Abby and I took a trip to Las Vegas over fall break to see U2. I’m not a fan of the spectacle of Vegas, so we opted for the spectacle of nature. We stayed at an Airbnb with goats in the yard, which kind of set the vibe for this wacky Vegas trip.
It’s the time of year when we rehash the year with lists, so here’s my year in music. It’s courtesy of Spotify Unwrapped again, which is still a goofy, app-only, mess of a user interface. But oh well, the basics are there.
I listened to 47,914 minutes of music (more than 91% of users), accounting for 5,964 songs, 2,691 different artists, and 83 different genres. (Here are last year’s stats for the sake of comparison.) I play music while I work, often tuning the music out if I’m really focused, so that’s why I have such ridiculous stats.
Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, pop, stomp and holler, rock, and alt z (what is alt z?).
- “Hot & Heavy” by Lucy Dacus (41 times)
- “Holiday (Green Day)” by Half Past Two
- “Glowing Review” by Maisie Peters
- “Love Me More” by Mitski
- “The Story of Us” by Taylor Swift
I’m always looking for a good ear worm, so here are some highlights from my top 100 songs:
- “The Last Great Sweetheart of the Grand Electric Rodeo” by Sarah and the Safe Word
- “Cannonball” by Avril Lavigne
- “My World” by Koren Grace
- “Who Are You” by Diet Cig
- “Growing Up” by The Linda Lindas
- “Raise Up” by Semler
- “Got Away” by Kady Rain
- “Under You” by Charly Bliss
- “F*****g Up What Matters” by Tegan and Sara
- “Road to Paradise” by TAT
- “Rehab” by People Planet
- “Full Metal Black” by The Royal They
- “Irrelevant” by P!nk
- “Gay Kids” by Rachel Kurtz
- “Scotty Doesn’t Know” by Maddie Ross
My Top 5 Artists:
- U2 – I listened to 2,236 minutes of their music. That puts me in the top 0.1% of their listeners. No real surprise there.
- Five Iron Frenzy – I listened to a lot of Five Iron leading up to their Denver show, so no big surprise there either.
- Maisie Peters – She’s one of my favorite new discoveries this year.
- Taylor Swift – I don’t even think I listened to her new album that much, so it’s probably older stuff.
- Tegan and Sara – Between their new album and the debut of their High School TV show (which is 1990s retro wonderful), I’ve had them on repeat.
Last year my top 3 were Five Iron, U2, and Taylor Swift, so I guess things haven’t changed much?
So Spotify does this clever thing where they look at your listening stats and spit out a bunch of fun data. Unfortunately, they do it in this goofy app experience that’s pretty awful. But I pulled out the fun bits…
I listened to 43,344 minutes of music (more than 90% of users), accounting for 2,358 different artists, and 166 different genres.
Supposedly my top five genres are indie pop, ska, stomp and holler, bubble grunge, permanent wave. (I don’t know what half those words mean.)Continue reading Spotify Wrapped: My Year in Music
It was our fourth U2 show, and while nothing can beat watching U2 during a rainstorm, this was pretty good. I’m continually amazed with their stage setup. They had a walkway down the middle of the arena, with a video screen/catwalk that could be raised and lowered.
So at one point The Edge is walking along the walkway while Bono is walking towards him on the catwalk, 10 feet higher in the air, with a video screen around him that makes it look like Bono was walking down the street.
You can see lots more pictures here.
U2 also played a great mix of songs, playing a lot from the new album (7 songs total) but also playing all the old favorites. I had a hard time coming up with a classic song they didn’t play (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is probably the one I missed the most, but they hit so many others and have so many classics, seems like a win to me).
They also included some they haven’t played much, including “Gloria” (not played live in 10 years) and “Lucifer’s Hands” (a b-side for the new album they’ve only played live once before).
I couldn’t help grabbing some video:
The show was on Sunday, June 28 and the Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its historic ruling on gay marriage. This was the first U2 show since the decision and it was referenced a coupled times.
First, U2 played “Bullet the Blue Sky” and Bono referenced “Don’t Shoot” and “Can’t Breathe” from the Black Lives Matter movement, before doing a snippet of “The Hands That Built America” and then launching into “Pride (In the Name of Love).”
During “Pride” a rainbow flag landed on the stage that Bono twirled around before shouting, “Gay pride in the name of love!” Then he urged the crowd to sing for Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston, referring to the on-going racial violence in the U.S.
While introducing the final song, “One,” Bono again returned to gay marriage: “Why would you be against anyone committing their lives to each other?” He dedicated the song to Chicago’s Pride parade that happened that day and put in a little dig that Ireland passed gay marriage before the U.S. (“We put the gay in Gaelic”).
All in all it was a pretty amazing show. Lots of energy, lots of heart, lots of rock.
So yesterday’s surprise news at the Apple event that U2 was releasing a brand new album and giving it away for free? Incredible.
There was a mad scramble as 500 million iTunes users powered up the program (many of us for the first time in a long time) and tried to grab the new album. Once I finally got it downloaded, I had to sit back and let it play.
The last time a new U2 album came out—2009’s No Line on the Horizon—I sat at the kitchen table and streamed the entire thing on MySpace (yeah, remember MySpace’s short-lived second life as a music site?) while waiting for news of my son Milo’s adoption.
Listening to U2's new album (myspace.com/u2: pick NLOTH from the playlist drop down) while waiting for word on our adoption. It's a good day
— Kevin D. Hendricks (@kevinhendricks) February 20, 2009
(We cleared court and were able to announce Milo’s adoption to the world later that day.)
U2’s music is special, and that first listen is always interesting. I like to grab my initial thoughts on a new U2 album. It’s funny because it’s hard to judge music on a single listen. The songs you hate at first grow on you. The songs you loved can get tired. So you end up being wrong. But it’s still fun. I did it with No Line on the Horizon and before that with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
Songs of Innocence
What’s perhaps most interesting about this album is that U2 has been working on putting out an album for ever. Bono has said they’ve recorded several albums, they just haven’t released them. And now they drop the album with very little warning. If you were following the rumors, there was talk that we’d get a new album in 2014, then in September, then a week before the Apple event there were unconfirmed rumors about U2 being involved. But we never had a single, never had an album name, never had a date and the Apple rumors were denied right up to the day. It’s a very different release strategy (compare it to the hype for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which also included a big Apple partnership).
The album is also being described as a very personal one, reaching back to U2’s roots as teenagers.
My Song-by-Song First Impressions
So with all that, my initial thoughts as a fan:
“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone”
It feels bold and joyful, crisp and fun. I love the guitar, love the driving beat. I like the line, “Music so I can exaggerate my pain.” Really like the abrupt end.
“Every Breaking Wave”
I like the sonic feel of this album.
“California (There Is No End to Love)”
I hate the “Santa Barbara’s” at the beginning, but once it gets going it’s better. I love the idealism in the lyrics: “All I need to know is there is no end to love.”
“Song for Someone”
Slowing it down. I like the echoing on the verses. Thematically it reminds me of “Stuck in a Moment” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.”
“Iris” (Hold Me Close)
It reminds me of “Miracle Drug.” But it has a deeply melancholy feeling (I read later that Iris is Bono’s mother, who died when he was 14).
I like the thumping bass. It has that ‘garbage can’ feel reminiscent of “All Because of You,” though this is a little more polished. I like the driving beat. The album seems to get darker and grittier from here on.
“Raised by Wolves”
Huh? This is different. The near spoken word delivery remind me of “The Wanderer” and the chorus has echoes of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and early U2. As much as U2 embraces belief, they also embrace doubt: “I don’t believe anymore.”
More of the gritty feel. Nice acoustic guitar in the mix. “A heart that is broken is a heart that is open.”
“Sleep Like a Baby Tonight”
Wha? Weird keyboard stuff at the start. This one is dark and ethereal. I like the falsetto on the bridge: “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” I don’t know what that means, but I like it.
“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now”
More of the gritty sound. This one is fun. I like the “choir-ish” vocals. It doesn’t sound like U2 and I love that.
I like the guest vocals from Lykke Li. Bono is amazing, but I wish they would experiment like that some more. This is a dark closer, but it’s hopeful. I like how it ends.
Songs of Innocence as a Whole
I’m not sure what I think of the whole album. No Line on the Horizon was a so-so album, and I think there are elements of that here. But it also feels like they push past that and create some better stuff. I’m still not sure if I have some standout songs. I like “The Miracle,” but it doesn’t strike me like other singles have. Not yet anyway.
I do like the thematic approach. They feel like more personal songs.
Five years after the release of the final Harry Potter novel (has it been that long?!), J.K. Rowling is releasing her next book, The Casual Vacancy, today. It’s not a kid’s book, as every review seems to point out with quotes about balls and vaginas (gasp!).
The New Yorker has a lengthy piece about Rowling that’s part bio and part review. It’s fascinating, especially reading about her incredible rise from welfare-recipient to near-billionaire author (almost there: the piece says she’s worth $900 million).
Of course The Casual Vacancy will be a best seller (it’s already #1 on Amazon). But the real question is if it will be any good.
I kind of hope it’s horrible. There’s something encouraging about someone so successful sitting down to dream it all up again and failing miserably. I’m probably not the only one with a bad case of schadenfreude. Though for what it’s worth I’d love to see her come back from a failed comeback (!) with a real winner and put us all to shame.
Of course it’d be that much better if The Casual Vacancy was amazing. Dreaming it all up again worked wonders for U2, delivering us the masterpiece of Achtung Baby. I don’t have those kind of expectations though. I have a hard time imagining Rowling’s voice in anything but a magical children’s novel. But I’ve love to be proved wrong.
I love church on Easter Sunday. It’s a party. The music rocks harder. People dance. Everybody comes in smiling. And after six weeks of a quiet, somber end to church, we get to say Alleluia again.
Last year Milo banished us to the cry room and Lexi threw a fit when we went up for communion. This year Milo seemed to want to sing in the choir, even though we don’t have a choir. Lexi did fine at communion, pausing to lean Pinky against the kneeler before she stood at the communion rail. After church I didn’t have much time to talk to anyone because Milo made a beeline for the door and we spent a while playing in the grass.
This year the sermon closed with a reading of John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” I’d never heard it before and find Updike to be very hit or miss, but this was good. The poem focused on the importance of Christ’s bodily ressurrection—that Jesus literally came back from the dead. Updike focus more on the reality of it, but a few lines reminded me of the very Buffy the Vampire Slayer nature of the ressurrection. The grave was empty. The body was gone. And he was walking around. Not all putrified zombie corpse, but whole and restored. That’s crazy. And that’s the point. From Updike:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door. …
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Yesterday I sat down and did a little video chat about the book with one of my readers, Jonathan Blundell (my one reader?). Jonathan has been very supportive of my work (and I’m supportive of his work) and it was fun to talk over some of the ideas in the book and how the book came together.
So if you’re looking for the inside scoop on Least of These—how inspiration came from U2 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how my wife refuses to read it, my take on standard post-apocalyptic plot lines, why it has such an awesome cover—check out the video chat. I even do a little impromptu reading.
For a special bonus, count how many times I say ‘um.’
Get your copy of Least of These now.
Or maybe this entire week has conspired against me. Let’s count the ways…
(In case you can’t tell, this is one of those whiny, poor me posts, so feel free to move on now)
- I’ve been sick since Wednesday night with a sore throat and persistent cough. Last night I was coughing so hard my chest hurt.
- Because of all that I couldn’t go to the Social Media Breakfast on Friday morning.
- I also couldn’t go to a planning meeting for a group of local church communicators I’m helping to organize.
- That sickness also meant the date night my wife and I have been trying to have for two months that almost happened this weekend didn’t happen.
- It also means I forgot about the U2 tickets that sold out in two hours on Saturday morning.
- It also means I never had a chance to enjoy one last taco at Dora’s (OK, it would have been more like six last tacos).
- This morning I left the kids with a babysitter and took the bus to the doctor. I missed the bus.
- Which meant I missed my appointment by 20 minutes and the doctor wouldn’t see me.
- Then I spent three hours at the dealership while they investigated my car’s uneven tread wear problem, only to tell me they have no answers.
- Then I got a call from the babysitter that Lexi has been throwing up.
- I dropped $50 at Best Buy tonight to replace items that have been lost or stolen in the last six months.
- One of those items was a power cord for the portable DVD player Lexi watches in the car. Thanks to disposable electronics, that portable DVD player will now be the main DVD player powering our living room TV. (Our house has two VCRs and four DVD players, and only two of the DVD players work. And one is portable.)
- We have two couches in our house. Lexi managed to throw up on both of them.
- While preparing all the puke-stained items for the wash, I realized the dog peed on the carpet.
- At this point it was supper time and I realized I never had lunch.
- Being gone all day meant I got next to nothing done for work.
- We were planning to go to Kansas for Thanksgiving and I was excited about introducing Milo to lots of extended family that hasn’t had the chance to meet him yet. Tonight we decided we can’t go to Kansas with all the sickness and our complete lack of preparation.
Did I forget anything?
However, this week is Thanksgiving. So let’s find some bright spots, shall we?
If a week could suck, this one would be it:
- Found out Milo has been sick for a week with gastroenteritis. He’s doing better, but the little guy doesn’t have much weight to lose (Today we visited a two week old baby who’s bigger than 4-month-old Milo).
- Lexi threw up in her car seat on the way home from visiting said baby.
- Friends went through another miscarriage.
- Other friends in Sudan wait to see if they’ll be evacuated.
- Confronted a family crisis and the related fallout.
- A week of workplace drama escalated like a bigger/better party.
On the plus side:
- Distractions abounded, including the flurry of a U2 album release (did you see them do the top 10 list on Letterman?).
- I found out exactly how much the Federal government owes me (it’s like my own personal bailout!).
- Mazie didn’t eat anything she wasn’t supposed to (well, except for the feet of a little plastic girl of Lexi’s, but that doesn’t bother me because Lexi didn’t put it away).
- Ate at Los Cabos for the first time in months. Mmm… tasty.
- Two friends welcomed healthy, happy babies into the world.
- And best of all, I get to meet my son in two weeks.
Sometimes life is hard and messy and ugly, but there’s always beauty. In that sense, I’m an insufferable optimist. Life may not always be happy, but it is joyful.