6th Grade Playlist

When I first came up with the idea to make playlist for every grade in middle school I thought it was going to be super easy. After all there are so many songs I associate with middle school and there are a lot that I still listen to to this day because I guess I never grew up. However when I started putting together a playlist for sixth grade it ended up being really hard.

There are a few reasons that made the sixth grade playlist hard. One is that sixth grade was just a blur for me because of personal tragedy in the family and then I finished out the last half of sixth grade homeschooling. Also this was still kind of pre-Internet so it was harder to discover new music. I was basically limited to whatever was on the radio or whatever the people around me were actually listening to. This playlist would’ve been easier if I hadn’t limited myself to only one song per artist because then I could’ve been honest and just put The Ever Passing Moment by MxPx. Because that’s what I basically listened to 24/7 for that entire year. So going back to sixth grade and trying to remember what I was listening to at the time ended up being kind of difficult. What I did know without a doubt was that the playlist needed to start and end with rap rock because nothing says 2001 like rap rock.

All right let’s go through this track by track.

  1. Momentum — Tobymac

    • I first saw Toby Mac at a Christian youth conference in Oklahoma City. I was a fan of DC talk so he had that going for him and I was also a fan of current rap rock at the time like Limp Bizkit and P.O.D. which * spoiler alert * show up later in this playlist. This is one of the most embarrassing entries on the list if were being honest. But I think when you look at the guitar lines in the song and ignore the terrible vocals and the production around it you can see glimpses of what I’m going to be into later in life. So obviously I’m looking for heavy guitars and that kind of thing but being in sixth grade going to Christian youth conferences this was the best I could do.

  2. The Rock Show — blink-182

    • Alright, so this is a good point to mention the mp3 library on my older brother Ryan’s computer. He had gone off to college and got his own computer. This was the height of Napster and Limewire so he came back home with a ton of music downloaded. I would play solitaire or pinball on his computer and listen to music, skipping around to the songs I liked the most. I loved blink-182 because I had been listening to Dude Ranch and Enema of the State for the previous couple years at my best friend’s house but I think the only blink song Ryan had was The Rock Show.

  3. Responsibility — MxPx

    • This was my absolute favorite song for probably two straight years. I thought the concept of the song was funny and the music video for it was a ton of fun. As previously mentioned, my sixth grade playlist was really just The Ever Passing Moment on repeat but I think this is the most representative song from that album. I remember actually hearing this on the radio a few times and nearly peeing my pants with excitement that MxPx was being played on the normal rock radio station.

  4. Flavor of the Weak — American Hi-Fi

    • True story, I didn’t realize this song title was a pun with week spelled “weak” until I put together this playlist. As a little sixth grader I had a real thing for songs about dudes singing about girls they couldn’t get. Probably because I was scared to death of talking to any of the girls I liked and internalizing this idea that girls only fall for jerks helped me feel better about not even trying. As far as this particular song goes, I think it was maybe also on my brother’s computer and I was so desperate for any pop-punk sounding song that I embraced this whole heartedly.

  5. See The Glory — Steven Curtis Chapman 

    • In the way that I listened to The Ever Passing Moment on repeat, my brother Jonathan listened to Declaration by Steven Curtis Chapman. I was kind of Stockholm Syndromed into knowing all the words to every song on that album but this one was my favorite. This is the most rock style song on the album so I loved it every time it came on. I think Steven Curtis Chapman is a really talented songwriter and this chorus is super catchy. 

  6. Little Things — Good Charlotte 

    • This was the first song I heard by Good Charlotte and I thought it was so cool. I remember someone letting me listen to it on headphones once and I instantly committed the lyrics to memory. 

  7. Teenage Dirtbag — Wheatus

    • This song wins the award for Most Middle School Song Ever. Just the hearing the opening turntable scratches transports me back to the halls of Childers Middle School. 

  8. The Middle — Jimmy Eat World

    • This was definitely on my brother’s computer as well. I remember hearing this on the radio and loving it. I think it was years before I ever heard another Jimmy Eat World song other than this one. I do remember reading an article about Jimmy Eat World in Guitar magazine that was very much a raving, glowing endorsement and just being like “huh, I guess they’re actually good”.

  9. Youth of a Nation — P.O.D.

    • For a while there, P.O.D. was everywhere. From Christian radio, to rock radio, to football highlight reels. You couldn’t escape it. For some reason, Youth of a Nation was the song of theirs that grabbed me the most at the time and I would crank it every time it came on. Looking back on it now, the verse about school shootings is depressingly still relevant.

  10. Pressing On — Relient K

    • Youth group, man. Youth group taught me two things 1) far too many kids have sex at church camp 2) Relient K is dope. I first heard this song in the hallowed halls of Indian Springs Baptist Church. It was on in the background after a youth group service and I had to go around bugging everyone until someone could tell me who the band was. 

  11. Warning — Green Day

    • International Superhits! Is a fantastic greatest hits album covering the entire career of pop punk legends Green Day. Whatever happened to them after 2001? It’s a shame they disappeared like that, but oh well. Anyway, Warning was always one of my favorite songs on that album.

  12. Paparazzi — Switchfoot

    • My love for Switchfoot goes back to when my family was going to a Christian Music festival in Broken Arrow and I had to search the lineup for any band I could remotely be interested in. Since Switchfoot actually played rock instead of pop they became my guys. I think I barely even got to see them at the festival because we got there late. I listened to their album Learning to Breath a bunch because my brother Roger got it in one of those record in the mail club deals. Paparazzi was my favorite song because it had the catchiest, pop punk feel to it.

  13. Fat Lip — Sum 41

    • This song holds a pretty special place in my heart because I felt so cool at the time for knowing all the words. Looking back, that’s not a very impressive accomplishment and the song doesn’t hold up very well. I still love it and will sing along every time it comes on but it is prrreeetty goofy sounding now.

  14. My Way — Limp Bizkit

    • Ah the new millennium. Y2k didn’t bring with it a world wide crises brought on by computers crashing but it did bring us Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, which is arguably worse. However, at the time I loved that album and thought it was one of the coolest sounding things I’d heard. I remember playing Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 and listening to this album for hours. If you had asked me at the time what rock music I liked I definitely would have said Limp Bizkit. There are a lot of music choices I’ve made that I’m embarrassed about now but can still listen to with a good amount of nostalgia and enjoy the experience. Limp Bizkit is not one of those bands. 

Identity Politics

I am tired of identity politics. 

Women who get abortions are murderers; not human beings making a difficult decision who need the love and support of people around them. 

Immigrants are rapists and criminals; not human beings trying to improve their lives and do the best they can for themselves and their families. 

Queer people are vile sinners; not human beings who love and are loved in return. 

Corporations are People.

Poor people are lazy freeloaders who made the decision to have less; not human beings who need care and support. 

Black people are reverse racists who need to get over the fact they were once enslaved; not human beings suffering under systematic oppression. 

All Police Officers are Inherently Good.

Survivors of Gun Violence are whiners who need to shut up; not human beings who should be listened to. 

Educators are spoiled brats whose main form of compensation should be the privilege of teaching children; not human beings who are overworked, understaffed and who often can’t provide for their own children without a second job.

The Rich are Overtaxed.

I am so tired of identity politics. 

I am so tired of politics that try to make me see the individual identities of human beings other than myself. 

The Tipping Point of Superhero Cinema

In a world full of piping hot takes regarding movies, one of my least favorite is when people say they are bored of superhero movies because we are approaching a tipping point of superhero movie burnout. This belief, that superhero movies are a phase that simply needs to be weathered, is almost always loudly proclaimed by pretentious film nerds who would probably listen to Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman’s “I Love Films” mini-podcast within U Talkin’ U2 To Me? and not understand the irony. The pedantic bluster of the people insisting that each superhero movie released is bringing us one step closer to the end of the superhero movie phase is frustrating because it is so wrong and also so close to being right. We are in fact reaching a tipping point in terms of superhero movies, just not the one they think. I firmly believe the release of each superhero movie brings us one step closer to something far greater than the end of movie phase hilariously called boring by mumblecore jerks—the first live-action What If/Elseworlds movie. 

So first, I have to address this notion that superhero movies are a phase. This trivialization of an established genre is an affront to those of us who spent time on the front lines, watching for years as Hollywood mangled our favorite characters. Oh, you’re disappointed that the box office is continually dominated by superhero movies? Let me tell you, that disappointment is nothing compared to what we felt in the trenches, attending midnight showings of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man 3. Superhero movies are a genre like spy movies or westerns. Not every single release is going to be amazing, but as the genre develops and deepens, the movies will get more and more interesting. All I’m saying is the John Wayne Cinematic Universe paved the way for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and we have yet to be blessed with the superhero equivalent of that film (although maybe we’ll look back and realize it was Logan). 

Now, as superhero movies get more interesting, we have a good idea of what that will look like because the ages of the Cinematic Superhero Universes mirror the ages of print comic books. For print comics, the ages are as follows:

Golden Age (1938-1950): The debut of many famous characters, such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. This age features heroes in their most simplistic, archetypal form.

Silver Age (1956-1970): Superheroes once again return to popularity. DC responds by reimagining many of its classic characters and Marvel bursts on the scene with new creations such as Spider-Man and The X-Men. Because of the rise in popularity, this age is marked by a lot of throwing a lot of ideas at the wall and hoping some stick.

Bronze Age (1970-1985): This age is all about creators taking what was established in the Silver Age and pushing it to new heights. This age sees a focus on character development as well as a lot of writing that addresses social issues. Creators also begin dabbling in unconventional storytelling.

Finally, the Modern Age kicks in (1985-Present): The rise of the anti-hero, excessive pouches, holographic covers, and an over-reliance on massive crossover events. Also, the home of some really dope writing and art that isn’t afraid to push boundaries because the universes will probably be rebooted in a year and half anyway. 

 I’m sure people can argue the specifics of when those ages start and stop as well as if there is a fifth age between Bronze and Modern. But for my purposes, those are the ages.

The ages of superhero movies is a much less established timeline but I believe it goes as follows:

The Golden Age (1978-1997): A period of extreme highs and lows, beginning with Richard Donner’s Superman and ending with Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. This is a long age, spanning almost twenty years, and I credit that mostly to the budget/logistical restraints associated with making a superhero movie before CGI could do the heavy lifting. The cool thing about the Golden Age is there was a lot of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, which is why we got the unofficial trilogy of The Rocketeer, The Shadow, and The Phantom in the early 90s. 

 The Silver Age (2000-2007): Started with a bang with the first X-Men movie and ended with the whimper of Spider-Man 3. This is an interesting era for superhero movies. On one hand we had the X-Men franchise telling us we wanted a grown-up, dark and serious take on superheroes. On the other hand we had the Spider-Man franchise telling us we want bright spandex and fun storytelling. This seven year stretch was Hollywood struggling to reconcile those two ideas only to realize it didn’t matter what the films looked like, we just wanted an adaptation that kept the spirit of the comics intact. 

 The Bronze Age (2008-Present Day): The one two punch of Iron Man in May and The Dark Knight in July ushered in the Bronze Age. Like the comic book Bronze Age, this age is defined by creators taking what was established in the Silver Age and pushing it to new heights. For Marvel, that was creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For DC, that was putting out The Dark Knight and then living in its shadow for ten years. In this age, character truly gets to shine as we’ve been able to see characters develop over the course of eighteen films. Within the framework of the MCU, directors have been given a certain amount of freedom to experiment with ideas that would have been a harder set on their own (Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok). This age also gave us X-Men: First Class, the semi reboot of the X-Men franchise which stays true to the comics by making continuity confusing as hell, and Deadpool, a movie that crushed the box office despite fifteen years of people saying Deadpool could never work on screen.

Okay, so what is the importance of this Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age nonsense? The importance is that the Marvel What If comics appeared during the Bronze Age of comics and we are currently sitting in the Bronze Age of superhero cinema! That means categorically and undeniably we will soon get a live action What If or Elseworlds movie. 

I personally believe DC will hit this arena first by putting out an Elseworlds movie, possibly Batman: Gotham by Gaslight or Superman: Red Son. The MCU is trucking along so strong at the moment that Marvel doesn’t need to rock the boat. DC on the other hand is struggling to play catchup with Marvel’s cinematic universe. I think the answer to DCs problem is to stop playing Marvel’s game. Instead of trying to build a cinematic universe, DC should build a cinematic MULTIVERSE. The true strength of DC is how iconic their core characters are. By going the multiverse route it enables DC to fully maximize their strengths by exploring different takes on those iconic characters. They can stunt cast all they want and actors won’t have to sign on for the rest of their lives. They can also bring in characters from the CW DCU.

If DC doesn’t go after the multiverse idea, Marvel sure as hell will and it will probably be with the Spider-Verse. That way they can give us Ben Reilly, Miles Morales, and Spider-Gwen. I also want to see a storyline that brings together different versions of Spider-Man that would include cameos from Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield but I know that’s insane and impossible. Honestly, I’m just excited to see where the Bronze Age of superhero cinema takes us and I can’t wait for whatever insanity it is that will push us out of the Bronze Age and into the next era.

In conclusion, people who complain about superhero movies need to get over it and they are not allowed to see the What If movies when they finally come out.

Bye Week: Outlaw Vern’s Indiana Jones 4 Review

This week was my two year anniversary so I didn’t take the time to write a new piece for my nonfiction section. Instead, I present to you Outlaw Vern’s review for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Vern is one of my go to film writers now and this review is an excellent example why. This review is never preoccupied with determining if Indiana Jones 4 is objectively good or objectively bad. It’s simply a discussion of the film as it is. Anyway, read this and enjoy. I’ll be back in full force next week. 

 

 http://outlawvern.com/2016/02/10/indiana-jones-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal-skull-revisit/

In Defense of Christian Rock

Growing up in Oklahoma, I heard a lot about what it takes to be a Real Christian. Real Christians dress like this, Real Christians talk like that, Real Christians don’t dance because a few years ago some teenagers were killed in a car wreck on the way home from a dance and it gave the whole town PTSD. Okay, that last one is the plot to Footloose but you get the idea. It was an incredibly restrictive interpretation of Christianity that was much more concerned with the way the message was delivered than with the message itself. 

As I got older, I began to see the ideal of the Real Christian for the unattainable lie it was and I had to spend the majority of my adult life unlearning everything I had been taught about Christianity. My religious re-education took many forms—friends, books, movies, podcasts—each exposing me to experiences that differed from my own and challenged my worldview. I am indebted to such innumerable people and works of art that it would be impossible to pinpoint each individual source of inspiration. However, I can trace my initial desire to search for more fulfilling answers to one unlikely source—Christian Rock.

That’s right, Christian Rock. 

I know that’s hard to believe because, like the Star Wars prequels and the entire CBS primetime line-up, Christian Rock is almost universally understood to be a joke. But the thing is, the Star Wars prequels gave us podracing, Darth Maul, and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and CBS gave us Early Edition. So I don’t buy the argument that all Christian Rock sucks. Now, if I ask you to picture a Christian Rock band, I would undoubtedly agree that whatever you’re picturing in your head sucks because we all have the same embarrassing idea of what Christian Rock looks like. It’s this weird nu-metal esthetic but with clean guitars, a ton of reverb, and permanently set in about 1998. Even if you’re not thinking of that type of Christian Rock, you’re thinking of Stryper, which is laughable more for spandex related reasons than anything else. 

The problem with that view of Christian Rock is that it is more accurately described as Christian Worship Rock. These are the kind of bands that are played on Christian radio, get gigs at church camps and massive worship retreats, and pretty much exclusively play in churches. It’s not merely preaching to the choir, it’s the choir preaching to itself. Their images are squeaky clean, their songs all fall under the thematic heading of “God is Good”, and they sound like whatever was popular in the mainstream five years ago. 

Christian Worship Rock is a genre of music meant for a specific type of person. In many ways, it is the tofu of music because it creates a wonderful litmus test: if you’re complaining about it then it’s obviously not meant for you. Christian Worship Rock is meant for people who grew up in Christian homes, people who primarily surround themselves with other Christians, and people who learned the word “edifying” at an extremely young age because their parents insisted that art was only worth consuming if it was “edifying”. In other words, people like me. 

Growing up, there were two things I was allowed to listen to: Christian music and Weird Al Yankovic. I’m not really sure how/why Weird Al got a pass, but he did and I’m thankful. Given those options, you can bet I listened to a lot of Weird Al, but I also listened to a ton of Christian music like The Newsboys, DC Talk, and Jars of Clay. All bands I would classify as Christian Worship rock. And that was fine for a long time. Eventually, though, I got to the point where all of it sounded the same to me. I understood that, yes, God is good and we should worship him, but a big part of me wondered: Is that really all there is to sing about? Why would God create this wonderful language of music and then dictate all music should be about him? I doubt my nine year old self would have articulated it quite that way, but it was clear I wanted something more.

Admittedly, that desire for something more had just as much to do with the sound of the music being played as it did the existential questions it created. Christian Worship Rock bands like to dabble in rock but they can never fully commit to it. So I would listen to whatever their most rock-like song was, with the loudest guitars and the fastest drums, and think “Man, I want this but, like, for a whole album”. Unfortunately, I was only nine and while it was never explicitly stated that listening to non-Christian music was buying yourself a one way ticket to Hell, it was pretty heavily implied. Since I did not want to push my luck by listening to the radio, I had no way to seek out the kind of music I wanted. 

Luckily, older brothers come in handy for that kind of thing.

In 1999, my family took a crazy road trip out to California. We drove from Tulsa, down to San Antonio to see my cousin perform in the Alamo Bowl Halftime show, and then drove all the way out to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl Parade. That’s a lot of hours in the car. At the time, we had one of those giant vans with the kind of set up where you could play a cd and plug head phones in the back so multiple people could listen without bugging whoever was driving. So we took turns listening to various Christian albums and I’m sure many Weird Al albums. Then my brother Ryan put on MxPx’s Slowly Going The Way of The Buffalo and changed my life. 

When I heard those first few power chords hammer through the headphones, the realization burned into my brain that this is what I was looking for. It was such a profound moment for me that to this day, whenever I hear that album, I picture myself sitting in the van, driving through the desert somewhere between El Paso and California. 

MxPx introduced me to the other type of Christian Rock bands. These are the bands that are Christian in the same way that Cap’n Crunch is vegan—technically yes but it’s more of a happy accident than the intended purpose. Sure, some of their songs include references to God and Christianity but they also have…regular songs. You know, songs where they talk about girls, parties, movies, and, oh, did I mention girls? Because here’s a thing people don’t talk about enough: Christian Worship bands don’t have songs about girls. At least not in the way we’re used to, where it’s a guy singing about liking a girl or how a girl broke his heart. Christian Worship bands have songs about girls but they are all cautionary tales about how “she’s going down a dangerous path” or whatever. They don’t do love songs to girls, only love songs to Jesus.

I think Christian Worship bands don’t talk about relationships because it’s seen as some kind of gateway. If they sing about a relationship between a boy and girl, it’s going to make the listeners start thinking about boy and girl relationships, which will make them start thinking about sex and that’s a sin. So they just avoid the subject altogether. 

For the kids who grow up only allowed to listen to Christian music, that’s a pretty big subject to avoid. I remember starting to notice girls and thinking that something was wrong with me; that I shouldn’t be wanting to ask a girl out because that’s not the Christian thing to do. Keep in mind, my sex education was pretty much Don’t Even Think About The Opposite Sex Until You’re Ready To Get Married, which, in retrospect, probably explains why I knew so many kids from youth group who either ended up pregnant or got someone pregnant. When it comes to relationships, Christians spend a lot of time defining what not to do (i.e. be gay or get an abortion) and very little time holding up examples of what good, healthy relationships look like. Which is why listening to MxPx and hearing them sing about girls was incredibly refreshing. It was the first time I’d really seen that you were allowed to be a Christian and have romantic feelings. It was this huge revelatory moment of “Oh I’m not weird”.

For a while, that little bit of reassurance that I wasn’t weird was enough for me. I didn’t immediately go out and buy a denim jacket and start loading it up with back patches. Rather, I held on to my safe, familiar Christian worldview, which meant I kept on listening to a lot of traditional Christian music. Only now I had MxPx to help take the edge off. I remember at that time we had a five disc cd changer in our living room and, while four slots saw a heavy rotation of various Christian Worship bands, MxPx’s The Ever Passing Moment didn’t leave that player for probably two years.

That was the Golden Age of Christianity for me, when belief was easy because I could happily accept whatever I was told. I had no reason to doubt that God was a benevolent, bearded man in the sky who watched over us and kept score of all our sins. It was a good, simple time so a simplistic form of Christianity made sense. 

Unfortunately, Golden Ages never last.

Mine ended abruptly in 2001 when my older brother, Roger, died in a car crash two weeks after the terrorist attack on September 11th. A few months later, my parents split up. That was a lot for an eleven year old to process. 

Suddenly, the form of Christianity I’d been surrounded by in church and at youth group felt unsatisfying. There was simply no place for the kind of tragedy I had experienced in the Christianity that I had learned. What I had learned was a shallow Christianity of appearance. It was the kind of Christianity that leads innumerable people to tell an eleven year old whose brother just died that “God has a plan”. 

Yeah, that wasn’t good enough for me. 

I needed a belief in God that could handle the realities of the real world. Since I wasn’t getting that from the people in my life, I turned to music. Upon doing so, the “God is Good” choruses of the Christian Worship Rock bands rang hollow and I quickly realized that my one MxPx album was not going to cut it. My first order of business became acquiring the entire MxPx discography. I still remember how shocked I was when I heard the grungy, fast paced punk of their early albums when until then I had only been exposed to the more produced pop punk sound of Slowly Going The Way of The Buffalo and The Ever Passing Moment. 

After I got my hands on every MxPx record I could, I still wasn’t satisfied. In fact, it just made me hungry for more music and I became desperate to find more bands like them. Unfortunately this was the early 2000s and I couldn’t just search them on Spotify and find similar artists. Hell, I couldn’t even pull them up on MySpace and see what bands they had in their Top 8 (a very underrated way of discovering music that I desperately miss).

At the time, the best way for me to discover music was by going to a Mardel Christian Bookstore. It’s kind of hard to explain the concept of a Mardel Bookstore to the uninitiated. Basically, Mardel took the business model of making sure your aunt never runs out of little angel figurines and grew it into a huge company with over thirty locations in seven states. If you’ve ever wondered where people get those shirts that look like the “Reese’s” logo but instead of “Reese’s” it says Jesus—it’s at Mardel (Full disclosure, in middle school I owned a shirt that looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt except it said “A Bread Crumb and Fish”). At Mardel, they sell everything a good midwestern Christian needs: Bibles, Christian books, Christian apparel, Christian decorations, Christian Homeschool curriculum, and—most importantly—Christian music.

As bonkers as the rest of the store was, Mardel had the best environment for buying albums. They had a bank of CD players on one wall and three or four individual listening booths, which I assume they kept in case Clark Kent was browsing the shelves and needed a place to change into Superman. Every album on the shelf had a demo cd—an already opened cd that you could listen to on one of the CD players or in a Superman booth before making your decision to buy it—a truly invaluable resource when buying Christian music because you can never tell by the cd art what you’re going to get. An album cover depicting the apocalypse might be a folk band and an album with a flower and puppies could be a metal band.

Given the wide variety in sound, I needed a way to narrow down my search. I learned that MxPx was on Tooth and Nail records and that seemed as good a place to start as any. So when my mom would go to Mardel I would tag along and when we got there I would head straight to the CD section to start checking the backs of CDs, looking for any other bands on Tooth and Nail. I would grab a stack of 10 or more records and keep listening until my mom dragged me away from the bank of cd players. That’s how I discovered bands like Ace Troubleshooter, Project 86, Ghoti Hook, Hangnail, Ninety Pound Wuss, and Anberlin. It never mattered what the album art looked like or what the bands sounded like, I had carte blanche to get any album I wanted because it was on the shelves of a Christian store. That came in pretty handy because even artists like Comeback Kid, who I think were classified as Christian because one band member went to church one time and probably on accident, were stocked at Mardel. 

All those hours spent at Mardel listening to demo cds, discovering new bands, that was church to me. It gave me a level of comfort that no amount of “God has a plan” could come close to. It was a time when I desperately needed guidance in my life and those Christian Rock bands gave it to me. 

The lessons I learned stuck with me more than anything I heard at youth group or church camp. They taught me that faith is about more than a list of rules you have to memorize. They taught me that belief is than more looking the right way and talking the right way so you fit in at an Oklahoma church. They taught me that Christianity was merely one aspect of who I was, it did not define me. To an eleven year old going through the hardest time in their life, Christian rock bands were not a punchline, they were lifesavers. 

Music Association: Amanda Flippo

Music Association is an ongoing series of conversations with friends and family about specific artists/albums/songs and the strong memories attached to them.


PRCB: So what song/album are we going to talk about?

AMANDA: We’re actually going to talk about a YouTube playlist.

PRCB: Alright, a YouTube playlist! That’s hilarious because I was like oh yeah this series will be about albums or songs and I had no intention of ever talking about a YouTube playlist. But first one let’s do this. What’s the playlist?

AMANDA: It’s actually an oldies country YouTube playlist that my dad — I don’t think he compiled it I think he just found it. He used to google specific artists and specific songs and I think he found somebody who, like him, loved classic oldies country and had compiled a playlist of their favorites that was like an hour or so long. 

PRCB: That’s amazing! I can barely imagine either of my parents doing that now let alone whenever this was.

AMANDA: This was like -- I don’t know how old am I now? -- about ten to fifteen years ago. 

PRCB: So early part of high school?

AMANDA: Yeah, early part of high school. That’s when we had just moved into the house that my parents live in now. It had a downstairs office and my dad would sit on the computer and play spider solitaire and listen to his youtube playlist. Nowadays it’s sudoku on the computer.

PRCB: Oh, he’s upgraded.

AMANDA: He has.

PRCB: So for you, what’s the specific memory attached to this playlist?

AMANDA: I would do my homework or hangout in the downstairs area and I would hear the familiar melodies of what we used to listen to when we went on road trips to visit my grandma or just, you know, him doing yard work he would turn on our big boombox in the garage and blast some old country music.

Specifically, I would be doing homework or just hanging out and he would call me into the room and say “Amanda listen to this song!”. So I’d stop whatever I’m doing and go listen to it. Nine times out of ten it would be this terribly tragic song that made me cry. It got to the point where I would be like “no dad I don’t want to be sad right now” and he’d be like “no no no I promise you its a really cool song, it’s a happy song”. I’d go in there and inevitably it would be something like Teddy Bear, which is this really sad song about this little boy whose dad was a truck driver and he would go on his dad’s old radio and just chat to the truckers cause he was lonely. One time he was chatting with the truckers and he said he missed his dad and that’s when you find out his dad died. So all the truckers came up and lined his street and gave him a ride. You also find out [the little boy] is in a wheelchair.  My dad was like “it’s really sweet!” and I’m like “but his dad is dead and he’s in a wheelchair!”

PRCB: Yeah, that’s gonna make me cry just hearing the description of the song. I always tell people that I think I like old country and not new country but I’d probably rather listen to She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy than that song because at least I’m not gonna cry. 

AMANDA: One of the great things about old country is that they do tell stories. But a lot of those stories are sad. And my dad would always find those ones. 

PRCB: So do you still listen to those songs? 

AMANDA: I do. I don’t have a youtube playlist unfortunately. But I do have a Spotify playlist of old country and I have some cds and cassette tapes cause those are making a comeback…in this Flippo household. 

PRCB: What are your top five songs from that youtube playlist?  Or the top five most memorable ones that you most strongly associate with that time?

AMANDA: Teddy Bear obviously.

Um, I Cross My Heart by George Strait, which was actually my daddy daughter dance from our wedding.

Harper Valley PTA.

It’ll Grow Back.

And, um, I’m gonna go with He Stopped Loving Her Today.

 

PRCB: Okay so four definitely and that fifth one was like "I think this one".

AMANDA: Right, cause there was a lot of them so I was like, what do I remember hearing most? 

PRCB: So I can definitely say that I have known that you have an association between country music and your dad, which I find adorable. 

AMANDA: Yeeeaaahhh, we’re pretty cute. 

PRCB: Anything else you want to add? Any thoughts/interesting things that come to mind?

AMANDA: Just that I know that his inundation of country music really affected my choice of music when I could choose because those old country songs do have really great storytelling. For me to like a song I want it to have story. Pop songs really annoy me because it’s just the same thing over and over again and I’m more likely to like a song or an artist if they’re good at storytelling. So I think that’s interesting, like, I don’t know if I would feel the same way if I hadn’t been exposed to country music not only when I wanted to be exposed to country music but to just have it fly around the house while I was busy doing other things. 

PRCB: Anything else?

AMANDA: We have a cute baby.

And I love him.

And I hope that I can expose him to all the annoying country music and call him over and make him cry with songs. 

PRCB: I think we’ll be doing things right if we teach our son to be able to cry at songs. 

AMANDA: I agree!

Rewatch Reread Relisten: X-Wing Rogue Squadron

Rewatch Reread Relisten is an ongoing series in which I revisit specific works that have had a meaningful impact on me as a person and as an artist. 

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For this edition of Rewatch Reread Relisten, I reread X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole. Originally published in 1996, X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is the first novel in the ten book X-Wing series. The series begins about two years after the events of Return of the Jedi and chronicles the exploits of the newly reformed Rogue Squadron. 

I first read X-Wing: Rogue Squadron in seventh grade, after coming across the series while hunting through the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of our local used bookstore. I remember it really well because discovering this series one of the few bright spots in a hard year. My older brother, Roger, died in September of my sixth grade year and I was home schooled the second semester of sixth grade. When I came back to school in seventh grade I felt like I no longer knew how to interact with my classmates so I turned to reading. I figured I would rather be the weird kid who didn’t talk to people and read all the time rather than the weird kid who didn’t talk to people and just, like, stared at the wall or something. 

I would get to school early and read until the bell sounded. When class ended, I would rush to my next class in order to cram in as much reading time into the passing period as possible. I would read through roll call and during second hour I got to read through announcements as well. I have such incredibly vivid memories of reading books from the X-Wing series in my second hour science class that even just picking up the books transports me back to Childers Middle School. I’m so thankful I came across these books when I did because they gave me a world to immerse myself in when my real world was falling apart.

Because I have such a strong emotional association with these books, I was honestly kind of scared to revisit them. I know it wouldn’t invalidate my memories and what these books did for me, but it would be a huge bummer if I the books that played such a pivotal roll in my grieving process actually sucked. Luckily, I’m happy to report that is not the case!

I think the highest praise I can say about the book is that when I was fifty pages in, I tweeted that reading the book made me want to write Star Wars fan fiction again. (Full disclosure, I did write a short fan fiction scene after finishing the book and it was so much fun to write). 

For the most part, the writing is not necessarily amazing (in that the focus is more on storytelling than flowery language) but it is also not bad like I feared it might be. I read so many books in middle school that I think I lost my barometer for good prose. I’ve reread things from back then that are absolutely terrible. This book however is a great example of what Brandon Sanderson refers to as “window pane prose”. Meaning prose you can see through that doesn’t draw attention to itself. What is amazing to me is how Michael A. Stackpole writes the dogfights and space battles. The action is so detailed but also so clear that it’s easy to understand what is happening. It makes you really get what it means to be an X-Wing pilot in the Star Wars universe.

What I love so much about the X-Wing series versus the rest of the Expanded Universe books I read is that these books are military sci-fi in a space opera universe. It makes for really interesting storytelling because we know The Force exists and could solve so many of the characters problems with a literal wave of the hand, but at this point Luke is the only Jedi in the universe and he’s not around. The technical writing of the space battles is spectacular and adds so much depth to the Star Wars universe. After reading these books it always kind of frustrated me to watch the movies and not see the intricacies of space warfare represented. One of my favorite things about The Last Jedi was that a big part of its plot centered around the shield life of the ships and managing shield life along with speed. That felt like something that could have been ripped straight from the X-Wing series and it made my little nerd heart so happy.

There were two big things that stuck out to me from a story perspective. One is that Wedge Antilles is only twenty-seven years old when this takes place. I mean, it makes sense that the rebellion is a young man’s game but still. It’s crazy that I’m older than Wedge. The other thing that stuck out to me was the burgeoning love story between Corran Horn and Mirax Terrick. I had somehow managed to completely forget about that storyline but when Mirax first showed up it started coming back to me. I don’t remember too many specifics but I remember really enjoying their relationship so I’m excited about rediscovering that in the next few books. Honestly, I’m just super excited to reread the rest of the series and I, Jedi, the Corran Horn standalone novel. 

Of all the realizations I had while reading this book, the biggest was the fact I am much more of an X-Wing fan than a Star Wars fan. I love Star Wars movies, I do, but this series is my favorite thing about Star Wars. It for sure has the most personal meaning to me. I thought I had made peace with the new movies wrecking the Star Wars canon and pushing everything in the Expanded Universe into the Legends Universe, but reading this book was like picking off a scab. My love came back so strong that it breaks my heart a little that these characters aren’t canon. It would have meant so much to me to see them adapted to the screen. 

In the end though, I understand why Disney had to start fresh for the new movies. The Expanded Universe was incredibly complicated and it would have been ridiculous to expect casual viewers to catch up on thirty years of books/comics/video games/etc in order to understand what was happening onscreen. The big plus to the retconning of Star Wars is that because the continuity is so much more streamlined, I feel like my longstanding desire to write a Star Wars book actually potential to happen. 

Overall, I really enjoyed my reread of X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. I love how the story plays out and how so much of it relies on the technical aspects of space warfare rather than the mystical aspects of The Force. I’ve been saying it for years, but gravity wells and hyperspace calculations are just as cool as lightsabers and Force lightning. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a joystick and download the X-Wing games on Steam.

A Tribute Called Quest

 Again, this is a post I had previously made on Facebook. I wrote this on the day Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest passed away. I wanted to include it here in my site because I think thematically it ties into what a lot of my pieces will be about—the impact that art has on our lives and how the right album/book/movie/tv show at the right time can change us forever. Anyway, if you’re reading this thanks for indulging me.

As a kid, I was one of those "I only listen to punk because it's the only music that gets me" dorks. I would tell everyone how I "hated" rap/hip hop, pop, and country. But in my senior year of high school, I came across The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest because I needed a 90s hip hop song for a video I was working on.

So I listened to the album trying to decide which song to use--I ultimately settled on Scenario of course--and once I made it through the album one time, I couldn't stop listening. That album stayed in my car stereo for weeks. I still remember my mom coming into my room when I was listening to Tribe and saying "I thought you didn't like rap?" and my reply was "Me too. But now I do."

However, The Low End Theory didn't just teach me to love hip hop, it taught me to be open minded to all music regardless of genre. Afterall, if I had been so wrong about hip hop, what else had I been wrong about? Turns out I was wrong about a lot. Since then, I've discovered country bands I love, got sucked into pop music, and found countless hip hop artists that inspire me. And all of it because I stumbled upon A Tribe Called Quest my senior year of high school.

So thank you Phife Dawg and A Tribe Called Quest for changing the way I listen to music. #RIPPhifeDawg

Transform And Roll Out...Some Gun Safety Regulations

This was originally a facebook post I made in 2015 in response to one of the numerous mass shootings our country has endured. Sadly, it's still relevant today and even sadder is the fact there have been so many shootings I honestly can't remember which one prompted this post. I chose to repost this here because a) I'm proud of this post and b) it is kind of the stylistic template for what a lot of the pieces on the nonfiction section of my site will be. 

When I was little, say 3-5, I wasn't allowed to play with my older brother's Transformers toys. Looking back, it makes sense. I mean, I had just barely mastered not pooping in my own pants so why would I be trusted with complex actions figures that have tons of tiny, very breakable parts? Just because it makes sense doesn't mean I was happy about it at the time though. I'm sure I cried on more than one occasion after reaching for Optimus Prime and being told "No, you're not old enough for that toy yet".

And it's not like my brothers took a perverse joy in denying me access to their Transformers. I have great brothers. They love the heck out of me, they love Transformers, and I'm sure they couldn't wait to share that love with me. However, they understood it was best for everyone if I waited until I was old enough. Afterall, it was pretty much inevitable that I would break a Transformer which would mean two things 1) I would get in trouble for breaking said Transformer 2) They would no longer be able to play with the broken Transformer.

So, for a long time, my brothers had to keep the Transformers in their room on a shelf that I couldn't reach. I would go into their room and look at that shelf with all the jealousy my little four year old body could muster. Eventually, I was able to play with the Transformers but only if one of my brothers got it for me and taught me how to properly transform it. So I started out with the easy ones, Cliffjumper and Bumblebee, and slowly progressed onto more difficult Transformers. When I finally reached the age where I could play with Transformers unsupervised, I did so very carefully and with a lot of respect, because I understood that playing with Transformers was a privilege.

So, even though I hated that rule when I was little, I'm very glad my parents handled it that way. They could have just said, look, toys are toys and they all have to be shared equally. My three year old self would have been very happy with that, but I would have realized the mistake when I got older and we had a house full of broken Transformers. They also could have said, hey, if Robby can't play with Transformers then no one gets to play with Transformers. But that wouldn't have been fair to my brothers. They were the ones who spent hours watching Transformers. They were the ones who recorded the episodes on VHS for repeat viewings. They were the ones who carefully read the directions every time before transforming an action figure for the first time. They were the ones who knew all the lyrics to "The Touch" by Stan Bush. They were responsible Transformers owners.

Now I won't lie to you and say we had a perfect household, we had our problems. But you better believe that an epidemic of broken Transformers was not one of those problems.

Which brings me to this: I won't say guns need to be banned entirely. I will say, however, that I think guns in America should be regulated to the same extent that Transformers toys were regulated in my house growing up. I don't think that's too much to ask.