Friday, December 23, 2022

COLUMN: Best of 2022 - Music

Everyone has their favorite part of the holiday season. Maybe it's sitting down for a delicious meal with family. Maybe it's the look on someone's face as they open gifts. Maybe it's the spirit of togetherness, love, and joy that brings us all together. 

Me? My favorite part of the holidays is right now, when I get a few precious inches of column space every year to pretend I'm an important entertainment critic and offer my picks for the best records of 2022.

In many ways, it was a turbulent and trying year, and pop culture can often reflect that in unpleasant ways. But there WERE a handful of records this year that redeemed our cultural landscape and proved that creativity still runs wild, waiting for its moment to shine. 2022 produced some serious bangers, from the sunshine dance bliss of Sofi Tukker's "Wet Tennis" to the seedy underbelly of Taylor Swift's "Midnights." There were triumphant returns from stalwarts like The Boo Radleys and Suede, and admirable debuts from new faces like Horsegirl and Yard Act. 

But five records really stood out for me as 2022's best:

#5 - Andy Bell - Flicker - As guitarist for Ride and bassist for Oasis, Andy Bell has soundtracked my life for decades. For his second proper solo album, Bell went the extra mile and dropped a double-album that takes a multitude of seemingly disjointed ideas and crafts them into a cohesive record that ruminates on the passage of time and coming to terms with yourself: "Now time's not on our side / See the flicker as a fire starts to burn / It's not enough / Burn down the world for me / Use a mirror to remember, and look back with something like love." Whether its an introspective acoustic instrumental or brilliant hooks coming through a psychedelic haze, "Flicker" contains some of Bell's finest work and secures his rightful place as one of indie's great songwriters. A triumph of a record and an absolute treat for long-time and new fans alike.

#4 - Wet Leg - Wet Leg
- Seemingly coming out of nowhere (but actually hailing from the Isle of Wight), Wet Leg hit the ground running in 2021 with a handful of ridiculously catchy singles that perfectly embodied the fun and care-free bliss of jaded youth. Wet Leg reject any attempts to take themselves seriously, and swear in interviews that they're embarassed by all the fuss being made over them. After all, they're a band formed on a lark while sitting atop a Ferris wheel at a music festival. But people SHOULD take them seriously, because the pop hooks flow like caramel on their frenetic debut album. If it's all a schtick, it's a very GOOD schtick, and almost justifies the overexposure they've received this year. The million-dollar question will be whether they've got the ability to convert this one magical musical moment into a triumphant career or if it's all just one brilliant flash in the pan -- but if it's destined to be just a fleeting firework, it's one of those shells that burns in a dozen colors and ends with a surprise explosion. 

#3 - Let's Eat Grandma - Two Ribbons
- In 2016, I declared the debut album of Norwich duo Let's Eat Grandma to be the best record of the year, and rightly so. At the time, it was incomprehensible how a pair of young teenagers could have possibly crafted an amateur album so captivatingly weird and otherworldly in their bedrooms (often using non-traditional toy instruments.) At the time, the duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth explained their creative success as having been best friends from age four and operating on a shared wavelength. A few years down the road, and that friendship has now been tested. Hollingsworth lost her boyfriend to a rare form of cancer, while Walton moved to London and suffered a nervous breakdown. The tracks for Two Ribbons were written separately and contain lyrics of loss and failed friendship. Their charming ethereal kookiness might not be as pronounced as their earlier records, but this newfound lyrical honesty and depth serves the duo well, and the resulting record is an emotional synthpop rollercoaster and yet another triumph from a collaborative team that never seems to fail.   

#2 - Pale Blue Eyes - Souvenir
- It was a couple months ago when my friend Stuart texted me a simple Youtube link with a text message that simply said, "!!!!!" That link ended up being to "Honeybear," the achingly beautiful centerpiece of the debut record from Pale Blue Eyes, a band that had previously been 100% off my radar. It was so captivating that I ordered the entire record on the spot. Hailing from a home studio in the small market town of Totnes in southern England, Pale Blue Eyes have somehow managed to fuse the best bits of vintage indiepop together into a modern masterpiece that wears its influences proudly but doesn't just sound like a 1980s nostalgia trip. The result is breathy dreampop atop quirky synths, Krautrock rhythms, and angular guitar lines clearly inspired by classic alternative bands like The Cure and New Order. I'd love a peek at their record collections, because I have a feeling they share a lot with mine. Far and away, they're my favorite discovery of 2022. "!!!!!," indeed. 

#1 - Alvvays - Blue Rev
- Usually my favorite record of the year has to be some pretentious beast of an album trying desperately to make an artistic statement. This year, the accolade simply goes to a great band who just put out their greatest album. Alvvays (pronounced "always") are a Canadian indiepop band fronted by Molly Rankin, daughter of the late John Rankin, fiddler for the acclaimed Celtic folk band The Rankin Family. Until now, Alvvays were known for intelligent jangle-pop pierced by Rankin's resonant and languid vocals. When Blue Rev first arrived, I threw it on in the car, expecting a nice little slice of smartly dour pop bliss. But at exactly six seconds into the lead track "Pharmacist," the guitars explode out of the gate into a dizzying circular shoegaze epiphany that literally made me stop and replay the song a good half-dozen times as I drove around dumbfounded. The record simply soars and soars again, with pop hooks meeting sonic grandeur at every turn, but still with the signature underproduction that's always made Alvvays charming and homey. It's the kind of record that has at least five or six spots where I forget to breathe because I don't want to miss a second of its fuzzy grace. It's not an album that's going to change the world, but it's one that still captivates even after the umpteenth listen, and it's easily the best thing I've heard this year.

Next week, let's talk TV.           

Friday, December 16, 2022

COLUMN: Christmas Flu

Every year, I have but one holiday mission: to do my very best to find that elusive yuletide spirit. It really IS the most wonderful time of the year, and I yearn to recapture that Christmas magic I felt as a kid. Without fail, I will annually commit to the absurdly idealized Hallmark version of Christmas wherein everyone exudes happiness and love, true love could be waiting around every snowy corner, and all the world needs is some tinsel and twinkly lights to make everyone's problems go away forever. All you need to do is find a little Christmas magic.

This year, however, I've given up. The Grinch has won. There's no holiday magic to be found, people are pretty much horrible, and the tinsel and twinkly lights are just covering up the dark and glum reality of December. Fa la la la la. Perhaps the Constanzas had it right. Maybe Festivus is the holiday for me. If nothing else, it's high time I gave the Airing of Grievances a try.

It all started two weekends ago. I needed to pick up a few gifts, and what better activity than retail therapy to find that Christmas magic? I picked up my best friend and together we set off in search of holiday adventure. Earlier that day, another friend had texted that the Made Market at the Bend XPO was a haven for parental gift ideas, so we headed thataways. We walked in the door, and sure enough, the place was PACKED. Holiday crafts and a hundred potential gift ideas for Mom and Dad were everywhere! Most impressive, though, was the hustle and bustle of people running around all over the expo center. 

"Are you guys here for the market?" a helpful girl at the front table inquired.

"Yep," I replied in a voice that, dare I say it, was both holly and jolly.

"Too bad," she replied. "We just closed."

I had no idea it only lasted until 3 p.m. It turns out the hustle and bustle we were seeing were all the vendors quickly tearing down their booths. Sorry, mom. We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting up the downtowns of Moline and Leclaire, but gifts for mom and dad were still eluding me. No worries, the best was yet to come. I had a plan. 

Anyone who's ever seen a Hallmark Christmas movie knows that if you want to find Christmas magic and maybe even have a meet-cute with your soulmate, all you need to do is find an outdoor night-time Christmas market after dark. It's literally a factory for Christmas magic. That's why I was heading for the Davenport Freight House Christkindlmarkt with purpose and intent.

"That's weird," my friend suddenly said. "What's with all the people?"

Sure enough, we were miles from downtown but there were small crowds gathering along the roadside in places where crowds tend not to gather, especially in the December cold. "It's almost like they're... trainspotting or something." We looked at each other with instant realization. "CHRISTMAS TRAIN!"

Every year, Canadian Pacific rolls holiday-themed trains across North America adorned with Christmas lights. At select stops, the train rolls to a halt, the cars open up, and musicians jump out for surreal quick holiday concerts. It's fun and a great fundraiser for food banks. But as we drove along the highway, it quickly became clear that as we were aiming for downtown Davenport, so was the holiday train. And so, too, were thousands of other Quad Citians. 

You know the 1.5 minutes it usually takes to get across downtown Davenport? Thanks to holiday train traffic, it was more like 1.5 hours. Instead of romanticizing the holiday crowds, I quickly wanted to murder them. Pedestrians were just absent-mindedly strolling in front of traffic, cars were honking and getting exasperated, and Christmas magic was literally evaporating in front of my eyes. By the time we found parking (which I'm pretty sure was in Bettendorf) and hoofed it to the Christkindlmarkt, the band aboard the holiday train was hitting its last notes and the 2.3 kajillion people in attendance all converged upon the market en masse.

Suddenly things were less Hallmark-y and more Outbreak-y, as my mind flashed to newscasters warning of the "tripledemic" as I was bumping elbows with hordes of sniffling, snotty strangers. Add to that some overly-aggressive vendors ("HAVE YOU EVER HELD A REAL IOWA PORK CHOP IN YOUR HANDS, SON?") and suddenly the only place I wanted to be was HOME.

My spirit may have been dampened that night, but my yearning for Christmas magic carried on. The next day, I talked my friend into heading for the Christmas celebrations at Bishop Hill, and we spent the afternoon browsing handmade goods, baked deliciousness, and little stuffed Swedish gnomes that are supposed to lend a hand with chores -- but thus far, the one I bought just sits on my shelf like a lazy good-for-nothing. Oh, and if you happen to hear locals tell tale of a couple city slickers who accidentally bumped a table causing a model train to derail and emit sparks and almost burn down the most historic building in town, I'm sure they're talking about someone else.

But I'm happy to announce that the next morning, I woke to discover I'd caught Christmas magic. Oh, wait, no, that wasn't Christmas magic. Instead, what I caught was H1N1 swine flu. By mid-day, I was bedridden with a fever of almost 103. I spent the rest of last week scouring the Quad Cities for that most elusive Christmas gift of all: Tamiflu. I'll spare you the lectures, but seriously, get a flu shot. You don't want this. It was so gross in so many exciting and festive ways. And since I spent most of that bedridden week binge-watching Hallmark movies, I'm pretty sure I will now forever associate Christmas romance with nausea.

So apologies for my humbuggery, but Christmas magic is lost this year and the world is terrible. Or maybe that's just what Santa WANTS me to think. Please refrain from sending three ghosts my way, but if anyone has any Christmas magic to spare, I'm fresh out.  

Friday, December 02, 2022

COLUMN: Instafest

Ah, finally -- it's December. 'Tis the season for chestnuts roasting on open fires, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, and music geeks fighting across the battlefields of social media.

December is a great time to be an obsessive music fan. It's that magical month when you can pretend you're a critic and sit around figuring out all your favorite records of the year. Back in the day, I used to keep a mixtape in my car filled with my favorite songs of the year, in hopes of getting to explain my picks in lengthy detail to any of my friends unfortunate enough to ask for a Yuletide ride. 

In the modern era, though, we don't need mixtapes. Nowadays, music nerds can post their picks to social media and spend the entire month bickering with one another over their assorted merits. It's a grand and glorious time to be a geek. This year, though, a new app has thrown a ridiculous monkey wrench of silliness into our annual squabbles. is a gloriously pointless time-waster that looks at your Spotify listening history and uses that information to curate a professional-looking flyer for an imaginary three-day music festival based entirely on your personal listening habits. The bands performing at your phony fest, and the order in which they're appearing, are all based on your Spotify plays and which artists you've listened to the most. It's the kind of thing music nerds drool over, and the results have been pretty epic. 

Take my friend Sharon, for instance. Her dream festival line-up includes a resurrected Prince showing up to throw down a set. That'd be pretty awesome. I'm guessing if Prince came back from the dead to headline a festival, tickets for that shindig might be hard to come by. But the BEST part about SharonFest? Prince isn't even headlining. As it turns out, the ghost of Prince, alongside the ghosts of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, are all turning up to SharonFest to OPEN for the big headliner -- who is, you guessed it, 70s teen-pop idol Shaun Cassidy.

There's no lying to Instafest, that's what makes it so great. Music snobs like me pride ourselves on telling the universe that our favorite artists are weird esoteric bands that only a handful of music critics and record store clerks have even heard of. We don't tell anyone that we secretly get in our cars and blare Shaun Cassidy and Britney Spears when no one's looking. But on these Instafest line-ups, there's no hiding your secret shames. If you secretly listen to a bucketload of Nickelback, they're gonna be headlining your imaginary festival for all to see. 

For example, let's look at ShaneFest, the imaginary festival that Instafest curated for me based on my Spotify history. Out of all the countless musical acts on Earth, ShaneFest is being opened on the first day by... Bananarama. Clearly ShaneFest is going to have to invest in loads of security, because the crowd rush would be intense as fans try not to miss a second of Keren, Sara, and Siobhan breaking into "Cruel Summer." And yes, fellow nerds, I'm well aware that Siobhan left the group in 1988, but if it's MY imaginary festival, it's most definitely MY imaginary Bananarama original line-up reunion.

Day Two is where ShaneFest takes a turn for the odd. We start with the Northern Ireland pop-punk band Ash, and then go straight into a much-anticipated reunion set from 80s coffeeshop-soul heroes The Style Council. I'm pretty sure the Style Council were the second band to take the stage at the legendary Live-Aid festival, so kudos to the ShaneFest organizers for paying homage. After their polite set of catchy tunes, it's straight on to the industrial metal fury of Ministry. Style Council songs have choruses like, "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me or my world." Ministry songs have choruses like, "I'm chewing on glass and eating my fingers / Stigmata!!!! / You've run out of lies!!!!" This should be a smooth transition.

And what do Ministry fans clamor for right after their favorite band? Why, the jazzy noodling and clever wordplay of Steely Dan, obviously. Then it's back to more obscure indiepop for the rest of the day, until we get 80s indie darlings The Smiths to reunite at the end of the day. Note: If you know nothing about The Smiths, know this: They HATE each other. I mean, HATE each other. Pigs will fly and hell will freeze before The Smiths ever reunite. But they're doing it at ShaneFest, in order to open for the Trash Can Sinatras, a fairly obscure Scottish band often unfairly derided by critics for being, you guessed it, derivative of The Smiths.

On the third and final day of ShaneFest, I'll probably have to stop the show for a bit to explain to the crowd of indie fans why Chicago are taking the stage mid-day (my dad listened to them ALL the time.) Then, naturally, it's time for the Monkees. I'm hoping the SharonFest rules of resurrection are in play here as well, otherwise it's sadly going to be poor Micky Dolenz on stage by himself singing, "Hey, hey, I'm a Monkee," so I'm hoping I get to conjure up Davy, Pete, and Mike. They're opening for R.E.M., who are in turn opening for My Bloody Valentine. It's a banger of a day, people.

I'd certainly go to ShaneFest. I realize not everyone might appreciate the Pet Shop Boys opening for Weezer, but it's not called EveryoneFest, is it? Like all the other music nerds out there, I posted my fake festival flyer online, and within hours, I had numerous friends saying they'd certainly attend. In fact, two of the bands on the fake lineup even commented and said they'd be thrilled to be there. Weirder yet, 48 hours after I posted my silly fake festival line-up, two of my fake headliners (Ride and The Charlatans) announced a REAL joint double-headlining U.S. tour. Clearly, it must've been my fest that gave them the idea. I guess we'll know for sure if Bananarama or Steely Dan turn up.

Find out your own ridiculous festival lineup at Another one of my friends just did it and his fest has the Beatles opening up for Kanye West, so hurry and make your fake fest quick, because I'm pretty sure THAT line-up might just herald the Apocalypse.

Friday, November 25, 2022

COLUMN: Grocery Shopping

I try to be an optimist, I swear. I'd like to think that the world is innately good, our lives somehow matter, and our very existence is making a difference towards the betterment of mankind. I don't like to give in to cynical thoughts and assume that we're beyond hope and essentially floating through space on a planet-shaped dumpster fire of pointlessness. But some weeks, I'm just not sure.

Pro tip: If you're wanting to keep those rose-colored glasses of optimism firmly planted on your face, avoid the grocery store at all costs.

Since the pandemic, I've been using one of those phone-app shopping services for my groceries. I started out of an abundance of caution, but I've stuck with it out of an abundance of laziness. It's just so nice to sit at home, punch in my shopping list, and have someone bring groceries straight to my door. Does it cost a little more? Yep. But I've done the math and I'm saving money in the long run. Sure, I'm paying a little more for delivery fees and tips, but I'm also spending way less on ridiculous impulse buys. I've literally walked into grocery stores on a specific mission to purchase toilet paper only to leave an hour later with a cart full of groceries I didn't need and then a realization three hours later that I forgot the toilet paper. A $5 delivery fee isn't so bad when it's saving me from a cupboard of junk food.

But last week was a dofferent story. I was tied up during the day and didn't have the opportunity to place an online order. I didn't want to make somebody shop for me after dark, and I'm fully capable of driving my lazy fanny to the store. So I hopped in the car for a fun adventure I'm hoping to never repeat.

I walked through the doors almost eager to remember what grocery shopping felt like. Then I remembered. It felt like... a LOT of people. The store was crowded. Like, REALLY crowded. People were everywhere. I took three steps before an unmasked fellow coughed pretty much directly into my face. Fantastic. I grabbed a shopping cart that rolled about 15 yards before its front wheel went into a seizure so violent that the entire aisle stopped and stared at me. Everything was off to a smashing start.

One of my first stops was to the deli counter, where my plan was to buy some lunch meat for sandwiches. It took the clerk roughly a minute and a half to acknowledge my existence.

"Umm... can I help you?"

"Yeah, thanks," I said. "I need about three quarters of a pound of ham, please."

The clerk looked at me. The clerk looked at the ham. The clerk looked at me. The clerk looked at the ham. Wheels were turning.

"Umm," he said. "Sorry, I don't do math. What is that in numbers?"

I'm not writing this column to make fun of people with terrible math skills. I'm one of those people. It's perfectly okay to be bad at math. My 8th grade algebra teacher lied to my face -- I have NEVER needed any of the skills from that class in my life ever, not once. I'm terrible at math, but I can at least figure out what three-quarters of a pound is. 

"It's .75 pounds." He plunked some ham onto the scale and it came out to .4 lbs. "Is that more or less than .75?"

I could probably turn this column into a scathing indictment of our public school system. I could go on about the ridiculousness of a human being asking ME for math help. I could ponder how someone who "doesn't do math" to the extent that they don't know 4 from 7 is somehow playing an integral role in MY personal food chain. Instead, I'll just skip to the end.

After getting coughed on, run over, and unable to find half the stuff on my list, I made it to the checkout. Just one woman in front of me with not many items. Whew. Then I heard her.

"Ohhhh no, no, no you don't!"

Apparently a cake mix had just scanned at a price higher than the sales flyer she was clutching. "You're trying to RIP ME OFF! MANAGER! NOW!"

There wasn't a manager nearby, or perhaps anywhere in the entire building from what I could see. The overcharge? Thirty cents. But it was enough to send her on a roll, shouting about injustice and capitalism to the winds. I was about ready to hand her thirty cents from my pocket when the cashier looked at the sales flyer and immediately caught the problem.

"Ma'am, look, it's the brownie mix that's on sale. This is the Funfetti mix, it's different."

The poor thing looked like she'd been stabbed in the heart. She huffed, she puffed, and then she bellowed with the full fiery intensity of Howard Beale on a bender.


It was Academy Award-worthy emoting, I swear to you. I almost started applauding. I'm pretty sure the clerk may have just given up and handed her the Funfetti for free just to get her out of the store. I certainly wouldn't have blamed her. 

If you want to believe that the world is NOT a terrible place, don't go grocery shopping. If you want to hold onto hope that future generations will know the difference between 4 and 7, don't go grocery shopping. If you believe in your heart of hearts than Funfetti is brownies, don't go grocery shopping. If you want an ACTUAL pro tip, PLEASE go grocery shopping. For me. I beg of you. I don't want to go back. Ever.

Friday, November 18, 2022

COLUMN: Tasteless Candy

On today's episode of "Fun With Science," we celebrate those new and exciting discoveries that make our world a better place. Yes, we can all rest assured that the future is in great hands. Our society's brightest minds are out there right now, hard at work unlocking the secrets of the universe and solving the great problems that have plagued our fragile Earth for centuries.

Take, for instance, a team of Japanese scientists, who recently tackled a problem we've long yearned to solve: Is it possible to take something that is fun and then use science to completely remove all the fun from it?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. It is absolutely possible.

Just ask Lawson, one of Japan's largest convenience store chains. They just unveiled a new sensation sweeping Japan by storm: "Aji no Shinai Ame." This loosely translates to, you guessed it: Tasteless Candy. Science has cracked the code and finally figured out how to make a hard candy that tastes like -- nothing. And stores are selling out.

According to the packaging, Aji no Shinai Ame consists of polydextrose (a sugar substitute) and erythritol (an organic sugar substitute). And that's it. Just two compounds in a clear hard candy that looks like a cough drop but tastes like -- nothing. No flavor whatsoever. Just a piece of nothing that tastes like nothing and slowly dissolves into nothing in your mouth.

Clearly, this is the scientific breakthrough we've all been yearning for. How many times have you put a piece of candy in your mouth and thought, "Wow, I sure wish this candy didn't taste like candy! If only I could enjoy the pleasure of eating candy without that icky candy flavor!" Finally. Thanks, science. Famine? Disease? Pestilence? Those problems can wait. We're WAY too busy making candy taste like nothing.

When I was a little kid, I can remember my parents buying me a bag of marbles with one simple common-sense rule: DON'T PUT THE MARBLES IN YOUR MOUTH, YOU COULD CHOKE TO DEATH. And of course, what's the one thing you want to do when you're specifically told that you can't? That's right, at the first available opportunity that presented itself, I put one of those bad boys directly in my mouth to taste that sweet forbidden nothingness. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS. Mostly because it's gross. I spit the marble out immediately. And then I washed it because I'm not a heathen. And then I never put a marble in my mouth again because my curiosity was forever satisfied.

But I'm pretty sure that's what nothing tasted like. I didn't like it as a marble, and I bet I won't like it as a cough drop, either. But I kinda wanna try one. 

What doesn't surprise me, though, is that this new culinary sensation comes from Japan. No offense to my friends in the land of the rising sun, but I've had a fair share of your candies, and in many instances, I would've preferred one that tasted like nothing.

Now, I'm fully aware it's simply a cultural difference at play. Don't think for a second that I'm making light of Japanese cuisine -- if I could install a teppanyaki grill in my kitchen, I would. But our candies and snacks are WAY different. I have a friend who moved to Japan a few years ago and occasionally sends us boxes of Japanese junk food. They range from amazing to amazingly demented.

In Japan, you can buy potato-flavored Kit-Kats. Or soy sauce Kit-Kats. Or corn-flavored Kit Kats. He once sent us a bag of Sprite-flavored Cheetos, and they were coated in fizzy candy like Pop Rocks that explode in your mouth like carbonated soda. Their chips are commonly shrimp-flavored. It wouldn't surprise me if they had shrimp that were potato-chip flavored. 

But turnabout is fair play, and American food can be equally weird to people living overseas. I'll never forget when my friend came back for a visit with his Japanese wife in tow, and she looked on with abject horror as I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which is about as normal in Japan as a corn-flavored Kit-Kat is over here. So I guess to each culture their own, and if spending your hard-earned yen on a candy that tastes like nothing is what you fancy, have at it.

In fact, if you're a fan of the candy that tastes like nothing, let me know. I can cut you a great deal on a 70-minute blank CD -- wait, did I say blank CD? I meant to say "a new and exciting cultural milestone adancement." I call it "silent music," and it'll soon be all the rage. Taste the emptiness, and then enjoy the silence.

Friday, November 11, 2022

COLUMN: Jolene

Well, the midterms are finally over. Wow, what a crazy night. I still can't believe that [CANDIDATE] won! At least we can all agree that the country is in [MOST LIKELY TERRIBLE] shape, eh?

Okay, okay. I'm writing this on Monday night. I currently have no idea how anything panned out because it hasn't happened yet. At this point, all I can do is speculate based on how well we handled the LAST election. Ergo, I can only assume that by the time you're reading this, we've descended into tribal feudalism and are about to use your daily newspaper for torch kindling. Anything's possible in 2022. You could tell me that President Kanye just appointed Judge Reinhold to the Supreme Court and I'd go, "Yep, that tracks."

I'm guessing that whatever happened Tuesday, some people are now exceptionally happy, others are exceptionally mad, and ALL of us are probably sick of reading about it by now. Hence, I'm going to use this week's coveted bit of newsprint to focus on that which is good, that which is uplifting, and that which proves our society is worthy of redemption.

Obviously, I'm referring to last weekend's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where the infamous annual all-star jam ascended to new levels of wonderful insanity. Folks, we live in a universe where there was an all-star group performance of "Jolene" featuring Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, and Judas Priest. Playing together. At once. If that's not a sign of the Apocalypse, I dunno what is. But it's exactly the kind of mindless ridiculousness we all need right now.

I'm a card-carrying music geek, and if there's one thing that gets our types riled up, it's the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Every year when the shortlist of nominees is unveiled, Twitter explodes into pointless arguments. "So-And-So deserves to get in this year!" "Are you crazy? So-And-So is THE WORST BAND THAT'S EVER EXISTED IN THE HISTORY OF TIME, EVER!"

Then there's the invariable infighting over what exactly "rock & roll" even IS. The Rock Hall now includes R&B, country, pop, electronic, metal, and hip-hop artists, and some people can't cope with that. Eddie Trunk is a famous DJ, and you can guarantee tuning in annually to hear Eddie get offended anytime some rapper gets nominated for the Rock Hall while the unheralded genius of, I dunno, Don Dokken or Kip Winger once again gets overlooked. As much as I love to hate-listen to Eddie Trunk wax poetic about hair metal, he's got a point. But why argue about semantics?

The Rock Hall serves a purpose, and that purpose is mainly to let us geeks argue about it. I like that the Rock Hall lets in artists of all genres, because how else could we have cringe-worthy jams where the inductees are forced to awkwardly collaborate together in a ridiculous spectacle? The 2020 ceremony was cancelled because of the pandemic, and I still hold a grudge against COVID for costing us the chance to hear a nightmarish Depeche Mode / Doobie Brothers collaboration. I was personally hoping for "Your Own Personal Jesus Is Just Alright With Me."    

All-star jams weren't always appalling, though -- just ask 2004. That's the year the induction ceremony featured an all-star tribute to George Harrison. The idea was simple: get Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, and ELO's Jeff Lynne onstage to run through the Beatles' classic, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It was a solid yet perfunctory cover -- until halfway through, when out casually struts Prince, who then proceeds to spend the next three minutes burning the place to the ground with pure molten swagger.

Prince's guitar did not gently weep. It screamed in ecstasy. Jeff Lynne looked bewildered. Tom Petty looked downright scared. When I watch it to this day, I sometimes forget to breathe. It's THAT good. And as soon as Prince had appeased the gods of funk and melted everyone's faces clean off, he takes his guitar off and throws it haphazardly into the air. Go watch the tape. As God is my witness, YOU NEVER SEE THE GUITAR LAND. It's as if Prince threw the guitar clean up to heaven where Harrison himself caught it. Prince didn't even wait for the applause. He just cooly strolled offstage into the purple funk of night. It might be the most perfect musical moment ever captured on film. It will never be topped, but that doesn't stop the Rock Hall from trying every year.

I have no idea how this week's election turned out, but maybe the next generation will do a better job than we did. And if they don't, we can sleep soundly knowing that sometime in the distant future, they'll probably be forced to suffer through a future all-star jam wherein Harry Styles, Lil Wayne, and Slipknot will awkwardly cover "All You Need Is Love."

Then again, like I said, I have no idea what the future holds. It's only Monday. I'm presently sitting on a baker's dozen Powerball tickets. I could be a multi-billionaire by the time you people read this -- in which case, you won't have to worry about that Harry Styles/Lil Wayne/Slipknot collaboration. They'll be too busy performing it on my yacht instead.

Friday, November 04, 2022

COLUMN: Two Weddings and No Funerals

Wow, it's officially November. I feel like I blinked and missed most of autumn. Before we know it, pumpkin spice lattes and hoodies will make way for gingerbread and heavy winter coats. And just as fast as it began, the fall wedding season is already over.

As regular readers know, when I'm not playing with cats (or writing about playing with cats,) you can usually find me behind the DJ booth at area bars and nightclubs, doing my best to help the Quad Cities shake its collective booty. Ever since I went to my first party and realized my favorite seat was the one closest to the stereo, I've been that dorky DJ guy. It's a legacy I'm perfectly cool with.

While I like to spin records at bars and clubs and parties, I've never thrown my hat fully into the sexy and glamorous world of DJing weddings. This is probably dumb, because good wedding DJs can make a decent living. But let's be honest -- weddings are hard work, and DJing them can be a thankless, high-pressure job. Speakers are HEAVY. Brides are DEMANDING. I much prefer clubs where I can just stroll in with some tunes and if someone wants to hear a song that's dumb, I can tell them no.

But inevitably, at least once a year, someone I know will ask me to DJ their wedding. And I will say yes, because I'm a sucker. Last month, I DJed two weddings and that's probably plenty for 2022. If you're my friend and you've found your true love, do me a favor and wait a few months before you pop the question. I need to rest.

Wedding #1 was a friend and former co-worker who asked me ages ago to play some records at her reception. I hadn't soundtracked a wedding since the pandemic, so it sounded fun -- and it most definitely was. It was not, however, without its challenges. They're a Greek family, so vintage Greek folk music had to be procured on short notice. As it turns out, most vintage Greek folk music is NOT commercially available in the U.S., but I managed to track down every request through cunning, sleuthing, and more than one trip to some of the darker alleyways of the internet that are best left unmentioned (but if your name is Thanasis Papakonstantinou, I'm pretty sure I owe you 99 cents.) I also had to spend several hours swapping my usual unedited club playlists for more family-friendly fare that wouldn't send your great-aunt Edna running from the reception hall and writing you out of her will.

I also didn't realize the wedding would fall on the same weekend as a COVID-rescheduled concert in Chicago that I'd bought an over-priced ticket for back in 2019 before it was postponed. A responsible human being probably would have taken the loss and rain-checked the concert. I am NOT that responsible human being.

Instead, I drove to lakefront Chicago on a Friday night, whooped it up at the concert, got home at 3:45 a.m., and had to set up at the church just hours later. Not the wisest of decisions, but it all worked out in the end. The wedding was flawless, the family was wonderful, and if all Greek weddings have THAT kind of a food spread, I'll DJ any that come my way provided you throw a plate at me and NOT on the floor.

Wedding #2 was three weeks later and an event years in the making. Two of my closest friends finally took the plunge, and I couldn't have been happier to be a part of it. Come to think of it, I don't think I was ever asked to DJ the reception. They were just telling me about the layout of the reception venue one day, and simply said, "...and over in the other corner is where YOU'LL be." It might just be assumed at this point that if you're friends with me, I'll be providing the soundtrack to all of your major life events without question.

Secretly, I was a bit afraid of how it'd go. The bride is one of my closest friends from college, and her now-husband is the owner of my favorite record store. This meant that the demographic of the attendees were a 50/50 split between (a) some of my favorite people on Earth, and (b) the upper elite of hard-to-please Quad City music snobs (a club in which I am a proud member.) But thankfully their rules were simple ("if you play 'Celebration' or 'Hokey Pokey,' I will end you.") The night was a giant love-fest full of smiles, people I hadn't seen in ages, and ample amounts of 80s new wave jams.

In fact, it was SUCH a great night that it didn't even send me into the downward spiral of self-loathing and jealousy I was half-expecting. I mean, what's the point of attending a wedding if you can't make it all about YOURSELF and spend the night reflecting on your own poor life choices? "Welcome to the reception. Please dance to this festive classic, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me' by The Smiths. Up next, it's The Cure's 'Disintegration' on repeat for 4 hours. Life has no meaning. They'll be cutting the cake soon. Mazel tov."  

This month has almost made me want to DJ more weddings. Heck, it's almost made me want to get married myself. To that point, an etiquette question for the nuptially-savvy among you: Is it in any way acceptable for one to DJ one's OWN reception? If so, I'm in -- provided there's any takers out there. Must love cats.