#Septemblog Day 29: Four songs, max.

I just had a sudden flashback: Do you remember buying a single hit song on CD or cassette (the famous “cassingle”)?

This is something completely foreign to anyone younger than me, I think (and I land squarely in the X-ennial sub-generation). Anyone much younger than me obtained single songs from bands via file-sharing websites like Napster or legit sources like iTunes and Spotify. Before that, record labels would release single songs (or pairs of songs) for purchase before releasing the full albums. In earlier years, this was obviously done on 45’s, but for my moment in musical history, it was a mix of the cassingle and the CD single.

I’m not even talking about EPs that band would release with 5 or 6 songs. No, no, no. Four songs max: The big hit, an alternative take (different production, maybe different vocals), a “B-side” track (another hold-over from the vinyl days), and maybe an instrumental/backing track of the hit.

I remember buying more than a few singles in my teens. While I can’t recall any cassette singles I purchased, I definitely remember the CD singles from my high school and college days. For your enjoyment and potential mockery, here’s a “greatest hits” sampling of my purchased CD singles:

Jesus is Still Alright – DC Talk: I picked up more than a couple of DC Talk’s CD singles (Gotee Records knew what they were doing here). Not only did the one for “Jesus is Still Alright” have the album version, it also included a techno version.

Flood – Jars of Clay: Look, this is already one of the best Christian rock songs to come out of the mid-90’s. But the “rock version” of this song? Even better.

Secret Garden – Bruce Springsteen: Yes, the song from the Jerry Macguire soundtrack. Look, there was this girl in high school I was crushing on pretty hard, and she was both flirty and elusive. This song hit hard. I regret nothing… Okay, I regret actually giving her the CD single.

Change the World – Eric Clapton: Oh yes, I bought the “Phenomenon” tie-in CD single of this one. I just dig this song, dude.

Kiss Me – Sixpence None the Richer: Look, okay. I was a romantic in college, all right? A lovelorn and pathetic romantic. And I loved this song. I *still* love this song. Whatever. Next track.

When I Get You Alone – Robin Thicke: Before he was making bad choices on “Blurred Lines,” he was making slightly-less-bad choices and sampling “A Fifth of Beethoven” on this super-bouncy track. I heard it on the radio and dug it. I listened to the CD single a lot, despite some of the more risque lyrics. It’s still super-catchy.

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The Robin Thicke CD single is the last one I remember buying, though there may have been a few more around that era. But just a few years before, Steve Jobs ushered in the iPod revolution, and I eventually converted to digital downloads for new songs.

I’m having a lot of these nostalgic moments lately. There are so many of these cultural artifacts that may have ended with my analog-to-digital generation. But who knows? There seems to be a resurgence of physical media these days; maybe the CD or cassette single will make a comeback. One can only hope.

Do you remember buying cassette or CD singles? What were some of your favorites? Hit me up in the comments!

#Septemblog Day 28: Standing before kings…or bored teenagers, in this case.

Some Youtube videos I’ve watched lately that I’ve enjoyed feature two incredibly talented musicians, Rob Landes and Frank Tedesco. Rob and Frank play violin and piano, respectively, and they have posted many videos where they would go on this randomly-generating streaming platform called Omegle and play songs for strangers. As I understand it, the website randomly connects you to another streamer, which in many cases seems to be bored (and often foul-mouthed) teenagers. (The whole prospect of such a site seems risky, so I don’t recommend it in any way and have never gone on there myself.)

These musicians then ask their new viewers for song requests, and they either already know the song to be able to play it expertly or can listen to just a short clip of it and are able to play it by ear. Sometimes they’ll start with something stiff and formal like a classical composition and then expertly slide into a hip-hop or pop music cover. It’s a blast to listen to.

What really makes these videos so much fun is that delightful moment when these jaded, bored teenagers are suddenly confronted with the talent and artistry of these musicians. An unfiltered joy steals across their faces, mouths often agape, as they’re suddenly surprised by beauty. Even the most posturing or disaffected person on these videos is caught off guard, the mask of cool slips, and there’s an almost child-like giddiness that emerges.

It’s so easy to be “over it all” these days, even at a young age. That makes these moments of unchecked joy so cool to see.

#Septemblog Day 27: Cutting it close.

You didn’t think I’d make it today, did you? Yeah, me neither. I guess the pull of the unbroken streak is too strong.

Time for a #TIWIARN (“This is Where I’m At Right Now”) update!

I’m up working and will be for a few more hours. This used to be the norm, but since getting a helping hand on some things from my team, I’ve been able to take more evenings off (as it should be). You’d think that would make the occasional late-night editing session more tolerable, but it just makes it harder. I’ve gotten a taste of the fewer-than-60-hours work week, and I just like that too much.

BUT. I also am trying really hard to amend some old work habits regarding turnaround times, so when there’s a sudden flood of email responses and tasks in the late afternoon, one does what one must. Plus, if I can wrangle all these wayward ducks into something resembling a row, I may be able to take an honest-to-goodness mid-week day-off without having to make up the hours on the other side of it. (Yes, yes, I’m front-loading the hours right now, but you know what I mean.) So, the midnight oil is getting burned tonight.

I’m also not telling my wife I’m taking a day off so I can just surprise her with the ol’ “I don’t feel like working today” routine. It’s the little things, ya know?

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There’s other stuff going on, church stuff involving my pastoral responsibilities that I can’t get into here. It’s just sad and frustrating, and there are people I just want to shake really hard by the shoulders and yell, “Cut it out, you idiot! What are you thinking?!?” Which may sound harsh or unkind, but it isn’t. It’s about the kindest thing you can do to someone who seems full-bent on destroying themselves.

[I was going to continue but I’ll stop there. It doesn’t do you or me any good to grumble.]

I love my church family. I love being one of their shepherds. But sometimes the sheep you love and care for are the ones who kick and bite. When that happens, you push through and keep loving. That’s not easy. But that’s part of the job. You love your brothers and sisters with the same compassion and mercy that you yourself received from Jesus.

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My birthday’s in a few weeks. I’m…ambivalent about it this year. It just doesn’t seem to matter compared to whatever else is going on. Guess that means I’m well and truly middle-aged now.

[Ugh, what a bummer. Lighten up, Dave! Yikes.]

See? This is what happens when I stop mid-work to try to write a status update. I get all grumpy-bear and introspective.

Okay, gang, here’s where we try some audience participation to lighten the mood: What’s your favorite birthday cake/treat/dessert? Tell me in the comments. Go!

My wife is making me chocolate-peanut-butter whoopie pies, and I’m pretty hype about that, actually. See? I’m looking forward to my birthday after all! Everything is awesome!

See you, space cowboys.

#Septemblog Day 26: Currently reading…

I may have a problem, gang.

We’ll be talking soon about my To-Be-Read shelf and my reading goals for next year. But I also have some in-progress books that I probably should try to finish first. I have been making slow progress, here and there, but the thing is, I tend to get excited about new books and start them right away, rather than waiting until I finish what I’m working on.

So when that happens, I end up with a “currently-reading” stack that looks like this:

For some of them, I’m farther along than others, but for all of them, I’m at least 30 pages in, and, well…

Okay, yeah, I may have a problem.

(Unrelated: I just grabbed an ebook from the library called Crying in H Mart that looks really interesting, and the first chapter is just gorgeous prose… Don’t judge me.)

#Septemblog Day 25: Fruit of My Labor.

It’s nice to work hard and then look back and see some good coming out of it.

An example from yesterday:

Before…

After…

The new garden is still not quite done: more cement blocks needed, more rebar reinforcements, and a good deal of top-soil is lacking before we can start planting (what you see there is a combination of grass clippings, disassembled tree, peat moss, and compost). But after several hours of hot, hot labor, I can look out my window and say, hey! I did that. Praise God.

Another example:

Looking back at my blog stats over the last month, if you discount the hits on my home page, the 5 highest-traffic posts on this site are two sermon manuscripts, the notes from two Sunday School lessons, and a Monk Manual review (still somehow one of my top-three posts of all time).

If you expand that out to the past 3 months or all of 2022 so far, it’s largely the same five posts.

What that tells me is that no matter how many book reviews I write, how many pop-culture posts I produce, the content that seems to be doing the most good for y’all is my Bible teaching.

That’s encouraging.

That’s also why it’s going to continue being a focus of this blog in the coming years.

Those posts are the seeds that grow best, it seems. I think that’s pretty awesome. Praise God.

#Septemblog Day 24: Not enough hours.

I’m frustrated as I type this and the hour turns over to midnight. I’ve worked hard to get things done this week but it seems like there’s just not enough time.

If I am to maintain a restful Lord’s Day without work demands creeping in, tomorrow will need to be one of those home-run days where I have the strength and capacity to get all the things done that were not finished this week. A handful of focused hours of work logged. A raised-bed garden constructed. A Sunday School lesson completed and outlined. Focused and present time with my wife and daughters. Maybe banging out a blog post or two in the spaces between.

I would need about 12 extra hours to check those items off my list, and the strength of multiple Daves to match the extra time. I have neither.

I am finite, friends. And it stinks. It really, really does. Because something is getting bumped when the time and energy runs out. Too often over the last year, it has been my family. It won’t be my family this weekend.

My eyes are tired. I’m squinting at the blurry screen in front of me. I’m tapping out tonight.

May your Saturday be filled with energy and few necessary tasks, dear readers. May God bless your with an undemanding day, or else grace you with the strength of body and will to best a demanding one.

#Septemblog Day 23: Nostalgia Goggles.

Folks of a certain age (specifically, around mine) sometimes talk about how kids programming and cartoons currently on offer have gotten…weird. (That’s not even to address the disconcerting level of social programming and progressive messaging that is rife in current pop culture and has definitely worked its way into content for even the youngest of viewers–I’m looking at you, Blues Clues.)

I’ve just noticed in the last 5-10 years that cartoons are more frenetic, nonsensical, and terribly written than I remember them being in as a child. Compared to what’s popular now, something like the original Ducktales or Animaniacs is positively Shakespearean.

If you’re like me and you have shaken your head and muttered a “kids these days” sometime at the state of current animated television, I’d like to take you back to another era, where the animation was stilted and weird, the music was synthesizer-driven, and the storylines were completely bonkers: the mid-to-late 80’s, when one of the most pervasive animation production companies on television was a fever-dream known as DIC/Saban.

In case you need some reminding, here’s a compilation. It’s an amazing 7 hours long, but you can grab the progress bar and just scroll through randomly to bask in the weirdness of kids TV from 35 years ago:

(I don’t remember all of these, but I may have hummed along with half-forgotten theme music more than once.)

Let’s just say, my Gen X and Xennial brethren, we have no right to make judgments on what the kids are watching these days, at least in terms of story or visual style.

#Septemblog Day 22: Plundering Grandpa’s Treasury.

As I mentioned yesterday, I started reading Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. I have to handle it a bit carefully because it’s a second edition, published in 1948, and the binding seems to be somewhat brittle. Point of fact, the book is one of several treasures I plundered years ago.

I’ve talked about my paternal grandfather before. This December will mark 4 years since he went on to be with Jesus. The last time I saw him was about 6 years ago when my wife and I took a road-trip up to Michigan. I mentioned it here, but to my great regret, I never took any pictures with my grandfather at that time. Instead, I brought home something else that I treasure as much as a photo.

My grandfather was a reader, a teacher, and an ordained Baptist minister. (I come by it honestly.) He and my grandmother had a small table between their two recliners in their living room, and it was always heaped to overflowing with reading material–books, magazines, junk mail, with their heavily-read Bibles always on top. My grandmother’s bookshelves are jam-packed with Christian fiction, but my grandfather’s loves were theology and history.

The last day I saw him, he was in the later stages of Parkinson’s. His vision was limited, his speech was slightly slurred, and he had trouble getting around. During that visit, he said more than a few times, “Go into the study and take my books.” He was insistent that I claim what I wanted from his bookshelves, saying that he didn’t really need them anymore. I felt a bit awkward, and I tried not to take too much; in retrospect, I should have been bolder. (“You have not because you ask not.”)

I plundered the shelves of the finest jewels I could spot: complete sets of Matthew Henry’s commentaries and Spurgeon’s Treasury of David; various volumes from Spurgeon, MacArthur, Sproul; reprints of Whitfield’s journals and Ann Judson’s autobiography; and various Bible commentaries and study helps. Three full boxes of treasures from Grandpa’s storehouse went into the back of the van. And to this day, I use something from Grandpa at least once a week as part of my teaching and personal study. Whenever I do, I think of him with gratitude. These books are his legacy passed down to me and to my children after me.

When Grandpa died, my uncles had bookmarks created to hand out at the funeral, with his obituary on the back–a perfect tribute to the blessed booklover. I wasn’t able to attend, but my dad brought me back one, and now it holds my place in Warfield’s volume. Every time I open it, I see Grandpa, and I am reminded of his faithfulness and generosity to me.

#Septemblog Day 21: Mental Deadlifts.

It’s been more than 5 years since I’ve taken a seminary class. I never stopped reading theological books, but my reading has been decidedly lighter than what was required of me in those masters-level classes.

Last night, I started reading B. B. Warfield’s monumental volume The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, complete with a 68-page (!!!) introduction by Cornelius Van Til.

I was not ready for this.

I made it about 30 pages into Van Til’s introduction (in just over an hour), and my brain was exhausted, folks. I was encountering sentences like, “Post-Kantian rationality is, broadly speaking, correlative to non-rational factuality.” There were discussions of non-rational appeals to authority and considerations of a “kernel of thingness in every concrete fact that utterly escapes all possibility of expression.”

I essentially walked into the theological philosophy (or philosophical theology) gym and loaded up the bar for a PR on Day 1 with no warm-up. It took me a while just to get through the first few pages. After about an hour, I finally felt like I was able to pick up what Van Til was putting down (either that, or he got past the rhetorical throat-clearing and started saying something easier to grasp).

I’m excited to keep digging in, because it’s time I started challenging myself mentally again. The times we live in demand clear eyes and sharp minds, and it does no good for me, my family, or my church if I’m a mentally-flabby pastor. (Or a physically-flabby one, for that matter, but we’ll talk about that later.) Thus, it behooves me to start doing some heavy lifting in my study.

Onward!

#Septemblog Day 20: Night Sky.

I started watching a new limited-run series on Amazon with my wife called Night Sky, and the premise is intriguing: an elderly couple (played by JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek) faces the challenges of their declining years while at the same time harboring a mysterious secret: they have discovered a bunker under their property that contains a possibly-alien (or at least technologically super-advanced) device that transports them to a capsule/view-deck on the surface of an alien world. [None of that is a spoiler, since you get that from the blurb on the video site and the little bit of preview they show you.]

It’s a fascinating premise because I don’t really know what to anticipate. There are so many directions this type of set-up can go, and I’m delighted to be along for the ride.

I’ve only watched the first episode, so no spoilers in the comments, please, and use your own judgment/discernment if you want to check it out. The IMDB Parents Guide indicates there’s no sexual content in the show, which is usually my deal-breaker, though it does have strong/profane language throughout.

There are a couple of particular elements about this first episode that have me hooked:

  • The story begins with the big sci-fi element already established. Rather than walking you through the “protagonist discovers mysterious object” motions, the story starts with this as a given. The couple is already aware of and familiar with the device and take it in stride. That was a refreshing change to the typical way this story would be told.
  • The sci-fi plot, at least in the first episode, is almost incidental–not that it’s not important, but the real drama is about the two leads who are grappling with the reality of physical deterioration and mental decline. It’s like a character drama cosplaying as a science fiction story.
  • It’s not about young people. Look, I’m only in my early 40’s (no matter how curmudgeonly my writing may seem), but I’m more interested these days in stories about men and women who have lived life and faced challenges–especially stories about marriages that go the distance. The whole world of media revolves around the young and fresh-faced, but it’s all become so boring to me. Give me stories about husbands and wives who stand up to all manner of obstacles and stand together (or struggle to survive). Give me stories about men and women who grapple with the big questions of life and the weight of time passing rather than the fleeting distractions of youth.

The best thing I can say about this first episode of Night Sky is that it makes me want to write fiction again, in a way I haven’t felt in a while. In a personal season where my creativity is very low, feeling that strong drive to tell stories is quite surprising and very welcome.