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.

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.

Sweeter Caroline

Lucinda Williams. Emmylou Harris. Patty Griffin. It’s time to add another woman’s name to the alt-country pantheon: Caroline Spence.

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I saw Caroline and her ace band live a few days ago. There were four folks on stage, and only about 24 folks in the audience.

But that audience count is going to keep going up, because Caroline is going places. Her new album Mint Condition is a stellar collection of tunes. It’s her third full-length release, and the first one on a legit label (kudos to Rounder Records for signing her).

Here are a few tunes from the album that showcase her range… first is an uptempo, rockin’ tune:

And here’s a live, acoustic version of the title track, a sweet song she wrote for her grandparents:

Finally, another beautiful ballad, with great lyrics, that reminds me so much of Lucinda and Emmylou and Patty:

Caroline and her band are on tour now, on an East Coast swing. Get off the couch and go check them out… and bring 25 of your closest friends.

A cool assignment

When I was six, my family moved from über-urban New Jersey (shout out to Jersey City!) to super-rural Arkansas (shout out to… the cows that lived next door?). Our new abode was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so it got chilly, but we rarely experienced snow or ice. (I remember one year when we got nearly a foot of snow overnight and my grade school was closed for two weeks straight!)

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Cold-weather sports such as hockey weren’t really on my radar. Sure, I might read the occasional article about it in Sports Illustrated, but I’d never seen a live game and really knew very little about it. In college, I got a work-study job in intramurals, and had to be a linesman for broomball, the poor man’s hockey. It took me a long time to understand the “icing” penalty call.

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I’ve been to a handful of hockey games since then, but don’t really follow the sport. When my old friend John Fox — who is now the editor of Cincinnati Magazine — rang me up and asked me if I wanted to contribute to a photo essay about beer league hockey players for the April issue, my initial thought was that I was woefully ill-equipped for the gig. But I overcame my imposter fears and I’m so glad I did, because I got to interview a bunch of very interesting folks from all walks of life, united by their love of “the good old hockey game.”

The entire piece is online here on the Cincinnati Magazine website. A couple of clips are below. Just goes to show that when you get outside your comfort zone, cool things happen.

I love a parade…

Actually, I really don’t love a parade. Whole lotta standing around to see people waving from vintage vehicles, and emergency vehicles blaring their sirens for no good reason. Marching bands are fine, I suppose, but you wind up hearing 20 seconds of the tune.

If it’s one of those parades where people throw candy from their floats, parents have to be constantly vigilant lest one of their tykes gets run over by a 1957 Chevy Coupe as s/he is chasing down an errant, dirt and gravel-encrusted Dum-Dum lollipop.

The only real highlight for me is Shriners in their tiny cars.

But today’s parade is different. It’s the Cincinnati Reds annual Opening Day Parade. The Reds are MLB’s oldest franchise – they’re celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.

As the éminence grise (or éminence rouge technically) of the league, they used to host their first game a day before the rest of the league. “Tradition,” as Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof. Or “dibs” if you prefer. First come, first served.

For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati, and the Reds remain the only major league team to always open the season with a home game.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_Day

That’s before MLB got greedy a couple of decades ago and decided to bow down at the altar of the Almighty TV Viewing Rights Dollar by having different (read: more prestigious) clubs open the season in Japan, Australia, Puerto Rico or other exotic locales.

Why be on the Reds when you can be in the black?

Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade has been going on for a century, organized by Findlay Market, a old-school public market in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, the area just north of downtown that was the landing spot for thousands of German immigrants (hence the name) back in the late 1800s. Findlay Market is still going strong, with dozens of independently-owned and operated businesss: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, produce peddlers, cheese merchants… you name it. They all band together to organize the parade every year, so it has a nice Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe to it.

Long before Men Without Hats

And the Reds Opening Day is an unofficial civic holiday, a day with high absenteeism at schools and businesses (Reds fever!), where thousands come downtown early to stake out a prime parade vantage point, and actual tickets to the game are a prized possession (a fact borne out by StubHub prices).

The parting of the Reds Sea.

It’s just an amateur parade for a mediocre baseball team. But really, it’s way more than that. It’s a celebration of Spring, of new life. It’s a parade of hope… hope that this season, this year, things will be better. Baseball’s just a convenient excuse to throw an optimism party.

I love a parade like that.

GQ Jay is a classy guy

Jay Wright is the head coach of the Villanova University men’s basketball team. They’ve won the NCAA Championship two of the last three years, which is an amazing feat for any squad, much less a team from a small, private school. Jay is also a handsome dude who is always nattily attired on the sidelines, hence his “GQ Jay” nickname.

Love the pocket square.

As a Xavier basketball fan, it’d be easy to hate him, and not just because he’s prettier than I am. Xavier has played in the same conference as Villanova since joining the reconstituted Big East in 2013, and the Wildcats have owned the Musketeers: 12 wins and only 2 losses. That includes the most recent overtime win by Villanova in the Big East semifinals that killed Xavier’s slim chance of making the NCAA tourney. But he had some very kind words to say about Xavier and their first-year head coach Travis Steele after the game:

Wright, the Big East coach of the year, said, “I told Travis he’s making it look easy. First year, he did a lot with this team. They’ve got a young team, too. They were playing as well as anybody in the conference coming down the stretch, and we knew it. This was no surprise at all. 

“Anybody who’s in their first year in any sport – the coach, the staff, you’ve got graduate transfers, you’ve got freshmen – a lot of people in their first year. That’s what we’re struggling with a little bit. Our staff, we lost our two top assistants the last two years. They had it worse … new head coach.  

“It takes time, man. It takes time. What Travis did with that team from the beginning to where they’re playing now, I don’t know all the tournament stuff, but that team could beat a lot of NCAA Tournament teams. A lot. I think it’s a credit to Travis and their program. They get all those guys back, man, they’re going to have a hell of a team.” (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article.)

That’s a classy move by a classy guy. And he’s not just Wright, he’s also right: Xavier will have a hell of a team next year.


Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Blues: The Next Generation

Here’s a photo of two blues legends… and two future legends.

L to R: Bob Margolin, Phil Wiggins, Joe Tellmann and Ben Levin

The dude at far left is “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin, who played with Muddy Waters from 1973 to 1980, and has been performing under his own name since, garnering Blues Music Awards along the way. The gentleman on harmonica is Phil Wiggins, a master of the”Piedmont Blues” style, most notably in the duo Cephas & Wiggins, which performed for 32 years until guitarist John Cephas passed away in 2009. Phil is still actively performing, and was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2017.

The kid on guitar is Joe Tellmann. I worked with his dad Dave in the early 90s, at a tiny indie rock station called 97X. (Shameless plug: Dave & I do a podcast about our days at the station.) Dave and I have been friends ever since. The kid on piano is Ben Levin, a neighbor of ours. He and our oldest son Gabriel went to school together in junior high. Now Joe, Ben and Gabriel are all freshmen at the University of Cincinnati.

Joe and Ben are blues wunderkinds – musical prodigies with more chops than a Bruce Lee movie. The photo above is from a Pinetop Perkins Foundation MasterClass performance last summer in Clarksdale, Mississippi (“crossroads of the blues”). The Pinetop Perkins Foundation supports young artists who are interested in the blues, and provides opportunities for them to learn from seasoned pros.

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But let’s set aside the musical talent for a moment. Both Joe and Ben are great kids. Even if they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, their parents would have ample right to be proud of the young men they’ve become. Their musical talents are just icing on the cake… or maybe the discipline required to learn and master an instrument also comes in handy off stage. When schools face budget cuts, the music program is one of the first ones to walk the plank. That’s a shame, because music has myriad benefits.

Some folks claim the blues are a dying art form, but I disagree. Check out this clip and you’ll agree that with Joe and Ben involved, the blues are in extremely capable hands.

Meet the artist

I had lunch with a world-famous artist yesterday. OK, he’s not world-famous yet, but he’s certainly nationally-famous. More importantly, he’s one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.

photo credit: Corrie Schaffeld, Cincinnati Business Courier

Keith Neltner and I worked together at a Cincinnati ad agency (ahem, “design studio”) for about five years, more than a decade ago. He was a brilliant graphic designer and I was a hack copywriter… your classic Odd Couple storyline. Keith’s skill level, his talent, his “eye”… is off the charts. Yet it’s matched by his work ethic, which came from spending his entire childhood (and beyond) working on his family’s small farm in Northern Kentucky.

Keith hung his own shingle several years ago – Neltner Small Batch is the name of his company. He’s still working his magic, but instead of doing it for the P&Gs of the world, he’s doing it for smaller, more craft-oriented companies like LIC.

Keith also does artwork for musicians, including the album layout for Shooter Jennings’ most recent release.

Which is great, but I still think his art is underappreciated because it’s typically intertwined with commerce. However, a recent project that Keith and his Neltner Small Batch collective worked on is pure heart and pure art. They (Keith, Tom Post, Chris Dye, Andi Bussard and Andy Sohoza) created a 63-foot wall mural in graphic novel style to share stories from holocaust survivors at Cincinnati’s Holocaust & Humanity Center.

Photo credit: Hailey Bollinger, CityBeat

You can read more about it in Cincinnati CityBeat , the Cincinnati Enquirer (and the Cincinnati Business Courier if you have an account).

I feel like this is just the start of the next phase of Keith’s career. Stay tuned…

It’s Ladies’ Night and the feeling’s right

On Monday evening, Erika Wennerstrom, leader of the band Heartless Bastards, played an intimate set at a bar in the hipster part of town. Actually, she played two sets – the original gig at 6 p.m. sold out quickly (not surprising – the room capacity was well under 100) so they added a second set at 9 p.m.

I’m a bit slow on the uptake (if you read this regularly, that shouldn’t come as a shock), so I missed out on getting tickets to the 6 p.m. show, whose starting time was much more conducive to my Middle-Aged-Man-On-A-School-Night schedule.

I know the feeling, Liz Lemon.

However, I’m a live music super trooper, so I sucked it up and hit the late show with my friends David and Sandy. (“David & Sandy” could also be the name of a ’60s duo…)

Erika was the star of the show – a pint-sized dynamo with a majestic voice. But she shared the stage with two other women: Beth Harris (from the Cincinnati band The Hiders) provided angelic harmony vocals and Lauren Gurgiolo (formerly of Okkervil River) played lead guitar in an understated-yet-amazing way.

L to R: Beth Harris, Erika Wennerstrom, Lauren Gurgiolo

Erika’s used to playing large clubs and festivals with her band… and I’m used to seeing them in that setting. This was a wonderful opportunity to see her at a more casual, more personal gig. (She’s from Dayton, Ohio and formed her band in Cincinnati.) It didn’t disappoint. The set list consisted mostly of songs off her new solo album, and they sounded great live. And it’s always a treat to be so close to the stage.

Actually, I have no regrets about the late evening. It was totally worth it because it was so extraordinary.