The Organically Weird, Strange, and Just Plain Special Music I Enjoy


This is not a complete list of my favorite albums of all time. To make that list, I would have to include popular, mainstream albums. Saying that I enjoy popular, mainstream albums might get me kicked out of some clubs, but I do like some of them. I just find it less interesting, and redundant, to write about them. This is a piece about some relatively obscure albums that I love so much that those who care about me ask me not to play in front of friends they hope to impress. I write the term relatively obscure because some on the list are certified platinum, and some might consider it odd to list any platinum selling album obscure. Others might see some of the albums listed here and say they are not obscure by any stretch of the imagination. My excuse for listing them is that age has led some of these albums to the dustbin of history, and experience has informed me that a wide variety of people have never heard of albums that I consider the greatest of all time. 

I’ve read seasoned musicians I respect list their favorite albums, and most of those albums are truly obscure. I’ve tried to listen to some of those albums, but I’m nothing more than a fan of music. I don’t appreciate music on the granular level that most seasoned musicians do. That having been said, I am a music aficionado, whose music appreciation is not that of a player or a critic, but greater than the casual fan who only appreciates the surface level of music that spent time on the Billboard’s top 100 or repeated on classic rock radio ad nausea. By the end of this, the reader might consider the albums selected purposely obscure. If I am purposely obscure, or I seek some level of contrived weirdness in my music, I have been doing so for thirty years, and I can now tell the difference between those artists who attempt to achieve something different in a less organic manner and those who just plain weird, strange, and special. Many have used those adjectives to describe me, at various times in my life, and if I do hit any of those marks (others consider me so normal I’m boring), all I can tell you is I’ve learned to embrace them in my life, and in the music I enjoy.

8) Captain Beefheart—Trout Mask Replica—This is the strangest album on this list, and one magazine rated it the second strangest albums ever made. We don’t know what went on in the mind of Van Vliet, when he created this Joycean mess, that some call “anti-music in the most interesting and insane way.” The most listenable track, and that’s compared to the others on this album, might be Ella Guru. Cartoonist and writer Matt Groening tells of listening to Trout Mask Replica at the age of fifteen: “I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. About the third time, I realized they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard”.

If Trout Mask Replica is one of the strangest albums ever created, Pena might be the strangest, most inaccessible song ever made. It’s so discordant, we might want to consider if it’s actually music. If you convince a friend to listen to this album, prepare for some backlash, as they might consider it a mean practical joke. If you listen to this song, do not do so at high volume, for you will run across the room to shut it off. It might be one of the least melodic songs ever made from the least melodic album ever made. Friends don’t understand why I love this album, and to tell you the truth I can’t explain it, but it’s not weird for the sake of being weird. It has its own inexplicable mathematical appeal that very, very few will appreciate.  

If you brave all of these disclaimers and decide to listen to this album, and you find yourself getting “fast and bulbous” after repeated spins, you might want to reconsider recommending it to friends. Some people might hate this music with such feverish intensity that they hold it against you personally for recommending it to them.

7) PJ Harvey—To Bring you My Love—This is PJ’s strongest album to date. The two albums she made prior to this one were incredible, but To Bring you My Love made those two albums look like building blocks to this one. Her albums following To Bring you My Love run the gamut from relatively boring to fantastic, but To Bring you My Love was without question her peak. One album of note following TBYML is White Chalk. It’s the most powerful quiet album you might hear. The standout tracks on To Bring you My Love are: Meet Ze Monster, Down by the Water.

6) Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante— If Trout Mask Replica is the second weirdest album ever made, music critics and writers should consider Disco Volante third on this list. This is an album of songs, as opposed to an effort with a cohesive theme. Each song is so different that they probably don’t belong on the same album. The only song that is less than brilliant is Everyone I Went to High School is Dead. I am not a track skipper, but I skip this song every time. The most brilliant song on this album occurs at the 4:42 mark on Carry Stress in the Jaw. Some listings, list it as [The Secret Song]. My advice, if you choose to accept it, is listen to this album from start to finish. Then separate individual tracks out in playlists, or what have you, to appreciate each song in its own right, until you obsess over them and you know every beat so well that you might be able to play them yourself (I say as an individual who hasn’t picked up an instrument in decades, and even then I couldn’t play them). There’s something strange about this album that appears to only appeal to strange people who are confident in their ability to maintain normalcy.

[Writer’s Note:] For anyone who wants to investigate how odd, weird, or just plain special their friends are, Disco Volante proved an interesting barometer for me once. When I loaned the album to my more normal friends, they said, “It’s different, definitely different, but it doesn’t appeal to me on any level.”

One relatively odd person, who precariously hanged onto whatever vestiges of normalcy remain available to him, actually got mad at me for “forcing” him to listen to Disco Volante. He even went so far as to tell our mutual friends to avoid listening to anything I recommend in the future. Prior to lending the album to my friend, I knew he was a little off, but when he returned the disk to me something changed. He was mad at me.

“I didn’t create this album,” I said. His intensity shocked me.

“Yeah but …” He didn’t know how to ‘yeah but’ my reply. I could see how much it pained him that he couldn’t ‘yeah but’ me down to some sort of acknowledgement that this was in any way my fault. His mouth hung open, his finger was pointed, but he couldn’t come up with a proper ‘yeah but’, so he just walked away. 

My initial suspicion was that his attempt to turn people against me had nothing to do with Disco Volante. I forgot I even loaned him the disk when he started whispering things to our friends, until they told me that was saying, “He’s just so strange, and he listens to such strange music.” I thought he had a personal vendetta against me, but other people told me he said, “that album, I can’t remember the name was just so weird”. He even went so far to as to publicly state that he didn’t like me anymore, “because he’s just so strange.” I couldn’t understand his personal jihad against me, until I flirted with the notion that Disco Volante must’ve triggered something in him that he disliked so much that it made him angry at me. It seemed implausible, and it still does, but were no other reasons I could think of to justify his reaction.

Disco Volante might not be their first indicator that we’re strange, but for some reason it sets off a trigger warning for those who fear being around weird people. The reason we reflect on this is that we can’t believe that a complex human being can dislike us so much because we loaned them an album made by other people. We think it has to go much deeper than that. Maybe they didn’t like us to begin with, and this album just set them off. Perhaps it proved to be a cherry atop the pie for them, a last straw, or any one of those clichés. We search for the precursor, and it troubles us so much we ask them about it. “I’m not mad at you,” he said, and he said this in the most condescending manner possible, but he couldn’t come up with any answers for what he did either.

For some reason, this album unearths something in odd, strange or just plain special people that they don’t care to explore. For some reason, the song The Bends has a peculiar effect on them and their desire to constantly prove to the world that they’re not abnormal. I might be reading too much into their reaction, but it appears as though this album, and this song in particular, taps into a vulnerability that they’ve tried to defeat their whole lives. They tell everyone they know how much they hate that album, and we joke with them that their emotional reaction to it must suggest that it’s great art. “No!” he said all but slamming his fists on the table. “It’s the worst album I’ve ever heard.”  

“I gotta hear this album,” a third party said.

“No, no you don’t,” he responded. “Trust me. The hour I spent listening to that music is an hour of my life that I’ll never get back.” That attempt to add levity to the situation was almost as revealing as his weeklong rant against “my music”, as it revealed that he feared any revelations we might find in his rants.

Is the music on this album so strange that it flipped the trigger on one of my friends, or was he so close to a thin fault line he knew intimately that separated him from complete lunacy? Did he fear that anything slightly outside the norm might push him so close to that fault line that he chose to do battle with all of the internal and external forces he had at his disposal with the hope that it might define his character as it does for all men who seek battle? Or, was he so close to the fault line that he feared we all knew how close he was, and his vehement denouncements of Disco Volante were his way of announcing to the world that, contrary to popular belief (the internal, externalized popular belief), he was nowhere near that fault line and of a completely sound mind. 

[Writer’s Note II:] When I went in search of this album, as a completist who needed to own everything attached to the names Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Trey Spruance, I walked into a Music Land at a mall one day (yes, I’m that old), and I asked him if they had an album called Disco Volante. The employee smiled, “Very funny,” he said. “Who put you up to this?” We stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment after I said no. “Seriously, who sent you in here? Was it Sandy?” After a brief back and forth that consisted of me convincing him that no one sent me in his store, he said, “No, this place would never carry an album like that.”

“Okay thanks,” I said. As I turned to leave, I said, “Why would you think it’s a joke to ask for an album?”

“That’s my favorite album of all time,” he said, “and a couple months ago I joked with my girlfriend that no one would ever come into a Music Land in Bum[fudge], Nebraska to ask for it. So, when you asked for Disco Volante, I thought she sent you.”  

5) David Bowie–Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars—Perhaps no musical artist in the history of music made weird, mainstream better than David Bowie. He was an organically different man who made weird music. If he were alive today, he would confess that he wasn’t as original as critics often said he was. His music was an amalgamation of the weird.

Ziggy Stardust might be the most popular and least obscure album on this list, but it’s so old that I wonder how many people have never heard of it. A few mainstream artists in that era tinkered with the weird, but very few of them explored it as thoroughly as Bowie did while achieving some level of fame for doing it. I could’ve picked any of a number of Bowie albums to include on this list (Hunky Dory, Alladin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters, and even Blackstar), but Ziggy seems to be the most accessible starting point for Bowie novices.  

Best songs are the first four songs on the album, and the last six. The only song to skip on the album is It Ain’t Easy. I have to think Bowie had other songs to put on this album that he dismissed in favor of It Ain’t Easy. [Special Mention:] The best non-Ziggy Bowie songs that every Bowie fan needs to hear again and again, Alternate Candidate (This is a tough song to find, but I found it on YouTube) and Lady Grinning Soul.

4) Mother Love Bone—Apple—The story of Mother Love Bone is a sad “could’ve been, should’ve been” tale that could’ve and should’ve rewritten the narrative of the whole Seattle, movement in the early 90’s. Andrew Wood, the lead singer, died of a heroin overdose at 24, a month before the record company released this album. If this album received the promotion record companies normally put into an album in which they outbid five other record companies, coupled with radio airplay, touring, and all that, this album would’ve been the first multi-platinum disc coming out of Seattle in the 90’s. This album, this group, probably would’ve been bigger than the later incarnation Pearl Jam. (A number of the members of Mother Love Bone gathered together and found a new lead singer after Wood died to form Pearl Jam.) I think Apple would’ve been so big that it would’ve divided Seattle into two camps, those who loved the silly, rock star side versus the serious, sad, and angst-ridden Nirvana side. It would’ve been Mother Love Bone versus Nirvana, and Nirvana probably would’ve hated Mother Love Bone the way they came to hate Pearl Jam. (They may have hated them more, due to the contrasting styles of the two, as Pearl Jam wasn’t such an exaggeration of differences.)

The tracks on this album might all have a certain familiarity to them, as glam rock, arena rock fans will recognize some Queen, with a dash of Zeppelin, a little Elton John mixed in, and a big morsel of Aerosmith mixed in the stew, but Mother Love Bone combined these influences with a heavy dose of individual interpretation mixed in. I’ve read commenters on Allmusic.com say that the Apple has not aged well. If that’s the case, these people say so from a different perspective. I do not have such perspective on this album, for I am an adoring fan boy who cannot view Stargazer, Captain Hi-Top, Gentle Groove, Crown of Thorns, or Lady Godiva Blues from an objective perspective. When people talk about how they still love the music from their late teens/early twenties, this album is one of the primary ones that form that inner core of my favorite music.  

[Writer’s Note:] Some suggest that the Seattle music from the early to mid-90’s killed rock and roll. If we look at the timeline of rock and roll, we could easily make that leap with them, but I would suggest that the Seattle music, that some call grunge, might have been the last gasp from a dying beast. Seattle music was retro. It was Black Sabbath, KISS, T. Rex, and various other artists from the 70’s. It was a return to the music before the glam, heavy metal 80’s redefined everything. If we could go back through the timeline and remove grunge, rock and roll would’ve died earlier after the damage the music of the 80’s did to it. Grunge was chemotherapy that kept a stage 4 cancer victim alive for a little longer beyond its life expectancy.  

3) Pavement—Wowee Zowee— This album might form the basis of my album oriented preferences, for I find it difficult to pick just one track to note. This album should be listened to top to bottom. Rattled by the Rush might be one of the few songs on the album that follow a traditionally accepted song structure, but I find it hard to hold one song out for individual praise. This album is a collage album, a collection of songs that didn’t quite fit on their previous albums. Some call them pastiche albums. Whatever the case is, I loved this album so much that I honestly don’t care that some might consider it inferior to their two prior albums, and I loved (and I mean LOVED) their two previous albums. This album achieved so something different that it achieved the hallowed status all artists strive for with their fans of being “my music”. The previous two albums might have been better on the scale critics use to rate such albums, but I love Wowee Zowee more for the intangible qualities that leads us all to prefer some albums more than others. I won’t write that every track is perfect on this album, but that’s it’s appeal. This is a raw, flawed album in serious need of more production, but seeking perfection with more production would also ruin whatever raw intensity the fellas in Pavement captured here.

2) King’s X—Gretchen Goes to Nebraska—Some grunge artists say this was the first grunge album. Some suggest that Alice in Chains took the sonic formula of this album and applied it to their album Dirt. Listen to the two albums back to back, and you’ll hear a surprising number of similarities. One of the members of Alice in Chains joked about it with a member of King’s X, saying, “We need you to come out with another album. We need a new sound.” (The author loves Alice in Chains, and the album Dirt, and he does not intend to diminish the band or their best album.)    

The Burning Down and The Difference are the only two songs on GGN that I skip. Other than those two songs, I’ve gone through phases with just about every other track on this album. The uninitiated should start with the hit, Over My Head, move onto Summerland, Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something, and then work their way through the rest of the album song by song. By the time the intrigued listener is done, I don’t know how anyone could say these guys didn’t write beautiful, transcendent, and timeless music.

Normally, I couldn’t care less if an artist makes it or not. Mainstream music is just that, and as this list indicates, I am not a huge fan of mainstream music. The idea that very few regard King’s X as one of the top bands of its era, however, seems like an historic injustice to me that it needs to be rectified.

Other artists, and some critics, adored King’s X. A compendium of quotes from them suggest that on talent alone, coupled with the producer Sam Taylor, and the combined and consistent efforts found in the first five albums that King’s X created should’ve led them to the hallowed Beatles status. Upon discovering King’s X, reports state that Sam Taylor said he thought he found the next Beatles. King’s X were a combination of progressive metal, funk and soul, combined with vocals that remind one of gospel, blues, and the various groups in the British Invasion.  

It confounded critics, and other artists, why this band never broke through to the mainstream. In my experience, King’s X had two strikes against them, their looks and the “God thing”. Anytime I introduced my friends to Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, it blew them away. “Who are these guys?” they would ask. When they investigated them on their own, and they saw them on MTV, they soured on them to the point that they didn’t buy their album. The lead singer (Doug Pinnick) had a funky look. He had a high mohawk, and he was black, and there was something different about him. (He was/is gay.) Coupled with that, King’s X lyrics were uplifting and spiritual, and some critics labeled them “God music”. Sam Taylor and King’s X had gorgeous musical arrangements, Beatle-like harmonies, top-notch production, and the record company supported them, but Doug Pinnick looked funky, and their lyrics suggested they had a “God thing”.  

King’s X might have been one of the few bands that were hurt by the video age of MTV, for when people saw them they thought they were weird, and not in a good way. To further this thesis, Alice in Chains took the King’s X formula, and they fit the mold better than King’s X did. As much as we hate to admit it, Alice in Chains had a look considered more acceptable for rock stars. They combined those looks with rock star lyrics about drug use, death, and various other dark, negative elements to counter King’s X uplifting, spiritual lyrics. Alice in Chains was also cool in all the tangible and intangible definitions of the term, and King’s X were the antithesis of cool. What’s interesting, on this note, is that most of those who bought AiC’s albums, considered themselves the opposite of superficial. They considered themselves deep, thoughtful people who wouldn’t buy an album based on the band’s look. They loved the music on Dirt, but they didn’t buy music equal to, if not superior, to that on Dirt, and it all boiled down to looks and a packaged commodity they considered more consumable, and the idea that the latter was “God music”.     

1) Mr. Bungle—California—This album, particularly the songs None of Them Knew They were Robots, Retrovertigo, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Goodbye Sober Day, and Ars Morendi, are timeless classics. As opposed to most of the albums I’ve listened to on this list that I’ve played so often that I have to remember how much they affected my life when I first heard them, California sounds as fresh and vibrant to me as the first day I listened to it. Pink Cigarette and Sweet Charity were, of course, my first loves on the album, but to my mind there’s something wrong with people who fail to recognize the greatness of those five songs.      

Gorillas and Lions and Wolves, Oh My


Yesterday, I watched a gorilla at the zoo have what appeared to be a brain-tingling moment when he removed some dung from the anus of another gorilla. I might be assigning human emotions to the gorilla when I write this, but soon after eating the concoction, the gorilla closed his eyes. There is a variety of reasons why a gorilla might close his eyes, and most of them are most of the reasons we close our eyes, but I thought he was taking a moment out of his day to savor whatever that other gorilla ate and whatever flavor that other gorilla’s digestive system added to it. The elongated, almost spiritual closing of the eyes might have been a coincidence, but I thought the gorilla enjoyed the concoction so much that he wanted to savor it for a moment before going back to the dispenser. There was a full tray of food awaiting the gorilla, in the southeast corner of his enclosure, but he preferred going to the dispenser before him. Watching that gorilla go back for more, I realized that individual tastes are so relative to the flavors we create that it’s pointless to try to fashion our work in such a way that it pleases everyone. We can only create whatever our nervous system produces and we flavor it with the dispensaries we have at our disposal in the hope that someone somewhere might enjoy it for what it is.  

Yesterday, I realized the roles those two gorillas played in this display defined for me what proved to be one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. I enjoy the music of Ben Folds, and I’ve been a fan for a long time, but there is something missing in his music. He has some fantastic singles, but I’ve never been so attracted to his oeuvre that I would list him as one of “my guys”. If I informed Folds how frustrated I am that he comes so close to reaching me, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. Not only would he not care, he shouldn’t care. If I met him and told him that most of his music misses the mark for me, he should say, “That’s on you. I can only do what I do. I can’t worry about pleasing you, offending you, or infinitely pleasing you. If it pleases enough people that I can make a living at this game, that’s great, but I’m not going to change what I do to please you or Betty Beatle from Idaho.”  

William Shatner is not one of “my guys” either, but he’s always around. He’s the green bean casserole of the entertainment world. I doubt anyone who has yet to try green bean casserole would look at it and think, “Yum!” but it’s at so many family get togethers and potluck dinners that we eventually “what the hell” it, until we discover it’s not so bad. As long as we don’t overdo it, repetition can even lead to a level of fondness for it, until we look forward to the next get together or potluck dinner that has a tray of it.

No one should confuse the term “my guys” with a description of talent. I’ll drop the typical line people drop to explain the discrepancy. “I respect the heck out of what Folds and Shatner do, but it just doesn’t reach me on a personal level.” I know people who love John Lennon so much that they suggest Paul McCartney was not talented. I understand that we all take sides in any rivalry, but to suggest that a talent on par with Paul McCartney has no talent is ludicrous. The Silly Love Songs vs. Important Songs debate rages on in some quarters, as Lennon fans suggest Lennon was not only more important he was more creative. These people relate more with Lennon, and because of that Lennon was “their guy”, but to prove that point, some try to so by belittling McCartney’s Silly Love Songs talent.

I missed Folds and Shatner’s collaboration for years, because they weren’t “my guys”. When I eventually heard the album Has Been, however, I was blown away. It reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: cranberry granola and banana flavored yogurt. On its own, this yogurt flavor is too sweet for me, and while this flavor of granola is tasty, I probably wouldn’t eat it as a standalone. When I put the two together, however, I enjoy it so much that I’ve considered submitting it to the overlords as my reward for living a decent, moral life. When I pass on, I want to meet my long-deceased relatives of course, and I wouldn’t mind it if someone played me a Brahams Sonata on the harp, but if your’re wondering how best to reward me for a life well lived, might I suggest that the floors and walls of my reward taste like the banana-flavored yogurt and cranberry granola concoction I created.

When we eat concoctions like these, we spoon too much of one flavor most of the times. Some of the times, we spoon too much yogurt, and some of the times, we spoon too much granola, but there are occasions, at least once a container, when we hit a Goldilocks spoonful. The album Has Been is the Goldilocks concoction of talent for me, and when I listen to it, I close my eyes to savor the moment. I’ve listened to that album so often that I’ve tried listening to the other concoctions they’ve made together, but they rarely hit the mark in the same manner. On their own, Shatner and Folds create interesting, quality material that doesn’t quite hit that brilliant, Holy Crud! mark, but together they created what I consider their Goldilocks moment. I would think that such moments are so fleeting in any artist’s career that when they hit one, they would immediately run back into the studio to dispense another collaboration, but perhaps they don’t think they can create another Goldilocks moment. I know they did singles together before and after Has Been, but that album was so good that I would think it would drive them right back into the studio to do another collaboration. We know that Folds affinity for Shatner brought them together, but we don’t know why they don’t make another album together. They might also think that fate and whatnot permit but one Goldilocks moment a life.

Carnivores in Cartoons

Yesterday, I thought carnivores were the mean, bad guys of the wild. Today I realized that the cartoons we watched conditioned us to believe that when a lion, shark, alligator, or any animal at the top of the food chain eats one at the bottom, they do so with some evil intent. We can find a definition of this in Aesop’s fable in which a mouse removes a thorn from a lion’s paw. The lion, in turn, agrees not to eat the mouse. The mouse does something nice for the lion, and the lion, in turn, agrees to do something nice for the mouse. The inference is that if the lion betrays this agreement, and instinctually eats the mouse, that means the lion is mean.    

Think about all the cartoons we watched and books we read in our youth. They depicted carnivores with jagged teeth and menacing growls. As we often do, we confused being scary with being mean or bad. Today I learned that they’re not mean, or bad, they’re just hungry, and like all other animals, they eat when they’re hungry. Regardless what it does to their reputation as a beautiful animal, wolves enjoy eating fluffy bunny wabbits. They do awful things to bunnies if they’re able to catch them, but that does not mean they’re mean or evil in the manner we define such terms. By teaching young humans lessons, using animals as main characters, some of us anthropomorphize these characters to such a degree that we assign them human characteristics. Lions, tigers, and bears aren’t nice, they aren’t mean, and they don’t make decisions on what to eat based on how other animals interact with them.   

Yesterday I learned that even if the animals at the top of the food chain are not the meanies we thought they were when we were kids, we should still consider doing everything we can to avoid one in the wild. After watching videos that focus on animals biting humans, nature lovers qualify the instinctual actions of these wild animals by saying, “We are not on their diet.” The nature lovers then provide a number of theories regarding how these incidents often involve nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. These theories are true, of course, as most animals in the wild, and in the ocean, have never seen a human, and self-preservation is more important to animals than eating in most cases. Animals often take a pass on anything unfamiliar if they think they could get hurt in the process. Sometimes, however, they’re so hungry that they’re willing to eat anything that moves, especially if it moves slower than other prey.

Most animals don’t know what a human is, and that’s why they fear us, but we are also a point of curiosity for them. Thus, when they see us walking around in their domain, or floating on the surface, they’re curious, and that curiosity is almost exclusive to considering whether they should consider adding us to their diet. Yet, seeing, hearing, and smelling us might not be enough to satisfy their curiosity, and they obviously cannot communicate with us, so their last resort is to taste us to try to figure out what we are to determine if they might want to start adding us to their diet.

The nature lovers further their argument by opening up the belly of a bull shark. “When we open up the belly of a bull shark, we find everything from license plates to cans of paint to packs of cigarettes. The bull shark, unlike other sharks, is not very discerning. They’ll eat anything they see floating on the surface of the water, even if it happens to be a human on a surfboard.” Translation: They do not intend to devour us. They’re just curious. They just want to taste us to see what we are. I see the nature lovers working here. I know they’re trying to relieve our fears about sharks, and in turn preserve the shark population, and I know wild animals are not bad or mean in the context humans define the terms, but it does not comfort me to know that all they want to do is taste me. If I happen upon one of these carnivorous beasts, and it’s clear that all they want to do is taste me, I’m still going to do whatever I can to get away. If I fail to escape, I’m probably going to shoot it, because I have to imagine that even though they’re just tasting me, it’s still going to hurt like the dickens.

Sprinting and Age


Yesterday, I realized we’re all sprinting to old age. Today, I realized that those of us who are lucky enough to make it to a certain age should refrain from sprinting. The aging process is a relative state of mind, of course, as we’ve all witnessed young sixty-year-olds and old forty-year-olds, but no matter how old we are, we occasionally receive reminders that we’ve aged. As opposed to the scenes in movies, the aging process rarely hits us in an “Oh my gawd, I’m (fill in the age here)!” one day in front of a mirror. Aging is more of a gradual process that hits us in tiny, little, and seemingly insignificant ways, every day. We fell on a Tuesday doing something we’ve done our whole lives. It was embarrassing, and all that, but everyone falls every once in a while. It wasn’t always this painful, but everyone falls. We tripped trying to skip a stair on a Wednesday, and we’ve skipped a stair since our legs grew long enough to do so. (Mental note, skipping stairs is no longer in our repertoire.) On Thursday, we caught ourselves making old man sounds when we sat, but we can’t even remember when we started doing that. We admired a beautiful person on Friday, and someone informed us that we’re probably too old to continue doing that. “It’s just odd,” they said, “considering the age gap.” On another day, sometime in the future, someone considered our admiration inappropriate, and then it morphed into “Absolutely disgusting” that we should admire the beauty of a 20-year-old, “because you’re old enough to be her grandpa!” We all know we’re aging on a physical, superficial level, but mentally we’re not so far removed from that energetic, wildly enthusiastic 20-year-old who was afraid to talk to girls, until someone suggests that we should know better now. We do know better on one level, but their scorn is a painful reminder of how much we’ve aged. We do the calculations in our head, and we realize they’re right, we are, in fact, that old now. The realizations that we’re that old now are not about any of one of those little things. It’s about all of them. It’s about that big old snowball that’s been accumulating over the years without notice.

“You know you’re old when you fall and no one laughs,” a comedian once said. You know you’re old when they’re surrounding you after the fall, and they’re not there to point and laugh at you. They’re there, because they’re concerned.  You know you’re old when no one laughs about it later, even behind your back. People aren’t laughing anymore. They’re concerned. It’s humiliating. The science of their silence involves a calculation of our age and the impact of our fall. It’s no longer funny. It’s so disturbing that some consider it alarming. What happened? He was sprinting. “Ok, well, he probably shouldn’t be sprinting at his age,” they instruct one another.

“He probably shouldn’t be running,” they said. They used the word he, as if they were doctors instructing our loved ones that they should take over this matter because it’s obvious that we can’t control our facilities anymore. They addressed us in the first person when we were young, and they instructed us how to act with some scorn, implying that we were too young to know any better. Everything in between involved laughter, for they knew we were old enough to know better but young enough to sustain the damage of our stupidity. We might feel some warmth when we realize how much they care about us, but that fades when we realize their resolutions mirror those family members make when their loved ones are no longer capable of caring for themselves. They have no problem telling us when we’re too old to oggle, but no one tells us when we’ve reach a point where it’s considered ill advised to sprint.

This impromptu game of ‘keep away’ developed organically. My nephew was in the middle, laughing as hard as the two adults were on the sides. Another kid ran into help him, then three, then four, then so much more. It wasn’t young versus old, but it evolved into it. It started out friendly, but it evolved into a competitive definition of whatever remained of our athletic ability. I started out tossing the ball from a stationary position. I was laughing and failing on purpose, giving the kids a chance, until one of them said something that I considered a playful yet provocative question regarding my athletic ability. I went from light-hearted attempts to get open to employing quick, ankle spraining jukes. When I realized I couldn’t shake my nephew, those quick movements evolved into some running. I ran every single day at one point in my life, so it was not a concern to me. I don’t know if I started losing, or if I sensed that the others were further questioning my ability, but I began sprinting to open spots to capitalize on the holes in their coverage. It dawned on me, while doing it that I haven’t done this in years. No one gave this a second thought for most of my life. Some people run, some people sprint.

I didn’t see the spectators watching, but I could feel it. I even saw a couple stand with some concern. Did they see this as part of the game we were playing, or were they wondering if they should begin sprinting too? Did they stand to source the emergency that sparked my progression? I looked over to verify that they were watching me, but in that casual glance, I almost tumbled. I couldn’t look back at them. I had to be mindful of my feet. (Mental Note, running now requires more focus.) Running was not my greatest concern. Stopping was. I had a myriad of little feet under mine, and I had to focus to avoid them.

I know I’m not as athletically inclined as I once was, but who is? I am smarter now. I know how to use my facilities much better than I did when I was younger. In the midst of these throws, my competitive juices got the best of me. I overdid it. I knew my best presentation could be had sitting on the lawn furniture with the other old people, talking about what old people talk about with a glass of lemonade in hand on a sunny day, but I didn’t decide to play this game. An impromptu game broke out and evolved into a character-defining match of my ability against theirs. I could not just quit. “Why did you quit?” I imagined one of them asking me. “Because I’m old and I can’t handle the physical requirements of such a game anymore.” Yeah, that’s not in my nature.

The nephew I once held as an infant was shutting me down in coverage as I wrote, and I encouraged it verbally, but I also wanted to discourage it physically. I wanted to prove to be so dominant that he left our little game demoralized. To do so, I employed some of the know how I picked up along the way, using the bag of tricks I developed in the years I spent playing intramural football. Michael Jordan developed a fade away when his skills started to decline. I developed a few moves of my own over the years. “Youth is wasted on the young,” Winston Churchill said. What if I had this wide array of jukes when I was younger, I asked myself, would I have been better? I sprinted to the right, juked, and went further right. In doing so, my fellow old man led me well with a pass. My ability to stop on a dime and juke surprised my nephew. He went left to cover the traditional juke that would’ve involved me going left, and he did so right under me. To avoid taking him out, I had to adjust. (Mental note, my ability to adjust on the fly has receded.) I tripped over his feet. (Mental Note, studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we sprint.) Been there, done that. (Mental note, watch out for the ground, it hurts. Parked cars can hurt too when approached at top speed. Try to avoid them as much as possible, because they can be unforgiving.) The final humiliation arrived later that night in the form of a phone call phone from my nephew, apologizing for getting me so worked that I almost ended up impaled on a car.

When Fish Look Back


Most of us enjoy looking at fish in a fish tank, but some of them look back, and some of those looks evolve into stares, challenging stares. We don’t know why we enjoy looking at fish swim around in a fish tank, but we enjoy watching them do so in friend’s homes, at pet stores, and zoos. Some of us enjoy watching fish swim around so much that we purchase some of our own, so we can watch them do it every day from the comfy confines of our own home. Some of us enjoy looking at fish, because it gives us a sense of superiority we can’t explain. We might enjoy seeing another trapped by glass, because it makes us feel freer by comparison. Regardless the particulars why we do it, we take some comfort knowing that both parties know we are the superior being, but some fish appear to question our relative stations in the animal kingdom.

We don’t know why some fish look back, but some of the times they do, and some of the times it’s a little cute. Do they want food? Do they think that we’re there to feed them? We don’t know, but if we’ve experienced the occasional glance from a fish, some of us want to see it more often. To experience it again, we might tap on the glass to try to get one fish to give us one quick look that acknowledges us in some quick, meaningless way. They usually swim away in quick, jetting motions, but some of the times they look back. “Look at this, Myrtle, he’s looking back at me!” we say to their casual, happenstance glance. When that casual glance holds, and that cute, little look back becomes a stare, it can feel unnatural. Even though it feels a little odd at the outset, we stare back. We don’t have any reason for continuing to stare back, but we do, until we achieve some inexplicable and unnerving connection. If this odd connection continues, we think that they’re testing the boundaries and borders nature inflicted upon them, regarding our respective roles in the food chain. We know it’s foolish to assign human characteristics to an almost brainless creature, but the otherwise enjoyable stare leads us to question that which we’ve never considered before.

Our first instinct is to believe the fish just happens to be looking in the general direction we’re standing in, and that it’s nothing more than a happenstance glance. Something about this particular stare unnerves us though. We remind ourselves that they have no eyelids. They might have a membrane to protect their eyes from water, but they have no eyelids, so they cannot blink. They have pupil, and they can move their eyes, but this particular fish doesn’t even move his pupil. It’s staring right at us and through us. What does it think it’s seeing? Is it really looking at us, or toward us? We make a jutting motion toward the fish to establish the fact, in our minds, that it is indeed staring at us. Another, relatively embarrassing component of that motion involves our need to establish dominance, so the fish doesn’t forget what we can do to them if driven to act. The fish will react accordingly, but what happens in our interiority if after the fish flinches, it resumes staring? Do we complain to the management of the pet store? What if the fish stopped staring the moment we brought the manager over to the tank, and it resumed staring after the manager left? It looks at us, as if it thinks it knows us, and it’s unafraid. There are times when it’s okay to remind other creatures that we’re their superiors, and what if we did. What if we reached into their tank, grabbed it, and did awful things to it. It’s unmoved by that threat. We know we can’t do either of those things, no matter how long this thing looks at us. We know those looks other patrons of the pet store might give us. We also know what we would go through at home, in bed, staring up at the ceiling, remembering everything that fish drove us to do.

People wouldn’t understand, and something about that fish’s stare suggests that it knows that. At some point in this staring contest, it strikes us that the hundreds of thousands of years of our respective conditioning that have informed both parties who is superior mean nothing to this fish. Its stare suggests that it is challenging that conditioning, because it knows there’s nothing we can do about it.   

We’re accustomed to animals we encounter knowing these principles and acquiescing to our superiority on most matters, and most of them don’t even bother challenging us. Pet psychologists instruct us that if we own a dog who is particularly disorderly and disobedient that one of the ways to reestablish dominance is to engage it in a staring contest. If confronted by a wild animal, various animal specialists tell us that the worst thing we can do is look that animal in the eye, because both parties know, on some primal level, that we’re challenging their nature, and any hint of this challenge enrages such beasts.

If we try to engage in a staring contest with a lion, in the lion’s den at the zoo, most lions won’t even bother looking back at us. They have hundreds of people confidently challenging them in this way every day. What happens when they look back? What happens to us when we look at a fish, and it looks back? What happens when that fish stares at us? Is it happenstance, or is the fish challenging our nature? Are we so confident in our stature that we stare back? How long do we participate in this staring contest, to establish our superiority, and what happens if we lose?

What happens the next time we near a fish tank after such a devastating loss? More often than not, we don’t invest ourselves into moments like these, but there are days when we’re feeling particularly vulnerable. There are days that affect us so much that the next time a friend invites us to look at their fish in the fish tank they have in their home, we hesitate. We know that if we begin shrieking, the fish wins. Our reputation would not only suffer at the hands of our host, but the ten people interested in her retelling of the story. Offering our host, a simple, “No thank you,” might open a big bag of questions that we don’t want to answer. Yet, acquiescing to their request might bring us right back to that day at the pet store when a fish’s stare served to undermine our confidence. When we glance over at our friend’s tank, considering her proposal, we see those probing eyes, and we remember the day when we thought we knew our place in the animal kingdom. We remember how confident we were in our respective roles in the animal kingdom before that staring contest, and though we know we can’t put all the blame for our insecurities at the fins of that fish in the pet store, its rebellious stare unearthed something in us that we never confronted before. We know how revealing it is to have a staring fish lead us to such existential questions, but it shook our confidence down to its foundation, and we politely refused our host’s request, fearing what another loss might do to our confidence.   

Yesterday I Learned … VII


Yesterday I learned that some of us still don’t know how to perform drive-thru transactions properly. Some say the first drive-thru restaurant to open a side window happened in 1928, some say 1947, but whatever the case is, they’re been around for as long as most of us have been alive. Thus, those of us who didn’t grow up in a subculture that avoids technology know how to perform a drive-thru transaction. Yet, we read a decades-old menu of a decades old franchise as if it requires a Rosetta Stone to decipher its hieroglyphs. When we finally decide what we want, we search for the button to ignite the speaker device. For those who don’t know, restaurants in the 1970’s had buttons customers were required to use when they were ready to speak. When the time to perform arrives, we scream into the speaker as if we don’t understand the mechanizations behind the audio amplification a speaker can provide. What should take two minutes, often takes ten. Today, I realized that those of us who fall prey to the confusion this transaction provides are officially as old as the people they used to mock for being old.

Yesterday I realized that most artists spend most of their time skimming the core. Think about your favorite artists in any milieu. How many earth-shattering pieces did they create? The best artists, be they in literature, music, painting, etc., are extremely fortunate to develop four unique pieces that stand alone and above their peers’ creations. How many pieces did da Vinci create? Two? We have under twenty definitively proven da Vinci works, and only two are known throughout the world. How many pieces did Van Gogh, Picasso, James Joyce, and Andy Kaufman create? Some artists limited themselves to a few creations, and they spent most of their time perfecting those pieces, but others created hundreds of pieces, but most of them were not great, as we’re defining great here. Those of us who love music, fall in love with certain artists. How many great, epic, I-can’t-wait-to-listen-to-them-again albums did these artists create? I’m not limiting this discussion to sales figures here either. I’m talking about you-know-greatness-when-you-hear-it great. Three examples from my youth are King’s X Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, Queensyche’s Operation Mindcrime, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I was so in love with each of these albums that it didn’t matter how great their next album was, I was going to greet it as a normal person might greet their child into the world. I would listen to these new albums thirty times, before I began skipping through some songs, until I eventually tossed them into my personal dustbin. Each of these artists followed up what were for me magical, transcendent albums with admirable efforts, but the albums top-to-bottom didn’t have the same magic as their predecessors. The subsequent albums had some great singles, but the artists seemed to skim the core of their greatness for the rest of their careers. Now that we’ve achieved some distance, we can reflect back and evaluate our favorite artists more objectively. I think most music aficionados will now admit that their favorite artists probably had two albums that stand the test of time in them. Yet, it’s so exciting to see an artist come so close to their core that we buy their entire catalog without hearing any of the songs or reading critical reviews. Today, I realized that I love a great book, and I enjoy the occasional painting or two, but I never understood how someone could stare at a great painting for a half hour. There is something different about music, however, something that reached me when I was far too young to understand the connection, and something that, to quote the cliché, soothed my soul. Music is the universal art form that brings us together and drives us apart. I gave three examples of albums that inspired me in ways no other art form could, but I could probably list 100 off the top of my head that ‘set the sick ones free’. That list of 100 albums is so personal to me, but could it have been a time and place matter, or is a great album always a great album no matter when they come out, and how difficult are they to follow up?    

“I’ve got no imagination. I never dream. My so-called inventions already existed in the environment—I took them out. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does. There’s no such thing as an idea being brain-born. Everything comes from the outside. The industrious one coaxes it from the environment.” –Thomas Edison

Does art reflect life, or does life reflect art? How many of the most brilliant pieces of art are nothing more than interpretations of the world around the artist? Isn’t that the definition of art? Aren’t all artistic pieces “brain-born”? I understand that Edison was trying to be humble, but it doesn’t make much sense, if you consider Edison artistic in a universal sense. Artistic pieces are born through a complicated algorithm that arrow through influences, experiences, and individual interpretations. Whether it involves the creation of the lightbulb, the novel, and every other form of art, most of the artistic minutiae of a creation occur in the individual interpretation stage, but most artists could not arrive at that place without the first two.

Yesterday I considered most psychological tests a total waste of time. I don’t put much value in Rorschach tests, I don’t know what the spiral eye test does for anyone, other than being a little neat, and I think fill in the blank tests, insert letters into this b_ _t, are pointless. They’re all neat and fun, and they seem to say something fun and interesting about us, but what does it say about us if we answer boat? Today, I found an interesting nugget from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers suggests that suggests I might be wrong that they are a complete waste of time. In one test, the examiners gave a fill in the blank test to a group A. They then gave the results of that test to group B, to have them help the examiners decipher the answers. Group B psychoanalyzed the answers. Unbeknownst to both groups, the examiners created the test for group B, with the theory that we say more about ourselves when we analyze others than we ever do when we analyze ourselves. I still don’t know if they’re valuable tests to determine our characteristics, but this little twist suggests they’re not a complete waste of time. 

Yesterday, I wondered if others might consider what I was writing funny and interesting. We all have people in mind when we write. Today, I realized that that is an utter waste of time. You do what you do, work your tail off, and the accolades might follow. The ‘you do what you do’ principle does not work, however, if you don’t know the rules. As most comedians know, this is always funnier than that. The ‘this’ in this equation is rhythm. Most of the time one needs to economize. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that, but one can get away with extended punch lines if they’re gifted. There are those especially gifted few who can upend and redefine the rules, but if we enjoyed betting, we would probably say that you and your gimmick are not for long.

Yesterday, I realized I’m probably as far from a ‘betting man’ as one can get. Anytime we hear analysts address a situation, they say, “If I were a betting man …” When I watch game shows, and the contestant is allowed to double their money by answering a final question, I don’t understand how anyone could take that bet. “You mean to tell me that you survived the three strikes and you’re out portion of the game with ‘X’ amount of money, and you risked it on the double or nothing final question?” Today, I realized that I would be that guy who disappoints the audience at home by taking the money and running so far away that I might not think about the chance I didn’t take. I might think of my refusal to take a chance every once in a while, but even if I took that chance and answered the question correctly, I wouldn’t feel so much gratification by answering the final question correctly that it would be worth it. It would pale in comparison to the face slapping nights I would endure if I missed that final question.

Defeating the Aliens


“The aliens are not evil, but they are here to eat us,” our main character replies to the first question the talk show host asks him. This contradiction draws some laughter from the studio audience, as they don’t understand the difference. “Do we consider the lion evil? Of course we don’t. When lions eat cute, baby antelopes, they don’t do it to satisfy some perverse love of violence. Anyone who thinks lions are evil is assigning their thought process to the primal actions of the lion, or they might watch too many cartoons. I agree with those who say that the aliens are not evil in the same vein, and I disagree with my colleagues on this note, but I can only guess that the lion’s prey don’t care what their intent is. We know the only reason lions kill is that they’re hungry. I think the aliens who landed on our shoes are desperately hungry, and they know we have meat on our bones. They just want to eat it. If you consider that evil, that’s up to you, but my bet is that the baby antelope doesn’t suffer their fate without, at some point, mischaracterizing the lion’s motive.”

The reactions the various players have to the main character’s appearance on the talk show ends up saying more about them than it does the main character, or the aliens. When the scientists and reporters attempt to interact with the aliens, soon after the shock and awe of their arrival subsides, they do so to understand why they’re here. They want to befriend them, and we follow their lead on the matter, because we want learn everything we can about them, so we can learn from them.

The aliens know their arrival is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us, and they know how much it excites us. They operate in good faith, in the beginning, and they focus on public relations to build trust with us to hide their real motives. When one of the reporters, assigned to cover the aliens, disappears, the aliens’ approval ratings suffers a dive. The public begins to suspect that the main character might be right when he suggested that the aliens captured her, filleted her and refrigerated her to take her meat back to their home planet.

“They had their eyes on that reporter,” the main character suggests, “because she had right combination of muscle and fat. My friends and I have studied all of the people who have gone missing since their arrival, and we’ve found no discernible patterns, other than they’re not too fat or too muscular. We think the aliens are eating those of us of a certain body mass index that contains a quality mix of fat and muscle. We think there are so many humans on earth that they’ve developed a finicky preference. They prefer those of us with a little fat to add flavor to our meat, in the manner a little fat flavors a ribeye steak. 

“Their initial landing was awe-inspiring,” our main character says on another talk show, “and I was as affected as anyone else by their initial messages, and their attempts to help us advance our science, but the number of missing people that followed alarmed me so much that I began studying them. It’s them, I’m telling you, they’re the reason we now have so many missing people. They’re filleting them, and refrigerating them to feed the starving population on their home planet. I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to accept this idea. Our water supplies have not diminished, nor any of our other natural resources, and I don’t think they’re here to build friendly relations between the planets, as they suggest. There’s no evidence to suggest that they’re here to breed with us, or any of the other things we’ve guessed aliens might want over the decades. So, what’s their motive? I don’t care what their public relations team says, we should still ask why they came here in the first place? We’ve heard them say they had the technology to come here decades ago, so why now? Why are they here? I think they regard us as food, and I’ve been trying to get that message out before it’s too late. As we sort through all these complex arguments regarding their intentions and motives, we forget Occam’s Razor, “All other things being equal, we may assume the superiority of the demonstration that derives from fewer hypotheses.” Simply put, the best answer is often the simplest.”

Most moviemakers line “alien attack” movies with hints of the adversary’s high-minded intelligence. The aliens, in these productions, are required to be of an intelligence we cannot comprehend, and they are of unfathomable strength and power. Our production would state that evidence suggests that power and strength usually counter balance one another in most beings. Is the lion smarter than the human is? No, but that wouldn’t matter in a one on one conflict. Is the body builder smarter than the average person is? Most are not, because we all focus on one pursuit to the usual detriment of the other characteristic. Thus, the alien cannot be of superior, unfathomable intellect and superior strength and power. Not only is it a violation of what I consider the natural order of things, it’s not very interesting.

Yet, even productions that try to have it both ways, be they sci-fi novels, movies, or otherwise eventually begin to train their focus on one of these attributes. If they depict the aliens as the literary equivalent to the bloodthirsty lion is this nothing more than a slasher flick? If they focus on the superior intellect, do they do so to achieve a level of complication that might lead to more favorable critical reviews? Whatever the case is, we now require our moviemakers to provide subtle hints of alien intelligence. The more subtle the better, as that makes it creepier. The moviemaker, as with any storyteller, might be feeding us the entertainment we want, but I don’t think so.

I think the quality moviemaker modifies his material in such a way that it provides subtle hints of the surprising and unusual intelligence of the aliens. They spool out hints of the aliens’ intelligence in drips to further horrify and mystify us. They do this to mess with our mind in a way that a slasher flick doesn’t bother doing. They want to creep us out and scare us somewhere deep in our psychology.

In our production, the aliens have developed powers that we cannot comprehend, but as with any decades-long reliance on a power, it comes at a cost. To explain this theory, the main character says, “Imagine if we could emit super gamma rays from our eyes, in the manner these aliens do. It would be a superpower to be sure, but it might lead us to neglect the intelligence we might otherwise employ in tactical and militaristic conflict. We might rely on those powers so much that it could result in a deficit of our intellect. I submit that even though these aliens employ some war-like tactics, they’re as intelligent as a lion and not as smart as we are. I think we can defeat them with our intelligence.”  

Every alien/monster movie eventually also eventually turns into an allegory about our inability to accept outsiders. In our production, the aliens would use our compassionate approach to outsiders against us. They are intelligent enough to put together a seductive war-like plan, and in doing so, they purport to support a cause that most humans adore. They don’t have a cause, but they know that we’ll follow them to our own demise if they cater to our heart correctly.

The reporters and scientists in every alien/monster movie are always correct in the designs they create for how we should approach and handle our relations with aliens. What would happen if they operated from a faulty premise? Everyone who employs the scientific method to resolve a crisis, approaches the situation with a question, does background research and eventually reaches a hypothesis. At what point in the attempts to prove or disprove that hypothesis, do we troubleshoot and find out if we approached the issue from a subjective or biased view? At what point, do we arrow back to the beginning on our algorithm and correct the question that led us to an incorrect conclusion? 

In our production, the reporters and scientists are operating from a flawed premise they develop as a result of their own biases and subjective viewpoints. The aliens enjoy that premise and begin building upon that narrative to sell it to all earthlings. These useful idiots inadvertently aid the aliens’ public relations campaign to soften us up. They discover, too late, that the less worldly main character’s simple truth that while the aliens are not as evil as their detractors suggest, they’re also not hyper-intelligent as the reporters and scientists theorized. The idea that they just want to eat us bears out, and we realize that if we all agreed to these facts earlier, we could’ve saved a lot more people. We all had a difficult time agreeing to the idea that we were of superior intellect, but once we did, we used it to defeat them. We used our intellect to nullify their superior force. We were elated with the victory, of course, but once life returned to normal, there was that sinking feeling that if we just ignored the reporters, the scientists, and all of the people who believed we should be more accepting of the aliens sooner, we probably wouldn’t have been victims of the worldwide slaughter that ensued. If we listened to the main character, and all of the people who supported his view, and we followed his simple strategy for attack, we could’ve saved a lot more lives.

What Happened to Cam Newton?


[Writer’s Note: At the time of this writing, the former Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton is unable to find a team, and Robert Griffin III (RGIII), Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota are in similar straits, or they’ve accepted the role of a backup with a team other than the team who drafted them. This might change for them, but the theme of this article remains.]   

Like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton was the most talented athlete anybody ever saw for most of his life. He never met anyone bigger, better, or faster than in high school, college, and some might argue he was the best athlete anyone in the NFL ever saw. If he encountered someone who was one of the above, along the way, they weren’t all three. If he encountered one who was close, that player was not a quarterback. Cam won the National Championship in college and the Heisman Trophy. He was then the first player chosen in the NFL Draft. He went onto win rookie of the year award, the NFL MVP award, and then he did something, five years later, only 63 other quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished, he led his team to the Super Bowl. He was fast, big, elusive, and he knew how to win. Some might argue that with the rules of the NFL game being what they are today, Cam Newton’s play almost single-handedly determined whether the Carolina Panthers would make it to the Super Bowl that year.

Prior to that Super Bowl, Cam led the Panthers to three straight division titles and a 15-1 record in their NFC Championship year. Following the Super Bowl, the trajectory of his career and the plight of the Panthers, has since followed a downward trajectory. The Panthers are now 29-35 since that Super Bowl appearance.

Cam’s measurables, coming out of college, were almost unprecedented. He had almost unprecedented size (Dante Culpepper was 6’4″ 260 lbs, Cam was 6’5″ 250 lbs.), and he had an almost unparalleled athletic ability (Culpepper ran a 4.52 40, Cam ran a 4.59). The three best QBs of the era (Brady, Manning, and Brees) would’ve killed for Cam’s measurables, but the question we now ask, in hindsight, is would those three have won as often as they did if blessed with Cam’s size and ability?

Personally, I don’t think so, because when a quarterback doesn’t have the measurables Cam had in high school and college, they, and their coaches, trained their focus on the immeasurables in practices and scrimmages. It’s those immeasurables, those intangibles, that have led those three best QBs of their era and many other lesser talents in the NFL playing QB to enjoy longer, more sustained success in the NFL.    

As another most talented athlete, anyone ever saw, former NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner wrote an article that alludes to the idea that the NFL has a way of humbling even the most elite athletes. For Kurt Warner, that “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw” era ended for him when he left high school, but it didn’t end there for Cam Newton, and it didn’t end for him in college either. Few athletes can maintain this rarefied air in college, and even fewer like Cam, Colin Kaepernick, RGIII, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota maintain this stature in the NFL. Kurt suggests this might be a blessing and a curse for them.

The blessings are immediate, as everyone they’ve ever encountered told them that their athletic talent was such that they could achieve what nearly 100% of the rest of the us could only dream. The curse, that which arrives much later, happens when an elite athlete encounters a brilliant, NFL-level defensive coordinator uses his elite athletes to minimize the once-in-a-lifetime talents at quarterback to force them into jams they can’t escape with athletic talent alone.   

When forced into such jams, a quarterback learns why all of his previous coaches focused so much attention on developing their immeasurables during their formative years. One of Kurt’s college coaches taught him what to do when the offensive line breaks down, all the receivers are covered, and the defense has assigned one of their linebackers to spy on him, so he can’t run. This college coach instituted what he called a “Kill Kurt” drill that Kurt described as:

“One of my least favorite times on the field, but it may have also been the most valuable. That drill taught me to read defenses and keep my eyes downfield instead of looking at the rush and bailing out at the first sign of trouble. It forced me to know exactly who I was reading on each play and to make a quick decision, inside the pocket, or I was going to get hit. 

“I am grateful my coach installed that drill early in my career, because even though I may have been able to avoid a lot athletically at that age, there was no question the ability to do that would be over sooner rather than later. If I was going to be successful playing the position, it would have to come with what I processed mentally — not what I was able to avoid physically.” 

The young Kurt Warner probably hated the drill as much as he described, because it showed him he was no longer the “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw”. It informed him that if he was going to succeed at the collegiate level, he was going to have to stay in the pocket and develop instincts. The drill taught him that he would have to figure out what to do when things broke down, without taking off and running. When no receiver was open, he had to learn how to scramble in the pocket effectively, throw the ball away, throw it into a tight window that led the receiver to being open, or take the sack. Most coaches, as Kurt alludes, accidentally begin to rely on their QB’s athleticism as much as the QB does, to get him out of jams.  

“As we can see when we look at [Cam Newton], [he] never had to worry about not being the best athlete on the field,” Kurt wrote. “Where many of us lose that tag in high school or college, [Cam has] been able to sustain it all the way to the NFL.

“Sounds like an incredible blessing, and of course to some degree it is, but it has delayed [his] overall growth and remains the main reason [he might be] struggling at the NFL level now.

“Many [elite athletes playing quarterback] have never been taught how to play the position the way it has to be played against the best athletes in the world. They have always been taught the basics, but then been encouraged when things didn’t look right to “Do what you do.””

I inserted Cam Newton, in place of the examples (RGIII and Colin Kaepernick) Kurt listed to explain his point, to maintain the theme of my article, because I believe everything Kurt writes apply to Cam Newton’s current state. Some might state that the ‘X’ factor in Cam’s decline include the injuries he accumulated over the years, and they played a role, but there was some level of decline before the injuries that sidelined him. We also have to factor Cam’s style of play in the NFL, as the hits a running QB take are largely unsustainable, as evidenced by the short career of RGIII among others.

Somewhere along the way, incredibly gifted athletes, like Cam, RGIII, Kaepernick, Winston, and Mariota needed a coach to teach them how to avoid relying on their athleticism, and it has to happen in the formative years of the Quarterback’s career. Sports analysts suggest that playing quarterback in the NFL might be the hardest position in sports, and it has everything to do with the measurables and the immeasurables.

Kurt’s point is that the idea that an elite athlete’s failure to develop alternatives to their athletic talent is not always the player’s fault. Yet, some of the times it is. We have to think that when “once-in-a-lifetime” talents develop their talent, they also develop quite an ego, and most high school coaches and some college coaches don’t feel qualified enough to tell them what to do. They might try to enhance and adjust the quarterbacks game, but in that difficult adjustment period, the QB had a couple of horrible outings that hurt his stock. Their friends and family then tell them not to listen to the coach, “You do what you do. You be you. Did you see what Michael Vick did to the Vikings? That could be you. The game is changing, and you need to tell your coach that.”    

Like most professional sports, the NFL is comprised of the most talented athletes anyone in their local areas ever saw. Most of us don’t know what that feels like, and we don’t know what we would do or say when a middle-aged coach, who didn’t have one-fifth of our talent, tells us how to play the game. Even fewer of us, the most elite of the elite, would ever know what it’s like to prove that coach wrong, when the NFL drafts us in the first round, or as three of the four listed here, the first or second NFL pick. When these once-in-a-lifetime talents, who were the best athletes anyone ever saw, then run into the extent of their talent, it’s often too late to make any substantial adjustments necessary for a prolonged, successful career in the Not for Long league, we call the NFL.