Tag Archives: Music

How to Fail at Saving Lives

(Image/timeshighereducation.com)

(Image/timeshighereducation.com)

Follow these 20 steps to do it right.

1.

Have your parents get divorced when you’re young. Before kindergarten works. Ideally, they’ll live in different states, but more important is that you inexplicably take on the responsibility for their feelings, even though you’re five years old. It’s your job to never make your parents feel bad, because you love them exactly the same amount. It’s important that you learn to try to please everyone, even though it’s impossible.

2.

Be nice to everyone at school, but don’t always be kind.

This is more about being accepted socially and not making others feel bad than it is about authenticity.

That means you’re nice to the smelly kid, the gay kid, and the awkward kid with bad acne when you’re near them, but you laugh privately with friends when they make jokes at their expense. If you say anything to defend them, maybe your friends will say: “What are you, a fag?” And you DEFINITELY don’t want to be called one of those. Not only are they different and weird, but God is also super-disappointed in their choices. It says so in the Bible. Jesus made onlookers uncomfortable by conversing with lepers and prostitutes, but you damn sure never saw him interacting with homosexuals, for God’s sake. Besides, those sinners throw footballs like a girl.

For Step 2, courage isn’t about being principled in the face of discomfort. Courage is about acting like a man.

3.

Go to college and have your mind blown that not everyone is like you.

Make friends with black students and think back on times people told you N-word jokes and you laughed, or how adults taught you that once black people start moving into neighborhoods, a bunch of bad things happen, forcing all the white people to move to safer neighborhoods with nicer shopping malls, and without all that jungle music.

Be shocked that people believe different stories about God, but don’t seem evil.

Be so ignorant about other cultures that you mispronounce the Arab Student Union the “A-Rab Student Union” while speaking to the president of the organization while he is trying to foster outreach programs with the student newspaper’s editor after 9/11. Be embarrassed when a friend corrects your offensive pronunciation.

Make friends with gay people and learn they’re not the slightest bit attracted to your dumb, straight, ass.

4.

Start dating your first serious girlfriend. Argue with her about politics and act like she’s stupid for disagreeing with you, even though she’s objectively smarter and better educated than you in every measurable way despite being two years younger.

Tell her during an argument over political issues that have zero impact on your individual lives that you would NEVER marry or have children with someone who thinks like she does. When you break up with her after more than two years together, make sure you do it in the most cowardly way possible.

5.

Meet someone else who agrees with you on more political subjects, even though you pretty much only think and talk about politics every two or four years during major elections. The rest of the time, politics have essentially no impact on your life. But make a big deal out of it anyway. It’s okay if you alienate friends, neighbors, co-workers and family, because everyone who disagrees with you is wrong, and you should probably be around smarter people anyway.

6.

Get married, because that’s what you do after college and stuff. Assume that she will love you like your parents love you. Always and forever — no matter what. It will make you feel better. Make “Never Getting Divorced” your primary life goal, because in your mid-20s, you can better appreciate its impact on your life.

7.

Be shitty at marriage. Not in the obvious ways everyone talks about. In the nuanced and less-obvious ways no one talks about, even though they’re actually why divorce happens. You shouldn’t know you’re shitty at marriage so much as you should be patient and forgiving toward your nagging and emotionally unstable wife who is clearly going off the deep end once again over something minor.

Don’t admit too much fault or responsibility. After all, you wouldn’t want to have your Man Card revoked like some whipped, Nancy-boy pussy.

8.

Get divorced. Let 30 years of whatever unresolved emotional and psychological bullshit you carry around in The Places We Don’t Talk About stab you in every mind- and heart-related orifice possible.

9.

Break.

10.

I don’t mean: Be sad for a little bit. I mean: Feel like you might die to the point where you almost want to just so you don’t have to feel that anymore.

Cry. Like, sob. Struggle to control your heart rate and the strange new panic-like feelings which pop up now and then without warning, even at times like work meetings or parties with friends.

If you think and feel the way you remember thinking and feeling for all of your life leading up to this point, it means you messed up Step 9. Go back and try again.

11.

Start a blog where you tell people about Steps 1-10. Never stop looking for greater understanding of how this all happened. Never stop asking, over and over again: Why?

12.

Have a major breakthrough, realizing that All These Things aren’t unique to you. Some of the details maybe. Like a murder-mystery, action movie, or romantic comedy, the details vary from story to story, but the themes and story arcs tend to all be the same. I’m not the only one.

13.

Even though you’re a guy, women live your story, too.

Even though you’re straight, gay couples have the same fights.

Even though you’re American, people in the U.K., India, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, Russia, the Netherlands, Cambodia and Japan all know EXACTLY what you’re talking about.

Liberal feminists in Oregon get it. Conservative military vets in Florida get it. Black women know exactly how your wife felt just as Middle Eastern men know exactly how you feel.

Despite labelling’s best attempts, you can’t find enough different categories to prevent Truth from setting in: Holy shit. We’re really not as different as I’ve believed all this time.

Millions of reads. Tens of thousands of comments and emails. Over and over and over and over again, confirming: Your story is my story.

14.

Keep looking for root causes. When conditions exist, there’s always a reason WHY. Kids would be great at finding root causes if they didn’t like playing so much more than researching, and if their parents liked truth more than comfort. Realize that Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke pretty much nailed it: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

15.

Because you can’t outsmart yourself, you’ll realize quickly that telling people that THIS is the root cause of nearly every horrible thing that has ever happened or will ever happen is an exercise in futility. Because you yourself thought you were the smartest sonofabitch on Planet Earth, even though you were a stupid, ignorant pothead moron, and you wouldn’t have spent five seconds pondering anything like this.

You yourself thought your wife was wrong and you were right. You yourself thought things like therapy or counseling or any other form of mental health care was for weak-ass bitches, and not smart, healthy and sane people like you.

16.

Hug your little boy in the morning before school and feel sad that you won’t see him later because he doesn’t always come home.

He has two homes now. Maybe he’s feeling responsible for managing your feelings because he loves you the same as his mom.

17.

Drive to work. Hear Disturbed’s powerful and beautiful cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic “The Sound of Silence.”

18.

Realize that Paul Simon was writing about everything you write and talk about on your blog. The song is about “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other,” Art Garfunkel once said in an interview.

19.

Feel the weight and truth punch you in the face.

“And in the naked light I saw, Ten thousand people, maybe more, People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs, That voices never share, And no one dare, Disturb the sound of silence.”

20.

Finally, come to terms with it all.

Today, little children will cry because their parents will divorce, or because they’re watching mommy and daddy scream at and hurt one another.

Hate will be spread.

Insults will be hurled.

Guns will be shot.

Bombs will detonate.

Bullies will bully.

Victims will be victimized.

Public servants will lie.

The hungry will starve.

The sick will not receive medicine.

They will happen. Each one of them. And many other bad things.

Why?

Because it’s inconvenient for people to listen while they hear. Because people want to be right about things which have no answers.

They want that more than they want to get along with someone who looks different or who grew up someplace where people did things differently.

They want it more than anything.

And you’ll get it, too. Because that was you. Caring more about the approval of kids or other adults than your own self-respect. Caring more about it than your wife’s wellbeing and the health of your family. Caring more about it than some strangers being hurt on the other side of the world that you don’t have to see or think about.

But because the Truth is the Truth no matter what, you’ll realize:

My failures in life and right now to communicate effectively are no different than the circumstances which cause virtually all non-illness-related misery in the world.

Every bad thing. From sadness to petty crimes to divorce to hate to murder to war. All of them, rooted in two people or groups who decide their opinions being deemed “correct” matters more than the fallout from their pride and ego.

It’s not hyperbole. It’s really life and death.

And you’ll want to save someone — anyone — with the simple idea.

It’s not HEAR. It’s LISTEN. There’s really a difference. And the difference means EVERYTHING.

Everything in Life that’s wrong is wrong because of that difference.

And you’ll wish it wasn’t true. Because all along, you’ve been part of the problem.

Silence, like a cancer, grows.

But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.

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Are You Paying Attention?

close up of dandelion seeds flower

(Image/Reference.com)

I think about how we treat the people and things that matter most.

The way we “Maybe later, kiddo” our children who want us to play with them, or want to capture our undivided attention while demonstrating something that’s important to them but maybe less so to us.

The way we deliver some snide comment during an argument to the person we profess to love while leaving the house in the morning before work.

The way we are totally oblivious to miracles like electric outlets, light switches, running water, indoor plumbing, safe neighborhoods, the mobile web, stocked pantries, ice cubes, appliances, motor vehicles and on-demand high-definition video.

We take creature comforts for granted until they’re unexpectedly unavailable.

If I’d somehow known one morning that it would be the last time I’d ever see or speak to my wife again, would I even think about saying some shitty thing I don’t really mean before driving off like a huffy prick? Would I even leave her side for a second? On the last day?

How many dismissive “Maybe later, kiddo”s are you dishing out if you know there’s no tomorrow for one or both of you?

Almost everyone is going to be more mindful of their priorities, the things they want to do and say, the people they want to be with, and how they want to be remembered if we all somehow knew: This Is The Last Day.

I don’t mean to be morbid.

But I think it’s obvious that we’re capable of focusing our attention on the things that matter most when we’re painfully motivated to.

And since people die unexpectedly every day, one wonders why we’re all so good at Blissful Unawareness with the frequency we are, but more importantly, with the most precious things in our lives.

Paying attention is hard. I feel ridiculous even typing that. But all I need to do to prove the point is remind you that breathing is just about the most critical and fundamental condition required to be alive, and deep, mindful, intentional breathing is a super-healthy thing to do mentally, physically, and spiritually, and many people know it.

But: When is the last time you were aware of your breathing?

We Have a Vision Problem

Or at least I do.

We have a nasty habit of only valuing things which interest or impress us, while dismissing the things and people who don’t.

My wife was passionate about marching band-related things. And I was a narrow-minded shit eater, so I would poke fun at it, acting as if the marching band high school or college kids’ interests and skills were somehow inferior to those of the football players I was there to watch and which interested me.

I wouldn’t stop there. If I was met with resistance, I’d walk everyone through my “irrefutable” logic about how football programs generate most of the athletic program money for both high schools and colleges, and how millions of people tune in to watch football games on television while not many people tune into marching band shows, even if there were such a thing.

I was right. Right?

You better not be nodding. I was totally NOT right. And even if there was a way to be “right” in an opinion-based argument, why would we exert energy shitting all over something that means so much to the people we love?

I think “Because we’re assholes” comes close to hitting the mark.

Maybe you think playing Pokémon GO, or studying backgammon, or pursuing careers in ballet, or commercial fishing, or comic book stores, or personal training, or music, or golf course design, or alternative health food stores, or laundromats is stupid, and so are all of the people who like those things.

I still accidentally judge things without fully understanding them. I accidentally do it when I’m not paying close enough attention.

We often don’t SEE things as they are.

Like the advanced gymnast or ballerina leaving the avid basketball fan unimpressed, even though the gymnastics feat or the ballet routine might have required more strength, discipline and athleticism than some great basketball play.

I watched Straight Outta Compton for the first time this weekend. It’s the story of how the rap group N.W.A. flipped popular music on its head in the late-1980s with raw, profanity-laced gangster rap that described daily life on the hard streets of Compton, Calif. for hip-hop legends Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.

The movie was awesome if you can handle the graphic language and subject matter. I’m sure many people can’t. And I can understand why nearly 30 years ago, parents who love their children didn’t want them listening to young men lyrically celebrate gang violence while championing gratuitous sex and using worse language than George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay.

How many times have you heard it (almost exclusively from white people)?: “Rap?! That’s not even real music!”

I’ll let musicians debate what is or is not music.

Perhaps a better question is: What is art?

Many people obsessed with Conway Twitty, Iron Maiden and Creedance Clearwater Revival went out of their way to lift up the music they love while tearing down this new thing that sounded, felt, and looked different.

I’m not asking people who love rock and country music to “like” rap music. People are allowed to like whatever they want, which is kind of the entire point.

I am suggesting that I think if we really SAW what these men did and do—mindfully—for what and why and how it was, maybe more of us would respect the artistic genius involved in sampling tracks and writing rhymes. Do the Rascal Flatts really have more talent than Method Man?

This idea of SEEING things as they are—with mindfulness—is important to me, and I think, should be to the world.

People see NASCAR racing on TV and they think it’s easy and boring because it’s just a bunch of people turning left over and over again, and since most of us drive cars, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what a pack of 43 cars looks like with just a couple feet of room to the front, rear, and sides of them while screaming down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour, you really SEE what it is.

People see DJs playing music at a party or night club and they sometimes think it’s easy or unimpressive because it’s just some person playing other people’s music, and since most of us play other people’s music, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what DJ AM could do to mash up musical genres, and transition from a rock track, to a hip-hop track, to an electronic house music track with flawless beat transitions, and making sure the final lyric in the previous song flowed seamlessly into the lyrics of the new song live with real vinyl records with a thousand-person audience, you begin to SEE the talent for what it is.

A lot of us don’t necessarily “like” things, but we grow to appreciate them because of some personal experience we have that helps us achieve perspective.

We don’t necessarily walk away loving poetry slams or the sport of hockey, but when we understand what something’s about—when we SEE them for what they really are—everything changes.

Value and appreciation rise. We treat things better. We enjoy life more because now there’s more to enjoy.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to things, and then life problems emerge.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to people, and then a bunch of things break—like homes and families.

Sometimes I don’t SEE a thing or a person or a situation or a talent or an opportunity or a lesson for what it really is.

I don’t see the miracles, nor respect the talents, nor appreciate the opportunities in front of me, and it’s not because I’m blind, or obtuse, or ungrateful.

If there was only a whisper: Pssst. Pay attention! THIS matters!, I think maybe I’d drop everything for a few extra minutes of laughter and joy with a little boy who’s growing up too fast, or that I would have during my marriage, or that I’d SEE others and their differences and life’s many opportunities as they really are.

But maybe the whispers are already there. Maybe it’s the tuning and listening that’s the problem.

You know—to the people closest to us.

The things that matter most.

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In the Trailer Park with Elise and a Deaf Man

Woman piano player

(Image/Mike Kemp)

I lived in an Iowa trailer park.

Mom always called it a “mobile home,” and fondly remembers it as being “the nicest one in the neighborhood.”

I have no idea whether that’s true. Little kids don’t think about things like that.

I’d sit atop my favorite blanket spread out in the living room and play with my Star Wars and He-Man toys. I was 3 years old.

My mother sat on the bench in front of our upright piano—probably our finest possession—playing beautifully, despite the handicap of having small hands consistent with her short stature.

I’m sure my mother played many things on the piano.

But I only remember one: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, a common choice of beginning pianists. I didn’t know the name of the piece until I was in my 20s. This version is gorgeous:

Near as I can tell, this is my oldest memory.

What are our lives, if not a collection of memories? And if this is my oldest one, what must it be worth?

Save the things we cherish today—right this second—what could be worth more?

I cried and begged my mom not to make me take naps, staring and poking at the bottom of the top bunk which no one ever slept in.

I sobbed when she threw away my blanket because the stitching had come undone on the binding.

I developed anger issues when my parents later divorced and mom moved us 500 miles to Ohio.

But there is no amount of sadness, anger or pain that can erase those moments with mom at the piano.

Everything was—really and truly—okay.

I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, or how to make more money, or whether I’ll ever meet a girl who will like me, and who I like back.

I was just there. Just being. Pure and innocent and totally content.

With my mom who would make it okay. With my dad who would come home from work later and play Star Wars with me.

And with this piece of music. Magic.

Just a footnote on the list of Beethoven’s best work. One he chose not to publish for the final 17 years of his life.

Maybe he thought it was shitty. Maybe he thought it would never matter to anyone.

I wonder what he’d think of that score being an endearing and enduring memory of some random stranger on the other side of the world more than 200 years after writing it.

He probably wouldn’t care.

But I’d like to believe the implications would make him feel good about his impact on the world.

Beethoven is famous for being deaf.

He wrote some of the world’s most influential musical pieces between age 30 and his death at 56, totally unable to hear any of it.

What’s the equivalent of that? A fragrance maker who can’t smell? A photographer who can’t see? A choreographer who can’t walk?

The story of Beethoven’s accomplishments in music following his hearing loss (which happened gradually—he wasn’t completely deaf until around age 30) is the ultimate retort for anyone offering excuses for why they can’t achieve success in their life pursuits.

He was shy. Socially awkward. Ill-tempered. And had, according to various biographies, an “unfortunate physical appearance.”

Women apparently didn’t want to have sex with, or marry, him.

The lonely genius.

So he poured himself into his art, producing many of the world’s most famous symphonies, which are still heard today—more than two centuries later.

A deaf man wrote music that people absolutely adore 200 years later. I don’t have an adjective for how astounding that is.

Even though Beethoven never married, he still had feelings. A love letter he never sent to a married woman named Antonie Brentano was found after his death.

Für Elise is linked to a couple different women, but there’s no direct evidence he was in love with them.

Beethoven’s loneliness is worth contemplating. Here’s a man so famous that every classically educated person on the planet has heard of him. He was admired and beloved while still alive despite being a prickly cock to most in his life.

We all know somebody like that. Except the one we know is a retired electrician or factory worker, and not very many people will remember them after they die because they didn’t leave behind anything of value.

They didn’t leave behind anything beautiful.

Not like this. This ode to Elise.

Beethoven was dead 40 years before ANOTHER guy named Ludwig found Für Elise and published it.

This musical composition is an afterthought.

If any hardcore classical music fans read this, they’ll probably think the score is low-level bullshit compared to Beethoven’s—and his genius German musical predecessors, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—most influential work.

You know how popular albums always have three or four songs everyone knows, surrounded by songs most people have never heard or care to?

It’s super-common for my favorite songs to be among those lesser-known titles. It’s either because I have amazing taste that most plebs could never understand, or because I’m the trailer-park rube who likes crappy things that will never be popular.

Both are possible.

I can listen to Für Elise on repeat for hours, as I have through this entire writing.

I don’t know how the world hears it. Maybe people think it’s silly that I don’t prefer Beethoven’s 5th or 9th symphonies.

Maybe dudes who lived in Iowa trailer parks can’t tell the difference between good and great.

I only know this:

My mother didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 while He-Man was riding Battle Cat, or while Luke was lightsaber-fighting Vader back when the good guys always won.

She didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 back then. Before the whole world changed, and everything went from safe and perfect to something else. To something unsteady.

But mom did play Für Elise 33 years ago, and it was beautiful. And even now, when it’s playing, it’s almost like nothing bad could ever happen.

It’s almost as if everything is going to be okay no matter what.

Maybe because it is.

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The Three Wishes

No wishing for more wishes. Just three.

No wishing for more wishes. Just three.

Everyone has considered it.

Finding that genie lamp.

Three wishes.

“Only” three. Because we’re greedy and we want more. We want to wish for more wishes, but the genie says “No, no, no!”

Just three.

Three wishes to improve your life.

So, you start brainstorming… what do I really want?

Peace. Love. Money. Sex. Fun. Adventure.

What I really want is happiness. Legitimate. Not fake happy. Like alcohol. Like cheap sex. Like drugs. Real happy.

So, if I find the lamp, right here, right now… what do I choose?

My Three Wishes

Wish #1 – $5 million

“Um. Hey Matt! Are you retarded? Why not just ask for $50 million? Or $500 million? Or $10 billion?”

Good questions.

Because I’ve really been hung up on this one. I’ve been thinking about it all morning, because I take my hypothetical nonsense very seriously.

I’ll tell you why not all those bigger numbers. Because I can’t trust that I wouldn’t become a complete asshole with a billion dollars.

As silly as it sounds to non-rich people like me, $5 million is a conservative wish.

Here’s what $5 million does for me.

  1. It eliminates my debt. Whew. That was annoying.
  2. I can put $1 million away for my five-year-old son to accrue interest for the next 20 years before he’s allowed to touch it.
  3. I can put $2 million away for myself to accrue interest for the next 20 years. That’s $7.7 million if I earn 7 percent over that period. I’ll be 55. I’ll be comfortable. But not a rich asshole.
  4. I have time. I have about $1.5 million left over to just live on. I can write. I can travel. I can pursue my individual goals and interests with the freedom of not being chained to a corporate job, and not being a slave to debt.
  5. It’s enough money to eliminate worry. But not enough to make me lazy. It’s enough money to make me more attractive, but not so much that I’d have to worry about a woman only wanting to be with me because of the money. I would still have the drive to pursue my writing interests. No wishing for shortcuts. I’d have the time to write books. Maybe even ones that matter. That someone cared about. But I would have earned it on my own. That would be amazing.

$5 million.

That feels like the right number. Maybe the genie will talk me into $10 million.

“You gotta think about inflation, Matt. You just gotta,” the genie might say.

“Fine, genie. Fine. Make it $10 mil. Whatevs.”

Wish #2 – Musical competence

I want to take my love of writing and my love of music and put them to use creating songs. And if I really understood music and knew how to play instruments and could carry a tune, I might be able to pull that off.

I want to play guitar and piano. I think that’s enough. I can learn other instruments the old-fashioned way, but I’m not afraid to cheat my way to talented musician.

What a gift that would be.

Maybe people would like my music. Maybe they wouldn’t. But I’d love to be able to create it.

This will probably sound really vain. But I would love to make people feel the way I do, when I’m standing in the concert crowd. Just totally moved. Very, very powerful stuff. And if I had an expert understanding of musical composition and the talent to play and sing? Maybe I could pull it off. Regardless, it would be awfully fun to try.

Wish #3 – A no-gamble marriage

And by no-gamble, I mean the genie magically guarantees that when I decide who I want to be with for the rest of my life, that there’s no chance she leaves or ever wants to.

I don’t need a fairytale. With the freedom of having a few million dollars in the bank, and the freedom to pursue my love of writing, cooking and music, and travel anywhere I want, I would have the opportunity to create the fairytale myself.

She’s in it for the long haul. Maybe with the magical stipulation that if I’m an asshole, the spell is broken. No quitting. That doesn’t mean she never gets upset with me. If she didn’t, how would I ever grow?

I just don’t want to invest another five, 10, 20 years in someone only to have it fall apart again.

That will be my biggest fear in this new chapter of my life.

I want to find her myself. I want to earn her love myself. But when she arrives, I’d like to never have that ugly little voice in the back of my head poking and prodding like I know it will.

Maybe she doesn’t like you anymore. Maybe she doesn’t love you anymore. Maybe she doesn’t like having sex with you anymore. Maybe she’s having sex with someone else. Maybe she wants someone else. Maybe she hates you. You’re not good enough.

I could do without that.

That will be the curse of my current wish coming true. Just to meet someone who really matters. The person to share the couch with on Friday night. To sit on the other side of the breakfast table. To at least be open to the idea of being a stepmom to my precious son.

Once that happens, it will be a whole new set of problems.

All that doubt creeping in.

Poisoning my imagination with jealousy and paranoia. Things I never experienced until a couple years ago.

And never want to experience again.

The Really Important Stuff

In the end, we all just want to be happy.

To be happy, we must feel grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Our health. Our opportunity to even be alive. Our various blessings in their various forms.

We must feel physically healthy. Mentally healthy. Emotionally healthy. Spiritually healthy.

I think with money.

And a healing talent like music.

And the love of a beautiful woman—beautiful in all the ways that really matter.

I think I can feel gratitude.

I think I would have the time and money to pursue a supremely healthy lifestyle.

I think I could stave off my demons and find the spiritual peace I need to be the best me possible. The best father possible. The best friend possible. The best husband possible. The best man possible.

I don’t want it handed to me. None of it.

I don’t just want to wish to be a famous musician with millions of dollars and the happiest marriage on the planet.

The journey matters.

Growth matters.

The ability to discover ourselves and mold ourselves into the people we want to be is how we achieve that happiness we all long for.

So, a pile of freedom in the form of financial security?

A talent I don’t, and never will have, without the help of my new genie friend?

The promise of loving without fear? Forever after gift-wrapped for me once I find her?

That sounds like providence to me.

A special thanks to the Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

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How I Survived Tiffany and New Kids Live

Dammit.

Dammit.

The question always puts me in a cold sweat.

“Hey Matt! You’re a big music fan. What was your first concert?”

I silently scream the F-word in my brain every time.

In the past, I’ve declined to answer the question.

I’ve probably lied, too.

Other times, I told the truth and made excuses for it, which is what I’m likely to do here.

Because I went to my first concert in 1988.

I was nine years old.

And I accompanied my two stepsisters, my stepmom and my father—who must have wanted to kill himself every second of the night—to see one of the biggest pop stars of the day. And the biggest pop stars of tomorrow—we just didn’t know it yet.

On the marquee:

“Tiffany

“with special guests

“New Kids on the Block”

I Think We’re Alone Now

And by “we’re,” I really just mean Me, Myself and I.

I am absolutely guilty of liking music that I don’t want people to know I like.

Sometimes it’s cultural. Like not wanting my black friends to know I liked some country music. Or not wanting older people to know I liked hip-hop.

Remember when Michael Bolton (the movie character in Office Space, not the horrible pop singer whose album I once owned) was commuting to work and rapping along with Scarface to the song: “No Tears”?

Yeah, I do things like that all the time.

Like, sometimes I just want to rock out to “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus, or “Misery” by Soul Asylum, or hear Justin Timberlake sing “Mirrors.”

Sometimes I want to hear Josh Groban move me with “Higher Window,” or lose myself to dance with Daft Punk, or release a little anger with Trent Reznor to “Burn” by Nine Inch Nails.

Other times, I want to slow down with Moses Mayfield’s “Element”—one of the most-beautiful songs you’ve never heard.

Sometimes I want to hear Method Man, Eligh + Amplive, or the greatest—Notorious B.I.G.—spit poetry.

And othertimes it’s fishing in the dark with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a piano-laden love song by Gavin DeGraw, or something from The Fray or Needtobreathe to remind me there’s more to life than this.

I don’t want people to hear me rocking out to REO Speedwagon.

Even though Wheels are Turnin’ was my first album when I was six, and I love it, and you can shut up.

What does that say about a person?

A propensity for listening to music and enjoying it, but not wanting others to know about it?

It’s like I’m constantly evaluating what’s cool or not cool for me to be listening to.

The stuff that passes the test can be played loudly in the car. Everything else cannot, unless all the windows are up and I’m cruising down the highway.

I’m going to be 35 years old next month.

At what point do I just need to bravely embrace when I like some random catchy pop song on the radio (which I admittedly don’t often hear) and just own it?

Might the time be now?

My Music Through the Years

I’m a much bigger music fan today than I’ve ever been.

But it has always been a part of me. Maybe not all only children are this way, but even when you have a vibrant social life, you still spend a lot of time alone when you don’t have siblings. And one of the things I chose to do was listen to a lot of music.

The 1980s

My first three albums were REO Speedwagon, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required.

Some of the finest rock music in history was just starting to marinate as all-time classics, and I was cutting my teeth on this stuff.

*shrug*

Toward the end of the decade I fully immersed myself in the glamour rock scene. I was in love with Poison and Def Leppard and Guns n’ Roses and Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, and all the wannabes like Warrant and Skid Row and Motley Crue.

The 1990s

Things like Bel Biv Devoe and Vanilla Ice were happening, but it didn’t take long for grunge to emerge as one of the finest eras in music history.

It’s not for everyone. But it was for me. Nirvana. Alice in Chains. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Stone Temple Pilots.

You could ban me to a life of only listening to those bands, and I wouldn’t even be that mad about it, though I’d certainly miss the hell out of Sublime and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Moreover, unlike the glamour rock days, which I had to hide liking when it wasn’t cool for me to like “Pour Some Sugar on Me” or “Every Rose has its Thorn” anymore, I NEVER had to hide my affinity for this brand of alternative rock. It was cool then. It’s cool now. And it’s been cool every day in between.

Thanks, Seattle.

2000 and beyond

Everything stopped making sense for me musically for the first several years of the 21st century as I immersed myself in bands like Disturbed and relied heavily on grunge, classic rock, and the strong library of the Wu-Tang Clan to get me through. Oh, and Beck. You know, because he’s a genius.

But sometime around 2007, everything started to change.

The internet started to provide music-streaming opportunities previously unavailable. I discovered the magic of both Pandora and California rock stations.

Changed my life.

Silversun Pickups. The Black Keys. The Decemberists.

And too many others to list.

Given the access to artists we all have now, and the sheer number of talented people creating music, I submit that we’re now in the greatest era of music that’s ever been.

Thousands of songs on our phones and mp3 players. Albums spanning five decades of music, in some cases.

Several things get worse as time marches on.

But this music thing? It’s not one of them.

I Saw Him Standing There

That subhead is nonsense.

I’m just committed at this point to using the only two Tiffany songs I remember as transitions.

Truth?

It’s probably my stepsisters’ fault I ended up at a Tiffany show and seeing New Kids before their meteoric rise the following year.

I texted my stepsister this morning to ask her: “What was it that dad gave us as an option instead of the Tiffany concert? It was one or the other, but I can’t remember what we chose Tiffany over.”

She doesn’t remember either.

I texted my dad.

He didn’t remember, but promised to think about it. Sorry dad!

There’s no way dad and I are going to see Tiffany, even when I was a lame second or third grader if I don’t have two stepsisters wanting to go.

But still. Stillllllllllll. We must accept responsibility for our choices, right?

What if dad offered me something awesome?

“Hey Matt! Do you want to go to a Chicago Cubs game, or see Tiffany in concert?”

“Hey Matt! Do you want to go to a PGA golf tournament, or see Tiffany in concert?”

“Hey Matt! Do you want to do anything—ANYTHING AT ALL—that is even semi-cool, or see Tiffany in concert?”

And I chose Tiffany.

My defining memory of the concert?

Joey McIntyre—the runt of NKOTB—singing “Please Don’t Go Girl” in the highest-pitched voice I’d ever heard from a guy. I mean, it made the lead singer for Savage Garden sound like a chain-smoking trucker.

I have my fingers crossed that dad doesn’t remember what the other choice was, because I may never live that down.

Guess I’ll just deal with it like everything else.

Hangin’ tough.

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Good Shit

You know it when you see it. You know it when it's there. Like Michael Jackson "Thriller." Like Farrah Fawcett hair. It's good shit.

You know it when you see it. You know it when it’s there. Like Michael Jackson “Thriller.” Like Farrah Fawcett hair. It’s good shit.

You might think I lack self-confidence.

The entire theme of Must Be This Tall To Ride has a sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek I’m-just-not-good-enough vibe about it.

But I don’t want to mislead you.

While I do lack self-confidence about dating as a 34-year-old divorced father, and do get stage fright any time I’m trying something new in front of an audience, I am pretty sure of myself about many other things.

I like to say: I have a very high opinion of my opinions.

Not so much on life’s major issues. I recognize I don’t have all the answers there and respect everyone’s differing and often passionate viewpoints.

But on the somewhat irrelevant stuff? Music, movies, food, beer, wine, liquor, et cetera? I respect differing viewpoints much less.

For example, crunchy peanut butter is superior to creamy. And crispy bacon is superior to chewy. Oh, you like blush wines? Prepare to be judged and eyed suspiciously.

There’s a little bobble-head figurine at my office. Someone taped a small photo of my face on it. The “award” name is a spinoff of my last name.

To earn it, you have to say something sort of snobby or pompous. If someone catches you doing so, the bobble-head gets planted on your desk for a while.

The joke started after our entire department—about 20 strong—went on a group lunch. At that lunch, I ordered a fish sandwich. The hoagie roll on which it was served was stale. More importantly, it was refrigerated. Totally cold. Totally shitty. Unforgivable. I didn’t eat it. And like a good fishing story, it has gotten worse over time. Now, when I tell it, the bread had mold spores and was time stamped 1986.

The real irony is that the entire idea for the office award was concocted by the one guy at work who is actually snobbier about the irrelevant stuff than I am. He’s also my friend.

I like to say it’s not snobbery. It’s merely having refined tastes. Decide for yourself.

Farrah Fawcett Hair

It’s good shit!

At least, that’s what Capital Cities says on their mostly unknown, yet super-fun song Farrah Fawcett Hair off of their semi-new album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.

National Public Radio’s Frank Tavares narrates as Capital Cities shares with you random things they think are awesome.

I like it.

And because I like it, I decided to do my own version.

Good Life Tips

You may agree with this stuff. You may disagree.

It’s entirely possible you won’t care at all.

But, in one writer’s occasionally not-so-humble opinion, your life will be enhanced by the following:

1. Drinking Bonarda

This is for all you Malbec fans out there. This red wine variety is also from Argentina’s kick-ass Mendoza Province—which is the country’s most-important wine-producing region.

Malbec is amazing because you can get fantastic bottles of it for $10. Bonarda is better. The problem? It’s harder to find. Unless I order it online, I have trouble finding it. But like my occasionally spectacular music tastes, it’s only a matter of time before this wine has a major breakthrough in the United States, and hopefully, beyond. It’s that awesome. Drink some. It’s good shit.

2. Grating your own cheese

You’re at the grocery store perusing the dairy aisle. I want to make tacos!, you wisely think to yourself because tacos are awesome.

And then you grab a bag of pre-shredded cheese. I’m standing next to you thinking: Hahahahahaha! Look how dumb that person is! I’m half kidding. Listen, I know you’re lazy. I am, too. You’re also thinking: It’s all going to melt anyway! No one can tell the difference! Stop right there. You ever look closely at pre-shredded cheese? Notice that spotty white layer of weird, oxidized film that grows on the outside? Yeah, that’s bullshit. I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge with your pre-shredded cheese any day of the week. Pause. Take a breath. Look to your left and right. You’ll notice some blocks of cheese. Buy that instead. Then take out your cheese grater you never use and shred your own cheese. It’s cheaper. It will take exactly 90 more seconds. But your food will taste 100-percent better. Grate your own cheese. It’s good shit.

3. Listening to Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams

I mention this band briefly in The 50 Lays Project, Vol. 2 post. I’m not saying Lord Huron is the best band in the world. I don’t even listen to them that much as I’m eagerly awaiting whatever they’re writing now. However, this is a band that the vast majority of people I talk to have never heard of. And it’s a shame. This band takes me places. They make me want to ride horses in the Old West, and sleep under the stars beneath a massive Wyoming or Montana sky. Lonesome Dreams was my favorite album of 2012—not because it was the best—but because it was the most unexpected. What’s better than a pleasant surprise? Nothing, right? Listen to this album. It’s good shit.

4. Watching Breaking Bad

If you already watch, you already get it.

If you don’t, you either don’t care or are someone who is tired of hearing about it from your friends.

But if you’re on the fence? Watch this show. There’s an important lesson here, and it has nothing to do with drugs or criminal behavior.

Thinking you’re going to die can eliminate a lot of fear and compel someone to live with a heroic, courageous purpose. To take the bull by the horns, tap into your inner Jesse Pinkman and say “Not today, bitch.”

We’re all going to die. Let’s not wait until it’s imminent before we start living courageously.

Or maybe I’m thinking too deeply about it. Maybe it’s just a kick-ass show about dudes cooking meth. Watch Breaking Bad. It’s good shit.

5. Volunteering once a week

You think your life sucks? I do too, sometimes.

We can all use a nice, fat serving of perspective once in a while.

I know a place where about 150 people line up for a free meal every night. Afterward, all the men have to shower in the same room and wear hideous pajamas supplied by the shelter. Then they sleep on horribly uncomfortable three-inch-thick mats that can’t smell very good next to one another on a floor because it’s better than whatever other living arrangements they have. Ugh.

Do something for others, even if it’s just for an hour a week. I think you’ll find you’re not just helping them, but also yourself.

Volunteer. It’s good shit.

6. Pouring your beer into a glass

A brewmaster taught me this when I was writing a magazine feature on pairing beers and cooking with them. Maybe you think it seems tedious. Maybe you think the beer already tastes good in your bottle or can. It can taste better. You release the energy within and the full potential of your beer when you let it splash against the bottom of your glass as it’s poured. You can see the beer working, the carbonation dancing from the bottom of your glass to the top. Those are little magic bubbles of awesome waiting to mate with your taste buds.

Do the right thing. Pour your beer into a glass every chance you get. It’s good shit.

7. Soaking your vegetables in water and vinegar

Fill up your sink. Dump some vinegar in like it’s dish soap. Toss all your fresh produce in there and let it soak for a few minutes. Then, refrigerate it, chop it up, or whatever it is you’re going to do with it. Vinegar is an amazing all-natural cleaning agent. I swear, there will be ZERO vinegar taste in your food. I despise the taste and smell. What you will also find, is that the vinegar soaking will prolong the life of your vegetables as they sit in your refrigerator. About twice as long, in my experience. Try it. See for yourself. Soak your vegetables in vinegar water. It’s good shit.

8. Frying your own taco shells

Oh, you like flour shells? Fine, I do too. At least you’re eating tacos like a smart person. But if you need a little variety once in a while, it would behoove you to try frying your own taco shells.

Step 1 – Buy soft corn shells. They’re inexpensive and come in large bundles.

Step 2 – Pour some Canola oil into your frying pan and turn the heat to medium.

Step 3 – Using a pair of tongs, fry both sides of the shell for a bit, then fold in half like a traditional taco shell. It might take a little practice. They’re so inexpensive, you won’t be pissed if you mess up one or two.

Step 4 – Prop them up on some paper towels upside down by leaning them against something. I just use an upside-down coffee mug. Let them drain and crisp up a bit.

Step 5 – Eat. If you already fry your own shells, you’re nodding right now. If you don’t, your mouth will orgasm, especially if you grated your own cheese.

Fry your own taco shells. It’s good shit.

9. Praying the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

I don’t care whether you believe in God. Just read the words and respect the message:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

It’s my favorite prayer. I try to say it every day. I have it hanging up in my closet. Give it a shot. Or at the very least, contemplate the message. It’s good shit.

I can’t think of a good No. 10 right now, and I want to go play with my son. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Everyone already knows being an attentive parent is a good thing.

Love your kids. Be in the moment with them.

It’s good shit.

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