humor, life, Movies, Music, People, Pop Culture

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 wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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baseball, comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, life, mental health, Movies, Music, News, Newspapers, Pop Culture

Where I’m from

Graduate school at Drake University starts Monday. These days the professors issue assignments before a first class is held. I’ve got to read some executive summaries about climate volatility for a contemporary American literature class focused on post-apocolyptic novels. One of my education professors assigned a poem for our education methods class. The poem is supposed to be autobiographical in the style of Georgia Ella Lyon’sWhere I’m From.”

I thought I’d take a break from knee surgery and recovery updates and share with you my homework.

Where I’m From

By Daniel P. Finney

I come from

Secrets and mistakes

Heavy burdens chosen to carry,

Then given away to the

Crackling hellfire of good intentions.

I come from adoption by

A woman addicted to babies

With no use for children

And a man who just wanted sanity

For the bride whose joy faded decades before.

I come from madness

Innocence stolen by orange and white pills

Spilled from translucent bottles that

Wiped Mother’s memories of

Her constant cruel words and actions.

I come from escape from harsh reality with

Trips to Korea to serve with the 4077th,

On Rescue 51 with Roy and Johnny, and in

The TARDIS, with the Doctor, who

Saved the universe with a pretty girl and robot dog.

I come from a wire worm-infested red-brick ranch in

Madison County that smelled of what

Farmers call “money,” but is really

Hog shit or chicken shit depending

On which way the wind blew.

I come from weekdays

Construction paper cuts with

Betty Lou at the “House with the Magic Window;”

Learned why the man put the car in the oven

From a balsa wood puppet named Floppy.

I knew how to get, how to get t0

“Sesame Street” and walked

“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”

With peanut butter and grape jelly

On both breath and fingertips.

I come from Saturday mornings,

I ran with Road Runner,

Punched with Popeye and

Foiled the Legion of Doom

With the Super Friends.

I’m from Friday dinners at Knox Café

Fried chicken and and rainbow sherbet

Nervously devoured while desperately

Hoping to get home to in time to

See somebody make David Banner angry.

I come from comic books and movies where

Adventure awaits in every four-color panel

Onomatopoeia is defined in colorful splashes

Things blow up and Han shoots first, but

The good guys always win in the end.

I come from battles against the forces of evil

Fought with plastic heroes and villains

On the blue shag carpet of my bedroom.

Toys served as talismans meant to say

“I love you” when the adults could not.

I come from checkers games with

My Dad as his dying heart turned his

Skin gray and he warmed his hands on a

Cup of coffee while we talked about

Hawkeyes, history, and the promise of heaven.

I come from Little League baseball diamond

Dirt rubbed into bare hands, step into the box

And pray for a walk because I was

Afraid of the ball and only in it for

The free cap, comradery, and concessions.

I come from funerals

Parents gone before I was 15;

Dad from a sick heart and Mother from a fall downstairs.

Sometimes the good guys don’t win and

Nobody gets out alive.

I come from romances that fail

When the chemistry of lust and love fades and

The negotiations and compromises begin.

Still, I remember a gentle kiss at the door after the dance,

And misty eyes whenever “Lady in Red” plays on the radio.

I come from second chances made

Corporal by an east-side hairdresser and

Her husband, the printer, who

Couldn’t have their own children,

But chose to love a second-hand son.

I come from mental health care;

Two salmon colored pills in the morning with

Three whites at night and a

cocktail of behavioral therapy to

help me be me despite brain chemistry malfunctions.

I come from feelings projected onto food and

Devoured in great gulps, wearing trauma in

Pounds of flesh hanging from my body for all to

See, judge, point, whisper, and mock while

I manage with my doctors, therapist, and cane.

I come from newspapers.

Box scores, agate type, Sunday color comics,

Picas, pixels, paragraphs, and inverted pyramids.

To seek and publish truth and

Defend democracy.

I come from timid knocks on the

Doors of strangers who

Suffered terrible loss and stumbled into the news

And I stood on their stoop begging them

To tell me their stories.

I come from short sentences with

Specific nouns and action verbs,

Creativity and accuracy with the

Clock running, racing toward deadline

before those mighty presses rolled.

I come from the end days of journalism like

Living in a hospice without a morphine drip.

A middle-aged veteran reporter runs like an

Endangered species actively hunted, finally skewered

By layoffs served by greedy corporate hustlers.

I come resilience and hope that

I can rebuild my life and purpose to

Trade the pilcrow blues for the head of the class.

Help the young find their voices, sling their sentences

Stack their paragraphs, keep moving forward.


Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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Movies, Music, Pop Culture

Thoughts on ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Ma Rainey’s nephew has just gotten into a car accident driving his aunt and her girlfriend to a recording session in a scene early “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The scene is set in 1927 Chicago. Rainey, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, is about to be hauled away by the police.

Rainey is indignant. Don’t they know she’s the star?

They don’t. Her white manager bribes the cops. She sees the money go from one white hand to another.

Ma Rainey has a lot of power for a Black woman in 1927 America. Her voice sells records and white men will cater to her to a point.

But to get out of going to jail for speaking her mind about a traffic mishap, she needs her freedom bought by a white man.

If the viewer hasn’t caught on by now, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not a musical bio pic. This is a film about the blues in their truest sense — the oppression of Black and brown people.

She punishes these white men for the oppression and slights she’s endured. She shows up late. She demands her stuttering nephew deliver the intro to her song. She orders Cokes be brought in to combat the heat. She drinks those Cokes slowly while the white record men swear and complain.

Ma Rainey’s voice makes them money. And for as long as it does, they will put up with her. She knows this, hates this and revels in it at the same time.

The trumpet player Levee Green (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance) rages against anyone and everyone who doesn’t recognize his ascendancy to the greatest trumpeter of all time.

Levee is cocky and mocks the old ways of his fellow bandmates. He ignores the advice of wise pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and mocks the faith of trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo).

Rage bursts from Levee in self-destructive explosions. He becomes obsessed with a locked door. He rams his body into it until he finally cracks through, revealing a space no bigger than a prison cell with the daylight far away — a symbol of how deep a hole the young Black man begins life and how each door broken through runs into another brick wall.

The story ends in tragedy and blood as so many do for Black Americans, then and now.

I would not go so far as to say I liked this movie, but I was absolutely impressed by it. I love the way playwright August Wilson uses language and builds tension with lines the way an orchestra reaches crescendo.

The reason I say I don’t like the movie is because it’s a sad story that makes a sadder statement about the plight of fellow humans that remains true today.

It’s hard to embrace such discomfort. But it’s a good idea that we do and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a worthy place to start.

Daniel P. Finney’s new off-off-off Broadway Play is called “Megatron: The Musical.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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