Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Park Little Doggy

It was in the news today that parking meter prices in Chicago are going up again. I say "news" but it isn't actually a new piece of information, it has been known for a long time what the parking meter increases will be each year through 2013, after which they will go up based on inflation. So it is not like there was a surprise announcement yesterday, it's just that the Chicago media is now talking about it as part of their year-end coverage to go along with all of their top ten (whatever) lists.

But the drivers are bitching nonetheless.

I've seen posts from several of my Chicago Facebook friends complaining about the hike, acting as if it is some sort of human rights violation to be charged five bucks an hour to park in the Loop and a buck-fifty in the neighborhoods.

I'm going to leave aside the issue of selling the parking meter rights to a private company for an upfront lump payment to the city. It was (another) wrong-headed move by Daley that will cost the city billions of dollars over the life of the 75-year contract while lining the pockets of a corporation that probably lined Daley's pockets and those of his crony pals. I do hope it is overturned in court.

But what most drivers in Chicago complain about is the cost of parking to them personally, not the cost of this deal to the city. To them I say:

Get over yourselves. Stop your whining you ungrateful brat. Damn, this country is practically paved over from coast to coast to make life as easy as possible for your pollution machine and it is still not enough for you. Do you realize how good you've got it and how cheap your driving costs really are?

First let's look at why high parking rates are good public policy. Talk to any person who specializes in city planning or traffic and they will tell you that high on-street parking rates decrease traffic congestion (something else you hate, even though you are the cause) and improve air quality. It's true. When meter rates are low compared to garage rates in the same neighborhood, drivers will circle around many times, slowly, looking for a spot on the street. This ties up traffic and puts more carbon in the air. More drivers would just pull in to a garage if they didn't see a street spot right away.

If anything, Chicago meter rates - as well as those of every other city in the U.S. - are still way too low. They should be raised to be higher than the average garage spot in the neighborhood.

It is not only by market rate comparisons that parking is too cheap. It takes money, taxpayer money, to maintain and repair those spots where cars park on the street. Even at $5/hour you are getting a good deal, and that free spot by your apartment is a FANTASTIC deal. Not only should meter rates be extremely higher than they are now, there should be no such thing as a free street spot.

You drivers are some of the most subsidized people in America and you still can't stop complaining about everything. Nine out of every ten transportation dollars in this country goes to you and your wasteful mode of transport. Your parking is subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Your fuel is amazingly cheap compared to the real cost - most oil companies don't pay any taxes and are even given tax subsidies, along with the billions of dollars it cost in military, diplomatic and espionage spending to keep American oil interests protected overseas to keep it flowing without interruption. And almost none of that shows up on your fuel tax, which is a pittance. If you were paying the real cost of your gasoline you'd be paying more than ten bucks a gallon. Instead, people like me who don't even own a car have to chip in so your lazy ass doesn't have to walk to the grocery store.

All this money invested in an amazingly inefficient mode of transportation. Meanwhile, transit systems get what amounts to chump change to operate on and are the first budgets to get slashed when there are money problems. The Chicago "L" has basically no more track miles - and less stations - than it had 60 years ago, despite the addition of the southwest-serving Orange Line in 1993.

You get cheap parking, and you complain. You have cheap fuel, and you complain. You complain about the traffic, which you cause. You complain about getting a ticket for parking illegally. You complain about the red light cameras, I guess because you think you should be allowed to run red lights with impunity. You complain about getting speeding tickets when you are, you know, speeding. (But I was only going ten over!)

You complain about the condition of the streets. You complain about the construction zones when they are fixing those streets. (And if you think the streets are bad in Chicago, you really haven't spent enough time on the woefully under-maintained sidewalks or ridden a bike on what laughingly passes for bike lanes).

You complain about the lack of snow removal from the streets. (Again, compare the streets to the sidewalks after it snows and then tell me which one gets more attention) You complain about the snow plows in your way.

Everything is done to make your life as easy as possible and all you do is bitch, bitch, bitch.

All the while you are polluting the air I breath. So to you I say:

Shut the fuck up already.

And get off you damn cell phone and keep your eyes on the road.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

"I decided talking to a conservative is like talking to your refrigerator. You know, the light goes on the light goes off; it's not going to do anything that isn't built in to it. And I'm not going to talk to a conservative anymore than I talk to my damn refrigerator." ---Utah Phillips (1935-2008)


Pick up my New York Times from the hallway outside our apartment door this morning and start perusing the headlines before my daughter would wake up. First one I notice is an article titled, Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith. I start reading the article and it opens with a scene of an incumbent Indiana Democratic congressman defending his climate bill vote in front of a hostile crowd full of people self-identified as part of the "tea party" movement. He calls global warming real and indisputable, just like the vast majority of scientists who know anything about climate.

He is showered with boos. This is the next bit of the article:

...including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”


And here we have the fundamental problem with trying to talk sense to conservative Christians. Put the facts in front of their face, shower them with reason, use real data to make your argument and you will be wasting your time.

The liars that are Glenn, Rush, Sean, Sarah, et al; a 2,000-year-old piece of poorly written fiction. This is who they will choose to believe, this is where they get their "truth." These sources give them the narrative as they want it to be and that's good enough for them, no matter that it flies in the face of all common sense or what the actual truth might be.

This is how it is possible for Obama to be simultaneously a Socialist and a Nazi. How he is trying to make you enroll is big, bad, government-run socialized health-care and also take away your Medicare. How he wants to redistribute the wealth and is also the puppet of Wall Street bankers. they believe every one of these things about him, never mind that they are all contradictory of each other. I suppose that makes it just like believing in their bible.

They are stupid and they are very proud of it.

This country is fucked.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Screw Tolerance

Things are heating up for gay rights issues in this country. "Don't ask, don't tell" is gasping at its final breaths and the issue of gay marriage is winding its way through the court system on its way to an inevitable showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, and even if it loses there the next generation of Americans - the ones who are now in their teens and twenties - will legalize same-sex marriage anyway.

This is all great news, as the bigots - though it has taken way too long - are losing again. That is always a good thing. It has been, and still is, a long hard-fought battle for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in America. We're winning the argument, us progressives, because, well, the argument on the other side is stupid.

There is one aspect to the argument that comes from the liberal side that I do have an issue with. It seems that since the 90s we have been urging people to be "tolerant" of the queers.

I say, fuck tolerance.

Gay is not something to tolerate and it sends the wrong message to the bigots and hate-mongers of the world.

I tolerate the asshole walking down the street texting who bumps in to me, instead of elbowing him in the face like I really want to do. Because in a civil society I need to resist those urges, even if someone deserves it.

I tolerate the moron on the subway listening to his headphones so loud that everyone can hear his music, instead of ripping his iPod out of his hands and crushing it with my foot. See above reason.

I tolerate conservative bible-thumpers, instead of stabbing them in the throat. Because there are too many too kill them all and it would be very messy and tiring.

The point is, you don't tolerate something that's not bad because there is nothing to tolerate. By using this word you are giving credibility to the bigotry. You are saying it is OK to think of homosexuals as sinners who are going to hell, but just be hush-hush about it.

Look, if two people enter a committed relationship with the intention of spending their lives together, regardless of their gender, it is either a) something to be celebrated and honored, or b) something to not give a shit about at all. Period. There are no other options. And you can switch back and forth between the two. I have friends and family that are answer "a" and others that are answer "b."

I'm not sure who decided on this "tolerance" mantra many years ago, and I wish I could find out what they were thinking. I suspect that comes from the left's own faulty tolerance. Specifically tolerance of fucked-up religious beliefs. Too many people on the left try to cling to their own religion that they go too much out of their way to respect the religion of others. So we ended up tip-toeing around their religion and the result is asking them for their tolerance. But in that process we give credibility to their dumb religious beliefs and we head down the road of respecting all sorts of asinine things, from polygamy to female genital mutilation. Where will it stop?

What we are supposed to say to these people is, "fuck your religion."

And there are only two real reason we have to make in our argument of why their religion should be fucked:

One is, your religion has nothing to do with what should or shouldn't be against the law in a secular nation. If you want to live in a theocracy go ahead and move to Saudi Arabia or the Vatican.

Second, I call bullshit that this is really about your religion, anyway. There are tons of things in the bible that you choose to ignore (like slavery or selling your daughter being just fine and dandy with your god) so why are you so hung up on this one? I know why, and it has nothing to do with your religion. It's because the thought of two dudes doing it grosses you out. (And let's face it, if only women were queer they would have been allowed to get married years ago, because even your most conservative born-again guy thinks two chicks getting it on is hot.) OK, maybe not all of you are grossed out by it. As we've learned from several militant "anti-gay" preacher-crusaders, some of you are turned on by it and it scares you.

But you know what? Just because gay guys can get married doesn't mean you have to have sex with guys. Or watch those guys have sex.

Hey, truth be told - and I'm sorry my gay friends - a couple of guys going at it kind of grosses me out, too. I thought maybe I was hipster enough in college and my years in Seattle in the 90s that maybe I could go gay or bi, but I just don't dig the fellas.

One night out at a bar in Seattle one of my gay pals planted a big old kiss on me, wet and sloppy with a tongue in my mouth. I acted all cool about it, but in the back of my head I was thinking, "Yuck! Gross! Ewww!" Just wasn't my thing, you know? It certainly affirmed that I'm straight, no question. (I later told said friend that I didn't enjoy it and he never tried to do it again, and we stayed friends. Just like I would do with a girl I was friends with but not attracted to.)

But just because I didn't dig it why would I try to stop him from sticking his tongue (or dick for that matter) down the throat of some guy who does? Why would I care? I was never in to black girls either - just never had any attraction to any - but that doesn't mean I should want to stop other white guys from hooking up with black women.

People have incredibly varied sexual and relationship preferences - an infinite amount, really - gay, straight and bi. They don't have to be in to the same thing as me for me to be OK for them to exists, or even be friends with them.

People are attracted to who they are attracted to, for reasons they only have to explain to themselves, and that's a beautiful thing. To try to keep them apart is such an asshole thing to do. It's as stupid as hating people for being left handed.

So fuck tolerance. As the bumper sticker I saw years ago said, "I don't tolerate differences, I celebrate them."

I think we need less tolerance in the world. Specifically, we need to stop tolerating people who use an over 2,000-year-old piece of fiction as an excuse for a pass on their fucked up bigotry.

I will never, not ever, tolerate them.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Put That On My Tab

I like a good bar.

Scratch that. I LOVE a good bar.

There are very few places I'm happier than a great bar. Give me a nice wood bar counter, a stool (preferably with a back), a hip and talkative bartender who knows how to pull a draft just right, decent and varied beer selection, tasty pub grub, a good jukebox, some friendly and interesting folks sitting at the bar and, for good measure, a small stage for music and I'm as happy as can be. The best bars have no TVs but that's not a deal breaker. So many bars have TVs these days that it can be hard to find one without them.

One of my favorite things about going to bars has always been striking up conversations with other people sitting at the bar. I just love being able to chat with other people sitting there drinking beer. A bartender that you can talk to is also essential. This is why I hated living in Boston so goddamn much. In three years not once was I able to chat up a bar patron or bartender. Hell, bartenders in Boston are such assholes (and apparently don't care about their tips) that I've sat at a bar in that town for up to ten minutes with an empty beer glass in front of me before I finally get asked if I want another. The TV show Cheers was such a fucking lie.

The best thing, though, is when you are talking to someone and when the bartender brings your next round somebody says, "I got this one."

Now, being bought a drink in a bar is never about getting a free drink. Unless you are a total dick you will end up picking up just as many of the rounds as the other guy. Or if the other person just really insist on picking them up. That happened to me on a train ride from New York to Chicago last year. I shared a table in the cafe car with a young lawyer going from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh who kept buying every round of the Sam Adams and wouldn't hear of me paying for any of them.

But for the most part it is not about getting some free drinks. No, what is nice about picking up rounds is that you are saying to the other person, "Hey, I'm enjoying hanging out and talking to you so I want you to stick around."

I know it may sound goober-istic and hokey, but there is something beautiful about that kind of basic human connection that often seems to only be able to happen over alcohol. I once heard the conservative columnist David Brooks theorize that the reason there was so much antagonistic animosity between the political parties in recent years was because people in Washington didn't drink together anymore. Not my favorite guy in the world, but I thought he made a great point.

While these kind of connections may not be good for the liver, they do seem exceptionally good for the (for lack of a better word) soul.

And they can happen without warning in the most unexpected places.

I was in Poughkeepsie, NY one night with a few friends for a Wilco show back in 2004. Four of us were walking around looking for a bar in downtown Poughkeepsie to go to before the show, not wanting to hang out in the line for several hours like the other Wilco geeks. My friend Noam was one of the four and he was going to school in Poughkeepsie at the time, but Vassar kids don't actually go to the bars in town so he knew nothing about any of them. Those Vassar kids are a confusing bunch.

The four of us walked up around the corner from The Chance Theater, where Wilco was going to be playing and came upon a nondescript bar with big windows in front. It was fairly well lit inside and we could see people shooting pool and a good amount of the crowd inside. It appeared that every person in the bar was black.

"We HAVE to go to this bar," said Ronen, a guy that I had met in Boston through the Wilco message board, ViaChicago.

Now remember, we're in town to see Wilco, a band that competes with OK Go, Radiohead and The Flaming Lips for title of World's Whitest Rock Group, with fans to match. And the four of us were no exception, despite my buddy Noam's love of hip-hop. He's still an Upper West Side Jew.

So we grab seats the bar. Oddly enough, with a bar full of black people, the bartender looks pretty rednecky, even sporting a mullet. We order four beers and the girl with us, a friend of Ronen whose name escapes me, says she'll get the first round. The bartender says, "That's six bucks."

She replies, "I've got all four."
"Yea, that's six bucks," he says.

I loved this bar immediately.

So we're sitting there chatting and most of us are getting close to the bottom of our first mug of beer when the bartender comes over and puts four shot glasses upside down in front of us. What the hell? We all kind of look confused at the bartender and he tells us that the next round is on the guy at the end of the bar (the upside down shot glasses were markers for the bartender to keep track). We look down to the end of the bar and there is a black man probably in his late 50s or early 60s sitting there, wearing a suit and hat combo that can only be pulled off by older black dudes. Made me think of Lightnin' Hopkins in his later years.

Guy raises his cocktail to us and we raise our beers back to him. He then came over to talk to us. Told us that he wanted to buy us a drink because out of "all those white kids going to that concert" we were the only ones who came in to that bar. "Kids" being a relative term I suppose, I was 33 at the time. He thought that was cool of us. And it was true, there was nobody from the Wilco crowd in this place and it was practically spitting distance from the club. I don't think there was a closer bar.

He stuck around our side of the bar and we had a grand time talking to him. Eventually we would have several of the bar's regulars hanging around with us, shooting the shit. Just about all of them asked us who we were seeing that night and responded with, "Who's Wilco?"

I'm pretty sure that at least three other guys in the bar that night bought our rounds and I know the bartender himself treated us to two. I don't think I spent any money before we left for the show.

(A humorous side story to this night - The only other white person in the bar besides us and the bartender was this middle-aged woman who totally fit the description of "barfly" and was all over Noam, who happened to be all of 19 at the time but had a fake ID. She was in to him in big way, to the point where I think she even tried to get him to go to her place.)

We were having such a great time there that we skipped the opening act and barely made it to the club for Wilco's opening song.

One of my favorite nights ever in a bar. We made just an amazing human connection with a really nice group of people. And yes, the result of that connection was being completely shitfaced by the end of the night. But I think you'd be hard pressed to think of another place besides a bar where such a thing would happen. I doubt the night would have been as fun or social if we were in a coffee house. Would anybody have bought us a latte?

There's something about a bar. It is a beautiful thing. Especially when somebody else is buying.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Awake And Sit

I was talking to my sister last weekend about random things and, being parents, (my sister has two kids, both older than my daughter) we got to talking about child-raising.

I mentioned to her that my daughter still sits or stands in the bed, waiting for my wife or me to come get her, after she wakes up even though she's not in a crib anymore and can get out on her own anytime she wants. It has been several weeks since we switched to the toddler bed and I told my sister I couldn't figure out why she still waits for us instead of getting out of bed to come find us.

My sister said to me, "Don't question it. Just LOVE it."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Death In The Family

Last week I found out, through Facebook no less, that an old friend from college died. He was only 42-years-old, less than three years older than me. It was a shock to everyone who knew him. I had only just reconnected with Tim a couple of months ago, surprisingly it was not through Facebook but at a gathering of fellow theatre alums from our school at a bar in Chicago. I hadn't seen him in probably around 18 years and it was fantastic to be in touch with him again.

And then he was gone.

Even though I had just seen him for the first time in that long and we were only keeping up through Facebook, I was really thrown by the loss. Lots of thoughts went through my mind about it. I thought about my friends who were much closer to Tim than me and how devastated they must be. I remembered the noose that I wore around my neck for about two years during college - Tim tied it for me out of stage tie-line (he was a "techie") - that just seemed to fit perfectly with my personality and weird sense of humor. I thought about what a huge (Tim was one of the biggest, most imposing looking guys I've ever known) teddy bear and gentle soul he was. He really did seem to be the definition of "gentle giant" to me. I remembered how Tim would be the first person to talk to me when I entered a room full of fellow majors in my early days there and I always just kind of hung against the wall by myself (I tend to wait for others to talk to me first, a shyness that often comes across as aloof asshole). I also couldn't help but think this was further proof that belief in karma is such bullshit. That a kind soul like Tim would be taken away from this world while the likes of hate-mongers such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh walk among us and make millions and millions of dollars pushing their vile agendas.

I also thought about my family.

No, not my blood relatives. I thought about those who I in many ways consider my real family. My college theatre family.

I majored in theatre in college. I would guess that a theatre department is different than other departments when it comes to the amount of time you spend with your fellow majors. Between being in classes all day and then rehearsals all night there was not much other time for the usual social stuff that most college kids get involved with.

We had classes together, rehearsed shows together, partied together, played Frisbee together and lived together. Once we even had to mourn together as we lost one of our little sisters to a car accident in one of my later years there.

I arrived at school as a young man desperately wanting to escape family life. My childhood was not a good one. I didn't expect that I would find a family of my own at college. But for me that is what happened. My closest friends from school are like brothers and sisters to me. Others are like cousins. There were grad students in my early years who were like having cool aunts and uncles or older brothers and sisters around. The kind that got you high for the first time and bought you your beer. A role that I would eventually play for somebody else. We even had our occasional crazy uncle that sometimes made everybody feel uncomfortable at parties and could clear a room. But even that was OK and made our family more colorful.

Of course, for this family analogy to work you need to kind of overlook the fact that a lot of us were sleeping with each other. Or then it just seems creepy.

There are many in this family that I've reconnected with over the last couple of years because of Facebook (the main reason I joined) which has made me happy as hell. Some I hadn't seen or heard from since I graduated 16 years ago - before everyone had email and permanent cell numbers - others I had only lost touch with in the last few years as I kept moving around. Of course there are the several that I've never lost touch with, my brothers and sisters. But it didn't seem to mater how long it was, I feel as connected to them as I did when I was 20. Maybe even more so.

Yes, I've made some fantastic friends over the years since college ended, friends that I cherish.

But there is something about my college family. If I were called to help out any of them who needed it I wouldn't hesitate for a second to do what I could, even for the ones that I don't really even like all that much. I guess that's why it is like family to me. In fact, I can only really think of two off the top of my head I wouldn't be there for. There's the lying thief who stole from pretty much all of us at one point or another. Seriously, if he was ever in your house he probably took something of yours at some point. And the rapist who attacked two of our sisters. I still hope he bleeds to death, very slowly, after getting his penis chopped off.

But anybody else? No question I would do anything I could for them. I have real, blood-related cousins that I wouldn't cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. But for this family? Anything and everything.

I looked at Tim's Facebook page the last few days as people wrote him messages, his profile having been turned in to an odd modern-age memorial. All of the beautiful things people were saying about him, mostly remembering his kind heart. It made think hat might be said about me if I were to go suddenly and before my time. I had this fear my Facebook page would become this bizarre collection of quotes that went something like, "So long Deni, hope you are less angry wherever you are."

Or, "You were kind of an asshole but we loved you anyway."

Even worse of course would be, "Good riddance jackass."

These thoughts made me consider if I've done enough to convey all that wrote above to those who should know it. Just like a real family, we often forget to tell them how much they mean to us. I may be more guilty of that than most people.

If there can be a silver lining to Tim's untimely death - something I don't think can always be found in such tragedy - it will be making me be better at this. Not just for my college family, but for everyone in my life that I should show more appreciation.

Starting now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twits Of Fate

I imagine most of you have heard about the couple who discovered right before their wedding that they happened to be at Disney World on the same day as young children and that he was caught in the background of a picture of her with a Disney character. It was covered by several media outlets on TV, in print and online. They met for real fifteen years later and then discovered the old picture. They then knew it was fate that they ended up together.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Damn people can be so retarded. I am, despite what some people think about me, one of the most hopeless romantics in the world. I still get all weepy and get goosebumps from watching the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies, I blubber when Anne and Gilbert end up together (finally) in Anne of Green Gables, I get a lump in my throat at the end of Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming when Grover has that great line about wishing he and Jane we're already that old couple. Hell, the reason I loved john Hughes' Some Kind of Wonderful so much more than Pretty in Pink is because the guy ends up with the cool drummer girl at the end - the one he's supposed to end up with. I love this stuff in my movies and books. I'm a big old softy, romantic dork. But I also know it is fiction.

There is no such thing as "fate," nothing "happens for a reason," things do not happen because of "destiny" and nothing is "meant to be." Life is a series of random events and people that come in and out of your life by complete happenstance.

I so often hear people say they don't believe in coincidences. What the hell? So you don't believe in coincidences, a more likely explanation for most situations, but you believe that it has something to do with the stars aligning or the universe is conspiring to influence the tiniest of events in your life? Seriously?

Coincidences happen. Sometimes they are bad, sometimes they are good (also known as happy coincidences). But fate? Not very bloody likely. Haven't these people ever heard of Occam's razor?

You know, my wife and I dated the first time when we were 17 and 18, respectively. I happened to have extra tickets for an REM show, she happened to find out through someone else and buy one from me, her friend Jessica happened to call me too late to get one for herself, I happened to offer her a ride to the show since she was going solo. Had her friend gotten a hold of me earlier I may have never been smitten with the cute girl with the wet hair who answered her door and may have never talked to her the whole night and then asked her out later.

Does that mean we were meant to be together? No. It means that a girl I found very attractive was in the same place at the same time as me and she liked me too. It also means nothing that we were teenage sweethearts who ended up together again. It just worked out that way.

I just don't buy in to the idea that she's "The One" for me. Had we not ended up together I may or may not have ended up married/together with someone else. Who knows? I have a hard time imagining that I could have ended up with someone else, but that doesn't mean my wife is the only person it could have possible happened with. Lots of people are now divorced from their "One." Hopefully we'll celebrate our 50th anniversary together some day and we'll chalk it up to love and respect, not some magical joojoo that brought us together.

I don't begrudge this couple their fun story. It is an interesting coincidence, one that probably made great fodder for the best man at the wedding to make an inappropriate joke about during the toast (I would have gone with something about their first three-way involving Smee).

But did it need to be a news story? That's the problem with the media and why people continue to buy in to stupid shit like this. An air-headed bimbo Jenny McCarthy is given free reign to promote her insane anti-scientific vaccine agenda, con men psychics are treated with legitimacy (or have their own shows like John Edwards) and schizophrenics the faithful who see Jesus in a block of Swiss cheese are taken seriously.

No wonder people will believe this stupid shit.

(And for those of you wondering, yes, I did do this whole post just because I wanted to use the title I made up when I first saw this story. It made me snicker.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Newest Musical Obsession

I went to a show Sunday night to see a band that I've been wanting to see for years now, Asylum Street Spankers. I am so glad I finally got to see them. I first heard them a few years ago, late to the game I was for a band that's been around since about 1994. I had heard that you couldn't truly appreciate them until you had seen them live. I've heard that said about a lot of bands over the years, but I don't think it as ever as true as it is for this band.

To see an Asylum Street Spankers show is an amazing experience. What an incredible collection of musicians who seem to truly love what they do to scrape out a living. It is an absolute treat to watch people that good at what they do ply their craft.

It's not just that they are great musician. The Spankers have wide ranging influences in the great busker tradition that is at the very roots of this band. To see them play is like seeing the history of American popular music unfold before your ears, running through, in no particular order, jazz, country, folk, Delta blues, pop, New Wave, rock and even a little hip hop. And the it all gets run through a vaudevillian blender. And washed down with PBR.

Brilliant band. If they are playing anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and don't miss the chance to see one of the best bands you've never heard.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Evan Kremin - A Gift That Keeps On Giving

A few years ago, about 3-1/2 in fact, I wrote about a band I saw in New York shortly after I moved there. They were called the Evan Kremin Band. It was one of the most laughable things I've seen on a rock club stage in my life - and I lived in Seattle in the 90s with all the Nirvana-wannabe bands, so that's saying something.

So I went home and wrote a blog post ripping Evan Kremin, his horrible music and his inflated ego. Eventually I got a few comments on it from people that were googling him on the internet and came across my post. I responded to one, somebody who is one of his friends went off on me for bashing his buddy. Turns out that nobody else has ever written anything about the guy before so my pithy opinions about Mr. Kremin are pretty easy to come across on the web.

Since then I have gotten a few more comments on my original Evan Kremin post, due to the fact that my blog comes up third if you search for him on Google, with his Myspace page taking up the first two slots.

At the end of 2008 (more than two years after my post) I got this one (from "Anonymous"):

Mr.Tool "insert man-meat here"

Well, I've met a number of individuals like you in my life - quick to judge and make fun of somebody, but lack the BALLS or any TALENT what-so-ever to even attempt ANYTHING EVER, themselves.

You're a fucking idiot who probably has a 0.5" wonder (is that a pimple?) and cannot play any musical instrument and has had no real long-term relationships.

I'd LOVE to bump into you at an Evan Kremin show (who I've scene many times - he can play his ass off)....I'll stomp your little faggot ass!

This one has to be my favorite. Yes, Mr. Anonymous, the reason I don't like Evan's music is because I'm a "faggot" and have a small penis. You've "scene" right through me.

That was pretty much the last one (so I thought), and I hadn't even thought about Evan Kremin in forever. 'Cause, you know, why would I?

Then a couple of months ago I got three comments on it in two days, which seemed weird. Someone had been Googling his name and found my blog. And then either this someone, presumably a friend of his or even Evan himself, told a couple of his other friends about it or maybe even just posted separate comments and pretended to be other people. In any case, the comments came from (according to the IP addresses) the same area of New York that I basically just think of as North New Jersey. If you gotta take NJ Transit to get there, it's New Jersey.

Here they are. And keep in mind, I wrote this original post three-and-a-half years ago:

First of all, I do know that if those were his parents then I do truly believe in "miracles from above" (excuse the cliche) I guess your parents never taught you to think before you speak.

Now, for the real issue. You're abviously entitled to your opinion as far as his music. What I don't understand is how the heck you can judge a person's personality being you've never even said "hello" to him? I know you're obviously not a psychic based on the fact you thought his parents were there.

I know Evan for many years now. Besides the fact that I LOVE his music; he is a great, smart, and very funny guy. I'm a better person for knowing him, and did I mention that he's funny? He enjoys playing his music and probably couldn't care less about your critique, however I felt obliged to respond. Guess I had too much time on my hands.

As a matter of fact, he's playing on Saturday night (3/6/10) at the "Bar East" on 1st between 89th & 90th. If you have any bit of good in you, you should at least show up and introduce yourself. I bet after meeting him, you'd actually realize you were wrong about him...(I assume you could admit fault being you had the balls enough to write what you did in the first place.)

Go Saturday night, I dare you.
Or...are you just one of those people who's so insecure
about yourself you just hide behind a computer screen??

Ooooh, do you double dog dare me? OK, so if those weren't his parents, they were his wife's parents.

And no I'm not a psychic, due to the fact that psychics aren't real, but when you read his Myspace page (as I pointed out, and quoted) you can see very clearly where my observations about his ego come from. And seeing him perform on stage tels you a lot, too. He thinks he's a rock star. He's not.

And despite the fact that seeing Evan live had me cracking up for days about it, once is enough. I'd much rather be forced to listen to Poison's Every Rose Has It's Thorn a hundred times in a row than see an Evan Kremin concert again, which is saying a lot since I consider that song to be possibly the worst song in the history of American popular music. Though I do encourage everyone else to check him out at least once. It is fascinating to see a Christopher Guest movie in real life.

Later the same day, I got this one:

This blog was just brought to my attention.

Dude, I feel bad for your daughter. I hope your wife is teaching her a better value system and what life is supposed to be like. The last thing we need is another angry person like you in this world.

By the way, I met Evan a couple of years ago. That guy can sing!! He's also probably the most humble person I have ever met.

You've got him totally wrong. I hope you're not a music critic for a living. The industry would really suffer from people like you.

Dude, nobody feels as bad for my daughter having to have me as a dad than me. She'll be lucky to have therapy only once a week when she's an adult. But my crappy blog has nothing to do with that.

Seriously, you think I might be a music critic? I'm flattered, I guess? But really, if I was a music critic wouldn't my little rant have actually appeared in a publication? But it really is a sure sign of just how shitty his music is that my blog is the only thing that comes up on the internet where anybody has written anything about him. Obviously, no real music writer even thinks he's good enough to slam. That's pretty bad. I did it because I thought that night was hilarious and I couldn't believe I'd actually witnessed it. The comments I've gotten off it made me really glad I did. But you shouldn't expect a real music critic to write about him. For that, they would have to actually acknowledge it as "music."

Finally, a couple days after those last two:

I've known of Evan for years as a rocking Bleeker Street performer as well as a musician in other people's bands and even on Broadway. Your blog entry was a little weird to read, knowing Evan's talent. Sad how some people can't find anything positive to do with the amazing tool the internet has become. I do hope you will find a more important calling in life.

You hope that I find a more important calling in life than yammering away on my personal blog? Shit man, so do I. So do I.

Now I've pretty much figured it is even odds that Evan himself has left at least one of these comments. But I guess we'll never know. But I am pretty happy to have the excuse to make fun of him again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Parenting 101

I was talking on the phone with my mother yesterday, something I generally try to avoid as much as I can because it is just never a good idea. But sometimes it has to be done.

Ever since I became a father she likes to try to have conversations about raising kids or sharing some sort of story from my childhood as an example of her good parenting skills. My mother and I have very disparate opinions of these supposed skills. But she thinks that we can bond over shared stories of child-rearing now that I have my own little offspring to screw up.

Yesterday she asked me about my daughter's sleep habits. She asked if we put her down in her crib to fall asleep on her own (we do), what time (7:30), how long she naps (1-2 hours), etc, blah, blah, blah. She then proceeds to tell me how she just let my siblings and I go to bed whenever we decided we wanted to go to bed. So when I was less than two-years-old I would stay up until 10:00 or 11:00 in the evening. She said this with an amazing sense of pride, like she was the cool mom who didn't run her kids' lives with a bunch of stiff rules or rigid structure. Right on dude.

What the fuck? Look, I know that back when my mother became a parent that there was a lot of bad information out there and a lot less research than there is today. But she let me go to bed whenever the hell I wanted? You've got to be kidding me. It doesn't take a goddamn rocket scientist to figure out that having a consistent bed time helps your kid develop good sleep habits, not to mention some decent sanity for the parents. I didn't need one of today's baby books to tell me that.

And this makes so much sense. I have some of the absolute worst sleep habits of anybody I know. I stay up to late, I sleep as late as I can (which of course isn't very late now with the kid) and I generally don't sleep enough, which is pretty unhealthy. I have an incredibly hard time making myself go to sleep at a decent hour. Would I have turned out differently had my mother maybe done a little bit better job of giving me a decent sleep structure? Well, maybe not. But we'll never know.

And for the record, I don't believe for a minute that her doing this was some choice based on a particular philosophy of parenting. My mother was not the "cool" or "laid back" parent in any way shape or form. She ruled the house with an iron fist, a big yardstick and fear. It is much more likely that she was too lazy and stupid to deal with getting a reluctant kid to go to bed, so she let it go.

This is surely one of the least horrible things my mother did (or didn't do) as a parent. But still, she couldn't even establish a fucking bedtime? Shit, I got whacked on the head for singing at the dinner table, she couldn't get me to bed at an appropriate time?

After we found out my wife was pregnant I thought a lot about parenting styles and philosophies and I came to a basic conclusion on what would make me a good parent. Just think of everything my mother did and do the exact opposite.

Lots of people I tell that to think it's a joke. But that thinking has served me well thus far.

I guess I did learn how to be a good parent from my idiot mother.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some Days Remind You Why You Bred

Rushing to get to the Lake Street stop on the Red Line today, get through the gate and carry the stroller down the stairs only to see a northbound train pulling away.


The Chicago Transit Authority has had some major service cuts that went in to effect last month, so I know this is going to be a long wait. Off-peak hours were the worst hit, of course, and as a stay-at-home parent that's when I'm out and about. We had our kid's music class, the Wiggleworms, at the Old town School of Folk music today.

It's times like this I really, really, really, REALLY miss living in New York. I waited ten minutes for the next train, and when I transferred to the Brown Line after we emerged from the subway to the El I waited even longer than that. Seriously, a major city with a population of three million people, waiting that long for a metro in the middle of the day is (I really want to say inhumane but I know that's whiny and dramatic) really ridiculous.

After we got on the Brown Line train, which was crowded as hell, a couple gave up their seats in the handicapped area for my daughter and me. This was a first since I've been living here. For those of you not from Chicago, the wheelchair area is the only real spot in the tiny train cars they have here (another major reason to miss New York) whee you can have a stroller without blocking, well, everything. So it was really nice of them. And it was a young couple listening to an iPod together, so completely against stereotype.

Besides that one nice thing, I'm really frustrated and stressed. I'm worried we'll be late and the train is more crowded than it should be.

But since those nice people gave up their seat for me I can take my daughter out of her stroller and have her on my lap, in the seat next to me or standing on the seat looking out the window. Her choice, of course.

She stands and looks out the window. Every time another train goes by she points at it and squeals with delight. I don't know how to write it down other than she says, "Daaaeeeeeeeeeee" in a really high pitch. But that doesn't really do it justice.

Now, of course, this makes me happy on one level because I'm a big train geek. But I harbor no illusions that the fascination of a kid less than a year-and-a-half old will mature in to a shared hobby with Dad.

But we were having such a great time. I was laughing and other people around us were smiling, people she was saying "hi" to between trains. I was, as well as some of the other people on the train, seeing the world through her beautiful and wonderful eyes.

There are certainly times when I am really frazzled and need a damn break, which I took a few weeks ago when I escaped down to my old college town (thanks Honey!) to hang out with one of my oldest friends and basically stay drunk an entire weekend.

But most days I get this kind of reminder of just how lucky I am to get to hang out with my kid every day.

And I think it makes me just a little bit less of the ass hole that I'm pretty sure I am.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sling This

There was a really annoying article in the New York Times last week. One of those articles that you can't fathom why it made it in to the New York Times. One of the real writers (as compared to me, a pretend one) over at the Dad Wagon blog touched on how annoying this was, too.

Basically, the NYT thought it a good way to use their time to write an article about the "new trend" of using baby carriers instead of strollers. There are a few quotes of hippy-dippy parents bashing strollers, calling them "isolation pods" and trumping up stats about "babywearing" making your kid "smarter, calmer, more attentive, less colicky and more likely to develop healthy sleep habits than their counterparts in strollers."


No study is cited in that claim of course, because it is one of those claims that only has activist-based pseudo-science behind it, similar to the thoroughly debunked claim about breastfeeding leading to higher IQs.

Look, I get the hating stroller thing, I really do. I hate mine. I want to lose this thing so damn bad and can't wait for us to not have to use it anymore. When I was childless I wanted to kick the damn mothers and nannies in my neighborhood taking up the whole sidewalk, walking side-by-side and not giving any room for other people, totally willing to use their kid to run you off the sidewalk. I think I do a really good job not being that parent.

And really, it is a big pain in the ass to take everywhere. Now that the weather is getting warmer I'm excited about really trying out my new (well, used - found on Craigslist) backpack carrier as much as I can. I'm hoping it works out so we can leave the stroller at home when we go to Europe this summer.

But there was one question I thought needed to be asked of all these babywearing parents. A lot of these mothers live in places like Queens, Brooklyn and the Upper East Side (the store highlighted in the article is on Park Ave.). I noticed from my time living in New York that middle class and upper-middle class people from these neighborhoods, even though it is New York City, tend to also have cars that they use to do things like grocery shopping and buying their expensive piece-of-shit pressboard furniture at IKEA.

So what I wanted to hear from these parents is how much time their kids spend strapped to a car seat. I really want to know, because how is a stroller worse than that? I argue that a stroller is better than a car seat any day.

The thing is, we don't do the car thing. That's something I'm very proud of, and I haven't owned a car since 1992. So wearing my daughter to go grocery shopping is not really an option because I wouldn't be able to get our food home without having her in the stroller.

And I think I get to spend a lot of quality time with her because of this. Ever since she was really small I have always taken her out of her carrier (yes, for the first few months I used a front carrier) or stroller after we've gotten on the subway or bus. She spends her time on an outing looking out the window, waving at people, playing with me or maybe reading a book with me. She is usually in my lap, sitting in the seat next to me or standing on the seat pointing at stuff out the window. And boy does she make friends on the train or bus. She loves to interact with people.

What does a kid in a car seat do? How much quality time is a parent spending with their kid when there are not even sitting beside each other?

And my kid is a lot safer being in a stroller than in a car. Except for the occasional cab ride or short trip from the train station to Grandma's house, she is almost never in a car seat. I'd guess that she has spent less than a total of six hours in cars in her almost one-year-and-five-months being alive.

When I'm out with my daughter we are constantly interacting with each other and I'm always paying her a lot of attention. I see a lot of parents carrying their kids in a sling or wrap and they are talking on their cell phone or texting. I never get on my cell when I'm out with my daughter. I don't care how tightly wrapped you are to your kid, if you're jabbing to your friends you ain't bonding with baby.

I get why parents do some of the stuff we do. I've gone out of my way to keep the amount of plastic crap we have around to a minimum. We have a lot of natural wood toys; blocks, little toy cars, a baby pram, one of those push-mower looking things. We even have real Lincoln Logs, not those shitty plastic ones that came out in later years. We just spent a hell of a lot of money to order her a riding toy made of natural wood and using soy-based paints so we wouldn't have to have one made of plastic that also doubles as a cross-promotion for some movie or TV show.

So I get trying to do the best thing possible for your kid. Hell, I cook all the time now. And I really don't like to cook. But I know I need to make her as nutritious as meals as I can and also set a good example.

But to say I'm not bonding with my child as well as I could because she's in a stroller? Nonsense.

Why is it these people seem to think that this is the only time you can bond with your child, when you are out running errands or going to a play date? What the hell are you doing with your kid when you're not in transit? Plopping them down in front of the TV?

Fact is, if you are spending time with your kid there is a lot of bonding and contact time available. It doesn't always have to be about bonding when you are going from point A to point B.

All these claims about the benefits of 24/7 contact with your child are being pushed, without real good evidence, by the loony tune practitioners of "attachment parenting" - one of my favorite kinds of parents to hate, right up there with fundamentalist home schoolers.

And as for those claims, I'll say this: We didn't use a carrier for very long, we didn't do co-sleeping and my very accomplished physician/researcher wife with the hectic schedule did not do any direct breast feeding (GASP! The Horror!).

The result? Our daughter has had two colds, never once was she colicky, is a very calm kid who never screams or has tantrums, is incredibly observant (surprises me all the time how much so), very attentive, sleeps through the night, transitioned to going to sleep on her own with no problem and I think (and I am of course biased) is an amazingly smart kid.

And bonding? Well, match me up against any other parent, attachment or otherwise, to measure our level of bonding and I'll take that challenge anytime, anywhere, from anybody. I'd never claim to be the perfect parent whose always made the right decision, but the connection and love between my daughter and me I have no doubts about. I cannot even fathom it being any stronger. It's clear to me that she knows I'm there for her, will give her what she needs and will protect her. It's so obvious she knows that.

And I'll bet my kid will turn out a lot better in the head than the ones who are still breast feeding when they're six or seven, as some of those crazy attachment types think is a good idea. I'm very proud of myself so far and I've exceeded what I thought I was capable of as a parent about a million-fold, especially considering I went from being a guy who didn't want to have kids to a stay-at-home dad in a relatively short time. I figured by almost a year-and-a-half any kid of mine would already be in therapy.

Now I know one kid is not a scientific study, and I'm making no claims that this is any kind of proof my parenting style is the best. But everything that they say is better if you do it their way has gone perfect in my kid. Every. Single. One.

Those parents like to trump up the supposed benefits of that type of parenting, including the carriers and co-sleeping, but they are mostly crap with no basis in real scholarship. Studies about these things are poorly constructed and incredibly far from conclusive at best. At their worst they're nothing but junk science at the same level as the claims of autism being cause by vaccines.

And really, a lot of this stuff is just a silly middle-class WASP interpretation of how "tribal" cultures raise children.

The goal of these parents seems to be to make other parents feel bad or guilty about what they're doing. And I guess in the sick and demented mind of an attachment parent that makes them feel like better, superior parents.

They can kiss my stroller-pushing ass.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Two Fathers On A Bus

I thought about a story from living in New York that I thought I'd share.

I was on the bus one day with my daughter in the front baby-carrier, she must have been about three months old or less at this point, I know my wife was back at work but we didn't yet have the stroller that we got when she was about three-and-a-half months old. I was just getting the hang of this stay-at-home dad (part time at this point) thing.

I was sitting near the back of the bus in the sideways facing seats and had taken the baby out of the carrier to sit on my lap because she liked being able to look at people. A guy got on the bus and made his way back to the open seat across from us. He was a really tall guy - at least 6'6" or 6'7" - probably in his mid-60s with a salt and pepper beard wearing all red. Really, everything he had on was red. His pants, shoes, shirt and socks were all red. He also had on a long red overcoat that went all the way down to below his knees. To top off the whole look he had a beautiful dark wood, hand-carved cane. Really a classic "only in New York" kind of character.

He sat directly across form my daughter and me and she started smiling at him like crazy. He smiled back and waved at her and was really cool to her. We started chatting and he asked me how old she was and I told him, "About three months."

He then said, "I've got two sons myself."
"How old are they?" I asked.
He answered, "Well, my oldest is 46."

Pause for a beat or two, then I said:

"Well, that's a fun age."

He tilted his back and just started laughing and laughing.

I miss New York.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Decade (part 2 - Music)

Now for my last decade in music. I think of myself as a total music geek, and as evidence...

I went to roughly 15 Robyn Hitchcock shows, which I was surprised the number was that low. I think I've been overestimating the number of times I tell people I've seen him total (starting in 1989). This includes the greatest two shows of Robyn's that I've ever experienced, consecutive nights at the tiny Turning Point Cafe in Piermont, NY. I also collected over 100 live bootleg Robyn Hitchcock shows. And something I realized while writing this post that kind of frightened me: When I see Robyn Hitchcock this March it will mark the fourth decade in which I've seen him play.

I saw Billy Bragg about six times the last decade, and collected over 50 of his live bootlegs. The man just doesn't tour enough.

Jeff Tweedy solo or his band Wilco, I was at more than twenty shows, and all but one of them (last year at Coney Island) happened between 2000 and 2005. They got kind of boring for a while, and guitarist Nels Cline can be so damn wonky when he plays, always trying to prove what a genius he is. But Wilco came back with a vengeance last year and their live shows are great again. I collected over 80 Jeff Tweedy/Wilco bootleg show recordings during the decade.

In all for the decade, I collected over 400 live bootleg recordings of various bands.

Other concerts of note include seeing Jill Sobule about eight times, The Dresden Dolls about the same number, including two New Year's Eve shows, two Pogues shows, a couple of Blanche shows, They Might Be Giants, Southern Culture on the Skids, Eels, Ditty Bops, The Swell Season, Smoosh a couple of times, a bunch of Robbie Fulks gigs and an incredible Rilo Kiley Show.

I am really happy that I got well into my thirties but I still like to hear new stuff. The bands that I got into that put out their first albums this last decade include Rilo Kiley, Smoosh, The Dresden Dolls, The White Stripes and The Decemberists. So that's cool.

I decided to go ahead and attempt a "best albums of the decade" list, because I know the entire world really wants to know my opinion of the decade's best music. Started off by trying to do ten, but that was just too hard, too many of my favorite albums wouldn't make the cut that way. So I decided on 25. Of course, this list will only have things I've heard by this point and there is a very good chance there is something out there I haven't been introduced to yet that I will love. Like if I had done this at the end of the 90s there would be no Keb' 'Mo on the list because I really hadn't heard his music at that point. But if I make a 90s album list today, there might be two or three of his records on there. So with a grain of salt, my attempt at a best of the 00s list, in order of year released, because no way do I want to attempt to rank them (and alphabetical by artist would make it too obvious what a Robyn Hitchcock geek I am):

Robyn Hitchcock - A Star For Bram (2000) Robyn started off his decade with a companion piece to his 1999 album, Jewels For Sophia, that is supposed to be outtakes from that session. But this is far better than just a simple outtake album.

Jill Sobule - Pink Pearl (2000) The woman famous for her one hit, I Kissed a Girl, from the mid-90s, has put out so much great work this decade. Songs that seem to be just humorous little ditties become so much more once you scratch the surface. "Mexican Wrestler" seems funny at first, but then you realize how sad it is.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (bootleg 2001, official release 2002) Seems to be an absence of other records from 2001-2002, probably because there was very rarely anything else on my radar during this time. YHF almost never left my portable CD player for what seemed like forever.

The Dresden Dolls - Dresden Dolls (2003) The only good thing that came out of me living in the shittiest city on the planet, Boston, was that I got to discover this band early on. The sound is Brechtian Punk Cabaret and their concerts are wonderful, if sometimes overly-pretentious, happenings.

Robyn Hitchcock - Luxor (2003) Robyn's 50th birthday present to himself was this record and it is mostly just him with his guitar and harmonica. It may be his least popular album among his fans, but I think it is absolutely beautiful.

The White Stripes - Elephant (2003) Most would put White Blood Cells on the list instead, but I think this is a fantastic rock record.

Robyn Hitchcock - Spooked (2004) Living up to its title, an incredibly haunting-sounding record done with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.

Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose (2004) Brilliantly arranged and produced by Jack White, Lynn puts out her best ever record at the age of 70. We should all be lucky enough to be doing what we do at our best at that age.

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005) Just about everything else put out by Connor Oberst has bored the shit out of me, but this album hits the mark so beautifully. It helps to have the legendary Emmylou Harris singing on three songs. And "First Day of My Life" is one of the prettiest love songs ever recorded. If you don't like that track you just don't believe in love.

Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005) Words can not describe ho much I love this double album. E's masterpiece, and his most personal work ever.

Robbie Fulks - Georgia Hard (2005) The best country album of the decade, in an era when the "mainstream" country artists don't actually make genuine country music. That Fulks isn't a country superstar is completely unbelievable.

Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous (2005) Love, loss, betrayal, sex, death.... This beautiful record has it all, and more. Jenny Lewis may have the prettiest voice in music today. I would call it angelic - if I believed in angels. If someone forced me to pick just one best album of the decade, this might be it.

Al Baker & The Dole Queue - On the Use of Jackboots (2006) My favorite find of the decade. Al Baker is a Phil Ochs for the current age, and someone who could be the voice of his generation. (I wrote much more about Al here.)

Belle And Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (2006) The best bouncy pop goodness I've heard in a long time.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (2006) In the age of downloading individual songs to iPods, Colin Meloy & company have the artistry and the balls to put out concept albums. 'Nuff said.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Ole! Tarantula (2006) Robyn gets a backing band that includes Peter Buck on guitar. Brilliance ensues. His best band album in years, maybe the best ever. It also spoke to me because of the song "Belltown Ramble," about a neighborhood I knew all-too-well when I was living in Seattle. Really took me back.

Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) Rilo Kiley lead singer puts out her first solo album with amazing harmonies with the sisters Watson.

The Minus 5 - The Minus 5, aka "The Gun Album" (2006) Scott McCaughey is the hardest working man in music, and the most under-appreciated. REM's best sideman makes supergroup records with just about anybody he asks, and this record has Peter Buck (as usual), John Wesley Harding and all members of The Decemberists and Wilco, joining on such McCaughey gems as "Aw Shit Man" and "Coffee, Cigarettes and Booze."

Tegan And Sarah - The Con (2007) Punk-inspired power pop at its finest.

The Swell Season - Music from the Motion Picture Once (2007) I always likes Glen Hansard's Frames, but this record is so much more than he's ever done before. A gorgeous record to go along with one of the best movies of the decade.

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (2008) I do not understand the debate about Jack White. The man is a rock genius, and the only proof you need is The Raconteurs, where he's backed by an incredible band instead of just a mediocre drummer for a change. As good as I think The White Stripes have been, imagine what they could be if he kicked Meg to the curb.

REM - Accelerate (2008) I never imagined that REM, a band I worshipped in the 80s and early 90s, would end up on my "best of" anything again. But after well over ten years of putting out some truly horrible elevator music-type albums, a band that holds such a special place in my heart (as I've written about before) is back on top of their game. I couldn't be happier about it. Now if only the same thing would happen to U2...

She & Him - Volume One (2008) I'm still amazed when I listen to this record by actress Zooey Deschanel and indie rocker M. Ward. It sounds like something that could be straight out of the soundtrack of the 1960 movie Where the Boys Are, yet except for a couple of covers all of the songs were written by Zooey herself. The funnest album I've heard in a long time.

The Watson Twins - Fire Songs (2008) The Watson Twins singing is mesmerizing. This album is worth it even if only for their incredible cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." And making such an iconic song your own is no small feat.

The Baseball Project - Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails (2008) It's amazing how much Scott McCaughy and Peter Buck appear on this list (both are in Venus 3, Minus 5 and REM). This record is the brainchild of Scott and ex-Dream Syndicate front man Steve Wynn, who got together and wrote a bunch of songs about a shared passion - baseball. Hard to believe that anyone could create enough great songs from that topic to fill a whole album, but these guys did that. And volume 2 is already in the works.

Various Artists - Playing For Change: Songs Around the World (2009) What a great way to end the aughts. Producer/engineer Mark Johnson found musicians around the world to record different parts of the same songs and then mix them together in the studio to create these amazing tracks made by people who for the most part never met one another. Mostly street musicians, a youth choir and the like, but with some help from the great Keb' 'Mo and Bono. An amazing record to go along with a beautifully positive and hopeful documentary.

OK, I cheated. That's 26. Just couldn't make the last cut.

My Decade (part 1)

It hadn't really dawned on me, until people mentioned it on Facebook, that we just came to the end of another decade. I guess after we entered the "new millennium" and with all of the "Y2K" hysteria of the end of the last decade I just stopped thinking in terms of decades. I just kind of thought of us as in the 2000s now. And with it seeming that no one knew what to call the most recent decade - I like the "aughts" myself, I can say "my daughter was born in aught eight" - we didn't have the same kind of repetitive referencing of the decade by a title in the media and pop culture that we had in the past. There was always someone calling the eighties "the 80s" and the nineties "the 90s" on TV, radio and print when those decades were happening.

So I was really only thinking about this as another new year approaching until Facebook made me see the error of my ways. A lot of my "friends" started posting things about looking back at the last decade, and I thought, "Oh right, the decade's ending."

What I found odd was how many people were posting how shocking it as how much their life changed over the decade (wasn't married at the beginning of it, my little kid is now a teenager at the end, etc.). Really? Surprised that your life would change in significant ways in the decade? Come on, ten years is a pretty long time, if your life didn't change over that time you should be shocked and depressed. It would also make you my grandparents.

It is strange the way we humans choose these arbitrarily assigned numbers to define, categorize and reflect on our lives and the world. Hell, we use them to define the human experience.

I've never really thought about my life in terms of decades to define each era. I don't think anything can be so neatly packaged into a convenient little branding. I look at my life and it divides up by certain "eras" that are not defined at all by the calendar. My five years of college from 1989 to 1994 would be one, immediately followed by my "Seattle Period" until the end of 2000, then my life with my girlfriend/fiance/wife Lisa. And my current era started in October of 2008 when our daughter was born. So this last decade alone contains three separate phases of my life.

I guess I'm just pointing out the obvious, our lives divide up by our individual experiences and ages. For me the decades do work out pretty well in one aspect - I was born in a zero year, 1970 - so I'm in the same age group for pretty much the whole decade, in my 20s during the 90s, my 30s during the aughts, etc. Just dumb luck, but will probably come in handy when my memory starts to go hazy in my later years.

Besides, when someone refers to a decade, they aren't talking about the whole thing. When someone says "The Sixties" they are almost always talking about the late sixties counter-culture movement. It is very rare to hear someone refer to the sixties and they are thinking about something that happened in 1961. Go to any 80s night at a club and they are playing a ton of music from 1982 to 1985 or so and you are very unlikely to hear them play a track from the Stone Roses, REM's Green or even Joshua Tree.

All of that being said, I did decide to take a quick look back at the decade to see what kind of things I'll take away from it. It did require some reflection but I don't think I'm surprised by any of it (well, maybe a couple of my choices for favorite albums) and I promise not to feign any shock.

Well, I suppose the first thing that should be mentioned about important events to my decade would be that I'm now a family man. When the decade started I was a single guy living in Seattle, doing some theatre but with basically no direction and floating through life with no purpose. At the end of the decade I have been married for almost six years and been a father for over a year. I'm still basically directionless, but I now at least have something that focuses my energy.

If you went back in time to when the last decade was ending and told that version of me, that guy from the 90s, the one in his twenties, that he would be married and have a kid by the time the next decade ended, he would have been horrified. But what does that stupid, long-haired, grungy stoner know? I couldn't be happier.

It as also the decade in which I gave up any idea I still harbored about having a career in theatre. At the beginning I was still plugging away, taking directing gigs where I could. By the end I had not done a show in over three years and had switched over to a career in medical education that was so much more rewarding. After years of theatre I came to the realization that I just wasn't that interested in doing it. I also got sick of it getting in the way of my life (having to be at rehearsals when there was a band I wanted to see, etc.). And it seemed that my talent for it peaked in college anyway.

At the beginning of the aughts I had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for eight-and-a-half years. At the end of the decade it has been almost eight years since my last cigarette, kicking an addiction that lasted more than ten years. So great to have that monkey off my back.

In the 00s I lived in six different houses/apartments in four cities in four states. Seattle-Chicago-Chicago-Boston-New York-Chicago. There is not a single section of I-90 I haven't driven in a rental truck in the last decade. While the number of cities I lived in during the last decade is my most ever, the number of actual homes still doesn't beat my 90s number.

I traveled overseas to five different countries (six if you count a layover in Seoul) on two continents. I'm really hoping that number is a lot higher in this decade, because that's just not good enough.

My favorite books of the last ten years were Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, Freethinkers and The Age of American Unreason, both by Susan Jacoby. I'm sure I'm leaving some out but I'm not remembering them tight now. A lot of the books I ended up reading over the 00s were published in earlier decades.

It took a lot of time to go over my decade in music and make my "best of" list, as you'll see in the next post (and it is a completely separate post due to its length). But when it came to movies the answer became pretty obvious fairly quickly. In fact, instead of a list of my favorite movies of the 00s, I'm just going to name my favorite. I'm not saying there weren't other extremely strong contenders, like Once (which I came really close to picking) and Billy Elliot. But in the end it turns out my favorite movie of the 00s has a lot in common with my favorite one from the 90s.

Like, it has the same director and the same two actors playing the same characters. When I first heard that Richard Linklater was making a sequel to 1995's Before Sunrise I was horrified. The best romantic movie in a generation had ended so perfectly, leaving the question for the audience to ponder - do they ever see each other again? But it turns out that Before Sunset was even better than the first movie, and making it was a great idea. I love that Linklater could make two perfect films about two people walking around talking to each other. I never get sick of watching either of them.

Next - I'll look back on my decade in music.