Everyone is approaching the ‘Stranger Things’ song challenge incorrectly

Pick your favorite song.

No, not just your favorite song.

Pick a song that’s so good it can bring you out of a funk and restore your soul.

Pick a song that would drive out a demon and prevent you from being dragged to the Upside Down and devoured.

OK, the previous paragraph needs an explanation.

“Stranger Things” is a show on the streaming service Netflix about a bunch of teenage misfits who save the world by basically understanding Dungeons & Dragons and a little bit of high school science.

Many movies in the 1980s worked this way. Pre-adolescent children saved the world while clueless adults watched the news.

“Stranger Things” is in its fourth season. In one episode, the character Max is about to be dragged to the Upside Down — the show’s version of hell — but she’s saved at the last second by her ex-boyfriend remembering her favorite song is ”Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush.

He plays the song on her Walkman cassette, and she avoids a trip to hell.

This is silly, but it tugs at the heartstrings of many people from my generation who were raised on movies, TV, and music.

This plot point inspired scores of columns and news stories about what song people would choose to prevent being dragged to hell by a vampire tree monster.

This is silly, too, but the larger the news outlet is, the sillier its stories are.

But I’ll play along.

Let’s say I buy into this premise that a pop song could save me from a demon.

My first instinct would be the Lord’s Prayer rather than a pop music song.

I was raised Methodist. I don’t practice, but with an actual demon dragging me to the Upside Down, I’ll start reciting the prayer with emphasis.

Alas, this is modern content on a streaming service.

The only way religion can be presented is to be totally ignored, as it is in “Stranger Things,” or alluded to with snide mockery, as it is far too many other places.

So, if religion is off the table, what song would I pick?

I used to have a CD collection that numbered in the high thousands.

Side note: Parents 2.0, the kindly couple who raised me after my parents died, gave me my first CD player and five CDs to fill up the 5-disc changer.

As my collection started to pile up around the house, Dad 2.0 offered a note on frugality that I wish I had considered earlier in my life.

“You can only listen to one at a time,” he said.

Anyway, back to the “Stranger Things” song challenge.

I thought about this for weeks and I don’t have a good answer.

Part of the problem is I’m a middle-aged man. Music doesn’t occupy the same space in my life that it did when I was an adolescent or college kid.

My friend Tracey Doyle always seemed to know about every band and their story before anyone else had heard them play a note.

She might take a while to answer this question because the breadth of her musical knowledge is so huge.

Me? I learned most of my favorite songs from movie soundtracks and commercial radio. The songs I’m fondest of are tied to specific memories.

“Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh reminds me of my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and a lovely dance at the 12-B formal in 1992.

If the demon’s tendrils were around my ankle, I don’t think a love song that recalls a long-ago-ended relationship will be the thing to inspire me to kick free.

My favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival. I constantly play their greatest hits in my car.

Would “Fortunate Son” going to wrest me free from the demon?

I don’t know. I think of CCR as my chill music. I like to put on the headphones, close my eyes, and space out.

My favorite artist is Taylor Swift. I love “No Body, No Crime” from her “Evermore” album, but is a country noir murder ballad going to prevent my murder by demons?

I doubt it.

I think the only thing that would shake the demons out of me is a song I despise more than the idea of being eaten by a tree vampire.

Only one song fits that bill: “Ebony and Ivory,” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

Two of the greatest songwriters and artists combined to make this simplistic, sentimental pap.

I hate this song. I know others love it. It might even be some poor, lost soul’s favorite song.

That’s fine.

We’re all free to choose which things we love and hate in this world, especially unimportant things like pop music.

And I hate “Ebony and Ivory.”

Just a few notes of it pouring into my ears would have me fist-fighting the devil himself.

By the time they reach the chorus, I would be free of the demon and running down the road.

The only stop I’d make is at church, to say the Lord’s Prayer.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Gazette.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Coverage of man who threw cake at the Mona Lisa fails to answer basic question: What kind of cake?

Journalism really disappoints me.

Example: A man disguised as a woman in a wheelchair threw cake at Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The cake chucker apparently wanted to protest climate change.

Bulletproof — and apparently cake-proof — glass protected what is likely the world’s most famous painting.

French police took the assailant into custody for psychiatric evaluation.

Most of the news websites covered the details above well enough.

But correspondents worldwide failed us in the basic question that plagues most readers: What kind of cake was it?

The pictures showed a white splatter.

I’m ruling out pancake.

Layer cake or sheet cake?

If it was a sheet cake, did they put frosting a pudding between layers?

It could have been a sheet cake or made in a cake pan.

Vanilla or chocolate?

Or did the cake hurler throw a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting?

On the matter of frosting, are we looking at a cream cheese mixture or a sugar coating?

Coconut flakes?

I hope Amnesty International gets involved.

The suspect stands accused of both attacking a priceless art treasure and wasting cake.

The French take their pastries seriously.

I mean I think so.

I’m an American. I don’t know much about France.

I hear they’re famous for cheese, pastry, and being invaded by Germany.

Let’s hope it wasn’t a German chocolate cake.

That could raise international tensions and cause more supply chain interruptions.

I hope they find the suspect’s manifesto.

Everybody interested in social change has a manifesto.

I imagine his to be written in comic sans font (ironically, of course) and published to a Reddit subtheme.

If you don’t know what the previous paragraph meant, that’s OK. I don’t either.

I just throw language like that into my columns in hopes of catching the occasional reader under 45, if such a creature exists.

Somewhere in the manifesto, I hope, the climate change avenger links the crimes of the Mona Lisa to the problem of man-made global warming.

I am no expert in climate volatility, but it seems to me that the Mona Lisa is innocent. Da Vinci painted it in the early 1500s.

He certainly didn’t do it with the window air conditioner blowing while under tungsten lightbulbs.

Older readers remember tungsten lightbulbs. They cost about 50 cents for a box of four and burned bright enough you could see to read by them.

Today’s lightbulbs cost $10 for one and give off just enough light to convince you you’re going blind.

We’ve largely done away with tungsten lightbulbs because they used most of their energy creating heat than light.

Newer lightbulbs use most of their energy giving off light, even though it sure doesn’t seem very bright.

Then again, I’m middle-aged. It’s possible I am going blind.

Anyway, I would have understood if the cake guy had thrown a tungsten lightbulb — those vile, disgusting things — at the Mona Lisa in protest.

Cake crime is not new to the French.

History inaccurately attributes the sentence “Let them eat cake” to Queen Marie-Antionette.

The Queen lived a lavish lifestyle while France’s poor struggled.

Historians say the young, virile Marie-Antionette sympathized and cared for the poor, but some people didn’t like her and spread lies.

The “eat cake” lie went, for lack of better terminology, went viral, eventually leading to the Marie-Antoinette’s execution by guillotine.

Our modern-day cake-thrower won’t face such harsh penalties if he’s convicted of a crime.

Besides, I’m no expert in French law, but I believe he already has an excellent defense.

After all, everybody knows you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Bumper stickers: Irritating free speech or secret coded messages to members of lost Gen X tribe

Bumper stickers covered the rear end of the smallish SUV in front of me.

The owner of the car, or one of their kids, really wanted me to know some things about them.

They wanted me to know that people from all religions could get along with the sticker that read “Coexist” using a variety of religious iconography.

They wanted me to know who they voted for in the last two elections.

They wanted me to know where they went to college.

They also wanted me to know someone they loved had died, including what year they were born and what year they died, and that they had dedicated their rear window to the memory of this person.

I knew more about this person than I really wanted to, especially for someone who was just in front of me in traffic.

I believe in unfettered free speech, even when it’s annoying or inconvenient.

I could do without the bumper stickers, but that space belonged to the car’s owner.

I used to own a car in which I placed one sticker inside the car on the passenger side above the glove box.

It read “War is over (If you want it),” a quote from a John Lennon song I loved.

The sticker stayed with the car when I traded it on my current wheels. I imagine someone peeled it off with a razor blade.

I typically don’t put identifying things on my vehicles.

In my old job as a newspaper reporter, I didn’t want to call attention to my car.

There were a lot of people who might take their frustrations out on my vehicle if they couldn’t find me.

I didn’t even have a Drake University license plate holder; there’s no place I’m prouder to be associated with than Drake.

I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, I shall try to do right and be good so God will not make one again.

So, I allow myself one bumper sticker.

It reads “WKRP 1530 AM, Cincinnati’s No. 1 Rock Station.”

This is a secret code. Only people from my tribe will understand it. My tribe is the Lost People of Gen X. We had a moment about 30 years ago. Now people just complain about Millennials, Gen Z, and other made-up things to divide us against one another.

I don’t really have a tribe. I just have a small group of people with the same shared cultural experience.

I just finished student teaching. I referenced “WKRP.” Neither the youngsters nor the teachers I worked for knew what it meant.

That’s fine.

It’s not for them.

The sticker is for people who remember when there were three channels plus PBS.

The sticker is for people who worried that if they missed an episode of their favorite show, they might never see it again.

The sticker is for people who spend a summer wondering who shot J.R., sobbed when Hawkeye took the last chopper out of the 4077th and saw B.J.’s “Goodbye” written in rocks on the ground, and stayed up way past bedtime to watch David Letterman smash things — including a Mr. T doll — in an 800-pound drill press.

I’ve had the sticker on my bumper for some years now.

People acknowledged exactly twice.

Once, I parked outside a UPS store. On the way out, a lady stopped me and asked if it was my car.

Who wants to know? I asked.

She thought the “WKRP” bumper sticker was hilarious.

She’s right. It is.

The second came the other night when I was sitting at the ice cream shop near my apartment.

The show owner leaned on my window and asked me about the sticker.

The ice cream shop used to sell Maytag appliances. The shop owner got to know Gordon Jump, who played the bored Maytag repairman in commercials.

The gag was Maytag machines, made in Newton, were so reliable they never broke down and the dullest job in the world was Maytag repairman.

Maytag ran that campaign for decades, until Whirlpool bought them out, and did away with the Maytag brand — and scores of jobs in Newton.

Jump also played Mr. Carlson on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the show which my bumper sticker references.

The ice cream shop owner reported Gordon was a gentleman, the type of guy you could invite to church with you.

The previous actor, though, had a foul mouth and you had to be careful with him, the ice cream shop man said.

I had a pleasant talk with the ice cream shop owner. We both agreed that the Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP” was one of the funniest things we ever saw on TV.

The ice cream shop guy gets it.

He’s part of the tribe.

If you don’t get it, that’s OK. It wasn’t for you.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.