Badge of Honor

I have two daughters, aged 3 and 4, and this past weekend we took them on their first camping trip. We only stayed one night but they had a blast.

4 or 5 weeks ago my oldest daughter got stung by a wasp while she and her sister where taking a walk with Mommy. It flew up her her shorts leg and stung her 5 times before my wife could get her shorts off and kill it. Even thought the incident happened over a month ago my daughter still talks about it as if it occurred yesterday or today. Often when I come home or call from work she’ll say in a very serious tone, “Daddy, you know I have five wasp stings.”

So as we’re backing out of the driveway this past weekend I say, “Are you girls ready to go camping?” and they both excitedly yell “Yeah!” Then my youngest daughter offers up the following statement: “I sure hope I get stung by a wasp!” I thought that I must have misheard her, so I asked if she meant she hoped she didn’t get stung by a wasp. But she stuck with her first statement, “No, I want to get a wasp sting.” I told her that wasp stings really hurt and that she really didn’t want to get one. Her reply to this was, “Well, maybe a spider bite would be OK.”

I had to laugh that it appears that getting bitten by a bug seems to have become a badge of honor to my daughters.

While we were at our campsite the same daughter fell down and got a pretty good gash on her knee. After a few tears and Mommy cleaning the wound, she ran over to me and exclaimed, “Daddy! Look at my knee!” I looked it over; “Hmmm, that’s almost as good as a wasp sting, huh?” My daughter tilted her head up and a serious, thoughtful look crossed her face; then after a moment she smiled and said “Almost.”

United We Fall

I read an interesting article recently about Barack Obama and especially his repeated calls for “Unity”. Much has been made about his supposed ability to “reach out across the aisle” and to “unite” Americans of all parties, races and creeds. But oddly enough, Obama doesn’t have much of a history of bi-partisan voting. During his tenure in the U. S. Senate he has actually voted the party line more often than the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. That bears repeating. The guy that the Democrats voted to lead them in the Senate has had fewer party-line votes than Obama. The main thrust of the article is best stated as: who cares about unity? While Obama seems to put unity forward as a value, unity is actually value neutral. If we could all unite around the banner of Peace, Love, and Girl Scout Cookies that would be a good thing. Nazi Germany was pretty united; that was not so good. And if Obama is so hot for unity, why doesn’t he jump on board with all of the President’s policies? Wouldn’t that be a great example of reaching across the aisle? Hey, if you want unity lead by example. Of course, that scenario is as ridiculous as his call for unity is insincere. In reality Obama doesn’t believe the steaming pile he’s shoveling any more than you or I should. His voting record proves that. The fact is that the call for “unity” makes for great sound bites and campaign rhetoric but has no value or practical use in the American political arena. Who would respect the politician that sacrificed his political values in the name of unity? In fact, one of the problems that so many Republicans had/have with McCain is that he seems to have taken that tack too often for comfort. The problem with Obama’s calls for unity is that it sounds as if he’s labeling dissent as unhelpful or even un-American. Basically, his message seems to be if you’re not with us you’re part of the problem. 

The Founding Fathers certainly didn’t care too much about unity. As I mentioned in a post before, the political atmosphere of the Revolutionary/Founding period was probably the most rancorous period in our history. The Founding Fathers couldn’t agree on whether or not to split with England or stay and press for more rights. Once the split happened, they couldn’t agree on how to prosecute the war. Should Washington try for a bold, decisive move crushing the invading army on the field of battle or should it be a “war of posts” whereby Washington would adopt a defensive position only joining in battle when absolutely necessary, thereby wearing the enemy down in a protracted war? Once they had achieved independence and it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation weren’t doing the job, the Founders were divided on whether to revamp the Articles or ditch them and create the government eventually outlined in the Constitution. And even the system laid out in the Constitution not only sets up an adversarial system among the three branches with checks and balances but also has the individual States contending against the Federal government.

And then of course, the Founders gave us the two party political system. And although at the time, most of them detested the idea of partisanship (Jefferson famously saying “If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”), James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, later admitted that it was one of the greatest of their generation’s contributions. The party founded by Jefferson and Madison was created solely for the purpose of thwarting the efforts of the Federalists led by George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson spent most of his time as Secretary of State (for Washington) and Vice President (for Adams) scheming against and trying to undermine the authority and accomplishments of the very administrations he was “working” for. And he did it all because he felt these fellow patriots were betraying the “true spirit” of 1776. So the myth of the all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude of the Founders is just that, a myth. The fact is that the Founding Fathers recognized that constant debate and contention gave our government the best chance of meeting the challenges it was sure to face.

The Founders for the most part were unified in their desire to see America succeed; they just strongly disagreed about what success meant and about how to achieve it. The same holds true today. I believe that, with a few exceptions, most of our politicians want what’s best for America and her people. But we all have different ideas on what truly is best and how to go about making our vision for America a reality. The best thing our politicians, specifically the presidential candidates, can do is jettison the silly rhetoric and have honest discussions about their ideas on the direction our country should take.

Urban Cowboys

I’m a fan of Country Music, at least the old-style country music. Today, the only thing that distinguishes most country songs from pop/rock songs is the twang in the singer’s voice. Maybe they’ll throw in a fiddle or pedal steel every now and then, but that’s rare.

What I thought I’d do for you today is give you my top 10 country songs done by pop/rock acts. Each of these songs are either country in theme or style, most of them both. A couple of them are poking fun at the country genre but you can tell that the musicians have a healthy respect and love for the music. So without further ado…

10. “Hot Dog”, Led Zeppelin – You can tell they really had fun with this. From the sloppy “chicken-pickin'” style of Page’s guitar to Jones’ exuberantly played barrelhouse piano part anchored by Bonzo’s shuffle, this song is an all out honky tonk romp.

9. “Wallflower”, Bob Dylan – This one is from the The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 and I think it was written and recorded during the John Wesley Harding sessions. This is Dylan doing his best Hank Williams impression. The instrumentation is sparse, which highlights the tasteful, understated pedal steel playing.

8. “Act Naturally”, The Beatles – Before Ringo Starr became a musician, he actually wrote to the Houston Chamber of Commerce to get information on becoming a cowboy. Lennon and McCartney would usually let Ringo have one song per album and, as often as not, it would be a country song. From the Help! album, this is a pretty faithful cover of the Buck Owens tune. The Beatles had a deep appreciation for country music and probably could have been a decent county act themselves.

7. “She Thinks I Still Care”, James Taylor – Another cover, this time of a George Jones song. Taylor does this song slower than the original and adds lots of Floyd Cramer-style piano embellishments. This is one of the few times that I would say that the cover surpasses the original.

6. “Winona”, Matthew Sweet – This song is one of the songs on the list that isn’t an homage to the country genre. Sweet doesn’t try for any of the hokey lyrics that some of the other acts do. The theme is somewhat country as it deals with pining for an unrequited love. But the song has one of the greatest pedal steel parts that I’ve ever heard. The sound is almost angelic.

5. “Hung Up On You”, Fountains of Wayne – This band is extremely eclectic and can competently tackle almost any genre. This is a great song with a classic country tag line in the chorus, “ever since you hung up on me, I’m hung up on you.” The band sound like they would be comfortable in any San Antonio dance hall.

4. “Far Away Eyes”, Rolling Stones – The Stones definitely had an interest in country music as evidenced by songs like “Wild Horses” and “Honky Tonk Women”. This one, from the album Some Girls, finds the boys trying out the “Bakersfield Sound” popularized by Buck Owens. Jagger, singing about sending money to a radio evangelist’s program to get his prayer said over the radio, is in rare form – priceless.

3. “Cheatin'”, Gin Blossoms – Of the songs listed, this has the corniest (but greatest) chorus line; “you can’t call it cheatin’, ’cause she reminds me of you.”

2. “Folkin’ Around”, Panic at the Disco – The song is all the more amazing when considering the fact that its off of an album (Pretty. Odd.) that sounds like the love child of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Revolver. The song is a straight forward bluegrass number, very upbeat with great guitar and fiddle riffs.

1. “I wish I Felt Nothing”, The Wallflowers – This song is genius. The wallflowers weren’t just doing a country bit when they did this. They basically took one of the saddest songs ever written and added one of the most heart-wrenching pedal steel parts ever played. Jakob Dylan is of course Bob Dylan’s kid so he comes by his emotive singing style honestly. The chorus is as mournful as it is beautiful: “But I hear voices, and I see colors, But I wish I felt nothing. Then it might be easy for me, like it is for you.” And when he sings it, you believe he means it.