Wednesday, November 30, 2005

LIFE: The Way of the Weaning

Image hosted by Photobucket.comCould you refuse this face?

So, we've finally taken the last dramatic steps toward leaving babyhood behind. Toddler Peter has been mostly weaned for a few months now, only doing a brief nighttime feeding, but faithful wife Avril and I decided it was time to go "cold turkey" and adjust the lad to life without the breast. At 21 1/2 months old, he's been doing it for a while, but heck, he's an extremely healthy, happy boy who's a lot bigger than most other kids his age, so breast-feeding clearly has agreed with him. But everything has to end eventually... It's time to get hardcore.

Last night was the first "nurse-free" one, and apparently it went really well (I had to work early, so Avril got to stay up and soothe the boy till 10:30 or so). No crying or hollering at all. It ain't over yet, and we'll see how Night 2 goes tonight, but we're doing better than we feared. The keys seem to be distraction and keep stuffing him with food. Truth be told, Peter is probably ready for this even if he doesn't quite know it. It'll be at least a week before it sticks, and we'll have to hear his plaintive little inquiries of "nur... nur?" (nurse) for a little while yet, though. Brave wife deserves 99.9% of the credit for easing him through this change. I, however, do give very good horsey rides.

I'm already getting sad at the idea my mini-me boy won't be a baby forever. He's running, talking and coming up with new words all the time ("helicopter," "digger" and compound sentences are his latest feats). Toilet training lurks on the horizon, which will definitely be a highlight of 2006. He'll start preschool in 2007. Then before you know it he'll be stealing the keys to my car. We're pretty sure we're a one-child family, but you can see how quickly the urge to make another perfect li'l critter just like the one you've got can sneak up on you...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

MUSIC: The Perfect Songs, Part I

There are a handful of Perfect Songs in your life. Inspired by bloggers like the redoubtable Greg Burgas who does something like this, here's part the first of an occasional list of songs that don't have a wasted lyric, a missed note. A great many are love songs because, heck, that's what most songs are, and I'm a lovin' kind of fella. These songs are all attached to something for me, like most perfect songs have to be -- a place, a time, a person -- and that's a big part of what makes 'em perfect, of course. They tell their story, they pluck the heartstrings or boogey-joint (everyone has a boogey-joint), and they stick in your brain, buzzing away. Perfection is subjective; I'm right and you're wrong, or maybe the other way around, yadda yadda yadda. Here's three of my Perfect Songs, in no particular order --

Image hosted by Photobucket.com1. "Wildflowers," by Tom Petty. A friend is in trouble, someone you adore who's bright and smart and yet has the world's worst taste in men; she deserves better, she really does, but she has to be free to make her own mistakes. One of Petty's most fragile, lovely songs, sung in a tumbledown bar on the edge of town; sentimental without being sappy, as true as it is bittersweet. That girl got messed up bad and you two never were quite the same. "You belong somewhere you feel free."

Image hosted by Photobucket.com2. "Ocean," by Sebadoh. You know when you lust after someone but kinda want to kill them at the same time? That's this song, the soundtrack for those final days of a relationship. A bouncy jangling jingle, about love turning into hate, a girl who can't make up her mind, that moment when you realized you're trapped between people. Sebadoh, a half-forgotten band from the grungy slack mid-1990s with former Dinosaur Jr. member Lou Barlow at the helm. Lou sings this one with a bemused detachment, combining wry amusement with that awful ache. He knows his obsession is absurd but he can't quite give it up. In 1997 I listened to this song approximately 518 times. "But you answer every question with a riddle / And refuse to even choose to let me go."

Image hosted by Photobucket.com3. "Downtown Train" by Tom Waits. Among the many sins for which Rod Stewart deserves to be burned at the stake is the fact that more people know his cover of this song than Waits' gruff, gorgeous original. Tom Waits has a voice that's been run over by a truck and scraped up and patched back together again, and that works beautifully for this lovelorn fable of a spurned man waiting for that train, that girl, that dream. It's far more audience-friendly than almost anything else Waits has ever written, and even Rod Stewart couldn't screw it up too badly. But drenched in rain and whiskey and stubble, powered by a marvelously shimmering, heartbroken guitar riff, the original can't be touched. "The downtown trains are full with all those Brooklyn girls / they try so hard to break out of their little worlds."

Look for more Perfect Songs in the near future!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Waiting in line for 7 hours at a Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving is my personal idea of what Hell must be like. Seriously, I don't get it. The amount of money you save on trinkets and gadgets doesn't account for the amount of aggravation, in my mind.

Of course, I do most of my rather sparse Christmas shopping in October and November. Yeah, I'm one of those people.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

...So you might notice the new little link button right over there -- yes, that one. I've joined the secretive cabal that's really running the Internet, BlogCritics! It's a nifty site that combines the efforts of more than a thousand different bloggers on pop culture topics from all over the spectrum, and I'm pleased they've let me join their evil conspiracy. Seriously, though, it's a swell site, a kind of "best of" the critical net voices out there, and you'll be able to find my writing there hopefully a couple times a week. You can head over right now and read my cheaply reposted piece from this site on "Low" by Hugo Wilcken. Go browse, I can wait.

Anyway, for those who stuck around, let's get back to my post for today....

COMICS: Cruisin' with 'The King'

The good folks at Top Shelf have sent yours truly some fine comix lately to read which I'll be reviewing on here periodically. When I got their box of comics, the first one that jumped out at me was Rich Koslowski's "The King." I mean, c'mon -- Elvis! In a fearsome gold mask! I'm in. As I mentioned mere days ago in a footnote, I only recently really developed an appreciation for that Presley kid's impact on music history.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comNow along comes Rich Koslowski (creator of "The 3 Geeks" among others), who's crafted a graphic novel that's both a cunning tribute to Elvis and an insightful dissection of what our idols really mean to us. Elvis has returned, you see, or someone claiming to be him, a top-notch impersonator who wears a golden helmet and has all the King's moves down pat. From his home base in Vegas, "The King" is drawing fans and a growing cult of obsessions. He claims to be the real Elvis –- and that he's even become a kind of god, resurrected to do his work again. Paul Erfurt, a disgraced tabloid journalist desperate to make the big time, is sent to Vegas to find out the truth about Elvis. He doesn't have a clue what he's getting into.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThere's a real air of soulful enigma to "The King" that I liked. Koslowski doesn't go in for easy jokes about Elvis, nor does he stoop to fanboy worship. He's hunting for answers about what Elvis means to the people who're following him -- and to himself. Erfurt interviews many people trying to get to the truth -- spurned lovers, acolytes, bodyguards and people who might know who this new Elvis really is -- but in the end answers are all subjective. "The King" is a kind of existential pop culture romp, "Twin Peaks" meets "Jailhouse Rock" -- a bit of drama, bit of action, bit of introspection and a fair amount of wry humor. Koslowski's art is crisp and clean, with a cartoony edge that emphasizes the characters' emotions. Black and white with nice use of duotone shading, it's a gorgeous little book, with Top Shelf's typically eye-catching design sense. If you're a fan of Elvis -- or just a fan of explorations of fame in general -- "The King" is worth seeking out. $19.95, 250 pages, available at Top Shelf or finer comic stores everywhere.

...No posting for the next few days, as we're getting ready for my folks to roll into town tonight and all that Turkey Day goodness. Hope you and yours have a fine holiday full of stuffing and no bad cranberries.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

MOVIES: 'Walk The Line'

Johnny Cash walked the line between Satan and salvation much of his life.

Growing up dirt-poor in Arkansas with a bitter, drunken father, and suffering the early loss of a beloved older brother in a hideous accident, Cash knew pain — and transformed that hurt into a passel of fantastic tunes, becoming an early rock ’n’ roller, a country music icon and one of the few musicians cool to just about everyone.
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He struggled with drug addiction for years, and long-unrequited love for a fellow singer. He raised a lot of hell — yet he was also a committed Christian.
He’s one of the few musicians to end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he had hits stretching from the 1950s right on up to months before his death in 2003.

Johnny Cash’s epic American life was made for a movie, and “Walk The Line” delivers, thanks to remarkable performances from Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as his future wife, June Carter.

It’s mostly a rousing joy, although director James Mangold bogs down a little too much in the drug abuse and darkness of Cash’s life. The potent romantic chemistry and soaring music performances give “Walk The Line” its real kick.

The musical numbers crackle with an electric tension, particularly when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet. Believe it or not, these two actually sang every note themselves. Phoenix really manages to evoke the spirit of Cash’s deep drawling majesty, echoing Cash without just imitating him. It’s a smart move — merely lip-synching Cash’s tunes would not have had the same weight onscreen.

The story follows the first 40 years or so of Cash’s life. Trying to support his wife Vivian and children as a young man — a marvelous bit shows the travails of “John Cash, door-to-door salesman” — Cash flounders, knowing that he wants to play his music, but unsure how to achieve it.

In an audition before pioneering Memphis record producer Sam Phillips, we watch Cash feel his way through a halting performance of “Folsom Prison Blues,” discovering his signature sound right before our eyes (“steady like a train, sharp like a razor,” June Carter calls it).

These early scenes capture the musical camaraderie and shaping of young Cash’s image. Future legends like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cash cram into cars and drive from show to show in small Southern towns.

On the tour, Cash meets June Carter, part of a legendary country singing family. They become friends, and then more — but Cash and Carter are both married unhappily to other people, and Carter turns down Cash’s constant flirtations. For more than a decade, the two fight their attraction, and Cash dulls his heartache with a steady diet of amphetamines, slowly killing himself even as he becomes world-famous.

Phoenix, best known for supporting roles in “Gladiator” and “Signs,” takes on the tough task of portraying a beloved pop culture figure and pulls it off. He gets Cash’s self-destructive edge and the hole left in his soul by his brother’s death and the casual cruelty of his father (played by a fierce Robert Patrick). We watch a hopeful young singer turn into the dark, dramatic Johnny Cash who would change music.

And as the tough, spirited June, who becomes Cash’s obsession and lifesaver, Witherspoon gives an amazing performance, light years from the frothy comedy of “Legally Blonde.” It’s her first truly “adult” role, and a fine showcase of her versatility.

Johnny Cash’s life was too big for one movie to hold, and there’s a lot “Walk The Line” misses or fudges a bit for dramatic purposes (one particularly emotional onstage scene at the climax didn’t happen like that in real life). The basic structure here comes perilously close to biographical cliché — rags to riches to rags to riches again — but Phoenix and Witherspoon’s powerhouse acting sells it.

The fiery romance of Johnny Cash and June Carter was one part of their legend, and “Walk The Line” makes you feel that burning passion all over again. Look for it to win some Oscar gold next year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

MEDIA: Man of the Year

Yeah, it's that time of the year, when all the big ol' year-end magazine issues start coming out summarizing the good, the bad and the ugly of the year that was. I love these things. TIME is one of the 800-pound gorillas of the genre, with their "Person of the Year" award coming up. There's only one logical choice for this year, and that "man" would have to be Mother Nature. Between the Asian tsunami (which technically happened at the very end of 2004, but the full scale became apparent to the world this year), Pakistan earthquake (which killed 80,000 people) and a few hurricanes that you might have heard about, this was a year where we were reminded who the boss is, and how insignificant we can be when the world reminds us of it. All told, millions of people had their lives ended or changed by the whims of nature and weather this year.

Anyway, I don't know who or what TIME will pick, although I'd bet cash money on some configuration of Nature, Poseidon or whatever getting it when the issue comes out Dec. 19. One thing that always annoys me a little bit about this issue, though, is how many people believe it's meant to be some kind of honor. This from TIME itself: a man, woman, or idea that "for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year." That doesn't mean a hero, necessarily. Look at the past names honored -- 1938, Adolf Hitler. 1939, Joseph Stalin. 1971: Richard Nixon. 1979: Ayatallah Khoemeni. Um, George W. Bush, twice, in 2000 and 2004. Point being, "most influenced" doesn't necessarily offer a value judgment with it, and it's not always an honor.

In fact, I'd argue that in 2001, picking Rudy Giuliani was kind of a wussy way of addressing 9/11 -- not that Rudy didn't do a nice job recovering from it -- but the man who most influenced the year surely was wack-job murderer Osama bin Laden. Of course, all them folk who don't get what "person of the year" means would have burned down TIME's offices if they'd done that. To remain true to what "Person of the Year" means, TIME has to keep in mind their own definition and not kowtow to the public's misunderstanding of it. If that means sometimes the "bad guys" win, so be it.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Great Caesar's ghost, it's my third post in one day! I'm a madman!
It isn't the perfect iPod shuffle, but it's close. Tonight's iPod exercise regime shuffle - with annotations!

She's The One - The Ramones
Drown - Smashing Pumpkins
Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair - Richard Thompson
Hump Me One More Time - John Lee Hooker*
Gone For Good - The Shins
Original Prankster - The Offspring
Magic Finger - James Superstar Kolchaka
(Now And Then) There's A Fool Such As I - Elvis Presley**
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Guns 'N' Roses***
One Line - PJ Harvey****
Smothered in Hugs - Guided By Voices
It's Just Too Much - The Velvet Underground
A Forest - The Cure
'Cause I Love You - Johnny Cash*****
To The End - Blur

*If there's a finer song title in existence, I don't want to know it.

**I used to consider Elvis strictly as an object of kitsch, after two visits to Graceland and an infinity of Elvis jokes with my old pal John H. It took the greatest hits CDs "1" and "2nd To None" to convince me there was a reason they called him King.

***Yeah, this so-awful-it's-good cover is a guilty pleasure, as is most Guns 'N' Roses. However, it suffers from what I'd call the band's fatal flaw (besides Axl Rose being, how do you say, batshit insane) -- the song goes one a good two minutes longer than it needs to. About the time the idiotic phone call interruption starts and the gospel chorus kicks in, skip to next track. I'd argue the same critical flaw for several of their other songs, except for "November Rain," which goes on so very long that it goes right through the membrane of "suck" and back out into something resembling epic cool again.

****I am torn between the three sexiest women's voices in rock - PJ Harvey, Sinéad O'Connor, or Lucinda Williams.

*****Going to go see "Walk The Line" tomorrow. Hurray!
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Superman Returns: The first teaser trailer here, and I am intrigued. It's very short, but it sure looks purty. The heavy reliance on the classic first two Christopher Reeve movies as backstory is something that could go very wrong, or very right (hearing Marlon Brando's dead voice as Jor-El on the trailer is a spooky effect). Still, director Bryan Singer done good with the "X-Men" movies, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This will either be next summer's "Spider-Man," or, its "Ang Lee's Hulk." And let's hope Richard Pryor doesn't make a cameo.
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I can't believe I didn't know this was coming out Tuesday.
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If you haven't seen "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou", you don't know what I'm talking about. If you have, an entire album of pidgin English/Portugese David Bowie covers with a Caribbean tilt? Could any sane man pass that up? I (heart) Seu Jorge.

Friday, November 18, 2005

COMICS: Bow, puny humans, before Doom!

Image hosted by Photobucket.comMan, "Essential Super-Villian Team-Up" Vol. 1 (and, um, only) is a giddy goofball blast of a comic. Collecting the entirety of the late, not particularly long-lived '70s series "Super-Villain Team-Up" and some bonuses besides, it's that rarity among comics — one featuring a villain as its protagonist. And who better than Dr. Doom, that armor-clad monarch who, arguably, is the best comics villain of all time?
OK, "Super-Villain Team-Up" is no flawless comic book classic — the art ranges from greats like Wally Wood and George Perez to some real mediocrities, and the stories roam all over the place (the final two issues here, a team-up between the Red Skull and, er, Adolf Hitler that doesn't include Doom, may be one of the worst comics I've ever read). Yet the majority of them are good fun. I always get a guilty pleasure out of rooting for the bad guy, and the magnetic, egotistical Dr. Doom is the baddest of the bad. For $16 and change for 500+ pages, it's all comics goodness.

Anyway, one thing I learned during this volume, which follows Doom's various unsuccessful attempts to take over the world, is how important good smack talk is for a would-be dictator. Doom gets on the wrong side of pretty much everyone in this book, from Sub-Mariner to the Red Skull to the Avengers to Magneto. And he's not a man who's shy about his feelings when irked. Thus, some of Dr. Doom's choice put-downs for your entertainment. Feel free to use any of these in your day-to-day squabbles.

• "Behold, Dolts! Feel the savage thirst of naked ENERGY!"

• "I'll teach you to affront the master of menace!"

• "I am Victor Von Doom -- and I was born to RULE! Merely to SPEAK to me of surrender -- is to sign one's DEATH WARRANT!"

• "Fly, you ungrateful water-snipe!" (to the Sub-Mariner, who gets called a 'water-snipe' [what the hell?] at least twice.)

Image hosted by• "I live! Dr. Doom lives! Hear me, barbaric scum! Or can you NO LONGER hear?"

• "You think to crush Doom with STONE, my erstwhile ally? Know you NOT that Doom has made mountains TREMBLE?"

• "My hounds lust for the taste of their warm, wolfish BLOOD!"

"…And now we will learn if an android can DIE." (to the intrepid Vision)

• "Doom will live to see you UNCREATED!" (also to the intrepid Vision)

• "Like ALL men -- you marvel at the LEAST of my genius -- and I find your grudging praise LAUGHABLE."

• "Gloat while you CAN, you fleshless, crimson CUR!" (to the Red Skull, who manages to really get under Doom's skin and gets the crap beaten out of him on the moon of all places as a result)

• "Crawling, venomous SLIME, you DARE mention my physical appearance? You DARE?!!"

• "Doom ... commands! But ... I .. am DOOM! Command... and I must ... obey! Yet ... WHY does Doom not COMMAND? WHY?!" (A classic conundrum, eh?)
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Special bonus: Doom collaborates with that avatar of all evil, Dr. Henry Kissinger! (You can't make this stuff up, honest.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

MUSIC: Everything you ever wanted to know
about David Bowie's "Low" but were afraid to ask

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," Elvis Costello famously once said, but heck, even if it's chasing ghosts, I love reading solid rock criticism. Done well, a writer can give you a new view of an old tune, or turn you on to something you've never heard before.

The 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books takes music writing and distills it down to its essence. They're short chapbooks devoted to analyzing the story of a single great album, through history, interviews, essays or even fiction. They're tiny, just under 5 x 7 inches and about 125 pages each volume, and they're oh so darned cute. The series so far has tackled everything from Springsteen to the Velvet Underground to Joy Division to DJ Shadow to The Beatles. The series' free-form nature can sometimes lead to indulgent intellectual meandering, but most of the books I've read so far have been tight, informative and insightful. (A complete list, including some future titles and proposed ones, can be found right here)

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAnyway, up in Portland last weekend I picked up one of the newest 33 1/3 volumes, a look at David Bowie's "Low" by writer Hugo Wilcken. Soon as I saw that "Low" was now part of this series, I didn't hesitate to grab that puppy off the shelf. Readers of this blog know I'm a big-time Bowiephile, and "Low," Bowie's 1977 landmark, is right near the top of my favorite Bowie albums. In its glacial cool and soulful angst, "Low" never gets old to me. Recorded just shy of 30 years ago, it's still futuristic and strange, combining dreamlike pop with machine-like instrumentals, punk flavors, ambient drift and hypnotic rhythms, and sparse lyrics following the drifting of a lost soul. Perhaps the best quote I've ever read about "Low" comes from Bowie himself in Wilcken's book — it captures "a sense of yearning for a future that we all knew would never come to pass."

In the "Low" volume, Wilcken does a very solid job of establishing the context from which "Low" sprung — Bowie's drug-addled, near-catatonic mental state at the outset of recording, his family history of mental illness, collaborators like Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, Kraftwerk and other angular music that influenced him, the artistic scene of mid-70s Berlin, and all the other little pieces that created this unusual album. Bowie, the noted chameleon, strips away his masks throughout "Low," and the album shows the deterioration of language as a medium of communication. Only about half the songs even have lyrics, although they're among Bowie's strongest — the bouncy "Sound And Vision," yearning "Be My Wife," world-weary "Always Crashing The Same Car" — but words fade and the entire second side is instrumental. By the great "Warszawa," Bowie has crumbled into an imaginary language that predicts the music of a modern band like Sigür Rös by decades.

"Low" is one of those rare records that's only grown in power and reputation over the decades. A world used to Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke didn't know what to make of this crystalline, lonesome Bowie sound. (Wilcken uses the word "autistic" to frequently describe Bowie's behavior in this disc, which may sound inappropriate but really sums up the transformation of the Bowie character during the song cycle.) Wilcken's "Low" meets the magic benchmark of music criticism for me — it gives me new appreciation for an album I already deeply loved. If you're a fan of enterprising, long-form music criticism, these 33 1/3 books are well worth a shot. Pick one about an album you dig and give it a spin.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

LIFE: The Birthday Report

Hey kids! Had a fun birthday weekend jaunt up to Portland. Did the required visits to worship at the altar of Powell's Books and Excalibur Comics, and also had a fun visit to blogpal Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber at Mercury Studios, a comic creators' "collaborative" of sorts downtown. (Jeff is currently writing the swell Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four and other stuff, and Steve just drew the most recent issue of DC's Gotham Central, to barely touch on their credits. And Jeff told me about a nifty-sounding top secret project he's got coming from Marvel next year which I won't reveal upon pain of death and dismemberment.) A great studio to go see and I enjoyed talking to Jeff and Steve, and thanks for letting me drop by!

And I got birthday loot: Avril bought me the "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" DVD, and I took a big ol' box of books up to Powell's and got several things in trade, Image hosted by including The Complete Peanuts Vol. 4, 1957-1958 (when "Peanuts" started getting reallly good), "How We Are Hungry: Stories" (I likes the Dave Eggers) and "Guided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll", a music fanboy's dream book all about one of my favorite cult bands. Plus, at Excalibur Comics I found the long-sought "Essential Super-Villain Team-Up" paperback! Five hundred pages of megalomaniac super-villain warfare from the swingin' '70s! I can now die happy. Dr. Doom commands it!

We poor country yokels always enjoy visiting the Rose City, where them buildings are real tall and there's all kinds of colors of people and all. We took Peter for a visit to the Portland Children's Museum. Image hosted by As we're rapidly discovering there are few spots one can take a rampaging toddler out in public and not constantly be yanking him away from deadly drops, electrical outlets or various other life-shortening devices. The PCM is cool because it's basically an entire playhouse full of kid-friendly interactive exhibits, like a "water room" and a "music room" and a "car room" and so forth. My favorite was the "dig pit," which is a big room filled entirely with what looks like blue tire chips for kids to play in. Peter ran amok for two hours or so at the museum before collapsing in a heap, and we all drove back to the rural hinterlands. We'll be back in Portland before too long, though -- one must get their city fix!

Monday, November 14, 2005

TV: A moment of silence

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I come back from Portland* and there's sadness in the land. Well, it was bound to happen. TV's funniest, most surreal and sprawling comedy, "Arrested Development," appears to be officially kaput. There's a slight chance it may resurface on cable, but I'm not holding my breath. Can't blame Fox, either, as they did give it 2 1/2 years in the face of immense public apathy. Sigh. At least we've got our DVDs to keep us warm at night -- this show is one that definitely benefits from repeat viewings for the layered in-jokes, sight gags and twisting plot. There'll be a few more episodes in December, it looks like, and then "AD" will shuffle off into the graveyard of critically adored, underappreciated TV. (*cough * cough* "Firefly.")

It was just a bit too smart for the American public, I guess, who chose to watch "America's Top Model" and "C.S.I." instead. I could unleash a torrent of bile over a world where people think driving yellow Hummers are cool, that re-elects Bush and moviegoers actually pay to see something called "Saw II," but hey, Will Pfeifer already did it for me. If anybody wants me, I'll be in my room.

*Portland trip report coming soon!

Friday, November 11, 2005

LIFE: We interrupt our non-blogging...

OK, I've been a lazy excuse for a blogger this last week, I know. It's the Oregon rains, which descended on us with a mighty windy gust last weekend and dulled my brain.

It's also the spectre of age, for tomorrow I will turn another year older. Yes, I'll be 34, which means I'm officially older than Jesus Christ and middle-aged if I die before age 68. If you really want to show your love for me, get me something off my Amazon wish list and I'll keep you in my heart forever. Or if you don't like me quite that much, just post a nice comment. Or some cake.

Anyway, I plan to celebrate surviving another year by taking the family up to Portland tomorrow for some of the weekend, to get our city fix of bright lights and museums and discount bookstores, oh the glory of it all. Next week I will be a better, older and wiser blogger, I promise.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

"You know, they tell ya to never hit a man with a closed fist but it is, on occasion, hilarious."

You are Captain Malcolm Reynolds, aka. Mal or
Captain Tightpants. You saw most of your men
die in a war you lost and now you seek solitude
with a small crew that you are fiercely devoted
to. You have no problems being naked.

Which Firefly character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
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You're never too young for coffee. Discuss.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

LIFE: Friday 'Firefly,' Fiona and file-sharing

Image hosted by Photobucket.comITEM! The wife and I have been hip-deep in a fine marathon of the cult TV series "Firefly" on DVD all week from Netflix. It's one of those series I missed during its brief life on TV, and had never checked out. After all the good talk about the recent "Serenity" movie based on the TV series, I decided to catch up. A lot of times stuff you hear is really great isn't quite as great as you thought, but boy, this is a fantastic show, one of the best science fiction TV programs I've seen in years.

If you aren't already in the loop, "Firefly" was a kind of sci-fi/western, set 500 years in the future in a time when man has colonized the stars. Mal Reynolds captains the Serenity, a ship that operates odd jobs semi-legally in deep space, with a crew of various reprobates and fugitives. It's tremendous so far, what "Star Trek: Enterprise" might've been if it didn't, y'know, suck. It's the "anti-Trek" in some ways with its detailed realism, lawless, fear-filled galaxy and constantly brawling characters. No lasers, no aliens, only men scrambling for survival on pioneer planets. Creator Joss Whedon has made a detailed, yet not overwhelming world, full of fine characters and notable journeys. Nathan Fillion's bold, likable and layered Captain Mal is now my personal hero.

Of course, like too many great Fox shows ("Undeclared," "Andy Richter," etc.) it was promptly canceled, back in 2002. Still it's well worth renting now on DVD. I'm depressed already, though, knowing that once we finish Disc 4 sometime this weekend, that's it (except for catching up with the movie "Serenity," which I haven't seen, when it comes out on DVD next month). Why do the good shows always die too soon?

ITEM! iPod update – after two weeks of iPod ownership, I'm closing in on 2,000 songs loaded, about 1/3 of its capacity it looks like. The idea of having dozens of my albums accessible at the touch of a fingertip is still novel to me, and I'm having a ball testing out the "shuffle" while I exercise. I'm constantly in search of the perfect shuffle, one that will make the misty veils of reality part and cause me to see nirvana (not the band). Come close a couple times but it gets derailed when some slow-moving 11-minute Led Zeppelin opus comes on.

One of the big reasons I bought Mr. iPod is to reduce the size of our CD collection down a bit. I've taken close to 100 CDs, ripped them onto the iPod and sold them at Second Spin. It's a little weird for me to abandon the physicality of a CD for strictly digital music. It's like, what if I lose my iPod or it explodes? Then all that music I don't have on CD anymore is gone. Hard transition to make. I even bought my first downloaded entire CD from iTunes the other day (more on that in a minute), and it seemed off for me to buy a CD but not have anything tangible to show for it. Just call me a primitive man.

ITEM! That first album I downloaded on iTunes was Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine," and it's good stuff. I, like many others, picked up Fiona's debut "Tidal" back in the mid-1990s, which was catchy piano-laced angry girl rock; but I got rid of it somewhere along the way (still liked the song "Criminal" though) and didn't pick up her next one in 1999. Image hosted by Photobucket.comNow, six years on, she's back. But "Extrarordinary Machine" has been a big buzz album, with a whole sordid history prior to its release.

All that aside, how's the final product? Well, the somewhat immature Fiona of 10 years ago has grown up a lot, and "Extraordinary Machine" presents a far more thoughtful, wizened sound, without the pretentious edge that snuck into her earlier work. At her best, Fiona combines the melodic knack of Tori Amos with the rough honesty of P.J. Harvey. These 12 tracks are detailed, piano-driven ruminations on love and self-respect, with Apple's dark, smoky voice holding sway over it all. She's got excellent, cutting lyrics — "Oh you silly stupid pastime of mine / You were always good for a rhyme" — and a sense of confidence that is only gained by a little heartbreak. It's sharp, poignant introspective stuff, and worth the wait.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

MUSIC: Celebrate The Cheese

I felt like writing about music, and almost decided to take on this fun music meme that's floating around, but frankly it seemed like too much work. Instead I chose to focus on the cheese – everybody's got those cheesy songs that they secretly adore. Yes, I have my Franz Ferdinand and White Stripes and Beck and Guided By Voices and so forth to satisfy my critical cool, but sometimes, a man needs a good blast of cheese.

Of course, with the caveat that one man's cheese is another man's brie, and that heck, I'm not making fun of anybody who's a fan of anything here except for myself, so if you're the world's biggest Toto fan, take a deep breath. Perhaps inevitably, being a child of the '80s my guilty pleasures are pretty much all '80s vintage. Onward!

My top 5 cheesy songs

Image hosted by Photobucket.com1. "Billy Don't You Lose My Number" by Phil Collins. I loaded this on my iPod the other day, guiltily looking left and right to make sure no one observed me. This was one of the first videos I saw on MTV back in the day, and Phil Collins turns into a bee in it! That pretty much sums up the 1980s. I have an abashed love for the non-ballad Phil Collins songs, pre-1990 (everything I've heard by him since then is godawful, I confess). Sure, his songs rarely make sense — who is Billy? What is this number? And what the hell is Sussudio?? Frankly, this entire list could be 1980-1985 Phil Collins songs, but I would then have to disembowel myself in shame.

2. "Oh Sherrie" by Steve Perry. Look up "power ballad" in the dictionary, and you shall see Steve Perry's mullet. The Journey lead singer's solo turn is connected in my mind, of course, with a girl, a wispy thing named Sherry I had a brief crush on in eighth grade. I listen to it and I am swept away to an era when having a girl kiss you on the cheek was the height of possibility.
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3. "Glory of Love" by Peter Cetera. Damn, my cheesy musical tastes are wuss to the extreme, aren't they? Another milky-eyed power ballad, another one inspired by a girl. "I am a man who will fight for your honor," by god! Could there be purer inspirational literature for a pimply 14-year-old? Bonus points for being the theme song to "Karate Kid: Part II."

Image hosted by Photobucket.com4. "Eye of The Tiger" by Survivor. This is a bit more manly. "Rocky III" was one of the great formative influences of my youth. (Clubber Lang = Pain) This song rocks in its nonthreatening '80s fashion. True story about what a geeky child I was: I listened to this over and over on my battered "Rocky III" soundtrack cassette tape, and even at one point transcribed the lyrics, assuming that would somehow grant me the mystical "eye of the tiger." It did not.

5. "Mr. Roboto" by Styx. Perhaps the single goofiest song on my list. I mean, Styx is cheese no matter which way you slice it, but with this song they actually transcended regular cheese and evolved into another entire form of foodstuff. That said, this song captivated me as a lad. It was like some Talmudic text in need of translation - "Domo arigato?" What is that? This song's lyrics honestly read like a bad acid trip. To further illustrate my unfortunate lack of social intelligence as a lad, I must admit that at one point circa grade 6 I was bound and determined to perform karaoke of "Mr. Roboto" on stage in a talent show, wearing a mask made of tin foil. Only the sensible talk from my equally geeky friends kept me from this popularity armageddon. In some alternate universe, my life ended to the tune of "Mr. Roboto."

Feel free to list your cheesy song pleasures below, or if you wish you can just leave me to drift slowly downward in my shame spiral...

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

LIFE: Peter's 2nd Halloween

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Bee boy and Dad. No 'what a scary costume' cracks about yours truly, please, I'm fragile.

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Bee boy eats chocolate! He chewed and chewed on the wrapper until he had reduced the candy into some kind of liquid, then sucked some of it out.

They have this fun "Neewollah" (spell it backwards) parade here every Halloween that's nice, they close off downtown and all the kids and parents march from one end to the other, then they go back and get candy from the merchants. Peter loved being able to run freely through the streets and even ate part of some candy. Mom and Dad get the rest.

It's a bummer though that trick-or-treating seems to have vanished mostly. Even in neighborhoods where you'd think there'd be some, there isn't. We only stopped at one house on the walk back from the parade and mainly because I wanted to see it because it's an old Victorian. The rest appeared boarded up or you weren't quite sure if they were trick-or-treating or not and didn't want to chance it (little is more embarrassing than going to a house and finding some sleepy-eyed dude in his underwear coming to the door). Shame, I guess it's sensible because of all the sad wackos out there now, but man, I had some great memories of being a kid and trick-or-treating all around our neighborhood. My personal highlight was the year I was a mummy, dressed in yellow pajamas and wrapped up in toilet paper which unraveled by the third block.

Happy Halloween, all!
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Here's the cutest Halloween bee you'll ever see.