Top 25 Songs of 2012

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If there is a Stats Geek gene, it runs in my family. My father’s thing is football. Mine is music. Since 2006, with the help of Last.FM, I’ve become a wee bit obsessive about the songs I play most throughout a given year. And since 2007, first on That Little Bastad and then Geek Force Five, I’ve made it a New Year’s Eve Tradition to blog about the year’s Top 25 Songs.

Some years tell the story of a balance between my pop bubblegum whore side and my NIN-loving industrial side (2007). Some years reflect an obsession with a particular band (2008). And other years reflect the return of listening to whole albums (2010, 2011).

This year, the story is a mix of all of that. But before we get to the story, here’s the list:

  1. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
  2. “Part of Me” by Katy Perry
  3. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye
  4. “Love You Like a Love Song” by Selena Gomez & the Scene
  5. “Bad Romance” by Lissie
  6. “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Lissie
  7. “Want It Back” by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra
  8. “Don't Stop Lovin Me” by Pomplamoose
  9. “Domino” by Jessie J
  10. “Brokenhearted” by Karmin
  11. “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry
  12. “Do It With a Rockstar” by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra
  13. “We Found Love” by Rihanna
  14. “Warrior” by Kimbra
  15. “Settle Down” by Kimbra
  16. “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele
  17. “Price Tag” by Jessie J
  18. “Come Into My Head” by Kimbra
  19. “Is Your Love Strong Enough” by How to Destroy Angels
  20. “The Killing Type” by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra
  21. “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz
  22. “In Sleep” by Lissie
  23. “Shake It Up” by Selena Gomez
  24. “Eyes Wide Open” by Gotye
  25. “Memento Mori” by winterstar

Albums by Lissie and Kimbra dominated the year, reflecting that continuing trend of listening to albums whole. Several individual songs of theirs also got favorited and dominated my Recent Favorites playlist, as well. But one song of Kimbra’s or Lissie’s inevitably got me wanting more, so I spent a whole heckuvalotta time listening through Catch a Tiger and Vows.

Time spent in the car with my kids brought out my pop bubblegum whore side with a vengeance, this year. I’ll cop to listening to Jessie J and Katy Perry on my own, and I didn’t mind that Carly Rae Jepsen song the first 30 times I heard it, but stuff like Taio Cruz and Selena Gomez: that’s all Kaylee and Melody. If I’m proud of anything I did for the kids musically, however, it’s that I finally got them into some weirder stuff, including that Pomplamoose track “Don’t Stop Lovin Me.”

As I sit here and wonder what 2013 will look like, my thought is that these trends will continue. I just picked up a slew of new albums over the holidays, both pop stuff and weird stuff, and I’m sure I’ll spend just as much time with my kids this year as last. All I know for sure is that it’ll be a fun ride with a great soundtrack.

Never Just There

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It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend Sean in the flesh. The last time, I think, we were riding the Red Line through Cambridge when we spotted each other from across the compartment. I’d heard, via a blog or a MySpace page or something—or maybe he told me that day—that he was now a cyborg (his word, I’m pretty sure). He’d had an operation or two done on his brain, and they’d installed something up there to help him out. It sounded scary, but he delivered the anecdote with a smile, so I wished him well and we went our separate ways.

In the years since, I’ve kept up with what he’s been doing online, read about a journey that sounds as if it was just as daunting as I’d imagined it might be, and smiled as he’s persevered. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw him ask all of us on Facebook and Twitter to share stories about him in honor of his birthday. His memory’s not what it used to be, you see. So, I made myself a note. A mental note. But my memory’s not what it used to be, either. And I forgot.

His birthday has come and gone. So, I’m late. But, better late than never, right?

I met Sean during my sophomore year at Bradford College. I was vaguely aware of him at first, this cool kid that my theater friends and my geeky friends were talking about. Then, it turned out he was dating this girl I had myself a crush on—at least I think they were dating; but it was college, and who can ever be sure—and suddenly I began to notice him more. Funny how that works, huh?

Anyway, I think our first interactions centered around theater. For the spring student theater festival that year, he directed a short he’d written called Samuel Iscariot and I directed Albee’s The Zoo Story; I think there was a third play as well, probably directed by the talented EvilDeb, but my memory is failing me.

The cast party for that, or maybe for some later thing, was held in Sean’s room in Academy Hall (or someone else’s room that just seemed like his because he was such a presence). It was there that I heard Ani DiFranco for the first time. I recall Sean praising her work, playing the best of it on the CD player. The music was great, and I’ve always been drawn to people who can introduce me to good music, my own tastes somewhat shitty by comparison, so there was that.

Sean was also the first person, during some other party, to introduce me to the wonders of Midori. I’m not sure if I actually imbibed any of the stuff that night—I think it was in the Jell-O shots we had at a party to celebrate the start of my junior year—but the sound of the name alone was enough to entrance me, and it’s been my spirit of choice ever since.

The role-playing games we played in college: I’m pretty sure Sean was in on them, too. We played both Rifts and AD&D, I think. He wasn’t there all the time—he was in high demand, after all, the way awesome people are—but the game was infinitely better when he was. His imagination, the characters he came up with—I think we all raised our game because of him, and had a lot more fun in the process.

And you know what else was better? Theater! When I finally landed a role in a main stage production my junior year, I got to play Lane to Sean’s Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. My memories of that production are just as hazy as everything else I’m sharing today, but I do recall some fun being had with the cucumber sandwiches. I just wish I could remember what kind of fun.

The next year, when I debuted my short play A Lick and a Promise at the student theater festival, Sean’s kind feedback was among the commentary I valued the most. The year after that, when I was casting for my senior project, Sean was on top of my list of actors to get. He couldn’t do it, which was a bummer, but I recall it was only a matter of scheduling; he told me he would have been a part of it, if he could have, and that meant the world.

After college, when I was trying my hand at any creative project that I could think of, Sean made my tentative attempts at music-making feel all the more legitimate when he agreed to make a music video for my song “Nice & Round.” The weekend we spent filming in Newburyport, first in an old barn on the grounds of Maudslay and then in the cluttered upstairs storage area of a downtown building he somehow had access to—that’s one of the only weekends from the aimless years immediately after college that I have any memory of, one of the only weekends worth remembering.

He has always been the type of fellow who made things more awesome just by being there, and that was mostly because he was never just there. He was there.

Thanks for the memories, my friend. Here’s to years and years more to come. Happy (Belated) Birthday.

For My Daughters—A Clear Decision

One of the hardest things to teach a novice storyteller is this: you must love all of your characters, both protagonists and antagonists. You must understand the "villain" and his motivations as clearly as you understand your heroine and her ideals.

That's the credo I've tried to live by during the 2012 election season. I have friends and relatives on both sides of the debate, and though I have a harder time understanding one side than I do the other, I choose to believe that all of the people I love—Republican, Democrat, or something else—are making their decision from a desire to make their world a better place.

But I've danced around the subject of where my vote's going for too long, especially considering how important I think this election is. So, which candidate am I supporting, and why? Lets go in reverse and start with the why. Here's where I—a self-confessed shut-in who tries his best to ignore the real world and live in the pages of books, the frames of films, and the riffs of rock and roll—stand on the issues.

The Economy: Spend less money than you take in, but take money from me for things that are worthwhile, Big Bird and healthcare among them. Help the less fortunate citizens of your country out to an extent, but remember the old "teach a man to fish" thing.

Wars and Foreign Policy: Stay the fuck out of the business of other countries unless they actively fuck with us and ours. Then, and only then, retaliate. Do not take advantage of the brave men and women who volunteer to protect us. Put them in danger only when you absolutely must.

The Environment: We human beings, we have a tendency to think ourselves above the rest of the living things we share this planet with. The only difference between us and them is our ability and willingness to fuck shit up for our own benefit, without thought of the consequences. Find ways to fix our reliance on oil (both foreign and domestic) and to invest in clean energy before another "once in a hundred years" storm hits us. The next time, it might actually wipe out a city, and then NBC will have to broadcast its benefit concert in a submarine.

Drugs: Legalize pot and tax the shit out of it. As for the other stuff, take whatever steps are necessary to keep it out of the hands of kids, but don't overreact to use by adults who choose to fuck up their lives with the stuff. See if you can help them or rehabilitate them, but if they don't want help then let them kill themselves with the junk.

Gun Control: Make it harder for idiots to get ahold of them, but not at the expense of law-abiding folks.

Religion and Social Issues: Keep your imaginary friend in the sky out of my business and everyone else's. As Patton Oswalt says of The Bible, I'm glad you like a book. But let's make a deal: you don't force me to follow rules based on your thing and I won't force you to believe that a dude in yellow and red armor is going to save us from an alien invasion with the help his octogenarian buddy and his giant red, white, and blue Frisbee.

Don't tell me that a guy I went to college with is ruining the sanctity of marriage by marrying another dude when your parents are divorced and their parents are divorced and you would be too if you weren't staying together for the kids.

Don't tell me that the process—IVF—that gave me my daughters should be illegal because it's against God's plan or some other such horse shit. And, while we're at it, don't tell me that, when my daughters are grown women, they shouldn't have complete control over their bodies.

In short, don't tell me or anyone else what we can do with ourselves, our bodies, and our lives unless our actions actively and irrevocably harm another person.

So, who am I voting for? The choice is clear, crystal fucking clear, as I think it should be for anyone who is a daughter, has a daughter, has or had a mother, has or had a sister, or who has ever loved or even merely respected a woman. Elections should not, generally speaking, be decided on a single issue, but this single issue is too important to ignore.

I understand if you disagree with me and I respect your decision to make whatever choice you decide to make. But: nothing scares me more right now than the thought of Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States, and nothing makes me more hopeful for the future of our country and my family than four more years for Barack Obama to get right what he has already begun to fix in our land.

Whatever happens tomorrow, please know that I love and cherish all of you. I hope the best of what we dream for ourselves and our children is what comes to pass.

That Is Why You Fail

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I’m sitting in my car, in a parking lot littered with the debris of a so-called superstorm. To my right is the husk of car crushed by a fallen tree. It is the same make (Volkswagen), model (Jetta), and color (dark blue) as an automobile I used to drive. But that’s not what’s making me cry.

Last night, after talking through a problematic scene from my novel, I said to my wife, “I could be done with this thing in a month, if I could do nothing but write.” And that wasn’t an exaggeration. Though I’ve been plugging away at Down the Cape for nearly ten years—longer, if you count the plays I wrote in college that birthed my protagonists—the end is finally within reach.

She told me, tenderly, that she wished I would quit my teaching gig and just do it. Then we talked for a while about her willingness to take risks and my stubborn refusal to upset the status quo. She would happily throw away our house and all of the comforts of life that me working two jobs affords us, if only to see me happy and writing. We turned off the lights and she wrapped her arms around me. I was comforted, but I’ve never been able to sleep like that, so I pulled away, rolled onto my side, and then, finally, drifted off.

I woke up tired, tired and aggravated at the thought of the two-hour commute in front of me. A podcast kept me distracted for the first part of the drive. Then, craving something a little more thought-provoking, I turned to the end of an audiobook I’ve been revisiting, Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

I’ve taught the film version of Wonder Boys for several years now, so I know the story pretty well, and that was part of the idea. End my early morning with something familiar and beloved, and thereby start my day off right. But there was something I hadn’t expected: the subtle differences between the end of the novel and the end of the film.

Though both feature the protagonist, Grady Tripp, returning to a true writing practice after years of masturbatory messing around, the novel slows down the transition significantly, forcing us to linger on Tripp’s transformation from harried and over-stretched to centered and calm. The closing passage, where he talks about when he writes (in the morning, if his son lets him; in the afternoon if not) and about the simplicity of his life now—that’s the part that brought me to tears.

That’s what I want for myself, I thought. But I don’t have the courage—or the carelessness—to do what Grady had to do to get there. I can’t bring myself to blow up my life and start over. I’m too afraid.

"And that," the voice of a Muppet in a swamp calls out from my memory, "is why you fail."