Every Monday morning. Music so good… it must be shared.
This week: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” — Arcade Fire, covering Cyndi Lauper
(And when you’re done with the video, stay for the entire, ridiculous playlist, including some scenes (!!!) from the 80s movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, Jonathan Silverman and Shannen Doherty.)
This weekend, Robyn is the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Saturday FREAKING Night Live. At Rockefeller Center. On national TV. As part of one of the most famous shows in American history. In terms of excitement level, for me, this pretty much equates finding a $20 bill on the ground with no one else around and then discovering that a Champion replica Bryant “Big Country” Reeves Grizzlies jersey is available for $20 on EBay, so yeah, VERY high excitement levels. Continue reading →
Here is a story. A few months back, a few weeks before my 25th birthday, I went to go see the Arcade Fire at Starlight Theater.
The opening band went on at 7:30. We got their late. I had to finish up an assignment for work before I could finally be free. And after running around for almost two hours, making phone calls, finishing up interviews, running through a story outline in my head, I was finally ready.
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.” — Dazed and Confused
I first saw the movie “Dazed and Confused” when I was 10 years old. It was 1996. This of course, was a year when people still rented movies, still popped VHS tapes into VCR’s, and still had to push play.
Anyway, my older brother had returned from a movie-rental place with a friend. And they planned on watching some movie I’d never heard of.
Sometimes I wonder why I remember this night. Nothing eventful happened. Nothing memorable happened.
But I do remember it. I remember watching the beginning scene at the high school. And I remember the next scene when they go to the middle school and yell at Mitch Kramer through the loudspeaker.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the movie. On one hand, I feel it’s wildly underrated. Richard Linklater directed it. He’s the same guy that directed Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — two masterpieces that I’ve always loved. On the other hand, I feel it’s still pretty flawed and a little bit phony.
*I’m pretty sure that my contradictory feelings stem from my high school experiences. I remember being in high school in Overland Park in the early 2000’s. And for some reason, the kids in the burnout clique adopted Dazed and Confused as their favorite movie. Of course, I was friends with most of these people. But I always thought they were missing the point. They all wanted to drive around and listen to music — like the people in the movie (and when you’re in high school, who doesn’t?). But it seemed like three or four guys started talking exactly like the stoner archetype from the movie.
“Hey, man, you just don’t understand, man. Martha Washington, man, she was a good lady, man. Yea, yea. Yea. Whoa, man.” So, yea, maybe my view of the movie was tarnished.
But here’s the thing: If I’m watching television, and Dazed and Confused comes on — I just can’t turn the channel.
This happened again last Tuesday. Dazed and Confused was on television for the 1,713th time. And I had to keep watching. And that’s when I heard Cynthia, the nerdy redhead from the movie, say that quote about her “Every other decade theory.”
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.”*
*I’m fairly certain that Linklater was trying to add a little ironic humor.
Of course, I can’t remember the 80’s… so I can’t be sure. But I’m fairly certain that most people would never describe the 80’s as “radical.”
I’m not exactly sure why, but on this particular viewing, on this particular night, these words made me think a little deeper.
Maybe it was the chilly winter weather. Maybe it was because it was 1:30 in the morning. But mostly, I think it was because I’ve been thinking a lot about decades recently.
We’ve been inundated with lists the last couple weeks. The Top 10 Movies of the Decade. The Top 500 Songs of the Decade. The Top 10 Moments of the Decade. On and on and on.
And at its core, Dazed and Confused is simply a cheap little piece of 1970s nostalgia. It’s about a bunch of high school kids in 1976. They cruise around town, drink, smoke, and listen to music (for all intents and purposes, they basically listen to a greatest hits collection from the 1970s).
They throw ragers at the local park, attempt to throw keggers in their basements, and shoot pool at the local pool hall.
I’m sure there were a few people that did these kinds of things in the 1970s. For all I know, maybe there were lots and lots of people that did these things. But I’m guessing — in fact, I’m fairly certain — that the majority of high school kids did not do these types of things in the 1970s.
Sure, some probably drank. Some probably smoked. Some probably did illicit drugs. After all, it was the 1970s. But that’s not my point.
And here’s the thought I’m stumbling to get to.
One movie cannot define the youth culture in the 1970s. It just can’t.
But here’s the sad truth. For millions… that’s how it works.
Pop culture — movies, music, television — has totally corrupted our views of the past.
When I think of the 1970s, I think of Dazed and Confused.
When I think of the 1980s, I think of Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.
When I think of the 1990s, I think of Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait and Clueless and all those other average Generation X films.
And all that pop culture clouds my perception of those decades.
I guess I’ve been thinking about all this as all these “Lists of the Decades” and “Retrospectives of the 2000s” have been coming out.
For some reason, we feel compelled to peel away the complexities from each decade, and repackage 10 years into a nice, short, easy-to-digest synopsis.
The 1920s – a roaring good time with flappers and drinking and excess. Sign me up.
The 1930s – a dusty decade immersed in a depression… and, oh yes, the New Deal.
The 1940s – WAR! …World War II …and the beginning of the Cold War.
The 1950s – A decade of innocence; moving out to the suburbs; the American Dream
The 1960s – A chaotic period; assassinations, protest, civil rights and more war.
The 1970s – Drugs and disco and long hair.
The 1980s – A new decade of excess and yuppies and Reagan and the end of the Cold War.
The 1990s – Microsoft and computers and the Internet and the tech boom.
…And so on.
So what short synopsis will come to define this decade? How will we remember these long 10 years?
Well, if you’re listening, it’s already started to develop.
And I’m sure we’ll hear about 9/11 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’ll remember Bush and Obama – their differences and similarities. We’ll remember Google and the iPhone. We’ll remember Katrina. And we’ll remember the financial collapse.
So I suppose people will remember this decade as a period of struggle. A lost decade of calamitous events. Tragedy and terror and more bad news.
And I guess that’s OK. I’ll remember all those things.
But then, some hot young director will make a movie in 2027 — a piece of cheap nostalgia about high school kids in the 2000s — and I’m not sure I’ll totally be able to recognize it.
Because if you strip away all the stuff that the the 2000s were “supposed to be about,” you might just be left with your own memories and your own experiences.
You might just realize that the 2000s were a pretty damn-good time to be alive.
…And yet, as I try to make sense of the decade, and the things that resonated with me. I’m left thinking about the music I listened to. Each song, each album, each downloaded piece of music helps me reflect on 10 years of memories and friends and growth.
So, to make sense of it all –- and to cure a little Christmas-break boredom, I knew I had to make a list of The 10 Best Songs of The Decade. The only problem… I couldn’t stop at 10.
So here’s 20 songs that shaped the decade. Well, they shaped my decade. And that’s the point. We all have our own 20 songs. Listen to your songs. Don’t listen to everyone else’s.
The Late Greats
In 25 years, young hipsters will still be wearing Wilco T-shirts. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s incomparable frontman, will be ordained a music legend. And Tweedy will be on some stage somewhere, collaborating with some young hip band trying to steal a little of Wilco’s mojo.
And I’ll tell my kids, “You know, I loved Wilco when I was growing up.” I’ll say this because I’ll assume that it will give me some marker of credibility, some points in the coolness quotient. I’ll assume that my kids will care. Of course, we know they won’t
19. Empire State of Mind
Jay-Z , ft. Alicia Keys
So, I was convinced to replace Jay’s “Roc Boys (And the winner is…)” with “Empire State of Mind”. After all, “Empire” is one of the newest songs on the list.
Of course, it’s one of the best tracks of 2009, and Jay and Alicia performed at the World Series at Yankee Stadium — and that was a great moment.
But I am curious to know what we will think about this song in 20 years.
Will kids be humming it, like they hum “Sinatra’s “New York, New York?” But in the end, Jay-Z — the new Sinatra — had to be on the list.
18. My Love
Justin Timberlake Ft. T.I.
17. Road to Joy
This is the final track on Conor Oberst’s seminal 2005 record, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.”
…The sun came up with no conclusions
Flowers sleepin’ in their beds
The city cemetary’s hummin’
I’m wide awake, its mornin’
16. The Needle has landed
She’s one of the best artists of the last decade. She was the lead singer in the New Pornographers — one the most underrated bands of the decade. And her voice is iconic.
Around the time I first started to listen to Neko Case, I was in a record store in Fort Collins, Colo. This song was playing in the background. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was Neko Case. He said, “Yea… I think she’s going to be an all-time great.”
15. Paper Planes
It suffered a little bit from being overplayed. But if you weren’t jamming to this song in 2007-08, you just weren’t paying attention.
Simply put, it’s the most danceable song of the last 10 years.
Plus, anytime you can have a hit record with the lyrics, “We pack and deliver like UPS trucks,” you’re doing something right.
14. New Slang
Artist: The Shins
When I was 17 years old, my older brother took me to a show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence. We saw two bands I’d never heard of. The Rapture and The Shins. When you’ve never heard a band before, it can be hard to totally enjoy their live show. The Shins were different. Within the next year, I had both their albums — “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow”.
And then the movie “Garden State” came out. You know, the indie hit starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. Of course, it became my favorite movie — mostly because it had three Shins songs featured in it.*
*One time, when I was a senior, I used my nerdy Student Council connections to get like seven kids out of class, and we went to my house to eat lunch and watch this movie.
Well, this song, according to Portman’s character, was supposed to “totally change your life.” I’m not sure it changed anyone’s life — except for Braff’s. But it introduced the world to The Shins. And it made me feel cool because I was a high schooler listening to some quality “college rock.” And that was good enough.
13. Remix to Ignition
Here’s why this song is on the list. If you had a time machine, you could travel back to the year 2003.
And if you travelled back in time, you could walk into any high school lunchroom in America, and within a few minutes, you’d hear somebody singing “And after the party, it’s the hotel lobby…”
12. Fred Jones Pt. 2
This song is about an old newspaper man who loses his job. It was great in 2001, and it means even more to me now.
Let’s hope people don’t forget about the greatness of Folds’ first solo album, “Rockin’ the Suburbs.”
11. Whatever You Like
For me, this song means college. And in 20 years, this song will mean college. And in 30 years, this song will mean college. And when I hear it, I’ll be in college again. And there aren’t many things better than that.*
*Oh, and I guess T.I. just got out of jail. Good for him.
10. I And Love And You
The Avett Brothers
Haven’t listened to the Avett Brothers? Then you’re missing out on the best rock song of 2009.
9. Crazy in Love
Here’s my Beyonce story. If you live in Kansas City, you surely know about the radio station 95.7 “The Vibe.” Well, once upon a time, 95.7 decided it was going to try to challenge 103.3 Jamz, the top Hip-hop station in Kansas City. So 95.7 started playing the top 20 hip-hop and and R&B songs in the country. And that was all it played. It was annoying, but at the same time, it was comforting.
For example, if The Vibe was around in 2003, you would have been able to turn to it and hear “Crazy in Love” withing the next 20 minutes… guaranteed. And that’s what I think about when I think of “Crazy in Love.”
You might not want to listen to it forever, but in a decade that was defined by downloading and iTunes and all the rest, it’s the perfect single. You hear it once, and you want to hear it again. And that’s why I liked 95.7 The Vibe. I wasn’t crazy about the music. (Sure, I enjoyed it enough.) But I knew I was going to hear the same 20 songs.*
*Oddly enough, 95.7 still calls itself The Vibe, but it plays Nickelback and other atrocious mainstream rock songs.
8. This Year
The Mountain Goats
My brother introduced me to The Mountain Goats sometime during the first couple years of the decade. It was essentially one guy, John Darnielle, playing lo-fi, folky, indie-rock. It was raw, and it felt like you were listening to the greatest secret in the word.
A few years later, I was driving on K-10, on my way back to school at KU. This song came on the radio — 90.7 KJHK, the student-run radio station at the University of Kansas. For the next three minutes, I sat and listened. I downloaded the song a few hours later, and it still has the greatest chorus of the decade.
“I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me…”
7. What Am I To You?
…What am I to you
Tell me darling true
To me you are the sea
Vast as you can be
And deep the shade of blue
6. Do You Realize?
The Flaming Lips
…And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
5. Where’s the Love?
The Black Eyed Peas
This song introduced us to the Peas, to will.i.am, and to Fergie.
Justin Timberlake stops in for a cameo, and against all odds, we somehow get one of the best peace anthems and protest songs of the last 25 years.
4. The Decemberists
The Crane Wife 1&2
The Decemberists spent the decade spewing out sophisticated indie-rock. Songs with inspired lyrics, and albums with actual themes.
They had a pseudo-rivalry with Stephen Colbert, and they wrote the second-best rock album of the decade (the first is coming up).
Here’s my Decemberists story. When I was in college, I worked at the college radio station. I mostly did sports broadcasting stuff, but occasionally, I’d fill in and do a D.J. shift. Sometimes I’d bring my brother to help me with D.J. shifts. Anyways, one time, my brother decided to play The Decemberists’ song, “The Shankill Butchers,” perhaps the most depressing song ever.
Basically, it’s slow and creepy, and it’s about butchers killing people with cleavers and knives. Like I said, it’s depressing.
So my bro puts the song on, and within two minutes, this really laid back dude calls. He’s real laid-back, talking deep and slow. And it seems the laid-back dude thought we were a real downer. I guess we ruined his day by playing such a depressing tune.
As I recall, he said something like this: “Yo, man… come on guys. It’s just not right. Just not right. You gotta bring people up. Bring ’em up, man. Give ’em some hope. This song is just a real downer, man. A downer, man. I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to do your jobs. But let’s bring a little joy to the world, let’s bring people up…”
It was a strange conversation. But I think the weird laid-back Lawrence townie had a point.
3. Death Cab For Cutie
Not sure who said it, but here’s the greatest way to describe this song…
You just never want it to end.
2. Hey Yea
The most ubiquitous hit of the decades. If Outkast is the artist of the decade — and they just might be — this is their “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Andre 3000 and Big Boi have had their Lennon/McCartney moments, but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Outkast.
1. Neighborhood Pt. 1 (Tunnel)
You could pick any song off Arcade Fire’s 2004 album “Funeral” to put in this slot. In fact, I almost chose “Rebellions.” But this is the first song, your entrance to the best album of the 2000s.
So go listen to the album straight through, and you’ll never hear music the same again.
And I suppose if you’re a relativist, you’d say there are no certainties. But that’s a conversation for – well, probably never.
Point is, when you find something that is certainly true — something that is absolutely concrete — you have to hold on tight.
You don’t have to be Dave Grohl* to know that Arcade Fire write beautiful songs. You don’t have to be Ollie Gates to know that ribs are good. And you don’t have to be Hemingway to know good prose.
*I once heard a story that Dave Grohl, the brilliant frontman for the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, started each morning by listening to Arcade Fire’s song, “Keep the Car Running.” I don’t know for sure if this story is true. But it’s a great story, so I’m going to go ahead and believe it.
In the same way, you don’t have to be an athletic scholar to know that the state of professional sports in Kansas City is a depressing mix of suck-titude and despair.
The Royals haven’t won a World Series in 24 years. The Chiefs haven’t won a Super Bowl since Nixon was in the Oval office.
The Royals have had one full winning season in the last two decades. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993.
This evidence is, of course, true.
But I started thinking about it more this past weekend, when I saw a young kid wearing a Zack Greinke jersey.
The kid couldn’t have been more than 10-years-old. Though, I have to admit I’ve become pretty awful with ages.
The kid in the Greinke jersey stirred up a few emotions.
First I thought… well, good. Greinke’s getting a little love for his Cy Young season.
And then I thought about the nature of sports jerseys in general. After all, Christmas is coming up, and when you’re 10-years-old, there aren’t many better gifts than an authentic professional sports jersey.
I can still remember the feeling of receiving a Tamarick Vanover jersey from Santa in 1996. You know, it was never over until it was Vanover. That jersey was about a XXXXXL, and it probably still wouldn’t fit me today.*
*Somebody really needs to go back in time to the mid-90s and tell all the grade school boys that it’s really not that fashionable to wear your T-shirts seven sizes too big.
The Vanover jersey was cool because it was different. Other kids at school had Derrick Thomas jerseys. Some had Steve Bono’s. One kid had a Lake Dawson jersey. Kudos to that kid, too.
Yes, there was something special about that Vanover jersey. Even if he did end up serving time in prison for financing a drug trafficking ring with fellow Chief Bam Morris. It was the only Chiefs jersey I ever had. And it’ll probably be the last one, too.
So here’s the essential question. If you’re the parent of a 10-year-old kid in Kansas City, what jersey do you buy your kid for Christmas or Hanukkah* or Festivus**.
We all can agree that, right now, Greinke is the obvious choice. Cy Young. Best pitcher in baseball. Quirky, but…by all accounts a great kid. And so on.
But let’s forget about Greinke for a second. And for that matter, let’s also forget that – if things don’t go well for the Royals – Greinke could very well be pitching in the World Series for the Red Sox or Dodgers or Rays in 2014 (or – gasp! – even sooner.)
So who else?*
*And for our purposes, let’s forget about college sports for the moment. The easy answer is to go out and buy your kid a Kansas, K-State or Mizzou jersey. But we’re talking professional sports here.
This would be another obvious choice. He’s got the New England-pedigree. The leading-man looks. He’s also got the $60 million contract, so you’d think he be staying around for a while.
But then again. He’s also has a 72.3 passer rating and he’s quarterbacking a 3-9 football team. I still have confidence in Cassell – at least, confidence that if he can’t be Brady, he can at least be Pennington.
But I’m not so sure I’d want to invest in a Cassell jersey. Especially with Todd Haley around. Ask all those Cardinals fans if they’re happy that they bought Matt Leinart jerseys.
There are a few obvious candidates.
You might mention Billy Butler. And this would be OK. He did have a breakout season, 51 doubles, 21 homers, the .301 batting average. And he’s got the down-home country persona – a definite plus.
You might mention Joakim Soria. And he’s a definitely sleeper candidate. He’s one of the five best closers in baseball and he’s dependable – in addition to being arguably the nicest professional athlete in town.
But then again, both of those guys play for the Royals. And who knows if Soria will get traded or Butler will plateau. Butler will probably be around for a few more years at least, and then who knows?
The point is… there is a increasing shortage of popular and marketable athletes in Kansas City.
And why is that? Because there is also an increasing shortage of talented athletes in Kansas City.
I would imagine that the kid in the Greinke jersey is just finding this out.
That kid is only 10. And I’m sure he’s still operating under the assumption that the Royals actually have a chance to win the World Series next season. And that the Chiefs will have a puncher’s chance in the AFC West if they draft Eric Berry or Dez Bryant.
So, yes, it’s been pretty lousy in Kansas City for a lot of years.
And if you’re under the age of 25, you only know heartbreak and pain.
You know the pain of Lin Elliot in 1995. You know the pain of the 1994 baseball strike killing crippling the Royals’ future. You know the pain of a home playoff loss to John Elway and the Broncos in 1997. You know the pain of watching Carlos Beltran leave Kansas City. You know the pain of the Royals folding down the stretch in 2003. The pain doesn’t end there, but you get the idea…
But here’s the truth. Yes, it hurts to be a 20-year-old or 25-year-old sports fan in Kansas City. But imagine if you were 10?
Seriously. How much would that suck? At the very most, you probably only consciously remember the last five or six years of Kansas City sports. And your only sports memories come from this period.
Think about it. If you’re 10, you don’t know Derrick Thomas. You don’t know Neil Smith. You barely know Priest Holmes. You don’t remember Johnny Damon in Kansas City, or even Carlos Beltran. You might remember Mike Sweeney – but you just remember that he was the religious guy with the bad back.
Here’s what you do know.
You know the Royals have lost 100 games three times since 2004 – and they’ve lost 90 games in five of the last six years. You know the Chiefs are 9-35 in their last three seasons – and at one point had lost 28 of 30 games.
You know the Royals once had an outfielder who scaled the outfield wall to try to rob a homer when the ball hit on the warning track. You know the Royals once lost a game because the shortstop lost the ball in the Sun because his Sunglasses order hadn’t arrived yet.* And you know the Royals once lost a game because their first baseman got hit in the face with relay throw.
*He supposedly wore Sunglasses on the flight home to cover his black eye.
You know the Chiefs once decided that Brodie Croyle would be their quarterback of the future. You know the Chiefs once started a guy named Tyler Thigpen – a guy who got cut from the Vikings in 2006 because the Vikes knew they couldn’t do without Tarvaris Jackson, Drew Henson or Brooks Bollinger. Yes. Those were the three quarterbacks that the Vikings kept. And you only know Larry Johnson because he’s the reason your mom won’t let you log onto Twitter anymore.
And still. I think of the kid in the Greinke jersey. Poor kid.
He probably won’t be getting any more jerseys this December. That’s OK. He’s already got the only one that matters.