Don’t sleep on these titles, though. They might someday appear in your Disney+ queue, because everyone in the Star Wars universe, no matter how obscure, has a story to tell.
In this weekly feature, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs and full-time parents Marty and Wendy Byrde share advice on raising kids, achieving work-life balance and taking time to enjoy what’s most important: family. Note: the opinions expressed are those of Marty and Wendy Byrde, and do not reflect the views of this blog.
Dear Marty and Wendy Byrde,
My husband and I are the proud parents of a four-week-old son! While we’re excited to have a healthy, happy baby, we’re also pretty exhausted. How long can we expect the nonstop routine of feeding, playing with and putting our baby to sleep to continue? No one told us it would be this hard!
— Sleepless in Sarasota
Wendy: First of all, congratulations on your new arrival! That is so exciting! Nothing can top the fulfillment of bringing a little bundle of joy into this world, but I agree that it can be very taxing. What I will tell you is that it does get easier. In a few weeks, your baby boy will be more settled into your routine. He’ll be less fussy, will sleep longer and, eventually, you, your baby and your husband will make it through the night without a diaper change! In the meantime, be kind to one another and make sure you and Hubby are giving each other breaks when you need them.
Marty: I’m just going to echo Wendy’s response and agree that it gets easier – eventually. Full disclosure: the early weeks of baby-rearing were not my favorite. I was recently reminded of this when we cared for a friend’s newborn, Zeke, for a few weeks. I guess the key is knowing that this phase doesn’t last forever, and to try to enjoy it while it lasts. Congrats to you both.
My sister and I are estranged. We’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember, but her dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs has made her erratic and unpredictable. I’m just not comfortable having her around my two children until she addresses her addictions. My mother says I’m being dramatic. Am I? How do I repair my fractured relationship with my sister while also protecting my family?
— Tammy in Toledo
Wendy: Oh, Tammy! Your letter touched my heart as I also have a sibling with substance abuse problems. My brother, Ben, has battled addiction to everything from heroin to opioids most of his adult life. He’s been in and out of treatment centers and, when he’s sober, he is one of the most loving, caring people you could ever meet. Sadly, Ben is currently in a downward spiral and we haven’t spoken to him in months. I’ve tried to reach out, but I have no idea where he is.
Marty: Excuse me, Honey, but what the fuck are you doing?
Wendy: I’m talking about Ben and his struggle with addiction.
Marty: Okay, well, first of all, that’s a lie. Ben doesn’t have a drug problem, he has bipolar disorder. So let’s get that straight. Also, when you say, “I have no idea where he is,” that implies that he is somewhere. And people are going to start asking questions about where Ben really is, and I don’t think you’re going to want to answer those questions.
Wendy: All I’m doing is expressing empathy because I, too, know the heartbreak of a fractured sibling relationship. I know it’s hard for you to understand what it’s like to care about another human being, and the sadness of not knowing when you might hear from that person again.
Marty: I just think that maybe we should focus on Tammy’s problem, okay? Maybe not make it about what happened with you and Ben?
Wendy: My God, you’re such an asshole.
Marty: Okay, maybe we should move on to the next letter.
Wendy and Marty–
Do you have some advice on how to deal with an overly demanding, toxic, chauvinistic boss? My supervisor calls me on the phone day and night, demanding that I drop everything to meet his demands. He has no respect for boundaries or for my home life. Sometimes, he’ll just start barking at me on the phone without even saying hello! What do you do when you have a jerk for a boss?
— Frustrated in Fresno
Wendy: I think many of us know what it’s like to work for a difficult, demanding boss. Even though Marty and I own several successful businesses, we understand the pain of those late-night or weekend calls on the cell phone, whether it’s during dinner or at one of the kids’ soccer games. You don’t dare let it go to voicemail either, because that will only make things worse. And there’s no compassion on the other end of the line. No concern for what you’re going through. Just a huffy demand for an immediate answer and instant gratification. Not even a friendly goodbye!
Unfortunately, the only thing you can do in this situation is to do exactly as your boss commands. Do not deviate from what he wants and only very carefully suggest something that may be a better solution. Bottom line: he’s your boss. He calls the shots. You work for him. And if you fail to give him exactly what he wants, when he wants it, your life and the lives of those you hold dear may be in very grave danger. Just put on your brightest smile, do your damndest to make your boss happy and maybe, someday, he’ll have mercy on your soul and the phone calls will end. And then, finally, you will know what it is like to be free.
Marty: Yeah. What she said.
Dear Marty & Wendy,
Our 16-year-old son lies about everything. He lies about who his friends are, where he’s going to be on Saturday nights, and when we can expect him home. We recently caught him lying about his grades. In fact, he forged an entire report card and then tried to get us to sign it! What should we do? Do we have a budding sociopath on our hands?
— Troubled in Tennessee
Marty: First of all, “Sociopath” is such a strong word, and a little overused these days. Teenagers lie about a lot of different things. That’s not unusual. The question I would ask you is, how good is your son at lying? How often do you catch him in his lies? The fact that he went to the trouble of forging a report card intrigues me. That takes a certain amount of skill and initiative. Maybe, instead of looking at the downside, you should consider that your son might have a rare talent for deception, for which there are many career opportunities. I’m not saying you should encourage the lying, I’m just suggesting it might not be an entirely bad thing.
Wendy: What Marty isn’t telling you is that he has a 14-year-old son who recently devised a very complex scheme of diverting money across a web of different shell companies. And Marty is actually proud that our sweet Jonah is committing about a dozen different felonies. So, consider the source when Marty tells you about the pros and cons of lying.
Marty: Again, Honey, this isn’t about us. This is about helping people with their problems.
Wendy: Oh, so you weren’t a little excited that Jonah invented software allowing him to launder millions of dollars in offshore accounts?
Marty: Well, I was surprised.
Wendy: Don’t give me that “I was surprised” bullshit. There was a goddamn gleam in your eye as you watched him transfer funds on his iMac Pro.
Marty: As I was explaining to the people in Tennessee, sometimes these predicaments our children get themselves into can create some interesting opportunities. It’s not all bad if you look at them as teaching moments, and a chance to do better the next time.
Wendy: In other words, get better at lying.
Marty: No one’s better at lying than you, Honey.
Wendy: Aww, that’s kind of true, isn’t it?
Marty: Next letter.
How do you balance demanding careers and parenting, while still finding time to spend with each other?
— Curious in Columbus
Marty: Well, you have to work at it! I think we do a good job of mixing it up and keeping things interesting. Even after all these years of marriage, Wendy often will say or do something that just completely floors me. “What in the hell is that woman thinking?” I’ll ask myself. “This time, she’s going to get us all murdered for sure,” is another thought that enters my mind.
Wendy: Life’s an adventure. If you don’t take chances, you’ll never get what you really want.
Marty: Ultimately, I choose to back her in whatever crazy thing she decides to do next. That’s what marriage is all about. We’re in this together.
Wendy: True. He’s my partner in crime.
Animal House (1978)
Unrelenting hedonism and misogyny are the electives of choice for members of a 1960s college fraternity. School administrators try heroically to discipline the Delta Tau Chi house, but to no avail. A juvenile prank leads to the untimely death of a horse, several women are tricked into disrobing, and a pledge commits adultery with the college president’s spouse. “Animal House” is an apt title for a movie in which there is no empathy or respect for rules, rights, and human dignity.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Two developmentally disabled men take a cross-country road trip. One of them has an unhealthy crush on a mysterious woman who has left a suitcase at the airport. Trigger Warnings: subject matter includes frozen mucus, bowel control issues, bad haircuts, a lethal amount of chili peppers, and a fatal attack on a rare owl species.
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
There’s something chilling about an unstable man who exposes himself to his prom date’s parents, becomes obsessed with the young woman, then appears near her Florida home several years later. Ben Stiller stars as a man who spins a web of lies to get closer to the unwitting object of his desire. A cautionary tale about those who fall through cracks of our flawed mental health system. Trigger Warning: viewers who care about hygiene may be troubled by the “hair gel” scene.
Talladega Nights (2006)
Rural stereotypes abound in this crass tale of stock car driver Ricky Bobby’s fall from grace. A European rival, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, tries to teach Ricky Bobby a lesson about tolerance and sportsmanship, but is instead ridiculed for leading an alternative lifestyle and for being French. An explicit scene in which a dinner prayer is parodied for cheap laughs may be offensive to some viewers.
The Hangover (2009)
Four white males exercise their privilege by booking a lavish bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas. Not satisfied to simply reflect on life and enjoy each other’s company, the friends quickly become inebriated and encounter a range of dubious adventures that include animal cruelty, Asian stereotypes, excessive use of a Taser, and an agitated and possibly violent Mike Tyson. Finally, the Vegas getaway is scheduled one day before the groom’s wedding, a plot device that perfectly captures male indifference to relationships and long-term commitments.
Mike Judge’s 2006 film, Idiocracy, offered a grim take on the future. The United States of 500 years from now, the movie predicted, will be populated by mentally inert people who speak a crude mix of hillbilly and hip-hop.
Idiocracy got it all wrong, of course. Turns out it only took 10 years—not 500—for the country to plunge into utter stupidity. Some of the more shocking scenes from Idiocracy—the crumbling highway infrastructure, the refusal of some people to leave their TVs to even use the bathroom—seem almost quaint now. Even the movie’s commander-in-chief, a former pro wrestler/porn star named President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, is immensely appealing by today’s political standards.
In fact, if Camacho decided to make a run for the Oval Office in 2020, I could totally get behind that. Here are five reasons why Idiocracy’s president, as it turns out, wasn’t so bad:
- He gets out of people’s way and lets them do their jobs. When word gets around that Luke Wilson’s time-traveling character, Joe—a man of average intelligence in 2006—now has the highest IQ on the planet, President Camacho immediately appoints him Secretary of the Interior. He tasks Joe with solving the country’s food shortage—and gives him one week to do it.
- He is a unifying force. President Camacho’s charisma and tendency to fire automatic weapons toward the sky during joint sessions of Congress seemed to have bipartisan appeal among the Americans in Idiocracy. Now more than ever, we could use a president like Camacho who can bring people together.
- He knows he’s not the smartest person in the room. When Joe suggests that the nation’s crops are dying because they are being irrigated with a sports drink called Brawndo, the president heartily supports Joe’s plan to switch to water. Of course, when Brawndo’s stock plummets and mass layoffs ensue, the president sentences Joe to death in a monster truck demolition derby.
- He admits his mistakes. Despite his bravado, President Camacho is not above admitting when he has been wrong—a trait several recent U.S. Presidents seem to have lacked. When the nation’s food supply is rescued by water irrigation, President Camacho enthusiastically gives Joe a full pardon and appoints him vice president.
- He’s good in a crisis. How many presidents can say they kept the United States from starving to death? Camacho may be a former porn star and pro wrestler (as opposed to a certain president who slept with porn stars and starred in the Worldwide Wrestling Foundation), but he proved smart enough to steer the country through a major crisis.I’m willing to bet he can do it again.
With less than a month to go until the Academy Awards, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri appears to be the favorite to win “Best Picture” and several other categories.
That’s surprising, because it’s not that great a movie.
I watched Three Billboards on Saturday, filled with hope and anticipation from the glowing reviews I had read about the film. I don’t make it out to very many “adult” movies these days, so I’m selective in what I go see. Three Billboards, buoyed by all those Golden Globes and plaudits from film festivals, had been on my “to-watch” list for a while.
Sorry to say, I left the local multiplex disappointed and a little confused on Saturday night. What was it I had just witnessed? Was this story about a grieving mother’s battle with the local authorities a comedy or a drama? What was this movie trying to say, and why was it getting raves from vaunted quarters like The New Yorker and The Atlantic?
After taking some time to think it over, I believe Three Billboards doesn’t deserve the Oscar buzz or the 93% reviewer rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Here are four reasons why (warning—some spoilers ahead):
It is About Everything—and Nothing
Three Billboards touches on a lot of issues—child murder, race relations, cancer, domestic abuse, sexual predators, alcoholism, religion and, I guess, the decline of small town life. That’s an awful lot to cram into a two-hour movie. As a result, Three Billboards only glosses over most of these topics. A cop is accused of torturing an African-American suspect, but it’s only mentioned in passing. A priest is quickly shamed for the Catholic Church’s sex scandals, and never shows his face again. There are a couple of musings about human existence and the afterlife, but nothing deeper than that.
This everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach by screenwriter Martin McDonagh makes it hard to discern what the movie is about. If Three Billboards is supposed to be such an important film, as many have claimed, what message is the viewer supposed to walk away with, other than life is chaotic and often tragic?
The Hero is Completely Unlikable
It should be easy to empathize with Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred Hayes. She’s a hard-working single mom who’s suffered an unspeakable tragedy with the murder of her daughter. The problem is, Mildred is so angry, so confrontational and so crass, she inspires more fear than sympathy. She’s not just mean because of her child’s death, either—a flashback reveals that Mildred was just as thorny and abrasive before the murder happened.
Despite her take-no-prisoners approach, Mildred is also weak. She cowers during a scary encounter with a predator who may have been her daughter’s killer. She doesn’t even report the incident to the police. In fact, Mildred does nothing throughout the entire film to help solve the crime. Ebbing is a small town—wouldn’t Mildred have some theories about the killer’s identity? Rather than spend all her money on those three billboards, why not hire a private sleuth to investigate the case? Instead, Mildred takes the approach that will draw the most attention to Mildred. That makes her a colorful character, and provides a clever premise, but it doesn’t make Mildred the least bit relatable.
There is No Sense of Place
As one New York Times writer put it, Ebbing, Missouri is every bit as fictional as Narnia. It’s an Ozarks town with the buildings and landscape of western North Carolina (where the film was shot). The police force works in an old, storefront station house straight from The Andy Griffith Show. Police Chief Willoughby and his cohorts strut menacingly around downtown like Hitler’s stormtroopers, and everyone in Ebbing cusses like the sales team on Glengarry Glen Ross.
As someone who grew up in a city of less than 25,000, I see very little in Ebbing, Missouri that seems like an authentic American town. People in small towns have their problems and their prejudices, but don’t tend to wear them in on their sleeves like the denizens of Ebbing. Most small-town people are not dull-witted yokels, as many of the Ebbing folks are portrayed. Also, a lot of people in small towns attend church and go out of their way to be polite. They don’t swear nonstop like sailors, and they tend to think less of people who do.
The Characters are Often Out-of-Character
Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby is a smart cop, a decent man and the best-drawn character in Three Billboards. For some reason, though, he has placed his faith in Officer Dixon, one of the most bumbling, corrupt lawmen to appear onscreen since The Dukes of Hazzard was canceled.
That’s one example of the inconsistencies almost all the key characters display. Officer Dixon, a relentless bully for 90 minutes, makes an about-face and becomes a hero in the film’s final half-hour. Mildred, so nasty in almost every other scene, presents an old tormentor with a bottle of champagne instead of hitting him over the head with it. Finally, and most absurdly, a local ad man who’s pistol-whipped within an inch of his life shares an orange juice in the hospital with the guy who beat him up.
When Hallmark moments like these pop up from the crude and deeply flawed people of Ebbing, it makes me wonder what kind of film Three Billboards is trying to be. Is it a darkly comic, free-wheeling romp, like some of the best works of Quintin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers? Or does the movie aspire to make an Important Statement about America?
The serious moments of the film, so jarring in their earnestness and sentimentality, make me believe Three Billboards aims for something lofty. That is why, in my opinion, it ultimately fails.
Happy Gilmore is a movie about a guy who decides to become a professional golfer, even though he knows nothing about the sport and has no training. Amazingly, he starts winning tournaments and builds up an army of followers who love Happy’s fiery demeanor, especially when compared with the stodgy, unlikable players who have dominated golf for so long. Happy even draws in fans who have never followed the sport before.
I feel like the past 18 months have been a political version of Happy Gilmore. I’m surprised by last night’s election results, but I am not shocked. Whether you are “happy” today or not, this is the country we live in right now. I’m praying for the best possible outcome.
For me, Labor Day weekend always means the start of football. Every few years or so, pro football will kick off its regular season on the Sunday before the holiday but, more often than not, Labor Day is exclusively tied to college football. Tomorrow and Sunday will bring an unusually tasty menu of big games between traditional powers: Alabama vs USC, Clemson vs Auburn, Texas vs. Notre Dame. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
My love for college football started when I was 11 years old. That was 1982, Herschel Walker’s Heisman Trophy-winning season, so I naturally became a devoted Georgia Bulldogs fan. Nobody told me at the time that the Bulldogs would not return to the Sugar Bowl for another 20 years after that season. Maybe I would have chosen to root for Alabama if I had been able to peer into the future.
As the years passed, my football obsession grew. On Labor Day weekend of 1984, my father and I were invited to go water skiing on a friend’s boat at West Point Lake. I didn’t want to go. It was the start of college football, and I intended to plop myself on the downstairs couch, eat popcorn and watch games all day. I finally agreed to go to the lake after my dad dug up a tiny little transistor radio so that I could listen to the action of the Georgia-Southern Miss game.
The Bulldogs had a young, inexperienced offense that year, and Southern Miss was pretty good. The game was back-and-forth between the two teams. As we rode in the boat, watching my friend glide in and out of our wake on his slalom ski, I held the radio to my ear and sweated out the final minutes of the 26-19 Georgia win. I remember that the Dawgs’ Kevin Butler (who went on the play for the 1985 Chicago Bears) kicked four field goals in that game. I went home that day sunburned and happy.
Looking back, it probably seemed odd that a 13-year-old boy would prefer to listen to a football game on the radio rather than swim, water-ski and wrestle on the lake’s muddy shore with his friend. Even now I have to shake my head at the number of gorgeous fall afternoons I spent indoors watching football games on TV, regardless of whether the action was SEC, Big Ten, ACC or the NFL. At a time when I was crossing that uncomfortable void between boyhood and adolescence, televised football and other sports were something I could count on every weekend. I might be carrying a D-minus average in Algebra, I might be afraid to talk to the girl sitting in front of me in seventh period, but there was always a chance the Georgia would rise up and beat Auburn on Saturday afternoon (they usually didn’t, though).
Football doesn’t mean as much to me now as it did then, but I still enjoy watching the games, even with all the money, corruption and other negative things swirling around big-time athletics. As the great Alabama coach Bear Bryant once growled, “I do love the football.”
In the late 1970s, when Clint Eastwood read the script for the movie, Every Which Way But Loose, all of his business advisors urged him to turn down the role.
“My lawyer begged me not to do it,” Eastwood recalled in a recent interview with Esquire. “’This is a piece of shit. It’s not the kind of thing you do.’ And I said, ‘It’s not the kind of thing that I’ve been doing—all these pictures where I’m shooting people. I want something you can take your kids to.’”
Eastwood ended up doing the move, of course. And while Every Which Way But Loose was hardly a cinematic masterpiece, it became a commercial hit. It did not ruin Eastwood’s acting career. While the decision to do the movie seemed risky at the time, Eastwood liked the story about a rough-and-tumble trucker and an orangutan named Clyde. It was something different.
“If you make a couple decisions where your instincts worked well, why would you abandon them?” Eastwood said.
I remember one night in the fall of 1988, walking to the mailbox and pulling out a brochure from the University of Missouri. I was a high school senior at the time, and I was looking at different colleges to attend. Missouri wasn’t on my radar at all. I had never been to the Show-Me State, and didn’t know much about it beyond Harry Truman and Mark Twain. In fact, I still have no idea how the people at the University of Missouri got my contact information.
Nevertheless, as I sat down at our kitchen table and flipped through the glossy brochure, I got excited. Something about the place just seemed right. I filled out the application that night and mailed it the next day. Ten months later, I was a freshman in Columbia, Missouri, more than 700 miles from my hometown.
I had practical reasons for choosing my college—I wanted to go to journalism school, and Missouri had a good one. Mostly, though, my decision was based on instinct. It just felt like the right place for me.
I think it was a good decision, and it has directed almost everything that has happened in my life since—my career, the woman I married, the city we live in, most of my friends. All of that would have been completely different had I chosen to attend, say, the University of Georgia.
I am grateful for following my instincts that night in 1988. The life that has unfolded since has been a good one.
As we get older and pick up more responsibilities, it becomes harder to act on a hunch. Often, we choose the safer route because we have so much more at stake than when we were young. We aren’t high school seniors anymore, and we certainly aren’t movie stars who can afford to take a chance on making a goofball truck driver flick.
But our instincts are still there. When is the last time you listened to yours? How did that decision work out for you?
• For each player who has been arrested on the night before the big game, take a drink.
• For each shot of a head coach pacing the sidelines in his officially licensed team gear, headphones and haircut, take a drink.
• For every mention of “The coveted Lombardi Trophy,” take a drink.
• Each time a beer commercial features an adult male getting hurt or humiliated, take a drink.
• When the camera pans in on a pale, grey-haired team owner and his trophy wife peering down at the game from their luxury box, take a drink.
• When the camera shows Roger Goodell in his luxury box, take a drink, take a knee and say a quick prayer thanking your Creator that you have year-round media coverage of the NFL to look forward to for the rest of your life.
• Each time the announcers speculate on whether or not this will be Peyton Manning’s final game, take a drink.
• Take a drink each time Peyton Manning cries out “Omaha!”
• Take a drink each time Peyton Manning throws an interception. Take two drinks if it is a “pick-six.”
• Whenever the color analyst mentions “good penetration,” “red zone,” or “taking it to the hole,” take a drink and exchange a knowing smirk with your significant other.
• For every commercial featuring horses, babies or puppy dogs, take a drink and keep a Kleenex handy to dab the grateful tears from your eyes.
• This year’s halftime entertainment will be Coldplay, Beyonce, and a “special guest.” If that secret performer turns out to be U2, slam the rest of your drink. If it turns out to be Taylor Swift, slam your drink and the drink of the person sitting next to you.
• For every commercial making a “statement” about a Serious National Concern like child obesity or rickets or binge drinking, take a drink and complain about how you don’t need to be reminded of this shit during the Super Bowl.
• Take a drink each time someone in the room reminisces fondly about the Bud Bowl.
• When the celebratory cooler of Gatorade is dumped on the winning head coach, take one drink if the liquid looks orange, and two drinks if it has more of a reddish tint.
• After the game and the locker room interviews and the post-game analysis, take two Advils and maybe take a walk around your neighborhood in the brisk night air. Tomorrow’s a working day, and you’ve got to be up by six in the morning.
9 .”Wonderful Tonight,” Eric Clapton
This soft rock “classic” makes the playlist at a lot of wedding receptions, and it shouldn’t. Here’s why: on the surface, “Wonderful Tonight” sounds like a sweet, loving tribute from Eric to his then-wife (and George Harrison’s ex-wife), Pattie Boyd. But listen to the words, and there is definitely something darker going on: “It’s time to go home now, and I’ve got an aching head. So I give her the car keys, and she helps me to bed.” In other words, Clapton tied one on at the party and is too drunk to make love to his beautiful wife, or even drive her home. He just keeps murmuring “You were wonderful tonight,” before finally passing out. Is that any way to start out a marriage?
8. “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be,” Carly Simon
Ugh. Carly Simon is a beautiful, talented woman, so why did she have to record this grim number about shedding your identity and conforming to social norms? Was she trying to warn James Taylor that their marriage was going to be a dud? “You want to marry me? We’ll marry,” Carly drones sleepily, like someone who has been mixing their antidepressants with too much alcohol. A wonderful theme song if they ever decide to make another re-boot of The Stepford Wives.
7. “You to Thank,” Ben Folds
Ben Folds has been to the altar four times, which has enabled him to build an impressive catalog of songs about shitty marriages. The couple in “You to Thank” is doomed from the start. Their first Christmas together, they manage to put on a brave front for their parents, but both man and wife are already contemplating exit plans. “I’ve got you to thank for this!” Folds wails at his imaginary partner while banging out a few angry chords. If you happen to invite Ben Folds to your wedding reception, you might keep him a safe distance from the piano…and the liquor.
6. “Everybody Hurts,” R.E.M.
This 1992 hit from when the Athens, Georgia band was at the height of its powers reads like one of those brightly colored pamphlets you might find in your grief counselor’s waiting room. “Hold on,” and “Don’t throw your hand,” is Michael Stipe’s advice for us, even though the day is long and tomorrow’s going to be another crappy day, and there isn’t much worth living for. I listened to this song a lot after breaking up with a college girlfriend. It didn’t help.
5. “Cats in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin
Not specifically about marriage, but just an all-around downer about career pressures and family life. The CliffsNotes on this 1970s folk hit: Dad doesn’t make time to do things with his son, then gets all bent out of shape when the kid, now grown, doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Karma’s a bitch, and Harry makes sure we get the point, over and over again, with a sentimental but catchy chorus.
4. “Carry On,” Fun
I threw this one in here because I heard a mom humming it to her three-year-old in the park today, and I was reminded of what a terrible, terrible song this is for any occasion. Yet another piece of unsolicited advice from a twenty-something pop star on how to endure this long slog through the muck called life: “If you’re lost and alone, and you’re sinking like a stone, carry o-o-o-o-on!” Somewhere out there, Michael Stipe is flapping his arms awkwardly.
3. “Ball and Chain,” Social Distortion
Title says it all, doesn’t it? The protagonist in this song copes with his failing marriage by holing up in a cheap motel, drinking all day at the bar, and telling anyone who will listen about his troubles. “You can run all your life, but not get anywhere,” he says, apparently too depressed or drunk to pick up the phone and tell his wife it’s over.
2. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band
One of the bleakest, most depressing songs from a man who has written a career’s worth of bleak, depressing songs. Deception, humiliation, unemployment, self-loathing, suicidal thoughts–“Darkness” covers all the elements that can turn a marriage into a living nightmare. Word has it even The Boss himself had to ingest a couple of Valium after recording this 1978 classic.
1. “Just the Way You Are,” Billy Joel
“Baby, don’t go changin’ to try and please me. Because, I’ll tell you, this is one hombre who ain’t changin’ for no one! What you see is what you get, that’s what I say! And what if you start changin’ too much, maybe tryin’ to improve yourself by going to the gym or takin’ night classes? Well, then, I’ll be forced to change into an angry little man who’s gonna need to know what his wife is up to every single second of the day. Nobody needs that, right?! So quit your yappin’ and let’s sit down and watch Rockford Files together, okay?”
Editor’s Note: No Pink Floyd, Nirvana or country music songs were considered for this list because, well, what would be the point?