Album Review: Playlist: The Best Of Five For Fighting

Although this album was never released in the United States (at least to my knowledge), the album is pretty easily available on cheap imports, so there’s that.  The real criteria that matters for an album like this one is whether or not the artist is worthy of a best of compilation [1].  Do we have multiple successful albums?  Check–America Town, The Battle For Everything, and Two Lights, which combined make up the bulk of the songs on this fourteen song collection.  Do we have songs that should be better known that make this worth buying for those who are already familiar with the artist’s main albums?  Absolutely.  Does the album have a good organization?  It would appear to be so, with a chronological organization that begins with the artist’s material before stardom and closes with a couple of songs from the vastly underrated album Slice, although I would have been happy to see plenty more from that album here aside from the two singles.  So, since we are dealing with a good artist with plenty of worthy material to choose from, let’s see how this album shakes out.  Here is a track-by-track review:

Bella’s Birthday Cake:  The only song from the album Message For Albert included here, this song represents Five for Fighting’s early material.  Here we have a song that is a bit ragged and rough but has the impassioned piano playing and quirky slice of life lyrics that would become a staple of the artist in later efforts.  This is a worthwhile beginning of a career, to be sure.

Easy Tonight:  The first song included from America Town and my favorite of the songs from this album, this song was not a particularly big hit as a single, but it represents a thoughtful song from the point of view of a suicide, looking on the effect that his death had on the girl he loved.  It’s a poignant song and evidence of the darker side of Five For Fighting’s musical worldview.

Superman (It’s Not Easy):  The first big hit by Five For Fighting, this song achieved a great deal of popularity because of its degree of earnest and heartfelt sentiment about the difficulty of being a hero on September 11, 2001.  Admittedly, for me, this song just does not have the sort of depth to overcome the murderous overplay the song received, but it’s hard to begrudge Five For Fighting their success with this acoustic ballad.

Something About You:  The third and final song from America Town included here, this is an upbeat love song that is certainly a standout track that deserves to be remembered and appreciated.  With a glorious falsetto singing and some driving guitar rhythms, this song is certainly among the faster songs among this collection and certainly a good balance to many of the piano ballads that Five For Fighting was more known for.

100 Years:  A beautiful song from Five For Fighting’s album The Battle For Everything that became a big hit, this song reflects on the subject of aging.  It’s a gorgeous piano line and the lyrics have some telling and interesting details.   It has more than its share of sentimentality, but it’s a lovely song all the same, and kept Five For Fighting from being seen as a one hit wonder.

The Devil In The Wishing Well:  This quirky song is definitely the sort of song deserves to be remembered in a collection like this.  The song has a lovely piano line and some really interesting lyrics but the song was undoubtedly too odd to be successful as a hit, even though it is among the singer-songwriter’s better songs, full of love and the hint of risk and menace.

If God Made You:  My favorite song from The Battle For Everything, this song shows Five For Fighting reflecting on divine providence in love.  The value that we place on creation, including that of a loved one, is often a key factor in determining how much we appreciate and recognize God’s love for us.

The Best:  An obscure song not from any of Five For Fighting’s studio albums, this song is beautiful and lovely, and is certainly an obscure gem that deserves its place on this collection.  A piano ballad that reflects on the best kind of love, anyone would be honored to have this song written about them or even dedicated to them.

The Riddle:  A beautiful song that reflects on death and growing up, this was a worthy minor hit single for Five For Fighting from Two Lights.  A driving piano beat, this song comes with the assurance that the reason for the world is relationship, and it also addresses questions of identity, making it hopeful as well as reflective.

World:  This beautiful song, itself a minor hit from Two Lights, invites the listener to wonder what kind of world they could create if they could design a world from scratch.  The thought experiment the song represents is a charming one, and one that can help us better understand our ideals and what we find fault about with the world we currently live in.

I Just Love You:  An album track from Two Lights, this song is a somewhat sentimental love ballad, and while it is not my favorite song from Five For Fighting, the song is lovely enough and expresses the love that someone shows a partner shows when on tour and one cannot be together, even when one doesn’t know why one loves someone who is so far from home so often.

Freedom Never Cries:  The fourth song included from Two Lights, this song is another quirky but tuneful and frequently melancholy slice of life song from Five For Fighting that reflects on patriotism and self-interest and personal longings.  The song wasn’t a hit, but it demonstrates the hard-won patriotism of Five For Fighting and certainly gives homage to the origin of the band’s popularity in the age of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chances:  The first single from the Five For Fighting album Slice, this song is a lovely love song on piano that does not break any ground for Five For Fighting but is certainly a beautiful song that deals with the chancy nature of love and relationships.  Given the nature of our world, having some optimism about love is certainly worthwhile and beneficial.

Slice:  The title track of Five For Fighting’s album Slice and the second single from the album, this song is the closing one of the Playlist collection, and it is certainly a beautiful song with a focus on nostalgia and the wrestling with identity towards an inclusive view of America as a place of diverse people who struggle with isolation and a desire for unity simultaneously.

Overall, this is a solid album and the song choices are generally pretty strong.  None of the songs is obvious dead weight and for the most part there is considerable balance.  Given that the 14 songs included are only 55 minutes long, the collection could have used another song from Message For Albert like “The Last Great American,” a standout track, and probably a couple more of the better album tracks from Slice like “Above The Timberline” and “Tuesday” without being remotely too long as a collection.  Of course, if a band/singer like Five For Fighting’s biggest problem is having enough of their great songs on a best of collection, that is a good problem to have.  This is a solid album that hits most of the high points for Five For Fighting, and that is good enough.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in History, Music History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Album Review: Slice

I must admit that I have a great fondness for the music of Five For Fighting.  Suffice it to say that I own most of the project’s albums, although I bought most of them before I reviewed everything and they are in Florida so there is little chance I will be reviewing them here anytime soon.  Although I found some of the hit singles from John Ondrasik, like his breakthrough hit “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” a bit unpleasant to handle on constant overplay, the combination of heartfelt sentiment and some real grit and roughness to his approach certainly won me over as a fan overall.  And this album was really after the hits stopped coming except on Adult Top 40, which is a shame as I found this album to be deeply enjoyable once I gave it a listen.  This is a case where there is a lot more than meets the eye about the singer’s career and music [1], and this is an album worth treasuring and appreciating.  Here is a track by track review:

Slice:  The title track of the album and the second single, this song finds the author in somewhat of a nostalgic mood, seeking to promote a feeling of acceptance of the diversity of life in America, and an appreciation of others as having stories and lives worth accepting, making this a worthy beginning to a slice of life album.

Note To An Unknown Soldier:  This driving piano ballad combines a sense of honor for a fallen soldier with a melancholy reflection of the loss that comes from dying in a war far from home.  This is the sort of song that manages to honor people while reflecting at the same time on the cost of conflict on decent lives.

Tuesday:  A dark and melancholy ode to September 11, 2001, this song dwells on the darkness of memory and the moment when Five For Fighting rose to popularity as a singer who could voice the sense of loss for a nation facing vulnerability.  This is the sort of song that could have easily been a hit in kinder days to the artist and has a haunting feeling that stays with you.

Chances:  The first single from the album, this straightforward love song was only a hit on Adult Top 40, but all the same it is a lovely song about the role of chance in love.  Like the best of the singer’s songs, this shows a realism about one’s anxiety about possibilities of loss and the desire to rise above such things.

This Dance:  This song is a cute piano ballad that seems to point to the shyness of asking someone to dance and hoping for the start of a relationship.  The song is the sort that I could easily imagine being played at a church dance if the people liked Five For Fighting, as the lyrics are clear and the melody and sentiment are definitely winning.

Above The Timberline:  A truly amazing song about mysticism and the desire to escape the rush of contemporary life by hiking in the mountains and breathing the fresh air, this is precisely the sort of reflective material that makes late-period Five For Fighting a joy to listen to for reflective audiences.  The soaring chorus and jazzy bridge are definitely a highlight.

Transfer:  This song is a deeply touching and bittersweet song about communication and transportation and the loneliness of life and the desire to find love in the midst of life’s business and unhappiness.  This is a song that is certainly easy to appreciate and has the world-weariness of someone who has lived a long life full of longing.

Hope:  This song has an upbeat melody that disguises somewhat grimly realistic lyrics about the way that people hope against hope for love in life and how we disguise our feelings of despair with the hope that things will get better.  This song almost has a country rock feel to it, and certainly is more evidence of the singer’s life experience at this point of his career.

Story Of Your Life:  This song is like the darker and older cousin of 100 years, where Five For Fighting sings the song of a life that so many life, the youthful dreams of success and the heartbreak and hope that things will get better in the future.  This song is inspirational but clear eyed about the inevitable difficulties of life.

Love Can’t Change The Weather:  This song is a mature and reflective ode to the way that love is multifaceted, balancing the happier aspects with the more melancholy aspects of love that has died and grown cold and is no longer able to warm our lives.  This is yet another song that could have easily been a hit song with some stellar horn parts and some really thoughtful lyrics.

Augie Nieto:  The album ends with a song that captures the sense of loss but honor for decency that marks so much of Five For Fighting’s work.  The titular figure of the song was someone who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and decided to start an organization to help kids.  Unsurprisingly, when Five For Fighting heard about it, he honored Augie in a touching song.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in History, Music History | Tagged | Leave a comment

We Get That All The Time

At quiet desks analysts
look at their e-mail requests
for reports and spend hours
stitching together excel
spreadsheets from the phone
reporting software that they use.
When asked about what they do,
and why the numbers look different
depending on which report they run
they go into lengthy explanations
to explain the variances to
the general ignorance of the audience
who wanted an easy answer when
there was none.

At long last and after
a great many complaints, someone
from the phone reporting vendor
comes to speak to the company and
to answer their concerns.  They come
with data dictionaries to send to the
analysts and sit in a conference room
with the people who do the phone
reporting and those who wonder why
it is so hard for them to get the
information they want.  And finally,
one of them asks the essential question
after which the company rep
says, “We get that all the time
with people wanting cradle to
grave call info on their phone
reports.”  There is a pause as
the assembled people wonder if it
is right to ask another essential
question to the speaker, like,
“If everyone asks for this report, then
why don’t you have it?” But there is
only silence and the moment is lost.


In my mind, at least, a poem often is the verbal equivalent of an impressionistic painting that comes in the moment as someone sketches some details to indicate the emotional depth and flavor of a particular instant.  So it was that as I was sitting in a weekly meeting with my boss and a couple of my coworkers that I listened to one of them complain about the phone reporting system our company has.  This has long been a complaint that I have had to deal with [1].  It so happens that being in the meeting reminded me of something that had happened a couple of years ago or so when someone came from the supplier of our phone’s reporting system to listen to our questions about the reports and give us some insight into how they could be done better.  As it happened, when we came to the section about wanting to know a call from beginning to end through all of its transfers, the person piped up that everyone asked for cradle to grave reporting, which led us to wonder why this was not done.  After all, when people are asking for something, that should be a pretty high priority on the part of a vendor to provide.  Ask and you shall receive and all that.  A smart vendor knows that what people can articulate wanting is something that a competitor could theoretically provide that might disrupt their business, but sadly our vendor for telephonic systems is not particularly bright.

I think there is in general a shortage of poems about work relative to the general body of poetry that exists.  One can find people who write large amounts of love poetry and there is no shortage of poems extolling the lives of lilies and herons or of farmers and shepherds who work on the land.  Even if we add song lyrics and raps, there is still a notable shortage of poetry about work.  Is work seen as somehow not poetic?  As a poet who nonetheless spends a great deal of my life involved with numbers and computers and analysis and so on, I see a great deal of poetry in the awkward relationship between analysts who are tasked with providing executives and managers with timely information about business processes and the sometimes clueless people who sell and maintain the records depended on by those analysts.  And it is in that awkwardness that this poem and that the possibility of many such poems resides.  The gap between what is obvious to people who want to be informed about what their employees are doing and what information is provided by those who create reports and manage databases can be a large one.  Ultimately, what we want to know should drive what we pay attention to and quantify and can therefore understand at least in some sort of reductionistic way.  Yet all too often what we can understand is based on what data we have and not necessarily what data we want or need.

This same problem exists in what are traditionally more lyrical aspects of poetry.  When we reflect upon the fickleness of memory or engage in an awkward tete-a-tete with a friend or lover or family member, we are engaged in this same uncomfortable space between what we want and what is possible for us to understand and recognize.  This same relationship exists in our dealings with technology and in the business world in general.  Yet it would seem that poetic souls do not often find themselves working as quants and other kinds of analysts.  It would seem strange to expect or even to tolerate someone who set aside their spreadsheets and numbers and pondered the quintessentially human problem of wanting to communicate something but feeling constrained because it was obvious that you were dealing with someone that was totally clueless and that one would only embarrass oneself by pointing out the obvious relationship between a ubiquitous customer want and the priorities of developing one’s data systems to capture what it is that people are looking for.  It would be as if one was looking a regional poet of Oregon and wondered what sort of poetry they written about Oregon only for them to say that people ask them about that all the time, but that they only write poems about creation when they travel to other areas, without seeming aware that being a regional poet of Oregon means writing about one’s own region and one’s own experiences.

Since this poem exists, I believe, in a rather obscure niche of poems, I suppose this poem can be taken as an invitation for fellow poets to take the opportunity to turn the mundane experiences of work life into lyrical poetry that reflects the working life of a great many people.  A regional poet, if one takes the insights of the late poet William Stafford, is one who writes from their experiences, and we should note that as a poet he was not shy about writing about his work life, whether that meant making fun of the NEA and those who seek the freedom to write obscenity or whether it meant writing about workshops and teaching students and traveling in airports looking at busy and self-important business types in a mad rush hither and yon.  Where was the businessman writing a poem of his own about the random people he encountered along his journey or his attempts to graciously write some report about a conference or prepare for an upcoming presentation while being interrupted by someone next to him who does not know how to select an in-flight movie?  Surely there ought to be regional poets of a sort who deal with that mobile and technological area of humanity that travels frequently and whose homes are in hotels and whose daily lives are fit in laptop bags and small carry-on suitcases dragged from one place to another by sleepy people who seldom see home.  And surely there ought to be poets who occupy cube farms and whose lives consist of trying to understand and manipulate data so that essential understanding and communication and financial management tasks can take place between different companies.  Wherever there is life and effort and time spent, there is the possibility of poetry of some kind.  Let us therefore find it where we happen to be.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: What The Tortoise Taught Us

What The Tortoise Taught Us:  The Story Of Philosophy, by Burton F. Porter


It is difficult to avoid the feeling in reading this book that the author is an ignoramus and should be fortunate that breathing is an automatic function of the body that does not require the sort of insights this author is lacking.  This book makes several fundamental errors in its approach and treatment.  For one, it takes the author’s very biased and ignorant perspective as “the” story of philosophy rather than “a” story of philosophy, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.  The book is a clear example of the bad philosophy that supports the bad science of evolutionary worldviews and is quite frankly inaccurate on a wide variety of subjects, including the Bible and intelligent design, both of which it deals with rather shoddily.  The fact that knowledge claims depend on truth status, this alone is fatal for the book’s attempts to present knowledge since they are founded on inaccuracy on several different levels, including worldview error.  On a more tactical level, it would have been wise for this author not to have tipped his hand about his own worldview, because this book could have been enjoyable if approached from a less dogmatic perspective.  To err is human, but to err this spectacularly requires that one be a philosopher of the worst sort [1].

This book has about 200 pages of material divided into seven chapters.  The author begins with a discussion of the beginnings of reflection in ancient Greece, looking at the pre-Socratic philosophers as well as Socrates, and considerably understating the amount of shamanism and other bad religious practice that went into the basis of Greek philosophy (1).  After this the author looks at rational thought in Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics (2).  The author then makes his worst (but by far not his only) stumbles in looking at religious philosophy in St. Thomas Aquinas and what he views as Christian Agape (3).  The author turns then to issues of personal identity and human nature when he looks at the metaphysics of Descartes and Hobbes and Rousseau (4).  Then the author looks at the issue of epistemology through the eyes of Hume (perhaps the author’s favorite philosopher) and Bishop Berkeley (5).  After this the author looks at the ethics of Kant, John Stuart Mill, and Sartre (6), having some interesting speculations to make on their contributions to philosophy, before closing with a look at contemporary trends in linguistic philosophy, feminist perspectives (about which the author is not particularly fond), and thoughts on issues like abortion and racism (7), where the author appears to hold to some bogus views on trying to right historical wrongs and refuse to grant personhood to the unborn because it serves as inconvenient to his political views.

It is hard to give all of the reasons that demonstrate this author’s total unfitness for the task he has set out for himself, but a sample of his more egregious errors would probably be in order.  The author makes notable errors on questions of fact, even to the point of claiming that there are sixteen commandments in the ten commandments of Exodus 20.  Likewise, the author shows a puzzlement at the horrors of Nazi Germany, considering that society to be a rational one despite their irrational hostility to biblical religion and their wholesale adoption of Darwinism and critical views of the Bible, both of which undermine reason by attacking revelation.  The author’s inability to see the corrosive effects of these matters, and his blind support of numerous incorrect worldviews make him wholly unsuited to providing a definitive history of philosophy, or even to be engaged in merely competent work as a philosopher.  This is a book that can only be enjoyed, sadly, by those who have drunk the same kool-aid flavor as the author, and thankfully I am not among that ilk.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Book Review: Epistemology: A Beginner’s Guide

Epistemology:  A Beginner’s Guide, by Robert M. Martin

This is a book that it is easier to respect than to like.  I do not necessarily consider it of vital importance for me to actively enjoy reading a book if I find it useful and instructive, and in this case I was definitely more interested in the arguments about what constitutes knowledge than I was about the entertainment value of this book.  As someone who enjoys philosophy in general and epistemology in particular [1], there was much interest I had in this book, as I wanted to see what sort of debates there were about the foundations of knowledge.  What I found certainly met my expectations.  The author did a good job at disguising his own opinions about knowledge and the conditions that are necessary for it, but one got the feeling at the same time that there was an air of unreality about much of the discussion, as if human beings were competent to be judges of what constitutes knowledge and what does not, which is not a conclusion I am ready to come to.   Indeed, a great deal of the discussion in the book hinged on various problems faced when people try to define what is and what is not knowledge for themselves.

This book is almost two hundred pages in length and is divided into nine chapters that are thematically organized.  The first chapter looks at how we define knowledge (1) and spends a lot of time looking at what elements are necessary for something to be considered to be knowledge, which include truth.  After this the author examines the strength of belief and evidence (2) that are required to make truth claims acceptable to an audience of philosophers, by no means a straightforward issue.  The author then turns to the issue of justification and various intriguing Gettier problems that indicate how problematic the issue of justification can be (3) before turning to justification in its relationship to questions of internal and external validity of one’s thinking and reasoning processes (4).  After this the author contrasts foundationalism and coherentism as ideas about the basis of knowledge (5) and looks at the issues of a priori knowledge, what makes knowledge analytic as opposed to synthetic, and what basis is necessary for the existence of firm knowledge (6).  The last three chapters of the book examine the problematic issue of knowledge based on sense-experience (7) as well as the approach of skepticism (8) and some new approaches to epistemology like feminist epistemology that the author subjects to some pretty fierce criticism in light of their political biases (9) before including some suggestions for future reading (not wikipedia) and an index.

In reading this book it is pretty clear that there are serious disputes all up and down the line when it comes to knowledge and the grounds and justifications people have in claiming it.  It would appear, at least to this observer, that a great deal of the issues that come with regards to epistemology relate to the wide gulf that exists between our desire to see ourselves (or at least those wiser members of our species) as arbiters of truth and error and as authorities when it comes to what constitutes knowledge and what does not, but yet we are continually confronted by the limits of our own perspectives, by the shaky foundations of our reason, and by the limitations and fallibility of our senses and our means of acquiring the raw material of information from which we can draw insights.  We desire to be on a firm foundation but find it difficult to justify our confidence in our own reason, by which we seek to claim the authority to be our own lawgivers and judges, and that lack of humility exposes us to continual problems in squaring the circles of our existence.  This book can be praised for being forthright about the seriousness of the disputes and issues.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews, History | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Your Enemies You Will Have With You Always

Yesterday afternoon I spent a good deal of time visiting with some friends of mine in a neighboring congregation.  While engaged in conversation with the pater familias, I heard a story about an ongoing dispute over some land that had belonged to the gentleman’s grandfather and where there is an adverse possession claim being made on the land by someone else who is seeking to sell the property for various personal reasons.  It was quite an interesting story but it is not my story to tell, at least not in detail.  What struck me is that the story related to a concern that had been mulling about in my brain but which I had not written down yet, and that was a reflection on the idea that our enemies will always be with us, and that there is a distinct difference between the way that the Bible commands that we deal with our enemies and the way that our society deals with the question of enemies.  I would like to examine that subject in a bit more detail today.

What is an enemy?  I have a fairly broad definition of enemy, and one that includes several different layers, so it would be good to define this term as my meaning and use of the term may not be immediately obvious to others [1].  I consider someone my enemy if they have hostility in their heart towards me for any reason, or if I have hostility in my heart towards them.  Likewise, someone is an enemy if their worldviews or interests or partisan identity is opposed to my own, even if I am on generally friendly terms with them personally.  Suffice it to say that by this definition I have a lot of enemies.  To be sure, most of these people are enemies where the hostility is in a latent and not active state, but still, I spend a great deal of my life around people who are far more candid than I am about their political beliefs and perspectives and personal behavior that makes them an enemy of mine on such worldview and partisan grounds, even if they have no idea about the wide gulf in perspective and worldview that exists between us.  And this has always been the case; I have never lived in a place where I felt as if my own particularly perspective was the dominant one among those around me.  I have always been an outlier wherever I have been, and I have no expectation of things being any different in the future, so long as I draw breath in this fallen world.

So, when I say that our enemies we will have with us always, it is important to know what is meant.  Even if there was no hostility in my heart towards anyone, which is generally the case, there are a lot of people who are enemies because we have different ways of life, and different moral and political viewpoints.  Such enmity and disagreement is inevitable.  I would say, though, that there is a marked difference between the two types of enemies.  While I accept the inevitability of the second kind of enemy, especially given the moral and political and philosophical divides that pit people who are almost entirely alike against each other because interests or circumstances conspire to turn neighbors into enemies, like was the case with my friends and their neighbor with whom they have a property dispute, the first type of enemy is not an inevitable one.  We may not able to prevent there being enemies because of a different perspective or mindset that is at odds with our own, but we can prevent ourselves from acting with hostility towards others by remembering that they are a human being and our neighbor to whom we owe love and respect regardless of whether we feel like giving it.

And it is here that the ways of God and the ways of man show themselves particularly in conflict.  God does not really care, ultimately, what our feelings our in situations.  If we are married to someone to whom we feel no wuv, we still are duty-bound to treat them with love and respect anyway.  Likewise, God commands that parents be honored and authorities in general be respected whether or not they are good authorities or bad authorities or whether we like them or agree with them at all.  Their office demands respect and honor apart from any personal worthiness or lack thereof that they possess.  Our feelings about them ultimately do not matter to God.  Our feeling do not justify the behavior that we would wish to show to them, and if our behavior is proper and correct, our feelings towards them are ultimately irrelevant as well.

And yet this is not how our world works at all.  A great deal of our contemporary trouble comes from people being offended that people do not like them and agree with them.  Other aspects of our trouble come from the way that we believe our feelings justify whatever behavior we wish to act on.  Our obligations do not matter to us if our feelings have changed, and no barriers between ourselves and that which we are drawn to are to be tolerated.  Yet our feelings are often unstable, as variable as the weather and scarcely better guides of the way that we are to live when our behavior can have lasting, even eternal consequences.  And yet we disregard the need to behave honorably regardless of our feelings, and condemn people for their feelings when their behavior is correct and proper.  No wonder our world is so screwed up here and now, since we give the highest importance to those matters that should be riding on the back of the bus and not driving it where we are supposed to go.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Christianity, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: INXS

It seems rather shocking and surprising that Australia, for all of its influence on American pop and rock music, has so few acts inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [1].  While there are several worthy candidates from Australia for this honor, today I would like to look at a band that was considered to be among the best bands of the 1980’s, and one which has remained a vital act despite the death of its lead singer and creative inspiration, Michael Hutchence, shortly before the release of their 1997 album “Elegantly Wasted.”  They were a band that partied hard and struggled with “the devil inside,” perhaps unsuccessfully, but blending hard rock and surprisingly artistic music gave the band a series of powerful hit singles as well as immensely successful albums in the United States as well as the UK and their native Australia.  If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame wants to better honor successful and immensely talented bands from outside the US and UK, INXS is definitely a worthy band for that.

The Influence Of INXS

The influence of INXS rests on several pillars.  For one, the band has an impressive amount of hit singles and album sales since starting in 1977, which will be discussed shortly.  They are still one of the most successful Australian acts in the United States in terms of record sales at over 15 million copies.  Additionally, the band carried the torch for Australian and New Zealand acts, helping start the careers of the Models and Jenny Morris, showing that the band certainly had some worthy coattails [2].  Their work remains popular today, and the band was able to find success with soundtrack singles, a reality tv search for a replacement lead singer that led to an additional top 40 hit with JD Fortune as the lead vocalist, and several hit singles in collaboration with dance pop acts and guest vocalists.  The result is a picture of a band which honed its chops in Australia as a rock act before making it to the United States and doing a great job there.  If the band might not have lived up to the hype of being the best band around, they certainly are a band worthy of being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Why INXS Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

The most obvious case for induction for INXS is in their hit singles and albums in the United States, especially between 1982 and 1992, but even after that into the 2000’s.  Throughout their career in the United States INXS had three multi-platinum albums, four additional platinum albums, and two additional gold albums so far.  They had 1 #1 hit, “Need You Tonight,” six additional top ten hits, “What You Need,” “Devil Inside,” “New Sensation,” “Never Tear Us Apart,” “Suicide Blonde,” and “Disappear.”  Besides this, the band has had three additional top 40 hits including comeback single “Dirty Vegas” and the beautiful “Not Enough Time [3],” which was certainly true for the band’s longtime lead singer.  This is a body of work that stands up well to this day, with gorgeous songs, beautiful music videos, and memories of successful tours and compilation albums as well as an impressive body of studio albums that remains well-regarded to this day even long after the band’s peak.

Why INXS Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Unfortunately, the rock & roll of the 1980’s has not been well regarded by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [4].  Given that is when the band was most popular, it would made sense that this neglected era would see one of its most notable rock acts neglected as well.  It is also possible that the band’s commercial peak is a bit shorter than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would want, but if the band was able to come up with another hit album with some hit singles, or if the band became recognized as an inspiration for a generation of contemporary rock & roll artists, it is quite possible that the band could see a critical reappraisal that would greatly improve their reputation.  Among fans, of course, their reputation is solid, but among critics it could definitely use some improvement.

Verdict:  Ask yourself, do you think that you would want to hear the band’s excellent top 10 hits and various other singles and album tracks on a jukebox in Cleveland?  Do you think that they deserve recognition for their success as well as the quality of their music?  If so, then you agree with me that yes, they belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.




[4] See, for example:

Posted in History, Music History, Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Osage Orange Tree

The Osage Orange Tree:  A Story By William Stafford, illustrated by Dennis Cunningham

This is a story that might be true, and is a bittersweet story about the poet’s youth in Kansas.  What is most remarkable about this story is the way that it has layers of meaning and resonance in a deceptively simple format, and with framing that is matter-of-fact and ultimately sympathetic to the people who are written about, including the poet himself.  Stafford was, as might be imagined [1], an immensely prolific writer who had the discipline to write nearly every single day of his adult life, regardless of what mood he was in or what he wanted to write about.  The particular essay/story in this book won first prize at the Oregon Centennial in 1959 in the short fiction category, but the story bears a strong imprint of factuality and may in fact be a nonfiction story or at least a fictional story with heavy nonfictional elements.  A story this mundane, and this bereft of exaggeration and sensationalism bears the stamp of truth.  It shows someone whose moral imagination is immensely expansive, and who really understands the emotional reticence of much of rural and small town America with a strong degree of sympathy for people in such areas.

The story itself is deceptively simple.  William Stafford portrays himself as the son of a traveling salesman (a factual detail) who is a bit of a stranger in the small Kansas town where he is working as a paperboy during his senior year in order to help the family make ends meet during the Great Depression.  During the course of his work he meets a poor and somewhat awkward young woman whose takes his paper but doesn’t invite William inside and whose older brother is a janitor at the school. As the story progresses, we see William Stafford as a keen outsider observing her shyness and her absence at high school graduation, where he speaks out about her absence and finds out that she did not walk for graduation because she apparently stole from a bank in order to pay for a graduation dress.  The author then wanders over to her house only to find her angry mother and to see that the papers he had sold the girl had been thrown aside as the rubbish that Stafford himself thought they were, leaving him in a reflective mood about why it is that the girl had purchased the subscription in the first place.

There are a lot of questions that the reader has about this essay.  For one, how much of it was true?  Did Stafford make any of the details up about his friendship with the girl or his dogged efforts at selling a newspaper everyday despite not having any particular respect or regard for its journalistic integrity?  Does a great deal of Stafford’s own quiet moral authority as a writer in this story reflect his own concern about the well-being of the girl and his own awkwardness about communication and his general shyness and timidity as a young man, all of which gain a great deal of sympathy from many readers of such works?  What would have been the girl’s perspective of this story?  Was her act one of polite sympathy for an observant but generally kind outsider or was this a shy attempt at courtship and flirtation on her part?  There is much that one wonders when one reads a story like this, and as is his fashion, William Stafford leaves things unexplained and lets the reader come to his or her own judgments and conclusions about the weighty and nuanced interactions and the simple but effective craft of his storytelling.  The illustrations throughout are excellent as well, done in an orange tone that recalls the story’s titular awkward orange tree.

[1] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Everyone Out Here Knows: A Bigfoot Tale

Everyone Out Here Knows:  A Bigfoot Tale, with words by William Stafford and illustrated by Angelina Marino-Heidel

As someone who is fond of cryptozoology [1] and who has read a wide variety of William Stafford’s work [2], there is much to commend itself about this book.  For one, this book adds to the genres of work where you can find William Stafford.  His master’s thesis is a semi-poetic memoir of the antiwar movement in World War II, he has several works that discuss the process of writing and some of his views on poetry criticism, and he is known for having numerous compilation volumes of poetry as well.  This book, though, is the first poetic work I know of the author that is a children’s book.  As someone who reads and (hopefully thoughtfully) reviews children’s literature from time to time, I found this book to be an excellent example of children’s literature done right, and the art and text go well together.  It is rewarding to see that William Stafford is still able to have new works come out because his poetry is so easily accessible to readers of all ages and has a powerful visual component that can be drawn out by a skilled illustrator.

The contents of this book are pretty straightforward.  There is an introductory poem from the poet Tim Barnes (with whom I am unfamiliar), and then one of the poems of William Stafford (“Everyone Out Here Knows”) is divided out into phrases and illustrated in gorgeous fashion by the illustrator.  After the course of the poem, with its mythical view of the creation of the Oregon landscape around the Cascades, there is a look at the original poem with a drawing of the poet himself in old age and some closing essays.  One of the essays is a biographical essay about Stafford, another is a discussion by Tim Barnes of his own belief in Bigfoot, and there are discussions about Bigfoot from the compiler as well as some other books about cryptids and some notes by the illustrator and a list of the various local flora and fauna that appear in the book as a whole.  The whole book is an example of a book that appears deceptively simple and that offers something for both young readers as well as older ones who want to dig into the mythos of the book a bit deeper.

Indeed, the most interesting part of this book is its context in the quirkiness of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest as a whole.  The myths about Bigfoot (often known by another name, namely Sasquatch), are pretty thick on the ground, to such an extent that there are advertisements based on the product and even situations where a Sasquatch mom is used as a pitch person for various goods and services here.  It should come as little surprise that a poet that had so much to say about life in the West Coast of the United States (and a lot of other things besides) would have a work about this bit of Oregon cryptozoology.  The fact that William Stafford’s poetry is so accessible to young readers suggests at least some of the reason why his poetry is not always taken as seriously as it should be more critical readers.  It does seem as if writers are sometimes caught in a catch-22 where to be accessible is to be accused of being too simple and too facile and where writing with advanced vocabulary only makes one’s writings inaccessible to all but a few would-be readers.  At any rate, this book is a delightful addition to the William Stafford oeuvre as a whole, and a part of his body of work that will likely be appreciated by a good deal of young readers.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Scene From A Sabbath Drive Past Multnomah Falls

Water rapidly rushes over the
gorge under the approving gaze
of the assembled travelers
while the land slumps past
the stumps of trees recently
cut down over the road closed
west to Bridal Veil.

Nearby ashen mute moss-covered
tree trunks stand tall
at attention, sporting bright
green leaves on wounded branches
as green shoots and yellowed grass poke
through the ground.  Life begins again.


Most of the times I pass by Multnomah Falls one of two conditions is true.  One, I am in some kind of mad rush to get somewhere or it is simply too dark to see anything.  Both of those, unsurprisingly, happened on my way to and from the Dalles.  As it happens, during the morning I passed Multnomah Falls on my way to the Dalles to deliver my remez sermonette [1] to the congregation in the Dalles, where about twenty people attended services, a considerable amount of whom (myself included) ended up returning to the home of a large family to eat and talk, which I did until it was pretty late in the evening before driving home in darkness past the falls on my return trip.  Yet although I can count the number of times I have stopped at Multnomah Falls on one hand [2], I often find the site itself to be particularly striking, and as a poet who at least occasionally turns his poetic muse to God’s creation, it is one of the more obvious aspects of that creation that is within my usual haunts, and something that it might be mandatory for poetic or artistic-minded Oregonians to deal with at least once for the sake of completeness.

Despite the fact that I was in a bit of a hurry, the scene I saw was interesting enough to note in poetry, largely because of what I saw as the striking contrast between the signs of new life and the obvious recognition of the damage that the area had suffered as a result of a recent and lamentable forest fire.  The juxtaposition of the beautiful leaves and evidence of new life peaking through the ground and the obvious signs of damage present at the same time struck me as particularly poetic.  To be sure, Multnomah Falls and the surrounding area was a good deal more beautiful before the recent fires, but those who are aware of my life are no doubt aware of the fact that the combination of resilience and the wounds of lamentable and serious damage is a very Nathanish thing to muse on.  I will not go into greater detail at this time as to why it is Nathanish, only to say that it is.

Alright, so let’s look at the poem as a whole and examine the imagery of it.  I would venture to say that as I was thinking about this poem I was seeing the poem as a case study in contrasts, and it certainly ended up that way even beyond my original intentions to talk about the contrast between the evidence of death and destruction and the closing sense of optimism in new life that I could see even as I rushed by.  For one, although I happened to see these falls (as I often do) on the Sabbath day, both I and the water in the falls itself were in a hurry.  Likewise, while I was on my way to assemble with brethren as God had commanded, the falls showed many people assembling to perhaps unwittingly honor God for His creation at one of the more spectacularly beautiful parts of that creation (admittedly I am a bit biased), especially considering those parts of creation easily accessible from a large city.  Then you have the contrast of water rushing over the gorge while being subject to the appreciative and approving gaze of people.  There is often a great deal of criticism about the male gaze, but those gazing at the falls were both male and female, and the poem itself is a lyrical description in the form of a free verse poem about creation as seen through my own transparently male gaze.

Nor do the contrasts stop there.  The travelers managed to assemble there at the falls even though old US 30 was closed from Bridal Veil east to the falls as a result of landslides resulting from the loss of tree cover and possibly other damage.  Needless to say, the specific location name of “Bridal Veil” is especially evocative for a poet like myself to mention and is a clear contrast with certain aspects of my own personal life which serve as the context of so much of what I write.  The land slumps past trunks of trees that have been cut down while other trunks, in contrast, stand tall and straight.  Yet those trees which stand tall, although eloquent in their beauty are mute, and while they are darkened from the burn that they suffered, and though their limbs are wounded by the fires that they endured, on those trunks is one form of new life while the wounded branches themselves are covered in vivid green leaves.  Even that which is wounded and scarred and damaged can bring forth vibrant new life, making the scene that much more poignant.

The scene was such a poignant one for me, so pregnant with layers of meaning and relevance that as soon as I reached the place for services I pulled out one of my notebooks in my backpack and handwrote a first draft of the poem to which I made a few light edits before typing it here, making sure to include some of the details I thought particularly notable about the scene.  I do not know the extent to which the others who happened to see the falls today were struck by the same contrasts that I was, or if they were upset that one could still see so many signs of the damage or that the repair to the road infrastructure of the area was going so slowly.  At any rate, the falls are still showing signs of life although they will likely bear the scars of the damages suffered for some time to come.  Do we choose to recognize the damages suffered or the vibrant life that remains, or come to grips with the complex and bittersweet combination of the two that is so emblematic of our own lives so often.  I leave it to the reader to decide.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

Posted in Musings | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment