Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008

The past year was a mixed bag for me, which I suppose is the case for most years. I hope all my friends and family have a happy, healthy 2009.

Peace...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Xmas in Indiana

I have returned from the Rau family Christmas in Indiana and it was better than I expected, both in terms of pleasant heartwarming memories and in terms of awkward, strangely tense ones.

I always miss my family whenever I leave and it's too bad I won't be back up there until April for Freddy's wedding.

One positive side effect of the vacation was I got to see two very good movies, which featured outstanding acting performances. One was Doubt, which starred Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Streep deserves the Oscar for her turn as a knuckle-cracking Nun and Catholic school principal who suspects the priest of child molestation. Imagine Devil Wears Prada with a vow of chastity.

And I also saw Clint Eastwood as a dying urban cowboy in Gran Torino. Lemme just say, Dirty Harry + overt racism = most quotable movie ever.

That is all for now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A blog Christmas present

To make doubly sure everyone has a nice Christmas, here is one of the top music videos ever:

Going home to Indiana

On Christmas Eve, I will pack up my car and hit the road for Indiana several hours later than I promised my family I would leave. The roads will be sludgy, the skies overcast and by the time I get north of Indianapolis, the arctic air will make it hard to breathe when I stop to fill up. The typical seven hour drive will take closer to 10 hours due to the inclement weather and the unmistakable trepidation in my heart as I prepare for four full days in Valparaiso with my loving family and closest friends.

As I exit off I-65, and take Hwy. 2 through Hebron and up to Valpo, the sky will be inexplicably grayer and more depressing than it was the rest of the drive. The scent of winter, holiday depression and fake religiosity will mix with puffs of crystal meth smoke floating above the perfect suburban mini-mansions. To the north and west, the pollution from the steel mills will form billowy cloud-like structures in the sky, ready to rain or snow cancer down on all of us. Before I pull into my Grandma's house, it will snow, and I'll be muttering to myself how I wished I wasn't going to be there for four full days.

My Grandma will be ridiculously excited to see me and quickly the conversation will turn to Survivor, sports, weather and maybe politics. This is the first point the Packers sad 5-10 season will be brought up, as my Grandma recollects on Monday's overtime loss to the Bears with a genuine frown. Once I've settled in, she'll needle me with pressing questions about my life that make me uncomfortable. She won't notice this though, and will press on until I have to answer. Being the fact that my Grandma is awesome, I won't have any probing questions to toss back at her, or otherwise I surely would. Despite my stalling, slow-driving efforts from earlier in the day, I will still be there in time to attend a Christmas Eve service. My Grandma will ask me which of the two services I want to attend. There's the 6:30 service at the chapel, which is large, gawdy and attracts all the Lutherans, who, like me, only go to church on the holidays. Although the choir, and the organ, and the gorgeous chapel are appealing with their familiar Christmas hymns, all of the judgy friends and former classmates who I moved away from six years ago will be there, and this option does not appeal to me. The other option is an intimate midnight candlelit service, that is lovely and always peaceful, and although we'll give lipservice to the 6:30 service, we'll end up at the later option undoubtedly. Most likely my little sister and dad will go as well, although my older sister and brother-in-law will not. There will be indications that my stepmom might go, but ultimately she will stay at home, too.

That night, when I go to bed at my Grandma's house, inside her modest, comfortable home that served as my refuge during my childhood, she'll say, 'Good night,' and, 'I love you darling,' and I'll know she means as much as, or more than anybody ever has.

Christmas day will be unnecessarily hectic as we all converge on my oldest sister's house, trying weirdly to meet the artificial deadline she's set out. Despite being five months pregnant, Janis will have a ridiculously huge spread of food to serve and will cherish the day like she always does. Because no one loves family time or Christmas more than her, literally nobody. My two-year-old niece Anni will be cute and hilarious, as she continues to jumpstart her inevitable career in comedy. My brother-in-law Mike will be there. This is the second time the Packers will be brought up, this time in gloating fashion as Mike, a Bears fan, relishes the improbable win. I'll text all my friends 'Merry Christmas,' and miss them down in Tennessee, but start to settle in as for the first time in 24 hours, Valpo will begin to feel like home again. Everyone will arrive and open presents (our family does a "secret" Santa, where we draw just one other family member's name. This saves on the cost of presents. It also gives undue control to the Christmas Nazi, Janis, who makes sure she gets the people she wants in the drawing each year, often forcing others to trade for less desirable names. "I don't want her!" she claimed last year. She'll also reveal to the rest of us, who the other family members drew. This makes it completely inaccurate for the Raus to call it a secret Santa drawing.)

After a likely couple hours of board games, the older family members will trickle out one by one, my Dad, stepmom and grandmother leaving. I will stay to watch movies and tell the same priceless inside jokes with my sisters, two of the few women in the world I find genuinely funny. Janis will surely turn the conversation to probing matters like personal finances, my health and my long-term plans. Ex-relationships will also be brought up and at one point a fight will be on the verge of breaking out... that's when I switch it up and turn the conversation on my recently-divorced younger sister who lives in her basement. I'll be off the hook, but Jilly, bless her heart, will have to explain (again) why she's dating this guy "so soon." Jilly will handle it with the same surprising grace and confidence that she handled the horrifying last year and a half, and I'll think to myself how proud I am to call her my little sister. I'll finally say goodnight and head back to my Grandma's house. When I leave, Janis and Jilly will say, 'I love you,' and I'll know they mean it as much as or more than anybody ever has.

The next day will be Friday, and I'll probably loaf around before breaking away to hang out with my best friend Freddy, and his new fiancee Bianca. This will be the third time the Packers are brought up, and Freddy will show no restraint, reminding me, 'Man the Packers suck," to which I'll have no response. We'll bullshit, and drink a few beers and maybe watch a movie, talk about sports, especially the Bulls, and once again share inside jokes.

At some point on Friday and Saturday, there will be a family gathering at my Dad and Stepmom's house. When I get there, I'll be reminded how much I was missed at Thanksgiving, and how much my Stepmom worried about me being down in Nashville alone. My Dad will have one of my favorite beers chilled in a 12-pack in the basement, and I'll sit as we eat homemade pizza or something delicious I can only get back home. My stepbrother will be there, and we'll watch the movie Stepbrothers, as we both promised the other we'd see it together. This will be the fourth instance the sorry Packers will be brought up, but this time my Dad and stepbrother Chance are Green Bay fans, so we'll be able to mourn together. At no point during this visit will anything serious be brought up, which is all the same to me. I'll start looking at my watch and want to leave, but Janis will guilt me into staying longer than I'd like, because she still takes it as an affront when I go to hang out with my last few old buddies from high school. With any luck, I'll be able to break free and go out drinking with friends at one of the God-forsaken Valpo bars like Duffy's, Northside or Martini's. Neon-signed, stale-beered, bar-flyed sinkholes, that never sink all the way and, unlike my local bar in Nashville, feel more depressed than authentic.

By the time Saturday night comes, I'll be wondering how my best friends are doing down in Nashville, and hope they're not too lonely without their families. I'll miss them, and get packed that night back at my Grandma's house. The next day, my Dad and I will go for lunch before I leave, and perhaps a meaningful topic or two will come up. He'll offer me gas money, and I'll feign not wanting it, before taking it, and give him a big hug goodbye. "I love ya, Nate," he'll say, and I will know he means it as much as or more than anybody ever has. I'll say goodbye lastly to my Grandma, who will get weepy and tell me she's proud of me and give me that same sad face as I pull away like an abandoner.

So, back on the road, I'll be strangely sad to leave the place I arrived at with so much reluctance. I won't see them again for months, probably in April when Janis has her baby, and I'll feel guilty I ever moved away in the first place. I'll call Brandon, my surrogate brother and slovenly roommate, and tell him I'm coming 'home,' and he'll yell, 'Hooooommeee!' in that same happy voice and promise me, 'Let's get fucked up tonight.' The sadness of leaving Valpo will linger until Indianapolis, when the sun will spike through the clouds. I'll turn The Features' song up on my stereo and press a little harder on the accelerator, that sends me back home to Nashville after another great family Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The final days filming the Dark Knight

Edited with a hat tip to Lockhart.

[Director Christopher Nolan is sitting in a modest off-set office during the final days filming The Dark Knight. Actor Heath Ledger walks in dressed as the Joker]

Nolan: Hey Heath, what's up?

Ledger [in his Joker voice]: You tell me what's up, Chris, I was called in here?

Nolan: That's right, Heath, I did want to have a chat about a few things. Let's start with the work you're doing in this film. I think it's great. Really something to be proud of... I especially appreciate the intensity you're bringing to the role.

Ledger [in Joker voice]: Thaaank you.

Nolan: There were a few things I wanted to go over with you, though. [Nolan pulls out a clipboard with a long list on it]. Let me start with some reports I'm hearing from the costume director that you've been just taking your Joker outfit home and wearing it off the set at night?

Ledger [in Joker voice]: Is that a problem Chris?

Nolan: Well not from a budgetary perspective so much Heath, because we're OK in that department. I have a bit of a growing concern that... and again you're doing good work on this film.. I did have some concern that you're getting a little too into the role. And, yes, you're really raising the bar for the other actors with your performances but, yes, I'm just going to cut to the chase. [checking the list] I'm concerned about your hygiene. It's obvious to me that you haven't been showering.

Ledger [in Joker voice]: I am trying to let this role envelop me.

Nolan: And I think that's great, but I didn't know if it would maybe benefit you to maybe just leave the Joker on set. I would, you know, mix in a shower and just try to leave the character here on set. So to recap... performance - good. Leaving the set as the Joker - bad. [glances back down at the list] Talking like the Joker to the production assistants, we should also go ahead and file that as bad, too, Heath. Jenny, the production intern from Utah, said you approached her outside the women's restroom and delivered a spot-on rendition of your, 'Let's put a smile on that face,' speech. I do love that monologue, Heath, but I should probably tell you that troubling encounter really frightened Jenny and she quit, so now we're down a production assistant.

Plus, it's not just that, because Jenny was also my wife's cousin's niece, so now the Joker has caused a problem for the Nolan household. I'm on the couch, buddy, I'm sleeping on the couch because you scared Jenny, she quit, and my wife got angry.

And don't get me wrong, Heath, I think it's great work you're doing but [a long pause]

Ledger [in Joker voice]: Go on...

Nolan: I'm wondering if you're not taking this role a little too far. Like right now, you're still talking to me like the Joker. And as I've said, the voice you've developed for the character is quite good. But outside of the set, it just doesn't jell. It's very difficult for me to even be talking to you now and the only reason I'm able to is because I know what a great actor you are and how much this role means to you.

So as long as I'm being blunt, I also want to bring up some of the company you've been keeping.... the slutty Olsen twin -- the one who looks equal parts anorexic, homeless and coked-out, I'm not so sure she's a great influence on you. I mean, I think she's great, much better than Michelle Williams, but some of the producers wonder if there won't be a compatibility issue for you and her down the line. I'm just throwing that one out there.

Ledger [in Joker voice]: Is that all.

Nolan [muttering to himself]: Again with the Joker...

[checks the list] The only other thing I had to talk to you about was your personal health. You seem to be living off a steady diet of sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, pain killers and I'm just wondering if that isn't contributing in some way not only to your outstanding performance but also to some of the more sporadic behavior? I'm concerned about you Heath.

I'm going to go ahead and close the meeting with a final thank you and also just a request that you take care of yourself.

[Ledger leaves the office]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great Video and other rumblings

I don't want to make this entire site about me posting favorite music videos. Last night I was in the car with friends at the end of a pleasant pizza-filled, wholesome evening, and the song "Dani California" came on. To my dismay, the others in the car had not seen the wonderful time machine video to the song, so here it is below. Also, I made an egregious omission in my favorite albums post, forgetting The Features' amazing Some Kind of Salvation. And finally, Pitchfork has posted its best albums of 2008 with Fleet Foxes getting the top spot.



Thursday, December 18, 2008

If there was a college football playoff

There might not be a more out of touch group of rich white men than the powers that be in college football. It's been obvious for years that fans want a post-season playoff to replace the bowl system and determine the national champion. Yet whenever the topic comes up, they act as if they've been asked to solve one of those chalkboard math problems from "Good Will Hunting."

Well if they want to know how a playoff system could work, the Man could start by looking at the I-AA ranks, where there is already a playoff in place. That system puts 16 teams into a bracket, played out over four weeks.

Anyhow, I've mapped out three possible playoff formats and tried to explain them below, thus proving how much free time I have on my hands.

Format I
This scenario would take the six BCS qualifying schools (Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Florida, Penn State, Oklahoma and USC) and add the next 10 highest ranked at-large teams regardless of conference. I personally prefer this scenario the most because basically the top 16 teams get in for a shot at the title.

Bracket One
1. Florida vs. 16. Virginia Tech
8. Texas Tech vs. 9. Ohio State

Bracket Two
4. USC vs. 13. Oklahoma State
5. Alabama
vs. 12. TCU

Bracket Three
3. Oklahoma vs. 14. Michigan State
6. Utah vs. 11. Cincinnati

Bracket Four
2. Texas vs. 15. Georgia Tech
7. Penn State vs. 10. Boise State


Format II
This scenario would take the 11 Division I conference champions and then add the next highest ranked at-large teams based on BCS rankings. The strength of this scenario is the five non-BCS conferences (MAC, C-USA, Sun Belt, WAC and Mountain West) are automatically included. The weakness is that, in doing so, better teams are excluded.

Bracket One
1. Florida vs. 16. Buffalo
8. Texas Tech vs. 9. Boise State

Bracket Two
4. USC vs. 13. Virginia Tech
5. Alabama vs. 12. TCU

Bracket Three
3. Oklahoma vs. 14. East Carolina
6. Penn State vs. 11. Cincinnati

Bracket Four
2. Texas vs. 15. Troy
7. Utah vs. 10. Ohio State

Format III
The final scenario is the one proposed by President-elect Barack Obama, who has not once but twice said he would throw his weight behind a push for a playoff system. Obama proposed the six BCS teams plus two at-large teams. Here is what that, easy-to-pull scenario would look like. Keeping in mind, all three scenarios would allow the bowl-eligible teams which didn't make the playoffs to match-up in the same pointless bowl games they play now. And the same neutral field sites in LA, New Orleans, Phoenix, Miami could be used as sites for the playoff games.

Tell me these games wouldn't be ridiculously intriguing and get ridiculously high ratings.

Bracket One
Florida
vs. Virginia Tech
USC vs. Alabama

Bracket Two
Oklahoma
vs. Penn State
Texas vs. Cincinnati

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody

So obviously nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like holiday themed movies and music. Watching "It's a Wonderful Life, "A Christmas Story" and "Home Alone" are simply musts for me every Christmas season. More recently, "Love, Actually" has jumped to the top of my Christmas list.

And when it comes to music, there's not a better secular Christmas song than the sardonically irreverent "Merry Christmas Everybody" by Slade. I spent a fair amount of time YouTube-ing this song and found that Slade played it quite often on British TV specials in the early to mid 80s. In each and every video, it's quite clear the band lip syncs every time, but each performance is still can't-turn-your-head-away good.

Here's one to watch, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rumblings

So my guilty television viewing pleasure has been Survivor for about the last eight years. With the regrettable exception of Season 4, when I didn't own a television, I've seen every episode. I can usually predict with certainty who will do well each season. And I get into the show enough that I often shout at the TV when one of my favorite contestants makes a stupid mistake.

Last night was the season finale of the 17th installment of the show, which has obviously outlived its expected run date by several years. It's still popular enough overall, and especially ridiculously popular with me. It was an unremarkable season full of strange gay innuendos and a villain who asked a question at the final tribal council so awkward, that Jeff Probst called her on it for five minutes during the reunion show. Anyhow, ultimately a physics teacher from Maine undeservingly won the $1 million, which is only of special significance to me because it means my Grandma won the Rau family Survivor Pool, again.

Other than that, the only thing on my mind today was a story I wrote for the City Paper. It was one of those strange situations where I wrote the story on Friday and thought it looked good on my computer screen. I'm not ashamed of the way it turned out, or anything, but today in print it looked a little different. Here it is for those masochistic enough to want to read.

I mentioned earlier that I was getting back into Wolf Parade. Here is a song off their great album Apologies to the Queen Mary called "I'll Believe in Anything." Love the video.



Cheers....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Year in Music

For me, listening to music is one of my favorite hobbies. Unfortunately, since the quantity of music one listens to is restricted by budget, I don't get to try nearly as much new stuff as I'd like. This is because the laborers in Grapes of Wrath earned more than a newspaper reporter does these days. The internet makes it easier for music fans on a budget, because bands and blog sites post so many songs online for free.

This year I tried to respect my budget and be pickier about what I purchased and listened to. To the right of this site, there is a link to the local music blog Out the Other, which is run by local Nashville music geek turned blogger extraordinaire Janet Timmons. People like Janet make finding music easier for non-experts, who merely know what they like when they hear it, like me. So too do local music stores like Grimey's and sites like Pitchfork, Hype Machine and Meta Critic.com. I have to cross-reference what sounds good to me versus what a few of those places recommend and then go from there.

This year was not the greatest year for stuff I like and, especially in recent weeks, I found myself reconnecting with old albums from bands like The Shins and Wolf Parade. This being 2008, it's hard for me to believe it's been 10 years since In an Aeroplane Over the Sea was released by Neutral Milk Hotel. When it came out, most of my friends were listening to the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Tool and Blink 182. I love alot about those bands (especially RHCP) but I found myself keeping certain music tastes of mine secret from my closest friends. They didn't know that I listened to PJ Harvey, the Smoking Popes, Travis or, Neutral Milk Hotel. 1998 was the year I graduated high school and then started college at Indiana University. Anyone who's made that transition knows it can be a rollercoaster, and In an Aeroplane Over the Sea was a stabilizing force for me back then.

Anyhow, nostalgia found me listening to Neutral Milk Hotel's masterpiece as much as any other album this year.

Onto present day, here are some of my highlights from 2008:

Favorite album: Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit
This album, and my newfound love for Frightened Rabbit will be marked forever by the fact I missed them when they played in Nashville earlier this year. MOF is the most lyrically interesting album I listened to all year. The songs continue to grow on me to this date and, one of these times, I'm going to see these guys live because they became one of my favorite bands in 2008.


Silver medal: Dear Science by TV On the Radio
Hyped up albums like this aren't supposed to live up to expectations, but TVOTR managed to do so with Dear Science. It's already at the top of some best-of lists and my guess is it will stand the test of time no doubt.
(Also: Bon Iver, The Raconteurs, Fleet Foxes, Little J0y and Plants and Animals)

Stop the hate: Vampire Weekend
First, all the fans and critics adored Vampire Weekend. Then before the year was even up, they were inexplicably over-rated, sometimes by the very fans who loved them in the first place. I have to admit, I put this album aside for several months after listening to it non-stop. But I've come back around in a big way. There isn't all that much depth to the Ivy Leaguer's self-titled debut, but it's a fun album that sounds like it was recorded all over the world.

Best Nashville album: MKultra by All We Seabees
I give the All We Seabees release the nod over the major label debut by De Novo Dahl, who I believe can deliver more. I still contend that the best Nashville band out there right now is Eureka Gold and I hope someone at a label somewhere gets behind those guys.

Best live show: The Hold Steady at The Ryman
The Hold Steady played on Halloween and came out dressed like American colonials, complete with the long stockings and curly white wigs. They also played a very Hold Steady-y show, which means it was in front of a crowd about my age, very funny, and of course it rocked.

Best re-issue: Otis Blue by Otis Redding
I wonder if Otis Redding lived long enough, at 26, to have a biopic film made about his life. What he recorded in a very brief amount of time obviously changed the American music landscape. And, although we can only imagine what might have been if that plane never went down in a Wisconsin field, this re-issue reminds of the genius that was lost. I believe he's one of the best male vocalists ever.

Best song: (tie) "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver and "Rooks" by Shearwater
These were my two favorite songs for different reasons/seasons. Since Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago was recorded in isolation in a cabin in Wisconsin, it's no surprise this song reminds me of winter. The album has these intentional crackles in the background throughout, which sound like they're coming from a fire-burning furnace in a log cabin living room. "Skinny Love" is a love song that melts, and I could listen to it 10 times tonight and not lose a shred of appreciation for it.
Shearwater, a band that flies under the radar despite being consistently awesome, recorded a lyrically wonderful song in "Rooks," which builds and then topples you at its climax. I was listening to this song while others were running around catching fire flies, so it reminds me of humid summer Tennessee nights and also how wonderful it is to be a grown-up.
(Also, "New Kind of Love" by Plants and Animals)

Best reason to look forward to 2009: New releases by Animal Collective and local boys How I Became the Bomb. Animal Collective is ready to weird its way onto the A-list and How I Became the Bomb is ready to cement itself into Nashville party band royalty.

OK, that is all for now. Sorry for the rambling.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best Of Lists

With only a few fleeting days left in December, the obligatory year-end "Best Of" lists are hitting the world wide interweb.

Here is Rolling Stone's top 50 albums, which gives TV On the Radio their due, but hilariously over-rates bubblegum pop like the Jonas Brothers, who came in at No. 40.

Of more local relevance was the Best Of list from the staff at Nashville's High Fidelity hangout, Grimey's, which gave much love to Fleet Foxes.


And, finally, straddling the fine line between taste and pretension, the readers of Pitchfork, who also voted TV On the Radio the best album of the year.

I will do my own list of favorite albums from 2008 soon. Saving you the suspense, my favorite album was Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marathon's

There are cooler bars in Nashville than Marathon Sports Bar. Matter of fact, every bar in Nashville might be cooler than Marathon Sports Bar, but that hasn't stopped my closest group of friends and me from spending our formative years there.

Ever since I moved to the Nipper's Corner area in 2004, I've found myself frequenting the bar. It's become our own neon sign, deer head mounted on the wall, rickety dart boards in the corner, karaoke hot spot hangout.

We don't even call the bar by the name on the sign, instead calling it Marathon's for some reason, as if Ms. Cindy Marathon owns the place.

It's full of quirks that only authentic dive bars have. Plenty of places downtown and East Nashville are dive bars, but there is something intentional even contrived about the way they're set up. As if the owner tried rather hard to make it seem divey. Marathon's just happened.

There are shady guys in full-length leather trench coats leering at you inexplicably from bar stools. An old navy vet, who looks like the long lost brother of Blue from "Old School," sings karaoke every night and makes dirty inappropriate comments to the young women who come in. Drug deals routinely go down inside and outside of the bar, and a few of them have turned bad and led to shootings. Last year a guy died in the parking lot after a run-in with a security guard, who shot him for trying to drunk-drive away from the bar. How many bars can boast that level of commitment to making sure you don't drive drunk? Come to Marathon's -- we'll get you home safe or shoot you for trying to leave drunk.

The women's bathroom weirdly locks only from the outside, which creeps out our female friends who are afraid of getting locked in by one of the many dodgy bar flies.

That hasn't stopped us from heading to Marathon's when downtown bars seem too expensive, too far away, or too exhausting to get dressed and look self-conscious.

I've found it has everything you ever want in a bar. The beer is cheap. The bartender pours generously on drinks. It's within walking distance of our house. And we've made memories there. Birthday shots, farewell shots, congratulations shots, things-will-get-better shots. It's given me hangovers, headaches and shady encounters, but never regrets. What more would you ever want in a bar?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The year in review

December is a time for cold weather, static electricity, forced social interaction the holidays, a statistically undeniable spike in depression and melodramatic reflection on the year that was.

For me, 2008 was another eventful year and I recount it below in verse form that will make no sense to anyone but me. Cheers...

---
In Advance of the Big Payoff
By Nate

I believe I was there when the drums hit mid-chorus.
They came in with a rat-a-tat and a dull thud
And grew into a splashing scream of cymbals
In advance of the big payoff.

My heart didn’t work right to start the year.
I was a blurry rage trying to flag down a Pakistani taxi driver
Hours after the page turned and 2008 arrived with friends
At a lesbian bar in icy East Nashville.
Everything felt cold for months and months.

I had gotten a guitar for Christmas and promised to teach myself,
But never did,
And as the days faded away I forgot lyrics to
“In an Aeroplane Over the Sea,” and only eased out of
That tragedy by way of a new career
Sitting in the front row of the City Hall Circus.
I believe the Ringmaster and half the clowns have my number
On speed dial.

Soon it was spring and I was scratching for a song,
As my sister crisscrossed the country and loved ones dropped
Like flies, to Knoxville,
To Indiana,
To Berry Hill.
What began in my heart worked its way down to my stomach –
A rotten bass line that growled like a rabid black mountain bear.

I don’t know what happened in September,
Sometime around the 11th the words – The End –
Came to me like an obnoxious chorus you can’t get out of your head.
I spent most my waking hours wishing I was asleep,
Or at work, but never remembering any songs,
Never learning guitar as I promised.

Then, one night,
I was scowling in a bar corner when the band came
Bounding my way,
An outcast group of medical misfits,
Two nurses, a PA and, maybe, a surgeon.
She smiled and told me she hated people too,

And before long I was stamping out numbers
At a game of drag show BINGO,
And regaling her with stories of
Heart-shaped holes in panties.
I twitched, and shifted and fidgeted awkwardly,
Like an out-of-rhythm loner, dancing to a song only
I could hear.

The music came back to me, though,
And a new resolution,
To never let any of it leave my lips again,
And to learn guitar so they think
I knew how to play all along.

Magdalene House/Thistle Farms

OK, I forgot one story I meant to include from my first post. It was about a nonprofit ministry called Magdalene House. The ministry helps rehabilitate women who have fallen into a life of prostitution and drugs. The recidivism rate for women in the Magdalene House program is more than two-times better than similar programs.

One interesting component of the program is that it runs a not-for-profit business called Thistle Farms. The women work for the business, which makes bath products, candles, etc., and earn a paycheck while they're enrolled in Magdalene House.

It was truly touching to meet two women from Magdalene House in addition to the program's founder. One memorable moment came shortly after we arrived. The women were seated in a circle in an open room inside the Magdalene House headquarters in ritzy Belle Meade. They went around the circle and talked rather openly about their struggles, joys, prayers for that day. At the end, they locked arms and got set to say the Lord's Prayer together. They invited Matthew and me to say the prayer with them. I said, 'No, thank you,' but they insisted. So next thing I know, I'm holding hands in a circle of 25 former prostitutes saying the Lord's Prayer. At first I was uncomfortable, but then I remember glancing up during the prayer and thinking what a truly unique moment that was.


You can read the story here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My first post

The idea to start my own blog site was inspired by my brilliant friend and co-worker Matthew Williams. Matthew is the staff photographer at The City Paper, where I work as the Metro government reporter.

I found myself stalking Matthew's site today and thought, 'I'd like to do a mid-level rip-off of his site.'

So here goes.

Since this is my first post, I decided I'd begin by providing links to some of my favorite stories I reported on this year at The City Paper. The links are below with a brief description. I'm sure there are some I forgot, but here are just a few that come to mind.

Men of Valor
-- this was a story about a ministry which helps men transition to life in the real world after they get out of prison. The ministry had purchased a large property in a rural part of Davidson County (Nashville). The neighbors surrounding the property vehemently opposed their arrival. As of today, the situation is still unresolved, although MoV is considering alternate uses for the property in addition to looking for another piece of land. Matthew Williams produced the video and took the photos accompanying the story.

Music City Center -- The Music City Center is a proposed new convention center to be located in SoBro in downtown Nashville. The center will cost at least $635 million and up to potentially $1 billion if a city-run hotel is attached. This is a story I did on the financial viability of the project.

Coyotes invading Nashville -- This story ended up hitting close to home. Not long after reporting that many Nashville neighborhoods were over-run with coyotes, I had a close encounter with a coyote while walking my dog in my south Nashville neighborhood. The coyote was ugly as sin and not the least bit intimidated by me or Jackson.

Nondiscrimination in Nashville -- This was a story about at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry pushing for a nondiscrimination policy for Metro government, protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees.

Teen Challenge lawsuit
-- There was not a story I covered more often or with more interest than the Teen Challenge situation. Two years after Metro Council altered the zoning code so rehabilitation centers like Teen Challenge could no longer move to agricultural districts, the city found itself on the losing end of a $1 million lawsuit. Additionally, as first reported by me for The City Paper, the Department of Justice launched a still-unresolved investigation into Metro's land use policies because the zoning changed violated the Fair Housing Act.

Fine Arts or Auto Parts -- Charlotte Avenue is one of the most interesting stretches of road in Nashville. It is home to independent theater companies, vintage auto parts shops and some of Nashville's most unique architecture. Here is a story I did earlier this year on the future of that corridor.


The legacy of former Mayor Bill Purcell
-- Sometimes the most interesting aspect to my job never gets conveyed in the stories I write. That was the case when I covered how former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell's legacy for being friendly to our city's neighborhoods would be continued. Purcell left office popular with his constituents but loathed by a section of Metro Council. For this story, he agreed to sit down with me for what remains the most memorable hour-long non-interview I've ever conducted. Purcell wouldn't go on the record, but he gave me a front row seat for a college-style lecture on city planning, politics and his legacy. He was funny, charming, a little bit defensive and uber-confident.

OK, that is all for now. I will try to keep up with this site as well as Mr. Williams does with his and typically I don't expect it will be about my job at The City Paper. Please feel free to comment and share, and thanks for visiting!