One Year Later

I have in my mind an image of how losing my job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette would go. I get in my car and I flee across the state. I run because I’m scared and I’m humiliated. I want to escape my shame. I want to completely break down. I spent 12 years thinking my firing would end in Memphis or Texas. Probably Memphis.

I don’t imagine it would go like this. Some tears. A panic attack. Then I sit at home and with the soothing comfort of a Smirnoff Ice, I get on Indeed and I fire application after application. I cuddle on the couch with my wife but I’m strong. I don’t do anything rash or insane. I fight on.

Of course the latter is what happened when indeed I was fired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and my career in newspapers ended in disgrace. I screwed up. They fired me for it. That’s kind of all I want to say about that. This isn’t about that anymore. But it is about acknowledging the anniversary. It’s also to make a point. What happened that day wasn’t the worst thing that could possibly happen to me though I thought it was for decades. It was even a blessing.

I have to first explain why I felt like my world would collapse. It’s because of all that I sunk into that job. 8 years of school. A year of training at the Dover Times and looking for work. Years of looking for work outside of the ADG to no avail. The industry I trained to be in falling apart completely. Yeah I felt like I needed that job. But one afternoon it was gone. And I’m left to wonder why I didn’t fall apart. Except I’m not. I know why I didn’t.

The fantasy is you go crazy and nobody blames you. You get to be insane for a day and that’s fine. The reality is I have a family. I couldn’t get in my car and go to Memphis and cry. I have a wife and daughter. Lola went to stay with family that night but Amanda was there and she wanted to help me and I wanted that. So yeah, instead I cuddled with her and drank a delicious hard blackberry.

Then for a month I fought my ass off to get a new job to take care of my family. I had a few moments of wallowing but mostly I threw every fist I could and I worked to take care of my girls. And it only did take a month to land me at Flag and Banner. It was a short crisis because I made it short.

So what do I make of the last year? I know that I’m a much better, much stronger person for the last 12 months. I know that nothing is unendurable. I know that my family comes first. I know that if I fall I’ll get up again. I know that I am more than I thought I was a year ago.

I’m better off emotionally because my schedule is finally the same as my wife’s. I’m better off being on a 9-5, Monday through Friday run. My life is so much better because I’m at a job where someone can fill in for me and I don’t have to always be there. I know my mental health is immeasurably better.

I’m not humiliated by what happened. I’m not traumatized by it. I was for a time, definitely. And I’m probably lying to say I’m not bothered on some level. Of course I still am. But it was just business. I failed at my job and they had to cut me. It’s not a moral judgment on me. Things didn’t work out.

I’ve also finally confronted the truth. The job I had was a good fit for me 12 years ago. But it changed and so did I. You don’t get mad that your clothes don’t fit when you gain weight. The newspaper industry became somewhere I didn’t belong and my priorities changed in a way that I couldn’t put that job first. That’s just the truth.

I love the time I had there. I love the people I met. I miss them. I miss the work too. God I loved the work and there’s still a part of me that misses it. I love what I had and that’s always going to be true. But it’s over and I am at peace with it being over.

What matters in my life is still here. Amanda. Lola. My friends. My family. My hobbies. I’ve even made peace with the saga of hunting for the Black Flame books, mostly by having a lot of them on my phone. Hell there’s more in my life now as I think of Sarah, Lolita, and Ivory. I love my new job too. I’m happy at Flag and Banner. There is more to Austin Shinn than there was a year ago.

I failed. That’s ok. I didn’t fail at being a person. I just failed at my job. At being a good, moral man who makes the world better, I think I’m okay. I’m defined by many things in my life. Not my job. What a wonderful lesson.

The Best Songs of 1986

1986 is the kind of era I love to look at as a critic. This is a moment where on one hand there’s a lot of the bland pop that I griped about about in 1987. But there’s still some genius synth stuff. There’s some rock. This is a year where everything is so strong even honestly the bland pop is great.

Just for fun, as you read this list know that Mr. Mister’s two hits, Peter Gabriel’s legendary Sledgehammer, the lovely Sara from Starship, Word Up! and Your Love all couldn’t crack this list. What we have here is THAT good.

This list is going to extremes. That’s deliberate. 1986 was a year of extremes. And we’re beginning on a good pick for the worst song. It’s a song I’ve laughed at many times before. But there’s something wonderful about being full throttle unironic. Sincerity kicks ass. And this song is wonderful for it.

10 Peter Cetera- Glory of Love. In all seriousness, 1986 was a great year if this was number 10 because this is a great song. And it’s the only great song Peter Cetera was associated with aside from the Az Yet cover of Hard to Say I’m Sorry. This is a song that works because not once does Cetera do less than sell this song. He is just belting on it. There’s no restraint at all. And that’s kind of perfect and amazing. It’s the cheese of the 80s at its best.

I hate that I had to leave Steve Winwood’s Roll With It off my 1988 list. It’s a great song. 1988 was just that good. Steve Winwood is a genius. I mean he had a hit song he co-wrote and did much of the work on before he was 18! That’s a talent. Well I’m not making the same mistake twice.

9 Steve Winwood- Higher Love. As great as Roll With It is, Higher Love is his masterpiece. A gospel infused song complete with Chaka Khan on backup vocals, this is an 80s power track done perfect. It’s another song with no restraint but it’s elevated by the lyrics. The singer has deep doubts and he’s worried about the world. If confusion and fear can sound powerful, they do here. It’s all down to that command. Bring me a higher love. A classic. Oh and the Whitney Houston version is glorious.

We screwed up making Prince a joke. He was an immensely complex man. At once he seemed to be an ethereal fairy man and a violent abuser. He seemed sexless and was a legendary force of raw sexuality both as a persona and as a person. He was multitudes. I’m saying all of this because we’re jumping to another classic and I have no good lead in.

8 Prince- Kiss. There’s not a lot of restraint to Prince which makes this song a rarity for him. Because this is as tight as a pop song gets. It’s almost minimalist really. But it works. Prince’s squeaky vocals work great here. It’s almost a cute song due to his work. And it encompasses why I find him fascinating. We aren’t done with Prince in the 80s and we’ll find him wildly over the top but I like him holding back because the result is wonderful. The song is exactly what it should be. What pop music needed.

Ok so I don’t want these lists to be nothing but Genesis and their members. It gets repetitive. The problem is it’s the 80s and they were utterly on fire. Two legendary solo artists and an underloved side band descended from the band while the original project was killing it. 1986 was their year. So here we are.

7 Genesis- Invisible Touch. This was cut early from the list but it stayed in the playlist I listened to and I kept playing it all the way through because this is that great so fine, it makes it on. Seriously this is everything I love about the group. It’s pure power and that’s the point of the song. It’s about obsessive love for someone you don’t really know but you know you’re fixated on. It’s just nothing but intensity. The drum machine work here is so incredible, programmed of course by Phil Collins who sounds great here. It’s one of the band’s favorites rightly.

The next song is one I confused with another song for the longest time. I later figured out it wasn’t that song. But it’s still great. Even if there’s obvious problems.

6 The Human League- Human. This is entirely on the production and vocals. The lyrics are famously terrible but I kind of love them anyway for being so incredibly cynical. It’s a song trying to excuse bad behavior. There’s so many songs about that and this is the great one. And again the production. This song sounds fantastic. It makes cheating sound poetic. That’s almost impossible but it nails it. This is a floating dream. It’s gorgeous in a way it shouldn’t be.

So what was the song I had Human confused with? Surely it wasn’t also in 1986?

5 Level 42- Something About You. Blame another British band also using a line about being human. This gets the advantage because it’s a better song. Not as well produced but nothing is topping Full Force in their prime. What makes this better is how incredible the sections are. There’s three different songs here and they’re all just fantastic. Very different moods each time but all center around being in love. And that’s what love is. A lot of weird shifting feelings. This song takes flight.

I don’t think a lot of songs that were popular in the 80s wouldn’t be hits if released today. Prince’s peak songs for example would happen any time and be smashes because they’re timeless. Invisible Touch still feels modern. Duran Duran would dominate now. But there’s a few that needed that weird bubble. A song about a movie that would never get made in 2021? Only now.

4 Falco- Rock Me Amadeus. I love this weird as hell song. It’s a song about how Mozart was a rock star inspired by the movie Amadeus (which jokes aside is actually one of the most beloved Best Pictures ever). I love it because while it sounds nothing like Mozart, it sounds big and that’s what it should sound like. And I think that’s why it connected with people. It’s like Gangnam Style. You don’t need to get the words. You get the point. Just a giant bold song about how classical music was rock music. Love it.

:sigh: Genesis. I keep coming back to Genesis. So here we are again.

3 Mike + The Miracles- All I Need Is A Miracle. It amazes me there are two songs I like more this year because this is so quintessentially 80s. This is what the decade sounds like. Full synthetic. Keyboards that are almost a farce. Lyrics with no subtlety. Just a loud declaration of everything the decade did right. This song is joyous and bold. You can’t not feel it listening to it. Is it deep? No. But Mike Rutherford had plenty of chances to be deep with Genesis and his other tracks. This is blissfully simple lyrically and over the top otherwise.

One hit wonders are actually fairly rare on these lists I’ve noticed. Like we think of the 80s as the age of such but most acts were huge at home like Falco or actually had second hits as we will eventually see. Hell I True one hit wonders just aren’t a thing usually. But these guys only had one shot. They only got one song in the year end 100. They cracked the top 100 one more time once and that was it. But damn what a shot.

2 Sly Fox- Let’s Go All The Way. This song happened on the radio because of Prince. It’s the same ultra sexed up sound and it fits that niche. I can’t imagine a universe where it was a hit without that precedent and it just plain kills. It’s funky as it gets. This still sounds out there and dangerous. The lyrics are gold too. Lots of great wordplay. This is what a Friday night sounds like in your dreams. It’s dark, sexy, and a blast. Only one hit for this group but all one needs.

So we go out with a song that mirrors the #10 song. A love song by a former frontman of a major group named Peter. This wasn’t a giant hit. It didn’t make the year end list even. But like with 1987, it’s an iconic song and one that only sounds better each passing year. And yes. Genesis is involved here too.

1 Peter Gabriel- In Your Eyes. Like Kiss, this just speaks for itself. It’s a great song and we all know it. But it’s deceptive in its genius. It’s simple. Gabriel doesn’t wail. His delivery is almost aloof. He’s surprised by joy not amazed. He’s happy and at peace. And in a decade without restraint this song sounds startling. It’s almost a joke how refreshingly light it is. But it’s not a joke. Gabriel is fully sincere. This song is a transcendent dream. As perfect as it got.

Next: 1985 won’t be forgotten

The 10 Best Songs of 1987

I’ve been open about stealing this idea. Todd in the Shadows did 10 worst lists s for several years including this year. I’m not original is my point. But I am an optimist. I choose to look back happily. So here I am at 1987, which he made seem like a wasteland. And you know what? It is. 1987 is a profoundly awful year in film. I don’t want to hear any griping about the quality of films now when Jaws the Revenge and Superman IV happened this year. As for the music? It’s definitely dull. Looking at this list, I found way less that I struggled to cut. But I’ll say this. The good is great. So no more wasted time.

My number 10 isn’t what I’d call a great song. With its juvenile lyrics and barely put together production, it’s hard to truly defend it. Hell the band itself doesn’t now. But you know what? The 80s were so slick and put together that we need one juvenile blast. And it’s coming from an iconic group at least.

10 Beastie Boys- Fight For Your Right. Just so that we’re clear, satire being lost on people is nothing new. This is a prime example of that. The song laughs at muscle headed frat boy culture. That they adopted it is their fault. The song is iconic. It shreds so damned hard still and I stress, next to Is This Love it must have felt atomic. I said I don’t call it great. That’s absurd. This is an awesome song.

The 80s were immeasurably better for us having Billy Idol. Few people who were cool then seem cool now. Billy Idol just had that flinty badass quality that cuts across time. But when you marry that to a silly song, somehow he seems even cooler.

9 Billy Idol- Mony Mony. Not the last Tommy James and the Shondells cover on this list. The 80s had a strange relationship with the 60s. Acts that were big in the 60s were big then but also covers were huge. This is a prime example. Nobody’s burning up the charts with a cover of Everywhere. Oh yeah, the song. That’s the thing. This refuses description. It’s just pure bouncy glee. It’s so shallow. But it’s exactly the right mood you want. Pure bubblegum.

Staying on 60s nostalgia, I hate it. It’s the biggest load of garbage. For one thing, the 60s were way more conservative than credited. Go look at the pop charts. Go look at the movies. For another, the boomers eventually faded into the plastic culture the 60s rebelled against. I’m 37 and I’m far too cynical to endure that junk. So if a great 60s band sells out then in my book, they simply found their truth.

8 Starship- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. I love this song and I think I love it mostly because it doesn’t feel cynical. Which it should since it’s co-written by the ultra cynical Diane Warren. But regardless this song just works. Everything about it feels like it’s meant to be shouted. And honestly I believe Grace Slick more here than on say White Rabbit. She gives her all here. Too bad the film this is on is an atrocity. Moving on.

There is no way Fleetwood Mac ever should have recorded another album after Rumours. It’s virtually impossible to imagine a group of people that actively recorded an album about how much they hated each other would ever work together again. The album should have finished and they should have gone to different continents. But they kept going for far longer. And we won.

7 Fleetwood Mac- Little Lies. There’s no denying Fleetwood Mac in the 80s was a different band. They rolled with a less organic, more out there sound and it fit them. I love Big Love, a track exclusively by the boys, from this year. But Little Lies is the band at its dreamiest aside from Everywhere even as once again it’s a call out to toxic relationships. And it’s honestly their bluntest. This was co-written and sung by Christine McVie who always seemed to have the band’s sarcastic side and her clear, emotional vocals contrast beautifully with lyrics about willful self delusion. This song is sarcastic, cynical, and ethereal.

I noted that nostalgia seems weirdly decompressed now. We don’t have nostalgia for the late 2000s even though they’re as far away and honestly further than the 80s nostalgia of the 90s. The idea of Rolling in the Deep as a nostalgia song is horrifying. But the next song was a nostalgia song in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, a (great) movie that is now 24 years old and used it when it was 10 years old like that is now. Please stare in awe at the creeping specter of death.

6 Wang Chung- Everybody Have Fun Tonight. How do I have a song with the lyrics Everybody Wang Chung Tonight on my list? Because I can’t imagine this list without it but that really is absurd self promotion. Especially from a group that SHOULD SO NOT have had THAT name. But dammit a classic is a classic. I love that this song feels like an order to have fun and you will obey. It sounds like a perfect party. It’s so bouncy and goofy. It’s pure ridiculousness and vintage 80s.

Let’s go to the mall! Yes I promised last time we would hit the mall queens. And we are indeed. First, I pose a question. Should covers count for this list? A cover song after all is road tested. It’s been a hit once and it’s not unexpected it’ll be a hit again. I think you can argue I’m cheating to put one on. But I already had one last list and I had a great Tommy James cover down this list. And I’m going to put another one here.

5 Tiffany- I Think We’re Alone Now. Look, this song always works and it always works because it never feels dated. It always feels like a perfect anthem of youthful rebellion. And I like this version a lot. Tiffany wasn’t a great singer and I’m not shocked this was her biggest blip on pop culture. But this is a perfect update. It feels like the 80s response to the original. It’s a perfect little bubblegum song made to play for the 80s. It’s slick and glossy like the malls it was made to blare in. And it perfectly captures the moment.

The worst trend of 1987 was the constant trend of boring droning music. So much of 1987 seemed like it was on Sominex. Why did we have so many songs that were just slow, tuneless regretful music. Only once this year did it fit. But it fit hard.

4 Crowded House- Don’t Dream It’s Over. On paper this is everything I hate about the year. It’s restrained. It’s sluggish. It’s very minor key. But that’s the point. This is a song about a troubled relationship and trying to find peace. The song sounds like someone trying to be diplomatic and it fits. It’s a perfect anthem for trying to make things work. It’s also sonically just a dream. That perfect sloping rhythm just works. It soothes so much. I also really love Something So Strong from the band this year but this is the classic.

So I covered Tiffany above. She had a great mall song. But what was the best. I’m going with my #3. And I credit the writer. Tiffany used a cover for gold but to truly know what the sound was, to make the perfect song for a teenage girl, you had to actually be 14.

3 Debbie Gibson- Only in My Dreams. What a marvel this song is. It’s so simple it could be a hit on any decade. The sentiment is so timeless. And again, I put that down to the songwriter, Gibson herself, being 14 when she wrote it. Because that’s the thing. It sounds like a 14 year old girl’s idea of love and that never comes out so unfiltered. Definitely not in 1987. The production on it is also absolutely perfect. This is such a happy place song for me.

Covers have dominated a lot of discussion on this list with two covers on it. But now the coin is flipping. The band Disturbed is really great at covers. Their cover of If I Ever Lost My Faith in You is fantastic. They did a great and remarkably faithful take on The Sound of Silence. But while I like their cover of this next song, they couldn’t touch the classic.

2 Genesis- Land of Confusion. This is such a weird song for this year. Nothing else sounds this violent or this tense. It’s a bleaker than bleak look at the darkness of the world and it really shows off how great Phil Collins is at expressing seething rage. While we think of the 80s as the greed era, it was also a deeply political and angry time. That’s what this reflects. This belongs to the 1987 that gave us Wall Street. And it just hasn’t lost one second of power.

I had to change how I do this project. See I was limiting myself to the top 100 for the first two rounds. And I stand by those lists. My number ones each year are among my absolute favorite songs. But as I’ve done research for future lists, there are great songs that do not make the year end lists. And when I get to the 1990s, I’m going to focus so hard on alternative and country that the lists are irrelevant basically because that’s not what I listened to. So I’m opening it up. And that starts here. Not a giant hit. But iconic.

1 The Cure- Just Like Heaven. Yeah this is one that wouldn’t have made it on without research and that’s a mistake. Because Just Like Heaven has to be here. And it has to be number one. And yes technically it had its peak in 1988. I don’t care. It’s mostly a 1987 single as it peaked 1/9. This is just everything I love about a song. Getting lost madly in emotion and completely living in the vibe. Robert Smith is known for his darkness but damn does he make this song seem so thrilling. As he should since he based it on a trip with his future wife. It’s exactly what the song feels like. It’s bliss.

It’s going to be very silly next time in 1986.

Here and Now

I didn’t plan on writing about the state of my life but I realized I had to. I’ve written a lot about when my family has had a crisis. It’s new to write about me being the center. So let me write it out.

This morning I finished my course of medicine for an infection of my lung that was severe enough I went to the hospital without insurance and lost a week of work to rest with. What the infection is isn’t completely clear. It might have been pneumonia or a related condition. The point is my lung is damaged and it’s going to take time to heal. I still have a bit of soreness and that may take months to fix. I’m ok with that.

The experience of going to the emergency room as a patient was surreal because I’ve been where Amanda was, caring for a loved one, so often. But this time I had to be weak. And it was a weird thing to be the one shaking and crying from pain and fear. I got a good course of treatment there though.

The one thing the experience stressed was the pandemic is a raging fire. They were overwhelmed there. They wouldn’t have let Amanda even be with me were I not autistic and she not forcing their hand. Take this seriously I beg you.

I spent the next week doing what I was supposed to be doing. I rested on my bed. I watched movies. (Review on The Long Halloween tomorrow.) I read books. I got mental health time as much as physical health.

But I was ready to go back to work. And I worked two days last week. Maybe a bit too much. I kinda overdid it. Steroids, and I was on one, make you hyper. I was a good worker but I needed to slow down.

Unfortunately there’s yet more crisis ahead. My daughter’s day care is closed. Three days this week she’s covered. Not sure about two of them. I can’t know. One day at a time.

I write because I want a record of where I am. I’m tired. I’m a month out from one year past my old job. I got my retirement fund from it. I’ve started spending it. Medical expenses. Set up a needed subscription to instacart. I’ll dribble it here and there.

Friday I saw one of my best friends to the train for the last time for now. That hurts. Just saying.

But I pause and I look in the mirror. I’m tired. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been. And that’s ok. The last 18 months have been hard. And I’m simply putting it in wax that I, Austin Shinn, survived.