Tracks 1-5

We’re here: the top five songs from my top 100 playlist. I’m sorry you had to sit through some songs, maybe most of them, that you didn’t like or never planned to hear again, and that may not change with these next five. My favorite song of all time will probably never be on anyone else’s entire list, but again, it’s based on individual preference.

I do hope you choose to do your own top 100 playlist. It’s a great distraction during this crazy time in history, plus you may surprise yourself.

First, a recap. If you don’t remember or you’re just now tuning in, you can click on 21-25, 16-20, 11-15 and 6-10.

Now, enjoy my top five songs of all time.

5. “Wasted Years” by Cold

Favorite Lyric: “Was it life I betrayed, for the shape that I’m in, it’s not hard to fail, it’s not easy to win.”

There were four bands from this era that were my favorite: Oleander, Disturbed, Zebrahead (Justin Mauriello days) and Cold. Cold is a band that music lovers tend to either love or hate, and I fall at the top of the former. Just like with story songs, I’m a sucker for depressing songs, whether about heartbreak or life—but probably more of the latter. “Wasted Years” is that track for me, though Cold has a plethora of choices if someone is in need of a sad song. It’s one of the best songs off maybe the best post-grunge album I’ve ever heard, Year of the Spider. The song, like many of Scooter Ward’s, helped me reminisce, relate and recover in a mere four minute span, and any track that can have that type of emotional impact is something incredible.

4. “Teenage Anarchist” by Against Me!

Favorite Lyric: “I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient.”

Against Me! is another great punk band. The Florida outfit has been around since 1997, and they have grown and transitioned to one of the more followed acts in the punk rock world. I used the word transitioned for a reason, because in 2012, lead singer Thomas James Gabel became Laura Jane Grace. Even though the band has seen a slew of members come and go, they have provided fans with some great tracks, none more meaningful than “Teenage Anarchist.” The song isn’t necessarily about what the title implies, but rather how the punk revolution left many young rebels unfulfilled. Essentially, the revolution never came on individual levels, but the memories of the time remained. This video also is chilling, especially with what has been going on in the world, and as one of the comments points out, the punk camaraderie around 1:40 is special in a non-conformist way. You put effort into your mindset as a youth, and sometimes that ideology doesn’t pan out, but the memories make the moments worth it.

3. “Piano Man” by Billy Joel

Favorite Lyric: “Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”

Billy Joel is one of my favorite artists of all time, and “Piano Man” could be the perfect song. The great instrumental melody, the lyrical rhythm, the mass appeal and, of course, the story and the techniques used to tell it. Joel was able to not only talk about an evening in a lounge and the collective characters that regularly grace the establishment, but rather the varying representations of people in society—and how they can agree upon one thing: music. Also, the “oh, la la la, di da da” bridge is fitting because it’s not necessarily about the story, but rather the same old story. I’m currently learning the song on the piano, and the jazzy elements Joel adds makes its C Major 3-4 signature far from basic. A goal of mine is to see Joel at Madison Square Garden, and I heard the audience gets to sing the chorus to “Piano Man.”

2. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King

Favorite Lyric: “Stand by me.”

This is my favorite song from the era, and that may be true for many listeners. “Stand By Me” has been a staple in not only American culture, but the world, since its 1961 release. Ben E. King’s vocals have been used when people are in need of a positive message or to honor a memory, movies or television programs need an emotional moment, companies are in need of an accompaniment for an ad, or other artists need a great cover song. Artists such as John Lennon and Tracy Chapman have recorded the track. The song contains a basic rhythm with a basic, but immensely important message, and this shows that music doesn’t need to be complex to have a massive impact. In a world that is constantly changing, and heading more and more toward division rather than progression, we need tracks like “Stand By Me” to settle our communal anxiety and uncertainty. Now, if we could just stand by each other, that would be nice, as well.

1. “Stay Young” by Strata

Favorite Lyric: “For a lifetime of paying dues and ruthless reviews, yeah, it’s hard not to end up a cynic, when everyone’s too scared to walk in your shoes, but can work up the nevre to be critics.”    

Let the comments begin. “Stay Young” may not be on a lot of top 100 lists; in fact, many general music listeners may not have ever heard the track or have never explored Strata’s version of alt metal and rock. And though it may not be the best song ever, I believe everyone should hear it at least once. Lyrically, it’s a masterpiece, and musically, it’s just as outstanding because of the growing shift in tempo and tone. The main reason this song is so important is because of the message. This world is messed up, and it continues to become more complex, and it seems the only end game, whether sooner or later, is doomsday. We must look back on our lives, embrace the moments when we were young and innocent before being exposed to the troubles of reality, and perhaps the answers to happiness lie within those moments (I’m not telling you to live in the past, though). The line, “Can you still remember your very first kiss,” can be furthered into a deeper relation to confusion. We all remember our first kiss, and perhaps how confusing it was, and how vibrant the action and the dreams to follow became. Now we deal with the confusion of real life and the hopes that fade. We need to stay young, not just with the memories of when we were youths, but to prepare our minds for the future.

Thanks for listening! Now go out and make your own list and enjoy your favorite songs of all time.        

Tracks 6-10

You’ve made it to the top ten, skipping over songs you thought were lame and revisiting classics you love. If you’ve already forgotten, tracks 21-25 are here, 16-20 here and 11-15 here. We’ve listened to classical, folk, pop, punk, singer-songwriters, swing and rock. This next grouping requires some spare time as a fair warning.

Here are songs 6-10.

10. “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Favorite Lyric: N/A

Arguably the best symphony of all time, this was Ludwig van Beethoven’s last complete symphony, and he was almost deaf when he composed it. This work is an amazing achievement and will go down in history as one of the finest compositions in music across all genres. Again, though, classical music is the greatest and purest genre, making this symphony quite possibly the best piece of music every written. Around 17 and half minutes in, my favorite part of the choral masterpiece, molto vivace – presto, is performed for a good 13-some minutes. The intensity and transition of tempo is emotional and intoxicating, and the main portion of that movement can stay in my head all day. This is the work of a genius mind.

9. “Lightning Crashes” by Live

Favorite Lyric: “The angel opens her eyes, pale blue colored iris, presents the circle, and puts the glory out to hide.”

Despite the world’s admiration for Elton John’s Disney monster hit, “Lightning Crashes” is the better circle-of-life song. The basic 4-4 C-major riffs and rhythm complement the poetic story of a woman dying and another life being born. Death and life: it’s that simple. There is a misconception that a woman dies while giving birth, but the death and new life are two separate instances. This song is off one of the best rock albums of the ‘90s, Throwing Copper, and the growing shift in dynamics, a staple of Live, throughout makes this a very powerful track off a very significant album. Like death and life, “Lightning Crashes” is lasting.

8. “Runaround Sue” by Dion

Favorite Lyric: “Yeah, I should have known it from the very start, this girl will leave me with a broken heart.

My second favorite doo-wop song by possibly my favorite voice of the era. Not just because of Dion’s great range, but because of what he sang about. Guys, “Runaround Sue” is still relatable today; we’ve all experienced at least one hussy in our life. It’s more than that, though, because both sexes can relate to a disloyal lover, and how we must learn from our experiences and avoid future heartbreak created by betrayal. Plus, that beat and rhythm throughout can help you forget about your particular “Sue.” On another note, from the video, crowds were way less into concerts then, especially when Dion’s killing it.

7. “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meat Loaf

Favorite Lyric: “Some day I just pray to the god of sex and drugms and rock ‘n’ roll.”

I thoroughly enjoy “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I have to give the edge to “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” as the most epic operatic rock ballad. Including the most famously “cryptic” lyric in rock music, this dramatic song and the theatrical video is brilliant in all aspects of composition. The structure of the song deserves admiration. The instrumental introduction lasts two minutes, then softens to Meat Loaf’s presentation of the title and chorus. The volume and melody gradually increases, and instrumentals follow the verses and chorus, along with backing vocals, and nine and a half minutes into the song (album version), a duet with Lorraine Crosby finally sums up what Meat Loaf won’t do: move on (essentially). There are other things he won’t do, however: forget the way his partner feels, forgive himself if they don’t go all the way, do it better than he does it with her and stop dreaming of her. If you wanted to know, it’s always been in the song.

6. “Prisoner of Society” by The Living End

Favorite Lyric: “Cos I’m a brat, and I know everything, and I talk back, cos I’m not listening, to anything you say.”

Let’s hear it for some Australian punk! This song plays an important role in any late-90’s teenager’s life. During your adolescent angst, your mind is ripe to discover curiosity, especially considering the way society functions—wrongfully functions, at that. The Living End was also different in a sense because mainstream punk at that time was more poppy, or “bubblegum,” and the Australian trio seemed more in tune with the attitude and sound of when the British punk revolution was prominent in the ’70s. However, they also took advantage of the short-lived rockabilly craze of the ‘90s—the Stray Cats playing a major influence in their style, most noticeably in Scott Owen’s use of the double bass. I was at the perfect age when this song came out, and I’m thankful for that.

Next Post: Songs 1-5.

Tracks 11-15

If you’ve been following, songs 16-20 started to vary from songs 21-25, and that trend is about to continue. This playlist isn’t intended to boast my tastes, but rather remind listeners and readers of tracks they have forgotten about or perhaps introduce genres and songs they would generally overlook. There’s a lot of music in the world, and I’m open to the preferences and suggestions of others. This is my list, though, so you’re stuck with these tracks for now.

Here are songs 11-15.

15. “The Mice, The Demons, And The Piggies” by Wolfgang Parker

Favorite Lyric: “Well the whiskey in front of my face keeps pour-pour-pour-pour-pouring along, makes me drunk-drunk-drunk-drunk as hell all night long.”

You won’t find much information on Wolfgang Parker, but the Ohio-based musician and writer is incredibly talented and versatile. Room Nineteen is a fantastic album showcasing Parker’s abilities in punk, rock and swing. “The Mice, The Demons, And The Piggies” contains a basic and contagious rhythm, and the piano solo mid-way transitions perfectly into the more up-tempo concluding movement. The lyrics fit the sound, and if I would have to guess, the room is the character’s mind, and the taps and voices are inner demons he’s trying to wash away with a vice—the very vice that is the cause and solution. Just a guess. Or it could just be a really cool song. On another note, Parker is also a children’s book author

14. “Joey” by Concrete Blonde

Favorite Lyric: “But if I seem to be confused, I didn’t mean to be with you, and when you said I scared you, well I guess you scared me too.”

“Joey” is about alcoholism, or addiction in general, and not just the struggle the individual faces, but the people in their life who are forced to share the pain and absorb the consequences. Johnette Napolitano has said that this was a very difficult and painful song to write because of the content and close connection she has with the lyrics. Yet, we all have a connection to addiction in a way. I’ve lost friends to alcoholism, seen futures destroyed by drugs and others I know have lost family members. Though “Joey” charted after being released, the message behind the great lyrical and musical rhythm also contributed to the song’s impact on audiences.

13. “The Way That It Seems” by Onward, Etc.

Favorite Lyric: “The more I live life in reality, I pray to go insane, if your eyes are always open it’s impossible to dream.”

This song is a great journey song about perseverance and viewing the world in a different way than it’s presented on the surface. Rosco Wuestewald is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter, but his journey is one of innovation. His home has become the road; he started touring at 17, playing with local musicians in the towns where he booked gigs. After seeing Onward, Etc. (now Aage Birch) live on a whim, I was an immediate fan, and Wuestewald’s energetic form of folk and Americana combines a great sound with poetic stories and thought. “The Way That It Seems” is a song that can last a life-long journey.

12. “I Still Believe” by Frank Turner

Favorite Lyric: “And I still believe in the need, for guitars and drums and desperate poetry.”

Frank Turner is another artist I saw on a whim, and he has since become one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time. He’s an amazing storyteller, and backed by the Sleeping Souls, his style and words reach a broad audience. He doesn’t just offer events from his life, but a relation for many people to ponder through brilliant rhythmic scheming. “I Still Believe” may not even be Turner’s best track, but it’s the song that introduced me to his music, but also an anthem for the genre I’ve loved for so many years. In my opinion, he will go down as one of the great singer-songwriters the world has had the privilege to experience. In a strange way, this song and video always gives me chills.

11. “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

Favorite Lyric: “You gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way.”

At some point in our life, we all feel stuck. Some people’s situations are much worse than others, and they’re constantly searching for an escape, a better life. Tracy Chapman tells a story about getting out and releasing the chains that hold someone down from being something else. A person can become stuck in a loop, and for many less fortunate it’s a difficult cycle to escape. “Fast Car” is an incredible song, and shouldn’t just be considered one of the best folk rock songs in history, but one of the best songs in history across all genres because of the perfect match of melody and message.

Next Post: Songs 6-10.

Tracks 16-20

The first five in my ranking didn’t vary far from a certain era, but as explained in the previous post, an individual’s tastes are shaped during a certain phase, and they may expand beyond that time, but it’s still a point in their life they can always revert back to. It’s their “remember when” era—which is a very vital time in development.

If you need a recap, click here. If not, let’s move on to songs 16-20.

20. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel

Favorite Lyric: “And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more, people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening.”

“The Sound of Silence” is one of the most relevant songs in history that has lasted from generation to generation. That’s incredible from a musical standpoint, but not so much when considering the message. As Paul Simon struggles for meaning in an unforgiving society, he unravels the many layers of lonely thought. We’re even more isolated now, society is getting harsher and people are feeling a stronger sense of emptiness. And as the lyric states above, people are still talking without speaking and hearing without listening. Perhaps it would be wise to view this song as a relation rather than accepting it as a constant—though, it remains a song that is needed on many levels.

19. “Qi” by Phildel

Favorite Lyric: N/A

Through my years of playing classical and ragtime piano, and the brilliant pieces I’ve heard and the rest of the world knows, this short work is one of the most beautiful piano solos I’ve come across. So much so, that I learned to play it myself. The key signature changes from Bb major to A major and so on, and in the second part of the movement, the composer subtly adds extra notes to enhance the piece as it moves along. Phildel is a talented and versatile British artist who can create pop tracks as well as compose neoclassical pieces that don’t need lyrics to move listeners. Classical music is so pure, and the best works ignite emotions without saying a word.

18. “Shed Some Light” by Shinedown

Favorite Lyric: “It’s innocence within the maze, but I have chosen the wrong way, I’m still getting over who I was, there’s no sense of trust, there’s no definition of love.”

Shinedown, like Seether, has been one of the best rock bands the last two decades, and they take time producing quality and balanced albums. Musically, they’re incredibly talented, and Brent Smith not only has one of the most powerful set of vocal chords on a lead singer in this era, he may be one of the best vocalists in the genre’s history—and that is saying A LOT. “Shed Some Light” is off Shinedown’s second studio album, Us and Them, and has always been a moving track about self-discovery, and a listener can find a relation to the words no matter which phase of life.

17.“Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum

Favorite lyric: “Bought a ticket for a runaway train, like a madman laughin’ at the rain, little out of touch, little insane, just easier than dealing with the pain.”

This famous power ballad is about depression, but Soul Asylum’s video also links the song to missing children and teens—which is also depressing. There’s a sense of emptiness and unanswered questions with both topics, and an urge for people to establish a connection for stability and survival. I have listened to “Runaway Train” many times in my life, and the emotions and message never stray, and for a song to continue to have such a lasting impact, not just on a personal level, but in the music world as well, is quite impressive.

16. “Use Me” by Bill Withers

Favorite Lyric: “You just keep on using me, until you use me up.”

Bill Withers is a legend, and the world lost him this year, unfortunately. “Use Me” is my favorite from his collection, though his career left listeners with amazing hits. His soulful voice is on full display here, especially when he repeats “baby” as if trying to convince himself the relationship will get better while masking the truth. However, the most infectious part of the song is the famous rhythm throughout. It’s simply cool, and if you’re driving with your windows down and this song is blaring, other people think you’re cool—or should at least.

Next Post: Songs 11-15.

Tracks 21-25

As many are aware, we have some spare time on our hands. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced most to stay inside, I started my own music challenge: constructing a playlist of the 100 best songs I have ever heard. The running time for the arrangement is just over seven hours—so, a workday. Feel free to partake in the challenge, and give yourself the gift of songs you wouldn’t skip to get through the day—or if you end up stranded on an island.

The key component to such a playlist is the individual’s ears, not what one is told to like or the masses have deemed amazing. With that being said, a song’s immense popularity has been taken into consideration.

Other factors included the best lyrics and rhythms as they relate to the person, and also the overall societal message shared or emotion ignited within an individual. No genre was excluded, and some of my favorite artists, ones in which I own their entire catalog, didn’t make the cut. It was surprising, it was difficult and I have a separate spillover list because nothing is concrete.

With that in mind, and the aforementioned spare time, I would like to share with you the top 25 songs I have ever heard in increments of five rankings.

DISCLAIMER: If you’re expecting Queen, The Rolling Stones, Charlie, Chuck, Claude, Elton, Ms. Gaynor or Mungo Jerry, then you can find the entire list here.

Without further ado, here are songs 21-25.

25. “Walkin’ On The Sun” by Smash Mouth

Favorite Lyric: “Twenty-five years ago, they spoke out and they broke out, of recession and oppression and together they toked, and they folked out with guitars around a bonfire, just singin’ and clappin’, man, what the hell happened.”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you’ve committed yourself to an eclectic list. Before Smash Mouth became major mainstream all-stars, their 1997 debut single was widely accepted in the U.S. and internationally. “Walkin’ On The Sun” discusses racial and social issues from the past, popularized a reinvention of psychedelic funk by blending it with pop rock, and you have to love that late-90’s fashion. Also, the video served as a generational musical connection and linked many Gen-Y teens to their parents’ past attitudes and tastes.

24. “Ghost” by House of Heroes

Favorite Lyric: “I’m gonna fade away, drifting out of your life, I wanna fade away, through the empty night.”

I’m a sucker for great stories, and wish a video was made for this song. Tim Skipper’s gentle timbre sets the tone for this track, and though the guitar pitch is one of happiness, the story immerses the listener into the character’s life and the additional consequences suffered from a bad decision. “Ghost” is a beautiful song, and the band’s harmony about fading away at the end—while fading away at the end—is structurally brilliant.

23. “Sympathetic” by Seether

Favorite Lyric: “And my words will be here when I’m gone.”

Seether has been one of the better post-grunge rock acts of the last two decades. The South African outfit has been recognized with double-digit awards and hit after hit, and actually have the most songs by one artist on this top-100 list—which even surprised me with the library I have. Seether’s 2002 debut album, Disclaimer, was fantastic from the first to last track, headlined by three singles, “Sympathetic” not being one. Yet, the lyrics resonated the most with me, and the cadence of Shaun Morgan’s voice has been a staple of their success in the rock world. Consistent good lyrical rhythm is difficult to come by in the genre.

22. “I Walk Alone” by Oleander

Favorite Lyric: “I can’t take this any longer, I won’t heal until I’m stronger, strong enough to not be afraid, of what anybody thinks, of what anybody says, about the way, about the way I am.”

Generally, music tastes are formed in the midst of teenage angst and discovery. Of course, they evolve over time through different phases of life, but if you’re in dire need of a memory, you can always go back to the scene when you we’re transitioning into an adult—or at least when you thought you were mature enough. Oleander is the alternative band from that era I admire the most, and still have never heard a song I didn’t enjoy by the Sacramento rockers. “I Walk Alone” helped calm a sporadic mind, and Thomas Flowers’ words, though “alone” is in the title, showed many lost souls that they weren’t actually alone.

21. “Talk About You” by Mika

Favorite Lyric: “Walk through the city like stupid people do, a million faces, but all I’m seeing is you.”

Mika is one of the most successful pop stars in the world. He has won 20 awards and been nominated for about 60 more. He’s just not that well-known in the U.S. He’s by far my favorite guilty pleasure in music. “Talk About You” is a song that is hard to get out of your head, and that’s what great singer-songwriters do: they write addictive records. The Lebanese-born artist has a knack for creating pop and glam rock tracks that are full of colorful expression, pride and rhythm. It’s hard not to move to Mika; it’s hard not to become addicted.

Next post: Songs 16-20.

Rethinking Reirden

“It’s the same ol’, same ol’ situation.”
-Motley Crue, “Same Old Situation”

The Washington Capitals haven’t won a playoff series since the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, and it is time for their third coach since then.

Head coach Todd Reirden was fired Sunday after his second consecutive season being ousted from the playoffs by a lower seed. After inheriting a Stanley Cup roster, he went 5-10 in playoff games—including this year’s variant round robin—with no series wins.

Though Reirden posted a .642 regular-season win percentage and earned two division crowns, this still wasn’t a rash decision by Captials GM Brain MacLellan because plenty of other NHL coaches had quick tenures for lesser forms of disappointment. As a recent example, Gerrard Gallant coached the Vegas Golden Knights to said 2018 Stanley Cup Final during the franchise’s inaugural season, and also made the playoffs his second year to prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke. He was fired in January 2020 after his playoff-bound Knights suffered a four-game losing streak. What’s he doing now, anyway?

Also, Capitals fans have earned the right to be impatient. From 1983-1996, the Capitals never missed the playoffs, but only once made the conference finals in 1990. It wasn’t until 1998 the franchise returned to the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually reached the Stanley Cup Final only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

After a rebuild and landing a once-in-a-lifetime talent, more of the same followed:

From 2008-2017, the Capitals only missed the playoffs once, earning two Presidents’ Trophies, but again failed to advance beyond the second round. Of the coaches during that span, Bruce Boudreau won two playoff series in four years, Dale Hunter one in his relief stint at the helm, and Barry Trotz seven in four seasons—four of which came when he led the franchise to their first and only Stanley Cup title.

Speaking of Trotz, he has gone on to win three playoff series as head coach of the New York Islanders—the same Islanders that forced the Capitals right out of the bubble last Thursday night. What about the key players who have moved on from that 2018 team? During the 2020 playoffs, Jay Beagle advanced to the second round with the Vancouver Canucks, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer advanced with a dominant Colorado Avalanche team, Matt Niskanen advanced with the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, and Chandler Stephenson advanced with the Knights–who seem to be heading in the opposite direction of the Capitals since their 2018 championship bout.

Everyone listed has one commonality: more playoff series wins than Reirden.

Capitals fans are left with confusing and empty familiarity once more. The easy reaction is to vet for excuses of why they yet again left the playoffs early. There were botched breakaways and shots fired wide of open nets, Nicklas Backstrom missed most of the series against the Islanders, John Carlson wasn’t completely healthy, Lars Eller wasn’t in a hockey-state-of-mind, Ilya Samsonov’s injury left Braden Holtby without a solid backup solution in net or perhaps the team was just tired of living in a quarantined bubble with friendly foes off-ice. They’re better than that, though, and fans are aware of the fact.

From their overused non-bubble living rooms, supporters watched the team fail to construct and capitalize on enough even-strength chances. They were outshot by the Islanders 110-95 in four losses. This problem goes back to last season’s early exit against the Carolina Hurricanes, however. In their four losses in that series, the Capitals were out-shot 147-111. Another noticeable element to their underachievement was the lack of inspiration and urgency. They appeared dilapidated with misplaced passion, but that also isn’t an excuse because all teams were in the same situation entering the qualifiers and round robin. They looked decrepit if exaggerated.

The window is closing faster this time because the stars are aging, and not only do they need solid blue line depth, the lines need to get younger on the offensive side of the puck. Jakub Vrána, the team’s heralded youth, had zero points and a -6 rating in the series, and since his goal in Game 5 of the 2018 Final, he has recorded no points and has a -8 rating in 15 playoff games. The average age for the Capitals front line skaters is 29.4, and as the Flyers, Hurricanes and Islanders continue to get stronger, the Capitals may be fighting for a wild card spot next season rather than another division title if changes aren’t made.

It starts with the captain and coach, and fans know Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t lack drive or intensity or leadership, but it was apparent he lacked adaptation, direction and support from the bench during the 2020 playoffs–and the front office made the right choice in firing Reirden.

Whether it’s a subtle rebuild, rediscovery or reinvention, the Capitals need to start acting like they care again. With one year left on Ovechkin’s contract and more uncertainty looming, Fans would rather have a second cup with a shortened-season asterisk than the team’s only title being an anomaly.

All Lives

“We didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.”
-Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

On June 13, Albuquerque Journal staff writer Elise Kaplan posted an article about police brutality and raised yet another call for reform. Her coverage included three specific New Mexico cases, so why did it take George Floyd’s death in Minnesota for New Mexico public officials to start preaching?

As Kaplan stated, in the past year and a half, three men in New Mexico have been killed by officers using forceful restraint: Vicente Villela in February of 2019, Rodney Lynch in August of 2019 and Antonio Valenzuela in February of 2020.

Why are these cases being revisited now when the state had the opportunity to make a national impact with reform when the situations occurred? One reason is politics. It’s an election year; the two main parties remain at war, using the people as pawns to solidify a term. It seems it’s the goal of some to say the right thing at the right time in order to finagle more timely support to claim or maintain a seat. Then what happens? Petty bickering over nastiness, reports and tweets, forgetting about the promises they made concerning the issues that matter the most—until the next reelection when they’re all ears, ideas and proposals.

Another answer could be minority status. “Black Lives Matter” is an international movement, but it seems some people forget to realize that injustice doesn’t stop at just one race. There are New Mexican residents—Hispanic, Native-American and Caucasian—protesting with signs about African-American injustice and boasting their support for the cause on social media, but that’s part of the problem. When Villela, Lynch and Valenzuela met their unwarranted fates, where were all the protesters and demonstrations? These men are of Hispanic and Native-American descent, the two cultures that make the Land of Enchantment one of five majority-minority states, but again, it takes an African-American man nearly 1500 miles away to bring awareness to social injustice when discrimination continues to happen to all races in every community.

These cases didn’t provide enough of a discussion. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic or Latino citizens make up 18.3 percent of the nation while Black or African-American citizens make up 13.4 percent. Even though African-Americans hold the largest minority status, they don’t hold the largest population of minorities because of the re-classification of how a race is labeled. African-Americans are a racial minority while Hispanics or Latinos are an ethnic minority.

This is how issues become convoluted and overlooked until an atrocious viral act occurs. Why do we need sub-categories to segregate how a specific population is defined? Shouldn’t it be that all lives matter instead of—wait, this sounds familiar.

All lives do matter, except for some, but more specifically, maybe just one—but there’s no validation for a counter claim of racism; the severity of injustice is eons apart (except for one of the one). Many African-Americans have suffered tremendously in this country; they have every right to vocalize their frustration from centuries of persecution that sadly remains relevant.

Still, all lives matter. Not everything is black and white—figuratively and literally. There shouldn’t be levels of racism or sub-categories of culture because separating the segregation even more allows it to exist. If “Black Lives Matter” is a cause for all minorities and cases of racism, then that is one thing, but their website doesn’t specify that, which narrows the scope of social injustice. Racism may harm people of African descent the most here, but reform can’t just be for some because racism can then slip through the cracks of a fractured structure. Bringing equality and liberation to just one race may actually push more hate onto the next, or even create bitter envy from other minorities. Reform needs to happen across the board, hashtags need to be more about the massive picture instead of the big picture, and politicians need to stop making it political and actually do something more productive than just debating over the cause.

We’re privileged to be a front-runner of change, an international influence, but acting in a regressive nature and playing a blame game makes it seem we’re voluntarily demoting ourselves to a lesser status. We can see the effect social injustice has as it trickles disruption into our economy and our personal freedoms we’re so fortunate to have.

We need to talk about it more when it happens in our communities instead of waiting years for the nation to decide what sparks another fire, because if we ignore it, it’s bound to repeat. Don’t make this a convenient cause; don’t make this a trendy situation until next time.

Epic Hockey Games

“You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice our love.”
-Foreigner, “Cold As Ice”

It was a marathon on ice. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning battled for nearly three games to earn one win. The Lightning’s Brayden Point ripped a wrister over the right shoulder of Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the fifth overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 victory in the first game of the series—and also the first game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What a moment for the NHL; what a moment for the fans; what a moment for society.

Tuesday’s match at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto was the fourth longest NHL playoff game in history, clocking in at 150:27 of ice time. It was exhausting to watch the players; they skated with heavy legs, their backs bending more during each sudden death session, their sight either reaching the ice or ceiling during the few moments they were relieved to catch their breath. Yet, they played and fans watched—at home—pondering if they would have to call into work today—at least residents of Raleigh and Boston have excuses at the moment. The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins were slated to play on the same sheet of ice after Columbus and Tampa Bay, but their game was postponed until this morning (ongoing at the time of this post).

The puck dropped at 3:09 p.m. ET. Grayish-blue covers stretched over each section of seats, bright banner graphics filled dark spaces opposite the cameras and crowd noise was filtered in to simulate the aura of playoff hockey. By 9:22 p.m. ET, at the 10:27 mark in the fifth extra period, the fact there were no fans present was forgotten. The Lightning celebrated with a burst of energy from the bench and the Blue Jackets suffered through bittersweet devastation, the skaters leaning helplessly at the waist and letting their momentum slowly coast their worn bodies to the locker room.

It was a fairly normal game to start. Pierre-Luc Dubois gave the Blue Jackets an early first period lead on the power play, but Point evened the score four minutes later. Oliver Bjorkstrand heaved a shot from the boards late in the second that squeezed past perennial Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy in what should have been a routine save. The Lightning trailed 2-1 at intermission, and a recollection of 2019 was looming.

Last year, Tampa Bay was the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and the city, players and staff believed they were due. The franchise won their first and only championship in 2004, but had made the Eastern Conference finals four times since 2011. They reached the Stanley Cup final just once, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. It had been long enough; it was time—until the John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets swept their dreams right out of the playoffs in what was considered one of the bigger upsets in playoff history. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to the title in 2004.

The rivalry is there and it’s fresh, but the Lightning were on the brink of letting it be one-sided last night. They desperately needed this win for morale. A little luck helped the cause 23 seconds into the third period. Ryan McDonagh fired a shot on net and Yanni Gourde’s resilience in the crease caused the puck to trickle under Korpisalo’s torso and touch off his leg, barely crossing the goal line.

Then it got less normal.

Korpisalo ended the evening with an NHL record 85 saves, at least one short of what he hoped, and some skaters on both teams eclipsed 60 minutes of ice time. With 17 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime, when normal people probably would have been hospitalized from exertion, Liam Foudy and Mikhail Sergachev raced each other in full sprint for an icing call. It was seemingly a meaningless play, but it showed something vital in regard to social attitude.

Despite the fatigue, the immense pressure these athletes put on their bodies last night for their glory and our entertainment, they gave it their all until the end, and the adrenaline may be from the pure joy of playing again. Relevant sport is back as much as it’s allowed, and society, no matter if they follow sports or not, should be gracious for what that means. It’s progression; it’s getting back to normal; it’s showing we’re all relevant.

It just took an incredibly rare feat to prove that.

Game 2 of the series is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. Clear your schedule, but there’s a chance it’s clear already.

The Failure of Social Media, and why it’s Needed

“Talking is just masturbating, without the mess.”
-Our Lady Peace, “Happiness & The Fish

For authors, booking an event is a wonderful feeling. A store values you; people may value you. However, the difficult part of an event is marketing. Yes, there’s the crazy chance that people think you’re worthy of their honored presence, but you have to convince them to come first.

Back in February, I had an event for “Cursed: A Jack Swift Case” at a local bookstore. The owner had stocked both Jack Swift novels leading up to the reading, and they promoted the booking on social media as well as traditional advertising avenues. I was also responsible for promoting the event, and therefore believed that the best way to do so was through social media. Millennials and younger generations worship social media; they believe it’s how society should function, and frankly, advertising rules the world and social media is the best way to reach an enormous audience for not only product placement, but for the arts as well. Unfortunately, this reliance on the medium is unwarranted. Social media doesn’t work for all, and worse, it makes people feel like they’re providing an important and cherished contribution.

I tweeted, shared status updates, posted photos with tagged details and personally asked friends and colleagues to spread the word—through an in-person meeting with the use of my voice! Who would have thought a vocal face-to-face interaction could also be used as an effective source of communication. The responses were promising; thumbs pointing up, warm and bright red hearts and ecstatic yellow faces with wide mouths and tears of joy filled my notification box. I fell victim to my own vulnerability; I thought people cared, but the point of all the responses weren’t to help me, but rather promote other users’ sympathetic support. They did their part by clicking a button or smudging a phone screen, and assumed their work was done as they felt rewarded for their good deed. Let us celebrate their generosity!

From all the likes and loves and encouraging threads of text that others could recognize and praise each other’s care, four people showed up to the event. That’s right; four. That’s not the most shocking part, however.

The event was on a weeknight, and that gave people an excuse. On the other hand, the restaurant that shares the same foyer as the bookstore had a long wait as diners clanged their utensils against their plates and laughed over nursed drinks and loud gossip. I set up as the store emptied and my first fan entered. She was the aunt of one of my closest friends; I recognized her short blond strands before she opened the door, and gladly conversed with her as there appeared to be no rush to start my spiel. Next my friend, business partner and fellow local author, Jason DeGray, sauntered in as the staff placed way too many chairs in front of my podium. To my surprise, a random book browser plopped down and waited patiently as if she had nothing better to do with her time—my third attendee. I finished setting up a clever display: The book was stabilized upright, a replica Honus Wagner card ignited wonder behind its plastic armor, cheap chocolates wrapped in sport ball foil overflowed a homemade bowl, and a Bluetooth speaker softly played the playlist from “Cursed.”

I spoke about my background, credentials and style; I explained how Jack Swift came to be and transitioned from reference to excerpt flawlessly; and I interacted with the audience and listening staff members—especially the browser who was taking notes for whatever reason. The fourth fan, my dentist, strolled in during the presentation, but immediately became involved as she answered a question I had for the spectators. It was a good crowd; it was fun; I had a surge of confidence after practicing my presentation and completing the event. Almost everyone isn’t aware of that, however.

Not one of those four people came because of social media. DeGray knew through me, the browser stumbled upon the event because of first-hand in-store advertising, and my friend’s aunt and my dentist read about the reading in the newspaper. The newspaper of all places! That’s almost as extinct as in-person conversation. As a master of journalism, I appreciate that the newspaper is still relevant and proving to be more effective than the highly touted social platforms that run the world—in regards to this specific situation. That’s why I didn’t share the outcome of the reading right away; it wouldn’t have felt good; it would have been an emotional response; there was no sustenance; no one would care. They would have just pretended to care or completely avoid the recap because it’s easy to not see one post among the meaningless over-saturation of more important things like pictures of food, or fishers hoping to hook compliments about their good deeds, or snowflakes flurrying for empathy as they overcame a difficult situation like making it through a full eight-hour shift.

Social media is just masturbation; it’s purpose is to please the user in any way, shape and form. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a medium that has become essential in society and industry, but from my experiences, it deserves little praise. Authors shouldn’t rely on it because it doesn’t guarantee anything. They also must remember bad showings can happen to anyone.

One of my professors shared that she had an event where no one showed, but at least she had a good book to read to pass the time. Esteemed novelist Leslie Epstein, who is referenced in “Cursed,” told me that he held a reading where two people came: one old lady who fell asleep knitting, and the other seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, we need social media which is bittersweet to embrace. It may fail most of the time, but if it can create just one success, that may be all an author requires, so don’t disregard the whole system.

We also still need newspapers—obviously—so don’t rely on just one form of marketing.

For authors booking their first event, don’t expect much and, most importantly, don’t base your future on how many people did or didn’t attend your reading. Practice your presentation and interact with anybody in attendance—even if that’s just the staff. Go through the motions before human interaction becomes artificial.

Talking to someone in the same room is still pleasurable, and less messy than social media.

Getting Back

“It was lost long ago but it’s all coming back to me.”
-Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”

This weekend meant something for the sports world. This weekend meant something for society as a whole.

We were supposed to be watching the final round of the PGA Championship, the NASCAR point totals were supposed to be higher and this was supposed to be the final match weekend of the German Bundesliga. It doesn’t matter what was supposed to happen anymore; it matters that the sports world has taken a step toward hope, and season sacrifices were vital to accomplishing a sense of optimism.

Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Matthew Wolff played a round of golf yesterday. Good for them; many cities have become more lenient on restrictions that targeted courses and country clubs. The difference is that this foursome (not the inappropriate kind; you’ve been spending too much free time on the computer) was televised live. Okay, the other difference is that they’re professionals and city players are amateurs, and no one would watch a group of four aging drunkards hacking up divots and struggling to maneuver a golf cart at sub-10 mph speeds.

Live sports. Wow. Stopping golf was interesting to begin with. Their season pause seemed more like an example to set or the association following suit because others jumped off a bridge. Frankly, if they had let the players play without any fans, it would probably be one of the more safer spots in the world. The only equipment you would use would be your own, there are acres upon acres of open outdoor space and the players would only be with three other people on any given hole: their opponent and their respective caddies—and you can easily walk six feet apart on a golf course.

That’s beside the point; even Johnson and McIlroy’s victory was overshadowed by progression. We got to witness something live. Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief tournament, and the event generated $5.5 million for charity, as well as plenty of viewers tuning into something refreshing. No more reruns, no more over-analyzed documentaries as we discussed last week and no more anxiously waiting with uncertainty.

Two states up the east coast, Kevin Harvick won the Real Heroes 400 in Darlington, South Carolina. He circled around the pit, screeching his tires and leaving his mark to celebrate his victory, but there were no sunburnt and raucous fans to absorb the celebration. For people who don’t follow NASCAR, Darlington Raceway has a capacity of 47,000. Racing is immensely popular—and even more so in Europe.

Soccer is also more popular in Europe, but it goes well beyond the continent’s borders. It’s the world’s sport, and the Bundesliga gave society a boost this weekend. Eight matches were played in front of empty stadium seats, concluding with the league-leading and UEFA powerhouse Bayern Munich finding form in a 2-0 victory over Union Berlin.

The game was eerily bittersweet. Players tried not to touch their face, but they did. They tried not to spit, but they did. Coaches tried to wear masks, but they didn’t. Players tried to offer a courteous hand to fallen opponents, but they couldn’t. You could hear the players communicating, you could hear the ball bouncing off their cleats in perfect precision as if the season had never stopped. There was this purity to the beautiful game that we haven’t seen in a while, but the loud chants and unifying song of supporters was absent and missed.

The Bundesliga is bigger than the PGA, it’s bigger than NASCAR; it was truly the first great league to return to the international stage. Yet, without fans, there was this sense of neglect looming over the pitch. Then Robert Lewandowski buried a penalty kick. That moment reminded us it was real; it was normal; all was right again. It’s amazing what star power can do; it’s amazing what sport means to the world—especially when people are in dire need of just a beacon of assurance.

So something meaningful happened this weekend even if you don’t follow sports. We’re coming back. We’re strengthening. Society is alive.