Wednesday, January 20, 2010

H is for Here's What I Like

People who get to know me, learn that I am very opinionated about the music industry. I don't mean to be, but I am. Upon learning of my opinionation (a cool word I just invented), they ask something like, "Well, what type of music do you like?" And I never know quite what to say.

I usually say something like indie-folk, but since I don’t even know what that means, I really need to stop doing it. Anyway, I found a clip on Youtube that (in a round about way) answers the question of what I like better than I’m usually able to. The clip below is a CBS news piece about one of my favorite bands, Wilco. Like most things Wilco, this clip went largely unnoticed. I mean, have you ever even heard of this show?

I'm not saying my taste in music is Wilco, but if you pay attention to the approach Wilco takes with their music, you'll find the secret to the type of music I prefer . . . sort of . . .

A wise person once said, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” The answer to what I like isn't "those who work really hard," but those who work really hard are much more likely to create music that means something to me. Those who get record deals and MTV face-time because they have the right "look" (even though they don't have that much experience) are almost always undeserving of any accolades they receive.

In the clip it is noted that Wilco doesn’t have a single “hit”, and yet they have a very devoted fan base (of which I consider myself part of). In a world where most musicians are trying desperately to manufacture an entertaining “hit,” truly gifted artists like Wilco are creating well-crafted tunes that the masses simply miss (both literally and figuratively). And do those artists care? Not in the least.

I’m not saying that Wilco’s lack of hits is proof of their value, or that those with commercially successful songs are of lesser value. But I will say that there is an intrinsic value that comes when musicians write music that isn’t merely designed to impress or entertain others. People who are accustomed to listening to what the radio tells them to listen to oftentimes can’t hear it—at least at the beginning—but that “intrinsic value” is real, and almost all mainstream music lacks it. Trust me, you can like (nay, love) music that at first seems odd to you.

I am not some omniscient music connoisseur, but I can say that when I have strayed from mainstream music I have found art that has become—eventually—my favorite music of all. And Wilco is a great example of that.

For instance, when I first heard Wilco’s album “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” about five years ago, I felt like I had walked into some weird art studio. I didn’t know what to think. Weird, it was, but there was also something else I was hearing (or thought I was hearing) that fascinated me. So I listened again, and again . . . and again. Before I knew it, I loved the album, knowing full well that it was far from the norm. People like Simon Cowell would have berated it (and they did) for lacking enough “hooks” and “pulls” (and other terms that seem better suited for hunting than music). And yet . . .

That same album was recently rated the third most important album of the past decade by Rolling Stone; a truly amazing thing considering the relative anonymity the album had for the entire decade. What’s my point? I’m not exactly sure. I guess I just want people to look outside the mainstream when it comes to music (and almost everything else for that matter). And I want people to understand me when I try to explain for twenty minutes what types of music I like. I still don't know how to answer the question, but I think I'm getting closer. Thanks, Wilco!


Todays recommendation: If you are interested in learning more about Wilco, check out three of my favorite (more moderate) tunes of their's: “I’ll fight,” “Either Way,” and “When the Roses Bloom Again” (a cover)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

G is for Gryffindor House

Some people love Harry Potter, and some people loathe Harry Potter. Some people think it’s a cute story for kids, but not much else. I understand that. For me, it’s simple: At the age of 22, I fell in love with reading all over again because of the Potter books. Pathetic, I admit, but true. I realize that I’m risking my whole blogging career (and general credibility) by even making this post. But the fact that I’m willing to take this risk is yet another reason why I belong in Gryffindor.

Those of you who are familiar with the Harry Potter books know that if you attend Hogwarts School, what house you are sorted to is a huge deal. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the books couldn’t give a care less. Again, I understand that. Regardless of where you stand on HP, it’s worth knowing which house you belong in: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. It’s like a personality test with colors, mascots, and pretend magical history. Beat that, color code!

Like I already said, I belong in Gryffindor. But where do you belong? Below is a brief description of what each house looks for in its members and a list of notable individuals (1. Historical figures, 2. Famous people today, and 3. Fictional characters), and where I think they would go. Feel free to debate my choices. . . . But beware that you risk looking like a complete nerd; and that takes some serious Gryffindor-like courage.

Gryffindor: Values courage, bravery, nerve, and chivalry. Colors: Scarlet and gold. Mascot: Lion.

1. Sophie Scholl: This courageous German girl, and member of the White Rose, stood toe-to-toe with the Nazis and refused to back down from her convictions. I’m so impressed with the courageous Ms. Scholl that I named my first-born after her. Very Hermione-ish.

2. Ron Paul: I don’t want to get too political, but it takes a lot of bravery to ruffle the feathers that Mr. Paul is willing to ruffle. Think Harry when he refused to deny seeing Voldemort.

3. Reepicheep: For those of you who have read “Chronicles,” you understand this selection completely. I’m not sure if they would allow a mouse to join Gryffindor, but since they allowed a rat (Peter Pettigrew) . . .

Others considered: George Washington, Bono, and William Wallace

Hufflepuff: Values hard work, loyalty, tolerance, and fair play. Colors: Canary yellow and midnight black. Mascot: Badger.

1. Mahatma Gandhi: He worked very hard to bring about tolerance and fair play to his homeland of India. Plus, the man made his own clothes (granted, that’s not saying too much considering his often-scant apparel). Making ones own clothes seems very Hufflepuff-ish.

2. Jack Johnson: Assuming his lyrics are a real indication of who he is, I picture this musician kicking it with his fellow Badgers on the beaches of the Hogwarts Lake while strumming his six-string.

3. Samwise Gamgee: Frodo Baggins’ gardener and loyal friend would fit in just fine in Hufflepuff house. And he would definitely join Dumbledore’s Army.

Others considered: William Wilberforce, Rudy, and Luigi

Ravenclaw: Values intelligence, creativity, learning, and wit. Colors: Blue and bronze. Mascot: Eagle.

1. Albert Einstein: Seems to fit. He was really witty in that movie “IQ” with Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins. I also picture Luna having a big crush on him.

2. Conan O’Brien: He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Plus, he wrote for The Simpsons. That’s the genius double-whammy.

3. Andy Dufresne: This Shawshank escaper used a whole lot of ingenuity and smarts to thrive in prison, and then survive outside of it. As they say, this bird wasn’t meant to be caged. . . . I mostly just wanted to somehow incorporate Tim Robbins twice in one section. The odds against me were 1 in 820,000.

Others considered: Benjamin Franklin, Malcom Gladwell, and Will Hunting

Slytherin: Values ambition, cunning, leadership, resourcefulness, and pure wizard blood. Colors: Green and silver. Mascot: Snake.

1. Adolf Hitler: It’s obvious, isn’t it? His “pure-blood” delusion would be at all-time highs in Slytherin. He’s a real-life Voldemort. And yes, I dare say the name.

2. Kobe Bryant: He calls himself Black Mamba (a snake). His father played in the NBA (so he’s a pureblood). He’s very ambitious, resourceful, fancies himself a leader, and is extremely cunning. If Draco Malfoy were an NBA basketball player, I have no trepidation saying that his name would be Kobe. Did I just put Kobe alongside Hitler? Apparently.

3. Skinner: This head chef of Gusteau’s restaurant simply didn’t believe that anyone can be a chef. Remy the rat proved him wrong when he dazzled the famous food critic Antono Ego with the best ratatouille ever made. Are there much better options to choose from? Of course. But I wanted to incorporate courageous rodents twice in one blog post. The odds against me were 1 in 821,000.

Others considered: John Rockefeller, Sean Hannity, and Fernand Mondego


Today’s suggestion: Find out which house you belong in. If you’re not sure, go find an old witch hat and ask it. If you still don’t know, send me an email and I’ll tell you.

Friday, January 8, 2010

F is for Five YouTube Links

(For those of you that told me my posts are too long, I would like to let you know that this post is 630 words shorter than my last. I sometimes forget the attention span of our generation, or lack thereof. And yes, there were a few who complained. Let’s move on.)

We live in a very weird age. Information is as readily available as oxygen. You can be informed about anything with the click of a button in a matter of seconds. And yet, we use that power in an odd way. We know lots of random stuff, but we often are uninformed about seemingly important things. For instance, if I asked the average person why many people question the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve, the following is a fairly likely response. “The federal what? Hey, did you hear Britney Spears kissed a buffalo on the mouth?” We are all very well informed, but only sort of.

I am merely using the Federal Reserve as an example. Everyone hates the IRS and thinks America has screwed up financially, but nobody looks into the institution behind it all. And yet we are all fully aware of a myriad of other things that have no real application in our lives. (By the way, I am not an exception to this. My wife is always claiming my mind is a trap preying on useless trivia. For instance, did you know clownfish can change gender? So can human clowns. I can give you thousands of useless tidbits about sports, music, and various other topics in pop culture, but I don’t even know how a mortgage works.)

I’m not about to change our culture. Somebody once told me that if you can’t change people’s behavior, do what they’re doing. I’m pretty sure the guy who told me that was an idiot. . . . Anyway, if you’re going spend your time looking for random stuff online, here are five links from YouTube I would like to pass along (Just cut and paste the links). After this post, you will be informed on musical wildlife, ways the government uses the color red, the limits of height, Ball State’s sports program, and ways to get rid of those pesky silver dollars you have laying around. Now that’s helpful information!

Ocean by John Butler:

Never mind the fact that Mr. Butler looks like he has spent a little too much time camping out in trees. This Australian knows how to grind his axe, and this song showcases that like no other. I saw him perform this piece a few years ago in a small club in downtown Salt Lake, and the version I saw was even more intense. Not bad for a man who looks like he’s part hippie and part squirrel.

Is The Government Spying On Schizophrenics Enough?:

Here is a wonderful use of irony. This clip (like most things you’ll get from “The Onion”) is downright irreverent, and frankly inappropriate. On a related note, I think this clip is as useful as other similar shows on real news broadcasts.

Vince Carter Olympic Dunk:

Never mind that certain elements of this clip serve as a microcosm for the arrogance and boisterousness of America. This is the all-time coolest dunk in basketball history. The defender is 7 feet 2 inches tall! If you disagree with me about it being the coolest dunk ever, that’s fine—I think your shirt is stupid. I kid, I kid. (Close second:

Boom Goes the Dynamite:

Brian Collins is my hero. If you watch this clip, and don’t think it is funny, invite me over to your house and have me watch it with you. I have never watched this clip without laughing myself to tears (and laughter is contagious).

Gordon Hinckley – Lessons I Learned as a Boy:

Now that we've insulted schizophrenics, exhibited poor foreign relations, and made light of Brian's most embarrassing moment, let's try to end this post on a virtuous note. This short video captures the essence of what makes charity so great. I’m just like the little kid in the story. I am often more inclined to do something juvenile than to look for ways to help others. And yet, every time I serve others, I am thankful for it. If charity were a sports highlight, it would earn the commentary “And boom goes the dynamite.”


Today’s recommendation: Go to the above links. But don’t feel pressured to pass them on to all your friends. Feel obligated.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

E is for ESPN

It’s not a secret that I love sports. Or, as my wife would put it, it’s not a secret that I am obsessed with sports. Put it this way: I love sports. My first word was ball, and I was not referring to a dance. As a child, I played some sport every day, whether it was basketball, football, baseball, tennis, golf, volleyball, ping-pong, or whatever—you get the point.

However, I am built like a hobbit. So, naturally, I never quite made it in any particular sport (but I should point out that I am adequate to mediocre at over thirty-four sports). In my latter years, I have resorted to merely being adequate to mediocre at viewing and analyzing sports. This is where ESPN comes in. I don’t just love sports, I love the sports culture. I love sports news, statistics, sports history, sports trivia, sports personalities, sports psychology, and sports religion. Okay, I made that last one up, but (again) you get the point. ESPN gives me all of those things. It’s sunup to sundown nonstop sports.

(It’s also not a secret that if I was all alone in a vacuum, I would watch ESPN an inordinate amount. However, playing the role of a responsible adult, husband, and father has forced me to limit my viewership of all things sports. But know that when I am able, I’m likely to be watching Sports Center.)

The sun set on 2009 this past week. Did you see that headline? With it passed my single least favorite sports year ever. Let’s try to explain why in one paragraph. My three favorite athletes ever are Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, and (excuse me while I clear my throat) Tiger Woods. This past year, Michael exposed his egomania during his hall of fame speech, Andre exposed in his new book that he wore hair-extensions (not to mention took meth and hates tennis), and Tiger has simply exposed himself to too many people (and lets just leave it at that). My two least favorite sports teams (Lakers and Yankees) both won their respective championships. My two least favorite athletes currently playing (Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez) were the heroes of those championships. The highlights on ESPN for a solid year have felt like some odd horror flick. There are multiple other reasons why last year stunk for me in sports, but (again) you get the point.

Let’s quickly refresh: It’s not a secret that I love sports and ESPN a little too much, and 2009 was a very crappy year for me. Here’s something that is a secret: I’m starting to fall out of love with sports. Well, actually, I’m falling out of love with the sports culture. Why? For one thing, I realized in 2009 more than any other year that sports is a business. And like virtually all big businesses, it is corrupt. At least professional sports are. Even ESPN, the biggest sports news agency in the world, is just a business. They have vested interests. Money drives their programming, sponsorships, and all other corporate relationships. In other words, they’re like all other news organizations. They claim to be unbiased when any reasonable person can see that it is both logically and economically unlikely.

Any reasonable person can also tell you that the BCS is, plain and simple, crooked. And yet nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. It’s essentially athletic mercantilism, and the captains of the BCS are currently holding school presidents and football fans (and basically anyone who loves good entertainment) hostage because they’re “contractually” able to do so. How am I supposed to love college football when it is run by a bunch of crooks? Not to mention: The NFL is chalk-full of cocky hoodlums I wouldn’t trust to watch my daughter for a minute, Baseball is full of cheaters, NASCAR is stupid, Michael Phelps is a pothead, the UFC is barbaric and nasty, and the NBA is headlined by Kobe. Again, you get the point.

Speaking of Kobe, any reasonable person can also tell you that he is arrogant, self-absorbed, conniving, and that he is an admitted rapist (By the way, when I say “reasonable person,” I am referring to myself. Look, this is my blog). However, go turn on ESPN. Watch what happens when Kobe’s name is brought up. He’ll be lauded as one of the greatest human beings to ever walk this earth. Over a decade as a proven lousy teammate, a petty diva, and a morally inept individual hasn’t dissuaded ESPN from turning a blind eye in favor of the now. The same people who told me five years ago that he is just not a good guy are now telling me that he is, in fact, a great guy. Why? Because he has won lots of games (not to mention gotten the benefit of having the undisputed best supporting cast in the entire league and the most successful coach of all time, and the benefit of 99 out of every 100 questionable calls). It’s not that I don’t believe ESPN when they tell me how great he is, it’s just that I can’t help but notice that their ratings go up (and with it their profits) when Kobe and his Lakers are on ESPN.

In all fairness, Kobe’s personal flaws aren’t without company in professional sports. Other than the crooks on capital hill, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more morally destitute majority in any profession than those in sports. Name a crime and I can find a prominent athlete who committed that crime last year. You could make a game show out of it (“I’ll take Arson for 400”). And yet every time I turn on the TV I see a promo for another inspiring true life movie about sports. How is this? The sports culture has become a dichotomy of virtue and vice, a constant highlight reel juxtaposed with both the David who killed Goliath and the David who had an affair with Bath-sheba. But there is still virtue in sports. And it is still very entertaining.

In my opinion, as corrupt as sports culture has become, they are still one of life’s greatest forums for valuable lessons. Lessons of perseverance, heart, integrity, passion, love, teamwork, and all kinds of other words found in self-help books. In other words, as corrupt as the sporting world is, I still love the life lessons that spawn from nearly every single sporting event. I’ve learned that athletes are not the role models, but merely the guinea pigs. Cut and paste any athlete and put them on the court, rink, field, or pitch, and you’re bound to get valuable lessons, and very good entertainment. Horror flick or not, sports are still fun to watch.

That’s how it was in 2009, and that’s how it will be in 2010. But still, I would rather sports not stink so much this time around the sun. As we begin this new year I am optimistic. For one thing, we have the Winter Olympics next month (don’t worry, I’ll write plenty about that when it comes). For another thing, we have the World Cup, which I am inexplicably more excited about than anything else this year in sports multiplied by four. Things are looking up for me.

One last thing. My wife loves New Year’s resolutions. When she asked me what mine were this year, I said that I hate them and didn’t have any. After she gave me a look of disgust, I regretfully resolved to stop disappointing her. And so, to you my faithful blog readers (That’s right, I’m talking to both of you), here is my New Year’s resolution regarding ESPN and sports. I resolve to simply enjoy sports for the value they have to offer, and to do my best to ignore its cultural filth. I resolve to spend a little more time with my family at the expense of sports (Excluding the World Cup, of course). And I resolve to get over my hatred of Kobe Bryant. Hmmm . . . maybe that one can wait until next year.


Today’s recommendation: Play sports. If you don’t have a sport you are actively participating in, find one. Exercising is fun and all, but it is much easier to do when coupled with sports.