07 January 2012

Top Five Albums of 2011

A little late. My apologies.

My musical year was a little lackluster in terms of album releases. Although a lot of my favorite bands released critically acclaimed music that I highly anticipated, I think the hype took the best of me, and I was left with a lot of work to do.

Let me explain.

In the spring of 2007, Modest Mouse released the superb (and one of my all-time favorites) We were Dead before the Ship even Sank. Not only did I long for that album since its announced inception, but most of the songs on the album instantly caught me. I didn't need to give it multiple spins; one listen and I was hooked. This was not the case in 2011. I had to both listen to each album more than once and also had to listen a little more closely and intently than in years pass.

Although this list, like all others, was difficult to compile, I feel satisfied that I've, yet again, represented my musical year to the fullest.

And without further adieu...

5. Eddie Vedder
Ukulele Songs
Released 31 May 2011 (Monkeywrench Records)

My musical hero and Pearl Jam frontman had a busy 2011 to say the least. Along with touring Australia, Canada, Central and South America, and putting on the Pearl Jam 20 weekend concert in East Troy, Wisconsin; releasing and promoting a Cameron Crowe directed documentary about the first twenty years of Pearl Jam; and working on material for an upcoming full band album, Vedder released and toured behind Ukulele Songs: an album composed entirely of songs featuring that beautiful yet neglected four-stringed instrument. Comprised of ten original songs, three covers, and two instrumentals, Ukulele Songs takes Vedder out of the comfort of drum and guitar solos that help bare the burden of the spotlight and shows the troubadore at his most vulnerable and intimate. In press interviews to promote the album, whose central themes are love and love lost, Vedder claimed that preforming the songs live is hard because each night he must dwell on all the times he had his heart broken. Of all the songs on the album, the two most compelling are the two that he didn't even write nor perform by himself: covers of the Isley Brothers' "Sleepless Nights" dueted with The Swell Season's Glenn Hansard and the traditional ukulele song "Tonight you Belong to Me" with longtime friend Cat Power spotlight how universal Vedder's vocals can be whether serenading his audience solo or harmonizing with a peer.

Key Tracks: "Sleeping by Myself," "Broken Heart," "Longing to Belong"

4. Wilco
The Whole Love
Released 27 September 2011 (dBpm/ANTI)

2009's Wilco (The Album) was regarded by critics as too obvious and complacent for a band as talented and groundbreaking as Wilco. As Pitchfork journalist Paul Thompson notes, Wilco is at their best when they find a balance between traditional folk rock and experimental while lead singer Jeff Tweedy's world-weary inscrutability guides each song and pushes musical boundries without being too challenging and demanding for the listener. The Whole Love, which was released on the band's own dBpm imprint, is a healthy return to alternative tones that brought them to indie fame with such releases as 2002's Yankee Foxtrot Hotel.

The album is unconventional as the songs are all over place and miss that cohesive nature that I appreciate in the idea of an album. Some feature beautiful orchestrations with strings ("Open Mind"), some have fuzzy guitars and monster feedback ("Art of Almost"), some could become pop standards ("Born Alone"), some are just beautiful ("Open Mind"), some could be confused for something Creedence Clearwater Revival would have written ("I Might"), and some could soundtrack a Wes Anderson film ("One Sunday Morning"). No matter how dissconected all of the tracks are, they all work as unit, and that's what makes Wilco work: they're unpredictably predictable controlled chaos.

Key Tracks: "I Might," "Born Alone," "Open Mind," "One Sunday Morning"

3. Yuck
Released 15 February 2011
(Fat Possem)

It seems that music goes through trends, and, crossing my fingers and God-willing, the grunge and early to mid-nineties alternative rock that I grew up with is making its return with Yuck spearheading the charge.

Fans of early Smashing Pumpkins and any-era Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth rejoice!

Yuck, a band that, remarkably, is comprised of five kids in their very early twenties, compose an art that is way beyond their years. I'm astonished at how cohesivley sound the album is from start to finish. From in-your-face punk with songs like "The Wall" and "Holing Out," to softer, more melodic tracks such a "Sunday" and "Georgia," the band released a complete and complex yet fun album. And I dare any Smashing Pumpkins fan to tell me that "Stutter" wouldn't be fit on Gish.

Key Tracks: "Suck," "Stutter," "Sunday"

2. The Decemberists
The King is Dead
Released 18 January 2011

Deciding to forgoe another wildly experimental concept album like 2009's The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists enlisted R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and Americana chanteuse Gillian Welch to assist with the folky, stripped-down country-themed The King is Dead.

Sometimes less is more.

This is by far the bands most solid musical effort to date. It's heartwarming and real and shows that the band can hold their own with the likes of The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show and Fleet Foxes when it comes to traditional American folk music.

The band wrote and recorded the album on an 80-acre farm outside of their hometown of Portland, Oregon with lead singer Colin Meloy stating that the band wanted the album's ethos to reflect their experiences in that particular rural setting. Tracks like "Rise to Me," "June Hymn," and "January Hymn" have such an organic and familiar feeling to them that it's hard not paint landscapes of lush wheat fields or forests of maple trees with gold and red leaves even after one listen.

Key Tracks: "Don't Carry it All," "Rise to Me," "Down by the Water," "All Arise!"

1. The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart
Released 19 April 2011
(Sub Pop)

I keep a journal of ideas I have for songs, poems, essays, whatever, and one idea I keep tossing around and coming back to is me trying to explain how somebody falls in love with a band or musician. I know it sounds childish and nonsensical but hear me out: there are times in our lives when our emotions are grabbed and pulled in one extreme direction and we have no choice but to follow. Whether we're at our highest highes (love, friendship, joyous celebration) or lowest lows (heartbreak, hate, death), people are vulnerable when our emotions are given free reign. We look for someone or something that we can see our emotions in; we look for a song or an album or a band to magnify those emotions and give us something to associate them with. And I can't help but associate Seattle's The Head and the Heart's debut album with everything I've experienced over the last few years.

I'm not going to try and interpret their songs and what they mean to me because I honestly can't put my finger on one aspect of my life that they would remind me of. I feel that each song captures such a range of emotion in me, and that's something I've never really experienced with a band before, not even in my beloved Pearl Jam. "Rivers and Roads" for example, which wasn't released on the original 2010 album, throws me in so many different directions each time I listen to it; I honestly can't help but think of Slippery Rock in the fall, my grandparents and Uncle Judd, Ireland, all the different ways I've fallen in love with Emily over the past year and a half, the Mahoning Creek, my college roommates, lost loves, and the possibility of moving out west. And this band brings all of this out in me all at once. It's kind of overwhelming at times but also comforting and reassuring-I like the fact that I can look to this band, to this group of strangers, and feel moved in so many different directions by their art.

Their music is honest and endearing and simple, yet singers Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, and Charity Rose harmonize with such complexity that it's hard not to feel moved at least in the slightest upon your first listen.

Key Tracks: "Down in the Valley," "Rivers and Roads," "Lost in my Mind"

Honorable Mentions:

The Black Keys El Camino
Released 6 December 2011 (Nonesuch)
Key Track: "Money Maker"

Death Cab for Cutie Codes and Keys
Released 31 May 2011 (Atlantic)
Key Track: "Some Boys"

Frank Turner
England Keep My Bones
Released 7 June 2011 (Epitaph)
Key Track: "If Ever I Stray"

Manchester Orchestra Simple Math
Released 10 May 2011 (Columbia)
Key Track: "Pale Black Eye"

Of Monsters and Men
Into the Woods EP
Released 20 December 2011 (Republic Records)
Key Track: "Love Love Love"

07 November 2011

Go Ask Jim Tressel

The Pennsylvania State University has always been the class of higher education. Their academic standards; list of accomplished alumni; vast contributions to the fields of science, engineering, and agriculture; selfless acts of philanthropy such as the dedicated Thon campaign; and, not to mention, their contributions to all of college athletics have set their university apart from all others.

They're the litmus test.

The benchmark.

They're what all other universities strive to be like.

That is until a few days ago.

With the recent sexual abuse allegations made against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the university has suffered a monumental blemish on their almost untarnishable reputation. Coach Sandusky was arrested Saturday on 40 counts of sexually abusing eight underage boys over a fifteen year span.

Both athletic director Tim Curely as well as senior vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury, both being released on Monday on bond around the sum of $75,000. Curely and Schultz lied to a grand jury about their knowledge of the incident. Both of their attornies had asked for bail to be waved, citing that both men have lived dedicated, pure lives in Centre County and were lifelong model citizens of Happy Valley. Caroline Roberto, attorney for Mr. Curley, is pushing the argument that withholding information on child endangerment is summary offense much like a speeding ticket.

These men should be fired, tried, tarred and feathered, and the dominos should keep falling throughout Happy Valley. Head Coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier need to be the next two to go. And if you're a Penn State student past or present and you don't agree with this, you need to pull your heads out of your asses.

When Ohio State University Head Football Coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign because he withheld information about his players, including Western Pennsylvania superstar and current Oakland Raider quarterback Terrel Pyror, accepting free tattoos and inappropriate financial compensation for selling autographs and memorabilia, Penn State fans applauded his departure and labeled him as both a liar and cheater.

You crucified this man because some kids made the wrong decisions and he tried to protect them.

The current Penn State alligations are very similar to the ones Ohio State faced...only way fucking worse.

Sandusky was caught red-handed by a graduate assistant doing perverse and unspeakable acts to an underage boy in a shower located in an on-campus athletic facility. The graduate assistant then told head coach Joe Paterno, who allegedly reported the incident to the athletic director.

And then the reports stopped.

Curley and Schultz must be fired because of lying to a grand jury. That's a certain. They lied and they should be let go or thrown in jail, if not both.

Paterno needs to go as well.

JoPa did the right thing by going to the athletic director and telling him what he was told, but that wasn't enough. He should have informed authorities when he realized that Curley was as far as the allegations were going to go. Yes, Paterno did the legal minimum as to what he needed to do; however, he did not live up to simple moral responsibilites. He should have done more. A lot more. If the athletic director wasn't listening to his whispers, he should have rasied in voice. Maybe in the form of Child Youth Services or the police. A decorated member of his staff molested young men on his time, and there must be reprocussions for allowing an unsafe and threatening environment on his time.

And Spanier needs to go as well. Again, because all of this happening on his time.

If you're simply looking at this as a football matter, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Do you think College Gameday will want to set up shop in Paternoville now? Do you think the Rose Bowl is really going to want to invite the Nittany Lions to Pasadena on New Year's Day after all of this? Do you think parents who want to better their kids as student-athletes will want to send their sons and daughters to Happy Valley? Do you really think Penn State will be the same when all this is over?

Penn State will fall because of this. Young men who even caught an awkward glance from that coach will start coming out of the woodwork. Former players who maybe didn't get a fair shot and have an ax to grind will have a story to tell. As the weeks go on there will be more and more fingerpointing and someon's story won't match with another until the whole damn thing has unravled.

Don't believe me? Go ask Jim Tressel when you see him next Saturday hulling lumber at the Home Depot down the block while his former Ohio State Buckeyes are in the hunt for a Big-10 championship.

Although Tressel's name got drug through the mud, Ohio State retained its by distancing themselves from their coach. This is what Penn State needs to do.

At the heart of this matter are Penn State students both past and present. They are class all the way, but they must see the big picture. They must look past Beaver Stadium, past Paternoville, past the mythical JoPa, and see the big picture: football does not define your university, you do. Each and every one of you worked harder than anyone in the country has just so you can hold your head high and say that you are a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University. Joe Paterno and the football team does not define your university: you do. Before you fight tooth and nail to keep Paterno and his legacy intact, you should be worrying about your own. Stop defending the actions of men that don't deserve them. And be honest, they don't. Paterno and co. should be cast aside in order to preserve the only legacy that matters: yours.

31 October 2011

"Why We Crave Horror Movies"

I recently watched a documentary on the Halloween franchise and why it was and continues to be so revolutionary, successful, and effective to the horror genre. Of note, director John Carpenter chose not to use a single drop of blood in the original Halloween because he wanted the audience to psychologically see the blood for themselves. Also, Carpenter chose not to show any close-ups of pscyho antagonist Michael Meyers until the end of the film much like Steven Spielberg did with the shark in Jaws. Instead, Carpenter decided to properly develope the victems in hopes that audiences would identify with the dumb jock, slutty chearleader, smartass know-it-all, or shy braniac; again, a move primarily used to psychologically evoke fear in the sense of Hey, that girl being slaughtered on the screen is a lot like me.

Below is an essay Stephen King wrote about why people flat-out need horror films. No, it goes beyond likes and dislikes; here, King claims that people need the thrillers, the slashers, the ghouls and goblins in order to subdue our terrible and vile rage and desires-a Michael Meyers each of us has within.

Happy Halloween.

"Why We Crave Horror Movies"
By Stephen King

I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better, after all. We’ve all known people who talk to themselves, people who sometimes squinch their faces into horrible grimaces when they believe no one is watching, people who have some hysterical fear – of snakes,
the dark, the tight place, the long drop . . . and, of course, those final worms and grubs that are waiting so patiently underground.

When we pay our four or five bucks and seat ourselves at tenth-row center in a theater showing a horror movie, we are daring the nightmare.


Some of the reasons are simple and obvious. To show that we can, that we
are not afraid, that we can ride this roller coaster. Which is not to say that a really good horror movie may not surprise a scream out of us at some point, the way we may scream when the roller coaster twists through a complete 360 or plows through a lake at the bottom of the drop. And horror movies, like roller coasters, have always been the special province of the young; by the time one turns 40 or 50, one’s appetite for double twists or
360-degree loops may be considerably depleted.

We also go to re-establish our feelings of essential normality; the horror movie isinnately conservative, even reactionary. Freda Jackson as the horrible melting woman in Die, Monster, Die! confirms for us that no matter how far we may be removed from the beauty of a Robert Redford or a Diana Ross, we are still light-years from true ugliness.

And we go to have fun.

Ah, but this is where the ground starts to slope away, isn’t it? Because this is a very peculiar sort of fun, indeed. The fun comes from seeing others menaced – sometimes killed. One critic has suggested that if pro football has become the voyeur’s version of combat, then the horror film has become the modern version of the public lynching.

It is true that the mythic “fairy-tale” horror film intends to take away the shades of grey . . . . It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites. It may be that horror movies provide psychic relief on this level because this invitation to lapse into simplicity, irrationality and even outright madness is extended so rarely.

We are told we may allow our emotions a free rein . . . or no rein at all.
If we are all insane, then sanity becomes a matter of degree. If your insanity leads you to carve up women like Jack the Ripper or the Cleveland Torso Murderer, we clap you away in the funny farm (but neither of those two amateur-night surgeons was ever caught, heh-heh-heh); if, on the other hand, your insanity leads you only to talk to yourself when you’re under stress or to pick your nose on your morning bus, then you are left alone to go about your business . . . though it is doubtful that you will ever be
invited to the best parties.

The potential lyncher is in almost all of us (excluding saints, past and present; but then, most saints have been crazy in their own ways), and every now and then, he has to be let loose to scream and roll around in the grass. Our emotions and our fears form their own body, and we recognize that it demands its own exercise to maintain
proper muscle tone. Certain of these emotional muscles are accepted – even exalted – in civilized society; they are, of course, the emotions that tend to maintain the status quo of civilization itself. Love, friendship, loyalty, kindness -- these are all the emotions that we applaud, emotions that have been immortalized in the couplets of Hallmark cards and in the verses (I don’t dare call it poetry) of Leonard Nimoy.

When we exhibit these emotions, society showers us with positive reinforcement; we learn this even before we get out of diapers. When, as children, we hug our rotten little puke of a sister and give her a kiss, all the aunts and uncles smile and twit and cry, “Isn’t he the sweetest little thing?” Such coveted treats as chocolate-covered graham crackers often follow. But if we deliberately slam the rotten little puke of a sister’s fingers in the door, sanctions follow – angry remonstrance from parents, aunts and uncles; instead of a chocolate-covered graham cracker, a spanking.

But anticivilization emotions don’t go away, and they demand periodic exercise. We have such “sick” jokes as, “What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead babies?” (You can’t unload a truckload of bowling balls with a pitchfork . . . a joke, by the way, that I heard originally from a ten-year-old.) Such a joke may surprise a laugh or a grin out of us even as we recoil, a possibility that
confirms the thesis: If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man. None of which is intended as a defense of either the sick joke or insanity but merely as an explanation of why the best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary all at the same time.

The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For those reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them – Dawn of the Dead, for instance – as lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.

Why bother? Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down
there and me up here.

It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that.

As long as you keep the gators fed.

11 September 2011

The Day the Earth Stood Still

When I taught over in Ireland, the people of that country had a saying: When America has a cold, the rest of the world sneezes. Today that sentiment could not hold any more truth than it does already.

I was a fifteen-year-old sophomore sitting in my second period study hall when our principal made the announcement. At the time I didn't understand the magnitude of what had happened, mainly because our study hall was in the cafeteria and I couldn't see the fire and smoke plaguing the streets of New York City; I couldn't see first-hand how the world was changing.

As the day continued to etch itself in our classrooms' history books, I became ridden with grief and anxiety over the thoughts of those fireman and police officers, office workers simply trying to get through another Tuesday, and run-of-the-mill Joes trying to catch a ride home not being able to have dinner witht heir families that night; not being able to see their sons hit their first little league homeruns or walk their daughters down the aisle on their weddings days; not being able to, for one last time, tell their husbands and wives that they love them and want them to live happy lives without them.

The secretary made constant announcements throughout the day for students to report to the office. Their parents were there, in tears, to take them home. My mother came around seventh period, in tears, and held me tighter than I have ever cared to remember. Typically I would refute such a request citing my fifteen-year-old self-righteous and naive abilities to take care of myself, but I obliged. Besides, on that day I needed her to hold my hand as much as she needed me to hold hers.

And that night, all across our country, families held each other close and spoke a little less as we counted our blessings and mourned.

Look, to those of you that know me well enough know that I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with our country and am not the foremost patriot. There are a thousand and one changes I'd make to anything and everything wrong with our country from public transportation and tax cuts to healthcare and welfare.

None of that matters today.

What our country needs today is for everyone to hold each other a little closer, speak a little less, and count our blessings.

14 August 2011

Incoming Freshmen

The other night on my way home from Emily's, I stopped at Dairy Queen to get my mother a little ice cream treat/thank-you for making me one heck of a top-shelf dinner. After placing Donna's standard order of a Peanut Buster Parfait, extra fudge, one of the girls behind the counter noticed my black hoodie with the green ROCK scribed across the chest and asked if I knew...and began naming people who I can only assume currently go to Slippery Rock University. Not wanting to waste her time I cut her short and told her that I had graduated three years ago and that those people came in well after my four year stint at the Rock. She then told me she was going to be a freshman elementary education major at SRU, was going to live in Building B, and that classes were starting in two weeks. There were other people waiting in line behind me so I quickly paid my tab, flashed a smile, and said have fun and good luck.

But I wish I could have said more.

I wish I could have said that everything she knew about the world was going to change, and maybe not for the good in some instances.

I wish I could have said that she was going to drift apart if not completely lose almost all contact with all of her friends from high school; that she was going to abandon all of her sistas and BFFs and, in turn, was going to be abandoned as well.

I wish I could have said to her that no matter how special she was in high school, no matter how stellar of an athlete she was or how high her G.P.A. was, she is a freshman bottom feeder that does not matter in the scheme of how the university functions. To them she is simply a number...a very, very high number. In all honesty, she had more pull as a high school junior on an educational visit than she does as a freshmen.

I wish I could have said that she was going to be given a nickname. Everyone does. We had Sexual Mike, the Captain, D-Money, Big Jess, Little Jess, Big Megan/Megan Hagan, Little Megan, the Nightmare, Fat Boy/Corky, Dark Mark, Bitches, Bacon, Big B/Brains/Charlie Brown, S.T./Pigpen, Jumping Curt, Branca Snake, the Riedler, Verbasaur, and a handful of other characters that I'm not just not remembering at the moment all living on the same floor. And if you're not given a nickname, you're known by your last name, or by a catchphrase such as "Huh" (and that's not a question, it's a statement) and "Youngboo." My nicknames were Tall Sean and Stumpy.

I wish I could have said that she should forget the idea of having a roommate. No, she's going to have about forty-or-so people living with her; borrowing her clothes and DVDs and not getting any of them back until the end of the year; eating the brownies that her Grandma Marion sent up to her in a care package along with her favorite candy, a roll of quarters and a twenty; talking behind her back one minute, then gladly splitting a handle of the good stuff, Vladimir Vodka, with her and about six other eighteen year olds who are looking to grow up one shot at a time; being hung over together on a Saturday afternoon and watching The Hangover and Step Brothers on an endless loop until it's time to start it all over again; and having the same sleep, showering, eating, and bowel movement schedule as the rest of her floor.

I wish I could have said that she is going to get fat. And I mean f-a-t fat. Don't worry-it happens to everybody. With all of the beer, all-you-can-eat breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, and midnight Sheetz runs, it's near impossible not to gain a few l.b's...or twenty. Oh, and she'll eat ice cream. Loads of it. Every night. And she won't be vanilla about it, either. No, she will get three scoops of Birthday Cake Ice Cream with hot fudge, butterscotch, whipped cream on top, and maybe some type of new sprinkle that bursts in her mouth like Pop Rocks (I don't know-I've been out of the ice cream game for quite a while). Maybe take a handful of cookies back to her dorm room, you know...just in case. And the trips home are far more worse. Every food she's ever loved, the egg casserole with sausage and peppers for breakfast, the red sauce with meatballs over linguine for lunch, maybe a trip to the Cheesecake Factory, will all be ready upon her arrival with enough leftover, and probably a few batches of white oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, to take back with you for a late night snack. Yeah, she'll go to the gym to keep it off...at first. But that master plan will be thrown out the door quicker than the promise her and her boyfriend made to each other to remain faithful (don't worry-he broke that promise weeks ago).

I wish I could have said that she was going to drink, but that's an understatement, too. She will drink a lot and push her tolerance the way marathon runners make a mad dash to the finish; only she will lose this race. Miserably. She will have a near death experience with alcohol one night and wake up the next morning feeling more ill and more vile than any flu, disease or plague has ever made her feel before. She will look in the mirror and feel shame at the sight of both the running mascara down her cheeks and and the bad decisions written in invisible ink that only she can see all over her face. She will try to wash away the regret with a hot shower. She will brush her teeth over and over again only to discover that Colgate merely washes away the taste of alcohol but overly intensifies the sweet sting of vomit on her teeth. She will cry and wish she were dead somewhere on the side of the road. This will be her first scars in a long war that she will knowingly not win but simply hope to make it out alive. Oddly enough, this all will occur on a Tuesday night during midterm week.

I wish I could have said that the friends she'll meet on the floor of her dorm building were going to be her soul mates-somewhat of a catch twenty-two because even though she is going to need those soul mates everyday for the rest of her life, she's only going to get four years with them. That's bitter and hard to stomach but it happens. Everyone will grow up and head in their separate directions. The kid from Greensburg who drank 151 and Keystone Ice everyday for a solid year and pissed in the hall on a regular basis because he honestly couldn't make it ten more feet to the bathroom will start a rather successful Internet company. The girl from Erie who made out with a kid on Halloween who had butter knives taped to his hands to look like Wolverine from X-Men will become a teacher and look beautiful in her wedding dress. The guy from Meadville who bought everyone beer with his fake I.D. and got your asses kicked behind McDonalds one night for no sensible reason other than because will be a great father to a little boy. And the guy who skinny dipped in the Atlantic Ocean in Lahinch, Ireland drunk at 2:30 a.m. in the middle of November will admit all of these feelings in a tear-soaked letter that will be handed out at a Quaker Steak and Lube five days before graduation, blog about it before it becomes too far of a distant memory, and miss each of them every Valentine's Day, during Hanukkah, and any time he has a movement to reminisce.

Truth be told, I envy that girl at Dairy Queen who made my mother's Peanut Buster Parfait, extra fudge, the other night. Think about it: how many times in your life will you be able to move away from your family and friends, from your childhood, from your comfort; meet complete strangers from different cultures, religions, ways of life, social and economical groups, people that are all on the level as you despite your many differences; and start something new, fresh and exciting-something none of you have ever experienced in any of your eighteen years?


I wish I could have shared any one of these bits of information with her to help steer her ship in the right direction; to help calm her feelings of fear, excitement, curiousity, and general not knowing of what she's getting her self into.

On second thought...nah, she'll have to figure this one out on her own. That's half the fun.

09 June 2011

Frank Turner Will Save Yr Life

Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut
Not everyone was born to be a king
Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury
Everyone can raise a glass and sing
Well I haven't always been a perfect person
And I haven't done what mom and dad had dreamed
But on the day I die, I'll say at least I fucking tried
That's the only eulogy I need

9.1% of all abled-body Americans were unemployed as of June 4th, 2011.

Detroit, Michigan, once the home of both the American automobile as well millions hard-working, blue-collar citizens, is now the home of hopelessness, poverty, despair, and just over 700,000 people.

As of June 30th, a combined 50% of funding will be cut from both Pennsylvania's public schools as well as universities of higher education. Similar cuts have been made all over the country, most notably New Jersey and California.

And about a month and a half ago, Donald Trump was the Republican front runner for the President of the United States of America.

We are a country in trouble.

We are becoming one of the world's underdogs.

Luckily, Frank Turner can empathize with such plights.

I first discovered Frank Turner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 1st, 2009. At the very last minute, I decided to make the five hour trek to see Pearl Jam close the Philadelphia Spectrum on Halloween. I won't get into the reasons why I made the trip, but lets just say I wasn't feeling connected with the world and needed about three hours and forty-five minutes of PJ tearing down the an arena to tie myself back together. What I didn't need was the radiator-shattering car accident I got into in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art the next day. Needless to say, I ended up spending yet another night in the City of Brotherly Love, patiently waiting for my Monday morning's flight out of Philly and into Pittsburgh. Friends from college, Trista and Mark, graciously put me up for the night on their couch and even fed me some really good vegan pasta with white beans. Now, Mark and Trista are, hands down, two of raddest, most genuine people you'll ever meet. We all worked at our campus's radio station, WSRU, and the three of us became connected because of our love for music. And they truly love music, maybe more so than me. And because of their good fortune of living in Philly, they are privy to being on the ground-level for a lot of up-and-coming bands. They go to a lot of house shows, basement clubs, shows that cost less than a number one at McDonalds, and anywhere someone with a guitar and something to say can perform. While talking shop and catching up and being harassed for liking Pearl jam, Trista told me of this English guy named Frank something or another who performed at the Titan House, a punk club that should more appropriately be called a basement, a few weeks back. She said Frank came in, took his shirt off exposing his pale, 150 pound lanky frame, picked up a ragged acoustic guitar, took a swig from a bottle of beer, and, without the fortune of anything resembling a stage or a microphone, played one of the best shows she'd ever seen. Trista, knowing that I hate almost everything and am one of southwestern Pennsylvania's foremost music elitists, still insisted that I listen, and she played me this:

And I liked it.

And I went home to Pittsburgh the next day, went to Paul's Music Mine on the South Side a few days later, and bought Turner's album "Love Ire & Song," and I loved it.

And I listened to that album incessantly over the course of my hour and forty minute round-trip car ride to work each day over the past two-and-a-half years.

And I bought "Poetry of the Deed" and the "Rock and Roll" e.p. and listened to those as well, again, giving both relentless listens.

And not only did I listen to his lyrics, but I thought about them, carefully, and took them to heart.

See, Turner's take on the singer-songwriter is a lot different than almost all of his peers and contemporaries. A good songwriter will pen and perform what he or she knows; they'll tell a story of the world around them, and that's all well and good. It's effective and will draw some emotion and some attention. However, Frank Turner's greatest assets as a musician are his spirit, his empathy, and his ability to compel an audience.

His heart is in all of his songs, and you feel it when you listen; and his heart is a mighty big place with lots of room. Whether he's referring to lost love in songs such as "St. Christopher is Coming" and "Substitute," or being in love ("The Fastest Way Back Home"), Turner's audience can feel sincerity and authenticity in his lyrics. Hell, I've never been to England but know both how stunning and alluring it is ("To Take You Home" and "Rivers") as well as some of its history ("Sons of Liberty") because of the pride his lyrics reflect. He has this way of taking what's on his mind and transplating it to his audience-we understand him.

Monday morning, comes a crawling in
From another weekend choked with cigarettes and sin
I've been busy, so much lately
That every time I get some time to spend
I end up drunk or sleeping in
And I miss you, you're busy too
We call each other up, when we're messed up
And say we'll meet in the New Year
But it's perfectly clear we'll do no such thing
Come the spring

Turner writes each song's protagonist as an everyman: someone that the audience can identify with no matter the circumstance. Anthems such as "Photosynthesis," "Live Fast Die Old," "Try This at Home," and "Love Ire & Song" reflect a social rebellion and an upbeat uncertainty: the world may be changing around us and it's okay to feel scared, insecure, and alone, but God damn it, man, your voice better be heard or what's the point?

'Cos love is free and life is cheap
As long as I've got me a place to sleep
Clothes on my back and some food to eat
I can't ask for anything more

And his live shows speak for themselves. If you've never had the good fortune, I'll paint this basic picture: it doesn't matter if he's playing a room of fifty at the Brillobox in Bloomfield or opening for Green Day in front of 50,000 at Wimbley Stadium in his motherland England; by the end of his set he'll have everyone on their feet, singing along, questioning themselves as to why they've yet to hear about this Frank something-or-another and how soon they can hear him again. Oh, and he likes whiskey and PBR and won't hesitate to ask you to go buy him one in between songs.

I just got Turner's latest album, "England, Keep My Bones," and it is standard FTHC: accomplished, exceptional, excellent. I haven't even gotten through my second listen and I've already caught myself taping my foot and humming along, trying to figure out his lyrics; or, rather, how his lyrics are trying to figure me out. Maybe he'll try to figure you out as well.

Frank Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, will be supporting this album with a full U.S. tour this fall, and they'll be visiting Mr. Small's Theatre on Thursday, September 22nd.

Below is a full-album stream of "England, Keep My Bones." Enjoy and happy summer.

12 February 2011

Two-Hour Delay Musings

There is a joke amongst my circle of friends: If there is a hint of bad weather in the general area of southwestern Pennsylvania, and I mean within a 50 mile radius of Greene County, there is a 90% chance I won't be teaching a full day of school. That statement is entirely true considering we have had at least one two-hour delay per week since around Christmas vacation. The less-than-agreeable weather, and the fact that I had a personal day scheduled for Monday (day after the Steelers Super Bowl XLV loss, with the addition of having to take a continuing education class on Wednesday, added up to me not teaching a full day of school this past week.

And President Obama says America's children are behind other countries in science and math.

Anyways, with all that time off, I had a lot of time to think. Here are a few of those thoughts...

~ I watched the Super Bowl at a friends' apartment, and despite the loss, I did come up with this conclusion: Fans from the city of Pittsburgh are quite possibly the worst in professional sports. Case in point: I had to watch the Super Bowl sitting next to one of the most annoying women in the history of vagina. Firstly, she didn't get why Deion Sanders got to flip the coin for the pre-game coin toss. After explaining to her that Sanders won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, she then called him a faggot. Secondly, she screamed after every play, sometimes with ghetto tones (this woman is milk white), and sometimes saying phrases such as "There ya' go, baby" and "That's how we do 5-1." I had to sit next to her the entire game. By the way, everyone is welcome that I took that bullet for them on Sunday. Thirdly, she'd throw out some witty chatter to try to be part of the group, laugh at her joke, then look around to see if anyone heard and/or laughed back. She then would repeat it a second time to make sure it wasn't lost on deaf ears. I really don't like when people do that. Fourthly, she argued with her brother the entire game. If the brother said that Rashard Mendenhall should have zigged, she would reply, "Fuck that, boy shoulda' zagged." Lastly, she stormed out of the apartment after the Steelers lost. Nobody wanted to go to the bar and do shots after the loss, and that made her quite upset. Did I mention this woman plays women's professional football for the Pittsburgh Passion?

~ Yes, I just generalized the entire city of Pittsburgh by the actions of one woman. However, is it just me or are a lot of people pointing fingers for the loss? Bad play calling. Bad quarterback. Bad secondary. Where was Troy? Where was Harrison? I, for one, think the Steelers had a great season; one that they should be commended on. I will now turn my attentions to the Penguins, Pitt basketball, and St. Patrick's Day.

~ I really feel bad for actress Danielle Fishel. You may remember her from films such as Dorm Daze, Game Box 1.0, and the ever popular Dorm Daze 2. Myself, I remember her as Topanga Lawrence from the hit ABC comedy "Boy Meets World." When I was younger, I had never seen such a beautiful woman before that show aired. I remember spending my Friday nights at the Crowley household watching TGIF, just hoping that I'd get to see my Topanga. I knee I wanted a woman that was as beautiful and understanding as Topanga was with Corey Matthews and his crazy hi jinx. Anyways... I watched a re-run of "Boy Meets World" Wednesday morning, and I noticed that Topanga had a chubby face and chubby arms, and then I began to become concerned about Danielle Fishel's weight. I checked the Internet Movie Database to see if she was still acting, but it seems that she hasn't appeared in a movie or a straight-to-video release since 2007. I hope it's not because of weight-issues. Hollywood can be such a cruel mistress.

~ Speaking of "Boy Meets World," what's wrong with America's parents. When I was thirteen, I watched shows like "Boy Meets World" and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." My students watch trash such as "The Jersey Shore" and some show called "Skins." Most of you probably know what "The Jersey Shore" is, but if you've never watch "Skins" and are curious to see what all the fuss is about, let me stop you dead in your tracks and say that you're a pedophile for even having a spark of interest. All I will say is that MTV has finally tapped the needed market for teenage softcore porn. Kudos, Music Television.

~ I am still amazed by music. I was really bored for a while, but my interests have been peaked as of late. Along with old friends, I've discovered a few new bands and have started a new genre of music: Back Porch Music. Back Porch Music is music that you can listen to on a warm summer's night on your back porch. It is ideal with candles, a sunset, a slight breeze, and your favorite alcoholic beverage. Some of my favorite back porch musicians and bands are Band of Horses, Okkervil River, The Avett Brothers, Gillian Welch, and the Decemberists (their new album is tops). Back porch music makes me yearn for summer. Anyone up for a camp trip the first nice weekend in April?

~ I'm not too keen on drinking anymore. I'd much rather sip on a beer and chat with friends than go to the club and pound Red Bull and vodkas. But I must admit, I am a tremendous dancer.

~ Kids simply do not want to work anymore. They expect everything handed to them at all times, no questions asked. They expect not to have to do the work, but still get the same results as their peers that do put forth at least the minimal effort. Any time a kid (or parent) complains to me about their grades, status in my class, or playing time on my teams, I simply tell them to work harder to get what they want. They don't like to hear this, but they need to from time to time.

~ Enough for now...it's t-shirt time!