Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Out and Cringe

In honor of Pride month, two tunes from a time I wanted to forget but am now happy to remember

Dear Diary:

One of the things that might not be immediately obvious about coming out in your early 30s is that you’re a grown-ass adult having to go through a lot of the same awkward stuff that most people went through in their teens. In my case, that meant coming out with a huuuuuge crush on a guy that I’d met online, who decidedly did not feel the same way.

I should make it clear that there are no hard feelings at all; he was perfectly fine and supportive, and I don’t know how I would’ve handled the situation if the roles had been reversed. So everything here is making fun of myself, not anybody else.

Because I was infatuated. I’d save our chat logs and read back over them repeatedly, imagining that mundane conversations were the most witty and sparkling banter, and desperately looking for any clue that there might be some kind of spark there. Every story was fascinating, and I ended most conversations feeling like Marcia Brady after meeting Desi Arnaz, Jr.1I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.

And I got excited about “what’s your favorite song?” conversations, immediately going to buy the recommendations from iTunes.2Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above. The first I remember was “Toxic” by Britney Spears, which was ubiquitous at the time, but I had somehow never heard in its entirety.

Purchasing this song felt like I was crossing some sort of threshold. By that point, I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t think I was that gay.

But once I got over myself, I came to the realization that “Toxic” is just objectively a banger, regardless of age, orientation, or snobbiness. The video is hilariously dated, stuck hopelessly in the early 2000s, but the song is still fantastic.

The other song, though, was “The Killing Moon” by Echo and The Bunnymen:

And again, I don’t mean any offense to anybody who likes the song, but man. That couldn’t be any less my thing unless it were death metal, or maybe “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Hearing it in the middle of an intense crush made my stomach drop like the first time I saw The Phantom Menace.

Hearing it now, though, just makes me happy. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to find the right person, how some people just don’t click no matter what, and how good things tend to happen when and if they’re supposed to. Twenty-plus-years-ago me was convinced he’d be alone forever, and he spent most of his time riddled with anxiety about everything. Now, I look back and realize… well, at least now I’m anxious about entirely different stuff.

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    I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.
  • 2
    Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above.

Breakin’ Necks With Kal-El & Zod

Reconsidering a now-mostly-irrelevant superhero movie, and the dangers of meeting a story halfway

Last night, Instagram was doing what Instagram does, serving up never-ending sets of short videos in an attempt to hone in on what’s going to get me hooked on the app even more.

One of those was a video of clips from the climax of Man of Steel, with some unidentified narrators explaining how Kal-El straight-up murdering Zod [spoiler?] was not only perfectly in character for Superman, but it was necessary. Superman had no choice! Saving a defenseless family from getting heat-vision obliterated by a mad Kryptonian was the most Supermanest thing that Superman could do.

Because Instagram only cares about views and not context, I don’t have any idea of how old the clip was or who was doing the talking. Was it cobbled together from Bluray special features? Is it a fan video essay? Is anyone anywhere still talking about this movie, now that the “Synderverse” has pretty much fizzled out completely? Is it at all relevant?

I say it’s at least a little bit relevant, because I was dead wrong about the movie after I saw it. Reading back on my review 11 years later, I’d classify it as “charitable” more than “effusive,” and the things I mostly liked about the movie then are the same things I remember fondly about it: great cast, great final line from Lois Lane, and lots of Henry Cavill with no shirt on. Plus I like that it leaned into the idea of “Superman is an alien,” dildo-shaped spaceships and all, instead of “being an alien is Superman’s back-story.”

But the rest of my review hasn’t aged well. At the time, I said I was looking forward to seeing more in the series, which was clearly false because I still haven’t seen any of the other DC movies apart from Wonder Woman and Aquaman.1I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care? And those only because they suggested a novelty and weirdness outside of Snyder’s interpretation of the characters.

Most of all, though, I was wrong about the climax of Man of Steel. Like the people defending it in that aforementioned Instagram video, I said that the moment made sense in the context of everything that came before it, and with the overall premise and tone of the movie. Which is bizarre, because it absolves the filmmakers of having any control over the premise and tone of the movie. It values being tonally or thematically consistent, over being tonally and thematically appropriate for one of the most well-defined characters in popular culture.

Continue reading “Breakin’ Necks With Kal-El & Zod”
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    I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care?

Let Tablets Be Tablets

Thoughts about the current state of the iPad and speculation about Apple’s plans for the platform

It’s kind of funny that with all the talk about “walled gardens” and Apple’s closed ecosystem, it extends to the people talking about Apple. All of the tech journalists feel like this incestuous group who are always going on each other’s podcasts and referencing each other’s videos. That means that once anybody states an opinion with enough force, it becomes A Truth Universally Acknowledged.

One of those is that the iPad is at best languishing, at worst completely failing to live up to its obvious potential. It’s got as much power as a laptop Mac, and the latest M4 models have even more power than Macs, so why does Apple insist on hobbling it by keeping it from being able to do all the things a Mac can do?

With any new iPad release, the first stunt any tech journalist tries to do is use it as a replacement for their laptop. They dutifully report back after a week, or a month, letting us know that it’s not quite there yet. And the limitations are more often than not related to the kinds of things that tech journalists want to do: it’s not good for recording podcasts, or it’s not the best at editing videos for YouTube.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing, repeatedly. I just took it as a given that the iPad was Apple’s vision of the future of computing, the device that would become a successor to the Mac. My biggest complaint is that you can’t do any software development on it1I found out just recently that Swift Playgrounds, which I’d always assumed was just a tutorial environment aimed at first-time programmers, got a lot more powerful in version 4, and you can now develop apps and publish them to the App Store, all from the iPad.. It’s been a massive bummer, since it’d be perfect for a WYSIWYG HyperCard-like development environment, and/or for making games for the Playdate.

After using the M4 iPad Pro for a while, along with the most recent iPad mini, I believe I’ve been thinking about the iPad all wrong. It finally hit me when I was listening to one of the aforementioned podcasts, and a tech journalist lamented that the iPad-centric announcements at WWDC were such a disappointment. Why does Apple still keep you from being able to do things with your $2000 iPad?

My immediate reaction was: Why would anyone need to be spending $2000 on an iPad?! Sure, Apple will happily sell you a fully-maxed-out iPad for thousands of dollars, but they’re not positioning the iPad as a Mac replacement. So were did everybody get the idea that it was?

Continue reading “Let Tablets Be Tablets”
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    I found out just recently that Swift Playgrounds, which I’d always assumed was just a tutorial environment aimed at first-time programmers, got a lot more powerful in version 4, and you can now develop apps and publish them to the App Store, all from the iPad.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: It’s The Journey

Two songs from the Indigo Girls reminding us that the Wheel in the Sky keeps on turning

Or actually, it’s the Indigo Girls. I’ve been thinking about them a lot since the release of the documentary about them and their appearance on Seth Meyers’s show promoting it. They’re just great; absurdly talented of course, but also down to earth, bullshit free, community-oriented, and honest.

And great at writing songs about universal ideas. Emily Saliers in particular is so good at describing the serenity that comes from realizing your struggles and mistakes are essential to making you the person you are. It’s a theme that comes up over and over again in their songs, so there are a lot of great ones to choose from.

One of my favorites is “Watershed” from Nomads Indians Saints. It’s still got all the feeling of their first two albums, with the acoustic guitar and tons of harmony, and great lines like “Every five years or so I look back on my life And I have a good laugh.”

But my favorite might by “The Wood Song” from Swamp Ophelia. Listening to the Indigo Girls albums in order feels a little bit like the start of Stop Making Sense: they start out spare and acoustic, then gradually add more and more instruments as time goes on. This song was the first I’d heard that really felt like the instrumentation was adding more than just volume; it feels like the song gradually shifts the feeling from lamentation to celebration. The mistakes and struggles are victories.

(Another great song with a similar idea is “It’s Alright” from Shaming of the Sun).

Ouhrrr! Werewolves of Malibu

A begrudging appreciation for the original Werewolf By Night comic series

When I first got into The Sandman back in 1988, it was the first I became aware of the long tradition of horror comics that inspired it. And I realized that I especially had this nerd-cultural blind spot for the history of EC Comics, and its later successors like Creepy and Eerie in the mid-1960s.

The stories quickly become formulaic and predictable — often a few pages of setup ended with the exact same reveal of a character saying “For you see, I am a ghoul!/vampire!/werewolf!/zombie!” But the art was often phenomenal, with artists like Jack Davis doing incredible black-and-white line work. Reading those helped me better appreciate why series like Swamp Thing were such a big deal: they finally combined longer-form horror storytelling with the kind of highly-stylized artwork that had been overshadowed by super heroes, and brought it all to the mainstream.

It wasn’t until Marvel announced the Moon Knight series that I became aware of the horror-inspired side of the Marvel universe, running in The Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night in particular. It’s fascinating, because while you can trace a direct line from early horror comics through DC’s anthologies all the way up to Swamp Thing; the Marvel side feels like something entirely different. At least with these two series, they’re 100% Marvel super-hero comics that happen to feature a werewolf and a vampire, heavily influenced by the Comics Code Authority and what creators are allowed to show.

Werewolf By Night is the much more interesting one to me, since it is the “no, but”ingest piece of collaborative storytelling I’ve seen since the Star Wars sequels.

Continue reading “Ouhrrr! Werewolves of Malibu”

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Mach 5-String

Two tunes with people playing banjo much, much better than I ever will

I don’t think O Brother, Where Art Thou? is what made me want to learn to play the banjo, but it definitely solidified any vague notion I might’ve had earlier.

I always hated pop country music, and coming from a fairly small city in Georgia, I wanted to resist anybody’s attempts to brand me as a redneck, so I just avoided anything that seemed even vaguely countrified. But bluegrass played well is sublime. Every time I saw Hee-Haw at my grandparents’ house, all I remembered was the corny jokes, and it was only as an adult that I realized how genuinely talented Roy Clark and Buck Owens were.

I got a banjo not long after O Brother came out, but I still haven’t practiced enough to get any good at it. I can play a slow and tortured version of “Cripple Creek,” which I think is the equivalent of claiming you can play the piano because you know “Heart and Soul.” It’s looking less and less likely that I’ll have a free decade or so to get good at all the stuff that I’ve been meaning to get good at over the years, so maybe I need to invest that time into learning to enjoy doing things even if I’m not good at them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who are good at playing the banjo, and they like to show off by playing it extra fast.

One of them is Dave Carroll in Trampled By Turtles, and you can hear him and the rest of the band showing off in “Wait So Long”, which I can’t hear without also hearing my middle school band teacher yelling at us that we were rushing.

But I think my favorite bluegrass performance ever is Alison Krauss & Union Station playing “Choctaw Hayride” live, with Ron Block on banjo and Jerry Douglas on dobro. If you’ve never heard their live double album released in 2003, I encourage you to listen to it as soon as possible. Every song is better than the studio version, the energy of the crowd is fantastic, and their personality and sense of humor come through as much as their obvious talent. Plus they do a performance of “Man of Constant Sorrow” when it was at its most popular.

Dead Meat and A Coward’s Guide to Horror Movies

Recommending an extremely popular YouTube channel that happens to be exactly what I’ve been looking for

It feels odd for me to be recommending a YouTube channel that has 6.5 million subscribers as if I were the first person to discover it. But it’s not the kind of thing that I’d normally recommend, and I only just found it recently, even though it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

The channel is called Dead Meat, and the bulk of the content is the “Kill Count” series, which gives a recap of a horror movie, calling out each time a character is killed, and then tallying them all up (with a pie chart!) at the end.

This is perfect for me, who’s got a fraught relationship with horror movies. I really, deeply want to love them. They’re interesting to pick apart, especially since all of the dynamics are often blatantly playing out across the surface, letting you find as much or as little depth as you want. At the same time, the entire genre is designed to refuse that kind of over-intellectualized analysis. They work best when they bypass all of the critical parts of your brain and go for an immediate reaction. As somebody who overthinks everything, I love watching something like Malignant or Orphan: First Kill, and not “turning off my brain,” but letting it target my brain directly and just enjoy it.

But that’s also why I can’t handle so many of them. I used to just say that I was a coward and leave it at that, but I think there’s actually more to it. When a horror movie clicks with me, I absolutely love it. But there’s a narrow window of tone, subject matter, violence, gore, performance, verisimilitude, and a dozen other aspects that, if a movie veers even a little bit out of the zone, it becomes completely intolerable for me.

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What If… Nothing Was Different?

Thoughts on the new “What If…?” app and other immersive experiences for the Vision Pro, and revisiting some old assumptions about interactive storytelling

Today I went through1Watched? Played? :shudder: Experienced? The lack of useful verbs is still a problem when trying to talk about interactive entertainment the new What If…? app from Marvel and ILM for the Vision Pro. It’s an interesting and extremely well-made mash-up of the animated series, some light minigames, and the “immersive” format that Apple is pushing with the visionOS platform.

I think it’s currently one of the best examples of what the platform is capable of.

People more cynical than me could probably dismiss it as just another VR experience, just like they insisted that the Vision Pro is just a fancy VR headset and Apple doesn’t want you to say that! I still think that the differences are subtle, but significant. You could absolutely bring the What If app to another mixed-reality headset, and you could even bring it to a pure VR headset without losing much. But I believe it would feel like an inferior port.

It’s designed to fit in perfectly with how (I think) Apple is positioning their headset. In particular: it’s a seated, “lean back” experience, feeling more like an animated series with interactive elements than a simplified game with extended cut-scenes. It also uses gesture controls as its only interface, having you grab infinity stones, fling objects around, fire magic bolts, hold shields, and open portals using only your hands. (Tying it into Doctor Strange and having your guide be Sorcerer Supreme Wong was an inspired choice).

Continue reading “What If… Nothing Was Different?”
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    Watched? Played? :shudder: Experienced? The lack of useful verbs is still a problem when trying to talk about interactive entertainment

Literacy 2024: Book 4: Killer, Come Back to Me

A collection of Ray Bradbury’s crime stories

Book
Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury

Synopsis
To commemorate what would have been Bradbury’s 100th birthday, a collection of his stories for pulp crime magazines throughout the 1940s and early 50s

Pros

  • Includes a forward to put the stories into context, as well as an afterword written by Bradbury himself for an earlier-published collection of several of the same stories, with his characteristically clear-headed assessment of his own work (and his work ethic)
  • Thoughtful organization of the stories, so that you can see Bradbury’s unique voice, along with his particular interests, become more and more pronounced over the course of the book
  • Fascinating pair of companion stories, originally published in different pulp magazines, that describe the day of a crime, one from the perspective of the victim, the other in the mind of the criminal
  • Another interesting pair of companion stories bring in Bradbury’s interest in science fiction, exploring two implications of a company called Marionettes, Inc. making lifelike android versions of humans
  • A highlight is a fascinating story of a man’s obsessive need to clean up the scene of a murder he’d committed
  • The stories incorporate Bradbury’s interest in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy-middle-America world-building
  • Once he sheds the pulp formula, the stories become fascinating psychological profiles that remain relatable across decades.

Cons

  • The bulk of the stories are fairly standard pulp fiction until Bradbury’s unique voice becomes apparent — they’re still well-written, but lack the spark of his best work
  • Horror and crime/suspense stories are a good match, but the inclusion of sci-fi stories feels a bit jarring and out of place
  • I would’ve appreciated an explicit date of first publication with each story, so that we could better place it in Bradbury’s overall body of work

Verdict
Interesting for fans of Ray Bradbury, who want to see a side of his writing that’s not quite like the stuff that he’s better known for. In his afterword, he acknowledges that his crime stories are fine, but don’t come from the same passion as his other stories, and they don’t really capture his unique voice. This shouldn’t be anybody’s first exposure to Bradbury’s writing, but it is an excellent demonstration of how the voice and style that we love actually developed.

Way, Way Out

Approaching Pride month with thoughts about identity, politics, and the value of defining your own “normal”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about being gay. I feel like I’d be pretty good at it. Should I give it a shot?

We have fun here but seriously: what prompted this was when I realized several weeks ago that it had been a long time since I’d thought at all about being gay. It’s almost as if once straight people stopped shoving it down our throats, we could go on about living our lives.

I didn’t need to have a bunch of imaginary conversation trees always at the ready. I just mentioned my fiance, so I need to include a gendered pronoun sometime soon to make it clear, but I don’t want it to be so blatant that it sounds like I’m making a coming-out announcement, and if they say “she” or “her” before I get a chance to, I need to make a firm but polite correction and be ready to follow-up with an assurance that it’s fine and I’m not offended. I didn’t need to keep an additional tape loop1On top of the one I already have as an over-thinking introvert, of course of every conversation running in my head, mindful of whether I’d said anything that would “out” me and introduce any awkwardness into the conversation.

Since I’m a white guy living in California, working for a company with explicit policies about diversity and inclusion, it’s all very minor “social lubricant” stuff instead of coming out of any concern for my own safety or job, but it’s still a relief to be able to turn all of it off. It’s like when landscapers have been working outside your office all morning, and it takes a few minutes to register that they’ve stopped. When you get accustomed to constant noise for so long, the silence seems alien.

In fact, the only reason I noticed the quiet was because I went onto social media and immediately saw a bunch of the familiar discourse. One post that stood out was in response to the “controversy”2Scare quotes because I’m never sure just how much of it is genuine controversy vs. social media posturing around displays of leather or fetishes at Pride events. The poster was complaining about “assimilation,” and they used the phrase “ghouls like Pete Buttigieg,” which actually made me laugh out loud.

Don’t get me wrong: I supported Buttigieg in the last election, I still think he’s an excellent and insightful statesman, and I look forward to his taking a prominent role in the Democratic party as it settles into a more youthful centrism. (While a more genuinely progressive party develops outside the DNC). But it cracks me up to think that anyone anywhere would have a strong enough opinion about Pete Buttigieg to call him a “ghoul.”

And I mean, I kind of get it. The whole idea of Pride demonstrations in the first place is to reject the social pressure to be ashamed about not conforming to limiting and old-fashioned ideas of gender/sex/propriety in general. A lot of LGBT people go through a phase of wanting to set a level of conformity they can get away with — I’m okay as long as I’m not like those people — and that’s largely driven by internalized homophobia.

But it’s also exhausting. As somebody who went through a long coming-out process relatively late (in my early 30s); and who would probably be content to settle into a bland, Buttigiegian level of gayness myself, I’ve always felt like I’m being bombarded from multiple sides of conformity. Some people say I’m too gay, others that I’m not gay enough. In my case, it’s rarely explicit, but it occasionally is: I have at times been called both the f-slur and a “self-loathing closet case,” neither time by anybody whose opinion I give a damn about, but enough to stick with me.

For most of my life, it’s felt like having one hand on the “Gayness” dial, carefully scanning the crowd for their reaction as I tune it to exactly the acceptable level. It’s all about external validation, and the pressure of conformity around something that’s supposedly all about self-identification.

It’s still weird to me that anyone would assume I’m straight, since it’s been about twenty years since I stopped trying to hide my orientation. Did you people not see the rainbow flag emoji in my Mastodon profile?! It also feels obvious to me, because every time I see a photo of Women In Love-era Oliver Reed, I turn into a Tex Avery wolf. And I swear, no exaggeration, the other day I saw some production stills of Toshiro Mifune from various points in his career, and I felt light-headed as if I were about to faint. Still, it’s as true now as it was all during my adolescence and my 20s: nobody genuinely cares as much about my orientation as I do.

I absolutely understand that visibility is essential. I’m just concerned that instead of actually promoting self-expression and self-identification, we’re falling into lazy patterns from the past, substituting one brand of conformity for another.

(In retrospect, I think a lot of that pressure is unique to San Francisco, which in addition to all of its great aspects, has its own brand of performative tolerance. The most memorable example to me was when a city councilman was trying to introduce a bill to put the slightest limitations on public nudity, along the lines of “you can be naked, but just put a towel down first.” It was described as having opposition from “the gay community,” even though I couldn’t imagine how being part of the gay community would make me eager to stare down a man’s withered, leathery junk while I’m eating in a restaurant).

Recently I saw a comic from Sarah Shay Mirk titled “Why Did I Think I Was Straight?”, about their experiences identifying as queer and nonbinary. It significantly changed the way that I’ve thought about all of this, the questions of self-identification, visibility, and conformity.

On the topics of bi- and pan-sexuality, and being transgender or genderfluid, I’ve long considered myself an “ally” — for whatever that term is worth — instead of feeling as if I had any genuine place in that community. I’m basically a Kinsey 7, and I’ve never had any real feelings of gender ambiguity, so it would be extremely presumptuous for me to pretend that I know what it’s like for transgender or nonbinary people. But so much of Mirk’s comic felt so familiar to my own experience. It made me appreciate how much self-identification isn’t about finding the box that you fit in, but finding circles of intersecting commonality with other people.

I think I understand the problems inherent in a white guy asserting his right to be As Heteronormative As I Wanna Be. It can come across as Peter Thiel-esque selfishness: I’ve got my own level of comfort, so I can pull up the ladder behind myself, and everybody else can fend for themselves. But after seeing just how much of the persecution of trans people is just a lazy repetition of the same “arguments” that were made against marriage equality and gay rights in general — they’re so lazy, they didn’t even bother to change the playbook — I’m motivated by the opposite. We’ve already fought this battle, and we won it. I’ve finally gotten to see what it’s like to live my life without being constantly othered, and I think everybody deserves the same!

I clearly don’t have the answers to what will stop the political and cultural persecution of trans people. But my hope is that we can put a stop to it without having to turn back progress and fight the same battles all over again. Simply refuse to treat the issue in 2024 as if it were still 2000, as if we’ve learned nothing over the years, and have such short attention spans that we can’t remember we’ve already debunked all those lazy-ass arguments long ago. Stop treating each letter of LGBTQIA as a separate protected class that has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and instead get to the heart of the issue: letting people define their own “normal.”

When I was younger, I adopted the mantra “Being gay is the least interesting thing about me, so why should I be forced into making it a key part of my identity?” That, I believe, was largely driven by internalized homophobia. In the decades since, that’s evolved to: “Being gay is probably still the least interesting thing about me, but it’s still an important part of who I am.” An important part of that is learning not to give a damn whether anybody else thinks I’m doing it wrong, and defending everyone else’s right to do the same for themselves.

A crucial part of Mirk’s comic is that for a lot of “queer” people, everything “queer” about them is their “normal.” Mirk uses the example of being in a society where men didn’t exist, and it never occurred to them that some people (in particular: straight women) wouldn’t find that awesome. The thing I like best about But I’m a Cheerleader (which, again, I wish I’d seen when I was younger) is that it doesn’t even occur to the main character that there’s anything weird or wrong about the thoughts she has about other women. And I’ve regularly heard the claim that “everybody is at least a little bit bisexual,” which sounds like inclusivity on the surface, but is still othering to those of us who aren’t.

Part of the reason I don’t use the word “queer” to describe myself is because I’m only “queer” as defined by other people. To me, it’s all perfectly normal. Didn’t everyone have the same thoughts I did when watching The Empire Strikes Back for the first time? Isn’t everybody else a nerd who defines their own sexual orientation largely in terms of celebrity crushes? It was only after other people started telling me that I was weird or shameful that it even occurred to me that I was different at all. (And many decades later, I gradually discovered that I wasn’t even all that different).

So as Pride Month 2024 starts, I’m hoping we can stay politically conscious. Because for as much as I believe in simply refusing to jump through the hoops that right-wing bigots and opportunists keep setting out for us, it’s clearly going to take some work to ensure equality is legally defended. (Even with marriage equality a “done deal,” it’s still not legally guaranteed as far as I’m aware). But I’m also hoping we can stay socially conscious and acknowledge that self-identification means having the freedom to be as boring and “normal” as we want to be.

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    On top of the one I already have as an over-thinking introvert, of course
  • 2
    Scare quotes because I’m never sure just how much of it is genuine controversy vs. social media posturing

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Follow for Now

Two songs from an Atlanta band that should’ve been much much bigger

These songs were prompted by my finding out about It’s Only Life After All, a new documentary about Indigo Girls, musicians from Atlanta who seem to have found exactly the amount of success that they wanted. (And they deserve it; they’re awesome, and I’m glad to see they’re still finding new listeners with stuff like the Barbie movie).

But that reminded me of Follow For Now, a band from Atlanta who should’ve been so much bigger. I listened to their one album constantly and still have most of it committed to memory. I spent so much of the early 90s driving around Athens and Atlanta blasting it at full volume. In a just universe, they would’ve been as popular as Fishbone.

Their album isn’t available on Apple Music, but I was happy to find a video that I didn’t know existed, for their song “Evil Wheel.”

I’m glad that the video has some live footage, because they were phenomenal in person. I only got to see them live once, and it was as wild as raucous as you’d expect, but also overwhelmingly inclusive. I might be revealing myself to be a white liberal stereotype, but any time I went inside the perimeter in Atlanta, I tried to be hyper-aware of whether I was invading spaces that weren’t meant for me. The crowd at the Follow For Now show (which if I remember correctly was in Little Five Points) basically treated the whole idea as irrelevant.

Which makes sense in retrospect, since there was nothing exclusionary about the band’s content. At the start of this post, I was going to say that they had nothing in common with Indigo Girls apart from Atlanta, but that’s not quite true: they both put an emphasis on socially conscious lyrics and activism.

The highlight of the album is their phenomenal cover of Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero.” If over the next couple of weeks, you happen to see a white-bearded old man driving slowly around Burbank in a mid-sized electric SUV, head-banging as if he were in the mosh pit of an early 90s music video, you know which song is to blame.

Reverse Omens

Vacation mishaps and trying to make sense of what the universe is telling me

I just got back from a long-anticipated vacation, starting with a cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Wish, three days at the Yacht Club resort at Walt Disney World, and culminating in a week-long solitary stay at a vacation apartment in Kissimmee Florida while I recovered from COVID.

If you were thinking about testing positive for COVID the morning of your flight home after a long vacation, I cannot recommend it. It’s absolutely no fun and as an added bonus, is extremely expensive.

As I’ve mentioned on here several times, I love the whole Crescent Lake area near Epcot, and the Yacht and Beach Club hotels are my favorites on Disney property. I’ve been extremely fortunate to get to stay at most of the hotels at Walt Disney World over the years, and while the theming, history, and views around the Polynesian can’t be beat, the Yacht and Beach Club narrowly win out for me due to vibes and convenience. Convenience because you can easily walk or take a pleasant boat ride to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Vibes because they instantly and relentlessly pummel you with the feeling I am having a very nice and relaxing deluxe vacation.

On top of a few memorable vacations with my family, I also got to stay there several times for work. I have a vivid memory of one of those trips, when I’d been feeling a little stressed out and felt it out melt away with one supremely relaxing morning. I got up early, went down to get some coffee and a blueberry muffin — the Yacht and Beach Clubs have the best blueberry muffins on earth — in the Solarium, and then took a short walk around the grounds while it was mostly empty.

There’s a constant loop of easy-listening background music playing quietly around the resort, and one song came on that felt like a wave of peace crashing over me. I later Shazamed it and discovered it’s called “Linwood Road” by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.

It’s a nice piece of music, but more than that, it’s one of those songs where hearing it will immediately take me back to that exact place (just a few feet away from the photograph above) and moment of peace and calm.

Fast forward to my most recent trip, and it was kind of rough going. I’d deliberately scheduled only a couple of days in the parks so as just to get a glimpse of the new stuff without overdoing it. But I found myself getting more irritable and dissatisfied as the heat grew more stifling, all the walking became more and more exhausting, and my “allergies” grew increasingly severe. By the time we got to the Magic Kingdom, I was coughing more often, blowing my nose into napkins, and just generally miserable.

Getting sick in the Magic Kingdom is its own kind of misery, because I’ve got so many good memories tied to the place, and I always think of it as being designed specifically to make me happy. But here I was, trudging around feeling awful and looking forward to nothing more than being home. By the end of the day, I just went to bed early in a nice room in my favorite hotel, confident that I’d feel better in the morning.

I didn’t, and the “I want to go home” feelings intensified until I was on the verge of becoming a 52-year-old man having a full-on meltdown that would rival any toddler’s. I went out for a cigarette — a great addiction to have when you’re fighting a respiratory illness — just thinking about how my favorite place in the world had let me down, and I just wanted to be home.

And as I was standing in the Designated Smoking Area at the hotel, a familiar song came up on the background music. It was “Linwood Road,” instantly taking me back to happier times, a kind of reassurance from the Universe that no matter how bad I felt now, everything was going to be fine. Disney World would still be there waiting for me to come back refreshed and renewed, but for now I was going to be home soon.

Then I got back to the room and tested positive for COVID, and had to cancel my flight and reserve a rental car and condo to isolate in for another week. A condo which, I didn’t know at the time, would be right off the highway in constant view of signs reminding me that I was just minutes away from Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, but couldn’t go in.

My first reaction was The Universe Lied To Me! Sending me a sign that everything was going to be okay, just before pulling the rug out from under me. Then, as the monotonous days wore on, I had a more realistic and mature reaction: there’s no such thing as getting signs from “the universe” or any other equivalent, obviously. I’d spent years wallowing in nostalgia. Instead of having proper gratitude for the people I’d been with and the things I’d been doing all of those years as the source of my happiness, I’d been attributing all of it to a place. A place that would naturally have diminishing returns as I got older and life changed around me. It was time to finally grow up and pay attention to the things that actually matter.

But… here’s an interesting observation: it’s a week later, I’m safely at home, and everything is okay. I’m still waiting for a negative test before I go back to normal, but for the most part, things are returning to the status quo. If the lesson is about gratitude, then I’m more aware than I’ve ever been how uniquely fortunate I am to be able to just hit pause on everything, to spend a week in comfort doing nothing. That’s never been true before — I have to remember all the times that having to change travel plans would’ve been devastating, both financially and for my job.

So maybe The Universe was telling me, using the medium of acoustic guitar-driven light jazz, that everything was going to be fine eventually. And instead of doing anything drastic like adapting a more mature and realistic world view in the face of minor adversity, I could go on being generally optimistic, sentimental about theme parks and hotels, and content to find omens in the most inconsequential things.