Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best Albums of 2009

Last year, Arbitrary Judgment brought you the Top 10 Albums of 2008, so I would be remiss to go out as a one-hit wonder. But with the “Double Zero’s” coming to a close and every other media outlet releasing their “Best of the Decade” lists, I thought maybe I would give you my Top 10 Albums of the 2000’s. Then I realized that I was 10 years old when this decade began. So unless you wanted to read reviews of Smashmouth, Will Smith, or Linkin Park, you’ll be happy that I stuck to the Best Albums of this year, 2009. You’re welcome.

Now, I stated this last year, but let me remind you again: I have no formal training in the world of music analysis. I am not a world-class music critic. I do not have a special ear for the art of song or anything weird like that. I am simply a college kid with a great love of music from every different time period and decade. I listen to the majority of music that comes out each week from the majority of different genres. I do feel that I have an eclectic and well-rounded taste for music, and that I have listened to enough of it to make a respectable year-end list. This is not a list of the most popular or best selling albums of 2009, but simply my list of the albums that I felt were the most musically accomplished and successful this year. So in case you were wondering, no one from American Idol made the list. I hope that’s ok.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Albums of 2009 (with a few extras), courtesy of a 20-year-old with no real music education and a strong distaste for the country music genre. Let the accolades begin.

Honorable Mention

U2 – No Line on the Horizon
You really have to admire the longevity and cohesiveness of this band. Bono is still incredible and somehow it feels like he is still on the top of his game. But what’s even more impressive is how the rest of the band has been able to fall in line and follow his lead. In a time when so many bands implode and fall by the wayside, U2 has been the cream of the crop for 30 years. Listen to Boy from 1980 and No Line from 2009 and see if you can notice a huge difference in the band’s aura and sound. It certainly won’t be easy.

Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
The Greatest American Hero refuses to let us down, giving us his 34th studio album. Oh, and it only reached the top spot on the US and British Charts. The man is 68 years old and still making #1 albums. I’ll be happy if I can still feed myself at 68. With Together Through Life, Dylan does a great job of relating the songs to his own life, and yet still keeps up that shield of mystery that he has become notorious for. The murky, Tex-Mex sound the Dylan gives on this album is trumped only by the way that his soul seems to pour out of each and every word.

Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
As I’ve said before, I like old Green Day a lot more than I like new Green Day. But regardless, you still have to respect and appreciate the way that this band has re-invented themselves during their years of prominence. Lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong deserves a lot of praise for the strides he has made, both musically and lyrically.

The Top Ten

10. Weezer – Raditude
On their seventh studio album, Weezer and frontman Rivers Cuomo stay true to what they do best. While bands like Green Day have impressed in the way they have changed their sound over the years, Weezer has actually stuck to its guns, and they are still reaping the successful harvests of it. Cuomo is goofy and awkward, and he makes it work for him and the band on Raditude. The album has a very Andrew W.K., old-school Green Day kind of sound to it, and is a lot of fun to listen to. I like to imagine that if Kurt Cobain had been on depression medication, he would have sounded a lot like Weezer on this album. Songs such as “I Want You To”, “The Girl Got Hot”, and “Put Me Back Together” are all Weezer at its very, most quintessential best.

9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The bands fourth studio album landed them on every late night talk show and even introduced them into commercial fame and success, and for good reason. Phoenix has one of those playful and energizing sounds to them, very VampireWeekend-esque. And while this seems to be the popular, indie band sound of current times, it definitely works for them. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix also has hints of a Spoon influence (“1901”) and even a dash of Weezer (“Lasso” and “Girlfriend”) and a little OneRepublic (“Fences”). All in all, Phoenix plays the alternative indie band card to perfection, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

8. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
As far as concept/story albums go, it is one of my favorites of all time, just below the rung that includes Ziggy Stardust, Sgt. Pepper’s, and Quadrophenia. While the sound of the band could be comparable to Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, or My Morning Jacket, the band’s storytelling set to their unique folky/trippy sound is what really positions them apart from the others. This particular album also has some darker, more edgy songs that Morrissey himself would be proud of. But what I love most about The Decemberists is that you can never tell whether they have written an album or some type of an adult, fairy-tale-novel set to music. Doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s a masterpiece.

7. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Grizzly Bear’s third full-length studio album has an incredibly unique and varied sound that is tough to put your finger on. At times you can hear a Beach Boys influence (“Two Weeks” and “Foreground”), a Cream influence (“Southern Point” and “While You Wait For The Others”), The Guess Who influence (“Fine For Now”), an old school Neil Young influence (“Ready, Able”) and even a more modern, My Morning Jacket influence (“Dory”). Yeah, I wasn’t lying. Overall, this indie band (which has caught the eye of the likes of Jay-Z and Beyonce) has a very folky, whimsical, and experimental feel to it. It is completely unique and weird, which is one of the reasons I found myself so impressed by it.

6. Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
Yes, their big hit (“Use Somebody”) is forever ruined for me because of how it has been overplayed to death, but the song is great and the album is great. The band finally hit it big with this release, leaving behind their grimy, garage-band sound for a more high profile, arena type sound. You get a very U2-ish vibe from them overall, although their southern roots do shine through on songs such as “Revelry”. You also get a little bit of a Rolling Stones vibe at times (“Be Somebody”), but without the British accents. You can sense a little Aerosmith in their presentation (“Crawl”) and even a whiff of Radiohead in their songwriting and composing (“I Want You”), just not quite as advanced. But in the end, I feel that this album really showed us a band that has truly arrived on the music scene and is just beginning to reach its full potential. Songs such as “Sex On Fire”, “Closer”, and “Manhattan” are fantastic, and it’s tough to find a bad song on the album.

5. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
While I feel that the original Blueprint was probably a better album, the Blueprint 3 was very good, and easily my favorite Jay-Z album in quite some time. I felt as if it was less contrived, rushed, and commercialized than some of his previous albums, such as American Gangster and Kingdom Come. Jay-Z seemed to put more time and heart into the Blueprint 3, getting back to what makes him the great artist that he is. On this album, Jay-Z is honest and upfront about his true self, rapping with a likeable ego and undeniable charm. The Blueprint 3 is also aided by a great supporting cast (Kanye, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Drake, and Young Jeezy to name a few), as well as his genuine love for singing about where he is from and what he believes in (“Empire State of Mind” and “D.O.A.”). Oh, and he gets bonus points for being married to Beyonce. Try and argue with that.

4. Vetiver – Tight Knit
This indie band’s fourth full-length studio album has continued to bring them more and more notoriety in music circles. Vetiver, named after a type of grass, really is a grassroots effort. It is a simple, laid back band that doesn’t have much glitz or flash to them, but still gets the job done. Vetiver has an old-school folk sound to it, and often collaborates with Devendra Banhart. Overall, you can sense a Canned Heat and Townes Van Zandt influence on this album, while the simplicity suggests a sprinkling of Velvet Underground. You can also sense a little CSNY influence on songs like “Strictly Rule”, a Kingston Trio influence on “At Forest Edge”, and even a more poppy, Vampire Weekend sound on “More of This”. Most of all, Tight Knit introduces us to the incredible skill that frontman Andy Cabic has as a songwriter, something we hadn’t really seen from him on past albums.

3. M. Ward – Hold Time
Known best for his work with Zooey Deschanel (She & Him) and Monsters of Folk, M. Ward is one of the most underrated and underappreciated singer/songwriters of his generation. On Hold Time, Ward achieves a very old-school, hazy, Phil Spector type sound that I really enjoyed. You can hear the Buddy Holly influence on songs like “For Beginners”, the Steve Miller Band influence on “Never Had Nobody Like You”, and even a mid-70’s Bob Dylan, early Fleetwood Mac sound on songs like “One Hundred Million Years”. Despite the fact that M. Ward may be best known for his bands and collaborations, Hold Time shows that Ward has no problem standing on his own.

2. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
For the second year in a row, Conor Oberst has made my Top Albums list, which is probably the greatest honor to ever be bestowed upon him. Following his first solo album in ’08, Oberst teamed up with the Mystic Valley Band to create the most upbeat and lively music that we have seen from him yet. But don’t worry. Oberst has retained his amazing grasp of lyrics and songwriting, as well as that mystical way of showing you all of his cards, and yet still leaving you wondering who the heck this guy and what’s going on in his head. He has the rare ability to be both upfront and perplexing at the same time, adding intrigue to everything he writes. The songs "Slowly" and "Nikorette" are amazing, "Ten Women" so closely evokes Bob Dylan that it’s almost eerie, and "Cabbage Town" is the perfect example of Oberst and how he has grown (musically) since his days with the Bright Eyes. Conor may not have complete control on this album like he did on the last one (thanks to the Mystic Valley Band), but his influence is certainly swimming throughout the entire piece of work. The album almost makes you visualize just how amazing Oberst’s set at Woodstock could have been. If only, if only.

1. The Mumlers – Don’t Throw Me Away
This little known indie band was certainly the surprise of the year for me. I only bought this album, Don’t Throw Me Away, because the cover caught my eye and it was really cheap. It turned out to be one of the best five bucks I have ever spent. The Mumlers, named after a 19th century spirit chaser, have a very unique, soulful, jazzy, folky sound to them that seems far beyond their years. It’s hard to pin down their sound or influence, simply because it is all across the board. You get a sense of the Beatles (circa late 60’s) on a song like “Fugitive & Vagabond”, as well as a Rolling Stones sound on “Battlefield Postcard”. You can also feel the influence of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on “Coffin Factory”, Amos Lee on “Tangled Up With You”, and even the Righteous Brothers on the title track, “Don’t Throw Me Away”. For me personally, “99 Years Ago” is probably my favorite song on the album, but there isn’t a bad choice in the bunch. On this record, The Mumlers have somehow found a way to write about heartache in a way that Tom Waits or The Smiths could relate to, and yet each piece doesn’t seem all that melancholy or downtrodden. Don’t Throw Me Away was easily the most shocking and thought-provoking album of the year for me, so putting them in the top spot was no contest. If you only buy or listen to one album on this list, make it this one. It won’t disappoint.



See you in 2010. Thanks for reading

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Slim


Sometimes, sports take you to a place that is beyond sports, beyond the trivial things such as wins and losses, statistics, and a breakdown of every single game and match-up imaginable. Sometimes, sports become secondary. Such is the case with Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who passed away on Dec. 17, 2009, one day after suffering serious injuries in a car accident. It is a tragic ending to a sad story.

The term “star-crossed” will most likely be used ad nauseam in reference to this situation, but it truly is the best way to describe what has taken place. Henry, who had become known just as much for his off-field problems as he had for his on-field success, sadly died in a manner that was shocking in many ways, and yet somewhat unsurprising at the same time.

During the afternoon of December 16th, Henry was reportedly involved in some type of domestic dispute with his fiancé in Charlotte, North Carolina, leading up to the accident. Henry had been on season-ending Injured Reserve after breaking his arm in a Week 9 victory against the Baltimore Ravens, and was in Charlotte visiting his fiancé’s family at the time of the accident. The two were believed to have been planning their wedding. After some type of domestic dispute began, Henry’s fiancé reportedly started to drive away from her parents’ home in a yellow pick-up truck. As she was trying to leave, Henry allegedly jumped into the bed of truck, and was later thrown from the bed of the vehicle about a half-mile from the home. Witnesses say that he jumped out, stating that Henry could be heard threatening to leap from the truck and kill himself if his fiancé didn’t stop and talk to him. Henry suffered life-threatening injuries in the accident, and was immediately rushed to the hospital and put on life support. He passed away around 6:30 a.m. on the morning of December 17th, only 26 years old.

The events surrounding his death are certainly bizarre, but are also part of a laundry list of controversial off-field things that Henry has been through since playing college ball at West Virginia University. In fact, Henry’s career is the quintessential example of a roller coaster ride. After redshirting at WVU in 2002, Henry earned 2003 Big East Conference Freshman of the Year and All-Big East Second-Team honors. In his two seasons on the active roster at WVU, Henry accrued 22 receiving touchdowns, which stand as second most in the school’s history. That’s the good. He was also ejected from a game against Rutgers University in 2004, and then suspended for a subsequent game against the University of Pittsburgh. Rich Rodriguez, head coach of WVU at the time, referred to Henry as “an embarrassment to himself and the program.”

Once Henry was drafted by the Bengals in the third round of the ’05 Draft, his life and career continued down basically the same current. The final stats for his sporadic five-year career leave Henry with 119 receptions, 1,826 yards, 21 touchdowns, and a very nice average of 15.3 yards per catch, all in only 55 games played. That’s not too shabby, especially considering he was usually the third or fourth receiver on the depth chart and missed 14 career games due to suspension, as well as a few others to injury. The bad part is that all of those suspensions stem from an inconceivable five arrests in only 28 months, as well as a few other skirmishes with the law (giving him another impressive average, albeit for the wrong reasons). He was busted on charges of marijuana possession, concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm, providing alcohol to minors, criminal damage, and driving under the influence, all in a little over two years time. He also allegedly assaulted a valet attendant for refusing to pay the valet fee, and when he was arrested for waiving his gun at a police officer, reports said he was wearing HIS OWN #15 Bengals jersey at the time. Following that fifth arrest in April of 2008 – in which Henry was alleged to have punched a man who owed him money and broken his car window with a beer bottle – the Bengals cut Henry from the team, finally fed up with his antics.

But eventually it came out that Henry’s last arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and that it was a friend of Henry’s who had actually assaulted the man, but didn’t admit it until the investigation was under way. This coincided with the Bengals entering their ’08 Training Camp banged up at the receiver position. Throw in the fact that Bengals owner Mike Brown is notorious for giving players second chances (and more), and Henry was back on the Bengals roster by August, about four months since being cut loose. Everyone in Cincinnati (including head coach Marvin Lewis) and around the NFL thought Brown was crazy for bringing Henry back. But Brown proved to be smarter than we thought.

The truth is, Chris Henry wasn’t actually a bad guy. He was well liked in the locker room. He was kind and soft-spoken. He had simply fallen prey to the fact that young kids, who become rich and famous at a young age, often have trouble with the transition. Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty put it best when he wrote, “Chris Henry could run 40 yards in 4.3 seconds. Problem was, trouble ran a 4.2.” But after receiving that second chance from Mike Brown and the Bengals, Henry put his life back on the right track. He figured out who his “true friends” were. He settled down with his girlfriend and future fiancé, who he also had three young children with. He became smarter, wiser even. He became a better teammate, a better father, and a better friend. He simply became a better man. His fellow teammate Bobbie Williams said that “(Chris) had made the changes he needed to make.” It felt like Henry’s troubles were behind him.

The problem was, “Slim” (Henry’s nickname) described not only his tall and slender physique, but also his chances of staying on the field. Whether it was suspensions or injuries, Henry always seemed to miss as many games as he played in. This time, it was the arm injury that put Henry on IR and cut his 2009 season in half. That’s why Henry was in Charlotte on a Wednesday in the middle of Week 15, instead of in Cincinnati practicing with the team. And that’s why, instead of catching passes and watching film, he was instead arguing with his fiancé – an argument that eventually led to his death. When you think of it that way, it leaves you wondering.

But even with everything that occurred, you can’t play the “what if” game with Henry and his tragic passing. Sure, it’s easy to say, “What if Chris hadn’t broken his arm? What if he was in Cincinnati, practicing with the team and getting ready for that week’s game?”. But once you start the “what if” game, you could simply ask things like, “What if the Bengals never re-signed him? Would he already be dead? In jail? Living a steady and successful life away from the NFL?”. You could even ask things like, “What if the Bengals had never drafted him to begin with?”. The “what if” game is just too broad in this scenario. It’s irrelevant. Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco mentioned this week how his grandma always says, “You never really question the man upstairs on a decision he makes because he never makes mistakes.” Well, Chad’s grandma is right. God has a plan. God doesn’t play the “what if” game, so we shouldn’t either. The real question, instead, should be “What now?”.

As I mentioned before, Chris Henry’s death is one of those situations in which sports takes us to a place that is actually beyond sports. This was no longer about a game. This was about life and death. You have to feel for a young man that had tried so desperately to turn his life around. You have to feel for a young man that had all the potential in the world; a young man, that, until a few days ago, had a future which was incredibly bright. You have to pray for the family that he left behind. His immediate family lived with Henry in Cincinnati ever since their home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. He had a young fiancé that had stood by him in all of his troubles, and who he was planning to marry in March. He had three young kids, all of which now are forced to grow up without their father. Football seems so secondary after an event like this. And yet, in many ways, it isn’t.

Because Henry was an NFL player, his death was big news around the country, especially in Cincinnati. And while football may appear to be so trivial after a tragedy like this, it has to be brought into the situation. You see, football, to the men and coaches of the Cincinnati Bengals (and every other team around the league) is more than just a game; it is their profession. The Bengals organization lost a teammate, a co-worker, a friend, and a brother when Henry died. As I mentioned before, Henry was well liked in the Bengals locker room. Many of the players and coaches were close to him and his family. Now they are forced to continue their lives without him. Just as anyone else in the world is forced to continue living their lives when they lose a loved one, the Bengals must do the same. People still have to go back to their jobs and responsibilities, whether they lose a co-worker, a friend, or a family member. Unfortunately, the rules don’t change when something like this happens. And while football might just seem like a stupid game at the moment, it truly is much more than that. For the members of the Cincinnati Bengals, it is their career, something they work hard at and have worked for years to be a part of. In this situation, they are not unlike any of the rest of us that have lost someone we knew and loved. And just like the rest of us, they have to find a way to move forward.

It would be nice if this Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers were postponed. It would be nice if the NFL could honor Henry and sympathize with the Bengals by giving them some time off to grieve this loss. Despite Henry not being on the active roster at the time of his death, it doesn’t take away from the shock and the pain that his friends and teammates are having to deal with. It would be nice if they had an opportunity to get away from the game of football and get through this rough time. Nevertheless, they can’t. The NFL is a business. We are just weeks away from the NFL Playoffs, something which both the Chargers and the Bengals will play a prominent role in. In the same way that any other business can’t stop for tragedy, the NFL can’t stop either. If a waiter dies, the restaurant doesn’t shut down. If the President of the United States dies, the country doesn’t stop functioning. If a teacher dies, the students don’t stop going to class. And if an NFL player dies, the league can’t just stop everything. It is sad and cold, but it is simply the truth. The world isn’t a perfect place.

Through all of this, the Bengals still have a job to do. They still have to go out and perform to the best of their abilities. They still have to win games. This Sunday’s match-up against the Chargers has huge implications for how both teams will be seeded in the playoffs, and that is something the Bengals will have to deal with. And while I am as guilty as anyone for taking sports a little too seriously, at the end day, it still is a job to those people. Playing professional football is not an easy accomplishment. The players in the league have dedicated their lives and talents to make it to that level. Maybe they are glorified too much and paid too much, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that they strive to play well, to win games, to make the playoffs, and to win Super Bowls. It is how they measure success. It is how they exceed at their jobs, just like everyone else wants to exceed at their own job. The fact that they are rich, professional athletes doesn’t make Chris Henry’s death any easier on them. The pain isn’t any easier to bear. The situation isn’t any easier to get through. They are still human. And, whether they want to or not, they still have to continue moving forward.

It is hard to predict how this Bengals team will react to the tragedy. They have already dealt with tragedy this year, after defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife died earlier in the season. They responded well then, but can they do it again? Can they rebound from losing a teammate? Any Bengals fan could tell you that this team is better suited to deal with adversary than any other Bengals team of the past 20 years. But adversary in the NFL usually means penalty yards, injuries, and tough opponents – not death. To be honest, no team…or organization…or person is suited to deal with death. It is one of life’s few guaranteed passages, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. The team could respond with inspired play for their fallen brother. They could take care of business and go into the playoffs with a heavy heart and a head of steam. They could find a way to channel their grief and sadness into desire and success. They could rebound from the heartbreak as quickly as it occurred. Or, they could completely collapse, deflated from the pain and sorrow that Henry’s death has brought them. Could you blame them if they did? Of course not. But either way, life – and football – will have to go on.

As you can most likely infer, I am a big fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. I have an obvious interest in how the team will respond to this situation. Seeing as how the team has played in only one playoff game in my lifetime, I have been very excited by the season so far, anxious to see my team secure a spot in the post-season and possibly make a run at the championship. And a couple days ago, my biggest concern was how the team would fare against San Diego, if the passing game would get its act together, and who we would be facing in the playoffs. But because I am a fan, I also have an obvious sorrow over Chris Henry’s passing. And something like that really makes you stop and think. The Chargers, the passing game, and the playoffs seem a lot less important when someone’s life is so tragically cut short. The game almost seems minimal. You are forced to ask yourself, “Are sports really that important?” Well, no, they aren’t. BUT, they still are important.

Chris Henry dedicated his whole life to the game of football. Chris Henry loved the game of football. Chris Henry wanted so badly to see the Bengals succeed (whether he was on the field or not) because that’s what he had committed his livelihood and profession to. His death was a terrible, terrible tragedy. I cannot imagine the heartache that his loved ones are now forced to go through. But Chris Henry would not want the world to stop on account of him. He wouldn’t want the Bengals to stop on account of him. Trust me. He would want them to keep pushing forward, to keep striving for success, to honor him by playing the game he loved. Henry died much too soon, in a far too tragic way. His death is so much bigger than the game of football. And yet, that doesn’t mean the game is immune to it. Quite the contrary. In all honesty, his teammates and organization are caught right in the middle of it, right in the eye of the storm. They are forced to pick themselves up and go on without him.

Some things are beyond sports. Sadly, this is not one of them.




RIP, Slim. Thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Dave Met Jack

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. And a little bit after that, God created rivalries.

Since the beginning of time, our world has been subjected to rivalries of every different kind, with one side pitted against the other. Even the Lord himself, "Big Guns Upstairs", is in a constant battle with Satan. It never ends. It is one of the unique aspects of this planet, this universe, and simply life in general. Regardless of time, location, or population, there has always been struggles between two sides, competition between two adversaries, and comparisons between two entities. Rivalries are as old as the stars.

Some rivalries stretch back to the beginning of mankind (Cain vs Abel). Some set the table for the make-up of early civilizations (Gengis Kahn vs Asia). Some shaped the structure of the modern Western World (USA vs Soviet Union). And even some are unfolding today, right in front of our very own eyes (Tiger Woods vs Us Weekly).

Rivalries can be legendary (Caesar vs Brutus), fictional (Captain Ahab vs Moby Dick), or completely authentic and so, so, super-duper real (LC vs Heidi). They can be epic (Ali vs Frazier) and they can be lopsided (Britney Spears vs Common Sense). They can be incredibly lame (‘N Sync vs Backstreet Boys) or they can transcend time (Good vs Evil).

Rivalries can leave you smiling (Jessica Biel vs Jessica Alba) and heartbroken (Lennon vs McCartney). They can be in good taste (Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson) and they can end violently (Biggie vs Tupac). And every now and then, rivalries can be great (Seinfeld vs Newman).

But even with all the rivalries that have come and gone and that are shoved upon us in this day and age, one has seemingly gone unnoticed. Despite similarities between the two sides and an abundance of common interests, it has simply been averted. For whatever reason, one match-up in the music world has never been given the justice it truly deserves: Dave Grohl vs Jack White.

Let me be honest up front. I have no idea what the relationship is between Grohl and White. For all I know, they could be best friends, or they could hate each others’ guts. Maybe they just had a man-hug once at an MTV Music Awards after-party or something. The point is, I don’t have a clue. But for me, that is not what this rivalry is about. Instead, it’s about two talented and accomplished musicians that have grown-up in the same time period and the same profession with stunningly similar credentials and track records, and yet, have never really been compared. It’s about two artists who seem to be in some secret competition of who can perform with and start the most bands. This rivalry is about the progression of two of the greatest musicians of their respective generation.

Dave Grohl broke on to the popular music scene as the drummer for Nirvana on their cosmic-altering album, Nevermind, and is probably better known today as the front-man for the Foo Fighters. Jack White, on the other hand, rose to fame as the leader of The White Stripes. But that snapshot does not even begin to do justice to the careers of each of these men.

Grohl first got into music at the age of 12 when he basically taught himself to play guitar. Once he began playing in different bands during high school, he taught himself to play drums by using pillows, because his house was too small to be banging on a drum set. He dropped out of high school as a junior at the age of 17 to join a band called Scream as their lead drummer. During one of Scream’s concerts in 1990, a member of the Melvins (a band Grohl had befriended) brought his friends Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain to see the band. Months later, when Scream broke up, Grohl joined Novoselic and Cobain as the main drummer for their band, Nirvana, and the rest, as they say, is history. Replacing Nirvana’s drummer from their first album, Grohl became part of a band that would take the music world by storm less than two years later.

The widely known impact of Nirvana on grunge music, and really music in general, had an obvious affect on Grohl’s career. He was the drummer of the hottest band on the planet, and would eventually play a bigger role on the songwriting and direction of the band during the recording of their In Utero album and spot on MTV Unplugged. In fact, Dave was really coming into his musical prime at the time of Kurt Cobain’s shocking death in April of 1994. With the fate of Nirvana sealed, Grohl ventured into the next phase of his life. He recorded a demo of his solo works, singing every note and playing every instrument, save for one guitar part of one song. He also began playing for other bands, including a stint as the drummer for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Petty even offered Grohl the position as the band’s main drummer, but Grohl turned it down. Dave also played with Pearl Jam and was considered for the position of their drummer, but he felt that his future lay elsewhere.

Around this time, he began receiving interest in his demo, and decided to form a new band, known as the Foo Fighters. After releasing his solo album as the band’s first record, the Foo Fighters released The Colour and the Shape, an album that put them on the scene as a major rock band. The Foo Fighters have since gone on to have insane success with Grohl serving as the primary songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. To date, five of their six studio albums have gone platinum, with their most recent likely to reach that level at some point in the future. So essentially, Grohl turned down Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers AND Pearl Jam, but still went on to form a platinum selling rock band. This would be like someone turning down dates with Jennifer Anniston and Sandra Bullock, only to end up dating Hayden Panettiere just as she was rising to fame. Yeah, that seems fair.

Jack White walked a similar line. He jumped into the role of musician even faster than Grohl, playing drums at age five. He later learned guitar before shirking school and entering into an upholstery apprenticeship at the age of 15. After running his own furniture business for a few years, White (known as Jack Gillis at the time) landed a spot as drummer for Goober & the Peas (great name), and began playing with other local bands in Detroit, Michigan as well. But White’s accent to music fame really began in 1997 when he formed The White Stripes with then wife and current ex-wife Meg White (they’re not siblings, I promise). When Jack married Meg in 1996, he took her last name, mainly because he’s just a weird dude. Despite getting divorced in 2000, Jack has since kept the last name of White, even after getting re-married and having children. The White Stripes survived the couple’s divorce, and the two remain best friends, often presenting themselves as brother and sister.

The White Stripes found commercial success in 2002 with White Blood Cells before really hitting it big the next year with Elephant. In total, The White Stripes have two platinum albums, and a third that could hit platinum in the future. But despite being a member of a platinum selling band, White apparently felt that he still had too much free time on his hands. He formed The Racounters in 2005, serving as lead songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, while also playing keyboards and stylophone. The band started out touring with and opening for Bob Dylan (AKA – The Greatest American Hero) before releasing their first album, Broken Boy Soldiers, in 2006. The record hit #7 on US Billboard Charts and was nominated for a Grammy as Best Rock Album. The band’s second release, Consolers of the Lonely, also hit #7 on the US charts in 2008.

But even with all the success that Grohl and White had in each of their first two major bands, it didn’t seem to be enough for either of them. To be honest, complacency and patience are not virtues that these two men hold strong to. They’ve each started new bands within the past year, the third major group for each. White formed The Dead Weather in early 2009, and the band released their first album, Horehound, in July, with the record hitting #6 on US charts. Grohl has recently teamed up with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin to form the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, with their self-titled album reaching #12 on US charts after its mid-November release. Each man has strayed from their position as front-man and lead vocalist, with Grohl back at drums for the Vultures and White playing both drums and guitar for the Weather. But even with three major bands a piece, Grohl and White can’t seem to stop the music. In fact, the two have been with more bands than the girls from Rock of Love.

Grohl, aside from his early stints with Tom Petty and Pearl Jam, has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Tenacious D (he played drums on their first album), Queen, Mike Watt, Garbage, and the great Paul McCartney. Grohl even achieved one of the oddest accomplishments in all of music history (from October of ’02 to March of ’03) when he appeared in the #1 spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart (singles) for 17 of 18 straight weeks…with three different bands. Grohl replaced himself when the Foo Fighters “All My Life” replaced Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” (late release, band’s last recording) at the top of the charts, and then replaced himself again when “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age (Grohl played drums on the song) pushed the Foo Fighters from the #1 position. Did you follow all of that?

Not to be outdone, White has stood toe to toe with music royalty, collaborating with The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Loretta Lynn, Alicia Keys, and Bob Dylan. White also starred in the documentary “It Might Get Loud” alongside Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige and U2’s The Edge, with the three discussing electric guitar and their unique approaches to playing it. Now, anyone over 45 might think that having Jack White discuss playing guitar with Paige and The Edge would be like me discussing great writing with Shakespeare and Hemingway, but they’d be wrong. White’s inclusion in the piece is really a testament to the skill and respect that the man has in the musical world. Rolling Stone ranked White #17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, ahead of legends like George Harrison, The Edge, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Pete Townshend, and Eddie Van Halen. For what it’s worth, I count him as one of the two best guitarists of his generation, along with John Mayer. And, for what it’s worth, I think White is a lot less whiny.

The point is, it’s incredible the musical talent, range, and respect that Dave Grohl and Jack White have. Do you think Tom Petty would just let anybody into the Heartbreakers? Do you think The Edge and Jimmy Paige would even sit in the same room with White if they didn’t think he was on their level? The two artists each have Top-10 albums while playing prominent roles in three major bands a piece. They have also collaborated with or played a role in a combination of these historic bands and artists: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2, Pearl Jam, Queen, Nirvana, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan. Talk about “Murder’s Row.” If you didn’t know before, it should be pretty obvious to you now that the proof of Grohl and White’s music credentials are certainly in the pudding.

And yet, despite their unique ability to write and sing songs, produce music, play numerous instruments, work with the greatest musicians of our time, and form a successful band as easily as making a fruit salad, I feel they don’t receive the recognition they deserve. Despite having deep and obvious impact on the world of rock music, they aren’t spoken of enough in the same breath as the great musicians they have worked and performed with. And despite being only 40 (Grohl) and 34 (White), the two men have been able to accomplish more than you can shake a stick at. Plus, if men like Dylan, McCartney, and Paige have proven anything, it’s that great musicians age better than the rest of us, and Grohl and White seem primed to follow that path.

But what’s most surprising, out of anything they have accomplished separately, is that they have never been considered a great rivalry. Why hasn’t this been brought up before? Their talents are basically the same. Their abilities to get around (musically, of course) are basically the same. Their range as musicians are more or less the same…so why not make them a rivalry? They play very similar genres of music, walk in the same circles of musicians, and have experienced oddly similar paths to success, so to me the comparison makes perfect sense. The Yankees have the Red Sox. Leno has Letterman. Robert Pattison has Taylor Lautner. And Jack White has Dave Grohl.

To be honest, I can’t exactly say who is more accomplished or which of the two is the better musician. They stack up too well against each other. To me, it’s essentially impossible to tell who wins this rivalry. And really, that’s the best part about it.



Thanks for reading

Friday, November 6, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

The times they are a-changin’. The Yankees are back on top of the world, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel have entered Splitsville, and the Cincinnati Bengals are 5-2. That’s right, my Bengals are sitting atop the AFC North Division, half way through the NFL season. It’s shocking, it’s exciting, and in many ways, it’s extremely surprising.

After being followed around all of training camp on the HBO series Hard Knocks, this Bengals team entered the season with more eyes on them then they have ever had before. The NFL’s perpetual under-achievers (with apologies to 2005) were watched by millions this off-season, with everyone wondering whether they could put it all together, or wallow in a haze of failure and mediocrity, just like they had so many years before. Needless to say, they haven’t disappointed so far, roaring out of the gate like a team possessed. But how shocking is their start? What about their start has been the most surprising? Where are they going from here? Only one man could have the answers to all of these questions…ME!!!

What makes me so qualified? Well, I spend more time reading about, watching, and researching this team than I do sleeping, I have an easier time remembering our quarterback Carson Palmer’s birthday (Dec. 27) than I do my own sister’s (umm…May 16?), I get more excited for Sunday than anything else in my life (I swear – it’s actually kind of disturbing), and – most importantly – because no one else is writing this article, so I win by default. Let’s take a look.

Not Surprising:
First things first, let’s examine the parts of the Bengals season thus far that haven’t really been too shocking.

#1 – Effort
This team worked their tails off all of last season, and only had four wins to show for it. Even after starting 0-8, they came out every week and worked hard, never giving up on the team or the season. There was no doubt in my mind that they would come out this season and give it their all, every game, win or lose. You could certainly question the Bengals’ effort in years past, but not with this group. They bring it every week, and that won’t be changing any time soon.

#2 – Andre Caldwell
The second-year receiver has become the clutch, go-to-guy for the Bengals on third downs and late in games, taking over for the departed TJ Houshmandzadeh. He caught the game-winning touchdown passes against both the Steelers and the Ravens, and has made countless other big catches this year. But after spending all offseason working out with QB Carson Palmer, it’s not too surprising to see chemistry between the two. Caldwell is going to be a huge factor for the Bengals, not only this season, but for many years to come. Fortunately, he has already shown that he is committed to the program and committed to helping this team win. We can only hope things continue to move in this direction.

#3 – Brad St. Louis
You have to take the good with the bad, and Brad St. Louis is as bad as it gets. The Bengals long-snapper was far and away the worst player on this team entering the season, and he made his presence known. In the first five games, St. Louis had six bad snaps, resulting in numerous missed field goals and extra points. Every single time he touched the ball, Bengals fans everywhere were holding their breath. For a team that was making their living on close games, St. Louis was putting them in jeopardy week after week. I have been questioning him since the AFC Wild Card game in ’05 and calling for his release since losing a game against the Broncos ona bad snap at the end of ’06 (keeping us out of the playoffs). For the past three seasons, I’ve been telling anyone that would listen just how bad this guy has been, and the botched snaps had obviously taken a mental toll on his ability to perform in the clutch…or ever. Fortunately, the team finally replaced him before Week 6, and we haven’t had any problems since.

#4 – Andre Smith
Once again, you have to take the good with the bad. Last April, I was praying that we would avoid drafting the offensive tackle with the 6th pick in the ’09 Draft. I was hoping for tackles Eugene Monroe or Michael Oher (both of whom were available), but drafting Smith was my biggest fear. Why? Well, he made a bunch of stupid decisions in college, and I just had this feeling that he would hold-out of training camp for a better contract and then finally report to the team completely out of shape. And in fulfillment of my greatest prediction ever, Smith missed basically all of preseason trying to get a better contract, weighed about 647 pounds when he finally joined the team, and promptly broke his foot before you could say "Doritos". He has yet to dress for a game this season, and I’m not the least bit surprised.

#5 – Carson Palmer
The least surprising aspect of the Bengals early success is actually the most important aspect as well: Carson Palmer. The mild-mannered QB is the straw that stirs the drink for Cincy, the one guy that gives us a chance to win every game that we play. If Carson is playing, the Bengals always have a shot. If not, our chances go way, way down. After missing 12 games last year with an injured elbow, Palmer is back at the helm for the Bengals, and his fearless attitude in the 4th quarters of games is the main reason why this team is in first place. He is as cool under pressure as MacGyver, and he gets better and better with each passing week. As long as Carson stays healthy, the Bengals outlook will remain bright.

Somewhat Surprising:
There’s always going to be something in the middle, right?

#1 – The Defense
The defensive side of the ball was one of the few bright spots from last year’s team. After a full season under coordinator Mike Zimmer and a few key additions through free agency and the draft, many of us had high hopes for the defense coming into Week 1. So far, they have been slightly better than advertised, including being 5th in the league against the run and spectacular on third downs. Their stats against the pass are a little lower than one would like, but a lot of that can be attributed to their ability to shut down the run. Guys like Rey Maualuga and Chris Crocker have brought a swagger to this team that hasn’t been felt since the Super Bowl years, and their inspired effort in the Baltimore game just days after defensive coordinator Zimmer’s wife passed away was nothing short of incredible. In a division against tough teams like the Ravens and Steelers, a staunch ‘D’ will help to carry a team, which is exactly what the Cincy defense has done. We thought they’d be good, but not this good. Let’s hope it continues.

#2 – Cedric Benson
If Carson Palmer has been the number 1 reason for the Bengals success this season, then Cedric Benson is 1b. By now, the story is well know: taken 4th overall by the Chicago Bears in the 2005 draft, Benson spent three tumultuous seasons in the Bears system before getting run out of town for a lack of productivity and an abundance of alcohol related arrests. But Benson has recreated himself in Cincinnati and has been bowling over defenses this season. He had 141 yards against Green Bay, 120 against a staunch Ravens defense, and 189 yards against his former employers. Before entering the bye week, Benson led the league in rushing and attempts with 720 yards on 164 carries, and five touchdowns to go with it. However, his performance has only been somewhat surprising, thanks to his impressive showing through 12 games with the Bengals last season. Following the Bengals signing of Benson in Week 5 of 2008, he racked up 747 yards to end the year, running hard for a bad team. He had earned himself a spot as the unquestioned top back on the depth chart for this season, and has turned it into something amazing. We knew we had something good with Ced, but we didn’t know it would be this good.

Surprising:
As well as I know this team, the 5-2 first-place start has shocked even me. And that wasn’t the only surprising thing thus far.

#1 – The Offensive Line
Coming into this season, the Bengals’ O-Line was the biggest question mark on the team. With three new starters and a former starter in a new position, the outlook wasn’t looking too sweet at the start of the year. Nevertheless, the offensive line has been extremely impressive through the first half, opening up monster holes for Benson to run through and giving Carson plenty of time. The Bengals are 6th in the league in sacks allowed, giving up only 11 sacks to this point. Aside from a few stupid holding penalties, the offensive line has played spectacularly…and 6th overall pick Andre Smith hasn’t even played a single snap yet.

#2 – Leon Hall
For me personally, the play of Leon Hall might be the most surprising thing this year. The third-year cornerback has really come into his own this season, living up to his status as the 18th overall pick in the ’07 Draft. I have been pretty critical of Hall in the past, partly because I thought he had underperformed, and partly because he went to Michigan. But so far this season, Hall has shut down big-name receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Derrick Mason. On top of that, Hall has three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 10 passes defended. But even with all of those stats, Hall is rarely talked about as one of the better corners in the league. In fact, he’s not talked about much at all…which I think is a very good thing. The more a corner stays under the radar – the more weeks that go by without his name being mentioned – the higher the probability that Hall is playing well. Cornerbacks are similar to lineman in the sense that the less you hear about them, the better they are. If linemen give up sacks or commit penalties, you hear about it. If they do their job and block their man, they go unmentioned. If a cornerback is heard from, he’s usually making tackles after catches or getting burnt in coverage. If he goes unmentioned, it’s because no one is open or the quarterback is afraid to throw passes his way. So the less we hear about Leon, the happier I’ll be.

#3 – The Ocho
Chad Ochocinco. The artist formerly known as Johnson. The most complex man on the planet, the Benjamin Linus of the NFL, the crowned king of Twitter. At this time last season, I would have gladly traded Chad to the Detroit Lions or the Oakland Raiders or any other crappy team for a 7th round pick and a bag of Funions. Now? Chad is back to his old self, his old antics, and once again has the city of Cincinnati in the palm of his hand. Last season, all he did was whine about being a Bengal and have his worst season since joining the league. This season, he is the ultimate teammate, doing whatever he can for the team and putting up Pro Bowl numbers once again. He is in the top 10 in nearly every major receiving category, including being tied for 3rd in touchdowns. But even more important than that, he is finally happy again. You can’t turn on ESPN for more than a couple hours without Chad popping up somewhere, talking about his next TD celebration and how the Bengals are going to the playoffs. You can say all the bad things you want about the man (and trust me, I have) but it’s impossible not to realize that the team is better off when Chad is the media darling we came to know in the past. He brings a swagger and a confidence to this team that few people in the league can. But there’s more. What is different this year is that it feels like Chad has finally bought into the concept of being a good teammate. Even in years past, when “Chad was being Chad”, he still wasn’t a team player. Now, all of the sudden, he’s defending his teammates and his team to Skip Bayless (or anyone else that will listen) like his life depends on it. He even partnered up with Motorola to help sell out the Week 6 game against the Texans, showing up at the stadium at 11 a.m. (on a Saturday) to hand out 600 pairs of free tickets to waves of adoring fans. Maybe something finally clicked in that complex brain of his, and he has seen the light and the bigger picture. Or maybe he is doing all of this to get a big contract with the Dallas Cowboys next year. I really don’t know. And as long as he keeps us in first place, I don’t really care either.

#4 – The Football Gods
This is the big one, the Grand Poobah, the Belle of the Ball. The single most shocking, unbelievable, incomprehensible thing about this Bengals season has not been Chad, has not been the offensive line, the defense, or Cedric Benson. The most surprising thing about this year for the Orange & Black has been that finally, after years of being cursed something awful, the Football Gods are finally smiling on the Cincinnati Bengals. This is simply something that hasn’t happened in the past 20+ years in Cincinnati. Karma has rarely, if ever, swung in our favor. Good things just didn’t happen to the Bengals. Ever. Our fullback going on a cocaine binge the night before the Super Bowl was the kind of thing that happened. Our stud quarterback having his left knee imploded on the second play of our first playoff game since January of 1991 was the kind of thing that happened. David Klingler, Ki-Jana Carter, Akili Smith; those were the kind of things that happened. Even an 87-yard, tipped pass, miracle catch and run, game winning touchdown against the Bengals in Week 1 of this season are the kind of things that happen to the Bengals. But since then? Cincy won four straight games that went down to the wire, including three against their AFC North opponents. Add to that a 35-point blow-out win over the Bears, and it is obvious that whatever grudge the Spirits of the Gridiron had against the Bengals may finally be over. The Bengals never, ever, ever had things bounce their way. This season, it happens on a weekly basis. I can’t explain it, and I don’t know why it’s finally happening for us. I’m shocked – and I just hope it continues. I really, really, hope it continues.

Where do we go from here?:
The Bengals have showed a tenacity and resiliency that has been non-existent over most of the past two decades. They finally believe in themselves, believe they could and should win every game they play. Add to that some good fortune (knock on wood) and this team looks prized to make a run at the division title. The biggest test will be in the next two games, when the Bengals face the Ravens at home and Steelers on the road. If we sweep those games, the rest of this year is cream cheese. If we split them (hopefully beating the Steelers in this scenario), we will still be in pretty good shape. If we get swept, we have a great chance to make up that ground against the Raiders, Browns, and Lions in the next three games. With a late season game against the atrocious Kansas City Chiefs and winnable games against the struggling Chargers and Jets, the Bengals should be in perfect position to control their own destiny. If things work out, we can pat ourselves on the back and thank the Football Gods for finally changing their minds. If things don’t work out, we have only the man in the mirror to blame.

Everyone in Cincinnati is thinking playoffs. We’re hoping playoffs. We can smell it, taste it, see it sitting there off in the distance. It just seems like it’s in the cards for the Bengals this season. We finally believe. We finally have a team that we trust. We’d be shocked if somehow, for some reason, it didn’t work out - and we don't want to be shocked. We’ve already had enough surprises for one year.



Thanks for reading

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Away We Go

The majority of movies aren’t good. They may be entertaining at times, funny at times, touching at times, insightful at times, clever at times, and even fantastic at certain times, but when it’s all over, when the credits start to role, very few are truly great films. It’s just a sad fact of life.

Examples? Alright, let’s look at Wedding Crashers. The first hour-to-90-minutes of the film are hilarious, gut-busting, and ridiculously clever. Then Owen Wilson falls in love with Rachel McAdams, and the movie becomes rather lame. Started out great, then fizzled. Or you could look at the Transformers films, as well. I like action flicks, and I think both in this series are entertaining, exciting, and well put together…but they are not great movies. Sure it’s fun to ogle at Megan Fox and watch humongous robots slap each other around, but once it ended (either one, really), I didn’t find myself blown away or in complete awe of the cinematic adventure I had just witnessed. It was merely a nice movie. I didn’t want my money back, but I wasn’t calling my grandma to rave about it, either. And yes, the films were certainly successful in terms of box office and public opinion (Wedding Crashers and both Transformers made A LOT of money), but I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people jump at the chance to label them great movies. They were decent, maybe even good – but not great.

It doesn’t stop there. Even those films of Oscar glory and critical acclaim are not impervious to the binds of mediocrity. Lost In Translation, for example, was nominated for five Oscars (and won one of them) amidst raved reviews from critics everywhere. But I have yet to meet a normal movie-watcher, a regular Joe-Schmo like you and me, who even mildly liked (or understood) the movie. Or look at There Will Be Blood, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was fantastic in his role (he won Best Actor), but the movie itself was boring, slow-moving and oddly unfulfilling. Two pictures, highly regarded by experts, and yet they fall short of plainly being great movies. Even two thumbs up and a mini-gold statue don’t necessarily make a good film.

When you do realize how many movies fall short of greatness, it really makes you appreciate the few iconic movies, the ones that will go down in cinema history. Whether it’s those from past decades and generations, such as Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Star Wars, The Godfather (I & II) and Animal House, or those great films of recent decades, like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Rocky, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, and No Country for Old Men, you really grasp the idea that cinematic accomplishment is not at all easy to achieve. But is that what we have to wait for? Is it boom or bust? A great movie once or twice a decade surrounded by tons and tons of crap?

No. It might seem like it, but there actually are those movies that are just simply good films. They might not go down in history or get recognized by AFI, but you could watch them today, tomorrow and ten years from now, and they would be just as good, every single time. These types of films (Die Hard, Caddyshack, Jerry Maguire, Roadhouse, Almost Famous, Training Day, Anchorman, Ocean’s 11, Fight Club…and even The Notebook) are the great movies that we need more of. These are the movies we want. These are the movies that TBS, USA and AMC should (and sometimes do) play three or four times a week. They aren’t in abundance, but every so often, they do come along. And now, Away We Go is one of those films.

Starring John Krasinski (from The Office) and Maya Rudolph (from Saturday Night Live), the movie pairs the two together as a young couple basically trying to find their place in the world. Burt and Verona are surprised by a pregnancy, and with a child on the way, they go out looking for the best place to raise it. The journey serves to show them all that is good and bad in the world, as well as with themselves, and that while they may not be perfect, they do share a special bond that few people in this world seem to posses anymore. They learn that being different isn’t a bad thing.

There are a myriad of supporting actors that absolutely nail their roles, including Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, and the grossly and chronically underrated Catherine O’Hara. But the real genius is the amazing chemistry between Rudolph and Krasinski. The two young actors, made famous by their comedy chops, showed spectacular range in this film, divulging a complete gauntlet of emotions while also meshing perfectly as a young, struggling, and slightly confused couple. Rudolph manages to be level-headed, vulnerable, and constantly worried, all at once. Krasinski (possible man-crush?) is extremely witty, down-to-earth and care-free, all while desiring nothing more than to give Verona and their new child everything he possibly can, willing to do whatever it takes to make them happy. As good as he is on The Office, he is astronomically better in this movie, showing miles and miles of acting range that I never knew he had. In my mind, an Oscar nominee come this March would not be ridiculous in the least (man-crush confirmed). The two of them fit together better than Jon Gosselin and tabloids, and their performances completely push the movie over the edge of greatness, only leaving us wanting more.

In a time when too many movies are two straight hours of pointless drivel, mediocre acting, and over-priced special effects, Away We Go side-steps everything but success, hitting home on the most authentic emotions and dilemmas facing people today. The film is genuine and sarcastic, clever and obvious, funny and insightful, all at the same time. It’s tear-jerking at times and ridiculous at times, but it is always honest, from start to finish. It avoids being pretentious or condescending by pairing the glaring flaws and inconsistencies in our world today with all of the good and considerate things that often get overlooked. Even the main characters are far from perfect (wondering at one point if they are “f**k-ups”) but are able to shine in the end as a couple willing to stand behind each other and stand up for what they feel is best for their future child.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road) as well as writers Dave Eggars and Vendela Vida (who are husband and wife) deserve a lot of credit for allowing the film to be great. The movie is able to take the good with the bad, showing us that life isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t always have to be miserable either. And in the end, we learn that it’s never too late to go back home.

Very few movies are good. A select few are historically extraordinary. And then there is that small fraternity of movies, the seemingly overwhelming minority that transcend time, evade mediocrity, and somehow manage to be great films. With Away We Go, that group gets a little bit bigger.



Thanks for reading

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bizarro World


“Yeah, like Bizarro Superman – Superman’s exact opposite, who lives in the backwards, Bizarro World. Up is down, down is up. He says “Hello” when he leaves, “Goodbye” when he arrives.”

Superman introduced it, Seinfeld talked about it, and on Sunday, the Bengals lived it…

Bizarro World.

You see, the Bengals don’t beat the Steelers, especially not in Cincinnati. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t happen. In fact, the past eight times the two teams have played in Cincy, it hasn’t happened – until now. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bengals took care of Pittsburgh in the Queen City, beating the dreaded Steelers in front of our home crowd. And for the first time since God created the Heavens and the Earth, the Bengals did everything the exact opposite of how they usually do things. Because for once, everything went right. How bizarre.

Unfortunately, it didn’t start that way for Cincinnati on Sunday. Actually, it started the way it always seems to start when the Bengals play the Steelers, as the Black & Orange finished the 1st quarter with a vomit-inducing negative-10 yards from scrimmage. The offense looked atrocious, and the defense was hanging on for dear life. Cincy QB Carson Palmer was completely out of sync, overthrowing receivers and forcing balls into triple coverage. All I could do was roll my eyes, scratch my head, and mutter things under my breath like “Unbelievable” and “What the…?”. If it wasn’t for Pittsburgh’s inability to put the ball in the end zone and a Cincy field goal just before halftime, the Steelers’ 13-3 lead could have been a lot worse.

Things began to look a little better for the Bengals at the start of the second half, when cornerback Jonathon Joseph picked off Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger and returned the ball for a touchdown, bringing the score to 13-9. But nevertheless, even a sparkling moment like that one – which was a huge play at the time – wouldn’t be complete for Cincinnati without a sack of feces dropped on top. Following the defensive touchdown, with the team’s spirits high and the crowd going bonkers, Bengals long-snapper Brad St. Louis (whom I despise) snapped the ball into orbit, instead of into the holder’s hands. What could have been a huge play and only a field goal deficit had become a nice play with a bad ending and a weird, 4-point deficit. It’s just the way things always seem to work out for the Bengals. After a while, you come to expect it.

(Short tangent: It’s obvious how outspoken my hatred of Brad St. Louis is, because after he snapped the extra-point try like a drunken fool, I immediately received eight text messages – yeah eight – from eight different people, all commenting on how right I was and how they all agreed with me that he is completely worthless. The only silver-lining to this is getting to come up with eight different disparaging comments about the man to text back to my friends and family. But seriously, the man has one job (long-snapping) and he can’t go a single game without screwing up. Cut him loose. Please!!!)

The Steelers took advantage of St. Worthless crushing our dreams, driving down the field two possessions later and scoring, pushing their lead to 20-9 with only three minutes remaining in the third. Can the Bengals, who haven’t beaten the Steelers since the Stone Age, really come back from an 11-point deficit with a little over a quarter left to play? No. No chance. Not gonna happen. Start the buses, hit the showers, clear the field. Haven’t we learned anything from the past? The Bengals aren’t coming back, and we’ll all just have to deal with it.

But then, something happened. At a time when the old Bengals – the Bungals – would have laid down and died, this team didn’t. This team didn’t look beaten or dejected. This team didn’t curl up into the fetal position and let the mighty Steelers walk all over them yet again. Actually, this Bengals team started to fight back, to believe in each other. It’s like they were the exact opposite of every Bengals team from the past two decades. Somehow, they were different.

They ran a fake punt for a first down, something the old Bengals would have royally messed up had they tried it (which they wouldn’t have). The defense started to look mean, hungry even, getting after Roethlisberger and making tough hits. The offense even got in a groove, charging down the field with just under 13 minutes left in the game. Palmer to Caldwell, 14 yards. Palmer to Ochocinco, another 14 yards. Run by Cedric Benson, 8 yards. Palmer to Coles, 9 yards. And then…BOOM! Benson takes a carry off the left side for a 23 yard touchdown run. Wait, did that really happen? Did the Bengals just run for a 20+ yard TD…against the Steelers?!?! Yeah, something was definitely different.

Now down by only five (20-15) with just over nine minutes left, the Bengals needed to get a stop on defense and get the ball back. And they did. On a 3rd down and 6 at the Pittsburgh 37 yard line, the Bengals defensive line swarmed Roethlisberger like a group of fat men at a Dunkin’ Donuts, taking down the QB for a 5-yard sack. The old Bengals would have folded like a lawn chair, watching their hopes of victory fade away as the Steelers mowed down the field, eating up the clock until it struck zero. But not this time.

After a nice punt return to their own 29 yard line, Cincy was left with 5:14 on the clock to go 81 yards, erase a five-point deficit and possibly years of psychological damage. And with that, Carson Palmer and the offense started a drive that we could be talking about all year in Cincinnati.

Palmer went 3-3 passing for 31 yards, with Benson chipping in 11 yards on the ground to get the Bengals to the Pittsburgh 29 at the two-minute warning. Meanwhile, I was nervously pacing back and forth in my room, snapping my fingers and breathing heavily. After an 8 yard pass to Caldwell, the Bengals went for the endzone on a 3rd and 2 lob to Ochocinco. My heart stopped on a dime, but the pass landed incomplete. I let out a sigh, knowing that it was 4th and 2 with only a minute left. Who was I kidding? Why was I setting myself up for disappointment? Could the Bengals really convert a big 4th down, a mere 20 yards away from the endzone, with only a minute left? Really?

Yes. Quick pass from Palmer to Coles for 5 yards, first down, 48 seconds left. Now I’m shaking like a coke-addict, trying to figure out what in the world was going on. But I didn’t have time, because before I knew it, it was 4th down again, this time with 10 yards to go for a first down. I can’t take it. I’m about to go into cardiac arrest. I’m standing inches away from the screen, hands over my eyes, peering through the cracks of my fingers like a 7-year old watching the Blair Witch Project. They couldn’t possibly do it again. Not against Pittsburgh, not on 4th and 10. These are the plays that never, EVER go right for the Cincinnati Bengals. Ask anyone. An 87-yard tipped pass, caught and ran back for a game-winning touchdown against the Bengals in the waning seconds of a game is the type of thing that happens to us, but not this.

Wrong. Palmer maneuvered the pocket like a brain-surgeon maneuvers the skull, meticulously cutting his way into space, and hitting Brian Leonard with an eight-yard pass. And while I’m literally pulling my hair out and clutching my chest, Leonard tip-toes down the sideline, diving headfirst for the yard-marker, getting the first down by two feet. I was shocked. Couldn’t believe it. I was ashamed I had even questioned Palmer earlier in the game. I actually apologized to him out loud. Because now, with 18 seconds left, from the 4-yard line, it was only a matter of time. This game was as good as won for Cincinnati. They had already proved that they were different, that this wasn’t your older brother’s Bengals. Palmer, who was playing like a combination of Joe Naimath and Jesus, was going to lead them in for the score, and there was nothing the sad, stupid Steelers could do about it. Despite years of heartache and failure in moments exactly like this one, it was clearly evident that this was a whole new animal. Somehow I knew, everyone knew, the Bengals were going to win. Different? Different doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Palmer takes the snap…drops back to pass…looking right…back to the middle…cocks…throws….he’s got Caldwell…TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!

It was like poetry in the making. The Bengals, a perpetual doormat for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had defended their own turf. They fought back, after an abysmal first-half and an 11 point deficit, for the victory. They defeated the defending Super Bowl Champs. They stared the Football Gods straight in the face and openly defied them. The feeling was indescribable. Up was down, down was up. Just when they could have kissed their chances “goodbye”, they came right back and said “hello”. They did the exact opposite of what they always do. They did the impossible.

This was more than just a Week 3 victory. This was a comeback win against our arch rival, after years of standing in their shadow. This was a win for the city, just as much as it was for the team. It was a win for the countless number of fans that have sat by for years and wondered when the Bengals would man-up and fight back when they were pushed into a corner. This was a win that everyone was a part of, from the players and coaches on the field, to the 20-year-old jackass kid pacing in his dorm room, 200 miles away. It was backwards and beautiful, all at the same time.

And that’s the wonderful thing about football, about being a fan. Every Bengals fan out their felt like they were a part of that victory, like they somehow played a role in the win. When I changed into a different Bengals shirt after halftime (which I actually did), I felt like it made a difference. When I was jumping up and down, yelling at Carson Palmer to watch out for the weak-side pressure (which I actually did), I felt like he could hear me. When I went to Wal-Mart after the game, pointing and laughing at anyone wearing Steelers’ gear (which I also actually did…three times), I felt like everyone in the Cincinnati locker room was pointing and laughing right along with me. And when I hugged and high-fived random Bengals fans while screaming “Who-Dey” at the top of our lungs (which, yes, I actually did), they felt more like brothers than complete strangers (which they actually were).


Because it was more than just a win. It was a unique and exhilarating experience, an unanticipated and indescribable bond between a team and a fanbase. This team showed us something in one week that no Bengals team (including the ’05 Division Champs) has shown since the ‘80s: desire and perseverance. It was surprising. It was shocking. It was different. It was completely, utterly and unequivocally…bizarre.

But if Sunday was any indication, it could very well become the norm.


Thanks for reading

Friday, September 11, 2009

Air to the Throne

There are very few people in this world that can be described as genuinely cool. Even when scanning the memory banks of big name stars and celebrities over the past decades, it’s tough to come up with unanimous decisions on who had “it”, that indescribable quality that makes someone cool. The list is small. James Dean had it. Frank Sinatra had it. Will Smith and Pierce Brosnon have it. No matter what those guys did, it never failed to drive the ladies wild and leave the rest of us men wistfully hoping to be like them for a fleeting second in our mundane lives. It’s a level that all aspire towards, but very few ever succeed at. And in the throes of that list is one Michael Jeffrey Jordan, a man definitely and undeniably on that level. There is no doubt that Michael Jordan is cool.

The greatest basketball player to ever grace the planet made the game seem easy. He could dominate at will, will his team to a win, and win over the heart of any person that watched him play. At the height of his game, he seemed to take the whole world by storm, as people across the globe became entranced by his desire and dominance over the sport of basketball. But even more than that, Jordan created a legend for himself. He wasn’t just the greatest, he was the coolest as well. He made sneakers cool. He made dunking cool. He made longer, baggier basketball shorts cool. Whatever it was that he did (drinking Gatorade, eating McDonalds, wearing Hanes), it always seemed to become the next big thing. The guy even made man-earrings cool. Yeah, I said it, man-earrings. Wham! and Billy Idol couldn’t do it, but Michael could. It’s just who he was. He made greatness look cool.

This weekend, Michael Jordan will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, an event as unexpected as the sun rising in the east or Lidsay Lohan making another crappy movie. As nice as the gesture is, putting Jordan in the Basketball Hall of Fame is like putting Halle Berry in the Official Hot Girls Club; it’s already a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, MJ’s induction has given us a chance to look back on the career of arguably the greatest athlete of all-time. In doing so, one can really see what all the fuss is about.

Jordan’s statistics alone are enough to describe his greatness. His six NBA Championships, five MVP Awards, six Finals’ MVP Awards, 10 Scoring Titles, nine All-Defensive First Team Selections, and 14 All-Star Games makes it pretty obvious how incredible he was. But the accolades are barely half of the story. It was not so much Michael’s overall accomplishments that made him the best, but more his attitude and signature moments. The success is in his numbers, but the prominence is in his legacy.

Never has there been a competitor like Jordan. The man was more driven to succeed than anyone he played against, hungrier than anyone that ever picked up a ball. Failure didn’t seem to be an option for him; whatever it took to win, that’s what MJ would do. This persona is what dubbed him the most intense basketballer on the planet.

In only his second season in the league (’85-’86), Jordan helped the once putrid Chicago Bulls to the NBA Playoffs against the league juggernaut Boston Celtics. After scoring 49 points in Game 1 of the series, Jordan put up a playoff record 63 points in Game 2, in the Boston Garden, before the Bulls lost in double overtime. Despite the win, NBA and Celtics great Larry Bird was quoted after the game as saying, “That was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” And if you know anything about Larry Legend, then you know he doesn’t exactly hand out compliments like sticks of gum. In only a short time, the legend of Air Jordan had already begun.

The stories of Michael’s greatness and need to succeed go on and on. He once scored 69 points in a game. He shot a free throw with his eyes closed – during a real game, mind you – just because an opponent put him up to it. Oh, and he made it. Remember that thing about being cool…

He hit six three pointers in the FIRST HALF of a Finals game against the Blazers. He had a triple-double in an All-Star game. He was once heckled by a Utah fan for dunking on a smaller John Stockton, so he promptly came down the next possession and dunked on 7-footer Mel Turpin, after which he turned to the fan and asked, “Was he big enough?”

In Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz, Jordan played with the flu (yeah, the flu) and scored 38 points, leading his team to victory. I can barely drag myself from my bed to the toilet when I have the flu, and this man was dominating a game in the NBA Finals. If that doesn’t spell greatness, I don’t know what does.

Michael was the most clutch player the sport of basketball has ever seen. He made game-winning shots seem as routine to him as taking out the trash is to the rest of us. And in the six times which he led his team to the NBA Finals, he was never beaten. Not once. It was in these big moments that Michael excelled beyond belief. Whenever the game was on the line, Michael came shining through.

His will to win is also what made him such an intense and ferocious teammate. He wouldn’t accept failure, on his part or his team’s. And yet despite his perfectionist attitude, he was revered by everyone that he ever played with and against. The great coach Pat Riley even retired Michael’s #23 Chicago Bulls jersey…while Riley was coach of the Miami Heat! It was his drive to be the best and the respect Jordan had for the game that led to the respect of his peers. Regardless of how many times he had handed them defeat, they knew he had earned it, and they couldn’t resent him for that.

Jordan also gained the respect of the people. From Chicago to China, His Airness was universally loved, for the simple reasons that his effort and heart for success were unquestionable. Whether we witnessed him exalted in success, humbled in defeat, or humanized by off-the-court tribulations, we always saw him endure, always saw him strive to be better. It was nearly impossible not to worship him.

But what made Jordan so easy to like, so easy to admire, was the indisputable love he had for the game of basketball. When you hear the man talk about the sport, it’s almost like listening to a beaming parent talk about one of their kids. Michael has such deep passion and reverence for the game that it is not surprising he was so driven to succeed at it. It’s almost as if he felt he owed it to the game to be the best. And if that’s true, then his debt is more than repaid.

As a generation of people that were lucky enough to watch Michael play, we need to appreciate just how special it was to see; very rarely does greatness to the degree of Jordan’s come along. When it does, we need to relish in it for as long as we possibly can, because there is no telling when something like it will happen again. Watching Michael Jordan on the court is on the same level as watching Van Gogh paint a canvass or Mozart compose a symphony; that’s how well he mastered the game.

And while a Hall of Fame induction may seem only paltry for a man of Michael’s greatness, it will have to suffice for now. At the very least, it is just another good excuse to spend time reflecting on the career and legacy of the greatest of all time.

What exactly is that legacy, you ask? Well, when questioned at the Hall of Fame Ceremony’s press conference what imprint MJ has left on the game, someone simply commented, “There will never be another Michael Jordan.”

The “someone” who said it? The man himself – Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

And best of all, the statement had nothing to do with his ego. In fact, it wasn’t even remotely arrogant or vain.

It was just cool.



Thanks for reading

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hard Knock Life

The great John Lennon used to sing, “Always something happening, but nothing going on.” I personally think they should put that quote on the entrance of Georgetown College, home of the Cincinnati Bengals annual training camp. In fact, you might as well make it the motto for every Bengals preseason. Why? Because year after year, the Cincinnati organization jacks up the interest of its fanbase with roster moves and team decisions that either make us shout with jubilation or scratch our heads until we bleed; our attention as fans is always drawn in to what’s happening. Unfortunately, once the season rolls around, we have historically been disappointed here in the Queen City, time and time again. Unfortunately, there is rarely something going on.

The sad truth is that for the most part, the preseason has been the bright spot of each Bengals season over the past two decades. Sure, there was the occasional ray of sunshine, whether it be the excitement surrounding the start of the “Marvin Lewis Era” in 2003 or the team’s AFC North Championship in 2005, but other than that, our training camp buzz has usually led to a season-long hangover. Much like Doc Gooden or Guns N’ Roses, we start out so promising, only to end up so devastatingly displeased. Around here, preseason is the best time to be a Bengals fan.

Over and over, we as Cincy followers are thrown into the torpedo that is our football season, and it always seems to end the same way: poorly. We get ourselves so invested and excited by the current events, that we fail to realize we are more than likely setting ourselves up for more heartbreak. It’s like when Ross and Rachel would get together or when Brett Favre retires from football; we all trick ourselves into believing that’s just the way things will stay, despite our deep-seated fear and suspicion that we’re probably wrong. The Bengals are notorious for those potholes of excitement with the potential to devastate us all. They are what musician Jack Johnson would refer to as “Inaudible Melodies”, and sadly, the impeding season is ripe with them.

The first red flag that pops up for the approaching year was brought on by the fact that the team played so terribly last season. After a 4-11-1 record that was spurred by an injured Carson Palmer and a disgruntled Chad Johnson, those of us in Cincinnati are just assuming that this year will have to be better. Palmer is coming back from his injury, Ochocinco appears to be in a much better mood, the defense is improved, we get running back Cedric Benson for the whole season, we made some nice offseason signings and draft picks…the list goes on and on. All of these signs point to the Bengals being more successful than they were last year, which obviously wouldn’t be remarkable, seeing as how we recorded only four wins. That down year in 2008 is only sparking our hopes and interest for this season. But can we really be sure that things will be any different? Are we digging our own graves yet again?

Another potential “Inaudible Melody” for the upcoming season is the HBO television series Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals. The annual HBO series has chosen this year to delve into the world of the Orange and Black, hoping to shed light on an organization that is a perpetual underdog and underachiever, and has often times gotten a bad-rap around the league. The show itself is very exciting for the Bengals organization and fans, because it gives an in-depth look at a program that is rarely on the national stage. People all over the country will now get a chance to see the Bengals and possibly change any ill opinions they have about the team. The show has a way of putting the organization in a positive light, making them intriguing and endearing in a way that no other team in the league will be able to experience this season. And while this could easily be the start of good things to come for Cincy this year, it could just as easily be another pitfall for Bengals fans everywhere, ebbing our worries and fears until they once again come crashing down upon us. How it all plays out remains to be seen, which is exactly what scares us the most.

Need more examples? How about first-round selection Andre Smith, who the Bengals felt was worthy of the sixth pick in the draft this spring. Hoping to bring in Smith to shore up a shaky offensive line from last season, the Bengals have yet again been able to create noise without making a sound; we are only a few weeks away from the regular season, and Smith still remains unsigned by the ball-club. He has already missed the team’s entire training camp, and each day it is looking more and more like he will miss the entire preseason. If and when he does sign on with the team, it will still be quite a few weeks (maybe months) before he is ready to contribute in a game situation. So why is the team’s first-round pick, the plan for the future at offensive tackle, still unsigned in the waning days of August? Well, the Bengals front office and Andre’s agent are reportedly about $5-$10 million apart on a contract deal. Now yes, first-round picks in the NFL are notoriously overpaid coming into the league. Despite the fact that they have never played a down of professional football, the early picks always come into the game as some of the highest paid players with the most guaranteed money in their contract. I don’t agree with this or think it is fair, but that’s irrelevant. It is what it is, and the Bengals had to know that they were going to have to fork over a lot of cash to get this kid signed. Or at least you would think so. Instead, management is piddling along in their negotiations, unwilling to bite the bullet and give Smith his money. The front office is allegedly offering less money than what the 7th and 8th overall picks signed for, not to mention that the Bengals are well known for their tight wallets and inability to sign first-round picks on time. So while it’s probably true that Andre is asking for more money than he deserves, the Bengals should have anticipated this. We as fans understand he’s going to be expensive, so why can’t the higher-ups? If Smith isn’t worth the money, why did they draft him where they did? Just get it over with and give the man his paycheck. Until then, it will be tough to get excited about the #6 pick when his spot in the team’s locker room remains completely barren. Everybody’s talking, but no one says a word.

The laundry list doesn’t stop there. Owner/General-Manager Mike Brown profusely stated that the Bengals had no interest in pursuing former Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick, fresh off two years in prison for dog-fighting. However, after Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, news broke that the Bengals were the first team to offer him a contract. Why would Brown lie to us? What purpose did that serve? In the end, it didn’t really matter, because Vick signed elsewhere. But the news was just another example of a classic off-season Bengals move: There’s always something cooking, but nothing in the pot. The rollercoaster never seems to end.

When you add it all up, it’s obvious that this season is a very important one for the Cincinnati Bengals organization and its fans. The program has finally put its (poor) reputation on the line with the Hard Knocks series, exposing themselves nationally to football fans across America. After watching how they prepare for their season, aficionados of the sport all across the country will be watching to see how their year plays out. Mike Brown has one last-ditch effort to redeem himself. Marvin Lewis’s job is most likely on the line. Carson Palmer’s reputation and legacy is on the line as he attempts to get back to being a healthy, elite quarterback. Chad Ochocinco’s ego and future contract (with a different team) is on the line. There have even been whispers of the Bengals being a possible sleeper, finally returning to our playoff form of 2005. Now we just have to show some progress on the field. If everything goes well, the team could be seen in a new light, the fanbase could grow with new members, and the faithful and loyal followers could get the rewards and satisfaction we have been pining for. But, if everything goes the way of the past, it could get ugly…really ugly.

Could I handle it if the season does turn sour? Can I myself, along with so many other Bengals fans, suffer through yet another dreadful season? Well…yeah, probably. It’s just the nature of sports fans. There are still millions of Chicago Cubs fans out there, and they haven’t sniffed a championship in over a century. Why? Because once you commit to a team, you give them your soul. For this reason, I will always be a Bengals fan, regardless of how many horrendous seasons I have to suffer through – and I know I’m not alone. And on top of that, I will always be excited for a new season, always ready to sing along with those “Inaudible Melodies” that roll around each offseason.

Maybe I’m ignorant. Maybe I’m deranged. Or maybe, just maybe, my wishes will finally be fulfilled. Maybe success is right around the corner; maybe there truly is something going on. Because that’s the payoff to being a sports fan, to giving your soul to a team: eventually, the dice rolls in your favor. It has to. And that sunny day always feels a hell of a lot better after years of rainy ones.

I hope that day is now for the Bengals. In many ways, it needs to be now for the Bengals. And you never know, maybe it will be. Because as Mr. Lennon sang, “There’s a place for us in the movies, you just gotta lay around.” Maybe the Bengals have been laying around long enough, and the wait is finally over. It could happen. These certainly are “strange days indeed.”

And if not – if it all goes south yet again – it’s no big deal. There’s always next year…


Thanks for reading



I start school again in September, so I will get back to making regular posts every other week or so, and maybe more. Let the Arbitrary Judgment Nation rejoice.