Blurry Eyes Ever Again

Forecasting the first round of the NBA playoffs (with Nash Noir diversion)

Western Conference

San Antonio (1) vs. Dallas (8) Dallas may be the lowest seeded team in the west but they can always take comfort in winning the NBA title more recently (2011) than San Antonio (2005). Oddly, Dallas turned over pretty much their whole team - except Dirk Nowitski - in the three years since they won it all. San Antonio has the same veteran core they had nine years ago - Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli. That’s all interesting stuff but what really matters here are three key pieces of data: - the Spurs were 62-20 - the best record in a beastly western conference - the Spurs were 30-11 on the road (next best was Oklahoma City with 25-16) - the Spurs outscored their opponents by 7.7 points per game, highest in the NBA (about one point better than the Thunder and Clippers but three points better than the Heat and Pacers) San Antonio in 5

(Bonus Dirk Nowitzki footage: At the 8:45 mark of this video, Steve Nash - battling injuries and facing the question of retirement - asks his old teammate and pal Dirk “What would you do if you were me? Would you come back?” The path Dirk takes in answering - from his initial anguished smile to the tortured twist his body takes as he tries to find a way out from answering to his glum enumerating of the symptoms to his final “I don’t know if I can do it” at 9:24, - is one paved with the purest kind of honesty, the kind that doesn’t allow one friend to lie to another. Sure, it’s reality TV footage but the look on Steve Nash’s face as he realizes “Fuck! Dirk isn’t saying yes!” proves the tension wasn’t scripted.

I’m sure whoever filmed this scene gave the third guy in the video - a Mavericks equipment manager - a huge off-screen high-five later on for not messing with the Dirk-Steve tension. I’m sure the dude had his own opinion about Nash but he knew to just shut up and watch,

Finally, Steve Nash is an awesome player, one of the most fun players to watch in the last 30 years. I actually think he could come back from the injuries, even at 40. Still, part of me hopes that Nash’s “Finish Line” series of videos become popular enough that someone - SNL, Funny or Die maybe - does a parody of Nash’s surprisingly serious super-intense lone wolf persona. Early in part 4, he finds himself alone on a noirishly artful outdoor basketball court. Though he’s known for unselfishly coaxing excellence from his teammates, he imparts rather convincing wisdom regarding the sheer joy of playing alone and does so with a gravitas that threatens to sink the noir court into middle earth.)

Oklahoma City (2) vs. Memphis (7) First of all, this could have been Seattle vs. Vancouver if those hasty relocations hadn’t happened. (Memphis deserves a team of course but so does the jewel of western Canadia.)

On January 7, the Memphis Grizzlies were 15-19. They finished 50-32, ending the season with 35 wins in their last 48 games. This is better than any other team in the league during that span except the Spurs who were a half-game better.

Also on January 7, the Thunder were 27-8. They finished 59-23, ending the season with 32 wins in their last 47 games. This is impressive as well.

Every molecule I possess is trying to give this one to the Grizzlies. But I keep noticing this Kevin Durant guy and I can’t break serve. It’ll be closer than we think. Oklahoma City in 7

Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State (6) Let’s just enjoy this series. This is as superstar-studded and competitive as any opening round series I can remember. And my memory goes way back, to the days of when Shirley Temple played for the Knicks (a story I’m saving for a slower period than this one). Golden State in 7

Houston (4) vs. Portland (5) The Kevin McHale bill comes due. Portland in 6

Eastern Conference

Indiana (1) vs. Atlanta (8) I am one of many convinced Atlanta is better than their record and match up well against the Pacers. I am one of many convinced Indiana has regressed a little since last season.

But…Atlanta could be 17 games better than their record and still be worse than Indiana. And when I say the Hawks “match up well” I’m really just saying that each team starts the same number of players, 5.

Like the Thunder-Grizzlies series, this one will go longer than we think it should. Indiana in 6

Miami (2) vs. Charlotte (7) Nothing to see here except for one of my favorite Timberwolves ever, the well-meaning bright spot for one of the darker stretches of Minnesota basketball history: Al Jefferson, as automatic an offensive force as there is in this league (except for Lebron, Steph, and the Two Kevins). Notice I said “except for Lebron,” He’s in this series too. Charlotte avoids a sweep when Big Al goes 43-22 in game 4 and Kevin Love punches a wall though it’s not the wall’s fault no one thought it would be fun to put two 6’10” offensive forces with slightly different games in the same frontcourt. Okay, so Rambis did try it. He shouldn’t have given up so soon. Miami in 5

Toronto (3) vs. New Jersey (6) On one side you’ve got: Kyle Lowry. Dwayne Casey. Canada. An underappreciated player, coach, and, pre-Drake at least, nation.

On the other: Jason Kidd doing a coaching job that should be blowing more people’s minds. He put a 15-year veteran wing guy at power forward, a lifetime point guard with diminishing shooting skills at shooting guard, and a guy whose knee once faced the wrong way at some position that they all just invented. And it all worked beautifully. They closed 2013 at 10-21. They rocked 2014 at 34-17. And it was all accomplished with Brook Lopez injured for the year and Kevin Garnett finally becoming just another guy. Oh yeah - Mason Plumle blocked a Lebron James game winning dunk attempt.

What the Raptors accomplished fell within a reasonable range of plausibility. It can continue.

What the Nets accomplished can not be sustained.

Or.

Raptors. 48-34. With a +3.2 point differential. This projects to a record of around 48-34. vs. Nets 44-38. With a -1.0 point differential. This projects to 38-44.

Seems obvious. Toronto in 7.

Chicago (4) vs. Washington (5) Kirk Hinrich is still in the league? Chicago in 6


Great Wikipedia Passages Taken Out of Context #9

From the Bonnie Hunt page:

"A characteristic of the show was Hunt’s over-the-top faux indignation at non-PG language after which she would enjoy the double-entendre drenched material she had pretended to poo-poo."

Just an amazing sentence.

Sure, one might wonder how exactly this would work in practice. I’d assume it would take some time for the indignation to be recognized as over-the-top and faux AND for this behavior to be seen as characteristic of Hunt. By this point, I’d also assume the joke would be seen as repetitive and unfunny.

But it’s not up to the Wikipedia author to prove that this was a successful running bit. That’s up to Bonnie Hunt and/or her writers.

It’s also not up to the Wikipedia author to nail the ending with such deft grace but it sure is a nice thing when it happens.

(Oh? You want to know why I’m on the Bonnie Hunt Wikipedia page at 5 in the morning? That’s hard to explain.)


Accomplishments in April

We’re a week into this thing. So this is what I’ve accomplished:

—Spent far too much time “investigating” whether a local supermarket chain is selling counterfeit Hawaiian Punch (the fruit juicy red flavor of course). The first bottle raised suspicions. The second one made me nearly certain that someone was tearing labels off two-liter bottles of Hi-C or the store’s house brand and replacing them with (hastily bootlegged) labels of the way superior Hawaiian Punch - just in time for the 89 cents per bottle (but only if you buy five!) sale. If I let my paranoia go unchecked, I would have accused them of relabeling flattened no-longer-bubbly Tahitian Treat or Shasta Punch soda as Hawaiian Punch. But I’m not crazy. No one is that evil. Anyway…like I said, I had to buy five of those things to get the discount. So…the third bottle lowered my suspicions. It almost seemed right. But I needed to be sure. The fourth bottle was a standout - perfectly blended, tangy and sweet but not too much of either. This was the Hawaiian Punch I grew up with, the Hawaiian Punch I grew out of, and the Hawaiian Punch I was reunited with during my sugar rekindling of 2009. The fifth one matched the fourth one and I think the local supermarket chain is innocent of shenanigans. I just came across the rare bad batch (or two) and I’ll let it slide. This time.

—Spent far too much time reading detailed analyses of what exactly is troubling the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.The team once seen as having the best shot of stopping two-time defending champ Miami in the playoffs is now viewed as a tragic failure of Shakespearean proportions. Apparently, seven losses in nine games is a red flag. I don’t have a rooting interest in the Pacers. My loyalties rest with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the last time the Wolves made the playoffs, John Kerry was campaigning for president, I was married, and iPods had track wheels. No, what fascinates me about the Pacers mess is that everyone seems to have an idea for what has gone wrong. And everyone seems convinced that all troubles can be traced to the team no longer having the services (due to trade or injury) of some underappreciated player. Considering the Pacers’ starting core from last year (when they reached the semifinals) is intact and considering that their bench was viewed as the NBA’s worst, this seems like faulty logic. Let’s just all agree that if you find yourself convinced that losing Tyler Hansborough (or Gerald Green or C.J. Watson) is what brought down the next great NBA dynasty, you can be convinced of anything. If you are putting in time on ESPN message boards to urge the Pacers to let Chris Copeland play more, you have too much time on your hands and you’re the kind of person who will suggest anything just so we know you’re there. And I’m the kind of person that talks about you so I’m worse. The Pacers were probably overperforming last season and earlier this season. They’re clearly underperforming now. They will almost definitely be better in the playoffs. Can I stop reading now?

—Spent just enough time analyzing critical and fan reaction to the new Hold Steady album, Teeth Dreams. My reaction? Yes. I like it. But…on a related note: If you’re the kind of person that insists that the Hold Steady haven’t been the same since Franz Nicolay left, then… well, I don’t know what to tell you. I like Franz as much as the next person and his is the only Kickstarter campaign to which I have ever contributed. But his deep-in-the-mix keyboards on two of the band’s six albums weren’t exactly the glue that held that band together.

—Discovered once again that there are fewer joys in life greater than unclogging a clogged drain. I have accomplished this feat twice in the past week - on separate drains, each unrelated to the other. I am not joking. It feels good.


Predicting the Sweet 16 After the Fact, featuring bizarre logic, (past and future) disturbing visions, and the Mayor at the Mayo

I didn’t get this posted in time, so you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that all predictions were made ahead of the actual games being played. I will address how prescient I was at the end.

I used to make my annual NCAA basketball predictions before the round of 64. That got to be a bit unwieldy, blog-wise. Thirty-two excuses to write, unedited, about college towns and ex-girlfriends, about shoddy dental clinics and indie rockers, about basketball aesthetics and failed job interviews… well, that’s 24 excuses too many. The easiest way to edit down one’s March Madness is to skip a week.

Sixteen sweet teams, eight games. My thoughts:

South Region:

Dayton (11 seed) vs. Stanford (10) These teams deserve special recognition for causing distress to three of the more insufferable fan bases (and, to a lesser degree, teams) in America. While Dayton did double disappointment duty by upsetting Ohio State and Syracuse, the Stanford Cardinal were the true heroes by beating Kansas.

Of course, I must point out the obvious: Stanford may be the most insufferable university remaining. The certainty that Stanford’s current student body includes future tech millionaires who will, in 40 years, form snarky nostalgic hip-hop cover bands in their spare time (the equivalent of a ’90s finance millionaire forming a blues band) and the relief that we can now turn our focus away from the Kansas team and toward its former players cancel each other out.

Meanwhile, Dayton sending home all that muckety-muck isn’t cancelled out by anything, so Dayton wi… WAIT. I just remembered: One of my best friends from back in my Minneapolis days once dated a girl from Dayton. She wasn’t very nice to him. She could actually be blamed for ruining his life for a few years. I’m going to have to say that the bad of Dayton does cancel out the good.

We’re back to where we started from. Time to go to my tiebreaker: Visualization exercise. I’m picturing some Stanford grads - a few guys getting rich from an app involving foodies, social networking, and thought leaders…then, years later I visualize them in the old Palo Alto “garage” where it all began, trying to narrow down to just one Yeezus track for the retirement party. I can’t look anymore. Dayton wins.

Florida (1) vs. UCLA (4) Florida: You’ve had enough glory. Your team is a bit – just a bit – overrated. UCLA: What I just said about Florida except the glory was when I was an infant. What’s important here is that a UCLA win will cause disappointment to be felt by its arch-rival, USC (not tobe found in any tournament. Also, a win by UCLA head coach Steve Alford will cause USC head coach Andy Enfield (as arrogant and ridiculous as they come) great frustration and shame. (To think: USC interviewed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a former UCLA player) for their head coaching job back in 2009. I was there at the time. I saw him walk across campus flanked by the soon-to-be-disgraced athletic director and the soon-to-retire president. If they had just hired Kareem, they’d be so much more……likable. And if that president hadn’t retired, his replacement wouldn’t have laid me off for no goddamn reason. UCLA wins. Bitterness spent.

West Region:

Wisconsin (2) vs. Baylor (6) Madison, Wisconsin is a lovely city, with idyllic expanses of green, stately and verdant old trees that could tell stories (stories of unionization and revolution), and lakes so vast and eternal Joni Mitchell had to attach a highway to her midsection to get out of town. What Madison does not have is a winning basketball tradition (at least not past the first couple of rounds). Waco, Texas is the opposite, though its winning basketball tradition is centered around the women’s team. I think the Badgers are a bit over-seeded. Is it enough to push Baylor past them? No. This year, Wisconsin wins and Madison flirts a bit longer with the slippery eel that is basketball greatness.

Arizona (1) vs. San Diego State (4) I’ve been to Tucson in the rain. I’ve been to San Diego in the rain. I’ve been to Tucson in the cold dead corpse of winter in the 1980s. I’ve been to San Diego in the cold dead corpse of winter in the 1990s. So far, we have a tie. Okay… reset. Two very good basketball teams. No, one very good team and one great one. Arizona wins.

Midwest Region:

Michigan (2) vs. Tennessee (11) Nine of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament come from three conferences: Three each from the SEC, Big 10, and Pac 12. The AAC (not the ACC) and Big 12 gave us two teams each. And one team made it from the ACC (not the AAC), Mountain West, and Atlantic 10.

The SEC seems to be the true #1 conference and I’d put the Pac 12 right behind it, with the Big 10 at #3. So, applying that logic: Would the #1 team from the #3 conference beat the the #3 team from the #1 conference? (And yes Wisconsin and Michigan State – the Wolverines are better) Hmm, that’s a tough one.

The more I think about it, the SEC and Big 10 might be closer than I thought. So would the #1 team from one conference beat the #3 team from a similarly talented conference? Yes. Michigan wins. This year, the blood does not runneth orange. The club soda is not unbridled.

Louisville (4) vs. Kentucky (8) Rereading my old tournament picks from the early blog years, I’ve discovered that the old me had the unfortunate tendency of really laying on the hatred when discussing certain basketball coaches. The two I found most distasteful? Current Louisville (and former Kentucky) coach Rick Pitino and current Kentucky (and former Memphis) coach John Calipari. Do I have something against Italian Americans? Or maybe just Italian Americans from the northeast plying their trade in the southernly states?

I’d like to think I didn’t have a bias. But when I thought long and hard about why exactly I’d have a problem with Pitino and Calipari, two very good coaches who have each succeeded at multiple jobs and, in Pitino’s case especially, seem well respected by players and coaches alike, I came up empty for reasons to really dislike them. Though they do seem to hate each other.

With this reconsideration, I have released any bias or prejudicial view I have felt about these two coaches. Richard Pitino – son of Rick – being named head coach at my two-time alma mater, the University of Minnesota, prior to this season made my reconsideration a priority. Now, for the game, I’ll go with Kentucky. Both teams are playing at their peak but the Wildcats, with their deep and truly unpredictable bench, have a few surprises that will give them the win.

East Region:

Iowa State (3) vs. Connecticut (7) Iowa State is coached by Fred Hoiberg, who before putting up a nice little NBA career, starred for these same Iowa State Cyclones. Before that, he grew up in Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State. During high school in Ames, Hoiberg starred in football (as a quarterback) and basketball (as the best player for a state champion). Think about that for a second: Do you know anyone else – in any walk of life – that succeeded at a high level while growing up, succeeded again in college in the same town, and then succeeded at a leadership position in that same town, at that same college?

It’s easy to think of a high school star that stayed close to home later in life and failed to recapture past glory. Usually, people stick around because it’s easier – they don’t want to have to start over somewhere else…or they want to enjoy the hometown perks without having to earn them in a new place. These are the kinds of people that Bruce Springsteen writes judgmental songs about. It usually doesn’t go well for them. Fred Hoiberg, on the other hand, put himself in incrementally more challenging situations in the same place and succeeded each time. No wonder they call him “The Mayor” in Ames.

There’s no NBA team in Ames or in Iowa of course. But during his pro run, Hoiberg managed to play for the three teams closest to his Iowa home: the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Minnesota Timberwolves. The second of his three years in Minnesota happened to be the best season in team history, 2003-2004. They made it as far as the western finals, losing to the Lakers in a six-game series. That team, which featured Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell in the starting lineup and Hoiberg as part of a deep bench, was a fascinating one to watch. It didn’t seem quite possible they could have the best regular season record in the league, with the team seemingly put together on the fly, with lots of new players and disparate personalities and changing roles.

Hoiberg seemed about as well liked by teammates and fans as any player I’ve seen. At home games in Minneapolis, there always seemed to be fans driving up from Ames, cheering on their hero. (I wasn’t at these games. I had left Minnesota after grad school in ‘02. My time there coincided with the Stojko Vrankovic/Shane Heal era for the Wolves, which was really the Kevin Garnett era, just like the Fred Hoiberg era was the KG era).

The Mayor played one more season – a difficult 2004-2005, during which everything that went right for the team the previous season went wrong, though Hoiberg’s play was solid as he led the NBA in 3-point percentage. He was then diagnosed with a heart problem that was serious enough to end his playing career. Then came a few years in the Timberwolves front office – a bleak run that pretty much was the opposite of “rebuilding” - and after being passed over for the perpetually open Wolves coaching job, he sought a return to Ames and he’s been nothing but a success coaching is alma mater in his old hometown.

Sure, he’s only been at Iowa State for four years, each season better than the last. There’s plenty of time for something to go wrong for Fred Hoiberg: Maybe a recruiting scandal…or he’ll bolt for a better salary at a prestige school…or he’ll be revealed to be the guy behind Bitcoin…or, worst of all, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his college coach Tim Floyd and take the job at USC, perhaps after being offered an envelope full of cash. But I have a feeling Fred Hoiberg will do the right thing and I won’t have to delete this post, chastened, after his whole charmed life is revealed to be a lie.

I caught exactly one game during Hoiberg’s coaching career - the semifinal of this year’s Big 12 tournament. Iowa State won that game and would go on to win the Big 12 tourney the next day . Actually, I only watched the last few minutes of the game and then the postgame interview Hoiberg. The interview consisted of a few plaudits from the interviewer and a few level-headed and non-incendiary responses from the coach. Then, Hoiberg departed - running toward his celebrating team. At the same time, one of his team’s players approached the interviewer. His turn was next. The coach patted the player’s head - not in a condescending or power-displaying way, but with affection and admiration. It was a touching moment, one that demonstrated that it’s not just his past athletic feats that are appreciated by the people in Ames, Iowa.

One final note before I predict a winner: When Hoiberg’s heart condition was being addressed in the 2005 offseason, he went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for some tests. The test results led to him staying in town for heart surgery. At the same time, I was under the mistaken impression (long story) that pop icon Paul Simon was also getting treated at the Clinic. One thing I wasn’t mistaken about was that I was in Rochester too, visiting family. For some reason, I had a lot of time to…. to…. to think, to imagine….

So… back in 2005… did I imagine Fred Hoiberg and Paul Simon chatting it up in the hospital hallways, each on their own fancy wheeled cart? Yes I did.

Did my imagination include Simon and Hoiberg playing a game of one-on-one, hooked up to IVs of course, in the legendary hospital’s basement basketball gym? Yes.

Does the Mayo Clinic really have a basketball gym? That place is like a city all to itself – if it doesn’t have a gym, it can build one if Fred and Paul ask.

Did I actually envision Hoiberg, blissed out on Norco, playing a few of his vaunted “Iowa folk songs” for Simon in the cafeteria, as a sad and stalking Art Garfunkel crouches under the self-serve beverage counter and curses Hoiberg’s undeniable singing talent? No. I just made up that last one. I’m not crazy.

With my disturbing fantasies of celebrity encounters in midwest hospitals (encounters that couldn’t have happened, considering Paul Simon was nowhere near Olmstead County that week and was actually home on the Upper West Side rubbing Edie Brickell’s belly for inspiration before finally writing the apology letter to the guys from Los Lobos), it’s clear that Fred Hoiberg - and by extension, Iowa State - earns the victory.

(Note: There are only four non-Photoshopped images of Paul Simon and wife Edie Brickell anywhere on the Internet. FOUR. That’s pretty amazing.)

Virginia (1) vs. Michigan State (4) I have a friend that went to Michigan State. I haven’t seen her since 2002 but I tell funny heartwarming stories about her on a regular basis. Virginia, on the other hand, is the source of most of my income. Not the university but a company located in Virginia. And really it’s way on the other state from the school Thomas Jefferson built (or had built, by slaves). So it’s hard to credit the university for that one. Easier to credit Michigan State for my friend. Michigan State wins.

Postscript: I got six out of eight correct. I nailed the Midwest and West, going 2-0 in each region. I went 1-1 in the other two: I was wrong with UCLA and with Iowa State. Do I regret spending half the entire post on Fred Hoiberg and writing exactly one word about the team that beat him, Connecticut (that one word being “Connecticut”)? No. Prediction posts on blogs are written for one purpose: To please the writer. And I am pleased.

I will offer my picks for the remaining rounds, making sure that the teams I didn’t pick lose in the next round: Saturday: Arizona over Wisconsin; Dayton over Florida Sunday: Michigan State over Kentucky; Michigan over Connecticut Final Four: Michigan over Dayton; Arizona over Michigan State Final: Arizona over Michigan

Why Arizona? They’re just a very very very good team, with the best player remaining in the tournament, Nick Johnson.

Postscript to postscript: While scouring the Internet for some Hoiberg photos to accompany this post, I came across these words, from a news story less than 24 hours old:

Did my head explode? No. It’s still here. Still…how did I not know this? Do I need to get back in the loop of auto-refreshing the comment threads on Timberwolves fan sites? No. It’s better this way.


Tour Date Analysis #1: Courtney Barnett Discovers America

Today I’d like to discuss something that’s been on my mind way too much lately: Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett’s 2014 concert tour, specifically the tour dates.

(The #1 in the post title doesn’t necessarily promise - or threaten - any additional obsessive examinations of musician itineraries. You may remember my previous ideas for ongoing blog series - “Great moments in message board / comment thread history” or “Top 100 albums not named Zooropa, one massive post at a time” or “Southern California freeways reimagined as late 1990s narrative fiction” - all of which didn’t quite stick. But I’m keeping my options open.)

(Also, the preceding paragraph is the first of 19 paragraphs that exist entirely between parentheses, which is either an accomplishment or the opposite of one.)

Haven’t heard of, or heard the music of, Courtney Barnett? You should amend that. Here’s Avant Gardener, my second favorite song from 2013 (although really I should have made it #1. It’s not like Vampire Weekend really needed my endorsement).

Courtney Barnett has just completed her first American tour. She had done a handful of shows in New York last fall but this was the first time she traveled to other U.S. cities. For her, I’m sire this was a pretty big deal. She’s been starting to get some recognition in America, impressing just about anyone that listens to her songs of….

(This is where I tried to write a description of her music, attempting to capture what makes it special with incrementally more convoluted sentences with way too many adverb/adjective combos. After 15 failed attempts, I decided to start that last sentence over and just quote Wikipedia.)

She’s been starting to get some recognition in America, with her "witty, rambling lyrics and deadpan singing style."

(Interestingly, though I hadn’t read her Wikipedia page until a few seconds ago, all 15 of my failed attempts to describe her included the words “witty” and “deadpan”; none included “rambling.”)

So, again, the tour was a big deal to Ms. Barnett and her band. Though she hasn’t released a proper album yet, with all of her released music originating from a pair of EPs from 2012 and 2013, her potential for indie rock stardom and critical adoration, whether in Australia, America, or anywhere else, is limitless.

(Yes, I realize that potential, by its very definition, is limitless.)

(Indie rock stardom, by the way, is generally preferable to mainstream rock/pop stardom. It doesn’t pay as well, of course, but it lasts a bit longer. Why not have both, you might ask? Well, it is possible to have both. But not at the same time. For example, at one point in the 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were beloved in the underground punk and funk scenes. They then went after mainstream fame and got plenty of it. But from that moment on, they were denounced by hipsters so thoroughly and cruelly that I feel a bit sorry for them. I don’t feel so sorry for the Chili Peppers that I won’t share the best joke ever told:

)

(Others indie darlings have tried - and failed - to get some mass adoration on the side. David Bowie seemed on the verge with Let’s Dance but couldn’t quite pull it off. Weezer publicly campaigned for this kind of universal acclaim and, though they are now independently wealthy, it apparently is no longer legal in Brooklyn or Portland to own a Weezer record. Not even the blue one. And, most relevant to Courtney Barnett, there is the case of Liz Phair, the greatest witty deadpan singer of them all (and, coincidentally, a woman). When Ms. Phair dared to make a pop record, it actually caused many of her fans to weep openly in the streets during hastily planned candlelight vigils in gentrified neighborhoods across America. A lesson to be learned, for sure.)

So, Courtney, if you’re reading this: I don’t know it’s done in Australia, where up is down and down is up, but in this part of the world, it’s best if you choose one kind of fame or the other, not both. It’s cruel, I know. But not as cruel as the person responsible for your American tour dates.

Before we pass through U.S. customs though, let’s start the analysis with the Courtney Barnett’s brief four-show European stint just prior to coming to America:

February 12: London
February 13: London
February 14: Paris
February 15: London

I know London and Paris aren’t that far apart but you’d think that her concert booker would’ve cut down on the back-and-forth on the ferry or whatever on the eve of the big American tour. Valentine’s Day in Paris is nice but not when you have to sandwich the City of Love bean-patty-for-breakfast-style between two London shows.

(Checking Wikipedia to make sure Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Australia or France….. …. …. Still checking…. Yes and yes. And on the 14th of February no less.)

Though I’m sure they would have preferred a more logical tour schedule, it’s clear Barnett and her band work hard. And the payoff for their labor is that they would follow in the footsteps of their countrymen and women - Mel Gibson, Paul Hogan, Midnight Oil Nicole Kidman, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Little River Band, and Olivia Newton-John - and gain fame in that great land to the…. …. to the west (?), the United States of America.

So, when and where did Courtney Barnett’s U.S. tour commence?

February 18: Chicago

Compared to what’s coming next, having two full days off between the last London show and the one in Chicago is positively luxurious. But really - who starts an American tour in Chicago? Besides Wilco, I mean. If she was coming here from Australia, she could have chosen the west coast as her American entry point. Plenty of flights into LAX and SFO and whatever Seattle calls their airport. With her preceding European shows, an east coast tour opener was more in order. Yet Chicago was chosen. My guess it that whoever booked this tour took Sade’s “coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago” lyric a bit too literally.

Well, maybe the Chicago gig was necessitated by a slate of midwest shows that immediately followed it. That must be it. Let’s see where Courtney and the gang are off to next:

February 19: Washington, DC

Jesus.

I don’t mean to state the obvious but couldn’t a bit of foresight have been used? Maybe looking at a map when planning a rock tour is considered inauthentic but…. how about London, then DC, then on to Chicago? Or maybe something like DC followed by Philadelphia and New York and then points westward?

But you know something? After those first two American shows, Courtney Barnett’s management or booking agent or whatever - maybe it was Ms. Barnett herself - finally set aside the fuck-all grimy rock ethos and pursued a logical geo-path, one that didn’t force the musicians to ricochet all over the place like a rubber cat toy and allowed for the possibility that the gang would return, untraumatized, to Melbourne.

February 20: Philadelphia
February 21: New York, NY
February 22: Brooklyn

Finally: Three shows in three cities, located within close geographical proximity to each other.

(Technically, Brooklyn is part of New York City but and try saying that to anyone from Brooklyn.)

As much as we can celebrate an improvement in geography, we must consider the chronology of the tour. Have you been paying attention to the dates? Courtney and the band have not had a day off since last getting their passports stamped. Five shows in five nights.

Five shows in five nights is no time for the kids to take in America, no time to commiserate with another nation created out of the British Empire’s limitless gumption and its devastating exploitation of others, no time to gloat about how Australia didn’t have to fight a war to be free of the King’s rule.

(Checking Wikipedia to make sure that there was no Australian war of independence from the British…. Still checking…. Well, one could claim that the Australian’s participation in two World Wars is what truly defined it as a nation and led to a clean dissolution of ties to the Empire but considering that Australia and Britain fought on the same side in those wars, I’ll have to allow the speculative imagined gloating by people I’ve never met to stand.)

Why do I care so much about a bunch of presumably energetic youngsters having to slog through five shows lasting between one and two hours over five days (so far)? Do I not have anything else to do? Oh, I do. Believe me, I do. Am I attracted to Ms. Barnett and her nonplussed charm and effective bangs? Of course I am, but that’s not why I’m doing this.

It’s just that performing is not easy. Finding the energy to sing some rather personal songs to rooms full of strangers in a country where February is actually winter and doing so without a break is an arduous undertaking. So many lyrics and guitar chords to remember - and sing and play.

From February 12 to February 22, including her London/Paris gigs, Courtney Barnett played nine shows in four time zones in three sovereign nations, none of which were her own. I’ve been (mostly) un(der)employed since 2011 and I know that working nine out of eleven days would surely lead to me in the fetal position on the floor in front of my TV, cursing the damn cable company for not being okay with my latest “payment arrangements” and being forced to binge-watch all 77 episodes of Community on my iPhone, squinting at the cracked tiny screen, with its many lines of varying lengths suggesting a map of the jagged yet winding county road system of central Bucks County, Pennsylvania, my childhood home, a map Courtney Barnett’s people surely would never consult.

Okay. I’ve made (and remade and remade once and twice again) my point. Let’s move on. Where do we go from Brooklyn? How about Boston? A jaunt into Canadia? A detour to the American South so the Barnett crew can have their Angel of Harlem moment?

(I’m aware Harlem is part of New York City and not in the south. Just try telling that to U2 in 1988. Actually, don’t even bother. B.B. King tried to show Bono a goddamn map but all that did was lead the mick to Johnny Cash’s house. And you know that Johnny always answered the door.)

(Believe me, I tried deleting the entirely unnecessary arcane reference to a terrible U2 song and the accompanying shout-out to the preposterous film it was featured in, with some imagined musical god behavior thrown in. I can only think of two people I’ve ever met in my life who will even get the joke and that’s not to say they would laugh. Yes.I tried to cut it all out. I selected the text and readied it for deletion at least a dozen times. Twice, I actually went through with the deletion, only to command-Z it back to life. In the end, I felt it had to stay.)

Okay, where does the Courtney Barnett tour go after Brooklyn on the 22nd?

Checking Songkick again…. Why, it’s another show in Brooklyn! A nice break from the traveling grind. The show is on the 23rd, right? We know there are no off days for this crew. It’s got to be the next day. Right?

No, it’s a second show on the 22nd?!

February 22: Brooklyn. Again.

Jesus. Two shows in one day! Someone tell her management to cut that shit out. The poor girl isn’t ShaNaNa!

(And you thought my Sade and Angel of Harlem references betrayed my age. HA! I just pulled out ShaNaNa!)

So change that to 10 shows in 11 days in four time zones in three sovereign nations, none of which were her own.

(Research indicates that the first of Barnett’s two February 22 Brooklyn shows was at the Rough Trade record store, with only the second show being one involving an actual venue and tickets that cost money. Does that make it all seem more humane? A little bit. But she still has to get on a stage and perform whether it’s a retail outlet or a dark club. So my thesis holds.)

Breathe, Courtney, breathe. Well, at least the 22nd of February was a Saturday. After such a grueling stretch, Sunday’s got to be a day of rest, right?

Nope. After two shows in Brooklyn on the 22nd, the Barnetts have another on the 23rd. It can’t be too far away though. Could it?

Where is it?

February 23: Los Angeles

Je. Sus. This is just plain sadistic. Courtney’s fellow Australians are livid. Russell Crowe punched a barista. Toni Collette just texted Rachel Griffiths: “We’ve got to help the poor girl.” . The guy from Midnight Oil’s head finally exploded. Nick Cave is rolling in the pretend-grave that he uses for foreplay. Michael Hutchence said…. No…. …. …. Can’t do it. No. It’s not that it’s too soon. It’s just not good enough.

Why why why WHY would anyone think it’s wise to take a young vibrant talented artist, a woman with considerable talent as a singer, songwriter, musician, and performer, and subject her to not only the aforementioned 10 shows in 11 days in three countries but also a cross-country flight spanning a distance far greater than any other between-show trip during the tour, for a show the very next day. A show in the world’s capital of culture, no less.

Is the Courtney Barnett camp trying to save on hotel costs. Someone came up with a plan that looked awesome on paper: Sleep on the plane. Stock up on Airborne, maybe some 5-hour energy drinks, ask the bartenders at the clubs in each town where to find the stronger stuff or at least hit craigslist for it. They did it to save money. But if they’re not careful, the Courtney Barnett enterprise won’t last long enough for there to be a second U.S. tour.

I’ll acknowledge that the three-hour time difference care of the NY-LA trip helped Courtney out a little. Just a little. I have to emphasize again that what she did is really hard work. I used to be a teacher. A teacher of statistics to mostly disinterested college students. This was back in graduate school. Some days I dreaded having to stand up there and explain the admittedly fascinating concepts of hypothesis testing, correlation vs. causation, and confidence intervals. I just didn’t always have the energy. And I only had to teach four 45-minute classes a week, not get up on a stage with a guitar and be clever.

(When it was time to cover the underrated chi-square statistic though, I never needed any motivation. Why everyone doesn’t see the beauty in non-parametric testing is beyond me.)

So really at this point in the tour, Courtney needed days of recuperation, not hours. Just like you, the reader, need a break at this point in the post. A break from me. Hey, how about we watch Courtney Barnett from that February 23 Los Angeles show. Maybe not for the whole 12:56. Let’s just watch a song or two:

Okay so she and the band seem fine. Maybe the sound is a tiny bit more ragged than the studio recordings but that’s true of every rock band. The energy, especially Courtney’s, is impressive. She can apparently handle the tour schedule. So…. She’s superhuman. No - she’s an alien. She’s Batman!

(I should mention here that while these young rockers were bounding across a strange and vast nation, I couldn’t even make the 10-minute trip to the Bootleg Theater in L.A. to see a great new artist that I have been praising enthusiastically for months. I can’t remember exactly what I did on the night of February 23 but it likely involved dismantling an misassembled IKEA bookcase and winning epic Words with Friends games against friends I haven’t seen in years but who live in the next town.)

Should I have just watched that last video before writing 2,600+ words? Clearly, the experience didn’t crush her, at least not physically. Was my first ever tour date analysis unnecessary? I don’t know.

(The last question was rhetorical. Blog posts are pretty much always unnecessary.)

On February 23, Courtney could have just been energized by the realization that her tour would soon be over. Because after that night, there was just one more show - her ninth in just eight American days - this one following a quick 340 mile jaunt up the diagonal coast:

February 24: San Francisco

And it’s over. Finally. Bodies, minds, souls can be restored.

If you look at it all at once, Courtney Barnett’s existence from the 12th to the 24th of February was pretty amazing: 13 days. 12 shows. 4 countries. 4 time zones:

February 12: London
February 13: London
February 14: Paris
February 15: London
February 18: Chicago
February 19: Washington, DC
February 20: Philadelphia
February 21: New York, NY
February 22 (afternoon): Brooklyn
February 22 (evening): Brooklyn
February 23: Los Angeles
February 24: San Francisco

On the flight back to Melbourne, Courtney writes a to-do list. Just some plans for back home:

See my friends
See my family
Check on the garden of course
Sleep
Get lots and lots of sleep
Take walks
Write in my journal
Sleep
Reenergize
Play some tennis
Recapture the desire to sing that damn song about the garden
Write some new songs
Fire manager

That last one assumes she hasn’t done so already. Because it appears that changes have been made to her touring strategy. Her next set of concerts - all in Australia - were spaced well apart like a high level college administrator’s schedule of days he/she actually has to bother working: March 8, 12, 18, and 21.

Those last three shows were as an opening act for Billy Bragg, who, hopefully, took one look at Courtney’s American tour schedule and proceeded to give her some sage fatherly advice about artistic moderation and labour rights. If she can survive her next shows at Coachella in mid-April, she’ll have 37 more shows spread humanely over the next 101 days. That’s more like it, Courts!

(Still, I have to express some concern over the Mar 25 to June 7 portion of the tour: from the UK to France then back to the UK to Spain to Portugal and then back again to the UK. Those damn Euros with their drug festivals! But the U.S./Canada leg is positively logical. And five days off before playing the Varsity in Minneapolis on June 24th is a nice touch. Courtney, may I suggest strolling the many lake-adjacent walkways you’ll find in Minneapolis. The red-winged blackbirds at Lake of the Isles are particularly ubiquitous that time of year.)


Watching the Super Bowl in the dark with 2 cats and trying to decide which team to root for

Let’s break it down:

The Seahawks are coached by former USC coach Pete Carroll…

Which suggests I root for the Broncos. But, Coach Carroll is the former USC coach, much like I am the former USC employee…

Which suggests I root for the Seahawks, who play in Seattle, a city I like…a city that has provided me some good memories. But then again so has Denver…

Which suggests I just enjoy the game and not root for either team. BUT I’ve always been annoyed by Peyton Manning…

Which reinforces that I root for the Seahawks. BUT that recent Sports Illustrated story about Peyton made him seem like a pretty great guy…and a completely weird dude…

Both of which suggest I root for the Broncos. But if we’re judging it all based on “great guy-ness” or “weird dude-ness” wouldn’t Seattle be helped by Marshawn Lynch and his weird Skittles thing and Richard Sherman and his great Compton-to-Stanford-to-the NFL story and great weird dude vibe…

Which suggests I cheer for the Seahawks. But then again, fuck Stanford…

Directing me to the Broncos. But didn’t their legendary QB John Elway go to Stanford too? They cancel each other out…

Which returns me to the Seahawks, whose backup quarterback is the hugely underrated former Vikings QB Tarvaris “T-Jack” Jackson, who I have proven (in a series of bizarre unpublished letters to the editor of a central Minnesota weekly newspaper) to be the greatest player in NFL history and he deserves a ring…

Which proves I should go for the Seahawks.

Granted, it’s the second quarter and Seattle is up 15-0, so I do have that going for me. Plus, I think I just heard a Joanna Newsom song in a Chevy commercial, which is nice.


My 33 favorite songs of 2013, Part 3 of 3, #10 - #1: I Am That I Am

Don’t forget part 1. And part 2.

10. You Got Me Wonderin’ Now – Parquet Courts Here’s one way to describe Parquet Courts:

You know that band from the ’80s that gets way overrated by your current romantic partner’s ex-partner? (Gotta keep the pronouns vague when I use the second person. Could be talking to anyone) Anyway, this is the ex that shows up to all the parties and shows up alone and in the mood to talk. Imagine if that band, beloved by your ex’s ex since their first EP, had held actual merit-based auditions in which talent, guile, lovable resignation, and exactly one article of fringed clothing won out over (admittedly) legendary haircuts.

Here’s one way to describe this song:

Though not a “dance” song, of all the songs played at a 2015 wedding reception by a DJ who is also the groom’s kid brother, this is the song that will be most popular among people that dance to exactly one song.

Before I move on, let me address some comparative statements made in the song’s lyrics:

In verse 1, we learn that “Toothache’s better than heartache.”

In verse 2, we learn that “Seasick’s better than heartsick.”

And in verse 3, we learn that “Sunburn’s better than heartburn (barely).”

I’ll take these in reverse order. Regarding verse 3, I’ll concur that it’s very close. I would have given heartburn the faintest edge, though I can easily accept either one as the winner.

I totally agree with verse 2.

And as far as toothache and heartache are concerned, it depends on: -the persistence of the toothache -the ability of other teeth to carry the load -whether you have dental insurance (and the quality of that insurance if you do)

If I had to pick one, I’d go with toothache because, in extreme cases, you can live without a tooth but not (it’s been said) without a heart. Interestingly, as painful as both of these things are, they can, without any warning, self-heal and never bother you again.

9. That Awful Sound - Jackson Scott I have very little to say here, other than: I like this song a lot.

8. III. Telegraph Avenue (“Oakland” by Lloyd) – Childish Gambino Am I biased because Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) might just be my favorite actor? (He’ll be missed on Community. His performance on the episode when Troy (his character) meets LeVar Burton is absolutely perfect, encapsulating joy, shock, humility, tenderness, and a bit of unhinged madness).

No, he makes this list not because of his acting but because Childish Gambino, once good for the occasional listen and occasional laugh, is not a sonically daring hip hop force to bow down to.

7. Hannah Hunt – Vampire Weekend* Screaming is tricky. Whether the scream is meant to convey anger, frustration, or terror or just to get someone’s attention, it’s not always easy to pull a good scream off.

A story: One time, I was eagerly awaiting a second date with a girl who I won’t reveal other than to say her name is a month. I had two hours to kill in an unfamiliar city before we were to meet for dinner. Anticipation was crawling all over me. Anyway, I walked the busy blocks of a neighborhood I’d never been in before, hoping to find a cafe with some empty space and a place to plug my iPhone 2. You know – listen to some sadcore, jot down some blog list ideas, the usual 2008 idling.

Before I found such a cafe, I saw the very girl whose name is a month walking about 30 feet in front of me. I called her name. But it was a busy street, with the steady rumbling urban roar of late afternoon. And cars and buses, with engines and horns. She didn’t hear me. So I called her name – a month – louder.

Why I didn’t play it cool is beyond me. I wasn’t that young and unworldly. What could possibly be gained by an unexpected meeting two hours before the agreed upon meeting? I should have let her walk away.

I readied myself to call her one last time. This time, in my ridiculous enthusiasm, I screamed that month of a name. It was a wretched scream that skittered down Valencia Street on that San Francisco Saturday.

As I screamed her name, I waved my right hand like the most uncertain man at a confidence auction.

The poor girl looked horrified.

We had met on the internet and then spoke by phone six or seven times before we met. She had complimented me on my phone voice and she seemed to take to my in-person softspeak when we saw that first date mumblecore film. But this…this nasal banshee wail from this confused man she was now pity-staring at, this would not work out. No, not at all.

I tried to save the situation, play it off legit like. But no.

Still, nothing prepared me for her amazing (in retrospect) improvisation. Considering she had texted me no more than 20 minutes earlier to eagerly confirm our quick approaching burrito date, the on-the-fly decision she would make had to have been ideated at the very moment it was spoken. Spoken without pause, spoken all smooth like I wasn’t…she said “Oh I’m glad I saw you. Look, I have to cancel tonight. I’m feeling a little under the weather. I don’t think I should be going out tonight.”

Keep in mind that she says this while she is already out, with the sun about to set on an unseasonably cold October day. She also, to me, looks like the healthiest person alive. She’s a vibrant technicolor pomegranate is what she is.

April then walks away. We are never to see each other again.

So yeah. Screaming effectively is not easy. It’s been six years and I have not even attempted to approach that vocal register since.

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, on the other hand, delivers a perfect scream at the 2:59 point in this song. Now, his scream is not a pleading helpless yawl like mine. It is not a plea for attention. It is not a delivery of rage. It is not a guttural wordless thing. It’s just him delivering some lyrics more emphatically than he has done so up to that point in the song. But his “more emphatically” just so happens to propel his words from quiet to scream-dom.

The fact that the listener isn’t expecting the scream makes it even more powerful. It’s on subsequent listens that the scream – and the song – really resonate. With each listen, the little tensions and poignant conflicts in the first 2:58 take on a deeper meaning.

Before I leave this song, I have two more things to discuss. Sorry. Go ahead and scroll down to #6 if it’s all too much. You need to descend about three screens’ worth of smartphone space or 1.5 computer screens. Still with me? Back to the two more things.

First, Ezra Koenig says he named this song after Hannah Hunt, a college classmate that he did not know very well. He just liked the name. It’s a nice story.

I then learned that Hannah Hunt, who really did go to college with Ezra Koenig, is dating singer Christopher Owens (and sings in her own band, Dominant Legs, which I’ve never heard but: Great name! Also, she does well with Twitter).

I have some questions though: Is the world really that small? Does Hannah Hunt just have this ability to find herself in the company of (current or future) critically lauded indie rock singers? Or is it that the singers are drawn to her, finding her aura impossible to resist? I don’t know but I hope Christopher Owens can take solace in knowing that he ended up with the girl Hannah Hunt, even if his song is 10 spots lower on my list than the song Hannah Hunt.

Second…finally, I must discuss how much this song had to overcome.

Hannah Hunt is preceded on the Modern Vampires of the City album by Diane Young, arguably the worst song ever made by anyone, ever.

If that wasn’t enough to overcome, the first line of Hannah Hunt is “A gardener told me some plants move.”

Let’s skip the veracity of that statement. I want to focus on the “gardener” part of it.

Is there anything less rock and roll than quoting a gardener? Because if you’re quoting a gardener, that means you either have a gardener or interact with people who do.

Now, don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with having a gardener, knowing a gardener, or being a gardener. It’s just that talking about your gardener in a rock song, even if you’re Vampire Weekend and have no problem sharing your Ivy League origin story or championing preppie authenticity, is not an easy thing to do without seeming a bit…assholish. Because, really, the fact that the person being quoted is a gardener isn’t really that important to the lyric.

Sure, you’d expect a gardener to have some insight regarding the ability of plants to move on their own. But I bet other people – botanists, observers of nature, people with private gardens, people who visit public gardens, Peter Sellers – would also possess this knowledge. So, he doesn’t need to say that a gardener told him how plants move.

I realize he might be trying to establish something about the character of the narrator. And I know the song may not be purely autobiographical. But that opening line still comes across a bit entitled. That the song manages to overcome this presumed entitlement, not to mention its proximity to the crappiest crapfest in crapsong history, Diane Young, is impressive.

(Prior to Hannah Hunt and the gardener, the least rock and roll moment in any song I’d heard was on Lifter Puller’s Double Straps, from their 1994 debut album, when a young Craig Finn sang of his college dorm bunk bed and his backpack with the double straps. But mostly the bunk bed, the existence of which is casually mentioned just once but once is enough. Because no one over the age of ten, not even a wide-eyed college freshman eager to tell his diabolical tale, wants to admit he sleeps in a bunk bed. Unlike the wisdom-imparting gardener, the bunk bed was important to the Lifter Puller song, as it established the youthfulness and naivete of a narrator being asked to engage in unfamiliar criminal behavior.)

(We’re not done with gardeners.)

6. Billy – Prefab Sprout I won’t call it a comeback. Because it’s bigger than that. I did not expect such good music from a band that was pretty much my favorite band for a quarter of my life (from, roughly December 1984 to when I had that really bad back problem in early 1995). I did not expect Paddy Macaloon (who is pretty much what we think of when we think of Prefab Sprout) to rise out of the creative fog shrouding his past couple of decades. It seemed too big of a thing to ask. And I wouldn’t ask such a thing – after all, the Sprout have given me so much happiness for so many years.

Then, mid-2013, I heard rumors. Deep in the fifth and sixth pages of comment threads on non-sanctioned Sprout fansites. Rumors of The Devil-Came-A-Calling, a new unreleased Prefab Sprout album, one that people were….PRAISING. Effusively.

So I searched. It took days (the equivalent of years, pre-Internet) but I was able to locate and download all ten tracks. And they were right. This was good stuff.

It was so hard to believe that these songs could just…..appear. And that they could be so damn good. Some said they couldn’t be “new.” That these must be unearthed studio recordings circa 1984 or 1991. But Paddy’s voice told the truth. Over the years, his songwriting diminished but not his voice. He could always sing. But the passing of time allowed his voice to evolve into this rich warm honeyed thing. And the voice on these 10 songs was clearly his new voice. Singing songs that were the best ones he’d written since Moonlighting was a TV show.

Does it matter when the songs were recorded? Or written? Well, as someone who believes in the provenance of “genius,” it can be a bit sad when the genius stays silent for so long or when the quality of someone’s work changes. And I’m well aware that “quality” and “genius” are subjective words, and that one person’s Steel Wheels is another person’s Tattoo You. But…. oh come one you’ve read my shit before – of course it matters!

That said, it doesn’t matter that much and this song – about Billy, a trumpet in the snow, the joy of repetition, Susan, and some other things – would still find a place in my heart and on my list if I learned that it was really recorded in 1985. It just gets a higher place when I find out that Paddy’s still got it and genius, once spent, can be rekindled.

Postscript: In October, the 10 mystery Sprout songs were officially released (in the U.K., at least), with a new title, Crimson / Red, and new artwork, to an enthusiastic reception.

One final note: maybe you know this already but, if not, it’s worth a mention. Paddy Macaloon just gave the world a batch of great new songs while struggling with some very real health problems. This includes an inner ear disease that has, at various times in the past decade, led to vertigo and partial - and sometimes complete - deafness. Which of course can be devastating to a musician. It makes what he’s accomplished even more impressive.

And the beard. The beard.

INTERMISSION Before I get to my top 5 - each of which would have been number one if released in 2012 (sorry Avi) or 2010 (sorry Ron) - let’s give some recognition to some of the best songs not to make this list. We can call them honorable mentions because we’re mentioning them and I suppose there’s some honor in being likable songs that just couldn’t crack the top 33:

There were the daddy songs: Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer by The Dismemberment Plan and Everybody Knows About Daddy by the Happy Jawbone Family Band.

There was Shuggie by Foxygen and (the rereleased 1975 oddity) Wings of Love by Shuggie Otis.

Benny Goodman by Saint Motel. New You (and most of mbv) by My Bloody Valentine.

Everything on Modern Vampire of the City that didn’t make my list…but not that one song.

New Slaves and maybe some others by Kanye West.

Right Words by Franz Ferdinand. Is That Enough by Yo La Tengo (which really should have made the list; sorry guys - you get a picture below, okay?).

Lots of songs on the Childish Gambino, Growlers, Prefab Sprout, and Friedberger albums (though they all got a song on the list).

High School Girl by Cuyacas. Too Dry to Cry by Willis Earl Beal. Monomania by Deerhunter. Some song by Waxahatchee. And, okay, the Haim song.

Back to the real songs.

5. Down, Down the Deep River - Okkervil River I don’t know what happened to that night back in the ’80s. When the authorities and the parents arrive together, it can’t be good. I understand that they were best friends. I realize promises were made, back at an age when promises mean something. A river, a house, friends, a rescue team. A favorite song but the cassette ends before the song does.

An uncle and the uncles friend = “very bad men.” Uh oh. Not alright. Not even close to alright. It was relentless. Injuries. A death perhaps. Authorities called in. Dad calling his son “kid.” Wounds requiring more than bandages. Country roads. Favorite songs taped off radios. Kids being best friends. Houses that shouldn’t be approached, much less entered. Flights of stairs, halls in houses.

Keyboards. A river and a rescue party. A deep river and the worst thing they’ve seen. Dad calling his son “son.” Viper pits. Something in the air. BACKGROUND SINGERS. I don’t know what happened. It was important though. Not alright. Not even close to alright.

It’s safe to say that this is the least spare song ever recorded. It sounds like 12,000 people took part in the recording of this song. But what I take from it, more than anything, are some words buried in the third iteration of the chorus.

"We can never go back. We can only remember."

(You may remember these words as the descriptive tag line for this very blog, once.)

"We can never go back. We can only remember."

That doesn’t stop Will Sheff and Okkervil River from trying anyway.

From going back (but not fully). From remembering (but not everything).

4. Song For Zula - Phosphorescent You thought #5 was intense? This one will not provide any relief.

Matthew Houck introduces us to “love.” At first, it’s the relative safety of that familiar love, from many legendary old songs. Not that love as a “burning ring of fire” is all that gentle and safe of course. Still, it seems more accessible than love using its gnarled hand to disfigure this nice young gentle kind-seeming man, calling him to a cage from which he will not escape.

But the song is not over. Redemption is possible. Maybe love can do better by him.

When he sings “I will not open myself this way again,” you hope it’s not true. Redemption seems less likely. If only he could keep going back to the carefree days of the album cover.

When, in his final words, he sings “I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free,” you know it’s true. He could kill you. There will be no redemption. He’s not getting out of the cage.

You can’t listen again, not for a while.

3. Pink Rabbits - The National When I started my list, this song was not on it. Oh sure, I liked this gentle rollicking reckoning, a showcase for the velour & velvet vocals of Matt Berninger. (The other four guys in The National- talented musicians, all of them, get to take it easy on this song; the instrumentation is so slow and simple, I could do it.)

A few days before Christmas, I heard the song with fresh ears. It all worked for me. In a “holy crap - The National just blew my mind again when I didn’t think they would” way. It soared to the number one spot (of my mind’s list), from Christmas Eve until the third of January.

Then, I had to break the news to Matt and the gang: No number one this year. Sorry. You guys were soooo close. Just like in 2010, when Bloodbuzz could only make it to #2.

Being successful rock stars with Brooklyn mansions, model wives, and creepy-loyal lifespan-level fan bases, The National took the news well.

Back to Pink Rabbits. At first I thought the lyrics were a lengthy first-person narrative, the typical National “knowing sadness half-masked by world-weary armor” story. As is often the case with these guys lyrically, an odd reference (Morrissey’s Bona Drag album, playing for eternity in the pool party of our minds) slips in and an against-type moment of comedy gold (baritone Berninger identifying as “a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park”) becomes the favorite takeaway.

(You’d think if you Google Imaged “crowd of white girls in the park” you’d get some photos of a crowd of white girls in the park. But there are no such pictures on the internet.)

But wait. An interesting pronoun switch alerts us to the possibility that this song is a dialogue. A man relates a memory. A woman (the white girl) gives her perspective. Confidence and vulnerability take turns, on both sides. And we end with a refrain.

That we only hear one voice, pre-refrain, makes interpretation a challenge. There are no different intonations. The girl isn’t breathier than the guy. The guy isn’t more abrupt or morose. It’s all Matt. You might have to take notes to make sense of it all. Or maybe you just want to listen to a lovely slow song about something important to its two principal characters and not stress too much.

Whether you listen, primed to note-take, or you just bliss-out via headphones, please take heed of my favorite element of Pink Rabbits: Matt Berninger breaks his own (seemingly unbreakable) record by singing - without a pause, without a full moment of breath - for two minutes and 55 seconds, breaking the standard he set on The National’s Lemonworld by one second.

Okay, this might not seem like much of a feat: nearly three minutes of constant singing. But I urge you to listen to as many songs as possible, old or new, in any genre. You will discover that this simply is not done. A singer will pause between each line of a verse. If not, the the traditional verse-to-chorus vocal handoff nearly always comes with a pause of at least a full beat. And then there are all the dramatic pauses that singers (especially the British ones) have used since the 1960s (yeah Macaloon – I’m talking to you).

Now, I doubt that Matt Berninger is bypassing vocal pauses for ego reasons, that he can’t bear to imagine a National song that isn’t wall-to-wall himself. The National’s other songs feature plenty of pauses between vocals, more than enough time for a singer to breathe and step away from the microphone. But not this one, at least from 0:18 to 3:13, or two minutes and 55 seconds.

Still, I’d have to say The National’s 2010 song Lemonworld contains the more impressive vocals-without-pause accomplishment, even if it is a second shorter, lasting from 0:22 to 3:16, or two minutes and 54 seconds. It’s a faster, more densely worded song, one in which the narrator doesn’t really know where he’s going next but he gets there anyway, without hesitation. Though the Lemonworld train never derails, the threat of derailing is always there. Pink Rabbits is more a leisurely stroll that goes on much longer than you’d expect.

2. Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett My late-2013 (okay, I’ll admit it, early-2014) discovery of Courtney Barnett made me happy. Her languid tales of early 20s Australian life make me jealous that I wasn’t born two 20 years later, on the other side of the world. Her gift with words (just check out the double pun in the above title) is evident all over the 12 songs on A Sea of Split Peas, her double-EP debut. Her gift with a guitar and mention her band’s lovably shambling coherence are also evident.

This song pretty much blew me away the first time I heard it. The story in the song starts out quaint and cute, as Barnett offers what seems like a fun story of her mundane Monday - her oversleeping, her messy yard, and her helpful neighbor. Then, a health scare, a panic attack maybe, an ambulance ride, and a failed hit off the “asthma puffer” and you just hope she’s okay. But she’s young and smart and that’ll get her out of this mess, you’re pretty sure. Her vocal delivery is the same – deadpan, charming, and warm – whether she’s being wry and clever (as in the first half of the song) or unsure and scared (as in the second half). Rather than cause the listener to take her less seriously, this has the effect of adding richness and context to the entire song.

Now, let me turn attention to Courtney Barnett’s upcoming U.S. tour. Because somebody has to. Poor girl. First time doing a full tour of the states and this is what she’s asked to do:

February 18 Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle
February 19 Washington, DC - DC9
February 20 Philadelphia, PA - Boot & Saddle
February 21 New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
February 22 Brooklyn, NY - Rough Trade
February 23 Los Angeles, CA - Bootleg Bar
February 24 San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Stop

That’s seven shows in seven cities in seven nights.

Three time zones.

Dead of American winter.

Grimy clubs with words like “bottle” and “boot” and “bootleg” and “rough” and “rickshaw” in their names.

But mostly this is about seven shows in seven cities in seven nights.

Okay, let’s say six cities, with the two NY shows providing her a brief respite. But then a cross-country flight, with a show in Los Angeles the very next night. I know, she’ll gain three hours but give this budding troubadour an off-day or two! And starting out in Chicago after, presumably, flying in from Melbourne, doesn’t seem logistically ideal. I’m guessing the Washington-Philly-NY-NY block of shows will eschew a plane for a bus, so whatever advantage their relative proximity offers is limited.

Considering that her breakout song features a first-person panic attack, ambulance ride, and shortness of breath, you’d think her first American tour wouldn’t be designed to crush her.

Anyway, Courtney: On the 23rd of February, when you fly in to LA after your Brooklyn show, you’ll be tired. Very tired. Six hours in the air is not easy. Six hours after five shows in five nights is definitely not easy. If you want, I can pick you up from LAX, take you out to a nice quiet protein-rich breakfast, maybe treat you to a spa package if I can swing a Groupon deal.

1. Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend
We’re 10,000+ words into this list. Time to let the song speak for itself.


Donut Palace

A donut shop in Lakewood
Is almost the same thing
As a motel room in Bridgeport
Or a Burger King in Richfield

That’s Lakewood, California
Motto: Times change; values don’t
That’s Bridgeport, Connecticut
Where loss of hope is palpable
That’s Richfield, Minnesota
Runway loud and pizza proud

It’s all the same thing
Best to hear the birds sing
Wherever you find your heart

02.28.13


My favorite 33 songs of 2013: Part 2, #20 to #11…White Girl, You Shot Me But You’ll Never Know Me

The above photo will make more sense when you get to #11.

2013 may have ended 14 hours ago but its music lives on. At least until the winter release schedule kicks in on the 2nd Tuesday of the month and we can start paying attention to the music we’ll forget about in 12 months. We’ve covered everything to 21. Now it gets real.

20. King Rope – The Cloak Ox

19. My First White Girl – The White Mandingos This is why music is better today than, say, 25 or 30 years ago.

It doesn’t seem at first that this Cloak Ox song has anything to do with the White Mandingos song that follows it on my list. Proggy-anthemic wordy-mystic Minnesota math rock (#20) and super self-aware sociolyptic bigbangboom-bap hip hop (#19) don’t seem to share much space on a musical Venn diagram.

But then I learn Andrew Broder of the Cloak Ox collaborated with (my) musical hero Yoni Wolf of Why? on a 2003 project called Hymie’s Basement.

Why?, loosely connected with the Bay Area’s Anticon hip hop collective would occasionally tour with various elements of the Twin Cities’ Rhymesayers hip hop collective. This was until the typical collective-on-collective petty bickering, heightened as always by forwarded emails, caused all parties to go back to their respective big-city-for-a-college-town college towns to hole up in recording studio apartments hitting refresh until they forgot why.

Murs, the one-named lead singer of White Mandingos, is (was?) part of Rhymesayers, although he hails from far-away Los Angeles, where he went to that one high school off the 10 freeway and Robertson Blvd. Now, I’m not sure if high school is where Murs met the white girl he sings of in the 19th best song of 2013. But it could be. His Caucasian is a sunburnt sweetie with hair of sunrays (hair that smelled like that of a dog when wet). is white girl is the pure-of-pale-heart love of his life, who introduced him to both vegan food and a particular word he’d never heard before (Really Murs, you never heard it? Not even in movies? Not even in passing on the escalator at Fox Hills Mall?)

(Note: Yes, based on the lyrics, “white girl” refers to a person, not a drug. Also, white girls will be making another appearance on the list.)

Murs is (was?) tight with Slug from the band Atmosphere. Slug is the wise Phil Jackson-like respected elder of Minneapolis hip hop. Murs and Slug had their own collaboration called Felt (unrelated to the British band of the same name). Their Felt named an album Rosie Perez, which works for me.

Full circling things, Slug recently appeared on the new podcast (!) series from the aforementioned always brilliant Yoni Wolf. Now, 105 minutes of conversation between two people who aren’t you may seem like overkill but if you make it through the whole thing, you’ll catch references to Broder and Cloak Ox and to the weird feud about nothing between the collectives. Also, Yoni gives tips on making the best stews and Slug indulges in some amazing, if lovable, self-praise (Dude: If you have to say that you succeeded in life because you grew up with a bunch of real true older hardcore OGs who watched your back back in the day, then does it really count?) If you go to Wolf’s podcast page, you may note that Wolf also interviews Andrew Broder. I’d avoid that particular episode, unless you’re a fan of unenthusiastic evasion.

What was my original point? I’ll scroll up so you don’t have to. Oh yeah. I said “This is why music is better today than, say, 25 or 30 years ago.”

(The next paragraph assumes I’m older than you and/or I know more than you about the evolution of music. These assumptions may be way off the mark and, for this, I am sorry.)

You see…25 or 30 years ago, for what was then called art rock (like The Cloak Ox) to have anything to do with what was then called rap (similar to the White Mandingos), action would need to be taken by what was called a Musical Miscegenation Oversight Committee, or MMOC. A typical MMOC would be made up of a few sociologists, no more than two community leaders, Spike Lee, Spike Lee’s sister, Trevor Horn from The Buggles, and Ben Fong-Torres. The MMOC would pore through multimedia submissions sent them by prospective “blender musicians,” who would have responded to a request for proposals (RFP) simultaneously announced in the monthly trade papers of six disparate academic disciplines, as well as on three dozen “safe” telephone poles evenly divided between Oakland, the Boogie Down Bronx, and Madison, Wisconsin.

The “multimedia” that the MMOC would receive was pretty much just Sharpies on posterboards and bare-bones recording on DATs. The best half-dozen or so submissions would proceed to stage 2, at which point the aspirants would first meet face-to-face with the MMOC and, once provisionally approved, would finally be allowed to record the full cross-pollinated versions of their forbidden hybrids in unmarked studios close to the Canadian and Mexican borders (just in case). The recording sessions were remotely monitored (in secret) by Rick Rubin, Ruben Blades, Wesley Snipes, and “Mutt” Lange.

The only known result of this “hush-hush we-better-not-do-this” caution turned out to be the new rock/rap version of Walk This Way from ‘85, which, despite pretty much sounding like what you’d get if Aersomith and Run DMC skillfully but coldly recorded their parts in separate studios, still blew the world’s collective shit.

In other words, the music industry had no reason to be very very afraid of blending two genres deemed to be different. Could they not see that rock and rap each grew from the same source material? Until the cultural detente was fully extinguished (via the 1993 film Judgment Night), it was a trying time for America and the world, musically.

This timidity didn’t destroy all creativity (we still got the late 80s midwest folk revival and we were blessed with Groove is in the Heart, for example) but it definitely stunted the growth of the musical whole.

Back then, the fears of musical experimentation, though born of paranoia and needless orthodoxy, were everywhere. Today, DMC himself can collaborate with Sarah McLachlan. Norah Jones can go Everly with the guy from that one band. Bon Iver can background vocal for Kanye. And Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Phil Collins can find common harmony in the need for the familiar warm belly of Home (the last example is 10 years old but, relative to the dark ages of the Reagan Era, it feels like yesterday). And I can be totally comfortable stretching the tenuous connections of two seemingly opposite artists. And that’s why music is better these days.

18. Are You With Me Now? - Cate Le Bon I have a feeling that Cate Le Bon will continue to be a familiar presence to my ears. She pops in now and then to remind me of her gentle but certain brilliance. Her voice is like no other. Her words are like no other, though they are like the things they describe. Also, the way she says “unfathomable” in the second verse is perfect.

17. Here We Go - Christopher Owens Christopher Owens is me when I was in my 20s. Except I wasn’t a semi-well known singer with a cult following, a cult childhood, rumored “problems” and a girlfriend whose name provides the title for a song that ranks higher than this one on my list. And he wasn’t a Swedish-Egyptian graduate student with a penchant for awkward poetry and difficult conversation. I’ve changed since then. So will Christopher Owens. For now, he captures the beauty of love AND the heartfelt end-of-times pain that often accompanies it. He seems to have realized that the former without the latter is an aspiration that’s either futile or impossible.

16. One Million Lovers - The Growlers I can safely say - more safely than you will ever know - that The Growlers are the only good thing about Orange County. I’m finished making excuses. I’m done allowing exceptions. Nothing is good about that place. Not Brea. Not Laguna. Not the 80s. Not the goddamn Orange Circle. Not the fish tacos. Not the skateboarders and their empty swimming pool fetish. (Certainly) not the retired swingers of Leisure World. Not the art supply store. Not the punk rockers with their homemade hot sauce. Not even Arrested Development. It’s a wretched place. Pray that these talented young men make it out of Dana Point and Costa Mesa some time soon.

15. You’ll Never Know Me – Eleanor Friedberger Two years after her gem of a solo debut (Last Summer) and four years after I discovered the eight years of recorded greatness created by her primary (former?) band Fiery Furnaces, I had a dilemma with Eleanor Friedberger. Was it because she still hasn’t responded to my friend request on Facebook? No, it was because I felt a bit disappointed in her second album, 2013’s Personal Record.

It seemed like just yesterday (+ 4 years) that this kindred spirit straight outta Oak Park was – with her co-head-Furnace and kooky brother Matthew – singing about the _Drive to Dallas _that gave this very blog its name. So why wasn’t I listening to this on repeat and lurking in the bicycle shops of faraway Brooklyn hoping for a glimpse of her hair, with its shades of chestnut and russet potato?

Because I thought I could know Eleanor Friedberger. But who am I to think such folly? I’ll never know her.

I gave the new one a few more listens. I like it now, though it still can’t top Last Summer or any of the Fiery Furnaces stuff. That would be asking a lot. That would be getting too close.

14. It Was My Season – Okkervil River When you listen to the rather lengthy set-up that precedes this song’s rather surprising final moments, you can easily picture the scene. After the not-so-shocking-in-retrospect reveal and the unusually quick exit that follows, you reimagine the scene set by the song. Or maybe you don’t do that. Maybe you re-listen, looking for Sixth Sense clues or Keyser Soze betrayals. You’ll find none because that’s the point. Then, perhaps a bit annoyed by the jaunty piano, you forget about the song until it’s time for your year-end list. So, with fresh ears and a new pair of brown shoes, you listen to Will Sheff’s memory of a memory and you hear more than you expected to hear and you move it up from #31 to #12 and then back down a bit because you forgot about Har Mar and Sweatshirt and you hope whoever reads this listens carefully and all the way to the end because Will Sheff really worked hard on this one.

13. Dance Apocalyptic – Janelle Monae There’s only one artist on this list whose weird and kinda crazy-eyed lunge toward the camera at the end of her Saturday Night Live performance of this song a couple months back ended up – via YouTube and the infinite opportunities afforded me on an idle Sunday afternoon – the lock screen AND home screen image on my iPhone 4S and that one artist is Janelle Monae.

Now, smartphone background screen status is not typically enough to launch someone into my year-end list. And as much as I’m charmed by Ms. Monae’s 47 songs about time-traveling bow tied aliens, moral and physical apocalypses, unrequited suspendered androids, and society, it takes more than ambitious subject matter to get my attention. It takes nothing less than Dance Apocalyptic, a reimagining of the early-80s British new wave swing revival sailors-in-white-hats band Roman Holliday, the reimagining somehow involving Julia Louis-Dreyfus dressing up as Controversy-era Prince and taking a city bus to her prom, because her date got the date wrong. Is she wearing a bow tie? No, but she does have those three missing doughboy hats in her duffel bag.

12. Don’t Lie – Vampire Weekend I will soon write more about this band and their fine album Modern Vampires of the City, which it would be my #1 album of the year if the album was still a relevant format (been saving that super-dated joke for a while now). For now, I’ll just say that this song should get more credit than it does, anchoring the album’s rather astounding song-6-to-song-10 stretch. It’s a fine sincere and direct lament about aging that relies on the underrated power of (mostly) one-syllable words strung together for poetic effect.

11. Lady, You Shot Me – Har Mar Superstar I have a lot to say about this song:

About how I was all set to wow the internet with my detailed retelling of the shooting of Sam Cooke (in a Los Angeles motel lobby, by the motel manager), highlighting both the tragedy and the outlandishness of the event. And then Har Mar Superstar goes and releases a just about perfect song that pays tribute to Cooke, matches the shooting’s actual pathos, and, most chillingly, evokes Cooke’s memorable dying words.

Cooke’s final words, yelled toward Bertha Franklin, the motel manager that had just fired bullets at him (she said it was self-defense and was later acquitted), and preserved as part of the historical record of a strange and tragic incident, might be the most amazing final words ever uttered:

"Lady! You shot me!"

The genius of Cooke’s words are not reduced by his apparent state of mind the night of the shooting (really really drunk), his unique appearance (coat, shirt, shoes, no pants), or his reasons for visiting the South Los Angeles motel (to see a prostitute…who later left their motel room and ran away, apparently with Cooke’s pants. And cash).

How, the shooting occurred on the one day that would rank among the highest in likelihood of being the day I was actually conceived. I can’t really confirm whether it was but if you want to ask my mother, go right ahead.

How Har Mar Superstar’s concept here with those final words is to NOT focus on the horrible reality (she did shoot him) and to NOT focus on the pure comedy gold (my God, the timing that Sam Cooke had! Drunk and pantsless, he still knew exactly how many words - how many syllables - he could get out. And he nailed it). Instead, Har Mar turns it into a big glorious love song that Sam Cooke himself would have sung, a bold shift that honors the great singer.

That the power and the finality of the shot have been removed, reduced to an anecdote and elevated to a revelation of love, is not a compromise. It’s really the only way that Sam Cooke – as pure of a singer there ever was, not to mention an influential man and leader in his time – could have had his final words honored in song.

Now to something less tragic: The HarMar Mall is a sad remnant of a shopping center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The mall is the inspiration for the name that Twin Cities resident Sean Tillman uses as his musical alter ego. Considering that Lady, You Shot Me is my favorite Har Mar Superstar song, you’d figure it would also be my favorite HarMar-related achievement of any kind. Nope. I have a story to tell.

Dig, if you will, a picture: Four young people, teenagers of driving age, each of full or partial Swedish descent, out on a double date. It is a bit unclear who is with whom. I assumed I was with Kaari and Dave was with Sarah. But by the time the late showing of The Falcon and the Snowman in the HarMar Mall had ended, we were really just a four-headed entity huddled and bundled, bounding toward the parking lot and into the coldest night I had ever experienced at that point (minus-15 degrees, with a minus-40 wind chill factor; it would actually get colder a few days later). I was new to Minnesota and it was my first winter there. I had never known such frozen horror.

I had driven the four of us that night, leaving home in my sister’s VW Rabbit (my doomed 1977 AMC Hornet wouldn’t start, wisely remaining dormant for most of that winter). It was one of only a handful of times I had ever driven the Rabbit, its 1980 vintage making me seethe with jealousy.

I was to drive into south Minneapolis to pick up the three city dwellers at their three separate homes. We all worked together at a suburban movie theater that belonged to the same chain as the HarMar cinema, enabling us to see the movie at the HarMar for free. Before venturing into the city, I purchased gas at the Mobil station on Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie, the new mysterious suburb my parents had recently relocated the family to. I added a heavily discounted drive-thru car wash (with forced air dryer) because Minnesota winters can make a car filthy with black snow and road salt residue.

If you find it odd that I’d mention the car wash, you’re very perceptive. Sure, my stories are full of needless details, but mentioning a 1985 car wash on the same day that I saw a movie at the mall that the singer of the #11 song named himself after is pushing it, right? We’ll see.

If you find it odd that I would take such care of my sister’s car, I am in full agreement with you.

The movie was intense and serious and crypto-important, in that 80s way. I can’t say we all liked it but we respected it, resigned as we were to living the rest of the 20th century with Timothy Hutton as the most universally respected and perennially awarded actor in the world.

(Really…what happened to him? One day he’s winning Oscars and getting top billing over Tom Cruise and next thing you know Andrew McCarthy is pilfering his roles, Nick Nolte and Billy Bob Thornton are stealing his women, and he’s got a supporting role on the one dramatic TV series that convinced the A&E network to give up and do reality programming full-time. Maybe, in our desire to ignore Sean Penn, we overrated Timothy Hutton. I just don’t know. Timothy Hutton was poised to be Tom Hanks before Tom Hanks was Tom Hanks. Instead, he became Jonathan Silverman before Jonathan Silverman resigned himself to being Jonathan Silverman. Well, at least Hutton is a freemason these days.)

Everything within the parentheses in the last paragraph came from Wikipedia. Except for the Silverman line. That was all me.

After Falcon + Snowman ended, the four of us found my car in the massive HarMar parking lot. I put the key in the driver side door, turned it, and…no, I didn’t actually turn it. You see, the lock was frozen. The key would not budge in either direction. We tried the passenger door. Same problem. Couldn’t turn it. We tried the hatchback. The key wouldn’t even go in that lock.

Sarah asked me “You didn’t wash your car recently, did you?”

Yes. I did.

“You should never wash your car when it’s this cold. It freezes the locks.”

"But the car wash had a dryer" I pleaded. I could have added that it was the fiercest, most powerful car wash air dryer I had ever encountered. But, feeling the fool, I did not add that.

In my first winter in this coldest of American census-designated areas, I learned something: You can’t mess with 15 below zero.

The four of us stood there, shivering, a bit panicked. I didn’t look forward to calling my parents from a frigid pay phone at 11:30 on a weeknight to drive 20 miles to rescue me. Triple A was but a dream for us minimum-wagers. We thought we should at least go back in the HarMar lobby to warm up but Dave - the longest tenured movie theater employee among the four of us (three years!) - correctly gleaned that the lobby doors would be locked. The final screening of Falcon and the Snowman, interminable as it was, was the last show to end at the six-screen multiplex.

Standing in the cold, Kaari had an idea. Kaari, diminutive and modern-haired, was someone I always considered savvy (the unusual consecutive A’s in her name paralleled the unusual consecutive V’s in savvy). She turned to me: “Can I see your keys?”

I handed her the keys, hoping she could work some sort of magic. She put the keys in the palms of her cupped, gloved hands. She brought her hands to her mouth. She breathed several hot breaths - we could see the breaths of course - into her hands, in an effort to warm the keys.

She put the Rabbit key in the driver’s side door.

She asked “Right or left? If I go the wrong way, it could break.”

"Left."

She went left. The key turned. The door unlocked. The door opened. We all got in. The engine started. The engine roared. The heat kicked in. We drove down Highway 36 blasting Under a Blood Red Sky on cassette.

Sorry, Har Mar Superstar. Your song is awesome but for sheer HarMar-related human achievement, I’ll go with Kaari Soderholm’s January 1985 key breathing.

The night wasn’t over after the movie and the key. Young and ambitious, we chose to eat at the almost brand-new Fuddrucker’s in Bloomington. Despite greatly enjoying huge meaty burgers and the (then-revolutionary) condiment bar, I would not eat at Fuddrucker’s again until this past summer (in Ontario, CA). Sure, 28 years have passed but that restaurant has not changed.

The four of us hung out a few more times that winter and spring, whenever Kaari and Sarah would come back during their first year of college in Iowa. That summer, I think I saw Kaari and Sarah once or twice but Dave had seemingly disappeared. By the fall, we would all lose touch with each other. But the memories, I can assure, you, are fond ones. Fonder than Sam Cooke’s presumed memories of that motel, as I mercifully - and inappropriately - end my story.

(Your eyes do not deceive you: Har Mar Superstar prefers a space between Har and Mar. HarMar Mall does not.)

Soon: The Top Ten, all in one post!


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