Sunday, February 18, 2018

2.5 Lent

I’m behind on my music review writing. Maybe that’s a sign that I’m not going to go through with it. Who knows? Oh well, I’ve had a few other things on my mind recently anway. I thought about. I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent recently and what I should be doing.

First, I’m giving up alcohol again. It was difficult last year, but I’m glad I did it. I lost some weight. I felt pretty good about myself, and I think it was good discipline for future things. I’m not as intimidated by the challenge this year. It also helps that Kelley is giving up alcohol as well.

Second, I started writing down everything I eat. I’ve been pretty mindless about my eating recently. That’s been an especially problematic at work. We always have leftovers from one meeting or another. I sometimes have eaten more than one lunch, or more than a few snacks. I’ve also started not to feel as well about everything. I’ve gained some weight and I’ve just not felt as energetic. I suppose that’s partly due to the weather, but I like the thought of thinking more about my food. I think I’ve tended to just throw food down my gullet at times. I think it’s good to stop and reflect about what your putting in your body.

I’ve also noticed that not a lot of people say hi here near me. I’ve decided to become more proactive about saying hi to people. Most of the time in my apartment, people just tend to walk by and not even make eye contact. I figure if I start to say hi, and maybe even introduce myself, things could probably change. It’s just a weird and uncomfortable feeling when you walk by someone, you know they know that you’re there, and they don’t even make an effort to say hi. I kind of want that to change.

I’ve got a good feeling about being able to grow a little bit more during this time of Lent. It’s odd how I think it’s become one of my favorite times of the year, when I used to really hate it. I think I like the idea of the challenge and being able to force yourself to grow a little bit more. We’re rarely challenged at a deep level on our own. I think that’s a good time to try and change that. Day five in the books.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2.4 - Thanks

I’ve had a hard time getting things together this week. So, we’re just going to reflect a little bit on three things that I am thankful for.

New Things - I went to the National Women’s Hockey League All Star game this weekend. It was at the new Wild practice rink in downtown St. Paul. I had heard about the NWHL before, but all of the team’s are located in the northeast, so I haven’t been to a game. There were about 1,000 people there to watch the game. I’m happy to see people support a league that isn’t in the mainstream of popularity. I saw a lot of families and friends of the players. So, kudos to the NWL, hope to see it gets more popular as time goes by.

Lent - I really enjoy Lent much more than I used to. In an age of excess, it’s always good to be reminded of our mortality. This year I’m going to be giving up alcohol again and keeping a food journal of everything I eat. I want to become more mindful of what I’m putting in my body. I feel like I’ve become a notorious snacker and I want to rein it in a little bit. I think it’s always better to have a healthy relationship with food. Giving up alcohol was a little tough last year, but this year my girlfriend is doing it as well. I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds either.

Basketball - It’s good to have some basketball to care about in February. For all of my adult life the Wolves have been pretty much a laughing stock. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, when I was 16. The Timberwolves are currently in fourth place in the Western Conference. It’s nice to actually care about games again. I get upset when they lose, and I definitely feel calmer when they win. I just don’t want them to screw this up again. It would be nice to end the futility of being the team with the longest playoff drought in professional sports. I’m going another game on Thursday.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2.3 - What I'm listening to...

Here’s what has caught my ear this week. These aren’t really reviews, but just things that I’ve listened to repeatedly this week.

“Be My Baby” - The Ronettes. For some reason, I really wanted to hear this song this week. I keep thinking about that Phil Spector sound. It’s not quite R&B. It’s more complex than a pop song. I keep hearing it described as a “haunting” sound. There’s something about the background horns and harmonies in the background of the song. It also not exactly a happy song. It’s feels like a girl begging to have her guy take her back. “So won't you, please, be my be my baby.” I wonder what the guy who she’s singing this to is thinking. What happened that she wants to get back with him so bad?

Drive By Truckers - “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” It was the 10th anniversary of this album being released this week. That made me feel kind of old. It was one of the first albums I bought on iTunes. I got into this record because they were on the bill with the Hold Steady at First Ave, which I’m pretty sure was my first concert there. I’ve grown to love DBT because they provide a narrative about the south that cuts against what most of us in the north think. There’s depression, self-loathing, but also pride and partying. It’s got touches of magical realism, and deep sadness. I feel like I’m hanging out in Muscle Shoals, Alabama every time I listen to the record.

Ezra Furman - This has probably been my favorite musical discovery of the last few months. Furman has got a voice that’s got a scratchy foreboding. If the Turf Club in St. Paul had a voice, it’d sound like this. It’s dogged, but not a caricature of Tom Waits. I think the thing I like about him is that he identifies as gender fluid and he dresses however he wants. When I first heard him, I could picture some sort of Dylan disciple, but that’s not the case at all. Ever since the Beatles, bands have embraced a gimmick, a lot of the time for show biz purposes, but Furman does whatever he wants. I respect that.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2.2 - Busses

I was prepared to not talk with anyone on my bus ride back home. I was looking forward to just finishing out the most recent episode of This American Life. I sat near the back of the bus. It was crowded at first, but then it thinned out to just me and one other guy about two-thirds of the way of my ride. And then the gentleman, who looked to be about my age, asked me a question.

He was wearing decent headphones and was wearing decent clothes. He asked, “Where does this bus end up?” I told him that I didn’t know, but I knew that it went as far as the Louisiana Avenue Transit Center. I asked him where he was going, just in case, I knew a route to get there.

“Detox,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that. I took out my headphones and put them in my coat pocket. We were sitting across from each other. I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded and gave him my attention. I couldn’t hear everything he said, but I got most of it. He was talking about how he just needed to get away from alcohol. I nodded and told him he was in the right place. He kept talking about how much he needed to get away from some people in his life. He had been on the phone for most of the route with I’m assuming someone from the phone company. He was trying to change his number because he was so sick of the negative people in his life trying to contact him. He thanked me for just listening and said that he just needed to get that off his chest.

I kept trying to encourage him. I told him that I had dealt with shitty people before and the best thing you can do is to just cut them out. I made a motion for the cord to request a stop. He asked me one last question, “How do you change?” I had about 15 seconds to think about that before I got off. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Turn off your phone.” He nodded and smiled, satisfied with that answer.

I got off the bus and waved at him as the bus pulled away. Immediately I felt regret. I should have stayed on longer. I should have got his name. I should have given him my card. But then I remembered that saving the world doesn’t require superhuman gestures. Sometimes all it takes is just the willingness to listen.

My mind keeps coming back to the thought that every interaction you have is an invitation to encounter Jesus. I don’t think God works through big events. It’s really just the small things. I hope the gentlemen found a safe place for the evening. I’ll be praying for him.
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Three things.
Kids books. I never knew that kids books have actually gotten good. I went to dinner with Kelley on Saturday night. I was still feeling a bit antsy from the day because I had been pretty lazy. I wanted to walk around a little bit more, so we went to a Barnes and Noble. We ended up in the kids’ section, and I naturally started reading some of the books. They’ve got some really good ones! Who would have thought that children’s literature has gotten so funny? Also, my bedtime story reading talents are pretty good, in case anyone needs some bedtime stories read to them.

Schedules. I’m a much more organized person that I thought I was, or maybe that I give myself credit for. I mapped out my entire Sunday, right down to the hour. Surprisingly, I pretty much stayed on schedule down to the hour. I’ve come to the realization that things go a lot smoother, and the day doesn’t feel like a drag if you have a schedule to work off. I don’t think you have to schedule the whole day out, but it sometimes helps if you feel like you need to refocus your life. I don’t know if this is going to be a regular thing, but sometimes it just really helps.

Grace and Frankie. I’m surprised I haven’t written about this show yet. It’s been the best show I’ve picked up in quite a while. It’s about two women in their 70s (played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) leave them for each other. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, much more than so many other shows out there today. I love that it doesn’t project stereotypes of so many different people out there. Fonda and Tomlin are lively as two 20-somethings rooming together. Sheen and Waterston don’t fall into the flamboyantly gay stereotypes that Hollywood has put out there for so long. It’s got a lot going on, and I’ve really enjoyed it as my go-to tv show recently.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2.1 - SZA "Ctrl"

I didn’t care too much for SZA when I first heard her song “Drew Barrymore.” The song never really came together for me. At least according to her Wikipedia page, SZA’s genre has been described as “alternative R&B.” I never really cared for it. It always made me sleepy.

But then I saw that SZA was nominated for five Grammy awards. While one can debate the cultural significance of those awards, I think getting nominated for five still carries some weight. And there’s the whole point of this whole music writing thing. I could write about why I love Bruce Springsteen for the rest of the year, but that wouldn’t challenge me or force me to grow in my listening/writing. And being a white dude, there are obviously things I’m not going to get just by judging an artist I heard one time on my favorite radio station.

I delved into SZA and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. While the two most popular black female artists out there, Beyonce and Rihanna, are fantastic in their own ways, the fact that they are people with real problems gets lost underneath their superstardom. I did not feel that way with SZA. She’s a 20-something with her own set of problems and a voice that should be heard.

She’s got clever lyrics that require you to listen with a more active ear than if you just treated it as background chill music. I liked the lyrics, “All I got is these broken clocks/I ain't got no time/
Just burning daylight.”

I watched a couple interviews to find out a little bit more about her. The first question in the interview was, when was the first time you found the love for music? She answered that it was this album. That sort of surprised me because it feels like you find your passion first, and you make it into a career. “I couldn’t figure out how to be the artist I wanted to be,” she said to the question. Music fans tend to forget that there’s a lot of work that goes into crafting a sound. What we hear from singers and bands is rarely what they started off sounding like.

On the album “Ctrl”, she also had recordings of phone calls with her mother and grandmother. I’ve never really enjoyed the chatter that goes on between songs on some albums, but I enjoyed this one.

I don’t know how much more I’ll listen to SZA, but I appreciate her a little bit more. At the very least, I’ll be sure to dig a little bit more into an artists discography before I make a judgement on them.

Monday, January 29, 2018

1.9 - Online

I haven’t tweeted from my personal account for almost a month now. I did log in on my birthday, and in order to search for James Taylor presale tickets, but both times I didn’t stick around for long. I have used my work account to log in to Twitter. It isn’t the same, though.

I feel a lot better about the world around me. I’ve learned to moderate my anger towards most things in the world. I still get angry. (Trump is still president, after all.) But I no longer feel like I need to weigh in on everything. For example, I just couldn’t muster the energy to be #madonline about the Grammy’s. I don’t really care who got awarded something and who got snubbed. Most of the music I like isn’t really featured anyway. My Sunday night was spent at a dinner party with friends. I felt like I didn’t need much of anything else.

I just don’t think having instant access to an endless variety of opinions is healthy for anyone. I also don’t feel as much of a need to contribute my own two cents to the online conversation either. (Although I’ll admit that I still occasionally do post takes on my Facebook page.) Just because we have access to a microphone, it doesn’t mean we should use it.

Take for example an article I saw in the Star Tribune the other day. The article was about a lawyer who was opening a grilled cheese restaurant, which will be hiring ex-convicts in order to help get their lives back in order. I don’t know the woman who’s running it personally, but I know some people who do know her and everything I’ve heard about her has been amazing. Yet, people seemed eager to disparage the woman or tell her that they couldn’t wait to read about the closing of the restaurant in six months.

Why are people so quick to put out an opinion on someone they don’t know? And I’m presuming that most of those people had no experience in the restaurant industry. I think it’s fair to criticize lawmakers, but why do that to a private citizen who’s trying to make the world a better place? Just read the article and get on with your day.

I’ve also been slower to announce news via social media. I’ve wanted to tell more people things in person instead of just posting it and waiting for a reaction. For example, I didn’t really announce via social media that I’m going to Europe in the spring. I’ve either texted, called, or just talked to people directly. I’m an expressive person and that excitement showed in my announcements.

I’ll probably keep my twitter account around. I still won’t go on it very often though. I changed my password to something difficult so I won’t be tempted to go on every five minutes. Bits and pieces is probably best.

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Art Shanty Projects - I’m a big fan of things that are weird, but an inviting way. Kelley and I went to the art shanty projects on Lake Harriet. They consist of a few dozen art installations. Some are purely for art, others talk about scientific things, or have an art component to them. My personal favorite was the notary public shed. I got a decleration notarized. It said, “Nicholas Anthony Hansen and Kelley Lee Hemken are awesome.” And it was made official! It was also fun to see a bunch of people of all ages out enjoying the day. It’s always good to see lots of people having fun, together.

Grace and Frankie - This is my new favorite show. I spent a good chunk of my snow day last week binge watching this Netflix Comedy. It centers around two married couples in their 70s, played by Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen and Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston. Sheen and Waterston’s characters leave Fonda and Tomlin for each other. The two women end up moving in together. It’s a modern twist on the Odd Couple along with a much more heartfelt and dramatic undertone to it. I love it because it tackles the frailties of human emotion while being absolutely hilarious.

Dinner Parties - My friend Ashleigh and her boyfriend invited Kelley and I over for dinner on Sunday night. We ate and talked for about three hours about every subject from music to politics to the #MeToo movement. We rarely checked our phones, and we just seemed to keep the conversation going throughout the night. I’m sure the bottles of wine we consumed didn’t hurt, but it was nice to just be in the presence of good people while consuming good food. It’s nice to be a grown up sometimes. Even in our interconnected world, it felt reassuring to just be in an apartment and enjoying a nice evening together.

Friday, January 26, 2018

1.8 - Alex Lahey "I Love You Like a Brother"

So I love Bruce Springsteen. I love his songs. I love that he’s always writing for the working guy. However, I don’t see myself in a Bruce Springsteen song. I’m not in a union. I’m not going to down to the river. I’m not sweating it down the street in a runaway American dream. I sometimes like to think I’m a Springsteen song, but it’s sometimes like a movie. You think you could be like the characters in a movie, and theoretically, you could, but in your heart, you know that it’s a movie.

So who would have thought that a twenty-something female pop-punk rocker from Melbourne could write songs that made me say, “Yeah, I know what that feels like.”?

Alex Lahey’s debut album, “I Love You Like a Brother” was one of my favorite albums of this past year. I first heard her single “Every Day is the Weekend” on the Current. I dubbed it as my song of the summer of 2017. It’s a song about lovers getting that first taste of a relationship, but still realizing that there are other things in the world that you have to pay attention to, like your job and your family. But in the end, they’re all ok, and you just “ride the wave to shore.”

My favorite song on the album is the title track. It’s got that surf-rock guitar that makes you want to get out of your chair. And how many pop-music songs are about brothers? The two that come to mind are, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Brothers in Arms” neither of which capture the intricacies of a sibling relationship like Lahey does. Siblings have a unique bond, especially adult siblings. You over your youthful growing pains and you can focus on, you know, being friends.   “Clashed like the band, but now we're back stronger/While we're both young yet still a bit older.” The chorus “I love you like a brother, just like I oughta” feels like Lahey’s singing it with a smile to her brother in the crowd.

The song “Backpack” talks about a lover who’s close, but there’s that little bit of distance in the relationship in there that prevents it from becoming something more. Hence the chorus, “It's hard for me to put my arms around you/When your backpack's on.” I also loved the line “Your disorganized perfection is ok with me.” There’s something beautiful about acknowledging your partner’s flaws and still accepting them.

The best art makes you feel many things at once. Lahey made me dance, think, reflect and even be a little bit sad while listening to this album. And I love you Bruce, but Lahey knows me a little bit better than you.