A Song That Reminds Me of Summertime

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 3: A Song That Reminds You of Summertime

Never mind that Journey’s “Stone in Love” point-blank mentions “summer nights” and is packed with imagery that evokes what it’s like to be in love — or at least in lust — on those sweltering nights that never seem as long or as dark or as ripe with possibilities as when you’re young. No, I associate it with summer because of that time I was road-tripping with my friend Jeremy and we stopped in southern Utah to visit a cousin of his, and then we all spent the night cruising around St. George in his cousin’s car with the Escape album on endless replay in the CD player. Or maybe it was a cassette deck? Who can say now? It was a long time ago, possibly the last time I ever “cruised the main drag” like that, which is probably why it’s stuck in my memory the way it has. But why that particular song instead of something else on the album? I don’t know, unless it just somehow seemed to fit the mood of the event. Could’ve just been because that catchy opening riff and those wonderfully nostalgic lyrics I mentioned.

Escape was Journey’s seventh studio album. Released in 1981, it was the band’s biggest seller and now represents the peak of their inescapable (and still considerable, even now) popularity. It spawned four hit singles, including their signature classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.” “Stone in Love” was not one of those singles, but it become a staple of 1980s album-oriented rock radio, the stations that did “block-party weekends” every weekend.

There’s no “video” per se for this song, but the live-performance clip I found was recorded for MTV, which was then in its very early days, so I suppose that counts, right? The entire concert is available on DVD under the title Live in Houston 1981: The Escape Tour.


A Song You Like with a Number in the Title

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 2: A Song You Like with a Number in the Title

I grew up listening to my mom’s old 45s, and then in my later teens, I constructed much of my identity around driving a classic car that had only an AM radio, which meant all oldies, all the time, when I was bombing around town in my Galaxie. The result was that I developed a lot of appreciation and affection for music from the 1960s and ’70s during a time when my peers were focused on then-current artists of the ’80s. I guess we’re all looking for some way to express our individuality at that age; mine was listening to throwback Baby Boomer music and fancying myself some kind of spiritual descendant of James Dean.

Three Dog Night was one of the biggest bands of that era, and one of my favorites during my throwback period; they landed 21 top-40 hits in the six years between 1969 and 1975, including three number-ones. “One,” which most people probably think is called “One Is the Loneliest Number” — actually the first line of the song, not its title — topped out at number five in the spring of 1969, which would’ve been a few months before I was born. Still a great song, though, and my pick for a tune with a number in the title.

Incidentally, a form of Three Dog Night is still touring, featuring two of the original ’60s/’70s era members. I haven’t see them, but I understand they put on a good show.


A Song You Like with a Color in the Title

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 1: A Song You Like with a Color in the Title

Right off the bat, I have a problem meeting this challenge. Not because I can’t think of a song with a color in the title — there’s lots of those, if you just look around — but because I can’t decide on one!

“Purple Haze” leapt immediately to mind… but perhaps that means it’s too obvious. “Little Red Corvette”? Same thought. “Blue Bayou,” “Paint It Black,” “Green Tambourine”? Nah, none of those quite fit my mood.

I really like Lou Gramm’s “Midnight Blue,” but I featured that as a Friday Evening Video a while back, and I’d kind of like to come up with some original choices for this challenge.

And then a lighbulb went on. Ah, yes. That one.

I’ve told the story before of how I discovered one of my all-time favorite songs, “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn, but as a brief refresher, I spent a week in Reno with my dad way back in 1991, and I heard that song everywhere I went in that dusty, half gambling mecca, half Old West frontier town. I didn’t identify it until months later when I finally happened to catch it on the radio back home in Salt Lake, and I promptly ran out and bought the CD it came from. As it turned out, that entire album was terrific. There wasn’t a bad cut on it. But as so often happens, it didn’t get quite the level of attention it should have. “Walking in Memphis,” Cohn’s biggest hit, rose to only number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the follow-up single from the album — which is my selection for the 30-Day Song Challenge, Day 1 — reached only 63. Even so, “Silver Thunderbird” is a nifty piece of heartfelt storytelling, and considering that my dad has owned a number of T-Birds over the years, I can relate to it.

Here’s the video, which weirdly enough for a song about a Ford Thunderbird, features Cohn driving a Chevy Corvette. Go figure.


30-Day Song Challenge

So, I’ve been seeing this chart or whatever you want to call it floating around social media and what remains of the blogosphere for a couple years: the 30-Day Song Challenge. It certainly sounds like the sort of silliness we used to thrive on back in the heyday of blogging, and I’ve thought about doing it more than once but obviously I’ve never gotten around to it. It is, after all, a big commitment to do 30 blog entries across 30 days, consecutive or otherwise, and life these days is so very full of distractions. (Supporting evidence: I believe Jaquandor started this challenge but I don’t think he finished, and he’s the only one from my old blogging circle who still posts with any regularity at all.)

The infamous Scalzi recently found a way around the commitment issue by just dropping all 30 songs into a single massive post with minimal commentary, just a long string of video clips. I don’t think that’s the right path for me — I like to blather too much, and really who wants to scroll for an hour (says a guy who did, in fact, scroll through Scalzi’s entire post)? However, his example started me thinking about the Challenge again, and considering that about the only thing I ever manage to post these days is the occasional Friday Evening Video, I think maybe it’s time I give this a try. It’s functionally no different than the video posts I’m already doing, and if I can stick with it through all 30 days, it will generate more content than this blog has seen in a year. I’d really like to feel like my personal blogspace is a living, breathing thing again, if only for a few weeks.

And so, without further ado, I present… the Simple Tricks and Nonsense 30-Day Song Challenge!


Book Review: Star Wars Memories

Star Wars Memories: My Time In The (Death Star) TrenchesStar Wars Memories: My Time In The (Death Star) Trenches by Craig Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hugely enjoyable read filled with anecdotes about the early days of the Star Wars phenomenon, the years between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, by someone who was actually there. Lots of stuff in there I was vaguely aware of but didn’t know the details, and lots of things I didn’t know about at all. There are some unfortunate proofreading errors and layout issues, but the charm of the author’s voice and of the stories he tells helped me overlook those. If you’re a fan of a certain age, or are just interested in learning about what Star Wars was like before it became an industry, this is highly recommended.

View all my reviews


The Things We’re Missing

I’ve never really thought of myself as a “man about town” type, but in the last few days, I’ve realized how much time I used to spend just… running around. And how much I’m currently missing that lifestyle.

I find myself fantasizing in vivid detail about roaming a mall I used to hang out at when I was in my early 20s, Cottonwood Mall over on the east side of the valley, a mall which no longer exists.

I want to go for a pizza, but not just any old pizza. I want to go to a pizza place called Gepetto’s, a funky old relic of the early ’70s that was built into an old bank, a place where I went on countless dates with Anne when we were young and pretty. A place where the house salad dressing was as remarkable as the pizzas. It’s not there anymore.

I picture myself browsing a bookstore I used to frequent back in college, a converted house called Waking Owl. Later, it was a CD store called Graywhale. The house is still there. Waking Owl and Graywhale aren’t.

I want to browse through a bin of bargain-priced DVDs and check out all the latest movie-related toys at Media Play. Or maybe Suncoast. Remember Suncoast? I can’t recall if there was a Suncoast at Cottonwood Mall, but there was one at Crossroads Mall, located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. I loved Crossroads when I was a teenager… five stories high, with a food court and a movie theater at the bottom of a central atrium. I liked to ride the escalators to the topmost floor and stand at the railing looking down that atrium through the center of the mall, feeling that little zoom of vertigo. I saw E.T. in that theater. The theater, the food court, Suncoast, the atrium, even Media Play… all gone now.

There are so many movie theaters where I saw personal landmarks… I can picture them all in my mind and I want to revisit them all right now. I saw The Black Hole at the Fashion Place UA; Tron at the Regency on Foothill; Lawrence of Arabia and Dazed and Confused at Trolley Corners — I really loved Trolley Corners, which had a massive mural of the artwork from the original Star Wars painted on one wall, left over from when the film played there in 1977, and glass panels with portraits of various classic stars hanging from the ceiling. Then there was the Family Center Trolley, where I saw Superman II as a kid and a re-release of The Terminator in my twenties. The Creekside 5-6-7 (Star Trek IV). The Sandy Starships (Mother Lode, Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop, The Breakfast Club). The Cottonwood fourplex (most of the rest of the Star Treks, through Insurrection). The Star Wars trilogy at The Centre, then again decades later in an all-day marathon at The Villa. So many films at The Villa. Alas, The Villa is now a Persian rug gallery and all those other theaters have either been remodeled into office buildings or ground into the dirt.

I’d like to grab a pint at Port o’ Call (gone) or a martini at Green Street (gone), or see a blues band at the Dead Goat Saloon (gone) or any other kind of music at the Zephyr Club (closed nearly 20 years ago, the rotting hulk of its building demolished just this week).

More than anything, I want to sit in a restaurant booth with cracked vinyl seats and a sticky tabletop drinking shitty coffee into the wee hours of the night. A place with translucent-orange plastic dividers between the booths, the height of fashion in the 1970s but old and tired by the ’90s. I can’t find places like that anymore.

Notice a theme in any of this? As we sit at home in this time of crisis, hoping the plague passes by our door like the flowing green mist in The Ten Commandments and feeling the restlessness growing in our hearts, what I’m missing the most isn’t just physical places I can no longer go, but a time that’s gone as well… specifically my young adulthood, my twenties, the 1990s. A time that was fraught with all kinds of insecurity and anxiety about career and love and life decisions that I never did get around to making. But also a time of possibility and irresponsibility… a time when the existential threat of the Cold War was behind us and we all knew that we’d never face that kind of crippling fear again. A time when I was old enough to do adult things and young enough to not think too much about them. The whole world was out there in front of me and I couldn’t wait to grab hold of it and see and do and feel all of it.

Now the whole world is out there and we’re hiding from it. And when all this is over, things are going to be different and we can’t yet guess how… only that a lot of what we took for granted will be gone. Just like the things I used to take for granted: malls and restaurants and bars and theaters. The ones I really loved were all older than me. They’d been there forever, it seemed, and surely they would always be there. And then suddenly they weren’t. Same as the world we had only a few months ago. Before the virus. Before COVID-19 and “social distancing” and “self-isolation.”

And the world we had 20 years ago, before 9/11. We were frightened by the world then, too, and we never did fully recover. I’m not sure we even partially recovered.

I hate the 21st century. I really, truly do.





You want to know just how far we’ve tumbled into this awful parallel universe that’s like a distorted funhouse-mirror version of the place we’re supposed to be? Far enough that I’m actually finding wisdom in the writing of David Frum, the man who gave George W. Bush the phrase “Axis of Evil.” That’s how screwed up everything is. So screwed up that I’m not only listening to the propagandist who helped Dubya bamboozle this nation into an unjust, endless (and endlessly expensive) war, but that I’m nodding in agreement with him.

Frum’s breakdown in The Atlantic of Donald J. Trump’s catastrophically incompetent response to the COVID-19 plague is exhaustive, irrefutable, and frankly pretty damn nauseating. Given how quickly events have seemed to move and how quickly we’ve lost track of all the contradictory statements and back-and-forth dithering — a fog of war that I believe has been quite deliberately promulgated by the Con Artist in Chief — it’s well worth your effort to wade through, to remind yourself. But everything that the history books will really need to report is contained in the opening paragraphs:

That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

Today, Friday, April 10, 2020, my religious friends are all engaged in a day of fasting and prayer to heal the world of COVID-19. I don’t believe this will do any good. I’m not a religious man, and if there is a God, I don’t believe He or She or It troubles themselves much with what happens down here on this lowly speck of cosmic dust. But even I have reached a point where I just can’t think of much else to say except… God help us.


Friday Evening Videos (Plague Edition): “Dancing in the Ruins”

What a week this has been, eh? After months of more or less ignoring what was happening overseas, the average American finally got the message that there’s a pandemic in the offing and began panic-hoarding toilet paper while public venues of all descriptions shuttered themselves. (I think it was probably the news that America’s Dad, Tom Hanks himself, tested positive for COVID-19 that tipped us over the edge.)

My own workplace had a scare yesterday when the mall that lies below our office tower shut down its food court for a thorough disinfecting, ostensibly because someone who shopped there three days ago had tested positive for the disease. Now today the office is mostly deserted, and a young graphic designer who sits near me keeps asking the people around her about COVID-19 and the Black Death, obsessively checking websites for the number of reported cases in Utah, and muttering under her breath, “We’re all going to die.”

I’ll confess that I’m wrestling with a certain level of anxiety myself. Deadly pandemics are a personal boogeyman of mine — let’s just say that The Stand is the one Stephen King novel I don’t see myself ever reading again — so I know what she’s feeling. But I feel bad that she’s so scared. So, like any man of a certain age who’s confronted with a scared lady who’s young enough to be his daughter, my protective impulses flared up and I tried to make her feel better. I told her she’s right to be concerned and to take precautions, but not to let it all drive her too crazy, because we Gen Xers have faced imminent doom any number of times, from our teenage certainty that we were all going to be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust before we could lose our virginity to the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when the planets would align and magnify the usually balanced gravitational forces of the solar system, tearing everything to smithereens. Then there was Y2K; the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012; the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in the ’90s; a couple of near-miss asteroids… it seems like there was something in there about a comet, too, but I don’t recall any more. And of course a new plague every few years just to put the fear of the invisible into everyone. And yet, for all that… we’re still here. Most of us, anyhow. (I didn’t mention the AIDS epidemic to her, which really did wipe out a generation of gay men; I figured that one would not have helped her see the point I was trying to make.)

Ultimately, I don’t think my show of generational bravado helped her much. And I’m not sure it did much for my nerves either. But ever since, I’ve had a song running through my head that seems rather apropos for this particular moment in history: Blue Oyster Cult’s 1986 hit single “Dancin’ in the Ruins.” I’ve posted this one as a Friday Evening Video before, so I’ll just repeat what I said then:

The song’s generally upbeat sound overlaying its fatalistic lyrics seems to match my [current] emotions, which have been a weird rollercoaster between existential dread, weary resignation, and fuck-it-all euphoria.

And that’s really about all I’ve got to say right now. So just crank the volume and enjoy as we head into the weekend. Everything crumbles to dust in time, so we may as well have a party, right?

How’s that for GenX atttiude? Keep washing your hands, folks. And keep a close watch on your toilet paper…


Profile in Courage

I’m no fan of Mitt Romney.

I’ve always thought he comes across as humorless, patrician, and condescending, an uptight son of privilege who’s too eager to wag a sanctimonious finger at his lessers. And the vibe I get is that we’re all lesser in his view, unless we belong to his church or his economic class, preferably both. The fact that he’s a hero to so many in my home state just makes him all the more grating: savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics and an aspirational role model of capitalistic success with perfect executive-style hair (never mind that his particular flavor of capitalism is the twisted evil kind that drives companies into the ground and ruins workers’ lives while a small handful of Wall Street gamblers makes enormous bank). Some true believers even claimed for a time that he was the fulfillment of a bit of Mormon folklore about a member of the Church riding in on a white horse to save the country when “the Constitution dangles by a thread.” Insert eyeroll here.

I’ve got to hand it to him, though: I think he showed true courage and character yesterday when he broke ranks with his party to vote “guilty” in the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump,  the only Republican with spine enough — and moral clarity enough — to do so. He knew it would cost him; he even addressed that possibility in the speech he gave before the vote. And sure enough, a lot of those same folks who were so quick to link him with that hoary old prophecy in 2012 are this morning calling him a traitor (ironic, considering that, well, the Constitution is dangling by a thread right now, and Mormon Mitt did what he could to try to save it). I have no doubt Trump has underlined his name three times on the Imperial Enemies List, and back here in Utah, our local Republican apparatchiks have called him in to discuss censuring him or maybe even recalling him from Washington for good.

No matter what happens in that regard, though, he followed his conscience, and I respect that.

His full statement is worth reading if you’ve got a minute, but here’s the important bits:

The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Yes, he did.

The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The president’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect” — no, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the president from office. The results of this Senate court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgment of the American people. Voters will make the final decision, just as the president’s lawyers have implored. My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

Now, there are cynics who say that this was a calculated move to play both sides of the aisle and gain some good press clippings to use in another possible run at the Oval Office in 2024. I suppose anything’s possible. But I honestly don’t get that feeling from any of these words. I watched the video of him delivering this statement, and I do think he was sincere.

I still don’t like the guy and I will never vote for him. He’s still all the things I said in my introduction, and by his own admission he’s voted for about 80% of Trump’s agenda, which in my opinion is more than enough to disqualify him from the presidency. (Let’s be honest, the odds of me ever voting for a Republican for any office are virtually nil at this point.) But he did a good and honorable thing yesterday.

Frankly, he surprised me.

I only wish a few more of his fellows had been equally as strong and unexpected with their votes.


“Right Matters.”

As the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump stumbles to its likely conclusion this weekend, if not tomorrow, I am under no illusion whatsoever that Senate Republicans will vote to remove that poisonous carbuncle from the White House. It is clear that they’ve abandoned any pretense of caring about anything other than maintaining their own party’s grip on power. I can only hope that a tsunami of angry voters washes them all out of office this November, and even then, the succeeding administration is going to have a very big job repairing the damage done to our nation over the past three years. Honestly, I’m not sure if anyone can repair it. And that’s assuming that Trump and Mitch McConnell don’t manage to stay in office. If that happens… well… let’s just say the country I grew up in already feels very, very far away.

No matter what happens tomorrow, though, or Saturday or eight months from now, but especially if things don’t go the way I’m hoping they will, let no one ever say that there weren’t people who tried. That there weren’t those who were absolutely aware that we’re standing at a crossroads and who didn’t do their damnedest to appeal to the other side’s intellect and patriotism and sense of morality. Consider the remarks made by Representative Adam Schiff a week ago tonight as he concluded his opening arguments. In my view, this was a genuine Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment. The fact that these thoughtful words didn’t sway anyone on either side, that minds were already made up and votes predetermined before this sham trial ever even began, speaks volumes about these crazy, exhausting times:

The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first. … Colonel [Alexander] Vindman said, “Here, right matters. Here, right matters.” Well, let me tell you something, if right doesn’t matter … it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. Doesn’t matter how well written the Oath of Impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.

If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what [President Trump] did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, that Colonel Vindman’s father came from. Or the old country that my great grandfather came from, or the old countries that your ancestors came from, or maybe you came from. But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us, [if] right doesn’t matter any more. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.

Otherwise we are lost.

I fear I already know the answer to that implied question. I won’t be surprised when the Senate acquits Donald Trump with a vote along party lines. No, I won’t be surprised in the least. But I will mourn. Because once upon a time, I believed that what Schiff was saying, what Vindman said, was true. And I no longer do. And if I’m honest, I haven’t in a very long time. And that is heartbreaking.