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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best of February, 2014

This is me for the past 4 months


Listen, I had a pretty remarkable experience playing basketball in high school.  This time of year brings back very fond memories.  I was an average player at best.  My ball handling was adequate.  I had a pretty nice jumper.  More than anything I could play defense.  It was my calling card and it was probably the only reason I was allowed on the floor.  Nothing was better than leading a break and knowing I had two strikers on my side able to score.  We were a bunch of West Jersey punks with no business doing as well as we did.  My last two years we were 45-6 and won our league easy.  Usually we made it to the second round in States and take a beating from an urban school, like the legendary St Anthony's Friars from Jersey City.  Sure, we would lose by 50 in their famed Armory/home gym.  But I could tell my grandkids that I was on the foul line next to 5 future D-1 players.  My game was more suited to awkward, lunch-hour, YMCA business executive's runs.  For a goofy dork like me this was pretty cool.

I was never in better shape.  I was never more eager to play.  It was a joy to be in the gym in late February.  The stakes were a little higher.  I remember our locker room steps.  Walking upstairs and hearing the music start.  Getting ready to take the court the rush of adrenaline was paralyzing.  The crowds were bigger.  It was louder.  I was a real basketball junkie.  Which is why I never really left the game.

I was a hack player.  But my coach was a rock star.  In his day he was a gifted player.  He was our school's leading scorer.  He led them to a state title.  He went on to become a college star and has since had their gym named after him.  Local.  Freaking. Legend.

And as good a player as he was, he was probably a better coach.

He taught us all the right things.  His drills kept us fit.  His nasal voice was stern, encouraging and forceful when it had to be.  His sense of humor kept practices entertaining.  But he could lash out if you were not on board.  He played kids that deserved to play and would never consider listening to a parents opinion on how to run his team.

As I get ready to coach March Madness, 6th grade Catholic league edition, I wonder if his methods would be frowned upon in today's World.   I know mine are.  And I think I do a pretty good job.

At what age are you comfortable having someone really coach your kid?  Is it middle school?  Before that?

Is it too harsh at any time?  Can they swear at your kid?  If so, what age?

If your son/daughter is not performing up to potential when can coach say "you suck."  Never? Really?

If we never hear that how will we learn when we are sucking?  I read the news (ok, I read the internet  from borderline reputable websites.)  More specifically I read The Onion and 1010wins.  But I get the sense we are still in a down time economically.  Far as I can tell we still are at war.  And if it isn't us someone else is fighting.  Syria, Ukraine and Sudan come to mind without much research.  They are killing people there right?

Point is, we are not all perfect.  We should start hearing about our imperfections as soon as is humanly possible.

We need all the time possible to correct them.

If we fail to inform our youth what is needed to succeed, we have failed them.

We are not all winners.  We don't all get trophies.  We can complain about it all we want.  And all of that is just fine.

That said, I am going to go win this bitch.

Getting excited for the brackets to be revealed  

We still do music here.  And although the hoops season has rendered live concerts obsolete, some key music has stayed in focus.  Please add these songs to your latest playlist.  Lots of new releases coming up and many live concerts on the schedule.  The spring should be a blast.  Now, if Mother Nature just gets her act together and cooperates.  Have a great March and be well!!

Reputante Album Art



M83 "I Need You"

Synth composer/producer/performer M83 has mostly been doing soundtrack work since his hugely successful last record, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.   Last year he worked on Tom Cruise's Oblivion.  His latest, featuring a sax solo Tina Turner could sing to, appears on the Divergent soundtrack.   I have little, if no interest, in watching either of those films.  But I can listen to this all day.

Dum Dum Girls "Rimbaud Eyes"

LA based girl band led by Dee Dee Perry released Too True in January.  The ladies are sexy, let's just say that right up front.  Take a look/listen to David Letterman salivate over them on the clip above.  In it he asks for them to come by every night.  All that aside, their mix of 60's rhythm and blues and rock and roll is refreshing.  This song, referencing the French poet, is a fine example.

Sun Kil Moon "Ben's My Friend"

Lots of California on this months list.  Mark Kozelek is the man behind this folk rock act.  This song, an ode to Death Cab/The Postal Service alt hero Ben Gibbard, is effective in it's simplicity.  Benji, the band's 6th studio album, was released this month.

Hospitality "I Miss Your Bones"

The NY based punk-pop trio will soon release Trouble,  their follow up to their critically acclaimed successful self titled 2012 alt-debut.  Lead singer and guitarist Amber Papini leads the power trio.  It is no nonsense, bass driven, rock and roll.  The first single is addictive.  Give it a try.



St Vincent "Digital Witness"

Annie Clark gets herself a lot of buzz.  She has appeared on Portlandia.  She toured and made a record with David Byrne.  Hell I saw her appear at a National show last year in Brooklyn.  Her PR machine is strong.  Her music?  Well that is up for debate.  This song, and visually stunning video, are both impressive.  I hear lots of Annie Lennox and maybe Siousie Sioux when Clark is at her best. This might be that moment.

HelloGoodbye "Everything is (Debatable)"

California synth pop.  These cats have been around for a little over 10 years and released their 3rd LP,  Everything is Debatable, late last year.  The title track echoes 80s feel good bands like Culture Club, Human League, Thomas Dolby, Level 42 and many more.  It's a very comfortable song.  Sometimes that is all you need.

Gap Dream "Fantastic Dream"

Fullerton, California is where  Gabriel Fulvimar calls home.  He has described his pop project, Gap Dream, as "an attempt to find a chill spot just to organize his mind."  Lots of synths and vocal effect dominate this track.  I can't get enough of it.

Kevin Drew "Good Sex"

Canadian musician Kevin Drew cut his teeth with the baroque-pop band Broken Social Scene.  His solo record, Darlings, should arrive in a few months.  The opening track exults the virtues of good sex.  Who am I to argue?

Eels "Agatha Chang"

There are few bands that get me quite as giddy as eels.  News of a new record and tour probably fell under your radar.  Not here.  This is the first release from the forthcoming (April 14) Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett.   Everett's droopy, soulful voice is best when he sings about longing.  This is about as dreary as I get.  But no one does it better than E.  His NYC tour will hit the legendary Apollo Theatre in June.  You really should be there.  For more: eels official

Damien Jurado "Silver Timothy"

Mr Jurado has, like, a million albums dating back to 1997.  He is Seattle, Washington based and has released music under both the SubPop and Secret Canadian labels.  Being the true pro I am my introduction with him was about 2 weeks ago.  This song is a trippy nod to the "Girl with Ipanema."  I could see Hunter S Thompson listening to this as he rode through the desert.  Smooth, velvety lyrics layer nicely over howling guitars and a groovy organ.  I may have missed a huge body of work.  The beauty is I can go catch up on all I missed.

Annie Clark, aka St Vincent











Monday, February 24, 2014

The Cocktail Hour - Seven and Seven




Following up on my call to bring back Cocktail Hour, Hank B picked up the ball and set it up.

We all met at a pleasant but non-descript hotel bar in Hank's neck of the woods, which is about midway of my daily commute.

Hank assembled about seven or eight of his friends; two couples, a couple singles, and a floater who stopped by for a quick one.

Hank B and I go way back, all the way back to Back In The Day. So while we took separate paths in life and, as a result, there is about a twenty year gap in knowledge of the details of our lives, we know each other pretty well.

So besides Hank, I didn't know anyone. 

Perfect.

It made for a true test of Cocktail Hour.

I had two Cocktail Hour rules for myself: 

1) Do not talk about my job

Why no job talk? Well, for me the Cocktail Hour is a transition ritual, shedding the persona that serves as a uniform in the corporate world.

I am grateful that I have a decent paying job and work with cool people. But my job is how I make a living, not my life's mission (if your job is aligned with your life's mission, mazel tov!)  Also, whenever I talk about my job I find it turns into a networking discussion which, for me, may often be necessary but still is part of making a living and, therefore, like part of my job.

2) Two drink maximum

Why only two drinks? That's my personal limit when I am going to be driving; and, I am sure not coincidentally, more than two drinks is the point at which alcohol stops simply subtracting what I want to subtract --- the residual stress of the day, a few loose strands of self-consciousness --- and starts to add to what I don't want it to enhance (a taste for sharp verbal sparring, intellectual or otherwise)

My drink of choice was a 7 and 7. Seagrams 7 whiskey and 7-Up.

The 7 and 7 has a great refreshing combination of cool, gingery not-too-sweetness plus warm whiskey kick. 

And I love its cinematic pedigree.

I think cinematically. Classier people than me may think of scenes from Hamlet or Wuthering Heights. My favorite metaphors come from the movies.

The 7 and 7 speaks of a casual manliness. It was Tony Manero's drink in Saturday Night Fever (as my friend Jim the Brooklynite reminded me, to wash down those double decker pizza slices "two, two, gimme two") 

It was Jimmy Conway's drink when he first meets the young Henry Hill in Goodfellas, stuffing a twenty in Henry's shirt pocket while telling him "Hey, kid get me a 7 and 7 and keep 'em coming."

And it was cinema (and I include television in "cinema" since it is so good nowadays) that informed a great Cocktail Hour conversation. 

We marveled at the haunting twists of True Detective.  Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle were compared and debated. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman's incredible career was assessed, with Hank B,  who hated The Master, nevertheless extolling Hoffman's performance.

Two drinks later, most of us peeled off, heading home, awaiting the next Jersey snowstorm.

Until next time.




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Surviving February

I feel you Mr Torrance.  Haven't I always been the caretaker???
This was to be the year of positivism.  Although someone who never really bought in to resolutions it was my intention to look on the brighter side of things.   Growing older allows for certain luxuries you might not have in your youth.  For one, you may be forced to spend time with someone you would ordinarily might not associate yourself with.

At age 40 you should be able to call the shots as to who you are surrounded by.  That does not count employment, obviously.  Fortunate is the person that loves his job.  Better still that person that loves both job AND co-workers.  

My job is not the worst thing in the World.  And I happen to dig where I live (or rather its proximity to NYC) so money is kind of important.  That, and apparently we have to spend about 40k a year for middle school.  Suburban white person problem, right?  Well what can I say?  I am a suburban white person, in the most suburban of towns.  The goal is to have your kid succeed where you might not have.  A brother has got to try.

I am not socializing with my co-workers though.  It's fine.  They are ok enough people.  But they don't like the same things I do.  They have their own families, and lives.  It is totally cool.

This winter I haven't had a chance to even try.  Mother Nature has been a monster in the Northeast.  Winter is cool and all.  My youth was spent in gyms playing basketball, so the elements were never really an issue.  Skiing, skating and all that outdoor winter stuff, was unheard of.  All I can think about is how cold my feet and hands would be.  Who wants that??!!  I know, lots of you.

That is why you are glued to tv sets watching the snore fest they call The Olympics.  How do you find the events?  Far as I can tell Bob Costas has an eye infection, Bode Miller cried, the gender line has been further blurred in the figure skating competition, Pussy Riot got arrested and whipped, people had to break out of bathrooms, its raining and warm, and athletes continue to be injured due to unsafe conditions.  Oh, and Russia's hockey team is out.  Their game with the US was an overrated dud.  Seriously folks, shoot outs do not make for a classic game.  Nor do preliminary round games littered with NHL talent.  

As for the games, they are hidden between product placements, sad sack profiles and meaningless set pieces.  The press has become the story.  And I am tuned out.

Back to the snow.  There is a lot of it.  And after 40 the shoveling episodes, especially in such abundance, are tiresome chores with the power to smack a bitch (I am the bitch in this poorly constructed imagery.)  

And now it is melting.  Where will it go?  Was that water mark always on the floor?  Will the basement hold up?

Who, in their right mind, thought homeownership was a good idea?  With every weather related event the angst deepens.  

Since Thanksgiving my daughter has been in school for about 4 days.  The added expense was something I had not factored in when the school year began.  Oh well.

Her hoops season has provided some rays of hope.   It all happens close to town, and for not nearly enough time.  

Once I get in a groove something pisses me off.  

The Grammy's sucked.  Philip Seymour Hoffman's death and the media maelstrom that continues sucked.  The State of the Union sucked.  Bridge-gate sucks.  

I am in a rut.  I can't muster the energy to binge watch True Detective on HBO or the new season of House of Cards.  Sleepless nights are spent watching Property Brothers and repeats of Modern Family.  Have I thrown in the cards?

Not quite.  The winter of discontent will soon end.  Pitchers and catchers are practicing in Florida (and ok, Arizona too.)

The live music scene is gearing up as well.  You should always having something to look forward to. And you should not be hanging around anyone who brings you down.  That is the mantra of 2013.

Who will join us on our next events???  Only good people wanted for Cocktail Hours:  The next event will be very soon.  You know where to find us.

And in terms of the concert season.  We plan on covering these events over the next few months.







To name a few.  Come join us.  Together we can make seasonal depression a thing of the past.

Or at the very least drink enough to forget it.


Matt Berninger at The National will be performing at Brooklyn's Prospect Park this June.  You should really be there.








Monday, February 10, 2014

What Snow Days Taught Me




Here in New Jersey we have been beset by inches and inches of snow, waves of freezing rain, and the hollow chill of sub-freezing temperatures.

Some say this is a "snowpocalypse".  Others call it a "polar vortex".

I seem to recall that Back In The Day we called it "Winter".

One of the oldest illusions of the mystic arts of marketing is selling the same old thing in a new package.

Anyway, I think the illusion that this weather is something new gave me a chance to look at it with a fresh set of eyes, and learn a few things:

1. We have an insatiable hunger for adventure 

If you are like me, your job is typing on a computer, making phone calls, attending meetings, and producing powerpoint slides. Fat, dumb and happy as we are in our cozy post-industrial world, we all crave adventure. 

And the snow day allows us to pretend we are pioneers in the wild (our crumbling electrical infrastructure can be helpful in enhancing this experience). We gather food and supplies. We post online alerts and sage  advice about our preparations -- we show what salty survivalists we really are.

In the aftermath, we tell our tales around the campfire -- stories of mountains of snow removed, treacherous commutes navigated, and enormous amounts of wine consumed.

2. "Family Togetherness" has its limits

Human beings are tribal animals. Just as birds have flocks, deer have herds, and dolphins have schools, human beings naturally form into tribes -- groups for mutual support, affection and survival. 

Of course, we evolved this characteristic while wandering nomadic hunter-gatherers, not all holed up in the same cave. 

When we work day to day, we talk about how much we would like to spend all of our time with our family. But after two days of suburban cave-dwelling while bumping into each other, breaking up fights, and watching an ominously growing sink full of dirty dishes, we yearn to roam back to our sterile fluoresent lighted desk and our spreadsheets.

And we understand why, from the book of Genesis to Greek tragedy to Shakespeare,the most common form of drama is about family members picking each other off one by one.

3. We all work way too hard.

Many people, like police, nurses, and road crews (the underappreciated and underpaid soldiers in the ongoing battle against human folly) don't get a snow day. 

But many others of us can plug in and do 90% of our job online from home. In doing so, the snow days show what is really the essential part of whatever we do to earn a living, and how much is tedious, redundant administrative shuffling of paper (or data). "How about those TPS reports?"

And if we can let it go for a day or two, why not the next day, and the one one after that? 

Why not forever?