R.I.P. Johnny Clegg

Below is a post that originally ran in November of 2017… reposting today after hearing the news about Johnny Clegg passing away. He will be missed. 

Johnny B. Good. Very good.

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

“Hello, I’m Johnny Clegg.”

No doubt you’ve heard of (and heard the music of) the former. Chances are, you’re not familiar with the latter. But Johnny Cash is to country music as Johnny Clegg is to South African music. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a true icon. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call him the Nelson Mandela of music. Back in the Apartheid era, teenage Johnny crossed color lines to learn music and dancing from Zulu men in Johannesburg, and eventually brought it to the world.

“They knew something about being a man, which they could communicate physically in the way that they danced and carried themselves. And I wanted to be able to do the same thing. Basically, I wanted to become a Zulu warrior. And in a very deep sense, it offered me an African identity. It was like a homecoming for me; I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

When he formed an integrated band – Juluka – with Sipho Mchunu, they couldn’t even play in public at first.  Eventually they landed a record deal and toured the world.

When Sipho got homesick and left for his Zululand home, Johnny formed a new band called Savuka, which means “We Have Risen” in Zulu. His songs were at the forefront of the fight for equality in South Africa.

“You could not ignore what was going on. The entire Savuka project was based in the South African experience and the fight for a better quality of life and freedom for all.”

One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was Johnny Clegg & Savuka at a club in Cincinnati, circa 1993. For some strange, mystical reason, I too wanted to become a Zulu warrior that night. And I can’t dance worth a damn. The passion, the energy, the “goodness” emanating from Johnny and his band was palpable, and the tsunami of positive vibes swept up the whole crowd. “I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

Johnny Cash is gone. Johnny Clegg will be gone soon – he’s battling pancreatic cancer. He just wrapped up a brief U.S. tour and has headed home to South Africa, with one more gig in Cape Town lined up for this year.

NPR has a nice profile of Johnny’s career. (The quotes in this post are from that piece.) Please check it out.

Thank you Johnny, for sharing your music and your love with the world. Don’t stop dancing.

Extra salt, please

We got back from our beach vacation a week ago. I’ve been missing it ever since. Mostly, I miss this:

The gloaming is the best time of day on the beach. It’s quiet, other than the waves (which rank right up there with Buffalo Tom and Superchunk songs on my list of favorite sounds). Peaceful. Relaxing. Gorgeous.

If I’m lucky, I get a couple weeks of beach time every year. That’s not enough. Every day, I hear the ocean calling my name, like the sirens drawing in Jason and the Argonauts. It’s my happy place. What’s not to love about kayaking, bodysurfing, swimming (or just floating), walking along the shore and generally just chilling?

Of course, if I’m at the beach with my wife’s extended family, there’s usually some sort of elaborate planning for our latest opportunity to “go viral.” It never happens, but that doesn’t stop them from scheming. In past years, it was a flash mob and a choregraphed video. This year, it was a drone shot of human letters for the US Women’s National Soccer Team.

We chose the font called “Crooked”

We didn’t make Ellen (yet again), but it’s fun to dream.

One of my co-workers is one of those adult Disney freaks. (I’m sure you know one… stage an intervention if you can.) She bought a condo just outside Disneyworld, and works from there several weeks each winter. I’d be happy to follow her lead and work from a condo near the ocean… any volunteers to buy it for me? You can visit any time….and the first piña colada is on the house.

The XU crew

It all started with this photo:

My college buddy Mike O’Maley used to recreate this scene by hanging upside down from his dorm loft and saying the famous line from Sixteen Candles:

Mike had the “parted down the middle” hairstyle that was popular in the early 80s, and he was the spitting image of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. That’s how Mike earned his nickname “The Donger”… which we still call him to this day. (Of course, he also used to spring this trick on unsuspecting folks who were visiting his dorm room in the wee hours to hear his roommate play the full-sized piano that they snuck into the dorms, but that’s a story for another day.)

In May, Mike texted this photo to several of “the old gang” from our Xavier days, which created quite a bit of chatter (yes, old people DO text!) and eventually our friend Tom suggested that we all try to get together. Which, miracle of miracles, actually happened last night. Tom drove up from Louisville, Donger and his wife Missy (a.k.a. “Mister Mister”) drove over from Indy, and a few of the locals showed up as well. We had a nice dinner, then went to the old (and pretty much only) Xavier watering hole, Dana Gardens.

A good time was had by all. Sure, we’ve changed a bit over the past… (gulp)… 37 years since we first set foot on campus. But getting together reminded me of this passage from a blog post from Gaping Void back in April:

It’s a bit like college. You remember it so fondly, not because anything you did was that special or unique (study, go to class, sit around talking, go to parties, try to find a mate, i.e. the same as millions and millions of other students), but who you did it with (i.e. your lifelong, best friends).

That’s so true. The friends I made in college are some of my favorite people in the entire universe, and I truly treasure our friendship. We may not get together as often as we’d like, but we’ll always be super-connected.

Are you ready for some (non-American) football?

Soccer had its moment in the sun yesterday. The U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their second consecutive Women’s World Cup title, giving them a record four titles overall.

Meanwhile the men’s team made the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Don’t ask me what CONCACAF stands for – I think it’s a coffee brand.) They lost to Mexico, 1-0, but hey, they made the finals!

Mmm, that’s some mighty tasty Concacaf!

Now, most of America will shrug its collective shoulders, yawn, and go back to watching all the other sports for a few years. Yes, I know that football (the kind actually played with the foot) is “the beautiful game” and that it’s wildly popular in nearly every other corner of the globe. And yes, I know it’s picking up steam stateside… including here in Cincinnati, where FC Cincinnati, a newly-minted member of Major League Soccer, regularly draws crowds in excess of 25,000. Oh, and Rose Lavelle, who scored that beautiful goal for the USA Women yesterday? She’s from the ‘nati!

https://twitter.com/i/status/1147906367383977984

Still, something seems to be missing… a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the traumatic brain injuries and consistent maimings that happen in American football. The interminable wait between pitches of baseball. The meaningless regular season of the NHL… or the meaningless regular season AND meaningless first three quarters of every game in the NBA. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t provide a handy excuse for taking a nice three-hour nap every Sunday like professional golf.

My college buddy Tom always used to claim “soccer is a communist sport” because it could end in a tie.

Roll tied!

(He still claims this, even though both his daughters got full-ride scholarships to SEC schools for… you guessed it… soccer!) But after watching the women’s semifinals and final, I know the real problem: “stoppage time.”

Stoppage time (also called injury time) is the time added on at the end of each half at the discretion of the referee.

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Football_(Soccer)/The_Basics

What other sport has such a ridiculous and mysterious method for running (or not running) the clock? Can’t they just stop the clock anytime there’s an injury? Heck, I’ve worked the scoreboard at more than my fair share of kiddie basketball games, I’ll show ’em how it’s done.

We love two-minute drills and buzzer beaters, and soccer cheats us out of this by making the timing of the game rather random, and by not showing the crowd exactly how much time is left in the contest.

Until they fix stoppage time, soccer will be a sport whose time will never come in the U.S.

16 going on 26

My precious, darling daughter is 16 today! Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be sappy and saccharine, because that doesn’t mesh with Leah’s personality. It’ll be sassy instead, because that’s how she rolls.

My wife and I actually remembered her birthday, so she’s already one up on Samantha.

Blur = Bleep.

But there have been a few years when we were heading to vacation on her birthday… there’s nothing quite as festive as spending your special day stuck in a car for 12 hours. I’m glad she’s in Cincinnati for this one. She’ll probably be celebrating by sleeping until noon. Or 1 p.m.

Facts!

Leah’s turning 16 today, but she’s an old soul. She’s great at carrying on polite conversations with adults (present company excluded usually).

She’s very empathetic, kind, caring… wait, this is turning sappy, isn’t it?

The scary D is just ahead: Driving. I signed her up for an online driver’s ed course yesterday. How do they go from bumper cars to real cars so quickly? And more importantly, where was an app for driver’s ed when I was a kid? (Answer: 40 years in the future.)

Here’s the most recent photo I have of Leah, at Peter’s high school graduation. (I don’t follow her on Insta… I’m sure there’s something more current there.)

She isn’t always smiling, but when she is, it lights up our universe.

Leah is also the kid that shares my love of indie rock. She’s bummed that she’ll have to miss the Beck/Cage the Elephant/Spoon concert because she’ll be working as a camp counselor. But there will be other times, other shows. I’m sure that at those shows, I’ll be told to stay far away while she hangs out with her friends. But that’s OK. I’ll still be there with her. And I’ll always be there for her.

So now, instead of some sappy song, here’s a tune that Leah loves.

You’re my boy, Blue!

We are gathered here today to say goodbye to an old and dear friend. Someone you could count on through thick and thin. He was reliable, trustworthy, always there when you needed him, and always up for an adventure. But it was time for old Blue to move on, after so many years of faithful service.

Yes, the 2003 Honda Odyssey is gone, after nearly 17 years, and 152, 322 miles. We’ve been through a lot together. Four kids grew up in that van… and the carpeting on the floor has the juicebox stains to prove it. Thousands of school drop-offs. Hundreds of trips to practices and games: baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse. Dozens of summer vacation trips: Florida, Vermont, Alabama, New Hampshire, New York, New Orleans. While we were visiting all those News, Blue got old. But he was still my boy.

Blue was passed along to our oldest kid, who cleaned it up and made it feel new again. It was a rebirth for Blue. But eventually our son moved on too… when you’re paying for gas and your job is delivering pizzas, you need something that gets a bit better mileage.

So Blue sat in our driveway, taking up space, looking forlorn. It was time to move on. It was for the best.

Now Blue is dearly departed. He’s gone, but not forgotten… especially because I gave him to my brother, who lives two blocks away from me. Blue is still going strong. Blue is still my boy!

I want that thing… whatever it is.

We got Chinese food for Father’s Day (a tradition almost as cherished as Chinese Food for Christmas Day).

My daughter’s post-prandial fortune cookie fortune was inscrutable:

I might spend the rest of my life trying to figure that gem out. You try it because you don’t want it enough? So if I really want it, I need to not try it? (The latter has worked for me so far if we’re talking about “writing eloquently.”)

Perhaps I have yet to achieve a level of enlightenment that’s high enough to allow me to understand it. It’s the proverbial pebble in the master’s hand.

Then again, it might be the fortune cookie equivalent of this Magic 8 Ball “answer”:

We stuck the fortune on our fridge, so I’ll keep trying to figure it out… I mean not trying.

The struggle is real… for some

I’m a bit tardy on this (been a busy few weeks) but the folks behind the SAT have added an “adversity score” to the kids who take the test. It doesn’t affect your test score, and isn’t even shared with test-takers — it’s provided to college admissions officials to add more background/context about the student. It takes into account factors such as family stability, housing stability, family income, and the education level of parents. And it’s worth noting that it doesn’t consider race. Here’s a great excerpt from this article:

“The goal of this is to be used by admissions officers at higher-ed institutions to evaluate the context from which a student is coming from—so the community, the school, et cetera. An SAT score of 1400 in East L.A. is not the same as a 1400 in Greenwich, Connecticut. And so, if we can get environmental factors that the student could have overcome or thrived on, and take into context…”

Jeremy Singer, president of the College Board

I wholeheartedly agree with this move. Here’s a sample of how it would look.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the kid in a single-parent family who has to walk to school in the scary part of town, dodging bullets, avoiding gangs, go without breakfast and/or dinner because they can’t afford it, work after school to help with the family budget, go to the library for internet access, sleep in sweatshirts because the heat got cut off in their roach-infested apartment…. that kid is starting out at a disadvantage compared to the suburban kid whose mom drops him/her off every day and works the PTA bake sale. One kid volunteers at the food bank; the other kid gets his meals there. For the latter, school truly is uphill both ways.

Yes, it’s not a perfect system… there are kids from the right side of the tracks that are dealing with challenges as well. But not nearly as often. And I think kids should get a bit of credit for overcoming obstacles. Admissions counselors should be able to see more of the factors that might affect academic performance on standardized tests. After all, those tests can’t measure grit, determination, and the ability to overcome adversity… qualities that will translate well on the college campus.

Charly Bliss. Pure Bliss.

I saw Charly Bliss at a club show!

That phrase might not mean much to you right now. In fact, chances are pretty good that you’ve never even heard of the band Charly Bliss, much less heard their music. But I have a feeling that’s going to change over the next year or so.

L to R: Spencer Fox, Eva Hendricks, Dan Shure, Sam Hendricks

They have everything it takes to make it big: fantastic songs, a unique sound, great chops, a cool vibe, tons of energy, and a very charismatic and photogenic lead singer.

Love the Candyland/Alice In Wonderland outfit.

But to be clear, Charly Bliss is a “we” not a she… lead singer Eva Hendricks, her brother Sam on drums/vocals, Spencer Fox on guitar/vocals and Dan Shure on bass/vocals are a cohesive unit, and together they pack a powerful wallop. Last night’s show, at a tiny club with 150 people in the audience, tops, easily could have blown away a theater-sized audience, or been a headlining set at an outdoor festival.

They’re usually classified as power pop, and they do have a poppy sheen to them. But after seeing them live, I realize they’re really a power punk band tucked inside a pop shell. The subject matter on the new album Young Enough is heavy stuff, about escaping an abusive relationship. But the songs are postive, not pessimistic, cathartic rather than depressing.

“Something really wonderful about getting older is this sense of perspective that you gain. You can look at your experiences and, even if they weren’t great, you can feel grateful and be like, ‘I really was an idiot then. I’d just love to give her a hug, she really had it all backwards.’”

Read more at https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-radar/charly-bliss-young-enough-interview-2484798#sLaJZIF0Pj7mpbU0.99

I’ve been a music fan long enough to know that the music business:

  1. is a business first and foremost and
  2. isn’t a meritocracy.

The cream doesn’t always rise to the top. There are hundreds of bands that have “shoulda coulda woulda” stories to tell. So many things can derail a career: band squabbles, crappy record deals, distribution challenges, overbearing producers or managers, road fatigue, changing public tastes… But with a break here or there, I really think Charly Bliss could be “Yuuuge. The best ever! Believe me.”

When that happens, I’ll say it again: “I Charly Bliss at a club show!” Guess what? You can say that too:


All’s well that ends… and starts anew… well.

I wrote a post about my friend Dale last summer.

So artsy…

It talked about how he was unceremoniously dumped from Landor (the design firm where we were co-workers) after 23 years of faithful service and brilliant designs.

I had lunch with Dale earlier this week… at the same outdoor park where a year earlier, Landor’s Cincinnati boss had broken the news to him that they were letting him go.

Many moons ago, Dale took some great photos of our now-teenage sons in this same park.

What a difference a year makes. Dale has teamed up with a couple other Landor refugees [a suit (OK, “strategist”) and a writer who was let go during the same purge that took out Dale… after a mere 17 years on the job]. They’ve formed a small (some would say “boutique”) strategy and design/branding studio called Holotype. And they’re crushing it! They’re so busy that they’re turning away business, and working on cooler stuff that means more to them because they’re more closely connected to their clients.

Dale’s “commute” now consists of walking 20 feet from his house to the 100-plus-year-old industrial garage out back that he’s converted into his studio.

And a few weeks ago, he married his girlfriend of a decade. Personally and professionally, all is well in Dale’s world. He couldn’t be happier… and I couldn’t be happier for him.

They got hitched in Taos, New Mexico.

The old adage is “leap and the net will appear”…

In this case, it was less like a leap and more like a shove, but it certainly let Dale spread his wings and soar.