“I’m Sorry To…”

Please indulge me for a few moments and allow me to “vent”, as the saying goes.

I have been working the graveyard shift at work, 9:30 PM to 6:00 AM. I usually sleep for about four or five hours when I get home, then take a nap for an hour, hour and a half in the afternoon. Today, for various reasons, I only got about three hours of interrupted sleep which is not good. I got up, showered and went to meet my wife and kids for lunch. Then came back home, did a couple of chores and got ready to take an early (and hopefully extended) nap.

And here comes the “venting”.

Let me start out by saying that if you are going to impose yourself on someone, please don’t make an ass of yourself by qualifying your opening statement with “I’m sorry to…” That’s how my first call from work started. “I’m sorry to bother you but we’ve got an issue with so-and-so.” This happened four different times. About the time I thought I would be able to go to sleep the phone would ring and the voice on the other end would say “I’m sorry to…” Finally, I said “You know, you’re not sorry, otherwise you would stop doing it.”

The “I’m sorry to…” phrase is such a pet peeve of mine and it drives me crazy in almost all situations. We all have to tell people things we know that they won’t want to listen to. We all have to ask favors of people. We all, at one time or another, have to impose on other people. Don’t exacerbate the issue by uttering the ridiculous qualifier. Granted, there are probably a few times when you actually are sorry for the imposition, but, for Heaven’s sake don’t issue the phrase on multiple, consecutive impositions, proving your insincerity.

Here’s how Webster defines sorry: feeling sorrow, regret, or penitence. And that last word is where my argument hinges. One of the synonyms for penitence is repentance, which has as it’s root repent. The definition of repent, again according to Webster is: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. If I am truly penitent I will stop doing the thing I am claiming to be sorry for.

So, hey, I realize we’ve all got problems. If you need to impose on me for whatever reason, just do it and get it over with.

And just so you know, I’m really sorry to have bothered you with this post.

Scatter-shooting On Music

A friend of mine posted and article recently (you can find it here) on the sad, sorry state of music these days. To a certain degree I agree with the article (although I certainly wouldn’t hold up Chicago 17 as the pinnacle achievement of the 80’s) but with the following caveat: Top 40 music today sucks, but there is a lot of good music out there. The problem is you have to go find it – its not going to find you. There are still plenty of albums by artists out there that are really good. I consider an album to be good if it has one to two filler tracks (again with the Chicago 17 – it had a few) with the rest being “strong to very strong”. A good example of what I would consider a good album from the last few years would be Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World (or just Jimmy Eat World by Jimmy Eat World for those of you who bought the album after 9/11). Its the perfect example of a great power pop album. As I’m looking at the track list, I see no filler tracks whatsoever. And while Jimmy Eat World did have a Top 40 hit from this album, “The Middle”, everything else they’ve released seems to have been ignored by the Top 40 crowd.

My main problem with Top 40 music these days is that it seems to have been taken over by the Hip-Hop/Rap crowd. Now I don’t have a problem with that type of music necessarily, although I’m not a fan of much of it, but it seems that the Top 40 had a lot more variety when I was growing up than it does today. If you look at this week’s Top 100 you’ll find its like I said; mostly Hip-Hop/Rap with some Country (of course I could write a completely separate article about the sad state of Country music today; it’s basically average pop music with banal lyrics sung with a twang or drawl), generic Rock, Dance and the ubiquitous Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) thrown in for good measure.

So for all you music lovers who pine for the days when The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, U2, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Elvis (Presley & Costello), Hank Williams (I & II), George Jones, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, The Cars, and even Chicago ruled the airwaves, here’s some music I think it might be worth your while to check out.

Raising Sand is the new album by the unlikely duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. When I first saw that these two had made a record together, I immediately wanted to hear it but didn’t think that it would be very good. Boy, was I wrong! Whoever came up with the idea of putting these two artists together is genius. The tracks on this album range from Country to 50’s-style Rock (a lot of the tracks are covers of 50’s stuff) to what I can only describe as the Gypsy sound of the track “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”.  The other thing you need to know about this album is that is was produced by T Bone Burnett, the genius behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and many other albums. With very few exceptions, you’re going to get a great album if he’s produced it regardless of the artist – he always seems to get the best from whoever he’s producing.

One of my favorite bands is the now defunct Cotton Mather. Their two best albums, Kontiki and The Big Picture evoke everything that was great about the British Invasion of the ’60’s, especially the Beatles. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher said that he wished he had written Kontiki. One of the great things about Cotton Mather is that even though they have an obvious Beatles/Dylan influence, they still manage to make music that sounds original and new rather than merely derivative. If you can still find either of these two albums, pick them up.

Goodbye Blue Monday is a great album by a new artist, Jeremy Fisher (not to be confused by the frog from the Beatrix Potter tale). The tracks alternate between acousticy/folky ballads to jangly upbeat numbers. Its a great acoustic rock album with killer melodies that brings to mind 70’s era Paul Simon and Dylan.

My Morning Jacket is a group from Kentucky that combines the jam-band stylings of groups like Widespread Panic with Neil Young/Crazy Horse and Southern Rock elements. One reviewer described their sound as “stone-souled folkiness” which is better than anything I can come up with. It Still Moves and Z are great places to start if you want to check them out.

Ben Folds is a guy that has been around since the early ’90’s, first as Ben Folds Five, then solo. Pretty much everything he’s released is pure pop genius. Saving Silverman, his latest release with all new material, is probably my favorite, although Whatever and Ever Amen, the Ben Folds Five release, is up there.

Robbie Fulks is another artist that you probably won’t find at your local record store (do those still exist?) or Wal-Mart. His albums alternate between power Pop and Alt-Country and always have great, catchy melodies. For the Pop music version of Robbie pick up Let’s Kill Saturday Night or Couples in Trouble. For the Alt-Country version pick up South Mouth or Georgia Hard. The fact that this guy has never had a hit, Country or Pop, illustrates everything that’s wrong with today’s music scene.

Well, there you go – I think this post has definitely lived up to it’s title, the scatter-shooting part anyway. There’s tons of other stuff out there that I like but I’ve rambled on for way too long.

Happy listening.

Happy Easter

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me. 
Salvation is of the Lord.
May your salvation O Lord be ever with us.
From St. Patrick’s Breastplate

       

Tomorrow is Easter, the most important holiday for Christians. Easter is so special because of the hope it brings. Hope for the individual today, hope for the nations and hope for everyone who has been and is yet to come. At Christmas we like to say that we celebrate God’s gift to us; His son Jesus. But Easter is the celebration of the true gift; the gift of Salvation. For the fact that God became incarnate in the form of a man would have meant nothing to us had Jesus not made the conscious decision to sacrifice Himself for our sins by dying on the cross and then conquering death at the Resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

John 3:16, probably the most famous verse of the Bible, says this: “”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” As a child this was one of the first Bible verses I memorized, but I don’t think I fully understood it until my own children were born. I loved both my girls the instant I saw them because they were a part of me. Its an amazing thing to feel total and unconditional love for a tiny person that you are just seeing for the first time.   It was only then that I understood the true nature of what God had done for us; giving us His son. Asking His son to give up being ruler of the universe and humble himself to become one of us; to live with us, and ultimately to be rejected, despised and murdered by us. What a great and humbling feeling it is to know that the infinite, omnipotent, God of all creation loved me (and you) so much.

Happy Easter everyone.

Please Read the Letter

I was coming home from the bookstore (picked up biographies on Washington and Truman), listening to the great new CD by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Raising Sand. One of the songs, “Please Read the Letter”, made me stop and think. Does anyone write letters anymore? I know apart from the occasional card – Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries – I don’t write anything in my own hand, that is, not electronically. And in fact, if you took all of the hand-written messages I’ve written in the last few years, I imagine that the entirety of the text wouldn’t fill more than two pages of notebook paper. Maybe I’m wrong but the letter seems to be something that is relegated to antiquity now, as quaint as the pony express and the telegraph. Something that our parents and ancestors did but my generation doesn’t and my children’s generation certainly won’t. It seems weird but I can remember when letter writing was still the most practical and affordable way to communicate with someone long distance. Before email. Before cell phones and inexpensive long distance plans.

Throughout the years there have been many different types of letters. At one point, letters were the only means of communicating with people outside of the town one lived in. Kings would send letters to petitioners (sealed with a special emblem to verify its authenticity) letting them know of decisions that had been rendered. In the American Civil War, orders were sent by letter to far off subordinates or even to subordinates on the same battlefield. Of course, the song that I was listening to referred to that most revered of all letters: the love letter.

I heard a news bit on NPR the other day about a travelling museum exhibition from France that is a collection of love letters; Some were by famous people, some not. I can imagine that texting has replaced the love letter/note for today’s misguided youth. I’m not up with all the texting abbreviations (LOL and WTF are about the extent of my vocabulary) and imagine that any professions of love sent through that medium would be indecipherable to me. I myself, have written a few love letters and notes in my adolescence and I’m sure I would be extremely embarrassed if I could read them now. Teenagers are the worst at writing love letters because everything is so melodramatic for them, being all hopped up on hormones and all. I have vague memories of adolescent attempts at florid language, overwrought emotion and barely disguised sexual innuendo. There was one girl that I “went with” in 8th grade that would go to her father’s house for part of the summer and I remember we exchanged a few missives that were riddled with poetic proclamations of love and expressions of angst at being separated. By the way, “went with” or “going with” is the term we used in school for dating before you were old enough to “date”, which generally meant you were of driving age and could go on “real” dates. “Going with” someone usually involved holding hands between classes, walking home together if you lived near each other and having one of your parents drop you off at the theater for a movie once in a while. Anyway, one of the more embarrassing passages that I can remember writing to her was that I needed her like the Texas Rangers needed a win. I thought this was a pretty heartfelt, emotional and descriptive way to let her know that my love was true. It was only years later that I realized that most girls didn’t really appreciate sports analogies nor did they find them particularly romantic.

With that realization, I gave up my dream of being the first romance novelist to write one novel set around each of the NFL football teams (think of the titles: Passion in Pittsburgh, Dallas Desire, The Bridges of the Baltimore Colts).

Just kidding about that last bit of course.

Mustache Talk

My friend called me the other day to tell me about a new guy that works on the dock at his job. He said that the guy is sporting a mustache that stops about half an inch on either side of his upper lip. I thought about that for a second and said, “A Hitler mustache?” He said, “Well not quite, but close.”

In this day and time why would any man want to wear a mustache without some sort of supporting beard? Here are the only reasons I can think of:

1. He’s gay.

2. He wants to look like an evil dictator. All possible mustaches have a corresponding dictator that wore it. The Toothbrush (Hitler); the Handlebar (Stalin); the Pencil (Pinochet); the list goes on and on.

3. He wants to look like the biggest back-woods, redneck hick ever. A bushier version of the Fu Manchu is the usual choice for one of these guys.

4. He wants to look like a 1970’s Major League Baseball player. See Rollie Fingers.

5. He’s a Freddie Mercury impersonator (in which case, see #1)

6. He’s Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite

If none of the descriptions above fit you, don’t wear a mustache. If none of the descriptions above fit one of your loved ones, don’t let them wear a mustache. If you are wearing a mustache, seek help. Please. 

Starving

I belong to a local Baptist church and attend regularly. Last year my church made a commitment to send congregation members as missionaries to the Yalunka tribe located in Mali a country in western Africa. This tribe is what the Southern Baptist International Mission Board terms an “unreached people group”, meaning they have never had any contact with Christianity. We have sent several different church members on trips throughout the past year. Today in church, one of the members of the most recent trip gave us a report of how things went . At first, I wasn’t paying too much attention. He was saying all the usual things. About the differences between here and there. Things like the infrastructure (mostly dirt roads) and the houses (huts made from grass, mud and dung). Then he said something that really caught my attention. They were on their way to the main village that our volunteer missionaries always visit when a representative from another village approached them. He said that it was know that the group from my church was there teaching about the “Jesus Road” and he asked them to come to his village and teach them. The group explained to him that they had a very tight itinerary and weren’t sure if they would be able to come to the man’s village. The church member said that it broke his heart to turn the man down since the people in that area of Mali were obviously “…starving to hear the Gospel of Christ.” But he said that once the group got to their destination village they had found a way to manipulate their schedule enough to spend around a day and a half in the man’s village. After a few days a messenger came to them with a piece of paper. It was a petition, signed by all of the people in the village of the man they had met on the road, begging them to come to their village and teach them about Jesus. That story struck me in a visceral and emotional way. I guess it was the juxtaposition of the two societies. Here in America we have people bringing lawsuits against school districts and cities because they feel offended that they have to look at a Nativity scene at Christmastime. In Mali, these people were begging someone to come and talk to them about Christ. It made me think that, regardless of our differences, we are all searching for the truth. I don’t really know what lesson I should take out of what I heard today. Maybe I’ll write more about it once I have time to ponder it. It just made me stop and think.