Dear Holly: You Taught Yourself the Motions to the Songs in Your Brother’s Play

2 years, 10 months.

Dear Holly,

You loved every single minute of your brother’s play last week. While Mommy and I were most excited about his speaking part, your favorite part was the music.

Since we arrived early enough to get 2nd row seats (1st row was reserved for teachers), we were able to spot your brother the whole time.

So after his speaking part, which occurred in first few minutes of the play, he went to join the rest of his classmates who served as the choir.

You quickly noticed that the students had motions to do for each line of the song.

I looked over at you to see that you were actually teaching yourself the motions to each song by watching Jack and his classmates. Actually, I had to remind myself that you had never heard of these songs before when I saw you doing it.

I am sure you would have joined your brother on stage if you would been allowed… then you could have taught the audience the song motions yourself!

Love,

Daddy

Why There Can Be No Male Equivalent to the Jordin Sparks Song “I Am Woman” or “Independent Women” By Destiny’s Child

I’m so vain, I probably think this song is about me…  

Thursday night on American Idol I watched Jordin Sparks perform her latest single, “I Am Woman.”  In the likeness of so many popular songs celebrating the empowerment of (single and independent) women, the lyrics of the chorus go like this:

I am (I am) woman (woman)
I am (I am) woman (woman)
I’m a woman
I’m a woman
Yes I am
Ain’t nobody else can do it like we can

But what if instead of Jordin Sparks singing the song, it was the dreamy Scotty McCreery, and he changed to lyrics to be masculine?  No one would hear, “I am man, yes I am, ain’t nobody else can do it like we can.”  Instead, the song lyrics would be perceived as “I am conceited, I am narcissistic.  I’m a jerk.  I’m a sleezebag.  Yes I am.  Ain’t nobody more of an a-hole than guys like me.”

Is this a double standard- that women can sing songs about being proud to be independent and successful, but if a guy did the same thing, he would either A) not be taken seriously or B) become despised by women?

No, it’s not a double standard.  Because only in recent decades has it truly become acceptable to desire for men and women to be socially equal.  Women have had to struggle to get where they are in society today, but men haven’t had to play the underdog gender throughout history.  So it’s ironic to the point of extreme arrogance for a man to boast about his successful independence.  I’ll illustrate this further my “masculinizing” the lyrics to “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child.  I’ll emphasize the very worst parts in bold print:

What you think about a guy like me?
Buy my own car and spend my own money
Only ring your celly when I’m feeling lonely
When it’s all over please get up and leave

Please don’t call me baby
Cause I’ll call you
Don’t mean to hurt you feelings, got a lot to do
Cause I am my number one priority
No falling in love, no commitment from me

All my independent men
Throw them hands up at me
And all my sexy men
Throw them hands up at me

All my money making men
Throw them hands up at me
All my baller men
Throw them hands up at me

How you feel about a guy like this?
Try to control me, girl you’ll get dismissed
Do what I want, live how I wanna live
Buy my own golf clubs, and pay my own bills

Where my males?
Where all my men?
How did you feel about this groove I wrote?
Hope you got the message men take control
Don’t depend on no woman to give you what you want
Keep that in mind next time you hear this song

If you’re independent
I congratulate you
If you ain’t in love
I congratulate you
Do them girls like they used to do you
If you pimp her
I congratulate you

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that guys can’t/won’t/shouldn’t brag about their gender in a song, like Brad Paisley’s “I’m Still a Guy.”  But hopefully most people would realize that song was meant to be an innocent, humorous caricature of men.  Maybe another exception would be so many of Kanye West’s songs- but even then, he’s bragging about himself being awesome, not about men in general.

‘Obviously, it’s important that women are socially and economically equal to men. But do women also want to be A) physically equal and B) emotionally equal? And C) does it help a woman in the business world to “act more like a man” by “being less emotional?” And D) do I sound like a jerk or at least naive for asking any of these questions?’

I asked the above questions word-for-word on Facebook for some input.  Based on the answers I received, here is how I would answer those questions:

A)  No, there is no desire to be physically as strong as a man.

B) No, there is no desire to hold in emotions the way men do, or at least they way they seem to do.

C) It can.  And this is a good example of an actual double standard between the sexes.

D)  No, because the motives are sincere in asking the questions.

The most sober and sobering thoughts I can learn through this social survey is that men and women are different for a reason.  They both have their own strengths in which they can compliment each other with.  Imagine how life would be in this world if men and women were truly equal in every way.  Scary, if you ask me. I would have to give birth, express my emotions, and never be able to truly “think about nothing.”  My mind would never stop and I would constantly be thinking about at least 10 different things at once, all the time.

That’s way too exhausting even for a strong, confident man such as myself.

Every Breath You Take of the Air Tonight

What were Phil Collins and Sting really singing about?

It happened just a few weeks after I was born, then again exactly two years later in May of 1983. A man living out the final months of a dying marriage releases a song that goes on to become one of the biggest hits of the ‘80’s and most replayed songs on syndicated radio stations like Jack FM. Both of these men’s songs were destined to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Songs that were sad realizations from a man watching the love of his life slip away from him, though she shared his bed every night. I’m referring to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and Sting of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”.

Known for its memorable drum introduction over two minutes into the recording, its ghostly atmosphere, and its refrain of “oh Lord” that allows the song to exist not only has a premonition of his soon divorce and confrontation with his then-wife, but also as a desperate acknowledgement that God is overwatching the nightmare unfold, “In the Air Tonight” remains the perfect song for a drive on the interstate on an overcast day in October.

However, to many fans of the song (who wouldn’t be?), the meaning has always been vague and abstract.  Obviously some mysterious big event is about to happen and the accusing tone reveals anger, distrust, and sadness. So it only makes sense that a believable urban legend was born: A man watched Phil Collins’ brother drown and didn’t try to save him. Phil Collins years later invited the man to his concert and gave him a front row seat and sang the song to the man to drench him in guilt. The man later died of a heart attack. I believed this story for three years, until I did some research myself (on Wikipedia) to find out the truth. The Drowning Man Theory makes sense and it’s easy to want to believe it. But once I found out it’s a song about Phil Collins’ fading first marriage, the depth and weight of the song became so much clearer to me.

In a strange parallel, Sting woke up in the middle of the night and wrote “Every Breath You Take” as he watched his first marriage disintegrate. It went on to become the #1 single of 1983, surprisingly beating out all of Michael Jackson’s mega-hits that year (Thriller, Billy Jean, Beat It, P.Y.T., Human Nature, The Girl is Mine, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’). While the song comes across as a vow of undying love to many, with its promise to keep watch over his object of affection, it’s actually the opposite. It actually described Sting’s feeling of deep loss, knowing he would never fully get over losing his first wife. He didn’t want to let her go, but the marriage was ended regardless. Therefore, the “stalkerish” feel of the song is completely intentional.

Two British men who fronted successful pop rock bands in the 1980’s both wrote a song at the end of their marriage that went on to be a classic and unforgettable hit. And many people will never know the truth about the background of the writing other than what is written here. That’s often the case though: Some of the biggest legendary things in life are surrounded by mystery, only adding to the intrigue.

Popular (Yet Subtle) Songs Dealing with Abortion

Pop music finds a way to safely put into words what we sometimes can’t easily speak.

Yesterday as I was driving home, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before- “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw.  I’m the kind of person who always listens carefully to the lyrics of a song; and part of the 2nd verse caught my attention: We were young and wild; we decided not to have a child. So we did what we did and we tried to forget and we swore up and down there would be no regrets.”

It’s important in songwriting to say something without actually coming out and saying it.  In Aerosmith’s 1989 hit, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, the words “rape” and “incest” are never used, but for anyone who has halfway listened to the song before, it’s pretty obvious it’s a story about a girl who is sexually abused by her father and eventually takes revenge by killing him.

Abortion is such a heavy and delicate topic; laced in political, moral, and religious factors.  It’s an extreme thing- typically people are either hard-core against or for it, while there are obviously some in the middle who believe abortion is excused from their opposition reasons in the event of rape, incest, certain death of the mother, etc.  But to never bring it up in the entertainment genre of music would be odd, given that it’s an event that happens every day- an event that has affected many people, most of whom I am not personally aware of who they are.

So I find it very interesting to see songs become hits that deal with abortion.  Aside from “Red Ragtop” which went to #5 on the Country charts, there are two particular songs I want to examine.  It was only a few years ago I found out that in these songs the protagonist’s girlfriend gets pregnant and has an abortion.    They were both performed by alternative rock artists and were popular while I was in high school.  And the songs both have a strong emotional tune to them while straightforwardly telling their stories with lyrics that evoke shame, sadness, and a sense of regret and guilt mixed with the realization of the need to move forward in life, despite their personal choices.

The first of these songs is “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe which rose to #5 in 1997.  While this song is officially about a guy dealing with guilt after his girlfriend commits suicide, I can’t deny the fact that some of the lyrics paint the picture of abortion as well- which according to Wikipedia, is the actual story behind the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freshmen_(song).  Here are some lyrics from “The Freshmen”.

When I was young I knew everything
And she a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I’m guilt stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby’s breath and a shoe full of rice

I can’t be held responsible
‘Cause she was touching her face
I won’t be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

We’ve tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we’re guilt stricken sobbing with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we’d say

The other song, more surprising for me, is “Brick” by Ben Folds Five, which also was a hit in 1997: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_(song).  Below are lyrics from the 2nd and 3rd verses.  After reading them, the reality of this song becomes much clearer.  I had always thought of “Brick” as a decently happy song; at worst, a song about a happy guy and a depressed girlfriend.  But it’s obviously much more than that:

They call her name at 7:30
I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers
And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see?
It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone
Than she ever has before

As weeks went by
It showed that she was not fine
They told me son, it’s time to tell the truth
She broke down, and I broke down
Cause I was tired of lying
Driving home to her apartment
For a moment we’re alone
Yeah she’s alone
I’m alone
Now I know it

So beyond our own personal convictions on abortion, the songs mentioned here give us the gravity of it: Even dressed up in a catchy song, the truth is, the subject of abortion itself leaves a feeling of sadness and regret.  The narrators of these songs have been deeply affected by their decisions.  It appears they’ve learned to forgive themselves, even if under the guise of “we were young and irresponsible”, yet they aren’t able to forget; as consequences resurface.

Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one