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Random Shuffle: Abba, The Beatles, Steve Earle & Neil Young

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I'm putting my music collection on shuffle and talking about what comes up. I'm less interested in a critical analysis of these songs than I am in discussing my emotional connection to them. When I hear these songs stories come to mind, not reviews.

"Dancing Queen" – ABBA
From the Album Arrival
Click here to listen to the mp3.

As part of our take students to Europe deal, we landed on a three day cruise through the Greek islands. I've never been on a cruise before, and after what we experienced there, I doubt I'll ever go again. I believe the boat we sailed on would garner something like three stars. It was certainly smaller, less extravagant than the floating cities we often docked next to, but it looked a bit better than some of the other ships we saw.

Every day we docked at some island and explored it which was great fun, but my time on the boat was less than pleasant. The food was plentiful and adequate,  about what you'd get at an international version of Golden Corral. There were plenty of activities but most of them were designed for the mainly senior citizen crowd on the boat. We hit choppy water quite a bit so I always felt like I had replaced my daily V-8 for several shots of V-odka. Then there was the nightly entertainment.

Each night a bevy of ship entertainer got on stage and sang and danced. We had a very international crew with singers from Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czheck Republic, and every other Slavic state. They had thick accents and considering the constant ebb and flow of the tossed boat, very good balance. One night was Abba night and for about an hour we sat and watched these poor kids dressed like Vegas showgirls, singing cheezy, 1970s disco hits from Sweden. It made me feel very much like some hack pimp transporting Russian call girls to New York.

If that was what cruising is all about, consider me out.

"Strawberry Fields Forever, Take 7 & Edit Piece" – The Beatles
From Anthology, Vol. 2
Click here to listen to the mp3.

I was in college when the Internet revolution fully began to hit mainstream strides. We didn't get full access at the university until I was a junior, but we took full advantage of it on our own. We used to collect those free AOL disks that granted limited free access (15 hours at first, then a full month.) On holidays I would take those disks home, sign my parents up, play online for my maximum allotted time then cancel before my parents were any wiser.

In those days any personal computer I could get on wasn't equipped enough for a full browser experience and with AOL's interface I didn't know what the real World Wide Web was anyways, so we spent a lot of time in chat rooms. It was a wild and new experience and I met some pretty interesting people. There was one girl, with the mystical moniker of Treepixie that both my roommate and I learned to enjoy with great enthusiasm. She was smart, interesting, funny, and full of good words. We chatted with her constantly and once I had an all night real-live phone conversation with her.

One day I get a call from her telling me she was in Montgomery and wondered if I wanted to have a face to face conversation with her. This was completely new territory, but I was psyched over the fantastical possibilities. We met at O'Charleys, shared a few beverages, listened to some live music and departed.

It was awkward, but fun. She was perfectly nice and lovely, and not particularly attractive, physically speaking. That was a bit of a body blow, right there. I had never seen a picture of her but I had a fantasy image in my mind. Of course that image was of stunning beauty and halting sexuality. This woman who I knew through wonderful words was, in my mind, supermodel pretty. Of course she was, I mean don't all hot babes spend their time chatting with strangers through a medium that has nothing to do with the physical? It seems perfectly naive now to think that she would be gorgeous all things consider, but at the time I really was let down.

I don't mean to be mean. She is a perfectly wonderful person. We kept a good friendship up for awhile after that moment of meeting and she remains my Facebook friend. She was by no means grotesque. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that. It was just a real turning point in my understanding of relationships and the nature of the Internet. Fantasy isn't always reality.

Funny thing is my relationship with my wife began through a series of e-mails, and she's the prettiest thing I've ever seen.

"Christmas in Washington" – Steve Earle
From the album El Corazón
Click here to listen to the mp3.

I'm pretty much the lone liberal amongst my close friends. I grew up in conservative Oklahoma, was raised in a conservative family, went to a conservative church. Took off for a conservative college in really conservative Alabama. I always leaned towards contrarinism and somewhere along the way dropped most of my conservative roots and uptook liberal thinking.

Lots of times it is fun to engage in debate with my friends through e-mails, blogs and now especially Facebook. But sometimes, and I'm finding this more and more true the older I get, it all just drags me down. I don't have any real problems with conservative idea, or perhaps I should say people with conservative beliefs. Sometimes I agree with them, mostly not, but its a big world and we need more than one opinion, even if I don't agree with them.

But I have learned to hate, to loathe the anger, the division, and the nastiness that comes between the partisan-ism. I despise and refuse to listen to the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O'Reilleys, and the Sean Hannities of the world. But I also never turn on the Keith Olbermans or the Rachel Maddows. Those guys aren't about liberalism or conservatism – right or wrong, they are about ratings and filling their pockets with cash, cash derived from driving the wedge between our culture as far and deep as they can.

It's a disease and you can see it spread far and wide, from Washington to local churches, from cable news to Facebook. I don't want this to be a Rodney King "why can't we all get along" moment but when we spend all of our time, our energy in making the other side evil, we lose the opportunity to make our time here better.

"I Shall Be Released" – Neil Young
From the bootleg Nobody Sings Like Dylan, Vol. 4
Click here to listen to the mp3.

Right across the street from my university was this little dive bar that used to have live music on the weekends. My roommate and I would often sneak over, order a couple of Cokes and dig on the locals playing classic rock numbers with hints of the blues. There was this one favorite band who used to knock out a version of "I Shall Be Released" that blew the doors right off their hinges.

Anyways this one time we're sitting there enjoying ourselves and I feel the need to pee. I make my way to the back of the joint, find the bathroom, and walk in. The facility was small just one sit toilet and one urinal. No partitions between them. On the toilet was this old man with redneck clothes and hillbilly tattoos. He was in the middle of what must have been a colossal dump. I cannot begin to tell you why, but instead of racing out of the room I walked to the urinal to begin my business. I knew it was awkward but somewhere in my mind I thought that since the guy didn't lock the door, this must be how they do it in dive bars.

Or not.

Three seconds in the guy with great anguish yells at me something fierce, this gist of which was get the heck out! I did, and then wandered back to my booth. The rest of the night I slumped down in my seat fearing the dumper would come looking for me wondering what kind of pervert I was.

Really, I was just a kid looking for a place to pee.

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