Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2016: Songs 1-11

And so we reach the end of another year (which by many accounts, including mine, we are happy to see the backside of) and another list (which was musically pretty darn good). My favorite 11 songs of 2016 will have some artists that you will know from earlier lists this year and years past, songs that you will have actually heard on the radio or the internet, and some you may never care to hear again. But that's okay - it's still a free country. Right? 

1. Grand Canyon by The Wind + The Wave.

"Down to your skivvies at the watering hole
Gonna get you wet
Gonna save your soul ...
It's the damnedest thing
Oh, it's the damnedest thing."

Sure, there are songs that follow this one that are more critically acclaimed or commercially successful. But this song is the one that has always brought a smile to my face whenever it pops up on my playlist, that has the opening stanza that perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the song, that I've never even thought about skipping although I've already listened to it 100 times this year. And that's why Grand Canyon, from the band lead by Dwight A. Baker and Patricia Lynn, is my favorite of 2016. Lynn, the songwriter for The Wind + The Wave, describes Grand Canyon: “[It's] about my brother,” she says. “I almost lost him to a major car accident a few years ago. To me the song is about the ability to appreciate what’s in front of you and not take the things that matter most for granted."

2. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest.

"Here's that voice in your head
Giving you sh!t again
But you know he loves you...
And he doesn't mean to cause you pain.
Please listen to him
It's not too late
Turn off the engine
Get out of the car
And start to walk."

From my favorite album of the year, by a longshot: Car Seat Headrest's "Teens of Denial." A song about the choices we make, should make, or don't make; about selfishness and disillusion and how, sometimes, we need to do the right thing even though it's the hard thing. Language warning, btw, if you didn't get that from the lyrics above.

3. Cleopatra by The Lumineers.

"But I was late for this, late for that,
late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, ...
when I die I'll be on time.

The only gifts from my Lord
were a birth and a divorce
But I've read this script and the costume fits,
so I'll play my part."

My favorite song on my second favorite album of the year. Seems to be largely drawn from historical accounts of Cleopatra's life, with a certain poetic license. But of course it could be about a modern day Cleopatra instead (as the official video seems to suggest). The last two lines quoted above are my favorites from any song this year.

4. Ghosts of Santa Fe by Alberta Cross.

"This heart catastrophe
Is sad in a way
But we'll get past it after all....
I sent my last rose
Down to New Mexico
I kept my head hung there after all."

This was probably the first song on my "Best Songs of 2016" playlist on Spotify.  I discovered it late last year (too late for last year's list) and it's been there ever since. A song of love lost and with a horn section, it's definitely my kind of music. Alberta Cross frontman Petter Ericson Stakee is Swedish as well, which certainly didn't hurt the song's appeal to me.

5. I Wish I Was Sober by Frightened Rabbit.

"My love, you should know
The best of me left hours ago so
Shove a rag into my mouth and let me smoulder...
The fall out and the damage done
I can’t un-sink the things I’ve sunk
Still not giving up, though I wish that I was sober."

My brother Jeff may have thought that this was the year of a new release by the band that he refers to as "Scared Bunny" without mention on my list, and for most of the year he would have been right. I was underwhelmed, truth be told, with much of the band's new release "Painting of a Panic Attack." Until I heard this song, that is. Smart, self-deprecating, gloomy lyrics with just a touch of hope, and crescendo-building music to boost that optimism are precisely why this is one of my all-time favorite bands and Scott Hutchison one of my favorite song writers. Rock on Scared Bunny, rock on.

6. California by i said yes.

"All the dreams you killed,
Do you dream them still?
Are they there in California? Wait and see,...
And come to California with me
And we'll cruise along Broadway in a Model T
When you come to California with me
In a big Top Hat like John F. Kennedy,
When you come to California with me."

The second California song on the list, as mentioned what seems like a long time ago. Love the symbolism of every significant American landmark being in California in the lyrics, although I don't feel it's provincialism that's intended, more like California as a metaphor for the entire country. Of course, if you look in the comments on the YouTube video, some idiot insists that: "statue of liberty, mt Rushmore, chatanooga, and the sun does not rise from the water in California." Thanks for the knowledge Mr. Peabody.

7. Bros by Wolf Alice.

"Shake your hair, have some fun
Forget our mothers and past lovers, forget everyone
Oh, I'm so lucky, you are my best friend...
Oh, there's no one, there's no one who knows me like you do."

A song about female friendship and impending "real-lifedom," but could just as easily be about guys and older folks as well. This song has been around in various versions for several years, but was rereleased in 2015 so I think I'm cool as far as my list rules go. It's such a good song that I didn't want you to miss it.

8. Fill In The Blank by Car Seat Headrest.

"You have no right to be depressed
You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet...
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again
No one wants to cause you pain
They’re just trying to let some air in
But you hold your breath, you hold your breath, you hold it
Hold my breath, I hold my breath, I hold it."

I believe this is only the second time I've had two songs by the same artist in my top 10. Such is my admiration for this album and artist. Will Toledo, frontman for CSH, is the Strummer and Jones of the Millennial Generation as far as I'm concerned. This is music both entertaining and worth listening to.

9. Brand New by Ben Rector.

"I feel like a young John Cusack, like making big mistakes
I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid
I feel like a kid, never thought it'd feel like this:

Like when I close my eyes
and don't even care if anyone sees me dancing.
Like I can fly,
and don't even think of touching the ground.
Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It's the way that I feel when I'm with you:
Brand new."

Just a big, fun, pop song, the kind that I seem to always be a sucker for (fun., Bleachers, Walk the Moon, etc.). And despite my general distaste for amusement parks, the video is equally endearing (and kind of goofy).

10. Djin by Mashrou' Leila.

"All the women and the men
Arrive shrouded in hides
Awaiting he who dies and then returns to life...
We heed the wisdom of vines
Vines guard all wisdom of life
We relinquish self
But the god is with us."

You're going to have to trust me on these lyrics, just as I did to the vagaries of google translator, because they're in Arabic (and in fact I've seen the title of the song as both "Djin" and "Djinn"). I first heard Mashrou' Leila on NPR's Tiny Desk concert this year and was blown away by their lead singer Hamad Sinno. The group has a compelling backstory (including Sinno being openly gay in a country that is not particularly welcoming of such individuals) that also weighed into my admiration for the song.

11. Good Grief by Bastille.

"You might have to excuse me
I’ve lost control of all my senses
And you might have to excuse me...
I’ve lost control of all my words.

So get drunk, call me a fool
Put me in my place, put me in my place
Pick me up, up off the floor
Put me in my place, put me in my place."

An upbeat song about death and grieving from a British band with a French name that samples Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science. That about sums it up.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

U.S. Women's Soccer CBA Negotations Take an Interesting Turn

We awoke this morning to the news that the U.S. Women's National Team has parted ways with its chief negotiator, Rich Nichols, three days before its collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation is set to expire.

Why and why now are relevant questions unanswered by the Women's Player's Association in its terse announcement, which merely says that Nichols will "no longer serve" as counsel to the Association, says that it is "focused on" productive conversations with U.S. Soccer regarding "our future" and looks forward to the upcoming NWSL season and an international women's tournament next March.

That immediate future will apparently proceed under the current CBA, which expires Saturday. Neither side has given the required 60-day notice of termination of that agreement,  after which either a work stoppage or a lock-out would be permitted.

Nichols has been a ferocious advocate for the women's team in negotiations with the Federation and by all appearances was the driving force in the wage discrimination complaint of five prominent players filed with the EEOC earlier this year, the defense of the Federation's suit that sought to impose the terms of an earlier CBA which forbid the players from striking before the Olympics this year (in which the Federation succeeded), and presumably in the players' public relations onslaught regarding their demands for "equal pay."

While meddling politicians and vacuous media outlets have taken up the women's team's call, as I and others have explained in the past, equal pay in the context of national soccer teams is not as simple as paying everyone the same salary or bonus or even paying equal amounts to the teams as a whole. And the EEOC complaint could, in fact, simply lead to further pay disparities in the women's professional game or the death of the women's professional league in the U.S. 

It seems likely that during negotiations (or perhaps because of the absence of negotiations) regarding a new CBA the players reached the conclusion that Nichol's approach was counterproductive to striking a bargain. Nichols has certainly raised the bar for the next counsel in terms of his zealous advocacy of the women's professional game, but perhaps a skillful negotiator and someone more willing to compromise is needed to bring the two sides together.

Certainly there's been nothing said publicly to-date by the Federation or its President Sunil Gulati to suggest that the Federation is not interested in trying to reach an agreement that does not compensate the national team players at a rate commensurate with their male counterparts, keeping in mind the revenue that each team has generated on a historical basis and U.S. Soccer's financial support for the NWSL.

Oh, but wait. There is one women's national team member who has cried foul, complaining that the Federation is "putting pressure" on the women to strike a deal. Anyone care to guess who that player might be?

Equal rights champion Hope Solo at her arraignment on
domestic violence charges (photo from

That's right, Hope Solo. In a blog post yesterday Solo expounded on her self-proclaimed role as a champion for equal pay and takes a shot at the Federation and Gulati for "putting pressure on the players" and "trying to divide and conquer us."

To which I say: go figure. One side of a negotiation is trying to use leverage against the other? Say it ain't so, Solo! I suppose the EEOC complaint and the players' implicit threat of a strike prior to the Olympics (which caused the Federation's ultimately successful lawsuit) were not leverage, or attempts by the players to put pressure on the Federation to strike a deal?

Posturing aside, one has to wonder if the timing of Solo's post isn't an indication that she is not on-board with her fellow team members and litigants regarding Nichol's approach and was her (indirect) protest against his dismissal. In other words, Hope is the true champion of women's rights and the others are not. Certainly wouldn't be the first time that she willingly distanced herself from the common good.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2016: Songs 12-22

From 75 year-old legends to 15 year-old wunderkinds, from frequent list denizens to first-time members, from Ireland to Iceland and Long Island to Australia, we've got it all covered for you in the second part of the 2016 list.

12. Montauk by Matt Sucich.

"And I don't want to be a writer anymore
Not this way
I may as well have been an actor...
So you can tell me what to say.

Maybe a marionette
So you can move my arms and legs
I may as well drive out to Montauk
On Memorial Day."

Here's Sucich's explanation of the song: "I wrote 'Montauk' after one of the more recent mass shootings hit the news. I can’t remember which one, and that’s clearly part of the problem. We all have this outlet in the palm of our hands, and we have no problem sharing our strongest feelings from the comfort of our bubble. But I wonder how far people will go to stand up for what they believe these days…too often I fear it’s not much further than the screen in front of us. Myself included. I wrote this song as a bit of a cry. If my art is my voice, then this is me saying that we need to go 'all the way' a little more often."

13. Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution by Foy Vance.

"Jean-Paul Sartre if it’s all just so
Dostoevsky if you’re in the know
A bit of scripture for a little light ...
Che Guevara for a full on bar fight
Alexander if you’re feeling great
Charlie Darwin if you’re thinking ‘bout apes

If you’re quiet and you’re sick of institutions, baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution."

I'm not endorsing Mr. Chomsky's views by including this song, but it is a barrel of fun. Vance was on Mountain Stage, but unfortunately the same night I was in Columbia, SC listening to Jason Isbell and Josh Ritter.

14. Homecoming by Josh Ritter.

"Nights are getting colder now
And the air is getting crisp.
I first tasted the universe ...
On a night like this.
A box of wine, an alibi,
And the hunger in her eyes.
In the place where the tree of good and evil still resides.
Still resides."

As just mentioned, I was in attendance watching Ritter perform with Jason Isbell (also on the list) in Columbia this fall.  Unfortunately, he didn't play this song, but I repeat my recommendation from last year's list that featured "Getting Ready to Get Down" - if you have the chance to see Ritter in person, take advantage! That said, this video ought to tide you over until then quite nicely.

15. On My Mind by The Outdoor Type.

"She called me up last night
From some foreign city
Said the people that she's with...
Ya know, they're all so pretty
And she's not coming home
I guess there's too much to see
You know once you get out
It becomes a disease."

The Australian act mentioned above. I like (and can relate to) the whole dynamic of male inertia and female need to explore that drives this song lyrically.

16. Lover Come Back by City and Colour.

"I am warm enough yet I still shiver
I am fed but still I starve
You know me I am the great misgiver...
Always waiting on the clouds to part."

And again I ask, why is it that all the good R&B comes from England these days? Or is it just that the places I listen to for new music consider them "alternative" music when it's from England and something else when from the U.S.?

17. Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance) by Silversun Pickups.

"Another night alone, a temporary dream
I came in through your window sleepwalking
Standing arm and arm, still so out of reach...
Well, there's nowhere left to go
Stay with me, stay with me."

Among a select number of artists to have appeared more than twice on the List. Just love their sound, whether angry, forlorn, or happy. Plus they just have that "California cool" factor.

18. The Funeral by Sammy Brue.

"I've been living in a house of lies
And I'm not happy at all.
So I will make up an excuse not to go to the funeral...
Yes I will make up an excuse not to go to the funeral."

Can't find a video, but you can listen to The Funeral and other songs by Sammy Brue here:

Sammy is a 15 year-old wunderkind and protege of Justin Townes Earl. So he's got that going for him. This song, and particularly its lyrics, certainly reveal his old-soul wisdom.

19. Shine by Mondo Cozmo.

"Stick with me Jesus through the comin' storm
I've come to you in search of something I have lost
Shine down a light on me and show a path...
I promise you I will return if you take me back."

Hard to hear this as anything other than a religious song - the writer mourns for his (and his friends') straying from God and begs Him to take them back. I think he thinks it's gonna be okay. And with that chorus backing him, who could disagree?

20. Way Down We Go by Kaleo.

"Oh 'cause they will run you down
Down to the dark
Yes and they will run you down ...
Down 'til you fall
And they will run you down
Down to your core
Oh 'til you can't crawl no more."

Not so sure these boys from Iceland think it's gonna be okay.

21. Ophelia by The Lumineers.

"I I got a little paycheck
You got
Big plans, you gotta move ...
And I don't feel nothing at all
And you can't feel nothing small."

I'm not positive what exactly it is that The Lumineers are moving on from in this song - could be a woman, could be from the trappings of new found fame. I read something that described The Lumineers as "the American Mumford & Sons." I beg to differ - I find them much more sincere than Mumford.

22. Cool Papa Bell by Paul Simon.

"Have you all heard the news:
Heaven Finally Found
Ok, it’s six trillion light years away ...
But we’re all gonna get there someday
Yes, we’re all gonna get there one day
We all gonna get, we all gonna get, we …
But—but not you
You stay and explain
The suffering and the pain you caused
The thrill you feel when evil dreams come true."

The aforementioned 75 year-old artist. I admit I'm confused by the lyrics (which are definitely NSFW) and the vibe, which places Simon's sometimes bitter, sometimes whimsical words dead in the middle of the best of the sounds from Graceland. Is Paul facing his own mortality? Most definitely. Is he giving up without a fight? Not a chance.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Co-conspirators' List Narrowing?

The latest news in the Wake Forest football imbroglio is that several intrepid reporters have been hard at work narrowing the list of potential schools that Tommy Elrod may have offered the Deacons' offensive plays to prior to games.

Based on the sentence contained in the initial press release by the Wake Sports Information Director that the school, during its investigation, had "notified all the appropriate entities related to these [Elrod's] activities" several newspapers (seemingly most successfully the Raleigh News and Observer) and other media outlets (including Sports Illustrated) have been inquiring of the schools that Wake played over the last three years if they were contacted by Wake during its inquiry.

You can follow along at as N&O reporter Joe Giglio keeps a running tally of the schools. The latest list at the time I posted:

photo from

"X" means that the school was not contacted by Wake, and as a result, we may be able to assume, that Wake did not have any electronic evidence in turn that Elrod had contacted, or attempted to contact, them offering inside information.  Note the red check marks by Louisville and Army, both of which have now admitted that they were informed by Wake of concerns during its investigation.

The pattern that seems to be emerging, also thanks to Giglio's great work (who says investigative journalism is dead? well, me, for one, for the most part) is that Elrod served as an assistant coach with others who are now on the staffs of ... you guessed it, Louisville and Army. And one more school with its box as-yet unchecked. Indiana.

Wake played Army each of the past three seasons, winning in 2014 and 2015 before falling to The Black Knights (beginning to take on a whole new meaning, isn't it?) this year in Winston-Salem, at homecoming, 21-13. If Army did have contact (particularly if it occurred as early as 2014) and notified no one in response it will be exceedingly troubling given the pride that it takes in its honor code:

photo from
Not to mention the fact that its football program appeared to have turned the corner this year by beating Navy for the first time in 15 seasons.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Louisville has fessed up, kind of, to receiving plays from Wake Forest radio commentator Tommy Elrod, about which I wrote about earlier today

But it wasn't that many plays, and Wake didn't run any of them, so apparently it's okay.

Plus, get this, Louisville is offended that it has to address these issues because it has a bowl game to win.  Stop distracting us.


The statement from Louisville reads in full:

Lonnie (Gallaway, Louisville's offensive coordinator) received a call from Elrod during the week of the wake Forest game, and some information was shared with him that week.  Among the communication [sic] were a few plays that were sent and then shared with our defensive staff. None of the special plays were run during the course of the game. Our defense regularly prepares for similar formations every week in their [sic] normal game plan. Any other information that may have been discussed was nothing that our staff had not already seen while studying Wake Forest in their preparations for the game and the material was not given any further attention. I'm disappointed that this issue has brought undue attention to our football staff as we prepare for our upcoming bowl game.

So, in sum: "yes we cheated, helped by a traitor from the team that we were about to play, but hey, no harm no foul. Stop bothering us while we address the truly important issue, which is winning a bowl game, not sportsmanship or fair play. Nothing to see here. Move along."

Never mind the fact that the timing of "the issue" is due solely to Louisville's failure to report the contact at the time that it occurred. Or that regardless of whether or not it benefitted from the cheating, it cheated.

To all of which I say:

1. If Louisville plans on having Gallaway as its offensive coordinator for the bowl game, or any game in the immediate future, I hope that the ACC quickly disabuses it of that notion;


2. Petrino better be coming up with a better story than the time he told one looking like this:

photo from

No Honor Among Thieves

The saga began with the bizarre news that the Louisville football team may have obtained Wake Forest offensive plays (that the Demon Deacons had not run before) prior to the Cardinals' 44-12 win over Wake in November.

Bizarre, not because anyone would put an act of espionage or cheating past Louisville's coach Bobby Petrino or even the institution, given their collective history of unfamiliarity with the truth and familiarity with NCAA rules violations and women of leisurePetrino's statement when confronted with evidence that his staff had notice in advance of Wake's game plan was, given his personal history, borderline absurd: "As I've already stated this season, my coaching philosophy has always been to play the game with sportsmanship." But bizarre because, well, did at-the-time number five in the country Louisville really think it needed help to beat Wake?

But the story took a decidedly weirder turn on Tuesday, when Wake Forest announced that, after a month-long investigation, it had determined that one of its own radio commentators had been the mole providing game plans not only to Louisville, but offering them to other schools for the past three seasons. The disbelief and disappointment on the Wake side of the equation is palpable in the press release announcing the results of the investigation and in statements issued by Deac Athletic Director Ron Wellman and head football coach Dave Clawson.

Clawson summed it up: "It’s incomprehensible that a former Wake Forest student-athlete, graduate-assistant, full-time football coach, and current radio analyst for the school, would betray his alma mater. We allowed him to have full access to our players, team functions, film room, and practices. He violated our trust which negatively impacted our entire program."

That's right, the traitor wasn't some media shill hired by IMG to cover the Wake games. It was Tommy Elrod, a former Wake quarterback and 11 year coach for the Deacs before he moved to the broadcast booth in 2014, after not being retained on Clawson's coaching staff upon Jim Grobe's departure. This is the same man who, according to the school, “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations on multiple occasions, starting in 2014.”

So far, Elrod's response (and that of his lawyer, another former Wake football player) has been this:

Elrod's Twitter account

There is of course rampant speculation regarding Elrod's motive in betraying his alma mater, team, and quasi-employer. I personally think the "Hell hath no fury like a quarterback scorned" (because Elrod wasn't retained by Clawson) is the leading candidate. And while others speculate regarding whether the insular world of college football in general and coaches in particular (which seems to be built on a distrust of anyone outside of the team) will turn even further in on itself, there are two other more troubling and fundamental issues, that must be addressed.

First, was Elrod not only exposing the Wake football team to a slanted playing field repeatedly the past three years, but was he exposing its players to an increased risk of injury or potential injury?  The answer has to be yes. Wake started the season with an offensive spark from newly installed sophomore quarterback Kendall Hinton, who was injured in the third game of the year (Wake started 3-0) and won't return this season. Was Hinton vulnerable to injury because the defense already knew what play had been called? Or were some of the 36 sacks that Wake has suffered this season, resulting in inevitable wear and tear on its offensive players, due to the same reason?

Even if a causal link can never be established between any particular injury and Elrod's actions, he had to be aware that he was exposing the Demon Deacon players to a higher risk of injury or, at the very least, of being worn down by opponents who knew exactly what to expect on a certain play. It doesn't matter (much) that Elrod was doing this to players wearing the same uniform that he had worn and coached for nearly 20 years. That he would willingly do this to any set of players, let alone his "own," is repugnant.

Second, why are we finding all of this out now, three years after it began, and only by happenstance and the stupidity of someone on Petrino's staff? Where were the phone calls, emails, text messages from all of the institutions of higher learning that, when receiving an offer of "help" from Elrod, immediately informed Wake or the ACC or the NCAA of his deviousness? The answer has to be: there were none because winning is more important in college football than sportsmanship or even common decency.

We don't know which schools received such an offer and which ones may have taken Benedict Elrod up on his proposals. But even if the answers are a few and one, the silence is deafening and calls into question, once again, what the true nature of college athletics is and what lessons we should all learn from its win at any cost mentality.

While Wake has essentially suggested in its press release that it does not intend to provide further information, or conduct a further investigation, regarding Elrod or his actions at this time, one hopes that this is not a matter that the ACC and the NCAA believe can be swept under the rug. Those governing bodies must conduct their own inquiries, with the focus being not on what went wrong at Wake Forest, but what went wrong at all of the other schools that had this information and at best did nothing in response.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Favorite songs of 2016: Songs 23-33

If there was any doubt that I was going to reprise my annual list here, they were erased by the generous words of my friend R, who posted about it in her GrongarBlog and is telling us what she's listening to this month as a result. As in years past, these are my favorite songs that I've heard over the past year from one source or another, culled from hundreds that I've listened to (in some cases, only for a few seconds). As in only last year (and the first when I listed only 20), there are 33 songs on this year's list because ... well, just because. 

23. Babylon by Jesiah.

"You've got the best type of defense
You tell the joke just to distract them
I thought we both grew up in Babylon...
We speak the language, no one understands us."

C first suggested that this sounds like Vampire Weekend, which after reflection I agree is spot-on. From the artist himself: "Babylon is a story about two souls defending their love in the face of adversity.”

24. White Flag by Joseph.

"I could surrender but I'd
Just be pretending, no I'd
Rather be dead than live a lie...
Burn the white flag
Burn the white flag."

No Josephs, Richards, or Thomases to be seen in this band, fronted by the three Closner sisters, who just happen to be from Joseph, Oregon. Love the defiant vocals that match the "never surrender" lyrics of this song. The album title, "I'm Alone, No You're Not" is excellent as well.

25. Brazil by Declan McKenna.

"I wanna play the beautiful game while I'm in Brazil
Cause everybody plays the beautiful game while in Brazil
It's all you've ever wanted, and it's all that you want still...
Don't you wanna play the beautiful game out in Brazil?"

I'm guessing I don't have to explain to most who read this why I would like a song about soccer in general, and FIFA's corruption in particular. But if the lyrics were about hopscotch instead it would probably still be on the list given its hooky Britpop sound and McKenna's unique voice.

26. Coastal California 1985 by Math and Physics Club.

"Coastal California
Like a picture postcard
Your wind-swept hair and...
Pasted on smile
Remind me how the years have come and gone
And never seem to linger very long."

One of many songs about California released this past year (including one further up the list), almost all of which make its residents seem pretty darn happy currently.

27. This Is Your Life by Augustines.

"Maybe we'll pull ourselves together
Burn forever in some fading summer night
But you got to find sometimes for anything in this life...
Just forgot it in yourself, but you're alright
You're alright
Hey you're alright."

The first of several repeat artists from past lists - some below, some farther up. What can I say -- I know what I like and Augustines, with their big anthemic sound, is something I definitely like. "Knock me down my friend, I'll just get back up again."

28. Turn Up by The Heavy.

"There ain't nothing more I want
For you my love
If that's what you really want...
Must be what you really want
If that's what you really want
My love
I said you better
Turn, (Up!)"

Most of my favorite songs are lyrically driven. Not (obviously) this one. Why does it seem that all the best funk/R&B bands these days are English? And, yes, The Heavy have been here before.

29. Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering) by Hey Rosetta!

"Under the pitch and pull of the moon
Sweet silver medicine swim in my temples
Bring in the shadows to cover our wounds...
When the pain is gone and the rest is
Coming on."

The song's title alone makes it list-worthy let alone the evocative lyrics. At least the second appearance by Hey Rosetta! on one of my lists as well.

30. 24 Frames by Jason Isbell.

"You thought God was an architect
Now you know
He's something like a pipe bomb ...
Ready to blow
And everything that you've built
That's all for show
Goes up in flames
In twenty-four frames."

Better late than never with this song which should have been on last year's list. A brilliant song from a brilliant artist. One of, I believe, only two artists on this year's list that I saw live this past year.

image from
31. The Diving Bell by Gang of Youths.

"And I dreamed the voices they were calling
Out to you
Come alive, come alive and the firings...
Where everything is true."

A haunting song - maybe a Ferguson reference, maybe something more personal. A sufficiently obscure track that I can't find a link to an MP3, let alone a video. If you do find it somewhere (try Spotify) this is your language warning.

32. True Sadness by The Avett Brothers.

"I cannot go on with this evil inside me
I step outside my front door and I feel it surround me
Just know the kingdom of God is within you...
Even though the battle is bound to continue."

A song whose dark lyrics belie its mostly upbeat melody. I don't think the boys have given up hope - they'll continue to fight the good fight.

33. I Need Never Get Old by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

"I know that some will say
It matters but little babe
Oh but come on and mean it to me...
I need it so bad."

I think I first saw this song on AXS TV live from some festival this late spring. These guys look like they pour everything they have into every minute on stage.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Disappointment, Desperation, and Despondency (All Solely Related to Soccer)

Jose, from Washington State, introduced himself to me and E as he took his seat in the row in front of us in the American Outlaws section of MAPFRE Stadium. Cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a welcoming grin from ear-to-ear. He took off his coat, revealing his AO jersey. He sang and chanted at the top of his lungs the entire game.

We all rode the wave of emotion that is unique to being present while your team, your country is on the field, seemingly within arms' reach. Disappointment at the first Mexican goal. Desperation when Tim Howard was subbed out, unable to continue (please tell me why they watered the field right before the start). Relief when not one, but two, Mexican shots banged off of the crossbar and the post. Frustration at chances missed in the first half, largely against the run of play; and in the second, when we should have put the game out of reach. Jubilation when Bobby Wood scored the tying goal.

Howard lies injured.
(photo from via pinterest)

And, then, disbelief when Rafa Marquez, he who could teach Putin a thing or two about true anti-American villainy, scored the winning goal at the death. Right in front of us.

No emotions invested or wasted due to anything off of the pitch. No "Build the Wall" chants. No anti-Trump protests. Just devotion directed by us to our team, and them to theirs. And, of course, some derision sent in the direction of the opposing players. But not their fans, and not their countries.

At game's end, Jose was disconsolate, repeatedly banging his AO Washington-Tri-Cities scarf on the seat in front of him. He'd come all this way to witness that? E and I silently filed out, leaving Jose and his two friends to their despondency.

As we left, I caught the eye of a woman in the row behind us, wrapped in the flag of Mexico. I gave her a wink, hoping that she took it as a "congrats," not flirtation.

Yes, the U.S. Men's Team lost. But America won.

This is still is our America.

One Nation. One Team.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When the Yanks ...

It's been 15 years since I've seen the U.S. Men's National Soccer team play a World Cup qualifier, in Columbus, against Mexico.

This was that game:

What I remember the most, other than the fact that we won 2-0 (and that it may have been the coldest I have ever been in my entire life), from "La Guerra Fria" was Tony Sanneh coming out for final pre-game warm-ups in shirt sleeves, while the Mexican team huddled in its dressing room until, literally, seconds remained before the whistle blew to start the match.

A lot has changed since then.  Three more dos a cero wins in World Cup qualifiers in Columbus. And an election, just this week, that has given me pause to reflect on what being a supporter of the United States -- in the broadest sense, and in the context of its soccer teams -- means.

This is what I've decided:

I am still an American, as are the millions who voted, as was their right, for the candidate I did not support. As are the millions who did not vote (although maybe a little less love for them as far as I'm concerned). 

I still am proud to be an American.

I will still loudly and full-heartedly cheer and sing and probably yell at the officials in support of my team and my country.

Most importantly, I will cheer for a team that is comprised of African Americans, German African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jewish Americans, Icelandic Americans, Asian Americans, Croatian Americans, and, yes, some Anglo Americans too.

I will respect our brothers from Mexico for their right to cheer on their team, although I will desperately hope that their team fails.

This is what my America looks like:

photo from
I'm still all in.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Please, please

I know it's only sports and there's a debate on that may well decide the final fate of our country, of our little experiment in constitutional democracy. 

There are more important things. To others. Including me.

I remember going to Wrigley Field as a youngster with a busload of Swedes from the Vikings' Club, giddy on morning herring, and highballs and Bloody Marys (the adults, not me), heckling passers-by (again the adults, not me) en route to another Cubs' loss.

I remember watching at my grandparents' house in Blue Island as Jack Brickhouse called Ernie Banks's 500th home run.

I remember 1969, 1984, 1989, 2015, and especially 2003.

I remember my Grandpa and his 60+ years of loyalty and sadness ("those damn Cubs") and my Dad and his 70+ years of anticipation and delusion. 

Please, please. Just this once. Let the little guy, the underdog, the endurer of 108 years of misery and frustration and ultimately false hope, come out on top.

photo from
Go Cubs Go.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Eulogy

Charles Nelson was a complicated man.  He was, I believe, the personification of something that we used to hear a lot about, but which his left-leaning son has long felt was in short supply: a compassionate conservative.  The son of a Swedish immigrant steelworker who was a card carrying union member his entire life and a woman who grew up in rural South Dakota, he was a self-made man, a life-long Republican, who believed, first and foremost, in our legal system and in justice for all.  Dad was an animal lover who also loved to hunt.  He was a Christian who, as many here have already attested, enjoyed a ribald joke. He had what some might describe as an inelegant golf swing, but readily offered advice to others on theirs, whether solicited it or not.

photo courtesy of Jeff Nelson

He allowed his sons to find their way in the world with little direct instruction, but with substantial influence.  When his eldest son turned from an eighth grader who made a “Nixon Now, More than Ever” poster to a high school senior distributing Mo Udall flyers outside of the plants in Jackson when the shifts changed he never protested.  Don’t get me wrong, there were a few topics that I studiously avoided discussing with Dad, chief among them global climate change.  But he rarely drew bright lines when it came to raising his sons, or in making and remaking himself. 

The advice that Dad gave Jeff and me regarding our vocational choices was relatively simple: “(1) I don’t care what you do for your careers once you get your medical degrees; (2) If you go into the armed services, go in as an officer; and (3) If you go into the armed services, never volunteer for anything.”  The fact that Jeff and I ignored the first, and Jeff the third, of those admonitions was the culmination of what I suspect was a long-standing realization that we would not choose the paths that he recommended, although our math and science grades likely softened the blow with regard to the whole career in medicine thing.  I do know that, regardless, he was proud that his sons both followed in his footsteps, that his daughters-in-law were actual and de facto lawyers, and that his grandson Ethan will be a third-generation Nelson lawyer.

There were things he could have been truly disappointed about in Jeff and me but wasn't: the failure of either of us to embrace the Boy Scouts despite Dad’s status as an Eagle Scout; my refusal to accept an invitation to join the cross country team despite being asked by the coach to do so; consideration of journalism as a career; consideration of photography as a career.

He could be, and was, hard on us when it came to some things, particularly our grades and the chores that we were given to do around the house.  I’ll never forget when I came home one day my junior year in high school to tell Mom and Dad that I had been named a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist only to be told by Dad that, if that was the case, I should have been making better grades.  If only I had known at any point before the last month what I know now (discovered after Jeff and I were going through things at our house several weeks ago), I surely would have had a conversation with Dad about it: my grades were better than his in college and law school. 

There was another discovery that I made sifting through the house that speaks more of Dad as the truly humble person, despite all that he achieved, that he was.  We knew that Dad had run track and cross-country at Carleton College, and that his roommate was the author and distance running guru Hal Higdon.  But that was about all that we knew of his athletic career.  Lo and behold, I discovered two weeks ago that not only did Dad run, but he ran very well.  In the 1953 Conference Track Championship, Mr. Higdon won the mile and Dad finished third.  Both the Carleton cross-country team and the track team won their conference meets in his senior year, with descriptions of both teams as being talented, with the talent running deep.  This reflects Dad’s outlook regarding life: the run, and the hard work preparing for the run, are most important. 

This is a philosophy that Dad maintained, and perhaps came close to perfecting, in his second career as a Judge.  He tackled the work of a jurist with the same enthusiasm that he had as a litigator, but through that job he demonstrated that he was willing to continue to learn, to grow, and, I believe, to become more passionate about life and more compassionate about those whose lives were in his hands.  I find it interesting and humbling that, just as Dad was undoubtedly better known as, and defined by, his “second career” so too Jeff and I have been shaped by and identified with vocations that we pursued beyond our law degrees.  As proud as I know he was that both Jeff and I are lawyers, I believe he may have been more proud of our second careers: Jeff's as an Army officer and mine as a soccer coach. Jeff and I often remarked to each other that we couldn't have imagined being in the other's shoes: either in Afghanistan or Guatemala or the Middle East for training or tours; or on a soccer field with a gaggle of high school girls six days a week for three months a year for ten years.  But, honestly, neither could we have imagined those endeavors for ourselves, or considered the possibilities of what we could achieve through them, without having in the backs of our minds what Dad consistently told us: do what YOU want, but once you choose to do it, stay the course and do it well.

The one thing about Dad that was uncomplicated was his faith and his unwavering lack of fear of death.  I remember being horrified as a child when Dad came home to declare to us that he had just purchased a life insurance policy that had a double indemnity clause and that, if he would ever have a heart attack, we should drag him to the top of the stairs and throw him down so that the benefits would increase.  Later in life he often referred to and planned for what to do when he died and gave generous gifts of support for us and our families with the simple notation: “in lieu of my death.”  He left few details regarding this service other than the day of the week on which it should be held (so as not to disrupt anyone’s work, I suspect), but more express ones for the “reception with drinks at the Club to follow.” 

Jeff read from Matthew, which I would expect from my Southern Baptist brother.  I chose (thanks to Cindy) this short passage from Ecclesiastes, probably the most irreligious of any book of the Bible, in which Solomon teaches us that one should embrace the simple pleasures of daily life: eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God.  Ecclesiastes chapter 7, verse 2 simply states: "You learn more at a funeral than at a feast." This is what I believe Dad would want us to learn today, and what he expected from Jeff, from me, and from all who are here:

For Pete’s Sake don’t mope; be strong.  Be of strong faith as well, but whatever your faith or belief system is, do not try to impose it on others.  Laugh.  Love.  Most importantly, celebrate life.  How we celebrate his life today he left for us to decide, and I hope we have done him justice.  But as for life itself, he very much intended for us to celebrate that now, and for as long as we can.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This and That

As occasionally happens, life and work have gotten in the way of writing several planned posts. Here are a few short takes on things happening or that have happened recently in soccer:

1.  U.S. Men Are Thrashed by a South American Opponent (Again).

Was it great that the U.S. made the semi-finals of the Copa America? Yes. Should we have expected any better than 4-0 against Argentina in the semis? Well ...

Yes and no. The U.S. has played well in the knock-out rounds of some tournaments (while rarely winning). Outplaying (really, they outplayed them!) Germany in the 2002 World Cup only to be denied a shot at the semis by a missed handball that rivaled Maradona's; the second dos a cero win over Mexico in the round of 16 in the same 2002 World Cup; even the 2-1 after extra time loss to Belgium in the round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup in which the U.S. had every chance to extend the match to penalties until Wondo missed the sitter that allowed Landon Donovan fans everywhere to say "I told you so."

But there was a theme to all of those games. And it was that the U.S. was not playing a South American opponent in any of them. For some reason, in games that matter (or any match against the top teams from CONMEBOL really) the U.S. wilts. Against what are generally recognized today as the top three teams in South America (Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia) the U.S. is a disastrous 6-26-7 all-time.

No doubt the U.S. was hurt by the absences of Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood against Argentina. But they were behind almost from the start thanks to Lionel Messi and never looked up to the task. U.S. Soccer in general and Jurgen Klinsmann in particular have to figure out how to stay in games early and win matches early, late, or any time in-between, against South American opposition if they ever hope to make the semis of a modern World Cup.

2.  The U.S. Women Tune-Up for the Olympics, with Middling Results.

The U.S. Women's Team has not been particularly scintillating in its warm-up matches for the Olympics, drawing a match and winning one against Japan (a team which, like the U.S., is regrouping or reloading as the case may be) and then beating South Africa 1-0 before thumping Costa Rica 4-0 in the final tune-up last Friday.  After last year's World Cup, however, far be it from me to question coach Jill Ellis's preparation of her squad leading into a major tournament.

With the Olympic soccer rosters limited to 18 players and a schedule of three group stage matches crammed into six days, with the quarters, semis, and finals jammed into the next week, versatility of players and coaches to adapt to fatigue, injuries, and suspensions will be at a premium. Which makes the inclusion of Megan Rapinoe, who has not played since tearing her ACL last December, in the final roster all the more curious.

The Women are in a tough group, with World number three France, Columbia, and New Zealand. But with only 12 teams in the mix, any group was going to have some difficult opposition (although, not surprisingly, hosts Brazil drew by far the easiest of the three).  The U.S. should make it out of the group, but it could be very important that they do so as the top seed as far as the strength of their quarterfinal opponent goes.

Regardless of the ultimate result, it will be exciting to see how well new star Crystal Dunn (who scored the only goal against South Africa and tallied again against Costa Rica) and starlet Mallory Pugh will fare in their first international tournaments for the senior team.

Dunn against Costa Rica (photo from

3.  Portugal, Sans Ronaldo, Wins the European Title.

So much for my wish that Cristiano Ronaldo would eat some crow during the 2016 UEFA Championship. The only saving grace was that he was injured during Portugal's win in the Final against France and spent most of the match on the sidelines (a little cruel, I know -- I wasn't hoping that it was a debilitating injury -- which it apparently wasn't).

I wasn't as upset about the fact that Portugal won (although France winning on home soil after all it's been through in the past year would have been nice), but the way that it accomplished the task. As mad as I get at South American teams for their diving, faked injuries, and time wasting, at least, on some level I feel as though they truly believe that it's just part of the game. The Portuguese, on the other hand, are so cynical in the way that the go about it that it's infuriating. 

After all of their disappointments at the international level, I suppose Portugal was due a few breaks in its favor.  And it got them through squandered opportunities by a French team that seemed, frankly, overwhelmed by the moment and one well placed strike by Eder that barely eluded French keeper Hugo Lloris, who seemed slightly out of position on the shot.

So a tournament that began with promise ended with a whimper (as did, to be fair, the Copa America) and Portugal got its trophy. And the beautiful game took a blow.