• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

A conflict, a viewing, and a playlist

November 8, 2019


I’ll admit being impressed by the creative dysfunction of the Board in the Chronicle’s story about Wayne State.  Among other things, it can’t agree on whether it fired its president or not.  


That’s remarkable.  I’ve seen dysfunctional Board behavior, but that’s next-level.  


Naturally, the president in question is digging in, refusing to settle the issue by resigning.  I don’t know the merits on either side, but emotionally, I understand what he’s doing.  


Assuming he leaves sooner rather than later, though, this is one hell of a red flag to the next candidates.  Good luck attracting anybody with options.


The obvious answer here is that the Board needs to go.  I don’t know how that would happen under Michigan law, but until there’s a group that’s capable of doing the most fundamental function of a Board, nothing good will happen.  



This week I attended the viewing of a 21 year old who died.


Hug your people.  There are no guarantees.



Heidi Moore, one of the most consistently interesting folks on Twitter, asked people to name the most romantic song they could think of.


I struggled with it, partially because many of my nominees are cover versions.  For instance, Cassandra Wilson’s version of “Tupelo Honey” leaves Van Morrison’s in the dust, as far as I’m concerned, and her version of “Last Train to Clarksville” puts the Monkees to shame.  Holly Cole’s version of “I Want You” beats Tom Waits’, and her version of “God Only Knows” slays me in a way that the Beach Boys’ version just doesn’t. Diana Krall’s cover of “A Case of You,” live in Paris, hits me in a way that Joni Mitchell’s original can’t: the vinegar in her “darling” near the end always elicits a slightly pained, but affectionate, smile.  Shirley Horn’s version of “It Had to Be You” is a master class is elegant restraint, and it really lets the lyrics shine. “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” works, though I’ll admit preferring the Barenaked Ladies’ version to Bruce Cockburn’s. (“You’ve got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight” is perfect.)  


Some originals work, though.  Betty Carter’s “I’m Yours, You’re Mine” is a slowly-unfolding masterpiece; when she finally shifts from vocalese to lyrics, the jolt of familiarity and the sudden “gee, but it’s nice/to see you again” works better than it has any right to.  Jim Croce’s “I Have to Say I Love You In a Song” may be corny, but its earnestness is winning. The Replacements’ “Answering Machine” may be a little dated, but it still stops me in my tracks. Tom Waits’ “Better Off Without a Wife” is slyly poignant, a drunken and unreliable narrator betrayed by his own piano.  “Driving,” by Everything But the Girl, captures ambivalence and distance and the feeling of not wanting to admit something you sort of know. And by New Jersey state law, I have to mention Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” if only for the lyric “you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.” His version on the Live 1975/85 compilation may be the best thing he ever recorded.


I lost touch with popular culture when TB was born, so I don’t have much that’s more recent.  The Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine” distills longing, and its video does it justice. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Your Type” is a devastating lyric and story over an asinine beep-beep-boop-boop arrangement; it’s an acoustic cover version away from greatness.  (If Lake Street Dive slowed it down, it would be a showstopper.) For sheer poppiness, and to break the doom and gloom, I’d go with Taylor Swift’s “Paper Rings.” It’s goofy, catchy, and sweet, in the way that the best pop songs can be.


Most of them aren’t “love songs” in the usual sense.  The best ones combine emotions, mixing sweet, salty, and sad in varying proportions to capture the slightly off-balance feeling of relationships.  


The whole exercise struck me as an excellent use of Twitter.  Wise and worldly readers, what would you pick?



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