“This is some really nice music… if you’re old.”
— Yung Stunna on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
One of the things I miss the most about The Old Web: pages like this. One person or group of people curating a list of fan-submitted guitar tabs for a given band. So much love, passion and thoughtfulness in one place.
There is one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.
🎧 “Oh, snap, this Squeeze cover by Erykah Badu is really really good” is not a sentence I woke up thinking I’d say today, but it’s important to let life take you where you need to go.
I’m working on building and tracking some small habits that will bring me joy and better mental health. One of the things I’m tracking is “play the guitar for at least ten minutes a day.” I’m up to 8 days in a row for the first times since… my 20s? my teens?
My main question is: do I have to choose? Are you a leader or a psycho?
Y’know how the YouTube algorithm is an awful garbage fire but sometimes it serves you a gem that feels like a piece of yourself in a time capsule? That’s what this video is for me.
Sunny Day Real Estate may have spent a combined $27 on their wardrobe for their big MTV debut. This isn’t even an early-90s post-grunge thrift store vibe; this is TJ Maxx proto-normcore and it speaks to me.
Nate Mendel looks like he put down his bass after filming this and hopped in the minivan to pick up the kids from soccer practice.
My wrists hurt from watching William Goldsmith pound those drums so expertly.
And the interplay between Dan Hoerner and Jeremey Enigk’s guitars and voice is often too much to bear for me.
I worshiped this band. I loved them so much. So, so much.
My 2018 in music can be best summed up in five words: “Bark Your Head Off, Dog.”
Hop Along’s third album took a moment to get lodged in my brain, but once it did, it was a force of nature. I can’t recall the last time a new record took over my life like this, standing up to repeated plays for hours, weeks, months on end, refusing to wear out its welcome. Every spin revealed a new favorite song, a nuance somehow unnoticed in the hundreds of previous plays.
I’d be quite surprised if this record doesn’t end up occupying a place of pride in my Favorite Records of the Decade list.
How my listening habits changed in 2018
Two new developments changed the way I listen to music in 2018:
In March, I ditched Apple Music (which I had subscribed to from day one) and signed up for Spotify.
Why? For years, I had believed that Apple Music’s integration into the OS was worth putting up with its decidedly less polished UX and lack of any meaningful social of curation features. I had also dabbled with Spotify before and remembered not loving it.
But with the gentle encouragement of Merlin Mann, I took another look at Spotify and was hooked. The curated playlists are wonderful and meet a lot of my “I’m not exactly sure what to listen to” use cases. The Amazon Echo integration rules, and has allowed me to create an ersatz Sonos multi-room speaker setup.
The only drawback to Spotify is the nascent state of their Apple Watch app. Specifically, it’s really just a controller, and does not allow you to download music to listen to without your phone. But minus this one feature, Spotify wins for me in every conceivable way.
I know, I know. I’m That Guy. I am every stereotypical middle-aged dad. I am an extra from High Fidelity. I know. It’s fine.
I got a record player last year and have spent much of 2018 filling out my record collection. I won’t bore you too much with how It’s Different and There’s Just Something Warmer About Vinyl, but it’s all true. It also scratches my long-ignored collector itch; the buzz I got when I found original pressings of both Chronic Town and Hatful of Hollow in my local record store’s bins was indescribable.
I know. I’m sorry.
Most year-end reviews tend to focus on things that are were newly released in that year, but I’d like to note a few old wells I fell down this year.
All Hail West Texas
I stumbled across the wonderful I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats podcast sometime early this year. I had been familiar with “All Hail West Texas” prior to this podcast, but the cover versions (and John’s thoughtful commentary on the genesis and meaning of the songs) led me back to the original artifact.
I’ve dabbled before, but I hate, hate, hate that it took Scott Hutchinson’s tragic death for me to finally get all the way into Frightened Rabbit.
Joni Mitchell is arguably the coolest person to ever be born on this planet and this is the Most Joni Mitchell record in her expansive catalog. While plumbing the depths of this record, I found a bunch of early- to mid-80s performances of this material and they somehow made me love it even more.
The Last Waltz
Speaking of Hejira-era Joni Mitchell, I watched The Last Waltz for the first time this yea, thanks to urgings by the Celebration Rock podcast and Hanif Abdurraqib. Putting aside whatever contention may exist around the making of the film itself, the performances strike the perfect balance between ragged looseness and turn-on-a-dime tightness that The Band were know for their entire career.
It’s been a while since a song grabbed me out of nowhere and refused to let go. But that happened last week, about 15 feet from my desk at Arcweb, no less.
REC Philly turned my office into a concert space, and brought the incredible Max Swan to perform as part of their inaugural Tech Tour event. (Earlier in the day, I was part of a panel discussing data.)
Max’s whole set, clocking in just under an hour, was something to behold. But it was the closer, “Steady,” that made me drop what I was doing and pay attention.
I saved his most recent album, The Fisherman to my phone to listen to on the drive home. While the live version of “Steady” is propulsive, the recorded version is much more patient, leading with a very “Songs In The Key Of Life”-era Stevie Wonder vibe.
Either way, I’m honored to have shared a “stage” with Max and his band, and can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Please join me on the new Mastodon instance I just spun up,
hejira.is, a place for like-minded individuals to beatifically discuss their appreciation of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 masterpiece.
Tomorrow, I’m gonna drive about 200 miles to drink some beers in grass parking lots and watch an amateur football blowout with over 100,000 of my closest friends and I CAN’T WAIT.
Dropped into my local record store around lunchtime. Clerk saw me, walked over and said “Dude, I have a truckload of new, super clean 80s indie and alternative in, but that copy of ‘Green’ I posted on Insta last night just walked out the door.”
I feel very Seen. It feels good.
Listening to the audiobook of “Insanely Simple” and the author tells a story about Steve Jobs proudly demoing a “with special offers” version of OS 9 that would ship with a 60-second startup commercial, along with other ads throughout the OS.
I’m going to maybe spend the rest of the day thinking about this alternate timeline.
Currently charging my son’s shoes via USB for his first day of school because that’s a thing you do in 2018.
It’s remarkable how quickly Hop Along’s “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” moved along the following progression:
- I like it, but I maybe liked their last jawn better
- wait, holy shit, this is great
- this is definitely one of the year’s best records
- telling everyone I know how great this band and record are
- this is definitely one of the decade’s best records
- this record has become my new Emotional Center, my safe harbor
Ben Gibbard’s been doing the rounds to promote Death Cab for Cutie’s quite good new record, Thank You For Today.
Gibbard was asked to force-rank all eight Death Cab albums, and his answers were somewhat controversial (The Photo Album is way too low for my liking). However, it’s this interview with Entertainment Weekly that stuck with me.
EW asks Gibbard about the 15-year anniversaries of both Transatlanticism and Give Up. His answer is very illuminating, and incredibly self-aware:
When I look back at 2003, it was the best year I’ve ever had creatively: having Transatlanctism and Give Up come out in the course of six months. I’ll never have another year like that.
I can’t imagine how difficult it is to admit that your best creative work occurred fifteen years ago as a working recording artist, promoting a new release with major label backing.
Soundgarden was never my “favorite band.”
I was always a Pearl Jam guy, at least in high school. Others were Nirvana People, or Nine Inch Nails People. But Soundgarden was always a band that was just there. Always on the periphery, always high quality, but never The Band That Could Be Your Life.
I never stood in line for Soundgarden tickets. I never went to a midnight sale for a new Soundgarden CD release. I never bought a magazine just for the Chris Cornell interview like I did for Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan, or Thom Yorke. There was no obvious outward showing of love, or fandom.
Which makes my reaction to the news of Chris Cornell’s passing feel… not quite fake, but perhaps not earned? Inauthentic? I’ll probably cry when Vedder dies. I’ll take a week off work when the first member of R.E.M. goes. But Cornell? I’ve been trying not to dive too deep into my feelings about it, to be honest, because I’m not quite sure what I’ll find.
And yet… I still remember the take-my-breath-away feeling of hearing “Hunger Strike” for the first time. It’s still just as arresting to this day. Cornell and Vedder sound like they’d been bandmates for a decade or more… yet they’d only met for the first time during the Temple of The Dog sessions.
I still remember the countless hours spent alone in my room, playing “Seasons” on repeat, trying to figure out what the hell open tuning it was written in, never mind how to play it. (I learned today that it’s
FFCCcc, because of course it is.)
And it’s impossible not to think of the Summer of 1994 without thinking of “Black Hole Sun” and it’s subversively trippy video.
“Black Hole Sun” is by no means a great Soundgarden song. It’s not even the best song on Side A of the Superunknown tape. But that shit was ubiquitous, friends. You couldn’t turn on MTV without seeing that creepy, melty-face girl grinning sadistically at you. It was everywhere, always, woven into the fabric of that time.
And maybe that’s what’s so jarring about the fact that he’s gone. Cornell’s music was an institution, one I thought we could count on for another few solid decades of reunions with Soundgarden, occasional solo records and sporadic other projects. But nothing lasts forever, and the seasons roll on by.
It’s Rivalry Week, yet we are #PSUnrivaled. Awkward.
I’m so jealous of Ohio State fans this week.
Not because of their team’s success, recent or historical. It has nothing to do with their head coach, or their quarterback, or any of the monstrous playmakers and future NFLers that make up their secondary.
No, I’m jealous of Ohio State fans because they wake up in the morning and never wonder who their rival is.
They know it from birth. They know it before they even know how to verbalize it. They know it at a molecular level.
They know they love Ohio State, and hate Michigan, not necessarily in that order.
I feel similar pangs when I meet fans of Alabama or Auburn, USC or Notre Dame, Washington or Washington State, Florida or Florida State. They never have to wonder what their goals are, or who they need to measure themselves against. That’s a feeling that Penn State fans just can’t understand in 2016.
“Unrivaled” has become a buzzword during Coach James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State, but it’s been an overarching theme since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten: We don’t have a true rival.
It’s partly due to history. Penn State was an independent for 104 years, and didn’t consistently play the same teams every year as they would have with a conference schedule. Familiarity breeds contempt, and while Penn State did manage to build up some mutual disdain for a few programs, most of that momentum was lost when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and went from eleven games to schedule at its discretion to three.
Who is Penn State’s one true rival in 2016?
A rival is someone you play every year. A rival is someone you’re evenly matched with, in the fullness of time. A rival is someone you hate. And, most importantly, your rival has to hate you back. Who ticks all those boxes for Penn State?
Much was made of the Penn State resurrecting its historic rivalry with Pitt earlier this year. But, the Keystone Classic is a four-year engagement, with no extension in sight. Michigan and Ohio State are clearly off the table, since they’re obsessed with each other. Maryland and Rutgers can’t honestly say they’ve been consistently competitive with Penn State.
So that leaves us with… Michigan State? They’re in a similar situation: A late-comer to the Big Ten, struggling to find their partner for the Rivalry Week dance. So, the Big Ten, with all the tact and consideration of a married couple setting up two long-single friends, waved its hands and said “Ta-Da! You’re rivals!” We’ve had some laughs at the expense of the Land-Grand Trophy, but you can’t just declare a rivalry by fiat. You have to earn it.
So, back to “Unrivaled.”
Whether he meant it or not, Coach Franklin tapped into over a century of history in Happy Valley. He’s declared that every game on the schedule matters equally, and that the only goal is to go “1–0 this week.” You don’t need One True Rival, you just need to handle your business each and every week.
“Unrivaled” doesn’t satisfy my wish for laser-focused hate, but does it get results? Has “Unrivaled” given a young team with limited preseason expectations a fighting chance at a Big Ten division championship, and maybe more? If so, can we as a fan base sustain it? Will we be content with “Indiana Indiana Indiana,” or do we want to hate? Do we need to hate? Is it possible to forget about Pitt or Michigan or Ohio State or anyone else until it’s their turn on the schedule?
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it’s your turn this week, Sparty.
(Originally published at Roar Lions Roar)
I’m about halfway through Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. So far, it’s a good read. It portrays Ive as someone with exquisite taste who was in the right place at the right time, willing to work harder and care more than his competitors. It never descends into hagiography (in spite of the sub-title), as many tech bios tend to do.
Author Leander Kahney goes to great lengths throughout to express Jony’s distaste for “skinning” a product (applying surface-level design to something engineering had already created). In Ive’s design-centric mind, the “inside-out” method lead to compromised products.
But let’s square that with this tale from the design of the original Mac Mini:
The decision about the size of the case might seem trivial, but it would influence what kind of hard drive the Mini could contain. If the case were large enough, the computer could be given a 3.5-inch drive, commonly used in desktop machines and relatively inexpensive. If Jony chose a small case, it would have to use a much more expensive 2.5-inch laptop drive. Jony and the VPs selected an enclosure that was just 2 mm too small to use a less expensive 3.5-inch drive. “They picked it based on what it looks like, not on the hard drive, which will save money,” [former Apple product design engineer Gautam] Baksi said. He said Jony didn’t even bring up the issue of the hard drive; it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Even if we provided that feedback, it’s rare they would change the original intent,” he said. “They went with a purely aesthetic form of what it should look like and how big it should be.”
This is… well, it’s not design.
Design is solving problems within constraints. The characteristics of components, including price, are constraints. Without having a damn good reason to make the case 2 mm too small to fit a much less expensive 3.5-inch hard drive, you’re just decorating and playing artist, not designer. This is even more surprising, given that Ive is notorious for knowing and waxing rhapsodic about every last detail of his materials.
Outside-in product development is just as problematic as the inside-out approach that Ive despised. In this case, it may have led to a product that was more expensive (or less profitable) than it needed to be. Given that one of the Mac Mini’s core benefits as an entry-level Mac was its low cost, this is baffling.
Great product development is a true partnership between engineering and design.
(Yes, I know. Jony Ive is perhaps the most celebrated industrial designer in the history of the field, and rightly so. And Apple has a track record of ignoring practical decisions in the pursuit of a product’s true essence. That doesn’t mean we can’t examine a particular design challenge they faced and learn from it.)
The first Penn State memory I have was the stein. It proudly sat on the bookshelf in the family room. “Class of 1972,” it read. I had no idea what the words meant… but somehow I knew what the stein itself meant.
My next memory? January 2, 1987. The Fiesta Bowl. Second time I ever saw my dad get teary. (The first was when he picked me up at kindergarten to tell me my grandfather had died.)
After that? A graduation gift. My acceptance letter from Penn State, framed. On the back, in my father’s inscrutable handwriting:
“I am so proud of you.”
There were a lot of other things. Meeting and falling in love with my wife. Proposing on the lawn at Old Main. Celebrating at The Diner. Drunkenly predicting that Penn State would return to glory in 2005 on the heels of a dismal 4-7 season. (I still have the index card I wrote it on to prove it.) Dressing my son as the Nittany Lion for Halloween. Hoping I could share what I loved so much about my alma mater… and that he’d want to continue my family’s legacy.
And now I don’t know how much of that stuff is gone forever.
One other thing, seemingly so innocuous at the time, sticks out now. I worked as a host in a chain seafood restaurant just outside of town. A coworker taps me on the shoulder. “Holy shit, that’s Jerry Sandusky.” He asks for a table for two. The wait was an hour, maybe more.
He got the next table that opened up. He was very appreciative. I felt so cool.
And now, not to go all Rick Reilly on you, but I feel like an idiot. Part of the problem, right? The football-first culture?
So now I’ve got all these memories, and a football autographed by none other than Joe Paterno himself. And no idea what to do with any of it.
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