Day 181 – ‘Hunger Strike’

As my friend Dennis Hitzeman pointed out in a comment yesterday, part of makes Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder so interesting is that they performed together.

Brief history lesson: before Soundgarden and Pearl Jam became two of the most successful bands of the 1990s, various members of both bands (most notably Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready) formed a supergroup of sorts named Temple of the Dog. This is around 1991.

Realize that neither band was big yet. This is before “Black Hole Sun” and “Even Flow,” before “Fell on Black Days” and “Alive.” It’s also either right before or right around the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” which is probably the seminal rock record of the 90s (even if I don’t necessarily love Nirvana — their impact is unquestionable).

So, one day, as Cornell was working on the vocals for a song called “Hunger Strike,”  a young vocalist — Vedder — walked up to the microphone to sing the lower-register parts. He did so without invitation, but could tell Cornell was having some issue nailing the part. (Cornell, for his part, loved Vedder’s work and quickly included him on the song.)

The result is one of the best rock and roll songs ever, an excellent mix of themes, guitar and incredible vocals — plus a great story.

Both are on the shortlist of greatest rock singers ever, and so having a track with both near their peaks is simply astounding.

And I’m goin hungry …

Day 180 – Cornell and Vedder

Ever since the tragic passing of Chris Cornell, I’ve spent a lot more time with Seattle’s early 90s bands, including Soundgarden (and by extension, Cornell’s solo work and with Audioslave) and Pearl Jam. In a sense, I’m bummed I waited this long.

I’m fascinated by great vocalists of any kind or shape, and in any genre. For the rock side, it’s Cornell, Vedder, Mercury, Plant, Hagar, Gillan and so, so many more. Beyond rock, voices like Cash, Sinatra, Wonder, Charles, Elton and on mesmerize me. A powerful vocal does more for me than any other instrument.

That makes Cornell and Vedder’s work especially appealing to me. Vedder especially can pack so much weight and pain into a performance, unlike really anyone I’ve ever heard. Cornell can do something similar, but the energy in his vocals are off the chart. He was a supernova.

And so, I present to you two amazing performances, one from each vocalist. Enjoy.

Pearl Jam – Black

Chris Cornell – Nothing Compares 2 U

 

Day 179 – SEGA Forever

I have such fond memories of SEGA Genesis and the Super Nintendo.

I spent many an hour playing the SNES, either with my dad or by myself. I also remember playing the Genesis with my uncle. Such cool times.

Lots and lots of Tecmo Super Bowl. So much of it.

Imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon SEGA Forever. The plan is to eventually release nearly every SEGA title on iOS and Android, entirely for free. Sure, ads will abound, but so what? This is cool.

I’m not sure I can invest much time in these games, but I can definitely see a quick thrill in playing a few of them.

Day 178 – ‘Wonder Woman’

It’s amazing.

“Wonder Woman” is a charming and fun (if not a tad cheesy) flick, an excellent summer blockbuster and the first post-Nolan DC Comics movie that’s actually good. (“Man of Steel” was fine, I guess. “Batman vs Superman” was a car crash, and “Suicide Squad” … less said the better.)

Gal Gadot is captivating as Diana Prince, and not just because she’s gorgeous. Gadot is funny, courageous and tough. She’s worthy of the role and the movie makes very clear that Wonder Woman isn’t eye candy. She’s a badass. I hope that in “Justice League,” Bruce Wayne is slightly intimidated by her, because he should be.

Gadot hangs well on-screen with Chris Pine, and the two show remarkable chemistry as Prince experiences the world for the first time. Pine’s as charming as ever, but also heroic. He’s effectively James T. Kirk in World War I, and I don’t care and neither should you.

Of course, Prince doubts herself and her upbringing at critical moments — expected, sure — but the tone of the movie has you rooting for her and for Pine’s Steve Trevor. And when she starts to really let loose and show how powerful she is? Damn.

I’ll simply say this: the “No Man’s Land” scene is one of the very best in any comic book movie. It’s up there with “Wanna see a magic trick?” and “Yeah, I can fly” and “We have a Hulk” and anything else. It’s awesome.

WB and DC needed a hit. The cultural reaction to the DC Extended Universe has been, shall we say, a tad tepid. This was the home run they needed. Weird how it works, eh? Maybe comic book movies can be fun! Crazy.

Long live Wonder Woman.

 

Day 177 – On dating and marriage

I want to share a few thoughts on dating and marriage, in and outside of the church. In general, I have observed in myself and in others (sometimes because they’ve flat out said) a lack of preparation for and understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.

I have seen frustration from folks in my life because of a struggling marriage or an utter lack of relationship (and a lack of prospects). It’s been a place of significant concern for me, too. I don’t always handle it well, because the Devil is good at what he does, and the thought “you will be alone” is a powerful one.

Here’s what I’ve seen, from the perspective of a Christian who didn’t grow up in the church. There’s often a ton of excitement and urgency to find a relationship (with the hope of marriage) but without much or any discussion or teaching about what a healthy relationship looks like. Partly because that gets uncomfortable, partly because no one takes the onus to do so.

In general, Americans (including Christians) have fallen prey to this idea of relationships as a fairy tale — a Nicholas Sparks novel, basically. It’s an incredibly appealing thought, and believe you me, I’ve been there. I craved it. But reality, history and the Bible all agree that such a notion is false.

A friend of mine told me people in her church were unbelievably excited about her pending marriage, showed great interest in wedding planning and loved the event itself. It was a great time. But her question to me was heartbreaking. Where were these people six months later when things got hard?

I speak here entirely off the examples of others, but marriage is growth and struggle. It’s hard work, but also a tremendous blessing, wherein Christ’s grace can be illustrated in unique and powerful ways. Essentially, your spouse is your partner as you both try to make out of this jungle called life in one piece. (Oh, and it’s raining really hard, and you probably just heard a bear or something growl. So … yeah. Have fun!)

Just as Christ is a light in the darkness, a Godly marriage can be as well.

Here’s the tough part, though. In a world so divided and broken, where does one find such a partner? I’m not sure. But I also believe that God will provide when He sees fit — so simply be ready.

Waiting for God to deliver can be a trying, painful experience. But the Bible is replete with examples of God saying to do just that — to wait. It can feel like an empty platitude to be told, as you anguish in waiting, that God’s timing is perfect, He blesses those who wait, etc. But it’s true, and further more, God having us wait teaches us endurance (that we need!) in ways we wouldn’t otherwise learn.

Remember: God’s goal for your life isn’t to find you married, but rather to find you in Heaven. If we allow God to orient our hearts on that platform, suddenly our perspective can begin to change. We begin to see our expectations for relationships change and evolve, and with that a newfound hope that lasts. We understand how God is shaping us through success and disappointment, and abound in joy all the way.

And so, take heart. You are worth more than many sparrows.

Day 176 – Casual beauty

I love the Englewood Metropark.

This is no secret to any of you dear readers, as I often play disc golf there. Lord only knows how many rounds I’ve thrown there — couple hundred, easy — but in the last 10 months or so, I’ve also taken to simply walking around the park.

The scenery is astounding, full of lush greenery that shines bright on a warm summer evening. It’s relaxing — today’s pace was set to “recovery”, as the throttle ramps up tomorrow — and refreshing while also enough effort to burn some calories.

I spent over an hour out there tonight, moving around, enjoying a podcast and soaking up the beauty of God’s creation. It’s nice being outside, especially on a reasonable Ohio evening in June.

Soak it up, kiddos. Winter is always coming.

Day 175 – Big Foot

I went for a walk tonight in town, and along the way this song came on:

“Big Foot” is a sweet tune, man. Love the sound of Chickenfoot, a super-talented group of rock and roll awesomeness. Joe Satriani is a killer guitarist, one of the best in the world. Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith have sold millions and millions of records as solo acts and part of Van Halen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, respectively.

Crank it up. Loud.

Day 174 – A dive into the NBA

In my youth, I wanted to write about sports. I didn’t have a sportswriting hero, but I liked stories and I liked sports, so a marriage of the two seemed an obvious route. I dabbled in it for a bit, but ultimately found I didn’t like how that life was shaping up.

But — now I have a blog! Given that the NBA offseason is ramping into high gear, and as my appreciation for the sport grows and grows, I felt like writing about it. The game is at a high point in some ways, with an abundance of stars and teams worth attention.

And so here I present to you, my list of the 5-best NBA players in the world. The criteria is, for one season, who are the best players to build a team around.

5. James Harden – PG/SG – Houston Rockets

Nope — no Russell Westbrook. He carried a team to a hapless exit in the first round, made exactly zero of his teammates better and dresses weird (last part doesn’t count). Pass.

But, you could also say that Harden’s team quit like a bunch of punks en route to a blowout loss at home to the Spurs to finish their season. And, well … you’d be telling the truth.

But Harden isn’t Russ — he involves his teammates, for one thing. The Rockets are driven entirely by The Beard’s excellence, but that excellence involves great looks for the shooters that surround him. He’s a devastating isolation scorer, as creative and crafty as anyone in the league in awhile, a superior version of Manu Ginobili.

Both him and Westbrook are indifferent defenders, but given their offensive responsibilities, such things can be forgiven. Harden was my pick for MVP, meaningless as such an award might be.

The problem with Harden is simple. He’s shown an unfortunate tendency to underwhelm in the playoffs, twice now offering up terrible performances in key moments. That sort of thing can become a bad trend real quick, and until Harden lights up a pivotal playoff game that conversation will continue.

4. Stephen Curry – PG – Golden State Warriors

The best shooter ever and an underrated defender, Curry remains the gravitational force that allows the other Warriors to shine. Defenses are forced to focus on him, because even a momentarily lapse can be back-breaking.

His shot is quick, effortless and deadly, able to hoist from anywhere. Seriously. Anywhere.

Curry is uniquely skilled at finding space, making him a true pain in the ass to guard. He’s also a crafty ballhander, more clever than athletic but overall dangerous enough to even dance on the King:

Curry looked healthy in the Finals and took pleasure in thrashing Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson off the dribble, perhaps as payback for an underwhelming performance in the 2016 Finals. He was back to being the Chef, and as such the Warriors were all the more dangerous.

3. Kevin Durant – SF – Golden State Warriors

Perhaps the most complete scorer in NBA history (to be fair, if Michael Jordan played in this era, he’d have developed into a knockdown shot from range — he simply didn’t need to in the 80s and 90s), Kevin Durant is effectively impossible to guard and has shown remarkable defensive abilities when pushed. He’s tall, fast and super skilled.

Durant, when on, can torch even the best defenders because of the options at his disposal. He’s so tall (just at 7 feet) that affecting his shot is a serious challenge. But wait! If you sell out to stop the shot, he’s already past you. Guess what happens next?

Dunk? Maybe. Kick out to Curry or Klay Thompson for a three? Maybe. Either way, it’s a bad day for a defense.

Even the best player alive has such moments against KD:

Oh, and he’s skilled in the paint and likely will evolve more in that area as he slows down. He’s a special player, and with the Warriors is able to show more of those skills than ever before. It’s a treat to watch.

He’s free, now, and a deserving champion.

2. Kawhi Leonard – SF – San Antonio Spurs

The best defensive player in the world, arguably in the inner-circle all-time, and now a lethal all-around offensive player, Kawhi Leonard is so often forgotten in these discussions. Why? Well, he’s quiet, team-oriented and rarely showy. Plus, he plays in San Antonio, a city known for legends who aren’t recognized properly (see: Duncan, Tim).

Leonard is the ideal combination of an annoying, nagging defender and extraordinary athlete. He’s quick, incredibly long and brilliant, able to defend anyone aside from true centers like Anthony Davis or the like. But anyone else can be gobbled up by Leonard.

Look what he does here to poor Ben McLemore:

As he’s matured, the Spurs have put more on his plate offensively, handing him the keys to the car. He’s done just fine, developing a great shot and (as expected, given that he’s a Spur) shown an aptitude for great decisions.

Kawhi carried a team full of dudes who were better three years ago to 62 wins. He was kicking the tar out of the Warriors before hurting his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Long live Kawhi.

1. LeBron James – SF – Cleveland Cavaliers

Are we done questioning LeBron James? Is that cottage industry all dried up? James is the best basketball player since Jordan, and stands nearly eye-to-eye with His Airness historically. They don’t play similarly — Jordan wasn’t as focused on his teammates, while at the same time James isn’t as dominant a scorer — but both ran up incredible levels of success.

James is the best basketball player alive, even now, even at 32, even with tons of miles. He was exceptional in the Finals, again. He carried a slow, older team that played terrible defense up against a supernova, again. All while being questioned — “why isn’t LeBron doing enough?”

What the heck else can the King do? He’s everything for the Cavaliers. They’re a juggernaut with him on the floor and a lottery team without him, even if his All-Star teammates remain in the game. Any lineup combination the Cavs employed that didn’t include James was terrible.

Think about that.

Any lineup combination the Cavs employed that didn’t include James was terrible. The Warriors won Game 5 by slaughtering Cleveland in the short, short amount of time James was on the bench. That’s astounding, a serious indictment of the other Cavs and a huge compliment to James.

He’s the King. LeBron is the most multi-faceted superstar in NBA history, a player capable of lifting inferior teammates to championships. He’s a savant, probably the most brilliant all-around offensive player in league history, a perfect marriage of Jordan and Magic Johnson.

At no point has he enjoyed what Durant got to this year, a team that perfectly fits and surrounds him. No — James has always had to just make it work, and he has.

He’s lost 5 Finals. True. Jordan went 6-0. Also true. But the eras are different, and at no point has James had a running mate like Scottie Pippen. The Finals record doesn’t diminish James at all. Three losses to the dynastic Spurs is hardly a knock, given that Duncan and Leonard were/are superstars and Gregg Popovich is on the Mt. Rushmore of NBA coaches. The ’15 Warriors were awesome and James was saddled up with guys way beyond their depth.  And, frankly, the ’17 Warriors were a force of nature.

LeBron James is not the best ever, not yet. But damn, he’s on his way.

Day 173 – A nice break

I’m not a big-time gamer.

I play PS4 periodically, usually a sports game, but I’m not obsessed with it. For me, playing a game is a nice break, a solid diversion from the grind of work, training and church (not that church is in the same category, but I tend to be working at church a lot). So when I turn on that console, it’s to break away from life.

Is it always effective? No. Sometimes, a quick casual round of disc golf can be better, allowing me to drift away, deep into the podcast I’m hearing and the round I’m playing (while moving — that’s often beneficial).

Those moments are wonderful. I treasure them.

For some, a great book offers that. Maybe a binge-worthy TV show. A really good Marvel movie has that effect on me, too. Or spending time with a close friend over coffee, even. Lots of stuff. In a lot of ways, worship on Sunday is that too.

I have come to enjoy the grind of life more than before, but man those moments of relaxation are just awesome. Sort of like how a great foam rolling pain/pleasure/torture/ecstasy session releases so much built up angst in your body after a hard workout.

There’s something magical about that release.

Day 172 – Familiar pain

I’ve worked especially hard on cardio this week, and I’m feeling it. I got quite used to aching quads last spring, and as I walked into work today, I was reminded of it.

I stepped out of my car and my legs barked at me.

“That was too fast,” my right quad said. “Give us some warning next time.”

Alright, sure. When did you learn to talk? (And then I remember, oh, they’ve spoken for years now … )

Does that ache suck? Sort of, but sort of not too, because I know I’ve earned it. And that pain isn’t really pain, so much as soreness indicative of past achievement.

Do I look forward to further aching, slow saunters into the office? In a sense, yes. It means I’m moving down the road.