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Am I dreaming?

My tweet about my singles post from the other day now has the honor of having been retweeted by THE Taylor Dayne.  Yet another brush with celebrity on Twitter, which I swear is the reason that Twitter was invented.

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Taylor Dayne DreamingThat I picked up the “Prove Your Love” 45 this week proved to be interesting timing as Taylor Dayne has a new single out – 26 years after she first hit the big time with “Tell It To My Heart.”  I have to admit that I have not really followed Taylor Dayne’s career very closely over the years. The last full-on Taylor Dayne album that I purchased was Soul Dancing way back in 1993 and honestly, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I had the previous two albums. There were a handful of songs that appealed to me, but I think that production values were changing and what made her first two albums so good was the cheesy 80s production.  After Soul Dancing fell a bit flat – even the kick-off single, a cover of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love”, missed the Top 10 – she spent a lot of time in the intervening 20 years releasing dance singles and becoming a heavily sought after performer at Pride events. And to this, I say good for her because many of her contemporaries would be lucky to get that kind of gig. I would totally go to a Taylor Dayne concert.

The vast majoirty of her material is available on Spotify now, as is her brand spanking new single “Dreaming.” It’s pretty classic Taylor Dayne, very much in the vein of her 80s hits while feeling current as well. It also sports a rather “Cherish”-like video, minus the mer-people. Naturally, I’m kind of infatuated with it.

There’s some argument that if grunge had not been in full force when Dayne released Soul Dancing, her career trajectory would have continued upward. But I have to say, based on her Twitter and Instragram, I’d say she’s pretty satisfied with her life. She has kids, has tried her hand at acting and is still recording. I just hope that she doesn’t get upset when the biggest cheers are for songs that were released 25 years ago. Somehow, I kinda doubt she does.

Still, for my money, my favorite Taylor Dayne song that should have been a hit is still “Original Sin.” Can you imagine a whole album of Taylor Dayne produced by Jim Steinman? A match made in heaven.

Completely unrelated to this post, I did dream last night that I had lung cancer. As Taylor Dayne would say, say it ain’t so!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Music

 

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A bag of singles

I took today off work. It was supposed to be my day off from the weekend, but then I ended up not working the weekend and since they were already planning on me not being there I figured why not just burn some PTO and stay home? Time at home is always good, right? The flip side to this is that I’m kind of in a funk that I can’t shake off (although I think a nap would do me some good.)  Heidi and I were out running a few errands this morning and we drove past Vinyl Cafe and she said “you should go to Vinyl Cafe today!” I pretty much want to go look at records every day, but I was just there about a week ago and didn’t really find anything very thrilling.  Their stock doesn’t turn over that fast so I see a lot of the same stuff over and over again.

But I went anyway. And while they had a few new additions, nothing screamed “buy me!” I even looked through the clearance bins pretty thoroughly today. Nothing. Although one could have a complete Pointer Sisters discography from just the clearance section.

What I did do that I had never done before was look through their 45s. They are a mess – all jammed into long drawers, many of them without sleeves and most of the ones with sleeves are generic record label sleeves and not the pretty color picture sleeves that I like.  The thing about singles is the packaging gets damaged pretty easily since it’s just a paper sleeve and not cardboard. I’m not as picky with those as I am albums because you just can’t really afford to be. Nothing is in very good shape.

Mixed in amongst all the flotsam and jetsam, I did manage to find a few goodies. See below:

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I couldn’t remember if I had “Causing A Commotion” or not, but I picked it up anyway. Turns out I did, but the one I got today was a promo version that is different from the one I already owned. I was super excited to find the Stevie Nicks single as I had never even seen it before, but I got it home and it is somehow warped (although I cannot see the warp) and is unplayable. Sadness. The Taylor Dayne & Cyndi Lauper ones were mostly because I liked the covers, although I really loved “Prove Your Love” back in the day, probably even more than “Tell It To My Heart.”

The whole adventure came in at less than $5, so that’s a win in my book.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Music

 

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Alabama moon

I’m kinda of the opinion that we’re not really far enough away from the 90s to truly do 90s nostalgia right. That certainly doesn’t keep us from trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The trouble for me with 90s nostalgia is that it’s divided straight up down the middle. 1990-1995 were my college years proper defined by and large by the experience of getting an undergraduate degree (pharmacy was a 5 year program at the time). Between 1996 and 1999, it was kind of a free for all and one of the most undefined times of my life, held together only by Heidi’s and my relationship. I frequently say that I kind of lost my 20s to being depressed and anxious, which would imply that it was a complete waste, but as more time passes, I’m able to see the folly of that time. I did have a life, it just may not have been the one I thought I should be having. But my therapist tells me that the word “should” is toxic and is rarely, if ever, about what we want and is more about others want for us.

Amanda_Marshall_coverAnyway, all that preamble is mostly just the long way of saying that I’m listening to one of my most memory filled mid-90s albums this morning – Amanda Marshall’s eponymous debut album. Released in 1996, it would have never even appeared on my radar had it not been for my long-time friend Jeff who bought it and sang its praises. Largely forgotten in 2014, she enjoyed massive success in her native Canada and some mild success here in the U.S, primarily from the single “Birmingham.” Much like Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home”, the protagonist of the song is a victim of domestic abuse, but instead of burning down the house Talking Heads-style, Amanda packs her bags and drives away, trying to figure out what the future holds.

‘Cause there’s another chance and someday soon
Shining like the Alabama moon
She’s looking for her promised land
Out beyond the lights of Birmingham

It also had a pretty great music video to go along with it.


I love how Marshall’s voice can be both subdued and then come on like lion’s roar. I’m also pretty sure that she benefited from Sheryl Crow’s widespread popularity at the time.

So many songs on the album hold so many mid-to-late 90s memories. “Fall From Grace” was the working title of one of Heidi’s first manuscripts. “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” eventually got recorded by LeAnn Rimes which I’m sure filled Marshall’s pockets at least a little bit. And years after I played Marshall’s version into the ground, I discovered that Anne Murray recorded “Trust Me (This is Love).”

Sadly, Marshall has mostly disappeared from the music world – sounds like due to legal troubles with former management. Her second album was a dud, but the 3rd album was pretty decent.  Her Wikipedia page says that a new album is due in 2013, and since that’s come and gone with no album, who knows if we’ll ever have new music from her again. But even if there isn’t, we’ll always have the debut and “Birmingham” which takes me back to my mid 20s like few other albums do.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Music

 

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Smash hit

smash_hit_app_iconWith the thousands of apps in the App Store, you’d think it’d be easy to find a fun game that you can waste your time on. And if you’re me thinking that, you would be wrong.

I don’t know if it’s me, or the games, or a combination of the two, but I can never make a game stick. I play it for a few days and then, I’m all Vampire Willow bored now. I don’t like things that are too hard (i.e. Angry Birds) because I despise doing the same thing over and over again only to never win. Candy Crush hung on for a long time until it was clear that clearing one impossible level only led you to another impossible level. I don’t mind turn-based games, but finding people to play with is sometimes hard. It’s kind of funny that the only game I play with any regularity on my phone is Dice With Buddies. It’s low commitment and low stress and ever since they’ve added achievements to the game, there’s an added level of fun beyond just blindly rolling dice.  I’m not really a Clash of Clans or world-building kind of guy – at least not on my phone because it’s just too damn little.

That said, I stumbled across Smash Hit and it got my attention. How to describe Smash Hit? Well, you’re basically throwing marbles at crystal structures as you travel gently through some other-worldly type of dimension. Yes, it is kind of fun, and yes, it could get old, but what I like about it is the pace. Endless runners like Temple Run, Pitfall and Robot Unicorn Attack are fun, but so often, they go so fast that I can never get very good at them. Smash Hit is just right for my 40-something mobile gaming brain.

 

Trust me, the person playing the game in the trailer is MUCH better than me.

Maybe I’m just getting old or maybe my reflexes aren’t what they used to be. I think my father always said something similar about his reflexes when he played Wolfenstein 3D with against my brother back in the early 90s.  And here I thought he was just making excuses.

Smash Hit is free in the App Store, but it costs a measly $1.99 to upgrade to premium, which allows you to restart from checkpoints, change the difficulty, and keep track of your stats.  I’d say it’s worth your time and your 2 bucks. It may be made by Mediocre, but the game is anything but.

EDIT: I’m thinking that what this game REALLY needs is a Phantasm mod.

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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in games

 

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Summer’s soundtrack

DSC_8879I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks but it just hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons. So today, after sleeping until nearly 10AM in the best sleeping weather we’ve had in months, I figured I better get a post about the songs of my summer done before the ship sails.  It’s been a pretty good summer for music in my estimation, and that’s keeping with my general assessment that 2014 is a much better year for the type of music I like than was 2013. It’s not quite to 2012 levels, but hey, I’ll take it.  Expect to see at least a couple of these on my year-end list.

There Are No Miracles / Bright Light Bright Light
It wouldn’t be a music list of mine if it didn’t include something by Rod Thomas aka Bright Light Bright Light. From his sophomore album, Life Is Easy, “There Are No Miracles” appealed to me right off the bat. An impossible-to-resist Madonna “Get Together” vibe and self-empowering lyrics proves to be a magical combination.

Fancy (feat. Reba McEntire) / Iggy Azalea
I can kind of take or leave the original “Fancy” with Charli XCX, and when someone mashed up Iggy’s “Fancy” with Reba McEntire’s “Fancy”, it quickly became the definitive version for me.  I mostly am in awe at how well the two songs fit together, almost as if that was how it was supposed to be.


A Little More / Eric Hutchison

I enjoyed Eric Hutchison’s first album Sounds Like This, but was very lukewarm to his follow-up, only buying a couple songs from it. His latest album, Pure Fiction, is an improvement and I’ve enjoyed playing “A Little More” in the car with the windows down. When Hutchison gets it right, his music is very hard to resist.

You Don’t Know What To Do / Mariah Carey
The only reason I even give a shit about this song is because of Bright Light Bright Light. When he was interviewed by my friend Steve Sears for Instinct magazine, he mentioned “You Don’t Know What To Do” as being his song of the summer. Well, I had to check it out. It is, without a doubt, the best Mariah song in years even if she did screw it up with a stupid rapper. Hopefully someday there’ll be a version with the rapper excised.

My Silver Lining / First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold is my favorite album of the year so far. It surprises me because there’s not a single dance beat to be found. There’s something about Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg and their take on Americana that I can’t get enough of. “My Silver Lining” was the first thing I heard of theirs back in February or March. I kind of forgot about it but by the time the album got released in June, I was already in the process of rediscovering it. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

I Walk Alone (Dan Slater Mix) / Cher
Earlier in the summer, Cher unexpectedly dropped a huge set of remixes for her song “I Walk Alone.” Although technically from last year, the remixes came out this year so I’m including the best of the bunch on this list, although all 9 (!!) of them more or less work. Cher knows how to work this kind of shit, and these remixes turned on “ok” song into a thing of greatness.

Set Me Free / Leela James
Every time I see the cover of James’ album, I’m all “Oprah released an album?” The album’s a bit of mixed bag, but I do love “Set Me Free” which marries some old-school soul with a dash of Lauryn Hill.

Fine / Kylie Minogue
I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Kiss Me Once, Kylie’s 12th studio album that was released earlier this year. It’s not as good as Aphrodite and better than Body Language. It’s a little bit like Hard Candy by being less than the sum of its parts – I like all the individual songs enough, but when I think about the album, I feel a vague disappointment. That aside, “Fine” is far and away my favorite track from Kiss Me Once. It’s joyous Kylie and one of the few songs on the album that would be worthy of Aphrodite.

Restart / Sam Smith
Oh, how I’ve resisted Sam Smith. I think it’s the uber-earnestness of “Stay With Me” that turned me off initially. His music is a lot like Adele’s in that I recognize it as being quality music, but damn, it’s just so much WORK. That said, apparently when he kicks the tempo up a bit, then I sit up and take notice.

The Trailer Song / Kacey Musgraves
I’m glad that Kacey Musgraves is getting some notice finally. She’s made appearances on my year-end best-of list for the last two years, and I’m sure that 2014 will be no different with “The Trailer Song.” Somehow both current and retro, it’s Musgraves at her best and proves that she is the real deal. Just wish she had not cancelled her Ames concert last October!

And as usual, here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs – save the Reba/Iggy version of “Fancy” as it’s not officially released. I put the regular version of “Fancy” on there just so that it was represented.

 

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Music

 

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Straddling the seasons

MI0003718298Every now and again, I hear a song in the summer that makes me think of fall or winter.  Occasionally it’s vice versa, but mostly, it ends up being a song that has a chill running through it that really makes me pine for the crisp, cool days of October.  But the rarest bird of them all is the song that evokes the end of summer and the beginning of fall – a song that straddles the season, so-to-speak.  Well, I think I’ve found one in The Secret Sisters’ “Rattle My Bones.”

I discovered “Rattle My Bones” on an Americana Spotify playlist – one that also featured First Aid Kit, a fact that made me laugh considering First Aid Kit is made up of two Swedish sisters.  I don’t know much about them, but I was instantly drawn to the hooky chorus and the two part female harmony.  It has a fun summer vibe, but as is true with most Americana type music, it has a bit of a chill to it as well. They also filmed a cute video for the song which is a rarity nowadays.

I bought “Rattle My Bones” tonight and have been giving their album a try on Spotify to see if it sticks.  So far so good, although not all of it is for me.  Another standout is “Iuka” as in Iuka, Mississippi.  And here I thought it was going to be a cover of a Suzanne Vega song.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Music

 

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Be good to yourself

There have been a boatload of words written about Robin Williams this week.  I have to say that I was only a casual fan of Williams’ work – he was frequently too frenetic and intense for me to really appreciate – but I was still saddened by his death. The thing that impressed me the most this week was how Twitter really served as a communal grief center. It seemed that this particular celebrity death hit many people very, very hard.  This was undoubtedly compounded by the fact that Williams died by his own hand.  How do we reconcile the funny man that everyone saw with the act of suicide?  It’s tough, but not so tough when you think about it.

Williams’ death has also brought an amazing number people out of the mental health closet.  The famous and the not-so-famous are all writing their own bits on dealing with mental illness of many different types.  Not surprisingly, depression has been the most common one that I’ve seen written about.  My wife wrote this piece on her blog in the immediate aftermath of Williams’ death and mentioned me  in it, as well as our daughter.  After years of hiding it and not wanting to admit to it, I now make no secret about my struggles with depression and anxiety throughout most of my life.  The benefit of hindsight has led me to realize that depression was really a minor component, the bigger culprit being a crippling anxiety that left me believing every thought that came through my head.  Admittedly, depression and anxiety are a bit yin and yang, can’t have one without the other, so it’s hard to separate them. I spent years trying to change my brain, trying to reprogram it to not do that any more.  I have seen multiple therapists throughout the years, almost all of whom were convinced that I could be fixed if only I could correct my errors in thinking.  Even my wife tried to fix me early in our marriage, only to realize that she was as powerless as all those therapists were.

Well, as those of you who know me well know, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that all thoughts and feelings are errors.  They can’t be trusted.  Feelings aren’t facts.  Emotions are just emotions – they aren’t right or wrong. They are not things to feel shame over.  You can’t even trust the good feelings because, being feelings, they still aren’t facts, regardless of how much we want them to be.  The trick lies in how we react to those feelings that are going to come no matter how hard we try.  I spent the first 30+ years of my life completely fused with my thoughts and feelings, and it took a self described “old, Jewish, hippie” therapist to finally help me realize that.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  One of my common refrains comes from the end of Stevie Nicks’ song “Bella Donna”it’s just a feeling.

But there’s more to it than that.  You can recognize that feelings aren’t facts and you can work actively (because it does take actual WORK) to not fuse with them.  But there’s one more part, and it definitely crossed my mind when I thought about Williams’ suicide.  You have to be good to yourself.  It really made me wonder if Williams had been being good to himself in the last weeks of his life.  I have no way of knowing this, but since this is the thing that I’m actively working on right now, it naturally crossed my mind.  Historically, I have been quite bad at being good to myself. When my brain wasn’t filled with negative self-talk fueling anxious feelings that I fused with to create more negative self-talk, I was mostly too tired to make sure that I was taking care of me.  Many times, I wanted other people to do it and while that’s nice and all, it really isn’t all that helpful.  Because you see, I’ve found that only when you are good to yourself does it really count.  Anything else is just a hit of the affirmation drug that just leads you heading back for a bigger hit a day later because you can’t hang on to what you go the day before.  It’s the only type that I can truly count on – it’s not subject to anyone else.

That doesn’t mean others can’t help – my wife is a terrible wonderful enabler.  Case in point – when she was in the hospital following her recent hysterectomy, I ran all over kingdom come attending to her every need.  I knew that this would happen because hello, she just had surgery. I brought her gluten free breakfast when the hospital’s choices were less than stellar.  I grocery shopped pretty much every day catering to whatever whim she might have.  I slept on the pull out bed in her hospital room both nights so that she didn’t have to be there alone.

During this whole time, I was pining for this unofficial clear vinyl of the Madonna album, True Blue.  I couldn’t justify it because it was something like 90 bucks and that was a lot of money to spend on a record (never mind I spent almost double on that on a vinyl copy of The Immaculate Collection.)  From her hospital bed the day after surgery, Heidi pretty much ordered me to buy it.  I was headed to a therapy appointment that morning (my new therapist, not the old, Jewish hippie) and he’s been really holding my feet to the fire as far as self-care goes.  As soon as I left the appointment, I went home and ordered the album.  I recognized that it was important to me taking care of myself and if I am not taking care of myself, I was going to be in no position to be taking care of my wife as she recovered from major abdominal surgery.

It doesn’t have to be $90 records though.  Self-care for me is as simple as recognizing my limitations and not overpromising.  It is not overfunctioning in my job to try to lessen my anxiety.  It is getting ready just a little bit earlier in the morning so I can sit in my chair in my office and listen to one side of a record before I head out to work. It’s making sure I sleep when I need to.  Basically, self-care are all the things that I need to do to make sure that I have what it takes to keep fighting the onslaught of feelings that demand to be taken as facts, even when we know they aren’t.  When I don’t do well with self-care (working overnights is a time that I tend to not take very good care of myself is all I do is sleep, eat and go to work), I don’t do well in general.  It’s not selfish.  Being good to myself makes me a more present member of my family, a more active father and husband, a better employee and an overall better person.  When I am not good to myself, I generally deteriorate into an anxious, neurotic version of myself, doubting everything and everyone.  It makes me hypervigilant which is exhausting because half the things I’m hypervigilant about have next to zero chance of happening anyway.

This has been the next step for me in dealing with my own inner demons.  Figuring out that feelings aren’t facts was a game-changer in my life.  Realizing that being good to yourself was not selfish but essential for good mental health was also a revelation.  My next move is to work on sitting with anxiety and not automatically trying to fix it by using some coping mechanism that, at best, only partially works – overfunctioning in particular.

Like I said, I have no idea the specifics of what Williams was going through at the end of his life.  Maybe my way of dealing with things wouldn’t have worked for him.  But I know that at my most anxious, I have believed every thought my brain offered up as if it were Gospel and was not doing a good job of making sure my needs were met.  And sometimes, even when we know that’s what we should be doing, we lack the wherewithal to do it.  As my former therapist always said, when we’re tired, lonely, scared or hungry we don’t always make the best decisions.  And suicide is the ultimate in a bad decision – one that thankfully I have never really been close to, but I can see how someone could get to that point better than some.

So my advice to everyone today – be good to yourself.  It doesn’t have to look like this, but for me, it doesn’t hurt.

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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Serious thoughts

 

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