Author: DB (Page 1 of 274)

An Annual Rant

Man, I hate fall break.

I’m pretty sure I’ve ranted about this before. But as our girls are on fall break right now, it is on my mind.

A year ago at one of L’s soccer practices I was making sarcastic comments about fall break with the dad who I had coached with for a few years. We agreed fall break was dumb and messed up youth sports, which should always come first. Again, we were being sarcastic. L’s head coach overheard us and made a comment about how fall breaks are a great chance for families to spend time together. I felt like kind of a jerk, and I’m pretty sure he wrote me off as one at that point.

To me, fall break serves no real purpose. What the hell do we need a break from? The weather is about as good as it gets in October. It’s not like we’ve slogged through three months of bitter winter and need a mental break. As I type this is is pushing 80, there is no humidity, and it is beautiful. Fall break never falls right between the first and second quarters, anyway, so it’s not like it’s a true academic break. Fall is a warm and happy time of the year, where late March/early April is one when everyone needs a chance to check out and go someplace nice or just sleep late for a week while we wait for spring to arrive.

Having kids at a Catholic school complicates matters. None of the schools are on the same fall break schedule, so girls basketball gets stopped for three weeks to try to avoid having to reschedule games. Some Catholic grade/middle schools follow the Catholic high schools’ breaks, but even those can’t get on the same schedule. Cathedral is off today and tomorrow, as is St. P’s.[1] The other north side Catholic high school has the entire week off. Meanwhile, a few other Catholic grade schools follow the schedule of the public school district they fall into. Not sure why the archdiocese can make so many invasive rules regarding schools but not force us to take fall break the same damn days.

Both St P’s and CHS sent out messages asking families to be smart and follow social distancing and masking guidelines if they travel this week. The video we got from CHS was all but begging people to make good decisions. “We’ve made it this far, please don’t fuck it up,” was the unstated message. They flat out pointed out that relaxing this week could prevent the football team from winning a state championship next month. Oh, and other sports too. But don’t forget football. I like that they were honest about that.

Along those lines, two schools in Indiana have already forfeited their football sectional game this weekend because of quarantining. One team was undefeated and ranked third in class A.

I feel for the players of all fall sports. Kids are generally stupid and will do stupid things. I bet this fall a lot are thinking about the implications of them being the one who introduces the virus to their team and wrecks their season. There’s enough stress about winning and losing, grades, and other high school bullshit without worrying about going to see your crazy aunt who thinks covid is a myth and then being the reason your team forfeits their playoff game.

For all my angst and hate regarding fall break, I must admit that this year, I think our teachers absolutely need a break. We are not 100% happy with how our kids’ teachers have handled this year. A few are flat out being dicks in class every day. The smallest transgression will set them off. There are daily text threads amongst parents to compare notes and see if whatever that day’s drama was is worth sending a note back to the teacher and/or principal about. At St P’s especially, where they are shorthanded and attempting to cover extra classes, some of the teachers seem particularly short tempered. I know teachers are looking ahead to the coming months and worry whether the measures that have kept our schools open in the fall will still work in the winter. Again, a whole level of stress on top of the normal one. I’m glad all the teachers get a long weekend to, hopefully, decompress a little.

I still think the two days St P’s always takes for fall break should be moved to Thanksgiving week so the kids get that entire week off. That’s a great time for a break.

It was nice to sleep late today, though.


  1. This was M’s week: Monday normal virtual day. Tuesday bonus virtual day. Wednesday bonus day off for selling all her raffle tickets, something 95%+ of students do. Then official break Thursday and Friday. C and L are out of school today and tomorrow.  ↩

Unexpected Goodbyes

A couple recent departures from the University of Kansas athletic program that deserve a few words.


Silvio

First, late last week Silvio De Sousa announced he was leaving the basketball program. KU, like every Power 5 sports program, has a long list of players who were “disappointments.” Silvio might be at the top of KU’s list.

During the 2017–18 season, when Billy Preston was ruled ineligible and Udoka Azabuike was injured, De Sousa seemed like a gift from the hoops gods. A top 40 high school recruit with an NBA body who chose to graduate from the IMG Academy in December and enroll at KU for the spring semester. He might not be a star, but he was an inside player who might make a difference.

He immediately faced eligibility challenges, which kept him off the court until February. He was a mess at first, but righted the ship for the Big 12 tournament when Udoka was again hurt. And he came up huge in the late moments of the Midwest Region championship game against Duke, after Dok had fouled out. He played great D. He got some huge rebounds against Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter. He made a difference in the biggest moment and his future seemed bright.

Until his name popped up in the Adidas/FBI scandal a few weeks later. What followed was one of the most bizarre two years you could imagine. The immediate short-term ineligibility. The two year ban by the NCAA. The public outcry by Bill Self and Jeff Long, which was soon joined by several national voices. The appeal and declaration that Silvio would be eligible in 2019–20. A difficult year in which he never seemed comfortable or looked as explosive as he had in March 2018. And, finally, the brawl and chair incident against Kansas State.

A lot of folks thought Silvio should be done at KU after that fight. Self stuck by him, but there was the wonder if there would be a mutually agreed upon exit following the season. And maybe that was set to happened before Covid hit. But Silvio remaining a part of the program through the summer and then fall boot camp makes his departure a little curious.

Add all that up and you get a supremely disappointing career, at least when you look at the expectations-to-results ratio. It is made all the more worse by Silvio being the most obvious reason for KU likely going on probation, Self’s job being in jeopardy, and the 2018 Final Four appearance being vacated.

Which, of course, isn’t fair. Silvio didn’t take the money, his guardian did. Silvio didn’t rank himself compared to other high school seniors, dozens of “experts” did. Silvio didn’t declare himself a savior for a program in need, the fans and talking heads did. He deserves all the blame for the brawl, or at least for turning a minor moment into a major one. But KU fans shouldn’t put all the NCAA stuff on him.

Sadly Silvio De Sousa will turn into a footnote of KU history. The game has changed so much in just three years that losing a big man a couple months before games begin barely registers. This just opens more minutes for any of KU’s 19 wing players to get on the court and ensures Self will stick to a four smalls, one big lineup.


Pooka

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for KU football…

Pooka Williams was the one thing that made KU football worth watching. And, even then, that interest was severely diluted by Pooka’s performance dropping off this year thanks to an even worse offensive line than he played behind his first two years. But his departure still removes the only thing that made KU football games remotely interesting: the chance you might see him do something incredible.

He claims he wants to be close to home and his mother who is in bad health. There’s no reason not to believe that is the primary reason for leaving Lawrence.

But based on the lack of shock by the reporters who are closest to the team, there had to have been rumors about this for weeks. And I’m guessing those rumors, and the reality of the situation, are based entirely upon Pooka seeing that the offense this year simply doesn’t give him a chance to put up big numbers. Worse, it was likely to get him injured as defenses keyed on him. So why not go back to Louisiana, rest and heal for a bit, then train with all your buddies at LSU in preparation for next spring’s draft before a missed block against Oklahoma gets your knee blown out?

Pooka was truly a gift from the football gods, one which the KU program did not deserve. But KU, honestly, doesn’t need guys like Pooka. At least not right now. Pooka doesn’t win games for this program in its current state, he just gives you moments of delight in the midst of despair.

No, what KU needs now are the boring guys who will show up and play for 3–4 years, getting a little better every day and every game and every season. Once you have linemen who can actually open holes and protect quarterbacks, once you have guys who can line up and remember the snap count, who can avoid penalties, who can just run the plays the way they are drawn up and give them a chance to work, once you have 50–60 of those guys, then, that’s when you need a Pooka.

Weekend Notes

It felt like I mostly sat on my ass watching sports this weekend. Turns out a lot went on. Here are some details.


HS Football

M snagged a ticket at the last minute to the Indy high school game of the year: 5A #1 Cathedral vs 6A #1 Center Grove. Both teams were undefeated, had rolled through their first eight games pretty much unchallenged, and were ranked in the top 25 of the USA Today national poll.[1] They were also ranked 1–2 in the all-class Indiana computer poll, with a large gap between CHS and the #3 team.

I figured CG would win fairly easily. Although CHS had played a tougher schedule, CG is much more physically impressive. They have 6’8” and 6’6” kids on the offensive line. Their quarterback is just a junior and has offers from most of the Big 10. They have a d-lineman committed to Minnesota and a d-end who has offers from Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and pretty much every other major school. Their running back is an absolute horse who would likely be challenging career rushing records had he not missed almost his entire junior year because of injuries. CHS has a receiver who is going to Louisville…to play baseball. Their best running back is going to Columbia. Most of their other good seniors will go to D2 or D3 schools. Very good players, but without the ceilings of CG’s best.

Oh, and CHS won a very physical, nasty game 14–9 last year. So CG was motivated.

CHS punted on their first possession then CG scored without much effort. My prediction seemed solid. But CHS’ defense righted themselves and the rest of the first half was very even. CHS got two big completions and scored a touchdown in the second quarter to go into the break down just 10–6.

Then they controlled the third quarter, forcing multiple CG punts. They caught a huge break late in the period when they got an interception and ran it back 73 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly they were up 13–10 and controlling the game on D.

The fourth quarter was a series of traded punts. CG, who has arguably the best kicker in the state, put a 30-yard field goal off the crossbar to miss a chance to tie with about 4:00 left. The radio announcers started doing the math: three first downs and CHS would escape with a huge win. They got the first two, CG burned all their time outs, and the game came down to a fourth and one just past midfield.

CHS got too cute. Instead of giving it to their running back, who was having a good series, or letting the quarterback take it and make something happen, they handed it to a receiver on a sweep and he was stopped for a loss. The decision made some sense because CHS had not punted well all night, plus CG would have brought heavy pressure. With the way the CHS defense was playing, it was a reasonable risk.

CG had a minute to go 54 yards. They needed just 44 of those seconds, scoring on a touchdown pass with 0:16 left. CHS couldn’t do anything on the final three plays of the game and lost a terrific game 17–13.

CHS has to feel disappointed about the final outcome, but great about hanging with CG, something no team in the state did for more than 30 minutes. CG, provided they stay healthy, are going to roll through the 6A playoffs. Most assume that CHS will do the same in 5A. This should give them confidence that their first eight games were no fluke.

The highlights I saw on Twitter showed a group of CHS students in both the main visiting stands – the stadium was 50% capacity – and in one section of the end zone stands. When I picked M up I asked her where she sat, on the side or in the end zone.

“What do you mean ‘end zone’?”

L was with us – I had picked her up from a friend’s on the way – and she laughed out loud.


KU

Not much to talk about KU. The defense really hung in there and made some plays until they ran out of gas. The offense continues to look awful.

I was kind of half-watching when M walked through the room.

“Is that KU football? You never watch that.”

Which, first, is not true. But I explained how I don’t get as into football as basketball because KU has been terrible for a decade.

“Do people actually go to games?”

I knew what she was really asking but decided to deflect.

“Well, most stadiums have limits on how many people can be there. This game is in West Virginia so I’m not sure how many people are allowed.”

“No, I meant at KU. Do people just not go because they’re terrible?”

Roasted by my daughter who doesn’t know what an end zone is. I would be offended but, come on, it’s KU football.


Family Pics

The big event of the weekend was that we had family pictures scheduled for Sunday evening. But as the forecast looked rainy, we moved them to Saturday.

We haven’t done a true family pic in six years because they are always total disasters. At least one girl is crying, one or two of the others are surly and uncooperative, and S and I are usually stressed and yelling at everyone. It’s hard enough to get a Christmas card pic without total meltdowns, so we kept putting off the full family pic.

It had been a three-week hassle for S to get the girls to agree to clothes to wear. They didn’t want to go try things on so she would come home with bags full of things to try. They kept rejecting her suggestions without offering guidance on what they would wear. There had been plenty of yelling that I managed to stay out of.

Saturday morning when we told the girls pics were that night, one of them immediately burst into tears. For fuck’s sake. Another waited until about an hour before we left to start fixing her hair, which takes a long time to dry. Another was crabby and uncommunicative about the entire affair. And then the first girl cried again and refused to wear what she had agreed to wear. S was on the verge of tears. I decided to drink a beer and stay out of it because yelling at the girls to stop being jackasses never seems to work.

But we made it out of the house, everyone settled down, and we actually had a very good photo session.

You would think they would learn to shut the fuck up and just go along with what their mom wants them to do. It gets it over way quicker, there’s less stress, and they can get back to whatever it is they would rather be doing. But kids are dumb. Even smart kids.


Colts

Looked like it was going to be a disaster, then turned into a pleasant surprise. Aside from one bad interception Philip Rivers had a great game. Some receivers are stepping up to replace all the injured guys who should be playing. And I’ll write the first quarter off as a fluke for the defense.


Baseball

What a great end to the league championship series. The ALCS wasn’t necessarily a great game, but it was a great result. It felt very 2020 that Houston might find a way to reach the World Series. Thankfully Tampa shut the door and didn’t completely blow their 3–0 lead.

Game seven of the NLCS, though, was treeeeeeeeeeemendous. A back-and-forth game with plenty of huge moments, both good and bad, is perfect for a non-aligned viewer. Cody Bellinger’s game-winning home run was one for the ages. As a Twitter user I follow said, “That boy just hit the ball to Mars.” Also very 2020 that he apparently hurt himself, at least momentarily, celebrating with his teammates.

I kind of enjoyed the neutral field playoffs. I loooooved the seven games in seven days schedule. For everyone who complains about this year’s rules changes taking strategy out of the game, the schedule added a lot of tough decisions for managers.

I know the old Rangers stadium is probably not usable, but I think it would have been cool to have the ALCS in one of the stadiums, the NLCS in the other across the street.

It feels like it should be a very good World Series. But you never know which team will have good pitching all the way through, and which will slip up. I just hope Clayton Kershaw pitches well. I really don’t care who wins but I hope if the Dodgers lose it isn’t because of his failures. I usually don’t get into the “Athlete X deserves a championship.” I’m making an exception for Kershaw. A championship won’t erase all his past October struggles. But it will at least be a counter to them.

Dodgers in seven


  1. CHS was #25, CG #14.  ↩

Friday Playlist

“You Held My Heart” – The Flatmates
“1-2-3-4!” is a great way to start off any weekend.

“Music Makes Me High” – The Avalanches
This could easily be my theme song.

“Moment in the Sun” – Sunflower Bean
The days are getting shorter. Daylight Saving Time ends in two weeks. Our moment in the sun is almost over.

“Bailey” – Suzie True
Another piece of fun garage pop to book-end the newer music on the list.

“Train From Kansas City” – Neko Case
I was listening to some Neko music this week, since so many of her songs are perfect for fall, and came across this, from her live album The Tigers Have Spoken. It’s an old Shangri-Las song, and I had never heard the original nor Neko’s cover. For obvious reasons, I enjoyed it.

“FDT” – YG, Nipsey Hustle
I voted yesterday. You know how I feel.

Reader’s Notebook, 10/15/20

I rediscovered my reading mojo over the past few weeks. It helped that I found a book I had been trying to locate for a year or more, and then two other great reads on top of that.


Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever – Geoff Edgers
First is the book I’ve been trying to find for at least a year, since I read a brief excerpt before it was published. For some reason, the Carmel library has never stocked the book. I finally thought to check the Indy library and BAM there it was!

This is the story of the song that changed music, the 1986 version of “Walk This Way” that featured original artists Aerosmith and rappers Run-DMC. The first half is mostly quick biographies of both bands and their key members. The Run-DMC section is as much about the development of hip hop as the band itself.

After that, Edgers takes us through 1986, as Run-DMC was working on their Raising Hell album, Aerosmith were spinning their wheels in an attempt to gain sobriety and relevance, and producer Rick Rubin got the idea to bring the bands together in the studio to cover Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

I knew a lot of the details of the collaboration already, although Edgers sheds more light on the one day they spent in the studio together than I had heard before.

The issue is that the book doesn’t break new ground, at least for people like me who knew a lot of the story’s details. The parts about the bands separately, both before and after their collaboration, are more interesting than the moments the bands were together. And Edgers doesn’t really frame it in a new and interesting way. It was a fun, but not necessarily required read.


Nothing Can Hurt You – Nicola Maye Goldberg
I never know what to call books like this (or the next one). Both feature a wide range of characters, and in each chapter the focus and perspective shifts amongst them. I knew there had to be a name for this type of story. My quick research tells me that these can be called “mosaic” novels. Consider yourselves taught.

Nothing Can Hurt You is centered on the murder of a college woman by her boyfriend. Through her cast of characters, Goldberg paints a broad picture of abuse of women, mental illness, and the significance of gender in modern society. Some of it is very dark. Some of it is very funny.

I enjoyed this but a week after I read it, I was struggling to recall details or to give it a more thorough accounting. Not sure if that says more about the story or about me.


Those People – Louise Candlish
This one, though, it really connected with me.

Candlish sets her story in an affluent South London neighborhood. The block has won awards (from the mayor even!) for its Sundays Off program, when cars are removed, the street blocked off for traffic, and kids are allowed to play freely. It seems to be an idyllic community centered on the happiness of all.

When an elderly woman on the block dies and her nephew inherits her home, things change. He and his girlfriend are crude and rude. They play loud music at all hours. He runs his auto repair and sales business from his front yard and fills up precious parking spaces with his work. He refuses to clear out on Sundays and even backs into a kid on a skateboard one Sunday. And any time he is confronted by his neighbors, he is surly, difficult, and refuses to change his ways.

The book builds up to a death. The early chapters begin with witness statements taken after the death, then flow into that character’s actions and impressions in the weeks and days leading up to the death.

Following the death, Candlish takes us through the neighborhood’s experience as the police investigate to determine a cause of death. This eventually leads to a second death, and another investigation.

Through the book, both because of the new neighbor’s antics and the police investigations, we see just about every character slowly fall apart. They all crack, in ways large and small, from the stress of their environment. Candlish deliciously juggles the characters, giving you reason to believe any of them could be responsible for the deaths. Her first reveal is absolutely shocking. The second is not as big a surprise, but the truth of that death is a wonderful piece of writing craft. And she closes with a series of minor details that end the book with an absolutely delicious series of possibilities for what happens next.

This is a cracking good novel and highly recommended.

Weekend Notes

We’ve hit that moment in fall that is both lovely and sad: the last burst of really warm, humid weather before things change. We are scheduled to have the pool closed on Wednesday, so last weekend was our final chance to swim. Friday I cranked the heater up to be sure the water was tolerable. That took the chill off but we may not have needed it Saturday as the temperature burst into the 80s. A couple of the nephews came over and enjoyed our last day in the pool with us.

Today the sky is darkening and the air is thick with humidity, feeling more like June than October. We may get a few sprinkles later, but not enough to break the drought we are mired in. It has been nearly two whole months since we got more than 0.10” of rain in a 24 hour period. Last week I had to bleach and flush out our sump pit because it had gotten so smelly from the lack of water.

The drought has caused trees to change colors rapidly and begin losing their leaves a little earlier than normal.

It looks like we will have a few more warm days before a bigger cold front comes through late this week and gives us more fall-like temperatures for the foreseeable future. In the era of global warning, you never know how many bursts of warm weather are left. Probably more than we expect. But these moments of transition always strike something deep inside my DNA that no doubt goes back hundreds/thousands of years ago when these changes meant finding shelter and stocking up on food to get through the cold months.


Besides swimming, it was a fairly boring weekend. M went to a watch party Friday for the CHS game at a friend’s house. (They won and are 8–0 going into the big season-ending clash with the #1 class 6A team.) C had a birthday party and sleepover at a friend’s. L was stuck at home with us.


It was certainly strange having the NBA Finals, the MLB league championship series, and the NFL regular season all on the same day Sunday.

The Colts lost a thoroughly winnable game in Cleveland, and the blame falls firmly on Philip Rivers. He’s taking some heat in the normally docile Indy sports media today. The gist of the argument against him is that he’s not performing that much better than Jacoby Brissett did last year, and he’s being paid a lot more than Brissett was. There was hope that putting him behind a stout offensive line could improve his passing stats. Losing his starting running back and three key receivers doesn’t help, to be 100% fair. But he also seems to making a lot of poor decisions. The defense has been great. Jonathan Taylor looks like a terrific draft pick. TY Hilton appears to be healthy. Quarterback is the only real weak link, at least thus far.

At least he didn’t snap his ankle like a pretzel. Very glad the Colts game was on at the same time as the Giants-Cowboys game so I could miss seeing Dak Prescott’s injury.


By the time I switched over to the NBA game, the Lakers were already up by 20. I didn’t think the Heat had one last run in them so pretty much avoided the game, other than a couple brief peeks to check the score.

Quite a run by the Heat. Had they been healthy maybe they could have stretched the Lakers out another game or even stole the series. They have to feel great about their playoffs despite the ending. I don’t think anyone outside Miami expected them to rip through the Eastern Conference and come within two games of a title.

As for the Lakers, this feels less like a triumph than an inevitable result. When the Clippers and Sixers proved too fragile in constitution and the Bucks too banged up, no one was really going to pose a serious threat to LeBron, AD, and their crew.

Their win kickstarts the “Is LeBron better than Michael?” debate again. I don’t think it changes my mind. They are still 1A and 1B, and lean toward MJ because of generational bias. But it gets harder and harder to separate the two. That said, the differences in the league during their two careers is what makes the comparison so difficult. The NBA is nothing now like it was in Michael’s career. So not only are they two very different players, but they also played in entirely different circumstances. Finally, I don’t think it is ever fair to judge a player who is still on the court against someone who has been retired, at least in terms of deciding who is the greatest ever. If LeBron ever retires, that’s when I will finally force myself to settle the question in my mind.


I’ve been a sporadic watcher of the baseball playoffs, some nights locked in, some nights not watching a minute. I watched a pretty good chunk of last night’s Houston-Tampa game. It was a classically tense playoff affair. I don’t know if it is the lack of fans, my general disinterest in baseball over the summer, or something else, but I’ve been finding baseball tedious over the past few weeks. I just can’t lock into all that playoff tension right now. I wonder if is the lack of a crowd is the biggest factor. There are no shots of people losing their shit because of nerves between every pitch.

Or maybe it’s just me getting old. I don’t think I could be as locked in if the Royals were in the playoffs as I was in 2014 and 2015. I was a mess those two Octobers. Not sure I what my mental state would be if I had to go through living and dying with every pitch again.

Friday Playlist

“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” – Van Halen
Been listening to a lot of VH this week. Like a pretty high percentage of white dudes (and some dudettes) who were born between 1965 and 1980.

“When You’re Gone” – Lydia Loveless
I’ve been waiting for Loveless’ new album for nearly four years. In the period since her last album, she got sober, got divorced, fought with her record company/the music industry, and pulled back from the public eye. This is one of only a couple songs on the new disk that stood out to me. While I like it, it doesn’t match how much I liked the songs from the more tumultuous period of her life. I’m glad she’s clean and in a better place, though.

“SuperNatural Possession” – Laura Jane Grace
LJG used the pandemic lockdown to put together a solo album of mostly stark, acoustic tracks. This is an outlier, a little fuller and brighter and certainly louder than the others.

“The Shining But Tropical” – Wild Pink
I got very excited when I saw music writer Steven Hyden Tweet that the upcoming Wild Pink album was his favorite of the year. Then I noticed he said his favorite album of 2021, not 2020. Yep, the whole thing doesn’t come out until February. But given how albums trickle out these days, I guarantee we will have heard about half of it before it drops. This is a nice introduction.

“There She Goes” – The La’s
An all-time classic. A perfect pop song. I always knew The La’s lead singer was a little kooky, and that was why the band only released one album. But I didn’t know just how kooky he was until I read this piece, which came out in celebration of the 30th anniversary of The La’s release.

“I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash
Eddie Van Halen wasn’t the only music legend to die this seek. Nash passed at the age of 80 the same day that we lost EVH. Eddie sold a lot more albums but they both accounted for one Billboard #1 song. (Well, depending on how much credit you give Eddie for rearranging Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” he may deserve credit for 1.5.) I’m sure I wrote about this song after Tom Breihan wrote about it in The Number Ones. It was a song that was always around when I was a child, but which had turned into a sappy cliché as I became a teenager. To rediscover it as an adult and appreciate its beauty was a gift. Just a wonderful video for a wonderful song. RIP Johnny.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 48

Chart Week: September 16, 1989
Song: “Friends” – Jody Watley with Eric B & Rakim
Chart Position: #33, 14th week on the chart. Peaked at #9 the week of August 26.

For some reason I’ve struggled with this entry. I’ve been working on it for two weeks but can never seem to find the right tone. I’m setting a timer for 30 minutes and when that’s up, you get what I’ve got.

Jody Watley accomplished a lot in her career. Soul Train dancer. Member of the seminal dance-pop-soul act Shalamar. One of only two American artists who were a part of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” A stellar solo run that featured two #2 singles – including her first-ever solo song – and four other top 10 singles. She was a fashion icon and one of the most influential female Black artists of her generation.

And one of her songs featured the greatest guest rap ever.

“Friends” is a good enough song on its own. Its bouncy rhythm and bright horns disguise lyrics that cut the cold realities of the world: friends will let you down. It was also an essential part of my summer between high school and college.

But Watley made a decision to open her song to another artists. That decision is what made the song really shine.

Guest raps in pop songs were just coming into vogue in 1989. They were often brief, sometimes had almost no direct connection to the main lyrics of the song, and for years were often not included on the official single release. You might have to go buy the single to get the B-side version that featured the rapper. The popularity of Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and “On Our Own,” on which he dropped rap verses, showed that you could combine the two forms and still have a pop hit.

Watley saw that and fought her record company to not just allow her to include a rapper on “Friends,” but to give him and his DJ more freedom than any had received before.

There was no better rapper in the 1980s than Rakim. Period, point blank. His lyrics and vocal style revolutionized hip hop and has had, arguably, a greater impact through to the rappers of today than any other rapper of his era. By breaking out of the standard, expected framework that most ‘80s rappers worked within, he opened the doors for dozens of different styles. That, in turn, made hip hop an even more potent force, ensuring there was variety to keep the genre from becoming stale.

According to Watley Rakim was, at first, reluctant to join her. She loved his work, though, and was persistent until he and Eric B came around to joining her. The freedom she offered the duo turned their guest spot into an unforgettable performance.

The song begins following the standard format. Watley takes the first two verses and choruses. Right where the guest rap normal falls, Rakim comes in. But instead just a few bars where he gets in-and-out, it suddenly becomes an Eric B and Rakim track. He rolls on for a full 35 seconds before turning it over to Watley for another chorus. Then Eric B gets his turn, scratching out a 30-second solo. Finally, Rakim drops the bomb, another 35-second verse.

What the hell was this? A pop singer letting a rapper and DJ dominate her song? Unprecedented, that’s what it was. Today it seems quaint, since hip hop has utterly taken over pop music and the singers now guest on the rappers’ tracks. But in 1989? Whew…it was something else!

What makes Rakim’s presence great isn’t just the amount of time he got to rap. Beyond that there was the fact he clearly took it seriously. He didn’t just collect a check and manufacture some weak rhymes he could tag onto Watley’s song, or pull something leftover from his notebooks that wasn’t good enough for his albums. Nope, he treated it like his song. The lyrics are fantastic. His delivery is locked in. As Big Daddy Kane might have said, there wasn’t any half steppin’ in Rakim’s performance.

Watley claims that “Friends” was the first track to ever feature a guest rapper to crack the Billboard top 10. I can’t confirm that – sadly all the “best guest rapper” articles I found are about rappers joining other rappers – but it seems right.

Watley would have only one more top ten hit after “Friends.” Eric B and Rakim put out two more albums, but neither matched the heights of their first two. Just before the end of the 1980s, just before they began to fade, they joined forces at the perfect moment to pave the way for what was to come.

September Media

Ted Lasso
As with the first month of shows, Ted Lasso continued to shine in the final five episodes of season one. Sure, there were predictable, clichéd choices in how the show progressed. But the dynamic between the main characters is what carried the program. I believe I said this last month but it was a little shocking how good Jason Sudeikis is in the emotional moments of Ted’s life. Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple were both outstanding, too. A show that made me laugh, smile, and feel a little each Friday. I was suspicious of Apple TV+ when it first came out, and we only have it because we get it for free after buying a new device. A season two of Ted Lasso may be enough for me to actually pay for it a couple months next year.

A-


Cobra Kai
Listen, I heard the talk. “Have you watched Cobra Kai? It’s really good!” And I would put it on my To Watch list and forget about it. After a few months I would delete it, only to put it back on when I came across another recommendation.

Well, folks, I finally dove in and watched the first two seasons over a three-day stretch. I can’t believe I waited so long. And I can’t believe I liked it so much.

It isn’t high art. But it was highly entertaining and shockingly well done. Was there cheese? Absolutely. But it was like the perfect amount of cheese that made it enjoyable without going over-the-top.

William Zabka is the big revelation of the show. I loved, loved, loved where they placed Johnny Lawrence in his life and how Zabka worked to add depth and growth to his character. And I love how his prime pupil, Miguel, goes from good to bad to somewhere in-between before the absolutely shocking end of season two.

I loved how all the feelings from the original Karate Kid movie are flipped. You want Lawrence to succeed while Daniel LaRusso comes across as a pretentious dick for much of the show. And having Robby Lawrence be LaRusso’s pupil, and morphing him from troubled kid you hate to kid you want to succeed to, well, whatever you feel about him at the end of season two, was supremely satisfying.

Lots of good supporting characters as well. Not to be creepy, but Amanda LaRusso is exactly the kind of girl I would have been totally in love with but utterly unable to talk to back when I was in high school. Plenty of excellent call backs to the original movie and the 1980s in general. Some great 80s music. As Johnny Lawrence would say, it is all pretty bad ass.

Season one, A+
Season two, A-


Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
I was warned about this. Two friends who generally enjoy Will Ferrell’s work said this was not worth watching. But I saw it pop up on a couple summer lists of good things to watch so I gave it a shot…and I didn’t last a full hour. No real laughs and not much of a story to keep me engaged. Maybe it got better in the second hour but I’ll never know.

D


High Score
A brief and high level review of the history of video games. It begins with the development of Space Invaders and the rise of Atari, moves through Nintendo’s domination, the transition of role playing games from boards to computers and consoles, SEGA’s bold ventures in the ‘90s, and then two episodes about fighting and first-person games, respectively. Not exhaustive by any means. But for someone like me who had a childhood love of video games that has never quite translated completely to adulthood, it was good enough.

B+


Loopers
A Golf Channel documentary about the history of the role of caddy, narrated by Bill Murray. It was ok but kind of ruined by Golf Channel running commercials every four minutes. Even on the DVR that’s super annoying. But golf tournament broadcasts have commercials roughly every four minutes so I guess that carries over to non-tournament broadcasts as well.

B-


Stuck at Home in an Albanian Blood Feud
A short that explores the Albanian concept of “Kanun,” which allows for seeking blood in revenge for the death of a relative. Don’t get me wrong, we have some crazy, historically-based shit in this country. Witness how we treat people of color for example. But this stuff is truly insane.

B


The Death of Stalin
I knew going in that this was a satirical farce about the power struggle in the Soviet Union after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953. Still I was not prepared for how ridiculous of a movie this was.

I say ridiculous in the best possible way. It features British and American actors, in their natural accents, playing most of the major roles. Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev. He does standard Buscemi things. Which is an amazing way to think about Khrushchev, the man who pounded his shoe on the table and said “We will bury you!” a few years later. Jason Isaacs as Georgry Zhukov is especially fantastic. Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin was absolutely delightful.

Even if you don’t care about history and have zero interest in the history of the Cold War or Soviet Union, this is an excellent way to spend an hour and 45 minutes.

A


Strapped: Peoria
The latest entry in No Laying Up’s small budget travel series.

The crew chose Peoria, IL because of a contest on the No Laying Up Refuge message board in which a group from Peoria raised the most money for charity. Despite that good will, this edition falls flat in relation to past seasons of Strapped. And it’s all because of Covid. One of the delights of Strapped is how they shine a light on aspects of the communities where they are playing golf. There is an Anthony Bourdain quality to the show when they dive into the history of race relations in Baltimore, the life of a struggling singer in New Orleans, or the background of a young PGA pro while in Southern California. That’s all missing since Peoria, and especially Bradley University, were largely deserted during the group’s summer visit. They couldn’t explore the locally owned shops and bars. There were no doubt some campus eccentrics or local history experts that they would have spoken to in normal times. They do pull in a couple interesting locals, but both are golfers and more cool guys than personalities unique to Peoria.

B

Emergency Video

Fuck, cancer got Eddie. Hard rock wasn’t necessarily my thing. But I learned that Eddie Van Halen was one of the 10 or 20 coolest people on the planet in the early ’80s and it was a good thing to know about and like his music. Shame that David Lee Roth was so atrocious in this performance because Eddie sounded as good as ever. RIP.

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