Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Au Revoir, Shithead

2014, in so many ways, wasn't our finest hour as a nation, or really, as a species. It was marked by venality, stupidity, ill-humor, selfishness, tragedy, and divisiveness. And that was just the Lakers. We struggled with racism, economic issues, a politics where noise and distraction overwhelmed right and wrong, true evil disguised as misdirected religious fervor, disease, and Roger Goodell.

Now, more than ever, the world needs Gheorghe. This is our year, boys and girls. When we fly the banner of dipshittery proudly, and set an example for our fellow man. When we buy matching G:TB onesies and wear them as a group. When the Tribe finally kicks Lucy's football. Or something. When Brian Posehn sues the Teej for using his likeness, but in a funny way. We resolve, as a community of Gheorghies, to be a part of the solution. At least, anyway, to come up with the solution and talk about it at length before giving up and talking about beer, music, and sports.

So on this final day of this altogether forgettable annum, may you enjoy some high-quality merrymaking, and prepare yourself for a long-awaited turning of the page. Me and mine, we're hunkering down to avoid all the sick people in our neighborhood and breaking out the fondue pots.

All the best to you and yours, and fuck off, 2014.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Counting on a (Gheorghemas) Miracle

The last time William & Mary defeated the University of North Carolina in men's basketball, Larry Bird turned 21 years old, Egypt threw the USSR's diplomatic corps out of the country, and I was eagerly awaiting the Steve Grogan jersey that I just knew Santa would be bringing me. W&M defeated then-no. 2 Carolina, 78-75, in Williamsburg on December 7, 1977. The game made such an impression in Tribe hoops lore, that I recall seeing bumper stickers commemorating it on College vehicles during my graduate tenure at W&M, some 20 years later.

Four seasons ago, W&M led Carolina, 75-72, with five minutes left in an NIT first-round game in Chapel Hill, but never scored another point as the Tar Heels went on to win, 80-72. The next year, Kyle Gaillard scored 25 points on a variety of dunks, threes, and athletic drives, but UNC drilled the Tribe, 85-60 in the teams' most recent meeting.

Tonight, in W&M's final non-conference outing, Tony Shaver takes the Wrens back to his alma mater to face the 19th-ranked Tar Heels. UNC comes in at 9-3, beating a Florida team that drubbed the Tribe, and boasting wins over Ohio State and UCLA (the latter less impressive than it might've seemed a few weeks ago). Meanwhile, W&M stands at 6-4 after losing three of four, including a 69-62 defeat at Old Dominion that prompted the generally circumspect Shaver to offer some choice words about his team to Daily Press scribe Dave Fairbank.

"My biggest disappointment," Shaver said, "is we're not tough enough to win these games on the road right now. We knew coming into this game, the No. 1 statistic, the most vital thing we could do was rebound the ball and we gave up 15 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. We've got no chance to win if we do that."

Carolina, led by 6'9" big men Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, outrebounds its opponents by nearly 10 caroms per game, while junior guard Marcus Paige paces the balanced Heels with 13.6 points per game. Roy Williams pushes the tempo, while Shaver's Tribe has yet to allow an opponent to top 70 points in a game this season.

In sum, a scuffling W&M squad with doubts about its fortitude heads to Chapel Hill to play against a bigger, faster team whose strengths (athleticism, rebounding, depth) align neatly with the Tribe's weaknesses.

The only question, as I see it, is how many we win by.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gheorghemas Day 10: Ten Reasons Being

So here we are in the dead zone between the rampant materialism of Christmas and the ugly excesses of New Year's (oddly, you get excess in both directions around New Year's Eve-- there will be drunkenness and gluttony at year end celebrations, of course, but there also won't be a spot available in the 8 AM spinning class at your local gym . . . very weird). It's too late for actual gifts, and it's too soon for quixotic resolutions, and so I'll leave you with something you can use all year long . . . some logic. It's not the most logical logic, but it's free and it's easy to understand, so what's not to like?

I use this reasoning on my children, but I suppose you could try it on adults if you don't have kids.

1. Because I said so . . . the Ur reason, an impenetrable umbrella under which all other reasons fall.

2. Because kids are starving in China/India/Bangladesh/Cleveland . . . this reason probably contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States.

3. Because it's disgusting . . . I usually pull this reason out after I catch my son Alex picking his nose (and consuming what he has mined) or when when one of my children doesn't flush the toilet and/or wash their hands or . . . sorry to go here. . . when one of my children forgets to wipe his ass and then I usually append a short history of cholera and the miracle of modern plumbing to this reason, ostensibly to scare the shit out of my children (pun intended) but they have a remarkable ability to ignore my stories of death and disease and continue with their hideous hygienic habits.

4. Because mom will go nuts if you don't get it done . . . this is a good one to use when you don't want to be the bad guy-- it usually comes into play when the kids have to finish their homework and/or clean their rooms.

5. Because that's incredibly stupid and you need to wear a helmet . . . this reason was used for a very specific situation, but if you have male children, I'm sure you'll run into something similar.

6. Because we love you . . . this usually precedes a serious grounding.

7. Because you're spoiled and need to suffer . . . after I cited this bit of logic, I chucked a completed Lego set into the recycling bin.

8. Because our family is a team, and we need to cooperate . . . this one is usually necessary after Lord of the Flies/Shining type family event; it's aiming a bit high (perhaps it should be "because our family has to abide by the laws of the United States of America, and therefore it is not legal to strangle, murder, torture, and/or cannibalize family members and they must be treated just as any other human in our society deserves."

9. Because you never see your mother and I behave like that . . . this is as irrational as any reason ever presented to a child . . . why would a pair of pre-pubescent boys act like a couple of forty-year olds who have been married for fifteen years?

10. Because you're damaging our family's reputation . . . this one is patently absurd, but in order to be a parent, you've got to be a hypocrite-- and it's no more ridiculous than the rest of the reasons, so don't be afraid to throw it into the mix.

The important thing here is variety-- you can string these reasons together in an infinite matrix of never-ending lectures and diatribes. Usually after I've perorated for ten or fifteen minutes, I've lost the desire to physically beat my children for their offenses-- and DYFUS doesn't care how long your spiel is-- they can't jail you for a filibuster. So just keep talking. These kids need some suffering, right? They should endure some sort of punishment for their behavior, and a long-winded speech is torture enough . . . so have fun with these reasons, liberally sprinkle them throughout your sermons, and if anyone has any extras for me, so that I'll be a little less predictable in 2015, then I thank you in advance.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Banter is Coming

FOG:TB Fat Guy in a Speedo can be counted on to provide us with mirthful and high-quality footie material. Unfortunately, I can't always be counted on to read his submissions in a timely fashion. So, if you will, please pretend you're reading this yesterday morning. (If you actually are reading this yesterday morning, through some fortuitous hot tub time machine sort of thing, I've included some score details so you can place bets.)

It's been awhile since the last kickball update. The collective hangover from a World Cup year tends to bleed over into league football the following season. Players get more injuries after working the summer they tend to have off, fatigue, ennui and general malaise ensue. At least this is the general consensus; realistically not much changes. The powerhouses are still at the top of the tables around the world and the best players continue to perform at the highest levels. Then winter rolls around and the world takes a break from soccer to worship, drink, eat and freeze for a few weeks while players regroup and recharge. 

Luckily, England continues to flout the traditions of Europe and the rest of the world and doubles down over the holidays. The Premier League teams will play 4 games over the next two weeks; 3 league games followed by FA cup games. Although this is great for the fans and the league in that football fans the world over only have England as an option, the players probably wish they had time off to heal and hang with their families. But dilligaff to them. Plus, this is a great excuse for England to continually underperform on the world stage in national football events. Here are a few games to watch for those of you who opt to nurse A.M. holiday hangovers watching sports that might end up 0-0.

Friday, December 26th - Boxing Day 
7:45 Chelsea - West Ham: Normally a wash, West Ham is actually overperforming this season and sit in 4th place. This makes for a London derby worth watching although Chelsea is on a tear this season and should take 3 points. (Time travel note: Chelsea will, in fact, take all three points, through goals by that bastard John Terry and that stud Diego Costa.)

10:00 Manchester United - Newcastle: After starting off horribly, United have woken up and have won 5 out of 6. This is due to some good coaching by Louis Van Gaal (pronounced Van gHhhhhaaaaaal, if you're Dutch, or if you want to sound like a pretentious prick), former national coach of the Netherlands who took over the helm in Manc after the World Cup. This is also due to the fact that United spent a few hundred million pounds on the world's best players who have been hurt all season (World Cup hangover?) and the ones who aren't will be puking their collective guts out after their first working Xmas in the Premier League. Still, watch United take this one by a few goals. (Past tense betting advice: those wankers in red did take this one by a few goals, winning 3-1on two tallies by pasty asshole Wayne Rooney and one by the suave and sublime Robin Van Persie.)

Sunday, December 28th

Spurs - Manchester United and Arsenal - West Ham (This is all we got from Fat Guy, so hopefully he's reading this and can chime in with something for the punters - he's been on point thus far this holiday season. Of note, however, Seattle Sounders and USMNT back DeAndre Yedlin signed with Spurs this week. So that's pretty cool.)

Monday, December 29th

Liverpool - Swansea is the only option here

Tuesday, December 30th

Spurs - Chelsea (Can't really blame Fat Guy. Writing multiple paragraphs is hard work. Give the man a break, jerks.)

There is a boatload of other games to choose from, most of which will undoubtedly be more entertaining than the ones I recommend. Rob might enjoy watching Championship League (one tier below Premier League) side Fulham play mighty Bournemouth (Note from the future/past: I did not at all enjoy this, as Fulham were trucked, 2-0, and currently sit in 15th in the 24-team Championship, though they are 8 points clear of rele-relegation.) this Friday or Brighton & Hove Albion Monday. Or he might want to upgrade to a Manchester Premier League team that won't give his PC ebola when he streams them online. (My daughter is a Liverpool backer, so I'm living vicariously through her. Thus far this season, Brendan Rodgers' boys have sucked. Nice job, kid.) Salud, nostrovia, happy Becksmas. (And Happy Holidays, ladies)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Gheorghemas Day 9: Late Gifts Still Worth Giving

Hey Gheorghies! After being laid out by the flu earlier this week I'm nearly back to full health (any time this sore throat and runny nose want to give it a rest will be just fine) and here to deliver a few late Gheorghemas gifts. Obviously these are late because I was sick but it takes a long time to deliver gifts to G:TB HQ this time of year when you're coming from Florida too. So, what I'm saying is be happy these gifts arrived in December. Holiday traffic is a bitch.

The first gift I'm giving is my all time favorite Christmas song. It's a classic and yet most people don't think of it as a Christmas song but listen to the lyrics closely and pay attention to the sleigh bells in the background and you'll see I'm right.

While we're talking music, here's another gift. Dave mentioned on Christmas Eve but Run The Jewels 2 is fanfuckingtastic and you should all download it. Actually, go back and download the original Run The Jewels as well. Killer Mike and El-P are hip hop's odd couple. One is rapper from the Dungeon Family tree in Atlanta and the other is a rapper producer from Brooklyn who began his career at the heart of the underground hip hop movement. In many lifetimes they never work together at all, much less become close friends and collaborators. Luckily enough for all of us though, that wasn't this lifetime.

Christmas is a wonderful time. We get to spend time with family and friends, many of whom we haven't seen in months. We have yet another excuse to over indulge in food and drink and people buy us things. I don't know about you but I still enjoy getting gifts. The problem that often arises with these gifts is that our family and friends don't know our tastes quite as well as they think they do. With that in mind, make sure you get something you really want this year but going to the Clearance section of I told Zman about it a year or so ago and I encourage all of you do check it out. It's loaded with shoes, gear and clothes. All at a large discount. I check it out about once a month. Go there, look around and get yourself something nice. I did a few days before Christmas and look what showed up at my house on Christmas Eve.

Merry Gheorghemas to me! And to all of you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Day 8.5: More Filler, Courtesy of my Favorite Childhood Christmas Tune

I hope you all are full, half-drunk and jolly at this moment, like me. I was meaning to include the clip below in a more formal post, but real life got in the way.

I remember this song and video well, which makes me feel old because it's 30 years old. I think I can see Mr. KQ dancing in overalls at one point in the clip. And I'm pretty sure Bryan Adams gave Nina Blackwood his Canadian wood after this video ended. The video is tremendous in the "I forget how awesome the 80's really were" kinda way. And in the "reggae Christmas tunes are fun" kinda way. And in the "Pee Wee Herman was always a good time in the 80's as long as you didn't see him in a dark theater" kinda way.

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Death to "It's Christmas Eve in Washington"

Mark needs to recover from his SARS/Ebola mix, meaning Day 9 of Gheorghemas ain't coming anytime soon. And Marls got that god awful Christmas Eve in Washington tune stuck back in my head again, so today's post will be the lamest of the lame - a rerun. Enjoy my whining from 8 years ago below, and join us in the comments with your vote for worst Christmas (or holiday) song.


The ball is rolling...hat tip to Dan at DC Sports Bog for spreading the word, and now you can continue this jolly jihad by visiting the online petition. Sign early, sign often.
I know, you've heard the ranting before, but it's reached Gladwell's tipping point now. Those of you not in the DC Metro area have no idea the musical nightmare you are missing. "It's Christmas Eve in Washington" by Maura Sullivan is absolutely, positively the worst holiday tune of all time (amazingly, in this day of the interweb, I had a very tough time finding the artist to "credit" this song too...perhaps she wants to curl up and die every time she hears it, like me?). There can be no argument.

The insanity has to stop. You know what the #1 search is right now for GTB? Some combination of "christmas eve in washington song" and either "sucks" or "worst song ever". I need all the haters out there to band together and fight this monstrosity. I have already begged Dan at DC Sports Bog to get the word out about this plague, and I have emailed Program Director Bill Hess at 97.1 WASH FM numerous times begging him to put this tune to sleep (and put the listening public out of its misery). You should do the same (WASH FM of course is the soft rock station that begins playing Christmas songs in July).

I know you think I'm nuts, or simply an old curmudgeon, but I'll let the song speak for itself (speak = vomit syrupy sweet nothingness). If anyone can find an MP3 of this, please send it along. For now, try not to slit your wrists as you enjoy "It's Christmas Eve in Washington"...

It's snowing tonight in the Blue Ridge
There's a hush on the Chesapeake Bay
The chimneys are smoking in Georgetown,
And tomorrow is Christmas Day.

The Tidal Basin lies quiet
The tourists have found their way home
Mr. Jefferson's standing the mid-watch
And there's a star on the Capitol Dome.

It's Christmas Eve in Washington,
America's hometown
It's here that freedom lives,
And peace can stand her ground,

It's Christmas Eve in Washington
Our joyous wish to you
Is for peace, love & laughter,
To last the whole year through.

Snowmen peeking through the windows
It's warm with love inside
'Round the tree the children gather
Awaiting Santa's midnight ride.

Mom and Dad are counting their blessings,
Reflecting on all they've done
So thankful for another 

Christmas Eve in Washington.

It's Christmas Eve in Washington,
America's hometown
For it's here that freedom lives,
And peace can stand her ground.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Even More Gheorghemas Filler

While we anxiously await Mark's ninth day of Gheorghemas post here is some filler that proves Florida is the worst.

**Edit: Here is another song to consider adding to your 240 GB iPod as part of the "Worst Christmas Songs" ever playlist.

Monday, December 22, 2014

More Gheorghemas Filler

I believe Mark is chipping away at Day 9 of Gheorghemas, in between tattoo appointments and applying for the head coaching job in Gainesville, so I thought I would jump in and offer up this holiday music filler. I had no idea this song existed, but my god is it phenomenal**:

**In this instance, "phenomenal" does not necessarily mean the tradition definition.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day 8

On the eighth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Eight Chapters on Music in a Post That's Got Way Too Many Words in It, For Which I Apologize
Seven Books For Reading (Seriously)
Six Beers Worth Drinking
A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)
Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;
Two albums to look forward to; and
A fat guy in a jersey

Several other Gheorghies put together strong, concise posts about their musical favorites. I tried to do the same. I failed. I give up. I can no sooner distill my musical preferences to ten songs than dunk a basketball. All is not lost, though. In the course of trying and failing to make a list, I had an opportunity to stroll down melody’s memory lane. The result: something resembling an audio autobiography. To borrow a song title, here’s the Story of My Life in songs:

The Early Years

My father’s musical tastes ran heavily to country & western and singer-songwriter types. He loved Hank Williams Jr., George Strait, Simon & Garfunkel, George Jones, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Billy Joel (in particular, I remember him singing the chorus to the latter’s ‘You May Be Right’ with gusto, reveling in telling my mother that she’d married a lunatic), among others. And so the first song I can remember calling my ‘favorite’ was Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. I didn’t grasp that tune’s essentially sadness until later. I just liked hollering the chorus.

We listened to a steady mix of Alabama, the Statler Brothers, the Gatlin Brothers, and Anne Murray during our family road trips. The Statlers’ ‘Counting Flowers on the Wall’, in particular, resonates in my recollection.

Growing Up, Breaking Out

I bought my first cassettes when I was 12, purchasing ‘The Game’, by Queen, and Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I don’t recall much about my reasoning, but I wore those tapes out, particularly the former. For all the great songs on that Queen album, the one that sticks in my head all these years later is the relatively obscure ‘Dragon Attack’. 

It was shortly after this that The Police released ‘Synchronicity’, and changed the course of my musical future. That record was the gateway to alternative rock for me, and for a long time thereafter, ‘The Biggest Band in the World’ was at the top of my personal charts, too. I still know all the words to nearly every song on that album, and while ‘Ghost in the Machine’ has surpassed it as my favorite of the band’s catalogue, it’s still one of the great rock records in history.

High School, and a Missed Opportunity

For better or worse, I grew up on military bases and in majority white upper middle-class suburban areas. My idea of rebellion was listening to progressive rock and getting a high and tight haircut at the local Marine Corps base after getting suspended from school for drinking. (We actually got suspended for telling the truth about drinking, as all the kids who lied about it escaped punishment. Lesson learned.) I missed out almost entirely on rap/hip hop, something I’ve only recently started to try to rectify.

I went to my first real concert in 1984, catching Chicago at the old Capital Center. I’d like to think I redeemed myself three years later by being one of the few kids in my high school to make a show at the original 9:30 Club. I saw They Might Be Giants as a high school senior at that dingy, dank, sweaty, glorious dive with my then-21 year-old girlfriend. (I was kind of a stud, as you could probably imagine.) Fitting, as their ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ was one of the first songs I saw on MTV’s 120 Minutes, the show that cemented alternative rock’s primacy in my adolescent soundtrack. 

From there, it was on to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Waterboys, The Church, Love and Rockets, The Housemartins, Crowded House, The Clash, and The Violent Femmes, whose ‘Blister in the Sun’ brings back fond memories of frantically trying to fast forward while driving with my mother as ‘Why can’t I get/Just one fuck’ played from the speakers of my Plymouth Horizon. We dabbled in Guns 'n Roses and AC/DC, too, mostly as pump up music before lacrosse games.

I was a little bit late to R.E.M., but jumped in with both feet after the 1986 release of ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’. While I can’t pick a top 10 songs, that album has been in my top five records for as long as I can remember. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite tune from it, though.

The Beasties’ ‘Licensed to Ill’ was my first foray into rap, followed by LL Cool J’s ‘Bigger and Deffer’ and Kool Moe Dee’s ‘How Ya Like Me Now’. J’s ‘I’m Bad’ remains one of my favorite rap tunes - I can vividly recall playing that tune and ‘Bristol Hotel’ all the way up at 11 as we tore out of the driveway after one of the great parties of my high school era.

The record that resonates the most with me from that era, though, came out in early 1987. The Smiths’ ‘Louder Than Bombs’ was a revelation. Morrissey and Marr’s double album sounded like nothing else, with Moz’s mixture of melancholy and bombast and Johnny’s textured, melodic guitar. The Smiths’ lyrics and themes made a naive suburban kid wonder what was out there in the scary wide world. 

College, the Parts I Can Remember

I remember talking to my soon-to-be freshman roommate on the phone a month or so before heading to school. He drove an IROC and listened to Van Halen. I don’t think he was particularly impressed when I listed The Smiths, The Cure, The Primitives, and The Connells among my favorites. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate, though his taste in music never got all that much better. That first year is a bit of a blur, musically, though we did have a hallmate who might’ve been the biggest U2 fan I’ve ever met.

It was sophomore year, though, that I moved in with Dave and we killed vast millions of brain cells playing the CD shuffle game, loading six discs into his player, hitting the random play button, and guessing which song and album would play next. Correct guesses entitled the clairvoyant to write their name and the details on the wall of our otherwise neatly maintained room. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ played an outsized role in our soundtrack that year, and remains one of my very favorite records.

The summer after that year, I lived with Clarence and a rotating cast of idiots, who to a man thought that Clarence and I were the weirdest kids on the planet. Our summer-long Strat-o-matic replay of the 1986 baseball season and my stubborn insistence on remaining unemployed for as long as was fiscally prudent (long past that point, actually) were key pieces of prosecution evidence.

Between watching the full runs of Miami Vice and Crime Story that summer, we were also turned on to Social Distortion after seeing ‘Ball and Chain’ on 120 Minutes. We drove to the mall to buy that CD the next day, and it stayed in heavy rotation for much of the year. 

At some point during this period, I also bought Bob Mould’s ‘Workbook’, which may very well be my favorite record. ‘See a Little Light’, in any case, ranks atop my personal list of songs. I can’t pick a top ten, but I can give you a top one. The juxtaposition of melodic and melancholic, the pain wrapped in a hook, the plainspoken emotion of that song never fails to move me. 

Dave and I spent an entirely degenerate and absolutely unforgettable summer in Nags Head between our junior and senior years. We redefined squalor, living with as many as ten guys in a three-bedroom shotgun shack on the beach road. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Musically, I remember singing the Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers’ at the top of my drunken lungs, accompanied by Dave on guitar, and catching local indie faves Everything, Boy O Boy, and the Waxing Poetics at a dive of a beach bar called The Atlantis (may it rest in hurricane-destroyed peace).

I've already written about the Chilis’ ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ and its role in the soundtrack to my senior year. Music, place, and time come together for me when I hear that record. My fraternity house neighbor also introduced us (and through us, the world) to Nirvana that year. As is often the case, we were trendsetters. At some point this year (or perhaps the previous one), we started putting The Pogues’ ‘Fiesta’ on the CD player and destroying our fraternity rooms in impromptu mosh pits. Our gleeful stupidity was surpassed only by our ability to entertain ourselves.

Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ got played so much my senior year that we began to cringe when it came on the jukebox at the College Delly, but I still dig it. 

At some point in college (really, most of my life runs together at this point), I saw the BoDeans open for the Hoodoo Gurus at the late, lamented Boathouse in Norfolk. I was driving, so I chose not to drink. Alcohol, anyway. We moshed for the better part of the headliners’ set, and I was so drained that I chugged a 64 oz. bottle of Gatorade in the parking lot of a 7-11 after the show. Puked it up on 64 West a few minutes later. Rock and roll, man.

We weren’t quite as lucky when several of us tried to catch the Ramones at the same venue. Our driver pulled off to the side of the road midway through the trip, telling us that he was too drunk to finish the drive. I stepped into the breach, despite having no business doing so. A few hours and several destroyed Norfolk lawns later, we headed back to Williamsburg having been unable to find the show. We never even got close, as it turns out. Rock and roll, man.

Growing Older But Not Up

I spent the first year of my ‘adult’ life driving up and down the East Coast visiting colleges while ‘working’ for my fraternity. It was, for the most part, as forgettable a year as it sounds. The job did afford me the opportunity to spend hours at a time behind the wheel, blasting Arrested Development, Spin Doctors, Barenaked Ladies, and Sugar CDs at road-appropriate volumes.

Moved into a house in Arlington with Clarence and a fellow named Spoid and commenced (or continued, really) living in mostly squalid, and certainly less than healthy conditions. I wouldn’t trade that drunken, silly, stupid, generally female-repellent period of my life for just about anything. We got drunk and sang David Allen Coe at the top of our lungs. When we weren’t getting drunk and singing They Might Be Giants. Or getting drunk and watching Dumb ’n Dumber. And getting really drunk at Jimmy Buffett concerts and doing stuff that we can’t write about publicly, even in a place as obscure as G:TB. 

Sometime during that period, I discovered Wilco and Son Volt, and my long love affair with smart, jangly guitar rock was consummated.

The Slow Road to Maturity

The woman I eventually married has somewhat more mainstream musical tastes than I do, but we did find common ground in The Dave Matthews Band early in our relationship. It’s cool these days to slag Dave, but I’ve never seen a DMB show that was less than entertaining, and I still count myself a fan.

Clarence turned me on the Old 97s shortly after the release of ‘Fight Songs’. As any careful GTB reader knows, that band and lead singer Rhett Miller remain my favorites today. And after 25 years together, they’re still cranking out killer punkified alt-country and delivering as good a live show as a fan could want.

Green Day found its way back into my life with ‘American Idiot’, a record that blew me away, and spent months in nearly exclusive rotation in my car. It’s probably my favorite concept album. I remain bummed out that never caught it live.

I did, though, get to see The Police in concert, years and years after I thought I’d missed that chance. 

My wife bought me an iPod, and had the wisdom and intelligence to send it to Clarence for him to load it. With more than 20,000 songs. I may have received better gifts, but I can’t recall many of them. The first song that ever played on that iPod was Billy Bragg and Wilco’s ‘California Stars’, and every time I hear that sublime collaboration, I’m reminded of two of my very favorite people. Music wins again.

A Dipshit Looks at Forty(ish)

I’m a dad now, and I fight to make my kids listen to my music so I didn’t have to listen to theirs. They Might Be Giants’ detour into kids’ music didn’t hurt in the early years. I listened to my share of Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner, to be sure, and today I hear more Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor than I’d prefer, but I’ve got one kid who loves Vampire Weekend, and another who’s a budding concert fan, headed to see Pierce the Veil live in a few weeks, so I’m doing something right.

The purchase of Sirius satellite radio several years ago was a huge boon for my musical discovery. Nearly all of my favorite music of the past several years was played first on Sirius XMU. Bands like The National, The New Pornographers, Mumford and Sons, Sleigh Bells, Fleet Foxes, The Postal Service, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst, and a dozen others made my playlists after I heard them on XMU.

I’ve always had a thing for female rock singers (see Kay Hanley, Tanya Donnelly, Delores O’Riordan, Susanna Hoffs, et al), but the genre seems to be exploding of late. Neko Case, St. Vincent, Jenny Lewis, the Dum Dum Girls, Haim, and CVHRCHES, to name just a few, get a lot of airtime in my house.

Thanks to Mark and Zman, I’m expanding my rap palette. Mark turned me on to Murs, whose ‘Murs for President’ might be my favorite rap album, non-Beasties version. My travels to the Twin Cities exposed me to Brother Ali, the Doomtree Collective, and Dessa (who’s part of the former). Mark also made me a Rap 101 playlist. You can find it here:

The Greatest Musical Weekend Ever

I’ve seen a ton of live shows, and there aren’t many things I like to do more than see a really great band in a small venue. Increasingly, my musical tastes are expanding, or at least I can appreciate stuff that isn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. I’ve seen a couple of jazz shows in the last several years, for example, and while I didn’t exactly get everything, I appreciated the hell out of the musicians and their chops. Live music, man.

Live music (and great friends) was responsible for the best weekend of my life, non-wedding category, which deserves a chapter of its own. 

In 2009, I made my maiden voyage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, under the tutelage of Clarence and a pair of our lady friends from college, Fest veterans all. Most of you know the stories, as Clarence has recounted them in this space previously, so I won’t bore you with the repeats. But that weekend is as vivid in my memory as it was the day I flew out of New Orleans, hoarse, strung out, and exhilarated. From the late morning to the wee hours of the evening, we reveled in the Crescent City’s sounds and tastes - both of them everywhere in that incredible town. We saw the most amazing gospel bands, the good-timiest local zydeco acts, emerging talents like The Avett Brothers (on a stage that might’ve held 500 spectators, max), to crowd favorites like Amanda Shaw & The Cute Boys and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (right as they were getting ready to blow up, and justifiably so), to mid-major veterans like Wilco, Galactic, and Spoon and headliners like The Dave Matthews Band. We caught a 10-piece funk combo from Brooklyn in a bar so small that the band had to stand in two sections to make a path to allow patrons to go to the bathroom. We danced, and drank, and ate, and smoked weed 25 feet from a trio of New Orleans cops who obviously saw us, and even more obviously didn’t care.

I posted this comment in the thread that accompanied Clarence’s Fest recap, “it's a bit hard to explain this, but being in new orleans really made me feel like a different person. it's like the usual laws of personal physics don't apply.” 

Music, man. It’s the best.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gheorghemas Day Seven (of a Possible Dozen)

On the seventh day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Seven Books For Reading (Seriously)

Six Beers Worth Drinking

A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)

Four Years of Marcus;

Three Scummers Picking;

Two albums to look forward to; and

A fat guy in a jersey

Last year, I read twenty-two books (according to my Gheorghemas post). Not too shabby, if you look at how many books most Americans read each year. And many of these books were either long or difficult . . . or both: Infinite Jest, The Goldfinch, Far From the Tree, Columbine, etc

Congrats to me.

Though I titled last year's post Seven Books for Reading, it might have been better titled: Seven Books You Can Brag That You Read (To Other Elitist Bastards). I'm proud I powered through them, but I'm not sure they were practical recommendations.

This year, however, was different. This year I read a shitload of books-- many of them short and many of them easy (two superb traits that our fearless leader Rob possesses). Plus, I was really sick in the spring with the flu and bronchitis, and I went on a cross-country trip for much of the summer. So I had some serious reading opportunities. I am proud to say that I read forty-six books, and many of them are actually books for reading: crime fiction and travel and sports and financial stuff. Here are the seven most memorable-- and I've included the covers so you can judge them:

1) The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Megafauna and an impending biological apocalypse (if you're partial to humans). This is the only "serious" book on the list, but it's vivid, surprisingly readable, and contains information vital to human survival-- so you might want to skip it and move down to the crime-thrillers.

2) The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian Mckinty

It's 1981, and a hipster Catholic cop (who is partial to The Clash) treads some dangerous ground: he's a member of the Belfast RUC, the mainly Protestant police force . . . and being the token Catholic on the force is difficult enough, but he's also simultaneously dealing with the constant civil unrest and a bona fide serial killer. Read the trilogy.

3) Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann

If you're a parent and/or a coach, you need to read this book. It's a wild ride, full of highs and lows, despicable characters and inspirational moments, and it will change the way you view youth sports. A Mark recommendation.

4) The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

I read this in August, while I sat on the beach at Sea Isle City, surrounded by my friends and family. While they laughed and had good times, I was immersed in a world of DEA agents, drug cartels, and torture. LOTS of torture. Winslow reads like a blend of two of my favorite authors: James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard; after I read this one, I went on a Winslow binge: Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol . . . they are all worth reading.

5) Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

This book was so entertaining that I felt guilty while reading it. I recommend it to anyone enjoys references to Joust, Zork, TRS-80, War Games, Pac Man, John Hughes, Dungeons and Dragons, and things of that ilk.

6) Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush by Geoff Dyer

British critic Geoff Dyer is a professional grouch and a fantastic writer-- I'll read just about anything he writes (even an entire book about a nearly unwatchable science-fiction movie).  To write this relatively short book, he crammed his long and rangy body into an aircraft carrier for a few weeks; then, in spectacular Geoff Dyer fashion,  he just hung around, complained a bit, and observed how things went: his insight is alternately absurd and inspirational . . . and if you've never been in the military, then this book is not only entertaining, but it's also educational (warning: if you're on the flight deck, watch out for the cables!)

7) A three way tie: Flash Boys, David and Goliath, and Think Like a Freak

Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Levitt/Dubner duo have been churning out some of the slickest, most entertaining, and totally excellent non-fiction ever written. Even though these these three books will probably be considered minor efforts in their collective oeuvre, they were still totally entertaining and totally worth reading. Flash Boys sheds light on the dark and weird world of high-frequency trading; David and Goliath turns multiple underdog stories upside-down; and Think Like a Freak explains what David Lee Roth and King Solomon have in common.

Below is my entire list of books from 2014. Right now I am reading The Gentleman's Hour by Don Winslow and A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. I will certainly finish the Winslow book; it's a crime thriller set in San Diego-- lots of surfing, drugs, and male camaraderie, but I doubt I will get through the Paul Johnson tome . . . but there's always next year.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New AmericaAfter the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead , What I Learned Losing a Million DollarsThe Cold Cold GroundAmerican Hippopotamus , Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball MachineFutebol: The Brazilian Way of LifeLooking for AlaskaThe Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile SmugglersThe Improbability PrincipleThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe InterestingsDare MeAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodBrain on Fire: My Month of MadnessYou Should Have KnownDog SoldiersLost in My Own BackyardExpiration DateThe Improbability PrincipleFlash BoysThe Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and DeathIt's Complicated: the social lives of networked teensStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made WorldAnother Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. BushNo Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State Travels with CharleyThe Lost ContinentUngifted: Intelligence Redefined, The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New ImperialismPower of the DogThe Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant TechnologiesI Hear the Sirens in the StreetDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsUncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human CultureThink Like a FreakBad Land: An American RomanceShelterReady Player OneThe Fever Over EasyThe Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled ProfessionSavagesThe Winter of Frankie MachineDawn PatrolHow We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Six

On the sixth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Six Beers Worth Drinking
A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)
Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;
Two albums to look forward to; and
A fat guy in a jersey

I like beer. Always have. Always will. These days, though, there are so many different brews from which to choose, from crazily-hopped mega-IPAs to fruit-forward Belgians to chocolately stouts, pumpkin ales, crisp lagers, insane combinations of habanero and hops, and literally hundreds of other unique options. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink, if only he could figure out where to start.

If you're me, you let your nose be your guide, leading you to a wonderland of high-IBU ales. For your tasting pleasure, here are six beers that I particularly enjoyed this year. Your results may vary, especially if you're not a raving hophead.

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack

Though Beer Advocate describes this beer as an American Black Ale, the label tells us that it's a Black Rye IPA. I'll trust the people that market it to tell me what it is, thanks. The entire Firestone Walker IPA family (Union Jack, Double Jack, and Wookey Jack) is tasty, if a bit pricy, but Wookey adds a unique roasted malt flavor and spiciness from the rye to the IPA's hoppy character, to great effect. 

At 8.3% ABV, Wookey's got a kick. Just a couple'll make you feel all warm inside. And the Beer Advocate folks give it a 95, so it's a quality buzz, too.

Ballast Point Sculpin

My local packie just started carrying this San Diego beer this year. (I don't have a local packie, as we don't call them that here in Virginia. I just really like that description of a liquor store, so go with it. We're actually talking about Wegmans.) It's my go-to celebration quaff, because it's terrific (Beer Advocate gives it a stratospheric 98) but also because it costs $17.99 a sixer. I do okay financially, but I ain't made of bitcoins.

I'm a sucker for the SoCal IPA style, with its citrusy flavors and big hops, and Sculpin is at the very top of a competitive roster of those beers. In another year, Green Flash IPA might make it into this sextet, but I didn't get to have many of that terrific pour in 2014.

Pliny the Elder

I'd heard the stories of this Santa Rosa, CA double IPA for years - it's the stuff of beer-lovers' legend, a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate, and only available in one bar east of the Mississippi River - but I hadn't had one until a few short months ago. My wife and I traveled to California specifically to hunt down Pliny. (She thinks we went for our anniversary. Please keep this secret between us.)

As I drank it, I found it hard to separate the hype from the actual product. I knew I was supposed to love it, in order to establish my beer geek cred. And I did, truly - it's a phenomenally balanced Double, with less of the sweetness that can overwhelm many in that class of beers. It's among the best beers I've ever had, and a must-drink given the opportunity.  But it's not the best, and I didn't receive total enlightenment when I drank it.

Guess I'll need to find a Heady Topper for that.

Surly Furious

The great and wonderful Pliny isn't the best beer I've ever had, but Brooklyn Center, MN Surly Brewing Company's Furious just might be. Surly describes Furious as a hybrid of American IPA and English ESB styles, and the beer's amber color and balance of sweetness with bitterness testifies to the success of that mix. Furious starts with an incredibly smooth, sweet taste and finishes with a crisp, bitter hoppiness. 

Surly is a small, regional purveyor (though Friday's opening of a new facility in downtown Minneapolis hearkens good things for beer lovers outside the Midwest), so it's hard to find anywhere beyond Minnesota and Wisconsin. I satisfy my jones every time I travel to the Twin Cities by getting to the airport three hours before my flight home and bellying up to the bar at Ike's, which has it on tap.

Baar Goldmandli Zuger Spezial Hell

In a huge upset, and a big departure for me, I actually enjoyed a helles this year. To be sure, some of it had to do with the location, but only some of it. On a business trip to Switzerland, I drank more than a few Baar beers with my colleagues. At 5.0% ABV, it was a perfect session drink, a just dry enough to offset the sweetness that usually chases me away from that style.

Long Trail Limbo IPA 

Finally, we close with a beer that was new to me this year, but quickly became my drink of choice for weekday relaxation. I've long been partial to Long Trail, one of the finest breweries in the state of my berth, but Limbo knocked my socks off when I first tried it, drawn in by a particularly well-stacked display at Wegmans.

Technically a double IPA, Limbo represents a new direction for Long Trail, who hadn't done much in the way of IPAs previously. Brewmaster Dave Hartmann describes the beer's taste as 'kickass', and it's hard for me to quibble. If you visit me, it's a better chance than not that this is what I'll serve you. Get some, it's terrific. 

Among many other things (dipshittery, randomness, sporadic posts), this season of Gheorghe is about sharing. Let's use the comments to discuss the beers that got you through another year. Unless they're Belgians, in which case I'd rather hear about TR's polyps.