It Wasn’t Supposed To Go Like This [Atlanta Tales, Volume Four]

There was a night, in November 1994, when I was at my absolute lowest. I was 21, in a hospital bed and had just had my colon removed a few weeks prior. Now, on this night, doctors told me complications had arisen and the newly configured digestive tract had turned over on itself, causing anything I ate or drank to be trapped in my stomach. Doctors told me that night that the following morning they would have to go back in surgically to correct the issue if things didn’t improve overnight.

As I turned out my bedside light, I resigned myself to another very long ordeal and a new recovery. I said, to no one or nothing in particular, “Okay, if I don’t wake up tomorrow, that’s fine with me. At this point I am tired of fighting, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.” I told myself silently, as I listened to Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on headphones in the dark, ‘If I wake up tomorrow, I’ll fight. I’ll hate it, I’ll complain…but I’ll fight.’

Apart from the week my father died in 2001, no period in my life has ever had me feeling so emotionally beaten and insecure as that night in 1994.

That is, until this past week.

Even with the release of Taylor Swift’s new album, this week was where I hit my emotional wall, or my emotional rock bottom. To quote a lyric from the new record (from a song that has been on repeat a lot this week), “I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all.”

Back on Thursday, October 18, I had two interviews for jobs; one was in person and one was on the phone. And then, the following day, I landed another phone interview. All three positions were for Help Desk Support, and all three interviews went very well. I particularly felt I had ‘knocked the in person interview out of the park’. After those three interviews in two days, I was confident enough to feel that things were finally breaking my way, but cautious enough that I only mentioned the interviews to two friends via text.

Wednesday I had to run an errand that could not be avoided, even though my knees were very sore and I really didn’t feel well. I got back a couple of hours later from running that errand and looked at my phone to see a new email message. It was a ‘Thanks but no thanks….’ automated email from one of the three interviews.

That’s when I hit my emotional wall and I kinda sorta lost it for an hour. I screamed. I threw books at bookshelves, hurled my cordless computer keyboard toward my bedroom wall. (It still works…not as cheaply made as I thought.) I was a complete and total emotional wreck.

After the episode was over, I took a bath to calm down. After getting dressed, I heard my phone’s ’email notification’ bell sound again, so I checked it. It was another ‘Thanks but no thanks…’ email, this time from the in person interview that I thought had gone so well a week earlier.

I was too numb to be mad. I texted a friend to tell her of the recent events and then I decided to go see a movie. As I sat in the theatre waiting for the previews to start, I was completely convinced that I would never be hired again. (If you’re curious, I saw ‘Seven Psychopaths’; good film. Sam Rockwell annoyed me to no end, but the movie is worth seeing for Christopher Walken.)

While I continue to send resumes and apply for jobs, my confidence, which was flying high a week ago this time, is now completely shot.

The ugly truth is, being broke sucks, no matter your zip code. While I am not actually broke, I’m close. I know I can pay rent for November. December? That’s an unknown right now.

In an effort to save money, it’s been a steady diet of peanut butter sandwiches and Cheerios. That’s fine with me right now. It’s not that I don’t have other food, I do. My freezer has lots of chicken, hamburger and two steaks, but this week especially I have not felt motivated to cook much of anything.

I’m just tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of being turned down for jobs I am more than qualified for. Tired of asking and hoping for things that never materialize.

Trust me, all day every day, the phrase “You chose this!!” echoes loudly in my head.

Plan B? I don’t know yet exactly. On Thursday I heard back from the third interview. They like me, but they don’t foresee any openings for 30-60 days. I can’t wait that long, so at some point, I will begin to make some very tough decisions, especially if things don’t improve soon.

The morning after that dark night in November 1994, I woke up and doctors found that things had improved overnight, so a second surgery was avoided. I fought and I recovered.

I’ll keep fighting now, but I admit, it’s much easier to fight at 21 than it is at 39. Whereas my definition of ‘winning the fight’ in 1994 was being able to eat a full meal again, my definition tonight for ‘winning the fight’ is not going crazy.

It’s gonna be a long fight…

–Barry

Taylor Swift Sounds Confident, Mature And Melancholy on "Red"

First, I readily, happily admit that I am a Taylor Swift fan, so if you are looking for a purely objective review of her new album, you won’t find it here.

Okay. Now, on to the review.

It took four studio albums, but Taylor Swift has finally written her ‘break up album’. Oh sure, all of her albums have breakup songs {most famously, “Dear John” from 2010’s ‘Speak Now’], but with her latest effort, titled ‘Red’, Taylor explores the pain, regret and even wistfulness of love found and love lost. It’s a theme that colors all sixteen songs and, despite some great moments of pop and dance, the mood is melancholy.

That the various stages of relationships are covered in song should surprise no one. Also, it really shouldn’t surprise her fans that this album is mostly ‘pop’ and not very ‘country’, though if country radio is smart, they will play any and all songs they can from what is sure to be another platinum seller. (In fact, I bet Swift breaks her own record and sells over one million copies in the initial week). Genres don’t really matter when an album sells, everyone wants a part of it, so you’ll be just as likely to hear a song from ‘Red’ on the Top 40 pop radio station as well as country radio.

The opener, “State of Grace” has huge guitars in an obvious nod to U2, “I Knew You Were Trouble” sounds like it could be a Katy Perry tune, and the title track ‘Red’ has a vocal effect on the chorus that sounds like something I heard on the last Lady GaGa record. Even with these moments that bring to mind other artists, what sets this album apart from most, even from Taylor’s other releases is the confidence and self-assuredness in her lyrics and vocals. She’s at the top of her game.

Unlike 2010’s “Speak Now”, which saw Taylor write all of the songs by herself, with “Red” she’s back collaborating with some big names. Max Martin, who co-wrote and produced the album’s lead single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” has worked with Justin Timberlake, Britney and Kelly Clarkson, just to name a few. Dan Wilson, who co-wrote ‘Treacherous”, also co-wrote tracks on Adele’s Grammy-winning ’21’ disc. The most welcome name though for me is co-writer Liz Rose, who helped Swift pen ‘You Belong With Me’ and ‘Fearless’ in 2008. For “Red”, Rose and Swift write what I think is the album’s strongest track, ‘All Too Well’, a song that I assume is about the infamous relationship Taylor had with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, which began just before Thanksgiving 2010 and was over before Taylor’s 21st birthday that December. But, unlike other songs in her catalog, Taylor doesn’t name drop here. Instead, she paints a very vivid picture of the pain and heartache that follows any breakup, and notes how most of us save at least one keepsake from a past relationship, even if it’s against our better judgement.

While I feel the album’s overall tone is somewhat  sad, there are still some upbeat, even funny moments. “Stay, Stay, Stay” is a song with such a catchy chorus that I dare you not to sing along before the song ends. A bit of Taylor laughing after finishing a vocal take is included, which only adds to the fun. “22” and the aforementioned ‘I Knew You Were Trouble” are made for the dance clubs, suitable for remixing by DJs. And the album’s closing track, ‘Begin Again’ leaves the listener on a hopeful, positive note that love will find us once more.

There’s a lot here, a lot to take in, and even though the theme is constant throughout, it never gets boring or predictable. On a personal note, for me, the song that has been on repeat the most today has been ‘I Almost Do.’ While I’m not mourning an ordinary breakup, the lyrics sum up my mood right now in much the same way “You Belong With Me’ spoke to me on a very personal level when I heard it for the first time. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifteen, twenty-two or thirty-nine years old, if you’ve loved with everything you had, and then survived the breakup, there’s something on this album you will identify with.

As a listener, that’s the moment when you rediscover why you love music.

RED – Taylor Swift

State of Grace
Red
Treacherous
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
22
I Almost Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Stay Stay Stay
The Last Time (featuring Gary Lightbody)
Holy Ground
Sad Beautiful Tragic
The Lucky One
Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
Starlight
Begin Again

Target Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks:
The Moment I Knew
Come Back… Be Here
Girl At Home
Treacherous (Original Demo Recording)
Red (Original Demo Recording)
State Of Grace (Acoustic Version)

Thanks for reading,
Barry

Thanks Chipper! [Atlanta Tales, Volume Three]

The regular season has ended for Major League Baseball. No teams ended in a tie, forcing a one game playoff….but thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig’s new fangled playoff format, there will be two Game 7s…without playing Games one thru six.

See, this year there are two additional Wild Card teams, which now means TEN teams make the playoffs [WTF is this, HOCKEY??] Anyway, the two Wild Card teams now play one another on Friday. The winner advances to what used to be the first round of the playoffs, the Division Series. The Braves host the St. Louis Cardinals at 5pm on Friday, and I will be there.

It could be the start of a deep run into the postseason…or it could all be over by 8pm Friday.

My stomach will be in my throat for the entire day, I promise you that.

But, before that nerve-wracking exercise in stress overload commences, let me take a moment to look back at the portion of the 2012 season I was able to see in person.

I saw 19 games at Turner Field, beginning with an August 14th win against San Diego, and ending with a September 30th win over the Mets. I only missed one series, the weekend of August 17-19 against the Dodgers, partially because I wasn’t originally planning to be in Atlanta until August 20, so I never bought tickets for that series, but mainly because the night of the 17th was spent buying and installing a new TV with friends Vickie and Travis, and the 18th and 19th, friends Mimi and Mandy were in town…plus on the 19th I saw Duran Duran.

The Braves lost two of three of the games against the Dodgers that I did not see, but when I was in attendance, the club went an impressive 15-4. I saw Kris Medlin and Paul Maholm dominate from the mound, and most memorably, I witnessed two walk-off home runs; first on September 2 against the Phillies when the club came down from a 7-1 deficit to win it on Chipper Jones’ three run home run, making the final 8-7. It will probably be the only time I will be rendered speechless at a ballgame. I don’t even remember screaming, though I am sure I did. I just remember thinking for the next hour as I made my way home, ‘Did that really happen? Did I really see that?’ It has been called the best ending to a regular season game in Atlanta Braves history. I truly felt privileged to be there.

The other walk off moment happened on September 25 against the Marlins. The Braves were behind 3-2 in the ninth. Funny thing is, no one in my section of the park at least publicly doubted that the team would win it. The inning began with a double by Chipper, and Freddie Freeman took the third pitch he saw deep into the Atlanta night, winning the game and securing a spot in the playoffs. I can’t say that I expected a walk off home run, but I was not at all surprised that the Braves won that game.

The other moment I was very happy to be there for was ‘Chipper Jones Night’ on Friday, September 28, It was the first of what would be three sellout crowds at The Ted that weekend, and while The Ted will never be as loud as old Fulton County Stadium [simply because the sound doesn’t reverberate like it did at the Launching Pad], when Turner Field is sold out, it is amazing!

This was the game I wanted to see, because they had a 30 minute ceremony before the game honoring Chipper. I was there to see Pete Van Wieren and Bobby Cox, who both spoke about Chipper’s career and place in baseball history. Appropriately, Bobby got the loudest ovation of the night, maybe of the entire weekend. No disrespect to current manager Fredi Gonzales, but there is and will only be one Bobby Cox, and he is missed since he retired at the end of the 2010 season.

Between innings of the game on Friday night, they showed video messages from teammates, legends like Hank Aaron and Michael Jordan and opposing players (Jeter). The line of the night though goes to catcher David Ross, who said in his video message to Chipper: “I remember my granddaddy tellin’ me about seeing you play in the old days…” That line had me laughing for the rest of the night.

I thought as Braves Country said farewell to Chipper over three days, I would be a bit more emotional, but I wasn’t. As I thought about it, so much of my life has changed in the last three months, that the fact that number 10 won’t be at third base next season, while a bit of a letdown, doesn’t make me sad. In fact, when he tore his ACL in Houston on August 10, 2010, I thought right then and there that his career was over. To his credit, his 2012 season has been one of his best ever, and the best by a player in his final season since Ted Williams in 1960. I’ll miss Chipper, no doubt, but I have many important people in my life that, daily, I miss on a level that cannot be equaled by a baseball player. So, above all I am happy he is able to exit on his own terms, and his career will end as it began: in a Braves uniform.

But let’s not say our final goodbye until very late in October, okay? There’s still work to do, and it starts Friday!

Thanks for reading,
Barry