Tell me, O muse……

On Monday morning, the radio starts playing our local NPR station at 5:55 a.m. I get out of bed, throw on sweats and a t-shirt and go downstairs to make coffee, so that my wife can get dressed, grab some coffee and head for the train. Then, I make a big frittata, which will provide three breakfasts for me and one for my wife during the week, and then eat, while reading The New York Times (print edition, assuming that it was delivered on time). Then I do Wordle and Chrono, take a shower and start my day in front of the computer, mixing work with not-work. There’s lunch, and snacks, and I make dinner. My wife gets home, we eat dinner and settle in for some TV before we head to bed.

Tuesday through Friday are all pretty similar, although we go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays (me, in the morning; my wife after work), and my breakfasts change through the week. Sometimes I go to my office, but lately not so much. And on Wednesdays, we usually go out for dinner.

Weekends are a little different–we usually hit the gym early, then do errands or stuff around the house (and often watch soccer), before dinner, TV or a movie, and on Sundays, I play soccer in the morning, grab coffee with some of the players, come home, shower, and Zoom with our kids and my mother-in-law. There’s usually some sports to watch, and I almost always squeeze in a nap.

Yes, it’s a routine, but its one that I like and am comfortable with. And we do break it up with museums, shows, theater and visits with friends and family, but I don’t generally feel like that Nick Lowe song that I have quoted before, “The rut I was in had once been a groove.” Most of the time, it’s still a groove.

But it is good to break out of the routine, and traveling abroad is a serious break.

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Some Under The Radar TV

There continues to be too much good stuff on TV to be able to keep up. I watch a lot of it–it’s convenient and entertaining–to the point that I had to stop writing pieces about my favorites because it just took too long. And as part of my attempt to write shorter posts more often, I decided to pick five shows that I’ve watched recently that might not have gotten the widespread buzz of, say, White Lotus, which I enjoyed.

Let’s start with Bad Sisters, on Apple TV+. Developed in part by Sharon Horgan (who also developed the great Catastrophe and the pretty good Divorce, which was shot, in part, in Tarrytown, where I live, among other shows), it stars Horgan and a number of excellent actors as her (bad) sisters. The premise of the show is that one of the sisters, Grace, is married to a very bad man, Jean Paul, who the other sisters despise, for good reasons. They decide to kill John Paul (without telling Grace). Jean Paul turns up dead, and the show flashes back and forth between the sisters’ attempts to kill Jean Paul, and the post-mortem investigation by two reasonably hapless insurance agents with an incentive not to pay any claim. Also, one of the adjusters gets involved with the youngest sister, Becka (played by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter). The show is hysterical, the acting is brilliant, and the ending is unexpected.

Also on Apple TV+ is Little America. The first season of the show aired early on in Apple TV+’s run, and was overshadowed by “bigger” shows like the uneven Morning Show and the spectacular For All Mankind. But I remember reading reviews saying that Little America was the best show on the network, and while that may not be true, it is damn good. The show features lightly fictionalized stories of immigrant life in the United States, and they are all incredibly interesting, charming, and uplifting. Developed, in part, by Kumail Nanjani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, and with contributions from Alan Yang and other talented writers and directors, the show highlights the breadth of the immigrant experience, and subtly makes it clear how America is enriched by immigrants. In addition to just being well done, it’s a nice palate cleanser after all of the heavy, dystopian, serious or suspenseful shows (and life).

Another generally fun show that has been overlooked is Extraordinary, on Hulu. It’s sort of a superhero show that takes place in a world where everyone gets a superpower on their eighteenth birthday. Well, almost everybody. The main character, Jen, doesn’t get her power and has to deal with her feelings of inadequacy. Plus, she’s really not a nice person, anyway. It’s fun seeing how everyone deals with their powers–some of them seem great, like flying, strength, or superspeed, unusual, like being able to channel the dead, maybe good, like being able to induce an orgasm by merely touching another person, and frankly weird, like being able to generate 3-D objects from your butt on demand. Jen’s attempts to get a power, deal with her lack of power, and relationship with a cat who turns out to be a shape-shifting man (with cat-like mannerisms), raise the question of who actually is extraordinary. It’s fun and funny. And Jen’s mom is played by Siobhán McSweeney, who was brilliant as Sister Michael in Derry Girls. Her power, by the way, is the ability to control technology, except she doesn’t really understand technology.

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Enough, Already

The number of mass shootings in the United States in the first, not even two months of 2023, is around 72, as I am writing this. Apparently, there have been four more since the shooting at Michigan State University on Monday. And it’s only Thursday.

One freshman at MSU, Emma Grace Riddle, survived a school shooting at Oxford High School in 2021, and another freshman, Jennifer Mancini, had attended Oxford, although she had transferred to a different school not long before two of her friends at Oxford were killed in the shooting. And at least one other Oxford student was at MSU during the Monday attack. MSU senior Jackie Matthews was locked down at her intermediate school in Sandy Hook, when the massacre at the nearby elementary school occurred in 2002. I think that one of the saddest statements in that article is that Riddle’s father believes that his daughter is equipped to handle the trauma that she faces–because she’s been through it already.

Isn’t one school shooting per student more than enough? Much less having to live through two. It brings to mind one of the most brilliant headlines from The Onion, “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” According to NPR, as of May, 2022, The Onion republished this article 21 times since 2014. And it could have been more, clearly. (BTW, that’s only my second favorite Onion article–this one, from right after 9/11, is the best.)

After most large mass shootings, there are calls to finally do something about gun violence, but it never goes anywhere seriously. I wrote about this here back in 2016, after the Pulse massacre, and not much has changed (And I wrote this after Sandy Hook). Back in June, after the Uvalde school shooting, President Biden signed a bipartisan gun bill that made some improvements, but fell short of making a real difference. And the Supreme Court, of course, is no help, striking down reasonable gun restrictions (although some states, like New York, are still trying.)

Remarkably, as people–not only children–are getting shot to death on a regular basis, Republican lawmakers are doubling down on their twisted support of unfettered gun rights. One moron, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, has been handing out lapel pins shaped like assault rifles to fellow GOP lawmakers. It’s clear from the article that Clyde, and his fellow gun worshippers, are more interested in trying to “own the libs,” and not, you know, do their job of trying to solve a problem of people getting killed by guns–particularly the same assault rifles that these idiots proudly wear on their chests–and love to brandish in TV ads to show how tough they are.

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A New Beginning. Really This Time.

It’s been more than a year since I’ve written here, but it’s time to get back to it.

One main reason why I stopped writing here was that I’d gotten it into my head that I needed to write long posts on this bloge, often about serious or personal topics, and those can be hard to write. And how many more pieces need to be published about the really important issues in the world right now, like the risk to American democracy, or the war in Ukraine? Particularly if written by a non-expert, like me.

The other main reason why there hasn’t been much new content here for a while is that I was semi-committed to writing at least weekly, and at least every other week or so, at Star Maker Machine. But that venerable blog, which goes back to at least 2008 (and which I joined in 2011) is on hiatus now, giving me more time to dedicate to writing features at Cover Me. And to reboot Another Old Guy.

So here’s the plan for the new beginning (at least the third incarnation of this relatively little noticed blog): I’m going to try to post something at least every two weeks, and hopefully weekly. And the posts might be short and superficial, although if I have something to ramble on about, I will. My hope is that what I post will be interesting and engaging. But in the interests of full disclosure, the main reason that I write is because I enjoy doing it, and it provides a nice outlet for me from real life. That being said, I invite your engagement in the comments.

To kick off the new, let me go back to the old–a few pieces that I’ve written recently at my other blogging homes.

Most recently, at Cover Me, I wrote my first feature article in many years, honoring Maggie Roche on the anniversary of her death in 2017 by looking at Five Good Covers of her most famous song, “Hammond Song.”

And for what are likely my last three posts at Star Maker Machine, I wrote three In Memoriam posts about drummers who died in 2022, ending with Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins.

Our featured song today is “New Beginning,” the title track from Tracy Chapman’s fourth album, released in 1995. One interesting fact is that the song features a didgeridoo, an instrument developed and originally played by Aboriginal people in Australia. Apparently, in some Aboriginal groups, it is not supposed to be played by women, and her use of the instrument was reportedly controversial. However, the credits to the New Beginnings album list Scott Roewe as the didgeridoo player, and he’s a man. But Chapmen learned to play the instrument at the Didgeridoo University in Alice Springs, which is a thing (although I’m not sure how good their football team is), and you can see her playing it live on the song here:

By the way, one other thing about the new beginning here is that I’m not going to post links to download the feature song anymore. It’s just easier to embed YouTube videos, and is probably less questionable from a copyright law perspective (which is not my area of legal specialty). And I’m not going to put in the Amazon link anymore, either, since I suspect most of you could find it without my help (or simply rent your music on Spotify or other streaming services).

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The Decemberists: Apology Song

Tonight, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins, and despite the fact that I’m not observant, and won’t be participating in the traditional fast or going to synagogue (but will attend a family “break the fast” anyway), I have to apologize.

My last post here was at the end of 2020, and we’ve made it all the way to September, 2021 before I got around to posting here again. There are certainly excuses, like the happy fact that I’ve been busy with work–a good thing for a self-employed lawyer–or that for a sadly brief period, the world seemed to be getting back to normal, allowing me and my wife to do a little traveling, visiting museums, and even seeing live music again.

Also, having a president who doesn’t make me want to pull out the little remaining hair that I still have every day has allowed me to be less focused on politics, which often prompts me to write. But ultimately, I really haven’t had a spark of an idea to write a longish piece about, and the longer I didn’t write, the harder it became to write.

So, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for never writing my annual favorite TV piece in a year where I watched a lot of TV. FWIW, here were some of my favorite things from 2020, in no real order, and including some shows that are older, but which I watched during the year:

Netflix: Bojack Horseman, Sex Education, The English Game, Unorthodox, Schitt’s Creek, Middleditch & Schwartz, Never Have I Ever, Dead To Me, Stateless, Last Chance U, Fauda, Teenage Bounty Hunters, Shtisel, Money Heist. The Queen’s Gambit, We Are The Champions, Bridgerton, The Crown

Hulu: High Fidelity, Shrill, Ramy, The Great, Taste The Nation

NBC: This Is Us, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks & Recreation reunion, Council of Dads, Transplant

Freeform: Party of Five, Everything’s Gonna Be OK, The Bold Type

TBS: Miracle Workers

CBS: Hawaii Five-0

HBO The Plot Against America, My Brilliant Friend, Succession, Insecure, Leftovers, West Wing special, How To With John Wilson

Showtime: Homeland, Perry Mason, The Good Lord Bird

Epix: Belgravia, Enslaved

PBS: World on Fire, Baptiste, Sanditon, Reconstruction (2019), Finding Your Roots, Roadkill

ESPN: The Last Dance

Amazon Prime: Upload, Homecoming, The Expanse

History: Grant

AMC: Quiz

Disney +: Hamilton

AppleTV +: Ted Lasso, Little America, The Morning Show

FX: Fargo

TNT: The Alienist: Angel of Darkness

IFC: Brockmire

Maybe I’ll do a full TV post for 2021–I’ve again watched a lot of TV, and much of it was good.

On to the music writing roundup. I’ve continued to write for Star Maker Machine. Typically, I try to write twice for each two week theme, but this year, I seemed to do only one post more often (see above for lame excuses). Traditionally at SMM, we do an “In Memoriam” theme, which is usually the last theme of the year, or the first of the new year, although it does sometimes overlap. This year, I wrote about the passing of “Three Crims,” musicians who were members of, or affiliated with, King Crimson, Gordon Haskell, Keith Tippett, and Bill Rieflin. This eventually sent me down a rabbit hole, listening to Tippett’s non-Crimson jazz/fusion projects. I also commemorated the life of reggae legend Toots Hibbert, who I was lucky to see perform a couple of years ago.

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Year End Roundup

Pat Metheny Group: Better Days Ahead

If a blogger doesn’t blog, is it really a blog?

I’ve started drafting a few things for this space since July, but most of them were political screeds about issues that were discussed better elsewhere. But as we reach the end of an awful year, and the end of the Trump debacle approaches, maybe in 2021, I won’t be totally obsessed with political news, and might find other interesting things to write about here.

Instead, though, I’m going to round up my writing from other sites before tackling my annual TV post.

Most of my writing, as usual, is at Star Maker Machine, where we ran a Great theme in August, and I discussed historical theory and the Gang of Four’s “Not Great Men,” and the TV show The Great, about Catherine the Great, which was great, and will definitely be on my best of 2020 list. Next up was a Count/Counting theme, and I wrote about SCTV’s Count Floyd character, created by the great Joe Flaherty, and Human Sexual Response’s song “12345678910.”

In September, we started hearing about Trump’s attempts to cripple the post office (which may have backfired on him), so we had a Mail theme, and I wrote about the band Letters to Cleo, who faded away after some early success, only to have another moment in the spotlight when they were featured on Parks & Recreation. I followed that up with the 1969 hit by the mostly forgotten R.B. Greaves, “Take A Letter Maria.” The start of a school year that was, for most teachers, students, staff and parents, very different, inspired a Lessons theme, prompting a piece about the underappreciated Paul Carrack’s “Lesson in Love,” and another about “Better Git Yer Learnin‘” by the incredible Our Native Daughters, which tied into all of the BLM protests and marches I attended last summer.

Empty sports venues led to an Empty theme, for which I took a literal approach, with Whiskeytown’s “Empty Baseball Park,” followed by Titus Andronicus’ “The Void (Filler),” which included musings about concept albums and the time I saw the band with my son. In honor of the passing of Eddie Van Halen, we looked at Guitar Heroes, but because I had already written about most of mine over the years, I put our tiny spotlight on Gretchen Menn, a great guitarist who, like my wife and daughter, went to Smith College, but unlike them, plays in an all-female Led Zeppelin cover band, Zepparella (in addition to her solo work).

Many of my theme ideas for Star Maker come to me in the car, when I’m listening to music, which is where the Hidden Places idea came from, and inspired by my hatred of what the soon-to-be former administration did to our government, the imminent election, and seeing the song performed on the filmed version of David Byrne’s American Utopia, I wrote about the Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry About The Government,” which mentions Washington D.C. (but not in the title–that’s why it is a “hidden” place.”) I’m still worried about the government, but somewhat less so now, after the election.

Speaking of which, our next theme was Joe, because, you know, he won. I discussed Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” which is what, it seems, Biden’s father called him, and also why, maybe, Biden’s warm relationship with his father made him a more empathetic person than Trump, whose father was, by all accounts, the opposite (and by some accounts, a member of the KKK).

Then, it was Thanksgiving. In line with this year’s ass-backwardness, our theme was No Thanks, and I wrote about three things that I was not thankful for from 2020–the incessant lying from the president and his cronies (The Jayhawks’ “Sound of Lies“), not being able to gather with my family (Old 97’s’ “Lonely Holiday“), and my retinal surgery (Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes“). Interestingly, that last one was one of my most viewed posts of 2020, probably because I used a pathetic picture of my post-surgery bandaged eye instead of the typical album cover. So, expect more medical procedure pictures in 2021–anything for clicks, right?

Another Star Maker tradition is the post-Thanksgiving Leftovers theme, where we go back and write something that would have fit a theme from earlier in the year, and I looked back to the Looking Forward theme (which was inspired by things we looked forward to when COVID was just a bad memory) by posting about the Highwomen’s great song “Crowded Table.” Despite the fact that it is a great recent song, and popular in the country/Americana world, it was one of my least viewed posts of 2020. So, if you missed it, check it out.

Our last theme of 2020, which is typically a holiday-related theme, is Pandemic Holiday Songs, and I wrote about Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” which I learned about from Phoebe Bridgers’ recent cover (and which is another post that hasn’t gotten the attention that I’d have expected), and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” first sung by Judy Garland during World War II looking forward to better times in the coming year, and then “jollied up” by Frank Sinatra.

Next up will be our annual In Memoriam theme, with, sadly, way too many choices to write about.

My writing at Cover Me was limited to group pieces, including a Q&A about favorite a cappella covers, allowing me to write about my daughter’s lead vocals with the Smith College Smithereens on Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” We did a 50 Best Leonard Cohen Covers piece, and I wrote about No. 48, Madeleine Peyroux’s cover of “Dance Me to the End of Love,” which should be ranked much, much higher, No. 23, “I’m Your Man,” by Amanda Shires, who has lyrics from two Cohen songs tattooed on her body, No. 21, Lloyd Cole’s fine take on “Chelsea Hotel #2, No. 15, Lera Lynn’s bluesy “I Tried to Leave You,” and No. 5, R.E.M.’s treatment of “First We Take Manhattan,” which would not have sounded out of place on Monster.

We wrote about the 50 Best Tribute Albums of all time, and I wrote about Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity and Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97’s. And, as always, we ended the year with a look back at the 50 Best Covers of 2020. I wrote about No. 36, Ben Lee and Sarah Silverman’s (yes, that Sarah Silverman) cover of an Adam Schlesinger song originally sung in a movie by Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and No. 31, Poolside’s appropriately danceable cover of the Grateful Dead’s disco-era Shakedown Street.

The featured song is “Better Days Ahead,” a jaunty, Brazilian-influenced piece from the Pat Metheny Group. Originally recorded for the Letter From Home album, released in 1989, this version is from the 1993 live album, The Road To You, which I’m posting because it is a little longer and allows Pat and his great band to stretch out a little.

See you in 2021!

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Seven-Twelfths Recap


Joan Shelley: First of August

The last time I filled space on this blog with links to things that I’ve written elsewhere was in April, and so here we are, seven-twelfths through a truly crappy year, and I decided that it was time to do it again.  Because what’s better during an oppressive pandemic summer than asking readers to read old posts, right?

As usual, most of my blogging is at Star Maker Machine.  We reached into the SMM Storehouse of Theme Ideas for “Musical Mysteries,” and I finally got to write one of my personal favorite posts, about Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” (Who are these boys? Where have they been?  Why are they coming back?  And why do you have to let them fight?  Among other mysteries…), as well as R.E.M.’s “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”

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In Praise of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Really.


Martin Sexton: Diner

I know that I should be writing about the wave of protests sweeping the country and the underlying systemic racism that has burst into mainstream consciousness, but who wants to hear about that from a middle-aged white guy without any particular expertise on the issue? (Much better, I think, to read and learn from the experts, right?)  Or I should be writing about our horrific president and his gang of fascist-wannabe enablers, but I’ve done that, and I don’t have anything new to add that hasn’t been said better elsewhere.  Or, maybe I need to write a review of Jason Isbell’s excellent new album, Reunions, but considering that it was recently the number 1 album on most of the relevant Billboard charts, and has been reviewed everywhere, I’m not sure what new insights I have  (It’s good.  Not Southeastern good, but that’s a damn high bar).

So, instead, let’s talk about the television equivalent of the most comforting of comfort foods, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I’d argue that during this period of home sheltering and increased binge watching, “Triple D” is the perfect way to pass time.

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You’d Think


You’d think that being stuck at home with diminishing work to do would have resulted in more writing on this blog, but you’d be wrong.

When it became clear that I’d be back to working from home–this time, with my wife doing the same–and with the gym and most other places closed, or reduced to takeout, or uncomfortable to be in, we started off with a head of steam.  We reorganized some cabinets and drawers.  We cleaned.  My wife baked and baked and baked.  I continued to work, and do some light music blogging, although I spent much of my time helping to organize a series of Zoom meetings of my Princeton classmates.  I learned how to use Zoom, Slack and Spotify.  And we binge watched TV like crazy.

A couple of weeks ago, the vision in my left eye, which had successfully stopped a hard shot on the soccer field back in the fall, was partially obscured, resulting in a diagnosis of a torn and detached retina.  After getting pneumatic retinopexy, where a gas bubble was injected into my eye, followed by getting blasted by lasers, I’m on the mend, but I have to spend much of the day with my head tilted–and the easiest way to do that is to lie in be or on the couch, watching TV or sleeping.  I guess that if I had to have to go through this, now is not a bad time.

Between that and the general malaise that has come from the long period of home stay, where taking a masked walk by the Hudson is the highlight of the week, and grocery shopping is both risky and frustrating, I’ve settled into a state of ennui.  I tried writing an alternative history piece about what would have happened if Trump were president when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but that bogged down (ultimately, of course, the answer would have been, German would be our national language, and I’d never have been born, since my family would have been killed by our Nazi overlords or, more likely, their American collaborators).  And, as you’ll see, I’ve continued to bang out music writing for the other blogs, because it isn’t that hard.

One thing that I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes you just need to write something, and it opens the floodgates.  So, I figured that a roundup of writing and other stuff since my last one in November might just prime the pump for some more interesting pieces.  And stay to the end (or scroll to the end now, if you are already bored) for some more COVID themed Spotify playlists.

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COVID Playlists 1 & 2

Tiger music fan

For the past few years, my college class, the Princeton Class of 1982, has celebrated ’82 Day on the 82nd day of the year, with small gatherings of classmates around the country.  It is a good way to keep in touch with college friends, and an excuse to wear our crazy Reunions jackets and have some fun.

This year, of course, we had to cancel the events, but are planning to try a Virtual ’82 Day on the appropriate day, which this leap year falls on March 22.  We’ve lined up some classmates to lead presentations during the virtual event–journalists and a doctor to discuss the pandemic, but also some fun stuff, like a movie executive to make suggestions on things to watch while stuck at home, and an astrophysicist to give us pointers on stargazing.

Also for fun, I decided to create a playlist of 82 songs themed for what we are all experiencing in these crazy times, for the first time venturing onto Spotify.  It was fun to do, and when I shared it with classmates, and then my Facebook newsfeed, people seemed to like it, so here it is:

So, of course, I did another one:

As I noted, it probably isn’t as good as the first one, but most sequels, other than The Godfather II and The Empire Strikes Back, fall short of the original.

That being said, I’ve got a third one almost done, and will share it here when I release it to the public.  I do think it is better than The Godfather III, but maybe not Return of the Jedi.

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