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My Favorite Music of 2015

January 14th, 2016

2015 is now in the books so it’s time for my annual recap of the music I liked. It’s not a list of the best music and it’s not even all music that actually came out in 2015, but it’s a nice way for me to tie a bow on the year and group together the music I’ll remember when I think back to this year.

First: The albums that I didn’t really have time to form an opinion on
Mutemath: Vitals
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams
Hamilton: Soundtrack
Honestly, all of this music arrived about the time I switched to Christmas music so I really haven’t listened to any of them more than once. Coldplay and Mutemath are known entities, so I’m sure they are pretty good. Hamilton is an interesting twist on a musical. I had my musical theater phase 25 years ago so I’m kinda past that format, but the hip-hop element of the soundtrack might draw me back in.

The Top 5
The Lone Bellow: Then Came the Morning
Ryan Adams: 1989
Anberlin: Never Take Friendship Personal: Live
The Oh Hellos: Dear Wormwood
Stranger Kings

The Lone Bellow album and the The Oh Hellos albums are very strong efforts following my discovery of the bands in 2013. I love the Ryan Adams version of 1989 because I always kinda felt like Taylor Swift was playing a character, like the bad girl she sings about on the album is a wink and a nod as she says “okay, boys this is what you want me to be.” On the other hand, I can totally buy Ryan Adams as the unstable, mercurial romantic partner. I also like how the stronger songs on Ryan Adam’s version are the weaker ones from Swift’s original album (and vice-versa, as good as Adam’s tracks are they can’t touch the classic singles from the original.)

The Stranger Kings albums is a great combination of some classic 80’s New Wave with a breath of fresh air and I am very happy to hear familiar musicians like Herb Grimmaud, Jr and Holly Nelson again.

…and the Anberlin live album, it’s from last year, but I’m just not ready to let go of Anberlin yet. The crowd is on fire and screaming along to every song on this live concert recording.

The Next 5

Over the Rhine: Live From Nowhere Farm
Wilco: Star Wars
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell
Josh Garrells: Home
Copeland: Ixora/Twin

I’ve been gradually drifting away from Over the Rhine, their current sound is not my favorite style. However, this little live album from their fundraiser for their new barn/performance center is a very good snapshot of what they sound like now in concert. The addition of Bradley Meinerding on guitar, mandolin and backing vocals is the missing piece that I’ve been craving for the last couple of years from OTR. The Sufjan Stevens album is brilliant, but it’s also hard to listen to, partly because it’s so raw emotionally and partly because I’ve gotten used to the bombastic and loud Sufjan Stevens. The Copeland album is a repeat from my “Top Albums of 2014” list, but the Twin additional album gives the songs a new dynamic that it’s almost like rediscovering it again and it’s grown on me so much this year.

2015: “Simplify” 2016: “Prepare”

December 31st, 2015

2015 was a pretty good year and I’m happy to be able to say that. After some difficult years with a lot of loss and a lot of ending of eras, this past year seemed to stabilize a little bit. The girls started to take some big steps toward maturing into pre-teens, which is a little scary but at the same time we’ve reached a point where we are ready to move on to the next phase of life. They also had some great achievements of their own as well which had to be one of the greatest parts of being a parent.

We’ve been thinking about the “word for the year” for 2016. Adriene said her word for 2016 is “present” and I liked that a lot. My word in 2015 was “simplify” after I wanted to try and simplify my life after a crazy 2014. I think I succeeded for the most part until fall when everything went a little sideways. I think Fall 2016 will be a little different for us. My word for 2016 is “prepare.” I feel like there were a lot of times in 2015 where I was going by the seat of my pants. I also feel like a lot of the moments of stress this past year could have been prevented simply by taking a few moments before the week or next day started and planned ahead. In particular, I’m going to try to be more proactive in planning meals as I feel like too many nights everyone came home from work and school and said “what are we doing for dinner?” and we’d make a snap decision like order a pizza. I’d like to minimize that (or at the very least, order pizza a little less often)

We’ve had a week without children here so we’ve done a lot of throwing trash out and caught up on some tasks that have been pushed down the priority list. Tomorrow, after we celebrate New Year’s Eve tonight as a couple, we’ll drive down to Savannah and pick the girls up and come home and find what 2016 has for us.

Goodbye, playground

December 1st, 2015

Goodbye, playground

When we bought our house it came with a playground. We meticulously went over all the things we wanted fixed and changed with the house before we bought it, but somehow we forgot about the playground. So, after the got the keys we looked in the backyard and said, “Aren’t you taking the playground with you?” The old owners of the house laughed and said, “No! The whole house and backyard is your problem now!” and peeled out of the driveway. (Well, that’s how I imagined that it happened in my head.) So we had no kids, but we had a house with a playground. For a while when we we young it was pretty funny. We, the couple that had no interest in having kids, had an awesome playground. Later, when we decided we did want to have children but couldn’t, it wasn’t as funny. Eventually, though, children did arrive and it wasn’t long before the playground earned it’s keep. “Why don’t you go out and play on the playground for a while” was code for “mommy and/or daddy have had enough.” It was social central, where the girls would congregate and talk even they just idly sat on the swings.

As it does, time passes. The playground began get a lot of rust and started to appear structurally questionable. We decided it was time to have it removed and I told the girls to play on it one last time. They were sad, but as they swung back and forth, I nervously watched as they lifted the legs of the swing set right off the ground. They were too big for it and I really didn’t want to take a trip to the hospital, so it was the right call to have it removed.

I’ve made a lot of posts about the passage of time and how my children are getting older and nostalgia and such, but I’m trying to look at this change from a positive view. The back yard is now empty and full of opportunities. We can put up a hammock. We can put up a soccer net, or as Erin insists a lacrosse net, and we can practice in our own backyard. Maybe we’ll clear out the annoying privet hedges and give ourselves more space. We’re just about to start winter, but I’m already thinking ahead to summer of 2016 and the possibilities for our family.

Yes at Verizon Ampitheater

September 10th, 2015

It’s pretty common for the band Yes to have changing members, but tragically this is the first time the lineup has changed due to a death. Long-time bass guitarist Chris Squire lost his battle to leukemia this summer and by his request, the band continued on for this tour. I’m glad they decided to carry-on because a Yes concert is always an opportunity to reunite with my college friend, Will. Will is one of the only other people I know in the Atlanta area who is as knowledgeable about the winding history of the band and also an aficionado of all of the phases of the band. We always have lively discussions about our favorite songs, favorite albums, but we don’t have any animosity towards any eras or band members. It’s also a great time for us to catch up on each others lives.

The set list was a nice mix of a couple lesser-known songs and standby hits. “Going For the One” was nice to hear in it’s original key as Jon Anderson preferred to sing it lower. I always love to hear “America” because it’s a Steve Howe showpiece as even in his sixties he bounces on the balls of his feet and duck walks through the solos. When Howe got his opportunity for his little acoustic guitar ditty “Clap” the sky started to light up with a thunderstorm in the area. We were under the shed of the ampitheater, but it never rained very hard. The show started to round into standards at this point, with “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Siberian Khatru” and Howe even looked more interested than usual in playing the radio hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. After “Roundabout” we decided to skip out from the encore as we had coasted into the parking lot on empty and wanted to avoid the nightmare scenario of getting stuck in parking lot traffic and running out of gas. That’s too bad as the band was starting to heat up “Starship Trooper” but it was probably the right choice.

This particular lineup of band members had never played live together before this tour. Jon Davison has assumed the vocal duties and while he might not be a good as Jon Anderson in his prime, he is probably better than 2015 Jon Anderson. He was effortless in his vocals, having a natural high pitched voice that never struggled to hit any of the high notes. Billy Sherwood assumed Chris Squire’s bass guitar duties and while he might lack a little of Squire’s charisma, he was more than capable of handling the wandering, thundering bass lines and his pedigree with the band makes him a natural to succeed the centerpiece member. I thought he was a little low in the mix, but I was really pleased with his performance. Geoff Downes was on keyboards and but for a couple flourishes here and there, he was buried in the mix. Alan White has anchored the band at drums for decades and has been nothing if not consistent. Really though, the show was all about Steve Howe. He may appear thin and frail, but he still is full of energy and can make every run up and down the fretboard. In the last twenty years or so, he seems to have become increasingly dedicated to making his tone as clean and clear as possible, which I actually don’t like. I long for the days of the old Yes bootlegs where his guitar crackled, hummed, and buzzed through the amps but that’s for days past I guess. Nonetheless, it’s always a treat to see him play. I don’t who the best guitarist in the world is, but there is no guitar player out there that plays like him.

Toto opened the night. I was familiar with their big hits like “Rosanna” and “Africa” but their whole set sounded very good, even their new material was enjoyable. They had a big ensemble on stage and they were well mixed. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a show where the opener had a better mix than the headliner.

Will and I both left with a very positive impression of the show, we were both very happy. I hope the band continues on even without Squire and they have a year’s worth of shows lined up, so maybe the band still have some more music to bring us. It’s been a nice touchstone for Will and I to sync up. Will and I have had our ups and downs and a winding road through our friendship, but I don’t have many friends that I spend one-on-one time with anymore (and even less these days in the hectic parenting of young children) Will and I used to sneak off of Tech campus when class and girls became just too much and split a pizza and bemoan the state of things and solve every problem. Not much has changed there as we grabbed a late dinner after the show. Like anytime I get together with old college friends, we sometimes slip away and leave nothing mister but boring stories of “glory days” (daaa-da-da-da) but we also to catch up on what people are up to though, those we still keep in touch with as we disperse farther and farther away. We have rare moments like these Yes concerts together and they become more and more valuable. I think of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire how they split in the band around eight years ago and I hope even if they weren’t in the band together anymore they still kept in touch up to Squire’s death. I’m glad my friend and I didn’t go different paths either so that we can still enjoy these shows.

How the 2014 Yellow Jackets Saved Football For Me

August 18th, 2015

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I played a lot of sports as a kid. Soccer was the only organized sport that I played, but I played lots of games with the other kids in the neighborhood in our cul-de-sac. We imagined we were the Atlanta Braves with a wiffleball and bat. We played lots and lots of kickball. The sport that was the most fun, however, was football. We would gather together in someone’s backyard (“home” and “away”) and all we needed was a football and we would just run around and tackle the fool out of each other. Darkness would fall and we would return home covered in bruises and cuts to our horrified parents. We had made up rules (5 “Mississippis” before you could sack the quarterback. Everyone was terrible at place kicks so we just threw the ball instead of a kickoff.) and made up teams. Football captured my imagination so much that I had entire imaginary teams and players in an imaginary league as a child.

My dad went to Georgia Tech and was a casual fan of football. My grandfather was a huge football fan, his team was Georgia, but since his money was going to Georgia Tech he paid a lot of attention to them, too. I grew up with football on the TV and on the radio. I sat in the old South Stands at Grant Field around 1984 and I vividly remember listening to the amazing 1985 Georgia-Georgia Tech game on the radio. I was hooked. By 1990, I was in high school and pretty sure I would be going to Georgia Tech for college and the National Championship season was a crazy, unbelievable ride. My dad and I bonded together over a lot of those games, even riding the train out to Athens for the 1990 game against Georgia. As a student at Tech, though, the heady days of the National Championship had already subsided and football was kind of a drag. I went to many games just because that’s what you did as a student at Tech but my interest was waning. Then in 1998, I met a girl and Joe Hamilton started throwing the ball all over the place and that girl and I went on a lot of great dates to the stadium and also to Raleigh and even to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl and that 1998 season will always have a lot of romance and legend associated with it.

After graduating, I kept on buying tickets and before I knew it I had gone to some 10 years worth of games all full of ups and downs. Chan Gailey became coach and Tech became good, but not great. There was Calvin Johnson, but Tech lost to UGA every year and stagnated. Paul Johnson arrived and suddenly football started to be fun again. Adriene and I got to celebrate New Year’s Eve with old college friends in downtown Atlanta and we had a great time even if Tech got paved by LSU. We spent a week in Miami for the Orange Bowl and though we froze in south Florida, once again we have fond memories intertwined with football.

In the last couple of years, though, football stopped being fun again. I’ve never been a huge fan of the NFL, but I began to be repulsed with the off-field behavior of the players. The domestic abuse cases and the violence associated with the sport began to gnaw at my conscience. Research about concussions only made my enjoyment of the sport even more conflicted especially every time I watched a defensive end gyrate and celebrate over a prone sacked quarterback or hear an announcer say “ho ho! He got his bell rung!” The comical enforcement by the NFL made players, coaches, and owners all look bad even as they grabbed for more money by building new stadiums to replace the ones that weren’t really that old and sell pink merchandise to women while looking the other way as women were victims of attacks by players over and over. All of this happened while Tech continued to limp along to 6 or 7 wins a season and fall farther and farther behind UGA and I started to wonder why I even bothered anymore. Soccer was happening more and more often on TV and the Premier League captured my attention. Maybe I didn’t really need football in the fall anymore.

Maybe sensing this, I told Adriene I wanted to move our seats at the stadium. For a long time we sat in the corner of the stadium with a large group of friends, but as time passed and they moved away from Atlanta or succumbed to the grind of Saturday children’s sports our group shrank until it finally dwindled away to just Adriene and me. We were sitting around people we didn’t know, many of who were quite frankly rude, sometimes inebriated, and angry a lot and it wasn’t a very healthy place for enjoying the game and it didn’t put me in a very good attitude. I hoped if we paid a little more for our tickets, maybe we’d end up sitting around a little more refined crowd. Adriene was for anything that would allow her to be a little more pampered at the game. (You may be surprised to hear she is not a huge fan of sitting on a metal bench in searing heat, freezing cold, rain, and blowing wind.) I bought the tickets with the attitude of “if I don’t enjoy this season even after getting nice seats, maybe it’s time to give it up and just watch from the TV. This is too much effort to not enjoy this.”

The 2014 season started out mostly like every season with a couple wins over some overmatched teams and then Adriene and I went to London during the Georgia Southern game. I sat in a pub on a Saturday night and listened to the game and tried to enjoy my vacation while Tech nearly gave the game away to Southern and then somehow pulled it out at the end and no one at the Zetland Arms cared, but I was a pretty excited Tech fan a couple thousand miles away. We came back home and the games turned fun again with big wins over Miami and Clemson and in a comedy of errors beat Georgia in the kind of game Tech almost always loses to Georgia. Tech made their way to the Orange Bowl again and for a variety of reasons we decided to pass on it. That’s too bad because Tech ended up cold-cocking Mississippi State in one of the best games of the season, leading to my all-time favorite moment in Tech football in the last 10 years with running backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey dancing to Apache while enjoying such a big lead with plenty of time left in the game. How can you not love this?

The 2014 season was so much fun, especially at the end, that it’s pulled me back in. On top of Tech’s season, my daughters started cheerleading for football this year. The summer was a hectic mess with so many practice sessions, but once the season started I can’t overstate how entertaining football was with first graders. They aren’t strong and fast enough to really hurt each other yet and they wander around aimlessly to the frustration of coaches and I could not stop laughing at each game. The games brought back memories of those backyard brawls I had, but we never had the helmets or this much padding, and we pretty much fought over what the score was and when the clock finished. I didn’t have any child in the game, so I was able to enjoy it win or lose without any stress. As long as my girls cheered, it was a good morning.

I know it is a fool’s quest to believe that Tech could match the success in the 2015 season that they did a year ago, but maybe the games will at least be entertaining this time around again. I’m well aware that none of the problems of football have been solved (and the whole “deflated football” mess between the New England Patriots and the league makes me like the NFL even less. There is no one coming out looking good in that.) I’m still very troubled about the head injuries and the off-field behavior and while I’ve never had a problem with rich owners I have a hard time taking anything they say at face value when their only concern seems to be gobbling up even more money. I don’t know how much I will follow the NFL this year, every time I think about it I get a little queasy, but I am on board for another season of Georgia Tech football and I am hoping to make it to a couple high school games around the neighborhood.

The only hope I have for football is that it has always been a very evolutionary sport. Baseball and soccer rules for the most part haven’t changed in a 100 years. Basketball’s rules have really only changed to make the sport more entertaining. Football, however, has from the very start modified it’s rules to try and become a safer sport. Even at the beginning, in the 1890’s, the mother of a UGA player had to beg the state not to ban the sport altogether even after her son died playing it. Technology and rule changes have improved the safety of the sport, but it’s clear it will need to continue to evolve and change or parents will steer their children towards basketball and soccer in even more numbers. I still think there is too much money and too much affection for football by too many people to let football fade into the marginalized realms of boxing and UFC. I hope so, because I have to many good memories of football games to let it all go.