Friday, April 28, 2006

On Living With War 

In case you haven't been on the internet lately, Neil Young's got a new album. It's been rightly described by many as, "incendiary". Sure is.

I like to divide Neil's work up by half-decade. Roughly, anyway. You've got the Buffalo Springfield era. The CSNY era. The early 70s. The Dark period. The fogotten early 80s. The wacky 80s. The late-80s/early-90s comeback. The late-90s laziness. And the diverse '00s.

By not fitting in, this one fits right in there with the diverse '00s. It's hard, like Ragged Glory, but without the annoying feedback; in fact, there's not much lead guitar at all. The focus is more on rhythm. It's got some horns, but nothing like on This Note's For You. It's got a singular purpose, like Greendale, but no storyline and more manageable songs. But like every other electric album he's made since Sleeps With Angels, it's rough and underproduced. That's not a bad quality, but it takes some adjustment. Neil never tries to win a Grammy for his studio work.

After the Garden - Awesome opener. Great guitar line and drums. It really stands out that this is a three-piece with the Volume Dealers. Molina doesn't drum with this much funk. Aggressive.

Living With War - Chorus really sets in. Kind of plays like a rough hymn. The horn doesn't really go, but it's different. I like it, but I guess I'd rather the chorus alternated lyrics with Neil. I can see CSNY playing this on tour this summer.

The Restless Consumer - Great lyrical track; funny and angry with a fast, insistent groove. "Don't need" -- over and over like a ritual chant.

Shock and Awe - Eh. Average rocker that could slide into Ragged Glory or Broken Arrow. I like the choral-lead vocal variety better here. The horn is kind of funereal.

Families - I'm glad he didn't overdo the sap factor here. One wouldn't expect a track called "Families" to have this much guitar. I didn't think Neil was capable of righting the two and half-minute rocker (everything he's done lately is 6-minutes, minimum), but he does it here.

Flags of Freedom - Eh. All right. Tracks like this an Shock and Awe show how hard it is to have a single-focus album. Not all the songs are going to jump out at you and shake you upside down.

Let's Impeach the President - This is the track getting all the coverage. Starts a bit slow, but really cooks during the middle, with some strategic quotations set against an even more strategic (and hilarious) shout of Flip....Flop, which gets louder and louder. There is no more obvious statement song than this. If you don't agree with his politics -- and I'm not on the bandwagon -- you have to admire the passion, as well as how clever he is. The sense of frustration and loss of possibility is palpable, and that is something that can be shared across the aisle and across red- and blue-colored states.

Lookin' for a Leader - OK. Lyrically (like everything else here) it's very pointed. This isn't a song he'll be playing three years from now (kind of like "Ordinary People"). It's melody is brought down by its repetitiveness, but it's not bad.

Roger and Out - Terrific slow track. Those two simple, little guitar lines keep coming back to you behind Neil's slow, sad vocal. Nice backing vocals near the end. My favorite track on the album, and probably my favorite song of his in years . . . .

America the Beautiful - All chorus. Crosby did this on one of his records. This strikes me as a bit cliched, but they do a nice job with it. The mix is well-done. Whoever was behind the controls was smart enough to let certain voices stand out.

This is stand-out Neil. We are too lucky to get this much quality Neil so late in his career. Look at other artists his age -- Dylan, Clapton, CSN, Stones, Eagles -- none of them are close to being as active as Neil. He could have finished up with Silver and Gold in 2000 and I would have been happy. It's remarkable. This isn't his best, of course - he doesn't have a best (except for a certain song I've written a bit about). And being as political and angry as it is, I don't think it will reach the status of some of his other great work (in terms of multiple plays). But I will say this for him: this is a younger man's album - lyrically, musically, and socially.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Checking Out at 12:30 in the Morning 

"Do you....hm. Do you know what these are?"

"White grapefruit."


"The white are $1.29."

"Oh! These are expensive. It says $2.29."

"That display says pummelo. I don't know what that is."

"Well, that's what it says they are."



"No. No. No. I mean, you typed a code in that came up with pummelo. These are white grapefruit. Pummelo is like a big, green thing that's red inside. This is a big yellow thing that's white inside."

"Well, that's what it says."

"I-. Huh?"

"That's quite expensive to buy four of them."

"But they're NOT that expensive. The sign said $1.29."

"But the screen shows this."

"You know what? Fine. Just total it."

"Do you have a saver's card?"

"Yeah, but who cares? You want to bet whether pummelo's on discount?"

"Boy, you really must like this fruit to be spending so much."

"Is this really happening? Do you even see me standing here? Have you heard a word that I've spoken?"

"I would try some of this fruit, but that's a little too pricey for me."

"I need to get out of here."

"You have a nice night."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Like Atlas 

Well, Goddamnit.

Summer is here. These past two weeks -- that was Spring. I know the calendar says June, but my barometer is made of two observations:

A.) How much I sweat on a run.
B.) How many people I have to maneuver around on the bike trail.

And for some reason, the last few days has seen a leap in the number of people engaging in outdoor activities. The competitive runner in me wants to yell at them: "Where were you when it was sleeting sideways in February?!" But that's all gators under the drawbridge now.

My real issue with summer -- other than the heat (mind you, the heat is a topic for many other posts) -- is not so much how many people are out and about. It's really about how many stupid people are out and about.

I still remember the most annoying people from last summer. The wife, boy and I were in the drive-thru line at Starbucks. And in front of us sat two young women -- somewhere between 18-22 -- who seemed quite friendly with each other.

Then, all the sudden, they both turned around and looked back at us, then turned to each other and started making out. It was like they had to show us -- "Hey, see how we're lesbians? See?" And it wasn't some sort of discreet kiss. It was like they were both holding ice cream cones and using their tongues to get to this tiny bit of ice cream that was left in the bottom of the cone.

And what killed me about it is they weren't even real lesbians. They were just pretty girls without boyfriends trying to be lesbians. Real lesbians aren't as good looking as these two were -- but most importantly, they wouldn't give a damn about what random people like me and my wife thought of them. These two were obviously very concerned that we see them attempt to touch each others' uvulas simultaneously.

This is what I have to look forward to. The whole of the city's idiotic people streaming out of their homes to show the world their new summer outfits, their freshly-washed cars, their dexterity with roller blades, how cool they can be in front of total strangers. A whole world of people, desperately wishing to be cool, basking in the sun so they can look cool, paying to be waxed to feel cool, posing with their hands on their waists to act cool, staying out as late as they can, searching for all that they missed the rest of the year.

Monday, April 24, 2006

First It Steals Your Mind 

I recently went for a run that involved too much turning left, but just the right amount of rain. And on this run, which was not the type of run that naturally would lead to much philosophizing, one of my partners mentioned that the spector of old age could be, for a long time, dimmed, as long as one maintained a respectable weight and good hair.

It should be no surprise that this guy is in terrific shape and has a solid, brown hairline thick enough to pass for Scottish.

Not that I disagree with him. It's hard to see a balding friend and not also see the passing of years so physically displayed. It stares right at you.

But then, there's nothing more refreshing than someone who embraces his age. That's why I think I'll be good when I enter my 30s. Because in my 30s, I can pretend to be an old man, but still not be. And I think I'll be a damn good pretend old man. I'll have the opportunity to continually express my humility and uselessness, merely because I shall be old. Of course this won't work too well with my elders. But for those younger than me -- how can they disagree? Because to them, 30 will seem depressingly, shockingly old. For me, though, it's a lot of steps from 50, which is still pretty far from the next Halley's comet.

I can't wait to be a pretend old guy. I already slouch really well. I've been doing that since my teens. I complain about young people already. I already dress like it's 12 years ago. I'm nearly there! I might as well start saying I'm 30. But then that would mean I would miss 29. And 29 is a good year also. A prime number, so I'm in the prime of life, of course.

When I write posts like this, I recall reading a column in which the writer bemoaned blogs for being a grand symbol of the self-obsessed. I guess I can't argue against that, but what I think the writer missed is that everyone is self-obsessed. Sure, those with kids believe that they are martyrs and saints, just because they're doing their job. But once the kids leave the nest, these parents get to go back to concentrating on themselves. There is no one ME generation. We're all about ME.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Forgive and Forget 

There's not much reason to forget, if forgiveness occurs. Sure, it's probably best to forget much of what happened, but not all of it. Forgetting implies a loss of perspective, so I think when taken singly, it's overrated.

But then, it's an entirely different thing to be told to forget without forgiveness. That's like skipping dinner and pretending one is full. Maybe you can put it out of your mind for a few hours. But when nine or ten o'clock rolls around: damnit, you're hungry.

It's a catchy phrase, "forgive and forget", but it's not the repetition that's important. Forgive and forget are both FOR something. Which is why it blows my mind at how everyone sees "forgive and forget" and thinks, "Oh, yeah, just forget about it and we'll be friends again."

This has been a really long-winded way of saying, "I don't think so."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Believe It If You Need It 

I've been getting the urge for running fast lately. It's partly the weather and partly my shape, but I need to resist this urge. Everyone seems to want to add speed to their running, and like everything else that "everyone" does, I want little part in it. Speed is like that hot chick you see in the mall as a kid. You may flirt with her a bit, but you won't keep her. There's always someone better than you.

I remember in high school I had this great period in which I was unbeaten in final kicks. I could actually state that I had never been outkicked in a duel. What a concept, to be undefeated in a head-to-head showdown. Everyone likes to do well in a final kick. It means points, but more importantly, it's pride. Everyone's watching.

Then I lost. By a longshot. It was the end of some crappy race -- maybe an 800 -- and some bigger guy started to kick against me at about 100 to go. Just blew me away. He had a whole other gear to go to. I had my foot on the floor and the engine was just making noise. Undefeated no longer.

But that kind of thing is so false. It took me until college to realize what kind of runner I could be and to learn the value in racing a whole race, not just a decent race with a fancy finish.

So, onto more miles and miles. And I'll leave the speedwork to the cocky guys who spend all their pre-race time flexing their abs and jabbering about racing flats.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Signifying Nothing 

In the past week:

• I received an evil-eye stare, the likes of which haven't been seen since FDR lasered Kramer on the backwards episode.

• I dodged a long phone call with a lonely alcoholic.

• Our neighbor ripped three trees out, opening up our backyard to all the other neighbors.

• My sister turned 3 decades old. She is now officially old, grown-up, and according to the Jefferson Airplane, out of significance. But, there's lots left for her. She's only got 55 more years to wait until Halley's comet passes by again.

• My boy got beat up by a 3-year-old wench. He wanted to play and she kept pushing him down. Like 7 times. Hey, he's got that persistence from his dad.

• We got the best parking spot of all time at Miller Park. Unbelievable. The game was great, but the parking made the whole thing memorable.

Not Another Again Again 

The worst name in the English language, by far, is Pollyanna.

Just makes you hate the woman without even meeting her, doesn't it?

In fact, combining any two names rarely works. Jim-Bob. Billy Bob. Bobby Sue. Sueann. It's too much. Pick a name, already. Make a decision. But don't pick two. That's what the middle name is for.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Getting the Hell Out of There 

I took a long drive this past weekend. Much too long for someone with nothing to think about. And when I arrived, I was in the beautiful city of Minneapolis. There I got to see several friends, drink several beers, and partake in one of my very favorite activities.

I got to leave a bad bar.

I love leaving a bad bar. It must be done with style. Little bit of flourish. Some anger. Definite indignation. But I also think suffering is important. One must first endure the situation for it to be worth leaving. On the outset, our choice of establishment looked promising: we were told this place brewed its own beer, it had lots of wood and animal heads on the walls, it looked and felt like an old German beer hall, and while it was populated, it wasn't jammed with people. Things went downhill from there, which lead to some of the key necessities one requires to leave a bad bar:

1.) The beer was bad. I know it was homemade, but it was flat. Tasted spoiled.

2.) The music was awful. Despite its German ambiance, the place was pumping out bad dance music. They weren't always playing dance songs, either. I heard the Doobie Brothers put to a 1-1 beat that would have driven any sane man to suicide given enough time.

3.) The music was numbingly loud. It was during a conversation about good music that I noticed it. Mike was talking about the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and Bloc Party; I was talking about Frank Black and the Decemberists . . . when I noticed my voice was hoarse. This is because I had been yelling to be heard. That's when I looked around and noticed....

4.) My friends weren't having any fun either. Kyle was nearly asleep in the corner. Mike was cringing from the music. Brandon was staring into his beer like it was hypnotizing him, and Joe, Eric, Master Ash and Nick all looked like someone had punched them in the stomach.

That was enough for me. Those are the only four components one needs to leave a bad bar. I stood up and said, "I'm getting the hell out of here!" I finished my beer, slammed it down, and said again, "We're getting the hell out of here!"

It must be said with volume, anger, and desperation. Because one never knows how many of his friends will follow him out of danger. Indeed, I noticed the other Mike was in conversation with some young lasses, and two other idiot friends were on the dance floor actually enjoying the music. So I surely couldn't expect full cooperation (although I was later told that that Mike never "signed the deal" so I in fact had little to worry about). I just wanted the kindred souls with me. Luckily, that's what I got.

Others heard the battle cry, so that more asked, "What are we doing? What's going on?" -- stirrings from the slumber this bad bar had cursed us with. I said again, "We're getting the hell out of here!"

By the way, say that some time. As James Brown said -- say it loud. It's very liberating.

Admittedly, the whole rush out the door lost some of its joy when I had to rush back in to use the bathroom. But there was nothing better than feeling that cool night air hit my face as my friends stood around deciding what to do next to all the other people deciding with their friends what they wanted and didn't want. Where they should and shouldn't go. Whose plan intersected with whose and whose didn't, and how they could get it all back together again in the right place that hopefully would have good beer and better music.

I've always thought that the bar scene is about people looking for something. Mostly sex. Partially numbness. But when you're married with children, and can stand back and look at it all from a distance, the important things rise to the top: does the establishment care that I can hear my friends speaking, do they play good music, and for the love of Christ, can they serve a thick, cold dark beer that doesn't cost $8, but still slides down your throat better than the first one did?

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