Song & Emotion

The Dig Me Out Podcast guys recently recorded an episode about Karate‘s 1997 album, In Place of Real Insight. The mention of Karate brought back all sorts of memories that, in a different time, would be happy ones that put a smile on my face.

I’ve learned, in dealing with grief, that writing things down allows me to exorcise some of the thoughts swirling around in my head rather than holding them in and allowing them to sink me into deep(er) despair. In 2018, I lost my daughter, Liv, to a blood clot on the brain. I don’t know that I’ve written that statement very often and even now it chills me to the bone. It’s a never-ending nightmare that I know I can’t wake up from. Though we were blessed with 17-and-a-half years with her and all the fun and wonderful and, heck, even mundane experiences and stories, all of those stories turn sour with how the story ends. So, that’s why this story about Karate is one that I’d always enjoyed telling but haven’t told in a number of years and, honestly, never thought I would tell again.

I actually still have the email I sent to Geoff Farina, Karate’s lead singer, on January 12, 2001.

Hi Geoff –

Don’t know if your publicist passed along this message to you. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. I have a 2 month old daughter named Olivia. The week that we brought her home from the hospital was a somewhat tough one. She wasn’t real wild about sleeping through the night. My wife and I took shifts staying up with her. During one of my shifts (around 3 am), I jumped on the computer to check my e-mail. Olivia was upset and crying for no reason (she wasn’t hungry and didn’t need her diaper changed). I logged onto WOXY (Oxford, Ohio radio station) and listened to their webcast. The first song we heard was Karate’s “Sever.” Olivia stopped crying and became very interested in the music coming from the computer. Her mood changed from upset to complacent. Shortly thereafter (during a K.D. Lang song), Olivia fell asleep in my arms. For that, I will forever be grateful. It was then that I determined that Olivia must have found the music soothing and interesting. Your publicist just sent me the CD and I’ve been playing it for Olivia when I rock her to sleep at night (it’s replaced “Tranquil Sounds — Ocean Waves” as the disc of choice).

Thanks for making music that both my daughter and I enjoy.

With the email, I sent a photo of Olivia in her crib with the Karate CD next to her. Much to my surprise, Geoff responded a few hours later.

Yeah, my publicist did forward this to me and I thought it was great, but thanks for the pix…they’re great! What a great story. It’s true that our audience seems to get younger each year, but I didn’t expect this.

Interestingly enough, shortly after this email exchange, I was going through a stack of press releases I had gotten in the mail and found one from Karate’s publicist with tour dates. What was super coincidental is that on the night that I became a first-time father (November 4, 2000), Karate was playing a show at Bernie’s Bagels in Columbus. The fact that, two months later, Karate helped put Liv to sleep made so much more sense, it felt like one of those weird universal bonds that just happen and that we’re powerless to control.

I always dreamed that, as Liv got older, she’d randomly pick up a Karate CD or album and become a fan. I’d share with her the story about how she heard “Sever” when she was just a few months old and how it lulled her to sleep. Unfortunately, I tried to play the song for her at different times in her life but she was more into indie-pop and she didn’t really care for Karate’s indie-jazz sound.

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to “Sever” and while it brings back good memories, the darkness is winning the battle and I know if I listen to the song now it’ll trigger the bad memories so I’ll put it off for another day.

I miss you, Liv. I wish we could listen to “Sever” together tonight to see if you could feel some connection to the song.


The birth of the internet, my shift from print publications to a music site. The late ’90s/early ’00s were a glorious time to be a music journalist. Coming home after working and finding half a dozen padded manila envelopes with a rubber band holding them all together, all holding CDs that publicists were hoping I’d review. I guess I shouldn’t complain – these days, instead of the daily mail call, it’s the daily email call and I likely get more links to stream/download new releases (even though I barely write anymore) than I got CDs.

I somehow ended up on a few Christian label mailing lists despite not being religious nor focusing on Christian artists. That said, there were some real gems that landed in my mailbox, perhaps my favorite being Aaron Sprinkle’s 2000 album The Kindest Days. That thing was on repeat for months, maybe even a full year. The blog I ran before this one (Swizzle-Stick) is long gone and while some of the content can still be accessed by going to, my “Favorites of 2000” list may just exist in my memories these days.

For some reason, got to thinking about Aaron Sprinkle tonight and remember just how much I absolutely love this song. I’ve had it on repeat the past 20 minutes and it holds up 20 years later. SO GOOD.

Served up by Spotify

Saw a social post that Alex Dezen quietly released a new track, “Modern Life”, in the midst of the pandemic. After listening to it 3 times in a row (sounds mildly Damnwells-ish to me), I let Spotify serve up other genre-related songs. Pretty good job, Spotify.

Mike Doughty – “27 Jennifers
David Ramirez – “Watching from a Distance
Ruston Kelly – “Jericho
Young in the City – “Waste My Time
Dawes – “I Will Run

(At this point, I can imagine listening all day)

Noah Gundersen – “So What (Acoustic)
Ryan Adams – “Do You Still Love Me?
Will Hoge – “Gilded Walls
Bob Schneider – “Katie
Pete Yorn – “Call Down

Rebranding Atomic Ned launched in 2007 and was my place to wax poetic about bands I liked, post tour dates, provide links to new MP3s, interview artists I was a fan of, etc.

Life got in the way, other websites were launched, and became a site that I kept renewing just so I wouldn’t lose years worth of content.

I find that the radio stations I tend to listen to the most classify themselves as Classic Rock and when digging through record store bins, it’s albums from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that are the first to catch my attention.

So, because I’m not quite ready to retire the URL and I still want to write about music … albeit older music … I’ve decided to rebrand and make it a blog about my comfort music, from bands that I’m intimately familiar with to bands that I’m just discovering some 20 – 40 years late. Not exactly sure what type of content you’ll find here – probably some album reviews, some band histories, and, if I’m able to pull it off, even some interviews.

Who would have thought that I’d be looking forward by glancing in the rearview mirror?

Thank you, Eliot Sumner

Rush, Ozzy and The Police were the first three bands that I ever got into as a kid, probably between the ages of 10 – 12. They shaped my music listening, they are the first bands that I stood in front of the mirror and pretended to be. Although, like most kids’ first listening experiences, I knew songs by those artists that I heard on the radio, not all the deep album cuts. But, then, in 1983, The Police released Synchronicity and it was one of the first albums that I ever bought with my own money. And because I spent my own money on it, I listened to every song, over and over. It didn’t hurt that that album had like 5 singles and was all over the radio.

I’m on some press email list and early this year received a link to download an advance copy of Eliot Sumner’s new album, Information. The Sumner name jumped out at me, if it had come in as “the new album by I Blame Coco”, I may not have even opened the email. I gave the music a listen and it spoke to me. As a lifelong Police fan, I’ve always been looking for bands that are influenced by The Police but am pretty particular and, so far, haven’t really found a band that meets my criteria. I thought, for a little while, that Mutemath might be that band – something about their earlier stuff reminded me of The Police but I don’t hear that in their newer stuff. And, of course, I’ve checked out Fiction Plane in the hopes that Joe Sumner would be like, “If I sound like my dad, I’ll sell millions of records.” I do hear some Police/Sting in Fiction Plane’s music but it feels to me like Joe is trying to forge his own identity.

I don’t think Eliot is coasting on her dad’s name but I think there’s an unavoidable influence that Eliot may not even be conscious aware of. I’ve only seen The Police once, on their reunion tour and I wasn’t in the first row but having seen a lot of videos, a lot of recorded live performances, etc, the way Eliot moves on stage, the way she holds and plays her bass, the way she throws in “ehh” and “ohhh” in the spaces in songs – like just sort of feeling the urge to sing into the mike – that all reminds me of Sting. There’s way she phrases words, ways she sing melodies, even the intense look on her face when performing that makes me think, “Yep, that’s Sting’s daughter for sure.”

I got to spend 15 minutes with Eliot, 10 of which she was doing an interview with my kid. I don’t pretend to know her in the least but in the very short time that I did get to spend with her – in addition to the 10 minutes after the show where I watched her interact with fans – she comes across as very genuine and, frankly, young. I think, because of who her parents are and because I vaguely recognized the “Coco” name, I was thinking she’d be an old, wise soul. She is, but she’s also a kid. She’s soaking up the “on the road” experience. She played in front of probably 25 people at the Big Room Bar (Columbus, Ohio) and, at the start of the set, people were leaving that “safe zone” between the audience and the stage. Two songs into the set, Eliot said, “Come on Columbus, get close.” She didn’t have to ask twice, everybody moved up. She has a presence that commands the audience’s attention. I don’t pay a lot of attention to lyrics but the songs on Eliot’s album seem to be full of heartbreak, desperation, sadness, anger, longing. Even though I couldn’t sing along with every word, these songs seemed very personal and, maybe, even cathartic. I don’t want to say that I think Eliot’s trying to find herself … I think she’s well aware of who she is … but I wonder what her next album will sound like, what topics the lyrics will touch on.

Music touches my soul. Good music gets into my blood and works its way through my body. A great live performance can transport me into another dimension, can make me feel like I’m the only person on the planet and the artist is performing just for me. These are all the feelings and emotions I felt while watching Eliot and her band. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt on the verge of tears at times, I was that moved by the music, by the performance.

Maybe it’s good that I’m nearly 45 years old. It was a perfect evening, from meeting Eliot and band before the show and watching my kid interact with her to seeing one of my favorite concerts of 2016 and, maybe, ever. I walked to my car and pulled up Eliot’s remaining tour dates on my phone. Tonight, there’s a show in Cleveland and the 25-year-old me (the same age Eliot is now) wouldn’t even give it a second thought – I’d be on 71 North by 5pm en route to the Grog Shop. And the 21-year-old me would probably follow Eliot around the Midwest, hitting shows within a 5-hour drive.

As it is, I hope Eliot stays on the road, continues to build a fanbase, is given opportunities to play in front of large crowds; the blessing and the curse of becoming obsessed with a band that you want to be “your band” – seeing Eliot in a small venue with 25 people is something I’ll never forget and having the chance to be close enough to watch her expressions throughout the show was captivating, but I wish her only the best and hope that she has the chance to be playing on much larger stages, where I probably won’t be able to be as close, so that others can experience the same thing I did.

Thank you, Eliot Sumner, for giving me something to write about.