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The 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time: A Prelude

Happy New Year! It’s officially 2020! We say goodbye to the 2010’s and enter a new decade destined for new trends and new eras of social culture.

It feels only right on a momentous year like the turn of a decade to look back and review the best of the other decades. And to me, an obsessive yet indecisive musicophile, that means doing the absolute impossible:

Ranking the Greatest Songs of All Time

best

It’s actually not that impossible. In the early 2000’s, I ranked the 100 greatest songs ever and posted in on my LiveJournal (shut up, my LJ was the best!). And again as the year turned to 2010, I ranked and posted the best 365 songs of all time on Facebook, one per day.

So 10 years later, it only feels right to revisit that idea and declare, now 33 years into my musical obsession, and find out, thrice and for all, what are the greatest songs ever. But 100 was suddenly impossible, and even trying to cut it down to 365 was harder than it was a decade ago. I had no choice to expand the range to 500.

I began by “nominating” songs that I loved and truly believed could wind up in the top 500. I made certain to only nominate my absolute favorite songs…

I somehow wound up with 2,193 “nominations”.

nuts

I briefly wrestled with the notion to make it the greatest 2,020 songs of all time (as an ode to the decade, but also making it easier to cut 173 songs rather than 1,693 of them). But I knew that was neither practical nor applicable. I decided that 500 was a nice round number, and doable within the span of a year.

The cuts began easy enough. But as I got down to about 1,300 songs, it became very difficult to keep cutting. I made playlists, listened to songs back to back trying to find the ones I loved but were overall weaker. I began this process in August, and I just barely cut the 501st song off the list right before Christmas.

There was a process to picking which songs made the list, and how they were ranked from 1 to 500. For me, a song becomes my favorite by hitting on a number of elements

  • Energy — Music has to have energy and flow. A song that doesn’t move is flat and stagnant. Don’t take this to mean quick tempo. True, fast songs have natural energy, but there’s a certain dark energy that exists in andante and moderate songs as well.
  • Emotion — There is no creative medium that expresses emotion greater than music. Not acting, not writing, but music. The best songs of all time plucks heartstrings as seamlessly as strumming a guitar.
  • Musicianship — As a musician, the construction and performance of a song is always fascinating. The bigger and more complex it is, the more fascinating it is. However, the complexity of a song needs to be necessary. A song that is unnecessarily complex can be distracting. And there is a certain beauty in musical simplicity.
  • Sentimentality — A song can evoke memories and feelings of times past. And sometimes all a song needs to be memorable is to be the score to a perfect memory.

I listen to everything, from rock to rap to classical to new wave to flamenco and everything in between. However, my favorite genre is definitely rock, and there are many variations and sub-genres of rock represented in the countdown. However, there are a few surprises peppered in between hip-hop, country, EDM, and…. neo-classical?

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Perhaps it’s a spoiler, though if you knew me at all, this won’t come as a surprise at all: the band with the most spots on the all time list is Led Zeppelin. I apologize for nothing!

zep

So how many spots does a band of historical greatness like The Beatles have on the list?

One. Just one. And the song on the list is not one you’re thinking of. It’s not an indictment on my distaste for the Beatles–they had several selections in the pool of 2000+ nominations. I only felt one really represented the Top 500.

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The oldest song on the list was released in 1958. The latest song to crack the Top 500 only needed a year and a half, released in 2018. The shortest song on the list is 1 minute, 54 seconds, and the longest is 17 minutes, 28 seconds.

This countdown is going to be taking place throughout the entire year of 2020. I will keeping track weekly Facebook (/robertjrelyea), Instagram (@rob.relyea.writer.chef), as well as making frequent updates here on the ol’ blog. But I will be dropping songs daily on Twitter (@robertjrelyea), so you can keep up with it there. I also plan on creating a continuously updated playlist for Spotify some time down the line.

Obviously, no one will truly agree with this list. This is my personal opinion with no other outside council deciding. But these 500 songs are, without a doubt, my pick for the best of all time.

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500 for 2020! Let the music play!

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The State of the Author Address, 2019

Prepare your zoot suits and flapper dresses the reemergence of the Roaring 20’s! We’ve reached the end of another decade. The 2010’s sure were … something. It’s crazy to think how quickly we’ve gone from “Inception” to “The Irishman”, from “Iron Man 2” to “Avengers: Endgame”, and from “Toy Story 3” to… “Toy Story 4”. I could make an epic post about the movies, music, and books of the past 10 years. But I’ll save that for later and instead make an epic post about the writing process this year and the last 10.

10 years ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table of my first apartment with my wife. I had just gotten home at 1:30 in the morning after a long shift at Friendly’s, and I had a five-hour shift in the backroom at Target the next morning. I was bushed, tired from working two jobs, but I still pulled out my laptop and typed away in the dark. That night I wrote the introductory chapter to what would become my second completed manuscript which turned into my second self-published novel, Burnt Hill Road. I was still two years away from declaring myself a “real author” by self-publishing my first novel, The Deathbringer. At this point, I was only taking myself seriously as a writer for a year and half, but I could feel the compulsion of a writer take over opting to sacrifice sleep for productivity.

Ten years later from sitting in a dark kitchen, I’m still mortally sleep deprived. Yet in the name of creative productivity, it’s worth it. I’ve got three novels to my name, a wealth of knowledge, and a detailed game plan to develop the best work of my writing career well into the next decade.

I had four major goals in 2019:

* Finished added material for future re-releases of three self-pubbed novels

* Completed the “blueprint” for a long running series, an urban doomsday that is operating under the work title “Why the Salmon Swims Upstream”

* Wrote the score to a music/writing hybrid project, working title: “You’re a Champion”

* Wrote the first draft of an avant garde love story, calling it “12 Months” for now.

I met 3 1/2 of those goals. And if not for a computer malfunctioning derailing my attempt at NaNoWriMo in order to finish it off, that draft would be nearing completion.

It was a writer’s worst nightmare. A computer that won’t turn on. It was no guesswork as to the reason; the laptop fell off my couch, and in a startle, my dog stepped his big paws on it. The computer still works thanks to an external monitor, but its days of being a mobile laptop are over. Thanks be to Google Drive all the files were secured in case of a real catastrophe.

(Everyone take this moment to backup your files… then back them up again!)

I’ve spent the last three years moving the chess pieces into position. 2020 is going to be the year when they finally make their move. Here are the Official 2020 Goals:

*Initiate “Balance & Ruin” online episodic novel

*Draft, edit, and publish “12 Months” with a tentative release day of October 1st.

*Finish narration on “You’re a Champion”

*30,000 words on “Why the Salmon Swims Upstream”

*1st draft on “The Game”, a stylized take on a modern horror legend

*Keep the backburner hot on projects not yet simmering

It’s ambitious, but not arduous. And with re-releases of past novels, a weekly updated online story, and potentially a new story by next fall, it could be a very loud year from me.

2020 signals a new decade, and kicks off a 10-year plan which will see me through my 30’s and into my 40’s. Hopefully, ten years from now, I will be looking back, ready to make my State of the Author Address for the year 2029, and know that the ambition early in the decade truly paid off.

Good luck, and may The Force be with you

Robert J. Relyea

Author. Writer. Wordsmith.

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Led Zeppelin 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the inception of Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.

There are very few bands who have had the gargantuan influence on the face of rock and roll as Zeppelin has. They are still revered as rock and roll legends and godfathers of heavy metal. What else can be said about them that hasn’t already been said: modern day rock and roll is, to this day, the house that Zeppelin built.

I’ve been a disciple of Robert, Jimmy, John, and John for roughly 17 of those 50 years. When I was a sophomore in high school, I purchased an unauthorized double-disc greatest hits collection, and I was a believer from the first time I gave it a spin.

In order to celebrate their golden anniversary, I gave myself the impossible task of ranking every Led Zeppelin song from amazing to pretty good (because let’s face it there are no bad Led Zeppelin tracks). While it was certainly acceptable to include their live versions (which differed quite a bit from studio versions) or unreleased Yardbird or B-sides, I limited the scope to the major label releases—sorry, Coda, that means you’re not invited either.

Here’s what I came up with. Let me know how off I am.

(And let me save you some scrolling in case you were worried: “Stairway to Heaven” is NOT #1, though it is in the top half)

#73

“Hot Dog” from In Through the Out Door

I appreciate Led Zeppelin’s willingness to spread their horizons, and this foray into rockabilly sure bounces, but it is so un-Zeppelin it’s almost a parody.

#72

“Black Country Woman” from Physical Graffiti

A mellow western style folk track that, on a monumental album like Physical Graffiti, is unfortunately often forgotten.

#71

“Candy Store Rock” from Presence

With a guitarline as jittery as the title suggests, and Plant injected some Elvis-style influence to his vocals, it’s a party in candy aisle.

#70

“Sick Again” from Physical Graffiti

Page double stacking guitarlines stands out fervently and closes out Physical Graffiti with a punchy cut.

#69

“I’m Gonna Crawl” from In Through the Out Door

In Through the Out Door is widely regarded as Led Zeppelin’s “worst” album, likely because it’s driven more by John Paul Jones’ piano and keyboard than Jimmy’s guitar. This is a step back from the typical sound, slow and wavy, but Plant’s vocals save this song from obscurity.

#68

“D’yer Mak’er” from Houses of the Holy

Legend has it that Jimmy and Robert were so inspired by Bob Marley they wanted to write and produce their very own reggae album. They laid down and recorded this track, looked at each other, and simultaneously agreed “well… that’s enough of that”. I agree… great track and they nailed the sidetracking style, but a whole album would have been too much.

#67

“Bron-Yr-Aur” from Physical Graffiti

Jimmy Page, to this day, is still regarded for the heavy riffs and crunchy gages he played; he’s often regarded as the creator of riff-rock. But he is an incredible talent with acoustic folk music as well, as this resplendent acoustic instrumental track proved.

#66

“South Bound Saurez” from In Through the Out Door

This is one particular track from their final album that could have sounded better with Jimmy’s guitarline driving the song rather than frilling over an unusually flat piano line. Plant’s vocals pull it all together.

#65

“Hats off to (Roy) Harper” from Led Zeppelin III

Full disclosure, I hated this song at first. But it has slowly begun to grow on me. The bluegrass infusion was something I did not get at first, but learned to really enjoy over time. It was yet another subversion of style that they absorbed into their sound.

#64

“That’s the Way” from Led Zeppelin III

This is probably one of the only tracks Zeppelin produced that played closer to the flowery sound of the hippy generation than the burgeoning hard rock sound they were pioneering.

#63

“The Wanton Song” from Physical Graffiti

Physical Graffiti was their sixth studio album, and they had been playing around with so many different styles by now, straying from the very style they were helping revolutionize. This track was a friendly reminder they were still the kings of heavy metal

#62

“Hots on For Nowhere” from Presence

This time they infused jazz and a smidgen of swing into their sound to create their most toe-tapping and “danceable” tracks in their repertoire.

#61

“Black Mountain Side” from Led Zeppelin I

Most people were so blown away by the heavy riffage on tracks like “Good Times, Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” they discarded Jimmy Page’s ability to play folk style. This acoustic instrumental served as a beacon foreshadowing the band’s ability to morph sounds at will.

#60

“Your Time is Gonna Come” from Led Zeppelin I

Growing up, John Paul Jones was the organ player at his church. His days of hymnal expositing paid dividends on this track.

#59

“The Crunge” from Houses of the Holy

The colorful sounds of soul were dominating airwaves, and Led Zeppelin wanted to prove they could play as well. The result was this crunchy, groovin’ appropriately titled crunge piece.

#58

“Night Flight” from Physical Graffiti

Soaring instrumentation create a perfect illusion the title dictates. Possibly the most underrated Plant vocal take in Zeppelin’s catalogue.

#57

“Tangerine” from Led Zeppelin III

Without question, Robert Plant’s best lyrics.

#56

“Down By the Seaside” from Physical Graffiti

Slow and sweeping like calm waves slapping the beach at sunset, this succinctly conjures up a relaxing day at the beach.

#55

“Dancing Days” from Houses of the Holy

Easily one of Zeppelin’s most recognizable “hits” and one of Page’s most unique riffs, sounding almost Arabian as it glides over a standard rock rhythm.

#54

“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Presence

People seem to look down on Presence as an album, and they’ll point to this track as a step down from their work on Physical Graffiti. But this track jives with a jaunty melody. Perhaps it’s the stop and go rhythm that turns some people off, but it works exceedingly well in the electric style.

#53

“In the Light” from Physical Graffiti

“In the Light” follows in the same recipe other prismatic key driven mid-tempo crooners like “Your Time is Gonna Come” and “All My Love” follows, only this one gets a heftier Bonham drumline to boost it above the others.

#52

“The Rain Song” from Houses of the Holy

The track was a nice little ballad as it was, but the addition of the strings—throwing in additional instrumentation not played by the four members was not something they practiced much—really adds depth to the track.

#51

“Out on the Tiles” from Led Zeppelin III

Page’s guitar and Jones’ bass lines never synched up in many of their tracks, but double stacking the guitar and bass playing the same line adds height to the sound and propels it to anthemic levels.

#50

“The Rover” from Physical Graffiti

Chunky and grooving rhythms and some power production create this smashing and oft-overlooked cruise rock jam.

#49

“Livin’ Lovin’ Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” from Led Zeppelin II

As churning and grooving as this track is, it gets a huge boost coming off “Heartbreaker”, so much so that classic rock radio stations often play the two together. Separately, it still stands up, drops 2 and a half minutes of maid-lovin’ rock.

#48

“Celebration Day” from Led Zeppelin III

Often times when Jimmy Page does something unorthodox or drops an unusual riff, it’s John Bonham supplying a straight forward drumline that maintains the rock and roll structure, and that’s the case here.

#47

“Four Sticks” from Led Zeppelin IV

Fun fact: this song is named because John Bonham plays the tribal-influenced drumline with four sticks—two in each hand.

#46

“I Can’t Quit You, Baby” from Led Zeppelin I

Led Zeppelin had to establish a sound in a hurry, as they were born in the wake of the Yardbirds’ demise, and they leaned heavily on blues to turn the cogs of their hard rock, Blind Willie Dixon in particular. This Dixon cover is a perfect example of the marriage of blues and rock and roll.

#45

“Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” from Led Zeppelin III

After the success of their first two albums, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant sequestered themselves in a secluded area in a cottage with no electricity to write a new batch of songs, which explains the predominantly folk direction of their third album. This twangy boot stomping front porch jam is the ripest fruit of that sabbatical.

#44

“Bring it On Home” from Led Zeppelin II

Blues with distortion.

#43

“How Many More Times” from Led Zeppelin I

Rumor has it that Jeff Beck helped Jimmy Page write this track when it was destined to be a Yardbirds song before Beck left the band. Somewhere in the annals of 60’s rock studio reels is a rendition with Beck and Page playing this song.

#42

“Moby Dick” from Led Zeppelin II

The legend of John Bonham began here. Not to be outdone, Page drops a tasty lick in the first minute before Bonham powers out a 3 minute drum solo.

#41

“Friends” from Led Zeppelin III

The unsung hero of III, “Friends” is a lyrical and vocal triumph for Robert Plant.

#40

“Custard Pie” from Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin never performed “Custard Pie” live as a band*, and that—next to the untimely death of John Bonham—may be one of the biggest travesties the band ever faced.

(*Jimmy Page and Robert Plant did a live reunion album where they performed a rendition, but it was not nearly the same without JPJ bumpin’ on the bass)

#39

“Boogie With Stu” from Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin has a series of western infused tracks, and this one takes the cake. JPJ jambling an ol’ west tavern piano line gives color and boogie to this jam.

#38

“All My Love” from In Through the Out Door

At first, it sounds like a standard, if not more subdued, love song from Robert Plant. But it takes on extra depth when you realize the lyrics are about his departed son, killed at the age of 5 by a virus. Really makes the tone of the lyrics even more melancholy.

#37

“Ramble On” from Led Zeppelin II

Robert Plant incorporating Lord of the Rings into this mega hit is everything.

#36

“Ten Years Gone” from Physical Graffiti

Brilliant as it plays on its theme of passing time and remembrance. Page’s lonely guitarline really brings Plant’s despondent lyrics to life. One can’t help but reminisce on their own time ten years (or more) behind them.

#35

“In the Evening” from In Through the Out Door

When you’re used to the hard and heavy sound Led Zeppelin revolutionized, this is about as far a step to the side as they could have taken. Synth blasts from JPJ drive the tempo, and Plant—fresh off a vocal surgery—tries a different, deeper approach. It almost sounds like a different band, but still maintains the heavy punch Zeppelin was known for.

#34

“Thank You” from Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin deflected the standard definition of a ballad in turn for their own rendition. This is the closest they got to a traditional ballad.

#33

“Going to California” from Led Zeppelin IV

As beautiful an andante folk track as they produced. This was Page’s best acoustic guitar line, and Plant’s most personal lyrics he ever wrote.

#32

“Royal Orleans” from Presence

Zeppelin added a lot of bounce and jazz formats to Presence, and no more does it show face than on this rollicking tribute to New Orleans.

#31

“What is and What Should Never Be” from Led Zeppelin II

The quiet verse-crashing chorus creates a subversive atmosphere, and allows Robert Plant to spin two vocal styles that mesh together seamlessly.

#30

“Fool in the Rain” from In Through the Out Door

Jimmy Page said on multiple occasions they never wrote music with the intention of releasing singles; they believed the entire album was important. This song is the closest they came to a bona fide single. The drumline during the accelerated bridge is some of Bonham’s best work.

#29

“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” from Led Zeppelin I

Jimmy Page’s obsession with Joan Baez made them do this rendition, and became one of the most talented and important tracks of their early career.

#28

“The Ocean” from Houses of the Holy

Arguably Jimmy Page’s most infectious riff… and that’s saying something as the guy knows a thing or two about infectious riffs.

#27

“Over the Hills and Far Away” from Houses of the Holy

Zeppelin was known for their both their heavy riff rock and their folk influenced acoustic tracks. This song succinctly marries both of the styles together.

#26

“You Shook Me” from Led Zeppelin I

Possibly the greatest example of all four members of the band dropping brilliant takes. The bridge is unequivocally the best case of instrumentation in the band’s repertoire featuring an organ solo by JPJ, a harmonica solo by Plant, and a blistering guitar solo by Jimmy. Not to be outdone, the call-and-response outro from Page’s guitar and Plant’s wailing vocal scorched record players everywhere.

#25

“Gallows Pole” from Led Zeppelin III

Possibly the greatest, least celebrated song in their catalogue. It transforms over its 5 minute run time from folk acoustic into southern rock stomp.

#24

“For Your Life” from Presence

The relaxed tempo with the beefy guitar and basslines creates a slow burn jam that sears and cuts with each elongated measure. Zeppelin were often at their best when they just jammed like a garage band, and that is on full display here. Shout out to Jimmy Page’s whammy bar here.

#23

“Houses of the Holy” from Physical Graffiti

Interesting how “Houses of the Holy” was not featured on the Houses of Holy album. “Let the music be your master/Will you heed the master’s call?”

#22

“The Lemon Song” from Led Zeppelin II

If you ever want to hear John Paul Jones’ legacy as a bassist in one song, just play this song, and listen real close on the bridge. Best JPJ bassline in Zeppelin’s history.

#21

“The Battle of Evermore” from Led Zeppelin IV

Robert Plant’s love of fantasy novels and mythology created this amazing celtic acoustic jam that paired him with Sandy Denny describing a vicious battle between knights, dragons, sorcerers, and fantastical elements befitting of Middle Earth. Also, single handedly the reason I want a mandolin.

#20

“Carouselambra” from In Through the Out Door

This is the John Paul Jones’ special, dropping both a carousel spinning key melody and a hopping bassline. The devolution into the quieter valley of the song adds layers to it making more than a one-note circus.

#19

“Trampled Underfoot” from Physical Graffiti

During the 2007 reunion show, Robert Plant prefaced this song by saying “In 1935, Robert Johnson recorded a song called ‘Terraplane Blues’. This is kind of Led Zeppelin playing ‘Terraplane Blues’.” Apparently that means a blues garage stomp featuring car-mechanic references for making love.

#18

“Misty Mountain Hop” from Led Zeppelin IV

Robert Plant owns this song and evolves his vocals from one end of the spectrum to the other. The rhythm is one of the band’s most infectious.

#17

“Achilles Last Stand” from Presence

If they were going for dire and towering monolithic rocker, I’d say they nailed it. In a time when songs over five minutes were considered radio suicide, Zeppelin bucked the trend by dropping this 10-minute epic.

#16

“Good Times, Bad Times” from Led Zeppelin I

The breech into heavy metal can be traced back to this electric jam, the leadoff track to Zeppelin’s historic debut album.

#15

“Communication Breakdown” from Led Zeppelin I

Page never admitted it, but one of the studio workers stated that this was a filler track that had Page creating the heavy riff off the top of his head in one take. If true, greatest “filler” track ever.

#14

“Stairway to Heaven” from Led Zeppelin IV

No comment. It speaks for itself.

#13

“Dazed and Confused” from Led Zeppelin I

Jimmy Page plays part of the guitarline with a violin bow. Your argument is invalid.

#12

“When the Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin IV

The echo on the drumline was achieved by setting up Bonham’s drumset at the top of the stairs in his home and placing the microphone at the bottom of the stairs. Jimmy Page produced most of Zeppelin’s songs, and he was considered remarkably innovative at the time. It’s one reason why Zeppelin thrilled fans and terrified other musicians and producers at the time.

#11

“Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin II

The song that launched Zeppelin into the stratosphere, and arguably their most recognizable song.

#10

“Kashmir” from Physical Graffiti

Production and arrangement was one of the main reasons Zeppelin stood out in the crowd, and this song is the pinnacle of production and arrangement.

#9

“Heartbreaker” from Led Zeppelin II

Jimmy Page is god, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

#8

“Tea For One” from Presence

Led Zeppelin borrowed and covered blues artists to help mold their sound early on. But it was when they took on their own blend of blues and rock that they achieved their maximum potential. “Tea For One” is a dreary, blues jaunt with a sordid bass line, lonesome guitar, and lovelorn vocals.

#7

“The Song Remains the Same” from Houses of the Holy

I once attempted to play this song on bass guitar. During the rollicking instrumental intro, there’s a point where it’s require to pop, bend, and slide at the same time. I ended up breaking the bass string… do you know how hard it is to break a bass string?

#6

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Led Zeppelin III

Greatest blues-rock song of all time. Change my mind.

#5

“Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV

John Paul Jones famously stated he wanted to write a song no one could dance too, so he wrote the song in 7/4 time. John Bonham couldn’t write a manageable drumline to keep up, so he actually plays in 4/4. The frequent vocal breaks in the verse somehow make the two different time signatures make sense.

#4

“No Quarter” from Houses of the Holy

Unlike anything they had done, loosely viewed as a foray into progressive rock. A haunting melody that was way ahead of its time.

#3

“Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin III

“Ahh AH Ahhhhhhh AH!

Ahh AH Ahhhhhhh AH!”

#2

“Rock and Roll” from Led Zeppelin IV

The very nature of rock and roll and the pinnacle of their heavy metal influence is on display here.

#1

“In My Time of Dying” from Physical Graffiti

This is Led Zeppelin in one song. Equal parts heavy metal, folk, quick paced, slow burning, and monolithic.

Led Zeppelin continues to influence musicians to this day. Their music stands the test of time, and will be just as celebrated come their 100th anniversary.

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My First Day

I can still remember my first day in kindergarten.

It was still 3 years before my parents split. We were living in Philadelphia, stationed in naval residence; my dad was in his 8th year in the Navy, still 7 away from retirement. Mom dropped my older sisters off at the elementary school. My kindergarten class was in a separate building across town, operating as a building for before/after school child care and two kindergarten classes.

My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hawk. The other teacher was Ms. Star. They would separate the classes, but we were combined into one on most days. Mrs. Hawk was nice, but I really liked Ms. Star. She greeted me at the door on my first day and told me she was “super excited you’re here today!” I was 5, and that felt good to hear. I was enthralled on my first day—the tears and panic didn’t set in until the second day, for some reason.

The first thing we did as a class was gather on the carpet and watched the Brave Little Toaster. I can’t say for certain, but I think this is where my affinity for toast comes from.

I made instant friends with Vincent, a polite and quiet kid who shared my interest in dinosaurs. He asked what my favorite dinosaur was, and the only one I could remember was the “t-rex”. He said his was a pterodactyl. When my mom picked me up that day, she asked what I learned, and I told her “My new favorite dinosaur is a pterodactyl!” It still is; pterodactyls kick ass.

I made my first girlfriend on the playground of kindergarten. Her name was Whitney. Before I left on my first day, my dad told me I had to be nice to everyone… even the girls. Well, being nice to Whitney was not going to be hard. During our first recess break, I picked a dandelion off the ground and walked to her. She just got off the swings and said “Hi!” to me. I said hi back, then handed her the dandelion and said “You have pretty hair”. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, which I may or may not have wiped off my cheek right away—I was being nice, I didn’t expect to get slapped with cooties on my first day! The teacher yelled at Whitney to not kiss her friends. She said sorry, then we went for a romantic trip down the curvy slide. A few months after the first day of kindergarten, I was invited to Whitney’s 6th birthday party. Her parents brought out an ice cream cake while they were singing “happy birthday to you”. I was shocked… my mom had to explain that it was a cake made of ice cream. I could not wrap my little 5 year old brain around. But when I took a bite of it, my mind… was… blown! I asked for an ice cream cake for my next birthday. My mom made a basic chocolate one instead. I wasn’t disappointed; chocolate cake is still my kryptonite to this day.

I knew how to read a little bit before kindergarten. I could read the word “cat”, “dog”, and “bird”, and I was one of the few in the class who could write his own name. Mrs. Hawk and Ms. Star were very impressed, and they gave me five stickers next to my name on the sticker chart. I had the most after the first day, and I was so freaking excited (I finished the year second behind a girl named Valerie, who only got stickers because she was a champion at picking up toys and staying still on the carpet while we were supposed to be napping).

I began with those three words on the first day of kindergarten. I left reading at a 3rd grade level. I was one of only two kids reading that high. The other. My darling Whitney!

We took trips to the bathroom as a class twice a day (you could go any time you needed to, but I never liked going into the hallway by myself). On the first day, they were still finishing up a remodel of the bathroom. The drywall wasn’t finished, and in the frame was fresh, pink, fluffy insulation. Ms. Star told us not to touch it because it’ll make us itchy. I still have an irrational aversion to insulation because of it.

I was in the after school program. On the first day, we played Red Rover. And after watching a few rounds, I was DETERMINED to break the chain when I was called. And I put all my weight into it… thing is, I had little to put into it. I was the shortest kid in class without any momentum. There was no way I broke the chain between Derek and … the other kid (my memory isn’t perfect, so let’s just call him Jimmy). We then played Duck-Duck-Goose. I never got picked to be the goose. Hey Jimmy, fuck you, I would have been an awesome goose, I would have caught you, and you know it! … Oh my god, that’s WHY he didn’t pick me to be the goose! 5 years old, and he’s already playing the odds of who he could beat in a goose chase! You were one conniving kindergartner, Jimmy!

I have an inexplicably good memory of kindergarten, and especially that first day. And I’ve cherished it for years upon years, carrying impressions of toast, insulation, and ice cream cake with me for my entire life.

Today is my son’s first day of kindergarten. I truly wonder what memories he’ll take with him from today.

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Get Tragic: An Album Review

In life, there are only certain things that bring about a certain anticipated euphoria like one of your favorite bands releasing an album, especially considering the length of time it’s been since their last album.

(I’m not talking about Tool yet. I don’t know any other band who can do what Tool did and still hope to maintain fans. )

I’m talking about the British indie-garage rock duo Blood Red Shoes.

I have a strange affinity for two-man bands. White Stripes, Black Keys, Local H, kidneythieves, Matt & Kim, and Death From Above 1979 rank among some of my favorites. Two-man bands are often viewed as “missing” key members of the band (usually a bassist… save for DFA1979), and that aspect alone threatens to diminish a band’s sound before they even play a note. Two-man bands often have to amplify their efforts to sound complete, and that extra effort—when done correctly—can pay dividends that a more “complete” band can miss.

I first heard Blood Red Shoes in 2008 right after they released their debut album after getting a suggestion from a friend, and they knocked me dead the moment I heard them. Comprised of Laura-Mary Carter on guitar, Steven Ansell on drums, and both splitting vocal duties, they took the name Blood Red Shoes from a story of Ginger Rogers practicing a dance sequence in a Fred Astaire film so much her white shoes turned red in blood.

Chances are good, you think you’ve never heard of them. If you saw the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you heard them for approximately 30 seconds.

Totally worth the listen without the Scott Pilgrim hilarity overplaying it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Bitchin’, right? Blood Red Shoes have only expanded upon their sound throughout the years. And the sound evolved out of necessity. It’s actually impressive listening to their discography go from bohemian garage rockers to intelligently written and stylistically advanced beyond what the minimalism that should be put forth by a two-person band. Minimal has never been a word to describe this band.

Get Tragic is the band’s fifth studio album. It was released in January, though I hate assessing an album immediately after it’s release. Music isn’t always instant gratification. Sometimes music takes some growing and multiple listens, and the six months since its release has only exposed the deep introspection that Get Tragic treads. The production value is possibly the best the production job on a BRS album, a tip of the cap to Nick Launary and Adam Greenspan. The mix is perfect and makes this an essential headphones album. There are no explosive “Je Me Perds” moments, but the atmosphere of the album doesn’t require an uncontrolled rock detonation like it did on In Time to Voices.

Opening up the album is “Eye to Eye”, a seething ticking time bomb blending the classic BRS sound with an indie gloom creating a dire and brooding kickstart to the album. “Mexican Dress” is a paragon of BRS’ evolution, mixing a signature riff with pristine, if not purposefully withheld, vocals and painting the whole thing over a Latin infused drumline. It’s the quintessential example of Blood Red Shoes’ style in the post-decade era of their career.

“Bangsar” is the rock jam that everyone was waiting for, but even the jam is tightened and dropped from a band that has matured from their garage in Brighton.

The meat of the album really shows off the song craftsmanship, settling for more intricate cuts and deep substance over flash and growl. “Nearer” and “Beverly” are dark and leering slugs stretching the limits of their ensemble (figuratively and literally, the former featuring The Wytches and the latter given a dose Mark Lanegan-style darkness from Ed Harcourt). “Find My Own Remorse” is a surprisingly lovely respite from the dreary rock and… well… “gets tragic” with a lovely riff and some ethereal instrumentation while Steven Ansell delivers arguably his best vocal performance of his career.

The back end of the album sees them bring the smash and flair back with “Howl” sounding much like a quick-witted distant cousin of “This is Not For You”. And “Anxiety” features arguably the crunchiest riff on the album. They take Get Tragic out with a powerful churning mid-tempo dropkick in “Elijah”

By five albums in, some bands would retread what was popular or simply go back to the well over and over again. But Get Tragic shows over ten years in and after five albums that Blood Red Shoes transcend the limitations of their two person ensemble and proves the band is graciously writing its own evolution.

4 stars out of 5.

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Letter From the Candle Smoke

To 2019 Me,

Has it really been 5 years already? Time… what a bitch, huh?

Dude, you’re a dad. By the time you open this letter, you’ve been a dad for nearly five years. But right now, it’s still pretty incredible to think about for 2014 Me. In little more than a month, Zackary Xavier Relyea will make his grand entrance. I think we’re pretty well set: spent 2 hours building that crib, got batteries for the baby swing, sterilized the bottles. I mean, we are good to go. And yet I can’t stop freaking out. What if my own son doesn’t even like me? I’m sure you’re reading this now telling me how insane that is, but it’s a legitimate fear right now. Jess tried to hand me her friend’s newborn last year and I … was so afraid I was going to break it. And when she tricked me into holding it, it just cried. What if my own kid does the same thing? I’m sure I’m freaking for no reason.

Weird to think that in 5 years when you open this letter he’ll be getting ready for kindergarten, and I haven’t even met him yet. It’s bizarre imagining this little life taking place between writing this letter and reading it.

How is Jess? I’m sure she’s kicking ass at the whole motherhood thing. By the time you open this, it’ll bet 12 years together and nearly 6 years of marriage. They say becoming parents changes your relationship drastically. And I’m not going to pretend that’s not going to be the case. All I can tell you is to not to forget it. Becoming parents is chaotic enough, but in the end you gotta hang on to yourselves. Take a date night away from the baby, have her kick your ass in Soul Calibur when he’s asleep, take some time for you to be people in a committed relationship and not just two rival executives in a family company.

I hope you’re still writing. I hope I never do give up on it. I’m blindly optimistic that in 5 years, I’ll get signed and be doing million dollar book signing tours and, quite literally, live the dream. As I’m more than reasonably certain that will not happen, I hope you’re still giving it the ol’ college try. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about the getting signed or the book tours. I just want to be read. I’m a natural born storyteller, and I need my stories told to people who would listen. Just keep at it. Someone out there needs your story; probably you yourself.

28 is this weird age. I think the Barenaked Ladies put it best and once sang, “Old at being young, young at being old”. I can’t help but wrestle with the notion that I’m stuck. I’m at a decent job at the hospital, but like… is it a forever job? Am I going to be here still by the time I open this letter? And would that be a bad thing? And am I running out of time to do what I want to do? Actually, what is it I even want to do … (besides write)? I hate that I don’t have the answers to any of these. Way back when I was a teenager (I’m sure YOU remember this), I had this notion that everyone had to have their shit together by the time they were 25. Then as I was approaching 25, I relaxed a little and said “Eh, no, not 25… it must be 30 when everyone knows what they’re doing”. Well, here comes 30, and unless I get it all figured out in 2 years, looks like the “Get your shit together” target is further down than expected.

You’re 33 now, Future Me. Do you have your shit together? It’s ok if the answer is “no”.

Happy birthday, Future Me. See you in 5 years

Robert J. Relyea, 2014

Dear Past Me, 2014

Of all the quandaries in life, one certainty rises above the rest. That time is, most definitely, a bitch.

Dude, I’m a dad. That feeling hasn’t faded in 4+ years. That elation of being able to help raise a child does not fade, not a bit. I’ve had the same excitement about it since the moment Jess called and said “So I have some news…”. I remember that fear of him not liking, and it pleases me to announce that fear faded in a light speed instant. The moment he came out and he looked at his mom and the nurse handed him off to me, there wasn’t a single moment of doubt that this kid would like me. I cannot express how minute this fear is now, you and he are best buds. Best day of my life was when he was 3 and a half, gave me a hug and said “Daddy, you’re my best friend!”. Enjoy that moment when it comes up, Past Me, it’s awesome.

Zack is about 3 weeks away from starting kindergarten, and it really is surreal. It’s like you said, since I wrote this letter to now has been his entire life. And he’s about to start on square 1 of the 13 step education system. It’s astounding because now he’s up to the point where I can remember; I distinctly remember my first day of kindergarten. And to know he’s about to have that is really tripping me out. I can’t imagine how Future Me 2024 feels about it.

As expected, Jess totally kicks ass at motherhood. Some people are born to be parents, and she is definitely one of them. Her friends have been calling her “Mom” since before she had Zackary. I won’t deny that becoming parents has shaped our relationship. But to be honest if having a kid doesn’t change your relationship, then your priorities haven’t changed enough. I won’t say “rival executives”, but there is a certain, almost business level partnership that goes into raising a child together. There’s no denying the change, it’s adjusting to it that’s the trick.

And the adjustment is a constant. Sometimes you fall into the trap of seeing each other as co-parents and as sailors trying to keep the SS Family from running aground. But you had it right, Past Me, about hanging on to yourselves. Things change the older you get, and we’re not perfect with the adjustment (we haven’t played Soul Calibur in ages) but we still have an abundance of love for one another, and have made all the adjustments that we were forced to go through. Relationships evolve, no couple can stay in the “new-and-interesting” romancing the stone era forever. Couples who can’t evolve will fall apart, and I’m happy to say we’ve made every evolution that we’ve had to face in the last 12 years and will do so for years to come.

I don’t think you’ll have to worry about me ever giving up on writing. I did face a pretty hard truth about it in the last five years however. I conceded that it is very likely I will never be traditionally published like I hope. The odds are just too high. Does that mean I stop trying? Of course not. Does that mean I stop writing? Hell no. It’s just an admission to myself not to expect too much. I’m the same as I was back then in that I have stories to tell, and I will continue to tell them. And if by some miracle I get a snag with one of them that lands me an agent, then awesome. I’m just going to continue to write. There hasn’t been much in the way of finished works in the last five years, but the chess pieces are still moving forward. In the next two years, there could be between 3 and 5 works that will cross the finish line. So you keep writing too, Past Me.

Dude, I so don’t have my shit together I probably have even less shit together than you do, Past Me. And I’m getting to the point where I wonder if anyone truly ever has their shit together. It’s a little surreal when you realize there is no next level, this is the top floor. No next level of adulting. You are an adult. And if you are this scatterbrained, then everyone might be too. Adults seemed like they knew exactly what they were doing, but it’s more than evident that NO ONE knows what they’re doing, you just get better at going with the flow. Adulthood is just faking it til you make it–but making it is not a given, so you just end up faking it for the rest of your life.

The answer is no, and I don’t know if the answer will ever be “yeah, I totally have my shit together”. But I am a pro at faking it (… … you know what I mean)

Happy birthday, young guy

From, Future (Present) Me 2019

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Deep

It’s 3:45 a.m.

Insomnia is winning again. Tomorrow’s a day off, so at least there’s that.

Zack went to sleep 6 hours ago while watching Wreck-It Ralph. Jess didn’t last much longer. Even the dog has been curled up in his dog bed since midnight.

It’s just me stirring in the house into the witching hours. I’m tired, but I’ve learned from experience that battling insomnia under duress is a bad idea.

It hasn’t been a good week for me. Past two weeks even. Now that I think about it, the entire month of June turned to shit pretty quickly. Weird, it’s usually February that turns bleak.

I’ve been mired in a depressive episode. They don’t come around often, but that hardly means they go away and come back. It’s always there, just keeping its distance in the corner of my mind biding its time. And damn, it jumped pretty quickly as the calendar flipped to June.

Depression is a lot of fun. The calling cards of my particular brand is the aforementioned insomnia, a complete disinterest in creativity, and the ability to go from placid to irritable in a snap. I find it cruel to be forced to oblige insomnia, have all this time on my hands while everyone is asleep, yet not have the will or the want to so much as open my computer to write or pick up a guitar. This is where I make Netflix earn the $14.52 I pay them each month.

“You’re not really depressed.” I get that a lot… Not from anyone in particular—mostly because I never talk about it. This is basically the most I’ve talked about it in my life, and it’s to a blank Word document that will eventually be put on the bulletin board of the internet for people to ignore at will (or maybe it won’t, haven’t decided yet). No, I get “you’re not depressed” from myself. My inner thoughts will just blanket me with doubt. Look at you, saying you’re depressed when people have it a hundred times worse than you. You’re not on a ledge thinking the only the way to go is down the fast way. What the hell do you have to depressed about… And a lot of times—like 99% of the time, I believe it. Hell, inner thoughts wants me to stop and delete everything right now so I don’t waste everyone’s time reading it. That inner thought process is a fucking bitch; during one of my flights of insomnia earlier this week, I actually delved into what I believe to be the very birth of my depression and anxiety on a long thread on Twitter. I posted it at 2:15 a.m. At 2:29, when it hadn’t gotten an interaction yet (y’know, because it was the middle of the night) I fully convinced myself that no one wanted to know, and I ended up deleting the whole thing.

I’m not medicated. I’m not diagnosed. And honestly, besides the insomnia, it doesn’t debilitate my life much more than restlessness, so I see no need to even bring it up. Of course, that could be my borderline refusal to ever speak a word about it to anyone. Funny, right? I offer my ear to anyone close who may need it, I’ll tell them to text, DM, or call at any time, and I am so there for them! But a case comes up where I should talk to someone, and I don’t want to ruffle feathers, bother anyone, or be a nuisance, especially when I believe my depression pales in comparison to the problems others face.

It’s true I’m not suicidal—I just don’t harbor that feeling of self-harm within me. And I have gotten so good at hiding my depression that it might actually stun some people to read this (if anyone does ← shut it, Inner Thought Process). I’m high functioning and I smile a lot. I have a process whenever I got through episodes where I find lucid moments where I can sort things out without feeling waves of doubt. And luckily I was able to do the same this time, though it took nearly two weeks to get back to normal (but what is normal anyway?). It’s why I feel like I don’t need to pester anyone because I know eventually I’ll sort it out by myself.

Turns out that sorting it means putting it on paper this time. I don’t want to bother anyone, so I’ll just put it on a Word document and consider putting it online for the world to ignore. I have a problem with asking for help. Beyond depressive episodes, I have a hard time asking to borrow $5 if I need lunch. Last summer when Jess got a new job and we still had just the one car, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to bike 3 miles to the hospital, and biked 3 miles back home in the scorching 90 degree summer heat… all so I didn’t have to bother anyone to ask for a ride. Someone once I told me that’s an issue of self-worth. Not sure about that, I just don’t want to put anyone out, be it 5 bucks, a ride home, or an ear to talk into. The only time I ever ask for help is when I’m backed into a corner. Even after I ask, that bastard Inner Thought Process will berrate me for days about not being able to take care of myself.

So what spiked this last episode? That’s an easy one. I am getting destroyed at my job lately. In May, I was in for 10 days straight. After the weekend, I worked 9 out of the next 10. They’re early mornings, and at least one double. My schedule says 8 hours a day, but it’s usually closer to 9, 9 and a half some days (double being 10). My job is demanding. And being in a hospital environment where precision in preparation is important, it doesn’t take much to ruin a day. Someone calls out and the slack needs to be picked up. An ingredient didn’t come in on the truck, now you have to ad-lib or change recipes on the fly. Customers in the cafeteria demand this and that, some without a single word of kindness. People telling you how to do your own damn job. Cafeteria needs to a backup on marinara (did you check the hot box? You should probably check the hot box first) and cold side needs turkey sliced and morning cook is on break could you make me an omelet for a patient and shit the oven is going off for the pastries and how is it already 10:00 and no I don’t know where the ketchup packets are did you check the stock room yes the stock room oh no don’t worry I’ll go check yep here in the stock room like I said and JESUS CHRIST you’re putting cream of tomato soup on a low-sodium patient tray are you kidding me and I’ve been trying to go to the bathroom for the last hour and… and… and… and… Day in and day out, it is absolutely draining. My new phone came with a health app, and it has on it a stress detector, which is nice because now I’ll have documented evidence of my job literally killing me…

Under normal circumstances, work is work, and at the end of the day it stays there. What spurred on this episode was the fact that the fatigue and malaise of a day’s work followed me home. After a day of helping others and taking demands and requests and such, I would cringe and groan at simple requests at home. It was a couple weeks ago when I realized that the malaise from my job was now starting to affect my family at home, and that was eye opening.

Last year, my son got upset with me for something (a toy or a dessert I had said no to, I can’t remember) and he sniped back at me “Just go to work, daddy”. Kids have this magnificent ability to cut you where it hurts the most. I never forgot it, and I vowed I’d never make him feel like the work was effecting our relationship again. Two weeks ago, on day 6 of a 7 day stretch, I was awake at 4:30 in the morning and almost out the door when Zack emerged from his room, ran up to me and said “I just wanted to give you a hug before you go to work” And I hugged him and sent him back to his room, and he said “I miss you.”

Since then, I’ve questioned my ability to balance work and parenting. And that breaks my goddamn heart. And … there it is, the birth of this little episode.

See? Barely counts as depression, doesn’t it? I mean, who isn’t bogged down by their job?

And then I had the dream…

(This is much longer than I intended, but I’m sure everyone’s abandoned ship by now. So … me writing this down, this is for me just to get it off my chest—you don’t have to read it)

Remember I said I learned not to fight insomnia? That’s because during depressive episodes I end up having intense or otherwise bleak dreams. It’s like the chemical imbalance fucks with my dreams. After an episode a few years ago in which I had a dream people I cared for were lined up and shot execution style right before my eyes. I didn’t sleep for 32 hours afterward. And after that, I learned to give insomnia what it wanted until I just was too tired to dream.

On Wednesday, I defied my insomnia to go to bed early to get up for an early shift. I had a dream I stood in a dark room, looking around trying to figure out what was going on. Then spotlight, and standing before me was—please don’t laugh—Kaepora Gabora, the guiding owl from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ok, laugh if you must, but what was said is hardly funny. To paraphrase, he told me to listen for a moment. When I did I heard a disquieted voice saying something I couldn’t make out. Kaepora Gabora told me it was someone hurting who hides it well. And soon the hurt was going to be too much for them. And I can save them. (Did you get all that? Press A for yes!)

It sounds dumb, especially being ranted to by an avian mentor from a popular video game. But I feel it in my heart that it’s somehow prophetic, that someone I know might be hurting. And I suddenly questioned myself if I could even recognize if anyone was hiding pain enough that they would end up harming themselves. It’s been 5 days since that dream, and I can’t stop thinking about it. What if this was an actual honest-to-God prophetic dream? I’d be failing miserably, because I still don’t know what, if anything, I can do about it…

Yes… I have considered the fact that Kaepora Gabora, and the disembodied voice of the one who hides their pain, could have meant me. I’ve considered it, but determined it was not.

So… I’m overworked. I’m tired. I’m a questionable parent, in my eyes. I have a hard time asking for help. I deal with my own depression, but I’ve never had to blog into the night about it. And someone out there might be struggling and I’m not sure if I can find out who. Did I get all that?

“You’re not that depressed! Lots of people are worse off than you!” … You’re probably right, Inner Thought Process

I will probably (most-definitely) delete this later.