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Funbag

Help, Help! I Think Tiny Desk Concerts Are Fucking Stupid!

Tiny Desk Concert studio
NPR

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about baseball, caring for ailing loved ones, pissing on airplanes, and more.

Your letters:

John:

With a few notable exceptions, every time I see someone on Tiny Desk I’m like, “Oh ok, so this is just like their regular music but a little worse.” I realize that the format isn’t doing any favors to artists who have to change their whole thing up to participate. My question is: Does Tiny Desk kind of suck?

For those of you who don’t listen to NPR (me), Tiny Desk is a concert series where extremely famous artists come do a set in a super-confined space: smaller than an arena but larger than the interior of a Honda Element. Here’s a sample concert from a shockingly middle-aged 311. Somehow I was not ready for 311 to look that old.

Tiny Desk wouldn’t appear to be all that different from when big acts come into Howard Stern’s studio and do a few hits. It’s like a live recording session, which is fun to listen to as a radio show is unfolding, because you’re in the moment with the band. It’s a novelty, like the Radiohead basement sessions. But these aren’t shows I want to go back to over and over again, because I’m a very boring person who prefers the original studio tracks if they’re close at hand. The “intimacy” of a Tiny Desk concert only really exists if you’re in that room with the band. Otherwise, I’m watching 311 do a stripped-down version of “Down” on my phone. While waiting for my nurse practitioner. This probably isn’t how 311 intended it, even if they’re old farts like me now.

So to (very belatedly) answer your question, John: The tiny concerts are perfectly good if you’re in the right mood/place. It’s just that I’m rarely ever in that mood. At all times, I need music that feels like it’s being played in the center of a packed gladiator stadium in outer space.

Luke:

Portland, OR has an extremely large number of Honda Elements, which are the least practical practical cars ever. No roll down rear windows for your dog (or adventure cat) to enjoy the breeze. And you can supposedly camp in the back, but it’s like 5’5” long.

The first time my wife and I bought a family car, I had the Element on our shortlist even though it had already gone out of production. I wanted a roomy car, but one that was still “sporty” enough to make me feel like a single, active person. The kind of guy you see mountaineering in an ad for shitty whiskey. So I thought the Element was cool, even though it looked like the preferred mode of transit for someone delivering pizzas in Norway. We found a used one on a lot and I got very excited. Then I stepped into the thing and realized oh, this car is a piece of shit. So we bought a CRV instead. It did the job. No one mistook me for a movie star while I drove it. Also, I did not camp in it.

But I haven’t gone camping in over 30 years. I’m a lifelong suburbanite with hands soft to the touch, so the only time I’ll ever sleep in a tent again is if I’ve been murdered in one. Again, this is why the Element appealed to me in the first place. If an ad for any mid-level SUV is like, “You can go camping in it!” I’m like oh yeah that’s jam. Some of you more rugged types have maybe taken a beat-up Element on a road trip through Moab or some shit, back when you just graduated college. But I, a middle-aged professional, only want a car that allows me to entertain the idea that I can do something even if I’ll never do it. I’m a real man that way. Ask Harrison Butker.

Matt:

Tipping with your phone, or with anything but cash money dollars, is a terrible greenhorn move. Do you want your hard-earned tipping capital to go to the assistant manager, or, worse, to the man? Of course not. Pay with your phone, fine, but tip with cash. This is the way. 

I’m inclined to agree with you and feel the correct amount of shame in doing so, but I’m getting tripped up in two places. First of all, my kid works at an ice cream store and the iPad tips do, indeed, go into the employee tipping pool. I’m sure the boss skims off the top, and I’m sure Square takes their pound of flesh as well. But most of the pool goes to my kid and her colleagues. Secondly, I never have small bills on me in vital tipping moments. I rarely pay in cash, which means that my wallet usually contains little more than a few 20s I got from the ATM. And I can’t tip someone in cash and then ask for change back, because then I’ll look like a cheap asshole. This may not be true, but I still can’t bring myself to be like, “Listen I wanna tip you but not THAT much. Can you guys break a 50?” So I just add a tip to my bill and pray, Democrat-style, that my money is going to the right people.

That was a long-winded way of telling you that I’m lazy as shit.

Mark:

Are any of your kids Vikings fans? To what degree did you force and/or influence them? 

I’m glad you asked, Mark, because nothing pleases me more than finding an excuse to talk Vikes in May, when peak NFL news consists of slow-rolling out the release of a schedule that’s already been set from last season’s standings. Anyway, I spent a lot of time this spring watching old Drake Maye games in preparation for his arrival in Minnesota (this did not occur). While I was binging one of those games, my 15-year-old asked me, “Dad, should I watch the Vikings with you this season?” He has not watched football with me since he was in grade school, and even then he wasn’t a Vikings fan. I played it cool when he brought up the idea of turning to the purple side, but here’s what was running through my head when he asked”

1. OH MY GOD ONE OF MY KIDS FINALLY WANTS TO BE A VIKES FAN.

2. If I let him become one, other people will be like, “You’re an abusive parent for letting him cheer for those losers.” But fuck those people! I’ve been a solitary fan of this team since 1991! I deserve companionship, motherfucker!

3. If the boy really does come aboard, that may turn the tide in our favor. He’d be a good-luck charm! THE FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE IS HERE AT LAST.

4. What if he becomes as annoying about this team as I am? Will the world accept him?

Anyway, I ended up playing it too cool, because he never brought it up again. I’ve always made a point of never forcing my kids to watch any sport or root for any specific team. But if one of my kids naturally gravitated toward being a Vikes fan, I would fucking skip down the road.

Kalyn (not Kahler):

Do we really need to keep lumping hockey in as a Big 4 league? While we're at it, baseball is on notice that we're headed toward a Big 2 with 2-3 Smalls. 

Due to my age, I’ll always keep a mental Big 4 of NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB. This doesn’t make much sense, given than I haven’t watched a regular-season NHL game since 1994 and couldn’t name more than a dozen active MLB players. There’s also the fact that soccer has like eight big leagues of its own. Oh, and women’s leagues, the WNBA in particular, deserve to be part of the conversation as well. That last part is one I’ve tried to be a lot more sensitive to over the past few years, because I have a residual amount of sports chauvinism I still have to ditch.

But on reflex, I’ll always think in terms of the aforementioned Big 4, or just the Big 1 that is the NFL. Roger Goodell wants his league to be a year-round news generator, and guess what? His efforts have worked on me, a common sheep. Now, let’s talk about whether or not Minnesota should be content to let Brandon Powell and Trent Sherfield battle it out for the WR3 spot…

Chris:

What are the unwritten rules of baseball?

Oh god, someone finally asked it. I could do the thing where I just google that question to find the answer for you, but that’s not as fun as trying to guess them off the top of my head. Lemme try that right now. Here are your unwritten rules of baseball:

  • If you throw at us, we throw at you.
  • Go ahead and celebrate a home run, but don’t show us up when you do…
  • …especially if you’re already winning by like 10 runs.
  • Don’t call for a gunk check if you know that both of us are using gunk.
  • Don’t raise your spikes when you slide.
  • Don’t acknowledge a no-hitter currently in progress.
  • Don’t bunt during a no-hitter, you fucking sleaze.
  • If you crowd the plate, you get a fastball to the dome.
  • If you retaliate for the above beanball, let’s agree to empty the dugouts and make like we’re about to have a big fight before we all head back and play resumes without much incident.
  • WHOA HEY DON’T THROW AN ACTUAL PUNCH DURING OUR PRETEND FIGHT!
  • Don’t play like you’re down a run—stealing bases, etc—when you’re up by a shitload.
  • Don’t flip your bat at someone. That’s unsafe.
  • Don’t swap wives midseason. You have to wait until Christmas for that.

I’m sure I’ve missed dozens more, but that’s the fun of the invisible MLB rulebook. You get to discover a new man law every week!

Ben:

I've been following the current Trump trial involving Stormy Daniels and noticed there was a question as to whether or not Trump used a condom. Daniels said "No." I mean, it's TRUMP, of course he isn't gonna use a condom right? So the question I put to you Drew is, in his entire sexual history, has Donald Trump EVER used a condom?

Abso-smurf-ly not. Trump is a very specific kind of pig, one that was widespread in the 1980s but less so right now. Trump’s stance on birth control is rooted in a few core beliefs: condoms are weird and gross, heterosexual men can’t get AIDS, and birth control—before or after conception—is the woman’s problem. The idea that a man would have to sheath his big, powerful dick to prevent pregnancy/disease is an affront to Trump. We used to have penises in this country; why don’t we have them anymore? There were penises everywhere here, some of the biggest penises you’ve ever seen BELIEVE ME. And 10s like Stephanie Zimbalist would make them grow so big and strong. Like great big gorgeous stalks of wheat!

And now what? I was eating roast beef the other day with Sammy—remember Sammy?—and he told me he that he hadn’t seen another penis in years. Is that because of Slippery Tony Fauci? Could be, could be. We’ll have to see about that.

HALFTIME!

Adam:

The short version: my mom had an event last month that docs assume was some form of encephalitis. She went from a perfectly sharp older woman who rows and teaches ESL to one who could barely form complete sentences. And when she did form sentences, she had a bunch of false memories of her doing horrible things that absolutely never happened. We thought we were going to lose her, but some combination of various drugs seems to have stopped her decline.

Now she has to recover. While we've got a good physical roadmap as to rehab (she was hospitalized for the better part of a month and lost a ton of weight and muscle mass), none of us have any idea what she should be doing on the mental side of things. If you directly talk to her, she'll engage, follow a conversation, and sound like her normal self. But then she shuts down, for lack of a better term. Kinda just has a thousand-yard stare and doesn't read, doesn't watch TV, doesn't write, doesn't do anything; just sits there until you re-engage her. My dad's got his hands full just managing her right now and while my brother and I are working on him to get some help in the house for a few hours, I'd love to know if you recommend anything that helped you recover. Much appreciated.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Adam is referring to a serious brain injury that I suffered six years ago. To this day, no one knows what caused that injury. Perhaps I too had a bout of encephalitis, as its causes often go undetected. Either way, I had similar issues to Adam’s mom in the wake of my brain hemorrhage. I nearly died, for one. I had false memories. I wasn’t always coherent when I spoke. I didn’t want to talk to people, not even my own parents. I had mood swings I didn’t even realize I was having. When I grew more lucid, I still had mental illness issues, later placed under a blanket diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, that I was only able to recover from thanks to medication, therapy, TLC from my family, and time. Lots of time. Patience and time, one might say.

But while I was recovering from that disorder, you wouldn’t have known I had a problem. I looked normal, but inside I was fucked. I couldn’t explain it to my wife, because A) I myself wasn’t sure what was wrong with me—sometimes I didn’t think there was anything wrong at all, and B) Only I get to live in my head. I couldn’t get someone else to understand my plight if they weren’t not experiencing it exactly as I was, which is still somewhat true to this day.

All that said, I don’t think my case neatly maps to that of your mother, Adam. When I shut down in dark moments, I was conscious of doing so. I didn’t shut off at random. And when I shut down now, it’s extremely deliberate. I have the Dad Stare these days, where I look like I’m spacing out but am really just thinking about football. I don’t think this jibes with your mom’s current affliction. Hers reminds me much more of dementia, or some other sort of degenerative condition where your cognition is compromised for long stretches, and then permanently. And there, I’m afraid I’m of little help. I’ve had to deal with dementia-type illnesses in loved ones, and sometimes all you can do is manage. Sometimes medication works (anti-depressants, for example), but often only for a short time. Or it works wonders only for some other crack to show up in the dike. It’s an impossible illness to pin down, which makes it exhausting for all parties involved. But you deal. You search for more help, you try to get as many answers as you can, and you cheer whatever progress you can hold onto. That’s all you can do.

I’ll reiterate here that neither my case, nor those of my loved ones, are a perfect match for the one that Adam outlined above. So please don’t consider me an authority here, amigo. Get it from someone who’s well-versed in this exact form of trauma. The only recommendation that you can trust from me is to keep on being there for the afflicted. That’s its own from of treatment, and when I got hurt it was perhaps the most vital one.

Connor:

What latitude do I have to complain about personal problems I am actively ignoring? I am in my mid-30s and starting to develop a bald spot to complement an already receding hairline. I half-jokingly complain to my wife about it occasionally, all without buying generic Propecia for it. Ditto for bitching about my joints, where I do high-impact exercise regularly while not spending enough time on recovery. Am I okay to occasionally air my dissatisfaction, or do I need to pipe down until I’ve made some concrete strides?

Connor, welcome to middle age, where 80 percent of all conversations consist of complaining about something wrong with you. There’s a bumpy vein on your calf that you hate. Your shoulder hurts and you don’t know why. You went to this one doctor and oh my god the wait time! Awful! And you had to spend 87 minutes on the phone with United Healthcare the other day just to get them to approve your lupus meds. Fucking ridiculous! I’m not sure my wife and I have had a conversation about actual world events since like 2017.

It doesn’t really matter if these problems are self-inflicted or not. This is America, where everyone’s problem is always someone else’s fault. So you’re under no obligation to take responsibility for your receding hairline (no other bald man will hold it against you, because those drugs only work so well), or for your knees breaking down thanks to an insatiable jogging habit. Like me, you’ll probably need way more time than necessary to change all of your worst habits. But you still get to complain about them in the interim, because they suck. What else are you gonna talk about, Michael Cohen showing up at Trump’s trial? BOOOOOOOOOOR-ING. Everyone would much rather hear about your corns.

Eric:

Steve Albini died today and I'm still just so shocked. He was only 61. I was fortunate enough to see Shellac a handful of times over the years while living in central Illinois in the 90's, and in Chicago from the early aughts to today. I can't think of a more quintessential Chicago musician. He shaped my musical taste more than I ever realized until today. I have some friends who work in the industry and they are just at a loss. Why does it seem that only the truly terrible people just live forever? I think you can gauge where I'm going with this part, but please feel free to elaborate. 

I’ve asked myself that same question while also knowing that it’s something of a canard. Plenty of shitty people die suddenly, like Antonin Scalia. And some quality people live forever, like Bernie. You only notice the horrible people living on because they’re actively doing bad shit, which draws your eye (and the media’s) more than if they had built a new playground. Also, a lot of those people only become bad after hitting age 200. Take Dianne Feinstein, for instance. Prime Dianne Feinstein had a pretty incredible resume. Then she got old and turned into a black hole for progress. The latter is the Feinstein I’ll remember. That’s probably unfair, but also fuck her for not turning in her badge when the rest of us needed her to.

JD:

Waiting for the bathroom on a plane sucks. Wouldn’t a deli-style take-a-number system work wonders towards lessening aisle congestion, not to mention anxiety about when you’ll actually get access to the bathroom?

I don’t trust airlines to implement your proposal without turning it into a caste system where United Diamond Jubilee Members get priority bathroom access on all flights and anyone sitting in back has to tie their urethra in a knot. The current setup is herky-jerky, but it’s OK if things are herky-jerky. Not everything has to be optimized and automated within an inch of its sentience. Plus, there’s a sign in the cabin that tells you if the pisser is open or not! That’s no small help. You can try to time it so that you get out of your seat just when that light goes off, or you can get up and wait by the door, getting in a light stretch as you wait for that lock to go green. Some flight crews are quick with the whistle and ding you if you get up to piss with the seat belt light still on, but other crews will let you play. It’s all about your instincts, baby. Mine are sharp as a razor. Being tall and possessing a highly crane-able neck gives me an advantage, but I’m not gonna apologize for that.

Peter:

Would you rather sell out and make millions of dollars but be the Krusty the Clown of the Sunday comics like Jim Davis, or be considered the greatest of all time but also be considered a tortured genius like Bill Watterson?

Oh I’d much rather be Jim Davis. With apologies to Jon Bois, I don’t trust anyone who, in 2024, still considers Hobbes to be their spirit animal. I’m happy for you and your earnestness, but let’s not go twee signaling to every other Gen Xer about it. Besides, The Far Side was the better comic anyway. Also, I worshipped Garfield when I was a kid, because he was fat and so was I. Garfield taught me how to be gross, so I respect him. I also respect Jim Davis’s money.

Now Scott Adams? Completely different story. I’d rather kiss a running bandsaw than be that prick.

Matthew:

How long will it be before a day goes by without anyone anywhere on the planet listening to a Beatles song? I think it will be sooner than 100 years, given the way tastes seem to be changing more rapidly and attention spans seem to be getting shorter. 

Zero chance it’s 100 years. The Beatles are now part of the historical musical canon, which means their shit will last as long as Beethoven, Mozart, or Toto. And here’s proof:

Pete:

I teach at a heavily African-American high school (my class is African-American studies, which, as a white teacher, is another story for another email) in Detroit. During class, I was playing, “Here Comes the Sun,” on my guitar, and most of the 30 kids knew the words and sang along. Is there any other group, besides the Beatles, that transcends so many demographic and sociological barriers? 

Yes because I still see “Actually The Beatles Were Bad???” takes out there in the wild from people who lack a functioning brainstem. I hate “Wild Honey Pie” as much as the next guy, but I know a timeless artist when I see one.

With that in mind, plenty of other artists have established worldwide cachet. One of them is currently the most famous Kansas City Chiefs fan alive. The others include Elvis, the Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Beyoncé, and, again, Toto.

Email of the week!

Chris:

My dog and I were recently accredited as a therapy team. I decided to enroll us in one of the local hospital therapy animal programs. Giving back to the community AND hanging out with my best friend? Sign me up! As part of the orientation, I shadowed the program leader with his dog. We arrive at our first stop, a middle aged man who was very excited to see the pup. To get closer to the dog, he proceeds to swing his leg over to the side of the bed. It was at this moment that his massive, saggy dick and balls flop out from under his gown. Since this is a hospital, I expected to see some crouch shots. However, as soon as this man got to the edge of the bed, the dog proceeded to BURY his face in said dick and balls for an extended sniff. So next time you’re in a hospital, remember that there is a therapy dog somewhere going snout-deep in some gonads.

I honestly have zero problem with that.

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