Several years ago, when I hosted an afternoon jazz radio show, Dave Brubeck came to town to do some concerts at the university. As a result of my job, I got to spend the better part of a day with him – we hung out at a fancy party one evening, and then the next day he came into the station and co-hosted my show with me.
My hand to god, this was a transformative experience for me, because he was so … kind. Just utterly human and sweet and kind. I’ve been around plenty of famous musicians, but I have never had this experience, where someone so famous and so big was just another guy, asking me questions about my family and genuinely listening to the answers, having a two-way conversation. He was nice to me.
When he left that day, it dawned on me: Dave Brubeck was kind to me. Here is a man who stared down racism in the 1950s; club owners told him that only his white musicians were welcome, and he replied, to hell with you, you either take my whole band or you don’t get any of us. He stared down racism and racism blinked. This man is a giant. He is a hero, and a national treasure. And his music? My god, there has never been anything better. And he was kind to me.
And that’s when I decided, damnit, if Dave Brubeck can be genuinely kind to me, a total stranger working at a Kentucky radio station, nobody has an excuse to not be kind. From that day forward, I stopped accepting attitude from people. I am worthy of basic human decency, and so are all the other people around me. You deserve it as well.
I will forever be grateful for that lesson that he taught me. I have thought about that day many, many times in the years since.
And then there is this remarkable thing. In the very coldest days of the cold war, Dave played a show for students in Moscow. Watch what happens when a young Russian man stands up and starts playing violin. Watch the sheer joy on the master’s face. Music can bridge any divide.
Now, I’m off to the basement to put on some records. Thank you for everything, Mr. Brubeck.
Is it possible to feel nostalgic about something you’ve never actually experienced first-hand? Can you rue the loss of something you never really had?
I think you can. When I put a Vera Lynn or a Benny Goodman record on my turntable, I find myself wistful for a period of American history that probably never really existed, but one that to my mind, feels innocent and wide-eyed and filled with possibility and very, very real. It was pre-war and post-war at the same time, idealistic men and women standing up to some outside evil and through the sheer force of their moxy and their belief in one another and the cause that united them, they triumphed over that evil. They shut it down. It was no longer a threat to the good people of the world.
As a people, we saw a very bad thing looming on the horizon. As a people, we fought back, and made the necessary sacrifices, and stopped that Very Bad Thing from being something that our children and our grandchildren would have to live with.
With each passing day, I am becoming more and more pessimistic (which is not my nature, you should know), because there is another Very Bad Thing on the horizon – far worse, frankly, than any that we have encountered so far – and we are meeting it with indifference. And I am finding myself nostalgic for a time (imagined, perhaps) when the people of our country would unite and triumph over such an evil. read more…
My novella, “A Plague Among Children,” will be available for download this December. In the meantime, please, um, “enjoy” the first chapter … read more…
My fellow Whovians, a little reason to celebrate … remember the book that the Doctor was reading in the park during the wonderful mid-season finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan”? The one that turned out to be written by River Song, filled with dangerously accurate information about things that were about to take place, information that could either save or doom our heroes once and for all?
Umm … well, that book doesn’t exist. It still doesn’t. Of course not, and stop being silly.
HOWEVER, there is now an e-book called “The Angel’s Kiss,” and it looks much like the book you see Amy Pond reading in that there picture. But unlike the book in the episode, this one contains no supernatural foreknowledge of things that are about to happen to you. It does not tell you what you are having for lunch tomorrow, or whether or not your Yorkshire pudding will be so tough that you will break your wrist trying to cut through it.
HOWEVER ONCE AGAIN, this e-book is a charming novella (so far, at least, I’ve only just started it) that serves as a prequel to the episode. Even better news is that it is written by Justin Richards, who has written some of the very best Who novels. So if you’re a fan of the show, this is well worth the few quid they are asking.
Bonus challenge: I dare you to read this book and NOT hear it in your head in the voice of Alex Kingston. You can’t do it! Nor should you want to.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading this wonderful book by Gary Taubes, titled “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.” If Taubes’ name sounds familiar, it might be because of a provocative book he published a few years ago, called “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” a science-heavy volume that set out to explain why most of our modern health problems are caused by our consumption of carbohydrates.
Well, evidently the science in that volume was too heavy, and it indeed was a bit of a dry read. “Why We Get Fat” is his version of the “carbs are bad” story, aimed at a more popular audience and written in layman’s language. But having read both, I can tell you that the message is the same: carbohydrates are bad for us, and the science is there to back that up.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes perfect sense. When you look at the grand timeline that is human history, and then you look at the period of time that encompasses modern agriculture, well … the latter is a tiny subset of the former. Most of our biological history has nothing to do with grains or corn or any view of starch and sugar as something that we ought to be eating. We ate the things that we caught/killed, and we ate the green leafy things and the berries and nuts that we could find.
But now, we are eating things that come from a box in the middle of a grocery store aisle, things that our grandparents would not recognize as food. (Thought experiment: Try to introduce your beloved great-grandmother to a Hot Pocket without withering scorn.) We are eating things that have brought incredible levels of obesity, disease and unhappiness. As Taubes points out, this modern “American diet” has led to something that has never happened before in human history: a situation in which a person can be simultaneously obese and malnourished. read more…
Do you like crackers? Yeah, you like crackers. They’re delicious. They’re crispy and salty and you can put things on them and then EAT THEM. Crackers are great!
But there are crackers, and then there are Triscuits. It’s a shame, really, to mention the two in the same sentence, because they are worlds apart. Saying “crackers” and “Triscuits” with some sort of implied equivalency is like talking about prime rib and cat food as equals, simply because both are meat-based and are excellent sources of protein.
Triscuits are awesome, and in this brief photo essay, I will demonstrate this using science. You cannot argue with science. It is empirical, as is the following collection of photos and observations. read more…
A couple of days ago, I was thinking about how and why the DC universe in general, and Batman in particular, is so off-putting to me anymore. I was playing the demo of DC Universe Online, and there’s a massive opening animation sequence, all the good guys and bad guys slamming each other around for 15 minutes, and it’s all good comic book fun, and then the Joker says something along the lines of, “Come on, let’s go – we’ve got more murdering to do!” And that word - murdering - just struck a tone that felt so non-comic-book, so real-world, that it soured the whole thing for me.
I felt the same way watching both of the first two Nolan Batman films. For me, they were miserable, unpleasant experiences to sit through – they were focused on the kinds of things that actual villains and terrorists do. Come down from Asgard to steal some magical artifact or whatever? That’s fun. Blow up a boat filled with mothers and fathers and children? Point a gun at the head of a child? That’s not fun. That’s the kind of shit that people sometimes actually do.
I remember having that feeling for the first time with the Frank Miller book, which I read as a teenager. I knew it was revolutionary as comics/graphic novels/sequential art/whatever goes, but it wasn’t any fun, and up to that point I had equated comic books with fun. But everything is all Dark now. Batman in particular.
This thing, this thing is breaking my heart in ways I haven’t had it broken before, because of the kids involved, and I’ve got little kids and I see everything through that lens. Imagine that you’re 10 or 11, and your mom and dad are not only going to let you stay up and go out for a midnight movie, but you’re going to get dressed up like a superhero and see this amazing movie (one that you probably shouldn’t be seeing anyway because it’s too grownup, but mom and dad are awesome and they’re bending the rules because of how special this is) and this is the EVENT OF THE SUMMER for you and you’ve been counting down the days to it for weeks. And then this happens, and the best thing in the world becomes the worst thing in the world. What does that do to a kid? In some other configuration, with other specifics and details and taking place fifteen years prior, it turns a happy kid into an angry and lonely kid, and angry and lonely kids sometimes grow up and do awful things.
Guns aren’t the issue. Well-balanced folks have a variety of guns for a variety of reasons. I don’t own any, but that’s just because I don’t like them. But my neighbor does; he’s a Vietnam veteran who would never lift a finger against anyone that wasn’t actively trying to hurt him. If you want to hurt 10-year-old kids and their parents during movie night, you’ll find a way, and the gun isn’t the issue. The issue is, why do you want to hurt people you don’t know? What does that do for you? What is the net benefit for you, to hurt people you don’t know?
For me, I have to believe that it is rooted in childhood, in those first few experiences of what the world is and what we can expect from it. All of the monsters that the human race has so far produced have operated under the delusion that they were wronged, that something is broken or unjust or unfair and must be fixed by WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY, that you have to break some eggs to make an omelet. Whatever. Fuck those people.
If you have young people in your care or sphere of influence, please do all you can do to let them know that they are loved, they are important, they are good and valuable the way they are, and, crucially, so are other people, every one of them.
“Knock knock.” read more…
There is a concept in business and economics called “opportunity cost.” There are wordier and more accurate definitions than the one I’m about to lay out, but for me, it comes down to this: When you make a choice, there is an associated cost because that choice will prevent you from doing other things. If you become a musician, you’ll probably not also become a lawyer. You get married and have children at a young age, you probably won’t travel the world to the extent that you would have otherwise.
Opportunity cost. Opportunities lost.
I’m thinking about this tonight because my wife just texted me from the Jefferson Mall, where she’s hanging out with our oldest child, our ten-year-old, getting some one-on-one mother-son time (crucial and necessary for the happiness of both parties) and picking up some stuff for the middle child’s birthday party this weekend. She just texted me from the big “Eurobungy” thingie in the center of the mall, that giant contraption of steel beams and rubber bands that lets kids fly up into the air, delirious with happiness, for the low low price of seven bucks for a couple of minutes.
We’ve spent untold hours and dollars at “the jumpy,” as it’s known in our family’s vernacular. The aforementioned birthday girl absolutely loves it, and the littlest one is pining for his chance to take on the thing, still too small to meet the minimum height requirement. We know our way around the Eurobungy, and have spent plenty of time helping the kids get properly airborne, one, two, three, JUMP!
Here’s what my wife just texted me: “He says he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”
He’s at that awful, awkward transitional stage from boy to young man. His body is just slightly too big for The Jumpy to be any fun, but his brain still tells him that it is the most awesome thing ever. The cognitive dissonance is starting to rear its ugly head, and very soon, my sweet boy will start to think that The Jumpy is stupid and is only for little kids.
And here’s why I’m sad and broken-hearted about this. It’s not because he’s growing up; I’m smart enough to realize that him growing up is beautiful and magical, and although it hurts, it’s necessary. I’m sad because for every time we walked through the mall and he got to go up on The Jumpy, there were probably three or four times where I said “No,” for no good reason. No reason other than that I was tired, or grumpy, or ready to go home, or was feeling stingy about the stupid damned seven dollars and what a waste is that and why do they have to charge so much for a kid’s ride?
There’s your opportunity cost, right there. Paulo Coelho said, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”
Miles, I am so sorry I said no to you, for no good reason, on this little thing you wanted to do. And now you don’t want it anymore. There are a finite number of days in a young man’s life in which The Jumpy is exciting, and I denied you many of them. You now want other things instead, but those particular opportunities are lost, and I am sorry I denied you those brief, giggly, five minutes of happiness. You will find other things that also delight you, and I’ll do a better job of helping you enjoy the moment. I promise.
Thank you for everything you are teaching me.
I just rewatched what I think is one of the best half-hours of television ever, the “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of the show Community. From a writer’s perspective, it’s a dizzying high-wire walk of invention and ambition. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the flowcharts from the writer’s room.
I’m pretty sure that there have already been masters or doctoral theses written about this one episode; in a very oblique way, it reminds me of Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” in that you can mine it for meanings almost indefinitely, and successfully find them, even if they weren’t actually in the mind of the writer at the time of its creation.
But for me, I think there’s a simple lesson to be learned from this story, and so I don’t spoil anyone who hasn’t yet watched it, I’ll include it inside the fold. read more…