Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Things Your Higher Education Professional Doesn't Tell You About Student Aid

"Reader's Digest" does this feature every month where they do "X Number of Things Your (Insert Professional Career Here) Doesn't Tell You." Yes, I subscribe to "Reader's Digest" so shut up. I figured I would do one that is tangentially related to my job and hopefully it won't turn into a bitch-fest because that's no fun for anyone. One of my biggest pet peeves about the information that goes out to parents and students about higher education is that it is all homogenized as if every school and Admissions department is the exact same. This isn't true, so generic advice is what parents get. The advice given is either from people who don't really know the answers they are giving (the lack of knowledge I find in some high school counselors can be frightening at times) or are so far up in the hierarchy of a school they have no idea what useful advice to give. So here goes. Here are things your higher education professional doesn't tell you about student aid.

1. Everyone wants college to be paid for completely. Your child deserves a full scholarship like every other child deserves a full scholarship. It's no fun to tell your child "no," but if your child is looking at a $40,000/year school and you can't afford that then you are only hurting your family and the child by pretending you can afford this. Much like it is not the job of a mortgage banker to subsidize the cost of a house you can't afford, a college can only do so much to subsidize the cost of a $40,000/year education. Sometimes even if your child wants to buy a Lexus, you have to buy the child a used Honda instead.

2. It's not always the place your child goes to get an education. It is the education your child chooses to get at that institution. There's no point in chasing a degree from a "name" college if your child can succeed at a university that is more affordable and gives the child the same opportunity to succeed in life.

3. Every letter/email/fax a Financial Aid counselor receives begins with some form of "Thank you for the generous financial aid award offer. We are so happy that X college offered the money and we are grateful..." followed by an appeal for more money. So excuse the counselor if it seems like there is a bit of an eye roll. If the award offered was truly that generous then you wouldn't be asking for more money. It's the "It's not you, it's me" of higher education and blowing smoke up a counselor's ass isn't going to get you further. Be honest, be straight and if you can't afford it, then be honest and straight with yourself.

4. Speaking of asking for more money...sitting down with a counselor or even the Director of Financial Aid won't necessarily get you more money. It's not 1965 and a face-to-face meeting is no longer more effective than a well-written appeal or letter. Oftentimes it is a matter of budgeting and consideration with the Admissions Counselor on whether the student deserves more money or more money should be offered. Writing a letter or an email allows this process to begin, while a face-to-face meeting only serves to waste the time of two people.

5. Students who have succeeded the first or second year in college often will come to see if they can get more money for their good grades. You aren't seven years old and getting "A's" on your report card anymore. It's college and the money you were given is based on the college's anticipation that you would get good grades and be a contributor to the community. Doing so only reinforces you deserve the money given to you, but doesn't necessarily qualify you for more aid. If additional scholarships are what you want, the specific department within your major is your better bet. Academic departments like to reward students within that department who succeed with some of the departmental scholarships they have. I would usually try there first.

6. When writing an email or sending a phone call, do wait 24 hours for a return phone call or email if specified in the voicemail. Calling back repeatedly and not leaving a message in a desperate attempt to not have to wait 24 hours isn't going to get your call returned more quickly and writing an email after a voicemail will not either. Every college has caller ID and knows the phone number that has called repeatedly without leaving a message. Often it won't be 24 hours before your phone call is returned, but that message is left on the voicemail to protect the counselor who may get busy in the meantime from the expectation the phone call should be returned immediately.

7. This is more of a general rule for life in general. If you have left a voicemail for someone to call you back, always check your voicemail before calling that person back. In the field of customer service or in the field of life, there are few things more frustrating than answering a question in a voicemail only to have the person asking the question call you back and ask the same damn question again. If you expect the courtesy of a call back, then extend the courtesy of checking your voicemail.

8. Financial Aid counselors do have favorite students. The best way to not become a favorite student is to be a pain in the ass and require constant maintenance. Questions are fine and that's why your Financial Aid counselor exists, partly to answer questions. When a parent constantly calls and asks questions answered previously or has new questions on a regular basis rather than putting all questions into one email it becomes obnoxious.

9. Regarding being a pain in the ass. I find that many students/parents who become a pain in the ass actually end up receiving a lower level of service. It's not intentional, but whereas the squeaking wheel gets the grease, the squeaking wheel also is ignored in favor of wheels that don't squeak if given the opportunity. This is also a lesson in life also. Subconsciously humans don't want to do something painful or uncomfortable to do.

10. For divorced parents...everyone working in higher education understands divorce is difficult and the ability to communicate with an ex is not always easy. That being said, it is not the responsibility of the Financial Aid office to communicate payments due and other financially necessary issues to the non-custodial parent who is responsible for paying part of the tuition. We are not the middle man or a convenient way for you to not be forced to communicate with your ex. It's not about you. It's about your son/daughter's education. If that's not important enough to call your ex, then why should it be important enough to your Financial Aid department to make sure your ex understands when his portion of the payment is due? FERPA requires only the custodial parents on the FAFSA be notified of amounts owed to the school. Explaining to a Financial Aid counselor on the phone you and your ex don't get along is no reason for why the counselor has to become the mediator in your great battle to get your shared child's education paid.

11. I have had a parent tell me, "If you guys want to get paid, then you will call my ex and say what is due from him." In response I would like to say, if you want your child to go to school, then you will not be a child and communicate with your ex. Finance and the Accounts Department at a university see a bill either as paid or not paid. An unpaid bill has no feelings.

12. On a related note, if the child isn't on speaking terms with the non-custodial parent it still isn't the job of the counselor to be the mediator. Life is hard and sometimes you have to talk to people you don't want to talk to for a greater purpose. If the child wants to go to college and have that parent pay his/her portion, then no relationship is required, but notification when the bill is due will be required. You want it paid, forward the bill to the non-custodial parent.

13. What makes a person love this job is working with parents and students to get that student into college and see them graduate. It's nice to see students succeed and get an education.

14. You don't know how many times I've been asked, "Do you know anyone who would be good for X scholarship?" I will always name one of my favorite students who hasn't been a pain in the ass or one who has good grades. So please remember this when making that phone call after you have had a bad day, don't understand your bill because you haven't read it, and feel the need to have your balance explained rather than attempt to understand why the balance is due by viewing the bill.

15. It can be incredibly exhausting and not fulfilling being the one handing out the money. Students/parents remember their Admissions Counselor who recruited them, their coaches, favorite professors and anyone else who helped them graduate. The person who hands out the money and explains why you owe $5000 when you thought it would only be $4000 needs a pick-me-up every once in a while. Financial Aid often sees the worst part of the student/parent because they are always talking money. It's nice to be appreciated every once in a while by simply being thanked. It's so few and far between, that it's remembered.

16.  Financial Aid counselors don't know about scholarships at other schools. They don't know about every scholarship available either.

17. Financial Aid counselors are suckers for students who take their education seriously and don't require mommy or daddy to call after they have had a conversation they don't understand about Financial Aid. If you don't understand, then don't waste our time and pretend like you will understand. Just have your parent call.

18. Parents, if you have an AGI of $270,000 and your husband loses his job taking your AGI down to $220,000 then don't necessarily expect more Financial Aid because you can't afford college anymore. Cancel the country club dues, maybe lower your lifestyle demands a little bit. Someone who makes $270,000 a year who can't afford college is seen as a person who wants college further subsidized without having any type of sacrifice on their part. That's how it is seen.

19. You don't know how many parents who send their child to private school I talk to on a yearly basis. These parents just can't afford college, though they found a way to afford a $35,000/year private school because it was necessary due to some medical or emotional issue. I've seen students with behavior problems sent to horse camp or sent to boarding schools and their parents are happy to pay less for college. I've seen students who have behavioral or educational issues sent to private schools that cost $30,000+/year because "it's necessary." Pretend that college is necessary too. It's frustrating to see a parent who finds private schools necessary, but wants someone else to give them a break when it comes to paying for college.

20. College is too expensive. Few people disagree with this. It's expensive to run a college though and I guarantee you that the person in middle management you are talking to at the college isn't making as much money as you think he/she is. College administrators like the Chancellor, CFO, etc. make a lot of money. That doesn't always trickle down. When saying your income was cut to $170,000/year and complaining you can't afford college is a slap in the face to a person who earns half of that for his/her entire household and is planning on sending his/her children to college too. Know your audience and just generally understand how fortunate you are.

21. Speaking of college administrators. Few of them have guts and the intestinal fortitude to talk to parents who appeal for more money and decline their appeal. The difficulty of the situation is it is hard to get to these administrators because they direct any questions to their underlings to be answered. It's preached constantly to educate parents, students and be tough when declining an appeal for more funds, but it's always a different story when that administrator has to be tough.

22. For parents, no matter how much you don't want to admit it your child is an adult once he/she goes to college. He/she is having sex, doing drugs, making the decision to attend class or not, and making daily decisions you know nothing about. The student has to be treated this way and allowed to fail if he/she starts to fail. There is a time to step in and help your child, but delaying your child taking responsibility for him/herself and his/her mistakes isn't helping him/her nor will it help you.

23. On a related note, your child will receive correspondence from Financial Aid and saying, "Child X doesn't check his/her email" or "Child X didn't understand the email so she/he deleted it" is not a good reason for something requested to not be completed. Don't be angry with me, be angry with your child. In the real world, not answering an email or taking action on an email due to disinterest or because that person didn't understand it is an easy way to get fired. College is preparing a student for the real world, which involves reading email. If your child can update his/her Facebook or Twitter account, he/she can check his/her email hit the "forward" button to send the information to you.

24. I mean really, your child is a grownup. You may not like it and want to be the savior parent from time-to-time, but I will treat your child like a grownup. If you don't want your child treated like an adult it's probably best your child isn't in college preparing for a real world where he/she will be treated like an adult. I have had parents tell me their child's brain doesn't form completely until the age of 25 and that's why email doesn't get answered or a request isn't fulfilled. Regardless of the scientific nature of this claim, you must empower your child rather than continue to make excuses for why empowerment only will lead to failure. Failure teaches lessons that are remembered.

25. Oh, athletes. Athletes can be the best and they can be the worst. Your son/daughter can hit a ball well? Congrats, but despite what he/she has been told over his/her entire life this doesn't make her more important than a student with a 3.70 GPA in my eyes. The best athlete is one who excels in the classroom and on the field. The worst athlete is one who thinks excelling on the field is the only purpose. Most likely your child won't be making money as a soccer player, while the student with a 3.70 GPA will probably succeed and give money back to the university.

26. I laugh when I read stories about students who graduate with tons of debt and have an Art degree. It's not that I don't have sympathy for them, but when you go to an expensive school and come away with a degree there's no guarantee of employment. Again, school is too expensive, but the price tag is right there for many schools and students choose to purchase anyway. The media likes to jump on stories of unemployed students who have $100,000 in debt, but what they don't pay attention to is the Admissions Counselor who did/did not advise that student perhaps this school isn't the best one for him/her.

27. Speaking of student loan debt, there is no reason adult students should have the same loan limits as dependent students who are the age of 18-24. The cost is cheaper for adult students and all that happens is these adult students use the additional loans to pay for expenses through a refund check. Adult students should have lower loan limits than dependent students from ages 18-24, rather than allow them to use school as a secondary source of income. It only hurts the adult student that he/she is racking up so much debt at a more advanced age.

28. The two main questions I receive from adult students are: (1) "How do I apply for loans?" and (2) "When does my refund come in?" Trust me, I believe many of these students are in school simply to take advantage of the refund check. It's possible to graduate from a four year degree program as an adult student with less than $10,000 in debt.

29. Many families have two students in college at one time. The fact that you are calling me and saying you are helping your first child who graduated from college pay back his/her loans so you want me more in aid to compensate for having to pay back these loans is annoying. Why should my school subsidize promises you have made to your children? Don't make promises you can't afford and then expect someone else to subsidize your other child's education as a result.

30. When receiving an email that says "Your password and login is incorrect, please contact the IT department," don't call me and ask who you should contact. It's right there. This goes for other departments as well. I don't hold sway over your professor and what grade he gives out nor do I know why Housing put you in a certain dorm. Universities and colleges are big places. Just like someone who services your Bank of America IRA doesn't know why you weren't approved for a loan, I don't know why other departments do what they do.

31. I like my job and I like dealing with parents/students. The 75% of students/parents who aren't a royal pain in the ass make up for the 25% that are a royal pain in the ass. And yes, I find those figures are probably accurate. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Brutal Review of a Van Halen Show

I went to go see Van Halen when they came to Charlotte in 1998. That was when Gary Cherone was the lead singer. They opened with "Unchained" and it didn't get much better from there. When I'm asked to name the worst concert I have ever been to then I usually name this concert. This is something coming from a person who attended a Doobie Brothers and Chicago combined concert in the late 90's. "Detached" would be a polite way of describing the attitude from the band that night. I was about done when I realized there were synthesizer sounds coming from the stage and there was no one actually playing the synthesizer. It's not like Van Halen are poor, they can afford a touring keyboard player I'm sure. They just chose not to hire one, because why the fuck would they do that? This isn't the first time Van Halen played backup music in concert, including one time here in Greensboro. 

Right now, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen hate each other. It's not a big deal because it has been quite a few years since Van Halen was a band, instead of a group of musicians who choose to play together in front of fans for money. They turned the corner from a band to a group of musicians who play music in front of their fans for money around the mid-90's, right after they fired Sammy Hagar, but not really, then decided they may want David Lee Roth back, but not really, but here is Gary Cherone, and then really who gives a shit let's just tour with David Lee Roth, but after we briefly get back together with Sammy Hagar. Now the band has again chosen David Lee Roth as their lead singer. The fans want David Lee Roth? They get him, they just don't get much else when they see Van Halen in concert. So here is a review of Van Halen at Red Rocks and it's brutal, but funny. 

Roth isn't a good vocalist, there's no doubt about that. Isolate his vocals and it makes you gain respect for his ability to put on a show and then wonder why he sounds so odd at times. So it's not surprising that his vocals didn't age well. He wasn't ever going to be Freddie Mercury. If a band hates each other and goes on tour to line their pockets or give fans a chance to see them, at least put on a good performance. 

The pioneering blues metal band Van Halen – anchored by the mighty Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex – once bridged the gap between pop and metal. They defined a sound. Today, they remain as loud as ever, but their tired rock has reached its sell-by date.

I thought back in 1998 the band sounded tired in concert. I can't imagine how they sound now without Michael Anthony. And yes, Wolfgang Van Halen gets by well in this review, but I have no interest in seeing a person who wasn't born when David Lee Roth left the band originally performing on stage. Even if his last name is Van Halen too.

Even with a stellar setlist that included hits, deep cuts and some of the pioneering band’s most compelling riffs, the show fell spectacularly flat on Monday.

This reminds me, the first thing Gary Cherone did on stage when I saw the band in 1998 was do the "devil horns" thing that Elaine used to do on "Seinfeld." Maybe it felt like a "rock" thing to do. I don't know where the fuck Van Halen finds these guys. Well, they find them in other rock bands like Extreme...

If there was any star, it was Eddie’s 24-year-old son, Wolfgang, whose dynamic bass built a rich backdrop for his dad’s expressive guitar.

Maybe Eddie Van Halen is having the rest of the band perform shittily so his son looks better?

But Roth’s struggle eclipsed all moments of glory. If the consummate showman is troubled by blown lyrics and missed notes, he very likely spiraled into a deep funk late Monday. But Diamond Dave, who rotated through a rainbow of sparkling outfits at Red Rocks, has always been more flash than substance. With his fresh Japanese tattoos peeking from beneath his sleeveless vest, the 60-year-old did his best Jazzercise kicks all night while gasping and chanting every third word.

I love everything about this paragraph.

1. The knock against Roth for blowing lyrics (lyrics? How the hell can you blow Van Halen lyrics? It's not like they write 10 verses like Bob Dylan) and missing notes. 

2. The mention of Roth's sparkling outfits. He's the Madonna of rock. Wardrobe change!

3. "fresh Japanese tattoos..." Making it sound like Roth gets tattoos in order to seem younger.

4. "Jazzercise kicks..." But they are, they are Jazzercise kicks.

“Running … pant … devil … pant … whaaah!”

At least he sang the chorus. If you listen to the isolated vocal take he only sang the chorus as part of the background vocals on the album version of the song.

In one of the strangest moments ever for Red Rocks, Roth strummed an acoustic slide and blasted into a harmonica as he relayed the boring details from a decades-ago night with Ozzy Osbourne.

And now the drunken party boy who wants to act like he just came fresh off the beach to sing a few songs, Sammy Hagar, doesn't sound so bad does he? He may hawk some tequila, but at least he's not relaying stories about hanging out with one of the Nelson twins after a show one night.

Like him or not, it seems implausible that Roth can make it another 30-plus shows to Van Halen’s end-of-tour homecoming at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl in October. 

Brutal. I swore off Van Halen after the 1998 show, so I feel very bad for those who are duped into buying tickets on this tour. It may not be so bad at times, but it seems like you gotta catch Roth on a good night.

While he never dropped his gape-mouth grin, Roth could not hide the fact that his voice is shattered after the tour’s first eight shows.

Given the fact Van Halen doesn't use that many different instruments on a song in the studio and didn't want to waste their time hiring a keyboardist a few tours ago, it wouldn't surprise me if they just had Roth's vocals dubbed in and he stood up on stage and pranced around for the entire show. They get paid either way, right?

And yes, when I saw Van Halen in '98 the piano intro to "Right Now" was played while the band just stood there on stage. There was a piano playing, but clearly no one was playing it.

Maybe it’s time to take a page from the Journey playbook and start trolling Manila nightclubs for a singer who can hit those sustained notes. 

(The reviewer drops the mic and walks away)

It's not that this is a funny comment, but Van Halen is currently touring with a lead singer the guitarist admits he doesn't like and who doesn't like him. The comment is funny because this would be something the band would do, because after all, why play with a guy who can't hit the notes and they hate when they could put some puppet strings on a complete stranger and have him sing karaoke on stage? It's not out of the realm that Van Halen would do this, so it's funny in a "Shit, they may do that in the future" type of way.

Eddie, graying a bit and casual in jeans and sneakers, joined his son in rescuing the spluttering Roth many a time, offering strong harmonies on every song, including rock-solid vocal arcs inside “Beautiful Girls” and “Ain’t Talking About Love.”

I'm betting $100 these vocals were supported by some form of background dubbing as well. If they will dub instruments in, why not dub a few vocals too? Plus, I'm supposed to believe a 60-year old guy who has had a third of tongue removed is throwing around some strong harmonies on stage? Not so sure about that one.

Touring in support of their first-ever live album with Roth – “Toyko Dome Live in Concert” – the band stormed through 25 songs in about two-and-a-half hours. 

Absent a reunion tour with a reunion album behind it, the idea of touring behind a live album always makes me chuckle. It's the lowest form of collecting cash by touring behind an album that is a recording of a previous tour. And yes, I attended the Rolling Stones "No Security" tour and don't regret it. I knew it was a cheap way to tour, but wanted to see the Stones. I have no regrets, but do recognize the whole "touring behind a live album" is the quickest and most effective way to do as little work as possible and separate a fool from his money.

The crowd thinned considerably about halfway through the show.

The reviewer didn't put a "thinning hair" joke in here. I wish he had. Such a missed opportunity.

Eddie and his older brother Alex on drums make an all-time team. Adding the younger Wolfgang has created an even more vibrant dynamic. The Van Halen family vibe was buoyed by Eddie’s apparent high spirits. He’s obviously stoked to be playing with his son and brother. Eddie roamed the stage on Monday, joining his brother on the sculpted steel drum platform and laughing with his old pal Roth. Those days of alcohol-fueled acrimony between Eddie and Roth seem distant.

Except for the part where they don't like each other.

If there were any fiery moments, they came late in the show with Eddie’s turbulent licks in Unchained” and their unique – yet straight off the album – take on the Kinks’ bluesy “You Really Got Me.” Roth played the drum major on the closer “Panama” twirling his mic stand like a baton and leaping maniacally in the encore “Jump.”

Probably doing Jazzercise kicks.

The lesson here is that if you plan on seeing a band in concert, try to decide if you just want to see that band play live or you actually expect that band to sound good live. I learned my lesson concerning Van Halen quite a few years ago. Maybe they were just having a bad night, but they were the worst band I have seen in concert and I have seen Kevin Bacon's band in concert. They were really good actually. One wouldn't think The Bacon Brothers would be better than Van Halen.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Music I Like I Think Others Should Sample

I tend to suggest music for my boss to listen to. I in no way believe myself to be a music expert or anything of the such. Still, I figured I would list some music I am listening to now just in case anyone cares to sample the music, agrees with me it is good music or doesn't care for the music. Heck, suggest your own music to me. I listen to a variety of music, but I generally keep up more with current more rock/indie (I don't know the difference to be honest...Mumford and Sons is really neither, but there are so many genres it's just easier to lump everything together) and R&B music. I listen to almost every genre of music, but I don't really enjoy much of today's rap and this pop-country shit has to go the hell away. Florida-Georgia Line can be drowned in the Bermuda Triangle for all I care (have I mentioned that before?).

If you have listened to these bands and hate them, that's fine. I recognize my music isn't always the best music to listen to for everyone.

Butch Walker

You probably remember Marvelous 3 from this song:

Don't run away! Please. He was the lead singer of that band. I stumbled upon his music because of this video:

Yes, that is Matthew McConaughey playing Wooderson from "Dazed and Confused." After I saw that video, I did some research on Butch Walker and he's really a great musician. He has seven albums out and none of them really sound the exact same. He skips around a lot with his sound. He's a very ADD songwriter. But all of his albums have good songwriting and he writes a good hook. It's like each album is his own experiment with the sounds he can try. There's not one album to suggest, it just depends on what you want to hear.

Left of Self-Centered: More harder rock, which echos some pop-punk sounds.

Letters: This album is still rock, but has a much more rock sound to it overall. He throws a lot of the emo out the window for a more pop sound.

The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites: This is basically a glam-rock album. Again, there are some pop tendencies to it as well, but a lot of it is a commentary on partying and the women involved with partying.

Sycamore Meadows: My personal favorite album. It's got a more introspective, slowed down pop pace to it. He uses more strings and it's just an overall more melancholy album about loss (his house burnt down before making the album). He even throws in his first real obvious attempt to get radio play with "Here Comes The..." It's a great album though.

I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart: This is the closest he has gotten to a consistent sound as it's more of a cousin to "Sycamore Meadows," but I would consider this one to be a straight-out pop album.

The Spade: This is an outright straight rock album. It doesn't sound as poppy as his other records and he moves away from too much sheen and goes for a rougher sound. Outside of "Synthesizers" there aren't too many good hooks on this one.

Afraid of Ghosts: This is basically an acoustic album. Very mellow, but probably one of his best records. Acoustic albums can be boring or they can be compelling. This falls under compelling for me. 

So depending on your mood, you may like Butch Walker.

The Gaslight Anthem

This is one of my favorite bands. I read them described perfectly and I can't remember where. They sound like Bruce Springsteen if he had let the Ramones record "Hungry Heart" and then launched that type of music into stardom at local New York clubs. For me, I consider their sound to be if Bruce Springsteen fronted the Replacements. That's how it sounds to me. They have five albums, one essential EP and one B-sides album that is pretty damn near essential. They are classified in so many ways, including punk rock. I don't consider them that though. Their best album is definitely "The '59 Sound" and they ended up doing the title track with Springsteen at a concert:

They've come to dislike the comparisons to Springsteen, which I think has in some ways taken them away from their strengths. I would start with "The '59 Sound," which is an album that references to other bands (including lyrics in the songs that are exact lyrics to other songs by other artists) on plenty of songs. It's got the best songwriting and sound the band has offered up yet. Though, trying out "Handwritten" is probably a good idea too. "45" is one of the best songs they have done and "Here Comes My Man" does sound like something Springsteen would do with the amps turned up a little bit more. Great band for driving and playing music loudly.

Farewell Milwaukee

And then there is this band who are not good for driving and playing music loudly. You can, but it's not quite the same thing as blaring loud music. I sometimes have a hard time describing music and they are a band I have a hard time describing. It's not soft rock, but is more 1970's acoustic rock. Sort of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young updated for the modern era. That's probably a bad description. Here are some YouTube videos that do a better job. 

Their best album is probably their second album "When It Sinks In," though all three albums are strong if you ask me. You can listen to nearly every song on their website, which is kind of nice.

Van Hunt

He is one of my personal favorite artists. I would put him under "R&B," though his discography is so eclectic it's almost pointless to try and classify him. I came into hearing his music on his first album which is mostly straight R&B/Soul. The difference being it's not really R&B. It's R&B with more guitar. Here is one of the hits off his first album called "Dust."

Then there is his second album, which went in a more dance-oriented direction. Here he is doing a song originally done with Nicki Costa, but done live with the Afghan Wigs. It's called "Mean Sleep."

His third album became less R&B and more rock-centered, along with a little more weird, but in a good way. It's just good music. Sort of what Lenny Kravitz wishes that he could be.


I probably should include a caveat to this band. They have eight albums and haven't put an album out that wasn't borderline crap since 2008. If you ignore their last two albums when the band started bleeding members, then you would really like them. They are an interesting band only in that they have so much talent and a great sound, but only put it all together for a few albums. They have a Roots Rock sound, but sort of a Roots Rock sound that is as discombobulated and messy as can be. If other Roots Rock bands are The Rolling Stones, then Marah was always The Faces. I'll go album by album, except skip the last two, which I believe to be crap.

Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later Tonight: The debut album from the band. For a band that I am recommending, I feel like I'm saying "not my favorite" about them a lot. This is great album to listen to once you have gotten into the band. I would not start here. It's not bad, but it's not a very accessible album.

Kids in Philly: This is the second album that I would listen to if I wanted to hear the band's sound. It's got "Faraway You," "My Heart is the Bum's on the Street," and "Round-Eye Blues," which is a great song about war. Apparently if you live in Philadelphia or in the area then you can relate to some of the references. I don't live there, yet I still manage to appreciate the music. Very good album, but still a little bit messy...not in a bad way. 

Float Away with the Friday Night Gods: This album got killed at the time by critics because the band took their sound, threw it away and turned into Oasis. Really, they hired the guy who worked with Oasis and the Verve to produce the album. Every song is long and every song is very poppy. The band even knew it at the time. The cover is of a disco ball blowing a bubble with sunglasses and headphones on. They basically were like, "This is our pop album." Fans didn't hate it, but didn't love it. Eventually the band did the whole album again in a more acoustic setting and released that as a record. It's sort of a shame because there were some good riffs on the album, especially on the lead-off track called "Float Away." I enjoy the album because it's louder and I know it's not entirely serious. It's a completely different sound from anything they would ever do. Just for shits and giggles, I would have this be the third album I would listen to.

20,000 Streets Under the Sky: So then the band went back to their old sound like nothing happened. Daddy hit mommy at the dinner table, let's just go back to eating. Weirdly, this album either got critical acclaim or dismissed by critics. It didn't seem like there was much in between. I think it's a pretty good album, though the last thing about it is that the songs are catchy. They are good songs, but they don't stick in your head for a while.

If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry: This is their masterpiece album and probably the one I would pick up first. Sure, you are starting at the top, but they never mixed their ragged sound again with such great lyrics and catchy music as they did on this album. It's full of catchy songs. There is "The Closer," "Fat Boy," and "The Hustle."

But, the best songs on the album are probably the slower songs they do. Until this album, the band had not really seemed to have done straight slow songs that weren't story songs. Most of these songs aren't sappy, but about people trying to escape their situation and constantly running into themselves as their biggest obstacle in life. Apparently the band could relate to people trying to get ahead in life who just couldn't get it done. "City of Dreams," "Demon of White Sadness," and "Walt Whitman Bridge" are all great, great songs. They are slower though, but still really good.


Angels of Destruction!: The band was having some internal problems here and it wasn't hard to tell. Once you have enjoyed them as a band, I would buy this album. It's a step back from their previous album back to a more "Kids in Philly" and "20,000 Streets..." sound, but still good overall.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cutting the Cord Isn't Easy

I have had one goal in life for the past three years. I want to cut the cord with cable. Every year I get one step closer to doing it, only to back off. Three years ago I thought about it, then didn't do it. Two years ago I wanted to do it and looked at some devices that would get it done, but they didn't seem viable. Last year I kept looking into these devices but still felt the time wasn't right. This year I was planning on cutting the cord, and still may, but I keep running into the same issues this year I have run into before. I've looked into devices and gotten the pros and cons of each. It's just a matter of doing it, but then there is also the matter that it seems so hard. A friend sent me to this subreddit. Some of this shit is like Greek to me. I have specifications to cut the cord and there is no easy way to get it done at this point without having 3-4 devices.

1. No satellite or anything that has to be placed on the house. This is my wife's only stipulation.

2. I want my Braves games and all of the college basketball games I watch. This means I need local channels AND ESPN. Some devices have one but not the other.

3. I rarely watch anything live, so I need a way to tape my shows and watch them later. If I get rid of Time Warner Cable then that means I need to find a device that tapes shows. I have found a few, but they don't seem to have the capability of the DVR I currently have.

4. I need children channels as well. The kids gotta watch something on television.

5. I still need to pay for Internet, which isn't cheap. I can find shows on premium channels online and find a way to watch those if I need to.

The problem is there isn't really a device that delivers all of this content in one package. Roku doesn't have the local channels I need, plus I have to purchase apps on Roku which would drive the price I pay even higher. Throw in having to purchase a recording device for some of the content I want to watch and getting rid of one cable box has turned into a 2-3 device affair with no guarantee it will meet my television needs.

My cable bill isn't as bad as the bill others would pay. So I don't think I have it worse than others. I simply hate Time Warner Cable and am tired of their shitty customer service. It's only going to get worse. It's already bad enough when I call their customer service line I explain what I want and the representative won't listen to me. I explained a couple months ago I do not want premium channels, wanted to cut my bill and needed a quoted price for that. What they came back with was MORE premium channels and an INCREASE in what I pay. Really? Then what followed is I was referred to a retention specialist who then decided that he can give me a deal that includes a free three month trial of EPIX with a slight decrease in monthly cost. I told him I want fewer premium channels and was told that it's actually cheaper to have more channels. Of course it is.

Finally, I bitched on Twitter and got TWC to respond and they had a representative call me. This was February 13. Unfortunately when she called I was in a meeting and when I called her back I left a message. I'm still waiting for a call back. They don't care though. They know it's not easy to cut the cord. Why call me back when there are so many other customers who they can screw over by sending a massively high bill to in an effort to get them to call and re-negotiate their cable bill? That whole thing of sending an incredibly expensive bill to a customer in an effort to get them to negotiate is the sign of a horrible business practice. I can't wait until cable companies go out of business and the public can piss on their ashes.

I looked into Roku and then would get a subscription to either Netflix or Hulu. Great. Unfortunately, what am I going to do about the sports I want to watch? Well, I could get the Slingbox for $20 and then upgrade for $5 per month. So now I have two devices and am paying for Internet. I do want to watch Braves games, so a subscription to MLBtv is required and there is a slight chance that the Braves will be blacked out in my area. Then there is the issue that I have a television in my bedroom too, which means I will need to buy two Roku's. Not a huge deal, but it's an upfront cost.

So say I have decided that I am cutting the cord and get Roku. Now I have to decide if I want Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu Plus. Each has their own positive and negatives. Hulu Plus is the only one with recent seasons of shows ready to be watched a day or two after they air. Netflix has a ton of movies. Amazon Prime has a good selection of shows, plus offers free shipping on items purchased from There are more decisions to be made at this point and another monthly bill that has to be paid. It's another upfront barrier to cutting the cord. Even if most of these services are month-to-month, I prefer to be in a situation where I know what service I'm buying, even on a month-to-month basis. That's not realistic in this situation.

It's not that I am lazy or don't want to cut the cable. I hate cable companies. I despise them for their greed, inability to adapt to what consumers obviously want (which is to choose the channels they get and pay for them based on what they want), and general disregard for their customers. Their customer service agents don't listen and then try to justify the jacked-up prices by explaining that they are providing NEW AND IMPROVED services! My Internet can now be faster! I don't want that. I don't want faster Internet. Mine works just fine.

So I am about to go through this song-and-dance with Time Warner Cable again. I'll probably bitch about them on Twitter and then some "retention specialist" will call me and we will try to work something out. If cutting the cord were easier for me, I would do it in a heartbeat. It's too complicated with too many unknowns at this point. I hate Time Warner Cable, but there is no "cutting the cord" option that will allow me to flip channels between local sports and ESPN. I can't find one.

I can deal with the learning curve, but cutting the cord requires making choices and sacrifices that just having cable doesn't require me to worry about. What's worse is I still have to have an Internet connection to use Roku, so I'm not totally done with the evil cable companies. I still want to cut the cord and I still am going to try and do it this year. It's so hard to wrap my mind around all the options I have. There are layers of options to get through once I have cut the cord and I don't feel technologically advanced enough to make this decision right now. I wish I could. There is always the concern that getting me to the point I want to be will push my cable bill right back up to where it was with Time Warner Cable.

One day, a company will come along and make things easier for the consumer. I can't wait to see Time Warner Cable and other companies lose even more customers when that day comes. Ten years from now the idea a cable company would jack up the price of a service in an effort to get you to call them and re-negotiate will hopefully seem as ridiculous in reality as it seems in my own head. That's the dumbest business move to make, piss off your customer in an effort to get them to stay with you? But right now, the common person will struggle to cut the cord. It requires so many decisions to be made and to further complicate the television-watching life of a family. Cable still has the consumer by the balls, but that will change once cutting the cord is made easier for the common person or more complete knowledge about the options once the cord has been cut is available. For example, if I cut the cord, these are the options I have if I like certain shows, sports, and movies. It's all still a little fuzzy now.

It's hard for me to make a decision because I feel like I don't have complete information on how to make the decision I need to make to cut the cord. I read subreddits, do Google searches to make it easier on me and I become further confused. It's all a cable conspiracy I'm sure. Suggestions to resolve my confusion or new curse words to pass along to Time Warner Cable are always welcome.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Herein Lies My Problem

There are so many times in a given week that I think of a topic to address on this blog and then never actually do it. I'm always away from a computer when I think of these topics too, which is quite the accomplishment given that I am very rarely ever more than 100 feet away from a computer, and I will think, "Damn, that's a good topic to write about. Remember that one and formulate an outline of what you want to write." Then..................nothing. I forget or the topic doesn't seem as interesting after a little bit of time or I don't feel that connection to the topic anymore. It tortures me to have this blog and not update it at least weekly. I am a person who does things 100% or I don't do them at all.

There is also the inner struggle I feel that I really don't think anyone gives a shit what I have to say (and no, I don't need anyone to tell me they care...I don't seek validation at all). On the other blog that I update constantly, I always refer to the phenomenon of how sports writers think because the readers care about the sports-related topic they write, then the readers care about the writer as a person too. This leads to a lot of personal stories that populate the writing that is usually about sports. I notice this a lot and I don't want to be one of those people. Not that anyone cares what I write there, but I separated the two blogs for a reason. I wrote something really personal over on the site a long time ago (and reprinted it here) and I really enjoyed writing it, but it felt really out of place. So I don't want to turn into a navel-gazing asshole who posts "Look at all my deep thoughts" on his blog. So therefore a lot of stuff goes unwritten on this blog. For example, my daughter almost choked to death on Chik-Fil-A one night when I was alone with her back in November. It was fucking traumatic to where I talk about it all the time, which is my way of dealing with it. I have thoughts on this and it's a pretty interesting me. I didn't appreciate how it was handled by the nurse on-call at her doctor office. She acted like my daughter was coughing a bit when in reality I had to turn her over and slap her on the back to remove the food from her throat. To everyone else this is interesting, maybe, maybe not. I just don't want to be one of those people who just assumes everything that happens to me is interesting, but then I do have this blog, so obviously I care to mention these things that happen. I just never do.

Some of my stories are fun, some things I haven't sorted out at all to where I can write about them here. So between the things I find interesting that I don't know if others do because I don't want to be that guy who assumes because people read my other blog they care to read this one (but then, that was the purpose of the separate blog, those who want to read personal shit can visit), between the topics that just feel like too much navel-gazing, the topics that I haven't sorted out yet to where I can write about them, and the things I forget to write, there is a lot that goes unwritten here. Throw in a lot of my time I spend on the other blog I write and I feel like a failure. Which sucks since all of this writing is completely voluntary. I hold myself to a weird standard to churn out material as much as possible.

So in summary, I feel like a failure because I don't update the blog I am not totally sure people care to read even though I started this blog on a separate site from my other blog specifically so those who do care to read my more personal stories and thoughts can do so. Also, I don't want anyone to think I think others care about what I write simply because they may read what I write on another site. I am not dominated by self-doubt, so no worries. I have a tough time being open and sharing my thoughts. So my goal is to just write. Just fucking pick something to write about and write.

The first thing I want to write about is how this blog got it's name. It's more interesting than that very non-exciting tagline made it sound. Maybe I'll manage to write this post in the next four months.