What Happened with the 80s?

I was thinking about the incredible boom happening in the craft liquor and spirits and beer industries. Gin producers are now foraging the herbs and roots that flavor their products.  The hippening of unique brandy flavors is on the horizon. The “high-end premium” market is propelling overall growth. The once standard clear glass bottle is now transformed into sizes and shapes rivaling what used to be seen only at the apothecary. Producers are seeking creative ways to heighten “consumer engagement and leveraging it to fortify authenticity.” Holy smokes!

To distill the trend (oh yeah, I said it) you could summarize by focusing on two words: small batch. People want custom, uber-meaningful, top notch experiences. And that’s just when they are looking for a buzz! I wonder what we are demanding for dessert?

It made me think, unfortunately, of the 1980’s, when a bar had three beer taps: Bud, Coors, and the cheap beer (Schlitz, The Beast aka Milwaukee’s Best, or maybe a Busch). There was also the abomination in bottles that was light beer versions of local pilsners. IC Light was our regional brew.

There was nothing hoppy, nothing dark and chocolatey, nothing with strawberry or grapefruit. Nothing curated, nothing charred oak-inspired, infused, nitro cured, or osmosis blended. Nothing with hints of coffee or cupcake or honey. It was just pilsner and light pilsner. And Guiness, if you were at a fancy metropolitan sort of place. And wine: red or white. And they had vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey. They tasted like vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey, and whatever Galliono or blue curacao or fake corporate sours the part-time house painter behind the bar poured into them.

How, in some thirty-odd years, did consumers become so sophisticated? And is it OK that, while people in some of America’s finest cities struggle to get lead-free drinking water, we have the bandwidth to honestly care about the back story of the fiercely dedicated artisan barkeep who picked the berries that made the brew that became my $16, 3.5oz gin cocktail?

What was going on in the 80’s when bars were much simpler places, and corporate beers and spirits seemed to make a lot of sense, and inspire brand allegiance? When “I’ll have a whiskey” meant grab that one brand of whiskey you have there and pour it in a shot glass, not as a pretext for “Which of our thirty varieties, and would you like it neat, on the rocks, or blended with water?”

Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background
Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background

I am all for choice, and I do rejoice in the current bounty of selections. I just wonder how it all came about, so fully, so relatively quickly, and with such precision and skill. Imagine if we got this good this quickly at sewing or dog walking or Frisbee. It could be a whole different society we’d be living in.

Calling the Kids

I call the kids from the first floor. They don’t respond.

What are they doing up there?

I am as a voice, whispering into the darkness of the world’s largest, deepest, darkest cave.

Cool water drips onto my forehead from a looming stalactite.

Kids!

The car is already running to warm it up – freezing outside. It makes it nice for them to get into a warm and cozy car, so I let it run. My gas mileage is terrible because of this.

“We’re gonna be late!

There’s a birthday party. No, it’s ballet. It’s swimming lessons. Soccer. Church. Camp. Grandma’s. Ugh

Is anybody up there?

If we’re late, there’ll be no [insert fun thing] for you this weekend!

It is the weekend. Half over. They know I am lying. I need the [fun thing] to get them occupied for a half an hour so I can fold laundry/do dishes/go to the bathroom/eat without sharing/feed the cat/sort mail/iron/build the addition to the house/get my car inspected/clean the vomit/empty diaper pails/exercise. So of course they’ll still get to do the [fun thing]. I really need them to do the [fun thing].

Sigh. My book is sitting on the nearby table. I finger the placeholder. Then I am half sitting over the couch arm, flipping through. Now I am fully eaten by the couch and here is where Liver Eating Johnson and forty mountain men are just about to fight off a menacing brace of Crow Indians. Hand to hand combat, arrows whizzing past, tomahawks flying … the musket! It’s empty! Liver Eating Johnson turns to face an enormous chief with a scalping knife high overhead …

Daddy!

Daddy! Come on. We’re gonna be late why are you laying on the couch? Such a lazy bones, daddy!

U2 Taking a Page from Bastille’s Success?

Long time fan of U2. I do not agree with the bru-haha that U2 is now a punchline. No, they are not Nickelback. Nickelback did have 50 million sales worldwide (not too shabby!). But U2 has 22 Grammy Awards (more than any other band) – including six (!) for best album of the year, is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, is #22 in Rolling Stones’ Greatest Artists of All Time. And they sold over 150 million records worldwide. Significantly non-Nickelbak-y. No disrespect to Nickelback.

Needless to say, my interest was piqued when I heard the word that Apple paid $100 MILLION to push a half billion albums for “free” to all of its iTunes users. Wow.

The first radio release, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” did not grab me by the shirt collar and throw me on the ground in a joyous fit of dance fever. But it wasn’t horrible. It did, however, remind me a lot of another song that was really popular just last summer.

I thought there was some borrowing here by U2 of the popular chorus/boy chant style that Bastille made big with their song, Pompeii. Have a listen to the two tracks and see if you find any similarities. I am not claiming “plagiarism”. I am giving props to Bastille where I think they should be given – they made headway in a crowded space, and did such a good job that one of the best rock bands ever took note and gave (perhaps) a homage in their own lead single.

Quitting Football is “a thing”

In the week before the 2014 NFL season kicked off, I noticed three different blogs of fairly high profile folks who state that they are quitting the NFL.

Quitting football?!?

Why, yes. And guess what? Most of it is not even because of the Ray Rice debacle.

Jason Kotte is quitting the NFL.

Steve Almond is quitting football.

And even Pittsburgh’s own Virginia Montanez is breaking up with America’s game.

I admit, after doing a little reading, it might be easy to climb onboard and declare that, in light of the arguments made by those above, yes, I too, am quitting football. Comments like, “it is immoral to watch a sport that causes brain damage” (Almond) are fairly difficult to argue against. But something less atomic, such as, “I’m tired of having to explain to my kid what NFL player was arrested on any particular week and how it might affect his fantasy team” (Montanez) still raises the cackles of anyone who has been unexpectedly forced to explain to a child the world’s moral “gray” ground.

Cool. I’m game.

But what was I doing last Thursday? I was watching the Steelers-Ravens game on TV. Sure, I missed most of it (because: kids). But I had it on; I wanted to watch; I intended to be a witness to the smash-mouth spectacle presented by our modern day gladiators.

The Steelers lost. They were not just beaten, but tarred and feathered by the Ravens. The Black & Gold’s defense had more holes in it than Penn Ave. And you know, that might be the single thing, the one thing that helps me to quit the NFL. Not the abusive culture towards women that pops up every season; not the “slave-auction feel” to the NFL Combine (minute 9:24 in the audio); not the basic raping of local municipalities of land and tax revenue that the non-profit NFL garners when it plunders low income communities for shiny new tax-payer-purchased stadiums. I might quit the NFL simply because the team I like stinks. At least this season.

If that isn’t a good old fashioned brain washing, I don’t know what is. I think, America, we’ve been suckered. We should snap out of it.