Friday, December 20, 2013

COLUMN: Best of 2013 - Music

The passing of a year means a lot of things in my world. It's a time to gather with family and friends... to reflect on the past and look forward to the future... and, most importantly, a time to arbitrarily pass judgement and assign rankings to the CDs that have been piling up on my desk. Thanks for the annual indulgence and allowing me to share my picks for The Best Records Of 2013:

#10 - Tyler, the Creator - Wolf - Some rappers are in it for the money, others for the art. But more and more, I'm becoming convinced that the Califoria rap collective known as Odd Future are in it for the adrenaline. No other hip-hop music this decade has been as reckless, wild, or risk-taking. As their headstrong svengali and mouthpiece, Tyler represents the best of Odd Future: anarchic creativity, a lyrical tongue that can be both brilliant and button-pushing, and a whipsmart DIY aesthetic that belies the group's youth and relative inexperience. It is the sound of pure molten danger. You either love it or you're terrified of it.

#9 - Scott Murphy & Rivers Cuomo - Scott & Rivers - You might know Rivers Cuomo best as the frontman of nerd-rock heroes Weezer, who once famously wrote a love song in response to a fan letter they received from a Japanese teenager. Ergo, it shouldn't have come as a shock when Cuomo decided to use some downtime from Weezer to record a Japanese language pop record with his friend Scott Murphy (of the band Allister.) The surprising bit is how absurdly good it is. With killer hooks and sing-along choruses, it's the feel-good record of the year, even if the whole thing's in Japanese. They could be singing "Shane is a big doodiehead" for all I know; I'll still hum along in the shower. Although intended for overseas release only, pleas from fans caused the duo to stick it up on iTunes.

Crocodiles - "Teardrop Guitar" from stereogum on Vimeo.

#8 - Crocodiles - Crimes of Passion - When I was in high school, my world revolved about fuzzy new-wave psychedelic bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Jesus & Mary Chain. San Diego's Crocodiles don't just sound like they were influenced by these bands. No, they sound like they stepped out of 1986 hand-in-hand with them. Music that innovates and pushes envelopes should always be rewarded, but there's something to be said for a group that finds a formula and executes it flawlessly. Is it the best record of the year? Naw, but it's one of my absolute favorites and makes me want to tight-roll my pants and head to Chess King.

#7 - The Brother Kite - Model Rocket - This is the fourth year in a row that a record from The Brother Kite has made it onto my year-end list. This unknown unheralded band from Rhode Island might just be our nation's best kept musical secret. Usually known for meticulously layered studio production and complex song structures, "Model Rocket" is a more organic affair that whomps you between the ears with one power-pop assault after another. While I prefer their more intricate offerings, "Model Rocket" still runs deep with the rich songwriting, complex harmonies, and buoyant jubilation that's kept me a fan for years. Bravo, guys.

#6 - Bastille - Bad Blood - This is the sort of record that music critics are supposed to hate. After all, singer-songwriters are supposed to sweat for their fame in the trenches of intimate gigs with acoustic guitars, no? Instead, London native Dan Smith went straight for the jugular, taking his passioned songs and assembling a backing band to turn them into explosive anthems rife with tribal drums, male choirs, and a booming urgency that makes you want to scale scaffolding and wave a flag like mid-80s Bono. Most pop music wishes it could be this good.

#5 - Earl Sweatshirt - Doris - Odd Future first set the rap world ablaze when they paired the hammy showmanship of Tyler the Creator with the intellectual wordplay of his right-hand man, Earl Sweatshirt. But when it came time for Odd Future to tour, Earl was nowhere to be seen. The group refused comment, other than sporting mysterious "Free Earl" t-shirts. As it turned out, Earl's mom had sent him off to a Samoan boarding school for at-risk teens. After turning 18, Earl returned to the States and whipped out his major label debut this year without missing a step. Full of painfully raw lyrics over brooding, tuneless beats, "Doris" isn't an easy listen, but it's a compelling one that gives you a front-row seat to the birth of a true poet.

#4 - Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience - Who would have ever thought that the curly-haired goofball from N*Sync would grow up to become the most important entertainer of the decade? After a lengthy musical hiatus to foray into acting, J.T. returned this year with the best record of his career. Pop songs aren't supposed to be seven minutes long, employ a neo-soul brass section, or change keys and time signatures halfway through. Other artists take note: THIS is swagger.

#3 - Kanye West - Yeezus - Every year, I hope his ego finally gets the best of him. When you hear an album with a centerpiece track called "I Am A God," you can't help but root for it for fail. In almost every interview, Kanye calls himself a genius -- begrudgingly, I have to agree with him. Once again flipping the script, "Yeezus" throws caution to the wind and thrives on abrasive production, primal beats, and lyrics so vitriolic and urgent that he really IS just spitting them out. If art were a weapon, Kanye would be our nuclear option.

#2 - My Bloody Valentine - mbv - In 1991, an underground group from Dublin released an album called "Loveless" that did nothing less than alter the definition of music as we know it. Then they followed it up with... nothing. Until now. 22 years in the making, "mbv" showed up without fanfare on the band's website and almost broke the internet from rabid fans racing to download the thing. The payoff was worth the chaos. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields once again breaks all convention via open-tuned guitars, tremolo arms, fuzzy vocals, and a blissful cacophony that sounds like no other music you've ever heard. Not for amateurs, but heaven for fans.

#1 - Chvrches - The Bones of What We Believe - And the best album of the year comes out of nowhere from a Scottish trio who make magic out of a handful of samples and some sparse keyboards. Chvrches are the first band this side of Depeche Mode to make synthpop seem cool again. At the center is a waif-like force of nature named Lauren Mayberry, whose unadorned vocals seem fragile, yet hide a compelling strength to her lyrical attacks. It is the beat-heavy sound of a new band boiling over with confidence, and it is the very best that 2013 has to offer.

See, that wasn't so bad, right? Good, because next week, it's on to the Best TV Shows of the year.



I'm so good at getting into the holiday doldrums, I didn't even have to try this year.

No other time of the year makes you feel worse about being single than Christmas. Not even Valentine's Day. In fact, if I'm single on February 14th, I usually quietly celebrate. Let the chumps in relationships blow their paychecks on dying flowers and shiny rocks. Not me. I'll laugh my single self all the way to the bank and/or the nearest record store.

But for the month of December, single guys like me spend 30+ days getting bombarded by the awesomeness of the holidays, provided you have family and love and George Bailey and Red Ryder BB Guns and mistletoe and chestnuts roasting on open fires, despite the fact that I tried one once and they kinda taste like dirt.

You just can't help but feel inferior around the holidays for being single. Don't believe me? Go switch on the Hallmark Channel right now. I will guarantee there's a movie playing this very second about some sad sack single person having a grinchy Christmas until they meet-cute their soulmate and live happily ever after while sleigh bells jingle merrily in the background. But if you don't get that soulmate, you're nothing but one of the extras in the background of that movie, trudging facelessly through the snow into anonymity.

Let's face it -- Christmas is mostly a holiday for the kids. You can try to recapture that Christmas magic you remember as a child, but it's tough to pull off. Usually the only option is to have kids of your own and live the magic vicariously through their eyes.

So I've been a little down this week. Whether I'm still searching for a soulmate or too scared to act on one I've already met, I remain once again single for the holidays and a little bit mopey about it. It's kind of a bummer, but it's a bummer I'm used to and know how to best handle (it usually involves spending sprees, binge materialism, and wasting an inordinate amount of time making year-end best-of lists.)

But when mopey meets SICK, all bets are off. Last Friday I was in the middle of a rather nice pity party when I was talking to a friend and my voice suddenly went out. Within two hours, I was coughing and hacking. Within 24, I was bedridden with the worst-timed winter cold in recent memory. For the past three days, I've been off work and on my couch, surviving on little more than a wing, a prayer, and a seemingly infinite supply of chicken noodle soup.

I'm on the mend now, but for a few days there, it was touch and go, sneeze and blow. And while I was on my magical mystery tour of phlegm, the only thing I was capable of doing other than some light wheezing was to stare aimlessly at the boob tube and zone out to something mindless. This explains why I ended up watching "How I Met Your Mother."

More specifically, 54 episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" over three days. It was precisely the kind of friendly, non-threatening entertainment that required the least amount of effort to work the remote control. But a funny thing happened during my mindless marathon. Who'd have thunk it, but this genial sitcom turned out to have ALL the answers. Here I was, worried that I'd be single forever, when all the solutions I'd yearned for were right here in a half-hour. Well, 54 half-hours. Still, it's official: Everything I Need To Know About Dating I Learned From How I Met Your Mother.

Step one: MOVE TO NEW YORK CITY. And to think, all this time I'd been under the impression that NYC was a dirty crime mecca rife with rude people and honking taxicabs and congestion and stress. Instead, it's a hotbed of excitement, beautiful women, engaging storylines, and precisely ONE bar, conveniently located downstairs from your apartment.

Step two: YOUR APARTMENT, by the way, which is ENORMOUS. The rents in New York City must be AMAZINGLY cheap, since you and your friends can afford to stay in a house-sized apartment with an incredible view of the city despite the fact that at least one of your roommates is always unemployed and those of you who DO work appear to do so once every three or so weeks. The rest of the time you just hang out in the bar downstairs.

Step three: YOUR FRIENDS. Now, this is where it's important. Upon arriving in New York, you need to make exactly FOUR friends. No more, no less (unless your friends are "Friends," in which case a fifth friend IS permissable.) 2 to 3 of them should be girls, one of whom who'll need to pine over like a puppy dog. It's a win-win: you'll eventually score with her, and when you're not, all that pining will give you something to do in those fleeting moments when you're not hanging out at the bar downstairs.

Step four: DEMOGRAPHICS. This is critical. Of your 4 new friends, only three of them need have redeeming qualities. The fourth needs to be a creepy lothario harboring a dangerous sex addiction, with whom you are friends for no discernable reason whatsoever. This person will routinely make your life a living hell and constantly put you in situations that range from alarming to totally illegal. Still, you must remain his friend. I'm not exactly sure why.

Step five: MINGLE. The best part about New York City appears to be that EVERY girl you encounter (usually at the bar downstairs) is INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS. More to the point, they're also stupid to the point of concern and ALWAYS have their schedules open for an impromptu sexual encounter the MINUTE they hear a believable pickup line, so be ready.

Step six: PATIENCE. If you don't find your soulmate at first, don't worry. Sometimes you have to date your best friend, a cupcake baker, a dermatologist, a lesbian college student, an environmentalist, and the cupcake baker again, but eventually you'll meet your soulmate because she's the one with the yellow umbrella. Or something. The point is, you never end up single because "How I Failed To Meet Your Mother And Died Alone" does NOT make for a good story -- though, admittedly, would still be better than the movies on the Hallmark Channel.

Problem solved. Or maybe I need to ease off the Nyquil a bit.

COLUMN: Amazon

This week it's a fresh installment of a recurring feature which I just made up: ADVANCES IN MODERN LAZINESS.

Have you guys seen the acclaimed animated Pixar horror movie, Wall-E? Set in the year 2805, the movie paints a future where rampant consumerism has overrun the Earth with garbage. With no choice left, mankind must evacuate the planet onto giant spaceships where humanity lives a morbidly obese existence upon floating La-Z-Boys while relying on machines to provide their survival.

Then some robot shows up and destroys this wonderful utopia.

At the end of the movie (spoiler alert), these poor sods are forced to return to Earth, where I presume they'll have to get out of their comfy Barcaloungers and, I dunno, do gardening in the sunlight or whatever healthy people think we should be doing with our lives. I KNOW, IT'S HORRIFYING, RIGHT? I hate when movies have a sad ending.

Yes, apparently there's a consensus among some of you people that life SHOULDN'T be spent on the couch ingesting high fructose corn syrup and saturated fat. If this is true, I ask you, then why did God make Netflix? You non-morbidly-obese people have SOME nerve, what with your jogging and your cycling and your weird yoga poses, always going on about farmer's markets and carbohydrates and pretending that tofu is somehow edible. I've got half a mind to complain... if the other half wasn't busy watching a "Finding Bigfoot" marathon.

Fear not, fellow lazy people. We will win this battle if we concentrate and put forth our best effort at doing as very little as possible. For every mind working hard to curb the obesity epidemic, another is working just as hard figuring out the tastiest means to deep-fry a candy bar. For every farm-to-table piece of greenery, there is a Monster Thickburger. For every spinach leaf, there is a Baconator. And for every person trying to get our lazy butts to do something with our lives, there's a team of engineers figuring out new and exciting remote controls that will allow our posteriors to remain firmly planted on our couch cushions.

I write to you today, Team Lazy, to herald a victory for our cause. One company is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that we don't have to go ANY extra miles, and their recent developments have warmed the cockles of my heart. Or maybe it's indigestion.

Regardless, we lazy people of America salute you,

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went on 60 Minutes to unveil the newest technology they've been playing with behind closed doors: Amazon Prime Air. Envisioned with a potential 2015 roll-out date, the service is simple: order your product through Amazon, and they send it you ASAP by means of an unmanned "octo-copter" that plops it down at your front door before flying away into the ether. It's something right out of The Jetsons: delivery by drone.

The way I see it, this is awesome on three separate tiers:

First off, I think we can all agree that if there's one thing the world needs more of, it's an army of small sentient robots with whirling blades flying through our neighborhoods on a routine basis. "Congratulations, Little Timmy, here's your new video game! We're sorry about our octo-copter decapitating your cocker spaniel on the landing, but it's still better than waiting in line at the mall, no? And once you get an electrician to reinstall the power lines that we also inadvertently severed on approach, we're confident that you'll love your experience shopping with Amazon!"

Drone delivery in thirty minutes or less definitely puts the pulse back into impulse shopping. As a lazy couch-dweller myself, I'm all for the ability to do my shopping from a prone position without a care, worry, or overly aggressive salesperson in sight. But let's face it, the stuff I usually end up buying online is impulse garbage. "Oh, look at that. That's kinda cool. I should buy that. Oh wait, I just DID!" But then you've got to sit around for a week before it shows up, and that's plenty enough time to pull up your bank account and realize you're a gullible, irresponsible broke idiot with no self-control. By the time your impulse buy shows up, you've forgotten why you even wanted it in the first place and you're too busy being racked with guilt to remember to even bring it in off your porch. But with 30 minute delivery, the lure of stuff clearly outweighs the guilt of overspending. Good thinking, Amazon.

But most of all, I love the idea of delivery drones because it gives me the perfect excuse to take up a new hobby: skeet shooting. Anybody with a license and a 3-day waiting period can go hunt Bambi, but it takes a REAL man to bag an octo-copter. What do you want for Christmas, Billy? Let me just climb out on the roof here a sec... is it (BLAM!)... a set of steak knives? (BLAM!) A Shirley Temple DVD box set? (BLAM!) How about a Kindle Fire?

Never underestimate the human race's instinctual desire to shoot things out of the air for little to no good reason. This, of course, will lead to the only logical response: weaponized octo-copters that can defend themselves against attack. And then things will be awesome, because Rock Island could use a little extra danger.

Of course, all of this is theoretical for the time being. The plan needs FAA approval, and if there's one thing we know about the government, they NEVER cowtow to the wishes of billion-dollar corporations. Plus the current technology is only advanced enough right now to deploy octo-copters within a 10-mile radius of one of Amazon's distribution warehouses, of which there are achingly few at the moment, likely due to the fact that each is roughly the size of Rhode Island.

But it's coming. Wheels are turning and advances in sedentary living continue to grow. Once Amazon begins sending sentient robots to our doors, others will follow. I'm talking to YOU, Culver's. The only reason I don't subside on an exclusive diet of Butterburgers is because I'm too lazy to drive out there every day to get one. But if you swing a Burgercopter thisaways on a regular basis, my arteries are yours to do with as you please. Just aim for the mouth and chuck it on in - reaching for food is such a chore these days.

Thanks, science!

COLUMN: Creepy Carols

Well, it's official. Turkey has been digested, the malls have been raided, and my calender finally says the word December on it. Let me proudly be one of the LAST ones to welcome you to the holiday season. And since it IS the most wonderful time of year, I thought I'd step into Christmas by devoting a few days to nothing but holiday music on my radio dial.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the mistletoe: I started actually LISTENING to those songs. And when you actually pay attention to the words of Christmas carols, one thing becomes abundantly clear: they're creepy as all get out. For every tiding of comfort and joy, there's also lyrics that range from puzzling to downright disturbing.

Don't believe me? Fine, let's ruin your childhood the same way I just wrecked mine. Here's my list of the Creepiest Christmas Carols out there:

#10 - "I Saw Three Ships" - It's either symbolism or an ode to the merits of hallucinogens. "I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day." Okay, if you've got nothing better to do with your holiday than check out boats, then more power to ya. Heck, after a massive meal with my entire extended family, I might yearn for the solitude of maritime observational duties, too. But then "they sailed into Bethlehem on Christmas Day in the morning." Oookay... well, except that Bethlehem is nowhere near water. In fact, it's pretty much surrounded by the Judean Mountains. If you saw three ships sailing into Bethlehem, you might want to put down the myrrh.

#9 - "Here We Come A'wassailing" - The most joyous song ever written about underage children begging for beer. Who needs fake ID's when you've got a catchy wassail? "We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door, but we are your neighbor's children whom you have seen before... Call up the butler of this house, put on his golden ring, let him bring us up a glass of beer and better we shall sing." And while you're getting us drunk, give us some money, too. "We have got a little purse of stretching leather skin/We want a little of your money to line it well within." Love and joy, come to you... IF you fork over booze and cash.

#8 - "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - Otherwise known as the Holiday Home Invasion. By this time, the wassailing is done and there's no more love and joy come to you. No, the message is now very simple. (1) Merry Christmas. Whatever. (2) Make with the figgy pudding. Now. (3) WE WON'T GO UNTIL WE GET SOME. Is it a charming message of holiday merriment or grounds for a criminal trespass charge? Try this experiment: Go walk down the street, bang on your neighbor's door, demand pudding and threaten not to leave. See how far it gets you.

#7 - "I'll Be Home for Christmas" - Except that I won't be, because life is full of crushing disappointment and despair. What starts as a heartfelt holiday plea ("Please have some snow and mistletoe and presents by the tree") comes crashing to reality at the end ("I'll be home for Christmas/If only in my dreams.") You might as well re-name the song "I Absolutely Positively Will NOT Be Home For Christmas So Let's Be Super Sad."

#6 - "Mele Kalikimaka" - Because let's face it, an island Christmas is just plain creepy. Santa belongs in a wool suit and decidedly NOT hanging ten on a righteous wave. Call me closed-minded, but the ukulele is just NOT an acceptable replacement for sleigh bells. Lush beaches are fine for the other 364 days of the year, but December 25th is the ONE time when we snow-dwelling idiots get to WIN. It's a beautiful sight and we're happy tonight, so keep your palm trees to yourself.

#5 - "Up On The Housetop" - Let's just ignore the fact that it's another gender sterotyping song where little girls get dollies for Christmas. Instead, let's focus on what Santa brings Little Will: "Here is a hammer with lots of tacks, also a ball and a whip that cracks." 50 Shades of Little Will better be disappointed. If my kid handed me a Christmas list that said "hammer, tacks, ball, and whip," I as a parent might be a touch concerned.  

#4 - "The 12 Days of Christmas" - Certain things set off red flags in any relationship. Drop the L-word on the first date? Red flag. Talk about your ex all the time? Red flag. But if your true love shows up on Christmas week with 78 presents? HUGE red flag. And let's just talk logistics for a second here. Does your house have the structural integrity to support ten lords a'leaping when you haven't even had time to don your gay apparral? Not to mention the partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese a-laying, and seven swans fighting over one bathtub. You've also got 8 maids a-milking God only knows what and pipers and drummers EVERYWHERE. You're not just breaking numerous pet and sound ordinances, but your true love appears to be deeply involved in the underground world of human trafficking.

#3 - "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! His belly might shake like a bowl full of jelly, but that doesn't stop jolly old St. Nick from being an Orwellian nightmare sent from the beyond to cast his judgement upon thee. You'd better watch out, indeed. Dude knows when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake, and you'd better be good for goodness sake. You might as well just call this song "Have a Tearful Fearful Christmas."

#2 - "Down In Yon Forest" - This one's a traditional English Christmas carol that doesn't get a whole lot of contemporary play, because it's basically the virgin birth reimagined as a scene from Hellraiser. I'll spare you the details, but there's a forest, and in yon forest is a hall, and in yon hall is a bed "stained with blood like cardinal red" and under yon bed is a "gushing flood, from Christ's own side, 'tis water and blood" and there's seriously a dog that licks up the blood and that's when I shudder and change yon channel.

#1 - "Baby It's Cold Outside" - Because nothing rings in the holiday spirit quite like a good old-fashioned Yuletide date rape. It might be the most charming duet of all time... until you realize it's about a girl who wants to go home and a guy who really really does NOT want that to happen, up to and including possibly slipping a holiday roofie into her eggnog. Ain't love grand?

So I'm officially done with seasonal tunes this year. I need something more wholesome... now where'd I put that Eminem CD?

COLUMN: Lonergan

This is supposed to be the time of year when I sit back and take stock of what I'm thankful for. I lead a blessed and fortunate life that generates a long list of annual thanks -- but in 2013, the thing in life I'm most thankful for is that our friend Kevin is still around to share it.

I'm working on this column sitting at the Rozz-Tox coffeehouse in downtown Rock Island. I just stepped outside for a break and noticed a piece of graffiti scribbled on the wall. It reads, "If you can see the beauty in anything, you may be an artist." Kevin Lonergan is one such artist -- and he makes beauty through graffiti.

Kevin's parents knew he was talented at an early age. His mother, Maren, likes to tell a story about something that happened when he was 3 years old.

"Kevin called me to his bedroom," she explains. "He said that he had drawn a picture of himself. I thought it would be on the wall, but to my surprise, he had me crawl under his bed to see a well-drawn little boy, full size, colored onto the plywood support. He said, 'Look, Momma, I drawed me sleeping in my bed.' We called them the Sistine bunk beds because he had to have laid on his back for hours to draw that."

When Kev was in fifth grade, he shocked his parents by bringing home a failing grade in art class.

"When we asked him about it," his mom says, "his explanation was that his teacher was doing 'crafts,' not 'art.' He considered himself an artist, so he stormed out of class. He would rather fail than do something beneath him."

In seventh grade, young Kevin was caught by his mom eschewing homework in favor of drawing sketches. She took away his pencils and paper.

"As I was leaving the room thinking I had the upper hand, he turned to me and said, 'Mom, you can take all my pencils and paper, but you can't take my art because it's in my mind.' I think that was when I realized that Kevin's art was his passion and more important than anything else in his life."

That passion for art turned Kevin Lonergan into one of the Quad-Cities' leading mural and graffiti artists at an incredibly young age. He did murals at the Pig Pen and on the side of Pizza Chef at Five Points. You've seen them at the John Deere Pavilion and along the Bix race route. One of them sits on display at the Figge Art Museum right now. At the same time, he started designing skateboards for amateurs and pros alike.

I first encountered Kevin back in the late lamented rave days of the 1990s. I came into the scene as a transplanted Augie grad eager to bring all-night dance parties to the Quad-Cities. Graffiti art and underground dance music go hand in hand, and it wasn't long before Kevin became a major player in the scene with his Davenport retail shop, D.F.T. In those hallowed halls, you could buy everything from custom clothes to skateboards to thumping house records. If you wanted to be a part of rave culture in the Midwest, D.F.T. was a mandatory destination.

After the parties died down and we all had to grow up and get real jobs, I lost touch with Kevin. While I was earnestly filling out a job application at a top-notch Quad-Cities newspaper of some renown, Kevin got himself a merit scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. Eventually, he and his wife, Jenny, settled down near the Lake of the Ozarks, and he opened his own airbrushing shop, where he designs T-shirts, murals, car hoods, motorcycle helmets, skateboards and gallery art.

But as you may have guessed, this story doesn't have a happy ending ... yet. This past Halloween, just days after his 41st birthday, Kevin suffered a major stroke. The right side of his body has been fully impaired, including the hand he's used for years to bring art into the world. The speech center of his brain also has been assaulted, resulting in aphasia so severe that he can't come up with words on his own.

Kevin's currently at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, Mo., where he's receiving the full gamut of physical, speech and occupational therapy. Signs already are good. Since arriving, he's regained some feeling in his right hand and some motor control of his right ankle. He's now able to form some words, and doctors are optimistic that his young age and determination will aid in his recovery. But there are no guarantees and no timetable.

His family has been documenting Kevin's road to recovery through Facebook posts and YouTube videos. This week, they were able to capture and share Kevin speaking his own name for the first time in weeks. All it takes is one quick look at the video to see the mischievous gleam in his eyes. It's a look that clearly says the world hasn't heard the last of Kevin Lonergan.

But it's going to take time, patience and a whole lot of money. Kevin was the provider for his family, and his shop is now shuttered. For now, donations are the only source of income for Kevin, his wife, and their 13-year-old daughter. But a special thing's been happening -- a thing called the Quad-Cities.

Kevin hasn't lived here since 2001, but from the moment his fundraising site went up on the Internet, the majority of the donations have come from right here in River City. That's a testament to Q-C spirit and what we do for folks who've made an impact here. The site's already raised $12,000, which the family hopes to use to buy a custom-equipped van -- but they need a lot more. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for your giving.

On Dec. 6 and 7, a two-day benefit will take place at RIBCO. On the 7th, there will be live music from Victim in Pain, Maxilla Blue, DJ Touchnice, and A Fifth of Country. The night before, there will be a reunion of DJs straight off a '90s rave flyer: Vincent McQueen, Chris Soppe, Tyson Howell, Josh Barnes, Devastating Dennis, Richie Heller, DJ Hi-Tech ... and if you come early enough, you might even catch a set from a certain newspaper columnist eager to relive his glory days. Get more details at

All proceeds from the door and silent auction will go straight to Kevin. You also can make donations and follow Kevin's road to recovery by going to

COLUMN: Thanksmasoween

Some column topics are so played out that I try my best to avoid them. Airplane food will always stink, bad drivers will always exist, pop stars will always be vacuous morons, and the Cubs will always lose until the one day when they eventually will win. Topics like these are no-brainers, and that's why I tend to shy away from them as a rule.

I'm about to break that rule.

we need to talk about something that all of us are already talking about. Something that I've heard people from all walks of life complaining about for the past two weeks, and something that further complaints won't affect in the slightest. I don't care. I've had it up to here, my whine-o-meter is in overdrive, and lucky for me I'm blessed with a little slice of mass media to do said whining.

IT IS NOVEMBER. Specifically, it is Monday, November 18th. The holiday of Thanksgiving is a week and a half away. But I could sure swear that it's closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving. In fact, I'm pretty sure somewhere along the way, we greenlit (and redlit... and then tinseled) Christmas into a three-month long holiday. And this madness needs to stop.

Autumn is worthless these days. It's clear that our society is just itching to eliminate it as a season altogether. From a climate perspective, it barely exists. It seems like we go from 70-degree days to snow practically overnight, so what's the point? It's long since lost its usefulness, it's clear that it serves no commercial benefit, and the way we treat autumn, we may as well just file it alongside the former planet Pluto in the folder marked "Stuff We Used To Care About."

Don't worry, we still have four seasons to fall back on: the winter season, the spring season, the summer season, and the holiday season. The minute we cruise out of August heat, big business is already booming for the double threat of Halloween and Christmas -- and hey, if we can sell some turkeys in the middle of those two, all the better. Thinking of it as three separate holidays is so yesteryear. No, thanks to the power of capitalism and greed, we now get to revel in a three-month-long orgy of consumerism I like to call Thanksmasoween.

Every year, we pull the trigger and jump the gun on Christmas earlier and earlier and earlier until one day we're going to wake up in a world where no-one's home on Christmas because we'll all be lining up outside of stores for pre-pre-pre-pre-Black Friday sales. I'm pretty sure we need actual legislation to ban the "C" word until December 1st at the very earliest. Each year brings ugly infractions in the world of egregious yuletide jumpstarting, but there have been some especially bad offenders in 2013.

Don't worry, though - I have a plan.

OFFENDER #1: MIX 96. I love the fact that we have a local radio station that switches to a format of all-Christmas songs. It's fantastic to have that kind of a playlist at your disposal... at Christmas. But to hear "Winter Wonderland" in early November when I'm still deeply in cold weather denial is 100% unacceptable.

MY PLAN: Remember those vacuous pop stars I mentioned earlier? We force all of them to quickly write and record a surplus of songs about Thanksgiving. "Ohh the weather outside is mild, but the rice pilaf is wiiiild, and since we've got lots of meat, let us eat, let us eat, let us eat!" It could work. Someone call Ke$ha.

OFFENDER #2: CIRCA 21. Our beloved dinner theatre's current stage production of "A Christmas Story" is winning rave reviews, but it shouldn't be winning them while I've barely cracked my bottle of Caramel Pumpkin Latte hand soap from Bath & Body Works. (Had I bought such a thing. Which of course I never would have, since I'm so manly and macho and such.)

MY PLAN: A couple quick tweaks to the script and presto: "A Thanksgiving Story." All little Ralphie wants for Thanksgiving is a jar of Red Ryder cranberry sauce. Hilarity ensues when his friend somehow gets his tongue stuck up a turkey. I'm a genius.

OFFENDER #3: THE HALLMARK CHANNEL, which has already started running 24/7 low budget made-for-TV Christmas movies. There are literally hundreds of these flicks, and they all seem to involve down-on-their-luck-yet-improbably-attractive leading ladies who find the true meaning of Christmas at the hands of some Fabio-looking dude who they hate for the first half of the movie before realizing they're in love in the last 20 minutes.

MY PLAN: "CANCEL THE WHOLE NETWORK!" Yep, that's exactly what I'd say if these movies weren't my biggest secret guilty pleasure of all time. Truth be told, I'd watch this insipid trash year-round -- but in a column where I've already owned up to Caramel Pumpkin Latte hand soap, I'd better just mumble something, call it a "chick channel," and make a quick sports reference. Go Bears!

OFFENDER #4: GOD. Or Mother Nature. Or the weather-producing deity of your choice. Whoever's responsible, it might've done my holiday jumpstarting argument some good had you not already treated us to TWO snowstorms prior to Thanksgiving. Sure, it was kind of funny -- but I'm pretty sure you gave one of our cherished local meteorologists a full-on snowgasm before the poor guy even had a chance to dry-clean his holiday ties. Accurate or no, Youtube videos telling us there's a foot of snow on the way should be banned until January at the very least.

MY PLAN: Pray. Or winter in Florida. But the only thing more off-kilter than October snow is December palm trees, so I'm staying put. Just try to go easy on us, please. The first day of winter isn't until 4 days before Christmas -- can we hold off the really nasty weather at least 'til then?

In the end, the whole thing is out of our hands. Everyone I know is just as appalled as I am by the annual holiday jumpstart, so I don't think the general public's to blame here. This one's all at the hands of big business, who want our holiday dollars earlier and earlier. It might be a free country, but it's an awfully expensive one this time of year. If you want to fall into their trap of Black Friday sales pitches hidden under premature yuletide glee, feel free. I'll be at home drawing hand turkeys and dreaming of pumpkin pie. Autumn's not quite played out in my world yet.

COLUMN: New Car 3: Car Hard With A Vengeance

This sure has been one educational month.

If you're a regular reader of this column, you know that I've spent the better part of the past four weeks shopping around for a new car. I started losing trust in my trusty Beetle after it's seventh trip to the mechanic this year, and the car that once was my trademark now is long gone, presumably to a farm where it has plenty of room to roam and make fahrvergnugen all the live-long day.

Finding a new car was a learning experience. I got schooled on the performance power of more than a dozen different compact cars in my price range. I learned about navigation systems, eco-boosting, tire sizes and warranty plans. I confirmed that Sirius/XM still has the "1st Wave" channel (huzzah!).

But most important, I learned that I never ever ever could be a car salesman.

It's not that I'm incapable of sales. In fact, in my ongoing attempt to have the world's most confusing job description ever, I actually spend most of my work week here at the paper selling ad space. But here's the thing about ads: They have fixed prices. An ad that's X size and runs for X number of days equals X dollars. Sure, I can tell you about different packages and schedules and specials that give you the best possible return on your investment, but for the most part, the price is the price is the price. There's little room to wheel and deal.

Car selling appears to be a slightly different beast. Sure, there's the sticker price. But then there are rebates and incentives and discounts and options you can just casually throw in or toss out. There are license fees and title fees and doc fees. Or maybe it's dock fees. I honestly don't know if I've just paid for documents or a warehouse dock. I just know I paid it. In other words, there's math -- and waaaay too much of it for my comfort.

Counting my new ride, I've now owned three cars in my life. The first was blessedly a graduation present from the best parents on the planet. I didn't have any say in it; I just came home one day and presto, there was my car, and much hugging commenced. The second was my Beetle, a purchase I actively was involved in. I'm pretty sure my activity in said purchase was this: "I wanna Beetle I wanna Beetle gimme gimme gimme Beetle now please yes."

I'm absolutely positive that when I bought that car I had to sign the usual barrage of important paperwork, but I don't remember ANY of that. I was on the waiting list for that Bug for so long that when it finally showed up, I would have signed ANYTHING to get it. I still live in fear of the possibility that the former Williams Volkswagen just might own my soul when I die. I had no clue what I was doing. Sign this? Sure. Sign that? You bet ... just fork over the keys, buddy.

This time, though, I wanted to at least pretend that I am a mature, focused and responsible car shopper -- and that meant trying the patience of every dealer I visited and making salespeople explain in layman's terms what every option and dollar amount represented. In other words, I was the kind of customer that I'd hate.

At some point during this process, I discovered a really odd thing about auto sales. Today's car salesperson appears to have two distinct jobs: 1. Convincing you that the car you're looking at is the ideal choice for all of your automotive needs, but then 2. Convincing you that your car needs tons of extra stuff in order for it to survive the nightmare of your ownership.

While I was test-driving my future car, my salesguy told me all about its durable, high-quality, stain-resistant leather seats. But once I bought the car, the next step was telling me that I needed those durable, high-quality, stain-resistant leather seats treated with a stain repellent. I was told my car will keep its value for a super long time because of its fine quality, but then I was told that I need to buy something called "gap insurance" because of how much value the car loses once you drive it off the lot.

I was told my car is super-resistant to rust, then was told I need to rust-proof it. I was told that my car has one of the best warranties in the business and then was encouraged to buy an extended warranty. Notice a pattern?

None of this is a complaint about car dealers new OR used. It's just the nature of their business. In a way, it's similar to how we sell ads. No matter what you buy, we're going to do our best to get it out to our many readers -- but if you invest a little more and put some boldface or color on that ad, you'll end up with better results. The same goes for cars.

But for a novice like me, it's a little much to digest. Thankfully, I still have a few days to decide what to do. In my wildest dreams, I never once thought I'd be spending my down time researching the pros and cons of rust-proofing, but that's been my mission this week: to become a super well-informed car shopper, if for no other reason than to never have to put these poor salespeople through my barrage of inane questions again.

The best news is that once I firm up a decision on these add-ons, my job will be done. I'll be the owner of a surprisingly affordable car that I adore. Well, technically a credit union will be the owner, but it is going to graciously allow me the privilege of driving the car for the next 60 or so months, as long as I fulfill my end of the deal.

That's good -- it'll take at least that long for the car dealers of the Quad-Cities to forget how annoying I've been.

COLUMN: New Car 2: Electric Boogaloo

Shane: The next gen. Sitting in my garage right now.

Some people have nervous breakdowns. I think I'm having a nervous BROKE-down: I'm about to be super broke and I'm pretty doggone nervous about it.

I used to think that I handled stress well. Sure, you might see me occasionally running around like a lunatic. You might hear me swearing like a sailor. And I have to admit, I'm really quite adept at making over-the-top exasperated sighs. But at the end of all the running, swearing, and sighing, I'm usually conquering whatever's got me stressed out. This time, though, I'm losing the race.

All week long, I've been mired in stress. Financial woes, pending projects, time management issues, and major life decisions have all crept up on me ninja style and attacked while I wasn't looking. It's the perfect storm of bureaucracy, budgeting, and decision making -- all wrapped up in a giant bow of sleepless nights and Advil bottles.

It was clear that I needed to make an action plan. It was time to strategize, organize, and clear these hurdles with forethought, timeliness, and responsibility.

Which is why I promptly went to a movie.

It turns out that, when faced with challenges, I become an ostrich and bury my head in the sand. Not that ostriches ACTUALLY bury their heads in sand, because they don't. It's a myth. Ostriches are officially better at crisis management than I am.

I just need to remind myself that, in the big picture, I have very little to freak out about. There are people out there in the world with REAL problems. Mine revolve around petty materialistic issues. I'm worried about hitting goals at work when I suppose I should be thankful I have a great job in the first place. I'm worried about coming up with questions for a trivia night I'm emceeing this week when I should be thankful I've got enough free time to even do it.

But most of all, I'm worried about buying a new car -- when I suppose I should be thankful that a new car is even within my budget reach. Which it's pretty much NOT, but I don't think it's going to stop me at this point.

I witnessed a pretty magical thing the other day. I was meandering around a car dealership checking out rides when another customer walked in and immediately got sucked into the tractor beam of a nearby salesman. I was close enough to hear the conversation, and here's how it played out:

"Hi, how can we help you today?"
"I'd like to buy a car."
"Great. Have anything in mind?"
"This one," the guy points. "Here."
"It's a great model."
"I'll take it!"
"I'll draw up the paperwork."

I swear to you, this guy went from a walk-in to a car owner in under 30 seconds. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong.

I've now spent two weeks on a grand scenic tour of Quad City car lots. I've test driven over a dozen different models, and I've listened to sales reps tell me that every one of those 12 cars is the absolute best possible car for me. I've learned that I apparantly can't live without a navigation system in my car, despite the fact that there's nothing I love more than getting lost. I've learned that cars are clearly inferior if they don't have automatic window defoggers -- because, as we all know, pushing that defrost button is a LOT of work. I shunned a car the other day because it didn't have a push-button start.

Clearly, I have become a monster.

I've witnessed salespeople so aggressive that they lost me on the car I really wanted to buy because I couldn't imagine spending another overly-aggressive second in their presence. On the other hand, I've had salespeople who were SO nice, helpful, and informative that I honestly feel guilty not buying from them (Bob and Petey, I'm talking to you guys.) But in the end, it was another car that spoke to me, and if all goes well, by the time you read this, I'll be the proud new owner of a... well, I suppose I shouldn't give anybody free advertising. Let's just say the make sounds like a sneeze and the model sounds like it should be on Star Trek.

I can buy cars all day long. That was the fun part. FINANCING, on the other hand, is something I never ever want to deal with ever again. Here's the short story of what I've been through.

Getting the car to a price I can afford (-ish) was as simple as: getting the MSRP reduced via a special sale, taking advantage of two additional rebates, getting a lousy finance deal through the manufacturer that gets me yet another rebate, making one payment through that deal, and then refinancing through a credit union at a lower rate. Then I went to the credit union to have them tell me I couldn't get that lower rate. And then the dealer told me that whoever I talked to at the credit union was mistaken. Then I went back to the credit union and learned that "direct loan reps" offer different deals than "indirect reps" (whatever that means) and that the dealer was right.

In the meantime, while the credit union was perusing my fiscal autobiography, the "direct rep" informed me that I could refinance my house through them and save upwards of $100 a month if I could simply provide them with my loan statement, a declaration of insurance, my county tax record, my last two tax returns, three pay stubs, four calling birds, three French hens, and the blood of a virgin fairie.

To cap it all off, I finished by calling my insurance guy, requesting the form they need, and being told that not only does said form NOT exist, but that I shouldn't refinance through a credit union without first talking to his buddy such-and-such at so-and-so bank who can get me this-and-that.

I'm starting to wonder if life was easier when we lived in caves and no one had come up with the whole "wheel" concept yet. Back then, you didn't have to refinance your cave mortgage. All you had to worry about was whether or not you could find food to eat -- and after I make a couple of car payments, I might just be in the same boat as Captain Caveman. I could be headed towards financial ruin, but at least I'll get there in fog-free windows.


The Beetle -- her first week.

I don't want to write about it. You can't make me. But I've been sitting here staring at a blank laptop screen for 20 minutes, and there's nothing else I can think about. It's the only thing that matters right now. Either I write about it or there's gonna be an empty half-page in your Monday paper.

I'm car shopping. You may applaud if you'd like. Just don't do it too loudly. I don't want the Beetle to hear.

At 161,000 miles, my beloved Bug is falling to pieces. Mats have worn through. Parts have fallen off, been replaced, and fallen off again. The car I drive today is mostly a rehabbed, rebuilt, and replaced version of the one I fell in love with fifteen years ago. I'm still a fan, don't get me wrong -- but my allegiance towards my car could be a tad stronger were I able to drive it out of town without constant fear of catastrophic failure.

Last week may have been the final straw. My car has now lost the ability to lock. Well, it eventually locks, provided you stand there and fiddle-faddle with the latch, opening and closing the door over and over again -- and even then it's a dice toss that the alarm won't start randomly going off. Not good. I asked my mechanic if he could do anything to help. His response? "I could help you write a sign that says, 'Free car. Please steal.'"

My dealership gave me a quote of $800 to fix. Two days later, that same dealership told me that my car's current trade-in value is $750. I think it might be time; my Wonder Beetle may be headed to pasture.

I have now spent the past 7 days traipsing through car lots, being wheeled and dealed by aggressive salespeople, and listening to everyone tell me why THEIR cars are the best cars in all of car-dom ever. I've also rapidly come to a conclusion: I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing.

I should like to think that when the average Joe shops for a car, they concern themselves with things like performance, reliability, safety, and whatever Built Ford Tough means. I seem to be more concerned about leather seats, sunroofs, Bluetooth connectivity, and whether or not I inadvertently cross the line from "affordable yet stylish" to "a total girlie car."

Last time, I didn't even have to test drive a Beetle to know it was going to be my next car. It was the trifecta of cool:  a little exotic, a bit of a head-turner, and its TV ads featured the music of the band Spiritualized. Fifteen years ago, I owned a cool car.

Fifteen years later, I own a total girlie car. No Spiritualized song can hide the fact that I knowingly and willingly bought a vehicle that comes standard with a built-in flower vase, is available in an array of pastel colors, and has a grill specially designed to look like the car's smiling at you. It doesn't exactly scream testosterone. Just yesterday I drove it through a car lot and I'm pretty sure I caught an F-250 laughing at it.

Now could be my chance to macho things up a bit and find a car that says "BOW BEFORE MY INCREDIBLE MASCULINITY!" Which, naturally, is why I went out and immediately test drove a Mini Cooper. Okay, apparently I have a thing for cute little sissy cars. But I have to draw the line somewhere. I am not exactly a svelte guy these days, and the only fate worse than driving a girlie car is being Fat-Guy-In-A-Little-Car. The Mini was out.

I'm still looking and comparing and test driving, but I'm starting to narrow it down. I'm kinda digging the 2014 Corolla, a car that isn't exactly known for heart-pounding excitement but seems like the kind of reliable car that a responsible middle-aged guy with fading aspirations of cool should be driving.

Another possibility? Well, it's not my fault. I swear to you I went to the VW dealer to check out Jettas and Passats. But it called out to me. It... smiled at me. I test drove a NEW New Beetle, and it made me swoon. It's got plenty of oomph, more space, doors that lock, and they 86'ed the flower vase so it's totally macho as heck now, right? Plus if it's such a girlie car, why is it the only auto on the road that inexplicably causes children to slug one another as you drive by?

So that's where I'm at now. I wanted to wait to write this column until I'd made up my made and made a deal. Instead, I'm now mired in a sea of financing, budgets, and the absolutely unfun decision of whether to lease or buy. Leasing is definitely the short-term cheapest way to go, but I don't know if it's the smartest. Plus, if you're leasing a car, you've got to take serious care of the thing.

"You might not be capable of such a feat," my friend Jason lectured to me last night. "You could go into this thing with the best of intentions, but you might have to come to terms with the fact that you're hard-wired to be a slob."  That's a fairly accurate assessment, judging by the fact that it's currently snowing at the summit of Mt. Dirty Dishes in my kitchen sink.

I wish there was someone out there with all the answers. I thought there was: my dad. After I told him of my dilemma, he volunteered to go check out the Corolla for his expert assessment.

"We were impressed," he said. "Oh, and while we were there, your mom and I bought a RAV4. It's a heck of a ride."

Why couldn't it be easier? When I was a kid, I was promised a future where we'd just hop in teleporters if we wanted to go somewhere. But I suppose if such a world existed, I'd probably be at the teleporter dealership right now, learning about the Toyota Telecorolla's 5-star safety system and wondering if I needed a teleporter with satellite radio and heated seats. Wish me luck -- if for no other reason than I won't be able to write about anything else until I get this nonsense figured out.