Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 10 Best Albums of 2013

This is one of my favorite posts to write all year, because who doesn't love to write about things they love? It's a very indulgent blog post, saying at least as much about me as it does the artists I have picked. It's a snapshot of what moved me this year (though I try to provide some second opinions to prove I'm not nuts), rather than some definitive word. Hell, I still haven't listed to Lorde's album, which is apparently New Zealand's new gift to the world.

So, what I'm saying: feel free to tell me ones I missed. Share what you loved. Go read other "Best of" lists out there. Amazing to see how American Songwriter handles things compared to Rolling Stone, for instance.

If you walk away from a list like this with a new artist to check out, then you win. So enjoy!

Onto the list...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sounds of the Season 2013: A Holiday Music Mix You Can Live With

I look forward to this every year. Since 2007, I've been putting together an annual mix of current (or current-ish) bands doing holiday songs. For me, this offers a nice departure from the stuff that crams onto you local all-Christmas radio station. Plus, we're starting to get some decent Hanukkah songs. Maybe in five years there will be enough for an all-Hanukkah mix.

Anyway, I think this year's might be better than last year's installment, though nothing may ever reach the heights of the 2011 mix. As always, everything below is available from most purveyors of digital music.

1) Bad Religion - Angels We Have Heard on High - Dude. Bad Religion just put out a Christmas album. This is WHY I started making these mixes back in the day. If you aren't familiar with Bad Religion, suffice it to say, they probably won't be asked to perform in your church's social hall any time soon. They said they made this album for fun and top show that good songs are good songs, regardless of what they're about. This is exactly the kind of thrasher to start off the mix.

2) Kelly Clarkson - Underneath the Tree - Someone told Kelly it would be a good idea to roll into the studio in her PJs and knock out some Christmas standards (public domain!) and watch money fall form the sky. This person was smart. Fortunately, they included this sing, which might be the best Christmas pop song since Mariah threw down with "All I Want for Christmas is You."

3) Matisyahu - Happy Hanukkah - The no-longer-Hasidic-Jew can still drop a great reggae-tinged song. To some extent, I think Matisyahu should be required to put out an annual Hanukkah song because we NEED more of this. This one is pretty simple, but danceable and, honestly, I like having the dance beat back in Hanukkah.

4) fun. - Believe in Me - Nice little original song with some 1960s sound in there. And a Dave Grohl soundalike in the role of Santa Claus who just wants you to believe in him, man. At least on the mp3 I got, there was an unneeded "skit" at the end that your better desktop mp3 players can trim for you.

5) Oasis - Merry Christmas Everybody - How did I not know this existed? Noel's rich voice gets the lead here, which means it's everything right about Oasis, who remain one of the most under-appreciated bands  of the last 20 years in the USA. This one keeps it simple and it's lovely.

6) The Killers - I Feel it in My Bones - The Killers DO put out an annual song. This one, from a couple years back is the follow-up to indie-rock-Christmas-classic "Don't Shoot Me Santa." Our protagonist has not yet been shot and is continuing to plea with Santa that he's no longer naughty. Santa, though, is one tough cookie. He needs to make an example out of SOMEBODY, damn it, so our protagonist is likely SOL. Can we have this turn into a trilogy?

7) Erran Baron Cohen - Dreidel - You know the dreidel song. Hell, it's the ONLY Hanukkah song most of you know. This is that song. You know, done up right. Rousing beat and instrumentation. Well suited for your next game of Strip Dreidel.

8) The Civil Wars - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - The Civil Wars are very good with what they do and they do it here flawlessly. A bluegrassy-tinged send up of the song you all know.

9) The xx - Last Christmas - The minimalists take the Wham! classic and put the bleak spin on it that it should always have had. Because what if the "this year, to save me from tears..." line is aspirational and not fact? Right? Not so sing-songy now, ARE WE?

10) Jessica Lea Mayfield - Little Toy Trains - First off, can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if artists like this were the face of country music? But I digress... Mayfield puts her touch on the Glen Campbell song. A girl with a great, distinctive voice and her guitar. Good stuff.

11) Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - Please Come Home for Christmas - A not-too-downtempo end to the mix, which is something I haven't done often, but it just works this time.

However you celebrate, here's to a happy, healthy and safe season to all of you!

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Bumbershoot 2013

It's tough to review a major music festival unless you are a major publication with the resources to send several writers to fan out among all the stages and see every minute of every act. I just spent three days of Labor Day weekend at Bumbershoot and, while I saw so much, it pales to what I couldn't make it to for various reasons.

But here goes.

First of all, one of the things I wrote about back in 2010 holds true: the ability to leave and return. When you live within a short bus ride from the Seattle Center, this is huge. You can eat some meals at home. You can take a break. It's divine. You're not stuck out in a field somewhere. You are in a city, and if you happen to call the city home (or one of the nearby hotels home), Bumbershoot is really generous by not trapping you inside the festival grounds.

As for the music, this is what I caught my three days:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hiking Gothic Basin to Foggy Lake

It's been some time since I blogged about a hike. As many places as I've hiked since moving to Seattle, I could probably bore you to death with stories of them all.

Today, though, I headed out to Gothic Basin. Aside from the cool name (apparently named for a guy named Gothic, but whatever), things I've read about the hike were enticing. We don't want for beautiful scenery here in Washington, but some spots stand out.

To get to this particular spot, though, you must work. A rule of hiking in the Cascades seems to be that the more you have to exert yourself, the more you get back in terms of views, solitude and more.

As I sit here tonight, I'm not in nearly as bad shape as I was when I finished the Harper Creek hike I blogged back in 2009. But I'm still bruised, blistered and tired from a hike that easily ranks as one of the toughest I've completed.

The Washington Trails Association has a fairly good writeup on the hike. However, I've learned that trail guides for these things aren't ever as detailed as I'd prefer and, fact of the matter is that when you're going to give up a whole day to do a hike that has a high payoff but also a fair degree of danger, you want as much information as possible.

To get to Gothic Basin, you start by driving the Mountain Loop Highway from the hamlet of Granite Falls, WA. The drive is honestly a pleasure. With so many hikes in WA accessible only from potholed Forest Service roads, the Mountain Loop Highway is a joy. Parking at Barlow Pass, you start down the closed-to-traffic Monte Cristo Road, which once served the mining town of Monte Cristo (still there as a ghost town, I hear).

The Monte Cristo Road is also a pleasure. A wide, graded path... you can tell it was once a road. After a mile you get to a spot where the South Fork Sauk River had other ideas of what to do with the land than having a road there. At this point, you start on the Weden Creek Trail (my NatGeo Trails Illustrated map has it as Weeden Creek, the Forest Service has it as Weden. Whatever.)

This first part of the trail through forest is fine for about half a mile. I was trying to go as fast as I could on the section to this point (made it to a major creek crossing in 30 mins) as I knew what was ahead.

So it begins... over the next three miles, hikers must climb about 3,000'. To put this in perspective, San Francisco's Filbert Street has a section that is one of the steepest drivable pitches in the world. On Filbert Street, just about every three feet you drive, you've dropped a foot in elevation. To do 3,000' feet in three miles, you need to gain a foot every time you walk a bit less than 5.5 feet. So, this isn't Filbert Street, but it's probably steeper than anything you regularly encounter.

Of course that climb isn't uniform. The first mile of climbing is stupid steep in spots. And save for a few spots, it is entirely wooded. You're slogging up a mountainside, realizing (if you're me) that you're not as young as you used to be. I had to stop every switchback to catch my breath and hydrate. It's trails like this where you have to remember that this isn't a race.

After a mile you come to a spectacular rocky clearing where there is a creek crossing. Really, a waterfall crossing. In the August weather, with no snow, it is a spot that requires some care. In spring, if this is snowy, this spot could honestly be fatal. A slip here could have you landing on something not nearly as cushion-y as you might prefer and, potentially, well down a ravine.

You could be forgiven for stopping here. The view across the valley is spectacular. You've done a huge climb. Some hikes, this is all you can expect to get. Not on the Weden Creek Trail...

What the next two miles of trail lack in terms of sadistically steep trail, it makes up for in sheer challenge. At first, things seem lovely. You even get to go DOWN slightly, though, if you're smart, you realize you're going to have to climb those feet back up. The mountain top isn't down, after all.

Then it happens. Rocks. The trail is decidedly rocky here and there are several sections where you have to go hand-over-hand to pull yourself over some rocks. Many people like to hike with their dogs. I saw a handful on this section. I feel like calling the ASPCA on these people. I was hiking and sweating voluntarily, at least.

The trail is also, generally, fully exposed at this point. The good side to that is every slogging step, every rock you hop, the view gets better and better. If the view was amazing before, it's full-on gorgeous and about to get obscene at the top.

But you're not there yet. At all. And, hey... how much water did you bring? I went through about 3.5 liters on this hike. I saw people hiking with a bottle of Dasani. That is not going to work. Plan ahead. There is no cell phone service anywhere on this hike, nor will you get any until you are basically back to Granite Falls. You get in trouble here... you are in trouble. Real trouble. The sad part is not only water fairly easy to carry, but there are tons of places to fill up a filter bottle on the hike. You need not run out of water.

Oh hey, we're still climbing. Good lord, we're still climbing. If you do this hike, get used to looking up and seeing the trail continue upwards in front of you.

Finally, you reach Gothic Basin. It is... an alpine wonderland. Meadows. Tarns. High peaks with lingering snow. I cannot possibly describe this properly, so I won't try. I will say the prettiest alpine meadows I've ever seen are in Mt. Rainier National Park. The meadows in Gothic Basin are in the same league.

Exhausted, I found a rock overlooking a pretty tarn and, honestly, thought I was done. And, really, you could be forgiven for stopping here. It's a great spot. You've just climbed the height of Burj Khalifa. So I was done. I grabbed my food and water and took in the scene.

Except Foggy Lake is up there. That's the real end of the trail. It's the "destination" for everyone who starts this hike. What's another 300 feet of climbing? I may not do this trail again. If I do, it will again be in August as this is an area you can really only hike to in August if you 1) want to be safe and 2) don't want to encounter a snow-filled basin (sometimes, Gothic is snowy into September).

So off I went... if this was going to be my only trip up this trail, let's do it all.

Except where the hell is the trail? My map says it's on the south side of the tarn. It's so not. I'm making my own way up to a high ridge line and hating myself like crazy for doing a moment more of climbing. I can see Gothic and Del Campo Peaks, which flank Foggy Lake, but when the hell do I get there. Finally, a cairn! And then another. Could someone PLEASE put more cairns up here? This is promising. And then...

You could spend all day here.

But... you don't live at Foggy Lake. You live in Seattle. And every step you took up this mountain must be taken down.

It is a rare thing for a descent to take as long as a climb. But all those rocks that where a blast to scramble over going up? You have to figure out how to go down them without helping gravity help you on your way to a grave injury.

I have no idea how anyone does this descent without trekking poles. I'd still be there if I didn't have them. As it stands, even with my magic trekking poles, I have managed to bruise up my toes from rocks, roots and other delights. I have never had to climb down something like this and, honestly, if you're not thinking through some steps, you could get yourself in a lot of trouble.

Of course, those downhill sections of respite you had on the climb up? Yeah, you go up those now and you want to shoot someone.

This is a trail that deserves respect from hikers. This is not one for the family. This is not one for dogs. This is trail that can push even an experienced hiker and should be treated as such. There are very real hazards, it is a climb that I would wager many people shouldn't even attempt.

But those who do plan. Those who train for these late summer Cascades hikes by hiking most of the year on smaller trails... this trail is why you do that. On the Horizon are mountains higher than any point in 36 states! You can look into the clearest water lake you could conceive of. You can stand in snow on August 18.

As I type this, the thought of scaling the Weden Creek Trail again is, at best, daunting. But, already, I can feel the pull on the back of my mind. There were sights I saw today that surpass many I've seen hiking anywhere. There was more ground to explore. And as I rest my sore legs and feet, my biggest regret is I didn't leave for the trail a bit earlier.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Best (Worst) Food for Your Next Airport Layover

Traveling as much as I do, the reality is that meals happen in airports now and then. It's tough to eat well on the road, especially in the airport, which can sometimes be a wasteland of quickly reheated frozen entrees.

That said, there is a trend of better food coming into airports. If you have an extended layover, there are even good options in some terminals. If you've got 90 minutes in Seattle, Anthony's is the place. Even Phoenix Sky Harbor, recently home to disgusting options in Terminal 4 has opened some full-kitchen places where you can get good Mexican food and more.

But you don't always have 90 minutes. Fast food - or something quick - is often a necessity. That or you get to take your chances with whatever food your airline happens to be selling on your flight. From traveling around, here are some of my favorite bad-for-you-but-local options, many of which can offer a taste of the city where you are laying over. Fair warning: many of these could kill you.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), B Concourse - Bojangles'
We'll start with the one that inspired the blog. I'm sure you have KFC or whatever in your neck of the woods. If you live anywhere near North Carolina, you probably are already nodding your head. Tucked away at the far end of the B concourse at CLT is Bojangles' and to compare it to KFC is an insult to Bojangles'. Fried chicken is the main thing, though I prefer the Chicken Supremes meal with seasoned fries and a biscuit. This has about a zillion calories in it. Or as I like to call it, a zillion little pieces of delicious. They have other southern sides, too. If you're having trouble finding it, just look for the always-present long line.

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Throughout - Soft Pretzels
Philly folks can remember sitting in traffic on the Boulevard or leaving a Phillies game... there was always a guy selling soft pretzels. Not hot. No no... these are room-temperature pretzels. But what a deal! Back in the day, it was three for a dollar. At PHL, it's three for $2. Also, they now come individually wrapped in plastic, which somewhat sullies the experience of pretzels simply wrapped in a brown paper bag. That said, the new wrapping also notes the date the pretzels were baked and every time I am in PHL, I am pleased to see it was same day. You can find a decent cheesesteak in PHL, but you can find the signature soft pretzel.

Houston Intercontinental (IAH), Terminal B Food Court - Harlon's BBQ
Those of us who are enlightened and know that Texas BBQ is the only BBQ have this option at the United hub. Beef. Chicken. Turkey. Ribs. Not messing around. And not like the other crap in the airport. You have this, you know you are in Texas. Speaking of...

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Main Terminal - The Salt Lick
Let's just be clear: Austin is doing it right. They have plenty of local food vendors and you can even hear live music in the terminal. This is a fantastic airport and the only thing that makes it even better is The Salt Lick. When I am in town, I plan on eating at the airport just for this. If I already ahd BBQ once that day, I still get Salt Lick before my flight. Because, to borrow a phrase, it is The Truth. Such good food that might one day kill you.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), near main food court - Ivar's
At my home airport, where are plenty of good eats, this is my favorite local quick-service spot. The fish and chips is the draw, though you could be a baller and want salmon and chips. Or you could really be a baller and want halibut and chips. Whatever. It's good stuff. The same stuff you could get down by the ferry terminal, just in the airport. There's a Wendy's and a Qdoba around the corner. Ivar's wins.

Denver International Airport (DEN), B Concourse - New Belgium Hub
This is more of a beer stop. If you cannot get to the brewery, this is not a bad choice. And the food is good! And yes, lots of airports are seeing the light and putting in decent local brew pubs, but they're still too rare for my liking. Where's Four Peaks in Phoenix, for instance?

Speaking of, there are some disappointing airports that seem to be ignoring low-hanging fruit. Los Angeles International (LAX) doesn't have an In-N-Out, which seems like it shouldn't even be legal. Disappointments: Chicago O'Hare (ORD) has Pizzeria Uno, but no Geno's East or Lou Malnati's. Big miss there.

Of course, I don't hit every airport... what did I miss?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sorting out thoughts after a new Boston massacre

A very close friend of mine ran the Los Angeles Marathon a few weeks back with a time of 4:08:48. Had he been in Boston today with that time, he’d probably have been somewhere between getting a medal and grabbing a recovery banana when things started to explode.

In other words, way too flipping close. And sadly, many others were closer. 

Had he been there, it also would have been his second day of surviving a terrorist attack. No doubt, some of the runners and spectators today were in New York on Sep. 11. My friend was, too. And so was I.

The thing is, we talk about these sorts of things in terms of lives lost. In terms of people injured. The cold will look at property losses and dollar figures among these other grim stats. But can one truly say one attack is “worse” than another?

I’m not so sure. Watching the footage was one thing. Watching it unfold in real time was another. We didn’t have Twitter in 2001, but today, even the distant could watch as events unfolded.

What hit me was the confusion… the same feeling I had felt firsthand that Tuesday morning in 2001.

In the first hour after today’s attack, it was easy for me to put myself in the shoes of those in and around Copley. Reports of “other located devices” rang hauntingly similar to hearsay on the streets of New York when friends started saying “third plane coming.” What do you? Where do you go?

As crazy today as it was in 2001 were the reports of cell phone network overload. You want to tell someone you’re safe. You can’t. I recall an article in 2001 discussing how NYC’s cellular network was built to handle 20 percent of cell-phone-owning New Yorkers making calls at one time. On 9/11, they said something like 80 percent of owners were trying to make a call. Surely, today’s network is better… and yet, it founders in the situations where people need a comforting, familiar voice the most.

For all the calls for justice we will make (deservedly) and rage we feel (a natural reaction), what doesn’t get discussed enough is how these acts shake us. How many Green Line commuters will be looking at a fellow passenger just a bit differently tomorrow? No war, no trial, no sentence can change that.

Obviously, we cannot stop our lives or let these sorts of acts keep us from living life the way it’s meant to be. What’s sad to me, though, is even if we do that, some part of us will never feel as secure as the day before the attack.  Next year, on Patriot’s Day, there will be moments of silence and added security, likely (and rightfully) permanent fixtures for the event each year. Equally rightfully, someone will be able to lament that the marathon “isn’t like it used to be.”

Yesterday, I attended a Seattle Mariners game. At the 7th inning stretch, before “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the crowd joined in for “God Bless America.” Don’t misunderstand, I love our country… but I can also remember that we didn’t always include a second song to honor America at a ball game (the national anthem being the other).

For me, at least, I feel an uneasy tension with this sort of thing: the part of me that says “never forget” and the part of me that knows that’s exactly what the bad guys want. They don’t want us to forget. They want us to remember. Every moment.

Nothing can change that feeling we have inside. The questions of, “what is that guy up to?” The morbid worry of when and where the “next time” will be. All of those will, sadly, remain.

I hope Bostonians can capture a sense of normalcy soon. I just hope it’s actually “normal” they get to and not merely the “new normal” that we have faced for more than a decade.

Because it really is a shame that instead of all of us simply wondering “what is wrong with the world?” we have really come to know, and to some extent accept, that there is, simply, a lot of wrong in the world.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Unscientific ranking of major mass transit systems

I'm a big geek and have always loved subways, trains and the like. To the point that, if I'm traveling, I feel like riding the subway in a given city is somehow a "more real" experience of the city than many other things. It's how the proletariat gets around. Trains are an equalizer... the rich sit next to the poor and get the same place at the same time, subject to the same delays.

Tonight, taking the San Francisco Bay Area's BART back to the Easy Bay from San Fran, I marveled at the Transbay Tube, a nearly 4-mile tunnel under San Francisco Bay that has dutifully withstood seismic events of all manner since 1974.

The BART is a great system, but I've been fortunate enough to travel all over the place and had a hop on the local transit system in many places. As such, here's a completely biased, unscientific ranking of the world's best transit systems that I've managed to come across. By the way... Boston is disqualified from making this list strictly because the green line stops at red lights. Unforgivable sin.

Also, this list is interested in major heavy rail systems. Seattle and Portland have lovely light rail systems. We're looking at city-wide, comprehensive subways here.

1) The London Tube

Let's hit the basics... any system that has terminals at places like "Elephant & Castle" and "Cockfosters" has a an extreme advantage to start with. But the comprehensiveness of London's Tube is truly remarkable. You can, at least from what I could gather, get anywhere from anywhere. And in a super congested city full of narrow European streets, that's not saying a little. It was also an amazingly intuitive system to figure out, even after only a few days. Bravo, London.

2) The New York City Subway

Another miracle of transit, that really only loses points on the fact that despite doing everything well for a remarkably low fare, it's, for all intents and purposes, still serving 1965 New York. That will change with some upcoming expansions, including the new 2nd Ave, line. Still, Queens is woefully underserved. That said... NYC has something unrivaled in the world of subway travel: express trains. Remarkable foresight by people building the NYC subway way back when. Because, really, what feeling is better than skipping all those stops?

3) The Paris Metro

The map looks something like London. The experience is nowhere close. The Paris Metro makes you acutely aware you are on the Paris Metro. From the sounds in the station, the amazingly annoying (yet distinctive) door closing noise (did the Blackhawks just score or something?) to the flip down seats by the door. This is not the Tube. But man if it doesn't get you where you need. And quickly.

4) The DC Metro

This is almost too pretty to be a subway. But it works, remarkably well. If the benchmark of a system is getting you from here to there with relative ease and getting you pretty much anywhere you want to go, this certainly does a good job. But, seriously, the architecture counts. It lacks the breadth of NYC - though it admittedly has less ground to cover - but it has style. NYC has character, but no one will ever call it elegant. DC pulls that off.

5) Chicago L

Let's run it down. You can take the train to both of the city's major airports. You can take it to the city's major sports venues. It is ubiquitous in the downtown "loop." Hell, it's called the Loop because of the bloody train. Wins points on the experience front, too, with major elevated sections and the distinctive churchbell door closing alert.

6) Stockholm Tunnelbana

Was here last summer for the second time and was pleased to see the system has almost entirely new trains from my original trip in 2000. Again, it goes just about everywhere and, in an interesting twist, is the last remnant of Sweden's history as a country that used to drive on the left. While cars easily made the shift to driving on the right, the Tunnelbana still runs on the left. So that's cool.

7) San Francisco BART/MUNI

This is really two systems, but with the Clipper Card, you can use both interchangeably. It would be nice if downtown San Fran was covered a bit better. But anyone who has ever had to drive to the East Bay at rush hour knows... the train is the way to go. Extra points for connecting to the region's two primary airports.

8) Prague Metro

This is a small subway in a small city. But damn if it isn't gorgeous in the stations. It goes most places you'd want to go (though I would have killed for a stop near Strahov Monastery) and, in a place where the language is not at all easy to pick up for an American, the system, down to what fare to pay, was easy to figure out.

This is obviously an incomplete list. Tokyo's system is legendary. Moscow's map is just begging for exploration. Toronto and Montreal could probably neatly fall into this list. It's a big world.

But riding the eight listed above have, at least in my opinion, shown me a side of all of these cities that a tour bus could never manage.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time to Save the Grammys

I've always been into music, but I'd judge 7th grade as being the year that I really started to CARE about music. That was the year that a girl in my middle school, after hearing me talk about my love of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, sent me home with a tape of Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine. Few moments are as defining. Not only because it got me into that band, but more that it was the moment that really got me to explore music. From that moment, I have had a constant hunger for new music. Before I started typing this blog, I was on Amazon listening to samples of an album I may just download today.

That moment back in 7th grade was the moment the Grammy Awards started to piss me off. Before I had a real understanding of the music business (read: before I realized this was basically a way for people to get rich off of artists, who may or may not get rich), I used to vent about the INJUSTICE of the Grammys. How they rewarded shitty music when there was justsomuchbetterstuffohmygod.

The solution was to ignore the Grammys. And year after year, that decision is reinforced. Say what you will about the man, but the fact that Kanye West has only put out music that has been lauded by nearly every music critic in the world but is consistently shut out of the major Grammy Awards should be proof alone that the system is broken. More down to the business, the awards tend to favor the bands and performers who made the major record labels the most money the year before, which, unless you are odd, probably isn't why you just downloaded that Macklemore/Ryan Lewis song.

You like the song because it's fun. Because it gets stuck in your head. Because it makes you sing along. Whatever... music moves us. The Grammys RARELY acknowledge that.

Now, I do realize that sales and exposure should be rewarded. As thrilled as I was that The Arcade Fire won big a few years ago (deservedly, in my opinion), many probably stared at their TVs thinking, "huh?" But maybe the Grammys could address that. In fact, I think the Grammys could do a few things to improve the entire show and, honestly, make it into something that every music fan can enjoy.

1) Add clarity - There are two major awards right now called "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year." The fact that they still call it "Record of the Year" certainly signifies how out of touch this award show is. Do you think you could differentiate between these two awards if I asked you right now? No. Didn't think. So... Record of the year goes to the performing artist, the producer, recording engineer, and/or mixer for that song. It's an award for the producer in the studio. SONG of the year is for the composer of the song. Let's be clear, if you're the right kind of pop star, you're ubiquitously catchy song that you only performed, but didn't write or produce, potentially you can't win either of these on your own. Some other guy can. And music listeners, they don't know who those people are (bands who write their own stuff, different story, obviously).

Point being, let's just call things what they are, especially since people are usually smart enough to know how the industry works. "Song production of the year" would seem to be on par with the Oscars' "Best Cinematography" and "Best Editing." And even if you don't know who wins, the Oscars are so good at showing how those talents make movies better. Which brings us to...

2) Be relate-able. Do things music listeners can connect with. For things like song of the year, why not tap into pop culture ubiquity? I'd be interested in knowing the top overall song of a given year... combine downloads, licensing rights (for commercials, TV shows, etc.), broadcast royalties... i mean, say what you want about "Call Me Maybe," but someone please explain to me in a bulletproof way how that wasn't the biggest song of 2012? Sesame Street - SESAME STREET! - did a parody. That means, essentially, every person aged 3-99 had that song in their head at some point last year. That's insanity. Not that the Grammys cared. Find a new way to measure. And to that end...

3) Give the reins to the right people. Why is the same group voting on rap awards as country awards? That's just stupid. And, honestly, nothing infuriates music fans more than a bad choice within the genre they love the most. The Grammys lose tons of credibility here. If they insist on giving genre awards (note that the Oscars do not), then at least pick the right folks to vote on winners. I'd suggest genre-specific producers, artists, radio DJs and critics.

4) Get local. I'm told, years ago, when radio stations weren't all owned by Clear Channel, you could travel someplace and hear different artists than you could back home. The internet has been amazing for spreading music from one area to another, but it still requires knowing where to look. Many cities, though, have thriving music scenes and tons of artists that can't get a break because they only have the internet to share their music. The Grammys could do a ton to shine a light on local music scenes by putting together local awards in major markets. There is a model for this... it's called the Emmy Awards. You may not be aware of this, but every year, local TV academies honor all manner of local programming in your city/region. A lot of that is mainly done within the industry, but imagine a local Grammy Awards show. You pay $20 to go to some local performance hall/arena. Maybe there's 1-2 big headliners with local roots that will play a set. the rest is local indie bands nominated for awards. Hell, you might KNOW some of the folks up for awards. Then, find a way to incorporate some of the winners from around the country into the big national Grammy show.

A lot of things in the music industry have changed in the last 15 years, but there are many remnants of the old industry. It's time to update the industry's primary awards night. What else do you think could be done?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not fearing the flu

So, the thing is... I don't get the flu shot.

I used to. And someday, I may do so again. But, otherwise, the way I see it, I'm at the point in my lifetime where I'm feeling pretty good about avoiding the flu by being kind to my body. I don't want to get sick (like... really don't want to get sick), but I would rather roll the dice and build up the antibodies should I fall ill.

I realize this is a terribly out-of-date way to approach preventing illness.

I'm not one of those anti-vaccine people (by the way, the guy who started that whole thing about the MMR vaccine causing autism? Yeah, discredited and debunked.) Honestly, because of bad science, I can now walk down the street three blocks to the pharmacy and get a Whooping Cough vaccination because we have cases here in Washington that have stemmed from people not vaccinating their children. I like vaccinations.

But not for the flu. Like I said, someday, when I fall into a higher risk category, when my body isn't as well equipped to fight off a serious virus, sure, I'll vax up.

What's troubling to me is the way the Centers for Disease Control suggest you prevent the flu. To recap: drugs, cover your mouth, drugs. The "cover-your-mouth" section entertains me, in a dark way. Read it too carefully and, soon, you're walking around in a surgical mask and gloves, bankrolling Purell and probably, inadvertently, making yourself more vulnerable to diseases. I like to think my immune system is a baseball player. That bats really well. Why is it, with few exceptions, knocking viruses and infection out of the park? I've let it get tons of practice.

I used to ride the subway in New York, bare hands on one of those stainless steel standee poles. My eye would itch. I'd scratch it with the hand that touched the pole. Didn't care. You might think that's gross. I think it's called building immunity. Not exposing myself to those germs means not getting the immune system benefit.

Moreover, where are the lines from the CDC about just, you know, trying to be healthy? Being kind to your body? Letting your immune system have every possible advantage?

When I read about the current flu outbreak, I grab a glass of water. Dude, viruses HATE hydration. I don't care if I have to visit the toilet 50 times a day. That's a sign I'm drinking a lot of liquids and making my body as challenging as flipping possible for a virus to thrive in. I drink alcohol a fair amount. Optimistically, I'd like to think that means my white blood cells are used to operating with an elevated BAC and when I cut back on alcohol (like I do when I know there are a lot of sick people around), they turn into super white blood cells that probably use automatic weapons. Either way, cutting back on spirits can only help my immune system battle.

On top of this, I eat pretty well. I work out nearly every day.

I've spent the last five years traveling on flipping airplanes every week or so and I still, roughly, get two colds a year. Those colds, by the way? Same kind of virus that could be the flu. So those colds even help me by providing me with antibodies.

We live in what is probably the most germ-ophobic culture in human history. For 50,000 years, we have not only survived but thrived, fighting off maladies that could have leveled us. Like, you know, smallpox, which had a mortality rate over 30 percent. While the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic had a mortality rate of, perhaps 20% (likely much lower), the "usual" flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%

Maybe it's because being sick these days, more often than not, means "working from home while feeling like all hell." Maybe we're all genuinely afraid of death. Whatever the reason, we believe the flu is here to kill us.

In my case, I believe my body is built - except in extreme circumstances - to kill the flu.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm not cool

Several years ago, on New Year's Eve, I made a resolution that I was going to run a 5k. For a variety of reasons, this has not happened. One of the primary reasons is that I don't particularly enjoy running. Those who know me have noticed I walk a little funny... on my toes, spring in my step, whatever you want to call it. The upshot of this is I have completely jacked calf muscles.

The downside is that running has always been something of a challenge for me. For a long time, if I ran for more than 20 minutes, I got sharp pains inside my knee. It was insane. I never had it checked out or anything and, let me be clear, for the past eight years or so since I have been working out regularly, I have done every cardio machine in the gym, hit spin classes and more and never felt any pain. It's running.

Then came the challenge. See, first of all, I live in Seattle, which means I am virtually surrounded by runners. Second, last fall, I was at a friend's wedding. This friend happens to run half and full marathons (and, honestly, bully for him... that takes a ton of time and work and he owns). One of the other guys we were with (who happens to live in Little Rock) announced that he was setting a goal of running the half marathon in his hometown this March. Every guy around the table chimed in that they were in, too. Eyes fell on me.

Not a chance. But, if there was a 5k available, I'd run it. This was met with lots of talk of how I could train for the half, but this is a group that was happier to hang out together than worry over how far people intend to run.

Then, I started telling people about my 5k plan. I cannot tell you how many people look at me and, their first reaction is simply this: "Why aren't you doing the half?!"

It seems everyone and their sister is training to run at least 13.1 miles at a time. My little 3.1-mile run? Not impressive. I've had a few people tell me that "anyone" can run a 5k. You give me five minutes, I can find you someone who most definitely cannot run a 5k.

I don't know if it's the trendy thing to run half and full marathons, but it seems like I know more people who run that level of distance than people who simply run to stay in shape. I know how many calories I burn running 3 miles. People who run 10 miles four nights a week are doing way more than staying in shape.

The sad thing for me... I'm getting better at running. In my training for the 5k, I'm finding that 3.1 miles is possibly the ceiling of how far I can run without knee trouble, but I do it well. But no one seems to find this commendable. I've set a goal for myself to run this thing in under 30 minutes. That one's a real laugher for some people, too. Never mind I ran my fastest mile ever in 1994 and clocked in a booming 7:54. I might (a big might) be able to run a mile that fast right now. But 3? With another tenth of a mile tacked on? Not bloody likely.

There is such a culture of distance running, though, that many I've talked to kind of just chuckle at my 5k goal. I'm not cool. I'm not doing what the cool kids are doing.

Worse, it extends to the ski slopes. I ski to be outside in the mountains. I ski because I enjoy it. I ski because schussing down a slope is something that physics didn't design my body to do on its own, but with skis, I can do it. Since fifth grade, I've been skiing. But... again, I'm not cool.

The cool kids are into backcountry skiing. Tearing up untouched fresh powder. I get it. It's skiing like no other. Hate to say though... it's just not for me. I tend to stick to "the groomers," slopes within the ski area boundaries that have been worked over by the ski area to, honestly, make for easier, safer skiing. As a result, I have really short skis (when I want to turn, I don't want to wait for it).

The past few years, I have been amazed at how, more and more, telling skiers I meet that I stick to the groomers has been met with, at best, nice nods and smiles. I hear, more often than you might think, things like "well, when you decide to get some powder skis, I can show you some real skiing." No one is ever going to be impressed with any tales of mine from the slopes.

I get it with running, too. People saying, "well, when you decide to do a half, I'll definitely help you train."

On the good side of all this, I enjoy what I'm doing. I run a faster 5k and I feel great about it. I ski a fantastic run that feels so good even at a good speed and it feels like all those years of learning on different terrain have paid off. I don't need an added rush.

So, no, I'm not cool, I guess. I'm not going to spend $1,200 on a killer new pair of rocker skis to crash a bunch of powder. I'm not going to run farther than I think I can go and make myself miserable in the process.

But, lately, I feel like one of the few who chooses the route I take.