FatherLeonardKayser(I delivered the following eulogy for Father Leonard Kayser at a couple of prayer services this week and wanted to share it here to provide anyone interested with some background on my great uncle, who was a tremendous influence upon my life. You should also take the time to read this fantastic story the Press & Dakotan printed about his life and influence. I’ve heard so many stories and expressions of love for Father Kayser this week that it really has ended up feeling like more of a celebration than a time to mourn. The key is to keep working toward the values he strove for during his lifetime.)


When Father Leonard Kayser looked back on his 50 years as a priest in 2009, he described it as “ordinary.”
“I graciously accepted each assignment as the Will of God for me at that point,” he said. “I was blessed by the people in every one of the parishes I have served. The years as Rural Life director (for the Sioux Falls Diocese) were especially blessed because I got to know many wonderful people and go to many places I never would have been otherwise.”
But how many of us would describe Father Kayser’s impact upon our lives as ordinary?
His gift was to ask questions of us, to call us out of our complacency and to encourage us to be better humans than maybe we thought possible.
Some have referred to his “prophetic voice.” It was real. It was revolutionary. And it was powerful.
If Father Kayser himself was ordinary, it was in the sense that he was a complicated figure.
He was a great man, but he was a man. He could be glowing and generous. He could also be short-tempered. Father Kayser had personal struggles, as all of us do, and I think they helped him connect with and help the individuals he encountered at the South Dakota Human Services Center and the Yankton Federal Prison Camp. He knew he could learn from them and did.
He was an advocate for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others – and in their own eyes. He recognized human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he offered understanding and encouragement to individuals struggling with those realities.
When he saw mistreatment or neglect of mental patients or prisoners, he took action. He raised his voice. His advocacy wasn’t always popular with those around him, and he sometimes paid a price. But he couldn’t look the other way. Whatever these men and women were suffering from or might have done, he believed they deserved to be treated with kindness and respect.
I know how deeply he loved the Catholic faith and the Church, and yet he often criticized the hierarchy of the Church as too patriarchal and certain of itself. No human institution was beyond criticism. He believed women should be allowed as priests and actively supported that effort. He refused to condemn homosexuals. In other words, he was not afraid to express his deeply-held Catholicism in ways that some might deem controversial or even at odds with the Catholic Church.
He scoffed at the idea that faith could exist in a vacuum.
In a homily delivered in 2010, he related how a woman had complimented a homily he had given the previous week before she added, “It’s too bad we have to bring politics into all this.”
Father Kayser’s response?
“Sorry folks: Everything involves moral values and everything involves political decisions. Social justice is a constitutive element of the Gospel. We cannot talk meaningfully about charity until and unless we have first addressed the local, state and international issues of injustice.”
Social justice was a foremost concern for Father Kayser. As a member of the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, for example, or the Catholic Worker Movement, he was committed to nonviolence, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and foresaken. He protested injustice, war, racism and violence of all forms.
Father Kayser could be found at protests against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. He opposed drone warfare. He recognized the institutional mechanisms that make poverty and suffering inevitable.
He was fond of quoting the fascinating British economist E.F. Schumacher, a man whom Father Kayser had met when he toured South Dakota in the 1970s and from whom he found much inspiration.
Listen to these Schumacher passages, and you will certainly hear the spirit of Father Kayser within them:
“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
“If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they really are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures. If whole societies become infected by these vices, they may indeed achieve astonishing things but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence.”
Schumacher and Father Kayser shared a love of rural life and sustainable economics. In fact, Schumacher developed a set of principles he called “Buddhist economics,” based on the belief that individuals need good work for proper human development. He also proclaimed that “production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.”
Before a crowd in Danville, Ohio, in May of 1980, Father Kayser expressed why he believed family farms were so important while criticizing industrial farming.
“The hallmarks of a small family farm community and small towns traditionally have been stability, community involvement and strong family attachments. An integral part of this society for the most part has been high-quality education, strong religious traditions and an openness which encourages the democratic process.”
Later in the speech, he addressed the ills that had befallen the United States and which, I would add, have only become much, much worse in the last 35 years.
“While we still talk about being good, hard workers and making it, whether in town or country, we have had to change our whole value system, our way of looking at life, at the world around us. We too often talk about free enterprise as if it were still working.
“Too many of us associate our present kind of capitalism with the Ten Commandments. (The worship of capitalism, let’s face it people, is nowhere in scripture nor the teachings of the Holy Mother Church.) … We find ourselves engaged in a battle for economic self-survival that can only destroy our society if we continue to passively accept the present trend of this technological revolution.”

I’m sorry. At this point, I want to take a moment to thank Father Kayser for not suing me for plagiarism during his life, because, looking over these speeches now, I’ve clearly been stealing from his body of work. I plead ignorance!

FatherKayserWithNathanAndFamily cropped

This may be the last photo of me with Father Kayser, along with my mom, Nancy; my dad, Roy; and my brother, Ben. (My brother, Chris, was missing in action.)

I admired Father Kayser for all of the above reasons and considered him a mentor both politically and spiritually.
But there is something more I need to add, because I think it is important.
Those who know me have joked about the fact that I’m in a church delivering a eulogy for a man of such deep Catholic faith. Why? Because I don’t subscribe to any faith.
I am, at best, an agnostic.
And yet, I considered Father Kayser a spiritual brother and guide.
I never saw Father Kayser use Catholicism as a litmus test. He did not allow it to be a barrier to communing with another human being. He refused to believe his faith, or any faith, laid claim to the absolute truth. And he realized goodness and truth could come from many backgrounds and schools of thought.
I think that is why my own approach to life was never an issue between us. In fact, from my perspective, I think it drew us closer. In the often polarized country in which we now live, I think there is a lesson and a beauty to that fact.
Returning to 2009, when Father Kayser was looking back at his 50 years in the priesthood, he quoted a priest who was asked what he had learned during his life.
“His conclusion at the end of his life was, ‘I learned God is much bigger than I thought she was.’ I would kind of like to adopt that,” Father said. “There are so little black and white answers to anything, even in our strict theology in the Catholic Church.”
I would like to close with a T.E. Lawrence quote that Father Kayser was fond of using:
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
Father Kayser was a man who dared to dream by day. And the world he has left behind is a better place for it.

(The following feature on yours truly appeared in the Jan. 23-29 edition of the Yankton County Observer. You have been warned. BUT, on a serious note, I do really want to thank the Observer staff for giving me the opportunity to air my thoughts in a public forum. It was an honor to be asked to be a part of their weekly “Off the Cuff” feature.)

Name: Nathan Johnson

Birthday: November 12, 1978

Birthplace: Osmond, Nebraska

NathanCropped3 1-06-2015Education: English and History degrees from Mount Marty College

Occupation: Communications Coordinator at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital

Family: Parents: Roy Jr. and Nancy Johnson; and brothers: Ben and Chris

Favorite childhood memory: Picking strawberries and eating them out of my mother’s or grandmother’s garden while taking a break from “work” on my sprawling backyard toy farm.

Growing up, I wanted to be an: astrophysicist or nuclear physicist (That was before I realized math is hard.)

First job: Feeding calves with my grandpa.

Prized possession: Whichever film, book or song I happen to be enjoying at any given moment …

All-time favorite movie: If you know me, you know this is an excruciating question for me to answer. So I hope you’ll be so kind as to let me parse my response. If we were to go by number of views, it would most likely be “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” That film was a comedic revolution in my world as a sixth grader, so it was studied endlessly. But if I could only take one film with me to the desert island, it might very well be Terrence Malick’s 2011 opus “The Tree of Life.” It would provide plenty to reflect upon as isolation tightened its grip upon my mind.

I would stay home to watch: “Doctor Who.” The Doctor is one of the greatest heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction and is a role model for my life.

Best movie I’ve seen recently: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Best book I’ve read recently: “Love Letters to the Dead” by Ava Dellaira

Favorite author: Vladimir Nabokov. Why? Here is an example: “Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”

Favorite sports team: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Favorite athlete: Teen Wolf from the classic 1985 Michael J. Fox vehicle, “Teen Wolf.”

Favorite performers: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Samuel T. Herring (of Future Islands), comedian Doug Stanhope, Tim and Eric … and I’ll stop there because that’s where I need to take a breath …

Hobbies: Writing, blogging and consuming as much film, music and literature as my mind can handle. I also enjoy a good bourbon or scotch with friends.

Three things that can always be found in my fridge: cheese, salsa, beef sticks

If I have any warning, my last meal will be: Let’s assume I have short notice, so I’ve got to stay in town. It will be a grand buffet of Tokyo, Charlie’s Pizza, Mexico Viejo and El Tapatio. I feel sorry for the mortician, but a person shouldn’t go out on an empty stomach.

Least favorite food: Celery has always seemed rather pointless to me.

Greatest fear: That when I die, it will be on my porcelain “throne” in the “home office.” I’d like to die with some dignity, and I think it will be hard to accomplish in that situation.

Pet peeve: People who say, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s certainly true, but not in the way they mean it.

Three words that best describe me: Introverted, Curious, Kind (None of those bad words you associate with me, of course.)

People would be surprised to know I: have been listening to The Carpenters a lot recently. I love Karen’s voice.

My girlfriend says I: I am single, but my hypothetical girlfriend would say I should stay. I’ll let Brett Anderson of Suede explain: “And oh if you stay/ I’ll chase the rain-blown fields away/We’ll shine like the morning and sin in the sun/Oh if you stay/We’ll be the wild ones, running with the dogs today.”

I hope I never have to: hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” again. Please. Have mercy on me.

I’ve never been able to: figure out the contents of my Great American Novel. They are very elusive and don’t respond to threats.

I wish I could stop: succumbing to the shackles of self-doubt. Also, I wish that, deep in my heart, I could believe there is something funnier in this world than flatulence. But every time I think I’ve dug down far enough to excavate that weakness for juvenile humor, someone let’s out a squeaker and I am left breathless and in tears from the ensuing laughter. I guess thousands of years of evolution have made us all comedians.

I’m better than most at: listening.

I could be better at: listening. Really, there is so much power in listening to people. And, sometimes, after listening to someone, you’ve got to have the strength to tell them that maybe they should talk less and listen more. Active listening also requires action.

I’m proud that: I survived a real-life sh** storm. Stop laughing. It’s true. Please refrain from referring to your “crappy week” around me. It triggers flashbacks.

I regret: that I often allow my shyness, especially with people I don’t know, to prevent me from engaging with others who could probably teach me a lot and provide me with rich experiences.

Best time of my life: is any time I can gather with good friends and make them laugh. (Little-known fact: I have a sense of humor.)

Worst time of my life: was my grad school experience, which ultimately had me jumping out of the ivory tower for the refuge of the real world.

Most embarrassing moment: Growing up, I had a tendency to throw up occasionally in gym class or at football practice. People noticed.

The most interesting place I’ve traveled to: Austin, Texas, always provides me with fun, thought-provoking and, as advertised, weird experiences.

If I could travel in time, I would visit: the year 2100 to see how climate change has impacted the earth and humanity. Maybe we’ll have found a way to counteract it. Or maybe we’ll be wishing those stubborn idiots at the beginning of the previous century (who, us?) had done more to cut carbon emissions.

I’d like to have a dollar for every time I: hear people say they don’t want to see a raise in any taxes. I could donate them to school districts across South Dakota and end our education funding crisis that the majority of our state’s residents don’t seem all that interested in addressing. If they were, it wouldn’t be getting worse after all these years. That’s not to say that taxes alone are the answer, but they will almost certainly play a role. That’s my stinger for the evening, folks. Good night! You’ve been a terrific audience.

The most interesting person I’ve met was: Father Leonard Kayser, my great uncle. I’ve always looked up to him as a man who advocates for all human beings despite whatever differences or shortcomings they may have in the eyes of others. He recognizes human frailty and the difficult decisions that come with life, and he has offered understanding and encouragement to those struggling with those realities.

Worst idea I’ve ever had: It’s hard to single out one, but how about the time I chose to slide down a piece of a metal grain bin with my hand on its sharp edge? That resulted in some screams for Mom and stitches in three fingers.

Behind my back, friends say that: if I were a flavor of ice cream, I’d be more cookies and cream than vanilla.

Major accomplishment: I’ve earned the friendship of some really great, supportive people in my life who keep me grounded, optimistic and inspired.

Future goal: Yeah, I will take more of the above, please. … And I’d like to run for public office.

A great evening to me is: good friends, good food, good spirits and … I should probably stop there.

When nobody’s looking, I: make hand gestures in front of electric doors in order to create for myself the illusion that I have super powers. It’s a real thrill.

The best thing about my job is: I am able to help a non-profit organization provide health care on a daily basis. It is important work, and I am proud of what 15,000 Avera employees are able to accomplish every day.

The most challenging thing about my job is: that, at the age of 36, I’m having to exercise parts of my brain I haven’t used in a while. I’m in a new environment that demands different skills, so I’ve been trying to get into a new groove.

The thing I like most about Yankton is: it feels like home.

Something I’d like to see changed in the area is: more of a focus on public art and public spaces that bring people together, inspire them and, therefore, strengthen our communities socially and economically. Those are features that can truly give communities an identity and help them create a lasting legacy.

One thing that really makes me angry is: how income and wealth inequality are causing our society to fragment and grow more desperate. This inequality has led to a decline in fairness and opportunity in many respects for the vast majority of people who live in this country and other places around the world facing the same challenges. A steady stream of studies is showing how destructive the accumulation of wealth into too few hands has on society. Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to be sparking any serious re-evaluations of our economic system.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s: that kindness is more important that intelligence, beauty or any other attributes humans often long to attain. A little kindness can go a long way, and a lot of kindness would make this world a much more hospitable place for humans during their relatively short stay on it.

If I had something to do over, I would: probably procrastinate too long to do it over.

I can die happy once I’ve: come to terms with the insignificance of mankind in the scheme of the universe. So much human struggle is tied to the idea that there is something that makes us exceptional. I think it’s important for us to recognize that ultimately we are no more significant than anything else we may encounter — a dog, a flower or a cloud. Everything is made from the same stuff. We are exceptional in the sense that we have the intelligence and drive to destroy things on a large scale. Therefore, I think we are charged with using what intelligence we have as humans to cooperate with each other — to be kind to one another — and preserve and protect the world that surrounds us. Once I truly comprehend all of that, I’ll be able to die happy. I’ve got some work to do!

At my funeral, I hope people say: I’m glad we aren’t having ham sandwiches again at a funeral. This sushi is great! By the way, what is this green stuff in the rolls? Soylent green, you say? Wow, that’s delicious. What great taste Nathan had. Wait! Taste? Nathan? Soylent green!? (Cue the “Twilight Zone” music …)

My Favorite Movies Of 2014

Posted: January 18, 2015 in Entertainment, Film

(This article ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Press & Dakotan and can be found here.)

When I look at my list of favorite movies for 2014, I am struck by how many of them pushed boundaries from both a storytelling and technical level.

Despite the many challenges that face the film industry, people who want to create find ways to do it and are not settling for the status quo.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman” have received the most Oscar nominations this year, and they also feature on my list. “Boyhood” also received some Oscar love. The fact that some of the other films on my list — particularly “Under the Skin” and “Nightcrawler” — received no major recognition is a crime against celluloid. But if I wasn’t upset about a snub, it wouldn’t be the Oscars.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t travel to theaters outside of Yankton, you didn’t see more than one of these films on the big screen. (I believe “Nightcrawler” had a run in our community.)

Without further ado, here is the list:

10. Snowpiercer

This was a smart and very fun piece of science fiction from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It follows a rebellion of the oppressed on a train racing around the world. The elaborate locomotive holds the remnants of humanity after an attempt to halt climate change miserably fails. It is at times scary, thrilling and absurd, and it definitely has some analogies for our current times with its depiction of a class system and the privileged elite.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is Wes Anderson’s most complicated vision ever to be brought to life — and that’s saying something. The visual flair and intelligence on display in “Grand Budapest” is sometimes hard to keep up with but worth the investment. Ralph Fiennes shines.

8. Boyhood

What can I say about “Boyhood” that hasn’t already been said in the volumes of critical praise it has received? It is an ambitious cinematic experiment filmed during the course of 12 years, and it succeeded in capturing the growth and life experiences of a fictional boy and his family members during that time. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could have failed at so many turns. I feel like its impact on me was not as profound as it apparently was with many other critics, but it was an incredible journey, nonetheless.

7. The Rover

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic films that explain little, and “The Rover” fits into that category. In it, a man (played by Guy Pearce) is hell-bent on recovering his stolen car. Along the way, he picks up a mentally handicapped man (played by an impressive Robert Pattinson) who accompanies him on the long trip in the Australian outback.

6. Force Majeure

“Force Majeure” is an examination of male and female gender roles and how different rules apply. It is also a look at how fast family dynamics can change based on a split-second decision. Despite the beautiful and tranquil setting, the film is both a comedy and a drama that, if you watch with a significant other, will fire up some potentially heated conversations once the credits have rolled.

5. Nymphomaniac

I love movies that have an energy that invigorates me while giving me little idea of where they will go. There is a thrill in the unknown. Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” is hours and hours of sexual and psychological exploration. Ideas are clutched tightly and then let go. It’s certainly not a journey for the faint-hearted soul, because — as you may have guessed from the title — it does not shy away from its subjects. Von Trier has never been known for his timidity. Hop on for the ride, so to speak. Try not to fall off.

4. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The slick cinematography and jazzy soundtrack make the audience feel like it is actually in a New York City theater following the behind-the-scenes dramatics of an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Michael Keaton shines as the former cinema superhero Riggan Thomson, who is trying to revive his career without the use of a mask and costume. The film is a reflection on the creative impulse and the feelings of self-doubt that so often accompany it. Edward Norton is great, too, as an indulgent, unpredictable actor.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive

Do you sometimes feel like a vampire who has lived for centuries and has become bored with the petty pursuits of humanity? If so, this is the film for you. Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is the best thing the iconic director has made in a long time, and it is damn cool. I mean, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s cool. Except it has a lot more brains than those now ubiquitous pinup posters. The devotion to art and human creation expressed in the film is exhilarating, as is its expression of frustration and disappointment in where the human race has landed.

2. Nightcrawler

“Nightcrawler” is about an entrepreneurial young man on its surface, and many people are tempted to see it as a critique of a bloodthirsty and craven media. But I think that is severely underestimating the palette of this film. To me, “Nightcrawler” is a condemnation of the inhumanity of capitalism. Look at the United States and its total devotion to the religion of hustling. We live in a society where almost all human interaction and activities have been reduced to a dollar value. Lou Bloom is the coyote who comes in from the hills surrounding Los Angeles to scavenge the city for sustenance. He is America — a place where we’ve almost universally chosen to judge each human being’s worth on his or her ability to earn money doing whatever task necessary. The more disregard you show to your fellow human beings in the pure pursuit of the almighty dollar, the bigger hero you can become in the cathedrals of American thought. Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were reading this for my political rants. On to number one …

1. Under the Skin

With shades of such cinematic luminaries as David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick, as well as director Jonathan Glazer’s utter determination not to hand things down to the audience, I was mesmerized by this film from its opening scene to its last. The role of Mica Levi’s hypnotic, alien and downright creepy soundtrack in transporting my mind into this universe cannot be understated. By showing us what it’s like to be an alien in a human’s clothing, “Under the Skin” shows us what it means to be human on a very functional level. This is not only a movie of the year, it’s quite possibly a movie of the decade.


Honorable mentions for 2014 include: “Inherent Vice,” “Whiplash,” “Selma,” “Ida,” “Happy Christmas,” “Stranger by the Lake,” “A Trip to Italy,” “It Felt Like Love,” “Dear White People,” “Obvious Child,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Babadook,” “Locke,” “Starred Up,” “A Most Wanted Man,” “The Drop,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Calvary,” “Frank,” “Wild,” “A Field in England,” “Top 5,” “The Congress” and “Listen Up, Phillip.” That’s a lot of good film watching.

Best documentaries I saw? “Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets;” “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia;” “The Missing Picture;” “Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger;” “Happy Valley” and “20,000 Days on Earth.”

Most overrated film I saw in 2014? “American Sniper.” It was much too simplistic for my taste.

Loving ‘Half-Gifts’

Posted: January 12, 2015 in Music
Tags: , ,

I’ve certainly felt this, but I’ve never created something so beautiful from it.

I need you to listen to “Half-Gifts” by the Cocteau Twins. And I don’t mean “half-listen” while you’re surfing the Internet or watching television.

You need to give it your full attention.

Here are the lyrics:

It’s an old game, my love
When you can’t have me, you want me
Because you know that you’re not risking anything

Intimacy is when we’re in the same place at the same time
Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are

That’s what grown-ups do
That is mature thinking

Well I’m still a junkie for it
It takes me out of my aloneness
But this relationship cannot sustain itself

Intimacy is when we’re in the same place at the same time
Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are

That’s what grown-ups do
That is mature thinking

I just have to know how to be in the process
Of creating things in a better way
And it hurts but it’s a lie that I can’t handle it
I still have a world of me-ness to fulfill
I still have a life, and it’s a rich one even with mourning
Even with grief and sadness

I still care about this planet
I am still connected to nature and to my dreams for myself

I have my friends, my family.
I have myself
I still have me

OK, now let’s do this together. Let’s have a moment. Let’s be humans and in and out of love and everywhere in between.


What if I said that I actually preferred this cover of the song by Scandinavian singer Moto Boy? What if I told you it is even more beautiful than the original? (Do NOT tell that to the Cocteau Twins fans!) Would you do it all over with me? Would you?

(To avoid any confusion, I feel compelled to state up front that this is an expression of anger at a general state of mind and the Swiftian “modest proposal” laid out below does not reflect my actual thoughts.)

Education funding is an easy problem to solve.
I know, we always hear what a complicated issue it is in South Dakota and other states.
But it’s not.
I recently had a man make an impassioned argument to me about how it is not his responsibility to fund K-12 education. He doesn’t have kids, and the education of other people’s children is not his concern. It does not benefit him. If other people want to fund education, let them do it, he stated. Just don’t come asking for his tax money.
OK, let’s not ask taxpayers for money to fund education.
Maybe you don’t have kids. Maybe your kids are already through the education system. Maybe you just hate a teacher you had while in school.
It doesn’t matter.
Let’s solve this: No more taxes for school funding.
Many South Dakotans will get their wish of less government-led extraction of the money they worked so hard to earn.
I know some of you will have a problem with this conceit.
You’ll make pleas about how the United States was founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all, and public education is a fundamental building block to that end. You might talk about how lack of education will lead to higher crime rates, lack of preparedness for the world of work, depression — any number of personal and societal ills.
But first hear me out.
In order to gain on one end, South Dakotans will have to sacrifice on the other.
The trade-off would be that, because we will have made a public pact that children are no longer a communal concern, we will collectively agree that no additional kids will be allowed in our state. Instead of economic austerity, we’ll have youth austerity. We will get rid of the obstetric units in our hospitals. School windows will shutter. Welfare mothers and fathers will eventually disappear.
If our personal prosperity is more important to us than the well-being of our youth and community as a whole, let’s see how far an agreement to focus on that gets us.
Because school funding is a problem that plagues us year after year with no end in sight, why don’t we just agree it isn’t that much of a problem and make it disappear?
If we agree that we are no longer a community, then we will be free to focus on ourselves.
Isn’t that what we really want?

While I’m covering 2014, it would be worthwhile to point out some of my favorite cover songs of the year.

Here we go:
1) J Mascis – Fade Into You (Mazzy Star)

2) Icky Blossoms – Evil Voices (The Faint)
(This is technically a remix, but I consider it more of a cover.)

3) Sturgill Simpson – The Promise (When in Rome)

4) Charlotte Gainsbourg – Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix)

5) Bryan Ferry/Todd Terje – Johnny & Mary (Robert Palmer)

6) Chvrches – Team (Lorde)

7) Moto Boy – Half Gifts (Cocteau Twins)

The 10 Best Albums Of 2014

Posted: January 5, 2015 in Entertainment, Music

My look back at the year in music began yesterday, and it continues today with a list of my favorite albums of 2014.

10) CEO – Wonderland

I love the playfulness and profanity of this album. There is so much going on in these songs it’s like being in a funhouse.

9) Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

I did not fully appreciate the power of Lana Del Rey until seeing her live. Seeing her in person and the many fans with tears in their eyes made me understand the potent, and sometimes troubling, world she has created, one in which people find ways to make close personal ties. I really dug into this album after returning from that experience and found it mesmerizing and addictive.

8) Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down

Taking inspiration from a Truman Capote interview with Bobby Beausoliel of “Manson Murder” fame, “Then It All Came Down” is, according to composer JR Robinson, “an examination of lightness into dark, how human beings gravitate from circumstances that are considered inherently ‘good and of the light’ and decline into occurrences that are considered obscene and barbaric.
Discovery of the album for me coincided with heavy contemplation of similar themes, and when I listen to “Then It All Came Down” it reignites those thoughts. This is a powerful composition that crosses into musical territory I don’t normally visit but which I find a perfect fit in this circumstance.

7. The Juan MacLean – In a Dream

Catchy, smart dance music. I can’t get enough of it.

6. Post War Glamour Girls – Pink Fur

This is a ferocious, political rock album that calls to mind artists like Nick Cave and the Pixies, but this Leeds, England, band makes a sound entirely its own. Did I mention it also contains moments of real beauty — I’m thinking of the guitar line on “Jazz Funerals.” “Pink Fur” also contains one of my favorite lyrics of the year: “You strike me as the kind of person who has never made love before – therefore you are easily satisfied in general and with everything.”

5. Future Islands – Singles

The album certainly lives up to its name. There are so many highlights (besides “Seasons”), including “A Dream of You and Me” and “Fall From Grace.” But, really, just pick any song and you can’t lose.

4. Lisa Gerrard – Twilight Kingdom

With little fanfare, the Dead Can Dance singer released “Twilight Kingdom.” It is perhaps her most mournful and serene album ever, but I think possibly her most beautiful, as well. Gerrard maintains the otherworldliness we’ve come to expect of her music, but there are instances where she becomes more accessible than usual, too (“Too Far Gone”). At times, this album reduced me to a pile of rubble and tears. Gerrard has that kind of voice that can take your soul to flight.

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Even by Spoon standards, this was a masterful collection of songs. It kind of blows my mind. Twenty years in and they just keep getting better at what they do.

2. The Raveonettes – Pe’ahi

The Raveonettes released “Pe’ahi,” named after a legendary Maui surf break, with little advance warning, and it probably stands as my favorite album from them to date.

It expands their sound and goes to some very dark places — so it’s not for the faint of heart. Perhaps ironically, I found the album life-affirming and energizing. Usually that energy was directed at starting the album over from the beginning.

1. Nothing – Guilty of Everything

I’d never heard of Philadelphia’s Nothing until I caught a listen of “Dig” early in the year. It was instant love. The heavy barrage of guitars reminded me of their shoegaze forebears such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, but with a rockier edge. Headbang to it. Chill out to it. Its effects vary. Ultimately, I was excited to share this music with everyone I know so they could ride the waves of guitar with me …