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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.

The Last Day of Summer

August 3rd, 2015

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An altogether too short summer ended today. School starts much earlier now than when I was a child. I remember going back to school the week before Labor Day but now it is the first week of August. August is my least favorite month of the year. It seems to drag on forever. It is hot. Football is still a month away (no, preseason NFL most definitely does not count) and yet we are out sweating every evening at cheerleading practice. Now we get to add to all of the hassle of signing forms, remembering to pick art supplies, homework, and all the other fun of school. At least we’re not trying to plan a trip to London on top of everything else this time around. That nearly broke me.

We didn’t do very much this summer which is fine. We enjoyed being lazy for a little while. We sent the girls off to each grandparents’ house for a week and did a little bit of housecleaning and date night dinners. We did a family trip to Myrtle Beach. I shamelessly played a lot of video games with the girls. We laid around on the couches a lot because we could. Now it’s time to get back on the merry-go-round and everything is going to revert to spinning out of control again.

Also poignant at the end of this summer was the end of one of our favorite tv shows. I had to endure a lot of awful childrens’ shows to placate the children when they were younger, but Phineas and Ferb was always a delight to watch. I’ve sung the praises of My Little Pony before, but Phineas and Ferb is on another level with humor, clever plots, and slapstick gags that make me guffaw as much as it entertains the girls. I loved the relentless optimism of the kids and the comedic violence reminded me of Looney Tunes episodes with maybe just a little bit of a gentler touch. The series aired the last episode this summer with the children returning to school. While the final episode was bittersweet, I can’t help feel like the co-creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh picked a good time to go out before the show become too creatively stale. (Hopefully, they will be returning with a new series in a couple years and I hope it is half as funny as Phineas and Ferb.) The series has left a pretty massive body of work. The girls and I started a marathon at the beginning of the summer watching every episode and we still have a way to go before finishing.

The last episode, though, was a tangible reminder that time continues to march on and on despite whatever we do to slow it down. My friend Sam remarked that when he started the series with his oldest daughter, she was a little older than a toddler and now at the end she is only a couple years short of middle school. I am reminded that this is a tangible end to an era in our children’s childhood and even an end to a little bit of re-living our own childhood.

So here we are in August. Autumn is approaching but I am going to have to grin and bear it through August first. I don’t want to rush the month too fast however as this summer has once again reminded me that the time with our children is all too limited and ebbing away.

The Oh Hellos at Terminal West

July 24th, 2015

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Last night, I went to see The Oh Hellos at Terminal West and it was a whole lot of fun. Terminal West is a relatively new venue in an old industrial part of Atlanta that has become a hipster haven. There is a great coffee shop (Octane) over there and lofts and apartments popping up overnight. Terminal West is a relatively simple room that still feels new, it’s not nearly as dank as Variety Playhouse or terrifyingly spooky as the Masquerade. There’s a nice balcony (I didn’t venture up to the patio on the roof but I kinda wish I did.) and a restaurant next door. I hung out mostly by the bar where I had a decent view. The show was sold out and it was snug, but there was still room to move around if you weren’t up next to the stage. The crowd was mostly 20’s-30’s, maybe slightly more girls with their boyfriends in tow, but there were a couple of groups of bros, too. There were a few older couples, too. The crowd was generally speaking well behaved.

The show started at 9 PM, which feels so freakin’ late now that I am old, with Ruston Kelley who was ok, mostly nondescript ballads on acoustic guitar. He brought this sister out to sing some duets and they sounded nice together. The most interesting part of his set was when he told a story about breaking into a publisher’s recording studio and living there for seven months, even borrowing some of the artists’ clothes while there.

The Oh Hellos came on stage around 10:15. The downside of these bands with 10 members is that even a brief soundcheck seems to drag on forever. The violin player moved quickly around the stage to check all the instruments and mics but with that much stuff, it seemed to take a long time. The band itself is essentially a brother-sister duo Tyler and Maggie Heath and they are pretty static, but behind them is a swirling chaos of eight musicians playing two drum kits, violins, banjos, guitars, and other percussion and they are all leaping around the stage and whooping and hollering and generally having a good time. I liked how they introduced each member of the band with a generic 80’s sitcom soundtrack in the background and each member would pose like they were in a 80’s sitcom intro when their name was announced.

Their sound isn’t particularly original, they play a blend of Irish and American folk music similar to The Lumineers or Mumford and Sons, but it is singable and enjoyable. Their first album _Through the Deep, Dark Valley_ has a couple songs loosely based on the creation story. Those songs were the most popular with the crowd as they sang along, but the new stuff from their upcoming album _Dear Wormwood_ sounds really good as well. The title track was apocalyptic with a cathartic yell at the climax. The crowd was really chatty during the opener’s show and quieted down a little bit during The Oh Hellos, but after “Dear Wormwood” you could hear a pin drop.

By this time it was late and I didn’t want to get caught in traffic getting out of the parking lot so I bolted before the encore. I had heard everything I wanted to hear plus some new stuff so I was satisfied. All in all, a really enjoyable show, even if it was late for this old man. The last time this band played Atlanta they packed out Eddie’s Attic and now they’ve filled up a bigger venue and the new stuff sounds great, they seem to be a band on their way up. They are currently very independent, it will be interesting to see if they get corralled into a label or if they just keeping doing what they do. They kind of remind me of Caedmon’s Call around 1996 before they got pulled into the CCM machine, being from Texas with a large ensemble (though maybe not at as didactic as Aaron Tate’s lyric writing) playing folk music. I like having a new band fill that niche for me.

RIP Chris Squire

June 28th, 2015

One of my favorite bass guitar players passed away. If you want to see some over-the-top, goofy and amazing bass guitar playing for ten minutes, watch this:

The video doesn’t convey it accurately, live in concert, the bass would rattle your teeth, it was a sight to behold and hear.

Chris was always a man of excess, both on stage and in his personal life. One of my favorite instruments that he would bring on stage was a TRIPLE-NECKED guitar (4 string bass, 6 string standard electric, 4 string fretless) for “Awaken” It was a gigantic monster that only he could tame.

One of the songs that Chris would play during his solo was “Amazing Grace” inspired by his youth as a choir boy in England. I don’t know what his relationship with the Lord was, like I said he was a man of excess, though it wasn’t his hard living that killed him, it was cancer, but I hope he has found peace at the end. And thanks for all the music, I can’t wait to see Yes in August and see what they do to honor his life.

The 10th Anniversary of The Everglow

May 20th, 2015

MAE in concert

In 2006, I posted about how a concert reenergized me when I was weary. I wrote that before I had children and truly learned the meaning of tired. The band was MAE and the album they were performing was The Everglow, my favorite album from the year 2005 and maybe one of my all-time favorite albums. Only a few years later, the band lost momentum and faded away. I had good memories from the concert, but I didn’t think I would ever hear those songs in concert again.

Surprise, surprise, the band reunited, all 5 members from the album, and announced they would tour and play the entire album from beginning to end. As it turned out, our own group reunited for the show. Jerry and I were no-brainers for the show, but to our delight Chuck even traveled from Tennessee and it was the same as the 2006 show even if we are a little longer in the tooth.

We used to eat a Jaqbo’s over by Georgia Tech when I was in school, but that is long-gone. In it’s place is a “little Italy” section with a pizzeria, gelato store, bar, and open seafood grill. We enjoyed Antico, where the room is as bare-bones as possible, we sat on a large metal bench and ate pizza right off the pan. On the other side of the large room were the large ovens and kitchen staff that cheered loudly when Pachuca scored a goal.

After the delicious dinner, we made the short dash over to The Masquerade. If anything hasn’t changed in the last ten years, it is The Masquerade. It is still as dark and terrifying as ever with it’s random mill equipment still hanging from the ceiling and mysterious dark corners that I don’t want to know what is hiding there. The concert was in the top floor, the “heaven” part of the venue, the exact same location as the 2006 show. It’s not uncommon for The Masquerade to have more than one show at the same time and I joked that there is probably a death-metal band in the “Hell” part of the venue and the fans there would be waiting to beat us up before or after the show, but there was only one show that night.

Mike Mains and the Branches opened the show and while they lacked a little bit of the “anything could happen here” vibe they had at Cornerstone, they were still really fun. They played a couple songs from each of their two albums and I was familiar with just about everything they played and sang along. The second band was All Get Out and they really weren’t my thing and I didn’t know any of their songs so I kinda checked out while they played. I would have greatly preferred that they were the first band and Mike Mains and the Branches got the second longer set.

Finally, MAE took the stage. I really liked their stage setup with posts and Christmas lights strung up between the posts. The light gave the appearance of tiny stars behind them and changed a couple of different colors for a couple different moods. They started with a couple more recent songs, but it wasn’t until they started the intro to The Everglow that the room figuratively and literally lit up. The crowd was in it from the start, singing loudly as the band went into “Someone Else’s Arms.” Dave Elkins declared “MAE is for lovers!” and perhaps he was right as there were plenty of couples arm-in-arm in crowd. The girl next to me wiped away tears at the end of “The Ocean” as she pressed into her beau’s side and who could blame her? It was beautiful. “Breakdown” had a great moment where the girls and guys in the crowd each sang a different part and it made a great 3 part melody. After the band wound down “The Sun and the Moon” they exited the stage to the “The Epilogue.” They came back for a short encore before the night was done.

The show was a little uneven, the Everglow material sounded a little more polished than the rest of the set, but that’s the part I wanted to hear so I left pleased. The best part is that the band is together and touring again and I’m hoping this means there will be new music in the future. There have been so many endings when it comes to my favorite music that I would welcome some beginnings and renewals.