Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Live rock shows I want to see before I die


OK, so maybe I'm not old enough to be composing "bucket lists" just yet. But I do care a heck of a lot about music, something that has been an integral part of my life since I was a kid. And some of the musicians who have made a big impact on me aren't exactly aging in reverse Benjamin-Button-style, so I figured I'd better get this list down before I regret it. Because, you know, that might actually win me some tickets or something. In an alternate universe.

This is a unique list. It's not a list of my favorite artists, which is insanely long and heavily peppered by relatively obscure acts like Toad the Wet Sprocket and completely obscure and practically defunct artists like The Deliriants. No, this is a list of (rock) bands that I haven't seen live, but want to, somehow, somewhere. Admittedly, some of these are probably pipe dreams. But others aren't, so let's take a look:

1. Led Zeppelin


Jimmy Page with Robert Plant 2 - Led Zeppelin - 1977


I know what you're thinking: "Ha ha, very funny Mike. One of them is dead, and they'll never tour again." But hear me out. In 2007, Led Zeppelin reunited for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert with Jason Bonham on the drums. They considered touring but Robert Plant backed out. But outside of John Bonham obviously, they're all still alive! It could happen again! I would totally see basically any combination of these guys if they came to the States - even if Jason Bonham couldn't be on drums. (My personal fantasy would be if Dave Grohl could be on drums.) But wouldn't it also be cool if Page, Jones, and Bonham toured with some young punk like Andrew Stockdale who could still hit all the high notes? Let's just pretend it could happen and leave it at that.

2. Peter Gabriel


Peter-Gabriel-2011I2
Right, so here's another long shot. But I can't make a list like this without including the Sledgehammer. I've watched enough YouTube videos of his tours to know that any live performance by him would be epic to witness in person. Try finding one of the videos of "Come Talk To Me" (particularly with Paula Cole singing the harmony parts) and tell me I'm wrong. Heck, I bet he could even deliver a compelling performance from a wheelchair. He toured the States in 2012 so maybe it'll happen again.

3. Sleater-Kinney

And now we're not only getting realistic, but completely changing the dynamic of the list! After reading the first two entries, this has to throw you for a loop, right? Well, I have to admit that after seeing the video at the top of the post and reading this review, my interest has been piqued.

And, let's be honest, I simply can't bring myself to make a list like this that's full of dudes when I've enjoyed so many concerts by female artists or female-fronted bands, like these:
  • Letters to Cleo (multiple times)
  • Liz Phair
  • Jonatha Brooke
  • Sarah MacLachlan
  • Patty Griffin
  • Tori Amos
Jonatha Brooke was on an early version of this list, and then I saw her at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which was an excellent show. So, let's hear it for the chicks. They've made some seriously excellent rock over the years, and S-K is just one example that I'd like to see. Any band that makes use of D♭ tuning gets my respect.

4. Cake

Cake band
Let's stick with the quirky West Coast alternative bands for a bit, shall we? These guys are nothing if not unique, featuring a trumpet in almost every song and a deadpan delivery that probably turns off most music fans. But I once heard that their typical club show includes full-blown crowd involvement, particularly on the songs where there's a lot of "callback" shouting vocals. Whenever I listen to their songs from Prolonging the Magic and Comfort Eagle, I can't help but picture how awesome that must be. 

5. OK GO

 How can dudes who came up with this idea be anything but brilliant in concert?

And that's just ONE of their zany videos! Have you seen the Rube Goldberg one? Or the one with the treadmills? How about the drone one? Sign me up.

 

6. Pearl Jam


PearlJam-Oakland-2013
Thankfully, these guys have continued to produce excellent music and continue touring. And I think they've finally found "their drummer" with Matt Cameron. So I'm really hopeful that someday this will come together. Cost might be an obstacle, but really, shouldn't something on a bucket list be worth spending money on?

 

  7. Del Amitri

As far as I know, these guys are broken up. The lead singer gets out once in a while, but I think this is also a long shot. I'm a bit pessimistic at times. Probably because I've listened to a lot of Del Amitri.

 

8. Carbon Leaf

So let's find some optimism! I only know a few of these guys' songs, but what I have heard is really, really amazing. That rare group that can make upbeat, poppy songs without sounding like Hanson.


9. Beth Orton

All right, I'll admit it, once I got to like seven on this list I started coming up with reaches so I could get to ten. I have a few of Beth's songs, and love them, and she'd probably be great in concert. But I won't be heartbroken if I never see her.


10. Muse

England's loudest band!!!! Here's another confession: I ran out of steam talking about these groups. What's that saying on writing about music? Forget it...just watch the video already. And turn it up!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Performance, not Outcome

I'll skip the obligatory comment at how infrequently I blog and jump right to the topic I want to discuss.



When I was in high school, I played on the tennis team, starting out at the bottom of the totem pole my sophomore year, but getting to the 6th slot as a senior. Anyway, my coach and opposing coaches noticed how much better I played in practice than in matches. When just "hitting", I was loose, placing solid ground strokes and firing decent serves. But in matches, I tensed up and was easily beaten by almost anyone who could chase down the ball and get it back over the net. My coach asked me why that was, and I had no good answer.

But I didn't have to wait long to get one. As part of a writing assignment in college, I interviewed a sports psychologist. I described my problem and asked her why I had it, expecting a complicated answer. She replied very directly.

"Mike, that's simple. What's going on is you are changing your focus. When you practice, your focus is on your performance. When you are playing, you are worried about the results of the match. Your focus has shifted to the outcome. Nobody can play well when they are constantly worried about the score."

I was flabbergasted. It all made so much sense. Why hadn't I thought of that before?

She went on to tell me all kinds of pertinent stories, such as how the legendary John Wooden would address the same topic in the huddle with his players. They would say, "But Coach, look at the score, we're losing!" And he would reply, "I don't care about the score. Do what I'm asking you to do, and the score won't matter." And ironically, by focusing on performance, Coach Wooden had tremendous success - you certainly can't argue with his results.

This concept would prove very valuable to me later in life, even in relatively low pressure situations. When I was in a young rock band and we'd be getting ready to play to a tough crowd or open up for a really good band, some of the guys would get nervous about the gig. I would say to the them, "Listen, forget about that other band. Forget about how the audience reacts. We're a good band, and we've practiced these songs over and over. Let's focus on playing them as well as we've practiced them. If you frig up, laugh at yourself and move on, because if we have fun, the audience is more likely to have fun. But if we're not having fun, they won't have a good time no matter what we sound like." I'm not sure if this helped the other guys or not, but I know it helped me.

And now, in my professional career, I'm lucky that I'm not in a lot of high-pressure situations on a regular basis. But sometimes I am, and when I have time to prepare, I can focus on my performance to deliver my best. Let's take public speaking, particularly delivering prepared speeches or presentations. I generally get quite a charge out of it; the bigger the group and higher the profile, the more excited I get. But I won't kid you, that excitement is accompanied by serious nerves - my hands shake and my throat goes dry. If I start thinking about how the audience will react, I'm dead in the water.

So I keep my focus on my performance. When I received an award from my peers in 2011, I had to give an acceptance speech in front of about 400 of them, many who I admired greatly. I must have practiced that speech about 40 times, including a dozen tweaks. I wanted to inspire them the way they inspired me. And when it came time to deliver, I was a wreck. But I focused on my performance, remembering each point, recalling each transition in order. No notes. It probably lasted only 10 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

Pretty sure I nailed it, though. Folks couldn't stop talking to me about it the rest of the conference.

But that's enough of me puffin' out my chest. That's not why I'm writing this piece. No, I'm writing to pass along this bit of advice that has served me so well for so many years. Develop your skills, practice them over and over, and then when it comes time to deliver, make sure your focus stays where it should: executing the task at hand. Forget about what might happen if you screw up, or if folks don't like the results. If you focus on the performance, the outcome will take care of itself.

This can apply to sports, public speaking, writing code, or just about any job you can think of. None of us is good at everything, and those of us who are really good at something have probably practiced it quite a bit. Sure, talent can take you to the game, but it's hard work that lets you take home the trophy. And you won't win every time; sometimes you miss the basket, sometimes your product fails on launch, sometimes you sing an amazing song in front of the wrong audience. But if you set aside the worry and focus on delivering what you've practiced, you'll succeed more often than not.

And there's always something new to practice, something new to learn. Heck, I'm still not very good in those classic high-pressure, confrontational situations that others seem to handle like second nature. I may never have the quick wit of Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet character in The West Wing, or be able to keep my cool like Liam Neeson in Taken.


But maybe one day I'll be able to play a match of tennis just as loose as I am in practice.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thoughts on this weekend's NFL playoff games

Yesterday's game, and this weekend in general, have prompted me to revive this blog. I'll probably post again in 5 years. Many of the thoughts below are also inspired by Bill Simmons' articles on Grantland.com.

All day yesterday I was grumpy, like Bill Belicheck in the photo above. I hate when my favorite team (the Patriots) plays the Ravens. I hate the Ravens in general, but particularly lately since they've been so darn good at beating the Pats, even in Foxborough.

So, given the up-and-down nature of the game, I was grumpy during most of the game, too. But the Pats pulled out an "epic comeback", and I was much happier when the whistle blew. I'm looking forward to next week, and hopefully a date in February.

Some thoughts on that game:
  • Amazing play with Edelman tossing to Amendola...brought back memories of the inventive Pats offense from a decade ago.
  • I wish Brady would run for a TD every game...he gets fired up and everyone feeds off that.
  • I can't believe Belicheck didn't even run the ball once or twice in those last two minutes. I've never understood the whole, "only two minutes left, we have four downs, we can take four knees" game plan, and with one TO left, Harbaugh proved to them why it's not always a given, especially in the playoffs. A head coach HAS to know that the other team still has a way to stop the clock, and at least attempt to retain possession of the ball. I'm glad it ended well; if the birds had scored on that Hail Mary, it would have been the biggest stomach punch game of all time.
Some thoughts on remaining games:
  • I don't think Romo has a chance in Lambaugh unless DeMarco Murray runs for 200 yards.
  • Sure, as one of Simmons' readers pointed out, Rodgers only has one playoff win (against Joe Webb) outside of his Super-Bowl winning year. But let's be honest; you can pin a lot of those losses on McCarthy. With a coach who knew how to manage the clock, Rodgers would probably have won two Super Bowls right now.
  • I think Indianapolis loses today, for the final Brady-Manning showdown (I think Manning retires after this year). And Peyton will throw at least two picks in Foxborough.
  • I am totally scared of Seattle. But, like the Packers, what is scary about them is how good they are even with a tool as a coach (H/T to my bro). But I think this season will reflect Green Bay's '98 season: a consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, but this time with a loss. Then Russel will spend the rest of his career trying to get back to the big game.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Money Motivator



This may be a lame post compared to the video above, but I needed an excuse to embed it in my blog. Any time a cool video explains research that challenges our commonly held assumptions comes out, it deserves a place in the Assumption Blanket. Plus, I think our motivations for clipping coupons fits well with the research. We do a basic task, we get rewarded for it, so we do more.

As for our rewards, I play catch-up with this post a bit. In April, we averaged 24.10% over 6 grocery trips for a total savings of $124.49. In May, we made 7 trips, averaging 30.47% savings from coupons, for a grand total of $224.63. That brings my running total to $853.10 for the first 5 months of the year. Talk about surprises - that's "The Truth!"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marching down the savings


I don't know what's more fun: Entering crazy numbers into an Excel spreadsheet or finding weird pictures to use in my Grocery Coupon Challenge. But one thing I DO know is my wife the Grocery Coupon Queen is dropping the bills like Aaron Burr dropped Alexander Hamilton. And yet, she's saving a bunch of Hamiltons at the same time! Oh, the irony. Our March savings with coupons: 30.39% of our total grocery bill, or a whopping $258.83. That brings us to a savings of $503.98 after three months. If I keep on my bookkeeping roll, I should be able to report April too, which saw us busy with the tax man and a garage sale. Good times!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

37.56% in February 2010! Holy...



OK, so I know I'm behind a month in posting our results of our "Grocery Coupon Challenge" (which is what I'm calling it this week). But we lost a receipt so I got all flustered. But whatever, in February we saved an average of 37.56% and a total of $92.16, and that's with one Rainbow receipt missing. That brings our running total to $245.15. And that's no April Fool's Day Joke!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tallying up the Coup's

Coke: The first awesome coupon

OK, so I think I finally found a purpose for posting regularly on my otherwise completely useless blog: tallying up the awesome savings my illustrious spouse achieves by clipping and using coupons. She's been kicking so much grocery-chain rear lately, we decided to track it and total it up, just to satisfy our own curiosity.

Then I thought, "Why not broadcast it to the world?" (Or in this case, to my 3.6 readers.) It seems like folks at FiLife are always asking how much someone can really save by clipping coupons. Well, I figured I could provide an example for one family for one year. You'll have to take us for our word, but I don't have much incentive to overblow it. Here's the ground rules:

  • My wife keeps her regular coupon-clipping routine: about an hour a week, mostly out of the Sunday paper circulars or what junk mailers send us. We don't have luck with printers, so we don't hunt for them online (sorry).

  • We only count our three regular grocery destinations: Target, Cub Foods, and Rainbow Foods. No Dollar Store, Savers, or other places where beef jerky is prominently displayed.

  • We trust whatever the store tells us on the receipt that we "saved" in dollars at the bottom of the receipt. This will count in-store specials and stuff, which might over-estimate our total, but I figure that's balanced out by skipping the smaller stores where we sometimes shop.


I'll post the results for each month here, although there will be a slight delay. The results for January, 2010: an average savings of 29% of the bill for a total of $152.99. Seriously.

Do I have an incredible wife, or what? The only downside to this that I can see is she'll want half the money back in spa treatments, and I'll have already spent it on Summit Horizon Red.