Taco Jamz 2017

The year was 2005, and technology played by different rules. Texts cost a nickel a piece. You had to go to thefacebook.com. And if you wanted to listen to a custom music playlist, you pretty much had to burn a CD. Which is exactly what my then 8-year old brother asked me to do.

The request: to make him a mix with “the James Bond theme, the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, that one song from Shrek 2, and whatever else to fill up the CD. And call it Taco Jamz. With a Z.”

I honestly didn’t think too hard when I filled the remaining 65 minutes of the disc. Just stuff that I liked that was relatively family friendly. Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters, and soundbites from Homestar Runner. The CD became the soundtrack for the family road trip when I moved into the freshman dorm later that year. My folks ended up listening to the mix more than my brother did.

Taco Jamz became an annual tradition. While the name stayed the same, the content was more deliberately selected. Each mix became a recap of the year, featuring songs from recent movies, associated with cultural events, obscure references, or from bands someone in the family had just seen. I’d usually round it out with whatever neat stuff I was listening to at the time.

Below, I present the official playlist for Taco Jamz 2017. I’ll post 2018 and 2019 soon enough. And the 2020 mix will be released by Christmas. I never actually kept a copy of the original mixes for myself, but as soon as I can steal them back from my parents, I’ll be posting those as well.



Yub Nub: A Star Wars Saga Podcast

A couple weeks before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was released, my good friend Dave invited me to join him for a podcast to discuss all 9 Skywalker Saga films once we’d seen the final one. Barely a week after it’s release, Dave and I sat down for an epic eight-hour conversation about our favorite film franchise.

Dave’s done a great job editing our conversation into four episodes, each of which are streaming now.

Take that, random Trump supporter.

Just saw my first “Trump that Bitch” yard sign in Rockford today.

I’m guessing the guy who’s proudly displaying his complete lack of basic decency would revel in knowing that his dumb sign pissed of some bleeding-heart liberal like me.

However, I’d also like him to know that his juvenile advertisement for misogyny inspired me to do something more productive with my time and resources. So here’s $25 to each of the following organizations:

  • The League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford, whose voter registration booth outside the Hononegah High School cafeteria back in 2004 first got me registered to vote. Donate here.
  • Rock Valley College, whose Refugee and Immigrant Services program works to find employment for refugees coming to our area. Their free interpretation services for their clients has been an incredible help for me and my colleagues at work. Donate here.
  • Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford, who provides numerous services for refugee and immigrant families in the Rockford area. Donate here.
  • Planned Parenthood of Illinois, who gets an incredibly unfair and undeserved reputation thanks to some idiot politicians and activists. Planned Parenthood provides crucial healthcare services for millions of people and is a great advocate for scientifically-accurate health education. Donate here.

I know it’s not much, but I hope these small donations and this self-congratulatory blog post can help bring a little bit of civility and progressivism to this election season.

Farewell, Dave

Tonight I said goodbye to my all-time favorite late night talk show host, David Letterman. The web and TV have been full of much-deserved tributes to Letterman in the lead-up to his final Late Show broadcast. Even though he wasn’t always the most watched or even most liked host, it’s nice to see all the appreciation for his absurdist humor and deliberately prickly demeanor.

Letterman leaves behind an incredible legacy, but his greatest contribution to late-night comedy is unfortunately the least emulated. Letterman’s show was smart. Not just because he was smart, but because he assumed his audience was too.

A perfect example of what set Dave apart from his competition can be seen in every opening monologue. Content-wise, there was little difference between Letterman’s openings and anyone else’s–same format, same cheesy and predictable punchlines, same shallow mockery of celebrities and politicians. The difference was that Dave knew these jokes were dumb, and he knew his audience knew it. Leno, Fallon, even Conan all tried to play these awful bits for big laughs. Dave knew better. He knew they were lame. He knew that making fun of Bill Clinton or Kim Kardashian was low-hanging fruit. If a joke didn’t hit, he’d just give a wry smirk and move on. In fact, he sometimes seemed to deliberately parody the format and style that he helped institutionalize.

Additionally, Letterman brought on smart guests and had smart interviews. Short of Sterwart and Colbert (who will be a more-than-worthy successor), no other host brought on more artists, political leaders, or writers. And even if it was just some Hollywood actor, Dave never let an interviewee get away with simply plugging their project.

My absolute favorite interview Dave ever did was with then-Presidential candidate George W. Bush. Letterman had been trying to get a Bush/Gore debate on his show for months. Supposedly Gore agreed to it immediately, but wound up appearing on the show alone. Eventually, a terribly unprepared Bush came on just a few weeks before the election. 

I was 14 when I saw this broadcast, and it’s the exact moment when my political consciousness was born.

I could go on and talk about how much my sense of humor or taste in music was shaped by Dave. But I can’t imagine recreating ‘Will it Float?’ in the school cafeteria or being introduced to Warren Zevon because of Late Show are unique to me. Instead, I’d rather give credit to Dave for teaching me that there’s no need to dumb yourself down for anyone else’s sake; people are generally smart enough to figure things out. And if someone isn’t, the people who are probably think it’s hilarious.

Thanks, Dave.

Dumbest. Article. Ever.

If you’ve ever wondered what the fastest way for me to unfriend you on Facebook is, it’s posting any “X Things That Only Y Type of People Will Understand” article. I get what they try to do: provide a unique group of people with a sense of community and pride for their quirks. The problem is that every item on these lists apply to a much broader audience than the author thinks. Here’s a particularly egregious one that’s making the rounds on Facebook: “10 Things Only People From Illinois Will Understand.” The author’s points are in bold, and my snark follows.

1. You Cringe Every Time You Hear Someone Say “Il-eh-NOISE” Everyone in the country knows that it’s “IL-IH-NOY” just like they know it’s “AR-KAN-SAW.” Everyone in the country should cringe if someone says “IL-EH-NOISE.” Besides, what’s far-and-away the most annoying pronunciation of the state’s name is “ELL-EH-NOY” and like half of everyone does that.

2. You’re Either A Chicagoan or A Northern Kentuckian Not sure who in the state identifies themselves as a “Northern Kentuckian,” especially considering Kentucky doesn’t make up huge part of Illinois’ border. I know that a lot of us up-state folk like to lump everything south of I-80 as “southern Illinois,” but after spending four years in college smack-dab in the middle of the state, I know there’s a lot of “central Illinois” pride.

3. Rubbing Honest Abe’s Nose Is Second Nature Personally, I prefer to high-five his kid.
high five

4. Ketchup And Hot Dogs DO Not Go Together This one might have made sense on “Ten Things only People From Chicago Will Understand,” but not on this list. Clearly the author has completely forgotten the title of her post.

5. When It Comes To Baseball, There’s No Such Thing As A Fairweather Fan Sure, we love our baseball. But if you read on, the author claims “For Illinoisans, you’re either a Cubs fan or you’re a White Sox fan.” Again, forgetting there’s more to the state than Chicago, the author is ignoring the wide swaths of the state dominated by Cardinals fans. Take a peek at the NY Times fascinating interactive map on the geography of baseball fandom.

6. You Wear Shorts One Day And A Down Coat The Next As if Illinois is the only state that has weird weather. The entire northern half of the country could claim this one. I mean, how many lame stand-ups have used the same joke that whatever city they’re in that night is the “only city in the country where you can experience all four seasons in a single day.” Scientifically speaking, there are a number of states that experience wild temperature fluctuations more often then Illinois, particularly those  affected by Chinook winds.

7. Orange On The Highway Means Summer The orange the author is referring to is construction cones, and apparently she thinks we’re the only state who does road work in the summer.

8. You Can Tell Corn From Soybeans In A Split-Second Yeah, Illinois is among the top corn- and soybean-producing states in the country. But so are Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. And a much higher percentage of their population lives in the rural areas. So they’re probably much more likely to differentiate those crops than us.

9. Starved Rock State Park Is The Most Beautiful Place Ever Starved Rock is beautiful, no question. But Starved Rock is constantly overrun by tourists more focused on taking selfies than staying on the trails. My advice: go in the dead of winter when the waterfalls are frozen and the crowds dwindle. Or travel a few more miles south and visit the equally beautiful and less crowded Matthiessen State Park.

10. Speed Limits Are Only A Suggestion The author goes on to say. “Illinois is pretty much the Autobahn.” Really? There were stretches of Montana highway that famously had no speed limit for a while.

Long story short: The people who write these articles aren’t as funny or special as they think they are. Let’s leave the top ten lists to Letterman.

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