(I started writing this in June. Lawd, what a summer. This may yet turn into a series; in case you missed it, here is part 1.)
I would like to start this second installment by apologizing to the continent of Australia. For many, many of you, the title of this post does not apply to you.
But it does apply to the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, and it certainly applied to me as I began my college radio career.
I honestly don’t know what I expected when I heard that Rose-Hulman had a college radio station. I know that I had discovered “alternative music” (you know, R.E.M., the B-52’s, 10,000 Maniacs, Midnight Oil, and all those other important bands that MTV played…I was even really hip and had the Smithereens’ cassette tape) and there was a radio station at Baldwin-Wallace College, across the street from my grandparents’ house, that played some REALLY exotic sounds, like the Sugarcubes (from Iceland! how exotic! who had this lead singer named Björk! how exotic!) and Siouxsie and the Banshees (see? not Susie, but Siouxsie! see, I’m hip!). I was absolutely certain, I guess, that I would find even more exotic stuff, and the music I would listen to would be SO elite and would blow SO many minds and I would just be the coolest person on the planet.
I was kind of bummed when, on my arrival, that old WMHD program director tried to impress on me the importance of the blues and of this other old guy named Elvis Costello. Old folks. I wasn’t up for the old folks. I was up for the new and the cool.
But as I went through my DJ training, one thing that the station manager  impressed upon all of us new DJ’s, and the thing that was so much of the ethos of college radio in the 80’s and 90’s, was always listening and playing something new. People wouldn’t tune in to WMHD to listen to “Pinball Wizard” or “Love In An Elevator” (or even “Blister In The Sun” or “What I Am”) for the hundred thousandth time. They would listen expecting something they didn’t hear every day, and what you should do is look for the best of the stuff that other radio wouldn’t play.
It was in that season of my life that I flipped through the old College Music Journal and read a writeup on a new album by a band I’d never heard of with a name I thought was cool – Hunters and Collectors. And I had just noted the album Ghost Nation in the new music stacks.
Let’s give this a spin, shall we?
Here is track 1.
It wasn’t terribly exotic. There was a bit there that satisfied the nascent Midnight Oil fan in me, which made sense because Australia. But it was, at its core, a unique take on straight-ahead rock and roll.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.
It wasn’t something ABSOFREAKINLUTELY INCREDIBLE THAT EVERYBODY MUST BUY NOW, or anything like that, mind. This isn’t a story of a song that radically changed my life. It is a story of a song that gently, but consistently, nudged how I approached music.
I quit seeking the newest, freshest, most exotic sounds. I wouldn’t run away from them if they turned up, mind. But what I wanted was the best songs. Even in 1989, there were so many different artists doing things that didn’t get major radio play or any serious notoriety. We were there, in part, to be the champions for the best of those.
Of course, I soon found out that Hunters and Collectors had a great deal of notoriety halfway around the world. I discovered their back catalog (and much of the best of it is on Soundcloud – if I wanted to talk to you about songs that will change your life, I would totally be talking to you about “Holy Grail” right now), and discovered just how big of a deal they were.
And that’s a whole NEW layer on how the young mind develops – that your experience of the world is not everybody’s experience of the world, and music that is completely new to you is famous somewhere else, and what is old, dry and boring to you is revelatory to someone else.
This is obvious stuff, but these are the lessons that 18-year-old minds need to learn.
There was only one shirt I could have worn today.
Let me repeat, and make it clear: I am very grateful to be at Tennessee Tech. I am pleased to have a place on this campus, and to continue to teach that algebra-based sequence that has been the focus of so much of my professional life. In a very difficult economy, I’m blessed beyond compare.
But I know where I was supposed to be today.
And, what’s more, there were a couple of hundred students who had their first day of classes today away from the place THEY were supposed to be, faculty and staff who are in places away from the place THEY were supposed to be, and a couple of people left behind in that place missing the people who were supposed to be there. I heard from you with texts, with Facebook messages, with tweets. I prayed for you, and my heart broke for you.
#VIfamily is real, and even if I was only a fleeting part of it, those of you who had that impact on me are in my heart forever.
Nil Sine Numine. Nothing without guidance.
And for Virginia Intermont, until we meet again.
There have been so many words spilled about the past two weeks’ disaster in Ferguson, Missouri that the only reason for me to write this is simply to get my thoughts out of my head before I start focusing on algebra-based physics on Monday. Thanks for reading my efforts to have a clear head and do right by my students.
I’m teaching physics at a new place, and so I had to go through human resources this month. Human resources is always concerned with documentation, always concerned with process, always concerned with the rules. The rules exist for good reasons. The rules ensure that the institution has made its best efforts to create a good work environment – or, at the very least, they ensure that the institution can document that they have made their best efforts.
Our state and federal governments, in their infinite wisdom (insert sarcasm where appropriate), have laws about equitable treatment of all students, and part of an HR process is going through the training on those laws. Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 deals with discrimination on the basis of sex in educational opportunities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act deals with availability of programs funded by the federal government to people of every race, color, and national origin. There are good reasons for these laws to exist. As far as it concerns me, the goal is ensuring that every person who comes through the doors of an educational institution, both students and employees, is treated fairly, so that the mission of the institution can be accomplished.
Now, as anybody who has been through a human resources office can attest, the training that you have to go through so that the HR office can check off that you have been trained (and therefore be legally free and clear should anybody file a lawsuit) is dull and only intermittently enlightening in the best of times, and random and intelligence-insulting in the worst. You survive it by reminding yourself, repeatedly, that the most important thing that comes out of this process is legal cover for the institution. The HR staff probably wants you to understand the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 and the Civil Rights Act, and probably puts the process in place with the absolute best of intentions – but their good intentions aren’t going to be what keeps them employed. What their bosses want is nothing more and nothing less than the documentation that says all of their faculty have been trained and therefore understand all of their obligations under the law. The game must be played, and if the game is played successfully, the institution keeps lawyers at bay.
It’s all well and good until actual violations of the Civil Rights Act play out on your Twitter stream, and it becomes abundantly clear just how many people don’t understand that the Civil Rights Act is actually standing law.
For me, it’s not about the law, and it never has been. I figured out at a very early age that white people lived in one place, and black people lived in another, and there was a dance that people engaged in to keep the white people and black people apart, and that dance looked stupid. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back, or to claim enlightenment. I just have never wanted to live apart from the people who don’t look like me. They’re different. They have interesting things to say. I enjoy listening to them. They make life fun. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of selfish for diversity in that way.
What has become maddening as the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death has played out is the number of people who want to shut their ears to the voices of people who don’t look like them. They make statements and quote sources and cocoon themselves in the voices of people who look like them, act like them, and think like them.
Those attitudes are devastating to me. Maybe there was a time in my life when I could be casual about such things. But I’m a white dude teaching physics. I recognize the issues of representation across the STEM disciplines, but especially in the physical sciences, where African-Americans even applying for faculty jobs is something to be celebrated. At the point in time when an African-American student comes into my classroom, the color of my skin does create a barrier between us, and I want that barrier torn down so I can not merely satisfy the letter of the laws assuring equal educational opportunities for all, but the spirit of those laws as well.
The climate that I find in August of 2014 isn’t conducive to equality. It’s conducive to more people making more judgmental statements; sowing more fear, uncertainty, and doubt; erecting more barriers. It’s reaching a point where the reflexive venom can’t be ignored among people of faith, on both sides of the issue. (If you haven’t read this comment from no greater an arch-conservative than Erick Erickson, you should. It made me rethink a couple of things.) As if there weren’t enough things for me to be stressed out over (70 students in a single lecture section of PHYS 2010, hello), I’m fearful as being seen as just another white dude who doesn’t know how good he has it and doesn’t care about those who don’t.
The only thing I want right now is help. And by “help”, I mean fewer words that make statements of good guys and bad guys, fewer words that dehumanize, fewer words that hurt. I want more people to simply listen to people who don’t look like them and consider that they might not have all the answers to a problem that predates Michael Brown, that predates Barack Obama, that predates Rodney King, that predates Martin Luther King, that predates the founding of this nation – a problem that the word “problem” doesn’t even do justice.
That’s enough. Come Monday, it will be time to get to work.
So you are aware, universe: despite the fact that I will be progressively engaged in figuring out what our lives as a family will look like in the fall and will almost certainly not be in front of a television set at 4:00 PM tomorrow after noon due to such things , I cannot make any claim to living in the real world right now, because I believe this Round of 16 match between the United States and Belgium is the most important in the modern history of this program.
If the form table holds, Belgium will win. Period. The image in Brian Cook’s match preview – all the Belgian players with all the price tags that all those European clubs have slapped on them – tells it all. This is a classy, classy team, and coming in was UEFA’s dark horse to win the whole thing.
At least as regards the group standings, through six knockout matches, the form table has continually held. All six group winners who have played are quarterfinalists. I think the idea that Switzerland might defeat Argentina – in a South American World Cup – would have been abject comedy BEFORE France drew up the blueprint on how to poke holes into the Swiss defense like so much cheese. I’m sorry. The United States should not win this match.
I’m taking one step further. Going forward from Portugal in 2002, the United States has never won a match that they weren’t favored in. USA-Mexico in 2002 was the classic grudge match and didn’t have a favorite. Germany knocked us out in 2002. The Czechs torched us in 2006, and even as wild as that Italy match was we couldn’t beat them. For all the legend of 2010, the only match we won – the Algeria match – was against a team we were comprehensively better than, and it took THAT Landon Donovan goal to win it.
Our shock wins in modern World Cups were in 1994 and 2002. Ancient. History. Sure, the football we’ve played in Brazil has been as elegant and robust as ever, but it’s resulted in a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ghana – the team we were supposed to beat, a disappointing 2-2 draw against Portugal – the team that was there for the taking, and a 0-1 loss to Germany – the game we were supposed to lose.
Have we actually improved, or not?
This is the cruel thing about being a national team from North America. Nobody will ever rate CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying as highly as they should. The Gold Cup has improved from the days that we would invite a South American “guest team” to compete for our own continental championship, but it still rates behind the African Cup of Nations as a relevant continental trophy, to say nothing of the Copa America and the Euro. Everything else is friendlies, friendlies, friendlies. The rare invite to a Confederations Cup is everything to us and a glorified friendly tournament to a South American or European nation. We think a lot more about those 2008 matches against Spain and Brazil than anyone else in the world, I guarantee.
This is the cruel thing about being a national team from the United States or from Mexico. You are supposed to play in this tournament, every time. The national mania surrounding Mexico’s elimination at the hands of those  Dutch was nothing compared to the national depression that would have emerged if Panama had held on to defeat the United States in October and eliminated Mexico without hope of even the playoff for half a spot. Mexico has been eliminated in six straight World Cups at the round-of-16 stage. I guarantee you the Mexicans prefer that to the alternative that was staring them in the face in October. Failure to participate in this tournament is not an option. Even Costa Rica has reached a point where they feel pressure to qualify every time out.
This is the cruel thing about being a national team outside a power confederation. There is only one truly competitive tournament you compete in, where every nation sends their best players and clubs understand and appreciate the value of that tournament.
This is the cruel thing about the United States’ position. The quality of their national team is defined by their performance in the World Cup. Period.
The United States is consistently one of the top 32 national teams in the world. Potentially, the United States can be consistently considered one of the top 16 national teams in the world now. There is a success in a second successive knockout stage to this competition.
But we have been qualifying for World Cups consistently for 24 years now. We hosted this very tournament 20 years ago. Major League Soccer is old enough for college. There is a whole generation of players who has not known the United States without a proper first-division professional league to aspire to. At a certain point, the team has to prove its worth.
The United States has impressed with the quality of their play. Jürgen Klinsmann is the hand this team needed, the man who understands European professionalism and American professionalism and where the two meet. I believed that before he was hired, and I still believe that. His selections have been very solid. Even the selections we all questioned have demonstrated worth on the field.
And, for all that, so far, we’re 1-1-1. No better than .500 ball. A few people who don’t understand World Cups have grumbled that, in some endeavors, .500 ball will get you fired. They’re not wrong.
The United States needs a singular, dominant win. Against a quality European nation. At the highest level. In the one tournament that genuinely matters.
Fail tomorrow, and it’s four years before they get another shot. If they get another shot like this.
Knockout stages of the World Cup are so tantalizing. It’s four games to a title – and not just any title, but one of THE titles in world sport, a trophy that changes lives forever. I will never forget Ian Grant writing about Watford’s chase for promotion to the English Premiership – about finishing third in a national second-division club football league! – and how he used a Harry Grant quote to set the stakes, a quote I’ll revisit here fifteen years on:
The chance of ultimate possibility kept repeating itself in his head, a mad little chant that would not stop, nor did he want it to. Too Much had explained it to him…. Everything is chance, and chance is everything, she had told him. Most people refused to believe that, because chance frightened them. But that was only ignorance. Chance contained every possibility. Of course, some of it might be bad…but a heartbeat away from what might be bad, unthinkably bad, was what might be unthinkably great, a bliss that even the gods would envy.
Ultimate possibility. Is there any greater example of this than a nation that had only ancient history at the sport of soccer not even three decades ago chasing after the greatest prize in the sport? 
It’s nearly impossible to conceive. Argentina, and Lionel Messi with them, would be the all-but-certain quarterfinal opponent. Dare Costa Rica dream of an all-CONCACAF semifinal, or would the opponent be the  Dutch and all their ruthlessness? And what kind of footballing royalty would await in a final? The Germans or the French, wanting to add to their trophy case? The absolutely irresistible Colombians, wanting revenge for 1994 – and with the player in James Rodríguez who could deliver that revenge with a spectacular volley? Or – of course, of course – the hosts, who haven’t lost at home in a tournament for longer than we’ve thought to even matter?
And yet it would only take four games.
Four games to find a form unlike any we’ve ever seen. Four games for Jozy Altidore to fulfill his potential. Four games for Michael Bradley to rediscover his first touch. Four games for DaMarcus Beasley to become what we dreamed him to be long ago. Four games for Tim Howard to make us forget Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller. Four games for Clint Dempsey to truly become Captain America, the greatest we have ever known, maybe the greatest we ever will see wear the shirt.
It’s impossible. It’s just not time yet. Surely there are better players in the pipeline to come, for 2018 or for 2022.
And yet, what if…?
Four games. Four wins. The chance of ultimate possibility.
It starts now.
 Dear loved ones: if you see me tomorrow afternoon between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM – and possibly after – it will almost certainly be with an earbud in my ear and with all kinds of nerves going on. Please forgive me.
 cheating, filthy, horrible, you-could-confuse-them-for-being-Mexican-if-they-weren’t-wearing-those-stupid-orange-jerseys, Arjan-Robben-is-the-lousiest-excuse-for-a-footballer-this-side-of-Luis-Hernandez, oh-I-hate-them-so-much
 You can read all the reports of that Watford season, which together I believe constitute the greatest story of a season of English football ever, and which I don’t ever tire of reading – and I don’t even support Watford! If nothing else, make sure you read how Watford’s chase of ultimate possibility ended.
I’ve had an idea brewing for ages and ages now, and for reasons I’ll get into shortly, if I’ve ever going to unleash that idea on the public now.
Humans who have known me for any length of time know that I’m a music nerd. I tend to know it if it’s been released recently. I know it well if it was released ten years ago, even more if it was released twenty, and if it was released sometime between the late 70’s and the early 90’s it’s been seared onto my consciousness. And it’s not just top-40 that I know, either. I grew up on modern country, so much so that what I consider modern country most folks throw into the “classic” bin. Because of both my presence in church culture in my childhood and my collegiate (re-)discovery of Christianity, I’m far more familiar than most with Contemporary Christian music, of all kinds. Because I spent most of my undergraduate years playing around with college radio, I knew what alternative music was before alternative became mainstream. I have over 10,000 songs on my iTunes playlist, from million-sellers to hundred-sellers. Literally.
I feel like a lot of these tracks should be a lot better known than they are. And what’s more, my brain-dead habit – linking to tracks of songs on YouTube, because music video has always been YouTube’s killer app (even if that video just becomes the album cover just sitting there static) – isn’t possible with a lot of these songs, because they’re buried enough underneath the weight of all the other good (and not-so-good, and overhyped) music out there that nobody thinks that somebody might want to hear that song. Or simply because, for one reason or another, nobody has thought to migrate to that part of the country and listen to what that artist has to say.
Hence, Famous Songs You’ve Never Heard. Because I am not literary or original, I’ve stolen the title. (One of the chapters of Lewis Grizzard’s collections of columns Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You was called “Famous People You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was put together in the same vein – human interest columns about people who should have been important, for one reason or another.)
I’m going to put some effort in making this a series and drawing some songs from both my youth and my recent history out, and making this as much of a variety of music as I possibly can.
But I have an academic history. And so I’m going to draw from that first.
I’m pretty sure it was Fall 2008 when Katrina Barclay wound up in my physics classroom at Shorter. She was a transfer from Northeast Alabama Community College, a common pre-med chemistry major with an uncommon kindness and grace. Over two years, she came through both physics and physical chemistry, and she was a really solid student, and an even better classmate – somebody who you always wanted in your lab group, who would always show good cheer and better work. And at the same time, I always had a sense her passion was elsewhere.
I had heard that Katrina could strum a guitar pretty good, and did a pretty good job of leading worship when she was called upon (and she and I figured out very early on that we were equal parts music nerd and had a LOT of good notes to trade with one another). It didn’t really sink in, however, until sometime during her senior year when she sat down in my office and decided I was a person worth opening up to. She had an EP’s worth of songs together, she said. She was going to continue to be serious about performing – she wasn’t going to slack on study, by any stretch, but she was very serious about performing and making something work in music. There were certain things she knew. She had something to say, and she had the voice to say it.
And here is what I will tell you for certain:
If there is something to be said, Katrina has the voice to say it.
Three years or so on, here’s a transcript of Katrina and I chatting about making career moves (and me misspelling “no end” right off the bat):
I wish I was talking to you about careers in chemistry this creatively, because you are dang smart and I wish I had you employable in the major. Please know that I am annoyed to know end about this.
But if you have the pipes to make music work, you should take advantage.
(And holy cow I have played the crap out of “Time Machine”. That song. That VOICE. Dear heart.)
I literally just vocalized to mom what you typed about “Time Machine”. It seems you’re the only one who cares much about it.The song is literally the sound of my heart breaking.
Austen only made me sing it twice and he was like, “I’m not making you do it again.”
I kind of get it. It’s a bit more of my technical side, I suppose. I mean, you put all the emotion into the song into it, and I get that. But you also paced it BRILLIANTLY; the timing of every note you sing, and how long you hold them – you TIMED the song to best communicate your emotions. And then you TAGGED EVERY LAST NOTE at the emotional climax. Not oversung, not undersung. IMMACULATE.Recorded, I don’t think you’ve ever *sung* better than that one.
And with that much emotion, if it was me, I’d be oversinging the crap out of that.
All I can say to you is thank you and I needed to hear that about it.
I thought I’d said stuff like that before. But yes. “Time Machine” connected, and connected immediately, and connected like whoa.
I think the timing of your review is what made it so special. I almost threw in the “Time Machine” towel because it has been getting not even poor response but ZERO response. Maybe it has just been shocking people a bit. I mean, I was overwhelmed by it when I wrote it, in the studio, and listening to the finished product.
Well, like I said, having hung out with a vocal performance/musical theatre kid, I’ve been much more in tune with the technical performance stuff than the pure pop song impact. I don’t know how Time Machine relates to everybody else. I can’t QUITE say I can’t get enough of hearing it, because it it an incredibly emotional song. But I can say I play it a lot.
Look, there are a ton of stories that can be told about music from all sorts of different spaces that hasn’t had enough attention paid to it, the songs that the artist felt most deeply that never got an ounce of attention while the throwaway afterthought becomes The Great American Pop Song. So here’s one example. And, in particular, an example that is as breathtakingly sung as anything I’ve ever heard by somebody I actually know in real life.
Give it a couple of listens. You will not be sorry.
Now, if I was going to start this project anything remotely soon, I had to start it now, and I had to start it with Katrina. Here’s why.
Katrina is overdue to record a full album – her first since “In Your Shoes” in 2010. She has the songs ready, and she’s pursuing the funding to make the work happen. (I have heard a couple of these songs. I am being entirely selfish here. I desperately, desperately want to hear them recorded professionally.) There is an IndieGoGo fundraising page for this purpose. She’s not quite halfway to her (relatively modest, IMO) goal, and there’s a week left in the campaign.
I’ve tossed a few pennies into the project. I really wish you’d do the same. I believe in what Katrina’s doing, and I think given a listen, you’ll believe in what she’s doing as well.
I think there’s a ton of music that’s worth unearthing out there. Each of us have local independent artists in our universe who deserve far, far greater exposure, and deserve to get some of our disposable income as well. May we all do better in giving artists the capacity to do art, and to get paid for it.
And in the meantime, Katrina, please keep singing. That VOICE, dear heart. That. Voice.
At long last.
I’ve been offered a position teaching physics at Tennessee Technological University for 2014/2015. The primary responsibility is the trig-based physics sequence, also known as “that thing I’ve taught for the last 14 years of my life and I hope I’m pretty good at by now.”
I’m incredibly grateful for Steve Robinson and his department, which is pretty dang teaching-centered for a regional university. In terms of being my flavor of “engaged academic”, I might be going to the best place I could possibly land. It’s very evident that I have a lot to learn from these folks, and I’m going to be busting it next year to learn as best I can. In many ways, next year will be a hard reset on my career, and how things play out from there is still anybody’s guess.
I’ll save other observations and implications for later. But, for certain people who frequent this space, here’s the most important news:
AWWW YEAH IT’S THE PEARSON AND PIRKLE EXPERIENCE COOKEVILLE TENNESSEE HAS NO IDEA WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO IT LOOK OUT YOU GUYS AND I MEAN IT JUST LOOK OUT
(Everybody pray for Richard Pirkle and his family. They have to deal with me now.)
I completed a full year of Songs for Sunday Morning back in March, and I think I only missed one Sunday early on in the process. If you want to check up on me, you can see that archive of links for yourself.
I’ve kept up the discipline without updating the link archive, so I’ll actually transition this to a new page. The rules remain the same: the target is a reflective song appropriate for the day, regardless of whether it’s modern music, old-school CCM or Jesus Music, or a pop song that I’ve coopted for spiritual purposes. The post will be made on Facebook and Twitter every Sunday morning, with the #forSundaymorning hashtag (so you can search for ‘em too!), and links to the songs will be stored here.
I expect you’ll find in this list hints of my year of transition in what I’ve selected, too.
August 17, 2014: Propaganda – “Excellent”
August 10, 2014: The Hooters – “All You Zombies”
August 3, 2014: Rick Elias – “Stripped”
July 27, 2014: (total collapse, deliberate disappearance and hiding, forgot to seed the buffer)
July 20, 2014: Michael Card – “Who Can Abide?”
July 13, 2014: Mr. Mister – “Healing Waters”
July 6, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Land of My Sojourn”
June 29, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Into The Glorious”
June 22, 2014: Daniel Amos – “If You Want To”
June 15, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Sing Along”
June 8, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Brother’s Keeper”
June 1, 2014: Five Iron Frenzy – “Every New Day”
May 25, 2014: Ralph Stanley featuring Judy and David Marshall – “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More”
May 18, 2014: Steven Curtis Chapman – “The Great Adventure”
May 11, 2014: Sixpence None The Richer – “Sister, Mother”
May 4, 2014: John Farnham – “You’re The Voice”
April 27, 2014: Vigilantes of Love – “Resplendent”
April 20, 2014: Matthew Ward – “Easter Song”
April 18, 2014 (Good Friday): Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
April 13, 2014: The Choir – “Merciful Eyes”
April 6, 2014: Andrew Osenga – “Until You Provide”