75 Percent Less Fat: No. 40

Some albums grab you right away. Others take a little while to marinate.

This album was released back in 2008. The band then went on tour with Eulogies to support the album. As part of their tour promotion, the two bands offered a giveway of their new albums in a woxy.com effort. I was the lucky listener, so I soon received copies of both discs in the mail.

I kind of liked Eulogies right away. It was a nifty little indie pop record, with a lead single that Vampire Weekend clearly enjoyed.

The Dears more densely packed album didn’t immediately resonate. But as time wore on, the more I listened to the beefy disc (58 minutes of music in just 10 tracks) from Murray Lightburn and co., the more I realized they were the headliner on that bill for a reason.

I still don’t hear the Morrissey comparisons that have beset Lightburn from the outset, other than the fact that both men are decidedly difficult to get along with. But Black Moz or not, he’s a pretty gifted musician. These aren’t little ditties, but complex works where the brilliance is revealed on multiple listens.

Highlights: Like Who’s Next, this is a disc that is good from the start, but truly shines on the back half. Crisis 1 & 2 , Demons, and the 11-minute, album-closer Savior are among the strongest tracks.

Important Information:

Name: Missiles

Released: 2008

Record Company: Dangerbird Records

Running Time: 58:16

Track Listing:

  1. Disclaimer
  2. Dream Job
  3. Money Babies
  4. Berlin Heart
  5. Lights Of
  6. Crisis 1 & 2
  7. Demons
  8. Missiles
  9. Meltdown in A Major
  10. Saviour

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending out an SHS

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is pretty easy to loathe, even in a Trump Administration crawling with such detestable characters. There’s the daily lying, of course, but that’s to be expected with the press secretary for a president whose relationship with the truth can most generously be described as “estranged.”

But it’s more than that. She somehow plays moral scold while defending the most inhumane administration on record. And she does so with a joylessness that must come standard with being one of Mike Huckabee’s offspring.

Now, she’s not as despicable as Captain Orange, his vapid veep, his uneducated education secretary, Betsy of Vos, his ethically vacant EPA secretary Scotty P, his (well, you get the picture), since she’s not responsible for any of the odious policies and decisions that we have to live with. Yet she manages to be equally icky. That’s no small feat.

And yet, SHS, like the rest of us, ought to be able to eat her dinner at whatever the hell restaurant she wants.

I know the arguments – this is what the right wanted, her working for the administration is a choice, etc.). Bullshit. And for evidence, look no further than the legendary Supreme Court Case of Mother vs. Misbehaving Child, where it was held, and I quote: two wrongs don’t make a right.

If you believe that it’s wrong for Christian bakers to refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, or for restaurants to refuse service to LBTGQ individuals, you can’t forfeit that belief just because the patron is now your version of hideous.

It would have been much better, and defensible, for the restaurant owners to tell her guest: “Ms. Sanders. I want you to know that I find your boss’s policies reprehensible, and your defense of them to be outrageous. The entire Trump Administration is a disgrace to what makes our country truly special, and someday you will be forced to answer for your role in implementing them. However, since I believe that is not my place to refuse service based on beliefs, you are welcome to dine here, even if you are decidedly not welcome here.”

Principles are only tested when it’s hardest to live up to them.

Don’t forfeit them for some temporary schadenfreude.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 44

There will be no more Catholic album than No. 44, the Hold Steady’s sophomore disc, Separation Sunday.

The band is fronted by Twin Cities native Craig Finn, previously of the band Liftr Pullr. Finn’s sing-speak method of delivering his vocals is unmistakable. Just as his habit of telling stories that run through not just entire albums, but leap from disc to disc.

On this one, story focuses on Holly, short for Hallelujah. Like many of his characters, she’s a troubled young adult living on the fringes, turning tricks and taking drugs. Along the way we meet an equally sordid cast of characters. Her story culminates with a visit to Mass, where she crashes into the congregation on the album’s strongest track.

Highlights: Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, a story of a pimp that references Springsteen, Jane’s Addiction and, of course, Lionel Richie; Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night; and How a Resurrection Really Feels, on my shortlist of best album closers, along with The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, White Trash Heroes and Vapor Trails.

 

Important Information:

Name: The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

Released: 2005

Record Company: Frenchkills Records

Running Time: 42:11

Track Listing:

  1. Hornets! Hornets!
  2. Cattle and Creeping Things
  3. Your Little Hoodrat Friend
  4. Banging Camp
  5. Charlemagne in Sweatpants
  6. Steve Nix
  7. Multitude of Casualties
  8. Don’t Let Me Explode
  9. Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
  10. Crucifixion Cruise
  11. How a Resurrection Really Feels

 

 

A Crisis Actor’s Lament

 

People think it’s so easy. They look up on the screen and they see an Emma Gonzalez or a David Hogg stealing the scene, and they just assume that anyone can land that kind of opportunity.

Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work that way. It takes years of work, innate talent and a whole lot of luck. And for most of us, it simply never happens.

Look at me. I’ve been at this for 15 years. I’ve gotten some credits here and there, but nothing bigger than a little Off-Broadway* work a few years back. But here I am, still plugging away.

I can remember the exact day I knew I wanted to be a crisis actor. I was a 10-year-old kid playing in my living room while my parents watched the Channel 6 Action News team. In between slaying stories, the blond anchor du jour mentioned a protest being held over a bogus gay bashing. I sat mesmerized as the confident performers feigned outrage and sprinkled faux tears. A false flag was planted in me that very day.

But the road to stardom is a long, cruel one. For every 12-year-old Mike playing 3-year-old “Kaio” who goes viral, there are a hundred of us in the shadows. Men and women alike, living on the fringes, trying to beat the odds. I’ve taken all the usual part-time gigs that gave me time to pursue my true calling. I’ve stood in the median selling fake newspapers. I waited tables in the basement of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. I even spent some time on the cleanup crew for Hilary Clinton’s EDT (Enemy Dispatch Team). Anything to pay the bills.

More than once I’ve been tempted to quit, to pack up my things and satisfy my landlords (mom and dad) by putting my biological engineering degree from Berkeley to use. I’ve got a standing offer to do water “treatment” work up in Portland.
But I’m not there yet. I might go two weeks without a phone call, text or any other nibble. But just as I’m on the verge of giving up, I’ll get a call from my agent – they want me to read for Soros. That’s the kind of promise that keeps a guy hanging in there.

It hasn’t been all empty. I’m one of the first guys a director will call when he needs to do a quick bus-in. I was the No. 3 lead in a small production of “GMOs will kill us all” a couple of years back. Oh, and I was a Pink Hat understudy in November of 2016. Just enough work to wet the whistle, I guess.

If anything does push me out of the business, it’s this move toward amateurism. These skinflint directors keep wanting to offer resume credit in lieu of cash. The day I consider selling out that way is the day I’m no longer a crisis actor. Have some respect for the craft, people.

Despite the odds, I still believe I’m going to make it. Give me the right role, and I’ll knock it out of the park. Sure, I’m a little too old to play a pretend high schooler after a Democrat-orchestrated shooting. And every time I’ve auditioned for a Dreamer Success Story fictional piece, I’ve gotten the same “Too Dolezalian” feedback from the producers. But let me sink my teeth into a meaty “man pretending to be grieving over his not-real sister who was never roughed up by Neo Nazis in the first place,” role and I’ll make you forget Burt Loughlin.** I think I’m perfect for these “phony veteran who gives up guns he never owned,” spots that have just taken off in the last few weeks. And I know, down to my core, that if you ever stick me in front of a green screen with Chris Cuomo occupying the other half of the picture, well, virality – thy name is Dan.

So, I keep on. Dreaming of the day I stroll across the stage to accept my well-deserved best crisis acting Golden Globe Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.*** It’s my destiny.

*Literally. Our Occupy string-pullers had hysterically planned a big anti-corporate greed protest near the financial district, and the cops kept telling us to “Get the f*** off Broadway.”

**See, I told you I’m good.

***Good Lord. Surely our globalist overlords could have tried to hide things a little bit better there, don’t you think?

Mass Fatality Fatalism

There is a bizarre sense of fatalism that surrounds these horrific mass shootings. Following each one, the cry from one side of the argument is there was nothing this law or that law could have done to prevent it.

In a very narrow sense, they may be right. We don’t like to admit it, but a motivated individual hell-bent on violence, and unconcerned with his (I don’t think we have to worry about the gender of the pronoun here) well-being will be able to do a great deal of damage before he’s stopped. Neither a well-meaning gun regulation from the left, or a well-armed good guy from the right is going to eliminate all of these shootings.

Yes, this isn’t a problem in other countries. But we simply have too many guns in the hands of the public, and the public is simply too heavily invested in the culture of firearms to think we can eradicate them.

But simply because these horrific incidents may still take place is not a reason to throw up our hands and do nothing, which has been the modus operandi for Republicans in Congress for far too long. Or, to believe the only possible solution is MORE GUNS.

Instead of worrying whether we can eliminate them all (which, of course, should be the goal), we should perhaps strive to limit the number that take place. Or mitigate the carnage when one happens. Or try to make a dent in the hundreds of shooting deaths, whether via homicide, suicide or accident, each and every day that aren’t part of a mass event. The Florida tragedy captures our attention and re-triggers the calls for some action, but it’s the everyday gun violence that is the true societal ill.

How?

Perhaps we can take steps to keep the mentally ill from legally obtaining firearms. Or keep them out of the hands of people on the terror watch list. Could we have a better system of regulating gun shows and other sales? Maybe we can do a better job of following the weapons out there, or do a better job tracking the potential risk who begins stockpiling them. Require the owners to demonstrate some minimum of proficiency in handling them, or some understanding of gun safety before selling/licensing them. Possibly certain weapons whose only function is to kill lotsa people, lotsa fast can be reduced in the marketplace. Or maybe, and I know this is crazy talk, we can allow the CDC to study the causes and effects and correlations of gun violence, treating it as the public health issue it most clearly is. You know what they say, the only way to stop a nosy scientist with a slide rule is a well-heeled lobbyist with Congressmen on speed dial.

We don’t do any of these things. Not because Americans are opposed to them. A majority to super-majority of Americans, including gun owners, support many if not all of those things listed above. But we don’t do any of them because we have allowed a major element of public health policy to be written and decided and by the trade group representing gun manufacturers. Washington, D.C. lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility to seek out solutions to the scourge of gun violence to the NRA lobbyists filling their campaign coffers.

Thoughts haven’t worked. Prayers may have eased the pain of the mom who lost her son yesterday, but they haven’t stopped tomorrow’s disaffected high school student or disgruntled worker or angry white supremacist from taking out his rage on unsuspecting Americans tomorrow. And the next citizen good guy with a gun who stops one of these bad guys with a gun in the course of a mass shooting will arguably be the first.

We are the most heavily armed advanced nation in the world, by orders of magnitude. We are also the advanced nation with the highest per capita levels of gun violence, again, by orders of magnitude. Fighting fire with fire simply has not worked.

What will? I don’t know. None of us knows for sure. The problem is, we’re not allowed to even ask all of the damn questions.

Freed from Freeing

For most of the past 22 years, this season was quite the challenge. The weeks before Christmas were filled with shopping and running down items, wrapping and decorating. Christmas Eve required work long into the evening, not starting until after the last of the kids was in bed. And Christmas morning, at least for me, was the worst.

When I was a child, the two instructions most dreaded by my parents were “Some Assembly Required” and “Batteries Not Included.” But the problems associated with those toy-box standards seem quaint compared to the difficulty parents face today: extricating new toys from the packaging web that ensnares them.

You simply can’t purchase a new toy without running into a labyrinth of twist-ties, tape, stitching, wires and other affixation devices, all hermetically sealed to lock in that fresh, polyurethane goodness.

Product tampering? You’d have better odds of carrying your complete collection of Civil War swords onto a United Airlines flight while wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “Martyr in Training” than adjusting the hemline of a Nutcracker Barbie before it left the shelves of Toys ‘R Them.

Though the toy makers are just now perfecting the art of elusion, the move towards inaccessibility has been going on for years.

Imaginary research indicates one example of the toy companies’ cryptic packaging practices dates back more than a quarter-century. In 1977, 33-year-old Bob Tolbert of Parsippany, N.J., had just finished his 27th screening of “Star Wars” (retroactively renamed “Star Wars Episode π: Register of the Trademark”). Determining his downstairs bedroom in the basement of his parents’ split-level ranch home was not complete despite the replica Light Saber, Darth Vader Helmet and Princess Leia poster hanging directly above his bed, Tolbert purchased a genuine Luke Skywalker inaction figure. But Tolbert was stumped in his efforts to free Luke and instead left him on his nightstand in the original packaging, launching a mystifying adult trend that continues to this day.

But knowing the origins of this phenomenon is no help when you’ve got a child salivating at a shiny new toy. So you break out the knives, scissors and radial arm saw, which aren’t very good at liberating G.I. Joe from his plastic P.O.W. camp but do a good job of producing nicks, cuts, blisters, bruises and language unfit for this essay, let alone Christmas morning around the tree.

Of course, if after 90 minutes of toil you manage to separate the toy from the chaff, your hard work is rewarded five-fold as your child plays with the bounty with uncontrolled enthusiasm. This euphoria lasts an estimated 12 minutes, at which point your child puts down the toy, forever, and flips on the television to see what trouble Spongebob and Patrick have found themselves in.

And the most perplexing aspect of this entire dance: Absolutely none of these protective measures does anything to prevent someone from LiMeloballing off with the product from the toy store shelf.

 

The Book that Binds

Through the years, I don’t recall writing a whole lot of Christmas fare, other than a few Christmas song parody sports columns. I’m not really sure why that is. It seems like I must have had ample opportunity, but I don’t recall many columns that touched on the subject.

One of the few I’ve written was one that never appeared anywhere, as far as I can remember. I dropped it in the Pursuit, and I thought I’d drag it out here for the holiday season.

Here’s wishing everyone on the whole ‘Friends’ list a great holiday season.

 

 

This was going to be my greatest gift.

It was early 1996 and, after four months, I was still reveling in first-time fatherhood. I was admittedly self-absorbed for the better part of my first 28 years, obsessed with my own interests, accomplishments, and later, career. But that changed with the delivery of my beautiful son. The focus of my life was no longer on what made me happy, but what I could do for him. Thus, shortly after my infant son’s first Christmas, I began plotting a gift for his second.

It couldn’t be an ordinary store-bought or catalogue-ordered present. Mass-produced, tirelessly marketed gadgets might be good enough to give someone else, but it wouldn’t cut it for my first-born. It had to be a one-of-a-kind original from his enraptured dad.

Since I fancied myself a writer, the answer was obvious. I would write a book, with my son in the title role.

The story, imaginary nocturnal tales of merriment with his dog and cat while mom and dad slept peacefully, actually came quite easily, even with the rhymes. But a children’s book without the illustrations will hold a child’s interest no longer than a phone book. I would need drawings to accompany the prose. Since as an artist I make a pretty good bus driver, this was going to require some effort.

With an ample supply of erasers, I plodded forward. And plodded some more. Until, sometime much later, the pages were filled with my son and his pets in cartoon form. Sure, the little lad in the illustrations bore no resemblance to my son, or any other carbon-based life form. But at least the character was consistently poorly drawn. The unrecognizable Ian on Page 2 looked just like the blob who bore no resemblance to the real Ian on Page 4.

Since the project was being undertaken in secrecy, I worked on it only in the absence of my wife. So, it was no surprise that I was only wrapping up my tale as December approached. But my work was only the beginning.

While clear plastic binders would suffice for my 10th grade social studies reports, they would be woefully deficient to hold this tale for my new best pal. This baby needed to be in hardcover.

I contacted a binding company in the summer and asked the owners if they could do this one-time-only job. Sure, was the reply. I never explained there might be a rush order placed.

Apprehensively, I called back after Thanksgiving to explain I was done and was forwarding it on. To my relief, I was assured the company, which was really just a husband and wife family business, could meet my rushed deadline.

A few weeks later _ a week before Christmas _ the book was still not in my possession, so I called again. I reached the owner, who explained she had just finished the binding and had put in the mail. Then she went on with more details than I had expected.

She told me that her husband was ill, and from the tone of her voice, it was an illness from which he might not recover. Consequently, she solicited the help of a friend to finish the job. She told me how important it was for her, since she and her husband had never been blessed with children. I uncomfortably offered my sympathy, my thanks and my Christmas wishes, expecting that was the last I would speak to her.

A few days later, the book arrived, looking fantastic. The bold red cover meant this tale would not be embarrassed on my son’s bookshelf, even resting between the works of actual authors such as Seuss and Sendak. Only one thing was missing.

I called her back and asked for that missing item: the bill.

“Oh, I’m not going to charge you anything. I want to do this for you and your son,” the angelic book binder told me.

I was stunned. Here was a woman I had never met, a woman whose partner in life and business was gravely ill, performing such a magnanimous gesture to a man who seemingly had it all: a great wife, a young son and most of his life in front of him. How could anyone in the middle of such an agonizing ordeal be so generous to an absolute stranger? I didn’t know the answer to that question then, and I still don’t know now. But when I think back on that phone conversation more than 20 years ago, I still feel chills that had nothing to do with the December temperatures.

In the weeks that followed, I wanted to do something to show my deep appreciation for her generosity. But nothing I could conceive could possibly equal hers. I opted to take a photograph of my boy, the book in his hands, and send it off to her. It was the least I could do, and perhaps given the circumstances, also the most.

As I had hoped, the book has become a prized possession of my son. He once took it to school with him for show and tell, filling his dad with a sense of pride he couldn’t possibly fathom. I hope it remains one of the most treasured totems of his childhood, maybe sharing it with his children when they become old enough to read.

But even if that book doesn’t stay with him forever, if it becomes the victim of a basement flood, is lost in a move or is doodled on beyond recognition by his own children, its importance will never be lost on me.

Not as I originally intended, however. I no longer think of that book as the greatest gift I ever bestowed on my son.

Since that day, that book has always been the most remarkable gift I’ve ever received.