Tuesday Tune Twofer: Songs for my Mother

Remembering the early 1970s, and two songs my mother liked to sing when I was a kid.

My friend Chris just commented that his daughter liked a song I’d included in a post, which made me wonder if this blog might be a bad influence on children, which made me think of the songs I remember liking when I was little. I loved ABBA, but the first song I clearly remember loving was “Top of the World” by The Carpenters.

Really, I remember a medley of songs, including “Close to You” and “Sing.” But “On Top of the World” was my favorite, and I still can’t think about it — even the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes version — without thinking of my mother singing it.

She also liked to tell a story over and over — that I don’t remember at all — of my getting out a portable microphone and sitting on a stool and singing “Sing” while crossing my leg and turning to face a non-existent camera, like I’d probably seen somebody do on the Mike Douglas show. In retrospect, I realize that that story, plus my love of ABBA, make it seem like I should’ve recognized some things about myself before I turned 33, but I’ll just say the 70s were a simpler time.

My mother also loved Neil Diamond, and eight times out of ten, you could find her either playing or singing “Sweet Caroline,” “I’m a Believer,” “America,” “Song Sung Blue,” or the one I remember her singing the most often: “Cracklin Rosie.Everybody knows the “Bom! Bom! Bom” from “Sweet Caroline,” but only the true fans could be found walking through the kitchen, seemingly at random, singing “Say it now! Say it now! Say it now!”

Also: that version of “Sing” I linked to above is one I’d never seen before, with Karen Carpenter and a small chorus of children singing the song in Japanese. Which is so rad that I’m going to include it as a unprecedented third song for Tuesday Twofer.

Semi-New Song Sundays: Nada Surf

Nada Surf is new to me but is still making me nostalgic for my college years.

I’ve heard of Nada Surf before, but to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never actually heard any of their songs. “Song for Congress” is from their 2020 album Never Not Together, and even though it’s not at all subtle, it’s pretty nice. Vocals that vaguely remind me of 60s British pop, jangly guitars, and some nice string arrangements: I’ll allow it.

Probably appropriate for a band that formed in the 1990s, this sounds like exactly the kind of music that was ubiquitous in my college years. Or probably more accurately, during my first job immediately after college, listening to Atlanta “alternative” radio on my commute to work. It would’ve played in between Luscious Jackson, Veruca Salt, and the Crash Test Dummies.

I don’t think I’m going to rush out to get one of their records. If I’m being honest, the reason their music sounds so familiar could very well be because I’ve heard them before and found it completely forgettable. But right now, there’s something comforting seeing a guy who’s grayed almost as much as I have, still making music that immediately takes me back to a better time. The biggest difference is back then, a lot of us were fooled into thinking the Clinton Administration had our best interests at heart, so there were fewer somber pop songs about the leadership vacuum.

Another track from their new album is “Something I Should Do”, which is even more the kind of song that seemed to playing constantly somewhere in Athens, sometimes following you from store to store. Based on the older songs I’ve heard, I’m guessing that the spoken-word-verse — which for “alternative rock” seems to date it to the 1990s as much as if they were making Martin references — is a recurring thing with the band. This time it’s about finding unity in a year with so much deep division. It makes me miss the days when bands could be unapologetically earnest, back before a D-list TV host could demand to see a President’s birth certificate and the people who voted him into office would act aghast that you’d insinuate that they’re racist.

Traffic on the M1

Apple’s now selling its first Macs with Apple Silicon, and being an early adopter is slightly harder than it used to be

Yesterday, Apple announced its first lineup of Macs switching to its internally-designed Apple Silicon as it transitions away from Intel. For what it’s worth, I thought the presentation itself was excellent, staying fairly conservative but still showing exactly what developers and Mac devotees needed to see. Some people wanted to see more dramatic redesigns, but I think they needed this first round of machines out so that people can make direct comparisons.1I want everyone to appreciate my restraint in not using the phrase “Apples to Apples.” You’re welcome.

The purpose of this one was to reassure everyone that they were well prepared for the transition and that they’re still committed to the Mac line. My favorite parts were the multiple below-ground six-colored hallways, and the part where a MacBook and Craig Federighi both got turned on instantly. I know that they like treating product announcements like social events for the press, but I wish they’d keep the pandemic format for all their future announcements, because they’ve all been really slick and charming.

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Tuesday Tune Two-fer: Music to Feel Bad To

Today’s theme is feeling gross and going back to bed

I woke up around five am feeling lousy, fitfully slept for a couple more hours and felt even worse, and then over the course of the afternoon felt it turn into a massive headache. I’ve gone back to bed, but I still can’t let an early attempt at blog continuity die so soon.

Thankfully I’ve been having much fewer headaches in 2020 than I did in 20191Turns out allergy medicine does work after all, as long as I take it daily, so I’ve been hearing a lot less of Frank Black’s song in my head. I’ve liked the song ever since I first heard it, and I especially love the video which I somehow don’t remember ever seeing before, but it’s not a great one to have going on a constant loop in your brain when it feels like it’s swollen up and trying to burst through cracks in your skull.

Another video I’d never seen before today is the alternate video to Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song.” Bruno Mars songs already seem catchy but completely empty; I feel like he’s a genius pop musician who could be making incredibly memorable songs (but likely incredibly less money) if he’d team up with a lyricist who aimed for more weight. “The Lazy Song” has always felt twee to the point of being insufferable, probably because I can’t hear it without seeing that stupid video with all the monkey masks. It’s so much better paired with this alternate version, where the meaningless catchiness of the song is paired with Leonard Nimoy just no longer giving a shit.

Speaking of not giving a shit: I’ll try to come up with some better songs next week.

Good Bones

Thoughts on pledging to be better, and giving up on the idea that people are basically good, which was kind of a lousy idea anyway.

There’s been an excellent poem going around the internet over the past week: it’s called Good Bones. It was written by Maggie Smith as a response to the disillusionment and despair many of us felt in 2016. It’s really wonderful, easily my favorite poem containing the phrase “a real shithole.”

I can imagine how it would’ve resonated if I’d seen it in 2016 — an acknowledgement that the world can be a hateful place, but with a faint glimmer of indefatigable hope still left at the end. Now in November of 2020, its tone has shifted. Of course we know that “the world is at least fifty percent terrible,” because we’ve been reminded of it multiple times a day, ceaselessly. The end no longer feels like a faint glimmer but a determined resolve to make it beautiful wherever and however we can.

I’m not just writing about it to unnecessarily over-explain it, though: I just wanted to add a personal note to say I’m grateful for it, not just for bringing a bit of light to the despair of the past week, but for reminding me just how hard my parents and brother worked to shield me from that 50% Terrible for as long as they could. I think they did a pretty amazing job, considering that I almost made it to 50 years old before I finally gave up on the idea that people are basically good.

I don’t think it’s naive to believe that; I just think it’s the product of being blessed enough to live most of your life surrounded by good and kind people. And I don’t believe it’s sad or cynical to abandon the idea, either. If you cling to the belief that people are basically good, then you’re unintentionally undermining all of the hard work that good people do every day. It’s much more inspiring to realize that people are basically neutral, so the heroes that manage to radiate kindness and hope aren’t just staying true to their natures, but are putting in the effort to make things better.

It’s aspirational. I’m feeling exhausted from having to hold onto so much anger, suspicion, and resentment all the time. I’d rather work on repaying all the kindnesses and generosity that people have shown me over the years. This has been such a tough year, and some of the things we’ve all lost and that I’ve lost are gone forever. But instead of concentrating on what’s lost, I’d rather try and help make this place beautiful.

The Mandalorian: Out of Alignment

Middle-aged nerd REACTS to episode 2 of season 2, “The Passenger!”

This is inevitably going to end up a Chris Farley-style review of episode 2, “The Passenger,” because I honestly don’t have a whole lot of insight beyond “Remember when he knocked out those two guys at once with a third guy’s rifle? That was awesome.”

This episode was, as usual, cool as hell, and exactly how you should do televised Star Wars, and it remains the series that I wanted in my childhood but would never have been possible so we live in the greatest time in history, etc. etc. I’m actually a little worried that I’ll get too used to this level of quality week after week, and I’ll start taking it for granted.

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Semi-new Song Sunday: Run the Jewels

New-to-me: Run the Jewels make revolution look like a fun street party

Edited to add: Re-reading this, I noticed I’d carelessly used an idiom without thinking of the implications of it. Instead of silently correcting it, I’d rather draw attention to it as a reminder to be conscious of the connotations of what we write. Below, I wrote that Mike’s speech was about “how far black people have come,” which not only sounds condescending, but also makes it sound as if they were overcoming some internal limitation, or somehow “catching up.” What I should have written was “how much black people have accomplished, even in a system designed to keep them down.”

I’ve tried to get into Run the Jewels a few times, but it never “took” until “Ooh LA LA,” released earlier this year but super-appropriate for watching on repeat over the past week.

The image of dozens (hundreds?) of people dancing in the streets as the excesses of capitalism burn around them may be a little on-the-nose, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome to see.

Speaking of capitalism, that’s been the thing keeping me from getting into Run the Jewels for a while. They just seem like they’re trying way too hard to sell me something. I mean, I know that self-promotion is a huge part of hip hop, but they keep banging the same notes over and over again — the fist and the gun, and yeah we get it, you smoke — so often that it feels more like a commercial than a music video.

The reason I gave them another look is because I respect the hell out of Killer Mike for his heartfelt and reasoned call for peace in response to the protests of the George Floyd murder, at a press conference with his school friend, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. It was inspiring as hell. Not conciliatory, not compromising, vividly angry and disgusted, but reminding us how far black people have come — especially in Atlanta — and reminding everyone to respect the work of generations of people fighting against injustice and to stop tearing down the things that their work had built. After seeing so many white people tsk-tsking and saying “well I don’t see what looting could possibly accomplish,” it was amazing seeing someone calling for peace while still screaming at a system that callously crushes people with no recourse for justice.

I don’t agree with Killer Mike on a lot of political issues, gun control in particular, but those are the kind of political issues about which reasonable adults can disagree. Regardless, I’ve got to respect anybody using his voice and his platform to promote political activism and progressivism. It probably would be a lot easier just to make a fortune making songs about self-promotion.

Like, say, “Call Ticketron” from 2017. There’s not much to it, as far as I can tell, but it’s catchy and it gives Killer Mike a chance to go nuts with the rhymes. Sometimes that’s all you need.

You remember. It’s that thing with the feathers.

Finally seeing Biden/Harris’s victory confirmed is such an odd feeling. I’d almost forgotten what hope felt like.

You can help the effort in Georgia senate races by visiting GASenate.com and checking out the Fair Fight Campaign’s website. Nobody believes these are going to be easy races to win, but we’ve seen that change in Georgia is possible.

The title of this post is from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The photo attached is from an article in The New York Times, which (paraphrased) says that Joe Biden’s unsuccessful campaigns have been him running as a politician, while his victory came when he ran as himself.

That’s easy to overlook, when we’re surrounded by cynicism, skepticism, denial, outright lies, political frustration, performative wokeness, anger, and good old-fashioned pessimism. But it’s really huge. For so long I’ve been wondering how can we possibly be expected to move forward when we’re dragged down by so many irredeemably selfish people? But maybe the one and only thing that everyone can agree on — at least, the people worth caring whether they agree or not — is that we should try to be better and try to do the right thing.

Continue reading “You remember. It’s that thing with the feathers.”

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Duolingo

I’ve been slowly catching on to the fact that this is an entirely different kind of language learning. Altogether.

Can you guess the answer, boys and girls at home?

Last month, I started using Duolingo again. I expected that I’d be very interested for a week or two, and then drop off to never using it, just like I’ve done the past five or six times I’ve tried to use Duolingo.

But this time, it’s stuck. At least, if my 39-day “streak” is to believed.1It’s not. I cheated with a “streak freeze” on multiple days when the stress of election + pandemic + life in general were too much for me to care about learning Japanese.

The difference this time is that a few days into using the app, I got to the point where it started frustrating the hell out of me. I’m using it to learn Japanese, and the first several sections were mostly just a review of stuff I already knew. It was useful as a refresher, since it’s been years since I’ve taken any classes, but it wasn’t much of a challenge. But then — suddenly — it started showing me words and kanji that I’d never seen before. I started failing out of sections, having to “buy” more hearts, or shut the app down until the next day.

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Fool me once

After five years trying to give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt, I think I’m finally done with that nonsense

At the time I’m writing this, the votes are still being counted, but several Democrats I trust are saying that Joe Biden is on track to win the election for President. I’m staying cautiously optimistic, but the truth is that I’m so angry with and disgusted by America that I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’ve been having trouble concentrating on anything today. This shouldn’t have been a close race, at all.

Obviously, getting a sane President in office is necessary for us even to survive, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. But it’s somewhat like hearing you probably won’t die in the next few months, but you’ve still got an inoperable, terminal disease.

Over the past five years, I’ve tried — with wildly varying degrees of success — to stay at least somewhat moderate, and give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt. Vocal Trump supporters could of course piss right off, and good riddance. But I strongly believed that most of the people who voted for him in 2016 weren’t vocal supporters, but had just made a bad choice for any one of a thousand possible reasons.

Continue reading “Fool me once”