Monday, December 19, 2011

Magic Before Tebow's Time

As a football fan, I have no problem with Tim Tebow.

I don’t care that he can’t stand stationary in the pocket and toss a fluid downfield pass like Aaron Rodgers. I don’t care that he can’t methodically pick apart a defense like Tom Brady, and I’m not concerned that he doesn’t robotically advance through his target checks like Drew Brees. It doesn’t bother me that he’s running the Denver offense like Major Harris ran West Virginia’s Mountaineers in the late eighties; it doesn’t irk me that he’s riding a hot running back, defense and kicker to big-time exposure and success. And finally, I couldn’t care less that he exhibits any sort of spirituality on or off the field of play.

What bothers me as an educated sports fan is the fanfare surrounding him. Televised fans, newspaper writers and football analysts are treating Tebow’s unorthodox rise to power like it’s the first of its kind in the NFL. ESPN’s exhaustive, salivating, quasi-Access Hollywood coverage of Tebow’s success has been shoveled at viewers in tunnel-vision style, totally ignoring any historical precedent in order to package the Denver quarterback’s story as one-of-a-kind. A highly-touted college talent with a style not compatible with professional football somehow crack’s a team’s starting line-up and summons his rabid desire and moxie to supposedly unquantifiable success? We've been led to believe that such an occurrence is as likely to happen as the discovery of a unicorn or Bigfoot.

But it has happened, right inside the Buffalo stadium where Tim will be Tebowing this Christmas Eve. If you spent any time around Western New York in 1998, amid the height one Douglas Richard Flutie’s reign, you know this to be true.

Before Tebowmania, there was Flutiemania, complete with charitable sugar cereals, glorious mullets and inventive jump-passes. There were crazy finishes, unexplainable statistical gems, and even a high-profile (and absolutely crooked) loss to the Patriots—all without today’s intense Internet coverage or the omnipresent commentary of 24-hour news networks. How the national media outlets (aside from the Boston Herald's NFL Notes mention last Sunday) have largely ignored their overwhelming performance and circumstantial similarities is either hilariously egregious or hilariously short-sighted; it was only 13 seasons ago that Flutie entered Buffalo’s backfield to incite Van Miller-commentated fandemonium. For whatever reason, Tebow’s rise has been featured as an awe-inspiring development, one the sport, the world and the universe has never seen the likes of.

This simply isn’t the case. We've seen this before. Consider the following:

General Reaction

When Tebow was drafted late in the first round of 2010 by the Broncos—a franchise still looking for the heir-apparent to retired legend John Elway—the move was met by overwhelming national and local skepticism. Fans and critics alike recognized the Heisman-winner and two-time BCS champion to be an absolute college superstar, but a questionable (at best) professional product. Training combine favorites like throwing motion, pocket presence and arm strength all seemed to blur the significant accomplishments and intangibles of the Florida product. Plus, the Broncos had a proven starter in Kyle Orton, which put Tebow securely in the passenger seat. Less than two seasons and a relocated Orton later, we’ve all seen how this hierarchy sorted itself out.

When the Bills picked up fellow Heisman-winner Flutie from the Canadian Football League in 1998, it was an intriguing move, but one met with absolute confusion by Buffalo locals. After Jim Kelly’s successor Todd Collins donned Jack Kemp's no. 15 for one forgettable season as a starter, the Bills front office punched the panic button. Enter the 36-year-old Flutie, who’d spent the last eight years rewriting the CFL’s offensive record books. During his Northern tour, he earned six league MVP awards, three Grey Cups, and one lovingly eponymous song by Canadian folk rock weirdos Moxy Fruvous—all while throwing for an insane 41,355 yards.

What did this mean to Buffalonians? Not a whole lot. The last time Bills fans saw Flutie in the NFL, he was with the Patriots, running for his life from Bruce Smith and throwing for two (2) touchdowns over five games of the 1989 season. Still, Buffalo needed some draw, some buzz-worthy catalyst to ease the fans and franchise’s transition away from Kelly’s departure. And, in a small market where corporate dollars aren’t abundant, they needed to solidify their economic viability in the region by extending their franchise grasp over the border. With this understood, tossing a helmet to the Toronto Argonauts legend seemed to make plenty of sense.

After the Bills threw a $25-million multi-year contract at the prototypical (albeit unproven) Rob Johnson later that offseason, it appeared Flutie would be holding that helmet for the foreseeable future. But, when Johnson proved to be as durable as a wet paper bag, Flutie’s sideline days in Buffalo were replaced with an eventual on-field circus


Tebow’s size is often questioned not because he’s too small, but because he’s not built like a quarterback. At a stout 6-3, 240, the guy’s built like a halfback-fullback hybrid, one who’s more equipped to plow through linebackers then float passes over safeties.

In Flutie’s case, he would’ve flattened your mother for an extra two inches of height. Listed at a generous 5-10 and 180, he was barely suited to check bags at the Ralph Wilson Stadium gates let alone star as quarterback inside them. It was a supposed handicap he maneuvered around in a variety of ways, whether regularly rifling jump-passes over defensive ends or using gaps in his offensive line’s blocking schemes to sidearm passes to backs and receivers. And, through his underdog resourcefulness, he connected with a fan base and city forever wary of being told they’re too small or simply not good enough.

Unorthodox Play

Tebow has fascinated legions of people by running the option, scrambling for time or tanking through the early stages of most of his professional appearances. But, however unorthodox by professional standards, the guy knows what to do to pull things through; he knows how to revert to simplicity and summon a time when we were all kids, playing tackle football behind high schools or near playgrounds. His passes or runs may not be pretty, but they all go forward when they need to.

Find video of Flutie through that ’98 season and you’ll see broken plays, ad-libbed laterals and stunted Hail Marys, ones reminiscent of his epic Boston College toss back in ’84. In maybe his most famous performance of that season, he followed a 38-yard sideline dart to Eric Moulds with a one-yard naked bootleg on fourth-and-goal in the game's final 15 seconds to beat the previously unbeaten Jacksonville Jaguars. The day’s outcome coined the term, “Flutie Magic,” which came to define any goofy way Flutie proceeded to pull out games or scores—no matter how unorthodox his methods.

“Winner” Label

With Tebow’s 7-2 run this season, he’s been labeled “a winner,” a description often assigned to guys whose success escapes easy definition. The Broncos were a terrible 1-4 when he took the wheel, reeling and nowhere near the playoff picture. Now, they’re at the top of the AFC West, ending a six-game win streak with a 41-23 loss to the Patriots on Sunday. At the national level, nearly all the team’s success has been simply attributed to Tebow somehow willing this team to dramatic win after dramatic win. Have his late game heroics been impressive? Sure. But, easily buried in his engineered endings has been Matt Prater’s three game-winning kicks, the Broncos opportunistic defense, or their offense’s NFL-leading rushing attack (163 yards-a-game).

Still, despite this trio of accompaniments compensating for Tebow’s putrid 124 yards-a-game passing average, Timmy’s getting the bulk of the credit. He’s the one on ESPN; he’s the one on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Not much was different with lil’ Dougie.

Though he was barely breaking the 200-yard passing mark in most of his ’98 starts, he was 8-4 in games he finished for a team that started 0-3. Fans would forget the mediocre numbers amid the exciting scrambles and creative tosses; they’d ignore the stats and enjoy the wins. But, while eventual NFL Comeback Player of the Year Flutie was at the forefront of the success—the face of the franchise on Sports Illustrated and Everybody Loves Raymond-featured Flutie Flakes—his teammates were putting up the supporting numbers to drive them forward. The ’98 Bills were ranked third in takeaway/giveaway differential, sixth in total yards allowed, and had a 1,000-yard rusher (when it still meant something) in Antowain Smith. Eric Moulds also turned in a breakout season when teamed with Flutie, as he snagged 67 catches for 1,368 yards.

All these attributes helped the Bills win, and the victories classified Flutie as a winner. Well, the victories and street-legal Flutie magic.

Christmas Habits

Tim Tebow accepts Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. He’s very outspoken on this matter, and everybody knows it—but why does anyone care? Athletics and religion have been linked since the first parochial school joined Christian teaching with halfback sweeps and baseline jumpers. Players and coaches join hands at midfield to say a postgame prayer following every NFL game in every American city. After games, players regularly thank or credit God and Jesus in front of video cameras and microphones, and have done so for decades. (Kurt Warner did it regularly through two MVP seasons and one Super Bowl title with St. Louis.) Why is Tebow’s effusive profession of faith such a big deal? In a violent sport played in a country founded on religious freedom, a guy should be able to thank whoever he pleases after he survives three hours of said violent sport. Pro football should be so lucky to replace its various drug and legal scandals with players addicted to biblical verses and missionary work—especially at Christmastime.

As for Flutie, he wasn’t known for talking about his spirituality, but did attend local Catholic services in 1998. Why do I know this? Because the entire Flutie family sat behind me on that season’s Christmas Eve. His rebellious mullet and stone-cold leather duster inside St. Mary of the Lake were only overshadowed by the baby in the manger—and not by much.

* * * * * * *

If the two players’ similarities are statistically foretelling for Tebow, then he should be itching for the playoffs. In Flutie’s only playoff appearance in a Buffalo uniform, he shook off uneven regular season passing performances to scorch the Dolphins secondary for 360 yards and one long touchdown pass to Moulds. Though it was in a losing effort, those numbers still left analysts baffled. How could someone so atypical of the prototypical quarterback find so much success in a game built to magnify his shortcomings? How could he defy boundaries formed and solidified over decades? And, in doing so, how is he able to connect so succinctly and popularly with the modern sports fan?

In first Flutie and now Tebow, fans have rallied behind a guy ramming the football down the throat of convention; they’ve reveled in watching a player rebel against their supposed limitations. People deal with parents and bosses and coworkers telling them they’re not good enough every day. Some will succumb to those opinions and, eventually, prove to be no good at one or many endeavors. Others will find motivation in sticking it to their critics, in proving the naysayers wrong. In 1998, Doug Flutie did that on a nearly weekly basis. In 2011, Tim Tebow’s doing the same thing.

Unfortunately, Flutie’s ending in Buffalo wasn’t nearly as magical as its beginning. Buried under an irrational benching, a quarterback controversy and the infamous Music City Miracle scam were mere remnants of the freewheeling playmaking that made Flutie’s time in Buffalo so memorable. Some Bills fans still claim that season’s excitement—as well as the luxury suite and season ticket sales triggered by that excitement—saved the franchise from relocating; others have dismissed it as a season lost to a grinning Jimmy Johnson in Miami. If a moment or stretch of time is lionized, fans will build you up as high as they can hoist you. But, in some cases, when the moment drifts off, those same fans will drop you just as fast. As time has passed, Flutiemania—and its place in either national or Buffalo athletic lore—has faded away.

As for Tim Tebow and his aura of perseverance, maybe it’ll continue. Maybe he’ll press on toward the playoffs and into further seasons of pro football brilliance; maybe he’ll crumble under savvy defenses or key team injuries. Denver management will either make him a long-term Bronco or a short-term attraction. Magazines and television talk shows will tout him as a hero or a failure; the chosen one or a major bust. His meteoric professional rise is still on Tebow Time, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Incomprehensible runs like Denver’s don’t happen very often. But, in Buffalo, we know such mystifying seasons have happened before.

(Author's note: This entry was finished while listening to "Aluminum Park" by My Morning Jacket.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keys to the El Camino

Right now as I type this, there is a trio of high school kids somewhere, standing in the cold and strumming air guitar. They’re gathered outside a car in an empty parking lot, a darkened playground or an undeveloped cul-de-sac, sipping warm cans of Keystone and defiantly smoking Marlboro Lights. And, cranking steadily out of their neighboring car stereo are head-nodding songs by this new band they just recently discovered called the Black Keys.

Just one problem: the Black Keys aren’t new at all. They’ve actually been at it for over ten years. Eventually, these thirsty, invigorated kids will figure this out, then find the nearest wireless connection for more details. 

Since last year’s high-profile Grammy haul and release of the duo’s ninth studio album, El Camino, it’s been nearly impossible to miss the Keys. Have a television? The Akron natives have had their songs placed in everything from jewelry to credit card to vampire movie ads. Have a radio? Their whistling single “Tighten Up” off previous effort Brothers found regular rotation on college radio stations from Emerson to Berkeley. Been to a national or international music festival in the last two years? They’ve been there, stomping through their latest offerings while sprinkling in flammable cuts from past records like Magic Potion or Rubber Factory. On Tuesday of this week, I heard two of their songs as ESPN commercial cutaways on “Mike & Mike” before hearing their single “Lonely Boy” echo through Buffalo’s First Niagara Center during breaks in the Sabres-Ottawa Senators game.

And that’s how it happens: One minute, you’re watching some greasy gem of a band in the back room of an ale-soaked rock club. The next, that same band is echoing out of an NHL arena’s massive sound system, blanketing a swaying sea of jersey-clad fans who’ve never heard of them.

Now, this isn’t the part where I transition into how tragic it is when bands go mainstream or become popular or are finally fortunate enough to earn a living wage after years of eating cold Jack in the Box in the back of an Astrovan. Every artist should be lucky enough to gain a loyal fan base and earn a living doing what they’re not only good at, but what they love to do. History is littered with authors, filmmakers and musicians who slogged around for years in obscurity before being “discovered” and touted as the next big thing. But, since they’d actually been writing and filming and performing for years, was their previous stuff just not that good, or was it just deemed irrelevant by the subjective, cash-infused mainstream?

Who knows. It’s a debate for college dorm rooms or dive bars, incited by individuals not yet exhausted by chicken-or-the-egg arguments. The important thing isn’t whether the band is welcomed into the fickle bosom of the mainstream; it’s that hard-working bands like the Keys finally found a headline spot at Madison Square Garden with the same material they’ve been dealing out for a decade. They’re gaining exposure to larger audiences, ones that should’ve been around to see their sweaty, unhinged performances on previous, bare-bone tours for Attack & Release; ones who haven’t heard their hip-hop collaboration on Blackroc; ones who missed out on Dan Auerbach’s solo classic, Keep It Hid. Now, instead of entertaining hundreds of black-denimed hipsters milking cans of PBR and frowning under Urban Outfitters eyeglasses, they can ply their trade in front of bigger crowds, ones open to eventually inhaling their entire back catalogue of howling electric stompers and grizzly blues rituals.

Will there be those who purchase El Camino, drop “Lonely Boy” into their iPod and call it a day? Sure. You’ll see these people at the gym, or taking pictures of themselves at a Keys concert with their iPhones. For others, discovering that a modern band has history you know nothing about is exciting. You have new albums to buy, new concerts to go to, and new songs to use on mix discs and iPod playlists. It’s a new soundtrack for your days, nights and weekends.

For those eager to discover what they’ve been missing since The Big Come Up first found Ohio record store shelves in 2002, get ready to find a soundtrack that melts your face and snarls your hair.

As you get started, I’d like to help you with an introductory 15-song Black Keys playlist, one you could download or buy or steal or listen to as soon as you find the end of this post. (I've also provided links to every song--just to make this as easy as possible for you to listen to them.) Some of the mentioned tracks will make you want to drive your car a little faster; a few will make you pull over and relax; and a few others will make you want to douse your car in gasoline, light it on fire and drive it off a cliff in an explosive blaze of glory.

Whatever the case, expect the following songs to make a sonic impression on your already whetted interest.

1.“Breaks” (The Big Come Up)
2. “Next Girl” (Brothers)
3. “10 A.M. Automatic" (Rubber Factory)
4. “I Got Mine” (Attack & Release)
5. “You’re the One” (Magic Potion)
6. “She’s Long Gone” (Brothers)
7. “Grown So Ugly” (Rubber Factory)
8. “Just Got To Be” (Magic Potion)
9. “Done Did It” (Blackroc)
10. “When the Lights Go Out” (Rubber Factory)
11. “Same Old Thing” (Attack & Release)
12. “Your Touch” (Magic Potion)
13. “Set You Free” (Thickfreakness)
14. “What You Do To Me” (Blackroc)
15. “Till I Get My Way" (Rubber Factory)

Hope this helps in your discovery. Until the next experienced and accomplished band becomes the newest sensation, take care.

(Author’s note: This entry was finished while listening to the Black Keys’ Rubber Factory.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Phil Collins Saves Christmas

Black Friday is over. Cyber Monday has passed.

Both have come to stand as the holiday season’s starting pistol. Now, we’re knee-deep in the December action, full of days and nights we’ll exhaustedly troll through shopping malls and sidewalk shops to buy wool sweaters, crime novels or Star Wars Lego sets. But, since I don’t ever purposely partake in either of the aforementioned days, I don’t recognize them as the entrance to the season. I actually wait for a specific sound, one that’s scored Christmas shopping trips since 1984. What noise?

It's the thud of Phil Collins’s foot on the bass drum pedal to introduce Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”

Every year, that thunderous stomp earns another point for the vexing legacy of Phillip David Charles Collins. No recording artist over the past forty years may be more polarizing than ol' PC. By some, he’s recognized as a triple-threat: not only one of the most successful solo artists in pop history, but a scratch prog-rock drummer and legendary frontman. By Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, he’s considered the Antichrist. On one hand, he unexpectedly saved Genesis after the departure of Peter Gabriel. On the other, he made the movie Buster. For every “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” “Abacab” and “In The Air Tonight,” there’s an “Easy Lover” and “Jesus He Knows Me.” His tremendous multi-tasking on Gretsch drums and signature vocals? The Herculean confidence he’s instilled in the male pattern baldness community? It’s all been swallowed by the video for “I Can’t Dance” and Christian Bale’s maniacal fandom in American Psycho.

This is an absolute injustice, and it’s one we’re all reminded of every year—right before Paul Young creeps to the mic for Africa.

Should there even be a debate about the accomplishments of a guy who, if you type “Phil” into Google, is automatically your first search option? Debate about a gentleman who, along with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, is the only recording artist to ever have sold over 100 million albums as a band member and a solo artist? Should I have to rush to the defense of a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member who unleashed such classic songs as “Misunderstanding,” “I Missed Again” and “No Reply At All” on the world? And, should there be even a sliver of conflict concerning a guy who unintentionally provided eighties theme music for sleek dudes sporting the t-shirt-suit combo?

Defending Collins’s case is frustrating—and personal—for me. For one, I proudly own multiple Phil Collins and Genesis albums. I also used to own a 32-ounce red plastic mug from his solo But, Seriously World Tour. It featured Phil's face and autograph under the rim, and dutifully served as my keg cup at St. Bonaventure University in the late nineties. (I found the cup in my parents’ basement in 1996. To this day, no one can vouch for where it came from, thus leading me to assume it was a gift from God.) Finally, I tried to convince my wife to choose Genesis’s “Follow You, Follow Me” for our wedding song. This didn’t happen. Her reasoning? She thought that our wedding guests would assume we chose the song as a joke.

Did Collins bring this heat on himself, or is the unraveling of his credibility completely unjust? History would indicate a little of both.

No one held Phil Collins at gunpoint and made him record “Sussudio.” I assume he was at least partially involved in the decision to fill most of Genesis’s late catalogue with mandatory keyboard solos. Though he was not contractually obligated to do so, he still agreed to the freaky, rubber puppets used in the Genesis video for “Land of Confusion”, as well as a solo career filled with dramatic, weepy numbers about rain or divorce. And, in looking back at his past fashion choices, he probably didn’t need to treat the eighties like every day was a country club's dress-down day. Those pictures and bits of film of him rocking the sweater vest-khaki combo haven’t aged too well.

But, is it fair for the guy’s indispensable musical contributions to be buried under artistic sins that pale in comparison to ones that haven’t foiled other accomplished artists? Absolutely not. Paul McCartney’s feathered mullet, fashion vests and “Silly Love Songs” didn’t unravel his work with The Beatles. Michael Jackson’s plastic surgery and sleepovers didn’t erase the greatness of Off the Wall or Thriller. Elton John spent nearly the entire eighties and nineties burying his incendiary seventies work under a pile of adult contemporary and Lion King songs, yet he now boasts knighthood. Phil Collins? He records the Oscar-winning soundtrack for Tarzan and he’s publicly (and acceptably) raked over the media coals by the writers of South Park.

No matter what makes sense, this subjective treatment will continue because, for some reason, it’s fashionable. Alec Baldwin-led television shows will land hilarious Collins-related jokes, albeit at Phil's expense. Wiry hipsters will make uninformed, humorless jokes inside record shops and subway cars. Frat brothers will drunkenly flail about to mimic the epic snare break of “In The Air Tonight.” After, they’ll high-five, laugh, quote lines from The Hangover, then vomit into a kitchen sink.

Unfortunately, the man whose genius is behind these drunken imitations isn’t coming back to defend himself. Due to a combination of frustration, suicidal thoughts and a dislocated vertebrae in his neck, he’ll never get behind a drum kit again. His legacy will continue to stir debates in which both sides think their opinion should stand uncontested. But, no matter what side you’re on this holiday season, at least respect the role Phil Collins serves for so many fans of the greatest Jesus-themed, Bono-hijacked holiday effort ever recorded.

Every year, his percussive brilliance lets us all know it’s Christmas time.

(Author's note: This entry was finished while listening to Phil Collins on Face Value.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spin the Blue Circle

Despite generations of acquired wisdom, life can still host a repetition of poor decisions.

Whether it’s to drink a fifth of Canadian whiskey out of fruit bowl or lose a Bob Dylan song in the embers of a torched relationship, children have been ignoring their parents’ advice against such acts for generations. They’ve heard stories of pain, stupidity or regret, then proceed to make the exact same mistake in the exact same situation. After enough of these experiences, though, enlightenment can set in. Teenagers or young adults will leave the Crown Royal on the counter or save every lyric on Blood on the Tracks for themselves. But, in other instances, they’ll continue to replicate the mistakes of their forefathers. Despite all the pain, frustration and annoyance they’ve witnessed or experienced over the years, they’ll continue the senseless commitment passed down from their fathers and uncles.

For the rest of their lives, they’ll invest in the seemingly calculated heartbreak of the Buffalo Bills, an agonizing decision of loyalty they learned from their families.

After Sunday’s embarrassing 35-8 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the cycle continues. Bills fans are knee-deep in another season of collapse after high-profile promise, yet show no interest in shielding the next round of Queen City-associated youth from the familiar disappointment. Buffalonian couples will do a variety of things to help with their children's upbringing. They’ll buy organic baby food to help them grow strong; they’ll trade a choke-hazard blanket for an infant sleep sack to keep them safe; they’ll spin Mozart for Babies on a small stereo to enhance their little ones’ learning capacity. But, as soon as that kid is old enough to wear a football jersey, you can bet they’ll have a royal blue or white 2T pulled over their head. They’ll be no hesitation, no consternation. Parents will do it, just as their parents dressed them in Bills t-shirts or elastic-cuffed sweatpants when they were kids. And, when they do it, they won’t spend even a second considering that one jersey’s association could possibly torment their child for the rest of his or her breathing existence.

For decades, family advocates have been rallying against the effect that dark things like Ozzy Osbourne records or The Undertaker’s choke-slam have on young children. These are just two apparently detrimental culprits, but there’s been plenty of overlooked ones as well. Things like Mazzy Star songs, John Cusack films or phantom clip penalties in the Fiesta Bowl can frazzle some kids more than a gruesome Saw movie marathon ever will. In the early pages of his literary classic High Fidelity, author Nick Hornby’s protagonist Rob Fleming contemplates such oversight with the following:

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and misery and loss (25).

My house was no different. I had easy access to a variety of wrenching songs by John Lennon (“I'm Losing You”), Simon & Garfunkel (“The Only Living Boy In New York”) and Billy Joel (most of An Innocent Man) amid my parents record collection. And, because of their address, interest and familial allegiance, they innocently introduced me to the football team who’d eventually destroy my stomach lining. My parents taught me about the teams of Gilchrist, Kemp and Stratton, the ones that roped in my South Buffalo grandfather with AFL titles in ’64 and ’65. They told stories about O.J. and Ferguson, Joe D. and the Electric Company. They talked about the stadium that once employed my mother as an usherette and welcomed my father as a season ticket holder. They gave me the Bills and their checkered history, but never considered all the possible repercussions of this decision.

Did they know that, by the time I was six, I’d develop a fluctuating emotional connection to a team that went 2-14? Could they’ve predicted how excited I’d be for Jim Kelly’s debut in 1986, or how angry I’d be at Ronnie Harmon’s hands in 1989? And, could they’ve foreseen the emptiness I’d feel on the mornings following four consecutive Super Bowl losses amid my puberty? No, no and no. That could be the lament of every Western New York mother or father who waited through a pregnancy in the late 1970s. Now, it’s too late.

There’s a new generation of Buffalo-loyal parents, ones who were fed just enough heroics to outweigh the cataclysmic heartbreak; enough memories of guys named Smith, Thomas, Reed and Paup to overshadow guys named Johnson, Williams, Losman and Hardy; enough cheers from games against Houston or Miami to overshadow the games against Dallas or Tennessee. These parents have made their share of youthful mistakes, from rounds of Jameson at 67 West to tickets to Hammer or Milli Vanilli at Memorial Auditorium. And, when their children are old enough to trip over the same stupidity, these parents may share their common stories to warn or relate. But, when it comes to Buffalo football, an infectious, emotional obsession with this region’s residents for over fifty years, they’ll make the same traditional mistakes their parents made.

Instead of learning from short-sighted purchases of Price and Posluzny jerseys, they’ll buy their children Spiller and Merriman jerseys. Instead of spending their Sundays at parks or museums, they'll gather with their sons or daughters inside living rooms or stadiums. There will be screams and cheers, expletives and apologies, and all will fly from September mornings through January evenings. Through it all, parents won’t shield their children from the possible disappointment. They won't act because bouncing through their brains is an enduring hope, one that slipped in when they were kids themselves. Despite all the publicized losses and pathetic finishes, there’s this clinging faith that, one day, the Bills will deliver the big one—and it will somehow be the greatest day of our lives.

Buffalonians have been waiting for this day for generations. On the eve of another Thanksgiving, one we'll inevitably spend talking to relatives about an anemic pass rush or sailing Fitzpatrick passes, we know that day's probably not coming this year. Until it comes, decisions to enable the family cycle of tortured fandom will continue.

One Sunday at a time.

(Author's note: This post was finished while listening to Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.")

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When We Paint Our Masterpiece

Take a drive around Buffalo and, if you have any distant memory of the city, you’ll feel good about saying one thing: This place looks a lot better than it used to.

Park space has been groomed or established; new office buildings, housing and courthouses have been constructed; historical entities have been salvaged and rehabbed; cobblestone streets have been implemented; and access to the waterfront has been improved. With a little exploration, you can now find portions of the outer harbor without packing a map and a hacksaw. Just last weekend, I touched the base of the Buffalo Lighthouse, a structure I’d seen encased in fencing for years. By even the most pessimistic standards, you can admit things are progressing past the decades of empty promises.

But, as elected officials preside over this city’s positive developmental direction, will they finally recognize and respect the role of Buffalo’s undervalued creative community in that direction?

Sure, they’ll recognize this cultural sect as important, but not indispensable. If they were recognized as such, funding debates wouldn’t break out during election seasons like this past one. For a region who regularly touts its cultural entities to outsiders and residents alike, how could any of our creative resources be deemed expendable by the region’s politicians or taxpayers? These resources populate local museums and art galleries; they fill pages in newspaper boxes and magazine racks; they construct statues for parks and town squares, and they stretch visions to corners of canvas on sides of Cobblestone District buildings. Buffalonians who’ve left this city have used the acumen acquired on these streets to host gallery shows, draft novels, or play vampires in Sarah Michelle Geller television shows. They’ve even used the inspiration shoveled from these sidewalks to record songs about flavors, slides and superfreaks. In any case, these creative resources have the ability to give Buffalo something no parking garage or property tax can provide: an image.

A city’s image can be formed by a variety of things, such as food, weather or historical events. Memphis has barbecue; San Diego has sun; Boston has the American Revolution. Currently, Buffalo’s image outside the 716 area code has been cultivated with a mixture of wing sauce, exaggerated snowfall, and Super Bowl losses. Residents and displaced Buffalonians know the history, benefits and unpublicized intricacies of this city, but outsiders or prospective tourists—ones local leaders and businessmen are clamoring for—are content to grasp onto the aforementioned trio. Until an interior movement is fueled and utilized to repackage Buffalo in a way that’s impossible to ignore on a national level, those three items will always be the most common things associated with this city. Well, those things and Niagara Falls, a natural wonder located in another city.

This movement starts and rolls on the backs of Buffalo’s creative community. This a city packed with artists of every shape and style, ones who’ve made Allentown and Elmwood Village two of our most recognizable neighborhoods. They’re doing their job there, acting as the city’s eclectic advertising and marketing department, albeit without the funding. With allocated financial support, their artistic talents could be utilized toward urban renewal or recreation in other sections of downtown.

Graphic designers, painters, performers, sculptors, musicians, and writers fill seats in Spot Coffee and barstools at Founding Fathers. They’re walking their dogs down Richmond and smoking American Spirits off Bidwell. Many of them are up until all hours of nights working on projects whether the city or county wants them to or not. During the day, some are working at their craft within non-profits or galleries; others are in unrelated professions that afford them the time and means to create or perform. They’re not simply looking for a government handout; they’re looking for reasonable support to assist their community-enriching endeavors, and compensation for their involvement in these efforts. And, in every instance, they’re excited for the opportunity to display the substance of these endeavors for a large audience.

This is where urban development can be augmented by a city’s underappreciated creative class.

If you drive down such streets as Genesee, Franklin or Oak, there are a number of dilapidated buildings, not ready for redevelopment but clouding the intriguing view of those being developed. Their exteriors have been worn down by time and weather, and they’re currently only advertising their depreciation. If you walk down Main Street, you’ll see small parks or squares that exist underutilized or empty. Their benches are splintered or their fountains are inoperable. When city officials see these spaces, maybe they see lost causes. If they’re concerned with pursuing a multifaceted image transformation for this city’s downtown core, maybe they should see these spaces as tremendous opportunities to be tapped by Buffalo’s hungriest assets.

If the city and county think of aiding cultural organizations or artists as a luxury, maybe they’d be more acceptant about the associated costs if they considered these entities as freelance laborers. Their work can do as much to re-imagine Buffalo’s downtown landscape as a courthouse or refurbished hotel can. And maybe some traditional residents don’t think of artists or cultural groups as blue-collar workers; maybe they think of them as eccentric, tattooed dreamers living outside societal norms. This is patently ridiculous, and a public shift in thinking is needed.

If it can be implemented, the city and county could consider generating a program that solicits artists or art groups to create Buffalo-themed art—according to the street, neighborhood or history surrounding either—in these aforementioned spaces. Whether through compliance (of city or county-owned property), suggestion (to private property owners) or direct action (with derelict owners’ property), these parcels could be utilized for the city’s and the creative community’s gain. With every painting crafted over brick and sculpture bolted into concrete, local artists can act to construct a bold identity for Buffalo, one of turning crumbling facades and empty squares into startling murals and sidewalk galleries. A drive down previously vacant streets will take a bit longer; a walk by empty storefronts will be a bit more fascinating. And, all of the sudden, a block of ignored possibilities becomes a desired urban commodity for residents and tourists alike.

Am I the first guy to suggest that Buffalo should enable its art community to use artifacts of the past to design its future? Of course not. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. This idea will keep coming forward in numerous variations until an encompassing reality blooms from this concept, one that’s been on the consideration shelf way too long. At some point, some forward-thinking city official will prioritize funding—or help to generate outside sponsorship—dust it off, and commit to its perpetual existence.

Until that time comes, Buffalo will continue its gradual resurgence through reconstruction and rehabilitation. Its artists will remain hard at work, generating the same electric urban undercurrent they’ve delivered for decades. They’ll open studios on Main and sell jewelry on Elmwood. They’ll perform alt-country originals inside Mohawk Place and publish Queen City-inspired stories in literary magazines. Cultural groups will continue to be driven by love, not money, and they’ll try to ignore the annual debates about their funding or relevance. What they do isn’t a choice as much as it’s an infectious calling. They absolutely have to do it.

If local leadership ever come to fully respect the rarity of this work ethic, they just might harness the creative force that could inconceivably transform Buffalo’s regional and national identity into one that dwarfs the tired rust belt jokes. By properly funding these artists’ gritty ingenuity, they’ll not only turn this city into a better version of its predecessor, but into one no Buffalonian ever imagined.

(Author’s note: This post was written while listening to Sam Roberts Band’s Love at the End of the World, The Band’s Cahoots, and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Idea of Buffalo

This past Sunday, displaced Buffalonians in cities such as Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Charlotte, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and Manhattan gathered at tavern tables, stared at flat screen television sets, and engaged in a pastime that’s become as comforting as a Bills win (albeit amid a Bills loss). Over an afternoon full of Labatt pitchers and plates of chicken wings, they talked about how much they miss Buffalo—and how they wish they could come home.

There are a variety of culprits they’ve determined responsible for keeping them from returning home, the same problems cited by wandering locals for decades. There are absolutely no jobs; the politicians are corrupt; downtown crime is rampant; the city schools are terrible; the winters are unbearable; economic development is lagging; there’s just not enough exciting things to do in the dilapidated region. Yet still, despite this laundry list of complaints, natives gravitate to foreign pubs on NFL Sundays to seek out allies who want to wax poetic about their birthplace and roots. Buffalo is the greatest place on Earth, but they’ll never move back.

Because they can’t.

Was I in any of these cities on Sunday to hear these conversations? No. But, for the last 11 years, I was leading them from a variety of barstools in Boston, Massachusetts. I even spent three years of my life writing a novel about the internal, vexing struggle many removed western New Yorkers feel either every day—or once they’ve had a dozen beers. But, there’s this prevailing and, for some reason, acceptable stance that the young adults trolling around the streets of Denver or Philadelphia are there not because they want to be, but because Buffalo has given them no other alternative. Our downtrodden homeland of burned-out warehouses and weed-strewn boulevards has brutally cast its young into the arms of better jobs and restaurants and transportation and nightlife available in other cities. This account may very well be true in some cases. In others, though, this exaggerated depiction might just be an excuse held by sentimental individuals who’d rather cherish a romantic idea of Buffalo elsewhere than invest inconvenient effort toward building Buffalo into the thriving city it could become.

Buffalo, NY
Once again, I’ll state that I waltzed around as one of these sentimental souls for over a decade. I spent countless nights getting drunk on memories while leaning back against the misconceptions removal from my roots afforded me. I’d convinced myself I couldn’t move home. Sure, I loved South Boston and my life there, but that wasn’t why I was living there. And, sure, my wife is from Boston; my graduate school is in Boston; my job as a sports reporter for the Boston Herald was in Boston; and both rock clubs I tended bar at were within Boston’s city limits. But, these weren’t the reasons I was really in Boston. No way. When I swiveled around on those rickety barstools on Portland or Causeway Street, I truly believed the real reason I lived in Boston was because Buffalo’s failures made me stay in Boston.

The longer you’re away from Buffalo, the more cherished (and distorted) your idea of it can become. It can become as romanticized as your past, with details and descriptions changing to suit whatever feeling you want to have about it. If you’re from the Southtowns, you’ll talk about Blasdell Pizza like it’s a panacea for depression; if you’re from the Northtowns, you’ll talk the same way about La Nova. You’ll remember Buffalo winters as ivory mosaics, and summers as yellow-hued embraces. You’ll reminisce about the Bills dominance in AFC championship games, then find some optimistic angle to explain away their four crippling Super Bowl losses. And, the longer you’re away from this city or region, the more likely it is that this idea you’ve created will become so comforting that you’ll never dare shatter it by ambitiously merging the idea with the risk-filled reality of returning.

This was something I had to consider last spring, back when I was presented the unexpected chance to replace my idea of Buffalo with the actual reality of Buffalo. My wife was accepted into SUNY Buffalo’s Urban Planning graduate program, thus delivering the opportunity to decide on a transition back into the actual day-to-day experience of my hometown. Over the years, I’d grown to cherish my concept of Buffalo. It got me into peaceful exchanges with friends and screaming matches with strangers; it kept me up nights and depressed me through days; it incited nostalgia and anger, one after the other on a rotating basis. But, somewhere underneath my contrived idea of this city was an understood reality, one every nomadic native knows very well. It bounced around my head as I sat in Boston bars; it gnawed a hole in my stomach as I sat in Cambridge coffee houses. For the rest of my life, regardless of where I lived and worked and breathed, I knew one simple truth: Buffalo was attached to me. With all its beauty and blemishes, it’s the only place I’ll ever be able to genuinely claim as mine.

Eventually, I accepted this truth and decided to leave the idea behind. In July, I packed a Budget truck and came back to Buffalo.

Now, this isn't the part of the essay where I transition into a section that details how the streets of Buffalo are paved with gold. It’s not Xanadu; it’s a city with the same economic and social problems that most of the country’s urban centers face. This also isn’t the part of this piece where I tell you Buffalo is just as electric as Boston; it isn’t. It doesn’t have the overt hipster glow of Brooklyn or Portland; it doesn’t feature the balmy temperatures of Tampa; and it doesn’t offer the financial opportunities of Washington, D.C. I could try to regale you with tales of Buffalo’s famed "livability," its underrated Thai food, or the luxurious comforts of the Metrorail. I could gush about the Wrights, Richardsons or Olmsteds, or I could inform you about the low, low prices of homes or apartments for you and your family. All of these items are fantastic, but I won't waste your time with them. You’ve read about them all and, apparently, you don’t care. You’re still somewhere else, another city's resident who wears his Sabres hat to the supermarket. You’ll rationalize your exiled existence with complaints about Buffalo’s job market or other maladies, and you’ll find your local Bills Backer bar for another Sunday of lubricated longing.

But, on one of these upcoming Sundays—just as the Cowboys or Dolphins raise your anger to hallucinogenic levels—maybe you'll reach the point that I reached, one where you can no longer deny the intrinsic connection that silently nags; a clear moment when you're finally sick of complaining about inaction when the opportunity for action is within your grasp. Maybe you’re a cook in Texas who wants to open his own restaurant; maybe you’re an artist in Queens, looking for affordability and the embrace of a supportive community; maybe you’re a burgeoning entrepreneur who’s sick of his stagnant career and wants to start his own business. Or, maybe you’re just lost and searching for the regional identity you left behind. Thriving cities across this country expand by welcoming disconnected transplants from characterless regions. For the city of Buffalo to expand and bloom into the cherished idea of Buffalo, it simply needs to restock itself with its own displaced residents, ambitious Buffalonians who’d like to return for a stake in realizing this city’s potential.

Buffalo's Canalside
And maybe you’re one of these displaced residents, one who's ready for a change. One of these days, you’ll come back here for a weekend. You’ll walk through the Bidwell Farmers Market or stroll through Delaware Park. You’ll drive over the cobblestone streets around the Erie Canal Terminus or ride your bike into Niagara Square. You’ll stare at the fascinating art deco facade of City Hall or the intricate exterior moldings of the Lafayette Hotel, and you’ll notice signs of urban development not seen in these parts for decades. Then, you’ll stand in the middle of this lakefront landscape you once called your own, and suddenly, the idea of joining this city’s resurgent march will make an incredible amount of sense to you. You’ll return to the city that’s been harboring your hesitation before packing for Buffalo, that seven-letter word on your birth certificate.

When you get here, you’ll knuckle down, network, and find a job because you have to, just like you would have to in any other city. It'll be a risk, but finding a job in any city these days is perilous  If you can’t find something accommodating, you can tap into the experience, ingenuity and independence you’ve developed elsewhere and add your own business to the Queen City landscape. Whatever the case, you’ll become a contributor to a cause we’ve all been born into; one that slips through our veins and beats our hearts; one that only Buffalonians seem to understand. And, when you find yourself living the realities you once spent Sunday afternoons pining for, you’ll realize yet another Buffalo-related truth: Becoming a cog in this city’s revival is a lot more fulfilling than praying for its resurrection from a neighboring state’s barstool.

After years spent praying, I finally left the barstool and came home. You can too.

(Author’s Note: This entry was finished while listening to Dan Auerbach’s “Goin’ Home”. And yes, I purposely waited until I was almost done to listen to this obviously appropriate song.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Revisiting the Baby

If I was a 13-year-old kid right now, I’d think U2’s Bono was a complete asshole.

He perpetually presents himself with messianic pomp. He wears studded-leather coats that have sleeves too long for his arms. He’s always wearing racing glasses, yet he’s never running anywhere. He wears boots with five-inch-thick soles to give him a height boost. And, most of all, his band presents themselves like they’re the saviors of rock and roll, yet haven’t released a transformative (or even quasi-relevant) album in 20 years.

But, I’m not a 13-year-old kid. I’m 33 years old, which made me 13 when U2 released their early nineties masterpiece, Actung, Baby. On November 1st, the album became the latest in the never-ending cycle of Generation X theme music to be re-mastered and re-released on those of us who once cherished it in cassette form. (It was also celebrated with the premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s superb documentary From the Sky Down, which aired on Showtime Saturday night.)

With its revival, we can fondly remember how jarring of a stylistic shift the album was for a band largely known for break-up songs (“With or Without You”), protest songs (“Pride” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”), and songs that served as thinly veiled references to the beauty and contradictions of Catholicism (everything else). We can recall when the Edge officially committed to hiding his hair loss with a rotation of funny hats and bandannas, and we can celebrate an album ruled by the domineering drum beat of Larry Mullen Jr. and the perpetual bass groove of Adam Clayton. And, finally, we can appreciate the birth of The Fly—which was the last time Bono could be universally recognized as one magnificently cool son of a bitch.

I imagine kids these days feel the same way about U2 as I used to feel about Aerosmith. I didn’t care who they were, yet they were continuously pushed in front of my face by MTV like I should’ve. Steven Tyler would saunter through his videos like an anorexic transvestite, wielding that microphone draped in scarves like an unhinged stripper pole; Joe Perry would eventually find the video frame for a shirtless guitar solo, then pathetically pout and air-hump as he channeled his less-than-authentic Jimmy Page impression. I couldn’t stand them and, as a result of this, I never looked into their back catalog until I was much older. I didn’t know about Toys in the Attic; I never heard “Sweet Emotion” until I saw Dazed and Confused a few years later. Nevertheless, I was turned off by the image they presented through theatrical make-out ballads and shitty songs like “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” As far as I was concerned, Aerosmith was a complete waste of my time.

Those who are now pre-pubescent or overtly pubescent have to feel the same way about Dublin’s once Clash-inspired quartet. Over the past decade, U2 has released a series of imbalanced albums which have featured glimmers of greatness (“In A Little While” and “Breathe”), misguided departures (“Vertigo” and “Get On Your Boots”), and moments of yawning, pretentious stupidity (“Wild Honey” and most of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb). The band’s most publicized and played song has been “Beautiful Day”—a tune which very well may have been written by Bono as he leaned into an Irish urinal during a millennial celebration. It’s a terrible, poppy, nursery rhyme of a number, and a new generation has been brought up by Rolling Stone magazine covers and U2 encores to believe this song to be one of the foundational building blocks in the band’s skyscraper of success. If this is the case, I completely understand why these listeners don’t understand the reverence shown to U2. But, if they were raised amid the rotation of Actung, Baby and the hilariously decadent Zoo TV tour, they’d understand.

As a 13-year-old, my tepid interest in U2 consisted of me borrowing my sister’s cassette copies of The Joshua Tree and Under a Blood Red Sky. At the time, I was merely curious about the band because,

a. as an Irish Catholic, you were required to like U2; and
b. all the girls in my elementary school seemed to like them.

This changed when I acquired my own copy of Actung, Baby. From the album’s first two jarring guitar chords and accompanying percussion combination on “Zoo Station” to the gentle, haunting delivery of “Love is Blindness”, it played as a sonic atmosphere suited for teenage discovery and experience. In 15 minutes, you could go from gleeful dancing (“Even Better Than The Real Thing”) to painful yearning (“One”) to strumming air guitar—while simultaneously cursing the sins of Judas (“Until The End Of The World”). While staring at all the abstract pictures on the album cover, I absorbed the echoes of Edge’s signature guitar chords while determining which song lyrics I’d ignore en route to the latest misguided mix tape I was cobbling together for some unsuspecting female. And, when any of the band’s Actung videos graced MTV, Bono came across like the slickest dude who’d ever strapped on a pair of sun-repellent goggles.

By now, everyone who knows or who’s cared to look into U2’s shtick knows Bono’s whole “Fly” persona was an orchestrated amalgamation of the styles employed by Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. But, even knowing this now, I couldn’t care less; the character worked for the time it was fashioned. It was the early nineties, a pre-entrance period into Clinton-inspired excess and socially inspired brooding, so Bono’s darkly cool and ironically devilish persona connected with what we were looking for. Besides, when the songs danced out of car stereo speakers and against bedroom walls, his vocals gave him the credibility to plug the holes his disingenuous persona presented. He could have been dressed like a goddamn carnival barker while crooning “So Cruel” and it still would’ve influenced young men and women to hold each other between contemplative drags of their cigarettes.

For the power of Bono’s persona during U2’s Actung term, one look only to the Anton Corbjin-directed music video for “One”: . I’ve discussed this video at length with some of Buffalo, NY's finest U2 experts, and we've agreed there are a few things (even as Bono stashes his Fly-period sunglasses to reveal his Eire blues) that are interpreted through the film:

1. Clove cigarettes are great for contemplative loners.
2. Heineken looks delicious once it’s gone.
3. Bono is the most earnest and ruggedly emotional guy Anton Corbjin has ever filmed.

If you deny these three preceding facts, then you’re lying to yourself and anyone you’ve ever talked with. Sure, the song’s deeper meaning or understanding can be lost through the video's symplistic, confessional-style focus on Bono. (The song's actually about the relationship between a gay man and his father. Or, is it about the band at a crossroads? Or, is it about you and your ex-girlfriend?) Still, the video itself is a masterpiece and serves as a forefather to bands and artists who wanted to simply stash the theatrics and get to the meat of the message. The Corbjin effort is a simple, poignant film to deliver a truth about human beings, a problem, and a statement about that problem. “We’re one, but we’re not the same. Well, we hurt each other, then we do it again.” If one wants to deliver such inconvenient truths amid whiskey tumblers, empty Heineken bottles, and a loaded ashtray, even better.

In the four minutes and thirty nine seconds of that video, you see why a sect of Generation X will never let go of Bono or U2. No matter how many times they announce a tour at K-Mart, let Edge sing, or perform on an airport runway, they’ll always be able to claim a portion of our puberty and upbringing. With Actung, Baby, they’ll always be able to say they recorded one song that elicited fantasies featuring a belly dancer (“Mysterious Ways”), one that helped combat oppression (“Acrobat”), or one nonsensical number that helped us relate to the bat-shit crazy girl we wanted to date (“Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World”). The album will forever be cherished, and will forever remain a transformational effort for those listeners who once viewed Bono as a leather-clad Celtic god masked in dark shades.

But, if you haven’t heard him navigate through all of Actung, Baby’s twelve tracks, I understand if you want to get on your boots, go crazy tonight, and stomp his magnificent face in.

Author's note: This blog post was typed inside Elmwood Avenue's Spot Coffee while listening to U2's Actung, Baby.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Farrell Trip Through Ireland - Introduction and Day One

Family vacations in exotic states and countries have been documented through film for decades. Whether it’s a cranky Jimmy Stewart escaping his family to lament the merits of War and Peace from a beach chair in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, or an overzealous Chevy Chase venturing among fill-in Griswald children and questionable shower advertisements in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, we’ve been treated to the zany, secondhand experiences of families gone wild in a foreign environment many, many times.

The one constant in these accounts has been that, at the end of the projected story, the family featured ends their travels transformed—for better or for worse. Stewart’s Hobbs family leaves their trip oddly united by their dysfunction. As for the Griswalds, well, I have no clue how they left Europe. It’s an awful movie, and I really only brought it up because it’s set in Europe, thus aiding my forthcoming storyline. (Still, I’ll assume the movie clung to that simple story rule of concluding with a family lesson learned, a evident transformation, or with Chase’s Clark pissing off a Frenchman with his American crassness. And, scene.)

In the case of the extended Farrell family and our associates’ August trip to Ireland to witness the marriage of my sister, Mary Farrell to one Brendan Cullinane, Hollywood ending rules applied as well. On a 10-day jaunt that featured one spectacular wedding, two milked cows, united families, new friends, makeshift bar crawls, a pony named Billy, a bartender named Hughes, suicidal transportation adventures, six Irish breakfasts, and enough Guinness to flood Doc Sullivan’s in South Buffalo, all left the gorgeous green country transformed. As for the details of that transformation, I’ll do my best to relay the specifics through my own eyes and notes in Farrell Street Blog form over the coming days. Though the primary characters in the following story will be me and my wife, Christina, there are plenty of secondary and tertiary characters to fill in the moments. So, without further hesitation, let me walk you through the days and nights of a trip not soon to be forgotten by those who stepped foot on the sweet rocky soil of the land of Eire.

Here is the account of Day #1:

Monday, August 15th

If you plan on venturing to Ireland in the near future, I’d recommend you take a direct flight through Aer Lingus or another airline. If you decide to save a few bucks because you, for instance, quit your three jobs in Boston and moved to no job in Buffalo before enduring moving costs and appreciated roles in four weddings over a span of three weeks, well, you’ll enjoy the disjointed trajectory my wife and I traveled. We made it to Dublin via the rarely-booked Boston to D.C. to London to Dublin flight, which was as delightful as lying awake on a coffee shop bench during an eight-hour layover at Heathrow in the middle of the night can be. But, once within the sweet domain of Dublin, we only had to endure a 30-minute bus ride, a three-hour train ride, and a 35-minute cab ride to find our Quiet Man-style cottage in Cordal, just outside of Castleisland in Ireland’s southwest corner of County Kerry.

(Blog note: If you’ve never seen the movie The Quiet Man, immediately stop reading this post and start questioning whether your heart is still beating. My guess is that, if it is, it’s black.)

The white 18th century Cottage Mary Rose, with a thatched roof and set off a narrow road across from an old cemetery, would serve as our family’s Kerry staging area for the next five days. Aside from the two of us, the place would house my parents, Dennis and Jeanne; both my sisters, Katie and bride-to-be Mary; my brother-in-law, Vince; and my singing nephew, Declan. Since the now one-year-old kid can’t say anything but “baba” and “dada”, he just sings “la, la, la” all the time. Why? I don’t know, but his baby crooning would go on to provide our only in-house tunes not exhaled by Jack Johnson. Declan’s father is frighteningly addicted to the smooth beach melodies of the unthreatening J.J., so his driftwood-fire classics would be the only numbers to steal young tenor Dec’s thunder the entire week.

Once most of us were settled in the house for our first afternoon together, we were informed that my father had gone off with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Brendan to climb the Co. Mayo mountain known as Croagh Patrick. Two things came to my mind when this information was relayed: One, I wasn’t aware of my father ever climbing a hill, let alone a mountain; and, if they actually tried to climb this infamous stretch, there wouldn’t be a wedding without a search party. Thankfully, all fears were squelched once the pair of eventual in-laws returned with a tale that included “walking about 100 yards up the mountain,” and “heading back down when they saw an open pub sitting below them.”

Thankfully, the first open pub we saw from our cottage was about 100 yards away and right across the street. Hughes Bar, stone-fronted and inconspicuous, rests next to the Church of the Immaculate Conception and would prove convenient for required after-wedding pints that were poured later in the week. Until then, it stood as convenient for us when we needed our first “welcome to Ireland,” “I just spent countless hours traveling,” or any other excuse for a stout we cooked up through our time in Cordal. Bartender and proprietor Sean Hughes made this happen on Monday, as he welcomed us before he poured drinks for my sisters, Christina, and Vince, then snapped our picture as we stood behind his bar. He was very accommodating and friendly. But, in comparison to the familial hospitality we’d experience at our evening’s dinner with the extended Cullinane clan, Sean was a stone-cold bastard.

Sheila (Costello) and Ted Ring live in the middle of the Kerry countryside, at the bottom of a steep dirt driveway and set back from their town’s narrow road. Their house is also a construction of rustic architectural beauty, with a granite façade contrasting another more traditional external material that I could identify if I knew anything about home construction. I don’t, so you’ll just have to trust that their place is tremendous. Inside their place, they welcomed us to a kitchen table filled with French fries, hamburgers, bread, green peas, red wine, and Heineken. Since Christina or I had never spoken to Sheila, Ted, or any other of Brendan’s family who were in attendance, you’d be forgiven to assume our exchanges experienced some periods of awkwardness. Fortunately for us, we didn’t. Sheila’s parents and brother, Morris joined our crew from Hughes Bar, as well as my mother, Declan, my aunt Clara Bowman, and uncle Scott Bowman to inhale the kitchen’s seemingly unending stream of food and drink, laughter and stories. If this scene sounds too clichéd or Irish-centric, I’m sorry. Also, apologies if you think I’m laying it on thick to satisfy the same stereotypes accentuated by Amy Adams movies or overweight, Guinness top hat-wearing Italians on St. Patrick’s Day. I can only tell you what I witnessed and experienced, and what I sat through on that first night in Kerry was the kind of genuine, sincere hospitality I’ve only experienced a handful of other times in my young life.

Unfortunately, Christina and I could only enjoy this scene for so long. Since we were rolling forward on nothing but scant hours of airport, train and bus sleep over a 48-hour period, we were bound to crash through Sheila and Ted’s kitchen table with any odd slug of red wine or beer. As for me, I started unintentionally nodding off between sips of my second or third Heineken. (I think I may have actually been asleep for a good minute at one point.) Thankfully, we were whisked out of there before I was face-down in a puddle of my own drool.

Our departure took us back to the Cottage Mary Rose, and once in the door, I somehow found the energy to join my sister and mountain-scaling father for a pint of Murphy’s in our living room. When our glasses were empty, I joined Christina to open our couch bed and collapse into deep, motionless slumber. Monday was finally—and mercifully—over.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nevermind the Past

Now that it’s 20 years after the fact, I have a scathing confession: When Nirvana’s Nevermind was unleashed on the world in 1991, I couldn’t have cared less.

This is a statement that will draw disgusted looks from my eventual children, the kind of scowls I directed at my father when he told me he never listened to Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin in his late teens and early twenties. This is a statement that, when simply blurted out amongst grunge enthusiasts or anyone that rolled through their own puberty in the early 1990s, may seem sacrilegious. The record’s release and accompanying buzz surrounding Nirvana was a major, culture-shifting event. The album’s searing guitar riffs provided a soundtrack for teenagers to part their greasy hair down the middle, wear long-sleeved t-shirts under short-sleeved tees, and, in many cases, hate their parents. It was a big, freaking, sweaty deal—and I didn’t care that much about it.

Do I have a defense for this past transgression? Excuses? Sure, just like my father probably has excuses for not finding Hendrix enlightening or Zeppelin hypnotic. When I go over explanations in my head, they all make a certain amount of sense. But, regardless of their validity, when I listen to the remastered Nevermind (released yesterday) scorch forth today, I’m still embarrassed.

I didn’t take to Nirvana—or to their breakout release—as quickly as I should’ve for a multitude of reasons. This isn’t to say I wasn’t aware of them. As a 13-year-old boy at St. Mary of the Lake elementary school, the only things I cared about were basketball, the Buffalo Bills, girls, and MTV—probably in that order. In the fall of 1991, MTV started playing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video about as regularly as they broadcast Teen Mom marathons today. It was seemingly on every hour and, since I spent endless hours watching the station’s after-school programming, I saw Kurt Cobain’s flopping blonde hair and green-striped t-shirt inside a televised gymnasium on a daily basis. I watched a young Dave Grohl violently attack his drum kit; Krist Novoselic drunkenly sway back and forth with his bass. Anarchist cheerleaders thumped and gyrated around them, while an audience of greasy teens waited in front of them as contents of a veritable powder keg of rebellious angst.

The scene was the most accessible representation of pure evil I’d ever seen and, as a brown-eyed Catholic school kid who was then-dazzled by Queen’s re-released “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to abandon basketball camps for all-ages shows, and I wasn’t ready embrace the anger that comes with being a frustrated, suburban teenager. Unfortunately, when those days arrived, I adopted an anti-Nirvana stance to accompany my rebellion.

By 1993, I had spent two years knee-deep in classic rock patronage, surrounding myself with Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Beatles cassette tapes. I stopped listening to Monday Night Football on the radio as I fell asleep and, instead, listened to Axis: Bold As Love and Led Zeppelin III as I laid in bed and stared at my bedroom ceiling. I borrowed every one of my father’s Beatles records, and tried to educate uninformed friends of mine why the gibberish-laden and nonsensical “I Am The Walrus” was such a great song.

From this musical entry, I leap-frogged Nirvana and, instead, inhaled their grunge contemporaries and overlooked forefathers of the newly-coined alternative rock scene. After wearing out Pearl Jam’s Ten and Vs., I found albums by Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Ned’s Automic Dustbin, and Sonic Youth. After listening to this quartet of underappreciated bands, I started to rail against Nirvana for getting so much credit for popularizing a style of music already mastered by others. I was an argumentative teenager eager to take an unconventional stance, so I decided to degrade Nirvana to anyone who would listen. As I saw it, it was as if they were anointed as innovators because MTV and an entire generation needed their defining act; their Rolling Stones or Beatles or Led Zeppelin. But Nirvana wasn’t the Stones or Zeppelin. And, they certainly weren’t the Beatles.

But, on the days following April 5th, 1994, media outlets made sure Kurt Cobain became Generation X’s answer to John Lennon. After the frontman was found dead inside his Seattle-area home from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head, hoards of fans and television hosts compared the impact of Cobain’s death to that of Lennon’s. This made me hate Nirvana even more, and augmented my already fervent belief that their historical relevance was media-driven. Compare a guy who selfishly blew his head off to a guy who, after transforming pop culture, rock music, and his own life over a 20-year period, was senselessly gunned down on his way home from work by a deranged lunatic? Such comparison should’ve been viewed as patently ridiculous, but it was genuinely adopted and regurgitated by magazines like Rolling Stone and People.

I was two years old when Lennon died in 1980. Even today, his death still makes me sad. I was inside my grandparents’ apartment in Greensboro, North Carolina when Cobain was announced dead. I barely flinched when I heard the news.

So what changed my stance? Compassion, maturity and eventual connection. Months after Cobain’s death, the band released their MTV Unplugged album, which provided an opportunity for people like myself to digest Nirvana’s material much differently. Cobain’s somber vocals and delicate strumming on the record serves as the band’s unintentional requiem. It was an emotional performance released so soon after the band’s leader perished, and I connected with material delivered by a guy I'd never connected with before. (If you’re not moved by Cobain’s rendition of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” you’re most likely dead inside.)

As I grew older in the years that followed the Unplugged album, I went back to Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero. (I now own all of these albums.) Now past the pubescent pressures of conforming to cultural trends—and away from the omnipresent media reminder of what’s supposedly relevant—I’ve been able to appreciate pieces of each work for their lyrics, instrumentation, or raw, unhinged tenacity. Gone is my ardent stance against the band’s anointed relevance (although I still believe Ned’s Automic Dustbin is unforgivably overlooked), and gone is my lack of acceptance of the band’s material as epic.

With Nevermind in particular, the album should be understood as nothing less than a rock standard. Its contents set a decade in motion by infusing punk rock presentation with layered texture and raw emotion. The jarring “Teen Spirit” is followed by the gnarling, yet innocent head-bob beat of “In Bloom”; the dark “Come As You Are” slows things down before “Breed” steps on the gas again; “Lithium” and “Polly” stands you still before “Territorial Pissings” sends you flying head-first through a plate-glass window. “Lounge Act”, “Stay Away” and “On A Plain” extend this destructive pace until “Something In The Way” brings you to a somber halt. It’s an album, not a collection of iTunes tracks. It’s a mood established by a band who helped establish the ethos of an entire decade.

I accept this now. Do I have the luxury of reminiscing about my own youth altered by this album? No. But, I understand why this album was so transformative for many who came of age amidst my youth. I now officially care about Nevermind, albeit 20 years after its release.

Better late than never.

Authors note: This entry was completed while listening to Nirvana's Nevermind . . . over and over and over again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Introduction to Contradiction

I hate blogs.

Why? Well, I’ve never understood their functionality. At their inception, they provided outlets for individuals who are not trained writers to masquerade as actual writers. People whose opinions were previously shackled to a barstool or supermarket aisle were now out there for all to see, scatting across computer keypads and zinging previously untouchable entities.

Have an opinion about the Democrats, Charlie Sheen or the New York Yankees? Blog about it. Do you like peanut butter, kittens or kayaking? Delicious; get your words out there, dammit. Let your voice be heard through terrible spelling, syntax and story progression. Who cares if you end every sentence with an exclamation point? You’ve got gripes that need to be broadcast on the worldwide Web, baby!

But, things have changed a bit since the first blogger huddled in his basement, flanked by a bottle of Mr. Pibb and a tub of cheese balls. Blogging has become a viable form of reporting and publishing. Experienced reporters, authors and poets now forward their work through blogs. They broadcast factual information or edited storylines for discriminating eyes, and this professional progression has given the often vain exhale of blogging a vein of legitimacy.

With this entry, I hope to join this aforementioned march of authenticity. I’m ready to write detailed, informed pieces about things I’m qualified to report on like music, sports or fiction. If not, I may just post a bunch of nonsensical, rolling stories about the city of Buffalo and Notre Dame football, or one 275-page argument against the historical distortion of the once-great career of Phil Collins. Either way, I’m an out-of-work writer with nowhere to go. I need this blog, and it will now exist as my home.

If you’re concerned about my credibility, be not afraid. Though I may miss a typo or sentence fragment from time to time, I have a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing; I’ve been employed as an editor, newspaper reporter, proposal writer or copywriter for the greater part of nine years; I’ve published one rambling, fictional glorification of Buffalo (Running with Buffalo), and have another novel on the way. As I sit here and type this humble introduction, I am dressed in swarthy, worn-out clothing purchased with writer money. I’ve lived this life for a while, so please trust that I’ll post writing that doesn’t absolutely waste your time. (Note: The word “absolutely” should be understood as subjective.)

Over the coming years, I’ll have some stories to tell. I’ve recently returned to the beloved home (Buffalo, NY) I left 11 years ago, so this should provide fodder for a variety of entries. I also returned amidst one of our fine country’s worst economic downturns—without a job. This should also provide some material, albeit much more vulgar in nature. Mixed in with these tales will be reports on the eventual publication of my second novel, entitled When the Lights Go Out, as well as a controlled diatribe on music, travel, sports, and general barstool concerns.

With each submission into the crowded blogosphere, I hope to inform while giving you, the reader, a voice to relate to. If I can do that, maybe I can entertain individuals like you—and change the pessimistic perceptions of people like me.

Stay tuned for the results. Until then, thank you for stopping by the Farrell Street blog.

Author’s note: This entry was completed while listening to the Rolling Stones' "Torn and Frayed" and Bob Dylan’s “Abandoned Love”:

Won’t you descend from the throne from where you sit

Let me feel your love one more time

Before I abandon it

Friday, July 8, 2011

Life, Love & Music Through "High Fidelity" (Take 2)

(*Author's note: This was previously posted, but since I was just talking about this piece recently, I'm re-posting it.)

I’ve always connected with music and film better than I have with literature. It’s a bond I formed as early as I can remember anything. (As I type this sentence, I can recall, in detail, sitting at Rich Stadium in Buffalo, waiting for Michael Jackson to take the stage. I was five years old.) I don’t remember any particular feeling infiltrating my body when I read Johnny Tremain or On The Beach, but I do remember the enthusiasm accompanying the first CDs I purchased: The Beatles’ Revolver and Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream—picked up simultaneously at Media Play in 1993. I also have no recollection of a single sentence in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but can recite full scenes of dialogue from countless John Hughes or Jim Sheridan films. Most of my fondest memories have been either scored with a specific soundtrack, or have gained their prominence because their moves and moments have been akin to some of my favorite movie scenes. Consider the following:

Example #1: Early in high school, my friends and I used to smuggle canned beer and Camel Lights into this dingy pool hall south of downtown Buffalo. Every time we were there, Pink Floyd’s “Money” blared from jukebox speakers at least one time. To this day, I can never hear that song without thinking of chain smoking or sipping on warm cans of Red Dog.

Example #2: When I was in the 10th grade, I hit a key 18-foot jump shot from the left wing in a local basketball battle against rival Orchard Park, which gave me a starring role in my own personal version of Hoosiers. As I type these words, I can still mentally take myself to the spot on the hardwood, hear the delirious roar of the crowd around me.

My point in detailing this historical connection is that, before picking up Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for the first time in 2000, I’d never inhaled a book like I inhaled, say, The Clash’s The Clash; I never had encountered a literary protagonist I related with the same way I related with John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. In Hornby’s story, I found conversations I’ve had, odd philosophical musings I’ve been tortured or entertained by. In Hornby’s Rob, I saw a character who broke people down by their pop culture tastes, a practice I’ve (rightly or wrongly) engaged in since high school. Put both of those aforementioned points together and you have a relationship between me and this work. It’s a relationship between reader and novel to designate a social classification of me, something Hornby’s Rob does with other individuals throughout High Fidelity. He uses pop culture tastes to identify people, as well as himself and his own feelings. In his actions and in this novel’s narrative, I see much of myself, as I will detail in the following pages. If life is to be understood as an art form, I’d like to compare some of the thoughts and events formed throughout my own existence to the pop culture-infused trials and trivializations of Rob.

Near the beginning of this novel (page 25), Rob introduces a theory I’ve considered so many times in so many instances, spinning any number of songs by U2, Buffalo Tom, Bob Dylan, The Guess Who, Dinosaur Jr., Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, etc. “People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives” (25).

This is obviously a “what came first, the chicken or the egg” argument, but it’s one many people, romanced by the storylines of films and lyrics of songs, have probably had with themselves. I’m no different. In late grammar school and early high school, I looked for girls who invoked an Andrew McCarthy-in-Pretty-In-Pink-like gaze out of me; I wanted to feel the same kind of yearn for a girl Bruce Springsteen oozed in “I’m On Fire.” Unrealistic at 14 and 15 years old? Absolutely, but it didn’t stop me from becoming a mix tape-making machine, crafting balanced playlists and borrowing the thoughts of rock legends to express my innermost feelings for girl A, B or C. The problem with relying on the interpreted lyrics and arrangements of drunken frontmen and drug-addled guitarists was that, ultimately, they never came back properly reciprocated. The Edge’s swirling guitar solo in “All I Want Is You” provides (for some) a chance for that movie-like embrace with a lover, when the world stands still as two individuals chosen by pure fate touch lips and fade off into ecstasy. But, this isn’t reality; not mine, anyway. One of my most detrimental feelings of rejection, still burned into the depths of my memory, came with that song as a soundtrack. A beautiful cross-town cheerleader who I’d tenaciously pursued with every romantic trick in the book turned me down cold at a local garage party as Bono wailed from a small picnic radio. Though I still love that song, it always evokes that pain of adolescent rejection, tormenting me more than an unsecured revolver or violent film ever could.

Later on in this novel, Rob notes his aforementioned habit of classifying people by their pop culture tastes, something he discusses routinely with his lone employees at Championship Vinyl, musical introvert Dick and the bombastic and extroverted Barry. “A while back, when Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like, Barry proposed the idea of a questionnaire for prospective partners, a two- or three-page multiple-choice document that covered all the music/film/TV/book bases. It was intended a) to dispense with awkward conversation, and b) to prevent a chap from leaping into bed with someone who might, at a later date, have every Julio Iglesias record ever made” (117).

In this, he is indicating the ability to make final judgments about an individual by simply being informed of their pop culture tastes. Is this fair? Probably not, but I’ve done this with women my entire life. In high school, college, and even today, I’m frightened by any female who indulges in Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Tori Amos, or the almighty solo antics of Morrissey. This particular fandom has always indicated a certain darkness in a woman I didn’t want to encounter in a relationship, as well as a love of being bathed in depression and emotional longing. Also, and most importantly, it would indicate the given female had a propensity to be incredibly unstable. So, with this in mind, I’ve always checked girls’ record collections as soon as possible once a few dates were in the books. If they owned anything by these artists, I scrammed. If they didn’t, I continued along—until they expressed their love for Amos’s Under the Pink.

Then, there were the romantic connections formed through a specific artist, songs that single-handedly brought me together with a girl. Of course, Rob notes this as well. “See, records have helped me fall in love, no question. I hear something new, with a chord change that melts my guts, and before I know it I’m looking for someone, and before I know it I’ve found her. I fell in love with Rosie the simultaneous orgasm woman after I’d fallen in love with a Cowboy Junkies song: I played it and played it and played it, and it made me dreamy, and I needed someone to dream about, and I found her, and . . . well, there was trouble” (170).

I entered into my enduring fascination with Otis Redding in ‘97, right around the time I was headlong into the most serious relationship of my life (up to that point) with my college girlfriend. For over three years, Otis provided the soundtrack to many cold southern New York nights, his impassioned wails and moans warming a barricaded couple in their college dorm rooms. “These Arms of Mine” and “Pain In My Heart” were two songs capable of making a man cry—both from happiness and absolute sadness. When I started to absorb Redding’s lyrics and the enviable passion which poured from every smoky vocal, I wanted someone to share him with. Luckily, I had this girl, and the bond was formed. Unfortunately, when we broke up years later, she took Otis with her. I couldn’t listen to him without thinking of her, thinking about how it was her eyes I looked into when Redding’s passion pulsated through stereo speakers. Thankfully, after a significant time of mourning and ill-fated attempts to replace him with Wilson Pickett or Sam Cooke, I went back to Otis about six years ago. Though a relationship forged through his music had to end, I couldn’t let the man’s entire catalogue escape me as well.

In these last three examples from High Fidelity, Hornby’s Rob notes one’s connection to others or alienation from those parties through love of pop culture. Sometimes, as in the first excerpt, songs or films and their messages can emotionally hobble you, inspire you with a message before eventually deflating you when the interpretation of that message is not shared by a love interest. Other times, as in the second, similar enthusiasm toward a given piece of work can unite or restrain two people—who may be otherwise compatible. Finally, the third example shows how art can ignite simultaneous love affairs: one with the one present when this art is discovered, and the other with the artist. Later in High Fidelity, Rob talks about the affect music can have on an individual’s own choices outside of companionship, on decisions inspired by lyrics of what to do with oneself in a life full of uncontrollable variables. “In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn. That’s OK; he’s a songwriter, after all, and he needs simple choices like that in his songs. But nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot—how escapes can go off at half-cock, how you can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway. That’s what happened to me; that’s what happens to most people” (136).

Nothing has inspired me to write more than the simple feeling a good song can ignite, the chill that rifles down my spine during a line or guitar lick. Lyrics scribbled by Lennon or Dylan, Strummer or Springsteen have always bounced through my head since I first played a record on a turntable in elementary school. I remember having a friend over to listen to The Beatles’ nonsense that was “I Am The Walrus”, just begging the kid to listen to how rhythmic Lennon’s absurdity was, how phrases that had no rational reason to paired together connected so seamlessly to form a spooky and uplifting stomp of a song. One day, I wanted to evoke that sort of enthusiasm through my own writing, and I assumed it would be as easy as grabbing paper and a pencil, jotting down what I knew. But, to put one good piece together, to truly connect, it’s not as easy as pressing “play” on a Discman. When you start writing, inspired by a song or a line or a short story, you can’t wait to get to the New York ending, the feeling that rips through your body when you know you’ve penned something worth reading. The problem is that, like Rob notes, it’s not that simple. Most wide-eyed idealists who perform music or write novels or escape the suburbs for the freewheeling cities to find some advertised freedom inevitably end up crushed. When I started to write my first novel, Running with Buffalo, I was excited and, ironically, inspired to begin by Springsteen’s “Night” off Born to Run. After some 25 edits and over 100 rejection letters from publishers and agents, I was exhausted, depleted.

When I self-published the book, promoted its existence, and got it into retail outlets last year, I was too worn down to have my “my book’s in a bookstore” moment; I knew there was more writing to do, more ideas to expand upon, more training to seek. These craft details and engulfing frustrations are not included in the idealistic songs that inspire attitudes or the dialogue that has connected countless romantic couples. That’s why stories aren’t like life. Stories can be constructed within a scripted realm that recognizes simplicity as attainable.

Life, and finding even a modicum of professional success within it, is anything but simple—or scripted.