Music is life. If there is a mantra one could associate with me, that would be the one. OK, there are maybe a few others, but let’s not be assholes about things shall we?
Anyway, the title of this piece is also the title of a song Dan Fogelberg released as a single in 1981. My tastes in music have always been eclectic and even though I was rocking to proto-hair bands like KISS, AC/DC, and Van Halen back then, I still loved a good ballad. Not “Beth” though. I never understood the hatred for that song, but I also never liked it. I get it, and I empathize. I’m a military man, after all. I just didn’t want KISS doing unplugged ballads.
I was 18 years old when “Leader of the Band” was released. It became a hit on the FM radio dial. That is how we got our music back in those dark days, kids. FM was overtaking AM as the over-air format of choice. I can explain those terms to you if you’re really bored. Or you could #AskAlex. Her Google Fu is next level.
I had been working at a popular local mom-and-pop restaurant for a couple years and an exotic-looking woman was hired as a hostess. She was five years my senior and I was… well, I was 18 and she was gorgeous. Anyway, while I was spending every minute trying to figure out how to get her to sleep with me (by which I mean ‘not sleep at all’ but instead have sex with me because I was 18 and can we just not talk about this right now?)...
Whew. I’m back. Apologies. Sometimes I get taken back in time.
This is the point where “Leader of the Band” enters stage right. It came out during the few months this woman and I were dating. I loved it because I love ballads and so I focused on learning the song. It’s a quirk I’ve always had; if a song hits me just right, I become obsessed with learning the lyrics and how to sing it. It just so happens that the release of that song, my dating this woman, and my learning the lyrics coincided just enough that she was impressed that I knew the words so quickly after she first heard of the song. I am not actually certain if I learned it with such speed because of her instead of just the fact that I loved the song, but I cannot discount the possibility. Have I mentioned she was smoking hot? Music is life.
In the years that followed, life went on as normal. Wars, divorce, natural disasters on multiple continents… life. And then, in early 2001, my dad died. We buried him on his 65th birthday. I am thankful that I was stationed the closest I ever was to home and was able to attend the funeral. I had missed my grandfather’s because I was in the Philippines and there was simply no time to make it work. Militarying ain’t easy.
I have written before about dad (actually, my stepfather and possibly the best man I ever knew personally) being a musician and the owner / showrunner / chief cook and bottle washer of a popular regional event band based in Mobile, Alabama. The first couple paragraphs here provide the most salient example:
My mother got divorced from David (my biological father) when I was 4 years old. That would have been 1968, I reckon. I cannot make my memory tell me when she started dating the only man I ever called “Dad,” but it couldn’t have been later than about 1971. Mom was a singer, and a damn good one. And dad’s band was a natural fit for a blonde songbird such as she. It really was a great way to grow up. Smoke-filled living rooms or garages with drum kits crammed into corners and a guy sitting on a tool box playing a dobro was like Disneyland for me. Mom actually took the three of us to Disney World in the early 1970s when she was still single (or divorced, depending on your religion and how you look at things). I never understood the draw, even as a pre-teen. But bands? This was my place and these were my people.
The band, called The Reservations, was really good. I know this because they were popular. Dad had a boat and we used to take it out in the Gulf and catch fish and just bask and eat sandwiches… a near-perfect day for a boy. And sometimes I’d wake up early for a planned trip down to the Island to go get some white trout or Spanish mackerel or whatever and be informed that a gig had popped up and going out in the Gulf was off. And money matters more than catching a fish, at least to grownups. It was a good way to learn about life.
And until that winter day in 2001 when we commemorated my dad returning to his Maker, it had never occurred to me that he was the leader of the band.
But he was. He was also the most honest person I can ever remember knowing. He joked and shucked and jived and danced and did all the things salesmen and bandleaders and show people have to do to get gigs. But he would never lie. I have spent my life trying to follow his example on that. I remember him first as the guy who took over my spot as the man of the house (I’m the eldest of three) and being irritated that I couldn’t work him like I could my mom. There was no hate that I recall, but as a teenager who was the alpha while mom was at one of her three jobs or doing a gig late at night, it got under my skin some. My domain had been irreversibly encroached. I was deposed without so much as a ‘by your leave!’
And then a bunch of stuff happened within a brief period of time (there was a life-changing hurricane and a… let’s call it a disagreement with my mother). And then some other stuff happened and I was married with a pregnant wife and in the Air Force.
I was in Germany in late 1993 or early 1994. In those days, speaking on a landline was still the most reliable and common method of communicating with family back home. I had been thinking about life and how things had played out to that point. Realizing how lucky I was to be living in Germany with a lovely wife and two lovely children and having a job and getting the mission done. And I was talking to Dad one night (day for him) and I just blurted ‘I’d like to call you “Dad” from now on, if that’s alright with you.”
I only ever saw dad cry in person one time. He was a lovely fellow, had many friends and was jovial and fair to all he encountered. What he was not was soft. The time I saw him cry was at his father’s funeral. He was a hard man.
And when I said that to him, unbeknownst to me at the time, he cried. He stopped talking and a minute later mom came on the line and asked me ‘What did you say to him? I’ve never seen him act like this before. He can’t talk.’
I cannot recall what he said that prompted me to tell him that, but it hardly matters at all. I’d known the guy for something like 23 years, and he’d been married to my mom for ~16 years. But I’d been thinking and cogitating on it for a while. I try to be really careful about these things. If I’m gonna commit emotionally, I’m gonna be certain. And if I do, you can count your un-hatched chickens.
The following paragraph is an addendum. It didn’t occur to me when I originally wrote this piece a week or so ago. I suspect that’s because we have this ability to suppress things that make us feel bad about ourselves and our character. Anyway, here goes:
As long as I remember, Dad always called me “son.” Not just talking to me, as any man might do with a boy. He introduced me to friends, colleagues, even clients (and prospective clients) as his son. I never recall him telling anyone I was his stepson. He introduced me to everyone he ever spoke to who hadn’t met me as “my son, Chris.” I had forgotten that even as I was writing this piece. I think at least part of the reason for that is that I had been thinking about it a long time. It was a big part of the process of coming to the ‘Dad’ decision. It wasn’t reciprocation, but it was heavy on my mind during that time. He never directly asked me to call him Dad, and in fact I don’t even recall knowing he would want me to. I guess that’s part of why I was taken aback when he got emotional when I said that to him.
If you will kindly indulge me, there are two songs that never fail to make my eyes well up about dad. First up is the song that inspired this piece and whose title I borrowed for it:
The other is from Brad Paisley, who seems to know me better than I know myself in many respects:
I love you, Dad. Requiescat in pace.
Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
Yea...I have been really derelict. I know, and you can accept my deepest apologies. It’s just that sometimes, actual work for which I get paid, and therefore feel obligated to complete, gets in the way. Also, the weather has been really nice and I have been occupied with things keeping me outside. Like my kickass new roofdeck that needed breaking in!
On the plus side, I found out yesterday that a royalty payment coming in July is going to be much bigger than I expected, which is obviously good news (we sold a company and part of the sale price was to be paid in subsequent years based on certain sales benchmarks...and the calculation on this year’s payment was finalized yesterday and it is about 50% bigger than we were expecting. That’s good for the firm, obviously, and really good for those of us who also had personal stakes in the company:-D).
On the downside, I may have used that as an excuse to over-celebrate last night. My head hurts.
Submitted by: GorT at Gormogons
I’m not a fan of bands named after cities or states. Why don’t you rank them?
This came out of my realization that my two home cities have eponymous bands that suck. And by God, GorT...I think that you're onto something here. Place-name bands are, as a rule, pretty awful.
Let’s run down the list:
Chicago - Wretched, syrupy drek.
Kansas - The eye patch...
Boston - Covered this last month
America - How can you name yourself after America and be this bad? And how can you cross an entire desert on a horse and not think to give him a name? Also, camels are a better choice.
Asia - There are over four billion people in Asia. Literally, most people are Asian. And somehow, the continent’s namesake band is four white guys from London...
Linkin Park - They’d be better if they were, you know, actually from Chicago and knew how to spell Lincoln.
Alabama - Alabama sold nearly fifty million albums. FIFTY MILLION. They recorded 43 #1 hits. And I couldn’t name a single one of them.
Florida-Georgia Line - They are probably gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Nazareth - I’m pretty sure that Jesus hoped that someday his hometown would be remembered mostly as a Scottish Metal band. They have a ways to go to be that famous, but with the Lord's help...
Berlin - I only hope someone takes their breath away in the literal sense...we’d be better off if they shut up. OK, I am not really going to wish death on them...that seems harsh.
Europe - Goddamnit I wish I was really ranking these bands, and that it was the last ranking I ever did. The...wait for it...final countdown.
Miami Sounds Machine - How did Gloria Estefan get to be a global superstar? I mean that very seriously...how did that happen? Did she ever make any music that anyone liked?
New York Dolls - We are starting to include bands that use place names as adjectives now. Wikipedia lists twenty-five different members of the New York Dolls. Which makes them the Wu Tang Clan of punk bands, I guess. But, they definitely knew Velvet Underground, so they are OK.
Detroit Spinners - It’s Motown, it can’t be bad.
L.A. Guns - The Hydrox to Guns N Roses Oreos.
Orleans - Not clear whether they are named after Joan of Arc’s home city or the charming Cape Cod town, but that doesn’t really matter. They are Still the One, so long as that One is “awfullest band out of Woodstock, NY”
Cypress Hill - Now we are getting somewhere, damnit!!! Sadly, they never learned to write music that wasn’t about pot, so they sorta ran out of ideas pretty quickly.
Beirut - Who names their band after a city most known for horrible, horrible things? These douchebags, that’s who.
Ohio Players - I believe that John Kasich’s father delivered their mail in the 1970’s.
Phoenix - They’re from France, obviously.
Portishead - Eight miles west of Bristol sits the village of Portishead, which gives us the inspiration for probably the best Place-Name Band in music history.
The Georgia Satellites - One hit about some annoying prude stuck in the 1840’s mindset that women are nothing beyond their vagina and men are so lecherous as to not be trusted until contractually obligated.
Portugal. The Man. - They’re not from Portugal, they're from Alaska. Wasilla, to be exact, just like Sarah Palin. That’s all I have to say about that.
So, really, other than Portishead, Cypress Hill and the New York Dolls, it seems that naming your band after a place is guaranteed to make it suck. Instead, name it after insects or non-moss gathering rocks or something...
Submitted by: Ingenious Firebrand
We need a power ranking of the most important cast members on Vanderpump Rules.
Do we, though? Honestly, the only part of this question I am interested in addressing is your desire to spend even one moment thinking about Vanderpump Rules. Clearly this comes from somewhere...you were both watching the show and taking enough interest in it to ask the question. And for that, you really should be ashamed of yourself.
I'm going to come right and say that this, surpassing some of Jimmy's, is the most embarrassing question I have ever been asked!
I can’t really answer because I don’t know anyone on the show other than “that one chick that was a real Housewife” and I refuse to do the minimal amount of research that I usually do on these questions. I will say, thought, that The Real Housewives franchise and its spinoffs are quite possibly the worst things about America.
If the FBI were interrogating a bunch of guys that they found in a terror cell after an attack, and the leader answered the “Why did you do it?” question with a recap of the Real Housewives of New Jersey...well, I think we’d have to let the guy walk, right? I have a hard time arguing America’s inherent superiority while we watch that shit on TV.
I am going to take a special moment to shout out to Luann from New York as the absolute worst person on television. She’s certainly pretty enough for a 53 year old battle axe, but beyond that she brings absolutely nothing to the table as a human being. I mean, she’s from godawful suburban Connecticut and somehow called herself “Countess” because...um...her ex-husband was French, or something? She was his fourth wife, and I have to believe that there are rules in there somewhere about how many people you are allowed to bring into the nobility via marriage. King Louis gets as many as he wants...seventh rate inbred nobles don’t.
Anyway, I’m super happy to report that Luann got arrested for drunk and disorderly in Florida and charged with felony assault on a police officer (I think she pleaded to a lesser charge). Turns out that knowing which fork goes where in your place setting does not, in fact, keep you from being an absolute trash human being. Don’t worry, though, she went to rehab so I am sure everything is totally OK! If only they had rehab for being dumb, arrogant and lacking self awareness...
Changing cities...my absolute favorite moment in Real Housewives history (I say this having watched maybe 10% of the total volume) was the first season finale in Atlanta. By the end of the show, they all hated each other (because, other than the one normal one that they kicked off the show for being normal, they are all pretty hateable...at least until Kandi came on in season 2). In an effort to make a great hour of television, the producers scheduled a dinner with all of them and their spouses and then the cameras rolled while these crazy broads yelled at each other for the whole show. Suddenly, there was a slight break in the yelling, and one of the guys made an excuse to go outside and the other four husbands basically rushed out of the room after them.
The season ended with the five women more or less throwing glasses at each other while the husbands stood in the parking lot laughing, smoking cigars and basically wondering how it came to be that they were all married to such raving lunatics...
Submitted by: Dan, on behalf of Musket, Brickhouse and AJ
Brick: If you feel the urge to cut the sleeves out of your shirt...STOP. Nobody wants to see your puny arms sticking out of your homemade tank top.
Musket: How else am I supposed to show off my barbed wire tattoo?
AJ: My ex has one of those. He also wears sleeveless shirts and shaves his arms. Part of the reason I use the word “ex” with such glee
Dan: I feel like Alex needs to weigh in on this thread.
I’m not sure you really need me to opine on this, to be honest. I feel like my response is going to be fairly predictable. I’ve spent the last several years wondering when the rest of you are going to realize that gainfully employed, tax paying adults shouldn’t be wearing cargo shorts, so clearly I am going to frown on “homemade tank tops”.
As you likely expect, I’m fully in agreement with everyone here...if you feel the need to wear a sleeveless shirt, just go ahead and buy a sleeveless shirt. Even if you live in Central New Hampshire and that sort of thing seems like it is OK. Lots of people need or want sleeveless shirts, like basketball players, and...um...I’m sure some others. But unless you are Bill Belichick, you can drop the charade of having arms that just don’t fit in your poor restrictive shirtsleeves. Just buy a tank top.
This does raise some questions for AJ, though. Did you not know about the tattoo and the shaved arms when you first started dating? Did you overlook it because he was charming or rich or something? I feel like we need some answers around why he ever got past your girl radar in the first place...
I do like Musket’s barbed-wire tattoo, though. That's a really solid indicator that you came of age around 2000 and maybe once spent a summer sporting frosted tips and following Korn around the northwest. (Says the girl with the sun on her lower back and Japanese characters on her shoulder). Outside of sporting hip-hugging flared jeans with a necktie as a belt, a trucker hat and a Livestrong bracelet, there isn’t a whole lot you can do that screams “early Millennial” quite like an armband tattoo...which, of course, means that I endorse the idea fully.
Submitted by: Dan
What is a worthy investment of the $3 that you won in HQ Trivia, Alex?
That’s right...I won $3.03 in HQ Trivia last night. Worth noting I was in a bar with spotty wifi and a blood alcohol level somewhere above the 1 year Yen LIBOR rate…
For $3.03, you can buy more than one share of Scorpio Tankers ($STNG), the official stock of #AskAlex! A couple months ago, you could have bought two, but they refinanced their most pressing debt issues, and the market reacted well to the news.
You can also buy 60% of an ice cream cookie sandwich from The Cookie Monstah truck, which is what I had for lunch because I am really a 12 year old. And I have absolutely no ragerts about that decision at all.
More practically, there are some pretty simple rules that I think most people can follow to help with any sudden inflow, be it $3 of mobile game show winnings or an investment payout of tens of thousands times that. First off, look to pay down “bad” debt. I don’t want you prepaying your low-cost deductible mortgage or other cheap, affordable debt, but I do want you paying off more expensive debts. Credit cards, expensive car loans or other personal loans, 401K loans, whatever...before you go buying any kind of investment, shed any debt that likely costs more than that investment will earn.
Once you are comfortable with your debt load, ensure you have an emergency fund. This is typically considered to be anywhere from 2-6 months of expenses, held in a highly liquid, no-risk vehicle (a bank checking account, or a money market mutual fund if that makes sense). But don’t let that number scare you if you worry about trying to scrape together that much money: anything is beneficial. Having $100 to cover a blown tire instead of putting it on a credit card you will pay interest on is going to help. Having $250 or $500 to cover some of your rent in case you miss some shifts at work or need to repair a drain or something might be a lifesaver at some point.
After that, you need to evaluate your life goals. Are you saving for a house? Or for some other major expense that you expect to come relatively soon? Then your $3 should go into a risk-free (or low risk if you have more than, say, a year) financial account with safety as the primary objective. Is it for your kids education in 5-10 years? Or your retirement? Well, then it should be in something more aggressive with more risk exposure in hopes of finding a higher return.
As for the specific investments, this may come as a surprise coming from someone in my profession, but I would advocate for simple and low cost. Money that you think is appropriate in stocks? Use an S&P Index fund, and then add in other asset classes as needed...some small cap, some developed international and then some emerging markets. Don’t chase managers, just find the lowest cost index option and go with that. Same goes with whatever kind of a bond option you think you need...identify the asset class you want and then find a low-cost option from a reliable manager (Fidelity, Vanguard, etc.)
I’m not sure the $3 is going to solve any of your major financial questions, but the thought process is the same, and you can apply it to a more substantial inflow as well.
Happy Father’s Day, all!
Alex’s random old song of the week
Bands named after places might suck...but songs don’t! And here’s some proof! L.A. Woman, which is the best Doors song by a country mile. Maybe several country miles….
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.