Urban Stack, Chattanooga: Burger and City Surprises Abound

Sometimes, life imitates art. But can a burger imitate a city? In Chattanooga, it can. Chattanooga and the city’s Urban Stack on W 13th Street (near the Chattanoogan Hotel) were somewhat random selections (one as a grown-up/kid-free getaway and the other as a place to eat while there), but there was an unmistakable symmetry to the whole experience.

What kept striking me, as I cleaned my plate at the burger joint, was the relationship between the burger and the city experience, itself. At every corner in Chattanooga, there was something unexpected … from sculpture, to food, to Patrick at the Chattanoogan explaining how he’d nearly “run over a Wookie” or the couple we met who’d come together after not seeing each other for 20 years.

Delightful. My city expectations were turned on their ear, and I was rewarded with much more. My serendipitous visit to Urban Stack produced similar, tasty results.

Urban Stack’s building is swank-wank — cool, exposed beams, plants all around, hip. In the heart of Chattanooga, the outdoor seating is fun, covered and a great place to hang out. Unless you read their info, you probably wouldn’t know that the building was at one time, a railroad baggage facility (it’s not far from the Choo Choo).

Given my last, disappointing experience, I decided to keep it simple, safe: the Bacon Cheeseburger, their way. They asked how to cook the meat (and then did it, which is a plus). Nice and pinky, certified Angus and high quality beef that tasted like they put some effort into it.

The bun was local made and brioche-esque (awesome), a hint of sweet and not heavy. I was taken aback by the flavor explosion … The meat, with the bun … then add their chipotle ketchup (which borders on a barbecue sauce, but not so much that it’s annoying) and house sauce.

The balsamic onions were the bomb … and I don’t even LIKE the onion. And the pickles were clearly homemade, but I’ll admit to being mesmerized and not asking if they made them or if they buy them… in either case, I could have eaten them, without the meal.

Top that with some of the best bacon you can get – Benton’s, for my foodie noodle-heads – and it’s one of the best burgers I’ve had. Or to put it another way, this nothing-fancy burger, loaded just with its own goodness was fancy enough, just being its own unique bacon-burger self.

But wait, there was more … if you wanted, you could get … a lamb burger, turkey, chicken and a host of other “out there” burgers … or the 100% grass feed, served on plates that have only been touched by left hands and brought to you exclusively by people with the letter “J” in their name …

Check out their classic burgers (if you wanna include bologna, salami and/or remoulade as classics). Or their Specialty Stacks.

The fries were absolutely perfect, especially for hand-cut ones. Not greasy, cooked enough to be, primarily, crispy and not floppy. Who wants a floppy fry? These were some of the best hand-cut fries I’ve ever been served. Many crispy ones.

img_4344.jpgTo just keep the unexpected coming, I had a hot wing, and wow! The Grilled Chicken Wings (Smoking Hot U.S. Style) were absolutely fabulous. A ring of fire that’d make Johnny Cash smile and deep smoky flavor. These were as good as Saw’s in Birmingham, and that’s saying a lot. And for a first ever in my reviews, here’s extra credit, honors and benefits for an awesome bourbon selection.

And the burger experience was almost exactly like the “unexpected” visit to Chattanooga, itself. Such a cool town, with so many new, and unique places and so much history – all wrapped together? Who would have expected to have the Heart Ball in the same hotel, on the same weekend as Con Nooga?

It’s fun to stumble into things … like a great city, or folks dressed to the nines for a ball, or watching people – in evening gowns and tuxes take photos with a bearded man in a Sailor Moon costume … It’s wonderful … unexpected … and somehow, like Urban Stack, it works.

* And special cudos to Heidi Rowe, for coming up with the trip to Chattanooga and surprising me with it. Awesome!

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There are a lot of reasons to visit Twisted Root; but the burger isn’t one of them.

My children have been urging me – as subtly as any kids can – to try the Twisted Root Burger Company for at least two years now. I had resisted … until a recent Sunday night, when I was alone, hopeful … and (clearly) vulnerable.

The Twisted Root is located on Rocky Ridge Road in Vestavia, near Birmingham. For non-Hamers, it’s an established suburb, but not really that far from the downtown foodie scene. It’s not a new, hip area of town or even a place where new buildouts are typically the norm.

Nevertheless, a few years ago, Twisted Root joined the Bham burger scene – at the end of the last burger boom. It’s not unique to Bham – Momma and Daddy Root are from Texas/Dallas/Ft. Worth. Twisted Root offers franchise opportunities for those interested in burgers, fries and twists … and roots, I guess. The history of the company speaks a lot – good intentions, good plans and seems homey enough. The original Root was on an early episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

With the family build-up and a free evening, I went.

So, as I was sitting there, eating my “Freshman 15” burger, it struck me. There are a lot of reasons to visit Twisted Root, but the burger’s just not one of them.

I was trying to put my finger on exactly what I wasn’t enjoying about one of my favorite meals. Did the meat taste funny (kinda)? Was the meat overcooked (even for MW; yes)? Was the combo for this one (recommended by the staff) – a burger topped with fries, bacon and a fried egg – just DOA (it shouldn’t be)? If it could have yawned, the dead piece of cow would have. It wasn’t juicy. It was bland. The meat was boring and lifeless. It came with a single piece of lettuce and an onion. While I was left to place condiments and pickles at my leisure, my leisure was that I wanted someone else to present me with what they had to offer and for me to not be tasked with improving a signature dish with my interpretation of what the Freshman 15 needed (not knowing).

It needed some additional taste… This was supposed to be an indulgence burger – one of those, “don’t-tell-your-cardiologist” ones. But if you’re gonna sin bad, it should taste a lot more sinful.

I get that doing food reviews is a bit like getting one at bat in the big leagues or one date with the class beauty. I get that anyone can have a bad day or night. But… I’ve eaten hundreds of burgers over my lifetime. I eat them from Rojo, down the street, frequently. Good and consistent. Jim N’ Nicks – usually awesome, always frustrating.

I could go on. But there is a two-fold lesson here: 1) You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. 2) Impressions are there for a reason. Go with your gut.

My kids, who have an unnatural love of this place, are not going to be pleased with what I experienced, as if I willed taste-less beef to appear. As a reality check, this comes from the same kids that argue about the relative tastiness of McDonald’s … or any meal that’s devoid of lettuce.

So, I considered revisiting my experience … until I started doing my post-visit review of reviews, and found fellows in disappointment … for similar reasons. Bland meat. Weird flavor. Delivering less than expected.

But the place itself isn’t without highly redeeming qualities including:

  • Beer and a bar
  • Milkshakes (custard-based)
  • Milkshakes for grown-ups (I might go back just for that)
  • Excellent, hand-cut fries. There was a kid close by; I considered trading my burger for his fries. He gave me a not-in-this-lifetime glare…
  • Possible fry improvers, like cheese and such …
  • Sassy condiments — ketchups and chipotle blah blah.
  • A pickle bar – dill, sweet and sour, ranch, wasabi and more.
  • A kids play area and a very warm, family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Nice people working there.
  • Clever ways of calling out orders (I was Snoop Dogg).

It’s a fun place, and if the kids were good, and I was feeling agreeable, I’d take them. I wasn’t so bummed by the uninspired burger that it’s tainted me against them for life. But when I got there, I asked for a suggestion (I almost always do): what’s the most popular?

A barbeque thingy … something with avocado … the one with an bacon, egg and fries… Once bitten by the Freshman 15 is twice smarter. If there is a next time, I’ll get a plain cheeseburger. Nothing fancy or twisted there … and one of those $5 shakes.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 6.5 … Enuf said on this. Bland. Overdone. Edible but joyless.

Bun and fixins’  — 7.5 … The bland egg added to the bland meat. But you can get a world tour of sauces and pickles (if you’re into that kinda thing). Bun= What’s your name?

Sides – 9.0 … I’m still miffed that the little kid wouldn’t consider a burger-for-fries trade.

Service & Presentation – 8 … No nonsense and some fun. Nice folks working there, too.

Ambiance – 8 … Someone spent some time at the Ft. Worth Hobby Lobby … Cliched and cute

Bonus (Nada)– Again, I’m sorry kids.

Rating – B-

Jim N’ Nicks – A source of delicious frustration

This review is going be half review and half psyche insight/personal therapy session, because I readily admit that I have a problem (which if this was some sort of Burger Anonymous meeting might be a positive first step). My problem is this: I’m personally frustrated by how much I like Jim N’ Nicks (forthwith to be called JNN cause I’m also feeling a bit lazy).*

*This isn’t my first trip to this couch … I will conceal names of this pubescent grumpy cat face, but I had this same problem in high school. [Insert name of your choice] drove me crazy. She was rude. She was dummerna bowling shoe. Her tastes in music likely included Hank Jr., Warrant and Air Supply. And for the life of me, I am at a loss to explain why I was attracted to her.


She was my siren. Lash me to the front of my Ford Granada and let me face the peril …

Part of my interest in burgers and reviewing food has its roots in JNN, when they opened their restaurant in Hoover. I frankly didn’t know what to think: classy décor, young servers and professionalism. Who ever heard of such in a real barbecue joint? You can’t be a respectable barbecue place or burger joint and have people who are starting their modelling careers waiting your table. You can’t scream “I’ve been professionally designed and decorated to give you that oh so smokey favor.” You can’t have some surfer looking dude at the bar bringing you JNN’s current hipster cocktail – local sourced whiskey, soda made when the thrush knocks on the final light of Durin’s Day, glasses recycled from a local homeless shelter and artisanal ice cubes.

IT’S a Bama BBQ place for Christ’s sake.

• I want more overweight guys working a register

• I want a middle-aged server calling me darlin’

• I want to see people who appear to have first come in sometime around 1988 and are still there

• I want to imagine that the owner decorated the place himself/herself with junk that had just be sitting around their garage

But dammit, if they don’t pull it off and double dammit, I have never had a bad meal or bad experience at JNN. The food is exceptional. The barbecue is some of the best in the region. And everything – everything – on the menu is typically done exceptionally well.

Which brings me to a recent visit and the Southern Burger … I’ve never been impressed by any burger that was supposedly a barbecue burger, until this one. The Southern Burger is simple: fresh meat, same bun as the bbq sammy, cheddar cheese, pickles, unbelievable bacon, grilled onions, and their bbq sauce.

It shouldn’t work… the onions are very likely to overpower… the bbq sauce can cover too much ground … the pickles could give it too much sour.

But it’s perfectly balanced.

And JNN gets a second award; I’ve been to five-star places and uttered the words “cook it medium” and they bring it out exactly the way they intended to cook it the whole time – medium well or burnt-er. JNN cooked it exactly like I asked, and it made all the squishy difference.

And let me reiterate: I’m not a big fan of bbq burgers. But I’m sitting here now, and I want another one!

Let’s add the fries… Help me Oprah! The fries are fresh and perfect, with that unmistakable mix of sweet and sourness that comes only from fresh potatoes, fried.

Add to this, the delicious greens I had (I shared fries) and the indulgence of the hot links appetizer (JNN’s sausage with crackers, sauce, peppers and pimento cheese) and stealing a bite of mac and cheese from the mano junior … and I’m hanging my head in complete shame …

• I have fallen from the true burger way

• I have failed to be an obedient burger or bbq disciple

• I have ignored the oxymorons and enjoyed your fru-fru bbq

And the only thing I can say, really, is that it’s good. It’s very good.

 

 

The Sweet Burger Smells of Home – What I learned from a revisit to Tony’s

A few years ago, I wrote about an affinity I have for a small mom/pop burger place south of Birmingham – Tony’s. It’s homey, with a line stretching nearly out the door most days. The food is good, better than good. But even then, I wasn’t really sure why I liked it so much, until recently, it all came together.

I still really like the place, and I like that it seems to have a following of everyday, regular people – business people, parents, grandparents, etc. Tony was there slinging burgers and dogs that day.

But the why … let me set the way-back machine for the late 1970s or even early 1980s.

Wayback

Tony’s takes me back … to how I remember homemade burgers tasting as a kid. Cooked on a stovetop, in a skillet, smashed down to brown, with the ever-present smell of seared meat and fat wafting around … then the patty was topped with garlic salt, maybe pepper and seasoned salt. The smell is unique. And it’s the way I remember a burger when my mom (and on a rare occasion, dad) and my grandmother cooked them.

  • We didn’t just dash off to fire up an outdoor grill.
  • No premade patties
  • God help you, no broiler…
  • You can try and remove some of the grease with a paper towel, but it’s kind of like trying to keep toddlers clean at the table

A trip to Tony’s reminds me of those times. It’s not just homey, but the smells, the spices and flavors remind me of home, family.

I realized as I ate my burger – it’s served on a giant sesame seed bun, with lots of mayo to give it that rich flavor that mixes so well with seared meat – that over the time I’ve been reviewing burgers, I’ve probably had several that are better made, better all around. Tony’s fries are good, always crispy. But they are from a bag …

No, what I like most about eating a burger at Tony’s – and what is most difficult to explain to people when they ask why I like this or that burger – is that eating a burger at a place like Tony’s make you FEEL GOOD. It makes me feel good:

  • It reminds me of being a kid and home
  • It tastes good
  • You know it’s not good for you (and that’s part of the allure, for sure).
  • It’s also stripped of pretention. It isn’t trying to be a burger place; it isn’t trying to be hip; it isn’t trying to have a burger that could be served at a five-star place … it’s just a place that makes burgers and dogs. It’s an honest burger, from an honest place.

So, enjoy your burger, wherever it may come. Enjoy it cause you paid too much from it; enjoy it because it’s one of the best; enjoy it because it reminds you/comforts you … but most of all Enjoy It, and the slice of the good life that it is.

Chili’s in Trussville (or anywhere): “Be careful, son. The dullness rubs off.”

Desperate times call for trips to places that you didn’t intend to go. Hence, I recently found myself at Chili’s in Trussville. While the name might cause you to think that the place is spicy and fun, well, you probably want to think again.

In fact, as I’ve considered this review, I was reminded of a post-game clip of then-Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWmQbk5h86w

And let me just tell you, that meltdown rivals in explosiveness the potty meltdown that occurred scant few minutes after consuming my Oldtimer with Cheese at Chili’s.

All this knowing that Chili’s was what I thought it would be … B.O.R.I.N.G.

Oh, it’s not for lack of trying. Why that place is nigh unto rocket-sciencey. It’s outfitted with a spiffy appearance. Gone is the darkness and loud colors. Replaced with light and metal and hipster tomfoolery. Hell, it’s not even hipster tomfoolery; it’s suburban urban outfitters gobbledegookery.

Gone is the darkness and loud colors. Replaced with light and metal and hipster tomfoolery. Hell, it’s not even hipster tomfoolery; it’s suburban urban outfitters gobbledegookery.

And the pay by yourself kiosk on the table to let you control your own destiny… No, I don’t like them because it’s one more replacement of actual people doing actual work in a business. But it could have redeemed itself consider if it offered some pre-emptive relief: “Yes, I’d like to top this meal off with a Metamucil brownie, since I know where I’m headed in a minute.”

I will give the wait staff credit; they were energetic and helpful enough … though I probably should have been given a quick primer about the tablet/kiosk. And for what it was, the food was adequately prepared. It’s just …

There is nothing memorable about this burger … or any burger at Chili’s. They are over seasoned (God, the sodium!). Over sold. Not bad. Not good. And you can throw in Mr. and Mrs. Fry with it. And we went in with muted hopes anyway.

In fact, I stumbled upon an article from the “Eat this, Not that!” folks https://www.yahoo.com/health/15-insanely-awful-foods-got-083033307.html  that stated: “From burgers to baby back ribs, Chili’s serves up some of the country’s saltiest, fattiest fare. And even the menu items that don’t look all that bad for you can do some real damage to your waistline.”

Or to your colon…

It boils down to one thing … A great burger has local flair, not corporate flair. A look over the menu reminds you that decisions are probably made based on some analytics done in Texas … and by someone with a deathwish for chefs/kitchen staff, with a menu that is longer than the first draft of War and Peace. And it’s a cryin shame that the thing that sticks out the most about the burger is the ridiculously over-seasoned garlic dill PICKLE — the burger’s hairy mole — and that in the end, this fully-unmemorable experience feels as if you have been placed in a lab experiment.

My real concern is that Chili’s mediocreness will rub off, as I fear it already has to the other restaurants in the neighborhood (I’m looking at you Red Robin). FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JIM ‘N NICK’S, YOU GOTTA HOLD OUT!

It’s as one of my heroes, Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce from M*A*S*H* said. He recalls a dream in which he sees Frank Burns as a beached-whale and asks his mom if he can touch it, and Hawkeye, speaking for his mom, says, “Be careful, son. The dullness rubs off.”

Chili's Grill & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yelp Reviews

Galley and Garden: Afterthought burger possibly?

History is littered with many great and forgotten afterthoughts – Ed Muskie, the theory of relativity, the Roebuck part of Sears. But a burger being an afterthought is, in the case of Galley and Garden in Birmingham, unnecessary.

Relatively new to the Birmingham fine-dining scene, G&G is in the old Veranda location on Highland Ave. It opened approximately one year ago and is run by Chef James Boyce, who has a menu of established, excellent restaurants – including Cotton Row in Huntsville.

The menu is varied – with emphasis on local ingredients and seafood. Reviews have generally been very positive. Service – both from reviews and in my experience – was anywhere from excellent to adequate. No issues. It’s upscale. It’s creative. And the pedigree/past helps it.

Why then was the burger I received from G&G such a disappointment? And I ask that question knowing WHY I was disappointed… but the bigger question… well, let’s save it.

Several new/old friends joined me at this lunch. The appetizers were excellent – duck confeit fries and fried oysters. Both delicious. Both presented very appealingly. I could have licked the platter of fries …

Then the entrées came. Two orders of shrimp and grits and two burgers ordered exactly alike – the G&G Burger. Nothing but generally positive reactions to the shrimp and grits. But the burger … from both of us … mmehh.

IMG_2904Underwhelming. The G&G burger (available on the lunch menu for $13) is described as: “grass-fed beef, pimento cheese, bacon, gratitude farms bibb lettuce, tomato.”

Some thoughts:

  1. The presentation of the burger was attractive (see pic). While “elegant” and “burger” don’t often share descriptive space, this one was both.
  1. Some of this may be seasonality, but the overall flavor of the burger was a bit too understated, flat. Nothing really stood out (except it was heavy on the salty side with the cheese and bacon). I’ve experienced this before with burgers wearing eau de pimento cheese … It should work. It looks like it would work (cheddar cheese and meat, with pimentos). But it just never brings its.
  1. I specifically asked – as I always do when given the opportunity – for the burger to be cooked medium. I know … it’s not the rules; some places cook all their burger to MW or above. Mine was cooked MW, as was the other burger in our party (we both requested M). But if you were going to cook it to MW, why ask? And if it was simply a mistake, it’s fairly laughable for a place that likely serves the most expensive pimento cheeseburger in town … it ain’t eatin’ at Western Sizzlin’.
  1. I don’t have confirmation – so consider this a question. But the bun on my burger looked, felt and tasted distinctly like a bun that you could get off the shelf next door at the Western Supermarket. It’s possible it was some artisan bun/brioche/roll, but it looked like a hamburger bun, felt like a bun and tasted like a bun … hence I remember it as a bun (or maybe duck confeit bun).

Overall, the burger was okay – but truly nothing spectacular. It’s neither the best nor the worst in Bham, and you can get a pimento cheeseburger several places (Jackson’s, Blackwell’s to name two).

And G&G has another burger on its bar menu – the Birmingham Burger, which is more straightforward and on a brioche bun.

So, let’s circle back to the hanging question: this G&G burger is neither primary to the menu nor a shining example of the establishment’s or chef’s abilities. Thus, why is it on the menu? Otherwise, the menu is chocked full of exceptional dishes, accompanied by a burger that really is not bad but also not especially noteworthy.

An afterthought… like this line … something that a good editor would likely have deleted.

"Galley

Yelp Review

Buck Mulligans: Ulysses and an Ironically Fine Burger

Call it a little Irish irony that the latest visit for the beautimousburger blog was to an Irish pub — typically places of simple pleasures and pursuits — named after a character in an almost unreadbable, unapproachable novel. The location of Buck Mulligan’s — in the former Black Market space on Highland Avenue — has a lot of personal memories associated with it:

  • I may or may not have introduced a best friend to a mind eraser at this location on or near his wedding eve … In fact, I may have introduced him to several
  • I may or may not have gone to my first burlesque show in this building
  • I may or may not have made out with some woman there … and can’t recall the woman’s name or even the name of the bar at the time (and if we’re Facebook friends and you recall this, I absolutely remember now; it was life changing … thank you so much).

The name “Buck Mulligan” comes from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Buck’s a nice lad, liking his food and drink. And he may be one of the few amiable characters in an otherwise depressing and wretched book. And there is a delicious, somewhat ironic parallel between the book and the food at this relatively new addition to the Southside of Bham..

Burgers and burger experiences are not all equal. There is a beauty to the simple presentation of a burger at a hole-in-the-wall burger joint. It’s Americana; it’s homey-ness. It’s bluegrass or shaped-note singing. It’s accessible and shared. It might be delivered in paper, or on something disposable. Simplicity, however, doesn’t guarantee goodness. And at the same time, complexity and creativity aren’t necessarily counter to a good burger experience.

As impatient creatures, we don’t always appreciate slow, or something requiring more than a quick glance to consume/understand… which is where the book and the burger meet on the same page …

Reading Ulysses was part of one of the first grad classes I took, and is one of those books that you’re supposed to read. But I think the world might be a better place if we could get an actual, legitimate account of people who have finished it — every page, and give them some long suffering reader award. Modern readers, accustomed to 140 characters, probably won’t even make it out of chapter 1 (which features Buck Mulligan). It comes from that strain of creativity that emerged in the early 20th century that embraced complexity and the shattering of old tropes (and that revelled in ironic self-reference) for it’s own sake — think Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner, Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, etc.

IMG_2895And the book is beautiful on multiple levels; the complexity and irony in it adds to its depth and its art. The burger at Buck Mulligans — with its Guinness sauce, spinach leaves and garlic aioli on a sweet/brioche-type bun — could make similar claims in the world of burgers.

Buck’s opened in the summer of 2015, and the food — what I’ve experienced — is well conceived and well executed. I sampled the corned beef and have been told the fish and chips are excellent. But for all its claims to Irish pub-ness (which it can legitimately claim for most of the food), it’s also not a burger joint, by any stretch. Might there be a winking, self-referential, ironic nod in a place that transacts on the homey feel of an Irish pub (with thoughts of green beer, songs and lots of beer/whiskey) and also features shaved brussel sprouts and kale on a salad? Is the idea of a night of Jameson shots and a salad liver cleanse a cocktail you’d fix for yourself?

And none of this takes away anything from Buck Mulligan’s fun ambiance and tasty food. It’s actually an admission that a place that raises the bar on pub food in Birmingham is doing it with a good natured, post-modern nudge in the ribs. So yes, an Irish pub has a really good burger that is topped with “aioli”  — a burger that I would recommend (and likely enjoy again) — a complex and delicious burger. It was cooked as I asked (not MW, I live on the edge for medium). And the combo of fried onions and the Guinness sauce were a sweet and salty mix that works. With other fun touches — hints of garlic, spinach and grill scores on the bun, it’s good, better than good. It’s a very artistic presentation that is equal to the taste.

And yes, I had a lovely discussion with co-owner Michael Gordon about fries (both he and the other owner Danny Winter were present when I visited). And Buck’s hand-cuts their fries. They are shoestring size, crispy and a nice compliment.

  • Burger — complex tastes mix well together  … 8.75
  • Fixins — not a complete surprise, and it works … 8.5
  • Presentation and ambiance — it’s a pub with good Irish-themed pub food … 7
  • Fries — you had me at hand-cut … 8
  • Costs — moderate

I’ll go back to Buck’s. I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed a place that has a good vibe, with food more intricate than you might at first expect. But just don’t ask me to re-read Ulysses …

Buck Mulligan's Public House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

http://www.yelp.com/biz/buck-mulligans-public-house-birmingham?hrid=fcKFlGs8BaJS1lINvpjBSQ

Happiness Project: If you’re Prince, it’s cool to be weird

Today, I’m equating guilty pleasures and being happy. If chocolate cake or porches or whatever can bring a few minutes of happiness, I owe at least a nod to his majestic purple weirdness. If I’ve had a guilty pleasure when it comes to music, it has been Prince since the early 1980s.

I was a little bitter at that time in my life … (trust me, I’ve gotten over it). The whole world was not-Lady and not-man Gaga over this one-gloved, unusually high-pitched voiced guy who kept promising the world … over and over … that he wasn’t Billie Jean’s lover.

All the time, I was sneaking reads of the words to Darlin’ Nikki and hoping whichever radio station played “Let’s Go Crazy,” wouldn’t use the short version of the song, which cut off a few seconds of the guitar solo at the end.

Man, that annoyed me.

I was a Prince fan already, because 1999 had been a staple of the band bus. I didn’t have a copy of it, but I knew which songs on it that I liked: 1999, DMSR, Lady Cab Driver and Delirious (I was never that crazy about Little Red Corvette … though I like Corvettes … and the songs was kinda slutty, you know).

My parents – God, love em – didn’t monitor my music a lot, but there was no way I was going to see Purple Rain.

But when I got in high school, I bought a copy of Around the World in a Day, the follow up album to Purple Rain. To non-Prince people, it’s the Raspberry Beret album …

Which brings me to an important Prince-point: the crap on the radio was usually the often doofus-music, as he might tell you himself, schlocked together for Warner Bros. Raspberry Beret was catchy, but with the depth of a your basic sideline or locker room interview.

There are plenty of songs on that album that I flat wore out. And I used to be able – all you oldsters will know of what I speak – to flip the tape at just the right point to begin songs I wanted on the other side of the tape.

I liked that he was catchy, lurid and everything that rock and roll should be. But I was completed taken to another level of weird appreciation when I read the liner notes … I don’t have them around, but let’s just agree on one Prince thing, which was crystal clear from reading those notes:

That is one conflicted dude! All the stuff about God and thanking God for this and that, then songs like Temptation, about sex and going to Hell.

I’ve endured much in my Prince appreciation:

  • I actually watched “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Graffiti Bridge.” Get the soundtracks. As for the movies … If you need a film review, let’s put it this way: Madonna’s films look good compared to these; Roger Corman looks like Stanley Kubrick; those are not tears coming from my eyes … it’s the blood from gouging my eyes out.
  • I quit caring during his symbol days. It went over the top, even though there are songs I like.
  • Not everything – especially stuff done to get out of the Warner contract – is his best work. He mails it in, on occasion.

But I look past all this to his purple funkiness. Enjoy some clips of a couple of my favorites …

Ballad of Dorothy Parker

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x6njop
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker (Live at Leno) by CJanssen

Anotherloverholenyohead

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x6rcff
ANOTHERLOVERHOLENYOHEAD Live 1986 by samsarax

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x93d85
Prince Lets Go Crazy / Purple Rain tour 1985 by Recoda321

Check out these great blogs, too, from other happy people.

Happiness Project: To all the words I loved before …

I like to think of myself as a complicated man (it’s been my experience that most people think they are, too … but no, really, I AM). I grew up in the country and have fought dirt clod wars, wormed cows and baled hay. At the same time, I studied medieval literature and swore off Bette Midler for the last 20 years.*

*I tried telling Bette to leave me alone. Yes she’s brassy, but CLINGY. I just said, “Enough woman, I banish you for the decade of the 1990s” … and it just has seemed to carry over.

I’ve hit a stage in life – a nice one – in which I’m old enough to know better but sometimes I’m too old to care. And at the heart of it all, I will admit to being a geek. A word nerd. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake.

Thus, words make me happy. I love them. I’ve been accused of thinking too much, but some of these words give us a refreshing, summer-like view of life and why we’re spinning on this planet.

Like the people who’ve passed in and out of my life (and I feel like I should be breaking out in Willie Nelson/Julio Iglesias “To all the girls, I’ve loved before …”), I have words that have left a lasting impression on me. I think about these words, because in various areas of my life, they have spoken to me. They have spoken of the interconnectedness that we all share, because they sometimes give deeper meaning to something. They remind me that to hold two disparate ideas at the same time is more fascinating than insane.

Or maybe I like them just because I think words are cool.

  • Communicate – the same root word, “commune” is at the heart of the words community and common. It’s cool to me that the word we use for where we live is also the word for the process of exchanging information and ideas. When you add in that the word communion is also connected to this, it points to something other-wordly and un-defineable in how we communicate. Words themselves become the connection between people. It really is a mystery that we have specific words that mean specific things — like dog being a dog. But somehow, it’s like we have a connection we can’t explain, understanding where its unexpected and a yearning to be … connected with others.
  • Remember — Memories are sometimes all the happiness that we can tap into. But if you’re like me, I can’t say I have some catalogue in my head and can tap into those ideas and feelings at the drop of a hat. I have to remember them. I’d not thought much about what that means until someone pointed out to me the word is a combination of “re” and “member.” That’s awesome, folks! Memory isn’t about a little snapshot; it’s actually a process of making us whole again. It returns the displaced part of us, of our lives to a wholeness.
  • Adventure — A word used in the Christian church to evoke awaiting, anticipating something (advent) is the same word that we use when we talk about something exciting, heading into the unknown. The meaning seems to have evolved: one meaning before it happens and the other the entirety of the experience. And in the end, they both point to how we are changed and readied for something bigger and more important by walking boldly into the future.
  • Value — Not too much on this one, but I do like that it means both something that I place a worth on and at the same time, it means what is intrinsically important about something. It kind of points to the importance of the action of placing value on something … but at the same time, maybe not. It’s complicated.

There are other words. But you may have some of your own. Feel free to leave any you love in the comments, because they are likely to have made both of us happy at some point.

If you haven’t already, visit some of the other great people who have taken the happiness challenge … Here are links to their blogs:

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