Song(s) of the Week – R.E.M.

I was driving to work Wednesday morning, flipping through my ipod for something to listen to, and I came upon R.E.M. Now, R.E.M. and I go way back. They were one of the first bands I really identified with. The first cassette I ever bought was their seminal album Automatic for the People, and I ended up buying all their albums, first as cassettes and again as cds. So as I was driving I started with Murmur and just kind of skipped through the albums, listening to all of my favorite songs. When I got to work and got online, there was the news: R.E.M. was breaking up, or “calling it a day” as they said in their press release. No fighting, no name calling or bad tempers. Just a group of friends who’ve been making music for 31 years deciding to shut things down. I have so much respect for that, and for them. I could go on and on about how much I love this band, but instead I figured I’d just put a bunch of my favorite songs below. Thank you R.E.M. Thank you for the years and the songs and the memories.

Along with It’s the End of the World As We Know It, Losing My Religion, and Man on the Moon, here’s one most people will recognize.

Plenty more down below.

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Go. See. Live. Write.

I think anyone who has visited  Europe will agree that it’s an amazing place. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see over there, with so many different cultures crammed together in a relatively small space.  But you know what other area has a pretty impressive collection of cultures and sights?  That would be the good ol’ U.S. of A. In my freshman year of college I met a girl named Denise, who was from Michigan. She held up her hand, with her fingers together and thumb sticking out, and pointed to somewhere near the tips of her fingers. She told me that the main part of  Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and she lived near the top. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Since that day, whenever I meet someone from Michigan I ask them what part of the mitten they’re from. They usually hold up their hand and point, and they seem to enjoy the fact that I know this little tidbit about their state.

I was having a Twitter conversation yesterday with author Dwight L. MacPherson, who also hails from Michigan. He told me about the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., which is the non-mitten part of Michigan. The residents of the U.P.  are referred to as Yoopers by the folks “downstate” in the mitten. A stereotypical Yooper seems to be a cross between a hillbilly and Rick Moranis in Strange Brew. They even have their own dialect. Oh, and they eat pasties. Dwight and I  got to talking about how people know so little about the country we live in. In all my 32 years I’d never once heard the term “Yooper”. Yet it’s been there the whole time.

I’m lucky to have been able to visit a lot of different states, and although there are definite similarities, each place has its own way of talking, own way of doing things. It’s just fascinating to me, and it makes me realize that we don’t need to travel to exotic places to get inspiration. The old saying “write what you know” takes on a whole new meaning when you realize there’s a large part of the country that doesn’t know what you know. Every place I’ve traveled, from Anchorage to New York City to Georgia has given me a fresh perspective on things, and each one of these things has helped me in my writing. But my writing is also hugely influenced by the tiny little town in Utah I grew up in.

So what’s unique about where you live? What can you use for inspiration? I can almost guarantee whatever you find will be of some use to you. So go out there. Look around your backyard. Travel if you can, but also open your eyes to what’s around you. We live in an amazing country, and there’s so much to see and experience. You might even meet a Yooper or two.

Song of the Week – The Bouncing Souls

And now for something a bit faster.

The Bouncing Souls are one of my favorite bands of all time. They’re a punk band from New Jersey who often mix poignant lyrics with their fast and melodic sound. Over the years their music has only gotten better and better. I actually got the name for this blog from one of their songs. They have their fun with songs about playing soccer and bmx bikes, but their songs about love and life really get me.  They recently celebrated their 20th year as a band, and I’m hoping there’s plenty more to come. Enjoy!

Interview: Comics writer and editor D.J. Kirkbride

As someone who loves stories, I’m always fascinated to hear from people who create them and find out a little bit about their process. So I’m really excited to start this series of interviews. I’m going to be interviewing people in the writing, film, and comic book industries and talking to them about what they do, and how they craft their stories. Kicking it off is an awesome guy by the name of D.J. Kirkbride. I’ve had the opportunity to meet D.J. and he’s incredibly nice. I can’t thank him enough for being willing to let me bug him. I hope you enjoy the interview and learn something.

Here’s a little bit about D.J., taken from his website.

D.J. Kirkbride’s writing has appeared in Image Comics’ Harvey and Eisner Award-winning POPGUN anthologies, which he also co-edited. He’s edited the graphic novels THE NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY and AQUA LEUNG as well as the comic book KILL ALL PARENTS. He’s currently the script editor for the acclaimed webcomic SPY6TEEN. His short prose story “Married Life” appeared in the zombie anthology THE DEAD WALK AGAIN and he’s written essays, reviews, interviews, columns, stories, and, um, ninja poetry for such websites as MCSWEENEYS.NET, TWOHEADEDCAT.COM, TLCHICKEN.COM, and THEFOOTNOTE.NET (which he co-created and co-edited).

First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Let’s start with a couple (hopefully) easy ones.

Is D.J. short for anything? Or is that a trade secret?

The “D” is for “Denis” and the “J” is for “John.” I’m a junior, so everyone called me “D.J.” so as not to get me confused with my dad, I guess. Honestly, my lack of mustache should’ve done the job just fine.

Favorite comic book character and/or superhero?

Superman is my favorite comic book character, superhero, and… fictional creation, to be honest. I like him better than most real things, too.

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Song of the Week – Nick 13

I’ve noticed something kind of interesting. I’ll ask people what kind of music they like, and the majority of the time they’ll say something like “I listen to everything but country”. The small judgmental part of me whispers to myself that this means they like “everything” a certain radio station plays, be it pop or rock or alternative, and that they don’t really care enough about music to be open to new things. But I tell that part of me to be quiet, because the rest of me is pretty understanding.  Then I say “what about Johnny Cash?” And they’ll almost always say something like “Well yeah, but that’s different”. I guess most people don’t realize the irony of this statement.  But it’s understandable. The poppy crossover country music of today is vastly different than what the term originally connoted. But throughout the years country has had many different subgenres, from western swing to rockabilly to outlaw country and many others, and the modern pop country is just another offshoot.  But there are still people who play more traditional country, and even those who play the “old-time” style, and that music still resonates with a lot of people. (Note the bluegrass revival that came in the wake of the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

One of the people making that type of throwback music is Nick 13, the lead singer/guitarist of pyschobilly band Tiger Army. (I’ll be getting to Tiger Army another time, don’t worry.) Nick recently released a solo country album that is miles away from almost anything you’ll hear on country radio stations today. The eponymous album hearkens back to the early days of country music, back when, as the great songwriter Harlan Howard (who wrote Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces among many other hits) said, “Country music is three chords and the truth”. Is the album a bit twangy? Yes. Does it have fiddle and banjo and steel guitar? Indeed. And those are some of the reasons I love it. I can still remember how I felt when I first heard Johnny Cash. It was as if I was hearing something for the first time that I’d known all my life. There’s a truth and purity to the music, and to me that’s what real country music is. And that’s what Nick 13’s album is. I hope this album is successful enough that he’s able to keep making them, and I hope it reminds people that this type of music shouldn’t be forgotten.