This Week In Turner's Take

Four years ago this week, I was in Omaha with Carolina baseball, as the color commentator on the Tar Heel Sports Network. I wrote a column called 'Omaha Stakes.' I'm still pretty proud of the pun.

That 2013 Tar Heel team was a good one. On the mound were Kent Emanuel, Trent Thornton, Benton Moss, Hobbs Johnson, Chris Munnelly and Trevor Kelley. In the lineup were Chaz Frank, Brian Holberton, Michael Russell, Cody Stubbs and Colin Moran, among others. From Houston to Boshamer, from 12 and 18 innings in the ACC Tournament to Omaha, the loss against State, the win against LSU, the Holbie slide. There was a waterslide at the hotel pool, too.

I knew going into the CWS that the 2013 season would be my first and last on the radio team. I'd made the decision midway through the season. So I soaked up every minute of that tremendous run, and that team rewarded me and its fans with tremendous play and outstanding memories.

Car Seat Headrest - Cat's Cradle, June 5, 2017

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 In September 1999, I was a shy and angsty Carolina freshman. I lived at Granville Towers, just off campus. (Campus housing? Perish the thought!) My roommate and two suitemates were from my hometown, as were two more guys down the hall, as were two girls farther down. It was like dipping a toe into college – I could gauge the temperature of the water, but the warm and familiar was right there waiting if I found it all too cold.

And then Something To Write Home About was released. I'd been looking forward to The Get Up Kids' sophomore album for some time; 1997's Four Minute Mile had been a staple in the CD player of my 1967 Mercury Cougar, with 'Don't Hate Me' and 'Coming Clean' earning the most plays and scream.

 Oh Amy, don't hate me for running away from you

Oh Amy, don't hate me, 'cause I'm still in love with you

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I'll concede that those lyrics look pretty simplistic written out like that, but the combination of lyric and melody, the in-line rhymes of "Amy" and "hate me" made a certain small-town attorney's son scream and sing along many mornings on the way to school.

But Something To Write Home About was on a whole other level. It was tighter. More consistent. It had a flow that was missing from the Kids' debut. And it spoke to a brand new college freshman, capturing the angst, the uncertainty, the, yes emo(tion) that would tell a shy kid from an Eastern North Carolina town, that someone was relating to him, that his personal experience was unique but not wholly unfamiliar.

The opening track, 'Holiday,' gets right to the point, with twin pick scrapes down the neck of the guitar leading to escalating power chords and Matt Pryor asking, "What became of everyone I used to know? Where did our respectable convictions go?"  That spoke to this kid, the one taking small-town values and trying to apply them, trying to fit them in on a college campus that threatened to swallow him whole, to the kid that looked around and thought both "Where is everyone I knew?" and "Who is everyone I know, really?"

The Get Up Kids came to Carrboro, to the much-missed Go! Studios Room 4, and I absorbed the music fully. The screaming "Won't somebody notice me?" invectives and the plaintive "Please notice me" ballads. Something To Write Home About came into my life at the right time.

Now, some 18 years later, comes Car Seat Headrest. Twenty-four year old Will Toledo has released 10(!) albums, the two most recent, 2015's Teens of Style and last year's Teens of Denial on Matador Records, helping him break through toward –if not all the way to– the mainstream. Car Seat Headrest was popping up in one of my Spotify Daily Mixes, alongside Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird, and then I saw my friend Kinsey Brooks on SnapChat. She looked directly at the camera and said "Car Seat Headrest!" with confidence. And sang.

It doesn't have to be like this.

It doesn't have to be like this. 

It doesn't have to be like this.

Killer whales. 

What did that even mean? I didn't know, and maybe still don't, but the melody was there, singable and innocent in its profound approachability. I investigated, dipping another toe into the waters of the angst that had defined me 18 years prior, but too often returning to the warm and familiar again, to Hamilton and The Beatles and Pink Floyd and Sufjan Stevens, the music that envelops me in my 30s as The Get Up Kids and Old 97's and Ben Folds Five did in my early 20s. 

But a few months later, my neighbor Rachel Etheridge mentioned that her husband Will was going to see some band, some "Car Seat Headrest, or something."  

"Car Seat Headrest?" I said. "I'd go to that." And so we made plans.  

Now here I must make a confession.  I know it's somewhat frowned upon among music snobs like myself to sneak a peek at setlist.fm and see what's being played on tour before attending a show. I have no problem with this. If I'm going to see a band that I'm not completely familiar with, I take a look ahead and make a Spotify playlist of the songs I might expect to hear. There are two schools of thought here, and I'm willing to listen to the other side. If The Beatles were somehow to tour again, I wouldn't look at the set list ahead of time; I know the whole catalogue. But if Mark Knopfler came back –I know a handful of Dire Straits songs– I'd take a look, make a playlist, and get to know the gems on Sailing To Philadelphia

So yes, I built a playlist based on the songs I might expect to hear, and I'm glad I did. Toledo has a knack for melody that elevates him above those that might aspire to his level. I wanted to be able to nod and smile at the opening riffs of songs I'd heard before.

Will picked me up on a rainy Monday night. As we drove into Carrboro, he asked me, "Can you remember the last time you were at Cat's Cradle?" 

I thought. "It was either They Might Be Giants, or . . . The Get Up Kids' reunion tour." I stared out the window of Will's car, the parallels setting in. 

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We walked into a Cat's Cradle that was new to me. The entrance, once on the front of the strip mall, then on the side of the building, was now in the back. The mummy man that used to haunt the ceiling now resides over the bar in the rear of the room. And while I have grown up, the people at Cat's Cradle, many of them, anyway, have stayed the same age. Including, I might add, the same ageless doorman, who has gotten somehow not gotten older or younger in the 18 years I've been going to Cat's Cradle.

The opening band was Nap Eyes, an outfit out of Nova Scotia. I didn't know much about them, but they were fine. In the push to find standing room at the Cradle, I ran into a familiar face, my guitar instructor Mark Voller, a hip dude seven years my junior, with a tattoo of a bass clef on his forearm, the kind of guy who says "Right on!" and makes you believe it. "I don't know anything about either of these bands!"  he said with a grin. His girlfriend Christina Anglin, and he was game. I imagine he said "Right on!" when she proposed the idea. 

I introduced Will to Mark, though I was a bit uncomfortable. When my worlds collide, I get a little uneasy. Generally I am able to compartmentalize my selves. There is work Turner, the Turner of Turner's Take and Twitter. There is home Turner, the married man with the wife and the dog and the church and the neighbors. This is where my neighbor Will resides. And there is music Turner, the college singer/songwriter who still dreams of seeing his name on marquees, if not at Royal Albert Hall then at Motorco or Local 506. This is the arena that Mark inhabits. Each of these audiences is aware that the other exists, but my fear has been that if a citizen of one of these worlds meets someone from another, some illusion will shatter and all will see me for a fraud. But Will cut right to the heart of the issue.

"Is Turner a good guitar player?" he said to Mark. I started sweating. See, there's this false narrative in my head, the one that doesn't allow for vulnerability to show. If I tell my neighbor I play guitar, I'm going to need him to just take it on faith that I am good at guitar. If I tell my guitar instructor that I'm a good writer, he's going to have to trust me. At 36, I still haven't mastered the art of letting go the illusion of perfection, of allowing my friends in on my struggles, of showing my work, be it writing or music or fitness or mental health. I don't know how necessary it is for me to walk down the street and say, "Hey neighbor! I'm getting better at guitar!" But it may be helpful to let someone in on the idea that I am doing the work of self-improvement. I don't have to have mastered everything to have friends. I have people who are in my life, who give me life because of my flaws, not despite them. They don't resent me for not being perfect, for having to work at it. They relate to the struggle.

"Yeah! He's awesome!" Mark said. Right on. I sighed.  But Mark continued. "You know, Turner takes voice lessons before he sees me for guitar." Oh shit here we go. "I walk by the room, and I hear him singing show tunes, Sinatra, Hamilton . . . "

"Will, you're not supposed to be hearing this," I interjected. 

"Oh yeah," Will replied, unabated. "We've heard an entire Hamilton performance at the piano at his house." 

I turned. "Mark, you're not supposed to be hearing that," I said. They laughed. I laughed. Worlds remained intact, for now. An exhale. Right on. 

Car Seat Headrest took the stage right at 9 p.m. Toledo wore a black turtleneck, his hair falling down over his bespectacled eyes. He was Joey Ramone, 2017. His guitarist wore a shirt for the video game Doom. His bassist looked like every bassist in every high school band ever, cradling the oversized guitar and bopping his head. His drummer wore a headband and kept the beat like it was his job (it was).

They tore into "Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)," and the crowd nodded with appreciation and sang along. And then, "Fill in the Blank." 

I'm so sick of (fill in the blank) 

Accomplish more, accomplish nothing 

If I were split in two I would just take my fists 

So I could beat up the rest of me

 You have no right to be depressed

You haven't tried hard enough to like it

Haven't seen enough of this world yet

But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts

Well stop your whining, try again

No one wants to cause you pain

They're just trying to let some air in

But you hold your breath, you hold your breath, you hold it

Hold my breath, I hold my breath, I hold it. 

It's clear that Toledo himself has dealt with his own internal issues and found a tremendous, constructive outlet for them. In "Fill in the Blank" he is at one moment invalidating his own feelings, giving voice to the inner monogue that says "Get over yourself," and in the next allowing space for those feelings. I've been there. Many, many have. People were singing along. Post-teens were swaying. A man 15 feet in front of me had his eyes closed and hands in the air, as if he were at a tent revival. They were relating. For my part, I don't have the same angst I did at 20; now it's major depressive disorder, the nagging thought that by this point I should know what I'm doing in the world. But to be among a friendly group of people, all connecting, all exuding redemptive, therapeutic energy was inspirational.

 I've got a right to be depressed

I've given every inch I had to fight it

I have seen too much of this world, yes

And it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts

I looked around the room. People were bobbing their heads and acknowledging their own emotions, their own internal thoughts that hold them back, and finding voice and expression, relation and validation. Toledo was laying out the very same discomfort that I'd felt when my worlds collided just moments before.

"How many of you go to Chapel Hill?" Toledo said between songs. There were many whoos. "Congratulations," he said. "And also, congratulations if you don't."  The crowd laughed. If you've got a Telecaster strapped to your back and an adoring audience, anything can be funny. But the young man who began his career recording his compositions in the back seat of his car makes for an uncomfortable rock star. And so he began the next song.

"Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is the first Car Seat Headrest song I heard, way back on Kinsey's SnapChat. When it began, the guy behind me said, "This is my favorite song of his." 'Well, of course it is,' I thought, like the music snob I so despise. But by the time the chorus came around, I was singing along, if only silently. 

It doesn't have to be like this. 

And singing alongside people of all ages, one knows that indeed it doesn't have to be like that. That there is a collective empathy that, if embraced, can buoy us all.

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It was steamy inside, the mass of humanity and the humidity from the rain contributing to a hot night in the Cradle.  I had to move to the back of the room, by the door. The rain outside was coming down hard. There were people closer to my age back here, enjoying the music but not needing to be pressed up against one another. I remembered that one of my favorite things about a Cat's Cradle show was walking into the cool air afterward.

I ran into Michael Lananna, a recent Carolina alumnus and Baseball America writer, a music fan. He'd been up by the stage. "These guys are great," he said with an earnestness that I admired. "He's so good. "

"Yeah, he's got a gift for melody and hooks," I said.

 "And lyrics," Michael said. "They're funny. Self-deprecating. But, like, real. Kind of like The Ramones mixed with The Strokes."

"Well, yeah. He looks like the grandson of Joey Ramone. But let's be honest, his lyrics are better than The Ramones." And they are. Dear reader, The Ramones weren't the most lyrically complex band in the history of music. It's OK to like "Judy Is A Punk" while at the same time admitting that it's not Melville.  And Will Toledo knows more than four chords. But I digress . . . 

I told Michael that if I were 18 to 21, I would be all about Car Seat Headrest. I would mainline Will Toledo's music. I would write lyrics on my arms and paste them into away messages. As it is, I'm not 18 to 21. I can appreciate this music more from afar, placing it in regular rotation without needing to binge it.

The band wrapped up their set with  "Famous Prophets (Minds)," then returned for an encore consisting of a Devo cover and "Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn't Love Enough).

My neighbor Will found me on his way out, and we stepped into that cool air that I had so longed for. "What did you think?"  I said.

"I thought it was great," he said. 

And it was. Car Seat Headrest doesn't have to be my favorite band in the world, but I love knowing that there's an artist 12 years younger than me giving 'the kids' something to relate to, tackling his own anxiety and depression and allowing his audience in, allowing them to be comfortable in their vulnerability. That is something to write home about. 

Big Things Often Have Small Beginnings - Wedgie's, Durham

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A car service appointment took me to the American Tobacco Campus Monday morning. I worked and had a blended mocha at Saladelia before packing up and walking across Blackwell Street and by the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for lunch. I was headed to Moe's Southwest Grill, a favorite of mine; I like the Julia Gulia, the vegetarian double stack that I can load up with mushrooms and olives. I paused for a moment. Should I go to Mellow Mushroom for the vegetarian pizza, the one with the tempeh? Nah, too expensive for a lunch. So I continued toward Moe's, passing Only Burger and briefly peeking in at the vegetarian options on their menu as well. 

But wait - hold on a second - here's this 'Wedgie's' place. I'd heard about Wedgie's from Friend of Argyle ('Argyle Ally'?) Andrew Stilwell. The first Wedgie's is in a Southern Pines gas station, and he'd texted me excitedly when they expanded to Durham. 'You've got to try this place,' he said, or something like that, in a text that I can't locate at the moment. I was skeptical of the name. He understood, but asked that I trust him.

So on this rainy Durham afternoon, I ducked in to Wedgie's. There was a gaggle of ATC co-workers eagerly awaiting their orders. I picked up a menu and began to study. 

A 'wedgie,' I gather, in this context, is not a schoolyard bullying tactic in which one boy hoists another by the beltloops in an attempt to wedge the bullied's underwear up in his unfinished basement, but rather a triangular grilled sandwich. Available in white, wheat, rye, or in a low carb option, the wedgie boasts hot meats, melted cheeses and grilled vegetables, pressed between two slices of pizza dough.

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Wedgie's menu tempts you from above, with offerings listed on pallets, echoing the history of this working-class downtown district. The Wedgie's Original is ham, turkey and salami with mozzarella cheese, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise. The 'Pitching' drops the ham and salami but adds bacon and sprouts, swapping the mozzarella for swiss. Wedgie's also offers cuban, reuben, Italian, Texas and New Yorker sandwiches, with the requisite meats. Also Wedgie's caters to both sides of the state with both Eastern and Western North Carolina barbecue sandwiches, although they call them 'BBQ' sandwiches, an abbreviation I don't subscribe to. I should add that customers can also request any sandwich be made into a salad, with a choice of dressing.

A 1/2 wedge is $5.25 while a full wedge goes for another three dollars. One can make it a combo with a side and a drink for an additional $2.75.

I thought Pitching was a reference to the DBAP, but I'm realizing now it's a nod to the restaurant's Southern Pines/Pinehurst roots. Pitching wedge, lob wedge, birdie, etc. 

Wedgie's has two dedicated vegetarian options: a Lob, with cucumber, mushrooms, onion, tomato, sprouts, mozzarella, lettuce and pesto mayo; and a Change Up, with portabella mushrooms, swiss, tomato, onion and pesto mayo. I went with the Change Up, with chips (Zapp's New Orleans, in this case, although Wedge's offers Cheetos and SunChips as well) and a drink. Wedgie's pours Pepsi products, though I choose to mix sweet and unsweet iced tea. Other than chips, one can order homemade potato salad, homemade broccoli salad or cole slaw. 

Given the number of people standing around waiting for orders, I expected a long wait. So I was pleasantly surprised when my order was delivered to my table in fewer than five minutes.

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The Change Up is a nice sandwich. A really good sandwich, on pizza dough. I am a folder of especially large pizza slices, so I was right at home here. I appreciated that both the mushrooms and tomatoes were chunked, not sliced. The tomatoes had never seen the inside of a refrigerator - just the right consistency for a grilled sandwich. The onions, too were perfectly grilled. Just a little brown, just a little clear. The provolone was a nice fit with the mushrooms, and just melty enough. Tying it all together was the pesto mayo. I think plain mayonnaise would have been lacking. All in all, it's a terrific vegetarian offering at a place that doesn't specialize in vegetarian offerings.

The chips were fine, but they were out of a bag. Next time, I'm going to reach for that potato salad. I'm not a cole slaw fan, but I appreciate that homemade slaw is on the menu. 

The Wedgie's staff was friendly, and the service was quick. This place is going to do really well in the American Tobacco District, where downtowners can walk, grab a satisfying back and then head back to work. I'll be back, for sure.  Big things, indeed, often have small beginnings.

Wedgie's Durham is at The American Tobacco Campus, 359 Blackwell Street, Durham, NC

Visit them online at www.eatwedgies.com or call 919 908 6346.

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This Week in Turner's Take

Since I'm sort of in a sentimental place right now, I thought it might be good to take a look back at columns I've written in the past for GoHeels. This week's featured Turner's Take is called 'The Payoff Pitch,' from 2013. It's about the changeups that Chris McCue threw for the Diamond Heels as they outlasted NC State in a marathon, 18-inning thriller in the ACC Tournament.  For this one, I not only talked to Chris, but I watched film with associate head coach Scott Forbes. I didn't write this column right after the game; I was on the radio, it finished at about 1:40 a.m., and I had to be at church to play guitar six hours later. I wanted to take my time on this one, so I wrote it on the following Monday, after the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

Chris McCue's dad Jim had me send him a hard copy of this story so he could frame it. I haven't seen the finished product, but I was certainly flattered. 

Turner's Take: The Payoff Pitch

Also this week: From 2016, national championship columns from Philadelphia for both women's and men's lacrosse.  What a thrilling trip that was.

And from 2014, freshman orientation columns with Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, a trio that would help the Tar Heel men's basketball team to a national championship not three years later. Theo was the hardest to track down. Justin told me he was looking forward to joining a church. Joel's high school coach raved about him. I knew he would be good - he was coming to Carolina, after all. But the way Jason Vallery spoke about Joel, I thought there was no way to live up to the hype. Well, he has.

Every Day I Write The Book

On April 12, 2017, I tweeted this: 

I had been working on the video for a couple of days, finding pictures and video, putting it to music in iMovie on my Ipad. Writing a book had been on my mind for a few years, and since it had been ten yars on the beat and the Carolina men's basketball team had just won the national championship, it seemed like a good time to try to put something together.

There were just a few problems. I hadn't written anything resembling the beginning of an outline, I had no book deal, no idea how to actually write a book and nothing that told me there was even an audience for such a book. But, I thought, I'd put the video out there, gauge interest, and by making a public proclamation, I would hold myself accountable. And others would check in on me from time to time.

The video got a ton of responses, all positive. My Twitter followers seemed to be excited. They liked the video, liked even my narration, recorded on my iPhone in a suite at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte while the Diamond Heels took on South Carolina. It was a shot in the arm and a kick forward. Now, I just had to actually do it.

The premise of the book was to be the circuitous route that I took to get to GoHeels.com and the Carolina athletics beat.  And a lot of it will be about that. But as I got to writing and mining my memory, I realized that the things that shaped me, the experiences that I draw upon as a writer today, began much earlier. The talent show at the Wayne County Agricultural Fair. Middle school baseball. Musical theatre in high school. Growing up clinging to the dream that I'd play for Dean Smith. All part of the story, all shaping the writer you're reading right now.

I don't know how much of all that will make the bok. I do know that this is not a straight biography, but more a memoir, a series of essays about my journey and development. Every day I stare at this iPad and write a little more. OK, not every day, but quite often. Sooner or later, I'll get to shaping what I've written into a coherent narrative, add some jokes and figure out how to publish this thing. 

But right now, I write.