Off the beaten path…

I like to zig when everyone else is zagging. I also like to zig when everyone else is Zumba-ing. (Don’t try this at home, you might pull a hamstring.) If there’s a mainstream, I like to swim the other way. I don’t follow fashion (ask my wife, she’ll gladly attest to this). I like my music weird. I like weird in general.

I like my businesses that way too… the quiet coffee shop on a desolate corner, the hole-in-the-wall bar in a forgotten part of town, the mom-and-pop shop in a sea of corporate sameness. Landlocked Social House was all of those: quaint, quiet coffee shop by day, hole-in-the-wall bar by night, run by a husband and wife who became a mom and pop about a year after opening up.

The reasons I loved it are probably the reasons it’s closing down. It was tucked away on a street that was a one-way street for eons… and a lot of Cincinnatians probably don’t realize that part of it has changed to two-way. Landlocked was right on the corner where the street changes from two-way to one-way, and right by the interstate… hence the “Landlocked” name. Easy to love once you experienced it, but tough to get to, and nowhere near top of mind or “in crowd” status.

I was a huge fan, but I only made it there a handful of times… usually dragging along some other folks who’d never been, for a happy hour or nightcap. I’d sing Landlock Social House’s praises to anyone and everyone, but I’m a middle aged suburban dude, not a social influencer. (I should change my last name to Kardashian, that might help.)

Photo credit: Brittany Thornton, from CityBeat article linked above

The “mom” (Anne Decker) was the coffee expert, and the “pop” (Andrew Decker) was a craft beer pro. They and their staff were super-friendly. They hosted trivia nights, and chef pop-ups that were quite popular. No reason was given for the closing, but running an independent business is an uphill battle in the best of locations, much less when you’re under the radar and off the beaten path. Opening at 6:30 a.m. for the coffee crowd and staying open until midnight for the beer gang, six days a week, isn’t very family-friendly either, especially for a couple with a young child.

Thank you to everyone who made this place special. We will never forget you, we will never forget our time together. We will be open this week. Come pay your respects to this thing we built together. Landlocked Social House is Dead, Long Live Landlocked Social House. #landlockedsocialhouse

It’s just another independent business that didn’t make it to the five year mark. You can find dozens of examples in every city. But this one really stings, and it’ll sting even more with every Starbucks cup I see.

The sad state of our country

I read this a week ago… haven’t had the heart to write about it until now.

Videogame makers down, gun stocks up

Videogame maker shares came under heavy selling pressure on Monday after President Trump referenced the industry after two mass shootings that shook the country over the weekend. “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” he said during a press briefing. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.” Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) tumbled 6% on the news, while Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) dropped 4.6% and Take-Two (NASDAQ:TTWO) slipped over 5%. Firearm stocks saw gains on gun control fears, however, with American Outdoor Brands (NASDAQ:AOBC) and Vista Outdoor (NYSE:VSTO) rising over 2%.
(Source: Seeking Alpha, 8/6)

It’s been more than a week since the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings/killings, and despite the cries of “do something” we know Mitch McConnell will do absolutely nothing. Because he’s in the back pocket — the very deep back pocket — of the NRA. He should get another nickname to go along with “Moscow Mitch”: “Mass Murder Mitch”.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

I don’t want your hunting rifles. I don’t want your handguns (even though having a handgun in your home makes you more likely to die of a gunshot wound). But please help me understand how a 24-year-old with a history of violent threats possessing an assault rifle, body armor and 250 rounds of ammo makes us all somehow “safer.” Actually, don’t explain it to me, explain it to the residents of Dayton, Ohio.

Yes, Mr. President, there are some videogames that are “gruesome.” But real human beings being mowed down indiscriminately (or discriminately in the case of El Paso) is much more gruesome. So start by focusing on the real killing machines. There are common sense gun regulations that the vast majority of Americans agree upon. Keeping weapons of war limited to the battlefield, for starters. (The 2nd Amendment was — and is — about arming a militia, not common citizens.) Closing loopholes. A national database. Red Flag laws. Trigger locks. Even the NRA supported gun regulations for decades.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, we the people need to do something besides protesting and waiting for the next election cycle. Advocating for, and contributing to, mental health agencies would be a good place to start. Or even just delivering a small dose of kindness every day.

A good deed doesn’t just evaporate and disappear. Its consequences saturate the universe and the goodness that happens somewhere, anywhere, helps in the transfiguration of the ugliness.

Desmond Tutu

Bob Ross was right: Happy Trees!

Here’s your prescription for better health: Take a Hike!

Yes, getting lost (in the wilderness) is the quickest path to improved health and happiness. Check out this article. Here’s the TL;DR excerpt:

Studies showed that just three days and two nights in a wooded place increase the immune system functions that boost feelings of wellbeing for up to seven days. The same amount of time in a built environment has no such effect. Human response includes increased awe, greater relaxation, restored attention, and boosted vitality. Health outcomes on the receiving end of the pathway are astounding: enhanced immunity, including reduced cardiovascular disease, fewer migraines, and lowered anxiety, to name but a few.

Can’t make it to Great Smoky Mountains on your lunch break? A city park or any nearby greenspace will do… as long as it has trees.

The ‘fro knows nature!

Because making your way through a corn maze won’t cut it – you need those happy trees for best results. Here’s another article on that topic. And here’s an excerpt:

“Protection and restoration of urban tree canopy specifically, rather than any urban greening, may be a good option for promotion of community mental health,” write Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. Their study, along with a commentary, is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Here’s my urban oasis, my daily dose of goodness:

I eat my brown bag lunch here nearly every weekday. It’s two blocks from my company’s office, in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, but the trees are magical.

I’ve never understood how some co-workers can eat lunch at their desk, staring at Facebook on the same computer screen that they have to stare at the rest of the day. I want to run up to them and give them just two simple words of advice:

Get out! Turns out it’s not just a great way to hit the reset button on your day, it’s also a fantastic way to improve your mental and physical health.

So go ahead — hug a tree today. You’ll love it!

And it’ll love you back.

How to create a (s)crappy website in 48 hours

A few weekends ago, I created what many would consider a very crappy website. But I don’t think it’s crappy — I think it’s scrappy.

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, and one of his key tenets is “ship your work.” In other words, you have to put your product out there, you can’t keep it hidden, or keep noodling it to death, wishing and praying that it’ll become perfect at some undefined, future time.

It’s scary, it’s intimidating, because you’re essentially signing your name to something that is rough, raw, unhoned. You’re saying “here, I made this” and opening yourself up to the slings and arrows of other people’s evaluation… and even criticism.

Here’s a recent blog post of Seth’s where he talks about “scrappy” vs. “crappy”:

‘Scrappy’ is not the same as ‘crappy’

The only choice is to launch before you’re ready. Before it’s perfect. Before it’s 100% proven to be no risk to you. At that moment, your resistance says, “don’t ship it, it’s crappy stuff. We don’t ship crap.” And it’s true that you shouldn’t ship work that’s hurried, sloppy or ungenerous. But what’s actually on offer is something scrappy. Scrappy means that while it’s unpolished, it’s better than good enough. Scrappy doesn’t care about cosmetics as much as it cares about impact. Scrappy is flexible and resilient and ready to learn. Ship scrappy.

Ship scrappy is exactly what I did. I’m a big fan of music (no shock to my handful of faithful readers), and I wanted a site where I could consolidate all my music musings:

  • blog posts about live shows, bands, the music business
  • episodes my semi-monthly podcast about my days at 97X, a ground-breaking indie rock station from 1983-2004 and online only through 2010
  • A weekly list of the concerts coming to the Cincinnati area, with my wacky (and sometimes snarky) commentary included. I used to send this out via email, but having it on a website makes it easier to edit and send, and more engaging (I hope) for the recipient.

Hence, 97Xbam.com was born in June, weighing in at 10 pounds of scrappy in a five-pound bag. Wondering where the name came from? Here’s the answer:

While I was putting the site together, I realized I could also add a few more features… a music video, a song from SoundCloud or a similar listening platform, indie rock headlines/news, a discussion board, a photo gallery of concert pix, even sound clips from my days at 97X.

I’m a writer, not a designer, so it ain’t pretty, but it’s pretty good. Huge tip o’ the hat to WordPress for making it so easy that even a caveman like me could do it. The domain name cost about $10, and hosting is about $100. A small price to pay for a scrappy little website. And I’ll keep working on it.

I’ll be posting most, if not all, of my music-related pieces on 97Xbam.com instead of posting them on this site. So if you don’t like my weird taste in music, you’ll enjoy NOT getting the occasional music post. But if you DO like music, you can also subscribe to 97Xbam.com via a link at the bottom of the page, and you’ll get an email anytime I post, typically 1-2 times a week.

It’s not perfect. But it’s scrappy. And that’s music to my ears.

The space race is over

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Now, there are plans afoot to send astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972, and even plant a U.S. flag on Mars.

I hear you can grow hot potatoes there.

But it might be tough for NASA to find a U.S. space crew.

It’s about time we headed back to space. In fact, according to the world’s greatest author (sez me), it’s overdue.

We could certainly use more peace and exploration and wonder and beauty in our world… er, I mean solar system.

But as we’re pumping billions into space exploration, let’s not forget about another “universe” and “final frontier” worth exploring right here in the good old U.S. of A. Here’s my boy Billy Bragg with more:

A space race is fine. But the only arms race worth pursuing is the race to embrace our fellow human beings. Peace. Wonder. Beauty. Here and out there.

Saturday school

OK, students, get out your notebooks and write down this bit of wisdom from Gaping Void, because it will be on the test:

We may not be rich, we may not be pretty, but as long as we’re learning, as long as we’re determined to keep it this way, our lives are truly incredible things. So bear that in mind, and Godspeed to you.

https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2019/07/08/why-you-should-never-stop-learning/

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.