The current issue of Rolling Stone magazine is titled “The Playlist Issue”.  As the name suggests, it is full of playlists submitted by several of the movers and shakers in the music industry.  Artists from Ozzy to Tom Petty to Drake talked about their favorite songs from an era, a genre, or even a particular artist or group.

I’m always fascinated by these types of lists.  It’s not the songs (or books or whatever) that intrigue me, but the reasons behind those choices.  On what level does the work connect with the person–the “why” instead of the “what”.  Nightline has been running a recurring segment along these same lines and I always watch to see what the artists have to say about the music they love.

So, considering that I really don’t have much new to report on the writing front, I’m going to do my own series of playlists this week.  I’m normally reluctant to talk about my musical tastes as I reached a point several years ago where I gave up trying to appreciate all the new music coming out so I could go back and see what I missed while I was waiting in the queue in my mother’s ovaries.  I can’t tell you much about what’s new and hip, but that’s okay as I am neither of those things.  For example, I give you . . . .

Playlist #1:  Elton John

I’ve mentioned before on here that I’m a huge fan of Elton John.  He has a unique vocal style and, with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, he creates stories out of song, even if I can’t always tell you what the story is.

Your Song–Elton’s first big hit, the simple melody and simple lyrics tell a simple story that reflected the beginnings of his and Taupin’s long career and belie all the complexities (e.g. drugs, scandal, Madonna, etc.) that would follow.

Tonight–I’m more fond of the Live in Australia version of this song, which opens with a three-minute instrumental before moving into a deeply emotional song about a couple arguing and the toll it takes on their relationship.  Great feeling, great imagery, great song.

The Greatest Discovery–One of the best story songs ever, about a little boy who wonders what all the fuss in his house is about, then discovers that his parents have given him a little brother.  As an added bonus, my wife loves this one, too.

Candle in the Wind–The original is fine.  The Lady Diana tribute is fine, if a little clunky lyrically.  But my favorite version is again the one from Live in Australia.  At the time the concerts were recorded, Elton was finishing his tour down under and mortally afraid that lesions found on his vocal cords were cancerous.  He went out night after night, barely able to speak during the day, and delivered as gutsy a vocal performance as I have ever heard.  Plus, of course, it’s simply a fantastic song that could have been about anyone taken from us too soon.

The Bridge–Another example of a song with simple lyrics and a powerful message.  It’s about not giving up, despite the odds, and following your dreams.

Empty Garden–The only place Elton every performs this John Lennon tribute song is at Madison Square Garden.  This song is even more poignant, with its startk imagery and haunting metaphors, as we arrive upon the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder.

A Word in Spanish–Another great story song about the universal language of love.

The Last Song–I have no idea what the song is exactly about, but it’s haunting and Elton’s vocals are superb in conveying the emotion of whatever the hell he’s singing about.

This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore–One of Elton’s more recent songs, it is, in some ways, the opposite end of the spectrum from Your Song, about the culmination of a long career rather than it’s inception.  Also, look up the video and see how amazing Justin Timberlake looks as a young Elton.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues–Elton said in an interview that this is one of his favorite songs to perform because he can do it so many ways–pop style, bluesy, just about any way you can do a song, this one will work.  I like it because it’s cool no matter how it’s done.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters–One of Elton’s “New York Songs”, this one describes the bustle of the Big Apple in as poetic a way as another other you can find.

Rocket Man–The best song about space exploration, with apologies to David Bowie, ever.  Also, a wonderful metaphor about celebrity and how lonely it is at the top.

While I await the results of a few short stories out on submission and in between working on this year’s Christmas short stories and before I go back to work on one of my novels-in-progress, I thought I’d update here about my recent goings-on:

–My short story, “Nehemiah’s Apparatus”, a Civil War zombie story, hit the cyber shelves this week as part of the Pill Hill Press anthology, Gone with the Dirt:  Undead Dixie.  You can order it here.

–My short story, “Santa’s Worst Stop”, is still available in the Fall issue of Ghostlight Magazine.  You can order it in print or download a digital copy here.

–I had my first interview as an author recently.  Tennessee Magnet, a local paper which covers nine counties in my little agrarian corner of the world, printed some very nice stuff about me and, as a bonus, a piece of flash fiction I did called, “Grandpa Rides the Wave”.  Thanks to Cindy and Chris for taking an interest in what I’m doing.

–My aforementioned annual Christmas stories are in the works and will hopefully be completed soon.  This will be a rough week for me after tomorrow–I’m working Thanksgiving Day and most of Black Friday, but my wife and children will be out of town the latter half of the week and, lacking offspring to yell at, I hope to use some of my alone time for finishing the last of the three and editing them all.  I also plan on re-posting a couple of my previous Christmas stories that are not currently out on submission.

–My fantasy football team, the Munchkinland Giants, after taking over sole possession of first place in my league last week, got smoked by the last place team, probably dropping me to 2nd or 3rd with the playoffs just around the corner.  Damn near everybody on my team had an off week, but hopefully they have them out of the way so they can perform well in the playoffs.

–As I mentioned before, I will be working this Thanksgiving, the first time I have done so since I left Wal-Mart eleven years ago.  My also-aforementioned wife and children will be out of town over the weekend, but we all plan on being home for Christmas this year, something that hasn’t happened the last three years while I’ve been working that holiday.

–My writing plans for the near future are as follows:  finish and post the Christmas stories, revise/rewrite a short story for a content due in February, and, when all my shorter work is floating about in search of a home, I plan on getting back to work on one of my novels, probably Project Supervillain.  I haven’t worked on this one in some time, but I think I’m about ready to start back on it.  I also plan on taking my newly-acquired publishing credits and testing the agent waters again.  While they are certainly not feature stories in Harper’s or Fantasy and Science Fiction, they are a start and I want to see if they affect my chances at all.

That’s about all for now.  I will start posting my Christmas stories somewhere around the first of December, so feel free to stop by and give them a look.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You might even throw up a bit.  It’s okay.  I won’t be offended.  You, on the other hand . . . .

This was me on Halloween, dressed as Harry Potter:

(I'm not as fat as I look in the pic. The wand adds 30 pounds.)


And tonight my daughter sent me this pic of her arm:

(Don't worry, it's not a tattoo. She's only 15 for heaven's sake.)


And so, now I must track her down and send her to Azkaban.  Sad, really.  I kinda liked her.

Once upon a time, when I was working diligently on a blog that nobody read, I had the notion to start a semi-regular feature called Topical Tuesday.  In these posts, which may now be found buried deep, deep in the archives, I would talk about whatever happened to be in the news–politics, sports, you  name it.  I did it to encourage discussion about the topics I was writing about and, failing in that, to have something other than writing to talk about on my blog.

Now, with a new venue for my often-skewed opinions, I think I’ll give it another go, beginning with the big topic tonight–Election 2010.

It has been often said (who said it varies widely according to which source you’re using–thanks for nothing, Google) that the people get the government they deserve.  As it happens, I believe this.  And today is a perfect example.

We are a fickle lot, we Americans.  No matter what we have, we want something else.  To some degree, that’s what keeps our economy afloat.  We live outside our means, we spend money we haven’t made, driving ourselves into horrific debt.  We scheme, we gamble, we mortgage the present in the hope that the future deals out a little bit of luck in our direction.  We thrive on our own ambitions, attempting to overcome whatever obstacles we face by any means necessary, even if it comes at the expense of those we care for.  We react violently to any who threaten our safety, we believe ourselves superior to those who do not believe the same things we believe, and we patronize those who have less than us.  We cry out for justice, as long as it’s the justice that works most in our favor.

And yet, when our government does these things, reflecting the actions, if not the lofty ideals, of the very masses that put them in power, we get our panties in a wad about it.

We have seen the enemy, and they are us.

Now, as far as political leanings go, I don’t.  I’m about as moderate a person as you’ll ever find.  I won’t tick off an item-by-item list of my views on the political topics of the day (at least not today), but I do understand the issues of the day and have my own opinions on them.  I listen to left and right equally, without considering my views of higher value than theirs.  I am a negotiator, a peace-maker, and I want nothing more than for Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell to share a long tongue kiss on the Capitol steps.

That said, it saddens me that so many people do their civic duty and go to the polls without having a clue of what the people they’re voting for are all about.  Too many people choose who will run our government not based on a track record of success, a viable plan for the future, or a fundamental decency that seems to be so often lacking in our legislative bodies, but according to the (D) or (R) that appears beside their names.  I’ve asked self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans alike what their parties stood for and, in most cases, they can’t give me a good answer, assuming they can give an answer at all.  More than a few even spout out ideaology supported by the opposite party.  It’s sad and disheartening.  These are the things that make other countries point their fingers at us and laugh.

There’s no easy solution for this problem.  In this Age of Information, an eligible voter can find out anything from Rand Paul’s underwear preference to the start time for Christine O’Donnell’s next coven meeting, but so few take advantage of the resources out there to really educate themselves on what they are voting for and against.

“So, Smiley,” I hear you say, “Quit bitching and tell me how you’d fix it.”

What I propose is simple–a two-part process to be conducted at the voting booth.  First, the prospective voter takes a short quiz, ten questions or so, on the major issues of the election.  Multiple-choice, true/false, makes no difference to me.  Allowing people to vote with no knowledge of what they are doing is like allowing people to drive a car without passing a driving test.  Anyone who passes the quiz with say an 80% or higher will be allowed to vote as usual.  Anyone who does not pass the quiz must complete a follow-up assessment of their core values and political philosophy and the computers will automatically select the candidates that fit their attitudes.

This system has several benefits.  First, it will reward people who actively engage in educating themselves by allowing them to vote willingly and how they choose.  Second, it will keep the uninformed from being stupid just because they like the letter in front of the candidate’s name.  Also, it will more accurately reflect the values of the people by extracting a representative vote based on those values rather than the popularity contest it has become.

Finally, I think Facebook should handle all elections.  If someone can design a quiz to tell me which 14th century Italian tapestry I’m most like, doing something like this should be a breeze.

Again, we have elected the government we deserve.  This is not all bad, nor is it all good.  It is a reflection of who we are.  We call out for substance, but reward major points for style.  We call out for controlled spending while we ring up another flat-screen on our credit cards.  We call out for integrity when we find our role models, our heroes, and our cherished celebrities with none.  We call out for change and then complain about the loss of traditional values.

So, on this grand election night, meet the new America, folks, same as the old America.