Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slice of Life: Pearl Jam

Watching Pearl Jam on Conan O'Brian earlier this month got me all nostalgic. It was in my formative years that they hit it big. I didn't get into them right away, but I was pretty much hooked by the time their second album, Vs. (or as I insist on calling it, "Five Against One," its alternative/original title), dropped in 1993.

16 years later, it's still, beginning to end, one of the best albums I've ever heard. It struck a chord with me at the time in a way that music hadn't really before. I was in the "dark" days of my adolescence, days of radical mood swings and melancholy. There was a bit of anger starting to form, too. Just a wee bit bubbling beneath the surface. Add in some unrequited love and me and "Vs." was a match made in musical heaven. (I'll spare you the song-by-song break down, except to say that "Elderly Woman..." is still my favorite song ever and I must have handwritten the lyrics to "Indifference" a hundred times on my school folders..."How much difference does it make?" God, I was dramatic.)

I remember the night a few months after Vs. was released when Pearl Jam took over the radio. It was Easter Sunday, 1994. They played a concert in Georgia and it was broadcast live on many stations in my area. Not only did I sit in bed and listen to the whole thing, but I taped it too. I think it took at least two tapes for all of it. Of course, they played all my favorite songs, every single one. I was hooked for every minute, including the 45 minutes or so after the concert, when lead singer Eddie Vedder went into a trailer somewhere and DJ'ed, playing songs by some of his favorite bands, complete with Vedder commentary in between, of course.

They say that the sense of smell is the sense most intricately linked with memory. I'd cast a vote for auditory over olfactory because there's nothing like hearing a song that IMMEDIATELY takes you back. A song that makes you feel everything you were feeling at an exact, particular moment in your life, whether it was 1 or 15 years ago. And for me, someone who from time to time has trouble remembering what you just said to me the other day, this is remarkable.

I am sure that this is not unique to me. I'm sure it's true for others. But this night and that music stands out so clearly in my mind. So vividly. And it's strange that I don't think I ever met anyone that listened to that concert, too. Someday I will, maybe.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Giving Thanks

I drive by a church every day whose digital sign rotates inspirational and informational messages. One in particular always catches my attention:

 "Give Thanks. It could be worse." Seems like a weird way to get people to be grateful--reminding them that their lives are not as bad as they possibly could be. Not sure it works for me. In fact, I think sometimes it makes me kind of angry. Like I'm being taunted by a sign. A church sign, at that. 

When times get tough, is it supposed to make me feel better to know that someone is more miserable than me? There's got to be a better way to get me to do this than to say "It could be worse." Perhaps there was a twitter-esque character limitation involved. As it stands, it's just depressing. It might as well say, "Yes we know you hate your life, but there are plenty of things that could happen to make you hate it even more. So stop whining. No one cares."

I guess I do see the point, though. Just like (as Ben Folds says) there's always someone cooler than you, there's also always someone worse off than you. Remembering this is valuable, right? But it's not all that easy to do. Why is that? I have tons of things to be thankful for. Why do I let the tiny stuff--annoying co-workers, the pressures of my job, obnoxious family members--get to me? Every second I spend thinking negative thoughts is a second of my life wasted. Wouldn't it be better to think about all the good things? Or to remind myself that there are Americans starving, out of work, terminally ill, and dying on the battlefield? That's all the sign is really trying to get me to think about, I suppose. 

But are Americans equipped for this kind of compassion? Here comes the naysayer (realist?) in me, but I tend to think not. Keeping it in perspective takes a bit of selflessness and empathy. Putting others ahead of ourselves is just not something we do well here. It's not the American way. I'm not very old, but was it ever? If it was, wouldn't more people be concerned with the fact that millions of children, through no fault of their own, are entrenched in poverty, wallowing in failing schools, and destined to be trapped in this cycle? I could go on with similar questions, but I think you get my point.

So sure, we should give thanks. And yes, it most definitely could be worse. But the sign misses the mark. Maybe the negativity of the word "worse" is to blame. Maybe it asks the impossible. Maybe it's a challenge. Well it's a challenge I'll take. I'll try to give a little more thanks, give a little less grief, be happier for what I have, and keep in mind those with less. I'll let you know how it turns out. How hard could it be?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today's Five: Good Riddance

Five Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Disappeared Forever

  • Jon & Kate Plus 8
  • 3 Musketeers (The candy bar, the book can stay.)
  • Gas stations that make you pay more when you use a credit card
  • Facebook
  • Wal-Mart
This is definitely a list that I could go on and on with. But I'll leave it at that. I would like to stipulate, however, that I left the obvious things off: poverty, urban blight, war, swine flu, Nancy Boyle, etc.

Here's a fairly simple about you join the conversation by leaving a comment? What wouldn't you miss if it disappeared? And since you're taking the time to leave a comment, why not take an extra few seconds to subscribe? That way, Ben Cetera can be delivered directly to you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slice of Life: Sales

Got to thinking today about an old job I had for about six months during my senior year in high school. I worked at a little store called Bavarian Village Ski & Golf. I didn't know a damn thing about skiing; I was hired as kind of a stock-boy/grunt by the manager of the Golf side of things.

It wasn't exactly the most fun job I'd ever had, but it was eye-opening. Not in a "shattering of innocence" kind of way. More of a "people are strange" kind of way. Or perhaps an "I Don't Really Fit In" kind of way.

I certainly learned that
 some people take stuff way too seriously. These salesmen, on the ski and golf side, were an intense lot. Everything was about the bottom line and there were a few that would seemingly stop at nothing to make a commission. And at what cost? None of them seemed happy. Or even remotely satisfied. I'm pretty sure they didn't read anything besides ski 
magazines. And I know none of them spent any time with their families. They were driven in some way, that's for sure. And at the time (and in a way still) it was a drive that was completely foreign to me.
There were exceptions, of course. One (Dan, or maybe Dave), claimed to have a law degree but said he lacked the drive to be a lawyer. He told us he was selling skis until he "figured out what to do." It's quite possible he's still there. I guess it's also quite possible that he didn't really have a law degree...

Regardless, the cast of characters was overwhelmingly bizarre and foreign to me. They were "Type-A." I was more "Type-C." They threw themselves into selling fiberglass sticks. I threw myself into...not much. But I did a bang-up job taking out the trash. And changing light bulbs, which was actually my favorite task. What's not to like about a little ladder climbing followed by smashing those bad boys in the dumpster? 

The job didn't last long, maybe 6 months. They tried to turn me into a golf club salesman. Oh, and golf shoes, too. I'm sure you can imagine how that turned out. As soon as I discovered they were hiring stock boys at Target, I was gone.

But sometimes I wonder where those guys are now. I'm all but certain they wouldn't remember me, let alone recognize me. Kind of weird, seeing as how they're so tightly woven into the fabric of my memory. Either way, I'm sure they're obsessed with selling people with more money than me things that they don't really need. I'll continue to live the Type-C life, thank you very much.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Today's Five: Hip Hop

Five Hip Hop Groups that Need to Re-unite and Save the Genre

  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • Outkast
  • Goodie Mob
  • Brand Nubian
  • The Fugees

Okay, technically, Outkast is still together. But, c'mon, they haven't made a real album together in ages. Speakerboxx/The Love Below doesn't count. 

Better yet, these 5 groups need to not only re-form, but go on tour. Together. If they pick up the two groups that nearly made the list, EPMD and DasEFX, and bring them along, I'd be even happier. Hey, maybe they can bail out the remaining members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. so they can play the second stage or something.

Maybe it's not hip hop, maybe it's something else...are they any broken up groups you'd love to see get back together?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Today's Five: Never

Five Things I've Never Done

  • Gone to a dance club
  • Drugs
  • Watched "American Idol"
  • Ordered wine in a restaurant
  • Been to New York City
I wish things like "Been in the back of a police car" and "Fallen down a flight of stairs" could be on the list. But they can't. Nor can "Hit head on a ceiling fan" or "Fallen asleep while taking a shower." But maybe there's a list out there somewhere for them.

    Photo source Some rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today's Five: Destinations

Five Places I'd Travel Yearly if I Could:

  • Vancouver
  • Pittsburgh
  • Las Vegas
  • Chicago
  • Yellowstone National Park
NOTE: These places are from the "Been There Before" category. I'll save places I haven't visited for another time.

I know, one of these things is not like the other...Pittsburgh doesn't seem to fit, but if you've been there before, you understand its appeal...good food, great scenery, what more do you need. It's just an awesome town. 

Another great town not making this list is Cleveland, which is near and dear to my heart. I'm there pretty much every year anyway, so I left it out.                                               

I only got to spend about 8 hours in Vancouver many years ago, but it was enough to make me realize that it's a special place.

Speaking of special places...Vegas. Forget every year, I could go every month.

Finally, the entire Rocky Mountain region is just too amazingly beautiful to not make this list. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are all just breathtaking. But I went with Yellowstone because it epitomizes all that the West has to offer, I think.

This list will lead to off-shoots, I'm sure. Maybe "Places I've Been Before and Would Like to Visit Again, Just Not Every Year." I think that title needs work.

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