Author Archives: Jeff Vrabel

About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more.

38 Years Later, We Revisit ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and Yeah Never Mind It’s Still Garbage (The Loop / Golf Digest)

What font is this even

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The Loop / Golf Digest — “Wonderful Christmastime” is the worst of Christmas songs, but it makes up for it by also being the worst of all songs, the worst song ever written by a human, Beatle or otherwise, the worst melody, the worst synthesizer, the worst production, the worst Wings song, the worst pronunciation of the word “here,” the worst lyrics, the worst scent. I have never seen the cover of the 45, but I bet it f**ing sucks. “Wonderful Christmastime” is the most terrible song ever written by anyone, or anything, ever, including robots and gorillas and Puff Daddy and Courtney Love. No one likes “Wonderful Christmastime.” No one. Paul McCartney hates it. All of Paul McCartney’s wives hate it. Santa thinks it’s a joke. God is like, ” I did not bestow upon you the Breath of Life to dishonor me with this unMely dreck,” and I imagine He’s not real happy about “Ebony and Ivory” either.

This goes on for like 900 more words, sorry.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Graciously Answers Questions From My Children (Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly — For a nearly infinite number of reasons, I am profoundly under-equipped to interview astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I do not know the age of the sun, I have zero ideas about how to deflect murderous asteroids rocketing at us from deep space, and I know precisely two facts about Saturn, which are the same two you do. (It has rings and would float in an enormous bathtub.)

For this reason, and to preview Tyson’s December 5 appearance at Old National Centre, I have outsourced the following interview to two much more knowledgeable associates: my 13-year-old and 6-year-old, who joined me in listening to Tyson’s endlessly enjoyable StarTalk podcast on the drive home from Thanksgiving and have, as such, come to regard Tyson as Earth’s Smartest Person. Tyson, quite graciously, is happy to go along with this. “All you need is curiosity, and kids have it in abundance,” he says. “A professional scientist is simply a kid who never grew up.” (My 6-year-old, on the morning drive to kindergarten, asked me, “Is this the day you talk to that guy who’s the biggest expert on everything?”)

Indeed, as a best-selling author, podcast host, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, owner of a Twitter account with 10 million followers, host of the revival of the Cosmos television program, and teacher of unceasing charm and enthusiasm, Tyson has achieved the superstar status afforded to scientists like Carl Sagan, the MythBusters and, y’know, Einstein. He’ll bring all that expertise to town in a one-man show titled An Astrophysicist Reads the Newspaper, all about the current scientific climate, as well as asteroid collisions, cosmic travel, dark matter, and purely theoretical objects known as “newspapers.” (The show’s about two and a half hours and for all ages, though some language may be PG-13, because when discussing your potential extermination by enormous flying mountains from space, it’s appropriate to curse a little.)

So now, if you’ll permit, my sons throw a few questions to the biggest expert on everything.

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Why I Am Happily Plunging My Family Into Poverty Because of Honeycrisp Apples (Fatherly)

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Fatherly – I don’t have a large house, a Trunk Club membership, or student loans, but my children only eat Honeycrisp apples so it’s all sort of a wash.

Honeycrisp apples are the fresh, plump varietal in the produce section under the sign labeled “Prohibitively Expensive Versions of Normal Food.” They are large. They are delicious. Unlike stupid dumb loser apples, which break as though you’re cutting into oatmeal, Honeycrisps, true to their name, crack in a crisp example of Nature’s Majestic Symmetry, like the crystals of a geode, their little droplets of juice-spray playing delightfully in the air.

If I sound prejudiced against other apples, it’s because I hate them.

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Thanksgiving Was Immeasurably Improved By ‘Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp’ (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

Tooooooooooot

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The Loop / Golf Digest — If over the Thanksgiving holiday you noticed friends and family members avoiding the table’s undying debates about Colin Kaepernick by staring at their laps, there’s a decent chance they were doing more than praying for the sweet release of death: They were probably playing “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp!” The long-awaited smartphone version of Nintendo’s classic sandbox game, “Pocket Camp” arrived on Nintendo’s GameCube in 1697, arrived on pocket phone machines last week, perfectly timed to offer players a fresh reason to ignore the genealogically connected monsters with whom they were required to interact.

If you’re familiar with “Animal Crossing,” my username is Sparrow and FRIEND ME, I need more people with whom to trade olive flounder. If you’re not familiar with “Animal Crossing,” and spent the holiday “playing golf” or “watching Michigan lose” or some nonsense, please read on, and then FRIEND ME, I need more people with whom to trade fruit beetles.

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Give This Man Some More Awards: A Review of Gregory Porter at the Palladium (Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly — Gregory Porter’s rich, sturdy baritone is filed under jazz in large part because singers have to be called something; those “genre” fields don’t fill themselves out, people.

It’s true that Porter won exceedingly deserved jazz vocal Grammys for 2017’s Take Me to the Alleyand 2014’s Liquid Spirit (and odds are pretty good on a third for his new tribute album, Nat “King” Cole and Me), all of which arrived via Blue Note. But while his big, booming voice is worthy of gold, filing it under jazz leaves out more than it lets in. Porter wields command over a vast range of genre fields, as he proved in a gleaming and diverse Saturday night set at the Palladium: Rare is the performer who can conjure Cole’s ghost, lead his own band through a steam-train version of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and close by gorgeously damning an industry complicit in “musical genocide” all in a baritone that booms as much as it comforts.

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How to Properly Decode Your Child’s Parent-Teacher Conference (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

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The Loop / Golf Digest — It’s fall! Which means the football team you’ve loved since age 8 is being used as ugly political currency, your preferred cereal brands are all issuing pumpkin-themed novelty editions that taste like orange garbage and your children’s schools are contacting you about parent-teacher conferences, those annual events in which teachers take time out of their languid, relaxing lifestyles to schedule some time in which they can be directed by parents to pay more individual attention to their daughter’s snack habits.

Sure, parent-teacher conferences may seem like they exist primarily to make you scramble for child care at 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday, but it turns out the people raising your kids for seven hours every day do have information they wish to impart. They just can’t do that using their grownup words, because as a rule, parents deeply object to negative commentary about their children, forcing everybody to use strange circular patterns of conversation that only occasionally say what they mean. Here now, a helpful translation to what’s really going on.

“Your child is so full of energy!” = WHAT IN THE NAME OF SKIPPYJON JONES DO YOU FEED YOUR UNGROWN CHILD IN THE MORNINGS? Is there a Skittles cereal? Is he just eating smushed-up gobs of Lucky Charms marshmallows? Your overcaffeinated wombat couldn’t remain stationary if I duct-taped his butt to his tiny chair, which I can’t do because of the “school board,” thanks a lot Obama. Look, I’m not saying ADHD, you’re not saying ADHD, but if you guys haven’t worked out a strategy about such things, it’s probably worth a Google. Meanwhile, tomorrow, for breakfast, TRY SOME FRUIT.

More at The Loop / Golf Digest.

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How Would Your Friends Review You? (via Success)

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Success — It is one of the truths of human nature that we ask for honesty from our friends, family and loved ones, so long as that honesty is unfailingly positive and contains no bad news whatsoever.

We crave attention and revel in approval, seeking it by means both conscious and sneaky. We ask directly (“Is this what you were looking for?”) and solicit passively (“I’m not very good at this, so I hope it’s close to what you’re looking for”). We ask leading questions (“Does this shirt make my stomach look fat?”) and frame our statements to solicit responses (“Ugh, this shirt makes my stomach look fat”). We lightly bait those whose approval we crave (“I’m only buying this shirt if it doesn’t make my stomach look fat”). Be honest, we say, when what we really mean is just tell me I’m OK.

When we’re asked to furnish those honest assessments of a loved one, spouse, colleague, barista, barber or bartender, we make a full stop, our brains flinging themselves through a maze of psychological pulls and snap decisions. Should I be honest with this person? Can I be honest? Will they take my honesty too hard? Will they be hurt?

Feedback, in short, sucks. When it’s bad, we ignore it, push it away or spend hours listing the reasons why it’s illegitimate, biased or unfair. When it’s good, we wrap ourselves tightly in a blanket of it, assured that our self-opinions have been safely validated. It’s a hopelessly tricky thing. So when SUCCESS asked me to submit to a 360-degree feedback review of myself via friends, family and colleagues, I’m pretty sure I said yes without thinking it all the way through.

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No Phones at Concerts? Bob Dylan May Be Onto Something (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

“Stop tweeting already”

 

The Loop / Golf Digest — Bob Dylan did a weird thing at his concert Monday night at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington, Ind. Well, he did a ton of weird things. He did nothing but weird things. He played a mostly spoken-word version of “Tangled Up in Blue,” then warmly growled half-dozen old-timey Sinatra standards from the back of the stage while wearing a white dinner jacket. It was a curious evening, is what I’m saying. We never had this problem at Jimmy Buffett.

But the most weirdest of weird things was that Dylan issued a comprehensive cell phone ban and dispatched a surprisingly remorseless staff of IU sophomore volunteers to enforce it with the militant fire you usually only associate with students smuggling flasks of Mad Dog into football games (which actually doesn’t happen at IU, they’re just happy to have people there). These security people were ON IT. I tried to take a picture of the stage — just the stage, with nobody on it, with the house lights on — and two red-shirted valkyries descended on me like I’d just tried to jack Dylan’s trunk of bolo ties. In short, the ban worked — there was nary a telltale blue light in sight. It was impossibly odd to scan the crowd and see actual blackness, a bracingly strange moment of nostalgia, like being in a restaurant where people are smoking.

Which led us to wonder: Is Bob Dylan onto something?

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Slightly Confused Review: Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples at the IU Auditorium (via Indianapolis Monthly)

Indianapolis Monthly — A longtime Bob Dylan–fan friend of mine recently made this very good point: For all of Dylan’s reputation as an inscrutable recluse, a sly mystery, some mythic brand of unknowable stringy-haired wraith, he’s not that hard to catch.

I don’t have the exact math on this—God save anyone who does—but Dylan is on the road so much that everyone gave up and started calling it the “Never-Ending Tour.” He releases an album maybe every other year; the most recent is a set of three CDs. He’s up to 13 editions of his ample “Bootleg Series,” the latest of which comprises eight discs chronicling his still-not-unweird Christian-flavored “Gospel Tour.” (It accompanies the just-released documentary “Trouble No More,” which features gobs of new footage.) To recap: That’s eight archive CDs for a weird spell that produced two albums that people mostly did not like. And while he’s hardly a cover model or anything, he’s good for a major interview or two every year, which was at one time considered an appropriate amount to hear from famous singers.

Point is, if you’re looking, Dylan is about as hard to find as a bag of Doritos. Armed with this revisionist knowledge, I attended my first Dylan concert in 12 years on Sunday night at the IU Auditorium, and found him … pretty much an inscrutable recluse. The full review at Indianapolis Monthly. 

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A Few Contributions to ‘S is for Southern’ from Garden and Gun

Thrilled have contributed to the gorgeous S is for Southern: A Guide to the South, from Absinthe to Zydeco, from the great people at Garden and Gun. I wrote about Savannah, R.E.M., James Brown, indigo snakes, nicknames, Carl Perkins and others, just not boiled peanuts, because let’s be honest those are very gross.

Buy the book here.

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