Discography: Fugazi, Part 6: End Hits

"End Hits" deserves the shit that it's gotten from Fugazi fans, but that doesn't stop it from being a great album.

If "Red Medicine" was the beginning of a new era for the band, "End Hits" is them pushing the envelope of that era, seeing what the limits are.  It's as if they were pleasantly surprised by the music they discovered they could make on the last album and now they were cautiously seeing if it actually suited them.

"Break" is the perfect first song for this album.  It's got a classic Fugazi groove layered underneath this relaxed, almost jazzy clean guitar part -- and is that piano I hear?  It sure is, this time used as an instrument and not as a vehicle for noise (as with the last album).  McKaye's vocals in the center, when it's just him and a single guitar, are strange, but still fit the song perfectly.

Follow that up with classic Guy rocker, "Place Position" and you've got the makings of a fantastic new school Fugazi record, albeit one that seems definable.  But you'd be getting ahead of yourself.

Joe Lally always seems to sing on the more atmospheric songs and "Recap Modotti" is no exception.  We're venturing into stoner rock territory here, which is shocking, given that none of them are stoners.  Even the teases of a build up ultimately don't pay off.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not something you'd expect from Fugazi...which is something you should get used to over the course of this album.

And while we're on the subject of weird song arrangements, here comes "No Surprises."

But then, like the parting of rain clouds, we get "Five Corporations," a fantastic example of how new Fugazi can still rock out like old Fugazi, but with more complex music.  And we've even got that trademark Fugazi anti-establishment going on.  Seriously, that tempo change for the chorus is unbelievable, particularly when it's followed by just bass, drums, and vocals for the verse.

"Caustic Acrostic" is a great song, a modern day Guy-style Fugazi song.  You could tell, since Red Medicine, that Guy had gotten away from playing chords.  I have to think that was a response to Ian McKaye's style of guitar, whose riffs and palm muting were more often a hammer than a scalpel. Guy's style evolved out of necessity and it made them a better band.

Things get weird again after "Caustic Acrostic."  "Close Caption" and "Floating Boy" are spacey, atmospheric jams that push the boundaries of traditional song structure.  They're glorious little oddities amongst the larger Fugazi library, wonderful experiments by a band that is no longer bound by a static sound. Most Fugazi fans I know hate these songs.

We bounce back with "Foreman's Dog," which is surprisingly straight forward for this album.  It kind of reminds me of something to be found on "Steady Diet," yet with a better sound.  And speaking of straight forward, then we get "Arpeggiator" which is ostensibly just a scale, but somehow Fugazi makes it great.

"Guilford Falls" feels like another new school Guy song, with an initial hook that is made up of picking each string rather than strumming chords.  It's also got the classic Fugazi "introduce a new part by having just one guitar play it, then everyone eventually kicks in."  Again, it's a complex song with layered guitars and an interesting structure, but it still has some classic Fugazi qualities.

 And then we hit "Pink Frosty."  It is possible there's no more maligned Fugazi song in their catalog than "Pink Frosty."  It's understandable: it's barely a song.  It sounds like someone took some drugs and mixed an outtake for the album.  It's completely insubstantial, which would be much less of a problem if it weren't more than four minutes long.

It's hard to figure out what Fugazi is doing here. They obviously liked "Pink Frosty" enough to put it on the album, but does it have a thematic purpose? Is it meant as a palate cleanser before the big finale? The album is 13 tracks long so it's not like this needed to be on there to fill it out. Or was this an attempt at creating a balance with their first record, just in case this ended up being their last?

The last song on "End Hits," "F/D" is bizarre, but it's only bizarre because it appears to be two completely different songs smashed on to the same track.  What's really interesting about it is that it's a clear breakdown between an Ian song and a Guy song.  The very quiet opening features a straightforward chord progression with McKaye's rhyme-y punk rock vocals and an up tempo drum beat.  But there's a break and then the Guy song comes crashing down, full of dramatic guitar and vocals.  Yet for the twangy, high end guitar part, buried underneath it is a simple, driving guitar part that is, again, classic McKaye.

After a few seconds of silence when the song ends, we get outtakes from "No Surprises," like a reminder that this album was all about experimentation.

"Red Medicine" was a much more together album, but "End Hits" was a clear bridge to where Fugazi was headed. This record felt like Fugazi preparing for the end, but not quite there yet.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 5: Red Medicine

"Red Medicine" was the first Fugazi album I ever bought when it was released.  Up until this point, I'd been playing catch up.

There's a decent argument to be made that this is their best album.  It's certainly the first salvo of the band taking their songwriting to the next level.

Right from the start, something is different.  There's the energy we're used to.  It opens with some crazy noise, but that's not too surprising.  But are those...clean guitars?  And it's an up tempo song?  And is that a guitar solo (loosely defined, sure)?

And it's like Fugazi knows this might seem strange to you and they challenge you right in the song.  "I've got a question/how/do you like me?"

We are Fugazi and we've taken it to the next level!

"Bed for the Scraping" is classic Fugazi with a new Fugazi twist.  Groovestastic bass/drums, Ian McKaye grunting, but the guitar work is sharper and more layered than what we've seen before.  This is a new kind of punk rock anthem, but still has all the old school energy.

"Latest Disgrace" says "remember those weird noises at the beginning of this album?  That was just a taste."  The first half of the song is bizarre, as if the guitars have been tuned differently, and everything besides Guy's voice is muted, particularly the barely there drums by Canty.  Oh, and Guy goes falsetto at one point.  But then it all collapses into the kind of straight forward rocking we expect of Fugazi, it just has more power now, because it's got new context.

"Birthday Pony" seems like it should sound like an old Fugazi song, but the production has changed it.  The palm muting, the big chorus -- this should be "13 Songs" era Fugazi.  But the big chorus isn't just big this time around, it's full.  There's a texture there that we haven't seen before.  And you're beginning to realize that Ian and Guy are pushing each other when it comes to vocals.  They're going into uncharted territory.

"Forensic Scene" is an instant classic.

And then we hit the weird stuff.

"Combination Lock" is probably the most "jam" feeling instrumental Fugazi has ever released.  It feels like a song they're just jamming on one day.  "Fell, Destroyed" could be a June of '44 song.  "By You" is a crazy wall of sound with these mellow vocals by Joe Lally.  "Version" is yet another instrumental, but this one features a clarinet...oh, and the bass line from another song on the album (which we haven't gotten to yet).  It's almost like an undecipherable remix of a song that comes later on the record.

We return to more straight forward, yet no less creative, Fugazi rock with "Target."  Yet again, though, there are guitars that are strikingly not distorted, and yet the urgency of the music hasn't lessened at all.  There's even the classic Fugazi palm mute a part by itself, then play it full blown with the rest of the band, yet it all feels much bigger.  Just listen to the guitars on "Back to Base."  We've never heard anything like that on a Fugazi record.  It's epic.  And "Downed City" is much the same, just more frenetic.  It's wonderful.

I love "Long Distance Runner."  In a lot of ways, it epitomizes "new" Fugazi.  We've got this full, kind of notey, two guitar bit, then some bass/drums action (with appropriate level of guitar noise), and a spectacular level of loud quiet loud.  It's also works as the perfect metaphor for the band: they are long distance runners.  They are constantly moving forward.  They have yet to get stuck because they can't stop.  "And if I stop to catch my breath/might catch a piece of death."  No two Fugazi albums have sounded the same.  No two Fugazi albums will ever sound the same, because they are still running.

I'm convinced that one of the members of Fugazi has synesthesia, because I have synesthesia and the majority of these songs are red to me ("Birthday Pony" and "Do You Like Me" are yellow).  I think one of them saw the same thing when it came time to name this album.

At this point, "Red Medicine" became my second favorite Fugazi record. I don't know that anything could dethrone "Repeater" from the top spot. "Red Medicine" would ultimately fall to #3 on my list, though, when it was all said in done. But which of the remaining records knocked it down?

Discography: Fugazi, Part 4: In on the Killtaker

If there was a darkness about "Steady Diet of Nothing," "In on the Killtaker" was Fugazi exorcising it.

"Killtaker" alternately features the most aggressive and, up until that point, the most beautiful songs Fugazi had recorded.

If you were unsure what you were going to get after "Steady Diet of Nothing," you knew from the first song, "Facet Squared."  Open with some playful guitar noises, lay down a nice bass/drums groove, then explode into a driving, closed fist punch of a song, complete with McKaye's forceful, grunting vocals.  This is a Fugazi that will not be ignored, something that was easy to do on the last album.  They're not holding back this time around.

Still unsure?  Welcome to "Public Witness Program."  They're in full on attack mode now, yet the vocals are only getting more and more catchy.  The guitar interplay at around the 1:15 mark lets you know that this energy isn't for show; you're going to get Fugazi's all on this record, and nothing less.

Then we get the first wild card: "Returning the Screw."  It's quiet and sparse, but McKaye's vocals tell you that there's something boiling underneath the surface.  And when it explodes -- and does it ever -- you realize that the energy from the first two songs is still here, just less frantic and more powerful.

I could go on and on about "Smallpox Champion," but it would just be sad because I love the hell out of that song.  When they move into the second half of the song, I get goosebumps.

And that's just the first four songs!  I haven't even gotten to "Rend It," "Sweet and Low," "Walken's Syndrome," or, perhaps the best song on the album and the best "slow" song Fugazi has ever recorded, "Last Chance for a Slow Dance."  This was clearly a band on a mission.

From what I remember, "In on the Killtaker" was a point of contention with Fugazi fans. There was a very clear divide between those who loved it and those who hated it. But I don't think I've ever heard a cogent argument from those who hated it beyond "It's not Fugazi," which makes no sense.

Is this record a change of pace for the band? I guess. But it's clearly a part of their evolution. You don't get to "In on the Killtaker" without the three albums that came before it.

I think this was the Rubicon for Fugazi. This was the record where they discovered their sound. That's not to say they didn't move forward on future records because they most certainly did, but this is the album that got them to that very Fugazi place, a combination of dynamics, intricate song writing, that incredible rhythm section, a phenomenal duel guitar attack, and some next level vocals from both singers.

Stylistically, this could be called the "outro" album, as this is when Fugazi really found their "outro" game. This would become a calling card for the band: a brand new part to a song that only comes at the end. The aforementioned "Smallpox Champion" is a great example of this, but a lot of the songs on this record have them.

This is perhaps the first Fugazi record that fully embraced the "loud quiet loud" style, although it's admittedly modified to better suit the band. Still, the dynamics on this record are certainly amplified. If you really wanted to reduce this album, you could call it "emo," although it's really not.

"Last Chance for a Slow Dance" was probably the song that created the divide among Fugazi fans, although I don't know that for certain. Every Fugazi album has a "slow" song, so to speak, from "Promises" to "Shut the Door" to "Long Division." All three of those are fairly unconventional as far as "slow" songs are concerned. "Last Chance" is much more produced and, yes, Guy Picciotto's vocals do, indeed, make it sound more "emo." Those Fugazi fans who didn't like it were not going to find much joy going forward, either.

It's interesting to note the titles of the four albums I've talked about so far.  "13 Songs" is almost tongue in cheek, like a refusal to actually name the collection of songs from two EPs.  In Fugazi's mind, it wasn't even an album at all, but a compilation.

Apparently, "Repeater" wasn't just named after the song, but was a play on the Beatles "Revolver," since a revolver is both a type of gun and a recorded -- the same as a repeater.  What better sign is there of a band embracing their creative energies than by dropping an allusion like that?

But the playfulness of the first two albums disappears and we get "Steady Diet of Nothing."  Not exactly a shiny, happy album name.  And then what comes after that?  "In on the Killtaker."  It's like depression and aggression, back to back.

This was all a part of the evolution of Fugazi, and evolution that would grow by leaps in bounds on the next two records.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 3: Steady Diet of Nothing

I hadn't realized until this moment that I associate most Fugazi records with specific seasons. "13 Songs" was a winter album. "Repeater" was a summer album. "Steady Diet of Nothing" took me back to winter.

That's appropriate, given that winters where I grew up were long and boorish, a seemingly infinite slog of depression. "Steady Diet" is kind of like that.

"Steady Diet of Nothing" is my least favorite Fugazi album, mostly because there's so little variation to it.  The songs all have the same basic feel to them.  The dynamics that were building on "Repeater" seemed to take a back seat on this album. It felt like a much less adventurous album, as if the band had discovered a sound that they weren't quite sure about, but were willing to play over and over and over again in hopes of getting it right.  

Fugazi didn't evolve like I'd expected them to.

Don't get me wrong, "No Exit" has a nice climax, although it's so insubstantial up until that point that almost anything would have felt climatic.  "Reclamation" is a stand out, and more of the type of thing I was expecting from them given the songs on "Repeater."  But "Nice New Outfit" introduces a rhythmic guitar part that seems to show up in some form or another on multiple songs.  Coupled with the similar structure of a lot of the songs, the whole album feels monotone.

The songs aren't as dynamic as they were on the first two albums. Fugazi was always a band that could make the most out of one or two parts for an entire song, but there was never a lack of depth or complexity. Long Division" is a great song, but it's ostensibly one part over and over again, much the way "No Exit" was just two parts.  Everything's at the same tempo, all the songs are fairly simple.

"Nice New Outfit" to "Stacks" to "Latin Roots" could be the most redundant section of the record. The famous start/stop dueling guitars of Fugazi are on display, but it seems like they don't know how to use them yet.

There's also a darkness to this album.  There was a certain amount of punk rock joy on "13 Songs," and you could actually feel the creative excitement on "Repeater."  That seems to have been sapped for "Steady Diet of Nothing."

The successful songs on this record are the ones that have a hook of some kind. "Reclamation" is a classic, built around a singular guitar sound and a wonderful bass line. "Polish" is the culmination of what every other song on this record was trying to do. "KYEO" could have been on "Repeater." The duel vocals push the song forward and the alternate chorus elevates the song and the final few "we will not be beaten down" resonate in a way that nothing else on the album does.

Looking at this record as a piece of the entire Fugazi catalog, this might be the most transitional record they produced. You can see the germs of what would become the next record already beginning to form. The Fugazi sound was starting to materialize.

Let's face facts: a mediocre Fugazi record is still better than the majority of music out there, so this is by no means a bad album. But I was expecting something more.

I would get it in a big way with "In on the Killtaker."

Discography: Fugazi, Part 2: Repeater

If I had any doubts about how great Fugazi was, those were removed when I heard the title track on "Repeater."  The chorus is not remotely something you'd expect from anything resembling a punk band.  And that rhythm section?  Holy cow.  This was a band that clearly knew what they had in Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, and they knew enough to stay out of their way.

"Merchandise" and "Blueprint" could be the best back-to-back tracks on any Fugazi album. 

I got "Repeater" the summer of 1995, much of which I spent working two jobs. My mornings and afternoons were spent at a grocery store, my evenings were spent at a pizza place. While the pizza place was kind of cool and filled with other late teen/early 20s employees just looking to stay afloat and maybe afford some cheap beer, the grocery was one of a chain and felt very corporate.

I drove the delivery van for that grocery store. We had a bakery and there was a convenient store not far away that ordered fresh doughnuts every morning. Delivery was scheduled for 5:45AM (15 minutes before they opened). I woke up at 4:30AM for that job. There were days when I would work at that job until 2PM and then go to the job at the pizza place at 4PM, getting off work well after midnight. Thankfully, I managed to schedule shifts so that I never worked at the pizza place the night before I worked at the grocery store, although that certainly wasn't the case at the start.

I listened to a lot of Fugazi that summer.

"Merchandise" became an anthem for me, the last song I would listen to before arriving at the grocery store. 

For as much as I love "Merchandise," though, "Blueprint" quickly became my favorite song on the album. Yet another song with an anti-capitalism theme, "Blueprint" was less raging against the system and more feeling beaten down by the system. To this day, the ending gives me goosebumps.

And let's not forget the driving "Greed," which is ostensibly just two parts, yet still works, or the triumphant "Styrofoam."  Is "Reprovisional" cheating a little bit?  Maybe, but it's a great example of how the band had evolved in just two albums.  "Shut the Door" is a great follow-up to "Promises" from "13 Songs," and is another step in the dynamic intensity Fugazi was quickly excelling at.

"Repeater" (the album) is also noteworthy because it's the beginning of the duel guitar formation that would stick with them over the rest of their career.  Guy Picciotto quickly become an excellent song writer, and I think his influence on Ian McKaye pushed them both forward as guitarists.

"Repeater" was a big step forward from "13 Songs." As much as enjoyed that first album, it had a specific sound, a lot of palm muting and guttural vocals. But "Repeater" was Fugazi's statement record. "13 Songs" felt like a demo. "Repeater" was Fugazi making themselves known.

After two albums, I was hooked and I was prepared for "Steady Diet of Nothing" to move Fugazi even further forward.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 1: 13 Songs

Pearl Jam doesn't get enough credit.

I think every generation has those bands who are immensely popular and are very open about their not so popular influences.  Nirvana did the same thing, although they were, like most of Pearl Jam, more interested in promoting their fellow Seattle bands, the ones who had played big parts in their lives but weren't getting the same attention.

Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, was vocal about his favorite bands.  He would go so far as to sing bits of their songs during concerts.

Way back in my high school days, I got my first ever bootleg.  It was a recording of Pearl Jam playing at a small club in Paard van Troje in the Netherlands.  It was, appropriately enough, called Pearl Jam: Small Club.

The 8th song of that show, after "Black" and before "Release," was a song that Pearl Jam, to my knowledge, never actually recorded, which is actually for the best, as it's not a particularly good song.  On the bootleg, it's titled "Saying No," and it's more or less about rape.  It's a four minute song and at the three minute mark, Eddie Vedder stops singing his own lyrics.  Instead, he sings the outro of a song called "Suggestion."

This was my introduction to Fugazi.

13 Songs

In the winter of '94, I had a CD player, but I didn't use it much.  I was still mostly listening to casettes, so that's what I bought: "7 Songs" (sometimes known as "Fugazi") by Fugazi which included not only the aforementioned "Suggestion," but "Waiting Room," which was, for whatever reason, Fugazi's best known song.  It was easily my favorite on that tape, although I loved "Bad Mouth" an awful lot, too.

Not long after that, I got "Margin Walker," the cassette that made up the other half of what is considered to be Fugazi's first album, "13 Songs."  "Margin Walker" solidified my enjoyment of Fugazi, as the songs began to become more complicated.  That opening to "Margin Walker" (the song), the bass line in "And the Same," the vocals in "Burning, Too" -- all great stuff.  And that's ignoring what was, I had been told, Fugazi's real classic, "Promises."

At this point in my life, I knew enough about guitar/bass/drums/vocals music to appreciate well crafted, creative songs when I heard them.  The only hesitance I really had to fully embracing Fugazi was Ian McKaye's voice.  His were not the polished vocals that I was used to.  Even the other non-mainstream bands I listened to (Jawbox, Sunny Day Real Estate, Velocity Girl) had, if not clear, than clean vocals.  McKaye sounded like he was grunting out his lyrics, which took some time for me to get used to.  Fortunately, I took to Guy Picciotto's vocals right away.

To this day, I can't hear "Waiting Room" without thinking about driving in nigh complete darkness, snow, and far below freezing temperatures to my job at a factor in Kent, Ohio. That was how I spent my winter break home from college, working the 6:00AM to 2:30PM shift on an assembly line making parts for semis. And there was something oddly appropriate about listening to Fugazi on the way there, a band which had done battle with capitalism throughout its existence, a band who most of assumed lived in squalor to stand for their beliefs.

Fugazi Margin Walker.jpg

Fugazi was working class punk rock when so many other punk rock bands seemed like they were still living off their parents.

For as liberal as they were, Fugazi spoke to my blue collar surroundings and helped me to realize that those to things were not antithetical. You could sit at a crimping machine attaching to parts together over and over again for eight hours a day, five days a week, and still believe that everyone should be treated equal, that social programs were important and should be funded, and that war was never the answer. Fugazi didn't just talk a good game, they lived it, and that came through in their music.

But as much as I liked "13 Songs," I didn't completely fall for Fugazi then.  No, that would happen when I got my hands on "Repeater."

So This Is the New Year: 2018 Edition

I'm going to end up writing this in two parts. I say that as if it's unusual, but it's not, since I normally write blog posts over the course of many days. It is rare, however, for me to know exactly how many times I will return to a post.

I'm going to write this in two parts because it's New Year's Eve and right now my wife is reading books to our son as he gets ready for bed. When she's done, I'll go in there, and after that I'll spend time with her, until she has to go to bed as tomorrow is her morning to get up with him. I will then no doubt slink back into my office to pick up where I left off.

It will be interesting (to me, at least) to see how different the two writing sessions are.

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve and when the aforementioned three year old asked me what it was, I used the phrase "arbitrary division of time" or the like. I know that this particular night doesn't mean anything. That said, I'm a big fan of taking stock of your life, something I generally do every other day or so. The fact that there's at least one night of the year when I'm not in the minority on that front is nice.

I could talk about 2017 but I'm wondering if that's better a) left to the more tired and probably tipsy me of later this evening or b) forgotten about. There are enough people writing about the awfulness that was this past year. Such awfulness makes it hard to be optimistic going into the new year.

I follow a comic book artist on Twitter (I follow a lot of them) who became a father last year and tonight he posted about how, even though 2017 was a phenomenally bad year, it was the best of his life.

That's how we get through it. When the big things are bad, we look to the little things to find good. There's a lot to find.

For me, I think the fact that I'm an uncle for a third time is the saving grace of this past year. I'm thrilled that Nicole's brother and his wife get to experience parenthood and I'm so happy that my son gets a new cousin not too far from his age.

Obviously, any year that I get to spend with my wife and son is a good one. There's a meme going around on Twitter to name the one thing you got to do this year that yourself from five years ago would be really excited about. I think I'd be overjoyed to learn that I spent the year playing with my son. He is an incredibly amazing and frustrating 3 year old that means everything to me.

It's hard to talk about the past year in a larger sense. I don't know anyone with a soul who hasn't seen their life negatively impacted, at least indirectly. I know I'm not qualified to accurately speak to it, so I'll leave it alone.

So what do we do about next year?

I've never really made new year's resolutions in part because I don't really try to do anything new, just better, but that's something I'm trying every single day. But I can get behind long term goals as resolutions. The idea should be "this is what I'm going to accomplish by the end of the year." And that should be followed by "and here's how," although I think it's safe to say that most people have yet to figure out that second part.

I divide my life into a few choice groups: my wife, my son, my writing, work, domestic duties, and free time. So it's easy for me to say I want to be a better husband, father, writer, and employee. It's not easy for me to actually do those things. And those are all vague ideas, anyway. So here's what I'm actually going to do:

  1. Have more family adventures
  2. Have more date nights
  3. Send my stories out
  4. Send my query letters out
  5. Be more diligent at work
  6. Help clean out the garage
  7. Get our cat's teeth cleaned
  8. Drink less*
  9. Clear one plate, two plates, and three plates in the Big 3
  10. Learn Spanish*

*I'm breaking my vagueness rule a bit with these two, I know. 

As for learning Spanish, it will probably take me all of 2018, so that's less a vague goal and more of a all encompassing one.

I suppose there's also another big issue:

 Comic by John Auchter, found here: http://michiganradio.org/post/auchters-art-hope-new-year

Comic by John Auchter, found here: http://michiganradio.org/post/auchters-art-hope-new-year

I'm going to try to be more active next year. I give money to a number of causes as it is, but next year is an election year so I need to get the vote out.

Next year is also the first year that I think my son will really understand Christmas, so my wife and I have already decided it will be time to incorporate giving to balance out the receiving. I think right now he's still too much of a toddler, still too much in the "me, me, me" phase to appreciate that lesson.

So there it is. There's my idea of the new year, at 11:44PM on the last day of the old one.

Oh, and one last goal: blog more. That's already been in the works for a few weeks now. Lucky you.

    What I said when my son asked me what make-up was

    I stopped myself.

    I almost answered with the first thing that came into my head, but made a change before anything came out of my mouth. That change was not using the word "women."

    I'm assuming he heard the term "make-up" from my wife, probably that morning as she was getting ready for work, which meant he had to ask me about it on the way to school. So, of course, my wife was on my mind when I started to answer. But I managed to modify my answer before it came out of my mouth.

    "Make-up is something people put on their face to make it look different," was my answer, or at least as close to it as I can remember.

    "Do you remember that clip we saw of the boy whose face was made to look like Rubble? That was make-up."

    Rubble is a member of the Paw Patrol and the clip was on the Nick, Jr. app. It was a short video of a make-up artist painting the boy to look like Rubble, a dog.

    It's a legitimate question to ask why I stopped myself. At the time, it was because I don't want my son to grow up assuming that only women can wear make-up. I don't honestly know any men that wear make-up, but I know they exist and I don't want my son thinking of them any differently.

    But afterwards, I realized that I was more concerned about the idea of teaching him that women wear make-up. Yes, women can wear make-up, just like men can wear make-up, but they don't HAVE to. I mean, socially speaking they do which is a problem, but I want him to know that it's not something he should assume.

    I realize, of course, that his 3 year old brain will probably not hold on to my explanation. And, really, my answer was less for him than for me. It forced me to think about the answer.

    I'm trying my hardest not to instill in him the same assumptions that were introduced to me growing up. To say that my father was opinionated would be an understatement, but I know I have that within me, too. I have very strong opinions and I'm not shy about sharing them. But I don't want to put any of that on my son. I want him to walk into the world with as few preconceived notions as possible.

    I'm left wondering how often such issues are going to come up (frequently) and how well I'm going to deal with them. I caught myself this time, but what if I don't the next?

    Which is, I think, why it's important that I did catch myself this time, even though my son is only three. This is practice. This is preparation for the coming years when he takes my comments to heart, when my opinions start to influence his way of thinking.

    I think the fact that I'm thinking about any of this at all is a good sign.

    I had a really great conversation about Jesus

    I suppose it's rare in this day and age to have enlightening, intellectually stimulating conversations with people who hold different beliefs than you. But it happened. And it has stuck with me.

    The person I was talking to is a Christian, a liberal Christian, who was raised in the faith and who has built her life around it. She is the real deal. She was talking to me about how she got through some hard times in her life.

    She mentioned that, for her, Jesus is the embodiment of God's love, and since fear is the opposite of love, living in fear means moving away from God. Since she wanted to live with God, she regularly chooses to reject fear and embrace love.

    Her roommate in college was a religious studies major and she kind of implied something even more interesting: that Jesus was the idea of love, a concept given physical form.

    This fascinates me.

    I'm not Christian and, for the record, I don't think Jesus ever existed. The few documents that would "verify" such a thing were very clearly written well after Christianity was established, inserted into older texts in an effort to legitimize what the Roman government was trying to install.

    But what if that didn't matter?

    Let's consider Jesus as the idea of love, an idea that is often too abstract for people to grasp, so someone, somewhere, decided to create an embodiment of love, a person for those who have trouble with the idea of love. He's an avatar. He's only real in the sense that some people need him to be real to translate a language that is normally foreign to them -- that language being love.

    Love isn't exactly an easy concept to accept or even understand, particularly these days. It's not a priority, not for the majority of us. I can't imagine it's ever been, given that humans have been fighting for centuries just to survive. What good is love when you're struggling to get by? Can you eat it? Can it buy you a warm bed? Will it protect you from bullets?

    Hell, I have lived an incredibly privileged life and for most of that love was for hippies and people who didn't know any better. The idea of love as a powerful force in the universe that could alter our entire reality? Smoke another bowl, hippie.

    But it's true. I realize that love still doesn't help people who are hungry or homeless or bombarded by bombs. But it would if it convinced others to love. Love would help them if the rest of society took care of each other, if we stopped making war and started building a world. And that's the thing with love; its impact isn't always direct, so it's often easy to dismiss.

    Love is an abstract concept, yet we all have an idea of what it is. It is often not the same idea and that can be a problem.

    And so we have Jesus, ostensibly created not just to give people a manifestation of love that they can believe in, but to also create a universal definition for love.

    I think that's great.

    I have no problems with people choosing to believe in something that I don't. I am the last person who will ever question belief, who will ever condemn faith. My entire life has revolved around having blind faith in myself, even when I shouldn't.

    I have my concerns about the foundations of Christianity and I have many, many issues with how it currently operates, but I am all for a central concept of love that is actually love. I'm all for people being able to embrace that even if it requires a magical being.

    I just wish that concept of universal love was actually universal.

    YouTube is ruining our children

    My son calls YouTube "The Red" because the screen with the logo when you open the app is red. "I want to watch something on The Red," he says.

    I hate The Red.

    I won't, for a minute, complain that YouTube is ruining my child because I have the ability to do exactly what I did this afternoon -- remove the app from our Roku. I told my son that The Red had gone away and that was answer enough for him.

    For what it's worth, The Red had gone away before, but my wife accidentally stumbled across it again while looking for a Disney app and my son saw it and presto! Cries for The Red started up all over again.

    The shockingly elaborate videos of people making stories with various action figures are fine. Some of them are really well done. And, honestly, what could be cooler than seeing different types of toys interacting. Nothing beats seeing Lightning McQueen on an adventure with the Paw Patrol.

    Those types of videos are only a problem because they are of random and various lengths of time. The nice thing about a regular old cartoon is that I can say to my son, "one episode while I make dinner" and I know exactly how much time I have to get food on the table - and he knows exactly when he'll have to stop.

    No, the problem is the "kids getting toys" genre of YouTube video.

    I could suggest that kids watching other kids getting a ton of new toys is a bad thing if only because it makes them want those new toys for themselves. But, again, I can control these things. The Red went away. I'm an adult.

    No, the children who are being ruined by YouTube are the ones IN the videos.

    I cannot even fathom how ill-equipped for reality these children are going to be as they get older. The sky is the limit for what incredible d-bags they could become. We are going to have to come up with new words for their degree of entitlement -- megatitlement, perhaps. These videos are just that crazy.

    And while some of these videos may be filled with toys that were sent to these families by their respective manufacturers, that doesn't change the fact that these kids are still being spoiled rotten. Two dozen new Paw Patrol toys are still two dozen new Paw Patrol toys regardless of who pays for them.

    Manufacturers will only send free toys to people who make videos with a certain number of subscribers. So not only are these children spoiled, but they are internet famous, which cannot be a healthy combination.

    Basically, YouTube is creating a small army of small jerks.

    But I suppose there's a silver lining in there, at least for the rest of us. Yes, I deleted The Red and yes, my son looks for it every day and yes, I feel a little bit like a jerk myself for stealing it from him. But I'm his father and every once in a while I really do know what's best.

    And even if I didn't, I'd still be a much, much better parent than the people who are putting their kids on YouTube.

    We should talk about the JOY of parenthood more often

    Nicole's brother and his wife are expecting their first child any day. It could be starting right now, to be honest. I'm going to be an uncle again, although this time by marriage and not blood, while Nicole gets to be an aunt by blood for the first time.

    Weeks ago, we had a baby shower for the expectant couple and it was good. But I noticed something. All of the people who already had children would make jokes and comments about how hard it was, how little sleep you get, how paranoid you become, on and on. And all of those things are true. Misery loves company and there should be a hazing period. Besides, while it might not do anything at all to actually prepare new parents for what's to come, it at least gives them some vague idea.

    After the party, I told Nicole that her brother and his wife have no idea what's about to happen to them, but not for negative reasons. They can't know what it's like to have that tiny little person enter your life. There is another level of love that happens. It is unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

    Now, I think Nicole's brother and his wife have a leg up on me in that they have large families and at least have some concept of what this love might be like. But it's not something you can really know until you experience it. It is unique in a world where so few things truly are.

    It's overpowering and overwhelming and unbelievable and glorious. Our son being born gave my life new meaning, not that the old one has gone away or was bad. But it doesn't hold a candle to where my focus lies these days.

    But we don't really mention this side of having a child to soon-to-be parents. It's mostly jokes about diapers and delirium. There's so much comedic content to those first few weeks, at least in hindsight, that it seems to be all we talk about.

    You can't prepare for the hard parts, but you can at least have an idea of what you're getting into. You have no way of knowing what the great parts will be like. It is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't experienced it. And it is impossible to explain.

    There's the answer.

    We don't really talk about it because we can't. There's no frame of reference. We can make comparisons to other times when someone got no sleep or we can describe how disgusting it can be in awful detail, but there's no shared language between those with kids and those without when it comes to the joy of it.

    While I'm thinking about my brother-in-law and his wife and those awful, terrifying first few weeks, I'm also thinking about how amazing it will be. I'm wondering if it will hit them the way it hit me. I know that it is going to be great and that they have no idea how great it will be.

    They are about to experience something wonderful and I'm so happy for them.

    And while I didn't need it, it reminds me how incredibly lucky I am.

    Live! Music!

    The first concert I ever attended was at Kent State University. It was a double bill, with Tesla and Great White. Some band called Badlands opened. Shut up. It was the 80's.

    I remember that I didn't wear my glasses because I thought I might lose them and probably because I thought they were severely uncool, which I would have been right about. The venue at Kent State was big, but it was all the bigger for an 8th grader who couldn't see very well. The bands were blurry little shapes on a supposed stage down below.

    It might be hard to believe, but this was not when the live music bug bit me.

    No, that would happen a few years later, when I started listening to a band called The Afghan Whigs. An awful lot of components went into that show to make it great. It was Friday, June 24th, 1994, the summer after I graduated from high school. The Ass Ponies opened up. I drove to Cleveland with my best friends in the whole world to see a band that we all really liked and who happened to actually be from Ohio. During the show, someone in the back threw a beer at the stage and it covered my friend, Tony, who then had to drive us home smelling like beer, which would have been fine, had we not gotten pulled over about two minutes from my house.

    I didn't actually own any music by the Afghan Whigs. At that point, I think I'd been listening to a tape I dubbed from someone else, which was, I would imagine, of questionable quality. Before leaving for college, I went to a record store and decided I needed a Whigs CD. I bought the single for "What Jail Is Like" because it featured two live tracks.

    A year later, those same friends and I went to see the Afghan Whigs in Cleveland again. Eddie Murray hit his 3,000th hit that night (June 30th, 1995) and Greg Dulli, the lead singer for the Whigs and half the reason why their live shows are so amazing, actually stopped to say something about it.

    Live music played a big part of my life after that first Afghan Whigs show. Four or five hour drives were nothing for me if a band I liked was playing. I saw my favorite bands multiple times, sometimes over just a few days. It became something of an obsession with me. I collected ticket stubs. I made lists of the songs I saw live, in the order they were performed.  It got to the point that I could predict what song a band was about to play based upon which guitars they were using.

    Los Angeles was great for live music.  The Troubadour is the best music venue I've ever been to and I went to my fair share of shows there.  And, of course, everyone came through Los Angeles.  No matter how big or small the band, they all played a show somewhere in Los Angeles when they were on tour.

    I went to Coachella in 2005.  I was done with festivals after that.  I'd already given up on really big shows, and while the side stages at Coachella were nice, there were just too many damn people.

    That should have been the first sign.

    I started getting old.  Standing through opening bands, the main band, and an encore was becoming harder and harder for my already fragile frame.  My feet hurt.  My lower back hurt.  I just wanted a nice, comfy couch.

    A few weeks after Nicole and I moved to the Bay area, we went to see Blind Pilot play at the Great American Music Hall. I think it was my effort to ease the pain of leaving a city and moving to the suburbs.  The show was on a week night.  We got home late and got up early for work.  I was still young, dammit.  I was still going to shows.

    It would be another five years before I made it to another live show and it was entirely due to a visit from our friends Matt and Meghan. These were friends we'd made in Los Angeles, friends we'd been to shows with before. Their visit happened to coincide with a Nada Surf show in San Francisco, and Nada Surf just happened to be a band we all had in common (entirely my fault).

    That was almost two years ago. It was the last show I went to. A part of that is because we don't live in the city, so we'd have to drive a good ways to get to shows.  That could be the thing I miss most about living in Los Angeles: everything was conveniently located.

    Then there's the simple fact that my priorities have changed. I love being able to say goodnight to my son when he goes to bed, just as I know he loves saying it to me. And my night time hours are so precious now, almost too precious to spend going to a show which will only make my ears ring and my back hurt.

    It seems to me that the older I get, the more I streamline my life.  Live music didn't make the most recent cut.  At the very least, my feet are thankful for that.

    The Introvert Parent

    There are roughly a million articles online discussing the common characteristics shared by introverts. I suppose introverts are the ones sitting around writing all day, so that's probably why there seem to be a disproportionate amount of articles about them.

    There's usually a reference of some kind or another to something I'll call the gas tank. The idea, as it goes, is that introverts can be just a social as anyone else, but that they have a limited amount of energy to do so. It's like a gas tank that, once empty, takes a long, long time to refill, and there will be no socializing until the tank is at F.

    This isn't just applicable to socializing. It applies to anything that requires a lot of mental or emotional energy, anything that requires interacting with anyone other than ourselves. And it's a very real thing. It is very often the bane of my existence.

    I'm not moody, I'm an introvert.

    What's difficult, then, is realizing that the time you spend with your child is siphoning the tank.

    I love my son more than I can possibly explain and I love spending time with him. But it is exhausting; it would be exhausting for an extrovert, let alone an introvert.

    That's hard to reconcile, because no one wants to think of the time they spend with their child as being a problem.

    I don't know how it is with other introverts, but I also have a habit of burning brightly when I engage with people. I am all in and often over the top. I'm a man of extremes and when I'm switched on I will be as on as is humanly possible.

    With my son, at least, I'm choosing to be that way, but the end result is still the same. Whereas I might actually enjoy interacting with my son, I'm still tapped dry. And I never burn brighter or hotter than when I'm choosing to.

    It's a difficult realization to come to, the idea that something you ostensibly love doing (spending time with your child) can also be sucking you dry.

    To follow the metaphor to its end, I need time to refill my tank. But being a parent means not having a ton of time for yourself, which means refilling can be that much harder -- and take that much longer.

    If I had a dollar for every time I said to myself that I needed to start going to bed earlier then I could quit my day job and I'd have plenty of time to refill. As it is those few hours after my son falls asleep are the only time I'm able to prepare myself for the next day, and that time is often not enough.

    I'm regularly running past F and after a few days or weeks of that, I start to lose it.

    It seems like a simple matter of being overwhelmed, of thinking that perhaps the work/life balance is off or the division of labor is off. Or maybe my son is just having a hard time lately or maybe I'm just moody for some other reason that I can't put my finger on yet because I'm painfully oblivious to my own emotions. The reality, though, is that I've been running on empty for days and I've reached my limit.

    So I try to take long lunches at work. I try to leave early. I try to steal a few extra quiet moments to keep myself afloat.

    And I try to make sure my son never sees me grinding to a halt.

     

    Joss Whedon, Role Models, and Toxic Masculinity

    I could say that becoming a father has made me more keenly aware of what a huge problem toxic masculinity is in our society. I could also say that it's hard not to think about it given that our current president is the poster boy. But the reality is that it's something I've battled with my entire life.

    Here's a tiny piece of why toxic masculinity is a problem.

    It's important to point out that there are a lot of reasons why the allegations against Joss Whedon are troublesome, but I'm going to focus on the thread that has hit closest to home to me. Because I think there are a lot of people like me - males of a certain age and with certain limited social skills - who are reacting to this theoretical news in a very specific way.

    Calling Joss Whedon a role model might be overstating it, but for many of us he meant a lot. It's not just that we connected with his work, it's that he seemed like us: a sensitive nerd who didn't fit the ideals of what a "real" man should be. This is a guy who would cry while writing scenes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is a guy who loved musicals. This is a guy who had kind of this quiet lisp when he talked and chose his words very carefully. And he found success doing something he loved.

    I'm not going to say that's unusual in a general sense, but it is in specifics. Bill Gates is certainly not boiling over with testosterone and he's made a comfortable life for himself doing what he loves. But I don't know that many people feel a creative and emotional connection to Gates' creations. That component made Whedon different.

    For that matter, the fact that Whedon seemingly wore his emotions on his sleeve made him different. Someone like Gates, for example, or even Zuckerberg seemed in control of their emotions. Whedon was a big ugly mess of feelings and he told us it was okay to be like that. He told us you could be happy without being a "real" man.

    It would be easy to dismiss his importance to a certain segment of the population. And it's easy to dismiss how meaningful that is. If you haven't noticed what a problem men are in this country then you aren't paying attention.

    There's a Twitter thread by a woman who paints faces for children. In the thread, she talks about how a little boy asked for a butterfly, but his parents wouldn't let him get it because it wasn't something a boy should get. They made him get a skull.

    It's a fucking butterfly. He's a little boy.

    Whedon should never have been framed as a feminist icon or even a champion of feminism. I don't know that any man should ever be placed on a pedestal for being a feminist; that would be like celebrating people for not shitting themselves over the course of a day - it should be expected.

    Whedon was a gateway figure, though, an easily accessible, unoffensive man who seemed to think that women should be treated just like men and went out of his way to make shows about them. At the very least, he was sending a better message into the TV world than the creators who had come before. He wasn't so much improving anything for women, but he was trying to elevate men.

    One of the key components in leveling the playing field is removing all the assholes from said field and the only way that's going to happen is if we stop making more. We need to bring an end to "boys will be boys" and all the macho bullshit that has been fed to them their entire lives. And we need to make sure that those kids who are trying to be better don't give up.

    That's what Whedon was. He told us that being emotional was a virtue. He told us to embrace who we really were and to treat others with respect. He told us that you could be a great man without being guided by your dick.

    It was nice while it lasted.

    I've said too much.

    If you will indulge me for just a minute, I am going to briefly mention something about the television show Gossip Girl, but you should be used to that from me by now.

    I rather unabashedly enjoyed Gossip Girl.  It had two things going for it from the start: it was produced by OC/Chuck creator Josh Schwartz, and the voice over (from the titular character) was done by Kristen "Veronica Mars" Bell.  So I was on board right off the bat.

    Now, it seems like I would have jumped ship pretty quickly, given the target demographic of the show was probably thirteen year old girls.  But a) I have a weird love of teen melodrama and b) my enjoyment of a show is generally determined by whether or not there is a character I can vicariously live through, see also: Chuck, Buffy, et al.  In the case of Gossip Girl, it was Dan Humphries, a teenager who fancies himself a writer.

    All ridiculousness aside, there was an actual storyline about writing that struck a chord in me.  Long story short, Dan wrote a book that was fiction, but was very clearly about himself and his friends.  And he said a few not so flattering things about the people in his life.  He had to defend himself over and over again, generally going to the "I changed things for the story" argument which, I think, is a legitimate one, given how often I do that myself.

    Anyway, it got me thinking about how much writers share about their own lives, and the self-imposed ceiling on such things.  Take a book like Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, for example. It's easy to see just how much of it is autobiographical, to the point that you wonder how people in Ellis' family reacted when it was published.

    Here's the funny thing about writing: they say truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction is often more upsetting.  I wrote an entire book of non-fiction and, aside from a few spots here and there, none of the people in that book were upset with any part of it.  Yet had I taken artistic license with any of it, twisted it to serve my purposes and slapped a "fiction" label on it, I would bet fat stacks of cash that those same people would be incredibly upset.

    The problem, of course, is that it's hard to separate fact from fiction when the fiction hits so close to home.

    This all got me thinking about how I censor myself.  There is a ceiling for my honesty, a ceiling on how directly I'm willing to address people I know.  I'm am very aware of who will end up reading my work, or at least who could end up reading my work.  I'm aware of how what I write might upset the people in my life.

    I wonder if that is diminishing what I produce.  I know that there are aspects of my life that are worth writing about that I have never even considered putting down on paper for fear of the fall out.  There's a clear disconnect between what every day people consider polite conversation and what writers consider fodder for stories.  That is to say, writers consider everything fodder for stories.

    There's an episode of Californication where Hank Moody finds out his dad died.  In the flashbacks, we see that he and his dad never got along, and that they eventually almost quit talking completely because his dad was so upset about the fictional father figures Hank wrote about.  He assumed (probably correctly) that every father figure in all of Hank's stories were based on him...even though all of Hank's stories were works of fiction.

    People always do that.

    I wrote a book about a decade ago and in that book is a married couple.  My parents assumed that the married couple were two particular friends of mine who were, at that time, the only friends in my life that were married.  Those characters weren't my friends; the thought never even crossed my mind.  But my parents filled in that blank for themselves.

    The glamorous version of a writer is the one who is estranged from his or her family and who doesn't have any close friends that have been around for more than a few years, or at the very least not from before the writer became famous.  This is because the writer has cut all ties with his or her past, and is thus free to write about those people or analogs for those people when ever she or he wants.  Being an honest writer means being free from the influence of others.

    But that's not really possible, is it?

    Or maybe it's just not possible for me.

    Years and years ago I shared some short stories with my parents.  I was living in Los Angeles at the time and they were (and are) back in Ohio, so the added distance made me feel okay with giving them some of my work.  Besides, I figured if my end goal was to get these things published, they'd end up reading them, anyway.

    Months and months later my parents sent me a letter (an attachment to an e-mail, actually) where they expressed concern with some things I said in one of my stories.  They didn't mention it specifically, but I have no doubts they were referring to a story in which the main character has sex with his then girlfriend and certain things happen, certain things that seem kind of specific to both myself and another person who had been in my life.

    I acknowledged their concerns, but I was a bit put off, not because they were worried about the content of one of my stories, but because months had gone by, which meant they didn't really think these stories were going to get out any time soon to reflect poorly on me or anyone else in my life.

    Funny enough, that story has long since died on the vine.

    My father tends to assume that 90% of what I write is true.  My mother seems to assume that at least 50% of it is true.  They're both overshooting.  Generally speaking, my writing takes a small grain of my life and grows it into a field.  Perhaps 10% of my fiction really happened.

    Still, I do wonder if the fact that there's a limit to what I'll write about might be holding me back.  But I also wonder if any of the things I don't write about are actually worth the real impact it would have on my life.

    We can claim that we write for ourselves all we want, but in the end that's never entirely true -- at least not for most of us.

    I'm the worst artist

    I really am.

    I don't mean artist as in a person who draws things. I mean artist as in person who creates art.

    Periodically, I think about artists who seem to operate on a different plane of existence than the rest of us. You know the people I'm talking about: the ones who seem unable to think rationally, who don't function in our accepted reality, the ones you talk to and you think "how have you not died yet?"

    I am not one of those people. I am horribly responsible. I've spent most of my life not making my happiness a priority. I have spent most of my life not making my art a priority.

    I will never be on of those artists. That ship has sailed. I'm sure the potential to be like that was once within me, but it was driven out of me at an early age.

    There's a tangent I could go on here about how a certain demographic of people have been producing most of the consumed art in our country for a long, long time, and how their particular demographic allows them to get away with being how I described above, while others are not so fortune. But that would a long and wandering road, so I'll leave it alone (for now).

    For most of my life I actively hated people like that, the "artists" who seemed at odds with reality. I hated people who acted like they had no responsibilities, whose sole drive was creativity. These are people who are drifting through life focused on amorphous things like "their art" while the rest of us are working for a living.

    There's an entire subset of those people who also seemed to only do things that made them happy, which also annoyed the hell out of me.

    I've mellowed in my old age and I've gotten to a place where I can say that I envy those people. I envy anyone who is able to commit to their art to that degree and, seemingly, never question it. No, it's not that they never question it, it's that the question doesn't even exist.

    I know, though, that being present in this world has and will make me a better father and probably makes me a better husband. And I suppose that's a trade off that many of us make, although I don't know how much of an option it was for me. This is who I am. I don't feel like I gave anything up to be this person, at least with respect to my family.

    Hm. I just typed "my family" in reference to my wife and my son. It's so strange how the focal point shifts as we get older. It's such an empowering thing to say.

    Still, I can't help but wonder what I might have created had I been one of those people, one of those strange, off putting people who drift through life, who are able to see the world through drugs even when they're not taking them.

    I suppose that's what it boils down to. I know that I have walls. Some of them were built by others, some of them were built by me. Some of them were built for survival, some were built over time. But they exist. I am not the purest form of myself because I can't be and because I was never really given a chance.

    So I wonder what it would be like if I had no walls. If art is letting the energy of the universe flow through you and that flow is hindered by the walls we put up over the course of our lives, what would I be able to create were I free and clear? What was doomed before I ever got to a point in my life when it might be born?

    And yet I can't use the word "born" without thinking of my son or any future children my wife and I might have. And I can't think about them without the understanding that those walls keep me grounded. There are, perhaps, too many of them, but in the end that's better than having none at all. My life was built by walls and by my careful navigation around them.

    I will never be a brilliant artist, but I'm fine with being just a pretty good one who has an amazing family and an amazing life.

    Curse of the Dabbler

    I've met a lot of writers.

    I only know that they are writers because they tell me they are writers and they only tell me that they are writers because they have just learned that I'm a writer. And I've written most of these people off as dabblers.

    Let's face it, in the internet age there are millions of dabblers, and that's not restricted to people who claim to be writers. We live in a time when you can learn how to do almost anything by watching a video on YouTube. You can learn about almost anything by visiting web sites; anything you can imagine has at least a dozen sites dedicated to it.

    And that's great, really. But it creates a lot of "jack of all trades, master of none" types.

    The other day I was listening to Sonic Youth as I drove to work. It made me think about the fact that Kim Gordon wrote a book that I'd yet to read and how I'd read a few non-fiction books recently about bands and that I really enjoyed them. And it made me think about my own experiences with music and with a "scene" and how writing about that would be fairly easy for me and probably a lot of fun.

    But I was never thoroughly invested in music the way you have to be to end up writing a book about it. I'm sure I've got a few funny anecdotes about being in garage bands and being the target demographic for grunge, but I don't have the depth of knowledge or experience needed to write an insightful book about any period of any genre of music.

    I dabble in a lot of things. I spend far too much time reading and thinking about comics. I've even written some scripts. Yet I've never published a comic.

    I work in SEO and I know more than the average duck, but I don't dive into it the way most successful SEOs do. I know enough to stay current, but I'm not online networking or participating in conversations about the field. I like it well enough, but that's all.

    And, as much as it pains me to admit, I'm ultimately a dabbler when it comes to writing. I'm an extremely invested dabbler, but a dabbler nonetheless. Or maybe amateur is a better word. Because for as much as I have written in my many years putting finger to keyboard, I've never committed the way that's necessary to actually be successful (the sheer number of times I use the word "actually" is probably a good indication).

    I've never had a set writing schedule. I've only managed to actually track my work for a few months at a time. I seldom set writing goals and when I do I don't ever meet them. Heck, one of my new year's resolutions for 2017 was to submit short stories every month. Guess how many times that's happened so far? None.

    There's no question that I need to write. If I go too long without writing, I get crabby. Nicole can tell when it's been too long. It's an outlet that I have to have. But as far as an actual interesting that I pursue, I'm a glorified dabbler.

    Really and truly there is only one thing in my life that I am not a dabbler in: being a father.

    I don't think I ever realized that I'd never fully committed to anything until our son was born. Don't get me wrong, I'm committed to Nicole, but it's different, as that's a reciprocal relationship. My commitment to her is returned by her commitment to me. It's not like music or writing are sticking with me through thick and thin. They don't care.

    That's not to say that Sam doesn't reciprocate, but he doesn't understand it. He doesn't realize that I'm giving him anything different than I would give to any other aspect of my life. He's not putting the time and effort into me, not really. It's a conscious one way street, but a subconscious two way street.

    It's opened my eyes, though, to what I'm able to accomplish when I commit. It's too little too late, really, as my time is now dedicated to just a handful of things. So knowing this about myself is bittersweet. I wish I'd been more focused in my younger days, but at least I'm able to focus now, when it maters most.

    My 10th grade English teacher told my parents that I was very smart, but lacked focus. That never really changed, not until my son was born. And while I wish I had realized this sooner, I'm grateful that I'm aware of it now and that I'm able to give my all to being a father.

    I Hate Short Stories

    Every second I stare at this bookshelf is another second that I won't spend sleeping.

    Nicole is an avid night reader and it's rubbed off on me.  When I finish a book, I tend to wait until bed time to figure out what I'm going to read next.  And that was my dilemma tonight.

    I have a lot of unread books.  It is ridiculous that I keep buying books given how many unread books I have, but I suppose that explains how I got into this mess.  Over the course of the next month I will only get more.

    One of the books waiting for me is short story collection.  Since I do, in theory, write short stories and I did, in practice, go to graduate school to learn how to write them, I try to read as many as I can.  I subscribe to a few literary journals (chock full o' short stories) and I buy various collections like this one.

    But I'm having a hard time finding the motivation to open it up, and I think it's because I might actually hate short stories.

    I've realized that short stories are the most pretentious of literary formats.  There is a very specific window for a good short story, a very specific line that has to be walked, which makes a good short story extremely hard to write.  What's worse is that everyone writing short stories knows this, and the simple fact that they do know it makes it all the more pretentious.

    The problem is that short stories can easily go one way or the other: too much or not enough.  Too much and it destroys the point of the format.  And, unlike poetry which is smart enough to engage the audience to the point where they are filling in any blanks, short stories that are too vague fail at what they're doing.  Poetry, at least, has a certain clarity to its vagueness.  Short stories do not.

    There's a code, some kind of combination of chromosomes that make up a good short story and the slightest mistake here or there can ruin the entire line.  One bad sentence can sink a short story.

    Even worse, short stories exist in their own, self-perpetuating reality.  The majority of people reading short stories are people who write short stories.  The majority of people who edit literary magazines are also people who write short stories.  The people teaching short stories are, yet again, the people who are writing short stories.  Aside from Playboy and the New Yorker, the only people who actually seem to care about short stories are the ones who are writing them, and I can't imagine I'm the only one in that group who periodically hates them.

    Why are they so problematic?  They're supposed to be easier to write than, say, a novel, right?  They are shorter after all.  But that's the problem.  Because they're shorter, every single word matters.  Think about that.  This is a format that is taunting a group of people who are already, by and large, neurotic to write something in which every single word can be scrutinized over and over again.  Short stories are the finger print on a glass sliding door.  They're the tall book in a row of short books on your book shelf.  They are an endless well of doubt and revision.

    So why does anyone write them, particularly if no one reads them?  Is it the challenge?  Is it the fact that so many writers take classes on writing at some point, and those classes place emphasis on the short story?  Because we are trained that we only have a few months to complete a story?  Because books are for the masses, the plebes, and literary journals filled with short stories are for the chosen few?

    And then there's the larger issue: why doesn't anyone read them?  Even if the format wasn't determined to destroy itself by maintaining some bizarre standards of readership, why are people choosing much, much longer books over short stories?  Record companies are able to make money producing nothing but compilations.  Why doesn't this theory also apply towards short story anthologies?

    The simplest answer I can give is this: stopping.  It would seem odd that someone would be more likely to commit to a three hundred page novel than a fifteen page short story.  But that's the case.  It's the case because the reader wants to be in control, at least to a certain extent.  And with a novel, you can pick and choose where you stop and where you start.  Yes, there are those who prefer to stop at chapter breaks, but there's no sense of urgency to get to that chapter break, there's no feeling that you'll lose something if you don't get that far.  A novel is so long that you aren't going to read it in one sitting, so you don't worry about whether or not reading it in multiple sittings will ruin the experience.

    The same cannot be said for short stories.  A short story demands it be read in one sitting.  For that matter, it demands you pay close attention to it.  A short story is difficult reading.  Sure, it can be extremely rewarding reading for that very fact, but it still requires effort, it requires flexing brain muscles that most people aren't interested in flexing while they read.  Reading short stories is work.

    Perhaps that's the main problem: short stories have been examined and scrutinized to the point that they no longer contain the simple joys of reading, the simple joys of writing.  You can examine a novel to death, too, but ultimately it's so large and wide reaching that people are going to take from it what they want.  For that matter, the market for novels is much larger.  A book about wizards and a book about spies and a book about war and a book about politics can all co-exist, can all find space on a bookshelf at a store, while short stories seem so limited, or, at the very least, segregated by genre.

    Hyperbole aside, I do like writing short stories, at least initially.  The constant examination that comes after the first few drafts, however, tends to suck all the joy away.

    But I recently submitted a short story to a contest that is, in my not remotely objective opinion, the best short story I've ever written (a claim supported at least somewhat by my wife, who is actually a harsh critic).  The high I felt after "finishing" it was incredible, and I guess it's the reason why lunatics continue to write in this abused format.  Because reading it and writing short stories isn't for everyone, and doing either makes us feel special.

    It also makes us pretentious and crazy.

    Faith No More's "Angel Dust" is Gloriously Adolescent

    I don't mean that the album is transitional, I mean that the album is the perfect encapsulation of being a teenager, perhaps more specifically a white boy not living in a city.

    I would love to think that my teen years were grunge, but that's probably more the romanticized view than anything else. The reality is that no single record portrayed the overall creep factor of raging hormones than "Angel Dust." No other album dipped into the inner and outer turmoil the same way, to the same degree. This wasn't just "I'm lonely and sad and no one will ever love me." This was "here are all the fucked up things going through my head."

    "Land of Sunshine" comes off as this horrible double edged sword of "congrats, grad!" and "you might be right, you might be insane." They seem to be such disparate ideas, yet it's exactly how any weird teenager feels. On one hand, you're focused on a theoretical future where you might actually feel good about yourself. On the other hand, you regularly feel horrible and you're pretty sure you shouldn't, but you can't help yourself.

    Follow that up with "Caffeine" which, among other potent lines, includes: "Relax. It's just a phase. You'll grow out of it." It's like a fucked up user manual of reassurance. Yes, you are a freak, but it's cool.

    The beauty of "Midlife Crisis" is that it's exactly the kind of song someone terrified of a theoretical midlife crisis would write. I can remember being a teenager and being terrified that I would end up like my parents who, at the time, were probably experiencing their midlife crisis. In some ways this was the greatest fear that a white kid in the suburbs could have: becoming another suburban parent.

    And this leads beautifully into "RV."

    When I listened to this in high school, I thought it was fun, a cool song that was making fun of sad, white trash. Listening to it now, though, I realize how poignant it is, how complex the song is not just lyrically, but musically. What starts off as a caricature becomes a real person by the end, particularly with that last line. It some ways, this is a cautionary tale, a warning that listening to your parents isn't necessarily a good idea.

    While "Smaller and Smaller" instantly conjures images of bugs that will not die, the song itself is something of a rural anthem, a musical take on the plight of the farmer who is slowly being beaten down by the modern world. Again, this record isn't about the city folk, it's about those of us in the suburbs and the country.

    "Everything's Ruined" comes back to the idea of family being an investment and parents looking at their children as a way to increase the status of the family name, not to mention the the family fortune. Again, for a kid in the suburbs whose life has been mapped out, this was like heroin. Th song is telling us that if we don't turn out the way our parents want, they will consider the whole ordeal to have been a waste.

    Is "Malpractice" about how horrible it is to try to appeal to the masses? Maybe?

    "Kindergarten" is clearly about a kid who is held back in kindergarten, but in this case it seems as if he will never get past kindergarten no matter how old he gets. This is stunted adolescence taken to the next level; this is perpetual childhood, but not in a good way. This is the story of a person who needs to grow up, who wants to grow up, but is unable to move forward. This could very easily be about a teenager, but setting it in a kindergarten makes it substantially more resonant.

    Faith No More's greatest accomplishment could be getting straight teenage boys across the country to sing "I swallow" at the top of their lungs. "Be Aggressive" might be about more than blowjobs, but it would take a better person than I to dig into it.

    I played soccer in high school. I was pretty good at it, too. Every year my school had an awards banquet for the sports that played in the fall, which was usually dominated by football. But after the main banquet, the individual sports had their own awards ceremonies. I remember that my brother, who was the assistant coach at the time, told me in confidence that the MVP voting had been a tie between me and another guy, and that we'd likely have to vote again. But that never happened and the head coach gave it to the other guy, apparently because he felt like it. Had I just voted for myself, it would not have been an issue.

    Anyway, on my way home that night I listened to "A Small Victory." At the time, it was mostly for the vague references to sports and competition. Listening to it now, I see that it's about someone who just cannot win, but at the same time questions why competition is something that drives us. My reading is that, in the end, the continual loser is the one who realizes that this competition is meaningless, but the winner won't listen to reason.

    Sounds about right.

    As near as I can tell, "Crack Hitler" is about a drug lord. The lyrics paint a pretty good picture, from setting the song in Miami to the briefcase, the high speed chase, to evil lurking in every person's heart. Calling the song "Crack Hitler" is certainly sensational, as crack was still destroying communities like the plague and, well, Hitler is Hitler. So if we're looking for a crossroads of awful both near and far, this is a good one.

    The brilliance of "Jizzlobber," aside from the name, is that it encompasses the entire album.  Again, this is teen angst delivered with a different type of self-loathing that we got from other bands of this time. This is a dirty song with a dirty title and dirty lyrics and we all felt dirty all the damn time when we were teenagers. And this song was Faith No More looking over the 11 other songs on this album and saying "you are disgusting, but we get it."

    Closing the album with a instrumental piece called "Midnight Cowboy" is just about perfect. Aside from the fact that it's the perfect come down after such an intense album, the reference to "Midnight Cowboy" hammers home a lot of what this album was about. The layered, heavy music over top of the kind of simple melody you would expect to find being performed at a quaint, old world restaurant summarizes the album nicely: we are following a pattern that has always existed and it really is more fucked up than ever.

    "Angel Dust" is the perfect teen angst record for a specific demographic and it was more telling than I realized at the time. It's not the way I wanted to feel or even how I thought I felt, but what I actually experienced every day. And it transforms me back into a teenager every time I hear it.

    Kids' TV is crazy smart now and yet still antiquated

    A few weeks ago my son was lifting a stick of some kind so that the car he'd placed on it would roll down and, in theory, knock away whatever it was he'd place in front of it. I'm a little fuzzy remembering this. What I do remember is that his aunt was visiting and he was sitting on her lap at the kitchen table.

    The car wasn't able to knock that thing out of the way, so I asked him what the car needed more of.

    "Momentum," he said.

    He's three.

    His aunt was a little stunned. And probably a bit worried, as she's going to be a mother in a few months and here's my son setting a bar that probably seemed high, but which really isn't, not for kids these days.

    My son knows what momentum is because he learned about it on Blaze and the Monster Machines, a STEM focused cartoon featuring a bunch of monster trucks. In each episode, Blaze and his friends must win races and solve problems using science, or a reasonable facsimile. And there's always at least one musical montage in each episode, which is amazing, not just because the songs are kind of catchy, but because they are about the scientific principle featured in the episode. So I've heard songs about structural engineering, inertia, angles, light, and so on.

    It's pretty great, really. And the toys are fairly cheap, which is even better.

    But for as advanced as the show might be with regards to science, it's still wallowing with the rest of society with regards to gender.

    Blaze is the star and is, of course, a boy monster machine. He has a group of friends, who are also all monster trucks: Zeg, Darrington, Stripes, and Starla. They each have a gimmick: Zeg is a dino truck, Darrington is a daredevil, Stripes is a tiger truck, and Starla is a cowgirl. Starla is also the only girl. And you will never guess what color she is.

    The fact that this is a STEM focused show just makes this all the more troubling.

    Now there are two human characters on Blaze. One is AJ, who drives Blaze, which is strange in and of itself, as none of the other monster trucks have drivers (but I suppose AJ is the stand in for the audience). The other human is Gabby, the mechanic. She fixes everything. And, yes, she is a girl. But kids don't watch the show for the humans, they watch it for the monster trucks.

    I've written before about how the Paw Patrol has token female characters that are generally ostracized when it comes to toys. Even a show like Yo Gabba Gabba, which is praised as being progressive, falls into this trap. Take a look at the main, fictional characters. There's a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow. That all makes sense, yes? But then, I suppose in an effort to add some gender balance, there's a fifth character, Foofa, and you'll never guess what color she is. The fact that Toodee, who is blue, is also female doesn't offset Foofa, who also looks like a flower.

    And it should be noted that Yo Gabba Gabba and Paw Patrol are fantastic shows that, while they're not STEM based, are focused on teaching children to love music and dancing and encourage kindness and love. Both shows also do an excellent job of including a diversity of human characters.

    But the gender inequality is astounding and I don't understand why it still exists. Even if you assume that these shows are "for boys," that doesn't lessen the impact of having just as many female as male characters who are also just as capable and can come in a variety of colors. My son needs to see that in the shows he watches (thankfully, he sees it around him in the real world).

    If we're looking at ingrained sources of inequality, children's television is probably a solid barometer, and what it's saying about gender roles is not great.