Category Archives: I’m Just Saying…!

I’m opinionated. Therefore, let there be opinions.

The Worst Songs of the 90s – The Continuing Saga of a List

All of us 90s children continually wax poetic about how wonderful the music was back in our day, how hideous the pop music is now, the kids just don’t get it…blah blah blah. All of which is true. That said, pop music was alive and well in the 90s too, and there was plenty to make you want to gouge your ears out with a Q-tip. Or a Wax-Vac. The following list is in no particular order and is far from complete, but here is the beginning of one giant waterfall of 90s suckage.

1. Crash Test Dummies, “Mmm Mmm Mmm” whatever

This was the first song I ever passionately, intensely hated. As in, got physically irate when it came on the radio. To this day, people still seem to feel pain every time they hear it. Someone made this track a top 10 hit…I’m waiting for you to ‘fess up, sir or madam, so the stoning may begin.

Quality Alternative: REM, “E-Bow the Letter.” Appropriately mopey, but it has, I don’t know, actual lyrics.

2. Creed, “Higher”

The day this song came blasting off of my father’s motorcycle was the day a bit of my childhood died. The same man who taught me to love the Stones, the Doors, Zeppelin…I could weep now just remembering that fateful moment.

Quality Alternative: Pearl Jam, “Garden.” Overly earnest rock music without the Messiah complex.

3. 69 Boyz, “Donkey Butt” or “Dunky Butt” or whatever it was called.

This little ditty played at my junior prom and was inevitably responsible for the eventual breakup with my boyfriend that night. He was pissed I wouldn’t dance to this song. The guy also thought Duran Duran was the greatest band of all time. Looking back, I probably wasn’t his type.

Quality Alternative: Paperboy, “Ditty.” Dance-able music about sex that didn’t make me want to throw sharp objects at random people.

4. Jimmy Ray, “Are You Jimmy Ray”

Not only did this song belong in 1988, not 1998, but it would have even made children cry in the 80s.

Quality Alternative: Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby.” Yes, even that was better than Jimmy Ray.

5. Spice Girls, “Wannabe”

Seriously, America? Seriously? I heard this played all over my dorm in COLLEGE, which is when your musical taste is supposed to be at its superior peak. I don’t even have nostalgia for it because that would mean I ever thought these chicks had an ounce of talent.

Quality Alternative: Luscious Jackson, “City Song.” They actually played instruments and could legitimately carry a tune outside a studio. Now THAT is “Girl Power.”

6. Vengaboys, “We Like to Party”

Where do I even begin? Wasn’t this in a Fanta commercial?

Quality Alternative: There isn’t one. Sorry.

7. Donna Lewis, “I Love You Always Forever”

A yearbook entry set to a Casio keyboard. I blame 90210 and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen for this one.

Quality Alternative: Poe, “Hello.” Electronic alterna-pop but with a much stronger female singer.

8. Hanson, “Mmmbop”

These guys almost get a free pass for their later, blues-ier work. Almost.

Quality Alternative: Their later, blues-ier work.

9. Limp Bizkit, “Nookie”

No, Fred Durst. That would imply you were getting any. Besides, Senor Durst once claimed that he “slowed down” his rapping so the “white kids could understand.” Somewhere, Busta Rhymes is giggling uncontrollably.

Quality Alternative: Tool, “Track #1.” Hey, if you’re going to go, go all in.

10. LFO, “Summer Girls”

When you name-check Abercrombie & Fitch, that’s a pretty clear signal that there is nothing funky about you, LFO.

Quality Alternative: Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend.” Poppy love song without references to horrible, stench-y mall wear.

11. Aqua, “Barbie Girl”

As if Barbie didn’t give people enough emotional scars as children. Thank you, bad Scandinavian pop bands, for tainting my homeland’s musical heritage even more so.

Quality Alternative: See “Quality Alternative” for the Vengaboys.

12. Sisqo, “Thong Song”

I thought he had a lisp. And then I realized there really was a song being played, in public, dedicated to floss for your rear end.

Quality Alternative: The Pharcyde, “Passin’ Me By.” Because THAT’S the hip-hop you should STILL be listening to.

13. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “My Friends”

I hadn’t really been a fan since “Mother’s Milk,” but to hear a guy in his mid-30s whining about his friends…a guy who had once been a funk-garage-rock god…was like listening to your Cosby-sweater-wearing dad wax rhetoric about his wild and crazy Woodstock days.

Quality Alternative: Faith No More, “Epic.” Those guys just always brought it. With the exception of their “Sunday Morning” cover, but that’s another blog.

14. Ginuwine, “Pony”

Just….no. I need a Grumpy Cat meme for this horrific atrocity. There are no words.

Quality Alternative: A Tribe Called Quest, anything. Again, THIS is the hip hop you should still be listening to.

15. Britney Spears, “Baby…One More Time”

This song makes my list because, among other more obvious reasons, I remember exactly where I was the first time I watched this tower of suck music video. Standing in my bedroom at my parents’ house while I was home on break, getting ready for work, I stood there in horror and said to myself, “I’m watching the beginning of the downfall.” Literally, those were my thoughts. And how true they were. Carson Daly was even making fun of how she over-lip-synced. When Carson Daly makes fun of you that blatantly, right off your first single, there is a problem.

Quality Alternative: Juliana Hatfield, “Spin the Bottle.” If you want a little-kid voice coupled with high school lyrics, there’s your girl.

16. Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day”

Ironically, a song lamenting death made me want to kill myself.

Quality Alternative: Bone Thugs, “Tha Crossroads.” Something tells me these guys knew a little more about death than Mariah “I Like Butterflies” Carey.

17. Soul Asylum, “Misery”

Granted, Soul Asylum did nothing even worth a passing thought after their debut track, “Somebody to Shove.” Wailing “Frustraaaaaated Incooooorporated,” however, was probably the longest grasp for an angsty grunge straw that I ever heard.

Quality Alternative: Hum, “Stars.” If you want angsty, these grandaddies of emo take the cake made from their own tears.

18. Green Day, “Time of Your Life”

So many ways I want to lash out and punch the crap out of Billie Joe Armstrong, so little time. The fact alone that he stated in an interview that there was nothing more punk-rock than making an unexpected power ballad – that got played on every teen drama and had a JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT show named after it – deserves to have Henry Rollins show up at his doorstep with a club.

Quality Alternative: Bad Religion, “Generator.” Never heard of it? Now you have. You’re welcome.

19. The Offspring, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)”

*twitch* *twitch twitch* *twitch*

Quality Alternative: The Offspring, “Burn It Up.” The Offspring’s first major label debut, “Ignition,” was actually decent and this song about pyros was pretty decent fun.

20. Timmy T, “One More Try”

Did we all forget about the ear-bleedingly earnest pop singers from 1990-1991? Timmy T was Lord of All That Sucketh during that time, breathy voice and all. Plus, it just reminds me of every middle school dance where I had to sit in the bleachers and watch every other girl get to slow-dance. THANKS, TIMMY T.

Quality Alternative: Was there a decent power ballad during that time period? I’m trying to remember past the Gerardos, Vanilla Ices, New Kids on the Blocks, and MC Hammers of that era.

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Let the Atlanta Radio Listeners Eat Cake…and “Call Me Maybe”…

My senior year of college, as a telecommunications major, involved taking a radio programming class. The semester culminated in a mass project that required the imaginary “reprogramming” of 5 major market radio stations. We were expected to know the ins and outs of that market, including not just the target demographics (with unfortunate considerations such as age, race, gender…because the media honestly believes that you only listen to pop music and nothing else if you are a young white female) but surprisingly, we were also asked to familiarize ourselves with the actual city. Where the locals hung out. Which shows were selling and which ones weren’t. The lifestyles of the residents.

That market, of course, was Atlanta. This was spring 2000. I had missed the day of class when each student was sequestered off into groups to complete the project so, as punishment for my deciding Jacksonville Beach would be much more entertaining on that fine March day, I wound up having to complete my paper alone. The one concession the professor gave me was that the paper could be 5 pages shorter than the required length for the group papers.

Remarkably, I received one of only two “A”s in the class. The other student who got an “A” had also skipped class that day and had to work alone. Funny how you work harder when all the responsibility is on you.

I still have that paper. Back in college, I had a strict programming format for my radio show, “Utopia.” (Hence my business names.) The basic ideas were:

  1. Give the listeners something that doesn’t already exist in the market. If that’s not possible, take an existing format and tweak it, make it unique – your own. Never copy someone else’s idea.
  2. If you surround a new, interesting song with two songs the listener already knows and loves, she or he will be more likely to accept the new song.

To this day, I call this particular core value of my format the “airplane method.” If you’re feeding a child something it doesn’t think it would like, such as broccoli, you sandwich the unknown item between two slices of melted cheese. The child likes cheese. It’s more likely to enjoy the good stuff in between the cheese – the broccoli – if the first thing it tastes is familiar – cheese. Just like a parent annoyingly chirping away at her child: “Here comes the airplane!“ Another great example in adult life is beer. Think of the conversation you had with a friend the first time you tried to get him to drink decent beer.

Friend: “I always drink PBR.”
You: “Awesome. Have a PBR.”
Friend: “Thank you! I only listen to ironic music from the early 80s! My skinny jeans have cut off my circulation! I can never have children! Rock on!!”
(15 minutes later.)
Friend: “Can I have another  PBR?”
You: “We’re out. Try a Highland Gaelic.”
Friend: “Dammit. Okay, if that’s all you have.”
(Drinks Gaelic. 30 minutes later.)
You: “You’re finished! We found more PBR.”
Friend: “You know, this Gaelic is actually good. Can I have another one of these instead?”

Success! When compared side-by-side surreptitiously with his usual lame beer of choice, he chose the tastier, superior beer of his own free will when offered the lame beer again. The airplane method prevails once more.

This was what I attempted to accomplish on my college radio show. It was 1999. What did the general south Georgia public like? Korn. Sublime. Tonic. If you wanted them to listen to the Cowboy Junkies or Kidneythieves, you would have to sandwich such awesome ditties as “Speaking Confidentially” in between “Blind” and “If You Could Only See.” It’s an extremely easy format, and all it takes is the courage to play a song on the radio listeners might not know right off the bat – but this is a courage most large media corporations don’t possess at the moment.

Why am I blathering on about my personal programming ideas? I don’t believe I am the best radio programmer in the world. In fact, apart from college radio, I’ve never done it. However, I look at my college programming paper and even after over a decade in the business, I can review those 10 pages and realize that a classically-trained cymbal-wielding chimpanzee in a hat could do a better job than these cats running the Atlanta airwaves right now.

Where to even begin? Let’s start with the recent announcement that Dave FM is changing formats in early October.

Dave FM is one of the most unique radio stations this market has ever seen, and their owners – we will call them Larry Radio Group- are flipping it in early October to urban sports, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and All Access. Urban sports. This format doesn’t even exist on Arbitron.  We may have to endure 24-7 discussions on a subject that locals are so uninterested in that we actually LOSE franchises, on a frequency that once aired a completely original and exciting mix of rock music. Dear Larry Radio Group: Please don’t inflict this upon us. If Atlantans – black, white, green, or otherwise – liked basketball, we would have started going to the games a long time ago. The Hawks win game after game and all we do is complain that the Falcons can’t win a Super Bowl. Please see also: Attendance, Braves Games That Don’t Involve Chipper Jones’s Last Season. Thank you, drive through.

Next we have Journey 97.9. Ah, the 80’s and 90’s. The music of our youth. We will call these station owners Curly Radio Group. Curly Radio Group has purchased nearly a dozen Atlanta radio stations in the past 8 years, and they seemingly chose 97.9 to test if radio could run fully functionally without a single live DJ. Curly Radio Group has predominantly owned stations in small-to-medium-sized markets (think Columbia, SC and Indianapolis) up until recently, and they truly believe that top 10 market stations can successfully be run like smaller market stations – with little to no human interaction. (The ratings on all but one of their stations indicate Atlanta listeners are onto their trick and are not amused, but that’s another blog.)  I will admit: the music itself was a lot of fun. However, I would have preferred to hear a live, local DJ discussing the events and times surrounding the songs. That’s what music is about – the human memories that go along with it. Curly Radio Group seems to have missed that memo. Journey lasted about a year. It wasn’t a station you listened to 24-7 because there were no human beings. No contests, no hilariously-freaking-out winners. Nothing that made you keep listening, nothing you could relate to. With that kind of a personality-less format, you might as well listen to Sirius or XM. Fast-forward to yesterday. I wasn’t surprised that Journey went under, but the shock of the century came from what Curly Radio Group decided to do with the frequency. As of Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta listeners were affronted with…wait for it, because it isn’t even Top 40. It’s TOP 20. 20 songs, on a station without advertisements, doesn’t even fill up an entire hour. Let the “Call Me Maybe Power Hour” begin! The genius (ahem) of this format flip is that Curly Radio Group also owns Q100 – a powerhouse in the ratings due to a strong signal and our only successful Top 40 station. So Curly decided to create a radio station that is essentially COMPETING WITH ITSELF. Not to mention this unfortunate turn of events has our defenseless eardrums assaulted by the exact same songs every hour on multiple stations. The Atlanta population ticker on Peachtree Road plummeted as locals threw themselves to their deaths off the Bank of America building, screaming nonsensical garble about post-production overload and horrific Canadian singers.

Which brings us to this laughable embarrassment to the radio industry called “Power 96.1.” We will call these owners Moe Radio Group. Moe Radio Group (based out of Texas) made the executive decision (from Texas) that a frequency Atlantans (who are not from Texas) had associated with rock music literally since 1974 no longer deserved that distinction, presumptuously due to advertiser concern. Suddenly, the local active rock staton, “Project 96.1,” disappeared and a glaring pink logo boasting the likes of Pitbull and Katy Perry appeared, arrogantly assuming locals would need to change their shorts over the arrival of yet another pop station in an already-saturated market. (See previous paragraph.) Oh, locals needed to change their shorts, but it wasn’t out of excitement. To this day, I have never seen such antagonistic pushback against a station format change in my life. Within 24 hours, no less than 10 Facebook pages had been created in an attempt to save the beloved rock station, and the new page proudly promoting the new “Power 961” had less than 500 “likes.” The “Save Project 96-1” page had over 1000 in that same time frame. While I seriously doubt the corporate types will change their minds – after all, listeners are merely pesky flies that interfere with the main course that is the hefty check from the advertisers – I thoroughly enjoy this vitriol being spewed in an effort to save their radio station and their music. This rebellion and youth is what radio is all about – it makes me proud to have been part of an industry that had such devoted fans. Fight the power, y’all.

A lot of the vitriol spewage, however, is aimed directly at Moe Radio Group. I do feel the need to point out that Moe Radio Group wasn’t the one who first came in and took a beloved station from us. In the fall of 1992, one of the first alternative stations in the country, called 99X, was born in Atlanta – and it shaped the way we listened to radio for 20 years. Listeners were completely, insanely, devoted to the 99X “brand.” They carried the cards, they wore the T-shirts. 99X boasted live DJs 24-7. If a fan called at 3:37am, there was a live human DJ there to chat and take the request. Listeners were not just devoted to the music – they were devoted to the personalities, the concerts…the lifestyle. 99X became the little station that could – a quirky, personality-driven radio station that morphed into a local empire, a station respected by both locals and the bands (might I point out that 99X was the only station outside of NYC where the Beastie Boys would play a live set?)  It wasn’t just an edgy station that sounded cool – it was Atlanta’s station. Completely ours, local, dedicated to Atlanta just as we were devoted to them.

Until 2005. 99X and its sister station, Q100, were purchased by a radio group specializing in smaller-market stations called Curly Radio Group. Not understanding how to handle the type and level of audience 99X drew, Curly immediately dumped 99X and placed the safer and easier-to-manage station of Q100 on the stronger signal. That left an extra signal. Classic rock? That’s simple, too. Completely non-offensive. That format wound up on Q’s former signal, 100.5, which left Atlanta’s beloved 99X, the city’s station, out to dry. What they weren’t counting on, however, was the anger from the former listeners. Such anger, in fact, that Curly was forced to bring 99X back. The only available frequency at the time was so weak, however, that no one could hear it. Ratings plummeted, and, a few days ago, Curly Radio Group finally got what they longed for – an excuse to dump the ginger stepchild of their business.

And, after all that, we have come full circle to what Larry, Curly, and Moe Radio Groups aren’t wrapping their heads around. When all you see are dollar signs, you miss out on what the music, the station brands, actually represent. What message are you sending to listeners when you take away the station they grew up listening to and change the music to exactly what the other guys are playing? You honestly believe Atlanta doesn’t want variety? That a truly great radio station isn’t more than music – it’s live human interaction…a brand, a lifestyle? That just because your best buddy who paid to advertise his bar says the frat boys aren’t coming out to his pub enough, that your format isn’t working? Has anyone stopped to pay attention to what the locals are saying?

So yes, I still feel passionately about this industry. I never worked for Larry or Curly Radio Groups – I can honestly say that Moe Radio Group was very good to me as an employee while I was with them in another market. All I know is when I was deeply rooted in the industry, my father said something one day that stuck with me. I was frustrated with the play list restrictions at my current gig and was contemplating quitting, getting out altogether and redeeming what I felt were “pure radio ideals.” (I swear I didn‘t have black-rimmed glasses or drink PBR at the time.) My dad said to me, “You shouldn’t quit. There needs to at least be one or two people left who are in it for the right reasons.” This from a man who managed a paint company. He wasn’t in the music industry. He was a working-class guy who was nothing more than a true music and radio fan. That’s who radio should be about. Not the ad dollars. Not what the other stations are playing. Listeners like my dad – true fans. The brand and lifestyle a great station creates. And trust me: numbers can’t calculate that. Listening to what the fans say, talking to them, getting feedback – that will calculate what you need to know.

In spring 2000, I wrote that paper, fictionally flipping 5 radio stations. At the time, Atlanta had so many various formats covered that I had to get creative. For instance, I chose “retro hip-hop” like Tribe Called Quest and Sugar Hill Gang. Another concept I had that stands out to me because it was the one that earned me that “A”: I didn’t change a thing on 96 Rock. I showed the numbers – from local eateries, concert venues, and core demographics – that proved 96.1 was an existing station that deserved to stay the same. It was a brand, with devoted listeners who came to the events, bought the merchandise, touted the stickers. There will always be a market for rock stations in Atlanta, if you look beyond the raw numbers that fly across your desk at mach speed at 8am by sales reps who are petrified of selling something that doesn’t involve the word “Autotune.”

I refuse to give up on local radio. For every person who has satellite, I know 10 more who listen locally. Or, who used to listen locally. The Atlanta listeners have spoken loud and clear. If you Google “What’s going on with Atlanta radio,” 10 pages worth of recent articles come up. Protests are popping up all over town. News stations are covering the chaos. One would think Larry, Curly, and Moe Radio Groups would pay attention.

Until then, I will rock on in memory of Radio Free Lunches. I will Live Loud and Play Hard.

Oh, and I AM 99X.

Lucifer and Fine Dining Establishments

There has been quite a bit of dispute lately regarding children in public places. The latest that I’ve seen was certain airlines choosing to put screaming children in the back of the plane, with the media referring to these areas as “baby ghettos.” Parents feel they are being discriminated against, and adults without children are pleased that they won’t have to sit next to someone else’s rugrat.

I think the issue here is clarity. It’s not that all children are to be placed in the back of the plane and forced to wear scarlet “M”s on their shirts for “Munchkin.” It’s that if your child is screaming, kicking, throwing things, and generally channeling Lucifer in the seat next to me, I’m sorry – either calm El Diablo or I’m drop-kicking him onto the wing. I don’t hate kids. I have quite a few “nieces and nephews” that I absolutely adore and fully believe they will run the world someday in the awesome manner that their Aunt Cat has begun. And you know what? Darden and Connor and Lily and the rest of this wonderful brood sit there like the perfect little angels they are whenever I am around them. They can go to a restaurant, hang out at the mall, chill at my place, and not shriek and whirl around like a berserk hyena the entire time. Therein lies the difference. It’s not all children that AWKs (Adults Without Kids) hate. It’s the hyenas.

You know which ones I’m referring to. That child who thinks spaghetti would make great performance art – all over the table next to him. The spawn of Satan who thinks the people of Botswana need to know – at an ear-piercing volume – that some child in Brookhaven, GA doesn’t want to shop anymore while her apparently deaf parent drags her around the sale racks at Dillard’s, obliviously chatting on the iPhone. The future soccer player who’s practicing for her World Cup 2025 tryouts on the back of my seat while I’m trying to read the latest “Creative Loafing” on Flight 147 to Denver. (I have no problem ruining that tryout, FYI, by “forgetting” there’s someone behind me and “accidentally” letting my seat go backwards a little quickly.)

These little banshees’ parents feel they are being discriminated against because they have children. That’s not true. They’re being discriminated against because they have the disciplining skills of a pile of bark chips. If your child behaves like a functioning member of society in public, that’s fine. Feel free to sit next to me and please share the crayons. If your child’s head is rotating and he is proclaiming the impending doom of everyone in the restaurant by shrieking in tongues and flinging pizza at hapless victims, then I have no shame telling you that you should perhaps choose an alternate family outing on this fine evening. Such as your local voodoo priestess.

I chose not to have kids yet. Someday I shall, as I owe it to my enemies to spawn at least once. But for right now, it is my choice to not have rugrats and keep my exposure minimized to small doses. My father has always told me, “We are a product of the choices we make.” As an adolescent, this phrase sent me into insane tailspins  – you mean I have to take responsibility for the fact that I accidentally bleached my hair to an alien orange tint and totaled the family Nova? I think his saying applies well here. I made the choice not add a permanent high-strung member to my daily existence at this time. As such, I make the choice not to go to Cici’s Pizza because if I do, I know I will emerge temporarily deaf with an eye twitch, tattered clothing, and pepperoni clinging to what’s left of my pulled-out hair. I make the choice not to attend a Build-A-Bear workshop, as much as I would love a custom purple bear with fabulous accessories, because I don’t want to have someone’s brat yank my super-amazing bear out of my hands, screaming “MINE MINE MINE” while her mom just smiles fondly as if to say, “Isn’t that adorable? She’s learning how to be a politician.”

Point being, I don’t frequent kid-friendly establishments because I know what’s in store. Wait for it….KIDS. Funny how that works. So please don’t bring your Four Horsemen into the five-star restaurant my boyfriend is treating me to for our anniversary and think I’m going to be okay when they decide to test the velocity of a filet mignon. Or when the entire city and parts of eastern Alabama get to hear their displeasure at being denied a second slice of tiramisu. It’s an adult establishment. If I walk into a Chuck E. Cheese and set up shop complete with a white tablecloth and three-piece jazz ensemble, feel free to bitch about my inappropriateness as well.

It’s all about respecting each other’s time and space. If you have raised your children to be respectful and not kick me and throw applesauce on my Prada bag, then awesome. I won’t drop my fettucine into your child’s diaper bag. But if your brood is behaving like a flock of future Gary Buseys infused with Charlie Sheen Brand Tiger Blood, don’t act shocked when I politely turn around in my seat and ask you to please take the spectacle to the back of the plane. It’s not that I, as a card-carrying AWK member, hate kids. I don’t hate kids. It’s that I hate yours.

Music Snobbery…I Come By It Honestly.

Many people wonder where and when I acquired the music snob gene. Was it when I tortured Valdosta on the college radio station? That would be the natural assumption, seeing as most college stations find bands like Asteroid Galaxy trendy. (Ever heard of them? My point exactly.) Any of the guys from WVVS circa 1998 will tell you, however, that I was far too mainstream for their tastes. Utopia, my radio show, featured Sponge? Refreshments? Nada Surf? MATTHEW SWEET?? Gasp! I was so trendy in their eyes I might as well have traipsed around in JNCO jeans and blasted No Doubt out of my dorm room. A Dave Matthews tank top might have completed the image.

Trust me, if you think I’m a music snob, those guys had a special room reserved in Hipster Hades, with Manic Street Preachers and Step Kings posters on the walls and a special Radiohead comforter set.

Was it my high school friends? Ha ha! One of my best friends dreamed of marrying a rock star but couldn’t care less if he played grunge or hair metal. She dated more musicians than Pam Anderson and truly believed every song was written just for her. Including “Anthony (Kiss My Ass).” Another friend preferred the likes of the Mamas and the Papas, the Fifth Dimension, or anything that sounds right played around a bonfire by twirling people named Moonbeam and Sun Archer. And the crowning achievement was the friend with the black Camaro and ridiculous bass, the kind of booming amps where every five minutes or so you could make out “Lemme ride that dunky dunky” and the rest of the time was occupied by the sound of imploding Plexiglass as you clung for dear life to the door handle, certain the vehicle was within mere moments of destroying itself, door by door, until there sat nothing but a Camaro skeleton and two hapless flannel-clad high schoolers at the intersection of Stone Mountain and Scenic Highways. With the bass still blasting, tweetering away. It was like South Central meets Redneck Riviera.

If college was a blue state, high school was so red it might as well have been Texas.

I hear many of my Southern-bred cohorts bemoan their social and pop culture restrictions growing up, especially concerning music. Rock was the devil! Bring on the Osmonds! Debby Boone! Anne Murray! Anything harder – paging those heathens in ABBA – could corrupt young minds into wearing white leisure suits and too much Love’s Baby Soft.

I can only imagine what neighbors growing up must have thought of my household. My mother’s tastes, by Partridge standards, were edgy enough – Motown and Donovan? It was all a shameful downward spiral of teased-up Aquanet and fringed vests. So I’m assuming my dad’s records would have sent Betty and Bob next door into coronary arrest. Routinely I was lulled into my afternoon nap by the soothing stylings of the Stones, Skynyrd, and the Doobie Brothers. My dad played air drums to Genesis. He saw the Beatles and the Kingsmen live. Twice. My dad would have no idea what to do with a guitar. He might try to frame it. But he can tell you within five seconds of any rock song from the ‘60s and ‘70s who sang it, what year it came out, and his favorite verse. Maybe even the maternal maiden name of the bass player. I haven’t thrown that one out there yet.

My dad has always had a blatant distaste for pop music. Back in the 80s, Atlanta was the proud home of an oldies station called Fox 97. (Oldies = Played in every furniture store and dental office within a 100 mile radius to ensure innocent patrons forevermore associate sharp objects poking into their gums and paisley sofa beds with Jan & Dean.) My dad likened Fox 97 with internal bleeding of the ear canal. To him, if Frankie Avalon could shimmy to it on a beach, it wasn’t really music. And even when pop music replaced flailing 1960s teens on the Jersey Shore with flailing 1980s teens in shopping malls, it was all still one big aural aneurysm to him.

Hence his horror when the daughter he had faithfully raised on a steady diet of ZZ Top, Paul Simon, and CCR bought herself, using two weeks worth of lunch money, the new Debbie Gibson tape. Bear in mind I was ten years old. TEN. This is an age when you think slime and mutant turtles rock. Not Keith Richards.

Weekend after weekend, my father patiently endured as I happily bopped in the passenger seat of his Chevy Blazer to such critically acclaimed hits as “Electric Youth” and “Shake Your Love.” Until, of course, that fateful Saturday. I don’t know if it resulted from having to fend off rabid Home Depot shoppers with a tazer that afternoon, ingesting one too many sausage biscuits that morning at A&J Tasty Pig Barbeque (I couldn’t make that name up if I tried), or too much verse-chorus-verse a la Deborah “Don’t Call Me Debbie” Gibson. But in one fell swoop, Miss Gibson was unceremoniously yanked from the Blazer tape deck and chucked into the back to its imminent demise among the new lawn tools. I was thusly instructed that I was no longer allowed to listen to anything that involved a beat machine ever again in his car, and “Roadhouse Blues” became our soundtrack for the rest of the weekend.

My next tape was Motley Crue, “Decade of Decadence.” My dad bought me a new boom box in celebration. I think there may have also been a commemorative parade. I’ll check the Gwinnett County records.

So for anyone wondering why I continuously chastise fully grown adults for assaulting their ears along with anyone’s within shooting range with the likes of Fergie and whatever “Lil” rapper is muttering about hos & grills over skating rink music these days, blame my dad. If I was forced to admit my music blew like Katrina when I was all of a decade old, certainly people twice that age should recognize nails on a chalkboard when they hear it.

Even my father has his moments though. A Bee Gees record mysteriously appeared in our Louisville home when I was four years old, and he refuses to discuss it. And one summer afternoon, we were cruising around Atlanta on his motorcycle when suddenly, we crossed into an alternate dimension of hell as what I mistook as a homicidal goat came bleating out of his speakers and I realized my dad had downloaded….I can barely write this without weeping uncontrollably….a Creed single.

Please give me a moment…..okay, thank you.

So the next time he rode in my car, I took special care with the musical selection that afternoon. I sifted through my extensive CD collection of Massive Attack, Drill, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Spirit, the Kinks, Melissa Auf Der Maur, the Ramones, Dot Allison, and Torsion. What would be our soundtrack for the afternoon?

After careful consideration, I burned an entire CD of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. And made him listen.

I mean, Creed? Really. We music snobs have to have our standards.

Tornados and Sinkholes

I have apparently relocated myself to an extremely volatile part of the country. Atlanta, of course, was unpredictable in its own right, what with crazed AK-wielding SUV drivers during rush hour (rush evening, rush day, rush week) and the possibility that one morning you may have woken up and where your yard once was now proudly housed a brand-new twenty-store strip mall complete with a Publix and condominium complex. Southern Kentucky, however, boasts two treacherous qualities that have me cowering in fear every time I hear a rumble in the distance.

Tornadoes and sinkholes.

Many people who are not from this area are unfamiliar with sinkholes. Essentially, they are big gaping holes in the earth that open up directly into the caves beneath Kentucky, which roughly stretch to Elk City, Idaho. The entire central section of Kentucky is teetering on only 250 feet of rock. True story. Even better, Bowling Green sits a whopping 150 miles from the New Madrid Fault, which the Discovery Channel says is mere minutes from rocking the entire east coast into a limestone and redneck-riddled oblivion.

They’re everywhere. One swallowed up half of I-24 this past May. Not some remote dirt road leading to Big Bubba’s Chicken Farm and Bait Shack. A major Eisenhower-crowned interstate. Entire sections of Nashville sunk in the caves below, like one big country-fried Titanic. A yawning cavern is currently opening up across the street from my house, complete with a new baby sinkhole in the middle of it. They’ve become self-aware! They are breeding! Sinkholes will open up anywhere, without a moment’s notice. They don’t care if you’re in a trailer park out in cattle country or if you’re hanging out in the backyard of your suburban home, cooking out with the family.

Grandma: “Honey, could you bring me a hot dog off the grill?”

WHOOMP!! “AAAAIIIIEEE!!!”

Little Billy: “Where’s Grandma? And when did we get an inground pool?”

The locals are unfazed by the possibility that within 2 seconds they could plummet to their dooms, condemned to warding the evil cave-dwelling humanoid descendants of previous sinkhole victims. And hordes of mutant cave crickets, which I’m convinced are the result of a covert government operation involving grasshopper DNA and a Yeti. In fact, most of the residents I’ve spoken with about sinkholes find them very handy, as they appear to eliminate the need for a trash compactor. Yes, tourists to our lovely area will be amazed and delighted at the natural wonder of our Mammoth Cave sinkholes, complete with a wide assortment of kitchen appliances and washing machines for your shopping convenience. My own grandfather owned a farm in Allen County to our south and stored a vast array of tractor tires in his property’s sinkhole. (He unfortunately was too old to know what “biodegradable” means.) In fact, last summer Allen County collected over 25,000 tires from sinkholes. Think of the tire races such a drive could support! Another local lady started a multi-million dollar antique mall and thrift store by collecting major household appliances…from sinkholes. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

Apart from wearing a crash helmet at all times like the brother from “There’s Something About Mary,” there’s very little I can do about the possibility of being swallowed up by the caverns sitting less than 100 feet beneath my apartment. Besides, wearing crash helmets 24-7 always leads to other, crazier habits such as shouting obscenities at important intersections and collecting hundreds of cats and naming them all Fluffy, and I’m just not ready to go there yet. Give me a few years.

And then you have tornadoes. Sinkholes, I feel I need to explain my fear to the average bystander. Tornadoes, not so much. Unless that average bystander is a Kentucky native. I don’t know if it’s that hardy Daniel Boone lineage or too much diesel exhaust to the head, but Kentuckians are more afraid of New Yorkers than they are of tornadoes. Have you ever heard a tornado siren? It sounds identical to the warning bell in the video game “Silent Hill,” just before everything begins to melt and the post-apocalyptic burning monsters emerge from the walls to eat your face off. On top of this horrifying aural assault, the sky turns green. Not pretty fresh-cut-daisy green, but possessed-demon-girl-from-“The-Exorcist” green. Hearing a tornado siren for the first time is like experiencing one of the plagues of Egypt.

So what do Bowling Green natives do when the tornado sirens start blaring from every town within a five-county radius? Do they seek refuge in one of the extensive storm shelters made available in our area? Do they scream in terror and retreat into the nearest enclosed facility?

No. The idiots go outside.

I figure it’s Darwinism at work. “Look, Ma! The pretty cloud looks just like tobacco smoke! AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!” One more ruthless-and-toothless out of the gene pool. The proudest example of this genius is at our local mall. Twice now, as the sirens have gone off, all of the mall’s patrons were forcibly herded into the food court by sheriff’s deputies like a cattle drive. Why forcibly? Because they won’t go willingly. It’s much more important to Kentuckians to purchase that pair of Coach heels because, if the F-4 comes and takes them away, at least they will be discovered in Oklahoma wearing a fabulous pair of shoes. As the sirens went off last April and no less than 5 tornadoes were spotted within 20 miles of our fair city, one woman refused to leave Lifeway Christian Bookstore until the panicked employee engraved her Bible. Can you imagine explaining that at the Pearly Gates?

St. Peter: “Why are you here before your time?”

Soccer Mom: “I had to get little Bobby’s name on his Bible before the tornado came.”

St. Peter: “We do not allow masochists here before the endtimes. Enjoy your stay in purgatory.”

We now have the answer as to where ghosts come from. Bear in mind, of course, these are the same people who faithfully, every morning before the department stores open, are waiting desperately to get in and shop, plastered up against the doors and running their bloody hands down the glass like “Dawn of the Dead,” chanting, “Khaaaaakiiiiis….khaaaaakiiiis.”

All things said, I feel I am well within my rights to be terrified of Mother Nature’s wrath upon my new home state. If I’m not getting sucked up into the void by an F-3, I’m getting sucked down into the caves. So if someday I disappear with no forewarning, put your ear to the ground and listen close, or check for a crazed blonde wearing a crash helmet in Kansas. I may be one step closer to the houseful of Fluffys.

Falling Down – A Case Study in Grace

There are a couple of names that my parents contemplated bestowing upon me. I think the ever popular Jennifer was one of them. I know you almost came this close to addressing yours truly as Elizabeth. Funny, however, that “Grace” wasn’t on that list. I do know both of my parents have a glorious sense of humor, and that name attached to my birth certificate would have sent anyone I know to the ER for rupturing their spleen due to uncontrollable laughter. Seriously, my parents would have been known as the greatest serial killers since Jack the Ripper. Cat is ironic enough – aren’t they supposed to at least land on their feet?

The ability to do two things at once – as in, walk and breathe – doesn’t come naturally to my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother was the picture of Hollywood elegance and beauty. Every man in Allen County back in the day fought to get her attention. And I’m sure she certainly had theirs…particularly when she would run face-first into a doorjamb. My mother is dealing with her second broken foot due to her cat – first from tripping over a root to catch him, and currently because he walked in front of her wrong. So she says. Only my mother and Max know the true Behind the Music on that one.

And then you have me. At least Grandmama and Mother had and have the prudence to keep their lack of physical polish safely contained, for the most part, in the privacy of their own homes. Leave it to Cat to find the most publicized, locally and nationally beloved landmarks and events in which to display my magnificent klutziness. It all began when I was five years old and took a superb swan dive into an orchard pond on a kindergarten field trip in Louisville. I’m sure it looked amazing to all involved: “Miss Judy, isn’t that the skinny girl with the blonde Dorothy Hamill, flailing around wildly in the mud by the pond? Oh! There she goes.”

High school wasn’t any better. Bloodied my knee on homecoming night in downtown Atlanta, to the delight of corporate suits and major rap stars? Check. Ran smack into a glass sliding door at my stepfather’s family reunion in front of half of Lithonia? Check. Ate linoleum in the South Gwinnett commons area where everyone gathered my senior year before classes started? Check. How I lived into my twenties is beyond me. Surely I must have evaded death a ridiculous number of times, a la “Final Destination” – I’m sure I was a prime candidate for accidentally mixing two important elements together from the periodic table in chem class – like francium and helium or whatever – and instantly disintegrating myself like something off of a bad Saturday night Syfy Network movie. Of course, I would make sure to trip over the lab stool first before stumbling headlong into oblivion.

At least in college I learned to have a sense of humor about it. My roommate Ivey used to call me whenever she took a tumble. She thought it was the greatest thing since taquitos.

Ring ring! “Hello?”
“Cat? This is Ivey.”
“Aren’t you at work?”
“Cat, I fell down! Hahaha!”
“That’s awesome. Don’t you work at Blimpie next to a five-foot automatic meat slicing device?”
“Yes! But I FELL DOWN! Bwahahaha!”

Luckily, Ivey is still with us. She doesn’t call me every time she falls down anymore. She may not have enough minutes on her phone.

The gracefulness only improved in my twenties…at least in the sense that the publicity with which I fell gained importance. You see, someone with my physical skills is much more suited in a relaxed career field, as in one where you sit in a cube and don’t move until you have to or else your bladder may explode. But not me. Nope, this cosmopolitan social butterfly had to pick one of the most locally high profile jobs known to mankind. Radio – aka, spending gads of high-quality time with famous rock stars who are too high to know they should help you up and not point and laugh hysterically. Case in point: Hanging out at the side of the stage while Velvet Revolver was playing to a crowd of thousands. Yes, Velvet Revolver with Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses, who happened to be performing within ten feet of me. I felt the most appropriate place for a klutz such as myself to stand would be the set of six speakers pushed together to form a podium at stage right. So that’s where I planted myself. I moved off to the side at one point to talk to a roadie, and as I returned to where I had been standing, another  – well meaning, I’m sure *ahem* – roadie took the speaker I had been using to another location. Why, I don’t know. Maybe he’d seen me bite it in the gravel parking lot and knew this was a golden opportunity to achieve his dream of winning America’s Funniest Home Videos. Either way, it was dark, and the supportive speaker I had been situated on was no longer situated in its previous location. So there I went, down for the count, face first onto the hardwood – within ten feet of Slash. Who just looked down at me and then continued his awesome guitar solo, which I’m sure was great but I couldn’t hear over the constant ringing in my ears. Alcohol? Not a bit. My only vice that night had been Mountain Dew. And if that were responsible for klutziness, the entire eastern half of Kentucky would be experiencing violent fluctuations in gravity right about now.

And then there was the time I thought slick flip-flops in the marble greatness that is Nashville’s Parthenon was a great idea. Yes, my dear readers, Greece isn’t the only city that plays home to a big shiny marble and gold replica of a mythical pagan goddess. Nashville may be a city steeped in southern Baptists and country music stars, but nothing spells Southern fried like a life sized model of the Athens Parthenon, complete with a 40-foot-tall statue of Athena.  And of course, with my love of all things tacky, I had to take millions of pictures of this awesomeness. As I was skipping away in my innocent delight of having captured photos of what may be the greatest thing since Hillbilly Golf in Gatlinburg, I completely forgot about the huge  marble staircase one must descend after paying respects to Athena – and down I went, all 26 large slick marble stairs, somehow slaloming on the way to dodge other redneck tourists like myself, with my friend Jerry tailing after me shouting “Are you okay?” When I finally came to my ultimate resting place at the base of the stairs, I could only say one thing: “Please tell me someone caught that on their phone video camera.”

Seriously, Chris Hardwick needs to put that on Web Soup. It may be my only chance to profess my undying devotion!

We won’t even discuss the office formal Christmas party, when Atlanta thermometers dropped to subzero temperatures while 200 of my closest colleagues and I, decked out in our holiday finest, toasted our myriad achievements in heated comfort at one of the finest restaurants in Midtown. As I walked to my car, my legs, immediately upon contact with the frigid air, decided to betray my trusting self and went numb, thus plummeting me in my cocktail finery over the stone wall just outside the restaurant in front of all of Piedmont Park while my illustrious coworkers watched in awe as my dress flew up over my perfectly coiffed head. Yes, we won’t discuss that. Or my permanently scarred knees.

So I bit it in front of my kindergarten class in Louisville. I bit it on the streets of downtown Atlanta, and in my high school cafeteria. I bit it in front of Lithonian rich people, and right in front of, um, Slash. And I bit it on the stairs of the Nashville Parthenon. Maybe I was attempting to sacrifice myself for Athena. Who knows. All I know is that while my grandmother and my mother at least manage to keep their physical grace safely contained in their own homes, I pick important rock stars and Greek goddesses to perform for. I’m surprised I haven’t wound up on Spike TV’s “1000 Ways to Die.”

So now as I sit here, nursing the purple bruise quickly growing to the size of a remote Midwestern state (due to the glorious swan dive I took in Asheville’s Biltmore Park this weekend), I have to wonder if it’s genetics or if one of my relatives in Scandinavia long ago severely agitated a Viking or something. “You, Sven Osbern, tripped and knocked a hole into my great Viking ship! And there isn’t even any ice! Now we must pillage and plunder in our own country! I call upon to Odin to curse all subsequent Osberns to trip and fall down in front of people of great significance!”

I suppose if we’re ever hanging out, you should maybe bring a crash helmet for me. Of anyone in Bowling Green, I’ll be the one to plunge face-first into an oncoming sinkhole or get knocked unconscious by an airborne toilet during an F-3 tornado. Or I just trip over air particles. Don’t even ask the people in the Dillard’s shoe department about my aversion to propped-up floor mirrors. At least that time Slash wasn’t around.

Bless your heart and other southern barbs

My father has always told me that it isn’t what you say, but how you say it. I’ve learned that isn’t 100% factual. Try telling that to your program director at a radio station after you’ve just announced on the afternoon drive show that the town name of Willacoochee sounds like a porn star. “But I said it with such farce and levity!” I declared. Luckily, I was allowed to keep my headphones for a few more weeks, but I did have to apologize to the locals on the air for making fun of one of their words. It’s not my fault the townspeople thought a dirty-sounding word would look great plastered across their city hall.

But I digress. In many cases, radio tomfoolery excluded, my father was right. It’s all in how you say it. When someone comments about how great a form-fitting sheath dress looks on you, that’s a compliment. When that same person looks you up and down and says, “You’re such a twig; must be nice”…not so much a compliment as a typical hidden Southern barb.

What do I mean by typical hidden Southern barb? Much like a praying mantis, a Southern woman will be as sugary-sweet as she can be, lure you in, and then CHOMP! You’ve been eaten alive before you know it. Case in point: the phrase “Bless your heart.” Anything – and I do mean anything – can be stated at a poor unsuspecting soul’s expense and as long as “bless your heart” is the coda, said unsuspecting soul is not allowed to take umbrage. Example: “I know that Billie Suzette has already gone through the change, if you know what I mean, but that tunic makes her look like she’s about to pop one out any day now! Bless her heart.”

Caution: The Bless Your Heart tactic only works below the Mason Dixon line. Try this maneuver in south Boston and your right leg will be severed from the knee down before the word “bless” is able to leave your mouth.

I, unfortunately, live in a border state. Not as in Taco Bell border, but a border state from the Civil War era and one that relates more to the Confederate side of things and, therefore, the Bless Your Heart rules apply. So when tacky, catty remarks are tossed in my direction, as long as the Coda is tacked onto the end, I have to smile and say, of all things, “Thank you.” Because that is what we Southern women do. We claw each other’s eyes out and thank each other for the privilege of doing so.

  • “Of course you’re always cold! You have no meat on your bones. Bless your heart.”
  • “Bless your heart, you could really use a cheeseburger.”
  • “Your poor little body doesn’t have a curve on it. Bless its heart.”

Think I’m making this up? Spend a day working at a department store in a southern town like I do, in a department that caters to southern women. I stopped wearing a name badge a long time ago for a couple of reasons. 1) I always flash back to that scene from “Wayne’s World” at the beginning when Wayne says, “I’ve had plenty of joe-jobs; nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way: I have an extensive collection of name tags and hairnets.” 2) If I finally do go postal and tell a customer exactly where she can put her scuffed-up shoes that she’s trying to return even though I saw her wearing them at 440 Main just last night…well, I’d rather not have the crime scene investigators know my real name. Despite all this, I may begin wearing my name badge again, if for no other reason than to remind ever-well-meaning people that my name is not “Minnie.” As in, “Skinny Minnie.” That makes my skin crawl nearly as much as hearing Kesha. Excuse me – Ke$ha.

When I do get offended, the offender will look at me as though I just announced I’m from Pluto. (Even though Pluto isn’t allowed to hang with the real planets anymore.) “I meant that as a compliment. Must be nice to be able to wear juniors clothes.” Yeah, and it would also be nice if clothes designed for 32-year-olds didn’t hang on me like Carol Burnett’s drapes and I could actually be taken seriously, but one can only dream, right?

I hope my father reads this because it is one of the rare occasions when I will publicly admit he was correct. Aside from thinking most of Hollywood actors should shut up about politics and just, I don’t know, act or something. I would purchase a billboard to announce he was correct about that. But in everyday life, it’s not the words that are coming out of your mouth so much of the time, but the vindictiveness with which you are saying them. If you think an outfit looks nice on me, thank you so much. I appreciate the genuine compliment. But if the venom dripping off your words would kill Cleopatra all over again, it’s not a flattering remark so please – don‘t pretend as though it was. Or I will go fetch my friend Riley from south Boston and get his opinion on the matter. He carries a tire iron and he knows my name isn’t Minnie. Bless his heart.