Distant, Disengaged, and Detached Parents


Why does it sicken Adrienne so much when we attend to our child’s injuries after an accident? I don’t get it. Are we overreacting, as she says? I don’t know. She seems pretty convinced that we are, and when I disagree with her, in the most polite and respectful ways, she becomes visibly agitated. She takes it personal. You can see it in her face. I understand what she’s saying. I’ve seen parents overreact. I think we all have, and it makes us sick too when we seek a parent overreact to a kid who cries out for no reason. We know when they’re not truly hurt. We know when they’re crying out for attention, and some of the times, their parents give it to them. Some of the times, we give such unwarranted attention to our child. No harm, no foul right? Well, she acts as if this is a violation of nature. There are other accidents. We know those too. Those that call for a special kind of TLC that only a mother can provide. She berates me on those occasions too. “It’s just not good for the kid to do that,” she says, “and he’ll never learn if you don’t teach him how to deal with it himself. You know what the kid’s doing, and yet, you still go so far overboard. You’re coddling the boy.”  

We know that there are extremes in both situations. We know it’s vital for their growth that our child learns to be self-sufficient, and we employ tough love on a case-by-case basis, but how often are we supposed to reinforce these measures? We know we shouldn’t cater to his every need and whim and that it’s not good for the kid when we do, but it disgusts Adrienne so much when she witnesses us console him that she can’t hide it. Why does it sicken her so much, and why is it so important her that we do nothing when our child gets hurt?   

Most childhood accidents are relatively benign, but some of the times those harmless incidents shock and scare kids. Proponents of tough love, such as Adrienne, don’t see that in the moment. Perhaps, the kids fear that they’re hurt more than they really were. They’re kids. They don’t know any better. She doesn’t see that either. She just sees a kid blubbering and a parent smothering. She thinks that if we employ tough love often he will learn what he doesn’t know any better. She thinks we need to let him cry it out of his system, and she suggests that we “Rub some dirt on it. It will better for him in the long run.” There are arguments to on both sides, but if we’re to follow her advice how far do we take it?

“Our parents employed tough love whenever we were injured,” Adrienne says, “and look how we turned out. I just think most parents coddle kids too much in the modern era. No one sprinted to our rescue, when we were kids, and we turned out just fine, and so did our kids and their kids.”

Adrienne has far more experience in parenting than we do, so our natural inclination is to cede to her knowledge on this matter, but who is Adrienne. Who informed her ideas on parenting. She would be the first to admit that her parents didn’t know how to love. “They were dirt poor, and they probably had too many kids, but they loved us the best way they knew how,” she said. When she went out on her own, she made the mistake of marrying a man she now admits was a person who “didn’t know the first thing about love”. She was young, too young to know any better. She probably married a man who reminded her of a father “who didn’t know how to love”. We all make mistakes when we’re young and we could chalk her first marriage up as mistake of youth, but how did it affect the kids she had with the man? Her first daughter entered into a loveless marriage, but she was young and she made the same mistake Adrienne did. Why did she make that same mistake? Was it a cyclical mistake? Now that we’ve met most of Adrienne’s children and grandchildren, we know that they’re all good people. They appear, at first glance, to be the type of children and grandchildren we all want. Everyone from the matriarch of the family, Adrienne, to the youngest grandchild, appears to be nice and well mannered. It’s obvious that she taught her kids how to raise their kids to be pleasant and respectful people, but if we spend time getting to know them, we notice that they all have a certain detached quality about them. They’re all successful in their own right, and they know how to be on their own, which is a quality all parents should strive for in their children, but they’re not exactly warm, inviting people. They’re reserved, detached, and they don’t accept outsiders well.

Tough love is such a vague term. We can employ it on a case-by-case basis, but we can overdo it. We can use it so often that we accidentally slip into some realm of ambivalence to our kids’ injuries, and we can do it so often that we slip into some level of emotional detachment? Is it possible that such progressions could serve to harm the child’s adult relationships, later in life? If we fail to react to his small accidents and accidentally begin to ignore his larger accidents too, our children will be disappointed. They’ll adapt and all that, and they might develop tough skin, but they could also develop some problems with attachments and love as an adult? Our initial instinct is to laugh that off as a dramatic example, but the human being is so complex and varied that there is no one-size-fits-all guide to parenting. Could our child develop such a thick skin that he develops personality disorders that lead to unusual levels of selfishness? When a child doesn’t receive the kind of attention from their parents that they need, some adjust and adapt to it wonderfully, and they become more independent and everything the tough love proponents profess, but others seek refuge in the form of substance abuse to mask that pain. We can say that Adrienne’s generation was tougher that we are, but how many of them became alcoholics to swallow the pain they could never communicate properly?

“No matter what you do, you’re going to mess up as a parent, we all do, and the kid will have to deal with the ramifications of your mistakes, but they’ll probably be in the same exact place, at around age 35, whether you were the best parent who ever existed or the worst. The trick is to prepare them for the years between 18 and 35, and the best way to do that is with tough love.”    

Those of us who had parents who intended to employ touch love measures and probably took it too far now find it difficult to watch those movies, or TV shows, that depict parents who don’t care about their kids. With the full power of honest reflection, those of us with an adult, rational mind know that our parents cared about us, but something about the depiction of emotionally detached parents still affects us so much that we can’t watch. The art of comedy involves breaking taboos, and at this point, there aren’t many left to exploit, so the exaggerated jokes about parents not caring about their kids is one of the few left. This situational story line is not new though, as there were shows, movies, and various other productions in the 70’s that depicted narcissist parents who wouldn’t make time for their kids. The kids were the main characters of these productions, as the parents floated in and out of their lives, and the thrust of these pieces involved how children learn to adapt. The children in these pieces would say heartwarming things like, “Our mother was a wandering soul who couldn’t stay in one place for long. We knew her, and we knew she loved us in her own way, but we had to learn how to love her [on her terms].” These productions never portrayed such parents as selfish narcissists, and their perspective was invariably favorable to the mother. They painted her as a strong woman who considered the term mother stifling. We were too young at the time to ask the question, “Why did she have them then?” but that question wasn’t too far away. Most of these concepts were too complex for us, but the portrait they painted in these productions left us with a pit in our stomach, and we often just changed the channel. We didn’t know the details regarding why we considered this such a painfully flawed model, but our exaggerated reaction to it should’ve told us more than we wanted to know about our situation.

Our exaggerated reactions to our parents’ emotionally detached ideas on child rearing might also result in our exaggerated reactions to our child’s accidents. Those of us who cater to our children too much might be trying to rectify the problems of our past, and we might be trying to break the loveless cycle.

Kids learn the nature of their world at a very young age, and the imprint their parents provide often shapes their worldview in an almost irreversible manner. They have a wonderful ability to adapt to the changes that occur in the home, but that imprint often remains. They also gravitate to the notions people have regarding their characteristics. If they’re pretty when they’re young, for example, they gravitate to that notion. Similarly, if they’re funny, smart, strong, athletic, etc. they develop a passion for the pursuits that call for those attributes. In this sense, we could say that passion is almost exclusive to the young for they don’t know better than to invest emotions in something otherwise consider unattainable by more experienced adults. The pain involved in learning limitations is also the province of the young, for nothing hurts worse than discovering limitations for the first time. “You’re pretty,” the guardians at the gate say, “but you’re not that pretty.”

We all learn our limitations, at some point, and we adjust. We learn our limitations when that employer says we’re not smart enough, when our peers say we’re not as funny as we thought, or when a woman says we’re not so handsome that they will date us. We might adapt and adjust by choosing a different pursuit, or a different profession, but we never have the same amount of passion for our adjusted pursuit as we do the dream we pursued in youth when we fantasized about what we might become. On that note, we could say that when a child cries out for attention, as opposed to pain, they are passionately seeking the extent of their parents’ unconditional love, and if the parents fail to respond, the children will adapt, but they might never pursue love again with the same passion. That might prepare them for the ways of the world, but it will also leave an almost irreversible imprint.

In debates such as these, we often reach an impasse. One of the two parties might say, “Can we agree to disagree on this matter?” Proponents of tough love might even say yes, at first, and they might try to move on, but they can’t drop it. It sickens them too much to see parents climb all over themselves to react to a child’s obvious cries for attention to remain silent in the face of it. They cannot hide it, and they keep coming back to it.

Why does this make me so angry?” I asked myself while witnessing a parent fall all over herself to run to the aid of her child. I never considered that question before was the first thing I realized. I was so convinced that my dad, Adrienne, and all proponents of tough love were right that I never considered the ramifications of overdoing it before. I considered the ‘smothering’ reactions to benign accidents such a violation of everything I knew that I considered it a limited ‘I’m right, they’re wrong’ debate, and I still do to some degree, but I never explored why seeing egregious violations makes me so angry before. The answer to that question is that some of the times these impulsive reactions are so impossibly complex that we don’t even bother searching for them. Another answer that calls upon Occam’s razor, suggests that some of the times the answer is so simple that it gets lost in our search for complexities. The answer also has something to do with the idea that when we get so angry over something so trivial that we’re all but baring our teeth is that it might involve some deep-seeded begrudged feelings and psychological underpinnings. The simple answer might also have something to do with the idea that when we were involved in accidents no one ran to our aid. We remember how everyone probably employed tough love a little too often, and while we concede that we might’ve been drama queens, it hurt our feelings when they left us alone, in the middle of the park, crying. Some of the times, the answer is so simplistic that it can’t possibly be true, but when we think about how bent out of shape we, otherwise reasonable people get on this issue, we realize that we might just be jealous.   

The Complex Art of Lying


Most seven-year-olds are barely capable of lying, and their “tells” are often so obvious when they do that they’re hilarious. They need to learn how to do it better, and that knowledge only comes with experience. A Scientific American piece by Theodor Schaarchmidt suggests that lying is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind, and the complexities involved often require peak capacity of the mind. Those with some frontal cortex injuries are incapable of lying, due to their injuries. The young aren’t yet capable of lying with great proficiency, and “Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability.” When elderly people display the fact that they’ve lost some of the complex functions required to lie, we make the mistake of believing they voluntarily disregard the filter we all maintain for polite conversations. “They’ve been on this earth 85 years, and they don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” we say. “They’re done with trying to spare our feelings.” We think it’s funny and intriguing to see this live, but studies cited by Schaarchmidt suggest that there is a U-shaped curve to truth telling, or an ‘n’ shaped curve to lying, and it’s all based on the complex functions of the brain that operate in some of the same peaks and valleys of our physical abilities.

The Scientific American piece also cites an illustrative story involving a man Schaarchmidt names Mr. Pinocchio. Mr. Pinocchio was a 51-year-old who “was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth [lying]. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous it was bad for his career.” The article states that doctors found that a walnut-sized tumor caused seizures whenever he told a lie. “Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties [his lying]. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome”.”

Some lie to advance an agenda, some tell white lies to be nice, and some BS to make others think they’re more successful, more adventurous, and happier. If we catch them in the lie, we’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Everybody does it,” or “if you say you don’t do it, you’re lying.” Those lines are effective, because there is some truth to them. We all tell harmless white lies occasionally. We fabricate, and involve some creativity in our truth telling. Yet, we all know the difference between stretching the truth and lying, and we fear that greater acceptance of small, white lies can affect our relationships with these people, our society, or our culture. The latter might seem like exaggerated hyperbole, but we fear that the society and culture cannot operate properly without some demand for some level of consistent honesty from our fellow man. We can’t help but think that such lines also give liars license to continue to lie without guilt.

***

“A lie is not a lie if you believe it,” the writers from Seinfeld wrote for George Costanza. The implication in this line is that the art of deception requires some effort on the part of the liar to convince himself of a falsehood if he wants to convince another party effectively. Schaarchmidt’s piece suggests that if the liar is between 18 and 29, they might not have to put forth as much effort, as the lie will flow more fluently, if there is no damage to the area of the brain required for the convincing lie.

Who’s lying, and why are they lying? How about we take the Costanza lie one step further and suggest that the liar believes what he’s saying with every fiber of their being. Is it still a lie? The separation of the two is, of course, that the liar doesn’t have to convince himself of the lie. He believes it. Even if it was technically a lie and we can prove its lack of merit beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be difficult to prosecute or persecute them in just about every court in the land, including the court of public opinion.

Perhaps, the liar is guilty of the “blind spot” lie. Blind spot lies are often momentary blotches on the liar’s otherwise stellar record of honesty. Yet, they loathe their adversaries so much that their competitive spirit gets the best of them. They cannot see the hole until they fall into it, and some of them cannot see even see it then, but their followers wonder if he hates them so much that he can no longer see the truth with regard to their opponent. If he can see it for what it is, the blind spot lie often permits its purveyor to lie without compunction if it serves his goal to do so.  

Regardless, he can no longer view simple disagreements with his opponents on how to resolve pressing matters in a nonpartisan manner. He can no longer see an honest disagreement as a simple case of differing values. We don’t know if he has a personal grudge or a professional one, but it’s obvious to everyone but him that his is an emotional pursuit as opposed to a rational one. He is convinced that nefarious influences affect his opponent’s agenda. He views his opponents’ motives as impure. He views his opponents as uninformed, incompetent, selfish, and divisive. He does not view any of his opponents’ mistakes as genuine, of if he does, he capitalizes on them and characterizes them as intentional. He does not think that his opponents are prone to human failure, or if they are, he seeks to characterize them as some sort of institutional failing on their part. In his quest to seek motive, he incidentally accuses them of matters for which he has the most guilt. If he accuses his opponent of thievery, in other words, chances are he knows the thief’s mentality™ better than most. Whatever form of deception lines his accusation, pay careful attention to the particulars of his charge for it might say more about him than it does his opponent. We call this psychological projection.

This blind spot is most disheartening to the liar’s believers, for they believe in him and feel disillusioned by his actions. When they see him dismiss his opponents on a personal level with unfounded charges and names, as opposed to defeating their argument on a granular level, his followers are disappointed. We might enjoy the name-calling, and we might even believe it, but on some other level, we thought “our guy” was above such street games. We thought he was an intellectual that no other intellectual would dare battle until he decided to use his power to shut his opponents down to shut them up. He then called upon others to help him shut down dissenting voices, and it shocked those of us who thought he was a fellow dissenting voice. We didn’t think he would stoop to the other guys’ tactics of corruption, lies, and the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to bring his foes down, but we find some of his actions troublesome. Some blind spot liars knowingly engage in wanton deception, but others have such an emotional blind spot of hatred that they can’t see it for what it is. Most of the times, it is difficult to see the difference, as we can’t know what’s in a man’s heart.

***

The late 1800’s housed an historic rivalry between two West Virginia families. The Hatfields vs McCoy rivalry went beyond a simple disagreement between families. It involved pure hatred that led to murder in some cases. Many consider it one of the greatest family rivalries in history, pitting two families who genuinely hated each other with every fiber of their being. It was not blind hatred, as both families could provide a laundry list of incidents that stoked their ire. As with all animosity and grudges, if the families wanted to find a less violent solution to their dispute they could have at some point on the timeline.  

The Hatfields believed the McCoys were so awful that they accused them of dastardly deeds and vice versa. Some of the times, the charges they made were lies, and some of the times, they committed an equally egregious offense sometime in the past. Yet, the Hatfields viewed the McCoys as evil personified, and they thought everything the McCoys did should offend the sensibilities of every good person who learns of any incidents involving a McCoy, and vice versa. Even if we caught them in a lie, I’m sure they considered it justified on many different levels.

Some famous writers suggest that it’s preposterous to suggest that the most fair-minded among us are objective, as we don’t have the capacity for it. Our opinions, regarding the other side, are so emotional that they colorize how we view their actions. Our emotions, on the matter, blind us to facts, thus the term blind spot. The term blind spot and blind hatred are different, of course, but they intertwine when the latter provokes the former to view the other side as villains who are incapable of truth. We write pieces like this with a certain person in mind, but we run the risk of having a reader read this piece with one of “our guys” in mind.   

We choose sides. Those who follow sports, religion, politics, and the history of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys choose their guys vs. the other guys. Our side is right, and the other side contains villainous liars and corrupt cheats who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. They don’t care about us. We can guess that disinterested parties chose sides during the Hatfields vs. McCoys and proceeded to follow the newspaper stories from their side. They probably developed loyalties that led to their own blind spots on the matter. Even though most of them never met a Hatfield or a McCoy, or ever saw one speak, we can guess that their interest in the story spawned some loyalties on the matter that let them to believe “their guys” were incapable of having blind spots, lying, or any form of corruption bent on destroying the other side. We still have matters that divide us in seemingly trivial ways, as observers around the nation were intrigued, and divided, by this episode in history. We might never know the truth of the matter and in some ways, we don’t care. These episodes rarely affect us directly, so no one really suffers, until it dawns on us that everyone does when it becomes apparent that by picking sides we forego the quest for truth.

 

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 who are lucky enough to make it to old 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. The aging process rarely hits us in an “Oh, my God I’m (fill in the age here)!” one day in the mirror. Aging is more of a gradual process that hits us in tiny, little, and seemingly insignificant hits, every day. We fell on a Tuesday doing something we’ve done our whole lives. We tripped trying to skip a stair on a Wednesday, and we’ve skipped a stair since our legs grew long enough (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.” It’s considered inappropriate years later, and then it morphs 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 informs us that we should know better. 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 a fall, and they’re not there to point and laugh. They’re there, because they’re concerned. You know you’re old when you feel them ask you to refrain from such activities in the future. You know you’re old when no one laughs about it later, even behind your back. People didn’t laugh when we fell when we were very young, and it’s now come full circle back on us. People aren’t laughing. They’re concerned. It’s humiliating. The science of their silence involves a calculation of our age and the impact of your 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 instructed one another.

You know you’re old when you’ve become the subject of group concern, and the group addresses the subject of their concern in the third person, as if to suggest that they’ll take care of this going forward, because it’s obvious that we can’t anymore. They addressed us in the third person when we were young, implying that some authority figure in our life should’ve seen to it that that didn’t happen. Everything in between involved laughter, directed at us in the first person, because 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 these people care about us, but that fades when we realize their resolutions mirror those family members make when our loved ones reached a point when they were 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 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 provocative definition of my athletic ability. When it came time to catch the ball, I followed the same pattern. 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 the game for what it was, 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 II, 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 faculties 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 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 at one point. 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, and he did so right under me. To avoid taking him out, I had to adjust. (Mental note III, my ability to adjust on the fly has receded.) I tripped over his feet. (Mental Note IV: Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we sprint.) Been there, done that. (Mental note V, 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.) Hitting the ground was humiliating, and I thought the people surrounding me with looks of concern was the peak of my humiliation, until my nephew called me to apologize for getting me so worked that I almost ended up impaled on a car.