Feb 24

Combien de temps?

It was 44 degrees and sunny outside today. And the days, as Wendy Waldman wrote, are getting longer. I’ll take that.

I talked to a former colleague today. He’s in Las Vegas working on Super Bowl productions. He said it was raining and cold. So maybe I have the better end of the deal today. Who can say.

Anyway, I have some writing to do and some grading to get to … so let’s work through a few things quickly here.

In class last night we talked about selected readings of Marshall McLuhan and Ibrham Kendi. This particular group seems unimpressed by McLuhan, which means I should have prefaced the assignment a bit better, but they were good sports about the reading, and several fine points were made in our discussion. I think I’ll show the class the first 90 seconds of this video next week. “And you … are numb to it.”

From Ibram Kendi, we discussed a chapter of the book that inspired this upcoming documentary.

The chapter that they read and talked about comes earlier, and focuses on Portugal, and Prince Henry, and an influential book. I think the assignment is powerful given the times and, sometimes, the personality of the class augments that. But the basis of the reading, for our purposes, is about the timing of the book written by Henry’s biographer, Gomes Zurara, and Portugal, and soon, Europe’s increased navigational skill. Circumstance meets opportunity, meets economics, basically. Or, at least, it seems so from way over here in the 21st century.

But if that is to be a documentary coming next fall, I wonder if this particular reading will stay in the syllabus for much longer after that.

When I taught this class last fall, the Kendi conversation was a bit different. So often these things just come down to the dynamic of the people in the room. I know that to be the case, and yet it always impresses me, one way or the other.

Just so you don’t think there were no photos of me diving in Cozumel, there were. Here’s me and Jennifer the turtle.

So we’re checking this turtle out, and she’s wedged herself into that little rock and coral formation pretty good, such that I wondered, for a moment, if she was stuck. You stay a reasonable distance away, because you’re not trying to harm or even spook the creatures. And after we’d been there a moment or two the turtle seemed to realize that we weren’t going to do her harm, and so just sat there, ignored us and allowed us to take pictures.

These are drift dives, and there are seven people in the water. But what a drift dive means is that not all seven people are in the same place. It’s hard to swim against these currents — more on that on another day — and so you c’est la vie in bubbles. You see this, you miss that. With Jennifer the turtle, then, was the local divemaster, me and my lovely bride. The dive master, at one point, takes his fin off to try to show a sense of scale, because that turtle was very large. We’re all moving around, taking turns giving the best views. At one point the dive master is just to my left and I hear him scream. Underwater, of course, that sounds like “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Now, I know that only the three of us are here. I know where all three of us are in relation to one another. And I know it’s this guy, the professional. The first three synapses that fired were “The dive master is yelling,” and “It can’t be good that the dive master is yelling,” and “What will I need to do for this man, and then what?”

All of which happens, of course, in the moment it takes to turn my head to look at him, to my immediate left. I see him there, wide eyed, and he’s pointing back across me, to my right.

We’d been so focused on that turtle that we hadn’t seen the shark, sleeping just four feet away from us.

This was a nurse shark, and nothing to be scared of. The yell was more of an “OHMYGAH! LOOK WHAT WE ALMOST MISSED.”

This was funny because when we got back to the surface and he was telling the other four divers about it, he tried to tell the story like we had somehow missed it, but for his expert eye. Someone pointed out that he was the one making the “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” noise.

And that someone …

He also said, did the dive master, that believe it or not, he named that turtle. He was the pleasant jokester sort, and so I asked, with a big grin, if he meant right then. No no, he said, several years before. So that’s Jennifer the turtle, and it was lovely to meet her. And her shark neighbor.

Let us quickly return to the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I am playing all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. And today’s installment puts us in the late summer or early fall of 2004. It was a good time for music collection, if you were around people with musical tastes you liked, or if you had a good library close at hand. If you had one or both of those, and a CD burner, you could add to your collection quickly and inexpensively. Both of those two things will be the case in a few of these upcoming installments. The library, in this instance.

I borrowed from the local municipal lending institution, R.E.M.’s “Eponymous.” I did not own a copy of a single R.E.M. song at that point. Hadn’t needed to. But here was a greatest hits and here was the clean copy at the library and i had one of those giant cylinders of blank CD-R discs at the office.

And so …

Because this is a greatest hits — I think in the most artistic possible meaning, which is to say they wanted to fulfill their contract with I.R.S. and get onto their new deal at Warners, and a greatest hits record is a good way to check a box on a list — there’s not really a great point to dissecting this. And since it was a library addition, I always thought of it is a catalog addition, something to round out a corner and fill up a part of a CD book. It’s great, but I never listened to it all that much because, basically, most of these songs were always on the air somewhere, it seemed like.

I was struck, listening to this yesterday, though, how the tracks improve over the course of the CD. The instrumentation, the lyricism, the production values, all of it. The tracks were shared on “Eponymous” in chronological order, so that makes sense. And somewhere around “Driver 8,” which was off their third album, you can hear the full band understanding they were going to reach their real potential.

So that’s fun.

Also, and there’s no really good way to illustrate this, but while you’re basically listening to the first wave of modern rock music there (Remember, it’s the early 1980s and the boys from Athens are the absolute antithesis of everyone else playing anything at that moment. So we’re talking R.E.M., The Pixies, Camper van Beethoven and not much else.) you are also hearing the stuff that inspired the next 15 or 20 years of music.

They called it quits in 2011, of course. They’ve denied reunion rumors and said no in countless interviews in the years since. It’s easy to believe. And probably the right choice for everybody involved, but still a bit unfortunate for fans.

Update: And just a week later, this happened. There’s a touring act commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Murmur” and that show was in Athens and look who all got on stage. Reportedly, this was the first time they’d been together in 17 years.

Jan 24

Everything you want: food, meditative video, fish, music

I made a culinary innovation this morning, the likes of which will surely land me my own cooking show.

This would be my second cooking show pitch. The first one was, in my estimation, even better. The host is a character who plays an earnest, straight up sort, but he can’t cook. He’s also a bachelor. So the entire show is a dry humor examination of what that guy does to subsist, nutritionally. It’d be a short show, because he’s a bachelor who can’t cook, see. But there’s a lot of comedy in cold cuts and Hamburger Helper, I’m certain of it.

Today’s move — and if you happened to be in your kitchen at the same I was in mine and making this happen, you might have felt it too — isn’t earth shattering, but it is destined to change breakfast paradigms everywhere.

In an attempt to cut the taste of the maple syrup in the new granola, I did this.

Grapes! Dried raisins! The store-brand even!

It worked perfectly, HGTV. Now where do I sign?

If you’re wondering, this is the granola brand, which kicked off this new breakfast experiment yesterday. The serving sizes on the back of the bag aren’t for normal human beings, but there’s at least another day in here.

What I’m thinking of doing, because I bought four different varieties from three brands, is mixing the last ones together. That day, in a few weeks, some random Wednesday when I don’t see it coming, is when I’ll stumble on the perfect mixture. The flavor profile will send me to the studio to right songs about the experience, and I’ll spend the rest of my days chasing that mixture, the mad breakfast alchemist who can’t ever quite get it right again.

I forgot to include this here, but one of the big sheets of snow that slid off the roof was hanging at almost eye level over the back door. It was the perfect height to admire and fear. And so I give you 58 seconds of zen.


Even though it has warmed up and the snow is now all gone, it’ll be days before I can go out that door without thinking about an avalanche of mushy, days old snow landing on head, getting down my shirt, into my shoes.

Much better than that, picturing myself being underwater. When we were in Cozumel recently it was the low 80s every day. Just perfect.

Here’s my favorite fish.

It just occurred to me that these are the photos I like best, and I don’t take many of them. So I have to diving again. Drat!

You can’t see this ray, because this ray is hiding from you. Keep moving, stranger.

Here’s another shot of our old friend the black triggerfish. This fish is the pinstripe, skinny tie wearing fish of the sea, and you know it.

He might know it, too.

I don’t think we’ve seen the spotted trunkfish (Lactophrys bicaudalis), or boxfish, on this trip yet. If the triggerfish wears the fashionable suits, the trunkfish is the guy who really thinks he’s a hipster, but he’s trying too hard.

The trunkfish is a slow mover, owing to its size. It eats shrimp and mollusc and sea urchins and sea cucumbers. It has a toxin that is dangerous to ingest. The spots are actually a “stay away” warning for predators. Wikipedia tells me that predators as large as nurse sharks can die from eating a trunkfish.

Oh, look. A lobster. “Keep it moving,” he says with his antennae. Peering in at lobsters always feels intrusive, somehow, even moreso than just floating over his home, as we do.

No wonder they are always pointing the way toward the best currents. He does not want you to see what he’s warming up the butter for back there.

We haven’t visited the Re-Listening project in a while. This is where I’m playing all of my old CDs in the car, in the order of acquisition. These aren’t reviews, but ways to pad out the site with videos, and, occasionally, a trip down memory lane. The prevailing memory here is from the summer of 2004.

This song came on MTV or VH1 or whatever was on and within 60 seconds I realized I needed to buy the record.

And so I did. This is the only Keane CD I have, which is a shame. In terms of British fame it’s the Beatles, Oasis, Radiohead and Keane. This debut album was the eighth most sold of the oughts in the UK, where it lodged at number two on the year-ending charts. On the weekly charts here in the U.S., “Hopes and Fears” peaked at 45. The debut single didn’t chart here, apparently, but hit the top 10 in a half dozen other countries, and was certified double platinum in the U.K.

None of this seems to fit my memory, but the web isn’t wrong about things like this.

The second single’s video went minimalist. I’m sure this is the Beatles and Apple influence.

Anyway, it was good for car singing, and I don’t seem to have a lot of specific memories attached to it, otherwise. Other, that is, than the observation that pop music had (with the exception of Ben Folds) all but turned the piano into an exotic instrument by then. This is the alternate video for the fourth single, because labels were still doing that back then, and it is a study on the limitations of media technologies.

The last single on the record enjoyed a bit of success in the United States. “Bend and Break” landed at 20 on the alternative charts. And the video is enough to make me regret having never seen them live. It looks like it could be a good show.

Keane have released four more records over the years, three of which hit the top 20 in the US, and two in the top 10. The oversight of my not having them in the personal collection are mine alone.

And Keane are still going. This year they’re celebrating 20 years of this record, which is a thing bands must do now. They’re touring extensively across Europe for the first part of the year, but they’ll be visiting North America late in the summer. I could see them in September.

How many shows are too many shows in September, anyway?

Dec 23

Come for the moss, stay for the harmonies

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? It gives tomorrow meaning! And heft! And Wednesdays deserve a certain kinetic energy, a notion of real accomplishment, right there in the middle of the week.

These are the things you can say when you just don’t feel like getting to those things on a Tuesday. But you still must go to the grocery store. So I did that. Picked up ginger ale and some lunch stuff and headed back to the house. Back to the grading, which is now, mercifully, almost done.

I’m slow walking it, and I don’t really know why. I have the time; maybe that’s why. But I’m giving myself an arbitrary deadline, just to be done with it. Why do Friday what you can wrap up on Wednesday?

Actually, today was spent compiling grades. There are a great many good grades, for which I am thankful. Either they knew it or they got it. If they got it from the class they might have learned it from me. If they learned it from me, that means the semester was a success.

That, of course, is just the quantitative part of it all. The real success of a term is: look how much we’ve learned, and how much we’ve grown!

I spent a little time this afternoon with the fig tree in the backyard. I bet I’ll be writing that sentence once a week all winter. Also, I found a reason to have a post-holiday inspection of the greenhouse. It came with the new place, but by the time we got here this summer there wasn’t much need for it. The late growing season got away from us too quickly. But something about that little 8 x 6 space in the corner of the yard just intrigues me.

I also walked around for a few photos.

I found a bit of moss growing in the stonework of the fence.

You wonder what all of that blue and purple sediments are in there. I wonder how I hadn’t yet noticed them.

Almost everyday, I still learn something new about the place. I have just come to think of it as little surprises from the previous owners. Some of them are quite neat, and they make sense. Others, you wonder, What was the thought process here? Expediency explains some things. Maybe, for other things, I just can’t see the problem the same way, but I wonder how they saw the solution. Perhaps it is best to stick with expediency.

On top of that same stone pillar.

I have this probably false memory of an elementary school teacher trying to teach the class about evolution and moss and lichen became part of the explanation. The moss beneath your tree could be the beginning of some future society! Real or not, elementary or not, the idea is sitting there in the hippocampus. Every so often I see a batch of moss and that comes to the fore.

This is on the backside of a stone column that is itself not in the most highly trafficked area. The next time I look upon it, there could be more. But I’ll probably see it again before it sprouts a proper civilization.

This I’ll see more often. It’s on a table. I’ll leave it ’til the spring.

That stuff can’t be the genesis of the next apex society. We’ll be using the space for our own social purposes when the weather turns.

And while it isn’t terribly cold just now, it could turn warmer again right now and that’d be fine. It’s mid-December, which is the time to realize: you didn’t dine outside enough this year.

The lesson is simple. Don’t put that off until next year, again.

Back to the Re-Listening project. In my car, I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the order in which I acquired them. I’m writing about it here, to share music, pad the space and, occasionally, take a trip down memory lane. Today that trip takes us back to the second half of 2004.

I was in a record store — remember those? — and flipping through the T section, or the Rock section, or the Alt section or the Stuff You Don’T Know About But Are Gonna Love section and I saw this photo of three dudes walking away from the camera. They’re all holding guitars. The text on the image said The Thorns. And, somehow, I divined that this was Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins. This was something of a supergroup.

Sweet had a huge hit, in 1991’s “Girlfriend” under his belt. That song went to number four. In 1993 he had another song make it all the way to the third slot on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart and in 1995 he had a smash hit with “Sick of Myself,” which hit 58 on the Billboard Hot 100, 13 on the Mainstream Rock chart and number two on the Alternative Airplay chart. Droge, meanwhile, had become one of those musician’s musicians. He opened for the biggest names in the business, he toured relentlessly, his songs landed on major movie soundtracks, appeared in “Almost Famous” and has produced a lot of other great musicians studio projects as well. And in the oughts, everyone was familiar with Mullins, who was a 10-year-long overnight success by this point. He’d had four songs lodged firmly in the Alternative Airplay charts. “Lullaby,” of course, topped that chart in 1998. And then, here they were in 2003, all sat down together to put this little project together, The Thorns.

Brendan O’Brien produced the record, and played on it. By then, he’d produced huge albums for Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, Paul Westerberg, Soundgarden, Neil Young, Dan Baird, Rage Against the Machine, Michael Penn, Korn, Train and Springsteen, to name quite a few.

This is what they came up with.

First track:

They released a music video for this song.

And what’s most interesting, but doesn’t seem to be online, is that I bought this as a two-disc set. The second disc is called The Sunset Session. They took a day off from touring in July of 2003 and recorded an acoustic version of the whole album. It might be even better than what I’m sharing with you here.

We don’t have a “Blue” policy on the site. Maybe we should. Let’s make a “Blue” policy. When you run across a Jayhawks cover, you have to share it. So here’s The Thorns’ cover of “Blue.”

Sweet has supported The Jayhawks, so I suppose that’s part of why that Americana classic is here.

The album is eponymously named, but there is a title track of sorts. It starts with these big drums, and it must have been a challenge during the production to settle on waiting until the fifth track to get this into your ears. And we’ll talk about that rhythm section right after this.

Jim Keltner, widely regarded as one of the best drummers in the business is playing on this record. He was about 62 here, but you wouldn’t know it from how he plays. And how he plays is magical. We could be here for a while working through a list of people he’s kept time for, but we’ll just say this, he’s played for three Beatles. Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Bee Gees, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Brian Wilson, the Traveling Wilburys and a host of others were in his Rolodex.

(It seems a few songs from the Sunset Sessions that have been uploaded. Here’s one now.)

Perhaps you’ve heard him in here, but Roy Bittan, from the E Street Band, is on this record. “The Professor” is another one of those omnipresent musicians. He’s played for everyone from Bowie to Dylan, to Gabriel, and from Dion to Reed and Meat Loaf and Steinman.

Go ahead and play this one loud while we talk about all the many strings you’ll hear throughout the record.

In addition to the guitars, this album will give you a vihuela, a marxophone, a dulcimer, a ukelin, a hurdy gurdy and some symphonic strings. They might have been showing off a bit.

You might think we’re listening to the whole album here, and I was tempted, but no. We’re only playing 70 percent of it.

Take just a moment here and think about how many classic pop-rock could also give you this song. This could be the Eagles, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash or anyone that’s ever sang harmony in Laurel Canyon.

I like to think most every album has a song on it that requires an open road, open windows and an odometer that urges you to disregard the posted speed limit. This would be that song.

I did not see The Thorns in concert. (I’ve seen Mullins a few times and Sweet once. That has to count for something.) They toured North America and Europe on this project and then each went back to their regular projects. The closest I got was a date they had in Atlanta, but that was before I even knew they existed as a group. But I did find this high quality recording of a show in Germany.

And with that, I am finally all caught up on the Re-Listening project. Caught up on writing about it, that is. Somehow, for much of the next 20 years I didn’t buy an awful lot of music. There are only two giant books to listen through. At this rate the Re-Listening project should run through next year. But I’ve lately been getting new records … this may continue until 2026.

Dec 23

‘Where you are is who you are when you’re sleeping’

Woke up before the alarm this morning. This sometimes happens. Usually, when it happens, it is because my alarm wasn’t set especially early that day. Today I woke up by a distant meow. It seems I’d accidentally closed the cat into the home office overnight.

He was fine, but I felt bad about the whole thing of course. Our cats, however, are incredibly forgiving. A few moments later he was cuddling and purring and, thereafter, underfoot. There’s a lesson in there, and don’t you know I spent most of the morning apologizing to him anyway.

I did a few other things with my morning and early afternoon, small things. Things that don’t even build momentum to larger things. So, in retrospect, I should have done more. I’ve had the good fortune to gear down the last few days as we approach the end of the semester, but, starting this weekend or so it’ll be time to look ahead, speed up and start making choices my students will have to live with until May. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Two classes today, as has been this semester’s Thursday routine. Today was our last time together. Today we screened their final projects.

I’d broken them up into groups, based on their own interests and dislikes in crew positions. Each group had to then create a two-minute public service announcement. They’ve had the opportunity to work on this for about a month. Some of them have used some of that time wisely. The pre-production part of the assignment demanded it. One group may have produced their entire video project yesterday.

All of the projects had their strengths. Most were quite creative, one or two were perfectly straightforward. I enjoyed watching them all. My favorite part is talking about them after we screened each one.

I asked the people not involved the project we watched to share some thoughts. It’s always a lot of fun to hear feedback from others, and gratifying to me to see them all reaching for something constructive and critical, but in a positive way. After almost four months of putting up with me, they’d bonded together in sympathy. Then I would ask the group members what they would do differently if they had to do it again. And then I would offer some observations. That can be as big or as little as you want it to be.

And that was it. I gave them the last big speech of the semester, reminded them of basic school-type things they needed to hear and thanked them for the semester. “Bump into me around campus. Catch me up on what you’re doing. It’s up to you. Now get out of here and go make great things.” And they all left.

The second class wrapped at about 6:30, and so I walked to the car in darkness, just before 7 p.m. There’s a peculiar feeling on a college campus on a night during finals. It’s lonely and sleepy, but alive and awake. It’s tired and full of energy. It’s full of wonder.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I drove back the long way because I missed the left, again. But I saw a lot of Christmas lights that direction and I wondered what Monday night will feel like after that class ends.

I was listening to the “Sound of Lies,” which is the next stop on the Re-Listening project. I’m playing all of my CDs in my car, in the order in which I acquired them. This is the 1997 record from The Jayhawks, and the third of their albums in a row. I bought “Sound of Lies” and the previous one, “Hollywood Town Hall,” on the same night in 2004. I bought them because, that day, I’d gotten my acceptance letter to graduate school.

That letter left me 12 days to prepare, and these records were the soundtrack, and a huge part of the musical foundation of the next year or so.

Marc Olsen had left the band. Secret weapon Karen Grotberg had been with the band a few years by now. Tim O’Reagan had settled in on drums. Gary Louris was essentially the sole front man. Probably that’s the point of the terrible cover art. But don’t judge a record by the liner notes. (It was the 90s, after all.) It does not sound like the 1997 you remember. And, as I discovered it in 2004, it was better.

The first track.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you put pablum and cliches into a lyrical form … it turns out you actually get a catchy little number.

Without distinctive moments — and, really, I spun this disc so much that it’s impossible for just one event to stand out — some of these things just fit into my memory as driving here or there. Or the car in the sunshine. In this case, it’s a lot of driving in the dark. I don’t think that’s a metaphor, but it must be something.

You want the best track on the album? You want the best track. This is fundamentally, subjectively, perfect.

O’Reagan is doing the background vocals there, and that’s just the appetizer. Also — and no one tell my lovely bride, because this is stealing her gimmick, but … — I butcher a lyric in this song every time. The way I sing it is so nonsensical it works. But probably not as well as the actual line.

But back to Grotberg. She puts in these amazing vocal runs and plays the piano. None of this works without her, and I’ll be humming this for days. It’s all her fault.

Does everyone know what the sound is at the beginning of this song? Least favorite song on the record. But it does have a random Nick Cave reference. Nick Cave, I think, is everywhere, if we but look for him.

Matthew Sweet, just a year or so removed from perhaps his biggest hit, sings on this track. I only mention that here because we’ll hear from him in the next installment.

Here’s the title track, #12, the last song on the CD. It probably should have come up earlier, because it’s a weeper to end on.

And so we’re not ending on it. Instead, I’ll backpedal to track 11 because O’Reagan wrote and sang “Bottomless Cup” and I listen to this song over and over and over again when this CD is being played.

Whenever there’s a track that has Tim O’Reagan’s name on it, I feel like I could take a master class on song writing. He produced one solo record, in 2006 when the music industry was imploding, and I should pick that up one of these days. Hang on. There, it’s in my shopping cart.

Anyway, The Jayhawks are playing right now, and touring again next spring. Oh, look, they’ll be near me in May. I might have to be there.

But that’s for a different day — and not our next visit to the Re-Listening project. Up next, here, we’ll have a supergroup of sorts.

Dec 23

Hanging a memory

Today I learned that a hack saw, a fine-tooth blade designed to cut metal, will slice through plastic with no trouble. Go figure. The plastic I was cutting was a little winged flange near the top of one of the outdoor garbage cans. I’m sure it provides strength or stability, or both, to the rim, but it’s also tearing at the weather stripping in the trunk of my car.

It’s doing that because I have to take the garbage the seven miles to the convenience center. Today was that day, so I deployed the hacksaw. And, wouldn’t you know it, the can got in the trunk just that much easier. In the backseat, two more bags a tub of recycling and a handful of cardboard. It’d been two weeks since I’d made this run, hence the extra haul. It took three minutes to unload, and about 26 minutes to make the round trip.

It was sunny, but cold today. A bit windy. I talked myself out of a bike ride. Listen to your body, they say. I didn’t argue the point. I just didn’t feel enthusiastic about it, given the temperature. Tomorrow, then, when it’ll be two degrees warmer.

Besides, Joe The Older was outside. We have two neighbors named Joe. The one across the way is Joe The Older. Retired developer and buckle-winning horseman. He built most of this neighborhood. Knows everyone in the tri-county area. Related to Betsy Ross. Apparently an uncle of his once owned FDR’s favorite yacht. Stand there and talk to Joe The Older for a while and you’ll get a history lesson of the Forrest Gump order. He’s a delightful man.

Just this weekend we met Joe The Younger, who is on our side of the street. They’ve only been here about a year longer than us. He’s in regional sales. New dad. Keeps an impressive yard. Big, easy smile. And so this is how I will keep them straight: Joe The Older, and Joe The Younger.

Anyway, I had a plumbing question. Figured the wise older gentleman would have an answer. Turns out, he did! The answer: nothing. It’s the best kind of solution, really.

We chatted for a while, he was taking a break from washing his truck and telling me about the deer and the foxes and the neighbors and the soil. A man so thoroughly invested in the land he knows where the marl ends and the sand begins. I told him my seven soil category story. No one likes that story, but Joe The Older respected it. My kind of guy.

I finally framed this newspaper plate. It was a stressful little exercise, trimming aluminum to fit a frame with oversized tin snips. This plate is for the front page of a 2015 newspaper. It’s a one of a kind, so there were no do overs. I checked my measurements very carefully.

This is the campus newspaper that I advised a lifetime ago. Every year we got a few of the plates from the printer. We gave one to the outgoing editor-in-chief as a thank you and keepsake. I kept one too, and for this very reason.

I had Sydney in a class her freshman year. She was the quiet, smart one. Severely smart. Sat in the back. She just wanted to do the work. I don’t know how you can be that quiet and, still, have everyone around know what you’re about. She is kind. Everyone came to admire her. Everyone saw how hard she worked, and how talented she was. In her senior year of college she was a section editor of two local papers and the editor-in-chief of her campus paper. I think she took over at least one of those locals that year, too. She was also a 4.0 student. She had, and she earned, every accolade.

Sydney won a Pulitzer Prize last year for a national reporting story she worked on for the New York Times. I work that into every conversation I can. And that’s why I have this plate on display.

This was a successful newspaper. Alongside Sydney on that year’s editorial board there’s a big shot investigative reporter. There is a business owner, two people at different agencies. Another does PR for a national construction concern. One of the prominent writers is now the director of a museum out west. They’ve earned a lot of success for themselves in just a few short years. I think about them from time-to-time. And, now, I’ll have that to glance at. A Pulitzer Prize winner put that together in her early days, and I had the good fortune to work with her for four years.

I’m about two chats away from telling Joe The Older about it.

Let us return to the Re-Listening project, where I am playing all of my old CDs in the order in which I acquired them. I’m writing about them here to pad out the site a bit, but also to enjoy the trip down memory lane, and to publish some great music. And that’s where we are today, talking about a record that was published in 1992, but I bought it in 2004.

I bought it, in fact, on August 7th, 2004, the night that I was admitted to grad school. I went to the movies and bought two CDs that night. It was, as you might imagine, a big celebration.

The record was “Hollywood Town Hall,” by The Jayhawks. I’d just finished “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” and wanted to backfill the catalog, and so those CDs were older Jayhawks projects. They were as good a choice as graduate school was.

This is the first track. The right guitar, the dreamy organ, Gary Louris with Mark Olson singing the harmony. It was a terrific start.

The singer-songwriter Joe Henry wrote the liner notes. Today it reads like this is a concept album. Henry has worked with the Jayhawks on a few records, but he doesn’t appear in the credits here. Maybe he was just being clever.

The album cover feels like that, too. Someone had to drag that sofa out into the snow for this photo series.

The album, which got to 11 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and number 192 on the Billboard 200, takes its name from that place, population 1,060 in 1992. It’s no bigger today. I wonder if anyone there knew the record and enjoyed it. It certainly seems out of place in 1992. There was grunge, late-stage guitar rock, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Ice Cube. And then up in Minnesota these guys were playing music that sounded like the Flying Burrito Brothers.

This song is one of my favorite alterna-pop tunes of all time. I play this on repeat every time I play the record. Since 2004 I have occasionally tried to figure out what falling rain and water sounds like. The paper and napkins I’ve scribbled on, trying to balance onomatopoeia, simile and metaphor. To everyone’s delight, I never get it right.

So this was August 2004 for me. I listened to these records, and probably not much else, for the next six months. So, apologies to anyone who had to be in a car with me. Because of that, though, when I saw them live late the next spring my future wife was well versed in the catalog.

In the next installment of the Re-Listening project we’ll hear The Jayhawks’ 1997 record. I bought that one the same night, but the five years between them was a lot of time. The “Sound of Lies” was different. A bit out of step, and out of time, but their own time. Karen Grotberg returned, Marc Olson left, Tim O’Reagan stepped in. The band was re-shaping itself, in the studio, in front of their fans. The experiment continued with sweaty drinks and art galleries. Or something. For me it was sunny days, blaring stereo speakers and trying to figure out what that one sound was … but we’ll get to that.