Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Old gods nowhere near dead: The latest from Bob and Neil

Somehow, it seems like culture is moving away a bit from the notion that old men can't rock. A decade or two ago, the Rolling Stones were the butt of many a joke about Mick dancing about with a cane and Keith's arthritis. But it seems to me that in the past few years, we've come to grips with the notion that older rock stars still have a lot to offer.

PhotobucketI'm not saying Rod Stewart in hot pants at age 70 is something I want to see -- but take the surprisingly good Rolling Stones concert film "Shine A Light," which manages to give the Stones a sense of grace and dignity kind of lacking in the '90s. Hell, we've come this far, it seems to say, we've gone beyond being just old and on to being legends. Jagger's sheer showmanship puts stars a third his age to shame. The vitality of "Shine A Light" is a nice kick in the head to the idea that all rock stars should hang it up by 40.

It says something that two of the more interesting albums I've heard lately are the latest by Bob Dylan, nearly 68, and Neil Young, age 63. Both stars were big in their twenties, icons in their thirties, then kind of has-beens in their forties for a spell. Now they've wizened enough and have such a soaring body of work behind 'em that every release, even if it's lesser work, is usually worth a listen. There is a precedence for age being a fierce invigorator - think of Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker. In the blues, age ain't no problem. It shouldn't be for rock 'n' roll either, really. Hell, seeing Neil Young and Bob Dylan both live in the last couple of years, their skills remain strong as ever to be, tempered by their vast experience.

PhotobucketDylan's "Together Through Life" (his 46th album!) isn't the big artistic statement that recent works like "Time Out of Mind" were. It's a bit of a jaunty reverie, laced through with accordion by Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, that gives it a kind of Tex-Mex feel. The bluesier tempo of Dylan's "Modern Times" is tamed a bit here, for lyrics full of a vaguely sinister, beaten-down love. Dylan's songwriting hasn't quite been as full of allusion and illusion as it once was in his last few discs, but he's made up for it with a deeper, fuller band sound that really carries his broken prophet's croak of a voice along. Mystery and mirth intertwine, and in his sixties, he's turned into the modern heir to the dead bluesmen of the past. "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" sets the scene with a terrific accordion-powered stomp, while "My Wife's Home Town" has the venom of "Ballad of a Thin Man" filtered through a lifetime's worth of disappointments. Dylan snarls and wheezes through lines like "I just want to say that hell's my wife's hometown." The growl that opens "Forgetful Heart" is a snarl from the abyss that could've been sung by Howlin' Wolf ("the door has closed forever more / if indeed there ever was a door"). A few of the songs meander ("If You Ever Go To Houston" sounds too much like Los Lobos and not enough like Dylan), but the album ends with the wonderfully cranky "It's All Good," which takes an annoying hipster cliche and turns it back on itself. "Together Through Life" doesn't reinvent the wheel Dylan's been rolling (like a stone, you know) for his last few albums, but it is a mighty pleasurable new chapter in the bard's book. And as always, with Dylan there are layers a-plenty to explore in subsequent listens.

PhotobucketYoung's "Fork In the Road" is less polished than Dylan's latest; it's mangy garage rock in its bones, another willfully rickety collection by an artist who loves throwing curveballs. His last few albums have run from wistful reverie ("Prairie Wind") to angry protest singer reborn ("Living With War"). Now, he's an aging hippie singing about his car. "Fork In the Road" is a concept album about energy-efficient auto technology of all things, but Neil brings his ode to proud highways a kind of ranting sincerity even when the lyrics veer into cliches. If Neil had a blog, it would be like this album (or "Keep on blogging / till the power goes out," as he puts it.) The songwriting is extremely basic -- consecutive songs are rather banally titled "Get Behind The Wheel," "Off The Road" and "Hit The Road," for instance -- but Neil still has an eye for a hook and a killer riff. It may be a bit tossed off even by Neil's standards, but "Fork In The Road" has an open-hearted charm to most of the tunes. My favorites include the power-chord crunch and heavenly choirs of "Just Singing A Song" (which I got to hear Neil sing back in Auckland in January) or the curmudgeonly grit of the title tune, with old man Neil ranting about "got a pot belly / it's not too big / gets in my way / when I'm driving my rig." I'll take Neil singing about his belly and his cars over a dozen bland young bands any day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Summer 2009 Movie Excite-O-Meter Preview II

So, this week's "Wolverine" movie release kicks off the official big bang summer blockbuster season (or winter season if you're down here, mate). After last summer's Dark Knight/Iron Man/Hulk/Hellboy bonanza, this one's lighter on the comics stuff. I generally only get to the theaters six or seven times a year, so it's got to be a big spectacle or very interesting Oscar bait to make it away from the DVD player. Here's my rambling thoughts on a dozen or so of the season's offerings, with my Excite-O-Meter ratings for how motivated I am to check 'em out.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
PhotobucketSo apparently this leaked on the Internets or something? Another attempt to wring money out of the X-Men franchise -- I've generally enjoyed these movies, and will probably see this one, but not expecting greatness. Hugh Jackman is always good as Logan, but they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for mutants in this one. One of the pluses of the first three X-Men movies is that they managed to avoid Gambit, the most idiotic, pointless X-Man ever created whose introduction pretty much coincided with my giving up reading "X-Men" comics. Guess who's in this one? Gambit. Argh. But heck, I even found "Daredevil" and the first "Fantastic Four" movies enjoyably corny, so I'll be seeing this.
Excite-O-Meter: 7

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen:
OK, I saw the first one, and enjoyed it for what it was, but even I have no real interest in seeing it all done again. You've seen one car turn into a robot, you've seen 'em all.
Excite-O-meter: 3

Star Trek
PhotobucketI have to admit, I've always preferred Next Generation Trek over the original. Does that make me a heretic? But I generally love J.J. Abrams' work on "Lost" and the enjoyable "Mission Impossible 3," the trailers for this reboot of Kirk, Spock & co. are unspeakably cool, and it's got Simon Pegg in it. Can it combine the cowboy charm of the original series with a dash of '00s f/x and slick action? Beam me up, I'm there for this one, particularly with advance word of mouth pretty positive.
Excite-O-Meter: 9

Angels & Demons
I never even saw "The Da Vinci Code," so no, not my thing.
Excite-O-Meter: 1

Terminator: Salvation
Meh.... Another case of wringing money out of franchises (has there ever been a great "Part IV" other than maybe the somewhat overrated "Star Trek IV"?). No Arnold, the end of the world already happened in "Terminator 3" (which unlike most folks I actually rather liked) and it's directed by one-named McG. I'm just not that interested yet, despite the reliable Christian Bale on board and killer robots galore. A maybe.
Excite-O-Meter: 6

The latest PIXAR production. I'm sure it will be great, but for some reason I usually end up waiting for DVD to see these ones (too many danged kids in the theaters!).
Excite-O-Meter: 6

Land of the Lost
Ah, I kinda liked the old TV show, but this one seems to be going for a goofball comedy vibe. I do generally have a weakness for Will Ferrell silly, but don't think this will make me run to the theaters for a spoof. I am curious if the nightmare-inducing Sleeslak are quite so freaky to my modern 30-something eyes, though...
Excite-O-Meter: 5

Public Enemies

Director Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale again, Depression-era gangsters galore? The new "Heat" and summer's token attempt at adult entertainment Oscar bait. If the reviews are solid as the advance buzz, I'm in.
Excite-O-Meter: 7

PhotobucketAfter seeing this trailer, I can't wait to see how offensive Sacha Baron Cohen is this time. Sure, gay-baiting jokes and pointing out how some Americans are awfully ignorant is rather pre-Obama, but as a kind of big-screen "America's Most Racist Home Videos" sort of thing, this looks fun. Can he duplicate the "Borat" effect?
Excite-O-Meter: 8

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Other than the third flick, "The Prisoner of Azkaban," I'll be darned if I can really sum up any vivid memories of the first five movies in this series. The books linger far longer in my mind. They're almost always decent enough films, but none have quite made the leap to iconic. A DVD rental, I imagine.
Excite-O-Meter: 5

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

Or, the movie that makes "Transformers" look like "The Godfather." Sorry, I am just a bit too old to be nostalgic about these military toys from the '80s, and the trailer looks 10 different kinds of dopey. Plus it's by the guy who directed "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing," in the process utterly screwing up two very interesting iconic concepts. I'll only ever see this one out of morbid curiosity I imagine.
Excite-O-Meter: 2

Inglourious Basterds

PhotobucketQuentin Tarantino can usually be counted on to at least dazzle you with wordplay and hyperkinetics, even if some of his movies are more flash than substance. The sheer oddball nature of the story here -- vicious Jews fight back in World War II by scalping and terrorizing Nazis? -- and the promise of Brad Pitt in preferred full goofball "Burn After Reading" mode make this worth seeing, even if it's a tacky disaster.
Excite-O-Meter: 7

The Time Traveler's Wife
Love the book, don't know much about the movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, but am quite curious to see how it comes out, particularly if it's well reviewed. But good books don't always equal decent movies (did you even know there was a Love In The Time of Cholera film?), so we'll see.
Excite-O-Meter: 6

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ten days zipping around South Island

Photobucket....And we're back from the South Island. It was an excellent trek, our longest family holiday in a couple years (since the wife didn't come with the boy and I to California last summer/winter).

Yeah, trekking with a five-year-old is often an exercise in patience (When do we get to our hotel? How long is half an hour? What is thirty minutes? Can I have ice cream for breakfast? Repeat until sanity snaps with a faint crackling noise) but generally it was very good to get back to the hinterlands of the Zealands.

It was the first time I'd been to South Island since my very first visit to New Zealand nine (!!!) years ago now. The South Island is where the landscape is but the people aren't -- less than a million people there compared to the North Island's 3+ million.

PhotobucketWe basically did a big loop of the top half of the South Island, from Christchurch over to to the west coast, around through Nelson and back again. It was a good time to go, mid-autumn with cool days but blessedly little rain for us, and the trees full of fine colours we don't see up north. On the other hand, while I love the South Island it is mostly composed of narrow, winding roads and lots of insanely scary one-lane bridges. (Any Kiwis want to explain what is it with the one-lane bridges? It's very 1950s.) Seen from the air, the South is like a crumpled mound of snow-covered blankets. On the ground, timid drivers beware.

PhotobucketWe spent a lot of time in Christchurch, which I'd only passed through on a previous visit. The South Island's largest city, it's a decent place, much flatter than Auckland. I think Auckland's got a prettier environment, but Christchurch actually has a nicer architectural sense than Auckland's jumbled mix of ugly high-rises and boxes. Downtown Christchurch is particularly nice, with Cathedral Square dominating the scene. I'm not real religious but I do love a good cathedral and this one has a fantastic timber ceiling. Christchurch also has some swell Botanic Gardens, a nifty Gondola ride where you can see the entire city laid out before you, and a bunch of good used bookstores I raided.

From Christchurch, we went over Arthur's Pass towards the west coast. The Southern Alps run down the spine of the island, and it was a good ride up into the heights. While the scale doesn't quite compare to Colorado's Rocky Mountains, it's still a mighty fine ride.

PhotobucketCastle Hill was a really cool place full of big limestone outcrops that made you feel like a midget and look like something out of a "Lord of the Rings" set. It's still mid-autumn here so there wasn't a ton of snow on the peaks yet.

We swept on up along the grey and wet West Coast back up to Tasman Bay, the South Island's northernmost point. We stayed here in the Motueka and Nelson areas for several days exploring the first part of NZ Europeans saw -- the namesake Dutch sailor Abel Tasman spotted land here back in 1642 (of course, he thought it was part of South America, but hey, nobody's perfect). It's really nice territory, full of sweeping orange-gold sand beaches, steep plunging hillsides and more sunshine than a lot of NZ usually gets.

PhotobucketWe explored up along Golden Bay and Farewell Spit, swerving along some of the most dizzying curves of our trip to see sights like Waikoropupu, the largest freshwater springs in the land, and a group of friendly fur seal pups playing on a beach just a few feet away from us. We also took a nifty boat tour up along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park, then swung over to Nelson to visit Avril's cousin briefly.

Finally, we wound our way back down the East Coast through Picton, Blenheim and Kaikoura to spend another couple days in Christchurch before flying our way back to the Northland! I think I've rediscovered that New Zealand is actually a very big small country, full of hidden places well worth seeking out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Going down south where the wind does blow


It's school holidays and time for a much-needed family getaway to the remote frozen wastelands of the South Island where the hobbits run free and wild. See you in a couple weeks!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Five years of blogging and not one post that was actually about spatulas

PhotobucketUntil now.

From wikipedia:
A turner (in British English), or fish slice, is a kitchen utensil with a long handle and a broad flat edge, used for lifting fried foods. Though the word spatula is used in British English, it refers solely to a mixing and spreading implement. Often the plate scraper is referred to as a spatula. In some parts of Scotland (e.g. Glasgow or Victoria Halls) the spatula is also known as a tosser which refers to the tossing of omelettes or pancakes.

The word spatula, known in English since 1525, is a diminutive form of the Latin term spatha, which means a broad sword (as in spatharius) or a flat piece of wood and is also the origin of the words spade (digging tool) and spathe.

Lightning round!
Want to see the biggest spatula in the world? Glad you asked.

Want to chill out with some beats and think about spatulas? Spatula City Records is your place to go. Or trance-rock out with Mystical Spatula. Alternatively, get heavy with the metal band Spatula (who really should get an umlaut and be called Spätüla).

Spatulas are not trowels.

PhotobucketWould you like a virtual spatula? Share with someone you love.

If you're an ichthyologist, perhaps atractosteus spatula is more your speed.

A cinemaniac? Meet Spatula Boy. Or another entirely different Spatula Boy.

...Hungry for more blogs that have spatula in the title for no apparent reason? My soul brother at Giant Spatula. Which is a far better name really. Or Little Spatula. Learn about the Golden Spatula Institute. By god, Or Lick The Spatula.

Or just abandon all hope with the Spatula Of Death.

And the final word, from Weird Al:

Happy fifth blog-iversary to me!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Progress report, 2 years, 6 months

Reasons I am becoming more Kiwi.

1. I don't like wearing shoes in the summertime.

2. "Bloody" is all-purpose cussing that doesn't quite sound like cussing to my American ears, so it gets a great workout by me, particularly at work.

3. I know who the All Blacks Captain is.

Photobucket4. I love sausage rolls even though they're bloody terrible for you.

5. I know it's pronounced Fahng-arai, not "Whangarei."

6. Much of the time I will say "mobile" instead of "cell," "holiday" instead of "vacation," and "boot" instead of "trunk."

7. I pretty much think of temperature in terms of Celsius now.

8. I'm vaguely irritated about Australians.

9. I say "mate" a lot without much irony anymore.

10. Voted in an election.

Reasons I'm not really a Kiwi yet.

1. My brain still defaults to "miles" over "kilometres" and "feet" over "metres."

2. Just haven't gotten into most TV NZ-made television programs at all, except for "Flight of the Conchords" which doesn't quite count as TV New Zealand turned it down.

3. Don't have a bloody clue about cricket.

Photobucket4. I can only just tolerate Vegemite.

5. I don't know the difference between Super 14, Rugby League, Rugby, Soccer and Sevens.

6. My Maori pronunciation is dodgy at best.

7. Couldn't care less about Tony Veitch.

8. I secretly like Australia.

9. Don't say "sweet as," "choice" or "eh" properly.

10. I now like our President more than our Prime Minister. Six months ago, this would've been reversed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The fat cat who sat on the farmer's mat

Photobucket"The fat cat who sat on the farmer's mat."
by Peter, age 5

The fat cat who sat on the farmer's mat. He did the farmer's paperwork because it's a really silly cat. The fat cat who's the farmer's mat cat is very very very very funny because he also did feed all the animals on the farm too and the fat cat drove the tractor to scare away the sheep and she also is very silly because when they first moved the house to the farm the fat cat did pull all the vehicles with its long long tail and the farmer said you should go away for a holiday, but the plane landed in the garage.

The end.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

997, 998, 999...


This is my one thousandth post.

(...and coming up in a week or so, my fifth blog anniversary as well. Gee whiz!)