What It’s Like To Go on a Date with Justin

If you do online dating, doesn't your whole life just become 50 First Dates? Why do people do this to themselves?

If you do online dating, doesn’t your whole life just become 50 First Dates? Why do people do this to themselves?

Not too long ago, I was reading a friend’s blog on which she reviews her Tinder dates. I have never done the  online dating thing, but I do occasionally score myself a night out with a girl the old-fashioned way, and I got to thinking: What if I had to read a review of myself after one of my first dates? At first, the notion seemed horrifying, but then I thought about how most of those stories would actually be pretty amusing, thanks to my unique combination of drunken ineptitude and sweethearted charm. So I took a stab at imagining what a dating columnist—and I admit, regretfully, that I actually have gone out with one of those—would write about a typically “Justin” first date. For a laugh (and, likely, a Louie-esque cringe) at my expense, read on.

***

Justin wanted to meet at a bar/restaurant that I’d never been to, in a supposedly trendy neighborhood that seemed to be populated mostly with people drinking from paper bag–covered bottles in front of shuttered warehouses. I had wanted to go for coffee, but he said he didn’t drink coffee and that coffee dates suck. I studied abroad in Italy, so the no-coffee thing was a black mark against him, but I have to admit he’s right: Coffee dates do kinda suck.

I got to the bar right after we’d planned to meet, at 7:30, but didn’t see him. There was a crowd right inside the door, so I decided to wait outside. It had been raining earlier in the afternoon, but the clouds had broken, and the evening air was pleasantly crisp—or would have been, if it hadn’t been for all the 22-year-olds smoking in front of the bar.

Justin showed up about 10 minutes after I did. He apologized for being late and said “I used to be really good about being punctual, but…” and then just shrugged his shoulders. Then he said, “I never know how to do this—do we shake hands or hug or just stare at each other awkwardly?” I told him to do what he felt, and he gave me a quick hug. I thought I smelled cigarettes on him, even though he’d said on his profile he didn’t smoke—but maybe it was from the aforementioned kids. Justin wasn’t very tall and he had a shaved head, which you could tell he shaved because he’d gone bald early, and he had these big colorful floral tattoos on his arms. Ink isn’t my thing, but I had to admit they were pretty. At least they weren’t fratboy tribal tattoos.

His sense of style was a little odd. He wore a pearl button Western shirt with flowers embroidered above the pockets and a pair of vintage cowboy boots. He definitely had a whiff of hipster about him, but the jeans weren’t quite skinny enough. I’m still not sure what the deal was with the cowboy look—he said he was from San Francisco, not Texas. Overall, I wouldn’t say he was exactly my type, but he was cute in an awkward, needs to get a little more Vitamin D sort of way.

I'm not kidding. This is really what I look like

I’m not kidding. This is really what I look like

There weren’t any tables available, but we got a couple of seats at the bar. He said he liked sitting at the bar better anyway, and that he thought having to stare at someone across a table for an entire night was weird. Umm, okay. He shook hands with the bartender—they obviously knew each other—and ordered a Sazerac. I asked what that was, and he said it was a whiskey and absinthe cocktail from New Orleans. I actually don’t drink all that much, but I didn’t want to seem lame, so I got a white wine. He asked if I’d ever been to New Orleans, and I said no. I’d realized by then that the bar had a Big Easy theme—latticed walls, oysters, horns on the stereo. I asked if he’d been there, and he told me about how it was his favorite city and how he’d been there for Mardi Gras one year and gotten in a fight with a bouncer and broken his hand in the process. He told the story with a lot of energy and laughing enthusiasm—especially when he described blindly walking down Bourbon Street clutching a broken hand—but I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean, was I supposed to be impressed? He could tell I was nonplussed, because he said, “Hmmm … probably I’m not supposed to tell that story on the first date.”

Mmmmmm ... Sazerac....

Mmmmmm … Sazerac….

The bartender brought our drinks, and Justin offered me a sip of his. It was really strong, and he laughed at the face I made when I took a sip. He took his drink back and asked me how my day had been. I told him I was having a hard time coming up with a column for this week, and he smiled and said he’d try to give me some good material. “Just don’t fight the bouncer,” I said, and he laughed and took a drink and said, “no promises.”

I asked him about his day, and he said he’d interviewed an actor who had been on The Wire. I admitted I hadn’t seen the show, even though a bunch of friends have told me I should watch it, and he spent like ten minutes talking about how it was the greatest thing ever and quoting a bunch of lines from it, even though obviously I wasn’t going to get the references because I haven’t seen the show. I started to wonder if he’d already been drinking.

The bartender came back and asked if we wanted to order food. Justin asked if I was hungry, and I said not really and asked if he was. He said he could go either way depending on what I wanted to do. “Whatever you want,” I said, and he sat there looking at the bartender indecisively for a minute until he finally said, “Give us a few minutes. But can I get another Sazerac?” He asked if I wanted another drink, but my wine was still mostly full.

After the bartender left, Justin asked how I got started writing about dating, and I gave my usual noncommittal answer about having just fallen into it. He asked if I’d ever done any other kind of writing, and I admitted that I studied poetry in college. Most guys just change the subject when I tell them that, but it seemed to catch his interest, and he started asking me if I wrote and which poets I liked—honestly, the way he fired questions at me, I started to feel like I was getting interviewed. I could tell he hadn’t read, or even heard of, a lot of the woman poets I mentioned, but he did seem to genuinely care what I had to say. It turned out he had an MFA, and he was definitely well read, though mostly typical guy stuff—Hemingway, Carver, Kerouac.

It was nice to talk to someone who seemed to really care about books, but things took a little bit of a bad turn when I asked him if he still worked on his own writing. He said he had a book that he’d written that he thought was really good, but that no one would publish it. “I used to think I was gonna be Hemingway,” he said. “Now I edit an airline magazine.” I told him he could always come back to it, but he just shrugged and said “maybe” and took a big drink.

He went on to tell me that he used most of his creative energy on music now. He plays guitar in a rock band, and he talked about this bluegrass thing he goes to once a week in Brooklyn, at this bar—I forget the name—that he claims is the greatest place in the world. And then he went off on this tangent about Ryan Adams, who’s apparently Jesus with a guitar or something, because when I said, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy with the Taylor Swift covers,” he looked at me like I had something growing out of my forehead.

Right about then the bartender came back. Justin asked if I like oysters, and I said they were okay, so he ordered a dozen, and we agreed to split a couple of appetizers. I asked what he wanted, and he said, “whatever,” and I suggested a couple of things, and he just said, “okay.” Outside of the oysters, he had to be the least decisive diner I’ve ever gone out with.

When the oysters came out, I scooped the first one out of the shell with a fork and he looked at me like I’d just used the fork to stab someone in the eye. “What the hell was that?” he said. “No fucking way. That’s not how you eat an oyster.” Then he made me slurp the second one straight from the shell—which I have to admit, did kinda work better.

I only had a couple of oysters—I’m actually not that big a fan—and he ate the rest. A cheese plate came out a couple of minutes later, and I noticed that he chewed his first bite with his mouth open. I don’t know if he noticed me noticing, but he admitted he had bad table manners and apologized, in a way. “My parents were hippies,” he said, “so I was basically raised by wolves.”

I took my phone out—at this point I was thinking about texting someone to bail me out of this—and he saw that I have a picture of my dog on my background. Then he took his phone out and showed me that he had a picture of his dog on his background. Then he showed me a video of his dog howling at a fire truck, and I started laughing, because you guys know that I have basically the same video on my phone, and I always end up showing it to guys at some point when I’m on dates. So, I guess you could say he passed that test.

This photo has been the screen saver on my phone for at least five years

I couldn’t even tell you how long this photo has been the screen saver on my phone

When the bartender took our plate away, Justin ordered another drink. I didn’t really want another, but it was too early to just go home, so I got a vodka soda. I figured, tomorrow’s Friday, everyone else will be hungover at work, too.

When our drinks came back, I said I liked his tattoos, and I asked him what was up with the flowers. “Yeah, I’m a walking arboretum,” he joked. Then he told me about the meanings behind them, and it got pretty heavy. I won’t get into it too much, but Jesus, the guy’s had some tough times. Auschwitz and cystic fibrosis aren’t exactly first date material.

The weird thing is, he kind of won me over talking about that stuff, because he acknowledged that he probably shouldn’t talk about those tough times so early in the process of getting to know someone. But he told me that he never used to share his problems with anyone—not even his close friends—and that getting the tattoos and having people ask about them forced him to confront his issues and helped him work through them. He seemed really smart and mature about the whole thing. Or maybe the alcohol was getting to me. Or maybe I’m just the type to adopt rescue dogs.

Somehow, the vibe loosened up, and we ended up trading stories about bad Tinder dates—actually, I guess the Tinder stories were mine, although he had a funny story about a freelance writer he’d been going out with who dumped him right after he got one of her stories into his magazine. It was pretty horrible actually, but he laughed about it in a really infectious way the whole time he was telling it, and you guys, he seriously has one of the biggest smiles you’ll ever see. I should probably mention I was on drink number three by this point.

Eventually I told him I had to get up early for work, and we agreed to go. I went to the bathroom before we left, and by the time I came back he’d paid the tab. I tried to give him some money, but he wouldn’t take it.

We were going in the same direction, and he offered to split a cab. I said sure, and while we were standing outside waiting for one, he kissed me. He may have seemed awkward, but he was actually a pretty good kisser and, well, I ended up making out with him in the cab. Not my finest moment, you guys. No more first dates at bars.

Drinks + Justin = Taxi Cab Makeouts. That's more concrete than E=MC2

Drinks + Justin = Taxi Cab Makeout. That’s science

The cab pulled up to my house and Justin got out to say goodnight, only he tripped getting out of the car and totally fell on his face! I ran around to see if he was okay, but I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. He cursed, and then he started laughing too, while he was sitting on the ground. Finally he got up and walked me to the door and he kissed me goodnight, even though it looked like he’d gotten some blood on his face (I don’t know if he’d hit his chin, or had a cut on his hand that he accidentally brushed against his face, or what). I thought I heard a crash after I closed the door, but I didn’t go back to look.

He was a sweet guy, if a little judgmental, funny and smart, but pretty awkward and definitely kind of a wreck. It was a fun night, but I don’t think I’ll be going out with him again.

Advertisements
Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top 10 Songs of 2015

k05a0964

Not to give it away, but these guys have a pretty important spot on this list

Every December, my buddy Sam invites a bunch of his friends to share their ten favorite songs from the previous year. It’s a fun little exercise to go back over all the stuff I listened to from the past year and try to come up with a ranking. In compiling my list for this year, I came to the conclusion that 2015 was a pretty bitchin’ good year for music. Looking over the cuts I had to make, I found that several of my favorite artists—Frank Turner, Steve Earle, Ryan Bingham—put out stuff that I liked but just couldn’t fit in here. And new artists that I discovered and really enjoyed, like Courtney Barnett, ended up on the chopping block as well. Competition was stiff.

As always, this list boils down to my own personal preferences. There’s no hip-hop, because I pretty much stopped listening to hip-hop in 1999. There’s nothing that you’d really call “pop,” because I’d rather hang myself with a microphone cord than listen to a Justin Bieber song. There’s no Adele because she’s just not my thing. It’s mostly singer-songwriter shit, mostly acoustic, with a dash of ’70s-inflected soul and country and rock in there. You know, the best kind of music. Hope y’all dig it.

First, honorable mentions: Small Poppies, Courtney Barnett (this one was the last cut and toughest omission); The Next Storm, Frank Turner; Dime Store Cowgirl, Kacey Musgraves; Gates of Dawn, Heartless Bastards; Better Off Alone, Steve Earle; Island in the Sky, Ryan Bingham; Rock & Roll Is Cold, Matthew E. White; Tennessee Whiskey, Chris Stapleton.

Now, on to the top 10

10. When I’m With You, The London Souls

This New York City duo released their second album this year, and When I’m With You was the lead track on that record. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a band that sounds so much like Big Star. And I LOVE Big Star.

9. 24 Frames, Jason Isbell

The album Something More Than Free was former Drive-By Trucker Isbell’s follow-up to Southeastern, which was probably the best album of 2013. It was going to be impossible to live up to that record, and I didn’t think this year’s album was quite as good, but it still had a few gems on it. 24 Frames in particular is Isbell at his best: insightful, witty lyrics (“You thought God was an architect, but now you know/He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow) backed by a howling guitar track.

8. Short Haired Woman Blues, Dave Rawlings Machine

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty goddamn big Gillian Welch fan, and everybody knows that a huge part of what makes Gillian such an amazing artist is her symbiotic partnership with Dave Rawlings—who I happen to think is pretty much the best guitar player alive. The duo hasn’t put out an album under Gillian’s name since 2011, but this year they released Nashville Obsolete under the Dave Rawlings Machine moniker. The album is chock-full of lavishly arranged folk tunes, none more beautiful than this one. When the fiddle, played by Brittany Haas, comes crashing in over top of Rawlings’ guitar solo near the end of the song, it’s so powerful that it reminds me of the end of Led Zeppelin’s The Rain Song—and that’s a pretty fucking huge compliment in my world.

7. The Only Thing Worth Fighting For, Lera Lynn

Yes, the second season of True Detective sucked. You could pretty much say that everything about it sucked, if it weren’t for Lera Lynn. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter was the heroin-chic girl in the dive bar scenes, and the songs she wrote with T Bone Burnett and Rosanne Cash helped give the show its dark, threatening vibe—especially The Only Thing Worth Fighting For, the song that was included in the first trailer. There’s something almost … murderous about this song. I love it. True Detective’s scripts may have sucked. The acting may have sucked. But Lera Lynn was—and is—awesome.

6. How Much Light, Ryan Adams

The vast majority of the press Ryan Adams got in 2015 was for his full album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. As someone who has been a hardcore fan of his for nearly a decade, I find this infuriating. The most prolific—and arguably most talented—songwriter of a generation gets the most plaudits and attention of his entire career for doing a bunch of covers of shitty electro-pop songs? I appreciate that Adams has found the creative independence that he’s wanted for his entire career, but this album, along with the mixed bag of singles he’s released in the last year or so, shows that maybe the record labels he fought so much with early in his career were right to ask him not to release everything he was recording. With all that said, the guy is still a hell of a songwriter when he puts his mind to it—I’m certainly looking forward to his next album of originals, which he has apparently already recorded. How Much Light was part of an album he discarded prior to last year’s self-titled release last year, and he put it out as a single in 2015. (Also, I was at the Carnegie Hall show the above recording comes from.) It’s a snapshot of haunting melancholy that sums up what Adams does best. More of this, please, Ryan.

5. Father’s Day, Butch Walker

I said some mean things about Ryan Adams in the previous entry, so let’s throw some additional compliments his way, and give him credit for something pretty awesome he did in 2015: producing one of my favorite albums of the year, Butch Walker’s Afraid of Ghosts. The record is primarily a rumination on the death of Walker’s father, and this is the track that most explicitly addresses that subject. I’m very close to my father, and this song gives words to a feeling I dread having to experience someday.

4. Church, Gary Clark Jr.

This year, the Austin-based guitar god released his second major label studio album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, and the record continued to push forward Clark’s synthesis of blues, rock, and soul (with a dash of hip-hop). By far my favorite track was the modern acoustic blues gospel song Church. Listen to that jangling guitar, that harmonica, those vocals: “Looooooord, my looooord/I need your helping hand.” You’ll start tapping your feet, and by the second chorus you won’t be able to help belting out the words along with Clark.

3. Better Man, Leon Bridges

Sam Cooke lives! Not really, but fuck me, Leon Bridges sounds like he’s singing at the Apollo Theater in 1964. He’s from Dallas. He’s 26 years old (and looks about 15). He put out his debut album, Coming Home, this year. He fucking sounds like Sam Cooke.

2. Baby Britain, Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield

Elliott Smith is probably my favorite songwriter of all time, and like any serious fan of an artist who has died, I’m very protective of his songs. So, when I heard that one of the Avett Brothers was doing an album of Elliott covers, I was not pleased. And then I listened to it … and it’s GREAT. In particular, Jessica Lea Mayfield’s haunting vocals manage to capture the pathos in the lyrics to these songs. This album is a must for any Elliott fan.

1. Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles, Lucero

You know how sometimes a song feels like it was written specifically for you? That’s how I feel about Lucero’s entire 2015 album, All a Man Should Do. It’s largely a record of sad, reflective songs about hangovers and broken hearts—two things I’m intimately acquainted with. I loved so many songs on this album, from the horn-infused Throwback No. 2 to the uptempo Young Outlaws to the Big Star cover I’m in Love With a Girl. I came very close to picking I Woke Up in New Orleans, a song about being strung out and lonely that happens to be set in my favorite city in the world, as my favorite track of 2015. But, in the end, I had to go with the lead single, about Lucero frontman Ben Nichols tracing the footsteps of legendary (and legendarily substance-abusing) singer/songwriter Warren Zevon through LA before returning home to Memphis. I was raised on Warren Zevon, so if you name-check him in a song, it’s probably gonna end up at the top of my list. I’m pretty simple that way.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Top 10 Favorite Beatles Songs

No matter who you are, you’re not going to like this post.

The Beatles are surely the most influential and culturally omnipresent band in pop music history. Even people who don’t consider themselves Beatles fans per se will usually have at least one Fab Four tune that means something personal to them. And those Liverpudlians were extremely prolific, churning out 13 albums (by my count—international distribution muddles that number somewhat) and way more singles than I want to bother counting. The Beatles canon is generally considered to include 217 songs, all of them produced in just under a decade.

You may have heard of these guys

You may have heard of these guys

So, when considering coming up with a Top 10 list of Beatles songs, there are a couple of things to consider. First: It’s really fucking hard. My homeboy and fellow blogsmith Juan Alvarado Valdivia and I both consider ourselves rock connoisseurs, and we’ve written complementary Top 10s about Led Zeppelinbreakup songsalbum openers and album closers, and songs about drugs. But we’d never done a Beatles list. So when Juanito was in Brooklyn for a visit last month, while we were sitting at a dive bar enjoying a tasty mid-afternoon libation, I said, “Let’s do this. Beatles Top 10s. Right now.” And we wrote them out on the spot, on cocktail napkins—because there’s nothing cooler than a note written on a cocktail napkin.

Can you guess who write each list?

Note: Both our lists changed in editing. Even so, can you guess who wrote each one?

As you can see from the picture, our lists—which we’ve both altered a bit since then—had almost nothing in common with each other. This is the other great thing about evaluating such a productive, culturally important band. And of course, once our lists were written, we had no choice but to compose blogposts about them. I can’t wait to read Juanito’s (here it is!), and mine is below.

In no way is this an attempt to say I think these are objectively the “best” Beatles songs. They’re simply my favorites. I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of my choices, but try doing this yourself, and you’ll see just how tough it is. I’m not even going to do Honorable Mentions, because that list is just every Beatles song that isn’t ennumerated below.

10. Here, There and Everywhere

Paul McCartney wrote this mainstay of Revolver in 1966, after attending a listening party for the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. This period of the mid-’60s saw the two bands involved in a friendly anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better back and forth, which ended when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band broke Brian Wilson’s brain and sent him to his infamous sandbox. Still, Wilson deserves some credit for this particular tune, as Paul has noted that Here, There and Everywhere was heavily influenced by God Only Knows. It’s pretty simple ballad, lyrically, but it’s one of the loveliest songs in the Beatles catalog, especially notable for the background harmonies, which John, Paul, and George spent several days recording. Paul, John, and producer George Martin have all cited this among their favorite Beatles songs, and obviously I agree.

9. Ticket to Ride

I think most Beatles Top 10 lists would lean toward the later songs, and with good reason—it was after Rubber Soul that the band quit touring because they were sick of trying to play over the top of screaming teenagers and ratcheted up their studio production to become the revolutionary act we think of today. But there are still some bitchin’ good songs on those early albums, and Ticket to Ride, from 1965’s Help!, has always been a favorite of mine. It’s another pretty simple tune—a classic breakup song, but here’s the thing: All the little pieces of the composition are perfect. The ringing opening guitar riff, the harmony on “I think it’s todaaaaay,” the way George’s lead guitar cuts through on that killer lick at the end of the bridge, and that high pitched, double-time coda, “My baby don’t care.” It’s a sad song, but also one with an energy that brings a smile to your face.

8. Dear Prudence

Okay, here’s a song that’s not simple. John wrote the second track on The White Album while the Beatles were in India, in an attempt to coax Prudence Farrow out of a deep, extended meditation session. There are so many things I dig about this song—the droning finger-picked riff, the melodic lead, the weird psychedelic background sound effects, and the wonderful lyrics of the coda: “The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful, and so are you.”

7. Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Here’s another staple of John Lennon–penned White Album psychedelia. It was inspired by a coverline John saw on a gun magazine, and it is one of the weirdest Beatles songs. It’s not long—just 2 minutes, 43 seconds—but it’s split into three sections that are so distinct as to each almost be its own song. There’s the soft, piano inflected “She’s not a girl who misses much” intro, which gives way to a heavy, fuzzy lead guitar and John’s incantatory “I need a fix ’cause I’m going down” verse. (Lots of Beatles songs are about or inspired by drugs, but this is one of the few that’s nakedly about heroin, which John developed a problem with.) This second section is my favorite—I just love the way John sings those lyrics, along with “Mother Superior jumped the Gun”—there’s something so menacing, so un-Beatles about it. And then of course there’s the outro, with its double entendre “When I hold you in my arms and I feel my finger on your trigger”—it could be a reference to a gun or to Yoko Ono, who John had just started an affair with—and of course the weirdly upbeat “Bang bang, shoot shoot” backup lyrics. It all seems so weird and incongruous, and yet it comes together perfectly. Think about it: Has anyone else ever recorded a pop song that sounds like this? Nope.

6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

This one should be pretty obvious: The Beatles, at their creative peak, got Eric Clapton, at his own “Clapton Is God” apex, to play lead guitar on one of their songs.

clapton-is-god

The story behind this track is pretty interesting. George wrote it as a soft acoustic piece, but John and Paul, who always treated George as a bit of a kid brother, didn’t like it and refused to record it. So George went and got his buddy Slowhand (who later stole George’s wife from him), and essentially said “Eric wants to play on this song.” That convinced the guys, and the result of the session was a howling, epic guitar-driven lead over a descending A-minor progression that every guitar player learns early in his studies.

5. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Back to Help! for this deeply personal favorite of mine. It’s a pretty simple song—there’s not a whole lot of lead guitar or percussion, and John confirmed that he basically wrote it as a folk tune, with his lyrics and acoustic playing inspired by Bob Dylan. Instrumentally it’s of course most notable for the flute solo in the outro, but to be honest, this song rates so highly for me not because of any sort of musicological analysis. I love it because I’ve had my share of lonely and lovelorn periods in my life, and this song has always, always been one that I can turn to for solace. “Gather round, all you clowns, let me hear you say: Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away.”

4. Let It Be

The last sentence I wrote about You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away applies to Let It Be as well. Paul famously wrote the song after having a dream about his mother, and it doubled as a sort of plea to the members of the band to put their squabbling to rest as things were beginning to come apart. (Let It Be was the last single the band released before they broke up.) For me, personally, it’s just a song that I can always listen to when I need some comfort—much like Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. And it doesn’t hurt that the album version of Let It Be may have my favorite Beatles guitar solo (which I can’t find—what the fuck, YouTube?).

3. Here Comes the Sun

Okay, here’s the part where I say that George is my favorite Beatle, and that he doesn’t get enough credit. All Things Must Pass is the best solo album any member of the Fab Four put out, and it greatly pleases me to get two of his tunes on this list. (For the record, I’ve got two from George, three from Paul, and five from John.) Here Comes the Sun opens Side Two of Abbey Road—arguably the greatest album side ever—and it’s just a perfect acoustic guitar composition. As you’ve surely picked up from this list (and any other musical list of mine you may have read), I like really fucking depressing music. But Here Comes the Sun is an exception to that rule. It’s an unfettered expression of joy, and that’s something we can all use a bit more of in our lives.

2. Blackbird

It’s funny, I don’t consider The White Album to be my favorite Beatles album at all. On my album rankings, it would be below Rubber Soul (which I chose for my Desert Island Albums list), Abbey Road, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper, just because I feel like there’s a fair amount of filler on it, and it’s not as cohesive as those other records. But fully half of my list comes from The White Album! Probably that’s because there are 30 songs on it, but at any rate, The White Album’s highs are awfully high, and none stand out more for me than Blackbird, my personal pick as the most beautiful Beatles recording. Paul’s fingerpicking is tasty (“Macca” was pretty clearly the best musician in the group), and while the lyrics seem uplifting, they have a dark edge: He wrote it after watching footage of the race riots that exploded across the U.S. in 1968. It’s yet another example of finding beauty in tragedy—and isn’t that what all great art is?

1. In My Life

In My Life is a love song so honest and tender that many fans believed it had to be Paul’s song—though McCartney himself has always insisted it was John’s. As to why it’s my personal favorite, there’s not a lot to say that I didn’t already write here, but in brief: When my best friend and ex-girlfriend Lara died in 2011, we sang this song while scattering her ashes on Sands Beach in Santa Barbara. I’ll never hear it again without thinking of her. It always hurts a little bit, but it’s better to hurt than to forget, and In My Life helps me remember.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2015 MLB Playoff Preview

Thanks to injuries, a shitty starting rotation, and various odd-year gremlins, my San Francisco Giants will not be participating in the playoffs. See you at the victory parade after the 2016 season!

It's okay, we've got a few of these

It’s okay, we’ve got a few of these

But just because the Giants aren’t in the playoffs doesn’t mean I’m not interested. In truth, we have a fascinating slate of matchups ahead of us for this postseason. I always like to get my picks on record, so here, for your reading pleasure, is how I see the playoffs shaking out. I would encourage you to run to Vegas to bet against these picks.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Wild Card

Pirates vs. Cubs

The narrative around this game has been almost entirely about the invincibility of Jake Arrieta, and I get that. Dude has been a beast this season, and he’s shut the Pirates down several times. But you know what? Weird things happen in the playoffs sometimes. I can’t really justify this pick, but in my gut I just feel like something is gonna go awry for Chicago. I mean, they are still the Cubs.

Give me the Pirates.

NLDS

Mets vs. Dodgers

What a fun series this is gonna be. The Dodgers have the best one-two pitching punch in the big leagues in Kershaw and Greinke, but if there’s any team that can match them, it’s the Mets with deGrom, Harvey, and Syndergaard. I may be betting with my heart more than my head here—the Mets are definitely my bandwagon team for these playoffs—but I can see New York’s young pitchers matching LA’s stars, and that repugnant Dodger bullpen is gonna come back to bite them in the ass. I’ll take the Metropolitans in 5 games.

Cardinals vs. Pirates

The Cards were the best team in the bigs this year, but they had a ton of RISP and cluster luck (see, these picks aren’t entirely based on truthiness!), and their outstanding pitching took a hit with Carlos Martinez getting shut down for the year with shoulder problems. I actually think the Bucs will have the advantage on the mound in this series, and an epic crowd at PNC Park will push Pittsburgh to a win in 4 games.

NLCS

Pirates vs. Mets

Let’s ride this Mets bandwagon all the way to the World Series! (I mostly just want to see a New York team play in the World Series while I’m living here.) Mets in 6.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Wild Card

Yankees vs. Astros

I really haven’t been that impressed with the Yanks as of late. But I’m even less impressed with the swooning ’stros. Give me New York’s power, quality bullpen, and homefield advantage in this game. The Bronx Bombers move on.

Blue Jays vs. Rangers

I’m totally sold on this Blue Jays team. They had by far the best run differential in the Majors, they went on a huge second half run, their lineup is awesome, fans will be nuts at the prospect of Canada’s first playoff team in more than 20 years, and they have David Price at the head of their rotation. I’m smelling a Blue Jays sweep.

Royals vs. Yankees

This harkens back to the old days of George Brett and Billy Martin and pine tar and Goose Gossage and the greatest umpire argument of all time.

Here’s hoping Kansas City brings back the powder blue unis for this series. No matter what color their jerseys are, KC is the superior team. Royals in 4.

Royals vs. Blue Jays

This series will be so fun. Both teams are really good, and they really don’t like each other—there have already been a couple of brawls between them this year. But KC is showing some cracks at the worst possible time—Johnny Cueto has struggled since he arrived from Cincinnati, and closer Greg Holland is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Even were it not for those issues, I just think the Jays are the better team. Toronto in 6.

WORLD SERIES

Blue Jays vs. Mets

Which one of these Cinderella seasons will end with a trophy presentation? I really would love for my friends Stan and Charlie to see a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes for the first time since Keith Hernandez…

Because he's Keith Hernandez

Because he’s Keith Hernandez

But I’m taking the team that I think was actually the best in baseball this year. Toronto in 6. Touch ’em all.

If it’s any consolation, guys, I’m always wrong.

Posted in Baseball, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Niners Week Three Awards: The Roof Is on Fire Edition

Aw, how cute: a tiny house burning down!

Aw, how cute: a tiny house burning down!

I’ve been a 49ers fan since the late ’80s. The Niners fanbase is generally regarded as pretty spoiled, and with some good reason—after all, we had Joe Montana and then Steve Young, who combined for two solid decades of dominant football. But we Niners fans have seen the other side of the equation. We lived through the Erickson/Nolan/Singletary era. Those were some bad teams that had a lot of bad losses—but I don’t think anything we saw back then compares with what happened last weekend. That was the worst game I’ve ever seen a Niners team play, and it’s time to admit that we might be looking at the worst squad in San Francisco history. Let’s broke out the marshmallows and roast them over the burning husk of this football team.

The Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted Award (Best Nervous Breakdown): Colin Kaepernick

I watched the game this weekend at a sports bar in Brooklyn. I walked in just after 4 p.m. and asked the bartender to switch one of the TVs to the Niners game. Not ten seconds later, Colin Kaepernick made a dying quail of a throw out toward the sideline from his own goal line. As soon as the turd of a throw left his hand, I knew it was a pick-six.

kap6.1

When the inevitable happened, I put my head down on the bar, and everyone around me started laughing.

Just a couple of minutes later, on the Niners’ next possession, Kaep made an even worse throw, a sidearm fling off his back foot, again toward the sideline. Once again, I knew it was a pick-six the moment the ball left his hand.

kapp6.2

If anything, the second throw was worse than the first, and as Tyrann Mathieu strolled toward the end zone, I was the one who laughed—the maniacal, hopeless laughter of someone who was watching his house burn down with all his worldly possessions inside. Six minutes into the first quarter, with the score 14-0, the game was over.

I’ve long been a Colin Kaepernick supporter. You can ask any of my friends. When Harbaugh replaced Smith with Kaep, I thought it was the right move. When people doubted Kaep while he struggled at times during the 2013 season, I defended him, saying that I’d rather have him than any of his contemporaries except for Andrew Luck. Even last year, as he was falling apart, I thought he still might be salvageable.

Now? Nope. I know I’m not supposed to overreact to one game, and I know that even the Bradys and Mannings of the world have afwul games from time to time, but I am not exaggerating when I say that say that that was the worst game I’ve ever seen an NFL quarterback play. He threw four picks, and none of them were unlucky. Each one was terrible in its own beautiful, tragic, Yeatsean way. Kaepernick’s incompetence was so perfect, it verged on poetry. A terrible beauty is born, indeed.

Some numbers, for perspective: At one point early in the third quarter, Kaepernick had completed five passes to members of his own team and four passes to members of the Cardinals. He finished the game 9-for-19 for 67 yards. His QBR was 3.2.

And the worst thing isn’t even the performance; it’s the way he and the team reacted to it. Down 21-0 in the second quarter, they called 13 straight running plays. SF clearly lost any faith in Kaep’s ability to throw the ball. And even when he threw, it wasn’t exactly a high-concept offense.

The Honey Badger didn’t give a shit—nor should he have. Kaepernick was not an NFL quarterback in this game. He wasn’t even a high school quarterback. He was a mental patient huddled on the ground crying, like Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

Colin Kaepernick is already dead. And so is this season.

The Roof Is on Fire Award (Self-explanatory): The Entire Niners Defense

With the way Kaepernick and the offense played on Sunday, the Niners could have run out the ’85 Bears defense and still gotten stomped. But let’s be clear: This defense is pretty fucking far from the Monsters of the Midway. We knew the secondary was trouble after what the Steelers did to them last week, but this outing was just as bad. Let me put it this way: Who were Arizona’s three major offensive stars of this game? Carson Palmer, who at this point in his career is held together with staples and duct tape; Chris Johnson who was last good two teams and three seasons ago but was stiff-arming tacklers like peak T.O.; and Larry Fitzgerald, who is apparently invisible to defensive backs. The combined age of these three? 847 (give or take).

The old dudes on the Cardinals threw a Molotov cocktail on the 49ers’ roof. We don’t need no water, let the motherfucker burn.

The Ray McDonald Award (Person That Makes Me Hate Football): Jed York

Ah, Jed York. The legacy owner who inherited the once-proud San Francisco 49ers. The guy who gave multiple felons multiple chances to keep coming back and playing for said team. The guy who moved said team to the suckpit of Santa Clara County to vacuum up that sweet Silicon Valley cash. The guy who waged a backbiting whisper campaign against one of the five best coaches in the NFL and then canned him because he said he wanted to “win with class.” The guy who took this team, poured gasoline all over it, and then lit a match. Actually, let’s give Jed his own special one-off award:

The Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale Award (Person Who Burned This Thing to the Ground): Jed York

Bassett

Yeah, that’s about right. Cozy up to those flames. Warm, aren’t they? Satisfying, no? You see that car, Jed? That’s your franchise now.

The Joe Starkey Award (Best Words About the Game): My Favorite bartender, Annie

Allow me to digress for a moment. I moved to New York City in the fall of 2010. Upon arriving, I went looking for a sports bar where I could watch the Niners, and I came across Finnerty’s in the East Village. It wasn’t a great time to be a Niners fan—that was the last Singletary season—but my timing was still pretty good, as less than two months after I landed in the Big Apple, the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco. I watched every game of that epic run at Finns (I even wore the same shirt every night), and became good friends with Annie, the bartender who had made it a Bay Area expat sports bar.

Let’s go ahead and give Annie the “Official Dreamgirl Award” as well

Let’s go ahead and give Annie the “Official Dreamgirl Award” as well

Anyway, as I said, I watched the game in Brooklyn, this week, not at Finns, and Annie’s not even a bartender there anymore, but we’re still suffering together. Early in the third quarter when we were down by, I dunno, a billion points, she messaged me: “I am assuming you’re going to have alcohol poisoning after this Niner game…”

Annie knows me pretty well, but in this case, she was wrong. How many Anchors did I have during this game?

Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 0 Anchors

That’s right, zero Anchors. Because I didn’t get drunk during the game. Because it was over before I could order a single beer. You know things are bad when I can’t even come up with an excuse to get drunk.

At this point, you might be asking, “How fucked are we?” Well, you saw what the Cardinals did to us, right? Okay, you know who we’re playing this weekend? Only Aaron Fucking Rodgers. The best quarterback in the NFL, who’s making a claim at being the best quarterback ever, who this past Monday night torched the Kansas City Chiefs with five touchdown passes. Who was playing QB for the Chiefs? None other than Alex Smith, of course—who the Niners chose over Rodgers in the 2005 draft. I will never, ever stop being bitter about that—and neither will Rodgers. Here’s my best guess at what he’s going to do to our defense next Sunday.

I’m never gonna get tired of using that video, and it’s a good thing, because holy shit, have you seen what our schedule looks like? After the Packers, the next seven games are at N.Y. Giants, Ravens, Seahawks, at Rams, Falcons, at Seahawks, Cardinals. Do you honestly believe the Niners can win any of those games? MAYBE at the Rams, but just thinking about Kaepernick against Aaron Donald and that Rams D-line makes me want to curl up in a ball. There’s a very real chance that the Niners will be 1-10 by the time they get to another winnable game, and even then, our December games against the Bears and Browns are both on the road. This is it, folks. Abandon all hope. We’re fucking toast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Niners Week Two Awards: Dawgs Weekend Edition

Now that’s what more like it! One week after San Francisco seemed to turn my preseason prognostications of doom upside down with a 20-3 stomping of the Vikings, we got a game that lined up a lot closer with my expectations. The Steelers abused the Niners by a score of 43-18, and the game never really felt that close (Pittsburgh was up 29-3 in the second quarter). Let’s take a walk into the fire and try not to get burned (or at least not as badly burned as Kenneth Acker).

Antonio Brown turning Kenneth Acker and Eric Reid into pillars of salt

Antonio Brown turning Kenneth Acker and Eric Reid into pillars of salt

The Joe Starkey Award (Best Words About the Game): My Attorney Matt

Every year, I get together with my three college roommates—my attorneys Matt, Josh, and Rob—for a weekend of debauchery. Last year, we met up in Vegas for Week One of the season, and were rewarded with San Francisco’s best (and only) game of the season, a pummeling of the Dallas Cowboys. This year, the Dawgs came out to NYC to hang out with me, and one of the festivities we planned was to watch the Niners at Finnerty’s, the Big Apple’s Bay Area expat sports bar. None of the guys had been to Finns before, except for Matt, who went to watch one game there with me in 2013—a miserable Week Three loss to the Indianapolis Colts (I won’t even link you to the column I wrote about it, because it was so short and depressing). Well, right around the time the Steelers were dropping the cold, dead, cement-shoed husk of the 49ers into the Ohio River, Matt looked around the bar, turned to me, and said, “I’m never coming here again.”

On a related note, I think we’re gonna stop tying Dawgs Weekend to football.

The Sarah Connor Award (Person Burned Alive in a Nuclear Holocaust): The Niners Secondary

As I watched Antonio Brown sprint across the field toward the end zone, uncovered, again and again, I was trying to remember the last time I’d seen someone burned as badly as the Niners’ DBs repeatedly were. And then I figured it out.

Brown finished with 9 catches for 195 yards and a score. I’m pretty sure the only reason he didn’t set a league record for receiving yards was because the game was over by halftime. The only thing missing from Kenneth Acker’s Judgment Day was Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “September 20, 2015, Antonio Brown becomes self-aware.”

The Ray McDonald Award (Person That Makes Me Hate Football): Ben Roethlisberger

The fat-faced quarterback with a history of assaulting women was going to win this award no matter what he did in the game. The sad thing is, he had the sort of game that reminds us why guys who are good at football continually get second chances: He went 21-for-27 for 369 yards and three TDs, coming just short of a perfect quarterback rating. It’s pretty easy to do that when the defense you’re playing against collects a grand total of ZERO quarterback hits. Fuck you, Big Ben.

The Denny Green Award (Player Who Is Who We Thought He Was): The Entire Niners Team

Get used to this, y’all. Won’t be the last time I play this video this season.

Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 3 Anchors

100427649-anchor-steam-six-pack-courtesy.600x400

Yeah, the game itself was horrible, but I can’t go all the way to zero this early in the season, because we’re probably gonna have worse losses than this. Also, I got to spend Sunday afternoon watching football and drinking a few Anchors with my boys. How bad could it be?

Yeah. Pretty bad.

Posted in football, Niners Weekly Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Niners Week One Awards: The Jon Snow Edition

Ladies and gentleman, the Niners Awards make their return in triumphant fashion, as San Francisco/Santa Clara began their season with a 20-3 pasting of the Minnesota Vikings in Silicon Valley that was basically the polar opposite of their debacle of a home opener last year. This recap will be a bit longer than normal because I was watching it at home and taking notes instead of getting drunk at Finnerty’s, but let’s hand out some awards, starting with the big one.

The Jon Snow Award (Sports Blogger Who Knows Nothing): Me!

game-of-thrones-jon-snow-header

Who’s the guy that predicted the Niners would go 5-11 and their season would descend to the level of Divine Comedy? Me! Who predicted the Vikings would be a playoff team? Me!

Now, one game does not a season make, and you never want to overreact to Week One. Just look at last year, when the Niners thrashed the Cowboys in Dallas in what as far as I’m concerned was the first and last game of the 2014 season. No one can really claim to know all that much about these teams at this point, but I’m ready to acknowledge that I’m the Jon Snow of sports bloggers. I know nothing. Just so we’re clear, how much do I know, Ygritte?

The Joe Starkey Award (Best Words About the Game): Tierney Cooke

This season I’m going to start a new award, named after Joe Starkey, the great play-by-play man who delivered some of the best calls in Bay Area sports history (including “the band is out on the field” for “The Play” during the 1982 Big Game and “Owens! Owens! Owens!” for the T.O touchdown against the Packers in the 1999 Wild Card game. Hell, let’s hear that one.

Anyway, I have a lot of friends who are Niners fans scattered around this great country, and I tend to get a lot of amusing text messages before, during, and after the games. This year, I’m going to recognize the best message I receive about the game with the Joe Starkey Award. My friend and sometime guest blogger Tierney, right here in Brooklyn, sewed up the Week One award before the game even kicked off, with this gem:

The lesson here, obviously, is don’t buy sports jerseys.

A close second for the award, by the way, went to my attorneys Josh and Matt. Near the end of that absurdly sloppy and disjointed first half, Josh texted “How are we not losing 21-0?” Matt immediately responded, “How are we not winning 14-0?” I had no response for either of them. Anyway, on to the good stuff.

The El Guapo Award (Running Back Who Had the Balls to Nickname Himself “El Guapo”): Carlos Hyde

Hyde showed promise in limited action last season, and any optimistic projections for the 2015 Niners included the assumption of a breakout for him. Well, given last night’s performance, it looks like we might get that breakout. He destroyed the Vikes for 168 yards on 26 carries, and he scored two touchdowns, the first of those coming on a run that featured a glorious spin move.

uLw8lXe

Hyde was so good, you might even say that he had a plethora of great runs.

He did not wait for the Vikings’ flower to open. He took the game over.

The Charles Haley Award (Dominant Defensive Player Who Needs to Stay Out of Trouble): Aaron Lynch

This could double as the Aldon Smith Award, but since the team honored Haley last night, let’s name it after him. Anyway, it goes to Aaron Lynch, a young talented player with a checkered past who looked fucking great last night. He had a sack, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and he was generally in the Vikes backfield the entire night. Along with Antoine Bethea and NaVorro Bowman (welcome back!), he was the biggest reason for the defense’s dominance.

The Denny Green Award (Player Who Is Who We Thought He Was): Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick looked decent. The numbers (17 of 26 for 165 yards) aren’t anything to write home about, but he didn’t turn the ball over, he led a few long drives, and he had a few big runs, including an early one on which he took a vicious hit and popped right back up. As long as you accept that this is who he is, and your team has a good running game and defense, you can win with him.

The Reggie Bush Award (Player Who Completely Predictably Got Injured): Reggie Bush!

If you had forced me to bet my life on one thing I would have seen in the Niners opener, it would have been this:

Bush

Wait, a player who always gets hurt got hurt in his first game with his new team? Shocking!

Bush is game-to-game. I expect him to return just in time for a meteor to strike the planet

The Al Davis Award (Dysfunctional Football Team): The Santa Clara Raiders

For the uninitiated, last season I noted the ways that the Niners had turned into a dysfunctional, criminal organization that played incompetent, penalty-ridden football—you know, like the Raiders. Here’s hoping I get to retire this award this year, but until I’m convinced they don’t suck, I’ll still be tracking their Santa Clara Raiders tendencies. These reared their heads in the first half, when the opening drive was derailed by a holding penalty and then a blocked field goal, and then when Jarryd Hayne muffed his first punt return in the NFL. People have been awfully excited about the “Hayne Plane,” but last night, the plane crashed into the mountain.

The Ray McDonald Award (Person That Makes Me Hate Football): Adrian Peterson

This award’s namesake doesn’t need much explaining. Football has gotten pretty depressing to watch over the last couple of years, and while I’d like to focus on the fun stuff, I’m also going to note the stuff that’s gross. This week’s recipient comes as no surprise: Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who brutally whipped his child and never really admitted to doing anything wrong, even when he was suspended for a whole season. Last night, before the game, Peterson told ESPN’s sideline reporter that he felt “redemption” upon his return to the field. Really? You’re redeemed for beating the shit out of your kid because you get to play football for millions of dollars? Actually, according to the NFL, that logic is perfect. Let’s just move on.

Overall Rating For This Game (On a scale of Zero to Twelve Anchors, in honor of San Francisco’s favorite beverage): 5 Anchors

100427649-anchor-steam-six-pack-courtesy.600x400

A standard, run-of-the-mill victory usually rates about 4 Anchors. I’ll bump this one up to 5 because of how great the defense and running game looked, and because it’s nice to get the season off on the right foot. (It won’t get a 6 because of the Santa Clara Raiders shenanigans in the first half, and because it’s possible that the Vikings just really suck.)

At any rate, it was a good, unexpected Week One performance. This team, man. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment