Thursday, January 18, 2018

1.6 - Margo Price "All American Made"

Liberals like their country music much like the way my dad likes his vegetables, “cleverly disguised.” We call it “Americana” or “roots music.” We make sure there’s some association with Johnny Cash. We’ll accept it, if it comes out of Nashville. We just don’t want to directly be associated with “country music.”

Now it’s a shame that country music from that side of the geographical or political spectrum doesn’t get the love it deserves because Margo Price deserves more credit than she’s getting.
Her latest album, “All-American Made” taps into that disaffected midwestern voice better than any one of those New York Times profiles of “real America.”

The album starts of in a place that I don’t associate with country music: vulnerability. The first few tracks are named, “Weakness”, “A Little Pain”, “Learning to Lose”, and “Pay Gap.” I’ve always found country songs to be as disingenuous as regular pop songs when wading into this territory. Price avoids falling into honky-tonk heartbreak or Toby Keith-Fox news anger at the system through deft songwriting. The choruses are much smarter than your typical country song, but they’re just as fun to sing out loud. And Price steers away from typical country tropes and instead relies name drops like Levon Helm, Virginia Woolf, James Dean, and Tom Petty.

The album’s first single, “A Little Pain” is a declaration of self-care that Price wrote while on the road. I found myself humming the chorus, “A little pain never hurt anyone” numerous times throughout the week. I’m guessing that more than a few millennial women who have slogged through dates with guys they met on Coffee Meets Bagel could identify with the line,  “I like you the best when I’m all alone.”

The other standout track from the album, “Pay Gap” goes after what the title implies, pay inequality. Price isn’t afraid to stick it to the “rich, white men” who still play king and queen makers in traditional country radio. She also addresses the fears of what I’m guessing many white, suburban women who probably don’t fall into the Bernie Sanders camp. They don’t want to litigate the same battles that were fought with the Equal Rights Amendment, they just want to get paid what they deserve, “It’s not that I’m asking for more than I’m owed; And I don’t think I’m better than you.”

Price addresses other all-American issues like depression, working mothers, drug use, and the rotting of rural America. The title track begins with an overlay of speeches from Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, among others. But in one of the final lines of the album, Price asks recently-deceased Tom Petty what he makes of all this, “So tell me, Mr Petty, what do you think happens next.”

I don’t think anyone knows, I’m just glad Margo Price has the courage to admit it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

1.5. - This I Believe: 30

I believe in trusting your gut. For the last few years, I’ve lost track of what my “gut” is. On some days, my gut was the trending topic on Twitter. On other days, it was what my friends and/or family were wanting me to do. Or it was what coworkers or colleagues wanted. While I’ve gained some wisdom or insight from those places (some more than others), they are not my gut.
My gut is like the bass guitar in a rock and roll song. It often gets overshadowed by other instruments in the band, and you often have to really listen to the song before you hear it. But it’s there and it often drives the whole song. It’s a steady beat that keeps everything on track. 

I’ve tried to cut things out of my life that are not conducive to listening to my own gut: Twitter, my phone, my tendency for people-pleasing. I’ve tried to take more walks without my phone and allow time for silence and peace. Our society’s tendency to fill every moment of every day with some sort of stimulation is toxic. That’s why I’m hesitant to get one of the AI machines. I feel like I would eventually defer to it for everything. I am going to hold on to some of those spaces for myself. Those quiet spaces allow me to hear my gut much more clearly. 

That’s also changed my relationship with my faith life. Growing up, I thought of praying like asking Santa for things. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work. Praying centers you, which allows you to listen to your gut, which is probably one of the ways God speaks to you. 

I believe our gut is a conglomeration of all our collective experiences in life. I know my gut has a certain privilege.  As a white male with a comfortable middle-class upbringing, I was fortunate enough to have opportunities that others may not have. And while some people may think that their gut is well-seasoned and in tune with the issues of modern life, I know that mine still has room to grow. 

As I enter my 30s, I’m going to spend more time listening and developing my gut. 
Three things
Jon Klarfeld: A friend of mine sent me a Facebook message that a journalism professor of mine at Boston University had passed away. Klarfeld was my columns professor and probably did more to develop my love for that form of writing than anyone else. He was a tough professor to love, but those were always my favorite ones. I have two distinct memories of him. After I shared my Veterans Day column with my class, he said that he thought it was better than Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen’s column. I loved reading Kevin Cullen and wanted to be just like him as a writer. It’s still the best compliment I ever received about my writing. Second, I gave him a bottle of Jameson as a thank you gift after graduating. His eyes lit up after receiving it. Cheers to you, Klarfeld. 

The Vikings. I’ll admit that I’ve been down on the Vikings the last few years. They’ve been knocked down a few rungs on my sports team fandom due to their ineptitude, and the general awfulness of the NFL. That game last night against the Saints changed all of that. I watched the game with my girlfriend (a Packers fan, mind you) and I was going through all seven stages of grief as the Vikings frittered away a lead. But that all literally changed in an instant as Stefon Diggs crossed the end-zone for a last-second touchdown. Two decades of anxiety and self-loathing was vaporized in that instant. Kelley and I yelled and screamed with joy. If everything else goes wrong with the Vikings season next weekend, I’ll at least still have that. 

The Post- Kelley and I went and saw “The Post” on Friday night. The movie was about the decision on whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers. For a movie that mainly showed people talking, it was excellent. There is a piece of me that regrets not staying in a journalism career, but I know I made the right choice. There’s a moment in the movie where (spoiler alert) Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, gives the approval to publish. You could tell she arrived at the decision after some wrestling. It was one of those gut moments that changed the course of history.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

1.4 - Francis and the Lights "Just for Us"

Do you ever meet someone and you immediately want to become friends with them? That’s what I felt like when I first heard Francis and the Lights. They’ve got cool friends like Chance the Rapper and Justin Vernon. They covered “Dear Theodosia” for the Hamilton Mixtape. And they’re name makes me think that they don’t take themselves all that seriously, in a good way.

Their single “May I Have This Dance?” was one of my most listened to Spotify tracks of 2017. It’s an airy song with a synthesizer hook that has made me dance in my cubicle on more than one occasion. It’s a song that feels like it could be on the soundtrack to an indie film about an awkward teenage couple.

So Francis’s latest album, “Just for Us” felt like that all-important friend date where you take that friend-of-a-friend status to the next level. I was hoping they brought that same energy as when they were hanging out with people like Chance and Bon Iver. However, this felt like a coffee friend date where you realize that you don’t have that much in common at all.

The album starts off with a peppy sunshine-laced piano hook in “Morning.” I’m normally a big fan of tracks that lead with a simple piano hook (See Atmosphere’s “Sunshine”), but this 90 second track is over before I can let the vitamin D soak into my pores.

Justin Vernon lends his auto-tuned harmonies to the title track, “Just for Us.” And while it’s got a catchy chorus, it doesn’t have the same effervescence as Francis’s previous singles. The lyrics sound like a lecture from a father to a teenage daughter. While that could be the case, I’d hope he would have stuck that message into an album that was longer than the 26 minutes.  

The rest of the songs are lost in a blur of synthesizers and electronic harmonies, and it goes by quick - the first seven tracks are all under three minutes long, and the longest is 3:26. There’s no killer single that I want to put on repeat and dance to, nor is the album deep enough to make me want to get lost in. It’s the coffee with friend of a friend that doesn’t really work out. Overall it was a good experience, you’re just not sure you want to do it again.

In the end, I like Francis and the Lights. I just like them a little bit more when they bring their friends.

Monday, January 8, 2018

1.3 - Lost and Uncommon Friends

I’ve thought a lot about friends the last few months. As a kid, friendship is pretty simple. You call someone up to see if they want to play and have your mom or dad drive you over to their place. You run around, or bike around town until you get sick of each other. Sometimes you sleep over and stay up way too late playing video games and talking about girls you like. If a kid moved away, you most likely lost touch with them.  Up until about age 13, almost all of my friendships were in this vein.

As an adult, it’s much more complicated. Romantic partners must fit into the equation. The time constraints are different. It’s hard to find places to meet new friends. You don’t have nearly as much energy as you used to.  And distance doesn’t matter as much anymore.

What exactly is a friend as an adult anyway? We have our Facebook friends. God bless my 694 Facebook friends, but I’m not sending you all birthday cards.

I’ve thought about this a lot because my friends who I consider close at age 30 are slightly different than those I considered close at age 25, or age 20. At the core, I’ve got about half-dozen friends who I know I can count on, but the dozen or so who I keep in regular contact with have changed.

There are those friends who I thought I would remain close friends with for a long time but have ended up losing touch with. I’m a little sad about one friend, in particular, We were roommates a while back and we went through some pretty significant changes in life together. We visited once since I left his home state of Maryland. But over time fewer and fewer calls and emails were not returned, and communication just dropped off. He pops up on Facebook every so often, but it’s not the same.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who I’ve kept in regular (or at least semi-regular) contact with even if we perceivably didn’t have a strong base of our friendship. Shout out to my friend Chris, who I text multiple times a week to talk soccer or about the Ball family. I don’t remember the last time I saw Chris in person and I can’t remember any significant life moment I went through with him, other than one or two classes. Yet, I frequently text him about Premier League goals or “Ball in the Family” updates. It feels like we hang out just as much as my friends close by, but he lives in Boston.

There are my friends who I know I will stick with for the rest of my life. I invest in those relationships heavily, just to make sure we don’t fall too far behind. And then there are those friends where things just seem to align. You match in communication skills, you have similar interests that your passionate about, and you both get something out of it. I don’t think there’s a specific formula for a long-distance friendship, but that comes pretty close.

Three things I’m thankful for:

Bilingual mass - Yesterday, I went to a bilingual Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary. I loved it. While the Basilica is a wonderful community, filled with many amazing people who are passionate about justice and helping others, a good portion of the community is middle class and white. The community invited our sister parish, Church of the Ascension in North Minneapolis to celebrate with us. That parish has a large Hispanic population, so I was in the minority yesterday. I got chills when hearing people saying the Our Father in both Spanish and English. I also loved giving the sign of peace. It was a powerful reminder that no matter what language you speak, you can find points of commonality.

Being the Youngest - On Friday, I went to go see Davina & the Vagabonds at a blues club in St. Paul. I noticed that my date and I were one of the youngest people there. We also saw “The Darkest Hour” - about Winston Churchill and the Battle for Britain - a week earlier. A few weeks earlier, I attended a neighborhood planning meeting where I think I was the only person under 70. I’ve enjoyed all three of these events. I can be a bit of a self-hating millennial at times, but as I’m nearing 30 I’ve begun to realize that I like what I like and I don’t care what people think about it.

Squash - I’ve eaten probably eaten over five pounds of squash in the last few weeks. Pretty much all of it has come from my farm share. I remember hating squash as a kid. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking then. My current favorite dish was to cut up squash, potatoes, rutabagas, and beets and roast them. It’s been especially good with some sausage in there. I’ve also made some soups with my immersion blender. While those are very good, I need to add some other things to them to make it not look like I’m eating baby food. To emphasize my previous point, sometimes you just have your tastes that you enjoy, who cares what you (or your previous self) thinks?

Friday, January 5, 2018

1.2 Review: Waiting on a Song

A quote I heard last week about art has stuck with me this week. It was from Will Leitch (again) and he was talking about how he bought certain movies instead of relying on streaming services because “he wanted them to be there when he needed them.” That made think of what movies have I needed to be there for me this past year. The first one I thought of was, “Waiting on a Song” by Dan Auerbach.

I needed this album because it was an antidote to the national despair that was hooked up to our national psyche like a morphine drip. This album was fun in a year where very few people wanted to talk about having fun. With all due respect to the artists who tackled heavier issues this year, there were more than one days where I just needed something that I could just move my hips and shoulders in cubicle too. More often than not, that was Dan Auerbach.

This album was recorded in Nashville after Auerbach got burned out from touring with the Black Keys. Auerbach lives in Tennessee now and he wanted a record that reflected the city of Nashville. It couldn’t have been made anywhere else and it does a great job of mirroring the rich music tradition from that city. It’s got guitar from Mark Knopfler and Duane Eddy. It’s got country sounds, it’s got R&B sounds, it’s got some classic rock and roll sounds. It like a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day.

The lead single, “Shine on Me” has got a shimmery chorus to accompany the staccato guitar from former Dire Straits man, Knopfler. You might think “Stand by My Girl” is about a man’s loyalty to his girl, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a man who’s afraid of the wrath of a woman after he cheated on her. And the title track talks about waiting for the inspiration to write a song to arrive, “Songs don’t grow on trees, you gotta pick them out the breeze.” Talking about writing a song one thing, but you just have to do it.

The thing is that this record came from a very 2017 place. Aren’t we all burned out in some form another? Couldn’t we all stand to just take a look around and find some good things where we are? Couldn’t we find something fun about where we are? Auerbach has done that, and I’m going to keep listening because I think I’m still going to need it for a while.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

1.1 - Beginnings

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything worthwhile. The new year is always a good time to work to change that. I love New Year’s resolutions. We’re a stubborn culture that is stuck in our ways, and I think it’s good to always reevaluate things. So here are a list of things I’m going to do.

- I want to get back in the rhythm of regular writing. So here’s my schedule:

Mondays: Write three things I’m thankful for. I think I’ll usually have other things to say, so I’ll include that at the end of whatever blog post I’m writing.

Wednesday: Write a letter to someone.

Friday: Review something. I want to get more into music reviews, and I know the best thing to do is to just write. We’ll see where it goes.
I also have a journal. My goal is to update a half page of it every day.

- I want to read 30 books. I think it’s a good goal to read your age in number of books.
- I want to do a headstand in yoga. I’ve gone to a lot of Yoga classes the last few years. I’ve benefited from the regular practice, but I want to take it to the next level.

Lastly, I’m going to quit Twitter for at least a month. I got into a discussion with some friends while on retreat at St. John’s about racial issues. I found myself continually saying “I saw on Twitter.” I realized how stupid of a way that is to gauge the pulse of a nation. It’s stupid to always listen to the loudest people.

Second, I just don’t need that many opinions in my life. I don’t think the human mind was designed to process emotions at that rapid of a rate. It’s hard to just sit with anything and think about it while on Twitter. It rewards the fastest opinion. Also, I just can’t deal with people’s anger about Trump in such a steady stream. Yes, I hate the man, but I don’t want to hear people yelling about him all the time. That’s just not healthy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the good things I’ve gotten from Twitter: I’ve met some cool people that share some similar interests, some of them have even become friends. I’ve also been able to use it to say thanks to people I like. (I made a joke that most of my tweets are about how much I enjoy different people’s podcasts.) But even that’s not enough to keep me on there. If I really want to thank someone, I can make the effort to go to gmail and email them about what I like. And if there’s a person I’m truly meant to connect or keep in touch with, I will do it. I have other avenues.

So, I’m going to sign off for a month and see where it goes. If I really need it, I’ll bring it back. I also still have to use Twitter for work, so I’ll still be able to see any newsworthy tweets through there.

Ok, this writing thing has felt like exercising again for the first time in a long while. It’s choppy and hard, but it’ll get better.

I’m thankful that I’ve still maintained good in-person friendships. I had a group of friends over today to watch the LSU-Notre Dame game. I made brats and we had a couple of beers. I was told a long time ago by a friend that I’m very good at investing in my friendships. I wonder if that’s because I’m not married and I don’t have kids. Even so, it’s something I’d like to continue as I get older. Friendships are so weird because they are people you chose to hang out with. They’re not family, and you don’t get any of the other benefits that come with being married. It’s a completely voluntary relationship that you’re not bound to legally or by blood. It’s kind of weird when you think about it.

I’m thankful for Yoga. I’ve never been much of an intense workout guy. I like to run, but I like to go at my own pace. I don’t like strict training schedules because I have a hard time sticking to them. I’ve found that I enjoy Yoga because it gets me away from the stressful things in my life, mainly my phone. It’s both relaxing and physically challenging. I’m not always into some of the hippy-dippy stuff. However, I’ve found that aroma therapy is super underrated. I’m looking forward to growing my practice a little bit in this next year. Maybe I’ll even try aerial yoga.

I’m thankful for the writer Will Leitch. He’s been an inspiration to me, and I’ve been lucky to find out that he’s a pretty reachable guy. He responds to emails regularly, so it’s cool to find out that he cares enough about his readers to connect with them. Leitch was part of the inspiration for me to give up Twitter for a while. He doesn’t use it very much anymore, for many of the reasons I described. I’m currently in the middle of finishing his year in review movie podcast with his friend Tim Grierson. I like how they’ve turned pretty much a lifelong friendship into such an enjoyable program.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

7.25: A Scout is...

Every Boy Scout is required to earn at least 21 merit badge if they want to reach the rank of Eagle. There are 10 required badges among those 21. They include ones that you’d associate with the physical, outdoorsy background of the Boy Scouts: First Aid, Lifesaving, Camping, Swimming, Environmental Science.

However, there are three required badges that might not immediately come to mind when asked about which ones are required: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. These were also my favorite merit badges to earn. They aren’t the most popular because you don’t get to do cool stuff like patching up wounds or going on backcountry trips. These require you to research issues, learn about the founding of your country, contact your local government representatives, and speak out about issues that matter to you. I loved it.

I wrote a letter to Congressman Jim Oberstar about gun control. His office responded with a two-page letter. I believe I still have it somewhere. That letter gave me faith in our country’s freedom of speech and democracy. It inspired me to continue to write letters to the editor to my newspaper and contact my representatives. I cherish our nation’s freedom of speech.

I have long argued that Boy Scouts does more for youth development than any athletic program. Maybe I’m biased because I wasn’t very good at sports, but I learned a lot of things about being an adult from the Boy Scouts. I learned how to work with many different stakeholders (leaders, other scouts, and parents) in order to plan trips and events. I learned how to go up to strangers and ask for money for a worthy cause. I learned how to be prepared for numerous scenarios that could befell you. I learned how to get out of my comfort zone. I learned how to work towards something that I really wanted: my Eagle Scout rank. I learned how to be an informed and active citizen. In short, I learned a lot.   

I don’t believe Donald Trump subscribes to my same brand of idealism and optimism. That’s what made his speech at the BSA National Jamboree even more appalling. If he can’t be trusted to say appropriate things in front of thousands of Boy Scouts, what can we trust him with?

I worked at a Boy Scout camp for three summers during college. It was a nice way to complete the circle of my formal Scouting career. My first year was in 2008. I remember having a few political discussions with my fellow counselors, but I don’t ever remember it affecting my work or getting into a disagreement with a leader of some issue. A bunch of college kids over the course of the summer had an easier time being civil than the current president of the United States.

A thought that I haven’t been able to let go over the past few months is the sixth point of the Boy Scout Law: A Scout is kind. If you asked a random person for a description of a Boy Scout, I’m guessing that wouldn’t be the first word they think of. That’s the one I’ve held on to the most because it’s the one I think our world (especially in the social media age) needs the most. Kind made the list before strong and smart. It’s easy to be mean, you really don’t have to do much, but it’s difficult to be kind. It requires action and decisions.

I hope a few kind, helpful, and brave scouts were inspired to stand up for what is under attack by Mr. Trump.