Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top Ten Tuesdays: What new TV shows will we be watching this fall?

Special extra TiVoing edition!

20) Two-and-a-Half Teabaggers (Fox News Channel)

19) The Five Minutes of Saturday Night Live That Might Make You Smirk, Plus Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

18) Key Grips (IFC)

17) Project Manicure (Bravo)

16) Law & Order: Congressional Investigation Unit (C-SPAN)

15) Pardon the Interruption with Kanye West (ESPN)

14) Fairly Content Housewives (ABC Family)

13) Why I Had to Marry Your Mother (CBS)

12) I Couldn’t Get a Network Deal for My Unfunny Sitcom (TBS)

11) Who Wants to Marry Anderson Cooper? (Logo)

10) Seth MacFarland’s Non-Stop Non-Sequiturs (Fox)

9) City Bus Confessions (HBO)

8) Some Sketch Show That Still Won’t Be as Good as Kids in the Hall (Comedy Central)

7) Monday Night Foosball (Versus)

6) Biggest Mixed Martial Arts Loser (Spike)

5) Bloggers! (The CW)

4) Dr. Surly, the Sarcastic Surgeon with a Heart of Gold (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox)

3) You Can’t Escape Jay Leno (NBC)

2) Let’s Exploit a Dysfunctional Family for Big Ratings (check local listings)

1) Survivor: Detroit (CBS)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Random 11

It’s one more random than 10!

I’m just jumping right in today and saving the sermon for the end…

1) “I Want You to Want Me (Live),” Cheap Trick. Hell yeahs. The live versions of this and “Surrender” are about as good as the 70s get in my book. In fact, there are a lot of songs that would benefit from having hordes of ecstatic Japanese girls yelling along.

2) “Magpie,” The Mountain Goats. From feeding kitties to straightening crucifixes in two minutes. Now that's what I call music!

3) “Songbird,” Fleetwood Mac. I am definitely more of a Stevie Nicks man than a Christine McVie man. In fact, I don’t know of any Christine McVie men except John McVie. I guess I like my songs to brood about thunder and Welsh witches instead of tweeting about songbirds.

4) “Still Be Around,” Uncle Tupelo. On my Cannot Be Overplayed List. I would love, love, love to see Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweety come back together. I would think if The Police could tour the world for a year without Stewart Copeland throwing Sting through a bass drum, these two could keep it together long enough for me to see them live.

5) “Crooked Teeth,” Death Cab for Cutie. Here’s the dumb thing about tagging: I have all the Death Cab albums before Plans labeled, “Indie Rock.” But the last two? Just “Rock.” Even though their music sounds exactly the same, only a little louder and slightly more overdubby. Yet I can’t bring myself to label it all “Indie Rock” because that feels like cheating. Why am I so goddamned anal about stupid things like this?

6) “Brilliant Mistake,” Elvis Costello (and maybe The Attractions). Really, if you’re a musician, do you want to get stuck in an “and the” band? For one thing, no one ever uses the “and the” when talking about your music. At best, if you’re a really great player, like an Attraction or a Heartbreaker, people are going to tell you, “I love your work on those Elvis Costello/Tom Petty records.” At worst, you’re going to spend your whole life wondering how you couldn’t beat out Huey Lewis for top billing. Lose-lose. Although I like the sound of Brando and the Circle Jerks, especially if my “and the” consisted of the actual Circle Jerks. (Some Milwaukee love in the video for our favorite zombie.)

7) “Eurochild,” Massive Attack. Every Massive Attack song sounds like it should be in a movie soundtrack. In fact, I’d like movie soundtracks a lot more if they were done by Massive Attack. I mean, seriously, do we need another 75 minutes of Danny Elfman’s faux-harpsichord farting during a Tim Burton movie or John Williams’s hooked-on-classics symphonic surges as a Spielbergian protagonist rediscovers the little boy inside who helps him find happiness as an adult?

8) “Tunic (Song for Karen),” Sonic Youth. While I didn’t dislike Sonic Youth, I didn’t really appreciate them until I tried playing their songs in Rock Band. I know that, to some people, that sounds like the end of music as we know it, that there is some apocalyptic prophecy being fulfilled: And yea, it will come to pass that the children will learn to worship their music gods on plastic guitars and drums. Honestly, though, these music games have really deepened my respect for music. I’ve played “Kool Thing” and “Teen Age Riot” in Rock Band, and I never realized just how complex and cool their music is, and now I get kind of jazzed when it pops up in iTunes.

9) “Range Life,” Pavement. They’re getting the band back together, at least for a few shows at New York’s Central Park. I hope that leads to a real tour, because they are also one of the bands I never got to see that I wish I had. I always get a chuckle from this song when Steven Malkmus sings Stone Temple Pilots, they’re elegant bachelors, they’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?

10) “Just Like Heaven,” The Cure. Show me show me show me how you do that trick/the one where you sound carefree, she said/but you’re really sad and lovesick, she said/and threw her headphones on her head.

11) “Stacy’s Mom,” Fountains of Wayne. For all the efforts by the Religious Right to keep us in an age of creepy purity balls and guilt-ridden dry humping, it’s pretty remarkable just how far our nation has come sexually (insert Butt-Head laugh here). Here’s a song as peppy, poppy, and catchy as they come, a guitar-driven ditty that would sound at home on 70s AM radio...except it's celebrating MILFs. Courtney Cox is starring in a new show called Cougar Town and no one is really batting an eyelash. HBO’s got a show called Hung, and the network knows it doesn’t have to explain, “hey, that means the main character has a huge schlong.” One of the dozens of Law and CSI shows had an episode about a furry party gone bad (insert joke about when does as furry party go good?).

It’s all thanks to the Internet. For all the ways that the Internet has changed our lives, I think one of the most welcome changes has been the loosening of the sexual pole up the collective butt of this great nation. Even though the Internet has allowed the right to be even more shrill and ridiculous than ever, all that wailing and gnashing can’t stop the big horny wave sweeping the country.

See, in ancient times (before 1998), most people felt weird about doing anything too kinky, because they’d think, my partner’s going to think I’m a freak and not only leave me, but maybe turn me into the authorities. But thanks to the Internet, you can get your freak on without feeling guilty, because if you go on the Internet for more than two minutes, you’ll probably find someone who is freakier than you are. Gee, I thought it was kind of weird that I want my husband to ravish me while dressed up like Super Mario, but look at this sick fuck here who wants her husband to dress up like Donkey Kong. I guess that makes me pretty normal by comparison. Even our elected officials are getting into the act, with each diaper-wearing, restroom-tapping, South-American-booty-calling one trying to top the other.

Sure, there are some down sides. These days, if you’re not kinky enough, you might think what’s wrong with me that I just want missionary and a cuddle? And I know we’re probably not far away from Red Shoe Diaries incorporating watersports-based story lines, just to stay hip, and maybe we’ll even see Goatse: The Musical (“An eye-popping spectacle you’ll never forget, no matter how hard you try!”—Janet Maslin).

Overall, though, I say good for us, America. For far too long, we’ve channeled that pent-up sexual energy into things that are really bad for us: whipping out our guns, eating out our Big Macs, and having an unprotected orgy with our stockholder’s assets. Maybe if we wind up falling back into bed disheveled, breathless, and tired, we won’t have as much energy to go out and cause problems. Especially if we still have to take off the furry costume.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Top Ten Tuesdays: Why are we so angry?

10) Tired of paying all these taxes when we could be using our hard-earned money to go further into credit card debt.

9) Disillusioned that the government can’t fix eight years of problems in eight months.

8) ‘Cause Beyonce was robbed!

7) Sick of the Democrats treating us like our party was resoundingly defeated in the last election.

6) Because our foot was not on the line, you dumb (expletive) who is going to have a hard (expletive) time being a line (expletive) judge when I shove this (expletive) ball up your (expletive)-ing (expletive).

5) Fox News reporter bet us that we couldn’t look as angry as the mob from Shelbyville.

4) The idea of socialized medicine just makes our blood boil, which our insurance won’t cover because it’s a pre-existing condition.

3) Furious that liberals keep making poor Glenn Beck cry.

2) Definitely not because the president is black, no siree-bob, we don’t have any problem with one of them being president.

1) None of your fucking business.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Random 11

Special random acts of genius edition!

Because I work at home, I listen to a lot of music during the day. I’ve always played music when I worked, but now it serves as more than background noise. It's a companion that helps me hear something other than my own thoughts or conference calls during the day.

Even though I am fortunate to have a big collection of music, I get bored with the way I listen to it sometimes. I want to be surprised sometimes and not know what’s coming up next, which is why I started doing the Random 11 in the first place.

I've always done the 11 with the shuffle function. However, over time, shuffle can be annoying, delivering stuff I don’t want to hear, or bits of albums that make no sense out of context. I want a DJ, not music collection entropy.

Then iTunes introduced Genius. You could pick a song and have Genius pull a bunch of related songs into a playlist—while also suggesting new songs you could buy at the iTunes Store (yay, capitalism!). Still, I found Genius a little lacking. The logic wasn’t always really great, and the lists could be really narrow sometimes if I picked a song that was rather unique in my collection.

This week, iTunes 9 introduced a new feature that seemed like it could be more focused than shuffle but more flexible than regular Genius: Genius Mixes. Like Genius, Genius Mixes goes through your collection and identifies songs that fit together. However, it creates separate general playlists, like Rock or Country, which gives you pre-made mixes to check out. It's like having John Cusack make a mix tape for you, without all the fuss and bother of getting in a relationship with him.

The key with these features, however, is how well they put songs together. Would it be based solely on my music tags? On data that iTunes collects from me and other consenting Genius users? On the historic relationship of certain bands or styles? On level of double-entendres in songs? On use of the word "rock" as a verb? On smell?

I decided to take another step toward letting machines gain control over humanity by letting Genius Mixes take over this week’s Random 11. I’m going to pick one random song from each of the twelve mixes Genius created. It’ll be like assigning a theme song to the twelve musical apostles that live in my hard drive. Will they deliver salvation, or hand me over to the Romans for a $30 iTunes gift card?

1) Indie Rock Mix: Based on Death Cab for Cutie, Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci [ed: wow, I played that once], Modest Mouse and others
“Sea Legs,” The Shins. What could be more indie rock than indie rock from Albuquerque, New Mexico? Of course, this is from their third album that debuted at #2, which means that lots of people bought it, maybe even your aunt or your dad, completely ruining the indie cred that the kids hold so precious. Still, a good start.

2) Rock/Pop Mix: Based on Crowded House, Liz Phair, Sarah McLachlan and others
“Wire Greyhounds,” Guided by Voices. So my Rock/Pop mix pulls out one of the greatest indie bands of all time? That seems a mistake.

Then again, Guided by Voices do rock, yet also have a great pop sensibility. Could the Genius Mix be deeper than I anticipate? Is there some HAL-like reasoning here? Should I be concerned that it might murder me if I attempt to investigate the monolith on Jupiter?

This also illustrates my obsession with tagging my music. Case in point: I have a very serious mental debate over what constitutes Rock/Pop and what should be labeled Pop/Rock. For instance, Crowded House is indeed labeled Rock/Pop. But Hall & Oates? Pop/Rock. When I got to Billy Joel, I was stumped, but I eventually settled on Pop/Rock because I tend to dislike that tag more, and I don’t particularly care for Billy Joel’s music anymore. And don’t get me started on the line between Rock/Pop and just Rock, or what’s Indie Rock and just plain Rock…

3) Rock Mix: Based on Joe Satriani, Queen, The Kinks and others
“Sin City,” AC/DC. Now we’re cooking with gas. One of my favorite AC/DC songs. It perfectly captures the dirt under the expensive manicure of Las Vegas. Speaking of which, I am hoping to take TLB to Vegas this year. She’s never been, and I am curious to see what it’s like to go when I’m not in a drunken, sleep-deprived, table-dancing, staging-a-pants-pooping-intervention stupor.

4) Punk Mix: Based on Nirvana, Green Day, Blink-182 and others
“Bright Pavilions,” Superdrag. No, no, no. No I’m pretty accurate about labeling the punk music in my collection. Nirvana is not categorized as such, but perhaps Genius is recognizing them for both relying on and rejuvenating the punk ethos. Fine. But Superdrag belongs in Indie Rock, Rock/Pop, or perhaps Power Pop if I was feeling sassy when I was tagging. What are you trying to tell me, HAL?

5) Alternative Rock Mix: Based on Smashing Pumpkins, The White Stripes, Foo Fighters and others.
“Wind Up,” Foo Fighters. I’m not sure how The White Stripes wind up here, but the Foo Fighters definitely belong in Alternative Rock. Crunchy, overdubbed guitars? Check. Pop sensibility buffed with a slightly coarse punk shammy? Check. Too rockin’ to be Rock/Pop, too hip to be just Rock, too commercial to be Indie Rock? Check, check, check.

On a related note, I watched part of a Foo Fighters concert from Wembley stadium. Toward the encore, they predictably played “Everlong” in an unpredictably unplugged style, with Dave Grohl just playing on guitar. The opening was good, but when he got to the part where the drums kick in, the part of that song that just rocks my face off…he kept quietly playing on the guitar. He did that for almost the entire song, until at the very end the band rocked out for about a minute. It was a classic example of some songs that should never be unplugged.

6) Rock/Pop Mix 2: Based on Blur, British Sea Power, Radiohead and others.
“I Like You,” Morrissey. It would appear that my Rock/Pop from across the pond has been relegated to one Rock/Pop Mix ghetto. Still, close enough with solo Morrissey.

7) Alt. Country Mix: Based on Wilco, John Hiatt, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and others
“Heart on the Ground,” Jay Farrar. Definitely on the mark considering that the label Alt. Country exists because of Jay Farrar and Uncle Tupelo. Although I would have preferred listening to some Uncle Tupelo instead.

8) Rock/Pop Mix 3: Based on Graham Parker, Echo & the Bunnymen, Pat Benetar and others
“New Moon on Monday,” Duran Duran. Wow, that categorization seems very random and makes me think the question is, “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?”

As for Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger is where they jumped the shark for me—admittedly jumping a shark in a gorgeous video filmed in Tahiti with Simon LeBon playing the shark hunter and the shark being a model wearing fin pasties over her nipples. The decline started with “Union of the Snake,” continued with this song that doesn’t sound like them except in the chorus, repackaged the journey into suck through 27 remixes of “The Reflex,” and finally bit the dust with the thoroughly obnoxious “Wild Boys.” I liked them better when they were just dancing on the sand.

9) Rock/Pop Mix 4: Based on Brian Wilson, Fleet Foxes, Of Montreal and others
“16 Military Wives,” The Decemberists. A very good song, but the “Based on” groupings are starting to resemble the pledges to Delta House at the Omega House mixer. “This is Brian, he’s a reclusive genius, and Fleet Foxes, who’d be more popular if they weren’t so hairy, and Of Montreal, who’d be more popular if they didn’t make Ziggy Stardust look staunchly heterosexual and had a band name that didn’t make people think they were from the redneck version of France. Why don’t you guys enjoy some punch over here in your little corner?”

10) Indie Rock Mix 2: Based on Fountains of Wayne, The New Pornographers, Cheap Trick and others
“Armies Walk,” Nada Surf. This appears to be Power Pop in Indie Rock clothing. I have no idea how Cheap Trick would wind up here. Perhaps the Genius is trying to make a point about the restrictive, nay discriminatory, aspect of labels. After all, who cares what the category is if it results in a wonderful Nada Surf song, or the possibility of “I Want You to Want Me” being played? Perhaps Genius is just trying to tell me that I’m a tagging fascist.

11) Rock/Pop Mix 5: KT Tunstall, Tenacious D [ed. WTF!], David Gray and others
“Not Supposed to Break Down,” Van Morrison. If Tenacious D ever got that close to KT Tunstall in real life, they’d be slapped with a restraining order. But Van Morrison is a nice way to close this out…except we have one more category left. I wonder what it could be? Maybe…SATAN!!!

12) Metal Mix: Based on Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and others
“Breaking the Law,” Judas Priest. Fire, fire!!!

A funny story about this song: I am one of those assholes who speeds up when the light turns yellow. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, but it is also my destiny. Anyway, after one particularly egregious, Spicoli-esque incident (“that light was yellow a minute ago”) with The Lovely Becky, I could tell she was unhappy with what I did. I made the devil horns with my hand and sang in my best Beavis voice, “Breaking the law, breaking the law.”

Over the years, that joke was shortened, to the point where now I simply make the devil horn sign, wordlessly, as the notes of Judas Priest as sung by a sociopathic cartoon character with a room-temperature IQ float between us wordlessly.

That’s the magic of marriage.

Well, the Genius Mix wasn't accurate, but it was fun. I know who to turn to the next time the simple act of finding something to listen to seems mentally strenuous.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top Ten Tuesdays: What healthcare reform alternatives are we hearing from Republicans?

10) Allowing a tax deduction on all leaches purchased for medicinal purposes.

9) Eliminating all doctors, medicines, and hospitals so the free market can heal the sick directly.

8) Strengthening preventive care by offering free laying on of hands from the preacher of your choice.

7) Replacing overweight, unhealthy Americans who demand affordable healthcare with thinner, meeker foreigners who will be ecstatic for a glass of clean water and a couple of Advil.

6) Letting insurance companies regulate themselves if they promise to really, really, really try to not deny coverage to people unless that coverage is really, really, really going to interfere with the fourth-quarter earnings.

5) Providing free prescription drugs for any American willing to be part of the clinical testing.

4) Allowing every American to take control of their health care by giving them a free bottle of whiskey, a stick to bite on, and a bone saw.

3) Funding an expedition to search for a sparkly, magical healthcare pony that can fix all of our coverage problems with a flick of its rainbow-colored tail.

2) Offering access to quality government-run health care and free international travel at all local recruiting stations.

1) Giving every American the freedom to choose between the health care system that we now have and the option to move your whiny asses to Canada or Europe if you think it’s so much better there, you freedom-hating, socialism-loving, quality-of-life-worshiping traitors.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Random No Show

Sadly, too much to do today to get to the Random 11. But I've been playing a lot of Beatles this week because of the current Beatles Reanimania, so here's the first random Beatles song that came up. A great song to hear on a warm September day that makes winter still seem far, far away.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Top Ten Tuesdays: Why do we not want to let our schoolchildren hear President Obama?

Special extra outrageous rumors edition!

11) Refuse to let the president promote a political agenda that will distract from learning conservative family values.

10) Convinced President Obama is just like Hitler...if Hitler was half-black, non-confrontational, and had a lot of Jewish supporters.

9) Read that the president will tell kids the government is requiring “homo time” to be added to P.E.

8) Believe that unless it’s a horrible, violent, tragic event that will likely scar children for life, television has no place in the classroom.

7) Suspect Obama will inform children that if they don’t support liberal causes, they will be extraordinarily rendered to school districts that still allow corporal punishment.

6) Can’t take a chance he’ll mention evolution.

5) Heard Sarah Palin say that Obama’s going make a case for the government to “send Grandma to heaven now” so they don’t have to subsidize her health care later.

4) Afraid Obama will not be able to keep a straight face when he says it takes honesty, moral standing, and intelligence to become president.

3) Do not want children to have direct interaction with the Executive Branch after what happened when Vice President Cheney talked to them.

2) Believe that filling children’s heads with inaccurate propaganda about the role of government is the responsibility of parents.

1) Translated the portion of the speech entitled, “To Serve Your Parents,” and learned that it's a cookbook! A cookbook!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday Non-Random 11

It’s a tough day to have a birthday.

I spent all week not thinking about turning 39, but about Rick’s passing and how my brother Tickle will spend today burying his best friend, a guy in the prime of his life who was eight years younger than me.

All of this hit me harder than I expected. An event like this evokes a natural sense of tragedy, and I also feel compassion for my brother. But I found myself in tears several times this week, I think because seeing someone’s life end too soon made me take stock of where mine is headed.

To help me cope, and to help me think, I turned to music. I sought out sad songs, using them like an emotional chemotherapy, feeling worse at first but also attacking what was causing that sadness. I have been lucky in my life to not be traumatized by death. I’ve lost loved ones, but never by surprise. They were all older and saddled with maladies that made their passing unsurprising. I had time to prepare for the grief. Shock is an enzyme for sadness, increasing the emotional reaction we have, because there’s no preparation, no planning for the sorrow that’s coming.

I turned to music, for comfort first, but also to help make sense of this, to fertilize my reflections, so that I could come away from this a little wiser, with something that could help make my life a little better. What could I learn about my own mortality as I approached 40-1? Here are a few things I played that gave me some comfort and comprehension:

1) “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” Japandroids. One of the first songs I turned to this week, because I had been playing this album a lot already.

We used to dream/now we worry about dying/I don’t want to worry about dying/I just worry about those sunshine girls. Those lines made me think of Tickle and his friends, because they lost a lot more than one of their buddies. There’s a carefree part of their friendships that died this week, an energy that, while often immature, made them such a fun group of guys. They will still be fun, and they will move on, but they’ll never quite be the same.

2. “Untitled No. 1,” Sigur Ros. What makes a song sad for me is how it sounds. I’ve always been a music-first/lyrics-second guy, which probably explains how I could listen to Rush sing about caves of ice and demonic swordfights all these years.

The ( ) album from Sigur Ros just drips with sadness. It’s their “winter” album, with songs that evoke the long, cold season we have to endure before the rebirth of spring. As sappy as this may sound, I believe that whenever you find yourself in a dark place, you have to find that point of light, no matter how small or distant, to orient yourself toward. I also think that point always exists. We just don’t always see it right away.

3. “Re: Stacks,” Bon Iver. He has a voice that is so plaintive and yet so uplifting. It’s quite and simple, which winds up amplifying its power. I find myself sometimes leaning forward as if to grab the song as its wispy notes come out of the speakers. I just wallowed in the sound of this whole album.

4. “Naked as We Came,” Iron & Wine. I struggle with this song when I’m feeling good, and I almost couldn’t play it because it is so heartbreaking. At the same time, it overflows with beauty in its intimate look at loss. That compelled me to play it a few times.

Becky and I have talked over the years about who is going to “go first.” It’s often done in jest, but the question certainly came to my mind this week. Would I want to die before her? Or would I want to be the one to say goodbye, to “spread her ashes around the yard” as Sam Beam sings here? I used to think it was the former, because that seemed easier. Now I wish for the latter, because I don’t want to miss a second of my wife’s life. I’ll deal with the immense sorrow that comes if it means I can have her company for as long as possible.

5. “Try Not to Breathe,” R.E.M. Automatic for the People is by far my favorite R.E.M. album, and one of the few albums I find transcendental. It has spirituality that comforts me while still taking a hard look at the trials of living. To me, that’s how you conquer sorrow.

6. “Oliver James,” Fleet Foxes. Much like Iron & Wine and Bon Iver, this is a simple acoustic tune, but with a vocal that soars where the others whisper. The way the chorus lingers at the end is one of the most beautiful codas I’ve ever heard on an album, like a spirit escaping.

7. “Plans,” Dinosaur Jr. It’s been a soul-searching couple of years for me as it is. For longer than I care to admit, I’d spent too much time the last few years focusing on what I failed to accomplish or what I didn’t have. It reached a point where I wondered if I was dealing with genuine depression and needed to see someone.

I don’t know if it was having Libby or just realizing that my depression was really man-made, but I finally decided enough was enough. It’s like Morgan Freeman says in The Shawshank Redemption: Get busy living, or get busy dying. I have had a damn good life, and the things I still want to accomplish are right there for the taking, if I just focus on doing the work instead of focusing on the work I haven’t done. The work was what I could control, and I didn’t control that, everything else was irrelevant anyway.

When I first heard this song, off the outstanding new album Farm, it felt like a theme song for that feeling. There’s some wallowing here, a good deal of regret and longing that things didn’t work out as planned. But a lot of hope as well. I’ve got nothing left to be/Do you have some plans for me? There’s a sense about not worrying about what we can’t control. We can’t predict what’s coming down the pike, but we also won’t see what’s ahead if we don’t keep moving.

I played this a few times this week because it helped me make sense out of a tragedy. The thing about Rick was that he always kept moving. He had his share of doubts, fears, and sadness, but he didn’t let that stop him from going forward. Even though 31 is too young and he certainly would want (and deserved) more time on this earth, he focused on what made him happy and didn’t worry much about what didn’t. I think I’m finally learning that lesson.

8. “And You and I,” Yes. Ninety-percent of the time, I have no freaking clue what Jon Anderson is singing about. However, the old adage that 90 percent of what you say is how you say it applies here. This is my favorite progressive rock song, a song I find exceptionally beautiful, in no small part to the way Jon Anderson sings. His voice blends perfectly with every passage, becoming delicate during the acoustic passages and soaring with the organ-filled crescendos. It just made me feel a little better.

9. “Doctors of Deliverance,” Crooked Fingers. Much like “And You and I,” I don’t really know what this song means, which allows it to be about whatever I want. A lot of sad songs have some resolution, perhaps some moment of happiness or at least revelation that offer a silver lining. Not so much here. That’s okay, though, because the best way to get through sadness is to let it wash over you, like a tide coming in, until it ebbs and retreats back. This is a good song for that.

10) “Keep Me in Your Heart,” Warren Zevon. The irony of the final song on Warren Zevon’s final album is that, as his body was wasting away and he grew weaker, he gave us one of the strongest examinations of mortality that any musician ever has. He stared at his own impending death and crafted something worthwhile out of it, creating an album of beauty and sadness and the dark humor that defined his music. That’s an inspiration to me.

11) “Too Late to Die Young,” Dan Bern. Which brings me full circle. I couldn’t help but think about how I would feel if I died suddenly: how would I take stock of my life? How would others look back on me? Today, after The Lovely Becky and Libby woke me up and wished me a happy birthday, and I remembered, oh yeah, only one more year til forty, this song popped into my head while I was in the shower. There’s your theme song today. My brain couldn’t help but look for a little dark chuckle at my expense.

That’s how I want it. My sense of humor is that point of light. It’s the thing that helps me get through life, even after spending a week thinking about death.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

RIP, Sugar Ray

I’ve written about Sugar Ray, noted Cubs pessimist, wearer of offensive T-shirts in Vegas, non-wearer of underwear, and one of my brother Tickle’s best friends. In real life, Sugar Ray was known as Rick, and in real life this past weekend, he passed away. He was 31.

Rick’s passing is one of those terrible, awful, shocking deaths, the ones that seem unbelievable because they are so sudden. On Saturday, he was at a Cubs game with a large group of friends, celebrating a victory in an otherwise disappointing Cubs season, and then partying with those friends that night. The next day he was gone.

The thing I liked the most about Rick was how friendly he was. He and I were not exceptionally close—our relationship was defined by his friendship with Tickle. Yet whenever I saw Rick, he seemed glad to see me, shaking my hand, asking me how I was, and appearing genuinely interested in my answer. We were on an e-mail list with Tickle and some other guys, going back and forth about sports and other topics, and sometimes those debates got heated (the more trivial the topic, the more intense the debates were). Yet even after an exchange of rebuttals, quips, and outright insults, he never lost that friendliness and the ability to laugh at himself. We were just guys bagging on each other in good fun.

I still have some of those e-mails in my inbox, e-mails from just a few days ago that now seem much older. Yesterday, the emptiness of that inbox, the lack of any new flurry of messages about the Cubs collapse or the Bears playoff chances, filled me with sadness.

I feel especially bad for my brother, his friends, Rick’s family, and Rick’s wife. Rick married in May. Tickle was his best man and delivered the best man speech. Now, in the same year, he will deliver a eulogy at Rick’s funeral. Rick was so happy to be married, and really, so happy with his life. To see him go when things were going so well just compounds the sense of loss.

At the same time, he lived a happy life. Rick was one of those people who took great pleasure in the little things. Food, drink, sports, movies…these things gave him much happiness, and he had a large group of friends and family to share them with. As tragic as the events of the past weekend are, he spent his last day living life the way he loved to live it. There are many, many people who live twice as long and don’t experience half the happiness he did.

What I wouldn’t give, though, to have one more argument about Derrek Lee’s batting average.

Rest in peace, Rick. You will be missed.