Category Archives: 30 at 30

2. Dave Matthews Band

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 2 is Dave Matthew Band.

DaveMatthewsBand30at30

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Dave Matthews Band  (sometime in the mid-90s) nor which song it was that I first heard (likely something from Under the Table and Dreaming). I do remember that DMB struck me differently than most of the music I had been listening to up until that point. I was young enough to still soak up much of top-40 pop radio yet just old enough to question if there was something more that I was missing.

Meanwhile, out in his studio, my dad was making pots while listening to B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. My dad loved jazz and blues, but it wasn’t quite palatable for a simple-minded pre-teen like myself who was simultaneously embracing Ace of Base and Shaq Diesel (seriously). In addition to becoming my second favorite band, Dave Matthews Band is largely responsible for opening the musical doors for me to explore and appreciate other types of music, particularly the jazz and blues that my dad enjoys so much.

DMB was one of the first groups that made me listen to music for something other than the lyrics. No, that’s not quite accurate. DMB’s lyrics have consistently resonated with me on a personal level. What I mean to say is that DMB’s music enticed me to listen to more than lyrics alone. Even on their studio tracks, the band’s musicianship has always stood out. Their songs are so etched into my memory that I often find myself trying to sing along note-for-note to the instrumental solos in addition to the actual lyrics.

If my memory serves me right, 1996’s Crash was the first DMB album that I actually purchased, and I quickly wore it out in my CD player. I was hooked. Today, in terms of official non-bootleg releases, I own more CDs from Dave Matthews than any other group or artist. The collection includes every studio album DMB has released as well as an assorted number of live releases that really showcases what has made DMB the concert band of my generation.

When summer rolls around, you can be sure that DMB will be touring. I first saw DMB live on June 26, 2003 at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pa., with my friend Ryan. I’ve seen them live four times in all, and although each show was at the same venue, each show was different and awesome. No two DMB performances are exactly alike, and that’s part of the thrill. Thanks to the amazing database at DMBalmanac.com,  I can look up the entire setlist from that show and pretty much any other DMB show dating back to the band’s first performance in 1991.

As I mentioned before, I own a lot of DMB music. Trying to narrow it all down into one compilation CD of my favorites was a painstaking process. More than any other band, I think that my list of tracks with DMB would likely shift somewhat if I attempted to re-do the process. With the exception of maybe The Beatles, no other group on this list would likely cause other fans of the band to complain more, telling me that I left (insert song title here) off the list. Sorry, folks. It’s my project. It’s my list. I’d love to read about your favorite DMB songs, so feel free to leave them in the comments. In the meantime, click below to read about my favorites.

Continue reading 2. Dave Matthews Band

30 at 30 List #18: Life Experiences

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Life begins at 30 is a fun slogan to put on a T-shirt, but the truth is that my life before 30 was full of meaningful and memorable moments that inarguably changed the course of my life to make me the person I am today. While a few of my milestone life moments have indeed taken place since I turned 30 last September (and others will happen in the future) the countdown of my top life experiences spans the full range of my three-plus decades of life so far.
Continue reading 30 at 30 List #18: Life Experiences

30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

It was 1998. I was a few months shy of turning 14 years old, and it was the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had recently resumed watching WWE programming regularly—it was the heart of the Attitude Era, after all—and I was intrigued by the concept of an “e-fed.” This was the America Online (AOL) dialup era, so I first learned of the concept of an e-fed while browsing messages boards on AOL. There were dozens of posts looking for people to join, but being something of a perfectionist myself, I opted to create my own organization rather than joining one of the established e-feds.

The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league's run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques.
The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league’s run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques that repeatedly confirmed my status as an amateur.

I named my e-fed the Chat Room Wrestling League (CRWL). The concept was simple. Each member would get three wrestlers. I would create the card of matches in advance and use a simulator program called Rassling 2.01 that I had downloaded to simulate the matches. Depending on my schedule I would simulate the matches on a Wednesday or Thursday night (I called the shows Wild Wednesday Wrestling and Thursday Warfare, respectively) and simultaneously post results in an AOL chat room (hence the name of the league). Members of the league would read the results in real time and be able to comment and chat with one another about the results.

When I launched the CRWL I had 16 members. In the four-plus years that I ran the CRWL, more than 200 members came and went, although there were typically between 20-30 members at any given time. Because everything was conducted online, I have no way of knowing for sure, but suffice it to say that not everyone in the league was as young as me. I understand that some people might look back on this experience and shout NERD! However, when I look back on it, I am pretty impressed with my barely-teenaged self. I started something of my own, built it from scratch, and managed the personalities of complete strangers who all wanted their wrestlers to be successful.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that the CRWL was one of my earliest formative writing experiences. Every week I was writing and producing a substantial newsletter that went out to everyone in the league. Plus, I was creating a card of matches with the hopes that it would intrigue the audience of members. Additionally, as time went on, I shifted the structure of the league to include role-playing aspects in addition to the simulations. I and other members in the league sent emails to each other written in the voice of our various wrestlers—in essence cutting our own promos the way they do on WWE television—to set up feuds and talk trash on opponents. Eventually, I began to weight things so that those who were better rpers (roleplayers, which meant that they wrote better) had better odds of winning their simulated matches. We also began working our own storylines and angles that sometimes took precedence over the simulator for the sake of telling an entertaining story. Long before I decided to major in English I was exercising my creative writing via the CRWL. In fact, I once wrote a four-part interview for my character “3-D” Devious Devon Dawson that totaled nearly 17,000 words. To this day, I’m not sure that I’ve written anything longer, and considering that I wrote it when I was 15, it still holds up pretty well.

I have managed to stay in contact on Facebook with a few people who were involved in CRWL. And it puts a smile on my face to hear that even one or two people remember the CRWL fondly as I do. Aside from those few exceptions, all that I have from the others who I have lost touch with over the years are their old AOL screen names, which are now dead ends. Nonetheless, the memories that I have of them remain. If any of them should happen to stumble upon this retrospective piece, please send me an email to say hello and let me know how you’re doing all these years later.

Being the organized person that I am, I saved a lot of information from the CRWL. Unfortunately, much of it is saved in old, unreadable file formats, or as AOL emails that I can only view now as plain text files. Unfortunately I don’t have any of my old emails from that era nor do I have any definitive documentation of when I finally shut down the league for good, so I’ll have to guess based on the old cards and newsletters that I have saved. In addition to dozens and dozens of old cards and newsletters, one of the documents I found was particularly helpful in trying to jog my memory. It’s a timeline that I made in commemoration of the CRWL’s two-year anniversary. That helps with the first half of the league’s existence. I will have to piece together everything from after July 2000 and after, but the key events of the first two years of the CRWL are all there. So, on this, the 17th anniversary of when I launched CRWL, here are 30 key dates to help me remember one of the most unique aspects of my childhood: running the Chat Room Wrestling League from 1998 to 2002.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

3. John Mayer

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 3 is John Mayer.

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John Mayer’s personal life has often overshadowed his ability as a musician and a singer/songwriter. From a series of failed high profile celebrity relationships to his occasional forays into the world of TV comedy to his infamous interviews with Playboy and Rolling Stone that turned the court of public opinion against him to health issues with his vocal chords, Mayer’s music has been mostly backstory throughout his career. Interestingly, the shift in focus seemed to coincide with a conscious decision by Mayer to shift his music from the acoustic rock/pop sound that first got him fame to a more blues-inspired sound that he felt passionate about.

Although there were some hints of Mayer’s musical direction shifting as early as 2003’s Heavier Things, Mayer made waves in 2005 when he formed the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan to play blues/rock music that was a clear diversion from what a large segment of Mayer’s pop audience was listening to on the radio. The band released a fantastic live album Try! that was adored by my dad and people like him and generally ignored by my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, and people like her.

Caught in between were people like me. Suddenly, my ears were opened to a new style of music. Previously, I had appreciated blues but it was not something I would seek out on my own or listen to over more genres that were more contemporary and popular at the time. Mayer’s decision to go against the grain probably cost him from becoming a top-level pop star, but it also cemented his status as a legit music guy. While his personal life may tell another story, professionally, Mayer was less concerned with being a star and more concerned about making music that mattered to him.

Since forming in 2005, the John Mayer Trio released just that one live album. They never produced a studio recording, and the group has only appeared together for a handful of appearances since 2006. Nonetheless, the influence of the group was felt on Mayer’s career moving forward.

Starting with 2006’s Continuum, Mayer’s solo albums have sounded significantly different than his 2001 debut Room For Squares. In addition to the blues influence, Mayer has also infused folk and country-rock in recent albums.

Without a doubt many people hear the name John Mayer and first think of the person, often in a negative way. That’s unfortunate for John Mayer the musician because at age 37 he already has an amazing discography that rivals anything anyone has produced this millennium. John Mayer the musician is one of the most influential performers of my lifetime, and I cannot wait to see how his legacy continues to evolve as he continues to mature and let his music speak for him in the years to come.

Continue reading 3. John Mayer

30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I graduated from Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) in 2007 with a BA in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. I know that sounds redundant, but “writing” meant professional writing/business writing/nonfiction whereas “creative writing” meant poetry and fiction writing. In the time since I graduated, I have done well exercising the “writing” portion of my degree. Working as a temp at Erie Insurance, a copywriter for Tungsten Creative Group, a graduate student in the secondary education program at Mercyhurst, and a blogger for Blog Talk BayHawk and D-League Digest—not to mention the occasional freelance project, I have remained consistently active in some way or another as a writer.

However, I have fallen short in my post-graduate years in the realm of creative writing. My Senior English Project at Mercyhurst was a poetry portfolio consisting of 20 poems. As I wrote as part of my academic preface:

…I hope to accomplish a few objectives in my poetry. Through a combination of persona poems and self-portrait poems, I intend to depict a complex depiction of myself (Matt). By speaking about Matt from various perspectives, including that of family, friends, impersonal observers, and myself, I plan to complicate and fragment the notion of a unified self. As one progresses through the compilation, one experiences a variety of opinions, viewpoints, snippets, segments, stories and thoughts, but has no definitive way of knowing the truth. Which speakers are reliable? Are any of the speakers reliable? Going on the assumption that at least some of the information presented in the poems is truthful, how does a reader construct an image of Matt based upon that information?

While the unknown answers to these questions help to complicate any concrete understanding of self, they also lead to the reader to draw conclusions. While they may be incapable of painting a definitive picture, certain themes and motifs resurface in multiple poems allowing the reader to attribute certain qualities and characteristics to Matt. Therefore, the ultimate goal of my poetry is not for the reader to find out the answer to the age-old question: Who am I? Instead, the compilation of poetry functions in a way that urges the reader to render a version of myself in their mind. Since no two readers’ minds are the same, each is likely to form a slightly different final product from his or her perceptions. Thus, the title rings true as this compilation of poetry creates Renditions of My Self.

The persona and self-portrait poems that made up Renditions of My Self were written more than eight years ago. When I began compiling this list of my favorite poems that I have written, I had two surprising realizations. First, I was impressed to realize that I have written and saved nearly 200 poems dating back to my senior year of high school. I am sure there are dozens more that were lost over the years. The second thing I realized was that since that Senior English Project I have written less than 10 poems on record.

It is understandable that I would not write at the same prolific rate that I did in high school and college when the muses of love and dating and teenage angst produced some stereotypically bad teenage lines of poetry. Still, writing less than a poem per year is disappointing to say the least, especially since I think my more recent efforts—rare as they may be—show a more mature, developed use of language.

Having said that, there are a lot of gems that I found while reading through my old poetry archives. My hope is that this act of re-reading and sharing some of my past work will also inspire me to exercise my creative writing poetry muscles more as I progress in my 30s. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written

30 at 30 List #15: Songs

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

What qualifies a song as a personal favorite? The answer to that question is different depending on who you ask. For some music listeners, favorite songs come and go like seasons. Often times people will answer that question with their favorite song right now. Ask them again in a month and they will have moved on a new tune.

For others, favorite songs are like tools to a handyman. They have a favorite hammer, a favorite wrench, a favorite saw, etc. Similarly, these people have a favorite workout song, a favorite meditation song, a favorite song to dance to, and a favorite song to sing with. But asking them to name their favorite song is like asking parents to name their favorite child.

There is no single, definitive, right way to think about favorite songs. It is a seriously challenging task—seriously, try it! But for me, when I was trying to compile this list of my 30 favorite songs, I found myself falling back on two primary criteria: lyrics and context.

The vast majority of songs that made the final cut to appear on this list made it because they have personally meaningful lyrics that resonated with me at a particular time during my life. It also should not come as a surprise that many of these songs were songs that I listened to in my late teens and early 20s. In fact, there is some scientific evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we hear during that stage of life. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern’s article “Neural Nostalgia: Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?” explains this concept in more detail and is definitely worth reading in its entirety. In the article, Stern writes:

The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.

Music plays two roles in this process. First, some songs become memories in and of themselves, so forcefully do they worm their way into memory. Many of us can vividly remember the first time we heard that one Beatles (or Backstreet Boys) song that, decades later, we still sing at every karaoke night. Second, these songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music that plays during our first kiss, our first prom, our first toke, gets attached to that memory and takes on a glimmer of its profundity. We may recognize in retrospect that prom wasn’t really all that profound. But even as the importance of the memory itself fades, the emotional afterglow tagged to the music lingers.

Understanding that many of these songs have been etched into my memory and become indelible pieces of the Matt Hubert life story, it’s reasonable to think that many of the sane songs that made this list today would also crack my list of top 30 songs 10, 20, or 30 years from now. But testing that theory will have to wait for another day in the future. For now, read on to check out my favorite 30 songs of all-time.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #15: Songs

30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

When I was younger, I had a dream that is common among children. I wanted to grow up to become a professional athlete. To be more specific, I wanted to play in the NBA. By the time I was cut from the varsity basketball team as a junior in high school, it was pretty clear that I was not going to realize that dream.

There are numerous reasons why that dream did not pan out. Genetically, the odds were not in my favor. My dad is the tallest guy in the family, yet at 6’3″ tall, he is the size of most point guards in the NBA. I never even made it to 6 feet. Then there was the work ethic. I loved playing basketball, but I did not necessarily love every aspect of becoming a better basketball player. Shooting was a strength that I practiced regularly. However, I focused less on other facets of the game, including strength, speed, and endurance that would help me on the defensive end of the court. I realized that I did not have what it took to be an NBA star, but my passion for basketball remained strong.

My parents were not diehard sports fans. There are photos of me as a child wearing NFL team apparel of the Steelers, Browns, 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and Seahawks, and probably others that I cannot remember. My dad was (and is) a Detroit Lions and Tigers fan but also a Los Angeles Lakers fan. My mom was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but otherwise generally sided with dad.

By the time I hit first grade, I had a budding passion for sports, especially basketball and football. I latched on to the Los Angeles Lakers (the only team my family agrees on), the Oakland (then Los Angeles) Raiders, the Michigan Wolverines, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the Oakland Athletics. I was hooked.

When the teachers gave a creative writing assignment, I wrote about sports. When we had to give a speech or presentation, I researched a professional athlete or commentator. I read about sports, wrote about sports, and then came home and watched them on TV. Because I was too young to stay up and watch all of the late games back then, I began every morning began with SportsCenter to fill me in on who one and who lost as well as to see the highlight plays.

By the time my NBA-playing dreams died in high school, I was a sports fanatic. My calendar revolved around the sports calendar—again, especially pro and college football and pro and college basketball.

The first 30 years of my life have been filled with memorable sports moments, including some I wish I could forget. So why is it that I spend so much time watching games?

One major part of it is the thrill of competition. Every blowout seems worth it for those magical matchups that go down to the wire and end on a last second score. Great games and magical moments are key components, but those games and moments don’t just happen.

Perhaps the most significant part of sports, at least for me, is not the game or the moment but rather the people who win the games and make the moments happen. The players are the most compelling reason why I watch. Whether it is a dominant performance of a superstar or a key contribution from an unheralded role player, I love watching how athletes perform on the grand stage. Perhaps it is my way of living out my unrealized dream vicariously through them. Or maybe it is just a fascination with knowing how hard it is to make it to the Division 1 college or professional level in sports that keeps me so captivated by what they do game in and game out.

Whatever the explanation is, I am the sports fan I am today because of the athletes I have cheered for over the past three decades. While I know that my sports fandom will take on new characteristics as I enter the next phase of my life, I also know that I will pass on stories of the athletes listed below to my future children. Without further introduction, here are my top 30 favorite athletes of my life so far. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #14: Athletes

4. Kanye West

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 4 is Kanye West.

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With apologies to Eminem, Kanye West is probably my most controversial inclusion on this list, especially ranking as high as he does. Kanye West is a polarizing figure who over the past 10-15 years has grown from little known beat-maker, to well-known rapper to full-blown celebrity. Love him or hate him, if you pay any attention to pop culture in 2015, you likely have an opinion about Kanye West.

So what is it about Kanye West that attracts so many fans and so many naysayers? How is it that one man is simultaneously praised as a genius and despised as a cancer. In a word: Ego.

Rembert Browne wrote an article in February titled “We Love (And Hate) Kanye West Because He Says What We Think,” in which he astutely observed the following:

What Kanye has managed to do is unlike anyone else. He’s not a divider. It’s not that black people love him and white people hate him. Or men love him and women hate him. Or rap fans love him and non-rap fans loathe him. Or young people love him and old people despise him. Or even that Democrats love him and Republicans think he’s the absolute worst.

He’s found a way to rub large segments of every demographic the wrong way. Even Kanye West fans are split on the public persona of Kanye West. There are few things like it.

The polarized response to Kanye is similar to that of another public figure who Kanye name-drops in his verse on the “Ego” (Remix) embedded above, a certain NBA superstar that shares some common character traits with Mr. West: Kobe Bryant.

Like Kanye, Kobe has a loyal legion of fans who will passionately defend him against any negative comments. And like West, there is also never a shortage of negative comments being made in reference to Bryant. (Seriously, if you want to lose faith in rational human interaction, search Twitter for “Kanye West” or “Kobe Bryant” at pretty much any time of day or night.)

Both West and Bryant are undeniably gifted. Kanye West is both critically and commercially one of the most successful hip hop artists of all-time. Similarly, Kobe Bryant is statistically one of the most impactful players in NBA history and his starring role in five NBA championships puts him in the discussion among the games all-time greats. You can argue where Kanye and Kobe fall in the all-time pecking orders of their respective crafts, but they have accomplished to much to be left out of the discussion regardless of whether you like them or not. (There are also people who are entirely dismissive of the NBA as a genre of basketball and/or rap as a genre of music, but I’ll table those arguments for another day.)

The anti-Kanye camp and the anti-Kobe camp have many of the same gripes. Their complaints center around one of the most compelling questions in celebrity culture, an issue that likely has a different answer depending on who is being asked. Should celebrities be judged based on their work, their life outside of their work, or some combination of both? And if it’s the latter, what is the formula that determines such a criteria?

The biggest complaints about Kanye and Kobe are rarely about what they have accomplished in music or basketball. Generally, the complaints about them are about the perceived character flaw of hubris that they share. “Pride comes before the fall,” say the haters, as they wait with bated breath for Kanye and Kobe’s fall from stardom.

The criticism is not entirely without merit, especially if our celebrity approval rating factors in life outside of work. Unfortunately for Kanye and Kobe, if life outside of music and basketball is a significant part of the equation, Kanye and Kobe will always have their critics. Because like it or not, the same reason people hate them is what makes them great.

Kanye West and Kobe Bryant are special for a reason. Kanye West is more than a good rapper. He is a musical pioneer who Paul McCartney recently compared to John Lennon. Kobe Bryant is more than a good basketball player. He is a basketball savant, obsessed with perfecting his craft. However, the greatest strength of Kanye West is not his ability to rap. And the greatest strength of Kobe Bryant is not his ability to score a basketball. The greatest strength of both Kanye and Kobe is their unwavering self-belief. In Kanye’s mind, he is the best rapper alive. In Kobe’s mind, he is the best basketball player alive. Do they sometimes blur the lines between confidence and cockiness? Absolutely. But their belief does not have an off switch.

We live in such a celebrity-obsessed culture. Our society places great demand on our celebrities: musicians, athletes, and entertainers. We want our celebrities to aspire to greatness and, in turn, to inspire us to greatness. Yet we also want our celebrities to be selfless and humble before, during, and after they have achieved said greatness. Fans are willing to forgive a litany of celebrity sins from performance enhancing drug use to infidelity, but if they deem certain celebrities are being selfish or self-centered, they will turn on them or tune them out.

The character foil for Kobe Bryant is Tim Duncan. They came into the league one year apart and both undoubtably will be first ballot Hall of Famers. Both have won five NBA championships. Bryant is 17-time all-star, 4-time All-Star Game MVP, 1-time NBA MVP, and 2-time Finals MVP. Duncan is a 15-time all-star, aa 1-time All-Star Game MVP, a 2-time NBA MVP, and a 3-time Finals MVP. Bryant has played his entire career in the bright lights of Hollywood for the Lakers while Duncan has played his entire career in small market San Antonio for the Spurs. Unlike Kobe Bryant, no one hates Tim Duncan. He is universally respected as the consummate professional and ideal teammate. Is Duncan better than Bryant? Is Bryant better than Duncan? Which player has been the NBA’s best of the 2000s? It is a debate that fans will have for years to come.

It’s less clear who the character foil is for Kanye West. Who is the Tim Duncan of rap? Will Smith? Nas? Rap is more of a brash, in-your-face genre. Perhaps looking more broadly at music in general, someone like Beyoncé would be a more apt comparison as someone with a higher Q score. Everyone would agree Kanye is a better rapper than Beyoncé and Beyoncé is a better singer than Kanye. There is no argument there. But if the question was framed as: who has had a bigger impact on music, Kanye West or Beyoncé? That sets up for a more interesting debate.

As a fan, I am generally willing to overlook minor character flaws in celebrities—such as a lack of humility—especially when the artist/athlete in question would arguably not be as successful without that characteristic. Of course I believe there are some aspects of an artist’s or athlete’s life that cannot be overlooked. There are some personal lines that cannot be crossed without overshadowing professional successes. In general, however, I prioritize the performance over the player and the art over the artist. And that is why I have no trouble ranking Kanye West as my fourth favorite musical artist of all-time.

Continue reading 4. Kanye West

30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If there is one musical medium that defines me as a 30-year-old, it is the compact disc. I have an entire tower of more than a thousand CDs (and counting) occupying a corner of my living room. Sure, I have fond memories of listening to my dad’s vinyl records, especially Billy Ocean’s Love Zone and Bobby McFerrin’s Simple Pleasures. And yes, the first music I ever owned was Ace of Base’s The Sign on cassette tape. However, it wasn’t until the CD era, that my appreciation for music took off and became a passion.

By the late 90s, I had already followed in my father’s footsteps, joining CD mail-in clubs to jumpstart my collection. Just as my collection was starting to grow, Napster burst onto the scene. Suddenly, digital music was all the rage. Although I admittedly downloaded music during that wild west time period when no one really thought twice about the legality or ramifications of online piracy, I also continued buying CDs. While I liked the instant access that Napster offered—anything free was great for a 15-year-old kid without an income—I was a purist at heart. I liked listening to an entire album and discovering a new favorite song that wasn’t necessarily a radio single.

If you’re slightly older than me, you may have dabbled in the mixtape era, dubbing individual songs onto a cassette tape. Aside from a few cassettes of songs that I recorded from the radio, the mixtape era predated my music obsession. Had I been a teen in the 80s, I no doubt would’ve spent countless hours painstakingly putting mixtapes together. Instead, as the 90s came to a close, my older cousins showed me the newest piece of technology that came with their new computer: a CD burner. I was in awe. A CD burner meant the best of both worlds: the freedom to pick and choose your favorite songs and the power to organize them all in a way that made sense to you. Keep in mind that iTunes and the iPod were still more than a year away from being created at this point in history. The CD burner took the mixtape to a whole new level, and I wanted in. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #13: Matt’s Mixes

5. Ingrid Michaelson

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 5 is Ingrid Michaelson.

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I have watched exactly one of the more than 240 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (the season three finale). While I knew next to nothing about the characters or the plot, that climactic scene of that dramatic episode featured a never-before-heard song, “Keep Breathing” by a then-unknown artist, Ingrid Michaelson. That episode aired on May 17, 2007. Although that was only 8 years ago, the world was clearly a much different place because I remember scouring the Internet unsuccessfully trying to find the song to download it.

Before I eventually found a low-quality recording of the song from the show, I stumbled on to Ingrid’s 2006 album Girls and Boys on MySpace and instantly knew she was more than a one hit wonder, at least to my ears. The Grey’s Anatomy spot was her first major breakthrough, but when “The Way I Am” was used in an Old Navy ad, Ingrid’s career really began to take off. Despite lacking a major music label, Michaelson was making the transition to mainstream success. “The Way I Am” is simple and short, but it’s so sweet and singable that it climbed as high as #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

A multi-talented singer/songwriter, Ingrid plays piano, guitar, and ukulele, but it is her voice that stands out as her most potent instrument. She has a beautiful voice and a tremendous way with melody that allows her to take simple song constructions and make them sound epic.

I have seen Ingrid perform live twice, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, 2007, and in Cleveland on October 30, 2009. In addition to showcasing her musical ability, the live shows allow Ingrid’s charming personality to shine through. Her banter between songs with the audience resonates with a warmth and humanity reflective of someone who clearly does not feel she is above her fans. Both shows had a very communal feel, as if those who were in attendance were in on a shared secret. I’m sure the size of her shows has grown since then, but the heart of her shows remains unchanged. Ingrid remains connected with her fans via social media, and she maintains that girl-next-door sweetness even though she is now a well-established performer.

Continue reading 5. Ingrid Michaelson