Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Zen and the Art of Pizza Making; A Study (WARNING: May Contain Recipes)

Circa 2009
The Old Way; The Way I've Been Doing it for Years...
  • Make Dough the Night Before I Need It.
When I first started, I made the dough the day of instead of the night before. I could get away with it, technically, it was totally possible to do so. However, while it would make a deliciously puffy (albeit difficult to work with) dough, it wouldn't have that same nutty, yeasty, gluteny flavor that is achieved when the yeast and the sugars have time to mingle for at least 18 hours. I eventually learned to make enough dough to be divided and bagged in freezer-proof Zip-Lock bags; using what I need and freezing the rest.
  • Remember the Ratios
When I first started, I used a scientific approach to my dough making; accumulating various methods and recipes, putting them all in a bowl and mixing it up with previous experience. The first few results were as expected...awful...my notes reflected as such, "next time, do this instead of that...use more of this and less of that..."  There was a time where I just gave up. I was presented with a choice; spend time and effort on something trivial, or just give up and order out.

I pouted for a few months.

Then, one day I realized that the little things mean much more to me than the bigger picture, and I jumped right back into it. All I needed was a little more knowledge, a little more finesse. Bread is a living thing and it cannot be constructed as one would build a bookshelf...it must be nurtured. It took a few tries, but I finally hit my stride. The result of which was making dough regularly. So much to the point where I no longer relied on any recipe on paper, it was a "sense memory" thing. Something more akin to a chef or a baker who actually knows what they're doing.

I've been making dough for over ten years now, and still I rely somewhat on measurements. In the beginning, I relied on my chicken scratch notes because it wasn't automatic yet. Then dough making turned into a Friday night ritual to prep for my Saturday night ritual of making it. As the weeks and months pass, I just knew that this much flour meant this much yeast which that much water and so on. For years now, the result of my labor has just been...sustainably adequate. Maybe I got bored. Maybe my taste buds have gone blind and have given up trying long ago. Whatever the reason, I've made no secret that I wanted to change it, but I never dared to do anything for fear of something falling apart. Remember the ratios. Remember the crushing failures of the past.

For years, it has been fairly consistent. And I've been silently indifferent.

  • Never Get the Sauce from a Jar.
Ever. Always make it fresh. I will not bend on that. Always make it fresh. Make it with real ingredients. Forget that the price of fresh produce is going up, grab that basket of Roma tomatoes from the Farmer's Market and get back in the kitchen. So what if it tastes a little...funny? It's fresh! It's...organic 'n stuff! It's supposed to taste like this.

While trying to be as accurate as possible with the construction of the dough, I would "eyeball" the ingredients for the sauce. It would taste different with every batch. That would be okay, because honestly, the dough would vary in taste and consistency every time too, no matter how much attention I paid to it.

This is how its been for years. Homemade pizza would be our Saturday night thing. It would be the thing that holds the family together. It would teach the kids that daddy can cook too, and he can do it better than anything pulled out of a microwave. There was even a moment in time where my ego was so bloated that I considered opening a pizzeria of my own. The problem was that even though I looked forward to every Saturday night and making something that everyone could eat and hopefully enjoy, the end product that I was pulling out of the oven was good. And that's not a complement. It was good. I was shooting for great.

It didn't taste good. I mean, it didn't taste awful, it just tasted...well...off. It wasn't enjoyable. My feelings were confirmed when my daughter takes her slice and picks at it. She usually eats half of it before she quits halfway through, up until recently, she couldn't even do that. I mean, it's PIZZA for cryin' out loud! PIZZA!! If your kid picks at a slice of pizza like some kids push lima beans to the side of a plate, then congratulations, you just made something so horrible that they would rather choke down a Papa John's pizza rather than endure eating what you made. Way to go...you suck.

Things had to change. In doing the same thing for years, I have become slave to the action, I had become complacent. If I took a step outside myself and observed my pizza from another point of view, it didn't matter that it was good enough or not. It was pizza, and it was fresh, and daddy was making it. There could be no wrong coming from this. Only, I could tell. It wasn't right, and I couldn't go through another week foisting a sub-par product to my family. I mean, if I'm not wowing them on a weekly basis, how would I hypothetically survive opening up a shop?

Things had to change.

And so they did...


~***~


Circa 2014
Old Dough Recipe (prep time: 2 Days):

  • 5 Cups High Gluten Flour
  • 1 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
  • 1 Tbl. light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • ~3 Cups warm (between 95° and 110° F) water.


I recommend starting off with clean water. If you don't have access to a Brita Water Filtration System, then a jug of filtered water, the kind you collect in your shelter in case a hurricane rips through your neighborhood? The store brand kind? The ones that are like under a buck each? Yeah, one of those will work nicely.

You'll need around 3 cups, not exactly 3 cups. The reason being is that there is a crucial point in dough making when you have to slowly incorporate wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and it'll turn into paste. Not enough, and it's a modern art sculpture. I'll get into the details later.

Warm the water to around 110°. Heating it in a microwave safe vessel is okay, I prefer to warm my water the old fashioned way of pouring it into a small saucepan, placing it on the back burner of my stove, turning the burner to low and busy myself with other things while it gets up to temperature.

While that's working, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. If you don't have one of these...well...don't fret, the gift giving season is right around the corner. I used to mix by hand for a few years until I got one of these and realized how much my wrists have turned to stone. I recommend the stand mixer, it'll save a lot of time, and it'll save your arms...unless...ya know...you're into that whole "beefy arms" thing.

Anyway, as stated previously, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl and mix on low speed using the whisk attachment. The yeast and the sugar need to do their happy dance in the flour, so you need to play the tune by mixing for 2-3 minutes. Once they're all incorporated, add the salt while the machine is running, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Not only are you making the yeast happy, you're also incorporating a little air to the mixture...let's get to that later...maybe.

Stop mixing, and replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Dump the olive oil into the flour mix, and turn on your machine to a low speed.

Now, here's where you're undivided attention is needed. Not on me, your mix....although...I wouldn't mind some attention...maybe sometime...go out for coffee? Or, I dunno...an invitation to join TSŪ...maybe a gift certificate to Harbor Freight Tools...a Macbook Pro?...HEY! Pay attention!

The reason you need to get your water as close to 110° F as possible is that you need to transfer that water into a measuring cup. Doing so (especially if you're using a Pyrex measuring cup) will drop the temperature of the water by a few degrees. You've removed it from the heat twice (once from the stove and once from the hot cooking vessel), so you'll end up with water that's closer to 105°...WHICH IS OKAY! any lower, and the dough will go stiff. Hotter than 110° and you have a sticky mess on your hands. 105 is the Goldilocks Zone. (You might want to keep one of these babies handy.)

Slowly pour 2 cups of the water into mix while your dough hook enabled machine is running. Increase the speed of the machine slightly. Your goal at this point is to make gluten; to make sure the dough is at the right consistency to work with. Now, there are many different ways to tell if your dough is ready, but the easiest way is to peek inside of the bowl and make sure that the sides of the bowl are cleaned by the dough as it moves around inside. To do this, you'll need to pour more of the warmed water into the mix, a few drops at a time. Once the sides of the bowl are clean, you should be close. Don't worry if the dough sticks to the hook and/or to the bottom of the bowl. A little is workable, if it's too wet, keep mixing and incorporate more flour into the mix with the machine running. Let the machine run for at least 5 minutes, then remove the bowl from the mixer, loosely cover the bowl (they say to "loosely cover the bowl in plastic wrap". I use a clean dinner plate. Works just as well, and its more versatile...stay tuned) with the dough still inside, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Turn out your dough onto a flat, floured surface and knead by hand. There are many recipes out there that tell you to hand need for at least 10 minutes. That's a bit excessive since the more you knead, the stiffer and unpleasant the crust will be. You will need to...um....knead...but only until there's a good amount of give to the dough; it'll contract (bounce back) if you press down on it. Knead and roll the dough into a ball.

Next, you will need a dough scraper, and a kitchen scale. Your dough ball should weigh in the neighborhood of 3lbs. Use your dough scraper to equally divide the dough ball into 4 smaller balls. These should be around 12 oz. a piece (if you have extra, divide it and spread it evenly as you can amongst your balls... stop laughing).

I could go into a step-by-step on how handle the dough at this point, and I may someday revisit this subject complete with video instruction starring me (you have been warned). But for now, let's see how the pros do it...





After you roll them up, use your plate that you used to cover up your dough earlier and drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in it. Roll a dough ball around in it so it receives a lite coating. Then you should, as Mr. Gemignani pointed out, place each ball in individual zip lock bags (gallon sized will do the trick). Make sure you get as much air out of the bags as possible, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Place your balls in the freezer. The longer they stay in there, the better they'll taste....stop LAUGHING! If making pizza the next day, take as many as you need out of the freezer, and place in the refrigerator. Remember to take them out at least 2 hours before baking.

The New Recipe. The One I Discovered a Month Ago:
  • The same as above, except add another teaspoon of yeast and divide the dough to 1 lb. portions. Much better; nice chew, very tender, wonderful aroma and mouth feel.

Now, the dough has been modified for the better, why stop there? On to the sauce!

~***~

 The Old and Busted Sauce Recipe:
  • Roma Tomatoes (I highly...HIGHLY recommend going to your local Farmer's Market for these. The bigger, the better. The ones you get from a supermarket or "Wally World" are just way too small and flavorless and...gross.) Depending on the size, you'll need anywhere from 6-8 (slightly over a quart). Make sure they're ripe. If they're slightly orange and/or not as squishy, the sauce will give a very "bright" flavor, not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • 4-5 cloves fresh garlic roughly chopped
  • (2) 5.5 fl oz (2 small cans) tomato juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar
I'd like to take a moment to point out that the rest of the recipe is not in exact measurements...remember... "eyeballing" So, just like you're Nonna did in the old country...follow your nose...it always knows...the flavor of fruit (that's a 70s reference, kids. Go ask your parents).
  • dried basil
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil & oregano (optional)
  • garlic powder
  • kosher salt 
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Lambrusco 
Peel your tomatoes. Again, not getting into how to do it here, so here's an informative video...





Add all the ingredients to a pot and introduce an immersion hand blender to the party and blend until saucy. Place pot back on the stove (the warm part where you boiled the water) and cover until room temp. The residual heat will cook the sauce gently.

Now, this has been my sauce for years. This is the sauce that I've been convincing myself that is the best thing in the universe. The thing is, and I'm basing this on experience, it has a tendency to turn on you the longer it stays in your fridge. I recommend freezing what you don't use. This sauce, while made with fresh ingredients, isn't that good and will turn sour within a month. This is the sauce that I've been fooling myself with. This sauce...for lack of a better term...sucks. So, in order to get out of the suck, I turned to the internet while swallowing the fact that sometimes, I just don't know what I'm doing.

New Hotness Sauce Recipe:
  • (2) 15oz. cans of tomato sauce (30 oz.)
  • (1) 12oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 Tbl. Italian Seasoning (I know, I know, "how could I?" you gasp,but it's better this way. Trust me.)
  • 1 Tbl. dried oregano
  • ~1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
Combine sauce & paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. While that's working, crush your fennel seeds. Don't have one of these yet? Remember...gift giving season...Macbook Pro...FOCUS!

Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (making sure not to burn). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, apply to pizza....yadda yadda yadda.

Now, the consequence of turning "mouth blind" as it were, is that when you apply something new to something established, there are bound to be repercussions. If done wrong, your family and friends will turn on you quicker than my old sauce taking up way too much room in the ice box. You will become a pariah and turned away from your next book club meeting. If done right, you will witness the initial shock, then the inevitable expression of "what have you done?, then the denial...then the acceptance...then the moment where you forget about the old sauce altogether.




Honestly, I didn't know how everyone would react as I presented my pizza v. 2.0 for my family. My girlfriend went through the stages mentioned above, my infant son raged and fussed until he got a piece of the pizza crust, but the icing on the cake...the image that made my night, was to see my baby girl, fussiest eater on the planet, not only ate the ENTIRE slice of pizza, but it was intact as she was eating it; no picking, no pruning, no uck face... just devoured. Silently. Whole. Proud papa came back that night when a clean plate was in front his daughter.

My reaction upon eating it?


IT TASTES JUST LIKE PIZZA!


Pizza at last, pizza at last, great googly-moogly, pizza at last. I had forgotten what it tasted like. After scalding the roof of my mouth, I was brought back to the pizza of my childhood; I was brought back to the pizza shop on the other side of town that we used to go to on special occasions. I also wondered why I've been denying myself this for years. Why I was so resistant to change? Philosophical quandaries aside, I was finally where I want to be in my pizza-fu. It was wonderful.


~***~


It took me years of muttering to myself of how dissatisfied I was in order for me to get to the point of doing something about it.

And then I actually did something about it.

I was going to title this post, "Defining Madness" or something to that effect. It took me years of muttering to myself like a madman to come to the conclusion that I've spent a lot of time muttering to myself like a madman. Like someone lost in madness. Like someone who does something over and over again thinking the outcome will be different every time.

I was going to frame this revelation in the scope of how my attitude has been changing as of late...

If you can't find it, make it.

If it's not right, change it.

If it's bad, walk away.

If all your good intentions and intelligence and talent aren't putting you in the place you want to be, like say, every time I apply for a job, then perhaps its time to re-prioritize, re-think and recognize other paths in front of me.

If you don't recognize your own capacity, talent and capacity for change, then I don't know what to say. It's inside you. It always has been.

What you do with it is up to you.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Swinging From The Left or What I Did Over The Weekend (WARNING! Contains Mini-Rant)


To every expert and pundit who said that no one would show up.

To every television talking head spinning a web of apathy.

To every 1% Puppet thinking that they can just buy their way into power.

To every person who anchors themselves to their couch thinking that they won't matter.

To Big Oil
To Big Pharm
To Big Agro
To GMO, HGH, and to everyone convinced that ACA won't work.

To every corporation who claims that a raise in wages will kill their business, while at the same time, making sure their workers stay below the poverty line.

To all the suits who think that a pipeline bisecting our country is still a good idea, while changing the subject when asked how this will benefit us.
"Jobs!" they say.
"What jobs?" we reply.

To the Powers That Be who can't find it within their budget to fund a public school, yet find enough scratch for more prisons.

To every Congressman who couldn't get off their ass and get some work done.

...guess what I did this weekend?



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Top 10: And The Award For the Best Line Goes To...

Days ago, I felt it necessary to branch out and construct, maintain and post a niche blog in order to build a portfolio to make myself attractive for freelancing gigs...and the carrot and the horse and the carrot and the carrot and the carrot¹....

So, one of my goals for my new blog is to maintain a news feed in regards to my niche. In my need to do so, I started looking around for news sources where I could draw information from, and in doing so, discovered Quora. It was a recommended site for bloggers who needed topics and inspiration. It's a social site, so all you would do to engage with others is sign up, plug in your interests, and you're off and running. If you're a blogger, I highly recommend signing up with them. It's free, and even though I didn't know what to expect when I signed up, I'm pleased with what I've found so far.

As I was pouring over the subjects, I came across this topic, which off course set me off on a two day adventure of my own to make my own list while cutting my teeth on Photoshop skills...and perhaps...gathering ideas for t-shirts...so, its all good.

The topic is:

If there was an Oscar award for "Best Lines in a Movie," then which lines would have been nominated till now?


At first, I couldn't think of many, let alone one. I used to be all about the movies. For the longest time, it was my drug of choice; memorizing lines, repeated viewings when there was nothing on, holding my own personal marathons, going to independent movie houses to see something other than what Hollywood has to offer.

Now, not so much.

I actually had to think about this question for a second, whereas before, I could rattle off 20 in one breath...in character! I could have gone to my library and pulled out my greatest hits of all the movies that were integral to my generation, but I'm bored with that whole scene now. "Blahblalblah PulpFiction blahblahblah Clerks... wow, I'm so obscure!"

Instead, I chose to look at this as objectively as I could. If I were to compile a list of really great lines from movies from the dawn of the Talkies to now, what would be on it? Well, my list would probably more or less coincide with AFI's list. Impressive as it is, there are one or two that aren't on there. I thought more of the lines that made more of an impression; The lines that I've committed to memory. The lines that would serve as a wolf's song². The lines that were delivered so perfectly, that I could sit around all day and analyze them. The lines that have woven themselves into my life...you know...those lines...here's what I mean... My Top 10 List of Academy Worthy Lines... as compiled by me.

#10 The Princess Bride: As you wish...


*le sigh*




Here is a movie that was released at a time when we all needed a new classic, and weren't really expecting one. This film is all about the memorable lines and moments. Speaking of finding my tribe, I remember sitting at a table with friends while we all recited the entire movie verbatim. Even today, if someone were to randomly post in some random social media forum the line,"Have fun storming the castle!" the responses would be swift, immediate and more than likely, last for days. (Trust me on this one, try it out.) If you're a fan, you'll find your tribe real quick.

I could have gone with any number of lines from this film, but this one is the most memorable. This made my list because this most memorable line didn't even crack AFI's top 100. Shame on you, American Film Institute. Shame.







#9 The Usual Suspects: How do you shoot the devil in the back...?



The first time I saw this movie, it was on video tape. I remember watching this to the end of the credits, hitting the rewind button, watching it again, and repeating the process until the sun came up the next day. What a delicious little gem of a film this was; a gritty and gleeful throwback to the Film Noir era, spiked with enough F-bombs to make Raymond Chandler blush. Skillfully crafted and extremely well written. I tried to not foreshadow too much while constructing this poster...for the...one or two of you who haven't seen this yet, so I'll try not to give any spoilers. I chose this line because of the lyricism of it; there's fear behind it. Palpable horror delivered with legitimate concern. What would happen if you were faced with the same situation, and would you be prepared to face the consequences if and when it all goes wrong?







#8 Blade Runner: The light that burns twice as bright...



I tend to collect lines from movies. Some guys memorize baseball stats. This is what I do. I chose this one as an homage to friends long gone. I picked this one up a long time ago when late night beer and movie binges were the norm. A friend of mine kept repeating this at random times until the context of it began to sink in. Again, it's very lyrical, and it's a subtle reminder of how futile and fragile we all are.






#7 Annie Hall: La-dee-da, La-dee-da


Once upon a time, there was this girl. This girl found it in her heart to date me. This girl loved Woody Allen movies. I think the only Woody Allen movie I've seen up until that point was "Zelig" so, I offered to set a date for a stack of movies, a couch and a coffee table full of take out food. One night she took me up on it and we started with "Play It Again, Sam" and I think we ended with "Manhattan". "Annie Hall" wasn't a favorite, but I did like it a lot, and I promised to call it in the morning. #55 on AFI's list, this line made it into my top ten, simply because my slightly neurotic side has always had a crush on Diane Keaton. Although I could be wrong, and I'm open to discourse on this subject, but I don't think there has been a performer before her who has captured that wonderful mix of trying not to be shy and awkward while being shy and awkward, served with a healthy dose of self-deprecation dolloped on top, a side of ambivalence...and a Diet Coke. This one line spoke volumes about the human condition at the time, and has seldom been matched since. Incredibly charming.






#6 Silence of the Lambs: You know what you look like...?

Yes, I could have gone with the infamous "Fava Bean" line that immediately followed this on in the movie (#21 on the list), but it's been done to death (pardon the pun). The fate of some poor census taker was a nice flourish to the end of a heavier monologue that has pretty much gone unnoticed. Unfortunate, because this part of the dialogue is fantastic.

Some guys collect sports memorabilia. I collect movie lines. It's a habit I started a long time ago, and it has since been my niche of geekdom. I hear a line, sometimes the longer the better, I commit it to memory, and I make it mine. It's what I did. It came in handy when I had to perform Shakespeare. I memorized this speech, only recently. For my own amusement. This one made the list because I like it. I like it because of the delicious creep factor. I love the subtle enjoyment in his voice as he unblinkingly peels Agent Starling like an onion. It's the speech that cements Hannibal Lecter firmly in the pantheon of cinematic villains. The movie is awesome. Anthony Hopkins is fantastic. It's Halloween. Pick a reason.









#5 Taxi Driver: You talkin' to me?

I mean, honestly... How could I make a list of movie lines and not have this on here? That's just plain ridiculous, and in some circles, downright blasphemous.

 #10 on AFI's list, I'm truly surprised that it hasn't edged closer to the top. But I understand, going up against such lines as "Here's lookin' at you, kid," and, "May the Force be with you." Stiff competition indeed, but DeNiro's line from Taxi Driver has found it's way further into the modern day vernacular more often than any other pop culture reference that came before or since. It has made my list not only for it's recognizability, but this scene is "Film Geek 101". Scorsese's patented pan shot, a young and hungry DeNiro going for it in every scene he's in blahblahblah roll the clip!






#4 Casablanca: I am shocked...



A whopping six times Casablanca has made an appearance on AFI's list, none of which are this scene. There is nothing about this scene that doesn't fall flat. To this day, over 70 years later, this scene still holds up. It's still fresh. It still pops. It's timeless. The timing of the lines, the pathos, the blocking (I love the look Rick gives to his dealer in the background while Louis trots off after gathering his winnings). It made my list because it's timeless.






#3 Chinatown: Forget it Jake...


That moment when you've slammed your head against a wall because there is nothing else you can do to control a situation. That moment when you think you've figured it out, and then realizing that you haven't even come close. That moment when your moment in being the knight in shining armor is taken away because there would be no way that would happen.

You know what I'm talking about, right? You're in over your head. You need to get out now because the next words out of your mouth, or the wrong move in the wrong direction will get you in deeper, possibly fatal trouble. Walk away. Walk away and forget it, Jake...

This made my list because I've been here more than once...






#2 A Streetcar Named Desire: Stella!




This made my list for the same reasons DeNiro in Taxi Driver made the list. I believe it is written somewhere that if someone is going to compile a list of memorable movie quotes, the omission of Brando in Streetcar is punishable of up to 30 days in jail and a $2000 fine.

Holy crap, the feels behind this line. The way he squeezes every last ounce of air in his lungs? This is what anguish sounds like. This didn't just make the list because it was more than obvious, it made the list precisely because this one word started a movement in the modern drama, and how it should be performed. A name shouted at the top of his lungs heralded in the new rein of "Method" actors, and the new face of Hollywood, and disappearance of fast-talking, high-trousered actors of the old guard.






And last, but not least... and certainly nothing to do with recent events...

#1 To Have and Have Not: You know how to whistle, don't you Steve?


Oh...
My...
Goodness...

The look on Bogey's face afterwards says it all. We still feel it to this day. It packs a punch so hard that even the manliest man in the room has to say...



Lauren Bacall was a screaming hotty. She was the Mayor McHotty of Hottyville. They carved her likeness on the side of Mount Hotty. Archeologists in future will know her as The Once and Future Hotty and will dedicate a wing in the Hotty wing of the Smithsonian. Hotty.

...She will be missed.






In the course of making this list, about five other lines popped into my head. Keep in mind that this list reflects how I feel at the moment, and will probably change next week.

Maybe you all can help me out. What lines do you consider Oscar Worthy?



¹ Borrowed from Spaulding Gray's, "Swimming to Cambodia"
² Meaning, if you were to blurt out a line from a movie in mixed company, say a party where you're the stranger in town, and two or three people smiled and perhaps laughed a little while the rest of them roll their eyes, you tend to hang out with the people who smiled, because you have found your tribe...your pack.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Motivation Monday: Halloween Edition



Maybe it's the time of the year.

Maybe it's because I haven't posted anything in over a week and I needed to stretch out and do something before I lose more followers.

Maybe it's because I re-opened my t-shirt shop with a couple of new designs, and one of them was a design that I've been preparing for a couple of months, but it wasn't completely finished until I found a technique that woke it up a little bit and I'm probably going to reapply this technique on future designs.

Like it? Buy it here.

Maybe it's because I could stop saying to myself, "It's only a matter of time before they reboot this" when I recently heard the news that they are finally remaking The Crow. My only hope is that they will be closer to the source material this time. Nothing against the movie, I had the movie adaptation on video. Watched it so much that the tape broke.

Maybe it's all these things that prompted me to make today's post, but since it the season for all things horrifying (Ebola hysteria notwithstanding), I thought this quote was particularly motivational.

"The Crow" was an independent comic produced in the late 80s. It's a dark series involving darker characters and even darker story line that was inspired by truly unfortunate and even darker, real events. I'll spare any spoilers for the one or two of you who haven't read it yet. I will say that the antagonist of the story isn't the most virtuous of souls. He is, however, one of the most tortured. Vengeance does that to a guy...especially for a guy that just came back from the dead to kill the people that killed him and his fiancé...





Anyway, today's motivation quote appears at the end of the book, as the hero returns to the afterlife reunited with his beloved. This quote has always stuck with me. First, in a paint-my-fingernails-black-and-listen-to-The-Cure-while-I-lock-myself-in-my-room kind of way. But later, especially in these days of striking out on my own, I've reinterpreted it as a way of saying, "it ain't over, till it's over".

Nothing is over until you say it is. Nothing. Not your life, your love, your wisdom, your empathy. Nothing. Yes they may come with bullets and crude weapons, they may come with a "cease and desist", they may come and liquidate your entire department while promising you that if another position opens up, you'll be the first in line and then 8 months later, advertise for that position in the want ads and "forget" to CALL YOU AND OFFER IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. ARE YA HAPPY, YA BASTARDS?!!!

....sorry....

While you still draw breath, you still have a chance. Poker players refer to this as "a chip and a chair"; so long as you have those two things, you still have a shot at the jackpot. It ain't over till it's over. Don't give up. You still have a shot and so long as you are still walking and talking, you have a chance. You're not dead yet.

It's only death if you accept it...

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

WIWW: Top 5 Songs That I Just Happen to be Listening to Tonight.



Yep, it's another one of those nights where YouTube is my best friend as I tune the FM dial in my head to sing along to something while I clean the kitchen.

Instead of jumping off into Freelance-Land today, I spent some of the day refining my linkedin account, my about.me page, scoping out Content Mills and generally getting acquainted with this world. I spent the rest of the day spinning around in another existential crisis: What's my niche? Do I have a niche? Is it important to have a niche? Should I spell it with the fancy é? OH LOOK! KITTEN VIDEOS!

Then, I took a nap.

If I'm going to do this, then I am going to have to get cozy with my old nemesis...

...Top 5 Lists...

My Top 5 for tonight are all the songs that have just plopped themselves down in front of me and begged for my attention. They have floated down my stream of consciousness and embedded themselves in my brain, I hope they do the same for you.

Enjoy...

#5 The Five Stairsteps: "O-o-h Child"

The first on the list is the first in my head as I stack dishes near the sink. Instead of succumbing to the dread of dishpan hands, I start singing the first few bars, and all of a sudden, my world turns a certain shade of Kodachrome. I grew up with this song. This song might have gone the way of just about every other song from the early 70s and just vanished. Luckily, the melody and message is timeless and has fortunately been rediscovered and covered every five years or so since its first release in 1970, most recently in the film, "Guardians of the Galaxy". This song is cherished to the point of being regarded as an American standard, and I have no problem with that. Yes child, things will get easier and you will walk around in the beautiful sun. You can't get much more positive than that, some days. Go ahead sing and rejoice. Sing and let the spirit move you. Sing along...you know you want to...ya turdblossoms! :)







#4 The Left Banke: "Just Walk Away, Reneé" (yay! I get to use fancy é!)

All it takes is one song from a particular time, and I just can't seem to walk away from it easily. If I think of one song, then another one invites itself in. Then another. Then another. And before I realize it, it's 3 in the morning and found myself still trying to stump YouTube, and then giving up and watching more cat videos. I fear it has bested me again (shakes fist in air). I was barely walking when most of these songs were released, and yet I remember them all. I blame Casey Kasem. A favorite and a staple of the Chamber Rock era, here is The Left Banke with the often covered, "Just Walk Away, Reneé". (yay! I get to use it again!)







#3 Colin Blunstone: "Caroline Goodbye"

Still riding that wave of childhood memories when I would sequester my mother's reel-to-reel player, slap on my pair of Realistic NOVA 40 Hi Fi Stereo Headphones (suck it, Beats by Dré....YAY! AGAIN!!!) and fall in love with a mix tape that my uncle made for her. It was all greatest hits by The Zombies. Side two was more Zombies with a few solo tracks from former lead singer, Colin Blunstone. My uncle is an audiophile. Maybe it was the way he manipulated the levels just right, maybe it was the headphones, but I searched high and low for an original recording; When I found it again years later, it was digitally remastered, and lost that lovely, cavernous, Phil Spector-type quality that went along with accommodating a full orchestra at the time. Thanks to the internet and a generation of people who just won't let vinyl die (thank you, by the way) I have found something close to what I was looking for. The acoustic solo stays with me. It's a scene from some French movie that I will never confess weeping to. It's the morning fog that rolls in off the ocean on an overcast autumn day. It's the memory of someone I can never let go...give a listen, you'll know what I mean.







#2 Bill Withers "Hope She'll be Happier"

Again, going back to my mother's reel-to-reel and pilfering her mix tapes, the other one that has stayed with me over the years is Bill Withers' "Hope She'll be Happier". Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he recorded this song more than once? I'm not sure. Again, maybe it was the strict recording practices my uncle enforces on everything he plays and listens to, maybe it was my headphones, maybe it was where my head was at at the time and looking back with an older set of ears... Maybe it wasn't the song the way it was, but it was the song the way I wanted to remember it, I have yet to find the one recording that is just right. The Goldilocks version, as it were. The only one that comes close (that still exists) is his recording from his concert at Carnegie Hall. Stark, haunting, deeply moving. Carnegie Hall is famous for its acoustics, which is why you can almost hear a pin drop from the audience when he hits that one, glorious, rip-your-heart-out-of-your-chest note. One of my favorites...






#1 Chris and Thomas: "Incarnation Song"

I know, I know...quite the shock to go from an all 70s lineup to a song that was released a couple of years ago. It was around the time earlier this evening when I got the notion to compile this list when I turned on my Spotify player. I had forgotten I had added this recently. I fell in love with the harmonies and rich, cavernous recording quality. Not much to know about this American Folk duo who has spent a lot of time playing in British pubs, other than they're a favorite over at NPR, they score films, and they love to cook. First few notes hooked me right away and I must remember to buy this album soon. Tell me what you think of this....






Right. Well, off to bed now. I suppose I needed these tunes to ease my mind tonight while I focus on the task at hand. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity. Thank you for sticking around, and I hope you enjoyed.

What are the top 5 songs you're listening to right now?


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Motivation Monday: (Tuesday Edition) Paul Coelho



"So, you have how much experience in this field?" He made me wait in an uncomfortable meeting room for ten minutes. His assistant was in a rush for me to finish the five page, photocopied application. The application they had me fill out was something that I've never seen before. I was thoroughly convinced that it was set up specifically to deter...well...everyone. In the previous employer section, there was a part that I had to fill out entitled, "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?" Like, differences of opinion, unable to meet unobtainable sales numbers, or getting laid off weren't good enough reasons? Is it really pertinent to this job I'm applying for? Should I remember the reasons you let me go in the future for the next company that doesn't want to hire me to begin with?  "How much experience do you have in this field?" He said, barely interested in what he was reading.

The week before, I applied for several jobs in one day. Got calls back on all of them. This job that called me back, I had no (literally no) experience in. I never expected a call back from them, but that all changed when the phone rang and I answered like some college kid hung over from the night before, "Who are you again?" Things, suffice to say, didn't go so well for the next 24 hours.

They called me into a job that I had no hope of ever getting hired in, the boss' assistant had to tell me to hurry up and fill out a five page application that was written by Beelzebub. Nothing in my life has prepared me for this moment in time. The boss of the company was playing with me; filling the air with, "Oh. You went to University...not a trade college?" and, "you know, it is difficult to find a job in this area." He said to the guy who's unemployment just ran out and who's been looking to no avail since January. "How much experience do you have in this field."

Although I didn't say it, my expression was doing all the talking. "Look pal, I don't know how I got in here, but you and I both know that this is just a waste of time. Can you just hurry up and get to 'no'?"

Waste of time.

What to do now?

Beat my head against a wall for another 8 months, or get up and move in another direction?

I'm studying Quickbooks. I don't need an MBA or have to be certified by some board, all I need is experience and the will to know how to use it. And, since everywhere in this town is a Mom-and-Pop Venture and they don't need CPA's with a Harvard degree, it would behoove me to bone up on this skill and become a gun-for-hire.

In the meantime, I have bills. And they're piling up.

I've been saying it for months. I've been dancing around the subject but never really pulling the trigger. I've been motivating myself every week, and I still have yet to take that initial step forward.


By the end of this week, I hope that I have some Freelancing gigs. Which is kind of a big deal, because I've never done this before. But considering the circumstances, I have very little choice.

I've been putting on my Bravado hat for months now. I've been saying that I will do this. I will do this. I will do this.

...so why haven't I? (Excuse me while I talk to myself for a minute...)
Marilyn Allysum

  • I don't have enough followers? No, that can't be the case. You have a fraction of the readership any other blog would have, but you're gaining interest every day, and you trust and love each of your followers. The numbers will grow. Just give it time.
  • I don't think I'll be able to reach the requirements? Well, considering you've just cranked out over 600 words in just under 30 minutes, I don't think that will be much of an issue. You used to thrive under pressure. You also had a mild stroke at 35. Regardless, it's in your nature to do this.
  • My research skills aren't that great? Dude...I don't wanna hear this. You were born in the Year of the Rooster, do you know what that means? That means you are a born detective. You were named after the Patron Saint who found things that couldn't be found. As soon as one of your so-called jobs asked you to do research on a certain subject, you dove right in without thinking twice. This is what you do. Stop denying yourself this. You aren't a numbers man. You're a words man.
  • I'd run out of things to blog about? Okay, now you're wasting my time...which is essentially YOUR time. I think you have run out of excuses...
So, why haven't you done this?

There is nothing to fear because nothing has happened yet. And nothing will happen until you move forward. If you want to fear something, fear not moving forward. Fear not taking a chance. Fear not believing in yourself.

Fear giving up.

...It's up to you...

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Motivation Monday: The Dog Ate My Homework Edition



I'm up! I'mupI'mupI'mup...I'm awake...


Where is everyone...?

Where am I...?

Crap...missed it again...

Okay, the last thing I remember, it was Monday and I thought it would be a really cool idea to make a nice graphic in honor of National Coffee Day.

"National Coffee Day? What madness is this?" I ask to myself as I wake up and turn on my computer and listen to the news. It was the lead story on every news outlet. It was almost as if there was nothing else happening in the world. No war, just coffee, and the day attached to it. No political unrest in Hong Kong, no shake up at the Secret Service. Just...coffee. Coffee as far as the eye can see.

I started my day as usual, with a bowl of cereal and a pot of coffee. A few hours later, I decided to celebrate some more by making another pot, because this design wasn't going to make itself. I sat down at the computer with my fifth cup of the day.

And then all went black soon after...

I awoke several hours later. The general early 70s ambiance of my house was so rotten, so incredibly foul. What had happened? There was evidence in this room of excessive consumption of almost every type of drug known to civilized man since 1544 AD. What kind of addict would need all these coconut husks and crushed honeydew rinds? And why was my son duct taped to the ceiling? Too savage...too agressive...

Jesus...did I just say that?

I finally came down the next day with no project, no idea where to start, and a huge goddamned electric bill...

Sorry, just riffing.

My days are all mixed up and I'm not sure if I can stick to a regular schedule. But we must prevail.

Moving on...

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WIWW: Cloud-Busting (for the Tell Me A Story series)



Okay, before I get down to business, let me get down to business. The above picture belongs to Maurizio Fecchio and is available for purchase here. I claim no ownership of this image and have no plans to profit from posting it...period. Wherever possible, I give credit where credit is due. I will go out of my way to do so; I make it a habit. The only reason I'm reinforcing this is that I'm currently looking for a way (other than AdSense) to monetize my blog and I don't want to be mired in any red tape while I'm trying to pay rent. 

The above is the inspiration for another writing prompt provided by +MJ Bush in her "Tell Me A Story" series. Yes, it is a few weeks later, but I've been letting them accrue and saving them for my Wednesday story just in case I'm drawing a blank on Tuesday. Let's see what I can do with this one...


~***~


Three days ago, they sat face to face in a diner on the outskirts of Flagstaff discussing the terms of their arrangement. William would point John in the direction of the treasure. John would sell it to a very interested and extremely wealthy party from China, William would get paid handsomely for his Sherpa services. They would go their separate ways.

Two days ago, they got lost five times, ran out of gas twice, and proceeded to argue at length over who took the last piece of beef jerky. At around 2 in the afternoon, after the sun was highest in the sky, they pulled off to the side of the road, abandoned the car, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way through the desert. Young William headed north. William reassured John that if they head in the direction of those hills, they will find the treasure they seek. William said he knows because his grandfather told him the story of the Golden Mountain many times, just as his grandfather told him. John trusted William. William is a child of the Navajo Nation.

Yesterday, they had to double back because William wasn't entirely sure if his grandfather said north or south because the last time he actually paid attention to the story, he still had his baby teeth. John didn't trust William so much anymore. Food and water running out. Patience will soon follow.

Six hours ago, remnants of the Santa Ana winds blew in, bringing with it what ever fog was left that San Diego couldn't take. It was just enough to veil the setting sun. It was just enough to bring a chill to the air.

Five hours ago, John loosed a string of profanities that bounced off distant canyon walls because of all the things that he needed to pack, a sleeping bag would have been helpful. He would have, but it was too heavy and he couldn't get passed the thought of snakes or scorpions or worse finding their way inside an enclosed area next to him. Nope. We shouldn't be long anyway. His exact words coming back to haunt him as he put on an extra layer of clothes.

Thirty Minutes ago, William awoke well before sunrise, walked several yards away as to not awake a grumpy, slumbering John, and knelt towards the east. He pulled out a tiny rawhide rattle from his pocket, and softly chanted a song of his people.

"Hey,"

It was a song that was passed down to him. The only one he could remember, in any case.

"William..."

He never asked the meaning or bothered to learn the etymology of the verses, but it was a song that was performed in time of need. Such as seeking rain in times of great drought, the health of a loved one...

"William!"

...or directions when you've lost your way.

"What the hell, William?!"

Five minutes ago, John woke up.

"Give me a second, would ya?" asked William without looking over his shoulder. "I'm in the middle of something." He softly continued his chant as the first glimmer of sunrise tired its best to force its way through the fog.

John was never a brusque man, at least, not in nature. In a previous life, John lived a life of privilege. The only child of extremely rich parents, John could have had his future planned, bought and paid for. But, he never liked that life. He dropped out halfway through his second year of college knowing that there was another way to retire comfortably. Twenty years, four continents, several broken bones, and even more broken hearts later, he has never looked back.

William is indeed of Navajo heritage. At least, that's what he found out after doing a Google search on himself. His mother is Anglo, his father owns a consulting company, and to this day, he has yet to visit a Reservation fearing that the indigenous peoples might be repelled by the stink of the suburbs that follows him.

This morning's sky was yet another battle in a war that the fog and sun have been waging for a millennia. This morning, it felt that the fog was winning. John could no longer help himself, enough time has passed. "You know William, I've been thinking," said John. "When you answered my ad last week, I was convinced, almost completely convinced that you knew this area like the back of your hand."

"Oh, you think I don't?" asked William, already on the defensive.

"You got us lost several times and north and south confuse you for some reason."

William was steadfast. This was no longer a petty argument over beef jerky, this is the first volley on an assault on his character. William would always be ready for this, except that he's not in his room in front of his computer, and there's no wi-fi access out here. "Uhhh...," responded William, "it happens to everyone?"

"No," said John. "No, it doesn't. It only 'happens' to snot-nosed, film school rejects who go into the woods with cheap VHS cameras looking for witches. It does not happen to very real, flesh and blood, not-fake Native Americans such as yourself."

"Oh yeah," said William with a dry smile."I hated that movie too."

"Now, I can understand a little hiccup here and there along the way, maybe take a few minutes to get your bearings, but most of the day?"

"It's not my fault!" retorted William. "Look, if you wanted to get there quick, maybe you should've gotten a GPS or something. But no! You had to wear your 'white man's guilt' on your sleeve and use a Native to guide you to a treasure that may or may not be there."

"Aw for cryin'..." John cast his eyes to the foggy daybreak. "I told you, there is no treasure map with an 'X' on it. There is nothing concrete, no artifacts. All I have is legend and hearsay and some kid who claims that he knows where he's going, who claims to know about the legend, and yet doesn't know which way is up without consulting a smart phone, so spare me that 'white man's burden' crap."

"Oh, whatever, Quimosabe! If you want accuracy in a timely manner while trying to satisfy your Native American fetish, maybe you should have tried one of the old dudes. Maybe they would have pointed you in the right direction while telling you a story of how they bagged a dinosaur or something." William turned back around and continued chanting quietly.

John gathered himself. "William, what are you doing here?"

"Helping you, apparently."

"No, I mean what are you doing here? You are a bright kid. You could have had your pick of any school in America. Any job in the world. Why are you out here in the middle of nowhere on some wild goose chase?"

"I could ask you the same thing, John. You had everything set up for you...yes, I checked...you could have skated right along easy street. Why are you roughing it for no other reason than to satisfy some boyhood fantasy?"

"That's easy, William. Money. Plain and simple." John paused. The sun was climbing higher, but the fog was still thick. "I go where the money is, and sometimes that brings me to the ends of the Earth."

"Yeah," said William breaking his chant. "Sounds like another white guy trying to take what's ours."

"William, I know for a fact that that shirt you're wearing right now came from Ambercombie & Fitch. You showed up to the meeting with an empty Starbucks cup in your hand. You are not hurting for money in any way. If you're against another white guy taking another piece of your history, then why did you agree to this?"

William stopped, stood and faced John. "It's for my Naali, John. My grandpa. I'm heading to college on a full scholarship next year, and he's rotting away in some trailer park. He's never had much, but what he had was enough. He's the one that told me the stories of the treasure. He's also the only one who never let me forget my heritage. While the other kids were learning how to throw a baseball, he was teaching me The Mountain Chant. My father never cared. He was more concerned about succeeding in a White Man's world. My grandfather made me care where I came from so I can see where I'm going."

"So you're here because of him?"

"He worked his entire life, but he doesn't have anything to show for it. He had to sell his old pick up truck when the work dried up, and a little piece of him died after that. I figured, if I can get enough cash to get him another one, maybe he would feel whole again." John couldn't argue with that. It was an honorable endeavor, and there was no reason to rebut. William turned to face the east again.

"I take it that your grandpa taught you this chant?" asked John.

"Yes."

"What's it for?"

"Well, it's for cloud-busting, actually. We're lost and he taught me this in case I ever needed to find my way."

"Oh, well that's helpful." John thought about what he was going to say next and for a second, considered biting his tongue. John can't help himself sometimes, "Any idea what you're saying?"

"No clue. All I know is that it's supposed to bring clarity."

His chanting grew louder as he felt the first rays of sunshine warm his cheek. Warm on top of warm. Heavy moisture thins to light atmosphere. The fog lifts, and the sun paints its target a bright, sparkling gold; a majestic wall of stone carved by the slow hand of time. John's eyes widened. He has been to the far corners of the world and has seen nature at her finest from Mumbai to Anchorage. He has never seen this. "Well, I'll be damned," was all that could come out of John's mouth.

"I know," William replied in silent amazement. "I'm just as surprised as you are." The higher the sun would climb, the more beautiful the scene, and they both marveled at the splendor just a moment longer. "Well," said William. "we should probably get moving if we want to get a jump on the day."

"No," said John. "You stay right there." William froze hard as he saw John frantically rifle through his backpack. For a brief moment, William thought he should run because he heard John's voice drop two octaves. He thought he should run because he heard a distinct metallic click from his backpack. Run because he's seen this movie before; the innocent one leads the villain to the treasure, only to get shot for his trouble. Run because it's been a long night, and this guy's got a look in his eye that could drop a tiger. Run. Now.

He couldn't.

He froze. He felt that this is the end, and he closed his eyes in preparation for his destiny. "Hey," said John plainly. "You okay over here? You look like you're gonna faint." William opened his eyes. John held no weapon. Instead, this privileged white man held a very expensive digital camera around his neck and smaller dufflebag in his left hand. "I need you to help me with this," John said, giving him the bag. William unzipped the bag and inspected what was assuredly a collapsed tripod. John had no intention of killing anybody, or taking any treasure to speak of. "Quickly now. I need to switch lenses before I lose the light." After quickly getting a general idea, William extended an locked every leg and guesstimated the general height of where a camera would go. "Thanks a lot, William," said John with a smile. "You should teach me that cloud-busting chant. It came in quite handy."

"Yeah," said William through nervous laughter. "I'll have my grandpa get in touch with you."

"You're...how did you say...Naali is a good man," said John, adjusting his focus.

"So, is this it? You're not going any further?" asked William flustered.

"Hunh?" grunted John. "Oh, the treasure?" John had to laugh in spite of himself. "I'm sorry, William.There is no treasure. If there was, it would be long gone by now. Besides, I'm not Indiana Jones; I don't raid other peoples' history for my own livelihood." The camera's digital "shutter" flitters away. "Don't worry, I'm not taking advantage of you for sightseeing either. We have a business arrangement, you and I, and I take that very seriously." And with that, John continued to fill up two memory sticks worth of pictures of the purple mountains majesty. Not much else was said after that. They relocated their car, they drove back to where they started, money was exchanged, and they both parted ways.

~***~

It has been two weeks since this adventure. William has since settled in with finishing high school. Back to his regular life. As he pulled into his driveway, he barely acknowledged the truck parked on the side of the road. Thinking it was a friend of his fathers dropping by after work. "Hello," said William as he walked through the door. "I'm home!"

"Hey, William," replied his mother's voice from another room. "How was school?" 

"Good," Back to his regular life. "Hey mom, who's here?"

"No one dear, why do you ask?"

"Well, there's this truck out here. I thought someone was here."

"No, nobody here all day except me. Funny, I didn't hear that truck pull up." William gazed hard at the vehicle. Little things get taken for granted when you don't pay attention. For instance, William noticed the truck, but didn't notice the temporary plates, or the showroom glow of a factory paint job, or the tape marks on the passenger window indicating where a dealer sticker was. Little things get taken for granted, like the envelope wedged under the windshield wiper. He walked out to inspect further, and just as he expected, the envelope was addressed, "William". He opened the note inside and read,

Dear William,

I've been thinking a lot about what you said. About another White Guy coming along and taking your treasure. Well, I just wanted to let you know that in a way, you were right. I took something from you. The wonderful view of your golden mountains. It was a sight to behold and I'm afraid I won't be able to give it back. Please forgive me.

What I said about the treasure being a legend, well, I was mostly wrong. There is a treasure, and my Chinese buyer was quite impressed with it. The buyer works for a film production company, and they needed someplace they've never seen before to be worked into a movie. They were impressed not only with the pictures, but they were also enamored with the tale of how I befriended a young Navajo warrior and how his perseverance brought me to this place of wonder. So thankful they were for my services and for being completely swept up in the story that they decided to sweeten the deal, as it were. 

Tell your Naali 'thank you' from me. I hope he likes it. The keys are under the seat.

All the best,
John

William neatly folded the note and placed it back inside the envelope and ran back to the house. "Mom!" he called out. "Call Grampa! See if he's home!"



©2014 The Writers Bloc/Tony Payson

Monday, September 22, 2014

Motivation Monday: Jack Kerouac (In Honor of Banned Books Week)

"There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars..."


This weeks installment of Motivation Monday is a salute to Banned Books Week. This is the week that we honor those books that have made reading infinitely cooler by pissing off just about every uptight librarian, conservative English teacher and Fundamentalist Christian for as long as there have been words that offend.

So many books have been banned, it's so hard to pick a favorite. The dictionary itself was banned at one time. I guess if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be required reading for all things cool, Kerouac's "On The Road". The first time I read it, I was unprepared. The first time I heard it read aloud, I was still unprepared. It is a work that is endless as a Texas highway, as vast as a night's sky in Colorado, and apparently, as naughty as a sailor on shore leave, according the morals of 1950's America.

This was banned because of implied misogyny, "coarse" language and encouraging immoral behavoir. "Immoral" as in discovering your world and in doing so, discovering yourself? The nerve of some people, right?

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whatever I Want Wendesday: Top Ten Covers That Are Arguably Better Than The Original!

As compiled by ME!

For the record (pun intended) I reference no study or metric other than my own opinion. This is not based on Billboard charts or how many downloads these songs have received, this list is comprised of my all time favorite cover tunes based on how much I like them. I figured my list is just as good as anyone else's, why not offer my two cents?

It took me longer than I thought it would to compile this list. Mostly because I was debating whether I should put Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" on the list. It was written and preformed by Carole King, but the song is so closely tied with Mrs. Franklin that it's practically hers anyway. Much to the chagrin of Ms. King. And that was the line that I didn't want to cross. A lot of good cover tunes happened in the Sixties and early Seventies, but I didn't want to make them worthy of this list because everyone at that time was covering everyone else, essentially. A lot of artists were doing everyone else's material with reckless abandon, and I had a slight problem with that. "Light My Fire" was covered more than once. The Beatles started their career covering old rhythm and blues songs. All of them were good in that respect, but unfortunately, that's not what I was looking for to make this list. My only criteria for this list was if the cover brought the original into another direction, if it sounded good, and did it do the original any justice. You may not have heard of a few of these, but give them a chance. I guarantee they'll grow on you. Thanks to Luther M. Siler for providing me with Today's WIWW topic!

Oh, and also, I have nothing against the originals, I love them too. Just thought I'd throw that out there.


#10 For The Turnstiles (as covered by Bim Skala Bim)

Released by Neil Young in 1974, the song was true to the nature of Mr. Young. The recording was just him with a banjo along with one other accompaniment. Wonderfully melodic, sparse, quick and to the point.

In 1990, Boston's favorite, Bim Skala Bim took it and ran with it giving it the full East Coast Ska treatment. I love the original, but the harmonies are better, and the addition of a trombone solo makes me want to get my mellow groove on while I contemplate my own existence, maaaaaan.




#9 Gimmie Shelter (as covered by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

I said before that I wanted to make a mix tape called, "Break Stuff". As you can probably tell by the title, it would be something I would play for those times when I want to wring someone's neck, but instead choose to take out my rage on intimate objects. To this day, I have yet to find the right mix to fill an entire disk (or...tape...what your grandma and I used to record stuff on), but when I do, Gimmie Shelter by the Rolling Stones is going to be track 1/side 1.

A few years ago, the film "Children of Men" was released (absolutely brilliant film. I highly recommend). In the trailer, they teased a symphonic version of this song and I've searched for a long time to find the full edit. I finally found it, and it's been on heavy rotation on my playlist ever since. The original always reminds me of watching a hurricane roll in from the horizon. This version feels like I'm shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Breathtaking. Ominous.





#8 War Pigs (as covered by Faith No More)

Sure, this cover is practically a note for note version of the original. There's nothing about this that distinguishes this cover from the original. So why did it make the cut? I like it because Faith No More, knowing that they couldn't improve on this classic, took this and gave it a strong cup of coffee; the tempo is quicker, almost barreling out of control in places. It actually feels like an army on the warpath. Also, I kind of like this song because it sounds like a band sending a love letter to one of their heroes (Slightly biased here. We used to do a cover of this tune when I was in a band)...





#7 Superstar (as covered by Sonic Youth)

First released on the "If I Were A Carpenter" Compilation in 1994 and featured in the film "The Frighteners" a couple of years later, Sonic Youth managed to take an already haunting melody, and turn it into something that's downright terrifying. A great re-imagining and a proper cover.





#6 Heartbeats (as covered by José Gonzáles)

Oh my, where to begin with this. In 2002, Swedish super group, The Knife released the original and it was received as a critical darling. It was quite popular and quite beloved. In 2003, Swedish singer-songwriter José González covered this song, Sony used it in an television commercial, Zac Braff used it in an episode of Scrubs, and the world fell in love. For a while, the world couldn't get enough of this. Myself included. Battles between who's version was better have been raging on YouTube in the years that followed. Honestly, I love them both, but the José González version brings me home, and that in and of itself is worthy of a spot on this list.





#5 Handbags & Gladrags (as covered by Rod Stewart)

Now, I know I stated at the beginning that I wanted to exempt those songs that were practically owned by the artists who covered them. I myself thought Rod Stewart was the originator of this tune. Silly me, I keep forgetting that Rod has a habit of owning the songs he covers (I'll never forgive him for the Downtown Train fiasco...bastard). But I like this cover. It's pensive, soulful and bright and melancholy. I love the punch of the drums that coexists alongside the gentle caress of flute and oboe. Very nice.

Speaking of battles,  there has been another fight going on in YouTube over which version of this song is better; Rod Stewart vs. Stereophonics. Meanwhile, all the Chris Farlowe fans just hang back and shake their heads.





#4 In Your Eyes (as covered by Jeffery Gaines)

A powerful and soulful acoustic cover of a song that influenced a generation of awkward guys in overcoats to hold up their boom boxes and blast this ballad at full volume in the direction of their crush's bedroom window while somehow not get hauled in for stalking. I remember the first time I heard this, I was working in a kitchen in southern Maine. It was the dinner rush, but I remember how the kitchen fell silent whenever the audience participation part kicked in at the end. Love this one. (the video sucks, but the song is great)





#3 Hounds of Love (as covered by The Futureheads)

I remember falling in love with the Kate Bush album in college. Many years later, I fell in love with this song again, this time while doing the Pogo.





#2 Superstition (as covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn)

Moment of silence, please........




#1 Love Reign O'er Me (as covered by Pearl Jam)

Substituting strings for the synthesizer, and adding the wailing of Eddie Vedder just crushes me. Every. Single. Time. For the one or two of you who haven't heard this one yet, be prepared to have your heart ripped out of your chest. You have been warned...





Well, we reached the end of our countdown. Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for cigars the stars.

What covers to you think are better than the original? Please comment or link back with your own blog. I'd love to keep the conversation going.