Sunday, May 28, 2006

MOVIES: Quick thoughts on "X-Men: The Last Stand"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWell, it may be getting mixed reviews from the critics and so far the Internet fanboy reaction is kinda negative, but heck, I"m an ol' softie and enjoyed "X-Men: The Last Stand." It's a polarizing movie in the comics world, I guess, but judging from early box office numbers, this will be a big hit. Quick impressions (with a few SPOILERS, but if you want to see it completely uninformed, you might skip this post for now):

Quick verdict: Better than the first, not as good as the second. More action and bombast, a little less heart and soul. I'd give it a B to B+ I think.

The good:
Really felt like the closing chapter of a trilogy. Nice apocalyptic showdown, with real consequences. Much bigger action sequences than any other part of the series, with the final scenes in San Francisco a fanboy bonanza.

I've always liked Famke Janssen's Jean Grey, and it was good to see her step into the spotlight in this one. The take on the "Dark Phoenix" arc really got her talents to show, and she was quite scary as the ultra-powerful friend-turned-foe. The scene at her parents' house was probably the best in the movie, extremely tense stuff. If the script faltered somewhat at giving Jean Grey motivation, Famke took up the slack on her end.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt's a big-budget action movie, but using the idea of a mutant "cure" as a hook for the action gives it a real emotional resonance. Some of the characters make surprising choices, and the stakes feel quite high.

Kelsey Grammer is the Beast. Perfect casting, even if the action sequences featuring him seemed a little too slick. But like Ian McKellen, Grammer can sell even the laziest of dialogue with that Shakespearean voice.

Loved all the cameos by other mutants, especially Madrox the Multiple Man – the actor playing him was so perfect, I wish he could've had more than a few brief scenes.

Kitty Pryde versus Juggernaut. Awesome.

Ian McKellen. The entire movie could be him in a cave making phone calls and it'd still be worth watching, I think.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is still the beating heart of the movies. While he's warped into a warmer and fuzzier version of the comic character, he's still pretty fiery – particularly in the movie's climax.

The OK:
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIf you read the Internets, Brett Ratner is the antichrist who raped your neighbor's puppies. While he's a pretty workmanlike director, he didn't ruin "X3" for me, and I've never particularly gotten the venom toward him online. He lacks Bryan Singer's subtlety and rarely stages a scene in a truly transcendent fashion, but he didn't screw up too badly. Frankly, since the script to "X3" was written by the "X2" writers, there felt like a decent continuity between movies. And like I said, it's still better than "X-Men," which started strong but ended in a muddle. ("What happens to a toad when it gets hit by lightning?")

Still, if I had one bone to pick with "X3," it's that the emotion and humor of Singer's two movies is missing. There's lots of big explodey, which I liked, but little as effective as, say, Iceman "coming out" to his mutant-phobic parents in "X2."

Halle Berry
may have an Oscar, but she's never been very good in these movies, stiff and uninterested. Her part was expanded in this movie, fine and good, but I still don't see her as "Storm." My casting choice if I could do it all over would have been "Hotel Rwanda"'s Sophie Okenedo, who has some of the grace and mystery Storm should have.

If you're one who thinks the movies should slavishly follow the comic, you'll be disappointed, particularly with how the "Dark Phoenix" saga unfolds. But a strict comic-to-movie adaptation probably wouldn't work with this most tangled of properties. Comics ain't movies and vice-versa.

Would have liked to see more of Ben Foster's striking Angel, who has most of his scenes in the trailer.

The ugly:
Some of the deaths were quite effective, but at least one character really went out in a punk fashion, and deserved a better fate. The storytelling around the character's fate was choppy, almost like there were scenes missing.

Utterly wasted in parts that could've been played by extras were the fine actresses Olivia Williams as Moira McTaggert and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Why cast them if you don't use them?

While the Danger Room sequence was nifty, the "Sentinel robot" appearance was extremely cheaply done.

Still and all, for what I was expecting, "X-Men: The Final Stand" is a decent time at the movies. I'm sure many will disagree, but considering how mediocre comic movies can get ("Daredevil," "Fantastic Four,") I still feel like as a whole this trilogy has strived to cut a little deeper than most.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

TV: Wrapping up the 2005-06 season

Well, we can retire the remote control for the summer – except for DVDs and a few programs here and there, the majority of our TV watching wrapped up this week with the season finales of the handful of shows we watch.

We tend to watch TV by "appointment" rather than just turning it on to flip around, so a show's got to be a pretty big fave of ours to keep its "appointment" status. Of the shows the wife and I watch regularly, here's how they wrapped up for the season:

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe best show on TV, far and away, a sprawling, complex meditation on fate, destiny and magic. Ignore the folks who say it's all tease – "Lost" is equally about the journey as it is the destination, and the producers are building a fantastic, labyrinthine mythology on their mysterious island. Season 2 added more layers to the island's tale, with several "holy crap!" twists and an appropriately apocalyptic season finale. Sure, there were lulls, but I often enjoy the character-building flashbacks as much as I do the main action – segments featuring Jack, Sun and Jin, Mr. Eko and Locke in particular offer up tremendous human drama. The finale delivered lots of answers, set up more enticing questions (what was with the statue?) and promises an interesting status quo for Season 3. Most shows don't try to do anything nearly as epic as "Lost," and the ones that do usually fail. If it keeps up the standard it's set in its first two seasons, "Lost" is one for the time capsule. Grade for season: A

'My Name Is Earl'
The only new show I started watching this year, led by the very amiable Jason Lee. The "karma" gag could easily have gotten too cookie-cutter, but so far, the show is funny, with a backhanded moral lesson each week. Props for focusing on the "white trash" world between the coasts rather than yuppies in Manhattan. I do think Lee is often overshadowed by the terrific supporting cast (especially Ethan Suplee as Earl's half-wit brother Randy), and the endings of episodes often get a little too predictably sentimental for me, but overall, "Earl" is a lot more interesting than most TV sitcoms. Grade for season: B+

'The Office'
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis year, the American "Office" finally surpassed the British one for me. The amazing cast all found its groove, from the lead players (and remarkably complex Steve Carell) to the smallest supporting actor. No show on TV right now so carefully balances the line between cringing and laughing. Compared to the British show, it's far more optimistic and in that quintessentially American – the Pam/Jim relationship is one of TV's most pleasantly romantic. With the late, lamented "Arrested Development" gone, it's the best comedy on TV. Grade for season: A

'The Simpsons'
To quote Bart Simpson, "…meh." The 17th season was the first one where I really felt the quality was slipping, and for the first time, we didn't make "The Simpsons" must-see TV on Sunday nights. While it's still head and shoulders above most shows, the fact remains that after 300+ episodes it's all starting to feel a little played out. The kick is gone. How many times can Homer and Marge's marriage be in trouble, Bart get expelled or Lisa learn something life-affirming? The season finale was particularly wretched, an almost laugh-free baseball-centric episode. I know they're planning a few more seasons after this one, but part of me wishes the show would go out before it totally wears out its welcome. It's stopped being "appointment TV" for us. Grade for season: C+


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIs there a more gleefully absurd show on TV? Probably not, but there's also nothing quite as thrilling as Kiefer Sutherland's antihero Jack Bauer on a rampage. This season, with its tangled tale of presidential corruption and assassination, was my favorite yet. Sutherland has a steely gravitas that makes the whole ridiculously bombastic contraption work. (Have a drinking game: take a shot every time Jack Bauer yells "Dammit!" or "There's not enough time!" Admit yourself to rehab by midseason.) Now, if you sit down and map out the entire 'day' played out over the 24 episodes, "24" all falls apart. But in hourlong chunks each week, it's better action than most big-budget blockbusters, and this year really kept up the momentum (and no cougars!). What other show on TV features lines like, "I was so worried when I heard you'd kidnapped the president"? Extra points for a shockingly downbeat surprise ending to this year's season finale. Grade for season: A-

The humane doctor comedy-drama's fifth season was all about growing up, with multiple pregnancies, life changes and more for the man-boy J.D. and friends. And like puberty, it was a kind of uneven season. Lots of offbeat humor as always, but there was a sense of running in place, repeating story arcs that have been done before (Cox's disillusionment, J.D.'s failure to get a girl). Also, the whole "play a cheesy song over the closing montage of the episode" motif is really played out for me, to the point of becoming self-parody. Still, the show is still great fun, with some of the most original characters on TV — let's hope Season 6 gets a little surer footing. Grade for season: B

...Meanwhile, I've been studiously attempting to avoid any and all spoilers for "X-Men: The Last Stand." Hope to see it soon and look for a review this weekend!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

MUSIC: Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHappy 65th today to the free-wheeling Bob Dylan! Hard to believe, the same age as my Dad. I've coincidentally been on a Dylan kick lately, reading the entertaining "Rough Guide To Bob Dylan" and recently finally upped my street cred by purchasing "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde."

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI once read somewhere (wish I could remember where) something to the effect of, when you're a kid, you discover and love The Beatles; as a teenager, Led Zeppelin; a college kid, The Doors; and then as an adult with kids of your own, you finally grow into Bob Dylan. Perhaps that's true, because I've found new depth to the man in recent years. I've always admired Dylan, and owned all three of his greatest hits collections as well as scattered CDs, but I never quite ascended into Dylan fanatic status. But I've grown to really be fond of his finest works, such as the terrific, heartbroken epic "Blood On The Tracks," which I bought a few years back and listen to regularly. (If there's a better, more truthful and vicious song about the bitter bile of a breakup than "Idiot Wind," I haven't heard it.)

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI've only seen Dylan once live, and it was back in 1990 when I was barely familiar with him. He was playing part of his 'Never Ending Tour' and came to the University of Mississippi. It was the hip show to go to; and everyone knew about his song "Oxford Town," which dissected the college's darkest hour (the racist uproar and violence over the admission of the college's first black student in 1962). It's kind of funny – "let's go see the show by this guy who wrote a song about how racist and awful we were back then" – but you know, you're a freshman in college, tickets were cheap. Dylan is reportedly either awesome or godawful live. Unfortunately, we pretty much got the awful, with lots of jibba-jabba incomprehensible muttering-singing by Dylan that obscured his great lyrics. (Didn't realize he was playing "Oxford Town" until halfway through the song.) Thanks to the miracles of the obsessional Dylanologists on the Internet I'm even able to find the set list for that long-ago 1990 show – he played "Wiggle Wiggle"??

Anyway, I was a little young to "get" Dylan then, but as one of the man's songs goes, "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Happy birthday, Mr. Dylan.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ETC.: The roof is on fire … redux

• Check out my review of the swell new CD "Springtime Can Kill You" by sultry chanteuse Jolie Holland over here at Blogcritics! I likes her.

• I knew it was gonna be a grim, caffeine-filled day this morning when I was sitting at the stoplight across the street from work and I saw a flash of fire and sparks come out of the newspaper building's roof. Coming around the building, I was just in time to get an excellent view of a second explosion as our transformer blew its top. "Oh lord, not again," I thought. Urk. For the second time in a month, we lost power to the entire building. Needless to say, that doesn't help a daily paper meet deadline.

Nevertheless, we actually were only an hour or so late – after last month's adventure, we knew the drill of renting a generator, getting a few computers and the network server back up, and thanks to everyone's hard work we still were able to get the paper out despite 2 1/2 hours of no or limited power. That's the key to situations like this, I've learned – whenever the s**t hits the fan, take a deep breath, step back, say to yourself, "the paper's still going to have to come out," and do what needs to be done. That's helped carry me through snowstorms in Lake Tahoe, ice storms and equipment failures in Mississippi, and whatever else the deadline doom throws at you.

Oh, and I hope the 2,600 people we knocked out power for didn't mind too much. Urk.

Monday, May 22, 2006

LIFE: Memories of the small-press scene

Slowly, slowly, we're clearing up our lives for the big move. T-minus five months until we fly to New Zealand, and - urk! – just over three until we move out of our house! Our so-called "spare bedroom" has become a towering pile of junk, stacks of "yard sale material," "Goodwill material," "see if my parents want this" castaways and so forth. And most of this junk is mine – since Avril came herself from NZ to join some crazy American guy in '98, she didn't bring a ton of her own possessions. Most of the infinite stuff jamming our closets, shelves and corners is mine. And there's a lot of it, to either be stored, shipped or tossed out.

Just one closet in our small office became my focus this weekend. It's a tiny closet but packed to the gills with things I want to keep but rarely look at, dusted in spider webs and cat hair (Kudzu likes to sleep there). There's several boxes in there, and each of them contains years of my life. It's amazing how things and people that were once everyday presences to you suddenly end up in a box, and you've moved on.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOne box is packed with self-published comics and newsletters from my years on the small-press comics scene from roughly 1992-1998. I put out my own silly comic "Amoeba Adventures" for years and made tons of friends in this mail-order scene, a pre-Internet kind of worldwide fanzine web. I still keep up with a few of my ol' small-press pals — the ultra-talented "crude Canuck" Jay Marcy, writer Troy Hickman, my old pal Will Pfeifer who's moved on to do some great work for DC Comics, for instance — but lots of these people have just vanished into the unknown. I still have their comics in my closet, many of them. I culled a few boxes worth of small press comics off to the recycling a few years back, but now I'm left with the ones I still want to keep. They're not like regular books, which I could always replace if I got rid of them. These are tiny handcrafted gems, most of them with print runs of just 100, 200 copies. Creators have moved on or done like me and just dropped out of the network, so I toss 'em, they're tossed. I try to weed a few more out, but it's tough.

I haven't drawn a comic since 1998, which is kind of depressing in some ways, but I've moved on to other things (bloggery for one), so it goes. I was part of small-press publishing clubs with great names like the United Fanzine Organization or Small Press Syndicate, and still have their well-thumbed newsletters. Reading through them I see all these names I haven't thought about in years, folks I used to send letters to (remember letters?) and have late-night cross-country phone calls with. Some I met in person, some I never did. Some have gone on to publish great comics professionally; some of them have just melted away. Some I feuded with over stupid silly geek stuff. One of the folks whose work is in my box came to my wedding; one died in a senseless crime one night in 1995. So I'm keeping the comics I like, or that remind me of old friends. "All-Steve Comics," who couldn't love a title like that? Will Pfeifer's "Violent Man"? "Yo-Yo The Dieting Clown," "Lady Spectra and Sparky," "Futuro Tierra," "Kari and the Pirates," "Electric Weenie," "Human Unit 12"! Stuff few folks outside the zine culture ever heard, but a lot of it even better than many "mainstream" comics. These aren't "mint" collector's item photocopied comics, but they're worth gold to me. Can't take 'em to New Zealand, so into storage they go.

See, if every box of my life gets memories going like this, I'm never going to get this house cleared by September! Going to be a long summer.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

OK, enough already: Britney nearly drops baby in front of paparazzi. You know, I'm not exactly a Britney Spears fan, but the leering joy the tabloid journalists seem to get out of Britney's parenting skills is really beyond the pale. This latest story is an embarrassment for the profession I work in – some writer spews out 10" on a mother who stumbles a bit while carrying her baby. And this is front-page news on right now, in a story by the Associated Press, the biggest news gathering biz in the country.

For crying out loud, parents screw up all the time, and in much worse ways. Parenthood is one long series of near-mistakes. I won't excuse the Brit's also well-publicized child car-seat snafus, but y'know, at least she isn't leaving a kid at home in its own filth while she shoots meth or something. Hell, she's even carrying the kid instead of a nanny doing it. I guess I'm old-fashioned, because as warped a figure Spears probably is over having been famous since age 8, she's still a human being. Trust me, if I had paparazzi scum watching every move I'd made with our kid the last two years, I'd look like an idiot, too. The tabloids cackling over every diaper rash and fashion faux pas she makes has the feel for me of a gang of villagers tossing fruit at some criminal trapped in the stocks. It's a geek show, a carnival.

And this is NEWS. Some days, I regret my profession.

MUSIC: A triple-threat of CD reviews

Been a busy bee with the writing lately, even if it's not all posted on here. Wrote a 2,500-word profile of a local man who makes chocolate from the raw beans. And I ate chocolate. Will post link to it sometime soon. The story, not the chocolate.
Here's excerpted versions of three reviews I whacked out this week over at BlogCritics – head over there for the full rants:

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The Raconteurs, 'Broken Boy Soldiers'
Are the Raconteurs "White Stripes version 2.0"? Not quite, but Jack White's new side project bears enough of his distinctive imprint that it's a must for Stripes fans. White has joined together with fellow Detroit singer-songwriter Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes' Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler for this new band – not replacing the Stripes, but as another avenue for the prolific White and pals to try something new. White's bluesy yowl and fingerprints are all over the album, and like most of the folks who'll pick this CD up, I admit I'm not really familiar with the work of Benson and the Greenhornes. But together, they make a solid band. The Raconteurs' debut, "Broken Boy Soldiers," is a trippy garage rock disc with a jones for the heavy '70s rock of bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The first thing that hits you as the album kicks off is the broadness of the sound. It's a big change from the starker, two-person noise of the Stripes, with the welcome deep thump of Lawrence's bass guitar and Keeler's steady assault on the drums. For the first half of the album, it's an inspiration-drenched blast, with the catchy kick of the lead song, "Steady as She Goes," the Queen-meets-Robert Plant choruses of "Hands," and my pick for best track, the title song, "Broken Boy Soldiers," which has White nearly bursting his vocal cords over a clattering series of hooks and riffs. "Intimate Secretary" is a goofy fuzz-drenched blast, with silly lyrics like "This ringing in my ears won't stop / I've got a red Japanese tea pot." "Together" has the boozy morning-after feel of a '70s AM radio love song, with its optimistic chorus of "You've got to live and live and learn." White and Benson trade off vocals throughout the disc, although I admit I had trouble sometimes telling who was singing what. As the album winds down – and it's only a shade over a half-hour – it gradually runs out of steam. Some of the last few songs are unmemorable sketches, and the last, "Blue Veins," is a bluesy rock jam that doesn't quite ramble long enough to build up to a head. Is "Broken Boy Soldiers" a thrash-rock gem, or just some very enjoyable homages and bashing around? I'm not quite sure yet. It doesn't really have the primal blues-punk heft that I love about the White Stripes; but it's got a broader soundscape, and the welcome influence of Benson's songwriting, which feels more light-hearted than White's touch. For early-summer rocking out while driving down the long highways, "Broken Boy Soldiers" is just the ticket.

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Grandaddy, 'Just Like The Fambly Cat'
Some bands bow out at the top of their fame; others bow out before they even make their first album. After 14 years, Modesto, Calif.’s Grandaddy is calling it quits as their cult fame builds, but they never quite broke through to the mainstream mass audience. Their fifth CD, “Just Like The Fambly Cat,” sounds like equal parts elegy and fond “see ya soon.” The band broke up just before its release, and frontman/lead songwriter Jason Lytle has announced his intention to move from dull Modesto to the wilds of Montana. Even novices to Grandaddy should enjoy the mellow space-rock groove of the album’s best songs. The album settles into a beautiful kind of haze with lonesome songs like “Summer … It’s Gone,” “Rear View Mirror,” or “The Animal World,” with its schoolboy chorus of “joy to the world / it’s the end of the world,” and a cheery singalong apocalypse feel. It all adds up to a kind of nostalgic cruise mix, the perfect soundtrack for driving the orchard-laden vast flat highways through the San Joaquin Valley, bidding farewell to Modesto for good. The album is divided fairly evenly between short and longer tunes, and it’s mostly the ones that stretch out to five, six or nearly seven minutes that have the best tone, given space to breathe. Lytle has crafted an album that’s constantly reaching for bliss and never quite finding it. “Just Like The Fambly Cat” captures that feeling of being caught between the possibilities, rocking with a kind of wistful tension.

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Chris Isaak, 'Best of Chris Isaak'
Chris Isaak is a firm follower in the footsteps of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, with immaculate skill, style and a never-ending series of gorgeous, heartbroken laments. But he gives that old Sun Studios sound a distinctly modern spin. Isaak's first-ever career retrospective, The Best Of Chris Isaak, was just released, gathering together 18 of his finest tunes from his nine albums. It's a long-overdue look back at one of rock's most consistent talents, one who is best known for his classic 1990s ode to the broken-hearted, "Wicked Game." And make no mistake, "Wicked Game" is one of the greatest lonely songs you'll ever hear, but it's not all Isaak has to offer. "Best of Chris Isaak" is a well-chosen group of hits and should've-been-hits, such as "San Francisco Days," "Forever Blue," "Please," "You Owe Me Some Kind of Love" and more. Isaak's got a knack for singing sad songs that send chills down your back, with his versatile voice capable of soaring highs and burly lows. While everyone knows "Wicked Game," Isaak's crafted other tunes just as perfect, like "Somebody's Crying," which ambles along on a simple guitar lick, launching into overdrive with a cathartic, falsetto chorus. It's emotion that never feels faked. Casual fans might not be aware that Isaak doesn't just croon, he can rock as well. The sexy, throbbing "Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing" simmers, boils over and explodes with tension. The hit set is nicely balanced between the ballads and more up-tempo numbers. The CD is available by itself or in a bonus special edition that includes an hourlong DVD of Isaak's greatest videos. Even better, Isaak contributes an affable, frequently hilarious commentary over each of the 18 videos included. "I should have my own fragrance," Isaak jokes at one point as gauzy romantic images slide past. Well, why not branch out?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

LIFE: Random ramblings

ITEM! Tuesday was primary Election Day here in Oregon, which is kind of like Christmas without the presents when you're a journalist. Lots of anticipation and stress; little payoff. I always sleep badly on election nights, because my idiot brain can't stop wheeling about the results; even if it's not a race I'm particularly invested in. Call it the journalist's disease. The county commissioner election here was particularly brutal this time, with lots of low-down, nasty feelings between supporters of the two main challengers. All politics is ugly, but this was particularly unpleasant. At the newspaper, you get to bear the brunt of the mudslinging, which kind of wears you out on the whole process. You're "biased" to everybody, which is code for "you're not catering to my biases." Ah well. Personally I felt we did a pretty good job of fair coverage. We're through this cesspool, and there's a few months of peace before the November election bickering begins...

ITEM! Man climbs Mount Everest without legs. Seriously, I couldn't do it on two legs. Kiwis are tougher than the rest of us.

ITEM! Have I mentioned yet that it's 5 months until we move to New Zealand?

ITEM! If you're looking for a good, morbid beach-blanket summer read, check out Kevin Brockmeier's novel "The Brief History of the Dead." A solid piece of end-of-the-world science fiction with a literary spin. Intricate plot and a page-turning prose style, juxtaposing the tales of the residents of a mysterious city with the survival story of a stranded Antarctic researcher. Moving and thought-provoking stuff.

ITEM! Want to hear me ramble on more about The Pixies? Go check out my review at BlogCritics of "Fool The World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies." Good readin'.

ITEM! Finally, Apple has announced their oh-so-sexy new Mac Book laptops, a more affordable version of their pricey Mac Book Pros. The baseline model starts at about $1,100, and I'll be first in line to get one. We've been talking about getting a new Mac for a year or two now, but I wanted a laptop (easier to take to New Zealand) and kept hearing rumors about the new models, so I waited... and waited.... Glad I did. These look fantastic. It'll be a quantum leap for us from our battered 1998-vintage iMac at home, which emits disturbing groans and wheezes now every time it's asked to do anything too difficult, I have to constantly delete files to make sure I don't run out of space and it boasts a barely-functioning CD drive. Yep, I'm getting ready to boldly leap into the 2000s! Figure on buying one next month sometime. Stay tuned for updates. Soon I will be hip!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MUSIC: The Perfect Songs, Part VI

Man, it's been a while since I did this, eh? Well, anyway, this is the ongoing list of the songs I think are as close to perfect as a song can be – songs I never tire of, no matter how many times I hear them, songs that put it all together and spit it out in a sonic stew. As always, it's in the eyes of the beholder, caveat emptor, warranty not valid in Minnesota, etc.
The latest three:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting 16. "Let's Dance," David Bowie. Yeah, for hardcore Bowie-philes like myself, this pop hit is often called where "it all went wrong," leading to his mediocre slide through the 1980s and early 1990s. Bowie "sold out," "went pop," had the biggest hit of his career, and wouldn't Ziggy Stardust be ashamed? Nonsense. This is one of the finest pure pop songs you'll ever hear, love and lust given a Bowie skew. It may be romantic clichés, but man – does Bowie ever sell it all. Listen to this song like you haven't heard it a million times and you'll be astonished. There's that slinky horn-pulse riff, the slashing guitar licks of Stevie Ray Vaughn, the debauched club bassline from producer Nile Rodgers, and lording over it all, Bowie's anguished, overwrought vocals, wringing every syllable out of the lyrics. Bowie puts a slightly dark, haunted spin on it all – "let's dance / for fear tonight is all." Serious moonlight" – seriously, what a turn of phrase. It's no sell-out. Rather, it's Bowie showing he can do Top 40 pop as well as anyone in the business if he wants. The song's available in multiple versions – a nearly 7 1/2 minute jam on the "Let's Dance" CD, some quirky remixes on the rare "Club Bowie" CD, and a particularly strong "slowed-down" version Bowie did live for a while, captured on the "Bowie at the Beeb" CD set bonus disc. "If you say run, I'll run with you."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting17. "Bad Reputation," Freedy Johnston. Freedy is a never-quite-was, a tremendously talented singer/songwriter from the early 1990s who had a passionate, quirky vision, who crafted glittering little songs like Raymond Carver short stories. "Bad Reputation" is perhaps his only real "hit," a minor success from the summer of 1994, when I discovered Freedy. It's a gorgeous, bittersweet lament, a tale of missed chances and too-short perfect moments, just a man singing his sad sad song. He sees the girl in a crowd, the girl he once knew better than anyone, and before he can react she melts away into the faces. Like all the best songs, it's heartache made palatable by a beautiful turn of phrase, a haunting melody. Yet Freedy never quite surpassed that song. He had two A+ albums – 1992's "Can You Fly" and 1994's "This Perfect World" (which "Bad Reputation" came from); then a half-great album, "Never Home," followed by two increasingly bland, mediocre albums and nothing since 2001 or so. But for a couple albums, this man had the voice of an angel and the stories of a journeyman. Hunt them down. "I know I got a bad reputation / and it isn't just talk, talk, talk."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting 18. "Monkey Gone To Heaven," The Pixies. Crunching down from the ionosphere, this song's just here visiting from another planet – huge sparkling guitar riffs, Black Francis's cool and self-assured lyrics, Kim Deal's sweet floating backup mantra. It's a song where all the pieces just come together – Black's deadpan voice, Deal's throbbing bass, David Loverling's steady drumbeat, "rock me Joe" Santiago's ace guitar lines propelling the song. It's not the most representative Pixies song ever, objectively – "Debaser" is more pure anarchy, "Gouge Away" more sinister, "Here Comes Your Man" cuter, "Gigantic" sexier – but most fans will say it's one of their best. The lyrics have a kind of jaded ease that'll make teenage potheads shiver at how "deep" they are, yet even stone-cold sober they have a kind of universal echo – "If man is five / then the devil is six." There's an unfathomable sadness at the core of "Monkey" that makes this song cut hard and fast, a buildup and explosion that makes the song never seem old to me. And you get that Black Francis scream at the end. What more does a Pixies fan need? Two minutes, 58 seconds of pure ecstasy. "…Then God is seven / then God is seven / then God is seven."

Friday, May 12, 2006

MUSIC: A thousand years with Richard Thompson

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingRichard Thompson is one of the most distinctive, talented singer/songwriters out there, and one of my all-time faves as I've blogged here before. But at his concert Tuesday night in Eugene, he didn't play a single one of his own compositions. Instead, he started off with an 11th-century medieval round, following that up with a cheery ditty from the 1400s about ravens eating a dead knight. And on he moved through the centuries, wrapping it all up with songs by Britney Spears and Abba.

It was "1,000 years of Popular Music," and it was outstanding fun, a raucous 2 1/2-hour tour of dozens of musical genres, all played with impeccable skill by one of the finest guitarists you'll ever see. RT got the idea for the project from a Playboy interview of all places, about his favorite songs of the millennium. In the stage show, he takes a musical tour of the last ten centuries or so worth of music, filled with witty asides, jokes and banter. It's an incredible journey, from the aforementioned medieval rounds up to opera, sea shanties, music hall sing-alongs and to the current rock era. It's one of the most original concerts I've ever seen, and a heck of a lot of fun.

I hadn't been to the The Shedd before, but it's a fine venue – an old church, with an intimate feel and great acoustics. I sat in a pew in a row not 20 feet from RT, directly in front of him. Can't get much better than that.

It's a measure of RT's skills that he can put a unique spin on nearly everything. The British folkie covered a high lonesome Americana country tune by the late Buck Owens (whom RT told a funny story about meeting once in the '70s in a diner in Detroit; Owens called him a filthy hippie apparently, but RT doesn't hold it against him). RT played a thundering cover of Prince's "Kiss," a rousing Gilbert & Sullivan tune, a great turn on the Kinks' "See My Friends," and a show-stopping rendition of Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again" that wrings actual emotion out of a cheesy pop song. RT finds the hearts and bones in a song and makes it his own – I mean, he rocks a song sung in medieval Italian!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHis singing partner Judith Owen was also fantastic, with a deep, throaty voice that could balance opera, Cole Porter and Beatles tunes. In fact, with her great stage presence, she nearly overshadowed RT a couple times, no mean feat. I picked up her fine jazzy CD "Lost and Found" after the show. (I also learned from her Web site that curiously enough, she's the wife of Harry Shearer of "The Simpsons" and "This is Spinal Tap" fame!)

Once the show switched from the distant past on to straight-ahead rock about halfway through, it was hugely cathartic. The older songs were excellent, but when RT broke out in a full-fledged rockabilly blast through Jerry Lee Lewis' old chestnut "Drinkin' Wine Spo-De-O-De," I felt like I'd been doused with adrenaline. He blew through songs by The Kinks, Beatles, Squeeze, Ben Folds and more. And two full encores and several standing ovations!

It wasn't until near the end of the show I realized RT hadn't played a single one of his own hundreds of fine songs. He noted, it might appear a little egotistical – "here's the greatest songs of the last thousand years … and a few by myself," he said. But honestly, he put his own unique mark on every tune he sang Tuesday. I look forward to catching him again someday when he does "Richard Thompson's finest songs of the last 1000 years" or somesuch.

*Photos not actually from the concert I went to, by (C) Dave Bazemore from the RT web site and from Judith Owen's web site.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

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Me: "Who's my little baby boy?"
Peter: "I not baby any more. I two!"


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

BOOKS: "High Lonesome: Stories 1966-2006"
by Joyce Carol Oates

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe world of Joyce Carol Oates is a grim, unforgiving one, flecked through with a strange and compelling beauty. The thick-as-a-tombstone career summary, High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006, offers a vivid introduction to this dazzling talent.

Oates has a tremendous reputation in the literary world – winner of the National Book Award and PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction – but I have to bashfully admit I'd never read any of her fiction until now. As a reader coming to Oates completely new, I found High Lonesome an unforgettable read, ripe with her distinctive style. Nearly 700 pages of short stories sped by in a haze.

For novices, Oates' work carries some of the operatic scope of Flannery O'Connor or Patricia Highsmith – both also women writing diamond-sharp prose about unpredictable horror, lust and despair coming into the lives of everyday people. Just in the first 10 stories, we deal with molesters, murders, infidelity, rape, suicide and more.

You'd think that would be depressing, but Oates' gorgeous, painterly writing gives even the darkest of subjects a glimmer of beauty, her prose flowing smoothly but rarely showing off, sculpting figures and places with a few choice words. "Pop Olafsson was this fattish bald guy with a face like a wrinkled dish rag left in the sun to dry," she writes in the devastating title story, "High Lonesome," and you can see Pop's battered face, his hopeless slumping form. Her characters breathe and sweat, and rarely feel artificial.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHigh Lonesome is divided into a survey of Oates' stories over the last 40 years, split into sections by decades. It starts with some of the finest stories in the book, her most recent work, and then moves back to the 1960s and on forward. The earliest stories from the 1960s tend to be more overwrought, lacking the subtle elegance of her later writing, but High Lonesome shows the ripening of Oates' talent.

Oates has a truly enormous body of work – more than 30 novels, several novellas, many books of essays and poetry, and dozens of collections of short stories that "High Lonesome" draws from. Several of the stories here are among Oates' best known – "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" for instance – and the stories were selected to avoid work from recent, still in-print collections. While not every story is a gem, many of them linger on hauntingly in the memory.

Oates moves easily from suburban angst to rural tragedy, capable of rendering tales in a down-home first-person candor or with a polished, omniscient sheen. She seems capable of taking on any genre she pleases – "*BD* 11 1 87" is a subtle science-fiction story with a powerful twist, for instance.

Several of the stories are bittersweet romances, with nary a murder in sight, while others lull you into thinking the tale is one thing and then shift and bend with dizzying skill. Her protagonists range from assassins ("Last Days") to victims ("The Gathering Squall") to the desperate and hopeful ("The Lost Brother"). Loneliness is a recurring theme, as well as vengeance, and the terror of sudden violence.

"…Each story is an opening into the infinite, abruptly terminated and sealed in language," Oates writes in her afterword. With her versatility and keen eye for the hope and heartache to be found in life, Joyce Carol Oates' High Lonesome makes the endless possibilities of the written word infinitely enjoyable.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

MOVIES: Mission: Impossible 3

Y’know, I have a confession to make – I don’t much care about Tom Cruise’s personal life. I'm a movie buff, and I’ve mostly enjoyed Cruise and the kinetic energy he brings to his roles. But once he’s off the movie screen, I’m not really interested in his marriage, his religion, or his appearances on “Oprah.”

The Cruise backlash perpetrated by gossip columnists is one of those things we’re all kind of aware of, like a mosquito buzzing in your ear. Yeah, Katie Holmes, yeah, jumping on couch, yeah, yeah, yeah. But the bottom line for me still is – how are the man’s movies?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWell, the summer-season opener “Mission: Impossible 3” won’t be remembered as Cruise’s finest film, but it certainly gets the job done.

Directed and co-written by “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams, it’s the best movie of a series that’s mostly failed to live up to its considerable potential. The first “Mission: Impossible” was convoluted to the extreme, the second so over-the-top it got absurd. By adding a much-needed human dimension to Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, a strong supporting cast and a straightforward story, “M:I3” delivers its summer-movie punch.

We know what to expect of these missions by now – that rousing theme music, intricate sequences of cat-and-mouse spy games, fancy technology, impossibly realistic disguises, lots of things blowing up. Abrams does what he can to use all these tools and still shakes up the “formula” a bit, especially with an opening sequence that’s startling and savage.

Ethan Hunt is trying to settle down – in the previous movies, we never even realized he had a life outside of the action, but here, he’s got a lovely civilian fiancee (Michelle Monaghan) who thinks he works for the Department of Transportation.

Hunt’s no longer a field agent for the super-secret Impossible Mission Force, but when a former protégé of his (Keri Russell) is captured by international arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), everything changes. Davian’s a brutal, uncompromising villain, and his willingness to up the ante makes this a fight more personal than any Hunt’s ever faced.

Plot aside, the “M:I” flicks are all about those elaborate action sequences. And the set pieces verge on spectacular, particularly an infiltration of Vatican City and a daredevil mid-air sequence in Shanghai. Abrams keeps the plot moving, even if his direction of action sequences is a little hectic (will action directors stop shaking the camera so much already?).

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingUnlike the other “M:I” movies, this one boasts a slew of good actors backing up Cruise – recent Oscar winner Hoffman makes an excellent seedy villain, and has a couple of killer scenes. Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup also make an impact as Cruise’s agency superiors, and Monaghan brings a sweet realism to the underwritten girlfriend’s role.

Cruise is, well, Cruise, and it’s up to you if his wacky off-screen performances lately make a difference in how you view him onscreen. He’s perfectly fine as Hunt, who’s less a character than a steel-eyed super-spy stereotype, and as always, he’s willing to throw himself wholeheartedly into the physicality of a role. He sweats for the viewer.

(When you think about it, Cruise spends so much time running in his movies, from “The Firm” to “Minority Report” to “War of the Worlds,” that he ought to do a Nike shoe commercial.)

It all starts to falter a little in the final act, unfortunately, and there wasn’t quite enough of the always-excellent Hoffman for my tastes. The “Mission: Impossible” movies have never quite risen to the realm of classics. Ethan Hunt is no James Bond, and while they’re often grand escapism, they never dig deeply enough to make you a true fan.

“M:I3” comes the closest they’ve come to being memorable, and it’s certainly a decent use of your $7 ticket price if you’re looking for summer thrills.

And the entire time I watched it, I didn’t think of Katie Holmes once.
*** of four.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

LIFE: It's all downhill from here

I got out of the shower yesterday and looked in the mirror, and couldn't deny it any longer: I am losing my hair.

Well, as my wife will attest, I've been whining about the possibility of this for at least a year, as my widow's peak seemed to migrate ever-so-slightly northward and the tiny spot on the back of my head didn't seem quite so tiny. But with my hair wet and slicked back, there was no getting around it – them follicles are getting up and going. My forehead is becoming my whole head. Denial turned into acceptance.

*Sigh*. There are worse fates, to be sure, than mere baldness, and I guess I'm lucky that I had nearly 35 years of good hair days. I may not be the handsomest mug on the block, but one thing I always thought was that I had decent hair. I could grow it long or short, and besides being kind of wispy, it looked good. I admit I used hair spray far more than a proudly heterosexual man should, though. But for the last month or so, after realizing my long hair was accentuating the high hairline more than it was not, I've been wearing my hair real short. Why not? It's almost summer.

I don't think I'll be doing the ol' "shaved head" route any time – unfortunately, I have a very lumpy and bumpy cranium, topped off with a wonderful several inch-long scar running right down the middle of my head. That came from a case of the rare disorder craniostenosis when I was a kid – basically, I was born without a soft spot, and had to have one surgically added when I was about 8 months old. Fun fact – if you give me a CAT scan, I've got little bits of "shrapnel" throughout my skull left over from that surgery. Looks like I had a major car wreck. But, if it wasn't done, I'd have a skull that looked kind of like an eggplant and might also be real dumb or dead.

See? That's surely worse than baldness. I do hope I don't get to the point where that very prominent scar is obvious to everyone – I've worn my hair long enough to hide it for years – but I guess if I do get to that point I can come up with a cool story about a war wound, gripping action and death-defying adventure that left me hideously scarred yet oddly masculine, like Clint Eastwood at his peak. Anyway, at this point, I'm still "thinning" hair, like most men end up doing, and hopefully can wring a decade or so out of comb-overs and growing my bangs out. Besides, look how cool Picard looks! There's hope!
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Friday, May 5, 2006

MOVIES: Look, up in the sky…

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Superman. He's the Man of Steel, the first and, still, the most iconic of all the superheroes, the one every other one came from. But he's also kind of... well, bland, compared to the tortured angst of Spider-Man, or Batman, or The Hulk. But he's been off movie screens since 1987. Now in this golden age of comic-inspired movies, it's his turn to get the big-bucks film experience again.

Finally, we've got a new movie trailer that gives us our first real long look at what director Bryan Singer hopes to show us with "Superman Returns," coming June 30. So far, me like. The gist – Superman is back after five years in outer space. He returns to find a Lois Lane who's got a son, a world that isn't sure it needs him, and a very, very angry Lex Luthor.
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The trailer captures a lot of the joy and fun of the first two "Superman" movies.. We get lots of flying and bullet-deflecting and Kevin Spacey chewing the scenery as Lex Luthor, all of which goes down pretty smooth. I worried "X-Men" director Singer might put too psycho-analytical a spin on Superman – who's not Wolverine, after all – but Singer has gone out of his way to embrace the near-great first two Superman movies (of "Superman III" and "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace," we shall speak no more). The use of John Williams' pounding classic score is extremely welcome – I put the "Superman" theme as probably my favorite movie music other than the original "Star Wars." And check out the Marlon Brando cameo in the trailer.

The question mark remains Brandon Routh, who lacks the cheery All-American charm of Christopher Reeve, but who's also playing an older, wiser Superman. But he fits in the costume (which could make many an actor look idiotic), and his Clark Kent seems to be haltingly awkward without being buffoonish. It remains to be seen how well he'll handle dialogue scenes. Kate Bosworth makes a pretty, sassy Lois Lane, although she doesn't have Margot Kidder's husky allure. There are things that concern me – did we really need a cute kid for Lois Lane to tote around? – but the trailer shows us plenty to be excited about.

Spacey looks like he'll provide the movie's biggest moments, á la Jack Nicholson in "Batman," and I like the way he's using some of Gene Hackman's affable Luthor portrayal to create a crueler, meaner arch-nemesis, who's obviously not mellowed with age. This trailer seems to emphasize the humor – but as long as it doesn't tip into ultra campy (no bumbling sidekick Otis, for example), it ought to work. The superhero movie trend has been to go dark, dark, dark, which is fine and dandy for some, but a little wit doesn't mean we'll start seeing Batman dancing the "Batusi" again. The "Spider-Man" flicks have been best of the recent wave of capturing the simple sense of wonder of having super-powers; hopefully this one can evoke something similar. I mean, Superman can fly, y'know!

I'm hoping for a movie that provides us spectacle and awe and respect for the characters, but also has a healthy sense of fun as well. Come June 30, I'll be in line to see what Bryan Singer has come up with for the biggest superhero of them all.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

BOOKS: Teddy Roosevelt sails the River of Doubt

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHigh on my list of historical heroes is Theodore Roosevelt, among the most remarkable of America's presidents. The youngest President ever (yes, younger than Clinton and Kennedy), TR was one of those passionate omnivorous renaissance men you just don't seem to see anymore – gifted naturalist, writer, explorer, horseman, politician, soldier, both war-lover and peacemaker. His terms from 1901-1909 helped usher in the "modern Presidency," and like Lincoln or Jefferson, he contains a bottomless appeal for historical buffs.

Edmund Morris' multi-volume biography of TR is an excellent read, showing the obstacles Roosevelt overcame and his engaging, unstoppable drive to succeed. Here's a man who would write 35 books and also wrestle with lions in Africa, a man who was a successful politician and gave it all up to become a ranchhand in South Dakota for a time. While his hefty machismo is sometimes a little extreme for my modern sensitive man beliefs, it's a product of the times. What appeals to me about Roosevelt is his lust for life, his belief in the "strenuous life" and his polychromatic knowledge. Many episodes from his life could make a book all on their own.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNow, in "The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" author Candice Millard examines just one fascinating year in Roosevelt's life. After a painful loss running as an independent for a third presidential term in 1912, TR needed something dynamic to keep his mind occupied. Instead of leaning back and relaxing, he decided to take on an ambitious South American tour, and throw some pioneering exploration in along the way. The destination? "The River of Doubt," a 600-mile long waterway in the heart of the Amazon only recently discovered, completely uncharted. At this time – 1913 – much of the Amazon was utterly mysterious, with only a few outposts. Entire tribes of Indians remained to be discovered. The river turned out to be full of rapids, waterfalls and obstacles for the small party of Roosevelt, his son Kermit, a few helpers and a crew of camaradas, Brazilian laborers.

This period of TR's life hasn't yet been covered in Morris' TR biography series (which is planned for three volumes, the first two of which are out), so it was all new to me. "River of Doubt" is an excellent, detailed look at this time in TR's life, and remarkable adventure. Seriously -- can you even imagine George W. Bush or Bill Clinton heading down an unknown, bug-infested river for two months? And getting malaria? And nearly being eaten by cannibalistic Indians? In the modern world it's impossible to picture a President heading off into the wilderness for months at a time. At one point, Millard writes of a rubber tapper in the remote jungle who comes across the starving expedition, and of his "…awe when he learned that the ragged and stricken man he saw lying in the roughest sort of dugout canoe had once been the president of the United States."

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingRoosevelt didn't care what people thought. "…If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so," he wrote a friend. TR was a real-life "Indiana Jones" in this trek, with the help of many companions, whom Millard also ably profiles. (The Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon is particularly vividly drawn, a stoic, proud man who was TR's opposite in many ways, yet who worked with him to blaze the path on the river.) The explorers lost multiple canoes on rapids, and endured endless cross-country portaging of their gear, near-starvation and bouts with disease. There's even a murder to keep things lively.

Millard tells her story with tremendous detail (she even interviewed members of the Indian tribes the party contacted 90 years ago), only occasionally getting a bit too detailed about things like South American botany and ecology. She avoids giving us just another TR biography, setting the stage for Roosevelt's journey and spending most of the book retelling the harrowing trip in fine detail.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe journey very nearly killed Roosevelt, who actually contemplated suicide at one point, wracked with disease and not wanting to burden the rest of the party. But he persevered, as he always did. It was Roosevelt's last, great adventure – and as Millard reveals, the malaria and infections he incurred probably helped lead to his early death at age 60 just five years later. The "River of Doubt" was renamed "Rio Roosevelt."

Looking at the smaller-than-life characters we seem to get for President these days, "River of Doubt" serves as a reminder of a time when the man was larger than the office he held. It's an excellent addition to the field of Roosevelt biography.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

LIFE: Rock the vote

So we're having a primary election in Oregon in a few weeks, and yesterday we got the League of Women Voters of Oregon voter's information guide. Sure, it’s got your big names, but the best part is the “fringe” candidates. The League allows the candidates to print statements verbatim, without editing or spellchecking, which results into rare insight into the heart and soul of candidates. And that’s why I’m asking you to consider Bob Leonard Forthan of Portland, little-known Republican candidate for Oregon governor, whose wisdom includes these statements…

Meet Bob:
Graduated from Jefferson high school nineteen seventy no prior experience in elected office, but I have ran some community involvement I have ran for Mayor of Portland three times and Governor twice.

On education:
My answer to group grades together for example kindergadin and first grader, second and third graders, ect, then using teachers knowledge letting the best students to help teach the less off students, I feel putting more money to improve Oregons educational system is a waste. NOTE; if elected Oregon schools will have no after schools activeties example no plays, sporting events, rose festivle events, due to envormental problems.

On health care:
Nothing in the near future to make health care in Oregon more accessible, but if exlected I would like to build housing on a grand scale, for example housing the size of the King Dome, and a population no less than two thousand and no more than five thousand, and if someone became sick the doctor goes to the patient, and every tenet in the king dome type living would have their own personal computer making their health care only fingers away.

He intrigued me with “kindergadin.” But he won me over with the plan to erect “King Domes” throughout Oregon to throw poor people in. Don't let the bad spelling stop you. Consider Bob.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

LIFE: Catatonic

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting So I'm always doing the required proud parental posting of Toddler Peter's cute antics, but he's not the only one in this house doing wacky stuff, as witnessed by Kudzu's impromptu nap in the washing machine Sunday. Animal lovers, I only put her through the "rinse" cycle. Anyway, trying to figure out what to do with dear Kudzu here is one of the bigger moral dilemmas for me with the moving to New Zealand this October. We accepted that it's just not fair to her or us to try and take her – it's a tremendously hard thing to make a cat fly 12-13 hours in the cargo hold of a plane, and then be quarantined for 6 months or so on arrival. Not to mention the huge costs involved too. At nearly 12 years old, it's a lot to do to a poor cat just to satisfy our human ego.

Kudzu and I have been together well over 11 1/2 years now, ever since that day in January 1995 when I decided to get a cat and wandered over to the animal shelter in Oxford, Mississippi. It's always tough to go to those places and just pick one, but this tiny, runt-sized tortoiseshell kitten leapt out of her cage when I leaned close, and I was hooked. Kudzu was a tiny, sickly cat for a while, which makes me think she was a runt of the litter, but grew up into a really tough, smart cat (still on the small side though). She's been with me through my final years in Mississippi, flew with me on a plane to California (running through the Dallas airport with a freaked-out half-sedated cat in a carryon bag over my shoulders is one of my less fond pet-owner memories), and lived everywhere from tiny apartments to big houses to my parents' old 10-acre spread. She's slowed down some now from her frantic youth (and having a toddler for competition will mellow even the wildest of cats), but still is my furry buddy. I've gotten so used to the warm little lump curled up near my legs in bed at night that whenever we're out of town staying somewhere else, it's weird going to bed without her. I ain't one of those folks who antropomorphize their animals to death and call them snuggywuggy and such, but cat or not, she is one of my true constant friends and has been unconditionally great these past 11 1/2 years.

So anyway, we're trying to find Kudzu a new, happy home to live out her time in. My parents are unable to take her, so we're asking around family and friends. I really don't want to leave her with complete strangers, and part of me would hope I can even visit her maybe whenever we come back to the States. If anyone out there in the Northern California area is interested in a perfectly swell older cat companion... ? Just leave your washer closed.

...OK, some of you might not like cats, so here's Peter doing his best Elvis impersonation over at the beach on Bandon last weekend.
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