So Long 2019

I can’t believe it’s the last day of 2019. It flew by. I still haven’t gotten used to writing 2019 and I’ll have to figure out how to write 2020 starting tomorrow. Weird.

I would recap the year, but it went by so quickly that it’s all a blur. I hope you had a good year. I think my year was fine.

I know it won’t, but I hope 2020 slows down a bit. It would be nice to be able to settle in to a year before it’s over. But fast or slow, happy new year everybody.

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A Dream

Photo by Dyaa Eldin on Unsplash

I had a dream last night. In and of itself, that’s not a big deal. According to people who study such things, we all dream every time we sleep. I almost never remember my dreams, though. It’s rare enough that I sometimes wonder if the scientists are wrong and I don’t actually dream every night. Last night, for the first time in years, I remembered my dream.

I was in a warehouse-style hardware store. I wanted to buy a fire alarm. I found the fire alarm aisle and looked at every one in it (there were dozens). They all looked like the kind of red boxes you see in public buildings, but they were black. The cheapest one was $400. I couldn’t afford a $400 fire alarm, and I got really upset.

That’s the dream. Weird, right? I’m of the firm opinion that dreams are random and don’t mean anything, but I can’t help but wonder what this dream would mean if it did mean something. Maybe I’m feeling vulnerable, or poor. Of course, if pop-culture has taught me anything it’s that dream meanings are never that mundane. I just can’t come up with a more exciting interpretation.

It doesn’t matter, though. It was just a dream. It didn’t mean anything at all. I do have to admit to being a little disappointed in it. If I’m only going to remember a dream once every five to ten years, I wish it could be a better dream. Maybe one where I’m flying or where I get to be a Jedi. Instead, my dream life is even more boring than my real life. Oh well.

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Experiences vs. Things?

Photo by Kukuh Himawan Samudro on Unsplash

I frequently see people who say that they value experiences over things. I’ve never really understood what they mean. I worry that I am just being defensive because I like things. The statement feels condescending, like I’m some sort of cretin for liking my things. It would be understandable if I got defensive. But I don’t think I am. I think the experiencephiles are misguided.

First of all, it’s a false dichotomy. There’s no reason why a person can’t value both things and experiences. As I mentioned, I like my things, but at the same time, I like going for walks and spending time with my kid and going to shows. I’m living proof that a person can value both.

It gets worse though. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that every thing carries experiences with it. I get a book for the experience of reading it. I get a record for the experience of listening to it. I get a toy for the experience of playing with it. Even the pure collectors are accumulating experience with each thing they get. It might be the experience of the thrill of finding a rare piece or the experience of interacting with other collectors, but there’s always an experience there.

So, it seems that the people who avoid things because they prefer experiences are actually denying themselves experiences. That seems weird. I suppose, even though it’s not what they’re saying, these people might prefer a different kind of experience. They don’t like the experiences associated with things. That also seems odd, and why would they brag about that?

I don’t believe that’s the case, though. I think the people who say that they value experiences over things are really trying to signal something. They seem to be advertising that they aren’t materialistic. That’s fine, I guess. But it’s a weird thing to get snobby about given that typical non-thing experiences tends to cost a lot of money. Vacationing is one of the most common. I’d be happy to experience a vacation, but personally I don’t have thousands of extra dollars. Going on lots of vacations feels as materialistic (in the way the word is normally used) as collecting art or something. I’ll take my $10 book and enjoy that experience instead.

I guess maybe I am being a bit defensive. I just don’t like people suggesting that there’s something wrong with me because I like my books and records and phone and basses. If you like traveling and fine dining and mountain climbing, that’s fine. Have a blast. Just remember that you’re missing out on a lot of really great experiences. And don’t be snobby. Just let me enjoy my own thing-based experiences.

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My Favorite Recordings of the Decade

Florencia Viadana

As the 2010’s come to a close, there are a ton of “best of” lists floating around. I’m not going to do a best of because I don’t understand how you rank things like that. But, I thought I’d share some of my favorite music from the past decade. Basically, this is music that I ran across in 2010 or after that caught my attention and made it into my regular rotation. I’m only going to list one album per artist, and reissues don’t count. These are in chronological order.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: This is just good, old-fashioned rock music. If she had come up in the early to mid nineties, she would have been huge.

Brad Mehldau – Highway Rider: Brad is always reliable. This is more experimental than most of his releases. He uses a bigger band than usual. It’s full of good tunes, great players, and nice arrangements.

The Derek Trucks Band – Road Songs: Everything Derek Trucks touches is worth a listen, but this is his band, at their peak, live. It’s really incredible. It’s a great combination of original material and covers. And it was probably their last album.

Soulive – Rubber Soulive: This album is just plain fun. It’s Soulive doing a whole album of Beatles covers. So, the songs are great and the trio is in fine form.

Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone: Anyway you look at it, Mavis is one of the all time great voices. She had her share of hits 40-50 years ago, but has really enjoyed a renaissance since the turn of the century. This album is wonderful.

Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What: This is Paul Simon’s best since Rhythm of the Saints. It’s stunning. His band is amazing and his songwriting is as good as ever.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul Time!: Grace Potter was rock, and this is good, old-fashioned soul. She has a great voice. It’s great party music.

Branford Marsalis Quartet – Four MFs Playin’ Tunes: The title perfectly sums up the album. In jazz, calling someone an MF is a high compliment. They deserve it.

The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie – Live In Paris: A, B, C, and D are the first letters of the four bandmember’s names, Axel Zwingenberger, Ben Waters, Charlie Watts, and David Green. There simply isn’t enough boogie woogie in your life, trust me. This album can help you remedy that.

Dr. John – Locked Down: When I first heard this album, I said it’s the album that the Black Keys wish they could make (and it is produced by Dan Auerbach). But it’s really more than that. It’s a funky and swampy gumbo from one of the masters.

The Holmes Brothers – Brotherhood: Everything by the Holmes Brothers is pretty amazing, but if I have to pick a favorite, it’s this one. It’s got tons of soul.

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone: She describes her music as “organic moonshine roots music” and that’s as apt a description as any. It’s unique and wonderful. It was really a toss up between this and her next album, The Order of Time. I went with this one because I’ve been listening to it longer.

The Slide Brothers – Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers: Sacred Steel is one of my absolute favorite styles of music. Here you get Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, The Campbell Brothers, and Robert Randolph all in the same place.

Jimmy Greene – Beautiful Life: Fair warning on this one, you will cry when you listen to it. Jimmy Greene’s daughter, Ana Grace, was one of the children killed at Sandy Hook. This album is all about his daughter. It is heartbreaking, but it is so beautiful at the same time. Some of the biggest names in jazz come together for the project.

Gary Clark Jr. – Live: Gary Clark Jr. is always worth listening to, but live is where he’s at his best. The recording is loose and tight at the same time, ragged and groovy.

Cyrus Chestnut – Midnight Melodies: This is a great set of live jazz. Cyrus is a great jazz player who comes out of a gospel tradition, so his music’s got some serious soul.

The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome: This is what you get when you have one of the biggest bands ever and just let them have fun. They are clearly having a blast playing these covers, and it’s great for the listener, too.

Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution: Esperanza Spalding caused a bit of a stir when she won the best new artist Grammy even though she’s not a pop act. This album is intense. The vocals are great. The bass, guitar, and drums mesh perfectly. All of her albums are great, but this is the standout.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By: This is a little bit of a cheat as it’s the second time Derek Trucks appears in this list. This is the band he formed with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, after suspending the Derek Trucks Band. This is another band where all their stuff is great, and their live shows are amazing. This album happens to be perfect.

Selwyn Birchwood – Pick Your Poison: Birchwood is a young blues guitarist from Florida. This one was a toss up with his debut album, Don’t Call No Ambulance. They’re both great. I think I picked this one for the album cover.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm: Robert Cray has been putting out great music since the 80s, but I think he’s really hit his stride in the last decade. Hi Records was Al Green’s label when he recording his classic hits. It’s fun to hear Robert Cray recreate that vibe.

Living Colour – Shade: The band called this one their blues album. But it’s still loud and rocking. I love what they do with the covers, Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues, The Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya, and Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues.

Jon Batiste – Anatomy of Angels: Jon Batiste is most famous for leading Stephen Colbert’s late night band. He is fantastic in his own right. Similar to Cannonball Adderley, there’s a joy, a bounce, to everything Batiste plays. It’s infectious.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Kingfish: Kingfish has been the talk of the blues world since it came out earlier this year. It’s refreshing to hear a kid (he can’t even drink yet) carrying on the tradition.

Ronnie Wood with His Wild Five – Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry: Similar to the Rolling Stones’ entry in this list, this is just an all time great having a blast playing music that he loves.

I didn’t listen to nearly as much new music over the past decade as I would have liked. That’s one of the problems with having a kid. But this is a list that should keep any music lover happy.

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A Busy Friday

I’m putting the Philosophy Phridays posts on hold for this week. It’s almost eleven o’clock and I’m just now getting some time to think about writing. It’ll take me more than an hour to read a whole entry and write commentary about it. I won’t bore you with all the details of my Friday, but, as I’m looking for a quick post, I’ll talk about the highlights.

The first is that my daughter and I went to the mall. She received a couple of gift cards for Christmas and she wanted to spend them. They were for Claire’s and Bath & Body Works. The mall was incredibly busy. We had to park out in the boonies and walk a long way. My daughter didn’t mind, though. She got a step counter for Christmas and she was happy to get a lot of steps. We went to Claire’s first. Claire’s is completely alien to me. It’s just a store full of stuff for young girls like earrings, headbands, scrunchies, and just about everything is sparkly. I’m pretty sure my daughter looked at every single thing in the store. She picked out a few things that added up to her gift card, but then we discovered they were having a buy 3 get 3 sale, so we went back to looking. Eventually, she found a total of six things, she paid and we left.

Bath & Body Works was a bit quicker, but not much. This store was a little more familiar to me. My ex-wife used to go in there from time to time. The main thing I notice about it is an overpowering smell that gives me a headache. But my daughter had a great time spraying all the scents on little cards and sniffing them. She picked out three that she liked. We found out when we paid that two of the three were on sale, so she has money left over. Which means we get to go back in the near future.

The other highlight, and realistically the real highlight, was attending the Hip-Hop Nutcracker with my daughter. My daughter loves dance and dancing. She was in a production of the Nutcracker earlier this season, and she is taking hip-hop classes. So, this seemed perfect. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but most of it was Tchaikovsky’s music with hip-hop dancing. Kurtis Blow was the MC for the night, so he opened the show with a little history of rap and closed the show introducing all of the dancers. There was also a DJ who supplied the music pre-show and during intermission. And there were a few musical interludes with a hip-hop violinist duetting with the DJ. All in all, it was a good show. I don’t understand the kind of body control the dancers have, but it’s fun to watch.

That was my Friday. I’ll pick up the Philosophy Phridays again next week.

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The Rise of Skywalker – Some Positives

I wanted to write some more about The Rise of Skywalker. But, I don’t feel like complaining right now. So, I thought I’d try coming up with some positive things about the movie.

1. Ian McDiarmid – McDiarmid plays Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, the Prequel Trilogy, and The Rise of Skywalker. We’ll ignore the fact that Palpatine’s return makes no sense and just appreciate how great McDiarmid is in the role.

2. Luke called his actions from VII and VIII a mistake – They were clearly a huge mistake, aside from being completely out of character. We should commend him for acknowledging that.

3. C-3PO had a larger role – One of the problems with the sequel trilogy is that R2 and 3PO have been marginalized. It was nice to see 3PO get some real screen time in the third installment.

4. Using old footage of Carrie Fisher in the new movie, after her death, wasn’t as horrifyingly bad as it could have been – This one explains itself, but I was dreading seeing Carrie Fisher brought back from the dead. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The Leia scenes were stilted and awkward, but didn’t feel like a desecration.

5. Luke trained Leia – One of the last things Yoda said to Luke in Return of the Jedi was, “Pass on what you have learned.” It was a big disappointment to me that there was no indication in VII and VIII that he had tried to do so with anyone other than Ben Solo and a handful of others that followed Ben to the dark side or were killed. Why did Yoda and Obi-wan bother revealing that Leia was Luke’s sister if it wasn’t so she could be trained? I’m glad they rectified that oversite.

That’s five positives (sort of). I can’t come up with anything else at the moment, so it’ll have to do.

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A Satisfying Christmas

As a kid, Christmas is many things. It’s exciting and fun and wonderous and magical. As an adult, it’s different. I still love Christmas, but not in the same way. As an adult, Christmas is a lot more work. It’s our job to make it exciting and fun and wonderous and magical for the kids.

This year, in my family at least, we did a good job. Santa came and all the presents were a hit. I did all the assembling and setting up and downloading so my daughter could play with all her new stuff. Then, I made a special breakfast while she played. After, we went over my parents for lots of good food and family time. She got more presents that she loved, played, and made some crafts. She was very chatty on the ride home and as I was putting her to bed about what a good day she had.

Now I’m tired. I mean really tired. But it’s a good tired. The kind of tired you get after accomplishing something. This Christmas was satisfying. And as an adult, I think that’s the best Christmas I can hope for.

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Christmas Cookies

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

One of my family’s holiday traditions is my mom makes Christmas cookies every year and gives them to family and friends. A few of those cookies are the cookies we leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. We got our cookies a few days ago. They are delicious.

Unfortunately, I am a picky eater. That means that some of the cookie varieties don’t work for me. The two biggest culprits are the jewel cookies and the magic cookie bars. With the jewel cookies, it’s the fruit jelly that throws me. With the magic cookie bars, it’s just too much going on in one bite.

So, when we got our cookies, I told my daughter that she should eat all the jewel cookies and magic cookie bars. She asked me why, and I said that I didn’t like those kinds. She thought for a moment and said, “We should give those cookies to Santa!” I started to protest, how do we know if Santa likes those kinds of cookies. Wouldn’t it be safer to give him a sugar cookie shaped like a tree or a peppermint cookie shaped like a candy cane? But she was so sure Santa would like them, that I dropped my protest. Santa eats millions of cookies in one night. Surely he can’t be too picky.

So, before she went to bed on this Christmas Eve, my daughter put out a cup of milk, nine carrot sticks, and three cookies, a jewel cookie, a magic cookie bar, and a sugar cookie shaped like a Christmas tree. I hope Santa likes them.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Initial Thoughts

Well, I saw the new Star Wars. It was a bad movie. Like, a really bad movie. But I have some good news. My preparations worked. I went in expecting to see one of the worst movies ever made, and it met my expectations. That’s something the last two didn’t do.

With Episodes VII & VIII, I was angry watching them. I don’t get angry easily. But Star Wars is special to me. The new trilogy wasn’t just made of bad movies. I could live with that. Instead it tried to undo everything from the original trilogy. It unresolved all the things that had been resolved. It reset the characters to the beginnings of their character arcs (or worse). It shrunk the galaxy.

With Episode IX, I wasn’t angry. I mostly had a feeling of resignation while watching it. Plus sadness. There was definitely sadness as I watched it, too. And not the good kind of sadness like you get from listening to “Puff the Magic Dragon.” This is more the kind of sadness you get when someone dies. I guess the best way I can sum up this movie is it’s like losing someone close to you who had been in ill health for a long time. It’s really sad, but there is some relief because at least the person isn’t suffering any more.

I’m sure I’ll have some more to say about it in the coming days. But for now, that’s all I’ve got.

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Preparing for Episode IX

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker came out a couple of days ago. I have not seen it yet. I had debated not going to see it, but I am going to. I’m not exactly sure why I’m going to. I feel obligated. I really don’t want to hate it. So I’ve been thinking about how best to approach it so I won’t hate it.

The first thing I decided is that I’m not re-watching the original trilogy before seeing this movie. The fewer comparisons I make between the new movie and my favorite movies, the better the new movie will seem, I hope.

The next thing is I decided to watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi before seeing the new movie. Since those two movies are flaming piles of garbage, I’m hoping the new one will seem good in comparison.

Finally, I’m going into this one with the lowest expectations I can muster. It’s common knowledge that a bad movie seems better if it exceeds expectations and a good movie seems worse if it misses expectations. I’m expecting this one to be exceptionally bad. Like, worse than Star Trek: Into Darkness bad.

I hope it works. It’s a modest goal, really. Not hating something. But it’s what I’m striving for. Wish me luck. I’m sure I’ll report back after I’ve seen it to let you know.

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