a focus on offense. As I said earlier this season, Self is not, or should not, fuck around this year, given what is potentially ahead with the NCAA. Letting Dave post and try to score at will definitely qualifies as fucking around.

While this team does not need McCormack taking 10 shots a night off post-ups, it does need him on the court and being a presence. He’s their only player with legit height. Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson do a great job on the boards for their size, but KU needs Dave getting 5–8 boards a night. He can be effective on defense when he is calm and doesn’t try to block un-blockable shots or is jumping wildly at head fakes. While he really struggles with long, athletic bigs, KU also needs him providing at least a few minutes against those players rather than putting a 6’7” wing on them and hoping for the best.

KU doesn’t need David McCormack to be great in any aspect of the game. More than Remy or Wilson finding their shots, though, keeping David on the court for 25 positive minutes each night might be the biggest factor in this team reaching its peak in March. I’m hoping Self’s comments this week were indeed just about letting Dave know he isn’t forgotten.

Reader’s Notebook, 12/28/21

Only about six weeks behind on these, no big deal. If you got a gift card for Christmas maybe you’ll find something in here to use it on.

The Last Tourist – Olen Steinhauer
My latest entry from a recent list of best espionage novels. I knew this came from a series, but it got tremendous reviews so I figured it could stand on its own. It was only after I finished it that I saw I had read the first book in the series nine years ago. Whoops.

A group of rogue former CIA assassins have joined forces with some of the most powerful businesses in the world. Their aim: to get around international boundaries, regulations, and laws so these mega companies can do whatever the hell they want.

Milo Weaver, who once led these CIA “tourists,” discovers the plot and works with intelligence officials from other countries in an attempt to expose and stop this plan.

Ohhh, there are twists and turns and double crosses. Things are messy in the end. As you would expect. Solid read but I don’t know that it is a great one. It is truly frightening to think of Zuckerberg with assassins, though.

The Night the Lights Went Out – Drew Magary
I’ve shared a lot of Drew Magary’s work here over the years: posts from sites like Deadspin, pieces from GQ and other magazines, plus write ups from his three novels and one book about parenthood. And his Twitter presence is one of the best.

In December 2018, Magary collapsed in a bar after a Deadspin Christmas party. No one saw him collapse but he was quickly discovered, bleeding profusely and vomiting. Paramedics were called. Thinking he was just wasted, they stabilized him and took him to a hospital. In the ER, the doctors who initially saw him also thought he was just drunk and didn’t investigate his injuries.

The thing is, he was not drunk. He had drank one, maybe two, beers all night. Fortunately his editor at Deadspin is married to a doctor, who rode to the hospital with Magary. He insisted the doctors take a CT scan of Magary’s head. When the scan was performed, it showed massive internal bleeding and they rushed him to surgery. He would have likely died had the CT scan not been performed.

Magary spent the next two weeks in an induced coma, allowing his brain to heal. When he woke, he remembered nothing of the episode.

Since he has no memories of his collapse and time in a coma, the first quarter of the book is an oral history of it, told by his friends who were at the party with him, his family who watched him suffer in the hospital, and the doctors who treated him. It is a truly frightening read.

Once his memories return, Magary takes us through his brutal recovery process. His head trauma caused issues to his balance, senses of smell and taste, vision, and took a toll on his overall mental health. By Christmas 2019 he might not have been back to normal, but he was approaching a new normal where he could again function as well as he probably ever will.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan
I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I’m almost positive I’ve brought it home from the library before and just didn’t get to it. It was the perfect book to mostly knock-out while in Hawaii.

Finnegan, a long-time writer for The New Yorker, shares his life as a surfer. From his pre-teen days in California, through high school in both Cali and Hawaii, he grew up in the glory days of surfing. Running in the counter-culture of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Finnegan set aside a normal life for traveling around the world to surf some of the planet’s most remote waves. Along the way he taught in Apartheid-era South Africa, working to educate Black students on ways they could undermine the system. When he eventually forged a career as a journalist in the States, he still found ways to surf in amazing places.

This book won’t be for everyone. It can get tedious hearing him describe wave after wave, especially when, as a non-surfer, I have no context for what the hell he’s talking about. But I loved his adventurous spirit, and how he eventually translated that into being a reporter and writer.

A Very Merry Dunder Mifflin Christmas – Christine Kopaczewski
An impulse grab from the library’s holiday section. Thank goodness it only took about 20 minutes to read, because it’s kind of trash. It pretty much just summarizes the various Christmas episodes of The Office. It also squeezes in some lame quizzes and recipes for items served at Dunder Mifflin parties.

Empire of Pain – Patrick Radden Keefe
A thorough and pretty amazing accounting of the Sackler family, the force behind Purdue Pharma and OxyContin, one of the drugs most responsible for our opioid crisis.

Keefe lays out how the Sackler family basically invented the concept of modern, pharmaceutical advertising. How, once they stumbled into the world of pain killers, they totally transformed the company to push massive amounts of the pills into the market. How they never fully tested OxyContin, and hid the truth about its effects from regulators and physicians. How they turned a blind eye to “pill mills” that were cranking out fake prescriptions because they fattened the company’s bottom line.

At its core, the story is a case study in how big business, with near endless resources at its disposal, can use loopholes and flaws in a system designed to protect consumers to actually protect itself from ever being held accountable for its misdeeds.

I had not followed any of the investigations into Perdue Pharma or the Sacklers closely, so didn’t have a great idea of who they were before I read this. I suppose there are some folks out there who will view them as victims in all of this. I tend to think they are straight-up evil.

A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
My 14th annual re-reading.

Normal Sport – Kyle Porter
Porter, who covers golf online for CBS Sports, slapped together this hilarious summary of the past year in professional golf.

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s – Andy Greene
A very good oral history of The Office. Worth the time for any fan of the program. It also made me recall that I really didn’t watch the last two years of the show. Doesn’t seem like I missed much. I have watched probably 20 episodes of the classic years over the past few days.

Christmas Notes

It is days like this you can’t help but wonder if climate change is a good thing. I’m sitting on our back porch, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, at 10:39 AM on December 27 and feeling completely comfortable. It feels like a May morning. Hell, it wasn’t that much warmer than this around sunrise in Hawaii. We will obviously pay for this at some point. Tomorrow we are supposed to have heavy rain all day and a slow decline until a low in the teens Monday morning. But this is a hell of a way to close out 2021 and we’re going to do our best to enjoy it.

We had a standard, big, crazy Christmas with most of S’s family. Eight of the nine kids are in town and 14 of the 16 grandkids.

Christmas Eve everyone who was in town gathered at the sister-in-law’s who lives in our old neighborhood for dinner and family time.

Christmas morning we realized this might be the first, but second at most, time that our girls have ever opened gifts without us having guests. There were no grandparents, aunts, or uncles staying with us Christmas Eve, so we had a quiet present time to ourselves.

S has loosened up from her Three Gifts for Christmas rule and the girls all got four gifts! They long ago wisened up to this process and only ask for 4–5 things, so they pretty much get what they ask for and know what’s coming. Highlights were all three girls getting new ski pants. M and L got new Nikes. C got some kind of magic hair dryer/hair straightener and a kit to make her own faux-acrylic nails.

Most of the local family joined us for our traditional Christmas brunch. I spent a couple hours on Friday knocking together my usual casseroles and we picked up the must-have Honey Baked ham earlier in the week. A few hours after brunch we busted out the dessert bar and most folks cleared out around 5:00.

S was off to the airport a couple hours later to pick up her sister and family who flew in from Denver. Those four are staying with us through Wednesday.

Their son turned 12 yesterday, so we took most of the family to a bounce place. It was pretty funny seeing our group of kids that range from 17 to almost-two all bouncing together. L enjoyed trying to dunk on the various basketball hoops. M and C did some cool obstacle course that was 15 feet above the ground and required them to be harnessed-up and connected to a safety line.

After everyone was back to our house for pizza, dessert, and some games.

Today M and her five-year-old cousin from Boston are getting their ears pierced together. These are M’s second piercings – one of her other gifts – but little L’s first and she is super excited.

I guess it’s been the standard, pretty good Christmas. Folks are getting along. Kids are behaved. For the first time in three years I’m not having some weird health issue over the holidays (knock on wood). The weather, which has hit 60 multiple times in the past week, is just a huge bonus.

D’s Notes

KU Hoops

Well, I was hoping to post another Jayhawk Talk entry this week. I was looking forward to seeing how KU played three days after struggling to put away a Stephen F. Austin team that exposed some of their deficiencies. Alas, Colorado had some players test positive, the game got wiped from the schedule, and the Christmas break begins early for the Jayhawks.

Which leaves the big KU hoops news of the week the announcement that KU will play Indiana the next two years. It took 19 years but it’s finally happening: the Jayhawks vs. the Hoosiers on campus!1 What timing, too. KU will come to Bloomington in December 2023, when I just might have a freshman on campus. Wacky, wild stuff!

The 1990s series between the schools was great. Well, for KU fans it was, since the Jayhawks went 5–1 against the Hoosiers, including two wins in the NCAA tournament. The game in Lawrence in December 1993 – the Jacque Vaughn game – was the best game I’ve ever attended.

Covid and Sports

All sports leagues are struggling at the moment, as both the protection offered by vaccines begins to waver for those who got their shots last spring and the Omicron variant takes hold. Once again we are seeing how well-meaning policies and guidance have often been short-sighted. Protocols that were put in place over the summer now seem hopelessly outdated and ineffective because, to go back to a favorite phrase from the spring of 2020, the situation is fluid. Leagues, rightly, are reluctant to move too quickly in making adjustments as they wait on advice from government and health officials and a better idea of exactly how dangerous Omicron is.

I’m not sure what the right answer is. Allowing fully vaccinated players who test positive but show no symptoms to continue to compete seems like the right move at first consideration. But aren’t those players still able to spread the virus even if they have avoided its worst effects? So do we start limiting crowds again? Or only letting in fully-vaccinated fans to prevent the spread if we let those players on the court?

Or should leagues hit the pause button, as the NHL has done? Would stopping games for 10–14 days allow this rapidly spreading wave to subside a bit, give officials a better idea of exactly what we’re facing, and perhaps prevent a longer delay after the holidays pass?

While their policies may be frustrating, at least professional sports are controlled by a central body that keeps everyone on the same set of rules. In college sports it’s totally different, with each conference having slightly different standards. College sports, subject to the political whims of all 50 states and the various priorities of dozens of different conferences, are a mess. The NCAA has provided all kinds of guidance, and is working closely with the CDC to adjust that guidance as needed. But the fact remains that an organization that is quick to jump in and control what schools/conferences do when there is money to be made (and take their large cut in the process) is largely toothless when it comes to protecting players, coaches, and fans.

BTW, S and I are boosted. M gets her third shot next week. We did have a scare in the house a couple weeks back, but the Covid test was negative and we think the kid in question had either the regular flu or just a terrible cold. Fortunately it never hit the rest of us.


We had a fairly busy weekend so I wasn’t able to watch any of the PNC Father/Son golf tournament. Which bummed me out because my Twitter feed was electric about Tiger and Charlie Woods putting on a show all weekend. I don’t know what people were more amazed by: the fact that Tiger was upright and playing good golf, or how freaking good his kid is.

Who knows how healthy Tiger actually is and if his efforts are repeatable. He rode in a cart all week; doing so in a regular tour event will require approval from the PGA. I imagine they would jump at giving him one, ironic given how hard they fought to keep Casey Martin out of one 20-some years ago. Whether Tiger’s body can hold up to 72 holes of high-level golf is another matter. Regardless of his future, it is stunning that he had been able to recover to this level.


The Pacers are kind of a mess. Which is unusual. Aside from the mid–2000s, post-Brawl era, the franchise is usually pretty boring and steady. They are always solid, occasionally great. They never get a high lottery draft pick. They don’t make much news that draws attention nationally.

This year has been different. There seems to be a lot of discontent in the locker room. There are players who don’t like their roles, some who are frustrated by not winning, and others who have issues with the front office.

It reached the point where owner Herb Simon had to meet with select media last week to ensure them he loved this team and that he thought they were fully capable of getting their shit together and winning some games. This came just as there were reports that he might finally relent from his long-held policy of refusing to tank for a high draft pick. He has said he would rather be mediocre and sell as many tickets as possible than tell the fans the team is going to suck for a few years and deal with a huge attendance loss.

The chatter is he may be wavering because the Pacers’ attendance this year has been near the bottom of the entire league. I think there’s also finally some acceptance that while they have a lot of nice players, they have the wrong mix of nice players. Too many guys who do the same thing and no true stars. There’s no Jermaine O’Neal, Danny Granger, or Paul George on this roster: a young, talented player who can blossom into a top 20 player if the team is patient enough.

The Colts are the far more important franchise around town these days, and have been since Peyton arrived. But I’ve talked to a few guys who have been big Pacers fans their entire lives who are pissed about where the team is. When you have such a small, loyal fan base and they begin to turn on the team, it seems like ownership has to do something drastic to keep their interest and to have any hopes of grabbing the attention of the rest of the city.


My attention given to the Colts this year has been waaaaay less than last year. I’m not sure why. I’ve watched way less of the NFL in general this year. Again, I’m not sure why.

The Colts seem to be rolling, though. And my limited viewing tells me that this may be the widest open playoffs in recent memory. So perhaps the Colts can overcome that brutal opening stretch of the season and make some noise in the playoffs.

Ha! Very funny! You can’t trust Carson Wentz in the playoffs!

Forget Covid and who may/may not be available: is there a single team you really trust to win 3–4 games in January? I would assume the Chiefs are, once again, the favorite as they’ve righted the ship from their mid-season swoon. But each time a team seems poised to stake a claim as the clear best team in the league, they lay a big fat egg. So maybe that means the Chiefs play a Wild Card in both the AFC title game and Super Bowl? I don’t know; I haven’t watched enough to have any idea what to expect.

1. The only time the schools have played since I moved to Indy was in Hawaii in November 2016 with the Hoosiers winning in overtime.

Kid Stuff

Today is a strange day in our house. M and C wrapped up finals on Friday, so (as I begin this in the morning) both are still in a deep sleep. Hell, C probably finally went to bed somewhere in the 2–3 AM range.

L, on the other hand, has class through Wednesday. So the two of us were up at the normal time.

That feels weird because it’s the first time we’ve had a schedule like this. Last year, of course, both schools were locked down and the girls were e-learning for the final month of the semester. Two years ago I’m 95% sure M’s last day of finals coincided with the last day of the year for St P’s. I picked her up at noon, we went to lunch to celebrate the end of her first semester of high school, then I picked her sisters up an hour or so later.

Not sure L is super happy with how this works out for her. Although she goes back two days after the high schoolers in January, so it evens out.

Seems like finals went well for both high schoolers. M complained about how the finals schedule this year. Instead of having two finals a day for four days, they had three finals the first two days, then two on Friday. So they had pretty normal days those first two days, starting at 9:00 and finishing at 2:30. So told me how that was so unfair compared to the old system. I rolled my eyes and ignored her complaints.

We signed C up for the written portion of driver’s ed on Friday. I’m hoping she gets a lot of work done over the break and can knock out her 30 hours of “class time” quickly. We haven’t got her in a car in the high school parking lot, yet. But that is coming soon.

Two more weeks of basketball in the books for L’s team. They’ve split games each weekend.

Last week they lost game one of the day by five. That was a bummer because they led by six pretty much the entire game. The other team threw a half-court trap at us to start the fourth quarter and we gave up the lead in about four possessions and never got it back.

The true highlight of that game, though, was one of the refs. First, he called the game like a first grade game, stopping to explain every call to the players, giving them visual demonstrations of what they did wrong. This got tedious quick.

Worse, he also enjoyed lecturing the coaches and parents about his calls. If there was any complaining, he would stretch these lectures out for a good 30 seconds, speaking loud enough for all to hear. He was in control of the gym. Or at least giving that appearance.

Example: “Ladies, you can reach as much as you want, but if you displace the player you’re guarding, that’s a foul.” He would wave his arms around to give a visual of how you can reach as he spoke. “Until the offensive player is displaced, it’s a legal defensive play.”

The displacement thing became very important. Both coaches complained that their girls were getting hacked. But, as he said, as long as you don’t displace the girl with the ball, you can hack the hell out of her and he won’t call it.

Sadly it was our coaches who lost their patience the most with him, and there were a couple lengthy, and uncomfortable, “conversations.” The word displacement was thrown around a lot. Eventually even parents were sarcastically yelling “Displacement!” from the stands any time there was contact on the floor. Our assistant coach asked the ref, loudly, if he was proud of himself.

None of that was necessary. Refs can explain calls to coaches during breaks in play, quietly. There’s no need to carry on for everyone in the gym to hear.

Thanks to all his pontificating – plus the other team shooting about 25 free throws – the game took 90 minutes to play. Which is just ridiculous. More so since we played immediately afterward. On the same court. With the same refs. Sigh…

Fortunately we got matched up with a team we had crushed in week one. We crushed them again. L and a girl almost got into it. They ran into each other once and L got the best of it. Then they were fighting for a ball and both refused to back down, even after the refs called a jump ball. This other girl was a little rougher than L, and the second time they tangled a friend of mine said, “I think she is going to look for L after the game and try to kick her ass!” I laughed, but made sure that girl left first just in case!

I think the score not being close and the refs realizing we were starting the game about the time it should have ended forced Mr. Talker to blow his whistle less often. Although one of our coaches yelled “Displacement!” at his partner when she let the defense shove one of our girls without a call.

L’s team is in what is supposed to be in a seventh grade league. The team they played first yesterday had girls that looked like they belonged in high school. And they were good. Really good. We heard after the game they hadn’t lost a game since third grade. It showed. They were better everywhere on the court and smoked us by 30.

Sadly, again, the highlight was our coaches losing it with one of the refs. Our head coach got a warning then two technicals and an ejection for complaining that the other team was grabbing our guards when they tried to run the offense. Which they were. Also the fouls were 8–2 against us in the second half despite our girls being totally checked out while they were getting mauled on the other end. Still, never a good look for a coach to get tossed.

Guess what? Once again we had the same court, same refs for game two. This time our opponents looked like fifth graders. So we beat them by 30. An even-Stephen day. There were no referee issues.

L played ok in all the games. I think she scored six total points last week. She had two in the first game yesterday, then six in the second. Which came despite her barely being able to run thanks to her knee issues. They subbed her out more than they have in any game this season since she could barely walk at times. I was worried about her when she scored the first bucket of the game then immediately went to the bench. But she came back in early in the second quarter, hit a 15-foot jumper, and flexed as she ran up court. OK, then.

She has been frustrated because she’s not scoring much. She was really down after the games last week because two girls who almost never score both dropped 10+ in the second game. The two girls who lead the team in scoring also do it by being very aggressive and taking super-unorthodox shots. One girl just kind of heaves it from her hip, yet she’s probably averaging 10–12 a game. L is always trying to set herself up to take a perfect shot.

I told her as a point guard, it isn’t her primary job to score. She’s supposed to set up others to score. But, I made clear, she turned down some scoring chances. A couple times she had wide-open paths to the bucket that she passed out of. The mom who has coached her for years was sitting beside me and even yelled at her a couple times, “L, what are you doing?!?! Take that shot!”

I added that it’s not being selfish if she has a good, open chance to score and takes it. And, as the best dribbler on the team, she needs to take advantage if she can take two dribbles and get in the lane instead of someone else taking a guarded jumper from the perimeter.

She did better than that in the second game yesterday. Even though that team was awful, I give her credit since she was moving at about half speed. She got to the baseline several times and had three runners spin out. She was aggressive. She made some good passes. I also reminded her that as she gets older, the game changes. Forget her knee issues. At this age, the games aren’t just about being faster down the court than the defense. It’s great when she can get out on the break. But she has to learn to run and play within an offense. Learning to be patient and run the plays how the coach wants them run will pay off one day.

Favorite Songs of 2021

We’ve made it to another year-end list of my favorite songs of the past twelve (-ish) months.

Usually I start working on these rankings in early October. This year I didn’t put any real work into it until after we returned from Hawaii on December 1. Some of that was because my working list was about as tight as it has ever been. I don’t know that it ever got over 40–42 songs, and I was able to trim many songs before I began giving it serious consideration. When it came to do the real work, I was already under 30 songs, and it was a pretty easy process.

I was still moving songs around and making my final decision on whether to have one or two Torres tracks yesterday (Dec. 15). I’ve looked at them long enough. Here they are: my 21 favorite songs of 2021.

Oh, wow, I just noticed how that works perfectly!

20 – “What This City Needs” – Sam Coffey and The Iron Lungs
A rip-roaring, old-school, rock ’n’ roll track to get us started.

19 – “In the Stone” – The Goon Sax
OK, I’m going to admit I have no idea what a few of these songs are supposed to be about. This one, for example. But I dig the bored tone the singers deliver their lines with.

18 – “Enough is Never Enough” – The Clockworks

17 – “Empire Builder” – Typhoon
Another song I’m not totally sure what it is about, even after reading a few theories. I do know it sounds absolutely amazing. And the closing lines of “everybody’s angry, everybody’s lonely” seems like a spot-on assessment of this moment in history.

16 – “Hardline” – Julien Baker
Baker surprised people when she announced her new album would feature, for the first time, a full band backing her. Rather than hiding her unique brand of intimacy, the bigger sound made it even better.

15a/15b – “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes in My Head” / “Thirstier” – Torres
I tried and tried, but I could not pick between either of these excellent songs. MacKenzie Scott has made some amazing music in her brief career. Both of these eclipse everything else she’s done.

14 – “Dino’s” – Gordi and Alex Lahey
There were a lot of songs this year about how Covid affected the music business. Here, Gordi and Lahey sing of missing not just their favorite dive in Nashville, but also sharing a moment with someone you love in a place that is special to you both.

13 – “Levitating” – Dua Lipa
That’s right: the Billboard number one song of the year made my Favorites list! That probably hasn’t happened since sometime in the ‘80s. A nearly perfect – and timeless – dance-pop song.

12 – “Why Don’t You Touch Me” – Leon Bridges
This is a straight-up beautiful song about the person you love drifting away from you.

11 – “Heaven” – Eliza Shaddad
Shaddad has officially entered the group of artists who almost automatically make my year-end list when they release something new.

10 – “Chaeri” – Magdalena Bay
Robyn provided vocals for Smile’s “Call My Name” this year. That track did not sound very Robyn-ish, though. This song, which features singer Mica Tenenbaum, sounds like it could be straight off of the next Robyn album.

9 – “The Way I Feel” – Alien Boy
I remain a sucker for songs that are about trying to recapture feelings from the past.

8 – “Undone” – The Shivas
This song’s neo-psychedelic vibe kept me listening to it over-and-over.

7 – “The Shining but Tropical” – Wild Pink
I doubt any track this year sounded as glorious, warm, and anthemic as this, another excellent entry in Wild Pink’s rapidly growing collection of great songs.

6 – “Long Way” – Eddie Vedder
EdVed surprised the hell out of me with this solo track. There is the obvious, heavy Tom Petty influence. The bridge (“Well, it couldn’t be had…”) is soooo perfect.

5 – “Seventeen Going Under” – Sam Fender
An emotional beast of a song set to a beat you can dance to: that is the classic Sam Fender experience. Here he sings of being 17, the rough crowd he ran with, and how his mother’s illness and their lack of money had a huge impact on his life.

4 – “Better” – Michgander
2021 was supposed to be different. Vaccines had arrived, an inauguration was ahead, and it sure felt like we would get a break from all the bullshit of 2020. It took six days to shatter those hopes.

This song’s soaring high points plus the title of the EP it is from – Everything Will Be OK Eventually – are reminders that maybe things will not be so fucked up some day.

3 – “the angel of 8th ave.” – Gang of Youths
This song gallops along and dares you to resist it. An ode to his new wife and their new home in London, Dave Le’aupepe throws everything that makes Gang of Youths great into this track. It gets better every time I listen to it. In fact, this has moved up three spots since I started seriously considering this list. Maybe if I waited until January to finish, it would be number one.

2 – “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” – The War on Drugs
I, like most TWOD fans, was totally blown away the first time I heard this. It didn’t sound like anything the band had done before, full of brightness, with a proper chorus, and no true guitar solo. It even has backup singers, for crying out loud!

Adam Granduciel has made a shitload of classic songs in the decade-plus TWOD has been putting out music. This might be his magnum opus, a brilliant track that perfectly balances the bittersweetness of getting older and moving on with your life, while still sneaking glances back at the past.

1 – “Stacking Chairs” – Middle Kids
Middle Kids did the hard part first: their debut single, “Edge of Town,” was a stunning, unforgettable song that most bands spend years trying to make. They followed up with an EP and LP, and both filled with good songs. None matched “Edge of Town,” though. That song’s success was starting to feel like a curse.

That changed this year. The band’s second full-length record, Today We’re the Greatest, was a huge leap. It was a mature, emotional-yet-reserved album that took some time to relate to. In fact, I’m a little mad at myself for not spending more time with it upon its release. Thankfully I eventually connected with it, and it is one of my two favorite albums of the year.

Singer and songwriter Hannah Joy opened up about her life in this new batch of songs, including her issues with alcohol (“How am I supposed to know you, when you are drunk all the time?”), people she had hurt in the past (“You lifted me up, I let you down. Over and over.”), her experience becoming a mother, and the challenges of committing yourself to a relationship. That final theme appeared on several songs but was most apparent on “Stacking Chairs.”

Here she sings of the leap of faith that is marriage, and how you open yourself not just to your partner, but to their past as well. There are millions of songs about being faithful. I would bet this is the first to use the metaphor of cleaning up after a party to demonstrate loyalty within a relationship. It totally works because Joy is such a good, honest, and emotional singer. When she ends the second chorus by repeating “I will be there…” it gets me every single time.

Middle Kids knew they had a good thing with this song. They’ve performed it for several shows. A few nights this fall I would watch one, and then another, and then another. Here are some of my favorites. From Triple J in Australia. From The Late Night with Stephen Colbert. From CBS Mornings Sunday Sessions.. And, finally, it leads off their excellent performance for KEXP.

Getting Back

Over the weekend I knocked out all of The Beatles: Get Back. A few observations and thoughts about Peter Jackson’s nearly eight-hour documentary of the January 1969 Beatles studio sessions.

I’m pretty sure I saw the original movie that was made from the film shot at those sessions, Let It Be, years ago. When I first saw the trailer for Get Back last fall, I was incredibly excited as it seemed to upend the narrative Let It Be had created: that the Beatles constantly bickered and battled through those sessions.

Yeah, there was some bickering, passive aggressiveness, and occasional hurt feelings in Get Back. Hell, George left the damn band for a few days in the middle. As we now know, that’s pretty normal for any band that is recording, especially one that has been together for a decade. I would be cynical about a documentary that didn’t show some disagreement.

More than those isolated moments of conflict, though, we see four men who had literally changed the world reeling from the pressure to live up to their name. A band attempting to get past all the weight accumulated along their journey to recapture their earlier magic.

Thankfully we see a lot of that magic. It was fascinating to watch them riffing and improvising until they came upon a moment of inspiration that grew into a new song. The film’s best moments were when John and Paul were totally focused and bouncing ideas off each other until they both sensed they had found something. You could sense the energy crackling in that connection between them. I was giddy during these scenes: music history play out on my screen, fifty years later.

It was clear that John and Paul were on a different wavelength from any other people on the planet. George and Ringo could tap into those vibes and go along with them. But when John and Paul were locked in on each other, the rest of the world ceased to exist. It was amazing to watch.

My constant thought was that I wish we had film like this from the sessions for Rubber Soul or Revolver, when the band was, arguably, at its creative peak, still got along well, and were less affected by drugs.

I also kept wanting to dig into the band’s history with drugs to see who was on what during these sessions.[1] They each, in their own way and at different times, looked pretty wrecked. Man, they smoked a lot, too!

I loved everything about Billy Preston’s appearance. He seemed so joyful and happy to be a part of the Beatles’ process. His presence certainly helped to get them more focused on working towards producing a final product rather than just dicking around.

I’m not a musician, so I was surprised that the band spent so much of their jamming time seated. I just assumed that they would stand to play like when they performed on stage. It seems like it would be difficult to play guitar the same way sitting down as standing up. But what do I know?

I loved that moment when George sheepishly told John he was thinking about making a solo record, and John told him that was a great idea and he should pursue it. While perhaps John was just looking for his own escape plan and this would take the burden off of him being the one who ended the Beatles, it did feel quite genuine and you could see how much George appreciated it.

I’m a John guy, but I was awed by the demonstration of Paul’s talent. The early days of the band were all about him and John pushing each other. Paul was clearly the driving force in the band by 1969. He had so much energy and so many ideas that kept pouring out of him. It felt manic at times, and I’m sure could be off-putting to the rest of the band. But it was pretty clearly because of Paul that we got the final two Beatles albums.

While the band had issues with each other, those issues did not seem insurmountable at this point. Although it was easy to see how the very different manias that drove Paul and John would cause problems. John’s constant falling back to old songs and humorous asides, to me, hid his fear about whether the band – or just he, himself – still had it. As if John was constantly distracting so they couldn’t get to a point where he might embarrass himself.

It was hilarious when Paul said, at one point, that people would suggest in 50 years that the band broke up because Yoko Ono sat on an amp – directly to her no less! – when that was exactly what people were saying less than a year later! Paul defending John and Yoko’s relationship when his girlfriend, Linda Eastman, suggested Yoko was perhaps giving John ideas was an amazing little moment.

As for Yoko, sure she was distracting. But it’s not like she was the only partner who was in the studio. Linda Eastman brought her damn kid in! I know Yoko’s involvement was different than the other folks. You have to accept that if he hadn’t brought Yoko, John wouldn’t have been there. He was so fragile he needed her to physically support him with her presence. The Beatles broke up because of personal, financial, and other issues between the Fab Four, not because of Yoko. And they would have ended at least a year earlier if not for her. Clear Yoko’s name now!

Paul constantly scratching his beard kind of drove me nuts.

Of the various interpretations of Get Back that I’ve read and listened to, the one I like the most came from John Gruber and Merlin Mann on The Talk Show podcast. They both suggested that the documentary shows how much love there was between the four Beatles. They had been through a lot of shit, and would go through more shit before they broke up for good. But even when they were getting on each other’s nerves, suspicious of each other, and being pulled different directions, when the music started, that love came back. We are so lucky to get to see it.

Get Back was presented as the final new piece of Beatles history that will ever be developed. As far as we know, there are no archives left to raid that will offer hours of video to review. No more stashes of unreleased songs. While Paul and/or Ringo could certainly share stories they’ve never shared before, it sure feels like they are beyond that. For that reason alone, Get Back was an important work. It was tedious at times, as the band played the same notes over-and-over or discussed the same topic round-and-round. But it was worth it, for those little moments of Beatles magic that bubbled up, and for the opportunity to see the band that set the standard for all who followed doing the hard work of making music.

  1. There should be a Wikipedia page that lays out what drugs they used in what years that is cross-referenced to their albums.  ↩

Rivalry Renewed?

After a week of fun buildup, Kansas and Missouri finally took the floor against each other Saturday for the first time in nearly a decade.

The result felt a bit empty, although the process was a lot of fun for us Kansas fans. The Jayhawks’ 102–65 win was the third-largest margin of victory in series history.

That wasn’t a surprise. From the Vegas gambling line (starting at KU minus–25!!!) to every article I read, podcast I listened to, and discussion I was in last week, universal opinion was that KU would win easily. This is a really good Kansas team that has a chance to be great. This is not a good Missouri team. Still, funny things can happen in rivalry games, so it was a bit of a surprise the game was so lopsided for all but about a three-minute Mizzou run midway through the first half.

That’s where the emptiness comes in. Sure, it was great to pummel Mizzou; there is never anything wrong with destroying your rival. But after all the hype over the previous week and all the memories about the great games of the past, in the end it kind of felt like any other non-conference game against an overmatched opponent.

With that in mind and setting aside the opponent, the big question for KU was if this game made them better. Ochai went for 20+ again. Christian Braun was white hot early and set the tone for the game. David McCormack had another mixed game. Remy Martin continued to do Remy Martin v.2021 things. Jalen Wilson still struggled on offense.

The big potential development was DaJuan Harris hitting some shots. He had not hit a jump shot all year but knocked down three 3’s, including two early that took MU away from what they wanted to do on defense. He also got to the rim and finished a few times, which he also hadn’t done all year. KU doesn’t need much from Harris. He needs to be steady, not make mistakes, and play good D. So far this year he’s look frightened when he’s been left wide open, either refusing to shoot or throwing up shots that were woefully short. He doesn’t need to go 3–4 from deep every game. If he can take and make the occasional shot, that forces the defense to play him tighter and opens up other options in what has become an extremely potent offense.

Even if it doesn’t make sense intellectually, there was an emotional expectation that the rivalry would pick up exactly where it left off in 2012. Which was not fair, because that season was one of the greatest in the long history of the rivalry. It featured one of the best Missouri teams ever (one even KU fans eventually admitted was damn good and fun to watch) against a Kansas team that lost in the national championship game that April. They played two intense games that will go down as some of the greatest played in the series.

For us in the stands or watching on TV it felt like a re-start after the pause button got stuck for awhile. But with the exception of Braun, I’m not sure any of the players felt the same passion about playing their opponent that every guys on both benches felt back in ’12. There’s no real animosity amongst the players. The coaching staffs seem to have a casual respect that comes with folks you’ve never coached against. For all the talk all week about how the rivalry is built on hate, there wasn’t a lot of hate on the court.

Worse, from the Mizzou perspective, the Tigers did not seem prepared to deal with the pressure of playing KU in Allen Fieldhouse. That, as much as anything else, made this game feel different. We are nearly 30 years removed from Norm Stewart’s final teams, but there is an institutional memory on both sides of how he got squads that weren’t as talented as Roy Williams’ to always play their asses off the two times they faced Kansas each season.

I think the question going forward is will the hate, or something approaching it, ever return? My guess is that it will, but it may take a few years to develop and will never be the same as the old days. This is, of course, suggested with the caveat that I live in Indianapolis. Maybe in the heart of the rivalry, the area between Columbia and Lawrence, it will feel like 1990 again quickly.

Mizzou fans will know better than me since they’ve been playing the Braggin’ Rights games against Illinois since the 1980s. I’m sure they are thrilled when they beat Illinois before Christmas, and bummed when they lose. From the outside, that always felt like a really cool night when two (often very good) teams matched up in an arena that was split down the middle. I also assumed, though, that Illinois was much more concerned with Indiana, Michigan, and the rest of the Big 10 than that solitary MU game. And the Tigers more concerned with their upcoming games against KU, Oklahoma, etc in the Big 8/12.

KU has experienced some of that in recent years playing Kentucky on campus in January of 2016, 2017, and 2019 (and coming up again next month). Those were huge games in their moments – complete with days of hype and fired up crowds – yet they were also just little blips of excitement in the midst of a long conference season. Beating Kentucky would be awesome, but, conventional wisdom went, it shouldn’t come at the expense of losing Big 12 games on either side because the team was looking ahead to or recovering from UK.

I expect KU-MU will eclipse Illinois-Mizzou. It may reach that level next year, when Mizzou hosts for the first time and the Tigers are hungry for revenge.[1] (That’s the good news for MU: things change quickly in college hoops these days. They could add some solid transfers and the young guys who were overmatched on Saturday may be much more comfortable and confident next December. KU could be on probation and have lost a ton of talent. 2021’s embarrassment could lead to an ass kicking BY Mizzou in 2022.)

I just don’t see this game ever having the same meaning that it did when the schools played twice, sometimes three times, every season, and each contest had the extra juice of playing a huge role in who won the conference title. It will be eventually be bitter and heated. But that bitterness and fire won’t burn nearly as hot or long as it used to.

  1. By the way, unless the schools are getting a lot more money to play two of the six games in the current contract in Kansas City, it was dumb to do that. I’ll blame Jeff Long. Either play every game on campus, or every game in Kansas City.  ↩

Friday Links

A few links to kick off your weekend.

‘Wrong team won both days’: Flashback to epic finale of KU-Mizzou basketball in 2012
Kansas and Missouri renew their basketball rivalry in Lawrence tomorrow. This is a good summary of how they ended their time as conference rivals almost ten years ago.

For the record: Thomas Robinson’s block was 100% clean. Now the foul that put Tyshawn Taylor at the line to hit the winning free throws? Even I can admit that was pretty soft.

The 50 Best Movie Soundtracks of the Past 50 Years
Hmmm. I have some issues with this. Where is Footloose, for example? Or New Jack City? Frozen? That’s just off the top of my head.

This list does bring up an issue that goes along with rating soundtracks. How do you compare Purple Rain, an album filled with original songs all written specifically for a movie, with the soundtracks for movies like Pulp Fiction or Dazed and Confused that take a bunch of known songs and throw them together to either create or reinforce a specific vibe? They seem like two completely different types of albums to me.

I guess that’s the fun of making music rankings: you can argue about all kind of administrative details before you even get to arguing about the actual music.

The 50 Greatest Minivan Rock Songs
Speaking of music lists, this one is well over a year old, but I just found it while reading another article this morning. I’ve never heard of the concept of “Minivan Rock.” Kind of a weird combination of music. As I read the list, though, it brought back a lot of memories from an era when I still listened to a ton of music, but perhaps not as obsessively as I had done earlier in the ‘90s.

Sports parents are horrible and referees are finally doing something about it — quitting
I sent this to my friend who is the athletic director at St P’s and suggested she send it out to every parent who has a kid playing CYO sports. Stop ruining the games for your kids!

Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult to Understand (And Three Ways to Fix It)
And I thought it was just because I was getting older…

How This All Happened
A brief history of the US economy since World War II. I found this idea fascinating, and it can apply to so many things plaguing our society today:

Expectations always move slower than facts.

Finally, a very important link for the season.


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