I’m Princeton Famous!!

I’m a proud member of the Princeton class of 1982.  My class was chock full of very gifted writers, a number of whom have forged successful careers from their talents.  I thought about linking to some of their work, but was afraid of leaving someone out, so I decided not to.  I chose to limit my writing in college to classwork and my senior thesis, marching band shows and a couple of radio commercials.

So, I was very excited when the Princeton Alumni Weekly interviewed my for a feature about my various amateur blogging efforts, kicking off a series on alumni bloggers.  You can read it here.

I’ve been mentioned in the PAW a few times over the years, mostly in the class notes, but back in 1981, I was part of a joke party, the Antarctica Liberation Front, which ran for student government as a combination protest/work of performance art.  I inexplicably was elected, and my friend Phil wrote an article which opened by describing my anguished wandering around the campus in the dark bemoaning the foolishness of the electorate.  It turned out to be good practice for the night of November 8, 2016.

The video above is Men Without Hats’ song “Antarctica.”  Yes, they had more than one song.

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What The Hell Does It Mean?

[Support Jill Sobule’s My Song Is My Weapon project]

My wife cried herself to sleep last Tuesday, woke up crying, and left for work on Wednesday in tears.  My son found himself at work on Wednesday, watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, sobbing.  I’m seething.  America had the chance to elect a compassionate, intelligent, hard working person who had devoted her life to public service and improving the lives of the American people, and instead elected a bully whose campaign was fueled by every base hatred possible, who had no articulated plans to govern, and who had devoted his life to his own personal aggrandizement, usually at the expense of those less powerful.

It made me wonder how this great country could elect someone whose apparent view of appropriate behavior is the exact opposite of how I was raised and how I raised my children.  I know that he is a liar, a bully, a sexual predator and a man who had no compunctions mocking a person with a disability, the parents of an American serviceman who died in action, and women who fail to meet his personal standards of beauty, but whether or not the candidate himself is actually a racist, homophobic, antisemitic, misogynistic, white supremacist, that’s the rhetoric that he used to fire up his supporters. And I’m not at all mollified by the fact that Clinton actually got more votes, or that so few eligible voters actually voted.  In fact, that troubles me even more, because victory was in our grasp. Based on the popular vote as I write this, an additional 120,000 Clinton votes in Florida, 68,000 votes in Pennsylvania, 12,000 votes in Michigan and 27,000 votes in Wisconsin would have resulted in the election of the first woman president, 307-231.

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Drive-By Truckers-American Band

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[purchase American Band]

In this politically charged time, Drive-By Truckers have released a politically drenched album that doesn’t forget to rock.  American Band is an incredibly powerful political statement communicated through propulsive songs filled with poignant and thoughtful lyrics.  It is an album that grabbed me immediately and has held on–the last one that did that in the same way was former Trucker Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, but for different reasons.

The Truckers have long been one of my favorite bands.  At their best, their songs are able to appeal to both your brain and your gut, sometimes addressing issues of politics, race and personal relationships directly, and other times, more subtly, through finely observed stories.  It is almost obligatory in writing about the band to reference their breakthrough, Southern Rock Opera, for its ambitious attempt to come to grips with what co-founder Patterson Hood calls “the duality of the Southern thing.”  That album didn’t shy away from politics, but it appropriately focused on Southern issues, particularly the civil rights movement and George Wallace.

Since then, although they haven’t shied away from both direct and indirect political songs, the Truckers have never gone as all-in as they have with American Band.  And while they continue to analyze the “Southern thing,” their vision has widened to address national issues including race, gun violence, political division, mental health and changing gender roles.  Which you might expect from good songwriters, as they grow and broaden their experiences. Although American Band continues to be grounded in the Southern rock that is the basis for their sound, it also is filled with other influences such as the Clash, the Stones, the Replacements and Springsteen,  who the Truckers grew up listening to, as much as, if not more than, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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Uncle Tupelo–Gun

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Uncle Tupelo: Gun
[purchase]

The other day, I started writing a rant about the terrible press coverage of the election, and about halfway through, I realized I was not only repeating myself, but I was saying things that better writers have said better, so I decided to leave it in the draft folder and not subject you to it.

But a blogger needs to blog, and I was searching for something to blog about if I wasn’t going to write about politics.  Then, one of my favorite bands, Wilco, put out a new album, the amusingly titled Schmilco, and I’ve listened to it a couple of times.  So far, I’m not in love.  I mean, it’s OK, and there are some memorable songs, but I suspect that it is being considered a “grower.”  Wilco posted an article on its Facebook page, by Steven Hyden from Uproxx, in which he attempts to answer the Passover-like question, “What makes Schmilco different from all the other Wilco records,” by looking at Schmilco in the context of Jeff Tweedy’s entire career. It’s a good article, and rather than try to distill it down to a pithy phrase, I suggest that you read it, if you care about the new Wilco album.

Hyden starts, appropriately, with Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy’s first real band.  He mentions “Gun,”  the first song from the band’s underrated second album, 1991’s Still Feel Gone, and all of a sudden, I remembered that this is at its core, a music blog.  So, I’m going to write about “Gun.”

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Catching Up–SMM and Cover Me Cross-Posts

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Between work, watching too much TV, getting more and more frustrated by this shitshow of a presidential campaign, and trying to will the Mets into the postseason, I have not been cross-posting my other music blogging.  So, it is time to catch up.

Here‘s a Star Maker Machine post about the mind-blowing guitarist Steve Tibbetts.

Here‘s another SMM post about my visit to the Newport Folk Festival in 2012, and how a Dawes song spoke to me at an unsettled time in my life.

And this is my latest SMM piece about Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ beautiful Bill Evans tribute, “September Fifteenth,” and my trip to Europe during the summer after junior year in college.

Speaking of beautiful, here‘s my latest Cover Me article focusing on an Under The Radar band, Hem.

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I Enjoyed the Olympics–Don’t Hate Me

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The Mountain Goats: Hand Ball

[purchase]

A few days before the start of the Rio Olympics, I said to someone that, for the first time, I wasn’t excited about the start of the Olympics.  In the past, especially for the Summer Games, I was pumped to watch the whole thing, and reveled as technology allowed me to have access to increasing numbers of events.  But despite the fact that there were even more ways to watch the games, and the Western Hemisphere time zone would allow more live events to be seen during waking hours, and because working from home would allow me pretty much unfettered access to my various screens, I was feeling pretty blasé about the whole deal.

There are, clearly, lots of reasons not to like the Olympics, starting with the fact that they are run by an organization that is rivaled only by FIFA for being corrupt and socially tone deaf (although the Refugee team was a great idea).  There’s the whole Olympic city spending way more money that it should on unneeded stadiums and arenas, a particular concern in a country like Brazil that is economically challenged and has wide-spread profound poverty.  Add to that the stories about the risk of athletes and others getting Zika, and the ones about the events planned for sewage-filled waterways.  There’s the whole doping issue, making it unclear whether athletes are competing on the proverbial level playing field.  And, of course, there’s NBC’s American flag waving, world-ignoring, sexist, schmaltzy athletes overcoming obstacles focused, Today Show host stupid commenting, time-shifting coverage.

I get all of that.  But when the competition started–with the pre-Opening Ceremonies soccer games–I got hooked.  Because once the games begin, they become a big sports competition, and getting a chance to see some of the greatest athletes in the world compete against each other is incredible.  Here’s what I did, and how I had a blast during the Games–I decided to treat the Olympics like a sporting event, not a spectacle featuring externally created dramatic story lines.  For the most part, I ignored the packaged events, and the interminable opening and closing ceremonies, and tried to watch things live (although I did catch a bit of the women’s gymnastics, because Simone Biles and Aly Raisman were amazing).  And during the day, and on the cable channels, the announcers, for the most part, kept on the sports side, and away from the schmaltz side.  I also watched less of the sports that I regularly follow, like basketball and soccer (especially after the American women were eliminated), and I skipped golf and tennis, because I almost never watch golf and tennis.

My favorite events  were rugby sevens, volleyball (the indoor version–I like the more intricate strategy as compared to the beach version), track & field and handball (thus, the typically inscrutable Mountain Goats song featured above).  But I watched field hockey, rowing and fencing (in part to follow the Princeton alums competing). I watched Princeton senior Ashleigh Johnson play goal for the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team, winning gold, although I found the sport dull–as if they decided to take a fast game like hockey, or handball, and slow it down.  I watched wrestling, both Greco-Roman and freestyle, judo, beach volleyball, boxing, archery and taekwando, as well as badminton and table tennis.  I even caught a couple of minutes of trampoline.

I saw the U.S. men and women win basketball gold and squeezed in a little diving.  Yes, I watched a bunch of swimming, because there was so much of it on, and exciting, even if it was one of the sports that NBC hyped–but when they started going off the deep end with the features, I could switch over to NBCSN, or one of the other channels, and see another less ballyhooed sport.  And, remarkably, one night we had friends over for a barbecue, turned on the TV to watch Michael Phelps’ last race, and afterwards became engrossed in the surprising drama of the men’s 94kg weightlifting final, without an American in sight.

So, despite all of the negatives, I enjoyed the Rio Olympics because of the quality of the athletes and their performances, as a sports fan.

That being said, I do have a few modest proposals for the Olympics.  First, bring back tug of war as an Olympic sport.  It was in the Olympics from 1900-1920.  Here’s a video from the 1912 Stockholm Olympics featuring Great Britain out tugging the home team Swedes.

But to make it interesting, the team from each country, or group of countries, would have to be made up of athletes already competing in other events.  So, to make weight, you might have a weightlifter, a shotputter, and a couple of gymnasts.  Have it at the end, maybe during the marathon, so that no one risks missing their event due to a dreaded tug of war injury.  It could be fun.

Second, if there is going to be golf and tennis, make it different from a regular tournament and have the competition be by team, using some variation of Ryder Cup or Davis Cup type rules.  Again, smaller countries could join together if they lacked enough players to form a team.  Third, eliminate the sillier sports.  I have my list; you probably have yours.  Fourth, move some of the indoor sports to the Winter Olympics.  There’s no reason I can see why, say, weightlifting, some of the fighting sports, or even volleyball couldn’t be moved, eliminating the logjam of sports at the summer games–there are 26 sports in the summer, only 15 in the winter.

And maybe most importantly, let’s figure out a way to stop spending so much on the games.  While logically, having a single site for the Summer Olympics and one for the Winter seems most efficient, you would lose out on the distinctive character that each country brings.  Maybe a rotating roster of cities or regions might work, with the cost borne by all of the members of the IOC would make sense–off the top of my head, you could have a summer site in Europe, maybe in Germany, if Athens doesn’t make sense, an Asian site in Beijing or Tokyo, a North American site in Los Angeles, which seems to really want it, a South American site in Rio or Buenos Aires and Sydney could be the Australian location.  There could be a shared Winter Olympics in the Alps, with the various countries taking turns hosting, one in Vancouver, maybe shared with Seattle, an Asian site in Korea and maybe even a South American location in Chile.  That way, the initial investments might be high, but not only would it only require maintenance and the occasional upgrading of facilities, but knowing that there was going to be a rotation would be an incentive to keep the infrastructure up to snuff.  Of course, that might cut down on bribes, so it is not likely to happen.

 

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Goodbye AYSO

 

Today is the first day in more than two decades that I am not an AYSO volunteer.

I started as a volunteer back in 1995, when I became the assistant coach for my son’s first team.  I don’t come from a family tradition of volunteering, but my dad had coached me in baseball and basketball, so I expected to do the same for my kids.  Shortly after that, though, I was asked to be assistant regional commissioner, and luckily, my wife encouraged me to accept.  That led to my becoming regional commissioner and area director, as well as an instructor for coaches (which was not really my strength) and for managers (which I really enjoyed).  I served on, and chaired, a national task force which created a successful new program for the organization and on a national commission which created and improved training workshops.

AYSO was a great experience for me and my family.  We went to meetings all over the country.  I made good friends, locally and throughout AYSO from Hawaii to California, to Utah, to Arizona to Tennessee to Chicago to New Hampshire to the Virgin Islands, and lots of places in between.  My family hosted coaches from England who worked at our summer soccer camps.  I had the opportunity to help run two caucuses at National Meetings and present the findings to the membership.  I was privileged to help train two classes of amazing regional commissioners at the AYSO offices in California.  I met so many great kids, and their parents, as a coach and administrator.  I got to coach a team of amazing young women at our National Games in Hawaii.  My AYSO experience really was a great confluence of being able to make a positive contribution to the community, while also getting personal growth and satisfaction from the relationship.  That’s why I continued volunteering for AYSO even though both of my kids have long aged out of the program.

But, like many decades-long relationships, even happy ones, my relationship with AYSO began to fray over the last few years.  The reasons why would mostly be boring to readers, and filled with the sort of “inside baseball” (to mix sports metaphors) that would take too long to explain, so I won’t go into detail.  At the end of the day, I felt that AYSO treated me, and many volunteers like me, with disdain bordering on contempt (or, at best, with negligence).  I had gotten to the point where I believed that my contributions were not valued, so I decided that the negatives outweighed the positives.  (Let me be clear that my disillusionment is primarily with the national organization, both staff and volunteers, and not as much with my local program, although I have some concerns there, too.)  A couple of months ago, I sent a long email to a number of people in the organization, many of whom I have known for years and considered friends, including the National President and Executive Director, detailing what AYSO had done to cause an involved 20+ year volunteer to walk away from an organization that I loved.  Fittingly, it was ignored, and I received no response from any of the addressees.

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