A Words Look: The Tallest Man On Earth

I am a native of the North Pole
And that can mess up any kid.

You may or may not have heard of Swedish musician Kristian Mattson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man on Earth, but his work is pretty spectacular.  Most of the time, it’s just him. A 5′-6″ man in T-shirt and jeans with his guitar on stage backed by the power of his folk-roots leaning music, unique vocal style, and out-of-this-world lyrics. He writes great lyrics about relationships, the ups and downs, and all the feels of being human.

I first heard him on NPR around 2010. Then on KEXP. I listened to The Wild Hunt album on Spotify. I was hooked. NPR music used to broadcast and archive live shows from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D. C. I used to catch some of these on their live music web page and listen while working. They had some awesome sets from Ben Gibbard, The Decemberists, and one particularly great set from The Tallest Man on Earth. I highly recommend giving this set a listen and, as a bonus, it’s downloadable.

One of my many favorite Tallest Man on Earth songs is “King of Spain”. I like just about everything about this song and the album it comes from, The Wild Hunt. It’s one of those songs which the lyrics stick inside my head for weeks at a time.

King of Spain

I never knew I was a lover,
Just cause I steal the things you hide,
Just cause I focus while we’re dancing,
Just cause I offered you a ride.

Still I am not from Barcelona,
I am not even from Madrid.
I am a native of the North Pole
And that can mess up any kid.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
Well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

And I will settle in Pamplona
And I’ll provoke the bulls with words
And then I’ll send a man to meet them all
But he’s fake, so I have heard.

And all the senoritas sighing,
Will be the fountain of my lies.
But while we’re floating in siestas
You search for bottles and for knives.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
Well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

And I wear my boots of Spanish leather
Oh while I’m tightening my crown.
I’ll disappear in some flamenco
Perhaps I’ll reach the other side.

Why are you stabbing my illusion?
Just cause I stole some eagle’s wings
Because you named me as your lover
Well, I thought I could be anything.

Well if you could reinvent my name,
Well if you could redirect my day,
I wanna be the King of Spain.

Songwriters: Kristian Matsson
King of Spain lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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A Words Look: “A Shadow Fell Across Me” by Frank Miller

Batman has always appealed to me despite the fact he is not a superhero like a couple of my comics heroes, Hulk and Thor. Big boys doing big boy things, obviously. Batman has no superpowers. He’s driven by tragedy. Fueled by revenge over the tragic and senseless murder of his parents. His greatest asset is his tenacity (although having a boatload of money doesn’t hurt the crime-fighting cause).

I like just about everything Batman. From the campy Adam West TV show to the cartoons, to the comics, the movies, and especially to the graphic novels, my fandom of the Batman universe runs deep. The Dark Knight fighting the criminal villains of Gotham City.

BATMAN: YEAR ONE is one of my favorites of the graphic novels. Written by Frank Miller illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, colored by Richmond Lewis, and lettered by Todd Klein, this origin story paints a dark and sordid picture of Gotham City while weaving the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s evolution into Batman and Jim Gordon’s fight to uphold the law amidst the corruption and the mob.

Here is an excerpt from “A Shadow Fell Across Me”, Frank Miller’s essay about reading a Batman annual as an 8-year-old, which is included as a bonus in BATMAN: YEAR ONE.

“Gotham City was cold shafts of concrete lit by cold moonlight, windswept and bottomless, fading to a cloud bank of city lights, a wet, white mist, miles below me. The street sounds were a soft, sad, roar, unbroken and unchanging.

A shadow fell across me, from above. Wings flapped close by and almost silent.

Glistening wet, black against the blackened sky, a monster, a giant, winged gargoyle, hunched forward, pausing at a building’s ledge, and cocked its head, following the laugh’s (Joker) last seconds. Moonlight glanced across its back, across its massive shoulders, down its craned, cabled neck, across its skull, striking a triangle at one pointed bat’s ear.

It rose into space, its wings spread wide, then fell, its wings now a fluttering cape wrapped tight around the body of a man.

It fell past me, its shadow sliding across walls, growing to swallow whole buildings, lit by the clouds below.

The shadow faded into the clouds.

It was gone.”

This may be the most awesome description of Batman ever. This image and the Year One Gotham City serves as inspiration for this new thing I’m working on. I’m researching (Ha! More like enjoying every minute!) as much background (maps, politcal & social structure, architecture, schools, neighborhoods, etc.) of Gotham City as I can for this project. I could use some help so, readers, if you have any titles to suggest to help in my research, please add a comment or give me a shout on Twitter (@coachhays64).

Enjoy your Batman fandom!

A Words Look: “Feelin’ Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen is one of those Texan singer/songwriters with that uncanny ability to write songs which are not only relatable but run like a movie in your head when you hear them.

“Feeling’ Good Again” is one of my favorites. It captures that feeling of home a person can have away from their actual home, in this case, the Mr. Blues bar/tavern down on Main Street. You want a short master course in writing, take a look at the lyrics of this song and study how Keen draws you into the scene and places you right next to the main character before recharging his soul with the familiarity and comfort of Mr. Blues.

My favorite parts are when he finds “three twenties and a ten” in his pocket and when he wished his friend was there and he “looked across the room and saw you standin’ on the stair”. But the best part may be the next line, “And when I caught your eye I saw you break into a grin”. So much potential backstory, enough to touch about any listeners soul.

“Feelin’ Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen

Standin’ down on Main Street
Across from Mr, Blues
In my faded leather jacket
And my weathered Brogan shoes
A chill north wind was blowin’
But the spring was comin’ on
As I wondered to myself
Just how long I had been gone

So I strolled across old Main Street
Walked down a flight of stairs
Stepped into the hall
And saw all my friends were there
A neon sign was flashin’ “Welcome come on in”
It feels so good feelin’ good again

My favorite band was playin’
An Otis Redding song
When they sang the chorus
Everybody sang along
Dan and Margarita
were swayin’ side by side
I heard they were divorcin’
But I guess they let it slide
And I wished I had some money with
which to buy a round

I wished I’d cashed my paycheck
Before I came to town
But I reached into my pocket
Found three twenties and a ten
It feels so good feelin’ good again

There was old man Perkins
Sittin’ on his stool
Watchin’ Butch and Jimmy John
Talkin’ loud and playin’ pool
The boys from Silver City
Were standin’ by the fire
Singin’ like they thought
they were the Tabernacle choir

And I wanted you to see them all
I wished that you were there
I looked across the room
and saw you standin’ on the stair
And when I caught your eye
I saw you break into a grin
It feels so good feelin’ good again

There are several good videos on YouTube of Robert Earl Keen singing “Feelin’ Good Again”, here are a couple I really liked.

And this one, because…biscuits!

A Words Look: KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park

 

Last September, I was lucky enough to host a special Twitter chat on #mglitchat about the three middle reader books selected for the 2017 Global Read Aloud program. The three books are spectacular and I highly recommend all of them. The books were FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria Coe, THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown, and A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park. We were fortunate to also have Jim Averbeck, who did the original illustrations for A LONG WALK TO WATER, join us.The chat was so much fun and could have easily gone twice the allotted time of one hour. These creators, besides being immensely talented, are just great human beings. It was a highlight of my 2017, that is for sure.

About a week after the chat, a package arrived in the mail from New York. It was from Linda Sue Park. I anxiously ripped open the package and found a copy of her book, KEEPING SCORE! I was cartwheeling-across-the-dining-room floor happy. I knew Linda Sue was a baseball fan from our interactions on Twitter and in correspondences prior to the chat. In particular, I knew she was a New York Mets fan (a team which, I may remind everyone, was nobly defeated in the 2015 World Series by my team, the Kansas City Royals!).

I finally had an opening in research reading to squeeze in KEEPING SCORE over the holiday. It’s a great baseball book for young readers! Set in 1950’s New York City, she weaves a great story from the threads of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the rabid local fandoms for “Dem Bums”, the Giants, and the Yankees, scoring a baseball game, and the Korean War. If you have a young baseball fan in your life, you might set this title in front of them, or try one from this list I compiled at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors blog.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It’s when the Maggie, the young Dodgers fan, is learning to score a baseball game from the new guy—and Giants fan—Jim, down at the local firehouse.

From KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park, 2008, Clarion Books.

          By the end of the game, Maggie knew how the defense was numbered. Not their uniform numbers, but their position numbers. Jim tore a sheet out of the back of the notebook so she could write it down to study at home.

1-pitcher
2-catcher
3-first base
4-second base
5-third base
6-shortstop
7-left field
8-center field
9-right field

          Jim also showed her what the numbers in the little squares meant. They told what each batter had done. “4-3” written in the square opposite the batter’s name meant that a ground ball had been hit to the second baseman (4) who had thrown it to the first baseman (3) for the out.          

          Jim could look at his score sheet and see exactly what had happened in any inning. Which was way better than just keeping it in your head, because when you were trying to remember what happened in a game, only the big exciting plays came to mind. But Maggie knew that baseball was often a game of little things—the pitcher falling behind in the count, the good throw to keep a runner from advancing, the slide to break up a double play—and those were hard to keep track of. Jim’s score sheet didn’t have every single thing written down, but the things that were there could really help you remember.

Great stuff, hey? With baseball season just around the corner, how about filling the dark days of winter with baseball reads?

A Words Look: Intro to Baba O’Riley

I was just fiddle-farting around at work on a Friday morning a few months ago, listening to John in the Morning on the KEXP stream and organizing the experiments for the day. John Richards played Baba O’Riley from The Who mixed in with the usual eclectic music KEXP is famous for. At KEXP, they run a real-time playlist on the web feed that has a section for DJ notes about the song playing. Most of the time, these notes are information about shows the currently played band is playing in the Pacific Northwest or links to their archived KEXP In-Studio performances. There’s often also an odd song fact or two the DJ gleans from the internet about the song or artists.

KEXP DJ Notes on Baba O’Riley by The Who, John Richards Friday, October 13, 2017:

“Good morning and a very happy Friday. When The Who perform this live, the processed organ is played from a recording, since it would be nearly impossible to replicate on an instrument. The guitar doesn’t come in until 1:40, giving Pete Townshend some time to reflect on his work. “There is this moment of standing there just listening to this music and looking out to the audience and just thinking, ‘I f–king did that. I wrote that,” he told Rolling Stone. “I just hope that on my deathbed I don’t embarrass myself by asking someone, ‘Can you pass me my guitar? And will you run the backing tape of ‘Baba O’Riley’? I just want to do it one more time.”

As a writer, this particular quote from Pete Townshend hits home.

“I f–ing did that. I wrote that.”

By Impm at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many times when artists of all ways, shapes, and forms need “I f–ing did that.” as much as they need food or water. It is something creative people need to carry around with them as their weapon of defense when hit by self-doubt and creative panic. We need to step back, take a few deep breaths, and observe what we have created. Look or listen to what we’ve created and take a few moments to appreciate our own work. As creators, we occasionally need to be inspired by the fact we’ve created something wonderful before and use that to gather the artistic confidence to produce a new and wonderful work.

Here is a relatively recent live video of The Who performing Baba O’Riley. I chose this particular video over the dozens of other live performances of this classic song not because it’s any better than the other versions but because it shows the band’s age. It shows that old guys can still rock and roll.

Never stop creating. Step back every once in a while and appreciate what you’ve done. Take this moment to tell yourself, “I f–ing did that.” And then go out and create some more. Believe me, the world needs your work.

 

 

A Tale of Two Cats

I am not a cat person. Never really have been. Never really will be.

But, there have been two cats in my life that wiggled their way into my dog-loving heart. Is there is a common factor between these two felines that has raised them above a “leave me alone and go catch mice” relationship?

Why yes there is. They’re badasses.

BAD ASSES.

Big Bad Bud was one of a kind. He didn’t really like people and he was a killing machine. Birds. Mice. Rats. Squirrels. If it moved and/or pissed him off, it was dead. I can’t find the video or the photographic evidence, but Triple B once killed an adult squirrel and laid its lifeless body in front of the back door. I know, many cats do this. But do they also eat the squirrel starting at the head and leaving only a fluffy tail on the doormat? I don’t think so.

And the really incredible thing about Big Bad Bud was he only had one working eye. The other one was blind when we adopted him. Much to my dismay, we had to give him away when he got old, got cranky, and started to become nasty toward our other cat and some of the kids who hung out around the house.

We gave Bud away to some friends who live in the country and needed a mouser for their outbuildings. It was a match made in heaven. Bud fulfilled his duties wonderfully for a period of time until, one day, he disappeared.

Common sense states the elderly cat was caught by a coyote or wandered off to die in the woods. But for me, I believe in the Legend of Big Bad Bud. I believe he is still out there wandering Washington Co. hunting and surviving on his own.

The other cat is our current senior feline, Willie. The family we adopted Willie from years ago was moving and could no longer keep him at their new residence. They asked if we were interested, we said yes. They thought Willie was around eight-years-old when we took him in. That was twelve years ago, making his age now around 20. He adjusted to Hays House life pretty quickly. Until his first Christmas at the house and he peed on the Christmas tree skirt and was permanently banned to the life of an outdoor cat. He went out. He rarely complained. He, like Bud, was also not a fan of people.

The past 12 months, Willie has been slowing down. He is truly showing his age. He’s fought off several bouts of unknown illnesses, worked through the introduction of a new cat, Nala, and worked through the death of his respected friend and housemate, our chocolate lab, Sophie. I’ve known for the past few years that his days were numbered and getting close.

A few weeks ago, he got backed over by our Yukon. He hadn’t been feeling well for a few days. He’d been down and sleeping most of the time for about 3-4 days. I thought he was a goner, but he rebounded. He was still kicking but kicking it slowly. Willie never sleeps under the vehicles. Never. When we turned on the SUV to back out of the driveway on a Friday evening, for some reason he was under the Yukon. He must have not woke up and the rear tire ran over him.

I thought he was a goner. He crawled to his spot behind the garage and wouldn’t budge except for his labored breathing. I sat with him and tried to make him comfortable. I almost called the vet to get him put down. I convinced myself to give Willie until the morning and see if nature took its course during the night.

When I woke early Saturday morning and went to check on him, he was gone! I couldn’t find him anywhere around the garage. I wondered if a dog or coyote or something took him off during the night. But when I trudged through the house and out the front door to get the newspaper, there he was lying in his third favorite spot by the front porch. Alive but not kicking very well. Again, I thought about a trip to the vet. Again, I thought if Willie got his three-quarters dead-self moved all the way across the yard, he deserved the gift of time. I gave him until Monday.

I raked and mowed leaves that afternoon. In the middle of the process, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Wille! He was standing on all four legs. Moving 10 feet or so, and lying down for a rest. Incredible.

Every day I gave him another day before getting him put down. Every day he survived and improved. Limping and moving slow, but eating and drinking again. This past week, less than two weeks after the accident, he showed up to greet me one evening when I came home from work as he’d always done. Walking normally with a slight limp. I hate to get sentimental, but I just about cried. Willie is one incredibly tough cat. He doesn’t know any better than to survive. He has to be on Life #8.99999.

BADASS.

So, we will see what the future brings for Willie. Today I even shared with him a piece of my t-bone steak. He deserves. In the meantime, the next badass cat at the Hays House will have big shoes to fill to follow Big Bad Bud and Willie.

My kind of cats. Badass SOBs.

A Words Look: “Southern Accents” by Tom Petty

Tom Petty’s death was one of those deaths that sneak up on you and knocks you off the rails. He was one of those artists who were so damn good you hardly knew he was there. His constancy was so ingrained into the musical world since the mid-1970’s it was almost like the reliability of the ground under our feet or the sky above our heads. Tom Petty was that good.

Damn the Torpedoes was a game changer for a 15-year-old kid in 1979. Almost every song resonated with me. The power of a song and a lyric and the stories he told in his music, especially the stories he told in underdog songs like, “Even the Losers”. Everyman stories, for every man, by an everyman.

Over the years, this song “Southern Accents” has become a favorite. It is a powerful song about knowing where you come from, overcoming where you come from, and living a life that shines with the best of where you came from. Basically, it comes down to a song which I can closely relate too. 

From an interview with Billboard

“The radio has so many rules, and songs don’t. You don’t necessarily write to a rule book, unless you’re like just doing it professionally, which has never been my thing. I just like a lot of songs. ‘Southern Accents,’ I think that’s one of my best, really. That would have been 1984 and I wrote that on the piano in the studio at home, I had a studio and I just happened to be down there in the middle of the night, it was quite late, probably early morning, and I just started to play and a song just started to appear.

I’d work on the first verse, and I’d get it, and then I’d just go bit by bit. But the breakthrough of that song was the middle eight, the bridge. When I got to the bridge I realized, ‘Now we’re talking, I’ve got something happening here.’ And when I was done with it I was extremely excited. There’s nothing like that feeling of having just written a song that you know is ‘the song’ and you know it’s really great and you can’t wait to share it with people, you can’t wait to record it.”

I first heard “Southern Accents” on the groundbreaking Johnny Cash Unchained, American II album (which is a GREAT record if you’ve never heard it.). It is one of those songs Johnny Cash covers and absolutely makes it his. Cash owns this song like he did so many of the songs he covered late in his life. Tom Petty’s original is absolutely fabulous but The Man in Black takes it to another level.

“Southern Accents”

By Tom Petty

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young ‘uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta is just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando if them orange groves don’t freeze
Got my own way of working, but everything is run
With a southern accent, where I come from

For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there, with me

There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me
And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me
Got my own way of praying, but everyone’s begun
With a southern accent, where I come from

Got my own way of living, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Here’s a live Tom Petty version that is very good:

Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of “Southern Accents”: