Future plans

2016 is nearly a memory, and as someone on Twitter said, I’m never drinking a bottle of 2016 anything. It’s easy to focus on the bad (mostly because there was a lot of it), but it wasn’t all bad and really, years are just a human construct. When we cross into 2017, celebrities will continue to die, and things may or may not continue to suck. I believe that we have a lot of power over whether or not things suck in our life – sometimes I am not the greatest at remembering that – so here’s a handful of things that I have planned for 2017. Not resolutions per se, but just things I’d like to see happen in the next 12 months.

1 – Lose weight.
Isn’t this on everyone’s list? I started the year at 242 pounds – my heaviest weight ever, and I’m poised to end the year at around the same. This, despite losing 20 pounds earlier this year. It’s funny to look at my FitBit weight tracker. You can see the exact moment that my depression and anxiety took over and I decided I had no fucks to give about my weight. I feel like I would be happy with an early goal of having a BMI of less than 30, which puts me into the merely overweight category vs. the obese category I’m in now. I only need to get to 233 pounds to get a BMI of 29.9.  My secondary goal is to weight less than 100kg (220 pounds.)  That’s kind of a psychological goal and a pretty random one at that, and I know that I won’t get there overnight. Ultimately, by this time next year, I’d like to be 200 pounds, but that requires me to lose 47 pounds in the next 365 days and frankly, that seems very overwhelming and impossible, which is why I have set those two intermediate goals.

2 – Read more, internet less
I set a goal on Goodreads to read 25 books this year. I will probably hit 24 which isn’t too shabby, but I know I spend a lot of time mindlessly loading web pages when I could be reading or frankly, even getting story from watching TV.  There was a Reddit post the other day that asked people that quit Facebook what their tipping point was. While I don’t think I could ever quit social media (how many people dramatically say they’re “quitting Facebook” only to re-emerge 48 hours later?), I know I could cut back on it. Frankly, it’d probably be better for my mental health which hasn’t been the greatest this year. I have lots of books in my to-be-read pile, so I really have no excuse other than my own laziness and desire to just sit at the computer waiting for something to happen. I‘m going to set a goal of reading 30 books this  year just to motivate myself a little bit more when I find myself reloading the same pages over and over and over again.

3 – Worry less about stuff I can’t control
This has been something that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember, but with a corrupt manchild about to become the president, I’m going to have to REALLY get good at it. I know the strategies, I just have to put them into play. For starters, I’m going to focus exclusively on things that are in my sphere of control. Everything else is just wasted energy. It might seem selfish, but I’m going to work harder at putting my own interests first because I have that balance all out of whack. I pour way too much of myself into other people and then have nothing left for me, which leaves me with nothing for other people. I am an empathetic person who plugs into the emotions of others quite a bit, and I have to be more cognizant about just how much I’m plugging into it. Radical self-acceptance and self-care is going to carry me through.

4 – Learn a new skill
I don’t know what it will be yet, but I think it’s going to be knitting. Not the manliest of skills, but I want to learn how to make socks. Now, I realize that I have to learn the basics before I ever get to the complexity of socks, but you gotta start somewhere. Fortunately, Heidi knows how so she could get me started.  I’ve also always wanted to learn to play the guitar, but I don’t know that I ever will. I’ve been saying it for as long as I can remember and I have never done it. I don’t even know how to tune a guitar (although I’m sure there’s a YouTube video that could show me.) So we’ll see.  Maybe my Instagram will be filled with knitted creations or I’ll become that guy at a camp out that can almost play the guitar. Wait, who am I kidding, I’m never going to go on a camp out!

I think that’s it for now.  I’ll feel free to add and remove things from this list, but really, all these things on this list are things I need to do. At least I don’t have to add “drink less” to this list because I already barely drink as it is (the holidays have proven to be a notable exception to this, but back on the wagon starting today.)

 

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Dan’s 20 Favorite Songs of 2016: The Second 10

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RCVR (featuring Debbie Gibson) / Big Black Delta
I know next to nothing about Big Black Delta, but boy do I know plenty about the featured vocalist, Debbie Gibson. I met her this summer at Des Moines Pride and she signed my Out of the Blue vinyl (which, admittedly, I only acquired a couple years ago, but I had the tape back in the day!)  She seemed genuinely happy when I told her I liked this song. Perhaps the best (and only) use of the word “incommunicado” in a song this year.

Cheap Thrills / Sia
The second of two songs on this list that I really should be sick of by now, but for some reason, I’m not. I think it’s the rhyme of “bills” and “thrills” along with the smooth and lyrically clever verses that keep me coming back for more even though I should have hit saturation with this in August.

U-Turn / Tegan & Sara
Far and away my favorite song off of Tegan & Sara’s Love You To Death album, it grabbed me from the get go. Actually, I liked the album more than I did their previous effort, Heartthrob, which was definitely a minority opinion amongst my musically obsessed friends. Still, I really loved it and “U-Turn” is hands down my favorite song on the album.

Used To Love You / Gwen Stefani
If Stefani’s album This Is What The Truth Feels Like is the ultimate divorce album, “Used To Love You” is the ultimate divorce song. Having never been through a divorce, I can only imagine that the sentiments expressed in the song are exactly what many divorced couples feel.

I’ve Been Everywhere (Live at the Grand Old Opry) / Kacey Musgraves
This is technically a cheat because Musgraves performed this at the Grand Old Opry in 2015, but she also did an impromptu performance of it when I saw her live in May of this year. I made an mp3 rip of the YouTube audio and it has been in heavy rotation all year, so it seemed wrong to leave this ode to everyplace in America off the list because of a technicality.

What’s It Gonna Be / Shura
Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” is probably my favorite song of the year, if not, it was definitely my favorite song of the summer. She’s also the only artist with two songs on this year’s top 20. It was accompanied by a perfect music video that was straight out of 80s John Hughes films with a modern day twist at the end. It left me with all the feels. Oh what the hell, let’s just watch it.

We Of Me / Suzanne Vega
I wasn’t really expecting a new Suzanne Vega album this year, and it was a bit off her beaten track. Over the years, I have really grown to love Vega’s music and she remains one of the few people left on my “must-see-live” bucket list. “We Of Me” is probably the most Suzanne Vega song on the album and I can’t help but think it’s about a polyamorous relationship. (Full disclosure: it might be, because I have no idea what she’s referring to in the song.)

Girl Next Door / Brandy Clark
Brandy Clark writes smart country music which means she barely gets played on the radio. The album that “Girl Next Door” comes from is up for a Grammy though, so all is not lost. Clark sings about how she is not a Barbie doll frying up her man’s bacon, nor is she Marcia Brady. As the bad girl that the guys seem to want but never want to marry, she weaves a believable narrative set to a driving country beat.

Faint Of Heart / The Strike
I know nothing about The Strike, other than “Faint Of Heart” could have been popular 30 years ago when I was in high school. I think Heidi sent this song to me, or it might have been on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, but regardless, it was a late summer/early fall favorite that beat out some other better known artists for a spot on this list (see: Dolly Parton who had a full album of tracks that could have made this list.)

Where Is The Heartache / Bright Light Bright Light
Perrenial favorite Bright Light Bright Light (aka Rod Thomas) rounds out this year’s list with a track from his fantastic Choreography album – an album whose cover was a not-so-subtle nod to bi-pride. Chock full of guest stars like Elton John, Jake Shears and Ana Matronic, it was this simple and straightforward melancholy dance track that grabbed my attention. Because after all, as Diane Birch says, what’s a disco song but a sad song set to a dance beat?

Here’s a Spotify playlist that contains all the tracks except for “I’ve Been Everywhere.” If you’d like a CD copy, hit me up.

 

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Dan’s 20 Favorite Songs of 2016: The First 10

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As MAD Magazine might say, here we go again with another ridiculous list of Dan’s 20 favorite songs of the year. Can we just all agree that 2016 really blew chunks? How many people did we lose, how many tragic things happened and that’s not even mentioning the presidential election! Fortunately, the music was pretty kickass this year by and large.  Anyway, I figured now’s as good a time as any to start with the first 10 songs of my 20 favorite songs of the year. Reminder: These are in no particular order other than the order that they will be on my year-end CD, of which many of you will be recipients.  So as Kylie would say, let’s get to it.

Absolutely / Ra Ra Riot
Every year, I cull this list from a list I keep all year long of songs that get my attention. “Absolutely” was added to that list on January 2, 2016. At the time, it seemed like anything was possibly in 2016. Little did we realize that the anything that was possible was not anything we would want. Still, I love that “Absolutely” survived almost the entire year to land on the year-end list.

Can’t Stop The Feeling / Justin Timberlake
By rights, I should be so burned out of this song from radio overplay at work. Somehow, I remain charmed by it all these months later. I’ll admit that I resisted this song at first, but eventually succumbed to its wily charms. I would have never predicted that out of all the boy bands of the late 90s/early 00s, Justin Timberlake would be the one that went on to bigger and better things – one of those things apparently being to just dance, dance, dance.

Love Like That / Mayer Hawthorne
On “Love Like That”, Mayer Hawthorne takes a scoop of Hall & Oates and a helping of Steely Dan and comes up with a winner. A highlight from his good-but-not-great Man About Town album, I knew the second I heard this song that I would be writing about it on the year-end list come December.

Friend Ship / The Candle Thieves
There wasn’t even supposed to be another Candle Thieves album after 2014’s All’s Well That Ends Well, but I’m really glad that there was. Those of you that know me well know that “Friend Ship” was a song that I was going to naturally gravitate toward. It came out during a time when I was cultivating a new friendship and I couldn’t help but notice how well the lyrics summarized how I feel about friendship. “Let’s just be friends ’cause I want nothing more/But if you want to stick around, then climb on board.”

Something Tamed Something Wild / Mary Chapin Carpenter
There was a lot riding on Chapin’s new album. I had been lukewarm to her last couple albums. Her live show that I saw in 2015, while good, underwhelmed me because of its emphasis on slow songs – even slowing down barn burners like “Passionate Kisses.” But the instant I heard “Something Tamed Something Wild” I knew that it was going to be ok. A nice little mid tempo track that is in the vein of classic Chapin, it became my most played track of the year according to last.fm.

Nothing’s Real / Shura
The first of two appearances by English singer Shura, “Nothing’s Real” kicks off her album of the same name with a bang. The song was written about a panic attack that she had, and she sings about her heartbeat inside a TV screen (EKG) and how she needs medicine, only to be told that “nothing’s real.” I’d argue that the feelings in a panic attack are real but not true, but this is a fun list of songs, not a heavy post about how feelings aren’t facts.

Higher / Carly Rae Jepsen
Arriving with almost no fanfare at the end of summer, Carly Rae Jepsen’s EP, Emotion Side B, is as close as you can get to an aural antidepressant. Frankly, it’s probably more effective than most of the ones you can buy at the pharmacy. “Higher” was my favorite track of the bunch, a joyous over-the-top song about how a relationship “takes [her] higher than the rest, everybody else is second best.”

Brand New / Ben Rector
I discovered Ben Rector because he showed up on the BandsInTown app as having a show close to me. He was playing in Des Moines at a general admission venue and I thought what the hell, I’ll give him a listen. I downloaded his album almost immediately, based solely on the strength of “Brand New.” I’ve tried his other albums on for size and none of them have resonated with me like this one, and especially “Brand New.” I toyed with going to see him when he was in Des Moines, but didn’t. I kind of regret it now.

waves (Remix) / Miguel feat. Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves didn’t even have an official release this year (not counting her Christmas album) and she puts in not one but two appearances on my list. Miguel’s original version of “waves” is ok, but add in a female country voice and suddenly, I’m much more interested. My daughter thought that Miguel and Kacey Musgraves were odd bedfellows, but it really seems to work.

This Wheel’s On Fire / Kylie Minogue
The gayest thing in music this year was Kylie Minogue recording the theme to the Absolutely Fabulous movie. Having never watched the TV show, I wasn’t sure what to make of this track, but like most of Kylie’s music, it wormed its way into my head and never left. At first I thought I might not include it in this year’s list, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t exclude it.

11-20 coming later this week, followed by my CD cover reveal and full Spotify playlist!

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Forget regret

rent_main.jpgLast night, I finally saw a live production of RENT. It’s 20 years old this year, which seems impossible. Up until last night, I had only seen the movie, which I do enjoy even though I know that it is not perfect and lots of fans of the Broadway musical dislike intensely. After seeing the live production, I can understand their concerns a little bit better. That having been said, it was probably the best film version of RENT we were ever going to get because as produced for the stage, it’s unfilmable in the traditional movie sense. It does make me want to get the DVD of the final Broadway performance filmed for posterity just so I can watch it again.

I think that RENT is kind of a funny thing. I don’t know that it packs the same cultural punch that it did in the late 90s when it premiered. Heidi pointed out to me last night that the queer/trans character with AIDS died, while Mimi (who really should have died) managed to live. That’s more a product of the time than anything else – queer/trans people did not really get happily ever afters – but it’s still worth thinking about. It was just last season on CWs The 100 where they killed off the LGBT character and Twitter erupted in a firestorm. Hollywood still hasn’t gotten the message completely that LGBT folks need happy endings too. I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of why Heidi writes what she does.

Watching the show last night was very emotional for me. I always get something in my eye during “Life Support” – especially the “because reason says I should have died three years ago” part. And “Finale B” is so intense for me, with its overlapping vocals containing so many of the musical and lyrical themes, before ending with a triumphant “No day but today!” It probably sounds trite, but it’s how it makes me feel.

Whenever I watch a show like that, I think, wow, I wish I could have done something like that. Some people dream of being a stand-up comic or a dramatic actress. Me, I wish I could have done musical theater. Now, I don’t pretend for a minute that that could have ever been a reality, even if I had been mentally well enough to pursue that in my younger days. First off, although I’m no slouch, I don’t really have the voice for that. Also, I’m not coordinated enough to do the dancing. And at 44, I KNOW I don’t have the stamina to keep up with rigorous stage work. But every time I go to a live musical, that part of me gets a little wistful for what might or could have been, even if it really couldn’t have been.

But as RENT says “forget regret! or life is yours to miss.”  I think that the part of me that wishes it had done musical theater is the part of me that does karaoke now, even though I don’t think I’m that good at it. It’s the part of me that has managed to push past the risk-averseness that is my nature and put myself out there for public evisceration. But to paraphrase Rob Sheffield, there is no other pastime in the world that celebrates your effort even if you suck at it. So perhaps that’s why I take solace in it. Because even when I suck (which I have – like the time I attempted “Dark Lady” -eeesh!), I am doing better than the people that won’t even try.

And I’m honoring that part of me that wishes I could sing as well as the people in the show last night. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. After two songs, my voice is usually somewhere between “frog” and “non-existent.”

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Obligatory post-election post

I haven’t been able to write since the election. Honestly, it derailed most of my productivity. I was all set to blog the Madonna song “Celebration” on the day after the election – that’s how sure of a Democratic win I was – but clearly, given the results, that was a poor choice. I almost blogged it anyway, just to show that we should celebrate the fact that we are surrounded by our like-minded friends and family of choice, but that seemed disingenuous since there are so many communities that stand to be hurt by our current president-elect.

I haven’t really had a chance to process it fully. I’ve kind of been holding it together for everyone else around me. So not much wailing or gnashing of teeth for me. I’m trying like hell to be pragmatic about it, but it’s not working so much the last couple of days. Maybe that’s why I feel so tired when I haven’t been doing anything. I’m headed back to work today after 10 days off and my rule is to not talk about the election. I hesitate to talk about it even with people who feel the same way because it’s easy to get caught in the anxiety loop. When it comes to indulging anxiety, I’m kind of like an alcoholic. I really don’t get to do it even once – all the while recognizing that’s an imperfect analogy because it’s not like there won’t be times I have no choice. But then you get back up on the wagon.

I’m disappointed in our country, in many people I thought knew better. In people that knew he was a bad choice but either voted for him anyway because they didn’t want to pay more taxes or because they hated Hillary. The people that voted for him because they hate everyone else different from them have a special place in hell. I’m sure there are many of my fellow Iowans that fall into all these categories.  And now we have the alt-right getting influence in the White House.  Frankly, I’m ready for them to announce Alex Jones as White House Press Secretary.

It’s a scary time to live in America, for sure, but I know that I say that from a point of privilege. There are many that do not have my privilege and for them, I will continue to fight. While it’s fine to send money to national organizations (HRC, Lambda Legal, NAACP, etc.), what we really need is action on the local level, because that’s where we can affect real change. I have an e-mail out to the Ames chapter of PFLAG, but I haven’t heard back yet. I wonder if it’s even still active.  I could do things in Des Moines, but honestly, I’d rather help out in the city I actually live in.

I’m tempted to curtail my social media presence, but that to me seems like putting my head in the sand. That’s not to say that if you need to do it, you shouldn’t. I just don’t know that that’s the right move for me.  I’m not reading as much news as I did prior to the election, and while I never listened to political podcasts before the election, I’m trying to find sources of entertainment that are good for my soul. Self-care is really important these days. If we’re going to be strong for the people around us, we have to keep ourselves healthy.

I suppose at some point I will erupt in fiery anger but right now I just don’t feel like I can. I’m kind of numb to the whole thing. I don’t know if that’s the result of being medicated, but I’ll take it for now if that’s the case.

That’s where I am right now in this bizarro-world where President-Elect Trump is a real thing.

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Arcadia / Election Day

Electionday.jpgIs there a more appropriate song for today than “Election Day”?  The bad part is that I don’t have tons to say about it. It was not a major part of my pre-teen soundtrack as I was listening almost exclusively to Olivia Newton-John in 1984 (Madonna was just around the corner in 1985.)  I knew some Duran Duran songs, and remember seeing the video on MTV but the song itself never really registered.  Thankfully, Spotify had it and I listened to it for what might be the second or third time ever.

It’s a good enough song – probably not as good as some of the most so-so Duran Duran songs, but it’ll do. It helps that Simon Le Bon did the vocals because he really is pretty much the sound of Duran Duran. I’m sure at the time many people just mistook it for another Duran Duran song.

Today, as everyone knows, is Election Day in the U.S.  Today we pick a president and the people who represent us in Congress. The campaign has been exhausting, not just for the candidates (which I’m sure it has been), but for the nation as a whole. It’s been more divisive than any presidential campaign I’ve ever experienced. Many people feel we’re choosing between two evils. I don’t necessarily feel that way, but the Republican nominee for president is the most abjectly unqualified major party nominee in as long as I can remember. He’s a truly loathsome individual, who got a free pass from the media during the primaries when they were more concerned with ratings than the fact that we were actually picking a presidential nominee.  Hillary Clinton has her issues, but when you put them side by side, there’s no comparison.

I’ll let you all in on a little secret – I’m kind of a one-issue voter. Any candidate that will roll back or threaten LGBT rights will never ever get my vote. I don’t know that Donald Trump gives an actual shit about whether or not gay people can get married, but I can only listen to his rhetoric during the campaign and based on that alone, my vote did not go to him. Truth be told, it never was going to anyway.

It’s our civic duty to vote and Howard Dean once said that if voting is all you’re doing, you get a D.  My vote went to Hillary in spite of all her faults and foibles. The alternative is just too terrifying to contemplate.

I’ve had a lot of election anxiety, as my friend Matt can attest to, but today I am strangely calm. All that’s left to do is count the votes and see what happens. Que sera sera I guess. As my father says, we are but a feather in the wind of all this. And as I say, all I have is my one vote, and I proudly cast it.

Here’s hoping that tonight, America rejects fear and discrimination, even though I have a sinking feeling that Iowa will not.

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Crowded House / Something So Strong

sss.jpgIt seems the latest trend in music these days is repackaging old albums into “deluxe” editions to trick people like me, who have already purchased them at least once, into buying them yet again. I mentioned last night that Stevie Nicks had done that with her first two albums. One of my sister’s favorite bands, Crowded House, has gone a step further and reissued all their albums in deluxe versions with additional tracks as well as repressing them all on vinyl as well. I wonder if there’s anything new on there to my sister who, during the height of the Napster days, managed to accumulate a nearly definitive Crowded House collection of rarities and demos.

“Something So Strong” was the follow-up to Crowded House’s best-known hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Truth be told, I like it more than I do “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, mostly because it’s so much more fun.  I mean, just look at Neil Finn in this video for the song. I don’t think he ever stops smiling.

Sadly, “Something So Strong” didn’t perform to quite the level that “Don’t Dream It’s Over” did. It came close thought – topping out at #7, but it doesn’t have nearly the staying power that “Don’t Dream It’s Over” has.

Although if I were to pick one to do at karaoke, it’d be “Something So Strong” in a heartbeat.

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