41 Favorites: #7-9

For my 40th birthday I jotted down a list of some of my favorite things to spur a
series of occasional posts. My aim was to periodically knock out brief entries that cover a variety of subjects, as I'd been retreating from new content due to frustration with the constant gremlins. Heh.

That was two years ago. I had to switch the title from 40 Favorites to 41 Favorites in 2011 and I've only added three installments to the series since then — including this one. Sunday, I'll need to renumber the series again.

But enough of my penchant for omphaloskepsis; I'd prefer to talk about...

7. coffee

Oh, I loves me the coffee.

To many folks it's merely a delivery system for a vital dose of caffeine, and I'm not
above using it that way myself — albeit for a slightly different reason than most. While caffeine is a vasoconstrictor that's often very helpful in alleviating migraines I'm among the minority for whom it's a soporific rather than a stimulant; I might technically get
a brief jolt from it neurologically, if you were to look at a brain scan or something, but I'll begin to get sleepy from a cup of strong coffee in short order. (I've gone off of caffeine entirely in the name of eliminating potential rebound or caffeine-withdrawal headaches from the picture, twice, and the tradeoff wasn't worth it. Migraines still abound. It's way better to have caffeine in the arsenal even though going too long without caffeine after regular caffeine intake will probably trigger a headache itself, easily rectified by popping open a Coke.)

What's essentially great about coffee, to me, is the combination of the aroma, flavor, and warmth — and/or chill; I enjoy iced coffee equally, given the right setting, as I've written about previously. As I also wrote in that post, coffee is nicely combined with other flavors, hazelnut and almond being tops on my list. I'm definitely a cream-&-sugar guy — which strikes some coffee purists as just wrong, I know — both for the
taste and because I like my coffee to have a bit of body to it. Lattes are heaven.

I've been told that I brew a good pot of coffee, and I'll take the compliment, but I'm a disaster with the French press so I stick to filters.

8. cover songs

Despite my affinity for them, I'm surprised to see that the "cover songs" label on this blog had already been applied to over a dozen posts. It surely helped that I became obsessed with The Sing-Off.

Some of the best-loved, most fondly remembered pop tunes from my childhood were/are cover songs purely by happenstance, but while I'm not sure how far back my fondness for such reinterpretation as a creative enterprise unto itself goes I definitely have a particular, one could say peculiar, admiration for turning a song on its ear and making it just as good if not better. There are plenty of ways to do this — by stripping the arrangement down or building it up, changing the tempo, going from electric to acoustic, etc.

The other day I heard a fascinating reggae version of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop
'Til You Get Enough" and — here's what's so compelling about covers to me — it would probably have sounded cool on its own but it was so much more interesting because of what I brought to it from having heard the original, my expectations getting pleasantly reinforced at some points and at others just as pleasantly confounded.

I groove to the Billie Holliday ballad and the Marcels doo-wop versions of "Blue
Moon". I'm head over heels for Lick the Tins' pennywhistlicious "Can't Help Falling in Love with You" as popularized on the 1987 Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack, which is simply outright awesome, but also delighted with David Bowie's mightily over-wrought reworking of the 1966 Beach Boys classic "God Only Knows" on his 1984 album Tonight. I know that it doesn't touch Bill Withers' 1972 original, but I still be jammin' to Club Nouveau's 1987 cover of "Lean on Me". I find Weird Al Yankovic's Stars on 45 parody medley "Polka on 45" and its sequels absolute genius.

There is a drop-dead gorgeous cover of Roy Orbison's legendary 1961 song "Crying" performed a capella, in Spanish, as "Llorando" by Rebekah Del Rio in the 2001 David Lynch film Mulholland Drive.

Sometimes artists cover their own songs, to varying levels of success. The first time I was aware of this was probably when Neil Sedaka, himself an upcoming entry in this series, rerecorded his 1962 hit "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" as a ballad for his 1975 album The Hungry Years, with a brief snippet of the original leading into it as if playing on the radio then quickly fading out as Sedaka's piano began. Sting's revamped "Shadows in the Rain" on his 1986 album Dream of the Blue Turtles actually outclasses The Police's 1980 original, in my opinion. Eric Clapton's 1992 unplugged rendition of "Layla" doesn't possess the fierce urgency of his 1971 original with Derek and the Dominos — nor its gorgeous piano coda — but I'm happy to have both.

That only scratches the surface, and I'm sorry to forego links. I didn't want to get bogged down looking for legally legitimate recordings online. I do want to hear your own favorite cover songs in the comments, for sure.

9. crossword puzzles

You know, I thought that I'd written about crossword puzzles before, and I've discovered where; it was in my post accepting the Honest Scrap badge, wherein I revealed that I like to fill in the boxes neatly and often in specific lettering styles.

That doesn't happen as much as it once did, but neither does me exercising my brain over crosswords, period. It's hard to summon the kind of focus required for the length of time required thanks to fibromyalgia clouding my brain the way it does, although for that very reason I still try. Reading and writing being so much more of an effort than they used to be, overall, also means less time for all such pursuits — everything is harder and takes more time; it used to be that I could do some reading, get through a puzzle, and watch some television after a nice day's work, but not anymore. Finally having a functioning computer again, too, and belatedly having reliable high-speed Internet to go with it, similarly cuts into the puzzle time because there's just so much
to watch and read.

Maybe the silver lining there is that when I remember to pick up the book of puzzles from my night table and do have the focus to work on one, it feels like a treat. Among my earliest memories are my dad getting me a book of crossword puzzles that we worked on together, one that in retrospect I realize had enormously big white boxes and very few of them. Its cover was mostly yellow with what I think was a pink kangaroo. Getting myself a book of crossword puzzles on occasion carries a bit of the same thrill of nostalgia, combined with disbelief at being a grown-up now, that buying certain other things or visiting certain places myself, without my parents or grandparents, carries.

I've never quite been on the New York Times bandwagon, at least partly because the reliance on words that only appear in crossword puzzles bugged me in principle. The hometown Philadelphia Inquirer was more my speed, especially at the end of the week when the degree of difficulty offered the right kind of challenge — like chess and Scrabble, crosswords are a game that you have to play against someone, in this case the puzzles' creator, whose skill level is almost exactly evenly matched with yours for it to be enjoyable. I know people who hate them, but I've found that big Sunday puzzles with themes are straight up my alley. Merl Reagle — whose Inquirer puzzles moved to the Arts & Entertaiment section from the Sunday magazine when that was phased out, leaving me bereft since I can no longer work that small on newsprint — occasionally gets a bit too precious with special characters and the like, but I generally find that approach fun, and my mainstay for some time now has been the spiral-bound collections edited by John M. Samson for Simon & Schuster.

Next up? I may break away from the alphabetical order.

41 Favorites: #1-3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7-9 | #10 | #11


  1. 'm definitely a cream-&-sugar guy — which strikes some coffee purists as just wrong, I know


    I honestly don't care all that much (while I drink it black, my wife is a cream-&-sugar gal), though it did throw me for a loop a few years when I discovered my mother was now drinking the stuff with cream and sugar. Growing up, both my parents always drank their coffee black, no question, which became my preferred style when I started drinking.

    So when my mom announced she no longer liked it black, it was like she, I dunno, switched religions or something. In the long run, it didn't matter that much, but boy, did it shake my childhood faith in some certainties. :)

    (I do, however, enjoy the occasional latte).

    I've never quite been on the New York Times bandwagon, at least partly because the reliance on words that only appear in crossword puzzles bugged me in principle.

    Like you, when faced with the choice, I usually defer to my hometown paper's puzzle over the NY Times one they run alongside it.


  2. @Teebore: it did throw me for a loop a few years when I discovered my mother was now drinking the stuff with cream and sugar

    My dad doesn't drink coffee. My mom is mostly a little sugar, no cream. So I guess my taste came from my mom mixing a spoonful of her coffee into little table creamers for my sister and me when we were little, a tradition now carried on by my sister with her kids (although quite possibly not so much by choice as by dint of my mom doing it first and Jen rolling her eyes but going along with it).

  3. I've been informed by our blogmaster that I missed commenting on this post, and indeed I did. Blam knows that cover songs are a passion of mine too. (Coffee and crossword puzzles are great, as well, but not so much discussion topics.) That "God Only Knows" of Bowie's from Tonight is a complete howler and I can't get enough of it. Man, I'm thisclose right now to starting a blog just based on cover songs with everything that's flooding to mind.