Archive | November, 2013

My Friends Top 20: Favorite Artists

28 Nov

Earlier in the summer, I had the idea to poll a few of my closest friends from college and have them rank their 20 favorite songs.  This led to some interesting conclusions and learning more about my friends.  I always believed that music can define a person in ways that other things cannot and I was pleasantly surprise at not only the outcome of the project but of the conversations it sparked.

Naturally, we decided to find a way to follow up on the original list.  We settled on the idea of ranking our top-20 favorite artists this time.  Also naturally, it took me until Thanksgiving to finally sit down and finish it up.  I am someone who is kind of against lists (“BUZZFEED!”) but I always enjoy when I get to talk about my friends.  I also despise long introductions, so let’s just cut to the chase; alright?  I also believe in leaving these unedited.

Anthony’s Top 20:

  1. Pink Floyd – This band change music in general and for me. They were innovators of their time and did so many things to change rock ‘n’ roll. They started as a psychedelic rock band and than changed into what we call today, a “progressive” rock band. They are always consider a classic rock band but when hear a song it is always so soft, mellow, and deep. Always interrupted by a David Gilmour (rated 14th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone, the magazine) guitar that is always so loud (there is a rumor that when he did the solos for “Time” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” they were recording so loud that everyone sat outside the studio and left in there alone). His guitar tone is the most sought after in the music business. They were the first band to really use synthesizers and almost alien-like sound effects in songs. Roger Waters is probably top 3 greatest song writer of all-time. There concept albums told such close to heart stories and you always feel like he is speaking directly to you. They also changed how bands performed. Before them it was just the band and their gear and singing. They used light shows, lazers, fireworks, pyrotechnics waterfalls, floating pigs that blew up, movies that played during the whole concerts. The best was they had planes fly over the audience and crash on stage. All of this culminated with them building a 50 foot wall on stage and then tearing it down all during a 2 hour concert. Music was almost secondary. You went to see a show not a concert. There songs are always longer than most bands, ranging from 7-32 minutes. They were also the only band to be introduced as “the most influential band of all time” when inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Music would not be the same without them.
  2. The Beatles – The fab four from Liverpool was probably the greatest band ever. What they did for bands in music can never be copied. Some of the most magnificent songs from great song writers were created. Think of how many Beatles songs you know. Too many to fit on a greatest hits album. They went from the first boy band (I Want To Hold Your Hand), to psychedelic (Sgt. Peppers), to hard rock (The White Album) to soft, deep rock (Let It Be). Do you know a band with more personas and variety? I think not. Four amazing musicians just managed to team and change the world of music forever.
  3. Led Zeppelin – God damn are these guys good. Never did a band play so loud and with a thundering attitude. Zeppelin burst onto the scene in 1967 and created what we call today hard rock and were the precursors to the metal genre. Never did a band literally turn their amps up 11 until these guys came around. Concerts were deafening but the crowds loved it. Jimmy Page is probably the greatest guitarists ever behind Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughen. He was know for his bluesy style solos where he sped up and down the neck (Dazed and Confused would last up to 45 minutes in concert). Robert Plants voice was one of a kind. John Paul Jones was just an overall exceptional musician, and John Bonham, well who else do you has a song of a 17 minute drum solo (Moby Dick). No one. They were the masters of improvisation. So musically talented they would play only 10-12 songs at concerts but would incorporate so many jams and made-up songs that songs were anywhere from 2-50 minutes in concert. No band of today ever does stuff like that. So musically gifted they knew each others next move. No song was ever performed the same way so when you saw this band you were getting something special and something the people the next night would not see nor hear.
  4. The Rolling Stones – Name a band that has lasted 50 years and has as many hits. All just amazing musicians and the ultimate British Invasion band. Mick Jagger is the ultimate front-man. Watch a performance of him running up and down the stage every night. Keith Richards dirty guitar is known world-wide. The Stones left an imprint on music that cannot be matched as I don’t think a band will ever last as long as them again.
  5. The Doors – Life was short but did the fire burn bright. Jim Morrison was such a suave and cool guy that I wish I was him sometimes. He was asked not to sing the line “Girl, We Couldn’t Get Much Higher” by Ed Sullivan and still sang it anyway on his show.  His creativity (songwriter, artists, poet) is unmatched. He just could not control his creativity and used for bad. Ray Manzarek is one the greatest keyboard players ever. He never gets the credit though. Drugs were the achilles heal of The Doors and unfortuately Jim Morrison died a mere 5 years after the began.
  6. Green Day – This band is because of memories. Green Day was the band I crew up hearing/listening to. I love the album Dookie. I like every song on it. I think the next 4 albums after that are great and all very catchy. Billie Joe Armstrong’s rebellious ways were awesome to me as a kid. After Warning, I think he sold out and was not into the “punk” thing anymore and have not enjoyed their music since. But early Green Day is really the only modern band that stands up to greats I have listed here.

  7. AC/DC – This band is actually what got me into classic rock and older music. Without me hearing them I would have listened to modern music with the rest of you. I love upbeat just pure rock ‘n’ roll sound. Angus Young is a great guitarists and both Brian Johnson’s or Bon Scott’s crispy voices just sound so different but cool.
  8. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Yes. This is right. Not one song made my top 25 but I love this band. No song stands out but I don’t think I have ever heard a song by CCR where I say, “Ehhh, I don’t really like this.” I am big into folk rock because of this band. John Fogerty is a great musician that has stood to test of time, as he had a long solo career after the band. I don’t really know what to say, this band is just fucking good.
  9. Jimi Hendrix – Holy Hell! Greatest guitarists ever. Please just watch the video of him before the “Star Spangled Banner” Live at Woodstock ’69. He actually made the guitar sound like “the rockets red glare, the bombs literally bursting in air.” Changed the way guitar sounded for ever. As i stated in my top 20 song list, first to really crank the distortion, bend notes, dive bomb notes, phasing effects, control feedback, and play like 100 freaking notes ever 20 seconds.
  10. The Who – The Who really changed how rock ‘n’ roll was presented. Elvis’ thrusting hips and The Beatles becoming a “super-group” started it. But how rock ‘n’ roll is smashing your whole set at the end of a concert. Pete Townsends played such thundering notes and Roger Daltry was a hell of a singer. Keith Moon, was in my opinion, the greatest drummer in history or at least top 3. “Tommy” is one of the greatest pieces of music I have ever heard in my life.
  11. The Eagles: I just love this band. Like CCR I never really found a song I didn’t like. All members were such great musicians and had an ability to just play music like no other. Plus 5 out of the 5 members had great voices and could sing very well. I think some bands today do not have one person who can sing well. This band had 5.
  12. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Southern rock at its finest here. Big fan this genre. Some think it is just a bunch a red necks playing but Lynyrd Skynyrd was actually a group of great musicians. Just listen to the piano during the intro of Free Bird or the guitar solo at the end.
  13. Electric Light Orchestra – Another innovative band. A rock band with a violin and cello player is just weird. They made it work though. This band has a tone of hits and everyone knows them, they just do not realize it’s ELO. I could listen to “Evil Woman” 100 times and not get sick of it.
  14. Yes – This band was pure musicians. They should have been composers instead of rock stars. They wrote an album with 4 songs and each was over 20 minutes. That’s crazy. Music was more important to them than the lyrics. I think that has been truly lost in modern times. Songs are filled with words. This band had very complicated music. I don’t think bands of today could even copy their music and play it. The definition of an artist here.
  15. Queen – Freddie Mercury was one of a kind. His theatrics changed music. He made it fun again to be a rock star and had one of the greatest voices ever. I love just hearing him sing. He performed in an opera in the late 80’s before his death. I can tell that that is the only opera I have ever listened to and enjoyed. Everyone has a Queen song that they really like.
  16. Elton John – This is another guy was one of a kind. I love his songs. Many of you will be shocked to see this on here but I actually listen to Elton John a lot. He is a magnificent piano player and a great song writer.
  17. John Lennon – This man is a legend. After he left The Beatles he continued with a streak of amazing albums. A great multi-instrumentalist. I also love what he stood for. The fact that people thought he was a communist and was watched by the FBI is just crazy. He had such an impact of not only music but on culture and the world.
  18. Black Sabbath – Here are the masters of hard rock themselves. “People pay money to watch horror movies so maybe they will pay money to listen to horror music.” A quote from Tony Iommi (guitarist) on how Black Sabbath started. These guys could fucking rock. Ozzy Osbourne has just the perfect haunting and creepy voice for this band. Tony Iommi lost two fingers and still can shred with fake fingertips. Geezer Butler could be one of the greatest bassist of all time and Bill Ward is a top 5 drummer of all time.
  19. Neil Young – I just absolutely love the high pitch squeal of Mr. Young’s voice. His songs are so deep. I love his early Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young work as well as his solo work. Combined this guy has a massive catalog of hits but is sometimes forgotten about. Who doesn’t almost want to cry while listening to “Heart of Gold” or “Needle and the Damaged Done.” Another folk rocker that I love. The voice is just awesome.
  20. Blink-182 – Another band of my childhood. I just love to pop-punk immature childish songs. They are catchy and I am pretty immature so they make me laugh. Also being young the are all relevant to my life. To be honest, not the best musicians and if this was a list of greatest artists they would not be top 500 but it’s ok because I always find myself singing a blink song and enjoying it.

Honorable Mentions:  Bruce Spingsteen – My mom’s favorite rocker and my dad is a big fan so I grew listening to him. Nothing says heartland like a little “Born To Run.” I love listening to a little Boss. (Also, my vacuum in college was called the boss in honor of Bruce.)

Well, ya have to love Anthony’s candor with this list.  His list is pretty similar to his top-20 song list with a mixture of classic bands and a who’s who of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.  But there is variety.  There’s folk rock, there’s progressive, there’s British Invasion, there’s the pop-punk of the 90s and even metal.  But you have to like how everything is mostly personal.  Since these bands were mostly a while before Anthony’s childhood; you get a little imprint of how he discovered these groups and its revealing.  There definitely is a slant to “musicianship” though as Anthony highlights the skill of almost all of the bands here.

Next up is Andrew and his list.Third Eye Blind- hey create such a happy go lucky feeling that just makes me like them so much. They are very talented band that creates a great prescence in the music world.Third Eye Blind- hey create such a happy go lucky feeling that just makes me like them so much. They are very talented band that creates a great prescence in the music world.

  1. Third Eye Blind – They create such a happy-go-lucky feeling that just makes me like them so much. They are a very talented band that creates a great presence in the music world.
  2. Led Zeppelin – They created such great presence on stage and they are the most talented rock band of all time.  Their songs are straightup rock in every way shape and form.
  3. The Who – With Keith Moon on drums, (the greatest drummer of all time), their songs are just plain awesome.
  4. The Smashing Pumpkins – I know some people hate lead singer Billy Corgan, but to be honest I don’t find him annoying at all. His antics? Yes. His voice and band presence? No.
  5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – They are a great band with great albums,. They rock real hard and I love to listen them.
  6. Weezer – Weezer’s greatest song I think was Buddy Holly. I actually think its In the Garage, but in any way you put it they are a very good band.
  7. The Killers – The Killers, I think, are the best alternative what ever you want to call them band of the 2000’s.
  8. Green Day – Early Green Day was absolutely amazing, although they tailed off they still are a very talented band.
  9. The Beatles – A very iconic band in itself, The Beatles where great at what they did. They didn’t care they just played music.
  10. Pearl Jam – Great 90’s band, great band alone. Very strong lyrics. Very strong music.
  11. Pink Floyd – I’ve recently got into Pink Floyd, but their music is so prestigious and glorious they are insanely great.
  12. Boston – They have amazing albums and amazing vocals and music they are a great band.
  13. Electric Light Orchestra – They are absolutely fun to listen to they simply amaze me with the things they can do.
  14. Cage The Elephant – A fairly new band, they have a different tone to them but they can kick it with the great bands.
  15. Everclear – Another 90’s band that I think are great and have great music.
  16. blink – 182 – Travis Barker on drums is so kick ass he can straight play the drums.
  17. The Doors – Riders on the Storm and Breaking Through to the Otherside are great songs that the Doors perfected.
  18. Bruce Springsteen – Bruce is so great he is so talented and the E-Street band just adds to greatness.
  19. Queen – Queen is a great band with some great songs that you just wanna rock to.
  20. The Bravery – They used to be so much higher but in recent years no music has been given to us by them and they are in legal battles with name sake.

Andrew’s list is predominantly a who’s who of major 1990s power-pop/pop-punk bands that were played pretty much throughout our childhoods.  Its no wonder that he is heavily into them but with an eye to some of the classic bands of rock history.  Even though they are pretty different in terms of which era dominates their lists, there is still some interesting overlap between the two rankings thus far.  Did not see the Electric Light Orchestra cracking Andrew’s list.

Jack’s Top 20

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  3. The Clash
  4. Green Day
  5. The Offspring
  6. Foo Fighters
  7. Nirvana
  8. R.E.M.
  9. Sublime
  10. The Black Keys
  11. Beastie Boys
  12. Gorillaz
  13. The White Stripes
  14. Talking Heads
  15. The Ramones
  16. Live
  17. The Who
  18. Barenaked Ladies
  19. Incubus
  20. The Rolling Stones

Honorable Mentions:  Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Third Eye Blind, Jimmy Eat World

Jack’s list is short on explanations but its easy to draw some conclusions from it.  As you can tell, Jack is big into the early-90s grunge/alternative rock revolution as well as into some of the post-grunge rock bands with some pop-punk.  The real band that sticks out here might be either the Beastie Boys or Talking Heads.  

Jake’s Top 20

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Big surprise, right?  The Chili Peppers have been my all-time favorite band since right around the time I started getting into music.  My mom got me my first RHCP cd as an unexpected gift back in middle school.  She figured I might like them since I was gravitating towards 90s rock music like Nirvana and Green Day.  I couldn’t thank her enough; she helped introduce me to some of the greatest rock musicians to ever walk this earth.  Anthony Keides is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Chad Smith is a beast, and is one of the best drummers (if not THE best drummer) in alternative rock.  Flea has enough energy and creative prowess to actually set a building on fire with no kindling, and he is also one hell of a class act.  Hillel Slovak, John Frusciante, and Josh Klinghoffer all contributed to the peppers’ guitar section in different ways, but all three should be respected for their unparalleled talent and knack for making impossible funk/metal/alternative riffs seem easy.  Talk about some of the best alternative rock songs of all time! “Higher Ground,” “Breaking the Girl,” “Californication,” “Scar Tissue,” “Otherside,” “Give it Away,” “Under the Bridge,” “Can’t Stop,” “By the Way,” “Dani California,” “The Adventures of Raindance Maggie,” the list goes on and on.  I have a revolving library of different memories and emotions linked to all 10 of RHCP’s studio albums. I just love this band with all of my heart and I always will.  Can’t say much else without committing an injustice.
  2. Alice In Chains – These guys would EASILY be my favorite band if the Chili Peppers never happened.  What can I say about this band?  We are talking about some of the most emotionally powerful and beautifully unconventional lyrics of all time, backed up with a mud ball of grinding grunge/metal guitars and a dual-harmonized vocal layout that could send chills down the back of a dead sloth.  Alice can do no wrong, and always stood out- in my mind- as the greatest band to come out of the grunge scene.  The beauty of this band is, while they made a name for themselves with heavier songs like “Them Bones” and Man in the Box,” they also have songs like “Nutshell” and “Black Gives Way to Blue” that bring out inner beauty and consideration for melodic detail.  Layne Staley was a monster of a vocalist and will always be sorely missed. William Duvall, his successor, is the absolute best thing they could have replaced him with.  I can attest to this:  I own both new AiC albums and recently witnessed them live.  Duvall rocks.  Many “fans” end up getting overly nostalgic and write off the band’s current state as a sham.  I consider those people to be naïve and blind.  But with both the old and the new in mind:  Alice in Chains will always have a massive impact on me through their music. Jerry Cantrell is probably my favorite guitarist, and his work will influence me as a writer and practicing musician forever.
  3. Foo Fighters – In my opinion, if you don’t like the Foo Fighters, you’re an idiot.  Not only are you missing out on- quite possibly- the greatest modern live act in music, but you are also missing some of the greatest rock songs of all time.  “Everlong,” “Learn to Fly,” “All My Life,” “The Pretender,” “Walk…” come on.  I always knew of the Foo Fighters, but I was unaware that a member of Nirvana was their singer.  That is, until a friend informed me of this in 9th grade.  That same friend eventually burnt me a copy of the very first Foo Fighters album, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Since growing attached to their late-90s material, I have had my expectations exceeded by every new album they have pumped out.  If you took the Tasmanian devil from Looney Tunes, had him do six lines of cocaine, and then lit him on fire, he might have half of the sheer fury and energy the Foo Fighters bring to their music.  The great thing is that Dave Grohl is also one of the coolest and most modest musicians to walk this earth; his musical roots lie in drumming (and boy can he drum), but the guy proves his versatility with every new Foo Fighters release.  He’s a really good singer and guitar player too.  Actually, Grohl recorded every single vocal and instrumental track on the Foo’s debut album.  ALL of them.  Then he recruited a band.  Talk about talent.  The stuff the guy does with such little musical training or education is astounding.  What started as a secret side-project during the Nirvana days as grown into one of the most noteworthy and all-around pleasing additions to the entire music world (not to mention an undisputed collection of hilarious music videos).
  4. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam is a big one for me.  Not only were they my first big concert experience (a historic, 45-song finale to the Philadelphia Spectrum, by the way), but they were also one of the first bands to make me think “wow, you can really tell when a song is by THIS band.”  Eddie Vedder’s vocals are usually hit or miss with people, but I have always loved them.  The man has a beautiful voice that he occasionally converts into an angsty weapon for songs like “Why Go” and “Do the Evolution.”  Mike McCready is a master craftsman on the fretboard.  His solos and riffs will continue to blow my mind until the day I die.  Songs like “Yellow Ledbetter,” “Black,” “Light Years,” and “Garden” will always stand as some of my all-time favorites.  I’m currently counting the days and hours until “Lightning Bolt” hits stores. (Note:  The album has hit stores, this was written in about late August).
  5. Soundgarden – I knew of Audioslave before Soundgarden, and that shows how limited I was in terms of proper rock education.  Boy was I missing out; Audioslave was a definitely a cool band, but Soundgarden will always be the greatest thing Chris Cornell ever contributed to.  “Badmotorfinger” is one of the greatest albums of all time, and quickly brought fresh intensity to the rock genre; there is a part near the end of “Jesus Christ Pose” where Cornell hits a note so high that you’d swear it could make Robert Plant blush and squirm at the same time.  I’ve always been astounded by the band’s combination of huge talents.  Kim Thayil is one hell of a guitarist, and plays with more complexity than nearly every one of his contemporaries. Matt Cameron could probably go head-to-head with a human/octopus hybrid drummer and give it one hell of a percussion dual- the man is a machine.  “Blow up the outside World” is, and always will be one of my favorite songs.  I could list so many more songs that have had an impact on me, but I’d probably end up naming 90% of their discography.  They recently put out “King Animal,” which completely astounded me in its fullness.  They are continuing to lead the rock world by example.
  6. Stone Temple Pilots – When I think of this band, I think of beautiful, warm weather,   because it was during the spring and summer of my sophomore year in high school that I really discovered their music.  STP was considered by some to be artificial grunge music- and they sort of were- but the cool thing is, they were still good enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest artists from that era.  Most of their power lied in the music of “Core” and “Purple,” but even their most recent, self-titled return effort was a great collection of songs that really rocked.  You may have noticed that I’ve been referring to the band in the past tense, that’s because STP is dead (much to my dismay).  Nope.  STP with Chester Bennington on vocals is not STP, and it never will be.  So I’m just counting my blessings for the material they were able to produce with Scott Weiland, because it’s some really great stuff.
  7. Rush – Where to even begin here…  We’re talking about-arguably- THE most talented and revered trio of musicians to ever record an album.  I almost feel sick when I look back on my earliest experiences with Rush; I used to think Geddy Lee’s voice was annoying.  I was so naïve- not only does he have one of the most unique and vastly-ranged voices in music, but he’s also one hell of a bassist.  Eventually, I began to take a liking for songs like “Limelight” and “YYZ.”  As I gravitated towards writing as a potential major choice for college, I really started to notice the exceptional substance of Neil Pert’s lyrics.  Oh, and I should probably just say this to get it out of the way- PERT IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST DRUMMER TO EVER PICK UP DRUM STICKS, BAR-NONE.  Ahem, anyway, Alex Lifeson is a riff-generating virtuoso, and is one of my biggest guitar idols.  Rush was my most recent concert experience, and even in their 60s, the band can still rip a stadium to pieces in effortless fashion.  They’re legends.
  8. Incubus – I did not like Incubus at first.  The first song I remember hearing was “Stellar,” and I didn’t like it because I had a generic 8th grade fetish for Godsmack-style hard rock.  For that same reason, however, I instantly perked my ears the first time I heard “Anna Molly” on Fuse.  I loved the heavy, quick strumming of that song, and it served as the perfect segue into the rest of the band’s catalogue.  I quickly began to realize how incredible all of their songs were- both soft and heavy (mainly “Dig,“ my favorite.)  I love the dichotomy of soft alternative rock and crazed nu-metal they maintain in their creative approach.  The turn-table mixing has always struck a chord with me too, for some reason; nothing can beat that echoing wok-wok-wok sound at the beginning of “Pardon Me.”  Brandon Boyd has slowly become one of my favorite songwriters.
  9. Black Sabbath – There was this kid on my high school track team that we used to call Ozzy because he was obsessed with Black Sabbath.  One day, we were doing a workout and I told him, “yeah, I like Black Sabbath, but I barely know anything other than ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid.’”  He said, “tell you what, tomorrow, I will bring you some Sabbath.”  The next day, he comes in with an eight-album Black Sabbath BOXSET and lets me borrow it.  Some of the songs on those albums changed the way I looked at heavy metal.  As a major fan of newer metal bands like Korn at the time, it astounded me to see how Toni Iommi and Geezer Butler could rock just as hard, but with a laid-back, groovy approach.  Ozzy Osbourne is one hell of a front man, but the stuff they did with Ronnie James Dio is also great in its own regard.  Sabbath are the kings of metal and I think they are amazing.
  10. Audioslave – Rage Against the Machine with Chris Cornell on vocals.  Enough said.  Well, okay it wasn’t quite as cut and dry as how I just put it; Audioslave really created their own sound that was separate from the material of Rage and/or Soundgarden, and that was what made them so cool.   I always thought Cornell and the band went together like bread and butter; I remember how quickly they got my attention when I first heard them on TV (it was the music video for “Original Fire,” I believe.)  Those veteran grunge vocals and that hammering rap-rock instrumentation really packed a wallop when blended.  Their self-titled debut will always stand as one of my favorite albums.  I never fail to get chills when I hear the guitar solo in “Like a Stone.”  Audioslave had a lot of moments like that where Tom Morello really showed off a hidden knack for beautiful melody.  Truly captivating.
  11. Nine Inch Nails – Trent Reznor is absolutely brilliant; brilliant in a mad scientist kind of way, but brilliant nonetheless.  The things that man conjures up in his head are beyond anything few could ever even dream of pulling off.  Honestly, how many musicians can take a harsh, emergency broadcast system-esque fuzz storm and somehow morph it into a catchy industrial beat (just take a listen to “Meet Your Master,” it’s intoxicating)?  The music of Nine Inch Nails is an acquired taste, and it took me a while to appreciate the craftsmanship behind songs like “Down In It,” “Survivalism,” and the oh-so-intense “Closer” (the latter eventually became one of my favorite music videos of all time).  Reznor is unconventional in his ways, but he definitely knows how to tap into every sensitive crevice of his listener’s minds.  “The Perfect Drug” includes one of the most brutal, inventive drum breakdowns I have ever heard, and “Hurt” always makes me stop whatever I’m doing and listen the entire way through (I’m sorry, but his version will always trump that mundane Johnny Cash cover).  I will always be pleasantly perplexed by Nine Inch Nails, and I hope Reznor keeps the project going for as long as possible.
  12. The Wallflowers – The Wallflowers will always have a very special place in my heart, for they were my very first live music experience.  They happened to be playing a small free concert in Virginia Beach during the week we were in the area on vacation, so we went and checked them out.  I barely knew anything about them, so I downloaded “One Headlight,” “6th Avenue Heartache,” and “The Difference,” (their three most popular songs) in order to get a decent understanding of what I was getting into.  They not only played those three songs, but they personally introduced me to a slew of other songs that I still love to this day.  Every time I hear the intro to “Sleepwalker,” I get a shiver down my back because that was the very first song they played.  Jakob Dylan is a phenomenal songwriter and has always found ways to appeal to my deepest emotions through his lyrics.  His dad may be a huge music legend, but at times, he really gives him a run for his money.
  13. Nirvana – Nirvana has a lot of fake fans that really piss me off, but that’s simply because of how much I actually adore them.  I love the fury, the raspy vocals, the hammering drums, the abstract lyrics.  Nirvana is just the whole package in terms of a quality rock band.  I always found it interesting how their songs almost came off as self-mockery, despite their obvious depth.  Kurt Cobain wanted to write the ultimate pop song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”)- just for kicks- and proceeded to knock Michael Jackson, the KING of pop off the top of the Billboard charts.  If that isn’t a reflection of pure musical genius, I don’t know what is.
  14. The Offspring – This is a band that always knew of, but never took the time to look up.  That is, until my cousin finally introduced me to “Smash” and “Self-Esteem” one summer during our annual family vacation.  I was blown away.  Here was a band that had the same appeal as an early Green Day or Bad Religion, but also included a sound that was exceptionally distinguishable and an undeniable sense of humor (not to mention a blistering tempo).  Needless to say, I went home and downloaded half their discography in a heartbeat.  I was set.  I feel like each Offspring album has been a step towards a more mature sound that still holds true to the days of “Gotta Get Away” and “Come out and Play.”  I bought their newest release, “Days Go By” on a whim last year expecting to get maybe 3-4 decent songs, and the whole album ended up becoming a staple of my summer vacation.  Dexter Holland’s voice can always bring a smile to my face (especially on “Hit That,” that song is so fucking fun).
  15. Korn – It felt awesome when I first started listening to Korn, because I deviously felt like I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.  They were like nothing else I had ever heard: pissed off, unfiltered, and defiant.  This has held up to this day.  A lot of bands nowadays try to emulate anger and angst and pass it off as genuine, and none of them have been able to do it to the level set by Korn in 1994.  Their self-titled album is, hands down, the angriest, most cathartic album I have ever listened to.  Any band that can condense an emotion into a musical composition and really make their listeners FEEL it- regardless of whether that emotion is good or bad- is a band that knows what they are doing.  I will always love Korn for the unique experience they bring to the rock scene.
  16. Live – I started to get into Live just before I left for college.  So naturally, their music has generated a lot of sentimental value in terms of my memories and emotions. I hate that the band parted ways with Ed Kowalczyk, because he has such a talent for addressing cliché subjects in a completely unique tone.  “Run to the Water,” “The Dolphin’s Cry,” and “Selling the Drama” are major examples of this.  What a great band.
  17. Dinosaur, Jr. – I LOVE the work of J. Mascis.  He is just a stellar musician.  I have always been drawn to his modest, Neil Young-esque vocals and the contradictory roar of his heavily distorted riffs and metal-inspired solos.  It’s quite a blend of memorable and distinguishable traits.  “Watch the Corners” was probably my favorite rock single of last year.  Dinosaur Jr. is so underrated and overlooked half the time, and it’s a shame because they are one hell of a good band.
  18. Deftones – Deftones are one of the most unique bands I have ever listened to.  I can’t think of any other artist that can maintain a logical balance between beautiful, Radiohead-like euphoria and crushing, throbbing heavy metal chaos.  Listening to a Deftones album is like a cycle of being sprayed with a cool, relaxing mist fan, only to be promptly punched in the stomach.  The band is definitely an acquired taste, as I learned firsthand when I discovered them in 9th grade.  I didn’t begin to appreciate their music for what it was until I unexpectedly came home early from school after being struck with a field hockey ball;  the video for “Bored” was on Fuse and its machine gun guitar riff really drew me in.  I’ve been hooked since.
  19. Tool – The passionate lyrics, the inventive guitar riffs, the ridiculously-complex time signatures.  Everything about Tool mesmerizes me.  The cool thing about Tool is that, unlike a lot of other progressive/experimental metal bands, they have a rare talent for flaunting their intelligence without coming off as pretentious.  Any band that writes a song with a beat based on the Fibonacci number sequence is worthy of praise in my book.  I adore Maynard James Keenan, he is truly an exceptional talent.
  20. Rage Against The Machine – As a self-confessed political illiterate, I can’t sit here and pretend that I know what every single RATM song is completely about, but I can say this- the band is a creative monolith of musical talent.   The things Tom Morello does with a guitar seem like they should be artificially generated in some way, but they aren’t.  It came to the point where the band became famous for putting “all sounds created with guitars, bass, drums, and vocals” on their albums, and that is just awesome.

Honorable Mentions:  AC/DC, A Perfect Circle, Seether, Green Day, Three Days Grace, Black Keys, Avenged Sevenfold, Dio, Volbeat, Social Distortion

Jake has a distinct style of music that he likes, or well so I thought.  Even though there is some with early-90s grunge/alt; there is a lot more sprinkled in.  It would be lazy to classify Rage and Nirvana as the same.  It would be lazy to throw Tool in with Black Sabbath.  So I won’t, though I will say that Jake has kind of introduced me the most to some songs that I do like a lot now.  I was never on board with the heavier parts of rock but I’ve gotten more and more into the Chili Peppers, Black Keys and Foo Fighters solely because of him.  

Now its onto my list.

  1. the Strokes – No big surprise here, right?  I know there is some polarization with the Strokes thanks to the whole “every magazine cover” treatment they got with the release of just an EP but I don’t really care.  I know they aren’t for everyone but the fact remains that pop culture temporarily changed because of NYC’s finest.  People wore Converse and skinny jeans again, “hipster” was cool, as was the lo-fi sound of garage rock.  Look at all of the bands that became prominent after the Strokes meteoric rise to the top.  Plenty of bands owe them a lot.  Personally, I was always a fan of their singles but was too lazy to look into their discography.  That changed a few years ago and I’m so glad that I did it.  Julian Casablancas gets little credit for singlehandedly writing all of the music and lyrics for their first album, all but one song off their second and all but three off their third one.  Once he took a backseat a bit, so has the music.  Plus the dude simply radiated cool in their first three albums when he wasn’t slurring his words in interviews.  They’ve left their garage roots for more Cars/80s nu-wave inspired music but ya know, I’m still a big fan.  Comedown Machine has grown into one of my favorite CDs though the fact that they all seem to rather not work with each other sucks as I know I probably will never see them play live in my life.  But maybe, I’ll catch Julian Casablancas on tour or maybe Albert Hammond, Jr.
  2. The Killers – For awhile, the Killers were my favorite band but I’m more into their synth-rock music though their Springsteen-inspired work has been good for me as well.  Brandon Flowers has turned into a very talented frontman and while they might not get as heavy radioplay as they did when they first came out; they are probably one of the best bands to emerge from the 2000s.  I feel a wide array of emotions from Killers songs, from joy (Read My Mind) to nostalgia (Mr. Brightside) to sadness (Smile Like You Mean It).  The only thing keeping me from having them as my #1 is also the fact that I’m not totally on board with all of their songs (the non-singles of Sam’s Town, a few tracks from Battle Born) which is natural though.  Brandon Flowers also seems to genuinely enjoy being on stage and putting on a great show.  I’m curious how they regroup after Flowers releases his second solo album in about a year but I’m sure I’ll be eagerly awaiting album #5.
  3. blink-182 – A band that might be finally starting to evolve a lot as a band, but I am not totally on board with the evolution.  Still, the first five blink-182 albums are mostly pop-punk perfection and bands since then have all struggled to succeed to even get close to what blink-182 stood for.  I love the simplicity of their songs, the catchiness of their melodies and the humor in their early days.  No band could balance something so well, and when I was REALLY young; there was nothing I enjoyed more than listening to Enema of the State while going down to Disney World.  First band I ever heard curse when I was younger.  The songs might be dated, but they are still ridiculously catchy.
  4. David Bowie – Bowie is everything that was right with music.  Flamboyant, androgynous, mainstream yet out of the stream while blending rock and pop together in a way that was completely unusual; Bowie is the man.  Ziggy was cool, the Thin White Duke was suave and Rebel Rebel is so damn catchy.  Bowie really didn’t give a damn and considering the time where he was famous in, you can say that he began glam.  When music began to shift to the nu-wave 80s sound, Bowie was able to keep pace with Blue Jean and China Girl.  Then he got into hard rock with Tin Machine, made friends with Trent Rezner and resurfaces every now and then to drop some new music.  I credit my Mom for getting me into Bowie.
  5. Kanye West – I believe Kanye West is the closest thing to a transcendent musical artist to emerge in the past decade.  I believe he will be talked about a lot in the next fifty years and take away his public image.  Actually, don’t take it away think about it.  Is there another artist that has as much polarization as ‘Ye?  If you hate him, that’s fine.  If you love him, that’s great.  But there’s NO WAY you are neutral on him.  All great artists were considered douchebags in their time and Mr. West is no different.  Also, College Dropout, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus are all classic albums.  Yeezus is a modern-day version of Metal Machine Music in which an artist at the peak of their fame, just says “screw it” and throws caution to the wind.  Artists grow and there was a time when ‘Ye was considered an artist that was “funny and goofy”.  Now he seems horny and impatient.  Gotta love that he actually grew, even if you like him or hate him.
  6. Michael Jackson – Alright, now this time you have to take away the personal life and look at the artistry of the King of Pop.  Jackson has the greatest pop hits ever and any R&B/Top-40 artist continues to strive to be like him but only seem like cheap counterparts.  Justin Timberlake might wish he is “close” but he’s not even in the same dimension as Jackson was.  Jackson made music videos a necessity and made any dancer look mundane by comparison.  Also, who hates Billie Jean?  No one that’s who.  Also, Motown 25 might be THE most iconic televised musical performance, or second behind The Beatles and Ed Sullivan.  Yeah total weirdo creep in real life though.
  7. Jay-Z – Jay-Z is the master of anything and when it comes down to it, I always get excited when he’s about to release an album even if he hasn’t progressed all too much in recent years.  Jay-Z has adopted mogul status who creates an album to do something in his spare time but Jay-Z makes braggadocio cool and odds are, you at least admit he’s pretty damn badass or Illuminati if you talk to yourself.  The fact that he has Illuminati connections by the fringes of people is a testament to how powerful of an artist he is.  Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint 1, The Black Album, American Gangster are all masterpieces with Watch the Throne being a great addition to his discography.
  8. Green Day – I’m not really a fan of any Green Day album after Warning, but I have liked plenty of songs by them since.  Still, every 90s kid (ugh, did I use that phrase) was influenced at one point or another by either Longview, Good Riddance or maybe even American Idiot.  Green Day was not the only band that rebelled against the Bush Administration but they sure as hell were the biggest one.  They might’ve gotten kinda tacky after a bit, but that’s what bands with men in their 40s tend to do and they shouldn’t be punished for that.
  9. The Beatles – How can I not have the most important rock band of history on my list?  I can just tell based on my mother how important of a band they were.  I liked them when they were just an innocent pop band, admired them when they were a collection of LSD users and respectful of them when they became introspective and worldly.  Bands have tried to evolve but none did it so effortlessly as the boys from Manchester.  Iconic.
  10. Lady Gaga – I think she’s ballsy and while people compare her to Madonna; I almost want to compare her to Bowie and Lou Reed’s daughter.  Arthouse music mixed with today’s top-40 is so impressive and all artists tried to act “crazy” like her but couldn’t pull it off as they didn’t have the artistic vision.  Take away preconceived notions based off her music and you can see why she owned the pop music world for three years.
  11. The Velvet Underground – How could I like the Strokes and even to a lesser degree, the Killers, without loving the Velvet Underground?  A band managed by Andy Warhol and fronted by Lou Reed is just as great as it sounds.  I also think the Strokes can figure to be like them in which in about forty years, they will become a lot more appreciated than what they are now.  Still, how were Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll not bigger hits?  How did the Velvet Underground become so under appreciated even though they might be one of the most influential rock groups ever?  Makes me wish I was born in the 50s so when I was a teenager I could tell all my friends to listen to them.
  12. Elvis Presley – I think there was a two-year span where I listened to Elvis on a continuous loop and I still enjoy it.  I don’t care if he imitated Chuck Berry, which he did, he made all of that mainstream and if Elvis didn’t shake his hips; who knows where some careers of other artists goes.  He defined rockabilly which equally changed rock and country music simultaneously.
  13. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All – I’m as liberal as you can get and I shouldn’t like a group that casually tosses slurs like its no one’s business but there was a year in my life that I was obsessed with OF and I am still in their corner though I cooled a bit on them.  Still finding a group of my guys roughly my age speaking like so many people I knew or horrifically the opposite; was something that really opened my eyes.  It was a throwback to early-90s Wu Tang Clan though slightly more suburban.  Frank Ocean might be the only huge top-40 star in the group and Tyler, the Creator might be the closest thing to a future mogul and maybe only Earl Sweatshirt will make music that critics love  but man they were important to me.
  14. Adam Lambert – I always get crap for being a fan of his but again, like Bowie; I am in awe of the not giving a damn that he had on his debut album.  Remember, Lambert had all of the hype from American Idol and his debut album cover was him looking like a cross-dressing alien.  He was a blend of Bowie and the Darkness on that debut album, though I always had the feeling he tried too hard.  He has the vocal range of Freddie Mercury and I always appreciate anyone that tries to make 80s synth music cool.  He now tours with Queen on occasion which is admirable.
  15. Ke$ha – I need a break from reality now and then and Ke$ha is loved by me in the same way I love blink-182.  Its not great music, but its just fun to listen to and she’s probably really awesome in real life.  Her songs are catchy but we could use a break from stress and just listen to songs about partying and sexual relations with ghosts.
  16. T.Rex – Marc Bolan was almost as cool as Jim Morrison and almost as important as the Velvet Underground while being almost as glam as Ziggy Stardust.  T. Rex is a band of “almosts” and I wish more people liked them even though everyone knows their one hit Get It On.  Electric Warrior is so grossly underrated and you can hear newer bands such as the Black Keys pay homage to them.
  17. The Rolling Stones – I believe Morrison is the ultimate frontman but Mick Jagger is THE man.  Equally charismatic and theatric, I believe the Stones are not looked at correctly in history.  The Beatles changed music but I believe the Stones changed performances and what it was like to be a band.  They openly and privately feuded, they seemed like a family that was in total dysfunction instead of playing the PR-game of being a group of friends.  I think the Stones relationship is how every friend group truly is.  Bickering that sometimes get intense but always end with understanding.
  18. Arctic Monkeys – I remember when I first saw them on SNL when I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor came out and thought they were a fun band but never really looked too deep into them.  I initially pegged them as a slight Strokes ripoff but me being a huge fan of the garage sound, I kept tabs on their career.  But with the release of their newest album, AM, I have a feeling they will rise tremendously in my rankings throughout the years.  Alex Turner is becoming the rockstar of a generation.
  19. Lou Reed – The man is a certified bad ass who has made everything from Bowie-esque glampop to an hour of guitar feedback to soundscapes.  Every “artistic” artist wishes they were Lou Reed but don’t have it in them to flip off their record label.  This was written before his death, but I have to say….very few celebrity deaths hit me as hard as Lou Reed dying.  Do yourself a favor and listen to Transformer.
  20. Alkaline Trio – A bit darker than most music I like, the Alkaline Trio always reminded me of a more jaded with the world blink-182.  Really catchy songs with darker messages of alcoholism and suicide; I just always liked the Alkaline Trio a lot.  I remember when I first “We’ve Had Enough” on radio and being an awkward moody kid in the middle of puberty made me love them.  I never got exactly “dressed in black, wearing eye shadow” moody but damn; they were a nice distraction band.

Honorable Mentions:  The Doors, The Who, Busted, Katy Perry, Kendrick Lamar, The Libertines

As with my favorite songs, my list slightly deviates from my friends with a bit more love spread to hip-hop and bands that have debuted in the 2000s.  

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The Dog Has Been Gone And It Still Isn’t Easy

19 Nov

It has been about four years now since my dog, Kramer, died.  I’m “over” it in the sense that I’ve coming to grips with the fact that he is never coming back but it still tends to hurt.  Since animals aren’t humans, its not as easy to talk to others about the death of a pet because many people just don’t get it.  Which baffles me because animals are the cutest thing ever, way cuter than those annoying AT&T commercials with Kindergartners.  Damn BuzzFeed generation.

But anyway, I never got a chance to write about Kramer and that sucks because well, he was my first and thus favorite pet.  Since I’m blogging and have read some other great (and of course sad) pieces about writers losing their animals; I might as well offer my own story with Kramer.

So lets begin with what I remember.  I, frankly, have no idea how this story begins because the minute I started remembering things was precisely the moment Kramer was already in my life.  My parents got him on St. Patrick’s Day because one of my dad’s co-workers had a basset hound that just gave birth to a litter of puppies and asked my Dad if he wanted one.  My parents quickly obliged and Kramer (named after the racist guy’s character from Seinfeld) entered our household.

Kramer was a basset hound which means they are ready to explore at the smallest hint of a smell.  Kramer often used that big (for his face) black nose of his to just sniff in our backyard.  He was quick too, as he would often chase rabbits and birds (sometimes with success which made everyone in my house way too sad) but often would lag just behind as his stubby little legs were not as capable of turning on a dime like Peter Cottontail can do.

Kramer was also quite protective of his/our yard.  Every single person that walked by was greeted with Kramer’s deep barks, which were far bigger than he was, and he would keep doing it until they walked all the way by.  We could always tell when my Dad would come home from work because you’d hear the leaves or grass rustling as Kramer would sprint to the fence and half-cry/half-bark.  My Dad and Kramer had a close bond. In fact, Kramer had close bonds with all of us to which I’ll get to later.

He was also, kind of a human and that is totally our fault.  If Kramer wouldn’t come right away when we called him, we’d yell “PIZZA” or “PIZZA-PIZZA” (like Little Caesars!) and Kramer would then bolt up and come over.  Pizza was his favorite dish though he was quite happy to eat Oatmeal Creme Pies (I must’ve lost boxes of them because of him), hamburgers (there was one whole summer when Kramer wouldn’t eat dog food and as a last resort we bought him McDoubles which he DEVOURED because that’s how we America!) and cheese.  One of my favorite stories is my Dad coming back from a long day of work and firing up the grill.  I was on the trampoline and my Dad had a hunk of cheese on the table.  Kramer stood on those stubby, white legs and somehow sliced through the WHOLE hunk on the smallest corner.  But he ruined the whole thing.  My Dad reacted angrily and Kramer sauntered off but of course was ready to give him a kiss if he came out again.

He was afraid to be alone.  He would cry when he had the spend the night in his doghouse so we either put him in the bathroom overnight during the summer (when storms could come) or the cold winter.  So we would call him in and set him up where you would hear him cry for a second before quickly getting comfortable and calling it a night.  When we would sit in a small beach chair to read a magazine or just lay outside, Kramer would insist on sitting in between our legs.  He would sit a few feet away from us when my Dad & I played catch as we prepared for baseball seasons.  Or when I would go in the yard to swing the bat or throw some fly balls to myself; he would wait a safe distance away for me to finish before trying to follow me as I walked into the door.

Hilariously, he was a huge chicken.  Kramer had a few fears in life.  He was terrified of hot air balloons and you would hear him frantically barking only to scan the skies and see a tiny little ReMax balloon in the sky.  He was petrified of water, so when my Mom watered the plants, he would run into the backyard quickly.  He was also terrified of three of our cats, Kit Kat, Trixie and Chester all who hit him (Kit Kat lacked claws) and when the littlest cats would come in the backroom (when Kramer was inside); he’d panic.  But if Taffy, our fat orange tabby, came in; Kramer would chase her and the poor cat would have to jump to get away from a potentially traumatizing incident.

His two biggest fears?  Lightning storms and the pool.  The first one is obvious, the second one; funny.  We had a pretty lousy but still great above ground pool in our backyard.  I think it came with the house.  But there were these tiny steps leading up to it that we had trouble with but Kramer, with four stubby fat legs and a small body, would find a way to get up all of them when my Dad & I would go in the pool with my Mom watching.  Kramer was torn though.  He LOVED my Dad and I but he was terrified of being in that pool.  So he would compromise by pushing my Mom’s arm up with his nose to hold him and then slowly extend his nose out so he could kiss us if came near.

Now and then my Dad took him in the pool because we thought, as he got a bit older, he would like to be off his tiny legs.  Seeing Kramer backpedal until we put him in was a sad sight but he did seem to like taking quick doggy paddles into the water.  It was cute to see.

He also was prone to escaping every now and then.  We often would look outside of our suburban house with a small enough backyard to be considered “suburban” but large enough to have a game of catch, and not see Kramer by his usual spots which were the hydrangea bed and under the kitchen window where the way our roof is angled makes for a nice shade.  Then we’d look outside and see Kramer on our frontyard, sniffing, or on the side yard.  Since we are the last house (or first house) on the street, this was terrifying because traffic was always ongoing and all it took was one teenager with a permit blasting American Idiot or Right Thurr to end Kramer’s life.

But none of his escapist acts beat the most hopeless week of our life.  One morning we woke up and Kramer was gone.  We looked everywhere but we found a small hole in the fence (he must’ve used his nose to push a board that we used to close it) and put 2+2 together.  I was 12, old enough to realize that things die but young enough to believe in happy endings, and immediately tore off on my bike looking for him.  We put up signs, ads in the paper, went to Wawa (which is about 200m from our house) and the fire station that’s directly across from us but nothing.

Days passed by and sometimes, we swore we could hear his bark in the distance but wondered if our mind was playing games on us.  We never fully gave up, but the atmosphere became kind of accepting.  I didn’t want to lose him like this.

But then something miraculous happened.  My Mom went to get the paper one morning, and who was at our front door?  Kramer.  Covered in ticks on his chest (it bulged out a little at his sternum, where he loved to be pet) but nonetheless, not looking any different than what he did four days previously.  She woke me up and I tore down the stairs like it was Christmas morning.  I can still recapture that surge in my stomach when I think about it to this day.

Once he came back though, I started to fear.  One night when I was watching football with my family on a Sunday night, I saw a bag of Purina Dog Food with the words “For Senior Dogs” and immediately panicked.  I did the math at the time and Kramer was like 7.  I think I saw online that night that the average lifespan of a basset was somewhere between 7 to 11 years meaning he could drop at any moment…..in my eyes.  I remember freaking out to my parents who said that they are just trying to keep him healthy so he can live longer and while I didn’t push the issue further, it was just always on my mind from that point on.

Then the Phillies announced that they were almost two years away from a new stadium and I started to think, by the time that stadium is operated on; Kramer wouldn’t be here.  I couldn’t help but think about it.

But the years slowly passed on and Kramer, who might’ve just lost a step but was otherwise quite active, stayed there.  The Phillies got a new stadium, Kramer was still there.  He spent a bit more time inside when we watched TV but otherwise; he was a pretty content dog.  When Trixie, the smallest cat, took his huge bed; Kramer, staying away from a fight, would curl up on her tiny flower bed.  Somehow he made it work.

We went to Disney World every spring, and we had a family friend watch him when we were gone.  Kramer had to hate it when we were gone but ya know, he was always ecstatic to see us back.

Then, I got into high school and picked up other interests; slowly transforming myself into a distance runner instead of a baseball player.  Catches with Dad slowly dwindled after my Sophomore year and then ceased to exist outright.  I became more interested in playing fantasy football, watching sports on TV, playing video games and following politics instead of jumping on the trampoline, in the pool, or throwing some flyballs to myself.

But one constant remained, Kramer would sit right in front of the TV and just hang with the family.  He would rest his droopy face on the couch if he didn’t get enough attention and if he was in the room by himself, you would hear “click, click, click” as his feet hit the floor so he could try to find us and stare at us with a look that clearly said “are you coming back?”.  It got to the point where he saw my Mom as a protector and couldn’t be without her.  He still saw me as his companion though as I was the one who stayed up the latest still.

Still when you get older, you don’t get as hardcore into playing with the dog from when you do as you get younger.  Kramer never was into fetch or chew toys; instead he just wanted to be with us.  Kramer never bit a single person.  He never growled at us.  This is a fact.  He was okay with being pet when he was sleeping as long as you kept up with it.  When new visitors came, Kramer gave them that stare and they fell in love with him too.  I think all of my friends preferred Kramer to me after a certain point.

As high school marched on, I had to start worrying about college.  Kramer was clearly now slowing down a lot, but still living a normal lifestyle so we were just flabbergasted to have him around still without signs of cataracts, illness or pain.  It was amazing.  He was still the same damn dog, but just older and not too quick.  He would still bark outside when people walked by.  He would still bark to be let in or cry to get food.  When a balloon came by….you know the drill.

Then the pool was knocked down.  Replacing it was a giant sandpit.  We gradually lost interest in it and I guess the price of it wasn’t worth it anymore.  Then my Dad lost his job, working at the same job he had for twenty plus years though he would find the same job until the auto industry continued to plummet and his job was cut.

He began to work night shifts and life was continuing to change.  All my grandparents were gone.  My sister had moved out.  I was getting better at this running thing, experiencing success at it and carving a social niche for myself.  However, I would watch Phillies games alone with Kramer before passing out on the couch instead of walking up stairs to my room.  I would see the Phillies, in their now “not new” stadium win a World Series.  I watched this alone with my dog.

Then I decided to settle on Kutztown as my college.  Family trips to Disney World came to an end.  Money was tighter and tighter but I got to go on my Senior Trip to the Happiest Place on Earth one more time.

As graduation came closer, I started to get cold feet on everything.  I didn’t want to run anymore, I didn’t want to go to Kutztown anymore and I just wanted to stay home because I was so anxious to go start a new life just when my high school social life began to sparkle.  I peaked way too late.

To make matters worse though was Kramer’s health.  We couldn’t ignore it anymore.  Not only did he lose a step, but he started displaying the signs of hip problems.  We made stairs for him to walk inside which eased his burden a bit but he would start to struggle and I would go outside at midnight each night; take him out of his dog house and carry him inside.  He would walk around, drink some water, eat a bit but we never heard that thunderous bark or that high-pitched cry out of him anymore.

His strength was dedicated to going to the bathroom, which became an increasingly tumultuous thing, and laying down.  He would still kiss us if we petted him and still clearly wanted to be pet.  But after I graduated, Kramer’s decline began immediately.  One time he hacked really loud, as dogs occasionally do, but after a huge hack; we heard a boom and Kramer was down.  I immediately ran out of the room with my Mom as my Dad rushed to check in on him.  This was it.  I knew, I lost him.  For two minutes, I was trying to force myself to accept the fact.

Then we walked down and saw Kramer kind of trotting outside and going to the bathroom; clearly hobbled a tad but otherwise, the same dog.  My Dad, who didn’t see him go down, thought he just fell but I started to think he might’ve had a small seizure.  We couldn’t afford a vet visit but even though I was in denial, we were aware that we were in the final months.

Two weeks of gradual declining passed and I could now see Kramer’s ribs.  He ate, but would puke it up.  He would drink but pee it out immediately.  We made arrangements to take him to a pet hospital for one last go to see if we could maybe rehydrate him a bit before bringing him back home.

I left the house before Kramer left.  I couldn’t bare to say goodbye to him.  At this point, I was an emotional wreck; moping constantly, not running and starting to openly refuse to hang out with friends.  Combined with college anxiety, this was a low point.  I have a sharp memory, but I honestly don’t remember what happened that day other than by the time I returned home from a game of tennis that I forced myself to go to, Kramer just left home for the last time.

The next morning, I woke up in which my Mom gently told me the news that he passed away last night.

That was it for me.  I was so far away from the point of tears, I was in complete autopilot.  I ate, blinked, breathed and drank soda but nothing else.   I had nothing to give.  We opened up the backroom and the cats began to make themselves home in the room that they were kind of forced to stay out of because of Kramer.  The “click click clicks” were gone.  The dark eyes and brown fur were no longer facing us.  There was just silence and small talk for the rest of the summer.  We watched Michael Jackson’s funeral.  We watched our new President face Congress.  We saw our economy just…stall.  So did we.

What gets us going about our pets is that they age so quick.  Our time with them is short.  Too short.  Just like all of the fun times in our lives, time with your pet tends to fly by until you realize that dog struggling up the steps or the gradual refusal to eat.  Kramer really declined for only a month.  We were lucky.  It was only really bad for about a week or two.

We got his ashes and the animal hospital made a nice little box for us with his name on it.  He was home again.

But then we start kicking ourselves for so much.  Kramer just wanted attention.  He just wanted to be kissed and to be pet.  He had no problem leaning against our legs and just be pet.  Why couldn’t we satisfy his wishes a bit more, why did I take him for granted, why did I waste so many times worrying about his health when he was perfectly healthy for more than 15 years?  Then I realize we are just human and we could all be perfect in hindsight but our flaws are what make us who we are.

Those beach chairs have been thrown out.  Two years later, Taffy passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  My Dad’s hours got more intense and I had to leave to go to college.  The change was kicked into hyperspeed with Kramer’s passing.

Since then, we have two new additions to our family, two little puppies that are now three year old chihuahua/pomeranian/poodle mixes named Alfie and Teddy.  I have a bevy of new and fun memories and I’m close to closing another chapter of my life by graduating college in less than a month.

But I still miss Kramer.  His dog house is the last reminder of him in our backyard and I don’t think we can throw it away.  I hardly go outside anymore and I feel myself being the adult that I was fearful of being.  I drive now.  I have a girlfriend.  A long-term one at that.  I have an idea of my life direction.  I know my passions.  I know my interests and my dislikes.

I also know that I miss him dearly.  I saw a dog in Kutztown that looked JUST LIKE HIM down to the white line that streaked from his nose to the top of his forehead.  I swear it was a carbon clone of him but just a female.  I had to pet this dog for almost five minutes before it overwhelmed me too much and I mentioned to the owner how strikingly similar to my old dog she was.

Its amazing what pets do to us.  We see people age all the time.  Their backs go, their vision declines, they begin to get ill, they age in general.  Animals get there almost immediately but with no real way of communicating with us.  We are responsible for their happiness, their food, their livelihoods but we can’t do everything for them.

I only wish I could provide the gift of more years.

Chad Stafko’s “OK, You’re A Runner. Get Over It” Is An Example Of A Hack: A Response

15 Nov

Oh god.  Well, its no secret that as a cross country runner; I do have a bit of disdain for the sport that I love so much.  But, this article got my (and the rest of the running world’s) attention and I have to respond to it.

Chad Stafko of the Wall Street Journal is known better for a few articles.  Such as race-baiting while talking about the “irrelevant black voting bloc” or “welfare state” and fear-mongering, “OMG GUNS“; so its kind of funny that a guy whose hackery isn’t even good enough for the Drudge Report or RedState found his way into the Wall Street Journal.

Stafko seems to be the type of guy that self-pats himself on the back for every time he mentions the word “OBUMMERCARE” when talking about the Affordable Care Act or self-pleasures himself each time food stamps get defunded.  But politics aside, how did a guy like this get a job at the Wall Street Journal?  I mean, then again, the Wall Street Journal is the same newspaper that let Suzanne Somers write an op-ed about the Affordable Care Act so is there any legitimacy to it anyway?

Anyway, Stafko took a brief pause from writing about how he isn’t racist because some of his best friends know black people by lecturing us on how runners are the most egotistical people on Earth.  Well that’s not a big deal; I’ve already mentioned that before but when an outsider talks about the sport, it gets under your skin.  Like you can make fun of your family, but if Chris Stafko says that they should be deported because my mom likes Darius Rucker’s voice; then it gets personal.

But, let’s look at all of this article so we can properly talk about Chad Stafko.

There is one kind of bumper sticker I see almost daily here in my small Midwestern town: 

Is it “GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY MUSLIMS”?

a small oval printed with “26.2” or “13.1.” In case you’re lucky enough not to know what these numbers represent, let me explain: They indicate that the driver or someone in the car has run a marathon (26.2 miles) or a half-marathon (13.1 miles).

I love that line already.  “In case you’re LUCKY ENOUGH TO NOT KNOW”, like the marathon is this unknown plague that’s sweeping the nation.  I bet Stafko says that shit on a daily basis.  He’s the best Yahoo! comment when someone goes “WHO?” on a story about Kim Kardashian.  Like he has no idea who the person that he clicked on an article is.  By the way, thanks for telling us how far a half-marathon is, my math skills weren’t good enough to divide a marathon in half.  Probably because my teacher didn’t own a gun.

There is only one reason running aficionados display the stickers. They want the rest of us to know about their long-distance feats. So let me be the first to offer my hearty congratulations.

Thanks, Chad Stafko!  I prefer your bumper sticker of Obama’s birth certificate better though!

I’d even offer to give them a pat on the back—once they’re done doing it themselves.

“Sorry Chad, I’m busy listening to Chief Keef; I wonder what your thoughts are about him?”.  But oh those self-gratifying pale kids and middle class folks.  Didn’t they know that Rockefeller and Carnegie never patted their own backs?  How about Stalin?  All American heroes!  We could really use more but now we are stuck in OBAMA’s America.  I miss my country!

What’s with this infatuation with running and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it?

Almost every day I see people running: in the city, through subdivisions or out on country roads. They’re everywhere and at all times, from dawn until dark, their reflective gear flickering along the road.

“and every day, I try to run them over as I go to shake my head when visiting the homeless shelter; why do those people brag about being homeless?”

I thought I was imagining this spike in running’s popularity, but that’s not the case. According to the group Running USA, there were some 15.5 million people who finished running events in 2012, compared with approximately 13 million in 2010. These 15.5 million are hoofing it through marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, fun runs, night runs, charity runs and what can only be labeled as insane ultramarathon runs of 50 miles or more.

Are all of those people in your small Midwestern town too?

When they’re not out there sweating through the miles, they can relax with a running magazine. There is Runners World, with its 660,000 subscribers, but also Running Times, Trail Runner, Runner’s Gazette and several others. Reading. About running.

THE HORROR!  Out of the 15.5 million who run, 14.9 million DON’T read Runner’s World.  That’s 14.9 million too little!  How about a nice issue of the National Review or Mein Kampf?  Keep in mind, this is the SAME GUY that bitched about Ed Rendell calling gun owners loopy or whatever.

Or these runners, when they’re not running, can go shopping—at a running store

AHHHHHHHHHHH!  Next you’ll be telling me that they go on surfaces made for running!  Or getting food stamps!

There’s one such store less than 15 miles, or better said, just a bit over a half-marathon, from my house. It sells only running equipment and apparel. 

No shit.

The store has been in business several years, so apparently it is making money.

Until Obama makes them buy healthcare and takes away their guns!

This “equipment,” of course, is nothing but shoes and clothes. You can buy these same shoes at a sporting-goods store or online, probably for much less.

Also includes GPS watches, running shorts that are never found at Dick’s Sporting Goods, perform gait analysis so you don’t get hurt with a new pair of shoes, have a wider variety of clothes, sponsor local races so you can discounts, provide jobs, provide running tights that are never found anywhere, can customize uniforms for you, have runners or coaches sometimes give speeches or talks, etc.  Research, douche!
But the clothes—well, that’s a different story. Many of the shirts on the racks have running logos, motivational slogans and images of stick people running.
That’s another different story.  How about the stick people voting bloc?  Totally irrelevant.  No wonder they voted for John McCain in record numbers!
Like the 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers, this apparel serves a clear purpose: We can look at them and immediately know that the person wearing it is a runner—perhaps even an accomplished one.
Unless you have no idea what a “runner” is, if not, boy are you lucky!
I have several friends who are runners
“I have plenty minority friends!” (that don’t vote thankfully)
or at least I did before writing this. Some have completed marathons in Nashville and Washington, D.C. One even ran the Boston Marathon.A few days ago, one of these running friends said, after describing a recent run: “Why do I keep doing this?” I have no idea.

Why would someone want to get up at 5 a.m. and run 10 miles adorned with fluorescent tape to avoid being struck by someone who has the good sense to use a car for a 10-mile journey?

Well that’s a surprisingly decent question.  Ya know, I say that pretty often.  Why do I do this?  Probably because of staying in shape, actually trying to run faster than I did before, being with my teammates, enjoying being out on the roads instead of laying in bed; maybe that?
I have a theory.
Oh, Christ.
There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them.
That’s it!  I run when no one is out at 5am for two-a-days and 3pm when everyone is at work or in class because I want Mrs. Smith to check out my sock tan and tights!  I know deep down, as people yell homophobic slurs at me (sexist slurs for females who run); that they really wish they were me!  That’s it!  Thank you Chad Stafko!
These days, people want more than ever to be seen. This is the age of taking a photo selfie and posting it on Facebook FB +0.26% with the announcement that you’re bored—in the hope that someone will “like” that information. People want attention and crave appreciation. If you’re actually doing something like running—covering ground, staying healthy, almost even having fun—what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire? The lone runner is a one-person parade. Yay.
Uhhh, maybe because we feel good afterwards when no one is around?  Dude, you just posted an OPINION piece in the Wall Street Journal.  Do you even have a column?  You have a Facebook!  You even HAD a personal website!  What B-list writer does that to himself?  Why do you post political topics on your Facebook?  So all of your friends can know who YOU support?  Because you are a member of the Stafko voting bloc!
OK, I know, this isn’t the case for all runners. Many of my friends who regularly run have done so for years, decades before there was a thing called social media to put humanity’s self-absorption in overdrive. These folks also tend to be infatuated with fitness anyway. If they’re not out on the streets showing the sedentary world how it’s done, they’re at the gym or in a spinning class.
So basically they are showoffs?  Doesn’t that go against the grain of everything you just said?  Ugh.
But what about the others? You can spot them, wandering through the mall or killing time at StarbucksSBUX -0.21% proudly wearing their “[Fill in the blank] 5K Run” T-shirts. They’re getting what they want, without losing a drop of sweat.
Their coffee?
I saw a great new bumper sticker the other day.
“NUKE THE MIDDLE EAST AND INNERCITY CHICAGO”
It read 0.0. I’ll take one of those, please.
Oh-ho-ho that was a good one!
What sucks about this piece is that its basically some contrarian talking about society and the Facebook generation.  Like suddenly, Americans are selfish!  Back in the day, we weren’t!  That people, god forbid, now do leisure instead of working!
This piece was basically a troll job.  He knew it would create outrage, so let me congratulate you while you are done masturbating to Andrew Brietbart.  But we caved in because all websites, nowadays, take the BuzzFeed model of clickbait knowing that you will click to either be outraged or amused.
That’s a shame.

Travis Pastrana Leaves NASCAR: What NASCAR Needs To Do For Younger Fans

12 Nov

Well, here’s some lousy news for NASCAR fans.; Travis Pastrana is quitting NASCAR due to a lack of sponsorship, support and results (as well as other factors).

This year Pastrana has had a rough go, which is no surprise when you consider his only experience racing on pavement was via rally car with an average finish outside the top-20, several crashes and a lack of improvement as the year wore on.  The action sports icon could’ve been a huge boon for the series which is currently in dire need of personality but instead will likely go back to rally and his Nitro Circus tour.

Its a shame really when you consider it.  Pastrana flashed some potential but always seemed to find the wall or an accident which prevented him from closing the deal.

I was a NASCAR fan growing up but as I grew older, I stopped caring to the point where I pretty much quit following races.  It was too stale, too predictable and I was not going to pick NASCAR over the NFL or the Phillies.  But being someone who grew up watching the X Games, I followed every Nationwide race (and by extension every Sprint Cup race as well) to see how Pastrana would fare and slowly started to get dedicated to the sport again.  Even though he didn’t do that well, it was something that made me excited for Saturdays.  I even started to look forward to 2014 to see if there would be any improvement or if he would look at ARCA or another series to speed up his learning curve.

Now though, without Pastrana, I don’t see myself really caring to watch Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano win about 85% of the races next year.  Call me crazy, but I am not someone to be captivated by the owner’s points championships.  I don’t think Roger Penske is thinking “Man, sucks Brad couldn’t win another championship but AT LEAST I WON THE NATIONWIDE SERIES :Gronk spikes Miller Lite:”.

Pastrana’s fans never really came but at least there was interest.  None of my friends like NASCAR in the slightest but if I was watching it, they would all ask “hey, how’s Travis doing?” and would watch for about ten laps.  Ten laps of watching for a non-NASCAR fan is pretty impressive and at the bare minimum, he brought intrigue to a series dominated by Cup regulars.

His fans, who are used to at most watching a few heats of the Global Rallycar Series, aren’t conditioned for the long grind of NASCAR.  It was simple fantasy that the crowds would be mixed between Southern “good ole’ boys” and straight-billed wearing, Monster Energy chuggin’, bros.  Then they would sing a musical number and cheer on their favorite driver while respecting each other’s differences and interests!  But there was potential to at least some overlap and propel NASCAR into a newer audience.

That’s what NASCAR needs.  Thankfully I have free time to talk about what NASCAR could do to grow the series more and maybe even acquire the fanbases that Pastrana was supposed to bring in.

Perception

First let’s look at NASCAR’s perception.  Boring, older white guys (only two Chase drivers are younger than 30) who race in circles are corporate drones (always thanking sponsors!) with fans who are old conservatives.

The stereotype is mostly true.  But you can’t force drivers out of the series just because they hit a certain age.  So you have to combat that and make some changes.

The Chase

Scrap the Chase would be the viewpoint that most traditionalists have.  Its gimmicky, its failing and it really hasn’t created much drama outside of three Homestead races.  But NASCAR has made its bed with a playoff system so I propose a change.

First, 10 races is way too long for a playoff system.  Think about that.  Ten weeks?  That’s two and a half months of playoffs and in the NASCAR world; its really an eternity.  The cream tends to rise to the top when you have that big of a sample size.  First change the Chase to the last 5 races.  Yes, that could really screw over a driver but other sports have bye weeks as well and the best driver should be good all year.  I understand the possibility that someone could have the championship locked up but again; does the #1 seed always win?

Twelve (or thirteen when NASCAR feels like it) seeds are way too much as well.  No one who is 20th in the standings should be competing for a championship just because they had two wins.  Scrap that, it pisses off traditional fans and new fans who like other sports won’t fully grasp that concept either.  Change it to 5 drivers and if you MUST, take the driver who has the most wins from positions 6 through 10.  If they all have the same amount, then #6 gets to join in on the festivities.

Playoffs are supposed to be harder to make.  When you look at the field, there are probably about 20 drivers who have any real shot at winning (sans restrictor plate tracks) a race on Sundays and really do you think Paul Menard or Aric Almirola will win?  The current Chase guys plus  injured Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and an unlucky Brad Keselowski were pretty much the only surprises to miss the playoffs.  You have a good idea on who is going to make the Chase each year with the limited amount of drivers who are threats to win weekly.  So let them fight amongst themselves to make it.

The tracks are also the problem.  I understand that media markets and corporate entities are hard to please but if you want a true playoff system, the tracks need to change.  End the season at Daytona, its basically the only track that non-NASCAR fans have heard of anyway and maybe you can start something like the Super Bowl there where casual fans end up watching regardless.  Start the Chase at Chicagoland, then send it to the road course of Sonoma, the short track of Martinsville and then Phoenix before heading off to Daytona.   Five different tracks, five different disciplines and five different variables.  Seems good, right?

Maybe you can move Homestead to July 4th weekend, and you should move Darlington back to Labor Day.

The Point System

I support a tier point system.  Drivers who finish 35th to 43rd should only get one point.  Drivers who finish 30th to 34th should get three points.  21st to 29th should get ten points.  15th to 20th should get fifteen points.  11th to 15th, how about twenty points?  6th to 10th should get twenty five points.  5th should get 28, 4th should get 33, 3rd should get 38, 2nd should get 45 and winners should get 50.  I’m not a fan of bonus points for leading one single lap but I wouldn’t be against a bonus point for leading five laps or more.  Then you can throw in a token point for leading the most lap.

This is only a rough draft obviously and totally flawed.  Why would you race if you are 9th place?  No need to push to get 8th if it all rewards the same so I am open for arguments there.

Racing

The one appeal about NASCAR is well, the racing.  Racing is fun no matter what the sport is and the possibility of passes and crashes is captivating to anyone.  But NASCAR has gotten way too tekkie for a lack of a better term, and while the improvements in safety have been amazing and nothing short of astounding; racing has suffered.  No one wants to watch “clean air” win and hope that a pit miscue will be the only chance of a race being exciting.

I have no idea how to fix the racing but there’s a reason why I can imagine NASCAR losing interest to people.  If there are no cautions (“debris”), no passes for the lead and just dominance by the first place car; why bother showing up?

The Season

500 Miles and 36 races might be too much for a lot of people.  I know diehards will be pissed off but on some tracks, do we really lose much if we shorten the race by 100 miles?  The season is a grind and I don’t think it needs much alterations because we all know what tracks would lose out if we shortened the season (i.e. Dover, Pocono?).

The Price

Racing is getting fairly expensive and I don’t know what NASCAR can do to somewhat level the playing field but there’s a lack of intrigue right now with almost everything.  All 43 cars make the races or at most, one fails to.  Entry lists continue to be robbed as independent teams continue to decline (unless they operate as satellite teams) and really, only about two teams have one sponsor as everyone needs to rely on multiple sponsors paying the bill.  That’s a pipe dream but I’d like to see something change with NASCAR.  Maybe not revenue sharing but….something.

Gimmicks

Yes, I’m going to suggest NASCAR needs some gimmicks.  How about a “Winter Thunder” season?  Take the top five in driver points in Cup, Nationwide, Trucks and a few K&N drivers, throw them into a four-race circuit and televise it.  How about thirty laps in modified cars at Phoenix, Homestead, Sonoma and a dirt track somewhere South?  The only benefit is bragging rights, some purse money and accolades.  Make it low risk.  This could maybe excite non-traditional fans who might be more prone to GRC or Motocross which are far shorter races and could open up the older guys in NASCAR to younger demographics.

Plus who wouldn’t like to see Dylan Kwasniewski race with Jimmie Johnson or Sam Hornish, Jr. alongside James Buescher?  It would add some spice, help some guys find rides maybe, and could be a boon for winter sports at Fox Sports 1.

Maybe NASCAR could team up with GRC or RallyCar at some places.  Twin bills could be fun.  Watch the Truck race in the evening, Nationwide in the afternoon on the next day with GRC at night if Cup is off or at Pocono.

Another gimmick might be making the Nationwide Series more….Nationwide.  I understand sponsors WANT Kyle Busch to race or Joey Logano/Brad Keselowski too but maybe we can put a bandaid on it.  How about a car eligible for owner’s points can have a Cup driver in for only 25 races?  At least Ryan Blaney could get eight races in the #22 or Drew Herring could get eight in the #54 which would open some races up for Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr., Trevor Bayne or Kyle Larson to win thus they could get a better fanbase when they go to Cup because they actually win instead of being bum-rushed into the Cup Series.

But maybe, not.  All I hope is to see Travis Pastrana give it another go.

 

 

Teams Are Cesspools Of Fun & Dismay: A Current Athlete’s Look

4 Nov

Okay, I just made that title so you could click on the article.  Yes, that’s very BuzzFeedian of me and I apologize in advance.  My main point is a lot less profound than that but hopefully you are still here.

Today isn’t the best day in the world of sports, but then again when is it a good day, as Miami Dolphins OL Richie Incognito was suspended from the team due to his alleged harassment of second-year teammate Jonathan Martin.  The harassment, which has the usage of a racial epithet at its focal point, highlights the ugly part of the whole “bro, you are my family; asshole” has made others reflect on how this is not an isolated incident in the world of football.  Deadspin’s Drew Magary even added a personal anecdote on how he went through the same things playing football.

I’m here to offer my own personal recollection that is still ongoing at this very moment.  I run cross country and track & field at the Division II level.  So, not only do I run the least-“sporty” sport but I also do not run it at its highest level.  I was a good runner, nothing to write home about, that has gotten better but not much else.  Just like almost every other NCAA athlete; something else drives me besides personal glory.  Its the fact that being on a team is the greatest thing ever.  Until its the absolute worst.

I’m a fifth-year senior.  When it comes to hierarchy, I am probably at the very top of the small team.  Its not necessarily something you seek but if you are reasonably social, you eventually find your way there.  I have another year on the next oldest person so I have that many more memories, stories, jokes and pieces of personal adversity than my peers.  That’s not to say I’ve suffered more or have more friends, its just how things go.  Its pretty cool when you are one of the oldest guys on the team because now you get to see how different the younger guys are than you.

I’ve probably had close to 40 or so teammates on the cross country side.  Maybe more, maybe a bit less.  When you add the girls team, its doubled that and when you add in the track team you are reaching close to over 200 people I’ve interacted with.  While we do different events, for the most part we are united as one team.  I can say that I know mostly everyone I’ve been teammates with from being in the dining hall, on the weekends, at meets or even in classes or the dorms.  When you are forced to spend at least two hours a day with each other for nearly a full year (cross country leads into track, so year-round sport); you have to get to know each other.

Its amazing that I’ve really only disliked four people.  I can name them all and tell you ample reasons why we didn’t click.  When you think about it, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.  200+ people from different states, with different religion, political views, culture, stories, personalities, attitudes, ambitions, etc.; and you can only dislike four.  In my time here, there’s maybe been one or two guys who everyone practically didn’t like for various reasons.  One of them finally figured it out and became likable to many.

But looking at it through that lens is fairly misleading.  What makes teams horrible and amazing is the gray area.  You end up having no opinion on someone but eventually they carve a niche for themselves.  One might be dramatic, one might be annoying, one might be fat, one might be lanky, one might be stupid and one might be a grouch.  Then there are the ones who fit into groups like the partygoers, the stoners, the funny ones, the brothers, the sisters, the best friends, the one who call themselves “big and little” (by the way, there’s nothing worse than that) and the outsiders.

This is where things get hazy.  Once you have that perception, you are screwed; even if you try to fight back.  Luckily, I’ve been on a team that’s lacked a Richie Incognito type; that’s an extreme (I hope).  We’ve never had someone blasted for their race, sexual orientation, gender or religion.  If someone uses a homophobic slur, they get cursed out immediately.  If someone uses the whole “I’m faster than you” argument, they get destroyed.  Some things we’ve decided are too personal and other ones are fair game.

Now, guys like to shit on each other.  Almost to the point where that would be a literal statement.  I’m not sure if guys personally LIKE it but that’s kind of what happens even at DII cross country.  Usually its something so extreme that there’s no way its true.  “Hey, you are attracted to horses!  I bet you wanna fornicate with one!” or “RUN AWAY FROM THE MIDDLE SCHOOL” are some examples of how we aren’t really that funny.  But its absurdity makes us laugh.

The thing is when you are best friends with people, you get a certain amount of wiggle room to say whatever.  That’s what makes the team fun is when you can all laugh at yourselves, then laugh at each other, and then laugh at a fart.  For ladies wondering what the guys team does on runs, that might just be it.  Plus SEX just because.

However, on the flip side; you get dismay.  I was never really picked on.  I somehow avoided it.  Yet I would be outright lying if I didn’t say that I have went way too far in picking on people.  Again, never anything extreme but instead of quality; we go for quantity.  It is funny to call any distance runner “fat” when we all weigh 15 pounds and our sweat is pretty much our body weight.  When you say it every hour, it might still be funny, but its by no means acceptable.

There’s been twice where I knew that we went too far and boy, did we feel awful.  We once got a kid to flip out and proceeded to laugh at his anger because we weren’t quite sure if he was serious or not.  The thing was, the previous joke wasn’t a big deal.  It was just the fact that it was the cherry on top of the nitroglycerin.  Then by laughing at the anger, what do we encourage?  Not only do we not take you seriously but we can’t lay off of you when you aren’t in the mood.

Is that really friendship or is it just horrific bullying that could lead to someone eventually either quitting or doing something more extreme?  Thankfully it was a water under the bridge learning experience for the team.  The guy was our friend.  Yet we started treating him as a non-person.  But it goes to show you that we were frankly, terrible little douchebag and needed to be reminded of that fact.

Another one was something in which every five minutes people started laughing at another kid’s GPA.  Again this kid was a good sport about it, and in fact encouraged it, but it got to the point where he HAD to have been tired by it.  He knew he botched it, but plenty of people kept bringing it up to him on a daily basis that sometimes felt like every ten minutes.  This kid got his life straightened out and I know there are some idiots out there who think “ya see, if you didn’t make fun of him; he wouldn’t learn!” but when has that ever been proven to work?

Teams are awful in the sense that no one wants to deviate from the party line.  Until everyone else does and the few people that resist either get ostracized or demeaned.  Of all the people who get shit on, most of them are our friends with the few that are actually egotistical, dramatic, terrible people to be around.  Yet we still do it for the simple fact of it being the “thing” to do.

But when you think about it, is it really just a sports thing?  Do you really think that the officeplace or teacher’s lounge will be any better as people are literally fighting for their livelihood.  When it comes down to it, these people will likely never be your friends, but the world is so competitive that you will be hung out to dry in a heartbeat.  That’s kind of what makes people suck.  If you don’t think you are like that, think again; even if you don’t make fun of people, there’s a really good chance you are being ostracized for some other reason.  Maybe you aren’t as popular as you think.

Maybe you aren’t as loved as you think or WORSE yet, maybe you aren’t as hated as you think but since you are of the belief that no one likes you; you are missing out on a group of really great people who have the same flaws as you.