2016: Unforgotten

Posted: December 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

Most years, regardless of the victories and defeats, I feel ready to embrace a new calendar and see what new adventures a new year might bring my way. This year is different. I’m not afraid of 2017, not by any means. It isn’t even that 2016 was all good. Although…, it’s going to be tough to beat.

I started 2016 by romping in downtown LA with my fiancé Amber and one of my best friends Danny. It featured searching for wedding venues and beginning to pencil in the details. Act One paved the way for all the joys that were soon to follow.

In January, I spent the last weekend of winter break exploring D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston, relishing the opportunity to spend time with friends and see important historical landmarks.  It even included a two hour road trip to get some lobster in Maine. Two months later, on spring break, I participated in my Evangelism class trip to London. I was confronted with new thinking and methods of Christianity. I was challenged with new ideas and definitions of what it means to have a faithful witness. I made the iconic walk across Abbey Road into the Abbey Road store, just outside the actual recording studio. I sat where Paul McCartney claims to have had a “religious” experience at Primrose Hill. I stepped foot into a Futbol stadium, home of the Arsenal. I even saw the remnants of where Sherlock Holmes fell to his death. (OR DID HE?) People still believe he is alive.

The first week of May, just as I was finishing up my first year of seminary, I became an uncle. I’ve only gotten to see my nephew twice, but he is such a joy, and I look forward to watching him as he continues to grow into a wonderful young man. (And Buckeye fan! 1-0, 30-27 2OT)

Later that month, as a class requirement, I travelled to Fort Collins, Colorado, and served as a student-leader with Athletes in Action’s Ultimate Training Camp. I got to witness and minister to more than a hundred student-athletes that find themselves dealing with the same life problems that everyone deals with. Another valuable and wonderful experience.

In June, Amber, Stuart, and I began the journey back to Los Angeles. It featured stops in Albuquerque and Phoenix before finding a resting spot in Torrance. As hectic as the final few weeks were, the details worked themselves out. (We will never go to a craft store again!) We watched Hamilton utterly destroy everyone at the Tony’s, saw some blow up Rabbit art instillations in downtown, even explored UC Riverside, Amber’s alma mater.

The Bachelor Party, two days worth, was everything I could have asked for. Trips to my favorite spots in LA, including Carnitas Michoacan, PUC Excel Charter Academy, Randy’s Donuts, hiking in the Pacific Palisades, brunch by LAX and bacon wrapped hot dogs from my old street vendor in Koreatown. I rode the bull near Universal Studios, devoured Korean BBQ, went to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel, and a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Hollywood. Surrounded my favorite people in the world, it truly was incredible.

On June 24, in front of friends and family at a beautiful venue in Rancho Cucamonga, Amber and I got married and started this new adventure together. PRAISE JESUS!

We didn’t get to spend as much time in LA as we wanted. There truly is never enough time in that place. So many wonderful people and amazing things to see. More than three years after landing there for the first time, I am still completely enchanted with the city and all that it is.

Included in this love for Los Angeles and Southern California, was our first trip to Disneyland as a married couple. A special place for Amber since her childhood and it became a go to place for us as well. You might say that it is ‘magical.’ I know I say it is.

With July and August, came the end of summer 2016. It meant driving back to Waco, vacating our old separate premises and developing our first “home” together. It isn’t finished but it sure has come a long way from that Monday back in July.

This fall, Amber started grad school. I continued into year two of my seminary degree. I started as a sports writer for the Baylor Lariat, Baylor’s newspaper and news media website. I also found myself coaching middle school girls volleyball again. I have dearly missed coaching. I dearly miss being around students. It was a joy to coach them this year.

2016 has certainly had its challenges. Every year does. Some of them have been quite substantial, but here we are reaching the conclusion once more, excited to turn the corner and make the most of what’s to come. I have high hopes for 2017. But know that 2016 gets my vote as the real MVP.

 

Let’s not forget the year it was for music. No, I’m not talking about the new Bieber album or Kanye. Did Kanye drop an LP in 2016? That may work for some but not for me. My taste is a bit more adventurous and acquired than most.

In 2015, it was Beach Fossils, and RAC, and Martin Courtney that delivered the goods to move me through the year. 2016 came out swinging.

Within five days of each other, new (old) Dr. Dog in the form of Psychedelic Swamp was released and Anchor & Braille released its third album, a cool set of jams with a heavy Drive influence. (Wanted to blast this album while driving down the 405 around midnight, but this opportunity eluded me. For now.) Andrew Bird dropped ‘Are You Serious’ and basically brought Fiona Apple back into existence. Young the Giant and Two Door Cinema Club both re-entered and departed the studio with new LPs, Blind Pilot pushed out its first batch of new music since 2011’s We Are the Tide. Band of Horses gave the world an excellent effort in Why Are You Ok, including my favorite Pink Floyd-y track Dull Times/The Moon.  The great Alex Turner and Miles Kane returned to the music scene as The Last Shadow Puppets, giving us their long awaited sequel. Local Natives delivered a great third effort, including ‘Fountains of Youth,’ one of the year’s best for sure. TV Girl not only released an EP entitled, Natalie Wooda song based on one of Hollywood’s greatest (yet seemingly obvious) murder mysteries ever, and my favorite song of the year, but also released a cool set of ten songs, in the form of Who Really Cares, all of which bring something worth remembering to the table. Blood Orange shocked the world by releasing his new album early and giving us the outstanding single, Best To You. The xx dropped one of the best songs of the year as well, On Hold. Rumors are that Spoon and Phoenix are working on new material and they can be expected sometime soon in 2017. Wow. That’s a lot. Thanks everybody, you were great. And major props to Corona for putting Jesse Woods’ Gold in the Air in one of their commercials. Brilliant marketing.

Sadly, as great as the year was for music, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to get to the theatre much to explore the world of film. I did see Ron Howard’s Beatles Documentary, Eight Days a Week, which was excellent. I did make it to see The Remnant, Snowden, Room, Hail Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Zootopia, The Big Short.All those were excellent. Captain America:Civil War and Star Trek Beyond were entertaining. The Lobster was so good then it got so weird and uncomfortable. Still undecided on it overall. Suicide Squad had me wanting my money back. Lots of films I didn’t get to this year, but hopefully I’ll find some time soon and a little bit of spare change as well.

Without a doubt, La La Land is a top priority heading into 2017. Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight are right behind it though.

2015

Posted: January 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

2015 was an incredible year.

  1. I spent most of time, when I wasn’t teaching or coaching, with my girlfriend Amber. Taking trips to the beach, coffee shops in Pasadena, concerts at the El Rey, not going on roller coasters at Knotts Berry Farms, baseball games in Anaheim, Marina Del Rey, and Fullerton. We watched the entire series Psych and frequently quote the greatest pair of fake detectives, Shawn and Gus. Amber is now my fiance and we have been planning for our big day for the last month or so.
  2. Amber and I moved to Texas. We love California and it will always be home to us and we hope to make it back there in a few years. I started seminary at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. My classes have been excellent so far and I’ve learned so much in just one semester thus far. I spend many days studying and writing papers, so most of my thoughts have served more of an academic purpose.
  3. Amber and I adopted a dog named Stuart. He is well-behaved and loves all people. He has been a blessing to us and we are extremely thankful to be able to provide a home for him.
  4. I was able to take trips to San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Louisville, St. Louis, Nashville, and Dallas in 2015. I am currently preparing for upcoming trips to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston as well as a class trip to London in March. The Lord has greatly blessed me with the opportunity to travel and marvel at His wonders.
  5. I found out that my oldest brother and his wife are expecting their first child and so I will be an uncle for the first time in May.

I think that these things have been way more important than my usual music and film roundups that I do each year. I will just list the most important songs and films to me this past year and some of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the year.

 

Songs:

  1. Home by Now-Bombay Bicycle Club
  2. Crashed Out & In Vertigo-Beach Fossils
  3. Collectors-Springtime Carnivore
  4. Nightlight-Silversun Pickups
  5. Vestiges & Airport Bar-Martin Courtney
  6. Black-Red, These Days, 100 years, Army of Ancients-Dr. Dog
  7. Teachers & Anagram-Young the Giant
  8. Repeating Motion-RAC ft. Karl Kling
  9. No Room in Frame-Death Cab for Cutie
  10. Forget It-Blood Orange
  11. Photojournalist-Small Black
  12. Lifted Up (1985)-Passion Pit
  13. Mt. Washington, Ceilings, Breakers-Local Natives
  14. Pretty Thoughts (FKJ Remix)-Alina Baraz

Nightlight was a great surprise this year considering it hasn’t been since 2009 that the Silversun Pickups put out a good album. Nightlight was definitely a step in the right direction.

When Martin Courtney, lead singer from Real Estate (one of my favorites) announced that he was putting out a solo album, I was extremely excited. When he released the single Vestiges the day that Amber and I arrived in Texas, I knew this was something special. Later in the fall, Airport Bar was released, ever increasing the anticipation for its October release. Many Moons is an exceptional first solo effort and one that everyone should check out.

I was able to see Dr. Dog (The Wiltern), RAC (Grenada Theatre), The Decemberists (The Greek Theatre), Springtime Carnivore (LA Zoo), and Gregory Alan Isakov (El Rey Theatre) this year. Each was a very enjoyable experience.

Biggest musical disappointment: the new City & Colour album. It has a few good tunes amongst the herd, but most of it falls short of what it could have been.

Certainly the three most overrated songs of the year Hot Line Bling by Drake, Hello by Adele, and Watch Me by Silento despite the great videos that have come as a result. Also, whoever decided that Sam Smith was a better choice than Radiohead to do the theme for Spectre was foolish.

 

Films:

Unfortunately, outside of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I didn’t see any phenomenal films. Avengers: Age of Ultron was a step up from the first one in my opinion, Spectre was a disappointing follow up to Skyfall. Entourage was entertaining as was The Walk but neither were excellent films. Inside Out was really well done and Ant-Man was surprisingly tolerable. Most of the Awards-happy films are unfortunately ones that I have not seen yet, so perhaps next year, this section will be meatier.

There are a handful of films on my to-see list including The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Room, and The Big Short. There are a few other indies that haven’t gotten much notice that are also high up on my list including The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tangerine, and even though it completely bombed at Cannes this past May, the new Gus Van Sant film, Sea of Trees.

Despite the lack of film luster that I usually get to enjoy, 2015 was an incredible year and 2016 seems to be even more promising.

Cheers to 2014

Posted: December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

The end of the year is coming quickly and in order to keep up with the changing of the times, it is now my pleasure to reveal my favorite 20 songs and films of the year 2014. Consider listening to these songs if you haven’t heard them already or if you are looking for something new to add to your iPod. If you have some extra time and can make it to the movies this holiday season, I hope you will consider seeing these films. Enjoy everyone.

20. West Coast-Lana Del Rey

This song was the first single off of Lana’s brand new album Ultraviolence which came out this year. The album is quite excellent and worth a listen in its entirety. Despite fine efforts with singles like Brooklyn Baby, Shades of Cool, and Ultraviolence, West Coast was still my favorite. Maybe it was the reveal at Coachella that did it, or the allure of discovering it in San Francisco. I really don’t know.

19. So Now What-The Shins

It’s as if Zach Braff is able to write screenplays and direct films that bring out the best in The Shins. First, there was Caring is Creepy & New Slang that appeared in Garden State and now he has this brand new tune from The Shins in the excellent film Wish You Were Here. I want more Zach Braff and I want more music like this from The Shins. I hope the two will continue to collaborate together in the future.

18. Make You Better-The Decemberists

This is the first single off of the new Decemberists album due out early next year and it is one that has me very excited to what else is to come from this excellent band that has been relatively quiet for the last few years. Easy to listen to and always easy to get behind. Check it out.

17. Birds Don’t Sing-TV Girl

This is the first song on the list that I owe 100% credit to KCRW, the incredible radio station based out of Santa Monica, California. It consistently airs a variety of new bands and songs with lyrics that hit close to home and this is definitely one of those songs. I didn’t break up with anyone in 2014, but if I did, this would be my go to song. “Birds don’t sing, they just fall from the sky. Girls don’t call and they never tell you why.”

16. Fall Underneath-Snakadaktal

My favorite song off of the first full length EP by the spectacular Australian band Snakadaktal. Easy to listen to, with simple lyrics help put you at ease and if you’re exhausted, it will definitely put you to sleep.

15. Sunrise-The Kooks

This was a song that I found rather recently while just browsing the new Kooks album on Spotify. It’s fun and upbeat and something worth getting up and dancing around to. I really wish they would have played this one now when I saw them perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

14. It’s Never Too Late-Ben Gibbard

Although much to my disappointment, I have not seen the latest Lynn Shelton film, Laggies. However, I was lucky enough to read that Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie had scored the entire film and this is the song that appears in the final credits of the film and it is simply beautiful. A song of hope and inspiration to those who feel lost or lonely. “Walk, quicken your pace. Scale every wall and gate. No one will hold you down. Get lost, get lost to be found.”

13. Talking Backwards-Real Estate

When I first learned that Real Estate was releasing a new album last March, I about yelled out loud. When I heard that they were going to playing The Fonda in Hollywood, I jumped up and down and immediately bought a ticket. I have become such a fan of the band over the last few years and this song really stands out among another great effort from an extremely talented band.

12. Hunger of the Pine-Alt-J

I was never that big into Alt-J before their latest album This Is All Yours was released this year. This is still my favorite track from the album. Diverse sound, great vocals, and a unsettling yet peaceful feel to it.

11. Stranger Ways-Anberlin

Anberlin released their final studio album in July. It was a nice effort and the final piece to the legacy that they are leaving behind. There are a handful of excellent tracks on the album but this one has always stood out and above the rest and that’s a good thing since the single was released several months prior to the album so I’ve been able to listen to it all the more.

10. Weight of Love-The Black Keys

News of the new Black Keys album was all over the internet and you were able to pre-order the album on iTunes from the moment the single Fever was available. A few weeks later, the single Turn  Blue was available and although I enjoyed both tracks, it was the release and radio play of Weight of Love that really had me sold on the latest effort from the Akron duo. Excellent guitar solos that really set the stage and beautiful lyrics by frontman Dan Auerbach.

9. California (Cast Iron Soul)-Jamestown Revival

This is another song that I would have never heard if not for listening to KCRW. A west coast country song about picking up your things and leaving home for the great state of California. Sounds like a story I’m quite familiar with myself. Excellent song and a great coming out party for the Austin bred band Jamestown Revival.

8. She Always Takes It Black-Gregory Alan Isakov

I had the opportunity to see Gregory Alan Isakov open for Blind Pilot a few years ago at this little venue called the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He played a real nice, diverse set of music. I didn’t know who he was prior to that show but I have never forgotten him since. Time and time again, he has amazed me with his heartbreaking melodies and easy going acoustic guitar. He has even found his way into two seasons of one of my favorite tv shows, Californication including during a pivotal conversation between Hank and Becca where she tells him that she is getting married in New York and he can either be a part of it or not. It is in this heartbreaking scene where I first heard this beautiful song. “You search the world for the milk of the pearl, she always takes it black. You’ll love her when it all goes dark, you’ll love her even after that.”

7. Still a Kid-Phora

This is a song I’ve written about before and will probably write about it again. Written and performed by a young product of East LA, who grew up in a broken home and in a dangerous neighborhood like most of the students I work with everyday. Introduced to me by one of those students, it struck a chord in me and has yet to let go.

6. California-Rogue Wave

“Screw California and friends that are never there.” My favorite line from the song and the one that is the most powerful to me because it sums up exactly how I feel sometimes. California is a wonderful place and I have gotten to see and do so much there but sometimes it hurts to be so far away. Rogue Wave says this so eloquently.

5. Armistice-RAC Remix

I have never been all that into remixes especially of songs that are already good, but RAC’s remix of the Phoenix song is simply incredible. It is upbeat and something that gets me excited no matter where I’m at. It made for quite the good theme song while walking the streets of Koreatown on a Friday night.

4. Inside Out-Spoon/Save Your Scissors-City & Colour

These two songs are simply beautiful, poetic, and genius pieces of art. Inside Out was one of the songs that got me through the long and often boring summer where I spent most of my days catsitting, eagerly anticipating the beginning of my second year at Excel and the next stage of my life. Save Your Scissors was a song that I found soon after school started and one that is still frequently played on my phone. Dallas Green has a way about him and his music that makes it impossible to not fall in love with. This song is a perfect example.

3. End of a Spark-Tokyo Police Club

This is a song that goes back to my year in Chicago but one that was forgotten until rediscovered this summer. I was spending the weekend with my good friend Amanda who was in town from Sacramento. We were enjoying the summer LA sun, the crisp, ocean breeze and suddenly this song was made its presence felt. An older song, but one that perfectly captured special moments with my dear friend in a beautiful city.

2. Changing of the Seasons-Two Door Cinema Club

This British band was able to claim the top two spots last year on my list and they did a fine job getting the #2 slot this year with the title track of their latest EP. A song about moving on doing better than you’ve done before. This song perfectly expresses how I have felt weighed down by relationships I had with friends, with the program I was a part of, with certain students, with the balance of lives in Ohio and California and with my feelings at times towards the city of Los Angeles. “‘Cause every day since you left me, I’ve thought less and less of you.” Amen.

1. Do You-Spoon

I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times since I first heard it in early July. I will listen to it possibly hundreds of times more before 2014 is over. This song is THAT good. I was instantly hooked and completely sold on a band that I had never much cared for before this. Now they are a band that I’ve been trying to see now regardless of the cost. “Do you run when it’s just getting good?” The question of commitment, of letting our fears conquer us. Do I run when it’s just getting good? Am I afraid to go further and not look back? I don’t know but this song makes me want to find those answers. Listen to it. Now. Go. Stop reading and find it. Enjoy it.

Now onto the top films of the year. I think this list is pretty good even though there are still a handful of films that I have yet to see from this year like Whiplash, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Laggies, Nightcrawler, Still Alice, and Under the Skin which all could appear on next year’s list. But for now, here are my top 15 films of 2014.

15. Big Sur

A great little film about the life of Jack Kerouac and his journey of self-destruction and love from Big Sur to San Francisco. Check it out on Netflix.

14. Palo Alto

As I understand it, loosely based on the short stories of James Franco, but well acted (even by Franco) and contains just enough action and humor to counter the overkill of teen angst. Great performance by Nat Wolff.

13. X-Men Days of Future Past

It was better than First Class and it has reset the original three movies that came out in the early 2000s but it was very entertaining.

12. God Help The Girl

A beautiful, little film about overcoming eating disorders through music and friendship. It written by Stuart Murdoch, the frontman of Belle & Sebastien and brilliantly acted by Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, and Hannah Murray.

11. Nymphomaniac: Part One & Part Two

I watched these films back to back during the summer and Lars Von Trier always gives me more than I can handle. Extremely graphic and grotesque at points, but still an extremely powerful look at a woman’s choices and struggle with sexuality. I only would recommend this to the film critic and not the every day movie goer.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive

It makes me happy to hear the critics giving this film some love as the year rolls down. It is a dark, comedic look at Adam and Eve as vampires living in today’s world. It contains great performances from Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and Mia Wasikowska.

9. Wish You Were Here

The follow up film to Garden State by Scrubs actor Zach Braff which was funded via Kickstarter made a significant impact on me this year. It shows a look at a struggling actor and father in LA as he deals with the declining health of his father his poor relationship with his brother. Tugs at the heartstrings and is a great second film from Braff.

8. The One I Love

A great little Indie romantic comedy with only three actors in the entire film: Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss, & Ted Danza. A little romantic getaway to attempt to rekindle the marriage turns into something strange and completely unforeseen. Check it out.

7. Frank

A great film that premiered at Sundance in January and one that I got to see at the LA Film Festival in June. Domhall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal are tremendous. Michael Fassbender singing with a big paper head on is something worth seeing.

6. Foxcatcher

The tragic true story of wrestlers of Mark and Dave Schultz and their relationship with John DuPont as they train for the Olympics. It was dark, and terrifying at times, light and captivating at others. Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell both give award winning performances.

5. Interstellar

The space odyssey about wormholes and parenting relationships by Christopher Nolan is not one you want to miss this year. Sure, it is a flawed film, but the performances are excellent. The score by Hans Zimmer is second to none and as always, Nolan really makes you think about life on Earth, not just about the sustainability of it, but the relationships that make up the planet we live on.

4. The Double

Based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky and starring all my favorite British actors including Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Craig Roberts, and Yasmin Paige, all of whom star in the brilliant film Submarine support the work of Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska who are both phenomenal. Funny, dark, musical, this film has it all. Subscribe to Netflix now and watch it for free.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

You can’t really say enough good things about Wes Anderson and the films he makes. This one another unlikely tale with his usual cast of characters including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman and featuring inspired performances from Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. Dark, comedic genius once again.

2. Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance)

I was unsure what I was going to see when I saw this film. I didn’t know much about it. I have never been a huge Michael Keaton fan. But once I was in the theater, I knew I was in for a real treat. It is absolutely deserving of all the awards buzz and victories thus far and I’m sure it will continue to impress as awards season goes on. Truly great film with incredible performances all around.

1. Gone Girl

I loved the book. I loved the film. It was so well done by the brilliant director David Fincher and Rosamund Pike is unbelievable as Amy. Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry also do very well in the film. I want to give a shoutout to Carrie Coon who does an unbelievable job as Affleck’s sister Margo in the film. I can’t say too much about it as to not to spoil the fun. Please go and see it and read the wonderful book by Gillian Flynn as well.

Quickly, I want to leave with you five films to avoid this year if you haven’t already seen them.

5. Adultworld
4. Million Dollar Arm
3. Divergent
2. Magic in the Moonlight
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I hope that you will take the time to see some of these films if you haven’t already and listen to some of these songs if you’re looking for something to do after all the presents have been unwrapped and before the food comas set in. 2014 was another great year for music and film and let’s hope that 2015 will be just as good if not better.

Lakeshore

Posted: November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

Tonight was different than most nights.

50, 55, 60, the speed rapidly increased beneath my feet.

The wind sifted through my hair as if they were old friends

The moon danced upon the water as if to make a name for herself

When in reality, we all know who she was and we always have

Perhaps I saw her clearly for the first time

Her face, hauntingly beautiful, I will never forget

I turned the wheel ever so slightly guiding each turn of Lakeshore Drive

Cars whipped by with a sense of satisfaction, a crooked smile looking in my direction

A reckless gift through the speakers provided the final spark

A melody of truth and remorse coursed through my veins

Parasitic in the way it overwhelmed me

This euphoria was enough to keep me awake forever but I knew this moment would soon slip through my fingertips

For time is my cruelest and most spiteful friend

Chicago, my Dame, my inspiration, my demise

Tonight, you made me feel truly alive.

I think that most of my friends would agree that over the last several years, I have turned into quite the little movie snob. I can’t really help it. I have grown quite fond of a very specific type of film, one with characters who the audience can relate to and really get inside of their emotions, one with a story that usually contains heartache but also a redemption of the character, one where the music tells just as important of a story. Everything else just doesn’t seem to be that appealing to me. But regardless of this shift in film interest, my all time favorite movie still remains a certain summer blockbuster from 1985, Back to the Future Part One. When Doc Brown is first telling Marty about how his time machine works, he asks Marty what year should they travel back to? What event would he want to see? The signing of the Declaration of Independence or witness the birth of Christ. I don’t think we think of these questions very often and probably for good reason because time travel is something that will never be possible. However, I pondered this question and a little bit shocked at how quickly I was able to determine the year in which I would travel back in time to if time travel was possible and hopefully in something a little bit more modern than a Delorean. But if I had to choose, I would choose 1964.

Honestly, if for no other reason, 1964 would have been incredible to see for the simple fact of The Beatles beginning the “British Invasion” in America. This wasn’t a real invasion of sorts, but I guess an invasion of the best British bands that the UK could offer began to make the trip to the States to introduce us to the great music that was born just over the pond. Some of the bands that were part of this invasion besides The Beatles, were The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, The Hollies, Peter and Gordon, The Zombies, Herman’s Hermits, The Moody Blues, and The Rolling Stones. If you know anything about music, I’m sure that several of these bands immediately jump out of you and try to imagine what your childhood or what music would be without some of these artists making their way over to the States. Well done Great Britain! Let me leave with you with eight fantastic songs that came out in 1964, excluding The Beatles. 1.) Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison, 2.) Under the Boardwalk-The Drifters, 3.) Dawn (Go Away)-The Four Seasons, 4.) World Without Love-Peter and Gordon, 5.) The House of the Rising Sun-The Animals, 6.) Because-Dave Clark Five, 7.) Needles and Pins-The Searchers, and 8.) She’s Not There-The Zombies. Now you throw in the likes of Please Please Me, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Days Night, Love Me Do, Twist and Shout, Do You Want To Know a Secret, and I Saw Her Standing There. 1964 was in a class of its own and completely blows away any other year in music. If I was able to get back to 1964, I know with 100% certainty, I would find a way to watch The Beatles make their live debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th. It could basically be an early birthday present. How old I would be? That’s not really relevant.

I think that there would be a lot of cool things to see in 1964 outside the influence of music on pop culture. For one, the first Mustang is completed and available for purchase in early March. Later that month, Jeopardy officially premieres, but without Alex Trebek (now that’s an odd thought.) Nelson Mandela is hard at work fighting to stop Apartheid but is sentenced to life in prison in June. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, abolishing racial segregation in the United States just before the Fourth of July. How great would it be to see that pen hit paper? Jonny Quest premiered on ABC in September. I know my dad would be pumped about that one. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Piece Prize, Goldfinger, the great Bond movie starring Sean Connery began its run in US theaters. The history of 1964 was so rich, there is no way there was a dull moment. And if by some chance, things seemed a little stale and bit blasé, just turn on the radio and you were sure to hear something great.

So I say to you, what year would you want to travel back to? What would you want to see and experience while you are there? Please let me know. Tell me whether you agree on my conclusions of 1964. And let’s hope that maybe one day, I can find a way to muster up 1.21 jiggawatts into a flux capacitor and travel back to 1964 (but hopefully not in a Delorean.)

The Moody Dilemma

Posted: July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Just a few weeks ago, one of my favorite television shows came to an end after an impressive seven year run on Showtime. That show is Californication. I realize that perhaps the premise of this show, a self-loathing writer from New York struggles to write as he attempts to reclaim the woman that he loves but lost, Karen, and raise his daughter Becca while slipping into the ever seductive lifestyle of sex and drugs that the city of Los Angeles has to offer him, and the themes of drug abuse and sexual debauchery laced throughout the show may not usually be the kind of show that attracts me. To be real, some of the most bizarre scenes that I have seen in television have been a part of this show. But there was always something about Hank that attracted me to his character, something that fascinated me about him. I believe it goes much deeper than the fact that I grew up watching David Duchovny on The X-Files every Sunday night with my brothers and dad. I saw pieces of myself in this character, often viewed as the antagonist of the show. One that goes around making a fool of himself to people in film, television, and music so he retreats to finding meaning at the bottom of a bottle and in the bed of a complete stranger. But these aren’t the similarities. Those are not the lifestyle choices that I make as a Christ follower. First, I am by no means a great writer and not a published author like Hank, but I find it often very hard to write. I have thoughts that dance around inside my head for weeks on end and yet I cannot seem to be able to get them to paper.

Throughout the series, Hank is always trying to get back to New York. He feels that he is a better writer there. He likes the person he was more when he was in New York. I’m sure that this notion has to do with that he constructed his novel God Hates Us All and fell in love with Karen and had Becca while there and his life was better before these relationships deteriorated. Once upon a time, I was convinced that New York was the place for me. I believe that that time has now come and gone but perhaps, I could substitute Chicago for New York. A place where I felt so comfortable, so at home amongst the skyscrapers and the beautiful diversity of the Windy City. Much like Hank, I have often felt lost in the California sun. Those that mean the most to us so far away, whether geographically or just through the state of the relationship. I have been there a lot this year and so I feel Hank’s pain, the pain of emptiness and the desire to fill the void with something of meaning. Hank is a vagabond, driving the streets of Venice at night, not looking for trouble but often finding it when he all he wants is to go back to the woman who has had his heart since the first time they met so long ago in New York.

I was never a big fan of Karen as a character on the show. I felt that too often, Hank squandered other chances to be happy with someone else just for another chance to be back with Karen. And so maybe I didn’t care for her, but I love the idea of someone that we have messed up with time and time again can still completely impact our every move and even though things haven’t worked out, always willing to take another stab at it. I don’t think I have ever had anyone in my life that rightfully compares to her and I hope that I don’t need one exactly like her but I hope that I find someone that I can love as much as Hank loves Karen.

I think as the show progresses over time, Hank although always being Hank, develops a lot of wisdom and learns from his past indiscretions. One of my favorite Hank quotes comes form season 3, when he says this, “Never really all that interested, but I find myself telling her how beautiful she is anyway. ’cause it’s true – all women are, in one way or another. You know, there’s always something about every damn one of you. There’s a smile, a curve, a secret. You ladies really are the most amazing creatures. My life’s work. But then there’s the morning after. The hangover, and the realization that I’m not quite as available as I thought I was the night before. And then she’s gone. And I’m haunted by yet another road not taken.” There is something chilling in this realization by Hank and just one of many quotes that really stick out to me throughout the series.

However, above all else, the think that was always the most fascinating thing to me about Hank was his relationship with his daughter, Rebecca. We got the opportunity to watch her grow up over the course of the seven seasons which in time on the show is at least nine years if not more since there is a two year window from the end of season four to the beginning of season five. Hank teaches Rebecca so many valuable lessons, not really by not doing them but by doing all the wrong things so she can see the consequences of his actions and the affects they have not only on himself but on the people around him that he cares about the most. Hank also learns valuable lessons from her as well. Honestly, I think she teaches him more about being a man and an adult than he could ever teach her. She is clearly wise beyond her years and a character that was fun to watch grow up on the tv screen. Hank was far from being the perfect parent. Some I’m sure would argue that he was a terrible father, but he always loved her and did his best to protect her from whatever could harm her and she was really the glue that held Hank together over all these years and that kind of effort is admirable. I don’t have a daughter to help keep me together when life seems askew but I do have someone else that holds me together when nothing else will and that is the love of Christ. I am far from the perfect son or follower, but I try to be better each and every day and serve Him the best I can and I know He is the only one that can keep me together when all else is gone.

When I look back on this post, I’m not even really sure what it is about anymore or what its purpose was. Was it my way of mourning the loss of another one of my tv shows? Was it to try and credit a tv show that by the looks of it seemed 100% about sex and drug abuse by saying that there was value in the relationships within the show and the growth of the characters throughout the show? Was it to describe how easy it is to feel lonely in LA and fall into the traps of the world when we know in our hearts what we really want? I don’t know anymore, but for whatever reason it be, I learned a lot from this show and through the depraved messed up circumstances that derived from it, and I will be sad to not see it return. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. Hank is constantly reminded of this line by the Rolling Stones as it often makes appearances throughout the run of the show and much like Hank, I am frequently reminded of this as well and there is something comforting in hearing those words sung by the Stones and seeing that black Porsche whip through the breeze down the PCH as Hank heads towards his next bit of chaos. And on that I find peace in the end of the show.

Still A Kid

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

It’s been a little over a week since school let out at PUC Excel Charter Academy, a middle school charter academy in Lincoln Heights and I’m still not sure if I can adequately articulate how I feel about the class of Excel class of 2014. This particular class, 114 graduating 8th graders, is the biggest graduating class that has walked the halls of Excel. It is an incredible accomplishment and I am honored to have been able to have worked with these students and helped them reach the level in their education where they are ready to go to high school. However, I learned something recently, something that struck a chord deep within me: Being a teacher is an excruciatingly hard job. It is not just the long hours past school hours of 8am to 3pm that includes grading papers, lesson planning, making parent phone calls, and meeting other obligations you have to the school. It is hard to work with the same kids over and over again, day in and day out, form these incredible bonds with them and then be willing to let them go once they receive their diploma. It is not easy knowing that they are no longer your responsibility and that someone else gets to play that role now. This group of Wolves is incredibly special and will always have a reserved spot in my heart. Not just because they were my first graduating class and the first ones I have had to watch go on and let go, but because I walked beside so many of them, laughed with them, consoled them, won with them, lost with them, celebrated with them, congratulated them, and learned from them. I think when you teach in a place where you learn just as much from your students as they do from you (I learned Spanish slang words like chaffa and chismosa) , it is a special place and Excel is definitely a special place. It is a place that is far from perfect, one that could be better, but one where the teachers are 100% dedicated to their students and helping them learn in all facets of life. 

I took great joy in being able to coach this year at Excel. It all began in September when I took the reigns over our Varsity Girls Volleyball team. The only coaching I had prior to this was IM girls football my junior and senior years of college, so this was all very new to me. I learned quickly that the culture of coaching sports and playing sports is very different in California than it was back in my playing days. Perhaps, it is not quite as different, it is just different at Excel, but I cannot really since know since this is all the experience I have. I kept twelve girls, all but three being 8th graders and did my best to prepare them for each challenge that the other LA PUC schools and Valley schools would throw our way. I did not really know what to expect but I learned quickly that I had been blessed with an incredibly gifted and special group of girls. We waltzed through our league without a blemish and went into the tournament in excellent position. We cruised through the opening two matches of our draw before facing the #1 seed from the Valley, Lakeview Charter Academy. The tension was high and the stakes were through the roof. We fell behind but made a furious rally to come back from 24-16 to win 26-24 in game one. Game two would prove to be challenging as we could never really keep up falling 25-20 leading us to a decisive game three. It was back and forth but after a timeout at 11-11, we reeled off the final four points to take the title 15-11. It was an incredible end to an incredible season and one I will not forget and I know they won’t either.

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Beginning in December, I was able to coach with my good friend, Danny both the Varsity And JV Boys basketball teams. They came each day ready to work and improve. They were quite successful against the other LA schools but fell short twice to Academia even though both games were incredibly close, they just had our number and we were eager for a third shot. We headed into the tournament feeling confident and ready to roll. We advanced to the semifinals via forfeit and earned the right to play the #1 seed Triumph Charter Academy. After scouting their first round game, a game plan was in place and they bought into it and executed it to perfection. It was probably the most intense middle school basketball game I have ever been a part of and I was so proud of them for making their way to the title game after slaying the giants. (Literally, they were huge.) We would next play Community Charter Middle School for the championship and PUC bragging rights. The game went our way for most of the first half but with just a few minutes left, the tide began to change. One of our players was fouled hard and hurt his elbow but was called for a travel violation before the foul occurred. This lead to an outrage by parents on both sides about the poor officiating. Both sides were warned and the game was threatened to be called off if the outrage continued. Our kids kept their composure and continued to play hard instead of dropping to the dirty level of play of CCMS and for that I am so proud of the character and integrity shown by our boys and for that, even though we lost on our scoreboard, it felt like a victory for Excel.

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In the spring, it was back to volleyball. However, it was the boys’ turn at it. This was the first year for Boys Volleyball and so we had the chance to do something special: being the first title back to Excel. It was an uphill battle throughout the season battling issues with attendance, team chemistry, and the fact that we couldn’t beat Santa Rosa. Either way, we headed into the tournament confident as ever. We controlled the match against Lakeview in the opening round and once again with Nueva in the semifinals but it was Triumph that would be our most difficult hurdle. We lost game one 25-8 and looked completely defeated. Perhaps the most animated I have ever been as a coach, I did all I could to yell and inspire them to dig themselves out of this hole. They responded magnificently easily controlling and winning game two 25-16. And once again it was down to game three for all the marbles. We fell behind 8-0 but began to claw our way back into it and even serve for the title at 14-13. It was then we lost two points in a row to face a championship point and the luck of the tourney was with us allowing us to win a controversial point to tie it up at 15-15. We turned aggressive on serve and took the title 17-15, ending the athletic season in perfect fashion and a great goal to build off of for next year. Another group of kids that pulled together, looked adversity in the face and conquered it. Proud of those young men.

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It wasn’t just the kids that I met through athletics that made this group special. I worked with some incredibly bright and funny kids in the inclusion department throughout the year. Having the opportunity to chaperone their Grad Night trip to Six Flags, their incredible special event called Dinner Dance, and their trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library amidst Mexico’s first World Cup Match. Crazy excitement and enthusiasm from all of them during the match.

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It was the students who I saw after school and began to have conversations about their future high school careers or their love of John Green books or whatever else they wanted to talk about. These kids were so incredibly intelligent and gifted and were ready for the next step in their lives and I am honored that I got to be a part of that.

One of the last days of school, I went with a few teachers and students to one of our 8th graders’ baseball games since he was going to be pitching that evening. We had a great time enjoying some of the final days together. On the trip back to school, one of them played the song, Still a Kid by Phora on his iPod. I had never heard of Phora prior to this year but the kids love him. He is just like them. An underground rapper from the East LA area, out sharing his story of when he was jumped by an old friend who had joined a gang, dealt with not having a father, battled the temptations of sex and drugs. But he had come out on top, knowing he still has a lot to learn and that he is still a kid but it is possible to succeed when your back is against the wall. I understood then the appeal of this artist and this song. And I understood that all those times when I couldn’t understand why they were misbehaving or not doing their work or what they were supposed to be doing, they were being kids. Yes there is a time and a place for that and there needs to be discipline but also remembering they are kids and they are going to make mistakes and we need to be there to love them and pick them back up and get them back on the right page. A teacher once again being taught by his students.

Graduation Day was an exciting day for them. It was exciting for us as well but also difficult knowing our time guiding them was over. But I know the class of 2014 is in good hands because they are in God’s hands and He loves them more than they could imagine. I hope they learn this one day. But knowing this, it brings incredible joy to my heart, joy that sits besides the beautiful memories I have with all of them. Good luck and never stop dreaming and pursuing those dreams!

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Here are the lyrics to Still a Kid by Phora.

I just wanna live, yo, before the good times fade away. [x2]

Look, hey yo, I’m just another young cat comin from the bottom.
I don’t want no beef, nah, I don’t want no problems.
But y’all don’t never get it right, yo I ain’t scared.
I just got better shit to do than fight amongst my peers.
Honestly it kind of hurts and it’s a shame how all the kids I used to know just wanna hate now.
And the time passed, I seen who was really down.
I never brought up the cats tryina bring me down.
Cause that’s just a waste of my time and time is precious and it’s runnin out.
I’m takin what’s mine. Everybody got that kid deep down inside of em.
Some play with toys, some got the toys on the side of em,
finna do a nigga like a kid when playin Grand Theft Auto.
I’m still a kid, so that pride is pretty hard to swallow.
You wanna be the toughest nigga on the block,
and you was til the nigga started hearin them shots.
Kids killin kids, askin myself, “When will it stop?”
Another death on the news, it makes me sick when I watch.
I just wanna live my life before the now becomes a memory.
And I just hope that they remember me.

I’m still a kid so, I still make mistakes.
I just wanna live, yo, before the good times fade away. [x2]

Look, I’m still a kid and I probably always will be.
And I ain’t trippin if none of these rappers feel me.
Cause it’s what saved me from hangin with thugs and cockin guns.
I just hope that my momma’s proud of what I’ve become.
And when nobody believed in me and left me hangin,
Prospect was the only cat that said I’m the one.
I really never understood until I grew up big,
it was the fuel to the flame that kept my future lit.
He said I’ma change this generation’s way of life.
So if you ain’t lookin for better days, you ain’t alive.
I ain’t no different than your average though.
I ain’t got no super powers, I just rap on the flow.
So don’t be mad if somethin happens and I cancel a show.
Just know I had to go but I’ll be back for some more.
Yo, I wanna be a bro-model to these kids and help,
but it’s hard to teach them to grow when you’re a kid yourself.
And I just turned eighteen last month,
and I’m still immature and I still can’t front about me
makin the wrong decisions even when I know it’s not right and I know the consequences, but..

I’m still a kid and I ain’t usin that as an excuse.
I just got a lot to learn and that’s the truth. [x4]

I’m still a kid so, I still make mistakes.
I just wanna live, yo, before the good times fade away. [x2]

Here is a link to the song.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3cr5ekVxCmo