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Monday, December 23, 2019

One With the Force

For as long as I have been alive, Star Wars has been in my life. I was only a year old when The Empire Strikes Back came out, a time when apparently a lot of people were angry about the twist that revealed Luke Skywalker’s parentage. I was not aware of this until I was in college, and frankly, does it really matter about the twist or the context of the day for fans?

I think it does, as history has a way of repeating itself. These eleven films (along with a couple of animated shows, a holiday special, and a couple of live action shows) continue to mean something, even when they come out to mixed reviews. The Star Wars saga itself is bigger than those reactions, and I’m happy to see the saga transcend generations.

I’m only a few days removed from seeing The Rise of Skywalker for the first time. I thought it was a fantastic film in the Skywalker saga. And since I’m not a filmmaker or a producer, I’m not one to make a bold claim about how I would have done it better. Because Star Wars doesn’t belong to one person. It belongs to many people, of all sorts of walks of life. It has not been just for white males grappling with the pressures and responsibilities of adulthood (and wishing to recapture the innocence of childhood) for quite some time.

I can safely and confidently say at age 40 that Star Wars means even more to me now because I can share it with more people at any age, race, economic background, and/or sexual identity. And sharing is way more of a better way than the opposite.

In the house I grew up in, I was the only Star Wars fan. I watched it alone on the sole TV we owned at the time, playing on a Betamax dub a family friend made us. There was something about this film (along with the aforementioned films) that warranted multiple viewings. I had no reason to doubt this compulsive behavior. I got something new out of it with every viewing.

When Return of the Jedi was released in theaters in 1983, I had to see it then. (Strangely, I did not see The Empire Strikes Back until 1987, but I heard about the basic plot points through various people well before then.) I have faint recollections of seeing it in Birmingham with my parents while we stayed with my grandfather, but I somehow I remember vividly the feeling I had watching it, especially during the Vader/Skywalker duel in the third act.

The years would pass and I eventually stopped playing with my Star Wars action figures, gravitating more towards sports (like soccer, karate, baseball, and football) along with a budding interest in playing music (and listening to it on the radio and watching it on MTV). I never outgrew the trilogy, but when I reached the end of my high school years, I started to see differences of opinions about the three films.

By way of Kevin Smith’s films, I realized more people my age preferred the grimness of Empire more than the other two. From Dante Hicks’ thoughts on which sequel he preferred to criticizing the tinker George Lucas made with Greedo shooting first (something I didn’t realize until I saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) in the special edition of A New Hope, I came to know about the angsty take on the films that defined our youth.

Empire had the better ending,” Dante says in Clerks. “I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.”

Life is a series of down endings? That was not encouraging to hear at 17. But there are people who see life that way, but I can’t in my heart fully agree with that sentiment. My life will end one day, but that doesn’t mean I should live life in the dumps until it happens.

As the prequels ramped up and I went into Film School Snob mode, I found myself at odds with my classmates, teachers, and friends when it came to what they thought of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t think they were great ones that outdid the original trilogy, but they weren't as awful as people made them out to be. (Biggest observation I had was, if the prequels were to present a view of a future before a dictatorship, things should be stilted and restrained, right? It was like making a Buck Rogers movie in the age of The Matrix.)

As I waited for each prequel to arrive, I looked into the method behind what George Lucas wanted to make in the first place. He wanted to make a space adventure based on the sci-fi serials he saw as a kid, mixed with the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s films and Joseph Campbell’s take on mythology. It bridged a youthful interest in adventure mixed with tropes and patterns from centuries of myths from all over the world.

But as a four-year-old who saw Star Wars, if you had tried to overload me with reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces or forced me to watch The Hidden Fortress at the same time, I would have declined. Only until I was an adult that I looked into the hows and wheres this Star Wars thing came from.

Fast forward to seeing The Force Awakens with my then-girlfriend (and now wife) and I realized what was missing from the prequels. In only one film, I care much more about these new characters than I did with any of the three prequels.

It was in that screening of The Force Awakens that I noticed how important this continuation of the saga was for old and new fans. A family seated next to us was made up of two white parents with two white children and a black son. The boy, dressed in a Darth Vader outfit, watched in amazement at the film, and was especially scared when Finn was gravely injured. I came out of that film feeling a new sense of joy with this new series of films, and thought that kid in the Darth Vader outfit will be a Star Wars fan for life.

Only a short time after that screening, I heard my nieces saw The Force Awakens for the first time. Previously, they showed no interest in anything Star Wars, but now, they were fans. Since then, they have seen every new film in the Disney-owned version of Lucasfilm. Talking about the films with them is something I enjoy, and it's a great connection between us.

And I'm happy to say this connection includes my sister. She texted me after she saw The Rise of Skywalker for the first time. She loved it and looked forward to seeing it the following day. Now with the holidays in front of us, I look forward to talking about it with all the spoilers.

I never would have thought I would have this kind of belonging to the saga. It feels right. And that's the power of the Force, 40 years on. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Year in Music (2019 Edition)

Another great year of music came through my eardrums. Some were from new acts, others came from acts I’ve loved for many years. This is a collection of albums that brought me the most joy in the year.

I also compiled a lengthy list of my favorite songs of the year here.















Holding Patterns, Endless
Three former members of Crash of Rhinos made an album that is on the level of their former band. Dare I say Endless is better -- in some aspects -- than that incredible five-piece’s second album, Knots. Imagine the shouting of Hot Water Music with the dynamics ala . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Sonic Youth, along with drumming that is not afraid to run over the beat. Just fantastic from start to finish.















American Football, LP3
American Football’s third self-titled album is another stellar addition to the band’s discography. For a band that was originally a one-off while the members were in college (and their first LP was done mainly as a posthumous document), the band’s story continues to evolve. This time out, they are joined by female vocalists on various tunes. The stand-out being “Uncomfortably Numb,” with Hayley Williams from Paramore. This is grown-up emo for those in their 30s and 40s still trying to figure out life.















Tiny Moving Parts, breathe
I’m not going to pretend to be unbiased here. I have been following Tiny Moving Parts since they came through Denton at a house show when The Couch Is Long and Full of Friendship was newly out. I’ve seen them as much as I can whenever they come through, and their material continues to be great. Never thought I would hear a banjo on one of their records, but it fits so well with “Vertebrae.” And while I think they have many great songs, I think “Polar Bear” has rocketed up the list of my favorite songs they have ever done.















The Get Up Kids, Problems
The Get Up Kids’ best record since On a Wire. These guys have always had hooks in their songs, and Problems continues to show that crucial asset. I consider “Waking Up Alone” one of the best tunes Jim has sung, and I hope it’s a concert staple for years to come.















Giants Chair, Prefabylon
Back when I did research for Post, I heard about Giants Chair from the Get Up Kids, citing them (and Boys Life) as a major influence on them. I never got around to hear any Giants Chair material until this year, when the first single from Prefabylon came online. This reminds me of early Jawbox, ala Grippe. This band has not put out a new record in many years, and I hope this was not a one-off.















Overo, self-titled
Earlier in the year, I interviewed Brendan from Perfect Future for my next book, Forever Got Shorter. We briefly talked about how he moved to Houston, a town I spent 12 years of my life in, and formed a new band with Lindsay and Mercy from football, etc. along with John from Deep End Records. That band was Overo, a great mix of caustic, early 90s post-hardcore and hardcore punk. These songs burst from the speakers.















Richard Hawley, Further
This might be one of Richard Hawley’s shortest albums. I thought his previous full-length, Hollow Meadows, was one of his greatest releases to date. I can’t say the same about Further, but I admit to my tremendous bias. The songs zip by, but retain the glorious textures Hawley his with his music. From strings to pianos to raunchy lead guitars, Further is quite good.















Spielbergs, This is Not the End
A Norweigan trio that reminds me that bass players really matter, even when your songs are all about angst. (Looking at you, Japandroids.) This band makes similar carnage, but has a lot more oomph to what they do. Probably because they have a bass player.















Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock
An unapologetic candy-coated romp done in the vein of Bob Mould’s prior bands. Listening to stacks of 60s pop singles as a child gave Mould a penchant for melody. Now he made something that is one of his finest solo albums.















Dream Theater, Distance Over Time
I did not hide my frustrations with Dream Theater’s previous album, The Astonishing. That double LP concept album was like trying to eat Thanksgiving lunch, Christmas dinner, and a New Year’s Day brunch all at once. This time out, the band made something that can be easily enjoyed in one sitting. It’s prog-metal that avoids spontaneous jams and welcomes pop sensibilities.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Why Not?

It’s been four years since Hope and I have officially been together. (And a week shy of two years married.) It’s hard to think of a better way of commemorating the occasion than sharing the experience of meeting the guy who — in some ways — helped bring her and I together: Kevin Smith.

To recap: Hope and I met through Twitter only a short time after Kevin’s 2015 appearance at the Texas Theatre. She related to the thoughts I blogged about after hearing Kevin’s two-hour epic response on how to stay positive in spite of people constantly saying you suck. Even though it was a Twitter interaction, I had never felt a pull that strong to someone before.

I sensed something was way more to this woman than I could put into words. It was more than her finding inspiration in Kevin’s response when many of the people in my earshot who complained how only one question was answered over a two-hour period. There was depth I wanted to know more about — and I wanted to know soon.

After she put out the first episode of her horror-themed podcast, I gave her some unsolicited feedback, stating she was a great host who needed to boost the audio level some more. That led to her being a guest on my podcast a few weeks later. Over the course of our conversation that evening, we realized we were sitting in the same row for that Q&A. This realization came from when I described a moronically drunk dude in front of me waving around a Tusk DVD slip cover with a major case of plumber butt. She was seated only a few spots away from me and saw the guy as well. Given how my anxiety-laced blinders were on full blast and focusing on the stage, I didn’t see her that night.

Thanks to Twitter, it brought us together. As awful as Twitter can be, our story is proof that good things do happen because of it.

Skipping ahead to stay on topic (the value of growing, learning, and loving each other more and more everyday should not be made light of, but I have to follow through on the tease in the first paragraph), we were fortunate to share our story to Kevin in person last weekend.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend Hope met through Tumblr years ago, he introduced us to Kevin at the end of a long night of two screenings and Q&As for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot at the Texas Theatre. Even though it was late in the evening and everything needed to be wrapped up, Kevin took the time to hear the story of how we met and we thanked him for bringing two Why Not? people together. He said it warmed his heart to hear this, and not in a stock answer kind of way. He was moved, even though he’s heard about many couples before us that bonded over his work. After a brief talk about filming in New Orleans (a number of iconic places from my place of birth are in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), we snapped a couple of pictures with him and Jason Mewes.




I have longed championed the idea you should meet your heroes if you have the opportunity to. Sure, you always run the risk of ruining your appreciation of someone if the encounter sucks, but what if it doesn’t suck? Most of the people I have admired and have been fortunate to meet have been wonderful. It would have been sad if I avoided them for fear the experiences would be unpleasant.

Coming away from the experience with Kevin, I’m reminded once again about the importance of having a Why Not? person in your life. I’m not talking about someone who says “You can do anything!” superficially knowing full well you have your limits. I’m talking about someone who believes in you and your potential and wants you to challenge yourself and succeed. It doesn’t have to be a spouse — it can be a friend, a boss, a bandmate, a family member, and so on. Kevin spoke of the people in his life that were that way in 2015 (namely, his wife and Johnny Depp), and I’m thankful to have one in mine.

So whenever I hear people deride Kevin’s work (I’ve heard complaints firsthand since Dogma was released in theaters), I unashamedly say I have a different sort of bond with what he’s done. I might not like everything he’s done with film, TV, comic books, and live appearances, but if it weren’t for what he had to say on one hot August night a few years ago, I’m not sure I would be in the better place I am now.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Sound Salvation

Earlier this week, a number of people I used to work with in broadcasting shared pictures, lists, and stories on social media for National Radio Day. Rather than write out a list of stations I worked for -- either as an intern, promotions assistant, producer, or traffic reporter -- I thought about advice I would give about the broadcasting world, along with reflection.

No matter the field, I hate the advice of “Don’t” when people consider working in a field. Also, I hate the line of, “You’ll never make any money in it,” assuming people only want to get rich going into any field. I still remember what it was like to be eager to learn about a world I felt drawn towards, whether it was broadcasting or journalism. And I remember how the bitter folks made for a lot of excess noise and were in the way of finding things out for myself.

I was in broadcasting for almost 20 years, until last year. And I have zero regrets being in it.

I now work full-time for an auction house, where the majority of my time is spent describing rare merchandise from the music, TV, and film world. I also help out with some marketing for an upcoming auction, whether it’s doing a Facebook Live session or making an appearance on a radio station. So much of what I learned in broadcasting and journalism makes this the best-fitting job for me. I’m grateful to do what I do everyday. Instead of trashing the field I learned a lot of marketable skills in, I stress the value of making the most of any job you take.

A big part in describing the items I write about is getting to the point. With all the years I spent reading 15-30 second traffic reports on the air, getting to the point was vital. Addressing a lot of pressing matters in a short timeframe was also crucial. Those are things I have to do everyday, describing the uniqueness of an item and why it should be taken into consideration.

If all I thought about was the amount of money on my paycheck, I could think broadcasting was a waste of time. The industry does have high-paying jobs, but a lot of other jobs pay far less. But I wanted the experience most importantly, along with a liveable wage (which I always had). I’ve found that’s what a lot of people want. Why should I discourage people from an experience they can learn a lot from?

Ultimately, I decided to exit the business after my company shut down last fall, leaving the only main option to go to a company that bought the previous company I worked for (and was laid off after they bought it). Rather than be a Bitter Former Broadcaster on Facebook who loves to talk about how things used to be (and insist on how things should be now), I chose to move forward with my career, wherever it was. Hope helped massively with making this transition, believing in me more than I believed in myself at times, frankly.

I still think about broadcasting a lot, from the terrible bosses to the best bosses, the odd hours, the characters I met, the egos at play, the paranoid few, the random divas, and other experiences. Nothing went to waste.

I accept that I will probably hear the observation of, “You’ve got a radio voice!” for the rest of my life. I counter that I wanted other things in life, where my personality and wants ran counter to the field. I wanted a full night’s rest on a regular basis, and have the availability to spend time with family and friends on holidays and weekends. Plus, I use the example of how my father, whom I sound exactly like, worked as a chemical engineer for almost 40 years. He’s used his pipes to introduce the hometown marching band at football games for 20-plus years.

A happy life involves exploring and opening yourself up to new experiences. If all you do is listen to bitter people who have at least 20 more years of life than you, you can rob yourself of having such experiences.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Every Wave to Ever Rise

For almost two years, I have worked on a sequel to my first book, Post. Titled Forever Got Shorter: Reunions, Revivals, and Another Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 2009-2019 unless I come up with a better title, this book continues to be a DIY, labor of love project. And I’m happy to say I’ve reached a breakthrough in the research process.

Something I must address in this new book (that I was able to sidestep in Post) was how far the reach of mainstream emo was from 2001 until 2011. From Fall Out Boy to My Chemical Romance to Taking Back Sunday, it would be unfair to avoid the cultural significance of these acts, no matter how I felt about their music at the time I wrote Post

I’ve come to accept that a lot of people think emo/post-hardcore is only reflected in the stereotypes that came from fans of the mainstream version of emo. Eyeliner, flat-ironed hair, black nail polish, black clothes, and lots of yelping/screaming in a very calculated sort of way. But I still want to offer another view that has nothing to do with what was on sale at Hot Topic. 

For months, I did research on emo DJ nights. There’s the DIY, independent version and then there are touring editions that don’t often play emo (and are more of a 2000s nostalgia night). Seeing a certain touring version come back to Dallas quite often (and when the local promoter decided to mock me on Twitter when I called them out about it), I started to wonder if I was stuck in a swamp trying to make sense of this offshoot of emo’s popularity. I never considered giving up on the project, but I did wonder where the hell I was going. 

Alas, I had a breakthrough when I recently interviewed Keith Latinen from the Count Your Lucky Stars label and the band Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). Though I’ve interviewed him before and we’ve known each other since the MySpace days, we had a really good talk this time about the emo revival. We got to talking about how important a small amount of people in 2007-2014 (something like 100-150 people) played music that wasn’t in line with the mainstream defined as emo. Instead of booking agents and bars, these bands played houses. Bandcamp was how you found out about these bands, because their ambitions were not of the grand level. 

That’s when I realized: If the focus of my first book was about DIY artists, shouldn’t the sequel be as well?

Whether it’s American Football or the Get Up Kids or Holding Patterns or Dowsing or Overo, there are a lot of bands to write about and profile. Couple that with the handful of important record labels. Something that will be much different (in terms of format) is that I do not plan to devote individual chapters to bands like how I did in Post. There is too much to go into and doing individual chapters to bands doesn’t quite fit. Then again, I might say something different when it comes down to editing this stuff down to a readable book.

This project really started out as an idea I originally had for a new, 10-year anniversary edition of Post (which itself was from an idea Hope suggested with making a documentary on this side of the genre). Since all of the bands I wrote about in Post have reunited (Fugazi has reunited, but behind closed doors), it makes sense to write about the hows and whys these bands came back together. What I first thought would make for a good afterword became a whole new book when I pitched an anniversary edition and no name publisher wanted it. 

Rather than be dismayed (not the first time, remembering the time an editor at a name publisher thought the Braid chapter in Post was boring), I decided to use “no” as a gift. Instead of sitting around and complaining about things online, I choose to do something about it. 

I wrote a few years ago that I hoped my third book would not take years to write, but here I am. I don’t have a deadline, as I plan to use the same print-on-demand service I used for Post. But whenever this comes out, I promise it will be worth the while of the reader to buy a sequel. People are still discovering that first book, so I know there is an audience out there. It’s not in the millions, but this is for the people who want to have some documentation of the emo revival. This is for them. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

It's a Long Way Down

There was a time when I listened to Ryan Adams' music practically all the time. Back in 2001, as I finished college and tried to navigate post-college life, the double dose of Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia and Adams’ Gold led me to everything else he had made before. It was countrified rock music that spoke to me in a deep way, mainly on the musical front.

I don’t tend to really pay attention to lyrics, but I connected with Adams’ lyrics about being young and perpetually heartbroken. I thought some self-inflicted mental pain about awkward and failed attempts at relationships put me in the headspace to relate to songs by Adams, as well as Bright Eyes. There was so much time and energy spent on anger and sadness directed at myself for things not working out, so I found solace in songs like “Harder Now That It’s Over” and “The Rescue Blues.”

As it turned out, there was a pattern in my life: if I had a little taste of a feeling of sadness or anger, I could relate to those who had it much worse than me. I thought of it as coping, “You’re not alone in feeling this way” sort of thing.

Almost every release Adams put out between 2001 and 2005 -- mainly Demolition, Love Is Hell parts 1 and 2, and Rock N Roll -- were in regular rotation in my car. Driving around during seven-day work weeks, shows, and band practices, practically anything Adams did was a major fixture, along with everything else I listened to, from Chicago to Ben Folds to face to face.

Yet after I listened to Cold Roses a number of times, my desire to hear more of his new music suddenly came to a halt. I knew there would be two more albums released in 2005, but something changed in me where I didn’t want to hear everything he released. I didn’t hate Cold Roses, but I wasn’t really onboard with what I thought was more of the same with Jacksonville City Nights and 29.

From then on, I would occasionally hear a post-2005 tune or two that I really liked, but for the most part, Adams didn’t make music that connected with me anymore. Aside from his cover version of Taylor Swift’s 1989, nothing really made me want to spend a lot of time with the plethora of material he had put out since Cold Roses. I knew plenty of people who praised albums like Prisoner, Ashes & Fire, and Easy Tiger, but I could not find the same joy they had.

Seemingly out of nowhere last week, Adams was the subject of a damning portrait in the NY Times. Heavily-researched and backed up -- mixed with various denials by Adams through his lawyer -- there were many allegations from multiple women about his treatment of them. Like a lot of articles written about people who have repeatedly misused power with inappropriate behavior, I lean towards believing accusers who have nothing to gain by coming forward.

Once the allegations were made public, it was understandable to declare that Adams hid in plain sight, as an article in Jezebel laid out. In my eyes, as someone that heard more about his erratic, oftentimes childish, behavior than his new records, I never thought he was that toxic. Yes, I believed that knowing about that angry voicemail he left for Jim DeRogatis, his rather short-lived feud with Power Trip, how he treated people who used flash photography during his live shows, and throwing out a fan who requested a Bryan Adams song at a show.  I knew he had a reputation, but not one that made the lines between his music and personality make me feel uncomfortable about liking what he produced.

Therein lies the way things tend to go with not believing what you hear. You hear bad things about somebody for years, but they tend to be passed off, based on debatable severity. The really damaging -- potentially libelous and/or criminal -- tends to be very hard to prove without concrete evidence. Famous people can get away with it for years.

While Adams apologized and addressed the NY Times article in a small series of tweets last Wednesday, he did not help his damage control by blocking people -- from Zach Lind of Jimmy Eat World to Jasun Lee of the FW Weekly -- for tweeting out scrutiny of him.

Locally, I’ve seen the backlash quickly escalate. Respected musicians like Nicholas Altobelli and Vanessa Peters tweeted about their feelings about Adams not long after the article went live. Altobelli, in particular, is someone I remembered talking about how much he loved Adams’ output. As in, would drop serious cash own certain rare recordings. I don’t think getting to the point of saying “I’m done” was easy for any superfan, but it makes sense when there are allegations to the degree Adams has been accused of.

Many rock stars have had stories of inappropriate behavior follow them around for years. From Chuck Berry to Led Zeppelin, take your pick. Though it’s common, it doesn’t mean that kind of stuff is permissible. I’m not one to burn up or throw away records by artists who have been accused of unethical or unspeakably horrible acts. But listening to them can be tainted to the point where I feel bad about or weary of something as small as streaming a song they get $.0346 cents for. There’s a break that forms between the listener and the artist. A tainting of an experience.

When I look back at the person I was who listened to a lot of Ryan Adams albums, I think about how I had little or almost no social awareness about how I acted. Who would want to date someone who connected with a song like “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home”? Moreover, someone who was still bitter about things that happened years before and no lesson was learned? The hindsight makes things really clear now, but when you’re so full of yourself with your thoughts and feelings -- and not much time thinking about other people’s thoughts and feelings -- it’s easy to stay stuck under dark clouds.

Who knows what will happen to Adams’ career, if there is a way it can recover for the immediate future. A planned new trilogy of albums has been put on hold, amongst the beginning stages of a serious legal inquiry. It’s bad buzz for him, and it seems like years of damage -- intentional or not -- have come back to haunt him.

For me, the songs I used to listen to over and over serve now as reminders of how not to be. As in, you can’t pretend to be a victim when you’re the problem. If you want to keep blaming others and not own up to what you’ve done, well, you deserve to be alone.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Participation Trophies

The topic of participation trophies seems to come up more and more when describing why people aged 25 and younger seem to settle for mediocrity. It's an easy, straight line to make, especially in the sports world, as a women's basketball coach proclaimed in a press conference in 2016. As in, a child is raised to believe any kind of effort deserves to be rewarded -- no matter the win-or-lose outcome -- and he or she can't tell the difference later in life.

As someone who's about to turn 40, this apparently modern idea is not one to me.

I played in an outdoor soccer league for a few years in the mid-1980s. At the end of each season, the coaches threw the team a party and gave each player a small trophy and ribbon. Neither the trophy nor ribbon said something like "Best Striker" or "Best Keeper." They were generic. Even then, as an elementary school student, I didn't think these trophies meant something grand. It was simply proof that I played on a team.

Was I rewarded for scoring two own goals in a season? No. Was our keeper rewarded for having a meltdown one day at practice where he decided to sit and pout inside the penalty area? No. The trophies were mementos of hours spent after school and Saturday mornings on a soccer field in suburban New Orleans.

If memory serves me right, there were tournaments that our team competed in. If you won them, you received really big trophies you could hoist at the end of the final match. Those were the accolades that meant something. But we never got close to such heights. I never felt left out. We were not a great team, pure and simple.

I switched from sports to band a few years later. There were no participation trophies in band, and I didn't hear of any from people I knew who played sports in school or recreational. Trophies that had value and meaning were given to those who earned them, just like those soccer tournament trophies.

I don't really know if something momentous happened in the past 20 years, aside from Columbine and 9/11, but the embrace of children's deep thoughts and feelings became very common in society. Not just what the parents, coaches, and teachers saw -- it was also what the therapists saw. Maybe it was evaluating what truly hurts or hinders children's growth, or something related. For adults who want to make the youth of today happy, the amount of praise for any effort was raised. This was not new to me, as that kind of stuff was addressed when I was young. I saw it in myself as well as other students.

Towards the end of Fred Rogers' life, a certain cable channel designed to counter-program and play devil's advocate singled out a frequent message by Rogers on his show, Mister Roger's Neighborhood: you are special. This channel thought the message gave kids an idea that any effort is good enough, and those kids expect everything handed to them as adults.

As a regular viewer of the show as a child, I never, for one second, thought Mr. Rogers said you're entitled to receive praise for everything you do. It was, you bring value to the world. Not grand or small. You have meaning to society as a whole. Also, it's OK to feel down as not everything you try leads to success at first (or at all). He told generations of kids that it is totally acceptable to own your feelings. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that idea.

No matter the generation, the basic concept of hard work -- along with the rewards of doing hard work -- is still pretty well defined. You want to get further in life? You can't half-ass it. I half-assed a lot of things in my 20s and 30s, thus explaining why a few things worked out well, surrounded by a mountain of frustration and lingering desires.

I freely admit I have struggled with how hard I should put into hard work as an adult. As in, should I be recognized or rewarded for all the things I do? Do I have a right to get defensive about what I've done and shown in a tangible way (versus how much mental energy I spent)? None of these difficulties came from ideas that Mr. Rogers or soccer trophies taught me. They came from my attempts to understand how life really is. I'm someone who didn't know the extent I -- not others -- had to put in to find success.

If you want to pinpoint a problem in modern society of something a lot of kids don't truly value, that's an easy take. If you want to take a deeper look at why young people aren't apparently as motivated as previous generations, a silly little trophy is not the endgame.