Monthly Archives: October 2020

Happy Halloween

As darkness falls across this blighted, socially distanced land, I hope we find a light for the path ahead…




Concluding the 30-Day Song Challenge

Well, the 30-Day Song Challenge is finally complete, and considering how long it took me to actually get through it — hey, nobody said it needed to be 30 consecutive days, right? — I thought I’d put together a recap for anyone who wants to review or who might have missed an entry.

In retrospect, I probably took the whole thing more seriously than I should have, and I also probably got too confessional a few times. That’s just who I am, though. And really the main goal of even doing this challenge was simply to prompt myself into writing something, and on that count it succeeded very well. It feels like I’ve written more regularly in the last six months than in the last couple of years, and that’s a nice feeling indeed. I’ve enjoyed this little project, even the entries that were difficult, and I’m genuinely sad that it’s over. I’m thinking I might next try a 30-day movie challenge I know of, assuming the country doesn’t fall into Civil War 2.0 in the next few weeks. We’ll see about that.

In the meantime, here’s the recap with hyperlinks back to the various posts. Bookmark it, kids, and refer to it often!

1. A song you like with a color in the title: “Silver Thunderbird” by Marc Cohn

2. A song you like with a number in the title: “One” by Three Dog Night

3. A song that reminds you of summertime: “Stone in Love” by Journey

4. A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget: “I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins

5. A song that needs to be played loud: “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin

6. A song that makes you want to dance: “Faithfully” by Journey

7. A song to drive to: “Panama” by Van Halen

8. A song about drugs or alcohol: “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba

9. A song that makes you happy: “In Your Room” by The Bangles

10. A song that makes you sad: “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” by Marianne Faithful

11. A song you never get tired of: “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly

12. A song from your preteen years: “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton

13. A song you like from the ’70s: “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate

14. A song you’d love to be played at your wedding: “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” by Jimmy Buffett

15. A song you like that’s a cover by another artist: “Just Like a Woman” by Stevie Nicks

16. A song that’s a classic favorite: “Runaway” by Del Shannon

17. A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke: “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher

18. A song from the year you were born: “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

19. A song that makes you think about life: “Taxi” by Harry Chapin

20. A song that has many meanings to you: “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger

21. A song you like with a person’s name in the title: “Valerie” by Steve Winwood

22. A song that moves you forward: “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham

23. A song you think everybody should listen to: “Just Like You” by Keb’ Mo’

24. A song from a band you wish were still together: “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s

25. A song you like by an artist no longer living: “Promised Land” by Elvis Presley

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love: “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by Bryan Adams

27. A song that breaks your heart: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt

28. A song by an artist whose voice you love: “Stones in the Road” by Mary Chapin Carpenter

29. A song you remember from your childhood: “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot

30. A song that reminds you of yourself: “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band


A Song That Reminds You of Yourself

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 30: A Song That Reminds You of Yourself

It’s been over a month since my last entry in the 30-Day Song Challenge, and almost six months since I started it. Time at long last to put an end to this.

I’ve given the final category a lot of thought, trying to find just the right selection for the big finish, the most flat-out autobiographical item yet: a song that reminds me of myself. I considered Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69”; Mellencamp’s “Small Town”; Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”; Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” I thought about a relatively obscure song called “It’s Always Something” by my main man Rick Springfield. I even pondered a couple Jimmy Buffett tunes, even though I already used him earlier in this challenge. All of these possibilities seemed to capture aspects of myself, or particular memories or experiences, maybe a certain era of my life. But none of them felt quite right — or quite enough — to answer this final question.

I very nearly went with Eric Clapton’s “Rock and Roll Heart,” which has always felt like a sort of theme song for me. But in the end, I just kept coming back to an old Bob Seger tune. Well, technically two Seger tunes, although they’re best known in a medley form.

“Travelin’ Man”  and “Beautiful Loser” both originated on a 1975 album recorded before Seger was widely known. The latter — the album’s title track — was released as a single, but it barely moved the needle, peaking at 103 on the Billboard chart. A year later, Seger and his Silver Bullet Band released one of the great concert recordings from the heyday of arena rock, Live Bullet; this album, along with Night Moves the same year, finally brought Seger to mainstream popularity.  While Live Bullet didn’t generate any top-40 hits, a number of its tracks received heavy airplay on FM album-oriented rock stations, including the classic account of life on the road, “Turn the Page,” and the combined “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser.”

I don’t remember when I first heard it… maybe in my early teens? I do recall that it was the first half of the medley that caught my fancy in those days. I liked the rhythm of it, the driving beat of the opening verses alternating with the quieter reflective bridge about memories. “Travelin’ Man” was aspirational for me, with its images of the open road and a rich, colorful romantic history. That was what teenage me wanted to be, a rogue and a footloose scoundrel with a girl in every port. If I’m being honest, I still have moments when that sounds pretty good. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it’s the second half of the song that more accurately reflects the adult I became.

Not that I think of myself as a loser, necessarily, at least not on the good days. But the couplets illustrating the contradictory desires of the song’s protagonist strike pretty close to home:

He wants to dream like a young man
With the wisdom of an old man
He wants his home and security
He wants to live like a sailor at sea

That’s me in a nutshell. Pulled in so many different directions, wanting so many different things, all at the same time. My inability to just pick one and go for it is probably my greatest failure. I’ve always feared making the wrong choice and finding myself unable to back out of it, so I tried to avoid making the choice at all. And now I’m 51 years old, and I struggle nearly every day not to feel completely disappointed in myself.

What’s that,? This post is depressing, you say? Yeah, maybe it is. But I’m just being honest. This is who I am and where I am at this point of my life. At least I’ve got a good rock-and-roll song to underscore it.

There is no video per se for this tune. There are a lot of clips of Seger performing it live, but they were evidently all recorded on smartphones, so the sound is dodgy at best. As it seems to me that the whole point of this Song Challenge thing is to actually share the music, I’m opting to go with a clip that doesn’t have much happening visually but which captures the original experience of hearing the music in all its analog glory. Here it is, taken directly from the Live Bullet LP. Enjoy…


Where Eagles Fly

For over 20 years, the rock star Sammy Hagar has celebrated his birthday with an annual concert and party for fans at his nightclub in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made the usual festivities impossible, so Sammy came up with an alternative that was arguably better: a pay-per-view performance that anyone could see, not just the lucky few who could make the trip to Cabo. The actual performance was recorded on October 8 on Catalina Island, with Sammy, his current band The Circle, and a couple special guests (Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon and my main man, Rick Springfield) playing on the beach to a socially distanced audience of boaters anchored in the harbor, and then the event was streamed online a week later.

As fate would have it, Sammy’s former bandmate, Eddie Van Halen, passed away two days before the birthday bash concert. Eddie was acknowledged during the show with a moment of silence followed by the Van Halen hit “Right Now.” It was a fitting tribute… but for my money, the better one took place during the rehearsal the night before with a song that didn’t make the final playlist.

“Eagles Fly” was the third single from Sammy’s 1987 solo album I Never Said Goodbye, which was cut in just ten days to fulfill a contractual obligation after he’d already joined Van Halen. Ironically, considering the circumstances of its recording, the album became his highest-charting solo effort, no doubt boosted by the popularity of “Van Hagar” at the time. The big singles from it, “Give to Live” and “Eagles Fly,” both had a similar sound to Sammy’s work with VH and would be integrated into Van Halen’s live shows during the years he spent with them. It also finally came out in 2015 that Eddie had, in fact, played on the studio version of “Eagles.” But even without all those Eddie connections, the overall tone of the song is just perfect for a eulogy: spiritual, yearning, a bit melancholy but also hopeful. I’ve always liked this one. It came out during my freshman year of college, another of those songs I remember from the hours I spent in the student union watching MTV on the big projection TV and also one that resonated with personal issues I was experiencing at the time. All of that history came flooding back as I watched this clip, and I’m not ashamed to admit I got a little teary. Of course, it probably didn’t help that Michael Anthony — the former bassist for Van Halen who now plays with The Circle — was visibly fighting to hold it together.

Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses and flick your Bics (take it old-school, none of that new-fangled smartphone lighting!)… for Eddie…


Biden’s Closing Argument

Confession time: I didn’t watch the presidential debates. What would have been the point? We already know these men, we know what they’re about and how they conduct themselves. Anyone who claims to be undecided at this point is simply being obstinate or hasn’t been paying attention. Also, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to handle sharp things or have access to the car keys.

That said, I did review the highlights of last night’s debacle, and if I somehow had been among the obstinately undecided, Joe Biden’s final statement would’ve closed the deal for me. The question posed to him at the end of the event was “What will you say during your inaugural address to Americans who did not vote for you?” And here’s his response:

“I will say, I’m an American President. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented. I’m going to give you hope. We’re going to move; we’re going to choose science over fiction. We’re going to choose hope over fear. We’re going to choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make things better.

We can grow this economy, we can deal with the systemic racism. At the same time, we can make sure that our economy is being run and moved and motivated by clean energy, creating millions of new jobs. That’s the fact, that’s what we’re going to do. And I’m going to say, as I said at the beginning, what is on the ballot here is the character of this country. Decency, honor, respect. Treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance. And I’m going to make sure you get that. You haven’t been getting it the last four years.

Bolded emphasis is mine, because those are the bits that matter the most. Science over fiction, hope over fear, decency, honor, respect. And treating people with dignity. That’s what I want America to be, that’s what I want from my government, that’s my definition of “presidential”… and all of these things are demonstrably beyond the current occupant of the White House, and of his party in general. The Republican Party, whatever it may once have been, has become the party of ignorant cruelty, and I want to see them crushed. I don’t know if I will. After 2016, who the hell knows what’s going to happen? But it’s what I want. Every last one of those filthy bums, from Trump to Mitch McConnell to my own senator, Utah’s self-appointed “constitutional expert” and all-around douchebag Mike Lee, need to be ousted from their positions of power and exiled to the desert for 40 years to think on what they’ve done. Enough of the playground bullies and smug gloating knaves. Just enough. I refuse to believe that neo-Nazis and know-nothings outnumber people who want this country to work for everyone. The only question is whether or not the GOP will be able to cheat their way into another victory. I hope the Democrats are prepared for that this time… that they’ve finally gotten it through their heads that the other side is not honorable and is not going to work with them. Ever. Until they are made to. We’ll see.

And in the meantime, I will cling to the ideals, as liberals tend to do, as I have so many times before: Science over fiction, hope over fear. Decency, honor, respect, dignity.

Debate transcript courtesy of


This Is Curiously Satisfying

Watch all the way to the end…  also, extra points to the makers for using the original filming locations!


Barack Unbound

Former president Barack Obama spoke at a drive-in campaign rally in Philadelphia tonight. And while it’s always a pleasure to listen to this dapper, articulate man deliver a speech — especially these days, after four years of that other man’s blustering, sneering, nonsensical word salads — this one was especially entertaining. Obama is finally — finally! — displaying some of the pent-up frustrations that he and every Democrat and so many other decent-minded people have been feeling. He was on fire tonight, by turns incredulous, as if he just can’t believe the bullshit that’s been going on; blunt, as he scored hit after hit on the flailing Con Artist in Chief’s record of incompetence and graft; and finally, in that way that he has always been so good at, hopeful.

As I said, he landed a lot of on-target blows against the current president, everything from his failure to rise to the responsibility of the office he holds to his condescending attitude the previous night toward the very state where Obama was speaking to the new revelation of a secret Chinese bank account and the fact that the president doesn’t pay as much in taxes as a working American. If you despise Donald Trump, there was a lot of red meat here for you to savor. But the topic that really earned Obama’s ire was the Trump administration’s utter failure to handle the pandemic:

We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to I don’t know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don’t know where that playbook went. Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country. Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself. Just last night, he complained up in Erie that the pandemic made him go back to work. I’m quoting him. He was upset that the pandemic’s made him go back to work. If he’d actually been working the whole time, it never would’ve gotten this bad.

So, look, here’s the truth. I want to be honest here. This pandemic would have been challenging for any president but this idea that somehow this White House has done anything but completely screw this up… it’s just not true. I’ll give you a very specific example. Korea identified its first case at the same time that the United States did. At the same time, their per capita death toll is just 1.3% of what ours is. In Canada, it’s just 39% of what ours is. Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention.

And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, “Not much.” Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive? So, Joe’s not going to screw up testing. He’s not going to call scientists idiots. He’s not going to host a superspreader event at the White House. Joe will get this pandemic under control with a plan to make testing free and widely available, to get a vaccine to every American cost free and to make sure our frontline heroes never ask other countries for their equipment they need.

Republicans [have] tried to repeal or undermine [the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare] more than 60 times.

And when they’ve been asked about it, they keep on promising, “We’re going to have a great replacement.” They said, “It’s coming.” It’s been coming in two weeks for the last 10 years. Where is it? Where is this great plan to replace Obamacare? They’ve had 10 years to do it. There is no plan. They’ve never had one. Instead they’ve attacked the Affordable Care Act at every turn, driving up costs, driving up the uninsured. Now, they’re trying to dismantle your care in the Supreme Court as we speak, as quickly as they can in the middle of a pandemic with nothing but empty promises to take its place. It’s shameful. The idea that you would take healthcare away from people at the very moment where people need it most, what is the logic of that? There is no logic. Joe knows that the first job of a president is to keep us safe from all threats, foreign, domestic or microscopic.

The entire speech is worth listening to if you have the time and inclination, but that’s the important part right there. COVID-19 is the albatross around Trump’s neck. It should be his downfall. It looks like it will be his downfall. I pray that it is his downfall. We desperately need a president who gives a damn about other people.

On another note, it’s good to see America’s first Vulcan president worked up about something. I really wish we’d seen more of this President Obama during his term. Things might have gone very, very differently if he’d called out Mitch McConnell on his perfidy or defended the ACA as vigorously as he does now that it’s in danger of being obliterated, instead of just trusting that the American people would inform themselves and make wise votes based on the issues…



If you’re an older Gen Xer like myself, you’ll probably remember the television miniseries V, from way back in 1983. That’s the one where friendly-seeming aliens suddenly arrive on Earth and start to integrate themselves into our societies (and governments), only to be revealed as inhuman lizard people who are here to steal our planet’s water supply and use humanity as cannon fodder in their galactic wars… and as food.

Summarized like that, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the story was actually surprisingly effective… and effectively chilling. It was essentially Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here — which told of a fascist takeover of the United States — dressed up in the sci-fi trappings that were popular at the time. I was 14 when it aired, and it made a huge impression on me. I saw the parallels between the Visitors and the Nazis, and I completely bought into all of it, all except for one small detail: the minority population that the Visitors demonize and begin to persecute isn’t a particular human race — because of course to alien lizard people, humans are all the same, right? — but rather a human occupation. Scientists. Yes, scientists are the “Jews” of this story, the ones who are made to register with the authorities and who begin to “disappear.” I mean, it made sense in context, because it was scientists who presented the biggest threat to the Visitors as the ones most likely to figure out their dreadful secret and also to come up with a weapon to fight back against them. But when other humans started turning on scientists in favor of the alien invaders… I had a hard time swallowing that.

Mile-wide flying saucers that can hang in the air over major cities undisturbed? Phony skinsuits that can somehow conceal the decidedly inhuman contours of a reptilian face and look perfectly normal? Vast chambers filled with thousands of suspended animation capsules? Interspecies sex between a mammal-person and a lizard-person that results in a pregnancy? Hell, for that matter, a species advanced enough to create all of the preceding but who can’t figure out how to simply make water out of hydrogen and oxygen and instead have to cross six light-years to physically take it? I accepted all of that without question, because science fiction. But fascist leaders who manage to make people distrust and then eventually to hate scientists was unbelievable to me. Because I’ve always been interested in science and respected the people who figure it out, I guess. And I naively assumed that others did as well. Because… science! Science is a good thing, right? A necessary thing. How could you not trust or believe scientists, or want to support them?

Well, yesterday in the science-fictional year of 2020, Donald Trump, on the campaign trail in Nevada, told a group of his followers that if his opponent Joe Biden is elected, the country will be in big trouble because “he’ll listen to scientists.”

He’ll listen to scientists.

Try as I might, I can’t see the downside to that. But Trump’s people sure do. They’re the ones who keep resisting the common-sense health mandates to wear masks in public, because they can’t make the logical connection that a temporary inconvenience will end this fucking plague, or at least beat it back to the point that we could start to resume something resembling normal life instead of this accursed twilight existence we’ve been stumbling through since March. They’re the ones who don’t even believe there is a virus, or that it’s all that dangerous. Who think the numbers are overblown because doctors think they can get more funding for their hospitals if they show more patients with COVID-19. Who think it’s all just a hoax made up to make their president look bad. And there are a lot of these people, especially here in my home state of Utah.

Suddenly that musty old bit of event television from my youth seems much more plausible. And more relevant. And I have to tell you, that scares me to death. Because Sinclair Lewis — and Kenneth Johnson, the writer of V — were right. It can happen here.

Fifteen days to Election Day.



In Memoriam: Eddie Van Halen

What I’m about to say might shock my three Loyal Readers, but I’m afraid it’s true: I’ve always been more of a casual Van Halen fan than a true devotee. A “greatest hits” kind of fan, if you take my meaning. I don’t even have a particular preference for the Diamond Dave or Van Hagar eras of the band. I like ’em both. I guess what I’m saying is that, while I always liked Van Halen, I wasn’t deeply invested in them like many of my peers. Even so, hearing this afternoon that Eddie Van Halen, the virtuoso guitar wizard who (along with his brother Alex) was the band’s namesake, had died of throat cancer was like a kick in the gut.

While the band had formed in 1972 and hit the big time in 1978, I was only vaguely aware of them until their biggest single “Jump” reached the charts in early 1984. I was fourteen. I remember seeing the “Jump” clip on Friday Night Videos — it seems like it played on the show every week for months and months — and thinking that Eddie looked like a cocky punk with that smirk of his, while Alex didn’t make much impression at all. David Lee Roth was entertaining in his outrageousness, but honestly the one I was most drawn to was Michael Anthony, the bassist. His style was the closest to my own, and he just struck me as a good guy, someone you’d enjoy hanging out with (in as much as you can tell from a music video). These guys just weren’t cool to me the way somebody like, say, ZZ Top was. I loved the song, though, and its follow-up “I’ll Wait,” and its follow-up “Panama.” I loved them so much that when I finally got the album these songs were coming from, 1984, it was something of a disappointment, as it turned out that I hated half the songs on it as much as I loved the other half. I had that experience again and again as I explored Van Halen’s catalog, both their older work and then the post-1984 era when Sammy Hagar — who I knew from his solo record Three Lock Box — replaced Roth as the band’s lead singer. As it happened, the stuff I didn’t like was almost always the songs where Eddie indulged himself with long solos that I understood were technically impressive, but just tended to irritate me. I much preferred the more radio-friendly tunes where melody dominated over show-off shredding.

However, given enough time, it’s not unusual for things that formerly annoyed you to become familiar, then comfortable, and then sometimes even beloved, and that’s what happened with me and Eddie Van Halen. His music and his sound were so ubiquitous during my coming-of-age years, such an enormous part of the soundtrack of my youth, that I gradually found myself warming to them, coming to understand what he was doing and why it mattered. (I underwent a similar process with Prince, another GenX icon I just didn’t “get” when he was in his prime.)

And then one day, five years ago, I found myself at an outdoor concert venue on a sticky summer night, clapping and screaming along with everyone else as Eddie and Diamond Dave stalked each other on an enormous stage during one of their occasional reunion tours. If I remember correctly, they didn’t finish that tour; tensions between Eddie and Dave tore them apart before the end, just as they had all those years before. I think my city was one of their last stops before it all went south. But whatever happened after they played Salt Lake, the motors were ticking along like clockwork that night at Usana Amphitheater. Eddie was 60 years old at the time. He looked trim and healthy. He looked happy, a handsome man in a plain white shirt whose youthful arrogance and pretension and rock-star bullshit had long ago been burned away by experience. He was an elder statesman in full control of his skills and his instrument, his fingers moving across the strings and frets seemingly without effort, simply a joy to behold.

I’m glad I got the chance to see him at that stage of his life. The band itself may have been past its prime, but it felt like Eddie Van Halen was just coming into his. I’m sorry he’s gone only five years later.