Come Again Now?

I interrupt this work week to offer refreshing news. There’s been a lot of talk lately where I work about customer service, so it’s been on my mind. So I don’t know if it was a strange coincidence or someone trying to tell me something, but I had a customer service experience last night that is worth sharing.

You see, we had some friends over a week ago and I had a grand plan to make these little appetizers – fresh figs with a little dollop of goat cheese and drizzles balsamic vinegar. You put it together and pop it in the oven for 8 minutes. So I turned on the oven, set the temp and popped in the apps. 8 minutes later, I opened the oven, expecting the heavenly scent of my creation (culled from a recipe, so it wasn’t my CREATION per say) and quickly discovered that the oven hadn’t heated up at all. Rats! I hate relying on the microwave, but that’s what had to happen. 10 seconds later, the app was ready and it was really good, but I felt…..wrong.

So…….our gas oven is broken. I don’t fool around with gas, either. So we called NStar and they said, not in these words, “not our problem. Call a gas plumber.”

A gas plumber? What the hell? Do I live under a stump? Because I’ve never even heard of a gas plumber. A search online for gas plumbers turned up nothing. Local newspapers – zilch. So. We called GE last night and lo and freaking behold, I dialed the number – and someone picked up! Not an automated service, but a real live breathing human. Are you kidding me? This is GE? Sure enough, Mary set me up with an appointment and I was done in 5 minutes. There is hope for humanity, people!

As you were.

facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

All You Have To Do Is Act Naturally

Facebook people: just go to the blog for this one to experience this post fully.

The idea of aging gracefully in a rock and roll band is largely non-existent. There just aren’t many (any?) bands who can pull it off. The Rolling Stones are basically cartoons now and have been since, oh, let’s call it 1990. If they don’t exist already, you could probably write whitepapers and hold seminars about U2. Trying too hard to be relevant isn’t the same thing as aging gracefully, guys. The Who are on, what, their 7th farewell tour? Blah. Shall we talk Lynyrd Skynyrd? Bob Dylan?

There are flashes. REM has shown some light, but it’s really a mere flicker. Tom Petty, I guess, but no one goes to his shows to see Mojo performed live, do they? His fans will put up with it, I suppose, and they will shrug later and say “the new stuff sounded good” but the next day it’s forgotten. They are there to see “Refugee” and “American Girl.” Don’t kid yourselves.

So who ages gracefully? There aren’t many. The wise ones are the ones who change with age. Nick Lowe, for example. As a youngster, you have a rather amazing, beer-swilling, fun-loving  pub band called Brinsley Schwartz. That turns into the fabulous Rockpile. It suddenly goes nuts when Nick goes solo in the late ’70s and early ’80s and captures Elvis Costello’s ear. Lowe goes on to produce Costello’s first FIVE albums. So despite Nick largely being known as a one-hit wonder, he puts out more good music than just about any band of that era. Seriously. Have you heard “The Best of Nick Lowe?”  If you don’t think “And So It Goes,” “Born Fighter” and “Heart of the City” are even BETTER than “Cruel To Be Kind,” then your musical soul is lost. The guy is a machine. Then Nick starts getting old. And instead of trying to replicate “Cruel To Be Kind” and be seen as a laughingstock, he actually changes his game. Mellows out. Records music for the robe and pipe crowd. And you know what? It’s GOOD! Nick can write songs AND craft them. He still does to this day.

Which brings me to Teenage Fanclub. I’ve mentioned my history with this band on this blog previously. They were the first band I ever saw perform live in a nightclub, on February 14, 1991. Cruddy little club in Cleveland on a miserably cold evening. It changed my life. I mean, it literally changed everything for me. But that’s not what this post is about. That night, Teenage Fanclub was a band of young guys from Glasgow, Scotland. Their album “Bandwagonesque” had come out and we were just playing it non-stop at our apartment in Kent. SPIN has raved about it and eventually went on to declare it the album of the year in 1991, ahead of a little album called “Nevermind.” We were over-the-moon to see Teenage Fanclub live! And they brought it! Long hair, loud music, but still wonderfully constructed, soaring harmonies twisting in and out of their songs. This is what they looked like and sounded like in 1991:

And year after year, album after album, they evolved. And they still killed it pretty much each and every time. Their 1997 album “Songs From Northern Britian” may very well end up as one of my Top 10 favorite albums of ALL TIME. The harmonies were still there, the songs were still there, the writing was still there. Only over the years it changed, ever so slightly. They started getting old and smart enough to realize that the people who were there in 1991 in the cruddy clubs were the ones who were aging and changing along with them. So they crafted record after beautiful record, until I realized in the last few months, or maybe subconsciously all these years, that their lifespan as a band has almost mirrored my lifespan since that night in 1991. Loud, aggressive and full of piss as youngsters and now a little more chill and relaxed. But still appreciate a great beer and loud song now and then.

They now look old. All of them.  The singer looks like he should be on a sitcom about the zany antics of a plumber and his wife or something. He’s a middle age guy in his 40’s who just happens to write, craft and sing songs better than just about anyone else I’ve heard. The guiter player looks like the guy who listens to Nick Lowe now – graceful, aging, quiet. But they still play the old stuff and it still sounds awesome! And loud. But then they play 2006’s “Cells” and it fucking KILLS you!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

See? It’s mellow, but it still brings the force about halfway through. They are magic. Just a magic band. It’s not as course and tough as “What You To Do Me” but it’s just as effective. When I was 20, “What You Do To Me” was IT. When I was 35, it was all about “Cells.” Two completely different songs by a band that aged gracefully.

Tonight was special. They played the wrong venue, so the vibe was weird. There were 2-3 songs that shouldn’t have been in the set. But the other 12-14 songs were a band that hasn’t changed at all, but a band that has completely changed. That’s kinda hard to explain and it doesn’t make sense, I know. But I can tell you that their progression as a band mirrors my progression as a music fan. And a person. And that’s a powerful connection to have to a bunch of guys who just make music.

And if you want something truly beautiful, listen to Baby Lee, their latest song. It ranks right up there with their best and you’ll be stuck singing it. Trust me. I know because it’s the third time I’ve posted it on this blog. I am determined to get you to listen to it. Or stubborn. Probably both.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

….and here’s what they look like today: a bunch of guys who probably have 3 year old kids, right?

Probably Old & Tired Like Me
facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

If I Am Lost, It’s Only For A Little While

Snippets:

  • This morning was, sadly, the first day I had to wear a fleece upon getting up. Mark it down -autumn. I don’t mind so much since it’s my favorite season, I just find myself wondering how another autumn got here so damn fast. Truly incredible. All you twenty-somethings who shrug off the people telling you how fast time goes – take it seriously. Because it’s true. I was one of those non-believers and now here I sit, 39 and wondering where the hell 15 years just went. Every autumn I also get this odd urge to move to Western Massachusetts. It’s been happening now for 10+ years.
  • This was the first year I sprung for Bruins season tickets. Oh, I can’t afford that kind of money and I definitely don’t have the time to go to 40 Bruins games – which is why I’m splitting it a few ways. The tickets arrived in a pile this week and it was a sight to behold. I do still have a few games to sell, so if anyone is interested, let me know.
  • Can you still call your “new job” a new job after six months? Where did THAT time go?
  • As more magazines emerge as IPad apps, I’m getting warmer and warmer to that device. It didn’t start well. In fact, it sat unused for quite a while there. But then I read somewhere that The Atlantic had an IPad app and I found a couple of others and now I’m back. Not sure it’ll last, but we’ll see.
  • Just got a case of Wachusett Octoberfest, one of their seasonal beers and maybe my favorite from them. I got a six pack last year and raced to the store to find more, but it sold so fast and I didn’t see it again, so it’s been 11 months since I had one. Not getting caught with my pants down this time – so I got the case.
  • Isn’t it funny how we change as adults? As a kid, I had mild interest in history. Mild at best. Today non-fiction books are pretty much the only thing I will read. Currently loving the Chez Panisse/Alice Waters bio and about to jump into a Dust Bowl study (middle America, depression era), courtesy of my in-laws. Wish I’d listened more in history class, but I have a feeling traditional high school history classes truly just scratch the surface due to time constraints. I have a feeling that if I were a history teacher, I’d get stuck on one single fascinating topic for a whole half-year or something. I mean, you could do a school quarter on single presidencies. You could do a whole year on Truman or Teddy Roosevelt.
  • I still can’t type very well on the IPhone. My contract is still 8 months away from renewing, but what do you do when you love EVERYTHING else about your phone except for the one thing you do the most? Dunno.

Really been digging on this song again. These guys just kill it. There is no such thing as a perfect band, but they sniff around it sometimes. It starts to amp up around the 3:35 mark and that’s when you realize how epic this band can be.

A tree for all these problems
they can find you for the moment
then for all past efforts
there buried deep beneath
your heart and somewhere in your stomach

and hey, transform all others
when awful people they surround you
well hey, they’re just like monsters
they come to feed on me
giant little animals to feed

though to say we got much hope
if i am lost it’s only for a little while

a tree for all these problems
they can find us for the moment
then for all past efforts
there buried deep beneath
our hearts and somewhere in our stomachs

and hey, transform all others
when awful people they surround you
well hey, they just like monsters
they come to feed on us
giant little animals for us

though to say we got much hope
if i am lost it’s only for a little while

though to say we got much hope
if i am lost it’s only for a little while
if i am lost it’s only for a little while
if i am lost it’s only for a little while

facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Shucks

Yesterday (Sunday) my wife and I popped the kids in the car and took a quick drive over to the awesome and recently rebuilt Verril Farm in Concord, MA. We’ve had a very successful summer in terms of eating local this year and while we didn’t visit Verril Farm at all (we have closer farms), I admire the people who run the place. Anyway, they were having some sort of BBQ fair, complete with hayrides, bluegrass band, pony rides, animal pens, beekeepers and a large selection of BBQ’d deliciousness. It was pretty enjoyable and relatively chill. I especially admired my boys performing their new dance, where they just hop all over the place when the bluegrass band started playing any song.

So as part of the festivities, they had a corn shucking contest. I know, right? Smacks of suburban BBQ festivals! I didn’t really think that either one of my boys would be into entering the contest, but much to my surprise, Zachary announced he wanted to give it a go. So into the circle of shucking we went. It was us pitted against several mother-son and mother-daughter combinations. I believe I was the only father to enter the fray. Upon the word go, we raced and grabbed our corn. Honestly I was more into helping Zachary shuck his corn then piling up a ton for us – I mean, what the hell would we do with so much corn? I just tried to focus on having some fun. Me and my boy in a corn shucking contest. It felt like 1958.

So as I smiled to myself, thinking about it, something caught my ear. It was a mother behind me, who apparently didn’t share my appreciation of the moment, because she was too busy yelling commands out and in general being more fired up than a bull that just got poked in the nuts. I mean, she was on fire! Zachary and I had shucked six ears of corn and she and her brood had a pile of corn that was…..insulting. In the end, she won of course, with 27 ears shucked. But I wondered if she had fun? Or if her kids did? I did overhear her say, smiling “I should never enter contests because this is what happens!”

I think what she meant was that she gets too competitive. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t fun for anyone close to her. It got me thinking about what life might be like at home for her kids. Are they pushed like that to succeed in school and everything else? I struggle with how I’m going to approach that. On one hand, I want my children to do well in school and life in general, of course. You gotta believe most parents do. But I also wonder where the magic line is between them enjoying life and pushing too hard. It’s been on my mind a lot lately as my boys approach schooling age. We’re getting to the point where we have to make a decision about that, i.e., where we school them. Do we put them in a so-called “excellent” school system where it’s all about pressure-pressure-pressure and compete-compete-compete? Is that even good for kids? I say no. But at the same time, I do want to give them every chance to succeed.

Anyway, I keep thinking to myself that that decision, even if we make it now or in a year, is really for way down the road – many years in fact. For now and as long as possible, I want them to enjoy themselves, not worry about how many pieces of corn they shuck. I guess it’s the journey. I need to remember that more.

facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail