Pro-Parenthood Propaganda!

A single day:

  • I just got to show my 14-year-old son 1964’s “Fistful of Dollars” for the first time, per his request, and he liked it—all the more after I pointed out ways it influenced some of his favorite shows (e.g. “Samurai Jack”) and movies (i.e. Indiana Jones flicks).
  • Earlier today he, his 2-year-old sister, and I played on our karaoke machine; my daughter had asked to “sing mic’phone.” All we messed with was KISS.
  • At dinner my daughter, who I’m absolutely crazy about, told me she loved me, without me saying it to her first, for the first time.
  • My six-week-old son has just started cracking smiles, begun letting out these cute sighs, and is getting tighter with me every hour. Tonight I sang Johnny Cash songs to him while we bounced on an exercise ball.
  • I wound up singing those songs to my daughter, too; I sing to her every night, and even though she has her standard requests (“Happy”—her name for Raffi—and “James” [Brown’s “Try Me”]), Dada is running low on songs he hasn’t sung her yet.

My wife and I marvel at it all together and tell the other anything we missed. It’s five of us in this house now, with a teen and two tykes (home birth #2 was as awesome as the first one, by the way) and it’s really quite good here.

There’s a selflessly selfish (and vice-versa) nature to parenthood that only makes sense to parents. One way to put it is I work very hard for them, and they give me something to work for. I’ll forego badly needed sleep to hang with them, and it’s better than coffee.

It is very, very difficult at times. That recent week after our son was born and my wife was on her prescribed bed rest, I was basically a single father of three. It was downright scary, but I made it.

Everyday there’s unexpected stuff to get through, but I’m unexpectedly ready for it—think of how long humans have raised kids, and here we’ve inherited all that, professionals before we’ve even tried. I’m writing about parenthood entirely positively now, when the kids are all asleep, even though in the thick of it I’ll wonder what on earth I was thinking.

I love it, though. Dig what I can write with all sincerity: I love my kids, I love being their dad, I love my wife, and I love that she loves being their mom.

It’s hard to believe! Even harder to wrap my head around is that I never wanted any of it. The feeling I get when I consider life without kids is like retroactive FOMO, where I get freaked that I could have missed out on this. There was no way I could have known how great it is without experiencing it first-hand. I’ve gone from not wanting any kids to wishing I’d started sooner.

I write this for anyone who hasn’t 100% declared they’re not having kids. If you’re at all open to it I hope this blog paints parenthood in a rare positive light—or, if it unintentionally makes a horrible case, I hope it leads you to a more purposeful decision to not have kids. I dread how many people will simply default to childlessness because it’s suddenly too late, or they’d never made it a priority. If adoption isn’t on the table, ladies who want to go through pregnancy should likely start before age 35.

If you already have kids, think you might, or have one on the way, I’m writing this as a boost or reminder why it’s worth the effort and limited party time (though I may still manage more of that than most non-parents).

If you don’t have kids, I don’t think you get enough evidence in favor of parenthood. People generally don’t like removing themselves from an enjoyable moment for the sake of sharing it with people who aren’t involved…unless I just completely misunderstood social media.

Anyway, having kids has been transformative for me, in great ways, and it’d be jerky of me to keep it secret and hog it for myself.

What’s Different

I like having my mind changed, and nothing’s floored me like parenthood, not even banana peels or wild oats. Growing up I didn’t particularly want kids or picture myself with them, even if I didn’t explicitly write off the possibility. Eventually, though, I established enough serious reasons to be against it:

1. I’d always held myself in low esteem, was depressive, and didn’t want to pass on that temperament to someone else.

2. Since 10th-grade biology—an influential class that converted me (for three years) to a vegetarian diet—I’d worried about overpopulation and its detrimental effect on the environment.

3. I was afraid to fall in love because I was afraid of being trapped in a relationship with one person forever, and I figured I’d have to do that before having kids would be an option.

I’ll address how I resolved those in reverse order.

3. I fell in love, with someone who already had a kid.

2. Resources are still limited and conservation is still essential to survival. To follow the logic of “Idiocracy”, though, wouldn’t people concerned about the environment be ideal to raise the next generation? Taken to its extreme, if everyone who cares about the planet stops having kids, in what kinds of hands does that leave it? And who’s to say your hypothetical kid, based on your pro-Mother Nature nurturing, wouldn’t invent a device or process that saves Earth?

1. On-going. I always thought only stupid people were happy. At some point I realized, thankfully, that happiness is actually very hard, but it’s possible and worth the work. I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to have kids just to make themselves happy, but my effort to be a good parent has made me happier than I ever thought I could feel.

Again, more than anything I’m putting this out there to communicate the incredible rewards of parenthood, and the ways it’s fulfilling that childless adults cannot comprehend. Parents will publicly complain a lot about the diapers and stresses, and if that’s all a non-parent sees, they’ll understandably want to pass. Like with a friend who only whines about a significant other, you don’t hear enough about the good times.

Some parents, however, try to show how great it is and only give it a bad rap.

Poor Arguments for Parenthood

We see plenty of cases made for having kids, in the form of pictures and family updates on social media, but before I had kids I’d scroll right past, didn’t care. Some of the posts are ostentatious—“Look how great my life is!”—and objectively annoying. Or, these parents are self-effacing in a way that rightly baffles people who don’t have kids, like literally replacing their own online profile picture with one of their kid(s). Kids should be parents’ primary concern, but part of being good parents is to be well rounded with lives and personalities of their own. Social media creates for some people a misguided sense of competition—a contest, in this case, of who can sacrifice more for their kids. It’s bad optics for parenthood.

Poor Arguments against Parenthood

This feeds into an increasing prevalence of anti-natalism—the stance against having kids. There are approximately one million think-pieces online promoting anti-natalism  for every pro-natalist one.

There’s an odd ethno-masochistic bent to these writings, though—they’re peculiarly directed at writers’ own Western countries that already have low/lowering birth rates. If procreation itself is problematic, why not target the most prolific “offenders?” Makes it tough to take the positions seriously. I’d imagine the argument for fewer babies specifically in the West has to do with our larger carbon footprint. But really? Is the only way to reduce our impact to reduce us? Why be so fatalistic about consumption?

There’s little good that comes from these pieces. If there’s to be any result it’s that thoughtful people will be convinced to not have kids, leaving a vacuum to be filled only by the less thoughtful, and boom—swear this is the last I’ll mention it— “Idiocracy”.

The philosophical argument for anti-natalism is, more or less, that life involves more suffering than pleasure, therefore it’s cruel to create life. But that’s like saying baseball shouldn’t be played because even the best batters miss more than they hit. To eradicate human suffering you’d have to exterminate humans—that’s somehow humane?

Pets Suck Compared to Kids

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Not that pets suck. Earlier this year I wrote a 2500-word, sentimental tribute to my dog Batman. It’d be harder to find that much to say about our cat Foxy, but I’m a big fan of hers, too. I’ve always had pets and always will.

But I fear too many adults think they’re getting a kid substitute from having a pet. “Lady and the Tramp” illustrates the difference well—the dog feeling totally ignored for his owners’ new baby is pretty accurate. But it’s not because people love their pets less, so much as you love your kids infinitely more. Even as a lifelong pet owner, before fatherhood I had no clue of my real capacity for love and care.

People can call themselves whatever they want: a dog dad, cat mom, pet parent, chinchilla elder, whatever. Kiss your “dog-ter” good night, cool! Enjoy pet ownership, and may your pet enjoy being owned by you. Be great at it! It rules to have a four-legged friend.

But if you still think of a pet as your kid, I put forth the following:

  • If a pet is a kid, is a kid a pet? Are you, then, your parents’ pet?
  • Did your parents have a pet—and did they treat you any differently from their pet? Were their relationships with you and their pet equally meaningful?
  • You’re very fortunate if your dog lives 15 years, likewise if your cat lives 20.
  • Dogs have the average intelligence of a 2-year-old human.
  • Pets won’t take care of you when you’re old.
  • Pets cannot bear you grandchildren.
  • You and your pet cannot impart wisdom upon each other.
  • Or truly share a human experience together.

Caring for animals predicts good parenting—if you like owning a pet you’ll love having a kid. And if you like animals you’re in luck, because your kid probably will, too, and if you let them care for a pet it will help teach them compassion among other virtues.

Our society needs good people infinitely more than good dogs.

Selfishness, Ego, Etc.

Some people think it’s egotistical to want to have kids—“I’m so great that my genes deserve to live on.” Beyond Genghis Khan I really don’t think people have that conscious thought.

Still, I’d ask what’s more egotistical: choosing to have a baby, or choosing to singlehandedly stop the miraculous chain of reproductive success that every single one of your ancestors has maintained for thousands of years? That incredible, impossible lineage stops with you because…you want to travel (which, parents can if they want to), or don’t think you can afford a kid (ditto), or want to focus on your career (thritto), or for women, you don’t want to “wreck” your body (newsflash: time wrecks all our bodies regardless).

Further, do you want a better society? This blog isn’t just about having kids, but raising them, and parental input bears immensely on children’s IQ. We talk about the virtue of “paying it forward”—is there a greater way to do so than raising a good kid? Your parents did it for you, after all–or, if they were bad parents it’s likely because their own parents raised them poorly, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more virtuous undertaking than breaking a cycle of bad parenting. Parental effort could have even saved the lives destroyed by 26 of the 27 deadliest shooters in American history—mass murderers who were fatherless.

I believe parents themselves gain empathy for all people, not just their own kids. After nine vulnerable months of worry and wonder, to holding your baby’s helpless frame, you’ll develop a newfound awe that any of us have ever survived, let alone gone on to accomplish anything. Life’s cruelties will never seem crueler after witnessing the mystery and fragility of childbirth. Life is richer knowing we’ve all had a miraculous origin.

Bad Advice

I don’t have regret, nor shame, nor am I trying to normalize something deviant or degenerate by advocating parenthood. This is something that works for me, and it could for you, too.

Too many have internalized what I consider bad advice—that a corporate job is freedom, and parenthood is slavery.

Bad advice comes from people either trying to exploit you, or trying to help normalize their own questionable decision, or simply trying to drag you down to their own level of misery. I’m trying to offer something positive here, even if it’s just something to keep in mind—raising kids has helped lift me out of what was a very low place. I’ve got nothing to personally gain from elaborating on my opinion—if anything I’m afraid I’ll hurt feelings of people already committed to not having kids, or who don’t want to stress or face urgency about a big decision. Of course my goal isn’t to hurt anyone who’d take the time to read this, though it’s admittedly odd to find myself worried my pro-natalist position might be offensive.

But if you’ve read this and as a result are even firmer in your resolve to not have kids, I’m sincerely happy for that, too. My main worry is people don’t consciously decide to have kids or not, nor are we encouraged to—we’re so stimulated and distracted, if not infantilized ourselves, that before we decide the decision can be made for us, biologically. Ovaries don’t get the memo that “50 is the new 30,” or whatever some feel-good fad tells us.

Good Advice

“It’s all technicolor now.”

One of my mates texted me that the day our daughter was born, and he was too right. Other than falling in love, getting to raise a kid from birth has been the best thing I’ve ever gotten to do. I feel so fortunate to start again with my new son.

But even then, adoption is also wonderful (regardless of what some blogs claim). If raising my son since he was six hasn’t been right up there with raising my daughter since she was born, it’s because I missed his precious, early, formative years. In almost nine years together he and I have gotten tight as could be, but it does bum me out that I didn’t know him sooner, that I didn’t even know he existed when he was learning to walk or talk, or the first time he, I don’t know…blew bubbles or was moved by music. All those first moments are incredible.

Still, don’t have kids if you just want a human pet to love you, or, god, if you want to ensnare the other parent into a relationship or child support. Do have kids if you are in a stable relationship and can rely on earning money—and if you have those going but don’t want kids, ask yourself: what are you doing it for?

I will say that if you don’t want to have kids, at least do cool crap with your time. Really, really do it. Go out, take risks, travel, create, spend time with friends and family—do more than just sit home and watch shows you won’t remember. I’ve got older friends who don’t have kids, but also have a seriously commendable zest for life, though they are mighty rare.

If you don’t want kids, though, don’t date someone who might. If you’ve made your mind up it’d be cruel to not have that conversation and potentially waste someone else’s time and hopes.

It’s a very personal decision, and you should feel lucky if you even get to decide, so I’m hardly suggesting everyone have kids. But I am telling you having kids is awesome. It’s hard, but so is anything worth doing.

Humbly celebrating a house full of babies and love, and the best years of my life,

-Matty

P.S. I know next to nothing regarding in vitro fertilization, or any kind of egg or sperm freezing, but that’s certainly a possibility if you want to maintain the option.

P.P.S. I’d only just heard this, but there are some interesting correlations between pregnancy and reduced breast cancer risk.

All I Wanna Do (Is Rock’n’Roll)

See the source image

Every now n’ then I’d try to find this one incredible Protex song on YouTube—I’d heard it once years back, but didn’t remember its name, and the recording was too lo-fi for the lyrics to stand out. I excitedly bought their “Strange Obsessions” album the first time I came across it, because I swore the video file had the cover art for its picture. I liked the album okay…but my long-lost mystery song wasn’t on it.

Today I was again haunted by its memory, and I just couldn’t stands it no mo’. If it were still on YouTube, I would find it if it meant clicking every last Protex song on the site.

That’s about what it took. But YES! Found!!! That sweet, simple guitar lead, those longing verses, that poppy bridge, that chorus that says all that needs sayin’.

I’m thrilled, I’m sharing it whether you like it a sixteenth as much as I do, and stashing it on this here blog in case I forget it later. I’ve listened seven times and counting today and can’t get over it! I do hope you like it:

 

 

All I’ve been able to find is that it was recorded in 1979 for an EP that was “canceled.” It doesn’t appear any physical copies are out there.

The internet’s disgusting lately with this new level of privacy invasion on Facebook, a YouTube comedian facing jail time for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to mock Nazis to annoy her, and my growing loathing for Spotify and Netflix. It feels good to feel good about the worldwideweb today, for providing me this song I’d been missing so badly. Oh sure, and I appreciate having this blog at the ready.

Will try and write more soon. Hey, reader: you’re alright!

-MD

Dog Blog

batcase

Guitar case Bat cave.

My family went on vacation last month and although he drives me nuts, bidding our dog adieu was surprisingly sentimental. For his fifth birthday and an exercise in gratitude, here’s an ode to my odorous doofus. I hope dog people past, present, and future will enjoy our story of rescuing Batman.

Batman’s our handsome lab/Australian cattle dog.  His shiny coat’s all black save a white patch on his chest not unlike the Bat symbol and another white splotch on his left paw—his “magic paw”—the one the punk used to convince me to adopt him when I had no intention to.

Dunning-Kruger may extend to dog ownership, but we think Bat’s smarter than average. Very protective, too. Once after a late gig he woke up and ran to greet me when I walked in, but must’ve been too groggy to recognize me. For at least a minute he kept me frozen at the door, 15 feet away, growling and threatening to attack if I moved. I humored him and let it go on so I could feel what it’s like to be on his bad side—turns out he’s one scary dude when he wants to be! We were never looking for a guard dog, but I’ll admit it’s kinda cool. Otherwise he’s sweet as can be to his human housemates.

Guests still get his obnoxious side, though. Despite years of consistency he still resents visitors who don’t grant him all possible attention, and he’ll even turn on his owners when we intervene. Serious nerve. Summoning superhuman optimism, I like to think his naughtiness is a sign of vitality, and indicates he’ll live a long time while only getting better. Growing up I loved our vicious cat Otis, who lived an outstanding 20 years, mellowing with age to where I’d even miss his young jerk days. I cosmically hope Batman’s defiant nature also leads to lasting health.

Bat comes with built-in behavioral excuses, too. While he growls and barks loudly at nearly every sound, passerby, and neighbor—he’s probably too vigilant—well, he is named after the World’s Greatest Detective. And although I hate how much he pulls when we walk him, his Aussie ancestors were professional herders. Dog trivia: did you know Australian cattle dogs were bred with dingoes? Makes him a bona fide ding-Bat.

He’s also the Bark Knight, Beast, Worm, Ape, Bat Buffington, and countless more. It’s fun to be stupid for pets.

Batman Begins

My now-wife/then-girlfriend and I got him when he was seven months old. The previous year we had to put down her awesome Siberian husky, Sugar, at age 13. Sugar was the first dog I’d really bonded with; I just wasn’t a dog guy before him. After Suge we didn’t really want to own another, so to get our fleabag fix we’d go to the GB Humane Society every so often and pick a pup to walk the trails and hang in the play cages—they loved the exercise and attention, and it was something different for us to do outside. We went five or six times.

Bat wasn’t even our first choice that fateful day. As usual we’d strolled the kennel area, checking out dogs and petting the social ones, reading their little info cards. We may have snickered at the name Batman, but that was it—we were excited to walk the one next to him. I don’t even remember that dog’s name now, because by the time we got back from asking staff to let him out with us, someone else had nabbed him. We shrugged and went with Batman instead.

Little jerk was so well behaved back then! He was a total gentleman, trotting through the woods, perfectly matching his walkers’ pace. After a while we took him into one of the cages to hang out leash-less and throw tennis balls for him.

Recall The Magic Paw. I crouch next to him, have him sniff a tennis ball, then throw it and tell him to GO-GET-IT!, but no. No deal, not interested. What do I think he is, a dog or something?

To this day I’m fake-mad about it. Instead of playing fetch, Batman glances at the thrown ball, stays put, looks up at me pitifully, and lifts a little black paw with a white splotch onto my knee. Pleading.

Oh, please, sir!” begged his almond eyes. “Nothing in this gosh-forsaken world could be better than coming to live with you guys. I’ll be the greatest boy of all time! Puh-LEEZE!

We couldn’t believe it. His charm was audacious, his audacity, charming.

Some suggest it was inevitable we’d fall for a dog that day, what were we thinking, should’ve known, etc. But like I said, we’d gone to walk dogs countless times, especially enjoying the lack of responsibility. We’d have a bit of fun and leave, and although I still remember some of them (Hi, Cashew! Hi, Macintosh! Hope you’re well!), adoption never actually came up. My wife also had our weirdo cat (Foxy), so we really weren’t starved for a pet. Nor were we ready to consider getting a dog, yet this little dork was forcing our hand with his magic friggin’ paw.

If there were any chance we wanted Batman as our canine companion, we knew if we didn’t claim him right then that someone else could, swooping in as nonchalantly as whoever’d taken the first dog we wanted to walk that day. When we brought him inside we figured we’d just ask some harmless hypothetical questions. We learned he’d arrived from Indiana, which at the time was euthanizing a lot of dogs due to overpopulation (I’ve got a couple of friends whose dogs came from there). Also, he’d come with his brother—Joker(!)—who had tan fur except for his face, which was all white. Joker had already been adopted.

The Bark Knight Crises

We also learned that someone else had already put money down on adopting Batman. Holy heartbreak! But, if the depositor didn’t pick him up by closing time—7 p.m.—that night, the claim would be forfeited and money refunded. Okay. And, we’d be able to check online to see if Batman were still there—so long as that funny little face showed up on the Humane Society website, it meant he had not yet been adopted. Well…? Ah, it was still such a long shot. We said our goodbyes to Batman, reasonably sure we’d never see him again. It was only late morning, after all. Maybe we’d glance online later to confirm he was gone.

Just once. Just to check.

…Have you ever obsessively refreshed a website?  eBay, perhaps? It’s a helpless position. I had to go into work until 7 p.m., and naturally spent the entire shift checking the site repeatedly (as did my wife at home). Still there. Still there. Still there! Somehow.

For whatever reason the picture of Bat was slightly stretched, giving him a sort of “Hey Arnold!” football head, and it made the activity feel that much sillier. I’d only just met him—did I even really want him? Had the drama made me more possessive, like a kid who only wants to play with a toy because his sister does, too? Nonetheless, I kept clicking and that dopey, deformed dog face kept staring back.

Finally, incredibly, it was 7 o’clock, and Batman was still on the site! Futilely I tried calling the Humane Society to see if he were indeed still there, but since they’d just closed no one answered. We had no way of knowing if the person who’d put the money down had picked him up at the last minute—perhaps staff just hadn’t taken his picture down.

My wife had found out, though, that a number of Humane Society animals would be moved to a local pet store early the next morning for a pet adoption promotion. They didn’t know if Batman would be one of them or not, but since the event began before the Humane Society opened it meant I could go to the pet store early and check.

It was a bright Friday morning in September. I had the day off, and I was nervous—my wife and I hadn’t stopped thinking or talking Batman, shocked at how suddenly we’d set our hearts on getting this dog. But if he was in fact still available, I was to adopt him.

First stop: the pet store he was potentially at. I was familiar with the store, so I hustled in soon as they opened and went straight to the dog area.

…But no Batman. I ask an employee—turns out in my haste I hadn’t noticed the giant setup of canopies and animals in cages in the parking lot. I power-walk out, head to the event area, and start down the big L-shaped row. Potential moment of truth time. Nothing yet, then, amazingly, right there in the corner, is a little black dog whose tail starts wagging as I approach.

“Hey, Batman!” I say, excitedly but gently. He, of course, has no clue about the previous night’s click fest, or how much I’d thought and talked about him in the last 20 hours.

Alright! He stays in the cage while staff get me started, and there I am, writing a check and filling out paperwork in the sun. I can’t believe he’s here, and I’m getting him! My heart thumps and I can’t calm myself, still bracing for a clash—there was no way the person who put money down on Batman wasn’t going to appear. I know in my nerves there’ll be a showdown.

And, as if on cue, suddenly, Thunderously, HE arrives.

I’m at a picnic table about 25 feet from Batman, scribbling away, several sheets to go, when I hear The Voice, and of course it’s huge and booming and furious.

“SOMEBODY TOOK MY DOG AND IT’S DAT BLACK ONE IN THE CORNER.”

Holy…NO! A veritable mountain of a man shuffles behind me toward what may or may not be my new dog and I think, is my paperwork—now half-complete—void? Or, if it’s technically official, do I get selfish, hold tight, and fight? I have no idea and I’m panicking while my handwriting gets worse.

“YUP. DAT’S THE ONE.”

I can’t even look up. He ambles closer, a worried female employee hovering near. I hurriedly whip through the papers, signing, dating, and initialing blindly, agreeing to who knows what.

“YUP. SOMEONE STOLE MY DOG FROM MY YARD,” says The Voice.

“Well, okay, let’s just make sure first,” suggests the employee, whose skittishness rivals my own. They close in on Batman.

I’m confused, though—stolen from a yard? I’m expecting a person who put money down on my would-be dog, not this. It was like Stone Cold stormed the ring while I  looked out for the Undertaker. And unless the Humane Society had lied, no one had owned Batman since he came to Wisconsin. I’m almost done signing…

“YEAH—YUP. DAT’S HER ALRIGHT.”

“But, sir, this dog is male.”

“HAH? …OH. WELL DAT AIN’T HER DEN, HUH. WHAT ABOUT DAT ONE DERE…”

Wow! Had this guy really just lost a dog that looked like Batman? Or was he just out trying to get a free dog? Either way,  trembling at whatever just went down, I exhaled and signed the last line.

To the Batmobile!

I paid just under $200 for the adoption, a leash, and dog food. And that was it! I came without a dog, and was leaving with one. I led him to jump into my backseat and closed the door and it hit me:

There’s a dog in your car now, dude. And it’s your dog. Anything that happens to him is now your fault.

I get in, close the door, and I’m alone with a dog, in my car, for the first time, the rush replaced with silence. Or not. In the blur of the transaction they’d mentioned Batman had kennel cough. This dog I’d found so cute was now behind me hacking and gagging like an old human.

And that wasn’t all. The stress of moving around had also affected him, particularly his stomach. He farts and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever smelled.

WHAT HAVE I DONE.

Bat and switch indeed. I’ll never forget my then-roommate commenting on Batman’s “zen” when I first got him, and as Bat quietly lay on our deck, impressively independent and self-assured. Now he absolutely spazzes if I go for a jog and don’t bring him with. The kennel cough and indigestion went away soon enough, but then he just kept getting bigger and bigger—I was worried he’d get too big for us to handle. He weighs 65 pounds now, up from 35 when we got him.

I’m thrilled Batman’s part of our life and he assures us it’s mutual. Early on my wife had brought him to a dog park where I’d meet them after work and surprise him. They’d been there a while, and I didn’t know where they were (the park is a fenced-off hunk of hilly woods), so I just called his name out. Sure enough, from a football field away, his little dog head perked up and he sprinted right at me. We’d only known each other weeks!

I do feel bad for whoever had put money down on Bat, but I can’t imagine he’d have a better life than what we provide. Other than the time he chewed up my $80 laptop power cord instead of ANYTHING else in the room, and picking up his guano, and whatever else I described earlier, he’s been just great. Loyal, fun, funny, and definitely protective. He curls up by me when I’m up late ghostwriting! Yes, I am grateful for the mutt’s existence.

I get why people want to call themselves “parents” of their pets, because animals can be very demanding, and you care about them a lot. Those early days were especially trying, but it’s been very rewarding.

An unexpected result of co-managing Bat’s life was confidence that I may not suck at raising young beings, and that if my wife and I worked well together with a puppy, maybe our partnership could work for a baby. Parenting’s totally different of course, but so far so good! In general, and also unexpectedly, I’ve only felt happier as I’ve taken on more responsibility, and my dog’s been a step in that. But if caring for a dog made life ten times better, raising kids brings a thousand times that joy. (“Lady and the Tramp” nails this.)

That, as they say, is a blog for another day. Hope you liked this one! Feel free to add your own anecdote of dog acquisition as well.

-Matty

 

My (Four) Favorite Albums of 2017

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I shouldn’t do this. I’m not an expert. But, DIY!

Of course favorite doesn’t mean best. At least one of these picks is utterly personal. But these lists are always subjective anyway, so here goes, no order.

The Priggs – “Mete the Priggs”

I’ll get this out of the way, but this is one of my favorite albums I’ve ever been a part of, and I haven’t really written about it yet. Time spent on an album doesn’t always make an album better (looking at you, “Chinese Democracy”), but I think we Priggs did just enough on our debut. I’d kicked around a couple of these tunes for years, and also got to collaborate with new, sympathetic, creative, and talented bandmates. In the best way possible there was hardly any compromise on this, because there didn’t need to be—no one didn’t like any of the ideas we pursued. Which is to say it felt great to work toward something all five of us wanted. To get it done for August was a serious accomplishment, thanks in no small part to my mate Sam Farrell, and a crucial last-minute assist courtesy of Justin Perkins. I want to release it on vinyl this year while we work on its follow-up. Anyway, like the list says, these are my favorite albums of the year, and although I can’t judge “Mete the Priggs” objectively, it’s one of my favorites for personal reasons.

Cory Chisel & Adriel Denae – “Tell Me True”

I wasn’t involved in the making of this one, but I’m still biased—Alex Drossart, Bill Grasley and I got to be part of the “First Listen” concert when Cory and Adriel first debuted the music, and have gotten to play these songs live many times since. “Hard Leaving” and “Just Pleasing You” are stone solid, but every song belongs. “Guess I Never Knew You” is a triumph, and “Deeper Love” is fascinating. Throughout, Cory and Ade harmonize incredibly, generously. Dan Knobler’s production serves the set so well, sparse and small one moment, blooming the next. The songs go from light to huge, from honest regret to shocking optimism. Since I was asked to learn and play these songs I spent a lot more time with this album than just the occasional spin, but I believe it’s great. It’s bold in its reservation, and warmly makes a case for love and parenthood in the face of uncertainty.

The Darkness – “Pinewood Smile”

I absolutely cranked this when I got it—I’d just added a couple of bookshelf speakers to my stereo and needed to try them out. By the way, if you’re looking, or if your current speakers need repair, you definitely want to go to Rock N’ Roll Land. Ed, the guy they work with, does outstanding work. I met him when I’d found some cool old Pioneer speakers on Craigslist, and the seller, Ed, happened to live on my street. His shop was about the cleanest, most organized shop of any kind I’d ever seen. Really impressive. Needed to share that! Good speaker repair is rare.

But, albums. If you spent a minute with me this last year I probably gushed about The Darkness, how their awesomeness was never fully appreciated, how they’re misunderstood, etc. (Not a soul was converted.) While I haven’t even dug into their whole catalog yet, or Hot Leg, it was very exciting for them to come out with a new album in the midst of my lonely fandom And to have it deliver. It rocks in all the right ways, but then dig what a good song “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is. I can’t wait to see them in Milwaukee in April! We humans are very lucky to count Justin Hawkins among us.

J.D. McPherson – “Undivided Heart & Soul”

His first album was a stunner, and while I passed on his second album I still appreciated J.D. chasing his muse down non-traditional trails—while he could have made “More Signs & Additional Signifiers” it seemed like a better long-term move to do whatever he wanted, assuming that’s what he’d done the first time, too. If that resulted in a less even second album, this third one sees the risks and personality paying off. J.D. and crew wield the expanded palette here with fantastic results. Very possibly the coolest sounding album of the year, though I’ve got to spend more time with it.

That’s It?

…Did I buy any other new albums this year? I bought The Wild Reeds’ “The World We Built” after seeing them live, and it’s fine, but didn’t move me like the live show did. I bought Foxygen’s “Hang” when they released it in January, and it was impressive, but I never quite engaged with it. I didn’t buy QOTSA’s “Villains” in spite of adoring 2013’s “…Like Clockwork” and being a fan of Josh Homme in general—after a funny promo clip, the singles didn’t grab me, the interviews didn’t sway me, and hearing the songs live didn’t cast them in a much more favorable light. Maybe it’ll click someday, but if not, I’ll of course forgive them.

Surely I’m missing at least one album here. I should’ve learned from my favorite moments list last year  that I’m bound to kick myself for forgetting something (hel-LO, opening for and meeting William Bell where the Chicago Bulls used to practice). If I’m not right on top of it, I admit I don’t obsess over new releases like I used to. I learned early on, back when I’d read Pitchfork daily, was subscribed to Rolling Stone, etc., that while new music has the unique possibility of capturing a current cultural climate or saying something that hasn’t yet been said, new is hardly synonymous with good, despite the initial favor (Hope! Innovation! Reluctant voice of a generation!) we’re so willing to grant to new music. I’ll always keep a fingernail on the pulse, but I’m more excited about the endless crate digging ahead of me. My list of old albums I discovered and loved this year would’ve been a lot more interesting.

Assuming you know more about modern music than I do, please tell me what music you liked that happened to be released in 2017 and I promise I’ll check it out in hopes of liking it.

Thanks for reading—I’m back to neck-depth in ghostwriting, and convincing myself to use my little free time to do other writing has been tough. I do resolve to do more of it.

Happy New Year,

-Matty

On Readiness for Some Football

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Confused about enjoying the NFL this year? Kaepernick, concussions, and the Commish got you conflicted?

Perhaps you’re questioning whether your principles still jive with America’s most popular sport. It’s good to consider, since you’re deciding where your time goes these next few months. A season’s a commitment; personally I don’t book a show or make a plan without first checking the Packers’ schedule, if I haven’t already memorized it.

Pretty wild how I let it rule me; I don’t make time to watch any other TV shows, online or otherwise. Sizing up another football season amid parenthood, marriage, home ownership, and the equivalent of two full-time jobs, it stings to think of surrendering the next 20-or-so Sundays. I’ve never valued my time so greatly, so if anything I’d love a reason to reclaim some of it.

It so happens that every year sees more calls from non-sports media encouraging/guilting/berating me to do just that: boycott the NFL! (Wait…different media outlets vying for viewers’ attention? Stop the [competition’s] presses!)

I’m going to list my pros and cons of NFL fandom here and decide for myself, thank you much. Like all entries I hope this helps you, but if you disagree with something (most likely my elaboration on a con) I hope you’ll explain why.

Ready? Down….Set….Overthink!

What I Like about NFL Football

Meritocracy

Even practice squad players were the best athletes in their neighborhoods if not their colleges. Anyone in the league takes his natural talents as far as he can and it’s inspiring. It helps that I understand the sport; I can watch gymnastics, for example, and enjoy the spectacle, but I don’t know enough about that sport to appreciate its participants’ efforts like I can with football.

Strategy

I like the game, and the games within the game. Effort and ability are nothing without intelligence or plans. Players constantly cram; they have to know what to do, when to do it, and why. On top of that, coaches work tirelessly to perfect their playbooks, and to get their players on the same page. On top of that, professional training staff try to provide any possible advantage in conditioning and diet. What we see on Sundays is a physical battle of ideas.

Honesty

There is a common goal, and everyone involved knows and seeks it. There’s honesty in that—in someone running as fast, or pushing as hard as they can, or in making what they think is the right decision in a high-pressure situation. No pretense, no false modesty—they all want to win. Shoot, not that I approve, but even the cheating and cheap shots are honest (though not honorable) in that sense, if that makes sense. The players and coaches desire something and pursue it openly, whether they fall on their faces or succeed. This makes for strong and genuine emotions, too, which isn’t necessarily the case in other forms of live entertainment.

My Team

I’d like to think that if I hadn’t been raised in Green Bay I’d still appreciate the Packers, but this is my city so of course they’re my team. GB’s situation is objectively unique, being the league’s smallest market and all, but for me that meant growing up around and with countless people linked to the team (players, coaches, executives, their kids, etc.).

There’s a culture about the Packers that local fans protect and take pride in; I only realized I took that for granted when I left the state for college. Actually, before that, as a teenager getting into punk rock I’d even fought my unfashionable fandom. One day at a concert, though, a local singer we respected, in the middle of his set, wiped his sweaty face with a Title Towel. *Gasp!* People from the crowd called him out on his uncoolness, and he didn’t care at all; just told us he loved the Packers and went into the next song. My friends and I looked at each other, shocked. I felt like l’d just been granted punk permission; an early lesson in individuality, I suppose. Anyway, I love this team, its history, and my own history with it.

Entertainment

I’m a huge fan of live entertainment; it’s immediate, ephemeral, unedited, intense, and shared. Mostly music, but I also like stand-up comedy, theatre, and yes, sports. I really enjoy going to games at Lambeau Field and have had the privilege of attending perhaps 80. I’ve gambled on going to away games (and lost), too. But experiencing something in person is always the best: watching the game with naked eye (not through a screen), and getting to see the whole field and not just the line of scrimmage shown on TV, as well as whatever’s happening on the sidelines (and in the stands) is just great. The excitement and camaraderie in the stadium beat the comfort and convenience of watching at home.

Making “Live from Stadium Drive”

Doing our podunk Packer show’s  been one of my favorite projects I’ve ever gotten to do. Stay tuned for this season, but Tommy and I have had a blast through the last three, and it’s all because of this sport and team.

That was fun to write! This probably won’t be.

What I Tolerate about NFL Football

Injuries

I was at Lambeau for the play that ended Jermichael Finley’s career. He lay still on the field, surrounded by paramedics. I was never a football jersey guy, and J-Mike’s happened to be the first I’d ever owned. That day, for all I knew I’d just witnessed him—a 26-year-old father—die, and for a game. He lived of course, but never played again. I’d never so deeply considered the danger or ethics of the game. I can find some solace in the fact that he’s a very wealthy man, but injuries are awful, not even so much for the pain of the moment, but for the lasting effects. Devaluing a man’s life and health is depressing and exploitative, but if someone sizes up a risk and wants to pursue it, taking responsibility for whatever its outcome may be, I have a hard time telling them they can’t do what they want to do. The risk is their own, they’re adults, it’s voluntary, and there’s consent. Very tough stuff, though.

Virtue Signaling

Whether it’s to combat falling ratings or to aim for record highs, the NFL is constantly trying to expand its viewership. This has bred “NFL Gives Back”-type featurettes, pink uniforms for breast cancer awareness, and camouflage uniforms for veterans. Are there nice gestures in there? Yes. But realistically these are done for marketing purposes only.

Political Drama

This isn’t part of the game itself, much as some want it to be. I think of Bob Dylan in “Don’t Look Back” telling a reporter no, his audiences weren’t masochists looking to be scolded—they want to be entertained. Yes, entertainment can be intellectual, political, too, but it is textbook narrow-mindedness to view life through a singular lens. It can’t be mentally healthy to see everything politically only. I do come to football to get away from politics for a minute; please let me! Colin Kaepernick decided to do something bold, and I hope he doesn’t regret his decision. My overall take is that players can allow their politics to overshadow their play if they want, and teams can sign them if they want.

Waste

I do think of the resources burned to bring us these broadcasts—to transport the teams and staff, and the equipment necessary. Also, the transportation for hundreds of thousands of fans a week. The game itself is not as direct a gas guzzler (or rubber… ruiner) as NASCAR, but I still cringe at the thought of all the gallons gone and garbage created.

Commercials

A necessary evil. I would gladly pay $5 a broadcast to not have them, but don’t tell Goodell.

Conclusion

I’m aware of my inclination to keep watching the NFL, to justify it one way or another. But it’s not because of any pride, sunk cost fallacy, nor status quo bias; I’ve drifted from many former interests despite whatever money or time I’d invested in them. (Video games, snowboarding, and some bands come to mind.)

My football fandom might be as much about connection with other people as it is the game itself. I’m rarely interested in new movies or music, so it is kind of nice to have some form of modern media I can talk to so many friends, coworkers, or even strangers about. I can have nothing else in common with someone, even find their other opinions odious, and still kill an hour, easily, talking about football. I like that! They don’t even have to be a Packer fan; I always say I’d rather talk to a smart fan of a rival team than a stupid fan of my team. Which is to say, I’ll high-five absolutely anyone in green n’ gold when our team scores.

The team aspect is something else I enjoy. It’s intellectually indulgent. I fight very hard to straddle political division, to view issues fairly and openly from all sides, and to maintain independent thought, but with football, my team rules, your team sucks, and that’s that. Your team could beat my team and your team still sucks. Sports is a great outlet for groupthink.

I’m also just a huge fan of this team’s current coach, quarterback, and general manager. Maybe my fandom will wane as that holy trinity splinters, but for now, I am very, very ready for some football.

Yes? No? Challenge? Holler,

-Matty

Adoption is AWFUL

Hugh-Jackman-adoption-quote

…Wut?

I have finally, Finally, FINALLY adopted my step-son. We had the court date Tuesday, and it was just awesome. Probably the hardest, most meaningful hug of my life. I absolutely love the kid.

If any of you ever happen to need help with an adoption I’ll tell you everything I can. But if you knew how awful the process can be, there’s a decent chance you’d just say “screw it,” and I really couldn’t blame you. Consider this a warning I never got.

Some background, in which I’ll call my son “H.W.” for no other reason than I just watched “There Will Be Blood” and really liked it. (Please don’t look into it more than that; I just don’t want to use his real name and needed to pick something.)

H.W. was six years old when I started dating his mom, with whom I just celebrated two years of marriage. He’s thirteen now. I bought a house for all of us when he was ten.

The main reason it’s worked out between the three of us is that my wife never pressured me into being a father figure, probably because she’d (somehow) managed it alone up to that point. I was never looking to date a single mom, but I happened to fall in love with one. It helped that H.W. was cool from the start. With, and Only with my wife’s blessing, did I choose to become, by degrees, more involved in his life.

Other than the lack of pressure, things have worked because my wife and I kept the primary focus on our relationship – which may sound obvious to some (equivalent to figuring out if you want to “have” a kid with someone). It may sound cruel to others, who think the kid needs to be most important. To that crowd, I’d remind that nothing’s more beneficial to a kid than a solid set of parents.

I’ve now been part of H.W.’s life for the majority of it. I’ve taught, listened to, played with, protected, transported, disciplined, encouraged, fed, housed, studied with, and loved him. I’ve been there for him in all the ways a parent can be. When one first starts dating a single parent, their best approach is to endear themselves to the kid – be their buddy. Transitioning from friend to father figure was not easy or fun, but we’re both better for it.

After my wife and I got married, with her and H.W.’s blessings, I planned to start on the adoption process, to “make it official.” Besides, I’d never hoped or tried to get a girl pregnant before, and for all I knew I wasn’t biologically able to (something I pondered after a bad kick to the balls in sixth grade). Fortunately that was not the case, and when we learned my wife was pregnant, for the sake of H.W. feeling like the full family member that he always was (which he never doubted, but still), I thought it’d be great if the adoption would go through before the baby was born in spring of 2016.

It was fall of 2015, and per a friend’s recommendation I met with a family lawyer for a consultation. I learned I’d need to work with an adoption agency, but since we hadn’t been married long (didn’t matter how long we’d dated) it might be tough to find one that was willing.

After a couple calls I did find one, and their initial estimate was that the process would just take a couple of months. Cool! After all, I figured, there couldn’t be a much more cut-and-dry case than this one.

H.W.’s biological father was supposedly unable to have kids, due to – seriously – a bad kick to the balls. (Fear not, I guess, crotch-kicked hopeful fathers.) Talking about regrets at this stage is officially, if only as of Tuesday, beside the point. But my wife never regretted breaking up with H.W.’s biological father. They coexisted for mere weeks with newborn H.W. before she broke it off, opting instead for the terrifying prospect of single motherhood. I’d say I can’t imagine how terribly a nineteen-year-old, new mom must have to be treated to choose to go it alone, but based on what I’ve learned, let’s just say it was the only decision.

Dude also had a history of criminal charges, and fled Wisconsin after a warrant was issued for his arrest. To our knowledge he’s been on the run ever since, both from the police and from child support payments; to avoid the latter he’s never had his name on a lease and worked for cash off the books — for thirteen years. Only a couple years ago, during a stint incarcerated in Texas which finally linked him to an address, was he forced to cough up some meager child support, though even this pitiful payment came long, long after it would have been vital.

In thirteen years he never once attempted to contact H.W. To our knowledge not even his own family, still in Green Bay, has ever heard from him.

I’m not explaining what I know about this guy to harp on my wife’s teenage judgment, because she’s owned every bit of that, but to highlight the correct call that she made in splitting from him, as well as to give a sense of the magnitude of his abandonment of H.W. (there’s your movie reference) and how clearly unfit he would have been as a parent.

One would think this adoption case would have been open-and-shut, taking all that into account. I’ll proudly add that H.W., of his own volition, decided to start calling me “Dad” once my wife was pregnant, because he thought it’d be less confusing for our baby. I’m still in awe of that. He is a seriously sweet kid.

So how hard would it be to adopt my step-son, who calls me Dad, has never had another father figure, whom I’ve raised for half his life? Just what would it take to prove I’m fit to be his parent, what with a full-time job, a house, and no criminal record?

It would take over a year and a half, dozens of hours of procedure and paperwork, and roughly $4,000.

For something symbolic. I was, and was already called, his dad. H.W. wasn’t moving. Nor was he even taking my last name (you can imagine he’d gotten used to his after so long). Nothing was changing! Not to mention that if something had happened to my wife – which was the “reason” this was all required – she would have simply willed custody to me anyway.

But no. Endless tasks and hoops.

I wanted it. I battled. At one point I’d finally surmounted the massive pile of paperwork, the three separate background checks, two sets of fingerprints, and everything else proving what we already knew. After all those hours and errands, I’d made it!

…To another pile. It felt like finishing a marathon, only to learn there was another 10K to go. It took so long that I had to get another round of (three) background checks, because the initial ones expired.

Now, did I work as fast as I could have on this? Sure, I could have taken off work and ignored my pregnant wife/wife who’d just given birth/brand new daughter/step-son who I was trying to adopt and focused solely on this process and banged it all out sooner. But even beyond those impossible sacrifices, again, this was merely symbolic — there was no rush on this.

Other than my own goals, at least. My hopes to have this done by the baby’s birth, by last Father’s Day, by H.W.’s 13th birthday, by last Christmas…each passing holiday or event carried, for me, disappointment that this adoption that NO ONE OPPOSED was still not finished. I wondered if H.W. would turn 18 and be his own man before I could get us through this.

Talking with a friend who had adopted his wife’s daughter five years earlier, even in that short span the process had become far more arduous and expensive. I just had to ask the adoption agency why, and learned that these were Wisconsin’s laws, not federal ones, nor the agency’s own quirky guidelines, if that helped. I haven’t looked into it, but other than cost, I have a hard time imagining how much more difficult this would have been if I were adopting a total stranger.

Well, it all ended Tuesday. And it turned out to be more than symbolic, as the biological father’s parental rights, somehow, still, had not been terminated, until now. Part of the process required my lawyer trying to get in touch with H.W.’s biological father to see if he would sign off, but he couldn’t be located. (Because of this, he’ll receive no notification that he can stop running or hiding.) After multiple failed attempts at contact, and the judge’s ruling, the rights have been terminated.

Why am I writing this mix of joy and justice, and bitterness and frustration? While it’s nice to share one of the most important relationships I’ll ever have, I needed to do so to highlight the bureaucracy and madness of the adoption process.

I’m trying to figure out what to do with this experience. I plan to reach out to a local alderman, but I think letting others know about this ridiculous process is important, too.

A lot of people who are against abortion, for example, take considerable solace in advocating adoption as a solution. I would imagine they’d be very disappointed to learn just how difficult, if not prohibitive, the process is. A lot of potential adoptive parents would not illogically size up the required time, effort, and red tape and just say “nah.” Or they straight-up couldn’t afford it. I honestly couldn’t judge a person for that. I’m writing this and taking action for the people who would want to adopt, but don’t have the time or resources I did.

The adoption itself, I did for H.W. and no one else. He may thank me someday, but he doesn’t need to. He didn’t deserve to be abandoned, but he does deserve a dad. This was perhaps the noblest thing I’ll ever do for someone, yet essentially it earned me state punishment.

Any dude and chick can hook up and have a baby, without anyone’s permission. They can even be drunk when they do. Woohoo!

I encountered something that’s wrong and in my opinion, anti-family. I needed to write about, and need to act on it, before that sense fades.

Hope you learned something. Feel free to teach me something in the comments,

-Matty

P.S. I can’t praise my wife enough. Being a single parent would be unimaginably tough. For both the parent’s and kid’s sake, I would not recommend it, nor would my wife or son. He turned out great in spite of her being a single parent, certainly not because of it. Adoption is an incredible option, and I’m endlessly grateful for it and honored by it — my son chose me! What’s awful, though, as I’ve hopefully explained, is the process itself, especially in an uncontested case.

P.P.S. To any dude who ever passed on my smokin’-hot wife because she had a kid: your losses!

P.P.P.S. A kid is an individual, not just a junior version of Mom or Dad. I think a lot of parents get frustrated when they don’t understand their biological children — wondering where he or she got “that” from — and it’s not altogether fair. Raising a kid that’s not biologically mine has helped me appreciate that.

P.P.P.P.S. “I’m finished!” – Daniel Plainview

Conservation > Climate Treaties

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You feel furious, powerless and hopeless because Trump is pulling our country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but the Schwartz is in YOU, Lone Starr! It’s in you!!

While alternative energy is a popular topic, we’ve got radio silence when it comes to simply consuming less — using less fossil fuels directly, or indirectly as a result of the excessive products we buy and the fuels and resources used to produce them. We need blood these days, and less consumption doesn’t stick it to anyone! Other than ourselves, at least, but never mind that: we need to get those corporations and oil companies!

The anger over federal climate policy comes down to a collective desire for our government to impose morality on greedy people. “Um, no, aaactually I’m angry because I don’t want the planet to die?!” (How can I type “upspeak”?)

I differ. Won’t even beg to.

Do you Really want less pollution? Do you genuinely want less carbon emitted? Shoot, do you Truly want to wound the 1%? YOU DON’T NEED GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY. You don’t need to rely on anyone but yourself. You don’t need a global treaty.

Just use less.

Buy less crap. Drive less. Carpool more. Eat less meat. All the uncool stuff they taught us at school assemblies. If we all did the whole reduce-reuse-recycle routine, or committed to it more, we’d use far, far less fossil fuels. Discipline can do it.

If we don’t use it, we don’t need it! Still, rarely is conservation suggested as a solution, whether regarding our constant import of oil – of which the transportation alone requires crazy fuel – or even in the heat of the Dakota pipeline protests.

No, the conclusion’s forgone. The oil must flow. The pointless purchases can’t stop. It’s out of our hands! I need!

And anyway, consumption rules, especially when trucks bring new stuff right to my immaculately heated/cooled home.

We want convenience, we want commerce, and we want to clobber those filthy factory owners (whose wallets we choose to line with every transaction). C’mon, government: make it happen, so I don’t have to!

Far better: affect change with your own decisions and dollars. How’s that for democracy? For empowerment?

We all have to use, but we can all use less. Let’s practice and promote conservation. If you need an adversary, try shaming mindless consumption. Have you mocked a shop-aholic today?

Commercially yours,

-Matty

Show Tales: 5/11-5/13

5/11/17: The Blasters, Delta Bombers, Muddy Udders – Lyric Room

The Blasters were Excellent. Sans Dave Allen, yes, but Keith Wyatt was superb on guitar alongside original Blasters John Bazz (bass), Bill Bateman (drums), and of course, Phil Alvin (vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica).

Wyatt plays rock’n’roll guitar the way I aspire to. I hear him do better versions of some things I do, and tons more. It was like a crystal ball with an optimistic vision of where my playing can get to.

I got to take in the show right up front, off the corner of the stage held down by Bazz, and his bass playing blew all minds in the vicinity. He’s mastered this type of electric bass playing that doesn’t seem like it should work; no one should be able to pull and thump like that without nailing the pickups and sounding awful. I’ve never seen someone play so hard but so cleanly. Really wild. Very unique. I couldn’t figure it out – was he somehow muting, maybe with the edge of his picking hand? However he did it, he’s got it down.

Mr. Phil Alvin was led through the crowd shortly after the band took stage. I didn’t recognize him at first, with his beard, but sure enough. He moved slowly and stiffly, and was mostly stationary on stage, but no struggle or strain came through in his outstanding singing. It was like he channeled every bit of energy into his wailing, which is what really mattered most.

The songs and performances were so good! The sold-out room was wall-to-wall with ear-to-ear grins. The Blasters, playing GB for the first time ever, and just ruling! It was special.

Muddy Udders opened and we had a really good time; ~35-minute sets were never really our forte, but this was one of our better ones. We’re doing an hour and a half at Jam For Jam this Friday that’ll be a lot less scripted, more time for improvising.

The Delta Bombers said we sounded like Primus, which they meant as a compliment, but…. I think the only comparison I’ve ever been happy about was when The Woggles’ guitarist – Flesh Hammer – told me I sang like Mitch Ryder. Cool! But for all I know he says that to all the younger singers who open for them, which would at worst encourage the uninitiated to get hip to the Detroit Wheels.

The Delta Bombers were very good, as are most of their roster mates at Wild Records. I’ve lost touch on what In The Red puts out these days, but Wild’s consistency reminds me of ITR’s. (Thus concludes my entire knowledge of current record labels.)

5/12/17: Rev. Norb & The Onions, The Foamers?, Lucifer’s Crank – LowPoint (House Party)

I hadn’t played a basement show in GB since one with Harvey Brown a couple years ago, and it felt great. All the smoke kinda got to me, but it was better than everyone standing outside and getting the show shut down.

It worked out really well. Brad from The Onions ran sound, and there was a keg and a gourmet taco bar for about 40 people.

Lucifer’s Crank played first, mostly made up of members of the defunct Dixxx, who I’d somehow never seen. Fun rock’n’roll with vocals that are satisfyingly screeched instead of growled. The singer bared his back a few songs in, displaying an impressive tattoo of a lovely lady (done by host Joseph Lambert), and singing about how unfortunately popular he’d be in prison sporting ink like that. Funny premise.

Foamers? played second, and it went well! I had the idea earlier that day for us to cover The Ramones’ “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement” as preemptive means of mocking anyone who hung out upstairs instead of watching us, but that didn’t really happen! We played it anyway, then partied.

Rev. Norb & The Onions were the grand finale, and of course they ruled. Not like, oh, they’re predictably solid. But because every time I see them they put on another great show. Norb, in full-on next-door neighbor mode, performed in a (Star Trek) robe, sleep mask, and aqua socks.

norbsox

Brad wore his own band’s t-shirt – I’d do that if I were in that band, too. I like these songs so much by now, I realized I’ve become more of a fan of this group than I was of Boris the Sprinkler. Granted I’ve now seen Norb/Onions a lot more than I’ve seen Boris, who, to be sure, were outstanding. But it’s a combination of this group’s songs, and the fact that Norb now tosses solos to Brad, who’s just always been the area’s best rock’n’roll guitar player.

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5/13/17.1: J-Council photo shoot

Like I said, we partied after the Foamers?’ set. I mean, it was a party – we couldn’t be impolite.

J-Council had found out on Friday that we needed to do a photo shoot the next day – someone needed a promo shot for something by Monday. After group-text brainstorming that no one could take seriously, we just knew we’d get together Saturday afternoon. But I apparently missed the update that we’d be shooting earlier than planned, and my phone and I, both drained, shut down after the house party.

I didn’t turn my phone on at all the next morning; my wife came to the party, too, and I wanted to let her sleep in, so I was just doing the dad thing, tending to the tykes, making meals, and the doorbell rings – it’s my bandmate Alex, snazzily dressed, telling me we’re supposed to be at the half-hour-away photo shoot in twenty minutes. I’m wearing pajama pants and a layer of last night’s sweat n’ smoke.

Switched gears, woke up wife, drove, photo shot. We got to work with Justus Poehls and Oliver Anderson, two talented guys who are also great people. I’ve never been in a band that liked getting its picture taken, but it’s never a bad time hanging with the J-Council dudes – something we’ll really test when we drive to Brooklyn and back next month! Side note: Justus was great to work with, and his studio is right next to the house where I practiced during my cup of coffee as drummer for the Orange Iguanas.

Another side note: Guitar Center is awful. Forget that place. I stopped there after the shoot, hoping to buy a bass head they’d had, but someone swooped in before me. Not the point; even if they’d still it had it, it’s just the worst vibe there. Dick’s Music Shop (where I took some banjo lessons, bought my Telecaster and numerous necessities) just announced they’re closing, and if we lose independent stores in favor of these soulless chains, that’s another nail in the culture coffin. The best thing that came from it was Travis and me picturing the Guitar Center hiring process, deciding it’s based on a polygraph that measures applicants’ excitement while Dream Theater recordings are administered. “Does it get you going? The job is yours!”

Seriously, I felt more comfortable – in my yellow leisure suit from the photo shoot and all – buying a Mother’s Day present at Menard’s than I did at that Guitar Center. That’s pretty backward.

Another side note: Cozzy Corner rules, but you hopefully already know that!

Back to GB, do some more dad-ing, and back to Lyric Room.

5/13/17.2: Freight Train Rabbit Killer, Harvey Brown, The Foamers?, That Last Sip of Beer

I admit I was dragging by this point; weak as it may sound, I hadn’t played three nights in a row in a while. I got there a couple songs into TLSoB’s set. Crowd was more quality over quantity – modest but attentive and appreciative.

I hadn’t seen That Last Sip of Beer, or their other band Zippnutts. Turns out they’re from Wausau, which got me excited – I’d just been talking with Mark from Top Spins, who just moved to Wausau, about his goals of better connecting Wausau to the local music scenes. Even though I’ve never played there, it made all this sense to me, and it was cool to meet more people from there. Sounds like the Polack Inn and the Cop Shoppe are the places to hang.

Travis and I threw together a setlist and got at it. We’d saved our less-fast stuff for this show, to better set up FTRK’s sound. Supposedly our song “Gotta Run” was on the radio in GB earlier that morning, and we were set to play it anyway; anyone who came specifically to see it live got their wish! Since TLSoB played a song about wanting to live in a high rise, and since we’d just learned it, we figured our Ramones’ cover from the night before would fit. Overall, while Travis was on as always, I played better the night before. Playing in The Foamers? is pretty tough to do but I like the challenge, and the style really works when I’m not messing up a ton – there’s just nowhere to hide any mistakes in a two-piece.

Harvey Brown played their first show in forever, and it was one of their best. It’s too bad more people weren’t there for it; blame either music fatigue or just lack of word-spreading, I don’t know, but it was a privilege to be there. My favorite shows of theirs are the ones where they really play together and off each other, and perhaps because they haven’t performed in a while, the members of HB were looking to each other a lot, and the chemistry was transcendent in that unique way of theirs.

I won’t say I want the four of them to focus on playing together rather than their other projects, because they’ve earned my encouragement no matter what they do. But of all the great sets I saw this weekend, Harvey Brown’s may have wound up my favorite. I’m not trying to give anyone a complex – I want them to do whatever they want (I appreciate that they want to do anything at all), and Short Timers and Alley Cat/Purrfection are working on some cool, different stuff. But HB really ruled Saturday night and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing them play more often.

Between the heights achieved by Harvey Brown, and the fact that they’d had Mollie Gene sitting in with them last time but not this time, Freight Train Rabbit Killer felt like a let-down to me. I may have been too wiped to get really into any band at this point, though. They were still good, and hit some gutsy Nick Cave strides.

I tried to catch the end of Tony Tanzi’s birthday show at Gasoline but it had just wrapped. My friend Chris rode with me, I dropped him off and we had a last beer up at his place, which I’d never seen, but is outstanding. He’s moving in a month, so if anyone’s looking for a really unique one-bedroom with a high-arched, temple-like main room, close to Broadway, holler and I’ll pass on the details.

Recap:

It was quite the stretch, and I figured I’d type it out before any memories fade; I fear I’ve forgotten more good times than some people may ever have.

I work on a lot of stuff, but it felt especially great to feed that music wolf three days in a row. Another cool moment from Saturday was my good friend Paul telling me about the band he’d seen at Lyric Room the night before, a group he’d known nothing about, that just came on stage and owned. He was describing the phenomenon when a mystery band unexpectedly blows your mind, and said, “I live for this sh*t.” A confession, not a boast. I really liked that.

Paul, and people like him who are totally driven to see live music, are the ones who make it all work, more than any other part of the process (including bands, promoters, or venues). It was just a perfect comment to catch as the run wound down.

Thank you all for reading, and supporting local music!

-Matty

“Resident Evil 4” Killed the Series

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“Resident Evil 2” was the first M-rated videogame I ever got. I was in seventh grade. I hadn’t played the first one, but had asked classmates all about it in that terrified-yet-interested teenage way. I’d long experienced recurring zombie nightmares from seeing “Night of the Living Dead” a few years too early.

The second “RE” was seriously hyped, and by all accounts would not require strong knowledge of its predecessor to enjoy it. The first “Resident Evil” had taken place in a mansion in the woods on the outskirts of fictional Raccoon City, where “RE2” was set in the city itself.

The game petrified me. God, was it creepy, with the intro video, then my character getting killed by the first zombies I encountered. I was freaked out and outmatched; I experienced bad buyer’s remorse and didn’t play again for at least two weeks. Serious bummer. Buying a game guide gave me a bit of nerve, though, as did turning on every light in the room.

They always scared me, but I grew to adore the “RE” games: 2, 1, 3, “Code: Veronica.” I bought a Nintendo GameCube exclusively because they were doing an enhanced re-release of the first game (which was fantastic) and a prequel. The mix of zombies and other morphing abominations (surely influenced by John Carpenter’s “The Thing”), corrupt corporations and authorities, puzzle solving, and guns and gore galore made for this great mix of mystery, dread, excitement, and weirdness that lit up my young mind.

I still appreciate what those games were to me. I fell out of love with videogames, though, during my freshman year of college, after losing a ton of progress in “Metroid Prime”, getting really mad at my roommate who’d shut off my unsaved game (in spite of my “PLEASE DON’T TURN MY GAME OFF!” post-it note) while I was out, but then realizing it really didn’t matter, did it.

But when a friend picked up “Resident Evil 4” a while later, I couldn’t help but be curious, and it was, in fact, cool! Ol’ reliable “RE”. We wound up so into it. Those familiar with the unique, intuition-challenging controls of the series up to that point recall how exciting the new gameplay was. It felt like after years of being horrified and hunted by the worst beasts imaginable, we finally had the coordination to fight back.

The action was so thrilling…that I barely noticed my suspension of disbelief. These weren’t really “zombies” anymore, but “infected” people who angrily attacked, sometimes with weapons, growling menacing lines, and disintegrating (rather than “playing” “dead” like they used to) when they were killed. “RE4”’s enemies were somehow more and less human in ways that made them no longer scary. Sure was fun to shoot ‘em up, though.

In this legendary videogame series so focused on death and undeath, the storytelling would be its most prominent casualty (sorry, Ada Wong).  A drive to see what happens next, and to merely survive while exploring the horror, was replaced by dominance and destruction. The pace went from a tip-toe to a sprint. Again, it felt like entertaining vengeance, but at the expense of the once-compelling narrative, ultimately reducing “Resident Evil” to just another action series.

After “RE4” I tried the fifth one, thumbed through other sequels at used stores, and watched the trailer for the seventh game with renewed hope, but unfortunately the series no longer resonates with me. It’s gotten more sci-fi than scary; the enemies in the early games were all soulless, mindless former humans and animals (dogs, crows, reptiles) warped by virii that made them want to eat people, where starting with the fourth game (or maybe even “Code: Veronica”) enemies were evil humanoids and completely made-up creatures (giants, water creatures, fire…creatures) whose hostility (opposed to hunger) was never really explained.

Maybe vids in general have gotten too slick to be make a mark on me. I’m certainly not dying to regain the hobby, so I lack the incentive to put the time in. But I did like “BioShock” for XBOX 360 – again, largely because of its creative story and concept.

Too much media forgoes the brain and aims for the gut. It’s a shame this once gripping series gave up what made it exceptional.

Which videogames or series have or had your favorite storytelling? Disagree with my take on the “RE” series’ (d)evolution?

Holler,

-Matty

A Word on Aaron Lee Tasjan

 

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photo by Stacie Huckeba

In 2014 I was elated when Tom Johnson asked Muddy Udders to open for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – man, I was just happy to finally get to see them, and in GB even! Raucous jump blues in my own backyard!

I barely noticed they had some guy touring with them – “Aaron Lee Tasjan?” I thought, “Who does this boring Nashville singer-songwriter with his unremarkable proper name think he is, opening for the Shack Shakers?”

I was a stupid idiot. Aaron Lee Tasjan ruled that night, conjuring the biggest sound I’d ever heard from a solo act, and entertaining while doing it! All the talent and charisma a crowd could possibly want from a single performer tasked with opening for LSS and their indefatigable frontman J.D. Wilkes. Whoever was inspired to pair the two unlikely acts, thank you! Aaron, and J.D. and drummer Brett Whitacre were even cool to talk to in the green room n’ everything.

On stage that night ALT was funny between songs and deadly during them – like a perma-fried savant who could turn it on and off at will, or this impossibly competent and interesting stoner. He definitely made an impression.

I didn’t get to catch him again until Mile of Music last year, and holy cats, walking up to the outdoor stage at Spats that evening, again I’m hit with this unexpected force. I’d heard he was playing with a full band, but I had no idea. Gone was the seated dude in the trucker hat, horn-rims and flannel. Aaron was wearing this outrageous green suit, a cowboy hat and mirrored shades, out-rocking his bandmates and wailing “B*tch Can’t Sing!” into the night air. It was so cool!

Earlier this year ALT retweeted a podcast he’d been on called “Walking the Floor”, and I tune in to learn that he toured in the New York freaking Dolls? MAN. It might be good I didn’t know that when we chatted at Lyric Room. But would I have even wanted to ask what it was like? Would I want to risk killing my image of David Johansen?

Ah, probably. (A wise man [my late grandfather] believed it’s always better to know than not know. [Who knew he was a Dolls fan?])

Maybe I’ll ask Aaron this Friday! J-Council is opening for him at Colectivo in Milwaukee for ten measlies!

Huge honor, and I’ll better appreciate it this time. I’m excited to see whatever he decides to do on stage. Northern friends, catch him tonight at the Source in Menasha!

Indeed, there are individuals out there making cool music, and Aaron Lee Tasjan is one of them. If you can’t go to one of these shows, you might consider reevaluating your life, or at least procuring his recordings.

Also, LSS are back in GB on Sunday, May 7th! Psht – who does this “Jesse Dayton” dude think he is?

Enjoy,

-Matty