Phthursday Musings: A Sad Week, and, um, Some J-Pop

or, Twiggy Twiggy Twiggy vs. My Brain

Jim Loewen died last week. He’s best known for writing Lies My Teacher Told Me. He not only advocated for taking down Confederate statues, but did so over 20 years ago. He lived to see Lee and Jackson come down from Charlottesville. They’d still be there if not for his work.

For the past several years I’ve maintained his website. Just last month, after a long wait, its replacement, the History & Social Justice site, launched. You should see it. It’s right here:

I have so much more to say, but have found it hard to pull it all together. It’ll come in a separate META-SPIEL installment some time in the next week. A couple reflections now though:

A lot of the racist idiocy going around the country today might be understood as sort of a delayed reaction against the work of Jim Loewen. While some schools are finally coming around to the idea of prioritizing telling truth in the classroom, in other places, there are outright bans against the truth being taught. Jim knew this struggle was far from over, but I believe he would have regarded a lot of this nonsense as indicative that his work, and that of so many others, has made a real, positive difference in America and beyond.

This idea of making a real, positive difference feels hard to embrace for a lot of people right now. I get it. Oh, do I get it.

But I have, and will continue, to use Jim Loewen as a guiding spirit. Even as his health declined, he spoke with great optimism about the changes that he saw happening. He saw his work as part of an ongoing thread of making things better for more people - and, the point should be stressed, of doing so with humor and cheer.

I hope that such a sense pervades what I write here. And that such pervasion transfers in some type of convoluted osmosis to your brain.

I have a seven year old. He’s a happy kid. When I see him out with other kids, I believe that most of them too are happy kids. And that for all of the real existential bullshit coming their way, that many of us are successfully creating environments where joy and happiness and togetherness can be maximized. We can’t eliminate all of the toxicity, we can’t build moats around our kids, nor should we try. But we can still protect and encourage and a lot of other positive verbs.

Somehow my poor child came to think that “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons is his favorite song.

Friends, look: this song is horrible. No need to discuss that further.

But, his wanting to hear “Radioactive” led me to pull the trick of following up “Radioactive” with “Radioactive”, the 1985 lead single from the eponymous album from supergroup The Firm, featuring Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Paul Rodgers from Bad Company.

Friends, look: this song is horrible. Go look up the lyrics if you don’t believe me. I didn’t remember this song being horrible, but it truly is.

Well, those were the first two songs which came up in searching. Ahh, but what about the third song?

This is an extremely confusing piece of footage, since the audio is the actual album recording. I’m not sure I would quite frame it as Kraftwerk lip syncing, but what else exactly do you call this?

The wonderful part about all this is that now we have taken to playing “Radioactivity” almost every time that I am cajoled into playing “Radioactive”, and just this week, I caught my kid singing a Kraftwerk song.

I need to emphasize this: My seven year old was singing a Kraftwerk song.

I feel like I’ve unlocked a cheat code to some kind of special power the extent of which I can’t fathom, and which frightens me with the thought of how I might harness such a thing.

Our other recent automobile find stemmed from me searching for a song from the Matador golden years, but not finding it, and instead stumbling upon this:

I have been instructed to learn how to sing this song. I… am never going to be able to sing this song. I mean, I would. You would too.

I was of course trying to find this song instead:

While in college and listening to a lot of music, I developed the complicated theory that somehow indie rock from Scotland and Japan was surprisingly similar. Not that anyone in Scotland was doing whatever exactly it was that Pizzicato Five was doing. In fact aside from the reality that there was a Scottish band Urusei Yatsura which named itself after a manga series, I’m doubtful I had any real reason to correlate anything at all.

Nevertheless there were layers of fascination and a lot of them coalesced around Kiwi pop, in the form of the 3Ds, and The Clean, and any other crazy stuff that Flying Nun put out, and of course Bailter Space. Bailter Space is one of those bands where I know precisely one other person who has ever owned an actual Bailter Space CD… and I still own seven.

So it came to pass in 1997 that, when I was Music Director at WESN, I brought together two of our international students under the rubric of Japauzealand, a show dedicated to the music of the Pacific rim, Yoshi being from Japan and Andrew being from New Zealand.

This was an astoundingly brilliant idea on my part which met a swift conclusion because Andrew kept playing only Soundgarden and couldn’t stop swearing on the air.

Yoshi, well, he went on to greater things… much greater things:

Yes, that is Kaptain Rock, playing the one-stringed light saber on Britain’s Got Talent.

I mean, really, what can I add to that?

Some of these weird adventures-with-Spotify have immediately followed archery sessions.

That’s right: archery. For kids. Six weeks of 45 minute sessions, under the tutelage of a guy who looked halfway between a grumpy forest ranger and a member of Built To Spill.

Also a couple of weeks ago I got a couple of rackets and tried to teach this weird child how to play tennis. Inexplicably he seems to like it. Or, maybe he did like it. One day he wanted to show Mom tennis and that was the day he melted down on the court.

We really do try and get him exposure to a lot of weird things. I hope we find more and more weird stuff. Stuff outside of our own comfort zones, for that matter.

You know what would really be outside most people’s comfort zones? That Kraftwerk video I shared above.


Running the kid around has been a diversion from the doom-think, but of course it’s also much more than that. It’s the way to refocus when things feel bleak. Focus on him, focus on kids.

This fall I’ll be coaching soccer again - but as the head coach this time. I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I’ll figure it out and a fun time will be had by all.

And with the kids all back in school, being president of the PTO might actually mean I’m going and doing something, instead of some combination of Slack and Zoom.

It’s truly uplifting to be around kids. Also thoroughly exhausting. I wouldn’t have it any other way.