1. Coffee, black. I had blood work done this week and received instructions not to eat or drink anything prior to the appointment. Black coffee was excepted. I appreciate that I was allowed to get caffeinated and avoid the inevitable withdrawal headache, but honestly, even good black coffee is bad. I’m sorry, it just is. I mean I don’t want 10 times more cream in my go juice than coffee or anything, but I like it to come to a nice deep tan before pouring it down my gullet. I know there will be a chorus of “real coffee lovers drink it black,” well, you’re welcome to your bitter bean water, but I’m going to insist on something more civilized.
2. Hand wringing about corporate profits. “But companies are posting record profits,” they whine. Yes, they are…. and those companies are going to do things like invest in their infrastructure, identify growth opportunities, and return a big slice of that profit to their shareholders through increased value or directly by issuing dividends. If you follow the average news report you could be forgiven for thinking “shareholder” is just another word for the evil 1%. In reality, of course, shareholders reflect every single American who has a 401k, or an IRA, or a Health Savings Account, a 529 plan, or yes, even one of those old school union-backed pension plans. Big corporate profits are a good news story for the 55%+ of the population who have invested for their future. Sorry, but in a free market I’ll just never see businesses making a profit as anything but a good news story.
3. Anti-streaming. Look, if you’re going to have people schlep to the office and spend eight hours there doing work that they could be doing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, the least you can do is unblock some music streaming options so we can make an honest effort at ignoring those inane conversations going on around us. Unless, of course, sitting around listening in on six conversations at once is the “organizational culture” it’s so important to preserve. I mean I know there are people who really dig being in the office, but I can’t for a moment imagine why. There’s not a single thing there that works better than its counterpart in my home office… myself included.
Aging comes with some penalties. Sometimes body parts hurt for no apparent reason. There’s the indignity of bifocals and waking up in the middle of the night to take a wiz. Electronics are getting to be just a little too complicated.
Whatever. In addition to the penalties, aging also comes with a few underrated perks. Twenty-year-old me usually couldn’t scape together the $20 or $30 for nose bleed tickets let alone the gas money to drive to wherever the concert was happening. Now, though, I’ve arrived at the age where I can finally see many of the bands I wanted desperately to see 20 years ago… and now I can get really good seats.
Even in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime plague, the chance to see Green Day and Weezer on the same bill proved too tempting to resist. I’m awfully mindful that this will be my first trip out into the plague lands into anything that could be remotely considered crowded. I’ve been bitching these last eighteen months about people who refuse to believe in science, so I suppose it’s a case of walking the talk. We’re outside, I’m vaccinated, and my risk of severe illness or death as a result of showing up here is low. Still, crowds make me vaguely uncomfortable to begin with. The plague adds several extra layers to that.
Once the music starts, though, I’m relatively confident I’ll be able to silence that little nagging voice in my head. So much of these band’s “best of” catalog plays out as the background music of my teens and twenties. I’m not one to say high school and college were the best years of my life, but I do have an awful lot of fond memories from back there and back then. These guys were playing the music that underlayers so many of those good times.
So here I sit, eighth row, slightly left of center, behind the pit (because I’m damned well too old for trading sharp elbows for position and I like to have a tolerably comfortable place to sit down to rest my aching feet between sets).
It’s going to be a very rare late night for me – certainly the first time I’ll be awake to see one day change to the next in at least two years. If the weather holds (and I don’t end up with the damned plague), it’ll be worth it… though you might not want to ask me about it tomorrow when I inevitably wake up at 4:30 in the morning no matter what time I finally crawl into bed.
I’m not a traditional “Christmas music” guy. In fact just about the only time I intentionally listen to Christmas music at all is during the holiday migration to Western Maryland from wherever in the country I happen to be living at the time. My Christmas playlist is approximately one hour and four minutes in length and features such luminary artists as Blink 182, Reliant K, Bad Religion, and The Pogues.
The only reason I mention it is that this morning I saw a Twitter post opining that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in all its variations should be cancelled this year due to the Great Plague.
I’m pretty sure our friendly twitter poster was going for the quick laugh, but missed the entire point of this particular song. Bing Crosby recorded the original version in 1943 at the height of World War II. American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were posted up around the globe, and most assuredly dreaming of being home for Christmas, as democracy waged its desperate, existential battle with the forces of fascism.
According to the Library of Congress, “It touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, who were then in the depths of World War II, and it earned Crosby his fifth gold record. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” became the most requested song at Christmas U.S.O. shows in both Europe and the Pacific and Yank, the GI magazine, said Crosby accomplished more for military morale than anyone else of that era.”
If ever there was a song fitting for Christmas in a plague year, this would be the one.
So, in conclusion, cancel culture really is stupid on its face.
The right wing is charging her with being overtly political. The left wing is accusing her of cashing in on the latest cause.
Maybe they’re both right… but they’re most assuredly both wrong too.
I’m old enough to remember the early days of music videos. The good ones were always edgy or outrageous. The best of them were incredibly controversial.
It seems to me that art in its many forms probably should be controversial. It should make you think. It should take your breath away. It should drive you to consider uncomfortable ideas.
Here’s the important part of today’s message, though… if people saying words makes you too uncomfortable, you always have the option of changing the station. In all my many years of life, no one has ever walked up to me, forced my eyes or ears open, and made me an unwilling participant in art. The artist chooses what to do, and I choose whether I’m going to engage with it.
Having a hissy fit because you don’t like a video makes you look and sound like a complete raving lunatic and guarantees that I can’t take you seriously as an adult human being.
I guess you can say I got to have the real fanboy experience this past Friday. Now, I can sit comfortably and interact with generals, political appointees, and elected officials all day long without being the least bit impressed, but put me in front of seven random guys from California and I’m a mumble mouthed mess who can barely bring himself to make eye contact with the god of his own making. It’s good to know that I can still feel over-awed by something, I suppose.
A quick photo op and a few mumbled words would have been plenty enough to make my day, but with my 40th just passed, I wanted to do something a little more out of the ordinary. I’ll say without reservation that sitting fifteen feet above the stage watching your favorite band belt out the songs that have become the staple soundtrack to your life was really one one those thrill of a lifetime moments. I’m still trying to get the dumb grin off my face.
Sitting behind the main speakers, the sound is a little muddled and some of the site-lines are better from the front row, but for seeing the “whole picture” there’s really nothing better. You get to see the organized chaos of on the fly equipment swaps when earpieces stop working and the interplay between shadowed band mates when someone else is taking their moment under the spotlight. You get to see the massive human effort involved in making the seven guys on stage look like they don’t have a care in the world beyond being there making music.
I wanted an experience, bought my ticket, and saw the show. It would have been an absolute steal at twice the price.
I’m going to see my favorite band again in concert on Friday night. This will be the 5th or 6th time I’ve seen them over the last decade, although the music of Counting Crows has been stuck in my head far longer than that. I knew their songs in high school, but it took a girl with a guitar on the 5th floor of Cambridge Hall to secure their place permanently at the apex of just about every playlist I’ve ever made. Most music seems to wash past me like a stream, but these guys, well, they get in my head and just rattle around.
I wish I could tell you exactly what it is that makes this band speak to me particularly, but I’m sure it isn’t just one thing. Their music is sweet and sad and funny and has this timeless quality that I can’t quite explain. I’m also going to just sit here and pretend it’s in absolutely no way an effort to stay in touch with the version of me that’s still half my age. It’s definitely not that.
So off I’ll go again to willingly wade into a crowd that under just about any other circumstance would agitate every single nerve I have. For this one night only I’ll not just endure it, but embrace it. I suppose that’s how you know I’m a real fan. Of course it also helps knowing you have a seat away from the rabble and there’s a very comfortable shuttle waiting to expedite your exit from the venue and back to a delightful old hotel. Just because you’re going out into the crowd doesn’t mean you have to be part of them, after all.
Sigh. These next three days are going to be interminable.
Let me start off by saying I had no idea that the Grammys were handed out last night until I woke up this morning and my various news feeds were cluttered with stories about artists of whom I’ve never heard. That’s not an aspersion, by the way. I’m not in any way making a judgement about the worth of any of the award winners. I am, however, saying that I recognize virtually none of them by name and in all likelihood could not identify them correctly if their music was played for me or if they walked into my living room right this very minute.
Take a tour through my iTunes library and you’ll notice that it includes a fairly wide cross section of genres and historical periods. You’ll also notice that for all practical purposes, it stops sometime around the middle of the last decade.
I’m not the guy who’s saying the haven’t made a good song since the year I graduated college, but I am admitting that I’ve mostly given up seeking out new music that I might actually like. I tend to like my music a little poppy, maybe with a screaming lead guitar and 50-piece drum kit backing it up, or that tells some kind of story (no, repeating the same five words for three minutes and five seconds doesn’t count as telling a story). The simple matter is, most of the popular groups don’t make music that I find particularly appealing these days. They’re ok with that. I’m ok with that. I just means that I’m a little out of touch with what passes for award-worthy these days.
The up side to being blissfully unaware of the continuing sweep of the music industry is I continue to find songs from old favorite bands and artists that I missed somehow when I first came to know and love them. Given that everyone has a back catalog that seems to be mountainous, I’m never really at a loss when I want to listen to something new… even when that something new first came out in 1972.
1. Christmas Music. I leave the radio on for the dogs when I go to work. I came home one day recently to find that the station had transitioned to a 45-days of Christmas music format and nearly lost my shit. I’m sorry but I just don’t need to be told to have a holly, jolly Christmas ten days before Thanksgiving. For that matter I don’t need to be directed to have one ten days after Thanksgiving. Christmas music makes its appearance on my playlist only one day a year… that’s on whatever day I happen to be driving, like a swallow back to Capistrano, back to my native land a day or two before the actual holiday. Even then, it’s not exactly traditional Christmas songs that bleat from my speakers. My carols tend to come from the likes of Blink-182, Reliant K, Bad Religion, and a few others. I just can’t even with the other stuff this early in the year.
2. The damned darkness. I have a fundamental loathing for this time of year, not because I hate the holidays, but because every time I see the outside it looks like the middle of the damned night. It’s dark when I get to work. It’s dark when I get home. Five days a week, there isn’t a lick of actual daylight to be seen since my desk sits in what might as well be a giant shoebox wrapped in tin foil. It might be enough to drive a lesser man off the rails… fortunately it only drives me to drink.
3. Meetings after the end of the day. This seems to be a perennial topic. I guess that’s so for a reason. By the time close of business rolls around, every ounce of mental energy I can muster is being pushed towards getting the hell out of the building. When suddenly a meeting appears that will frustrate that which is my heart’s desire, I can’t guarantee that you’re not getting my best effort. You’re not even getting a half-assed effort. More likely you’ll end up getting what I generously call “I’m here under protest” face. Sure, I can smile, be polite, and even accommodating, but my brain is already 20 miles away. I’m sure it shows and that isn’t good for any of us.
One of the many wonderful things I’ve found myself able to do while working from home is to set up my personal computer to do some of the tedious update activities so that I can click “next” and “ok” in the background while hammering out the next great PowerPoint briefing or staff memo on my work laptop. It’s become an awfully convenient method of making sure I’m running the latest version of applications, everything is backed up, and my tired old Mac Mini is in as good an operational condition as possible. Up until today the process had been a happy and productive one.
Today, though, some combination of changes in iTunes and on my phone conspired to delete all of my hard built playlists from both the computer and the phone simultaneously. The music files are still sitting safely in iTunes, thank God, but such playlists as “Angry,” “V. Angry,” “Sleepy,” and “Depress me,” are nowhere to be found. I’m left with just the main list of everything from Music for the Royal Fireworks to songs that are so filled with pop goodness that I’m not even going to mention their names here.
I know I should just get with the program and stream my music like a normal person. You see, although I live among the millennials, I’ll never quite be one of them. My music habits were formed at a time when you went to a store for your music – and you came home with a shiny new jewel case filled with liner notes (and you got the privilege of slicing the hell out of your finger trying to get all of the security packaging off the product). Even though I don’t buy music on physical media much anymore, I do like the idea of knowing that I have all the correct files sitting on my hard drive waiting to be served up to me instead of just expecting them to live forever on someone else’s cloud. Maybe it’s the last vestigial piece of my analog self in the digital age.
So now I need to rebuild my playlists. It’s daunting, but perhaps guided by the spirit of WinAMP it won’t take five years to get things sorted and back in service just the way I like them. I know listening to music doesn’t need to be this hard… it’s just another fine example of liking what I like with all logic and simplicity cast aside. If that doesn’t give you a deep look into who I am as a person, I don’t know what will.
I learned something new today. Well, it wasn’t really new, but it’s something I had completely forgotten. It seems if you play really pretty bad music from the early 1990s at as high a level as your radio will manage, and keep just the right pace to maintain a healthy dose of highway noise, you can reach a kind of nirvana. Just before your ears start bleeding there will be such a clash of sound flooding into your head that it will push out every other coherent though. More importantly it will silence, at least temporarily, that part of your brain that keeps telling you to cash it all in, sell it all off, drive to nowhere, get a shit job that requires no skill or independent though, and spend the rest of your days reading every book in the public library of whatever small town you end up in.
The only side effect is a blinding headache and inability to hear anything below a dull roar. Whatever it takes to stave off the madness one more day, I suppose.e